February 26, 2009

Another "game" from Facebook:

The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up? Books I've read are marked, sometimes with additional comments.

  1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - read, twice, before the movies
  3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  4. Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling - read them
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - read
  6. The Bible - read
  7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - read
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman - read
  10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - read, and have avoided most things Dickens since then
  11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott - read
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy - read
  13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - read
  14. Partial Works of Shakespeare - read
  15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - read
  17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
  18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - read
  19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger - might read this
  20. Middlemarch - George Eliot - read, reluctantly, with much napping
  21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell - read, and nearly burned it
  22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - read
  23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
  24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams - read, and waved to Douglas Adams once
  26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
  27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - read, with a cheat sheet for the Russian nicknames
  28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
  29. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - read
  30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame - read
  31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis - read
  34. Emma - Jane Austen
  35. Persuasion - Jane Austen - read
  36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis - read; isn't this redundant to #33?
  37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - might read this someday
  40. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne - read
  41. Animal Farm - George Orwell - haven't read this; it was part of a cluster of books read by my class in jr. high - some folks read this, I read Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
  42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown - read
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving - recommended to me by a friend about 20 years ago, and I still haven't gotten around to it
  45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery - read, and the seven books that came after it
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood - read
  49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding - read
  50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel - read
  52. Dune - Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
  58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - read
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon - might read this
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - read
  61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck - read
  62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - read
  63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
  64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold - read
  65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
  66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
  71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
  73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - read
  74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
  75. Ulysses - James Joyce
  76. The Inferno - Dante
  77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal - Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession - AS Byatt - might read this
  81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens - read
  82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell - Ian's read this one
  83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White - read
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - read portions
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - read
  92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery - read
  93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down - Richard Adams - read
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare - read
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl - read
  100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I believe I've read 43 of these... I might read a few more someday, but there are probably several on this list, unarguably classics, that I'm very likely not going to get around to. Some people read fiction (which most of these are) to better understand The Human Spirit or explore some Great Questions. Me, I read fiction to be entertained. Too bad I couldn't have gotten a degree in Contemporary Science Fiction or Speculative Fantasy. Not that I'd be using that degree any more than I'm using the one I have...

February 22, 2009

Food ambitions for this year:
  • get a second crop and harvest of peas - one in the spring, one in the fall
  • prepare and freeze more pesto
  • make a hard cheese - cheddar or gouda
  • make blackberry jam
  • make apricot jam
  • put up a roasted red pepper spread
  • and a tomato preserve
  • come up with a scheme that will allow me to purchase pastured chicken from the farmers' market and store it so that I can use it in small portions without cooking the whole thing and then freezing the bulk of it (which makes for yucky chicken)
  • put up a comparable quantity of tomatoes as last year
  • experiment with an alternative onion storage technique, and store more onions
  • research grain mills with an eye toward being able to grind my own whole wheat flour; bonus points if the mill is electric but retrofit-able for hand grinding
  • freeze some broccoli
  • freeze more corn
  • do the math for the economics of making my own butter
  • dry more celery
  • look into making mayonnaise; this is especially interesting if I can do it in small batches or if it keeps well
  • find Caitlyn a replacement for her "nut covered raisins" breakfast cereal, something that doesn't have corn syrup or hydrogenated stuff in it
  • read up on making pasta - not likely to be something I do regularly but it would be good to know how to do it
  • harvest more of the "fringe" berries - the huckleberries and lingonberries - in the yard
  • experiment with more of those good-for-you veggies like beets and turnips, both growing and eating

Other ambitions:
  • attempt making soap
  • sew more of our clothes; especially see if I can extend the life of things Caitlyn outgrows by lengthening or repurposing
  • complete some more quilts, especially some of those that have been waiting in the cedar chest for proper backings or those I've been intending to make out of old t-shirts
  • write more regularly, even if it's blogging
  • balance my reading diet of fantasy fiction with serious fiction and non-fiction
  • find some non-neighborhood volunteer activity; I'm infatuated with the idea of helping out on a farm
  • laugh more
  • get myself sufficiently extricated from neighborhood association stuff that I'm interested in doing stuff with the broader community (tackling the anti-clothesline rule or teaching sewing or something)
  • add a new client or two to the roster
  • bring in more money each month than it costs us for Caitlyn's preschool
  • worry less, especially about The State of Things - all I can do is prepare as best I can for the space I'm in and worrying isn't going to change what happens, or make it happen faster or slower
  • find a better balance between what I want to do and what Caitlyn wants to do
  • go for more hikes
  • come to some decision about what comes after preschool
  • get more exercise
  • organize the garage to better use the space
  • let go of useless stuff I've been hanging on to, like all my notes from my college courses; I probably have all my AP US history notes from high school around here somewhere, too

February 17, 2009

I had planned to add rain barrels to some of our downspouts this spring, but I think it's going to at least wait a couple more years. In doing the research, I've run into too many concerns that mushroomed the project into more than I can handle right now.

The biggest concern is how exactly I could use the water I collected this way. Due to the presence of bird crap on roofs, most resources were pretty clear that rain barrel water isn't potable. I didn't look into what filtering would be required to make it ok for humans to drink but presumably it's more than just boiling it. But lots of resources felt it would be best to use the water on plants I didn't intend to eat since I have an asphalt shingle roof and who knows what those petrochemicals washing out of the asphalt would to do to the people who eat those plants. This wouldn't be a big deal if I grew mostly flowers. But I have veggies, fruit trees, herbs and berries. The flowers I have are mixed in with the food. I couldn't find out if I wasn't supposed to put the rain barrel water directly on the plant (sprinkler, watering can, etc) or if I wasn't supposed to put that water on the soil for the roots to access. Is it a matter of stuff one could wash off the plant after harvest? Or is it a matter of toxics being absorbed into the plant where I can't wash it off?

Several pages suggested letting the first ten minutes of rain wash off the roof and then redirecting the water into the rain barrels. Um, yeah. It rains a lot here - at night.

Add to this the downspout rerouting I'd need to do: downspout to barrel (as a direct feed or as a Y with a switch) and then the overflow back to the original downspout destination. Several of the barrels I looked at have a hose-sized overflow, which seems inadequate for something that can receive upwards of 100 gallons of rain water per storm - water destined for a barrel that holds between 40 and 75 gallons, at a time when I won't be watering since it's raining. So I either need to retrofit a barrel with a downspout sized overflow or get one of the few barrels that come that way to prevent barrel flooding. I need to come up with a system for removing the rain barrels from the downspout and hooking everything back up the way it is now (a reason for those Y dividers) for winter; full barrels suffer when it freezes as the water inside expands - although I'm not sure an empty barrel would do better since we lost a plastic cover to the front porch light to the freezing weather this winter (no, really, the plastic just crumbled in our hands).

Top it all off: I have a really small yard and a homeowner's association with guidelines and rules about what I can do to the outside of my property. Since we're in an end unit, my rainbarrels and their accouterments must at the very least be neat and tidy; they might possibly need to be downright invisible.

So, realizing that I was becoming overwhelmed trying to wrap my head around all this, I decided that it's going to have to wait. Perhaps this is even a place where I might need to admit I can't do everything myself.

February 12, 2009

I read a lot. Not as much as I used to, nor as much as I'd like, and certainly not as much as some other people, but I'm pretty sure I read more than average. Some books I just read once and then move on. Some move into my head and set up housekeeping; they become a part of me and I revisit them often, sometimes cover to cover, sometimes just random sections while I'm waiting for the pasta water to boil. Some I go back to because I love the characters (Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson series, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow & Thorn, Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens). Sometimes it's the writing (Patricia McKillip, Barbara Kingsolver). Sometimes it's the world created (Robin McKinley, Jennifer Roberson).

So, what is it that keeps Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series in my head? I've read all four books, twice, and bits of it keep popping into my head at random, inconvenient times. I don't think it's the characters, unless sheer mysteriousness is enough to do it. Bella's a bit of a whiner and distressingly immature at times - something she might be forgiven for as she's a teenager. Edward is annoyingly uncommunicative. Their relationship, which appears to be founded on not much more than "She smells nice" and "He's beautiful", goes from "I must ignore you exist to preserve my sanity" to "I'd rather die than be apart from you" in record time for no reason I really see. I get attraction and hormones and all, but it seems a relationship that's going to last for all eternity needs a little bit more of a foundation.

It's not the writing. I'm not a great judge of writing, but this case is rather unremarkable. I don't know I'd go so far as Stephen King has, although his is usually an opinion I trust on such things. (His theory for the series' popularity is that it makes sex less frightening for pre-teen girls. I don't have enough psychology to argue with him, but I don't see it. Edward is stubbornly Victorian when it comes to sex. When they finally move beyond kissing and cuddling, it's post-marriage and it promptly results in a pregnancy that is both Bella's death and transformation. As a result, the sex in these books - mostly left to the reader's imagination - is terrifying. Maybe it's the kissing and the cuddling which are being made palatable to readers who have just recently moved beyond cooties and if-you-like-a-person-hit-them-in-the-shoulder...)

I'm not even sure it's the world created. It's a lot like Reality, except for the whole vampire thing. Meyer has put some new-to-me-spin on the vampire mythos, which was fun. But it's really a very basic story: Girl feels Unspecial, mysteriously attracts attention of Most Amazing Boy, and ultimately discovers she's the Most Special Of Them All, or at least Starts to See Herself Clearly. I think this territory was thoroughly covered in the 1980s with movies starring Molly Ringwald. I presume it's being covered again each decade, and maybe Twilight is the vehicle of this decade. I guess I'm not keeping up with the kids these days.

Maybe it's because there's some part of me that hasn't really gotten over how storybook my teen years weren't. I hope I was never as whiny or trapped in inaction as Bella tends to be, but I understand her outsider status, her belief that she's nothing special. Has anyone ever stood outside the In Crowd and not daydreamed about being pulled into that magical world by someone who sees something no one else does? There probably isn't enough money in the world to convince me to be a teenager again, but there seems to be some irrational part of me that hasn't let go of that daydream. So, I guess that's the itch Twilight scratches.

Kinda sad, really, to realize that some things I'm just not getting over. Maybe by the time I'm forty... Goals are good, right?

February 04, 2009

I meant to write this weeks ago, but couldn't seem to find the time (colds, work, school, the death of our tv, garden prep... you know, life).

There were a lot of particularly good bits in President Obama's inauguration speech. But this is the part that popped out for me:
... Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today...
Think of the stories of your family. The great-great-grandmother who took a train across a country. The grandfather who sold newspapers so his mother and sister could eat. The great-grandmother who raised chickens and rabbits in the backyard to feed a family of 9. The grandmother who worked in the machine shop during The War. The stories you don't know about the folks who came before them: the people who invented, who farmed, who timbered, who came West, who landed in New York knowing three words of English, who saved so the children could go to school and learn to read.

Think of the attitudes of the last eight years, or the last thirty. The general sense that We Deserve This, that Life Should Be Easy, that Life Will Be Worthless Without That Car/Sweater/TV.

And know that such attitudes are an insult to all the people who came before you who scrimped and saved and sacrificed so that you could have what you have.

To not sacrifice some of your own comfort and ease so that the generations that come after you can have a shot at having at least the same standard of life as you do is to say to that boy on the corner selling papers in 1931 that his efforts didn't really matter.
... But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
Let's roll up our sleeves, America. We've got work to do.

February 02, 2009

There's a lot I don't understand about economic stimulus packages. I barely understand economics. Never mind, I don't. But I have a couple of thoughts about debate in Congress about the current stimulus package:

I honestly don't get the logic behind the "tax cuts stimulate the economy" reasoning. I get that if people had more money, then maybe they'd spend more and that would benefit the economy. And that if businesses had less to pay in taxes then maybe they'd use the surplus money to create more jobs. But those seem like rather big maybes. And it could be argued from the experience of the last 25 years that giving businesses tax breaks doesn't result in more jobs, just a bigger payout for the executives and shareholders.

In a faltering economy where jobs are disappearing at a rate that has people worrying about The Next Great Depression, does it make sense to cut taxes on profit and payroll? If the job goes away, what payroll is left to tax? What income can be taxed? Cutting taxes on zero dollars still means that there's still zero dollars to spend, right? Is ten percent of zero still zero?

There also seems to be some concern that too much of the current stimulus package is focused on things that are indirectly stimulating, things that won't have a significant impact for a couple of years. Specifically, the various forward-thinking portions of the package: retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency; more spending on education; broadband for rural areas; upgrading the national electrical grid; funding for more green jobs.

If you had a car and you didn't do the regular maintenance for it, change the fluids, replace the tires before they were bald, etc, eventually the car would stop working. And you'd have to buy another one, which would probably set you back more than it would have cost you to perform the routine maintenance. This stubborn refusal to fund forward-thinking investments in the future is worse - it costs so much more and gambles that they (who? the Japanese? the Germans?) will still be making "cars" when the country needs a new one. Funding infrastructure is expensive, but putting it off makes it more expensive and more dangerous. Just ask Seattle about the Viaduct. Damn thing will fall down next time we have a decent sized earthquake, probably killing hundreds or thousands of people depending on what time the earthquake hits (Have you ever tried to schedule an earthquake? They never come at a good time.) and will take out more property than I probably know about, more if it sways at all before it comes down. We've known this is a likely scenario for more than 10 years, yet the Governor, the Legislature, the City of Seattle and the voters keep going around in circles because no one wants to own the cost of fixing or replacing the Viaduct or offend anyone who might not like the eventual solution. No one seems to think the Rattle of the Bay (1989) can happen here.

And perhaps more importantly, funding forward-looking projects is about Hope. It says, there's something good about the future, even if it's not here yet. We need the boost of National Confidence that Federal Spending on the Future would give us. If the government doesn't want to invest in the future, why should any of the rest of us? If there's nothing hopeful coming, why should I bother to come out of my bunker now? Spend money on the economy now? It's only going to get worse, so I should look to me and mine and make whatever preparations I can so that we're ready, so that we survive.

This is why I think that the President's stimulus package is worth passing. It's not exclusively about goosing the economy in the next six months. We're looking at a decline (collapse?) caused by years of short-sighted thinking; no single stimulus package is going to fix the damage done so that we're all merrily shopping again next month. This package is about finally looking at the big picture, seeing more of the future than next quarter's earnings or the results of the next election cycle. This is about saying, "We won't leave our children and grandchildren something worse than we received." And until that message is felt at the gut-level of the entire US population, there will be no significant economic recovery.