Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sassy: Where Are They Now?

After finishing Season Two of True Blood, I went back to my DVDs of Daria: The Complete Series.  I am on the one where Daria meets Val, the magazine editor.  The episode is poking fun at Jane Pratt, founder of the long lost Gen X magazines Sassy and Jane.  Now, Jane sorta lost me before leaving Jane, if you follow that.  Actually, the entire magazine industry, save Vanity Fair, lost me around then.  But as I loved her once, I wondered what Jane is doing now, so I hit Pause and Googled.  She is on Sirius Radio.  But what's this?

She is launching a web site of some sort.  Cool.  'Cause I don't do talk radio.

Then I thought about a couple of other names from the old Sassy days.  It seems Christina Kelly launched a blog about five minutes ago.  And Karen Catchpole has a web site chronicling her chuck-it-all-five-year-roadtrip.

Just in case you were interested.  Now I'm going back to Daria.

True Blood: Season 2

What makes True Blood so fan-freakin-tastic is not the main characters.  I find Sookie Stackhouse immature to insipid and Bill Compton rather tragically clueless for a vampire his age.  The first season of this show, I was trying to decide if I bought in to the supernatural world as author Charlaine Harris wrote it.  Obviously, I bought enough.  I bought the Second Season on DVD, anyway.

The supporting characters make True Blood rock, and the HBO series has done a better job (through two seasons and the two books I have read) of fleshing them out.  In fact, I would say that the ways that the series departs from the books is all about those characters - keeping around the ones that are worth the investment.

The fangirls are all in love with Eric the Sheriff, and I get it.  He'd make me swoon too, except that I find his attraction to Sookie...unattractive.  Sam Merlotte would be rather more my type.  He is a hero-hero as opposed to an anti-hero.  Although tragically, has a thing for Sookie also.  And OMG, LaFayette.  Thankfully he is gay, so that we don't have to deal with him going all googly at her.

The character that grew on me the most is Jason.  In Season 1, he was dumb and nasty and...dumb.  In Season 2 he is still dumb, but attempting to evolve.  And he's really funny.  One of the chucklier moments was when Reverend Schmuckus was on TV after the suicide bomb - with the paintball bruise on his forehead.

The most disappointing character was Sophie-Anne, the Queen of Louisiana.  I am hoping that Season 3 makes her more three-dimensional.  I have spent enough time in vampire fiction and gaming to know that the most powerful people look lame at first glance - because they prefer to be underestimated.  I expect that True Blood knows that, too. 

Also requiring more dimensions is the Lorena character.  She seems to be set up as jealous Villain of the Future, but I really hope that they make her a compelling evil, because right now she is a pathetic evil who should just die, already.

A more pleasant surprise was the progeny storyline.  Sookie actually made a decent observation in saying that a fledgling vampire as Bill described it - unpredictable, emotional, no impulse control - was really not all that different from the horrors of being a teenage girl.  Sookie just forgot that Jessica has super-strength, super-speed and fangs such that there was no way under God that Sookie would be able to control her when it hit the fan.


However.  While Jessica's dialogue is painful in a teenage girl sort of way, it is no more painful than Sookie and Bill's.  And I am hopeful that watching her grow up with such a blatant lack of guidance from her foolish, self-absorbed sire will be interesting.

Hm.  I seem to feel strongly about that.

In the final analysis, True Blood is still more..graphic than I really appreciate, but it is doing some really good storytelling.  I'm just ticked because now I have to go read the third book.

E-Book Lending at the Public Library

Yesterday, Tim at LibraryThing posted an essay about the economics of e-book lending from public libraries. He did some research on the cost of lending and came to the conclusion that it probably wouldn’t work. By dividing number of books lent each year by annual library budgets he came to an average “cost per circulation” of 50 cents. Thus:

“Unfortunately, to keep library budgets the same, ebook sellers will need to accept $0.50 for each library loan. That’s not just the publisher’s money. The same $0.50 must compensate the publisher, the author and the ebook seller—all of whose costs were figured into the previous $0.50 calculations. (You can perhaps begin to understand why publishers and authors have never liked libraries, although few will say it openly.)”

I have not checked his math, and I am not sure how and whether publishers will adapt to the new market. But this is an interesting discussion.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Toronto: Day 5 and the Week in Review

I took it pretty easy my last day in Toronto, mostly because I had a back spasm the day before and I didn’t want to push my luck. But before settling in to watch the Second Season of True Blood, I walked over to Chinatown and the Kensington market, which were very pleasant, and then I went to find The World’s Biggest Bookstore.

Rant 1: I was not impressed with The World's Biggest Bookstore, particularly because after I walked out of it, I immediately saw its little brother which resembled Half Price Books. And they were both owned by Indigo, Toronto’s answer to Borders.

What I will give to these bookstores is they have huge – huge – science fiction/fantasy sections. Oh, and that used book store had more Ellroy that I have ever seen in one store at one time in my entire life. I didn’t recognize half the titles.

So. I still feel like Toronto is an awful lot like Chicago. Tim Horton’s doughnuts are better than Dunkin’ – though I didn’t try the coffee. Oh, and I tried Horton's answer to the Munchkin and found them inferior.  So for the regular doughnut, Tim wins.  For a box of Munchkins, Dunkin' Donuts.  Got that? 

Starbucks is everywhere. McDonald’s can be found, but pizza didn’t look promising. Everyone has a dog, and I was in the city for four days before I spotted any mess on the sidewalks. Public transportation is good, pedestrians are generally respected.

Rant 2: Oh! Except by the evil bicycle riders that are way worse than here. By that I mean the number that ride in the street but ignore the traffic signals and imperil the pedestrians that have the green light.

I hardly heard anyone with what I could identify as a Canadian accent. Finally, my Niagara tour guide said “aboot”, which made me very happy.

Rant 3: For the first time in my life, I saw a statue of a hero of the American Revolution – that was one of the bad guys. The bad guys! I refused to take his picture and do not recall his name. But that same tour guide was full of stories of the War of 1812. Some of it was interesting alternate perspective – like:

They didn’t teach us in school that the Burning of Washington DC was in retaliation for the Americans trashing the City of York (that which is now Toronto). They just told us the story of Dolly Madison grabbing President Washington’s portrait from the White House wall and running out the back door for her very life.

Apparently, someone is also planning some big celebration/re-enactment for the Bi-Centennial of the battles on the Niagara River. Tour guide was all excited about it. At about that point, I was all: “You guys know that you lost that war, right?” I didn't actually say it.

Sorry to go all Arrogant American on you. Which leads to:

Rant 4:

The Ugly American Tourist. I am particularly self-conscious about that generalization. So when I realized that I was one of three Americans on the tour bus, I kept my mouth shut and made darn sure that I was never the one keeping people waiting. So let’s talk about those stereotypes:

You can always spot an American by the shorts and gym shoes.

B.S. The Brits, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians were all wearing shorts. And not on my tour bus, but I saw several French-speaking people at the Falls wearing shorts (of course, they could have been Canadian). There were two people wearing dresses – a lady from Poland and a lady from Spain. Whose husband was wearing shorts.

Americans are loud and demanding and inconsiderate of others.

No one was demanding in the “I am paying for this and want my money’s worth” way. But it wasn’t the Americans going back for thirds at the Buffet. The British ladies were the ones shoving to get off the bus first at every stop. And it was the Spanish couple that kept the rest of the group waiting every. Single. Time. The rest of the bus was ready to go. In fact, the Polish lady once got off the bus to go get a beer because she was so sure the Spanish people were going to keep us all waiting again. “I’ll be back in 10 minutes”, she said. She got back before they did.

Americans are cheap.

Hello. I don’t know who gave what, but it was the Brits that neglected to tip the tour guide.

Now. Perhaps the Ugly American image is more about Americans visiting Europe. It would clearly be easier for a US citizen to blend in with Canadians. And it is easily more appropriate to expect everyone to speak English when one is in Canada. But I am taking this much less to heart than I did a week ago.

In the final analysis, I say: Toronto is a great place for a summer vacation. But boy, I wouldn’t want to be there in February.

Kind of like Chicago.

Back Home

Before I do my official recap from Toronto, I must give a shout out to my little guide book.  I used Frommer's Toronto 2010, borrowed from my library.

I didn't check it before booking my hotel, because I am still racking up Marriott points for the next trip to Hawaii.  Which I'd better book soon if I want to use Saver Miles.  But I am happy to say the Courtyard Downtown was listed as Recommended and pretty accurate in its description.

Frommer's validated my decisions about transportation.  Called out Fran's, the place where I had dinner three times, on the list of favorite "greasy spoon" restaurants.  And had several mapped out walking tours that I used nearly every day.

The only thing it didn't have was notes on the tour companies.  I sort of get it - if you have the guide book, why do you need notes on tour companies.  The answer is day trips from the city.  I had more than one candidate for the Niagara Falls trip and the websites were not helping me to decide.  Ultimately, I went with the one recommended by the hotel.  It was good, but I would've appreciated some guidance from someone that I knew wasn't getting a piece of the action.

Oh, the other complaint - the prices listed are already out of date.  From the subway to the museum admission, everything I saw that had a cost listed was inaccurate a mere eight months after publication.  Not a deal breaker, and probably not even their fault, but annoying when it is something they harp on.

Otherwise, an easy and useful tool.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Toronto: Day 4

I took the subway down as close as I could get to the "harbourfront", which in Chicago would be called "the lakefront". I meant to hike over to the famous CN Tower, but my little guidebook said it would be $20+ to go up the elevator and jump on the glass floor so I opted instead to spend my $20+ on the one-hour harbour cruise, where I took this shot. Cutting off the top of the tower with my over-eager zoom button.

Then I managed some shopping and had lunch, at which time I remembered that my little guidebook also mentioned, several times, a Farmer's Market on Tuesdays at Riverdale Park. I know how to get there. The little guidebook failed to mention that the Farmer's Market doesn't set up until 3pm. Glad I had a new book to read. It wasn't any better than the Farmer's Market in Glenview. Seriously, I completely understand why this is a fabulous thing if you live in the neighborhood - the produce looked great - but to specifically send tourists?

A Few Thoughts From the Niagara Falls Tour Yesterday:
Unless I really wanted to take a theatre vacation to the Shaw Festival, I don't see much reason to spend a week there. Niagara-on-the-Lake is the quaint little town up the road with the B&Bs. It is charming, but so is Galena, Illinois. The Shaw Festival, and I seem to recall hearing there is some Shakespeare nearby, are the draw if I am going to get on an airplane and not go to New Orleans.

We went to a wine tasting, which normally makes me yawn, but this one was a bit different. The local college at Niagara Falls has one of two viticulture programs on the continent (the other being in Napa). What Napa doesn't have is ice wine. I'd never heard of ice wine before, but it is freaking fabulous. The idea is that they don't harvest until the water in the fruit turns to ice. Then they pull the grapes and press them before they thaw. They were literally out of the white from last season, so we tried the red. I don't even like red and I could have had that all day. I nearly bought a bottle, but the bus was ready to go and who wants to carry wine home, anyway. But if anyone is headed out here, go for it.

Of course, the Falls were fabulous and the Maid of the Mist boat tour really is required. I am glad I saw them from the Canadian side. I can't remember if those were my mother's instructions or someone else's, but thank you for that.

The tour company was Toronto Tours.  It was decently run and our guide was pleasant, but they really do cram as many people as possible into a mini-bus.  We had 23 on a bus that sits 24, which means that anyone that isn't onboard with a partner is going to be getting very cozy with a stranger.  In my case, a twenty-something British smoker that smelled like he had taken the hair of the dog before making our 9am tour.  So did his two buds, sitting behind us.  He was wearing a shirt that said, "The Gun Store".

If I had to do it again, I would opt for the 7-hour, as opposed to the 10-hour tour.  Part of the shorter day was a group lunch, which was terrible anyway, and one of the stops.  I could have done without them.

Also, I learned an awful lot about the War of 1812. Rant on that later.Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 26, 2010

Toronto: Day 3

I am sorry to say I am too tired to post about my day - the trip to Niagara Falls.  But I managed to upload the pictures, if not edit them.  Sorry about those people that got into my view.  I believe if you click on the photo, it will take you to my Picasa site.  Then you can see it in full screen.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry

Book 32

I pulled The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry out of a pile of donations to price at the Used Book Store and I don't know why the heck I started reading it.  The heroine begins by outing herself as a liar, which turned me off in a big way.  Then she amended the statement to say that she is crazy.  Either way, an "unreliable narrator".

Well.  That is slightly more interesting.  After a chapter, I decided to buy it myself. 

Towner has returned to her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts because her great-aunt Eva has disappeared.  They are a family of psychics that can see flashes of the future in lace.  Towner has rejected her blahblahblah, moved to sunny California and never meant to return.  She arrives at Eva's house and Eva is there, telling her to rest or whatever.  She falls asleep and Eva's body is found in the water about a million miles away.  That wasn't heavy-handed or anything.

You have the "mother", May, who lives on an island running a sort of shelter/commune of abused women and children.  She seems to have been inspired after Towners' twin sister, Lindley, who was sexually abused by her father, killed herself.  The father is now a born-again bastard with a band of evil followers that exorcise demons at a nearby campground.  Seriously.  There is also a sub-plot with another young victim and then there is the local cop/love interest.

The big reveal first occurred to me at about the halfway point of the novel, and I felt stupid for not seeing it sooner.  I don't want to SPOILER anything here, but hello, My Sweet Audrina.  However, I will give Barry credit because there were plenty of red herrings that made me doubt my conclusion.  If I hadn't made the guess as soon as I did, I would've had several moments of The Sixth Sense - having to rewind that sucker.

Also, there are several interesting supporting characters that I enjoyed, such that I could envision the WB television adaptation: sort of a Gilmore Girls meets The Medium.  I'd watch that show.

So.  While the ending was almost entirely expected, the ride was pretty fun.

Toronto: Day 2

I was never really into the Goth scene, but I can tell that I still have some tendencies because I end up in the original cemetery in every city that I visit. In my defense, the Necropolis (no joke) was actually part of the random “city strolls” in my travel guide.

The “cabbage town” tour started only a few blocks from my hotel, so I headed out early. The first stop was a park where they have a conservatory that wasn’t yet open and two fenced in areas for dogs to play off leash. I found this thrilling until I saw the dogs that were not allowed off leash. Female dogs in heat (ok), unneutered male dogs (hm. I wonder how they pulled that off), dogs that had been required by the courts to be muzzled (ok) and Pit Bulls.


On my way out, I saw a group of people practicing tai chi. Nice.

I walked through the residential neighborhoods and they were gorgeous. Old Victorians. At the end was the Necropolis. Here is the chapel:

I think it is weird to get all excited about "gothic architecture when it is covered in ivy, but whatever. Heading inside:

Then I went through and saw the crypt where the remains of the cremated people were. Note to Mom: ashes should be scattered. Then to the cemetery.


The place is still in use and there were several recent markers. One that struck me right by the entrance was a 12-year old girl who died in 1975. She had a shiny new memorial because her mother died at age 65 last fall and was buried with her. I couldn't make myself take a picture of that one.

I took a few shots of older and interesting stones, then moved on to the Riverdale Farm. An actual working farm in a park in the city. It was cute, but there were too many kids, so I moved on. The walk continued past the earliest public housing in Toronto where, seriously, I would live. You know, if it had a heated garage. Which it might, as it has gone co-op. Then I managed to find a street car back to my hotel.
I made a stop at the hotel to see about booking a trip to Niagara Falls tomorrow. Successful. Then I took the subway to Yorkville, thinking that I would have lunch and go to the museum. Yorkville seems to be the upscale, trendy neighborhood. (yawn). I had a club sandwich outside at Remy's, which was perfectly lovely. But the bathrooms leave something to be desired.

By then, the museum seemed lame, so I walked over to Queen's Park. Where there is a statue of a man on a horse. So now I'm ticked. It is Queen's Park. There should be a lady on the horse! Who the heck is this guy?!

The answer is Edward VII who dedicated the park in whatever year in the name of his mother, Queen Victoria. Hrmmph. Fine.

Then I went by this building, which was still in the park and may have been part of the university but I forget. It's just pretty.

By the time I walked back to my hotel, I had put 7.5 miles on my little pedometer, which is why I am online at 4pm. I seem to remember walking by a cute little Italian place this morning, so perhaps I will head in that direction for dinner. Or perhaps I wil just go to the McDonalds across the street.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Toronto: First Impressions

My first impression of Toronto was, “Oh, yeah. It’s another country and stuff.” My second impression was, “It’s just like Chicago.”

Those wretched storms delayed my flight by about 90 minutes, which is not a tragedy. When we finally arrive, I followed the nice signage to the customs agent. He eyed me suspiciously when I said I was traveling alone and would not be visiting friends or family. I picked up my bag and went to the ATM.

It is against my programming to use a strange ATM. I can’t stand the fees. And since I just learned that both of my credit cards have something called a “foreign service fee”, I really had to use it. Around that time, it occurred to me that my phone might have international fees attached. I e-mailed my mother to look. Sure enough:

Calls are 79 cents a minute. Texts are 50 cents each. Emails are a dollar if they are short enough. Thankfully, the hotel room wi-fi is free.

I had made a reservation with an airport shuttle service. $20 for a lift into town, but the nearest shuttle stop is three blocks from my hotel. It is raining. Then I started looking out the window. Home Depot. Wal-Mart. Best Buy. (rolls eyes).

I checked in, soaking wet. Guy at the desk asked what I planned to do that day. I don’t want to be an Ugly American, but. Really? It is 3:30 pm and I am soaking wet. I am going to dry off and do nothing. So that’s what I told him. But nicely. He upgraded me to a corner room with a balcony. It is a tiny room with a tiny balcony, but still. The view (from a 90 degree angle off the balcony):

There is a 24-hour drugstore down the street so I picked up a case of Coke Diete and some snacks for the week.  Going down the snack aisle I saw all the different Canadian things and got all excited.  I settled on organic gummy cola bottles (apparently, "organic" in French is "biologique" and a Nestle candy called Coffee Crisp.  It seems to be like a Kit Kat, but chubbier and coffee flavored.  Awesome.  And then I found a little diner around the corner.  I was going to get a simple grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of soup, but the guy next to me wouldn't shut up about the mac and cheese.  Then the jerk went and ordered lasagna.  But I think I might eat there every single day.

So.  I couldn't seem to book a Niagara Falls trip online, but I will look into that tomorrow.  And the weather will be better, so I will try one of the walking tours in my little Frommer's book.  But for now?  Reading novels and eating gummy cola bottles.  That say "Bio Cola" on them.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Now You've Gone Too Far

Listen. I don't watch Fox News.  I couldn't pick Glenn Beck out of a lineup.  I don’t even know what “The Blackest White Folks” means. But to call Brian Urlacher a neo-Nazi don’t recognize him? You don’t like his haircut?



My old friend, Dave, posted on Facebook last week that he was packing for a vacation. Four hours before his flight was due to depart. He made it.

I am not that bad, but I am getting there. Joy has been known to take a vacation day before a business trip so that she can pack. I am getting on a plane in 12 hours and I haven’t packed anything but my carry on liquids. I haven’t even picked out my luggage.

When I was young, I wondered why the heck anyone needed more than one suitcase. In college, I had two big duffle bags, but only because one held my bedding – the only thing I couldn’t trust to ship to school. Now, I have different pieces of luggage for every freakin’ occasion.
  1. My regular big, square suitcase; monogrammed. I pretty well abandoned it after the airlines started charging for luggage that weighed more than 50 pounds.
  2. My rolling duffle, which I use for regular trips. It has to be checked – but it has never checked in at more than 50 pounds.
  3. Mini-rolling duffle, which holds clothes for two-ish days.
  4. Last year I found a rolling laptop bag, which I don’t dare to take on regional jets because I am not sure it will fit under the seat and I will not accept checking a laptop. There is also my backpack, in which I jam the laptop on shorter trips and those that involve regional jets.
  5. Oh, and whatever handbag I think would be most useful for any given journey.
I am actually a rather light packer, notorious for forgetting toothpaste and stuff. So the fact that I have all of this luggage is just extravagant.

I am not proud of this.

I really start to have trouble because I try to just leave stuff in the bags. It just seems easier. An umbrella, for instance. Or my key to the Washington Office. Or my Metro card (that still has $12.45 on it). I have lost my key to my regular office and I am sure it is in some bag or another that I took on a trip. Oh, and my passport.

I have that, Mom.

I mention this because right now I am waiting for my laundry and trying to figure out the best packing strategy. This is particularly lame in that I just throw my clothes into the bag – there is no method. There’s just…what do I want to lug around for five days?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mid Week in Review

My niece, Ashlyn, was christened on Saturday.  Check out Ainslie.  Playing in the baptimsal font.  The priest said she could.  She got soaking wet  and got my brother soaking wet, as he had to carry her out of the church.  Heh.

During lunch afterward, I was reminded of a big-deal social faux paux that requires addressing:

Do not discuss a woman's pregnancy with her unless you know her very well and are very, very sure that she is actually pregnant.

People - there are few more awkward situations than those between a woman and the fool that has mistaken her for being pregnant.  When Becky was pregnant, she actually taught this rule to her class of 11-year olds.  It is important.

Anyway.  I spent part of the day, the last four days in a row, at my brother's house because my father is in town.  Monday was another of Alex's t-ball games.  By yesterday, the kids were all cranky.  I've had meetings all week and seven more scheduled over the next two days.  Then I am on vacation.

And I am thisclose to booking something for this winter, too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Prices Don't Always Go Down

I remember being warned about the Amazon Kindle:

The prices of the books are more fluid.  The ones that are showing up as freebies today may not be freebies tomorrow.  Fair enough.

You might remember that back in January, I downloaded the Sookie Stackhouse 8-Copy Boxed Set.  It is the first eight books in the series that inspired True Blood.  I paid $28.80; more than I normally like to spend, (particularly for e-books) but a bargain if I really end up liking them. 

I was just scrolling through the bestsellers list on the Kindle and there it was again.  Number 163.  Selling for $55.99.

You have been warned.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Don't Beat It, I Join It

Weekend Assignment #327: Beat the Heat!

Summer is well underway now. If you live in the northern hemisphere, the days are long and the sun is on its way to being about as hot as it gets in your particular climate. How do you stay cool when the weather gets hot?

Extra Credit: If you've ever relocated hundreds of miles to a new home, did the climate play a role in your decision to move?

How cute. Weekend Assignment thinks I am trying to stay cool in the summer heat.

I have several friends that are going to throw tomatoes at me for saying it but: I am perfectly fine with the 90 degree weather. My favorite part of it is when the sun goes down, it is dark outside and still 80+ degrees. I think that air conditioning is a necessary evil - albeit stressing the word necessary. I barely even use it in my car.

At the end of the work day, I just want to open my sunroof for the cruise home. I keep a hat in my car because I have been wrecking my skin the last few summers with the open sunroof. I will shut the roof and use the a/c if:

1. It is raining
2. I am on the highway going highway speed for more than 15 minutes
3. For whatever odd reason (like my niece’s christening yesterday), I have done my hair. Or my dad is in the car.

I like all four seasons. Late winter sometimes gets to me, but I would miss the snow if I never saw it again. However. If I could only have one season for the rest of my life, it would be summer.

Except for going away to school, I have never relocated. While the weather didn’t play a role in the selection, I did notice and appreciate the milder winters in Washington DC. Although it is worth noting that I never had to spend a July there, either. I wonder whether I would feel the same about summer if I had.

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton

Book 31

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, was one of the first books I was required to read in school.  6th grade.  It remains one of my favorites.  I found a..what's it called when the book is the size of a mass market paperback, has the same cover as a mass market paperback, but is actually hardcover?..well, I found one of those in great shape at the Wings Resale shop a couple of weeks ago for 75 cents.  In fact, it was half that because everything in the store was 50% off, but that is another story.  Incidentally, my copy is the 20th anniversary edition with the cover pulled from the film. The one to the left is the 40th anniversary edition. 

This young adult novel divided the world into two camps, the heros were the greasers and the baddies were the Socs.  Our narrator, Ponyboy, tells the story of how his universe was turned upside down and trying to figure out just what exactly is the difference between a greaser and a Soc.  What really separates them.

The answer is that it isn't really that the Socs have all the money and the greasers are all hoods.  The token chick in the book, a Soc named Cherry, helped him get to this:

"It's not money, it's feeling - you don't feel anything and we feel too violently."

I remember first reading that in class.  I remember getting it.  I remember thinking that I was closer to being a Soc than to being a greaser.  I was not pleased.

The Outsiders is also the first place I remember learning the concept of "Suicide by cop".  When I finally heard that term years later, my first thought was  (SPOILER):  "Yeah.  Like Dallas Winston.":

"Dallas raised the gun and I thought: You blasted fool.  They don't know you're only bluffing. And even as the policemen's guns spit fire into the night, I knew that was what Dally wanted.  He was jerked half around by the impact of the bullets, then slowly crumpled with a look of grim triumph on his face.  He was dead before he hit the ground....I knew he would be dead because Dally Winston wanted to be dead and he always got what he wanted." 

I did not, at age 11, understand why in hell anyone would do such a thing.  And that is why I have re-read this thing about a dozen times.  It is a short novel and if you haven't gotten to it yet, you are seriously missing something.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Club Bandwagon

Have you noticed there are bookclubs everywhere?  And bookclub websites everywhere.  I may have mentioned that my library offers a "book club in a bag" that includes ten copies of a book and a lending period of six weeks.  It is rather popular.

My alma mater, American University, is launching a book club featuring the work of alumni.  Very sporting of them, I think.  I might even be interested in reading the books, although it is unlikely that I'd be able to attend any of the campus gatherings.  In fact, I generaly have trouble with that part. The showing up.  I read most of the titles the Chicago Public Library picks for One Book One Chicago, but I've never bothered to attend a discussion.  I keep looking at the myriad of book clubs that my own library runs, but I haven't joined one yet.  I participate in one small book club with a group of friends.

AU's first pick is from Carolyn Parkhurst.  I read an earlier title from her and couldn't stand it, I am sorry to say.  Perhaps with different subject matter...

This summer, I have two goals:  Anne's Official Summer Epic - The Brothers Karamazov, and the goal  foolishly laid out for The Weekend Assignment - reading each of the "souvenir" books I have picked up while travelling.  I think I have two down and four to go, assuming that I buy nothing in Toronto. 

Now if I could only get off the Internet.

Friday, July 16, 2010

King Spa and Sauna

I read an article about the King Spa and Sauna in the Chicago Tribune, so I went to check it out this morning.  Yes.  I realize that it is slightly ridiculous to go to the Sauna on a 95 degree day.  But it is new and local (as in suburban with free parking) and interesting.  The entrance fee is $25 (reduced to $20 for the Grand Opening this month), which gives you access to the facility for the next 24 hours.  I would never stay for the full 24 hours because:
  1. No outside food or drink
  2. Once you leave the building, you are not allowed to come back in.
The attraction is a whole bunch of different saunas, tons of comfortable chairs, televisions, a movie room and even nap rooms.  There are a couple of different spa services available for additional fees.

The tough part, for me, is the communal nudity of the spas - showers, hot tubs and cool pools off the locker rooms.  These, of course, are separated by gender.  But I don't do naked.  So I used the private shower, threw on the the "uniform" (t-shirt and shorts that do not come in black) and scurried out to the main lounge to find the salt sauna.  And the Egyptian one:

The saunas were all great.  My only complaint is that you really hear all of the noise in the lounge - people talking, television programs, vaccuum cleaners running - and that takes a bit away from the whole "relaxation".  I was there early, so I mostly had the saunas to myself - maybe my time would overlap with another person for a few minutes.  The trouble with being there early is that not everything is available.  There were at least two rooms that weren't open yet, there was no movie running and the massage staff didn't even arrive until I was near-ready to leave.

The restaurant, like the rest of the spa, is Korean.  I have no sense of foodie adventure, so I had a simple glass of papaya juice.  It was more like a smoothie and very tasty.  But I have read that the baked eggs are fabulous and I saw one family that walked in the door and headed straight for the restaurant for huge bowls of soup.  At 8:30 in the morning, so they must be good.

I will be happy to go there again.  An annual membership is $1,500.  I would never get my money's worth out of that, but they do have a 10-visit package for $170.  That might get me through next winter.

Forgetfullness, by Ward Just

Book 30

Ward Just writes Washington and he writes Chicago, which is what attracted me to him in the first place.  Forgetfullness, however, is set mainly in rural France.  And that wasn't the only departure.

We know from the summary that the hero's wife is murdered after a fall on the mountain near his home in the Pyrenees.  So when the novel opens and it is her point of view, it is just painful.  She is all helpless and freezing to death and going through the "is he going to get here in time to save me".  I was reminded of that part in The English Patient when Katharine lay dying in the cave and the candle goes out.  I thought that must be the most terrifying thing ever - totally helpless and then left in the dark.  Then I thought, "No.  When she lost consciousness, she was still convinced that he was coming.  She didn't know a thing when she died."  Florette, the wife, didn't feel a thing at the end.

But this isn't the usual murder mystery because Thomas, our hero, has some childhood chums in the CIA.  Bad guys are caught and Thomas, in his grief, is faced with an interesting series of decisions regarding whether to face her killers and whether to attempt some kind of revenge.  There are continuing references to the post 9/11 American psyche - which the expatriate Thomas doesn't have.  The title "Forgetfullness" runs a parallel to the concept of "forgiveness".

I rather thought there was going to be some major climactic thing at the end.  Not so much.  I guess I have been reading too much McEwan lately.  The final scenes are rather quiet and more cerebral.  I liked it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ellis Island: Tracing Your Family History Through America's Gateway, by Loretto Dennis Szucs

Book 29

My library, like many, has several different displays with different themes to draw people to books.  One is the "wallflowers".  The sign says:

"We never go out!  Please give us a chance!"

That's just mean.

So I picked up this little book.  It is a brief history of Ellis Island with some statistics and tips for tracing your own geneology.  That was all nice stuff.  But the best thing the book gave me was a reminder of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

Give us your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Oddly, it reminded me of an ancient bio-pic of JFK.  As a little boy, he was asking his father why the sons of the Boston Brahmin were so horrible to him.  Joe said something like, "Every family in this country came here on a boat.  Sometimes the families that came on the earlier boats think they are better than the families that came on the later boats.  They are wrong." 

So.   Thank you, little wallflower book.  For the reminder that we are a country of possibility and opportunity and sometimes we should really shut up and appreciate it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fantasy Camp

Weekend Assignment #326: Off To Camp
Guess what? You have been offered the chance to be the keynote speaker at a world famous fantasy camp! Great! Tell us what kind of camp it is, and what makes you such an expert!

Extra Credit: Create a special logo for the Fantasy Camp you are speaking at! :) Let's get a little visually creative!

For a few minutes there, I couldn’t even think of a kind of fantasy camp, other than for one sport or another. Then I remembered Homer Simpson’s Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. Then I drove by a Sportscaster Fantasy Camp at a park district the other day. And I guess Space Camp would count. The truth is that I don’t even know what Fantasy Camp I’d want to attend.

Maybe if they did a White House Correspondents’ Fantasy Camp. Where campers got to ride on Air Force One and e-mail in stories and have interns that did the research.

I work in HR and that is no one’s fantasy camp. I know a lot about being a student. Again – no one’s fantasy camp. So unless they do a Fantasy Camp for people that read a lot of books and blog about them – I’ve tapped out my expertise.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Vacation with Alex 2010 - Day 1

I arrived to pick up Alex shortly before 9am. He was still in his pajamas, but all packed and breakfasted. He was dragging his feet because he was watching something very important on the Disney Channel. I asked him what he wanted to do first when we reached Indianapolis.

“See the stadium.”

That would be Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts play.

We got him loaded into the car and he hardly noticed his parents waving goodbye. Just munching some pretzels and looking out the window. He didn’t even begin to grow bored for a good hour and that was when we hit a pretty bad traffic jam. Finally, we hit Fair Oaks Farms, my planned lunch stop.

The place was totally packed. I had never seen the place so packed. We only managed to sit down because a kind staffer that was wiping down tables took pity on us and held it for us.

So. Fair Oaks Farms doesn’t do processed American Cheese (obviously). So I am forced to choose between cheddar and swiss for our grilled cheese sandwiches. I ended up swapping halves so we each had one half of each, and I was a bit anxious because I know that he has reached the age of hard bargaining at mealtime. And he saw the ice cream the second we walked in the door. I’m not playing the “five more bites” game.

He was fine.

Here is the funny part. Fair Oaks Farm has stuff to do. There was a giant bouncy..thing. And a rock climbing wall. And other stuff that I didn’t even see because the kid said, “No, I’d rather keep going.”

Alrighty, then.

He got right back in the car and turned on his DVD player. At some point, he turned it off and took a nap. Then we got to the hotel. Not once did the child ask, “Are we there yet?”  And there were no potty emergencies.


We got to the room and he decided to unpack. Put his clothes in the drawer and put the suitcase in the closet.

He is enamored with hotel rooms and now he doesn’t want to leave. I had to drag him out to see the Stadium. It took 30 minutes and he wanted to go back. Should we check out the museum across the street? How about the park? “Tomorrow.”

He walked back into the room and declared Naptime.


He didn’t actually take a nap. He just wanted to set up the bed with a fortress of pillows and lie in it. Then he took out his pajamas, “For when it is bedtime.”

We had an early dinner at the Friday’s adjacent to the hotel. We determined that we will head to the zoo in the morning. He fell asleep on the floor watching an extended episode of Scooby Doo.

So ends Day 1.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Annoying Calls at Work

As you may know, I don’t like to answer the phone. I pretty much refuse to do it unless I happen to be looking at the caller i.d. and happen to recognize the number. Also, if I am convinced it is a sales call, I probably won’t return it.

I was tricked not too long ago by someone calling “regarding CNA”, the company that once held some assets for my employer. I returned the call only to find out it was a recruiter, and the “regarding CNA” meant that CNA had been downsizing and they had some great candidates for me to hire!

That’s how you get blackballed, gang.

So when the caller i.d. at work said “BETHLEE LTD”, I didn’t answer. There was a voicemail:

“This is Sarah. Please return the call to 847/913-1750.”

I didn’t return the call.

The next day, I received a similar call from “Sandy”.

I didn’t return the call. This went on for a couple more days. Finally, I Googled BETHLEE LTD. Google didn’t quite cut it, so I did a reverse lookup on Unlisted.

Really? A business was unlisted? Now I’m serious. I Googled the actual phone number and got this:

Some kind of By Appointment Resale Shop. For women’s clothing. And they are calling me at work? This is why I have a blog people. You have been warned.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Weekend Assignment: Rewind to #312

Weekend Assignment #312: Write A Culinary Review.

Your reviews can be about a favorite restaurant, or a specific item on a menu. Packaged foods, or something you created yourself. It's all up to you. Your take on it can be positive or negative, hey, it's your opinion! :)

Extra Credit: Write one paragraph about the WORST thing you have ever eaten.

Well. You all know that I am about as gourmet as a five year old. In any given restaurant, I am likely to order the same thing over and over. So I will give you a menu item on which I have sold a ton of friends and colleagues. It comes from Stonewood Ale House, a Bar and Grill in Schaumburg. I am something of a regular. Some suburbanites will know it as “that place that used to be the Voodoo Lounge”.

It is called a Crispy Chicken Wrap and it is as it sonuds. “Crispy coated chicken with bacon, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard dressing. Wrapped in a tomato tortilla.” Of course, “crispy” means fried. But that really is required for two reasons:

1. Joy has tried it with grilled chicken and given it a thumbs down.

2. My friend Dee asked the waiter about the recipe and discovered that the batter – the “coating” – is Cap’n Crunch cereal. You can’t beat that.

Of course, I can’t live without going all high maintenance on everything, so I order mine with no tomatoes. I also substitute the pasta salad that it comes with for the house-made potato chips. I figured that if a restaurant bothers to make its own chips, they are probably good. I was correct. Incidentally, I also apply that rule to macaroni and cheese.

The worst thing I have ever eaten must have something to do with broccoli, but my worst restaurant experience was on one of my first ever business trips.  My then-boss shamed me into trying something.  Oysters Rockefeller.  I told him that I don't like oysters and he said this was totally different - all fully cooked and stuff.  So I tried it.

That was the last time I ever let anyone talk me into trying something new.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Road Trip Rules

Next weekend my nephew, Alex, and I are going on a short road trip. We are driving to Indianapolis for two days. He is five years old and this will be his first vacation without his parents.

My brother’s family came over this weekend and Scott, Alex and I talked about it. I want the boy to have fun. I also want him to be a good traveler. More important, I want him to grow into a good traveling companion. I told him there would be some rules. OK, he said. What are the rules?

Me: Rule #1 - You can eat as much candy as you want.
Scott: (rolls his eyes.)
Alex: Whoaaa!!!
Me: But.  Rule #2 – Everyone must try to go potty every time we stop.
Alex: I do that!
Scott: No, you do not. What happened when we went to the football game?
Alex: (looks at him blankly)
Scott: Remember the potty emergency in the car on the way home?
Alex: (still looking at him blankly)
Scott: Because you didn’t go potty when I said you should!
Alex: (calmly turns to me) What other rules?
Me: Rule #3 – Do not wake up anybody that is sleeping.
Alex: I can be quiet! I don’t wake up the girls when they are sleeping!
Me: OK, then. Last rule: Everyone gets a vote about what we do, but the driver gets to decide.
Alex: (seems skeptical) Hm. OK.

I was pretty encouraged.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Unreachable Star: My Unauthorized Travels with Patti LuPone, by Maile Hernandez

Book 28

I was saying last month that after hooking up with Maile on Facebook, I started reading her blog.  What I didn't say was that I hadn't read her book.  This is because the premise sort of spooked me.  Over something like an 18-month period in 2006 and 2007, Maile developed a "fascination - at times star-struck enthrallment" with Broadway performer Patti LuPone.  She travelled around the country, spending tons of money to see LuPone perform.  She wrote fan letters. She bought flowers and other gifts.  It seemed a bit too stalker-y to me and I, perhaps, didn't really want to know that side of her.

Since the deaths of her husband, Conrad, and son, Max, she has been blogging regularly.  Extremely raw and personal entries that feel exactly like reading a private journal.  How utterly ridiculous for me to not have read her book.  And I am so glad that I did, because this is the best I am ever going to know Conrad.  And it was Conrad who put the fandom into perspective for me:

“You’ve seen how many of Patti’s shows, twelve? You’ve hardly ever talked to her. You’ve written fan letters, to an e-mail address that she set up, for that purpose. You’ve never remotely threatened her. You’ve never talked about weird sexual fantasies in your letters to her. You’ve never gone to her hotel room, or asked to go to her hotel room. You’ve never asked her to go to your hotel room. You’ve never called her up or called her people up, asking to talk to her, or gone to her house. Have you ever even contemplated doing any of those things?”

No.  Of course not. 

Over the course of the book, Maile began performing again.  And then she began writing in earnest.  And her stories of those struggles and triumphs, along with her stories of Max beginning to come out of his shell..are just like reading her blog.  I loved it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Swimming Lessons

My dog, Shadow, is 12 years old and has several health issues - one we haven't even identified yet.  But the arthritis in his hips has grown worse and the vet recommended hydrotherapy.  As in going swimming - so as to get some exercise without the pressure on his joints.

It sounds ridiculous and it isn't cheap and he isn't even having any fun, but I rather think I see some improvement. 

So stop rolling your eyes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Learned Helplessness

Weekend Assignment #323: Tech Savvy

When you bring home some new piece of technology, do you usually get it up and running with pleasant anticipation and calm confidence, or is there more likely to be much swearing, wailing and gnashing of teeth? What's the most trouble you've had with a new computer, tv, phone or related tech gadget?

Extra Credit: Who do you call in to help, if you get stuck?

Oh, thank you, thank you, for giving me the opportunity to tell a story that no one I know in real life wants to hear again!

When I was 24 years old, I put together my first “entertainment system”. A stereo receiver hooked up to a TV, VCR, CD player and speakers. I don’t think I even had a DVD player yet, and I certainly did not have cable. I put it all together myself and it all worked. That weekend, my brother, then age 20, came over. I dragged him to the room to brag. Not about the stuff, mind you. But the fact that I did my homework, made good consumer decisions, and put it all together by myself.

He took one look and said, “This is all wrong,” and started pulling out cables.

“But,” I whined. “There’s a picture. On the screen. And it makes noise!”

He claimed that was a coincidence. My connections were incorrect and I should go to the kitchen and make him a sandwich.

He didn’t actually demand a sandwich. But he crushed my little soul.

Since then, I have called him every time I am going to buy anything that has an on/off switch. When I went back to school, I dragged him to Best Buy to find me a laptop. And I wandered around the store saying, “But Scott! This red one is so pretty!” And, “That’s too cheap. It can’t be any good. How about this one!?” Then a year later, when the hard drive crashed, I made him spend an hour on the phone with Toshiba, figuring out the warranty. When he determined it would be at least a week before it got fixed, I dragged him back to Best Buy so I could buy a new one.  You know, for him to install right away.

This will continue until one of us dies.

(heh heh.)