The Year of Reading Obsessively

I've always been an enthusiastic reader, although sometimes more enthusiastic than others. I inherited that from my grandmother, I think... she read rapidly and voraciously, and while the other members of my immediate family are readers as well, their tastes tend toward articles, newspapers, magazines, rather than books. I was thunderstruck when my dad - who reads constantly, it seems - told me recently that he didn't think he'd read ten full-length books in the past 25 years. How is that possible??!! (Seriously... the man reads All. The. Time. Just not books, apparently.)

Those who follow me on Facebook may have noticed that I've recently been reading much more than usual - or, at least, mentioning my reading on Facebook much more often. I use a social-networking-for-readers website called Goodreads, which I originally joined so I'd have a place to catalog my books online (and therefore be able to access that catalog when I'm away from home and hopefully minimize the number of times that I'm in a bookstore and buy a book I already own). The site also has extensive social features, though, which I started perusing a month or two ago; I joined several online reading groups and have since gotten entirely hooked on that marvelous creation known as The Reading Challenge.

I didn't know these things existed! I suppose they're not necessarily a function of the rise of online groups, although those tend to bring people together in a way that probably helps build a critical mass. In short, a reading challenge is just a challenge one sets for oneself to read in a certain way for a certain period of time. The most obvious kind is to read a certain number of books in a given month or year; however, people come up with endless elaborate schemes. For instance...  one challenge I found is called Around The World in 80 Books, and the goal is to read 80 books from 80 different countries in the course of a year (and to make sure you've hit all the continents and/or major geographic regions). Others are far more complex: a big challenge focused on a certain theme, which then consists of a variety of sub-challenges, and perhaps each challenge is worth a certain number of points, so if one is fond of competition, he or she can compete against others doing the challenge, and so forth. A huge amount of the fun (beyond the sheer joy of reading the books in the first place) is coming up with books to read that fit the requirements of the challenge. Another appeal is talking with others doing the challenge about what they're reading - exchanging ideas, getting suggestions, seeing how creative others are in coming up with their reading lists.

Part of the appeal for me is that this effort gets me to read more. Not that that's a chore at all, although often my free time goes to crafts or watching TV or (ahem) World of Warcraft - those aren't bad, but I do think of reading as being higher up the List of Things Worthwhile (at least higher than WoW). Plus, all the exploring I've been doing has more than doubled my (already way too long) To Read list.

In addition to the Around The World in 80 Books challenge, I'm doing a Decades Challenge that covers the past ten years (3 books from 2003, 4 books from 2004, etc. up to 12 books from the current year), and the massive Seasonal Reading Challenge, which is probably going to be the death of me - but what a way to go! If you're interested, you can read a little about it here and see the Spring challenge requirements here. To give you an idea, I have 58 books to read between March 1 and May 31, and not all of the sub-challenges have been posted yet. 

I'm so very excited about this process - I've loved making up my reading lists and can't wait to start reading all the items for the Seasonal Challenge on March 1. In the meantime, I've finished 23 books since January 1 and have several going at the moment. If I could just figure out how to multi-task well enough to read more than one at a time, I'd be so happy!


Don't know much trigonometry...

So, here's what I'm thinking on the topic of school and how I got there.

I managed to get all the way through college (the first time) without realizing that I thought math was fun. In high school I took math through Calculus AB, with the inimitable Dr. Jalbert (aka, Uncle Butchie for you Prepsters out there), but only scored a 3 on the AP exam, probably because in high school I was a) lazy, b) distracted by boys, and c) lazy. So that meant I was stuck with a semester of Calculus at UVA in order to fill the math requirement; I think I earned a B, and was lucky to do so because my Egyptian professor was very nice but totally unintelligible.

Having "confirmed" that math was not for me, and having not yet figured out that computers and technology were eventually going to become a major obsession - which would have suggested I reconsider the math question - I walked away from math and spent the rest of college reading Great Books and being distracted by boys.

A year or two after I graduated, I was living in Tampa and working at my high school, and I started thinking about going into education. That tends to happen when one is surrounded all day by smart, passionate, dedicated people who love what they do and do it because they want to make the world a better place. So I took a Curriculum & Instruction course and a Statistics course at the local university; was mildly entertained by C&I, but loved Statistics. LOVED it. That should have been a clue. I then taught for a year and became more acquainted with the tolerance and patience (with the parents, as much as the students) required to be in education, and decided education wasn't for me either.

Flash forward a year or so: I'm living in Miami with my first husband, who's getting his MBA. By this point, I'd figured out that computers were the coolest things ever, and I started taking a few classes that might eventually prepare me for graduate school in computer science. (Note: this was 1992, so imagine how different that looked back then.) These classes included Calculus (again - do you know anyone else who's taken Calculus three times by choice?), Logic Design, and Discrete Math (taught by this adorable Dutch, I think, professor who often made the unfortunate choice of wearing black socks with his shorts and Teva sandals). I absolutely rocked the Logic Design and Discrete Math classes, and got yet another B in Calculus because, honestly, the professor - who was only 4 or 5 years older than I - was the cutest thing on two legs, and I spent an awful lot of class time looking at his behind while he drew equations on the blackboard.

Lest you think mathematicians are dorky guys with pocket protectors and poor social skills - take my word for it, THEY AREN'T ALL THAT WAY. My goodness. But I digress.

Divorce and an intense dislike for Miami interfered (and no, the divorce had nothing to do with the gorgeous Calculus professor). Next stop: Seattle. Still needing to scratch the school itch when I got here, I audited a geology class on Volcanoes at UW, figuring that if I was going to live in the land of earthquakes and volcanoes (even dormant ones), I maybe should know something about them. I started (but didn't finish, for a reason I can't now remember) introductory Chemistry at UW as well. Yes, for fun. No, I don't know why. And yes, I really enjoyed it. I also took an online Women's Studies class from the New School in NYC, back before pretty much anyone was doing that, and an early 20th century literature class via correspondence through the University of Minnesota. I considered medical school for about 2 weeks, decided that was a dumb idea, and finally settled on the Master's of Liberal Arts idea which took me to Harvard. LOVED that too, and even though my concentration was in Psychology, my favorite class while there was, not too suprisingly, Statistics.

We moved back to Seattle, had a baby, and then I spent four years avoiding my thesis and one year actually researching and writing it and referring to it as "that damned thesis". Best part was the statistical analysis. I was finally starting to get the message about the math. But I was tired after that, so I spent the next couple of years doing nothing academic - probably the longest dry spell ever.

And then, about a year ago, the itch returned. I've been trying to ignore it for a while, mostly because I had no time to go to school and therefore HAD to ignore it, but things in the rest of my life have slowed, and now I can think about this again.

So - math and science this time around. I should have listened earlier. I should have paid attention to all those aptitude and achievement tests that said I was good at math. I should have known that it was meaningful when my single favorite assignment or project in all four years of college was a huge spreadsheet programming project in Accounting. I should have found it significant when I started losing sleep because I was staying up until 2 in the morning playing on Khan Academy.

I'm interested in astronomy, more math - maybe applied math - and physics. Biggest problem: it's been almost two decades since I studied any kind of math besides statistics. All those semesters of Calculus are gone, lost in the haze of memory of a really cute professor's rear end. I've forgotten trig, geometry, how to solve quadratic equations by factoring, who the hell Pythagoras was and what his theorem was (although at least I remember he had one), and what the difference is between a degree and a radian. It'll probably all come back very quickly, but I certainly need to review.

The tricky part now is figuring how to get up to speed so I can, you know, take Calculus for the fourth time, since it's required for pretty much everything else I want to do. Practically everything beyond basic arithmetic either has prerequisites or requires a placement test, and I would be bored in about 10 minutes in the prereqs. But on the other hand, I'm not ready for a placement test. So I guess it's review, review, review for now. And the dorkiest thing of all is that the review will be fun.



About 27 years ago, my parents were in London celebrating my mom's 40th birthday. While there, they attended an antiquarian book fair (or maybe it was an antique show), and as they were walking down an aisle at the fair, they came upon a booth full of maps. My dad asked the dealer in the booth what he was selling, and the gentleman (probably thinking it was fairly obvious) explained that he dealt in antique maps. I've heard my dad tell this story numerous times, and one version of it has him then asking the dealer something like, "Why would anyone collect antique maps?"

Two hours later, Dad was the proud owner of a charming antique map of Canterbury, England. His interest quickly shifted to antique maps of Florida - his home state - and today he has what may be the finest and most comprehensive private collection of Florida maps anywhere in the world. (And presumably understands now why someone would collect antique maps.) The map of Canterbury hangs in their home in Florida, and in my dad's carefully-managed records of his collection, it has the designation "M1".

Fast-forward to today... I have never settled upon anything (yet) that I'd like to collect, save a particular type of pottery made by a particular English potter and designer in the early 20th century, which at this stage of my life still feels unaffordable. I do, however, indulge - and I suppose it's become a collection of sorts - in the acquisition of beading books and kits which, by now, I'll need 17 lifetimes to complete. It could be said that my stash of jewelry - pieces both made by others and made by myself - are also a collection; they certainly take up enough space to qualify. Then last summer, I met a fellow jewelry artist at the Bead and Button Show who happens to live around the corner from me. We hit it off and became good friends; she is equally addicted to kits and books, and at least part of our relationship is grounded in the fact that we seriously enable each other in the obsessive acquisition of yet more kits and books that we'll never have time to complete. But oh, what fun it is.

It happens that Peggy - my enabler - works at a shop over in Bellevue that is part bead store, part quilting store (the result of two separate shops losing their leases and deciding to move in together). To make a long story short, in my many visits to her shop, she has enabled me right into a quilting habit that promises to rival my beading habit. Fabric and quilting books - and a shiny new sewing machine - now take up as much space in my studio as my beading gear (in my defense, fabric takes up much more space than beads). We took a quilting class together last fall which got me started on my very first quilt, and which I finally completed... TODAY!

So without further ado, I am extremely proud to present... Quilt #1 or, to borrow my dad's system: Q1.

The way it was originally designed called for seven of each of the four blocks, but as I didn't intend to actually use it on a bed, I saw no reason to make it that long. So it's now approximately 4 feet square and will probably be used as a wall hanging. All that remains to be done is to buy batting (the fill that goes inside a quilt) and the material for the back and then send it out to actually be quilted (that's the part where someone takes a special machine designed for the purpose and stitches a pattern over all the blocks - or perhaps does so by hand - neither of which holds any interest for me). Then I'll finish the edges and hang it on the wall.

The fabrics I used are batiks - which I love in part because one often doesn't have to worry about the direction of a print, so they're easy to work with. I also love the vibrant colors and the organic mottled appearance. And as is often my way, I didn't start with the easiest thing out there. But as a result I learned a lot more in this process than I might have had I started with a quilt that only required a bunch of straight seams. Here's a close-up that shows the fabrics better, as well as the applique I had to learn as well.

It's been such fun, and I can't wait to continue with the next one (which, of course, I started soon after I started this one, because I'm incapable of having only one project going at a time). There's little question that this is the first of many.


I don't remember having memory this good

I haven't been doing much (okay, any) blogging recently, mostly because there are only so many hours in a day to do stuff (and blogging is too far down the priority list), and because I can share most of what I want to in the space of a Facebook status update (or, even more efficiently, in a Tweet). Which is a sad state of affairs in itself, but that's a topic for a future blog post that I'll probably never write.

Occasionally, however, something won't fit in a Facebook status update, and it's usually something I find remarkable about my kid. That's not to say that I'll take the time to write about it, but when I do, it needs to be here.

He and I are nearing the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (aka, Book 4). We're both loving the experience of reading it together (at least, I definitely am and he seems to be), but I'm racing through them a bit faster in order to finish all of the remaining books by mid-July when the final movie comes out. This is so that I can stick to the rule we set that he has to read the book before he can see the movie without missing out on the opportunity to see one of the Harry Potter movies *in the theatre* with my boy, since this one will be my last chance.

But I digress. Back to the remarkable stuff. Tonight I was in mid-sentence, and he interrupted me with a question (as he does about every third line). The question involved clarifying some piece of trivia from Book 3 (which we finished 3 1/2 months ago) that had cropped up again, so we hashed it out for a minute or two, at which point he told me the name of the chapter in Book 3 in which the trivia had been mentioned.

I'm sorry, but that's just eerily weird to me. I can barely remember my name some days, and I get my kid and my dog mixed up regularly, but this little 9-year-old squirt (who forgets at least once a week to pick up his glasses off the bathroom counter at school where he leaves them while removing one of the four layers he insists on wearing each morning) can remember the name of a chapter that contained a particular piece of trivia in a 700-page book that he finished 3 1/2 months ago. Seriously??? Is that NORMAL?

He amazes me - really, he does.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Bead & Button 2011 classes!!

If anyone's interested, here are links to the twelve (TWELVE!) classes I'll be taking at Bead & Button in June. All twelve are beadweaving and/or stitching classes - no chainmaille, clay or anything else this year. I think that, finally, I'm getting clear on where my interests lie (and chainmaille is still way up there - I'm just mostly past the point of needing a class in that area). It also sure makes the supply list a heck of a lot smaller and lighter.

I'm particularly excited about taking a second class with one of my idols - Sherry Serafini - and a first class with Cynthia Rutledge.

Magnetic Focal Clasp

Token of Love Bracelet


Romancing the Rivoli

Rainforest Pendant

The Rising Sun

Treasure Trove Earrings

Sea Nettles Necklace

RAW Architecture: Creative Engineering with Right-Angle Weave

Mermaid's Treasure Chest

Gerbera Pendant Necklace

Peyote Twist Earrings


CES Wrap-up

I'm home from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, having spent the past couple of days in hard-core geek mode and having had more fun than should be legal (and not in the way one usually expects when hearing "fun", "legal", and "Las Vegas" in the same sentence). There were roughly 150,000 other geeks choking the Convention Center and every hotel in town; we waited in lines for everything (beginning with one of at least several HUNDRED people to get a cab at the airport on Thursday); and the male-to-female ratio was more in my favor than it will ever be again in my life (not that I was looking).

Accessories for Apple gear seemed to dominate the "little products" areas - the number of iPhone cases, iPad stands, fancy earbuds, etc. was mind-boggling. Apple's going to have to keep cranking out the devices just to give people something to put all the accessories ON. (And it occurred to me that I might be able to combine my two passions by creating beaded, bling-y accessories for geeky girls like myself - not that I'd be the first one to do so.) I had a good time watching the "pods" where people could try out the Kinect, although I refrained from participating in such a public setting - strangers don't need to see my mediocre dancing skills. We had a nice chat with the Tivo people (an iOS app is supposedly imminent), spent a long time drooling over new developments in televisions (even though I'm still not rushing out to buy 3D anything), and watched one rep demo a cordless blender which worked when she positioned it over a tiny dot the size of a pin head on the counter. I also saw a very nice-looking washing machine that was a top-loader without a post - wish that had been out a couple of years ago.

One question I was hoping to answer for myself over the weekend was whether anything was coming out in the foreseeable future (say, two to four years) that would necessitate (or simply make too appealing to resist) new electronics to replace anything I put in the house in the past two years. Fortunately, the answer seems to be, generally, no. Which means I can spend all my money on beads. :)

I had a truly spectacular time. So, so much fun. Almost makes me want to go back to work in the tech field again. Almost.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Mercer Island, WA


Hello, hotel room mini-bars? This is technology calling.

I had to comment on this because (in my experience) it's so unusual, and there isn't enough room in a status update. So - my room at the Wynn Encore in Las Vegas has a mini-bar, which includes a small fridge full of overpriced alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and a tray of overpriced but probably still tasty snacks. As with pretty much all mini-bars, there's a nicely printed card that indicates what the options are (including the increasingly-common-everywhere-but-de-rigeur-in-Vegas "Intimacy Kit") and just how overpriced they are. ($30 for the Intimacy Kit, by the way - and for that price I hope it includes something more interesting than just a condom - although you can't put a price on safety. But I digress.)

In addition to the nicely printed card indicating prices, there's a nice man (or presumably, in some cases, a nice lady) who goes room to room checking to see what's been consumed and needs to be replaced. I know this because he showed up 5 minutes after I got into the room this afternoon.

But these nice men and women who do the restocking aren't the ones responsible for reporting to the hotel what you've consumed so you can be charged accordingly. Oh, no indeed. The hotel knows when you've consumed items because EACH ONE IS RESTING ON AN ELECTRONIC DEVICE THAT KNOWS WHEN YOU'VE REMOVED IT FOR MORE THAN 60 SECONDS AND IT GETS ADDED TO YOUR HOTEL BILL AUTOMAGICALLY.


And apparently, if you store stuff of your own in the fridge, you might incur some charges too, presumably because it would require moving the existing items around. But there's a solution (see below).

Lest you think I'm kidding... there's a pic:

Is it me, or is that a little creepy?


The first of a thousand conversations

I talked to Christopher about 9/11 a few days ago. I don't remember exactly how it came up, but it wasn't out of the blue... it was related to something we were already discussing, and the conversation seemed to naturally progress to that. I think it might have had to do with God, and what different people believe, and how other people sometimes act when you don't believe what they do. I guess on some level I figured he was old enough to start hearing something about it.

Because he kept asking questions, I went into a fair amount of detail, explaining about the planes getting hijacked (and what that meant) and flying into the twin towers and the Pentagon, and then the plane flying into the ground in Pennsylvania. I explained that, ultimately, these things happened because some people in another place think that we are evil and wrong. I started to cry in the middle of the explanation, and he looked at me for a few moments and then started to laugh, but it was the laughter of confusion, of discomfort.

"Why does your voice sound that way, Mom?"

I told him that it was because I was crying - which seemed obvious to me (I don't cry delicately), but then I realized that he'd never seen me cry, and so I said as much. I tried to explain that I was crying because it still upset me, still scared me, even though it happened a long time ago, before he was even born. I was trying to help him understand that sometimes bad, scary things happen in the world, and those things hurt and upset people; but I was also trying to reassure him that his daddy and I would always do everything we could to protect him and take care of him.

Fortunately, I think he knows that, through and through. It was oddly reassuring that his life has been so happy, so calm, so sheltered that - at almost nine years old - seeing his mother cry was a new experience. In the end, he didn't seem disturbed or distressed, although at the same time he clearly didn't understand the enormity of what had happened, of the impact it had on all of us.

A few years ago, I heard a consultant talk about how to discuss sex with your children; she made the comment that it's "a thousand one-minute conversations, not a single thousand-minute conversation." It's magical to have one's child reach the age when substantive conversations are possible, but on the other hand, it means that one has to be prepared for conversations such as this one.


Dubai: This will have to do for now

I've started several entries about my reactions to Dubai, and each time I've ended up erasing them because I just can't get my head around what I've seen. So I'll just say the one thing that I keep coming back to: I have never been so entranced and so appalled in my life - especially at the same time - and this place makes me want to never buy another gallon of gasoline again.

When Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "Kubla Khan" - while out of his mind on opium - he was writing about Dubai. He just didn't know it, and it hadn't been built yet. It is fantastic and very disturbing. It is gorgeous, a miracle of engineering and sheer force of will and more money than anybody *I* know can really understand.

I thought I knew how the other half lived. This is how the other other half lives.


Think About What You Saw

I spent half the day today at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC - a powerful, sobering experience. I'm still not really sure what to think or how I feel... there's a big part of me that can't grok how evil of that magnitude can exist and even thrive for a bit. Maybe that sounds näive - after all, my 43 years have been witness to other atrocities. Perhaps it's because I don't internalize such things very well - the fact that they're "far" from me and don't touch me directly is just fine with me.

I remember asking my parents once why we never really talked about the Vietnam War when I was a child. They're well-educated, well-read people who watch the news and pay attention and think and talk about current events. I was born in 1967, and my brother came along the next year, so it seemed to me that it would have been in the front of their minds. When I was younger, I found their response puzzling: in short, they said, they had other more pressing things to worry about that were closer to home: their still-young marriage, their two young children, the stresses and obligations and joys and delights of their very-full lives. At the time, I was more focused on being embarrassed that I knew so little about this significant piece of recent history, so I was dismissive of and unsympathetic to their explanation.

I was four months pregnant with Christopher on 9/11, and (like most people) I remember exactly where I was that morning, when my husband ran upstairs to turn on the television. I called my mother, sobbing hysterically - she was on the East Coast, so she'd already been watching for hours, whereas both towers were down before we even turned on the TV in Seattle. I only remember one thing she said: "You need to think about the baby and calm down." I'm sure she said other things as well, but that was the only thing that stuck.

I spent part of that day watching TV with friends, but I remember reaching the point at which I couldn't keep looking any longer at that footage of the plane flying into the tower - I couldn't afford to have the image in my head. I went to New York a month later, on an already-scheduled trip, and even went down to Ground Zero (or as close as one could get then), walking along eerily-quiet dusty streets with my mother, but I remember very little besides the silence, the dust, and the forever-altered view of the Manhattan skyline from the Staten Island Ferry. I returned home, and life went on as "normal." A month after that, my son arrived unexpectedly early, and it was some time later when I started to get it: I had other more pressing things to worry about closer to home.

When I think about the Holocaust - and honestly, I don't think about it hardly at all - it's such a distant, abstract thing for me. I'm not Jewish, I'm not German, I don't know that any of my friends has a family member who's a survivor, or for that matter, who wasn't a survivor, although I'm sure someone I know does. I studied the Holocaust briefly in high school in whatever class covered 20th-century history but managed to dodge it in college. I finally saw Schindler's List about a year ago, more than 15 years after its release, because I had actively avoided it to that point, knowing it would be horrifying. It's something that happened to someone else, somewhere else, at some other time, and I didn't want those images in my head.

It's easy to feel ashamed about that. I was ashamed today, reading about all the actions my country - which bangs the drum about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - could have taken to help the Jews in Europe, but chose not to. I was ashamed at what I didn't know, at what I hadn't set out to learn. I was ashamed at how much I had ignored or, more passively, simply hadn't considered.

Sometimes we do have more pressing things closer to home that require our immediate energies and attention. None of us can take up every cause out there. Few of us have the time, the resources, the freedom from existing obligations to drop everything and charge off to help save the world every time some horrifying atrocity or disaster or evil attacks a person or a race or a nation or a cherished belief we hold. But we do have an obligation, as human beings, to not stick our heads in the sand. I'm grateful to have the chance to go back and learn and understand and appreciate, even if it's after the fact. It will give me the tools to help me guide my child as he starts to learn that the world is full of horrors as well as of joys. And I will think about what I saw.