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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Viva Cisco

Viva Cisco by Patrick Shannon

Viva Cisco is really three books in one. But all three follow the adventures of Cisco the parrot and his friends in the Central American land of Topopootl.

The stories are fable-like. The animals talk, and no humans are allowed, a phenomenon which is explained in the adventurous journey of the third book. However, the stories focus more on fun and exciting happenings than on teaching lessons.

Cisco is a bit grating in the beginning--wanting nothing more to be famous and attempting to copy all his friends' achievements in order to gain status. This is an understandable desire (even among humans!), but it doesn't make Cisco likeable. However, by the third story, he seems to have gotten comfortable in his own skin, and I found myself really rooting for him in the end.

Shannon's descriptions of the land and the animals are very good, but I couldn't help but think the books--the first two shorter ones especially--would have been better presented as picture books. The target audience is definitely children, maybe ages 6-10, and I imagine they would have great fun finding details in pictures that Shannon uses words to describe.

Perhaps a spin-off is next for Cisco?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Old World Daughter, New World Mother

Old World Daughter, New World Mother by Maria Laurino

What is feminism? What should women be willing to sacrifice when they become mothers? Is there a problem with balancing the inherent interdependence of the family with the stereotypical American independent spirit?

These are just a few of the questions Maria Laurino looks at through the lens of an Italian-American daughter and, now, mother. Laurino tells a somewhat chronological story of growing up as the grandchild of Italian immigrants and how the mindset of her family impacted her interest in feminism in the 1970s and 1980s and how it shaped her as a journalist.

However, once she began contemplating motherhood, she also began to question the pure autonomy and independence that earlier feminism embraced and whether that is realistic or even needed today. Writing in a fairly academic style with a few humorous anecdotes, Laurino explores some ways feminism could make a greater impact by uniting--rather than polarizing--contemporary women and mothers.

This book is thoughtful, and it requires you to do some deep thinking and questioning while reading it. Laurino's insights will certainly challenge women on both ends of the political spectrum, but I also think women from different camps can find value there.

Having postponed becoming a mother myself, I found her questions and concerns refreshing and validating, and I look forward to seeing if she inspires further action as a result of this book.

Favorite quotes...

The idea that my maternal and paternal grandfathers...pressed grapes in their New Jersey basement or backyard only confirmed my belief that I was some kind of Italian-American Beverly Hillbilly, plunked down in the middle-class section of the affluent suburb.

My dad headed to work in a suit and tie to put food on the table. Even as a young girl I knew that his job commanded a respect far greater than housecleaning and child rearing.

To be a mother inherently means to sacrifice a piece of oneself for another; this is not an option that a woman can turn off and on depending on her mood or liking.

All of the young women I met possessed the extraordinary idealism that goes hand in hand with college years. Many held onto the notion that life could be divided into phases, with one's identity easily merging into different roles without tension, doubt or regret.

I found myself at a point that I think all journalists reach at least once in their career, whether having had a story killed for political reasons; being passed over for someone with more style and less substance; witnessing the rise of a reporter who makes up wholesale fictions with a con man's confident swagger; watching a politician's promises disappear at the whiff of an approaching reelection; learning that ad revenue sings louder than copy; fearing the exploitation of the vulnerable under the guise of telling their story; or simply growing bored with a news article's formulaic approach that must ignore life's myriad textures.

In my new world, strength through sacrifice was not a virtue applauded but a response considered weak and stereotypically female...From the point of view of a daughter whose mother stepped back, allowing me to step forward, I had no use for this servile female role.

Inherent in any act of sacrifice is both beauty and destruction--the surrender of self to aid another--but I could see only loss in the equation...It wasn't until I became a mother that I better recognized how sacrifice, and its essential component compassion, are integral parts of life because no one is ever fully independent.

The feminist movement's historical and pivotal achievement was to create an antithesis to women's traditional subservience: autonomy against caregiving. But we still haven't found a sustainable synthesis of the two.

If contemporary feminism helped contribute to the quandary in which we're currently stuck--rationally addressing the problem of economic equality by devaluing the act of care and asking women to perform in the workforce just like men--it will be feminism that lifts us out of these muddy waters. Women must bring new ideas to the public arena with a loud, clear, unified voice.

Republicans profess family values but have offered empty rhetoric.

Her mother would be happiest if her daughter never left the house, a sentiment I well understand because my mom's motto could be American Express's "Don't Leave Home Without It" minus the "Without It."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Robert Tuchman Answers Questions

I was excited to be able to interview Robert Tuchman, author of The 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live. Thanks for chatting with me, Mr. Tuchman!

Can you talk a bit about your decision process when thinking of which events to include? Some events are more obvious, while others are more obscure. How did you research these?
Events like the Superbowl and the Masters are considered no brainers as far as sporting events, but events such as the Little 500 at Indiana University and the Nathans Hot Dog Eating Contest are extremely fun and entertaining and are most definitely worth being experienced. I researched these events by attending them and speaking to peers of mine who I know have a passion for sports much like my own. I really tried to spend as much time listening to many different types of sports fans.

Similarly, how did you then decide how to rank them? I have to confess--I was a bit surprised to see The Masters at #1!
Well I bet you have not been to the Masters? {Guilty!} I myself am not a golf fan at all but this event is special and somewhat magical. You really have to just experience it. The history and the atmosphere is like no other, but I certainly understand what you are saying. A few people have said to me, “how can you put this event over that event?” The simple answer is, it’s my book, write your own if you want Australian Rules Football to be number one. :)

Did you get recommendations and/or opinions from people when you told them about this project as to what should be included? Any funny recommendations?
Everyone seemed to have an opinion from personal experiences and that made me positive I had hit a chord with this book because people get very passionate about their favorite sports. As far as funny recommendations, all I’ll say is that I don’t think beer pong tournaments count. The most fun I had was telling people I was writing this book and then just listening to the comments. My friends in the southeast would only talk about SEC football, my friends in Europe Premier League Soccer, my friends in Jersey (new york Yankees).

Being more familiar with American sports, I was interested to see a significant international component. Did you want to include a certain number of international events, or were you just choosing whichever you thought best, and those happened to be included?
I really tried to choose whatever I thought was best but I think there is an American bend in my top ten list. Other then that I think the book is pretty well represented with events all over the world.

You talked some in the introduction about the idea for the book and your sports travel industry background, but can you tell us more about what inspired you to write this and about your background in sports in general?
My background in sports started as an avid fan, lead to a degree in sports journalism and full circle to an avid fan, who happens to sell tickets to sporting events. I realized that, like myself, people want to experience these events the right way and I decided I was going to help them do just that.

Are you concerned about the travel or dining information becoming outdated quickly, or do you think the book can still have a long life as a general sports guide?
It could be an issue, but yes I think my book will continue to be relevant for the immediate future; or until volume 2 comes out. I kept this in mind when writing it so I listed events over the next three years.

As a hard-core Alabama fan, I agree that Tuscaloosa is the place to watch the Iron Bowl. But I have to ask how you arrived at that decision!
Roll tide baby!

Are you working on any other projects right now? Ranking any other must-see events?
100 Greatest Sports Rivalries

You can find more information about Robert Tuchman and his company at

Friday, November 20, 2009

Christmas...a little early

I'm usually pretty strict about sticking to the no-Christmas-stuff-before-Thanksgiving-is-over rule (no music, decorations, etc.), but I bent the rules just a bit this year to make the Christmas party invitations for where I work.

I'm still new at the creativity business, so it's been fun learning how to put things like this together...

Life has been quite busy as of late...but busy with nothing terribly interesting. I will try to come up with something more fascinating by next week. ;)

The 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live

The 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live by Robert Tuchman

Robert Tuchman runs a company that specializes in sports event travel. Who better than to compile a list of the top 100 events to see live?

What a daunting task! Of course, he admits, there will be omissions, and people will wonder why a particular event did or didn't make the list and why it was ranked as it did.

Yes, Tuchman not only culled 100 must-see events, but he also ranked them.

OK, I know you're all dying to know: #1--The Masters.

Already I have a disagreement!

I would have put the Iron Bowl at #1, which Tuchman only ranks as #41. But at least he suggests seeing it in Tuscaloosa.

Check back in with me Monday, and I'll have an interview(!) with Tuchman about the book and his process.

Meanwhile, if you're a sports fan, this is a must-read.

Traveling to a sporting event makes the intangible tangible. People long for an interactive experience.

And Tuchman describes that whole experience in the book, listing quotes about the events, their significance, history, and, of course, travel and tourist suggestions for the cities themselves.

The list is about the entire experience and not just the sporting event itself.

What else is on the list? No-brainers such as the Super Bowl, World Series and Final Four. But you'll also find non-mainstream entertainment like Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, the Westminster Dog Show and the X Games (although that was an honorable mention) and plenty of international options as well.

Again...sports fans? Read it. You'll love scouring it to find if your favorite event is included and, if so, what is said about it. And don't forget--the interview is coming Monday.

Cowboy Revelations

Cowboy Revelations by Kelly Palmer

Cowboy Revelations is a collection of brief chapters devoted to what Kelly Palmer thinks about issues ranging from salvation to evolution to raising children. His writing is forthright and clear, leaving no doubt about where he stands on these issues. He is often unapologetically harsh, but there is, too, a dose of humility that enables you to keep reading even when you disagree.

I suspect that my religious background is similar to Palmer's current one, so I felt as if I understood a bit more of where he's coming from in the book and even could empathize with his frustrations. He asks important questions--difficult ones--but his answers and conclusions, judging from my experience, could use some work.

One of the things I had to address when I really took Christianity for myself and didn't just accept what I'd always been taught was the idea of a hermeneutic--basically, the way you interpret the Bible. The bigger picture, if you will, of what you take away from what you read. Questions such as "Which parts are instructional, and which are more informational?" and "Which parts are literal, and which are more figurative?" Palmer does not seem to have a consistent hermeneutic, especially when it comes to the Old Testament, citing various verses as instructional, but I would suspect he does not look at the entire Old Testament as an instruction manual, or he would have a somewhat strange diet and participate in stonings. I don't have this all figured out either, but I have to say it helps to be aware of how you're interpreting the Bible when you read it.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Palmer accepts the whole Bible as of equal worth and non-contradictory. It troubled me when he cited two verses as contradictory--one from the Gospels and one from Paul's Epistles. He reconciled the issue by saying "Jesus trumps Paul." I am of the opinion that the Bible does not contradict itself, even though some verses, taken out of context, can appear to do just that. However, if you approach it with the presupposition (big word I know thanks to an awesome Basic Christian Doctrine class I took a few semesters back) that God basically wrote the Bible (via various authors) and does not contradict Himself, you can hopefully interpret these confusing passages more correctly--instead of just using scripture to back up your own opinion on the issue.

My final pet peeve was the connection of Christianity to the Republican party. It's over-simplifying many complex issues to ask "If you're a Christian, does it show in who you voted for?" Jesus was not a Republican or a Democrat and, truthfully, didn't seem to care much about politics at all. I could really get on my soapbox about this one, but I'll stop there because that's not the purpose of this review.

Speaking of that...Normally, I try not to address the content of the books I review as much as the style--especially when it comes to non-fiction and especially when it comes to non-fiction that I'm not in agreement with. However, as I said, I felt as if I had more of a personal stake in this one somehow. My ultimate conclusion is that Kelly Palmer could use a blog.

Cowboy Revelations is more of a proclamation of his opinion. Fine. However, if he really wanted to persuade others to listen or accept his viewpoints and if he wanted to learn to really support (or {gasp} possibly adjust) some of his own beliefs, a dialogue with others would be amazingly helpful. It might also help him realize that, as Christians, our enemy is Satan and Satan alone--not those in the world who do not agree with your religious or political beliefs.

To learn more about Palmer or the book, visit Cowboy Revelations.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Painting the Invisible Man

Painting the Invisible Man by Rita Schiano

Anna Matteo is a writer who is struggling to find her voice and "write for her," as her muse Amy Tan appears to keep telling her. But Anna has a hard time writing for herself because she lacks closure over her father's murder and is fighting writer's block.

Her father was a Rhode Island mob guy who loved Anna but kept her at a distance, leaving her to struggle to define her role in life. Painting the Invisible Man is the story of how Anna learns to "write for her" and learns more about who she is in the process.

I love books that talk about writing and reading, and this one delves into the writing process and how a writer deals with writer's block. Even a library and librarian factor into the plot! Not to mention a fair amount of coffee. This book and I became fast friends.

Painting the Invisible Man is part Godfather, part Kitchen God's Wife. But it's all authentically Anna and absolutely excellent.

Favorite quotes...

Ah, cellular technology! If I were the ad agency for Verizon's competitor, I'd spoof their "Can you hear me now?" commercial with a guy on the other end screaming, "No! Dammit! I can't! Try moving a few steps!"

Had I been born a boy, a son of Paulie Matteo, I have no doubt that I would have charted a far different course. There was no place for a girl in my father's world other than that of mother, wife, daughter, comare.

Never calculate the number of juvenile poultry until the process of incubation has been completed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dreaming Differences

Last night, I dreamed that my boss assigned all of us at the library research papers. My topic was “Heaven and the Problem of Hell.” My assigned sources? The complete Nancy Drew collection.

It was one of those dreams that was so realistic (in a way) that I was completely stressed out about it when I woke up! It took me a good half hour to realize that I did not, in fact, have to write a research paper about heaven and hell using only Nancy Drew as a guide. This may be due in part to the fact that Fred woke me up at 5:30 this morning. Easy for him since he can go back to sleep when we leave at 7:30.

Also, the dream itself is not terribly hard to figure out as we have been working on a few projects at work lately, and sometimes two of my library pals and I write Nancy Drew novellas (e-mailing various parts around to each other) on slow afternoons.

And I dream about work almost every single night. Usually, it is just a typical day with something wonky thrown in (like Nancy Drew or taking a shower behind my desk or all-green walls in the library). Otherwise, just your average work day. A little tiring to go to work in your sleep but not too hard to interpret.

The funny thing is that Jason and I have completely different types of dreams. He dreams about work, but always about jobs he has held in the past. Never current. When he was working in radio (and not in school full-time), he dreamt about being in class. Never up-to-the-life-moment kinds of dreams.

Our personality types are almost exact opposites, so that might be the explanation.

Any dream interpreters out there?

Now if we could just figure out what this little guy dreams about when he sleeps...

Those paws sure do move fast when he is deep in a dream!

Monday, November 09, 2009

One Fine Season

One Fine Season by Michael Sheehan

Danny and Pete are the best of friends, sharing a love of baseball and the promise of a professional career in the sport. They also share a love for Haven, Pete's fiancee, and the three friends are inseparable. But when Pete and Haven are killed in a drunk driving accident right after college and only months before their wedding, Danny's world falls apart.

He remembers his pact with Pete, though, and presses on in pursuing a professional baseball career. While playing, Danny and others soon realize that he has some seemingly supernatural strength on his side, throwing 100+mph fastballs that no one can hit. He is quickly bumped up to the majors, has incredible success and even meets the girl of his dreams.

Danny Grace seems to have it all.

But he still struggles with the questions of life. Will he be able to maintain his record-setting performance? Will he ever find closure in the deaths of Pete and Haven? And what is his purpose in life?

Honestly, I liked the game descriptions and baseball action better than the characters and plot. Sheehan writes like a philosophical sports reporter, which is not entirely a bad thing.

He describes the games well, and the analytical discussions between the players will surprise and amuse you. But the characters somehow lack depth, as if you're only reading about them in a news story. I had trouble feeling as if I really got to know them.
But it is an enjoyable book, especially if you're a baseball fan. So if you still want more baseball even though the season is over, you'll likely enjoy One Fine Season, the story of pitcher Danny Grace's meteoric rise from tragedy to the proverbial triumph.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Crazy Day in the Life

So...apparently my day-in-the-life-for-a-month idea didn't quite materialize. I think it's because my days are busy...but sometimes a bit routine, nothing {seemingly} to report. I'll keep looking for the everyday interesting, though.

Meanwhile, I was reading my college friend Anna's blog the other day and was amazed at everything she manages to cram in a day (with three little ones in tow), so I thought I'd pass along a sketch of what is crammed into my typical day.

Up by 6 a.m., coffee, time with God, quick check of Twitter and Facebook, then get ready and leave for work...oh, after walking Fred and fixing Jason's breakfast and both our lunches. Workworkworkworkwork...8-5...with an hour break for lunch (we usually hang out on campus unless we have what I call soul-killing errands to run during the lunch hour). After work, work out, then home for walking Fred again (Jason's turn!), fixing dinner and usually watching a TV show while we eat (we're into the 5th season of House right now). By the time that's done and cleaned up, it's around 7. Theoretically, two hours of "free" time before showering and heading to bed. I'd like to say that I read, scrapbook, write a novel or do something equally worthwhile, but oftentimes I end up watching a movie or, all too often, dozing off on the couch. Before 8 p.m.! Because, apparently, I am 80.

But that's my M-F. Right now, I kinda like it. Although I do wish I were more productive in the evening hours.
And here are a couple of pictures of Fred in his Halloween costume. Oh, I did do that during my free time. That's semi-worthwhile. :)

Hope everyone has a great weekend ahead!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Gym

Jason and I have been going to the gym on campus lately. I'm not a big fan of running on a treadmill with lots of people all around me in various stages of sweat, but there were several factors that propelled us to this decision.
  • My asthma. Blech. I still run outside on the weekends, but I breathe much better indoors.
  • The earlier sunsets. Even before daylight savings time, it was hard to squeeze in an outside run after work before it got dark.
  • Our apartment gym. Only two treadmills. Almost always crowded.
  • Jason. He doesn't run with me outside, but he will hang with me on an adjacent treadmill. And, what do you know, it is nice to have a workout buddy?!
So, we've been enjoying it so far. It's free. Plenty of treadmills and other machines with little TVs tuned to ESPN (or whatever else you'd want to watch; although, I can't imagine wanting to watch anything else while running).

However, we've reached one small obstacle in the gym-going experience.

The locker room.

Brings back memories of 5th grade shower or not to shower? change in front of others or not?...whether to stroll around the locker room completely naked as if you are at home?

A little awkward.

I'm more of the change-in-the-bathroom kinda gal, but the immodesty (or I guess some would call it non-prudish-ness) of others has made me wonder...

What is the protocol for wearing or not wearing clothes in a locker room? And is it different for men and women? (Because, from our discussions, it certainly seems to be!) Thoughts?

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Month in the Life

So I contemplated doing NaBloPoMo again this year, but I just couldn't commit. In fact, I couldn't even get to the computer yesterday, so I would've knocked myself out already. :)

However, if I had signed up, I was thinking I would show a snippet of our day-to-day life in November. It might end up being boring (Jason's initial reaction), but it might be kind of cool.

So here are some pictures of something we did yesterday...went to Starbucks after church. Hang on for a month of excitement! ;)

I thought this turned out to be a really good picture of Jason...

Had a little trouble with the timer, but it looks kind of artsy, yes?

Now there's one with my face and my coffee cup...

Read from the beginning...