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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Off to get "Lost" - for about eight weeks...

(Normally, you wouldn't see a middle-of-the-day post from me, but there's a timeliness issue here.)

It's been more than eight months since we last visited Mystery Island, and thanks to the writers' strike, we only get an eight-week return trip...for now. But at least we have that.

Yes, tonight's the return of Lost! I won't be talking about it here tomorrow, though - as usual, we'll record it on the DVR, and watch it this weekend. I'll read a recap somewhere tomorrow, though - I don't worry about being "spoiled." Tall Paul, on the other hand, wants a blank slate.

ABC re-broadcast last May's season finale last night, and in case you missed it or just can't quite remember everything that happened back then, here's a summary from TV Guide's Lost blog:
Just so we are all caught up, here is a quick recap of where things stand. We know that Jack and Kate got off the island. While Jack has fallen into some sort of drug-addled, guilt-ridden stupor, Kate has cleaned up her act and is living a seemingly normal existence.
Back in the past—does that even make sense?—a lot has transpired. Charlie died a valiant, heartbreaking death, successfully using his musical prowess to unjam the signal and managing to alert Desmond to the fact that it's "Not Penny's Boat." (Frankly, I didn't think I could possibly cry as hard watching Charlie's demise a second time and yet, it was almost worse on repeat viewing.)

Jin's bad shot got him, Sayid and Bernard captured by the surviving Others and then Ben used them as pawns in his attempts to persuade Jack to give up his rescue effort. Hurley's triumphant van ride to the beach made me smile once again and I was just as relieved to see that the amateur marksmen were spared as the Others began to doubt Ben's motives.

Locke's quizzical conversation with Walt—or the vision of Walt—caused him to go to drastic lengths to prevent Naomi from making radio contact. But despite his actions, he could not bring himself to stop Jack and slinked back into the jungle.
If you didn't record it (like us) and you haven't picked up the Season 3 DVDs yet (also, like us), you might want to plan to view or record the 3-season recap show, Lost: Past, Present, and Future, airing tonight before the premiere. And both to refresh your memory and give you a heads-up on what to watch for in the new episodes, check out "Doc" Jensen's Pre-Season Lost Cheat Sheet on EW.com.

If you're still sticking with this show into its fourth season, you're probably quite aware that it can drive even a teetotaling viewer to drink sometimes. In that spirit (no pun intended, I swear!), you might be up for the Lost Drinking Game - the rules are posted at The Park Bench.

Book talk: "So Many Books, So Little Time"

Front Cover
So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading
Sara Nelson
Berkeley Trade (paperback), 2004 (ISBN 0425198197)
Books and reading, memoir; 256 pages

First Sentence: Call me Insomniac.

Book Description: "Sometimes subtle, sometimes striking, the interplay between our lives and our books is the subject of this unique memoir by well-known publishing correspondent and self-described "readaholic" Sara Nelson. From Solzhenitsyn to Laura Zigman, Catherine M. to Captain Underpants, the result is a personal chronicle of insight, wit, and enough infectious enthusiasm to make a passionate reader out of anybody."

Comments: I thought this was an appropriate first selection for my Personal TBR Challenge, and it turned out to be a relatively fast, and very enjoyable, reading experience.

Sara Nelson sets herself the task of reading a book a week every week for one year, and keeping a journal of her reading during the period. (This was back in the pre-blogging days of 2002.) She starts out with a plan and a reading list, but quickly finds that circumstances can send her reading choices in completely different directions. By the end of the year, she's done a lot of reading, but not quite in the way she expected to. She's read many unplanned books, and not read quite a few of the ones on her original list, particularly the books in the poetry and nonfiction categories; she had good intentions of expanding her reading horizons during the year, but fiction is her first literary love and just calls to her more often, particularly as she trolls her bookshelves at 3 AM, looking for her next victim. (Hence, the first sentence...)

While there's plenty of discussion of particular books here, and you may come away with your own list of books you want to read, this is a memoir much more than a recommended-reading guide. It very much reflects Sara's personal experiences with the books she read that year, in addition to some of her other personal experiences during the time. Her tastes in reading are informed but unpretentious - no literary snobbery here - and her discussions of the books she loved, the books she didn't like, and the books she didn't finish are accessible and often insightful.

Sara Nelson's eager approach to reading, and her love for it, come through clearly. I liked her voice, and the way she relates to books and reading comes across very much like mine. When she talked about books that I've also read, I found myself wanting to discuss them with her, or at least be able to leave her a comment - this is what blogging does to a person! In any case, I genuinely enjoyed this book, and it's helped to stoke my own enthusiasm for reading.

Rating: 3.75/5

__________________________________

btt button

This week’s question is suggested by (blogless) JMutford:

Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?

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 think this is a really good question - one for which I'll probably have a delayed response, if I can think of one at all. This is where it would probably help if I read more series books that featured the same character(s). On the other hand, I tend to like "quirky" characters better in supporting roles or in concentrated doses, so I'm not sure I would read a series that featured an overly-eccentric lead character. Sometimes they're fun, but I find that at other times they're overly "written" and just not realistic. That is, you'd either never meet someone like this in real life, or you'd run off screaming if you did.

For much more interesting answers than this one, visit the main post at BTT.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My favorite mistake

What was/is your favorite mistake?
This could be a behavior that you know gets in your way but you do it anyway, or a relationship that didn't quite turn out right but you have no regrets about it anyway, or something that shouldn't have even happened but worked out great...those are just a few examples of what I mean by this question.

And yes, it was inspired by a Sheryl Crow song. Please don't judge me.
I have a member account at Vox primarily so that I can leave comments on Pam's posts, now that she's mostly blogging there instead of here, but they do have a fun "question of the day" feature that you can use as blog-post prompt, and I've submitted the question above. I don't know if they'll use it, but I thought I'd answer it anyway.

The Sheryl Crow song called "My Favorite Mistake" is clearly about being in the wrong relationship, and
knowing that you're staying in it for the wrong reasons, because you don't really want to leave even if most people would think you should. I wouldn't say I have one of those mistakes in my relationship history. True, I'm in my second marriage, but my first one lasted so long I just don't feel that I can, or want to, write off nearly twenty years of my life as a "mistake." There's also the great kid that came out of that - not ideally timed, granted, but not a mistake in any way.

In early February, I'll note the fourth anniversary of my becoming a "Lifetime Member" of the Weight Watchers program - that means that I reached a goal weight and didn't go back over it by more than two pounds during a six-week "maintenance" period. Since then, I've lost weight beyond that goal, and then regained some, but I still haven't strayed very far from it. I'm "on a break" from the meetings now, but after all this time, I hope I've learned what I should and shouldn't do in order to keep my weight in a healthy and comfortable place.

My reason for heading off on that tangent is that there's a poster in the meeting room at my Weight Watchers center that states "There's a positive intention behind every behavior." That means even the negative, self-defeating behaviors are motivated by something desirable - pleasure, happiness, a wish for love and approval, even generosity. It may sound farfetched at first, but if you ponder it, I think there's a lot of truth there.

I thought of that the other morning as I was tucking a bag of Cheerios Snack Mix into my bag to bring to work. It was one of those things I never should have bought in the first place - I probably
wouldn't have bought it if I hadn't had a coupon, so I shouldn't have given myself the opening by even clipping the coupon. But I bought it anyway, I tasted it, and I liked it, so I thought I'd take it to work to nibble on during the day. The whole bag was gone by lunchtime. I do like salty snacks, particularly chips or crackers to accompany a sandwich or soup, but it's sweets that really ensnare me - not candy, but baked goods, especially cakes and brownies. It's really not all that common for me to go to town on a bag of Snack Mix, and I try to limit my chips to the contents of one (OK, sometimes two, but that's it) of those 100-Calorie Packs. But a couple of weekends ago I made a batch of brownies. My stepkids really like my brownies, but they're not around all the time, and my husband prefers cookies and ice cream, so that meant there was a good possibility I'd eat most of them...and that's exactly what happened. It did take a week and a half or so to get through them, and I didn't eat them every evening, but I ate (nearly) the whole thing by myself. It was a really good batch of brownies!

And
those are my favorite mistakes - the ones that taste good. I never smoke, I rarely drink, but I do appreciate good food, and not-so-good-for-you food - making it and eating it. If I didn't care for my own cooking...well, honestly, it might be even worse, because I'd be eating more prepared and restaurant foods, and I can't control what goes into them the way I can with my own recipes. And quite honestly, the baked goods that aren't specifically from reduced-calorie recipes just turn out better when they're not altered to make them reduced-calorie (I'm the voice of experience on this one). The positive intention behind this behavior is the sensual pleasures of a great meal or a delicious treat. I tell myself that because I have learned that I can't eat like this all the time - and after a few days of it, I find I don't want to anymore, which I guess is a positive outcome - it's OK to fall off the wagon sometimes. I know it's rationalizing. I know that my "sometimes" happen more often than they really should. Yet I give in anyway...and when I do, I don't berate myself or give in to guilt - not right away, anyhow. And I know that I'll most likely do it again - there's no promise of "going forth to sin no more" associated with this confession - because I like it. A lot of self-indulgence can most certainly hurt you, but a little is something you can enjoy at the time, recover from, look back at fondly, and maybe even do again sometime.

Care to share your own favorite mistake? If you decide to do so in a blog post of your own, please come back and tell me so I can go and read all about it.

Wiki Wednesday 1-30-08

Time to learn something!

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

Well, this is getting a bit meta, if you ask me - a Wikipedia article about a defunct precursor to Wikipedia:

GNUPedia (later renamed GNE) was a project to create a free content encyclopedia (licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License) under the auspices of the Free Software Foundation. The project was initially proposed by Richard Stallman in 1999 and officially started in January 2001. The project was moderated by Héctor Facundo Arena.

Immediately upon its creation, GNUPedia was confronted by confusion with the similar-sounding Nupedia project led by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, and controversy over whether this constituted a fork of the efforts to produce a free encyclopedia. In addition, Wales already owned the gnupedia.org domain name.

GNUPedia participants frequently expressed concern about the amount of editorial control and bureaucracy involved in contributing to Nupedia. As GNUPedia wrestled with the issues regarding the level of moderation to apply for contributions to the encyclopedia, Wales invited contributors to look at Wikipedia, which had just been started as a side project of Nupedia.

The new Wikipedia project received an enthusiastic reaction from some GNUPedia participants, and Wikipedia eventually overtook both of the original efforts. The GNUPedia project continued to exist, and addressed the naming controversy by changing its name to GNE (an abbreviation for "GNE is Not an Encyclopedia", a recursive acronym similar to that of the GNU project) and by redefining the project as a comprehensive "library of opinions" or "knowledge base". However, the name change failed to help the project gain traction, and it gradually became inactive. Stallman has since lent his support to Wikipedia.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Talk about some drama!

There's been a lot of talk about Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Talk, Real Issues, Real Answers by Nancy Amanda Redd around the blogs recently. Broadsheet gave it a pre-release mention. MotherTalk held a blog tour, and here's what they were talking about:

In the great tradition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, Body Drama is a medically-accurate, confidence-building text for teens that explains exactly how “women’s bodies actually look, smell, feel, behave, and change.” The author, a former Miss Virginia and Harvard-graduate is in-touch with the issues on the minds of young adults and presents the information in a frank and engaging manner.

Nancy Redd describes Body Drama as a book that “talks about all the issues that keep you up at night—lopsided boobs, stinky pits, eating disorders, facial hair, an “ugly” vulva, bad dye jobs, and more. Alongside real-deal photographs of women just like you and me (no airbrushing, no supermodels, no kidding), you’ll find medical pictures of things you need to be able to recognize, true confessions by yours truly, and the encouragement you need to appreciate the uniqueness, strength, and beauty of your body.”

Mother/stepmother to a total of five teen and young-adult females (!) MaryP was generous and thorough with her appreciation of the both the information and presentation of the book - "it gets teens," she says. Girl With Pen Deborah Siegel suggests that it's not just teens that will benefit from a book like this - and Mojo Mom said that she learned a lot from it herself.
SingleMa's teen daughter reviewed the book and was impressed with Nancy Redd's frankness and honesty - she'll be recommending it to her friends.

Dewey thinks that this is a book that belongs on every teenage girl's bookshelf, and after she posted her review, she held a drawing for her copy - and I just received it in the mail today! I remember well my own adolescent awkwardness with these topics - because it took me more than 25 years to get past it - and since I'm now helping to raise my teenage stepdaughter, I'm really looking forward to reading this (I think Deborah's probably right), and to sharing it with her and her parents. Thanks, Dewey!

I'm not sure exactly how soon I'll get to read Body Drama, but when I do, I'll be sure to talk about it too - right here!

These kids today, or "10 Ways They Have It Better Than We Did (?)"

As a fun follow-up to this post, here's the text of an e-mail my sister passed along:
When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were when they were growing up, what with walking twenty-five miles to school and back every day...in the snow...barefoot...uphill BOTH ways. Yadda, yadda, yadda...

And I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in heck I was going to lay a bunch of crap like that on kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it!

But...

Now that I'm (WAY) over the ripe old age of thirty, I can't help but look around and notice the youth of today. You've got it so easy! I mean, compared to my childhood, you live in a dang Utopia! And I hate to say it but you kids today you don't know how good you've got it! So let me tell you a few things...

1. When I was a kid, we didn't have the Internet. If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the dang library and look it up ourselves... In the card catalog!! (Do you even know what a card catalog is? Didn't think so!)

2. There was no email! We had to actually write somebody a letter...with a pen! Then you had to walk all the way across the street and put it in the mailbox and it would take like a week to get there!

3. There were no MP3's or Napsters! (Napster? OK, I guess this one's been floating around the internets for awhile..) You had to wait around all day to tape music off the radio and the DJ would usually talk over the beginning and mess it all up!

4. We didn't have fancy crap like Call Waiting! If you were on the phone and somebody else called they got a busy signal, that's it! (OK, to be honest, I do kind of miss the days when you actually could be out of touch with people, and not constantly connected and reachable 24/7.)

5. And we didn't have fancy Caller ID Boxes either! When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was! It could be your school, your mom, your boss, your bookie, your drug dealer, a collections agent...you just didn't know! You had to pick it up and take your chances, mister!

6. We didn't have any fancy Sony Playstation video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics! (Wii sure didn't have a Wii!) We had the Atari 2600! With games like"Space Invaders " and "Asteroids" and the graphics were horrible! Your guy was a little square! You actually had to use your imagination! And there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen forever! And you could never win. The game just kept getting harder and harder and faster and faster until you died! Just like LIFE!

7. When you went to the movie theater there no such thing as stadium seating! All the seats were the same height! If a tall guy or some old broad with a hat sat in front of you and you couldn't see, you were just screwed!

8. Sure, we had cable television, but back then that was only like 15 channels and there was no onscreen menu! You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on! And there was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning. Do you hear what I'm saying!?! We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons!

9. And we didn't have microwaves, if we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove or go build a fire...imagine that! If we wanted popcorn, we had to use that stupid JiffyPop thing or a pan with HOT oil and real popcorn kernels and shake it all over the stove forever like an idiot.

10. When we were on the phone with our friends and our parents walked in, we were stuck to the wall with a cord, a 7 foot cord that ran to the phone - not the phone base, the actual phone. We barely had enough length to sit on the floor and still be able to twirl the phone cord in our fingers. If you suddenly had to go to the bathroom - guess what we had to do... hang up and talk to them later.

That's exactly what I'm talking about! You kids today have got it too easy. You're spoiled!
Despite the curmudgeonly tone, I do think that what we have here is a list of "10 Things That Are Better Now Than They Were 'Way Back When'." We old folks are just envious of the younger ones sometimes, methinks. (Except for maybe having to hang up the phone when you needed to go to the bathroom - I still think that's a pretty good idea.)

Ten on Tuesday 1-29: If I Had $1,000,000

This week on Ten on Tuesday - 10 Things You'd Buy If You Had a Million Dollars (and you had to spend it on yourself)

Oh, now this could be fun. Well, to start with, these guys had a few ideas (and I will be totally shocked if I'm the only person who worked these lyrics into their post somewhere):
If I had a million dollars
(If I had a million dollars)
I'd buy you a house
(I would buy you a house)
If I had a million dollars
(If I had a million dollars)
I'd buy you furniture for your house
(Maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman)
And if I had a million dollars
(If I had a million dollars)
Well, I'd buy you a K-Car
(A nice Reliant automobile)
If I had a million dollars I'd buy your love

If I had a million dollars
I'd build a tree fort in our yard
If I had million dollars
You could help, it wouldn't be that hard...

If I had a million dollars
(If I had a million dollars)
Well, I'd buy you a fur coat
(But not a real fur coat that's cruel)
And if I had a million dollars
(If I had a million dollars)
Well, I'd buy you an exotic pet
(Yep, like a llama or an emu)
And if I had a million dollars
(If I had a a million dollars)
Well, I'd buy you John Merrick's remains
(Ooh, all them crazy elephant bones)
And If I had a million dollars I'd buy your love

If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to walk to the store
If I had a million dollars
Now, we'd take a limousine 'cause it costs more
If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner
But we would eat Kraft Dinner
Of course we would, we’d just eat more

If I had a million dollars
(If I had a million dollars)
Well, I'd buy you a green dress
(But not a real green dress, that's cruel)
And if I had a million dollars
(If I had a million dollars)
Well, I'd buy you some art
(A Picasso or a Garfunkel)
If I had a million dollars
(If I had a million dollars)
Well, I'd buy you a monkey
(Haven't you always wanted a monkey)
(OK, I always liked the reference to Art Garfunkel's little-acknowledged career as a painter.)

But anyway, to return to the subject at hand...Barenaked Ladies talked about what they'd buy for someone else. The question at hand is what I would buy for me.
  1. A house. Yeah, I'd buy a house, and that wouldn't just be for me. But I live in Southern California, where it wouldn't be hard to burn through the whole million dollars right there - and I'm not talking about a mansion here, just a pretty nice house. I discussed this with my husband, and we decided that to make the money go further, we actually wouldn't buy it outright. At least 50% down would make our mortgage pretty reasonable, and would allow us both more house and more money left to work with. Heck, a million dollars doesn't go nearly as far as it used to, so it's not like we'd be able to quit working anyway.
  2. A Mini Cooper S. I'm in love with those cars. It's nice to be in love with a car that's not very expensive; maybe I'd even buy two.
  3. Furnishings for a reading room in the house. Bookcases along at least two walls, nice lighting, comfortable seating, and a desk with an ergonomically supportive chair. Also for the desk...
  4. The largest MacBook Pro, or equivalent, I could get. I love my MacBook, but my eyes crave a bigger screen sometimes, and I need to "go pro" for a larger laptop. And speaking of my eyes...
  5. Vision-correction surgery. My particular combination of severe myopia and astigmatism cannot be corrected with the LASIK procedure (I've been evaluated for it). However, there is an alternate procedure that involves a lens implant. It's newer, less common, and more expensive than LASIK, and I've been told it would probably be my best bet to leave glasses and contacts behind. I would be signing up for that as quickly as possible! (Actually, in terms of timing, this would probably be the first thing I spent any of the money on.)
  6. A personal chef - for weekdays only. I enjoy cooking when I have the time to do it. Since we've already established that I'd most likely still be working, though, I won't really have the time except on the weekends, so it would be excellent to come home to a prepared meal.
  7. A wardrobe of custom-tailored clothing. I am a little tricky to fit, being short and somewhat curvy, and having my clothes altered to fit me properly is a luxury I've only been able to indulge in a few times (all involving wedding-related apparel). I don't think I'd go for flashy designer stuff - I've don't covet it now, and it's hard to imagine myself being OK with spending thousands of dollars on a skirt, even if I could - but well-made clothing sized just right for me? I'm definitely up for that.
  8. Good shoes - a dozen pairs, at least. I tend to have trouble finding shoes I like in my size, which is 5. Many women's shoe stores start their size range at 5-1/2, but one place I've had a lot of luck with is Payless. Consequently, I have a pretty sizable collection of cheap shoes, and I'd be glad for the chance to upgrade it.
  9. Six months off for travel. I haven't decided where I'd go yet...maybe some of the places on this list, or on this one?
  10. Books. I'm sure I could use up whatever money was left this way.
You've probably thought about this one yourself - what might you spend your million dollars on? If you really can't think of anything, check out the main Ten on Tuesday post for some ideas.

Monday, January 28, 2008

20Q, and 5Q, 4A - two me-me-me memes

I've come across a couple of tell-about-yourself memes that I thought might combine well into one post. The "20 questions" meme comes via Kathy Howe; the "5 questions, 4 answers" meme was in an e-mail from my sister. If you choose to play either or both, leave me a comment and let me know (a link might be nice, too! :-D).

Via e-mail from my sister:

Four jobs I have had in my life;
1. Voter registration volunteer
2. Accounting coordinator at a university
3. Controller at a zoo
4. Mom

Four places I have lived:
1. Norwalk, CT
2. Ithaca, NY
3. St. Petersburg, FL
4. Germantown, TN

Four places I have been on vacation: (not at the same time!):
1. San Francisco
2. The Inside Passage of Alaska (on a cruise)
3. The Smoky Mountains
4. Disney World

Four favorite foods:
1. Spaghetti (well, probably rotini or penne, really) with my homemade sauce and meatballs
2. Cinnamon rolls
3. Roasted chicken
4. Bacon cheeseburger

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. in a bigger house
2. at a bookstore
3. somewhere sunny and dry

Via Kathy Howe of Kazoofus and Work It, Mom! fame. I'm going to ignore the "tagging" part of the rules for this (so did Kathy), so just feel free to join in!
Rules: Remove 1 question from below, and add in your personal question, make it a total of 20 questions, then tag 8-10 people in your list, list them out at the end of this post. Notify them in their chat box that he/she has been tagged.
1. At what age do you wish to marry?
I did it when I was 19. I did it again when I was 42, and I don't have any wish to do it a third time - this had better be it!

2. What color do you like most?
On me? Red or purple. In general, red, but not so much in the orange-y or pink-y shades.

3. Where is the place that you want to go the most?
Any place that Tall Paul wants to go, because I know I'll have a good time if he's there. Hopefully, he'll want to go back to Memphis for some barbecue.

4. Which part of you do you hate the most?
"Hate" is a pretty strong word - can we interpret this as "Which part would you most want to change?" That would be my height. 5 more inches - that would get me just past 5 feet tall, which would still be short, but not "wow, you're short" short.

5. When you encounter a sad moment, what would you do?
Get choked up, maybe teary, and somber - I don't usually know what to say.

6. What are you afraid to lose the most?
My wedding rings and my contact lenses. But even more than those, my family and my friends.

7. If you win $1 million, what would you do?
Come back for my Ten on Tuesday post on the 29th - that's this week's prompt!

8. What’s your wish for the year ahead?
I'd like to stop being perpetually behind at work (I'm working on this one, and it's getting a little better, slowly), I'd like to write more, and I'd like to have more people read my blog.

9. How did you celebrate the New Year?
We watched the ball drop in Times Square at 9 PM - midnight in New York. It counts! - then went to bed with our books. We actually stayed up till midnight - Chicago time.

10. Till now, what is the moment that you regret the most?
I can't single out one, but there are a few from the decline of my first marriage that I'd prefer not to talk about.

11. Which type of person do you hate the most?
I can't tolerate intolerance.

12. What is your ambition?
To rack up some of those blogging awards this year (it's up to you, readers!).

13. If you had one wish what would you wish for?
Enough money not to need money, so I could work at what I want to do (I might even figure out what that is...).

14. Name one of your body parts your hubby or boyfriend tells you he adores:
My smile. And it's not a body part, but he likes how I giggle.

15. What is the best gift you can give someone this year?
A motorcycle for my husband. Assuming I get that million dollars, that is...

16. List two of your Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions.
"Playing tourist" on weekend outings with my husband every couple of months, and watching my weight (hopefully, not going back up!) without Weight Watchers.

17. What is your favorite thing to do when you have nothing to do? (This is the question I added)
Assuming that ever happens...My husband would probably expect me to say "doing blog stuff on my MacBook" these days, but no - the answer's still "reading." (Books, that is, not on my computer.)

18. What are the Top 2 things that you are most thankful for the year 2007 that made you even happier for 2008?
Tall Paul and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary last fall, and I became part of the blogging community.

19. In this very moment, are you doing what you thought you’d be doing at this stage in your life?
Mostly, yes. I had to take some detours to get here, though.

20. What show do you most enjoy watching on TV these days?
Ask me after this Thursday when Lost comes back! Thanks to the writers' strike, I'm watching less and less TV, and I'd really hate to have American Idol be my answer to this question.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weekend assignment #200 (4) - "When are you going?"

Weekend Assignment #200: You've recently become friends with someone who unexpectedly reveals that he or she has a time machine, all tested out and ready for adventures. Your friend offers you one round trip to anywhere, anywhen, backwards or forwards in time. What's your destination? Or would you rather just stay home?

Extra Credit: The first trip is so wildly successful that your friend offers you one more trip, this time in the opposite direction. When are you going this time?
I suspect that this is a topic that would have had more appeal for me when I was a kid, or even as a teenager, than it does now. I mentioned in this post that I'm really not all that sold on "the good old days." The older I get, the more I appreciate both when and where I live. Granted, we're living in interesting times, but when I think abo ut going back to the past, it would have to happen in such a way that I'd have no idea of who I was and how I lived in my own time. Most of the issues and struggles in my life are those of a member of a pretty advanced and affluent society - which is to say they don't take up much space in the big picture, and I am truly grateful for that. There's much that I am able to take for granted in modern life, and if I knew about all of it and went back in time anyway, I doubt I could stay for long, because there are too many things I would miss.

For example, traveling back to a time before electricity and indoor plumbing is just not an attractive prospect, I must say, especially if I had to go back as a 21st-century person; if I had the identity of someone of that time who didn't know of the future (my present), I suppose it could work, though. Ignorance would be bliss - but it would be more blissful if I went back in time as a wealthy person, since they seemed to have much easier lives (actually, that's probably still the case now, but I wouldn't personally know). As for traveling to the future - well, when I was a kid the year 2000 seemed like a very exotic prospect, so in some respects I've already done that. (And why aren't we living like the Jetsons yet?)

But if my friend were to persuade me to take a ride in the Wayback (or Way-forward) Machine, I think I'd like to visit when and where my parents grew up - New York City in the 1940's. Those were pretty interesting times too - there was a war going for half the decade, after all - but both the era and the city fascinate me. I don't think the country has been that united in support of anything since that time. I think people were more grounded and more faithful, and particularly in the postwar period, more excited about progress. I'd also love to see some of the places and things my parents remembered from their youth, like the Automat and Macy's (when it was just that big department store on 34th Street), and there's just something about '40's style that I like. I could learn original swing dancing, and not that swing-revival stuff my son does. (Off-topic, but I'm actually envious of his mad dance skillz - I call him "Mom's little Lindy-hopper," but not when he can hear me.)

I think that trip would be it for me, though, and I'd decline the offer to travel in the other direction time-wise. I'm mostly a person of the here and now. Even most of the books I read have contemporary settings; my idea of a "period piece" lately is set somewhere during my own lifetime, like the 1970's. I think any other time-traveling that I do is going to be via books rather than a time machine, but I appreciate the offer to try it out.

My husband had a far more interesting answer for this, by the way - he'd go to Roswell, New Mexico, in July of 1947, and see what was going on with that "UFO". For his trip in the opposite direction, he came up with something having to do with bringing back an almanac.

I really liked Karen's own response to the assignment in the main post at Outpost Mâvarin - The Beatles at the Cavern Club, Sunday, 19 August, 1962, their first Cavern appearance with Ringo instead of Pete Best. Hey, maybe she'd let me come along...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Grade B+

Via Melody of Melody's Reading Corner, who has a knack for finding these (blog)things:

You Have A Type B+ Personality

You're a pro at going with the flow
You love to kick back and take in everything life has to offer
A total joy to be around, people crave your stability.

While you're totally laid back, you can have bouts of hyperactivity.
Get into a project you love, and you won't stop until it's done
You're passionate - just selective about your passions
Do You Have a Type A Personality?

I don't have any major disagreements with this one. I normally don't consider myself particularly "laid back" - and most people who know me probably wouldn't either - but I have become better at taking things more lightly as I've gotten older. Those last couple of points are totally spot-on, though, I must say.

Friday, January 25, 2008

iPod Random Ten 1-25-08

No "framework" meme this week - just ten songs.

"These Are Days," 10,000 Maniacs, Our Time In Eden
"Lost Cause," Beck, Sea Change
"Raspberry Beret (Extended Mix)," Prince, Ultimate
"I Can't Get Next to You," Annie Lennox, Medusa
"Back for Good," The Concretes, Guilt by Association (a collection of pop-song covers by indie acts; this one was originally recorded by British boy band Take That)
"C'mon, C'mon," Sheryl Crow (from the album of the same name)
"Shot Through the Heart," Bon Jovi (from their self-titled first album)
"Not Dark Yet," Bob Dylan, Wonder Boys (movie soundtrack; originally on Dylan's Time Out of Mind)
"Come Dancing," The Kinks, State of Confusion
"Night in My Veins," The Pretenders, Greatest Hits

A meme with no theme

This is mostly a bunch of random questions that Literary Feline answered on her blog not too long ago, and I thought it would be fun to do them myself. If you'd like to join in, please help yourself!

What kind of soap is in your shower right now?
We don't use bar soap around here. There are several kinds of body wash in the shower - Body Shop Vitamin E wash, Aveeno, Neutrogena Rainbath, and Suave for Men - plus several other varieties of Body Shop shower gels and washes that I bring in and out based on my daily whims. I have a bit of a thing for bath-and-body products.

Do you have any watermelon in your refrigerator?
No.

What would you change about your living room?
I can't do too much about the layout, given the size and shape of the room, but we could use a new couch. Well, really, I'd change the size and shape of the room, which would mean I'd have to have the room in a different house...

Are the dishes in your dishwasher clean or dirty?
Dirty. We're usually pretty good about taking the clean dishes out and putting them away promptly.

What is in your fridge?
We just went shopping, so it's pretty full; we've got bread, two kinds of milk (lowfat and soy), lunch meats and cheeses, juice, water bottles, Gatorade, yogurt, and some leftovers from the last couple of days - half a pizza and some pasta with meatballs. Are you hungry?
(NOTE: I drafted this a few days ago - we've eaten the leftovers since then.)

White or wheat bread?
Definitely multi-grain or wheat.

What is on top of your refrigerator?
I'm not sure, since I can't see up there, but I think there's some candy and some water bottles.

What color or design is on your shower curtain?
None, really - it's just a dark-sage color with no real pattern to it.

How many plants are in your home?
None. It's sad. We should get some.

Is your bed made right now?
Yes. I'm kind of a nut for making it as soon as we get up.

Comet or Soft Scrub?
Soft Scrub.

Is your closet organized?
Actually, right now it is. We did a lot of cleaning and organizing over New Year's weekend, and worked on all the closets. They're still in pretty decent shape.

Can you describe your flashlight?
We have several. The one I use the most is a small dark-blue and black one that goes in my pocket when I take the dog for walks.

Do you drink out of glass or plastic most of the time at home?
Glass, unless I'm drinking from a water bottle.

Do you have iced tea made in a pitcher right now?
No.

If you have a garage, is it cluttered?
We have a covered parking space with a storage unit, but not a real garage, and it's one of my husband's great regrets. But if we did have one, I suspect he'd keep it pretty neat in there.

Curtains or blinds?
Blinds, with curtains over them in one room to cut the sun glare and heat.

How many pillows do you sleep with?
Two. But there are seven on the bed in total.

Do you sleep with any lights on at night?
No.

How often do you vacuum?
Almost never if I can help it - my husband usually does it.

Standard toothbrush or electric?
Standard.

What color is your toothbrush?
White and orange, but hopefully my next one will be better-looking.

Do you have a welcome mat on your front porch?
We have one mat just inside our gate and another right outside the front door, but neither has any words on them.

What is in your oven right now?
Nothing except the oven racks.

Is there anything under your bed?
Summer clothes I'm storing, and the frames of two bookcases we're not currently using (since we don't have space). The shelves for the bookcases are in one of the newly-organized closets.

Chore you hate doing the most?
Vacuuming, which is one reason it's very nice that my husband does it.

What retro items are in your home?
I'm looking around and nothing's really jumping out at me...

Do you have a separate room that you use as an office?
I wish. We have three bedrooms and they're all in use for that purpose, and the apartment doesn't have any other space that can be separated.

How many mirrors are in your home?
Four - two in each background.

What color are your walls?
Off-white, but each room has a dark-tan accent wall.

What does your home smell like right now?
Spaghetti sauce, since that's what we had for dinner (the night I drafted this. Tonight, it doesn't really small like anything. I'm just glad it doesn't smell like wet dog.).

Favorite candle scent?
Vanilla.

What kind of pickles (if any) are in your refrigerator right now?
None - we're not pickle people.

What color is your favorite Bible?
We have one Bible; it's paperback and has a dark-red cover.

Ever been on your roof?
No.

Do you own a stereo?
Sort of. The TV and videogame system in my stepdaughter's room run through it. We mostly listen to music through our iPods, running them through either our iPod Hi-Fi or an auxiliary hookup on the amplifier.

How many TVs do you have?
Two, but as I just mentioned, one's just used for videogames and occasional DVD viewing (kids' stuff).

How many house phones?
Four, all cordless. We just replaced two old ones that had buttons that weren't working.

Do you have a housekeeper?
No, so we try to keep on top of the clutter.

What style do you decorate in?
I'd call it "casual contemporary" - comfortable pieces, clean lines, light-to-medium wood finishes.

Do you like solid colors or prints in furniture?
Solids, but prints are nice for the accessories like throws and accent pillows.

Is there a smoke detector in your home?
Yes, there is.

In case of fire, what are the items in your house which you’d grab if you only could make one quick trip?
Not counting family and the dog? My glasses, my purse, my laptop, and whatever book I was currently reading.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Club book talk: "The Florist's Daughter" - plus, BTT! (Huh?)

Stay Tuned for this week's Booking Through Thursday immediately following this review!
______________________________________________

This was the last selection of 2007 for Book Club, and the topic of conversation for our first meeting of the New Year.

Front Cover

The Florist's Daughter
Patricia Hampl
Harcourt, 2007 (ISBN 0151012571)
Memoir; 240 pages

First Sentence: For once, no flowers.

Book Description: "During the long farewell of her mother’s dying, Patricia Hampl revisits her Midwestern girlhood. Daughter of a debonair Czech father, whose floral work gave him entree into St. Paul society, and a distrustful Irishwoman with an uncanny ability to tell a tale, Hampl remained, primarily and passionately, a daughter well into adulthood. She traces the arc of faithfulness and struggle that comes with that role from the postwar years past the turbulent sixties. The Florist’s Daughter is a tribute to the ardor of supposedly ordinary people. Its concerns reach beyond a single life to achieve a historic testament to midcentury middle America. At the heart of this book is the humble passion of people who struggled out of the Depression into a better chance, not only for themselves but for the common good."

Comments: According to the biographical info on the back flap of this book, this is Patricia Hampl's fifth memoir. I haven't read any of the others, and since this one left me quite underwhelmed, I'm not sure that I would.

A memoir doesn't really require a narrative arc, but I think that a reader might find the presence of one more rewarding, and this book really doesn't have it. Patricia's presence at her mother's bedside on the night of her death is the framing device for her recollections of growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota in the mid-20th century, the Baby-Boom-era younger child and second-generation American daughter of a mixed-ethnicity Catholic couple. The differing worldviews of her parental cultures - Irish on her mother's side, Czech on her father's - and the Catholicism both figure prominently in her upbringing and how she learns to interact with the world. As a second/third-generation Catholic-raised daughter of mixed European ethnicity myself - in my case, Italian mother and Austro-Hungarian father - this was probably the aspect of her story that I related to most. My father still characterizes most people he meets by their ethnic origin, and stereotypes based on ethnicity were part of everyday life for us.

Patricia talks about both her parents very much from a daughter's perspective, as she lived out the old saying that "a daughter's a daughter all of her life." She ended up as primary caretaker for both her parents till they died, and despite all her dreams of escape into the Great World, still lives in St. Paul to this day.

The Book Club member who chose this thought that it was a mother-daughter memoir, so we didn't quite get what we expected from it. It's a well-written book, but I just didn't find it particularly engaging. It's relatively short, but I found it slow going, and her parents never really became vivid to me. Granted, she's writing about their essentially ordinary lives, and that's got to be a challenge.

I wish I'd liked this book more than I did, but it just didn't seem to have much to it, and that was pretty much the consensus among Book Club. We're reading Atonement for our next meeting - I've read it before, but it's been a few years, so I will go ahead and read it again. As I recall, that book was very vivid.

Rating: 2.25/5
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btt button

What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”

And, folks–Becca was nice enough to nominate Booking Through Thursday for a Blogger’s Choice Award–while you’re here, why don’t you head over and vote for us, too. Because, a vote for BTT is a vote for all of us who play each week!

This one's a little tricky for me. Any question that asks me to limit it to one favorite book is always tricky for me, for one thing. For another, my reading habits tend to fall somewhere between the bestseller lists and the truly obscure. I do tend to get that "huh?" response pretty often when I tell someone what I'm reading, but then I may get to introduce a friend to a new book or author, so there's a nice payoff.

One book that does answer this question for me is Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. He's had a much higher profile since The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but that came several years later, and people may not have gone back to read his second novel. It was actually made into a surprisingly good movie, but not many people saw that either.

(Since I knew I'd have a fairly short answer to this week's question, I added it to my post on another book that I doubt many people have heard of, but since I didn't particularly like the book I'm reviewing, it doesn't count.)

There will be many other answers to this question at this week's BTT post, so go and check them out!

Care to speculate about the Bookworms Carnival?



What is "speculative fiction"? It's the theme of the 8th edition of the Bookworms Carnival, hosted by Renay, the Book Ninja.

That's probably not the answer you wanted. Here's some more substantial info from the Carnival information page:

The Geography of Make-Believe = Speculative Fiction

The geography of make-believe encompasses those things that form the basis of the books where new worlds are created with magic and dragons and wizards, or stories where fantasy/folklore is used to build new worlds, where fairy tales are retold or fractured, where authors imagine outside the confines of what we understand as reality or riff off The Now to create an imagined future. For the purposes of this carnival, science fiction with fantasy elements, otherwise known as science fantasy, steampunk, alternate history with fantasy elements, folklore, and anything that, as the carnival theme states, has fantasy elements that lend themselves to the magical, mythical and mystical.There’s a particular type of magic at work when authors use these tools and tell these stories. This is the magic I want to capture!

Renay also provides some examples of books and authors that would fit the carnival theme:
  • The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
  • Tam Lin - Pamela Dean
  • The Book of Joby - Mark Ferrari
  • Stardust - Neil Gaiman
  • Dune - Frank Herbert
  • Howl’s Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones
  • A Wrinkle of Time - Madeleine L’Engle
  • His Majesty’s Dragon - Naomi Novik
  • Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space - Philip Reeve

Other/more authors that often have books that fall into this category:

  • Neil Gaiman
  • Terry Pratchett
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Piers Anthony
  • Anne McCaffrey
  • George R.R. Martin
  • Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Jacqueline Carey
If you enjoy reading in this category - or want to try something new - consider participating the the February Carnival. The deadline for submissions is February 8th - send your post and a link via e-mail to thebookninja AT gmail DOT com. Here are some suggestions for suitable types of posts:
  • Older posts and newer posts
  • Positive and negative discussion/reviews of books
  • Books from any reading level: kid lit, middle grade, YA, adult — it’s all good here.
  • Discussions on theme, elements of the genre
  • Author interviews, author analysis
  • Debut news
  • Why readers (you) enjoy this genre, including but not limited to: why books of this type, the first speculative fiction title that grabbed and wouldn’t let go, etc., etc.. Word count requirement to make this a littler harder so only the DIE HARDS get included: 500.
Not sure if you're going to join in, but think the Bookworms Carnival sounds like a great idea anyway? The graphic above links to the main carnival page at The Hidden Side of a Leaf - go there to see other upcoming themes, and you might find one that's a better fit for you.

Meanwhile, you can help spread the word, and maybe win a book too - just post about the Carnival, and link back to both to the main carnival page and the informational page for February. I'm still not sure what I'll submit on this theme - I'm kicking a couple of ideas around - but it was an easy decision to help promote it (and get a chance at a free book!). Hope to see you at the Carnival!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wiki Wednesday 1-23-08

Time to learn something!

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

Well, I'll be darned - there are actually still a (very) few non-coed colleges in the US that admit only men. Here's one of them:

Wabash College is a small private liberal arts college for men, located in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Along with Hampden-Sydney College, Deep Springs College, and Morehouse College, Wabash is one of only four remaining mainstream all-men's liberal arts colleges in the United States.

Wabash College is listed in Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives.

Wabash College was founded in 1832 by a number of men including several Dartmouth College graduates. It was originally called "The Wabash Teachers Seminary and Manual Labor College." In the early days a large number of students, deficient in credits, were required to attend the "Preparatory School" of Wabash.

Caleb Mills, the first faculty member, would later come to be known as the father of the Indiana public education system and would work throughout his life to improve education in the Mississippi Valley area. Patterning it after the liberal arts colleges of New England, they resolved "that the institution be at first a classical and English high school, rising into a college as soon as the wants of the country demand." After declaring the site at which they were standing would be the location of the new school, they knelt in the snow and conducted a dedication service. Although Mills, like many of the founders, was a Presbyterian minister, they were committed that Wabash should be independent and non-sectarian.

Elihu Baldwin was the first President of Wabash from 1835 until 1840. He came from a New York City church and accepted the Presidency even though he knew that Wabash was threatened with bankruptcy. He met the challenge and gave thorough study to the "liberal arts program" at Wabash. After his death, he was succeeded by Charles White, a graduate of Dartmouth College, and the brother-in-law of Edmund O. Hovey, a professor at the college.

Joseph F. Tuttle, after whom Tuttle Grade School in Crawfordsville was named in 1906, (and Tuttle Middle School in 1960), became President of Wabash College in 1862 and served for 30 years. "He was an eloquent preacher, a sound administrator and an astute handler of public relations." Joseph Tuttle, together with his administrators, worked to improve relations in Crawfordsville between "Town and Gown."

"Founded in 1832, Wabash College is an independent and selective liberal arts college for men with an enrollment of 900 students. Its mission is excellence in teaching and learning within a community built on close and caring relationships among students, faculty, and staff." This mission manifests itself in the College's motto: 'Wabash College educates men to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely.'

"Wabash offers qualified young men a superior education, fostering, in particular, independent intellectual inquiry, critical thought, and clear written and oral expression. The College educates its students broadly in the traditional curriculum of the liberal arts while also requiring them to pursue concentrated study in one or more disciplines. Wabash emphasizes [its] manifold but shared cultural heritage. [Wabash] students come from diverse economic, social, and cultural backgrounds; the College helps these students engage these differences and live humanely with them. Wabash also challenges its students to appreciate the changing nature of the global society and prepares them for the responsibilities of leadership and service in it.

"The College carries out its mission in a residential setting in which students take personal and group responsibility for their actions. Wabash provides for its students an unusually informal, egalitarian, and participatory environment which encourages young men to adopt a life of intellectual and creative growth, self-awareness, and physical activity. The College seeks to cultivate qualities of character and leadership in students by developing not only their analytical skills, but also sensitivity to values, and judgment and compassion required of citizens living in a difficult and uncertain world. We expect a Wabash education to bring joy in the life of the mind, to reveal the pleasures in the details of common experience, and to affirm the necessity for and rewards in helping others."
Want to know more? It's all right here.

Gone to the dogs

I grew up with cats as pets, but when I grew up, I switched sides.

I tend to call myself a "total dog person," but that's not entirely true. While I'm very fond of dogs in general, there are certain breeds and varieties I love dearly, while I have little use for others; and of course, dogs I encounter on an individual basis are evaluated on their own merits, although I'll admit to prejudice for or against based on my breed preferences.

The dogs I've known and loved best have been mixed breeds, and I think that some of the best dogs of all tend to fall into that category. But sometimes those mixes do show clear influences of one breed or another. My own medium-sized mutt, Gypsy, has markings and behaviors that point to predominant shepherd influences.
Still, it's easiest to answer questions like "What kind of dog is your favorite?" in terms of the recognized breeds, whether you're looking for their characteristics in a mixed-breed or purebred form. When passing a dog (hopefully with its owner, on a leash) on the street, these are the traits that will make me stop and say, "Hello, beautiful one!":
  • Medium to large in size - that is, somewhere between 40 and 85 pounds
  • Smooth coat, any length
  • Solid and proportional build
  • Floppy ears, not too long
  • A long muzzle that makes the dog look like it's smiling. There's nothing like a smiling dog.
  • Energetic, smart, and cheerful, yet well-behaved and obedient (they can co-exist, but it requires a commitment to good training)
Thanks to Gypsy, I've grown rather fond of the smaller herding breeds, such as Australian shepherds and border collies, but my absolute favorite dog is the Golden Retriever - even if my sister does call them "the dumb blondes of the dog world." Their cousins the Labrador and less well-known Flat-Coated Retriever are way up on the list too (my ex-dog, who still lives in Memphis with my ex-husband, is a Flat-Coat - they're much like Goldens, only black). Despite not meeting the floppy-ear standard, Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are also favorites of mine.

I admit to being prejudiced against most of the dogs in the American Kennel Club's "toy" group, as well as many of the pug-faced varieties, but I'll give almost any dog a chance on an individual basis.

And speaking of the AKC, they've recently released their list of the most popular dog breeds of last year, based on registrations. The full list is here, and here are the Top 10 breeds nationally:

1. Labrador Retriever

2. Yorkshire Terrier

3. German Shepherd Dog

4. Golden Retriever

5. Beagle

6. Boxer

7. Dachshund

8. Poodle

9. Shih Tzu

10. Bulldog


The Lab has topped the list for 17 years now, but other than that, the Golden, the Boxer, and the German Shepherd, the smaller dogs seem to be taking over. I suppose that they seem to be more manageable, and as an apartment dweller, I have to admit they're better for small spaces, but overall I'm not encouraged by the trend.

The AKC also highlights the most popular breeds in the 50 largest U.S. cities, and there's a good deal of local variation. LAist (understandably) focused on the rankings for Los Angeles -

1. Labrador Retriever
2. Bulldog
3. German Shepherd
4. Yorkshire Terrier
5. Golden Retriever
6. Poodle
7. Maltese
8. French Bulldog
9. Pomeranian
10. Pug

- and observed:
...while we have almost boundless love for the bulldoggies, we also prefer to have our pooches portable (perhaps Paris Hilton style?). Carry-along sized breeds like "the Yorkshire Terrier, Pug, Pomeranian and Maltese all made it onto L.A.’s Top 10 again, with only minor changes in position." Er, that's position on the list, not which hand you use to grip your Louis Vuitton doggie-bag. The AKC also points out that we have one local man's best friend who could bring in a substantial haul--$50k--if the Welsh Terrier from LA is named Best in Show in next month's National Championship dog show. Of course, owners of mutts, mixes, and unmentioned breeds need not fret; at the end of the day it's what your dog means to you that matters. Only in the human world are we so easily seduced by popularity contests.
I guess it's a good thing I live in the suburbs instead of L.A. proper, since the majority of the city's top 10 fall into my prejudiced-against category, but clearly many locals disagree - and that's fine. Perhaps you're a small-dog fan and you disagree yourself - that's fine too, and I hope I haven't offended you. Attraction between human and dog is just a bit less complex than that between human and human; we don't all have the same "type," and I think that's a very good thing.

Do you have a canine favorite - or two, or more? It can be hard to decide when there are so many great dogs to choose from, but tell me all about them in the comments!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ten on Tuesday 1-22: Way Back When

This week's Ten on Tuesday prompt is "10 Things That Were Better 'Way Back When'."

Way back when? I think that's left unspecified on purpose, so you can go wherever you want to in your Wayback Machine with this one. Back to times you've read about, but don't personally remember, like the turn of the century - 19th into 20th, that is? Back when your parents were kids - the 1950's and 1960's, maybe? When you were a kid yourself - the 1970's and 1980's? (If it's the '80's, now you're making me feel old - that's when my kid was a kid.) Back at the turn of the century - 20th into 21st? Some combination of any or all of those eras?

I think the vagueness of "when" here was part of the challenge for me. I also try to fight the impulse to wax nostalgic about "back in the day," because it can be a trap. For one thing, there's a lot about life that's better here and now, especially if it involves anything technological. There are things that one might miss about the past, but it doesn't necessarily mean they've been replaced by something worse.

But having said all that, here are a few things that were better once upon a time and not so long ago:

Gas stations. I remember when the price of gas first topped $1 per gallon, and it was a huge thing. Back when gas was cheap, you didn't even have to fill your tank yourself; the gas station had employees that would pump your gas, clean your windshield, and check your oil and your tires, too. Of course, that cheap gas also had lead in it, so there were some drawbacks...

Cars you could work on yourself. This one was contributed by my car-nerd husband, who does not idealize classic cars all that much - he can give you a long list of reasons why cars themselves are better today - but does miss being able to open the hood and know what you're looking at, what to do with it, and being able to do it in your own garage.

Television. A lot of the shows were junk then too, but there were fewer of them, and I'm not so sure that more choice in TV entertainment has been a good thing. Instead of four or five channels and nothing worth watching, we have 150 and the same problem. We also had more time to decide for ourselves if they were good or not, since they wouldn't be canceled after just one or two episodes - they were allowed to start off slow and given time to develop. When there was less on TV, what was there drew more people together and gave them common viewing experiences to talk about; these days, that only happens for major crises, the Super Bowl, and the American Idol finale. Also, TV theme songs were much better.

Music. I grew up singing along with the radio and my records. There's much less that lends itself to that these days - partly because popular music has split into subgenres of subgenres, and partly because there just doesn't seem to be much interest in conventional songcraft anymore (melody, lyrics, that sort of thing). I miss that.

Dancing. This one goes with music to some extent, but not entirely. While the perspective that "dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal idea" has been around for a long time - go back a couple of centuries and you'll find that the waltz was considered scandalous - it's gotten way out of hand.

Unstructured time for kids. Most of us didn't have many places we had to be at a specific time, except for school; some of us took music lessons or played a sport, but much more of our time was our own. We played - and unless we were visiting a friend who lived outside our neighborhood, we worked out our own arrangements and didn't have "playdates" scheduled by our parents. We came up with most of the things we played on our own, too.

Parents knew their place. Even the parents who made themselves available and accessible when their kids wanted to talk about anything - and I was lucky enough to have a mom like that - didn't seem to worry much about being their kids' friends, or even whether their kids liked them or not. They seemed to be much more comfortable with disciplining and setting limits for their kids, and didn't question that it was part of the job - even if we kids didn't appreciate it much at the time. We probably didn't appreciate the fact that many of our parents wouldn't drop everything to amuse us, either, but instead would charge us with "finding something to do" and developing our own resources, but they really did do that for our own good.

Public standards for appearance. It was not OK to leave the house in your pajamas, unless you were just stepping outside to get your newspaper from your front yard. Certain areas of your skin were kept covered unless you were at the beach or the swimming pool, and not just because of concerns about sun exposure and skin cancer. You combed your hair, and put on clothes and shoes that were clean and in decent condition. You were taught that being "presentable" didn't only affect how others saw you, but it was a mark of courtesy.

Public standards for behavior. Simple politeness - "please," "thank you," yielding the right of way when passing through a door or going through an intersection - is more appreciated than ever when it seems to be less common. Again, courtesy mattered - respecting other people's property, boundaries, opinions, and right to be different from you (although to be fair, I think we're better at that last one now, even if we don't necessarily act accordingly).

Grammar. Enuf with the kre8ive spelingz - its 2 much! Seriously, I consider this one more area of declining standards, aggravated by a misplaced reliance on spell-check, which doesn't catch such things as incorrectly chosen homophones and misplaced punctuation.

It's a good thing that I have to stop there, as I seem to be sounding more and more curmudgeonly with each item I list. The thing is, I don't really buy into the whole "good old days" thing. At the same time, though, some parts of the old days and old ways are well worth remembering, preserving, and bringing back.

What do you think was better "way back when"? If you're curious about what other players had to say about that, visit the main post at Ten on Tuesday.