Monday, February 28, 2011

This is Why I Love John Scalzi

Even though I don't read sci-fi:

"Jesus, 2011. It’s still only February, and you’ve already tired me out, news-wise. You are The Year Mostly Likely to Need Ritalin. Please make the next ten months entirely uneventful to make up for the first two spastic months. Thank you in advance."

At the end of a post on why he isn't writing about Libya.

Dear Charlie Sheen

Please shut up now.  Please.

You know I am on your side.  You know I was happy as long as you showed up on the set, ready to work, like a professional.  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  Until you get arrested.  And sent to rehab (or jail like Kiefer), in which case you can't show up on the set, ready to work, like a professional.

I agree that Chuck Lorre is a bit much.  He created a television show with a main character based on Bad Charlie and then hired you to star in it.  You were very good natured about it.  We were all in on the joke.  But really.  No one was surprised to hear that Bad Charlie was making a comeback.  Lorre rolled the dice and got, what 8 years of a cash cow show?  Dude should be grateful.

But, Charlie.  You know your baggage is putting people out of work.  You know this because you offered to share the cost of keeping them paid.  Shutting down for the season may have been an executive being petulant because you shot your mouth off about him.  But it may have been that someone who shoots his  mouth off about the boss is either a fool or insane or on drugs.  We don't think you are a fool.  The remaining options make you a bad business risk.  In the end, it is all about the business.

Your bud Kiefer got himself into trouble, too.  But he said he was sorry and did his time.  And shut up about it.  Please follow his example and shut up now.

You really do sound crazy. (And that link was from last week.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Child in Time, by Ian McEwan

Book 12

This McEwan novel, from 1987, tells the story of a successful children's author whose own three-year-old was kidnapped from his cart in a grocery store.  He hadn't walked away.  His back was turned to face the register.  So, grief and loss and coping.  Over the next three years, his wife leaves and moves to the country.  His closest friend regresses to childhood in what we later understand to be a manifestation of bi-polar disorder.  His parents are in declining health.

This book is less about plot, or even about character, than it is a study of the theme that is Time.  Complete with a physicist's theorizing on the subject.

The ending is extremely predictable, but satisfying.  I liked it better than Amsterdam, but not nearly as much as Saturday.

Blanket Four

Same yarn, different colors:   Cranberry, pink, white.  Yes, yes.  I made a blanket that involved pink.  It was because the original color scheme wasn't working and the pink was the only color in that line that really went with the other colors.  And now it seems I have a "pattern" - with the 15 blocks and two rows of edging.  The Anne Pattern.  Except that I am not using it the next time around, because I picked a different type of yarn.  Anyway, here it is:

My mother is thinking I don't need to make them so big, but I am still thinking of the older kids that tend to be overlooked.  Older kids like pink, right?  Sometimes?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky

Book 11

I heard raves about Suite Francaise from other volunteers at the library.  I picked it up before the December sale in 2009, and it has been sitting in my bookcase since then.

The history of the book is as interesting as the text.  Nemirovsky was a Ukrainian Jew living in Paris when the Germans arrived in 1940.  She was already a published writer and had known some success before being arrested and sent to a camp in 1942, where she died.  This book contains two of five novellas she had planned - they were lost for years.

A Storm in June is about the mass exodus from Paris in advance of the German Army.  The disregard of the characters for other people was disturbing.  And perhaps a bit too real.  Particularly interesting was the shock, dismay and utter helplessness of the wealthier people when their money couldn't buy the things they needed.  Hotel rooms, gasoline, even food.

Dolce chronicles an occupied village.  German soldiers are living in the homes of the French families and it is a study of the conquerors and the conquered starting to see each other as real people, as opposed to a faceless enemy.  You know something's gotta give.

The sense of perspective here is really impressive, particularly since the author was living it as she was writing it.  There was no hint of the concentration camps - merely the concept of "prisoner of war".   The world really lost something when it lost Nemirovsky.  Damn Nazis.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Career Day

Weekend Assignment #359: Career Day 2

It's often said that most people will change careers several times over the course of their working lives. If money, age and educational resources were all conducive to your trying another line of work, would you do so? If so, what new career would you choose?

Extra Credit: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Even if all the stars were aligned, I don't think I would change my line of work.  I am good at it, I am compensated appropriately and I love my people.

However, as I have spent my entire career with one employer, I am in a position to take an early retirement.  In twenty years, but whatever.  When I think about "what I really want to do when I grow up", I am thinking of the Second Career.  The Career in Retirement.

I have often said that I want to be the lady at the spa that brings you your ice water with lemon.  Because everyone is in a good mood at the spa.  And even if they weren't, who the heck yells at the ice water lady?  I sometimes think I would like to work in a book store.  But there is no way I am going back to retail.  Library?   I think that if I knew any more about the municipal funding situation, it would just make me insane.  I also wonder about teaching part-time.  I believe my Master's Degree opens the door to teach at the local community college.

When I was nine, I didn't know if I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader or a Dallas Cowboy.  Then I hit puberty and came to the understanding that neither would ever happen.  When I was in high school, I wanted to be a financial mogul of some kind.  Or maybe a Senator.  Then I got to college (in Washington DC) and determined that political types are crazy and I would never be able to run for office with a straight face.  Then I took a finance course.  Boring.  And too much math.    That was when I discovered HR, and the rest is history.   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It is Only a Two Day Trip

Things I Forgot to Bring to Washington This Week:

  1. My passport
  2. My flight itinerary
  3. My Blackberry charger (I am just going to leave the one I keep borrowing in the conference room)
  4. My glasses
  5. A nail file
  6. A notebook (who needs to write anything at work, anyway)
Thankfully, I have a CVS here.

BTT: Something Old, Something New

The question was:

All other things being equal–do you prefer used books? Or new books? (The physical speciman, that is, not the title.) Does your preference differentiate between a standard kind of used book, and a pristine, leather-bound copy?

I have often discussed my affinity for used book stores.   Half Price Books, library book sales and my own library's used book operation are frequent haunts.

I love that they are cheap.  I love that you never know what you are going to find - both the titles and the notes inside.  At the same time, I don't often buy used books that are really beaten up.  I can't stand creases on the spine, so I rarely buy mass market paperbacks.  I won't knowingly buy a book that is underlined or highlighted.  Because I have so many books in my queue, I can be very picky about what I am buying.  I am never at risk of not having something available that I want to read.

Last year, I read E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime.  I didn't check the copy well enough, and there were underlinings and notes at the end of each chapter.  They were very distracting and a fabulous book was marred by the thoughts of someone..not that bright.  But the book is good enough to keep in my collection!  So I am on the lookout for another copy.  A nice one.  For a dollar or less.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Weekend Assignment # 358: Drive

Is driving something you actually enjoy doing, or is it merely a means to an end? Do you ever go for a drive for fun, or revel in certain kinds of driving?

Extra Credit: If time and money were not at issue, and you wanted to go somewhere 500 miles away, would you prefer to drive, be driven, take a train or fly? (Okay, you can also choose to go by boat.)

Ten years ago, I would have told you that driving was my favorite thing.  I loved my car more than I loved my books.  I drove just for fun.  At that time (my mother recently reminded me), I even enjoyed my commute to and from work.  The driving time helped me get my head in the right place in the morning, and decompress on the way home.

No longer.

When my office moved in 2004, my commute became awful.  And there is no public transportation option.  I could rant all day about this, but listening to other people's traffic stories is boring.  Not as boring as listening to other people's dreams, but close.  Suffice it to say:

It doesn't just raise my blood pressure every day.  It has ruined my favorite thing!

It isn't that it is all that long.  It isn't dramatic enough to make me quit my job.  I still enjoy a good road trip.  

But I understand road rage.

For a 500 miles trip, I generally prefer to drive.  For the two hours early you have to be at the airport - each way.  And the risk of delays and the pain of airport security.  For the convenience of sticking to my own schedule.  But for business, I usually fly.  It is less expensive for one person.  All other things being equal, it won't take as much time.  And when I am on my employer's time, it seems more appropriate.

Open road, though.  I love the open road.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Book 10

I swiped Half the Sky from my mother, who received it as a gift.  Kristof and WuDunn report the stories of women in Africa and Asia that are overcoming some really scary stuff.  The subject areas are human trafficking, maternal mortality, rape, honor killings and microfinance.  So yeah, it might not be for everyone.  Here is their web site:

The authors make a point of saying that statistics are not likely to move people, so they tell us the histories of women and their families.  It is a call to action and it might be a bit preachy, but it makes some pretty good arguments that the best way to end poverty and empower communities is to educate their girls.  Cable TV coming to rural villages helps.  It also analyzes the work of many charitable groups and came to the conclusion that the most successful programs are the grassroots programs that are locally owned.  Finally, it notes that the best way to start to get involved is to visit these developing countries.

I think I will do that.  Over my mother's dead body.

I am happy to say that two groups my family supports are highlighted:  Heifer International and Kiva.  While our volunteering has been focused very much in our own communities, these are our favorites for making a difference internationally.  Maybe I will look into one more.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

About Borders

I own the fact that I am a book vulture.  Library book sales, clearance section at Half Price Books..I even stop at estate sales sometimes, just in case there are books.  So I went to my local Borders today.  Two of my three stores are closing.

It was a bit sad in that I spent a lot of time in that store when I was in college.  My friends are all readers, so we were there at least once a week, after dinner.  We'd all go wandering around shopping and then meet up in the cafe for coffee or whatever.  It is also sad in that when even the big box booksellers are having this much trouble, we might all have a problem and it is our own fault.

Borders lost me to B&N for several practical reasons even before I became a used book junkie.  First, I did a lot of online ordering.  B&N is perennially playing catch up with Amazon, but at least they were in the game.  Borders was too little, too late.  Because of the online ordering, the B&N membership was worth the $25 fee to me.  And when you have paid money for a discount card, you don't do your idle book shopping with the competition.  Borders didn't offer anything comparable until very recently.

Starbucks helped, too.

So I went over this morning and discovered another reason that I like B&N better.  Borders doesn't open until 10am.  And not even 10am on Sundays.  10am everyday.

I may have mentioned that my day is half over by 10am.

The clearance was only 20% off this weekend, which isn't enough to impress me on the average day.  But I picked up a few things that I wouldn't have otherwise.  I hope this reorganization helps Borders, but they aren't likely to win me back.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Poe Shadow, by Matthew Pearl

Book 9

The Poe Shadow is the second book by Matthew Pearl, who wrote the fabulous The Dante Club.  It has been on my bookshelf for about ever, and I checked out the audio version from the library.

The premise is that Edgar Allen Poe died mysteriously and the narrator .. more than a fan, less than a not satisfied with the lame investigation of the circumstances.
The story is fine and there is an interesting cast of characters.  But at the end of the day, I just didn’t buy the main character of Quentin Clark.  His obsession with Poe’s death isn’t explained well and doesn’t make sense to me, as he loses his best friend, his legal practice and his fiancĂ©e. 

I had given up on the story by the time our hero landed in jail for a murder that he didn’t commit.  So when it became a drama about overturning the will and international espionage, I was rather nonplussed.  Thus, as it finally came to the "solution" to the mystery, I can only say I found it anti-climactic.

I am hopeful this was just a sophomore slump.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I am Home

And today is travel recovery day.

While I am on rants about travel and cities that can't deal with weather even though it totally happens.  Here is what I learned on this trip:

San Francisco's airport does not have de-icing equipment.

My flight was delayed an hour after a storm passed through because we were waiting for the slush to melt, or fall off the wings.  After awhile the pilot called in said, "Can someone just bring a broom over here?"

That worked, so perhaps SFO doesn't actually require expensive de-icing equipment.  But they certainly require more guys with brooms.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Packing Light, Sort Of

Weekend Assignment # 357: The Art of Packing

When you go on a trip, do you travel light, or try to make sure you have everything you might conceivably need? Specifically, what do you bring along by way of electronics?

Extra Credit: What's the most important thing you ever lost, broke, or forgot to bring on your trip?

I used to travel light.  Before the electronics.

I don't bring a ton of extra clothes.  I never bring a hair dryer.  My suitcase never weighs more than 50 pounds.  But I am always plugged in.  I am on vacation.  With me are:

The Laptop
Personal Cell Phone
Work Cell Phone
Digital Camera
Equipment to charge the above

The Kindle barely counts, as it is not about being plugged in so much as about not carrying six books with me.  For the rest, I have no excuse.  And I no longer care.

I forget things so often that I literally started a tag for it on my blog.  When I visit someplace for the first time, I make it a priority to find the nearest drugstore.  (Anne's free tip:  Beyond the emergency "what I forgot" stuff, it is less expensive than the vending machines for drinks and snacks.  Buy yourself a two-liter and find the ice machine on your floor.)  I can't recall any catastrophes, but I do annoying things like go to Washington DC (where I visit  an office at least six times each year) and forget my key card to the building.  Or my Metro card that still has $17.00 on it.  Or my frequent visit card for Auntie Anne's pretzels.  Also, there are always extra hotel room keys in my bags when I arrive home.  That is a bit embarrassing.

This time, I forgot the sunscreen.  To go to Hawaii.

Now, I am going to get the hell offline and go to the luau.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

BTT: Ground Floor

There’s something wonderful about getting in on the ground floor of an author’s career–about being one of the first people to read and admire them, before they became famous best-sellers.
Which authors have you been lucky enough to discover at the very beginning of their careers?
And, if you’ve never had that chance, which author do you WISH you’d been able to discover at the very beginning?


I'm not interested in getting in on the "ground floor" of a writer's career. Harry Potter 7 may have been the last book that I pre-ordered. I like reading the authors that have a huge number of books out there that are just waiting for me to find them. And even then, I am kind of doing a one-book-for-one-author each year.

Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, E.L. Doctorow, Ward Just.
And the historians: McCullough, Ellis, Schlesinger

And do you know how happy I am to have been late to the Sookie Stackhouse books? I think there are 10 out there and I have only read three. I like that there is so much more to read.

If I "discover" a writer, I am back to waiting for (and paying for) new releases!  Forget that, man.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Winter Vacation: Day 2

This was my tooling around doing nothing day, as Tammy and Holly are flying in as we speak.  I was up before dawn and sat around reading a magazine and the Blackberry for a few hours before heading out to get.  My.  Papaya.

I am sorry to throw a consumer rant in here, but it has to be done.  I am not much of a sandals person. I just wear gym shoes when I am really going to be walking.  But it is so nice outside that I went into The Walking Company at the shopping center up the street and dropped $50 on a pair of slides that the lady had confirmed she tried herself and it was "like walking on air".  I had blisters all over my feet in two hours.  FAIL.

I had lunch in a little tapas cafe.  As I started to eat my pasta and pitas and hummus and Tahitian limeade it hit me:  I ate here last year and had ordered the exact same thing.

And here is How Spoiled I Am.  There was too much noise in the open air lobby where I like to read (Note to the Marriott - if you put the free wi-fi in the sleeping rooms, the working people might not sit outside and tick us all off with their cell phones.  You lost my bar bill, anyway.) so I went back to my room.  Housekeeping was there.  So I checked Tammy and Holly into their room and sat on their balcony for half an hour.  Then I felt bad and went to the little grocery and bought them water and banana bread.

I have taken no pictures today, as I barely set foot off property.  But I have two more magazines down and I a good idea of where to go for Happy Hour.

The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie

Book 8

So I was on the plane, not sleeping.  I took out the Kindle, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo didn't sound particularly appealing right that second.  So I took a look at what other random things I had downloaded lately.  The Secret Adversary must have been a freebie, because I had never even heard of it.  And even more odd, it does not feature that total stud, Hercule Poirot.  Did my mother download it?

Post WWI, London.  Two old chums, a young lady and young gentleman, lament their lack of fortune and resolve to be adventurers.  The are overheard and offered a job that envelopes them in matters of international espionage that dated back a few years to the Lusitania.  There is a stereotypical rich, dumb American man.  And Communists.  Scary, scary Communists.

I am happy to say that I had identified the Big, Bad Guy.  Until our heroine followed a red herring -which I totally would have done - and the terrifying truth was revealed.

So this wasn't your typical whodunnit Christie.  But it was fun.

Winter Vacation: Day 1

First of all,  after I posted that I was bringing four back issues of Vanity Fair, I found three more under my travel computer case.  So make it seven.  On the full day of travel, I took out one of them and read an entire book.

I am officially calling B.S. on airline on-time arrivals.  My flight out of O'Hare was at least a half hour late taking off and we were still twenty minutes early landing at SFO.  I am pretty sure you don't pick up 50 minutes from tailwinds. I submit that the arrival times are rigged so that the airlines get the statistics that they want.  I know that is not really news. 

When I arrived at Kona last night, I was all efficiency with the knowing where I was going and getting to the hotel and even knowing where to park.  I had started pondering whether I want to live here, but am pretty sure that Hawaii would not let me bring Kiwi the Grey, which is a deal breaker.  And anyway, they don't have a football team.  I suppose I could get the NFL channel.  Sundays would be really different if kick off was at 8am.

Last night, I slept with the patio door open.  Now I am going to get my papaya and sunscreen.  Would you believe I forgot the sunscreen?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Separate Country, by Robert Hicks

Book 7

Robert Hicks wrote Widow of the South, the novel that launched last year's road trip to Tennessee, and this second book has been on my list for awhile.  I still haven't found a copy at any of the book sales, but my library had an audio copy.

After the war, General John Bell Hood settled in New Orleans and married a nice young Creole lady.  Had eleven children, made and lost a fortune.  Died in poverty of yellow fever along with the wife and their oldest child.  The novel imagines that life and Hood's search for redemption.  It is told from three perspectives - Hood, his wife, and a young man who was left an orphan after the Battle of Franklin.

Civil War backdrop, New Orleans, multiple points of view, and redemption.  What is not to love?  Well.  It did get a bit gory, which you can't easily skip over in an audio copy.  But the production was great.  The three narrators did multiple voices and accents and kept them up fairly well.

There are several interesting supporting characters and some philosophical questions.  The big one is - what do any of us really know about each other?  Do we only see what we want to see in people?  Does it matter?  I don't think I am doling out any spoilers to say that the character Paschal was set up by his friends as a rather Christ-like figure in the narrative.  Eli Griffin, the young narrator, starts to pull on a thread of that theory and it started to unravel.  That was well done.

I am pretty sure I will read anything Hicks writes.

Heading Out

Somewhere, in the last day or so, I read that Chicago has gotten 50+ inches of snow in each of the last four winters.  That breaks a record or something.  I thought, "Huh.  I don't remember last year being that bad.  The year before that was bad.  And the year before that was bloody terrible."

Well, Hello.  Last year was the first time that I ever took a real, live, mid-winter vacation.  And I am going back tomorrow.

Don't try to rob my house.  I have a dog, a cat, a mother and a security system.

I am bringing the Kindle.  Four back issues of Vanity Fair.  Four DVDs that I haven't watched yet (which only puts a dent in the stack).  And an audio book.  That ought to do it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Blanket Three

Third Project Linus Blanket:

You can't tell from this horrible picture, but those colors are Purple, Dusty Purple and Linen from the Lion Brand that Vanna White promotes.  Each block is one skein and they actually came out even.  I used a larger hook which is why I finished it so quickly.  That and the blizzard.  Again, I finished with two rows of the Linen color around the edges:

I will not be taking any craft projects with me on vacation, so I am glad I got this finished.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

1776, by David McCullough

Book 6

1776 has been in my library for years and is an example of a book where I really should have read the jacket first.  It was described as a companion piece to McCullough's biography of John Adams.  Of the miniseries I watched not too long ago.  1776 follows Washington and the Continental Army throughout that epic year.  I had been hoping for a bit more of the politics and a bit less of the blood.

I found an audio copy at the library, read by the author.  Totally digging that.

There is plenty to be learned here, but I started to find the battlefield campaign stuff rather tedious.  I guess that military history isn't quite my thing - I don't feel like I know Washington any better than I did before.  Except for the fact that he really, really didn't like New Englanders.  Not sure I wanted to know that.

The descriptions of the Battle of Brooklyn are pretty brilliant.  I kept thinking about how scary the Hessians were - and wasn't the Headless Horseman a Hessian?  Double scary.

The Crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Trenton were set up nicely as the make-it-or-break-it stunt.  I either hadn't know or had forgotten that timing was of the essence because the enlistments were up at the first of the year.  On the big long list of reasons that we needed a victory was that Washington was going to have to talk his men into re-enlisting.  Pretty smooth.

This piece is really worthwhile.  But I am not sure I could have buzzed through it had David McCullough not been reading it to me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Recording the Event

I did not take pictures of the Blizzard of 2011.  OK, fine.  (walks to the window with a phone.)  Here is one.  Just to prove I was here.  From my bedroom window, you can see the snow drift going almost to the top of my four-foot fence.  The drifts were justs as high in front of my garage and my front door.

Yesterday, my office was closing early, so I called my dentist to see if my appointment was still on.  It was.  I arrived early and they took me early.  When I walked out the door, the blizzard was in full swing.  It took 45 minutes to drive the three miles home.

I live in a cul de sac, so there are three snow plows required to get us out.  The big village truck goes down the length of the street.  The little village truck does the circle.  And we contract with a guy to do the driveway.  The village trucks came at regular intervals.  The driveway guy came at 2:30 a.m.  There have been six or eight inches since then.

I woke up at about 5:15, confirmed that my office was still closed, and went back to sleep.  Turned on the WGN and the Facebook at about 7am to hear about all of the people that had been stranded overnight.  My friend Matt left his office in the city at 8pm and went to northwest station.  He got home at 2:30.  Tammy's car died and her heat went out.

I called the rescue at 9am or so.  Apparently, even if I got off my own street, I couldn't get on to theirs.  I tried to shovel, anyway.  And decided that I need a snowblower.  So I called every hardware store in a 20 mile radius - and every Target - and no one has any left.

11:30ish the cabin fever really hit.  I was going out.  I knew Target was open, anyway.  I got my car out just fine, but the garage didn't shut properly, which gave us a big scare when I arrived back home.  I think it's ok, though.

Target was awesome.  And creepy.  I saw exactly two staffers and two other customers.  I nearly ran into a guy turning a corner and for two seconds, I could have sworn that he was a zombie and I was going to die.

I had to take a detour on the way home, as the plows were doing their thing, so it was a bit of a tour of North Glenview.  Except for a few cars that were still stranded on the streets, it didn't look too bad.  But the best part?

McDonald's was open.  I love my McDonald's.

So.  Two feet of snow.  Serious snow drifts up against my house and the fence.  But assuming the plows finish up and the salt trucks get around tonight, we should be in good shape for tomorrow.   And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why I still live in Cook County.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood

Book 5

I picked up this title when I realized that I hadn't read any Atwood at all in 2010.  This was the first novel that she wrote, but it wasn't published until years later.

Marian, a modern young lady of the 1960s is working a dead-end job and dating a lawyer that has some kind of personal crisis and asks her to marry him.  Because he is the prototypical perfect man, she accepts.  But her subconscious is telling her that something is wrong, which manifests itself physically when one by one, she finds herself unable to eat certain foods.  It starts with meat.

She starts hanging out with a really weird guy that is beyond self-absorbed, but at least honest.  Duncan likes to live in a fantasy-land and as she is getting married anyway, she is perfect for him right that minute.  There is also a subplot with a single roommate getting pregnant on purpose.

I spent most of the book thinking there is not one likable character there.  Then Duncan started to grow on me.  And by the end, I sort of empathized with Marian.  A little.

For a first novel, it wasn't bad.  Sort of self-consciously trying to make a statement.  It seemed less dated toward the end, also.  But seriously, this is so far gone from The Blind Assassin as to be almost from a different writer.