Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Slow lorises are detrimental to your productivity

If I had one of these, I would never get anything done!  Needless to say, I have been working on my slow loris face all day.

This video has been cracking me up all day.  Thanks to the folks at Holy Cuteness for highlighting this ridiculous mess of cuteness.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-Gods Behaving Badly: A Novel (part II)

Gods Behaving Badly: A Novel by Marie Phillips-Boy, this one's been a long time coming, which is kind of a surprise because I really liked it. I just haven't felt up to writing reviews lately. (the "part II" in the title is because I put up a placeholder post with the same title for a Weekly Geeks project a few weeks back)

The basic premise is that the Greek Gods (Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, etc.) are still alive and kicking, and they're all living together in a run-down flat in London. The problem is, they are getting old. They may still be kicking, but instead of the Rockettes, think Cloris Leachman on "Dancing With the Stars."

Not that Cloris didn't perform admirably, she's just a bit past her Rockette days is all I'm sayin', as are the gods in Gods Behaving Badly. Athena (goddess of wisdom) is trying to figure out what's going on and if there is a way to fix it, but in the meantime, the gods are supposed to be on their best behavior as using their powers seems to weaken them just a little bit more each time.

Along the way, a mortal couple gets sucked into the gods' lives; Alice is hired to clean the pig pen that the gods call their home-you wouldn't believe how slovenly these folks are!-and Neil, who secretly pines for Alice, gets a little freaked out when he realizes that Apollo is putting the moves on Alice. Well, wouldn't you? I mean, Apollo, for crying out loud! What man wants to compete with that?

Well, things go awry as they often do in these situations, someone ends up in the underworld, someone else has to try to retrieve said person from the underworld, and in the meantime, the world almost ends.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought it was witty and entertaining. This was a nice, fun refresher on Greek mythology, but I did find myself having to take notes to remind myself who was the god/goddess of what and how they were related. The Greek gods were a rather incestuous bunch, so it was hard to keep track of how everyone was related, and some of them were in charge of more than just one thing. I don't think this was strictly necessary; it's not as if the whole point of the story would have been lost if you didn't remember that Ares is (according to my notes) the god of war, Apollo's half-brother, Aphrodite's favorite lover, and the father/cousin of Eros. It did help me keep things straight in my head though, and I didn't keep having to go, "Now, which one is she again??"

I laughed out loud several times in this book. One of the first times was during an exchange between Aphrodite (goddess of love, sexual rapture, and beauty) and her son, Eros (god of lust, beauty, love, and intercourse) who has converted to Christianity. Come on, that's funny! Aphrodite, who works as a phone sex operator, is trying to convince Eros to use his powers to play a joke on her nephew/lover, Apollo (god of the sun), who is working as a TV psychic and doesn't think twice about turning women into trees if they refuse his sexual advances. Eros, being a good Christian and all, doesn't want to participate. The following is a bit of the conversation between him and Aphrodite: (Sorry about the formatting here. I keep trying to use blockquotes, and it keeps getting all f-ed up. This is the closest I can get. Does anyone else have massive trouble with blockquotes, and have you found a way around it?)

"No.  I'm not doing it," said Eros, driving straight through.  "It's wrong.  I've been thinking about it all day."
"Wrong?  Who cares about wrong?  You promised me you'd do it!"
"Well, I'm unpromising," said Eros.
"Breaking a promise is wrong too," said Aphrodite.
"It's all relative," said Eros.
"It's not like it's the first time you've done it," said Aphrodite.
"That time was before," said Eros.
"Before what?" said Aphrodite.  "No, don't tell me.  Before Jesus."
"I wouldn't expect you to understand," said Eros.
"I understand perfectly," said Aphrodite.  "You prefer that upstart carpenter--that thief of faith--to your own flesh and blood."
"He's a better role model," said Eros. (p.27) 

Ha! Ya think?? Also, you know you're having a bad day if you ever have to make this phone call: "'d better come quick. I've got a god passed out on my kitchen floor and I think the world's about to end." (p.213)

Have you read this? I'd like to hear some other thoughts on Phillips' twist on Greek mythology.

Some other reviews/thoughts on Gods Behaving Badly:

If you've reviewed this book on your blog, let me know, and I'll add you to the list.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Elizabeth Bintliff and Daisy the Cow

I am happy to announce that both made a respectable showing on "The Colbert Report" last night.  As I'd hoped, Stephen Colbert gave her a little bit of slack and allowed her to actually get some information out about her organization, Heifer International.  

You can watch the full episode here.  Elizabeth Bintliff's interview starts around 14:50.  You can also go to the Heifer web site to watch the clip of Elizabeth's interview.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Heifer International vs. "The Colbert Report"

You all know that Heifer International is one of my favorite charities. I've written about the work they do providing livestock and sustainable farming education to people living in poverty-stricken areas; and I recently reviewed Beatrice's Goat, a children's book about the difference a goat made in one young girl's life, providing her the chance to go to school, something she desperately wanted but didn't think she would be able to do.

Heifer International has designated April as Pass on the Gift month, and tonight Heifer International's Elizabeth Bintliff will appear on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" to talk a little bit about that. If you're a regular viewer of "The Colbert Report" you know that Stephen Colbert tends to be a merciless impossible distracting tough interviewer, but every once in a while he backs off and lets the guest actually get his or her message across. I'm hoping that will be the case with Elizabeth Bintliff. Either way, I will be watching, and I hope you will too!  

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Great job to all you Read-a-thon participants!

I was going to try to write a limerick for Hour 22 challenge of the 24-hour Dewey's Read-A-Thon, but my brain seems to be turning to mush, even though I haven't been reading for 20+ hours like some of you have.

I've been trying to figure out ways to put together rhymes for readers and leaders or book and hook or Dewey and hui (hui is a Hawaiian term meaning club or group and is the only thing I could think of that rhymes with Dewey) but I just can't put it all together into one cohesive thought. So, instead, I'll just say this:

Great job, everyone who participated in this read-a-thon. I couldn't quite get myself into the right frame of mind to commit to it, but I'm really proud of everyone else who did. Sorry I didn't make it around to be a better cheerleader. You all did great, and if you are still going, you are almost done!!  

Thanks so much to Nymeth, Trish, and Hannah for putting this together. What a great tribute to Dewey and the community that she played such a crucial role in building.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-14: What's Cookin'?

This is a picture of my cookbook collection.  Impressive, right?  See that little recipe box?  It's filled up with recipe cards...with actual recipes on them.  I probably use about 4 of them on a regular basis.  You're not as impressed anymore, are you?  I knew it.  The reason I wrote them all down in the first place is because in high school cooking class, we had to put together a recipe collection, and we had to have X number of recipes in order to pass.  So, I checked out a couple of books from the library and wrote down a bunch of recipes that I thought sounded good.  I'll probably never try most of them.

Here's a shot of what's behind the recipe box.

I have probably made a total of 20 recipes out of this entire collection.  Even less impressed now?  Yeah, I don't blame you.  Perhaps I'll have some new books available to give away on Boockmooch soon.

The Top Secret Recipes books (you can't really tell, but there are three) are books of brand-name knock-off recipes so you can make things like your own Arby's® sauce, Wendy's® Chili , Baily's Original Irish Cream®, or Oreo® cookies.  I've only tried the Arby's sauce one, and it's not bad-I like it with tater tots.  

The 1,000 Lowfat Recipes book came free with the How To Cook Everything book, and I don't think I've ever used it.  If anyone wants it, let me know.  You can have it.  My copy is a soft cover, and I think I might have gotten it free because the ISBN that is printed on the back cover appears to be wrong, just in case anybody cares.

The Family Circle Cookbook: New Tastes for New Times was the first cookbook that I actually bought once I considered myself grown up enough to need a cookbook.  I've tried a few recipes in it, and I think they've all been fine, but I don't like the format-it's a hard back binder, and the binder rings have gotten all off kilter, so you can't just easily flip through the pages; they just snag on that one snaggle-tooth binder piece or they fall off the rings.  Sitting down to flip through it for some menu ideas just sounds like a struggle instead of an enjoyable task.

On the flip side is InterCourses: an aphrodisiac cookbook.  This is a beautiful hard back book that is so much fun to sit down and flip through, not a struggle at all!  Apparently, there is now an updated version.  Both links offer the "Look Inside!" feature which gives you an idea of what's inside, but I thought I'd share these as well.  Ladies, what do you think?  (Sorry, gay men, you can chime in too.  I didn't mean to be exclusive.)
And who knew pine nuts were sexy?
This book is full of images like these, all tasteful, along with brief histories for each of the different foods featured (chocolate, chiles, grapes, honey, oysters, edible flowers are just a few) as well as artistically laid-out quotes from test-subject couples.  I think this would actually make a fine coffee table book as well.  Oh, have I ever used it?  Um...I don't remember, but I would still totally recommend it! 

The Good Housekeeping Cookbook belonged to my mom, and there is only one recipe in there that I ever make-Streamlined Lasagna.  I love it, it's easy, and it's totally a heart attack in a pan. This book is a gem, and even though I only use one recipe out of the 4,000 or so that appear to be in here, it is a keeper because A) it belonged to my mom and is a part of my childhood, B) it contains recipes for things like the Roast-Beef Hearty Party Salad which should look like this when properly prepared:

In case you can't tell, that is a giant bowl lined with roast beef which has been gracefully draped over the edges.  Awesome.  

and C) it contains advice like this under the Family Weight-Watching section:

"Don't give up in despair over teen-age food habits--those of the fashion-conscious young ladies who starve themselves, or those of either gender who eat the wrong foods in between and at meals, with gay abandon.  Be firm with youngsters in the first group; remind them they're preparing for marriage and motherhood.  A girl who enjoys being a girl, who looks like a girl and not like a clothes pole, stands the best chance of having a whirl." (p. 77) 

Ah, the '60s!

Finally, the book that actually does get used from time to time, Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals 2.  Rachael Ray has kind of been my go-to girl for the past few years.  I see her make things on TV, and I think, Well, that looks pretty good; I think I could handle that.  So I go on line, find the recipe, and it actually turns out to be pretty good.  Inspired by this, I bought one of her books.  One of the things that I like about this book is that in the ingredients list, all of the actual ingredients (not their measurements or preparations) are highlighted in a different color, so it's easy to skim the recipe and see what you need.  I'll do it in the recipe below so you can see what I'm talking about.  It's kind of a little thing, but I like it.  One of the recipes from her book that is super easy and that I really like is You-Won't-Be-Single-For-Long Vodka Cream Pasta...

Huh.  I'm sensing a theme here-aphrodisiac foods, advice about how to get your daughter married off, recipes sure to hook a mate...'s the recipe:

You-Won't-Be-Single-For-Long Vodka Cream Pasta (p. 186)

Makes 4 Servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (once around the pan)
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate 
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn
Crusty bread

Put large pot of salted water on to boil.

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat.  Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots.  Gently sauté garlic and shallots, 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness.  Add vodka, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about a cut.  Reduce vodka by half, 2 or 3 minutes.  Add chicken stock and tomatoes.  Bring sauce to a bubble, then reduce heat to simmer.  Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water  until al dente, a bit firm to the bite.  While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Stir cream into the vodka sauce.  When sauce returns to a bubble, remove from heat.  Drain pasta.  Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves.  Serve immediately, along with crusty bread.

And, finally, what's a good meal without some good dessert to go with it?  Another book that I do actually use is my Cheesecake Extraordinaire:  More than 100 Sumptuous Recipes for the Ultimate Dessert.  I think a lot of people are intimidated by cheesecake, but it's really pretty easy to make, and this book has a great section at the beginning with lots of tips including how to avoid pitfalls like a cracked cake and how to modify your measurements for smaller or larger cakes.  I've used a few of these recipes, and they've all been good, but I think my favorite is the Super New York-Style Cheesecake with some Lemon Sauce on the side.  Yum! 

The book also contains what I believe is a very common-sense forward by Rusty Foltz, R.D., Cardiopulmonary Dietitian.  

In part, Rusty says:
You see, I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a 'fattening' food.  No food is solely responsible for anyone being overweight.  Obesity is a complex problem involving total caloric intake as well as total caloric output through activities and exercise.  You can maintain a desirable weight through the proper combination of both of these; this combination can include cheesecake. (p.ix)
I think this advice provides a solid platform from which to attack a dessert, especially when combined with some more advice from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook's Family Weight Watching section, which reads, "Don't hesitate to cut the pie, or dish out the dessert, into 10 or 12 portions instead of the customary bigger servings.  Use smaller plates, put a little bunch of grapes beside the slimmer-than-usual portion--and if the table talk is going along happily, most likely no one will even notice the difference." (p.77)  Good advice indeed!  Not only does that help keep one's waistline in check, but it helps make the food go further, which we all know is important. 

Celebrate with Me!

I just received this update on a friend of ours through the Caringbridge web site:

"This has been a long journey so far. The good news is that Dean's therapy is complete. He is now to think of himself as a cancer survivor."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day-April

Well, I'm a little late for this month's GBBD, but I've been busy.  So, this post will be short and sweet.

I just picked my very first strawberry that I grew myself, and it was all I could do to keep it around long enough to take this pic!  For the record, it was just as good as it looks.  :)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happiness A-Z: J

If you don't know what's going on, go here, or just keep reading.  It's fairly self-explanatory. :)


My husband, J___-He makes me very happy!  He's smart, funny, thoughtful, generous, kind, and he loves me.  I always look forward to coming home because I know that's where he'll be...unless he's not, then I look forward to him coming home!

My sister, J_____-My sister is one of the few people who I can count on to make me laugh until I cry.  She's sweet and funny and endearing and I miss her and love her.

Judge Judy-She puts the smack down on stupid people.  Let's face it, this is almost always guaranteed to make you feel better because 1) it's nice to see somebody actually be able to stop stupid people in their tracks and 2) no matter what else is going on in your day, you can always say, "Well, at least I'm not getting yelled at by Judge Judy.  She's scary!"   

Jon Stewart-I love Jon Stewart!  He cracks me up, and while satire and mirth and the occasional rant seem to be his main trades, he's also intelligent and seems like a genuinely likable, kind person.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-The Garden of Last Days

The Garden of Last Days: A Novel by Andre Dubus III-I have been having a hard time trying to decide how to review this book. I didn't love it, but I think the author's ability to make you see all sides of a situation is amazing. This is the same author of House of Sand and Fog, which I never read; but I did see the movie, and it was brutal for exactly this reason. Good is not good and evil is not evil and both have the ability to be the other, and it's uncomfortable to not be able to take a definitive side.

That said, I think I am going to take a cue from our recent Weekly Geeks and attempt a review in haiku. So, here goes.

strip club, missing child--
terrorists plot revenge for
such sins...nine eleven

good guys are weak
sympathy for the devil--
Lines blurred all around

drunk violent fraud
tried saving sweet baby girl
too human to judge

One final note: A large part of this story takes place in a strip club, and if there are things that you imagine go on in a strip club that you don't want to read about, then you probably shouldn't read this book. It's not nearly as raunchy as it could be, but it's not rainbows and puppies either. (LOL-I just typed "rainblows." Freudian slip?) Also, there are a couple of rape scenes-nothing too drawn out, but they are there none the less. I know the "strip club, missing child" part may be a bit worrisome for some, but nothing horrible happens to the child, so you don't have to not read it for that part.

Some other reviews:

Have you read The Garden of Last Days? What did you think? Can we come up with a tie-breaker? If you've reviewed this book, let me know, and I'll add a link to your review.

Happiness A-Z: I

If you don't know what's going on, go here, or just keep reading.  It's fairly self-explanatory. :)


Invisibility cloak-Ok, I don't actually have one, per se, but if I did, I'm pretty sure I would love it.

Ideas-Preferably, ones that turn out to be good.

Inspiring stories-I love reading about people who have overcome great odds, animals that have saved their owners' lives, kindness given where it wasn't expected, dreams being realized, etc.  I am the target sucker audience for things like the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Intrigue-I like to be intrigued by things.

Independence-For me, this ultimately boils down to, "I'll do it because I want to, not because you tell me to," which I realize is sort of the 4-year-old version of independence, but, hey, some truths are discovered early on.  

Impressive feats-I like to be amazed by things.  Anything that makes me say, "Wow.  Now impressive," is usually a winner.  

Wow, this was a tough one.  I have all my Happiness A-Z posts set up already as drafts, so that I just have to go in and fill them in as I go.  Usually, I already have a few ideas in each post so that when I get there, I have something to work with, but I had nothing for "I." What are some "I" things that make you happy? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-13: Favorite children's books

In honor of National Poetry Month and International Children's Book Day, this week's Weekly Geeks challenged us to "Be a kid!" or "Be a poet!" Since I'm not too good with the poetry, I am going to take this opportunity to talk about a couple of children's books, which, in my opinion, happen to fit in nicely with the upcoming Easter holiday.

Opening lines:
We hear of the Easter Bunny who comes each Easter Day before sunrise to bring eggs for boys and girls, so we think there is only one. But this is not so. There are really five Easter Bunnies, and they must be the five kindest, and swiftest, and wisest bunnies in the whole wide world, because between sunset on Easter Eve and dawn on Easter Morning they do more work than most rabbits do in a whole year.
This is one of the books that has remained a favorite of mine from childhood, so much so that I bought myself a copy a few years ago. Originally published in 1939, this is the story of a little brown country girl bunny who aspires to be one of the five Easter Bunnies. Upon hearing about her high aspirations, "...all of the big white bunnies who lived in fine houses, and the Jack Rabbits with long legs who can run so fast, laughed at the little Cottontail and told her to go back to the country and eat a carrot. But she said, 'Wait and see!'"

Well! That's some chutzpah! (Bonus! In this discussion of "The Symbolism of Rabbits and Hares" you can see a picture of our heroine standing up to the big Jack Rabbits. Double Bonus! There's a children's poem at the end of the post!) The little country bunny grew up, got married and had 21 (!) children and sort of forgot her dream of becoming an Easter Bunny until one day word came down that one of the five Easter Bunnies had grown old and slow and Old Grandfather was going to need a new bunny to take his place. Mother Cottontail gathers her 21 (!) children and they go to the Palace of Easter Eggs to watch the competition. Old Grandfather watches all the jack rabbits speeding across the lawn, all very impressive, but the little mother cottontail with her 21 (!) well-behaved children in tow catches his eye. OMG! Do I smell a life-long dream about to come true?? I think so! You'll have to read the book to find out!

I'm not really sure why I liked this book so much as a child. The cottontail mother teaches all of her children to help around the house, doing dishes, sweeping the floors, making the beds, etc., so maybe I felt kind of proud because I could do those things and be a good helper. It could be that I grew up in the country and thought I had a chance of growing up to be the Easter Bunny...Yeah, I know; there are a few problems with that. But the little country bunny was no big male jack rabbit, and she had 21 (!) kids to look after, and she made it! (, sorry. That's ok, I didn't really give away anything that isn't on the back of the book.) Then again, I think it might have been the Palace of Easter Eggs that sealed the deal-a whole palace filled with Easter Eggs! I also love the illustrations by Marjorie Hack. If you click here you can check out the cover art and the first page.

If you are looking for a (new-to-them) book to read with your kids for Easter, I think this is a good one. It subtly encourages children to be well-behaved and helpful and to follow their dreams even if everyone else laughs and says they'll never make it. Besides, it's intriguing; I mean, five Easter Bunnies? Seriously? There are five??? Who knew?

Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier-I actually read this a few weeks ago for the Weekly Geeks 2009-08: Rewind - Political & Social Issues challenge, but never got around to writing a post or a review of the book, so I think now is a good time to follow-up on that. Beatrice Biira was a girl in Uganda whose family received a goat through Heifer International, an organization whose mission is "To work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth." Heifer gifts usually come in the form of livestock, like Beatrice's goat, and the recipients are required to pass on the gift by sharing offspring, knowledge, resources and skills with others in their community. Beatrice wanted to go to school, but her family could not afford to send her. Eventually, the money she made from the sale of her goat's milk helped her achieve this goal. The book tells Beatrice's story and shows how Heifer can help a community pull itself up out of poverty.

Part of the reason that I didn't get around to doing this review before is because I wasn't thrilled with the book, quite honestly. It was just little things; for example, Beatrice's goat is named Mugisa, which means luck. Throughout the book, the goat is referred to as Mugisa. Later other animals come into the picture; I can't remember what they were or where they came from-perhaps they were Mugisa's offspring, or perhaps they were other Heifer gifts-but their names and their English translations were also given, but then the author continued to refer to them by their English names (like Prosperity and Fortune). This was a little thing, but it bugged me.

Also, I was hoping that the book would be more of an introduction to Heifer International, but I don't think it ever actually mentioned the organization by name except in the afterward, written by Hillary Clinton. I guess the idea was to tell Beatrice's story, not to be propaganda for Heifer, a situation like this, isn't the point of telling Beatrice's story to get the word out about Heifer? I suppose it is a fine line between piquing readers' interests enough that they will seek out additional information on their own and forcing an agenda on your readers. Either way a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book go to support Heifer.

Despite the fact that I wasn't blown away by this book, I still think it's a good way to introduce a child to the idea of charity and show him how he can make a difference in another child's life. I think Heifer in particular is a charity that would appeal to children because of their gift catalog which consists almost entirely of animals. What better way to celebrate Easter than by giving a rabbit or some chicks to a family in order to help them provide a food source and/or money for things like school, clothing, or medicine? For as little as $10, you could contribute toward the gift of a sheep, a goat, a trio of rabbits, a pig, or even some trees.

So, now that I've covered the kid lit part of the challenge, perhaps I will attempt some poetry after all. Let's see...

There once was a child who read
She loved to stand on her head
Although upside down
She still loved the sound
Of books being read right out loud.

Well, Whitman it ain't, but you get what you pay for! Hope you all came up with some better stuff than that!