Monday, December 31, 2007

The year in posts - beginning and end

While we're reviewing...I came across this meme via Average Jane, and adapted it.

: Paste the first line of your first post AND the last line of your last post for each month, starting with January 2007. Links are optional.

Well, my blog did not exist until March 2007, but I'm playing anyway.

March start - I'm not sure how much I remember about some of these now, so the notes may not be too long.
March end - And since I wasn't the only Book Club member who had that reaction, we actually had a pretty good discussion.
(Those two posts were my entire March output. I started slow, what can I tell you?)
April start - March 2007 Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Ayelet Waldman
(a book post - those don't usually have real opening lines)
April end -
Especially if we're even the slightest bit insecure about any of our choices - and who's not, in the big scheme of things and considering all the alternatives? - we do tend to feel comforted and validated by those who are going the same way we are, and may feel defensive about and challenged by those who aren't, and it seems to me that this underlies a lot of this "mommy wars" stuff (and yes, I won't argue that the media certainly underlies most of it.)
May start - The title is a minor fib - this catch-up post includes one book I didn't get to write about before I went out of town last week (but that's a separate post).
(and some book posts do have opening lines)
May end - I made a comment on her second post, and Susan actually acknowledged it! I'm a newbie to the commenting side of blogging, so it's exciting for me. It's part of this link.
June start - (I shudder to think how many headlines/titles resembling this one are being written today...)
(a post recognizing the 40th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper)
June end -
"Wrapped Around Your Finger," The Police
(my very first "iPod Random Ten" post!)
July start - The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler
(resolved: start using an intro for book review posts!)
July end -
Going through divorce is a lousy experience, but I would think that killing someone - not to mention going to jail - has to be a much worse one.
August start - Thanks to the Consumerist blog for an awesome money post.
August end - But I know there are plenty of people who - consciously or not - have a need for drama and will create it for themselves if it's lacking; they can look to either side for ideas.
September start - The Good Life, Jay McInerney
(see "resolved" for July!)
September end - In my case, I just shouldn't drink it at night.
October start - His Lovely Wife, by Elizabeth Dewberry
(yeah, I know...)
October end - If you want to know more about this, you should probably be asking my son - he's the fantasy-baseball expert, not me.
November start - Most of last week's fires will soon be history, thank goodness, but another Santa Ana winds "event" is forecast for the end of this week, so we're getting braced and hoping it won't be as harsh as the last one.
November end - Literary Feline says she's taken a liking to it.
December start - One of my original blogging inspirations was my son.
December end -see the lasy line of this post! (Now I have to promise I won't be back today...)

Just in case I do this again at the end of 2008, I should not only have an intro/opening for my book posts, I should consider making my first post of each month something other than a book post!

A fun little exercise; let me know if you decide to do the same thing.

Have a great last day of 2007! Any big New Year's Eve plans? The kids are with their mom for New Year's, so it's an adult evening alone. :-) We're thinking about a marathon with the 30 Rock Season 1 DVDs. We live large around here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Still the same year, still reviewing it

Via Laurie at Team Building is for Suckers:

What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?
I went to Catalina Island, where we celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn't make them this year - I usually don't. I don't think that January 1 has any magical power to change people. But I did make a list of ten things that could be New Year's resolutions if I were to make some for 2008.

What countries did you visit?
The good old USA - the same one I live in.

What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?
More ability to focus on my job - having a stable staff should help with that, I hope.

What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory?
This wasn't one of the "big" years...just as well, since we still needed to recover from 2006!
May 6-13 - my trip back east with Tall Paul, introducing him to Memphis and all that great Southern cooking
September 8-9 - stayed overnight at the Wild Animal Park
September 24 - two of my staff resigned within two hours, and my boss was out of the office!

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I took another stab at a blog in March, and I'm still here! Also, I had my first writings published somewhere other than my blog.

What was your biggest failure?
Growing disconnected from my job just as I needed to get more focused on it.

Did you suffer from illnesses or injuries?

What was the best thing you bought?
A $3 "aqua-clip" hands-free water-bottle holder that doubles as a bottle opener. When the one I bought at Great Smoky Mountains National Park broke, Tall Paul found their website for me, and I ordered half a dozen replacements.

Where did most of your money go?
$2300 went to my car in November, that much I know for sure. I think less of it actually went to my traditional twin indulgences (books and clothes shopping) than in the past. Other than that...rent, food, gas for said car, the usual. Hopefully next year some of it will make it to savings.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Showing Tall Paul around Memphis, including some of my old favorite places to eat; getting on people's blogrolls; getting comments on my blog (that one never gets old...)

What song will always remind you of 2007?
"The Sweet Escape" by Gwen Stefani

What album(s) will always remind you of 2007?
Back to Black by Amy Winehouse

Compared to this time last year, are you:

  • Happier or sadder? Right now? A little bit sadder, but that's mostly because it's been a tough year at the office; otherwise, about the same, pretty happy overall.
  • Thinner or fatter? A little thinner, I think, but since the same 2-3 pounds seem to have been coming and going for the awhile, I'm not really sure. And since we're on a break from Weight Watchers meetings and I don't own a scale, I'm not going to check on it.
  • Richer or poorer? Poorer at the moment - ask me again a couple of months after Christmas!

What do you wish you’d done more of?
Taken more long walks with Tall Paul and Gypsy, and read more books.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Procrastinating and puttering at work, distracting myself from actually, you know, working

How will you be spending New Year’s Eve?
Probably in bed by 9:05 - 5 past midnight in New York! - but not sure how soon after that I'll be asleep...

Did you fall in love in 2007?
I just stayed in love with my husband :-).

How many one-night stands?
None - I never was that kind of girl, even when I wasn't married.

What was your favorite TV program?
I can't pick just one. I introduced my family to The Amazing Race (they loved me for it) and American Idol (they forgave me for it) this year. Tall Paul and I finally found our way to 30 Rock. I'm sad that this season will be the end of Scrubs. And we're really looking forward to Lost coming back, even for just a few episodes; this writers' strike is starting to drag on a little too long.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Not that I can think of...

What was the best book you read?
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

What was your favorite film of this year?

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was 43, and since we had auditors in the office, I couldn't take the day off as I usually do (grrrr).

What one thing would have made your year measurably more satisfying?
An unexpected, large cash windfall. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure can help give you peace of mind.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?
What personal fashion concept? I strive for looking "put-together," and then my hair goes crazy and ruins it. That's not news this year.

What kept you sane?
My husband, my sister, my writing, and a weekly escape to Starbucks for a latte and a blueberry scone

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Jon Stewart

What political issue stirred you the most?
The influence of fundamentalist conservatives on far too many issues to list

Who did you miss?
My former office spouse. We've barely talked this year - not a falling-out or anything, we're just both so freakin' busy.

Who was the best new person you met?
Most of the new people I've gotten to know this year I've "met" online, through blogging and such, and I think they're all great!

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.
Getting to 40 was rough. Being in my 40's has been fantastic!

Not up to the challenge

"Reading challenges" are very popular among many of the book bloggers, but I've decided they're not for me. Even though most of the challenges I'm aware of don't require reading particular titles, they usually involve a specific genre or category, as well as a minimum number of books to be read. And since I've made the somewhat discouraging discovery that I'm not actually reading as much as I thought I was in the first place, I don't think I'd be able to keep up the pace; nor would I really like having most of my reading choices be dictated by the rules of a challenge. (If I'm only going to make it through 40 books a year, I'd like to pick most of them out myself, with the periodic book-club selection mixed in.) I may change my mind about them one day, but at this point I'm just not up for it.

I've just learned of another challenge that I'm not up for either, but if you're a particularly ambitious blogger, you might be interested in joining Blog365, aka "NaBloPoMo x 12." It's exactly what it sounds like - post every day in 2008, except for February 29 (since 2008 actually has 366 days).
- Blog every day for 365 days.

- Feb.29th is a Free Day and will be the Blog365 day of rest!
(Thanks Leap Year)

- You do not HAVE to post to the same blog as long as you post everyday.

- No internet? Write your post locally and post it once you are back on the grid.

- Computer Broken? Grab some paper and do some old school blogging.

- A post is a post, not everything has to be in writing. Photos, YouTube videos, and the like are all considered content.
One month of festivities is quite enough for me, and since blogging has threatened to take over my family, my job, and my life on several occasions this past year, I think I'd better opt out of this particular challenge and wait till November. I just thought I'd help spread the word. If you decide to make the commitment, good luck, and your readers will look forward to seeing you every day!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The gift card: it just keeps on giving

I'm not sure when gift cards became so controversial. I've been a fan for a number of years, as have most of the people in my circle, but from things I've been reading lately, they clearly have their detractors. There are some, usually those associated with big-name credit cards, that have ugly associated fees. In many states, but not California, they expire after a year or two. Some people don't really consider them gifts at all, but rather, a thoughtless cop-out.

By definition, opinions are neither right nor wrong, but they may be agreed or disagreed with, and I think that last sentiment is a bit harsh. There are times when it's not the perfect choice, and ideally it's not the only thing you'd give to a close family member or dear friend; that is, someone you really should know well enough to be able to choose something to their liking.

But in my experience in both giving and receiving gift cards, I've found them to be highly preferable for long-distance gift exchanges in particular - faster and cheaper to ship, especially - as long as you make sure that the card is for a store or activity located near the recipient. (For instance, don't send that gift card for In-n-Out Burger to someone in New Jersey.) If redeeming the card's not feasible, I would agree that it's pretty thoughtless. They're also excellent for stocking stuffers or little extra add-ons to larger gifts.

But when you've chosen a gift card for someone based on your knowledge of their tastes and things they enjoy doing, I strongly disagree that such a selection is "thoughtless." My family is full of eager readers and music lovers with rather particular tastes, and you can never go wrong giving any of gift cards for bookstores or iTunes. Granted, there are people who don't especially enjoy shopping, but they might like gift cards for activities - restaurants, movies, theme parks, even bowling alleys. I suspect that if there's really nothing that a recipient would welcome a gift card for, he or she is probably going to be pretty difficult to please with any gift at all.

It's been suggested that when people go to a store with a gift card, they spend more overall than they would otherwise, and I don't doubt that. I usually do myself, at least with store gift cards; not so much with the ones for restaurants or entertainment. Particularly if the gift card is for a store that I visit regularly and I have things I'd buy there anyway, I really do look at the gift card as "free money" to enable me to get something more before I have to kick in my own cash. And that's why I consider gift cards a gift that gives more than once; the opportunity to choose how I'll redeem it is the second gift. As for gift cards for dining out and entertainment, seeing the show or going to the game is the real gift.

We sent gift cards to some of our faraway friends this holiday season, and tucked them into stockings for friends and family nearby. Among the presents I received this Christmas were gift cards for bookstores, coffeeshops, food, music, and a spa, and I'm looking forward to using them all.

Gift cards - are you for or against?

Three major moments in 2007

(This comes from a note written in response to the weekly theme prompt "What are your three favorite memories from this year?" on Work It, Mom!)

After all the hubbub of 2006, I wasn't expecting 2007 to be quite as hectic - we wouldn't be planning another wedding, at least. However, it still feels like this year has blown past us so quickly! I think part of that perception, for me, comes from the black hole that developed at my job this year (which finally is starting to seem like it's closing up), but it's also because I don't think there were many huge milestones in my life this year.

Having said that...

For me, there are a couple of types of significant memories. One involves a one-time or unusual event or experience, and another is something that led to a major change of some sort in my life.

Here are three of my significant memories for 2007:

  • Returning to Tennessee for the first time in five years. We celebrated my son's college graduation, and I saw his father for the first time since I moved away (which wasn't so bad, really). But my favorite part was introducing Tall Paul to the sights, sounds, and great food(!) of Memphis - Corky's! Huey's! - and then exploring other parts of the state with him. It's kind of sad that I never made it to Knoxville until Chris was almost ready to leave there - and I do think that living 2000 miles away might be a legit excuse, just for the record - but we enjoyed our time there, as we did in the Smokies and Nashville. And after all this time, I can finally say I've seen Rock City.
  • Spending the night at the San Diego Wild Animal Park with my family. I worked at a zoo for four years, but never got to experience behind-the-scenes in quite this way. I'd love for us to be able to do it again.
  • Making the decision to turn the book notes I was keeping on another website into the seeds of a new blog. That baby has grown, and has also led into writing stuff that other sites have been willing to publish as well (thanks, Nataly and company at WIM!). Even more than that, it's led to my new membership in the online community. I'm enjoying blogging, writing, and making connections more than I ever could have imagined.
What were your major moments this year? If you post about them, let me know!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wiki Wednesday 12-26-07

Time to learn something!

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!

Most schools in the USA are on winter break for the holidays right now, probably including this one:
Bel Air High School is a high school in the city of El Paso, Texas, USA.

Bel Air High School is located in the city of El Paso, Texas. It was established in 1957. Bel Air had its first graduating senior class in 1961 with only 61 graduates; today Bel Air High School has 400+ graduates annually. The school is in the Ysleta Independent School District, Bel Air is a school for Health Professions.

Bel Air High School made Newsweek's list of the nation's top high schools based on rankings influenced heavily by the number of students who took Advanced Placement tests last year. According to a MSNBC.com report, Bel Air ranks 984th on Newsweek's list of the nation's top high schools. The schools were ranked based on the number of students taking the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests in 2004 divided by the number of graduating seniors. Earlier this year, Bel Air was removed from a Texas Education Agency (TEA) list of schools that did not meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (August 2005) required by the federal government as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. The school is now in good standing as of October 2005

A decade ago, Bel Air was on the verge of being taken over by the state for poor academic performance. Instead of state oversight, the school in 1996 became the only public high school in the county to be reconstituted, meaning all employees, from custodians to teachers, had to reapply for their jobs at the school. Only former principal Vern Butler was allowed to remain without having to reapply for his job. Seventy-three of the 132 teachers and staff members who were at Bel Air were rehired.

The current facilities consists of a main building, a four story science wing and library, Army JROTC Building, Health Professions(HP) Building, Fine Arts Building, a Theatre Building, and a modern high school stadium.

In October 2006, 12 teachers at Bel Air High School filed a grievance against the Ysleta Independent School District claiming they were required to work during off-duty hours without compensation. The grievance claimed labor-law violations and harassment from then principal, Daniel Girard and other administrators. In June 2007, the Ysleta Independent School District Board of Trustees apologized to the teachers who complained but voted not to compensate the teachers. After the filing of the grievance, several teachers had either requested a transfer to another school, or quit. Daniel Girard, who had been Principal of Bel Air High School since September 25, 2005, accepted a job as a principal of Akins High School in the Austin Independent School District. Upon Mr. Girard's acceptance of principalship in Austin in May 2007, Marvyn Luckett who had priviously been with the YISD for over 22 years was appointed Principal of Bel Air High School for the 2007-2008 school year.

Check out their Wikipedia article for statistics and info about extracurriculars and teams.

The year in review: Booking and Blogging 2007

btt button

It’s an old question, but a good one . . . What were your favorite books this year?

List as many as you like … fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, science-fiction, business, travel, cookbooks … whatever the category. But, really, we’re all dying to know. What books were the highlight of your reading year in 2007?

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

Even though this post went up on Wednesday, I'm counting it for this week's "Booking Through Thursday" response.

This is my first year of keeping a reading journal - still the official stated purpose of this here blog - so it's the first time I get to do a year-end recap of my reading activity.

I've learned a few things from my book blogging, but these stand out:
The label "reading" has been attached to a total of 64 posts, including book-related memes; 27 posts are actually book reviews. (Out of 300-plus posts, on a blog that's supposed to have "reading" as one of its main reasons for existence - 27?! That's it? I'm beginning to doubt myself here, or at least wonder if this blog needs a new name.) But 6 of those 27 posts discuss multiple books, so as of this writing, the actual number of books I blogged about this year stands at 46. However, the six books I included in my very first post were all read in late 2006, so they don't count for this year, which makes for 40 books read in 2007. I may finish one or two more before New Year's, but we'll have to see - I'm currently reading The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud, but I just started it a couple of weeks ago, and with Christmastime and all, I'm not sure how much reading time I'll find. And since I still haven't finished The Historian, I'm not counting that one either. But the actual tally isn't too bad, all things considered. Since I have some data now, I'll be able to track next year's reading against this year's, and make comparisons. At least I have a "quantity" goal for 2008 now. (Trust an accountant to turn reading into a numbers game...)

It's not just about the numbers, though - this is my chance to look back at my 2007's best, worst, and most memorable book experiences:

My book club's favorite read this year: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Not my personal favorite, but this had the most generally positive responses from the membership.

My book club's least favorite read this year: His Lovely Wife, by Elizabeth Dewberry. I had the dubious distinction of being the one to select this year's biggest loser, although I don't think I disliked it quite as much as the rest of the group did. It did generate some robust discussion, though; we sometimes have better meetings over the books we didn't much care for, as long as enough people have actually plowed through to finish them!

Best reading experience: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling. This final trip to Hogwarts - which spent relatively little time there - wasn't quite as bittersweet as I expected it to be, and on the whole I found the series wrap-up satisfying. Reading it was part of a Harry Potter theme weekend at my house; Tall Paul and I sat side by side, each reading our own copy of the book, and the biggest chunk of time we spent away from reading was at the movies, seeing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Most disappointing read: The Man of My Dreams, by Curtis Sittenfeld. Prep was one of my favorite books this year, and I was looking forward to Sittenfeld's second novel. It's not bad; it just seemed lackluster and didn't resonate with me.

And now, my first-ever "Book of the Year" picks:

Book of the Year, nonfiction: Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert. That may not be a fair choice, since I did just finish it, but since I'm the entire award committee, that's how it goes. Great writing, a great story, and so many things that struck chords with me - I'm not going to forget this book for a long time, and I'm not going to give away my copy, either.

Nonfiction Honorable Mention: Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell. I like food writing and enjoyed reading this, but it's also notable for me because, as a book that came from a blog, it was influential in my getting more serious about this whole blogging thing.

Book of the Year, fiction: Lost and Found, by Carolyn Parkhurst. This was the somewhat strange, yet gratifying, experience of liking a book just as much as - maybe even more than - I'd expected to. I knew that I'd get into the premise of following the participants of an Amazing Race-type reality show through the last rounds of their competition, but Parkhurst did a great job defining her characters as well as in telling their story, and I loved the behind-the-scenes production details.

Fiction Honorable Mention: I'm a little surprised that Deathly Hallows is not the Book of the Year for me, but it's definitely near the top of the list. As much as I love Harry Potter, though, the only book in the series that was a true peak experience for me was Order of the Phoenix.

Book of the Year - Overall: For what little it's worth, the honor goes to Eat, Pray, Love.

I hope some of my favorite book bloggers will be doing year-end recaps of their own! I'd also love to see mention of your favorite - and least favorite - books of 2007 in the comments.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Live from my laptop!

Thanks to the Christmas generosity of my mother-in-law, I am now the very happy owner of a brand-new MacBook - my very first laptop ever! There's not much reason for this particular post, other than a chance to play with it.

It's Christmas afternoon, and everyone's hanging out while dinner's in the oven. Earlier, my son and his girlfriend were both surfing on their own laptops, while Tall Paul was setting up his iPod Touch. (Apple did well with our family this year, as Chris got a new iPod Classic. He'd better not lose this one!) My stepkids were trying out the sports games on their new Wii. (Grandma found them one, don't ask me how.)

My stepkids' mom stayed through our leisurely gift-opening this morning, and we all had a great time - no apparent disappointments, and lots of great surprises. Grandpa arrived later, and is staying for dinner and the opening of a few more gifts.

Dinner will be ready soon - baked chicken, roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli, lasagna and meatballs. Dessert choices are pumpkin pie, brownies, chocolate-chip cookies (what's left of them), and chocolate mousse. There are too many of us to fit around the table, so it'll be relaxed dining.

In addition to the MacBook - which I have been coveting for months, and which will enable me to keep up with my blogging and feed-reading anytime and anywhere (!) - I got enough TV on DVD to keep distracted for awhile, since who knows how long this writer's strike will keep up, and a really nice coat to keep me warm when it gets cold again in a few days.

I hope it's been a wonderful Christmas for you and your family!

A Christmas gift: Super-duper Nerd Alert!

Merry Christmas! Here's a little gift from me to you...

If you're not one to embrace your inner geek/nerd/dork, there's probably not much for you in this post. (Or in this whole blog, come to think of it, but you're welcome to stay anyway!)

On Fridays at the Work It, Mom! Blog, Mir gives Nataly a day off and posts a "Casual Friday" link roundup, and she will have my enduring gratitude for bringing The Park Bench - A gathering place for nerdy women (and nerdy men of discriminating taste) to my attention. (You may recall that my nerd credentials are not only well-established, they've been documented.)

It's a group blog, and features a nerd's-eye perspective on pop culture and the "News of the Day," which is an intermittent roundup rather than an actual "daily" occurence - there have been three in December so far, with the most recent post here (the first item in it is very good news as far as I'm concerned, since my affection for a certain Daily Show host has also been documented).

Recent posts include movie reviews of Sweeney Todd and Juno, a preview of anticipated 2008 cultural highlights (awesomely titled "Goodbye, 2007. Don't let the space-time continuum hit your ass on the way out."), and an indispensable guide to "50 Nerdy Things to Do Before You Die." I don't want to ruin the whole thing for you, but here are a few suggestions that I like:
"Accidentally" get locked in a bookstore for seven or eight days. (Hey, that's actually one of my fantasies! As long as the bookstore also has a coffee shop, that is...)

Become an editor and get paid to correct other people's grammar errors. (This may be my personal favorite - anyone else up for it?)

Feel again like you felt the first time you saw "Star Wars." (Bonus points if you're old enough to have seen it in its original run, when it was Star Wars and NOT "Episode IV," as the kids know it today...)

Figure out what the hell "Lost" is about. [This item also works for "The Prisoner," "Twin Peaks," "Cloverfield," and the popularity of Oprah.] (There should be a prize for this one.)
And then we have the suggestions for vacations that Tall Paul and I might actually consider taking:
Visit the yet-to-be-made Harry Potter theme park.

Visit the yet-to-be-made Harry Potter theme park and try not to cry tears of girly joy.

See at least one game at all existing Major League Baseball ballparks. (Hey, that's one of my real-life ambitions! How did they know?)

Go to the Superman Festival in Metropolis, IL.

Visit Riverside, Iowa, future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk.
Surprisingly, neither Roswell nor Area 51 made the list - maybe they're just too obvious?

Anyway, it's not like I need to add another Google Reader subscription, but yes, I do need to add this one.

*This week's "Ten on Tuesday" is "10 Best Presents Ever Given to You." I am not too good at remembering that sort of thing, let alone ten of them, so I'm not playing this time, but go and visit the main post to see what others have to say! And again, Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Return to the Christmas Spectacle

Mementos of this year's visit to the most spectacular Christmas spectacle ever - in our neck of the woods, anyway.

This truly is a local institution - according to their website (the picture to the right is a link), their first Christmas was in 1964, the same year as my first Christmas. They've got a photo archive through 2005, so you can see how the display has evolved over the years - well, "grown" is a more accurate word than "evolved;" it just looks like more and more stuff was added over time, and nothing's ever left. There are also pictures of some of the interior decorations online, since you know they wouldn't have limited themselves to the front yard.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

iPod Random Ten 12-21-07 - Holiday Edition

In honor of the season, these come from my "Christmas" playlist.

"All I Want For Christmas Is You," Mariah Carey
(A mildly guilty pleasure, this one, but fun)
"White Christmas," Bing Crosby
(As far as Tall Paul's concerned, no one else ever needs to record this song)
"Holly Jolly Christmas," Burl Ives
(One of my top favorite holiday songs! It's just so cheery.)
"The Nutcracker Suite," The Brian Setzer Orchestra
(Not the version from your ballet class...)
"Winter Wonderland," Bing Crosby
(It's not Christmas without "Der Bingle," but this song has little to do with Christmas in SoCal)
"Frosty the Snowman," The Ronettes
(OK, so Phil Spector's probably crazy, but I love nearly every song on the album he produced with his early-60's artists, A Christmas Gift For You)
"Run Rudolph Run," Chuck Berry
(So why does he sing it "Run, run, Rudolph" if it's "Run, Rudolph, Run"?)
"(Everybody's Waiting For) The Man With the Bag," The Brian Setzer Orchestra
(NOT one of my favorites, but in the spirit of randomness, it came up on the list and so here it is)
"White Christmas," Darlene Love
(I disagree with Tall Paul - I like this version, also from the Phil Spector Christmas album)
"Linus and Lucy," Vince Guaraldi Trio
(This is the peppy piano number from A Charlie Brown Christmas, not the droning "Christmas time is here..." one)

But Christmas time IS here! Just a few more days are left to open on your Advent calendar...

The 12 Days of Christmas: not just an annoying song

Suzanne made a little goof in her daily DearReader.com letter on Tuesday 12/17, and I wonder if this is a common misperception:
This morning, first thing when I woke up, the realization hit me--Christmas is almost here--should have started singing The Twelve Days of Christmas four days ago, because there are only eight days left.
No, Suzanne, you're fine. But the confusion is understandable, I guess, in a time and place where signs of Christmas start showing up in September and are hard to find by December 27. The "Twelve Days of Christmas" aren't just an annoying song - they're a traditional season of celebration that begins on December 25 and lasts till January 6, originating in the idea that it took that many days for the Magi to reach Bethlehem after they saw the star. (Do you think that Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus really hung out in a stable for almost two weeks?) Wikipedia says:

The Twelve Days of Christmas and the associated evenings of those twelve days (Twelve-tide), are the festive days beginning the evening of Christmas Day (December 25) through the morning of Epiphany (January 6). The associated evenings of the twelve days begin on the evening before the specified day. Thus, the first night of Christmas is December 24–25, and Twelfth Night is January 5–6. This period is also known as Christmastide.

Over the centuries, differing churches and sects of Christianity have changed the actual traditions, time frame, and their interpretations. St. Stephen's Day, for example, is December 26 in the Western Church and December 27 in the Eastern Church. December 26 is Boxing Day in the United Kingdom and some of its former colonies; December 28 is Childermas or the Feast of the Innocents. Currently, the 12 days and nights are celebrated in widely varying ways around the world. For example, some give gifts only on Christmas night, some only on Twelfth Night, and some each of the 12 nights. What remains constant is celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th, and a period of twelve days and nights following leading to Epiphany.
I've been thinking about this a bit this year, since it seems like my holiday spirit is taking its sweet time showing up. The Christmas to-do list is pretty well taken care of. There's only a little bit of shopping left to be done, although there are still gifts to be wrapped and mailed out. I hosted my office's Holiday Breakfast on Thursday morning (and washed my hands constantly as I prepped the food, since I'm sure none of my coworkers wants a cold for Christmas either!). I think I've decided on the menu for Christmas Day dinner; I still need to shop for groceries, but that's just extra stuff on the regular shopping list for this weekend anyway. My point is, it's not like things are really all that hectic and crazy less than a week before Christmas. It's more that I'm not really "feeling it" yet, and based on some responses to Lylah's recent post on The 36-Hour Day, it isn't just me (which I always find reassuring), and it isn't just because both Tall Paul and I are trying to shake colds.

I'm wondering why things have come to this - a huge buildup to December 25, and then bye-bye, and thank goodness this is over for another year! It's easy to blame it on commercialization, but complaints about that have been around for my whole 43 years and probably even longer. Granted, the season does seem to start being commercialized earlier every year, and I think that gets some people burnt out on the whole thing before it even arrives. And while I've mentioned a number of times that I haven't been a churchgoer for a while, I think that the fact that the secular elements of the Christmas season seem to be taking over in a lot of places is probably a big factor in the buildup. Santa Claus is the big guy (in more ways than one), and once he has come and gone, there's nothing more to talk about.

Well, I'm starting to feel that if my Christmas spirit is going to arrive late, it might as well stay longer, and I'm trying to move into a "Twelve Days of Christmas" mindset. This isn't something I've talked about with my family, since I've just begun to put a name to it, so we have no plans to observe any of it formally - no Boxing Day (Tall Paul and I both have to be at work on the 26th; what's up with that?), no Twelfth Night - but I really think I want to recognize that Christmas Day isn't the end of the celebration; it's supposed to be the start. I'd like to try to keep Christmas for those twelve days following, which makes me a little less stressed that I don't feel totally into keeping it just yet; and I'm not going to stress out over exactly how I'm going to do it, either. Not stressing is kind of the point.

I'm not talking about twelve days of crazy gift-giving, though:
Twelve drummers drumming
Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a-leaping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying
Five golden rings
Four calling birds
Three French hens
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree
Or the items on Bob and Doug McKenzie's list either (I really tried to find a video of this, but wasn't too happy with what I found, so I decided to skip it):

DougYou start.
BobOkay. On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a beer.
DougOn the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: two turtlenecks,
BobAnd a beer. (Okay...) On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: three French toast,
DougTwo turtlenecks,
BobAnd a beer. (Okay...)
DougThere should be more there, eh?
BobWhere? On the... go.
DougFourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: four pounds of backbacon,
BobThree French toast,
DougTwo turtlenecks,
BobAnd a beer.
DougIn a tree. See, you need more.
BobFifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: five golden touques!
DougFour pounds of backbacon,
BobThree French toast,
DougTwo turtlenecks,
BobAnd a beer, what was it?
TogetherIn a tree!
BobOkay, on the sixth... go.
DougOf Christmas, my true love gave to me: six packs of two-four,
Bob & BG SingersFive golden touques!
DougFour pounds of backbacon,
BobThree French toast,
DougTwo turtlenecks,
BobAnd a beer,
TogetherIn a tree!
BobOn the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: seven packs of smokes,
Doug(Nice gift...) Oh, six packs of two-four! (BG Singers also sing "nice gift".)
Bob & BG SingersFive golden touques!
DougFour pounds of backbacon,
BobThree French toast,
DougTwo turtlenecks,
BobAnd a beer,
TogetherIn a tree!
BobRight, I keep forgetting.
DougPhew! This should just be the two days of Christmas, it's too hard for us!
DougGo, hoser.
TogetherEigth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
DougEight comic books,
AllSeven packs of smokes, six packs of two-four,

(Bob and Doug become unsynchronized with the BG Singers, and quit singing.)
BG SingersFive golden touques! Four pounds of backbacon, three French toast, two turtlenecks,
AllAnd a beer,
DougOn my tree!
BobYeah. That beer's empty. Okay. Day,
BG SingersTwelve!
BobUh, twelve.
DougGood day, and welcome to day twelve.
BG SingersFive golden touques!
AllFour pounds of backbacon, three French toast, two turtlenecks, and a beer, in a tree!
(I always liked their version. Please don't judge me.)

I'm just thinking that there's a long tradition of Christmas Day being the start of a special time of year, not the end, and that it would be nice to move back toward that. What do you think?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Booking Through Thursday 12-20: Best of 2007

btt button

  1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?
    (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
  2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?
    (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
  3. And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

I'm really not qualified to answer the second question at all, and barely able to address the first one. Since I'd rather buy books than borrow them from the library, I tend to wait until they come out in paperback before I read them, which means I rarely read anything in its original year of publication. I read no hardcover nonfiction at all - I bought Stephen Colbert's book for my husband as a birthday gift, but haven't borrowed it from him yet. I read a grand total of four novels actually published in 2007:

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Harry Potter's final installment belongs at the top of that list as my "best new book" for 2007.

As for the last question - yes, those "best of" lists do influence my reading to some extent; more than the bestseller lists usually do, as it happens. I'll check out some of the titles that show up on multiple lists, since that tells me there may actually be a consensus that they're good; if they sound interesting, I'll add them to a list of books I need to watch for when they come out in paperback - next year. Amazon's Book Blog has posted a very useful roundup of links to various lists that have been published online so far this month, but there are probably even more lists to come.

Head on over to today's BTT post to find out what other players nominated for their best books of 2007!

The office gift exchange

Christmas is just days away, Hanukkah is over...we're smack-dab in the midst of "the holidays" pretty much everywhere, including at work. Office holiday parties are sometimes more of a source of anxiety than a cause for celebration - and in my experience, so does their less-discussed relative, the office gift exchange.

Unless you call a staff meeting to outline gift-giving ground rules - which rarely happens, in my experience - or your office has a party-traditions ringleader, office gifts are an annual quandary. So many questions!
  • Should you get a gift for your boss?
  • Should everyone in the department contribute to a group gift for the boss?
  • Should you get gifts for the people you supervise?
  • Should you only get gifts for the co-workers you socialize with, or those who have become personal friends?
  • Should the gifts be something more personal, or something work-related?
  • Should you get a gift for everyone in the office/department, in the interest of fairness?
  • Should you get the same gift for everyone in the office/department?
  • Instead of specific gifts for each co-worker, does your office want to have a grab-bag-type gift exchange instead, where everyone who wants to participate brings a small wrapped gift for anonymous trading?
  • If you do the gift exchange, will you have gag gifts or real ones? This can get ugly if it's not specified one way or the other.
  • Does anyone want to do the "Secret Santa" thing?
  • Should everyone agree to pass on the whole thing and donate to a charity instead?
I've avoided some of these questions for the last several years by giving a group gift. One morning during the week before Christmas (Thursday, unless I'm home sick again), I'll bring in breakfast for everyone in the office. It will include some home-baked, Weight-Watchers-friendly coffee cake and muffins, cinnamon rolls, bagels, juices, and some of the good coffee. People seem to enjoy it, and since I don't really hang out with my co-workers all that much, I'm avoiding the dilemma of a possibly meaningless personal gift or an office knickknack.

This is Chris' first year as a full-time member of the workforce during the holiday season, and I guess he's mulling over these questions too. He sent me a link to CareerBuilder.com's suggestions for "unusual co-worker gifts." I really don't think I'm going with any of them myself, but try checking there if you need ideas (or want to take come notes for next year, since this may be coming up a little too late to be of much use for 2007). Here's a sampling, classified by type of coworker:
For: The resident workaholic
A Day at the Beach Executive Sandbox by Are You Game
This small set includes everything needed for a day at the beach: white sand, sandals, sea shells, a beach chair, umbrella, beach ball and floating ring.

For: The suck up
Dial-An-Excuse, available at wishingfish.com.
This handy-dandy wheel comes equipped with 180 excuses for 36 excuse-necessary scenarios, and is perfect for the office and home.
Alternatively, this co-worker might also appreciate Corporate Flashcards from Knock Knock, a crash course in jargon and meeting-speak (thanks to Working Girl for the tip!).

For: The (lazy) caffeine junkie
The Stir Mug from Gevalia
Those who barely can lift a finger before their morning coffee no longer need to: This insulated stainless steel, battery-operated mug stirs your beverage for you at the push of a button.

For: The waffler
The Executive Decision Maker by Zippergifts.com
In lieu of the old eight ball, this paperweight has a sleek metal design and will help you get through the day’s tough decisions once you spin it and land on one of its many options, such as “pass the buck,” “reorganize” and “sit on it.”

For: Your favorite procrastinator
To Dos/To Don’ts Journal or The Business/Pleasure Journal, both by Modern Poverty
Part memo pad, part confessional, this double-sided journal will help recipients keep track of what they should be doing as well as what they shouldn’t.

For: The office space case
A Day Clock by DayClocks.com
Marketed as “a clock for those who forget more than just the time,” this clock has markers that indicate the day of the week in addition to the numeric time.

For: Anyone on Friday afternoon
The Boss Toss by Archie McPhee
Load one of four plastic “executive” figures into the mini-catapult, pull the trigger and watch the bosses fly!
And if none of these work for you, there's always the Chia Shrek; my husband has one he'd be glad to let you re-gift!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Well, you COULD read this...

...if the page actually existed. Karen finds the best links.

File not found!

If you've read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, come back and tell me if this makes you think of what would happen if Marvin the Paranoid Android became a web server.

A few thoughts from the mother of the boyfriend

An actual exchange of text messages with my son over Thanksgiving weekend:
Dad wants to know if I'm engaged.
You're surprised? (Rejected response: Well, ARE you?)
No. But I thought you'd find it amusing.
Still shaking my head.

An online chat session with my son's aunt (his dad's sister) a few days later:

(He and his girlfriend) were at her parents' for Thanksgiving - as far as I know things are going OK with them. They'll be here over Christmas.
(His dad) wanted to know if they were engaged yet (!)

Well that sounds good. So are they?

Hell no

His exact words

No, they're mine, actually.

I was 19 when I got married (the first time - yes, I think that part's relevant). I was a parent at 20, and I wasn't a college graduate till I was 23. At the time, I thought I was quite mature and advanced.

It looks a whole lot different when your kid is the 23-year-old. The main thing we have in common at that age is having finished college.

Chris and his girlfriend Jes have been seeing each other for over a year, but not on anything close to a daily basis until this summer; they were living several hundred miles apart during his senior year. Then they lived in very close quarters until he found his own apartment, and now they live around the corner from each other.

Even though I feel that my son and I have a pretty close relationship, there are many things he doesn't tell me, and much of that is totally appropriate. He hasn't ever articulated his feelings about his girlfriend to me - but then again, he may think I should be able to figure them out based on the facts of their relationship (and because he sometimes thinks it shouldn't be necessary to explain himself). He has spent some time with her family, and she's about to spend some time with his - and I'm pretty sure that geography is the only reason that hasn't happened sooner. And he did go to her sister's wedding with her this past summer, and that can be a dicey thing to do unless your relationship is solid.

But engaged?! His father does have a tendency to accelerate every relationship - his own and anyone else's - into serious territory, and he's married anyone he was ever involved with. (I could snipe about that more if I hadn't ended up basically doing the same thing, though.) Still, everything I know about Chris makes me feel that marriage isn't exactly on his radar at this point. I think he's happy in a steady relationship, but I don't get the sense he's in hurry to make it anything else. And I'm quite sure his feelings about eventually having kids remain, at best, ambivalent (and being in NO HURRY to become a grandmother, I remain very grateful for that). Since I haven't met Jes yet, I don't have a sense of her feelings on the subject - but knowing my side of the family, someone may well bring up the question during Christmas.

However, they're both in their twenties, and if they're happy with the way things are between them, I don't see any compelling reason to change that sooner, as opposed to later. Of course, I'm looking at it from the advanced perch of (almost) my mid-forties, and they just seem young for marriage from here. Heck, they've only lived in the same city for six months! And while in many ways my son is mature for his age, and I think he's grown up pretty well, I just can't see him as husband material for another few years yet.

But come to think of it, he didn't actually tell me how he answered his dad, and he hasn't mentioned anything about it since. I'd like to think that Chris wouldn't need to be queried by his parents about whether he was planning to get married - that he'd actually pick up the phone to call and tell us of his own volition - but perhaps I'll be surprised on Christmas Eve, which is when I'm actually meeting Jes for the first time.

Maybe I'm just not in a rush to be mother of the groom.

Wiki Wednesday 12-19-07

Time to learn something!

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!

Today we're going fishing:

The slender codling or slender cod, Halargyreus johnsonii, is a morid cod, the only species in the genus Halargyreus. It is found in all oceans, at depths of between 450 and 3,000 m, and grows to between 15 and 55 cm.

The slender codling is a small slender deepwater species with twin analdorsal fins, but no chin barbel or photophores. and

Body colour is generally pale grey on the back with a white belly and darker pigment around the eyes.

Food consists of free-living small animals, such as crustaceans and squids.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ten on Tuesday 12-18: New Year's Resolutions

I've never really been one to make New Year's resolutions. I don't think there's anything magical about January 1. If you want to change something in your life, you can do it any time you decide to - the beginning of next month, the first day of summer, next Monday, tomorrow, five minutes from now! New Year's Day is an artificial milestone. For example, if you decide you're going to start a healthy new habit - or break an unhealthy old one - you're cheating yourself if you wait till then instead of starting right away.

Having said that, if I did make New Year's resolutions, these things might be on the list, but in no particular order:
  1. Learn to juggle my family, my work, my writing/blogging/reading, and whatever else there is in my life more effectively.
  2. Re-focus on doing my job effectively and consistently - I've been making too many excuses and seizing distractions too readily.
  3. Plan - and actually take! - a special outing with my husband at least once every couple of months; so far, we've talked about playing tourists in Hollywood and touring Santa Barbara on Segways.
  4. Maintain my weight on my own, using what I've learned in four years with Weight Watchers.
  5. Transfer a set amount into savings once a month and treat it like a bill, not something done out of the "leftovers."
  6. Clear out closets, dressers, and bookshelves, and make trips to Goodwill and the Friends of the Library donation rooms, at least every three months.
  7. Catalog my books.
  8. Buy fewer books till I've read more of the dozens already in TBR status (yeah, that's totally not going to happen, but it sounds good).
  9. Zero out the credit cards and keep the balances current.
  10. Cook more often, and try for a more varied menu.
I'm actually a trifle unnerved by how quick and easy it was to come up with ten of these things.

Got resolutions? Care to share? Need ideas? Check out the Ten on Tuesday players!

Monday, December 17, 2007

All I DON'T want for Christmas is a cold

I'm glad that I try to work ahead and have posts done in advance of when I want to have them up on the blog - a habit I picked up during NaBloPoMo, and it's worth keeping - because inspiration and inclination for writing are a bit hard to come by right now. My husband started having cold symptoms late last week, and by Saturday I was catching up with him. We both started out with pretty bad sore throats, and moved on to the stuffy-head stage.

By the end of Monday, I had a sore nose from spending quality time with a bunch of Kleenex, stuffy ears, a headache, a cough, and raspy voice. But my throat wasn't as painful as it was on Saturday night, so that's something. It's one of those colds where you sound worse than you actually feel, and I'm one of those annoying people who takes their germs to work when they're in that condition, so guess where I will be again on Tuesday? (At least I have my own office, and I'm trying to limit being around my co-workers.) I'm fortifying myself with Zicam, honey-lemon/echinacea throat drops, and Sudafed.

Of course, we both have colds at a time when there's so much to do that we can't give in - Christmas is just a week away, for goodness' sake! Bother, bother. But if I'm around and about a little less than usual, this little bug o' mine is one reason why. It's also one reason I'm posting about having a cold instead of working on one of the more thoughtful pieces I have brewing.

Keeping - not reading - the books; notes on finding an accountant

I haven't written too many articles for Work It, Mom that have been directly related to my actual work, other than maybe this one about some of the perks of not being an entrepreneur. A lot of the members of the WIM community do have their own businesses, though - or want to - and some of their recent discussions about dealing with their financial matters prompted me to think I might have some useful suggestions for them, since that is what I do for a living, after all.

My article "The Numbers Game," was recently published on the site, and I'm re-printing it here. It may end up being one of my least-read blog posts ever, but who knows?

The numbers game

Things to consider in finding an accountant for your business

From some things I've read here at Work It, Mom!, I get the impression that accounting is a necessary evil to many entrepreneurs, and not an aspect of their business that they muster much enthusiasm for (unless that's the service that their business provides, of course). Evil or not, it is indeed necessary, and finding a qualified accounting professional to handle it for you - or at least to advise you - is important from the beginning.

"Accounting" and "bookkeeping" are sometimes used synonymously, but they're not exactly the same thing. Bookkeeping is the straightforward process of financial recordkeeping; accounting involves making sense of it all. Your accountant may be the one who handles your bookkeeping tasks, or she may review the records someone else maintains and use them in analyzing and reporting your business' financial condition.

There are a couple of good places to start your search for an accountant. One is within your network, seeking recommendations from people you trust. Another obvious source is your tax accountant, if you have one, since a variety of taxes will be a fact of life for your business. However, like physicians, accountants often specialize, so it's possible that your personal tax accountant may not be the best person for your general business accounting, but she probably can suggest some prospects.

The most basic business record document is a checkbook and check register. All the income your business takes in gets deposited into its own bank account, and business bills get paid from that account. That's the simplest bookkeeping there is - other than "receipts in a shoebox," and please don't let that happen! - and if that's all your business required, you probably wouldn't need someone else to deal with it. But it probably won't be, and that's where your accountant comes in.

These are some of the things that your accountant should be able to do for your business:
  • Work with you in developing the financial part of your business' operating plan, and crafting that into a formal budget and financial projections, if necessary. This involves tasks such as identifying your likely sources of revenue and your anticipated operating expenses, and determining where start-up funding, if needed, may come from; are you investing in your business from savings, raising funds privately, taking on debt, or some combination?
  • Establish your accounting system and chart of accounts. This may be based in Quickbooks, on spreadsheets, or in some other software package. This is necessary because your income and expenses need to be classified, and can't just all be dumped into that bank account.
  • Set up your receivables and payables. Your business' income and expenses aren't fully reflected by what happens in your bank account. You'll usually earn revenue for what you do before you get paid for it, and be responsible for expenses incurred before you pay them. Your customers get billed, and your vendors bill you; that's when the transaction goes into your records, for a more accurate picture of how your business is really doing financially. This is why having cash in the bank doesn't necessarily mean your business is making money, and also why a business can keep going even in a cash-flow crunch - whether everything "looks good on paper" or not.
  • Confirm that all of your financial activity gets recorded! The simplest way to achieve this is regular monthly reconciliation of your bank accounts - balancing the ol' checkbook to your bank statements. Verifying that all of your customers have been billed and that you've got documentation for all expenses is also part of the process.
  • Analyze your business' financial condition at any time by producing reports from your accounting system (which may or may not include formal financial statements, depending on your needs), and be able to communicate the information to you.
  • Monitor your tax situation and stay in compliance with regulations. If your business accountant and tax accountant aren't the same person, it's important that they be able to work together, because taxes will affect most aspects of your business. For example, one reason that proper expense classification matters is tax deductibility. (And taxes themselves are a deductible expense!) Your business' organizational form - sole owner, partnership, corporation - affects how its income is taxed. You may have to collect and remit sales taxes. Employment and payroll taxes can get complicated, and must be properly withheld and paid timely, or things can get ugly. Even if you don't have employees, you won't escape the self-employment taxes.
Ideally, your accountant will be someone who has experience with your type of business, and who keeps his or her knowledge base current with continuing education, particularly in tax-related areas. You may need just periodic consultations and reviews with an accountant and/or tax advisor early on - but hopefully your business will grow. It's easier to get systems in place sooner rather than later, and expand them as you need them.

The stereotypical accountant isn't really known for strong people skills, but communication between the accountant and the business owner is critical, and both parties need to understand what's going on. The accountant needs to have a grasp of what the business does so that he or she can relate that to the numbers in presenting the owner with the financial picture. The entrepreneur needs to understand what those numbers mean to her business. Both parties need to be honest, open and clear with one another.

Going into business on your own can be intimidating, but a trusted accountant will be part of your team - a real asset, if you'll pardon the accounting pun - and you won't be going it alone.