Saturday, December 13, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-13-14

1) Messiah singalongs. Yes, that's plural for a reason. Last night I sang at the Garfield High School Orchestra's, tomorrow night I'll be at the Music Center of the Northwest's, and on December 26 I'm going to the one at University Unitarian Church. Why isn't one enough? The music is just too glorious, and each event has its own personality. With the Garfield one you get a really amazing, well-rehearsed orchestra (they're better than my high school concert band by far, and we weren't half bad), a beautiful setting, and the chance to sing the Hallelujah Chorus twice.  Music Center of the Northwest is more intimate and casual, and they include more of the solos (without actual soloists, so, for example, ALL of us altos get to sing "Oh, Thou That Tellest Glad Tidings to Zion"). This will be my first time at the Unitarian one, but apparently there you sing the whole thing, not just the choruses or the Christmassy bits.

Anyway, if you love to sing choral music but don't get a chance to do it often enough, see if your community has a Messiah singalong.

2) Martha Washington candy. I finally found a recipe for the version my mom used to make, without coconut, and I'm going to attempt it this weekend.

3) Wrapping paper with gridlines on the back. I know it's been around awhile, but it's the best thing since sliced bread, especially if you're me and are kinda meh on hand-eye coordination and visual-spatial relations. I do fine with driving and such, and I'm not visibly clumsy, but cutting paper in a straight line without some kind of marker to guide me is not among my talents.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 127-129

127) Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton

A quick, fun read that debunks almost everything you've ever read on Facebook about the origins of words and phrases. E.g. "Ring Around the Rosie" is not based on folk memory of the bubonic plague, a word which I will politely leave untyped (on Twitter I'm wont to use "rhymes with yuck!" when things go poorly for my chosen sportsball teams) is not an acronym of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, etc. Little of it was new to me, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

128) Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

The first book in Kowal's Glamourist Histories fantasy series is very much a Austen pastiche--down to using old-fashioned spellings like "chuse" for "choose" and "shewed" for "showed." The characters and situations feel very similar, too. The heroine's parents are very Bennet-like, the villain reminds me of both Willoughby and Wickham, etc. I found myself wishing it was less Austenian in spots, since the voice made the occasional small anachronisms stand out more. That said, I enjoyed this book and plan to continue with the series.

129) Bruno and the Carol Singers by Martin Walker

A Christmas short story in the Bruno Courreges mystery series set in the French countryside. As a story it's quick, slight, and straightforward, but it was a pleasant visit with the characters and setting (these things are straight-up food and rural French living porn--reading them made me add the Dordogne to the itinerary for our Europe trip next summer). It also reminded me to search for any new full-length entries since I last read the series. There are two, and I'll be reading them soon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-5-14

Another challenging week for this topic, not so much because I've been unhappy (I haven't especially) but because I've been so BUSY. The day job has been crazy, so I've been either busy or tired. Still, in keeping with my new discipline of finding things to be happy about...

1) Obscure Christmas carols and songs. I get a little tired of the usual standards (though it's nigh impossible to ruin "Joy to the World" or "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"), so my playlist runs to songs like these:

2) I've just started reading Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey, and so far I'm loving it.

And that's all for now. I'll be back next week with another dose of happiness, big or small.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 124-126

124) Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream adapted by Richard Appignanesi and illustrated by Kate Brown

This one didn't work quite so well for me as the manga Much Ado About Nothing because the adaptation choice seemed to fight with the glorious language rather than enhance it--a sort of classical yet futuristic version of Athens that just didn't quite work for me. Still, Shakespeare.

125) All the Truth is Out by Matt Bai

I was a teen when the Gary Hart scandal broke in 1987, too young to vote still but more than old enough to pay attention. The scandal horrified me to the depths of my young Baptist soul--I didn't have any idea then just how commonplace adultery was among the powerful throughout history.

Now...what would appall me as a wife I can tolerate as a voter. Hart was certainly no worse morally than earlier politicians whose affairs were ignored by the press (Kennedy, etc.), or than later ones who survived scandal and were forgiven by enough voters to win elections (Clinton, etc.). He was just caught at the exact point in history WRT journalism, mass media, and celebrity culture to be destroyed by it, and we probably lost a capable president in the process. At the very least, the last quarter century or so would look very different if Hart rather than Bush Sr. had been elected in '88.

Bai also makes a case that we've lost something in how the Hart scandal led to much more packaged and trained candidates--it makes it easier for shallower, less competent men and women to win high office, because anyone can learn the right sound bites, and it's probably easier for someone who isn't that intelligent, thoughtful, or insightful to stay "on message" and consistent.

126) Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

The final book in a trilogy and therefore interesting to fans of the series but utterly obscure to anyone else. I enjoyed this outing for a glimpse into the kind of mature avatar Aang became and some more hints at the roots of the technological and political changes that led to Korra's world decades later.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 121-123

Ah, the joys of a long holiday weekend with plenty of time to read!

121) A Countess Below Stairs (aka The Secret Countess) by Eva Ibbotson

A fairytale of a historical romance originally published in 1981. By fairytale I mean that the good people are too good to be true while the villains are cartoonishly evil, but the writing is so elegant I was able to accept the story on its own terms and enjoy it thoroughly. If you enjoy stories set in Britain during the interwar period (this one is in 1919-20, so immediately after WWI), give this one a try.

122) Manga Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing adapted by Richard Appignanesi and illustrated by Emma Vieceli

A fun adaptation of my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. The graphic novel format works well with the sheer exuberant absurdity of the story and with Beatrice and Benedick's banter.

123) Eight Tiny Flames by Crista McHugh

Yesterday afternoon I chose to read the Hannukah novella from this holiday historical anthology. Set in 1944 with a nurse heroine and a doctor hero sharing the celebration of Hannukah just a few miles from the front lines in WWII Belgium, it's a well-executed, romantic take on an unusual setting.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 11-28-14

I can already see that making this a blog feature is going to be good for me. Because even when there's a lot of bleakness in the world (including the very literal kind where we've just entered the dreariest two months of the year in Seattle, where it's still dark when I come into work and dark already when I leave, and the few hours of daylight are often grimly gray), it forces me to look around and find something positive to share with you all! So here are some things that have made me happy this week:

1) I learned while reading a book on life in Elizabethan England that Sir Francis Drake's ship The Golden Hind, the one that circumnavigated the globe, was a major London tourist attraction in the decades that followed...AND you could rent it out for banquets! As someone who's done a bit of event planning in my day, that just charms me somehow. Imagine being an Elizabethan bride and holding your wedding banquet on that ship!

(This is a replica of The Golden Hind. The original rotted after about a century per Wikipedia.)

2) This fanfic where Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy visits Sleepy Hollow and is confronted in a bar by Abbie Mills. It's good goofy fun that IMHO completely nails the character voices.

3) Cinnamon toast. It's the perfect bedtime snack for cold, blustery nights. Miss Fraser likes to make it with me now, which gives me a certain Circle of Life feeling, since it's the very first thing I ever learned to make in the kitchen as a child.

4) I'm always looking for new ideas for quick, convenient, and reasonably healthy recipes for weeknight dinners, what with the whole having a full-time day job and being an author thing. This week I added two more to my repertoire, Kid-Tastic Pizzadillas and Sausage Ragu over Creamy Polenta.

5) No matter what happens in the Iron Bowl tomorrow--and given the way Auburn has collapsed down the stretch, I'm not optimistic--I will for the rest of my days rejoice that I live in a universe where this happened:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 118-120

118) The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives by Sasha Abramsky

The second book I've read this month about growing poverty and income inequality in America, over the course of my entire 40-something year lifetime and especially in the wake of the Great Recession, and it draws much the same conclusions as Bob Herbert's Losing Our Way. Basically, it's not that we lack the resources as a nation to combat poverty, decaying infrastructure, persistent unemployment and the like--we lack the political will, empathy, compassion, and general sense that we're all in it together as a nation. And I wish I felt optimism that we could regain all those fine qualities, but I don't.

119) The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

A fun look at what everyday life was like in Elizabethan England, more broad than deep in its scope.

120) Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

An engaging, unusual fantasy novel that I recommend highly, with the caveat that this is a book that engrossed my head rather than my heart. I found myself thinking, "This is fantasy, but it feels like science fiction." When I asked myself what I meant by that (yeah, I know that sounds weird), I realized that I think of science fiction as technologically driven, while fantasy is more about sociology and/or spirituality. Which also explains why I think of the Vorkosigan Saga as being science fiction that reads like fantasy--sure, it's 1000 years into the future and humanity has colonized a bunch of planets linked by a "wormhole nexus," but the books are about people, their cultures, and where they find meaning. Whereas this book is gods and magic--as a technology. It's very well-done with intricate world-building and plotting. As such I expect to read more, but since I was reading with the head and not the heart, I doubt I'll ever turn into the kind of one-woman street team for these books that I am for the Vorkosigan series.