Monday, June 30, 2014

Project Fitness Update

So I lost half a pound last week.  That's not the best week ever, but considering I was in Las Vegas for the weekend (convention center food...sbarro pizza....nomnomnom) I'll take it.  The biggest thing I've been doing lately is using the LoseIt app, which has, if nothing else, made me so much more mindful of what I'm eating.  Even if I forget to log something ( happens) I'm much more mindful in general of what I'm eating.

I last used LoseIt about 2 years ago, and notice a number of changes.  First, one of the main thing I loved about it then was the ability to use the camera on your phone to scan the barcode of your food, and have it be recognized.  They seem to have built up their database a lot more since then, and every food from Trader Joe's that I've scanned so far has been in the database.  The one annoying thing is that I can't tweak it.  I don't eat the salad dressing in premade salads, and so when I scan the barcode for the Trader Joe's Super Spinach/Quinoa salad, it automatically adds in the salad dressing, which is like 200 calories and 30g of fat.  I wish there was a way to have the option to leave the dressing off, rather than adjusting the serving size.

Second, the communities are huge now.  There are tons of online groups you can join.  I'm in the 11-50 pounds to go group, which is a great source of inspiration.  There's also a post-pregnancy group, and literally dozens of others.

If you upgrade the app to the paid version you can have it set to sync with fitbit, or other fitness devices you might have.  You can also use it to plan your meals and exercise.  I haven't done that yet; the free version is working well enough for me now.

In other news, we started Mommy and Me swim classes today, and Hannah only cried for like half of it.  #winning.  We go every morning for two weeks.  She's the only baby in the class of five kids (with 2 instructors); the others are toddlers who know how to kick and stuff.  So we mostly just paddled around the pool, and she started getting comfortable in the water.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Amazon Geekery (or, 24 hours in Seattle)

So on Wednesday I got to go to Seattle to the launch of the Amazon smartphone.  It's the first launch ever where they've had customers, and about 120 of us were chosen, about half of whom (myself included) were flown in from out of town.

I have no idea how I was chosen, so don't even bother to ask.  I did talk with one of the "hosts" about how they decided to who invite, since over 60,000 people applied, and he said there were over 40 criteria.  Among them; do you own one of their devices, do you write reviews, do you buy different types of things (yay for having a baby and being too lazy to go shopping, so using Subscribe and Save with Amazon Mom for everything).

For whatever reason, at 8:00pm I got into Seattle, where there was a driver with a town car waiting for me with a poster that said Amazon Event, H. Teysko.  No kidding.  I got to my hotel (pretty swanky) and in my room was a copy of the Mr. Pine's Purple House book that Jeff Bezos had sent to all the press before the event (it's about a man who lives in a row of white houses, and does all this stuff to try to differentiate his house, eventually painting it purple, and then the rest of the neighborhood gets the idea to paint their houses red and green, etc., and suddenly it's all colorful).  There was a note on it saying how they were glad we would be there the following day, and enclosed is Jeff Bezos' favorite childhood book; and he thinks we'll agree that things are better when they're just a little bit different.

At 8:45, I was downstairs in the lobby waiting for our shuttle to the launch event, which was about a 20 minute drive away.  We were dropped off and there was a line of press on one side of the check-in barricade.  I talked to Jo from Fox Business News first.  There were lots of geek press - people from Mashable, Engadget, etc.  I checked in and got a blue wristband, which apparently differentiated me as a super special Amazon customer.

At 10am the doors opened, and we all were ushered in together.  We were in a studio, and the place was all dark.  The walls had screens with pastel blues and reds, like twilight and the early morning sky, and there were little lights which I thought were shooting stars, but now I know were probably meant to be fireflies.  The press was all on risers in the back, with giant cameras and such.  And there was club-like music playing.  I suddenly felt very unhip.  The Spice Girls were blasting.  I thought we were supposed to get up and dance or something.  I wasn't dressed for a club.

The number of people who applied to be in the audience. #lucky
At 10:30 on the dot, Jeff Bezos himself comes out and starts talking about how much people love Amazon Prime, and how great it is, etc.  He goes through a powerpoint presentation slide by slide, and I'm starting to get bored.  I was tweeting everything on my ipad to try to stay awake.  Eventually, like 20 minutes in, talk turns to the phone.

Then we get to see a demo, and he walks us through the technology behind the 3D stuff, and we see firefly, and he talks about the headset, and on and on.  I was seriously falling asleep,  I needed more coffee.  Plus I was hungry.  There was breakfast outside while we were waiting, but I went for the coffee first, and by the time I got to the food table the press had eaten all the fruit.

After the presentation, we were given some lovely snacks to tide us over until lunch - mixed nuts with bacon, which is an interesting combination.  Then we were shuttled over to the Amazon campus, where we were given lunch at a restaurant below it.

I thought it was an interesting mix of people.  There seemed to be a lot of people who were in awe of the phone.  The 3D stuff is pretty nifty, but they were going on and on about Firefly, and I was kind of like, "isn't that just sort of like Google Goggles?" but they didn't want to hear it.  And the song lyric thing - that's just sort of like Shazam, right?  So there were a lot of people who were super impressed with the phone, going on and on and on about how great it was.  I was sort of like, "meh."  I guess I'm too jaded.

And I'm really kind of freaked out about the 4 infared cameras that are on you at all times.  I get that's how they have to do it to get the 3D portion (they need to know where your head is at, and not make you wear weird head gear - a clear cut at Google Glass) but it still freaks me out.

Hanging with Bezos
So at the restaurant we all file into tables where there is an Amazon Host who is there to help us make small talk (we're supposed to talk about things that make us peculiar) and also get us pumped up about the phone.  We are ushered into private rooms where we can play with it.  I peppered them with questions about privacy, and did ask about it being like google goggles, and I wasn't duly impressed enough, I don't think.  I'm particularly unimpressed with the AT&T exclusive.  It's 2014.  We seriously still do exclusives?

But the best part was when Jeff Bezos himself came in.  Whatever I think about their phone, I love Amazon and I love Bezos (I read my first biography of him in like 2000), and I got to meet him and get a picture taken with him.  And I think it's awesome that the founder and CEO of such a huge company would take the time to meet with each of his customers who were there.  He just came up, "hey, I'm Jeff," like we didn't know that already.  My phone decided to not work while trying to take the picture, and I cleverly quipped, "you should use this as an ad for your phone," which made him laugh.

After lunch, we were all given goody bags, and then we were shuttled back to the hotel.  I walked up to the Seattle Public Library where I saw a friend of mine from Lancaster County, who I hadn't seen in 12 years.  Then back to the hotel where my town car picked me up for the flight home.

All in all, it was a pretty awesome 24 hours, and even though I'm not super excited about their phone, I'm totally excited about what they do for customers, and I still love you, Amazon.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Geeky Girl

So apparently I'm hip.  I scored one of only 120 invitations to go to Seattle to attend the launch of the super-secret gizmo that Amazon is launching on Wednesday.  I'm not exactly sure what I did to deserve this free flight and free hotel and presentation by Jeff Bezos himself (and maybe I'll score a freebie?) but I'm not arguing.

Most of the press think it's going to be a smartphone.  Either way, I'll be live blogging and tweeting it (they said we could blog, but not take video).  I'm super-stoked, and I wonder if I'll be as excited about it as these people are...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rehoming the Cats

In the spirit of "it's what you spend a little bit of time on each day that gets results", my 50 Days 50 Things project to rehome some of the cats is moving apace.  And I've actually started getting results, a testament to how spending 5-10 minutes a day on a project can make things happen.  The cats are all still here, but by starting to share our situation with people, I'm starting to get a community of people who want to help us get rid of these cats.

So in case you've missed this in earlier posts, we have unwittingly become Cat People.  This is because we Give a Damn about animals.  During the economic recession, people would literally drop their pets off in our woods.  In most cases, the local humane society was able to help us get them fostered out, but in the case of Polly and her Kittens, there was no foster home.  Polly gave birth to her four sweet kitties in our bathroom in May 2008, and while we thought we'd be able to find homes for them all, we didn't (it was 2008 - the economy was in the tank - no one was taking in cats) and we still have these cats.  Plus Joey, who showed up one day, super friendly to the point of danger when he started wandering in the neighbors' house to play with her dog (she leaves her door open) and she's completely allergic to cats.  She was going to call animal control.  We said we'd take him in.  So he's in.  Also Twilight.  Poor Twilight.  She would sit on the window sill in the snow, looking in at us in the middle of winter.  She came in, too.

There are also the feral ones that live under the deck, but I'm not as worried about them when we move back to PA.  They do all right on their own (with the exception of Mama Cat, who I am determined to figure out how to bring with me if he's still alive, despite his feral-ness).

So anyway, we have a crapload of cats, not through our own devices really, and we want to be responsible and not just take them to the pound, but either rehome them, or take them to some kind of no-kill shelter.

I've been researching shelters, and the no-kill ones seem to only service people in their city limits (ie Palm Springs has a great shelter, but you have to have a valid city ID to take an animal there).  I did find Pet Pride in LA, who will take cats, but they charge you a fee (fair enough, since they'll be caring for the cat until they can place it) and the fee is a sliding scale based on how adoptable the animals are.  Our black cats are pretty much unadoptable (people don't adopt black cats).  So their fee would be like $2500.  Yeah, no can do.

So I've really been at my wits end trying to figure out what to do with them.  Yesterday I wrote to a woman who places cats through the independent adoption exchange that the mountains humane society offers.  We had a great conversation today, and she's willing to help us with contacts, and ideas of how we can place some of these animals.  I'm so glad I spoke with her.  Now I need to send her pictures of the cats so she can pass our information on to her friends.  She's already given me names of shelters I hadn't known about, and I'm going to start following up with them.

For the first time, I'm actually seeing a solution to this problem of too many cats, and it's exciting!  One little thing a day, and hopefully I shall have at least one or two cats gone in a few months.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Week in Books Part 2

Yesterday I was such a downer on Goodnight June that I decided to post about a book I am Loving at the moment.  Several years ago I downloaded Fool, a novel by Christopher Moore that told the story of King Lear from the point of view of his fool, Pocket of Dog Snogging.  I have been a fan of Christopher Moore since around 2003 when I read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.  It made me laugh so hard, and kept me company during an ALA Midwinter in Boston where I spent most of the weekend frozen.  Moore's imagination has, in turns, impressed and disgusted me ever since, and I'm always on the lookout for his new stuff.

Fool caught my eye, and then my ear because it was narrated by the fantastic Euan Morton, whose accents made the story so much more alive for me.  I looked for other audiobooks where he was the narrator, and was disappointed.  It seems that he only did that one.

When I picked up a galley copy of the Serpent of Venice a few months ago at PLA, I knew I'd be in for a treat with the audiobook.  I avoided reading it in advance, because I wanted all of the narration to be in Euan's voice, not mine.

And I have not been disappointed.  The book is a retelling of the Merchant of Venice from the point of view of the Fool, who has been sent to Venice from England on a diplomatic mission.  There's a serpent, a ghost (there's always a bloody ghost) and lots of characters, typical of Moore.  But you really should listen to it to get the full affect.  Plus, it helps if you know the story of the Merchant of Venice.  I still have a few chapters, so I'm not sure how it will end, and if Shylock will get his proper revenge or not, but I'm guessing he will if the Fool has anything to do with it.

Seriously, this is a book worth reading (or, ideally, listening to).

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Week in Books: Goodnight June (spoilers)

I got Goodnight June by Sarah Jio from NetGalley, and it appealed to me because I've been reading Goodnight Moon to Hannah each night (albeit in German - gute nacht mond!).  It looked like chick-lit-meets-children's-book and that's cool, I guess, so I read it.  It was also all over Book Expo last week; galley copies seemingly everywhere I looked.

Good God, it was awful.

Can I just say, that this was one of the worst books I have read in a LONG time.

I hate it when a book is so perfect and glossy that there's absolutely nothing that can be real about it.  The main romantic interest, Gavin, admits that he's in love with June on like their third date.  His favorite movie is The Princess Bride.  He gave up law to go to culinary school and become a chef, and he owns the italian cafe Right Next To The Bookstore that June inherited.

June has this estranged sister.  There's all this backstory about how much Amy hurt her.  She runs into Amy while on a date with Gavin, and won't even talk to her.  A week or two later we learn that Amy is dying of cancer, and she's also pregnant, and due, like, any minute (and she'll probably die soon after because she can't be on meds while pregnant).  There's this touching hospital reunion.  So wait.  Let me get this straight.  June just ran into her sister, and didn't notice that she was deathly ill?  And pregnant?


Another woman is described as being "middle aged".  When you work out the math, she's like 70.  She must have had a lot of work done to be middle aged at 70.

The whole thing is just shoddy and full of errors like that, and it drove me crazy.

This chick has a ton of positive reviews, so I guess I must be missing something.  But either way, I'm going back to the Saxon Stories series from Bernard Cornwell.  Vikings invading Wessex and Mercia (Side Note: the only time I ever heard the word Mercia before learning British history was in the beginning of Monty Python and the Holy Grail when Arthur says that he has ridden his horse since the snows of winter covered this land, through the kingdom of Mercia, blah blah... I have a hard time thinking about Mercia now without snorting).  Alfred the Great, before he became The Great.  My hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, has some Danes to kill!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Throwback Thursday to the Webster Apartments and 2003

I've been traveling a lot lately; to BookExpo in nyc and then to visit my family (sans baby) in Pennsylvania.

In New York I stayed at the New Yorker on 34th and 8th, a block over from where I used to live at 34th and 9th at the Webster Apartments.  

The Webster, I was pleased to see, has a historical marker outside on the street.  And it deserves it.  It's a magical awesome place.  Started by the Webster family (of dictionary fame) the Webster Apartments opened as a women's residence about 150 years ago when there was an influx of single women working in the fashion district, and in stores like Macy's. 

So they started this women's residence where single women could live in midtown, close to work.  Now it's a non-profit.  I lived there in 2003.  I was 26.  I paid $200/week, which included 2 meals a day.  It was the most amazing experience.  There were no boys allowed anywhere besides the first floor and dining room.  My dad had to have a security guard to come see my room on the 7th floor (though in fairness that was largely because they needed to warn the girls running around from the shower in their towels).  

The first floor had a library with a huge fireplace, large sitting room, garden sitting room (lots of glass looking out on the gardens), a piano room with plenty of room and a ballet barre for dancers to practice, and these bizarre entertainment rooms for single women to entertain their gentleman callers.  They were in a hallway, about 8 or so of them, closed on three sides but open on the main hallway side (no funny business or unwanted pregnancies) and each had a sofa, armchair, and coffee table.  There was always a demand for the last one in the row because the chances of someone passing by and catching you mid-make-out-session were low.

The rooms were small, but functional.  They had a single bed, chair, desk, dresser, sink, and closet.  One
large window.  They were cleaned each week as part of the deal.  

We also had an amazing roof garden with panoramic views of midtown. I used to go up early in the morning to meditate and write in my journal and watch the sun come up over the river..

My best memory of the Webster was during the 2003 East Coast blackout.  We all slept up on the roof because it was so damn hot.  They made us peanut butter sandwiches and juice boxes because there was no electricity or water.  I felt so taken care of,  It was always like stepping back in time - you'd be bustling along 34th street, fighting your way through commuters and tourists, the wind whipping through the canyons, and suddenly you'd step into this oasis of peace where they would call you Miss Buettner (that was my name then) and ask me what kind of soup I wanted.  

I have a rule.  Hannah is allowed to live in New York if she lives in the Webster.