stir up a Singer

Look what we found on Facebook! Jubly-Umph posted this photo of an amazing Singer sewing machine … cake.

photo from Jubly-Umph

Looks like even the notions are edible. Now that’s one way to stitch your cares away!

Shadows on Glass

Imagine going to an antique store and purchasing a box of old photographs, then spending the next 50 years trying to figure out who the photographer and the people depicted in the photographs were.

Douglas Keister, photographer and author of 42 critically acclaimed books, did just that. I first met Doug when I asked to use a couple of his photos in my third book, MaryJane’s Outpost. Doug had just published one of my favorite books about travel trailers, Teardrops and Tiny Trailers, with Gibbs Smith (also my publisher for Glamping with MaryJane and Milk Cow Kitchen).

In 1965, Doug was a junior in high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, and already a budding photographer. He acquired a stack of 280 black and white 5×7 glass negatives from a friend who had run an ad looking for area antiques. Doug proceeded to set up a makeshift darkroom in his parents’ basement to develop and print the negatives. He discovered an important part of history when he saw that most of the photographs were portraits of African Americans in the early part of the 20th century.

“Five decades of research finally revealed that the photographs were taken by an African American photographer a century ago in Lincoln, Nebraska. The variety of images reveals a vibrant community and, more importantly, an ennobled and hopeful African American population,” says Doug. The importance of these images has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture, which now has 60 prints from the negatives in its permanent collection.

Doug has made a 25-minute video, Shadows on Glass, about his discoveries that shows many of the photographs, fills in the blanks about their origins, and paints a fascinating picture of the lives of the African American community in Lincoln 100 years ago.

a fine exception

If you have a name like mine that ends in “s,” you’ve probably wondered, worried, and even belabored about making it possessive …

Is it Ms. Butters’s farm?

or Ms. Butters’ Farmgirl Sisterhood? (Shameless plug.)

And if you’ve looked for advice, you’ve probably found conflicting information, leaving you baffled, bewildered, and mystified.

When I have a question about grammar or punctuation, I often look in my handy go-to guide, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. This lighthearted look at the English language, by Patricia T. O’Conner, contains sections like “Pearls Before Swine: Blunders with Numbers,” and “The Living Dead: Let Bygone Rules Be Gone.” But when I thumb to “Yours Truly: The Possessives and the Possessed,” I see that Patricia says, “If the word is singular, always add ‘s, regardless of its ending.” Example: “The dress’s skirt, which resembled a tutu from one of Degas’s paintings, was ruined.”

But I find that advice confusing. If we sound out that example sentence, we say “the dress-es skirt,” but we don’t say “Degas-es paintings.” Right? Well, actually, in French, the ending “s” in “Degas” is silent, so that might not be a good example. (And it’s interesting that both of Patricia’s other name examples are foreign names with the dreaded silent “s” ending (Camus’s, Jacques’s), so I’m still confused.) But substitute my name, “Butters-es cows,” for example, and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m not a fan. Of the rule, not the cow. I love my cows!


So, delving a little further, I go to my publishers’ bible, The Chicago Manual of Style, which says, “Possessives, The General Rule: The possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s, and the possessive of plural nouns, by adding an apostrophe only.” It goes on to say, “Proper nouns: The general rule covers most proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z, in both their singular and plural forms …”

Have I lost you yet? No? Well, carry on …

So, I interpret that to say, again, “Butters-es cows.”

Still don’t like it.

But the beauty of the Chicago Manual is that it has lots of exceptions and options. Reading a little further, I see a section called “Exceptions to the General Rule and Some Options,” which includes this advice: “When the singular form of a noun ending in “s” looks like a plural and the plural form is the same as the singular, the possessive of both is formed by the addition of an apostrophe only (politics’ true meaning).”

Aha! This is looking more like Ms. Butters’ cows!

A few paragraphs down, I find the mother lode, a little entry the Chicago Manual calls “an alternative practice.” It suggests: “Those uncomfortable with the rules, exceptions, and options outlined above may prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive ‘s’ on all words ending in ‘s’—hence, ‘Dylan Thomas’ poetry,’ ‘Maria Callas’ singing,’ and ‘that business’ main concern.”

Eureka! I’ve been reassured. It’s Ms. Butters’ cows, not Ms. Butters-es cows. I’m sticking with how it sounds. And I’m following the rules. At least the rules for “those uncomfortable with the rules.”

Like the Dalai Lama says, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”


Talk about junk!

If you’re a Raising Jane regular, you’ll remember that my magazine designer, Carol, has a new hobby: junk sculptures. Carol’s creations are little, anywhere from an inch to a foot high, keeping them small enough to glue together. But look what she discovered while trolling for inspiration on Pinterest.



According to, this baby is five times the size of a real elephant, weighs about 45 tons, and carries about 50 passengers at a time. It was created for “Machines of the Isle of Nantes,” a street performance festival in Nantes, France, from mostly recycled materials, and is fully articulated, moving with the help of 22 people who man hydraulics inside the statue. “The Great Elephant,” as he is called, can even trumpet like a real elephant, flap his ears, and spray water from his trunk. Watch him in motion:

Humans of New York

Be it destiny or serendipity or simple coincidence, wonderful things can happen when strangers collide.

Are you familiar with Brandon Stanton, a photographer who walks the streets of New York with his camera in hand, asking complete strangers if he can take their pictures? Stanton posts the photos on his blog, Humans of New York, often with an accompanying story or quote from his subjects. He began what he refers to as his “photo census” back in 2010 as a way to capture and chronicle the neighborhoods of the city through the faces of the people who live there.


Along Brandon’s journey, he met Vidal Chastanet, an eighth-grade student at Mott Bridges Middle School in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville, whose image and accompanying story recently went viral on Stanton’s blog. The day they met, Brandon asked Vidal to share a story of a person who had influenced his life. He chose the principal of his middle school, Ms. Lopez, because of the great lengths she goes to ensure each child knows how much they matter.


Although Stanton usually tries to avoid becoming involved in the lives of his subjects, the response to the blog post was so great, he felt compelled to meet Ms. Lopez. And it just so happens that when he met her, Ms. Lopez was in the middle of a fundraising effort to send her sixth grade students to a summer program at Harvard. Because Brownsville has the highest crime rate in the city, and because the limited horizons of disadvantaged youth are always on her mind, Ms. Lopez chose Harvard to show her students (she refers to them as scholars) what it feels like to stand on the campus of one of the world’s greatest schools and know that they belong there. Brandon was so inspired by Ms. Lopez and her passionate ideas that he personally joined in the effort and launched a fundraiser on Indiegogo.

What transpired next is beyond inspiring!! People started sending in little bits of money. Lots of people. $1 million dollars was raised in five days, ensuring that for the next 25 years, Ms. Lopez’ sixth grade scholars will travel to Harvard.

All because two strangers happened to strike up a conversation on the street.