Thursday, August 24, 2006

In which I am a nitpicky curmudgeon

I used to edit books for a living. I only did it for about 9 months, and I hated every minute of that 9 months (it was because of the working environment and not the work itself; I loved the work), and I've not gone back to the publishing industry, mostly because I can't afford to do so.

Anyhow, I only mention that because every so often I read a book and I have to throw it across the room because they didn't have a very good copy editor (or perhaps content editor). Over the past week or so I've been rereading a series by Anne McCaffrey that starts out good and then by book four is just not worth bothering with (The Freedom series, in case anyone cares). This is the most recent example I can mention, but it happens more frequently than I'd like.

(I'm not talking about minor things like a page ending with a hyphenated word (even if it does piss me off when they hyphenate the word to the next page and didn't bother to include an entire syllable on the previous page, eg sh- -utter) or an orphan/widow or a few typos - these are things that editors and freaks like me notice, but things that normal people probably would not.)

It's not rocket science, editing. Keeping character names, races/species, personalities and relationships shouldn't be that difficult to do from one book in a series to the next - if it is, you're George RR Martin or Melanie Rawn and you have hundreds of characters that are all interconnected (and in that case, you probably keep some kind of database or something to keep everything straight - these authors do a great job, btw). I'm not talking about minor inconsistencies here - only the diehard fanboys are going to notice most of those. And sure, some authors essentially write the same book over and over using their own mad libs (Piers Anthony, Jonathan Kellerman) - but in that case, you're EXPECTING the book equivalent of InTouch or USWeekly or Star Magazine. You don't expect it from Anne McCaffrey.

But Jeebus. When I pick up books 1 and 2 and enjoy the hell out of them (except for her damn inability to keep the species of her non-human characters straight - Coo and Pess are Deski, dammit, not Rugarians), and overlook some minor inconsistencies in book 3, it's OK. When I YELL OUT LOUD at Book 4 that McCaffrey has somehow managed to change several characters' personalities, relationships, changed a major character's name from book 3 (there are Eosi in book 3 named Ix, Se, and Pe; Ix is the important one, then in book 4 suddenly Pe is the important one) and Bored Me To Death in the reading of damn book, not to mention the egregious homophone errors like using the word palette where the word pallet should be used (no the boxes of stuff were not put on artists' paint-mixing thingies) - well, if all these things happen, than SOMEONE was asleep at the wheel.

Whether you're a prolific, well-known author, or you've only written one book, there's no excuse for inconsistency and bad editing. If you're bad at that kind of thing, get SOMEONE ELSE to do it for you. It really pisses me off that pubishing companies, particularly ones that specialize in sci-fi/fantasy rather than "literature," prefer to churn stuff out for publication as fast as possible rather than just having someone edit the damn thing before it's in print. I mean, c'mon. The McCaffrey book to which I've been referring was out in hardback first, and I read the paperback copy. That means there was TIME TO FIX THE STUPID ERRORS before the paperback edition.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Return to Innocence

It's hard work, jumping in an inflatable bouncy castle.

Our neighbor's kid turned five this past weekend, and they rented one of those primary-colored monstrosities and invited a bunch of other kids over for bouncing, yelling, cake-eating, and other fun things for five-year-olds to do. (Thankfully, they warned us ahead of time so we could prepare ourselves). Somehow, I managed to take a nap (hallelujah! a nap! one of my most favorite things) through the bulk of Sunday afternoon's shenanigans, and when I woke up, the thump-whoosh of the bouncy castle and the screams and general kid noise had diminished significantly.

"Have you bounced in one of those?" I asked Hulk (or he asked me) and some small amount of reminiscing occured. "I bet those kids are having a great time," we said. I kind of wondered what the weight limit was for one of those castles and decided it was probably 50 pounds or so. And I weigh at LEAST twice that much. (And Hulk, being a hulk, weighs, um, more than that).

Hulk made homemade pasta and homemade pasta sauce (with tomatoes, herbs, peppers etc. from our garden) Sunday afternoon and evening. As the pasta was drying before being wrung through the cutting machine, we ventured into the backyard and waved to the neighbors, who were barbecuing in the aftermath of the Five-Year-Old Invasion.

"Do you want to jump in the castle?" they asked. "We have it until tomorrow afternoon." Hulk and I looked at each other and wordlessly decided it was worth a shot. "We figured it had a weight limit," I said, and they said that the neighbor from the other side had been in there with his kids and as far as they knew, it was safe for adults.

We totally bounced in the bouncy castle after wriggling through the tiny opening in the netting above the inflated step-up part. I bounced, Hulk bounced, we bounced together and separately and he bounced close to me so I would bounce higher. Wow, was it fun! After only about 5 or 10 minutes we were both out of breath and a bit worried about the state of our creaky old joints. We wriggled back out of the tiny opening and thanked the neighbors. My hair had fallen out of its ponytail and I was all sweaty and Hulk was a bit pink. "We don't understand how the kids can play in that thing for hours," the neighbors said. "They can just jump all day long."

I'm in pretty good shape, but 10 more minutes and I would have had a heart attack. Maybe there's a reason it's only kids you usually see bouncing in those castles. It sure was fun, though.

This was our weekend for kid things, I guess, because on Saturday I made a cake with a "childhood" theme for a friend's birthday party (covered with teddy grahms, gummy bears, red vine bits and crayon candles) and then we all went ice skating.

I have not been ice skating in 10 years (the last time was early in my relationship with College Boyfriend). We skated at a rink that's mostly for hockey-type activities, so it was smaller than I remembered a skating rink to be. I started out on figure skates but switched halfway through to hockey skates, and my feet were much happier (room for the toes, always good). Hulk was a good sport and, despite only skating twice before EVER, managed to skate around the rink a few times hardly touching the wall at all before his ankle complained. I attempted some speed and some backwards skating (both relatively unsuccessful. I'm a big pussy about falling on ice). And nobody in our group fell down once, so that was pretty good.

What with the laser tag adventure, the ice skating, and the bouncy castle, I'd say we're reverting to childhood, except now we can stay up as late as we want, eat as much junk as we want, and drink booze. Sometimes I wish I were a kid again, but mostly I'm glad to be able to do whatever I want. But after this weekend, I'm reminded how playing feels good - I think we should all play a lot more. Why not?

Friday, August 18, 2006

CHS Class of 1996 Reunion

Ah, so. The reunion.

I think that most of you know, but maybe some do not, that I went to a tiny high school. My graduating class had approximately 70 people, many of whom had been together not only since high school or even since middle school but since kindergarten or maybe even earlier. I've always thought it interesting observing the relationships of many of my classmates with one another, because so many people were neighbors and friends for most of their early lives. Many of my classmates are almost more like siblings than like people who happened to go to school together - when you're in a community that small, it's difficult to avoid closeness. So. Background concluded.

Going in to the reunion, I had no idea what to expect. I'd read horrible accounts of people's 10-year reunions and how much they hated the experiences. I'd also read indifferent ones (people always say the 10 year sucks and the 20 year is fun). But I'd never read anything by anyone that said how great a time they'd had at their 10 year, so I was a little trepidatious. I shouldn't have been - it was planned by two of my friends who are probably the most fun people from my class, so I should have trusted that they'd plan something that was at least bearable.

Despite my teenaged high school angst, my classmates were actually pretty cool, now that I look back on it. Or at least, they've become cool since. Most of the people from high school that I'm friends with became my friends after high school and in college and even beyond. The person with whom I am in closest contact totally stole my (wannabe) boyfriend in 7th grade, so, you know. And now she's living in Queens. And said wannabe boyfriend was at the reunion, in a pink shirt, and seemed to be a little less full of himself than when I saw him at the unofficial 5 year in 2001.

After high school, many of us would get together at someone's parents' house during the Christmas holiday season - I'd say for at least the first five years. So I got to see people grow up past their acne and awkwardness and into their experiments into adult personality and adult activities. I saw a few people enter longterm relationships and marriages and even one friend's first baby (unplanned, now she has two but is divorced from their dad). It was nice, to see so many people that I'd known for so well for so long mature into real people and not their zitty angst-ridden teenage doppelgangers.

That stopped right around the time people really got involved in their own lives, being out of college and into the real world. People's parents moved away and they didn't have reason to come back to Cloverdale. I think the last time I saw many of my classmates in one place was Christmas of 2001 - because December 2002 my parents were beginning their very messy split, so if there were any parties I didn't pay attention. I heard through the grapevine (that boyfriend stealer is a fabulous gossip) about people once in a while, who had married whom, who was dating whom, who had babies and who moved where and was doing what. I saw a few classmates at a wedding in early 2003, but since then, only one or two here or there.

And so, to the reunion itself.

First of all, it was all outside. I was glad I had both my little shrug thingy and the sweater that QIR borrowed me, because after the sun went down it got hella cold. (My friend Heather was sleeveless and sweaterless! Poor girl!) But it was in a beautiful location, the setup was good, and we got 2 (two) drink tickets to share. I told myself I wouldn't drink much and only bought one other drink - my world was kind of altered enough as it was, just being around people who were the same and different all in one package.

I think about 40 people from my class showed up (plus guests of course). My college boyfriend did not, though he was supposed to come (Organizer 1 thinks he just forgot; this would not surprise me in the least. He's kind of a flake.)

Mostly, it was a lot of talking, hugging, eating, drinking. There was supposed to be dancing but someone had screwed with the ipod and was playing 70s stuff instead of the agreed-upon playlist of stuff from '92-96. (We did get a CD full of probably the most iconic songs from high school and once I find it in our luggage I'll post a song list). Many people from my class seem to still live in the area, either the Bay Area or Sonoma County proper (though few still live in my hometown. Can you blame them?). Someone came from Atlanta, someone from Portland, several from Southern CA. I think many of the ones who live in the area are still friends with their old friends.

I made a point of saying hi to and giving hugs to everyone I could (and I tried to introduce Hulk to as many people as I could. Luckily, he's met a few people before and had spent some time with the boyfriend of Boyfriend Stealer so he at least could talk to a few people). I think I missed 2 people that I'd never really talked to at all in high school, but out of everyone who was there I think I did pretty well. Oh, and I did miss one person I'd wanted to talk to, but he and his boyfriend?friend?something left right after dinner so I didn't get a chance. Some people did choose to drink a lot; one person is 9 months out of rehab and almost didn't come because she was afraid she would drink (As far as I know, she resisted). I saw pictures of people's babies and children; everyone got reacquainted with one classmate's boobs (they were very much on display). Mostly I talked to people I was friends or at least friendly with. I caught up a bit with some of my old teachers - four were there, though I really only liked two of them. I talked to people's dates (husbands, wives, significant others) and wondered secretly how many of them would still be around for the 20 year reunion. It was at the same time surreal and totally normal to be talking to these people that I'd known so well 10 years ago.

The four of us who had been in ballet together for years took a few pictures together. I have some on my camera that I'll upload soon if I can. Unfortunately, the "official" reunion photographer didn't get that shot so I can't post it here yet.

The one couple who got together sophomore year and went to college together and went to grad school together and got married are still together. That was nice to see, some continuity.

For the most part, people seemed happy and healthy. They are living their lives, getting married, having kids, starting wineries, passing the bar. Only a few people looked much different - some of them had gained a little weight, and one classmate looked completely different (she made a comment to me about "making investments after high school" when I told her I liked her dress (strapless) and commented that I couldn't wear a strapless dress because I didn't have enough to hold one up. I'm assuming that meant a boob job, though I am thinking maybe she got at least a nose job too). There were a few awards given out (prizes were wine and video games) for who had come the farthest, who had bought their ticket first, etc. Two awards were voted on (who has changed the least, male/female). The winners were, oddly enough, those who won prom king and queen ten years ago (neither was in the "popular" crowd, just both really nice people that were well-liked by everyone - even the freaks like me). The one who won for "least changed female" seemed pretty changed to me - physically, she might look the same, but her confidence is higher, she's grown into herself, and her beautiful personality just shines through even more.

Man, it's hard to write this. I was glad I went; I was glad Hulk was there to support me. I was glad of those who came and wished a few more had been there. I was glad to see everyone and it made me wish a little bit that I still lived in CA because it would be easier to see people's lives continue to change and to see people continue to become who they are.

My dress was a hit, by the way. I got several compliments. And there were at least 5 other guys there dressed like Hulk - one was even wearing the same black with white stripes adidas soccer shoes. Heh.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Imagine a life without farting.

My friend Heather never farts.

It's not one of those girly pretend to never have gross body functions things, either. She literally physically never ever farts. Imagine!

She wasn't born that way. About 5 years ago she had an operation to help manage her Crohn's disease and ended up with an ileostomy. That's right! Everything in her digestive tract below partway down her small intestine? Totally gone. Kaput. No more. No large intestine, no rectum, no butthole. And thus, no farts. (No poop, either).

I only mention this because Heather is one of the most amazing people I have ever known. One of my high school classmates, Heather was also in my dance classes for years and had the best sense of humor, told the best jokes. She has always had health issues (for example, one time she had viral pinkeye for like a year) but laughed about it most of the time (we all had a joke about how one day she'd marry a Chinese doctor because she spent so much time at USF and Stanford Medical centers that the only men she ever met were Chinese doctors).

About a year after we graduated she lost ~80 pounds in only a few months. NOT voluntarily; she was 5'10 and 85 pounds at her lightest. It turned out to be Crohn's disease, adding to every other health issue she's had throughout her life. The disease totally debilitated her for years, leaving her bedridden at times (leave it to Heather to get the worst case of anything). She spent years unable to eat any fat, trying every treatment out there, getting sicker and sicker. And then in 2001, after spending months in bed and very few good days interspersed with the mostly bad ones, she made a decision to have the operation that would totally change her life. Her fiance (not a Chinese doctor, amazingly enough) supported her throughout her illness and they got married a few months after her operation. I remember thinking when she had the operation that it would be a tough decision; she was only 22 and she'd have to go the rest of her life with a little bag attachment and give up half of normal digestion. How odd, to be missing all those parts. But despite a terrible recovery (again, leave it to Heather to have every possible complication), everything worked out OK and her life got a lot better once her troublesome parts were no longer there to keep her bedridden.

Heather and I lost touch over the years, primarily because I moved to Denver and she moved on with being married and such. She spent years doing the prerequisites for nursing school, making straight As, and had a daughter about 3 years ago. Heather was one of the people I was most hoping would be at the reunion on Saturday. Luckily, she was there and I got to see her in all her awesome, mom, nursing student glory. (She wanted to give back to other sick people what good nurses over the years had done for her. Plus, she's wikkid smaht.) She has a beautiful daughter, a great marriage, a promising career track - all made possible by that hole in her side that means she can't ever fart again. Because if she hadn't had the operation, she probably would have died.

Hulk and I spent a couple of hours with Heather after the reunion at a diner in Healdsburg. She can eat normal food again and we laughed like old times. And she mentioned how annoying it was that she couldn't get her husband back when he stank up a room. "It's the one thing I really miss," she said. We laughed. I'm so happy that her life has ended up so well - she's the same Heather, same sense of humor, same malicious half smile, same matter-of-factness about her health. Being married and a parent haven't changed her fundamentally, and neither have her illnesses - they've only made her more of what she was already. Except she never gets to fart anymore.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

We went to California and stuff happened.

What a trip!

From last-minute repacking to accommodate the newest fear mongering (No liquids! No gels! No toothpaste! No Tylenol Gel Caps!) to being seated in middle seats, 2 rows apart in the back of the plane, to being berated by the Chinese lady with a very bad dye job about not buying the extra rental insurance, Thursday's leg started off, hm, not great. Hulk hadn't had any sleep the night before (stupid insomnia) but once he divested himself of his stomach contents while I wrangled the rental car keys away from aforementioned bad dye job, he started to feel a bit better. We made it across the bay and met QIR for some late-night Ethernopian, settled in on her futon, and ended the evening much better than the day had started.

(My haircut was fine, and I like it. I paid $50 for the damn thing including tip but I figure since it's been a year and a half since I cut it, it wasn't a high price to pay.)

Friday we cooked a leisurely breakfast and drove to the city. We shopped for a reunion outfit for the Hulk (Johnny Cash-esque), QIR found me a shirt at Marshalls, shoes were gawked at but not purchased and we found one of the two H&Ms in SF (Turns out it was the wrong one, and that we should have gone to the flagship store. Oh well.) What I really wanted was a wrap or a sweater or something for my reunion dress, and I found this little black lace-edged shrug thing that ended up being perfect. We ambled up to Chinatown, got our egg tarts (hooray! egg tarts!) and window shopped, and had some passable food in a little informal restaurant with only Chinese people inside (usually a good sign).

Then it was back to the Beast to shower and dress and meet Leah and Simon for sushi in Albany. Leah is really the only person who comments on my blog who I didn't already know for years from Eurotrip, and I started reading her blog when I found that she wrote frequently about adventures in the Bay Area. It was lovely to meet both of them; we had an amazing sushi experience that more than made up for our crappy time in March, and then we hung out in a pub for several hours. I was kind of sad that they live in CA and we live in CO, because it was kickass to hang out with them. Perhaps next time we're out.

Saturday we dragged ourselves out of bed after not-enough-sleep and ran a few errands. I made my Berkeley Bowl pilgrimage and we picked up fancy mushrooms and fruit (even a dragon fruit from Southeast Asia! I was so excited to see one in the US!) and breakfast things to bring to my mom's. Driving over the underrated Richmond-San Rafael bridge, up 101 through Marin and Sonoma counties, I was reminded of all the times I'd made that drive over the years, noting all of the familiar towns, trees, features of the land that are like noplace else. My mom's yard was jungly and green as usual, and we got ready for the party.

The reunion should have its own post. I'm still kind of processing. Long story short: it was good. I had a good time. Hulk was nice enough to put up with an entire evening full of mostly people he'd never met. More later.

Sunday we lounged at my mom's, eating sourdough bread (ah, SF sourdough, nothing like it on earth) and peaches and eggs with stuff and some of the dragonfruit. I wasn't impressed; it wasn't nearly as good as the dragonfruit we'd had in China. Perhaps it was a fluke; perhaps it should have been chilled; perhaps that kind of fruit just doesn't travel well. Ah, well. I did manage to get some pretty pictures of it. We drove around Dry Creek Valley and up to Lake Sonoma to show Hulk and my sister's BF (henceforth known as Drat) a new part of the county. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts the lookout point road is closed and we attempted to hike to the point, only to find that it was a much longer hike than we'd expected. So we drove down to the tiny dock and watched people playing with boats and ski-dos for a while.

My mom took us to the World Famous Hamburger Ranch for lunch. It wasn't nearly as good as I'd remembered (my food was pretty bad; the service was terrible) but there were a whole bunch of really cool old shiny cars out in the parking lot. And a picture of Joey Tribbiani on the wall.

After getting updates on the status of the horrendous traffic from sister and Drat, we decided to wait it out a bit. We stopped at Trader Joe's in Santa Rosa and found that while S&D had had stop and go traffic for hours, we'd waited long enough and only had slowdowns in the usual places. Sunday night was spent in the company of QIR and another friend in from Ireland/London, the type of guy who can hoist a Guinness and whose dry, quiet humor always makes me laugh, the guy who took me to a No Doubt opening for U2 concert in 2001 the first time he met me in thanks for getting the grand walking tour of SF. It seems as though his trips to the Bay Area tend to coincide with ours, and it was lovely to see him as always. QIR made us all some fabulous drinks from her fabulous bar, and we all drank entirely too much. Shocking!

Monday mostly passed in a haze of not enough sleep plus too much booze, stopping in at Comic Relief before taking my sister away from her awful job for an hour for lunch. We sagely advised her on guidebook brands for the kind of travelers she and Drat will probably find themselves to be in Greece, and we drove her back to work, went to the airport, drank all our water before the security checkpoint, and enjoyed our side-by-side (he on window, I on aisle) bulkhead seats on the first flight. The layover at LAX was only notable for the awfully stale potato chips purchased to fulfill our salty snack craving (you can tell we weren't feeling great because we bought POTATO CHIPS, but LAX didn't leave us many options) and the roving pack of guys in army fatigues who looked like I might have changed their diapers if they'd grown up in my town. There were perhaps 12 or 15 of them and someone from TSA was rolling a SmartCarte full of plastic gloves behind them. I never understood what that was all about.

Our friend Julie picked us up at the airport (thank Jeebus, we didn't have to take the bus and then walk home, not arriving 'til prolly 1 AM), our kitties said hello (well, Loki said "Yay! You're home! I will talk to you all night, steal your pillow repeatedly, and butt my head against you marking you up as much as possible" and Petra said "Harumph. You left me.") and we fell into bed after noting that indeed, our privacy fence exists (hooray!).

It was a jam-packed, emotion- and booze- and good food-filled weekend, and I "worked from home" today to give myself a chance to vacate a bit from my vacation. Reunion post and a post about my friend who (literally) never farts coming soon.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kibbles and Bits

The purple bump on my eyelid is still there. Still purple, still bumpy. Still have no idea what it is. If it were a bug bite or pimple or something, it would have gone away. Maybe it's the bubonic plague!

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I found a necklace to wear with my dress. It looks kind of like this.

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When we get home from CA there will be a big ol' wooden privacy fence in the backyard instead of broken chain link. Our landlords were over last night taking down the tree at the fence line and talking with the guy who will build the fence and all that kind of stuff. We're hoping it will help cut down on the Local Businessmen and Loyal Clientele using our yard as a way to get from the alley to the street or vice versa.

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Said landlords have a 3-year-old, and this was the first time that they brought him down to Denver with them since we moved in. He's very tall and pretty articulate for a 3-year-old, and his favorite thing to do was ask "why" about everything. He played off and on during the evening with our next-door neighbors' 5-year-old (they are the same height!) and at one point they decided to terrorize our kitties. Our cats are not used to small children, having never been around them. Petra mostly runs and hides and Loki hangs out for a bit and will consent to play a little, but Kayla (the 5 y/o) likes to pick him up around the middle so that his legs dangle nearly to the ground. He weighs about 14 pounds and I doubt she even weighs 3 times that, and it clearly makes him uncomfortable. Last night I had them give Loki treats (he even did his trick for those treats. Good kitty!) and we found some toys to throw and dangle, and then I redirected them to something a little less terrorizing. Here is a sample of our conversation.

Landlords' kid (LK): where is the kitty?
MLE: She's hiding
LK: But why?
MLE: Because she isn't used to being around little kids
LK: Why?
MLE: Because we don't have any kids
LK: Why?
MLE: (thinking to myself that it's annoying when my mother and Hulk's mother ask this question, but LK is 3 years old and clearly isn't feening for grandbabies) We just don't. Petra doesn't feel like playing right now.
MLE: (redirects LK to Tangle toy)

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Speaking of parents with agendas, Hulk got a slideshow of photos emailed to him yesterday from his parents. They were out visiting his aunt and uncle in CA last weekend and said aunt and uncle have recently become grandparents of twins. Most of the photos were of Hulk's parents holding one or both small things and looking forlornly at the camera. (I'm only exaggerating a little). Hulk's brother had the best response: "So, this should take care of that reproductive pressure for a while, huh?"

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Our tomato plants are finally starting to give us delicious tomatoes. The middle plant exploded over all the other plants (tomatoes, peppers, herbs) and has about 80 growing tomatoes on it. Some of them are as big as my fist. We got the first two ripe ones off Monster Tomato Plant a couple of nights ago and had BLTs for dinner (My B was Turkey B). Fantastic. Nothing like home grown tomatoes. We got another smaller one last night and it added to our poached wild salmon over veggies/greens with pecans, smoked gouda and nectarine dinner salad last night. Ah, summer. The herbs on the fish and the red bell pepper also came freshly picked from our garden. The crackhead thing may suck, but I'm loving our new place - having a garden goes a long way to make up for crack smoke coming in the bedroom window at 2 AM.

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My high school reunion is in 2 days. Two! Ack! And we have some pretty kick-ass plans for the rest of the trip, despite Monkey being unable to join us (it's a bummer, monks, but we may be in SoCal the 3rd weekend of September. I'll keep you posted). I'm going to shop at H&M if it kills me, Hulk is going to nerd out in the comic book store, we have a sushi date and we're going to the ocean with my mom and sister and sister's BF.

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Sister's BF surprised her with a trip to Greece for her birthday. Well done, sir. Well done. They go for 10 days in October.

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I mentioned before that 2 of my cousins are currently gestating and another one (my middle sister's age) is getting married in September. Hulk and I just got an invitation to the wedding (I guess nobody's freaked out too badly that we live together and are UNMARRIED, the SHAME!). It will be a 10:30 AM Jesus wedding on a military base (cousin's dad is ex-career Navy). We're considering going, if only to see a lot of family and friends. It's a no-kids wedding; I wonder how well that is going over with my reproductively blessed extended family (We are descended from Catholics and the married cousins that are my age are popping them out like nobody's business).

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I'm getting my hairs cut in less than 1 hour! Woohoo! And then we go to the airport, and then we get on a plane, and there will be no snakes on that plane or Hulk will go ballistic, and then we will land in SF eventually and have Ethernopian food with QIR. Kickass.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The day I shot a bunch of little kids and liked it!

It's true.I've been relatively sheltered and spent much of my childhood playing with chickens and cows and such instead of participating in the cartoon-watching and skateboarding and playing of video games that sucked away the childhoods of most of my peers.

On Thursday, I got to do one of the things I'd never done before, something that most everyone else my age (and those younger, certainly) have done for birthdays or special occasions. I'm now one step closer to filling in the gaps of my deprived childhood. On Thursday, I got to play LASER TAG.

Dude! Laser tag! Picture this: a group of 12 people ages 21-29 standing in a circle, slapping the hard plastic "activator" against their hands, raucous and noisy and laughing like little kids. The actual little kids, standing a few feet away, just stared. We waited for our first "mission" after deciding upon our "secret code name"s. For the first game, my secret code name was Meep.

A pasty, somewhat pimply 16 year-old led us into the "staging area" and read us the rules, showed us how to use the guns and target vest, and let us in. We used our activators to tell the laser guns which "secret code name" we were (mine said "WELCOME, MEEP"), and we were given a 30-second countdown to find a good spot - at which time, the music came on and woo! it was time to start shooting people!

Entering the plywood maze full of blacklight paint, I got hit with a warm wall of stale, slightly marshmallow- and sweat-scented air (from the fog machine and the fact that they kept the room at about 85 degrees). Our target vests blinked green and red and we ducked and ran and shot. Lasers! Frickin' laser beams! There were 30 players and several were under 4 feet tall. After shooting a bunch of people in my group (every man for himself, yo. No teams! It's part of the rules!) I found myself frequently ganged up on by a roving pack of 7-year-olds. They barely reached my belly button and were at the perfect height to hit my front target and they DIDN'T SHOOT EACH OTHER but were like little hyenas, preying on anything they could see and heckling.

Damn little kids. At first, I had been reluctant to use my superior strength and hand-eye-coordination, but after the hyena treatment all bets were off. Up and down the ramps, under the overhangs, through the windows, we shot and covered, shot and covered, and when hit had about two seconds of little death. In the first little death, I actually felt kind of sad - and then the adrenaline began to flow.

The time was up and we stampeded out of the game room to view our scores. Out of the 30-odd players in game one, MEEP came in at #13. Woot!

A few minutes' rest in which we sweaty sweaty adults mopped our brows and guzzled root beer and diet coke (didn't even think to bring water), and then it was time for round two. We all agreed that damn, those little kids had been ruthless, and this time there was going to be no sympathy and no mercy shown. Some of us teamed up, declaring pacts not to shoot each other. Others just decided to go their own way, but still, we more or less had an agreement - it was better to shoot everyone else (especially the hyenas!). "WELCOME, FIRE BAD" announced my gun, and then we were off and lost in the glow paint plywood maze again. This group had other little kids and what might have been a JV Volleyball team, all tall blond girls with knee braces dressed in black tank tops and tiny shorts. The girls were an easy target, and wailed as our group accosted them from above. The little kids in this game weren't nearly as coordinated, and many of them felt the wrath of my laser beam without ever seeing it coming. "Stop shooting me!" one kid said to me at one point. "It's not fair!"

But it was fair. All is fair in the game of Laser Tag. At the end of round two, I'd done a lot more damage to a lot more 7-year-olds (and the JV Volleyball Daisy Duke Squad) and I knew the maze better, the layout of the hot room, which places one could hide and ambush people who came by. I was awesome.

And then, the results - FIRE BAD was number 12 in a game of 40 people. Woohoo!

The best part of playing laser tag? Learning everyone's secret code names and then getting the printouts of who had shot who in which target how many times. Well, the best part was shooting people, but the second best part was learning how well you'd shot those people. In my humble opinion, what could be more fun than essentially playing a live-action video game? Where you get to shoot people with FRIKKIN LASER BEAMS!

Laser beams, dude. Awesome.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

YA Lit Wednesday: My Random Liberry Picks

There's this system, see, that I employ when choosing books at the biblioteca. First I look at the displayed books in the central area, where they have some "featured titles" and some newer books. I move on to the Burnham-Hoyt room (pretty much all the fiction, plus magazines, books on tape, and VHS), pore through the new books and peek at the trucks of books to be reshelved. If I have a particular title in mind, I'll seek it out (or do some research to find it). There's always a display table when you walk into the BH room with whatever the weekly or monthly picks of the staff that fit into a particular category might be. A few weeks ago it was chick lit/beach reads, and sometimes it's political books or cookbooks or pirate books or whatever. Last foray, it was YA books, none of which I'd ever heard of (hadn't even heard of any of the authors, 'smatter of fact).

So, it was the perfect opportunity for me to find some new blood. I've been out of the loop on non sci-fi or fantasy YA titles for at least 10 years, so I have a lot of catching up to do. Anyhow, I perused the table. Most of the stuff sounded boring, insipid, or derivative, but I did find two books that looked interesting and took them home.

Book 1: Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

Starting off slow and sounding like any other "I woke up one day to find that X impossible premise had happened!" story, this one delves further and made me care more about the main character, Bobby, than I expected I would. Sure, he wakes up one morning to discover he's invisible. Sure, this is easy for tweens and young teens to identify with (who doesn't know what it feels like to be invisible at age 12 or 13?). But it's not cheesy and is much more genuine and matter-of-fact. The kid actually tells his parents, and as a family they work together to figure out the cause, figure out a solution, and to keep Bobby's parents from being arrested for child neglect or endangerment or whatever, since Bobby obviously isn't in school and there are only so many excuses to be made when a kid just disappears one day.

The novel deals with the real life problems that might stem from sudden invisibility, and even delves into the life of another invisible and the choices she made to cope with her situation. Bobby is invisible, but his clothing isn't - so he can either bundle up beyond recognition or go nekkid. Instead of being an empowerment fantasy, as it so easily could have been, the author explores Bobby's experiences in asserting his own independence from his parents while still depending on them for the things a 15-year-old still needs his parents for, invisible or no.

My favorite part of the story is Bobby's accidental friendship with Alicia, a blind girl he meets at the library soon after he becomes invisible. She helps him feel like a person during the time he feels he'll never be seen/acknowledged again. And the relationship between these characters is believable, interesting, and again, not just some empowerment fantasy. Bobby's problem has a solution and Alicia's doesn't, but that doesn't stop them from being friends.

Some of the machinations of the book are a little too pat, though maybe it's just my adult sensibilities showing. I mean, Bobby's dad is some kind of theoretical engineer, and Alicia's dad is a physics professor or something, so Bobby just so happens to have the exact right people available to help him figure out what caused his invisibility. The symbolism is more heavy-handed than I'd like, but then again, the audience for the book is ages 10-14, not 27. Overall, I give it a favorable review.

Book 2: Crushed by Laura and Tom McNeal

I really wanted to like this book. It was written in an interesting style, the pacing was good, and some of the characters made me ache for them in the crappy situations they found themselves. But nobody was what they really seemed, and the plot was incredibly contrived. Maybe it's because I grew up in a small town and went to a high school where nobody came from higher than a middle-class background - but since when are so many teenagers so conniving and manipulative for the sake of someone's family money?

The three main characters, Audrey (rich girl, no mom, dad bets big and loses and they go from a mansion to an apartment), Wickham (product of adultery, rich bio dad weaning them off his money, smooth-talking and charismatic), and Clyde (painfully shy, mom dying, loner) all had positives and negatives. The authors did a great job with some of the characters' development; however, these three and their supporting cast at times did and said things that NO 16 or 17 YEAR OLD WOULD DO OR SAY. I mean, it was like watching a weirdly updated version of the non-John Hughes 80s high school movies. In one sense, the book is a series of triangles, both love and situational. In another sense, it's a hammy soap opera. And my favorite characters never got to be more than bit players in the Audrey/Wickham/Clyde tangle.

I think the authors tried to do too many things with this book. An argument could be made for the protagonist (or antagonist, I guess) not being a character but the "yellow journalism" gossip rag that comes out anonymously from time to time. Things get stirred up each time this paper appears, and new triangles form. In a way, I think the authors were trying to really make Audrey believable, in LURVE with Wickham and planning her life and future around him, despite their being juniors in high school. I know there are girls at that age that are in love with the idea of love and take the teenage blinders to the world around them to extremes. But seriously. When Audrey's best friend snatches her relationship out from under her and completely changes personality 2/3 of the way through the book, I thought to myself, "Are these characters supposed to be teenagers or terrible soap opera stars?" I couldn't suspend disbelief despite how much I liked certain aspects of the book, and I couldn't help but think that if they had just focused on 2 or 3 subplots instead of 6 or 7, the quality of the book would have been much higher. I appreciate what they tried to do, but would have enjoyed reading it much more had they actually succeeded.