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I write about a lot of things — whatever’s going on in my life at the time, whether that’s traveling, getting in shape, reading, etc, and sometimes thoughts about where I’m headed, or where I’ve been. As a former librarian I’m a little obsessed with books, and as a tech geek I love all things Apple, Kindle and in-between. I love food more than it good for me, and my viewing habits range from “Downton Abbey” to “Modern Family” and back around again. I have two cats, a wonderful husband, and the rest is subject to change without notice.

Coloring books

catcolorHave you ever sat down to color with your son, daughter, nephew, niece, some other young person, and when they’ve wandered off ten minutes later, you’re so engrossed in your artistic creation you barely notice? An hour goes by and you’re still coloring away? It’s happened to me more times than I can count. Kids’ coloring books are a lot of fun, but now there are more challenging options for adults, too.

Coloring books for grown-ups are popping up on Amazon’s bestseller lists these days — some popular titles are Enchanted Forest and Secret Garden. These books and others like them feature complex, detail-heavy drawings that can take days to fill in, with endless opportunities for creative choices. I very much recommend Creative Cats — I happily spent days coloring in my first selection, proudly shown here. The paper quality is excellent and pages tear out for easy use.

I was kind of obsessed with my crayons, as a kid. I treated them more like toys than tools. I had a Crayola Caddy and would rearrange the various hues according to all kinds of complicated schemes. I was convinced they had personalities — gender, moods, backstories. Yellow Green and Green Yellow, that’s an obvious conflict right there. Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber were having a clandestine romance. And the primaries, simple Red, Blue Yellow, White, Black, these were the ruling classes of the caddy, settling inter-color disputes and passing down judgement on caddy proximity. My crayons re-enacted their own episodes of Game of Thrones on a daily basis, though with less bloodshed and much rarer beheadings. (There was a sharpener, though.)

crayonsSadly, the Crayola Caddy of the 80s is no longer made, but I recently received the Ultimate Crayon Collection as a birthday present, and the possibilities are endless once more.

If you haven’t colored in a long time, give it a try. It’s a great way to relax, to focus, to take your mind off anything but the fierce rivalry between Red Orange and Orange Red, and the fate of Crayola society as we know it.








Kindle version of Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked” on sale today only

I love getting Kindle books at a steep discount — I keep a wish list of all the books I want (it’s a long list) and watch for sales — which I promise to always share here!

If you’re a fan of “Wicked” — the show or the book! — head on over to Amazon. The Kindle version of Gregory Maguire’s turn-the-whole-story-on-its-head book, Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, is on sale for just $1.99 today only.

 

Wolf Hall: book review

whallI’ve only watched one episode of Masterpiece’s “Wolf Hall” mini-series so far — I’m saving the rest for a binge-watch at the end. Damian Lewis is so perfect for King Henry I can’t believe I didn’t think of him before. Mark Rylance isn’t how I pictured Cromwell exactly, but he’s wonderful as well. It seems like a marvelous production. Despite that, though, it’ll never match the experience of reading Hilary Martel’s novel for me. Wolf Hall was one of the finest, most engrossing books I’ve ever read.

Reposting my earlier review here…

The hardest book review to write is one for a book you loved. It’s difficult not to gush, to come up with useful analysis, even look for weak areas, when all you want to do is ramble on and on about how exceptional it was. Talking about Wolf Hall is like that for me.

Mantel turns the character of Thomas Cromwell on his head, leading us away from all we’ve previously been told of him. Not a villain here at all, he is merely a man, and a fairly good one. He is an ambitious man who strives and reaches for more, but one who is compassionate, feeling, and deeply thoughtful. A commoner from the worst of beginnings, he manages to rise to high office on merit, and no small amount of intelligence, alone. He lives, he laughs and he mourns, and mostly he builds for the future. Reading every line, even when it is not Cromwell speaking, feels like you are reading his mind, hearing things as he would have, seeing as he would have seen, and feeling as he would have as well.

Wolf Hall takes place during the heady years when Henry VIII pursued Anne Boleyn, then split the church in order to take her as his wife. Throughout these pages, Anne is a palpable, throbbing presence, always felt if not all that often seen. (“She says yes, yes, yes, then she says no,” one man describes her aptly in her absence.) And Henry himself is captured so perfectly, as both prince and man —

“The king has two bodies. The first exists within the limits of his physical being: you can measure it, and often Henry does, his waist, his calf, his other parts. The second is his princely double, free-floating, untethered, weightless, which may be in more than one place at a time. Henry may be hunting in the forest, while his princely double makes laws. One fights, one prays for peace. One is wreathed in the mystery of his kingship: one is eating a duckling with sweet green peas.” (p. 392)

But it is not only the famous Mantel brings to life, it’s also the lesser beings, the people of London, of York, of Whitehall and Putney, Calais and Essex. People of the court, people of the streets, people of the kitchens of the great halls of England. The sounds, the smells, the atmosphere, it all seems to be contained on these pages.

The details, the atmosphere, the craft in which words are spun and tales are told, all of this combines to make Wolf Hall a work of literary art. I devoured every word and longed for more, and cannot recommend it enough.


That Jesus knew where his towel was.

“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything. Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass, and so the idea was lost, seemingly for ever.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I was raised Catholic. I sporadically attended Catholic school, and I made my confirmation a little late, but I got there in the end. I don’t practice anymore, but I know that in the eyes of the Church, that doesn’t make me any less of a Catholic now. I won’t quibble the distinction, but I will say it’s a one-sided relationship these days. I’m not an atheist (though it would be fine if I was). I don’t know what I believe exactly (and that’s okay too). There’s a really cool frood sitting in the Vatican right now, but in my opinion, at least, there’s still a long way to go to get back to the guy who told us to just love one another.

jesus

For the record: I’m not debating whether or not Jesus existed in this post, and if he did, if the real man bore much resemblance to this guy. That’s a whole different conversation. This is the J.C. I learned about as a kid, so that’s who I’m talking about here.

When I was a little church-going girl, it was the 70s. My church had folk masses every week, and everyone’s hair was a little long. That’s where and when I learned about Jesus. Jesus, as I was taught, was a really nice guy. I mean, super nice. He was always friendly and considerate, and he never gossiped or had a bad word about anyone. He loved his parents. He was a carpenter like his dad (okay, stepdad). The first time he performed a miracle, it was to help his mom — come on, how sweet was that? He had long flowy robes and pretty eyes. He multiplied loaves and fishes so no one went hungry (too bad you can’t get restaurants to do that with a fish fry during Lent). He rode a donkey. He didn’t give into peer pressure. He was nice to sick people and poor people and lepers, instead of being mean to them like everyone else was. He held a nice dinner party for all his friends. What’s not to like? We’d go to church and sing nice songs about how awesome Jesus was, accompanied by a strummy guitar and maybe a tambourine. It was all uber-pleasant, and more than a little groovy.

When I got older, though, church stopped being so sunshine-y. Religious instruction became more and more about what we weren’t supposed to do, about what was sinful, what was wrong, what would send us to hell. As an adult, it’s only gotten worse. Everywhere I turn I see people who calls themselves Christians preaching hate and talking about sin with a fervor that surely, you would think, could be put to better, more productive use. They focus on judging others around them, ignoring what John said about casting the first stone, and they’re so angry. So scornful. So miserable and not at all cool.

I don’t understand it. Jesus spent his whole life being kind. He wasn’t negative. That doesn’t mean he agreed with everyone around him, or didn’t know that there were evil people, or sinners, in the world. He spoke out against cruelty and prejudice and larceny and greed. But whatever he considered sins, he didn’t spend his precious time on that. He focused on being nice instead. Considerate. (And by sometimes hiding behind the couch — whenever anyone asks me if I’ve “found Jesus” it’s the first place I look, and he’s ALWAYS there. He’s such a bad hider.) Accepting. Friendly. So would it be so hard to give what he did a try, instead of focusing on hate?

I’m not going to change how anyone else thinks, and I’m not really trying to. But every year on this day, I think, “Good Friday? Well, not for one guy, it wasn’t.” Jesus was a nice guy, and he went through a lot of crap. Personally, I don’t think spewing hate is a good way to say thank you, should one be so inclined to do so. Instead, you might want to try being a little more hoopy, a lot less judgy, and a little nicer, on the whole. Really, that’s pretty good advice for us all.

mischief managed

all7I recently finished a highly enjoyable reread of the Harry Potter series. At the end, though, just as always, I can’t help but feel a little down. Not because of the sad bits, especially in the last book — though those would be a worthy reason. Really, just because… it’s over.

I came to Harry Potter just before the fourth book came out. All the signs at Barnes & Noble, counting down the days to the book’s release… I felt like there must be something to this. I read the first three books and loved them. Then, on the midnight release night for Goblet Of Fire, I was on my way home, late, and remembered the book was coming out in a few minutes. I walked into the store expecting, I don’t know, a few dozen people. Instead the line filled the store. Two hours later I had my copy, and never looked back.

For later book releases, I knew what to expect. Believe me, by the time the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released, I was a pro. I spent the day at Barnes & Noble, and was one of the first hundred to receive our books after that midnight countdown…

The thing I remember most, though, was leaving the store a few minutes later, book held high proudly in hand. About a thousand people were in the parking lot (overflow — the store was full to capacity) and they cheered as we came out.

scholasticThat’s the thing about Harry Potter that still gives me chills of happiness, after all these years. Once upon a time, kids waited in line all day for a book. They wore costumes, they debated theories on sites like The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet… for a book. They formed tribute bands like Harry & the Potters and released CDs. They made videos, fanart, and wrote fanfiction. They’re still doing those things, years after it’s all over. That night in 2007, people stood outside at midnight and cheered — just to be able to read something. Isn’t that the best thing you’ve ever heard?

After the books were done, it was disappointing knowing there wouldn’t be any more stories of Harry and friends — but we had the movies, at least. An extra one, even, when they split Deathly Hallows in two. So that was something for awhile, but eventually all good things do really come to an end.

I know some people feel Harry Potter doesn’t do anything for them — they read the first book and weren’t hooked. I don’t know exactly what to say about that, other than: for what it’s worth, one of the magical things about the Harry Potter series is that the books age along with Harry. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is written about an eleven-year old, and it’s written for eleven year-olds. That didn’t stop a lot of adults from enjoying it, of course, but the themes, emotions and Harry’s perception of the world around him is childlike. With each passing book, though, Harry grows more perceptive. He experiences more things, he has more complex emotions. He grows up, and the books grow up with him. So if that first book seemed too childish, that might be an explanation.

allendsTruthfully, though, to each their own. I loved every moment of the series, from the first page to the last, from the first on-screen image to the final credits, and can’t fathom missing any of it. I loved the characters, good and bad; I loved Harry’s decisions, right and wrong; his mistakes, his failures, his courage. I loved his friends, more than anything else, really, and I loved living in his world for awhile. For me, just as for so many other people, Harry Potter was a wonderful experience, one I’m always sorry to see end. The beauty of it all, though, is — I can go right back to page one, any time I want, and start all over again.




cornell giving day

cornell university giving dayMy alma mater, Cornell University, has designated tomorrow as “Cornell Giving Day“.

Cornell was a wonderful experience for me, and I try to give back when I can. Truthfully, though, I’ve instituted a hard rule of “no giving $ until I finish paying for the first time around”. And yes, I’m still working on those lovely student loans — grad school will do that to you. One day I hope to help Cornell students in financial need the way I was helped, and until then, I donate my time and energy as a volunteer.

To this end, and with that disclaimer, I’m boosting the signal here, for any interested fellow alums and Cornell supporters:

What is Cornell Giving Day?

Cornell Giving Day is a festive and inspiring virtual coming-together of alumni, parents, friends, and Big Red fans all over the world to raise support for Cornell over 24 hours. All gifts made on March 25, 2015, between 12:00 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. EDT, will count toward Cornell Giving Day.

What makes my contribution on Cornell Giving Day special?

On March 25, your contribution has an even bigger impact than usual, thanks to a handful of generous supporters who will be providing $300,000 in challenge money to various Cornell colleges, schools, and units. By making your gift, you can boost the area you care about and help it win the challenge amount. Throughout the day, leaderboards will show progress by college and unit in real time, and games and contests will sustain the fun and suspense.

Where does my gift go and where do the challenge funds go?

100 percent of your gift goes directly to where you designate it: your college or school or in support of areas like undergraduate scholarships and athletics—you name it. The challenge funds will go to the annual fund of the winning college or unit.

 

 

glee finale

Glee_logo-1-Tonight is the finale of “Glee” and I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m going to be sad to see it end. Well, maybe a little embarrassed. But not slushie-to-the-face humiliated or anything.

Anything you could say to criticize “Glee” would be completely accurate. Yes, it’s WAY cheesy. Yes, it’s basically an hour-long musical every week, which poses the same problem all musicals do (who just breaks out in song like that, really?). Yes, there are plot holes the size of a dinosaur-wiping-out craters, really basic stuff like “how does a high school manage professional-quality productions, complete with stage lighting, costumes and sets at the drop of a hat?” And “are the state requirements to become a teacher somehow not in effect in Lima, Ohio?” and “why did New York City look so much like LA?” “Glee” is guilty of all that and much more, such as questionable guest stars, repeated plot devices and no real concern for the boundaries of space, time and the actual taking of high school classes.

Pilot_GleeBut the “Glee” pilot remains one of the best first episodes of a show I’ve ever seen, hands down. And that’s saying something. I downloaded it from iTunes and brought it with me on my new iPad when I’d been called for jury duty; sitting in that bullpen all day, waiting to be picked or sent home, I put on some headphones and started watching, and couldn’t stop. It was like nothing else on TV at the time in its sheer, unadulterated, so-cheesy-I-can’t-watch-without-crackers, well, glee. I went to a performing arts high school and even we didn’t have a show choir — I was jealous. I wanted in, slushies and all. I loved a lot of the songs they covered, and I found a lot of new artists to listen to, by following the “Glee” versions (handily released on iTunes, of course) to their originals. “Glee” is where I first heard Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Adele.

rachelfinnConfession, though: my enthusiasm waned, after awhile. Somewhere in Season 3 I got bored. I didn’t like the music, the plots seemed more ridiculous than usual. I stopped watching. Stopped, completely. And came back a couple seasons later — something I’ve never done with a show. When Corey Montieth died, I couldn’t help but wonder how “Glee” was going to adapt. As any Gleek can tell you, the Rachel/Finn pairing was supposed to be endgame, in fact, the very focus of the show. Creator Ryan Murphy even had the final scene written, one that would reunite Broadway star Rachel and new glee coach Finn for their happily ever after. Tragically, then, Murphy really was going to have to find a way for the show to go on without its male lead, and without a roadmap to the finish. I couldn’t resist seeing how they were going to pull it off.

NewbiesIt’s been interesting, you can’t deny that. I mean, sure, there was an entire new glee club that got pretty much thrown under the bus for being uninteresting, and the New York City plotline bounced around from one crazy week to another. (Rachel’s boyfriend is a male escort! Santana’s on Broadway! Rachel’s bored of being the lead in “Funny Girl” after a few dozen performances, despite this being her life’s ambition! And wait, we’re all back in Lima, for some very flimsy reasons!) It was downright silly, but it was fun. One of the best things about “Glee”, after all, is that it knows how to laugh at itself, with self-mocking asides and self-referential nods to the absurdity of it all.

But “Glee” was also more than itself, in some very important ways. This show unflinchingly addressed the problems and pressures that young gay men and women face, including bullying, peer pressure and the threat of physical violence. Later seasons addressed transgender rights, as well as domestic violence and hate crimes. The not-such-a-surprise double wedding of Brittany & Santana and Kurt & Blaine was really a celebration of everything “Glee” had done before to give a voice to those who are too often silenced by hate.

640_glee_finale_group_shotSo, this season I’ve watched as the remaining episodes have dwindled down to just this one, and I’ve already been misty-eyed more than once. “Glee”, flaws and all, tugs at my heart a little. It’s heavily laced with nostalgia and it delivers a whopping overdose of schmaltz, and I’ll be watching tonight with a box of tissues ready.

 




the result: clean as a whistle

Mr._Clean_logoSo, the cleaning people just left. While it was strange as all get out, I can’t argue with the results.

Both cats FREAKED OUT. I don’t know exactly why; we’ve had repair people and delivery people in the house before. George cowered and Freddie did too. I took them upstairs in the loft with me and the three of us hid there, feeling superfluous. George foolishly ventured down (they aren’t lying about curiosity and cats) and stayed down for the duration; when it was all over I found him cowering under a table. Fred stayed with me while I read “Deathly Hallows” and played Candy Crush upstairs.

When all is said and done, I have to say, this is pretty nice. The house is spotless. They cleaned everything. They cleaned things I didn’t know were dirty. It smells like a lemon exploded in here. Thank you Cleaning Girls, Inc. of Long Island. :)

I still feel weird about having someone come to clean my house, but not so weird that I wouldn’t do it again.

cleaning lady

cats sweeping broomWhen I was in college, I lived in a dorm. Dorms can be great equalizers. It’s hard to tell who’s as poor as you are or as rich as Midas when everyone’s living in the same building, schlumping around in sweatpants and pajamas. Hardly anyone at Cornell had a car (the campus isn’t vehicle-friendly) and this was way back in the day before cell phones, laptops and even computer ownership might have given some clue. One telling factor was Spring Break plans — if you were off to Prague on a moment’s notice, that probably meant you weren’t down to your last two dollars, as I often was. The more economically challenged among us often stayed put for Spring Break (and had a fun time, too).

Another thing I noticed was cleaning ladies. Every now and then, one of my friends would mention their housekeeper, or the cleaning person that came to their house, back home. I couldn’t fathom such a thing. We’d never, ever had a cleaning person. Quite frankly, at the time, my mother was working a second part time job *as* a cleaning person, to keep me in school. You can imagine how galling I found it when a fellow student protested to me that having a cleaning person wasn’t a luxury; his mother worked, after all. She didn’t have time to clean. Meanwhile my mother worked all day, worked cleaning offices at night, and cleaned her own house with whatever energy she somehow had. It’s not an entirely fair comparison, but I still think having someone come to clean your house, unless you’re physically incapable of doing so (and a lot of those people can’t afford help, sadly), is a luxury.

You have to imagine, then, how weirded out I am by the fact that we have cleaning people coming to the house this week.

I mean, this isn’t a regular thing. We had a Groupon, and it’s a spring cleaning kind of deal. Dave’s super busy in tax season. And I have a little trouble doing certain things, especially when there’s bending involved. It’s still a luxury, though, and I feel strangely guilty about it.

I’m a lousy housekeeper. I didn’t inherit the Leonard cleaning gene, the one that guaranteed my grandmother’s basement floor was safer to eat off of than most people’s kitchen plates, and the one that made my mother stress about dust bunnies in the storage closet. Yeah, I missed that. I don’t have it in me. But I grew up with it, so I end up looking around my reasonably neat house and seeing nothing but dust and dirt and feeling ashamed.

So as a result of all that matriarchal genetic pressure and guilt over economic divide, I’ve been desperately restraining myself all week from cleaning the bathroom ahead of time, because I don’t want the cleaning people to see that my bathroom is dirty and think I’m lazy. I haven’t succumbed yet, but there’s still more than 24 hours to go. I’d say it’s 50/50. At best.

geek vs. nerd edition

from http://xkcd.com/747/

Geeks like cool tech stuff. We like gadgets, electronic thingamabobs, we can fix your laptop and we often have a spare USB drive just when you need one. Nerds, on the other hand, know a lot about Star Trek, always win at Trivia Night, and recognize the African Anteater Ritual when they see it. I’m both, and proudly so.

For the record, though, in my opinion, the level of enjoyment I’ve gotten out of setting up shop at my brand new spiffy site, whatamiholdingonto.com, marks what is probably both my geekiest and nerdiest moment to date. I mean, registering a domain and setting up a self-hosted blog, that’s just mildly geeky. Gleefully looking forward to playing with plugins all weekend? Pricelessly nerdy.