Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 In Review

January:
Max watching PSU win the Capital One Bowl












February:
Made the library into a comfortable reading room.















April:
Tried deep fried bacon at the rodeo (it was gross!)...















...and visited Austin with my parents
















May:
Camping at Brazos Bend State Park













June:
Welcomed Layla to the family












July:
Brewed our first batch of beer...















...watched The Netherlands in the World Cup...













...and went skydiving!













August:
Went to the Philadelphia Folk Festival













October:
Went to New Orleans to celebrate my first anniversary with The Dude!
















November:
Returned to Pennsylvania for the wedding of a great friend (photo below courtesy of the Dude not leaving us alone)













December:
Spent a great Christmas with family and enjoyed real snow! (the handsome fella in this photo is my parents' dog, Duke)













2010 was a fun year for me. I have so much to look forward to in 2011!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Cheer

In my house growing up, we traditionally spent Black Friday and the weekend after Thanksgiving decorating the house. Since we bought a live tree we wouldn't get that for another few weeks (and it often stayed up until it was needle-less in February) but the Christmas season started at the same time as the leftover turkey.

Now that I have my own house (and a fake tree), I have had to start my own traditions, but I still decorate on Black Friday. It's a great excuse to avoid the shopping that I can't stand. While I have lots of my old traditions, it's been fun to look for new ones as well. For the first time this year, the Dude and I made gingerbread houses (albeit from a kit we bought from Target). They turned out pretty well...that is, until the Texas weather went from almost-winter to almost-summer in about 12 hours and all the icing melted. We'll try again next year!



After talking about it the last few years, the Dude hung Christmas lights outside this year and I think they look great! ...even if my pictures don't reflect that. We are definitely not in the running for the most Griswold-ish house in our neighborhood, but we aren't the Grinches either.


Since I'm still making my own traditions, I've enjoyed looking at what others do. I've always kept most of my decorating in the living room, dining room, and kitchen, but after I saw this picture I think I may move it in to the library next year!


Has anyone else started their own traditions when they moved away from home?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Non-Holiday Book

This one gets its own review because it really affected me. Up front warning: this book is not cheerful. I promise to get back to holiday joy in my next post!

Room, Emma Donoghue

In Emma Donoghue's second novel, Room, the author shows once again that she is not afraid to dive headfirst into truly awful situations and turn them inside out. Room is a story told by Jack, a 5 year old who lives in Room with his Ma and his friends Bed, Duvet, and Wardrobe. As far as Jack knows, everything outside of Room is Outer Space and everything on tv is not real. When I say everything, I mean everything...rain, dentists, even other people. This is because Jack's mother was abducted before his birth and has been held prisoner in an 11'x11' room for the past seven years. As circumstances with their captor change, Ma realizes that it is time to try to escape if she and Jack are going to survive. But how do you explain escape to someone who doesn't understand there is a world to escape to?

Telling the story from Jack's point of view makes the story easier to read but also strips away much of the convention we associate with these types of situations. There is very little graphic violence or external input. What is left is an emotional tale that forces you to re-evaluate everything you think you know about the world and how you interact with other people. I knew going in that reading this would be difficult for me, but I'm glad I picked it up anyway. I was utterly absorbed from start to finish. This is not to minimize how disturbing and painful the book is at times, because it is both. However, it also brings a fresh, innocent perspective to a cynical situation.

I would cautiously recommend Room to those who think they could handle it. If nothing else it will force you to sit back, take a deep breath, and think.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Dog's Life

I think a lot of you already read Hyperbole and a Half but if you don't, start now. I love it when she blogs about her dogs. This recent post about "simple dog" and "helper dog" made me laugh out loud and snort. Layla is definitely simple dog. I also liked this older one where she tested simple dog's intelligence. Then Becca did the same test on her dog, which led to hilarious photos of a lumpy blanket wandering around her living room.

I realized I haven't been blogging about Max and Layla as much as I used to. I think part of that is because Layla is really difficult to photograph; she tends to come out as a big black blur, sometimes with scary green eyes, sometimes with no eyes at all. It doesn't really do justice to her cheerful, floppy demeanor in real life, especially since I know the best part of a post about dogs is pictures of said dogs. I did get a few decent ones though...can you tell what a sweetheart she is?


Despite my laziness in posting their pictures, the dogs are doing well. Max got a cold last week, which he generously shared with Layla, so I have had the pleasure of listening to dogs sneeze for the past few weeks. They both excel at looking pathetic to get whatever they want from me then running away acting normal. Dogs 1, People 0.

Last night I watched the old Claymation "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" special. I had forgotten that whenever Rudolph's nose lights up it makes an odd high pitched whining sound. This intrigued both dogs. I love it when they hear a strange sound from the tv. The ears perk up and the head cocks to the side. Even better is when one of them actually walks over to see where the noise is coming from. The Dude has a birthday card which features dogs barking "Happy Birthday to You" and used it to mess with them quite a few times. I did the same with Rudolph. Dogs 1, Alicia 1. It's a tie! I'll call that good for now.

Well by now I figure I have bored and/or alienated pretty much all of my readers so my work here is done. I hope you're all enjoying the Christmas lights as much as I am now that I don't have to resent them!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Preparing for London 2012

The summer of 2012 may seem far away for most of us, but around the world elite athletes are hard at work preparing for the Summer Olympics. Competing at this level requires daily practice and intense focus.

Of course, many athletes compete in sports which are not a part of the Olympics. Every four years a number of test events are added and these athletes hope that their sport will be selected to become a permanent part of the Games.

Here, we see team USA's rising stars Max and Layla practicing their routine for the exciting new "synchronized napping" event. Go team!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Which Christmas Takes Over

Every year when Christmas items appear in stores in October (or even earlier) I complain loudly about how terrible it is that Christmas is inexorably swallowing Thanksgiving and now even Halloween. I refuse to buy anything until after Thanksgiving. Even then, I avoid the insanity of Black Friday and indulge in a day at home in sweatpants eating leftovers and decorating for Christmas.

Which is why I am not proud that today, on November 16, 2010 (9 days before Thanksgiving) I succumbed to the onslaught. I will give you one guess as to which Christmas character could breach my defenses.

Ready?

If you guessed Charlie Brown, you are right.

So, here they are in all their glory. Sparkly, puffy, sticker-y glory.

(Yes, these are puffy stickers with confetti inside! You would have bought them too.)

I can't be the only one who has cracked...what has put you over the top?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

He is Penn State

For those non-Penn State fanatics who read this blog (I think there may be one of you out there), you may not know that last week marked a milestone for the Nittany Lions' favorite octogenarian, Joe Paterno. For the other 99% of you, this is old news but hopefully you can share it with someone who isn't a fanatic and convert them to our side!

With the Nittany Lions' 35-21 win over Northwestern on Saturday, Joe became the only Division I football coach to reach 400 victories. Yes, you read that right. In a sport where teams play 12 games per year, he has won 400 times.

As always when Joepa reaches a milestone, I am proud not only of his success on the field but also off it. Joe and his wife Sue have donated more than $5 million to Penn State to build the Paterno library. People like to joke that most schools name the library after the president and the stadium after the football coach; Penn State did it the other way around. Joe has turned down many chances to go to the NFL and make more money because he loves Penn State and the opportunity to work with athletes at such a critical turning point in their lives. From day one he made his goal "Success with Honor" and I believe he has succeeded remarkably well.

During the post game celebration (at about 4:30 in the video below) Joe addresses the question of why he has stayed so long. Anyone who has been in that stadium when everyone is cheering will know why I get chills watching.

"They ask me why I stayed here so long, and you know what...look around."


I also enjoyed this video produced by Penn State. Although it's a bit on the sappy side, I loved the historical footage.


Now that we've celebrated this incredible achievement, let's follow Joe's advice and go beat Ohio State!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Recent Reads

Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman
This enchanting story was recommended to me by the incomparable Audrey of Bibliovermis. For those of you who enjoy reading enough to a) read my blog and b) presumably read some of the books I recommend, don't click on this link. Because it will take you to a really awesome review which requires no reading at all but instead uses creative pictures. Hmph. You clicked, didn't you? Well, here's my review anyway.

I thought this was an excellent fairy tale that felt as though it had been told for hundreds of years even though I had never read it. Odd, our hero, runs away from home because winter is never ending (literally) and he can't stand to stay with his mother, stepfather, and multiple not so nice step-siblings. He encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle, who turn out to be gods who have been tricked by the Frost Giants. In order to bring spring back and save his village, Odd must go to the land of the gods and defeat the Frost Giants; no small task for a 12 year old with a bad leg and a crutch.

I will refrain from telling more about the plot because it is a short book, but I recommend this to readers of all ages. The edition I had also included lovely illustrations by Mark Buckingham which added to the spare, wintry feel of the book. What a great contribution to World Book Day!

A Secret Kept, Tatiana de Rosnay
One of the hardest things for an author or artist to do is to follow up a debut smash hit with an equally smashing second offering. This task was near impossible for Tatiana de Rosnay given the amazing quality of her first book, Sarah's Key (see my review). A Secret Kept has quite a few similarities: a family in France dealing with secrets from many years ago while trying to navigate present tension. Unfortunately the story here was neither as compelling nor as well fleshed out as Sarah's Key.

The book begins when Antoine takes his sister Melanie to Nourmoutier for her 40th birthday. As children they had spent weeks there every summer but after their mother died while they were children, the family never returned. The trip stirs up a memory for Melanie that drastically alters their view of their mother and her death. Antoine sets out to learn more about the mother he never really knew. I was disappointed that I had trouble understanding many of the characters' motivations and frequently felt confused by their actions. The ultimate reveal was a bit of a letdown for me. Had I read this book without comparing it to Sarah's Key my review might have been better, but this just couldn't live up.

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman
, Adrienne Kress
This was another Audrey recommendation and I adored it! Alex is an independent, smart ten year old who lives in a small town with her uncle. When a new and different teacher comes to her school her life is soon turned upside down as she learns he is the heir to a pirate treasure. When he is kidnapped Alex has to put her ingenuity to work to rescue him from the world's most deadly pirate.

The tone and style of the book reminded me a of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. It was filled with quirky characters and sly references (Alex tracks the ship to both Port Cullis and Port Wine). I hear this movie may be made into a movie and if done right it will be excellent. In the meantime, I will hope for a sequel!

Pirate Dessert

I few weeks ago I was meandering through the interwebs and stumbled on a thing of beauty: the apple pie-rate ship. That's right, an actual pirate ship made out of apple pie. Immediately this beautiful baked good rocketed into my list of top 10 awesome edibles. Although I make an excellent apple pie (if I do say so myself), I realized that my skills lie in the round, flat pie arena and that even a small fishing vessel, let alone a full sized pirate ship, would be beyond my feeble landlubber talents. So I sent the apple pie-rate link to the most talented baker I know: Erin!

I suggested to Erin that a duo or even a fleet of apple pie-rate ships, perhaps floating through a blue candy see with whipped cream whitecaps, would make an impressive (and delicious) Thanksgiving centerpiece. Oddly though, Erin seemed to think that this brilliant idea might be "too much work" on top of making turkey, stuffing, and all the sides for 12 people while hosting a half dozen family members. I know, I was shocked too. So I sadly resigned myself to a life without an apple pie-rate ship and buried my face in my grog.

That weekend I headed over to the aforementioned Erin's house for one of our favorite activities: a fancy lunch consumed while spending a few hours watching a girly movie whose entire plot could be deduced from a thirty second preview. It's a great time. But this weekend was even greater as she told me she had baked me a surprise. What could it be, I wondered? Eyeball cake balls for Halloween? Some kind of pumpkin delight? But NO! Better!

An APPLE PIE-RATE SHiP!!!



Feast your eyes on its pirate-y, apple-y, doughy glory!



Reader, this was as tasty as it was good looking. Erin has redeemed herself...at least until I get another idea. Like a pirate's treasure island made out of baked goods. Hmm...

*Please excuse the terrible picture quality; another skill I lack is using my phone camera!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Hoopla


Despite what stores would have you think, it's not Christmas yet...it's almost Halloween! Here are some of my suggestions for a good time.

Watch "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" on Thursday, October 28 at 8pm/7pm Central. This is my second favorite Charlie Brown special (if you don't know my favorite already, click here).

If you're looking for some Halloween reading, I recommend checking out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The Dude and I checked out the audiobook for a recent road trip and we both really enjoyed it. I never thought I'd be discussing Jane Austen's romantic triangles in the same conversation as learning about the differences between single bladed and double bladed swords but there's a first time for everything!

Last but not least there's the easiest, oldest, and best way to celebrate Halloween: buy too much candy and enjoy the "leftovers" when all the trick or treaters are gone! (or sooner, if you can't take the temptation)

Who's got fun Halloween plans this year?

Get Out the Vote!

As you've probably noticed from ads and street signs, it's election season. Everyone has something they want to change or improve in their local or national government and this is the most important way to be heard, so get out there and vote! It's one of your greatest rights and privileges.

Here in Texas we have the option of early voting, which makes the process a lot more convenient. Harris County readers can find early voting locations here: Harris County Early Voting

In Harris County you can generate a sample ballot here and get non-biased candidate information in the League of Women Voters Guide.

If you live elsewhere, a simple Google search should be all it takes to find all the information you need. Now get out and vote!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Smell Like A...Monster?

I loved the Old Spice commercials that came out a few months ago but I adore Sesame Street's take on the ad campaign. Looking good, Grover!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Different Point of View

I saw this picture on a couple different websites today. No matter how many times I see it, I need a second look to figure out what's going on.

As cool as it would be if these were books under plexiglass, they are actually repeating tiles made from pictures of the shelves of a local bookstore. I'd love to stop by here the next time I'm in NYC!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Forgiveness and Football

Today Donovan McNabb and the Redskins (it sounds weird to even say that) return to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. The Eagles are led not by young QB Kevin Kolb but by Michael Vick, who has been playing incredible football in the last few weeks. Sounds great, right? Except I still haven't figured out what I think about Vick.

When he was convicted of running a dog fighting ring I felt it was unforgivable and that I could never respect him again as a person, let alone root for him in football. But now I have been wondering whether I'm being too harsh. I am a strong believer that our justice system should not only focus on punishment but also rehabilitation. Outwardly, Vick seems to have rehabilitated and be truly sorry for his actions. But how do I know whether that's true? I don't think I ever will.

The Sports Guy wrote a great article about this very topic; his wife still hates Vick but he disagrees. I think this is a really polarizing subject because it gets to the heart of a crisis in this country as more and more people are incarcerated.

What do you think? Do I trust Vick's current actions and wholeheartedly root for him? Or does someone who treats animals so badly never deserve success?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall is Here! ...sort of

Yesterday when I stepped outside for work in the morning, it was colder outside than inside for the first time this year. In Texas this is cause for celebration! Then last night, the Phillies clinched the NL East championship, which is becoming a fall tradition. Today at the store the flowers on display were fall colors, not summers, and I was thrilled to pick some up as well as some miniature squashes for a festive centerpiece. Welcome home, fall!


Weird sidenote: I planned this post as I drove home and Jen and I must have been on the same wavelength because she had the same idea today...check out her decorations!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Attention Bookworms!

One of the best things about reading so much is sharing the books I love with other people and getting recommendations in return. And one of my favorite people to share with is Audrey! Now she started her own awesome blog where she reviews her books...in pictures!

Visit Bibliovermis!



(for those wondering what a "bibliovermis" is, check the funny FAQ)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ARRR!!


Well hello there mateys! This is yer old pal Deckswabber Bessy the Mad! Time flies fast when yer sailing the seas! It's already been a year since the last time we celebrated International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

There are lots of ways to celebrate! Mayhap ye want to know yer own Pirate Name...here's how!

Raise a glass of grog, hoist the sails, and count yer booty! ARRRRR!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Awesome Recycling

Hey strangers! I have a huge backlog of books to review so I may just give up and start from scratch. Or maybe I'll build one of these...



Yes, that is an amazing desk made out of books!

In other news in my life, football has finally started! It was a rough weekend for both the Nittany Lions and the Eagles but I'm hopeful things will look up as the season goes on. It's still hot in Houston but the evenings are beginning to cool off a tiny bit, which has me excited for camping once the weather cools off! Right now we can't camp because there's no way to fit me, the Dude, Layla, Max, and all our gear into the "big" car, which is my Civic. Anyone want to sell me a cheap roof rack?

What excites you about fall?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Now That's a Philadelphia Fan



Courtesy of the700level.com:

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson were at the Phillies-Dodgers game on Tuesday night when Sweet Dee went into labor. The Inq's Michael Klein reports that the couple left the game, and Olson later gave birth to a baby boy, Axel Lee McElhenney, who will probably be the funniest son of a [talented actress] alive. Klein has more on the story here, and Olson's quote gives us some indication of the baby's birthright:

"As soon as Ryan Howard hit a three run home run, we felt comfortable leaving to go have our baby."

SO WAIT. WAIT. YOU LEFT EARLY???

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Ultimate Home Library

I've written before about some excellent home libraries (including my own!). But this one takes the cake. It's not just a home library; it's a second home that was made into a library and integrated seamlessly with the first house.


Real estate is cheap in Texas. Hey, a girl can dream...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dreaming of Sloth

I've got my fingers crossed that tomorrow will be my last crazy day at work (for now) as we head outside for a 3rd EVA to fix a failed pump module on ISS. As I dream of vacation, hanging out like a sloth (or with a sloth) sounds better and better!



A lot of this footage may look familiar from this post, but the great thing about this video is that you learn about the day to day life of the sloths and their personalities. I'm definitely a Delilah!

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Cozy Corner

I have been working some crazy hours this week, but I will share this fantastic home library with you. Have a great weekend!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Don't Wait Too Long

For the past few days I've been adoring this laid back tune from Madeleine Peyroux, "Don't Wait Too Long." She has one of those voices and styles that make you sure every song you hear is something you've known all your life. I think she would be fantastic at the folk festival! Here's the video.



What new songs do you feel like you've known forever?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

So That's What You Do With an Aerospace Engineering Degree

Last week, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane...and I loved it! I've always thought I'd go skydiving some day, so when a group of coworkers decided to go I was excited. I expected that at some point I'd be terrified but it didn't happen. The toughest thing would be jumping out of the plane, but the instructor takes care of that for you. It was a blast!

If you ever get the chance to do this, I highly recommend it!




Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Write Like...

Today I stumbled across I Write Like, a website which lets you paste in some of the text you've written and find out which famous author you write like. I tried three of my recent blog posts and was told I write like either J.K. Rowling (yes!), Margaret Atwood (superb!), and someone whose name I've already forgotten (my brain only has so much space). I didn't think much of it further than something to amuse myself while I was bored until I saw this on Paper Cuts:

I entered my last blog post and was told I write like Edgar Allan Poe. (Judging from the Twitter traffic, so do a lot of other people.)

Pretty neat. But then a colleague plugged in a paragraph from Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” and was told it sounded like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Now THAT made me laugh!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jobless Recovery

If you have been watching, reading, or listening to the news lately you've probably heard the term "jobless recovery." On the one hand, I can understand how some economic indicators are improving, thus the recovery. On the other hand, with unemployment at 10% and rising (consider how many people have just stopped looking for jobs) it's hard to call it recovery. Sometimes it's easy to just take these terms at face value, but I liked the way Cory Doctorow questioned it and summed the problem up perfectly:
If the thing you use to measure the health of your economy has gone up, but no one has a job, then surely you are measuring the wrong thing to gauge the health of your nation.

Go here to read the full article.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why I'm an Engineer

A lot of engineers really enjoy math, but most of us would never dream of majoring in it. This does a lovely job of summing up why.

(source)


In other news, the rest of my life has been pretty run of the mill lately. I've been reading a lot and have probably 10 books to review, so I'll most likely just give a sentence or two about each. Layla continues to settle in nicely. I'm looking forward to my three day weekend! Maybe during that time I'll be motivated to post something more in depth, but I'm not making any promises.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Recent Reading

Here is my long ago promised catch-up post. You'll have to settle for abbreviated reviews since there are so many to include! Happy reading!

Under the Dome, Stephen King
I haven't read Stephen King before but I may have to start because I really enjoyed this. One morning an invisible, impenetrable dome simply appears over a small town in Maine. As the citizens both inside and out try to figure out what to do about it, King takes the opportunity to examine how people react when the consequences are radically different. The characters in this book were what made it great. Although it was a long story, I didn't find it drawn out. For those who enjoy science fiction, it does have a bit of that twist, especially at the end.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett
I'd heard so many great things about this book that I just figured there was no way it could possibly live up to those expectations. Unbelievably, it did. I was completely absorbed by the lives of blacks and whites in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. When young white girl Skeeter Phelan sets out to interview black maids, neither she nor the maids have any idea what they will learn. I absolutely recommend everybody read this, although it's so popular that you may have to wait in line for quite a while!

A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick
This was highly recommended on a number of book blogs but it didn't have a great effect on me. It's about a woman who answers an ad to be the wife of a man in the frozen American Northwest. They marry without really knowing each other and it turns out they both have secrets. I found I couldn't relate well to either of the main characters which is probably why I didn't enjoy it as much as others.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
Here's another must read for everyone. This book can appeal to a wide range of readers, whether you like science, faith, family, or any other topic. Although it's non-fiction, I found that a lot of the book felt like fiction in how it sucked me in. The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancerous tumor cells were extracted and used for research and never died. Lacks and her family never knew that her cells were famous worldwide. The book alternates between the story of the cells and of the family learning of all they have done. It raises so many great issues for thought and discussion without dragging through political discourse or too much science. Go read it now!

I Know This Much is True, Wally Lamb
This was a recommendation from a fellow book lover and I can see why she enjoyed it so much. Dominick's twin brother Thomas has extreme mental problems and Dominick struggles to understand how his twin could be so different from himself. In learning about them we also get the story of their past and their families. It's a dark book at times but feels real and I definitely enjoyed it.

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
This was a re-read for me because the first time I read it, I fell so completely under its spell that I finished in just a few hours and couldn't remember many details later. I tried to go back and read it slowly but got completely enveloped again, which just shows how good it is. The novel swirls around the fictional book The History of Love and those who have been affected by it. The author does a great job of incorporating lots of humor without sacrificing gravity. If you pick this up, make sure the rest of your weekend is free.

Girl Mary, Petru Popescu
I'm not a religious person, but when I do contemplate religion I've never thought much about Mary. In my mind she's always been a bland, passive character in a pale blue robe. But who was she really? And more interesting, who was she before she was a mother? In this novel Mary is absolutely captivating, a leader of her tribe who has absolute faith in God yet still questions everything. This is a woman who could stand up for herself and change the world. My old image of Mary has been absolutely overhauled thanks to this intriguing novel.

Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich
In today's economy, a lot of focus is placed on the unemployed. However, most of us don't spend a lot of time thinking about the working poor: people who have one or even two jobs but still don't earn enough money to truly live comfortably. Barbara Ehrenreich set out to explore what this is like by working in these jobs and trying to live only on what she made. While I found her an annoying narrator, it was worth the read to learn so much about a culture I was completely unaware of. Pick this up the next time you make fun of someone for working at Walmart.

The Enchantress of Florence
, Salman Rushdie
I admit I was a bit intimidated by Salman Rushdie and expected his work to be dense and deeply philosophical. I was only partly right. I did have to focus on the read but it was a pleasure to dive into his long, swirling thoughts and richly embroidered descriptions. The power of love was at times magical in a way that reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Laura Esquivel. The intricate story traverses hundreds of years throughout Asia and Europe and as such it can be hard to follow occasionally, but it's worth the work to unravel it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Extreme Irony


The oil spill pains me greatly so I am resorting to expressing myself with humor.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Canine Cloud Nine

We take our pets' well-being very seriously here. In addition to walks and play time in the backyard, we offer numerous spa and meditation services.

Here, Max shows off the "sideways contortionist" yoga pose. Don't try it at home; this takes years of practice.


After a tough workout, let those tired muscles recover with a dip in the spa.


Of course, after a long day of yoga and spa treatments, it's important to take some time to meditate and center yourself. And if you happen to fall asleep during the squirrel chasing affirmations, we won't tell.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Welcome Home Layla!

About a month ago, the Dude noticed an ad online for a 15 month old Lab/shepherd mix who needed a good home. We gamely resisted for a few weeks and then the ad disappeared, so we assumed she'd been adopted. When the ad popped up again last week, we couldn't resist any longer and asked for pictures. 4 days later, Layla came home with us.

Who could resist this goofy face?

Layla is only 15 months old but she is a big girl weighing 80 pounds! The Dude summed up her personality perfectly as "that girl who is 6 feet tall in eighth grade." She hasn't quite grown into her body yet so she can be a little ungainly at times, but she and Max are having lots of fun running around! She came home Saturday morning, which worked out well because it gave us three full days at home for her to learn our routines and for us to adjust to being a two dog family.

video

Layla is a sweet girl who tries to lick your face when you pet her. Her hobbies include swimming in the kiddie pool, eating ice cubes, fighting with Max for toys, and sleeping. This dovetails in well with Max's hobbies, which include thinking about getting into the kiddie pool, eating ice cubes, fighting with Layla for toys, and sleeping.



We're so glad to have you here Layla! I hope all of you enjoyed your holiday weekend as much as we did!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Successful Failure

As the future of NASA is being molded, a lot of buzzwords are being thrown around. Game-changing. Bold. Innovative. One word that you probably aren't hearing with regard to NASA's future endeavors is "failure." And that can be a problem.

From the work I've done with NASA in the past few years, I have learned that we have an extremely risk-averse culture. I'm sure some of you are thinking "Well, isn't that a good thing? We don't want to repeat Challenger or Columbia." And that's true. Ignoring risks is dangerous. But in order to do great things, we have to be willing to evaluate risks and accept some of them. We aren't doing that right now and I worry that we aren't going to get where we want to go until we stop seeing risk as a red light and start seeing it as an opportunity for improvement, consideration, and evaluation.

Wayne Hale wrote an excellent blog post today explaining how failures can lead to exactly the kind of leaps for mankind NASA wants to be known for. I encourage everyone (NASA dorks and non-NASA dorks alike) to check it out. I especially liked his closing line:

Try something. Be bold, revolutionary, even game changing. Just don’t be surprised if you have to pick yourself up off the ground and dust off your pants from time to time. It’s the American way.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sloths in Motion

I have talked a lot about sloths on here but other than Sid in Ice Age, I haven't had much footage to share. That has all changed thanks to the Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica. I particularly enjoyed the romantic Lady and Tramp spaghetti scene with two sloths and a green bean.

Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wow. Just Wow.

I'm busy this week working on the current shuttle mission, for which I'm the lead in my group. It's without a doubt my favorite part of my job so it is bittersweet since this will be my last shuttle flight as a lead. It's easy to get bogged down in the day to day details and forget that the work I do is just plain cool.

Photos like this, though, remind me how amazing it is.


Yes, that is the International Space Station and space shuttle Atlantis passing in front of the sun. Incredible!

Friday, May 14, 2010

An Eloquent Letter

I am struggling to find the words to frame this letter. Nothing I can say will add to its eloquence. From a mother of a gay son, to the town newspaper.

Sunday, April 30, 2000
By SHARON UNDERWOOD
For the Valley News (White River Junction, VT)

Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I've taken enough from you good people.

I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the "homosexual agenda" and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay.

He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called "fag" incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don't know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn't put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it's about time you started doing that.

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won't get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don't know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you'd best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I'm puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that's not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I'll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for "true Vermonters."

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn't give their lives so that the "homosexual agenda" could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn't the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can't bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance.

How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.

You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about "those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing" asks: "What ever happened to the idea of striving . . . to be better human beings than we are?"

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?


(Source: http://www.andrewtobias.com/newcolumns/000504.html via BoingBoing)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Odds and Ends

I keep thinking of things to write but not actually writing them, so I am just going to do a brain dump and start clean.

Thing 1:
13 Things that saved Apollo 13
I admit I haven't read this entire series yet but it's been really interesting so far. Amazing how much of it still applies to missions today.

Thing 2:

(no, not that Thing 1 and Thing 2)

I loved this video that Becca passed along. If only my childhood toys had included "barrier breaking feminist vision"!




Thing 3:
Right now I'm reading Sarah Vowell's latest book, The Wordy Shipmates. This woman cracks me up. Daily Show viewers and NPR listeners may recognize her as the nerdy snarky girl with the twangy voice (yeah, I know that's not too specific). When I read her writing, I can hear her speaking in my head and I know we'd have a great time hanging out together. It got me thinking about my ultimate ladies only dinner party. Only fabulous women would be invited, women who can hold their own talking about anything and still crack me up. They are all brilliant, fearless, and unafraid to speak their minds. Although I could go totally historical, there are too many options, so I narrowed it down to the past 100 years and came up with this list (in no particular order):
Sarah Vowell, author
Molly Ivins, journalist and author
Tina Fey, actress/comedienne
Frances Perkins, first female Cabinet member (loved this book about her)
Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady
Katharine Hepburn, actress
Julia Child, chef
Lillian Moller Gilbreth, industrial engineer (and mother of the Cheaper by the Dozen family)

Assuming my imaginary dinner table seats 12, that leaves me three more spots. Who else should I invite? (Note: Oprah will not be invited)

Thing 4:
When I write off the top of my head, I use an abundance of parentheses (do you mind??)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cutting off your nose to spite your face


Ok, so I admit that this might not be the most apt metaphor; I used my own alternate suggestion as the title of this post. That said, I absolutely agree that cutting library hours, staffing, and entire branches during a recession is a terrible idea. Libraries do a lot more than provide free novels to entertain us. They offer job search resources to those who can't afford it elsewhere. They offer training classes to give people critical skills. They serve as community centers and hubs for information. When resources are scarce, as they are now, it's important to carefully weigh decisions about what gets cut and what gets funded. Libraries might seem like an easy choice to cut but when you think about their true impact on the community, there's more than meets the eye. No matter what decisions your community, state, or country is faced with, take a moment to think through what we really lose when programs are cut.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Dark Side of Perfection

I usually review books as I read them but I have been thinking about some past books I enjoyed so I'm going to group them by subject. Enjoy!

As long as people have been living together they have been trying to figure out the best way to govern themselves. And throughout all that time, they still haven't perfected it. Winston Churchill observed, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Dystopias imagine possible attempts at perfect government and explore how they could go wrong. In these books, as in real life government, there is a struggle to balance the rights of the individual with needs of the communities. Dystopias often have a sci-fi bent but in the best ones, this blends seamlessly into the background and the characters take center stage.

Here are some of my favorite dystopias for readers of all ages. If you have a suggestion for one I should read, let me know in the comments!

The Giver, Lois Lowry (juvenile/young adult)
Jonas is an intelligent, thoughtful eleven year old who is apprehensive about his birthday. In his community, when you turn 12 you are assigned to the profession you will hold for the rest of your life. In a community where sameness is valued, Jonas doesn't know what to think when he is singled out to be the community's "Receiver of Memories," the only person who remembers everything that happened in the past. He meets an old man, the Giver, and learns that much of what he has been taught is not true and that there may be value in difference.

Uglies
, Scott Westerfield (young adult)
I just read this first novel in a trilogy after hearing a lot about it, and the moment I closed it I was ready to read the next one. In this world, everyone receives plastic surgery when they turn 16 so that they are beautiful. Before the surgery they are "uglies" and after they are "pretties." Tally is a rebellious young ugly who can't wait to have her surgery. When she learns that her new friend Shay doesn't want the surgery and plans to escape, Tally can't understand why. She ends up having to make tough choices to protect her friend and in the process learns that there is more to the surgery than she ever knew.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (adult)
The story in Never Let Me Go unfolds slowly and deliberately, revealing its secrets in due time. It tells the story of Kathy, who at first seems a normal young girl at boarding school in Britain. Over time we learn that Kathy and the other children at her school are clones who have been created to be organ donors. Kathy and her friends struggle to live normally and find meaning in their lives. They are encouraged to create art and the best pieces are selected by a mysterious "Madame," who later in the story offers a unique perspective on Kathy's life. This novel is much more introverted and emotionally focused than some of the other action oriented books on my list, but it is more compelling because of that.

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (adult)
This is probably one of the most well known dystopias in English literature. Offred, the main character, is a handmaiden for a well placed commander and his wife in the Republic of Gilead (located in the former United States). She has this role because she is still fertile and as such is quite valuable. However, when she has a child it will belong to her mistress and be treated as though Offred had no relation to it. Offred remembers the time before the theocratic Republic of Gilead was formed, when women had rights. The commander remembers this time as well and begins to do forbidden things with Offred, such as playing Scrabble and taking her to secret parties. I remember the first time I finished reading this closing the book and simply sitting and thinking for quite a while. Margaret Atwood has written several other dystopian novels but this is by far my favorite.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Liked This Alot

When I was young I always had trouble remembering whether "a lot" was one word or two. Maybe that's why, now that I'm an adult, it's one of the many errors that really drive me nuts. I wince when I see a misplaced apostrophe or a misused their/there/they're; I sigh when someone writes "c u l8r!" But it's when I see "alot" that I get steamed. Of course, that was all before I learned to love the alot, a large, snuggly animal which is found all over the internet. Friends, let me introduce you to my new pal the Alot!


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tax Day Follow Up

My Tax Day post garnered a great comment from Becca...check it out! I thought this cartoon from Paul Krugman's blog sums up a lot of the contradictions Tea Partiers are spouting.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Tax Day!

Unless you've been living under a rock lately you've probably heard of the Tea Party movement. It will come as no surprise to most people reading this that I strongly disagree with them. That said, it can definitely be hard to explain to people why I don't mind paying taxes (which explains why you will never hear a politician say "Taxes aren't so bad.")

So with all that in mind, I adored this article about how and why a writer learned to love Tax Day.

Happy April 15!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Potent Potpourri of Recent Reading

The Scarlet Lion, Elizabeth Chadwick
This is the sequel to The Greatest Knight, which I really enjoyed. It did not disappoint. While much of the first book covers William's rise to prominence, in the sequel he is already extremely powerful and no longer young. He learns that the political battlefield can be more stressful and even as dangerous as the traditional battlefield. William struggles to maintain his character and morals in a world which is increasingly filled with shades of gray. Unlike many sequels I felt the quality didn't drop off between the books. I hope Chadwick continues to write more about that time period.

Outlander
, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager, Diana Gabaldon
I had heard of the popular Outlander series a number of times but didn't know much about it except that it was a "bodice ripper," aka a historical fiction romance. That was enough to keep me on the other side of the fence until Kasia of Good Finking, whose taste I generally share, said she tried it and was totally sucked in. I picked up Outlander, the first book in the series, just before I got the new day bed for the library. I spent all day that Sunday reading it and was totally hooked. The series tells the story of Claire Beauchamp, a nurse during World War II. While in Scotland she visits a stone circle and is pulled back in time to 200 years earlier, where she meets Jamie Fraser and falls in love. The book definitely has some romance aspects but I really enjoyed both the character development between Claire and Jamie as well as the modern view of historical daily life. I ended up getting the next two books (Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager) as well and they were fun reads but not as great as the first. Still, I'll probably check out the remaining volumes from the library just to find out where the story goes. These would be great vacation books.

House Rules
, Jodi Picoult
I bought this because Heather had read Jodi Picoult's most recent book and highly recommended it. Unfortunately I didn't realize Heather had the most recent paperback and I got the most recent hardback. Fortunately this was a lucky mistake as I really enjoyed it and now the two of us can trade and each read some more! I won't go too much into the details of the book except to stay that it's typical Jodi Picoult, which I've written about before. That said, I enjoyed it and learned a lot about Asperger's syndrome. If you've liked her books before I'd recommend this although it's not in my top 3.

Princess Academy, Shannon Hale
The new blog I wrote about earlier this week is written by an elementary school librarian, so she reads (and recommends) a lot of young adult literature. I've been hearing a lot about the great quality of YA books out there these days so I thought it would be worth checking out. Princess Academy was a great start. It tells the story of Miri, a teenager who lives in a small village high on a mountain where everyone quarries stone to sell to the "lowlanders." Miri is petite and her father has never let her work in the quarry. She feels useless and frustrated at her inability to help. One day a messenger from the king comes to the village to announce that the prophets in the capital have seen that the next princess will come from Miri's mountain. All the young girls are taken away to learn how to be princesses at the princess academy. When Miri is taken away from her family and home she learns things that could change life for her whole village. Miri was a great character who made me chuckle. I enjoyed watching her grow and try to decide what was really important to her. Two teenage thumbs up!

Journeys to Space

The Big Picture has a great entry today with lots of space pictures including the International Space Station (ISS), shuttle, Russian Soyuz rockets, and more. Enjoy!

The Big Picture in Space

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Kid in a Candy Shop

For the past week I've been working nights on console supporting the current shuttle mission. The good news is that it's been going well, so I haven't been too busy on console. The bad news is that I have had more free time than I usually want at 3 am. As a result I was browsing through some blogs last night and stumbled upon Everyday Reading. By the end of the shift, I had this list of books to read.



Library here I come!*


*once I'm awake during business hours, of course.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rodeo Houston

I finally pulled a bunch of pictures off my camera, including those from the Houston Rodeo! John and Nujoud invited us to join them in a suite to see the Black Eyed Peas. The suite was, well, sweet! (Sorry, I just had to say it.) Of course before we went to the suite we had to enjoy one of the most important parts of the rodeo: the food! For those of you who haven't had this experience, the rodeo is known for everything fried, batter dipped, and on a stick. This year we discovered a new delicacy: chicken fried bacon! We had to try it.


The good news for our overall health is that this was disgusting! You could barely even taste the bacon flavor...it was just greasy. Two bites were enough for me and it was time to eat the yummy food. Dinner included a roasted turkey leg and a corn dog I split with the Dude. Mmm! Then we headed inside for the actual rodeo events. I had a great time watching the bull riding and calf roping, but my favorite event was the new "mutton busting." This is where 5-6 year olds are put on the back of sheep as big as they are and hold on as long as possible. It was hilarious! Unfortunately it was at the other end of the arena so I couldn't get many good pictures, but in this one you can see a little girl holding on tight.

The final event of the evening was the Black Eyed Peas concert. They put on a great show, although it was strange to see their super-futuristic costumes in the middle of a dirt floor.

I never thought I'd be the type of person who'd like the rodeo but I surprised myself! Who else has been surprised by something you never expected to enjoy?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Howdy Strangers!

I have been neglecting the blog lately and had great plans for a big post today about one of my favorite holidays. Then, 4 slices into prep for our beef and Guinness stew, I cut my finger (my middle finger, of course). So now I have a big paper towel wrapped around it which makes typing a challenge. I guess you'll all just have to contain your excitement for a few days; not a challenge I'm sure. In the mean time, happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

What I've Read: A Long Overdue (and Overlong) Post

Annette Vallon, James Tipton
I got this book from the bargain section and had no idea what to expect. The jacket said it was a novel about William Wordsworth's first love, a French woman who he fell in love with on the eve of the French Revolution. Not knowing a lot about that time or about Wordsworth meant that I learned a lot and I'm definitely interested in finding out what was fact and fiction. The beginning of the book, which was more of a love novel, was nothing special, but about 1/3 of the way in the Revolution hit full swing, the action picked up, Annette began to figure out what she was about, and I was hooked. For all my readers who like to read about strong, independent women (and I know there are a lot of you), this will be an enthralling read.

The Sealed Letter, Emma Donoghue
Most historical novels show the reader the contrast between the past and the present. The Sealed Letter managed to both highlight the differences but also remind us that some things never change. It's the story of two friends, Emily "Fido" Faithfull and Helen Codrington and how they weather the storm of Helen's divorce from her husband. Just as it is now, the public is fascinated by the gruesome details of Helen's affairs and the couples' personal lives. Although it was slow at points, I enjoyed the twist on a traditional tale.

Interred with Their Bones, Jennifer Lee Carrell
I picked this up on the bargain shelf at the bookstore a few months ago with the idea that it would be a fun read for a trip when I wanted to read a lot without thinking too much. Well, I got one out of two. I read it during a relaxing camping trip a few weeks ago and it was definitely a page turner. The novel is a page turner mystery about people searching for the original manuscript of one of Shakespeare's lost plays. The concept was good but the plot was unbelievably convoluted and I had trouble following it at times.

The Forgery Of Venus, Michael Gruber
The first few times I heard about this popular novel, I thought the plot sounded too contrived for me to enjoy it. But after numerous strong reviews from diverse sources I added it to my list. As a result I was surprised when I found a hardcover copy for $5.98! I'm never one to put down a bargain book so I grabbed it, and as soon as I started reading it I couldn't put it down. It's the story of a painter in present day New York City whose style and technique belong in an older era. When he joins a clinical trial for a new drug designed to increase creativity, he finds himself traveling back first to his own youth and then to that of a famous painter. Soon he's not sure what is real, past and present, and when a painting by an old master is discovered the reader no longer knows who the real artist is. It was an unexpected page turner!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Moderately Extreme Makover: Library Edition

Although having my own library is one of my favorite parts of our house, in recent months it has become a bit chaotic and filled with piles of wedding stuff, books to shelf, and papers to put away. In addition, the ancient chair I had was comfy but just not right for reading. All that made sitting in there to read extremely distracting and I was more likely to just read on the couch and get annoyed when I was interrupted.


Recently I saw a daybed/sofa I loved at World Market (where else?). I knew it would be perfect for the library but couldn't justify buying it when the room was messy and I rarely sat there. But a few weeks ago the Dude got new furniture for the man cave and ended up needing to clean out his closet. When I saw it filled with neatly stacked clear containers my type-A, OCD, neat freak side finally overcame my avoidance tendencies and I knew what I had to do. Less than a week later, the clutter is gone and the library makeover is complete!

Unfortunately for you there are no before pictures so you can just use your imagination. Quite appropriate for a room I use to read, don't you think?

The beautifully neat (and way less full) closet.


Note the cleaned off desk and lack of piles on the floor.

And now for the best part...the daybed! I got some bright pillows to lighten up the room and a pretty basket to hold all the books I am waiting to read. The sides of the daybed can either be up (as shown here) or down (for stretching out legs or nap time). The wreath above it was a Christmas present from my friend Heather. It's actually made out of pages from my favorite books! Before you get concerned that she tore up books, don't worry...she printed them onto vellum. How great it is that gift??


In this picture you can see the view as you walk in and see the side of the daybed folded down.


It's so exciting when a room really comes together! I can't wait to spend a long time holed up in the library with a great read.