Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday/Weekend Assignment #312: Reviewing my Birthday Dinner

We're on a food kick in Weekend Assignment-land. Last week Karen asked us about cheese; this week, co-host Carly broadens the approach a little bit.

Weekend Assignment #312: Write A Culinary Review.
Your reviews can be about a favorite restaurant, or a specific item on a menu. Packaged foods, or something you created yourself. It's all up to you. Your take on it can be positive or negative, hey, it's your opinion! :)

Extra Credit: Write one paragraph about the WORST thing you have ever eaten.
I can't get a full paragraph out of the extra credit, but I'd have to say Brussels sprouts are very near the top of the "worst food I've ever eaten" list - at least, they were memorably bad. I tried cooking them once, years ago, at the request of my first husband. Perhaps it was the fault of my cooking, but I think it was actually the vegetables - UGH. I've never gone near them since, but at least I can say I have an informed distaste for them.

There's a good reason why Brussels sprouts don't show up on many restaurant menus. They're not an choice offered at my favorite special-occasion place to eat, Spark (formerly Red Fish) at the Simi Valley Town Center - but even if they were, I wouldn't be ordering them. There are too many other, much tastier options.

Tall Paul took me to Spark for my birthday dinner this past Monday. Being a Monday, the restaurant was quiet, but they never rush you through your meal there anyway. One of my favorite features of Spark is apparent almost right away - you're served water right after you're seated (which has become less common in drought-stricken Southern California), and a full carafe of more water is left on your table. Sometimes we don't order anything else to drink, and it's nice not to have to flag someone down when our glasses are nearing empty.

We started our meal with our favorite appetizer - shrimp cocktail. Someone once said that "jumbo shrimp" is an oxymoron - and I guess it is, but these shrimp were huge, perfectly chilled, and served with a kicky-but-not-too-spicy sauce on the side.

The chopped green salad is one of two options offered with dinner (Caesar is the other), and it's not ordinary. I am not generally a fan of bleu cheese, but it actually works in this salad. The vinaigrette dressing served on the side is unusually thick - it's more of an emulsion than a liquid, and it has a good flavor. But for me, it's the fine shreds of fried sweet potato on top that really make this salad special. (The menu says they're "crispy onions," but no, they're definitely sweet potatoes.)

The entree selections at Spark are primarily seafood and beef, with burgers, barbecue options, and jambalaya also offered. I've tried a few different things - and would love to try the jambalaya, but it contains clams and clams and I don't get along - but since this was my birthday dinner, I went for my favorite: the filet medallions. I don't eat red meat very often, and when I do, it's usually at a restaurant, so I tend to splurge. I splurged on my side item, too - the baked potato with bacon and Cheddar cheese. Again, it was my birthday dinner - and it was delicious! The filet was a little pinker than I usually like it, but still very tender and flavorful, and the bacon on the potato was crisp and plentiful.

We didn't order dessert, since we had some birthday cake at home (we'd had another birthday dinner with my stepkids the night before), but apparently our server had heard my husband's several mentions of my birthday. (We didn't have a reservation, but it was a slow night.) She brought us a lovely stemmed bowl holding two scoops of gelato - one vanilla, one chocolate hazelnut - topped with a sprig of mint and a lighted birthday candle. It was a lovely surprise; the gelato's flavors were intense and the texture was indulgent.

We save Spark for special occasions, because it's not good for us to eat like that too often - and we might not enjoy it as much if we did. But Tall Paul has a birthday coming up in October...

Do you have a favorite special-occasion place to eat?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Talk: *The Sparrow,* by Mary Doria Russell (Read-Along Wrap-Up)

Disclosure: This book is part of my personal library and was purchased several years ago. I read it for the second time.
Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow
Mary Doria Russell
Ballantine Books (1997), Paperback (Reprint) (ISBN 0449912558 / 9780449912553)
Fiction, 448 pages

Opening Lines
(from the Prologue): "It was predictable, in hindsight. Everything about the history of the Society of Jesus bespoke deft and efficient action, exploration, and research. During what Europeans were pleased to call the Age of Discovery, Jesuit priests were never more than a year or two behind the men who made initial contact with previously unknown peoples; indeed, Jesuits were often the vanguard of exploration."

(From Chapter 1): "On December 7, 2059, Emilio Sandoz was released from the isolation ward of Salvator Mundi Hospital in the middle of the night and transported in a bread van to the Jesuit Residence at Number 5 Borgo Santo Spìrito, a few minutes' walk across St. Peter's Square from the Vatican. The next day, ignoring shouted questions and howls of journalistic outrage as he read, a Jesuit spokesman issued a short statement to the frustrated and angry media mob that had gathered outside Number 5's massive front door."

Book Description: The Sparrow takes you on a journey to a distant planet and to the center of the human soul. It is the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads a twenty-first-century scientific mission to a newly discovered extraterrestrial culture. Sandoz and his companions are prepared to endure isolation, hardship and death, but nothing can prepare them for the civilization they encounter, or for the tragic misunderstanding that brings the mission to a catastrophic end. Once considered a living saint, Sandoz returns alone to Earth physically and spiritually maimed, the mission's sole survivor--only to be accused of heinous crimes and blamed for the mission's failure.

Comments: There aren't many books that I'm an evangelist for. I'll tell you what I like, and I'll make suggestions and recommendations, but I don't often state outright that "You HAVE to read this." I will go out on that limb for The Sparrow, though. You have to read this.

As I said in our Read-Along Discussion a couple of weeks ago, this is a very hard book to pigeonhole. You may not care for science fiction; this is SF free of technobabble. While the primary plot concerns interplanetary exploration and first contact with a non-human species in another solar system, the focus is on character and the setting doesn't require contortion of the imagination. You may be wary of fiction with religious overtones; this novel prominently features several Jesuit priests among its characters, but the last thing it does is preach. The novel explores Big Ideas of faith and God and humanity and Meaning in the way that many of us would - in far-ranging conversations with friends - and doesn't beat you over the head with them. You'd never guess that this is Mary Doria Russell's first novel (previously, she wrote scientific articles and technical manuals); the writing is very accomplished, and yet it doesn't call attention to itself at all. What other arguments can I shoot down for you?

One thing that recently provoked a conversation with my Read-Along co-hosts was how much Russell tells the reader in the early chapters of the book. After a radio telescope picked up transmissions that resembled music from somewhere near Alpha Centauri, an expedition to find out more about where they came from was facilitated by the Jesuits. Something very bad happened there, and only one member of the party was left to return to Earth. That survivor, Father Emilio Sandoz, has been deeply wounded in every possible way, and resists his order's efforts to understand what happened on the planet Rakhat. Having believed that he and his fellow expeditioners had been drawn there by God, Emilio can't fully understand it himself.

Knowing all of this fairly early in the game doesn't lessen the novel's dramatic tension one bit, or blunt the impact of the full revelations that Russell eventually makes. When I reached the end of The Sparrow, I was drained - and I had read the book once before! That's just how masterful Russell's writing is.

And while Russell's plot will certainly hold your attention, it's the fully-realized characters she has created that bring you through it. The characters have stuck with me during the five years since I first read The Sparrow, and I was once again struck by how vividly drawn they were. The dialogue and interaction between them feels absolutely true to life, even when they're discussing questions of belief or problems of engineering, and I love the way Russell has given them humor. My favorite character is Dr. Anne Edwards, brilliant and blunt, with astronomer Jimmy Quinn, "discoverer" of Rakhat, a close second. Emilio Sandoz - priest, linguist, cultural explorer, perpetrator or victim of a tragic misunderstanding - is absolutely central to the story, but I did find him enigmatic at times and therefore harder to embrace than some of the other characters. I wonder if that was Russell's intention. However, what's especially striking to me is that while not all of the characters are necessarily likable, I think she has rendered them all sympathetically - even the non-human ones.

I tend to have some trouble visualizing imaginary species. That's one reason I tend to get my science fiction and fantasy from movies and TV instead of books, and despite Russell's strong descriptions, I don't have a strong sense of what the Runa and Jana'ata natives of Rakhat are supposed to look like...but I'm not sure it matters. Russell does convey that they're clearly different from humans, while she also explores the ways in which they're not so alien.

The Sparrow is a page-turner that will make you think critically, make you feel deeply...and make you want to talk about it, which is why we built a Read-Along around it. That event wraps up today with reviews posted by our participants, leading off at The Book Lady's Blog. I hope you'll check out their impressions too, if you need further convincing that you have to read this!

The story of Emilio Sandoz and the planet Rakhat continues in Children of God, with further exploration of the VaRakhati. I've taken that one off the shelf in hopes of re-reading it later this year - do any of you Read-Along'ers have similar plans?

Rating: 5/5 (but because it was a re-read, it is ineligible to be considered for my 2010 Book of the Year)

Many, many thanks to Heather and Rebecca for agreeing to co-host The Sparrow Read-Along with me! Thanks also to everyone who joined us. I hope those of you who were revisiting this book found something new in it this time around - I know I did. If you were just discovering The Sparrow, I'm glad you chose to do that with us, and I'm eager to know your thoughts about it!

Monday, March 29, 2010

A news flash: Speaking for Book Bloggers at BlogHer'10!

Do you remember my mentioning a couple of months ago that I had submitted a proposal for a Book Bloggers "Room of Your Own" at the BlogHer'10 Conference, and asking for your votes to help get it on the agenda?
Some of us started blogging just to talk about the books we read. Others of us like to talk about the books we read, but don't really want to build our blogs around them. Most of us probably expected we'd be mostly talking to ourselves - but we don't, or at least not for very long. We find each other all the time, and great conversations result.
The session did get a decent number of votes - and if you contributed to that, thank you! - but not quite enough to make it on to the agenda. However, my proposal was one of several ROYO ideas concerning to the books-and-blogs relationship, and that got BlogHer'10's team thinking about how to accommodate the topic. Here's what they came up with:
The Evolving Publishing Ecosystem: We've had a Book to Blog session every year since 2006, and the topic is obviously still hot, as there were about half a dozen different submissions around the topic. So, how can we tackle this perennial favorite in a new way? By talking about the new publishing ecosystem, in which the lines between writer, critic and publisher have become irrevocably blurred.

We all know bloggers want to become authors. But with traditional publishers spending less and less on marketing, authors must now become marketers, and that means they must become bloggers too...sometimes they take to it eagerly, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming. Add to the mix how much easier than ever it is to self-publish and the book bloggers who are now being wooed by publishers and even authors directly, and you've got a new publishing eco-system.

The solitary pursuits of writing and criticism are now transparent and sometimes even crowd-sourced. And more authors and critics are now not only the content producers, but their own publishers and business development representatives. The lines are decidedly blurred. But the opportunities seem so much more accessible than ever. We will dig into it all in this session featuring Kamy Wicoff from She Writes, book blogger Florinda, marketing expert Penny Sansevieri, and others from part of the new publishing eco-system.
The full conference schedule is posted now. In the first afternoon session of Day 2 - Saturday, August 7, from 1:30-2:45 PM - book bloggers WILL be represented at the country's biggest general-interest blogging conference, and their role will be viewed in the context of today's publishing climate. And they - we - will be represented by...me. I hope we all know what we're doing.

I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to be part of this session. Since it will be a panel discussion and the panel members don't all know each other yet, I don't know exactly how we'll develop our content, but I'm excited about working with this team and looking forward to seeing how it all comes together. If you have input or suggestions, please feel free to share them via e-mail (3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com).

Today's my birthday, and I found out about this at just about the right time to consider it one of my gifts - I've just been waiting till the official announcement so I could share it with y'all!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Salon, Birthday Weekend Edition: Book-buying begins again!

The Sunday 

Reading Progress and Plans

I'm trying to finish reading Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart this weekend, and I think I'll accomplish that. I'll be reviewing it in tandem with Beth's earlier YA novel, Undercover - I may not post it till next week, though, so as not to divert attention from my review of The Sparrow (see the Read-Along note below). Both of those books count for my Blogging Authors Reading Project, as does my next blog-tour read, Get Lucky by Katherine Center.

Double-booking is usually problematic for me, but I think I'll try it again anyway, accompanying my reading of Get Lucky with In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church by Gina Welch (a LibraryThing Early Reviewer book). Pairing fiction and nonfiction seems to be the way this works best for me, based on previous attempts - wish me luck! I really don't know how those of you who regularly read two, three or more(!) books at the same time manage it.

And as you may recall, my book-buying ban bit the dust last weekend. I know I said I wouldn't tell you which books blew it until Easter, but since I bought two more after that, why play games any more? But I will note that all but one of these was already on my wishlist, so it wasn't like I was swept off my feet or anything:

I also received two LTER books this week, one of which I'd given up on seeing (it was in December's batch, and I'd already marked it as "not received"):

Meanwhile, the Wishlist continues to balloon:
If the Church Were Christian, by Philip Gulley
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi Durrow
Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, by Daniel Radosh
Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America, by Rich Benjamin
The House of Tomorrow, by Peter Bognanni
The Language of Secrets, by Dianne Dixon

What are you reading, and did you stumble across any good books this week?

News and Notes and Announcements

The Sparrow Read-Along is wrapping up this week! We'll be posting our reviews and thoughts about the book this Tuesday, March 30, led by Rebecca at The Book Lady's Blog.
Also, if you've responded to any of Heather's discussion questions, don't forget to leave her the link to your post (which should go up before your review does, if it isn't already posted).

I am so glad to have read this book again, and having company for it made it even better. I'm looking forward to reading everyone's reviews, and having some great discussions in comments all over the place!
  • It's two weeks until the next 24-Hour Read-a-thon on April 10! Are you in? I think I am, but I'm pretty sure it won't be for 24 hours - I won't be able to have it eat my whole weekend (or take an extra day off before it starts) this time. But it's too much fun - and too productive - to miss it completely!
There's one other thing that I first announced on Twitter a few days ago - I'll give you all the details about that later this week, but it has something to do with this.

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

What sort of reviews influence you to read a book - positive, negative, or impassioned, regardless of which side they're on?

An author gives book bloggers credit as book reviewers, promoters, and influencers

Are you drawn to - or irritated by - books set in places you know?
I tend to connect in a special way with books set in places I know, but then I get particular about the details. I like to be able to recognize the city. But even when the book is set somewhere unfamiliar, I want the author to make me see what it's like; I just won't know how accurate that mental picture is.

Settings can be a source of frustration for me when it comes to TV shows and movies, since so many take place in Los Angeles (where most of the writers and producers live). When you live here, it's so easy to nitpick about how places that are nowhere near each other are made to look like they're practically next door! (That drove me insane when I used to watch 24...but I've finally dropped that show from the DVR rotation, and can only assume has made DC-dwellers and New Yorkers just as insane for the last two seasons!)
For maximum reading pleasure: Reader Age + 10 years = Author Age on Publication (+/- 5 years) - Jackie's proposed formula for determining the optimal age relationship between author and reader. Does the age of an author matter? (Maybe, maybe not...but now that I think about it, I do tend to gravitate toward contemporary authors in my own age range, in large part because we have common frames of reference. I'm not sure that's as big a factor in genre fiction.)

What do 2009's best-selling books say about Americans' collective reading tastes? (One thing they say to me: book bloggers' tastes don't necessarily reflect the mass market. This is NOT a bad thing.)

And now for a couple of "in case you missed it" items:
  • I was pleased to be Literary Feline's guest for her interview feature, "A Page in the Life," this month. Wendy is a great interviewer, and it was a lot of fun!
"First thing I want to get out there: I hate Twilight, especially Edward Cullen. It may be because I read Twilight wanting a good vampire book, and got GUSH MUSH LOVEY-DOVEY GOOSH FLOOSH action GUSH GUSH GUSH. Gag me please. The Edward character creeped me out. The main character, Bella, woke up to Edward being in her room because 'He liked to watch her sleep'. I dunno, but that (to me) screams STALKER. And I don't see stalking as sexy. Bella also describes him as 'sparkly'. What does she do at school? Other girls say things like, 'My boyfriend is nice,' or, 'My boyfriend is funny,' and here come vampy's girlfriend, 'Well my boyfriend is SPARKLY!!'"

Have a great reading week!

Friday, March 26, 2010

(Birthday) Week-End Review: Questions, links, and Fill-ins

Question of the Week: How do you like to celebrate your birthday?

My birthday is this coming Monday, March 29. I view birthdays as our own personal holidays, although as I've written before, my birthday isn't truly my own, since my mother had it first. But it's still my day!

I like to celebrate my birthday over a full weekend when it works out. Last year, it fell on a Sunday and my stepkids had no school the next day due a teacher in-service; we took advantage of Disneyland's "free admission on your birthday" promotion - which they were doing only during 2009, so don't get your hopes up! - and spent the weekend in Anaheim. This year's plans are nowhere near so lofty.

This year's birthday-weekend plans are rather nebulous, actually. I think we'll be taking in at least one family movie this weekend, maybe two (How to Train Your Dragon and/or Diary of a Wimpy Kid), and I get to choose where we have dinner on Sunday. Other than that, I guess whatever happens, happens.

I have one birthday rule: unless there's something critical happening at the office to prevent it, I don't work on my birthday. If my birthday falls on a weekend and I wouldn't be working anyway, I still take a vacation day on the Friday before or Monday after. Who wants to ruin a birthday by spending it at work? Anyway, that means this will be a three-day weekend with a vacation day on Monday. I hope to meet up with my sister and possibly another friend (not at the same time), read, and maybe do some writing. Since I killed my book-buying ban last weekend anyway, I just may kick its carcass to the curb for good and treat myself to a bookstore outing. I don't know what else I'll do with my day, but I know I do not want to do any chores, and I will not get up at 4:30 in the morning!

Dispatches: Links of the Week

Lessons learned by a single parent that any parent can benefit from

Would it help if common sense were required by law?

In which a blogger contemplates keeping up, having a life, and why she's really doing this; in which a blogger stays in the game, in part, by being aloof

It's down to the Final Four...worst celebrity husbands!

The secret to a parent's reading time: time out (for the kids!). A secret of parenting: it's not all bloggable moments, even if you're a parent who blogs

New Arrivals in Google Reader

Friday Fill-ins #169


1. The right word in the right ear at the right time may open the right door.
2. The baby's finally asleep! Just make sure he's settled in the crib and shut the door quietly, please.
3. Up the Junction (I know it's not a full sentence, but it IS one of my favorite Squeeze songs!)
4. Prowling through the bookstore is where you'll find me.
5. Ooh! What is that song you're listening to?
6. Leaving a little early to beat the traffic is a good idea (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't).
7. And as for the weekend, I shared those plans in answering my Question of the Week!
Have a great weekend - even if it's not your birthday!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"A Page in the Life" with Wendy

Did you ever consider having separate blogs or did you know from the start one was enough?

Has blogging impacted your reading? If so, how? 

How do you pull yourself out of a reading or blogging slump or what steps do you take to avoid that from happening?

Book you'd most like to be trapped with in a broken elevator for several hours:  

Name one book I absolutely must read at some point in my life:

These are just a few of the questions I'm answering today...on someone else's blog. I know that this is the second day in a row that I've sent you elsewhere,  but I do hope you'll join me there!

I'm very excited to be the featured guest of "A Page in the Life" today! This recurring interview feature is hosted by Wendy, a/k/a Literary Feline, at Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Wendy is one of my very favorite people and oldest blogging friends - this blog just turned 3 years old, and I think she's been around for about two and a half of those years! She's a faithful commenter too; a post feels somehow unfinished to me if she hasn't weighed in on it. I've enjoyed her interviews with book bloggers ever since she started "A Page in the Life" last year, and was very happy to be invited to participate this month.

Come and visit Wendy and me at Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The reflection of *Twilight*...

Readergirls Before the Twilight Saga was a movie series, it was books. It was a series of books that I gave to my stepdaughter when she was in the eighth grade. I hadn't read them myself - at that time, I considered myself too old for young-adult literature, and I'd never pre-screened the books my son read, so it honestly didn't occur to me to check them out first. I knew the basics of the story and that it was hugely popular with girls in her age group, and I also knew my stepdaughter had an interest in goth trappings and paranormal stories that also wasn't uncommon at that age, so I thought she might enjoy the books.

She did like the first one, for the most part. But she got rather fed up during New Moon and didn't finish it, and has never even opened Eclipse. (Breaking Dawn isn't even on the radar.) She has actively shunned the movies based on the series, although she has lately considered watching them on DVD with her best friends - fellow Twilight-haters - just to snark on them. Based on what I've come to learn about the story over the last few years, I think she has the right idea. Other considerations aside (like the quality of the writing), this series is perpetuating ideas that girls and young women don't need, and yet are particularly susceptible to. The lure of the "bad boy," the idea that you just can't live without "the one"...it takes YEARS for some of us to un-learn this stuff!

"Bella is an idiot and Edward is a stalker." Not much gets past that girl...
...however, the rest of this post got all the way over to the LA Moms Blog. Thanks to Amy for inspiring this one!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Tangents: Be Counted! The Census Edition

We received our 2010 Census Form last week, but need to make a few minutes to fill it out. Have you gotten yours yet?

PSAs for the Census tell us to send the form back right away. However, the form itself states that Census Day is officially April 1, 2010, so you should respond by counting the people in your home as of that date. It's not clear to me whether this is actually a due date, but I'm wondering how they arrived at it. I assume April 15 was out of the running, since it's Tax Day and we wouldn't want to overwhelm the government with paperwork from two different sources in one day. My husband pointed out that April 1 is the first day of the second quarter, which may have some significance; it's also the first day of the second half of the Federal fiscal year, which runs from October 1 to September 30. But the first thing I think of when I consider the date April 1 is that it's April Fool's Day. How are they going to be able to rely on numbers reported on April Fool's Day? They could be totally made up! It seems to me that someone didn't think this out completely.

But seriously...I've heard and read concerns about the Census - that it's an invasion of privacy, that we don't know what the information will be used for, that there's a hidden agenda. It occurs to me that people are increasingly paranoid. The Census has been taken every ten years for a long time (it's actually established by the Constitution), so it's not like this is something new to worry about. And we do know what much of the information will be used for - determining the size and number of legislative districts and allocating money for various Federal spending programs are two of the most important uses for Census data. Statistics junkies know that there are also all sorts of interesting demographic profiles created by crunching the Census numbers. Additional demographic goodies will come from responses to the American Community Survey (PDF), which asks more detailed questions about housing, income, education and work as an annual supplement to the Census. (That form goes out to a random sample of households - we didn't get one.)

If you haven't gotten your form yet or you're curious about which questions are asked and why, it's all explained on the Census website. The form (PDF) has sections to be completed for nine people at a given address (and extra space on the back to add more), and asks the same ten questions for them all. Half the questions have been used for well over a century; sex, age, and race of the respondents have been required for over 200 years. (Interestingly, the early decades of the census asked about race at a time when certain non-white individuals only counted as 3/5 of a person.) Asking for names and telephone numbers is newer, and that may be spurring some of the more recent privacy concerns. However, Social Security numbers are not requested or required.

There's a question about the respondent's "Hispanic origin," which is asked separately from the race question and has been part of the Census since 1970. This will apply to three out of four people in my house; we have a Hispanic last name, but fortunately we didn't receive a Spanish-language or bilingual form, which would have made getting our information tricky. No one here reads or speaks Spanish; I may be able to muddle through it the best, but I'm the one who is Latina by marriage only, and my Español dates (way) back to high school.

One of the interesting demographic bits that will likely come out of this Census is just how ethnically intermingled this country is now, since respondents are not limited to just one choice for race - it's a "check all that apply" question. Whether this is progress depends on your perspective - I happen to think it is. I also think it points out that these days, it's rash to assume anything about anyone - their language, their lifestyle, their food preferences - based on his or her last name. And regardless of the respondent's reported race and ethnicity, there are no questions addressing legal residency status - basically, if you're here, you're here, and they'll count you.

Are you concerned about responding to the Census at all? At one level, it doesn't really matter if you have an issue with it - response is legally required anyway, and if your form doesn't get mailed in, Census workers will come and ask you the questions in person. I'm not bothered by it; I think it creates an interesting snapshot of where the country is at a given point in time. Of course, since that point in time only happens once a decade, there's a lot left out of that snapshot, but it's still an interesting one. Hopefully, most people won't take note of the fact that Census Day is also April Fool's Day, and that snapshot will be a reasonably accurate one, too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The cheesiest Weekend Assignment ever!

Karen's question for this Weekend Assignment is about one of my favorite foods: 

  Weekend Assignment #311: What is your favorite kind of cheese and why? Do you have it often, or just occasionally?
  Extra Credit: Is there a kind of cheese you hate?

Cheese, cheese, cheese...I wish I didn't like it so much. For one thing, I suspect I'd struggle with my weight less if I didn't enjoy it. For another, I've recently found that it's best - for me and those around me - if I take a Lactaid tablet before I eat something cheesy, and that does detract from the enjoyment a bit. (Sorry for the TMI, y'all.) I should eat it less often than I do, really. But it's so tasty, how can I NOT like it?

I rarely eat cheese by itself, though; most of the time, it's an ingredient. Grated Parmesan cheese must be added on top of my pasta and tomato sauce, and it's essential to my homemade meatballs and my husband's favorite baked chicken breasts. My from-scratch baked macaroni and cheese takes shredded Cheddar; I prefer the flavor of sharp, but mild tends to work better when cooking, and I use the reduced-fat 2%-milk variety. I like adding a slice of sharp Cheddar cheese to a toasted sandwich, which makes it melt just a bit, and grilled-cheese sandwiches (sometimes with ham added, sometimes not) are a favorite guilt-inducing pleasure.

When I started Weight Watchers over six years ago, there were certain things I had to accept that I would rarely or never eat again. One of the first things to go was my beloved twice-baked potatoes loaded with melted Cheddar. Cheesecake wasn't far behind. I've gained back some of that weight (although it seems to sit differently now), but it wasn't due to starting back up with the cheesecake and potatoes; the cheesecake remains an occasional treat (but since my husband doesn't like it I don't make it at home any more), and I can't remember when I last ate the potatoes. If I said I didn't miss them, though, I would totally be lying.

I'm not a fan of strong-smelling cheeses in general, and I don't like Swiss all that much - sometimes, it just tastes a bit soapy to me. If I need that sort of flavor in a recipe, I'll try to use Gruyere instead. And despite my half-Italian heritage, I don't especially love mozzarella either, but I can get similar results and more flavor when cooking with provolone.

I have to stop writing and find myself a snack now. It may or may not include cheese.

All cheesy comments are welcome!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Salon 3/21: So much for the Book-Buying Ban!

The Sunday 

Reading Progress and Plans:

I'm finishing Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow this weekend for the Read-along, and I posted my responses to our interim discussion of the book earlier this week - thanks to Heather for coordinating it and collecting everyone's posts! We're scheduled to post reviews and wrap it up on March 30, so it's still not too late to join us in reading (or re-reading) this amazing novel; I'd be very surprised if it didn't pull you in quickly!

Once I finish The Sparrow, I'll be reading Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart so I can post my tandem review of that and her prior novel, Undercover - with luck, that one will go quickly, although savoring Beth's writing may slow me down a bit.

Two books I received as ARCs from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program have just come out this month, so I'd like to get to In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church by Gina Welch and The Irresistible Henry House: A Novel by Lisa Grunwald as soon as possible.

Then I've got back-to-back-to-back tours in April and May: Get Lucky by Katherine Center, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees, and The Danish Girl: A Novel, by David Ebershoff. Since my family is planning a two-week vacation trip during June, I'm planning to take a break from blog tours from late May through early July; no matter how tempting something sounds, I think it's best if I keep my reading commitment-free at that point.

In other news, I have broken my book-buying ban! I was in Barnes and Noble shopping for a gift, and of course I had to have a look around. I bought two books - one from my wishlist and one that would have been if I'd thought of putting it there - but restrained myself from going any further. I lasted four weeks, though, and that's better than I've managed in other years! Easter is only two weeks away now, and I'm going to try to stick it out till then and not further indulge - the Wishlist will just have to grow a little more in the meantime!

Speaking of the Wishlist, here are the newest additions:
The Lotus Eaters, by Tatjana Soli
Everything Changes, by Jonathan Tropper

I'm not going to announce which books I broke the ban for until after Easter ☺, but I'll tell you about a few others I got this week...I was the Grand Prize winner in A Novel Menagerie's Susan Jane Gilman Giveaway! I received three of her books: Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, and Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress. I've already read, reviewed (and loved) Hypocrite..., so I'll be looking for another home for this brand-new copy - possibly one of the entrants in my Blogiversary Giveaway!

Speaking of the Blogiversary Giveaway, have you entered yet? Entries are open till this Friday, March 27!

Aarti asks the most provocative questions in her Sunday Salon posts. Last week's query, on the topic of blog tours, was: "Do you give in to the hype?" My response in the comments there was:
I was offered a copy of the book for the Garth Stein tour, but turned it down - there was very little notice, and there was a condition that the review MUST be posted within a one-week period. I declined because couldn't meet the timeframe, but I also agree with you about the saturation. On tours like that, where multiple reviews are being posted every day, I'll read a few if the book interests me, and then that's it. More and more reviews just make me tired of seeing the book.

I agree with (the commenters who) mentioned that the publicists and publishers don't really get book bloggers. Many of us subscribe to a LOT of blogs - I know I do. I understand that they want to get word about a book out to the widest possible audience, but they don't realize that the audience has a lot of overlap - that's why, to me, the "blog blast" approach to reviewing is not particularly effective. People just start to feel beaten over the head.

I'm not sure about The Hunger Games; as far as I know, Catching Fire didn't tour, but there were ARCs at BEA last year. I've heard there won't be ARCs or tours for Mockingjay - and it won't matter. There is genuine, organic interest in reading that book ASAP.

(BTW, they sent me a copy of Raven Stole the Moon anyway, and I will read and review it, since I liked The Art of Racing in the Rain - but I'll do it when I get around to it.)
What's your take on blog-tour saturation - do you think it helps or hurts a book? Do you put as much trust in the recommendations that come from that type of buzz-building?

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

I'm not much for audiobooks, since I tend to process information better when I see it than when I hear it, but Eva makes some good arguments in their favor. Also: In a guest post on Devourer of Books, an author who has made the jump to a traditional publisher makes a case for self-publishing fiction

How would your latest review score at Book Review Bingo? (I think this is like golf - you really don't want a high score.) Another review-related question: How do you make your reviews different when the books you're reading all seem the same?

How would you define your literary identity?

I'm pretty sure of which one I am - are you a book-keeper or a book-purger?

Which should come first, the book or the movie - and is the answer always the same?

Looking for books in The City? Dawn is spinning off her popular "Spotlight on Bookstores" feature to a directory of New York City bookstores, which may be of interest to bookish types heading to NYC this year! (I won't be there for BEA/Book Blogger Con, as y'all know, but my family will be visiting for a week in June and I'll be back there for BlogHer'10 in August - I'm looking forward to seeing what's on Dawn's list!)

For those who are WAY into Harry Potter: the Hogwarts Reading Challenge, in which participants earn points for their Houses...so you start out with a quiz to see which House you'll belong to. I'm not joining the challenge, but I decided to be Sorted anyway. My result was pretty much what I expected:

Get Sorted By The Hogwarts Sorting Hat!
(Oh well, I always had a feeling I wasn't Ravenclaw material...)

Have a great reading week - unless you'd rather be outside enjoying the arrival of Spring!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Week-end Review, Weekly Question - End of Winter (?) Edition

Question of the Week: "Who's ready for Spring?"

I realize that it's probably a bit unfair for someone who lives in Southern California to complain about winter, and I'm really not doing that. We don't have very distinct seasons here, after all - "winter" weather is cooler but rarely requires bundling up, unless it's against the rain. We've actually had a good amount of rain this year, which after several years of drought was quite necessary and (mostly) welcome; it's a pleasure to look outside and see green growth on the hillsides. I'm hoping for a damp spring too, so things won't already be brown and dusty by May.

Still, considering the record snowfalls other parts of the country have seen this year, I'm sure many of you have FAR more impatience than I do to see the end of winter! The Spring Equinox arrives this weekend - can you tell if winter getting out of its way where you live?

Spring is my favorite time of year, even though its arrival here is really quite subtle. It just happens to coincide with some things I'm really looking forward to:
  • My birthday (March 29), which will be a three-day weekend for me (who wants to ruin their birthday with working?)
  • The end of my Lenten Book-Buying Ban!
  • Taking my husband to his first book signing (Christopher Moore at Vroman's, April 9)
  • The LA Times Festival of Books! (April 24-25) (Let me know if you're going - plans for a meet-up are in the works!)
  • The Lost series finale (May - not that I'm glad to see it end, but I'm anxious to see how it ends)
  • Ending Spring and welcoming Summer on the East Coast during our family vacation to Washington, DC and New York City (June)
Have you had enough of Winter 2010?
What are you anticipating this Spring?

Bonus Question of the Week: Have you entered my Blogiversary Giveaway yet? Entries will be open until March 27! You could win a $35 e-gift card to the shopping site of YOUR CHOICE (because not everyone wants to buy from Amazon.com).

Dispatches: Links of the Week

Why parents need to remember they're raising social creatures, or "life's too short to pretend to like other people's overly-entitled children." Speaking of children, and not being children: why life really isn't "high school" after high school

A parking garage and a sense of safety

There's no shame in being ashamed of yourself sometimes - no, really, there's not. And there's no shame in celebrating the "everyday" achivements, either

When everyone's talking, is anyone still listening? Listen to this: not every mom blogger is working on her brand. And it's still Women's History Month, so listen to this reflection on feminism and blogging ("mom" and otherwise)

It's the fundamental question in this space: Why blog? What's your answer?

If you read Monday's post (in which I went with the "flow"), my most recent contribution to the LA Moms Blog will sound familiar (but not exactly the same)

Friday Fill-ins #168


1. Today I will be hoping to be left alone so I can actually get some work done!
2. You say "Let's go get some coffee" and I say "Why not?"
3. What do you think of when you hear the word "legendary"?
4. At Starbucks it's Free Pastry Day til 10:30 Friday noon on Tuesday, March 23! (Really - it's true!)
5. People say that what we're all seeking is peace, love, and understanding (and what's so funny about that?)
6. The image I cherish most is the whole family together at Christmastime.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to an evening at home, tomorrow my plans include trying to finish reading The Sparrow, and Sunday, I want to find out where we're taking my dad for his birthday dinner!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tuesday Tangents on Thursday: A Q&A Special

I don't do all that many memes here these days, and it's been a while since I've posted one that wasn't book-related. But I've been tagged a couple of times lately, and I decided it wouldn't be nice to ignore these - besides, they were fun to answer!

I was given this little "blog challenge" by my friend April of It's All About Balance. Some of my answers turned out to be the same as hers, but you wouldn't know that if I didn't tell you - she'll probably spot them pretty easily, though.

1. If you could give the world one piece of advice, what would it be?
Try seeing the other person's side of the issue before you decide yours is right - because maybe it isn't. (Seriously. I'm SO tired of the "my way or the highway" attitude. How will our kids learn the art of compromise if the adults are acting like four-year-olds?)

2. If you could have a room full of any one thing, what would it be?
Guess ☺. Books, of course!

3. What do you value most in other people?
Openness, compassion, and a good sense of humor. (This question wasn't limited to one thing!)

4. If you could only see black and white except for one color, what color would it be?
Hey, isn't the premise of Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey something like this? (I have the book, but my husband will most likely read it before I do; it's on his nightstand right now). I think I'd choose blue - it's not necessarily my favorite color, but it's the color of some of my favorite things in nature (and my husband's eyes).

5. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My height - I'd be 5'2." If we're not talking about physical characteristics, though, I'd be more of an extrovert (although I wouldn't change my love of reading!)

6. If you could choose one of your personality traits to pass on to your children, what would it be?
My child will be 26 (!!) in July - I probably have readers his age and younger! (This is where I tell you that he was born when I was 20, so I'm not as old as you might guess - and although it actually worked out pretty well for me, I don't recommend starting out quite that early.) In any case, I suspect that window of opportunity has closed - at this point, he's pretty much his own person, and I see traits from both his dad and me in him. He has my love of reading and writing, in any case.

I sometimes see habits and traits in my stepchildren which I think they may have picked up from me - they live with their father and me half-time - and that tends to surprise me. It also makes me consider the whole nature/nurture question.

7. What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?

Some sort of extreme physical challenge, like rock climbing or scaling a wall - one of those things I swear I could never do when I watch people do them on The Amazing Race.

8. Would you rather teach a young child to read or have to learn again for yourself?
Teach a child, because if "learning again for myself" means I would have lost the ability somehow, forget it!

9. What is the best advice you’ve ever given and received?
I tend to avoid giving advice, partly because I don't always appreciate getting it, but also because it makes me a little nervous to have anyone listen to what I say and act on it. Having said that, "Recognize what you can control, deal with that, and let the rest sort itself out" is a pretty good rule - it's helped me worry a lot less, anyway. (Unfortunately, I haven't quite gotten it across to my husband.)

Best received advice? "Maybe you should talk to someone." It took a few attempts before therapy really accomplished much for me, but it was worth it every time.

10. How would you like to die?
With my mental faculties as intact as possible...my mother died of early-onset Alzheimer's, and I truly hope not to have the same fate.

Laura of Musings wanted to know a few of the things I like and don't like ("hate" is such a strong word):

I like getting up early.
I like quiet time to myself in the morning.
I like breakfast.
I like reading at breakfast.
I like reading over breakfast and coffee on weekend mornings at Starbucks.
I like talking over breakfast and coffee with my sister on weekend mornings at Starbucks.
I like mornings when I don't have to rush off to work.
I like vacations.
I like hanging out with smart, funny people.
I like living with smart, funny people.
I like cooking and baking for people.
I like good food and good conversation.
I love talking about blogging and social media with people who get it.
Today (which will be yesterday when this posts) was one of the more productive days I've had lately.
I hate driving with the sun in my eyes.
I hate sitting in traffic.
I hate leaving early and still arriving late because I've been sitting in traffic.
I hate days when I can't seem to accomplish anything.
I hate governments that can't seem to accomplish anything except infighting.
I hate misplaced priorities.
I hate not knowing the right thing to say or do.
I hate not having enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.
I (secretly) like going to bed early.
I love the way my husband and I make each other laugh, every day.

I'm not tagging anyone to do either of these, but feel free to steal 'em and answer 'em yourself!

Have you entered my Blogiversary Giveaway yet? Entries will be open until March 27! You could win a $35 e-gift card to the shopping site of YOUR CHOICE (because not everyone wants to buy from Amazon.com).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Flock of Readers for THE SPARROW: A discussion in progress

We're a few weeks into the Read-Along of The Sparrow, so this seemed like a good time for some interim discussion. My co-host Heather J. posted a fine selection of discussion questions yesterday; I'll respond to a few of those, in addition to sharing some of my own impressions on Our Story So Far. Links to all of the responses are being collected here; participants are asked to post their discussions before March 30, which is the day we've designated for reviews and wrap-up posts. Also, if you're not part of the Read-Along, but you've read The Sparrow before and would like to join the conversation, please feel free to join in with a post of your own or comment on the discussion post - we'd love to have you!
It is the year 2019. From an outer-space listening post on Puerto Rico come the sounds of exquisite singing—emanating from a planet that will be known by earth as Rakhat. While the international community debates endlessly about sending a mission, a scientific team of eight Jesuits quietly launches its own. What they discover on Rakhat makes them question the very basis of what it means to be human. Four decades later, Emilio Sandoz, the sole survivor, attempts to tell what happened. – summary via LitLovers
I'm just over halfway through the book right now. This is my second time reading it; I first read it five years ago, and I've been surprised by both how much I remember and how much I didn't remember. A few days ago, I came to the place I remember falling in love with the book the first time around: a scene where Anne and George Edwards had Emilio Sandoz over for dinner at their home for the first time. It's not particularly pivotal to the story, but for me, it's where it really began to come to life. Mary Doria Russell makes this scene vivid for me not through some dramatic announcement or interruption of the party, but simply through the characters' dialogue - they joke, they laugh, they get acquainted, and everything they say and do feels completely real. At that point, I knew I was reading a master. On repeat reading, there's one more thing that stands out for me about how true-to-life it all feels: characters can explain complicated ideas to one another without stopping the story dead in its tracks (yes, I've read some Dan Brown, why do you ask?).

This is a very hard book to pigeonhole. The fact that the primary plot concerns interplanetary exploration and first contact with a non-human species in another solar system should place it squarely in the science-fiction section - but in some ways that's no more than an incidental setting. The novel itself is exploring matters of faith as well as science, and questions of what it means to be human and to seek God - but reading it is nowhere near as heavy as those themes sound. Again, it comes back to the characters, who are what propel this story forward (and back again; the author uses a flashback/flash-forward structure that works well, and will feel completely comfortable to any Lost fans). Russell does a fine job creating a large, authentic cast of characters, both human and non-human, and managing multiple plots and timelines.

But since I want to save a few things for my review post in two weeks, let's move on to some of the discussion topics Heather has offered.

This book is set in a not-so-distant future in which the balance of world power has shifted from the United States to Japan. Poverty, indentured servitude, ghettos, and “future brokers” are common. Based on this projected future, would you classify this novel as dystopian? Do you think this future is a real possibility based on where the world is today? (Heather's own question)

The fact that Japan was a world leader here did stand out for me. The Sparrow was originally published in 1995, and during the late 1980s/early 1990s, Japan certainly was poised to become a major power. From the vantage point of 2010, and after years of recession in Japan, that aspect definitely seems less likely. Given that the "flashback" portions of the novel take place only ten years from now, many of the technological aspects of the novel seem less probable - but on the other hand, there are some off-hand mentions of things like tablet computers that were speculation then but are completely current now.

However, I think I've drifted away from the meat of the question...I'm not sure I've seen it in those terms before Heather framed it that way, but I do think there are dystopian elements in the book. However, I don't think I'd call it a "dystopian novel" overall - I just don't sense that it's that dark, or all that different from where the world is today. Then again, the real world does seem to be developing some seriously dystopian elements, so I tend to think the future Russell depicts here is indeed a real possibility.

The discoverers of Rakhat seem to be connected by circumstances too odd to be explained by anything but a manifestation of God's will. Did God lead the explorers to Rakhat--step by step--or was Sandoz responsible for what happened? If that's the case, how could God let the terrible aftermath happen? (adapted from Reading Group Guides)
My own view of God is one who set things in motion and has pretty much left them alone ever since; much as I'd like to sometimes, I don't really believe in direct divine intervention, at least not at the individual level. I do believe that the spark of inspiration can be attributed to God, though - and I don't see that as contradictory to my previous statement. But in my view, the expedition to Rakhat was a human endeavor - in all respects. If it was directed by God, then all of it had to be - good and bad. And if it wasn't, then none of it - good or bad - can be laid on God's doorstep.

"It is rare to find a book about interplanetary exploration that has this much insight into human nature and foresight into a possible future.” - San Antonio Express News reviewer quote

I don't read all that much science fiction - I'm more inclined to watch it on TV or at the movies - so I'm not sure I can speak to the rarity of finding these elements in a story of interplanetary exploration. But I think the best science fiction, in any form, does tend to address questions about human nature and its meaning. I also think it's rare - and special - to find a book in any genre that's as insightful and thought-provoking as The Sparrow.

Thanks to Heather for leading our discussion, and I'm looking forward to reading everyone's take on the book!

Have you entered my Blogiversary Giveaway yet? Entries will be open until March 27! You could win a $35 e-gift card to the shopping site of YOUR CHOICE (because not everyone wants to buy from Amazon.com).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

State of the Blog: It's this baby's third birthday!

A message for those participating in The Sparrow Read-along: Discussion questions are posted at Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books today. You don't have to be finished with the book to participate in the discussion, and you can post your answers any time prior to March 30 (that is the date your review should be posted). My own responses will go up tomorrow, since I have something else on the blog calendar today - read on!

Happy birthday to me
This here blog is three!
So many posts later
It's still where I want to be

Thanks for joining me here today (and every day, or however often you do)!

My first post here went up on March 16, 2007, and was probably not read by anyone. Today, The 3 R's Blog has over 500 subscribers - most days, depending on what Feedburner tells me - and gets an average of 35 visits per day, according to Google Analytics. There have been almost 1150 posts in this space (including a few guest posts), with posts appearing at least four days a week (usually more).

Wow! Looks like this hobby of mine keeps me pretty busy, huh?

I've posted two blog recaps since my last Blogiversary - my thousandth-post celebration in September, and my Year in Review in December 2009. I mentioned several of my favorite posts of the year at that time:

My Top 5 10 personal favorites for 2009, including a couple of two-parters:
These brought reading and writing together in book-inspired commentary:
These are the Top 5 "popular favorite" posts since January 2010:
I'm rather gratified to see that last post on the list, because it was the most personally meaningful one I've written in a while, and I continue to appreciate everyone who's read and commented on it.

I have a sense that I haven't written as many of those "personally meaningful" posts during the past year as I did in 2007 and 2008. I've focused more on book-related content, which is why I started this blog in the first place, and have become a more involved member of the book blog community - and I don't regret either of those developments for a second. But I used to write more posts that were inspired by my reactions to current events and issues, as well as more about life in general. Some of that writing now goes up on the LA Moms Blog, but I've missed doing it here and I want to make it a bigger part of my blogging again. I've got lots of fragments and ideas jotted down, waiting for some more of my time and attention. (But for the record, most of my "personally meaningful" blogging probably won't get as personal as yesterday's post.)

There's my objective for Year 4 of The 3 R's: more of the 'Riting but, ideally, not at the expense of the Reading, and the Randomness - including those link roundups y'all seem to like - will not go away.

Another objective of mine is making this a welcoming place for you to join in and comment! There are some commenters' names I see regularly, others I'm happy to see whenever they come by, and I'm always glad when someone new pops in...especially when they come back for a second or third time, and then they're not so new anymore. (And if you're unable to get a comment posted for some reason, you can always e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com.) I try to prompt your comments with questions in my posts, but for Blogiversary, I wondered if you might have questions for me - so I asked you to ask!

of Bermudaonion wants to know:
What's the one thing you wish you'd known about blogging before you started?
I wish I'd known how much of my time it would eat! But honestly, that's been an outgrowth of how much I like doing it - which is another thing I couldn't have known before I started.
Jeanne of Necromancy Never Pays says:
Here's my blogiversary question: what would you like to see more bloggers doing, and why?
Leaving comments here, because I want them to.
(Sorry, my first response is usually the smart-alecky one. )
Seriously, though, I'd really like to see bloggers express more of themselves on their blogs. Unless they stipulate that the only reason for their blog's existence is to review books or products, it's disappointing to me to see a post only when they're reviewing something they've received just for that purpose - especially when the review doesn't tell me much I couldn't read on the book jacket or in the ad copy. It's also disappointing to me to see content primarily driven by the Meme of the Day. I don't necessarily mean that the blogger needs to share a lot of personal information; I know that quite a few book bloggers, in particular, choose to be more reserved with that, and that's fine. But one of the most important reasons I'll decide to follow a blog is the voice of its writer; if I don't get a good feel that the writer has a voice of her or his own, I probably won't hang around for long.

Wordlily, who is also celebrating a Blogiversary (with reader questions, too!) this week, has a few queries:
How long does it typically take you to write a review (including formatting, etc.)?
Most of the time, it takes about 60-90 minutes. I have a basic template I use for almost all my reviews. I'll paste in book information from LibraryThing, a link to the author's website (if there is one), and a book description (usually from the publisher's website, with a link). Writing the Comments section - the body of the review - is the big variable, depending on how much I have to say about the book and how easily it's coming. I try to write my review within a day or two of finishing the book, although sometimes it won't post until a while later.

What review and/or post are you most proud of? Why?
That's a tough question, considering the number of posts I've got! Most of the posts I've mentioned earlier in this entry are posts I'm pretty proud of, but none are reviews. In that category, I'll single out Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This story of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's disease was a tough read for me, because my mother died of the same condition, but it was also enlightening and moving, and I highly recommend the book.

What's something you've accomplished in the past year that you're particularly proud of? (Not necessarily blog related.)
One of my posts was published in a book - an essay anthology used for college-level writing classes - and that was pretty exciting, although I didn't actually have to do much except grant permission for them to use it. I also went to my first blogging conference - BlogHer'09 in Chicago - and actually talked to people instead of hiding in my room, which was kind of a big deal for me. It's a big enough deal that I'm going back again this August, for BlogHer'10 in New York City!

Kay from My Random Acts of Reading asks:
Do you have an e-reader and if not, will you get one? What do you think about them?
I've had a Kindle since last summer, and I like it a lot, although I seem to read e-books more slowly than print ones. It's very comfortable to read on it, and great for bringing books with me while traveling. Also, since the books are priced more attractively than hardcovers, I can buy new releases for it sooner (instead of waiting for the paperback editions). But for me, it's not going to replace "real" books - at least not any time soon.

One of the interesting things about blogging is that when a blogger celebrates, the readers get the presents! I went back and forth over what to give away for my Blogiversary - ARCs I've finished? Books? Treats? An e-gift card to a specific site? A LibraryThing membership, again?

I decided on the laziest prize ever - a $35 e-gift certificate to the shopping site of your choice. The winner will get to pick out her or his own prize! Please complete the form below to enter the giveaway - entries via comment will not count. Good luck - and thanks for celebrating my Blogiversary with me! (If you're viewing this post in a feed reader and the form isn't showing up, please click through to the blog to enter the giveaway.)

Once again, thanks for celebrating my Blogiversary with me!