Saturday, December 29, 2007

Excerpt from a letter to Silvergull

I read Neil Gaiman's Stardust (c. 1999) and loved it - and last night we saw the movie version (also titled "Stardust"). Best movie I've seen all year. Fantastic date movie, wonderful feel good movie, lovely family movie, marvelous fantasy movie. Oh yeah, did I mention that I really liked it?

And here is Neil talking about Stardust the movie (and other things) in an interview with Bookslut.

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

I like books with happy endings. A Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell, is not a book of happy endings - not at all. Yet, I will read it again next year.

I don't just like her book, I love it. In the midst of a story that covers the worst atrocity in human history, and littered with characters of questionable morality and worse deeds, Mary Doria Russell manages to find a thread of grace, and to convince me that it is genuine and enduring.

Russell visited the places she describes in her novel, and interviewed survivors of the war. Her original research lends an authentic, present quality to her prose - an immediacy that caught me up into the lives her characters.

There is no question that Russell not only makes history live again, she proves beyond any doubt that it's relevant to our times and our lives.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

EARLY REVIEW - Dreamers of the Day

The day before Christmas, a package arrived from The Random House Publishing Group: an Advance Reader's Edition of Mary Doria Russell's new novel - Dreamers of the Day.

At 255 pages, it was the perfect length to fit in between preparations and celebrations. (But I'm a speed reader.) I cruised the story as slowly as possible, savoring the characters and the setting. What do you get when you put Rosie the Dachshund, Karl the German spy, T. E. Lawrence and an Ohio schoolteacher in Cairo, Egypt? Why, an enchanting novel, full of explorations and discoveries - of foreign places, of famous people, even of the self.

There is so much I want to tell you about Dreamers of the Day, but I won't diminish the charm you will find in discovering them for yourself. My only complaint at the end of this book was that it was that it was over too soon. Perhaps that is also good - an author, like a party hostess, wants to always stop while people are still asking for more.

Already I have revisited the story and its protagonist, Agnes Shanklin, in my mind, considering certain scenes, turning them this way and that in the light of retrospection, to see if they maintain their purity. Yes, Russell's writing shines with originality. Although her work and her acknowledgments show her to be a careful craftsman, she weaves real events and famous people into her story with a light touch, producing a fresh perspective.

The ending was a total surprise, yet fit the rest of the narrative perfectly. This is a book I will read more than once. Very highly recommended.

Russell's previous work, A Thread of Grace, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Peace On Earth

Peace on Earth. The Prince of Peace on earth.

Christmas Eve 2007, and the the hymn written by the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1864 was never more fitting. Aghast at the fratricide of the Civil War, and his own son wounded, he wrote:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet, the words repeat, of peace on earth,
Goodwill to men.

(verse four)
And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said,
for hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth,
Goodwill to men.

(verse five)
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
with peace on earth, Goodwill to men.

Wordsworth was right. At a terrible cost, the North won the Civil War. There is no slavery in America today. Discrimination is illegal. Bigotry is despised.

Other countries are still fighting their wars for freedom and equality. May the right prevail.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

For What it's Worth...

There are many advantages I can think of for using LibraryThing.

There is one thing I wish I had thought of before I started creating my catalog of books, though. Once I had a few hundred books in the catalog, I could no longer be sure whether a particular book I picked up was in the catalog yet, or not.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that I ought to have put some kind of tag or mark in each book as I entered it in the database, so I could see at a glance it was done. But not. So I have spent the past three days branding the books I've entered, checking many that weren't on a particular shelf - did I input that book, or not? I nearly wore out the search function for my catalog. Now I can be sure that all the books on nineteen shelves have been cataloged, and all the books on the remaining shelves have not yet been entered.

This has been a rather backwards way of organizing a library.

So, if anyone decides to catalog their books, here is an idea, for what it's worth - mark them as you enter them in the catalog, and you won't have to guess later, and search, to see if the work is done on them or not.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

LibraryThinging

We decided to rearrange every book in our library last weekend (except for GoldiBear's technical books). We moved bookshelves in three rooms, dusted, and reorganized. This is not especially exciting news - but I am making progress cataloging our books at LibraryThing.

459 books entered, and still working.

Some books were routed to the shelf for my inventory at BookMooch, and some into the bag for Goodwill - a couple were so old and ratty they went in the garbage.

The latest C. J. Cherryh books I've read are Cuckoo's Egg, and Serpent's Reach, reprinted in 2005 in a duology - The Deep Beyond. Both novels are vivid and original, provocative and entertaining, the epitomy of Science Fiction.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hope Endures in The Madonnas of Leningrad

The grand, gilded frames hang empty on the walls of The Hermitage, a witness of hope for restoration of the paintings packed away for protection during the siege of Leningrad. Perhaps they are also a metaphor for the Marina's life - once filled with beauty and meaning, now under siege by a relentless enemy, Alzheimer's.

The Madonnas of Leningrad shines like a jewel from its many facets - art history and appreciation, human drama and war, the mystery of the inner person and the heartbreak of Alzheimer's. I was captivated from the first page to the last sentence of this book about beauty, this beautiful book.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another flare

Going through another flare today, and ran across the best explanation of fibromyalgia I have ever seen, in a book or on the Internet. So many things I want to do, so little energy. Aghh.

This too will pass.

Zhen Zehn

Zhen Zhen is the name given to the new panda cub at the San Diego Zoo. It means "precious".

How precious? There are an estimated six billion, seven hundred sixty-eight million human beings on planet earth, and there are an estimated one thousand six hundred pandas alive today. That is one panda for every four million and two hundred thirty-three thousand people (rounded off).

Four million people, one panda.

That is more precious than diamonds or gold, by my calculations.

A Correction

I discovered that Cherryh's breakout novel wasn't Gate of Ivrel after all. It was Brothers of Earth.

so many books, so little book shelf space...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Have a very Cherryh Holiday

For a very Cherryh Christmas (or Hannukah, or --?), give the SF fans on your list the five Chanur books in two omnibus volumes: The Chanur Saga, and Chanur's Endgame, (the latter available new and published this year).

I liked the Chanur saga: The Pride of Chanur, Chanur's Venture and The Kif Strike Back, but I absolutely loved the Chanur's Endgame - the omnibus finis of the saga, with Chanur's Homecoming completing Pynafur's tale, and Chanur's Legacy moving on to the story of the mature Hilfy as captain of her own ship.

I had doubts that I could enjoy Hilfy's story as much as Pyanfur's books, but it was everything I could have hoped for. I give both books in Chanur's Endgame a five star rating - and if it were possible, I'd give it a ten.

Pyanfur's finale was full of political double-cross, suspenseful action, and the extremely alien aliens that Cherryh does so well. Pyanfur played for the highest possible stakes in a game of cross-species brinkmanship that would result in the destruction of her home world and her entire species if she made one false move.

Hilfy's story was an amusing revelation of the shto', and has an ending I'll never forget. I love the humor and the intelligence that permeates C.J. Cherryh's writing. This Science Fiction fan says of the Chanur books: highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Words are a Form of Action

Ingrid Bengis wrote one of my all time favorite quotes: "Words are a form of action, capable of influencing change." I just ordered her memoir, "Metro Stop Dostoevsky: Travels in Russian Time". It is set in Russia in the 1990's and should make an interesting contrast with another book for my TBR shelf: "The Madonnas of Leningrad", much of which is set in WWII.

Words have started wars, and stopped them, caused murders and divorce, and created great saints and martyrs. Indeed, words are capable of influencing change.

From page 112 of C. J. Cherryh's "Destroyer", in reference to actions by the protagonist, a translator:

"He'd let his dictionary-making duties slip, thinking they didn't matter so much... But where was the clue to his problems? Lurking, as always, in the dictionary, right where he'd begun."

Insightful gems like this one abound in Cherryh's "Foreigner" series, one of the many reasons I treasure her novels. Currently, I'm reading the seventh of what is now nine books, stringing out the pleasure until the ninth book, "Deliverer", is released on January 4th. C. J. Cherryh wrote the Foreigner series in what is so far three sets of trilogies, each of which ends with a satisfying conclusion - however, fans keep asking for more, and Cherryh has delivered.

Also on my TBR shelf is the omnibus edition of The Morgaine Saga. The first book in that trilogy, Gate of Ivrel, was Cherryh's breakout novel, copyright 1976.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Stay Married To Stop Global Warming

New research shows that the rising divorce rates have damaged the environment. Yes, as challenging as it is to leap that span of logic, data shows it is true: a divorce creates a 53% rise in electricity usage, and a 42% rise in water usage.

According to the Times Online, people who stay married are good for the earth. I always knew there was an objective reason we've stayed married for forty years.

If love isn't enough, think of the planet, and stick together. Mother Earth will thank you.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Writer's First Novel: The Outback Stars

The Outback Stars is a keeper - a book that will stay on my library shelves because it is original and enjoyable. McDonald creates a unique and believable premise - that an Australian astronaut discovers an alien method of star travel connected to aboriginal artifacts - which she skillfully weaves throughout her plot.

Hundreds of years after the discovery, the protagonist and other characters are from planets the Aussie discovered, around a chain of stars which the rest of civilization refers to as the Outback. I was fascinated by the setting, an enormous military ship bringing settlers and supplies and keeping peace among far-flung planets.

The Outback Stars is McDonald's debut novel. With that as her opening standard, I've pre-ordered her next work, The Stars Down Under.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Panda News and Mandatory Voting

The baby panda at the San Diego zoo will be one hundred days old tomorrow, and according to Chinese tradition, will receive her name. (see informative article here).

I was surprised - no, Astonished! to discover that Australia has a mandatory voting law. I've voted in every election, and worked at a precinct and also county level for various candidates in the past. It never crossed my mind that a country would pass a law to require voting. I looked up the issue on Google, and discovered this thoughtful article on mandatory voting law. I still don't know if I think it would be a good idea here, but the thoughts and statistics in Dean's essay has made me consider the idea.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

So Very Thankful

An attitude of gratitude - that is what Thanksgiving Day is all about. Those Pilgrims lived in conditions that would make so many of us complain and cringe. They had just survived terrible and decimating diseases and famine. So when they were blessed with the food the Indians brought them, they gave thanks, and hundreds of years later, we commemorate the generosity and kindness, the compassion of those Indians, and we give thanks for all the blessings in our lives, starting with the people who have shown us kindness.

I give thanks for my husband whose generosity and love has provided me with a fast Internet connection and encouraged me to blog and reach out into the world through my computer. I give thanks for the creative and generous people who invented BookCrossing, and LibraryThing, and BookMooch, eBlogger, Forward Motion, NaNoWriMo, WikiPedia, and all the rest of the incredible online world.

For everything I have lost through FMS and CMP, I have gained even more. My life is richer, not poorer, for having to deal with chronic and painful illness.

I give thanks for my sister and her family, my children, all my relatives and friends, and the wonderful strangers I've met on the Internet, who have become friends also.

I also give thanks for everyone who has commented on PandaBaby. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Understanding Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain

My purpose for this blog entry is to increase understanding of fibromyalgia and chronic myofascial pain. First is a list of highly rated books I own on the the subject. Next, some of my personal experiences with FMS/CMP. Tomorrow will be on my own experience of what is helpful. A Google search on "fibromyalgia" will reveal many websites with more detailed and thorough information than what I present here.

The Fibromyalgia Advocate - get sufficient pain treatment medication, and other help.
Fibromyalgia & Chronic Myofascial Pain - similar conditions, often confused or conflated by medical professionals. Find out the difference and get an accurate diagnosis.
The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook - don't just stand there in pain: do something about it!

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia on December 17th, 2003, by a rheumatologist who specialized in fibromyalgia patients, after being initially diagnosed by my family doctor. At first, I didn't even tell my relatives -- my mother, sister, son, daughter, etc. I didn't want to admit I have a painful, chronic and incurable condition. I didn't want people trying to manage my life for me, and 'helping' me by limiting what I could do. I didn't want to be seen as different, or helpless or some kind of damaged goods. I was in a deep flare because of doing everything as if I didn't have any pain or exhaustion. I was diagnosed after I passed out one morning, and discovered that denial doesn't work as a cure, and can push a mild case of FMS into a major flare.

I'm writing about FMS and chronic pain now because I hope to empower others who have FMS, and people who love someone with FMS. Knowledge is power: the power to stand fast and get the correct treatment, the best medication, for a condition. Knowledge is the power to be not intimidated by people who, whether out of ignorance or malice (usually ignorance), try to manage you (for your own good, of course!) with comments such as "well, everyone has pain, you know". Knowledge is power to vote with your feet and fire a doctor who tells you it is all in your head.

When I tell those people that studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia have at least four times the amount of the pain neurotransmitter in their muscles, they usually look blank for a moment as they process the concept, and then most of them look shocked, as they try to imagine what that would mean in terms of their own aches and pains.

CMP and FMS do not show "on the outside". Sufferers look 'normal' and, in between bouts of pain, weakness and exhaustion, can be as busy as anyone else, or even busier as they try to regain control of their lives and catch up on postponed work and play. Like other "invisible" diseases that leave no surgery scars and require no casts or splints, the chronic pain of FMS and CMP (Chronic Myofascial Pain) deals sufferers a double blow: that of dealing with a condition that limits your choices and greatly greatly alters your life, and also the isolation that comes from living with a condition that most people don't understand.

My husband's first comment on hearing I had the condition since I was a young teenager was, "Well that explains a lot." Meaning: why would someone who was graceful and loved to dance also be clumsy and drop things frequently? Why would someone who loved people and life and parties be too tired to go do anything for months at a time? Why would someone who 'popped out of bed in the morning like toast out of a toaster' suddenly start sleeping fourteen hours a day? Why would his wife be busy and enjoying work and other other activities, and suddenly collapse and be unable to even complete household chores?

As we learned more about FMS (FibroMyalgia Syndrome), these and other mysteries were answered. After spending days reading books on FMS, and weeks in a class from my HMO on how to manage it, I discovered that, even allowing for a vast range of individual differences, "my" FMS was extreme. It took years after that to understand that I have two concurrent diseases: FMS and CMP. CMP cannot be managed like FMS, and knowing which you have is essential.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

True Colors: book review

It is giving nothing away to observe that True Colors, like the two works preceding it, is about clone warriors. What I love about True Colors is that it takes the Star Wars concept of identical soldiers, cloned for only one purpose - to fight and die on command - and examines that concept, shakes it down, and ultimately turns it inside out.

For me, this is the essence of military science fiction, a sub-genre that I love: to weave into the story a deeper meaning than the tactics and battles. A thoughtful examination of what it means to be human, and to be a person, resides comfortably within the plot and the characters, without detracting from the story.

I found it easy to identify with the characters in True Colors. They had gained my interest and sympathy in the first two "Republic Commando" novels, and now they are living in my head, patiently waiting for further developments when the fourth book in the "Republic Commando" series, Order 66 is released July 15, 2008.

The "Republic Commando" books are set in the Star Wars universe, but it is not necessary to have read any of the Star Wars books first. For more details on True Colors and other books by Karen Traviss, visit her website.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Star Wars Republic Commando: True Colors

The only problem with finding an author I can't live without is that I can read their books faster than they can write them, even if I read them twice!

So it was with anticipatory joy that I opened the latest publication by Karen Traviss, her third installment in the world of the Star Wars Republic Commandos.

I'm on page 93, and can only promise a complete review once I've read the whole book. Traviss writes with depth and passion, skill and experience. She creates worlds, cultures and languages as easily as some women bake cookies. The characters I met in Hard Contact and Triple Zero continue to fascinate, amuse and amaze me in True Colors.

For anyone who appreciates military Science Fiction, Traviss is a bright star in the Constellation of Very Good Writers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Further Adventures in Traveling with PandaBaby

Panda's perpetually smiling face fell into an introspective frown as he mulled the end of his quest for a dancing bride. "I could pay the bride price, however high, for I have lived long and saved up carefully. But I would die here in the heat of your land; even if I shaved off all my coat, I could not live long in your desert."

A rough, angry voice interrupted the bear, and a loud young man stomped into the little tent, ducking his head under the low portal. "Eliana, what are you doing in here? Why aren't you out with the goats? You lazy girl, I'll have your hide nailed to my tent if you have let one of my flock suffocate in this storm!"

The goat urchin looked down at her bare feet, her thick hair falling over her face and hiding her expression. She spoke in low, even tones that belied her anger and contempt. "My brother, you have not the right to my hide, nailed or any other way, so long as our father lives. Your precious goats are safe in the thorn brakes, as you well know. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I will not suffocate this day, at your whim or any other."

An excerpt from my '08 NaNo Novel, copyright 2007.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Trains and Airplanes and Taxis - Oh My! Memoirs of a Panda's Travels

PandaBaby is a traveling bear, well-seasoned now in the art of touring her country. In the hopes of saving other and wiser travelers (i.e. - those willing to learn from the sad experience of our own mistakes), we are confessing the true highs and lows of our recent vacation.

To begin with, we rode Amtrak from coast to coast: Union Station at Portland, Oregon to Union Station in Washington, D.C. We boarded the Viewliner with "sleeping accomodations" (a misnomer!) Sunday afternoon, and quickly discovered our first mistake. Luggage capacity for our room was listed as "two small suitcases and a garment bag".

NOTE: always believe Amtrak's capacity remarks! GoldieBear, our traveling companion, did not believe, so we brought four large suitcases, a laptop, a briefcase, a camera bag, and a voluminous purse. Severely overcrowded conditions for three solid days and nights can strain even the most loving relationships, however, we adjusted and learned to communicate with mere growls and teeth-baring instead of the ferocious frowns and loud squawks of day- night number one.

NOTE: always bring industrial quality earplugs for sleeping on trains (unless you are naturally deaf to begin with). We discovered on the morning of Day Two, that no one in our sleeping car slept the night before, however, we had the privilege of having our bunks positioned directly over the faulty wheel and spring, so the racket was undiluted by distance in our cabin. We expressed our gratitude to the porter who brought us earplugs for the second night with a healthy tip when we reached Chicago.

The food on the train was surprisingly good and the wait staff was skillful at delivering meals and drinks without spilling, a marvel which PandaBaby appreciated, as she couldn't stand up and walk the length of one train car without grabbing for a support. A cruise ship might normally be a less turbulent ride.

Strangely, the rhythm of the rails put the normally sleepless PandaBaby to sleep, day and night and in spite of the groaning wheel and spring. All I need to do now when I have insomnia is ride a train - or acquire a bed that rocks.

The train trip finally did end, and we exchanged the interminable train ride for the interminable taxi ride. The time from Union Station to our destination in Virginia would be a half an hour even in traffic, but our taxi driver managed to get lost, then a spectacular freeway pile-up halted us in place for half an hour, so that we spent three hours getting to our daughter's home.

It was a strange four days.

The National Zoo was the best day of our vacation. We saw lions and tigers and gorillas and Panda bears!

Returning home, we took the non-stop airplane from Dulles to Portland airport - a five and a half our trip that was (pardon the pun) heavenly compared with the train. The price was nearly the same as the train, flying economy seating.

Home sweet home, there is no place like home - especially after being gone for a couple of weeks. Ahhh, asleep in my very own bed.

Friday, November 2, 2007

So Many Words, So little Time

Novel writing is a wonderful way to spin time - when lost in the Muse, time stretches out to the infinity of thought, vast and endless as space, moving at the speed of light without expenditure of effort or energy. When lost in the woods looking for ones Muse, time slows down to crawl like a sloth on the ground, out of its element, looking for a way back up to the stars.

Today PandaBaby will stretch and spin and shrink time. Come join the wonder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and find the writer hidden inside of you. Come join in the fun.
PandaBaby is off and running at NaNoWriMo.

Excerpts of her new Panda-novel will appear on her blog (copyright retained by the author as usual).
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Thursday, November 1, 2007

I am an endangered species

I try not let it worry me, knowing that my species is headed for extinction. When I was younger, I lived solely for the pleasure and experience of my day - after all, everyone said there is no future for us pandas, and what could just one little PandaBaby do to change that? So eat, get high and be merry, that was my motto. I climbed trees, and enjoyed the good life. What more was there for a panda?

Education was my downfall. Put one little thought into the head of a PandaBaby, and it might stick there. Pandas have a lot of time to just think, so I thought. And found more ideas. And thought some more. Lots more.

Maybe, I thought, there is more to life than a hedonistic treadmill. Maybe one little PandaBaby could make a difference - even a difference in just one thing, one life, even my own, could effect a change, and who knows where change may lead?

So I rejected the despair disguised as hedonism, and I discovered even pandas can be disciplined and have self-control. Why, I actually exercised! A challenge gives life spice - more pleasure in a flavorful existence than in all the self-indulgences in the world. What a curious conundrum. I do not say this would work for all hedonists - only that it affected me.

Challenge of the day: NaNoWriMo. Have you ever thought of writing a novel someday? Today is someday. Just do it. I double Panda-dare you.
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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

PandaBaby discovers the joys of being a camel, and adopts a Style

The joys of being a camel (PandaBaby - with 2 capital letters) are in the delights of being found. In the hide and seek of Internet blogs and boards, camels, it turns out, are more readily found (thus BookMooch, LibraryThing, BookCrossing, etc.). So we have become PandaBaby (although I don't know yet if it will be possible to morph our name in places we are already established with only one hump).

Truth is found in many disguises - (an old and well worn truth), proven in myths, parables, fairy tales, science fiction, fantasy and in the styles of authors I admire such as Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint. PandaBaby will from hereon be published in the category of Speculative Fiction (and some may think this announcement redundant, claiming it has already achieved that goal). Speculative Fiction embraces Fantasy, Science Fiction and horror genres. R. A. MacAvoy (a fellow camel!) is another Speculative Fiction writer I admire, most recently having read her Science Fiction work "The Third Eagle".

PandaBaby hopes that readers who stumble across her blog will enjoy her truths and lies and fiction, and not be confused as to which is which. PandaBaby will often be referred to as her, and sometimes as him, and once in a while with the royal we. Please note that there is just this one PandaBaby.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Brain Fizzle or Boring LIfe?

Neither, I hope. I've been busy, but not with things suitable for publishing (no, not that).

I can write when I'm happy or mad, but not when I'm sad. I need to learn how to express sadness - but first how not to let it overwhelm me. Translating sadness into anger works for some sadness, but truly sad things are just - sad.

But not today. Today, I'm thinking of which books to set free with BookCrossing tags on Amtrak when we go on our trip to Virginia. I'm thinking of going to the National Zoo and taking pictures of the pandas.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Celebrate! Have a mammogram

It is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month - celebrate with a mammogram, or give a mammogram to someone you love.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A rainy week

A rainy week here, reading and getting ready for our trip.

CC&R Update: I went to the second meeting of the CC&R committee, and brought up a couple of embarrassing facts: we were sending letters to homeowners for cracked driveways, but the homeowners association has asphalt paths in dire need of repair. We've been harassing residents who leave their trash containers visible from the street, but the association has left a trash can visible next to the tennis courts, instead of putting it inside an attractive structure. The association has two paths that terminate at curbs instead of 'let-downs' for handicapped access, which I asked them to have fixed, and the response was positive. Our front yard is much neater now, and I'm getting a load of bark dust to finish it soon.

I'm getting ready for our Amtrak trip back east, choosing which books I'll set free on the trains with BookCrossing labels. So far, I've picked "Mother Teresa: In My Own Words", "A Black Eye Isn't the End of the World" (panda photographs, of course!), and a two-volume-in-one travel book by Peter Gethers, "The Cat Who Went to Paris" and "A Cat Abroad".

Monday, October 8, 2007

A War Story

"The Zookeepers Wife", subtitled "A War Story", stands out in my book collection of science fiction, romance and fantasy - a different kind of book.

It is a true story, based the diaries of the eponymous heroine who lived through the Nazi occupation of Warsaw in the ruins of her beloved zoo. She continued to care for the surviving animals and her garden. She worked at her daily routine, baking bread, preserving food, teaching her young son, and playing the piano, while she hid Jewish refugees under her house.

Author Diane Ackerman melds a mountain of meticulous research into a riveting story of courage, not the courage that charges the enemy front with loaded rifles, but courage that faces the enemy unarmed except for ingenuity, wit and determination.

The details packed into The Zookeeper's Wife create a rich mosaic of daily life that contrasts sharply with her exposition of the Nazi philosophy and how it was implemented. It freezes the soul to read of the cold-blooded intentions of Hitler's high command - nothing less than the extermination of the Polish people.

Although the Zabrinksi family experienced suffering and loss, the remarkable aspect of the story is that they prevailed. They prevailed daily by keeping their love, joy and dignity. They prevailed in the end by surviving their oppressors and by keeping three hundred Jews alive in spite of the threats and violence surrounding them.

The Zookeepers Wife is a story of the triumph of the human spirit. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Just Average

When Jaye Patrick published a link to Action Earth, I just had to go and see what our carbon footprint would be. I was disappointed to find it is just average for an Aussie or an American - 20 tons per year!

With our solar hot water, limited use of the automobile, and other factors, I had hopes we'd do better than that, not that I expected to come close to the 4.8 tons per year for Jaye's household, but really!

Then I thought about all the Air Conditioners and Air Cleaners we run to keep my husband's MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities) under control. That's the main culprit, but there are more things we can do. I printed the list from Action Earth, and expect to start working on it this week.

Sometimes I wonder if the polluters of the earth knew they'd be reincarnated as their own descendants, living in the chemical stew they created themselves, if they'd make different choices. Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps they'd tell themselves they'd just "think about that tomorrow".

Well there's a safe philosophy, Scarlett, for as we've all noticed by now, tomorrow never comes. It is always today.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Crushed Daisies

"He loves me, he loves me not...he loves me, he loves me not"

A fun game, unless you're a daisy.

If you're a daisy....

A beautiful sunny day, a perfect little breeze, some industrious bees - and then! A ruthless hand swoops down from out of nowhere, and plucks you up, sundering stem and root. Ahhh, the pain.

But wait, you've been cautioned of this moment - and you know that now you will be transformed into an object of admiration and delight, perhaps a bouquet. Perhaps you will gain the ultimate honor, and a gentle hand will will weave you among you're siblings, and crown an innocent brow with your beauty.

You quiver with anticipation.

What is this? Petals ripped from stamen, one by one, a slow dismemberment. This is not how bouquets are made. A distant thunder mutters, "He loves me, he loves me not..."

Why? ? ??? ??????????

Because they CAN.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Heroes and Writers

Who is your hero? A political figure? historical persona? music idol?

Don't we all have our heroes? Someone who has accomplished the things we'd like to do? Movie stars and rockers are accustomed to screaming fans who mob their idols in public, create websites to memorialize their genius, and write gushing letters of adoration. Sports icons, royalty, the 'rich and famous' all have their fandom. Consider the pictures, documentaries, books, movies, songs and memorabilia inspired by Princess Diana, for example.

Kids who love to play cricket, soccer, baseball, basketball know who the greats in their sport are and what they've done that's exceptional. People of all ages know the words to their pop idol's latest songs, and collect their albums and pictures. We want to get close to our idols - maybe it will rub off!

So who pushes your buttons? Whom we choose to exalt says as much about us as about our heroes. We want to be beautiful, rich, sexy, talented, young and popular. Then we'd be happy, then we'd have all we could desire, or so goes our not quite conscious reasoning.

When girls my age were screaming and fainting over the Beatles, I was left wondering what was wrong with them. Sure I liked the music, but why scream and jump up and down over it? It was the same with the rest of the social icons - I couldn't see what the fuss was all about.

Then something happened that moved me, pushed my buttons, pulled my levers, touched my secret wishes. I got a book signed by one of my favorite authors.

O.K., so now you're probably laughing your head off, and I can't blame you. What kind of a person is indifferent to the Beatles, and goes off like a rocket for - a mere writer?! Well, obviously, a bookworm of course. I'm not alone in my particular passion. Every week there are lines at bookstores around the country where people wait patiently for the chance to have an author sign a book for them. So authors as pop idols isn't an unusual phenomenon. The difference is that bookworms are usually quiet, mild-mannered people who would never dream of mobbing an author and snatching a souvenir. Lines of bookworms are quiet, orderly things, and not the screaming, jumping mobs that surround pop stars.

sigh. I never did march to anyone else's drum. My husband knows what to expect of me, and was mildly amused to see me jumping up and down when a I got a signed early copy of a book last month. Most people would have been alarmed, convinced I was losing my mind. That behavior is reserved for the Beatles, you see, and just not the thing to do over a book.

So there you have it - my heroes are the writers who create stories that I love to read. Karen Traviss, S. L. Viehl, Nancy Kress, Robin Hobb, Holly Lisle, Anne McAffrey, Elizabeth Moon, Tanith Lee, Linnea Sinclair, Lisa Kleypas, Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney, Liz Carlyle, Nicole Jordan, Loretta Chase - these are women who write fantastic Science Fiction, Fantasy or Romance. They are my heroes, because they create magic with words, they create worlds with their books, and because a part of me would love to do what they do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

BookLover, Bibliophile, BookWorm - Links & Reviews

Whatever name I go by, it means the same thing. I'd rather read a good book than (almost) anything else.

If I'm at church, I find the church library; at a party, I find the host's bookshelves; on vacation, look for my face behind the printed book cover. In bed when I was little, I'd hide under the covers with a flashlight so I could read when I was supposed to be sleeping. When we went camping, I didn't worry about bringing snacks, but I'd make sure my flashlight batteries were working - eating was optional, reading was not. It was a compulsion. When I was a kid, I got motion sickness in the car from reading all the billboards and signs as we passed them.

In this Age of the Internet, reading has achieved the distinction of a rare science. Buying books, borrowing them, collecting them or giving them away, loaning, cataloging and reviewing them is facilitated by sophisticated software, available on websites from commercial to community to the free and independent enterprise.

Here - listed alphabetically - is a sampling of delights for book lovers world wide.

Shop at Amazon.com! - If your regular shipping costs from Amazon are over $79 per year, you can save money with free shipping through Amazon Prime. Used books sold by third party vendors don't qualify, but I've bought like new hardbound books for little more than the cost of shipping, typically $3.95 shipping and $1 to $5 for the book. Many of those books originally sold for over $20. (I make a point of pre-ordering the next book by those authors I like the best. Without their royalties, they might not keep writing! Disaster!)
Advantages: fast, huge inventory, free shipping, convenient
Dis-advantages: I think I'm spending too much money on books - ordering is too easy!

BookCrossing has to be one of the wildest ideas I've seen for books (pun intentional). I plan on bringing at least seven or eight books with me to "release in the wild" when we take our trip on Amtrak. I hope some of them will be 'caught' and be logged by their 'catchers'.
Advantages: the fun of sharing my favorite books
Dis-advantages: although many people read books released by BookCrossing members, only about fifteen percent of them log on to BookCrossing to report catching a book, and since the fun of finding out where the book has been is a large part of it.....

BookMooch works for me. I can browse over three and a half million books available to mooch. If I don't find the book I want to mooch, there's a convenient link to purchase it at Amazon. Once I read a book I've mooched, I can keep it for my permanent library or list it in my inventory for other moochers. In 'turn', I ship a book from my inventory to someone who mooched it from me, for less than I'd pay if I went to the used book store. I have received eighteen books since I joined a few months ago, and sent about the same. "Media Mail" postal rates are $2.13 for a book package weighing one pound to go from Portland, Oregon to Washington, D.C. A book package weighing 7 ounces goes first class for two pennies more.
Advantages: books I want to read are delivered conveniently to my home for "free"
Dis-advantages: taking the time to wrap and ship books mooched from me

Internet Public Library, founded by the U. of Michigan and hosted by Drexel U., offers a catalog of digital resources such as Project Gutenberg , World Wide School Library, and Digital Book Index.
Advantages: free access to hundreds of thousands of texts.
Dis-advantages: how many lifetimes do you have to spare?

Library of Congress
, located in Washington, D. C., "serves as the research arm of Congress". It is the largest library in the world. Their Virtual Reference Shelf includes a link to Bartleby, with its links to free digital works such as thirty-seven of Shakespeare's plays. Bookworms are all born asking "Why?". Now, we can get answers. Ask A Librarian, or even Chat With a Librarian, (American Memory Historical Collection - one of six collections where you can chat live with a Librarian).
Advantages: research the world's largest library from your own home. Request books or materials not available at your local library. Find bills in the House or Senate with Thomas, launched in 1995 "to make federal legislative information freely available to the public". Learn with webcasts and other audio-video LoC resources online.
Dis-advantages: it takes some time to locate what you're looking for, whether online or in person. The last time I was in D.C., I spent two days at the Library of Congress - and that was just for the tour and the exhibit halls!

LibraryThing is the place to catalog your books, find recommendations and reviews for books, chat with people who like to read what you like to read (or want to read), and so on. You can purchase CueCat at LibraryThing for $15. Mine arrived today, so now I can scan the ISBN number for my books, and speedily load them into my library at LibraryThing. I think it will work for my inventory at Bookmooch too. It doesn't require any software, and works through your computer's USB port. CueCat would make a great stocking stuffer for the bookworms on your Christmas or Hanukkah list.
Advantages: bookworm heaven.
Dis-advantages: so many books, so little time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mothers and Daughters

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My mother knew I loved her - loved her when I was little kid, hugging her; loved her when I was the new mother of a baby girl, grinning at her as she held my daughter in her arms; loved her when she was dying of cancer, and I tucked her into bed and held her hand until she fell asleep.

I knew she loved me too - loved me when I kept her up all night with colic; loved me when I was a bratty teen; loved me when I began my first professional career.

It's been nine months, one week and three days since she died. She would have been eighty-four this month. I think I'm beginning to accept that she is gone, and find comfort in the good memories, in the knowledge we loved each other, and showed it.

In honor of her birthday, here is a picture of one of the good times, and reminder: have you had your mammogram this year?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Good News From Talyn's universe, Updates and Amtrak

I think "Talyn", published August 2005 by Tor, is Holly Lisle's most powerful, profound and captivating book ever. Now comes the next happy news: Tor is bringing out "Hawkspar", Holly's next book in Talyn's universe, in one volume, uncut. I'll be posting the date as soon as I find out (and putting it on my calendar in red letters).

Update on Affiliate website: Holly is working on smoothing out some technical issues with her Affiliate site, so it may not be responsive for the next couple of days. The software for the Affiliate program is new, needed adjustments. It will be working again soon.

Update on what Pandababy eats: still munching away on yummy, filling, nutritious, organic, vegetarian whole foods. Fingernails still grown, IBS still in abeyance most of the time. Sleep patterns disrupted again sometimes, but still sleeping better. Lost pounds are still gone and pants are baggy, very baggy - hah.

Update on CC&R committee: houses and grounds looking good on my first 'rounds' as committee member, but there's some dead bushes and trees on the community greenways that need to be replaced!

We're planning on taking Amtrak for our next trip to visit our daughter, going from Union Station in Portland to Union Station in Washington D.C. That's right - both cities named their train depot "Union Station". It will be a four day trip, coast to coast, and four days back home, our first trip on Amtrak. A direct flight takes about six hours, but I'm very glad we're going by rail. I took my first airplane trip in 1956 - Portland to Chicago. I was airsick and hated it, and still hate flying commercial airliners. (Small private planes are a different story - pure fun.)

Today is the last day for weather expected to be sunny and in the 70's here for some time - we're heading into fall. I'm going to go outside and enjoy some radiation while I can still get it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

News! I'm a Holly Lisle Affiliate Now

Holly Lisle, author of many of my favorite novels, has made changes in her Affiliate program, including new software, and changes in the referral fee structure.

I like the changes so much I have signed up to be an Affiliate. I have been telling people what a great writer Holly is ever since I read "Hunting the Corrigan's Blood" (a great vampire story and terrific Science Fiction, available as an eBook and now available in print too).

Holly has a growing collection of books by other terrific writers, as well as her own prolific creations, on her website at Shop Holly Lisle.com.

If you click on "Pandababy's Favorite Bookstore" in the right-hand column, it will take you to Holly's shop. The prices will be the same as if you found it any other way, and I will earn a small referral fee. If you follow the link, and sign up for the Affiliate program yourself, you will be able to start earning referral payments also. Holly is paying a $10 bonus to everyone who becomes an Affiliate (payable when they earn $10 in referrals - see details on her website).

Why am I inviting "competition"?

Because I will get paid (an even smaller) referral fee for everything that you get paid on. It stops with you, though, so anyone who signs up to be an Affiliate using your links does not create any revenue for me - only for themselves and for you. Holly's Affiliate program does not meet the criteria for a pyramid program with her new and revised guidelines. This makes her much happier, and it motivated me to sign up.

Other reasons I'd like for you to sign up and 'compete' with me: I love to read Holly's books. The more people buy her books, the more likely it is she'll write more books, and I'll get to read them. My motives are purely selfish!

As soon as I figure out how to add the lovely graphic designs with links, there will be more links to Holly's Shop here at Pandababy's Blog.

Meanwhile - sign up and beat me to it. Go ahead, I double dare you!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Handle with flame-proof gloves!

The best of Lynn Viehl's Darkyn novels is the fifth and latest - "Evermore" to be published January 2008. Everything I loved about the previous four books is present in "Evermore": it is full of action, tender romance, suspense, daring plot twists, adorable characters, and a perfectly satisfying conclusion.

Oh - and wear your oven-mitts to hold the book, because it is hot, Hot, HOT! In fact, if you are offended by sexy scenes, just don't read it. This is a book for adults only, no kidding - scenes that are raw, scenes that are erotic and yet sensitive, and delicate scenes that touch an enchanted zone that is more compelling and more seductive than outright explicit sex.

I read and savored all four of the Darkyn stories that came before "Evermore", each one of them unique and unforgettable. "Evermore" sets a new high mark, though, for sensuality, for characters that will get under your skin, for sustained interest.

I'll be posting some more about "Evermore" later, as I take time to mull over the elements I enjoyed and consider ways to blog about them without spoiling the plot. I will say this one thing now with certainty - if you don't want to end up waiting too long to read your own copy, pre-order it while you can still get a first printing. This one is going to set records flying off the shelves.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Screamin' an' Jumpin'

Yes! Screamin' an' jumpin' - that's what I started doing when my husband brought in the mail this morning, and I saw the package from Lynn Viehl.

It was a large package - "Author's Galley Copy" of her latest novel, "Evermore", to be released in January of 2008. She included a letter with a story and picture of the person in her life who inspired the character in her novel - and Lynn - please! put that in the book, inside cover or somewhere. What a fantastic story, and I haven't even opened the galley case yet.

Oh my gosh, I think I must be babbling I 'm so excited. What a privilege, to be able to read "Evermore" NOW!

I promise to faithfully report for all you who may be interested (Jaye, I know you are on the edge of your chair right now), my thoughts on Lynn's fifth Darkyn series novel, just as soon as I've had time to read and digest it, and no plot spoilers.

Sorry, gotta go. Have a lovely, page by page, unbound (galley) copy to read, inhale, savor and mull.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bookworm Heaven

I finished Peter F. Hamilton's "Mindstar Rising" tonight, and just realized I've hit bookworm heaven -- discovered two fabulous and prolific Science Fiction authors this month (the other is David Weber - see my "techno-babble" blog) -- and that makes about fifty books I can anticipate enjoying. It's like Christmas in September.

I don't have any other books in my library that have been described as cyber-punk, and I'm not sure I want to, but for Hamilton's incredible mind, I'll happily make the exception. The setting of "Mindstar Rising" reminds me somewhat of the television series "Dark Angel" - only in Britain instead of Seattle. The tension ranges between high, higher and highest - it made me think of Robert Ludlum's suspense thrillers. The characters are so strong, the action so well-choreographed, that I was sure the book would already be a movie, but sadly it isn't.

And this was his first book! I favor stories with a strong woman as the main character, so it took me until page 100 to warm to the male MC, a former soldier and assassin who uses his psi talent to promote a sexual relationship with a young woman whose outstanding attributes include a long legs and a large breasts. I came very close to quitting the book before discovering the charm and depth of the MC, and the complexity of the writer's characters.

So, you've been warned. Do not dismiss this book (despite the first chapter), as just another formula "male fantasy" novel with a misanthropic, emotionally unavailable anti-hero. It's as far from that as you can get. I can't wait to read the next story in Peter's trilogy: "A Quantum Murder".

Friday, September 14, 2007

To Sleep, To Dream, Perchance to Write Fan-Fic

I woke up today with my busy ADHAD brain writing a fan-fic spin-off of "Mindstar Rising" by Peter F. Hamilton - and I don't even like fan-fic. I don't even know if I like Peter F. Hamilton; I'm only on page 65 of his first book, "Mindstar Rising", published in 1993. If I want to keep reading, I'll have at least thirteen additional novels of his to explore, and all of them highly rated on Amazon.com.

My dream fan-fic had something to do with designing a trail-ride for horses in front of a mansion, there was swimming pool, and a smart, semi-tame badger I set loose that was making holes in the lawn (dangerous to the horses, you know - might break a leg). You'd have to read the book to see any connection at all, and I'm sure an interpretation of my dream would be nearly x-rated, so please don't go there!

For now, I'm planning to read this trilogy, in which a modified human detective, Greg Mandel, fights crime on earth and in space using talents he developed in the military, including his enhanced psi abilities. Hamilton's future earth is a result of global warming and the resultant social upheavals. England is a tropical island where suntans are free and palm trees grow readily. Peter's characters are complex and drawn with a sharp pen. His futuristic society is many-layered and robust. His prose has a bite instead of a drawl.

One of his intriguing inventions, on page 64, is a passenger blimp powered by"hydrogen electrolyzed from sea-water by the thermal-exchange generators". There are hints earlier in the book of Turkey (and presumably the other oil-rich desert lands) going into 'that black night', and no one uses oil for power. My non-fic TBR book-shelf includes "The End of Oil" by Paul Roberts, "Natural Capitalism" by Hawken, Lovins and Lovins, "Beyond Oil" by Kenneth S. Deffeys (signed by the author!), and "Plan B 2.0" by Lester R. Brown. One item all those books have in common is an exploration of alternate power sources. Interesting how power (political, financial and physical) is so often at the crux of writing, whether fiction or non-fiction.

After reading so much space opera with female MCs, Greg Mandel's POV feels nearly alien to my mind - not bad, just very different. Hamilton's fecund mind presents a luscious variety of novum to ponder, all of it well-integrated into the 'past' of an earth we're currently living. Indeed, he creates so much food for thought, my brain was still chewing on the details in my sleep.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

techno-babble

I know there are those of you who think this sort of dialog is just yummy - you know who you are and so do I - when I was in high school, you were the guys with slide rules sticking out of your pockets!

(from "The Short Victorious War" page 90)
"Am I right in assuming a complete replacement here?"
"I'm afraid so, Ma'am. Oh, I could try a weld, but we're talking a bead a good twenty meters long just across the outer face. This stuff's not supposed to break in the first place, and according to The Book, patching should only be considered as a last resort. The fracture cuts right through two of the central load-bearing brackets and the number hydrogen feed channel, too, I'm afraid."

And so on, for another two pages before Admiral Harrington is assured her ship will be " back up as quickly as possible."

Now, I admit I have a weakness for geeks and their techno-babble -- my father was one, my brother is one, my husband is one, and (of course) our son is one. But I'm not! I have a limit to my tolerance for descriptions and details of engineering, after which my eyes glaze over, my ears start receiving nothing but static, and my brain starts filtering for a change of subject.

I'm reading book three of Weber's 'Honor' series, though, because his space battle descriptions leave me breathless on the edge of my seat, and he's made me care deeply about Honor and her treecat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My TBR Shelf

TBR - To Be Read (next)

"The Short Victorious War" and "Field of Dishonor" - books #3 and #4 in the Honor Harrington series by David Weber;

"The Third Eagle" and "The Book of Kells" by R. A. MacAvoy - she had me hooked with "Tea With the Black Dragon" and "The Grey Horse";

"Beggers and Choosers" and "Beggars Ride" by Nancy Kress - finishing up her Beggars trilogy I began reading with "Beggars in Spain";

"Mindstar Rising", "A Quantum Murder" and "The Nano Flower" by Peter F. Hamilton;

"Red Mars", "Blue Mars" and "Green Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson;

"Lady of the Light" by Donna Gilespie - sequel to "The Light Bearer";

"The Silmarillion" by Tolkien;

"Start Late, Finish Rich" by David Bach;

"Woman - An Intimate Geography" by Natalie Angier;

"The New Feminine Brain - Developing Your Intuitive Genius" by Mona Lisa Shulz, M.D.;

"The Flavors of Olive Oil - A Tasting Guide and Cookbook" by Deborah Krasner

From this information dump, you may conclude that I'm fond of reading Science Fiction and Fantasy; I didn't plan well for my retirement; I'm learning to enjoy being female; and I now have a very good recipe for tomato, basil, mozzarella and olive oil on a baguette.

Update: Today was my first CC&R committee meeting. Ve-rry In-teresting. I have been assigned a section of the neighborhood to peruse and report on: exceptionally well maintained properties get a thank you letter, and properties with violations of the covenants and restrictions get a courtesy warning. Amazing what some people will choose to dispute. One of the restrictions is that garbage cans must be out of sight (behind a fence or in the garage) - except on garbage day. Why would anyone want to defend their view of garbage cans?! Serving on this committee drives home the thought that human beings are quirky and unpredictable, whimsical, amazing and amusing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I want a treecat!

I'm reading "The Honor of the Queen" (book two) in David Weber's Honor Harrington Series, and fifteen more "Honor" books to go, counting "At All Costs" to be released next month. I'm not reading at my usual speed, so this is going to take awhile.

The main reason I'm going slow is the amount of technical and scientific information embedded in the story. People comfortable with math, astronomy and physics might find these details easy and simple, but that isn't my comfort zone. I read "Science Fiction" in spite of the "Science" details, not because of them. That is because "novum" - a new concept or development of science or society intrigues and fascinates me, makes Science Fiction irresistible to me, while I find detailed scientific or military explanations difficult to envision.

Weber clearly enjoys writing paragraphs describing his faster-than-the-speed-of-light drive, including the history of its development, the differences of how it works on civilian craft versus military modifications, and other inventions. I forgive him his preoccupation with science, because he has created a magnificent heroine in Honor Harrington. Her persona resonates with other female military MCs in my mind, such as Elizabeth Moon's Haris Serrano or her Ky Vatta; and my personal favorite, Shan Frankland from the Wes'har War series by Karen Traviss.

Honor lives up to her name with a vengeance. She would rather die than betray her queen, her country or her command. She is not eager to die, though, and uses all of her training, knowledge and creativity to stay alive and keep her shipmates alive also.

Honor is not all protocol and manners - she has a treecat for a pet (or perhaps the treecat has her for a pet). The empathic feline gives Admiral Harrington a decidedly original presence, perched on her shoulder using the especially padded grips on Harrington's uniform. Treecats are not only rare, they can be deadly to anyone who is a threat to their chosen people. Honor is a highly self-controlled officer in the queen's space navy, and her treecat's preference for serenity adds to her well-developed restraint.

It has been fourteen years since David Weber wrote "On Basilik Station", first in his "Honor" series, and I'm happily anticipating the enjoyment of seeing a writer develop more and more skill, as I read forward through his list. It will be a nice reversal of my usual order - finding a terrific recent novel and then going through the author's backlist.

Coming up soon: a review of "Evermore", the latest (and not yet released) Darkyn novel by Lynn Viehl.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Bloomed

Among the roses planted in memory of my mother, the Iceberg is the first to bloom.
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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tempus Fugit

Ah yes, time flies, flees, and mysteriously disappears while I turn my attention elsewhere.

This past week, I've been in outer space with Elizabeth Moon's "Heris Serrano" - the omnibus edition of "Hunting Party", "Sporting Chance" and "Winning Colors". Thank you Jaye Patrick, for the Elizabeth Moon entry "eyebrows up" on your book list. I love referrals to good books, especially Science Fiction.

Update on "If you can't lick 'em": I've been appointed to the CC&R Committee. Next update after my first meeting with them, in a couple of weeks.

Update on my vegetarian (mostly) diet: We invited our son to dinner a few nights ago, and hubby cooked a salmon fillet. I enjoyed my portion, and was surprised the next morning to have had no gall bladder spasms. Another benefit of my new, very low cholesterol diet. I've avoided salmon for years because it was too rich, and now that I've been on a truly low fat, low cholesterol diet for eight weeks, I find I can occasionally indulge. Our son brought chocolates for desert, and I amazed my self (and my family) by declining my favorite food. It didn't take any will power at all - I really didn't want them. I guess I've just lost my membership in the "I'd do anything for chocolate" club.

Another thing I've lost: eleven pounds since July 2. That puts my BMI (Body Mass Index) at 29.3 - under obese, and into overweight, according to the BMI calculator at the Mayo Clinic.

When I get back to what I weighed in 2002, my BMI will be within the normal range, and I'll take my favorite clothes out of storage. I gained a shocking amount of weight during this last, long flare of fibromyalgia -- eating for energy, eating for comfort from the pain, eating from boredom because so few of my usual activities were possible. Yes, eating because I felt angry that this weird, incurable disease happened to me, and eating because I felt sorry for myself. You could say I ate my heart out.

I'm still limited in my activities, not as much as the first year, but I never thought I'd find a diet that would provide good nutritional support and let me lose the ugly pounds without an impossible (for me) level of exercise. I felt very trapped.

So if I seem 'over the top' in my enthusiasm for my current diet - now you know why.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Maybe It's All In My Head?

Or not.

A new blogger in Paris, France, "Charles Perrault" commented on my earlier posting: "could it be that in the mindset of leading a healthier life, you subconsciously had the will to end your bad habits? " I guess it's possible - I'm not objective enough to judge.

I can't prove my insomnia and nail-biting were cured with a vegetarian, whole food, organic diet, or that the my previous diet was a root cause of those problems. Some people would even suggest that IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is caused by mental problems.

I have seen doctors (including psychiatrists), read books, had tests over the years. I took their medicines, which had unpleasant side effects and only masked the problems instead of eliminating them.

My body is calm and my mind is energized now. I don't know what was irritating my body. Maybe I have a lactose intolerance, or maybe it was chemicals, such as the preservatives or coloring added to so many foods. About a third of the population has some kind of reactions to those things, but for the majority, any other diet might be, as Charles suggested, no better or worse.

I take supplements (prescribed by my doctor). I had anemia years ago on a 'normal' diet, and recognize that any diet can be deficient in what my body needs. I have heard of people who risk their health on extreme diets - nothing but brown rice and few vegetables, for instance. A few years ago I tried a diet that was nearly all soy products, (and lost weight but my health suffered). That is the opposite of the diet I've been eating daily since July 2nd.

Every day I enjoy over eighty-one different fruits, nuts, vegetables and spices. The following brief quote (see linked page for more details) explains the processing:

"Our food products are dried in a process of lyophylization, in sublimated water vapor. This process involves drying in a low temperature AND low pressure environment. With this process, enzymes, nutrition, shape, and flavor are retained."

The food I eat is nutritionally dense - a small amount contains nutrients from a large variety of foods. It has worked for me. I strongly advise anyone seeking to lose weight or improve their health: SEEK YOUR DOCTOR'S OPINION ON THIS OR ANY OTHER PROGRAM BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO MAKE CHANGES IN YOUR MEDICATION OR DIET.

Which, in fact, is exactly what I did. My doctor visited The Whole Food Farmacy website and gave it his hearty approval - for me. I can't say what your doctor would advise for you.

If You can't Lick 'em....

Yes, it is true. I've requested membership in the dreaded CC&R Committee. After five years of receiving their mystic 'courtesy letters', this year we received 'da bomb': conform or pay a fine of between $10 to $40 per day, to be registered as a lien against your property.

The Committee wrote, "Yards need to be neatly landscaped, mowed, edged, weeded, watered and maintained in good condition on a regular basis. The standard this committee uses is the area around the School House." (FYI the School House is an historical reproduction, and is actually the community center of our neighborhood).

Every year, we weeded and trimmed. Evidently, not enough. This year, after "The Letter", we hired a landscape architect to redesign the the front yard. They removed two large, open trailer loads of debris after a crew spent two days trimming our trees, bushes and grounds. Hmmm. I guess we did let things get a bit out of hand. O.K. - so we were busy -- paint the house, install a new fence, weddings, funerals -- that sort of thing. And some back injuries and illnesses. But doesn't everyone.

So in another week, Landservices, Inc. (delightful and professional - highly recommend) will have completed our yard renovation. In the next couple of days I will find out if I'm the newest member of the CC&R Committee (or not). Among some of the things I hope to accomplish as a member of the committee: make a list of acceptable wild flowers for landscaping, and a list of those not acceptable (noxious spreading weeds), with pictures, to add to the currently somewhat vague guidelines. We tore out all our wildflowers, since we had no guidelines as to which were acceptable or not.

Property liens are very serious indeed. Community Associations across the country have foreclosed on homeowners who defied their guidelines on landscaping, and wildflowers have been a consistent point of dispute. Our property had the appearance of a natural forest setting, and every year people walking by complimented us on it. Our neighbors had not registered complaints, but the Committee let their voice be heard, and we have attempted to conform. Now our yard looks more like a manicured park than a forest. It is still an unusual landscape for our neighborhood, however it goes well with our house, which also has an unusual architecture.

We have reveled in the peace, quiet and security of this neighborhood for twenty-two years, and enjoyed the amenities of jogging paths, swimming pools and tennis courts. I wouldn't trade our location for absolute freedom to do whatever landscape I felt like doing, and if we ever move, we'll probably look for a similar community association.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Moonstruck!

I just finished reading books one through four in the Vatta's War series by Elizabeth Moon. More, please! Meanwhile, I'm looking up Moon's backlist as fast as I can.

Today I'm reading her SF novel on autism, "The Speed of Dark". On page 97, she uses dark as a metaphor for ignorance of people who think they know things but don't understand that they don't know. This is a delicious book that started slow and has crept up on me, slipping into that place in my heart where I keep all things precious and rare.

UPDATE on my whole food, organic, vegetarian diet. Last night was a welcome home party for my nephew, and I ate a hot dog and three brownies (my niece makes the world's best brownies). Well, two exceptions since July 2 isn't so bad, but I won't want to do that again! My body objected -- fiercely! I like the food I'm eating and have variety, and have lost nine pounds by now. Why stop a good thing? I'm still sleeping well, no IBS (except like last night when I eat processed food), and my fingernails are still growing. Today my doctor theorized that something in my previous diet was an antoginist for seratonin, preventing the supplements I was taking from working, but now the supplements can be effective because the whole organic foods don't interfere. He said it was just a working theory, but I believe it's a rational possibility.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Panda Joy!

The giant panda is said to be the rarest of all endangered animals. The birth of four baby pandas in one day has set a record at China's breeding center for pandas. I feel like throwing a party!

For an amazing picture of one of the newest baby pandas, click here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mental Landscapes

I've started reading "The New Feminine Brain" by Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D. It is subtitled "Developing Your Intuitive Genius". Somehow, planning for a physical move has stirred up a desire to make changes in the rooms of my mind. Time to take down the cobwebs, toss out useless and tattered thought patterns, and renovate the whole structure.

I also started reading "Woman An Intimate Geography", by Natalie Angier. So now I'm reading them in tandem. The first book is a scientific analysis of the female brain and how it works. The second book is a poetic, detailed description of the female body and how it functions.

Together, they make a symphony of appreciation for what it means to be a woman. It is healing for me to acknowledge the joy of being female. When I was a child, it seemed to me that boys had all the fun - I got a doll, and my brother got a set of airplanes and pilot wings. I decided I would rather be a boy. At the age of thirteen, I was traumatized when my body informed me, quite rudely I thought, that I was definitely a girl. To say I was in despair would not be an exaggeration.

I grew up in a family where girls were supposed to become teachers or nurses. And boys? Well they could be anything they wanted -- from firemen to doctors to engineers (as long as they didn't want to be girls). Although many of my peers overcame similar restrictive upbringings, and went on to become whatever they wanted to be, I did not. Eventually I met a man that I couldn't live without, and we had children. I enjoyed motherhood. Now that my children are adults, I'm enjoying having the time to study and pursue my interests, one of which is to discover and understand what it means to be a woman, to be me.

My mental landscape is getting a makeover. I don't know exactly what it will look like when I'm done, but I think I'll like it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Unexpected Results

I began a vegetarian diet on July 2nd, expecting to improve my health and energy and lose some weight. So far, I've lost five pounds and I do have better energy. It's the unanticipated results that have me truly excited though.

Three things have plagued me constantly since childhood: IBS, insomnia, and biting my fingernails. In the past six weeks, I have entirely stopped biting my fingernails without even thinking about it; I sleep soundly nine nights out of ten; my IBS has been in abeyance the past six weeks.

Who would suppose that any of those things, let alone all three, might be mitigated with an organic, whole food, vegetarian diet? Certainly not me. I'm amazed -- stupefied, really. Is it a coincidence of timing? Could all three disorders just disappear at the same time, after being lifelong burdens -- burdens that I hated and tried all kinds of medicine and remedies to eliminate?

I'm wondering what repairs my body is making that I haven't noticed? Six weeks ago I promised a report on how the organic, whole food vegetarian diet worked for me. I never thought it would do more than help with my weight and energy (if even that).

So here is the link again, for anyone who is curious about what it might do for them (and yes, it tastes good).

What Pandababy Eats

Planted and Uprooted

The ten bare-root root roses are planted, and we are in the process of being uprooted. After twenty-two years in this home, and nearly all our lives on the west coast, we're getting ready to move to Virginia next year.

The work on detailing the house, preparing it for the market, is already in progress. We'll be going from a single-family home to a condominium, from mild weather to humid summers and freezing winters, and from the casual west to the more formal east. I can't wait! Our family will all be in the same area again, and visits won't require a six-thousand mile round trip.

Like most people who are rooted in a home and a community for decades, we have inadvertently collected a mass of *stuff*. Now comes the weeding process: what to toss, what to give away and what to ship. Shipping costs being nearly the same or even higher than replacement value for many things, there will be plenty to give away.

This is an opportunity to reconfigure our nest, crowded with the memorabilia of our lives, into a more functional and aesthetically pleasing space.

The ski-boat takes up half the space in the garage, and is loaded with sunny memories, but it hasn't seen the water in a decade. Now, instead of slowly turning into a pile of fiberglass dust on the garage floor, which is what I anticipated, it will be sold. We'll still own the sunny memories, so it is a net gain.

Contractors have been selected to upgrade the electrical wiring and to reconfigure the landscaping in the front yard. The internet has become a fantastic tool for searching out a new home thousands of miles away. We've worked out a plan, and the plan is working.

Moving tears down cobwebs, literally and figuratively. Tomorrow: some of the changes that have surfaced in the landscape of my mind.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Roses

Portlandia, Eden, Iceberg, Bonica: these are the roses ordered today from Heirloom Roses.

Thank you Sonny and Lyndol for such a lovely way in which to remember my mother.

(I can't add images that are copyrights of Heirloom Roses, but as soon as I have blooms, I'll take my own pictures to post in my blog. Meanwhile, follow the links to see great pictures of these beauties.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Shiver me Timbers!

"Only With Your Love" doesn't seem like quite the right title for the best pirate story I've ever read. Lisa Kleypas wields her pen with the abandon of a pirate sword in this hearty tale of degenerate villains and renegade pirates (not an oxymoron - or what do you call a pirates who renege on being pirates?

OWYL doesn't fit with Kleypas' usual Regency romance, and I like those so well I read all that I could acquire first - nine e-books from Powells.com and six paperbacks through BookMooch. Maybe I inadvertently saved the best for last. (I have such a weakness for pirate stories.)

Two of my favorite characters from Lisa's novels are Lily Lawson, in "Then Came You", and Madeline in "Because You're Mine". On the surface, it would seem implausible that both of them could be my favorites, since they appear to be opposites: Lily is experienced and sophisticated, Madeline is the ultimate naive innocent. But they are both kind, intelligent, independent and in need of a worthy hero to love. Fortunately, Kleypas provides each of them with their own sexy, strong, intelligent and loving man.

There is more I should say about Kleypas' talents, which I enjoy so much, but I'm only on page 55 of "Only With Your Love", so look hardy mates, and raise the jib.

Avast there, we're away.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

PassWord Nut House

Surely no one else has managed to create such a password nut house as what has been growing in my file drawer for years. Two file folders, a notebook, scraps of paper, post-it notes, nothing in alphabetical order or even categorized.

Today I reached the limits of my insanity. I opened up the new MS Office OneNote 2007 that my husband gave me (he likes to see me organized -- it is such a rare view).

And I discovered it's so-ooo easy to put passwords behind an encrypted password -the only password I'll ever have to remember again. It is easy to put them in alphabetical order, within a table (yes, yes, I know - a table, but trust me, OneNote makes it easy). It is easy to add columns anywhere I want, easy to add rows above or below existing rows to keep the table alphabetized, and easy to print the table if I should want a hard copy. Oh my - if I'd known it could be so simple, I would have done this a long time ago.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mary Balogh - historical romance with heat

I enjoyed reading historical romance a few decades ago, but thought I was 'done' with that genre now. Wrong. Somehow - I don't even remember why, I stumbled across "A Summer To Remember" by Mary Balogh a few months ago. How did I miss reading her works previously? I've counted sixty-eight novels on her backlist and she's still writing. Happily, many of her earlier works are being reissued in both print and e-book format. My addiction to historical romance is rekindled. So far I have collected nine of her e-books from Powell's books online, plus four of her novels in print through BookMooch, and I have six of her books on hold at the library.

Mary Balogh's characters are people I'd like to meet (well - maybe not the villains), and I appreciate the exquisite settings she provides for their lives. Is there any more critical reader than someone who writes and studies the art and craft of creating a novel? I'm frequently jarred out of the story by less experienced writers, but not by Balogh. Her prose is smooth and lyrical and her plots develop with enough surprises to keep me interested. There is a sense of timing in her books that feels realistic without dragging the action. I love it that her characters have strong convictions, have honor and courage, but also have flaws and failings. Perhaps it is as much how her MCs deal with their failings, as their honor, that makes them sympathetic and fascinating.

There is heat in Balogh's stories, explicit, well written and well-balanced with the rest of the story. While her characters have physical attraction for each other, she develops their personal psychology and background, their other reasons for romance, and I can't say which I enjoy most - it adds up to a good reading experience. The chemistry between her MCs is believable and complex.

Coming in tomorrow's blog - another of my favorite romance writers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More Laughing

Two A.M. and I'm reading "An Offer From a Gentleman" by Julia Quinn, laughing out loud (again). The delightful Quinn has an intriguing knack of taking hum-drum, worn-out plot templates and turning them on their ear with an infusion of humor and her own unique brand of story-telling.

I know I promised more of my favorite romance writers for today's blog, but really -- I must get back to the story. Later, o.k.?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Laughing at Midnight

I'm currently reading "How to Marry a Marquis" by Julia Quinn - the second of her books that make me laugh out loud.

I didn't want to wake my husband so I also found myself giggling, snorting and nearly choking as I tried not to laugh loud and long at the pictures in my head. But I failed several times and ended up laughing out loud at the misadventures of Quinn's characters. This is actually the second of J.Q.'s books that made me laugh out loud, the other being "Brighter Than the Sun". The first book I read by the clever Quinn was "The Duke and I", which only made me giggle, although I had a silly grin pasted on my face for most of the book.

Romance can be funny - in real life it often is - albeit unexpectedly so, and the funniest stories are perhaps those which most closely resemble reality. I greatly admire Rosina Lippi for "Tied To the Tracks" for instance: literature that is not only romantic, but so humorous that in some catalogs it is listed under comedy rather than romance.

Romance writers must be an intrepid lot, with a stash of courage that exceeds that of scriveners who choose other genres. I think there are more traps for romance novelist than for, say, mystery writers. One thing that a romance must have is chemistry between the MCs, but how to accomplish that without over-writing the descriptions of their attraction to each other and their subsequent actions? Quinn does it with a light touch, as does Amanda Quick, another historical romance author whose prose has made me laugh out loud.

Even more difficult than funny romance, though, may be writing a heated romance that is also suspense, and managing to include a cause to laugh out loud - or at least induce good giggles - between the torrid scenes and the nail-biting action and suspense. S.L. Viehl, writing as Gena Hall in the Paradise series, (and later using the pseudonym Jessica Hall in the "Fire" duo and the "Blades" series), managed to startle some very surprised laughs out of me in the midst of her original, fascinating and hot romance-suspense works. I must compliment romance writers who can make me laugh because of their deft touch with the human comedy, and not, as happened this week with a writer I haven't named, because a scene is so overdone it becomes ridiculous.

And that is why I think romance writers are so very brave - it takes courage to address our deepest human hopes and fears - to be loved for ourselves and to not be ridiculed by someone else. It takes fierce determination, I would suppose, to write scene after scene with that exquisite sense of timing and honesty which makes the reader say to themselves "Yes, that is just how it is", and make them actually empathize with those emotions.

Tomorrow: the rest of my favorite romance writers, and why I like their novels.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Vegetarian - First Six Days Good

Six days of vegetarian eating have passed remarkably fast and easy. So far, so good - my average calories per day are down by 400 calories, without feeling hungry or having cravings. I'll be curious to see if I actually lose any pounds by day fourteen.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Bamboo Dreams

Dreaming of planting some tall bamboo next to the west fence, and some ground cover bamboo next to the north walk, and some thick bamboo next to the fence by the greenway for privacy.

The New York Times has reported the scientific breakthrough - growing bamboo in test tubes. The world will now have an adequate supply of bamboo; pandas and gardeners rejoice!

So why would bamboo be in short supply? A plant that flowers only once every sixty years, and is difficult to propagate from seed or by dividing existing plants, bamboo is in demand for producing fabric "as soft as silk", paper, food, flooring, furniture and other wood products. According to Times, bamboo absorbs four times the carbon dioxide as normal trees, and releases thirty-five percent more oxygen. Perhaps the day will come when enlightened cities plant bamboo by the roadside and downtown spaces, providing more breathable air in crowded, commercial centers.

Boo-Shoot Gardens in Mt. Vernon, Washington, has taken the lead in bamboo production. They stock forty-two varieties of bamboo: twenty-four of them from tissue culture.

Shirts of Bamboo
offers a variety of "soft, breathable, natural clothing for men, women, red pandas and babies".

Pandas International is a resource for panda pictures, opportunities to adopt a panda, and amazing panda facts.

Yes, bamboo is good for many things - it is especially good for pandas.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

R-Rated (not)

I was surprised to discover Kat Dancing sports an R-rating on her blog, so I was curious to see what vegetarian bear rates - see results below. Well then, pandas are cuddly but not terribly sexy, right.

Online Dating

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Eight Things I Don't (usually) Tell Other People

I normally throw any kind of "chain-thang" into the delete bin... but, just this once, for Jaye, who tagged me:

1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each participant posts eight random facts about themselves.
3. Tagees should write a blogpost of eight random facts about themselves.
4. At the end of the post, eight more bloggers are tagged (named and shamed).
5. Go to their blog, leave a comment telling them they're tagged (cut and run).

1. I was such a hyperactive toddler that my parents put a harness and leash on me when we went out in public.

2. I signed up to be trained as a nurse in the Navy when I was nineteen, but I was never inducted because my parents both refused to sign their permission, which was required for females (but not males) under twenty-one in those quaint olden days. The conflict in Viet Nam was just heating up then.

3. I roomed in a former firehouse and when I was late to work, I took the fire pole to the main floor.

4. My college music teacher locked the door after class started, and one morning I was late. I was so desperate to get in that I wrote "pretty please" with my lipstick on a piece of paper, and slid it under the door. The class was laughing so hard he couldn't teach anyway, so he let me in.

5. I love seeing kids learn new things - the excitement they have when they master a new skill, and so I have given lessons in accordion, organ, and piano, and swimming, and have coached kids soccer and coached kids for speech tournaments. I count my greatest success as the Christmas program where I assisted the choir director, when several parents came up to me and said with delight, "We could actually understand the words in the carols this year!". I didn't tell them I cheated. I had promised the kids that they could earn a candy for each verse that they could recite accurately to me, and it became a competition with them, to see who could earn the most candy!

6. The first Thanksgiving dinner that I cooked, I didn't realize the frozen giblets had to come out of the turkey, and several hours later, one of my guests discovered why the bird wouldn't cook right (but the wine was good, so maybe everyone had a good time anyway.)

7. The flower that melts my heart is a pink miniature rose.

8. My favorite holiday is the Fourth of July. Happy Fourth, y'all!

Now this is the really hard part -- who to tag?

Cat over at Kat Dancing

Heather has just been tagged with something else, so she's safe, and I can't think of anyone else right now, so just add yourself in comments if you want to play.