Friday, June 25, 2010

Wedding Present



Wow so this blog post is overdue, but now at least I know I'm not spoiling any surprises.

Mike's roommate from college and Sem, Nate, got married over Memorial Day weekend. Mike was in the wedding. It "required" a trip down to Florida. I was sad. (No, not at all.) However, it did require a present. A good present. Now I'm all about the registry. I like getting people things they want and will use. But I like to make gift packets out the registry. All sorts of things for baking or whatnot. Anyway scrolling through scrolling through. And not finding gift packets that will fit in carry-on suitcases. (To which my incredibly practical husband says, "We can just ship it." But then we can't wrap it. I love wrapping gifts. LOVE wrapping gifts.) Finally I land on these napkin rings. In our price range, but no napkins. Napkins and napkin rings would make a lovely LITTLE gift packet.

Suddenly I'm struck with the idea that I could make napkins. Easy peasy. A beginning sewing project... So what that it's 10 days before the wedding and that we leave in 8. (And that I'm taking a class, and working and blah blah blah.) So I go thrifting. AND I find the sweetest embroidered curtains. (I think they were originally from Kmart so no points for vintage or anything, but...) They were exactly what I wanted.

So I go home. Cut. Miraculously end up with twelve napkins (a couple were a little small, but that's what I needed). And started sewing. I sewed at home. I sewed while I dog-sit Mary and Pippin (oh yeah dachshunds named for hobbits). I ironed. And I ironed. Seriously 12 napkins. That's a lot of edges. (Fortunately Martha Stewart had one edge sewn for me.)

Then they were done. And they were pretty, but they weren't finished. So I took the two prettiest ones, and I monogrammed them. First time I figured out a monogram and it worked. See!
So yay! Fun, crafty, from the registry, wedding gifts! Congratulations Nate and Jacqui!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Heat Wave: The Review

Just a quick review of Heat Wave, the real-life murder mystery novel by the fictional Richard Castle.

It was like an episode of Castle, except without the two-seasons long "Will they? Won't they?" of Castle and Beckett. Must read for any devoted fan, but it took a surprisingly long time to read for a book that's less then 200 pages.

The mystery that really keeps me going is "Who's the ghost writer?" News on the Net thinks that it's Tom Straw of the "Nom DePlume Society's prestigious Tom Straw Award for Mystery Literature". Richard thanks his sherpas Tom and Andrew in the author's note. (He also thanks Nathan... so meta.) The paradox really just has me all lit-geeked out.

Naked Heat, the second in the planned trilogy comes out September 28th. I bet it's the week Castle premieres for the fall. Yes, I'll be reading... and watching.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Amish Friendship Fail





A friend passed along one of her loaves of Amish Friendship Bread and Mike loved it. So I asked for a starter. Listen. Don't ask for a starter, just don't. It's not an easy way to get into baking. It's... well here's the story.

I asked, I received. I mush the bag. While mushing the bag, I realize Day 10 when I'm supposed to bake this bread, I'm out of town. Like way out of town, on a plane. No baking of starter will happen. Panicked email. 'It's okay just mush it and bake it when you can.' Sigh.

Return from trip. Mush bag. I'll bake on Tuesday. Nope! Wednesday. Nope! (In all fairness that way our anniversary.) Thursday. Nope! Friday... uh no? Saturday? I'm still mushing... So today I bite the bullet. This thing must get baked. I start following the directions. My friend leaves written instructions that she usually makes a double batch. Now a double batch is four loaves. I have no earthly clue how we'd eat four loaves in 10 days, but I follow the recipe. I don't like causing trouble. However, I take a half cup of start and put it in a quart bag, along with a cup of starter in case it doesn't really work like that, and I pitch the excess. (I may be a glutton for repetitive punishment, but that doesn't mean I share.)

Continuing on, I realize that while I might have batter for four loaves. I only have one loaf pan. The bread takes an hour to cook. I resign myself to "making a double batch" and pitching half. Sigh. Continue through the recipe. Run out of white flour and sub the last cup with whole wheat flour. Sigh.

Bake bread.

Take bread out of the oven and it amazingly looks like Amish Friendship Bread. Yay! Let cool. Dump. Lose half the loaf due to non-greased pan incident.

Sigh. Start filling the second batch. Realize the next batch was the last batch. I used double starter, single recipe. Fail. Decide to test the first loaf. Blech!
Threw everything out. Declared it an epic fail. Will try again in 10 days. Hope springs eternal.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Dad, the Editor

I should have blogged this earlier. (I.e. I didn't really intend for this to be a Father's Day post, but here it goes.)

My dad has been an editor for 18 years. Dinner time discussions sometimes revolved around the proper use of words. And often ended up with an encyclopedia at the table (though that was my mom, really). For years, I've stopped myself from saying "hypothetically" then making a statement, either choosing to switch to "theoretically". It makes me a nerd, but it makes me my dad's daughter.

Recently, I gave my dad some of my writing. It was general, factual essay stuff. Nothing too special. But he warned me that some of his writers get nerved out with all the "red ink" (well green actually is his preferred color) spilled on their projects. I laughed, but I was nervous--just like I normally am.* But I got the file back and flashbacked to high school. I remembered the various times my dad read through my term papers and edited them for me. There was a lot of "red/green ink" there too. But it was always framed around getting the good ideas that were there out. And I carried that into college. I nearly always found that my papers actually grew during the editing process to express my ideas more clearly and explicitly. (I'm not too wordy. Shock to my blog readers.)

And the same thing happened this time. Lots of grammar corrections, word choice, etc. But he still said it was great. Clear development. Good job structure. Nice bones. (Those are all my words. He put it in his words, but that's how I remember it.) Being a words of affirmation person, I cling to words, good and bad. There are echos of disappointments that still bang around in my head. But with that project, I found some good echos. I found some fatherly pride in sharing the "family business". It was a pretty cool father/daughter moment, and it happened 500 miles apart. I love technology.

But more importantly: I love you, Dad! Happy Father's Day!

*Just like most people are about their writing according to Anne Lamott. I was reading Anne Lamott around that time so I was amused by my reaction.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Heat Wave! A Nikki Heat Novel

I'm pretty sure this post puts me firmly into the kitschy gauche stack of novel readers, but I was super excited to discover that Heat Wave, a completely fictional novel (i.e. it shouldn't exist because the author who wrote it is a fictional character in and of himself), is a real life novel. It comes out of the ABC show Castle which is about a murder mystery writer, Richard Castle, who tags along with a homicide detective to research for his new series. In the middle of the second season, Heat Wave is released (Oct. 19, 2009 according to Wikipedia) and evidently in November 2009, ABC released a hard copy version for fans. As Mike and I were perusing a bookstore for our anniversary (yeah, that's how we role), I discovered it. And yes, while it is a cheap ploy by ABC to milk fans for money, it's also that amazing paradox of fiction creating reality that fascinates me in Jasper Fforde novel. While I can't justify the actual purchase of this novel,* I can justify getting in from my local public library. So that will be part of my weekend reading. Also on tap, finishing M is for Malice (restarting my run through the Kinsey Millhone series) and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.

*It's only 198 pages; maybe Mary Higgins Clark can write that succinctly, but I can't imagine an author who doesn't even get a real by-line doing this well.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

48Hr Book Challenge Log Day II

I'm fronting my grand total for easier reference:

23 Hours and 13 Minutes

Day I Log found here. First day reading total: 10 hrs. 15 min.

7:30 AM Put on glasses, get a Diet Coke, begin reading. (Who doesn't enjoy days like this?) (+1:00=11:15)

8:30 AM Watership Down finished. Reviewing... (+:25=11:40)

8:55 AM Break

9:00 AM Kinfolks by Gurney Norman (+1:05=12:45)

10:05 AM Review (+:15=13:00)

10:20 AM Break for farmville and probably taking my LIS quiz...

11:10 AM After scoring 9 out of 10 on my quiz (Darn Dewey!) I return to begin Divine Right's Trip by Gurney Norman. (+2:00=15:00!)

1:10 PM Lunch Break... internet break...

1:40 PM Internet dies... must go back to reading (+:50=15:50)

2:30 PM Email break... used the gender roles in Watership Down as an example in my email response--Score!

2:45 PM Gotta get back to Uncle Emmit (+:45=16:35)

3:30 PM Reviewing Divine Right's Trip (+:30=17:05)

4:00 PM Next up Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (+:40=17:45)

4:40 PM Whoops! Farmville time... seriously should have planted 2 day crops for this

5:05 PM All right. 2 day plants planted (to allow me time to get my life in shape for the next week after the 48 hr book challenge ends) returning to Harry Potter. (+2:30-:20=19:55)

7:35 PM Finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Seriously those first three books go so fast... Although I should dock myself several minutes for the time spent trying to read while my husband was finding out about the Library of Congress lending and collection policies. Yes, that is how we roll on a Saturday night.) Starting the book review now. (+:23=20:18)

7:58 PM Book review finished. Breaking as I determine which book to read next. And the verdict is....

8:05 PM Anna Karenina. Yep, my most challenging book is going to be my last book of the challenge. Will I finish 800 pages in the next 12 hours? That would actually be kind of awesome. (+2:35=22:53)

10:40 PM Yeah staying up all night to read Russian literature is so not going to happen. Finished Part I (a little over 100 pages). A few more might get into this book challenge before 8:30 AM, but for now I'm calling it a night.

8:00 AM-8:20 AM A little bit more Anna. Well I've started Part II, but we have to leave the house by 8:30 so that will have to be it. (+:20=23 hours 13 minutes)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

HP and the Chamber of Secrets

No one should question my love for Harry Potter, but HP2 isn't my favorite book. (Though other people LOOOVE it. There's a theory--probably read it in Granger's book--that extroverts tend to love the even books and introverts the odd.) Anyway, it probably ties with Goblet of Fire for my least favorite HP book. However a couple insights:
  • Everyone knows the influence of classical literature (of the Greek and Latin mythology sort) on Rowling's writing. However having just read PJ5, I can now properly mesh the drakon Clarisse fights in the 5th book of the Percy Jackson series with the basilisk of HP2. Both are serpent-like, gigantic, and have eyes that kill. Does that mean we can also include the drakon from Pirates of the Caribbean??? Similar name, but no killing eyes.
  • I absolutely love Kenneth Branagh. I have since I watched Hamlet my senior year of high school. (I also love the David Tennant version of Hamlet. I'd have to watch them side by side to decide.) Anyway his portrayal of Gilderoy Lockhart remains one of the most indelible moments of Harry Potter movie/book history. I wish he could have been a better character, but I'm not sure who I would have cast him as... Rufus Scrimgeour? but even that's not better.
  • I also love Hermione in this book. The rather significant change in her demeanor from Book 1 to Book 2 is amazing and a testament to her friendship with Ron and Harry. And there's the beginning of Ron/Hermione shaping in this book.
  • I appreciate Book 2 for its parallels with Book 6 (another of my favorites--3,5-7 kind of tie followed by 1, and 2,4 for third--it's a tight pack). What we learn about Lord Voldemort is astonishing. And the hints at the Vanishing cabinet are glaring with Book 6 in your consciousness.
  • And because of Wizard Rock and Bridget Jones's Diary I hold a special place in my heart for Moaning Myrtle.
So unconventional book review, but you've read it already right?

Divine Right's Trip

This was NOT a book I'd finish on my own, but I am so glad I did.

First off, Gurney Norman was (maybe still is) friends with Stewart Brand. If you don't know who Stewart Brand is, well there's a fairly good change that 50% of my audience will dismiss him as an aging liberal hippie and the other half really should check him out. I learned about him through SALT (Seminars about Long-term Thinking) podcasts. He runs the Long Now Foundation, and really just wants people to think about the big picture--what our actions do to effect the world 5 years from now, 50 years, 500 years, 5,000 years. And I think he's totally awesome for it. Evidently he's been quite controversial--as hippies in the 60s tended to be. I wish I had talked to Mr. Norman after his keynote instead of being shy and introverted.

Now Divine Right's Trip. So it opens with a lot of reckless behavior--hitch-hiking, drug taking (hint" "trip" is a double entendre), driving late at night, sneaking into camp sites. Lots of stuff my parents would (still) kill me for doing. Divine Right (aka D.R. or David Ray) is driving cross country with his girlfriend Estelle to go some money from a guy in St. Louis, but that guy dies so they have to go Cincinnati. That's the first part of the book, actually that the first 3 parts of the book. I'm reading this; it has some interesting parts; mostly I'm just allowing this to prep me for Jack Kerouac.

Then D.R. heads home to the hills of Kentucky. And the story changes from this physical journeying to spiritual journeying and D.R. finds some purpose and peace and it just becomes kind of amazing. Seriously, it blossoms. And it's really gorgeous to see something that I'd generally turn away from become so pleasant and satisfying. And again like with his short stories it's authentic. The way D.R. finds his center is just so patently D.R. that it makes sense and you really feel like things are going to go somewhere.

Bonus: the prologue from the POV of the VW Microbus they tool around in is hilarious! I wish the bus got an epilogue too.

Kinfolks

A couple weeks ago I went to Library Staff Conference which featured the Kentucky author and KY Poet Laureate for 2009-2010, Gurney Norman. He read a chapter from his collection of short stories, Kinfolks. This guy was fascinating in the way old men--quick with a joke and full of wisdom if peppered with some questionable content. I decided then and there to make some of his work part of my book challenge, starting with Kinfolks.

Kinfolks is a collection of stories concerning the family life of Wilgus Collier set in Eastern Kentucky (I'd say it's rural, but really there isn't an "urban" part of Eastern Kentucky). Wilgus's male kinfolk have ties with coal mining, and a strong Appalachian vibe runs through the book. If this book had been written by outsiders it would be mocking, but instead it just rings true. It feels small town life. You barely bat an eye at 13 year old Wilgus driving his passed-out uncle home in the middle of the night after 4 beers and a shot of whiskey. It's horrific to put it all together like that, but on the page it's just what needed to be done. But as Miss Marple and countless others have shown rural and small-town experience tends to distill the complexities of life. Arguments over what should be done with an aging parent in the '50s ring true to modern ears as it would have with the '70s audience as does the family argument over whether Chevys are better than Fords that devolves into paying back old debts to maintain the upper hand that ultimately ends with giving the money to Wilgus so he and his writer friends can toast "To the Clan!"

And that kind of sums up the collection: head-shaking turns to quiet smiles at the truth of life. What are you going to do but toast "To the Clan!"?

Friday, June 4, 2010

48Hr Book Challenge Log Day I

8:00 AM Posted Starting Blog

8:03 AM Linked to MotherReader's Starting Blog

8:05 AM Started to finish Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. (Left over from the Florida vacation weekend. I packed my well-used paperback copy to get sand and surf on while leaving my hardcover collector's edition at home.) (25 min.)

8:30 AM Finished HP1. Blog review. (+20 min.=45 min.)

8:50 AM Begin to finish Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Last Olympian. (+1:40= 2:25)

10:30 AM Finished PJ5. Blog review. (+25 min.=2:45)

10:55 AM Farmville break!

11:15 AM Begin Watership Down. (+1:00=3:45)

12:15 PM Lunch... and phone calls I've been putting off. Oh but the DreamDinners' Outlaw Chicken Sliders--GOOOD!!

1:00 PM Back into the action. (+1:00=4:45)

2:oo PM Break...

2:15 PM Back at it... the scary utopian warren (+:55= 5:40)

3:05 PM Break...

3:30 PM Back to bunnies. (+1:05=6:45)

4:35 PM Farmville break! Though I'm not sure I'm able to harvest bunnies anymore after Holly and Bluebell's story.

4:40 PM Liar, liar, pants on fire. Ghost Chili isn't ripe for another half hour at least. READ! (+:25=7:10)

5:05 PM Farmville and email reading... Okay so Watership Down... lovely, but not as engrossing as Percy Jackson.

5:40 PM Back into the deep. Will Hazel's hubris get the best of him? There's still 200 pages left so I guess there has to be some conflict. (+:45=7:55)

6:25 PM Stop reading to implement impromptu plans. Shower the quickest ever. Plans canceled. Well at least I got dressed today :-)

6:35 PM Finished Part 2. Yay!!! Halfway. Hazel leading a mission to Efrafa. Sidenote: having a very hard time seeing "does" and not reading it as a verb. Evidently we could sing "Doe, a rabbit, a female rabbit." (+:35=8:30)

7:10 PM Blog reading break (not 48hbc'ers so I can't count it--but I hate having a full google reader)

7:25 PM More Watership Down... attempting to finish Part 3 tonight (+1:30-:15 talking to my hubby=9 hrs. 45 min.)

9:05 PM Finished Part 3 into Part 4 (because authors always stop at tense spots). But I think I'm done for the night. Will update for bedtime reading...

10:45 PM Bedtime reading (+:30=10:15)

Watership Down

Watership Down is one of the books on the BBC reads list that I've been working through for the past year in an effort to improve my Classics knowledge (literary classics, not Greek and Roman classics). However, I went through the list and marked about 75% of the list as books I actually wanted to read and started with those. Watership Down was not on the list. However, a dear, dear friend recommended it, and thus I begin my adventure. Since I'm a little worried about maintaining my pace (it's a 400 page book), I'm doing simul-blogging as I read.

Ch 1: You know a book will be great when it quotes some of the most depressing lines from a greek tragedy ("The stench is like a breath from the tomb" Aeschylus Agamemnon)

Ch 4: Four chapters in and I'm still getting used to it. Basically we've enter the world of Rabbits at a time when their warren is about to be developed into housing plots. (And I know how much homeowners hate rabbits--ask Grandma!) So a small band is leaving...

Ch. 8: I love that Pipkin the rabbit won't remember how Blackberry saved him because he was scared out of his mind. It's so like rabbits. This human-rabbit anthropomorphic thing is killing!

I think I shall call all motored things hrududu like the rabbits do. "My hrududu is parked over there..."

The End:
Obviously the book became more engrossing than would allow my chapter by chapter comments. Okay so it's not Harry Potter, and it's about rabbits. And I probably wouldn't have finished it so fast if not for the book challenge. But it's a classic for good reason. The struggle for a community to make out a life is always entertaining.

For some reason, I associate the American Revolution and Pioneer spirit with much of my childhood (probably b/c of lots of Little House on the Prairie and American Girl books) so I keep trying to figure out when this book would be appropriate to read to child. It has to be a great read-a-long book--short chapters, easy to pick up where you leave off, lots of fun dialect (not the annoying kind--just enough to make you appreciate that he didn't write the whole thing in Lapine language). Some of those fight scenes though were scary. I had no clue rabbits could be so fierce. I guess it is a book that is assigned to Jr High/High schoolers. Though I'm sure that in my 8th grade year I would have dismissed it as a "boy book" (that was our Lord of the Flies, Captain's Courageous year).

...Hmm. So yes, it's a good book, a satisfying book, a book worthy of reading.

Oh and The Thief by Megan Whaelan Turner totally borrows the epic journey action with spurts of historical story-telling plot scheme from Watership Down. I love seeing author legacies like that.

The Last Olympian--PJ5

I discovered Percy Jackson and the Olympians through Bookshelves of Doom last fall. It really seemed like a great series. First, despite the on-going rereadings of Harry Potter, there is still a void. While PJ doesn't have the fan-base or cult-following of HP, it's good clean mythological fun.

Quick Summary: Percy Jackson finds out he's a demigod, a son of Poseidon, except Poseidon isn't supposed to have any more sons because one of the children of the Big 3 (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades) will have to decide whether to save or destroy Olympus on his (or her) 16th birthday. The ramp-up to this event basically makes up the story arc of the 5 book series. The Last Olympian is the last book in the series, though the blurb at the end makes it sound like there could be more--maybe in the form of a spin-off of some other demigod. (That'd be cool, but I'd worry he'd sound too much like Percy.)

The series is written in first person from the POV of Percy so you get a lot of sarcastic, teenage-y language. Nothing bad, but if you don't like the way "kids these days" talk, you might get annoyed. I personally find it amusing. I find high schoolers endlessly amusing anyway.

Let's see. I'm not usually a big worrier about spoilers, but it's the last book of a series and that's a whole lot of spoiling. I guess, I really appreciated the family ties, stick together theme that runs particularly strong through this book. So much of fantasy has this strong protagonist with superpowers who runs the show and I love it when authors bring in the little people--and make them big people. It happens with Neville in HP7, it happens here as well. "We do it with cooperation" (Psalty the Singing Songbook).

Why read PJ? Well if you like Greek myths, you like the series. It's fun to see how Rick Riordan modernizes the mythology and makes connections. I learned quite a bit, but like most books that concern things I'm interested in, it compels me to check out the real myths. (Sadly I don't know that I have a book about that. It would be great for the book challenge.) However, when my husband, the classicist (though he is not a big mythology person--he likes the non-fiction), misspoke about Artemis, I was able to correct him because I had just read about Percy joining up with the Hunters of Artemis. Fiction strikes again! So it's good. People could probably be offended by its neo-pagan focus, but it's a modernization of Greek mythology which was a religion, some of that is just necessary to remain true to canon. Otherwise, the other common HP arguments--defying authority and stuff--doesn't occur here. Percy is a good guy who tries to be honest and do the right thing. Also, this is a great book for ADD/ADHD kids. One of the premises is that Percy doesn't do well in school because his demigod brain makes him easily distracted (quick battle reflexes) and makes him dyslexic (the better to read Ancient Greek). Kind of cool.

Final note... Rick Riordan's written some adult fiction. I read one of the books from his Tres Nevarre series. It was okay, but not as compelling. Classic thriller/mystery novel (when I was burned out on Classic thriller/mystery novels).

Harry Potter 1 Thoughts

I don't know if other people do this, but I really just refer to the Potter books as HP1 and so on. I know the fan community has SS and PoA for short cuts, but really. It always takes me a minute to decipher the acronym. I never have trouble remember the order. :-)

Anyway Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. This book is truly not new to me. I've read it at least ten times starting from January of my freshman year of college (2001 for future biographers). I was hesitant to start reading the series, but my roommate convinced me and we've shared a love ever since. And I've probably read the series at least once a year since then. I always read in order, except for with movie 6 came out I just read that book because I started too late to do the series. :-) Then I went back and filled in. But what that means is that I've read HP1 like 10 times, but I've only read HP7 3. So there's a different level of familiarity with each text.

However, I always enjoy diving into Rowling's first work. I do like see her writing a little rough. (Come on! You know it is. Every writer is allowed to improve.) I like seeing the framework she's laid for the series and the little hints she's left. John Granger, of HogwartsProfessor.com, suggests that we look at the books as matched sets going into the middle (1&7, 2&6, 3&5, 4 as the crossover point). So I appreciate testing that theory out as I read through the series.

One final thought on HP1, I can't help but comparing movie and book plotlines. I will almost always think the book was better. (The Time Traveler's Wife might be the only exception, and those two come in at a tie.) But my favorite thing about the movies was how they gave greater detail to the picture in my head. I can imagine what the line of poisons looked liked more clearly, even though they cut that scene, because of the dramatic chess scene and the fight with Quirrell before and after that missing part. I do wish they'd release a true-to-the-book version of the movies, but I'm grateful for what we have.

48Hr Book Challenge Begins Now

All right. All right.

I'm now beginning the 48Hr Book Challenge, sponsored by MotherReader. First up: finish Harry Potter 1 and Percy Jackson 5. Will blog reviews when done.

Grabbing Diet Coke and popcorn. Sigh. Love days devoted to reading.