Saturday, December 20, 2014

Culinary Adventures

It's no secret, I love food.  In fact, I love food so much it's probably the main reason I go to the gym as frequently as I do (that and I'm now addicted to running and Zumba and lifting weights).  I love all kinds of food, from Kraft mac'n'cheese to buttermilk-fried rabbit leg.  Luckily for me, my husband is a huge foodie, too.  Since we've gotten married, we've done a ton of experimenting, with everything from the glorious, unusual mixture of Mexican and Chinese food that is Chino Bandino to eating at an actual Gordon Ramsay restaurant to eating everything our little hometown has to offer, from food trucks to three-course meals.  Yum.  That buttermilk-fried rabbit leg was super delish.

When I was a kid, my mom was busy.  She worked and raised me (with my dad), and so she knew how to make tasty food quickly and easily.  We lived off of baked chickens and spaghetti meals and stir-fries and tacos.  It didn't really change often, but it was comforting and homey and, most importantly, quick.  I didn't really learn to cook to well, though.  Oh, I could make spaghetti and tacos and stir-fries, but it was kind of more of a yes-I-can-feed-myself-in-college-if-I-have-to kind of a thing rather than a I-genuinely-know-what-I'm-doing kind of a thing.

Enter my husband: a man who not only took three to four years' worth of culinary classes, but also had infinite amounts of useless information and actually liked to cook.  Enter my coworkers: Erin and Carrie, two ladies who were gastro-queens, making homemade pestos and running our little school's gastronomy club and making everything look effortless and beautiful.  It took a while, but eventually the examples laid before me began to inspire me.

And now I can't seem to stop.  But I'm okay with that.  Mostly, I've been experimenting with baking.  My husband is the real "cook" of the family, I think.  However, I have learned several excellent things from him that have made my cooking much better.  I shall share.

Thing #1: seasoning.  You think you're over-seasoning; you're not.  Lay it all on there!  Yes, you should basically cover that with spices.  And many of them.  One spice is boring.  Unless it's steak.

Thing #2: how to make a perfect stove-top steak.  Rub with a high smoke-point oil (grapeseed is good; we would use avocado but hubby is allergic to avocado and even though he wants to try it, I refuse because I don't actually want to drive the EpiPen into his leg, even though I've practiced long and hard just in case).  Blot off extra oil with paper towel.  Season (heavily) with salt and pepper.  Put into already hot pan at high temperature.  Sear on each major side if thin cut, each side if thicker until beef is cooked to the right temperature.

Thing #3: what the right temperature of meat is.  Steak is best medium-rare.  I'm not kidding.  When I was a kid, my parents were very concerned about red meat.  Steak at our house was well-done, and whenever I went out to eat that's how I ordered it.  I'm pretty sure the first time my husband ordered medium-rare at a restaurant I literally flipped out, threatening him with mad cow and a hideous, drawn-out prion death.  Then I tried it.  I had no idea steak could be so delicious.  Now, the idea of a well-done steak send shivers down my spine.  The trick if you don't have a meat thermometer: use your hand.  The fleshy part of your thumb, as is, is the same feel as rare.  When you put your thumb and forefinger together and touch it again, it's medium-rare.  Middle and thumb, medium.  Ring and thumb, medium-well, pinky and thumb, well-done.

Thing #4:  ingredients matter -- sometimes.  For example, bacon.  If you want extra good bacon, get extra good bacon.  But, like, sugar?  Skip the overpriced organic kind and just get regular sugar.

But what I've really been enjoying is the baking.  So far, this year, I've made the following, from scratch, for basically the first time:

1.) Cheesecake (bourbon pumpkin and peanut butter chocolate fudge [both pictured below])
2.) Cookies (thumbprint with jam [pic], oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, M&M, meringue, coconut macaroons, peanut butter, molasses [pic], gingerbread biscotti)
3.) Banana bread (stupid easy, stupid good.  Need more.)
4.) Pie (pecan, chocolate pudding, apple [pic] -- and three different kinds of crust!)
5.) Candy (coffee toffee, peanut brittle, homemade marshmallows)
6.) Cake (blueberry crumble [pic], lemon poppyseed, coffee cake, wedding cupcakes [pic], and some experimentation this weekend, I hope)

Basically all of these have been surprisingly easy and turned out great, which was a big first for me.  And I only started doing this in October, really.  I am so pleased by how easy so much of this was, and I am really starting to get excited for trying new things and pushing the boundaries of my culinary abilities.  (I have also purchased a lot more new equipment, including a new pie tin, a springform pan [favorite!!!], a hand zester/grater, an electric hand mixer, and my new early Christmas present -- a baby food processor that I am completely in love with.)  The best part is that homemade, I think, is always better than store-bought, and I am discovering how easy it is to make meals and snack and everything that is homemade, delicious, and easy.

This weekend, I'm baking for my husband's coworkers, because now I'm on Winter Break and can't slough off my extra baked goods onto my fellow teachers and my upper schoolers.  This weekend I'm making a plain French chocolate cake (, orangettes (, hot cocoa mix (with my new food processor!!!) and dreamy creamy scones (

Let the adventuring continue!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones
, by George R. R. Martin, wasn't really what I expected it to be.  I could say it was probably better, but that sounds terribly sappy and most books are better than their cinematic counterparts, so it wouldn't necessarily be for the right reasons.  I knew I would get lots of characters and a gritty outlook on life, but I didn't grasp the full extent of that grittiness or how attached I would get to the most unlikely of characters.  A Game of Thrones has whetted my appetite for more, but as I begin my wade through A Clash of Kings, my poor heart starts to ache for all the troubles I know are coming for my favorite characters.

To be perfectly honest, I have never seen so many characters handled so deftly in narration.  True, I don't read a wide variety of narration.  Now that I think of it, most of the fiction I read is seeming duller by the moment and pretty predictable.  Third person omniscient acting like limited, or first person narration with the same predictable arcs. . . .  Martin's biggest strength is his ability to convincingly voice this veritable host of players, while keeping a continuity of story, tone, and mood.  Neither am I finding that I don't really like any of the narrating characters.  Sure, Danaerys was kind of pitifully naive in this book and Jon Snow was much whinier than I had imagined he would be (he is an unloved teen -- what did I expect?), but their chapters and points of view aren't burdensome or unpleasant.  This style allows you to get inside all of these characters and really start to connect with them, again, without it being overwhelming or their voices all blending together.

What I did most enjoy, however, was Martin's unflinching and untroubled stance when it came to so many of the things that are controversial in the show: nudity, violence, more nudity. . . .  I was expected something salacious a la Fifty Shades of Gray, because that's how it's portrayed in the show.  I only saw more cunning linguists in Orange is the New Black, but I suspect that one's really more for shock value (ooh, look how strange and tough jail is).  Having said that, shock value and salaciousness is a huge part of the TV show.  Let's show boobs and weiners and people having all kinds of crazy sex and bring in those people who really like a bit of soft porn in their television watching habits.  In the book, it's all kind of, well, boring.  Hodor wanders around without clothes and they all tell him to put on pants.  Dany and Drogo have all kinds of sex, but it's from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old girl: alternately sweetly romantic or frank.  In their world, sex is not taboo or shameful, something to shock audiences with, but just part of life and yes, you do it in front of your whole khalasar.  Because you're the khal, why would you sneak off to do what you wanted to do?  It made perfect sense to me in the world that Martin has created.

I feel torn on the aspect of prostitution and rape in the series so far, though.  To me, it seems as though Martin is not shying away from the fact that rape was fairly common in this kind of world and not ever nice or pretty, but I feel like the general attitude is one of mild injustice coupled with acceptance.  I don't think that this is perhaps the correct message for the times we are living in, where rape culture is readily permissible for most and gender roles seem to get stricter in the every day living while they are expanded in the glittering world of movies and TV.  (Just for an example, there seem to be more openly gay TV and film characters, as well as celebrity actors [Hodor!], but yet an LGBT teen is still today four times as likely to commit suicide than his or her straight counterpart.  But hey, way to make homosexuality no big deal, George!  It really doesn't seem to matter if a man likes men or a woman likes women, just as long as everyone's getting some.)  Having said all of that, I think that Martin, for better or for worse, is sticking to the world he created, and in this very Middle Ages world, characters are dealing with rape in the best ways they know how, and the smart ones abhor it and their abhorrence is made clear by the author.  On the subject of prostitution, there was a quote in A Clash of Kings that I thought summed up some of these perspectives pretty well.  It's how you look at your job that really determines what it is, at least as seen through the eyes of whore-house owner and operator Chataya, who looks on her job more as a spiritual calling and a beautiful fulfillment.

The violence has been violent, but I have been more disturbed elsewhere.  Michael Crichton and Richard Preston, your descriptions of those ants versus the tiny people in Micro will haunt me until my dying day.  I will never, ever look at ants the same way again and I am still amazed I was able to truck through that chapter.  Having said all that, haven't gotten to that whole Mountain versus Pedro Pascal bit yet. . . .  But again, life in the Middle Ages, on which this has loosely been based if you hadn't figured that one out already, was brutal and uncompromising.  I like the amount of swords being thrust through heads because it seems probable.  And how great is that whole Ned Stark is the executioner of those he condemns bit?  Because every time that comes up, I just want to give it a "hell yeah!".  I really do think that if you are going to pass judgment, you shouldn't be allowed to do so unless you wield the sword.  If you really want this fellow to die for what you think is wrong, you have to be able to hack his head off with your own two hands.  And a kick-ass giant sword called "Ice".  Best name ever?  Possibly.

My most favorite thing about this series, so far, is the realism.  Yes, there are dragons and magic and crazy shit happening everywhere, but there is a fundamental understanding that life is sad, short, and unsatisfying, so you better realize that now and try and get the most out of it that you can, otherwise you will probably be sorely disappointed.  I like this not just because this is how I often feel about life (for my other side, see Sansa's chapters pre-patriarchal homicide), but because I am kind of fed up with most fantasy novels taking the perspective that everything good will prevail.  No, no.  Sometimes the bastards get you down.  Sometimes they win.  Most of the time they win.  And I can handle the ooey-gooey "goodness always wins" shtick if there's some serious sacrifice (Harry Potter -- don't remind me).  I feel like Lord of the Rings is the perfect example of what I don't really like.  Most bad guys are just bad.  I mean, why does Sauron even want to rule the world, other than sheer megalomania?  At least I know that Joffrey is an evil twat because it's part genetix (eww) and part environment, and he wants to kill and maim and rule because that's how he's been brought up.  In a sense, he doesn't really know anything else, but that doesn't excuse him.  In LOTR, bad guys are bad because. . .they're bad.  It's a nice little circle.  It makes it so that it doesn't really affect you when yet another orc bites the dust.  That orc probably has no feelings or loved ones, so who cares that Aragorn shoved a sword through his forehead?  In Game of Thrones, everyone's a little bit bad.  And except for Joffrey, everyone's a little bit good, too, and I feel so much more conflicted about all of them.  Plus, there's just no sacrifice in LOTR.  Yeah, Frodo can't live life in the Shire anymore.  Okay, fine, but tell me who else of real importance dies on the page?  And don't say Boromir, because he's dead at the end of the first book and isn't really super likable anyway.  Even with my most recently read and beloved fantasy series, Mistborn, I truly felt like good would triumph (mostly because I loved those characters hard enough), and though there was sacrifice, it was kind of fakey feeling.  In the books out of The Chronicles of Narnia that I've read, goodness is never really at stake.  But, if you want to talk about gritty kids' fantasy and some serious sacrifice, pick up The Underland Chronicles.  I'm telling you, best book series.  Anyhow, I like the idea in A Game of Thrones that people aren't who you thought they were, basically everything sucks at least a little, and the gods probably aren't listening.

In conclusion, even though it took me probably two years to actually pick up A Game of Thrones enough to finish it, it was well worth it.  It's probably one of the better written fantasy series I've read in a while, and it's a nice change from all of the teenage angst books I've been reading recently (Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Divergent, Insurgent, Allegient, half of the Pretty Little Liars series. . .oh god, why do I do this to myself?).  

Having said that, every time I get into a new fantasy series, either I'm picking excellent ones to read or I really should just read more fantasy.  I am already halfway through A Clash of Kings and thoroughly enjoying it (I like Sansa so much better in the books -- poor thing), but I mustn't forget that I have a big, fat Dickens novel to plough through before the year is done, and I'm still trying to get through my quota of at least fifty books this year.  I'm shooting for fifty-five, but we'll see.  I am also in the middle of Mansfield Park, but as I'm reading that on my phone at about the pace of five pages every couple of days, I'm not really holding my breath on finishing that one quickly.  Plus, I know who she gets with at the end, so it's not like it's really riveting me with its mysteries and suspense.  

The real conclusion I've come to, however, is that I need to read more fantasy.  Yeah yeah, I know I should read Wheel of Time, but what else is out there that really, really deserves a read?  I've done Mistborn, I'm doing A Song of Ice and Fire, I've done LOTR and the Chronicles of Narnia (mostly. . .I can't really handle C. S. Lewis that well) and I've read most of the major kids' fantasy series.  What comes next??  Help me fantasy-reading friends, you're my only hopes.

Hmmm. . .maybe I should read some Star Wars. . .

Stage Whispers and Rainbows

It's that time of year again.  The beginning of school.  As a teacher, this time induces very mixed feelings in me.  I love the kids and teaching and my subjects (and my older kids are wildly funny but also wide-eyedly naive and it's adorable and endearing).  But I hate the bureaucracy, the craziness, and the obligations.  Dear lord, the obligations are unceasing.

On the plus side, I can't seem to access my email at home.  Oh well!

It helps that the children are kind of adorable.  My "no hugging" rule has been completely obliterated by their cuteness, and now I just give hugs left and right.  Sigh.  I have also heard several good jokes (What did Darth Vader pay for his suit?  An arm and a leg.  Ha.), have gotten about six pictures of rainbows and one TARDIS, and no one has puked yet.  Best story yet:  I forgot to send in my attendance sheet, so the front office lady came up to get it.  One of the kids oooooohed at me, and I responded with "everyone makes mistakes, even teachers, we're all human, yada yada," and then one kid, in the loudest stage whisper I've possibly ever heard, turns to no one in particular and says "EXCEPT FOR JESUS."  Pure adorableness.

The thing I really can't wait for, to be honest, is having these first few weeks be over and settling into the routine of the school year.  I hate training the new kids (just know what I want already, dammit!), I hate falling asleep on the couch at 7:30 because I'm not used to it yet, and I hate having all of my free time eaten up by responsibilities or the inability to hold up my own eyelids.  In fact, I am sort of stealing this moment in time.  I really should be doing something of more value: showering, working out, reading, grading, being aggressively affectionate with my husband. . . .  But I am enjoying a little stolen moment.  With a cup of coffee.  Because coffee.

I do have some new, pretty exciting things to keep me occupied, if I ever get the time.  I am working on a long-term hush-hush Christmas project, I am on track with my reading project (finally! It only took a bunch of kids books to get me there), and I bought a Camelback to go with my cool new(ish) hiking boots so I've been hiking a lot recently.  OH and I haven't given up on my novel.  I just haven't written in a while.

It has also been raining like crazy and as such the weather has been cooler, and so all I have wanted recently is for it to be fall already.  I can do without winter, and I'm not the biggest fan of spring up here (it's not very warm and quite blustery), but I am seriously excited for fall.  I love everything about fall.  And fall reminds me of vaguely scary creepy movies that are usually Victorian, either in actuality or in feel.  Anyone got any good recommendations?

Oh, and the new season of Doctor Who is starting!  Looks like it's going to be a busy year.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Red Son: Superman, the Soviet Hero

One of my favorite imaginative games to play is thinking up alternates.  Alternate histories, alternate plotlines, alternate universes, yadda yadda.  Maybe nothing quite so mundane as "what if the South won the Civil War," but something more along the lines of the most recent book I read, Superman: Red Son.

In this fast-paced comic (although I'm not really all that versed in comics -- they could all be like this), Superman's capsule lands 12 hours earlier than in the original storyline, putting him down in the middle of Ukraine in 1938, instead of Idaho.  Instead of the quintessential all-American boy turning into the most patriotic and symbolic of American heroes, Superman is a card-carrying member of the communist party.


No, I mean it seriously.  One of the things that always bothers me about most superheroes is their blatant jingoism (at least, from what I'm familiar with. Again, I am not much of a connoisseur into the world of comic books, so obviously there may be nuances I'm missing, and friends who read extensively into this genre, please give me a reading list!  I love stuff like that!).  It seems like every superhero, as portrayed in American movies, anyway, has to rub his/her American-ness in your face.  Either Spidey is posing in front of the American flag or Iron Man announces that the only thing he'd like after being held hostage is a hamburger or anything to do with Captain America for goodness's sake.  Ugh, he's completely my least favorite, but that's a whole other blog post in and of itself.

The other problem I have with superheroes being this way is that it's very one-sided.  Before reading Red Son, I didn't even really think about how the rest of the world would react to there being such superheroes in the US, especially on an individualized aspect.  How does Great Britain feel?  We've always had "special relations" with them as a country -- do they feel protected by superhero proxy? Is this something that they use as leverage in tense international situations?  How does Chile feel?  If we have Superman, why could Hitler do what he did?

Red Son attempts to address some of these issues.  Superman does, in fact, run the world according to his beliefs in a communist utopia.  Everyone is employed, fed, and housed, the world economy runs smoothly, and he steps in to fix basically every small problem ever, with the major exception of the United States.  Unless people are going to get hurt on a massive scale, in which case then he just goes ahead and helps them because fairness?  Not quite clear on that one.  Lex Luthor is still his enemy. . .again, not really sure why.  It seems that Lex Luthor really just doesn't like Superman.  And not really for any particular reason.  He's just another problem to fix, and Lex won't be happy unless he fixes it.  And, of course, he gets joined by a bunch of other weird superhero appearances over the course of time, like Batman.  Batman is annoyed because his parents were killed by henchmen of Stalin and Superman was Stalin's right-hand guy who took over the party, thus he hates Superman?  Again, not real clear.  Maybe Batman just likes chaos.  In which case he's kind of more of the Joker. . .technicalities!  (Oh, side note, I really hate how comics bold every, like, fifth word.  Some seem purposeful [Oh, him again!] but most just seem stylistic.  The problem comes in when I read them bolded in my head.  I get tired and feel aggressive.  Sigh.)  Luthor also gets Green Lantern (who is basically useless -- Superman travels faster than the speed of thought so the Green Lantern gadgets are useless on him!) and Wonder Woman (who has been jilted by Mr. SuperCelibacy and is now a bitter old spinster) to help him in his anti-Superman scheme.  OH, and Lois Lane is his wife.

So, they've done seemingly a lot to turn the plot on its head.  Well done there.  However, it is so poorly executed as to make your head spin.  One page, Lex Luthor seems like a total douchenozzle bad guy, having people executed that he beats in chess, ignoring his wife, murdering security guards and lab techs, having bouts of crippling insanity. . .and yet he balances the budget!  He runs for president and wins overwhelmingly!  He ultimately goes on to do so many great things it's truly absurd, even for a comic book!  So, what the hell am I supposed to be feeling?  The same goes for Superman.  One minute the book is praising him for everyone being fed, housed and employed, and the next debasing him for not allowing people the freedom to be capitalists.  He's committed to his ideals and helping people, and he does -- for 75 years or so?  But basically everyone who's important hates him because communism is stupid.  Even though the United States has been basically post-apocalyptic while the rest of the world floats along in a peaceful, gentle, gliding motion, the people who hate Superman are painted just as much as the good guys as they are the bad guys.

To the hopeful chagrin of the authors (there seem to be no less than five, and one has to wonder why), they were trying to create complex characters.  Nooooooooooooooooooope.  Instead, they created confusing characters.  The book is over and I'm still not sure who to root for.  If this were a big series in which the characters could really develop, I would argue in favor of moral ambiguity.  But as is, it just feels muddled.  I can't seem to work out what the point or message of this book is, aside from providing a vehicle for an alternate universe story.

To me, this had such great potential.  To show to Superman could be used as a positive tool for the workingman, not so much against aliens or bad guys with big weapons, but against hunger, famine, possibly the KGB?  But instead, in this book, he's the one running the KGB. I just don't think that's fair.  If he's an American hero (not brainwashing people with the help of the CIA), then he should be just as much of a Soviet hero, espousing their ideals and providing a shining model.  I wanted the United States to be the true bad guy.  There is a lot wrong with the American way of life.  It is often harsh, ruthless, single-minded in its pursuit of success.  It's very individualistic; there's not a lot of true helping hands in the U.S. as compared to some other cultures and countries.  There are many in this country currently who are destitute -- homeless, hopeless, without adequate food, shelter, or healthcare -- and I feel like all too often they are overlooked.  I know I am guilty of this very thing.  How am I being altruistic in my own life?  Well, right now, not very.  I am looking into some options but have I started doing it yet?  No.  So why can't this reimagining of Superman reimagine a working Communist state, where perfect equality really works and there is no one playing the puppet master and forcing everyone to buy into the Communist Manifesto?  Because in this version, if you don't get with Superman's programs, he reprograms you.  Seriously.  With brain stultifiers, or something, but it's basically a Communist lobotomy.

Instead of this being a tool to look deeper at America's flaws and the potential of another system, this book was a confusing and ultimately disturbing alternate universe.  Are we so closely tied to our national identity and the lies that we tell ourselves that we can't even write a fictional account of ourselves as less than the good guy, as anything other than the rugged rebel who ultimately has the right idea?  Because spoiler -- Lex Luthor wins.  Okay, it's a hollow victory because it turns out Superman is actually Luthor's extra-great grandson sent from the future to save the Earth, but still.  In the end of Red Son, about how Superman is a Soviet hero, he "dies," rambling on about how if there are mistakes to be made, they should be made by humans and not aliens, the obviously insane Lex Luthor takes over the world, and literally every problem of all time is solved by his gigantic mass of gray matter.  WTF?  How is the titular character NOT THE HERO?  But he's not.  The bad guy is the hero, basically by virtue of upholding American ideals and not the tenets held by those wacko commie pinkos.

I despair.  Or I go off to write my own version in my head as I drift off to sleep.

On another note, saw the new X-Men movie.  While I've never really liked the X-Men (can no one ever just sit down and talk to each other??), this movie wasn't half bad.  It was probably my favorite of the bunch (all of which I have inexplicably seen. . .still don't know how I've managed that), and even though the climax was a solid third/half of the movie, I felt genuinely invested.   Whaaaaaaat.

In other literary news, I have powered through five Pretty Little Liars novels, each one essentially identical to its predecessor, and I have concluded that the show is much better.  I'm also working through Game of Thrones (again), hoping to start my new Dickens novel soon (Dombey and Son) and am finally, finally, FINALLY in the home stretch for the Mistborn series concluder, The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson.  Maybe I've been drawing it out because I'm so invested in these characters and would hate to say goodbye, but I have only about 6 hours left on my audiobook.  Oh yeah.  Be jealous.

Until next time, happy reading!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

8-Question Science Fiction/Fantasy Survey

Stolen shamelessly from my friend Ryan over at -- thanks!  Because I feel that science fiction and fantasy need and deserve a wider readership than they perhaps currently receive.  On to the questions!

1.  The first science fiction, fantasy or horror book I ever read was:

The first one I can remember is My Father's Dragon, which my mother read to me in a single day when I was in kindergarten.  It is the highly imaginative and clever tale of the narrator's father and his quest to find and free a baby dragon, and all the animals he must outwit in order to succeed.  Very adorable!

2.  The last science fiction, fantasy, or horror book I read that I'd put in my "Top 20" list is:

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson, the second in the Mistborn trilogy.  Just outstanding work, altogether.  

3.  The last science fiction, fantasy, or horror book I couldn't finish was:

I really can't remember the last book I didn't finish, let alone a science fiction/fantasy book I didn't finish.  Does the Percy Jackson series count?  I've gotten through 1-3 but can't seem to bring myself to pick up #4.  Mostly, it just takes me forever to finish a book, but I finish it eventually.

4.  A science fiction, fantasy, or horror author whose work I cannot get enough of is:

Colin Meloy.  I love the Wildwood series and I'm purposely putting off the last one to make it last a lot longer.  But I also am really into Brandon Sanderson right now and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  They're thriller writers, those last two, as a pair, but I feel like they secretly count.

5.  A science fiction, fantasy, or horror author I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read yet is:

Hoo boy.  Where to begin.  Let's start.

Stephen King.
Isaac Asimov.
Robert Jordan.
Frank Herbert.
Ayn Rand.

And those are just the ones off the top of my head.  When I start looking over lists, I find I am woefully underread.

6.  A science fiction, fantasy, or horror book I would recommend to someone who hasn't read sf/f/h is:

The Underland Chronicles by Susan Collins.  It's not so fantasy that people would be seriously put off (i.e. Dune or The Wheel of Time that are so huge, sprawling, and comprehensively built worlds), it's deep enough to appeal to the thinker in most, and it's actually for kids, so it's an easy read.  Plus, it's by the same author as The Hunger Games but much more hipster.

7.  A science fiction, fantasy, or horror book that's terribly underrated is:

See above answer.  And Wildwood.  And Thunderhead.  Holy moly, Thunderhead.  I've rarely read anything that literally vacuumed me up.  I actually stayed up late into the night to finish it and wished I hadn't because it got super scary and it was late into the night.  Eeeek!  Plus, H. P. Lovecraft and H. G. Wells.  I also love the Oz series -- as a kid, they were full of endless delights.

8.  A science fiction, fantasy, or horror book that's terrible overrated is:

Basically every teen fantasy novel ever.  Twilight.  Beautiful Creatures.  So far, Divergent.  Most of the second and definitely the third Hunger Games.    And I don't really care for Jules Verne.  He's always spoken of as being a huge inspiration to science fiction and fantasy writers, particularly in TV shows and movies, but I'm starting to think they just didn't have anyone else to write about.  I also don't get the hype over Percy Jackson.  Or, to be honest, The Chronicles of Narnia (puke) and more and more I don't get The Lord of the Rings.  It's unwieldy, cumbersome, and not really terribly exciting.  I think people are much more excited by the movies and then transfer that excitement onto the books.  A Wrinkle in Time.  Fahrenheit 451.  

I have plenty more that I want to look at and read, but I seem to have some strong opinions about the ones I have read, hahaha.  I love moving forward and reading more books!  Yay!  If you have suggestions for must-reads, let me know!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

It's No Longer Fun, It's Just Cold.

So it's that fun time of winter. . .the time when the only holiday to look forward to is one that everyone likes to hate on despite it being the "holiday of love," the weather is nothing but bleak and dreary, and even though it's plenty cold there's no sign of snow or hope.  Yup.  I'm excited.

Now, normally, I would be excited.  I'm the kind of gal who thinks slugs are adorable and the best feeling in the world is shoving your arms into a barrel of beans, all the way up to the elbows.  Bleak, depressing winters sound like something I could get behind, right?

Well, not this week.  Sure, some days, when you just want to be melancholy and listen to depressing music, it's the most perfect weather imaginable (other than that perfect cloudy/rainy fall day where there's still a bit of color but most of the leaves have fallen).  This week, though, I have plenty to bring me down and I'm looking for a bit of. . .well, not spring, per se, but maybe that silver lining.  My silver lining is tips and tricks for dealing with the cold.

The cold gets to me much more as of late -- it may have something to do with the fact that I'm a woman and not a natural wood-burning stove, or perhaps since I've shed almost 30lbs since last May I just have less bulk to keep me warm.  Practically every time I've gone from a seated position to a standing position I get positively chilled through: the shakes, the shivers, the irreconcilable feeling of "you'll never be warm again" at the depth of my core. . .and so, because I felt like it, I thought I'd share my favorite ways of being warm and some of my silver linings through this insanely cold spurt of winter I seem to be experiencing.

1.  Get a cuddle buddy.

No, but seriously.  Nothing warms me (or anybody else, for that matter) as quickly as possible is snuggling something else warm.  I typically use my husband.  Shamelessly.  There's nothing quite so satisfying as sucking the warmth out of someone else.  Or a cat, or a dog, or an electric blanket.  However, fish tend to not make good snuggle partners.  FYI.

2.  Fuzzy socks.

These are my feet, but damn I wish they were.  Look at dem socks.  Just look at 'em.  They look so comfy and happy and fuzzy. . . .  Plus, the fuzziness makes for great traction when it's 4AM and your feet are too hot under the five blankets you put on the bed and you must remove them or die.  Because at 4AM your choices are always do the thing you want to do or die.  Or pee the bed.  But anyway, easy to grasp with your toes and pull right off.

3.  Hot beverages.

You know me.  Normally, I'm a coffee fieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeend.  Yum yum yum.  And of course I have not stopped drinking coffee, but as the day wears on, people like myself can tolerate less and less caffeine.  A nice herbal tea is just the thing for a cold night, or, if you like the sweeter stuff, hot chocolate.  I know, right?  Revolutionary.  YOU KNOW WHAT IS REVOLUTIONARY?  Apple chai.  I know, I was all like, whaaaat?  It's apple juice steamed with chai concentrate.  It's the most delicious apple cider with just a hint of caffeine.  It's like crack.  It's my only late-afternoon/evening drink if I'm not at home anymore.  I am currently drinking a blood orange rooibous.  So good.

Now where's spring?