Monday, June 30, 2008

Weekend Assignment #222 - Phone-y

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 #221: What do you use a phone for? Do you strictly use it to make calls and pick up messages, or do you take advantage of other technology bundled with phones these days? Which features do you use all the time, which others would you use if they were available and cheap, and which would you not bother with even it they were free?

Extra Credit: Do you still use your land line to make and receive calls from friends or family?


Anyone who gets to know me fairly well eventually learns that I don't like using the phone much. Receiving calls is fine, but I don't like making them without a clear and specific reason. I almost never call just to talk; I need a prompt, or to give or get information. I don't mind returning a call so much, but I really don't like to be the one to initiate the conversation most of the time. I would totally suck at any job involving cold-calling. On the other hand, I love e-mail. I feel much more confident about how I express myself via the written word, as opposed to the spoken; there are no awkward pauses or interruptions; and if we're strangers or it's been awhile since we last talked, I find it a much less abrupt way to approach or renew contact.

But sometimes conversation is necessary, and if it can't be face-to-face, there's always the phone.

I've had a cell phone for ten years (well, not literally the same phone, of course), and for over half that time I had a dirt-cheap plan for just a couple of hours a month, with an insane per-minute rate if I went over the allotment. The cell phone wasn't intended to be used for lengthy conversations; it was for emergencies, checking in when you were going to be late, a quick call to find out if you needed something from the store. And if I was at home, it was usually turned off - why would you need to call me on my cell phone when I was at home? In fact, since the phone was mainly for emergencies, you might not even have my number to be able to call me anyway (I think maybe five people did).

My relationship with the cell phone started changing when I met my husband. Tall Paul is one of those people who keeps his cell phone on, and at hand, all the time; if he needs to give a contact number, that's the one he provides. When we moved in together, he added me to his cell-phone plan, and suddenly I had over a thousand minutes available every month, plus unlimited calls to other customers of the same provider and a limited amount of text messaging. This did alter some of my approach to phone usage. Now, I have my cell phone with me nearly all the time too, and the number I almost never give out is my office phone; if it's during work hours but not work-related, let's talk about it on my personal phone. I'll occasionally text-message, but without an alpha keyboard I'm too slow to make it worthwhile; and my little digital camera is pocket-sized and much better quality than the phone's camera, so I don't care much about that feature. (One feature that I use all the time, but almost forgot to mention until Mike's assignment post reminded me: the phone book. Everyone's phone number - cell, work, home - goes into the cell phone, and is saved to both the phone and its SIM card. I don't have anyone's actual phone number in my own memory anymore.)

But for my next phone, I'm open to something that does a little more (although I still don't think I'll care about a camera). A little memory card so I can store pictures and music files would be nice. I'd be quite happy if it had Internet access - e-mail on my phone! the best of both worlds! Since I've already said I'm not so much for talking on the phone, having one with other functions would probably make it more appealing - unless the cost of using those features overrode that appeal, and I really haven't thought about what that cost barrier would be. Before I get in the market for a new phone, I suppose I should give that some consideration, huh?

(My husband's thought about it. If money were no object - plain and simple, he'd want an iPhone.)

Our land line isn't used for much, and most of the calls that come in on it are solicitations or wrong numbers. We were out of town for ten days, and came home to no messages, which should tell us something - besides the fact we're not very popular, which isn't exactly news to us anyway. Then again, if anyone really needed to reach us, they knew they should call our cell phones anyway.

So, talk to me about your relationship with your phone!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Scraps & snippets on Sunday

********If you feel another "book binge" coming on, Mrs S. is hosting the July Book Blowout reading challenge. I've signed up, even though I mostly avoid such things, and here's a list of the books I'll attempt to read during July (not strictly required - the challenge only asks for target number of books for the month - but if I'm going to be accountable, I may as well go whole hog):

Veil of Roses, by Laura Fitzgerald (for Book Club meeting on July 11)

Between Here and April, by Deborah Copaken Kogan (for review; ARC via LibraryThing Early Reviewers )
 No One You Know, by Michelle Richmond (for review; ARC received directly from the author, who recently guest-blogged here - thanks again, Michelle!)
The Accidental, by Ali Smith (took it on vacation but didn't get to it!)
 Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, by Rob Sheffield (just because I like to mix in a memoir or other nonfiction every few books...)

I'm supposed to be hosting the August Bookworms Carnival with the theme of children's and YA literature, and if I'm still planning to read those vampire books for that one, I guess I'd better fit them in during July too...

********There's still a couple of days to sign up for July's NaBloPoMo round: this month's theme is FOOD. I came thisclose to doing it, since that is definitely one of my favorite subjects - but I already post nearly every day anyway. I'll work the theme in wherever it fits in my regular posting, and it will give me a nice fallback if I get stuck for a topic some days, but I'm not going to be an official participant this time. Are you playing?

*********Congratulations to everyone who made it through yesterday's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon! Hope you're catching up on some rest today.

New in Google Reader:
A Novel Challenge, via Weekly Geeks - just in case I ever do decide to join another one of those reading challenges
The AllMediocre blog - since I'm part of the pack, I should keep up, right?
Red Stapler
VenturaMom (gotta support the locals!)
An Unfinished Person, another blog from Just a (Reading) Fool

Random reading:

Many - probably most - of the blogs I mention here are bigger and better-known than mine, and yes, sometimes I'm a little jealous of their success and their readership. Sometimes it's inspiring, though, and here are some thoughts on making blog envy work in your favor.

More fun than your average day at the office

Even more fun - a birthday party! These kids sound totally normal to me...but then, for me, geeky is normal

The Queen addressed the mom-blogging community and held a wake for Twitter. Wouldn't you know Twitter started having health problems not long after I joined?

If you don't start early raising your kids to be independent and responsible, will you still be giving them money when they're well over 40?

You know, we actually might have used these at our wedding...Speaking of weddings, plans overheard while in a doctor's waiting room; and a perspective on love in the long term - I'd like to keep some of these thoughts in mind the second time around, since the first one went...well, you know. And if...well, you know...happens to you or anyone you're close to, these are really good "dos and don'ts" for talking to someone about an impending divorce.

A lost-and-found story with a happy ending for all concerned

Go ahead, get them the coffee - and then serve a nice little slice of crow along with it.

******Check out the Google Reader "starred posts" widget in the sidebar for other posts I found notable this week.

Hope you're enjoying your weekend!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What NOT to read: The Banned Books Meme

This has been wandering around the book blogs for a little while now - I'm appropriating it from my good friend Wendy (aka Literary Feline).

This is a non-comprehensive list of 110 books that have been banned; as Wendy notes,

"...(t)his is just a small sampling of the books that have been banned over the years, however. Think of all those that did not make this particular list. The Harry Potter books, for example"

and I agree that it would be interesting to know exactly why these books made the list, as Michelle mentions:

"I think the reasons behind why a book is banned would be far more fascinating. Wikipedia has a partial list with a brief reason found here. It's easy to see why books of a political, sexual, or religious nature would be banned, but James and the Giant Peach? Little House of the Prairie?"

The titles in bold are the books I have read, and the titles in red are ones that I have on my shelves waiting to be read.

#1 The Bible
#2 Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
#3 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
(in abridged translation)
#4 The Koran
#5 Arabian Nights
#6 Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
#7 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
#8 Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
#9 Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
#10 Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
#11 The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
#12 Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
#13 The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
#14 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

#15 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
#16 Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
#17 Dracula by Bram Stoker
#18 Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
#19 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
#20 Essays by Michel de Montaigne
#21 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
#22 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
#23 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
#24 Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
#25 Ulysses by James Joyce
#26 Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
#27 Animal Farm by George Orwell
#28 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

#29 Candide by Voltaire
#30 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
#31 Analects by Confucius
#32 Dubliners by James Joyce
#33 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
#34 Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
#35 Red and the Black by Stendhal
#36 Das Capital by Karl Marx
#37 Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
#38 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#39 Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
#40 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

#41 Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
#42 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
#43 The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
#44 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
#45 Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (*wait a minute...isn't this the same book as Das Capital, in translation?)
#46 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
#47 Diary by Samuel Pepys
#48 The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
#49 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
#50 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
#51 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

#52 Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
#53 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
#54 Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus
#55 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
#56 Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
#57 The Color Purple by Alice Walker
#58 The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

#59 Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
#60 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
#61 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
#62 One Day in the Life of Ivan Deisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#63 East of Eden by John Steinbeck (multiple times - this is an all-time favorite)
#64 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#65 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
#66 Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#67 Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais
#68 Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
#69 The Talmud
#70 Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#71 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
#72 Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
#73 An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
#74 Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
#75 A Separate Peace by John Knowles
#76 The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
#77 The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
#78 Popol Vuh
#79 Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
#80 Satyricon by Petronius
#81 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
#82 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#83 Black Boy by Richard Wright
#84 Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
#85 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (three times, I think...)
#86 Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
#87 Metaphysics by Aristotle
#88 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
#89 Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
#90 Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
#91 The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
#92 Sanctuary by William Faulkner
#93 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
#94 Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
#95 Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
#96 Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
#97 General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
#98 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
#99 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
#100 Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
#101 Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
#102 Émile by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#103 Nana by Émile Zola
#104 The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
#105 Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
#106 Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#107 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
#108 Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
#109 Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburn Clark
#110 Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Well, apparently I've either read them, or I have no short-term plans to do so, based on the scarcity of red titles. (If it's by Hemingway or Faulkner, I almost certainly have no plans to read it.)

Feel free to take this to your own blog, and share your record on reading these infamous works!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Q&A, back on schedule

Tuesday Thingers

Last week I asked what was the most popular book in your library- this week I'm going to ask about the most unpopular books you own. Do you have any unique books in your library- books only you have on LT? How many? Did you find cataloging information on your unique books, or did you hand-enter them? Do they fall into a particular category or categories, or are they a mix of different things? Have you ever looked at the "You and none other" feature on your statistics page, which shows books owned by only you and one other user? Ever made an LT friend by seeing what you share with only one other user?
Well, since I missed last week's Thinger I'll answer them both this time, but I'll begin with this week's question since it has a very short answer: No. I'm apparently not the sole "owner" of any book I have listed on LibraryThing. However, I do have six books that are listed by a total of 10 or fewer LT members, including me (* means that I've read it and it's been reviewed here):

  1. Life After Death: A Novel, Carol Muske-Dukes (never read; donated to the library) (6)

  2. Odds, Patty Friedmann (7)

  3. American Cookery: A Novel, Laura Kalpakian (7)

  4. Rockabye: From Wild to Child, Rebecca Woolf (8)
I don't think I had trouble cataloging any of them via my usual ISBN-lookup method.

As for last week's question, the 7 most popular books in my library are all by the same author and feature the same title character, so you might guess from that information that they're the Harry Potter books. The top ten is rounded out by three classics: Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby.

I really haven't played much with the statistics aspects of LT before this. One reason I enjoy participating in Tuesday Thingers - even if I don't post my response until Friday - is that it's a great way for me to learn more about the ins and outs of LibraryThing!

Booking Through Thursday: Definition

What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is?  … Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?

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!
Trish suggested that a reader "(is) someone who, if asked what they enjoy doing, would answer with, 'I like to read books.' Because it’s those people who read 'everything in sight.'" I think she's on to something.
In my experience, "readers" are people who love to read, feel a need to read, and don't quite know what to do with themselves when they don't have at least one book in progress. Yes, I do think it's being drawn to books - because they want what books offer, as a source of enjoyment - that makes a person label her- or himself as "a reader," and I suspect that this isn't an unusual perception. Some people read primarily newspapers or magazines, but will admit to rarely reading books unless they are related to work or school - I don't think they'd describe themselves as "readers," and I probably wouldn't either. (Readers, on the other hand, may be found reading newspapers or magazines in addition to, or as a break from, their books.)

Anyone who is engaged in the act of reading anything, at any given time - newspaper, magazine, book, instruction manual, map, blog - can be called a "reader" at that specific moment. However, outside of that moment, they may or may not seek out opportunities to immerse themselves in reading. To me, that type of immersion is most likely to be offered by books, and the people that do seek it out are the ones that I'd define as "readers" - like me!

What do you think defines a reader?

Friday Fill In #78

Questions courtesy of Jennifer this week; thanks, Jennifer!

1. Birthdays are your own personal holiday, and if at all possible, should NOT be spent at work!

2. Spring is my favorite season because that's when my birthday is the days get longer and the weather is nicer, and the plants turn green and flowery.

3. I feel my best when I'm wearing clothes that fit me well and my hair is being cooperative (yes, I feel good when I think I look good - is that shallow?)

4. In general, Italian is my favorite food (I can't pick just one favorite dish, sorry)!

5. First impressions are not always accurate, and I try not to emphasize them too much.

6. The best piece of advice I ever received was "Always take a book with you, so you have something to do."

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to relaxing, tomorrow my plans include seeing Get Smart at the movies with friends and Sunday, I want to get me chores done, but still have some fun!

What are you reading right now, and what's happening on Page 123?

  1. Pick up the nearest book, and open it to page 123.
  2. Find the fifth sentence, and post the next three sentences.
I started Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris while I was on vacation; kind of an odd time for a workplace novel, I suppose, but much better than actually being at work. And I think that this may be the first time since I started doing this routine that I've actually read past page 123 before answering the meme:

Roland told him that he stopped by there every time he worked a night shift, so every Thursday night.
"And have you ever found anything?"
"Nothing," said Roland, "except that lucky rabbit's foot."

They may never let me come back to Tennessee now. Then again, my birth certificate was issued in Yonkers, New York, so my Southern claims have always been a bit questionable...

You Are 70% Yankee, 30% Dixie

You're so Yankee, it's possible you've never even been to the South!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Weekly Geeks #9: Challenging...

I haven't exactly been a "weekly" geek lately, but I'm back in for this week's theme, "Challenges." Dewey says:

1. If you participate in any challenges, get organized! Update your lists, post about any you haven’t mentioned, add links of reviews to your lists if you do that, go to the challenge blog if there is one and post there, etc.

2. If you don’t participate in any challenges, then join one! There’s a good selection of possibilities over on my right hand sidebar (scroll down) where I list those I participate in. There’s also A Novel Challenge, a blog that keeps track of all sorts of reading challenges.

3. Towards the end of the week, write a wrap-up post about getting your challenges organized OR if you’re joining your first challenge, post about that any time during the week. Once you have your post up, come back and sign Mr Linky with the link to the specific post, not just to your blog.

I have stayed away from the reading challenges that so many book blogger eat up, largely because my TBR stack is a challenge all on its own, mostly comprised of books I've bought for no particular reason. As it happens, I'm apparently not the only one with that problem, since there's an annual TBR Challenge that makes it official; and I would have thought seriously about joining that one, but it was closed for 2008 by the time I found out about it (maybe next year...). There's also what I'll call the "book club factor" - the structure and scheduling of reading, as opposed to letting book choices be dictated by factors like mood, whim, or recommendation. I'm also gradually getting (and accepting) more offers of review books, which I feel carry a responsibility for reasonably timely reading and posting. It comes down to having only so many hours available for reading in the first place, and when much of it gets devoted to "required" reading - even it it's a fun requirement - that doesn't leave a lot of room for discretionary book choices.

I realize that I could join challenges that would push me to read books I already have - in a way, I suppose that's probably one goal of all the challenges out there - but again, there's the structure thing. What if I don't feel like reading those 5 books I committed to in that specific time period? (Yes, I know some challenges even let you pick alternates, which should address that particular issue...) What if I just don't have enough time? What if I want to get some new books anyway, and read them instead?

I did participate in MaryP's Book Binge during May, and I guess that was technically a "challenge," since it did have some rules and a time frame for completion, but it didn't require an upfront commitment to specific books, so I didn't actually count it as a reading challenge. In any case, that ended on May 31, so I'm not currently participating in any challenges, and therefore, item #1 of this Weekly Geeks assignment clearly doesn't apply to me, so I guess I have to move on #2.

Just in time for this assignment, Mrs S at Blue Archipelpago has announced her July Book Blowout, which works in much the same way that Book Binge did, so I'm going to sign up for that challenge. Follow the link to join in, but in case you want a quick look at the rules first, here you go:

How do I join in the fun?

  • You can sign up any time between June 25 and July 14

  • To join you need to post about the Book Blowout on your blog - and set yourself a target number of books you will try to read

  • Use the Mr Linky on the announcement post to link to that post so we can all see how many books you’re taking on in the Blowout

  • Post a list of the books you managed to read by the deadline of August 7 to complete the challenge

What rules do I need to know?

  • Only books read between July 1 and July 31 count towards the challenge

  • You can include re-reads - as long as they are read within the month of July

  • Books you abandon will only count as half a book

  • If you read to your children you can include all books which have more than 100 pages

  • You can include up to two graphic novels

  • You can include up to two audio books - (if you have a visual impairment that prevents you from reading then you can use just audio books for the challenge)

  • Books you read for other challenges are eligible - use this as an opportunity to catch up!

Looking at the Big Stack O' Books on the table next to my reading chair, I know I need to get to one book for my next Book Club meeting on July 11, and I have three review books in there as well that I should give priority. Taking all that into account, I'll set 6 books as my Book Blowout goal.

It turns out that there's a challenge out there for the challenge-challenged, and I think that's the one for me; in fact, you don't even officially have to sign up for the Just4thehelluvit Challenge. I may just go ahead and count the book I'm currently reading toward that one, since I don't have to make a list and commit to it either.

So, do you find reading challenges a challenge in themselves, or do you just love a challenge?

Book talk: "Apples and Oranges," by Marie Brenner

Disclosure: A copy of this book was sent to me for review via Nicole Bruce at Authors on the Web. I received no other compensation.

Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found by Marie Brenner

First Sentence: We fight at the dinner table.

Book Description: Marie Brenner’s brother, Carl—yin to her yang, red state to her blue state—lived in Texas and in the apple country of Washington state, cultivating his orchards, polishing his guns, and (no doubt causing their grandfather Isidor to turn in his grave) attending church, while Marie, a world-class journalist and bestselling author, led a sophisticated life among the “New York libs” her brother loathed.
After many years apart, a medical crisis pushed them back into each other’s lives. Marie temporarily abandoned her job at Vanity Fair magazine, her friends, and her husband to try to help her brother. Except that Carl fought her every step of the way. “I told you to stay away from the apple country,” he barked when she showed up. And, “Don’t tell anyone out here you’re from New York City. They’ll get the wrong idea.”

As usual, Marie—a reporter who has exposed big Tobacco scandals and Enron—irritated her brother and ignored his orders. She trained her formidable investigative skills on finding treatments to help her brother medically. And she dug into the past of the brilliant and contentious Brenner family, seeking in that complicated story a cure, too, for what ailed her relationship with Carl. If only they could find common ground, she reasoned, all would be well.

Comments: I just couldn't warm to this book. As far as memoirs go, it really didn't work for me, and I found that frustrating. I thought that the best parts of the book were those that involved Marie Brenner's reporting skills, such as relating the complicated histories of preceding generations of her family and discussions of apple farming. I felt that she was too close to her own story in trying to sort out her always-prickly relationship with her dying brother Carl, and I didn't really feel that I gained much insight into either of them as people. Brenner does well at relating what happened, and though she's trying to get to the why, I didn't really get as much of a sense of that as I wanted to, as a reader. For the most part, the book didn't resonate emotionally for me, and that's usually a quality I look for in a memoir. Having said that, though, I should note that I did hang in for the whole thing, and it did eventually all click for me in the last seventy-five pages or so.

As you can see, I'm having some trouble writing objectively about this one - but I suppose that if I found it frustrating enough to want more from it, it did connect with me, just not necessarily as I would have wanted it to.

Rating: 3/5

Other bloggers' reviews:

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!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Weekend Assignment #221 - What Are You Drinking?

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 #221: What do you like to drink? Do you prefer Coke, or Pepsi, or neither? Do you start your days at Starbucks, or end your days with a nice cup of herbal tea? Are you a connoisseur of beer, or do you like to keep a pitcher of lemonade on hand? Do you carry a bottle of water around, and refill it as you go? Tell us about your favorites!

Extra Credit: Have you ever invented your own drink sensation?

A few months ago, "10 Favorite Drinks" was a Ten on Tuesday topic, so I may be repeating myself a little here.

I am a huge water drinker, one of the annoying people rarely seen without a bottle of water in hand. That doesn't mean I drink "bottled water," though; I'll buy a six-pack of bottles periodically, but I have a tap-water filter attachment on my kitchen faucet and I refill and re-use the bottles from there. I probably re-use the bottles too often, if you worry about leaching plastic, but I've decided not to think too much about that.

Due to water restrictions, many Southern California restaurants have begun serving water only on request; I almost always request it. One thing that I appreciated on our recent vacation was the fact that there are still places where they automatically bring out the water pitcher when they seat you in a restaurant.

I have to have coffee at some time before noon, otherwise I'll find myself with a headache later in the day. (Who are you calling a caffeine addict?) I brew a blend of regular and flavored decaf at home, and adjust it with flavored creamer and sweetener. I'll treat myself to a Starbucks latte once or twice a week, if I get the chance.

Despite having spent 10 years of my life in Florida, I don't like orange juice. My preferred morning drink is pineapple juice, and it can be hard to find in restaurants (especially those that don't have access to a bar) - that's one of my least favorite things about vacations, oddly enough, but it's also one more reason to plan that trip to Hawaii one day...

At any time of day other than the morning, I find few things more refreshing than lemonade, unless it's a combination lemonade/iced tea. If there's no lemonade around, I'll just take the iced tea, usually "unsweet" (as we say back in Tennessee). Both of these are year-round beverage choices for me, no matter what the weather - then again, weather doesn't really affect much in Southern California anyway.

I don't drink much alcohol, either, other than the occasional wine with dinner - and that depends who I'm having dinner with, since my husband doesn't drink it at all.

I almost never drink soda, either, even diet varieties. I wasn't brought up with it, and I don't like the carbonation - I find it sharp, and just the opposite of refreshing. If I'm truly desperate for a cold drink, I may take a Diet Coke if there's no chilled water or other non-carbonated option, but I rarely finish it, and once it flattens a bit, I find it just too sweet. However, my husband's carbonated-beverage consumption compensates for mine. His preferred caffeine-delivery source is always a Coke, at any time of day (but he'll settle for a Pepsi if he has to), and he has a fondness for micro-brewed root beer (Virgil's, available at Trader Joe's).

So, what are you drinking? If you've answered the question in your own Weekend Assignment, feel free to leave a link!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ten on Tuesday Special - Vacation edition

We got home on Monday afternoon, and we don't go back to work till Wednesday, so today is sort of a "coda" for our vacation. Posts and pictures from the trip will be forthcoming, but in the meantime, here's a five-and-five personal Ten on Tuesday.

5 Things I Missed While on Vacation:
  1. My dog! I think this was the longest (10 days) that we've been away from each other. She was actually supposed to stay at the boarding kennel until this morning, but since we made it home earlier on Monday than we'd expected, we were able to pick her up sooner.
  2. My showerhead. It's one of those hand-held adjustable ones, and I've really gotten spoiled by it.
  3. My morning routine. Not the getting-up-at 4:30 part, but the workout, the grooming regimen (which always gets short shrift on vacation, since there are things I don't bring), and breakfast. Yes, I actually missed oatmeal, and pineapple juice too.
  4. Reading blogs. I actually coped with being offline better than expected, and since my time online was limited, I restricted most of it to e-mail, responding to comments here, and writing. I'm looking forward to catching up with y'all!
  5. My own bed. Especially the pillows.
5 Things I DIDN'T Miss While on Vacation:
  1. Traffic reports. And traffic in general, let's be honest...
  2. A Southern California heat wave. Weather-wise, I understand we picked a good time to head north. We're also getting lucky in having a cooling trend arrive just in time for our return.
  3. Work.
  4. My cell phone.
  5. Stress.
What are some of your favorite - and least favorite - things about vacations?

It was a great trip, and it's nice to be back. One more big "thank you" to the guest posters!

Ten on Tuesday: That's history now

I'm not sure what inspired this Ten on Tuesday theme, "10 Favorite Moments in Your Country's History," but I suspect that it might be related to a recent event that's actually on this list; you'll know what I mean when you read it, I'm sure.

(OK, I have to be honest; this post is itself history, since this was actually last week's theme. Due to my vacation, guest posts, and trying to work out the blog schedule ahead of time, it missed its regular slot. But since I missed the announcement of this week's actual topic, I figure it all evens out.)

This is a challenging topic in a way, because some of the most significant and unifying moments in American history aren't likely candidates to be "favorites;" they're more closely associated with tragedy than with triumph, but they did bring the country together. Even so, I came up with six of these pretty easily, but then I needed a little help to fill out the list; the book Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis proved quite useful as both a memory refresher and a source for dates.

  1. The arrival of the Pilgrims, 1620: Although my own ancestors didn't get here till more than 250 years later, this was when the population of this land by non-natives began in earnest

  2. The signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776: Although I doubt there was much singing and dancing involved, the first steps of forming a whole new country had to have been very dramatic

  3. The Louisiana Purchase, 1804: The best real-estate bargain ever

  4. The Emancipation Proclamation, September 1862: It's taken over a hundred years of legal work to obtain and secure the rights that accompany free citizenship, but it had to start somewhere

  5. The passage of the 19th Amendment, August 26, 1920: Thank you, Tennessee, for being the one that made sure women got the right to vote.

  6. The 1939 New York World's Fair: It was like a trip to the future for visitors, and some of the wonders they saw have not only come to pass, they've been surpassed

  7. The first moon landing, July 20, 1969: "One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind"

  8. The Bicentennial, 1976: It was a celebration of history, and now it's history itself; but if you were around then - and especially if you were an impressionable grade-school kid - it was exciting and educational!

  9. The Democratic presidential primary season, 2008: Granted, it all dragged on longer than anyone expected - but in some ways, that's what kept it interesting. Well, that and knowing that one way or the other, someone would be the "first" of a demographic to be nominated for President.

  10. The Beatles' arrival in New York City, February 1964: It's on here because I wanted something a little less serious to wrap up the list, but that doesn't mean it didn't make an impact in its time, because it sure did; popular culture, and music, haven't been the same since. Besides, I started the list with an arrival from England, so this brings it full circle.

What are some of your favorite historical moments? If you haven't really thought about it before - and to be honest, I don't think I had until this topic came up - now's your chance!

Monday, June 23, 2008

GUEST POST: Starting the Story Over Again

This is a landmark day for The 3 R's: the first guest post by an author! (I feel like a real book blogger now!) As it happened, Michelle Richmond found this blog via a mention of her last novel, The Year of Fog, right around the time I posted my guest-blogger request. Her newest novel, No One You Know, is being published this week, and I was thrilled to accept her generous offer to contribute a guest post here. Check out her books, and find out a little more about Michelle at the end of this post.

When I was in fourth grade in Mobile, Alabama, my teacher took one look at my half-crossed Ts and declared to the whole class, “Michelle doesn’t finish what she starts.”

Well, that is not a terribly nice thing to say to a fourth-grader. But three decades later, I proved her right. I was more than 300 pages into a novel I was writing on contract with my publisher when I finally admitted to myself that the novel just wasn’t working. I began writing it when my son was just a few months old—he’d be in his bouncy seat beside my desk, and I’d rock him gently with my foot while typing. Months later, when we hired a babysitter to come to the house so I could get a little work done, I began going to the beach to write in my car. Something about the disjointedness of this process inevitably made its way into the book, until I finally realized I’d written myself into a mess I couldn’t get out of. When I told my editor I just couldn’t finish that novel—the characters weren’t moving me, the plot wasn’t gelling—my editor said, “Why don’t you try writing something else?”

Surprisingly, the idea of starting all over again came as a relief. Within a couple of weeks I was trucking on the new book, which would become NO ONE YOU KNOW. I found that, once I’d freed myself from the story I thought I had to write, the story I wanted to write came bursting through. Perhaps this is why NO ONE YOU KNOW is, in many ways, a book about storytelling. Twenty years prior to the book’s opening, Ellie’s sister Lila, a young math prodigy, was murdered, the crime never solved. Andrew Thorpe, Ellie’s English professor at the time, wrote a true crime book about Lila’s death. The book devastated Ellie’s family and destroyed her friendship with Thorpe. Now, two decades after the fact, Ellie encounters the man who was named as the killer in Thorpe’s book, and realizes how deeply flawed Thorpe’s version of events had been.

“Looking back, it was easy to see that the major story of my own life had been my sister’s death. Andrew Thorpe’s book had deeply influenced the way I constructed this story. I was twenty years old when I read Murder by the Bay, young enough to believe that the things he said about Lila’s murder, and the things he said about me, were true. There were times when I wondered if, in describing me in relentless detail, in using me to create a character to fit the story he wanted to tell, Thorpe had somehow altered the course of my life…”

So yes, NO ONE YOU KNOW is a book about the stories we tell ourselves, and those others tell about us. It is also a book about sisters, about how a loss of a loved one can reverberate through the years. My passion for coffee is woven into the mix (Ellie is a coffee buyer who travels the world for work), and, because Lila was working on a famous, centuries-old mathematical conjecture at the time of her death, there is a bit of that in there too. I really enjoyed writing this book. And if I found my fourth-grade teacher, I’d tell her that there’s something to be said for not finishing what you started. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a story is let it go.


Michelle Richmond is the author of the New York Times best seller The Year of Fog, which was named by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2007 and was a Kirkus Reviews Top Pick for Reading Groups. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, The Believer, Glimmer Train, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband and son in San Francisco. Her website is www.michellerichmond.com.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tag - I'm it!

Pam tagged me weeks ago for the "8 Random Things" meme, and I'm just getting around to it! (Sometimes randomness isn't as easy as you might think it is.)

Here are the rules:
Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.

People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.

At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.

Don’t forget to leave them a comment on their blog and tell them they’ve been tagged, and to come back and read your blog for the whole story.

  1. I began wearing glasses when I was three years old. I got my first pair of contact lenses as a high-school graduation gift from my great-aunt. Nearly every eye doctor I've ever had has told me that my uncorrected vision is the worst they've ever encountered. And yet, I'm still allowed to drive a car...

  2. Speaking of cars, I didn't get my driver's license until I was 18 - (mostly) by choice. (This is one thing about me that my husband just doesn't get. He really doesn't understand how my son can be almost 24 and still not have his...) And I still don't know how to drive a car with a manual transmission.

  3. I have no tattoos, no piercings (not since my ears got infected by some cheap earrings when I was 16, and the holes closed), and my hair was never any color other than its natural one until I turned 40. I don't think my husband has ever seen its natural color except in old pictures, since we met just after my 41st birthday.

  4. I wore white for my second wedding. Maybe I shouldn't have, but technically I shouldn't have worn it for my first one either.

  5. I gave up chocolate for a year back in high school, to see if it would help clear up my skin. There was no noticeable difference. The sacrifice was definitely not worth it.

  6. I can't function without breakfast in the morning, and I'll gladly eat breakfast foods - cereal, pancakes, omelets - any time of day.

  7. My first favorite food was spaghetti and meatballs, and I think maybe it always will be.

  8. I really don't have any good celebrity-encounter stories. I saw Penn and Teller before anyone had heard of them, though; they were doing magic for tips at the Medieval Fair at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida in the spring of 1984. Teller didn't talk back then, either.

Well, I plan to ignore the tagging rules, as usual. If you haven't done this meme yet, or you just feel like telling everyone 8 random things about yourself, go for it on your blog (just leave a comment and let me know)!


Kiva tagged me for this meme much more recently.

a) What was I doing 10 years ago?

I had just started my job as Controller at the Memphis Zoo, and was trying to figure out what was what before our fiscal year ended on June 30. My son was getting ready to start high school in mid-August (that passes for "returning to school in the fall" in Tennessee). We had been in our house just about a year, and were thinking about getting a second dog. Aside from the job change, it was a fairly unremarkable year.

b) 5 things on my to-do list today:

Can't answer this one - my to-do list is top-secret :-).

But seriously...I'm drafting this post ahead of time and intend to schedule it for the week when I'm on vacation - and I really hope not to have a to-do list then! :-) In any case, I wouldn't detail items from my work to-do list here, and my non-work list is usually not even worth blogging about. (Some things actually aren't blog fodder, oddly enough...)

c) 3 Snacks I enjoy:

Clementines (because I wanted to list one healthy item)
Trader Joe's Popped Potato Chips (new discovery - they're pressure-cooked)

d) 4 Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

Quit my job!
Be a philanthropist
Buy my husband a motorcycle (or two)

e) Places I have lived:

Bronx, NY
Norwalk, CT
St. Petersburg, FL
Ithaca, NY
Memphis (Germantown), TN
Ventura County, CA

I have trouble answering that normally innocuous question "So, where are you from?"

f) I am tagging:

Nobody :-)! Again, play along on your own blog if you like.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Blog Blast for Education: It just starts with the "three R's"

No matter what the subject matter or curriculum, I think that education should have one overriding aim - preparing individuals to be functional, contributing members of a civil society. We may want more from our schools than that, but at the root, that's what I believe their purpose is.

The name of this blog was, of course, inspired by the traditional "three R's" of "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic," once considered the sum of an education. These days, we know that they're the fundamental building blocks of an education, but not an end in themselves. Getting "back to basics" is important, but it's important not to stop with the basics either - as I said, they're building blocks, necessary skills for acquiring further knowledge, which I'd like to call "life literacy." When it comes to the tools one needs for getting around in the world today, I think it's important to have the toolbox well-stocked.

Reading and writing are expressed as separate skills in the traditional definition, but I think they're much too closely related to be split up like that. Reading is a necessary precursor to written expression - without it, how would you know what you're saying? Reading is learning that skill in using language is essential to understanding, and to making oneself understood.

The ability to read is at the bedrock of almost all other learning, but only in part because most teaching materials are in print. Reading is so much more than being able to recognize the letters, seeing how they are put together to make words, and building a vocabulary; it's taking meaning away from those combinations, and grasping the ideas they're intending to convey when they're used together in certain ways. Reading doesn't stop there, either, since ideas aren't conveyed only in words; symbols and pictures are also part of language, and we need to learn how they're used, and to use them, too. Additionally, one variation of reading that really isn't taught enough concerns the nuances of interpersonal communication, such as tone of voice and body language, as well as listening skills. Life literacy makes use of all of this.

Numbers are among the most critical and useful symbols we need to learn to understand and use. While the basic "arithmetic" concepts - counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, fractions - need to be mastered in order to progress to more advanced ideas, at a practical level many people won't use much more than those skills on a daily basis. (One needs a far more advanced and specialized knowledge base to make daily use of calculus, to be honest.) However, these concepts are among our earliest formal exposure to problem-solving situations, and the skills developed from there are essential to life literacy. Also essential and numbers-based: financial literacy, otherwise known as "how to handle your money."

Being able to read opens the door to all the subject-specific learning that we generally think of as "education," or knowing about the world and how it works. Most of that falls into one of two broad categories: natural or social sciences. Natural sciences are the mechanics of things - chemistry, physics, biology. They consider how things are made, how they function, and how they came to be that way. The social sciences are concerned with humans as individuals and in community - history, geography, sociology, psychology, music and art, and almost any variety of "cultural studies" one could name.

Some of what both varieties of science encompass has been objectively proven or is supported by facts, but much of it hasn't been yet or may never be - but education's function should be to present all sides, and an educated person should be able to accept ambiguity. Education doesn't really come down to knowing all the answers; it's more about exploring the questions, which may have many possible answers. The life-literacy skills come into play in making sense of them all, and when we can do that, we're the functioning, contributing members of society that education has, ideally, prepared us to be.

So often education falls short of that ideal, though. When it gets caught up in the details of what schools should or shouldn't teach (let alone how they can afford to do any of it), or to whom they should teach it, or of whether public, private, or home schools teach it best, the larger aim and the root purpose of it - which ultimately are the same - tend to get lost. Those details matter too, though, and other participants in the Blog Blast for Education are talking about some of them, and about their ideas and visions for education, on their blogs today, so please go check them out!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

GUEST POST Book talk: "A Church of Her Own," by Sarah Sentilles

A big "thank you!" to today's guest blogger, Veronica, who generously responded to my recent request for guest posts by offering to cross-post a book review of my choice. I selected the following, on a topic which I find quite fascinating, and I which I hope will interest you too. This was originally posted on Veronica's blog. Find out a little more about her at the end of this post.

There's this book on my book shelf that I borrowed from one of my best friends years ago. I mean years ago. I bet she might have even forgotten that I have it. Well, Coop...I do. It's a book about women as priests and since that idea is pretty radical, I wanted to read it. But I haven't.

When I got an email from a publicity group asking if I would review
Sarah Sentilles' new book, "A Chuch of Her Own," about women in the church, I jumped. [Buy at Powells, WCF, Amazon]

I've been pretty darn busy lately and that is why I haven't read every page of this book, but I have to admit that after chapter one I felt like I could write an amazing & glowing review. It will engulf you and not let you go.

I grew up Catholic and call myself a recovering Catholic as well as a tree-hugging goddess worshiper. Back in undergrad I took a class on women in religion and my professor asked me why I left the Church. Honestly there wasn't anything there for me to fight for. I just couldn't identify with a system that thought I was a second-class citizen where women had no authority...at least on paper. Not to mention my mother told me when I was a kid that "they wouldn't let me take the pill, so why should I go to church?"

Sentilles profiles many women who have become priests in a number of Christian denominations. Sentilles herself walked the road toward ordination and it did not go well. She spent plenty of time blaming herself before setting out to write this book full of anger, love, and rage. Sentilles first outlines what it means to be called. As someone who has never been attached to a house of worship it has always been hard for me to understand why someone would want to be a part of a system that so actively worked to keep them out. The description of "a calling" or "being called" to be ordained is moving. I am in fact envious. To honestly feel that your God is pulling at you, poking you this way, and 'talking' to you...well, I really can't envision a stronger force.

Although many women knew from a young age that they wanted to be ministers, most did not know any female ministers, making it hard for them to imagine themselves as ministers. Because either they did not know any female ministers or they did not know women could be ministers at all, their feeling that they wanted to be ordained sometimes made them feel crazy.

Most of the women I interviewed remember the first time they saw an ordained woman and how this vision opened up their sense of vocation. Jamie Washam, an American Baptist pastor in Milwaukee, grew up Southern Baptist in Texas and didn’t see any female pastors. The women she did see in church, women who were shut out of most leadership positions even though they practically ran the church, didn’t look like her. "Zipper Bibles, elastic pants, big ol’ white sneakers, what would Jesus do bracelets," she said. "I mean, that’s not what I look like."

It might at first seem shallow, the idea that somehow you need to see someone who looks like you, even dresses like you, to be able to imagine yourself doing a certain job, but seeing a minister who looked like them or talked like them or had theology like them signaled to these women that there was a place for them in the church. It was a kind of welcome, and it was only when they felt this welcome that they realized how shut out they had been feeling. When you belong to a group that religions hate and ostracize -- or just ignore -- you have to be able to imagine what you have not yet seen or heard. This is holy work.

And it is work these women did. Called to be something they had never seen, something their families, their denominations, their churches, and their congregations had never seen, they chose ordained ministry. For every single one of the women I interviewed, it was Buechner’s definition that shaped her vocation. I have seen many of them at work. Watching them celebrate weddings, preach sermons, share communion, march in protests, lead congregations in prayer, speak out against injustice, I had no doubt in my mind that they were meant to be ministers. They seemed to glow, as if all the molecules in their bodies had lined up to say yes, this is what I was made to do. This is what brings me alive. This is where the world’s greatest need and my deepest joy meet.

Sentilles then outlines through her own experience and others have to endure to "prove" that they do "deserve" to become ordained. OH F-ING GAWD. It was infuriating to read the trials and the hazing that occurs in the name of God. But it was the outright sexism that really got my blood boiling.

Sentilles makes some great points about women in non-Catholic churches, mainly that by focusing on just becoming priests, it keeps us from dealing with the sexism in other churches. The sexism that percolates in churches is exactly the same type of sexism we face in our everyday lives except for one thing. Within the walls of a church, women have no remedy, no back-up as churches do not have to abide by non-discrimination laws.

After struggling through divinity school, a woman may take a job that is paid less, is in a smaller parish or is in disarray. Sound familiar? Women are used and spit out by some parishes like they are disposable...and the parish members smile & wave as she drives off.

For me this book reinforces why I stay away from organized religion, but more importantly it reminds me (with a huge slap across the face) that in our fight for equality we cannot forget to fight for our sisters of the cloth. They face discrimination due to them being women - remember Eve was a woman! They face discrimination because they want to welcome LGBT members with open arms, they want the church and its members to practice what it preaches (working against poverty), really get to know their congregation, and even get pregnant (FMLA doesn't cover pregnant pastors).

This isn't a book for those interested in church issues, this is a book for feminists plain and simple.


Veronica has been blogging since 2000 but started a new blog last summer at Viva La Feminista. She can also be found online in several other places, including Work It, Mom! She’s a professional feminist, mom, and worships at the church of Wrigley Field to the baseball gods begging for just one trip to the World Series in her lifetime.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More thoughts about change - but what's news about that?

(I've actually had this post in draft for awhile, but I keep finding reasons to put it on hold. But now is probably as good a time as any to run with it, as a follow-up of sorts to my recent Ten on Tuesday post about how the world has changed, and as a self-developed Hump Day Hmm, since vacation plans are causing me to miss one of Julie's.)

My mother-in-law tells us that she rarely reads or listens to the news, because it's "just too depressing." I understand the sentiment, but I don't agree with the action. I think that even if you don't like what's going on, it's important to know about it.

What's going on these days is enough to rock anyone's world, and not in a good way.

Halfway across the globe, our country's military has been involved in a conflict for five years - one that they were sent into under false pretenses, and where their continuing presence seems to make less and less sense, although to some extent it may be self-justifying by the potential risks of removal. This action has costs, not limited to the financial ones of keeping the operations going, and money spent in the Middle East can't be available for our ongoing issues here at home, where affording daily life becomes a bigger challenge all the time.

The price of gas has already passed $4 per gallon here in California, and the prices of many of our other daily needs are climbing right along with it. We're anxious about keeping the work and income to pay for those needs, and about the debt if we don't have the income - since we still need these things anyway.

When day-to-life becomes more and more of a challenge, it can get out of control, and for some people it doesn't even seem to matter much anymore. So far this year, it's seemed like every other day has brought another story of a murder in Los Angeles, many of them gang-related and not confined to particular geographic areas, which can make even those who wouldn't normally consider themselves at risk afraid to leave the house. Meanwhile, they may be afraid of losing the house in the first place.

Trusting anyone's word is scary. Pessimism is easy. It's not hard to understand why people might find it all too depressing and tune it out.

In our suburb, I walk my dog through the comfortable subdivision a few blocks from our apartment, and I wonder. I wonder about the people in those large houses, with their SUVs parked outside of their two- and three-car garages. I wonder if they've tuned out too, and if they are as sheltered, complacent, and self-satisfied as their homes make them appear. I wonder if behind those facades, people are sure of themselves - happy families all alike - or if they are part of unhappy families, each unhappy in its own way. I wonder if they've made unspoken, perhaps unconscious bargains to keep things together, or if they've chosen not to think too much about it, because it could be too depressing.

I notice that there don't seem to be as many "for sale" signs in the neighborhood as there were a few months ago, but the ones that I do see stay up for a long time. I wonder if people have opted out of the real-estate games, or have given up on trying to sell houses because they can't get enough of a price to pay off their mortgages. I wonder if some of the people in those houses can afford them now, or if they ever could in the first place. I wonder how much some of them really worry about that, or if they have faith that things will work out somehow, or if they don't even think about whether there's a problem - because thinking about the news is just too depressing.

I've said before that in my opinion, pessimism is easier than optimism, and that optimism requires some amount of denial - but I've been thinking about that more and more since I originally wrote it, and I have to wonder whether optimism is a choice not of denial, but of picking up and going on in spite of the circumstances. It may be a recognition that the news is just the news. Getting depressed over it is one possible reaction, but it's not a necessary one, and it's rarely a helpful one either.

What's going on these days is enough to rock anyone's world. Uncertainty is a pretty certain thing in modern life, and things seem to be unraveling all around. And yet, for some reason, I haven't totally given over to my pessimistic streak yet. I'm still keeping up with the news. It's important to know what's going on, even if you don't necessarily like it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

GUEST POST: Mom vs. Babe - A Quandary Considered

This is a special guest post by a non-blogger (yes, they do still exist!). But I have been trying to encourage my sister Teresa to do more writing via a blog of her own, so I hope you'll leave her some encouraging comments! Find out a little more about her at the end of this post.

As I sit and drink my morning beverage from the cup that say “Mom on the outside. Babe on the inside,” I have to think: does one really preclude the other? I say no. I mean, think about it – Heather Locklear, Mom? Yes. Babe? Yes. My Aunt Christine is both a Mom and a Babe (now she’s a Nana, but still a Babe). I think many a husband thinks of his wife as a babe despite that she’s a mother 24/7. And that’s the issue. Maybe it’s the mom who thinks of herself as mom- not babe.

So let’s look at “babe” and “mom”.

The same babe who gets you a beer (or a soda or a snack) is the mom who gets the child’s drink, snack, book, etc. (The babe and mom – both are there to lend a hand).

The same babe who knew all about politics and current events when you met her, is the mom who can keep her children entranced by telling them a story about how she can call Santa at anytime (she has his cell phone number), and that she knows for a fact that Rudolph just had his nose checked at the vet and he’ll be just fine for the long trip.

The babe who impressed with her ability to calculate (in her head) the sales tax for anything is the mom who manages to get things at the grocery store for free (There was a sale! She had a coupon! It got doubled! …So she bought Charlie a new Hot Wheels).

The babe who baked you brownies on your first date is the mom who tries out new treat recipes for playgroups and puts the leftovers in your lunch (well, at least you get the leftovers).

The babe who asked you to help her fight a few battles for her is the mom who has found the moxie to go to the mat for her children, because their true causes are more important than her staying in her comfort zone.

Hmmm – it seems to me that the mom is a babe who has utilized her pre-mom attributes and maximized their potential. Sometimes though, moms put aside an important aspect of the art of being a babe. Packaging.

I used to wear skirts and heels. Now, I’m lucky my husband likes me in jeans and a tee shirt. Almost nine years ago I donned my mom uniform – shorts and a tee or jeans and a tee. And sneakers! For nine years! I need a change. You can tell me there are designer sweat suits but they are still just that - sweat suits (sorry, outfits). That won’t work for me. Hmm – what can I find to please both the sleeping fashion diva in me and the functioning mom? I’ve got it. A skort. That’ll work. Looks like a skirt, feels like a short. And, most of the time it requires sandals. Not sneakers!! Woo hoo! I’m already feeling prettier. Now, where’s my lipstick? I know I wore it to that wedding four months ago….

Well, I guess I am on my way (to Kohl’s…for skorts) to being the mom/babe I want to be. I think my husband (who loves me no matter what I wear) is secretly happy to see my toes again.


Teresa DeGagné: Sister of Florinda. Younger than Florinda. Taller than Florinda. Happy to be a stay at home wife and mother.

I like to read, bake, walk, make delectable dinners and make my family laugh (though not at the dinners). Favorite Mottoes; “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade (although some days I make a tart lemonade).” “Go the extra mile. It’s never crowded.” “Put on your jacket. I’m cold.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Postcard from the road - greetings from Logan, Utah!

I'm working on a vacation diary to share here - with pictures - later on, but just thought I'd check in with a few snippets from our first couple of days on the road.

Day 1: leaving home, bound for Cedar City, Utah

The short-term goal for the first day of travel was Vegas by lunchtime.

Vegas in the early afternoon on Saturday isn't all bright lights and glitz - it's more like just plain gaudy. And HOT, and crowded. The crush of people proved to be a little much for the kids; we changed our plans to have lunch at one of the casino restaurants and headed for the familiar red-white-and-yellow safe harbor of our beloved In-N-Out Burger.

Our detour to the Zion National Park later that day took us through the interestingly-named towns of Hurricane (in Utah?) and Virgin. The rock formations in the small corner of northwestern Arizona that we drove through on the road to Utah were gorgeous, but Zion was simply awe-inspiring.

One good thing we noticed pretty quickly once we left California is that gas really did get noticeably less expensive. By the time we reached southwestern Utah in the evening, we were seeing per-gallon prices for premium that were less than $4.50; we're paying more than that for regular at home now.

Day 2: Cedar City to Logan, Utah

There's a lot of nice ranch land in central Utah, but not much else. Sunday is a quiet travel day, and many businesses are closed. This was particularly suprising to the kids, who are used to the 24/7 culture of Southern California.. As we discovered that I-15 really only skirts Salt Lake City, lunch was at a Chili's in Bountiful that wasn't especially busy - after turning away from yet another Subway that was closed. After lunch, our detour for the day was to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake where - yes - we actually did see three antelope, plus one bison.

After big breakfasts and lunches, no one was really hungry in the evening, which was just as well - because, again, we didn't find any open restaurants. Tall Paul and I took a walk for a few blocks down Main Street - yes, our motel was on Main Street - and felt like we had traveled back to 1957. It wasn't just because of the old buildings, but because the streets were so quiet and no businesses were open. We decided that in come ways, we really liked it

Monday's plan calls for a scenic-highway drive into Wyoming, with a stop in Jackson, and arrival at the Lake Yellowstone hotel that evening, where we'll settle in for three Internet-free nights.

GUEST POST Book talk: "The Soul of Baseball, " by Joe Posnanski

Today's guest blogger is posting his very first book review, so please be kind. However, his selection is pretty close to his normal sports-blogging turf, and I think he did pretty well with it - but then again, what do I know? I'm only his mother, but I hope you find his contribution as enjoyable as I did. Find out a little more about Chris at the end of this post.

It's probably best to start this with a word of warning: I have no earthly idea how to do an actual, honest-to-God book review. I'm guessing it probably passes for heresy* in these parts, but ...hey, that's how it is. Can't change that at this point.

*I don't know if it actually does. Ultimately, I'm a bad kid - the kind that never visits his mom's blog. Thankfully, the guilt implied by not reading the blog isn't nearly as bad as it could be. Although, in immediate retrospect, it might not be the best idea to say I don't read something where my words are about to be written I love this place!

Oddly enough, not having any idea on how to construct a book review works for The Soul of Baseball - the author of which (whom? probably not) is attempting to get famous by trademarking that thing I did right up there, right above this; he's calling it a Posterisk. It's basically a random, tangentially related tidbit of information which exists to be entertaining. If you happened to learn something, it was probably by accident - although in my case, if it happens to be entertaining, that's probably by accident, too.

That actually doubles as a semi-accurate description of Joe Posnanski's book, although he doesn’t use it. It's a retrospective on Buck O'Neill, but to call it a biography would be a misnomer. It's a collection of anecdotes about O'Neill, but the story isn't in his anecdotes; if anything, it's almost meta-commentary about people wanting O'Neill to tell stories, people telling stories to O'Neill, or people telling stories about O'Neill. Yes, the stories they tell are interesting, but that's not really the point. Buck O'Neill was a creature of his environment; the better the environment, the better the Buck.

Do you want a one-sentence summary of the book? Joe follows Buck around for a year and becomes a positive person. That's it. On the surface, it doesn't seem interesting, but if it doesn't, then you don't know Buck*. O'Neill played in the Negro Leagues, managed in them for even longer, and then spent the rest of his life as a scout and - eventually - an ambassador for the Negro Leagues. I'd guess that most people know him from that last stage, and while they probably know that he did play in the Negro Leagues, they probably don't know the extent with which he played, which he managed, and where he was when he was doing this. (Okay, I'd guess a fair amount of people know he was with the Monarchs.) Even if people knew that, they may not have known that he was a scout - or who he signed.

*Admittedly, I didn't know a whole lot about Buck until Ken Burns' Baseball series ...that was what, 12 years ago now? I just remember that I wasn't too old when it was on, and they'd bring Buck on for something like 8 interviews a night, and we watched all of the episodes, my dad and me. For a while I thought my dad was the bigger fan of O'Neill; to me, he was just a really happy grandfather-type. I had no idea what kind of effect Buck had (and has) on the game, how he communicated, who he affected, and basically who he was. Somehow my dad figured it out way before I did, something I didn't figure out until way later. (Dad would say that about a lot of things, but that's really neither here nor there.)

Actually, terming O'Neill an ambassador is a misnomer; for millions of people (especially in the last 10-15 years), O'Neill was the Negro Leagues. He wasn't the only person alive who played in the Negro Leagues, but he was certainly the most visible, and most of the reason we know so much about those players is due to him. That doesn't sound like a huge deal, but it is. Consider that there were a generation-plus of ballplayers who were just as good as the guys in the Major Leagues, but we wouldn't know anything about them were it not for Buck and his efforts. (Okay, we'd know something. But it just wouldn't be as much.)

In a way, it's perfectly okay to pick this book up without knowing anything about O'Neill. One of the things this book carries with it is the idea that it'll all work out. I don't want to spoil what passes for the climax of the book, but even though Joe probably gets the literary equivalent of heavy-handed right there, it's not a bad thing. (Plus, it doesn't last long.) I'll say this about the climax: at the time, I was reading the book on the Metro while heading over to a friend's house, and the way the climax just kind of ...well, happens... drove me damn near to tears.

Even though this is probably reading like the grab-bag version of book reviews, that's okay. I'd highly recommend this book to any fan of good storytelling - but not storytelling in the book sense, storytelling in the "you're sitting next to a fire with three uncles and your grandfather and they're all going back and forth" sense. It’ll put a smile on your face at worst. Honestly.


I have known Chris Pendley since July 9, 1984, when we met in a hospital delivery room in St. Petersburg, Florida. Chris grew up in St. Pete, Ithaca, New York, and Germantown, Tennessee, and graduated from the University of Tennessee (GO VOLS!) with a degree in Electrical Engineering last year. He lives and works in the Washington, DC area. He has been a sports nut for nearly all his life, and blogs not nearly often enough about college football, baseball, and the occasional hockey game at Left Field Bluffs.