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August 2006

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

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NanoGetting Ready for Harriet: 08/31/06

It's now noon and I'm officially on maternity leave. I just now need to pack my bags for Tuesday's trip to L&D. This afternoon I have a doctor's appointment where we will finally get the consent paperwork completed for the C-section. Hopefully I'll also have a better idea of how long I'll be in the hospital and what I'll need to bring.

Then this weekend I plan to finish adding songs to my little Nano for the surgery and recovery process. It's mostly Electronica and old style Blues. There's also some goofy stuff like most of the James Bond theme songs and some music from Xena: Warrior Princess.

Also I need to put the cow spots back onto the car seat. We washed the covering after four years of use by Sean. I think I'll do that tonight. Harriet's crib also still needs a cover sheet and her changing table is only half cleaned off. Oh well. All these things can be done this weekend. I'm still not showing any signs of going in labor before Tuesday.

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Steps: 10000

The LocketThe Locket: 08/30/06

Sometimes it's refreshing to read a book where the main characters stick to their convictions and don't let other meddling characters undermine their feelings or their self confidence. Unfortunately too much self confidence can lead to a story with few surprises and sometimes boring narrative. The Locket by Richard Paul Evans walks a fine line between charming and dull.

The book reads like a standard romance of a poor protagonist having recently lost a parent must now find a way to survive in the world and of course win the heart of a wealthy suitor regardless of their class differences. Most of the time in these stories, the protagonist is female and the suitor is male. The Locket is written from the point of view of a young college aged man who is desperately in love with a brilliant and wealthy pre-med student who loves him in return even though they have nothing apparently in common. Their relationship is a bit like that of Ben and Elaine minus Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

The Locket over all is a charming story of a man trying to do the right thing and win the heart of the girl he loves but it's bogged down by the protagonist's naivety and the sappy tone in which some passages are written. Over all I liked the story especially the friendships Michael made at the nursing homes but sometimes it felt like I was reading a book report as everything is written in the same flat tone except for the ones where the author tries to add some emotion to the scene and it comes off as sappy.

Then there is the slight problem of the trial. I can't believe that the case ever came to trial. Why weren't more people interviewed? What about making a timeline to see if all of the events made sense as originally stated? What about a proper autopsy to look for older injuries? Fortunately all these questions are finally addressed but the author opts for a Perry Mason ending instead of a C.S.I. one.

Here's the odd thing, I actually liked this book even with all of its flaws. I just think it could have been better. I enjoyed the book enough that I would read other novels by Evans if they were to cross my path. I think he has potential.

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Steps: 3500

Urban Settings: 08/29/06

I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego but the city spread northward as I grew. There is little division between the suburbs and city proper now, especially with the skyscrapers of the "Golden Triangle" area of north University City.

For most of my adult life I've lived in more urban areas or at least closer to urban areas than I did in San Diego. I've also worked in the heart of Los Angeles and in the middle of San Francisco. All these experiences have provided a steady stream of inspiration which manifests myself in my artwork on a regular basis.

I have put together a new themed page which I'm calling Urban Settings. These pictures are divided evenly as Photoshop drawings and Bryce renders, though in the last couple of years I have been doing more of them in Photoshop than in Bryce. The regular lines of the skyscraper lends itself to many of the Photoshop tools allowing for crisp lines and share delineations of color.

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Steps: 3500

Day of ReckoningDay of Reckoning: 08/28/06

Revenge can take down even the largest of crime families but it doesn't necessarily make for an interesting story. Perhaps if I had been of a different mind-set when I read Day of Reckoning I would have enjoyed it more but after the first hundred pages I found myself rereading the same sentence or paragraph. There are so many characters and so many different locations of simultaneous events that I felt the need to chart the plot.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Imagine a mob family having IRA connections and gang affiliations in England to create a multinational enterprise comprising both legal and illegal operations. This is the Cosa Nostra and it's headed by the Solazzo family. In an attempt to keep their under-the-table dealings secret, the family has a journalist murdered. It is her death that begins this three hundred page tale of revenge by her ex-husband, ex-FBI agent who has friends in high enough places to bring down the family by bankrupting Cosa Nostra and killing those who participated in his ex-wife's death.

There is a lot of potential to this story but it bogs down with the sheer number of characters all taking advantage of the situation to play out their own long dreamed of plans of revenge. There are some interesting pieces like the way in which they close the casino but there aren't enough of these scenes to keep the story going.

<"082806b">Birthday cakeMy 33rd Birthday

Sunday was my birthday. With being nine months pregnant I really didn't want to do much other than relax at home and read a book. Ian and Sean took me out for breakfast which was lovely; Sunday is usually my morning to make breakfast.

Later Ian made a honey yellow cake with mocha frosting and Sean helped decorate it. The cake topping ended up being Pokey and I had one candle to blow out. The moist cake's flavor reminded me of tiramisu minus the bitterness of the alcohol that is usually used. It's a rather sweet cake and ten minutes after eating a small slice, Harriet started to punch and kick as the sugar hit her. It took her a good hour to calm back down!

As presents I received a puzzle book, a "new" copy of Don Quixote and a magazine subscription from my parents. I've already read through the first half of the first magazine. For dinner Ian made prime rib, baked potato and a vegetable. Yummy!

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Steps: 10000

Doctor Who: The Myth MakersDoctor Who: The Myth Makers: 08/27/06

My husband spent a year living in England when his father was on sabbatical. During that time he became a Doctor Who fan and picked up a bunch of books inspired by the long-running series. The Myth Makers is one of these books.

It takes place during the Trojan war with the first doctor and his two companions. I guess it falls under the "historical and educational" bit of Doctor Who and not the "bug eyed monster" bit. The book is fortunately very short. It started out fun but it quickly started to drag with a narrator who was supposedly Homer but didn't sound anything like Homer the poet. He might have been Homer Simpson, if Homer were British.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

The first doctor and his companions Vicki and Steven end up in the middle of the Trojan war. As often is the case the doctor finds himself separated from his companions and needs to rescue them. The doctor this time has the help of Homer and Odysseus.

The story is told from Homer's point of view as another of his epics, the Whoiad, I guess, but it's unfortunately nowhere near as well written as either the Iliad or the Odyssey. There are so many "modern" Britishisms in Homer's story that it's impossible to believe that he would be the one telling the story or that his Greek audience would understand a tenth of what he was saying. I wish that Cotton had chosen to use an unnamed narrator if he was so set on using such a chit-chatty tone.

Ultimately the story is one long (142 pages) shaggy dog story with a few pages to get the TARDIS on its way again after the punchline. The joke did make me crack a smile but I was most grateful for the fact that I was nearly done with the book.

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Steps: 5000

Cathedral CatsCathedral Cats: 08/26/06

Cats and old buildings seem to go hand in hand in Great Britain. Cathedral Cats is another photographic journal that tracks the lives of cats living in historic (and in this case, religious) buildings in Great Britain. It's a short read, less than one hundred pages but the photographic portraits of the cats in their homes and scouting their territories are beautiful. I think I spent more time appreciating the photography than I did in reading the accompanying text.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Cats and architecture make a nice combination. The photographs are lovely and it's the perfect book to read in an afternoon.

I should add that it was a perfect book to read on a day when I hadn't had much sleep. Caligula, my cat, even took some time to admire some of the photographed felines.

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Steps: 5000

The Last GirlsThe Last Girls: 08/25/06

I love the cover art, the title and the concept of the book. I just wish I had actually enjoyed reading The Last Girls. I kept waiting for the story to get started but it seemed bogged down incoherent flashbacks. The only progression the book managed was the river boat's slow trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

There's nothing wrong with a book made up of flashbacks. Many writers have done it successfully: Nabokov's Lolita and Knowles's A Separate Peace are both good examples. Or for a more contemporary example, Fforde's Eyre Affair uses extensive flashbacks to illustrate the present day world, explaining how it came to be, thus enriching Thursday Next's story. Lee's story should do the same thing but her many flash backs never cover the adventure that brought the women together as friends. Instead her many flashbacks further divide up the characters keeping them separated into different boxes and chapters. It isn't until the very last chapter that she even attempts to explain why they have all decided to reunite for the river cruise!

Here is my BookCrossing review:

After the death of a mutual friend, a group of women take one last journey together down the Mississippi to relieve a previous adventure they had shared and of course all the memories they had built together in their youth. It sounds like a story with great potential but it just isn't carried off. Throughout the book the present and past stories compete for page space so that neither one comes off in any coherent fashion. There is no room given for character growth and the protagonist is such a pushover that she never does anything to drive the plot except to reluctantly agree to do what everyone else tells her to do!

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Steps: 3500

A Diry JobA Dirty Job: 08/24/06

Collecting souls after death is a dirty job but someone has to do it; that's the premise to Christopher Moore's current book, A Dirty Job. Most of these agents of Death (or Death Merchants) are antique dealers or junk shop owners like the protagonist, Charlie Asher. Every city has its own team of independently operating Death Merchants, each working from the "Big Book of Death" and the story focuses on a select few who live and work in present day San Francisco.

For fans of Moore's writing, A Dirty Job revises characters from Blood Sucking Fiends and Coyote Blue. While the book can stand alone, I was grateful to have recently read the other two books and see these characters come together under such unusual circumstances. People who have not read any previous Moore should still read A Dirty Job as he does a fine job of making sure the story stands on its own. All the back story one needs is provided.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

After finishing the book, read the acknowledgements. In them Moore explains the inspiration for the story, namely the deaths of a dear friend and two mothers. Taking what he experienced in the hospice he put his own supernatural spin and sense of humor to work to create a book that both celebrates life (and death) and pokes fun at the whole process.

He returns to San Francisco for this story and in many ways it is a sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends but one that plays out with some of the minor characters. M. F. has also moved to town and fans of Coyote Blue will enjoy what his character brings to the story. Best of all Moore took the time to capture San Francisco's personality which he failed at doing in Bloodsucking Fiends. He does it in getting the little things right, like the fog that always manages to roll out in October, the absurdity of a seven mile per hour cable car chase, and the odd ex-suburb that is the Sunset District.

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Steps: 3500

Darned SockThat Darned Sock: 08/23/06

I tend to be a fairly conservative dresser in terms of colors and patterns but I like novelty socks. Since Sean's been about eighteen months old, he's helped me pick out socks including this pair of Halloween spider socks. I love this pair because they are orange, black and white just like Caligula!

Besides being a great color scheme and having spiders on them, they are also comfortable which at this late stage of the pregnacy is very important. Sadly, my socks had a hole in one of the toes. Fortunately my grandmother way back when taught me how to darn socks. So that's what I did. I darned my sock and now they are good as new and I'm very happy.

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Steps: 3500

A Constellation of CatsA Constellation of Cats: 08/22/06

I have been reading more short story collections this year than I normally do. These collections have been grouped by theme and the latest one I've just finished for a book ring focuses on cats in fantasy, though a few of these stories I wouldn't class as fantasy.

The short story is by it's nature short and I prefer the "short shorts" and the stories in Constellation of Cats are all between 18 and 30 pages long, about the ideal length for me. They're long enough to keep me interested but not so long that I feel over committed to any one story.

The authors included are apparently fantasy writers, I didn't recognize any of the names beyond Andre Norton but I usually think of her as a science fiction writer. With the other authors, I came to each story without expectation. Some of the stories I enjoyed and some I hated. The ones I hated most were the ones that stuck most closely to the fantasy genre with castles, wizards, kings, and the like.

Here is my BookCrossing Review:

The thirteen short stories in this collection revolving around cats run the gamut from mediocre to entertaining. I found the most disappointing stories to be the high fantasy ones. The best ones take place in more mundane and recognizable locations.

Here is a breakdown of ratings by each story:

"The Stargazer's Familiar" by Mary Jo Putney: 4/10
It starts with the cliché of all clichés: "It was a dark and stormy night" and goes down hill from there. At least the ending is vaguely clever.

"Three-Inch Trouble" by Andre Norton: 9/10
It's a shaggy dog story with a cat as the narrator.

"Purr Power" by Jody Lynn Nye 7/10
Can some worshipers of Bast stop a battle with an army of pussy cats?

"Star" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch 10/10
"Star" was my favorite of all the stories. It's a heartwarming tale of reunion, recovery and renewal.

"Under the Sign of the Fish" by Karen Haber 5/10
A stupid woman uses magic to learn that fish and cats can't be friends.

"Every Life Should Have Nine Cats" by Mickey Zucker Reichert 7/10
A woman with cats tries to stop a long standing witch hunt.

"Once, We Were Worshiped" by Diane A. S. Stuckart 9/10
A vain cat learns her place in the world the hard way.

"Praxis" by Janet Pack 1/10
It was fantasy but I'm really not sure what happened.

"Death Song" by Bill McCay 7/10
An old cat makes the ultimate sacrifice to prevent the spread of evil.

"A Light in the Darkness" by Pamela Luzier 10/10
Another Bast/Bastet story but set in Colorado where the focus is on a mother who desperately wants her daughter back.

"Mu Mao and the Court Oracle" by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough 8/10
Um -- how can a calico be of "undistinguished markings"? Anyway, it's a story of a missing cat king, oracles and reincarnation.

"Star Song" by Nina Kikiri Hoffman 7/10
A single mother with two kids tries to find herself after leaving a Commune. She has help from a local cat.

"Ecliptic" by Von Jocks 1/10
Another all MEN are evil and all WOMEN are good story involving witchcraft and witch hunting. Yawn.

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Steps: 7000

WhispersWhispers: 08/21/06

I like horror and mystery stories though I get most of my horror stories through either short stories or films. It's been a couple years at least since the last horror book I've read and that one involved vampires. Whispers is more of a psychological thriller with some slasher stuff thrown into the mix.

Given the mundane way Los Angeles is presented I was surprised at how quickly all the characters were willing to accept that there might be supernatural explanation behind the events. I suppose Koontz was hoping his readers would go along with the main characters until they figured things out but there are enough clues and enough use of cliché to make predicting a more terrestrial answer fairly easy.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

The book has its flaws, mostly in the details and a lot of my complaints are petty but if Koontz is as much a perfectionist as he claims in the Afterword, then he should triple check things. Two that jumped out at me: Warner Brothers should be Warner Bros. as that is the company's name. I've seen their incorporation paperwork when I worked in the film archive at UCLA. Secondly, it's Caltech, not Cal Tech; my husband went there as did a number of our friends.

Now onto the story itself. Much of it is dated which is understandable given it was written in 1978. Many of the details rely on pop culture references relevant to the time like Mork and Mindy and the Rockford Files. Of course back then there isn't the internet which I'm sure would have played heavily in a more modern version of this story.

The story starts as a horror / slasher and then dabbles in the supernatural and occult. Both of these disguise the fact for a while that it's really a combination of Psycho and Flowers in the Attic.

I have to admit to enjoying the book for its goofy charm. It's not one of the best books I've read this year but it kept me entertained and was easy enough to read in a couple of afternoons.

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Steps: 3500

A Swiftly Tilting PlanetA Swiftly Tilting Planet: 08/20/06

A Swiftly Tilting Planet is one of those books that I've had to read for school and don't have fond memories of the process. In this book's case, the teacher read the book to the class and although I listened as carefully as I could I remember getting lost and confused quickly and being frustrated throughout the rest of the book. Things just seemed to happen and I couldn't figure out how all these pieces fit together.

A few months ago I found an unregistered copy of the book at the Dublin library shelf inside the Starbucks where we do our monthly BookCrossing meeting. Since I knew my husband had enjoyed the book and still speaks highly of it, I thought it was time to try the book again. I made doubly sure that I would read it by offering the book on the Book Relay site. I finished the book on Friday.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Back in 1984 or 1985 my sixth grade teacher read this book aloud to us. I remember not being able to follow it at all. People seemed to be jumping around from adventure to adventure without rhyme or reason. Now having finally read it myself I can see where my confusion started. There is time travel (through possession more or less), a unicorn spirit guide (for lack of a better term), and a prophecy that can go one of two ways as it jumps from generation to generation with names being passed down and modified over time. This time I was able to enjoy the story, follow the twists and turns of things as Charles Wallace blipped from When to When and predict many of the plot developments. In other words, it was a much more enjoyable story now than it was when I was a child.

Sean reads!Reading Aloud:

Last night before bath time Sean found one of his number books for Ian to read. Ian has been helping him sound out words so he asked Sean to try sounding out the words, especially the ones they had practiced like: one, two, three, etc. Sean had no problem with them and was quickly sounding out all the words in the book. Of course he got a few of them sounded out wrong which is how I could tell he was genuinely reading. One of the words that gave him trouble was "eight" which is spelled funny. We stopped to have a good laugh over how eight would sound if it were pronounced like it is spelled. So at one day shy of 4 years old, Sean has been reading in earnest!

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Steps: 10000

Scooby DooScooby-Doo and the Haunted Doghouse: 08/19/06

After having finished Castle in the Air I was in the mood for something shorter. Fortunately the perfect book arrived in the mail via the Book Relay site: Scooby-Doo and the Haunted Doghouse. The book was published when I was seven, so I would have been the perfect age for it when it was new. At the time though I had no idea that one of my then favorite cartoons had books associated with them. I was too busy reading much older books like The Hobbit and various books from the Hardy Boys series.

Here is my BookCrossing Review:

Fantastic! The book arrived with today's mail and I just had to read it before making a journal entry. I was half expecting one of the newer Scooby-Doo kids novels but this one dates back to 1980 and the artwork was more in keeping with the old cartoon. I enjoyed how each page had an illustration to go with the text. While the choice of language is aimed at younger readers the mystery is still complex enough to have kept my attention.

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Steps: 3500

Castle in the AirOne More Trip Around the Sun: 08/18/06

Sean's birthday is actually on Sunday but this is the last day of preschool before it closes for a two-week summer vacation. That mean's today is Sean's school birthday party! When a child has a birthday they are asked to walk around a sun that is in the center of the room while the teacher reads a little story about their life so far. I wrote the report for Sean but he got final approval on the five pictures we used, one for each day of his birthday from his actual birth to each year up to now. Meanwhile, Ian had his first try at making cupcakes.

For the cupcakes we were asked to get sugar free ones because the kids are also having a going away party for Charlie. His mom has been transferred to a different state for her job so the family is moving next week. I'm going to miss Charlie. He's a really nice boy.

If anyone is interested in Ian's modified cupcake recipe, here it is:

Sugar free orange honey cupcakes

2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup orange honey
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix butter, honey and vanilla together into a separate bowl. Add eggs one at a time to honey mixture. Then add milk. Fold in flour mixture.

Spoon one large dollop into 18 cupcake spots. Bake at 350° F for 25 minutes.

The kids at school will be decorating their cupcakes so we didn't frost them. I'm sure any type of frosting will taste good. Ian and I tried a cupcake each last night and they were lovely. The cupcake had a faint hint of orange to it.

Castle in the AirCastle in the Air: 08/17/06

I keep wanting to call Castle in the Air, the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky. I think this is because I have seen and enjoyed Hayao Miyazaki's 1986 film Castle in the Sky and of course his 2005 adapation of Howl's Moving Castle. Castle in the Sky, however, is inspired not by Jones's books but by one of the lesser known chapters of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

I have to admit that I haven't finished reading Howl's Moving Castle but I have read enough to get a general sense of how the character dynamics differ in the film and the book. In reading the sequel I found that the characters acted more like they do in the film than they do in the first book. Sophie is more self confident, Howl is less arrogant and Calcifer is more playful. Michael is not in the second book so there is nothing to compare.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

After awhile I found Abdullah's flowery speech annoying. I suppose Jones was trying to make him sound exotic but a little bit of it goes a long way. Abdullah's dialogue is over-kill.

Setting aside the problems with Abdullah, it's a cute story that lets fans of Howl's Moving Castle revisit the characters but from a new perspective, that of a carpet salesman from a vaguely Arabian (think more of 1001 Arabian Nights than an actual Arabian country) country. So of course there are Djinn, and a genie in a bottle and a magic carpet. There are also two demon cats who can make themselves larger. And somewhere in the confusion is Howl, Sophie and Calcifer. Figuring out where they are is the really fun bit of the book.

Had Abdullah been written with greater care I would have rated the story a 10 out of 10. I enjoyed the story of a carpet seller going to an exotic land to rescue a princess with the help of a ex-soldier but Abdullah's flowery language gets in the way of the story's flow.

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Steps: 5500

CribA Crib for Harriet: 08/16/06

On Saturday we finally got Sean's old crib washed and put back together for Harriet. Ian and his parents did most of the work but I did help screw together some pieces as my hands are small and there were some tight areas around the screws. The crib still needs a fitted sheet but we'll do that closer to her arrival so that it is clean for her and not too dusty.

The changing table has been up since Sean's birth because he only just potty trained earlier this year. It made sense to keep the table up. It is, however, currently buried under stuffed animals. This weekend Sean and I will put them back in his toy box.

There is also one old chair that needs to go into our storage closet outside until Harriet is older. The paint is peeling and I know it is old enough that the paint might be lead based. As Sean doesn't use the chair much right now it is just easiest to put it away for now.

Steps: 5000

Fast Food NationFast Food Nation: 08/15/06

So many of my BookCrossing friends had read and raved about this close up look at the American fast food industry that I felt it was time to read it myself. I've actually had this copy for around a year, having gotten it as a RABCK from another local BookCrosser.

I wasn't sure what to expect of the book having heard many reviewers say that they would never eat fast food again. While much of the book focuses on McDonald's, a chain I haven't eaten in for nearly twenty years (except twice when it was the only option), I figured a lot of the book would be covering information that neither surprised nor horrified me. While McDonald's is mentioned often, it's mostly in relation to the Speedee Service System which brought the assembly line into the restaurant industry (if one can can call McDonald's a restaurant).

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Fast Food Nation is an interesting cross between history, essay and social realism. It starts as a straight forward history of the major players in the early years of the fast food industry: Carl Karcher, the McDonald Brothers, et al. Starting with Chapter 5: "Why the Fries Taste Good" the book begins its hard look at the industry as it was in the late 1990s. The inclusion of "beef flavor" in the McDonald's fries has had a backlash against the company since the publication of the book and in the appendix, Schlosser covers some of that. The two most hard-hitting chapters are chapters 8 and 9: "The Most Dangerous Job" and "What's in the Meat" where Schlosser looks at what has become of the meat packing industry since the time that Sinclair wrote The Jungle (a novel I highly recommend to anyone who hasn't read it). Don't stop reading at the close of Chapter 10. The book doesn't really close until the Epilogue and Afterword.

The most common response I've heard from readers of Fast Food Nation is a combination of shock and repulsion. Coming to this book knowing quite a bit about how the industry works (or doesn't), I didn't find myself either shocked or repulsed. I did however find myself saddened at the chapter on food contamination ("What's in the Meat") at the deaths of those little children.

As a parent of a 4 year old (and soon to be born infant), I have been keeping my son away from most fast food. He's never had a hamburger, doesn't especially like french fries and hates soda. As Schlosser states near the close of the book, the fast food industry isn't evil; it's a business. Change will come more quickly when consumer demands it. Yes, advertising is aimed at children but parents still can control what their children see and eat.

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Steps: 10000

Wild CrimesWild Crimes: 08/14/06

Over the weekend I finished a collection of short crime stories collectively called Wild Crimes and edited by Dana Stabenow. The best of the stories take place in rural mountain areas within the United States but there are areas from all over the world included in this compellation. Of the lot I thoroughly enjoyed about a third of the stories, another third were interesting but not necessarily entertaining and the last third were a chore to read.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Wild Crimes is a collection of eleven short mysteries all taking place in wild or remote locations. My favorites of the book are "Following the Quarters" by Michael Armstrong, "The Man Who Thought He Was A Deer" by Margaret Coel and "The Bog" by Loren D. Estleman. The others are good too but they don't have the ironic humor that sets this small list of stories apart from the others.

"Following the Quarters" starts of the collection with an Alaskan cop is called to the scene of a robbery where a young man has apparently been steeling quarters from newspaper dispensers. When the man insists that he had been hired to put quarters in the machines, the real mystery begins. Why put extra quarters into the dispensers?

"The Man Who Thought He Was A Deer" is basically Wild Animus light. Here though the main character doesn't think he's a ram, instead he thinks he's a deer. As it's hunting season and this "deer" carries a gun, things don't go well for a local hunter.

"The Bog" reminded of Poe's short stories in that a murderer is undone by his own cleverness.

More Un-Birthday Pictures:

Judy and Charlie also took a load of photographs at our little family get together for Sean's birthday. I have added them to Sean's gallery. They were able to capture a bunch of things that I missed like the blowing out of the candles and the unwrapping of the gifts. All of the presents Sean received were hits. He's been happily wearing the shirts his grandparents brought back from their various trips to his summer. I think his favorite shirt is the armadillo shirt from Texas. Today he's wearing one of two Chile penguin shirts. Penguins are very popular at preschool right now as one of the other boys is as fascinated with penguins as Sean is with owls.

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Steps: 3500

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle: 08/13/06

Last night I finished The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. While I enjoyed the concept of the book, another "what if the Axis had won" but done with a science fiction angle, the story itself was too slow and tied down by too many plot lines. Clearly Dick was expiramenting with a style of story telling that he later used successfully in Martian Time Slip.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

As with Roth's The Plot Against America, Dick's book begins with the premise that life in America would have been very different if FDR hadn't been president at the start of World War II. While Dick's version has a different president than Lindergh and it extrapolates out to the 1960s where the Axis won the war. Half of the United States is run by Germany and the other half by Japan. The middle bit is left to fend for itself.

The central mystery of the book is who is the "Man in the High Castle" and why did he write a novel which proposes what life would be like if the Axis lost the war? Various characters become fascinated with the novel and are driven to seek out the truth behind it.

The problem though is that there are too many characters and too much political manouvering to cover in this book. Dick's books are best when they are short and the plot is quick. The pacing in this one is out of character for his other books.

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Steps: 5000

Sean tells a joke at his partyAn Early Birthday Party: 08/12/06

Judy and Charlie arrived last night in time for dinner to help us celebrate Sean's birthday a week early. We went to Chevy's last night, meeting there after the end of Sean's school.

After dinner I baked Sean's cake, though I waited until this morning to frost it. For the cake I used my grandmother's standard chocolate chip recipe but Sean requested chocolate icing for the frosting. It must be the first time in about 65 years that anyone in the family has deviated from the traditional recipe where we normally use peanut butter in the frosting mix.

Today's birthday party was really nice. We had sandwiches for lunch. Sean opted for peanut butter and jelly (black currant jam). We had either turkey or roast beef.

After lunch it was birthday cake time! Sean let us sing the birthday song this year: it used to freak him out when he was younger. We were horribly off-key so perhaps we should go back to banning the song. Then Sean blew out his candles (one at a time). We all enjoyed a slice of the cake. It turned out well: nice and moist and the chocolate was really good (although I did miss the peanut butter a little).

Then it was time for presents. My big present was the now finished helicopter shirt. Ian took care of the rest of the present buying, getting three Pokémon DVDs and Super Mario Party 5. Judy and Charlie gave him some wonderful t-shirts from their trip to South America. They also gave him an adorable coati mundi stuffed animal.

All in all, it was a great party. It was a nice family get-together.

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Harriet at 35 weeksOne Last Ultrasound: 08/11/06

Ian and I went to Kaiser again for the last of the high risk ultrasounds. I came expecting to be on my back for another hour and a half like the previous time. We ended up only being in the ultrasound room for about twenty minutes. Harriet's head down position made taking the measurements much easier. The doctor was able to quickly measure her head circumference, her body cavity circumference, and the length of one of her femurs. The ultrasound computer came up with an estimated weight of 7 lbs 12 oz.

Before sending us home, he took a couple scans of her for us to keep. She was chewing on her hand during the scan and the pictures sort of show her doing this. He said that she was doing perfectly for her growth and that my pregnancy was a textbook pregnancy. Since I'm due to delivery by c-section in a little over three weeks, he doesn't see any need to give me another ultrasound before her birth. The only "high risk" monitoring either doctor wants me to continue with is the nightly calls from the perinatal nurses down in Santa Clara. So I'll have to keep monitoring my urine and blood pressure until she's born.

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Derrick and Sean play TetrisA Busy Month of Guests: 08/10/06

We have enjoyed Derrick's stay and I'm glad he doesn't mind sleeping up stairs on our couch. Some day we'll hopefully have a proper guest room. Derrick is the first of many guests we'll be having but he's the only overnight guest.

Tomorrow Ian's parents come to visit for the weekend and they will help Ian put together the crib. The recent heat wave prevented us from getting it together sooner. As it is summer, they will be arriving in time for dinner which will be fun.

Briefly after they leave, Derrick will be back for one more night before he heads back to Minnesota. That will give us about two weeks by ourselves before we start all over again.

My mother will be next visitor to help during Harriet's birth. She will be Sean's taxi to and from preschool and will be spending time with me in the hospital while I recover. After she leaves, my mother-in-law is coming for a day or two to see Harriet after I'm home from the hospital.

We'll then have another couple of weeks to ourselves (other than having Harriet as a new member of the family). Then Ian's brother and sister-in-law are coming to visit along with Ian's parents to celebrate his mother's birthday. We had originally planned this party to be down in South Pasadena but that was in the pre-Harriet days. It's amazing how a baby can change everyone's plans.

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Harriet's turtleNo More Non-Stress Tests: 08/09/06

Today's trip to the doctor's, though confused at times, did answer all our questions. The two most important items are: Harriet's birth is now officially scheduled at the hospital on September 5th at 8:00 AM, and this pregnancy is going along so well that I don't need to have any more non-stress tests until Harriet's birthday.

We went to the appointments today expecting a little confusion because Kaiser rarely handles back-to-back appointments efficiently. We arrived in time for the non-stress test but the reception was a trainee and got things confused. She didn't know how to use the ATM reader and insisted both our cards were invalid (a call to the bank confirmed that both cards are working fine). Then she sent me to the wrong station for the test so that we missed the non-stress test at first and went on instead to the regular doctor's appointment.

The regular appointment went well although after the stress of thinking our bank account wasn't working and worrying about the missed appointment, my blood pressure was high. At the appointment I had the step B test to see if I need antibiotics before Harriet is born. I doubt I have strep.

As this appointment was with a different doctor than my usual one, she wasn't able to answer immediately what day my c-section had been scheduled for. Fortunately all the records are easy to get to via a new computer system and she found that the hospital had me down for September 1st! I'd been told September 5th and we had made all our plans around the 5th. The doctor said she'd leave a message with my regular OB-GYN to see if things could be straightened out.

Then it was back to the original station to wait for the non-stress test. The woman who has been doing most of them found us quickly. Fortunately Harriet was still awake and in a playful mood. She happily squirmed around for the duration and even managed to trigger a half dozen Braxton-Hicks contractions.

Just before we were done with the test my OB-GYN appeared. She reassured Ian and me that the C-section has been rescheduled for the 5th like it should be. Mine will be the second C-section in the day and we'll have to be in the hospital at 8 AM.

The other interesting news is that I've been given a doctor's note for "modified work" meaning that for the remainder of the pregnancy I should work from home all five days of the week. Thank goodness because driving has been getting very difficult and uncomfortable.

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Sean's preschool buddiesGood News for Sean's School: 08/08/06

Sean's preschool is doing so well that they're moving to a larger location and hiring new teachers. The new school will be in a proper building, no longer in the owner's home. As Sean is on the cusp of going to public school, we're thrilled at this development. It will be a great way for him to transition from this home care environment he's grown up with to the more formal school environment he'll be graduating to next year.

We don't know where the new school is yet but we know it's only three minutes away from the current location and we know that it's in San Lorenzo. This will probably make getting there easier for me and shouldn't make any difference to Ian as it's still on his way to and from Berkeley. I'm also thrilled that the school won't be in the mountains between Castro Valley and San Lorenzo as the current school's parking lot requires blind backing up and is impossible to see cars coming up the drive way and worse, people who might be on the driveway. I'm always afraid I'll either be hit or hit someone when I'm in the process of leaving the school.

I think the new school opens in three weeks or so. My hope is that it opens after Harriet is born as my mother will be taking Sean to and from school while I'm in the hospital. I'd hate to have to give her new instructions to a place I've never been to!

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Martian Time-SlipMartian Time-Slip: 08/07/06

I finished another excellent Philip K. Dick novel last night, Martian Time-Slip. I found the description of the colony on Mars similar enough to how it is depicted in Futurama that I have to wonder if anyone on the show had read the book. It was not their similarities that made me like the book; it was the writing and the character development. Before the story unfolds, the characters and setting are introduced through a series of vignettes that at first appear to have nothing to do with each other. It is only when all these narrative threads finally come together that the story begins in earnest.

The story itself is rather short. It involves some land speculation that might lead to a land bust in the far future and the ultimate collapse of the colony. These glimpses of the future are brought forward by two characters: Jack and Manfred. Jack as a functioning schizophrenic has the mindset to communicate with Manfred, an autistic boy who rarely speaks and when he does, it's usually to say "gubble gubble."

Here is my BookCrossing review:

The first half of the book brings the dramatis personae together from their separate places in Martian society. The second half sees what will unfold when their talents are put together. At the center of everything is FDR Mountain, aka Dirty Knobby, the native Martians known as Bleekmen, and a severly autistic boy who may or may not be able to see the future.

I really don't want to write more and risk spoiling the story. Just go get a copy and read it.

Steps: 4500

Inspired by...: 08/06/06

By far my most frequent source of inspiration for my art is the art of others. I rarely strive to make an exact copy (the exception being a piece called "White Doors" by one of my favorite artists, Wilhelm Hammersøi. Most of the time, I'm working from a favorite quote, a title of a film, painting or book, or a remembered scene. These artistic inspirations serve as tangents or creative jumping-off points for my creative process.

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A Year by the SeaA Year by the Sea: 08/06/06

Women who hit their midlife crisis point seem to go to the ocean to write a memoir. Sometimes it works, like Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea and sometimes it misfires like A Year by the Sea. Throughout the book I could not relate to most of Anderson's life-changing insights. She writes of wanting to be "completed" by her husband and sons and not understanding how one can "laugh at one's self." While I adore my husband and children, I do not judge myself by them nor do I feel "incomplete" without them. Yes, I can function as an individual and I frequently laugh at myself.

The were only two chapters where I connected with the author. The first was when she met the feisty older woman, also named Joan, who is so self reliant and gutsy that she's able and willing to give Anderson the stern talking to that she needs. The second time is when the water heater breaks and the author has to spend a week clamming with her fishermen friends. It was the first time she shows any true initiative and manages to accomplish her goal of getting her water heater fixed.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

I didn't enjoy A Year by the Sea as much as I did A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Lindbergh had gone to the beach already a strong, confident and happy person, so her time away from her friends and family was one of renewal and introspection. Anderson's trip to the seaside was done out of desperation and so the tone of her book is filled with loneliness, self doubt and sometimes self loathing. While she does come around by the end of the book the process is painful at times to read. I just wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. I think my reaction is one of a personality difference. I am more like Lindbergh and less like Anderson.

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Steps: 3500

Civil WarsCivil Wars: 08/05/06

Civil Wars covers the events that lead to the creation of civil partnerships in Vermont. The book begins with the State's supreme court sending a lawsuit to the legistlature to create a more finely tuned constitutional definition of who can marry whom. The hope of course had been for a straightforward ruling to open marriage up for same-sex couples rather than passing the job onto the legislature but it was a start.

The book provides background information on the couples who were named in the original suit and how they came to joining the suit. Later the book unfortunately becomes more of a book report on the legislative process and it's in these lengthy passages of direct quotes from the floor that the it goes from being an interesting read to a tedious one.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

The writing in Civil Wars is uneven. The first half takes a very personal look at the people who started the law suit that eventually resulted in Vermont creating civil unions. The second half looks at the process itself and reads like a book report with lengthy quotations from the actual proceedings. I ended up skimming these final chapters as they were just too dry.

Although I didn't like the last couple chapters of the book, I still recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of gay rights.

One Month Left and a Very Busy Day:

A month from today, Harriet is born via c-section. I'm still in my regular clothes, though I am using some maternity shirts left over from Sean. I am finally feeling the effects of being in my third trimester, beyond the sciatica. It feels like Harriet has dropped and is possibly engaged in my pelvis, or as I call it, "wearing my pelvis like a hat."

She dropped after we had a busy day running errands. We had started with going to breakfast (really more like lunch because Ian and Sean had let me sleep in much too late). We then tried the post office to mail some books but they were closed (contrary to what the website's posted hours). No big deal; I go on Monday like I usually do.

From the post office we drove over the grade to Pleasanton. We stopped at the mall to look for maternity pants at JCPenny and didn't find anything. Their current selection of clothing is really ugly. Then we went downstairs to Payless to get a new pair of shoes for Sean. His feet haven't actually grown but he had completely worn out his old pair. He chose a pair of blue and white Airwalk shoes with velcro straps.

While Sean was trying on his shoes the heat inside the store began to get to me. I left Ian and Sean to sit on one of the black upholstered benches outside the store. Sean and Ian bought water for all of us while I relaxed and read a chapter from Terminal Velocity. Sean and I sat next to an older gentleman who chatted with Sean about his new shoes.

Once our water was done we stopped at KBToys to get three more wind-up bath toys. They are still being sold for three for five dollars. Sean chose this time: a seal, a whale and a lobster.

Toys and shoes successfully purchased, we headed back home by way of Trader Joe's. At Trader's we got some salads for my two days of on-site work. We also got some groceries for home: milk, bread, coffee, cheese and another drink for me. I began to feel Harriet's weight of her dropping; I think she had dropped on the drive home after all that walking at the mall.

By the time we got home we were all tired and I was very sore. We had a quick cheese and cracker lunch and then took a nap. We napped well past our usual dinner time. Sean had his dinner right after nap and we got him bathed and in bed not too much later than normal.

Finally after having dinner ourselves (tuna sandwiches) I finally started to feel better after our busy day. Harriet is still dropped and a bit of a chore to drag around now but at least I don't feel ready to collapse. Although today was trying, I'm still doing better than I did with Sean. I didn't get any contractions. I was just sore and weary.

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The Bourne UltimatumThe Bourne Ultimatum: 08/04/06

I was looking forward to reading the final book in the Jason Bourne trilogy but after having suffered through it, I wish I had stopped after The Bourne Supremacy. The book fails in every way that the first two books succeed. The quick pace here is unnecessary and silly; Bourne is out of character; the political arena has changed too much to make the plot possible.

The original book and the one that followed were written at the height of the cold war. They take place in a time were the superpowers were suspicious and paranoid of each other. Espionage was big business for all of the big countries and many of the small ones. It was a time when communication was more difficult due to the lack of cell phones and the modern day internet. Yes; the precursors of both technologies existed but they were not being put to use in the ways that they are now. It was easier for spies to hide and countries to cover their tracks with misinformation and subterfuge.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

The Bourne Ultimatum takes place more than a decade later from the The Bourne Identity. This length of time between events makes the story unbelievable. After successfully being in hiding for so long and with Bourne clearly not active, there is no reason for the Jackal to resurface. Nor is there any reason for Bourne to go into a blind panic and race around the world drawing attention to himself and his family.

By the time of the third book, the cold war was ending. Germany was reunifying, the USSR was on the brink of collapse and mobile communication was becoming more ubiquitous with early cell phones. This environment is not one where Jason Bourne or Carlos could function using the tricks they had perfected after Vietnam. First of all, they'd be too old for chasing after each other. Second, the nations that had backed them were under new leadership and different foreign policy. What had been political maneuvering was now a silly personal cat and mouse game that is out of character for both major players!

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Steps: 5000

Almost Ready for Harriet: 08/03/06

In the process of getting the house ready for our house guests, we have sorted out our living room, clearing space for Harriet's tummy time mat (which we still need to get) and her bouncy seat. As we did with Sean, we've moved our coffee table off to the side so that the area around the couch and chair can be open for Harriet. At first it will just be a convenient place to put her either in her seat or on the mat when she's a little older. Later when she's mobile it will be a good place to practice walking. Before she's mobile we will need to get and install a baby gate to the stairs. We didn't need one with Sean as our old place didn't have stairs inside.

The Amazing Disappearing Woman:

In the chaos of getting ready for our guests, I had forgotten to wash any trousers for this morning. I couldn't very well come upstairs in my night gown as I normally would have for the morning bit of my work from home duties, so I had to put one something!

I found a pair of dress trousers that had been too small for me when I first got pregnant with Harriet. I held them up and realized they might actually fit. I tried them on and they did! Mind you, they are a bit tight in the belly area but not as bad as they were before I was pregnant. Good grief, I'm eight month's pregnant and I'm wearing a pair of pants two sizes smaller than I was eight months ago.

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Steps: 5000

The Haunted PlanetThe Haunted Planet: 08/02/06

I like ghost stories and I like short stories. A book of short ghost stories is perfect! These stories were written for a younger audience, probably of the middle school range of ages. Nonetheless, it's still a fun read for an afternoon. Although the stories are aimed at children, they aren't devoid of horror and suspense. Some of them are a little goofy but I did experience some genuine chills while reading this book.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

What a perfect read for a Friday night! There are seven short horror stories aimed at younger readers (probably grades 4-7). They are: "The Haunted Gull", "The Empty Hotel", "Ghost Flight", "The Bridge", "The Robot's Revenge", "Don't Go Into the Baby's Room", and "The House on Pearl Street".

My favorite of the set is the first one. It is reminiscent of Poe's "The Raven" and Hitchcock's film, The Birds. My next favorite is "Ghost Flight" as it has a Twilight Zone feel to it with the protagonist being the only one who can see what trouble lies ahead but is unable to make those in power believe him. The book ends on a good one too, though I wish there was a little more follow-through; I wanted to know more about the house on Pearl Street and the creature who lived inside.

My least favorite of the stories were "The Empty Hotel" which tries for something akin to The Shining but falls flat and The Robot's Revenge which can't decide if the horror is technology gone bad or a vengeful ghost in the machine.

The remaining stories left me scratching my head. They started out good but their endings seemed to come too soon and without much thought to the rest of the plot.

I got The Haunted Planet from a pile of books that another BookCrosser had rescued from a library discard sale. These were books that they couldn't keep and couldn't sell. I love finding gems like this book at charity sales and whatnot. I hope this book finds other eager readers after I release it. It's currently available on the Book Relay site.

Another Non-Stess Test:

Ian and I went to our weekly Wednesday non-stress test this morning. This time I made sure to drink a little coffee too and that plus the doughnut and orange juice did the trick. Harriet was awake and lively. She breezed through today's test with lots of kicking, squirming and a with a good strong heart beat.

Afterwards we got another peek at her. She has really grown since last week. Her head seems to be the size of a large grapefruit now. The rest of her seems to be tight tangle of arms and legs. She doesn't have much space left in there for moving around.

Since I'm doing so well with these tests and with keeping my blood pressure under control, the nurse suggested that I didn't have to come in for further appointments if I didn't want to. I told her that I didn't mind coming in, especially since Sean's C-section was due to fetal distress. It's only an hour or so out of my week and there are only three more appointments left.

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Steps: 7000

Blankets Back on the Bed: 08/01/06

What a change a week can make. Last night we had to put all the blankets on our beds again. By dinner time the temperature had dropped to 72° F. upstairs and probably into the mid to low 60s by the time we went to bed downstairs. A strong on shore wind brought clouds and fog across bay from the peninsula. The wind whipped through our house and was randomly slamming doors shut to the annoyance of Caligula. We ended up propping the door to her sand box open with a bucket so that she could have access when she needed it.

The weather pattern promises to be about the same today so I'm looking forward to another cool night. Tomorrow night friends are flying in from Minnesotta where they have been suffering from the heat wave that we had last week. I hope they remember to pack some sweaters in case our weather feels too cold to them.

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Steps: 7000

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