Tuesday, December 30, 2008

50 Book Challenge

This was my third year doing the 50 Book Challenge. A community on Live Journal is dedicated to reading at least 50 books each year. In 2006, I just made it. In 2007, I read 72 books. In 2008, I have just finished 50. And completed four courses toward my Masters Degree, not that I am making excuses.

Next year, I plan to post each of my individual reads here, but for now I thought I would put down the complete list from 2008:

Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World
Bill Clinton

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed
Alan Alda

The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Kim Edwards

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
J.K. Rowling


The Thorn Birds
Colleen McCullough

Portnoy's Complaint
Philip Roth

Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
Tom Mula

Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope
Jenna Bush

Inside Mrs. B's Classroom
Leslie Baldacci

Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me
Patti Boyd

Dispatches From the Edge
Anderson Cooper

Alex and Me
Irene Pepperberg

The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader
Ryder Windham

Marley and Me
John Grogan

My Dark Places
James Ellroy

Tropic of Cancer
Henry Miller

Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Julia Alvarez

Nine Parts of Desire
Geraldine Brooks

X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep the World from Sucking
Jeff Gordinier

An Unfinished Season
Ward Just

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole

The Big Sleep
Raymond Chandler

Meg Greenfield

Emma: The Many Facets of Emma Thompson
Chris Nickson

Darcy's Story
Janet Aylmer

A Gentleman in Charleston and the Manner of His Death
William Baldwin

Nathaniel Philbrick

Ian McEwan

The Winds of War
Herman Wouk

Crazy Horse: Hoka Hay!
Vinson Brown

Letters from Yellowstone
Diane Smith

The Children's Blizzard
David Laskin

The Master Butcher's Singing Club
Louise Erdrich

Measure of a Man
Sidney Poitier

Bodily Harm
Margaret Atwood

The Diana Chronicles
Tina Brown

The Dumas Club
Arturo Perez-Reverte

Who Killed the Robins Family
Bill Adler

Joan Didion

Rosemary's Baby
Ira Levin

V: The Second Generation
Kenneth Johnson

I Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans
Jason Berry

Streetwise Marketing
Don Debelak

Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message
Jackie Huba and Bill McConnell

One Dead in Attic
Chris Rose

Turn of the Screw
Henry James

Bob Greene

Geraldine Brooks

Rhett Butler's People
Donald McCaig

I have just learned that Blogger does not take Excel spreadsheets.

Shoes Again

I have been on a mission from God for a pair of decent boots. I have cute leather ankle boots, but last year’s attempt at something warm and relatively waterproof that did not involve the word Ugg failed miserably. I looked online and found some stuff, but I really have to try shoes on before I buy them.

Famous Footwear: Nothing in my size.

DSW: Nothing in my size.

Carsons: I called my mother. I was one of the horrible people on her cell phone in the shoe department.

Me: I could spend $70 on a warmish pair of Naturalizers or go to Dick’s Sporting Goods and spend $100 on some rock-solid-not-a-flake-of-snow will get through them boots.

Her: Or you could spend $170 and get both.

Not helpful. I went to Dick’s. Nothing. In. My. Size.

Finally, I get to Sports Authority. Their boots do not come in half sizes, which was terribly inconvenient. Know what is even more inconvenient? The pair that I bought was not on the website, so you have to settle for my picture:

You probably can’t read that tag, but it says “-25° F”. Meaning that my feet will not get cold until it is 25 degrees below zero. $55 after taxes and my cool coupon. But once I traipse through the winter slush in them, I can hardly wear them around the office. So I went back to Famous Footwear for these:

And because they are still running BOGO ½ OFF, I picked up a gift for Alex. His fourth birthday is next month. He loves basketball and I am pretty sure his next Rite of Passage is the Tying of the Shoes. I'm being encouraging and stuff:

Seriously, how cute is that?

The three combined still cost less than $100, thank you very much. Why am I telling you another shopping story? Because it took me over a week to find a pair of boots!

No Way.

Eloise, the African Grey I am fostering (pictured for reference), can whistle "Bridge on the River Kwai".

Just now, when she was doing it, I heard a second whistle: Kiwi the Grey chiming in. Maybe I am going all anthropomorphic, but I think Kiwi is trying to learn it.

The Great American Popcorn Company

Galena, Illinois is a little town in the northwest corner of Illinois, right on the Mississippi River. Galena is famous for two things: the home of General U.S. Grant and the most historic homes per capita in the United States. These homes are all Bed and Breakfasts now, so Galena is also a very serious weekend getaway spot for Chicagoans.

My sister-in-law, Becky, grew up the next town over from Galena. So every year, someone brings us a bottle of the local sparling wine, Merry Merry Cranberry. And this year, Becky's mom sent us some popcorn from my favorite place, The Great American Popcorn Company. They makes tons of flavors of popcorn, so if you are a fan, you must check it out.

My favorites are French Vanilla, which is a caramel corn with vanilla flavoring, and Zesty Ranch, which is a cheese popcorn with Ranch seasoning. My friend, Rich, swears by the Rootbeer Float. It has root beer flavored caramel and is covered in white chocolate. I find it tasty, but a bit too much to eat for real.

I have used the online ordering and been pleased with the speed of processing and shipment. But seriously, if you are anywhere near Galena, you should visit!

Late Sort of Christmas Present

Over the holidays, my Chief IT Guy e-mailed to ask me to come into the office while I was on vacation. He was going to be in town from Washington and wanted to set up my shiny new Blackberry.

I didn't really need a new Blackberry. But apparently they want to upgrade us all at the same time. Want to see what my new Blackberry can do?

Yeah. It's a crappy picture, but that's because of the lighting. I have a Blackberry that takes pictures!

I love my job.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Scruples Salon and Spa

On that same trip to Hallmark, I walked by the Scruples Salon and Spa in Glenview. There was a big sign on the door that said they were running a special this month - 60 minute facial or massage for $39.95. That is called, "Worth the experiment". I walked in to see if they could get me in any time before the end of the month. Lady in front said that she just that minute had a guy call to cancel and she could take me right then. Fate or total scam? You be the judge.

The truth is that I had been there before, but for my hair, not for the spa. The stylist did an ok job, but I wasn't thrilled with the color and there is nothing at all to cutting my hair so I never bothered to go back.

The aesthetician, as I think they are called, showed me the room and waited for me to change. When she came back, she asked all of the right questions and made a couple of good observations. Namely that I don't wear enough SPF and it is starting to show in real, grown up damage to my skin. (Sigh.)

The table was squeaky, which was distracting. She also had to move it, with me already lying down, more than once because the room was so small and not everything was in her reach. But the most distracting thing? She wore plastic gloves the entire time. So if the "relaxing" is important to you, this is not the place to go.

On the plus side, it seemed a very functional facial (although the jury is out for a good week until I know nothing caused another break out), and no one tried to sell me anything. In fact, the aesthetician actually said that if I don't want to pay for a fancy exfoliator, I should use sugar and olive oil.

The regular price of the treatment I had is $65, which is pretty standard for a no-frills, clear-your-skin facial. I wouldn't recommend it for "spa day". But for $39.95? Get in there before the end of the month!

Where I Draw the Line

Among the 10,000 Christmas ornaments in my house are several pieces from Star Wars. Millenium Falcons and X-Wing fighters and even a couple of Darth Vaders. I got into a scuffle with my sister-in-law, whose only allowable ornaments are hand-crafted by someone she knows personally. She said:

"Darth Vader has nothing to do with Christmas!" I shouted back:

"Christmas is about being with the people you love!"

I walked into a Hallmark store, on a (failed) mission from my mother. I saw this:

I couldn't do it. Not even for 40% off. The Emperor does not belong on the Christmas tree.

I must be going soft or something.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Writers' Theatre - The Maids

I just got back from seeing The Maids, the current production at Writers' Theatre. I am sorry to say I was not impressed with this one. At first I thought the actors were over-acting, but really it was the story.

Two maids, sisters, have a game of mocking the mistress and each other while she is away. The fantasy goes so far as acting out how they might kill her. It is difficult to see where the fantasy ends and where they are just plain crazy, which may be part of the point. But I wasn't all that interested in figuring it out. None of the three characters were sympathetic. I was just waiting around to see if someone actually died.

If this had been an adapted novel, I might pick it up to see where/if the adaptation went wrong. But it seems to have been an original, if translated, piece.

This is a good example of the down side to Writers' Theatre. The upside is that they do cool things that you would never see anywhere else. The downside is that sometimes there is a reason you wouldn't see them anywhere else.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

As I am Getting the New iPod Loaded

You may have a gratuitous picture of the dog. This is Shadow, after his Christmas bone, in his favorite spot in the family room.

No, this was not her real Christmas Gift.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what I made my mother for Christmas. Decorative felt thingy that goes over a chair.

Why did my mother get this disgustingly cutesy thingy? Because I actually managed to put it together without any assistance from her. First time ever.

And she was surprised.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I brought home Eloise, an African Grey parrot from the Refuge to foster for a couple of weeks. She has been ill with a fungal infection and requires medication twice a day. She started picking at her feathers again in the last week so I want to keep an eye on her.

She doesn't seem to have any vocabulary, but is starting to chirp a bit. She takes her meds pretty easily and steps up well. Very nice bird.

Except. When Greys are upset, they have a very distinct vocalization that starts out like a small dog growling and escalates into something resembling the screams of a tortured alien being. Eloise whips out the growl pretty easily.

The bad news is she is not interested in making friends with my Grey, Kiwi. But the good news is that she is not bothered by the dog.
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Race. Or Schools and Money.

The Tribune ran a really interesting article about how and why Chicago remains an incredibly racially segregated city.

Part of the theory, which I buy, is that “new” cities, like Charlotte and Austin are having an easier time of it. “Old” cities like Chicago have certain behaviors ingrained that are really difficult to “undo”.

My parents moved to the area in the mid-1970’s. My dad grew up in New York, my mother in Cincinnati. They didn’t really know Chicago. I asked my dad not long ago how he chose our north suburban town as a place to raise his children. He said that he looked in a book for the optimum of two factors: the quality of the schools against the tax rates.

Schools and money.

(Please note, however, that my house was also about a 20 minute drive from where he worked.)

My street was about 1/3 white Protestant, 1/3 white Jewish and 1/3 Asian. My elementary school had plenty of kids from different countries and religions. But there were only two African American families. And I can’t remember any Hispanic kids until high school.

I went to a seriously multi-cultural university. It was crammed down our throats, actually. A professor in my freshman that cleared it up for me: we may all be different colors, but were very similar in one way: our parents were white collar professionals with college degrees.

Schools and money.

Now. Would I consider living on the South Side of Chicago?

No. I wouldn’t.

From the article:

“One theory posits that whites associate black neighborhoods with high crime and poor-quality schools. A recent study conducted in the Chicago and Detroit areas by the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Michigan found that whites consistently rate a neighborhood higher when its residents are white regardless of the physical quality of the neighborhood.”

It’s not the skin color of the neighbors. It is the fact that Chicago just hit the 500 mark in the number of murders. I associate that with gangs and guns on the South Side. I am not saying that is right, or rational, but that is how it works in my brain.

Another point made in that article is that we move where there are people we know. My grandfather lives in Lincoln Park. Why would I move all the way to the South Side when my grandfather lives in Lincoln Park? For some people it is finding a neighborhood with the right church – which I seem to remember reading tend to be rather segregated as well. In fact, I am pretty sure I once read that the workplace is the only place that is integrating well.

Schools and money. That is my theory.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And He's Off!

I love NORAD's Santa Tracker. Above is a video from their Santa website. It is 8:21 a.m. Central Time and Santa is currently in Palau. He seems to have already hit Australia and a bunch of Pacific islands.

I could watch this all day, but I am supposed to be at the Refuge and have a couple of errands to run today. The weather is not cooperating, as usual.

WGN News has been at O'Hare this whole time. Among those interviewed are two guys from California that flew here for the Bears/Packers game. on Monday night. Tuesday, flights were cancelled right and left. The last I heard, last night, they wouldn't be able to catch a flight home until Christmas morning. 48 hours in the airport over Christmas.

Dude, I'd be turning into Culkin's mother in Home Alone right about then. Anyway. Here's hoping you are where you want to be for the holidays. And if you aren't..start planning to make it happen for next year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

How to Get Alex to Agree to Anything

First, promise him Macaroni and Cheese. Then, produce a computer game.

I took him to the Marriott Lincolnshire yesterday afternoon. The plan was to have dinner and stay at the hotel, then see Aladdin at the children's theatre in the morning.

It was already dark and freaking cold when we arrived. We get to the room and I say:

"We can order room service and watch football right here. Or we can go downstairs to the bar."

He wanted to go to the bar. Nice.

We watched the Vikings go down. And the Eagles. Then we went up to the room and I loaded the game. Dora the Explorer and the Backpack Adventure. I am still amazed by the way this child - not yet four - totally gets the computer. What this picture does not show is the Giants/Panthers game on the television. He insisted on both.

Then we had some Charlie Brown Christmas and he went to bed with little fuss.

Aladdin was not so successful. He freaked out and we had to leave. Back at his house, I asked what the problem was. The loud? The dark? The people?

The people. He doesn't like actors.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Christmas Shopping

I am very done Christmas shopping.

I do not buy gifts for that many people, so it isn't a terribly big feat. I did a lot online. In fact, I am wondering if it is time to sign up for the rewards program at toysrus.com. I am not physically setting foot into that store again.

Ben Stein was talking on CBS Sunday Morning, about something that I have been pondering. I have been half serious about saving money. Fiscal responsibility beginning at home and whatever. Stein, who always preaches conservative finances, was saying that those of us that can afford it ought to spend some money and support the economy. And he went even further to make a plea for charitable giving, which is clearly suffering this year.

Did I mention that my building's Toys for Tots collection was barely half of what we pulled together last year?

So first, let me say one more time that I am extremely grateful for my job. My company is fabulous and my boss is wonderful and we are as stable as anyone could hope right now.

Second, I just realized that I haven't yet made my annual contribution to Best Friends Animal Society. I shall go do that now. You can sponsor an animal at the sanctuary for $25 a year!

The Carbon Footprint of Digital Books

Could I have a more pretentious title for a post?

"Ask Umbra", which seems to be a MSN column on all things green, did a piece on paper vs. digital books. Which is greener?

The answer seems to be that if you keep your Kindle for any reasonable length of time and actually use it, you will be doing the Earth some good.

I don't care. I like books.

What prompted me to write about it was this:

"A MS candidate named Greg Kozak pitted textbooks against e-book devices [PDF] in 2003. He found that paper production, electricity of printing operations, and personal transportation were the main factors affecting the book footprint, while electricity was the main issue for e-readers; and that books were responsible for four times the greenhouse emissions as e-readers."

Generally, my courses at BU are offering electronic versions of textbooks. I am not sure if the practice is as high a priority for the on-campus students, or we online students are the primary beneficiaries. But I am not going for them. I like having the book in my hands. I like that I don't always have to be on the computer to do my homework.

I generally read newpapers online (although I do get the Sunday Tribune. Coupons and bird cage liner. Sorry.) and I pay my bills online and I use e-mail far, far more than I write letters.

But I am not giving up books any time soon. You can read the the entire article here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The End of the Semester

The final exam seemed easy, but was full of trick questions. Like when there is a fill in the blank that has four blanks, suggesting that four words will go there. I look at the answers. They all pretty much make sense, but no magic words are jumping out. But. Three of the answers are three words long. The fourth answer has four words. To go in four blanks. So I pick it.


I was pretty ticked at myself for falling for the trick questions. But my classmates are ticked at the professor. Apparently they think that writing trick questions tests our knowledge of the English language instead of our knowledge of the material. I think that I was being intellectually lazy on a couple of questions and deserved the grade I received. There was, after all, a curve.

I have been know to argue a grade, but this time I am taking my B+ and running.

I have ordered my books for the next class - Accounting - and am now settling down for a long winter's nap.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How Evil is HR?

Patrick Erwin at Careerbuilder.com wrote a short article on 5 Job Blogs You Should be Reading.


But wait. What is this? Punk Rock HR?!

So I look at her stuff. The writer, Laurie Ruettimann, worked in HR for a good stretch and is now writing about it. And consulting, it seems. I agree with much of what she says. And then.

I see her blogroll. And I click on EvilHRLady. I say this stuff all the time! I could be writing this! Except that I. Don’t. Dare.

“Not being friends with the boss is not a protected class. This, in my way of thinking, means that you don't have any claim of discrimination if the boss pays his BFF more than he is paying you, or rather the other entry level workers. You may see it as stupid, he may see it as being generous to an old friend.”

Declaring things that are “not a protected class” is something I do regularly. Another one is, “It’s not discrimination if he is a jerk to everyone.”

EvilHRLady gave sound advice after making that point, but she made the point, which I appreciate. Employees regularly instruct me on “their labor rights” and what is “illegal”. Generally, they don’t know what they are talking about.

Anyway. EvilHRLady is also an active HR practitioner at a Fortune 500 company. It doesn’t look like she is blogging about her employer or co-workers in particular, but she is giving advice. Again, I wouldn’t dare. The lawyers got to me when I was really young.

But now that I know that there are HR people like me..and they are writing…I might never get off the Internet.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stupid Hard Drive

After spending all day at Scott's house, my hard drive was re-installed. I went home and re-installed MS Office. It was very easy. You know what was a pain? Waiting for 12 months of updates to reinstall. I was up until midnight.

Then today, I realized that I had to reinstall iTunes.

I had backed up my Library on a flash drive. All but five songs that I had purchased more recently. It is hard to remember the "transfers" from the "import" and whatever else. How can it be so easy to get my pictures back from Picasa and such a pain to get my music back in the same place? It was all on my iPod.

I must say Google wins.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Save the Rainforest for Christmas

The last couple of years, my grandfather and I having been doing donation gifts for each other at Christmas time. One year I gave him a donation to The Elephant Santuary, along with a print of a painting one of the elephants did. Seriously, with a paintbrush she held in her trunk. I daresay it was the best gift ever.

This year, he started early and I received an e-mail with this certificate. Since The Natural Resources Defense Council made it all Blog friendly, I thought I should give them a plug. You can read more about saving the Costa Rican rainforests here.

Because I Had to Reinstall Picasa 3

A crappy picture of where Kiwi the Grey has been hanging out lately.
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My brother looked at my laptop and all of its stuff. He makes some calls. He figures out that the problem with my hard drive is covered under my one-year warranty. I bought it on December 16, 2007.

While on the phone with the manufacturer, Toshiba, he is told that the warranty expired yesterday. Their records show the purchase as having been made on December 12, 2007.

I get online to my Best Buy account. I made the purchase December 16. I called Toshiba back. They said they have conflicting information, so I should call their Warranty Department on Monday morning. I have two choices:

1. Make the call on Monday. If Toshiba behaves properly, they will make a correction and give me the name of a local authorized repair person. Monday after work would be the earliest that I could drop it off. If Toshiba stonewalls, I am waiting 7-10 days to receive the bill copy I requested from Best Buy and taking Toshiba to Round 2.

2. Drive the 10 minutes to Best Buy, spend $85 for a new hard drive and fix it right now.

My sister-in-law, Becky, tells me that $85 is worth fighting for, with the underlying implication being that these companies get away with behaving badly because people won't fight for what they are due.

Yeah. I know. And what do you think I did?

I spent the money.

As my nice brother is downloading or configuring or something, I called my mother and gave her the two options. Here's what I got:


Thank you, Ma'am, for the validation.

Friday, December 12, 2008

End of the Semester

I have taken the final exam and now have 4 ½ weeks off from school. I have three more working days until I am done for the holidays (although really, I must get better about using my vacation time earlier in the year).

I am mostly done with my Christmas shopping. Just one co-worker and some stocking stuffers. I am satisfied that I have successfully supported the economy without spending more than I can afford.

I have eight books to read in order to complete the 50 Book Challenge. I expect to finish two by the end of the weekend.

However. My laptop has been giving me the, “Dude, seriously. Your hard drive is about to crash,” message every 10 minutes. I am taking it to my brother the quasi-techie tomorrow.

Tonight, I plan to do absolutely nothing.

After I stop at the Refuge for an hour to close up.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The News Today

I first saw the headline on MSN:

Feds: Governor tried to 'auction' Obama's seat
Blagojevich arrested, accused of 'corruption crime spree' over appointment

I had been in meetings all morning and was hours behind the news. My jaw dropped to the floor. My co-worker, Augie, thinks that I am dumb. Even knowing in my gut that Governor Blagojevich is corrupt, I was stunned that he could sink so low. There is an old saying in my family:

He should be sent to jail for being stupid.

Yes. I understand that we are Innocent Until Proven Guilty. And I still believed the story immediately.

The Chicago Tribune, which is actually a part of the drama (as opposed to just reporting it), has tons of links to different angles of the story. But here is what I want you to know:

We knew that he was doing bad things. We knew he was being investigated. We knew it would all catch up with him sooner or later. And now...

We don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rather Out of Commission

I came back to town. The baby niece arrived. Much Christmas shopping was done.

Now, I am cramming for my final exam on Friday. While my laptop is threatening to crash. I am exhausted.

Give me a week and I promise to find things to say.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What I Saw Today

Out the back of our parking lot is an abandoned Smokey Bones restaurant. We cross this parking lot often on our way to other places at lunchtime.

Today, on my way out, I saw a minivan. Doing donuts* in the snow.

I went to Taco Bell, had lunch, read my book. On my way back, the minivan was still there. He was joined by a little black Honda. They were both doing donuts in the snow in the abandoned parking lot.

The Honda got so close it kicked the snow up at me. Displeased.

* Anne has determined that "donuts" are the circles in the snow, while "doughnuts" are the pastry.