Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Favorite Books of 2010

Just in case you need some gift ideas for the coming year, here's my list of "Favorite Books of 2010". Enjoy!

  • The Wave by Susan Casey (Non-fiction) An enthralling account of gigantic ocean waves, how they form, where they are, and the scientists who study them. If that sounds dry, it really is not, partly because Casey follows a bunch of big-wave surfers, the best in the world, as they ride 100-foot waves all over the world. (Go to YouTube and type in "surfing big waves" to see what's involved.) One of the most interesting books I read this year.
  • Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (Fiction) Another home run by the guy who wrote "Pillars of the Earth". A lovely, big, fat, historical novel about several families in the years before and during WW I. The first in a trilogy, so this one's a bit of a commitment.
  • Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Fiction) Heartbreaking and poignant, this novel about a family, a terrible tragedy and the aftermath has stayed with me for months.
  • Black Out by Connie Willis (Fiction) I like the way Connie Willis deals with time-travel; it's a lot less about the science and a LOT more about the history. This story, about historians travelling from 21st century Oxford to London during the Blitz was hugely entertaining. My only beef with it was that it's one of two books, which was not made clear when I started the first one.....that last page was a big disappointment. Fortunately, the sequel, "All Clear" has been published recently.
  • Little Bee by Chris Cleeve (Fiction) A sweet, sad novel told by an young African refugee and the English family who's lives she enters. This story made me realize that I live in a stable, secure and utterly safe place that many in the rest of the world can only dream of.
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Fiction) A quirky and delightful 11-year-old narrator made this murder-mystery a lot of fun to read. The sequel, "The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag" was equally gratifying.
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhonda Janzen. (Non-fiction) When her husband leaves her for a guy named Bob on Gay.com, and she's in a debilitating car accident, the author returned to her parents home, and the Mennonite community she'd left years before. Funny and touching, this story of coming home and putting the pieces of your life back together was wonderful.
  • A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George (Fiction) A story of a musical-prodigy, his family and a mystery that has haunted his family for years. A terrifically entertaining book.
  • Coal; A Human History by Barbara Freese (Non-Fiction) A social history of the fuel. Way more interesting than you'd think.
  • Wide Awake by Patricia Morrisroe. Thankfully, I have no problem sleeping, but reading this book made me realize that lots of people do. Patricia Morrisroe talks about her own insomnia and the multitude of solutions she and thousands have tried, all in the name of getting some sleep. Ironically, I stayed up late reading this.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Amazing Race 17, Episode 10

That was, perhaps, the most disappointing Non-Elimination Leg since Flo and Zack got a pass in Season 3. I think they should let Vicky run the rest of the Race (maybe with Gary or one of the first guys out) and let Nick float around that harbour in Hong Kong for the rest of the time. It did sound as though Phil was unhappy about it, too.

Yikes, but that is a toxic relationship....when Vicky said at the beginning that she's getting better at "calming Nick down", Thing 1 and I looked at each other with big eyes and our mouths in little "o"s. Vicky, honey, the only one responsible for Nick's demenor is Nick. Just to tell you. It's bad enough he berates you, belittles you and provides no emotional support whatsoever, he lay down and quit while complaining he'd had nothing to eat all day while you did that roadblock and puked because of it. That's not a partner, that's ballast.

I think the only positive thing Nick has done on this whole race is to make Thomas look good enough in comparison that I could handle him and Jill winning this whole thing without crying.

Even though Brooke is as hyper and frenzied as a sugar-jacked 3 year-old, I just love her. And that Claire is one tough cookie....she really has had the worst Roadblocks. (Can you imagine if Nick had gotten that watermelon to the face? He'd still be whining about it.) But, why, for the love of God, did she think that Roadblock had anything to do with karaoke??? The clue said "peckish" !! It's in a restaurant!! Other people were eating!! And one of the Basic Rules of the Race is "Never accept a food challenge in Asia".

I freaking LOVED those other diners in the restaurant! I imagine they were rounded up and made to sit there all day, but man, they were hilarious when someone got the challenge right!

The Amazing Editors yet again get kudos from me...when Vicky said "I hate Chinese food", they cut right to the chef guy looking very despondent and sad, like he was personally hurt by her remark. I also liked the Amazing Cameramen getting shots of the pertinent signs during the Ding Ding challenge, and Jill and Thomas arguing about what they were supposed to be seeing.

What will happen to those parakeets? Why did they need to be delivered? And why did they need to be entertained and kept happy? I'm thinking the worst here, people.

I noticed that Jill said at the start that they hadn't seen any racers that day or the day before, and I've read that the "eat/sleep/mingle" portion of the pitstop has been eliminated. You hardly hear any racers even mention other teams, which has made for a nice dynamic this time around. I've really liked that the teams don't focus on each other, and just do the race. It would also explain why Nat has not sereptitiously poisoned Nick with a syringe of insulin in his sleep.

Until next week!
P.S. Apparently, they're starting filming of another season this week, with teams from seasons 11-17. I hope there are cowboys.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to Me!

The Mister and I stopped buying Christmas presents to each other years ago, we just go out and take the money we would have spent on each other and spend it on ourselves and call it even. It works out fabulously. He buys things I never ever knew he wanted, I buy things he didn't know existed.

After a ridiculous amount of thought and hours of research, I decided to buy myself a little e-reader, a Kobo. I'm a big reader, I read a novel a week on average, and anything related to books calls to me like a siren. And this little thing is about the biggest leap in technology in reading in the last 700 years. It's not an audio book, it's not something you listen to, it looks like a thin, little book with a screen, where you read like a book and try not to drop it in the bath.

I won't be abandoning physical books any time in the near future, they work just fine as they are. But when I was reading Ken Follett's latest book, which was wonderful and totally enthralling, it was HUGE. I had to prop it up with pillows when I wanted to read in bed. Seriously, it is a LOT of book. And it occurred to me that it might be nice to only have to carry around 220 grams of book, rather than the 12 pounds that thing weighed.

And when I travel, I take a lot of books. Once I found myself on a trans-Atlantic flight with only one book and I almost finished it on the flight....I was doling out those pages like methadone to an addict, I tell you. It was probably the most frightened I've ever been flying. So now I take at least 2 books, maybe three, on any flight. Then there are a few more books in my luggage. I take no chances. So when I go to Florida in March I can now bring my little Kobo, which has about 110 books on it, and nothing else. (Who am I kidding?? I'll still bring another book or two, in case the battery runs out or Armageddon happens.)

I've spent a happy few evenings rummaging through websites and finding books to download. I've even figured out how to borrow from the local library and get them on my little gadget.
So far, the only problem is, I've spent so much time sorting the thing out, I haven't had any time to read.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Amazing Race 17, Episode 10

That was okay, I'd had enough of Chad and Stephanie anyway. I was worried Brooke and Claire would be out, so the outcome is fine by me.

It's that point in the game where I'm watching the opening credits and seeing teams that make me ask Thing 1 "who the hell is that?".

I much prefer a W-Turn to a single U-Turn; it means that one team does not have a target stamped on their foreheads, and there's still some suspense at the Amazing Bathmat. And it was very nice to see people using the U-Turn as a strategy in the game, rather than a weapon of personal malevolence.

Apparently, Chad did not go to Notre Dame, because he does not know the difference between a PhD and an MD. I'm sure they would have told him that there. And remember, Chad, YOU were planning on U-Turning those two if you had the chance, too.
Chad did impress me a bit at the Pitstop with his reaction to being U-Turned; I expected him to whine about it not being fair, and then fling himself down on the Amazing Bathmat and beat his tiny fists on the Bangladeshi ground. At least he acknowledged it was part of the game.

Can we talk about Nat and Kat during the Talking Head confessionals? Because the blonde one looked, as my mother would say, like she had been dragged through a hedge backwards. It certainly looked like it was hot and muggy and seriously sweat-producing there, but man, she looked rough. I wanted to have a shower and a good night's sleep just looking at her.

Was that band at the Pitstop all playing the same tune?

Why did Jill and Thomas run to the Amazing Bathmat? They had a seven hour lead ahead of any other team, why not stroll for once?

That was the first time I've seen Brooke and Claire get even the tiniest bit snarky with each other there, and it was very short lived. I tell you, that Brooke is way tougher than she looks. "I'm going to go through this like a spider monkey!" was one of my favorite lines of the night. Also, when Stephanie bent over to shout "Shut the hell up!" right into Chad's ear during the brick task...I liked that one a lot, too.

Next week? Nick is officially dead to me. Seriously, he's just mean and stupid. Saying things in the heat of the moment out of frustration is one thing, but saying things to your partner designed to be hurtful and belittling is completely another. Do you think Nick and Thomas could be out and we could get Jill and Vicky to run the rest of this together?

Until next week!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Amazing Race 17, Episode 9

I realized about half way through this episode that there wasn't anyone I really wanted to see out. As much as I dislike Chad, I don't mind Stephanie, and I couldn't wish for their elimination on their engagement day. Man, sleeping in for TWO hours and still coming in first??? You've used up all your karma for this life-time, I think.

On a side note, even if I was going to say "yes", I'd hate to be proposed to in a situation that dictates that I'd pretty much have to. I know those two have already bought a house together, and likely have already decided to be buttheads together for life, but I'd still want to preserve the idea that I had a choice. The status change to "engaged" was cute, though.
( A client once told me about her sister who was dating a guy for a few months, and he seemed to think things were more serious than she did, because he got down on one knee and pulled out a ring at his family's Christmas dinner. She was mortified, and had to say "can we talk about this later" and left. I certainly would never marry anyone who knew me so little as to get between me and my dessert. )

I'm so sorry to see Gary and Mallory leave; I just loved them. But holy shit, NINE hours?? I think you could see Oman in it's entirety in nine hours. (BTW, are there any women in Oman? Other than the few we saw at their homes in the water-delivery task, I don't think I saw any the whole episode.)

Yay! Jill found her voice! Telling Thomas to shut it when he was yammering about directions was very sweet. "Am I from here??" I wish she did more of it. Thomas seems to have had his sense of humor surgically removed at Notre Dame.

Well, old "Ghana Nick" seems to be at the party for the duration. If my partner ever told me to "shut up", under any circumstances, let alone on television, I'd sit down and pull out my book and not get up until Phil came to get us.

Thank you, Amazing Editors, for the juxtaposition of Nick saying "they're probably laughing their heads off at us right now" and then cutting to shot of Brooke and Claire cackling like Evil Overlords.

Speaking of Vicky, OF COURSE nothing frightens her! I'll bet she rappels 300 feet down the face of cliffs every day before her first coffee! And I really like the way she dealt with the clue-eating goat. I would happily run the race with you any time, Vicky, and don't worry, I will cheerfully be in charge of taking care of bugs.

I wonder if the producers thought that the teams would be closer together, because that market would have probably been more of a challenge when it was crowded and everything was open. By the time Nat and Kat and Mallory and Gary were finding Ali Baba, he seemed to be the only stall open, which made it very easy to find. It's a good thing they did not have smoke detectors in his little shop, because they'd be going off all night in that little shop.

I would very much like for one of the all-female teams to win, not because I particularly think two women should win this for once, but because I don't want any of the douchy boyfriends to win it.

Until next week!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Tomorrow is November 11th, Remembrance Day. Most of us will never have to fight in a war, or see someone we love do it either, and I think it's good that we have to take a few minutes to remember those people who did.....what a miserable, awful, incredibly difficult thing it must have been. I'm very thankful that their service means that I will probably never have to.

There is always a Remembrance Day ceremony at school, no matter what kind of school you go to. I'm sure they have not changed much, they were always solemn and serious types of affairs, the urge to giggle didn't seem quite as overwhelming as at Mass. It was a bit bewilderingly sad and heavy to a bunch of kids; it was years before I figured out that we were not talking about a war that we were currently fighting, it was to remember ones we were all done with. They always handed out poppies for us to wear, which was a nice gesture, but a totally terrible idea....if you wanted 300 kids to sit quietly and reflect on the dignity of the situation, I suggest that you do NOT give them pins with which to stab each other, or little red felt flowers with which to fashion fake, clown lips.

We sang a few hymns, someone said a speech, a lucky couple of kids got to put the wreath on the cross (lucky because they got to move around when everyone else had to sit still) and the tallest girl in our class always, without fail, fainted. Every. Single. Year. And then we recited the poem "In Flanders Fields", which, I'm pretty sure, has to be memorized by every school child in Canada by law.

When Thing 1 was in Grade 1, I asked her about the Remembrance Day ceremony, and she told me it was "to remember the people who fought and died on the farm." Say what? The farm? "Yes" she said very seriously, "the people who fought and died on the farm", like I was both a moron and hard-of-hearing. It turns out she thought it had to to with farms because of the first line "In Flanders Field, the poppies grow..." I guess it makes as much sense as anything else when you're 6.

My favorite story about a Remembrance Day ceremony was told to me by one of my co-workers. She had 5 kids in her family, and as you can imagine, getting everyone out the door in the mornings was a bit of a challenge for her mother. My friend was in Grade 6, her older sister in Grade 8, and her two younger brothers in Grades 4 and 1. One Remembrance Day, which if you recall, is only 11 days after Halloween, her mother was getting everyone ready for school when the youngest one announced that he had to "dress up" for school today. Now, he was the kind of kid who wore his Halloween costume for a couple of weeks before Halloween, slept in it, and wore it afterwards until it disintegrated entirely. His mother, who had no idea what day it was, said "okay, go put on your costume then", and sent him off. The Grade 1's came into the gym last, when everyone else was already settled, and there was my friend's brother, marching into the gym for the Remembrance Day ceremony, dressed as Batman.
She said she nearly died, partly from embarrassment, but mostly because she wasn't allowed to laugh at a Remembrance Day ceremony. She says she and her sister still bring that up to her mother, who's only response is "but I was so tired".

Happy Rememberance Day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Amazing Race 17, Episode 8

That was sweet....After all the pissing and moaning Kevin did about how lame his father was, I loved that the two of them were out because of Kevin's mistake. (Although, to be perfectly fair, Michael could have read that clue, too.) Now, even though Kevin got on my last nerve whining about his dad, and Michael seems like a nice guy, he's not the one I'd take on the race with me; this was not a "two person team", this was a "one person team with luggage".

I was wondering why Nick and Vicky didn't have a Speedbump this leg, because they came last in the Non-Elim last week. But then I read on the "interwebs" (which is what my mother calls the internet) that there was a judging error in the music task last week (with the pianos) and they lost a ton of time because of that. They didn't make them do the Speedbump because of it.

Nick, Nick, Nick....you seemed to have learned your lesson from your meltdown in Ghana, but then you reverted right back to your old dickwaddy self in St. Petersburg. For someone who thinks that they can drive to the Arctic Circle from west Africa, you've got some nerve calling anyone else a "dumbass", let alone your rock-star girlfriend who has proven to be completely capable of handing you your ass several times on this race, but has refrained from doing so.

I did like his story about his grandmother's "Clown Room".... that explains a LOT about old Nick, right there.

Speaking of Clowns, I'm so sorry the Clowns from season 4 were not there for the plate spinning task, because they'd have finished that in about 12 seconds flat. While juggling bowling pins.

Hard to believe Thomas did not learn to spin plates or play Russian folk songs on an accordion while wearing an enormous, red clown nose at Notre Dame. I loved that Jill seemed to be getting the hang of the accordion fairly quickly, but they had to bail because of him.

Chad continues to charm, no? Too bad he was busy laughing at his girlfriend missing the figurine to read the clue properly and take a cab to the church. What a tool.

When I saw Phil collapsing like a sack of potatoes at the Russian bowling task, I was so hoping that the other team mate would have to stand on that little platform during the event. Then Stephanie could have nailed Chad in the nuts a couple of times while appearing to try to do it properly.

Russian taxi drivers are harsh, man, demanding the full fare and not letting you off because you "really have to be somewhere." This isn't the first time this has happened, either....remember the stuntman brothers a couple of seasons ago? They tried to pay their cabbie in watches and compasses, and that bastard held out for cash too. (By the way, I calculated those taxi fares at around $325 US. What the hell?? Did Michael and Kevin call that taxi two days before??)

Love Brooke and Claire.....she's such and enthusiastic spazz, and Claire reads the clues. Kevin and Michael could learn a lot from those two.

Until next week!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rules of the House

We are nothing, here at the Loudshoes house, if not opinionated. In fact, our family motto should be "I think, therefore I'm right". No where are the opinions more violently defended than when it comes to food. Everyone has their rules, and we think the others are godlessly wrong.

1. I think that ketchup belongs on French fries and burgers, nothing else. It is such a sweet, all-dominating flavour that I can't taste anything else when there is even the teeniest bit of ketchup on it. The Mister puts ketchup on eggs, macaroni and cheese, french toast and grilled cheese, and eternally tries to get me to do the same, because, in his words, I am "missing out". On something gross, apparently.

2. Eggs must be served with a starch, preferably a toasted one. Scrambled eggs sitting lonely and neglected by themselves are sad enough, but they get cold faster, too. A poached egg with hot buttered toast, or scrambled eggs with fried potatoes is the way God intended them to be served.

3. The more colours, the better. I find it almost impossible to eat a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch if I'm going to have an orange right after it. And don't tell me it would be all better if I had ketchup with the sandwich, because we are not having that discussion. Now, if there were pickles with the sandwich, I might be able to manage it. Grapes instead would make it all good.

4. All 4 food groups with a meal, except with breakfast. I don't know why breakfast gets a pass, but there it is. But lunch and dinner should have fruit and/or veggies, a protein, some sort of dairy and a starch. Sometimes you can combine things, like yogurt covers two categories, but lets not fool ourselves and think that strawberry yogurt will do 3.

5. No margarine. Ever. I can taste that stuff before it's even in my mouth. And it's nasty. Also, no liver, blue cheese or candied fruit in my kitchen.

6. The Mister demands gravy with mashed potatoes, or at least some sort of saucy thing to stand in for gravy. If gravy is absent, then corn must be served. If you have neither, then you have no business serving mashed potatoes.

7. For Thing 1 and Thing 2, food must not touch each other on the plate. In fact, dinner is much easier if I just give them each three little plates, rather than one big one.

8. Things must be at the right temperature, cold things cold, hot things hot. The idea of cold pizza or warm milk makes me gag.

9. Milk and water are the only acceptable beverages with meals, for kids. (The grown ups are allowed wine, but we rarely do at home.) Too many eating out expericences where they drank a vat of pop before their meals came, and they were too full to eat. And wired beyond belief, too.

10. Brown sugar is the only acceptable sugar for oatmeal. (Thing 2 shovels it on in truly dire proportions. )

Monday, November 1, 2010

Amazing Race 17, Episode 6

Man, am I enjoying this season! Diabolical tasks and beautiful scenery and a very low quotient for team-induced drama. This is how it should be.

I realized as Nick and Vicky switched Detours for the second time that they were out. And I also realized how much I didn't want them to be out. They are not the brightest bulbs on the chandelier, but they have an endearing self-deprecation that makes me like them very much. Also, she has rocked so many physical tasks while having asthma, and he obviously took the whole Roadblock "drag" mix-up with such good humour that I was really glad they have another chance.

Oh, Anonymous Russian Babushkas, how I love you all. Those women were the best thing about the night, I tell you. I'm so glad their comments were captioned..."the skinny ones work the hardest". I think they need their own show.

Those Detours were brutal. About half way through Phil describing the piano task, Thing 1 and I turned to each other and said "nope", and then he described the film task and we said "okay, pianos it is!". But why, why did they not do what Nick and Vicky finally do in the end??? Listening to all three pieces and trying to find them simultaneously would be impossible, there's no way you'd be able to distinguish one from the other that way.
Do you think those pianists gave a collective groan when they found out Nick and Vicky were on their way back?
I enjoyed Mr. Music Dictator: "NYET!". At least he started to look a bit sad when he had to say it for the 15th time.

Chad is so That Guy. You know, That Guy who kind of annoys you all the time, and then you feel sort of regret being too hard on him and thinking maybe he's not so bad after all, and then he opens his mouth and pisses you right off all over again, and you know you were right after all. That Guy.
I really liked the part where he said that listening to his girlfriend is a new and difficult experience for him, like bungee jumping or roping steers. That should make for an interesting marriage.

Kevin, sometimes your dad is right. Maybe you should listen to him sometimes, instead of treating him like luggage.

Favorite Line of the Night: "Here's your poop and potatoes!"

Thomas is very tiresome. When Jill asked (kind of excitedly) "have you ever been on a train like this before?" , he replied "Of course I have", like everyone who's anyone has travelled on a sleeper car and she's just too inexperienced and uncool to know that. Perhaps they held classes at Notre Dame in sleeper cars.
I've been on trains in a couple of countries and never been on a sleeper car. And I went to university, so take that Snotty McSmugpants.

I like Brooke so much...her running away from that barking dog twice had me in stitches.
When the kids were small, they used to narrate their lives like Brooke does, just constantly verbally detailing their actions and inner dialogue. And, like Brooke, it was cute at first, but incredibly wearing on everyone within earshot in a very short time. Thankfully, my kids grew out of it, but she hasn't.

So many good things in this episode. I loved when Kat mugged at the camera while she passed Mallory in the background desperately trying to get the locals to direct her where to go. When Stephanie mimicked Mallory going up into the poo pile to get the shovel, only to have Mallory say exactly the same "oh my God" in exactly the same way. Nick's face when he discovered exactly what kind of "drag" race he'd be in, and the fact that he kept his do-rag on under his babushka scarf. Mallory getting help over the fence from the locals, only to find out they wanted to have a drink with her. Good times.

I love this show.
Until next week!

nat walking past mallory asking for directions