Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books: A Year in Review

I can't believe that in just a matter of hours, 2008 will be done. I'll save my reflections on the year for another time. For now, let's talk about books.

I read the. Forty-five to be exact. That's a little less than a book a week. And those 45 books? They had a lot of pages. When all was said and done, I read 15,397 pages worth of words during 2008. That's a lot. And it beats the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year, to read 40 books and 15,000 pages. In comparison, last year I read 44 books and 16,505 pages.

The longest book I read this year was Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer, which checked in a 756 pages. The shortest one? Dawn by Elie Wiesel which came in at 85 pages.

So what'd I read? Take a look. And if you get to the end of the list, you might even find a recommendation or two.

1. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
2. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
3. Secret Society Girl: An Ivy League Novel by Diana Peterfreund
4. Under the Rose: Any Ivy League Novel by Diana Peterfreund
5. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
6. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
7. Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush
8. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
9. Don't Bet Against Me! by Deanna Favre
10. Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio
11. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Triathlon Training by Colin Barr & Steve Katai
12. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
13. Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson
14. Night by Elie Wiesel
15. Dawn by Elie Wiesel
16. What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rouge Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire
17. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
18. Atonement by Ian McEwan
19. Not Quite a Mom
by Kirsten Sawyer
20. Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers
21. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
22. Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI: 1933-34 by 24. Bryan Burrough
23. The Appeal by John Grisham
24. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
25. Lost by Gregory Maguire
26. Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles by Anthony Swofford
27. A Champion's Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis by Pete Sampras and Peter Bodo
28. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
29. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
30. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
31. Rites of Spring (Break): An Ivy League Novel by Dianna Peterfreund
32. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
33. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
34. The Other Boleyn Girl
by Philippa Gregory
35. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
36. Pinkerton's Secret by Eric Lerner
37. A Lion Among Men: Vol. 3 in the Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire
38. Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities by Alexandra Robbins
39. For One More Day by Mitch Albom
40. Queen of Babble In the Big City by Meg Cabot
41. Queen of Babble Gets Hitched by Meg Cabot
42. Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks
43. Marley and Me by John Grogan
44. Slightly Suburban by Wendy Markham
45. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

So what did I think? I really liked Public Enemies. Yes, yes. I know I read it because Johnny Depp was in the City on the Water for a week filming the movie. But it was good. All about bank robbers and other criminals. And remember, I write about crooks for a living. It was right up my alley. The Stephenie Meyer books were good too. But I'd recommend the Twilight series before The Host, which wasn't quite as good. And you can't go wrong with anything by Gregory Maguire - A Lion Among Men was good reading, as was What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rouge Tooth Fairy.

Was there anything I'd stay away from? Looking back over the list, the only one that really jumps out at me and makes me shudder when I think back to reading it is Love in the Time of Cholera. I guess I'd recommend staying away from it. But that's just my opinion.

So what's on tap for 2009? I guess you'll have to wait until that whole resolutions post arrives.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reading recap No. 12

Even with getting ready for the holidays, I found time to sit down and read. Maybe it was all the snow we got this month. After all, there is no better time to curl up in the recliner, wrapped in a blanket and devour a book.

Let's take a look at the numbers. I read four books in December for a total of 960 pages. That brings the yearly total to 45 books and 15,397 pages. Not bad. So what'd I read while the snowflakes were falling? Take a look:

Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks
Marley and Me by John Grogan
Slightly Suburban by Wendy Markham
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

In a first, I actually reread a book I've recently read. Even though I read it back in February 2006, I picked up Marley and Me and read it a second time. I couldn't resist. I loved it the first time, bawled my eyes out at the end and loved it just as much the second time I read it. But this time? I managed not to cry. Although I admit, my eyes did well up a bit. Now I'm toying with going to see the movie. But I hesitate, because you know the movie is never as good as the book.

Check back sometime tomorrow to see a full list of what I read this year as well as a look at the numbers and if I met the goals I set for myself.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A holiday recap: Bullet point style

I swear I was just getting ready for Christmas yesterday. And now? I look at my calendar and apparently it's done. Been done for a couple of days already. Huh. Seems like I missed it. Or maybe that's because for the entire holiday season I never sat down.

Since it all seemed to go by in a whirlwind, I give you a holiday recap. In bullet point style.

  • Christmas Eve: Worked until noon. Swung by my apartment, loaded up the clothes and presents and then went dashing through the snow (literally) on my way north to my parents' house.
  • First stop of the Christmas Eve whirlwind: My brother's house for Christmas with The Rugrats. Batman, The Grinch, and a bunch of whales went over well. Next it was out to my Mom's side of the family highlight? The Hellion's reaction to me opening my gifts. He's two, so he was really into the present thing this year. Going from person to person as we opened our gifts. Me? I got two small gift boxes from my Godmother. When I opened the first one, there was cash. But the Hellion? He didn't see that. He looked disappointed. For me. Then wanted me to move on to the next, slightly larger box. When I opened it, he failed to see the ornament inside. Instead he thought it was empty. He gave me the "Man, you got ripped off" look, glanced down at an envelop sitting next to my feet and walked away with a disgusted look on his face. Guess he doesn't quite get the whole gift card concept yet and that it truly is a good gift. Still. Priceless.
  • Finished the night by opening gifts with my parents.
  • Christmas morning was the traditional trek back to my brother's house where we're on toy opening duty. It's our job to navigate the boxes, twist ties, screws and other assorted plastic that hold kids' toys securely in boxes. In return: We get fed.
  • More trips to various family members' houses during the day and evening.
  • Day after Christmas. Forget about fighting the crowds at the malls. Nope. Stayed home for a bit and then it was on to tree hopping with my Dad's side of the family. Five houses, lots of crackers, a few cookies and lots of laughter. Throw in some Wii bowling, tennis and golf and a good time was had by all.
  • Hung out with the district attorney and a bunch of sheriff's deputies on Saturday night at a going away party for a captain. It was held out in a barn in the middle of nowhere. But apparently someone gave the big hippopotamus directions. Because the hippo? He must have been on his way to the party when someone shot him and sent him to the taxidermist. Because there he was, above the bar, coming out of the wall.
  • Oh yeah, that party the hippo crashed? It was sandwiched by more family. And let's not even talk about the Badgers, who were utterly disappointing during the day.
  • At least the Packers didn't get embarrassed Sunday, handing Detroit it's 16th loss of the season. How embarrassing would that have been if the Lions had won?
  • And today? On my final day of vacation before I head back to the world of work? I did absolutely nothing. Well, I did go to the grocery store since my cupboards were bare. But other than that, it was pure laziness.
In all, a good holiday season.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Let the holiday madness continue

Christmas is in two days people. Two days. And me? I'm still not ready.

I braved the post office during my lunch break. Because I needed stamps. When I got into the Christmas card writing mode a week ago, first I ran out of cards. I bought more. But didn't regain the will to sit down, scrawl my name in the card and address the envelop. Last night I did. But I didn't have stamps. So today I had to get some so I can send the rest of my holiday greetings on their way.

And quitting time? That came a bit early today at work. While I wanted to go to the YMCA, I didn't. Because me? I still had shopping to finish. And let me say, the city I live in? While I love it that it's on the water. The shopping? Not so great. But an hour and a half later I was finished. The last two presents I needed to pick up were in my possession.

So now I'm home. The shopping is done. The presents are gathered in a heap on my living room floor. Wrapping paper, bows, tape and gift tags are nearby. The only problem might be finding some boxes. But I may just improvise. Because those presents? They will be wrapped tonight. If it kills me.

I have no excuses. The Packer game kicks off in a matter of minutes. And I don't plan on leaving my spot on the floor until the presents are wrapped and the final seconds have ticked off the game clock.

Because I don't want to spend Dec. 23 in a rush. I just want to enjoy the day before the holiday festivities kick off. And maybe even be able to sneak in a run.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I think Santa got the wrong stocking

It's amazing how an hour-long holiday work gathering can ruin your day.

I spent my lunch hour doing a Secret Santa type gift exchange among co-workers. I get a lump of coal. Seriously. And deep down, I feel that it was not given with the funny ha ha kind of intentions. More like mean spirited intentions. For reasons I really don't want to get into. But I put on an act. Smiled. Acted like it was no big deal. Said "Thank You" with a smile on my face. Got a grunt in return.

Went back to work. Threw the gift bag on the floor. Out of sight, tried to put it out my mind. Kept myself busy all afternoon. Didn't think about the coal sitting on the floor by my desk.

Went to the YMCA after work. Kind of wanted to run, but my calf has been bothering me. So I hopped on the bike and road 16.25 miles. Listened to some tunes, watched Tyler Hansbrough set a new North Carolina career scoring record, tried to clear my head and the image of the coal.

Finished at the YMCA, went to throw my gym bag in the backseat of my car. There was the coal. Got somewhat upset again. Thought about the coal. Called Mom and told her about the coal. Got more upset.

And me being upset? That makes the Monster in my head upset. And he has no reason to be upset, especially since the doctor called me today and told my my brain was "completely stable."

So the day goes from good to bad. All because of a co-worker and a piece of coal.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Need a dime? My Dad had a bunch.

My Dad doesn't spend his change. He doesn't carry it around in his pocket. And he doesn't give it out to the folks sitting on the corner rattling an empty coffee can looking for money.

No. My Dad saves his change.

Fills up coffee cans. Old liquor bottles. Any other kind of canister. And he keeps filling them up. Once they're filled. He moved the now full bottle into storage, usually in the basement or on the top shelf in the pantry, and moves on to an empty container. Not only does he save it, he separates it. Quarters go in one kind of container, I think he's using a coffee can at the moment, while dimes go in another, the favorite here is empty Galliano bottles.

It wouldn't be a big deal if he saved up his coins and every year takes them to the bank and exchanges them for dollar bills. Everyone does it. I do it. No. He doesn't do that. I think my Dad's been saving his change for the past five years or so. I don't even know how many containers he had. But it had to be a lot.

Because the other day? Dad combined all of those containers and weighed his dimes.

45 pounds. That's a lot of dimes. And a lot of money. Because the lady at the bank? She handed him $900 for his dimes. And then he promptly went and bought himself a computer.

And started saving some more dimes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cookie Monster probably wouldn't be a good job candidate

It's been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. The only thing that's changed? The sheer size of the operation.

The annual cutout Christmas cookie extravaganza.

My mom, brother and I used to go over to my aunt's house each Christmas to make cookies. Just the four of us in a cozy kitchen with Christmas music filtering through the house. Granted, my brother and I? We weren't much help. Sure, we'd cut a few cookies out using a cookie cutter, but the cookie making business kind of lost our attention after a few minutes and we'd be off, causing trouble with my aunt's dog or something.

Eventually my brother stopped going. Then I went away to school and stopped coming. But the cookies were still made.

I returned to the cookie making operation a few years ago. But by this point it had grown in size. Another aunt was thrown into the mix. And the recipe we used to double when I was a kid? Suddenly we were tripling it. And if that wasn't enough, one year we even quadrupled it. That, my friends, is a lot of cookies. We had so much cookie dough, we needed a second bowl just to mix it all up!

This year we were back to tripling the batch. We ended up with 30 dozen cookies plus a few "test" cookies along the way. For the mathematically challenged (I'll admit, I used a calculated here), that's 360 cookies if you don't count the test cookies. And we were done in about two hours.

Don't believe me? Here's the photographic evidence.

The ingredients. See that can of Crisco hiding underneath the partial bag of flour. That's a 48 ounce can. Keep the size of it in mind. It'll be important in a moment.

The recipe. We know it so well, it's just written in shorthand. We don't bother measuring the shortening anymore. A few years ago we realized six cups is the ENTIRE can of Crisco. Now we just dump the whole thing into the bowl.

For the record, this year we used about 22 cups of flour. That was the entire partial bag of flour that was sitting on top of the Crisco can and about half of the 10-pound bag of flour we had on hand. That's a lot of flour.

And when you're talking that much flour, you don't bother with mixing spoons. You just use your hands. Don't worry. All hands were washed prior to the cookie making extravaganza getting underway.

For some reason, my mom and aunts think it's important for me to learn how to roll out dough, something about me taking over the entire cookie operation when they can't do it themselves anymore. Yeah. I tried in the past and failed miserably. This year? I lasted exactly two attempts at rolling the dough before I got sent back to my speciality of manning the cookie cutters. Apparently I'll a slow dough roller.

Did I mention we made 30 dozen cookies?

Once the cookies are finished, the dishes done and the kitchen cleaned up the cookie making extravaganza is nearly done. But you can't make 30 dozen cookies without celebrating with a treat. In this case, an alcoholic ice cream beverage. Needless to say, this is a fairly new step in the cookie extravaganza that was not around back in the early days when I was a kid.

Once the drinks are finished, we all head out the door with our bucket full of freshly baked cookies. Then it's back home for the finishing touches - frosting and sprinkles. And mine? I store - and eat - them right from the freezer. Yum.

Friday, December 12, 2008

This year I'll be ready for the man in the red suit

It's hard to believe Christmas is less than two weeks away. And I've still got a ton of stuff to do.

The Christmas tree is decorated and the colored lights are strung around the railing on my patio. I've got snowmen strategically placed around my apartment, Rudolph and Santa Claus are hanging out underneath the tree and the Grinch? He's guarding the hallway to my bedroom.

I actually started my Christmas shopping on Thursday. I didn't get much, but one Rugrat is finished and another is halfway complete. As for the rest of my family? I'm planning a major Christmas shopping trip tomorrow and hope to finish it up.

Tonight I was in the Christmas card writing groove. Signing the name, stuffing the card in the envelop, licking the envelop and then giving up and using tape to secure the flap since the envelop glue had no stickiness to it, but all of the nasty glue taste. Then I ran into a wall. I still had the urge to address the envelops. Too bad I ran out of envelops, cards and stamps.

Yes, I still have a bunch of stuff to do, but compared to last year? When I spent most of the month curled in a fetal position due to a throbbing head? I'm so far ahead of schedule it might as well be September. The Monster in my head resulted in me addressing my Christmas cards on December 22 and doing all of my Christmas shopping and wrapping on December 23. I didn't even do my own decorating since Mom did that for me during one particularly painful run in with the Monster.

Of course, all of this could be wrong since I did spend a majority of the month in a painkiller induced haze and truthfully don't remember much of the month of December.

Blame it on the Monster.

But I'm enjoying this Christmas season much more than last year. And since I don't really remember much from a year ago, I think I'm actually enjoying it a little more.

Now, time to attempt to get the nasty envelop glue taste out of my mouth.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Since when do they name snowstorms?

Mother Nature sure has a feisty side to her this winter.

First there was almost 5 inches of snow before Thanksgiving. And then a couple of rounds of an inch or two or three since then. And the early burst of bone-chilling cold that we had last week.

So why does it surprise me that the season's first major snowstorm is rolling in. And we're expected to get up to 14 inches of the white stuff? Who am I kidding. Did I momentarily forget that I live in Wisconsin and it's winter?

But the snowstorm, I don't know if it has a name or not, it arrived this afternoon and is expected to stick around until tomorrow night. And during its stay it's supposed to dump up to 14 inches of snow. And after it's done snowing it gets to blow the stuff around. Fun.

I admit, I don't shovel. My landlord does that, well, when he feels like it. And at least the roads will eventually get plowed, because the city I live in? They don't really like to plow. And considering they don't give reporters snow days, I'll be driving through the foot of snow on my way to work. But I think I can get away with a pair of jeans at work tomorrow, because my boss told me to "dress for the weather," and I think jeans qualify. Besides, my snow boats? They'd just look silly with a pair of black dress pants.

So bring on the snow. I'm ready.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Something to work for

I filled out the form and hit the payment button. And just like that I'm registered.

I've signed up for the High Cliff Triathlon, the sprint version, on June 20.

After finishing the Danskin triathlon last year, I knew I wanted to do that one again in 2009. But the High Cliff Triathlon is about a month before the Danskin. And I've been toying with doing it all fall. The last day of early registration, and saving yourself about $15 in registration fees, was Friday so I knew I should make a decision.

I signed up and I'm excited for the race.

For starters, it'll be my second tri and although it's a sprint like the Danskin, the distances are a bit different. A quarter-mile swim, a 22-mile bike and the 5K run. Not too much difference, but a different set of challenges that also have a few perks.

It's close to home. The course is at High Cliff State Park, which is on the northeast side of Lake Winnebago. And I won't even have to worry about finding a place to stay since Mom and Dad live just 5 miles from the park, which means I'm familiar with the area.

And it just so happens it's the "official" triathlon of the 2009 Badger State Games. Not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds catchy. And I'll get a chance to see some amazing athletes since there's a half-iron distance as well and I've heard a bunch of people who are training for Ironman Wisconsin participate in the event.

I'll admit, there are a few things that freak me out a little bit. For starters, it's only my second triathlon and it will be the first of 2009. It's still kind of new to me. And the swim? Did I mention it's in Lake Winnebago? I'm only hoping the water isn't that fluorescent green color it can sometimes turn. And let's not even talk about the hill at the beginning of the bike.

Bring on the challenges. I'm ready.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I decided the ice cube look really wasn't for me

The mercury was barely hitting the 20 degree mark. And the wind? It was howling from the north at 20 miles per hour. Low temperatures. Lots of wind. That makes for a nasty windchill. Welcome to a Wisconsin winter.

And that's why I opted not to run in the 5K tonight. Because I really didn't want to turn into one giant ice cube that may never thaw.

So I stayed at home, wrapped in a blanket with my feet keeping toasty warm in my slippers. And now it's time to settle my blanket-wrapped self into my recliner with a steaming hot mug of hot chocolate and listen to the radio.

Because tonight? The Badgers play Marquette. And even if I had cable, I wouldn't be able to watch it, because apparently ESPN doesn't think this rivalry is worthy enough. But they're greedy enough to keep the rights, just to stash it away on ESPNU. Seriously folks. Who even gets ESPNU? No one that I knew.

It's the radio for me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Do I want to be an ice cube?

So I'm supposed to run in a 5K Saturday night.

Yes. Night. In the dark. And cold.

It's a 5K I wanted to do last year, but since I was curled up in the fetal position I couldn't. So I was planning on doing it this year. It runs through neighborhoods and part of it runs through the park that's on the lake. Add to it the big holiday light displays that are set up throughout the park and it could be a cool run.

So what's the problem?

Mother Nature.

It's supposed to be a bit frigid this weekend. We're talking a high in the mid-20s during the day. With snow. And once it gets dark? The skies clear up and the mercury in the thermometer plummets. Into the single digits. And don't forget the gusty winds from the north.

That's cold. Down right frigid. At least for the first weekend in December.


So do I run it and run the risk of turning into an ice cube right by the polar bear light display?