Saturday, June 30, 2012

Books read in June 2012

Ah-hah!  Only 3 YA (and younger) books this month!

Gay Romance Novel #1
Jan Wilson
My friend gave me a draft of her novel to read.  I loved it!  I'll let you know when it becomes available for all of you to read.

Scott Westerfeld
This is the second book in the Uglies series, we follow along with Tally's adventures and moral quandaries.  The ending had me reserving the next book in the series.  Unfortunately, there is a line, and it's proving to be quite long.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams
Read aloud.
I've not read this since Junior High and I greatly enjoyed revisiting the story.

The Sisters Brothers
Patrick DeWitt
I did not like this book and I spent a lot of time wondering why.  I liked the main character, he was quite sympathetic.  The plot was interesting, and the writing quite good.  The San Francisco Gold Rush setting was  to my liking.  But I never took to it, though I read all the way to the end.

Chloe and the Lion
Mac Burnett & Adam Rex
Funny!  This was recommended by my friend Sara and I got it from the library even though it was a picture book and I don't usually spend time reading them.  I read it and spent ten minutes laughing out loud alone in the house. Laughing out loud while reading by myself is always an odd pleasure for me.  There's the laughter, which is great, but then the kind of creepy feeling that I might be a little crazy. After I enjoyed it, I insisted that Matt read it.  Now I'm insisting that you do too. It will take 10 minutes.  Laughter is good for you. Maybe you can read it aloud to someone so you can both laugh together and avoid the creepy feeling.  Just do it.

Women of the Silk
Gail Tsukiyama
Read for Kenton Book Club
This was okay.  I liked that it had a setting that was foreign to me.  I liked that it was about women.  The silk work was interesting.  Other than that, the book never grabbed me.  What was interesting was that during the book group discussion, most of the women did not like the book and most of the men did.  Several people in book group (men and women) had read Samuri Gardens by the same author and recommended that book over this one. I shall perhaps see what that is all about.

Lauren Goff
I greatly enjoyed the author's earlier works, the Monsters of Templeton, and was happy to read this new novel about Bit, a child growing up on a commune during the 1970s.  The book is divided into four sections, checking in with Bit at four different ages.  I found the first two to be the most compelling.  The last two sections were not as magical as the first two, but that might have been by design.  It was still a good read, with some quite funny observations of 1970s hippie culture.

Rosmund Lupton
Gripping mystery set in London.  A friend at work read it, recommended it to myself and another friend at work and we all read it within a week of each other so we could have a mini book discussion group.

Suzanne Collins
Matt and I read aloud.
As before, the gripping ending to the story.  In the end, everything works out.  It's just rough going getting there.

Dear Photograph
Taylor Jones
This is a great concept that became popular because of the internet, but which I discovered in the book store.  The discovery in a bricks-and-mortar store over the bits and bytes cheers me.  At any rate, some of the entries are incredibly moving.  This is also one of those good books where you needn't read much to read it, as it is mostly photos.

Started and did not finish.
I finished everything I started this month.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cougars, Coeds and Chick Lit.

I am here to tell you that I reject the following terms and will not being using them: Cougars, Coeds and Chick Lit. I invite you all to join in my campaign.

Cougars.  This has come into fashion in the last few years, its name even graces(graced) (ahem) a TV show.  A Cougar is an older woman who is dating—or married to—a (much) younger man.  They have now split, but the Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher union comes to mind.

Coeds.  For years, I read books that included the term Coed and I assumed it meant college student, either male or female.  I assumed that once colleges opened their doors to both men and women, the education was coeducational and thus the students were called coeds.  I can still recall the feeling of horror I felt my senior year in high school when the sentence structure I was reading did not support this definition and I was forced to consider that the term only applied to females.  I refused to believe this, at first, but double checked with my mother who confirmed the grim news.

Chick Lit.  First of all, this is an awful term because when it is said it aloud, a large percentage of people think you are discussing gum (Chiclets) and then there is usually a weird cognitive dissonance moment.  Chick Lit is a novel written primarily for women and it usually contains some elements of a romantic story and happy ending, though it should not be considered the same as a “romance novel.”  There is often something of one of these elements:  zaniness, work drama, conversation with best friends.  Sometimes there is great tragedy to overcome.

Why do we need to end our use of these terms?  I reject them all because they are all terms focused on women that have no equivalent for males.  What do you call an older man who dates/marries a much younger woman?  There is no term, as it is an accepted practice in our society.  If you are channeling your inner frat boy, you might call the man in question “lucky” and snigger after saying it.  What do you call a male student at a college?  A student.  There is certainly no term that suggests that they are added on to the scene and maybe it is okay they are there, they are pretty and all, but they are not real students.

As for Chick Lit, are there no novels of fluff written for men?  Of course there are.  What do we call them?  There is no term.  There are many genre specific terms of kinds of fluff novels that are primarily read by men:  science fiction, fantasy, spy thrillers, etc.  Though those genre specific books aren’t looked upon as great literature, they are also not dismissed out of hand with an overarching title:  Sperm Lit, perhaps?

Language reflects our values and beliefs and none of these three terms reflects an equality between women and men we pretend we have in society.  Granted, our language concerning gender is at a disadvantage from the get-go as the common terms we use to describe the not-male part of the population (women, woman, female) cannot be used without summoning the male part of the species.  Undoing this would be quite a feat and it is not what I am here to do today.  Today, I am just asking you to think before you use the above three terms.  If you chose to use them, what are you saying about women’s place in the world?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


We suddenly have brick!  Holy cow!  It seems to have gone up overnight.  To see the before picture, go here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

This movie was awesome in that it was entirely unbelievable and since it was not tethered to anything resembling real life, it totally worked.  As a passing bit of fluff, it is also fun to describe to people who won't bother to see it.  I was also confused as how the actor playing Abraham Lincoln could morph from "nerdy" to "hot" from one scene to the next.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lessons learned from PBS mini-series.

I have just discovered Downton Abbey and am in agreement with all the fawning reviews I have been reading.  It is fascinating, watching a social system that does not exist any longer, and the contrasts between the upstairs and the downstairs.  The characters are wonderfully drawn and shaded and I’m hooked on the plot.  But this is not a fawning essay about a PBS show, it is an essay about discipline.

Watching the special features that accompany the DVD, I was struck by someone’s comment that the life both the servants and their employers lead takes a lot of discipline—and not imposed from above, but self-discipline.  Self-discipline is something I feel I could use more of, in more areas of my life and it’s interesting that it doesn’t seem to be in vogue.

I think when we do mention discipline, it is in relation to diet and exercise.  We are to be disciplined eaters—firmly pushing away whatever food is “bad” for us and regimentally heading out of doors for our daily—mostly punishing—exercises to keep us toned and fit.  I think discipline in this context is why we are nation of fat people.  It’s just so grim, and there are so many other enticing offers—say a season of Downton Abby on DVD complete with extras and a bowl of popcorn—that it is easy to throw that discipline out the window.

To me, discipline means setting up a routine that works for you, and then doing it.  I’m pretty good at this at work: the checks get written on Monday and Wednesday, Tuesday is for data entry, Thursday I do the lunch order and manage the lunch program and Friday I clean out the staff refrigerator.  I don’t always feel like doing these tasks, but they all (except for the refrigerator, which I notice I abandon around February every year) get done and I feel the better for it. 

Home is another matter.  Home is entirely ruled by the whiny, sullen teenager, especially of late.  “But I don’t wannnnnnttttt to do that,” the lazy teenager whines when it is time to cook, to clean, to shop.  The lazy teenager wants to spend her life in bed, reading books, watching movies and the occasional worthy TV series.  The problem is that if the teenager takes over, there is no one to procure the food, cook and clean the house as well as plant the garden and do all those other things that make life worth living.  So the lazy teenager finds herself jangly from lack of exercise, living in filth and with an empty refrigerator.

I think this is one of the tasks of adult life.  Finding a way to get things done so you can live in comfort with a sense of accomplishment as well as time for rest and leisure.  It’s a difficult task, at least for me.  It’s also probably one of the reasons there are so many self-help books on the market.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Longest Day of the Year

9:00 PM, baby!

There are some days in Portland when it's not this light at 9:00 AM.  I do love summer.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Overheard conversation that makes me smile.

This morning* on the Max train:

Person:  Hey Kevin! How are you?
Other person:  Good man, good to see you.  How have you been?
Person:  Great!  I'm 110 days sober.
Other person:  That's great!

*This conversation happened at some point in May. But blogger moved this to June and I can't remember now when it happened it May.  So here it is in the June posts.

Three sentence movie reviews: He's just not that into you.

In trying to describe who should have been Snow White* in Snow White and the Huntsman, my friend who can't remember names of actors ended up talking about this movie and recommended I see it.  I totally disagreed with the premise,** but by ignoring my disagreement, I found this was a pretty enjoyable film.  The whole Jennifer Aniston/Ben Affleck ending really annoyed me though and I couldn't let it go.

*she was talking about Ginnifer Goodwin.
**If you want to go on a date with someone ask them.  If you want to call someone, call them.  If you want to marry someone, propose.  It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman. This movie was set in the present, but had the gender roles of the 1950s front and center for the ladies.  Geez!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: Cabin in the Woods

So, you can probably guess who is in this movie which prompted me to see it, despite the fact it is a horror movie and I am not a fan of the genre.  That said, I really enjoyed this, despite the gore, and mostly owing to the fact it was incredibly clever and had a whole host of actors I enjoy, not just Chris Hemsworth.  It seems the key to the horror movie genre is to give me a puzzle to solve while watching.

ps.  The poster above was the one I saw used to advertise the movie, and it is very clever.  But according to my movie poster site the one below was the original one. I like it more, but I can see why they had to go with something else. The third poster is a bonus poster, just for fun.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A time I felt loved.

Each month the committee on which I serve has a meeting and at that meeting we have an opening reading and a question.  The question this month was, “talk about a time when you felt loved.”  I gave an answer, but halfway through the meeting I thought of a better answer, excellent for this week’s essay.

I was someone in the middle of my adolescence, hanging about while my mother cleaned out a drawer.  From that drawer, my mother pulled out a stack of small cards, the kind that are delivered with flowers.  She flipped through them, smiled, and tossed the packet over to me.

“What are these?” I asked her. 

“Those are from when you were born.”

I looked through the cards, which were a great example of mid-seventies design, appropriate for a baby girl.  They featured a lot of pink and yellow and drawings in the style of the big eyed naked children holding hands that were popular then. There were also soft pastels of teddy bears and baby blankets and bassinets.  I knew some of the people, but many of the names on the cards were unfamiliar to me.  “Who is this?” I would ask and mom would tell me it was her cousin so-and-so. 

Mom had 41 cousins, due to the fact that her mother, my grandmother was the oldest of the 15 children of Raymond and Helen Catherine Whitmore.  They were a tight clan, growing up in and around Portland, Oregon and the size of their brood was unique enough to be remarked on, even then.  Though their family was born and came of age from 1912 to the 1930s, a time when many more children were born to each family than today, fifteen children was still a huge number.  There is a picture of the entire family, standing on the stairs at the Paramount Theater (now the Arlene Schintzer Concert Hall).  It’s an impressive lineup.  They were there because they won a contest.  They were the biggest family in Portland and their picture appeared in the paper.  There might have even been free admission to the movie. 

Mom grew up in a gaggle of cousins.  None of the original 15 went on to have nearly as many as their parents: my grandmother stopped at three and one of the children topped out at eight.  Many of the 15 settled around Portland and I get the impression that most of them spent goodly amounts of time together over the years depending on geography and which siblings were getting along with each other at the time.

My experience was very different.  Growing up, though I could claim at least 41 second cousins, it was as if I had no first cousins of my own.  My father’s nieces and nephews were much older than me—most were adults or nearly so when I was a child—and they lived either halfway, or on the other side of the country. We rarely saw them.  Neither of my Aunts on my mother’s side had children, so when we visited my Grandparents we were a party of eight (Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, Aunt Pat, Aunt Carol, my brother and myself) but with no one else but my brother in my age cohort.  We visited Portland often and sometimes would hang out with the extended family, but I made few cousin connections.

Hearing the tales of the large Whitmore’s exploits, combined with the fact that I grew up in a city where the large Mormon population meant that many of my classmates had large numbers of cousins—some who even went to the same school—meant that I mythologized and idolized the large family.  To me, having cousins meant having a built-in companions.  Best friends. Since we were from the same family, we would have so much in common and undoubtedly get along.  Adulthood has disabused me of this notion, but growing up I just felt the longing for a tribe.

My adolescent self flipped through the cards from my mother’s cousins and cards from my Great Aunts and Uncles congratulating my parents.  Weighing the cards in my hand, I imagined all the flower bouquets attached to the cards.  I thought of the givers making arrangements to have the flowers sent to a different state and time zone and I thought of each person counting out the money to pay for the flowers.  None of the Whitmore clan can be said to be rolling in dough. It was an overwhelming picture.

“A lot of people were pretty excited I was born.” I said in wonder to my mother.

“Your grandmother waited a very long time for a grandchild,” my mother explained, “so many people were happy that she finally had one.”

I thought of my loneliness growing up and the intermittent wish for cousins, or even a few more brothers and sisters.  Looking at those cards I suddenly felt folded into the family, a part of the fabric, despite the distance.  I might not see them often, but when I did, I would always be “Helen’s granddaughter.”  The first granddaughter of the first child of the Whitmore Family.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: Glee, the 3-D Concert Movie (in 2-D)

So this movie was not so engrossing as to pull me away from many various thoughts and wonderings* while watching, but for the ending of a stressful day when I forgot to take a full breath the entire time I was at work, this was perfect.  I loved seeing the actors perform (as opposed to acting like they are performing, which is what we see on the show,) like the moment when the actor who plays Blane finished singing and gave a short laugh of delight at the crowd's reaction.  I also thought the stories told by the featured Glee fans were quite good.

*Examples of various thoughts and wonderings would be:
  • Has Brittany had implants?  It might be the top, but her breasts look rather big for her frame.
  • Do they Auto-Tune Quinn?
  • Do they  Auto-Tune  Santana?
  • I'm pretty sure they don't  Auto-Tune  Rachel, and if they  Auto-Tune  Mercedes, I would be incredibly disappointed.
  • Are they really singing during this concert?  Really?  Maybe just the lead singer, the ones they don't  Auto-Tune ?  Maybe the rest are lip syncing?
  • Man, if anyone won the "Glee lottery" it's Finn: he's old, he can't really sing, he has amazingly normal looks and we all know he can't dance that well.  Yet still, he's a star and people love him, myself included.
  • What must their rehearsal and preparation schedule look like?  It's probably pretty intense.
  • I could watch a whole movie of Brittany and Mike Chang dancing.
  • It's over already? If I payed 3-D prices for this movie I would be annoyed that this is only an hour and 13 minutes total.

ps.  The name of this movie in the library catalogue is:  Glee, the 3-D Concert Movie.  And when you scroll down on the page it says, "2-D version"  So I delighted in telling people I saw Glee, the 3-D Concert Movie in 2-D

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: Snow White and the Huntsman

I took advantage of a nice day to sit in a dark theater and contemplate my Chris Hemsworth thing.  This was not a "good" movie, but I greatly enjoyed it, including the costumes, the special effects, the very sullen Snow White and a wonderful, scene-chewing (in the best way possible) Charlize Theron as the evil Queen.  Oh yes, and a grimy Huntsman.

Let's have a bonus poster, just for fun:

Bike ride.

I took the long way to St. Johns because it was such a nice day.  I got extra time to contemplate the nice day while I waited for the train to pass.  I came upon the train midway through and still counted over one hundred cars.
A view of the slough. (It rhymes!)
Don't go here on the bike path.  Happily, I'm almost to my destination.
Yep.  The Willamette and Columbia are still confluence-ing here, at Kelly Point Park.  I like to go and check on them every once in awhile, just to make sure.
Blue skies and power lines just past Kelly Point Park.  Soon after that I took a wrong turn and made my ride longer than it needed to be.  But it was such a nice day, I was happy.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: Crocodile Dundee

I mentioned in passing to Matt that I had never seen this film and it soon after arrived from the library.  The film being over 20 years old, I was a bit leery that we would get some good racist humor, but it was a surprisingly progressive film and also was pretty funny, even after all these years. Now that I've seen it, clearly my life is complete.

Rose Festival Parade 2012

Saving seats for the Rose Festival Parade.  I'm from the blue chair to the end of the blanket.
After much time saving seats, Mom and her friend Tanya arrived.  Then Rick arrived with S & K.  Kids at parades are much fun so there are many pictures of S & K and none of Mom and Tanya.
Trying to get both kids to look at the camera.
There's a parade going on, but who needs parades when you have rocks behind you?
Because then you can take the rocks...
...and put them in the bike helmet!
Attempt at self-portrait with myself and K.  It captures neither of us, but does get a bit of my mother.
This weird yellow guy hung about, trying to excite the crowds.  He was a bit creepy and eventually moved on.  He seemed to not be actually affiliated with the parade, just a random all yellow guy looking to motivate people to cheer.
K had the eating thing down. 
S took a break from rock-moving to have a snack.
They lasted a long time, but eventually it was time to go.
In case you missed the Rose Festival Parade, here it is, in less than three minutes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Making pita bread/chips

I'm off to the Rose Festival Parade tomorrow, and I'm bringing along Hummus and Pita Bread. I'm making my own pita bread from my new favorite cookbook Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.    It's so exciting!

Pita balls ready to roll.
Pita balls rolled and ready for the very hot pizza stone (pita stone?)

Finished pitas.  I think my stone was hot enough that I needn't have baked them for very long.  In the recipe, she recommends eight minutes.  My first batch, baked for that long, were nearly burnt. I  kept reducing the time baked, but they all went from dough, passed quickly through bread and into chip form.  The author mentions she can't get hers to puff, but all of mine did. I'll try again next time with very little cooking time and see what results they give.  These were very, very good.

Three sentence movie reviews: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

This was a much better movie than the previews led me to believe (although the previews did that annoying thing of harvesting the best jokes, so said jokes weren't funny by the time I saw them in context) and it was chock full of women!  I thought there were flaws, but not deal-breaking ones and all the actors are the kind of actors that make acting look so easy.  I also enjoyed the persistant positive speech by the hotel owner, no matter how bad things were.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Essay: My favorite time of year.

It’s my favorite time of year and it is because of the light. When I was growing up, summer was my favorite time of the year.  It was hot and sunny and I got to swim every day and turned a nice brown color.  Now I live in a place where summers are mostly sunny, but rarely hot and often I don’t even bother to own a pair of shorts because the weather does not require them.

Also now too, I’m an adult and don’t get to swim every day even if it was warm enough to compel me to.  I still like summer, even the “bring a sweatshirt” variety that is Portland, Oregon, but now my allegiance has switched to late spring.

Sometime in late April or May it begins to get light very early.  When I am a steady exerciser, I am a morning exerciser.  I also seem to gravitate to paid employment that begins early.  This means that I get up very early to exercise which, for the past six years, has meant being out the door by 5:00am.

Let me tell you that for most of the year, 5:00am is DARK.  I wear a reflective vest, I peer through the dark of night and I’m going to have to eventually wear some sort of light on my head to better see the many things that can trip me up.  Most of the year, it is hard to get up at 5:00am.  It is dark, and cold, and rainy and I just want to sleep for a little bit longer.

However, sometime in late April, the light shifts and I just start waking up.  First at five o’clock, then earlier and earlier until my eyes pop open at 4:30 with no trouble at all.  I also need less sleep.  During the dark months I fall asleep by 9:30, and battle every morning to drag myself out of bed.  When it gets light early, I’m up until 10:00 easily and my eyes automatically open at 4:30.  I also have more energy.

I attribute this surge to my left over agrarian genes—telling me to get up, get out and till the fields—get the corn planted, the chickens fed, the gardens weeded and watered.  It makes me wonder if I’d be happier shifting my sleep pattern to follow the sunrise, sleeping in later in the winter, getting up earlier in the late spring and early summer.  This will probably not be a thing I will ever get to experiment with until my retirement as the jobs I seek have firm start times.

It’s a brief period, this magic time of light.  By mid-July the morning runs begin their slide into complete darkness and I am left to enjoy the (comparatively) warm and (comparatively) dry mornings for the rest of the summer.  Then the rains come and it is another long wait for my favorite time of year.

Friday, June 1, 2012

One of my favorite "Hidden in plain sight, Portland."

Every spring I'm delighted to walk by this parking lot at the corner of Burnside and SW 6th Ave.  At some point, someone planted these yellow roses around the perimeter of the lot.  Despite the fact that no one cares for them and they are surrounded by a busy street, a transit mall and asphalt as far as the eye can see, they bloom every year and smell fantastic.
Cars surround them, both moving and unmoving.
I've never taken cuttings of any plant to propagate, but these roses might just make me learn how to do that.