Thursday, December 31, 2009

The White Album, by Joan Didion

I love Joan Didion. The White Album is a book of her essays, published in 1979, that tells her stories of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  I remember when I read The Year of Magical Thinking, her memoir of the year after her husband’s death, I wondered how much of her writing was grief and how much was mad-genius. Reading this, I wondered how much was 1968 and how much was mad-genius.

One highlight comes right at the beginning when she reprints verbatim a psychiatric report done on her in that year. The original problem was vertigo and nausea. From the report:

“It is as though she feels deeply that all human effort is foredoomed to failure, a conviction which seems to push her further into a dependent, passive withdrawal.”

Know anyone like that? Didion says:

“By way of comment, I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968.”

She tells a good story about spending a day at a recording session with The Doors. Morrison was missing. When he finally arrives, there is a pretense that no one notices. The funny thing is that as Didion describes it, Ray Manzarek was the most snarky about Morrison’s absence. I doubt that is how Manzarek would portray the scene.

She also talks about taking her seven year old daughter to the Art Institute where Georgia O’Keefe was in attendance at an exhibition of her work. Little Quintana ran up the stairs to stare at a mural and then said, “I have to talk to her”. Loved that.

Toward the end, in an essay entitled “On the Morning After the Sixties”, Didion describes a scene from when she was at Berkeley in 1953. In summary she says:

“That such an afternoon would now seem implausible in every detail – the idea of having had a “date” for a football lunch now seems to me so exotic as to be almost czarist – suggests the extent to which the narrative on which many of us grew up no longer applies.”

I was reminded in that essay of the theory that Generation X has rather more in common with the Silent Generation (to which Didion belongs) than to Gen Y or those Baby Boomers. She says:

“We were silent because the exhilaration of social action seemed to many of us just one more way of escaping the personal, of masking for a while that dread of the meaninglessness which was man’s fate.”

I could go on and on with this lady.


Jason Whitlock at has me fired up again. (For the record – I don’t read him all the time and I don’t agree with everything he says). In his NFL Truths column today, Whitlock said this:

"The next time someone tells you that a playoff format would make college football perfect remind him/her of the Colts laying down against the Jets and the legitimate allegations the Patriots and Bengals will lay down this weekend to keep the defending champion Steelers out of the playoffs."

I already get….sorry, Mom, but there isn’t a word other than.. pissy...about teams sitting their starters before the playoffs.

You don’t have to tell me about the injuries. The Bears lost Peanut Tillman and Johnny Knox and I don’t want to know who else in Monday’s awesome-awesome game against the Vikings. We weren’t playing for anything other than respect. During the Bears 2006 season, they were playing for nothing in the last game and they sat the starters. Against the Packers. Brian Urlacher looked like a caged lion on the sidelines of that game. It hurt more to watch him – and the network made us watch him – than to watch the loss. Almost.

Anyway. Forget the Colts. The Colts were not my point. It was the next part. Follow this, please:

““Cincinnati is probably going to go into New York and lay down for the Jets and not play them hard just because they’re not going to want to see Pittsburgh in (the playoffs),” Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley told the media on Wednesday. “No one wants to see Pittsburgh in it. That’s just how it is. Everybody knows we’re a dangerous team once we get into the playoffs, no matter how we played the whole year.”

It’s true. Pittsburgh can’t qualify for the playoffs if the Pats and Bengals both lose.

If you were Cincinnati or New England and had an opportunity to eliminate two-time Super Bowl winner and fourth-quarter assassin Ben Roethlisberger by keeping the playoff hopes of New York’s Mark Sanchez and Houston’s Matt Schaub alive, wouldn’t you lay down?”

No. No, I would not lay down. You know why? Because that is bloody cowardly.

I remember in 1985 when the Bears were in the playoffs. During the AFC Championship game, I told my mother that I was rooting for the Patriots. We had already beaten the Patriots that season. The Dolphins, the other contender for the AFC Championship, had beaten the Bears in that famous Week 13 debacle.  She said, "Wouldn't you rather play the Dolphins, so the Bears can redeem themselves?” No. I wanted the Bears to play the Patriots and win, win, win.

Someone has translated the logic of my eleven year old self into a reason to throw a football game. That should be illegal. Illegal. Against the laws of God and Man. Anyone who does that should be sentenced to a lifetime nickname of “LoserDawg” and be forced to wear the girl-pink version of his jersey every game for the rest of his career.

Damn Whitlock. I could’ve gone the whole happy-football weekend without hearing that particular “legitimate allegation”. I’m going to start drinking now.

75 Cage Rattling Questions to Change the Way You Work, by Dick Whitney and Melissa Giovagnoli

Book 49
I was sitting in my friend Kim’s cubicle in Fargo when I saw 75 Cage Rattling Questions to Change the Way You Work, by Dick Whitney and Melissa Giovagnoli. Kim said she received the book at some training session or another and hadn’t read it yet. And I could borrow it, but I’d better give it back.

The first question hooked me:

“What would your organization be like if your mother ran it?”

The authors offer ways to use the question, good stories with their experiences and ways your participants might derail the question (and how to get back on track). I could dig that.

It is, of course, mainly for facilitators. But there is some interesting material for the average person to consider:

“If you worked in a big, glass fishbowl, what might you do differently?”

This book was well-done, but I was over it by about question 50. Although to be fair, it was probably meant more as a reference book than something to be read from page 1 through to the end in a sitting or two.  Whatever.  Sending this back to Kim now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Year in Review: 2009

2009 shall go down in history as the first time that I left the party before midnight because I was tired and had to drive myself home.  Seriously, that could sum up the year for me.

At work, it will go down in history as the year that my boss, Dave, retired.  I have spent most of my career with Dave.  He was the best mentor a punk kid could have had and I am just beginning to understand what a difference his guidance made every day.  This makes it sound like I accomplished nothing this year, which isn't true.  But if you ask me in 10 years what happened at work in 2009, it will be about Dave.

At school, it will be the year that I finished the coursework for my masters degree.  I'm over it.

At home, it was the year that Mold took over our lives.  It cost a fortune.  My previously finished basement is now unfinished.  My African Grey is still on anti-fungal meds because she can't quite kick the aspergillus out of her system.  The only upside is that the two weeks I spent living in a hotel earned me elite status at the Holiday Inn.

Oooh.  In Travel:  I went back to New Orleans for my summer vacation, which was lovely.  Didn't stay out past midnight even once.  I visited two "new" cities - Seattle, which kindly introduced me to crumpets and Nutella, and Franklin, Tennessee.  I am not entirely sure that Franklin counts as a "city".  The "city" would be Nashville and I'd already been there.  Whatever.  Good road trip.  I also learned how much better life can be on the airlines with Premier status.  And I just learned that United re-upped me for 2010.  Yay!

In Volunteering, it was the year Glenview broke ground on the new Library.  From its July 2006 inception through mid-December 2009 the Used Book Store had raised over $57,000.  That's just the book store operation - it doesn't even count the other fundraising that the Friends group does throughout the year.  I don't have statistics on successes at the Rescue but thank you, Internet, for motivating me to ask for some.

In reading, I started on a Civil War kick that is not over yet.  Since I found one of Professor Blight's tomes at Half Price Books last weekend.  Which reminds me that I had better get back to my book.  There is still half a prayer that I might make the 50 Book mark by tomorrow.  Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Juggling Work and School

MSN Careers ran an article called Juggling Work and School that made me think I should take some time to sum up the experience. I'll come up with something all Doogie Howser Thoughtful.  Eventually.  But first, the point of the article:

How the heck do people manage to go to work, go to school, take care of their families and have a life? One student was quoted as saying:

"School is teaching me a skill set that I need to advance in my career, and the balancing portion is helping me learn to prioritize, barrel through challenges and fulfill commitments. All of those are invaluable assets on the job."

The consensus of opinion among my classmates is that we don’t. Have lives, I mean. My job didn’t really suffer. I made some accommodations in my travel schedule, and I asked to be reimbursed for Internet access when I was charged for it on the road. And sometimes it was my excuse for being cranky. Oh, and that week after my final I was logged on to the Student Link all day because I was worried about my grade.

My volunteering did suffer. Particularly during my travel-heavy times, I didn’t feel like I could give another night a week to volunteering when I was in the middle of papers and group projects and exam weeks.

My family time took a hit. I haven’t spent a real random Saturday with my nephew since the summer.

My time with friends took the biggest hit. I remember telling my friend Noah back in August that I’d see him New Years’ Eve. This turned out to be accurate. I think.

I really don’t know how people with spouses and children do it. Except that most people don’t have the luxury of choosing school instead of work. We need the employer to help with the tuition expenses.

There are five tips listed in this article on how to balance things and they all sound good. But as I am sitting here asking myself how I did it, Myself is only saying, “I dunno. I just did it.”

Monday, December 28, 2009

Spiderman Fleece

I didn't realize my nephew, Alex, was into Spiderman until he chose it for his costume this past Halloween.  When I saw this "No Sew Fleece Throw" kit at Michael's, I decided that I could have it finished in time for his birthday.  In February.

I started it a few minutes before kickoff.  The Bears were doing great.  I finished it in the third quarter and the Vikings started scoring.  I need a new project.  Right now.

The End of the Vacation

I've been off for awhile between the road trip and the holiday.  My laundry is done.  The game starts in 20 minutes.  I obviously got through some reading, although that was at the expense of my DVR episodes of Chuck.  I am not sure I am going to catch up before it comes back.  That thought kept me from buying the first season of True Blood on DVD - $17.00 at Target.

I think I am ready to go back now.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain

Book 48

I forget why I picked up The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain, but I was sold by the combination of "Lana Turner film" and "banned in Boston" proclaimed on the back cover.  This was the summary:

"An amoral young drifter.  A beautiful, sullen woman,  An inconvenient husband. And a problem that has only one, grisly solution - a solution which creates problems which can never be solved..."

This was a good read in that the tension builds and then subsides and then builds even bigger again.  My problem, as usual, is that none of the characters are particularly sympathetic.  I didn't have anyone to root for.  Cain did a great job is writing the "should I turn on her/did she turn on me" aspect.   There is some interesting commentary on human nature.  There is a difference between lust and love.  A difference between love and trust.  And if you are going to plan a murder with someone, you'd damn well better trust her.

OK, that last part was just me. 

Cain packed an awful lot into a short novel.  I'd read him again.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Book 47 - Warning - Slight Spoilers

I haven't read Stephen King in years.  I gave up on him around the time of ... Needful Things... and... Gerald's Game.  The consensus of opinion in my family is that he peaked with It.  And anyway, I thought I was about done with the horror genre.  I read his wife, Tabitha's books for years after that.  I might be able to make an argument that she is the better writer.  So Joe Hill is their kid and Heart-Shaped Box is his first full length novel.

The gist of the story is that someone lists a ghost for sale on an Internet auction site.  The ghost is attached to a man's suit.  Send money, receive suit and custody of the ghost of the suit's owner.  Our hero, an aging rock star named Jude, makes the purchase and we have a ghost story.  Cool.

I read the first few chapters all la-dee-dah-nice-ghost-story-idea.  Then I came to the point, which was that someone deliberately baited our hero into making this purchase so that he would be haunted by this particular spirit that wants revenge on him.

Oh.  Wait.  That's Scary. 

The Scary builds with the idea that anyone who offers aid or comfort to our hero becomes a target.  There is also a particular dread for me because our hero has two heroic dogs and I had an extremely bad feeling that something bad would happen to them.

My friend Liza reviewed this book on LibraryThing awhile back and noted that in most ghost stories, part of the scary is that no one else knows/understands/believes what is happening.  In this case, the people that come in contact with Jude do believe and can't help him.  That was well done.

I wasn't entirely thrilled with the climax of the story.  It read very cinematically, but I was left thinking, "Wait.  How the hell did that happen?"  Maybe I read it too quickly.  I also wish there had been a better explanation of how and why the dead are hanging around and how/when/why they cross over.  What are the rules of that game?  Although perhaps part of the point is that Jude never really learns it, either.

Overall, I think this was well done and I am looking forward to seeing what Hill does next.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Road Trip: Franklin, Tennessee

Franklin, Tennessee.

I mentioned that it sounded like a good road trip after I read the Robert Hicks book The Widow of the South this past summer. It is south of Nashville on I-65 - about an eight hour drive - and has a darling “historic downtown” area, in addition to the Confederate Cemetery as described in the novel. Also, I needed two more nights at a Marriott to maintain my Elite Status for 2010.

The Marriott was actually in the new end of town – Cool Springs/Brentwood. Office campuses, new townhouses, that kind of thing. The closer you come to downtown Franklin the more you see that odd mix of ginormous homes right next to little bungalows.

This park/circle is in the intersection of Main Street and ….I think 3rd street. No one was hanging out in it. I was going to go find out who the subject of the statue is, but I felt like a big dork crossing traffic to do so. As if I didn’t look enough like a Yankee Tourist. I am guessing it is a Confederate General, so my stab in the dark is John Bell Hood. I could probably look that up on the Internet, but am too lazy.

I visited Carnton Plantation, subject of the novel and home of the aforementioned cemetery. The first thing to note is that “Carnton Lane” is now a subdivision filled with McMansions. The old house is at the end and I was driving through this street with the stately looking trees I was wondering just what exactly was torn down to make way for those houses.

I was the only out of state car in the parking lot, so I figured I would be alone for the tour.

Side Note: Illinoisans are great road trippers. I always see other cars from Illinois when I am on the road. Even factoring in some margin for error – that I am more likely to notice a plate from my own state when I am on the road – I think our numbers are still higher than average. Texans are everywhere, too. In fact:

Just as I started my tour a couple of Texans pulled in and we waited for them to join us. I think the tour guide said they get about 250 visitors on the average Saturday in the summer and last Saturday they had only 19.

Anyway, Carnton was a field hospital for Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Franklin (November, 1864). Much is made of the bloodstains that can be seen on the hardwood floors. Apparently, the floors had been carpeted, so they were not washed properly until the carpets were torn up and by then the stains were already set. A few years later, the McGavock family, who lived there, donated two acres of their backyard to become the permanent resting place for some 4500 soldiers that died during the Battle. The not-for-profit that runs the place (Hicks is a member) has done a fine job of restoring it considering a (different) private family lived there as late as … I want to say 1977.

One thing I found fascinating was that the old kitchen from the side of the house was destroyed by a tornado in the early 1900s. It was never rebuilt and you can still see the ruins. Just that part of the house. There is also a dead tree nearby that made me wonder if that was the path the tornado took.  I thought I took a picture of that, because it was interesting to look at, but apparently not.

Then I went out to the cemetery. It looked like a cemetery. It was divided by state and had only numbers and initials listed on the stones. But I did pick up the history book in the gift shop that give more details on who the men were and where they came from. Autographed, of course.  I am fascinated by these old, old grounds where there is always someone that keeps bringing flowers to another who died a century before. These weren’t fresh or anything, but hardly vintage 1870, either.  I wonder if the staff leaves them just to get people to look up the names.  I'd pull a stunt like that if I worked there.  Although, I guess if I was local and had an ancestor buried there, I might bring something pretty every once in awhile just because I could.  Anyway.

Then, I went shopping.  And that was the end of my road trip.  I stopped at Fair Oaks Dairy Farm on the way home.  It wasn't lunch time yet (they have the best grilled cheese sandwich in All the Land), but I picked up some cheese and a chocolate milk.  Shout out to Joy's Mom who first told me to stop there when we were headed to Indianapolis for a meeting last summer.  Since my first trip, they have put in a gas station, which gave me an extra excuse to stop.

Now then.  Where to next?

A New Hope: The Life of Luke Skywalker, by Ryder Windham

Book 46

A New Hope: The Life of Luke Skywalker, was another YA Star Wars novel from the Scholastic book publishers.  Luke is remembering his own life about a year after the end of Return of the Jedi and the flashbacks begin when he was about four years old.  One I liked:

He was about age 7 when he wandered off after darf to watch a meteor shower.  Uncle Owen went looking for him and almost shot him when they bumped into each other.  He gets a "we'll discuss this tomorrow".  He hears Owen and Beru arguing about it - Owen is really angry that the kid won't listen and has no fear.  The next morning, Owen tells the boy that he is going to teach him how to shoot and Luke is never to go off without a blaster.  Nice.

There was a scene of Obi Wan saving his butt around age 13 and some wondering of why Owen couldn't stand Kenobi.  And we see adult Luke go back to Tatooine and hearing the stories of his father as a 9 year old Podracer.

This wasn't thrilling, but I've read worse Star Wars books. 

Christmas 2009: The Take

My family arrived for Boxing Day pizza and presents and check out what I got:

From my brother.  Who knew they made Star Wars sheets for a queen sized bed?  People that shop at Pottery Barn Kids.

My mother ordered me a kitchen cart for the bird room, which my brother said he would build for me during football on New Years Day.  Awesome.  And check out what else she did:

I drew this picture of a Hyacinth Macaw in 8th grade art class.  She found it in the back of a closet somewhere and had it framed for the bird room.  Obviously I did not inherit my father's talent.  She also framed this one below, of a Double Yellow Amazon, that my brother did when he took the same art class in the 8th grade.  He is rather more talented than I, but better developed his skill drawing in comic book style.

My grandfather made a donation to the rescue for me.  And Santa left Laffy Taffy and a gift card to Meatheads in my stocking.

Ahhhh.  The Loot.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote

Book 45

I ought to be ashamed for counting Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory in my 50 Book Challenge, because it was such a short tale. But I don’t think I am going to make 50 this year and I want the count to remain respectable. Or something.

It sounds like Capote did not have a very happy childhood, but the Christmas Memory is of the season when he was seven years old. His best friend was an elderly cousin and he talks of the baking and the dog and making gifts and Christmas morning and it really is just lovely.

I imagine it is the thing a writer might do to honor someone after he has become famous. Good on him, I think.

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara

Book 44

My mother loved Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels so much that she has read every book his kid wrote. I might have gone my whole life rolling my eyes at the idea of reading a novel about Gettysburg, except that Professor Blight mentioned that it was the fiction piece that he had assigned to his Civil War students for years – until Doctorow’s The March.

I think I understand why Blight made the change. The March focused less on the soldiers’ experience and a bit more on the civilian experience. And it particularly focused on the experience of the freed slaves. The Killer Angels covers the Battle of Gettysburg by moving the narrative from one leader to another on both sides of the field.

I cannot even describe how beautifully written this book was, except to say that I put it down after almost every chapter. Both to let the language sink in, and because I didn’t want to hurry through it. Until Pickett’s charge. Then I might have hurried a bit. Because, you know, it doesn’t end well.

I loved them all. John Buford, the Union General that got the high ground and held it until he was reinforced. Colonel Chamberlain, the professor from Maine who had his little brother in his regiment. But mostly, for me, this book was about Generals Lee and Longstreet.

I don’t need to tell you that Lee was next to God in this time and place, but Shaara did a brilliant job of making me believe it without being frothy. I think this was mostly because we see him through Longstreet’s eyes. Longstreet loved him, but believed he was wrong and told him so. There is a moment when Longstreet is ranting – which almost never happened – to a friendly British observer – that the battles won by the Confederates were not won because of superior strategy or tactics. Or better weapons or even better soldiers. They were won because the men were just that devoted to Lee. Chivalry and devotion to Lee.

I was going to find some small part of the text here to help make my point, but there are too many and they run rather long. This one is a keeper.

Christmas Day 2009, II

Last night, I gave my mother her Christmas gift. A new Dyson Animal. Anyone that has pets should have this vacuum. Actually, we already have one. But it is several years old and a pain to lug up and down the stairs. So the gift is that she has one on each floor and will never have to be without one even if the other one dies.

This model was one of the Doorbuster deals at Best Buy on Black Friday. I didn't know that when I walked in the door at 10:30 that morning. They were all gone. I happened to peek behind the line of the not-on-sale big brother of this guy and found him.

Because I am that freaking lucky.

I told this story of triumph to my friend Bob at work the next week. Picture a guy - a techie - all jazzed for me because he knows how great the vacuum cleaner is. He told me that when he bought his and ran it around, he was amazed and disgusted by how much dirt and dog hair it was picking up. Because he has two children and two labradors and vacuums regularly. I mention this because we had vacuumed the day before. And this picture? Is how much the new vacuum picked up just in her room when we hooked it up.  I love this thing.

We were amazed. And rather disgusted. Merry Christmas.
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Christmas Day 2009

You might be aware that I celebrate with my family on Boxing Day, the 26th, rather than on Christmas Day. For the third year in a row, this has given me the extra day to inish whatever Christmas crafty-gift I hadn't yet completed. This rug, for my niece Ainslie, is my official reason for not finishing the 50 book challenge this year.

No, wait. Corporate Finance is the official reason. This is the last-minute excuse. The good news is that I am all caught up on back episodes of House (except for that one that the DVR didn't pick up because the World Series went into extra innings) and two more into Chuck. From last season. I was watching commercials for the Rockettes Christmas Special from last year.

I'm going to go read a book now.
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kiva Update

Two years ago, I gave my grandfather a gift certificate to Kiva, the organization that hooks up people in need of microloans with lenders.  A year ago, my friend Holly gave one to me.  I lent the money to a lady in Paraguay that was expanding her retail operation.  I just received an e-mail from Kiva saying the loan had been repaid in full.

When a loan is repaid, the lender's account is credited.  I had the option of cashing out, donating back to Kiva, gifting to someone else or relending.  I chose to relend.

I found a lady in Samoa that is farming to supplement her family's income.  That sounded good to me.  My (retired) boss' wife is from American Samoa, and you might remember those islands were hit pretty badly by a tsunami earlier this year.  I processed the transaction and clicked around a bit.  I am linked up to my grandfather, because I "invited" him, and found that he has two active loans in addition to the one that has already been repaid.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Woodhouse Spa

The first thing I discovered when I went to discover Franklin Tennessee was that the entire state is closed on Sunday. Except the day spas.

The first one I went to only had massage therapists working that day. However, Woodhouse Spa was open from 1pm – 6pm and could give me the 2pm slot for a facial. I went with the signature treatment – an 8o minute appointment called the Minkyti Facial. I have no idea what that means.

I walked in at about 1:20, but the staff invited me right in to use the “relaxation room”. It had a fireplace and really comfortable chairs. There was almost nothing to read. A magazine, like, “Nashville Interiors” or something. Which was fine because I had a book. As if I could read Killer Angels in the damn spa.

I changed into a robe and the nice lady brought me peppermint tea and an aromatherapy neck wrap. I filled out the standard questionnaire, put down my pen and closed my eyes.

Seriously. I was loving this place. Then, two women walked in and sat down. They started yammering and ruined the whole experience. They were finished with their appointments and were just hanging around.  I actually got up and left the room when one started telling the other about the botched Botox treatment of a mutual acquaintance. Imagine please, the words, “And she was such a pretty girl” in a Southern accent. My eyes were rolling into the back of my head as I headed back to the locker room. Luckily, that was just about when they called my name for the treatment. I told the aesthetician that I had been breaking out; I presumed because my skincare routine hadn’t caught up with the change in seasons.

That standard facial is 60 minutes. The basic steps are cleanse, steam, exfoliate, extract, masque. The extra 20 minutes, in this case, were “A combination of acupressure points and connective tissue massage techniques lift and tone the skin, allowing for maximum absorption of our nutrient-rich products.”

It was a good facial. When it was over, the aesthetician told me that my skin was fine, but that I should step up the exfoliation a bit. She did not try to sell me anything.  However. It was also..literally..the most expensive facial I have ever had in my entire life. It wasn’t that good.

The particularly good news is that this experience reinforced my theory that a good facial costs $80, give or take a few bucks. Less than that is ok, but it feels a bit more like a doctor’s appointment less like a retreat. More than that is just pampering.

Which is fine.  I was on vacation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Colgate Wisp

I had seen the Colgate Wisp advertised, but hadn't tried them.  I thought it was a brilliant idea but I don't like the price.  I think it was $2.50 for a 4-pack.    But I forgot to pack toothpaste on this, of all trips, when I didn't have to worry about getting liquids through airport security.  So I tried them.

I believe they will get through security because they use a "freshening bead" instead of toothpaste.  The instructions say they don't require water, but I think they do because they don't taste very good.  And they aren't particularly effective at brushing the teeth, although they do have that pick thing so that you can pretend to floss. 

These were ok for an emergency, but I wouldn't use them for my regular travel needs.

Domino's Pasta in a Bread Bowl

There was a Domino's Pizza up the road from my hotel, so Sunday night I decided to try the pasta bowl things they have been advertising.  My expectations weren't high, which is a good thing. Check it out:

What does this look like to you?   Hmmm.  Looks to me like a pizza.  With rather too much crust.  Can't even see any pasta on top of that thing.  "Penne with Italian Sausage" indeed.  Try "sausage pizza with some pasta baked in".

The sauce was bland, which I guess is true of your average Domino's pizza.  The sausage was sausage.  The dough was a bit better than I remember their pizza crust.  More garlic-buttery.   It filling and relatively cheap.  But not as cheap as Sonic, where I ate the next night and discovered the cherry-limeade which I am convinced is the best non-alcoholic beverage know to Man.

Seriously.  I have to go find where the nearest one is to my house.


Hm.  There is one up by my brother's house.  I knew there was a reason I liked the boy.

Back Home

I am back from a mini road trip to Tennessee.  I have stories and various "reviews" to post.  But for now, I thought it might interest you to know that Kiwi and Billy are sharing the java tree.

It is an uneasy truce, but there it is.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Meanwhile, Back at the Library

I missed the Holiday Sale altogether.  I missed the set up.  The wonderful pulling of every last box out of donations from the closet and being the first person to see them.  I missed sorting them out and making a pile of what I will take right that second.

I missed the whole thing.

So when I arrived last night, I had no idea what to expect.  But it was all cleaned up.  The bookshelves looked the same - maybe a bit neater.  There were three or four boxes of new donations in the closet.  We have a new laptop computer (the last one fried) that I hadn't used before because I had been bringing my own while I was in school.  It is actually the next generation of the one I have now so I had a little moment of envy.  Maybe it is two generations ahead, even.  Whatever.

We have sold 18 books online in the last week, which is fabulous.  I am happy when we average seven.  I didn't see any notes on the total sales for the week, but I will hear them at the holiday party.

It had been so long since I'd been there I didn't know what to do first.  Sort new donations?  Read the volunteer notes?  Go shopping?  I did a bit of everything, which is a good thing because between the holiday library closures and my travel schedule I won't even be back until the last week in January.   (sigh)

But check this out:

It's the new library, people.  This is from the web-cam.  There is a structure...and insulation?  It is enormous.  There were still people working when I arrived at 5:30 yesterday and it wasn't exactly warm outside.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Last Class

The story begins a couple of semesters ago, on the “Water Cooler” discussion board of whatever class I was taking at the time. It was your basic “here’s what to expect in your next class” discussion. Marketing is the most reading. E-Commerce is just crazy. (Note: It was not. E-Commerce was taught less from a textbook and more from online experience. As well it should. And that made some people crazy. I thought it was the best course in the program.) Corporate Finance was murder. Specifically, the final exam was murder.

The way I remember it, the posting student said that in his class the raw average on the final exam was 40%. That was not a typo. 40%. And only the magical curve saved everyone. I remember dismissing the statistic, thinking that even if such a problem existed at one point, it must have been corrected by now. Corporate Finance had been revamped since then, so the final exam must have been addressed.

So I wander in to Corporate Finance, my final course in the program. I am a B+/A- student and I have learned my way around the program. I go through my coursework and am holding a 91% average going in to the final.

The final exam is 40% of our final grade. Now get this:

3-hours to Complete

10 Questions

Multiple Choice

Open Book/Open Note – including financial calculator

The only thing we are not allowed to do is access other Internet sites. Or MS Excel.

Are you suspicious yet?

It was the worst exam I have ever taken in my life. Twelve years of public education. SATs and ACTs. Two professional certification programs. Four years as an undergrad; two years in graduate school. Worst. Exam. Ever.

At the end, when I was searching for a Eureka! moment, I realized that even if I had that moment, I would not have time to rework all of the problems to apply it. I actually gave up.

To make a long story short (too late). I got a D on that final. The curve brought my final grade to a B, so I passed the course and get to graduate.

I am told that Corporate Finance is no longer a required class in my program.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Civil War and Reconstruction Era - 1845-1877, Lectures by David W. Blight

I just finished watching the final lecture in Professor Blight’s course on Academic Earth. I’ve been talking about it rather haphazardly because I have been watching them rather haphazardly this semester, so to pull it all together:

Academic Earth is a website that offers “full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars” free of charge to anyone with a decent Internet connection. When I first got onboard, back in June, I noted there were five courses that I wanted to take. By “take” I actually meant following along with the reading, if not actually working the written assignments. I meant to follow the syllabus in something close to real semester time. Of course, I didn’t have the time to do that while in school “for real” and I didn’t really feel like waiting until I had the time to do all of the reading. So I just played the lectures and watched them like you would watch TV.  Which is good because they have added material like crazy in the last six months and I don't even know what to start next.

When Professor Blight is speaking, he reminds me of Indiana Jones in the classroom.  If Dr. Jones were older, nerdier and a straight-up academic historian.  (OK, so not, but Harrison Ford could totally play this guy.)  He tells great stories and points to plenty of sources - assigned and otherwise - in his lectures.  He regularly referenced books that are in my house. A few that I have even read already. In fact in the last one, he quoted from Confederates in the Attic, by Tony Horowitz. My mother read that last year and thought it was great. He once had me running to the other room in the middle of the night to see if I had the same edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass because it had an appendix with a really great speech in it.  I was very disappointed to find it wasn't the same.  He assigned The March, by E.L. Doctorow, the book that arguably started me on this Civil War kick in the first place. When he said that he used to assign The Killer Angels as the fiction piece for the course…well, I am a hundred pages into that one right now.

Note to Mom:  Besides being a big Bruce Catton fan, Dude's from Michigan.  He compared a little-known Catton essay that had stabbed him in the heart with seeing his childhood hero - some Detroit Tiger that played right field - smoking a cigarette in the airport.  I thought that would amuse you.

So. The classes are the big lecture hall type things where the guy is talking and there are no questions or other student interactions. Apparently, in the actual course, there are two lectures per week and section discussions on some regular basis. This is fine with me, because the students would likely have ticked me off. The technical stuff is fine in that there aren’t a whole lot of issues with microphones or problems with the camera or anything. My only complaint, and Academic Earth warns you ahead of time, is that we can’t see the material on the classroom overhead projector. Copyright issues. I can live with it.

I love this guy. I loved his course. I love the very concept of Academic Earth. I’m going to go read that book now.

Charitable Donations

MSN had an article that involves News to No One – that charitable donations are down again this year.

It confirmed something that I had suspected – that the Salvation Army had the bell ringers out early to try to snag a few weeks more out of its seasonal campaign. That several civic organizations are closing their doors altogether. That more people are in need of services from organizations that are already strapped.

The article noted that the American Red Cross is trying an online gift catalog to raise funds. You can see a button down the right-hand side of the screen that the parrot rescue is doing the same through the One Cause group and I am trying to support it. My online holiday shopping has netted something like $8.00 in donations, but every little bit counts.

I got a rather disconcerting e-mail this morning from Best Friends Animal Society. They started a fundraising effort based on the promise of matching contributions from some big-deal donors – dollar for dollar up to $1,000,000. Fabulous, right? So I went online and made my average annual donation last week. The e-mail today said that they had raised something under $300,000. Except they said it like this:

“Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who participated in this million dollar matching gift challenge. In spite of the short notice, an uncertain economy, and the added holiday stress, you managed to join together to raise $297,506.

And now we have more great news! Those generous donors who made the matching offer have decided to extend the challenge by another week!

We know you’ve already made a special gift to help reach this goal. It would be fantastic if you could make another. And one other way to help is to spread the word… please tell all of your friends about this big challenge.

You’ve proven, once again, that Best Friends members stand above all others in their generosity, their determination, and their heart. (We already knew that.) But with these extraordinary results, we hope you know it now, too.”

Of course, my two local groups – the parrot rescue and the library – need every dollar we can scrounge together. I haven’t even been to the library to see how the Holiday Sale went, but the Amazon sales seem to have picked up a bit. And I am planning to organize a toy making event for the parrot rescue. We all have random toy parts sitting around that we can donate and put together for the birds, if only we would take the time.

So I hope you are all doing what you can do. Spare change for the red kettles. An extra $5 for the group closest to your heart. ‘Tis the Season. Or something.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Final Exam

I took my final exam on Friday.  I have a great story to tell, but it isn't quite funny yet.  I'll keep you posted.

Sticker Shock

I purchased and wrapped gifts for my father, my stepmother and their dog.  I placed them in the box from my last order and filled it in with the eco-friendly shipping peanuts from my last order with Drs Foster and Smith.  I taped up the box.  I could have taken it to work, sent it UPS and repaid my employer.  But it seemed easier to take it to the post office on Saturday and be done.

The nice lady behind the counter handed me a fresh shipping label and asked if I wanted to insure the box.  Knowing that UPS automatically insures up to $100, I asked if USPS does the same.  No.  What would it cost to  insure?  Upwards of $30.  Then no.  What about signature delivery?  No.

So basically, I sent a 9 pound box regular ground USPS.  There is no insurance, no guaranteed delivery date and no signature guarantee.  And what did this cost?


I will not be making that mistake again.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The First Snowfall

Yes, everyone forgot how to drive.  And that guy that does the donuts in the abandoned parking lot behind my office?  Got started early.  Except it looks more like driving in circles than in performing the donut maneuver:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Where Spooky Sleeps

This is where my mother found the cat while I was out of town:

Day bed in the guest room where I started staging the gift wrap.  What is it with cats and paper?  Of course, I now have gift wrapping staged in three rooms.  I ordered so much online that it seemed easier to not take it upstairs at all. 

Representing O'Hare

I was in The Big Boss’ Office in Washington this morning. He looked at something online and told me to get gonig to the airport right that second or I might not make it home. I had put myself on the standby list when I checked in, and was thankful for the go-ahead to bail out. When the snow starts early, it can snarl air traffic all day, and I’d been hearing 3-7 inches.

Arrived at Reagan at 11:20. Security was really light, but by the time I arrived at the gate, the 11:30 have departed, and the 12:30 was cancelled so there wasn’t much chance I would make the list for the 1:30. I was booked on the 2:30.  I did some mental calculations:

If the 1:30 is delayed by half an hour and it isn’t noon yet, I can figure I will be delayed two hours on the 2:30 flight. Math..time zone change..math…I will still be home around dinner time. So I settled in with a book and a snack. Then I walked around a bit. And read some more. The 1:30 flight boards. My plane has already arrived. United guy gets on the loud speaker. He tells us that while the system shows a 3:15 departure, we should all hang around because they are trying to do better than that.

Apparently, if you are already sitting on the tarmac with a full flight, you might be able to guilt or blackmail air traffic control into letting you take off. And once you are in the air, what are they going to do?

Not two minutes later, the same guy is at the gate, telling us to get our butts in gear because this puppy is going to move. (He didn’t actually say that.)

But remember yesterday when I was rolling my eyes at the Global Alliance people? Well, this is the situation where you want to be travelling with them. Because we got to boarding and everyone was helping everyone else with the bags and the coats and the getting settled. Would you believe some of them were also on my flight to Washington yesterday? (You know you are travelling too much when you start to recognize other passengers.)

Bottom line: my plane landed exactly six minutes later than scheduled. And the snow is still coming down.

I love O’Hare. I love United Airlines. I am going to go online and tell them so.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Oh, Coward!

The second show of the season at Writers’ Theatre this season is a musical revue of Noel Coward material called “Oh, Coward!”.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I left at Intermission and didn’t come back. I didn't actually see the entire thing.  I have done this a few times before. I am not proud of it, but…

This was the one show of the year in the old space at the back of the book store. They tend to get creative with the staging in this space. Because there isn’t much of it, they go for “intimacy”. What I didn’t know going in, but can see on the website now, is that it is a General Admission show. Which means that the fact that I have been a subscriber for my entire adult life could not get me a good seat, even though I was a good 20 minutes early. They made it rather clubby with the piano on one end and the audience around the sides. The front row had the benefit of cocktail tables. Would’ve been nice. In a regular show, when I normally have a front row seat, I regularly and cheerfully risk being spit on by the actors. But when the front row would have been a boon, it is General Admission. Oh, and there were Reserved Seats. Which was a crock, because random latecomers were seated there. I know they were random, as opposed to VIPs, because the usher searched for someplace else to put them before seating them right there in front of me at the cocktail table that four dozen other people wanted.

And one last thing about the seating: every seat was taken, even though I had my second subscription ticket, unused, in my pocket.

Now, then. I love Noel Coward. Writers’ Theatre has done two of his plays before and they were both great. “Private Lives” should really be produced more often. But a musical revue? I seem to recall the Master Singers doing one in high school. Oh, Coward! reminded me of that.

Three actors and a pianist. They came right out singing. In about 45 seconds, I was thinking:

I missed the second half of the Giants/Cowboys for this…and I could be doing homework. Or packing. Or watching the Vikings/Cardinals game. If I left at Intermission, I could go home do some homework and watch the game while I’m packing. Oh! And I could stop at Starbuck’s!

OK, I'm sorry. 

The actors were fine. The pianist was charming. I just don’t like the “revue” concept. So here is a link to a real review. Just remember to get there early.

The Airport

I left the house at 0 dark-hundred to catch the earlier flight to Washington. Traffic was great, I parked in my regular area at O’Hare, the security line was short and the flights ran on time. I was flying with all of the regular DC commuting types, such that there was actual snarkiness between two Global Alliance passengers regarding the “line” to board and who would be getting on the plane first. One guy said:

“Calm down. My standing here is not going to take away your Global Alliance status.”

Real Time Interlude: I ordered a pizza for dinner. The lady that delivered it said, “I haven’t seen you in, what, a month?”

“Three weeks.”

Anyway, when I arrived, I checked in on Facebook and my friend Ingrid took a picture from her camera phone of just how bloody crowded it was at O’Hare’s Terminal 1 this morning. Five gates down. At exactly the same time.

I have often wondered, while wandering around O’Hare, how many people that I know personally are actually in the airport right at the same time. Odds are, there are several. I only ran into one once and it was a co-worker. Maybe I’d better start paying attention. This is going to make me crazy.

So, yeah. Pizza. Homework. NCIS. Again.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hand Washing and Sanitizing

Good Morning America had a piece this morning on the mega-business of hand sanitizers and the people that are using them 30+ times a day. I went online to take another look and it isn’t up yet, but I found an article they did in October that I found interesting:

They did an experiment comparing bar soap, liquid soap, (with and without out the “anti-bacterial”) and sanitizers (with and without alcohol). The results? “Technique is more important than technology”, meaning wash for at least twenty seconds with soap and water.

Also, “Experts say washing with soap and water is first choice, especially if you have visible dirt on your hands. Sanitizer can't cut through that grime. Hand sanitizer is great for when you can't get to soap and water, and it's actually more effective at eliminating germs because it kills them rather than just removing them.”

Personally, I wash my hands regularly and have a hand sanitizer around, but don’t use it very often. 30+ times a day? Do you know how drying that is? I can’t imagine how much hand cream I’d go through if I did that.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Doggie Dreams

I have talked about the Pet section of USA Today, and now I see that the Chicago Tribune has a pretty serious section going as well. There were blogs and pictures and some videos. January is National Walk Your Pet Month. 

I am posting this video because Shadow has some crazy Doggie Dreams, but this is ridiculous:

There is a second, longer video in which the dog actually stands up and starts barking, and still appears to be asleep.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What-the-Dickens, Gregory Maguire

Book 43

In 2007, “the Wicked guy” went back to his roots in children’s literature and published What-the-Dickens¬: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy. I say “published” rather than “wrote” because I am not convinced he didn’t have it sitting on a shelf somewhere waiting for a rainy day. In the author’s bio, Maguire says:

“I gave a writing assignment to some middle-school kids. I told them to write about the meeting between an impossible creature and an ordinary citizen. I did the assignment myself, and I came up with an ancient bedridden grandmother mistaking a lost tooth fairy for the Angel of Death. Eventually, the story evolved…”

This is a story within a story that has three kids stranded with a cousin in what seemed to me to be post-apocalyptic setting. I guess it was just a hurricane, but this was a seriously isolated group. Anyway.

What-the-Dickens is actually the fairy’s name. He was lost or abandoned at birth and stumbles into another fairy, who was a member of some colony or another of fairies. The two worlds – the real one and the fairy one – are only fleshed out from a very narrow perspective, which isn’t terrible, but isn’t exactly Harry Potter. And just as our world view is starting to expand, both the “real” world and the fairy world, the book is over.

It was another “what the heck happens next?” book. Sometimes, that means a writer has a series on his hands. In this case, I felt like I hung in with this until the end and there was no payoff. Beh.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Random Travel Train of Thought Post

Here's something that I hate to see:

An empty gate.  Actually, my flight wasn't late.  It was early.  It was just a later scheduled flight than I normally take.  So late, in fact, that I parked nowhere near my normal spot in remote parking.  Good thing I read that awesome article warning me about just such holiday phenomena and I got to the airport early.

And speaking of awesome, I found a new super-secret hidden security line at O'Hare where I got to the front so fast that I wasn't even ready and let someone budge.  Let me say that again.  I had to let someone budge in the security line because I wasn't ready to go through.  No, I am not going to tell you where it is.  Because the last time I told someone where my super-secret hidden security line was, it wasn't a secret anymore. 

Then I went to Auntie Anne's to have a pretzel for breakfast.  Because I just read somewhere that Auntie Anne's pretzels were on someone's list of "do not eat" airport food, which is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.  Something about it being all carbs.  So I protested by eating one with cheese sauce.  And a Diet Coke.

I stopped drinking Diet Coke in the morning several years ago.  I drink water until lunch time.  And a pint of chocolate milk.  And can I tell you?  That Diet Coke this morning was the best Diet Coke I have ever had in my life.  I have been drinking Diet Coke all day trying to re-create the greatness of that one this morning.  It isn't happening.

So now I am....wait for it....blowing off my homework and watching repeats of NCIS on the USA Network.  Is this the one with Abby's crazy ex-boyfriend?  I am like Name that Tune with this show now.  My mother would be so proud.  No, seriously. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I Can't Make this Stuff Up, Folks

Kiwi was perched on the refrigerator. It is her favorite lookout point. I went in to the next room, the bird room to see Billy. I had left the door to his cage open, but he hadn’t come out.

Me: (reaching out a hand) Billy. Step up.

Billy: (takes a swipe at me with his beak)

Me: Ugh. Fine.

Kiwi: Are you gonna step up? You’re ok!

Me: Thank you, Kiwi.

I managed to get Billy to come out onto his door. He wouldn’t step up, but he climbed to the top of the cage. I gave him a piece of carrot. He dropped it. I left the room to check on dinner, leaving Shadow to get the carrot. When I came back, I gave Billy another carrot. As I walked away, I heard him drop that, too.

Me: Well, it seems Billy has learned Kiwi’s favorite game.

Kay: (from the family room) What’s that?

Me: Feed the Dog!

Kiwi: Ohhhhhhhhhh! (laughs) Good dog!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Reflecting on the Allergy Shots

So.  For the past 18 months, I have been getting allergy shots.  Every single week.  Just when I was getting to the point of "OMG I am so sick of this, I am going to quit", I had an appointment with my allergist and he told me that I was really close to maxing out the dosage and moving into Phase 2.  It took longer than usual because:

  1. My awesome immune system changed its mind about which types of mold make it mad.  I had to start over.
  2. During the Great Mold Infestation of 2009, I started reacting to the weekly shots and was held back on the dosages.
Phase two is "maintenance".  I stay at this dosage and only go in for shots every other week.  I have dropped one of the three daily prescriptions I'd been taking.  BCBS will be happy to hear both of these things.  I am happy that I can start sleeping late on Saturdays.  Some Saturdays.

In my doctor's office, all of the kids get their shots on Saturdays.  So if I don't get there by 8:30, right when the doors open, the office is packed.  To get to Highland Park by 8:30, I have to be out the door shortly after 8am.  In order to be up and dressed with contacts in and teeth give Kiwi her fresh food and water and medicine (next recheck 12/18)....Well.  I get perhaps an extra hour of sleep over the average day in a workweek.  This is not the purpose of a Saturday.  Of course, taking quizzes is not the purpose of a Saturday, either.

OK, now I'm just complaining.  Weren't we talking about shopping?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Deep Lacquer

I was at Joann Fabrics today.  While I was waiting for them to call my number, (so that I could get a yard of fleece for Kay who is making a jacket for the dog) I saw some stackable plastic drawers.  I picked up three, thinking that I really must do something about the mess of cosmetics in my bathroom.  I have an old Caboodle's box - you know, the ones that were modeled on the things fishermen use - that is in seriously bad shape.

I really did have some old stuff in there.  The experimental green eyeshadow.  Gone.  Two pairs of earrings.  I'd been wondering where they went.  Clinique Deep Lacquer lipstick.

It was a deep red.  I didn't wear it every day..I wore it on "bad girl" days.  So, not all that often after college.   The last time I wore it was perhaps five years ago.  I put it on before work, just for fun.  My friend Nicholle told me it was freaking her out and I was to go to the bathroom to wash it off and never wear it again.

Would you believe that I did?

I don't wear much lipstick because I rather believe that a lady either accentuates her eyes or her lips but not both.  I choose the eyes.  Also, I no longer wear red nail polish because my mother has convinced me that it doesn't look right if you don't have long fingernails.  Which I will never have again.  Actually, my color was "Toast of New York" but nevermind.  Back in the day, I had a signature color and a signature scent.

I also stopped wearing perfume because I don't think it belongs in the workplace.   Too many people don't know how much is too much and I don't wish to contribute to the problem.  But one day last year when I happen to be going past an H20 store, I stopped in to consider buying my old scent in a lotion.  I remember taking a whiff and thinking, "Yes.  This is how I used to smell.  I don't smell like this anymore."  And I walked out of the store.

So instead of Deep Lacquer lipstick, Mariel perfume and Toast of New York, I am wearing Bigelow lip gloss, smelling like cranberry body butter and my fingernails are...(reaching over to look at the bottle)...Country Club Khaki. 

Wait.  Country Club Khaki?  I suddenly want to kill myself.

Anyway.  I kept the earrings.  Tossed the lipstick.

What I Learned During the Black Friday Shopping

  1. Those awesome-looking wireless charging pads?   I went into Best Buy where they weren't even on sale and the sales lady made sure I understood that in addition to the $100 I'd be paying for the pad, I would be required to purchase these adapter thingies for each device I planned to use on the wireless charger.  $30 each, assuming they are even compatible.  Not so awesome.   Which leads to...
  2. Now I am thinking I should buy the Wii Mario Brothers for Scott.  Which means there is a very real possibility that he and I might get each other the same gift for Christmas.  Again.
  3. The cell phone lot at O'Hare is a myth.  There are rumors, but I couldn't find it.  Therefore, it does not exist.  I did, however, find the Starbucks at Baggage Claim in Terminal 3.  Starbucks is no myth.
  4. If there is a silver lining to the H1N1 virus, I think it is that people are making honest attempts to not cough and/or sneeze on other people.  I didn't notice it until yesterday, but I appreciate the collective effort.
  5. Between the retailers planning better, the shoppers having a sense of humor and the options to go online...I think we are getting pretty good at this nonsense.

Friday, November 27, 2009

So It Begins

I hadn't planned on doing Black Friday for real. But yesterday during the Lions game I was going through the paper and had an idea. And then I compared prices. And then I found one that was substantially better than the others. That could only be found before 1pm on Friday.

I was at Carson's by 7:30 this morning. Shopper's tip: the Rewards Card discount works on Door Busters. Ha ha!

I can't go into detail because people for whom I shop also read my stupid blog. But suffice it to say that I rocked the shopping today. In between getting my allergy shot, having lunch at Meatheads, and picking up my brother at the airport.

And I have three gifts wrapped. 

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Night Castle, by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I believe I mentioned that I had pre-ordered - on CD, no less - the new release from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  It is a 2-disk rock opera called Night Castle.  TSO is best known for its Christmas-themed rock operas.  You know that commercial with the house and the holiday lights that rock out to music?  That was TSO.  You know that rock version of "Carol of the Bells"?  That was actually in an earlier rock opera called Dead Winter Dead.  I believe the song was called "Sarajevo 12/24", but anyway, that was them, too.  Although now that I am thinking about it, that might have been Savatage, Paul O'Neill's other band. 

Whatever.  You know what I am talking about and I am too lazy to check my iTunes right now.

So.  Night Castle.  Just before I started writing, I remembered that I hadn't finished reading the liner notes yet.  They contain the narrative of the story, in addition to the lyrics.  Then I decided that the music should stand on its own merits.  As if I really know anything about music.  A good story?  I know something about that.  Good music?  Not so much.

What has attracted me to TSO has been that they take old, familiar classical tunes and turn them into hard rock so that we hear it in a whole new way.  So I guess what they do is more "arranging" than "composing" but I sure don't care.  And I don't think Beethoven minds, either.  In fact, I am pretty sure that Beethoven would appreciate the new audience.

The instrumental arrangements were great, as usual.  I thought the vocals were rather hit-or-miss, though. 
And also, something about this piece sounded a bit...recycled.  TSO absolutely recycles its own stuff, and that's ok.  In fact, I am pretty sure "Sarajevo 12/24" is on one of the Christmas albums.  But I still felt like I have heard it all before, particularly with some of the cheesier lyrics.  "You are the star that is wished upon" is a good example.  I clicked into the reviews at to find out if I am all jaded or insane or just plain wrong.  Instead, there was some validation.

Bottom line:  not bad.  But not Beethoven's Last Night, either.

I should go finish reading the narrative now.

Volunteers are Cool.

Yesterday was my regular day at the Rescue.  My office closed early, so I figured I would take care of one room by myself and leave the others for the rest of the team, which would arrive between 4 and 5pm.  I asked the Karen, Volunteer Director how we were staffed for Thanksgiving Day.  She said that she would be there with one other person, Brett, who is a regular Thursday volunteer.


Back in the old days, two people could manage the daily chores.  Sort of.  If I remember the math correctly, we figured that one person could feed, water and clean the cages in 7 hours.  So two would be there for 3 1/2 hours.  Now the place is bigger and there are more birds.  I would say three people is really the minimum.  Four is decent.  Five is good.

Most of the time, though, if one extra person can put in an hour it helps a lot.  So I said I could put in an hour.  Which generally means I will be there for 1 1/2 hours or maybe two.  When I arrived at nine this morning, Karen said that Pat, Jose, Susanna and Bijan were all coming in addition to Brett.  Word got around, it seems.

So I opened all of the rooms.  Uncovering all of the cages, I now know, takes 20 minutes.  The morning meds were already done.  I pulled out all of the dirty water dishes, unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher.  I snuggled the killer lovebird in a towel so that Susanna could clean out her cage.  At some point I looked up and I had been there 90 minutes.  Four of the five other volunteers had arrived and were working at a pretty quick clip.

It's nice that no one had to be exhausted before hanging out with their families.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Billy has some flash-eye here, and apparently Picasa can't fix that the same way as it can fix red-eye. But I am putting it up here for two reasons:

1. Proof that Billy stepped up for me. Do you think I could get a grey on that hanging, swinging perch any other way?
2. To show you that awesome swing. $30 at Drs. Foster and Smith. There is another one with an additional tier for $10, but I was afraid it wouldn't fit in that corner. I was very pleased.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Simon's Cat

I had never heard of this before, but it was posted in's Pet section.  It might be the funniest thing I have ever seen. 

The Bookshelves

Since I had a dangerously high tower of unread books piled on the speaker next to my to-be-read bookcase, and since the Library's Used Book Sale is in a couple of weeks, I decided to cull.  As in Donating Books I Haven't Even Read Yet.

Who does that?

Well, I do.  Since most of the books I buy cost a dollar or two, it isn't all that much of a waste.  And really, I was never going to read that sequel to Pride & Prejudice, anyway.  And that biography of Charles Lindbergh?   I'm no longer excited by it. 

I nearly pulled out that Ellroy novel, because utter_scoundrel informed me that it was the second in a series.  I won't get to it for years.  First, I have to find the book that begins the series.  In a used book store for two dollars or less.  Then I have to decide that I am in the mood for Ellroy.  Then six more months will go by before I decide I am in the mood for more Ellroy.  Is it worth the space it will be taking up until then?  Eh.  I'll ask myself again before the summer sale.  There is also a non-fiction about the Lusitania that I nearly pulled out, but then I remembered I actually borrowed it from my friend Eric.  Eleven years ago when I was living in the old apartment.

I cheated and pulled out a book on Jefferson and Hamilton.  I know I'm not going to read it, but it is lovely older piece - 1926 printing - that I can't quite give away.  I shelved it in my real library and if anyone asks I will say, "I use it for reference purposes".

I did so well that I think I might have room for three more new books on my seven shelf to-be-read bookcase.  Maybe if I did more reading and less blogging about reading....