Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Further (Mis)Adventures in the Irish Driving Test

To prepare for my driving test today, I spent yesterday evening getting ready. I picked out my clothes. I ran 3 miles and lifted weights. I cleaned my car. I read "The Rules of the Road" from cover-to-cover while soaking in a nice hot bubble bath. I took some Rescue Remedy. I slept great, no anxiety dreams.

When I woke up this morning, I knew I was Ready. Last Friday, I finally broke my streak of bad driving and passed a practise exam. I was so ready. Calm. Relaxed. Very unlike myself, quite frankly.

I had a fortifying breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast and then went back to the bedroom to get dressed. My phone showed I'd missed a call, so I rang my voicemail messages.

A nice man from the RSA (Road Safety Authority) was ringing to tell me that my test was canceled because the tester was sick and they'd no one to cover for him. I cannot even begin to tell you how frustrating this is. I feel like I've wasted a precious vacation day for absolutely nothing. This feels as bad as failing, in some ways. Because it means I have to do it all again and I have to continue to make the 80-mile roundtrip out to Skibbereen for lessons.

I just want to be done with this. And I don't know when my next test is going to be. The nice man at the RSA told me I was at the top of the cancellation list, but I frankly have no faith in their processes and will be ringing him back in two weeks if I haven't heard anything.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Fun Monday

AOJ, at AOJ & the Lurchers is hosting this week's Fun Monday. In the spirit of being interested in people, she wants a peek at our bedside table. (This is my favourite part of Fun Monday, how it condones and encourages nosiness. As a writer with an unsatiable curiosity about people, I am all for it.)

My bedside table is pretty standard pine unit with three drawers. The top is my junk drawer, the middle and bottom are my underwear drawers. Like a lot of other Fun Mondayers, books play a prominent role, although mine are more stacked around the side of the bedside table than actually on it. (Thanks to my slow progress through Moby Dick coupled my incurable book buying and mooching, I have about 40 books stacked up, waiting to be read.)

I would have to say that the most interesting thing on my bedside table is my dream journal. I've been reading and researching a lot recently about sleep and dreams. Not so much the mystical dream interpretation aspect as in using sleep and dreams to solve creative problems. I want to use this method mostly to assist in writing my novel but I've also found it works with computer programming and technical writing problems. Let me tell you, nothing makes you feel like a genius more than waking up with an answer that's eluded you for days.

My New Year's Resolution is to write in this journal twice a day. I write before I go to bed, to empty out my mind and list things that I'm thinking about or issues I want to resolve. Then when I wake up, I write down little notes or descriptions from my dreams. So far, I've gotten a solution for how to test a computer problem I was trying to figure out and a few ideas for how to better plot my novel. I've also gotten an interesting glimpse into my subconscious.

I usually wake up at least once during the night to use the bathroom. I've known for awhile that between that awakening and my regular wake-up time, I tend to have vivid, convoluted and complicated dreams, but by the time I was awake enough to think about it, I'd have forgotten the dreams entirely. Being disciplined to scribble some notes before I'm fully awake gives me some memories of what I dreamt about, although reviewing the notes sometimes recalls nothing and I wonder why on earth I dreamt about some of these things.

Now I know, there is nothing more boring than listening to a blow-by-blow description of someone else's dream. But I will share a few of the more bizarre highlights:
In my dreams in January, I've......

  • Dug a grave with the devil

  • Driven an RV with a guy named Flash

  • Microwaved bananas until they exploded

  • Seen on Kodiak standing next to a suitcase on a beautiful sunny day

  • Watched a movie about a space travel throughout history - and the movie started in the 1800s.

AOJ wanted a look into my bedside table - you got a look inside my subconscious. Now go check out all the other Fun Monday posters, which are listed in AOJ's sidebar.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Toby!

Hard to believe it, but Toby's been part of our family for a year. Time flies even more quickly than Toby races after a Kong or a sliotar. A year ago, Toby was a slightly neurotic, tail-chasing teen dog. He's grown up and settled down quite nicely.

That said, he unfortunately celebrated his birthday by eating part of one of these. Looks like I'll be spending the next few days on poop patrol. Ah well, it's worth it, so long as it all comes out alright in the end.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mystery Sheep

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain on the windows, which has become the soundtrack for my life. We've had rain every day for the last six weeks and have gotten about eight inches just this month. Parts of County Cork have had flooding problems, but we've been lucky so far in our little corner of the Middle of Nowhere.

After letting Toby out and feeding him, I went into Peter's office to start working. Now that I've been at my job for a year, I am able to work from home two days a week. Like most of my co-workers, I've selected Thursdays and Fridays as my at-home days. When I took a break a few hours later to get my mile run in, the sun was shining and the sky was a sheet of uninterrupted blue satin. It's the sort of weather that makes you forgive and forget six weeks of rain.

My plan was to just run laps around the outside of the house, which is something I often do when I just want to get a quick mile done and don't want to subject myself to the risks of the country roads. Toby was dancing around, excited, since he loves to races along the perimeter of the yard while I plod along on the gravel driveway, the huge grin on his face mocking my bipedal slowness.

I stepped out the back door, admiring the green hills, when I glimpsed something out of the ordinary. Sheep - white, fluffy sheep grazing in the next field over at the bottom of our garden. It was the perfect bucolic scene that draws people out into the Irish countryside. The flock consisted of at least 25 sheep and they truly were the fluffiest, whitest sheep I've ever seen outside of a picture book.

A fantastic image and something that should have had me smiling. And if it had been a herd of cattle, I would have been. But Toby is notoriously unreliable off-leash around sheep. He just can't resist the thrill of the chase. He hasn't hurt one yet but I live in fear of the day we have to knock on a farmer's door, chequebook in hand, to pay for the damages caused by our dog.

I leashed up Toby for the run and haven't let him out unsupervised since. The rest of the day, I worked at the kitchen table, where I could monitor the field. I didn't spot any sheep. It doesn't make sense for our landlord to have sheep, since the field isn't really fenced for it. I'd almost think that I imagined them, except that I can see strands of fleece clinging to the barbed wire of the fence.

It's silly to get worked up over some sheep, especially when I don't know for sure that they've taken up residence in the field. But my fear of authority, sharpened by twelve years of Catholic School and the stereotypical ruler-wielding nuns, makes it too easy for me to imagine the aftermath of a Toby-related sheep mishap. I like my landlord and don't want to get in trouble.

I'm developing plans in my head, plans that involve reinforcing the bottom-of-the-garden fence with chickenwire or something similar (right now, it's just a post and barbed wire deal) and getting a shock collar for training purposes (for the dog, not me, although maybe some shock therapy could curtail my penchant for endless worrying). I'm better when I have a plan, when I feel like I can exert some control over the issue. But still, sometimes I wish I could just relax and enjoy the surprises in life, like the perfect vision of sheep on a sunny day.
Picture taken by Peter in Scotland during our honeymoon in 2004.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fun Monday: The Anniversary Edition

For the first anniversary of Fun Monday, one of its co-creators, Vicki has kindly agreed to host the festivities.

The assignment is two-fold:

For those of you who did NOT post a picture of your view from your front door, then your assignment is to post a view from your front door. To do this you stand in your doorway looking outside and take a picture. That simple. We (I) want to see what you see when you look out your front door.

For those of you who DID post your view, link back to that post you posted a year ago, and then re-list your very first post ever. We want to see how far you've come baby! Also, if you can, post the comments you received on that post.

For part one, I'm going to cheat. Because of technical issues, I don't have a means for taking a picture out of my front door. However, thanks to Hootin' Annie's Fun Monday, I have a picture that is close. This is the view from about twelve feet to the right of my front door.

Now, for the second part, I am interpreting this as a request to re-post our first ever blog post, so we can reflect on how far we've come. I started blogging almost exactly three years ago. When I started, I lived in Wheaton, Illinois and was self-employed. I had no idea that just three weeks later, I would make the fateful suggestion that would change our lives.

My first post, written on Friday, January 28, 2005 was short and self-conscious:

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A Blog Is Born

OK, first of all, I hate that word - blog. It sounds like something you should only ever do in private. But, since my dad (http://careerguy.blogspot.com) just started one this week, I feel the pressure to start one. (Yes, if my dad jumped off a bridge, I probably would too.)

Do you think people make snap judgements about blogs the way they do when they meet someone in person? If I were meeting my blog, I'd guess the author was a runner, with a lot of energy, who likes things simple and straightforward. If I guessed that, I would be right. If you met me in person, you'd think I was a low-maintenance, incredibly quiet, average sort of person. You'd be right, except for the quiet part. I'm only quiet around strangers. Once I get comfortable with you, watch out.

My plan for this blog (ugh - have to think of different word) is to detail my marathon training and my other activities, particularly in the writing world. I'm a freelance writer, I'm trying to launch my own company, I'm looking for a publisher for my first book, and I'm writing my second book. And since all of those activities, enjoyable though they are, currently pay practically nothing, I'm looking for a part-time job.

Will I find time for all that? Will a publisher ever fall in love with my book? Will my second book get written? Will I FINALLY break 5 hours in the marathon? Stay tuned to find out.
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The only commenter was my dad:
Yay! Very well done. I loved your introduction--much better than mine. I am still looking for my voice, I guess. Love, dadeye

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That time and place seems so long ago and far away, it's almost like reading about someone else's life. My template was different, of course, one of the plain start-up ones. And I had a pretentious title instead of just the simple title.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. I'm still trying to break five hours in the marathon and find a publisher for my book(s).

Be sure to check out all the other Fun Monday participants.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Happy Mediums

When I was little, and had a headful of blonde curls, my parents always recited this rhyme to me: "There was a little girl, with a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid."

I don't know if it was meant to be prophetic or descriptive, but I don't really have a medium setting. I have mellowed, to some extent, with age, but I'm still a love it or hate it kind of girl.

Lately, this tendency has reared its ugly head to my detriment as I prepare to pass my driving test. The Irish law is changing on 1 July so that Second Provisional License drivers will be required to have qualified drivers in the car with them at all times. Not only is the law changing, it's clear that enforcement of said licensing laws is also going to change. So I really need to pass my test before then.

To that end, I've been taking regular driving lessons in which we do a mock exam. I've failed them all so far and it's gotten really frustrating. I seem to be over-correcting from one test to the next. One week, I'll fail for going too slowly and being too hesitant. The next week, I failed for driving too quickly in an area full of pedestrians and a zebra crossing. This past week, it was back to failing for driving too slowly and hesitantly.

In my defense, it has been pissing rain for the last few weeks. The roads are slick and full of pot holes the size of Kansas (or even worse, rocks that have been washed down the sides of the hills). I've felt like I was driving appropriately for the conditions, but my instructor felt that a test examiner would feel otherwise.

Test examiners subscribe to the Goldilocks theory of driving - everything must be just right. The tolerances for just right seem to be extraordinarily narrow and they enforce these parameters with a robotic adherence.

When I complained about this arbitrary and rigorous approach to grading, my instructor asked me did I remember that horrible accident up in Monaghan where the five young fellas died in a fiery crash caused by speeding. I did since it was in the news a lot at the time. They were all from the same small town, which was devastated by it, and there's nothing the Irish media serves up quicker than a Carnage on the Roads story. "The next Monday," said my instructor, "the examiners here failed five young men for driving too slowly. It doesn't make any sense."

I'm trying to control what I can control - namely my approach to the test. I've been working on my nervousness and have even started taking Rescue Remedy despite being an alternative remedies agnostic. I've been trying to de-emphasise the importance of the test in my mind. Yes, I have to pass eventually, but if I don't pass the second time, it's not the end of the world. I figure I can probably pick up a re-test every six weeks or so, which should give me at least four or five tries.

But if I am ever going to find a happy medium, now would be a great time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Seven Things Meme (With a Twist)

Last week, my blog pal over at Wake Up and Smell the Coffee tagged me with a meme to reveal seven unusual facts about myself. A tough one, because I've been at this blogging business awhile and have revealed many unusual facts and peculiar things I've done or thought. What could possibly be left?

I took my brain out and shook it, hoping enough random facts would fall out that I could complete the meme. I told myself if I could think of a theme, I'd have seven facts in no time. How about medical facts or my weird OCD-esque rituals? As thrilling as it would be for you to hear about the fact that my body temperature is typically 97.5 and that I have fantastically low blood pressure, I wasn't sure I could come up with five more facts. I've led a blessedly uneventful, healthy life. As for the OCD-esque rituals, frankly, I didn't think I could stop at seven. (Even though 7 is one of my Good Numbers.)

Then one of my Danada friends sent me a doggie-sympathy e-card. (Be aware that the card does play some soft piano music, just in case you're already listening to music.) So I decided to give you seven unusual facts about my recently deceased dog, Kodiak.
  1. When Kodiak came to live with us, he was 5 years old and was a fat sausage of a dog, weighing in at a whopping (and unhealthy) 132 pounds. We knew we'd have to get the weight off of him if his hips were going to hold up. He followed the same diet principle I do - eat less, move more. He went on special food, didn't get a lot of treats, got loads of walks, and had Caper to chase him around the yard. Kodiak weighed a svelte 100 pounds when he went to live with my parents at age eight.

  2. Kodiak had a garbage problem. It was an addiction that he could not break. Nothing could stop him - not a baby gate, not a shock collar, not Peter's overwhelming disapproval.

  3. The worst garbage incident required a trip to the emergency vet's for a vomiting induction. (As the doggie poison control guy said on the phone - better to have it done in controlled circumstances and cleaned up by professionals than have to spend the night mopping up after a sick dog.) The garbage bin was loaded to the top because I'd just cleaned out the fridge and had a baking disaster.

    I like to picture in my head that he knew about the jackpot and planned the heist, perhaps his last job, to cash in on it. He ate a few loaves of old bread, an entire pan of burnt brownies, and other assorted rejects from the fridge cleaning. He did all this in the half-hour it took us to get carry-out for dinner. I think it took longer for it all to come back up than it did for him to snarf it down.

  4. You might not expect it of a big, brawny dog, but Kodiak was something of a fashion plate. He loved wearing bandannas. When I'd go to tie a fresh bandanna around his neck, he would sit up much straighter and walk around proudly for the rest of the day.

  5. Kodiak was the alpha-est of alpha dogs. Much like the garbage problem, it was a compulsion. His inability to back off once dominance was established started more than one fight at the dog park.

  6. Kodiak once met an Irish Wolfhound at the dog park. He kept trying to put his head over the Wolfhound's neck, but was having no luck. Every time he tried, his thick skull just bounced off the the side of the Wolfhound's barrel chest. I'll never forget the look on his face - he was so confused and disconcerted. The thought bubble above his head said "What the heck is going on here? This always works! Why isn't this working? Don't laugh at me!"

  7. Kodiak had absolutely no idea how big he was. If invited, he would quite happily climb up into your lap. For my birthday one year, I told Peter I wanted a very large, very comfy armchair. My requirement was that it had to be wide enough to comfortably fit Kodiak and me, sitting side-by-side. It took a lot of shopping, but the chair was one of the best presents ever. We whiled away many a happy hour, curled up together in our chair.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Crazy Idea?

So, I was listening to the Guardian's daily podcast today and they had a piece about organ donation. Even though I plan to live until I'm at least 100 and my organs will be held together with sellotape by that point (which will force me to my plan B - donating my body to a medical school), I am a big believer in organ donation. If I'm dead, I don't need them and somebody else does, so it seems like a simple equation to me.

Peter and my family know how I feel about this and somewhere, kicking around, I have an organ donor card. But what if something happens to us at the same time? Or they can't contact my family in a timely enough manner to save all the organs?

Don't get the wrong idea - I'm not totally macabre all the time, but these were just thoughts that flitted through my head as I listened to a young woman tell about her sister's terrible car accident and her long-held desire to be an organ donor.

So, then I wondered about getting a tattoo. I don't have any tattoos (although I came perilously close in 1994) but something small, some place discreet (but obviously not too discreet) to let the medical professionals know my wishes? And why stop there - can I get a little breathing apparatus with a an x-mark over it to show that I don't want to be kept alive through artificial mean?

OK, maybe strike that last one. But I am wondering about the feasibility of this. I've done a little cursory googling and it looks like there's some questions as to whether having tattoos excludes one from organ donating.

My questions, especially for medical professionals like The Rotten Correspondent:
  • Is this a crazy idea?
  • If not, what sort of tattoo would you suggest? Just the words?
  • What about placement?
  • Are tattoos a disqualification?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Fun Monday

UPDATE: Next week is the one-year anniversary of Fun Monday. Thanks to Chris B for figuring this out and contacting Vicki, who started the whole thing and has graciously agreed to be next week's host.

For today's Fun Monday, I want to hear about a web site that's changed your life. A web site that you can't live without. A web site whose inventor you'd like to see win a McArthur Genius Grant. A lot of people have said that they didn't think they could narrow it down to one, and that's okay. A top-5 list or a top-3 list is completely acceptable.

In June of last year, Claire introduced me to Bookmooch. The tag line under the Bookmooch logo succintly sums up its mission: "Give Away Books. Get Books You Want." It's a very simple, fair premise.

You make an inventory of books you have that you're willing to send away to people. For each book you add, you get 1/10 of a point. When someone wants one of your books, you get 1 point if they're in your country and 3 points if they're international. When you find a book you want, you request the book. You "pay" 1 point if the book is in your country, 2 points if it's outside.

I'm a voracious reader and a lot of what I read is crap that I will never look at again. (I'm a couch potato, but my entertainment source is a book instead of a television.) It's brain candy and after it's been consumed, it has no real value. Enter Bookmooch - I can give away the books I don't want and find books that I do want, some of which would be difficult to find in Ireland.

Yes, I have to pay for postage on the books I send, but it's always less than the cost of a new book. Plus, I've found that it's the actual process of packaging up the book and preparing it for shipping that I enjoy. It must be the organising nerd in me, but nothing makes me happier than a stack of brown-paper wrapped, addressed books waiting for shipping.

I've tried to explain this, but the only other person who really understood was also an organising nerd. If the old adage is that it's better to give than to receive, then for an organising nerd, it's damn near Nirvana to create crisp paper folds and judiciously use tape to secure a package.

Bookmooch has changed my life in subtle, unexpected ways. Having to go to the post office has given me something to look forward to during the work day. It's nice to take a ten-minute break and have a short walk into the village. Bookmooch also has started to influence how I buy books. The mooch-ability of a book factors into my purchasing choices. In December, I bought On Chesil Beach because I knew I'd be able to turn it around quickly on Bookmooch. Ordinarily, I'd probably shy away from a book like that, fearing that it would be difficult to read. On Chesil Beach ended up being the best book I read last year.

In the nearly seven months I've been a member of Bookmooch, I've sent out 52 books. Predictably, many have gone to the States, Ireland, the UK, Australia and Canada, but I've also sent books to Finland and Portugal. I even sent a book to a place I'd never heard of before - Wallis and Futuna Islans.

Bookmooch has given me the obvious - books and a home for my unwanted books. But it's also given me an outlet for my obsessive-compulsive organisational skils and a crash course in geography. I can't imagine what more I could want from a web site.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Special Thank You

My parents call me every Saturday and today was no exception. I was out walking Toby in the pouring rain. (Mobile phones are on my top five lists of best inventions.) My mother was on one extension, my dad on the other, and we just chatted about the usual progress of our lives.

I was nearing the top of the steep hill in my walk when my mom reminded my dad that there was something else to talk about. "Elizabeth..." my dad began in his Grave Voice. Nothing good comes after your parents using your full given name. I thought I was in trouble.

"On December 28, Kodiak went to dog heaven." Kodiak, our Great Dane-Labrador mix, whom I often called the Best Dog in the Whole Wide World (because he was - sorry Toby), was my first dog in life. He came into my life at a time that I needed someone who would lean against me, look at me with adoring brown eyes, and just listen. He was a beautiful, big, dumb dog and I loved him the way any kid loves her first dog, even if the kid in question was 30 years old.

When we made the decision to move to Ireland, we knew he couldn't come with us, but finding a home for an old giant breed with a few long-term health problems was always going to be a tough sell. Someone volunteered to take him and then the deal fell through. I was leaving in two weeks and didn't know what we were going to do with him. When I told my mom that we were going to have to put him to sleep if we couldn't find him a home, she immediately volunteered to take him.

I saw Kodiak at Thanksgiving and he looked much older and more frail than he had on my previous visits. His muzzle and chest were entirely grey. He had a hard time getting up and down the stairs. His back end was giving out on him and he dragged one leg. He was over 10 years old and that's practically ancient for a big dog.

I knew the day would come when I'd have to write about losing this special dog, and now that it has, I'm finding that I'm not able to do it. It's too hard - I'm just not ready yet.

But I do need to thank my parents. They provided Kodiak with a loving retirement home. My dad took him on walks and always remembered to bring a couple of plastic bags along. When my dad's knee flared up, my mom would pick up the slack, even though she's not a morning person or a dog person or an outdoors walking person.

Kodiak took several medications and every Saturday, my mother assembled his pills for the week. She made sure to buy him the brand-name Pepto-Bismal even though I was too cheap to do that for him when he lived with us. She kept him in prednisone and glucosamine-chondroitin. She was also responsible for supplying his hard-boiled eggs. (It was a happy day when she found the pre-boiled, pre-peeled eggs in the grocery store.)

They didn't have to take him in. Ever since Briton the cat (who got to 15 before getting cancer) went to Cat Heaven, they'd had a life free of the irksome responsibilities of a pet. A dog, especially an older dog, carries extra responsibilities.

But they took him in with a lot of love and they dealt with the challenges with good humour. And when it was time, they made the difficult decisions and made sure he had a safe and painless trip to Doggy Heaven. So, Mom and Dad, thank you for adopting Kodiak, providing him a first-rate retirement home, and taking care of all his needs, especially on 28 December.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fun Monday Topic for 14 January

Update, 11 January: I've added the list to the bottom of the post. If I missed you, made a mistake on your site address or name, or included you in error, please let me know!

We had some fierce storms yesterday. At one point, it seemed like our house might have been hit by lightening. It wasn't, but something electrical nearby was because we were without power for over 24 hours. It's amazing how something can have ramifications beyond the obvious. No power means no lights and tv and computer, obviously, but it also, in our house, means no oven, no heat, and no shower.

I mention this by way of apology - yesterday, I was going to visit all the Fun Monday participants to welcome you all to the new assignment. I'm running a little behind my schedule but at least the power will hopefully co-operate now and on Monday.

Now, the reason you're here: the topic for Fun Monday on 14 January. I want to hear about a web site and not just about any old web site. I want to hear about a web site that's changed your life. A web site that you can't live without. A web site whose inventor you'd like to see win a McArthur Genius Grant.

Maybe you want to sing the praises of a dating web site for helping you meet your spouse. Maybe the only thing getting you through the dark days of winter is an Internet comic. No story is too big, no story is too small - I want to hear it all on Monday.


  1. Fianna - Fianna, Fianna, Fianna
  2. Gattina - Writer Cramps
  3. Chris B - Ms Cellania
  4. Tiggerlane - Tiggerlane, the Neophyte Blogger
  5. Lil Mouse - The Name Was Over the Door
  6. Mama Speak - Mommy Speak
  7. Mama Lang - http://mamalang.blogspot.com/
  8. Sandy - Myanderings
  9. Alix - DC Days
  10. Kaytabug - Lady K
  11. Crown Princess - Ooh, a Shiny Pen
  12. Kaycie - Lost in the Bible Belt
  13. Nikki - My Husband Calls Me Weird
  14. Wake Up and Smell the Coffee - Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
  15. Sirdar - Sirdar
  16. Christine- Are We There Yet
  17. Karina - Candid Karina
  18. Laurie - Three Dog Blog
  19. Linda - Straight Up and Slightly Dirty
  20. SwampAngel65 - A Florida Journal
  21. Nanny Kim - Nannykim
  22. My 4 Kids - My 4 Kids
  23. Robin - Pensieve
  24. Alison - RDH Mom
  25. Peter - Holties House
  26. Ped Crossing - Misadventures of Adulthood
  27. Emma in Canada - A Question of Sanity
  28. Karisma - Karisma and Kids
  29. Hootin' Anni - Hootin' Anni's
  30. Stwidgie - Why Don't You Write
  31. The Food Snob - The Food Snob
  32. Cynthia - Dahhhling I love you but give me Park Avenue...
  33. Joy T. - A Spot of T
  34. Amy - Accidental Akronite
  35. Jo Beaufoix - This is JoBeaufoix.com
  36. Bs - The First of Six
  37. Southern Doll - Tales of a Southern Doll
  38. Monica - And I'll Raise You Five
  39. Aoj & the Lurchers - The Lurchers
  40. Lisa - Lisa's Chaos
  41. Sauntering Soul - Sauntering Soul
  42. The Very Nice Man - The Electronic Firefly
  43. Pamela - The Dust Will Wait
  44. Janet - From the Planet of Janet
  45. Susan - A Slice of Life
  46. The Rotten Correspondent - Confessions of a Rotten Correspondent
  47. Anglophine Football Fanatic - Anglophine Football Fanatic
  48. Nekked Lizard Man - Nekkid Lizard Adventures
  49. Faye - Summit Musings
  50. Carrie Sue - Carrie and the Koehmstedts
  51. Swampy - Anecdotes, Antidotes, and Anodes
  52. Kerith Collins - The Momdum Chronicles
  53. Raising 3 Saints - Eastward, Catholic Soldiers!
  54. Robin - Life As I Know It
  55. Julie - Another Chance Ranch
  56. Michelle - Welcome to Mi Vida Loca
  57. Missionheart - A Place for Everything
  58. Kitten - Kitten's Homeschool
  59. Junebug - God Put a Smile Upon My Fave
  60. Atomik Kitten - Atomik Kitten

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Fun Monday

Before jumping in to this week's festivities, I'm going to be hosting Fun Monday next week. (I have an overwhelming urge to tidy up and redesign my blog before the Fun Monday guests shows up.) Please stop back on Wednesday when I will post the topic for 14 January and start the list of participants. (Let me know in the comments here if you're up for next week.)

For this week's Fun Monday post, Lisa over at Lisa's Chaos has issued a deceptively difficult challenge, difficult for me at least. She wants to hear about our pets. That should be easy, right? Yes, in fact, it is so easy, I'd say that at least 50% of my post are about my pets, either current or past. From Caper the Unstoppable to Sean Og the gold fish, I am a pet-centric writer.

But, needs must and it's good for my writerly brain to have to think up new angles on old topics. Thanks to Robin, who thoughtfully provided a list of Fun Mondays past, I found the perfect angle. For the Fun Monday on 16 April 2007, Bethany asked for answers to a James Tipton style interview.

An interview with Tobias T. Wolf-Dog, better known as Toby:

Q. What is your favourite word?
A. It's tough to narrow it down to just one word. My people tend to talk to me in phrases. So my favourite phrases would be "Who wants to go for a walk?" "Who wants to go for a ride?" and "Who's hungry?"

Q. What is your least favorite word?
A. Bath. Kennel.

Q. What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)?
A. There's nothing in the world quite like chewing a good Kong. When I have that Kong between my jaws, I feel the most peaceful sense of relaxation. I also absolutely love sheep - the way they run when I chase them, the excitement of the chase. I don't know why chasing sheep is a capital crime. It's just not fair. What other purpose do they possibly serve?

Q. What turns you off?
A. Doggy jail. I hate going there. Not even sheep would make it a decent place.

Q. What is your favorite curse word?
A. Fucktard, without a doubt. As long as it's not being directly applied to me. I am not a fucktard, I'm just a little exuberant sometimes.

Q. What sound or noise do you love?
A. The sound of rain on the windows, as long as I'm inside. The chirping of the birds. Who am I kidding? I live for the rustle of the food bag and the thwack of a Kong bouncing off the gravel driveway.

Q. What sound or noise do you hate?
A. Peter's mini helicopter. That thing is the incarnation of the devil. I try to tell my people that thing is pure evil but they think it's funny. Sure, it's all fun and games until the evil mini helicopter slits your throat in the middle of the night.

Q. What profession would you like to attempt?
A. I quite like my current profession as greeter and securer of Peter and Ann's little house in the Middle of Nowhere. But, I suppose if I had to pick, I'd love to be a butcher or a garbage man. Or a Kong tester.

Q. What profession would you not like to attempt?
A. I don't think I'd make a very good dog catcher, what with the conflict of interest and all. Probably also wouldn't make a very good shepherd.

Q. If Heaven exists, What would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
A. Welcome, Toby. The Kongs are over there and the never-ending bowl of Meaty Bits is available for eternity.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Gardening with Hubris

When we bought our house in Wheaton, I was very excited for the opportunity to create my own landscaping. I'd long been fascinated with prairies and it was my dearest wish to recreate a prairie in our backyard. I wanted to see tall grass billowing in the breeze and butterflies frolicking in wildflowers. I wanted to use native plants and I didn't want to be a slave to the suburban imperative of keeping grass short and unnaturally green.

I signed up for a prairie gardening class at a local community college, but it was cancelled for lack of interest. Undeterred, I bought some books and started planning the prairie garden of my dreams. I pictured in my head what I wanted - a sturdy grass for the main part of the lawn, a tall grass for the bottom border, and a wildflower garden on the side.

For our main lawn, I selected buffalo grass for its hearty, drought-resistant nature. To use as the screen and ornamental lining along the fence at the bottom of the yard, I selected a variety of bluestem tall grass that tops out between 7 and 10 feet. Then I found some suitable wildflower mixture for the flower garden. These all fit perfectly into my vision of the lawn.

I dutifully looked at what the plants needed to survive - they all required a lot of sunlight. One book suggested that I carefully watch the yard over the course of several days and map out the availability of sunlight. I didn't so this. Our property faced east we had a line of trees along the south side. The north side was home to one big tree and a few smaller ones. Even so, I thought that it would be okay - that the few hours of sunlight in the morning would be enough to carry my plants through.

All winter, I plotted and thought and waited for my opportunity to change the yard to my vision. In the spring, I spent several weekends pulling up small trees and clearing out a nasty thicket of thorny bushes and weeds at the bottom of the yard. When all of the undesirable plants were removed, it was time to enact my battle plan.

I arranged for the rental of a moving van, which I used to collect some heavy-duty machinery from the local tool rental place. I rented some sort of monstrosity to take up the existing lawn and also rented a rototiller. I bought vast quantities of top soil and brought it all home.

My first snag was the grass-ripper-outer. I just didn't have the strength or confidence to operate it. Peter was drafted into my project and he did a great job getting all the grass ripped up. He also taught me how to use the rototiller and sternly lectured me about safety. He had a helicopter lesson, so I was on my own.

The rototilling was slow going because our house was situated on land that nearly became a quarry instead of a residential area. The house was built on solid bedrock and it was impossible to dig even the smallest hole without finding rocks the size of my head. My rototilling involved a lot of starting and stopping, so I could clear the rocks.

When I was nearly done, I felt something was wrong with the rototiller. I didn't hear anything and it seemed to still be running, but I just has a bad feeling. I stopped, shut the machine off and waited until the blades were still. When I lifted up the machine to look at the blades, one them fell off with a thunk. Had I not stopped when I did, the blade could have flown off the back and kneecapped me. I was forced to return the rototiller and finish the rest by hand - it was an area the size of a large sedan.

Then came the fun part, laying the seed and the top soil and then dragging a board over it to smooth everything out. This whole project ended up taking the whole weekend and left me absolutely exhausted. I had a little bit of a bad feeling, since I hadn't been able to get the ground completely smooth, but I was sure that would be the only glitch in my plan.

The next few weeks were a dreadful pain - full of a lot of watering and waiting and worrying. Finally, the small sprouts of green in the main lawn started to grow. And grow. And grow. But it was strange because they didn't look like blades of grass. They looked like weeds. Lots and lots of weeds. Broad leafed weeds and straggly weeds, dandelions and thistles. Clover. Our yard was not discriminating - any weed could apply.

What we didn't have a lot of was buffalo grass. Turns out, when they say that buffalo grass needs sun, it needs A LOT of sun. Like ten to fifteen hours a day of sun. The two hours of direct sunlight and ten hours of leaf-dappled filtered sunlight were not cutting it at all.

I couldn't will my perfect prairie garden into existence, as hard as I tried. I just didn't have the right canvas. It was like trying to paint with oils on watercolour paper - messy, ugly, and frustrating. If I'd ever stopped to really look at the complete picture of a prairie, instead of fixating on the pretty parts, I'd have realised what was missing - trees. You can have a prairie or you can have a forest, you can't really have both. In my desire to create the picture in my head, I'd forgotten that our backyard was more forest than open meadow.

The lesson learned in my back yard in Wheaton - there are some things that I cannot bend to my will. Some things are entirely outside my control. It's too bad that I had to destroy my backyard to figure this out.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Best and Worst Reads of 2007

If you want to know what you really should be reading, then go over to Amy Purcell's Top-Ten list. Amy is a much better reader (and writer) than I am, but we all need aspirations. For the record, I agree with Amy that reading is sexy, but I'm afraid the corollary of that is that reading trash is slutty. To name it is to own it and I can admit that I read promiscuously.

If you want a recomendation for a trashy novel to read on an airplane, then you've come to the right place. This list is entirely subjective and the "of 2007" just means that I read them in 2007. Special thanks to Conortje for planting the idea in my head.

Worst Reads of 2007

In no particular order, the worst books I read this year:

  • Dead Past
  • by Beverly O'Connor - Diane Fallon, head of the crime lab in a small southern town, must tackle her most difficult case yet: a meth lab explosion at a house party. The writing was stiff and stilted with too many irrelevant details stuffed in for good measure. The characters don't even rise to the level of cardboard cutouts. I know - why did I keep reading? Because it's her fourth book, I kept expecting it to get better. I was so wrong.

  • Night Sins
  • by Tami Hoag - A small town police cheif and the new Minnesota Bureau of Investigations field agent struggle to locate a missing 9-year old boy. Hoag is usually reliably good, so I can only hope this was an early book. It is full of annoying and sanctimonious over-telling. The book probably could have been shortened by 30% if all of the over-telling were removed - then it might be a passably good book.

  • Book of the Dead
  • by Patricia Cornwell - I am not going to waste anymore time lamenting the downfall of one of my previously favourite authors. You can read about it in depth here.

  • Book of Fate
  • by Brad Metzler - I found this book to be confusing, uninspiring, and overall poorly executed. In fact, I couldn't even give you a concise plot summary.

    Note to self, perhaps the object lesson here is don't have the words "Book of" in your title.

    Best Reads of 2007

    Unlike the worst books, where I didn't want to think too much about which steaming pile of shite was worse than another steaming pile of shite, I put the effort into selecting and ordering the good books.

    My best books of 2007, in ascending order of greatness:

    10. The Road by Cormac McCarthy - In some sort of nightmare future version of America, where everything is burnt to a crisp, choking ash and smoke still linger in the air, and bad men far outnumber the good, a father and his son walk the road. Equal parts harrowing and mesmerizing, I felt in peril as I was reading it. Writing like that, that transports you to another time and place so completely, is always a joy to read, even when the new reality is a nightmare.

    9. Life As We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer - What would happen to a regular 15-year old girl and her normal family if an asteroid knocked the moon slightly off kilter, causing tsunamis, volcanoes and other natural disasters to upset an otherwise ordinary existence? This book follows Miranda and her family as they try to adapt and adjust to their new world. Pitch-perfect in every respect. Being a teenager is hard enough, but being a teenager in a world that seems like it might be ending is a special challenge that this book describes perfectly.

    8. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson - Bryson's memoir of growing up in 1950s Des Moines was engaging and hilarious.

    7. Exit Music by Ian Rankin - After 20 years (and 17 books), DI Rebus is forced into retirement, but first he has to clear up a few cases. A good end to Rebus' run although perhaps not as strong as The Naming of the Dead. Rankin is near the top of my list of favourite authors and if you're interested in giving him a go, start with Knots and Crosses since that's where it all began, then you can skip ahead to Black and Blue and then work your way forward.

    6. Sunstroke by Jesse Kellerman - Gloria Mendez, a 36 year old woman, has nutured a crush on her boss Carl, a soft-spoken man 20 years her senior. When Carl vanishes on a trip to Mexico, Gloria feels that she must unravel the mystery. I resisted reading this book for at least a year because I was suspicious, as Jesse's parents are Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, both bestselling authors. I'm glad I eventually gave in. The imagery and the character development are especially fantastic. I'd love to figure out how the author manages to maintain momentum when his character is just thinking.

    5. Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich - Ehrenreich does for white collar, middle-management job seekers what she did for minimum wage slaves in "Nickled and Dimed." She set herself a task - to find and then work in a middle-class white collar job in a PR-related field within six months. The results are not at all what she expected. Ehrenreich has a fantastic writing style, a wry sense of humour and spot-on observations. As someone who has been made redundant four times in a ten-year career, I related with to this book.

    4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling - A perfect ending to a beloved series. The writing was much improved and the book tied up the series magically with a sparkling bow.

    3. What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman - Thirty years after two sisters vanished from a mall, a woman involved in a hit-and-run claims to be the younger sister. The book alternates between the past and present as the detectives attempt to figure out the identity of the woman and the events 30 years earlier. I am quite taken with Lippman's writing style. In fact, she could have populated at six spots in my list. Although I had a good idea where the book was going, the details and resolution still managed to be surprising and satisfying.

    2. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan - What if being gay was normal and a high school could have a transsexual quaterback/homecoming queen? This book is a rare beast - magical realism in a high school setting with a unique voice, lovely writing, and engaging story.

    1. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - Like the opening of a Shakespeare play, the first sentence tells you everything you need to know about what is to happen next:

    They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.

    In one slim volume, McEwan has distilled a tragic story of misunderstanding and miscommunications. His Britain of 1962, with its ingrained manners, class structure, and inhibitions, is perfectly realized. What I found most stunning was McEwan's economy of language. He boils away all the unnecessary details and presents only the stark bones of the story.

    Methodology and Honourable Mention

    To create this list, I did a search in my blog for all of my reading reports. I started keeping track in March and had a list of 80 books to consider. (Unsurprisingly, I can't remember what I read in January and February.)

    I pulled out the real clunkers first for my Worst Of list. Then I wrote down the name of every book that I really enjoyed reading and would feel confident recommending to a friend. In the end, seven books didn't make the final cut (and this is roughly the order of how close they were to making it):
  • Every Secret Thing by Laura Lippman

  • Forever in Blue by Ann Brashares

  • Whack a Mole by Chris Grabenstein

  • Self Made Man by Norah Roberts

  • Slam by Nick Hornby

  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

  • Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

  • In 2008, I'm going for quality instead of quantity as I participate in the Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge
    My list of dangerous books might end up being the only books I get through this year.

    Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

    Tuesday, January 01, 2008

    December Reads

    December was a good reading month - long nights, holidays, and vacation days. Plus, I had the means and opportunity to buy new books so I had a lot to keep me occupied.

    I'm almost embarrassed to say the total for the month (15), since it's a pretty good indicator of A. how much I don't have a life and B. how much trash I read. :) I read so many books that I'm not going to give a summary of each book because it would bore you and hurt my head. Instead, I'm going to give a 1-word review of each book.

    So, in order, from least favourite to most favourite:
    15. Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell - Disappointing
    14. Fear by - Jeff Abbott - Boring
    13. Death Message by Mark Billingham - Confusing
    12. Whisky Sour by JA Konrath - Annoying
    11. Rusty Nail by JA Konrath - Unrealistic
    10. Marley and Me by John Grogan - Humourous
    9. In Big Trouble by Laura Lippman - Unmoored
    8. The Sugar House by Laura Lippman - Layered
    7. Slam by Nick Hornby - Charming
    6. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn - Interesting
    5. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult - Thought-Provoking
    4. No Good Deed by Laura Lippman - Hearty
    3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy - Harrowing
    2. The Last Place by Laura Lippman - Twisty
    1. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan- Amazing