Saturday, January 31, 2009

Remember When by Nora Roberts/J. D. Robb

The latest in my re-read of the In Death series by J. D. Robb is the one that broke the pattern of In Death titles, Remember When. It’s a twofer. Part one is a contemporary romantic suspense written by Nora Roberts and part two is the futuristic romantic suspense with our heroine Eve Dallas written by Nora's alter ego, J. D. Robb. It is also the book that bridged the In Death series from paperback publishing to hardcover. Since I am not currently re=reading the entire backlist of Nora Roberts, (I can’t even calculate how long THAT would take) I refreshed my memory of the plot of part one by re-reading just the ending. I then read part two in its entirety. Taken together the set is excellent—each part alone holds up fine—but together the story arc has good depth.

The continuing thematic question of the In Death series is the exploration of nature versus nurture. Are the children of evil parents doomed to be evil? Since both Eve and Roarke are the children of criminals, abusers, and all around skanks—and since they see the continuing havoc such people wreak—we’re used to the question coming up. Eighty percent of personality is genetic, you know. Can you overcome your nature and choose a better path? Eve and Roarke are proof that you can. As characters they are non-religious—but, they each found something that gave them its equivalent. For Roarke, it is making money and acquiring power and control so that he won't be in need or abused ever again. For Eve, it is being a cop and standing for the dead—making sure that justice is done. Money and police work are their religions, I guess you could say. Perhaps inadvertently, Roberts/Robb makes the case that we all need “other”, something outside ourselves to have purpose and meaning in life and to overcome adversity.

In Remember When, someone is killing people in an attempt to find a fortune in stolen diamonds. It turns out that, that person is the grandson of the man who originally helped to steal the diamonds fifty years previously (outlined in part one). In this case, evil skipped a generation. The murders are solved fairly quickly—Eve Dallas' part is really just half a book, after all.

The best parts of the book, for me, are the Peabody scenes. She’s just gotten her Detective badge and she spends the case trying out new looks for her non-uniform detective persona. The girl shoes that she wears the first day are like torture devices after Eve walks her all over New York City. Peabody’s delight at being a detective and Eve’s partner add a whole new level of enjoyment to the series.

This was a fun little read and I enjoyed it—I would have finished it days ago but for the fact that I put my back out and reading was not really do-able when I couldn't sit, lay, or stand without pain. I’m improving after four days—so happily, I was finally able to keep rocking along in my re-reading quest and the book challenge. (I’m about to pass 5000 pages for the month, woohoo!) To finish my “review”, I give Remember When four stars for the Eve Dallas part---if only because Mavis and Summerset are completely absent from the story. ;o )

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Are You Going to Finish Strong?

This is a wonderfully inspirational video.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Imitation In Death by J. D. Robb

Imitation In Death by J. D. Robb is a pivotal book in the series. It is the last book published in paperback alone, and it marks the end of Peabody’s tenure as Eve Dallas’ aide. It is also a gruesome book.

Someone is imitating infamous serial killers. He starts out as Jack the Ripper, segues into the Boston Strangler, unsuccessfully attempts Ted Bundy and is finally caught attempting to imitate a fictional serial murderer. The amazing thing about Nora Roberts writing under the name J. D. Robb, is that she can really make you feel bad for the victims. She tells you just a little about the doomed character, but with such vividness that you cannot feel detached from their murder. I’ve ready many (many, many, many) mysteries from Agatha Christie to Dorothy L. Sayers to Joan Pickart. Usually the victim is just not that well-fleshed out, imo. I can keep a reader’s distance. Not with an In Death book though, which is why I skipped a few of the pages that detail the Boston Strangler Murder. It’s very upsetting.

Nitpicks: Eve interrogates one suspect pretty brutally. I mean, she has the guy sitting in the puddle of his ruined life and destroyed illusions at the end of the interview. Why? As she later tells Roarke, she knew in her gut who the murderer was from the get. So was a writer’s ploy to keep us guessing about the murderer? Is that why Eve had to rip the non-murderer guy to shreds in interview? It doesn’t make Eve likeable when she does stuff like that. At least Eve kinda, sorta explains that she has to investigate everyone—I just don’t know why she couldn’t investigate the guy she thought did first.

Fun Facts: There’s lots of Peabody in this story as she is preparing to take her Detective’s exam. And when she passes and Eve puts on her actual uniform---something I never dreamed she even had—it’s a great moment! The ending when she fakes Peabody out that they aren’t going to work together anymore only for Peabody to realize that she and Eve will now be Partners—is hilarious too. Other fun moment in an otherwise rather grim book—Eve and Roarke attend a family barbeque at Dr. Mira’s house. It’s pretty funny to see Eve reacting to toddlers. After the bbq, Roarke decides he has to have the ultimate guy-toy; an outdoor grill. His attempt to cook on it the first time is pretty funny. Usually Roarke is uber-competent at everything so his befuddlement is nice.

The theme over the last couple books has been mothers. Last book, Roarke’s world was rocked by the knowledge that his mother wasn’t the nasty old hag he thought, but rather a wonderful loving woman who was murdered by his father. In this book, Eve has another recovered memory during a dream. This time the dream is about her own mother. What she learns is very sad. There’s no happy ending for Eve—her mother was a prostitute and a junkie who didn’t want her and hated her. Fortunately, Eve has the sense to go to Mira about it. The result is sweet. When Roarke realizes that Eve has kept the dream/memory from him in order to protect him--what seems to be a headed for a fight moment--becomes a moment when the two grow closer.

As I said at the start, Imitation In Death has some gruesome murders. The capture of the murderer is a satisfying moment. There’s nothing like a woman bringing down a woman-hating serial killer. They never seem to like that too much, but I always do. The personal side of this book is what makes it a must read. It was really hard making myself keep to my book reading schedule after I finished it because I wanted to head right into the next one. I award the book four and a half stars out of five.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Presidential Daughter Dolls

I just read an article saying that Michelle Obama isn't too happy with the Beanie Baby company dolls that are being marketed and are named after her daughters. I don't guess I blame her. She is a mother and her number one job is to protect her chldren, but it is a time honored tradtion of entrepreneurship. As evidence I offer the following:

There was the Tricia Nixon Paper doll:

The Amy Carter Paper Doll:

There was an Amy Carter peanut doll too, but I couldn't find a good picture.

And of course, the Caroline Kennedy doll by Madame Alexander:

Even Presidential Candidates aren't safe. Cabbage Patch dolls did commemorative dolls of Obama, Palin, McCain & Biden. McCain and Biden looks so similiar I didn't bother to get the pic of the Joe doll. The Palin doll is super cute though. They really captured her look.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Funniest LOL Ever

Dancing Guy Video

I was telling the people on my team at work about the dancing guy video on Youtube. I saw it somewhere last year (maybe?) It was a while ago, anyway. I think it's cool so here it is for all of my friends who don't go looking for the things I tell you about.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

I picked up The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall at my school’s annual Book Fair. I like to buy a few things to support the school since we are able to buy library books with the earnings from the fair. I generally buy books I can use in my teaching—this year I also bought Bear Gets Sick to use as a read-aloud book. But when I was perusing the books for the older kids I was immediately attracted to The Penderwicks and its sequel, The Penderwicks of Gardam Street because of the look of the books. They are jacketed and have an old-fashioned nostalgic appearance. I read the inside cover, of course, and the stories seemed like my cup of tea.

(As part of the ongoing 2009 Book Challenge, I am trying to read more variety of books, and to be more disciplined about reading my to-be-read pile books. The Penderwicks has been sitting in the tbr since October. I am alternating between re-reading the J. D. Robb “In Death” series and some new book from the tbr. I like reading children’s books and I have some favorites from my childhood that I re-read every now and then. Maybe my childhood favorites can be a post sometime. . That’s probably more background than you needed…)

The Penderwicks was a wonderful read. Its target audience is girls in the upper elementary (Grades 4-6). I suppose an advanced reader from second or third grade could read them too, if they read them with a parent to help with the harder words. The set up of the story reminds me a great deal of Elizabeth Enright’s The Four-Story Mistake.

The Penderwicks are a family of four girls and their widower father. They are headed out for their annual summer vacation. They are going to a new place—since the cottage on Cape Cod where they usually go has been sold. The four sisters Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty are, respectively, twelve, eleven, ten, and four. They are charming! Each has a distinct personality. Rosalind, the responsible oldest child, is the care-taker of them all. Skye is the tomboy mathematician who also likes science experiments. Jane is the wildly imaginative author of Sabrina Starr stories. Batty is the adorable and quirky animal lover who wears bug-wings through-out the story. Their father is some kind of plant expert who has a tendency to speak in Latin. Oh, I can’t forget the last member of the family, Hound. The family dog is closely attached to Batty and has an extra-sense about when she is in trouble. He also has an inconvenient tendency to eat things he shouldn’t and then throw up.

The story begins as they arrive at their summer rental cottage to discover it is attached to a mansion with a magnificent garden. The owner, Mrs. Tipton, has a young son—Jeffrey—who is a budding musician. Jeffrey is an only child with a mother who doesn’t listen to his wants and needs very well. She plans to send Jeffrey to military school so he can begin his future career as a soldier. Since Jeffrey wants to study music and become a conductor, he is not too happy about the plan. As you can imagine after Jeffrey becomes friends with the Penderwicks, nothing is ever the same.

This is a wonderful story—the children reel from adventure to disaster—and along the way themes of friendship, honor, honesty, courage, and self-expression are explored. The girls are loyal and smart. As with most children’s fiction, Mr. Penderwick is off-stage and the girls frequently do things without his knowledge. They don’t try going to him until it’s a last resort to handle their problems. The good news is—they have well-developed consciences and a clear sense of what’s right and wrong. It’s hard as an adult to read books where the children don’t head straight for the nearest adult---I get a little annoyed by it (the Harry Potter books drive me nuts that way.) but the books aren’t being marketed for adults! When Mr. Penderwick does enter the scene he demonstrates a loving character and encourages the positive moral development of the girls.

What I really liked—the girls were likeable, unique, smart, funny, talented, loyal, and imaginative. The story has the feel of the books I used to read as a child. The girls are out and about all the time. They read, they run, they write books, they do math problems, they play soocer, and shoot arrows. They don’t park in front of a video game or the TV all day. These girls are great role models for the girls can do anything school of thought.

What I didn’t like—hmmm, I’m drawing a blank. I guess I liked everything about it. If any of my nieces were of the right age, I’d recommend the book to them. As it is, I’m thinking of a few girls I know who I’ll mention the books too.

Warning—for parents who like to know about potential mature theme content in books before their children read them. Mrs. Penderwick died of cancer a few days after Batty was born. Her death is remembered briefly and there are references to it. The older girls miss her and grieve for her. Jeffrey is a child of divorce who has no contact with his father. He doesn’t even know his father’s name. Those elements may spark some questions and discussion as not all children will understand those situations. One other theme—Rosalind develops a crush on the nineteen year old gardener. It is handled very well—her tender-heart is broken in the end (hey—she’s only twelve) but her first experience of puppy-love ends positively.

Amy Walker Says Hello.

This is the Amy Walker video. She introduces herself over and over and over. Boring, you say? Check it out. She's amazing. How does she keep it all straight? How does she do it so fast?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Ghost Whisperer

Judy and I watched a Ghost Whisperer Marathon tonight. We’ve been saving episodes on the dvr since before Christmas and we watched them all in one fell swoop. The marathon finished with tonight’s episode. Toward the end, there was a great little speech by some character--right on cue, Judy and I got a little teary. This was quickly followed by worried as heck that Jim was going to go away with the blonde hussy. (Can’t remember what show I’ve seen that blonde in before—that’s gonna make me crazy.) Quel horreur. But crisis averted, Jim stuck with Mel. P.S. By the Way---What was that song? Stay with Me? And why don’t they put that stuff in the credits? Maybe I’d like to download that from Itunes. Kinda hard to do, since I don’t know who sang it or the actual title. Anyway, I immediately decided I’d like to blog the speech. Here’s what the character had to say at a funeral:

“Tonight we send our loved ones to where we thought they’d already gone. It seems like a detour, an embarrassing wrong turn. But the truth is, we never knew where they were going. We pretended we did and that made us feel better. But every path leads to the unknown. Some paths join others and some split off on their own. We want to know where they all go, but maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe the more we insist on knowing, the less we’ll be able to learn from life’s twists and turns. I know what you’re thinking, that the unknown is scary. But that’s okay. We’re human. Maybe before we feel free, we’re supposed to feel fearful. Maybe it means more that way. So let’s all say good bye now and remember that no matter what we’re feeling there’s no shame. No shame at all.”

Funnily, what seemed so affecting when the lines were delivered by some actress—didn’t seem so wonderful when I started typing them out. From my Christian perspective, I know where I’m going and where my loved ones have gone—so I don’t agree with all that part. Also, I do think that sometimes what we feel is stuff we should be ashamed of. Really—the best bits are in the middle. I still like these lines:

“Every path leads to the unknown. Some paths join others and some split off on their own. We want to know where they all go, but maybe we shouldn’t.”

Here’s the thing—the future is unknown and unknowable. But God, through his son Jesus Christ, is revealed to those who seek him. And he is beside us as we head into the uncertain future. l He will never leave us or forsake us.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Portrait In Death

Portrait In Death is the sixteenth book in the Eve & Roarke saga. It is a interesting mix of personal and professional. The mystery, while complex and multi-faceted, is not the sole focus of the book. We get an interesting up-close and personal view of Roarke from inside his head. I don’t remember spending so much time following Roarke around in any previous book. (Admittedly my memory isn’t what it used to be.)

The professional focus for Eve is a serial killer who murders three innocent young adults and takes their portraits after they are dead. He communicates with the public via Nadine Furst. The murders while not “brutal”, are sad because the victims are college age and seem to be those most noble of individuals—well-liked, dedicated, popular, talented, hardworking...well, you get the idea. Their families are devastated and it’s painful to read about their devastation and grief. The third murder is the worst because it turns out that the victim is the sister of Crack—a bouncer at the D& D who is known to Dallas and Peabody. He’s been a very minor recurring character since the second book. His reaction to his baby sister’s murder made me cry. It was very well written.

The murderer turns out to be an insane young man who has somehow come to believe that by killing these people he can preserve their “light” forever by taking it into himself through his camera. He’s completely insane and at the end of the book, I felt sorry for him. Still wanted him locked up, mind you, but I felt bad for him.

On the personal side of things, the book starts with a bang when Summerset falls down the stairs and breaks his leg. We have a whole lotta upset on the home front as a result. Then Roarke goes bonko when he finds out that the abusive old besom he thought was his mother---wasn’t his real, actual mother. His real mother turns out to have been a sweet country lass who was killed by Roarke’s horrible father. She loved him like crazy and wanted to give him a family. Roarke goes off the deep end with this discovery. It’s the first time we see a big chink in his armor, I think. He and Eve have a major breakdown in communication. Eve ends up trying to figure out how to handle the marital meltdown by calling Mavis (her only appearance in the book), talking to Dr. Mira, Summerset, Peabody and Nadine! She got around. I was happy with the way Eve handled the problem—she finally put Roarke first. Whew. Sometimes you get the impression she thinks she’s the only one who can catch a murderer, but Feeney sets her straight. She left the case in the middle to fly to Ireland and help Roarke through his personal crisis. It was nice and their relationship became a little less lop-sided as a result.

Other fun tidbits—Eve recommends Peabody for Detective. Peabody freaks out a little and begins to start studying for the exam. Trueheart and Baxter have a role in the big finish and Trueheart finds himself in jeopardy again. Baxter’s reaction was pretty neat. He was just wigging out with guilt since he and Trueheart have partnered up (sorta).

All in all, Portrait is a great book. I am willing to award it five out of five stars. My reasons were, first, because I was surprised by the identity of the murderer. I didn’t see it coming the first time I read the book. Secondly, because the personal stuff with Roarke was so good. And thirdly, because Crack’s reaction to losing his sister made me cry.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

First Lady Inaugural Ball Gowns

Continuing my review of First Lady fashion--I like to focus on the really important things in life on my blog after all. Here is a comparison of Michelle Obama's inaugural ball gown and some of the dresses other First Ladies have worn. As always we must keep in mind the fashion of the day and the age and figure of the wearers. Michelle Obama is definitely lucky to be so tall and slim because she can wear virtually anything. And since we are of an age--may I say, she's quite young compared to other First Ladies. :O) For the deets: Michelle Obama is wearing a cream-colored one-shoulder dress by Jason Wu with a fitted bodice and flared skirt.

Laura Bush's first inaugural gown is a red chantilly lace by fashion designer Michael Faircloth. It was given to the Smithsonian. Her second gown was the silver and blue tulle, Oscar de la Renta. The second gown was considered more successful than the first, but that may reflect the fact that she was slimmer in the second after going on a fitness kick.

For the 1993 Inaugural Ball, Hillary Clinton went with a violet-and-lace, crystal encrusted gown designed by Sarah Phillips. I remember the blue dress sparkled beautifully when the lights hit it as they danced. I don't particularly remember the gold lace/sequin number by Oscar de la Renta for the 1997 inaugural.

Barbara Bush wore this ugly number by Arnold Scaasi--in 1990--letting down all larger sized women by choosing an unflattering dress with no redeeming qualities. It didn't flatter her figure, the neckline was awful and the color combinations of black and royal blue only belongs on a bruise. And if you were going with black and blue, for pity's sake, go with the black on the skirt, not the top.

For the 1981 Inaugural, Nancy Reagan took a beating for "borrowing" designer fashions such as her James Galanos inaugural gown (price tag: an estimated $10,000). It was a white, one-shoulder sheath gown of lace over silk satin; fern pattern of lace accented with crystal and chalk beads and raise bugle bead stems. It was deemed too Hollywood by the hoity-toity Washington DC types. I will say, though, that hair was a huge mistake. Her second gown was much more successful, imo. She had an affection for white, I guess. The second dress was also James Galanos.

Rosalynn Carter was an original recessionista. Her blue chiffon evening gown and coat, trimmed with gold braid, by Mary Matise for Jimmae was the same dress she wore six years earlier when her husband became governor of Georgia. I gather she took some heat for recycling.

First lady Pat Nixon's mimosa yellow, double-faced silk satin gown, bejeweled with Austrian crystals, was designed by Karen Stark of the Harvey Berlin Fashion House for the 1969 Inaugural ball. I was stunned when I saw this. What a blast from my past. My mother had an outfit very like this. Yes, it's official, I am OLD.

Of course no review of First Lady fashion is complete without a nod to Jackie Kennedy.

Not a great view of this dress with the cape and all. Supposedly, this was self-designed, then, made by Bergdorf Goodman's Ethel Frankau. It's hard to know for sure with all the rumors about where her dresses really came from--Givenchy? Oleg Cassini? Who knows. She was stylish, and her clothes were really beautifully made. I know because I examined them closely when there was an exhibition of her dresses at Chicago's Field Museum back in 2005. People looked at me like I was nuts but I pressed my face to the glass to get the best look I could at the details and facings, the seams and hems, etc. I don't know how they have stored her clothes-but they are still in perfect condition--forty-eightish years later.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Senators who have become President

Back in 2006, I looked up how many Senators had become President. I discovered it is not as many as you would think, just fifteen, and the majority were out of office when they became President. I found the website here. Harding and Kennedy might be the only two who became President directly from being a Senator. Several Senators like Truman, Johnson, and Ford were VPs before they became President, and they inherited the job without an election due to exceptional circumstances. Clearly, for the student of history, the omens are not good for sitting Senators to win the Presidency. Wonder what made Kerry and Dole think things would be different for them.

**Update** I guess with the election and inauguration of Mr. Obama the stats have changed. Make that sixteen Senators who have become President. Three sitting Senators have made the move from Senator to President: Harding, Kennedy, & Obama

The Giant

Back in the '80's when I was a new teacher I used to check out Instructor magazine for ideas. One month they had a picture of N. C. Wyeth's The Giant on the cover. I was enchanted with this painting. The news about Andrew Wyeth's death (N. C.'s son) sparked a memory about it and I went looking for it on the Internet. I learned that members of Westtown School's Class of 1910 commissioned Wyeth to paint The Giant as a gift for the school in memory of their classmate, William Engle, who died in 1916. Displayed in the school's dining room since 1923, the mural depicts six children on a beach gazing at the fantastical shape of a giant in the clouds. Five of the children were modeled after Wyeth's own offspring. The sixth child, on the far left of the canvas, represents Engle. Finding out that the painting was commissioned by a group of students in honor of a classmate who had died just makes me appreciate the innocence of the painting even more.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Michelle Obama's Inaugural Outfit

I know many people have already been comparing Michelle Obama and Jacqueline Kennedy re: fashion. Here's a look at their inaugural outfit picks. First lady Michelle Obama wore a sparkling yellow-gold sheath dress with matching coat by Cuban-born American designer Isabel Toledo. She paired the outfit with olive green gloves and shoes. It has been hailed as a bold choice--I'm inclined to agree since she avoided the overdone red/white/blue look many former First Ladies have selected. I'm pleased she ditched the passe' hat.

Jackie wore a taupe wool coat/dress with sable collar and muff designed by Oleg Cassini. She traded her black pumps for fur lined short boots for the walk in the snow.
Thosands Leave Baltimore For Inauguration

WJZ's headline. Sigh.

Purity in Death

Book 15 of the In Death series by J. D. Robb, is Purity in Death. The plot presents the arguments for and against the premise that evil exists and must be stopped by whatever means possible. An terrorist organization calling themselves The Purity Seekers is executing bad guys—drug dealers, pedophiles, all-around nasties. They use a “computer” virus to explode the bad guys’ brains. The plan is to drive the bad guys crazy with pain until they off themselves. Unfortunately, some innocents get taken out in the process. Eve and her team must figure out how the computer is being used to kill people and who is sending the virus.

Eve is put in the position of having to stand for the dead in a case where most everybody thinks it’s a good thing they are dead. She and Roarke disagree about it. This rocks Eve’s world. She has trouble getting her head around the idea that she and Roarke aren’t on the same page. Robb cleverly includes among the collateral damage a young cop, a teenage runaway, and McNab. (There were two other victims but they aren’t mentioned after their assault and murder—don’t know if Robb forgot about ‘em or what.)

There is quite a lot of politics in the book. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of New York, Chief Tibble, and Commander Whitney all have prominent roles in the story. We learn for the first time that Eve would have received a promotion to Captain by now, but for the fact that she doesn’t play the politics and she married Roarke who has a havey-cavey reputation among the higher ups. (I’m not exactly sure who the higher ups are, in this case, I mean she was talking to Whitney and Tibble—who else would be involved in her promotion. Last I heard promotions weren’t decided by committee but by your ranking officer.)

Notable moments in the book—Trueheart deals with his first use of force which results in the death of the perp. Eve arranges for Baxter to take on the training of Trueheart. Mavis announces her pregnancy. (I didn’t’ realize that it took so many books for her to actually deliver the baby.) McNab, dealing with his injury and paralysis, tells Peabody that he loves her. Jamie Lingstrom reappears and works on the team to solve the computer problems. (I can’t wait till he actually becomes a cop.)

All in all, Purity in Death delivers on the personal and professional front. The ending rocks because I always enjoy seeing the bad guy get their just desserts in a big embarrassing way. I give this one a four and one half stars.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Candy Bars

As most of you know--I'm a worrier. I'm cautious. I'm always looking to be safe. Maybe over-safe. What can I say, it's a teeny-little problem. So for that reason, I've mentioned the peanut butter recall to Judy--oh--two or three times at least because she likes peanut butter crackers. I think she should abstain for a while till they get the salmonella thing figured out. Anyway, we're at the grocery story the other day and she buys a candy bar and throws it on the belt. I buy one too. Guess what she bought..go on...guess. Did you pick this?

The girl does not listen. Thinkin' about Reese cups did make me think of this golden-oldie:

Gateway Pundit: Dalai Lama Stuns Audience... Admits: "I Love George Bush"

Gateway Pundit: Dalai Lama Stuns Audience... Admits: "I Love George Bush"

Martin Luther King, Jr, Day

I've always loved the James Taylor song, Shed A Little Light, it came out on New Moon Shine back in 1991 and I played that album over and over again. I was commuting an hour and a half a day back then, so that was a lot of listening. Sadly, it was on cassette tape--another music format that's gone the way of the Victrola, and I don't have it on cd. I'm going to have to remedy that! Thinking about it now--which I always do around MLK Day, I found this great video on You Tube. It features, I believe, a choir from the Bellevue Community Church in Nashville, TN. Here's my first attempt to embed a video.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

To be a dork or not to be a dork...

that is the question. Since last year, Judy has been a enthusiastic believer in Crocs. She bought two pairs of the Mammoth crocs for winter--one to wear with socks and one to wear without socks (more as a slipper). She also has one pair for summer. The winter ones are red. She even has the doodly things you buy to stick in the holes...jibbitz.

I just can't get my mind around how ugly they are so I have resisted following her into dork-land. But I've been jealous. I'm laaazy. When we run out to the store on the weekends I don't want to have to put on socks and shoes--there's bending and tying and it takes time. In the summer you can just slip your feet into flip-flops. I want a flip-flop for winter. How to get what I want without dorkiness? Well, I can't. So I have descended into dorkville with these ugly things from Walmart. In my defense, I only paid $7 bucks for mine (not $40 plus jibbitz). I think I can still claim the high ground here. I think.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reunion in Death

It's been a busy week, but I am finally ready to post my review of Reunion in Death by J. D. Robb. I'm surprised this one took me the whole week to finish since it's has the feel of a quick read. I blame Judy's constant unmuting of the television. It's distracting. She blames my addiction to Zuma. Without a third party opinion we'll have to call this argument a draw. (But I'm right.)

Back to the review--this latest outing by Eve and Roarke features a serial killer who has a grudge against Eve. Back when Eve was first promoted to Detective, she put Julianna Dunne in prison. She was one of those black widow types--marry an old rich guy, kill him, inherit beaucoup bucks. She played on the sympathy of the judicial system and claimed she'd been abused so she was only given a ten year sentence. Now with good behavior she's out and she wants revenge.

Notable events of this book include a visit by Peabody's Free-Ager parents, Peabody's first solo outing solving a cold case homicide, and Eve's return to Dallas the city where she was found after she escaped from her father. I think these alternate story lines are the reason why the book feels like such a quick read. The book ends with a spectacular multi-room fist-fight, let's cause as much destruction as possible, take-down by Eve of Julianna Dunne after she makes the mistake of trying to poison Roarke. You do not want to try to hurt Roarke if you are planning to live long and prosper in Eve Dallas' world.

Nit Picks and other comments--No Mavis in the story--which is always too bad since she is a colorful character. No Nadine in the story--which is not a problem because she's pretty one dimensional---wait a minute, I'm wrong Nadine does appear in the story but clearly not in any memorable way since I forgot about it. Nice little appearance by Louise Dimatto--who has morphed into Eve's personal physician. Handy since Eve is always getting beaten up and Louise will treat her at home in return for big donations to her pet projects. I did think that Eve and Roarke should have told Louise that they were using her charity fundraiser as a vehicle to draw out a killer at the end of the book. I'm all about informed consent.

In the ranking of the Eve Dallas chronicles, I would put Reunion up there in the top five. As I said it is a quick read, it has some really funny bits, and Eve's personal story moves forward. I rank it a four and one half stars out of five. I kind of want to start the next book, Purity in Death right away, but I'm going to stick to my schedule of read a new book, re-read an Eve so I can continue to be competitive in the 2009 Book Challenge.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Phrases I Detest

I am an opinionated woman and there are some phrases I just detest. I disagree with them or think they are stupid. I started pondering these phrases as I was driving home. The fifteen minutes I spend driving each way is my thinkin' time. Hmm, guess I don't think very much.
I'll ponder that on my next drive in to work--Tuesday--yea for three day week-ends. Anyway, here's the list of phrases I detest.

1. It's all good. No it isn't. Some things are, in fact, bad.

2. It is what it is. Yes things are what they are---what's your point?

3. Everything happens for a reason. No it doesn't. Perhaps you are confusing the scripture about all things working together for good for them that love the Lord and who have been called according to his purpose. That's not the same as every single thing having a reason.

4. Have a nice day. Having a nice day is the convergence of many different factors, some of them out of my control. Certainly these factors are outside the control of the clerk at McDonald's.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Illinois Basketball

I don't follow Illinois basketball as closely now, as I once did. The reason is simple. Frustration. Living in Maryland I can't see the games because the games shown in this area are all ACC, all the time. Too bad I don't like the ACC teams. I am happy to note however the Illinois is doing pretty well so far, especially in conference play. They have beaten Missouri (ranked at the time), Purdue (ranked 19), and last night beat Michigan (ranked 25). They are tied for second in the Big Ten. They also were ranked in the CBS-Sportsline Top 25. Hopefully ranking in the AP and Coaches polls won't be far behind. Woohoo! Go Illini--the better you play the more chance I have of actually catching a game on tv.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

McDonald's Fries

In my high school and college days, I worked at McDonald's. I think I racked up seven years behind the counter, through my senior year and to the end of my Master's degree. In spite of that, I still love to eat at McDonald's, especially their fries--hot out of the fryer, mmhmm. Nobody else has fries as good as Mickey D's. One of my funnier/weirder memories of my Dad was listening to him talk about how great McDonald's fries were in his opinion. He had a whole explanation for why they were good based on the shortening they used or something. At the time, I didn't know that he had ever been to a McDonald's, let alone spent time considered the relative differences in fry taste based on the type of shortening. It was not my parent's style at all to eat at a McDonald's. This was the couple that ate at Ponderosa every Sunday for something like...hundreds of weeks straight. They were all about either have steak or a waitress or both.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blackberry Storm

Judy and I bought new phones for Christmas this year. Our new every two was due (heh, dig the rhyming?) so naturally that meant we just had to upgrade. We picked the Blackberry Storm, since we weren't willing to give up our Verizon service just to get the iphone. Trust me--nothing would induce me to go back to Cingular/A.T. & T. In Maryland, the best reception is provided by Verizon. At first we thought maybe we had made a mistake. It's a lotta phone--maybe more phone than we can handle--what with not being teenagers or techies. But with use, we've become more adept at handling the touch screen. So overall, I feel less like an old lady driving a Ferrari. The coolness factor is pretty darn high so that's nice because I need all the help I can get.

Happy Birthday Boss

The office staff helped my boss to celebrate his 35th birthday on Monday morning. They "decorated" the room...or trashed it depending on your point of view. It's a sweet thought, but the poor guy had to do the clean up which seems less gift-like than is desirable.

Monday, January 12, 2009

2009 Book Challenge Update

We're twelve days into the 2009 Book Challenge so I thought it was time for an update. Since January 1st, I have completed:

Part One: 3/12 complete
  • The Shadowdwellers: Ecstasy by Jacqueline Frank
  • Queen of Dragons by Shana Abe'
  • Fire and Ice by Julie Garwood

Part Two: 0/12 complete

Part Three: 2078/50,000 pages complete. I am ahead of my minimum pace needed to achieve the goal by about 500 pages. Yippee! Only 48,000 pages to go.

Fire and Ice by Julie Garwood

Fire and Ice by Julie Garwood is the latest book that I have read for part 1 of the 2009 Book Challenge. This book is a stand alone, but there are secondary characters from a previous book. I suspect there will be a third book with other secondary characters. The book is in the genre of romantic suspense.

Sophie Rose is a journalist working for a small, local Chicago paper. She is somewhat notorious because her father is a notorious. He is suspected of being a Robin Hood type thief. Thus, Bobby Rose is often a person of interest to law enforcement. No one has ever been able to link him to any actual crime, however. Sophie has spent years being bullied by various law enforcement agencies that would like to use her to get evidence from her to use to arrest him. Sophie is a loyal daughter though, so she protects him fiercely--at the same time, she's a moral daughter. She has come to realize that she shouldn't profit from her father's ill-gotten gains so she no longer accepts money or gifts from him. She also gives any extra money she has to charity in a sort of penance. Since she grew up rich, this is difficult for her. (I found it difficult too---I mean a Fendi bag---c'mon, her father only steals from criminals!! What could it hurt?)

In a convoluted story line, events converge to place Sophie in danger. The police and FBI think she is being threatened because of the latest scam involving her father. Turns out it's something completely different. Jake MacAlister, an FBI agent, ends up protecting her. While laying low, Sophie and Jake fly to Alaska to investigate a story for Sophie's paper. Those scenes in Alaska were hard to take, I don't mind telling you because--the cold, oh, the cold. How do people live with it? Anyway, while running from killers and trekking to Alaska, Sophie and Jake fall in love. Together, they figure out why she's been shot, shot at, kidnapped and bashed on the head. And they all lived happily ever after.

This was a pleasant book with no emotional highs or lows. The characters are all likable. Sophie's character and motivations are well-explained while Jake remains an enigma. Early in the book it's mentioned that Jake has no intention of ever marrying and a throw-away comment at the end mentions that his mother is on her fourth or fifth honeymoon. Those two things may be related but Jake's motivations and character are never really fleshed out. The mystery was bizarre and confusing. Just when you thought the story was over, Sophie was kidnapped again. The bad guy comes out of nowhere and acts rather ruthless with no back-story to explain his behavior. The relationship between Sophie and Jake was pretty shallow and the decision to marry happens abruptly at the end. While I enjoyed the book, I would give it a three of five stars, I can't place it on list of potential best of the year. It was pleasant and forgettable--and hey, sometimes that's exactly what you are looking for in a book.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Super Fabulous Chili Recipe

Robin’s Chili Recipe

1 lb. hamburger (90% lean) or ground chicken/turkey
1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 16 oz. can of tomato sauce
1 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes with green chilis (Delmonte preferred)
1 16 oz. red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 16 oz. can of water
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp chili powder
1 packet of chili seasoning (McCormick’s preferred)
½ tsp red pepper flakes

Sauté onions and carrots until onions are translucent. Add meat and sauté until cooked. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, kidney beans and water. Add seasonings. Bring to a boil; simmer for 1 ½ hours.

Seduction in Death by J. D. Robb

My latest re-read of the Robb oeuvre is Seduction in Death. It's number thirteen, I believe. Although the murder storyline is unpleasant (to say the least) the story is one of my favorites because of a number of advancements in story lines. Really--when I think about it--my least favorite part of any J. D. Robb is the mystery. Ironic, really. Which is not to say I don't love them, just that I like the relationships best. Peabody and Dallas, Dallas and Roarke, Peabody and McNab, Dallas and the Commander...well, you get the idea.

The basic story is this--two rich and spoiled boy/men with a whole bunch of issues from their childhood begin a game of seduction using date rape drugs. They seduce women over the internet, stalk them, and eventually drug them for points in the 'game'. The very first time out one off the fellows accidentally kills his date. This leads to an escalation in the game, since for our sociopaths the accidental death leads to deliberate murder.

Nit picks 1: Even in 2009, women who meet men from the Internet are surely not so stupid as to drink from a glass that was poured by a stranger before they arrived at the scene of the meet. Yet these woman from fifty years in the future apparently don't notice anything weird about a drink being poured for them before they get there. (And it's champagne--which goes flat, so your really don't want to pour it early. ) Isn't it SOP in bars and such to never leave your drink unattended? Nit pick 2: It just happens that Roarke owns the drug laboratory where the date rape drugs where developed twenty-three years earlier--thus allowing him to access information that would likely never have come to Eve's attention until the end of the case. Frankly, it was an unnecessary step in the solution of the murders since Eve identified the murderers through other evidentiary clues.

On to the good stuff--notable moments in this book. First, Louise Dimatto meets Charles and they begin their romance. Secondly, Peabody's fight with McNab is resolved when he goes to punch out Charles for supposedly dumping Peabody and disrespecting her. They end up agreeing to an exclusive dating relationship. Yea! Thirdly, Eve has some great opportunities to interact with the Commander. Finally, Eve voluntarily agrees to go on a two week vacation with Roarke which represents a big step forward in their relationship. She is learning to put their relationship first, slowly but surely.

As I said at the beginning of the post--Seduction is one of my favorite J. D. Robb books. I give it a four and one half out of five stars. What does it take to get five stars? I generally need to cry at some point in the story. There's definitely a five come up in one of the remaining re-reads. Trust me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


With the inauguration of Mr. Obama comes entrepreneurship at its finest. Here's what I saw at the grocery store this morning :

Yep, that's a special edition of Jones soda. The tag say its, "Orange You Glad For Change" soda. I guess you're supposed to drink it while watching the inauguration. Just when watching on tv, though, because like all presidential events the security so tight you aren't allowed to have drinks or seats or strollers.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Queen of Dragons by Shana Abe'

My latest read for the book challenge is Queen of Dragons by Shana Abe'. This was my first experience with a Shana Abe' book. Apparently, I came into the middle of a book series without realizing it. The first and second book in the series are The Smoke Thief and The Dream Thief. I'll be looking for them on my next trip to the bookstore.

Anytime you read a new author there is a learning curve at the start of the book. You have to get used to the way the author writes. Andd when the author is establishing a new world with unique qualities, like say, oh--people who can turn into dragons and also smoke--there's definitely a lot to figure out about the world. Even though this was book three of a series (unbeknownst to me) the book gave me enough information to figure out the basics of how this alternate world operated--without bogging down the opening chapters with boring description and back story.

The main characters are the leaders of separate dragon tribes, Maricara and Kimber. The dragon tribes seem to be similar to a wolf pack, in that the alpha male is the head of the tribe. The alpha male also weds the alpha female automatically. Over the years that dragons have existed--their blood has been diluted through intermarriage. Therefore, dragon-blooded people who still have the ability to turn into dragons and also smoke are highly valued. For the alpha, having a wife who's innate dragon skills are still intact is essential in order to produce the next generation of dragon-powerful children.
When Kimber's tribe learned about Maricara and her tribe, they immediately determined to wed Maricara to Kimber and to acquire the other dragon tribe and bring its assets and members under their control. This was a decision made, not out of greed or lust for power, but rather because of a belief that keeping the dragons together in one unified group was necessary for their survival. Maricara feels differently. She wants to be free, along with her tribe. Thus, Kim and Maricara have conflicting goals setting up a distrustful relationship made complicated by desire.

Lest you have the impression that this book is mostly a romance, let me set you straight. It is classified as fiction. While the book does contain a central theme that involves the two main characters falling in love, there is a lot more going on in the story than just that. For starters, the dragon race is in danger from a group of 'others' who want to exterminate them. Dragon people are being killed and kidnapped. The group has a powerful jewel which allows them to control dragon people. Kimber's father, from whom he inherited the running of the tribe, has left with his wife in search of their runaway daughter. After he disappeared, Kimber was left with the responsibility of being the Alpha during dark times for the tribe. Oh yeah, and--turns out the runaway daughter's new human husband is part of the group trying to exterminate the dragons. Yikes. That's a lot of plot threads to keep from getting tangled.

The full story arc had its beginnings in the first two books--and the ending is still to be published. I get the feeling the plot is only going to get more complicated with additional books. Meanwhile, in this book, Kim and Maricara must deal with the attacks against his tribe and the loss of people they care about. They must learn to come to grips with their passion for each other. And they must learn to work together and trust each other even though it seems like their needs and goals are in opposition.

This book has been reviewed by others with high compliments about the lyrical language and graceful storytelling. I cannot disagree with those comments. For me, though, the interesting thing about the story was that I was intrigued by Maricara and Kimber. They were not one-dimensional characters. The author revealed some things about them, hinted at others and concealed still other elements. They had strengths, weaknesses and flaws. They seemed real. By the end of the book, I wanted to read more still--and isn't hat the ultimate high compliment about a book? You want more of the characters, more of the world, and more of the story. I rate the story a four and one half out of five stars.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I found this quote by English Poet Laureate John Masefield (1878-1967) after a great deal of internet searching. I had heard it quoted in a documentary about the British Navy. I was immediately struck by the beauty and deep truth of the quote and it made me think about how our greatest generation, those who fought World War II, probably understand it well. I wonder if Americans understand it still.

"Patriotism, in its true form is of the kind they gave, it is not a song in the street or a wreath on a column or a flag flying from a window. It is a thing very holy and very terrible like life itself. It is a burden to be borne, a thing to labor for, and to suffer for and to die for, a thing which gives no happiness, and no pleasantness, but a hard life, an unknown grave, and the respect and bared heads of those who followed."

The Ice Storm That Wasn't

We had a rain/sleet/ice event here in Maryland, which began on Tuesday and ended Wednesday. Weather forecasters kept using the term "dodged a bullet' to describe it. They really need to get some other phrase for variety's sake. After getting out of school two hours early on Tuesday (while it was just raining) I waited for the event to change over into something that would cause massive problems for travelers and more school closings. It just didn't really ever happen. Wednesday morning we had school as usual. On my drive in to work I observed some spectacular icing on trees and railings but the roads were fine--which is how I like my ice events. I was able to take some pictures of the trees around my school on my walk in--while juggling my umbrella, book bag, purse, and coffee mug. Sadly, when I left school that afternoon the trees had lost their glittering decoration and were black and shiny with rain--all the magic had washed away.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Shoot in Macro, Ohhhh ;O)

Thanks to Shirley for suggesting that I should try shooting closeup images in macro. What a difference! I can't believe I forgot all about those different settings on my camera. Duh moment for me!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tyger by William Blake

The Tyger

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake