Sunday, July 31, 2011

Don't go towards the light - you'll fall and break your hip.

My littlest sister is coming to visit me next week. -- in 3 days to be exact.

(Someone called me on calling her my "littlest" sister. He was like, "You mean youngest?" And -- given the astute judge of semantics that I am -- I said, "Huh?" And he said, "Well, I'm sure she's not actually the littlest." And then I had to concede that yes, she is in fact taller than I am. But still.)

I was talking to Heather about the things that I needed to do to get ready for the upcoming visit. My concern about getting ready is compounded by my mom, Carla and Cary coming as well during that week. Mostly I feel like I have to get the "Mom Clean" done this weekend.

And so I said to Heather, "Yeah, and I should try again to clean the bugs out of the kitchen light fixture, but I've tried before and I couldn't get the cover off."

And Heather said, "You should definitely try. Mom's already commented on that before."

"Yeah, she has. And then I bought a ladder, and she said, oh good, now you can get the bugs out. But I've tried and I can't get the cover off the light."

"You could replace the light and get a new fancy track light," Heather suggests.

"Right, no, here's how it would go. I try to get the cover off, and then I crack it because it's just flimsy plastic. And of course I would never be able to just go buy a new one so I would have to replace the entire light fixture."

"And you could get the track lighting with the spotlights that you can point in different directions."

"Right," I respond, "But the wiring would be different, so I would have to get the kitchen rewired. And then the hole that is already in the ceiling would be the wrong size--"

"Would it?"

"Sure it would. Long rectangular light needs a different hole than the track lights. So I would have to redo the ceiling drywall and mudd it."

"And then you would have to paint it."


"And you wouldn't find paint that would match exactly. So you would have to paint the entire ceiling. Which means the entire ceiling of your entire downstairs because it's open concept."

"Yup," I agree again.

A horrified gasp, "And do you have popcorn ceilings?"


"And you would have to repopcorn the ceiling." A pause. "Or take all the popcorn down!"

"Yeah. Wow."

"Yeah, that's not worth it."


And so the bugs are staying.

(Secretly that's not my actual kitchen light. But it looks pretty accurate.)

I wonder what I will do when the lightbulbs burn out?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Exactly! There's games up there and books and...

I think I will give you some more of the backstory in my next post (yay, something to look forward to), but here I will just try to simplify it.

I started listening to podcasts this summer. I discovered that there are tons of totally free podcasts that can be downloaded on iTunes, and they are on all kinds of topics. So I have tried out quite a variety of podcasts, and I have some definite favorites.

Favorite #1: the Smart People Podcast. There are two guys (Chris and Jon) who get together and interview all kinds of smart people. Generally the people that they are interviewing have written a book, and so they get background, further insights, explanations, etc. So far, I've listened to interviews with Mike Rose (a big name in education), Gary Chapman (author of the 5 love languages), Bill Poundstone, and several others.

One of the interviews I listened to recently was with Kerry Patterson who wrote a book called Change Anything.

Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success

The first thing that Patterson explained in the interview is that we -- people, all people -- think that change is based on willpower. I eat the chocolate doughnut because I have no willpower or I don't because my willpower is so strong. Patterson said that all the research shows that this idea of willpower is false. People who are able to change use a lot of other skills in order to do so.

Well, that got me fascinated. And I'll explain why.

If you know me, or maybe even if you've been reading the blog for a while, you know that I have food issues. When I have to eat with other people, the same thing happens over and over and over. I explain my food issues as simply as possible, and they say, "Oh I could never do that!" "Oh, I could never give up bread!" "Oh, I could never give up cheese!"

When I first went gluten-free, I used to think, yes you could. If you were as sick as I was you would.

And then I started meeting people who didn't. People who were as sick or sicker, and still didn't stop eating gluten.

And then I thought, well, maybe it is just me. Maybe I'm wired differently. Maybe food isn't as important to me (yeah, right). Maybe it's because I live alone. Maybe I'm too obedient.

So I was fascinated by the ideas Patterson shared in the interview, and I went and checked out the book from the library (Oh, did you seriously think that this wasn't a book review?).

The Book: Ok, so Patterson and his colleagues start off explaining the bit about willpower. Fascinating stuff. And then they explain the Six Sources of Influence, how we are always impacted by them and how we can use them to our benefit. There are a lot of really specific examples throughout, and a lot of ideas about how you can apply the ideas to your specific situation. In the third part of the book, they give specific examples about applying changes to different areas -- careers, weight loss, addiction, and relationships.

The Review: I read the entire book in about 3 hours (and it only took that long because I was also doing laundry, cooking, and seasoning my wok). It was really interesting and a really easy read.

So when I started and got the full explanation of change not being just about willpower, I was feeling a little like, bummer, so I'm not as fabulous as I thought I was for making all these dramatic dietary and life changes to get healthy? But as I continued reading, I could see how the 6 sources of influence played a role. So one of the influences is social (actually a lot of the influences connected with the forces discussed in Sway), and for me my family became "friends" rather than "accomplices." I knew they were expecting me to keep to the diet and they were helpful in a lot of ways. Even just by saying "that's not Emily food," I stopped entertaining the idea of eating it.

Now I have two (more) goals that came to mind as I was reading. So I have to decide where those fall on my priority list and if I will get to them next month (meaning Monday) or if I will wait another month.

Oh, and the final word on the review: This book was totally awesome. If you are working on any big goals or little goals, I would highly recommend it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Could be worse. You could be wearing a skirt.

The Skirt: Take 2

I liked Liz's suggestion of making a pillow. But my mom convinced me to try making the skirt again.

So first, I unpicked the entire thing. Then I put the zipper back in with the smallest seam possible. I did the smallest seams possible down the back and down the sides.

Then I unpicked the darts.

And it fit!

I decided that after all that, I was totally never going to try and put a hem in, and the pattern said to do the waistband with twill tape, so I just bought some bias tape and ran it around the waist and the hem.

(Please ignore the hair -- It's HOT!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

If it were any smarter, it'd write a book, a book that would make Ulysses look like it was written in crayon.

I was chatting with a friend last night. Sometimes she reads my blog and then tells me what she thought of it. (Sometimes I feel really weird about that, like what I write here is totally private and no one should read it. And sometimes I feel like I'm the only person who writes a blog -- by definition public for the world -- and feels that way.)

So last night she said, "So you've been reading a lot of books."

I totally couldn't decide if that was just a statement of fact or some kind of commentary. It felt like a judgement. And I thought, so reading books is a bad thing? Please see the earlier post about how much free time I have!

Total side note: I was listening to a podcast (can't remember which one) and the guy they were interviewing said that the average American reads less than one nonfiction book each year. So if you were to read three nonfiction books on one topic, you would be an expert. He was quick to point out that he means comparatively and the bar really isn't high there.

So I'm trying to decide what to become an expert on. Any suggestions?

And back to the real purpose of this post, which is (naturally) another book review. (I feel like I need to justify again how I'm spending my time, but I'm not going to!)

The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

This is also for my American Lit class. I'm getting really excited about the class. I actually have a whopping 22 students enrolled. That's double the number I have ever had in my largest lit class. (The polling sample of that statistic is so incredibly small it renders that statement not statistically significant).

The House on Mango Street is a collection of vignettes told through the eyes of Esperanza, a young Mexican-American who moves to Mango Street. She tells about her life, her family's life, and the lives of the neighbors that she observes.

The stories are good, but mostly the novel is interesting stylistically.

Final review: It's a great read that will take 2 hours at the most.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

He's out of your league. He's reading a book.

I walked out to my mailbox on Thursday, opened it up, and looked inside. Wait, it's a package from Amazon! I love packages, I love Amazon. But I didn't order anything. I love surprises.

I got back in to the house and opened the package. Inside was a book Don't Kill the Birthday Girl. My mom had mentioned it to me the week before, asking if I had heard of it. I said no, and just filed the title away to look into later. I didn't realize she was going to send it to me. (Best mom ever, right?)

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley

The story: This book is being sold as a memoir, the story of Sandra Beasley who has been severely allergic to a variety of foods for her entire life. To get the real picture there, she had her first reaction on her 1st birthday, and she includes the list of foods she is allergic to: dairy (including goat's milk), egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard.

While the book unfolds by following Beasley's life and her reactions to food, it is not merely a memoir. Beasley writes detailed scientific information about what is happening in the body when it has an allergic reaction, she examines the prevailing societal attitudes about allergies, she questions why food allergies are becoming more common, she explores the deep cultural ties to food and how it becomes ritualized, and she explains (clearly and simply) what the medical field is researching in relation to allergies.

Beyond being a tale of how Beasley has gotten through life, it is a truly informative look at food allergies and a commentary on the accommodations for those who live with them.

The review: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. To prove how much, I started reading it yesterday afternoon (when my brain felt like sludge from grading and watching 2 episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker -- don't judge) and I finished it at 11 pm. I couldn't put it down.

Ok, the first thing I'll address is the memoir-side of the book. I was fascinated. In one episode, Beasley goes in to her college dining hall and is trying not to eat the same thing that they served her every single day. She just wants the normal meal with her boyfriend. So seeing the risotto, she asks the server, "Does it have dairy?" The server responds, "No." -- and I am yelling, "Yes it does! Yes it does! Don't eat that!!" -- And after a bite, she winds up in the hospital.

The stories were amazing and horrifying. I could relate so completely with her stories of going to restaurants and asking questions and the reactions of the servers, and with her stories of traveling, and with her stories of family gatherings. Her allergic reactions are so severe, which is what makes the stories horrifying. Generally, she describes breaking out in hives, her throat closing, and going into anaphylaxis. Beasley is one year older than I am, so I also liked the references to a life I can totally relate to -- she mentions her college dorm mates downloading songs on Napster.

The scientific and social commentary also fascinated me. Her explanations were really clear. I didn't know all of the medical research that is being done to "cure" allergies, but I find it very interesting. Beasley is also very direct with her commentary on how allergies are being talked about today. As she says, "That's the balancing act." She must go through life working hard to keep herself safe, but she wants to live life, and doesn't expect the world around her to keep her safe.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Citizens, I need firepower.

I don't know if everyone has this situation, but sometimes I get up and get dressed and think hm... this shirt/skirt/pants fit differently than the last time.

Usually I blame this on the dryer.

I got up Friday morning and put on a shirt and thought, wow these sleeves feel tight.

Instead of blaming it on the dryer, I thought of a new reason.

That book was accidentally destroyed maliciously...

Well, I wrote that whole post about having so much free time. And this week that all changed. I had a lot of work meetings (Three! Long ones! During the summer!) and that left me without a ton of time for reading. Which was frustrating because I really just wanted to get this book over with.

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

When I was in grad school, I did an independent study class. The scheduling just wasn't working really well for me, so I created my own class about twentieth century American Literature. I created a reading list of book I hadn't ever read and asked my advising professor what he thought. The Catcher in the Rye made it onto my list, and his comment was "No. That book is only for 16 year old boys."

So I had still never read it.

He was right.

And as I was slogging through this 277-page novel, I was thinking "Um, how did this get named the great American novel?"

And then I thought of the scene from Despicable Me: "You call this literature?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sunday dinners are really great. We eat the food, and then the plate.

Instead of just sharing book reviews and failing projects, I thought I would tell a funny story.

A little family that I recently met invited me to Sunday dinner at their house. They have 3 kids, 10, 6, and 3 years old. The three year old is a beautiful little girl with bright blue eyes and curly red hair.

She also has a very strong personality.

She did not want to sit at the kids' table. She protested very loudly. Then when her parents insisted, she went into the kitchen and dragged a chair from the kids' table into the dining room.

At this point, her parents worked for a compromise, and brought a small child size table into the foyer, so she could feel like she was at the grown ups' table. She sat down with her bowl of spaghetti and happily started eating. Every couple of minutes she would look over, say something to us, and then go back to her food.

The adults got involved in a conversation and then she suddenly screamed. She jumped off the little bench, and sprayed her spaghetti across the foyer.

I was closest and her parents weren't in the room, so I went over and picked her up and asked if she was ok.

In her three-year-old voice, she kept saying, "Spider. Spider. Spi-der!"

I looked where she was pointing and didn't see anything (other than spilled spaghetti), so I said, "I don't see anything."


At this point her dad came in a started cleaning up the mess. I decided to walk away and let him handle it.

For some insight into why I thought this little scene was hilarious, go look here and here.

It was just like Sunday dinner with my family!

Good news, everybody, we're extending arts and crafts time by four hours today.

It's time for another project post. With this one, I really need some feedback. I am working on crocheting a baby blanket for Shaquifa. (If you are missing the Shaquifa joke, maybe this post will help slightly with the reference).

I'm not thrilled with how this pattern is turning out. The pattern is really really long, and it is becoming really big. With how thin the yarn is the blanket gets kind of stretched out.

So again here are what I am thinking are the options:
1. Keep going and wind up with a really huge blanket that I don't really like.
2. Undo it all and start over by modifying the pattern I am using.
3. Undo it all and start over with a new pattern.

With this next picture I put a normal throw pillow, just so you can actually tell how large the blanket is.

And here is a closer shot of the pattern, so you can properly weigh in on whether to keep the current pattern.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Joey... Why is there a book in the freezer?

Carla made this comment on my last blog post: "you make me feel bad for only being able to say i've read A (singular) book in the last 2 months... i need to work on that."

So I feel like it is necessary to point out a few things.
1. It is summer and I am only teaching one class. This means that I work a grand total of about 16 hours a week. (It might be 20 if I have a super crazy long meeting to go to, like I did last week).
2. I live alone and only have to take care of myself. This means that it is perfectly acceptable to eat 4 crackers, a can of tuna fish, a bowl of frozen peas, and a peach for dinner. And it is also perfectly acceptable to leave the "dishes" from said "meal" on the counter. (As long as they don't smell or sprout fruit flies. That is unacceptable).
3. I am mostly reading books for my American Lit class. This means that reading books is my job. It just happens to be a pretty cushy job.

Ok, so I hope that now everyone has realized that I am mostly a slacker with tons of free time and has moved past feeling bad about themselves.

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

Sway: The Irrisistable Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman

The premise: This is non-fiction. So what happened was Ori and Rom Brafman started noticing how often people make completely irrational decisions. They saw evidence of this from everyone, every profession, all different kinds of people and all different kinds of situations. So their book is an exploration of the different "sways" or ways we are pulled into behaving irrationally.

The review: This was fascinating. The Brafmans have a great conversational and friendly tone, so it is not at all dry or boring. They also provide a ton of examples, everything from Michael Jordan to the Vietnam and Iraq wars, to an airplane crash. The examples were almost always things that I knew about (so nothing ridiculously obscure) but they gave a bunch of examples for each sway, which helped explain, but also helps the reader remember.

My grandparents first recommended this to me last summer. They said that ever since they read it they walk around and see people to something and think, "Sway!" And I can totally see myself doing that too.

Friday, July 15, 2011

and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted - if I could hit 'em; but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird [Paperback]

I started this book a couple days ago, got about fifty pages in. Then I started reading it yesterday afternoon and completely finished it last night.

That should tell you that it's good.

If you have not read To Kill a Mockingbird in a while, go reread it. If you've never read it, go read it. It is a beautiful book.

Beautiful is a word that I have probably not used in my reviews before, but it really does apply to this novel.

And just for fun, a scene from the trial:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's a common theme in self-help books. I read twenty-two today.

My last post probably came off a little bitter. Rather than trying to apologize or explain, let's just talk about something I am good at.


Those Who Save Us

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

This novel tells two stories side-by-side. One story follows Anna, a German girl -- well, around 18 -- when World War II starts through to it's end. The second story follows Trudy, Anna's daughter, an American college professor in the "present" = 1997. Anna has to deal with the war and it's impacts on her life and family, and Trudy has to deal with her life, the war, her past, and her mother's past.

The review: The story here is very interesting and a different point of view. Generally World War II stories just focus on the Jews and the Holocaust, and (as Trudy the history professor points out) the German citizens are incomprehensible because we just wonder how could they let that happen? How could they stand by and watch?

So the novel has a lot of potential. But I didn't like it, despite the fact that I really wanted to. And there are a couple of reasons for that. The first is it was very graphic. I understand what Blum was doing, but that doesn't interest me. The second reason is that the characters weren't very likable. Without trying to give a major spoiler, Anna does some things during the war that seem heroic or very laudable, but her motives are selfish. Then as the war continues her actions stop being heroic and so she becomes even less likable. In the "present," we are given Trudy as an adult, and because of a lifetime of baggage -- her own and her mother's -- she is a social outcast who doesn't have good relationships with anyone. So I was left not liking her either. And the final reason is the conclusion of the story brought all these different pieces together in a pretty unbelievable way.

Ok, and the final word on the review is it would be a perfectly fine light read kind of book, except the subject matter is so heavy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

That's the smell of failure, and it's stinking up my office.

As you know, summer for me is a time for projects. At the start of the summer I write my lists, I plan and prepare. Despite how the planning stage sounds, I don't often take into account how much time I have, but I am usually just happy with what I can get done.

Today, I must show you the progress of one of my projects: The Garden.

I have a small patio. Each summer I have lived here, I have planted small containers and tried to grow tomatoes and other things. The first summer I think I harvested 3 green tomatoes after the first frost. The second summer I think I got some basil leaves.

Now it is the third summer.

And here is my first success:

Four red cherry tomatoes. They taste good.

And here is my failure:

Failure #1: A container without sufficient drainage. I know half of the country is in a terrible drought right now, but June was a very wet month for us. A condition that continues to be seen in the daily flood alerts I get, even though it hasn't rained in over a week. At any rate, my cucumber and zucchini plants that I put in this container drowned.

Failure #2: Critters.

Something -- that I have not yet seen -- comes onto my patio late late at night. It has an affinity for tomato leaves. This baby starter plant was the first to go.

Followed by this.

I'm not sure if you can tell, but the plant in the front, right-hand corner has been chewed all up.

This box is also suffering the effects of too much June rain. The other things in there are a cucumber/zucchini (not sure which) and a green bell pepper. Today the pepper plant is completely dead, as is the tomato.

This one was next. You can see the first round of attack here.

Today when I went out to water, all those lovely leaves on top have been razored off.

And last night, they started on this one -- the producer of my little cherry tomatoes.

I honestly feel that gardening is going to be tossed in the same category as sewing. A lovely thought, but not a project I am capable of carrying out.

And so I ask, next May will you please remind me of this? I don't want gardening or sewing projects showing up on that hopeful, potential projects list. They end badly.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I've thought of an ending for my book - "And he lived happily ever after... to the end of his days."

A few more book reviews.

Ok, secretly I was going to try and post these one at a time. But then I got busy reading three books at once. So here are all my reviews at once.

What are you reading?

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Secret Daughter: A Novel

Gowda tells the story of two families, one poverty-striken in India and the other is an American couple, both doctors, who can't have children. The Indian mother takes her baby girl to an orphanage and the girl is adopted by the Americans. The novel flips back and forth between the two families, so you get a feel for what life is like for the Indian family and the difficulties of growing up different.

The review: Loved it. It was a good, complex story that kept me involved emotionally with the families as they all went through their various struggles. I worried for them and cheered when they overcame.

Favorite scene: When the now-adult girl meet a young man, he says "Do you know what your name means?" and she says "no" even though she does. It made me laugh and reminded me of how Mom tells the story of Carla meeting Cary (which is probably a story for another day).

My one criticism of this book is that it was written in an odd verb-tense. It was set up so that it created some distance from the action with the choice of verbs, and I felt like it wasn't really consistent. -- I realize that sounds very English-teacher-y of me, but it was enough that it kept throwing me out of the action.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Sound and the Fury: The Corrected Text

This one was for my upcoming American Lit class.

It is the story of the Compton family and their many, diverse, and deep problems. It is told through the perspective of 4 narrators, who each get their own section (although the final narration is pretty shaky in its perspective).

The review: My students are going to hate me for this.
Click HERE to see how I feel about that.

Ok, the reason I say they will hate me and this book is because it is incredible difficult to get into and nothing is explained clearly. The book actually starts with the section narrated by the youngest son Benjy -- who is mentally retarded. He can't talk, can't care for himself, and basically is just followed around by the black servants who keep him from harming himself. His thoughts -- which are what we read -- are a huge mess of craziness, jumping back and forth between at least four different times and what he is doing in the present.

And that's just the beginning.

Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose
Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest

Band of Brothers is the story of E Company and their involvement in World War II. Ambrose starts with their training, follows the men to England and their jump to Normandy then all the other battles, until their grand finale at Hilter's "palace" Eagle's Nest.

This was for book club, so I'm going to save most of my thoughts on the book for that.

The review: This was an excellent book. It's nonfiction, but it was easy to get into and a fairly quick read. Ambrose does a good job of getting you involved in the significant parts of the story. That said, it is a little difficult for someone like me, with absolutely no military knowledge at all, to really get some of the technical military terms and jargon. Not a reason to not read the book though.

Deep Down True by Juliette Fay
Deep Down True: A Novel

Fay writes the story of Dana a forty-something whose husband has just divorced her and left her to raise her 12 year old daughter and 7 year old son. The novel follows them for a year as they go through their ups and downs -- mostly downs, the addition of the 16 year old niece, the 12 year old's battle with bulimia, lost jobs, etc, etc. And then it turns into a romance.

The review: A good beach read. This was light and not at all serious (which made it perfect for me after The Sound and the Fury), the developing love story was cute, and I finished it in an afternoon.

I was frustrated with the beginning because it was all so realistic and downer, and I was reading and thinking, geez, I don't really feel like getting all involved in someone else's totally normal and realistic problems. It's just too happens all the time. But then it got a little more quirky (with the addition of the niece and relationship with the sister) which made me more interested.