Monday, December 19, 2011

Twas the Monday before Christmas

That blog title doesn't really have anything to do with the post, but it was better than leaving it blank. I know I have been a rather uneven blogger of late, and this isn't really an apology about it, because really, do I need to do that? But I am kind of sad about my lack of posting, especially after looking over some of my past posts. I mean, I used to have lots of photographs, recipes, fun things I did. These days, we are still playing tennis every weekend (but it isn't really interesting enough to blog about or take photos of), I run errands and clean the house, and that is about it. Arkansas is in the middle of the brown time of year, when the leaves are off the trees, the grass is brown, and so are most of the shrubs. I see the occasional lovely sunrise or cloud formation, but usually only when I am driving, so no pictures. I haven't been baking much lately - I guess I sort of burned out on baking bread every week, and can't quite muster the enthusiasm for much else. We can only eat so many cookies, and I only want to clean the kitchen so many times in one weekend.

I don't really want to end the blog, but it is going to take a bigger effort than I have been making lately to keep it going. For now, expect light posting. Maybe I will be ready to be creative and interesting once we get past the holidays.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 Reading Challenges Update

At the beginning of the year, I signed up for two reading challenges - one on Goodreads and one at the Roof Beam Reader. To date, I am done with one, and almost done with the other.

The Goodreads challenge was strictly a challenge of number of books. My initial goal was 110, but I blew past that in August or September, so I updated it to 140. As of today, I have completed that challenge. The 140th book? A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks. Nearly a quarter of the 140 were graphic novels, a category I really dug into this year. My favorite book of the year? Hmm... I don't know. There were a lot of good ones, quite a few I barely remember, and some I really disliked. Good ones: The Night Circus, When She Woke, Little Brother, Full Catastrophe Living, The City and the City. Cherie Priest became my favorite writer during the year. I cleared quite a few books from my To Read shelves - both the virtual Goodreads one, and the physical one in my living room. But of course, I added far more than I read. Sigh.

The second challenge, the TBR challenge at Roof Beam Reader, is 11/12ths of the way done. That challenge, you may recall, was to pick 12 books from my to be read list, and read them all within the year. A Princess of Landover was my 11th book in the challenge; only Madam Bovary remains, and I am in the middle of listening to it. I restricted myself to books I actually owned, in an attempt to clear off the aforementioned living room shelf, and get myself to read books I had been, for one reason or another, avoiding.

So, am I going to stop reading for the rest of 2011, once I finish Madam Bovary? What do you think? Of course not! If for no other reason, I have a trip to Seattle and back, and flying without a book is just impossible. I don't know if I will sign up for any challenges next year though. I set the bar so high this year, at 140, that I am not sure I would be able to match it. And although it was fun to have a goal to read certain books throughout the year, I don't really need it to keep me reading and clearing off my shelf. If I do decide on either challenge though, you can be sure I will blog about it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Stuff I Like: Web comics

Yup, web comics. Growing up, I read the comics (or the funnies, as my dad always calls them) every day, from two separate papers, and comic books. My dad collected comic books for a long time, and got them in trade for doing computer work at a comic book store. Some times I got to pick out my own. I will admit that they were not usually of high quality - Muppet Babies, Popples, probably something Disney - but they were fun. My dad also had books that were collections of comics and even some Disney movies (as a matter of fact, I remember reading the comic of Cinderella with my dad far more fondly than I do the movie itself - no singing, more funny mice!). As an adult, I have had no problem with the idea of graphic novels, and a good number of the 140+ books I will have read this year have been graphic novels, or collections of comics (there is actually a difference, but for my purposes today, all that matters is that both comics and graphic novels use pictures to help tell the stories).

So it really should be no surprise that I read a lot of web comics. Of the set of bookmarks that I go through on a regular basis (I use Google bookmarks to keep them all sorted and in categories and Google reader for the ones I read through RSS), and at least 45 of those are web comics. Yes, 45. Not all of them update every day, but still, that strikes me as a large number. Anyway, the artwork, tone, humor, and subjects are all over the map. Some lean towards the science fiction side of the genre spectrum, while others are steampunk, or steampunk fantasy, or biographical. A few are pretty close to syndicated newspaper cartoons (there are a couple of those too - I just don't read them in the paper any more).

The neat thing about the web is that it is really easy to find new stuff to read, and to sit down and read the entire archives - some going back 10 years. Also, the art can be anything the author/artist wants. Black and white? OK. Color? Cool. Computer rendered (or some other form of animation - I have no idea how they do it, really). Nifty. Like stories about (snarky) talking animals? That's easy to do. 20 somethings trying to figure out life in NYC or Amherst? A kid billionaire, his grandfather and a talking duck? Gotcha covered. Librarians and computer programmers? Totally there for you. Mash-up of funny dialogue and old-time woodcut pictures? Yup.

So, go out and find a web comic. If you want suggestions, I can give you more. Those links are only 20 of the 45, so I am sure I can find something you like!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A silly puppy for a rainy day


It has been a rainy couple of days here in central Arkansas. After months of below average rain, the skies have opened up, and we are now way above average - currently the 4th rainiest year on record (which isn't as impressive as it sounds, since apparently, that stat only goes back to the 1970s). Put another way, we have had over 30% of the rain for the year since November 1st. Ugh. When people complain that it rains a lot in Seattle, I like to point out that, on average, Little Rock (and Austin) gets more rain (50.9 inches) than Seattle (37.2). The difference is that Seattle is cloudy a heck of a lot more - almost 300 days a year that are either partly cloudy (82), or cloudy(226), compared to Little Rock's 247(100/147). Info from Climate Zone.

Anyway, it was rainy this weekend, and today. Although this picture is from the night of our hike, when both Miikka and I were pooped, we did spend some time like this yesterday. Well, not quite like this. I was upright, and he was on my lap, instead of draped like some boneless slouch.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in AmericaNickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In an experiment, journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich tried to see if she could survive by working at low-wage jobs. She had to find an entry-level job, housing, and food in each of the three cities she lived in, and manage to eat and stay safe, for a month. Could she do it? Answer: not very well. In each case, the rents were too high, the pay too low, the conditions appalling (at least for someone coming from a comfortable middle-class background).

Her attempts took place around 1999-2000, when the economy was doing much better than it is now, when there was very low unemployment and many open jobs were waiting for workers. I remember her saying in an interview in the last year or so (for the 10th anniversary) that there is no way she could do this now - there just aren't any jobs out there. Which just makes the situation worse, and makes some of her conclusions seem like tragic predictions.

A very quick read, and eye-opening, even to someone who has read about/ worked with/ known about poverty and the perils of being part of the working-poor. It also makes me even angrier now when I hear Republicans talking about how we have to preserve the incomes of the very wealthy and put more of the burden on the poor.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More from Spy Rock


Most of the trees on the hike were bare (apart from the pines, of course), but there were still many interesting things to see. Like this cairn that some past hiker constructed out of the local rock.


And these fungi that covered a dead tree on the side of the trail.


From a quick internet search for "tree fungi" I found an index to tree fungi, which gave me a name -turkey tail fungus - and led me to this interesting website. I absolutely love the internet and the speedy finding of information! Sure, I could have found this information in a book, eventually, assuming that my library had a book of fungi.
 

There was also this lovely spiral of lichen on a rock.


And moss that seemed to glow when the light hit it just right. 


These pictures don't really do the glow justice, but hopefully you can get the idea. It is the small views like these that motivate me to get out into the woods, just as much as the vista from the top of the mountain.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Hike: Spy Rock, 8.8 Miles

Wearing orange so hunters don't shoot us.
 On Friday, we took our now annual post-Thanksgiving hike. We started doing this as a tradition back in Texas, as a way to avoid shopping or sitting at home doing homework. This year, we chose an 8.8 mile loop hike in the Ozark National Forest that took us through a (planted) pine grove, up the side of a ridge, and eventually to the top of the tallest hill/mountain in the area.


Because most of the leaves were off the oaks, we had some great views out over the surrounding countryside as we climbed. Although it was primarily an uphill sort of hike on the way out, it wasn't really that bad, and I speak as someone who really hates hiking uphill.


There were some great natural features, like this big boulder and moss and lichen (which I am saving for another day). 


And peeking through the trees is a view of Spy Rock - the midpoint/destination of the hike.


Hmm. I was calling this Spy Mountain when I was telling people about it, but clearly, I was incorrect. The sign from the trail proves it.


This was the view at the top. What you can't feel is the wind. Hold on to your hats!


It was a good day for a hike - not too cold, but not too hot. And it was only really windy at the exposed top of Spy Rock.


Miikka had a grand time on the hike. Yes, he made it all 8.8 miles without any trouble. And even better, he was allowed to go almost the entire way off-leash. The dog who, in the neighborhood, can't even be let out in the front yard off-leash, went at least 8 miles without wandering away or running off into the woods. He just stayed on the trail, between Benjamin and I, the whole way. Once, at a Y in the trail, he did want to go down the opposite fork, but was eventually convinced to come with us instead. And even then, he didn't just cut through the grass to reach us - he trotted back to the Y, staying on the trail. He was on the leash at the top of the mountain, while we ate lunch, because I don't particularly trust him not to go over the edge, and a couple of times when we got close to logging roads where we heard the occasional 4-wheeler (the only other people we saw the entire hike). Otherwise, totally free. What a good hiker!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When She Woke book review

When She WokeWhen She Woke by Hillary Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. A re-telling/re-working of The Scarlet Letter. When She Woke is set in a not-too-distant distopian future United States, where the religious right/social conservatives have taken over the government and laws, where there is a Secretary of Faith in the president's cabinet and where having an abortion nets you the same punishment as a murderer. And that punishment - the guilty person is Chromed through genetic implants, turned a specific color indicative of the crime. As someone who grew up close to, though not really a part of, the world of conservative evangelicals, and as someone who is furious at the current crop of politicians trying to roll back human rights in American, this book was both terrifying, and heartening.

Hannah has been Chromed for aborting the product of her affair with a very married, very important man. Once released back into the world that now despises her and, in some cases, actively wants her dead, she must learn who she really is, what she really believes, and how to survive. She was always a little too rebellious for her very straight-laced mother, asking too many questions, not following the full intent of the law, but this characteristic becomes what saves her, in the end. It carries her from the halfway house of horror to a chance at a new life and a true re-awakening.

I almost gave this 5 stars, but there were a few too many moments where I wanted to shake some sense into Hannah for that rating. Overall though, a fantastic book, and one that would be a great pick for a book club or reading group.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Funny things I saw this week

Woo! Friday! Here are a couple of funny things I saw this week:
Two Lumps - a cat cartoon that is snarky and funny. I just discovered this one, and am working my way through the archives.

Jimmy Fallon as Jim Morrison, singing the Reading Rainbow theme song. Sorry, it isn't available to be embedded - you will just have to go click.

And one more, to make it a few funny things instead of a couple: Eating Over the Sink, a humorous parenting blog by Samantha Bee (from the Daily Show) and her friend, Allana Harkin. I don't have kids, obviously, and many things I read about having children/pregnancy/parenting scare the crap out of me, quite frankly. Not this one. I think it is the humor that makes everything seem like the whole might be a little more manageable, when I get around to it (if I do).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When I said I wanted rain...


I didn't mean this much, all at once. This is a photo from the National Weather Service, showing how much rain we got on Tuesday. Our house is smack in the middle of the 4-5+ inches of rain. It was a record-breaking day, apparently. One that our roof wasn't quite prepared for - we have a leak in the kitchen, right over the kitchen table. A leaky roof is not one of the joys of home-ownership. We are hoping that we just need to have it patched, and not completely replaced, since the problem seems to be in just one spot.

Sorry to say, I am really not mentally equipped to deal with such problems. Usually, I am a forward thinking feminist, capable of dealing with anything that comes my way, but when something goes wrong with my house or car, I revert. I want my husband to step into the stereotypical gender role and fix it for me. If I had a time machine, I would to go back in time to high school and take shop class and auto mechanics, so that my ignorance of those subjects, which is what makes me freak out, goes away. Yeah, yeah, I could probably take such a class now, but it would have been better back then, before the freaking out. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What I will do for books

If you have been reading me for any length of time, you know I am a book nerd, or book geek, or whatever you preferred designation. At the start of the year, I set a goal of reading 110 books this year; I blew past that in September or October. My to-read shelf at Goodreads has almost 600 books on it (I keep reading books on it, but then I find a like a particular author, and have to add everything else they wrote, or the author mentions an author that was influential for them, and I have to go and add that author...). I read author blogs, follow authors on Twitter, read Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal (those two are ostensibly for work purposes, but really, they just feed my habit). All of this is to say, yes, I am a wee bit obsessed with books.

So it should come as no surprise that I drove 3 hours each direction to Memphis this past Saturday, just to hear Cherie Priest talk for an hour at a book store to promote her most recent book, Ganymede. She is definitely one of my favorite authors right now, and while I read her blog and twitter feeds (and feel a little like a stalker whenever I reply to something), I had never seen her in person.* My dad saw her at a book event in Seattle and told me that she reminded him of me (by which I think basically, he meant that she is a smart, snarky female, but hey, whatever). Since book tours are pretty rare these days for any author who is not also a great personage, I jumped at the chance to see her, even though it did mean 6 hours in the car.

Not that driving 6 hours just for book-related activities is unheard of in my family. One summer, when Benjamin and I were living with my parents, Mom, Dad and I (Benjamin refused to be crammed in a car for 6 hours with all three of us, just for a bookstore run - probably wise), drove the three hours from Seattle to Portland, just to go to Powells Bookstore. That's it. We did nothing else except each lunch while were there. If you know Powells though, you know that it was totally worth it.

Anyway, the talk was fun - I got a couple of books signed (she probably would have signed everything I have, if I had lugged it in, but two is fine), and got to say hello. I confessed to being an, um, ardent, fan, and she even recognized my name from comments on FB and Twitter. (I have been assured by another author that I have interacted with in Twitter that simply chatting is not at all like stalking, but I can't quite shake the feeling that I am probably annoying them somehow.) Actually, I was having a hard time not acting like a manic fan girl before the reading, when she came into the cafe where we were eating lunch. I am usually so not a fan girl type - too beneath whatever dignity I pretend to posses, but I was almost bouncing up and down and giggling. Benjamin was, I think, mildly amused at my silliness.

If you ever get the chance to see a favorite author, you should. Go, listen, chat if they offer that opportunity, and buy a book - even if you already have all of them. They need our support in this world that is increasingly hostile to endeavors that don't make tons of money. And you might just have a good time!

*I take that back. I did see her a couple of years ago at ALA when she was on a Scifi/fantasy panel, and I got a free copy of Boneshaker. I had tried to read it a few months before and couldn't get into it, but after hearing her talk about it, and having a free copy, I tried again and really liked it. (Benjamin makes fun of me for disliking it, and then doing a 180). Enough that I then read everything else. But still, that was a panel, and I didn't know anything about her then.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Should I run a 10k?

I'm thinking about it, just a bit. My exercise routine needs a little shaking up, maybe a real goal to work for - pounding the treadmill just because is getting old. I'd love to be able to run outside, which might be enough of a change, but since I have to go to the gym at 5 AM (OK, 5:30) it is far too dark for me to feel comfortable outside by myself. The other times I have available for running that aren't too dark are usually dedicated to walking the dog. I feel guilty leaving him at home when I go outside for exercise, since he really needs walks, and I like walking as a form of relaxation.

Anyway, a goal. I don't really feel any desire to become a long distance runner, and I don't really care about races - I run to get aerobic exercise, mostly, and to increase my endurance for tennis and fencing. But now that I can routinely run 3 miles at a time on the treadmill, I am bored. It seems like a 10K would be a good goal to work towards. But maybe I should be working on other things first, like increasing my speed at the 5K (even though I just said I don't care about races, that doesn't mean I don't want to go faster). I'm just not sure - you could pour syrup on me and call me a waffle I change my mind so often.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I spend too much time reading blogs and magazine posts by serious runners - people for whom running is their primary form of entertainment and hobby, who race for fun, who worry about their split times and minute changes to their strides, and how to fuel up for an ultra-marathon - and I start to think that way too, or at least think that I should think that way. This isn't necessarily bad, but a lot of what I read is certainly over my head, and written for people with a different focus. And after a while, I start thinking that there is only one way to do things - the competitive way - and lose sight of my actual goals with running. (This is a not uncommon problem with me.) And those goals are really not related to running - running is more of a tool for me to improve my other hobbies, instead of the hobby itself. I do want to improve, and I want to make sure I am doing things correctly so I don't injure myself, but I am, ultimately, not trying to be a serious runner.

So, I am thinking about a 10K, but I haven't decided. And if I don't do it, that's OK. I need to remember that back in January, when I first starting thinking about running, I couldn't run 3 miles, I hated running, and I wouldn't have even thought about a 10K.


Monday, November 7, 2011

It's the little things

Some days, Monday's especially, it can be the little things that keep you going. Today, it is my new tights. I am absolutely thrilled - thrilled I tell you - that I found several pairs of tights at the store that are NOT control-top, and do not make me feel like sausage. I want tights that keep my legs warm and complement my clothes, not ones that make me feel like I am being cut in half. So, yay for the new tights I bought this weekend.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A song for Thursday

Not much to say this week, apparently. So you get a video of one of my favorite musicians -Karine Polwart - playing one of my favorite songs. Warning - it is folky, so if you have an aversion to that sort of thing, don't click. And don't tell me if you don't like it - I don't want to hear it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bye Bye Worms

If you have been following me for a long time, you might remember that we have a worm bin. Or rather, that we had a worm bin. We started using a worm bin to dispose of food scraps back in Austin, when we lived in an apartment and didn't want all the banana peels, apple cores, coffee grounds etc that we produced to go to waste. The worm castings and worm "tea" were great fertilizers for our container gardens. Although it was never as odorless or bugless as the various books and websites asserted it could be, we put up with fruit flies in the bathroom and extra cockroaches on the porch for almost 9 years. They moved to Bellevue with us for a summer, and back to Austin. When we moved to New York, we gave the bin and its batch of worms to a friend. but shortly after we arrived in Brockport, I made a new bin and restocked it. That batch moved to Arkansas with us and lived in our bathroom whenever it was too hot or too cold.

Lately, however, we have been neglecting the worms. Partially, we had a hard time generating enough food for them, since we now also have two regular compost bins in the back yard. We eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, but not so much that the remains can sustain worms and compost. On Saturday, as we were leaving for tennis, I noticed that there were suddenly a lot of dead worms on the floor of the garage - probably because there wasn't anything left to eat in the bin, and they made an ill-fated break for freedom. The garage was never a great place to keep them anyway, since it gets pretty hot in the summer, and there are lots of roaches. So, rather than let the rest of the worms suffer, I emptied the remaining worms into one of the compost bins. If they like it there, they can help the microbes eat up the leaves and food waste and Kirby-bedding. And we will no longer have to have two yogurt containers on the counter with mouldering food in them - just the bucket under the sink.

I feel a little sad about quitting our vermicomposting adventure, although it stopped being much of an adventure quite a while ago. It was certainly something different, something not at all corporate or widespread. Something that was a sort of an extreme lifestyle choice, like making my own yogurt and baking my own bread every week (I don't do either of those all that often anymore), but not as far out as living in a yurt or becoming a dumpster diving freegan. Now, I am just a normal suburban environmentalist, with compost bins and a clothesline.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wait, what?

It has come to my attention that it is Friday, and I have written nothing since Monday. Huh. Not sure how that happened. If I recall correctly, this week has taken about a month to pass by, so it is a little surprising that it is over so quickly. Anyway, my dad sent me this picture the other day. Guess who?


Monday, October 24, 2011

Weekend Update

One of these days, when Benjamin goes out of town, I am going to spend the entire time sitting on the couch reading a book or watching TV. Not this past weekend. Nope, nope, I was too darn busy. On Saturday, I played tennis (twice), had a hair cut, did the weekly grocery shopping, walked the dog, did dishes. Sunday, I did three loads of laundry, went to church, cleaned the bathrooms, vacuumed, baked bread, made soup, made yogurt, walked the dog, washed dishes (at least twice, thanks to all the baking), and eventually picked Benjamin up from the airport. And in doing all these things drove at least 200 miles - half the things I did were in Conway, which is 15 miles to the north, and the tennis was 20 miles to the south.

Oh, and I baked these cookies. So good. Go make them. Now. Here is the recipe from Simply Recipes (if you follow the link, you can get a handy printable version, which is very handy).

Chocolate Orange Shortbread Cookies Recipe

Prep time: 5 minutes 
Cook time: 40 minutes

I like Hershey's Special Dark for this recipe as it gives baked goods a dark, nearly black color and a rich cocoa flavor. However, Ghiradelli unsweetened cocoa or any other brand will do just fine and give more prominence to the orange flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (*Hope's note - yes, Kosher salt for baking. It give the cookies a great bit of saltiness that keeps them from being too rich or sweet.)
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon of orange zest

Method

1 Preheat oven to 325°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2 Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a bowl. (Do not skip this step as cocoa powder has a tendency to clump. You want the dry ingredients sifted to ensure a tender cookie.) Set aside.
3 Beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed in a mixer for 5 minutes, being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom as needed. Add the vanilla and orange zest and mix for 30 seconds. Add about half the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Scrape down the bottom and sides and add the rest of the flour mixture. Once incorporated mix at medium speed for 2 minutes.
4 Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and place the dough on it. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness with a rolling pin. (You can also lightly flour a work space, but I find my method far easier, cleaner, and the shortbread keeps a sandy texture by not picking up the extra flour.) You may find the dough getting too soft. If it does, place it in the freezer for ten minutes to firm it up before you continue rolling or cutting. (The dough is very hard to work with when soft.) Cut into desired shapes and place on the baking sheets about 1-inch apart.
5 Bake for 13-15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. It can be difficult to tell when these cookies are done, so when they smell like freshly baked cookies and the edges are slightly firm but still give a bit then consider them done (simply enough, it takes some judgment on your part). Remove the pans and allow the cookies to cool for a minute or two before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
Yield: Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on my short perusal of the other reviews on Goodreads, this is one book that you will either really like or really dislike - not too many in-the-middles. I would give it 4.5 stars, if able. I doubt I will stop thinking about it for a while, and I want to read it again, soon, to catch things I missed, to revel in the story without the mystery.

It is not an action-filled magical romp; there is no heart-pounding suspense. It is a story that takes time to unfold, and for much of the book you will be slightly confused about what just happened, or why it was important. The dates at the beginning of each chapter are very important to following the flow.

I do think that some of the dislike from other readers comes from disappointment that they got a different book that they expected from the descriptions. Some of the marketing around the book makes this sound like it will be a circus-centered Harry Potter or a Victorian Lev Grossman-style post-modern take on the magical adventure, with some Romeo and Juliet action as well. It is not. The magical contest that sets events in motion is never clearly defined, for the reader or the two main participants. It is not explosions and obvious displays of power. That vagueness continues through much of the book, clouded in a dream-like state and mystery. If you are expecting magical duels of the Harry Potter sort, you will need to look elsewhere. It is not that sort of book.

However, if you are interested in dreams, and the power of stories, and the way both unfold and change with the telling, you may like this. It is also about obsession and love, and friendship, and, of course, the circus.

Not for everyone, I do realize, and I don't know if I would actively push it on any of my friends - in part because I wouldn't want to tarnish it for myself if they didn't like it - but I do recommend you at least give it a try.

All in all, I am very happy that I won a copy of this in a Twitter contest, so I don't have to wait for it at the library, and I have it around to read again, when I get a chance.

View all my reviews


In other news, Fall seem to finally be making an appearance here in Arkansas. On Monday, the temperature hovered near 90; yesterday it never got to 60, and it rained! After my trip to Seattle, where it felt just like Fall should (well, to me anyway), I was rather sad to have to return to the extended summer that had captured Arkansas, so I am pretty darn happy about this turn. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cranky Monday/Stuff I Like

Maybe it is because I have been hit with a new wave of homesickness after my weekend trip to Seattle, maybe it is because that trip meant I had to spend three hours sitting in the Chicago airport yesterday, and more hours crammed into flying tin cans, or maybe it is just because it is Monday, whatever it is, I am feeling cranky today. So instead of telling you about my trip (which went really well, apart from crankiness) because I would probably just rant about fellow travelers etc, I will tell you about a few things I really like right now.
  • Kickstarter:  "A new way to fund creative projects," Kickstarter is a website that allows people with creative ideas to find funding to help them realize their projects. You can find all sorts of things on there, from movies to music to public art and a calendar made entirely from keyboard keys (I am thinking about pledging for that one). If the project doesn't get at least 100% of its funding pledged, it doesn't happen. You can't lose your money. Everyone who pledges is rewarded in some way - at the lowest levels, that is often just a thank you card, but at higher levels, you often get a copy of the completed project, signed items, etc. I have pledged for a couple of movies, both documentaries, that I am really excited to see when they are finished. 
  • Twitter - OK, not a new thing, and not terribly original, but I have really gotten into it lately. At first, I didn't see the point, but that was because I wasn't following anyone. Now, I use it to find new articles about topics I am interested in, and to interact with some of my favorite authors. I don't really share many of my own thoughts or whatnot on Twitter, the way I do here or (less and less often) on Facebook, but if I find a good link, I will probably throw it up there. It feels less invasive to share on Twitter than it does on Facebook, in part because I don't have to have all my personal info there to share with a wider group. And if I never tweeted myself, I would still be welcome to see what others post. 
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A really good new fantasy novel. I won a copy in a contest on, where else?, Twitter. A mix of magic, romance, mystery and a circus. Makes me want some cotton candy and cocoa.
  • Jonboy Caramels: Found these at the Bellevue Farmer's Market last week, while I was home. I bought a box of the Absinthe with Black Salt. Now I must restrain myself from ordering the minimum 5 boxes...and wipe up the drool.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Judgment Day by Penelope Lively

Judgment DayJudgment Day by Penelope Lively
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Penelope Lively's books, and I always find it so hard to describe why. They are generally quiet, without the bluster or bombast of so many novels, yet they are not cloying or claustrophobic. They are observational, but not overly full of description. Generally, I have to like a character in a book to like the book, but I don't feel that need with Lively's books. Certainly, there are characters I empathize with, and others that I dislike immensely, but I don't latch on to any one person.

Judgment Day is very much a Lively novel, in all of those senses. Set in a small English village, it is centered around an ancient church and its neighbors, and the events that happen one spring and summer when they plan a church fundraiser. The fundraiser is to be a play based on several violent moments in the history of the village and church. Throughout the story, there is an undercurrent of tension, or possible violence, like a tiger waiting to spring, and you don't know until the end how or if it will strike. Several of the main characters ponder faith and fate and existence, as many people do, and come away changed, and yet the same, as most people do. Lives are changed forever, and not changed, as is so often the case in real life. A picture of a village, and a picture of the wider world.

Note: This was one of my TBR challenge books for this year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Terrible Minutiae of Daily Life

I wish I had something amazing to share with you here. I don't, since life is pretty much trundling onwards, with only minor diversions and hiccups. One of the problems of keeping a random-focused blog is that there isn't any one topic to fall back on when nothing is going on. I mean, I played four tennis matches in 2 days this weekend, but since I am really just an amateur and the stakes weren't very high, I doubt that qualifies as an exciting adventure. Now, if I were writing a tennis blog, I could feel justified in regaling you with all the details (as much as I remember of them). Instead, I will just say that I won one of my two singles matches, and lost the second, and Benjamin and I didn't win our mixed doubles matches, but we didn't disgrace ourselves either. We got t-shirts.

Apart from that, I am heading home to Bellevue on Thursday for a few days to visit my parents while my dad continues to recuperate from the open heart surgery he had last week. I think my main job is to keep him occupied and save my mother's sanity - not necessarily easy tasks when done at the same time! Anyway, the upshot of that is that Benjamin and I won't be having any interesting hiking adventures this weekend, and I won't be taking my camera to Bellevue, so you won't even have any pictures of my mother's extremely fat cat (he's 30 pounds, but he has an extended colon and possibly glandular issues...). Then Benjamin is going out of town the next weekend for a conference, and I will be left up to my own devices, which means I will probably watch far too many episodes of Leverage and clean the house. Ooh, I can feel your excitement building from here.

Maybe I will think up something clever to say while sitting on the airplane, and if I do, I will try to write it down so I can share it. Otherwise, you may have only books reviews and observations about how mundane my life is for a little while.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: Ganymede by Cherie Priest

Ganymede (The Clockwork Century, #4)Ganymede by Cherie Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cherie Priest is one of my favorite authors right now, and Ganymede is a good example of why. You start with a hefty helping of adventure, some humor, a little social commentary, mix it all up, and you get a novel that compels you to keep reading (even when you should be cleaning house or something else "productive").

This time, the action is mostly centered in New Orleans, where Josephine Early is trying to get a purloined Confederate submarine out of Lake Pontchartrain and out to the Gulf, where it will be given over to the Union. Problem? The sub has killed just about everyone who has tried to sail it, including its inventor. As a last resort, she sends to Seattle for her old friend (and lover) Andan Cly, airship pirate (last seen in Boneshaker, the first Clockwork Century book), on the chance that an airship pilot will have better luck than the sailors who have tried in the past. Cly sets out from Seattle with a new love interest on his mind, and a couple of new crew members. Throw in occupying Texians, zombis, and the tension from a long ago love affair, and you have another great story.

My only quibble is that a few bits of plot don't seem to lead anywhere, exactly, like the Texian who has basically taken up residence at Josephine's "boarding house." He plays a small part in learning about the zombis, or at least I assume he does, since the last we see of him, he is heading off to talk to a Texas Ranger in his hat and underwear, but there were so many hints that he was something more that I felt like he got lost somewhere. There were also hints that Kirby Troost, Cly's newest crewmember, may not be all that he seems - but no revelation.  But these are really only minor quibbles in a book that kept me turning pages and holding my breath more than once.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

This is just to make me feel better

Open letter to the lady who was so rude to me yesterday while I was driving:
I am sorry you were having a bad day. But did you really have to try to ruin mine as well? Honking like that, just because I merged into your lane (in a safe, legal, polite way) is really obnoxious. I didn't cut you off, didn't make you miss the light, didn't make any gestures at you. We were hardly moving as it was, and I used my blinker. Part of the responsibility of driving is being able to subsume your own desire to get somewhere and your own self-centeredness under the greater good of traffic flow and civil society. I know I am not always patient with other drivers myself, but if they use their blinkers and don't do anything that might cause an accident, I try to cut them some slack (Note: Benjamin might disagree). So, for the sake of anyone else who has to be driving around you: Grow Up, learn the rules of the road, and let someone merge once in a while.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shoulda played hooky

The weather this month (all four days so far) has been gorgeous - perfect temperatures, light breezes, sunshine. On Saturday, I spent most of the day outside - first through 4 hours of tennis, and then at a picnic/potluck in the afternoon. Sunday, I was inside more, but I still managed to get in some time in the yard. What I haven't managed to do is go for a hike. This is almost the perfect time of year to head out to the woods in Arkansas. The various and many fall hunting seasons have started, but aren't yet in full swing, so there is less danger of being mistaken for a deer as you hike than there is in November; the weather is not too hot or too cold or too wet. The trees are starting to turn, so there are pretty things to look at.


Alas, we probably won't be hitting the woods until the end of the month, thanks to a tennis tournament and various travel commitments. I was so very tempted to kidnap Benjamin and head out to the woods today. Would have been a lot nicer than the test grading he has to do and the sitting at a desk staring at a computer that I have to do. I wish I wasn't so responsible!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday, end of 30 days

Well, I didn't make it every day this month, but 21 of 30 is still pretty good. What did I learn this time around? That it is really hard to come up with something worth saying every single day of the month. Especially when life is playing routine, and there aren't any exciting trips or hikes or events to talk about. I don't really want to bore you with everything I do, so some discretion was advised as well. I mean, how many times a month do you want to hear me say "I played a lot of tennis," or "I didn't do anything but clean the house this weekend"? Probably not many. I used to put more of that stuff up on Facebook, but not lately. I have been using my blog as the primary way to share what I am thinking about and doing, and leaving Facebook and Twitter as the places where I see what you are up to, and where I share interesting articles and so forth. It is easier to think before I post when I have to write it out here than when I just pop into Facebook and put up a quick status update. Less chance of regret.

Anyway, tomorrow is a new month, and I can guarantee I won't be posting every day. I'll aim for a few times a week though, so there will still occasionally be something worth reading.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A photo for Wednesday

Photo by Michael Donovan
Ah Wednesday. The week is almost half-over, at last. Yup. That's about all I have to say about that for now. So, anyway, my parents visited France earlier this month, and my dad has some of his pictures up on his website. Go visit. They are so cool that I am even more annoyed that they didn't take me (their fully grown-up and independent daughter) along for the trip. There are days when I wish I was still living at home...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Changes, sigh

I am a creature of habit, and I don't like change much. Changing seasons, OK. Changing clothes after going to the gym (and after a shower), OK. Changing the color of ink in my fountain pen, OK. Changing phone numbers, not so OK. Changing residences, not so OK (although I like being somewhere new, eventually). So, I am really getting sick of every single thing I use to organize my life on the interwebs changing. Now, not only do I have to adjust to the new settings on the Facebook feed, there are big changes coming for the profile in general - to make it, what? My memory? The keeper of my life events? That's the way I have heard it described. I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family in far-flung places (and to annoy people with lots of links to articles); I don't need or want it to be the keeper of my important events, memories and photos. So once again I am going to have to go through and change settings, adjust what I see in my feed and what I let others see.  Already I use it less than I used to, and I don't see a new profile changing that.

And today, the promised/threatened migration of Delicious finally occurred. For those of you who don't know, Delicious is a social bookmarking site that allows you to save links/bookmarks and tag them, so they are available on any computer you use, and so you can share them with others (if you so desire). Because I often use two or three computers in a day, I primarily use it to organize all the sites I like to visit on a regular basis, like web comics and magazines and blogs so they are always up to date, no matter which machine I am on. I don't use it to share pages and links with other people. I do that on Twitter and Facebook (which is kind of the problem, to the Delicious developers).  But, the new incarnation (which was made necessary because the original developer of Delicious was going to kill it, before another company took it over) is primarily designed to help you share links with other people, and to discover new things to read/look at that other people like. I really don't need anything else to read, and I don't particularly want to share everything I read with random strangers. Also, because the site is still in beta mode, a lot of the functions and features that I used every day are not working. The only way to sort my bookmarks is by date added. Honestly? I really don't know when I added things, and don't care. I look for something by its name (what a radical idea1). Not all the tags work correctly right now either. So, in an attempt to find something that works, I was forced to turn to my Google Bookmarks list, which I first set up when the future of Delicious was in doubt. But none of my tags carried over, so I had to go through and re-tag everything, and re-delete things I have deleted in the last few months. Which took time that I really should have been using to do something else. And I don't really like having every part of my life on Google - what if they suddenly decide (wrongly) that I am trouble and shut me out of my account? It has happened to people - their entire lives are disrupted.

Then too, Google Bookmarks really wants you to share everything with the public. What is with this need to share everything? Can't we just be by ourselves once in a while? Can't we keep the various aspects of our lives separate once in a while? I like compartments, I like organizing things to be separate that don't really belong together. I don't keep my food in the bathroom, and I don't keep my clothes in the living room. I like that I leave work behind at the end of the day, and I like that I can go to tennis and hang out with friends that don't know and don't care about what I do at work. These are things that keep me sane; it's the same online. For me, it isn't so much about privacy, although that is a valid concern; rather, I don't care about what other people do online, and cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would care what I am doing all the time. I do like to share - see all the articles I share on Twitter and Facebook, not to mention this blog - but sometimes, I like to use these tools just to make my life easier. And to do that, I don't want them to be constantly changing in ways that some faceless developer has determined will be "better."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books Week

Did you know that we are smack in the middle of Banned Books Week? Well, we are. As a librarian/avid reader/liberal, I am very much anti-book banning, so I like Banned Books Week. There are plenty of arguments out there about why banning books (and movies and TV shows and video games and music) is just plain wrong (and stupid), and I am going to trust that you are internet-savvy enough to find them, if you so desire. Instead of adding my voice to that, and rambling on for days - which I am perfectly capable of doing - I will give you my brush with book banning:

When I was in 8th or 9th grade, a parent at my school tried to get a book banned from a class reading list, The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima, because it had naked ladies (actually, culturally-correct pearl divers) and a couple of teenagers tempted to have sex. My mom was on the curriculum committee at the time, and asked me to read the book and give her my opinion. I like to think that was because I was (a) very well-read, with good opinions about books, even back then, and (b) I had extremely well-developed common-sense for someone of my age group. (Mom, don't say anything that will disabuse me of this notion. I like the rosy-tinted view of my precocious self.) Anyway, I read the book, and although I don't really remember all that much about it (I can't remember most of the plot described in the Wikipedia summary), I do remember that it was not in any way worth banning. It didn't get banned, in the end (probably not because of my opinion, alas), which is as it should be.

The whole incident struck me then, as it does now, as incredibly ridiculous. The innocent child who could have been asked to read such filth was in junior high at the time, and the book was for a junior or senior level class. How did having such a book on a list harm that kid? No idea. (Besides, in high school, anything assigned in class is less likely to be read simply because it was assigned i.e. boring and homework, therefore, often skipped. A book you pick up on your own and read in private is one you want to read, and far more likely to be "dangerous").  Also, the book was in an elective class, not a required one. If the parent still had her panties in a bunch over the book by the time the student got to that point, in 4 or 5 years, she could have just not allowed the child to take that class. That is how people should react to something they don't approve of - by not reading it, not by trying to force other people to stop reading it. (Of course, I also think we should expose ourselves to things we don't generally approve of before we make the choice to continue with our dislike, but that is another point for another day). Not to mention that the mother couldn't protect/shield/pamper/mess up her kid for ever.

There are plenty of books and TV shows that I don't approve of for whatever reason, but unless they are primarily hate-speech and require some sort of active response, I don't read them, I don't watch them; it is my choice to make. I don't think books should be banned, because suppressing an idea or opposing viewpoint doesn't allow for discussion, for debate, for exposure of alternatives. It provides a false sense that everyone believes the same thing, that we all ought to live in lock-step with one another. We don't. We shouldn't. In a country that prides itself on being the country of "liberty and justice for all," the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints is a vital necessity. Even for junior high students. So, go read something that has been banned, and flaunt it!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Umm, yeah, Friday

Picture by Candace Donovan
This has been a long week. The weather has been all over the place - up to the upper 80s for a couple of days, then down to 50 last night; sunny one minute, pouring rain the next. One co-worker has been on vacation all week, so my daily schedule is all switched around, which adds to the slight discombobulation caused by all the technological changes on Netflix, Facebook, and Pandora (yeah, they changed stuff too, but I actually like their changes, so I haven't complained). This weekend promises to be busy, as they all have been recently. Oh, and I just thought of something - the rain means the grass will be growing again and the lawn will need mowing. Drat.

Anyway, I'm not feeling too chatty, and I am sure you don't really care for the minutiae of my daily existence. So enjoy this lovely picture of bread (which is making me hungry) that my mother took recently in France, and have a good weekend. I may or may not be here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Funny things to Read

I am still feeling like Grouchy McCrankypants - Facebook's newest change is not helping - but there are still things that make me smile. Here are a few of them, in no particular order:
  • Unshelved - a cartoon by and about libraries and librarians. Some days, I swear they are spying on my office to get their material.
  • Sheldon - another great web comic with a boy genius, a talking duck, a cranky grandfather and Flaco. Squee!
  • Cute Overload - pictures of cute animals. Need I say more?
  • Disapproving Rabbits - of cute rabbits looking disapproving.
  • Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me - the weekly NPR news quiz. It's kind of like the Daily Show, on the radio.
OK. So those are things that make me happy. What about you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grouchy McCrankypants

Yup, that's me today. I am still irritated about the recycling thing from yesterday, and the whole Netflix debacle. I didn't really mind the price hike earlier this summer - I can afford an extra $6 a month, and if I couldn't I shouldn't have it in the first place - but the splitting of the two parts of Netflix into a DVD company and a streaming company just piss me off. We use both, and I agree with Farhad Manjoo's observations 100%:
I think it's an idiotic strategy. Most of Netflix's customers subscribe to both DVDs and streaming, and if they're like me, they like the service because it enables both not-so-picky instant gratification and well-considered delayed gratification. I use the DVD service to select movies that I really want to watch and am willing to wait for; I use the streaming service when I want to watch something—and pretty much anything—right now. I can keep doing this after the DVD plan is renamed Qwikster, but it will require more work. If I search for a movie on Qwikster, it won't tell me that the movie can be seen for free, right now, on Netflix. If I search for a movie on Netflix and don't find it, it won't let me add it to my DVD queue. Say I watch a bunch of DVDs starring Kevin Spacey and then give them all a one-star rating. (I can't stand Kevin Spacey.) Because the two services will have separate ratings databases, Netflix might just recommend that I watch a Spacey marathon.

Add to that Rick Perry's ascendency into the Republican front-runner, despite/because of the incredibly hateful and stupid things he has done, like cutting funds for women's health clinics, and anything else related to the 2012 presidential race, and I am just flat out cranky.

In an ideal world, I would just shut myself away from the radio, newspaper, internet and other people for an indefinite amount of time until I felt better, or at least until I was feeling slightly more charitable towards the human race. Instead, I am stuck going about my normal routine without biting someone's head off or shooting myself in the foot. Sigh.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tennis again, and a recycling rant

The fall tennis flex league starts this week, so tennis will be taking up more time in schedule again for a while. I've only been going to one class a week, and not playing outside of that since the end of July. I have a match today after work, and Benjamin played two matches this weekend. At least the weather is a lot cooler than it was this summer!

In other news... I thought I had read an announcement that our local public works was going to be distributing new recycling bins this fall that would hold a lot of recyclables and wouldn't require sorting, like my parents have in Bellevue. Can I tell you how much I want this? A lot. Currently, the only recycling Maumelle has curbside is newspapers and aluminum cans. Totally useless to me - we don't get a newspaper, and don't use many cans. You can take other recyclables to the recycling center/transfer station, but they have to be separated by type, and I don't think they take glass. When you don't have city-provided bins for keeping things separate, it is a total pain in the neck to do so - we've tried. Anyway, so today I finally got fed up waiting for news from the city about this and emailed the public works department. And found that I was wrong. They have no plans to change the system that is in place, and "In order for recycling efforts to be cost-effective and not end up in the landfills, the materials must be sorted." Which is, as Bellevue shows, totally false. Not to mention that Conway's drop-off doesn't make you sort anything except glass. So I guess we will have to continue doing what we have been doing, and taking monthly trips to Conway with our cars full of recycling. I have been unable to properly recycle anything at my own home since I moved away from home in 2001 - in Austin, our apartments never recycled anything, so we had to take everything to a recycling center there too - and I am getting tired of it. I mean, how many other people in Maumelle actually bother to take any recycling to the drop-off center? Probably not that many. I do, but I am close to what my cousin (who is one himself) calls a hippy nut-job (I have two compost bins and a worm bin - definitely hippy nut-job). In this advanced day and age, we should have smaller garbage cans and larger recycling bins, and I should have to sort my recycling. Simple things to save the earth, like recycling, should be getting easier, not harder.

Friday, September 16, 2011

2011 Reading Challenges Update

Whoops. Looks like I forgot to post anything yesterday. Sorry ('cause I know you are all heartbroken.)


Today, after finishing the marvelous Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, I added it to my "books read in 2011" list on Goodreads, and discovered that it was the 111th book I have finished this year. That was my original goal for the entire year, back in January. I will clearly blow past it by the end of the year - I mean, I still have 3 1/2 months of reading to go - so I revised my goal up to 140. If I meet it, it would be the most I have ever read (at least since I have been keeping track, which means probably ever). Benjamin is a little skeptical, since I have read a lot of graphic novels and manga this year - he says I should remove them from the total. But I don't want to do that - I read them, didn't I? And they are published as books - they have ISBN numbers and everything. So they stay. It is my own challenge, so I can set the arbitrary rules.

The other challenge I joined this year was to read 12 books that had been sitting on my "to read" shelf for over a year (here's my original post about the challenge). So far, I have read 7 of the 12, and I am currently in the middle of the 8th. I managed the two longest a while ago, and 3 of the 4 I haven't started yet are not long. But one of the ones left is Madame Bovary, and it isn't exactly short. I think I am going to listen to that one on my iPod, since I found an unabridged addition on Audible.

If I do manage to read 140 books, I am most likely setting an almost impossible bar for myself. I doubt I will be reading quite so many graphic novels and manga all at one time again, for one thing. Ah well. The important thing is that I will have a challenge for the future.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Procrastination much?

My watch is fixed! Yes, this is a big deal because the battery went out, oh, probably (at least) a year ago, and I have not managed to get around to fixing it until today. And it was strictly because I kept putting it off/telling myself it was too much trouble. I don't tend to procrastinate on important things, but things like getting a watch battery fixed and washing the outside of my house windows, even when they are driving me batty, tend to get pushed off into the future.

For the watch, I didn't know of a jewelry store that was easily accessible during my daily/weekly schedule of errands and work. Any errand that is not something I do on a normal basis is "difficult," and therefore subject to procrastination - I am a creature with deeply ingrained habits and routines. Having to drive somewhere different or do a non-routine weekend errand is a big production, at least in my own head. Never mind that I could have found a jeweler nearby on the internet in less than five minutes, and easily gone by after work as a slight detour. Yes, I know I am completely irrational at times - Benjamin, being pretty darn logical and a philosopher, finds my brain completely mystifying. (Not that he doesn't procrastinate on certain things himself... *washing his car* ahem.)

Anyway, I had a dentist appointment this morning not far from a known (to me) jewelry shop, and I remembered to take my watch with me. Since I had the time, I stopped by and got it fixed. Yay. And no, it really wasn't that hard.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An apple a day...

Photo by Michael Donovan

My office has decided to join a state-run plan to get employees exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables. There are rewards for doing so, and I already do everything it requires, so I could probably clean up when it comes to tallying exercise and eating right, but I am not going to join. Why? Because there are certain things I am willing to do in life, and certain things I am not. Willing to do: get up at 5 AM to go to the gym, even when I have only had 5 good hours of sleep. Not willing to do: fill in a daily log of exercise and food. To their credit, you don't have to set (and reach) a goal to get rewards, which would really piss me off - you just have to do the good stuff and record it. But, even years ago when I was actively trying to modify my diet and lose weight, I refused to count calories or keep a food log (for more than a day or two). Partially, this is because of my perfectionist tendencies - it is so inexact to log in my exercise using only the two categories of "cardio" or "strength/flexibility;" where does one put fencing, for example? And tennis? Yes, it has cardio advantages, but it isn't the same as running or an aerobics class. I find the lack of granularity and detail maddening. Same with the fruit and vegetables counting. How does one count vegetables in a casserole? Or in a sandwich? I get kind of paralyzed by the details. Partially, I don't want to turn everything into a spreadsheet. I already record everything I read, I have a blog, I have a journal. While my dad may keep track of the number of times he mows the lawn each summer, or how many times he fills his car each year, I am not ready to be that obsessive. It gets boring after a while. Partially, it is just me being contrary. If I am doing something on my own, and someone comes along and tells me I should continue to do so, but also keep track, I don't want to. Even if it would get me extra time off. I am just that obtuse. Not that I am going to stop exercising or anything, I just don't want to do it their way.

Also, I am not interested in the program because I already have all the good habits they want to foster.  If the program gets more people in my building to exercise and eat better, great. But since there is no push in the program to actually remove bad habits (apart from smoking) such as drinking sugary sodas for breakfast (or sweet tea - this is the South, after all), and no incentives for eating whole grains and less meat, I am not sure how effective it will be in changing the overall health of people in the office. I suppose I will just have to be happy that at least they are trying. Some change is better than none, after all.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Oh Monday

As the more observant of you might notice, I didn't post anything yesterday, which means that I won't make my goal of posting every single day in September. Since it was a completely arbitrary self-imposed challenge, it doesn't really mean much in the grand scheme of things. I didn't write because I spent most of the day actively avoiding the computer and radio and anything else news related. I didn't write because I don't have anything original or important to say about the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Yes, I remember exactly where I was and what I did that day, but those are my memories and I prefer to keep them that way, rather than using them to create a false sense of empathy or connection. Maybe, one day, if I have children and they study 9/11 in school and want to know, maybe then I will share, but they don't need to be out in the ether of the internet. So consider my lack of posting yesterday as my own moment of silence. If you feel the need to read something about the anniversary and what the attacks have meant for us as a nation, read this excellent "Ask the Pilot" column on Salon.

In other news, today seemed determined to assert itself as a MONDAY, and a full-moon Monday at that. Despite keeping myself very busy yesterday and making myself very tired, I had trouble falling asleep (in part from the brightness of the goldurned moon peeking through the slats of the blinds in my bedroom) and got far too little sleep last night. Adding insult to that injury, I woke up 20 minutes before my alarm normally goes off, which meant I was awake at 4:40 AM. I don't know about you, but I tend to break the morning and night into chunks that I classify as "early" "far too early" and "still the middle of the night." Since I regularly get up at 5 AM, that really should only classify as early, and some days it does. Other days though, it is far too early. But no matter what, anything that falls within the 4 AM time-slot is still kind of the middle of the night to me. Sigh. (Of course, this also applies to sleeping in. For me, sleeping until 6 AM on a weekday qualifies as sleeping in, while 7 or 7:30 on a weekend means I have slept until an ungodly late hour. The cats seem to agree and take pains to get me up close to my normal time. Sigh again.)

Anyway...what my general lack of sleep meant is that I am starting the week off already tired. I did make it to the gym for a 2-mile run and a session in the weight room, but if I had been less tired and moving better, I could have probably done 3 miles. And Monday decided that it was having fun with me, so it made me get bright pink strawberry smoothie on my expensive, hand-made white skirt. It also dropped an uncooked egg off the kitchen counter, but that was part of Benjamin's Monday, not mine exactly. As he said, maybe he unconsciously did it to make me feel better. And there was traffic. Sigh.

Other than all that, I am actually peachy. Or as peachy as a pessimistic, cynical, Eeyore clone ever gets. And at least I didn't spill my scalding tea all over myself.

Since I haven't got any pictures of my own, enjoy one of my dad's. He is currently in France and sending occasional updates. As soon as he gets home, there will be plenty more where that came from, up on his website. (Sorry in advance about the surfing wizard .gif. He likes it...)



Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sick computer still sick

So, my computer is still broken. We took it to the Apple store today, to no avail. Part of the problem is that my computer is now 6 years old, and Apple no longer sells parts or software for it. The guy at the genius bar tried to get it to a point where he could load something onto it, but the computer wouldn't even recognize that drive. I brought it home, dug around in my stuff until I found the original start-up disk, and tried to reinstall the operating system...Nothing. Sigh. It has been a good computer, but I have a feeling that it has had it. If so, I am contemplating replacing it with an iPad, instead of a full computer. Since we have another computer (the one I am using right now), and I don't do any real work on my computer, I have a hard time justifying a brand new laptop. The iPad will have to wait for a while though - they aren't cheap, and I am going to have to be pretty desperate before I can talk myself out of that much money for a toy. Puritan guilt - I've got plenty of it. Anyway, at least I have seen the new Apple store - it looks like any other Apple store, but since it isn't in a mall (well, it is, sort of, but an outdoor one) it is bigger and less squished than the others I have been in. Whee.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday video

Leverage is one of my favorite shows on TV right now. Since it is Friday, and I don't have anything else to say, watch this, then go get the full series.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cherie Priest - go read her books

One of my favorite authors right now is Cherie Priest. I am in the middle of two of her books (one I'm reading with Benjamin and one on my own) and there is another one due out at the end of the month or beginning of next month. Since she writes in a lot of different genres, I can't really describe her as having one style. But she writes really good female characters and snappy dialog, and plain, old, really good stories.  The most famous series is the Clockwork Century - Boneshaker, Clementine, Dreadnought, and coming soon, Ganymede. They are set in an alternate history where the Civil War is still being fought in the 1880s, and Seattle is infested with zombies.

This cover is from the one that just came out on Tuesday, a sequel to Bloodshot. It is also set in Seattle (at least partially), and has vampires (who definitely don't sparkle), a ex-Navy SEAL drag queen, and lots of action.

Anyway, you should go read something of hers. You will thank me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Labor Day at Bell Slough


We considered going for a proper hike on Monday, since the weather was so nice, but decided that we had too much to get done at home to allow us to take so long on an excursion. Instead, we headed up to the Bell Slough - a wildlife management area between Maumelle and Conway.


It's purpose is to provide a resting area for waterfowl and other birds as they migrate. (Although hunting is allow in the area, so I am not sure how restful it really is). It also has a nice trail that loops around for approximately 3 miles through oak trees and other typical Arkansas forest terrain.


Miikka loves hiking here - there is always so much to smell. He was practically quivering with excitement when we got out of the car and headed for the trail at a run, towing me along behind.  When we hike, we have an established order - Benjamin first, followed by Miikka, with me bringing up the rear. Sometimes Miikka tries to take the lead, but he is so often distracted or side-tracked by an interesting smell, and he stops so suddenly that he causes pile-ups. If Benjamin takes the leash, Miikka is worried that I am not right behind him. So: Benjamin, Miikka, Hope.


There were some wildflowers blooming along the path, although it hasn't rained for a few weeks. 


The best part of Bell Slough is that even though it is right next to the freeway, and is in easy driving distance of Conway and Little Rock, there are almost never too many people (and by too many, I mean anyone other than us). It is easy to slip into nature for a little while, breathe in the clean air, and relax. This trip, we saw two other people, but only from a distance. Perfect.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Trying to do too much

Lately, I have this feeling like I am trying to do too many things. Too many new things, to be specific. Since January, I have taken up running, tennis (well, that goes back to November, but it didn't get serious until this year), yoga, and fencing. At the same time I am still trying to go to the gym for weight training a couple of mornings a week, and to do tai chi often enough that I don't forget any of it, and meditate for at least 20 minutes most days (not necessarily because I want to be more enlightened, but because I want to keep panic attacks and crippling anxiety attacks at bay without going back on anti-depressants). I also miss my bassoon, which, I am horrified to admit, I have not touched in at least 2 years, nor played regularly since we left Austin. The garden needs work too. Honestly, I don't have that much time. I work full time, have a dog, three cats, a chinchilla and a husband who all need and deserve my attention as well. Not to mention my bed, which has a standing appointment every night, and is feeling slighted.

I am really enjoying all the new activities and the friends I am making through them, but I don't think this level of activity is sustainable. Nothing is getting my full attention, because I am too busy doing something else to practice anything. I really want to get better at tennis and fencing and yoga, and not lose proficiency in tai chi, and not forget how to play my bassoon, but each one of those is enough to be a full-time hobby on its own. If pressed, I could come up with very good reasons for sticking with every activity - tennis is a sport I have wanted to play for a while and it takes the place of racquetball (which I also miss, but which is sort of a pain to play around here, and Benjamin and I were tired of only playing each other), and I am on a team with fun teammates and a great coach. Fencing is another sport I have been interested in trying for a while, and Benjamin loves it and really wants me to love it as well, and so far, I do. Last week was the first time I actually got to fence, and it was fun - A 12 year-old beat me, but it was fun. Running is really just an extension of the cardio exercise I was doing at the gym, but more intense (and it takes longer for me to run 3 miles than it does to use an elliptical for 30 minutes, which is why scheduling of my gym trips is becoming a problem). Yoga is a good relaxer and strength-building activity, and boy do I need the flexibility work it provides. So, I can't choose; I don't even begin to know how to choose.

I guess it is a good problem to have, since it means I have the money to pay for all these hobbies, and the time to at least attend the practices and classes. And it is obviously a problem of someone without children, because if I had children, I would probably be more worried about them being over-scheduled than worrying about my own activities. But the middle-class, privileged nature of the problem doesn't really make it less of a problem for me right at this moment. For the moment, at least, I will continue with all these activities, and I will continue to drive myself crazy with my attempts to do everything (which rather negates the fun, stress-relieving purpose of hobbies), but one of these days I am going to have to make some choices. Sigh.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Uh oh...

My poor computer is sick right now. It is 5 years old, and last night, while I was reading something on the web, it went blank. Since it was late, I didn't want to deal with it. This morning, when I started it, I got the blue screen of death.  I figured out that I can open it in safe mode, but that means I can't connect to the internet. Good thing we have another computer. Next weekend I guess I will have to take the poor thing to the (brand new) Apple store and see if someone can make it work properly again. It is probably a software issue, but I have no idea how to fix it, even with the "helpful" ideas on the Apple page.

In other news: it didn't rain, but the temperature is just about perfect today. We took Miikka for a walk at the Bell Slough - there will be pictures eventually. Maybe tomorrow or Wednesday. I re-potted a couple of plants, put together a new bookshelf, got some laundry done, with Benjamin's help cleaned the house. So much for not doing anything this weekend.

The weather is supposed to be really nice all week, but I predict we will have at least another week of really hot weather before fall comes in for good. But at least we know it is on its way.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Oliver is in a hat


I have had a request for more pictures of Cleo and Oliver, but since they rarely leave the bedroom or do anything photogenic these days, you get a few older pictures.  We are heading to a potluck for Benjamin's philosophy department, and there is a chance of rain. Such is your weekend update.

In the meantime, Oliver is in a hat. Your argument is invalid.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Not going to fail this soon

Ha! Thought I forgot all about blogging today, didn't you. Well, OK, I did, for a while. But I am here now, a good three hours before midnight. Not that I have anything particularly interesting or illuminating to say today, so this is a little stream of consciousness. I've been awfully busy so far, for a weekend in which I said I was going to do nothing. When you have a three-day weekend, everyone always asks if you have any big plans. I do it to other people, they do it to me. I usually say no - because I hate doing "big things" at the same time that everyone else in the area is doing the same "big thing." I mean, I love camping, but I would never voluntarily go camping on Labor Day or Memorial Day (umm, although that is exactly what we did this past Memorial Day...but the river we camped by was packed, so it proves my point a little). Too many people also taking that opportunity to get back to nature. I might be willing to go to a museum or something, if there was an exhibit I was interested in. Generally though, I prefer to stay home and relax on a three-day weekend.

But there isn't anything like that this weekend, and I planned to not be busy. But I spent most of the day out, at a tennis lesson, running errands. Good thing I have an extra day, although, we are thinking of going for a hike, if it isn't raining. Hike, I said, not camping. So I am not really breaking my own rule.

Time to go relax for a little bit before bedtime. Tomorrow I have to wash a cat, so I will need my rest!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book Report: The Reading Promise


Since I promised to write every day this month, it seems appropriate to start the month off with a book about a promise: The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma. You may have heard of this book when it came out earlier this year - Alice and her father started reading together when she was in elementary school, and continued, every day, until she left for college. This book is about The Streak, as they called it, but it is also about the importance of reading and books and family.

Overall, I give the book 3 1/2 stars out of 5. I love the topic and the idea of a reading streak. Both my parents read to me while I was growing up, but not every single night for years, and at some point, I started reading aloud to my mother while she was driving me to and from my music lessons and orchestra rehearsals and on road trips. Then I started reading to Benjamin while we were dating, and we still read together. So, obviously I approve. I enjoyed the way Alice Ozma (yes, both names from books, yes, bother actually her names - the middle ones. And she said she liked them together, so I will go ahead and refer to her that way) used the days of The Streak as markers for important events in her life. But...I sort of wished she said more about the books themselves, about what they were reading, about how she felt about those books. She admits that they didn't even really keep track of everything that they read (augh! How could you not do that?!) That isn't what this book is, but that is sort of what I hoped for from the subtitle. More my problem than the books though.

One problem I had, apart from that, was the dialog. I simply couldn't find it believable at times that a child would speak the way Alice Ozma records herself as speaking, and I can't believe that she remembered conversations that clearly. I know that recreating conversations is not unusual in memoirs, so my problem isn't with that, exactly; it is more that the 10 year old Alice Ozma at the beginning of the book sounds an awful lot like the 20 year old Alice Ozma at the end of the book, or like dialog written by an adult who doesn't know any children. Yes, she read a lot and had a big vocabulary. So did I, and I certainly don't think I ever sounded like that. It is just a bit too precocious and precious.

Overall though, I enjoyed the book. It was an easy read, and it is a great testament to reading aloud together. I think teachers, librarians, and parents would enjoy it. If you are interested in more information about the book or Alice Ozma and the Reading Promise that is in the back of the book, you can visit her website: Make a Reading Promise.