Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Hunger Games

I’m not even sure where to begin about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins without gushing. It takes place in somewhat of a futuristic United States divided into 12 districts and a capitol. From the ages of 12-17, every child’s name is put in a hopper in each of these districts. One day a year on the Reaping, a male and female are chosen from each district to participate in the Hunger Games, the object of which is to kill all of your other opponents and be the last one standing. The Hunger Games take place in the capitol but is televised for all to see. Tributes, the chosen contestants, have sponsors and coaches and are literally in a fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen ends up being the girl tribute for Distict 12, one of the less well off districts. She is versed in archery and hunts at home which comes to her advantage in the games that take place in an arena usually outfitted with lakes, forests, etc. Not only does Katniss have to fight to stay alive, she also has to engage in a lot of game play with the other tributes, including the male tribute from District 12, Peeta Mellark (great character).

I don’t want to give too much more about this plot away. I loved The Hunger Games. Even though its genre is Young Adult, I think it was my favorite book of 2009, fitting that it was my last read, yes? It’s the first in a series by Collins, the second being Catching Fire, which I am waiting not so patiently for at the library. I think the third is to be released in 2010. The characters are all so well written and full of emotion. The story, though clearly violent, was not gratuitously so. I couldn’t put it down! I told you it was hard not to gush. I also think this would make a great movie. Maybe someday…….

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009: The Year I Read 50 Books

Back in January I challenged myself to read 35 books this year. In fact, I started this blog in the first place as an attempt to keep track of what I had read. So often people would ask, "What have you read lately?" and I would just draw a blank even though I could have rattled off any number of titles suitable for the inquirer's reading. I am proud to say that I not only met my goal but far exceeded it! I ended up reading 50 books and if I have some time tomorrow, there's a chance I'll finish 51 before the ball drops.

So, in a little walk down memory lane, and as a quick reference for future readers looking for a good tome to tuck into on a cold winter or warm summer day, I present my:



Fifty Books of 2009 (all linked back to their original review -- yes, this took a long time)

The starred entries are ones I found particularly memorable and would suggest reading over any of the others. Not that there aren't other worthy reads, those are just my faves this year.


1.) Louder than Words, Jenny McCarthy
2.) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer ***
3.) Life of Pi, Yann Martel
4.) Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, Vicki Myron ***
5.) Peony in Love, Lisa See
6.) Multiple Bles8ings, Kate Gosselin
7.) Julie & Julia, Julie Powell
8.) One Fifth Avenue, Candace Bushnell
9.) Plum Spooky, Janet Evanovich
10.) Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen
11.) Change of Heart, Jodi Picoult
12.) Such a Pretty Fat, Jen Lancaster ***
13.) Home, Marilynne Robinson
14.) The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff ***
15.) Here's The Story, Maureen McCormick
16.) New Rules of Lifting for Women, Lou Schuler
17.) Reading the OED, Ammon Shea
18.) A Little Bit Wicked, Kristen Chenoweth
19.) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
20.) Look Me In The Eye: My Life with Asperger's, John Elder Robison
21.) Master Your Metabolism, Jillian Michaels
22.) Mommywood, Tori Spelling
23.) The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
24.) Blessings, Anna Quindlen
25.) Still Alice, Lisa Genova ***
26.) Handle With Care, Jodi Picoult
27.) Best Friends Forever, Jennifer Weiner
28.) Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates ***
29.) We Are All Fine Here, Mary Guterson
30.) Finger Lickin' Fifteen, Janet Evanovich
31.) The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
32.) Resilience, Elizabeth Edwards
33.) The Center of Everything, Laura Moriarty
34.) Pretty in Plaid, Jen Lancaster
35.) Always Looking Up, Michael J. Fox
36.) Dismantled, Jennifer McMahon
37.) The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
38.) Supreme Courtship, Christopher Buckley
39.) Born Round, Frank Bruni ***
40.) The Wedding Girl, Sophie Kinsella/Madeline Wickham
41.) The Book Thief, Markus Zusak ***
42.) Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher
43.) Sloppy Firsts, Megan McCafferty
44.) Before You Know Kindness, Chris Bohjalian ***
45.) Twilight, Stephanie Meyer
46.) New Moon, Stephanie Meyer
47.) You Better Not Cry, Augusten Burroughs ***
48.) In the President's Secret Service, Ronald Kessler
49.) Bitter is the New Black, Jen Lancaster
50.) The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins ***


So there you have it. I hope you'll be motivated to pick a few of these up in your future reading endeavors. While I think my 50 fifty reads to be quite a feat, I couldn't have done it without my fabulous library. I didn't purchase a single one of these books. (Sorry publishers being put out of business due to the Kindle) They were all borrowed from just 3 miles down the road saving me upwards of $1,000 (calculating hard cover prices). I hope you all have access to a wonderful establishment such as this. Libraries are tantamount in a reading list this large as much as having the time to read every last word written.

Happy Reading in 2010!

A Calorie Complaint

Come on, Christmas. You do this to me every year, with your promise of gingerbread and cookies and parties where cheese abounds. Cheese is my kryptonite. I am useless against it. Before I know it, it's December 28th and I've consumed more unintentional calories and worked out much less than I planned that I feel like the biggest heifer. Part of me feels like I should work out really hard for the next 3 days to end the year on a healthful high note. The other part of me feels like I should just take it easy and start anew on January 1st. What I know for sure is that I will not be replacing the dead battery in my scale any time soon. I am left to weigh myself on the sly at work on our heavy duty industrial mail scale. Yes, if you're wondering, sometimes I take off my shoes and step on it, pretending I'm a package to be shipped off. I'm not sure how accurate it is but I can at least ballpark my eating indiscretions.

In other news, I have been in the biggest funk lately. I'm hoping something snaps me out of it soon. Do you think my poor eating habits and lack of exercise are adding to my despondency? Nah, couldn't be.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Baking!

I made these recipes a few weeks ago and begrudgingly froze them in tins instead of storing them in my stomach. They will make their party debut on Wednesday at my Grandma's house. I hope they're well received. I didn't take any pictures but I wanted to pass along the recipes from What's Cookin, Chicago? because they were so tasty.

Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
- I printed out this recipe a year ago with every intention of baking them then. Well, that didn't happen but I held onto it until this year and they were the first ones I tried. They're not necessarily a traditional Christmas cookie but I thought they seemed Christmasy all the same.

Peppermint Brownie Rounds - I didn't want to bother with cut outs this year (so much effort!) but I still wanted to make something with color and a recipe that was unmistakably CHRISTMAS. I make red AND green frosting for these but, I took a shortcut and used canned Buttercream. Martha Stewart, I am not.

I also made some gingerbread biscotti but I printed out the recipe and now I can't find where I got it from. That was my first biscotti attempt and they were really good, I thought. I think they'll be a hit at the Christmas brunch on Wednesday.

Happy Baking!

Bitter is the New Black

Bitter is the New Black is Jen Lancaster's first memoir. It was published some years ago but it was the only one of hers I hadn't read. I don't typically read books like this out of order but somehow that's how things shook out here. Bitter follows Jen's toils after she's laid off and trying to make ends meet in Chicago with her boyfriend-then-husband, Fletch, who subsequently also gets laid off. It's a tale of a completely materialistic woman who is humbled at every turn as she has to trade in her designer labels to pay the rent.

I really enjoyed Bitter is the New Black, mostly because I like Lancaster's writing. I will say, however, that this first memoir is not nearly as good as the later ones. I feel like she really found her voice as the books continued. Any of her 4 memoirs are worth reading and while you don't HAVE to read them in order, I'd recommend it. I'm sorry for the short reviews lately. As I mentioned before, things have just been so busy lately.

.....in fantasy football news......

Yes, you read that right. John is an avid Fantasy Footballer. He has tried to explain the excitement behind FF many times and I just can't get into it. I don't understand why you can't just cheer for your favorite team. How come you have to have players from all these other teams you don't care about? Well, I know why. That's how you gain points. So every week he tells me, "My team's doing great today" or "My team is really sucking it up on the field." I didn't care in the slightest until today. Today, he tells me he might actually win his league, to the tune of $300. Wheeee!!! Ashley gets to go shopping! Although somehow I don't think he'll see it that way.

Friday, December 18, 2009

In the President's Secret Service



In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents they Protect by Ronald Kessler, has the longest title ever. It chronicles the stories of many agents and their various protectees. Not much of a synopsis is really necessary here, in my opinion. This book was really interesting. Even if you have no interest in history, like me, you'll find a lot of juicy tidbits in here to keep you turning the page. #48 gets a thumbs up from me!

Sorry about the lazy blogging lately. The holidays have caught up with me and I feel like there's not enough time for anything these days. Christmas is in a week for Pete's sake! I will make a concerted effort to stay on task.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cards, all of you!

John and I purchase our cards half off the day after Christmas and pack them away with the decorations until next year. This always seems like such a grand idea to me until the next year as we unpack said cards. We typically purchase 3 different boxes, for variety. It never fails. I always hate one of the boxes. And it's always the one John has picked out. This year, not only was the design not very "holiday" but the quality of the card was crap. I can't really fault him for that since you can't feel the cards in the box unless you unwrap them but, I am faulting him for it anyway. Sorry, honey.

Moving on.....


I mailed my Christmas cards 2 weeks ago. I like to get them done and off my dining room table as soon as possible. I feel a great sense of accomplishment in finishing these. This year, I had return address labels printed. Best six bucks I ever spent. It totally saved my hand from cramping. What didn't save my hand was the personal message I wrote in every card. No signed names only here. This is the real deal. So, cards in the mail. And now we wait.....

Wait until all of my efforts prove fruitful. I send upwards of 40 cards and in the interest of full disclosure, I probably only receive cards in return from 50% of my list. What is wrong with the other delinquent 50%? How difficult is it to send a stinking Christmas card? They're not expensive and it really doesn't take much time. All I'm asking for is a card with your name in it. Come on. So this year, I'm doing it. I am crossing off anyone from my list that I don't get a card back from. In 2010, no card for you! Unless you're elderly, in which case I don't mind spreading a little Christmas joy in your direction. I realize this may seem petty and in opposition to the reason for the whole Christmas season but I don't care. No card for me? No card for you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

You Better Not Cry


Book #46 of the year was great! I won’t mince words. I put myself on the hold list for Augusten Burroughs’ latest memoir You Better Not Cry as soon as I read about it. As you might guess, it’s a collection of Christmas related tales. If you’ve never read any of Burroughs work and are looking for some humorous non-fiction, give him a try. He’s the author of Running with Scissors (which I haven’t read) Possible Side Effects, and Magical Thinking (both of which I have) among others. I find his style extremely witty and enjoyable.

You Better Not Cry is split into short stories. The first two take place during Burroughs’ childhood and showcase his memories of Christmas. I laughed out loud like a fool throughout both of these. I laughed so much that I was trying to figure out who I could buy this book for as a gift but I’ve already finished all my shopping. The rest, while funny, don’t stick out as much for me but I still really enjoyed them. If you are thinking of this book as a gift for someone, make sure they are not offended by homosexual humor as Burroughs is gay and this features prominently in one story in particular, though it was very funny. Anyway, pick this one up!


In other news, I got 100 pages into book #47 and had to give it up, despite my challenge. It was ROUGH! It was the follow up to Sloppy Firsts which I thought was decent enough but the series has gone in a direction of the boring persuasion. So, onto the next. 4 books in 3 weeks. Can I do it? You can watch me try!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stories from the Crapper: InSTALLment #79

Today’s bathroom tale was brought to me by one of my employees. He was shopping at Wal-mart on lunch when he walked into the men’s restroom and there was a women in there. When I asked how old she was, he thought maybe 40’s at the oldest. So, certainly not senile, and apparently not blind.


Woman: Am I in the men’s restroom?

Employee: Yes, unless I’m in the women’s restroom.

Woman: I can’t believe I did this again.


Twice! Well, at least twice and maybe more than that this woman was confused by the pants wearing man figure on the door and the “MEN” word as well. My employee prefaced this story to me by asking what I would think if I walked into a restroom where the wall was lined with urinals. He said this restroom, like most men’s rooms I would guess, had a whole row of them that this woman somehow didn’t see prior to using the restroom, presumably washing her hands, and then turning around only to find another man coming in. How embarrassing! Has this ever happened to you? I can’t think of a time where I inadvertently used the restroom belonging to the opposite sex, although I do know someone (a male) who accidentally used the women’s at a Cracker Barrel. He was in the stall when some women walked in. Horrifying, to say the least.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Open Letter to Victoria's Secret

Dear VS,
I recently purchased 2 pairs of Flatter Me pantyhose from your stores. This morning, I opened one of the packages and slid the left leg up when I was dismayed, to say the least, to already find a hole in the toe. My great toe was peeking out at me. Imagine my disappointment as this, I believe I mentioned, was a BRAND NEW pair that had never been worn. Between choices expletives and upon further inspection, I realized that there was stitching around this hole. What the what? This completely intentional.
By this point, my husband was laughing and pointing at my misfortunes. Because it was only the toe, which would have been hidden by my shoe, I proceeded to put on the right leg. No hole there. I am accustomed to wearing hose until there is a visible snag or run. If it's hidden by clothing or footwear, it's fair game. Only then did I read the packaging. Right below where you have printed "Control Top, Lace detail" etc. It says three small words. Sexy naked toe. Wha-huh? Sexy naked toe? Toe, singular. Not toes, plural. Just one. And apparently, having one toe poking out of your pantyhose is sexy.
Did you people come across some crazy market research that proves men like to see some (read: a) toe? At first I thought maybe these were made for peep-toe shoes, but no. I was a bit flummoxed mostly because it was only on the left foot. Sexy naked toe. Give me a break. All day I felt foolish. I polled others in my office who all found this inexplicable.
Please help. Why the intentional hole? Who likes this sexy naked toe?

Signed,
Ashley (loyal, perplexed VS customer)


........in other VS news............

Guest blogger appearance!!! John noticed something this weekend at Victoria's Secret (two different store locations) that he thought needed to be shared.

In conjunction with the blog about sexy toes, I wanted to include some observations I have had while shopping at VS. When shopping with Ashley, I like to observe other guys to see what they do to pass the time at stores like NY & Co., VS and Forever 21 ( I loathe Forever 21). Victoria’s secret always provides the best experience because all men fall into three categories when present in store with significant female companion.

Apathetic: This gentleman can be seen with hands in pocket, looking blankly around the store probably pondering why women need a store for underwear and bras when he can just go to target and buy a package of his desired underwear. Befuddled by the selection, color and variety, he stands silently waiting to move on.

The Closet Perv: I sadly fall under this category. We appear very similar to the apathetic man, except if you were to look more closely, you would see our eyes wander to the maid outfits, Mrs. Claus outfits and other naughtier selections in the store. This type of man can also sometimes be seen with a slight twinkle of disappointment in his eye when his significant female companion picks up a nude bra or a pair of cotton underwear, because he really wants her to go for the crazy stuff.

Brazen Man: This guy rifles through drawers, image be damned, looking for what he will take off of his wife that night. This past Saturday, I saw a man of perhaps 50 going through drawers, hangers and racks pulling off some crazy stuff. It was an amazing sight. Sure enough, all that crazy, impractical lingerie made into his wife’s hand, several pieces no less. Kudos to him!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hair Help

I finally have a color appointment on December 19th and I'm way excited. My hair is super drab lately and I'm ready to shake things up. I haven't gotten highlights since July. JULY, people! That's a really long time. When I had them done, we picked kind of a middle blonde so my roots wouldn't show too badly. Now that the appointment is upon us, I'm having a little trouble deciding what to do. I am naturally (I think) a pretty dark blonde. I typically have a few different shades of blonde highlights put in to brighten things up. Last Christmas, after much contemplation, I went brunette. It was quite a shock, but I really enjoyed it. Until about 4 months later when I didn't really feel like me anymore and went back to blonde. Boy, this is really rambly.

Here's where I need your help.......should I get more blonde? Or go back to brunette? I like both and of course when I grow tired of the dark, I can always go back. John is no help here because, he "likes it both ways." Thanks, honey. I also feel that brunette looks really healthy and shiny!

Here are examples of your choices.


Blonde





Brunette


Help a girl out and VOTE! It's anonymous. Feel free to leave a comment about why you voted one way or another or why you feel strongly against one color or the other. Time is running out!

New Moon

Right after I finished Twilight, I started in on New Moon, the second book of the Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer. Same characters, different drama. In this one, Edward decides he’s much too dangerous for Bella and the Cullens pick up and leave town. Warning – for the bulk of this book, Bella will whine about how empty she feels. You’re welcome to just skim those passages, they’re all the same. In Edward’s absence, Jacob has a chance to cozy up to her instead. But, Jacob’s got a secret too. Dun dun duh! I’ll just come out and say it since it’s clear from the movie trailer what said secret is. Stop reading if you don’t want to know…….He’s a werewolf. Well, he becomes a werewolf. (Insert lots of jokes about Bella trading one vicious creature for another.)

But, it’s a good thing the werewolves are around because Bella needs saving….again. So really, when I think about it, New Moon is the same drama with a few different characters. Reverse what I said in the above paragraph. My tone makes it seem like I didn’t like New Moon and I did. I think I probably enjoyed it a bit more than Twilight. However, I guess you could say I’m more Team Edward because I didn’t find Jacob’s life as interesting. Edward does make a pretty important appearance towards the end of this one and I liked the suspenseful part of the storyline more in New Moon than in Twilight. I also liked the more deeply investigated dynamic between Bella and her dad. If these books continue to improve as we get further into the series, then that’s a good thing. Maybe it just means that Meyer is also becoming a better writer. We shall see…..though maybe not until January. I’ve got a LOT of other books in my ‘To Be Read’ pile first. I need to recount but I think I’m currently finishing #47. So, I think I’m in good shape for my 50 goal. YEA!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Will power?

I have to stay strong here. I REALLY want to start baking Christmas treats and delicious goodies but I should absolutely not start doing so. The problem with my baking is not the end result, it's that I eat ALL of said end result. The only reason I can stick to some sort of a healthy eating regimen is because I don't stock these things in my cupboards. It seems, at Christmas, all bets are off. I found a recipe for Gingerbread Biscotti that I'm dying to try, even though I've never made biscotti before and it scares me just a little bit. I'd also like to make cut outs and the chex mix with the white chocolate (so good!) but if I start now, I fear I'll never stop.

Last year, I tried a few cookie recipes with low fat substitutes and they just weren't the same. I'm all for subbing low fat whenever possible but at Christmas, it feels like I'm cheating myself. What's a girl to do? Deprive herself of all things sugary goodness, or succomb to the wiles of the holiday baking temptress? For today, I'll hold off but I make no promises for tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Twilight

Well, I did it. Despite the fact that this series does not interest me at all, at my sister’s urging I got Twilight by Stephanie Meyer from the library. I thought before I continued to make fun of the Twi-hards out there that I should see for myself if the saga was worth all the hype. These books are thick, yo! But, the font is large and they’re relatively engrossing so they read very quickly. Actually, I was supposed to finish the first 2 books and see Twilight the movie all in less than a week so my sister and I could see New Moon (the second installment) together and she wouldn’t have to go alone. That didn’t quite happen. There’s always next time, B!

Unless you’re Osama Bin Laden (you know, cause he lives in a cave), you probably already know that this series focuses on a love story between a teenage girl, Bella Swan, and a “teenage” vampire, Edward Cullen. Bella moves in with her father in Washington halfway through high school. Although standoffish at first, Edward and Bella eventually fall head over heels in love despite her discovery of his affliction. The supporting cast includes the rest of the vampire bunch (including some nasty ones, the Cullens are all nice. Duh!), some folks on an Indian reservation including Jacob (who is also sweet on Bella) and a host of whiny high schoolers.

Twilight, to me, was a lot of exposition, A LOT! There was a whole bunch of explaining vampiric rules and a lot of long-winded passages of Bella’s subconscious. I felt like some of that was definitely necessary but much of it was simply superfluous. However, there was also more excitement than I anticipated and even a little suspense, toward the end. I just felt like things didn’t really get rolling until about 300ish pages in. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, have already finished New Moon (more on that another day), and am looking forward to completing the series and seeing the movies.

I can’t ever see myself sporting a ‘Team Edward’ t-shirt or lining up at a midnight premiere. Nor will I probably ever re-read the books but I’m glad I’m at least experiencing them for myself. Have I been bitten? Only time will tell. (Get it? Vampire. Bitten. HA!)