Thursday, March 31, 2011

BTT: Cereal

Booking through Thursday - the question was:

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever read? (You know, something NOT a book, magazine, short story, poem or article.)

There is a pizza place in Chicago called Gino's.  I would call it in the Top 5 of Chicago pizzarias.  Besides the good food, Gino's is know for allowing patrons to write all over.  Everything they can get their hands on - the walls, tablecloths, chairs, benches.

So I have to say that the weirdest thing I have ever read was the red pepper shaker at Gino's.  Someone took out a Sharpie and wrote..something.  I forget.  It wasn't Shakespeare!

A Thing for the Place with the Stuff

So. When something lights my fuse, I have to deal with it right. that. second. At work, that means I start dialing the phone without even thinking about what I am going to say.

The other day, as I was doing expense reports, three Metro cards dropped out of my bag. These passes for the Washington DC subway system each had a balance of something like 20 cents.

Stef, my colleague in DC, has worked with our group for nearly a year now. She has been telling me to get a real SmarTrip card. The hard plastic, reloadable cards that real commuters use. I called her:

Me: I need one of those..things!
Stef: What things?!
Me: For the place! things!
Stef: Oh. (breathes) You mean a SmarTrip pass?
Me: Yes! Because the cards! Twenty cents! Everywhere!

She sent me the link to order one online.

“I need a thing for the place with the stuff” is a joke around my office. I am not the only person that starts talking without bothering to initiate the brainpower to articulate a coherent thought. Or even a complete sentence. But we generally understand each other. And Stef has officially been initiated into my nonsense.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic, by Joseph J. Ellis

Book 22

My love for Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers is boundless.   Reading American Creation was not up for debate.  It only took me so long because I was waiting for it to come up in my book club.  I got tired of waiting.

This is sort of the next chapter.  The fights over the Constitution, the first presidencies, the founding of the political parties, and so on.

American Creation was much less..heroic than Founding Brothers, thus somewhat less "fun".  The chapter regarding the treaties with the Creek Indians was particularly difficult.  The way Ellis describes it, the leadership at the time - Washington, Knox, Jefferson - was trying to do something resembling Right by the Creeks.  But the General Public wanted the land.  Wanted it.  And The Great Democracy did not yet have the institutions in place shut down the greedy General Public.  Ellis theorizes that the badness was inevitable.

We really suck sometimes.

After reading this book, I like Jefferson even less.  I like Madison a bit more.  A bit.  And if it is possible, I like Adams even better.

I will continue to read Ellis.  He is cool.  But this one was kind of a downer.

At the Refuge: Vito

Vito is an African Grey at the rescue that came in with my foster bird, Sigmund.  I hung out with him while I was working tonight, and wondered for the hundredth time why he hasn't been adopted yet.  He is about the most well-rounded Grey we have.  He has the beginning of a vocabulary, is fully feathered, is a good eater and is not difficult to handle.  Isn't he pretty?

In fact, I considered fostering Vito, but decided that Sigmund was more in need of in-home care.  It was the right decision.  Sigmund becomes more adoptable every day.  Vito has been adoptable all along.  So.  If you are nearish to Chicago, know and like Greys and are in the market for a bird, please visit the website: 


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blanket Eight

Another crocheted edge fleece.  If I had any ambition, I would have gotten some solid colored fleece, and cut those squares out to make little Sesame Street pockets on the blankets before doing the edge.  But that would involve more measuring, which is my least favorite thing.

The yarn is Lion Brand's "Pound of Love" in white.

I am a bit distressed that it had Elmo, but not Big Bird.  But it turned out o.k.

Monday, March 28, 2011

George Washington and the General's Dog

I had lunch with my nephew, Alex, on Saturday.  I brought him three books from the Library Used Book Store. One was a Scooby Doo children's treasury.  One was about Mr. Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.  The third was George Washington and the General's Dog.  Know what he wanted to read first?  Washington.


So after lunch, we read the story together.  While he was turning a page, I turned to my brother and demanded that he go online and find out if this story was true.  When we were finished, and the dog was returned to General Howe, Alex asked if that was a true story.  Scott replied, "It is according to Alexander Hamilton."  Punk.

Yes, Alex.  That is a true story.

I am going to buy every children's book about the presidents that I can find.

Weekend Assignment #363: Scammed!

Weekend Assignment #363: Scammed!

Have you ever been successfully scammed? Was it a phone fraud, a phishing email, a trojan worm, or something else? How did they fool you, and what have you learned from the experience?

Extra Credit: Tell us about a scam that didn't succeed in tricking you.

Either I have never been scammed, or I am so oblivious that I still don't know I have been scammed.  I do not suck with money, but is probably the latter.

There was one time, at Noodles and Company, when I handed over my Visa to pay for lunch and it was declined.  I called Chase to rip someone's head off and found that two hours earlier, someone tried to use my card to download music in Brazil.  Had I tried to use my card to download music in Brazil?

Of course not.

It was only one song, so Chase's theory was that the charge was a test run.  The Bad Guy was going to do something very small with my credit card number, and if no one caught it, would go for the Big Catch.

People aren't saying many nice things about the banks lately, so I must give credit to Chase.  I use plastic for pretty much everything, so for them to determine - again, within hours - that something was up, and to shut down my card to investigate...that was Heads Up.

How long would it have taken me to figure out?  Not more than a couple of weeks.  But you can do a lot of damage in a couple of weeks.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Blanket Seven

This was my first attempt at a crocheted edge fleece blanket.  The "licensed character" fabrics were on sale, and I used the leftover white from Vanna's Lion Brand yarn:

The idea is that the fleece is lighter, thus good for the littler kids.  Not to mention less expensive than all the yarn that I use.  And quick to make.

A close up of the edging:

I did three rows of a basic stitch.  The stitching wasn't terribly difficult, but it was hardly perfect.  Prepping the fabric is a pain.  I really do dislike anything involving measuring.  But I have a couple more pieces of fleece, so I will be making some more attempts.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, by John Steinbeck

Book 21

It seems the Steinbeck loved the legends of the Knights of the Round Table.  Read them as a nine year old boy and attempted to rewrite the Mallory version so as to make it more palatable to the modern (read as: late 1950s) nine year old boy.

I have a hard time with Arthurian legend, both because of the portrayal of women and the fact that it all ends badly.

I spent most of the book rolling my eyes and thanking Marion Zimmer Bradley for writing the totally necessary The Mists of Avalon to combat the horrific misogyny of Mallory.

Steinbeck didn't clean up any of that.

Seriously.  With the exception of Lyne, the Old Maid that trains the heck out of Ewaine, every woman is stupid, helpless, evil or some combination of the three.  The archetypal virgins and whores are rampant.

Here is something interesting.  Steinbeck put the project down and didn't pick it back up.  The last scene that he wrote was the first time that Lancelot kissed Guinevere.  No tragic affair.  No Holy Grail.  No return of Mordred.  It made me wonder if perhaps Steinbeck also had trouble with the it all ends badly.

Steinbeck's language does, in fact, make these tales easier to read.  I still have a hard time with Arthurian legend.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Blanket Six

I like these colors better in this picture than in real life. In real life, it looks like an Easter Egg. Bernat Satin yarn in Lavender, Banana and Sage. Bernat satin sort of feels like a baby yarn, and the colors aren't that far off from the baby spectrum.

There is this funny thing with buying yarn: first that I only buy it when it is on sale and generally, when I have some kind of discount on top of the sale price. Thus limiting my options for colors and textures. Second, the colors never look the same when you get them home. This is a problem when one is trying to match things.

I am starting to understand how people end up with entire rooms full of yarn.
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Life in France, by Julia Child

Book 20

This book was first recommended by a colleague, then when we all saw Julie and Julia, and determined that only half the film was worthy...

I have established that I am not a foodie.  But I have always found Julia Child charming.  And Julie and Julia portrayed her as having this fabulous sense of adventure, which her memoir really reinforces.

Julia Child was game.  She tried everything and had no fear about screwing up as long as she was growing as a person.  So she learned how to cook, because she loved the food in France.  She learned languages.  She learned cultures, and all through the harrowing life of an American diplomat's wife in post-WWII Europe.  Child would have told you that the real threat to America was McCarthyism.  She loved French people, when most Americans found them rude.  Later, she found she loved German people.  Even though most Americans found them cold and France was her "spiritual home".

Her husband was a rock star - really supportive and equally up for adventure.  And when her cooking led to a book which led to a TV show, he spent his retirement helping her to shine.

I am jealous of this woman's whole life.  Most especially her chutzpah.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes

Book 19

I was tricked into buying this book.  The ladies at the library all said it was fabulous.  "I saw the movie..." I began.

"It is totally different," they said.  "You must read it, travelling as much as you do."

Under the Tuscan Sun is listed as a "Travel/Memoir".

I recently saw the movie Adaptation, where Nicholas Cage plays a guy trying to write a screenplay for a very popular book that has no plot.  This book also has no plot.  The film adaptation created a story where the narrator flees her real life after her husband leaves her and starts over in Tuscany.  The real story is that a lady and her significant other, who had vacationed in Italy a whole lot, finally decide to buy property.  So I can't blame Hollywood this time.

I feel badly for my lack of enthusiasm because I know it is partly because Under the Tuscan Sun suffers by comparison to Julia Child's My Life in France.  In fact, Frances Mayes even drops the name of Simone Beck, friend and writing partner of Julia Child.

But honestly.  I found it rather dull.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Getting Doored

A week or so ago, my friend John* sent me a text from the Emergency Room.  He was "doored".  Riding his bicycle home from work like a good eco-commuter-getting-some-exercise, a parked car quickly and unexpectedly opened its door right into his path.  He went flying and by the time he landed, was bleeding from the neck.

I am happy to say that he is just fine and will not even acquire a chick-magnet scar.  So because I am on the opposite side of most car vs. bicycle Who Has the Right of Way and Who is Being a Jerk stories, I was ready to forget this incident.

The Trib, however, brought it up.  Getting "doored", I mean.  Apparently it is becoming more common:

"As spring approaches, the Active Transportation Alliance, which is involved in efforts to make streets safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists in the Chicago region, is launching a campaign to increase public awareness about dooring crashes. The group considers doorings the most prevalent threat to on-street cyclists.

Informal surveys the alliance has conducted among its members indicate that more than half the people who bike on streets have been doored at least once, said Ethan Spotts, spokesman for the organization. But lacking solid statistics, bicycling advocates say they can neither prove a problem exists nor apply for federal and state traffic-safety funds to address it, he said."

I live in the suburbs, and I was taught to always look before opening the car door.  But seriously.  When you are parallel parking?  I don't know how it isn't an automatic thing.

Spring is here, folks.  We are all going to have to learn to share the road.  Drivers can make room and keep a lookout for those that aren't insulated by 1,500 pounds of steel and driving up the cost of gasoline.  You know, so as not to hit them.  And cyclists can follow the rules of the road and not pretend to be pedestrians every other intersection when it happens to suit them.  (OK, I had to get that out.)


*Whose play, Slouch, closes tomorrow night at Gorilla Tango Theatre in Chicago.  (Ha!  I did that twice!)

March Madness Costume

My brother, Scott, just sent me this from his iPhone. I don't know who is buying Ainslie fairy princess costumes, but at least she knows what to do with them!
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Weekend Assignment #362: Emergency!

Weekend Assignment #362: Emergency!

How prepared are you for emergency situations? Do you know how to do CPR? Does your home or business have an evacuation plan or do fire drills? Do you have a generator, duct tape, candles, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, sandbags or other emergency supplies on hand? Why or why not?

Extra Credit: Does your smoke detector (if you have one) have fresh batteries in it?

Eh.  Sorta.  About a million years ago, I was certified to do CPR. Lapsed.  Which doesn't sound that bad to me since I understand the experts are in the process of arguing the best method again.

Certainly my office has procedures and drills and we have been working seriously on a Business Continuity Plan.  We were asked to set operational priorities.  After making sure people are safe, and we can communicate, my priorities were:  Payroll first, health insurance second, 401(k) third.  This was my contribution:

"Just get me access to the Internet."  

As long as we have Internet, we can keep payroll operating, keep BCBS paid, and maybe even keep up the 401(k) contributions.  So someone asks what I would do if there was just no Internet.  I turned to the committee chair and asked:

"What kind of disaster would have to occur for there to be no Internet in Chicago, Columbus or Washington, DC? (the latter cities being the alternate work sites under discussion)"

"A nuclear event," was the answer.

Some things we just can't plan for.

We don't have a generator at my house, although the sump pump has a battery back up.  We have the first aid kits and candles and bottled water.  The fire alarm is part of the security system.  But the extent of our planning is how to get all of our pets out of the house in case it is on fire.  

I think the bottom line is that if there were a big-deal emergency event, we would survive.  But it would be expensive.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

McDonald's Oatmeal

In more than one conversation with more than one group of people, I have heard someone ask, "Has anyone tried the oatmeal at McDonald's yet?"  And no one had.  So this morning, I stopped in before an appointment an ordered some:

The oatmeal is instant, which by default turns off some people.  Not me.  However, I often run into trouble because I like my oatmeal less...soupy than some.  I have been known to drain my oatmeal when I get it from Starbucks.  I am happy to say that was not the case here.

I saw the lady pour the dry oatmeal into the cup and use the hot water from the coffee machine and I think I might have seen her splash in a bit of cream.  Her back was turned to me, so I am not sure.

The promised fresh apples were stirred in, along with some brown sugar and the raisins that you see on top.  I thought it was very tasty.  And with my giant one dollar Diet Coke, I was very happy with my breakfast.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, by Patton Oswalt

Book 18  

I think I grabbed this audio book to fill out an order from , and it was such a quick read (three discs) that I am almost embarrassed to include it in the count.  Oswalt is a geek that does stand up comedy, so you know that there are going to be self-esteem issues.

The title comes from an idea that, "before all young minds have anything to write about, they will home in on one of three storylines: zombies, spaceships, or wastelands".  He argues that Darth Vader is effectively a zombie on a spaceship  that came from a wasteland.  OK, then.

Personally, I preferred vampires.

I like Oswalt's personal stories much better than his schtick (I totally could have done without the hobo chapter), and I imagine that the schtick does better on this audio version than in print.  Also, there is a "bonus chapter" on the first disc that is not a "bonus" at all, but the pdf of a graphic chapter that couldn't be translated well enough into audio.  Which you find out in Disc 2.

I could probably read Oswalt again.  But I will not be seeking him out on Comedy Central. and the Gift that Keeps on Giving

I received an e-mail from, the organization that hooks up borrowers and lenders for microloans.  I had lent a lady in Samoa $25 to expand her farming operation and she has finished making the payments.  There was a credit in my account , so I logged in to find another borrower.

I found a lady in Senegal that started a small grocery and is looking to expand.  Click.  Click.  Done.  But it had been awhile since I logged on, so I took a look at my account.  They have some statistics.  This was my third loan, whereas the average participant has had six.  Ooooh.  Make it competitive.  That almost worked, folks.

Then I saw that I had invited one person, which is 1/2 a person more than the average.  That must be my grandfather.  I clicked on him.  He has three active loans going, for a total of eight.

This was a Christmas gift from three years ago that he used and expanded on, and is still using.  I am pretty sure that makes me the Christmas Queen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Slouch, Gorilla Tango Theatre

Monday night, I went to see Slouch, at Gorilla Tango Theatre. Its posting on the League of Chicago Theatres says this:

Three unlikely friends on the lookout for their friend Larry. Is he a friend? A lover? Something in between? Join us for this dark comedy. It's Waiting for Godot meets The Rules of Attraction.”

I would say this:

Three friends or roommates or something are each having some kind of later-than-quarterlife crisis in which they each see their lives in the context of their relationships (or not) with this dude named Larry. Larry is a character-in-absentia, who may or may not ever show up, and seems to be a really successful professional as well as a self-absorbed ass.

If that was a lame summary that didn’t make sense, I will defend myself only by saying that the script was written in a narrator’s stream of consciousness that was spoken by all three of the characters.

Not at the same time, of course.

Part of the challenge is to determine what is “real” and what is imagined or perceived or remembered. Not that it really matters because what is imagined or perceived or remembered is real to the characters. But it seemed to me that the moral of the story is that if you are waiting around for someone else to make your existence more stable or exciting or vibrant or otherwise really are missing something. So I liked it.

Full disclosure: My friend, John, plays Ritter in this show.  He refuses to engage in shameless online self-promotion, so I will tell you:

There is only one more performance – Monday, March 21 at 8pm. If you are in Chicago, you should go see it. You can get tickets here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Book 17

The third book by Jhumpa Lahiri, whose work was introduced to me by Da Mare, is another collection of short stories.  While this is not my favorite genre, I enjoy Lahiri's perspective on Indian American families.  I like the way that the Indian culture is sometimes a featured part of the story, and sometimes matters not at all.

One thing that was a bit foreign to me was the idea that an Indian couple would come to the United States, raise a family, and return to India upon retirement.  As this happened in more than one story, I wonder how often it happens in reality.  It was a new take on the "building a life in America" for me.

One thing, though.  The cover?  I spent the entire reading of the book wondering what the heck that was.  It wasn't until the very end of the "trilogy" tales at the end that I figured it out.  A bangle bracelet lost on the ocean.  And not to spoil anything, but that just sucked.

I am looking forward to what Lahiri does next.  And hoping that it is a full length novel.

DC Redux. Again.

I forgot contact lens solution.  But I found an old Holiday Inn room key that I was able to return when I checked in.

Yesterday, the cupcake truck came to our office.  Apparently, they have two trucks now.  But I hear that they are posting so often that my colleagues are now unfollowing them.  Whatever.  I got in line for the Black Irish Creme Cupcake:

Dark chocolate cake and Irish Cream frosting.  The chocolate was so dark that I would call it bitter.  The frosting had just a hint of Irish Creme flavor.  I imagine the dark chocolate people are loving this one.  I am going back to vanilla.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cosmo Video

Kiwi was in the kitchen screaming.  We were in the family room.  I called out:

Me:     That'll do, Kiwi!
Kiwi:   You're ok!  (screams again)
Me:     (to my mother)  See.  She's doing that now.  Using "You're ok" when she means, "I'll do whatever I want."

Kiwi:   Uh oh!
Kay:    (laughs)
Kiwi:   (laughs louder)

Cosmo is a grey with his own book.  He speaks in context better than Kiwi.  But this is a video of Cosmo opening drawers.  I am posting it so that my mother can see we do not have the only cabinets on Earth scratched up by cheeky beaks.  Kiwi isn't opening drawers yet, but I bet she knows what to do with an emery board.  Vain thing.

Blanket #5

I have to stop finishing these late at night, so that my pictures turn out lame before I pack them up:

I used Loops ands Threads Impeccable yarn, which I believe is the house brand at Michaels.  The colors were Forest, Cadet and Seaside Ombre.  These colors seemed to match extremely well in the store, but in daylight..not so much.  Also, you can tell in that variegated one where I changed skeins, because the color pattern changed.  I don't appreciate that.  And I used that yarn to do two finishing rows around the outside.  I will probably use that brand again, (and I have plenty left over from this project), but I think I am over the variegated yarn in general.

Weekend Assignment #361: Give It Up!

Weekend Assignment #361: Give It Up!

Lent has begun, and in certain denominations, people are "giving up something for Lent" - in other words, not indulging in some pleasurable food or activity between now and Easter. Have you ever abstained from something for a period of time for a religious or spiritual purpose? What was it? How successful were you at avoiding it?
Extra Credit: Regardless of whether you believe in doing so, if you were to give up something you enjoy between now and April 24th, what would it be?

I was just talking about this:

While I do not practice any institutional religion, I follow most of the JudeoChristian values and a few traditions. Back in the day, I gave up French Fries every year for Lent.  It was a good one for me because it was something that I enjoyed enough to make it a sacrifice, but not such a deprivation that I was twitching two weeks in - like those people that give up caffeine.  I considered it participating in a tradition that many of my friends and colleagues valued, and it was good for my health.

I stopped giving up things for Lent because my brother, who became a Catholic when he got married, derisively informed me that Lent was not meant to be my own personal diet plan.  And if I wasn't going to take it seriously, I shouldn't do it.

Apparently, Lent was meant to make certain people feel morally superior.

If I were going to give up something, I would probably make it some kind of consumerist behavior.  But then I would be accused of making Lent my own personal financial savings plan.  

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, by Mary Roach

Book 16

Mary Roach wrote Stiff, the book about cadavers and Spook, the book about the scientific study of the afterlife.  Bonk chronicles the people that have done serious scientific studies in human sexuality.

This is an excellent example of a book that I never would have read if it hadn't been picked for my book club.  Which is fine, because that's why I participate in a book club. I don't read much science; my non-fiction habits are very much in the History section.  So Roach's style - very chatty and maintaining a sense of humor -worked for me.  Although admittedly, she had a bit too much fun being punny.

There was some pre-20th Century medicine.  So.  Ew.  Good thing I wasn't listening to the audio book.  I don't know how you'd even do the audio, as there were so, so many footnotes.  Many of them were worthy of a look, so I wouldn't want to cut them out.

I learned more than I wanted to know about Viagra, and re-attaching a severed penis.  I learned that many paraplegic and quadriplegic people can have orgasms, which was used in a study to determine exactly what is the source of the orgasm.  (I understood the conclusion to be that the orgasm is primarily an involuntary muscle response.  If your bladder still works and your digestive system still works, your chances of being able to have an orgasm are decent, even after a severe spinal injury.)

Obviously, this title isn't for everyone.  But I am glad I read it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

760 Blankets

I went to my first Project Linus event this morning.  Table after table of ladies (one or two guys and a couple of kids) creating, assembling and perfecting blankets for kids who are sick or otherwise in need.  Four hours later, I believe the number of completed blankets was 760 (which is so many that I think I must have heard wrong), included those that were completed at home and brought in for the event.

The crowd was very encouraging for a newbie like me.  I picked up a couple of ideas and tips and rather more confidence in my goofy stitches.  I finished one project today (that is now in the washer) and got a good start on another.  But now I really have to finish Bonk for book club tomorrow.

Friday, March 11, 2011

About the Red Cross

After 9/11, when we all wanted to do something and Clooney and Bono were featured in a telethon, we all donated lots of money to the American Red Cross.  Some months later, there was a big scandal because the Red Cross had used some of those funds for purposes other than the direct aid of the victims and families of the attacks.

The way I remember it, the Red Cross thought they had enough resources to adequately support those families and were funding for the next thing.

There is always a "next thing".

I didn't mind at all.  I trusted the Red Cross to use my money to take care of the people who need it the most.  If they thought the funds were needed elsewhere, then they were needed elsewhere.  And if I didn't trust them with my money, I would give my money to a different organization.

I like the Red Cross because they know what will be needed, they know how to prepare, they know how to communicate and they move.  Here is their press release from earlier today.  It talks about the Japanese Red Cross, the West Coast groups, the global communication network and the best ways to track down your people so that we know who is safe and who is still in danger.

These days, the Red Cross website asks "How do you want your donation to help?"  Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami is currently at the top of the list.  Followed by:

Disaster Relief for Countless Crises
North Africa and the Middle East Civil Unrest
Help for Military Members and Their Families
Your Local Red Cross Chapter

and finally

Where the Need is Greatest

They will be thrilled with anything we can give, but I hope you will look for that last button.  Or use the text thingy:  REDCROSS to 90999 will give them $10.

Thanks for helping.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

BTT: Multi-tasking

The Question Was:

Do you multi-task when you read? Do other things like stirring things on the stove, brushing your teeth, watching television, knitting, walking, et cetera?

Or is it just me, and you sit and do nothing but focus on what you’re reading?

(Or, if you do both, why, when, and which do you prefer?)

Which is funny, because I have been talking about making the jump to audio books in order to have the luxury of multi-tasking.

First, it was about making more blankets for Project Linus.  But I found that I could also put away the laundry, feed the cat - heck, I've even done my nails again.

That isn't going to last.

Because I've been "reading" and doing other things at the same time, I don't feel quite so much like a selfish slacker.  And I am getting through more books.  Here is something funny:

Seven-plus shelves of TBR books.  So I go to the library to find books that I already have in the audio version.  So I am moving those books off of my TBR shelves, spending time at the library that I would otherwise spend in bookstores, and I am not spending more money on books.

Win, win, win.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, by Alan Alda

Book 15

Hawkeye Pierce's second book takes its title from the many, many public speaking engagements he has taken on.  A lot of them were college commencements.  He intersperses the texts from his "talks" with stories of their origins and other things.

Alda is popular, I think, because he comes off as an optimistic, happy, all-around good guy.  But he is also extremely passionate, curious and committed.  To advances in science, for example.  He talks much more about his work on Scientific American: Frontiers than on M*A*S*H.

The chapter about Richard Feynman is a good example, and perhaps the best in the book.  Alda read some of Feynman's work and loved it.  One thing led to another and he became involved in a one-man show about Feynman's life.  Then he was asked to speak at a Caltech commencement.  Alda is not a scientist - more like a scientist groupie.  And he talked about the need to scientists to be curious, be passionate..and learn how to explain what the heck they are doing to the rest of us.  That was pretty cool.

Note on print vs. audio:  Alda reads the book himself, which rocks.  But the text is italicized to highlight his actual speeches, to differentiate them from his other thoughts.  It was sometimes distracting trying to make that determination while listening.

While this wasn't as interesting to me as his first book, I found it to be a worthy piece.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Paczki

In my office, there is a monthly calorie-fest in celebration of the birthdays.  As today is also Mardi Gras, someone went to the bakery for King Cakes and Paczkis.

Do you know how popular Paczkis are in Chicago?  Made the Huffington Post.  And no kidding, I saw them at Target last weekend.

My friend, Jodi, is a Chicagoan living in Milwaukee. She posted on Facebook this morning:

"Dude... it's Paczki Day and I haz no Paczki. Second year in a row : /"

She now has a flood of comments, commiserating or taunting her.

My friend Karen asked if anyone knows where to get a low sodium Paczki. No kidding. One of her commenters noted that the line outside Deerfield's Bakery was around the block this morning. I would say Deerfield's is about the best bakery in my area. And check out this Paczki Day Menu.

They don't appear to ship to Milwaukee.

So tomorrow begins Lent, which my brother would like to remind the world is not meant to be our own personal diet plans. He said that the fifth year that I gave up French fries.

Fine, then. I am giving up nothing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Book 14

As is my new habit, I checked out an audio copy from the library of a book that has been sitting on my shelves for months.  While listening to this book, the tension was building and the readers were too slow (Southern accents, you know) and I would drop what I was doing, pick up the book and read ahead.  This happened several times and I didn't even listen to the end of the last disc.  I read it.

1962 - 1964 Jackson, Mississippi.  Miss Skeeter, a young recent graduate is back home, bored and restless.  Her high school friends are married, with young children and upwardly mobile husbands.  Bridge club, ladies' league, blahblahblah.

Aibeleen is a maid for one of those friends.  Minny is a maid with the local social outcast.  The three of them team up to write a book telling the "stories" of twelve maids.  How Skeeter came up with the idea, how she convinced Aibileen to help her and how and why Minny rallied the other ladies in the community around them. And the fallout.

It was like Mean Girls meets Upstairs, Downstairs set in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement.  It was about the extremely unique and complicated relationships between the black ladies in the South and the white families whose homes and children they cared for.  But even beyond the racial commentary and the social class commentary, it said something pretty serious about the way women treat each other.

This is the best book I have read since..since..The Killer Angels.

Beginning to Look Like Mordor

I only took a few more pictures when I visited Kilauea last month.  Lots of steam, lots of ash.  And now, we have actual lava.  And I read somewhere that the ground literally opened up - maybe that is the crack the shows here - and 150 mini-earthquakes registered in the park area.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Toy Show

Weekend Assignment #360: Toy Show

Do you have any old toys or dolls from your childhood, either the originals or replacements purchased as an adult? If so, tell us about them.

Extra Credit: Is there a particular toy from your childhood that you especially remember as a favorite?

There are a few stuffed animals that were favorites, and a couple that I still have.  But really, it was about the books. 

The earliest favorite was The Monster at the End of this Book.  That was Grover.

The Ramona books were particular favorites.  A couple were recently re-issued in "read aloud" editions that I have been picking up for Alex.  Lovely hardcover books with a few more illustrations.  He has been digging them.

Of course, the Judy Blumes were popular in my house when we were older

The special favorite was Little Witch, by Anna Elizabeth Bennet.  Long out of print, we still have the old paperback version, but I haven't seen a decent hardcover copy for less than $75.  Not worth it.  

I have bought and borrowed so many books for the nephew and nieces, that I wonder whether they will have the same old favorites that we had when we were kids.  The one that they have to have over and over every night.  Good for me.  But are they missing something?

I don't care.  As long as they are readers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Day at the Museum

Scott and Becky brought the kids out to Glenview to go to Kohl's Children's Museum, and I met them.  I took Alex there when he was Ainslie's age - two years old.  He did not run around like this:

This is about what the day looked like.  She ran from place to place so fast that it was hard to catch up, let alone get a clear picture.

After a couple of hours at the museum, we headed over to Noodles for lunch.  Alex saw the signs for Potbelly Sandwiches across the street, and said:

"It says Ice Cream!  And Cookies!"  Ainslie perked up her little head.

"Dude," I said to Becky.  "That's what you get for teaching the kid to read."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Boom!: Voices of the Sixties, by Tom Brokaw

Book 13

After leaving his full time NBC gig, Tom Brokaw moved on from The Greatest Generation to write a history of their children.

You want to hear something insane?  I have had Baby Boomer rants in the faces of both of my parents in the last couple of years.  (Self-righteous, self-absorbed, squandered potential, blah blah blah).  And my parents, generally, agreed with me.  They didn't disagree, anyway.  I hate when that happens.

Anyway, the book.  It is written in the form of character profiles - the stories of the players big and small.  Heavy on the Vietnam.  I appreciated that he included some interviews and observations with a crowd a bit older - Joan Didion was particularly memorable for me.  And Colin Powell.  And Jim Lovell, who heard about the Tet Offensive and hoped the war wouldn't cut into the budget for the space program.  Awesome.

Brokaw didn't change my mind about the Boomers.  I like that he didn't seem to be trying to do so.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Overheard at Taco Bell

Four teenaged girls – two Hiltonclones and two Kardashianclones. Three order the 88 cent something-or-other and the fourth orders a small drink. Not one of them uses the word “Please” (I am pretty sure a rant is coming on that at a later date).

KClone1: You should totally go out with him.

HClone1: He’s so boorring! He has no personality!

My eyes roll into the back of my head.

HClone2: But he’ll take care of you.

HClone1: I don’t want someone to take care of me! I want someone who’s CRAYZEE!