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December 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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Canadian Book Challenge: 2019-2020

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The Gashlycrumb TiniesThe Gashlycrumb Tinies: 12/31/06

Ian and I are both fans of macabre humor and especially of Edward Gorey. Surprised that we didn't own a copy of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Ian bought a lovely copy for me for Christmas. I have already read it at least twice (possibly three times) and I'm seriously considering doing a series of 3D renders based on this book (one per letter). My goal isn't to reproduce the drawings or the children, just to explore the settings.

The book is short, only twenty-six pages long. Each page is a different child and a different death, usually by a stupid or self destructive method. It's in the vein of a Victorian cautionary tale except that the deaths described are so extreme to be gothic parody.

The pictures though don't actually show the deaths. The children are instead juxtaposed against an environment that at first glance looks ordinary, albeit a little off. Only little Zillah hints at death with her skull-headed doll. It is the verse at the bottom of each page that brings all the elements together to create a grizzly and delightfully surreal twenty-six line poem.

Gratitude #31: 2006

Here we are back in South Pasadena to celebrate the closing of another year with good food and old T.V. A year ago I was feeling strange and wondering if I should have drunk that glass of wine or eaten that plate of sushi (a tradition here). In another week I'd know for sure it wasn't the flu but was in fact Harriet.

2006 also saw Sean go from day care to preschool and from diapers to underwear. My toddler is no more; he is now a proper big boy. Looking back at the last twelve months of photographs I can see Sean lose the last of his baby features in his face.

At the close of the year, Harriet is holding her head up. She is able to roll from back to front and hold her own bottle (when she has one instead of nursing).

I've gone from having a 50 mile round trip commute to working from home. The change has freed up two hours of my life every week day. I am closer to Sean's school in case he is sick or in case there is a school party. I'm happy that I can participate more in his school.

2007 will bring new milestones for Harriet (sitting and walking) and new accomplishments for Sean (improving his reading skills and learning some Mandarin). It will also mark this website's 10th anniversary this summer.

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Steps: 3500

The Straw MenThe Straw Men: 12/30/06

I got a copy of The Straw Men by Michael Marshall (Smith) back in 2004. It was a battered copy that came with a group of books found in the middle of the street outside of an apartment building. The apartment manager gave them to me not knowing what else to do with them but not having the heart to throw away a truckload of abused but readable books.

The Straw Men was a book that I've been wanting to read since I got it. The blurb at the back of the book sounded interesting and a little like the X-Files. Back in 2004 I was still buried under rings, rays and relays and just couldn't justify further delaying things by reading a book not committed to another BookCrosser. Now that I'm basically caught up (except for again having too many relays promised to other members) I have been able to read books completely for fun along with the ones that are earmarked for a specific release.

The book wasn't quite what I had hoped it would be. The mystery never quite got going. Although there are moments of extreme violence the story seems too withdrawn to actually be engaging. Then there is the problem of the odd English dialect. I don't know if I should blame the author (who is British) or the publisher (an American branch of Penguin books) for the mangled American English. Nonetheless the story is often times interrupted by the strangest turns of phrases that are somewhere between American and British English that make the horror quite laughable.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

This book promised to be scary but it never was. I never learned what fear is even though the blurb said I would. Bah. It was interesting and intriguing but never scary. It was nothing more than an over-written who done it with an ensemble cast and enough modern day references to quickly date the book.

Read the reviews at Everybody Lies, MPL's 3 Rs.

Desert roseGratitude #30: Cacti

Whenever I see a cactus, I think of my grandmother Joyce. She always had a cactus garden, usually in pots lined up on every available surface in her kitchen and on benches in her backyard. She had larger cacti and succulents growing in her front yard. My brother has now transplanted the potted ones to the ground in the backyard to keep the tradition of the cactus garden going.

She also had a Christmas cactus that had been mailed to her as a cutting from a friend in Texas (if I remember correctly). She planted the cactus cutting when she was living in the Bay Area and I've seen photographs of my mother as a child where the cactus is in the background. The cactus survived when she and my grandfather moved to San Diego.

Sometime after I got married she gave me the cactus and it survived the move back to the Bay Area. It is currently living on our balcony (still in the original pot) and still blooms every winter.

Anyway, yesterday after our trip to see the Japanese garden we walked to the other side of Huntington Gardens to see the cactus garden. Here it is winter, just a few days shy of the new year, and it was hot. I was roasting under Harriet and her sling. It felt like early summer. The cacti were in full bloom. It seemed like such a disconnect to the news of blizzards in Denver.

I took about thirty photographs of our trip to Huntington and most of them at the cactus garden. The new camera captured everything beautifully and I feel like a professional photographer magically took my photographs for me; they are that good.

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Steps: 400

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay up Late!Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late: 12/29/06

Sean's last Hanukkah gift was two books by Mo Willems: The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog and Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late. Parents will find this story of the pigeon who doesn't want to go to bed very funny. I think I've heard every excuse that the pigeon uses from Sean. As with the other pigeon books the narrator warns the reader about the pigeon and his need to go to bed. After he leaves, the pigeon speaks to the reader, trying to stay up as late as possible.

As Sean has his stuffed owls, the pigeon has a stuffed bunny whom he clutches throughout the book. That little detail of the favorite toy will ring true to young readers and their parents. I like these books because the lessons are presented with humor without being blatant or patronizing.

Sean and some koiGratitude #29: Koi

I am grateful for koi. They are such beautiful fish. Today Judy and Charlie took us to Huntington Gardens where our first stop was the Japanese garden to see the koi. Sean had been reluctant to go because it wasn't a "real park with slides and swings" but he was intrigued to see fish with spots like Caligula. They ended up being a huge hit and after seeing them Sean enjoyed the rest of the walk around the gardens.

The last time I saw so many koi was at the Maui Prince Hotel in 2000. It was Ian and my last (and only) adult vacation. The atrium behind the check in area had a meandering river filled with koi. I took a ton of photographs of all those koi but I can't remember where I've put the photographs. We were living in Daly City at the time and we've moved twice since then.

Anyway, Sean spent a good ten or fifteen minutes on the bridge watching the koi. The fish hoping he had bread or fish treats poked their snouts out of the water in case he would feed them. As they were so close and the light was just right I was able to get many wonderful photographs of the koi.

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The Pigeon Finds a Hot DogThe Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog: 12/28/06

Sean's last Hanukkah gift was two books by Mo Willems: The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog and Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late. In the story of the hot dog, the pigeon reluctantly learns to share when a hungry duckling questions him about a hot dog he has found. The pigeon having found a hot dog is about to devour it when a duckling begins to pester him with the sorts of questions that children like to ask: "Does it taste like chicken?"

The duckling is like a younger child, forcing the pigeon to experience first hand what it is like to be on the receiving end of all that pestering. The duckling is either like a younger child at preschool or even a younger sibling. Without intervention from an older authority figure the two young birds are able to work things out. Reluctantly but happily the two do end up sharing the marvelous hot dog.

The artwork and lettering reflects the youth of the two characters. The birds are drawn simply and loosely. They appear to have been drawn with crayon as if drawn by a child.

Gratitude #28: Safe Travel

Our trip to San Diego is over and today we returned to South Pasadena for our New Year's celebration. I did the driving and the trip took longer than it should have. I've never seen so many cars on the road on the 28th. Usually the week between Christmas and New Year's is quiet and the freeways relatively free of cars. Not so today! Fortunately the worst of the traffic was heading south but it was still thick enough to make driving rough.

We had to make two stops for Harriet. I wanted to push through to South Pasadena but her crying was getting worse and worse and the traffic slower and slower. We stopped once for Ian to change her diaper. A few minutes later she was wailing and choking on her tears. I stopped again to feed her. After that we limped the rest of the way on side streets.

Although the trip was frustrating we did arrive safe and sound. We didn't lose too much time and it was good to finally arrive.

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Steps: 3500

Number 9Number 9: 12/27/06

My librarian friend and fellow Bookcrosser "lovemylife" sent me another small box of rescues from her library. Number 9: The Little Fire Engine is the other children's book from the box that I immediately had to read. Of the two books, Number 9 is the strongest story. While being a story of an old man and his anthropomorphic fire engine, it does show the dangers of fighting fires and the way in which the elements can help or hinder the fight. At one point the building actually collapses in part on the engine showing the balancing act that fire fighters must manage between the safety of others in a disaster to that of their own.

Gratitude #27: Alice

Today is my best friend's birthday. We've known each other since the first grade. My grandmother provided day care for us all the way through school until the time that Alice and her family moved to the other end of University City. For the last three years we've been included in her family birthday celebration that includes dinner and a movie.

Before the movie we met at Alice's parent's home. We took along Harriet to introduce her to Alice, Kim and their parents. Harriet was her usual charming and smiling self. She even giggled a few times. Then on our way to the theater we dropped her home with my mom who was watching both Sean and Harriet.

Tonight's movie choice was Casino Royale. It was fun to see but not one of my favorite Bond films (or books for that matter). I think the Bond story is played out now and it either needs another long hiatus or just a full out retirement.

Afterwards we tried for dinner at the PF Chang's near Towne Centre but it was over packed and the wait was an hour and a half. Alice decided it would be best to go to Brockton Villa at the La Jolla Cove. It was a much lovelier meal than what we would have had at PF Chang's. I just wish we had decided to go there first.

After dinner it was back to the home for pie and presents. We ended up calling it a night at 10:15 or so since we have to drive back up to South Pasadena tomorrow and Harriet is certainly going to wake us up around dawn.

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Steps: 7000

The Little Lost PuppyThe Little Lost Puppy: 12/26/06

My librarian friend and fellow Bookcrosser "lovemylife" sent me another small box of rescues from her library. These are often times old books that have spent the last many decades on the shelves and are now ready to be retired but aren't of interest to patrons of the library book sale. She knows I love old books and will read anything. She also knows I have young children so this box had many wonderful old children's books.

Among the recent set was Little Lost Puppy, a book published when my mother just one year old. I'm pretty sure I've read the story before and maybe from a copy my mother owns. Regardless, I was thrilled to see it in the box.

The story is beautifully illustrated and follows the day of two cops in a small town who are trying to find a lost puppy. In the course of the day they find a lost bird and a lost kitten. Ultimately they find the puppy too but how they find him I won't say. I don't want to spoil the best of the story.


T on the BeachGratitude #26: Boxing Day Beach

I am thankful that we were able to take our annual walk along La Jolla Shores Beach with my mother, brother, Ian and our children. This year is obviously Harriet's first Boxing Day trip to the beach. She spent the first half of the walk enjoying the view from her sling. Sean meanwhile proudly walked with his owl backpack and helped Mom look for "treasure" in the form of sea shells.

Wanting a chance to splash in the water a little, I took my shoes and socks off in the car and chose to walk barefoot. We walked from the parking lot to the Scripps Pier. By the time we were at the pier Sean's legs were getting tired and Harriet had fallen asleep.

Just shy of the parking lot on our return Sean was ready for a lift. Ian gave him a piggy back ride. I took many lovely photographs and will hopefully get them uploaded to my site in early 2007.

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On the Night of the Seventh MoonOn the Night of the Seventh Moon: 12/25/06

Victoria Holt mixes German fairy tales and Norse mythology to create this romantic suspense story. A young woman who believes in the magic of the Brothers Grimm stories comes face to face with a stronger magic, that of Loki. Has she met and married her true love or was it all a drug induced dream to cover a much darker and savage event?

Anyone familiar with the classic shell game will be able to predict the major plot points in On the Night of the Seventh Moon. While such an obvious plot may ruin things for some books, Holt is a good enough story teller to be consistently entertaining. There is nothing taxing to reading this mystery and yet the twists and turns are still satisfying.

Gratitude #25: Having Fun

I am thankful that tonight's Christmas celebration went well. Sean and Harriet were delightful and Harriet managed to stay awake long enough to meet her great-grandfather Eddie and give him a few of her charming smiles. She also managed to open most of her presents with help from Sean and Mom. Of the ones she's opened so far the chew rings that Ian picked out for her are her favorite. She cooed with delight when Sean opened the gift for her.

Sean's favorite gift is clearly the owl back pack that Mom got for him. It's a blue backpack with the pack part being shaped and decorated like an owl. It reminds me a bit of my "Night Owl" piece from 2001. Sean spent most of the rest of his evening awake wearing the pack. He even wanted wear it during dinner. He's thrilled to finally have a pack of his own as so many of the preschoolers have packs that they take to school (mostly for fashion and not so much for taking home books).

My favorite gift is probably the first season set of DVDs of Magnum P.I. from my brother. Ian and I are watching the pilot as I update this blog.

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Russell and the Lost TreasureRussell and the Lost Treasure: 12/24/06

Judy and Charlie gave Sean this sequel to Russell the Sheep. In Russell and the Lost Treasure, Russell learns the importance of family after having an adventure to find a hidden treasure chest. Whereas the last book was simply a silly story about the frustration of insomnia, this story is more sentimental.

Russell doesn't find valuable treasure. Instead he finds a camera and a blank photograph album. He decides to make the best of it by filling the pages with photographs of the other sheep. Through Russell's photography we learn about the other sheep and their relation to Russell. The sheep stop being just background elements as they are in the first book and become individuals with their own likes and dislikes. They are Russell's family and the memories he captures in his book becomes his "treasure."

Gratitude #24: Memories of Past Years

I am thankful all the memories of previous times gathered with the family. For most of my life we did our celebrating on Christmas Eve with presents just after dinner, leaving the stockings for the next morning. That then left us free on Christmas day to visit with other friends. Sometimes it meant Christmas breakfast at my paternal grandparents' home and then dinner with my father's extended family at his grandmother's home. Later it meant dinner at my paternal grandparents' home (with them coming instead to our home for breakfast).

Now with Sean and Harriet and with living at the other end of the state, we have new traditions. Now Christmas Eve is either a day of travel (and anticipation) or a day to be spent with Judy and Charlie. Stockings, dinner and presents are now clumped together into one long afternoon of celebration with my folks and grandfather.

Then there is the annual family walk on the beach. Sometimes we have seen people with a Christmas tree set up in the sand. Last year we saw a sting ray.

There is Alice's birthday, though this is a tradition for Ian and me. Sean and Harriet will stay at home with their grandmother.

There will be other people to see and to introduce this year to Harriet. The traditions have changed over the years but the memories are still there and each new year is another new memory.

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Steps: 3500

Encyclopedia Brown Strikes AgainEncyclopedia Brown Strikes Again: 12/23/06

Of the four Encyclopedia Brown books I've read so far, Encyclopedia Brown Strikes Again is my least favorite. Leroy's motivation for solving these crimes is unclear and at times he seems to be doing it just for greed or other equally obnoxious reasons. There is one mystery where Leroy stalks his friend Sally out of jealousy. It isn't cute; it's creepy.

Then there is the lengthy vacation with the Browns where Leroy and the rest of us have to listen to the local lore and then solve some ancient mysteries. These have no immediacy and just come off as long boring tales that managed to put me to sleep before I got to the question at the end.

There is only one good mystery in this book, a classic locked room mystery. How does one swap a glass of ice for a glass of ginger ale without making a noise?

Gratitude #23: Departures and Arrivals

I am thankful that the day our trip down to southern California is finally here and that we have finally arrived at our first destination (South Pasadena). I just wish traffic could have been smoother. the trip normally takes about five hours. Today it took nine and a half hours. We rarely made it to the speed limit of 70 miles per hour. We often times were stuck at zero miles per hour. Besides the traffic being bad, the restaurant service was slow in both places we stopped. We ended up not tipping at one of the places.

If our children were older we probably would have tried to make up lost time by not making as many stops. But Sean needed potty breaks (understandably) and Harriet needed to nurse and get diaper changes. Despite the long driving both kids were very good. Harriet complained a bit here and there but rarely did any out right howling. Sean complained some too but not as much as I expected given how frustrating the drive was.

We left at nine thirty in the morning and we arrived at long last at seven at night. It was nearly two hours past Harriet's bed time. She was hungry and confused so it took another hour or so to feed her and get her settled enough to sleep. Then Sean finally got to bed just after nine but he wasn't really interested in going to bed either. At least we are here safe and sound.

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Steps: 3500

Encyclopedia Brown Finds the CluesEncyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues: 12/22/06

Of the four Encyclopedia Brown books I've read so far, Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues is my favorite. The mysteries are interesting, believable and easy to figure out. I was able to read the book in the course of about an hour and it was a fun hour.

These mysteries involve simple riddles, the sort of thing one could expect a child of Leroy Brown's age to be able to solve. Other books concentrate too much on Brown's intellect and his personality. Those other books make Brown seem like an obsessive spoiled and unlikable brat; he can be like The Great Brain minus the conscience of a younger brother to keep him in line.



Gratitude #22: The Ocean

I am thankful for the ocean. Having been born and raised in San Diego, just a mile or two from the Pacific Ocean, the sea is in my blood. I'm not the stereotypical Californian surfer, though I used to be an avid Boogie boarder and body boarder.

Summer is the time for tourists to go to the beach. Once fall gives way to winter, it is the locals' time to go. I love walking on the beach in the fog taking the aroma of salt, sea weed and wet sand. I love looking for shells revealed by the undertows that take the sand to off shore sand bars in winter.

Today Ian, Harriet and I dropped off Caligula to Shamrock ranch (aka "cat camp") where she stays every time we go away for more than a few day's of vacation. After dropping off our gleeful cat (she loves the outdoor runs and lying in the sunshine) we took Harriet to Taco Bell by the sea. We got there not for the food but for the view. We had a lovely view of the waves lapping just under the restaurant from our window seat. Harriet loved every minute of it. She bounced and cooed and smiled at the ocean. She has the ocean in her blood too.

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Animal KisssesAnimal Kisses: 12/21/06

Harriet is three and a half months old and already she has a little library of her own. Animal Kisses is her latest book, a gift from Judy and Charlie. As with books designed for young children, it is comprised of bright colors, bold line drawings, repetition of themes and tactile experiences.

Animal Kisses has a different animal on every pair of pages. For each animal the reader is asked if he would like to kiss this animal. The question includes a tactile aspect. For example: "Do you like scratchy cat kisses?" The other animal kisses offered are a cow, dog, bear, fish and pig. Like so many of these books, the last page tries to include the reader in the story; this time it does it by asking "What kind of kisses do you like best?"

Although the book is run of the mill, Sean and Harriet both like the book. While Harriet right now likes the bright colors, Sean has been enjoying reading the book to her and sometimes to me.

Gratitude #21: Playtime

I am thankful for Ian's silly streak. He is excellent with our children, knowing how to play with them. I'm more of a cuddler when it comes to infants (especially my own children). When they are crying I just want to hug them, rock them or nurse them. Ian takes the "play with them" approach and it usually works.

With Sean, the game of choice was "airplane." For a while it seemed that Ian would have to have Sean held over his head for eternity. Harriet likes to play "bounce." Ian will hold her under her arms and then make her bounce as if she were able to hop over things. She loves to bounce from Ian's knee to knees and up the stairs. Usually by the third bounce she's giggling and smiling.

Both children enjoy riding on Ian's shoulders. I don't remember how young Sean was when he took his first piggy back ride with Ian but Harriet has been doing it since she was about a month old.

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Steps: 10000

Pokemon 2000Pokémon 2000: 12/20/06

Sean has been watching every single Pokémon movie he can get his hands on at our local video store. "Texaswren" a Bookcrossing friend knows Sean likes Pokémon and sent him two books, one of which is the adaptation of Pokémon 2000. I read the book this weekend while Sean was "following" Isabel the crocodile hunter.

Pokémon 2000 is clearly designed for young readers with its limited vocabulary and large, clear font but it also has some important pages for clueless parents of young pokémon trainers, namely a seventeen page introduction to the world, the characters and the various pokémon types. After that the story unfolds pretty much as it is shown on screen, though simplified. The book chooses to stick more closely with Ash than the film does so some scenes from the film are missing in the book. It also includes some nice color stills from the movie.

Overall I enjoyed the book and Sean has enjoyed it as well. The story is short enough for Sean to sit through with enough words he recognizes for him to help with the reading and yet it is complex enough to keep him interested.

Gratitude #20: Christmas Bonus

I want to say a huge thank you to Rob and Jo today for the lovely bonus included in my Christmas card. It took me a week to decide what to do with it. Ian ultimately came up with the perfect idea: upgrading Photoshop! I've been using Photoshop 5.5 since I upgraded back in 1997 or so from 3.0. I have really wanted the new features for years (custom shapes, the new brushes, etc.) but haven't been able to justify the cost. Photoshop was the perfect Christmas gift. Yay!!!

To make things even more fun, Ian pitched in the extra to get the entire "Creative Suite" so I now have the current versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, In Design among others. The only surprise was that I had to add some RAM to my machine before the suite would install. So now I have a faster machine running the current versions of my favorite programs. Squeeee!!!!!

Part of my delay in posting today is from the long time spent upgrading the RAM, installing the RAM, installing the programs, and finally activating them all. It was well worth the time. I guess I'm good for another ten years.

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Tokaido RoadThe Tokaido Road: 12/19/06

The Tokaido Road was the main connecting highway between Japan's two capitals: Tokyo and Kyoto. The novel of the same name takes place on that same highway as "Cat" flees after the poisoning of one of her clients and goes in search of Oishi, her only hope in avenging the death of her father and clearing her own name. Along the way she must fight off agents of Lord Kira but she will find help in the most unlikely of places.

If that's not enough, she's also a noblewoman in disguise and trained in various arts and fighting techniques. It sounds exciting but it is too over-written. It reads like fan fiction of any of a number of anime series except that so much detail is thrown in that even the fight scenes take a long time to read and therefore seem to go in slow motion. Robson clearly did enough research to know the Japanese terms for all the things she's describing but she writes her book assuming an audience ignorant of Japanese culture and so she wastes extra words on describing simple things rather than just naming them.

There is also the problem of what exactly Cat knows and what she doesn't. She knows how to fight like a samurai and how to disguise herself like a dirt poor man but she doesn't have any concept of money or other basic survival techniques. She seems to randomly forget what things are or how the world works to give the author a vehicle for further info dumping in the form of flowery descriptions or melodramatic dialogue.

Here's my BookCrossing Review:

I have to stop reading historical fiction, especially those based around actual people rather than just set in a certain time period; they just bug me. I got so tired of wading through all the lengthy descriptions of the different Japanese costumes. Good lord, just call them by what they are actually called, put a dictionary in the back of the book and move on. Please no more lengthy descriptions of what every single Japanese meal tastes like! Please no more haiku (even if it is written by a Master)! Please no more random use of Japanese words when 90% of what people are saying is in English; or at least be consistent . If every other major character's name is kept in Japanese (albeit transliterated), then leave the main character's in transliterated Japanese. Her name isn't Cat; it's Neko.

My final thoughts on this book; save yourself the trouble of slogging through every detail and watch some anime instead (subbed, not dubbed). You'll learn just as much and probably be better entertained.

Judy and SeanGratitude #19: In Laws

I am grateful for Ian's parents. They are two of the nicest people I know. It saddens me to hear some of the horror stories of in laws who meddle and have nothing good to say of their child's spouse. Judy and Charlie are fun to chat with, always there when we need them (and often times before we know we need them). They're wonderful grandparents. Sean loves to help Charlie clean the pool with the robot. Whenever I have a bad day, Judy is always there to listen to me rant. I know she's also looking forward to doing a doll house with Harriet in a few years.

We will be spending Christmas Eve with them this year and New Year's as we always do. New Year's and Thanksgiving are their two holidays. Both involve good cooking and relaxing times. These holidays provide a chance for a well needed rest to recharge for the start of a new year.

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Steps: 15000

An Acquaintance with DarknessAn Acquaintance with Darkness: 12/18/06

The American Civil War has been inspiration for a number of ghost stories, romances and mysteries but until An Acquaintance with Darkness, I can't recall reading a Gothic horror set in this era, especially one set in Washington D.C. Gothic horrors usually takes place in New England, the birthplace of the American version of the genre. Even Stephen King keeps up the tradition by setting most of his novels in or near Maine. When reading this political thriller about the assassination of Lincoln, I was a little put off by the inclusion of various Gothic elements (body snatching, night flowers, strange servants, etc.) into the story. In fact it was this waffling between genres (thriller and horror) that ultimately put me off the book completely. It could never settle on which genre it was and the two were never properly woven together into a coherent story.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

The set up was great; a nice combination of historical fiction and suspense but the pay off disappointed me. Valentine's actions are neither justified nor horrific enough to make him the villain of the story. He just sort of is and his motivations are never fully explained nor are his odd assortment of characters living and working with him. They are just there to be Gothic trapments and that's not enough.

Gratitude #18: Treasure

I am grateful for the little things in life that can mean so much. For Sean, the little things are "treasure" and he's recently taken to collecting little bits and bobs (rocks, sparklies, beads, etc) and I've been finding his precious treasure everywhere. I finally decided that what he needed (what every good treasure seeker needs) was a treasure chest.

Our Saturday trip to Dublin centered around the search for both a chest and some treasure. We went to Michael's, source of all things treasure as far as Sean is concerned. He picked out a lovely balsa wood box and some stickers to use as decoration. I had thought he'd pick pirate stickers but he chose party stickers instead to make a very festive treasure chest. We also bought a new supply of treasure in the form of glass beads, sparklies and friendship beads.

After lunch and the run in with Isabel (who was "bossy like Misty is to Ash") we came home to decorate the box. Sean had a lovely time putting on the stickers and then carefully putting his treasure into his new chest. Now whenever he finds new treasure (or old treasure around the house) he knows to put it in his treasure chest.

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Daddy and MeDaddy and Me: 12/17/06

At the last BookCrossing meeting I picked up Daddy and Me from the Dublin library cart for Sean and Harriet to share. Sean likes it because he can read many of the words and because he likes the pictures of these children playing with their fathers. What I like best about this short book is that these photographs are clearly of actual fathers and their children. Boys and girls are equally represented so that it's not just a book for infant or toddler boys only. The color photography is bold and engaging. Each page has a gerund illustrated: swinging, shaving, banging, buttoning, strumming and the like.

Two pages bother me a little only because they aren't relevant to our particular family: the shaving and banging. Beards or at least mustaches are such a feature among the men in this family that I'm not sure Sean has any concept of what shaving is. The "banging" page shows father and child banging away on a set of pots and pans spread out on the floor. I would have liked to have seen "cooking" illustrated as well as Ian and Sean both love to cook.

Gratitude #17: Independent Thinking

While Sean can be exasperating sometimes, I am grateful that he's smart and confident enough to question authority. Sean rarely takes what he's told at face value. I'm glad that he's not easily bullied or lured into doing things even if it does mean frustration for me sometimes.

Take for example our trip to Burger King in Dublin yesterday. I had taken Sean and Harriet to Dublin while Ian was at a rare Saturday class at Berkeley. Before heading home from the shopping we had done we chose to have lunch.

After lunch, Sean wanted to play on the huge play-space outside. A girl (named Isabel as we later learned) who must have been about five was already outside playing. She decided Sean would be the perfect person to boss around. Throughout the entire fifteen minutes that they played together, Isabel kept shouting: "Follow me! Follow me!" and insisting that a crocodile was after them and that if Sean didn't race after her the crocodile would get them.

Sean went along because he loves to run around but he didn't blindly let her be the boss. He questioned everything she said. Ultimately Isabel started growling at him, tired and frustrated by his constant stream of questions. The conversation went like this:

Isabel: "Quickly! Follow me! Hurry. Hurry. Follow me!"

Sean: "Why? What happened?"

Isabel: "Hurry! There's a crocodile. We have to get away. Hurry! Come on! Follow me."

Sean: "Why? Why's there a crocodile? What if it's an alligator? How do you know we're going fast enough?"

Isabel: "Come on! Follow me!"

Sean: "What if we go slow? What if we go this way? What happened? Why are we doing this?"

Isabel: "I said follow me. You're making me very angry!"

Sean: "Why?"

Isabel: "Grrrr!"

Sean: "Huh?"


At this point Sean decided he had had enough and pulled the ultimate diplomatic way out of things. He called out to me: "Okay Mom! I'm ready." Then to Isabel he said, "Sorry. That was my Mom. She says I have to go home now."

That's my boy!

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Picture Me NumbersPicture Me Numbers: 12/16/06

At the last BookCrossing meeting I picked up two cute (and unregistered) books in the "Picture Me" series.

Picture Me Numbers shows babies in different animal costumes. Where the baby's face should be, there is a cut-out. At the back of the book there is a spot to slide in a photograph of one's child. Sean has asked that I use his face for the numbers book (although right now the image shows what it looks like with Harriet's face). He says Harriet can have the other book (colors).

The book covers numbers one through ten. Each facing page covers two numbers (1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and so on). The odd numbers are illustrated with the babies in costume and the odd numbers with inanimate objects. There is an underlying unfairness to this book as one baby in each section ends up with an extra item than everyone else. Fortunately for the babies involved, the items were added in as drawings and probably none of the babies worked together in the same photo shoot but it still comes off as appearing unfair in print. The costumes pictured are bumble bees, kittens, dalmatian puppies, flowers, and bears.

Gratitude #16: Up / Down:

Harriet and I have invented a game called "Up / Down" and it is Harriet's current favorite thing to play. Unless she's too tired or hungry to play, she will soon be smiling and giggling. The game is very simple. I hold her under her arms and lift her up slightly. She then straightens her legs so that she stands up (and she does try to support her weight on her legs). Then I say: "Up! Harriet is up!" Sometimes she'll make a sound that is close to "up" or she'll just smile or laugh. Then she'll relax her legs and I'll lower her down and say: "Down. Harriet is sitting down." We repeat until she is finished playing. I think the longest we've played at one time is ten minutes.

I am amazed at how young children can start to influence the world around them. Harriet is only three months old and she has already taught me a new game. I'm looking forward to all the other things she'll teach me and the various "Harrietisms" that I'm sure she'll be inventing (if she's anything like her brother).

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Picture Me ColorsPicture Me Colors: 12/15/06

At the last BookCrossing meeting I picked up two cute (and unregistered) books in the "Picture Me" series. Picture Me Colors shows a baby in a different colored costume. Where the baby's face should be, there is a cut-out. At the back of the book there is a spot to slide in a photograph of one's child. As these are babies, I've chosen to use Harriet's face even though I got the books mostly for Sean. I tried Sean's face first but his face looks too old for these baby photographs.

The colors covered are orange, blue, yellow, green and white. The costumes include pumpkins, tigers, flowers, dinosaurs, bumble bees, chickens, monsters, cats and bunnies. The costumes are cute and the babies (some of them have their faces) appear happy but the costumes aren't as quite cute as the Tom Arma books.

Gratitude #15: Melee:

I am grateful for the laughter we share as a family. The last few nights the three of us have been playing a few rounds of Super Smash Bros. Melee before Sean goes to bed. Ian and I have been playing Melee against each other since before Sean was born and the games always cheers me up. I'm really bad at the game and usually lose but the different characters and the various special attacks lend themselves to some ridiculous combinations. We usually end up laughing by the time we're done playing.

Tonight was an especially silly game. At one point Sean (who was playing Kirby) said: "Please step into my mouth" and then Ian's character (Captain Falcon). Meanwhile my character (Luigi but in bright pink) was doing all sorts of strange maneuvers. As soon as Kirby spit out Falcon, I started to laugh to the point of not being able to breathe. I had tears streaming down my cheeks and I was gasping for air. It was a refreshing laugh.

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The Little Green CaterpillarThe Little Green Caterpillar: 12/14/06

Before Sean's two "rough days" at school he brought home The Little Green Caterpillar to read. It is one of the books that Miss Christina is using to teach from for the younger class (2 to 3 1/2 year olds). She said Sean could borrow it but he had to bring it back in the morning. Fortunately he remembered the next morning to take it back school.

The Little Green Caterpillar is translated from a French children's book and is very similar to The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle except that the caterpillar doesn't come off as such a glutton as the one in the Carle book. Rather than making the story about how much the caterpillar eats, Hooker makes it about the different kinds of things the caterpillar eats and the different creatures he meets before making his cocoon. Of the two books, I much prefer The Little Green Caterpillar as it seems to take a healthier approach to the story of eating and growing up.

Gratitude #14: Irma:

I'm going to use today's gratitude post to say a special thank you to the lovely Irma (aka isk on BookCrossing) for the huge bag of clothes she has given Harriet. They are hand-me-downs in beautiful condition from her grand-daughters (who are adorable, by the way).

Her daughter was looking to pare down on things her children no longer need and I'm so tickled that Irma thought of Harriet first. In the photo she is wearing some of her new clothing. Today she is wearing a cute one piece decorated in colorful hand and foot prints.

Harriet of course is also using a lot of her brother's hand-me-downs, especially her bedtime clothes. When we lived in Pacifica it was always so cold that Sean spent most of this first year of life (until he started walking) living in fuzzy footed jammies. Harriet's daytime attire tends towards the onesie and trouser combination.

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My Little Opposites BookMy Little Opposites Book: 12/13/06

Who can resist a book with a giant green dinosaur on the cover? In the case of My Little Opposites Book it was the dinosaur that attracted Sean over the summer. He picked it up at one of the BookCrossing meetings from the library discard shelf that the Dublin public library maintains at the Starbuck's where we meet. From the wear and tear on the book it was clearly a favorite among many young readers. Now that he's reading, he likes it because it's one of the few books he can read to himself with no help. He even has read it to me a few times.

I like it for its bold colors, big shapes and use of gradients to define the shapes. All of the drawings have that same happy and friendly expression that the dinosaur has. It gives the feel that all the characters are enjoying being in the book. With all the smiling its hard not smile while reading the book even though it's just a simple list of opposites.

Gratitude #13: Literacy:

I'm grateful for the ability to read and I'm thrilled that Sean is now learning how to read. I'm happy that he loves books as much as Ian and I do. Hopefully Harriet will feel the same way. Unfortunately Sean's love of reading is mixing with the usual preschooler goofiness. Sean and his friend Zaki have found a way to "beat the system" at school so they can have access to the books without having to share them with their classmates. All they have to do is get put on time-out. Then while the other kids are outside for recess, they are inside in the library reading books to their hearts' content.

If books are the goal, then taking away books is the punishment. Last night was the monthly BookCrossing meeting. Sean had to go to bed instead of joining me for the meeting. He was heartbroken. As it turns out, his friend Connor was also at home on time-out for misbehaving. So it worked out in a perverse sort of way.

Hopefully today Sean and Zaki will have a better day. I really don't want to hear Ms. Christina say: "He had another rough day" when I go to pick him up.

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The Top of the WorldThe Top of the World: 12/12/06

It's a topsy-turvy world when one can be at the top of the world in South Africa and that's the central theme of Ethel M. Dell's romance The Top of the World. The book appears to be a simple romance (girl pines over boy and finally gets boy) and goes as far as to have a giant heart on its cover. It is anything but a simple romance (at least of the sort that were popular at the turn of the last century). It could be described as a proto-bodice ripper. The bodice ripper is mostly an invention of the 1970s but this romance has all the trappings of one (minus the pink and suggestively illustrated cover).

The novel dances a fine line along a number of more conventional plot lines but whenever the heroine (Sylvia) should do the obvious thing, she does something completely unexpected. Does she stay at home to pine over her lost love? No! She goes after him. Does she go home when she can't find her lost love? No. She takes a marriage of convenience. Does she honor and obey her new husband? Decidedly no!

Curious to see how much an aberrationThe Top of the World is for this era of book (it was published in 1920) I did a search on the author, Ethel M. Dell. According to Wikipedia she had a hard time getting published because her first book (like all the others, I suspect) was so unconventional (especially for a female author). She did finally find a publisher and once it sold, she made quite a career from writing. She was eventually able to support herself and her husband on the money she made from writing (some £30,000 a year).

Gratitude #12: Rain:

It's a good think I enjoy wet weather because it's been raining since yesterday. San Francisco has had nearly three inches of rain today alone and there are more storms on the way.

Rain refreshes our hillsides and soon things will be green again. It also waters my garden for me and I am happy for the few days off from having to water. It brings a freshness to the air and makes it legitimate to want to snuggle under a warm blanket or two. This morning it was lovely to listen to the rhythm of the rain as Harriet nursed.

Of course a rainy day means a day inside for Sean and his class mates. I don't think they get to play outside when it is so wet. I'm sure that on the way home Sean will want to jump in a few puddles between school and the car and the car and home.

I took Harriet out to our balcony to watch the rain and she seemed to enjoy it. It was a nice break for her from the monotony of her bouncy chair. She liked watching the drops fall from the eves and to listen to the noise.

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The Spider KingThe Spider King: 12/11/06

At the start of this year I joined a BookCrossing challenge to read and release books I had gotten from other members. For them to count towards the challenge I would have to read the entire book. So far this year I've been really good about finishing books I've started. Regular readers of this site (or feed) will know that I've also taken to posting a review for every book I've read.

The Spider King is one of those exceptions to the rule. I gave up on it after only 45 pages of about 300. It's a "biographical novel" of Louis XI but I didn't manage to stick with the book long enough to actually learn anything new about Louis XI.

I knew I was in trouble when I reached chapter two. It was nothing more than an incredibly flowery list of Louis's ancestors, visiting as ghosts as the prince is being born. It was a ham fisted way of introducing a character and the concept of the "divine right of kings."

From there the book went on some sort of long winded tangent involving the war with England, various nobles and a child's birth keep secret from his own mother. It didn't help that the book kept throwing characters into the story without any sort of introduction; a dramatis personae or a family tree would have been useful. So after a week of having managed to read all sorts of other books rather than this "biographical novel" I decided to set it aside.

Gratitude #11: Funny Seanisms:

Sean's at the age now that he's learning dozens of new things every day. He's a fully active participant in our family and loves to add his in put to whatever we're doing or planning. He's also starting to pick up all the different things we tell him and use them to define the world as he sees it.

Last night, for example, while he was putting on his pajamas I read some poetry to pass the time. He saw me reading and asked to see what it was. I showed him the book and even read some out loud for him. He smiled and told me: "You have a grown up mouth with lots of teeth so you have to read grown up poetry. I have a small mouth with baby teeth so I have to read small poetry like Dr. Seuss." The teeth thing comes from us explaining that in a year or two he'll start to lose his baby teeth but I'm not sure how one's number of teeth relates to what type of poetry one can read!

Another thing he's picked up from me is how to make a bargain. Now whenever he wants to make a trade (usually along the lines of he wants me to give him something special with very little effort on his part), he'll start off with: "I'll tell you what..."

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The Bunnies' Counting BookThe Bunnies' Counting Book: 12/10/06

I picked up The Bunnies' Counting Book for Sean over the summer, probably at BookCrossing but now that Sean's starting to read and is learning large numbers at preschool, this book is back in our rotation of books to read.

The book follows a baby bunny and her family as they meet for a family reunion picnic. The protagonist is the baby of the family (one little bunny). From there her siblings are introduced until her entire immediate family comes into the story (numbers one through ten). On their way to the picnic the story introduces numbers eleven through fifteen. From there the rest of the family arrives and the book moves from counting by ones to counting first by fives and then by tens until there are 50 bunnies present for the picnic.

I like this story for a number of reasons. First it does a good job of introducing counting small numbers and large numbers along with the concept of counting by multiples in a way that is neither too difficult nor heavy handed. It also introduces the concept of the extended family (brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmother, grandfather, cousins) thus giving Sean and me something to talk about just before he will be seeing his aunts, uncles and grandparents for the holidays. Finally, the illustrations are cute and colorful.

Gratitude #10: BookCrossing:

BookCrossing suppliesI have made more friends through BookCrossing and I really look forward to our monthly meetings at the Starbuck's in Dublin. I should add that I'm grateful to Judy (aka JDT) who roped me into these local meetings after we moved from Pacifica to Hayward. She and I had been exchanging books via the Book Relay site and she suggested that I come in person to meet her and get my books. I of course accepted! I'm now coming up on my second year of attending these monthly meetings.

Last night our local chapter of BookCrossing met for the annual holiday dinner and gift exchange. Last year I didn't get a chance to go because Ian's parents were visiting but this year we had the dinner a week early. Dinner was in Pleasanton at Garlic di Pasta (corner of Valley and Hopyard). Dinner ran form six to eight when we were politely asked to leave because the restaurant needed the tables for the next big party with reservations.

Anyway, it was lovely to spend a couple of hours with my friends having adult conversations (although things did digress into the land of cat butts thanks to one of the white elephant gifts). The meal was lovely (the second best restaurant Italian food I've had; first place still goes to that restaurant in Little Italy whose name escapes me at the moment). I had pesto chicken and shared some desserts (chocolate cake and cheese cake) with my friends.

Although I was only away for a couple hours, I came home feeling refreshed and renewed. It really is nice to sometimes get away from my family even though I would never want to leave them permanently.

Divided by a Common Language:

The American Automobile (page 11)

The next section in Divided by a Common Language has "practical information" on a variety of things, the first one being differences in automobiles. The author describes what driving a car is like in the United States but what he doesn't state is that he's only describing a small subset of the possible cars, namely the American designed ones.

Here is what the author gets right:

  • all cars drive on the right hand side of the road (although you will see some freeways where traffic ends up on opposite sides of each other because of the lay of the land (the I5 on the grapevine into Los Angeles has a section like this).
  • petrol is called gasoline. Gasoline is either diesel or unleaded. There is no leaded gasoline and hasn't been any since the mid 1980s.
  • rental cars will have automatic transmission and the steering wheel will be on the left.

There are, however, some omissions in his descriptions of renting a car. The major rental companies (Avis, Hertz and Alamo) will use fleets of American cars. These will work as described in the book (with the gear sift being part of the steering column and the parking brake release being on the left hand side of the dashboard and brake itself being a foot petal at the far left of the floor near where the trunk (boot) release is.

If you're like me and hate driving American cars because of their crappy layout and poor handling, then you can go with a company like Enterprise. The problem with Enterprise is you can't guarantee what make and model of car you will get. You can only request a certain size (sub compact, for instance). Some of these cars might be American but some of them might also be an import.

When you're driving around in the United States you'll notice a lot of import cars, most of which are either Japanese or Korean. Among the automatic transmission versions, the gear shift will be in the middle of the car between the two seats. Behind it will be the parking brake (also known as the emergency brake). For these cars, the parking brake release is built into the brake as a button at the top. Push in, pull up a little on the brake and then it can be pushed down to release the brake.

One term not included in the book that probably should be is "riding shot gun" or "calling shot gun." The person who calls shot gun wants to sit in the passenger's side of the car rather than in the backseat. When riding as a passenger, remember to go the right side of the car. I know, it will be a hard thing to do. I was constantly going to the right side of the car when I should have been going to left during my stay in Australia.

Oh, and when crossing the street, remember to look both ways. The traffic will be coming from the opposite direction from what you're used to.

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Watch Me Grow KittenWatch Me Grow Kitten: 12/09/06

Fate put this book into my hands. The Sunday after Thanksgiving we stopped at a rest stop to change Harriet and to give me a chance to stretch my legs as my coccyx was really bothering me. As Sean and Ian were in the restroom and I was bouncing Harriet around, I saw a copy of Watch Me Grow Kitten sitting on the top of a trash can in one of the picnic table shelters. Hoping it could be a BookCrossing release and worried that it would be ruined in the rain storm that had just started, I snagged the book. As it turns out, it wasn't a BookCrossing book, so someone must have forgotten it at the rest stop.

Anyway, Kitten, is one of a series of DK books that cover the life cycle of different animals. Most of these sort of baby animal books seem to cover only that baby animals are cute and that they eventually grow up. This book is the first one I've read that hints at the biology behind making babies and even includes photographs of a pregnant cat and the same cat later nursing her litter of kittens.

Sean at Christmas PartyGratitude #9: School Parties:

I am grateful for being able to attend my son's school parties. When he was younger I missed a bunch of them because my old job didn't have the flexibility that my current one has. Yesterday his school had its annual Christmas party which this year included a magic show performed by one of the mothers. She did the usual magic tricks, some juggling and later made balloon animals for the children. Her daughter clearly knows all of her routine and desperately wanted to help her mother perform.

Harriet stayed awake for the entire magic show. She spent half the time watching "Holly the elf" perform and the other half watching the preschoolers as they sat on their alphabet mat to watch the show. Harriet smiled and giggle many times and was clearly having a wonderful time. I'm very happy she's old enough to sit forward in her sling to get such a good view of things.

After the magic show while the younger kids were getting in line for balloon animals, Sean's class retired to the back room for a story. Harriet and I went along and sat on the floor to listen to Miss Sarah read a story about Rudolph the reindeer. It was lovely to sit on the floor with Sean and Harriet on my lap, just having a few minutes to bond and relax.

After the balloon animals we moved to Sean's classroom for snacks. We had signed up to bring cheese and crackers. I chose to bring mini toasts as they are Sean's favorites. It was a good idea and very popular with his classmates. For us tired parents, Sithy made a strong pot of coffee.

The last thing on the agenda was a gift exchange but the kids were tired and probably too young to understand how gift exchanges work. Most children ended up going home with the presents that they had brought to school that morning (including Sean). The idea was to divvy them up by a draw of numbers but it just wasn't going to happen with so many children wanting to see what their parents had packed inside those colorful boxes and bags. So we came home with the blue bag of goodies Ian had gotten: a wood puzzle (zoo animals), a container of bubbles and a packet of lady bug stickers.

Divided by a Common Language:

Tips for the Tourist (pages 9-10)

As promised in November, I'll be posting my thoughts on specific sections of Divided by a Common Language to discuss places where I had problems with the author's description of American English or customs.

Page 9 starts a section of advice for tourists. Right after the introductory sentence, he includes a bulleted list. The first item says: "A skycap in the U.S. is an airport porter." I have also heard them called redcaps (the term given to railroad porters because of their red caps) and sometimes just "curbside check-in" (because that's mostly what they do). I haven't ever personally used a skycap as I just don't trust leaving my luggage out front like that and would prefer to see it go down the conveyor belt behind the ticket check-in window. As the book notes, tipping is often expected (another reason why I don't use the skycaps on those rare times when I fly).

The second bullet says that a baggage trolleys are called baggage carts. I've heard them called both trolleys and carts. Personally I'd probably call them a trolley. I'm not sure a tourist would need to ask for one by name as the rentals for them seem to be everywhere around airports.

The third bullet is probably the most important. Asking to hire a car in the States would sound really funny (although still be understood). Rent is the verb used universally here. The cars themselves are called rentals (rather than hired cars).

In the first section after the bullets, At the Hotel, the book says "In the U.S., the ground floor of any building is known as the first floor." While that may have been universally true at one time, it no longer is. Certainly if someone speaks of the "first floor" an American will probably think of a floor being at ground level but many modern buildings (hotels and offices in particular) that cater to an international crowd will differentiate between the ground and first floors. The best way to know which floor leads to the outside is to look for the star icon next to the floor when in an elevator (lift). The floor with the start next to it no matter how it is numbered or labeled will have access to the outside world.

On page ten, the section on tips for the tourist ends with a bulleted list of British terms. The first two are synonyms in the United States. Front desk and reception are the same thing; it is also called the "check in desk" or just "check in" for short. The two most different (and apt to cause confusion) in the list are flannel (washcloth or face cloth) and cot (crib). Flannel is a warm fuzzy material (often in plaid designs) and cots are fold up beds used at summer camp.

Included in this list is the term "American plan" which is apparently a hotel rate (tariff) that includes three meals a day. I don't think I've ever stayed at a hotel fancy enough to offer more than just a breakfast (usually buffet style). The breakfast included in the rate is called a "continental plan" or "continental breakfast." It's typically coffee, juice, cold cereal, pastries, fruit and maybe eggs (usually scrambled ahead of time) and bacon.

Oh, and faucets and taps are the same thing in the States. I call mine the tap all time and only use the word faucet when I'm being fancy.

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Slide 'N' Seek ShapesSlide 'N' Seek Shapes: 12/07/06

If Sean knew how to write, I'd have him write the review of Slide 'N' Seek Shapes as he's the one who has been reading it to me. Sure, there are a few words here and there that I have had to help him with but the bulk of the book he has read to me and Harriet. It's a book he is currently borrowing from school. He likes it for the pull out tabs that reveal a drawing of an object that illustrates the shape drawn on the page. The shapes included are: circle, square, triangle, rectangle, oval, heart and diamond.

While the illustrations are as simple and straightforward as the limited vocabulary used in this book, they are still beautifully drawn. Rather that use solid colors for the shapes, each one has a subtle gradient to give it more pop. The real world objects are drawn in greater detail than the shapes so that they stand out. The illustrations included are: a tricycle, a quilt, a watermelon, a triangle instrument, a valentine and a kite.

I like that the book throws in some words that Sean doesn't know straight away to give him something new to work on. He has learned "quilt" and "valentine" while reading this book to me.

HarrietGratitude #8: Laughter between Siblings:

I am grateful for the special laughter shared between Siblings.

Yesterday morning Harriet woke us up at five in the morning. As Ian had been up most of that night working on a school project, I took Harriet upstairs where I nursed her and we eventually fell back asleep while cuddling in the chair. Although I dreamt, I can't say I felt well rested from those two hours in the chair. I felt anything but well rested.

With neither of us up to cooking dinner, we headed over to Carrow's in Dublin for dinner. Near the end of the meal while we were waiting for Sean to finish his dinner we were treated to the first time Sean and Harriet have really acted like siblings Sean made a yucky face, sticking his tongue out to show us the remains of a french fry. It was gross! I told Sean to stop showing us his tongue when Harriet started to giggle and do her best to point across the table to Sean. There we were a typical family with grossed out parents and children sharing a laugh over something disgusting.

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Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the PeaceEncyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace: 12/07/06

The Encyclopedia Brown books remind me of The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie except aimed at elementary school aged readers. Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace has ten short capers (each about seven pages long). Each chapter ends with a challenge to the reader to solve the case. These mysteries are more a case of reading comprehension than actual sleuthing. The solutions to the case are often times too simplistic.

For example, one of the capers ends with a character being disqualified because he did some darkroom trickery on his photograph and therefore couldn't win the photography prize. Most photography contests have a category for composite work but the story never fully states whether or not this contest does as well. The story would have been better if it had included something about the character being in the nonfiction category where composite work or double exposures couldn't be used.

Another caper that got under my skin was the fault of the book being dated more than anything. The clue centers around Palestine and the solution given in the back of the book basically says that it can't be Palestine because it's not a real country. Palestine's unfortunate status is not the point of the clue. The fact that the other places named were cities was clue enough. Where is Palestine a city and not a country (or former country or whatever it is depending on the political situation du jour)?

HarrietGratitude #7: Thoughts on Pain:

I am grateful for my grandmother and mother teaching me pain management. My grandmother suffered from sciatica and arthritis for the last two decades of her life. She was allergic to most pain medications so had to live with the pain rather than block it with pills. Though she had her bad days where she would grump and groan, she usually kept her sense of humor and she did her best to not let her pain get in the way of living her life the way she wanted to live it.

With both pregnancies I too suffered from sciatica. If it weren't for my grandmother I would have thought my legs were falling off for they way they hurt. I probably would have been demanding something safe to take during my pregnancies. Instead, I was just able to live with it, knowing full well that it was a pinched nerve (from my kids' big heads against my sciatic nerves).

With Harriet, I had another pain as well, in my coccyx (tailbone). It's a common problem women have during or after pregnancy. In my case, Harriet had spent the last month of her prenatal life with her head wedged between my coccyx and bladder. Since her birth I've had a difficult time sitting down and standing up from the ligaments that connect the bones in my coccyx bending in funny directions.

Last night while sitting in bed I realized my tailbone no longer hurt. In fact I hadn't felt that sharp searing pain getting in and out of chairs all day. I was able to sleep however I wanted. Today I'm a little sore back there but it's no where near as bad as it has been.

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Steps: 10000

California GirlCalifornia Girl: 12/06/06

California Girl is a period piece wrapped in a detective novel. It takes place in Orange County (Tustin and Laguna) starting the late 1950s and ending at the close of the century. The bulk of the story is in the 1960s at a time when Orange county was losing its orange groves, America was at war in Viet Nam, LSD and marijuana were drugs of choice and baby boomers were practicing free love.

Some reviewers on Amazon have complained that the book has too many white characters and the Civil Rights movement is never mentioned. In Parker's defense that area was predominantly white and was until recently. That the characters never discuss the Civil Rights movement is in keeping with the character of the area.

Another comment I saw on Amazon was the repeated mentioning of modern forensic tools. I didn't mind them because they drew attention to just how difficult solving a crime can be and to the possibility that the wrong person can be convicted on inconclusive evidence. The story was more interesting that the typical who-done-it where the evidence lines up like a perfect trail to the criminal.

There is just one problem with the story; the identity of the actual criminal. The person behind the murder of Janelle Vonn is the most obvious person. Although with the recent scandals among various Republican lawmakers, I had to chuckle at life almost imitating art.

HarrietGratitude #6:

I am grateful for three lovely months with Harriet. I should have posted this yesterday on her actual three month birthday but I needed time to process the photographs I took. Harriet is a more demanding child than Sean was at this age but she rewards our hard work with many smiles and giggles. All she asks is that her basic needs be met: a dry diaper, a belly full of warm food, a warm bath every couple of days, some place comfortable to sleep and plenty of time in my arms.

Now that she's three months old, she's starting to notice the world around her and ask for more adventures out it. Yesterday for instance, I took her Christmas shopping after work. We spent an hour walking around looking for presents and deciding the right ones to buy. At first I had her in her sling facing me (for better neck support) but she wanted to see everything and was back flipping out of her sling to see around the store. After a half dozen people asked me if I was hurting her neck, I decided to turn her around so she could face forward. She loved the change and cooed at everything and everyone as I walked. Eventually she fell asleep with a grin on her face. It was a good day of adventuring.

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Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus: 12/05/06

Sean introduced us to Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. It's a popular book; his last day care had a copy and his current preschool has a copy. I have to admit that I was a little put off by the title before I saw the book. It just seemed like such a nonsense title, to the point that it actually irritated me. But one thing I've learned from Sean is to trust him on book recommendations. He really has a good eye and ear for books. My mom then gave Sean a copy for his birthday and I fell in love with the book.

The story is like one of those typical parent / kid conversations that I have on a daily basis with Sean. It's a playful dialogue between the pigeon and the reader after the bus driver asks the reader to watch his bus and to not let the pigeon drive it while he's gone. The pigeon for the remainder of the book tries all sorts excuses to cajole the reader into letting him drive the bus. Each reason is sillier than the next. Of course, the pigeon doesn't get a chance to drive the bus before the driver returns. But there's always that truck over there...

Gratitude #5:

I am grateful living in an area where fresh food is available year round and is affordable. The Farmers' Markets have brought variety into our diet and given Ian and me a chance to teach Sean about growing food and cooking from scratch. I am also grateful that our climate allows us to grow some of our own food too. With our balcony we can't grow the huge garden that I'd like to grow some day but it's enough to grow our own herbs.

Last night I made a wonderful vegetable dish that will last us until tonight or tomorrow with some of the vegetables we got from the Farmers' Market. I sauteed garlic, corn and black beans (the corn and beans were canned) in olive oil. I added in a huge handful of cilantro (from the Market but ours will be ready soon) and then some collard greens. To soften the greens I added some chicken stock and to spice, some Thai peppers. Yummy!

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The Stepford WivesMouse Tales: 12/04/06

Among Whytraven's books was an Arnold Lobel book I haven't read before: Mouse Tales. There are seven short tales, all involving mice, and bookended by a father mouse who is telling these stories to his children at bed time, one per child. The seven stories included are: The Wishing Well, Clouds, Very Tall Mouse and Very Short Mouse, The Mouse and the Winds, The Journey, The Old Mouse, and The Bath. Of the seven, my favorite is The Wishing Well as it takes an unusual and humorous approach to the usual wishing well story. The most disturbing of the stories is The Journey because it involves replacement feet. Knowing Sean, I think his favorite will be The Bath because of the absurd bath/flood the little mouse creates just to get clean.

Gratitude #4:

I am grateful for a series of events that lead to my learning web design. It started with the Northridge earthquake and the destruction of computer equipment at UCLA. High tech companies in the Silicon Valley (I don't know which ones), offered to replace the equipment with one caveat: students who used the equipment would also have to learn multimedia design. It was in one of these classes I learned how to do web design, 3d graphics and graphic design with Photoshop.

The last piece in this puzzle was a recruiter for a temp agency. I had lost my first job since graduating from UCLA after eight hellish months working as an administrative assistant. Although I had the skills to do web design and had done it freelance through this site for a year, I didn't think I could get a job where someone would pay me a salary to do it. (The dot-com bubble hadn't expanded down to Los Angeles). Thankfully the recruiter saw my HTML skills on my resume and rather than putting me in another administrative assistant job, she put me on a contract working for I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I can still remember thinking: People will pay me to do this?

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The Stepford WivesThe Stepford Wives: 12/03/06

Ira Levin's Stepford Wives, a story that has inspired two films and entered the lexicon is little more than a long novella. It comes in around 30,000 words and therefore wouldn't even qualify for a winning Nanowrimo entry. It's the sort of thriller where no words are wasted; the narrative is more like a transcript of someone telling a story than a well crafted narration. It can be read in about ninety minutes and even with knowing the punchline (or being able to figure it out) it is still a very satisfying read.

I love Levin's books. They are in my "go-to" pile when I need something both creepy and humorous at the same time. My husband says the book doesn't seem plausible (probably because he's so much like the geeks who turn against their wives). His main complaint is: "If they had the sex bots at the club, doesn't it seem superfluous to off their wives at home?" But that's part of the book's cheesy charm. Only one family per month ever moves into Stepford, so clearly the men are being recruited. They want to replace their wives long before they come to Stepford.

The edition I read ends with a short essay by Peter Straub who analyzes the book's origins against the time when it was written when Betty Friedan's The Feminist Mystique was nine years old and probably owned by most twenty to thirty-something women and the equal rights amendment had passed congress only to be stalled in the state ratification process (though its looking like it might now be poised to pass). Was Levin writing a social satire akin to Swift's A Modest Proposal or was he writing a parody of the NOW movement? Yes. I think that the news of the day (the opening of Disney World, ERA, the closing of the space race, etc) came together to inspire a story that was fun to write and now fun to read. That it inspires discussion: all the better.


On Livejournal, some of my friends are posting daily gratitude entries. I thought it would be a good thing to do as well. The idea is to post one a day for December. As today is the third, I will post three today to get started.

#1: Ian: I am grateful for Ian. He made the first move way back in 1991 by starting up a conversation with me, literally shouting a question to me over the crowd milling around the stairs during orientation. I'm glad he made the effort and stuck with me.

#2: Sean: I'm overjoyed that he came into our lives especially after the two miscarriages when I was able to truly appreciate him and not take him for granted like I might have done if I'd never suffered through a miscarriage. I'm also glad the he has the gung-ho personality to jump right into things and drag me along (I need this sort of prodding sometimes). I glad he has his father's sense of humor.

#3: Harriet: I'm happy she bounced into our lives. Where we worked to conceived Sean, she just sort of happened. That's not to say she's an easy child. She has a much backbone as her brother. I'm also happy for her brown eyes. I thought I might be the last in my family to have brown eyes. I love her smiles and the her giggles.

That's it for today. It's probably enough schmaltz too.

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Russell the SheepMeasure for Measure: 12/02/06

I rounded out the month of November by reading Measure for Measure, a comedy by Shakespeare that was among the books I am registering and releasing for Whytraven. I was initially going to comment on how few Shakespeare play's I've either read or seen performed only to realize that when I counted them off, I've actually seen or read more than I originally thought. Nonetheless, I still find the Bard's work difficult to read (I know; they're meant to be performed not read!) but sometimes that's the only option.

Measure for Measure can best be described as Romeo and Juliet but with a happy ending. Or perhaps the sequel to Romeo and Juliet if the two hadn't taken such drastic measures (ha-ha!) at the end. In fact, the woman whose lover is short for this world is named Juliet and the play is once more set in Italy (though this time in Venice).

The play pokes fun at sex in and out of marriage and the "oldest profession" but beyond all the bawdy jokes, is a cautionary tale against morality based government. Juliet's lover, Claudio, is soon to be hanged for getting Juliet pregnant. It's an old law on the books, not enforced for ages until the Duke hands over the city to his would-be successor.

As I read the play I couldn't help but think of the current president and the GOP and their catering to the religious right. The recent scandals that are too numerous to list here are echoed in Angelo's inability to follow the law that he is so eager to enforce against Claudio. So while the play may have been written at the turn of the seventeenth century, it is still relevant and on topic.


MushroomsA Forest in the Refrigerator:

With Harriet getting us up promptly at seven every morning we had plenty of time to eat breakfast (eggs on toast) and get to the Farmers' Market in downtown Hayward. Back in April I realized that there is public parking tucked just behind the market that most people don't seem to know about. It makes getting to the market really easy.

For less than $20 we've loaded up our refrigerator with a wide variety of locally grown vegetables. There's enough for fresh veg with lunch and dinner for an entire week. Unfortunately there's barely any room for the milk jugs that also share the bottom shelf.

After the market and then the grocery store, Sean, Harriet and I spent a lovely hour at San Felipe Park. Sean had fun climbing, sliding, exploring and throwing stuff (sticks and rocks even though I repeated asked him not to!) Harriet and I meanwhile had a lovely time on the grass trying out new textures and watching the trees and birds. Harriet was fascinated by a dead pine needle which she waved around for me to see.

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Russell the SheepRussell the Sheep: 12/01/06

I completely relate to Russell the Sheep. He's a sheep with a simple goal: to get a good night's sleep. He does everything he can to fall asleep: he wears a hat to keep his head warm, he puts the hat over his eyes to make it darker, he tries ear plugs, he moves to a different spot, and so on. Then in the morning none of the other sheep understand why he's still in bed or why he's so groggy later.

If I were a sheep, I'd be Russell. So many nights I end up pacing the halls, trying to sleep on the couch upstairs, meditation and even, counting sheep. I even wear a night cap to bed, though not as fanciful a one as Russell's: mine is black.


Two Grumpy Girls:

Harriet and I have caught Sean's cold (the one that is still making the rounds at school). Harriet and I are both grumpy. Harriet has been griping all day long except for when she's either nursing or eating. I'm sure her throat is scratchy (because mine is). Yesterday she nursed all day long except for when I put her down to work and save for a brief afternoon nap. Fortunately she was so tired by bed time that she was able to get a full night of uninterupted sleep. Today is another day of listening to Harriet complain about her cold and me doing my best to comfort her.

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