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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