Monday, October 29, 2012

Book review: Cloud Atlas

It occurred to me recently that I almost never recommend books on this blog, even though I'm an avid reader and typically finish a new book about once a week. I have lots of old favorites that I reread regularly, but it's rare that I find a new book or author that really appeals to me. Last week I purchased a copy of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and it turned out to be one of the best fiction novels I've read in a long, long time. This book is brilliant!

The setup of the novel is clever, although a bit confusing at first. There are bits and pieces of stories set up like a puzzle that must be solved to make sense of everything. There are characters from different times and places that are all interconnected despite their profoundly different lives (a young man aboard a 19th century whaling ship in the south Pacific, a college aged journalist investigating a corporate cover up from the 1970's, a genetically engineered worker female clone from sometime in the future, a post-apocalyptic man in the distant future living a primitive sort of life in the mountains of Hawaii, and others) they are all connected and are basically the same soul, connected through time and space. Each story is told in it's own character's unique voice, and the way the whole thing ties together by the end is nothing short of amazing. Some of the passages are simply beautiful and insightful, and the story is an incredible journey back and forth through time.

This is not a quick read (or it shouldn't be) and must be read carefully to understand what is happening. In fact, I was fairly confused until the middle, when the stories recommenced in reverse order and all of the peices fell into place. David Mitchell is a genius, and goes right to the top of list of new favorite authors. Four stars!!!

The movie version of Cloud Atlas was just released here in the US, starring Tom Hanks. I've heard that the movie is excellent, but as always, I would recommend reading the book first. Here is a passage I love that seems to sum up the book quite well, with it's theme of rebirth and reincarnation:

"...I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o' that kayak. Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an' tho' a cloud's shape nor hue nor size don't stay the same, it's still a cloud an' so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud's blowed from or who the soul'll be 'morrow? Only Sonmi the east an' the west an' the compass an' the atlas, yay, only the atlas o'clouds."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

October marches on

It's already almost the end of October, and I can't believe how quickly this month has come and gone! Between a long, nasty cold I was fighting for two weeks and extra projects at work, the past few weeks have gone by at light speed. I haven't done a single thing to get ready for Halloween this year, and it makes me a little bit sad. Last year I had the front door decorated with strings of lights, furry spiders and spiderwebs, and hanging plastic skeletons. There were also four really awesome carved pumpkins, after Meg and I got together for a little pumpkin carving party. Check out our handiwork:

Meg and I also made a witch hat for me to wear to work on Halloween. We made a big mess, and got glue in places it's best to not speak of (ahem) but the hat turned out nice. We added a bit of purple veil and a fringe of tiny dangling spiders and purple beads to a plain black hat purchased at the dollar store.

This year I just haven't had the time or the energy to do fun craftsy things. I am also scheduled to work from 4pm-midnight on the 31st, to do a Christmas set. There will be no handing out candy for me this year, except at work. Our store is signed up to be one of the retailers handing out treats at the mall. I didn't know that this phenomenon of "mall" trick or treating even existed until I got this job, and frankly it disgusts me. So many wonderful traditions in our country have been hijacked by the great mindless consumer culture, and are being turned into a chance for corporations to make more money. It's kind of pathetic. People dress up their kids (mostly in costumes purchased at Walmart) and bring them to the mall so they can drink Starbucks' overpriced, over roasted coffee, talk on their cell phones (with only one eye on the kiddos!) and shop while their children trick or treat. Don't even get me started on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Lots of families now have a "tradition" of gearing up and joining the mad rush of people hitting the stores in the wee hours to shop shop shop. You see these families at around 8 or 9am and they're exhausted (yet still jacked up on the $8 lattes from Starbucks they've been drinking for hours) with wild eyes and short tempers. Black Friday is a horror, if you work in retail. And the worst part is seeing how many people now consider the mall the place to have meaningful time with their loved ones. It's sad, really. I hope that by next year I will have a new (non retail) job, and I can totally avoid the whole repellent scene during the holiday season!

  But what was I saying? Oh no handing out Halloween candy at home for me this year. GB isn't interested in doing it if I'm not going to be here, since we only get a few  kids anyway. Without my usual decorations to let them know we're into it, I doubt any will show up. And the last thing we need around the house is lots of leftover candy! Although we're kind of skipping the Halloween decorating and events this year, I've been doing a few small  things to acknowledge the change of seasons. I got some new kitchen towels with a falling leaves design for our kitchen. I put out our pear and pumpkin shaped candle holders in the den. I've been cooking heartier meals lately that make the house smell good, like chili and soup and pies. Our tiny family takes a long walk almost every day, and we love checking out the seasonal decorations our neighbors put up. It's kind of nice to just quietly observe and take things easy sometimes.

Monday, October 22, 2012


This past weekend, the annual Orionid meteor shower reached it's peak. On Friday night I was out late walking with my husband and dog, and I saw the most amazing shooting star. It was larger than average, and moved slowly, like a bottle rocket flame floating to earth after the firework has popped.

The Orionids are an annual event that occur every late October. They are named after the constellation where they seem to originate, Orion. The late autumn skies are generally clear and cold, and if the moon is in a dark phase you can end up with perfect stargazing conditions. Here in the southern part of the USA, October nights tend to be chilly but not freezing cold. With a mug of some sort of warm beverage, and a light jacket, you can sit outside at night in comfort.

 Last night I hoped to see a few more meteors, so I went out around midnight and got in the hammock to watch. (Hammocks are perfect for stargazing. Lying in a hammock helps one avoid the strain in the neck you get from looking up while sitting or standing.) It was a gorgeous night, but I did not see a single shooting star. The peak in activity is usually nearer to dawn, and I only stayed out for 30 minutes, so I didn't have high expectations. It was a beautiful night, and the sky was clear and full of stars, so I counted it as time well spent even without seeing any meteors.

Click here for a picture of a beautifully colored Orionid:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hello Monday!

Hello Monday. Nice to see you. It's a brand new week everyone!

Yes, dear readers, I am happy to see a Monday morning arrive. After the craptastic week I just finished, a shiny brand new week seems like a tiny reason to celebrate. I sure hope it's a better one.

My job is ridiculous. I won't bore anyone with the same old complaints, since anyone that has been reading this blog with any regularity knows I hate it. Last week was just especially stressful. I coped with the stress by spending most of the week having an internal pity party for myself. It wasn't pretty, but there you go. I also spent an inordinate amount of my (non work) time lying in bed, doing nothing. Then GB caught a nasty cold/flu thing , and he was lying in bed a lot too. After a few days of us both staying in bed our house began to revert to it's natural wild state and was (to put it mildly) a disgusting pigsty. I made some efforts this weekend to clean up the worst messes, but there is a lot left to do. To cap off the week, yesterday I started to feel sick. A tickle started in my throat that turned into an uncomfortable cough last night. So far today I feel a little bit better, but I'm being cautious. GB's bug took a few days to settle in and really get down to business. I sure hope this week doesn't turn into a sick week for me. It remains to be seen, but I'm eating lots of fruit and taking vitamins and drinking lots of water. I hope I can stave off this sickness before it really takes hold.

Happy Monday everyone!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

It figures

I had an entire week off work after my Mid Autumn Moon party, and I feel like I wasted the whole thing. The weather was grey, it rained a little bit every day, and I couldn't seem to do much at all but sleep. I slept late every day, then took naps, then sat around during the times in between. I just couldn't seem to muster up any energy, and I felt kind of down, too. I feel certain that the gloomy weather contributed to my lethargy. The sun didn't peek out even once the entire week. It was damp and too warm outside. The whole week ended up being a big letdown for me.

Tonight I go back to work, and guess what? It's gloriously sunny outside. Not a cloud in the (brilliantly blue) sky. It's cool outside again. Overall, it's a picture perfect fall day.

And I'll be spending the whole afternoon and evening at work. Inside. At my job that I hate.

And I'm completely out of paid time off until the end of January. Not that it matters really, because with the holidays coming up no one will be allowed long weekends or weeks off until late January anyway. That's just the way it is in the world of retail. I had high hopes for enjoying my last bit of time off this year, but instead I just felt sluggish, bored, depressed, and tired. If the weather had been nicer, I think it would have been a better week for me. I sure wish some of this nice weather had happened a couple of days ago!

Three words can sum up how I feel today: just my luck!!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The cutest guest

This year, one of my friends brought a very special guest a our Mid Autumn Moon celebration. Everyone adored the new addition, with one notable exception. Ginger the dog was less than impressed.

Meet Gus:

Isn't he the cutest little guy ever? Gus is 6 weeks old and was adopted by my friend the day before our party. She brought him along to meet everyone, Ginger included. We're hoping Ginger and Gus will eventually become good friends and playmates.

Right now, Ginger mostly finds the little guy annoying. She also isn't crazy about me petting Gus or showing him any attention. I am hers, and she wants him to know it! She ended up getting way too many treats (party food) from all of our friends to distract her from the little bastard show-stealing pup. Come to think of it, maybe that was her plan all along!

All in all, we had a good time at the party. A few guests canceled at the last minute, but the people that mattered were there. We had awesome food, awesome lights and decorations, a puppy to play with, and lots of gossiping and drinking outside under the full moon. Actually, we only got one glimpse of the moon, around midnight. It had been cloudy and threatening rain all day, so I was satisfied that it at least stayed dry for our party. When we finally did get our one glimpse of the moon, I snapped a picture:

Happy Mid Autumn everyone!


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Party lights

This year, for our Mid Autumn Moon celebration, my friend Marla and I got crafty. I spent lots of time on the Internet looking for cheap ideas for party lights. The very best one I found was for homemade paper mache string lights. This idea comes from a lady named Reese Dixon and her wonderful website, found here . You should all go check this woman out. She is an amazing blogger, crafter, and mother and she has the most wonderful ideas! Besides the string lights, look for the Dr Who family costumes she created....her small son, who uses a wheelchair, had the best costume ever. Any Dr Who fans reading should go see it pronto! And the rest of the website, too. Seriously good stuff!

Getting back to the string lights, they involve small balloons covered in paper mache which are later deflated, leaving behind a small globe that can be attached to regular strings of lights. Let me tell you...this was a learning experience. It took three tries to get the method down pat for making the globes. Our first attempt was a disaster. The second was a bit better, and we actually got a few globes we could use. Our third time was the charm. Good thing we started early!!! We ended up needing  30 globes in all since the LED string lights we used was long. I think they turned out great, though! What do you think?

Marla and I are crafting superstarz!
Sparkly! Shiny!

Besides the globe party lights, I strung lots of plain strings of white lights around our clothes line out back. We also had lanterns, candles, and tiki torches. Here are some more pictures of party lighting.

Silver dangly stars.

Mason jar lanterns.

Floating candles in the birdbath.

Tomorrow: third (and last) party post!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Let's start with FOOD!

This past Saturday night, for the second year in a row, I hosted a Mid Autumn Moon celebration for my best girlfriends. We had a lot of fun, and one of the best parts of this year's party was the awesome food everyone contributed! So to kick off a couple of posts describing the party, I thought I'd start with photos of the fabulous food we had!

Assembling cheeses, nuts, crackers.

Autumn fruit platter.

Bean dip work of art

Homemade spring rolls made by one friend's Laotian mother in law.
Thanks Mrs. P!!!

Pumpkin chocolate chip cake.

Pretty outdoor table loaded with goodies.
Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria and
homemade muscandine wine.

A toast to our one "sister" who couldn't make it.
Hi Meg! Missed you!!
Tomorrow: decorations!