Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Might Have Been

One Thousand White Women, Jim Fergus
In 1854 the Cheyenne tribe and the U.S. government met to negotiate a peace treaty. Among the Cheyenne requests was that the United States give them one thousand white women as wives. The request was not in jest; the tribe believed that a child belonged to its mother's clan, so the children of these unions would help to integrate the Cheyenne and the whites. Naturally, the government rejected the request.

In this novel, Jim Fergus wonders what would have happen if they hadn't. The book is told from the point of view of May Dodd, a white woman who becomes part of the government's clandestine "Brides for Indians" program. The book flounders a little initially as the author tries to make the program seem plausible, but once the background ends and we meet the brides the novel is absorbing. The women in the program are all fascinating characters, and May's observations as she adjusts to her new life are both honest and often heart wrenching. Reading this book didn't really make me wonder what would have happened if the thousand white women had existed, but it did make me think about how different things could have been between the whites and the Native Americans in those turbulent decades when the white pioneers headed west.

Borrowed from the library

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Running the same old routes can get tiring after a while, which is why I think this race looks awesome. If I still lived in the Northeast I'd be in!

From the race website:
Protect your brain and run for your life. This is one race where your legs giving out are the least of your problems. Run For Your Lives is a first-of-its-kind event, one part 5K, one part obstacle course, one part escaping the clutches of zombies — and all parts awesome.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Obligatory Shuttle Retirement Post

I've been debating whether or not to post anything about the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program because I wasn't sure I had anything to add that hasn't already been said. That's still true, but I have seen so many beautiful tributes that I thought I'd show them here along with my thoughts.

Although I technically work for the International Space Station (ISS) program, not the shuttle program, my work has been very much tied to the shuttle as it brings up most of the equipment we install on Extravehicular Activities (EVAs aka spacewalks), and most US EVAs are conducted by the shuttle crew while the shuttle is docked to station. So although my job is safer than most, its nature had already begun changing by the time STS-135 landed. Instead of focusing on the next flight, I'll be working on preparing ISS for maintenance and for the new commercial vehicles. I'll miss the excitement of a shuttle mission and the camaraderie I developed with the crews and the rest of the team during the training and preparation for flight. The shuttle has been America's program in space for as long as I've been alive, and its absence leaves a real gap. What saddens me most though is not the fact that the shuttle program is ending, but rather the lack of a defined plan for NASA's next program. I worry that the longer it takes to establish a new program, the more knowledge will be lost and the less the public will support our next mission.

View of the final landing taken from ISS (source)

For now, let's take a moment to acknowledge all the amazing accomplishments of the last 30 years.

Take a moment to peruse a multitude of beautiful photos from The Big Picture. Notice how many people went to great lengths to see the final launch; clearly space is still inspiring!

And finally, here's excellent video with footage from every mission.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Unknown Game Changers

The Big Burn, Timothy Egan
This book tells the story of the formation of the Forest Service by Teddy Roosevelt and its first real test in a massive 1910 wildfire which destroyed much of Idaho and Montana. My dad recommended the book to me quite a while ago, but it sat quietly on my long "to read" list. However, once I visited the Grand Canyon and saw the massive amount of work completed thanks to Roosevelt's work, The Big Burn caught my eye again, and I'm glad it did.

The beginning is a little slow as Egan relates the circumstances which caused Teddy Roosevelt to begin championing the cause of conservation. It is mind boggling to imagine that were it not for him we could have strip mined the Grand Canyon and destroyed the forests in the Pacific Northwest. The pace picks up once the focus narrows on the dry summer of 1910 and the specific rangers, woefully short of resources, who were left to battle the three million acre blaze. The stories of their bravery and miraculous survival are as amazing as the destruction and death are disturbing. If you can make it through the first third, the story is well worth the read.

Borrowed from the library

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tastykakes in Space!

...or should I say "Spacetykakes!"

Anyone who is from the East Coast or has visited has probably tried (and enjoyed) the ubiquitous Tastykakes. Tastykakes come in all styles and flavors and can be purchased at just about every grocery store and gas station. Whenever I'm home, I pick up some of my favorites: Lemon and Apple Tastykake Pies (or as I call them, Tastypies).

Apparently I'm not the only one who enjoys these sweet treats. Chris Ferguson, the commander of the final Space Shuttle mission which is currently on-orbit, is a Philadelphia native and brought some along with him on this mission.

He also brought a Chase Utley jersey up on his last mission, which makes my #26 jersey suddenly seem way less cool as it has never been in orbit. I wonder if he ever wrote Chase a letter like Mac did?

Congratulations Fergie, you're my new favorite astronaut!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

New Chapters

Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain
Anyone who read Bourdain's first book, Kitchen Confidential, and is looking for a sequel needs to look elsewhere. Anthony Bourdain has come a long way from the bitter, cynical, darkly humorous, coke-addicted chef in the first book. Now he's a bitter, cynical, darkly humorous food writer/tv star. The main difference between the two books is that Medium Raw, much like The Guinea Pig Diaries, seems to be as much a compilation of separate essays as one coherent book. That said, the essays are still entertaining. The main exception occurs when Bourdain hovers too long on personalities in the food business without sufficiently making the reader care. For the most part, though, he hits his mark. He's witty and often (for me at least) laugh out loud funny. For someone who enjoys Top Chef and felt horrified by Fast Food Nation, this is a great choice. (Note: when tagging this post, I realized I have a LOT of food related tags. I guess I shouldn't be surprised!)

Borrowed from the library

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Into The Wild Nerd Yonder

Into The Wild Nerd Yonder, Julie Halpern
At 5:30 this Saturday, I walked upstairs and asked the Dude "How do you know when a book was great?" He smirked at me and answered "I'm guessing it's when you just read the whole thing in two hours." He was right. I sat down Saturday afternoon with Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, not knowing what to expect, and was immediately drawn in. The book chronicles' Jessie's sophomore year of high school, when the two best friends she has had since she was a toddler decide they want to become punks and Jessie isn't sure where she fits in any more. Based on that sentence, I'm sure you can tell that this could be just another teen coming of age story, but Julie's character is so clever, funny, and real that it loses any concerns about being cheesy. It is made stronger by the great supporting cast, including her older brother Barrett and her quirky parents. Jessie is smart and enjoys school, but worries about being nerdy, something I could definitely relate to. Is it better to be lonely and unlabeled or throw yourself in with a fun group that others call nerdy? I absolutely adored this book as it is just plain fun. I'll definitely be looking into Halpern's other novels even as I'm busy harassing all of you to read this book!

Borrowed from the library

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Have You Ever Wondered?

The Guinea Pig Diaries, AJ Jacobs
Since I really enjoyed AJ Jacobs' previous books, The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically, I was really looking forward to The Guinea Pig Diaries. Unfortunately it didn't live up to all of my expectations. Unlike the previous books, this is a compilation of shorter experiences and experiments Jacobs has undertaken over the years. I missed the depth Jacobs reached in his other books, which took a year or more. That said, I still enjoyed The Guinea Pig Diaries, whose chapters ranged from the cringe inducing (his experiment with Radical Honesty), to the thought provoking (a piece on nude photos) and all the way to the humorous (his month doing everything his wife asked). If you haven't read his other books yet, I'd recommend those first. If you have, check this out from the library but don't spend your hard earned cash.

Borrowed from the library

Friday, June 24, 2011

Save the Library

Behind every bill and budget decision is a lobbying campaign. Some are richly funded and others are grassroots and led by just a few people who are most affected. I think this one proves that how much money you have doesn't guarantee how effective you are; after all, who can resist a child whose threat is "or else"?

Save the Library!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Unexpected Heroines

Among Others, Jo Walton
I decided to read Among Others after about the third time I saw it on a "must read" list, and I agree completely with its inclusion. Among Others is a haunting young adult fantasy/science fiction book which will appeal even to those who aren't as interested in genre books. It tells the story of Mori, whose backstory is revealed slowly throughout the book. She lives in what appears at first to be standard 1979 England but turns out to be a much more deeply inhabited world, shared with fairies and witches. The world is described so well that I was surprised to find myself in Houston sun and not in rainy Wales when I finished. Mori is a fanatical reader, which I loved seeing in a fictional character. I also enjoyed the way she could be an extremely strong and mature character yet still dealt with many of the everyday social concerns of the average teenage girl. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough due to its nuanced characters and broad appeal.

Purchased for Kindle

The False Princess, Eilis O'Neal
This young adult novel generated a lot of buzz and it's easy to see why. The story is a familiar one: a young woman who, at 16, learns that she is not the princess she was raised as but a changeling brought in to subvert a prophecy. Sinda is thrust into a new life as a peasant, but she soon finds that even though she isn't a princess, she is still special. She has to try to learn where she fits in, which is not an easy task. It's rare for me to recommend this, but I think this is a book that could have a great sequel. That said, the book stands wonderfully on its own and should appeal to adults of all ages.

Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Adult's Book

The Children's Book, A. S. Byatt
At 896 pages, this may be titled The Children's Book but not many children could read it. The title refers to books that Olive Wellwood, an author of children's fairy tales, wrote for each of her children. The story as a whole refers around the Wellwoods (both adults and children), their extended family, and the many people in their orbit. I found the novel strongest when it focused on the characters and their interactions, but it stumbled when Byatt dove too deeply in explaining the political movements of the time. Often chapters felt like excerpts from a history book rather than a novel. However, as long as the action focused on the characters themselves, I was intrigued. I'd recommend this, with the caution to push through the tedious background sections.

Note: This book is one that counts toward my efforts in the Chunkster Challenge. My goal was the "Mor-book-ly Obese" level, which requires 8 books of at least 450 pages, of which at least three are over 750 pages. So far I have read four over 450 (and reviewed two of them here and here) and this one is my second 750+ (review of the first one here). If you're interested in a long read, check out some of the other reviews!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lightning Strikes Twice

Once again, Erik Larson has written an excellent non-fiction book which reads like a novel. I had planned to review it for you, but Melissa did such an excellent job that I think you should go read her review! Once you've finished that, go out and read the book!

I ordered Larson's next book, In The Garden of Beasts, which tells the story of the American ambassador as the Nazi party rises to power in Germany. It looks fantastic.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy Anniversary Layla!

Last year, on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, we welcomed someone new into our home.

This year, on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, it feels like she has always been here.

Happy birthday Layla! I love you!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Howdy Strangers!

Time flies...I just realized it's been a month since I posted! It's been a busy month for me though. I had a visit in Houston from my mom, then flew out to Arizona to spend a week with my dad exploring the area and hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (and back out)! I have lots of stories to tell and books to review from that time, but in the mean time, here's a story that got me excited for my next big event, the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Growing up with live music at Fest and meeting my now-husband, then 12 year old crush at that same music festival has made a special place in my heart for this.

And now, the great and gracious Paul Simon, and his lovely assistant Rayna...

Monday, April 18, 2011

April Showers Bring...

...delicious vegetables! The Dude and I (and Erin and Nujoud) joined a CSA this year, and we are really enjoying it! For those who aren't familiar, joining a CSA basically means you buy a share in a farm's crops and get weekly vegetable deliveries. We have only had two deliveries so far but we are already loving the fresh salad greens, snap peas, and green onions. Part of the appeal of the CSA was also that we would get to try some foods we usually don't eat. This week we had two challenges: beets* and mustard greens. Both of us expected we wouldn't like beets at all; neither of us had tried mustard greens before. We tried both of them (as well as some squash) tonight and we were pleasantly surprised!

For those who are interested, both were easy to cook.
Beets: peel beets, slice, and marinate in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic salt, and pepper. Grill to taste.
Mustard greens: cut out stems and roughly chop the greens. Carmelize onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat, then add greens, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Cook the greens until they wilt but not until they are mushy.

I still don't think beets are my favorite vegetable, or even in the top 5 (hey, I love a lot of vegetables) but I enjoyed them!

*Every time I hear beets I think about Dwight Schrute. Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Increasing Awesome

When we're all let down by the government bickering, this guy can get us excited again. Non-space nerds, just watch the first minute for some motivating philosophy. Everyone else, you'll be sucked in at the end of that minute anyway and get to learn some great stuff about what NASA is doing!

Thanks Nujoud for sharing this!

Friday, April 15, 2011

A World At War

Fall of Giants, Ken Follett
I am a big fan of Ken Follett, both of his many WWII dramas and of Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. In Fall of Giants he manages to combine both styles of writing and I think it works wonderfully. Fall of Giants traces characters from England, Germany, Russia, and America from the lead up to World War I through the end of the war. It is a huge cast of characters but Follett manages to move between them such that the reader isn't confused but at the same time, still gets enough focus on each story to really care about the characters. For those who do read it, the characters who caught my attention most were Ethel Williams, Maud Fitzherbert, and Gus Dewar. I absolutely recommend this book for just about everyone...whether you enjoy it for the historical fiction, the characters, or just the chance to become absolutely absorbed in another world for a while. Fall of Giants is the first book of a trilogy and while I know I have years to wait for book two, I can't wait!

Note: This book is one that counts toward my efforts in the Chunkster Challenge. My goal was the "Mor-book-ly Obese" level, which requires 8 books of at least 450 pages, of which at least three are over 750 pages. So far I have read four over 450 (and reviewed two of them here and here) and this one is my first 750+. If you're interested in a long read, check out some of the other reviews!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Quiet Bravery

Every Man Dies Alone, Hans Fallada
This extraordinary novel was written in only 24 days by the author who survived Nazi Germany. It is loosely based on the story of Otto and Elise Kempel, a couple in Berlin who quietly dropped anti-Nazi postcards throughout the city at risk of their lives. In the novel, they become Otto and Anna Quangel. When their son is killed in the war, Otto and Anna realize they no longer believe in Hitler and feel they must act against him. Each postcard they drop could bring a death sentence. In my opinion, the book's strength lies not just in its portrayal of Otto and Anna, but in its ability to examine the psyche of many people, from the Jewish widow living upstairs to the SS officer investigating the postcards. As the novel progresses you are forced to see the many compromises and wrenching decisions people made during the dangerous times. The novel amazingly manages to combine a psychological examination with an action filled plot. I found the afterword about the author to be as interesting as the book itself; don't stop reading at the last page!

Note: This book is one that counts toward my efforts in the Chunkster Challenge. If you're interested in a long read, check out some of the other reviews!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Paws For A Cause

This past Sunday, I participated for the second year in a really fun charity event: Paws for A Cause. It's a great twist on the usual run/walk a 5k for charity. Instead of going on your own, running a 5k, and getting a t-shirt, you bring your dogs, walk a 3k, and get bandanas for the animals. Last year the event was a 5k, but due to heat and distance a lot of dogs were wiped out early, so this year it was held in April instead of June and was limited to a 3k. This proved to be a perfect distance for Max and Layla, who slept away the rest of the afternoon.

The Dude and I were also lucky enough to be joined this year by Nujoud, Zara, and their dog Lotus. Zara has learned the word for "dog" and would occasionally point to one and inform us of its presence, despite the fact that we were constantly surrounded. She also enjoyed taking the free dog treats and feeding them to whoever was nearby. I think Max and Layla both fell in love! I had a great time not only with my own friends and pets but getting to see all the other dogs, which ranged from some type of miniature chihuahua (which literally disappeared in the grass when it squatted to pee) to three gorgeous Great Danes from the Great Dane rescue of Southeast Texas.

If you live near me, I hope you can make it next year. Even if you don't, suggest a dog walk to your favorite charity. I think it's a great fundraising idea!

I did my best to take pictures with one hand while the other hand was being yanked out of my arm by Max, who was making his best effort to sniff every dog in the area. Good times!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Amazing Tiffany Aching

Note: I wrote this entry after reading the first two books in the series but never published it. I've since read the last two books as well and enjoyed them just as much. Pick up the first one and I know you will love Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle as much as I did! Thanks for the recommendation Audrey!

The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett
This was another Audrey recommendation and what a good one it was! I loved the matter of factness of the main character, nine year old Tiffany Aching, who reads fairy tales and thinks witches get short shrift. She won me over early on when she used her little brother as bait for a monster and attacked it with a frying pan. Soon enough she encounters a six inch tall, red haired blue skinned man, one of the "Nac Mac Feegle" or Wee Free Men. The Nac Mac Feegle were the highlight of the novel for me as they inject great humor as they go about their "stealin, drinkin, and eatin." The unlikely alliance between Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle becomes critical when she has to rescue her little brother from the Faerie Queen. As soon as I finished this I was ready for more!

A Hat Full of Sky, Terry Pratchett
A Hat Full of Sky is the next adventure for Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men. Tiffany still longs to be a witch and gets the opportunity to train and learn how to use her great natural power. Unfortunately that power is a draw for bad as well as good and Tiffany has to learn who she really is in order to save her own life. The Wee Free Men are once again at their best, and Mistress Weatherwax, the most powerful witch in the world, is unexpectedly as humorous a witch as I have ever read about. I actually preferred this to The Wee Free Men, but I'd still recommend reading both for the sheer fun of them.

For those interested in more, the next two books are Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight. They were both great reads. Also, Audrey reviewed all four books as well...check out her reviews!

Bibliovermis - The Wee Free Men
Bibliovermis - A Hat Full of Sky
Bibliovermis - Wintersmith
Bibliovermis - I Shall Wear Midnight

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Fine Piece

Russian Winter, Daphne Kalotay
I had seen this book recommended a number of times and it did not disappoint; I devoured the entire novel in one (long) day! The story revolves around Nina Revskaya, a ballerina in the Bolshoi Ballet during the Stalin era who now lives in Boston. She has decided to auction off some of her extraordinary jewelry collection. Each piece recalls for her a story or an event in her life. The auction house is surprised when an anonymous donor comes forward with an unusual necklace which is a clear match to earrings and a bracelet donated by Revskaya. Nina clearly knows something about it, but refuses to speak to Grigori Solodin, the necklace's mysterious donor. As the story of Nina's life unravels, so too do many of Grigori's beliefs about himself. The novel touches on many themes and subplots but they are woven together beautifully.

Note: This book is one that counts toward my efforts in the Chunkster Challenge. If you're interested in a long read, check out some of the other reviews!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pretty Pretty Pictures

Every few months (and sometimes even more often!), NASA releases stunning images from Hubble or other missions. I remember when the Horsehead nebula was discovered and a family friend working on the program gave me a color 8x10 of this iconic image before it was released to the public. It hung in my bedroom for years!

Of course, if I go out into my backyard (or even look out the window from the Space Station), I am not going to see these beautiful, colorful images. This video is a great look into how they go from black and white to eye popping color.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Historically Hardcore

With all the distractions in the world, it can be hard to get kids (and even adults) excited about going to a museum, which is why I think these ads for the Smithsonian are so amazing. What's even more amazing is that they were created for a class and that the Smithsonian asked their logo to be removed. I think the museums need to hire the talented designers (Jenny Burrow and Matt Kapler) who created these ads!

Happy Campers

The Dude, Max and I all enjoy camping, but Layla hasn't had a chance to try yet because my Civic couldn't fit all four of us and the necessary gear. Luckily for her we recently got a new and bigger car so we didn't waste any time before hitting the road!

Because it's a new car, we got a fancy new cover for the backseat so that Max and Layla wouldn't mess it up. It acts kind of like a hammock so you end up with a flap between the two front seats. The dogs immediately realized this was prime chin rest territory and spent the whole ride angling for the best space. They seemed to like the sun roof as well.

I got a lot of reading done and tested out some of the new gear I got for a trip to the Grand Canyon later this year. Unfortunately the area we were in has been very dry so there was a burn ban, which meant no campfires. This was a crushing blow for the Dude. Luckily for him the so-called "Supermoon" was out this weekend so he could spend his evenings watching Layla try to protect us from everything that moved even as she fell asleep. All in all, it was a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's March Madness, Baby!

Like so many other Americans, I know next to nothing about college basketball yet still take great joy in trying to fill out a winning March Madness bracket. Over the years, I've sometimes been reasonably well informed (having watched throughout the season) and sometimes been completely clueless (having watched less games than I can count on my fingers) and it seems to have no affect on my success, or lack thereof.

Which is why this year I am going with a new, foolproof method of predicting the winner. I'm all in!

P.S. For the record, I know this puppy is correct because it shows Penn State winning its first game!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Up, Up and Away!

When the movie Up came out a few years ago, I loved the whimsical idea of filling your home with bright balloons and floating off on new adventures. It turns out I wasn't the only one who was captivated by this idea. Some of the brilliant guys at National Geographic decided to give it a try and they succeeded!

One of the things I found the most incredible about this was the size of each individual balloon. Although they were painted (covered?) to look like regular latex balloons, they were actually weather balloons which were each as tall as a person. I think taking the time to make the real house look as cheerful as the movie one made it even cooler!

Seeing this made me wonder what other movie scenes I would like to see in real life. I think a lot of the buildings and sets in Monsters Inc would be adorable! Any other suggestions?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Separation Anxiety

I talk a lot about my dogs on here, but not much about my other pets. The Dude and I also have a cockatoo (Molly) and two rabbits (Silver and Littlefoot). We adopted the rabbits about 3 years ago under the condition that they would stay together. Apparently rabbits usually do not do well if they are caged with the same gender, but even though Littlefoot and Silver are both (neutered) males, they were best buds, and have been ever since we've had them.

That is, until about two months ago. In the period of less than five days, Silver went from looking healthy to having a huge bald spot on his head. We took him to the vet who admitted he'd never seen anything like it and gave us some steroid cream to try out. While we were using the cream, Littlefoot and Silver had to be separated so that Littlefoot wouldn't lick the medicated cream off Silver's head and a) render it ineffective or b) poison himself since it's not meant to be eaten. To our delight, within two weeks the hair was almost completely grown back and we were able to put the rabbits back together. Until a few days ago, when a bald spot appeared again. The vet had mentioned that one possibility was that the dominant rabbit (which is definitely Littlefoot) could have been plucking/overgrooming Silver and causing the problem. Now that it's happening a second time, it seems more likely that it's a grooming problem and not a health problem. We're looking into a new hutch that keeps them separated but I am devastated to have to split them up as they have always seemed to enjoy each others' company. We're giving them one more try...fingers crossed that it works!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

And the Award Goes To...

I didn't watch the Oscars last week but I did think it would be fun to do my own Oscars for reading. So, for the first time ever, let me introduce the O.S.C.A.R. (Online Statuette Commemorating Alicia's Reading). I am limiting the selection to books that I read in 2010, but they could have been written any time. For some of them I will include nominees as well as a winner.

Best Actress (Female Protagonist)
Lady Margaret Beaufort, The Red Queen
Also nominated:
Elv, The Story Sisters (my review)
Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games trilogy
Annette Vallon, Annette Vallon (my review)

Best Actor (Male Protagonist)
Henry Lee, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Also nominated:
William Marshal, The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion (my reviews)

Best Supporting Actress
Minny Jackson, The Help (my review)
Also nominated:
Geillis Duncan, the Outlander series (my review)

Best Supporting Actor
Martin, Her Fearful Symmetry (my review)
Also nominated:
Henrik Vanger, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Best Documentary (Non-fiction)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot (my review)
Also nominated:
Born to Run, Christopher McDougall
Superfreakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (my review)

Best Animated Film (Young Adult/Children's Literature)
The Princess Academy, Shannon Hale (my review)
Also nominated:
Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, Adrienne Kress (my review)
The Uglies trilogy, Scott Westerfeld (my review)
Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman (my review)

Best Costumes (Best Period Fiction)
The Greatest Knight, Elizabeth Chadwick (my review)
Also nominated:
The Red Queen, Philippa Gregory
The Scarlet Lion (my review)

Have any category suggestions I should add? You may notice I didn't include a "Best Picture/Best Book" category; it was just too hard to choose! I am sure I missed some great books and characters because I didn't do a good job keeping track of what I read last year, but I'm keeping track this year so next year's O.S.C.A.R.s will have an even more exciting field!

Monday, February 28, 2011

An Exciting Rendezvous

Sarah put up an excellent post showing how the Shuttle and International Space Station rendezvous. It's chock full of pictures and behind the scenes info. Check it out!

STS-133 Rendezvous

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When You're Not Looking

I think most of us, at one time or another, wondered if our toys came to life when we left the room. It's a premise which has been covered in The Velveteen Rabbit, Toy Story, and many more books and movies. I know I always wondered about it. One thing I never wondered about, though, is what my books do when I leave the room. Apparently they are quite busy!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Best in Show

The Westminster Kennel Club dog show was held recently and the winner was a Scottish Deerhound named Foxcliffe Hickory Wind. She beat out such tough competitors as Lennoxlove Susqudilla's Mini Cooper, Firethorn And Sandpiper Easy On The Eyes, Sunseeker Pirate's Code, and Clussexx Last Lion. No, I did not make any of those up; they all won Best in Breed.

So, in honor of this prestigious event, I would like to introduce two of the four legged members of my family with their new, more honorrific names.

Lady Jowlriffic Layla Fencejumper

Master Maximilian Doofball the Bestraddled

I have no doubt that they'll be turning heads at their next competition!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Please Take Me Back

So you may have noticed that I haven't posted in, well, over a month. Sorry. I thought on this Valentine's Day all about love I'd beg you to take me back if I promise to post more regularly. And to send you flowers and chocolates. (well, maybe not that second part) I will also hold true to the spirit of begging to get you back by making lavish promises, or in this case, future blog posts.

Here's what I have coming up:
Lots of book reviews: highlights include Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures, Ree Drummond's (aka Pioneer Woman) Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, and Elizabeth Kostova's the Swan Thieves.
Pictures of my pets being cute: lately Max and Layla have started snuggling together in between sparring sessions and it's adorable!
Pirates: Arrr matey, I saw the pirate exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

And to bring this post full circle, here is my awesome Valentine's Day card from the Dude. Yes, that's a pirate. Apparently he found the card in the children's section. He knows me well!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Challenging Reading

Anyone reading this blog probably knows that I don't really need to be challenged to read more. I had already decided to track my reading more this year (thanks for the inspiration, Janssen!) just out of curiosity. This Salon article suggested quite a few challenges on everything from thick books to zombie books. I may not need help reading more, but thanks to the internet, joining a reading challenge can be a social experience as well as an intellectual one. I'm hoping joining these challenges will bring me great discussions, new reading suggestions, and interesting blogs to read.

Without further ado, here are my choices:
1) Chunkster Challenge 2011 (http://chunksterchallenge.blogspot.com/2010/12/chunkster-challenge-2011-sign-ups.html)
I love digging into big books so this is a great challenge! My only debate on this is which level to sign up for of the 4 offered. Should I go for the Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? (description: This option is for the reader who can't resist bigger and bigger books and wants to commit to SIX Chunksters from the following categories: 2 books which are between 450 - 550 pages in length; 2 books which are 551 - 750 pages in length; 2 books which are GREATER than 750 pages in length)
...or risk failing and sign up for the Mor-book-ly Obese (description: For the truly out of control chunkster. For this level of challenge you must commit to EIGHT or more Chunksters of which three tomes MUST be 750 pages or more)
Thoughts anyone?

2) 2011 Young Adult Reading Challenge (http://jamielovesya.blogspot.com/2010/12/2011-young-adult-reading-challenge.html)
2010 was definitely a year of young adult books for me. I had no idea how much great YA reading is out there. These books are usually quick to read as well, which is great when time is limited. I'm going to wuss out here and do the "Mini YA Reading Challenge" which is 12 YA novels. I think I can easily read one per month, although since so many great series are out there I expect I'll be more likely to complete this in clumps. In fact, I'm already well on my way with this challenge as I read one YA book over vacation (and completely during 2011, not to worry!). I'll have a review up soon.

3) (sort of) I like the idea of the TBR challenge (http://www.roofbeamreader.net/2010/12/2011-tbr-pile-challenge-with-prize.html) but I don't know how many of the books in my pile have been there more than a year...I'm hoping not too many! I'm not signing up formally, but working through my big to be read basket in the library and the piles throughout the house is definitely a personal goal.

I know some of you have already committed to reading more or reading a different type of genre this year; is anyone else going to join a challenge?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Hello My Deer!

My friends come from all over the United States and most of us believe that our state is the best. If we want some data to back it up, this link should be helpful...it shows something that each state is the best at. No surprise that Pennsylvania wins for most deer collisions, but would you have guessed that Colorado is #1 for beer production? Expect lots of new residents next year, Colorado!

Some other highlights: My engineer friends may want to consider a move to Delaware, since they have the greatest percentage of PhD level scientists and engineers. Illinois has the highest rate of gang membership...um, thanks, Chicago. If you have a lead foot, avoid Massachusetts since that state has the highest level of speeding tickets. Nevada is a triple winner with the lead in teen pregnancies, foreclosures, and meth use. Way to go Nevada! I would never have guessed that Ohio ranks first in swiss cheese production.

Check it out!

What's your state the best at?