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.


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!


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

Reader, this was as tasty as it was good looking. Erin has redeemed 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!