Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mostly in the middle

I found this Blogthings "five factor personality test" via Mauigirl's Meanderings. Sometimes these quizzes come up with some pretty out-of-left-field results, but for me, this one seemed to be just about right on target - read the results, and you've already gotten to know me pretty well.

Your Five Factor Personality Profile


You have low extroversion.

You are quiet and reserved in most social situations.

A low key, laid back lifestyle is important to you.

You tend to bond slowly, over time, with one or two people.


You have medium conscientiousness.

You're generally good at balancing work and play.

When you need to buckle down, you can usually get tasks done.

But you've been known to goof off when you know you can get away with it.


You have medium agreeableness.

You're generally a friendly and trusting person.

But you also have a healthy dose of cynicism.

You get along well with others, as long as they play fair.


You have medium neuroticism.

You're generally cool and collected, but sometimes you do panic.

Little worries or problems can consume you, draining your energy.

Your life is pretty smooth, but there's a few emotional bumps you'd like to get rid of.

Openness to experience:

Your openness to new experiences is medium.

You are generally broad minded when it come to new things.

But if something crosses a moral line, there's no way you'll approve of it.

You are suspicious of anything too wacky, though you do still consider creativity a virtue.

How did the quiz turn out for you?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Follies 5-30: book through, fill in...

What is Reading, Fundamentally?

btt button

Suggested by: Thisisnotabookclub

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

(Two weeks late for Reading is Fundamental week, but, well…)

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!

Good question! For me, it's better answered by considering the purpose than the format - mostly. Since I find it harder to concentrate on what I'm hearing than on what I'm seeing, I don't really enjoy being read to for long stretches, so I've never really been very interested in audiobooks. (If I were, I still don't think I'd ever say I "read" an audiobook; I'd be more technically correct and say I "listened to" it. But that's just me.) I also don't really count the number of blogs and articles I read online as "proper" reading, nor am I especially interested in e-books. I guess I'm still old-fashioned that way; I consider "real" reading to involve a printed page.

Having said that, this is where "purpose" comes in - it's a printed page I'm reading for my own enjoyment, regardless of the content. If it's assigned for work, or intended as preparation for an exam or something like that, then it's not "reading," even if I am reading it (if that makes sense!) If it feels like a chore - and whether we like to admit it or not, some reading material is indeed a chore - that takes the enjoyment right out of it, for me.

If I'm reading it out of interest or curiosity, it's most likely a book - a novel, a memoir, a history - and it probably has more words than pictures. I've never gotten into manga or graphic novels, and I really haven't read comics since junior high. But it could be a newspaper or a magazine; it depends on where I am, what I brought with me, and what else is going on around me at the time. Once we get past the format and purpose questions, then it's the content on that printed page that determines what "reading" is.

Friday Fill-Ins #74

Questions courtesy of MindFul Mimi who had some thought- provoking ones this week.

1. For me boredom is the opposite of creativity.

2. Intuition, by Allegra Goodman was the last excellent book I read (the highest-rated book I've reviewed here so far this year).

3. I like fill-ins because there are no "right" answers!

4. In nature I like looking at green hills in the springtime.

5. The person with the most popular AND electoral votes should win the US elections (you're not getting a more direct answer than that right now, sorry!)

6. The last time I laughed with all my belly was ...well, I can't remember exactly, but it was probably at one of my husband's jokes a day or two ago! (He makes me laugh a lot, so I'm not sure any one time really stands out.)

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to seeing my stepdaughter perform in her class musical, Bugsy Malone, tomorrow my plans include shopping for groceries and kids' clothes for our vacation and Sunday, I want to have some reading time, some writing time, and some family time!

One thing I've noticed about doing the Page 123 meme weekly is that it's making me read a little more actively - that is, faster; I can't use the same book for it two weeks in a row, so if I'm still reading the same book two Fridays in a row, I have to skip the meme!

  1. Pick up the nearest book, and open it to page 123.

  2. Find the fifth sentence, and post the next three sentences.

I'm currently reading The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond. It's a gripping and thoughtful page-turner concerning one of those topics that makes any parent anxious - a missing child. I'm finding it particularly resonant because the child goes missing while under the watch of her future stepmother, which it seems to me creates an additional source of story drama.

"What do you think she's after?"
"Hard to tell. Sherburne's bringing her in for questioning this afternoon."

A possible break in the case? Or a complication? I'll find out soon!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Book talk: "A Family Daughter," by Maile Meloy

**Hey, it's my first official guest post! Today's post in the "In Praise of Book Clubs" series at Books on the Brain is my contribution - please go check it out, and spend some time over there if you haven't visited before. You'll find some great book-club resources, book reviews, and lots more. Thanks to Lisa for the opportunity!**

And now for today's feature:

A Family Daughter: A Novel by Maile Meloy

A Family Daughter
Maile Meloy
Scribner, 2007 (paperback) (ISBN 0743277678 / 9780743277679)
Fiction, 336 pages

If you have reviewed this book, please leave the link in a comment or e-mail it to me at 3.rsblog AT gmail DOT com, and I'll edit this review to include it!

First Sentence: In the summer of 1979, just when Yvette Santerre thought her children were all safely launched and out of the house, her granddaughter came to stay in Hermosa Beach and came down with a fever, and then a rash.

Book Description:
From Publishers Weekly -

In evanescent scenes distinguished by clean, wry prose, Meloy observes the Santerre family, whom readers met in 2003's Liars and Saints, from a crafty new angle. The book opens as the deeply Catholic Yvette Santerre frets over her granddaughter, Abby, who has the chicken pox and has been deposited in Yvette's care while her mother, Clarissa, tries to remember what it's like to feel happy. Yvette and Teddy's eldest daughter, Margot, is repressed by her own Catholicism and veering into adultery; Clarissa thinks of her husband, Henry, and daughter, Abby, as "captors" keeping her from realizing her true potential; and happy-go-lucky son Jamie has little ambition beyond his next girlfriend. With Abby at the story's center, the narrative moves forward years in effortless leaps, revealing the secrets and dissatisfactions of all. From Abby's rocky childhood to her bruising young adulthood (her parents divorce; her father is killed in a car accident), she finds solace with Jamie, 12 years her senior. When Abby is 21, uncle and niece fall into an affair, until Jamie is lured away by the bored, rich, chronically unfaithful Saffron, who suffers her own difficult mother crisis in Argentina. Clarissa takes up with a lesbian and confronts her mother with recovered memories; Jamie becomes convinced he's actually Margot's son; and dreamy, conflicted Abby writes a roman à clef (Liars and Saints!) about them all. Meloy shifts point of view fluently, and though her characters weather all sorts of melodrama, the novel itself feels light—poignant and affecting, meaningful yet somehow weightless.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved

Comments: The book description above tells you nearly everything you need to know about what happens n A Family Daughter. There are actually quite a few daughters who figure prominently in the story: Santerre family matriarch Yvette's daughters Margot and Clarissa, daughters-in-law Saffron and Katya, and especially Clarissa's daughter Abby, who is at the center of it all. The Santerre women were introduced in Maile Meloy's earlier novel, Liars and Saints, and the basic framework for this story was laid out there as well. However, I don't think it's required to read the earlier novel before this one, since A Family Daughter's perspective is different. In some ways, the two books taken together remind my of Mona Simpson's approach to the family in Anywhere but Here and The Lost Father - companion pieces as opposed to a series. Reading them in order is helpful, but not strictly necessary to understanding the characters' history, because this book isn't primarily about what happens.

I read Liars and Saints during my spring vacation last year, and was absolutely sucked into it - so much so that I didn't want to read the follow-up right away. I needed some distance. However, I may have waited a little too long; I didn't like A Family Daughter quite as much as I wanted to, or expected to. I think Meloy may have spread her story a little thin this time, spending too much time with some characters and not enough with others. I felt more distant from the Santerres this time around, but maybe my expectations were just a bit too high.

Meloy has a spare writing style that I find appealing, and while I think she draws characters very well, I felt that she could have filled them in a little more in this book. However, I still found the characters and their story emotionally affecting. There's a lot of personal drama that would verge on soap-operatic in some other authors' hands, but Meloy is good at portraying drama with minimal melodrama. A Family Daughter has enough plot to make it a fast and involving read, with enough emotional resonance to make it memorable. However, if you decide to read both books, you might not want to take as much time between them as I did.

Rating: 3.75/5

Weekly Geeks: Telling stories with (motion) pictures - with bonus movie review!

This week's Weekly Geeks topic puts down the books to consider other forms of storytelling. Dewey says:

This week’s theme was suggested by Renay. She says, “I thought it would be cool to ask people to talk about other forms of story-telling.” This theme is once again one you could approach several ways. You might want to tell about the forms of storytelling (aside from books) you love. Maybe you enjoy TV shows, movies, music, narrative poetry, or Renay’s favorite, fanfiction. You could give us an overview of a type of storytelling, such as listing your favorite movies. Or you might pick a more specific story, one particular favorite. Some people might post youtubes of the songs whose stories they find brilliant, or some might share family bedtime stories.

I touched on some elements of this in the Booking Through Thursday response I posted last Friday.

One reason I love books is that they let me get inside a character's thoughts and motivations in a way that's just not possible in a movie. Movies are more like real life in the sense that you can really only infer what someone's thinking based on what they say or do; but at least in real life, you can ask questions. In books, the narrator can let you know exactly what's behind it all. Also, sometimes things that ring true on the page don't work onscreen, and it's got nothing to do with the story; bad acting and/or direction can be a distraction for me.

On the other hand, if I want just a couple of hours of fast-moving diversion, I'd rather have it in movie form; I think some types of stories, particularly if they're heavy on plot, action, and/or atmosphere, are just told better that way. A movie is usually a more visceral experience for me, and asks less of my mentally; for the most part, it's the opposite with books - and of course, there are exceptions on both counts.

Movies and television shows tell their stories in ways that involve more of the senses than books do, and as I noted above, some stories really are told most effectively that way. Being more of a novel reader than a short-story fan, much of the time I prefer television's form of storytelling to that of movies, particularly when it comes to dramas like Lost; there's time to reveal and get to know the characters, the story can take its time to unfold, and if you get confused, you can always watch a repeat (or better yet, save it on your DVR or TiVo for multiple viewings).

However, especially when summer comes around, I enjoy a trip to the movies to escape into worlds of adventure and excitement that, quite honestly, I don't really think I'd enjoy reading about. When a story has a lot of action, I want to see it more than I want to read descriptions of it. One reason I strongly prefer The Lord of the Rings in movie form is that the battle scenes in the books, especially in The Return of the King, were very difficult and tedious reading for me - but on screen, I was absolutely riveted.

And this past weekend, I was on the edge of my seat spending a couple of hours with an old friend - Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr.

I have to be honest and admit that I had major misgivings when I heard that, nearly twenty years after "...The Last Crusade" (emphasis mine, and my favorite of the Indy movies - who can resist the Holy Grail?), there was a new Indiana Jones movie in the works. I thought the story was done, and wasn't Harrision Ford just a bit old now?

No need to fear, though. I'm happy to report that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a terrific addition to the series - and a great example of a story that is best told by the movies: one where actions, and pictures, speak a whole lot louder than words.

Our man Indy has aged pretty well - but there's no sidestepping the fact that he has aged, and the movie has some fun with it. The basic framework of the movie is familiar - a mysterious, possibly legendary ancient artifact to be located, potentially at great peril - although the particulars are different; could this ancient, mysterious artifact possibly...be of alien origin? I don't want to give away too many details of the plot - because plot is the main element here - but dangerous strangers are encountered, a message from a past acquaintance is delivered by a new one, everything turns out to be connected, it's never certain who can be trusted, and the chase - and the chase, and the next chase - is on.

It's the chase sequences, dangerous escapes, and near misses that make an Indiana Jones movie, and I thought they were in fine form here. While there's no shortage of smart quips, the movie isn't heavy on dialogue, and the (necessary) expository passages don't slow the story down. It's great to see Indy's best gal, Marion Ravenwood, again. As always, I was very impressed with the sophistication of the booby traps and other protective devices the ancients were capable of installing in their sacred fortresses.

I don't think I would have enjoyed reading about any of this nearly as much as I did seeing it onscreen.

I know that some people (looking at you, Mike) have been worried about the "screwing up the legend - and our memories" factor with this movie - and having seen Star Wars Epsiodes I through III, it's not hard to understand that. But if you go into this with reasonable expectations, I really don't think you'll be disappointed with ...Crystal Skull. Tall Paul and I definitely weren't. Welcome back, Indy!

If you've seen the movie - or absolutely refuse to - let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

(You're my) Soul and Inspiration: A Hump Day Hmm

This week...it's all about the other guy (or gal). One of the greatest things we all say we find in blogging is community. What post, blog or blogger has inspired you? It could have been a comment, a post, something someone did. Perhaps you've become friends. Big or small, if it moved you and caused you to take action in your own life, tell us about it. Tell us what inspired you, and then let us know the story from there---your story.

I first read this question as something like "Who has inspired you as a blogger?," and that's a tough one. That is, it's tough to answer in just one post. I've been inspired by bloggers who respond to all of their comments, who create memes and projects to bring bloggers together, and who post interesting, thought-provoking, plain good writing. If a blog is in my blogroll, it's probably because in one way or another, the blogger inspires me.

Then I realized I wasn't interpreting the question correctly. This is about moving beyond the blog, outside the Internet - being inspired in the rest of your life thanks to something you read, or someone you "met," in the blogiverse. I could tell you about a few such people - and I will, but I will violate normal blog protocol and not link to them. I don't want to embarrass anyone, even in a nice way - and without links, you might think I'm talking about you (and maybe I am!).

I began blogging here over a year ago, and as I've mentioned before, my initial impetus for doing so was to keep a record of my reading. As I began finding my way around to other bloggers, I quickly learned that this was far from an original idea - the book bloggers community is BIG. No matter what you love to read - mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, children's lit, chick lit, general fiction, history, memoir, social commentary, cookbooks, graphic novels (OK, that's enough itemizing for now!), or a cross-genre range of books - you can find other people reading it too, and talking about it. The book bloggers community is also very open and welcoming; even though in some ways I'm probably not a full-fledged member, since I don't stick to just "reading" here (hence the "randomness"), I don't feel like I'm just hovering on the fringes of the group, and I appreciate that. My book-blogging friends have piqued my interest in some books I might not have otherwise considered reading; they're always up for a good discussion; and they have inspired me to become a better reader (and writer) by influencing me in reading more carefully and critically, and in attempting to articulate more effectively my thoughts on that reading. Check out my "Blogroll: For the Books" a little ways down the sidebar to meet some of these inspiring folks, and see what they've been reading lately.

I sort my Google Reader feeds into folders in my attempt to keep them from exploding, and one folder that gets updated frequently is labeled "issues and commentary." The bloggers that get sorted there make me think about the issues of the day - politics, feminism, the economy - and to express those thoughts and opinions, either in posts here or in comments back to them. They're helping me become a more knowledgeable and conscientious voter, and a more thoughtful citizen.

There is one person I've come to know via the blogiverse who falls into neither of the categories I've mentioned, but she is one of the most inspiring and influential people I've "met" in the last year, and I consider her a friend, although we live in opposite corners of the continent and may never meet in person. We're in similar places in our personal lives - same age range, older kids, in second marriages with stepchildren - but our work lives are quite different. I have watched her begin to transition from a very unrelated field to a full-time writing/blogging career over the last year, and as I see her work appear more and more places, I am happy and excited for her. She has an identifiable voice and style regardless of where she's publishing, and always expresses herself well; I love not only reading what she has to say, but I enjoy the way she says it, and that gives me insights I might be able to apply to my own writing. I'm also watching the way she develops this new career, because it gives me thoughts about how I might approach a similar transition of my own...someday.

Reading high-quality writing is always an inspiration to improve my own, and practice is always necessary! I've also been inspired as a writer by the bloggers who organize writing projects like this one - they give me new ideas and encourage my development. (And I'm not saying that just to suck up to Julie!)

Is there anyone, or anything you've read, in the blog world that has inspired you in some way other than in what you do on your blog? Share it here in the comments if you like - or write your own post about it and share it there!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha - this meme's NOT for you!

I haven't quite decided whether I plan to see the Sex and the City movie or not. I came late to the TV show since I didn't have HBO for a few years, but I enjoyed it in a non-obsessive manner. Seeing the movie partly depends on whether anyone wants to make it a girls' afternoon/night out; failing that, I'll have to decide whether I want to see it enough to go on my own. For the record, I don't mind seeing movies by myself, but I haven't done it in the three years Tall Paul and I have been together, since we both enjoy movie-going. However, he has told me that there's no way in hell he's seeing this one (which means he can see Hellboy II without me).

In any case, even if you're not truly anti-SatC, this meme - "for feisty, spirited women who share our lives and support one another, yet are also slovenly and/or miserly (or is it practical?)" - which I found via Average Jane, is fun, and fairly short:

What's the cheapest pair of shoes you own?: It would be easier to tell you the most expensive pair of shoes, which I think are the ones I bought for my wedding ($79, maybe?). I buy nearly all my shoes at Payless, with occasional stops at the Easy Spirit shoe outlet. Size 5 can be hard to find; some stores consider it a kids' or youth size. I'd rather have more shoes than spend a lot of money on any single pair.

What's your favorite piece of jewelry, if you own any?: My wedding rings, which I wear every day. After that, it would be an aquamarine (my birthstone) pendant in a silver setting, on a sterling-silver chain (which cost me $14 in a little shop on Cannery Row in Monterey).

What's your favorite t-shirt?: I don't really wear T-shirts with messages or writing very often. But I did get a nice music-themed graphic T in Memphis last year that I'll wear more often now that it's warmer.

If you could wear jeans every day, would you? I wouldn't if the weather got too hot - then I'd switch to capris or shorts. But I'd probably wear them at least half the time, maybe more.

Do you comb your hair every day? You probably can't tell by looking at it, but yes, I actually do.

Play along if you like!

Ten on Tuesday: Time's a-wastin'!

You would think that a Ten on Tuesday topic like "10 Favorite Time Wasters" would be a breeze...but it didn't turn out that way for me. That isn't to say I never putter around and waste time, of course. It's more that I can't come up with ten specific, different ways that I do it - most of my time-wasting activities fall into fairly broad categories. I'm also inclined to consider something more of a waste of time if I don't enjoy it and/or it's totally unproductive; I would be more inclined to consider the activities I like as "guilty pleasures." Therefore, I decided to split my time-wasters into five "favorite" and five "least favorite."

For the record, I consider reading books and blogging to be neither time-wasters nor guilty pleasures!


Twitter, especially reading some of the @user tweets - it's like eavesdropping on a party from the fringe of the group!
Google Reader, which never stays empty for very long
Web surfing - these days, that usually means leaving Reader or Twitter to check out links
Shopping (online or off-) without buying anything!

Least favorite

Sitting stuck in traffic (I live and drive around LA; I do this one a lot)
Being on hold on the phone (especially considering how little I like to use the phone in the first place)
Waiting in line (without a book to read!)
Meetings without a clear agenda
Re-doing something I thought was already finished (which actually makes the first go-round the waste of time, I guess)

How do you prefer - and hate - to waste your time?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Another post from the e-mail inbox

It's the unofficial first weekend of summer, a time for relaxing (or so I'm told)...which means taking the easy way out with a post originating in e-mails from non-blogging members of my family - the first two are from my sister, the last one from my uncle.

This one's poaching on Laurie's "Monday Morning HR Humor" turf again, but hopefully she'll forgive me. (You never want to be on HR's bad side.)

Corporate Lesson 1
A man is getting into the shower, just as his wife is finishing up her shower, when the doorbell rings.

The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs. When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next door neighbor.

Before she says a word, Bob says, "I'll give you $1000 to drop that towel."

After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob. After a few seconds, Bob hands her a thousand dollars and leaves.

The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs. When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, "Who was that?"

"It was Bob the next door neighbor," she replies.

"Great!" the husband says. "Did he say anything about the $1000 he owes me?"

Moral of the story:
If you share critical information pertaining to credit and risk with your shareholders in time, you may be in a position to prevent avoidable exposure.

Corporate Lesson 2
A priest offered a lift to a nun. She got in and crossed her legs, forcing her gown to reveal a leg. The priest nearly had an accident.

After controlling the car, he stealthily slid his hand up her leg.

The nun said, "Father, remember Psalm 129?" The priest removed his hand.

But changing gears, he let his hand slide up her leg again. The nun once again said, "Father, remember Psalm 129?" The priest apologized. "Sorry, sister, but the flesh is weak."

Arriving at the convent, the nun went on her way.

On his arrival at the church, the priest rushed to look up Psalm 129.

It said, "Go forth and seek, further up, you will find glory."

Moral of the story:
If you are not well informed in your job, you might miss a great opportunity.

Corporate Lesson 3
A sales rep, an administration clerk, and the manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp. They rub it and a Genie comes out.

The Genie says, "I'll give each of you just one wish."

"Me first! Me first!" says the admin clerk. "I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world." Poof! She's gone.

"Me next! Me next!" says the sales rep. "I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Piña Coladas and the love of my life." Poof! He's gone.

"OK, you're up," the Genie says to the manager. The manager says, "I want those two back in the office after lunch."

Moral of the story:
Always let your boss have the first say.

Corporate Lesson 4
A crow was sitting on a tree, doing nothing all day. A rabbit asked him,"Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day long?"

The crow answered, "Sure, why not." So the rabbit sat on the ground below the crow, and rested.

A fox jumped on the rabbit and ate it.

Moral of the story:
To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very high up.

Corporate Lesson 5
A turkey was chatting with a bull. "I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree," sighed the turkey, "but I haven't got the energy."

"Well, why don't you nibble on my droppings?" replied the bull. "They're packed with nutrients."

The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree.

The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch.

Finally after a fourth night, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree. Soon he was spotted by a farmer, who shot the turkey out of the tree.

Moral of the story:
Bullshit might get you to the top, but it won't keep you there.

From the "Things that make you go...huh?" files:

1. Isn't making a smoking section in a restaurant like making a peeing section in a swimming pool?

2. So if the Jacksonville Jaguars are known as the 'Jags' and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are known as the 'Bucs,' what does that make the Tennessee Titans?

3. If 4 out of 5 people SUFFER from diarrhea...does that mean that one enjoys it?

4. There are three religious truths:
a. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
b. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith.
c. Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or Hooters.

5. If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?

6. Why is a person who plays the piano called a pianist but a person who drives a race car is not called a racist?

7. Why isn't the number 11 pronounced "onety-one"?

8. If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?

9. If Fed Ex and UPS were to merge, would they call it FEDUP? (The antitrust laws would probably prevent this one from ever happening. However, I do know someone who refers to the merged shipping/quick-print shops as "Fed-Up Stinkos.")

10. Do Lipton Tea employees take coffee breaks?

11. What hair color do they put on the driver's licenses of bald men? Can any bald man help us out here?

12. I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older; then it dawned on me...they're cramming for their final exam.

13. Why do they put pictures of criminals up in the Post Office? What are we supposed to do, write to them?

Why don't they just put their pictures on the postage stamps so the mailmen can look for them while they deliver the mail?

14. If it's true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the others here for?

15. You never really learn to swear until you learn to drive. (OK, this one is absolutely true.)

16. Ever wonder what the speed of lightning would be if it didn't zigzag?

17. If a cow laughed, would she spew milk out of her nose?

18. Whatever happened to Preparations A through G?

19. At income tax time, did you ever notice: When you put the two words "The" and "IRS" together it spells..."THEIRS"?

ADULT: A person who has stopped growing at both ends and is now growing in the middle. BEAUTY PARLOR: A place where women curl up and dye.
CANNIBAL: Someone who is fed up with people.
CHICKENS: The only animals you eat before they are born and after they are dead. COMMITTEE: A body that keeps minutes and wastes hours.
DUST: Mud with the juice squeezed out.
EGOTIST: Someone who is usually me-deep in conversation.
HANDKERCHIEF: Cold storage.
INFLATION: Cutting money in half without damaging the paper.
MOSQUITO: An insect that makes you like flies better.
RAISIN: Grape with a sunburn.
SECRET: Something you tell to one person at a time.
SKELETON: A bunch of bones with the person scraped off.
TOOTHACHE: The pain that drives you to extraction.
TOMORROW: One of the greatest labor saving devices of today.
YAWN: An honest opinion openly expressed.
WRINKLES: Something other people have, similar to my character lines

Weekend Assignment #217 - Career Day

The Weekend Assignment is posted each Friday at Outpost Mâvarin; a roundup of responses goes up the following Thursday, so if you'd like to join in, you've still got some time. Karen says: Don't worry if you don't get your entry in by the end of the weekend. It's called the Weekend Assignment because John Scalzi originally designed it to give folks something to write on weekends, but times have changed since then. Now the meme is launched on Thursday nights / Friday mornings, just a little later than Scalzi used to post it, and you have a whole week to respond. Still, I for one am grateful if you don't all wait until the last minute!

Weekend Assignment #217: What's the best piece of career advice you were ever given?

Extra Credit: What's the worst piece of career advice you were ever given?

I really can't recall getting any particular career advice, good or bad. One of my personal quirks - good or bad - is that I don't often ask for (or give) advice in general. (However, I have been known to give career advice to my kid every now and then.)

If I'm looking for input and information in order to make a decision, I'll look things up, I'll read, and I may ask for opinions. But let me be clear that it's an opinion I'm interested in; if you're one of those people who thinks that just because you told me what you think I should do, that's what I'm supposed to do (you know the kind of person I mean, I'm sure), you may be disappointed. You may give me your advice or opinion without my having asked for it, either; that's fine, but if I didn't solicit it I may not really take in your message. Please don't be offended by that - I just may not be ready to hear it at that time.

Then again, maybe if I asked for - and paid attention to - advice more often, I might have made some different choices in my life. At the very least, I might remember where I'd heard a few things, so I could give proper credit for them.

I think the best career advice I've heard is along the lines of "Your life can't be just about your job."

The worst advice probably goes back a long way - it was to major in something practical in college. Now, I don't dispute the value of that; assuming that one expects to support oneself financially, it's important to have marketable skills. However, I chose a major that led to a specific career field mostly because I was reasonably sure I could find a job in it anywhere. I wasn't wrong about that; I've been steadily employed, other than relatively short between-jobs periods, for over 20 years, and have developed a comfortable niche. But I chose a field that I didn't necessarily have natural aptitude for (for the record, my verbal SAT scores were much better than my math ones), let alone any particular passion. (Passion for accounting? That actually makes me a little nervous to think about...) I think I could have benefited from a much broader perspective on the whole thing rather than a specific degree-to-profession path. I know some technically-inclined types for whom it worked out fine. I also know other people who studied what they liked and have created good careers for themselves - the "do what you love, the money will follow" approach, I guess.

I think I'm the second type of person, but I've tried to be the first one. Maybe I should have gotten different advice. I do read a few career blogs, though...it's not too late to learn something.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday Bulletin - scraps and links 5-25-08


Mark your calendars for Saturday, June 28 - the second 24-Hour Read-a-Thon begins at 9 AM PDT (or your equivalent local time). You can participate as a Reader or a Cheerleader, and help raise funds for Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), an organization that provides children with books. Visit Dewey for more information!



NaComLeavMo: More Conversation Than You Can Shake a Stick at

Did you sign up for NaComLeavMo? The official participant list closed yesterday, but the big event starts today, and you can still join in even if it's "off the record." Just leave 5 comments a day and return one comment a day between May 25 and June 25; click the NaComLeavMo link above for all the details.


I've mentioned the E-Mail Book Club at DearReader.com before, but if you haven't checked it out yet, here's an incentive: Suzanne is holding her annual "Write a 'Dear Reader' Column" contest. There are all sorts of great prizes, plus the opportunity to share your writing with over 300,000 daily subscribers. Find out more at Suzanne's blog, and see the contest guidelines here.


The Park Bench's "Nerd (Iron) Man of the Month" for May is Robert Downey, Jr. (Yeah, I voted for him; have you seen the movie?)

New in Google Reader this week:

Manager Mom, via Good Mom/Bad Mom "BS (Blog Share) Sunday" (hey, I like their title better than mine!)

Odd Time Signatures, via Twitter, and featuring a post on the value of Twitter

What Was I THINKING? via Mid-Century Modern Moms

Tapdancing on the Edge of Reason

Savvy Working Gal, another member of the Blogging Accountants' Club

Random reading:

This isn't usually what I mean by "random reading," but thanks to Somer at SomeReads (and her husband) for the TBR Randomizer. Can't decide what to read next? Type in some titles, and let the Randomizer choose for you!

I didn't participate in last week's Weekly Geeks challenge - books about social issues - but it inspired this post about education reform.

If your blog ever reflects anything about your life, at some point you have to consider the privacy question - and more.

One comment in this post (a 24-year-old interviewing her 17-year-old brother about the Democratic candidates) stood out for me: "We learn in (high school) history about the 1950s 'cult of domesticity' and it seems like nothing has changed (emphasis added)." OK, does anyone else see something wrong there?

The history of a sports fan (most of which I personally witnessed); and although I'm not sure how many people who read here are big on baseball and (especially) college football, if you are, please check out Chris and James at Left Field Bluffs. (Yes, I'm pimping my son's blog in hopes that it will encourage these guys to post more often!)

If you're still decompressing from the end of American Idol Season 7, relive the glory of the season finale (well, it was glorious for us David Cook fans, anyway - not all of whom are cougars, by the way) - or just imagine it, that's even better (thanks to SoCal Mom for that last link).

Hope you're enjoying your weekend, especially if it includes tomorrow!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

More cheap analysis - the Blogthings doctor is in

Dr. Freud says* I'm a stable, well-adjusted adult. What does he know?

You Are in the Genital Stage of Development

According to Dr. Freud, you've reached the genital stage of development.

Whatever issues you may have had in your childhood have been resolved.

You don't have any hang ups, and you are able to function as a stable adult.

You are the model of being well-adjusted, and you are able to balance your life beautifully.

*The genital stage is the last, highest of the five Freudian stages of psychosexual development.

And I'm sweet, too!

You Are a Sweet Person

When it comes to snacks, you're more likely to grab some candy than heat up a pizza.

There's a good chance you're female (women prefer sweet snacks)...

Or at least, you prefer to be in the company of women.

Your tastes are simple and predictable. You are young at heart.

You tend to crave food you can just grab and eat.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Follies: fill in 123 books

Books vs Movies

btt button

Suggested by: Superfastreader

Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?

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!

For a minute, I thought this week's BTT topic was a rerun, but I was just a bit confused (it was 5:30 in the morning) - I was thinking of "books into movies," which isn't quite the same thing.

I touched on this idea a little in my post about my book club's trip to the movies to see Atonement: "I think there was a good transition to cinematic vocabulary. The movie uses visual imagery well, and there's aren't a lot of long speeches. While the internal lives of characters never really translate well to film, it works here, and the storytelling is more spare and straightforward..."

One reason I love books is that they let me get inside a character's thoughts and motivations in a way that's just not possible in a movie. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes you really need the words. A book also allows me to create my own mental visual imagery; once I've seen a filmed adaptation, its images will nearly always overlay my own (Harry Potter looks just like Daniel Radcliffe). Also, sometimes things that ring true on the page don't work onscreen, and it's got nothing to do with the story; bad acting and/or direction can be a distraction for me.

On the other hand, if I want just a couple of hours of fast-moving diversion, I'd rather have it in movie form; I think some types of stories, particularly if they're heavy on plot, action, and/or atmosphere, are just told better that way. A movie is usually a more visceral experience for me, and asks less of my mentally; for the most part, it's the opposite with books - and of course, there are exceptions on both counts.

I appreciate the fact that this question didn't ask us to state a books vs. movies preference, because I would have to opt out of answering it. I think it depends on what I want at a particular time.

How would you answer the question? If you already did, please leave a link to your BTT post in the comments!

Friday Fill-Ins #73

Questions courtesy of Michelle this week

1. On my laziest day I like to take an afternoon nap!
2. That last finishing action - stapling the printouts together, crossing something off the to-do list, turning the final page, putting away the cleaning supplies - makes me feel like I'm being productive.
3. I love little fruits and vegetables and big dogs.
4. This summer I want to get to the beach at least once.
5. Reading books, and wanting to keep track of and remember them, made me start my blog.
6. Red rocks, and orange is the color of a big T (Go Vols!).
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to starting a three-day weekend, tomorrow my plans include seeing Indiana Jones at the ArcLight, and Sunday, I want to see what the day brings! (I hope that both Sunday and Monday include some of the three R's: reading, 'riting, and relaxing!)

  1. Pick up the nearest book, and open it to page 123.

  2. Find the fifth sentence, and post the next three sentences.

I just started A Family Daughter, by Maile Meloy, a couple of days ago. I read Meloy's first novel, Liars and Saints, during my vacation last year, and I really liked it - so much that I wanted to savor it for awhile, and wait to read the sequel. I don't think one has to have read the previous book to pick up on what's going on in this one, but I'm right back in the lives of the Santerre family. Skipping ahead to page 123, we find this conversation in progress:

"I know she's unfaithful and I don't want to get involved again, but I can't stop thinking about it."
"That seems like a good reason to get out."
"But I can't," he said.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

TV's Top 50 - are they yours, too?

I know Thursdays are usually reserved for book-related posts; I do have a review today, but I'm not doing Weekly Geeks this week, so we're going to talk TV instead. My blog, my rules!

And on a TV-related side note: I had an e-mail from a friend last night saying she was tempted to check online after the East Coast broadcast ended, because if David Cook didn't win American Idol, she wasn't sure she wanted to watch the finale. I hope she enjoyed the show - I know we did! My husband was quick to remind me that he had picked David C. from the beginning.

Via The DEBlog, it's the TV's Top 50 Meme.

British media site Empire Magazine has revealed its list of the “50 Greatest TV Shows” ever. Below is the list and here are the rules.

1. Bold the shows of which you’ve watched every episode
2. Italicize the shows of which you’ve seen at least one episode
2a. Star * the shows you consider “the best”
3. Post your answers

I find the tricky thing about this is that there are quite a few shows on this list of which I've seen many, though not every, episode, but have missed a few here and there; I can't honestly bold those titles, but I've watched far more than "at least one episode." I have marked those shows with a #.

50.Quantum Leap
49. Prison Break
48. Veronica Mars
47. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #
46. Sex & the City #

45. Farscape
44. Cracker
43. Star Trek #
42. Only Fools and Horses
41. Band of Brothers
40. Life on Mars
39. Monty Python's Flying Circus
38. Curb Your Enthusiasm
37. Star Trek: The Next Generation* #
36. Father Ted
# (This should be a "seen every episode," but it's not yet. We have all of these on DVD, or did; we loaned them to my mother-in-law before we'd watched them all, and she can't find them now)
35. Alias* #
(saw every episode of the first 2-1/2 seasons)
34. Frasier*

33. CSI: Las Vegas
32. Babylon 5
31. Deadwood
30. Dexter
29. ER
28. Fawlty Towers
27. Six Feet Under

26. Red Dwarf
25. Futurama
Twin Peaks (it was only two seasons, so there aren't that many!)
23. The Office UK (No. But once I get through the Season 1 and 2 DVDs, I'll be able to say I've seen every episode of the US version.)
22. The Shield
21. Angel
20. Blackadder
Scrubs* (Ah, the glory of TV on DVD!)
18. Arrested Development (We have Season 1 on DVD, but haven't gotten to it yet)
17. South Park
16. Doctor Who (I saw a few episodes of the Tom Baker version back in the early '80's)
15. Heroes
14. Firefly
13. Battlestar Galactica (I assume this is the new one. I actually did watch the original back in 1978 or whenever it was)
12. Family Guy (much to my regret...)
11. Seinfeld*
10. Spaced
09. The X-Files
08. The Wire
07. Friends #
06. 24
* (but it doesn't help - I'm STILL confused!)
04. The West Wing* # (except for the last 1-1/2 seasons)
03. The Sopranos*
02. Buffy the Vampire Slayer*
01. The Simpsons*
# (I have seen a LOT of episodes over 18 seasons, especially since I have about half of them on DVD, but I've probably missed a few somewhere)

As I often do when it comes to pop-culture-related memes, I invited Tall Paul to play along with this one, and our lists don't totally match up. Here's his:

50.Quantum Leap
49. Prison Break
48. Veronica Mars
47. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
46. Sex & the City
45. Farscape
44. Cracker
43. Star Trek*
42. Only Fools and Horses
41. Band of Brothers
40. Life on Mars
39. Monty Python's Flying Circus*
38. Curb Your Enthusiasm
37. Star Trek: The Next Generation*
36. Father Ted

35. Alias
34. Frasier
33. CSI: Las Vegas
32. Babylon 5
31. Deadwood
30. Dexter
29. ER
28. Fawlty Towers*
27. Six Feet Under
26. Red Dwarf
25. Futurama
24. Twin Peaks
23. The Office UK
22. The Shield
21. Angel
20. Blackadder
19. Scrubs
18. Arrested Development
17. South Park
16. Doctor Who
15. Heroes
14. Firefly
13. Battlestar Galactica
12. Family Guy
11. Seinfeld*
10. Spaced
09. The X-Files
08. The Wire
07. Friends
06. 24
05. Lost
04. The West Wing

03. The Sopranos
02. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
01. The Simpsons*

As noted, this list originates in the UK, so some of the shows included may not be familiar - and quite a few all-American classics, particularly comedies, are left out. After you've marked the list, add your own "5 Greatest TV Shows That Were Left Out of the 50 Greatest TV Shows." Here are mine:

I Love Lucy
The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Cosby Show
Once and Again

Tall Paul's additions to the list (numbered, but in no particular order):

1. Mystery Science Theater 3000
2. WKRP in Cincinnati
3. Mr. Bean
4. Get Smart
5. The Bob Newhart Show

Where do your all-time favorite shows rank on the list? Which ones are missing? Do you agree or disagree with the selections? Comment here, and if you post this yourself, come on back to let me know so I can check it out!

Book Club book talk: "The Alchemist"

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist
Paulo Coelho

HarperCollins, 2006, paperback (ISBN 0061122416 / 9780061122415)
Fiction, 208 pages

If you have reviewed this book, please leave the link in a comment or e-mail it to me at 3.rsblog AT gmail DOT com, and I'll edit this review to include it!

First Sentence: The boy's name was Santiago.

Book Description: The Alchemist has already established itself as a modern classic, universally admired. Paulo Coelho's charming fable, now available in English for the first time, will enchant and inspire an even wider audience of readers for generations to come.

The Alchemist is the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. From his home in Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist.

The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories have done, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, above all, following our dreams.

Comments: It really doesn't matter what the boy's name was, since it's rarely mentioned after the first sentence; he's referred to as "the boy" for most of this fable about holding on to your dream - or, as it's called here, your Personal Legend. If you know your Personal Legend and don't let yourself be swayed from the path to achieve it, everything you need will come to you - it's kind of like "The Secret." (I guess it is, anyway, never having read The Secret.)

On its back cover, the book is described as one of those that "changes readers' lives forever." I'm afraid I didn't think it was that profound, but I did enjoy it. The story of the boy's odyssey from Spain, across the Sahara to Egypt, and back again is a beautifully told tale. I read it in translation, of course, but I liked the use of language here - there was a lovely lyrical flow. It's a fairly quick read, but engrossing; I wouldn't describe it as inspirational, but it is inspiring.

Unfortunately, it's also a difficult book to review because of its simplicity, if that makes any sense. I'm not sure I would have read The Alchemist if it hadn't been chosen for my book club this month, but I'm glad to have had the opportunity.

Rating: 3.75/5

Other bloggers' reviews:

In Spring it is the Dawn
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Breaking stride: breaking up, and breaking through distance

If you've been reading here for awhile, you already know that I have entered my part-time parenting years. My own child, Chris, is grown, a year out of university, and living on his own on the opposite coast, and my stepchildren, Tall Girl (13) and The Boy (8), are with their dad and me twice a week and every other weekend.

You might think this makes the job easier. What it does make easier is making time for yourself and your relationship, since it's kind of built in to the schedule. On the other hand, it has challenges that full-time parents might not think about.

In the case of the Eldest (formerly the Only, at least for me), I have an actual adult on my hands, and that makes things different too. It would make it different even if we lived near each other, but 3000 miles and three time zones compounds it. I think one thing doesn't change, though, no matter how old or far away your kids are; when they are hurting, you hurt for them. And if you feel at a loss about how to help them deal with the hurting, you hurt for yourself too. I do, anyway.

Chris graduated from university a year ago, moved to another city, and found a great job within about a month - he started it on his 23rd birthday. He learned this past week that he's getting a new position with a pretty significant raise. He should be feeling very good about his life right now.

He moved to Washington, DC after graduation largely because the girl he'd been having a long-distance relationship with for several months lived there. They ended up living and working in the same neighborhoods, so they were able to see much more of each other. They seemed to be making the transition from long-distance to local fairly well, but now I have to wonder whether they had trouble finding the balance between maintaining individuality and bonding as a couple, because they are officially not a couple anymore. A few weeks ago, they had a conversation that took him by surprise, but led him to expect that the end might be near; as of this past weekend, it has arrived, and he's really not feeling that great about his life right now after all.

Both his stepfather and I have been involved in breakups that felt sudden, and eventually came to understand that they really weren't - there are usually indicators, and Chris will probably see this too after awhile. He's a couple of years younger than his now-former girlfriend, and although in many ways he's far more mature than many guys his age, in your mid-twenties that's still a significant difference, especially since she's older. We met her over the holidays, and I liked her; I am very sorry that this happened, but on the other hand I didn't expect him to be ready to settle in for the long haul yet, so I can't say I never thought it might happen.

But even knowing all that, I worry about him. I know he has to - and am confident he will - find his own way to deal with and come back from this, but being his mom, I wish he didn't have to. I wish I could make it better. Then again, if I could, and did, fix it for him, he wouldn't grow from the experience, and in the big picture that's what matters. At the same time, breakups suck, and who really wants that experience? I wish there were things I could do for him. I wish I were there with him, or he was here with us. I wish he were little again, and his hurts were easier to fix. I wish I weren't feeling so hurting and helpless about it myself. I am not big on either giving unasked-for advice or spouting platitudes, and unfortunately those are the two things that most readily come to mind in dealing with this.

Chris has always had a tendency toward moodiness and wallowing, and he's really on his own right now, which is a big reason I'm so worried. I'm worried because I've been there. But I have to remind myself at times like these that, as close as our relationship is, he's not me. He's not necessarily going to go through the same process that I did, and I need to be careful about my own tendency to project. He's more social and outgoing than I am, and that will help him a lot in the coming days and weeks. He's fortunate to be living in a city with a big population of young professionals like himself, so I hope that when he starts to get out and about, he'll be able to make connections fairly easily. And yet, once he does, I worry that he'll jump into another relationship just to avoid being "single." On the other hand, I worry that he'll choose not to be social - that he'll hole up in his apartment and be a hermit except for when he's at work; evidently, most of my worries are at the extremes.

I come from a half-Italian, food=comforting=love background, which usually gives me at least one good coping mechanism to fall back on - cooking. (It also offers a related, not-so-good strategy - eating - but when I'm extremely stressed I can't eat, so ideally it evens out.) I spent Saturday afternoon baking a batch of chocolate-chip cookies - the ones with the secret ingredient - in order to send some off to DC at the beginning of the week. I know they won't solve anything in the big picture, but they'll make us both feel a little better.

Even having been a parent for nearly 24 years, there are still "firsts" that come up - they're bigger and sometimes unexpected, though, and can throw you off your stride. They can certainly throw your kids off their stride. But if we've done a decent job overall, they'll find their footing again, hopefully sooner rather than later, and with or without our help. I know that when I feel that Chris is in his stride again, I'll find it just a little easier to stay in my own.

One sign of movement toward his getting on his feet, or at least keeping busy: he and James are blogging again, with new posts about baseball and way, way pre-season college football.

(This is my rather unexpected response to this week's "Hump Day Hmm" from Julie Pippert, "Walking Out of Stride.")

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ten on Tuesday: Movies My Husband Can't Wait to See

This week's Ten on Tuesday prompt, "10 Movies You're Excited About Seeing," was just made for my husband. Tall Paul is always downloading movie trailers and checking out the latest information on IMDb, so I'm turning the blog over to him for this post. Here are 10 movies that Tall Paul is excited about seeing, either this summer or whenever they make it into theaters. (For the record, I'm with him on #1, #4, and #7, strangely ambivalent about #5 even though I love Pixar, and absolutely do not get the title of #6. I will probably see every one of these movies unless they truly suck, just because I really enjoy going to the movies with my husband.)

1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22, 2008) I was worried that it would be a mistake to make a fourth movie. I just hope that the movie can live up to the previews (which look awesome!).

2. Hancock (July 2, 2008) Will Smith as a super-powered alcoholic? I'm there!

3. The Dark Knight (July 18, 2008) I want a Batmobile so bad! I loved Batman Begins (Batman finally done right!), and The Dark Knight looks great!

4. Get Smart (June 20, 2008) I am a life-long fan of the TV show. I have the whole series on DVD. I really want to like the movie...

5. Wall•e (June 27, 2008) The previews look (only) good, but it is Pixar, and they haven't let me down yet.

6. Quantum of Solace (November 2008?) http://www.007.com/ Casino Royale was the best Bond. The producers finally brought us a Bond that was first and foremost a spy, dedicated to country and queen (and M). I was really glad to see the "girlie" opening credits were sent back to 1970 where they belonged.

7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (November 2008) This is a must-see. Loved the books. So far the movies have been great.

8. Star Trek (May 2009) I have been, and always will be, a fan.

9. Thor (2009) Thor was God of Thunder wielded Mjolnir (a hammer only he could lift) was sent to earth (sans memory of being a god) to learn to live a a mortal. After a decade, living as a doctor, he finds Mjolnir and, once again, becomes Thor. Having lived among humans, Thor is torn between life on Earth and Asgard (home of the gods).

10. The First Avenger: Captain America (2010) Have you guessed yet that I am a comic book fanboy? Captain America was one of my favorite comic book Heroes when I was growing up. Skinny 4F Steve Rogers becomes buff super hero with an indestructible shield and kicks Nazi ass - what's not to like?. I really hope that the movie is true to Caps' origin and features him battlin' Nazis and the Red Skull. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., was once Sgt. Fury and he and Captain America occasionally fought side-by-side.

So, are there any movies due out this summer, or in the pipeline, that you are eagerly anticipating? Please share them in the comments, and if you played Ten on Tuesday this week, include a link to your post!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book recommendations: I'm asking, not giving!

My son has asked me for some book recommendations, and I thought I'd ask some of you avid-reader types who come around here for some input, so I can give him a really good list.

He's suddenly found himself with more free time, having just broken up with his girlfriend, and is looking for distractions.

What might you suggest for this (almost) 24-year-old college graduate - electrical engineer by day, sports junkie by night, lindy-hopper on some weekends? His reading interests include:
  • Sports, particularly baseball
  • Fantasy/science fiction
  • Humor/satire
  • Current events
If you have any ideas, please leave them in the comments. I'll reserve the right not to pass along any suggestions that I'm not sure will appeal to him, but my plan is to compile the recommendations into an e-mail to him in the next couple of days.

Thanks for your help, y'all!

Weekend Assignment #216: Fire!

The Weekend Assignment is posted each Friday at Outpost Mâvarin; a roundup of responses goes up the following Thursday, so if you'd like to join in, you've still got some time. Karen says: Don't worry if you don't get your entry in by the end of the weekend. It's called the Weekend Assignment because John Scalzi originally designed it to give folks something to write on weekends, but times have changed since then. Now the meme is launched on Thursday nights / Friday mornings, just a little later than Scalzi used to post it, and you have a whole week to respond. Still, I for one am grateful if you don't all wait until the last minute!

Weekend Assignment #216: Tell us a story or anecdote that involve fire in some way. It can be a forest fire, a house fire, a campfire, logs in the fireplace, or even a lit match, a tale of comfort or destruction. Whatever comes to mind, if it's interesting and fire plays a role, we want to read about it!

Extra Credit: Is the area where you live subject to dangerous wildfires?

Like Karen did in her Assignment, I'm going to tell a story that I've told before, but may be new to some of you if you weren't around for the original post (most of which follows, with some minor changes and edits). I won't vouch for whether any of the links still work, but I'm leaving them in anyway, just in case you're curious.

My fiery diary: 10/21-10/24

As we were online reading updates about the Ranch Fire on October 21 - of the dozen active wildfires that started in Southern California this past weekend, that's the one closest to us - Tall Paul said, "When we retire, let's move somewhere that doesn't have fires."

My husband was born and raised in SoCal, and he's lived with fire season, flood season - which usually follows fire season, unless it's a drought year - and year-round "earthquake season" - all his life. I guess it's getting old for him. Considering that when these things aren't happening, our coastal areas have a truly enviable climate and gorgeous, dramatic vistas all around, I still view them as part of the "price of paradise" (yes, them and the traffic) - but I haven't lived here as long as he has.

I've lived in the Northeast (blizzards and nor'easters), on the Gulf Coast (hurricanes and waterspouts), and in the Mid-South (thunderstorms, ice storms, and tornadoes). I can't think of anyplacethat doesn't have issues with nature. The weather is still one thing we can't do much about, unless you're the mad scientist or megalomaniac with a weather-control machine who shows up as an occasional plot device. But that doesn't mean it won't make you nervous - probably the opposite, really, since in my observation worry directly correlates with lack of control over a situation. All you really can do is stay informed and be prepared to keep yourself and your family safe.

This is my summarized chronicle of the fiery events we recently experienced; I kept notes, and then put it all together in one post as things were winding down.

10/21/07 (our first wedding anniversary!) 4:45 PM

I'm really glad we didn't have this weather a year ago today - it would have really messed up an outdoor wedding.

The Santa Ana winds have been kicking up this weekend, and there are two wildfires currently burning in our general area. Fortunately, we're not in Malibu, which is getting quite literally toasted. (Just goes to show that wealth is no protection from nature, I guess).

I don't think our area is seriously threatened at this point - one fire about 12 miles west of us is expected to be contained in a few hours, if all goes well, and a larger one to the northeast probably isn't moving directly toward us. But depending on that one's progress, it could move toward the next town, which means the kids might stay with us tonight and not go back to their mom's house. We have to see how the next couple of hours go. (Good thing we're saving the anniversary plans for next weekend.)

We've closed all the windows, but I can still smell smoke in the air. The sky is a very odd orangey-gray color, and the sun looks red through all the smoke clouds. We're trying to stay inside, but I will have to walk the dog this evening, and tomorrow morning - and there's no telling how long this stuff will be in the air, even if the fires themselves don't get too close. The winds are still blowing, the air is very dry, and the weather is forecast to warm up in the early part of the week - none of these things is comforting.

Later that evening: The kids are staying with us tonight, and we're waiting to find out if school is canceled for tomorrow.

10/22/07, 8:15 AM:

At the office, 30 miles southeast of home, the winds are quiet and the sky is clear. It's a typically beautiful California day.

On the way here, fierce crosswinds made keeping my Honda Civic in its lane on the freeway a challenge while driving into the western San Fernando Valley. The winds kept up through the night, and are strengthening this morning; along with that, the sun, warm temperatures, and very dry air will all make the fires harder to get under control.

The fires to the north and east of us grew dramatically overnight. As long as the Ranch Fire continues on a mostly westward path, we'll be out of direct threat, but we're still under smoke clouds, and you don't want to be outdoors unless you have to be.

Safely at the office, I'll be keeping up with the news today, and probably fretting about whether getting home tonight will be complicated.

10/22/07, 11:25 AM:

The latest from the Ventura County Star website. (It's not much of a paper, but they're the best place for truly local updates. The LA media sites treat the VC=boondocks most of the time.)

My stepdaughter is home sick today. Usually she stays alone (she's 13), but her mom's with her, just in case the Ranch Fire takes a turn to the southwest, Both the kids are back at our place tonight, and we're even further away from the worst of it than their mom's house is, so hopefully we won't suffer from anything more than the smoke and lousy air quality.

10/22/07, 1:15 PM:

Naturally, I'm most concerned about the Ranch Fire in Ventura County north of home, but it's only one of a dozen fires throughout SoCal today. The LA Times website has a wrapup and a current map.

The most recent update from the VC Star website mentions concerns that a couple of fires could merge. When I look at the maps, two of the largest - the Ranch Fire and the Buckweed Fire - look like they're not very far from each other as it is. Each has already burned well over 25,000 acres.

The Ranch Fire is almost surrounding the small town of Piru, which is to the north and separated from our town by about 20 miles and some mountains. Evacuations have been recommended, but aren't yet mandatory - so a lot of people are staying. Sorry, I say it's not worth it. Your family's safety is more important than your belongings, and while you have some warning, you can get some things together, throw them in the car, and go. Besides, if you wait till you're ordered to leave, and so does everyone else, it's going to take longer to get out of town.

10/22/07, 3:20 PM:

Talked to Tall Paul about 15 minutes ago, and he said the air all over Ventura County is really bad. I've got tabs in Firefox open to monitor the Ventura County Fire Dept. and the Star website.

And my Mom-in-law in San Diego County has fires about 15 miles away to both the northeast and southeast of her home. But she doesn't follow the news, so her son had to tell her about it. We don't know her evacuation status - hopefully she won't end up in Qualcomm Stadium. Over 250,000 people in SD County have been ordered - not asked - to evacuate.

10/22/07, 7:30 PM:

I've been home for a couple of hours, and was a bit surprised by conditions here. Even though there are now three fires burning to the northeast of us. some combination of the wind patterns and the mountains must be what's sending most of the smoke further west. The sky over Simi Valley is clearer than it was yesterday, and the winds are a little milder.

But tomorrow is supposed to be warmer, and the only thing predictable about wildfires is that, like hurricanes, they're unpredictable. The Santa Ana winds aren't expected to subside much for another day or two, the humidity is in the single digits, and none of these fires is more than 20% contained right now. The huge Buckweed Fire could merge with the newer Magic Fire (near Magic Mountain amusement park). which is the closest one yet to where we are.

Due to the air quality and generally uncertain conditions, the local public schools will be closed tomorrow, so Tall Paul's getting an unexpected day off with the kids. That may help me be less anxious tomorrow - at least he'll be home if we're threatened here, and he can take care of the kids and Gypsy.

10/23/07, 8:45 AM:

I don't know whether it's the winds or just the fact there are so darn many fires going on, but the smoke's not particularly concentrated anywhere this morning.The winds are dropping a bit today, but the temperatures are supposed to get HOT (in the 90's), so it'll be another rough day. The weather won't be much help for another couple of days, or so say the weather wizards.

San Diego County has it really bad. Tall Paul needs to check back in with his mom this morning.

Help is coming in from other parts of the state, and other states too - the firefighters are making their usual heroic efforts. And FEMA's on their way here too. Oh boy.

The Magic Fire is threatening unincorporated areas to the northeast of Simi Valley. This is what I've worried about since Sunday:

MAGIC INCIDENT (LA County near Magic Mountain)- 06:12 am, October 23. The fire that started near Magic Mountain in Los Angeles County and is nearing the Ventura County line.

It is now approximately three miles away. Intense backfiring operations overnight appear to be working to slow the advance of the fire. 428 personnel are currently assigned to the incident. Approximately 950 structures are threatened.


It is 20% contained. Smoke from this fire is blowing into the Simi Valley and Westlake Village areas and the amount of smoke is likely to increase as the fire moves into the county.

The Ranch Fire is 10% contained and is now the biggest one near us (41,000 acres burned); containment is estimated as of next Wednesday.

Schools in our area are closed and Tall Paul is home with the kids - he's monitoring from there and will let me know if anything affects us.

6:00 PM, 10/23/07:

The winds are starting to slack off a bit, and the forecast is expected to be much more favorable to the firefighters starting tomorrow - the Santa Anas should subside, and cooler, moister air is expected to come in. No major new fires broke out in our vicinity today, which is very good news. The Magic Fire didn't get too big and it's now 40% contained. The Ranch Fire is still huge and only around 10% contained, but its path doesn't seem to be headed our way.

The smoke has definitely come back to our town today, though. The sky is grayish and dusky, and if you can see the sun at all, it's very red. Even so, schools are supposed to re-open tomorrow, but they'll probably try to keep the kids inside.

Mom-in-law is OK, but many people in San Diego County (around 750,000!) have been evacuated and can't say the same. It's being declared a Federal disaster area, and the President and FEMA are on their way. (So if it wasn't a disaster area already...sorry, just couldn't help myself there.) It's almost the direct opposite of Katrina - fire instead of flood. I heard there are some areas where the firefighters just can't keep up, and eventually some of the fires may burn all the way to the ocean. I feel guilty for feeling relieved that it's not nearly that bad here.

8:45 AM, 10/24/07:

I stepped out to walk Gypsy earlier this morning, and there was barely any breeze at all. The temperatures are still supposed to get into the 90s today, but cooling is expected starting tomorrow. But the winds have noticeably dropped, and are forecast to decrease even more.

The good news this morning mostly comes from the fires in my area. The Magic Fire was fully contained as of last night. The Ranch Fire is still going, but isn't gaining much ground into Ventura County and doesn't seem like it will move much south and west, so it's not likely to threaten us directly. The Malibu Canyon fire has gotten a lot of the news attention - because it's in Malibu - but there's been a lot of progress with that one too.

There are some coyotes that live in the hills behind our house, and I realized yesterday morning that I haven't heard them for a few days. Maybe they'll be back soon.

Hopefully as things get better in L.A. and Ventura counties, the firefighters can get some rest, and then go help out in San Diego and Orange counties, which are where things remain very bad.

That was our biggest direct exposure to the wildfire season of 2007. But we've already has a few really hot, dry weekends this year (they always seem to start on the weekend - why is that?), and not enough rain over the winter, so the predictions for this season are not pretty. If we're threatened again this year, I'll probably be posting updates about it here and on Twitter (assuming online access and phones, of course) - but I'd really prefer not to write about wildfires again any time soon.