Friday, December 7, 2012

Review: Piano Girl by Robin Meloy Goldsby

Piano Girl: A Memoir: Lessons in Life, Music, and the Perfect Blue HawaiianPiano Girl: A Memoir: Lessons in Life, Music, and the Perfect Blue Hawaiian by Robin Meloy Goldsby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The subtitle for this book is Lessons in Life, Music, and the Perfect Blue Hawaiian. It is a memoir, spanning the author's career as a lounge pianist, from her accidental beginning as a college student vacationing on Nantucket Island through gigs at top New York hotels, island resorts, and German castles. It is all done with quirky humor, candid insight, and true love for the music she plays.

Beginning as a college student from Pittsburgh vacationing on Nantucket Island, Ms. Goldsby takes a job as a waitress which doesn't quite work out. She arranges to use a local bar's piano during off hours to practice, and the owner of the bar asks her to play at night for his customers. Thus begins a career. She moves from dive bars and beach lounges to New York city, and jobs at prestigious hotels. There are jaunts to Caribbean islands, stage shows, and other gigs. She gives us an insider's view of auditions and agents, producers and private clients. Sitting behind her piano, she sees all of New York life pass by: the business moguls, mob bosses, the down and out who just need a place to sit, and some truly crazy and scary customers. Her life is never dull, but it always seems fulfilling. The story ends in Germany, where she moves with her bass player husband, raises two children, records CDs, and plays her lounge piano music in ancient castles.

The book is funny, warm, inspiring, and a treat to read. Anyone who enjoys autobiography, memoirs, or music will find much to enchant here.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

November? Must be NaNoWriMo!

Ah, yes, the annual November plunge. Into the depths of National Novel Writing Month. For those who don't know, the basic idea is to start on November 1st, and write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel, ending on November 30. That breaks down to 1,667 words a day, every day. I did my first NaNo in 2008, participated again in 2009 and 2010, and skipped last year to work on editing the 2008 novel. I'm diving in again this year. It's fun, frustrating, desperate at times, and sure feels good when you hit that 50k.

I'm doing something kind of out of my usual comfort zone this year. It is still a fantasy, because I'm happy writing that sort of thing. But this year, I'm aiming at a middle grade audience. I have no idea if I can pull it off. I'm already not sure I have the right voice, but if you don't try, you never know what you can do, right? This may well end up being stuffed somewhere no one will ever see it, but at the same time, it's kind of fun working on something that has no purpose other than to see if I can.

Everyone has to figure out their own strategy for dealing with this month of furious writing. We all have lives that go on, regardless of NaNoWriMo. For me, I find setting goals and having a plan works best. I'm not a "pantser"- I can't just sit down with some vague idea and start writing. I get lost too easily. I tried it once and the mess that resulted? Well, let's just say I'm pretty sure I won't go there again. I'm an outliner. I need a plan, a pretty decent idea where we're all going. Not to say its set in stone, and things never change, because they surely do, but I have to start with some sort of plan.

And goals. 2,000 words a day. For a couple reasons. First. it gives me a buffer when things get a bit hectic later in the month. Thanksgiving is in November, you know. And that means at least one day of not getting much done. If I have a buffer built up, I can still get to the goal without killing myself in the process.

Second, 2,000 words is about all my poor little brain can deal with in one day. Sometimes, if I'm working on a piece that I have pretty well planned out and know well, I can do a fair bit more. Most often, I run into real brain fatigue right around the 2K mark. It's okay. It lets me relax a bit and let things work in the background, which makes the next day's effort less stressful.

I don't follow things like word sprints and other group things, mainly because most are internet based, and I find it better to shut down FB, Twitter, G+, email, and all that while I'm working. Otherwise, I waste too much time "just reading a few more posts". (No one else has that problem, right? Liars.)

So, off I go, into the wild ride that is NaNoWriMo once again. I'm trying to keep a public accounting going, by posting my total words and words added on FB and Twitter daily. I hope anyone who sees me falling behind will give me a shove. I'll see you in December, hopefully 50,000 words farther than I was at the beginning of the month.

To all the other WriMo's out there- good luck! Keep writing!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Review: Soulless (Parasol Protectorate 1) by Gail Carriger

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)Soulless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alexia Tarabotti has no soul. Really. She's a preternatural, born without a soul, which allows her to negate supernatural powers with a touch. But that's not the worst of her problems, mainly because almost no one knows. No, her real troubles stem from the fact that she is 25, plain, and had an Italian father. She is, in her society, a spinster. Alexia is resigned to her station. And then, she (quite accidentally) kills a vampire at a party. Very bad form. The incident is investigated by the loud, devilishly good-looking Lord Maccon, working for the Queen's Bureau of Unnatural Registry. As they probe into the sudden appearance of a rogue vampire, they discover that known vampires have been disappearing, and unknown vampires are appearing. As they investigate, they discover a plot that could have dire consequences for the supernatural segment of society.

I truly enjoyed this book. Set in an alternate Victorian London, it is part steampunk, part romance, and part comedy. The characters are lovely- Alexia is smart, not afraid to speak her mind, and quite quick-witted. Other main characters are as enjoyable, especially Alexia's gay vampire friend, who speaks in italics, of course. The writing is clean and nicely paced, the dialogue is witty, and the Victorian elements are true to form. It reads quickly. The premise is interesting and intriguing.

Problems? Well, yes, a few. First, we are reminded, much more often than is necessary, of Alexia's appearance (she has her father's Italian complexion, large nose, and intellect), her less-than-marrigeable state (she is 25, and well, look at her- there's the appearance thing again), and the rest of her physical appearance (she is apparently a bit curvier than acceptable). A few reminders, yes, but at times it felt like being hit over the head with it, time after time.

And, while some of the circumstances (I won't go into more detail in order to avoid spoilers) that Alexia finds herself in, particularly with Lord Maccon, are stretching things a bit. They do provide some of the most amusing scenes in the book, but still, in those particular situations, I found myself a bit hard-pressed to believe the reactions.

Still, those are minor issues, and I didn't find them really detracting from my enjoyment of the book. It is fun, amusing, and a nice example of the steampunk genre.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Hallowe'en! Have a Little Ghost Story

This was supposed to go up this morning, but since we had no power....

Just a little ghost story for you-

Midnight Rider
M.A. Kropp

            That was a great party, Tom thought, as he drove through the quiet late night streets. But then, Gordy’s family always did go all out for Hallowe’en. Worth the trip out here. Tom shifted slightly to a more comfortable position behind the wheel, and turned the volume on the radio up a notch. He had at least a forty minute drive ahead of him. 
            The compact blue sedan left the residential streets and turned onto a two lane county road. It was a perfect Hallowe’en night: clear, dark skies sprinkled with stars, and a nearly full moon just visible through the stark branches of the trees lining both sides of the road. The air was crisp, with the fall smells of wood smoke and dry leaves. Tom slowed the car as he approached the intersection.
            “Don’t take the Fuller Road cut on your way home tonight,” Gordy had said as Tom was preparing to leave. “I know it’s shorter, but that road is haunted. There’ve been fatal accidents every year on Hallowe’en since that guy ran off the road five years ago. Go the long way, ok?” Tom had said he would, but now, faced with the lateness of the hour, he was thinking again.
            It’ll cut at least fifteen minutes off the drive, Tom thought. What the hell. What am I going to run into? A headless horseman galloping through the woods? Tom turned the car onto Fuller Road. There were accidents along this road all the time. It was narrow and twisty, with sharp embankments on both sides. Late nights, people driving home from parties. You didn’t need ghosts to know that added up to accidents.
            He drove along, nodding his head in time to the music, watching his speed on the curves. As he rounded one, something in the road ahead made him hit the brakes. There was someone in the road, hands outstretched as if to say “Stop!” Tom flicked on his high beams, and chuckled. It was just an old tree, limbs bare of leaves and hanging out over the road. In the dark, with the angle of the curved road, it had looked like a person.
            Gordy’s ghost stories have got you spooked, Tom said to himself. Get a grip. He sped up again and passed the tree, waving at it as he did.
            “Happy Hallowe’en!” he said. He was settling back into the drive when he saw headlights in the distance ahead of him.
            “Someone else had a late night,” he said to no one, as the lights got closer. Then, he sat up straighter and stared hard out the windshield. The approaching car was in his lane! Tom leaned on the horn, the blaring noise cutting through the silence of the night. The other car didn’t move. It just kept coming, straight at him, and it looked like it was speeding up. Tom swore out loud, and pulled his car into the other lane. The second car, a long white sedan, moved with him. Tom hit the horn again, a longer blast.
            “Shit, buddy, this is no road to be playing chicken on!” Tom shouted. He jerked the wheel back into his own lane, feeling his rear wheels fishtail a bit as he did. He got the car under control, but the white sedan was bearing down on him, its headlights blinding through the windshield. Tom swore again, and spun the wheel hard, trying to make the shoulder of the road, while he braced for the impact he knew was coming.
            Except it never did. Tom expected the grinding sound of metal folding on metal, and to be thrown against the interior of the car. What happened was time seemed to stretch and slow, he was moving through a rapidly streaming thick gray fog, and it was cold. Tom tried to pull the car back onto the road, but his wheels were skidding on the gravel shoulder. He felt one wheel slip over the edge of the embankment. He spun the wheel and hit the gas desperately, but only caused the car to slip more. He knew the car was going over. As it spun and slipped downward, Tom saw the white sedan, sitting on the road, surrounded by an eerie, almost shimmering light. He stared into the window. The driver was clutching the steering wheel, his face covered in blood. Two glowing red eyes were the last thing Tom saw as his car fell down the steep slope.
            The next morning, as they waited for the tow truck to pull the small blue car up to the road again, the county sheriff turned to the state police officer standing next to him.
            “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe we should just close this road down on Hallowe’en next year.”

The End

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, #1)Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Boneshaker is the second of Priest's books I've read, and is quite different from Four and Twenty Blackbirds. The latter is more of a traditional ghost story, while this one is a foray into the world of steampunk. It is, however, not your typical steampunk. Set in an alternate history Civil War era Seattle, WA, it doesn't have the Victorian era feel of most steampunk stories. That's not bad thing, and there are more than enough of the usual steampunk trappings to make it fit the genre.

The story is centered on Briar Wilkes, a widow who works in the water cleaning facility in the "clean" settlements outside Seattle proper. Her late husband, an inventor, was commissioned by the Russians to build a machine that could drill through the frozen Alaskan surface to mine the gold there, helping Russia to cash in on the gold rush. At its first test, the machine appears to go radically wrong, tearing up most of the financial district of Seattle, and tapping into a vein of poisonous gas that, when breathed, either kills or turns its victim into a zombie (called rotters by the populace). A wall has been build around the city to contain the gas, and a part of the population still lives inside its confines, needing gas masks to breathe in the contaminated air of the surface.

Briar's son, Zeke, has never fully believed the stories about his father- that he deliberately ran the Boneshaker machine into the banking district to rob the banks and escape with a fortune. Briar insists he is dead, but refuses to tell Zeke the full story of the days after the Boneshaker was first fired up. Zeke decides to go into the poisoned city to try and clear his father's name, and Briar, once she discovers what Zeke has done, goes after him.

There is more to the plot, of course: the die-hard inhabitants of the poisoned city, surviving on scavenged good from the abandoned houses and businesses inside the walls, and living in subterranean tunnels, a mad scientist who wants to rule the ruined city (and who may or may not be Briar's thought-dead husband), and air pirates who brave the poisoned air of the city to collect the addictive drug distilled from the gas. But the main story is Briar and Zeke's: his search to find out the things his mother would never tell him, and her search to find her son again, in more ways than one.

All in all, it was an enjoyable book. One thing kept jumping out at me, however. Why did the populace stay after the deadly nature of the gas vein opened by the Boneshaker was discovered? I can almost understand those who stayed in the city, similar to those who stay in hurricane or other disaster threatened areas. But for those who moved outside the city walls, there is never a clear explanation given for their staying on. There is a war going on back East, but there is the rest of the country. It was a loose end that never was tied up well.

The steampunk trappings were nicely added= airships, machines and devices that seem advanced for the time, and other details that paint the background fairly well. The plot moves quickly, without long expositions or loss of pacing. Characters are well-drawn and interesting. Perhaps not the best example of the genre, but certainly worth reading.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Neil Gaiman, Scary Stories, Free!- and For a Good Cause

In honor of Hallowe'en, and his All Hallows Read project, Neil Gaiman and Audible have a scarey short story, written and narrated by Mr. Gaiman. And it's free. Yep- free. And for every download between now and Hallowe'en, Audible will donate one dollar to Donors Choose for U.S. downloads, and Booktrust for U.K. downloads. So, go to Audible to download Click Clack the Rattlebag, free. It is only free until Hallowe'en, and it is only available until then. Do it. Why? It's free. It's Neil Gaiman, reading a story he wrote. (He's a fantastic narrator. I know this. I heard him read excerpts of American Gods. I want Neil Gaiman to read all my books to me now.) And, most of all, it is for a good cause.

You can read his blog post about it here.

As an added bonus, if enough people download this one, there is an extra that will be put out there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thoughts On Today

I see a lot of 9/11 remembrance photos, collages, and posts all over today. And while I don't have a problem with remembering the loss of life, I also see a lot of leftover anger, fear, and hatred. To me, that just belittles the memory of those who sacrificed and died. Many people are talking about how "we all came together" eleven years ago. For me, that is the lesson we should be taking from that day: no matter how different we may seem, when you look at the bottom line, we are much the same.

Look back. Remember. But do it with respect. With openness. Without anger. Without hate. Remember the courage. Remember the selflessness of the emergency personnel who responded.

So, there will be no pictures, memorials, or the like from me. I prefer to keep the vigil silent, more personal. I'll remember in my thoughts and my prayers, within. Because, just maybe, it is time to let some things fade, so that the light can still shine through.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Things That Aggravate Me

     I'm going to do a little ranting today. I'm in a cranky mood lately. I won't be insulted if you decide not to follow along. You have been warned...

    There are a few things that I encounter a lot, both online and off, that just plain aggravate me. I am not aiming any of this at anyone in particular, as the offenders are many. But if you do happen to feel that you are the object of my ire, well, perhaps you might think about that for a bit, hmmm?

    Things That Aggravate Me:

Grammar: Use it! We all learned it, in grade school, in high school, and again in college, for some. So I'm sorry, there is no excuse for the lack of care in composing emails, Facebook posts, tweets, even blogs. You DO know the difference between you're and your, there and their, it's and its. You DO know that it is one womAn and several womEn. And, yes, we all make mistakes at times. I do, certainly. I'm talking about the ones for whom the mistakes are the norm. Take a second and think about what you are about to type. Because, honestly, you come across as sloppy and a person who just doesn't care when you don't. Not a good impression.

Google it: How many times do you see someone post in social media or forums, a question that they could have answered in seconds with a simple Google query? This just annoys me far more than it probably should. Sure, I know someone posted a link to that thing three days ago, but that doesn't mean they bookmarked it, so why do you expect them to do your work for you? And it's not like it's even work. Google is pretty good- usually you have your answer in the first couple links it comes up with. I'm thinking I may start answering all these type of questions with: ""

Shopping Carts: Well, not the carts themselves, but the people who leave them in the middle of the parking lot. Especially the ones who park right next to the cart return, and still leave their cart in the middle of a parking space. Aren't all these fitness gurus and doctors always telling us to walk more? Well, there's one way to do it. Put the cart where it belongs, and keep the parking spaces for cars.

Agenda Slingers: You know, the folks who post nothing but political, religious, or social agenda related pictures, news stories, etc .Especially the extremists. Yes, we all have our pet projects and our beliefs, but if that's ALL you are doing, it gets old real fast. There's good and bad on every side, and I think most of us get enough preaching at in our lives already. Some is fine, of course, (I've done my share now and then) even if it's something I don't particularly agree with, but when it looks like you are trying to shove your world onto mine, I get a bit tetchy.

     Ok, I got that off my chest. What annoys you most, either online or off?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Review: Teaching the Dog to Think by Kimberly Davis

Teaching the Dog to ThinkTeaching the Dog to Think by Kimberly Davis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part memoir, part self-discovery, and part relationship help, Teaching the Dog to Think chronicles Davis' year of agility training with her young collie, Willow. Brought up in the old, punishment based training methods, Davis was used to choke collars and leash jerking to "train" and control her dogs. Reluctantly at first, she begins to see that the reward based training methods used by her agility instructors worked far better, and faster. She starts out with a nearly uncontrollable young dog, and ends up with a training partner who worked with her cooperatively. She also discovered the joy of owning a dog who is enthusiastic about training and work, not just obedient.

But the book is more than that. It is an insignt into Davis' own transformation. Her first instinct is to believe these "new-fangled" methods can't work. Even as she discovers how well they do, she is honest about her falling back into old habits and ways of thinking. The growth is both the dog's and the author's, and we are shown every step.

In addition, Davis outlines how she began to understand how the methods she was using with Willow could be put to use in her relationships with other people. Beginning with her son, and continuing with her creative writing students, Davis starts using positive reward techniques and finds they work as well with people. Her son becomes more cooperative and their relationship grows. Her students are less discouraged and able to move forward more quickly.

The book is a wonderful testament to what can be achieved in dog training, and also a lesson in people skills that everyone can benefit from.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Rolling Along

I almost can't believe it is the middle of August already. Where did the summer go? And it was another weird one, wasn't it? If it wasn't hot and humid, it was raining cats and dogs and frogs and lizards, with a nice bit of thunder and lightning tossed in for good measure.

The weather has been so wacky, we haven't gotten out on the bikes much lately. We did get a ride in on Friday,  Saturday, and yesterday. I hope it stays good for a while so we can get more in.

We've had Krysta's chihuahua/toy fox terror mix, plus their two finches here for the last few days. Kryss, Kleber, and Will are in the UK, visiting his brother and family. Murphy is not too thrilled with Nikki- I think he can't figure out why he wants to run and jump and be annoying all the time. We just have to convince Nikki that the cats really, really do not want to play, and when they run away and hiss, that is not a "Chase me!" invitation. He does listen quite well, knows "leave it," and is getting better. A little. And the cats need to learn that the finches are not mobile kitty treats. Never a dull moment.

Speaking of my Old Dog, he's been worrisome again. He doesn't want to come in the house at all lately. Probably some of it is Nikki, but he was getting more that way before Nikki came, so I don't know. He still doesn't eat well and he's had- ummm- digestive issues, also. But he still walks about a mile early in the day with me, and then down the street and around the cul-de-sac later. The joys of Old Dogs, I guess.

We are off to Wells, ME on Friday for the ME State Cook off. Not cooking this one. We are running the judging area. Wells is such a nice town. We are planning a potluck supper at the hotel we and several other cooks are staying at for Saturday after the cook off. It should be fun. Last year, we sat around for a while after the cook off, but then people all took off to find food. So we figured this year, we'd see if people just want to bring food along and we can relax all evening. There's a pool and nice hot tub there that sure feels good after a long day at a chili cook off! We're home again on Sunday. Then there's CT State in New Haven in September. We head to Charleston, WV in early October for the Worlds Championship. It's a long drive, but we did it a few years ago, and will take two days heading down and two coming back. After that is the first qualifying cook off for our area the weekend after Worlds, in Kingston, NY. That will be the return of Rock'N'Roll Chili, since I plan on competing next year again.

End of summer will be busy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, is it?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: Bait Dog (Atlanta Burns #2) by Chuck Wendig

Bait DogBait Dog by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with the first Atlanta Burns story, Shotgun Gravy, this is a firecracker of a ride that doesn't ever let go. When we left Atlanta at the end of Shotgun Gravy she had dealt with the bullies that threatened her friends. Or so she thought. Then Chris, her gay classmate, is found hanged. Suicide, the police say. Atlanta and Shane don't think so, but what can they do? And then along comes another classmate, who wants Atlanta to investigate the torturing and murder of her dog. And that leads Atlanta right into the very unsavory world of dog fighting. And that leads her right back around to the people responsible for Chris' hanging.

This is not a pretty story. Nor is it for those who can't handle the bare knuckles reality of the world it portrays. It's cruel, harsh, and ugly- for the dogs, and the people invovled. It's heart-wrenching- more than once I was reading with tears in my eyes. It's gritty- no pulled punches here. This is not a YA story that tones anything down. Drugs, violence, hatred, cruelty are all here in full measure. But it is not a story without hope or good. They're there, just buried under the nail-biting reality of life.

Wendig's style is a lot like the plot: staccato, sharp, and quick-moving. The words come at you like the pellets from Atlanta's squirrel gun. They sting like a slap. And they are perfect for Atlanta herself, because she's quick and sharp and reactive. She's flawed and hurt and doesn't trust easily. She also knows what's right and what's wrong, and if she doesn't always pick the former, she never puts up with the latter. He also has a way of pulling you into the world he creates, dark and scary as it is, and of building tension until you can barely stand it. There is one part near the end of the book, (No spoilers, I promise)where you will want to scream "No NoNoNONO!" and toss it across the room (not recommended if you are reading on a computer or other ebook reader). But you WILL go get it immediately, because you have to know what happened next.

Now I come to the hard part: If I loved the story so much (and I did), why not 5 stars? Because the e-book copy I read had errors. I know you rarely get a book these days without one or two, but there were too many to just ignore. Misspellings, tenses that changed mid-paragraph, words that seemed not to fit, as if they were missed on editing or revision. Maybe some were intentional, but they tended to pop me out of the story as I sorted them out. But still, read it anyway. It's that good.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Playing Catch Up

*cough cough* Wow! It got dusty in here, didn't it? Sorry about the neglect. I haven't been around here a lot lately. And, the funny thing is, it's not because things got busier. It's because, to some extent, things slowed down. The BaldMan was on a six week sabbatical, something they give everyone every four years where he works. He went back to work on Monday. I did two posts while we were away for the first two weeks of his sabbatical, and then I just kind of drifted away from all the online stuff for the rest of the time. Not that we were going, going, going all that time. It just felt kind of good to relax, do what I wanted, and not worry about Facebook, Twitter, G+, email, and blogging. Sure, I was on all the social media sites sometimes, just not as often. And, you know what? The world didn't stop, I didn't curl up and waste away from not knowing what everyone was doing every second of the day, and I do believe everyone survived very nicely. But, now, it's back to the daily routine for all of us.

The garden is starting to produce some good stuff now. A lot of it got a late start because of some problems I had with the plants I started indoors, but the tomatoes and peppers are producing nicely now, and I've been harvesting zucchini regularly. I don't plant muc zucchini, as Steph and I are not overly fond of it, and there are only three of us here, so there is only so much we can use! Peppers can be dried or frozen, or the pepperoncini and hot cherry types can be pickled. And tomatoes can very well. I don't worry about having too much of those. Here's a picture of some of what I am picking:

Looks good, doesn't it?

Monday, July 9, 2012

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Part the Second- with cute babies, bird and human

We spent the last few days with our oldest daughter and her family in Schaumburg, IL (west of Chicago). They have a 9 month  old baby boy. It was great to spend some time with them. We did a little shopping, went to a (rather lame) Fourth  of July carnival, tasted some wine, and had a nice little visit. We did manage to get out for bike rides every morning. Schaumburg (and the area) is very bike friendly, with trails and bike paths all over. We did several different trails.

The only down side was the heat. Temps were in the high 90's most days, and hit over 100 more than once. We got up early to do the bike rides, since I really did not want to be out there when the temps hit 92 at 10 AM. Lots of water, and reasonble rest breaks, and we managed to do several 10-12 mile rides, and two at 6 or so miles. Which  is good because-

We had dinner on Thursday night at Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill in Chicago. John stayed home with the baby, since he is teething and is a bit on the cranky side, especially when he gets tired (the baby, not John!). It was a bit of a downer not having all of them with us, but it was really nice having dinner with Jill. It was really, really good! Jill had a tuna tartare that was like butter it was so fresh. My appetizer was smoked salmon- wow! For entrees, we chose from the trios menus- three diffferent samples of thier main dishes. I had the street food sampler- short ribs, duck, and goat cheese. Really delicious. Well worth it, all the way.

And now the picture tour:

Carter, busy doing baby things:

Carter with Grandpa:
 Along one of the rides in Schaumburg:

 Yes, there is a great blue heron waaaaaaay over there-

 A cormorant on the water:

On our last ride, we stopped for a rest and water break at a picnic pavillion. We were strafed by a flock of swallows, who flew around and around and into the pavillion, over and over:

And then we figured out why:

(It's a bit drk, but yes, a nest. There was one in every corner joist. This one originally had two little birds but I guess they were close to fledging because a moment later:)

We took the video and pics and left them alone. But they are cute!

Now we are in Ohio (I type this on Saturday, Jly 7). Dinner at one of Michael Symon's B-Spot burger places tonight. Yummy!!! Tomorrow, we head to Endicott, NY to spend a few days with the BaldMan's parents, then home on Tuesday. It has been a really nice couple weeks, and I have enjoyed all of it, but it will be good to be home.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"This is where it gets really crazy."

Those or similar words are spoken by more than one of the characters in this book, but they never get tired sounding because, no matter how crazy things are, they do get even more so every time.

The story is (on the surface) fairly straightforward. Andrew Dahl has been assigned to the Universal Union flagship Intrepid. It is a prime assignment, and Andrew is thrilled to be given the chance to work in the xenobiology lab on the top starship in the fleet. The excitement starts to wear thin, however, as Andrew begins to discover some disturbing things about the Intrepid. The crew seems to have an extraordinarily high rate of deadly encounters with alien life forms, the top officers, while always involved in the dangerous missions, are never harmed, and there is always a fatality, usually among the lower ranking ensigns. As Andrew digs into these anomalies, he and a few friends begin to discover some unbelievable things about the ship and crew.

Any more would run into spoiler territory, and it would be a shame to ruin an extremely entertaining read for anyone. I simply did not want to stop reading the book, and finished it in about two days.

Anyone familiar with the Star Trek universe will catch onto the reference in the title, and, in part, this is a story about those all to familiar "redshirts," but it is far more than that. The plot is clever and engaging, the action moves along at a fair pace, with only a few slower sections, and the characters are likable and well-drawn. Sci-fi fans will see some familiar types, but each one is more than a stereotype.

One of the most interesting things to me was the "three codas" that end the book. Not only do they tie the individual stories together to a complete whole, but they also address, to a point, the question of what happens after Happily Ever After? The events of a story do not only impact the main characters, but also some of the secondary people that get pulled in. And we, as readers, rarely see how the consequences impact those characters. The main story works out well, and with the three additional pieces tie things up for several others, as well. I found them to be interesting and a nice addition to the main story.

This a fun book, that most sci-fi fans will enjoy, both for the familiar concepts that support the main plot, and for the original and fun treatment of them. Very much recommended!

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Monday, July 2, 2012

What I Did On My Summer Vacation- Part the First (Including Sasha, the Three-Legged Kitty)

We spent a few days just outside of Syracuse, NY with the Baldman's sister and her husband. We always enjoy visiting with them, whether at their house or ours. They live in the Finger Lakes wine region, so, of course, we went on a tasting tour, and got to wineries we had not been to before, as well as a couple of craft breweries. Rather than go on in words, I will post some pictures of our days in NY.

The entrance to Montezuma Winery

Entryway water feature at Montezuma

 View of Cayuga Lake from a winery deck

 Grapes in the vineyard

 Taughannock Falls. This is what happens when there isn't enough snowfall over the winter

One of the craft brewers we visited. We tasted 12 beers between the two of us, and, while there were some I liked better than others, there wasn't a really bad one in the  bunch


 A neat painted bench  on the grounds of the New York Wine and Culinary Institute

 The BaldMan and I

 View of Canandaigua Lake

 Sasha, who had one rear leg amputated because of a tumor. As you see in the video below, it hasn't slowed her down! And she is a sweet kitty, too! The video is a bit dark, and I apologize for that, but you can see her run after that laser!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Castle Dreams (Castle Perilous #6) by John DeChancie

Castle Dreams (Castle Perilous, #6)Castle Dreams by John DeChancie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I discovered DeChancie's Castle series many years ago, browsing a used book store. I've been collecting the eight book series, off and on, since. Castle Dreams is the sixth book and it is, by far, the strangest in an admittedly strange series.

For those that don't know it, the books revolve around Castle Perilous, a large medeival castle with a rather odd attribute: scattered throughout the castle are "aspects" or portals to other worlds. Residents of the castle can come and go through these portals. What happens to a core set of characters as they venture through various portals, and what befalls the castle through them, make up most of the stories in the series.

Castle Dreams is a bit different. It opens like many, with familiar characters Gene, Linda, Snowclaw, and a few others in the Gaming Hall in the castle. Gene, as is often the case, is bored and heads off to find an aspect that looks interesting. He ends up on an alien world, helping a female member of the ruling party there escape capture by a rebel force. The chapters about him are scattered among the other stories, and Gene's seems the most straightforward of them all. While he is gone, word comes that Lord Incarnadine, the King of Castle Perilous has died. As the residents and subjects of the Castle prepare for the funeral, strange stories begin to be interspersed. There is the strange, void-like barren where a lone traveler, who cannot remember who he is or why he is here, must travel until he finds his answers. Linda is having dreams of being back on Earth, with a boyfriend, living in California. Or are they dreams? Trent, Prince and brother to Incarnidine, sees his chance to take the throne he has always felt bleonged to him and not his brother. Along the way, he begins to suspect that Incarnadine was murdered, and sets out to find the killer, lest he be blamed. And Incarnadine- well, dreams are not only for the living.

If that's not enough, there are chapters that are quizzes- some multiple choise, some essays, some delaing with the story and some completely out of the blue. As well as footnotes, purportedly by the Castle scribe. Confusing? Yes. And I would not recommend starting your journey to Perilous with this one. It is very different and if you are not familiar with the tone and character of the Castle series, you will most likely be turned off a fun, comic fantasy run.

I can't really say what I thought of the book, at the end. It kept me reading, I chuckled more than once, yes, I figured out what was going on (mostly), but there were things that kept jarring me. The quizzes for one. They were odd bits that were stuck in here and there, and I'm not sure of their purpose. The footnotes were amusing, but added little to the book, except a bit of comic relief. This is the fourth of the books I've read (yeah, I'm kind of out of order). I will read the rest, but again, if you haven't read any, start with Castle Perilous, and read the others. I think this one might be best saved for closer to the end of the series.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Summertime and the Livin' Is...

Busy! We spent the weekend with friends in the Hudson Valley region of NY.  It was fun just doing vacation-y things rather than the busy days of a chili cook off weekend. We drove down on Friday, and if any of you hear me say we are heading to CT or NY again, PLEASE message the BaldMan and tell him "DO NOT go by way of I-84!" Yeesh!

On Saturday morning,  we went to the Walkway Over the Hudson. Our friends walked and we had brought our bikes, so we rode. We rode back and forth on the bridge for a total of about 8 miles. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and pretty blue skies. We got out early enough that the temperature wasn't too hot yet.

Here are a couple pictures I took of the Hudson River from the walkway:

When we got back, we walked down  to an  old cemetery not far from our friends' house. These old graveyards fascinate me. I love looking at the headstones and reading the names and dates. Some were very specific: So-and-So died August 1825, 66 years, 3 months and 5 days. I wonder who was counting? A few pictures from that walk:

On the weather front, Summer has hit! With the Solstice, came the heat. 90+ degree temps for a few days at the end of the week kept everyone, Dog included, enjoying the air conditioned indoors. Not that I mind the heat. As long as the humidity is low, I would rather high heat than bitter cold. And the garden is grateful. We had a few weeks of either warm-ish weather or damp and chilly, and the tomatoes and peppers were not as happy as they could be. Now, they are quite green and getting taller. I'm seeing blossoms on many tomatoes and tomatillos. I've harvested a few small radishes where thinning was needed, and some greens. There are carrots growing nicely, as well. The chickens are getting back to full laying, also, now that the weather has gotten better. They do slow down in winter, and ramp up slowly through Spring. And they always lay better when they can get out of the pen and onto grass where they can enjoy greens and all the bugs they can catch.

We had thunderstorms while we were driving to NY, and rain part of the evening. That cooled things off a bit and definitely dropped the humidity.

Now I get to do more laundry and prepare for our next trip. This is the longer vacation trip, and heading to NY, OH, and IL. We'll be gone for about two weeks. We will also get to visit with the newest grandson when we get to IL. I hope I can get a little down time  in there, too!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Rookie (Galactic Football League #1) by Scott Sigler

The RookieThe Rookie by Scott Sigler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Football, aliens, smugglers, mob bosses- did I mention aliens? Set in the future, The Rookie is the story of Quentin Barnes, a Human star quarterback in what is probably akin to the minor leagues we know now. But Quentin wants to play in the big leagues. He has talent, speed, intelligence, and he knows the game. The catch? In the GFL, he will be playing with and against several alien races. Races he has been taught all his life are spawns of Satan, to be hated and destroyed. Add to that the aliens blinding speed, ability to jump 25+ feet in the air, and sheer size and weight, and you've got a whole different league, brother.

Quentin gets his chance to play for a GFL team, and things don't start out well. Quentin is used to being the star, the one in charge, and being second string doesn't sit well. Add to that his background of religious hatred and distrust of the alien races, and his career seems doomed from the start. When the starting quarterback gets injured in an altecation with the enforcers for the crime boss he is supposed to be working for, Quentin gets his chance. What he does with it is the main story of the book.

The football is quite well done in this book. I've been a football fan for a long, long time, and Sigler gets it right. It couldn't have been an easy task to keep the game intact, while adding alien races with superhuman athletic abilities into the mix. If you don't know football, you probably won't fully understand the game descriptions, but it isn't necessary to know what an I formation is, or where the tailback position lines up, to follow the story. It helps, of course, but you can follow the action without in depth knowledge. If you do know the game, you'll enjoy reading the play by play action from Quentin's viewpoint. I did find the pages of game stats after each one a bit tedious and ended up skimming most of them.

The whole of the story is told from Quentin's point of view. We see him start as a cocky, smart-ass kid, convinced of his talent, only to be shot down, again and again. It takes a long time for Quentin to see his role on the field and off, and to set aside ingrained prejudices and conceits to concentrate on what matters most: winning the game. In some ways, this is a coming of age story. Quentin is nineteen at the start of the book, and he is as full of himself as any nineteen year old who has had things relatively easy. And he is as blind to his failings as anyone his age can be. It's the gradual realization that he is the one who has to change that makes him a viable character. The change is not a sudden epiphany of revelation, however. It's slow and difficult for Quentin to own up to. There are moments of insight, and failures, and times when he takes steps backwards. It all adds to his human-ness, and rounds him out as a character.

The rest of the characters are not quite as well drawn as Quentin, but they are a good supporting cast: Don Pine, the first string quarterback who has gambling debts and gets himself in real trouble because of them, the female alien receivers who take their quarterbacks so seriously, it's part of their religion, and the team owners, coaches, and other players.

World building is well done. There are huge orbiting space station/cities, team busses that are essentially giant spaceships complete with practice fields, small, flying aliens who have conquered most of the known races and act as overlords, a mob-like system of smuggling and other illegal actvities that has hooks in the GFl, and more.

The Rookie was an enjoyable book. It reads fairly quickly, and kept me turning the pages. Footbal fans who can entertain the idea of a futuristic game with aliens as team members, and fans of good science fiction will both enjoy The Rookie. If you happen to be both, you really want to read this one.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

On the Chili Trail (and Other Travels)

Looking at the calendar, it appears we are not home on a weekend until July! I guess the suitcase will stay out for a while longer.

We got home yesterday from a the Southern CT cook off where we were Chief Judge and Scorekeeper. It was the first year for this one at Quassy amusement park. It's a small park but I'm sure the kids enjoyed it. We did manage to get 20 cooks, so it will be a Regional. Which means nothing to the non-chili folk out there, but it is a Good Thing. I wish the weather had been better. It was kind of chilly and on-and-off rainy most of the day, so I'm sure that kept some people away. The sponsoring charity, Abilities Without Boundaries, seems interested in doing it again next year. Anther Good Thing.

This coming weekend, we will be in Meriden, CT for the Chili and Chihuahuas cook off to benefit the Meriden Humane Society. We are running the judging area again for this one. I really hope the weather cooperates for us. Then we go for a weekend visit with friends in NY, and then the BaldMan starts his six week sabbatical. We are taking the first part of that and visiting his sister in NY, and then on to IL to spend some time with Jill, John, and Carter. We have some stuff to get done around the house for the balance of his time off. We're going to be busy!

Still having eating issues with the dog. He just doesn't seem to want to eat. Sometimes, if I sit with him and hand feed him, I can get him to eat. Some days, he's fine and eats ok. Other days, he just looks at it and walks away. Had him in to the vet and she doesn't find anything wrong. X-rays showed nothing in the way of tumors or such, just the arthritis we knew about. His blood work was really good. She said some of the numbers were in a range she'd expect to see in a much younger dog, and all were well within normal. I'm not sure what's going on. I haven't changed his diet for 8 or 9 months, since I put him on the raw foods. All the supplements have been the same since then, too. Unless he just has gotten it into his stubborn Lab head that he doesn't like one of the additives any more. Steph said while we were gone, she had trouble getting him to eat, and once she just gave him his bag of food, with nothing added and he ate that fine. So I guess I will try leaving stuff out, and if he eats, start adding one thing at a time, and see if that tells me anything. If anyone has any other ideas, I'm listening!

I am also babysitting Will today. Now that will make for an exhausting day, I am sure! I'm not used to chasing four year olds around all day anymore. But it will be fun, I am sure. He's a good kid, and it is always great to spend time with him. I'm sure Nikki (their dog) will love having someone around all day, too.

Then it will be on to laundry and the other clean up from the past weekend, and start getting it all together again for the next trip. Wheeee!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Guardians of the Lost (Sovereign Stone #2) by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman

Guardians of the Lost (Sovereign Stone, #2)Guardians of the Lost by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Guardians of the Lost is the second book of the Sovereign Stone trilogy. (See my review of Book 1 here: Well of Darkness) This story takes place 200 years after the events of the first book, with Loerem torn by war and strife. Prince Dagnarus, who has extended his life since becoming a Vrykyl, has amassed an army of vicious half-beast warriors to reclaim the throne he feels he was cheated of 200 years ago. He has also added to his ranks of Void magic born Vrykyl. Dagnarus is still searching for the four pieces of the Sovereign Stone, still believing he was cheated out of its possession by his brother. Gustav, a Dominion Lord, learns the location of the human portion of the Sovereign Stone and tries to take it to the Council of Dominion Lords, only to be pursued and attacked by a Vrykyl. Gustav manages to defeat the Vrykyl but not before he is mortally wounded. He entrusts the piece of the Stone to a pecwae and a Trevinici youth, enjoining them to deliver it to an elfen Dominion Lord so that she may take it to the Council. The group sets out across the different lands of Loerem, pursued by Vrykyl and barely ahead of Dagnarus and his conquering army.

As a second installment, this is quite well done. Most of the backstory and detail outline was set up in the first book, so the plot here can move along fairly well. There are narrative breaks, some of which seem rather dragged out, but in main, the pacing is good.

Characters are interesting and well-drawn. There are representatives of all the four races of Loerem in the main character set, with the exception of the orks, who in this book, seem relegated to minor roles. World-building is as well done as any of the authors' works, and the magic system is interesting in its association of one of each of the four Elements with each of the four races. Two of the characters in particular bring a bit of humor to the story, a nice touch in what is a rather dark tale.

Where the first book basically finished its story, with the addition of the set up for this one, Guardians of the Lost ends on a somewhat ominous note, with the main quest as yet unfulfilled. Even so, the story is satisfying.

I did find it a bit slow reading in spots, but overall, was intrigued enough with the characters and some of the other plot elements to finish. I look forward to reading the third book and finding out what happens.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

This Week Got Away From Me

You know how they say time flies when you're having fun? Well, that ain't nothing to what it does when you're busy with... And that's the problem. I don't know what exactly has been going on. I just know that it is Friday today, and I haven't got a review to post here, and it seems like I've gotten little else done, either. I mean, there were dishes, laundry, vacuuming, making dog food, all the usual stuff, but it also seemed that there was no time for reading or other leisure activities. It's just weird how some weeks get away from you.

On other fronts, following up on my blog from the beginning of April, the new diet and exercise program is going pretty well. As of right now, I have lost a bit over 15 pounds. I have been more regular about exercise, and have started working some strength training into my week. The less alcohol policy has been going OK, as well. I didn't quite hit all of April with none, but there wasn't much, and I've been into May with the same policy. Our "diet" plan has been good for us. We, as most people who know us are aware, like to eat, and eat well. So going with a typical diet wasn't going to work. I don't want to live for as long as this will take on salad and carrot sticks. We still eat well, and use real butter, cream, and all that. It's mostly portion control, and substituting what we can. And at least for me, I have not felt deprived in any way, and it is working. So onward!

I also managed to add almost 2000 words to the short story project this week. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some of the time was spent reading and making revision notes. I am a little behind where I wanted to be at this point, but not too bad. I should be able to catch up fairly well.

I spent some time yesterday just  brainstorming ideas. Took pen and paper (yes, those things do still exist!) and just jotted down an idea that has been floating around in my head without much coherence. Then I just started noting down the ideas that came as I thought about it. Not sure there's much more coherence, but there are some interesting directions to think on.

On to the weekend. The projects on tap are a run to the town dump with more junk from upstairs, getting a Rubbermaid small shed to store the bikes in, putting in the fence posts in the back of the yard for closing in the chickens, and getting some seedlings set out and some more stuff planted. Oh, and fitting a bike ride in there somewhere, too! That ought to keep me busy, and at least I will know what I did!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Another Traveling Weekend

This time to Milford, CT for the Platt Tech "Doc" Dowling Memorial cook off. This was the first cook off this season where the BaldMan competed. It was a little bit weird, setting up in only one booth. Since I'm not cooking this season, we don't need to put up the second canopy. I took charge of the People's Choice for the day. I also judged the salsa category, since the BaldMan has already won that one.

Here's a picture of me, serving our People's Choice:

And I got called into service in the judging area, also. The scorekeeper for the event was not feeling well, and they called the paramedics, who thought she should go to the ER to get checked out. Of course, her husband went with her. He was Chief Judge for the event and this happened just as we were judging the salsas. So when I finished with my ballot, he asked me if I would take over as Acting Chief Judge until he knew what was happening with his wife. Of course, I did. First time I've been a Chief Judge, but I've seen him, the BaldMan and others do it so many times, it wasn't a big deal, really. All I had to do was have a short refresher meeting with the chili verde judges to refresh them on what they were going to do, and oversee the judging process. We had two great helpers step in to do the scorekeeping part. Steve was back for the red chili judging. Audrey was fine, and was released from the hospital later that day. All was well!

At the end of the day, the BaldMan took third place in red. A good thing! The new verde recipe seems to be good, though it needs a bit of work on color. The less than good part is that his fancy new thermometer froze up and let his chili overcook some. And, of course, it happened while I was away from the booth and he was busy with People's Choice serving! It was a good day overall, and good to  be on the cook's side of the competition again.

The BaldMan with his trophy:

We went to a surprise 60th birthday party for one of the cooks afterward. It was fun- and there was far too much food! Very nice to be able to just sit and relax after a long day of cooking.

We are serving as Chief Judge and Scorekeeper at a cook off to benefit the Meriden, CT Humane Society in June and the organizer of that event came to Saturday's cook off to judge and pass out flyers for his event. He had his bull mastiff with him. What a sweet dog! 150 pounds of mellow, laid back cutie.

Speaking of dogs, mine is back on antibiotics and drops for his ear. Those nasty cankers are back, so back to the meds. He isn't happy about the drops. The pills I can just mush into a bit of his food and he doesn't even know he's getting them. But it's helping. The ear is better. I hope we can figure out how to keep them clear. Ear infections are no fun.

I need to get out into the garden this week. I have more lines for the drip irrigation to run, and some planting to do. The seedlings are doing nicely, and I'll start hardening them off for planting soon.

Another week done, and another on the horizon. What are your plans?

Friday, May 11, 2012

At the Movies: The Avengers

My middle daughter asked me the other day: "Want to go see Avengers 3D for Mother's Day?" My response? "Yes, please!" We went on Wednesday afternoon. Good choice. Almost empty theater, no distracting kids or teenagers disrupting the movie. I rather like matinees. So what did I think?

Let me start by saying that I was looking forward to this movie. A lot. Way back when I was just a slip of a girl, I loved my comic books. Ok, so I was more of an X-Men girl than Avengers. My must-have comics were X-Men and Fantastic Four, but I read my share of Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, etc. (We won't talk about what happened to those comics. Those and the baseball cards... *sigh*) I have not been reading or collecting them for many, many years, but I do remember and these movie realizations, while not all stellar (oh, boy, can we say NOT to some?),  are reminders of my youth. Yes, I am a geek. And proud of it. So.....
Have I mentioned Joss Whedon is a genius? No? Let me correct that oversight right now: Joss Whedon is a genius. If not a genius, he is absolutely freakin' good at not-quite-but-almost-over-the-top fun. I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse so I guess it's not a surprise that I liked Avengers, as well. Was it perfect? No. Did I care while sitting in the theater? Not one tiny bit.

The plot is a pretty standard superhero type story- bad guys trying to conquer and destroy. In this case, it's Loki and the Chitauri, a warring alien race. Loki is sent to retrieve the Tessaract, a source of limitless power that is in the hands of Shield. In exchange, the Chitauri promise Loki an army with which to conquer and subjugate Earth. Some of the background of this story is fairly directly spun from Thor, and while it is not necessary to have seen that movie prior to Avnegers, it might help understand some of the backstory. Although, anyone with a basic grounding in Norse mythology would get the major points, even without seeing Thor first. (Well, except the aliens, but we'll forgive.) Otherwise, even though most of the rest of the cast has had their solo movies, those are not crucial to this one. If you have a comics background, you know a lot of it, anyway, and if you don't, it won't get in the way of enjoying the film.

There is, of course, a lot of action. Many things get blown up, tossed about, knocked over, punched, kicked, and shot. And there lies one of the problems. Some of the scenes, action packed as they might be, did drag on perhaps a bit long. The final battle with Loki and Hulk absolutely makes up for all of them, however.

Whedon's hand is obvious in the humor in the film. There were as many chuckles as starts and jumps sprinkled throughout. Just one tiny sample:
Thor: Take care how you speak. Loki is of Asgaard and he is my  brother.
Black Widow: He's killed eighty people in three days.
Thor: He's adopted.
And that's just one. The one-liners and bantering dialogue is well-balanced with the action. You don't get tired of either.
The CGI is quite good, although I did think there were a few, but only a few, moments when it was a bit too apparent, compared to the majority of the time when it was more seamless. The Hulk, in particular, was impressive. All CGI, his face looked like Mark Ruffalo, and since they used Ruffalo's actions to pattern the Hulk after, the two characters felt like one. I do have one quibble with the Hulk, however, and it's writing, not CGI. At his first appearnace, he is portrayed as mindlessy raging and destructive, which leaves room for a nice, messy chase scene, but when he shows up for the final confrontation, he's directed and obviously thinking. Just a little disconnect that stuck out to me.

3D was very good, with only a few moments of popping off the screen, and those were well done.
I have to say the 3D was better than some films I've seen, as I have in the past not really been impressed with the 3D effects. But that is completely my issue- apparently, the fact that the vision in my right eye is so bad at this point makes it hard for me to see really subtle 3D, so don't take that as criticism. Actually, it was quite the opposite here- I thought the 3D was apparent through most of the film.

The movie was full of geeky goodness. Did I mention the flying, stealth aircraft carrier? Be still my heart.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Avengers. It had action, humor, and some pretty darn good biceps! An afternoon well spent. Thanks, Stephanie! Oh, and if I ever get the chance to swoop in and save the world, I am SO doing it while blasting heavy metal!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Another Week

They seem to go whooshing by lately. We got home last Sunday evening from the New England Regional Cook Off. We didn't cook, but did help out in the judging area. It was a two day event this year, and let me tell you, we were pretty darn wiped by the time it was over. It's a different kind of tired, not so much physical, since you are not hauling all the "stuff" around. It's more mental, but it's tired just the same. We grabbed a pizza on the way through town and just did a quick, simple dinner.

The rest of the week was rather quiet. It rained most of the week, so no outdoor work got done. Saturday, I started cleaning out the pond, getting the dead leaves and gunk out of the bottom. It needs to get pulled out every year, or the pump and filter get too clogged up. I also got the reed trimmed back. They survive quite nicely in the pond over the winter, but the dead, dried stalks from last year do need to be trimmed out to make room for this year's growth. And it looks like there is only one fish left in there now. We had a great blue heron in the yard several days, and it looks like he got most of the fish. Darn bird! We've had that pond in the yard for many, many years and not a single heron until this year. I'm not adding any more fish until I can get floating cover plants in there. Most places around here won't start selling those for a few weeks yet.

Yesterday, we did a lot of yard work. I got the bed around the aspen at the driveway cleared out of the miscellaneous growth that springs up, so that the vinca I am trying to encourage has more room to grow. I put the big stone mushroom I bought last year out there, and I got three glow in the dark smaller mushrooms at Christmas Tree Shoppe and those went in there, too. We'll see how "glow" they are tonight. I also trimmed in the front foundation bed. A lot of the crap that Kleber cleaned out for us last year is sprouting again, because we just couldn't get all the stumps and roots out. So I trimmed it back again and pulled more roots, hoping that if I keep that up, eventually it will die. Five of the six mums I planted last year survived the winter, and are leafing out nicely. I will add more this year to fill the front edge. The dwarf burning bush, echinacea, and lilies are also coming back nicely. I need to get a couple azaleas in the back, and fill in the rest with flowers, mostly perennials. And I want to add some bulbs in the fall for Spring color.

And then we started clearing brush for the new fencing. We are going to try to really keep the chickens in our yard this year, so we are putting up five foot plastic mesh fence across the back. That should be high enough to keep them from flying over. Chickens can fly, but not that well. I will anchor the bottom as well so they can't slip under. The front part will eventually be split bamboo, which will look much nicer. We decided on the mesh for the back so that it doesn't interfere with what little view we have out that way. And the BaldMan mowed the lawn, which sorely needed it after all that rain this week.

Now we need to cut his meat for the coming weekend's Doc Dowling Memorial cook off, and get all the rest of the chili stuff sorted and reloaded for the season. This is the first cooking competition this year. The BaldMan is the cook this season. I'm not cooking this year. I decided to take the season off and get some other things done with the time I'd spend on cook off prep. I will be back next year, however!

On to another week. I hope it's a good one, for all of us!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Blackbirds (Miriam Black #1) by Chuck Wendig

Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miriam Black sees death. At least, she sees the death of people she touches, skin to skin. She knows the date, time, and circumstances of each person's death. She's tried to change things a few times; to cheat Fate, as it were. But she has become convinced that Fate will not be cheated, and her attempts only make the inevitable more so. So she has become a sort of scavenger, gleaning enough from the corpses of those whose death she's seen to just get by. In the course of her endless road trip with death, she meets two men: Ashley Gaynes, who sees in Miriam the chance to run the ultimate con game on those whose deaths Miriam will see, and Louis Darling, a trucker in whose death vision Miriam hears him calling her name, as if she were there. It seems Fate may have plans that even Miriam hasn't figured out.

I really enjoyed this book. Wendig is rapidly becoming a favorite author. His stories are provocative, funny, visceral, bloody, and engrossing. Miriam Black is certainly damaged goods- abusive childhood, teen trauma, and cursed with a psychic ability that would freak the pants off most anyone else. She's a wise-cracking, hard-ass, chain-smoking, hard-drinking woman far older than her years who has figured out a way to live with her visions, or so she thinks. There is confrontation on many levels, and a final push to redemption.

Character is everything in this book. Miriam, Louis (even "Dead Louis"), and Ashley have depth and personality. The secondary villains are chilling and pretty much ooze evil. A little stereotype? Maybe, but it doesn't hurt this story at all. In fact, it may help, as these darker characters embody what Miriam could be (and in some ways, may think she is) until she is confronted with them.

Setting is less important here, as Miriam is essentially a drifter, and never stays in one place longer than she needs to in order to collect her scavengings. It is, in many ways, a road trip story, and the journey is the real setting.

One more thing- the cover. A truly outstanding job by Joey Hi-Fi. One of the best and most effective covers I've seen in a while.

I should warn potential readers that the book would be rated for language, violence, and some mild sexual situations. But it should also be rated for intelligence, provoking thought, and just general goodness.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Day Late

Sorry. It was a long weekend and I decided to use Monday as a recovery day.

This past weekend was the New England Regional Chili Cook Off. This year it was a two day event. We did not cook this one, but we did help out in the judging area both days. On Saturday, the BaldMan was a wrangler/table monitor, and I helped with scorekeeping. On Sunday, I was Head Scorekeeper and the BaldMan wrangled/monitored again. It doesn't sound like a lot, does it? Let me tell you, those were two full bore, exhausting days. It is amazing how much work you do in that judging area. All in all, it is a good tired, and I do enjoy doing it. At least until I stop and realize just how tired I actually am!

We used the BaldMan's scorekeeping program this weekend as well. Saturday, we used it to score the Youth Division for under 18 year old cooks, and Sunday we used it to score all the preliminary tables as well as the Youth Division. It worked perfectly. A few things I noted and mentioned for refinement, and he does have to get the printing "prettied up," but as far as functionality, it was great. It's going to be timesaver at cook offs where it can be used. There are cook offs where electricity isn't available, so laptop battery life could be an issue, as well as printing, but where it is used, I think scorekeepers will find it very slick.

We drove home right after Sunday's cook off, as it is only about two hours to Somers, CT from here. And decided to just pick up a pizza when we got to Londonderry, so we didn't have to think about going out again. It was a good idea. We both turned in early on Sunday night.

In other news, my poor pond has been stripped of fish. We had a heron in the yard a few weeks ago, and I am pretty sure he got some of them. I thought he must have been back since then, because I haven't found any fish in there for a few days. Got the proof today. When I came back up the driveway after walking the dog, there he was in the yard again. I am sure he must have been disappointed that I have not restocked the sushi bar yet! I have no plans to until I can get some good floating cover plants in there. And I will put a plant pot on its side on the bottom for an extra hiding spot, as well. Dad-blamed bird! There is a huge pond not far from here- go fish there!

Nothing is getting done outside for now. It is raining now and the forecast has some rain for most of the week. We do need the rain, so it's okay with me.

Today will be spent catching up on the mountain of laundry I have, and grinding and packaging up more dog food.  I have to say that with all the recent recalls of dog food, I am really glad I got Murphy on a raw diet. At least I know where his food is coming from and exactly what is in it.

Looking forward to a somewhat normal week for once!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hugo Nominated Short Stories

I don't have a book review this week, as I have been reading more short fiction to re-acquaint my mind with the short form for my current project. So here are some thoughts on the stories nominated for this year's Hugo Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:

1) The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees  by E. Lily Yu

The story is about wasps who inscribe tiny, intricate maps in their paper nests, and the consequences when the humans around them discover the maps existence. A colony of wasps moves to another location, already inhabited by a hive of bees, who are essentially enslaved by the stronger wasps.

But that is far too simple a synopsis. The story touches on slavery, anarchism, survival, and many other topics, all framed in the societies of insects. The writing is lyrical and strong, and there is a depth here that isn't often seen in a short story. It is well worth the short time it takes to read, and should stay with you after.

2) The Homecoming  by Mike Resnick

 This is a story about families and the often complex interrelationships that make them up. A long absent son returns home to visit his mother, who has severe dementia. The catch is that the son chose to change himself dramatically eleven years prior in order to pursue his own life, and his father has never forgiven him. The father reacts as expected, and the son fails once again in his attempt to explain. It is in the interaction between the very different son and his confused mother that the real growth of understanding begins to take place.

This story is written in first person, from the father's point of view: brusque, no-nonsense, and practical. Still, there is an undercurrent of emotion that pulls you in to the story. Despite his curt appearance, it is obvious he loves his wife, even though she hardly recognizes him anymore. A lot is packed into this short story- family, freedom, the search for common ground, and over it all, love. Another fine read, and deserving of the nomination.

3) The Paper Menagerie  by Ken Liu

This story is another family tale, this time about a Chinese-American family. The mother here is a mail order bride, brought over to the US to marry a Chinese man in the suburbs. They have a son, and while he is small, his mother makes him origami animals. She is able to breathe life into them, and they become his favorite toys. As with many children, he eventually becomes aware that he and his family are "different." He begins to turn away from his mother, and by the time he is in high school, they have grown apart. He packs up his menagerie and forgets about them until his mother dies of cancer.

Yes, it's a little predictable, but the strength of the story lies in the characters, especially the mother. She is a driving force in the whole tale, even when she is not actively present. The writing is soft and flowing, fitting the more internal aspect of the story very well. It left me a bit misty. A nicely written, warm story.

4) Movement  by Nancy Fulda

This story is about autism, or more precisely, autism in the future. The point of view character is an autistic teenager who actually has only two lines of dialoque in the story. Her parents are considering an experimental procedure that would allow her to be more "normal" and fit in with the rest of society. It explores the question of what is normal, and how do we get to the place considered normal in our understanding of life. Hannah, the point of view character, sees her world in a completely different light than her parent or grandparents. But is she really just a mutation that needs fixing, or is she a stepping stone to something else?

Hannah is a dancer, although she dances for herself and not in a formal class. The writing flows like a dance- sometimes smooth and slow, sometimes fast and whirling, sometimes loud and unharmonic. It mimics Hannah's internal world, the world her parents can't see, and won't understand. This one will bring up questions, and leave you searching for the answers.
5) The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One :The Dead City (excerpt)  by John Scalzi

What can I say about this one? It was Scalzi's April Fool's contribution and it is, in a word, amazing. How can you describe a story in which the first two paragraphs are exactly one sentence each (and they are real paragraph length!), and the first contains the word "black, " or variations of it, twelve times?

Written in the "style" of the best of the worst stories, it is funny, fascinating, and a joy to read. I'm not going to try to tell you what it's about- go, read it. You will laugh. You will laugh some more. And then you will laugh again.

Disguised as the announcement of a new series by the author, the story appeared on the website of Tor Books, complete with foil-accented cover image. Apparently, there are people who didn't get the joke. In a way, it is too bad that it WAS a joke. I would so buy this book. If only to find out just how dark that night (and the castle) were...