Monday, December 17, 2012

The Best Things In The World

Around Christmas I find myself a bit panicky at the amount of STUFF that comes into this house. There are four of us, three of which are grimly determined pack-rats, and our house isn't very big. The result is that I live in constant clutter, and that makes me a bit crazy. So I try to focus on the things that I really like, that make my life happy. And most of those things aren't things at all:

  • SLEEP. Man, is there anything, anything better than going to sleep? There's the drifty, floaty feeling after putting your head down on the pillow, the rolling over in the middle of the night to realize you still have hours, or the Sunday morning dozing where you slip in and out of conciousness while surfing the contents of your head. Sleep is my number one drug.
  • BABIES. The smell insanely delicious, their skin in like the warmest, softest satin and they have little corn-niblet toes that are the cutest things ever made. Plus, when they smile, that's your day, right there.
  • HOT SHOWERS. I think the single greatest accomplishment of the Twentieth Century is indoor plumbing, and hot running water in abundance is the greatest thing about indoor plumbing. Being clean is one of the best feelings ever (note: the shower you take after a camping trip or a day at the beach.), but the delight of stepping into that steamy shower is not to be taken for granted.
  • YOUR OWN BED. Really, doesn't everyone want to be home? And isn't home what's familiar and comfortable and safe and cozy? And isn't your bed all those things? I love to travel, but snuggling down into my own bed after a trip has to be one of the best things ever.
  • A GOOD BOOK. I love it when I get a book that is so good that I think about it when I'm not reading it, and can't wait to get back to it. (Preferably IN MY OWN BED.) No matter what is going on in my life, I can always count on a good book to give me perspective, make me think, educate me or simply entertain me long enough to forget my own problems. Books are indispensible.
  • SUNSHINE We live in a part of the world that gets a fair bit of cloudy weather, and boy oh boy, when the sun does come out? It's like everyone got a shot of Happy. You can see the collective mood lift and it is a serious game changer. Sunshine is nature's Prozac.
  • LAUGHTER One time, a client remarked on the Christmas decorations in the salon to the Mister by saying "I really like your balls". Which, at the time, made us all run into the staff room, where we laughed so hard I thought I might pass out. And then one of us would catch the other's eye and we'd be off again like a bunch of lunatics. We laughed all day about that.  A good, gut-busting, loud and honest belly laugh is one of the best things ever.
  • HUGS. Last year, when my father was very ill, and things were at their worst,  my good friend Big Liver Girl came over with some homemade soup and bread and gave me a full-body, rib-cracking, back-and-forth swaying hug. It was wonderful. It was comfort and care and acknowlegment and sympathy and  love, all in one package. How can you beat that? My friend Blair could hug as her day job, she's so good at it.
  • MUSIC. Few things in this world are as remarkable as music. Happy? There's a song for that. Sad? We've got that covered. It's a particular season or occasion? No problem. The possibilities are, literally, endless. And I'm willing to wager you have a song running through your head right now.
  • TAKING OFF YOUR SKI BOOTS. If you ski, you'll know exactly what I mean. If you don't, let me explain....You put on your ski boots in the morning out for a day on the slopes, and you dont' take them off until you are finished. Ski boots are heavy, and they don't bend at the ankle, so you clomp around all day in the equivient of bowling balls on your feet, looking and sounding like the Incredible Hulk. When you take those heavy, sweaty, rigid boots off, it feels like you are walking about 3 inches above the ground, and you are about to float away altogether. Plus, your ankles bend now, so getting something off the ground is not the production it was earlier.
  • CLEAN I hate cleaning, but man, do I love stuff clean. When I clean a closet or a room, I have to go back into it a couple of times and just admire my efforts and how fabulous it looks.
None of these things are particularly remarkable or out of the ordinary, but they make me the happiest. And maybe because they are not particularly remarkable or out of the ordinary, that's why they make me happy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Amazing Race 21, Finale

At the beginning of this season, my money would never have been on Josh and Brent to win, that's for sure. But good on 'em; they certainly showed that the only leg you really need to come in first on is the last one.

I loved this season; great locations and tasks, constant switching up of first and last places, and very likable teams, and right up until the last moment you really didn't know who was going to win. That really was an amazing race.

I think I'm most pleased, however, that the Twins did not make the final three; they were pretty tiresome in France. I couldn't believe that they were so enraged that the Beekmans were "taking the place of other teams who really wanted to be there" when the only reason they were still there was because of the Twins own shenanigans with the Double U-Turn. Did they expect the Goat Farmers to slink off and go home?
Brent and Josh weren't my favorite team this season, but the Twins were so awful during that dog-feeding task that I actually found myself rooting for them.

Oh, Chippendales, I so wish it had been you. I felt so bummed for them; they were class acts all the way along.
I will love Jaymes forever for kissing that plow horse. (And did you see the French guy's expression? He was all "I know! I love that horse too!")
 And the way he said, in the politest way possible to their cabbie in New York "can you please hurry? You have no idea how important this is to us", instead of someone screaming and crying, or claiming it's an emergency. (I'm looking at you, Mirna and Charla.) I'm glad they won the car, though. I love those guys, I hope they get another shot at this in another All-Stars season.

While Trey and Lexi were not the most exciting racers ever, I have to give them props; for two kids who had never travelled before, they handled this like pros. I can't imagine a more stressful, exhausting and character-challenging first trip out of the country. And although the constant "babes" were a bit annoying, they never blew up at each other or sniped or took their frustrations out on each other; a rare thing among couples in this game. But Lex, honey, lay off the "I want a ring!" stuff; he's not there yet, and you're making the rest of us uncomfortable.

I'm a little depressed that only the Beekmans knew the symbol for the UN. Seriously? These people went to college, didn't they? I like that Lexi thought it was a target. But then again, she'd never heard of Houdini, either.

Those final two tasks were brutal. I would have had all kinds of trouble keeping my shit together getting out of that straight jacket anyway, let alone hanging upside down a mile off the ground. Holy shnikes, if they had played rap music and made me eat blue cheese, that would have been every single one of my nightmares wrapped up in one big world of awful.
And Thing 1 and I KNEW the hellos and goodbyes would figure into the last leg! That was pretty hard, too. I'm fairly good at languages, but I'd be so distracted at the mat waiting for Phil to tell me what position I'm in, I don't think I'd be paying much attention to the greeter. I'm with Jaymes when he said "I didn't know we were supposed to memorize hello and goodbye, I thought they were just being cordial!"

That pizza looked all kinds of awesome....why did Lexi say "I hope we don't have to eat any pizza!" I would have had trouble staying away from it.

Did you hear that the Ford Escape has a new thingy where you just kick at the back bumper and the hatch opens? Maybe it's just a rumor.

I'm not sure what has to happen for something to qualify as a "festival, but  The "Festival of Horse Work" sounds like the worst festival ever.

I like how everyone was pronouncing the French words like they were Spanish.

How come the only Talking Head at the Amazing Finish Line was Rob the Monster Trucker saying how he now understands the "gay lifestyle" and he can accept them as people? First of all, welcome to 2012, dude, and secondly, I cannot begin to tell you what a douchbag you are.

Note to Self: Avoid cities where the Amazing Race has recently been..... a natural disaster is going to come by and level the place shortly thereafter. Seriously, tsunamis in Thailand, earthquakes in Chile, hurricanes in New Orleans and New York; this show manages to just run ahead of whatever biblical-level nastiness nature can dish up. Just sayin'.

I've read that the next Race will start on Sunday February 17th (it's just finished filming.)
Until next time!!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Favorite Books of 2012

I never think I've read as much as the year before until I start making this list every December. These are the books that stuck with me this year, the ones that I keep thinking about long after I've read them.
In no particular order:

Only Time Will Tell and Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer. (Fiction) Say what you will about Jeffry Archer, I'm no fan of his politics and he has spent time in jail, be he's one hell of a storyteller. Both these books feature his usual themes; class divide, underhanded connivers, good people who are smart and resourceful. Always a pleasure to read his stuff.

Various Positions by Martha Schabas (Fiction) Coming of age stories are popular because they're the one thing that everybody can identify with, because everyone has to figure out their way through the world, whether they want to or not. And reading about someone who's doing a way worse job than you ever did is strangely compelling. This story of a young ballerina trying to figure out who she wants to be is stark and uncompromising, and you will remember how awful it was to be out of your depth and how far you've come since then.

Flying with Amelia by Anne de Grace  (Fiction)History is often one of the worst taught subjects in school, because it focuses on the big events, but not how people actually lived through those events. This book, a collection of short stories, really, tells history as it should be told, from the ground up. How people navigated situations that they didn't even realize were big events when they were in the middle of them. A working knowledge of Canadian history is helpful here, she doesn't do much background for you, but a quick Google search will get you up to speed on the more obscure events.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Fiction)I'm not much of a fan of post-apocalyptic, distopian fiction, but my kids said this book was terrific, and I read, reluctantly,  it because of then. I think I tore through it in about a day and half. Terrific pacing and all kinds of twists and turns, as well a love story and a bad-ass heroine made this one rollicking read. The next two books in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay didn't capture me quite as much as the first one, but I still HAD to find out what happened.

Mad Women by Jane Maas (Non-Fiction)Written  by one of the few women account executives on Madison Avenue in the 60's and 70's, this memoir of life as a woman in the working world before "women's lib" was utterly fascinating. For example, she said that any woman who wasn't a secretary would keep her hat on all day, to distinguish herself as a woman who wasn't a secretary. Loved this book.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Non-Fiction)After her mother died and her marriage broke up, Cheryl Strayed found herself alone and rootless and searching desperately for something to help her put her life back together. And she decided hiking eleven hundred miles alone along the Pacific Coast trail would do it. A powerful memoir, honest and funny and poignant and beautifully written.

11/22/63 by Stephen King (Fiction) I used to LOVE Stephen King as a young adult (The Shining still gives me the odd nightmare.) but stopped reading his stuff after a while because I felt it got too gorey and weird. But I read Bag of Bones a few years ago and really enjoyed it, and was willing to take a shot at this one because of that. Boy, am I glad I did; this book was one of the best I've ever read. The progagonist finds he can go back in time, to the late 50s....what if he just hangs around fro a few years and prevents JFK's assassination? Excellent story of time travel and love and suspense. It's a huge book, though, and I'm glad I read it on my e-reader.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking by Sarah Cain (Non-Fiction) In a society that rewards people  hugely for airing their entire lifetime of dirty laundry on television, introverts get a bad rap. But this book explores not only what it means to be an introvert (news flash: it's not always the person at the party staring at their feet) but also how introverts have powerful talents that are often overlooked. This book gave me a new perspective on how other people are wired; a lot to chew on here.
The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes (Fiction) Marian Keyes could write a grocery list and I would read it. I love her. LOVE her. Her books are all hilariously funny while exploring some pretty dark subjects (i.e. depression, domestic violence, drug addiction.) This was no exception.

Winter of the World by Ken Follett (Fiction) The second book in a trilogy about the twentieth century. The first book, Fall of Giants, dealt with World War 1, this one is about World War II and the next one I think is about the Cold War. Wonderful historical fiction which does what good historical fiction should do: brings you into the middle of things and tells you how people got through it. Not the happiest of reads, but well worth the ride.

A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Fiction) Most of the criticism I read about this book was that it's "not Harry Potter". Of course it isn't; that story is over. But this really isn't anything like Harry Potter. It's set in the fictional town of Pagford in present day, and there's not one character in this book who isn't petty or mean or badly behaved at one time or another. She's a good enough writer that I'm willing to go on whatever journey she's offering, and after an intial slow start, I found myself reading this every chance I got.

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper (Fiction) Jonathan Tropper is one of the few authors that I am delighted to find has a new book coming out; I love his stuff. His main characters are usually messed up men who, in real life, you'd fing yourself avoiding like the plague. But he makes these guys believable and sympathetic and very likeable. Not an easy task, but Tropper makes it looks easy.


Amazing Race 21, Episdode 10

I figured it was a Non-Elimination leg when no one at the front of the pack started shrieking about being in the Final 3. And you KNOW Lexi would have been the Top-Notch Shrieker of all time there.

I have to admit, I still sort of like the Twinnies, even though I don't like them very much. They don't blame anyone else for their bad performance, and they certainly don't dissolve into tears when they abuse each other, either. I don't think I'd want to spend a month in a racearoundtheworld with them, though.
I loved when they  them called themselves stupid in Spanish.

At first I was offended on the Beekmans' behalf when the Twins said "they're super prepared....they're gay!", but then I realized I call them the Gay Goat Farmers all the time, and seriously, most of the gay guys I know are hellishly well organized.

Why did they have Tall Goat Farmer do the tennis task when he had JUST got his ankle back in working order? Man, that was a Symphony of Whine, wasn't it? Little Goat Farmer said he sounded like Monica Selles, but all I could hear when he was playing was Olive Oyl.
Thing 1 and I would be screwed if we had had to to that task! I can do a LOT of things, but hitting a moving ball is decidedly NOT one of them. Thing 1 is no better. We'd still be there.

I laughed out loud when Tall Goat Farmer was complaining about his ankle at the airport in Amsterdam, and little Goat Farmer was telling him to "do Lamaze breathing"....the look Tall Goat Farmer gave him was precisely the look I see on my husband's face at least once every time we have a conversation. It's that "what the hell is wrong with you" look, and "please stop talking, for both our sakes".

Yay! Self navigation! We haven't seen anyone drive themselves yet on this thing! When stressed people drive unfamiliar vehicles in strange countries, hilarity ensues!
Seeing Natalie and Nadiya lurching around with that stick-shift was all kinds of funny. I remember my first stick-shift car; I'm pretty sure I actually hopped home once, when I first got it,  like a rabbit.

Lexi and Trey aren't my favorite team; they're actually a bit blah. But on the other hand, they're probably the most drama-free couple I've ever seen on this thing. I had to have some sympathy when she sliced up her finger....I've had root canals, and wisdom teeth pulled and an ear infection and given birth, and none of them compared to the pain I felt when I got a sliver under my fingernail. I think the worst part for her is that she didn't see it coming....that kind of injury, when it's a surprise, really hurts!

Even though I would actually be happy to see any of these teams win, I really do have a particular soft spot in my heart for the Chippies....they're just so nice. They even said "hi, horsey!" to Don Quixote's burro.

What the hell was up with the greeter? Were they in the Spanish version of Sleepy Hollow?

I could hardly concentrate on this episode, because there was a promo at the beginning of the show where Phil announced that there is going to be a Canadian version of the Race! Hot-diggity!! Even though it looks like it's just going to be a racearoundthecountry, and not leave Canada, I'm still pretty soon as I figure out how to apply, I'm in! Big Liver Girl said she'd be my partner, and I think we'd be in pretty good shape. She can do all the athletic stuff and I can eat anything. I imagine there could be cod-kissing in Newfoundland and igloo building in Nunavut and perhaps a challenge involving getting across the Lions Head Bridge in Vancouver at rush hour. I'm off to brush up on my French and find out where all the Tim Hortons are across the country!

Until next week!