Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: The Year in Books Meme

This list of books are those I read in the 2006 calendar year. The seemingly random order is simply the sequence in which I read the books. It really seems like there were more, but I fell down on my record keeping in the latter half of 2005, so some of the "missing books" I'm remembering were probably from that time frame. If it's not on the list, I can't claim it for the year. Why, yes... I normally do obsessively keep lists of the books I read. Don't you? In 2007, I'm going to start tracking movies, too. Oh, boy!

I'd love to see this turn into a meme so I can see what you all have been reading, too. I am not going to link to the books, because there are too many, and I am too lazy, and it would take forever. Plus, I think it might have the unintended effect of scaring people away from playing along. So go out there into bloggyland and tell me what you've read. And leave me a comment so I know to come and find you. Now, to the list...

The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson
True to Form by Elizabeth Berg
Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller
Until I Find You by John Irving
Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent
Life Without Water by Nancy Peacock
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry
Rats by Robert Sullivan
A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
Drop City by T.C. Boyle
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
A Friend of the Earth by T.C. Boyle
This is Biology by Ernst Mayr
Quarantine by Jim Crace
Property Of by Alice Hoffman
The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill
Maybe Baby edited by Lori Leibovich
The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Constantine Croke
All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve
Object Lessons by Anna Quindlen
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
The Third Child by Marge Piercy
Nature Via Nurture by Matt Ridley

Friday, December 29, 2006

Enough Already With the Damn Teeth

Yesterday I had a headache all day. The intensity varied, but the headache never went away. At one point I had to stop unloading the dishwasher and lie down because the associated nausea was so bad. So when I got ready for bed last night, I prepared for the situation: sinus pills and my lavender eye pillow within easy reach on the bedside table.

I don’t often remember my dreams. When I do, it usually means I’ve been sleeping poorly, which has been happening a lot lately. Last night was a good example, as sometimes the pain from the headaches can be bad enough to wake me from a sound slumber.

I dreamed that three of my back teeth from my upper left jaw dropped out in one fell swoop. The three teeth were attached to one another, like a little mini-denture. In the dream, I rinsed the teeth clean, then went to the dentist’s office, teeth in hand. I explained to the receptionist that I had a dental emergency. She proceeded to pull the dental emergency velvet cord that was hanging nearby.

Here things get fuzzy and I don’t remember any more details, but I woke up shortly after, with my head still throbbing. I took a sinus pill, and got out the eye pillow, and eventually drifted back into a light sleep.

Then I started dreaming again. In the second dream, I had just woken up from a dream where three of my teeth had fallen out. Naturally I went to a mirror to make sure it was just a dream. During the dream dental inspection, I was happy to discover all teeth were still in place. However, all was not well... I found two loose teeth, both wobbling and making that horrible grinding noise that teeth make right before they fall out.

I had one losing-my-teeth dream already earlier this month. I know this is a common dream, cross culturally. People everywhere dream about teeth falling out with horror. I'm sure it's just symptomatic of my stress about not finding a job, or spilled over holiday stress (the last of my numerous family Christmas celebrations was yesterday evening). But three times in such a short period? When I don’t ordinarily remember my dreams at all? It’s a little much for me. Someone else can have a turn.

Step right up, don't be shy. Free nightmares!

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Christmas Past Meme

I saw that Nadine over at In Blue Ink had posted a picture from her Christmas past, so I decided to jump on that bandwagon. Whee! It's fun up here. This is me in 1976 with my late Grandpa J:

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Finally: A Breather

Today is a break day, a chance to recuperate between the whirling festivities. SodaBoy’s parents left early this morning to drive to his sister B’s house for the next stop on their northeastern holiday tour. B and her husband have three delightful kids, so naturally they will be more fun on Christmas than us. And we need this downtime to catch up. The only gifts I’ve wrapped so far were those we gave to SodaBoy’s parents last night.

We ran a few errands earlier, including a last minute trip to the liquor store so SodaBoy could pick up a bottle of wine to bring for D tomorrow. It is a long standing tradition he likes to act out each Christmas: bringing an extra gift for the hostess. We went to the mega store, where there are acres of booze stretching out in every direction. Sometimes I wished I liked drinking more, because the bottles can be so attractive, and I can definitely appreciate the artisanal aspect to the whole fermenting, brewing and distilling processes.

Booze central was so busy they had a uniformed man out directing traffic. He motioned me into a handicap-designated parking spot, which made me distinctly uncomfortable. What if a customer arrived who actually needed the door-side parking? SodaBoy eased my guilty conscious by making a rapid selection, and we were quickly on our way.

Now that we’re home, SodaBoy is vacuuming madly, putting the shiny new Dyson to work. Our last vacuum died shortly after we moved in, and let me just tell you, masking tape is a very shoddy substitute for the real thing. The throw rug under the coffee table is a completely different color now that it’s clean again.

We’ve had bad luck with other vacuums in the past, but the Dyson uses a completely different technology than traditional vacuums, so hopefully it will hold up better. The five year warranty is longer than any of our previous models have lasted, so there is reason for hope. One definite plus is that so far there is none of that nasty burnt dust smell I hate so much about vacuuming.

I have two loads of laundry running in the basement. Next on my list is watering the tree, folding the laundry, and don’t forget the looming marathon of present wrapping. Ah, the relaxation.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bullets of Holiday Stress

  • It's that time of year isn't it? We all run around like chickens with our heads cut off, and for what? I seriously think it's mostly out of guilt and obligation. OK, that's not entirely fair, but I am a big curmudgeon. We've covered that in enough detail I think.
  • Honestly, I think children are the reason most people carry on with this nonsense. I said to SodaBoy this very morning, "we've got to have a baby to make this whole Christmas thing more fun." Now I'll join Turtlebella on the thinking-about-having-kids-for-all-the-wrong-reasons bench.
  • So SodaBoy's parents are in town for the next bunch of days. Don't ask me exactly when they are leaving, because right about now I can't imagine that far away. Right before Christmas I believe.
  • This left me rushing around madly the last few days, trying to prepare for other upcoming family events. Entertaining doesn't leave much time for anything else.
  • Not to mention cleaning. I swear, we have company so often it's the only time I clean. This isn't a good strategy. If people stop coming, will the house fall into chaos?
  • Now I must rush off and change. As I whined about over at Phantom's, SodaBoy's parents favor early dinners at fancypants restaurants. They do not tolerate denim. I am all about denim. If it's not comfortable, I don't want to wear it. Too bad nobody asked me.
  • I am looking forward to the appetizer at the la-di-dah restaurant we are going to tonight, but after that... I'll be too full to enjoy myself. And being stuffed in fancywear
  • Friday, December 15, 2006

    Bon Voyage, Student Loan, Bon Voyage!

    I sat down this morning to pay a few bills, an exercise in frustration of late with the shortage of funds. Not this time though… today was a momentous occasion. I wrote the check for the very last payment on my student loan. I feel like celebrating. This day has been a long time coming. I didn’t have to borrow any money for the master’s degree, being able to meet my expenses with assistantships and tuition scholarships. The student loan in question dates back even further, to my undergraduate days.

    A number of years ago I realized I had saved up enough so that I could have paid the whole thing off lump sum, but when I looked into it, there was very little benefit. I’d already paid all the interest, and my out-of-pocket expense would have been virtually the same if I wrote one big check, or umpteen little ones. I decided having some personal savings was more important than getting rid of the debt. Student loan is "good" debt, after all. However, none of that dampens my enthusiasm for being free of one more obligation.

    Now I have to consider giving back. Well, not now in the literal sense, obviously. First I have to get a job and get my finances back in order. But as an undergraduate, as the part of the same financial aid package that included the maximum allowable Stafford loans, I also received scholarships every year funded by the Alumni Association. The monetary denominations were small, but it was a state school, and every little bit really did help. I promised myself that down the road, I would give back to help other needy students. [Of course, I was assuming I would be employed by the time I paid of my loans: the innocence of youth.]

    I need to be careful how I go about this, however. The Alumni Association is pretty aggressive about fundraising, and solicit often, by mail and phone, too, which I find particularly repugnant. I will never give money to anyone who calls on the phone, never ever ever. I have no interest in being a member for the sake of membership. I am not very social, and do not wish to support the vast array of get-togethers, golf outings, and homecoming tail-gating parties they are constantly organizing.

    On their website, there is no option to give exclusively to the scholarship fund. In fact, I can find no mention of the Alumni Scholarship whatsoever. Could they have discontinued the scholarship? Why? Why would they do that? What is my obligation here? And how the hell do I honor it?

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    On Christmas Trees

    I was working on a puzzle last night while SodaBoy watched some TV, and overheard some heated debate about a Rabbi suing to have Christmas trees removed from an airport in Washington state. SodaBoy was flipping through channels and did not stay on the Faux News station, so I didn't hear the full story, but it got me thinking a little bit. My initial reaction was that it was a frivolous lawsuit: Christmas trees are not a religious symbol. Decorating with lights and greens has been a holiday mid-winter tradition for thousands of years. That was my gut reaction, but I was not comfortable with it.

    It's just not consistent with my normal feelings about this kind of thing. I firmly believe in separation of church and state, and I feel very strongly about it. I wrote last month about my ill ease at being forced to vote in a church, and I support the lawsuit of a Florida man fighting his local election board over that exact issue. I vehemently oppose the teaching of "intelligent design" in the science classrooms of public schools; I also see no room for prayer in public schools. I don't think the ten commandments should be displayed in courthouses or other public spaces.

    All these things smack of government endorsement of religion. Thanks, but no. I'll stick with my first amendment. So as I thought about all these things, my own inconsistency was disturbing me. Shouldn't I be opposed to the display of religious artifacts in public facilities? Well, yes, and I am. My stumbling block was the classification of the Christmas tree as religious: to me it is more of a pagan display than anything else. I bounced my concerns off SodaBoy. He pointed out that the very language is part of the problem. Christmas is a Christian holiday; calling a decoration a Christmas tree makes it by default religious. There is that problematic detail.

    I got online this evening to look further into the matter.

    First of all, leave it to the television to get every.single.detail about the Seattle airport case WRONG. Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky did not sue to have Christmas tree removed; he merely wanted to see the inclusion of a menorah. Which his organization had volunteered to both provide, and set up. The Port of Seattle chose to remove the trees instead of allowing the erection of a menorah. This caused a huge uproar. People wanted their trees back. The Rabbi graciously withdrew his suit yesterday, since he'd never intended for the trees to be removed, and last night airport staff reinstalled the trees. Still no menorah though. Read more here.

    Secondly, I am not the only one who doesn't find Christmas trees to be a religious display. It turns out the Supreme Court agrees with me. Both Christmas trees and menorah displays "are part of the same winter-holiday season, which, the court found, has attained a secular status in US society." The case was decided in 1989. So this entire media hoopla was entirely pointless. The Port of Seattle was completely unreasonable in denying the request to display the menorah, and utterly irresponsible in their decision to remove the trees in the first place. It's non-issue: put them both up, and stop stirring up anti-Semitism.

    So the Supreme Court says I shouldn't feel guilty about not objecting to Christmas trees or menorah displayed in public. Greens and lights, baby, bring it on. Here is our own personal holiday tree:

    Photo by SodaBoy

    And as for the Rabbi Bogomilsky, I wish him all the luck in the world. Now that I've taken the time to learn more about the situation, and understand his good intentions, I can't help but support his cause. No menorah display in the airport might seem like a petty little first world problem, but if no one fights against these unjustices, we will all be the the poorer for it.

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    News and Views

    This morning I went up to the nursing home for a visit with my grandma. I got there in the middle of a program called “news and views,” where a recreation aide took the local daily newspaper and went through it with the residents. This is a nice idea, since some of the old folks have poor vision and can’t read the small print in the papers, and some of the them lack the mental capacity for reading at all, but still enjoy the interaction.

    Maybe she did the real news before I got there, or maybe the aides intentionally focus on the lighter stuff. There was not one mention of war or politics. The aide read the Dear Abby column, and asked around the circle to see if anyone had any advice of their own to give. She read the horoscopes, asking each person when their birthday is, so she could read them their personal prophesy. Some residents clearly follow astrology and gave their sign instead of their birth date, while others were too confused to remember their own birthdays. I was pleased that Grammy answered August 29th with no hesitation; memory is not her greatest strength these days.

    When I arrive in the middle of a program, I usually just sit down next to Grammy and hold her hand, or scratch her back. She is on a floor where the vast majority of residents are wheelchair bound, and trying to squeeze her out through the maze of chairs seems likely to disrupt the program for everyone. As a result, I’ve seen a number of different recreational activities administered by a number of different aides.

    There is a wide range in the quality of these programs, as in all things. Although the “news” was entirely fluffy in nature, this activity seemed to me of higher caliber than some of the others I’ve seen. The level of interaction and participation is what delineates the good programs from the bad. I’ve sat through some of them where the aide just read out lists of words in a monotone, and I wasn’t the only one bored. So I guess what I liked about today’s activity was the way it was done: the recreational aide made such an effort. She didn’t know everyone’s names (this is a large facility) but she spoke in a loud clear voice, smiled a lot, and got everyone to play along.

    Friday, December 08, 2006

    The Best Day of Her Life

    I went outside this afternoon to shovel the driveway, even though there wasn’t really that much snow. A few inches at the most. And since it’s supposed to warm up Sunday, I probably could have gotten away without. But shoveling is a chore that I enjoy, at least early in the season before the novelty wears off. It is a physical task that one completes outdoors, and the best part is the visible progress. I can immediately see the fruits of my labor, which is very satisfying.

    I have never seen so much traffic on my street before. We live on a quiet, residential street that does not connect to anything but a few other similar streets. Normal traffic is limited to residents and delivery vehicles. Today there was a constant flow of vehicles. Not just the sheer volume, but some of the vehicle types, and some of the speeds traveled suggested that these drivers were not residents. I began to wonder if one of the major streets nearby was closed. After I finished shoveling, I decided to walk around the block to investigate the situation.

    The street that runs parallel to ours is a thoroughfare, and it was indeed blocked off, with detour signs directing motorists to my humble little street. I walked the length of the closed block, and saw several work vehicles, and three men standing in the street discussing the circumstances, but nothing beyond that. Nothing that would make clear to me what the problem was. Then I kept walking since I was enjoying myself, despite the frigid temperatures. Another benefit of shoveling is it warms you right up.

    As I approached my house on the return leg of the loop, I could see my neighbors had come home and let Maggie out. Maggie is a golden retriever who is sweet enough in temperament that we mostly overlook her tendency to crap in our yard. She loves cars. Luckily, she expresses her affection in a most tolerable fashion, running the width of the narrow yard, but right up next to the house, not down by the street. [I am always terrified of hitting one of those dogs that actually chases cars.]

    Maggie is in heaven today with this persistent flow of vehicles. Her excitement is palpable. She has completely beat a path down in the snow, running back and forth. I watched her for a while, and she would express her joy by occasionally taking a big gulp of snow as she executed her turn. She is not a barker, but the afternoon has been punctuated by her intermittent and involuntary yelps of pleasure. She is so happy, it makes me happy just to watch her.

    Thursday, December 07, 2006

    Bullets of Banality

  • Our cat rules. It's snowing out, the big-flaked, fluffy kind that is especially scenic. We haven't had much snow around here yet this year, and decided to take a walk up to the open area to see if Elijah would be as enthusiastic a walker in the snow. Short answer: yes.

  • We toyed with the idea of buying a tree today, but it just didn't happen. We did go out to run some errands, but I have one of my evil headaches, and didn't have the energy to wrestle with a tree.

  • We did rule out the possibility of buying a tree at one of the big box stores. Not only do they not have blue light specials anymore, but the store we visited doesn't carry fresh-cut trees anymore either. Only the kind in a box, and they don't even smell nice. Bah!

  • I did get a box of holiday cards while we were there though. Maybe they will help me get in the spirit. Of course I selected a variety featuring cats.

  • I also bought a new shower curtain liner. Fascinating, I know. But I am so damn sick of that Chester the Molester of a curtain that is in there now. This new one might not be any better, but I had to try something.

  • Could someone please rant about how badly sliding glass doors for the shower suck? Pretty please? 'Cause maybe then I would stop coveting them so much. From where I'm sitting now, they look pretty good.

  • Today was the first day this week I didn't apply for a job. Blame the headache. Yeah, that's right, the headache. Blame this entire post on the headache, actually. I just cannot think straight. It's prolly a good thing I didn't apply for a job.
  • Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    Takes One to Know One?

    Many employers now restrict job seekers to online applications. Like most things, this has both pros and cons. One disadvantage is the web sites often have long complicated forms one must complete, frustrating because of their redundancy to the resume, which must also be submitted. Some larger employers design their sites so the applicant only fills out the form once, and then the data is stored under a user profile. But this is by no means universal. An obvious advantage to online applications of all varieties is they save postage. And trips to the post office.

    I wrote a cover letter today for yet another job application, this one requiring snail mail supplication. After printing out the letter and resume, I addressed the oversize envelope and headed to the Post Office, innocently enough. I am always paranoid about getting the proper postage on oversize envelopes that don’t follow standard postal rules. Especially for job applications. Nothing says “hire me” like an application package marked “postage due.”

    I should have been aware enough to look at the calendar and plan for a lengthy visit. It is December, after all. Apparently some people are feeling the holiday spirit, and they don’t procrastinate either. The line stretched practically out the door. I myself am not feeling very festive this year: that’s what unemployment will do to a person. I even toyed with the idea of not getting a tree, but SodaBoy talked me out of that particular brand of heresy. It wasn’t too hard, either. I love me some sweet balsam aroma.

    While in line, I watched the postal clerks patiently explaining the most straightforward things to the customers: if you use a priority mail package, you must ship priority mail; where this slip says, “name and address,” you must write in a name and address; things of that nature. Those postal workers really get an unfair rap.

    I was also reminded of my power for attracting loonies. It’s far too prevalent a phenomena for me to blame the individual crazies, so I can only conclude that it’s me. I must emit some sort of come-hither-and-tell-me-your-woes vibe that only the unhinged can detect. Because tell me their stories they do. Sometimes it’s pretty funny.

    Today, the woman in front of me in line felt compelled to inform me that she’d only eaten a donut so far today, and she’s really not supposed to eat donuts. Huh. And that her stomach has been bothering her all week. I foolishly offered a platitude about there being something going around, maybe she got the bug. Well, that just set her off: she had half her stomach surgically removed twenty years ago, she used to party a lot in those days, she’d gone on a real bender for her birthday, woke up in the hospital, she doesn’t party much anymore, except maybe dinner at the Olive Garden with friends, and…

    ChattyPostalCustomers are generally quite harmless, so I just smile and nod along. But I am never quite sure why these people chose me to talk to over the rest of the masses. It must be the old cliché.

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Puzzling Through It

    jo(e) recently wrote a great post about her favorite childhood toys. The best part is you can tell she never outgrew them. Jigsaw puzzles are one of the toys she mentions. I am also a puzzler, although more so as an adult than a kid. I had some early formative puzzle experiences, to be sure. It is with great fondness that I recall an old wooden puzzle of the US where each state was a separate piece. I think I got that as a Christmas gift when I was 5 or 6 maybe. It prepared me well for the insipid little quizzes my 7th grade social studies teacher used to give, where he put cut-out shapes of the states on the overhead projector for us to identify by silhouette only. Ka-ching! Easiest.A.ever.

    As an adult, puzzling is something I've really only come to in the last five years or so. Since we got our dining room table, anyway, because before that I wouldn't have had any surface big enough. I've had friends ask why I do puzzles; I know they seem utterly pointless to many people. Pretty much anything can be described that way, though, right? Pick your poison. Part of it is chaos reduction: it is very satisfying to create order where there was none. Part of it is I can puzzle while SodaBoy watches TV. I like to have puzzle project ongoing most of the time, but I don't usually sit and puzzle for hours on end. More often I'll just place a few pieces at a time while waiting for the water to boil for tea. It's filler fun.

    And when SodaBoy wanted to experiment with time lapse photography not too long ago? A puzzle seemed like a good test run. I picked a small, easy puzzle. SodaBoy set up the tripod, and we took turns taking pictures. Curious about the time lapse thing, I immersed myself and put the puzzle together quickly, over the course of just two days. Then SodaBoy combined them to make this fun little movie, which I present for your enjoyment:

    Friday, December 01, 2006

    Confusion Reigns the Job Hunt

    I ran into an interesting conundrum in my job search this week. It is often emphasized to us job seekers how important it is to address cover letters by name to a specific person. This isn't always possible, in which case one defaults to "Dear Sir or Madam," the salutation of last resort. The formatting for the greeting on a typical cover letter looks something like this:
              FirstName LastName 
    Street Address
    City, State ZipCode
              Dear Ms./Mr./Dr. LastName,
    Filling in the blanks in the above formula is not normally the most difficult part of writing a cover letter. However, I hit a little stumbling block in this case, and I’m actually surprised I haven’t run into this issue before. What is the appropriate title to use for someone with an ambiguously gendered first name? I am not culturally aware enough to be able to distinguish gender for most unfamiliar names. Many non-traditional names are also confusing, both those of the hippie variety like River, and those of the yuppie variety like Taylor.

    In the case of the job I applied for this week, the recruiter’s name was Chris LastName. This particular instance is especially frustrating, since “Chris” is a nickname, and being the contact person for a job posting seems to require a little more formality. Christophers seem to shorten their names to Chris more often than Christines, but it is not a fast enough rule to gamble by: I have a college friend named Christine who often went by Chris. And the dilemma is not limited to Chrises. How do you address Pat, or Jody, or Terry, or Sandy, or Jamie?