Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 30 - An Author that you will read whatever they put out

I was so busy yesterday, that although I had this topic covered, I didn't have time to post day 30. This is a good topic to end a 30-Day book challenge.

If you've hung with me, you know there are others whom I could have put in this spot; Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde. I decided on Erik Larson because he writes what is probably termed "historical fiction". This means, he takes a real event, researches it and then writes about that event, but he makes up things that couldn't possibly be known, such as how people felt or what private conversations they might have had with, say, a neighbor.

I stumbled across Larson in 1999, when I worked at The Bookstore. A book named Isaac's Storm had just come out. It was about the Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900, which has been labeled the deadliest hurricane in US history. As the hurricane category scale and the appellation of names to them had not happened, it's referred to only as the "Galveston hurricane".

The Isaac of the title was the chief meterologist stationed in Galveston. The book details not just how much the fledgling US Weather Service knew, but when they knew it and the whole political climate surrounding how much information to feed the public. In reading this book, particularly with the backdrop of Hurricane Irene behind us, you might be appalled at what people of 1900 took for granted. Galveston changed the Weather Service.

I was allowed to take the book home to read. After all, it's hard to sell something you haven't read. Jenny, one of the co-workers, called and said she wanted it back the next day so she could put it in the window. I had already read a bit over a third of it so let's keep going.

I distinctly remember looking at the clock in the living room at 1:30 a.m. Larson was building up to the arrival of the hurricane. I like to tell people, "The hurricane arrived at 2 a.m. and I didn't put the book down for another hour." I know I was tired the next day, but I could take Carole to school, go drop off the book at the store and come home for a nap. 

After that, I read Devil in the White City. This was another "can't put me down" books. I supposed the setting, Chicago and the World Colombian Exposition of 1893 was appealing from the start. There are things still on the south side of Chicago which were created for that world's fair. The 'devil' was one, H. H. Holmes who, it is thought, murdered from 20 to 200 people while he lived in Chicago. Most of these murders took advantage of the World's Fair by luring people to stay at a 'boarding' house Holmes had set up along one of the avenues to the fair. The house has been long gone. I read this at a time when I had to drive through that area for work and I tried to imagine what it looked like, with all the buildings and the people.

His next book, which I have not read but which is in the pile is Thunderstruck, a story about the first wireless transatlantic communications. Guglielmo Marconi's story is told in tandem with that of a Scotland Yard detective who is hot on the trail of a murderer who is moving to Quebec. It's been called Larson's least compelling book. As I haven't read it, I can't testify to that.

The book at the top of the column is Larson's latest. It came out in May. It's the story of William Dodd, the US ambassador to Hitler's new regime. All the press I've read about it say this is Larson's best book to date. I'll have to see if I can get it.

And this concludes 30 days of books. This has been quite fun and has forced me to assess my reading.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


It Probably Should be Bronzed

In my travels about the city and its environs, I can see some of the most interesting things. Today, another 'vision' crossed my path.

This is an empty lot that is in the process of being developed. When finished, it will be a high rise with condos and retail. The site is being prepared for the heavy equipment to start. In the corner, was this.

I was with Doug from the office and Glen, our client. We stood there, gazing upon the pile and just burst into laughter. The only thing this needs is a pink flamingo, or maybe a pair of tennis shoes.


Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 29- An Author that you completely avoid/hate wont read

Never mind that he is considered an icon of American Literature. Never mind that everything he wrote is considered a classic by any standard. I suffered through several of Faulkner's short stories in my American Literature class in college. I found his writing dense, hard to read and understand. It was as if he was writing around what his topic was and never to the topic. I have to guess what this means? Sometimes, I don't mind, but when the whole story felt like that, I couldn't imagine reading a whole book written in that fashion.

Hence, thanks but no thanks. If you're a friend, don't buy me any Faulkner. Don't recommend any to me. I don't care if Go Down, Moses is your favorite novel of all time, I'm not interested in reading it. I'll be nice and polite when you hand it to me and say, "You simply MUST read this", but I'll "accidentally" leave it in a store somewhere.

Sometimes, I am willing to give someone another chance, as I did with Moby Dick. Other times, nope, not on a bet. Faulkner is an "other time".

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea



It's funny the attachment we have to things. It's been so hard to divorce myself from the emotions I have when I look at those two rings. They reminded me of a happier time, a time when even if life was difficult, there was someone who shared the natural ups and downs. Perhaps the inability to let go of these reflected my wish that life would be like that again. I am lonely, sometimes oppressively so, and wish I came home to "Hi, how was your day?" instead of meows.

So, in spite of gold being in the sky-high neighborhood and the proximity of someone who will pay me a very good price for it, it's been very, very, extremely hard to walk into the store, hand them these rings and say, "I'd like to sell them." There's so much emotion tied up in two small rings.

Saturday, I did it. It was number one on my list of things to do. I had to get more Terro because the ants were back after a week's hiatus, not in the same thousands but 3 or 4 running around the counter mean there are hundreds waiting back at the nest for a report. I told myself that I couldn't go to the hardware store to get Terro until I had sold the rings. I have more than enough money for Terro but this way, I forced myself to pull into the lot, get out of the car and walk into the jeweler.

It was quite hard to do, actually. I got involved in a video upload project to YouTube. I have all these movies of my WOW guild's events that I want to get up on our guild web site. Then, I can burn the originals to CD/DvD and erase them from my computer, freeing up a lot of memory. Some of the videos are quite long so I get one started uploading and I go off and do something else.

Dragging my feet? Sure. Of course I was and I knew it. I acknowledge this is hard. This is getting rid of a part of my life. Never mind that it will make my current life better, I am selling a part of myself. But, eventually, I reached a point where I had to go out. I also had emailed an incorrect time sheet and needed to go to the office to correct it. I told myself I couldn't correct it until I'd sold my rings.

It was a painless process. I also brought in a couple of rings I've had but I don't wear. They took the bottom one but not the top one. The gal said that although the top ring is stamped 10k gold, it is not. She recommended that, if I wanted to get rid of it, a pawn shop is a good place. "You won't get a lot for it, but if you don't wear it at all, something is better than it sitting around in a drawer. It's a pretty ring and someone might like it. Or, you could try Ebay."

They took the rings, stones and all. I walked out with a very nice check. One 10k ring and 2 14k rings yielded more than I was expecting. I told myself I would be happy with enough for a tank of gas. This was much more than a tank of gas.

I have a pair of earrings and a necklace with blue topaz stones in them. They are probably 10k gold but I do occasionally wear earrings and necklaces. Rings just won't fit on my fingers anymore.

So, it's done. It wasn't as painful as I thought it would be. They were very nice in the jewelry store. I put the check they gave me straight into the bank, went to Dominicks and got myself some Dr Pepper and vanilla ice cream. I figured I could treat myself to a Dr Pepper float.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Day 28- A Book you wish you never read

I've read my share of head scratchers. My book journal is littered with "I can't recommend this book" reviews. I've covered some of those earlier in the month.

I'm going to pick this one as, first of all, a reason recommending a book to someone backfires. Secondly, for me, it fully fits the topic.

I look in my journal and note that I listed no less than 6 different people recommending I read this. I remember having doubts about it. "It's a retelling of the Christmas story as a war between Satan and God." Wait a minute. A war? My skepticism meter just started beeping.

My review says that while this might be an interesting premise, this was the sappiest Christmas book I'd ever read. I remember it being a small tome, about 8 inches high by 4 inches wide. It would take, maybe, 90 minutes to read. I remember the ending, when Jesus comes into the world and God has triumphed that the author tried ever so hard to tie this back to people's lives. Maybe it does, but I felt as if the author was patting me on the head saying, "Good girl. Now run along and play because everything's okay."

Lucado is a well-known preacher and author. He has dozens of what I would call "feel good" books available. Perhaps it's my jaded life talking but I find this kind of 'inspiration' very hollow. When asked, "Did you like it? Isn't it just wonderful?", all I could manage was a smile and an "It certainly is an interesting premise". C.S. Lewis has done the same topic with a better hand.

This just reinforced my resolve that what I read is what I like. You probably like something completely different. You might even like this book. I didn't. It's definitely a 'Dorothy Parker' book.

Beverage:  Boston Harbor tea


Day 27- A Book you would write if you had all the resources

In every family tree, when you start poking around, you find the "human" aspects of it. Sometimes, those aspects can be more "human" than you expected.

There is a murderer in my tree, a man who was tried and convicted for murder. My mother stumbled upon it in the late 1960's as she started poking around, getting names and dates and stories. It's on my dad's side of the family.

His great-grandfather murdered a woman and her 3 kids. Not only that, the woman was pregnant and the child was probably his as it was well known he was seeing her. He had a wife and children and his wife was pregnant at the same time as the mistress.

Even in 1869, these kinds of things can't stay hidden for long. Although he dumped the bodies in the Mississippi River in the winter, come the spring thaw, they were found. He dumped their personal possessions into the river, but a fisherman pulled up one of their trunks and the connection was made between the bodies and the trunk. As he was last seen with them, he was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in their deaths. The Iowa Supreme Court threw the case out on a technicality, saying the State did not prove premeditation, which was needed for first-degree. He was given the option of another trial or to take the lesser charge of second-degree murder and spend the rest of his life in prison. He opted for the lesser charge.

I've got copies of the newspapers of the time where the trial was printed on the front page for people to read the testimony. Imagine that today. We found his last will and testament in the county courthouse. Supposedly, he published a pamphlet explaining his side of things, the proceeds of which were to go towards his family. According to the newspaper, these pamphlets sold very well. I'd love to find one. Supposedly, there were photos, called 'likenesses', of the man and his uncle, whom he came to the US with. I'd love to find that too. He was disowned, as you would imagine, by his family. The family farm was sold to neighbors the year he went to prison. We don't know why, but it was sold back to the oldest son two years later. It's still in the family.

It's a fascinating story. Over the years that I've known about it and I stumbled upon it in the fall of 1975 while doing research on a topic for Comp and Lit in college, pieces of the event have gradually been revealed. I still don't have a motive. One was never printed in the paper. The papers say his lawyers didn't deny a crime had been committed, only that Iowa had no jurisdiction over the case as the bodies were found on the Wisconsin side of the river. I keep meaning to look at Wisconsin papers from that era to see if they covered the trial. Supposedly, papers as far away as San Francisco and New York sent reporters.

Would it make a best-seller? Probably not. In talking with grandchildren of the man, they refused to discuss him or their grandmother. They either quit talking or changed the subject. We have no clue what kind of person their grandmother was. She never remarried and is buried by her parents and brother in the city cemetery, her grave unknown to us until last fall when mom and I spent a chilly morning looking for everyone.

How do I tell the story? Do I tell it from his point of view? That would certainly be interesting, but I don't have a motive. Autopsies were never performed on the bodies so how they died is open to speculation. Should I tell it from her point of view? The two of them were married to others when they met. From the testimony of women at the trial, I'm thinking she didn't have many friends because of this liaison. Or maybe tell it 3rd person, with someone stumbling upon the trial as they were taking the train west. I've started this. I've stopped. I've done some research and I've quit. I have everything in my dad's briefcase, all the work I've done so far. Some day, I tell myself, some day.

I read somewhere that everyone has a book inside of them just waiting to come out. This would be my book if ever I sat down to write it. No, I don't have a title. If I did, if there was a title, maybe that would be more inspiration to write. I don't know. For now, knowing the story, if in bits and pieces, is enough.

Beverage:  Boston Harbor tea


This Vexes Me #12

I'm trying to clean. I have company coming at the end of September and this whole pain in the joints thing really hampers what I can do in a day. I tried cleaning windows yesterday and my hands just ache after only a couple of windows. I sat down in the recliner and just burst into tears. My frustration level is very high. I need to pay off the medical bill or pay it down substantially and go back to the doctor for a next step.

But it doesn't help matters when you want to clean in a fashion that's not hard on the body and contraptions conspire against you.

On the left is the old sponge mop. I don't sponge mop all that much. I sweep. I have hardwood floors and I damp mop them once in the spring after the fall and winter dirt and mud have been brought in. I wash the bathroom floor once every 6-8 weeks and the kitchen floor once every 4 months unless I spill something. Plus, I don't have that much square footage to mop.

After 2+ years, the sponge is coming apart. Time for a new sponge. Of course the brand I have is no longer made. I went to the grocery and the hardware store and Walgreens and none of them had this particular brand of mop. So, that means I have to buy a completely new mop. This happens all the time.

I am convinced, somewhere, mop manufacturers sit around a big table every 3 months and say, "Okay, it's time for a mop redesign. Lets make the sponge 3/4 of an inch longer. We made it wider last time." This forces the consumer to buy a whole new mop because there are no sponges in the size they have.

I suppose I should have purchased a replacement sponge when I bought this mop. I have ants in the kitchen again so I had to get more Terro and I bought the mop at the hardware store. If I need more Terro this coming weekend, I should get another sponge so, in two years when this one wears out, I'll have a replacement.

So, who wants to help move some furniture so I can mop?

Beverage:  Boston Harbor tea


Friday, August 26, 2011

Time For Another Batch

There are two dozen ornaments in that pile. This marks the first batch done. I'm very pleased with how they turned out. 

This is the perfect thing to do for an hour or two after getting home from work. I can work on dishes and, while a load soaks, stitch and stuff ornaments. Or, I toss a load of wash into the machine and while it washes, stitch and stuff. My lap is reasonably open for Pilchard to come sit down in it when she has a mind to. 

On Wednesday, I sat down to stuff a bunch and noticed something in the bag of fiber fill. Yes, it's very dead and desiccated, but I don't think it crawled in after I opened the bag. It has me a bit worried about other bags of fiber fill. I read today where one of the most notorious world grain pests was found in a bag of rice at customs at O'Hare. I remember, some time ago, reading that agents catch roughly 80% of the foreign plants and animals that come into the country. I'm hoping this was an American bug that didn't make it and not a foreign bug. Although it didn't make it, the fact that it was in the fiber fill is enough to give me pause. I dropped it onto a piece of paper and stepped on it to further make sure it was deceased. 

Tonight I did a head count of approximately how many ornaments I think I want. The tally is up to 60. I started to cut out the next batch. Laying material out on the table assures that I will get "help". 
I had to wash this again as she had left too much hair to successfully remove with a lint roller. Once she got off it, I folded it up and put it on top of my sewing chest where she won't sit. I don't want to wash it between stitching groups of ornaments. 

Tonight I cut, if my counting was accurate, another 27 to stitch. This is a great project for me. I can sit and pin the trim around a bunch of these. I put up the recliner and elevate my knees. It works great. I stitch a bunch, then stuff a bunch. It feels good to see the pile growing. 
For sure, I have more than enough left to make my 60 ornaments and then some. The weekend is filled with errands and the start of heavy duty cleaning in anticipation of company at the end of September. When cleaning gets to be too much for the knees, I can fall back to the ornaments. 

Beverage:  water


Day 26-A Book you wish would be written

I don't have an idea for this topic. It's been bugging me all morning. Do some work. Stop. Think about the topic. Do more work. Stop. Think some more.

On Wednesday, I said there's never not going to be a need or desire to tell stories as long as we communicate. The topics we use, the language we use, the manner in which we tell our stories reveal a lot about who we are and our desire to communicate our wants and needs to others.

The writing of a book is a very personal adventure, regardless of whether your book is set in the here and now and deals with the guy across the street and his vegetable garden or if it's set on a world where rabbits rule and humans are the ones who steal the carrots in the middle of the night. Every book, even the terribly awful one by John Travolta which I used at the beginning of the month, is a window into the author's soul, his or her thoughts and feelings and how they view life.

When I read fiction, I gravitate toward those books deemed "classics". This generally means something written before 1920. There are writers whose works have entered the literary pantheon and who lived and still live in current times. I might get to them some day.

I gravitate towards non-fiction. I believe part of that is my life-long desire for knowledge. One of my favorite aphorisms is "The truly educated never graduate." Non-fiction fills the desire to know and to learn.

When, in my infrequent forays into bookstores, I wander about, I realize there are books about pretty much anything. Cooking:  Vegan, Gluten Free, Making Cheese. I typed "Arthritis Cooking" in the Barnes and Noble search engine and up popped 32 different results. Some are the same book in hardcover and paperback, but there's a cookbook for what I'm going through.

I typed in "Counted Cross-Stitch" and up popped 45 results. And if I type in "Cats", I have over 700 choices to peruse. Erik Larson of Isaac's Storm and Devil in the White City fame has a new book out. I didn't know about that. I'll have to see if I can save up for it. So what could I possibly want to read that hasn't been written?

I thought of something as I was perusing the virtual stacks in the fields I enjoy. There isn't a biography of Terry Pratchett, author of Discworld. Perhaps that is by design, but someone needs to be working on that as he has Altzheimers. 

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 25-Favorite Autobiographical/Biographical book

Ah biography.

In addition to non-fiction and history, biography is one of my favorite categories of books. At one time, I was going to attempt to read a biography of every president of the US, in order. David McCullough had just released his biography of John Adams and literary critics were praising it for being an exceptionally good read. Well, why not read about all of them. I started to make a list of books to get but hit a snag at number 8, Martin Van Buren. Not a lot is written about him. And it gets really sparse with Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. It's still a goal but, along with floating down the Danube, it's low on the list.

I believe the first biography/autobiography I read was Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. I don't remember if I read this in high school or college. It was presented, not as a story of a life, but as a work of literature. How did Douglass deal with the theme of slavery? How does he pull the reader into his narrative and hold them? Honestly, I don't remember anything about the book other than the paperback copy I had was stoplight green with red lettering in the title.

Biography is a fun place to hang out, to see all the people whose lives are fodder for books. I realized, in searching for a title for this topic, I haven't actually read much that would qualify as biography. My selection perhaps isn't so much a biography as a non-fiction discussion. My justification for including this book is that the author delves into the lives of Milton Hershey and Forrest Mars, Sr. It talks about their inspirations for their chocolate, how they cornered the markets, their cut-throat advertising campaigns and the secretiveness that surrounds each company.

Hershey, an orphan, created the Hershey Foundation and the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Orphans were and still are provided housing, food and an education by the Foundation that chocolate built. Hershey, Pennsylvania is a destination now with hotels and chocolate factory tours. For the record, I have never been there, but it's higher on the list than floating down the Danube.

M&M/Mars is a privately held company whose main switchboard will tell you, if you call to ask who is the current CEO, "I'm sorry. That information is not available." Click. The determination between the two companies to beat each other up makes for fast reading. It's also rather eye-opening in how people get treated by the Mars family and, for a bit, my consumption of M&M's went down.

The book also talks about chocolate, after all, these companies made their fortunes on that brown substance. There is a brief history of chocolate and a very interesting discussion on why 'synthetic' chocolate will never work.

If you aren't a fan of biographies, this might be a good one to pick up as a start. It's a cultural history as much as a biography. How Hershey got the military to include chocolate bars in soldier's ration packs in World War II makes for a great read. So, this is my selection for this topic. Now I will have to run out at lunch and get some chocolate as I have none.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Day 24 - A Book you later found out the Author lied about

I hit this topic yesterday. My first reaction was, "Who picks these topics?" After thinking about it for a whole day my reaction still is, "Who picks these topics?"

I don't know how long this 30-Day Book Challenge has been up on Facebook because I'm a Facebook novice compared to others. It strikes me as pulled from the headlines, specifically the James Frey controversy over his A Million Little Pieces memoir. I've not read this book and probably won't. It does not interest me.

But, I've been thinking about all the books I have read over the years. I started in fiction. Someone's ability to tell a good story will never, ever not be needed as long as humans can communicate. Reading Rainbow's theme song defines storytelling.

Butterfly in the sky
I can go twice as high
Take a look
It's in a book
A Reading Rainbow

I can go anywhere
Friends to know
And ways to grow
A Reading Rainbow

I can be anything
Take a look
It's in a book
A Reading Rainbow
A Reading Rainbow

Books transport you to places you wouldn't be able to go. Books will assault your senses on topics you may have avoided. Books help heal. Books provide laughter and can make you cry. I've done all these things and more with a book.

As my tastes in literature changed, I have gravitated toward non-fiction and history. I look through my pile and over 70% of the books in the to be read stack are non-fiction. When I wander a bookstore, that's where I find myself. In the past, I would have spent time in fiction. How can you say an author of fiction lies when, technically, the whole thing is made up anyway? So I can't point to a fiction work and say the author lied.

I could point to the Nancy Drew series and say the publisher lied to me. I always thought Carolyn Keene was a real person and I was amazed at her ability to churn out a new book about every 6 weeks and have them be as good as they were. It's only in the last 20 years that we've come to know it was a series of authors who wrote them and the Hardy Boys books. 

I don't think I have ever found out later that the author of a book I read lied to me. Non-fiction and history books have to, by their topic, be researched and contain a bibliography. I like to read the bibliographies in books like Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm. It gives me a sense that if I really wanted to check his veracity, I could read anything he cites as a source.

Hence, I have nothing for this topic. Perhaps, had James Frey not been called on the carpet by The Smoking Gun or Oprah, there would be more books where authors fudged or outright lied. But, we live in a world now where what you did 20 years ago as a rambunctious teenager can be found out. You don't have the ability to hide. If you write something about your life and say, "I broke Mrs. White's windows on that gray Sunday morning while she was at church," you better have done that because, if you didn't, we'll find out.

I'm unsure if that's good or bad.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day 23- Favorite Romance Novel

You will never catch me reading a romance novel. I have, in my day, read a few 'bodice-rippers', but I find the whole genre distasteful. I can't even remember the name of the author of the book I read. I don't remember the book's title. I remember the cover graphics as some woman leaning against some man with the moon reflecting off the ocean. I think it was the ocean. Or maybe that was a flashlight and they were hiding from the police? I don't know. Girl meets bad boy. They date. He does something that honks her off. She can't stop thinking about him. They meet up. He tries to change but can't. She realizes that he's just misunderstood...gag. Sorry. If I want science fiction, I'll read Larry Niven.

So, what do I put for this category? Well, let's go backwards in time to the Victorian era. Not all 'romance' novels have to have Fabio on the cover. Some can feature an idyllic path through green grass next to a babbling brook. Two sisters and another woman probably could be considered the mothers of romance writing, but what they wrote falls under the "classics" section of the bookstore.

I choose Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. This is the only book Emily wrote. If you don't know the story; girl, whose father owns the manor house, hires boy who is beyond rough around the edges. The two fall in love but because of his status, they are prohibited from marrying. Through a series of misadventures and ill-timing, they marry others, but their spheres of life intersect repeatedly. The boy leaves and returns rich and with status. The former lovers meet. She dies later after giving birth to a daughter. He has a son by a wife he detests. He falls into madness, hearing her ghost throughout the house. When he dies, his son and her daughter realize they are in love and will be wed on New Year's Day to start a new and positive branch of the forlorn tree.

It's taught in school as a book about revenge and how obsession and revenge comes back to haunt you. It played on the Victorian sense of anyone could raise themselves up through hard work to become a noble but the price paid could be loneliness. Neither of the book's main characters, Heathcliff and Catherine, get what they want and the decisions they make are not about being true to themselves.

It's a pot boiler, to be sure. You can sometimes see what's coming long before it gets there, but, with a sumptuous setting and well defined characters, the passion comes through on each page. Read the book and then go rent the movie starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. Although the second generation, Heathcliff and Catherine's children, are omitted from the movie, this is my favorite adaptation of the book. Olivier should have won the Oscar for his portrayal of Heathcliff. He was up against someone named Clark Gable for something called "Leaving with the Breeze" or something like that. (For the record, Robert Donat won for Goodbye Mr. Chips.)

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Beverage:  Dr Pepper

Day 22-Favorite Series

A bit busy so I haven't had a chance to post to the book challenge. Here goes.

I've already covered some book series so I won't revisit them. I read Nancy Drew when I was growing up. I have a lot of the Discworld series. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a series. There's also the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, but I haven't read all four books. I'm working through Jaspar Fforde's Thursday Next series. All of these are great books and it's wonderful that there are more in them to keep the story going.

But I think the longest running series I have continually read has been this one, the Agatha Christie Mystery Collection. I have no idea how I got an offer to buy these but I did. One a month came to the house for years. I'm not sure if I got all of them but I know I got a lot of them.

I mentioned Agatha Christie as a book that was descrated when turned into a movie. The problem with her books is that there are so many things going on at once. It's impossible to put all the characters in a book into a movie. Sometimes, that's not too bad. Other times, those bit characters have information that is vital to the plot.

I like to read the books and try to figure out who did it. I have never been right. When it's revealed at the end who committed the crime, I'm wrong. I missed the subtle clue, very evident on page 83, that gave Hercule Pirot or Miss Marple just what they needed to crack the case.

These books are often dismissed as formulaic writing. With minor twists in the plot, it's the same set up, critics complain. I think there's just enough difference in each story that although the basic outline of the plot is still there, it's a different story. They are a quick read and the kind of book that, once you're finished, you could leave the paperback in the airport for someone else to enjoy.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Shake Rock Rattle and Roll

I did not feel it. No matter what you have heard on the news, I am stating that it is categorically impossible for even the most sensitive person to have felt the Virginia earthquake in Chicago. Ohio, possibly. Chicago, no. Ground waves would have dissipated by the time it got to our area.

My company has a large presence on the East coast. From Florida up through Connecticut, we have offices with a wide variety of instrumentation spread out east of the Appalachian Mountains. I contacted our Maryland office inquiring if they had picked anything up. This morning, I was rewarded with 83 separate reports. We have remote units that call out if triggered in both Philadelphia and New York City. Every single one of those triggered, amounting to some 50 separate units calling out to say, "Oh wow! I got something! Let me show you!"

In my time here, I have experienced, although that's not the right word since I didn't wake up for any of them, three separate earthquakes. All have been minor, less than 3.5 on the Richter Scale. Some of our equipment triggered. Most did not mainly because the quakes happened between midnight and 6 a.m. when the equipment is 'sleeping'. So, to have a quake happen during the day when equipment would already be working is a joy.

Below is the waveform result which I thought was the coolest. The sensor is buried in the ground outside of a building which is in proximity to a limestone quarry.

You can see how it starts and how the vibration continues long after the machine's recording time ends. Quarry blasts are of short duration. Although this record is set for 8 seconds, we know the earth shook for over a minute. You can see the rolling of the earth here, what's called 'racking and shearing', as one side goes up and the other side goes down. The top channel being the biggest means, totally by accident, this sensor was pointed towards the area that moved. Those are the ground waves passing it by.

My son-in-law's second day of work was yesterday at the North Anna nuclear facility. His postings about how the plant efficiently shut down as the quake started were very reassuring. "Some stuff fell off the wall and a couple hoses detached, but that's it." Of course, later, there's more that they find, but it was still not of the magnitude it could have been.

Carole was at her job in Penneys. "Some shoes fell off displays, that's all mom." She said half her brain said, "OMG EARTHQUAKE!" while the other side said, "Hey, this is cool." She also said she can cross off her to do list, "Feel an earthquake".

One friend was grocery shopping and watched stuff fall off shelves. A guild mate was in an office in Boston and was ordered to evacuate. Another guild member was awakened from a nap. The best quote was from one of David's friends who wondered why the earthquake couldn't wait until the hurricane hit. "That could be followed by the locusts and the frogs."

This is a reminder that we live on a very dynamic planet. I was a bit worried about Carole and David when I read about the earthquake but I felt it wasn't of significant magnitude that they couldn't get home. When she called later, I was greatly reassured. Now, I can put all my worry energy into the torrential rains bound to come with Hurricane Irene.

Beverage:  Dr. Pepper


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Don't Know if It Will Help

I found this today, while doing my morning reading in between downloads and answering the phone. I'm reprinting the entire essay because it's important.

The Self Esteem Act: It's Time to Confront the Bully That Is Our Beauty Culture 

My wife and I almost beat-up a six-year-old girl yesterday. 

She was a playground bully; pushing, cutting, baiting, and hating all over our kids' happy. And we get all mama bear when our kids' happiness is at stake. 

And it is. Not by a six year-old playground tyrant; we scared her off, but by our popular, media, and beauty cultures, who may be the biggest bullies of all. And these three are a lot bigger, tougher and more popular than that six-year-old girl. But just as surely, they're opening a can of whoop-ass all over our little kids and, in fact, women and girls of all ages. 

Popular culture influences and shapes how we feel, what we think, talk and wonder about. It can wield this power for good and ill, passively or actively. Hollywood can raise and even change our consciousness -- or just mess with it. And these days, like a playground bully, it's messing with it. 

See, there's an epidemic crisis of confidence affecting girls and women, and an inextricable link between the epidemic and our cultural products, norms and images. The numbers are horrifying:
Walk down a crowded middle/high school hallway and over 70% of the girls you'll see don't think they're "good enough" in some way. 

Remember being 13? Well, 50% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. By the time they're 17, 800,000 out of 1 million of them will be unhappy. 

80% of adult women feel insecure about their looks after seeing images of women as depicted in the media. 80% feel worse about themselves after being "entertained"! 

I've spent a career at the intersection of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. This intersection paid for our house. Actually, it's paid for pretty much everything in our lives. Thus we're lovers not haters so to be clear we're talking about Hollywood broadly and metaphorically, and really mean the purveyors of the stuff that popular culture is made of from Madison Avenue, 6th Avenue, and Main Street too. 

It's perverse that something that really just wants to make us feel good for at least a moment can make us feel bad for a lifetime. But it can, because intentionally or not, many of us internalize what's going up on billboards, online, and on screens big and small, making these images a part of our identity, aspirations, references, and expectations. 

We wind up confusing the ideal and the real, and these days the so-called ideal is masquerading as the real, like one great big Bernie Madoff Ponzie Scheme. Like Bernie, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
So what do we do? 

As parents and the founders of Off Our Chests, we think we all need to hold each other more accountable. Accountable to what's put out there, how literally we take it; and accountable for the mainstreaming of images and expectations; standards of perfection and norms that are too often inaccessible if not impossible -- because they're not real. 

So today we are beginning our campaign to create The Self-Esteem Act, a bill requiring "truth in advertising" labels be attached to advertising and editorials with models photoshopped or airbrushed to a meaningful degree. 

The Self-Esteem Act isn't about judging, it's about clarifying. If as marketers you choose to keep doing what you've done, that's between you, the talent in your ads, and your consumers. Now you just need be upfront about it and declare it. If you're not comfortable declaring it, don't do it. It's that simple. 

Our point is that conscious and commerce can and should co-exist. We think that consumers will appreciate the truth over an unachievable ideal that the advertising, fashion and film industries sometimes set. 

We know we're not the first to talk about this, but nothing's changed. It's been a conversation domestically, in Europe, and three weeks ago, a British MP pulled L'OrĂ©al ads deeming the images of Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington so overly photoshopped they created an "unrealistic" expectation of what women should look like, citing the campaign as an example of the "[media's] role in contributing to a negative body image." 

So to all involved, we say, keep doing what you're doing if you must -- just tell us you've done it. Maybe then we will realize that the women in those ads and spreads are about as real as Avatar, and thus, we'll see it as escapism and not as realism to which we don't measure up. 

Support the Self-Esteem Act. We'll all feel better, even if some of us look a little more real. 

To support the Self-Esteem Act, or learn more about Off Our Chests, please visit

There is a link to the right to the web site. I poked around. It's interesting. 

If you are intuitive, and I like to think ALL my readers are above average, you may have picked up some vibes that I am not wholly sold on this idea. Look at this past weekend. Kim Kardashian got married. What is she famous for? Well, she's famous for branding herself to be famous. There's a video going around where she comes unglued because she lost an earring worth $75,000 in the surf at the ocean. I'll never ever see an income of $75,000 and she's lost an earring, a bauble, worth that much. Her wedding was held up as some monumental event that we must see! How does that make a girl walking down the street in downtown Waterloo, Iowa feel any better about herself?

I have an Internet friend, a brilliant, fantastically funny woman who is studying for her medical boards. She is cute as a bug's ear, to use a term we usually reserve for 3 year-olds, but she is cute. She's got  long strawberry blonde hair and this skin color I would die for, to over use that metaphor. But you know what, she's a bit on the heavy side and that's what people see. They do not see this remarkable woman who has put herself through college, her masters and now is on the cusp of adding a "dr" to her name. They see she's a bit overweight. And you know what else? She knows that's what they see first and it batters her self-esteem as waves do to a shoreline. Her boyfriend and her friends can add compliment after compliment but when someone gives her the 'once over' and then dismisses her before she can open her mouth, you bet her self-esteem is eroded.

This has nothing to do with whether Julia Roberts is air-brushed. This has everything to do with something I learned long ago. Humans, for whatever reason, constantly seek some way of making someone worth less than them, in their eyes. Unfortunately, as a society, we have taken this across the board and deemed one group of people 'inferior'. In primary and secondary school, it's popularity. Then it gets to be looks. It could be skin color, likes or dislikes, drinking ability, you name it. We decide women with gray hair and blue eyes are not cool and we subtly make sure they know it. Yes, we have an obesity 'epidemic' in this country. I would posit it has less to do with the lack of exercise and more to do with the lack of positive reinforcement of who we are as people. Food doesn't care what we look like and it's always there to console us.

I am not dismissing this attempt at lauding people for being people. Helping women get and maintain a positive self-image is an exemplary cause. But I don't think making a cosmetics company slap a disclaimer on an ad saying Kate Hudson was air-brushed is going to change the fundamental problem. What we call beautiful is skewed. 20% or less of our population is telling the other 80% of us that we look terrible and we're buying it.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea



Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 21-A guilty pleasure book

This topic made me laugh. Define 'guilty pleasure'? An afternoon spent reading The Complete Calvin and Hobbes instead of doing dishes could be defined as a 'guilty pleasure', but is that what this means?

I read erotica. Some of it has been about as good as it gets. Most of it falls into the "huh", category. 'Guilty pleasure'? Not really. I haven't read anything in that genre in 15+ years.

I think my definition for the purposes of finding a book is the book is something people might snicker at if you read it in public, or something that is a bit off what people usually see you read. I couldn't find my copy of this book, but I think it fits both definitions nicely.

I love a good ghost story and the fact that these are set in the area I have adopted as my home makes them doubly good. The most recent poll I could find says that 20-25% of the population believes in ghosts. Some of the stories in this book, such as Resurrection Mary (the subject of the cover illustration), are well known but haven't happened in decades. Some, such as the spirit of Clarence Darrow appearing at the lagoon behind the Museum of Science and Industry, happen every year. You have to be in the right place at the right time.

Still, if you were reading this on the el, the famous elevated railway in Chicago, people would be bemused. You're probably reading it just out of curiosity or you're one of those punks who is going to show up at Graceland Cemetery and try to get in at night. (You can't, for the record. They have exceptional security.) It would not occur to people that you might be interested in the paranormal or that you're looking for a spine-tingling read.

This could be considered a 'pulp' book. It's just a collection of stories and the follow up book was even more so. There wasn't anything really spine-tingling. But this was a great read, nonetheless. Some night, on the night Dillinger was killed, I'd like to gather my nerves and stand by the Biograph just to see if anything happens. There's a great industry in Chicago Ghost Tours. Wanna go with me? I'm too chicken to go alone.

Beverage:  Pepsi


Day 20-A Book you would recommend to an ignorant/racist/closed minded person

This is, for me, a problematic topic. I've stated before my personal stance against recommending books to anyone. What I like is probably not what you like. By way of illustration, a college friend and I were going to do a "book a month" book discussion. She chose My Antonia by Willa Cather. It's a great book. We actually spent 6 weeks discussing things we found in the book. My choice was House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorn.

I had never read it and have always been intrigued by it. It's considered a minor classic. Becky couldn't read it. She got through about 5 pages and said it was just not something she could ever see herself reading. It was way too dark for her. The book is about redemption and how it comes in a variety of forms but you have to get through the set up to see how it plays out. I felt badly that I would choose something she really, really did not like.

I also have a tendency not to choose people in my social circle who could be described as "ignorant, racist or closed-minded". Do we have differing points of view? Absolutely, but I can't think of someone I know who falls into those categories. I wouldn't have them as friends and, by extension, wouldn't recommend a book to them. I would never recommend a book to someone I don't know without a long discussion of what they like to read.

But there must be something I can put in this topic. Yes, there is. I picked up this book in 1993. I was in therapy at the time, struggling with a variety of things that were making me terribly unhappy. My therapist suggested that I have a co-dependent personality and that I was addicted to the actions and behaviors which described this. I do not remember how I found this book, but I do remember it struck a chord with me.

We can become addicted to so much in life. It's not just alcohol or tobacco, it's behaviors; playing video games and acting like a diva, to name a couple of things. The book talked about how to get rid of the addiction, regardless of what it is. I remember reading it 3-4 times a year for 5 years, while I worked to better myself and get over my co-dependency.

I would recommend this book to someone matching the title description. I think the theme of grace in one's life applies to addictions as well as to ignorance and racism. Yes, this book leans on the Christian tradition of grace, but the author talks about why we become attached to things and that can apply to why we view others in a less than good light. I never felt talked down to while reading this and I think that approach is good. It's not very big and it can be read in about 2-3 hours. It's a good book to have in your library for those times when you feel you need a refresher on how you conquered your addiction in the past.

Beverage:  Pepsi


Day 19- A Book that changed your mind about a particular subject (non-fiction)

I am behind. I admit it. It's hard to type anything when my right thumb, both wrists and both middle fingers complain, loudly. As I said in yesterday's post, it's taking me twice as long to do things because it hurts. Plus, I get frustrated and angry when, what used to come easily, like carrying the laundry basket to the machine, is now painful and has the potential for me to drop the basket because I can't hold it. I feel very, very old, something I am not prepared, emotionally or mentally, to feel at this time of my life. So forgive me if I am not posting the 30-day challenge daily.

Add to this, some topics, I wonder who chose them? Take the 19th, for example. I put my Discworld series back in the basement finding The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic in the process. I looked at all the books on the shelves down there. Nothing said "ME ME! I fit that topic."

Back to the book journal. Again, I paged through the journal, reading every entry, musing over all the non-fiction books I've read. Nothing struck me as a non-fiction book that changed my mind about anything. I think, in this topic, that's the point. It had to change your mind.

I don't know about you but when I select a non-fiction book, I select it for my interests. As an example, I would read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, not to have my faith, meager as it is, challenged and removed (Dawkins is a known atheist.) but because I'm curious about his point of view. I would not expect someone who does not believe in evolution to willingly pick up Dawkins unless they were arming themselves for a debate. Hence, the selection of a non-fiction book is, I think, just like any other book. "This sounds interesting", or "This has a cool cover" or whatever criteria you choose.

So it's been really hard to find something that I've read which fits. As I was putting the Discworld books back, I saw I book I was loaned. The gal who loaned it to me stayed in touch with me for about a year after she loaned me the book. I had finished it by then and wanted to return it but she was moving and then never gave me an address. This book is fiction but it was based on then unproven claims that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemings.

When the book was published, there were denials from the Jefferson family that this was anything more than a work of fiction. I read this in early 1981. The author writes a lot of historical fiction, although this was her first book, and she cites the work she did on which to base her book. I remember coming away with a "hmmmm" feeling.

It is kind of a romance historical novel. The characters were treated with dignity but you never forget that Sally is a slave, that Jefferson owned slaves, that this was life at that time. At the time I read this, we were re-examining our founding fathers and owning up to the fact that many of them owned slaves. "All men are created equal" did not apply to all men.

The book planted an idea that these 13 signers of the Declaration of Independence were not gods as they can sometimes be portrayed. They were men with human qualities, men who did the best they could and, at other times, were about as enlightened as a tree stump. We've learned so much more in the 20 years since I read this. I don't think that knowledge diminishes, in any way, the great risk those men took. So Thomas Jefferson fathered additional children. He was still a brilliant scholar, leader and humanitarian.

Beverage:  Pepsi


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Set Back

It's been the kind of week that gives me pause.

First it was the ants, the thousands of ants that invaded my kitchen.

Then, on Tuesday, I discovered an error with my time sheet that neither I, nor three other people found. It resulted in me not getting an expense check for this past week.

That means that one bill I was hoping to pay, I couldn't. I needed part of the money from the expense check to pay it. My poor depleted savings account can't stand any more hits.

The insurance company has denied, for a second time, to pay anything additional on the x-rays the doctor ordered to determine if I have arthritis. The thing is, an x-ray really isn't going to tell you much. You need an MRI for that. But the insurance companies won't pay for an MRI if you haven't had the x-rays. So, we get the comprehensive x-rays, to be certain, and now they are telling me I didn't need those to determine if it's arthritis. So there's a $300 bill I have to pay.

Because I didn't get an expense check, I don't have money for the Meloxicam. I took the last one on Wednesday night. I'll get more on Tuesday, when the next expense check is supposed to come. Hence, I have been dealing with pain all weekend. I suppose it's a good (?) way to see just how bad or good things are. And the assessment is thus:  my right hand is 95% healed. I have some very minor pain in the middle finger and in the wrist. The middle finger on my left hand is 60% healed, while the wrist is 90% healed.

But the knees are a huge problem. It's not the moving once I get up, it's the actual getting up. I realized last night, that if there ever was an emergency where I had to get out of bed fast, that's not going to happen. Nothing happens "fast" anymore. The phone rings. If I am not right by it, forget about me getting there before it goes to voice mail. I pause at the top of the stairs to go into the basement to do laundry. Going up doesn't seem so bad. Going down hurts.

The ants are gone now so I can do a thorough clean-up of the kitchen. I want to bake. Dishes take twice as long because lifting things and holding them is problematic. Well meaning friends have said, "Maybe you need to see another doctor." Maybe, but what do I pay him with? A second opinion is going to cost me double my current co-pay. When you're living on the edge, you don't do things that extend you over the edge.

What if this is what it's like for the rest of my life? I have learned to live with a lot and I'll learn to live with this. There are things I simply can't do, that I will need to find help for. For example, I bought a bed frame to raise the mattress and box springs up higher. I can't assemble it, nor can I move the mattress and box springs onto it even if I could assemble it. Will this affect my sewing and crafting? It makes me slower but, so far, I can still do that. Plus, I can still type, slower, but I know where all the keys are. And, I can still read.

I'm trying to look at things from the perspective of the Black Knight. If you don't know that name, it's from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you've never seen it, be warned, it's slightly gory. The Black Knight says, after having both arms lopped off, "It's just a flesh wound." That could be considered ridiculously silly optimism, but I'm trying to see it as I can still go on in spite of some large obstacles.

I have this book somewhere, In Praise of Slowness, where the author pleaded with readers to embrace the slowing down of life, the stopping not just to smell to roses but to admire them and the bed in which they grow. I'm trying to embrace that philosophy, too. It's not just slowing down, it's realigning priorities.

But I have to admit that I am depressed. I took a lot for granted and when doing simple things like a load of dishes becomes a major event, I feel lost. I have adapted to other major changes, I will as well to this.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 18- A Book You can’t find on shelves anymore that you love

You won't catch me at a horror movie and I don't read horror writers either. I am not enamored with Stephen King, Clive Barker, Christopher Pike and that ilk. Edgar Allen Poe is often deposited in this group and if you've ever read The Telltale Heart, you can see why that theme has been used over and over and over. (I remember when "Cheers" did an episode on it.)

But I like to be scared on occasion. I like my spine to tingle. I like that feeling to come from a book because I can set the book aside, go out on the deck and breathe in reality, away from ghosts and axe murderers and devils. The more "real" the potential for the ghost to be, the more spine tingling the reading experience.

Today's theme is difficult. Walk into any mega bookstore (although not Borders, sadly) and the shelves and stacks are lined with books, one and two copies of tomes by authors who, if this was a record, would have "a medley of their hit" on the shelf in front of you. Type a title into Barnes and Nobel or Amazon and chances are very good, an image will appear and you will still be able to buy a fresh copy of whatever you're looking for.

I read through my book journal for something, anything, I could use as the book for this topic. "That's still in print. That, too. I think that one is, as well." Then, I stumbled upon a listing for The Screaming Skull and Other Ghosts, the book that's referenced under the author's name in the illustration. "I wonder if the one I have is still in print," I thought. No, no it is not.

I bought The Midnight Hearse from a school book fair back in the early 1970's. My copy has the same illustration as you see in the photo. I didn't get around to reading it until the summer. After doing my morning chores, I curled up on my bed, cracked open the book and started reading. I don't think, prior to this book, I'd had any experience with "true" tales of hauntings. Ghosts were limited to "Caspar" on Saturday morning cartoons. O'Donnell is a masterful story teller and it is thought that most of his stories benefited from his literaray prowess.

But that doesn't make them any less scary. I remember being so scared by what I was reading that I had to stop reading at 2 in the afternoon. The opening story is about a bunch of friends at a college in England who decided to play cards one night. One of the friends was on a lucky streak, winning hand after hand. His friends decided, after several hours of this, they needed to take a break but the winner didn't want to. He said he'd continue playing cards even if the only person he played with was the devil. The friends laughed him off and went for a walk. As they left the building, one of them commented on the tall man in black who was walking toward the dorm where their friend was.

They returned to the dorm about 30 minutes later to see an old fashioned hearse parked alongside the building. As they approached, a man left the building by way of their friend's first floor window. He was carrying a casket on his back. He mounted the horse-drawn hearse and the vehicle moved away. One of the friends suddenly realized there was no sound coming from the horse's hooves on the pavement of the drive. The hearse itself seemed to melt into the shadows of the dorm.

They ran to their friend's room but the door was locked from the inside. They ran to the window and saw him lying on the floor. They couldn't get in because the window was locked from the inside. How had that guy been able to leave via the window if it was locked? They had to break a window pane to get in.

Of course, the friend was dead. He had been playing cards with someone because there were two hands on the table. Whomever he had been playing with had won all of their friend's chips. What really got them was the frozen look on their friend's face of abject terror.

There are some 30+ stories in this vein in this book. O'Donnell's books are not in print anymore. If you want to read them, a library or a used bookstore is the place to find them. I didn't think The Screaming Skull was nearly as good as The Midnight Hearse. Embroidered tales or not, they make for some terror-ific reading if you are so inclined.

Beverage:  water


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day 17- Book turned movie and completely desecrated

My mother got me interested in Agatha Christie. Through high school and college, whenever I felt the need to read something that didn't require a lot of thinking, I'd pick up another one of Agatha's mysteries. I have always enjoyed how she twisted the plot; bent it in on itself; tossed in red herrings; killed off the one person you knew, for sure, committed the deed and; when the plot was unfolded at the end, who done it was not the person I thought did it.

So many things in the story related to the main plot. Filming an Agatha Christie is almost the opposite of filming a Harry Potter. While plot points have to be left out in both movies, in Agatha Christie stories, leaving those items out can cause people to wonder exactly why a certain person was where they were at that particular time. This is the case with the movie adaptation of Death on the Nile.

Peter Ustinov is a fabulous actor and this movie contained a number of very well-known stars; Maggie Smith, George Kennedy, Angela Landsbury, David Niven, Mia Farrow, among others. But Peter Ustinov is not who I envisioned as Hercule Poirot. He's too, um, rotund. David Suchet who has portrayed the character on PBS is my idea of an ideal Poirot. So, I had to get past Ustinov.

Then, they had to leave out so much. One of the big things, not to give too much away, is why Angela Landsbury's character was out on the deck of the ship to see someone moving about when they claimed to be in their room. That reason and her character's role in it is a big part of the later revelations.

I can't say the movie completely desecrated the book. I understand the adaptation process, particularly of a book with a lot of characters who are given face time and a chance to tell their side of the story, is a prickly process. Some things that are vital to a book's story have to be left out. It's just that, with this book, in particular, what they left out meant some character's motives were uncertain or stupid. That's not a good thing when you're trying to figure out what's going on.

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Day 16- Favorite book turned movie

The Lord of the Rings trilogy would fit here nicely too, but as I've already used them, I decided to pick something else.

I remember how we were all so worried about the adaptation of this book. It's impossible to get all subplots into a 2 hours movie. I know people who were peeved with Peter Jackson leaving out Tom Bombadill in the LotR movies. You have to make executive decisions on what you keep and what you leave out.

I think we have been pleasantly surprised by how well all the movies have been done.

I haven't read beyond Goblet of Fire. I admit it. I got involved in other books and Harry Potter is down in the pile waiting for me. I also haven't seen any of the movies beyond the Prisoner of Azkaban. Some day.

I feel this series is a good example of how working with the author yields a good movie. You can't always do that, but having the an author who understands you only have 2 hours to tell the story means the important parts are emphasized and some of the side plots, which add body and depth to a book, can be left aside. This series and its movies probably did a great deal to excite kids on reading.

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Day 15- Favorite book dealing with foreign culture

Now that the ants seem to be under control, I have books to attach to themes.

Thank goodness I've kept book notes. This theme was hard. When I looked through my notes, however, I found the perfect book.

Now, you don't have to agree with the premise. You can think that it really was a bunch of Germans or Norwegians or Japanese who invented things first. What I think you should take away from reading this is part of the subtitle, "The true story of how Western Europe's poorest nation...". That's the part that is remarkable about the Scots, whether you believe they were first to invent the things the author claims they were.

Scotland has a fertile lowland area where crops easily grow. But the Highlands, the romantic area we generally associate with Scotland, is not fertile. It's rocky and windy and it's hard to eek out an existence in substandard soil. Thousands of years of war with the neighbors to the south and a 'royalty' that couldn't even get along with one another had left Scotland a very poor place.

But visionaries within the country realized that the way up, out of poverty, was to raise the living standard of everyone. Schooling became mandatory and at one point, Scotland's literacy rate was the highest in the world. In the 17th Century, it became mandatory to record births, deaths, marriages and land transfers. A census was instituted, the first of its kind to actually count citizens. Now days, all these records are a boon for those doing ancestral research.

So many things invented by a Scot became the foundation to expand knowledge and provided a better way of life. For example, Macadam Roads, a method of building a road so water drained off the road to the side, lead to the connection of all towns in Scotland by a single track road. Having a good road on which to test things lead to the pedal bicycle and the pneumatic tire.

The author's style is conversational and I thought, but I could be a bit biased, that it was a great read. When I have a tent at a highland games, it's one of the books I have out on the table and strongly recommend people read to get a feel for where they come from.

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I really don't like killing insects, except for June bugs and mosquitoes. I usually try to get a spider onto a piece of paper so it can be tossed outside. Insects are part of our ecosystem and there is usually a purpose to them. These ants in my kitchen, I have decided, are NOT part of the purpose.

I have scrubbed. I have washed. I have disinfected. I have sprayed the perimeter of the foundation. Every single day, for the last 10 days, I have had ants in the kitchen. Sometimes, it's not a lot. Sometimes, as it was when I walked in this morning, it's hundreds.

I made teriyaki chicken with pasta for supper last night. The ONLY things dirty were a plate, some silverware, the pot that had the pasta water and the baking dish that had the marinade. They were all over the plate and silver and inside the pot because I had mixed parmesan cheese in with the hot pasta. It's been beyond depressing to clean and clean and clean and they find yet another way of getting in.

They were still massing when I came home from work tonight. This is where they were coming in.
This spot, where the bright flash reflected, is a junction where the upper right corner of the door under the sink meets the cabinet. I opened up the area under the sink and they are crawling across the wall under the sink. Hundreds of them. 

So, thanks to friends on Facebook, and my sister's suggestion, I stopped at the hardware store and got Terro.
I put out one spot at that point where they are coming onto the top of the counter. I know that's in the food area, but that's where they are and the box says to place the killer where they are. Once they are gone, I can clean thoroughly again. 

It took them a minute to discover the Terro. Since then, I have refilled the spot 4 times. I decided, since I have so many, the box said to put out multiple drops. Right now, I have 3. Within 2 seconds of getting Terro on the little piece of cardboard they give you, the ants have swarmed it. The box says it could take up to 2 weeks to fully kill a large colony. I think, since I haven't seen any hills outside, they are either under the deck or in the foundation wall by the back door. As this has been an ongoing problem, I am prepared to continually refill these little pieces to make sure the ants eat this stuff. 

They are not on the stove, but I don't want to cook anything because I'm just inviting them to find other food sources. I really don't like the idea of eating out but I might have to tomorrow. We'll see what it looks like in the morning. 

My girls have never been up on the counter and show no interest in doing so. I am confident they won't get into this. It would be different if I had to put it on the floor. I would worry. I hope the morning brings less crawlies. That would be a good way to start a day.

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Day 14- Book that should be on hs/college required reading list

I'm late in posting. There will be a post on why at a later date. Onwards.

I saw this topic on Sunday and spent the better part of the day thinking about it. I was drawing a complete blank on what I wanted to attach. About 10:30 at night, on Sunday, as I was winding down for sleep, it hit me. Yesterday, I found the books so I could photograph them.

Science fiction/fantasy is not covered on reading lists. That is a shame. Some places will have I, Robot by Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury and Martian Chronicles or Kurt Vonnegut and Fahrenheit 451 on their "supplemental" lists but I haven't seen a list where science fiction or fantasy was required. 

These are my Discworld books. I am missing The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. I don't know where they are. Those are books one and two and I strongly recommend reading them first before jumping into any of the ones you see above.

What science fiction can do that a "regular" novel can't is deal with a subject such as religion (Small Gods) in a very pointed manner. Setting the theme on a fake planet distances the reader from the topic, adds what can be a necessary degree of separation to allow the reader to think about how the theme applies to them and their life.

The other thing sci-fi does is allow the writer to engage in what I consider the best "what if" scenarios. Carole's read them and I can't remember the name of the series, but there's a whole collection of books based on the premise that the South was given supreme weaponry and used it to win the Civil War. In this world, the author can stand convention on its head and look at huge "what if" scenarios.

A lot of parents and students feel the 'required' reading list is a chore and show be abolished. As I believe reading is supposed to expand the mind and jump-start the ability to think critically, I think a year 'round reading list should be given. I think Terry Pratchett's wry sense of humor would appeal to high school and college students. If you do pick up his novels, be prepared to have a few "oh yeah" moments; those moments when the humor hits very close to home.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Sunday, August 14, 2011

I'm Happy.

It's been a wonderful day. I awoke at a decent time, a bit later than a work day, but not so far into the morning that I've blown my momentum. I decided I needed to make those whole wheat buttermilk pancakes, the recipe I found in a Cooking Light, for breakfast.

There was a breeze coming from the north and it actually was windy enough that I got kind of chilled. At first, I couldn't find my robe. This bothered me. Have I lost so much of my short-term memory that I can't remember leaving my robe some place? I haven't gone anywhere other than Virginia or Iowa and I didn't take it with me to those places because there's no way to fold it small.

It got shoved to the back of the closet behind some blankets. If I got rid of some stuff, I could move the blankets to that spot over there and then I wouldn't have a small panic attack when I think I left my robe somewhere I don't remember taking it in the first place.

After making the pancakes, (Incredibly delicious but my skillet's heating was off so the tops got a bit burned.) I took a shower, tossing the robe on the bed. It was commandeered immediately. She loves this robe. It's now after 4:30 p.m. and she's been sleeping on it all day, coming to see me about every 2 to 2 1/2 hours just for an ear scratching.

Guess I'll be leaving it out tonight.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Wants, For No Reason At All

Miss Hospitality, a position of the Wheaton Downtown Business Association, was walking around the Ale Fest greeting everyone. She was just there to get people to go to the yogurt shop (It worked.) and to raise awareness of the DBA. These are her shoes. 

I wants, for absolutely no reason other than they are loud and I like loud. 

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Day 13- Favorite childhood book

I am a day behind. I spent yesterday getting caught up on a few things and starting the ornament project. I checked the list but decided I didn't want to post yesterday. I read this morning's topic and I've got to find the book to take a photo of it. It might be tomorrow before today's book gets posted.

Ev'ry Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not. 
The Grinch hated Christmas, the whole Christmas season. Now please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason. 
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right. It could be his shoes were a little too tight. 
But I think the most likely reason of all, may have been that his heart was two sizes too small. 
Whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes, he stood there on Christmas eve hating the Whos. 
Staring down from above with a sour grinchy frown at the warm lighted windows below in their town. 
"They're hanging their stockings," he said with a sneer. "Tomorrow is Christmas. It's practically here." 

If you read the book, this isn't the book text. It's from the animated TV special, and yes, I have this much memorized. I remember when it and A Charlie Brown Christmas came on TV. Both came early in the month and signified, for me, the 'official' start of the holidays. Indeed, when we could get the Grinch on video tape, we'd watch it the day after Thanksgiving, and then the tree and the decorations could go up. As Carole and my birthdays fall close to Thanksgiving, watching the Grinch on your birthday wasn't uncommon. I still, on the day after Thanksgiving, pull out the Grinch DvD and watch.

My parents purchased or brought home from the library as many Dr. Seuss books as they could. The timeless themes he covered, the easy to learn and understand language used and the colorful childlike illustrations made the books guaranteed to be a kid's favorite. Who wouldn't want a magical cat that, with a snap of his fingers, did all your shoveling and the chores mom left for you to do?

I remember wanting to go to Whoville. It seemed like such a magical place.

For reference, no, I have not seen the Jim Carey live action version of this book and, frankly, I'm not interested. This is definitely the case of the book being better than the movie.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


A Weekend Spent Crafting

I felt like crafting this weekend. It's always interesting to see what comes of a weekend where I want to create. I did have things in mind, however.

Back in July, I cut apart those Santa blocks from that material I bought a couple years ago. The stack has been sitting on top of the sewing basket so this weekend, I decided to do something with the stack. Step 1 was to match a front and a back. I paired them up and pinned the pieces together.

When that was done, the next step was to cut the ribbon which would be the hanger. These are going to be ornaments. I hope the amount I cut is just long enough to go on a tree without it dangling too far.

What's great about this project is that, other than polyester fiberfill, I haven't bought anything new for it. The hanging ribbons were in a drawer of accessories. I've had some of the ribbons in this drawer for a long time. The bigger lace or ribbon won't be appropriate and I have some colors or designs that won't work with the Santa theme either, but I have a lot of ribbon and lace that will. I'll be using it up, which is a bonus, too.

When the drawer has been exhausted, I have the box of trims. Some of these are very old. My ex-husband's great-aunt was a seamstress and a crafter. When Aunt Adele moved from her house to an apartment, she gave me boxes of stuff; thread, trim, patterns and sewing equipment. As I had a lot of different trims myself, I consolidated most of the items into the box she gave me. Once the trims in the drawer are exhausted, I shall begin rooting through this box to see what I have that will work.

Not every ornament is getting the trim treatment. The first ornament in every style is plain. I know some of those for whom these are destined as Christmas gifts don't want ruffles or lace or ribbon around their ornament. They prefer simple. That's a quick pin around the outside, making sure the hanger is tucked inside. Then it's sewn with a small seam and a spot is left to turn it.

When it's turned, I stuff it. It's very easy to get it overfull.

Once it's stuffed, I hand sew shut the opening at the bottom. Here is the finished product hanging on the door knob. This is the very first one off the "assembly line". It came out rather well.

For trims, I sew the trim on first, then pin the hanger with the other half and sew the whole thing together. I wasn't leaving enough of an opening at the bottom and found it hard to turn and stuff. Having figured that out, I leave over half of the bottom open as these aren't very big and I need room to get them turned, particularly with some of the more rigid trims around the outside.

Here is the product of the weekend. I have gone through 4 different trims, and three different Santa poses. At one point, I had the crazy idea I'd add beads or sequins but, seeing these completed, I think that borders on gaudy. These are nice as they are. 

Yes, you now know what you're getting for Christmas, but you don't know which one. 

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea