Thursday, August 30, 2012

House RulesHouse Rules by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy Jodi Picoult,and this did not disappoint. I actually had it figured out before the end, which I don't generally do (or, I should say, I don't try to do), but I've read enough of her work to figure out what was going to happen.

I read the whole book with my Peeta Mellark District 12 bookmark, so, of course, in my imagination, every male character looks a bit like Peeta. And, don't be fooled by the boy on the cover of the book. I'm not sure why that cover was picked, because the story centers around an 18-year-old autistic kid, Jacob.

I don't know about you, but every time I read about Asperger's, I self-diagnose myself with it. I know I don't have it, but I think we've all had times when we've been in conversations that don't make sense, or hyper-focus on something, or when the world is too loud and we want to hide under a blanket until we can handle it. So at one point, (on page 456), Jacob's father says "I think maybe we've all got something in us that keeps us from connecting to people, when we want to." And Jacob thinks in response, I like the concept: that Asperger's is like a flavoring added to a person, and although my concentration is higher than those of others, if tested, everyone else would have traces of this condition, too.

There are times in the book that are really, really frustrating. I grew up babysitting a high-functioning autistic kid, and was fortunate enough to never witness a full-blown meltdown. But there were rules to be followed, and when they were, everything ran a little more smoothly. For example, I had to tell the kid, it's 7:30 now; in half an hour, at 8 o'clock, you need to put your pajamas on and brush your teeth. Inevitably, he'd get it done before then so he could go back to his show or movie or whatever, but if I didn't give him that time window, and those explicit instructions, getting him ready for bed was a hassle.

Anyway, the book is frustrating because so may people, like the detective and the prosecutor, don't understand that Jacob's mind doesn't work like a normal persons'. People with Asperger's are very literal (I'm very literal, too, but they take it a whole other step further). They don't understand idioms, (for example "raining cats and dogs" means that pets are falling out of the sky). When asked if he understood what it meant to "waive his rights," Jacob's response was to wave his right hand. There were times when I just wanted to yell at them: it doesn't work that way! He can't imagine what it would feel like to be another person. He can't feel empathy or sympathy.

I was also frustrated because I knew they weren't asking the right questions. Jacob wouldn't have lied, but they were picking the wrong things to ask him.

Picoult tells an interesting story that combines forensics with autism, and just enough family chaos to make it real.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Eating happily...inspired by Tracyfood...inspired by Julia Child

About two weeks ago, a friend (whom I've known since 4th grade if you can believe it...from this program we were in called ALPS...which stands for Advanced Learning Program...I guess the "S" should be lower-cased, which really just proves that we have been brilliant and fabulous our entire lives, or at least since 4th grade). I think it's time I just start that sentence all over again. A friend of mine published a blog post in tribute to Julia Child, who was all about eating happily.

Just the other day I had the realization that no matter how good something is for me, if I don't like it, I'm really not going to eat it, no matter how much I think I should. I know that's a super-obvious realization, but as I mentioned above, I'm brilliant and fabulous, and therefore don't have much time for the mundane realities of life.

Except that I'm trying to lose weight. So I've been trying to figure out foods and meals that fill me up without breaking the caloric bank but also leave me feeling satiated. Because it's really the worst when you finish a meal and still have that feeling of not being satisfied. Which is why I try to balance my calories in such a way that I can always end my day with a hot chocolate.

But the other challenge is trying not to be too obsessed with anything. And for someone who may or may not have OCD tendencies, but is totally type-A, obsession is an easy path to dive down. For a short while I was on a Skinny Bitch and Beauty Detox kick, until I realized that I was always hungry, irritable, and all I thought about was food. ALL OF THE TIME.

There are times when a mild obsession makes sense. My sister has celiac disease (she's had it for years--since way before it was trendy to not eat gluten, which BTW, for those not in the know, is a royal pain in the ass, so I don't recommend that you jump on this bandwagon just for the hell of it). Yes, we upend the kitchen for her. Because otherwise she ends up in the ER and my mother moves in to supervise the healing of her baby and my husband leaves me because my family is insane and life as I know it ends, and I'm pretty sure baby penguins are massacred somewhere in there just for good vengeful measure. Because penguins are my favorite and my mother would be THAT mad if I poisoned my sister. Which I have never done (knock on wood) but does nonetheless happen every now and then. Gluten is EVERYWHERE! However, if, for example, you're a normal person and you just don't like tomatoes, I am not upending the kitchen for you--you can put your tomatoes in the tomato graveyard on the edge of your plate like Captain America and I will come save your life from potential tomato zombies (or whatever tomatoes turn into in your fear-of-tomatoes-imagination).

Going back to being obsessed with food, this is a great article that I must have found by way of Tracyfood because I can't think of how else I would have stumbled upon it myself. And I love Insulin Sensitivity Man and his sidekick, Hormonal Disruption Boy. They are my two favorite Action Non-Heroes.

So, see if you can follow my brilliant and fabulous train of thought another step further. I read somewhere that people like stuff that meet at least two out of the three following criteria: fast, easy, and cheap. For example, anything Apple: fast and easy, but not cheap. The article I read this in had nothing to do with diet or nutrition or food in any way, but I thought that for the most part it applies. For example, I don't like carrots. I've tried (I read somewhere else that if you eat something long enough, you taste buds get used to it, and then you'll like it. I tried carrots for MONTHS. Nope. I just don't like them). However, we do have pre-cut baby carrots in my house because they're fast and easy (and low in calories but nutritious). They're reasonably cheap, but not cheaper than buying my own carrots and cutting them, which I am not going to do. BECAUSE I DON'T LIKE CARROTS (which is actually a great reason for me to do it, since I'd get to spend my time stabbing the bastards).

Maybe my fast, easy, cheap idea doesn't transfer well to all food, or maybe it needs some tweaking (for example, most people I know don't love Starbucks coffee, but it's consistent and easy, although not cheap). But if I'm going to eat food that makes me less-than-happy (although not truly un-happy), like carrots, they better be fast, cheap, and easy!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an interesting premise. It's written in a semi-autobiographical style, with exerts from "lost" journals of Abraham Lincoln. This book ties together truth and fiction and offers explanations for mysteries such as the lost colony of Roanoke.

There are parts of the book that are rather tedious, but all in all, it was an enjoyable read.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Small the airport

Last week, I dropped Captain America off at the airport. Our airport is under construction, so in addition to all of the normal nuisances of slow drivers, random stops, and people taking their time getting in and out of their vehicles, there are fewer lanes in which to navigate, making the whole process even more annoying. And it's 5:30am, so no one is a 100 watt bulb yet.

I drop Captain America off, and then try to navigate away from the curb-side lanes and into the driving lanes. Except there's a taxi that's only half in my lane a few cars in front of me. Which stops both driving lanes of traffic. The cab driver finally gets fully into my lane and the lane to my left starts driving. But my lane is just sitting there. I'm not sure if this cab is designed like police cars--you can't let yourself out of the back seat (no, I don't know this from personal experience, but from Reno 911), or if maybe everyone fell asleep, or what the problem is.

On the sidewalk is one of those rent-a-traffic-cop types that populate the arrivals area at airports--always telling people to move their cars and that it's not a waiting zone while the person is clearly trying to greet their brother/mother/grandmother/bff/returning soldier and load the accompanying bags into the vehicle. As if people really want to hang out at the arrivals pick-up zone, you know, for fun.

As luck would have it, though, this particular rent-a-traffic-cop had an ounce of sense, and instead of instructing all of us to move (which we would have been happy to do if we could), he temporarily stops traffic in the left lane to allow my lane to merge in while the taxi took care of whatever their problem was. Then he waved the taxi into a more appropriate lane and allowed both driving lanes to actually drive. It was really nothing short of a miracle.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Vow: True Events that Inspired the MovieThe Vow: True Events that Inspired the Movie by Kim Carpenter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought the movie looked ridiculously cheesy until I read that it was based on a true story. Then I was compelled (which is perhaps the most intelligent sounding over-used word ever) to read the book. I am a sucker for stories of human survival.

The Carpenters are very religious people. Very religious people. I admire people who feel their faith so strongly, but I don't personally share their convictions. So, while it was amazing to read about how Krickitt survived this terrible car accident, it weird for me to read so much about God.

It's odd how terrible circumstances can change the definition of "lucky." Obviously, the entire accident was unlucky, but it would have been even unluckier if circumstances were different. Kim had been driving, but felt ill, and got in the back seat. If he, not Krickitt had been driving at the time of the crash, he would have died on impact because he is so much bigger than she is. She fit in the small space of the crushed roof, and he would not have. Also, they were very lucky that people were on the scene so quickly. We all know that in serious accidents, the time it takes for first responders to arrive at the scene can impact not only the survival of the victims, but also the quality of life that they'll regain afterwards.

Sometimes, it's the strangest things that make you cry. The life-flight nurses stated that the credit for Krickitt's recovery belong to the EMTs first on the scene and the doctors and nurses at the first hospital Krickitt was taken to. The commented that they "just flew as fast as we could" to get her to Albuquerque. I don't know why that moved me so much, but it did.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Split Second (Sean King & Michelle Maxwell, #1)Split Second by David Baldacci
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My library classified this book as suspense, but I wouldn't go that far. I feel like David Baldacci's books aren't literary masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, but I find them really, really enjoyable reading.

This book is your sort of typical law-enforcement caper, with the law-enforcement people being framed, and then they have to figure out how to prove their innocence.

In fact, it was so typical that I was nearly able to predict the outcome. I say nearly because there was one little plot twist I didn't take into account. And not only do I not try to predict endings of books, but I'm actually pretty terrible at it.

Nonetheless, I really enjoy reading Baldacci's books, mostly because they're fast-paced and easy to read.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bridge of SighsBridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is really long. I don't find long books intimidating, nor do I generally get bored by them. However, this story is told mostly, although not entirely, from the perspective of Lucy Lynch, and his style is akin to that of Garrison Keillor's. It's slow moving, detailed, and not un-entertaining. However, there were times when I put the book down for days.

However, the last quarter of the book really made up for it. By the time I finished the book, I felt like crying, although I'm not sure why. I guess I felt a little bit like I was saying goodbye to some really good people.

There are a number of character juxtapositions in this book, from Lucy's own parents, to his father and Uncle Dec, to Lucy's father and Bobby's father, to Lucy and Bobby themselves.

It would be easy to paint (pun intended) Bobby as the antagonist, but he's not. He's a very complex character, and that makes him interesting. He's a very real character. You are drawn to him, even though you know he's more volatile, and less deserving of your friendship than Lucy. What's also interesting is that Bobby's not really the focal point of the book: Lucy is telling the story of his town and his life. But Bobby had such an effect on Lucy that you can't help but feel that the narrative is being pulled toward him, or by him, like the tide by the moon.

As a student of the craft of writing, I can't help but feel like I'll never be able to write a character as good as Bobby, and especially in way that makes him not quite the focal point, but somehow the crucial element in the story.

The only reason I didn't give this book five stars is because I was able to walk away from it at times. With a little bit more editing and some tightening up, it would have been a page-turner from start to finish.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Random conversations

Every Saturday, my running buddy and I go for a run and then out to breakfast. Last Saturday, we tried out a new place...Mission Cafe and Coffee House. We were seated at one of those half-booth things where one person has a booth seat and the other person has a chair. I usually elect the chair because booth seats tend to be too low for me and I always feel like I'm heaving my boobs up onto the table. Running Buddy doesn't care, so she gets the booth seat. Which she insists is more comfy on her butt anyway. So, she's facing into the restaurant, and I'm facing out the window. I see a girl ride up on a bike cruiser and get off. She's wearing a black tank top over a pink bikini. I don't know how comfortable it was for her to ride the bike in just bikini bottoms, but she's braver than I am.

I point out this girl to Running Buddy because I think her bikini is about two sizes too small and because her butt isn't nearly as good as ours. Clearly she didn't run up Mt. Soledad that morning. Breakfast is served and Running buddy turns the discussion to Accent Day. The week after father's day, she and her parents had Jersey Shore Name Day. Her dad became G-Train, her mom, M-Woww, and she was H-Funk. This Saturday's theme was apparently accents.

I don't do accents. I don't even do a Jersey accent well, and I'm from there. I credit this to the speech therapy I had as a kid. Although, as my aunt points out, my mother had speech therapy and she has a Jersey accent. But not much of one.

So Running Buddy proceeds to go through the types of accents I could have. English, Australian, Hispanic. Meanwhile I'm watching Pink-Bikini-Girl, and more specifically, I'm terrified and fascinated by how her bikini keeps getting more and more lodged in her butt, and she doesn't seem to notice at all.

Running buddy insists I should at least try out a New Jersey or Brooklyn accent.

How about Boston? She asks me. You can say pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd. Which I repeat, as demonstration of the limits of my accent skills.

Then I notice that the bikini bottom is completely missing! It has been entirely consumed by the butt cheeks. It's gone! It's as if the butt cheeks got hungry while waiting for a seat at Mission Cafe and just decided to nosh on the bikini!

I point this out to Running Buddy, who is still working her way down the lists of accents. We're still on accent day? I ask her. Then I suggest pirate accent, which she thinks is pretty cool, but only if I'm willing to give it a shot. Which I"m not. Then I ask, When is accent day?

Today, she tells me.

Me: Wait, don't I get to practice. Like maybe get some language CDs at the library or something?

We're walking to the car now, and she's been somewhat less fascinated/appalled by the missing bikini bottom than I was, partially, I think due to the fact that she's been preoccupied with accent day, and partially because she wasn't witness to the entire consumption of the bikini.

RB: No, that's part of the fun! You have to try out new accents, and it's funny when you get them wrong, but every now and then, you do a good one, and you're like, I just did an awesome Southern Accent.

Me: That sounds really embarrassing.

RB: It's not embarrassing, it's just fun.

Running Buddy is now driving me back to the jetty, where my car is parked. We're sitting in a bunch of traffic on Mission and I observe, I wish I could apparate.

RB: What?

Me: Apparate, you know, like Harry Potter, apparate, or disapparate, so we don't have to sit in all of this traffic.

RB: What! I totally thought you were trying to say operate with a Boston accent and that you were finally embracing accent day.

Me: I think we've just discovered why you're still single.

RB: You're weird and you're married.

Me: Yes, but I tricked Captain America into thinking I was normal for the first year, and then we lived in different states, and he thought I was only weird around my weird friends, and it wasn't until I left my weird friends when we got married that he learned he'd have to bear the brunt of my weirdness until I found some new weird friends.

RB: But I have a really good Russian accent!

Me: Just don't tell your potential husband til he's signed the marriage licence.

Running Buddy proceeds to demonstrate to me her Russian accent.

Me: Yup, we've hit the nail on the head. This is why you're still single.

RB: Surely there's a guy out there who's goofy like me.

Me: You're still going to need to trick him in the beginning.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Wicked Business (Lizzy & Diesel, #2)Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a good read for what it is: a mindless story that gets easily wrapped up and you can go back to your life. It was perfect for reading in the sauna, where it's too hot to actually think about books with real plot lines.

I think Evanovich used to be a better writer, or perhaps I've become more discerning, but it really feels like she's just churning out books and having success based on her history. I wish she'd work a little harder, but like I said, it's a fine book for when you don't want to think. I'm giving it three stars because I did like the book, and it completely met expectations.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

The Chocolate War (Chocolate War, #1)The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book because I found it on a list of banned books, and never one afraid to rise to the challenge, I felt like, who are you to tell me what should and should not be read? The version I read had an introduction by the author, who, at the time of writing the book, hadn't actually planned on it being a teen novel. He had a son who had just started at a new private school, were, as a fundraiser, the students had to sell boxes of chocolate. Cormier wrote this book because he was worried about what would happen to his son if he refused to sell the chocolates. Of course, it didn't matter, because his son had no issue with selling the chocolates, but this idea nagged at Cormier.

And that's the plot of the book in a nutshell. Jerry, a freshman, refuses to sell the chocolates, at first as part of an "assignment" from a secret student organization called The Vigils (who, of course, everybody actually knows about). Then, he decides to keep it up on his own. This is where things start to get interesting. For over the first half of the book, I couldn't actually figure out why it had been banned. But like I said, then it starts to get interesting.

I don't want to give too much away, but this is a brilliant book about the dangers of bullying. And there are some great characters. Goober, who successfully completes his assignment, but who suffers because of it; Archie, the member of The Vigils who thinks up the assignments; Obie, who's job it is to make sure the assignments get carried out, and who is disgusted by Archie, and more. The use of distinct and dynamic characters propels this book forward. The outcome is poignant because it is ground in reality.

I strongly recommend this book.

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