Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Week in Books: More Bernard Cornwell

In among all the angst associated with us losing our building that Jonathan built last year, I've been immersed in the adventures of Uhtred of Bebbenberg, which has been a lovely distraction.  I've been staying up past my bedtime to see what adventures he'll have next.

The whole premise of the Saxon Tales series is based on Uhtred, who was born Saxon, but in book 1 the Vikings start their invasions, and while they are capturing York, Uhtred's father dies in battle.  Then his uncle usurps Uhtred's inheritance and he was captured by the Danes.  And he was raised Viking.  So when the Danes push south through Mercia (the present day Midlands) and capture East Anglia and Cent, there is just one Kingdom left; Wessex, led by a young and inexperienced king, who would become Alfred the Great.
Throughout the series we see Uhtred torn between his loyalties.  On one hand, he loves the Danes who raised him like a son and trained him to be a great warrior.  He loves their gods, and he loves their lifestyle.  On the other hand, he's a Saxon, and Alfred is his king.  And, what he really wants is to go back and capture Bebbenberg from his thief of an uncle. And what his king, who now respects him above all other warriors (while also keeping him on a tight leash because he questions Uhtred's loyalty) wants is to unite all the English speaking kingdoms into a united England, and repulse the Danes back to their lands of ice and winter.

The best thing about these books is that all the battles he writes about really happened.  Alfred really did want to unite the kingdoms into England.  He really did build the first navy.  He did constantly have to fight battles to protect his lands and his people, and he had to fortify his towns with burghs (walled defenses).  And we just see all this unfold through Uhtred, a fictional character, and what he wants.  

The writing is compelling and pulls you in.  If I didn't have a daughter, I'd devour them in a long day on a weekend.  Alas, Hannah pulls me away, and I go kicking and screaming to change her diaper, or feed her, or pay attention to her rather than Uhtred (the nerve of her!).  

The first six books were all on Oyster.  The seventh, since it's not backlist, isn't yet, and so that's a good enough reason for me to take an enforced Uhtred break.  

Next up I'm reading the writings of Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic contemporary of Chaucer, whose Revelations of a Divine Love was the first book to be published in English by a woman.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Project Fitness Update and Random Iceland News

So depending on which way I stand on the scale, I'm within 5 pounds of my prepregnancy weight.  If I stand one-footed, towards the front.  I'm trying to remember whether I stood this way on the scale before I was pregnant, because then I'm really comparing apples to apples.  Actually, comparing apples to apples would be seeing how my jeans fit, but it's been so hot, I haven't worn them.  And anyway, my weight has shifted around a lot (towards my belly - boo hoo) so it's still not quite apples.

I need to get back on track with using the loseit app.  I sort of checked out of it because I was eating out and eating new foods, and continually scanning barcodes when Hannah was spilling her sippy cup and throwing oatmeal at me got a bit trying.  But with that said, I have been walking around the lake, three miles, pretty much every day.  It used to be that on a rest day I actually rested.  But now, I just putter along walking slowly.  Hannah really enjoys the walks, it's something to do with her, and it gets us out and in the sunshine, so I continue to do them, even on days when I'm beat, but just slowly, listening to my audiobook in one ear.  It's still good exercise, even if I'm not racing myself; pushing that stroller with her in it is about an extra 40 pounds, up and down the hills.  Not too shabby.

So that's the news on fitness.

In other random news, Iceland just had their first fatal police shooting.  This is why I love Iceland.  The whole country has never had a fatal police shooting until now.  It's sad, but it's still a pretty great testament to how awesome Iceland is.  I can't wait for us all to go back there, with Hannahbear.  And spend longer than two days.  Fingers crossed it could be next summer.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Last year, J built a gorgeous home office for me.  We were expecting Hannah, I needed a place to work, and he wanted a building project.  So he leveled out a 12x16 area in the back yard, which took a lot of digging, concrete and bricks to make a retainer wall (since our backyard is a huge hill, so the home office is on much higher ground than our house), and got to work.  We got giant windows from a guy in Fresno.  We got floors at Ikea.  The whole thing was, and is, an awesome space to work.  It looks out over the trees, and in the winter when it snowed, it was so cozy up there, watching the world turn white.  Plus, as an added bonus, we put cats up there once Hannah was born.

Everything was great.

Except.

We didn't get a permit for it.


No big deal, everyone told us.  You don't need to permit that.  If you ever sell the house, they'll just permit it then.  The son of the guy who owns the house next to ours (and is rarely there - it's a vacation home for him, and we've seen him twice in 7 years), and is a contractor, told us that as long as we got along with our neighbors, it was fine.

So apparently in April, the owner wanted a home equity loan on the house, and sent an assessor up, unbeknownst to anyone.  We still had construction debris in his driveway (again, the son told us it was ok), and our Jeep was parked there, and the home office violated setback laws.

The guy calls the County, and they came out in mid June.  The code enforcement officer saw how many cats we had, also a no no.  Plus, the cat house Jonathan built in 2011, on our deck (which was there when we bought the house) is apparently on his property.

We were given 30 days to tear down the cat house, rehome 8 cats, and get a building inspector out to see what to do about the home office.  So we spent most of the next three weeks frantically finding homes for all the cats (successfully, thanks to a wonderful cat sanctuary on the mountain that was able to take the ones we couldn't find homes for), and then J spent a week tearing down the shed.  We had a brief respite when we sold the Jeep, and were waiting for the inspector to come.

He came today.  And the home office needs to come down in 2 weeks.  Apparently the inspector was heartbroken telling us.  Told Jonathan it was a gorgeous building,   And we could have tried to drag it out, but then he probably would have made a giant fuss, and forced a lien on our house.  We just want it to be over with, so we're tearing it down.  Well, Jonathan is.  I'll be working part time the rest of the week so that he can have the afternoons free to deconstruct.

It was strange, going up there today while Hannah was napping.  All the furniture was out, and he was ripping up the floors.  When I was pregnant, I used to sit there with him and read while watching him build.  The night before we had Hannah, I was up there reading magazines on my ipad, and I posted on facebook that I was craving whoopie pies.

Now it's deja vu all over again, only I'm not pregnant, and the house is coming down, not going up.

Lessons Learned:
1) get a permit on everything.  It's not worth it to try to cheapen out and risk having to tear down your work.
2) see above.
3) even if your neighbor is an asshole, if you have a permit, they can't do anything.
4) move away from the assholes

So we're taking this all as a big sign that it's time to move back to Pennsylvania.  It's been on our minds for a while, but after this, I just feel like the rug got pulled out of us so suddenly, and I don't feel safe here anymore.  The neighbor was up the day before the County came, and he stormed up our steps ranting and swearing, and called J a "fucking degenerate" while I was feeding Hannah 3 feet away.  Classy.  Oh, and he's a licensed firearms dealer.  Good times.  Out of nowhere, we had to get rid of our cats under pressure of them being taken away by animal control, and pieces of our home were coming down.

I'm officially over this mountain, and California in general.  We're going back to PA next year.  Where there's history.  And people don't drive quite as crazy.  Now we're in Full Speed Ahead on this move.  Doing it with a toddler is going to be interesting.  The fun is starting with pulling down this building, and on Saturday I have a table at a local flea market, where we're starting to get rid of our stuff.  I've become much more ruthless.  "Do I really want this," has become "do I want to move this across the country."  Much easier to say no to that.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Perfect Crime of the 1870's

I've been reading The Men Who United the States by Simon Winchester, a history of the US told through the elements of wood, metal, water, fire, and air, which is an interesting lens through which to view history.  The wood chapter, for example, was all about when wood was the primary material; the homes the early colonists built, the boats they used to explore, right up to the Lewis and Clark expedition, which did truly unite the states in ways they never could have imagined.

The metal chapter had a story in that I've never heard before, the Great Diamond Hoax of 1872.  So two guys walk into a bank in San Francisco, and they say they want a safety deposit box.  They have a bag of jewels, and they say that they found them all in some land, they won't say where, but the jewels are so plentiful that you can scrape your boot, and hit amethysts, rubies, and diamonds.  They're just everywhere, just waiting to be picked.

Of course all the prospectors in San Francisco want to know more.  They had the jewels appraised, and even Tiffany got in on the action saying they were real and valued those stones at $150k.  People say they want to see this magical jewel field, and so the guys take people, blindfolded, to the spot.  Eventually a company is formed to prospect for more of the jewels once geologists verify that the jewels are real and the land is really full of them.  The two original prospectors, Philip Arnold and John Slack become original shareholders of the company, and their shares are worth $300k each.

Eventually, word of all this gets to Clarence King, a government geologist, who smells a rat.  The probability of all these jewels being in the same spot is so rare, he just can't believe it.  He goes to SF, asks one of the geologists who verified the field of diamonds and jewels was real.  The guy said he traveled for a day and a half by train, and then by horse for 2 days.  Everyone had assumed that the field was in Arizona, but King looked at railway line timetables, and guessed that a day and a half by train would put them somewhere in present day Wyoming or Utah or somewhere around there.  He got all Sherlock Holmes and asked about what the weather was like, trying to figure out whether the guy had gone across the Rockies or not.

The one distinguishing landmark the geologist had remembered was a dome shaped mountain.  He also thought that they had traveled south from the railroad station.  King guessed that the station was in Wyoming, and went there.  Sure enough, the station managers reported that there had been a rush of activity at the same time the men were having everyone come out to see the diamond field.  King traveled south by horse, and saw the dome shaped mountain.  He eventually found the field, and the jewels.  And he saw that they had all been planted.

Turns out the guys had bought $35k worth of cast-off jewels in Brussels and London and planted them there, literally digging the holes and burying them.  Meanwhile, back in SF, the two prospectors decide that running a company isn't for them, and they'd like to cash out and go back to a quiet life of prospecting, please.  So they get their $300k each, and go back to Kentucky.  Eventually the whole scam comes out, and people lost a crap-load of money.  The guy who owned the bank in SF wound up eventually committing suicide and his body was found floating in the bay.

The story of the planting, the swindling, and the eventual way it was solved needs to be made into a film; seriously, I have no idea why this isn't a movie yet.  It's freaking fascinating!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The bipolar chronicles: Learning to Give Myself some Grace

Some of you know that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in early May.  I thought I was just dealing with a nasty case of post partum depression, and then I saw another specialist, and he put it together that since bipolar disorder runs in my family, all the stress made it completely flare up on me.  Good times.  So since then I've been on three meds - Lamictal and Seroqual, which help the bipolar mood swings, and Xanax, which helps the anxiety I get.

I think it's ironic that I tried so hard to be med-free during pregnancy and delivery, and now I'm sort of making up for lost time.  I try to do everything you're supposed to do - meditate, exercise every day, do yoga, etc etc.  Sometimes you just need a little extra help, I suppose.

Anyway, I've been thinking lately about how there are a lot of times when I want to crawl into bed and completely avoid life, and all the demands that it has of me, for several hours.  Every day.  I hate facing disappointed people, and being a working mother, I seem to be surrounded by disappointed people.  Hannah's upset because I can't play during lunch.  Boss is upset that I didn't get something done that I said I would.  Friends upset because I never email or facebook.  Husband upset because I'm a bad wife who doesn't pay enough attention to him.  Quicken Loans upset because I decided not to refinance with them.  And on and on it goes...

I remember once about 10 years ago I was producing The Vagina Monologues for V-Day - where Eve Ensler lets you produce the play without paying royalties as long as all the proceeds to go charity - and I was doing it in my hometown of Lancaster PA while living in NYC.  The whole thing had a massive implosion at the end, largely due to me not paying enough attention.  When I showed up to the dress rehearsal, I was literally accosted by actresses upset that they couldn't get tickets in advance, and a director upset that his name was spelled wrong, and a venue upset that their phone number was given out inappropriately, and on and on and on it went.

After all the complaints had been dealt with, and I had apologized and admitted my many shortcomings as a producer, I was having coffee with a dear friend who told me, "heather, if any of this starts up again tomorrow, you just need to say, 'I'm sorry, yesterday was complaint day, and you clearly missed it.  I just can't hear your complaint today.  Maybe next time.'"

It was a good lesson.  There are things I can deal with.  There are things I'm responsible for.  And sometimes I just need to let people down.  And that's ok.  People let me down regularly.  Nearly every day someone doesn't do their job properly and that impacts my world and my job.  We're all just humans.  I can cut them some slack, and I can cut myself some slack.  No, hubby, I'm sorry, I can't listen to xyz now, I need a bubblebath.  Maybe tomorrow.

I can't imagine myself talking like that on a regular basis; I'm a pleaser and I like to be useful and make people happy.  But in the meantime, it's adding a huge amount of pressure to my life, while also making me pissed off at the other people who don't adhere to my standards, and therefore it makes us all miserable.

After all, I do live in California.  You'd think I was better at chilling out than I am...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Old Music Thursday: Ensemble Cinquencento and the Hapsburgs

If any of you are into early music, and you have sirius radio, there is a wonderful program, which I'm sure I must have mentioned before, called The Millennium of music, on Symphony Hall, channel 76, at 11am eastern/8am pacific on Sunday mornings.  I generally catch it when I'm on my way to the lake.  The host, Robert Aubry Davis, has a wonderful voice and a passion for early choral music (he started a channel on XM called Vox, which was cancelled when Sirius bought XM - their loss).  I always learn something new on his program, or discover a new composer to start a love affair with.

This week the program was on the Ensemble Cinquencento, and their new album, Amorosi Pensieri.  They are a German group who have focused largely on sacred music of the Renaissance, but with this new album, they are turning towards more secular music from the Hapsburg Court.

The Hapsburg Monarchy ruled the area around what we would think of as Germany or Austria from the end of the 13th century until WWI ended, which is an amazing lineage.  But their heyday was in the Renaissance, when they were often elected to be the Holy Roman Empires, and they had a vibrant court in Vienna and Prague, and they were everywhere; taking turns ruling Spain, the Low Countries, you name it.  They were the major force of the Renaissance, and they had a court that matched their vibrancy, supporting dozens of composers and artists.

If you're interested in this kind of music, Hyperion, a label out of the UK, has an amazing selection, which is now available via download.  This particular album is here: http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/find.asp?f=Amorosi+Pensieri&vw=dc

Or, you can get a taste of the music with this complete album of Philippus de Monte, a famous sacred and secular composer who was a shining star of the Hapsburg empire.  I'll definitely be adding these albums to my playlists.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Writing about Reading: Amazon Kindle Unlimited

Last week Amazon announced they were also entering the ebook subscription service, which I wrote about previously, by starting Kindle Unlimited.  The new service is a direct competitor to Oyster and Scribd, and while I love the promo video, that's about the only thing I love about it.

Here's the thing; Amazon is quickly turning into a Company Town.  They boast 600,000 titles (more than the 400,000 and 500,000 on Scribd and Oyster, respectively), but the thing they don't say is that most of those are from their own Amazon publishing division, and they don't have any of the Big 5 (Scribd and Oyster each have 2 of the Big 5, including HarperCollins who publishes my current Uhtred of Bebbenberg Saxon Stories from Bernard Cornwell).  And it doesn't look promising that any of them will come on board, with the recent Hachette contract negotiations stalling the way they have.  The one thing they have that the others don't is some audiobooks (the professional narration that comes with some ebooks) and audiobooks seem to be taking off a lot recently (Amazon owns Audible.com, too).

It's not surprising that they've taken this step - they've long had the Kindle Owners Lending Library where Kindle Owners can "borrow" one book a month.  How that will be affected by Kindle Unlimited remains to be seen.

Maybe Amazon is betting that people will publish their books on Amazon, make them available through the Kindle Unlimited Service, and maybe they can either force the Big 5 to work with them, or just circumvent them all together.  I'm all in favor of competition, and I think publishing companies are going to have to prove their worth much more than they ever have before, but that's where my agreement with Amazon ends.  Replacing one giant behemoth of a company with another doesn't seem to be that great for Authors or Readers either.

I'm curious as to whether this will affect normal kindle ebook sales (I'm betting not, at least not right away, since they don't have the Big 5) and how the kindle bestseller lists will be affected (apparently they are already being affected since "checkouts" are counted towards bestsellers).

I always tend to root for the scrappy little guy.  In the Amazon/Hachette dispute, I'm on Amazon's side.  Amazon vs Oyster and/or Scribd, though, is a different story, and though I've signed up for my 30 day free trial of Kindle Unlimited, I'm not giving up my Oyster account yet.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Not Piss Me Off When Flying This Summer

I went up to San Mateo today for a meeting about the future of our ebook project, with our partner library, Contra Costa County.  It's all good; just some restructuring and redefining roles after some departures from CCCL.  But the bad news was that I had to travel in the summer time.  I think most people who fly often will agree that summertime travel sucks.  So many badly dressed people who have no clue what they're doing.  So many people who are unprepared to go through security.  So many children who are also clueless because they are traveling with clueless people.

There should be a lane just for frequent travelers.  Oakland used to have that lane, but it was on the honor system, and the queues were always shorter, and so people took advantage of it and you'd see 75 year old grandparents in pink cotton capri sweatsuits trying to figure out where they last saw their license, and if maybe they dropped it at church bingo last week.  Meanwhile I'm standing with my laptop out of the bag, shoes off, liquids ready, waiting for Myrtle to fish through her stack of Depends for her wallet.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Depends per se.  In fact, I wore them for a good 2-3 weeks after Hannah was born.  I still think how awesome they are when I sneeze and sort of pee my pants.  But seriously.  Get your damn license out before you get in line.

And for the love of God, do not wear capri sweatsuits.  To start with, anyone under like 5"9' should not be wearing capri pants, period.  Very few people can pull them off.  They break up the line of your leg at the widest point of your calf.  And do not ever wear a velour jumpsuit.  Just don't.   If I see you in an airport in a velour capri sweatsuit, I will put on a very smug look, and make snarky comments about you.  Which I did about the woman herding two children to a dance competition this morning.  She had clearly spent hours on her look.  Her toenails matched her shirt.  Her sandals matched her bag.  And she had overhairsprayed the worst short hair style I've ever seen.  She put way too much effort into looking like something off of that Toddlers and Tiara's show.

You don't see shit like that in airports during the rest of the year.  It's mostly business people who are wearing business attire.  People who are in a rush to get somewhere, have a productive meeting, and get home.  And do it looking somewhat professional.

Next, have your damn shit together before you get in the security line.  Seriously people, it's not that hard.  You need your license, or passport if you're traveling internationally.   Then, once you get past the security person who checks to make sure that you're on a flight today, you do some fast emptying of stuff, which is much easier if you plan ahead.  You put your liquids in a bag.  You take the bag out.  If you have a laptop you take that out.  You take off your shoes.  If you're a man, you have a little extra work because you have to take off a belt.  I know, for some men this might just push you over your cognitive limits, but if you practice at home, it's not that bad.  Empty your pockets.  Take off your jacket.  Put them all in the nice little bins.  Boom, done.

Next, after you go through the scanning machine, please don't stand on the other side of the xray machine getting your shit together.  They have chairs and benches for that.  You may not realize this, but you're holding up the rest of us, who want to get past you to collect our stuff that is piling up coming out of the xray machine.  Please.  Just get your stuff, and go.

Now, we're in the airport.  We need to check the gate that our flight is leaving from.  It's not rocket science.  You don't need to stand ten feet away from the monitors blocking the aisles for the rest of us who need to navigate around you like a stone blocking a creek (bring your glasses if you do!).  You know where you're going.  Look for that city.  Then you know what time your flight is.  Find it.  Done.

Please do not carry giant quilted bags that include pillows stuffed inside for a 45 minute flight.  People, overhead space is precious.  You don't need your damn pillow.  You aren't going to sleep anyway.  You know you aren't.  You're way too excited to sleep.  I can tell.  I was behind you in the Starbucks line wondering why the hell you were getting even more caffeine.

Ok, cell phones.  I don't care what cousin Harry did to Aunt Joan, and if she's going to be at the family reunion or not.  I know you're hard of hearing, so you think everyone else is, and consequently you scream.  Stop that.   I'm thinking about my meeting.  Not your reunion.

Children.  Look, I get it.  I've traveled with Hannah, once to New Zealand.  It's a bitch.  And in general, I don't have much of a problem with children if their parents are being responsible about them, and watching them.  I'm not their jungle gym.  If they try to go through my bag, like the three year old in Oakland did today, and you don't stop them, I swear to God, I will smack them for you.  I don't believe in hitting my child.  But yours is fair game.   A little bit of planning goes a long way.  Have some toys.  Have some snacks.  There are literally hundreds of articles on how to travel with little ones.  Google them and read them.

Car rental counters:  I don't care if you're from Philadelphia, and neither does the lady behind the counter.  Look, I hate to be harsh, but nobody here cares.  Really, they don't.  It's great that you're excited to see the Pacific Ocean, and I hope you have a great time doing that.  But I'm trying to get to a meeting, and I'd like to not have to race across the San Mateo Bridge to get there, so can you please hurry your story up a little bit because the lady behind the counter is wearing a fake smile, and she's too polite to tell you to shut up.  I'm not.

Look, the Soup Nazi had a very efficient system going.  And during most of the year, those of us who travel for work a lot abide by a list of unspoken rules, and we all get along efficiently.  In the summer it all goes haywire, and I really hate it.  So until they get airports and planes specially made for frequent travelers, have some respect for those of us who do this all the time.  This may be your vacation, but this is our life.  We know this airport like we know our own home.  You're in our space now, and you should have some respect.

That is all.



Monday, July 21, 2014

Project Fitness Update

Really quick update tonight because I need to wake up at 4:30 tomorrow for an early flight up to San Francisco (though one perk of having a baby is that I'm completely on this morning-biased schedule and regularly get up at 5:45 anyway, so 4:30 doesn't seem as early) but this week was a lot better.  I credit it to hiking the three miles around the lake every day without fail, sometimes twice a day (if Hannah is really fussy).  I'm getting a lot faster.  It's a three mile trek around the lake, with lots of hills, and in my heyday of 2012, I could do it in about 36 minutes.  

With pushing a stroller it's a lot harder, having to navigate the hills and keep her from tipping over where the banking is weird.  Plus I was massively out of shape when I started again with her.  In the beginning, with the stroller, I did it in an hour and ten minutes.  Now I'm down to about 50 minutes.  Still a far cry from the high point, but fast enough so that J was impressed with my ability to push her up a steep hill, and not need to stop for breath along the way when he came along with us on Saturday.

I'm also really getting in the habit of not eating that much.  Now that I'm becoming mindful of what I'm eating, I'm realizing that I was just shoving stuff into my mouth before without even thinking about it.  A cookie there, a bagel here, some cottage cheese with blueberries now, and some chocolate in a few minutes.  That being said, I still need to work on finding other ways to deal with stress besides eating.  Today, for example, Hannah decided that, even though she was super tired, she wasn't going to take an afternoon nap.  Which led to her being fussy and totally unable to keep happy.  I had been at it for about 2 hours, and J ran an errand so I was alone with her.  She didn't want to be in the walker.  She didn't want to be in her safe play space (behind the gates).  She didn't want to go on my back and go for a walk.  She didn't want to eat.  She didn't want to play in the high chair.  I was running out of ideas.  And so I ate.  Cookies and cream ice cream, three spoonfuls of chunky peanut butter (choosy mom's choose Jif) and a spoonful of cool whip.  Yep, that was dinner.  In between her wails.  

It kind of makes me scared to step on the scale tomorrow, but I'll deal.  It's a new day tomorrow.

Granted, it's a day in which I'm going to walk past an Auntie Anne's pretzel stand in the Oakland airport.  But it's a new day nonetheless.  And maybe tomorrow I won't stop at the Auntie Anne's pretzel stand when we land.  Fingers crossed.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Week in Books: Island of the Lost

Another fantastic Oyster find, I devoured Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the End of the World by Joan Druett this past week.  It's a true story about two simultaneous shipwrecks on Auckland Island in the 1860's (though they never met each other, being on opposite ends with a mountain range in between them).

Auckland Islands is an archipelago south of New Zealand, so they are sub-antarctic.  The main inhabitants are seals, during their mating season, and when the calves are very young.  There are also some edible roots, and some mussels and other bits of seafood.  So really, it's not a place where you want to be shipwrecked.

The first shipwreck, the Grafton, was in stark contrast to the second, which arrived about 8 months later.  The first was made up of five men who excelled in teamwork and problem solving.  One of them, a Frenchman named Francois Raynal, actually managed to build a forge with stuff they salvaged from the wreck, and was able to make a mold for nails.  They were shipwrecked in summer, so had some time to build a cozy cabin with a fireplace, make some nice beds, use seal blood for making ink to write journals, and use salt they salvaged to salt meat enough to last them through winter.  They had a lifeboat they could use for hunting, worked amazingly really well together, and managed to thrive in their environment, coming up with one plan after another for escape.

The second, the Invercauld, had 25 men and wrecked on the other side of the mountain.  Six of them died right away, leaving them with 19.  They wound up splintering apart into groups, one of which may have resorted to cannibalism.  The captain completely lost touch with reality, and had a pretty major freakout. The officers pulled rank on the regular sailors, one of whom seemed to be the only one with any brains in the bunch.   It was a complete contrast with the first group, which had such a strong bond.  This group was losing people left and right, and not seeming to come up with any ways to make shelter or find food.

Their story was gripping.  I figured they had to have figured out a way to get off, or be rescued, because the story talks about testimony later on, but I had to keep reading to find out the way they escaped.  It was fascinating reading about the strength of humanity when pushed up against the wall.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Goodbye to the Monster Jeep

In the fall of 2010, on October 5, we bought this Jeep.  We bought it because we were due with Baby T in February, and we didn't want to risk being up on the mountain, and me going into labor, with only a Chevy Aveo to get us to the hospital in a snowstorm.

I would lose Baby T exactly a week later.  I was already feeling sick and fighting off the infection that would eventually send me into early labor.  We got the Jeep from a guy up above Palmdale, out in the desert.  We drove up together, and I spent the hour or so while Jonathan checked it out talking to the kids of the guy who owned it.  My belly was already showing, and they asked me questions about being pregnant.

We drove home, and stopped at Charlie Brown Farms on the 138, a farm stand tourist attraction on the east side of Palmdale, halfway to Hesperia.  Jonathan got dinner - they have a giant menu with everything you could ever want, and more.  I wasn't feeling great - was tired from the long day, and also cold and shivery - and I just got a hot cocoa.

The next day, we went out to check out the Jeep, and we both climbed into the cavernous back, where we talked about how much fun it would be to go camping with our kid the following year.  A week later I was in the hospital in shock, having delivered Baby T the night before.   And as of this evening, the Jeep belongs to a nice couple from Yucaipa who are going to use it as the wife's primary car.  I hope they're prepared to spend a lot on gas.  It gets like 7mpg.  But it will go over a snow berm 3 feet high.  It did that five months after we had bought it, in March 2011, when I miscarried the Mustard Seed Baby during a snowstorm, and had to go to the hospital.  They'd plowed the road, but the berm was high, so Jonathan drove over it while I stood on the street and waited, not wanting to get jostled around.

I got an email the other week from a girl who had lost her baby in May, and found my blog.  She wanted to thank me for writing about Baby T, and tell me how it gave her comfort.  I wrote back to her and told her what she could expect from the future.  Four years later, after years of infertility, it still hurts, but you just get used to it.  It hurts every day, and not just because I miss my boy, who would be almost 4 now, but because the last time I was truly and innocently happy was that day when we sat in the backseat of the Jeep and planned our future camping trips.

Now, I'm cautiously happy.  Always on guard for the next surprise.  Because the worst part of the Baby T loss was just how sudden it was, and how much of a surprise it was.  Looking back on it, we felt so stupid for thinking that later losses couldn't happen to us.  We felt so naive and silly for just skipping along being happy when the greatest heartache of our lives was waiting for us, just around the bend.  Now I take a cocktail of anti-anxiety drugs for when things get really bad, and I get so afraid that something awful is going to happen to Hannah that I can't concentrate on anything and need to lay down and take deep breaths and bury my head under a pillow, hiding from the world (yep, my meds are professionally monitored - don't worry, I'm not self-medicating).  I miss that person I was on October 6th 2010, sitting in the back of the Jeep reading a book while Jonathan washed the windows outside.

I'm glad to be rid of the Jeep because of the memories I have associated with it.  After the loss, Jonathan drove it as his main car for a while, and neither one of us wanted to be without the other for very long, so I went along to his AA meetings, and waited in the truck reading a book.  It meant that there was an extra half hour of driving time that I wouldn't have to be alone.  I spent many hours in the Jeep that fall outside the Presbyterian church, wrapped in a blanket so I wouldn't have to run it for heat, reading ebooks on my phone, waiting for Jonathan, and being heartbroken.

So farewell Jeep.  I kind of hate you, and I kind of love you at the same time.  But either way, I'm glad to be rid of you.  Time to clear out the old.  Lots of clearing of the old going on lately.  It's emotional, but necessary.  We're getting ready for the new, and it's exciting.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Old Music Thursday: The Fasch's

Everyone who has studied even a smidgen of music has heard about the Bach clan.  Johann Sebastian and his son Carl Philipp Emanuel (known as C.P.E. to increase his street cred).  There's also the Strauss's, another prolific musical family.  One lesser known family of musical note (ha ha, note, get it?) are the Fasch's.

Johann Friedrich was born in 1688 in Buttelstedt Germany.  He studied in Leipzig (where the great Johann Sebastian was working, too, and, incidentally, the hometown of my dad) and wrote a prolific amount of concertos, cantatas and symphonies.  The music he wrote was never printed in his lifetime, and he's largely forgotten today, though at the time he was highly regarded by his contemporaries.  Johann Sebastian Bach actually made copies of some of his manuscripts to preserve and study them.

His most popular youtube offering is his trumpet concerto, below, which seems to show up on any anthology of trumpet music produced.  There was a great album from 2013, Overtures in G Minor, D Minor and G Major, with Paul Dombrecht on oboe, that was all Fasch.  Incidentally, this group is becoming a favorite of mine for all their early music recordings.
https://play.spotify.com/album/3zXQXQSItExg1zVVydwfW4

He also appears with one of my other favorites, Telemann, in a lot of Baroque anthologies.

Like the Bach's he gave birth to a musical son, Carl Friedrich Christian who was born when his dad was almost 50, and founded the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, which still exists today as a musical society (which Mendelssohn apparently wanted to become the director of in later years).

So the next time you're at a dinner party and some classical music snob is going on about the talent of the Bach family, you can come right back at them with the talent of the usually-overlooked Fasch's.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Going email nuclear on Verizon

A few weeks ago, in early May, I had the worst.ever.experience with Verizon.  Back in January I tried to bundle my home phone (we'd been using Vonage) with my Verizon internet account because the phone was basically free when I did that.  I've had that account on auto-pay for 7 years, since we've lived in this house, and so I kept it on autopay.  Money kept coming out, the phone worked, everything worked, I was happy.

Until late March when Jonathan started getting emails saying we were going to lose our phone service due to nonpayment.  How can that be, I wondered.  It's on autopay.  I called, and it turned out the stuff was never bundled.  They set up a separate account, and the bill was going to my home address - we live in a rural area and don't get mail at home, so everything has to go to the PO box, and so I never saw a bill.  Since the money kept coming out, and everything worked, I'd never even thought about it.

So they tell me they're going to try to bundle it back, and it will take about 10 days, and the charges will be dropped since it was incorrectly bundled.  Then about 2 weeks later we get another call.  We're losing service tomorrow if we don't pay.  I asked how that could be, because the first person said she was going to bundle it properly.  No, the guy said, she can't bundle it because it was on a financial hold.  You can't do anything with a financial hold on.   So he takes the financial hold off for 24 hours so I can sort it out.  I call someone else, get bundled, and they even throw in my DirecTv for free, and there you go.  Sorted.  I asked about the charges, and the girl couldn't even find the other phantom account, so she tells me the next time I get a call about it, get the account number and then call her back, and she'll put credits on the account.  I got a call a few days later, got the account number, left a message with the info, and I figure it's all good.

I go to New Zealand.

I come back from New Zealand and everything still works.  When I log into the account online, everything is there properly.  I'm thinking it's all sorted.  Until a week later when I wake up and there's nothing.  No internet.  No phone.  No TV.  Nothing.  I look online, and apparently when the stuff all got bundled, the charges got moved over as well, and even though the account was on autopay for 7 years, they shut off the service.  I paid $400 to get it turned back on, which I shouldn't have had to pay since it was their error in the first place, and I wait.

But that's where the fun begins.  It never came back on.  I called several times through the day and kept being told it would be turned back on in 2 hours.  I wait 2 hours, nothing.  Day 2 comes along, still nothing.  I call again.  They escalate it.  Wait another hour.  Nothing.  I talk to supervisors and managers.  Nothing.  No one seems to be able to explain to me why my account isn't working.  I'm trying to work using my neighbor's wifi, but keep having to call every few hours to check on it.

I talk to customer care people, and customer care supervisors, and it turns out that...wait for it...my account has been completely cancelled due to nonpayment.  No one could see that before?  Seriously?  I paid $400 to get service turned back on, which I shouldn't have had to pay since it was their f-up, and the account doesn't even exist any longer?  WTF?  I talk again to customer care people to get a refund.  No, they can't give me a refund, they say, because it was for services that I had received.  No, it was for services I was mistakenly charged for since you guys f*cked up the bundling.

I'm getting mad just thinking about it again.

Anyway, we finally called Charter, they came the next day, everything got installed, life was happy again.  I cancelled everything with Verizon, and while I was still steamy over it, I just figured I'd move on.

But then I started thinking about it, and about how rude the managers were, insisting that I had to pay the fees that I was mistakenly charged without even looking into it, and how they couldn't even tell that the account had been cancelled, and how I waited for 2 days with nothing working and no one calling me back or giving me any information as to why, and I got really mad again.

So I went email nuclear.  I drafted up an email with my long story, and I sent it to every Verizon executive I could find.  I sent it to the CEO, the COO, the CFO, every person listed on their website as being part of the executive team.  I guessed around to get the email addresses - I looked at some press releases to see what the general formula was - ie first.last@verizon.com - and then tried a few variations.

I sent it to something like 40 addresses, and 7 bounced.  I got a few out of office responses, too.  I'm not sure who all saw it, but that very night I got one response.  The next day I got three calls from different divisions.  The best part of the whole thing was that finally somebody got the situation and didn't just give me the stock "I'm sorry for the experience you're having," line (I wanted to shoot the next person who was going to tell me that) and they really got how frustrating it was, and they actually seemed upset about it.  One woman said, "I was reading your email, and with each new paragraph I was thinking, 'Oh my ever loving Lord,'" so that was cool.

The end of the story is that they are refunding me all the fees I had paid to get the service turned back on.  They saw the bundling error, and they are trying to figure out what happened there (was it a computer glitch or was it a personnel error).  They have listened to the phone calls I made, and have given feedback to the various people who were really rude (Dianne, the collections supervisor, I'm talking to you right now).  I had also passed on the people who were good - Laura in the California call center who finally bundled everything, and Jennifer in billing, who had agreed to give me a partial refund (though I hadn't received it when I sent the email blast).

Also, someone from Verizon wireless called me, and is saving me $50/month off my bill.

So, all told, I'm now a turned around customer, and am pretty happy with Verizon.  The way they followed up, and continue to follow up to tell me the status of the refund, etc., was way above and beyond what I had expected.

The only thing that sucks is that I had to research the executives, research the email addresses, and send that email out to everyone.  I'm guessing most people who have bad experiences with front line call centers wouldn't go to that trouble.  They'd be like I was and just say, "screw them, I'm moving over to Charter," and that would be it.  My email saved me $1000 - the $400 payment and the $600 off my cell phone bill.

I'm going to still stick with Charter since they got everything hooked up so quickly, and I'm happy with them, but I'm so pleased with the way everyone in the executive offices at Verizon responded, and I'll stick with them for my cell phone.

So, in sum, if you're going to do a nuclear email blast on a company, it can pay off.  But just make sure that you really do have a case; it's just not you being pissy because you don't like your bill.  Make sure that you've tried to get it resolved through the normal channels, and this is only the final solution.  And research the executives to make sure you get the right people.  You can usually find executive teams on hoovers (a business and company database) or on their website, or on business databases at the library.  It takes some work and effort to do something like that, but as I saw, it can pay off in the end.

So this is my official Thank You to Verizon for getting back to me.  It's just a bummer that I had to go nuclear on you to get the service, but I'm glad that when I finally did, you took care of it so quickly.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Writing about Reading: Oyster and Scribd

The Oyster Whoopie Pie Truck in NYC outside BookExpo
Because I spend a lot of time reading online publishing news, I kind of thought everyone's heard about Oyster and Scribd, the two main ebook subscription services.  I was recently reminded that most people don't have their head stuck in digital publishing news the way I do, so I thought I'd talk about them here.  I have a subscription to Oyster, so that's the main one I can talk about.  I've actually spoken with the founders of Scribd - a colleague of mine in our ebook project was on a panel with one of them, and they had questions about how librarians handle metadata.  But Oyster gave me free iced coffee and whoopie pies at BookExpo this year, so there my loyalties lie.

So both of these competing services are like Spotify for ebooks (leading me to wonder what the spotify of spotify is...man, that's deep....).  For $9.99 or $8.99/month for Oyster and Scribd respectively, you get access to a huge catalog of 500k or 400k books (again, respectively) that you can read.  You can read one a month, or 20 a month, or 100 a month.  Still the same price.

Oyster first launched last fall, and I used it when I was pumping in the middle of the night.  At the time they just had an iphone app, which I used on my ipad, which wasn't the greatest, but it was ok.  Now they have an ipad app, and they just launched on android and the kindle fire.

Neither one of them has the most current bestsellers from the big 5 publishers, though Oyster just announced a deal with Simon & Schuster (though it's for their backlist mostly, it appears).  The publishers are all wary that these kinds of services are going to cost them sales, so they're dipping their toes in.  That being said, they have great stuff from HarperCollins, Workman, Smashwords, and lots of others.  There's a lot of discoverability in these services with personalized recommendations, and the ability to share lists and the social aspect of reading and sharing  your reading with your friends (though you can opt to read in private mode if you're reading something smutty that you don't want people to know about!).

Oyster's reader is totally wonky, which I kind of hate, especially now because I'm used to it, and so I wind up trying to do the same actions when I'm reading on my kindle app, and it's all very confusing.  You scroll up, which is just weird.  Rather than across.  Like you're reading a scroll or something.  Maybe that was the plan.  Tie it all to medieval scrolls and Gutenberg or something.

There aren't a ton of variations to choose from in terms of font size, etc., though they did just add the option to have night mode with your favorite font.  In a previous version, night mode had its own font, which I didn't like.  Now I can keep my favorite font, and just switch it to night mode so the screen is dark.  You can download up to 10 titles at a time to read offline, which is good for when you're away from home and wifi, like on a long flight.  And there are all the normal highlight, notes, etc., buttons.

What I really love about these services is how I can read books I would never usually try otherwise because it doesn't cost anything more than the subscription fee.  It's much the same affect as being at the library.  The thing is, the ebook library services don't provide that same experience because the main vendors have a one-checkout-at-a-time model replicating the physical world (even our ebook platform does that; it's what the publishers want and understand, with the exception of Workman who are interested in trying unlimited simultaneous use models, and are doing so in North Carolina on a platform there, but that's a different story), so there are waiting lists for most titles.  With Oyster, I see something I like and I can start reading it without putting it on hold.  It provides instant gratification.

I'm definitely getting my money's worth from Oyster, and I've discovered several new authors that I wouldn't have tried otherwise.  If you're a bookworm, these kinds of services are worth a try.  I can't speak to Scribd as much, but I'm sure they offer the same features (if not more - they've actually been around longer, but only just launched their consumer service).  Sure, they don't have the big bestsellers right now, but they have great stuff (I've had the experience several times of buying a book - like Bernard Cornwell - from Amazon, only to see it show up on Oyster - new note to self...always check Amazon wishlist against Oyster first!).

And while you don't own the books, you don't "own" any ebooks, unless you break the DRM, which is illegal.  Amazon can your ebooks back at any time if they find you violated the terms of service or something.  It's a philosophical sort of question, but I'm much more getting into having access to something, even if it means paying each month for that access, than having ownership of it.  $9.99/month for access to millions of songs or 500k books doesn't seem that bad a deal.  Sure, it's often free at the library (and I'm biased and need to put that in there) but again...instant gratification.

So I'm an Oyster fan.  Sometime I'm going to have to try Scribd, just so I can compare easily.  Until then, if you ever want an Oyster invite, get one from me so I get a free month!  Shameless plug, but there you go.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Project Fitness Update

It's Monday, which means I don't have to think about what to post because I always try to do my Fitness Project Update on Monday's.  This week was poopy.  That's all I can say about that.

I'm still using the LoseIt app, and I even earned a badge for logging my weight every day for 2 weeks or something like that, but I'm still pissed off because I gained like 2 pounds this week.  It's those damn pretzel bites.  Screw them.  Stupid pretzels.  But mmmmm they were so good.  Not worth 2 pounds, though.

So I'm trying to remember that it's not what you do with success but with adversity that shapes your character.  Blah blah freaking blah.

Anyway, Hannah and I now regularly walk at the lake twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Pushing a stroller around our mountain trail is no small feat, and I'm building a lot of muscle from that.

I'm still crappy at drinking water.  I wish there was something else I could say about that.  I add Mio drops, but that doesn't seem to actually count towards water, then.  I don't know.  There are "plain water" Nazi's who say it doesn't count if you add flavor.  I think that it's probably better than diet coke, to which I have a serious addiction.

Anyway, I'm plugging along.  Logging my food.  Logging my weight.  3 steps forward, 2 steps back.  Can you tell I'm a little disheartened?  If I'm going to be hungry all the time, I at least want the scale to budge.  Sad face time :(

We'll see what happens this week.  Maybe it was a blip.  Maybe it was the full moon.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hacking a foody recipe so I can make it with an awake toddler

So last night we were at Applebee's (because we are officially Old People who go to Family Restaurants where it doesn't matter if Hannah cries a little bit, and they have unlimited refills of diet coke) and I saw something in the desserts that spoke to me.  Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel Bites with a cream cheese dipping sauce.  Yum.  But because I'm trying to be off deserts, and also because they were like $8.99, I thought to myself, "self, I bet I could make something like that."

And it's been a while since I've been domestic and tried out new recipes, so I decided to look online and find a cinnamon sugar pretzel bite recipe.

I found this one from some people called Kevin and Amanda, who seem to love cooking, getting excited over food, making gifs of their finished product, having a really great manicure; and they blog-crush on some other cooking bloggers called Two Peas and Their Pod.

They were really, I mean REALLY excited over these pretzel bites.  Like, seriously excited.  It was a group blogging effort with the two peas and the pod people, so there were four of them in a trendy kitchen getting excited over pretzel bites.  The post is really long.  They go into detail about the salted caramel sauce that's way beyond what I cared about, given the fact that I was just trying to satisfy a sweet tooth.

But their recipe seemed easy enough, and so I thought I'd try it at home.

The only thing is, these food bloggers don't seem to have toddlers roaming around in their walkers, trying to find things they can chew on, or digging through your purse when you're not looking trying to eat your lip gloss.  Also, I don't have nearly the kind of kitchen gadgets they have.  I have an espresso machine, a blender, a tea kettle, a toaster oven, and a soda stream.  And that's it.  No microwave (they freak me out).  No fancy mixer.

I was going to try out the recipe adding in my own little touches to make it something that I could do while Hannah was zooming around trying to eat the cat food.

So, going through their recipe, here's what I did:

Yeah, I have an old and new pineapple on my counter.  Don't judge.
"Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes."

Hannah was napping when I started the recipe, so gathering the ingredients and making the dough was easy enough.  Only thing is, I don't have a stand mixer or a dough hook.  And there's no way I'm getting one.  That is just way more of a commitment to domesticity than I am willing to make.  So I stuck it all in a regular bowl.  And mixed it with a spoon.  The way the pioneer women did.

Add the salt and flour and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 3 to 4 minutes. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a flat surface and knead into a ball with your hands.

Again, not using a mixer.  So just did this myself with my hands.  When it looked like it was all combined, I called it done.

Coat a bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towel or foil and place in a warm , draft-free spot until the dough doubles in size, about one hour.

Easy enough, except I covered with a paper towel and put on the stove.  Because I don't know where a draft free spot would be that also wasn't accessible to either the cats or the baby.  

At this point Hannah woke up, so we had lunch and went for a walk at the lake.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bring the water to a boil and add the baking soda.
My messy pulled-apart "bites"
Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a floured surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a rope about 22″ long. Cut the dough into one inch pieces to make pretzel bites. Boil the pretzel bites in the water solution in batches, about 15 at a time, for 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon. Place pretzel bites on a well-greased baking sheet.

Here's where I really cheated.  Hannah was zooming around at this point and ain't no way I had the time or space to roll pieces of dough into a 22" rope and then cut them nice and evenly.  So I just held chunks of dough in my hands, twirled it around so it made a skinny rope, and pulled pieces off that seemed bite-size.

The finished product
Bake the pretzel bites at 425 for 8 minutes, then remove from the oven and immediately place the pretzel bites on a cooling rack. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle the tops generously with cinnamon sugar. You want to do this over a cooling rack and not on the pan you bake the pretzel bites on or else the sugar will stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Then put the pretzel bites back on the first pan and continue baking for an additional 8-10 mins until golden and cooked through.

Again, I don't have a cooling rack.  So my hack for this was to put the egg and water into the original mixing bowl, dump everything in there and pour the cinnamon and sugar in, and then put them all back on the pan, with aluminum foil wrapped around it.  Tear it off, and the pan is like new.  No burning sugar to scrape off.  Easy peasy.  

The finished pretzel bites were yummy, which was the point of the exercise.  Even Jonathan, who's not a fan of sweets, noshed on them all night long.  There was also a recipe for salted caramel sauce, but I realized I had some from Trader Joe's already, so I opened that up.  Cuz why cook when you can open a jar?

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel Bites with Salted Caramel Sauce: it's what's for Dinner.


Friday, July 11, 2014

The Week in Books: The House at Sea's End

One of the things I love about the Oyster eBook subscription service ($9.99/month, unlimited reading of all their books, like Spotify for eBooks - if you want an invitation, email me and I'll send you one that will give you some free time) is how I find new authors thanks to their recommendations.  Elly Griffiths is one of those newly-discovered-thanks-to-Oyster authors.

To be completely honest, I chose this book because of its cover.  The color is my favorite shade of blue.  I thought the font was cute.  I had no idea it was a mystery until I started reading it, and thought, "hmm, this seems like a mystery."  Now I'm in love with Elly Griffiths, and am going to read all her books.

So, Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist in the UK, and she is on secondment with the police force part time, so she's part time at the university and part time with the police.  She helps solve mysteries based on archaeological evidence.  This one started off when four bodies were found in a part of the cliffs that was becoming exposed thanks to erosion.  The guess was that they were German, and were shot and killed during WWII when a German invasion by the sea was a true fear.

Then contemporary people start dying.  At first it's old people whom the police want to question about the bodies because they might have memories of what happened during the war in the little town.  Those deaths don't seem very suspicious.  But then other people start dying, too.  Suddenly there are dead people all around, and Ruth is trying to solve what happened 70 years ago, and seems to be being covered up today.

I'm only recently getting into mysteries; within the past three years or so, since discovering Rhys Bowen, and this series will be a new favorite, I'm sure.  I'm waiting to start the next one in the series until I know I'll have some big chunks of time, because I'm not going to want to stop reading once I get started.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Flashback

When I was 13, I was in love.  I spent the summer fantasizing about my beloved, I wrote letters I would never send him, I talked about him to my mom, and I dreamed about marrying him and having lots of babies with him.  His name was Donnie Wahlberg, and I just realized that I spent all summer 25 years ago with the TV glued to MTV so that when this song came on (this was when MTV played music) I could run into the living room and do the "hangin' tough" arm-swing.

They played at the York Fair that fall, 8th grade, and FM97 announced a contest.  The best sign that read, "NKOTB and FM97 are the best!" would get to go backstage.  I worked for hours and hours and hours on my banner.  I hung it up hopefully before and after the concert.  I didn't get chosen, which is probably part of the reason I'm not Heather Wahlberg right now.

But I did pass a carefully folded love note to a security guard and asked him to give it to Donnie.  I'm sure he did, and to this day, Donnie lives in regret that he couldn't marry the girl who, in poetic bubble letters on pink paper, promised to love him forever, because his flight was leaving and he had to get to a show in some other podunk fair in a place like Zanesville Ohio.  And now he's getting married to Jennie McCarthey.  Oh well.  Life goes on.

Donnie, there's still a piece of my 13 year old heart that will always be yours.  Just so you know.  I can't wait to see who Hannah is crushing on when she's 13.  And to show her this and make her laugh at her dorky mom.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Stupid movies and chastity belts

In the evenings after Hannah goes to sleep, J and I have half an hour of "us" time.  Mostly we play Diablo together, but the past few days we've been watching Robin Hood: Men in Tights in installments.  Suddenly it's 1993, and there are references to Arsenio Hall which I actually understand.  And Carey Elwes is still hot.  The movie is a parody of the Kevin Costner movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, and is silly and goofy and pretty stupid much of the time, but has some hilarity that is worth sitting through the stupid.



One of the things that I'd forgotten about the movie is that Marian has a chastity belt.  I got to wondering whether these things were actually real or not.  I've never read anything about them.  Turns out that not only are they real, and they were used during the Renaissance (so, unsurprisingly, this movie is off with its timeline as it's based in the medieval period) but they are still used today (largely in the bondage scene, but still).

At the time, they were ostensibly used to prevent rape.  But they also made it difficult for women to do anything without getting the key from her patriarch.  Catherine de Medici is supposed to have worn one that was exhibited in Paris.  In later years, chastity belts were actually marketed to young women entering the workforce as a way to ensure that they could easily rebuke predatory advances made by their bosses or coworkers.

There are, in fact, still versions of chastity belts being sold to young women.  Last year a company called AR Wear (stands for Anti-Rape) had a successful indigogo campaign to create shorts that have a steel plate in them, so that when things turn sour after a night of clubbing, you have some extra protection.  They even suggest that parents might want to get them for their daughters.  I can just see the look on their faces at Christmas.

I don't know how I feel about this "chastity belt" shorts thing.  On one hand, I have a daughter who will someday grow up into a young woman, and I know the statistics.  On the other hand, I am going to enroll my daughter in martial arts classes when she is old enough, and teach her how to defend and empower herself without needing to wear steel shorts, which seem like unnecessary weight and discomfort, and a bitch to launder.  It's like the whole thing where if we stop traveling and stop going places, then the terrorists win.  It seems like, if you need to wear steel shorts to go out, then the rapists win.  At the same time, there is something to be said for protecting yourself in advance, and not, you know, going to, say, Iran wearing a USA flag shirt, and talking crap about Islam.

So I have managed to turn a stupid Mel Brooks movie into thoughts about feminism and the history of the chastity belt.  Because I'm a nerd like that.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Celebrating Ice in New Zealand

When I was in New Zealand I picked up a copy of New Zealand Geographic, like our National Geographic only, you know, New Zealand centered *duh* and I've been reading it the past few days.  One of the ads caught my attention.  It was for an event called the New Zealand Icefest, and I thought, "yep, that sounds about right.  A country of 4 million people, in the middle of winter, near the pole, of course they need an icefest."  I imagined that there would be a lot of carving of ice, and things like that.

But nope.  I went to the website and saw that it's really a celebration of Antarctica, and New Zealand's role in Antarctic research.  I had no idea that New Zealand, and Christchurch specifically, played such a role in Antarctic exploration and research.

Shackleton, Scott, and Sir Edmund Hillary all launched explorations of Antarctica from Christchurch.  I had always assumed that it was from South America, as that seems to be the closest tip, and it's true that Shackleton's most famous journey was started from South America.  But many journeys also started from Christchurch.  New Zealand was among the original 12 signatories of the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in Washington DC in  1959 and was the treaty that designated Antarctica as a research continent devoted to peace and learning (it sounds noble, but really I'm betting it's practical.  How can you make war in such a cold climate??).  Christchurch is also apparently home to the International Antarctic Centre (which appears to be a mixture between theme park and aquarium, dedicated to all things penguin and Antarctic), and the US Antarctic program is based there (when they're not, you know, in Antarctica.  They come up for the balmy climate.  Current Christchurch weather is 48 degrees Fahrenheit with 90% humidity and high winds.  Sounds about right).

Moonrise over Antarctica on Midwinter Day. Photo from
US Antarctica Project
I checked out this article from the US Antarctic program - they have an online newsletter called that Antarctic Sun; clever - and as we just celebrated the summer solstice, they celebrated Midwinter Day, which is a hallowed event for them.  Apparently the sun set on March 23.  It won't rise again until September 21.

But back to the Icefest.  There will be keynote speakers, and a chance to video conference with actual people living in Antarctica.  So you can ask them about the weather, about the daylight, or lack of daylight, about Seasonal Affective Disorder, whatever.  You can also learn about penguins.  Everyone in the Antarctic education field seems to be obsessed with penguins.  They are pretty cute.  But still.  Maybe it's because there's no other cute animals on Antarctica.

The Guardian recently published an article about a cook in one of the research stations, who averages making about $16/hour, but all of her expenses are paid, so she gets to pretty much bank that.  She has a blog called, cleverly, Cooking on Ice.   If the idea of escaping from the world (no planes fly in between February and October) you can look for jobs on the Antarctic Connection website, or the USAP itself.   Who knew there was so much action in Antarctica?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Project Fitness Update

It's Monday, which means that I'm doing an update on my fitness project.  My immediate goal, started 2 weeks ago, when I reinstalled the LoseIt app, was to lose 20 pounds, which would put me just below where I was when I got pregnant.  So now, two weeks in, I've lost 2 pounds, but I count that as a victory since last weekend I was in Vegas eating Convention Center food.  So this past week I lost a pound and a half, which makes me happy.

Hannah and I have been doing Mommy Daughter swim classes, which burns a lot of calories.  Something like 400 in the 45 minute session.  That's pretty awesome.

Plus, since Hannah has been acting like General Fusster lately (it's teething issues) we also go for a hike in the afternoons.  So we get swimming in the morning, and hiking in the evenings.  A pretty good combination.  And she is now officially super-mobile, which means that I do a lot of chasing.  A lot. Of chasing.  The two hours from when we get home from our walk to bedtime, which includes supper, bath, getting dressed for bed, last bottle, story, and bed are, without a doubt, the most exhausting 2 hours of my day.  

So I'm getting a ton of exercise lately.  Bummer for me I also like to eat a lot, but the LoseIt app is making me much more mindful of it.  We've pretty much stopped buying bread at the grocery store (a waste of calories).  And tonight J made a tofu dish that normally goes over jasmine rice; I managed to forego the rice all together.  Yay me.

I haven't given up sweets completely though.  Not yet.  I eat three peanut-butter covered malted milk balls a day.  At lunch.  I have limits, and cutting out chocolate completely goes past my limits.

Writing about Reading: new eBook company TotalBooX

In my professional life, one of my roles is as the New Products columnist for Public Libraries magazine, and much of what I wind up writing about are eBook products, since that's where my big interest lies.  I just found this new product that's been around for a while for individuals, and just launched into LibraryLand, so I thought I'd share about it here, too.  Note: this isn't the text of my complete article, so I'm not breaking any agreements of not publishing anywhere else first :)

As if it weren't hard enough to keep track of all the eBook models out there (simultaneous users, one book/one user, pay-per-download, etc,) there's a new vendor on the scene with another potentially disruptive service model. Seemingly aware of the statistics that show that most people do not read an entire eBook, TotalBooX, an Israeli company that just launched into the library space (and sponsored an eBook program at ALA), has a model where libraries pay not just per book, but per actual page read by their patrons. Sounds complicated, but they're committed to making it work for libraries.

One interesting note that differentiates it from other models is that the patron keeps the pages that they've downloaded. If they read an entire book, the book stays on their device “indefinitely.” So patrons can download hundreds of titles, but the library only pays for the pages that the patron actually reads, and those pages stay on the patron's device. A library signs up by signing a usage agreement, and then creating and adding funds to an initial account; the amount is determined by a variety of factors including size. The pricing is as a percentage of the book; so if a reader only reads 10% of the book, the library is charged 10% of the book price.

They currently have about 20,000 titles available for download through some well known publishers including F+W Media, Red Wheel Weiser, Sourcebooks and others. They claim that other partnerships are coming soon. The app for library patrons is available on android and iPads tablets.

The service is available for individuals as well as libraries, and I tried it out on my android phone. One thing that could be confusing is that they have two apps; one for library patrons, and a separate one for the general public. So if my library is a customer, and I use them as an individual, I need to download two apps.

Because I don't know any libraries in my area that are hooked into their system yet, I downloaded the individual app. Incidentally, it took three tries as I kept getting error messages. I'm not on the newest phone, but that still seems to require a certain amount of determination and perseverance from the user.

Once I create an account (I would assume with a library account that this would include entering a barcode and pin), I am greeted with a sadly empty bookshelf, and a message telling me to get books. When I click there, I'm taken to recommended titles. The top recommended titles all seem to do with vampires so I check out the other options.

They have browseable categories, as well as a “Shelves” button, which is a neat touch – there are different subjects, and I can download the entire “Shelf” of that subject, ie Fun Reading, which was created and shared by a librarian. So I could also put together shelves, say with books about the Hundred Years' War, and share that shelf. If I see a shelf that interests me, I download the entire shelf, and again, I'm only charged when I read pages. This strikes me as a sort of “pinterest” for books. There is a Boy Scouts shelf someone created with first aid and survival books. A Vegan Friendly shelf with books on being vegan. I could see a library taking advantage of these tools to create Shelves with local interest titles, or titles that highlight programming in the library, for example.

Even though I do read a lot of fiction, I downloaded a Shelf called “I don't read Fiction.” When I went to My Library, the books were all there. I chose a book on the Vikings, and it downloaded easily enough. Once reading, the controls at the top allow me to go back to the library, go to the table of contents, change the font size (only 2 options, sadly) look at my bookmarks, and add a bookmark. One big thing I missed was the ability to change the background (from the cream/yellow and black text that is the default) or have a Night Mode, but I presume these are advances that may come down the line.

I'm not going to keep the app on my phone - there are just too many eReading apps on my phone, and too many books easily available for me to add one more.  Which, incidentally, brings about a whole philosophical question on the nature of how books and music, which used to be reserved for the learned elite, are now so available that I have something like 6 ereading apps on my phone right now, all loaded with books, or linked to a library account where I can get more (or streaming, like Oyster, so I never run out).  I also have several music apps - Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Prime Music, PC Radio (which links to streams of all the radio stations in the UK - I use it to get Radio 4), and ClassicFM (the UK's pop classical music station). 

That begs the question of how we will value information like books and music in the future, when it is so readily available.  But that's a different subject for a different type of column.  One thing is certain; it makes curation of all these options so much more important.

Favorite Places in England: Golden Cap, Dorset

I regularly read Dorset Life on my ipad.  It's a local magazine all about Dorset, which I first picked up on a trip to Bournemouth a few years ago.  Completely opposite to men who read Playboy "for the articles," I freely admit to reading Dorset Life for the pictures.

In each issue they have a Dorset walk, and some history, and some other fun features.  Right now, they're doing a feature looking at "Dorset's Jurassic Coast - Bexington to Lyme Regis" and a highlight is the Golden Cap.  Incidentally, the Jurassic Coast exposes a continuous sequence of Jurassic, Triassic, and Cretaceous rocks, spanning 185 million years of history.

It's the highest piece of coastline on the south coast (626 feet high), and offers views for miles, which would have been important around 1000 years ago.  The first Viking raid on England (which wasn't really England then, since it was a collection of kingdoms like Mercia, Wessex, etc) was in the 8th century on the Dorset coast, so they probably would have used the high point to watch for Vikings coming across the "narrow seas."

If you head down the western slope, there's a stream called St. Gabriel's Water, and a little upstream are the ruins of the 13th century St. Gabriel's church.  The water goes back into the sea at a secluded beach that was used by smugglers for centuries to bring in contraband goods.

Completely unrelated, other than the viking connection to Dorset, apparently Viking warriors used to file their teeth.  To look tough.  Or have dental bling.  According to skeletons found in a Dorset grave, these guys filed their teeth to have horizontal marks, possibly to scare their enemies.  It just sounds painful to me.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Old Music Sunday: Christopher Simpson

I'm a big fan of baroque music that doesn't require a lot of thought and concentration.  The equivalent of somebody like, say, James Taylor.  He's soothing, and nice to have on while you're reading or something, because he isn't very demanding.  He's going to Carolina and you don't need to know much else other than that.

Composers like Telemann are the same for me.  They don't demand a lot of attention, they are soothing, they give me some nice background noise that helps me concentrate, but they aren't distracting.  Bach cello suites incidentally, have the opposite effect.  There's no way one can concentrate on anything else while they're listening to a cello suite.  I know this to be true because I'm experiencing it right now.  Let's just all pause and enjoy some Bach before we move on, shall we?




Ok, now that that's out of the way...

There are a handful of other composers who are pleasant and - dare I say, nice? - to have on when I don't want to pay attention to them, but still want something on that's not too distracting.  Kind of like some of the baroque ornamentation around rooms in that when you first notice it, it's striking, but after a while it all starts to look alike, and while it sort of adds to the decoration, it kind of blends into the scenery after a while.

My new favorite composer like this is Christopher Simpson, which is a strikingly modern name.  He was born around 1602 in Yorkshire.  His father was a closet Catholic who ran a Catholic theater company (it was dangerous to be a Catholic sympathizer in 1606, but I can imagine that managing a Catholic theater company would be even worse).

He fought in the English Civil War, on the Royalist side, and, surviving the Siege of York, wound up as a tutor to the son of a wealthy family, and started composing.  Most of his surviving work is for viol; he also wrote several books about viol technique, which saw a revival of readership as early music grew in popularity recently.  Here's a playlist on youtube of Christopher Simpson music; and I highly recommend it for whenever you've got some concentrating to do, and want something not too taxing or distracting on in the background.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Random July 4 Fun Facts

So of course this weekend Americans are celebrating our freedom, our independence, our right to eat burgers and hot dogs and march in parades and buy new stuff at the 4th of July sales.  But here are some fun facts about the July 4th holiday that I learned while reading the Bill Bryson book, Made in America (I adore Bill Bryson, for the record, and actually still have a letter he wrote to me in response to a letter I wrote to him, around 2001).

First off, the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was submitted to the Continental Congress on June 28, and they fiddled with it for a few days making some changes that Jefferson didn't really much like.  They finally voted on the idea of Independence on July 2, and that's the date that most people thought would be celebrated in the future.

Interestingly, most colonies early on didn't particularly want to rebel or form a "more perfect union," but rather wanted to get more rights and have their grievances addressed by the King.  It was Thomas Paine who wrote Common Sense in 1776 and got people fired up over independence.  John Adams said that without it, the "sword of Washington would have been raised in vain."  Paine made a habit of inciting revolutions, as he moved to France and wrote Rights of Man in 1791, which had the distinction of also fomenting the proletariat, and then getting him thrown into jail by Robespierre.

Jefferson had to take out some stuff about slavery because the Southern representatives were pissed off about it.  An original draft read, "he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people, who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither."

Jefferson was guilty of plagiarism, probably.  But it's ok.  Everyone copied stuff back then.  George Mason was a representative to the Virginia convention in 1776, and in June he published The Rights of Man, which starts off, "THAT all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

Richard Stockton, a lawyer from Princeton, recanted a year after signing the Declaration of Independence.  He was captured by the British, thrown in jail, and wound up recanting and swearing an oath of allegiance to King George.

Random weirdness - both Jefferson and Adams died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration was adopted.  That's spooky.