Category Archives: books

15 in 15

This blog thing is kinda funny.

Inspired by some of our 5-10-15-20 lists, Lisa wrote this piece for our education newsletter blog.   In the comments, someone posted a link to THIS blog exercise which, in turn, inspired me to write the entry you’re now reading.

Since many of you have posted about reading lately, I thought I’d take the challenge, so here goes:

The rules are simple—think of 15 books in no more than 15 minutes.  The titles don’t have to be cool or influential, just books that stick with you.

Here’s my list (posted in the order in which I thought of them):

  1. Crashing Through by Robert Kurson
    I read this one on vacation two years ago and I’m hoping to read it again this summer.   It’s the story of a blind man who gets his vision back, but it’s soooo much more than that. It’s about courage and commitment and a live-life-to-the-fullest philosophy we can all learn from.   Utterly fascinating! Read my review, which was originally posted on mySpace.
  2. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
    When forced to pick one favorite book, I always list Ishmael. It was assigned reading in a sociology class in college and I immediately fell in love with its approachable themes of sustainability, responsibility, and the questioning of “facts.”   As I’ve become more educated on many of the issues illustrated in the book, I can understand why some people criticize it for being too simplistic, but it got me “hooked,” so it will always be one of my favorites.
  3. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
    Before I read Ishmael this would’ve been my “favorite book.”  I borrowed a copy from Mr. Kleiss’ classroom library in 5th grade and never returned it!   From the first sentence to “stay gold, Ponyboy” this book has a permanent place in my heart.
  4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
    We read this in book club and I remember liking it. It’s different. It’s quirky.   I usually like books where I learn about something outside of my realm of experience and this kicked off my fascination with Asbergers Syndrome.
  5. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
    I read this during my “books that were made into movies” stage and then I read a bunch of other Michael Crichton books soon after.  It has stuck with me after all of these years SIMPLY because there are a couple of scenes in the movie that make a lot more sense after you’ve read the book.  Of course, I don’t remember details now, but one of them has to do with dinosaur dung.
  6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    I’ve probably read this book 3 or 4 times for school.  Any time we could pick our own book for independent reading or for literature circles, I picked this one because a) I’d already read it and b) it’s really, really short.   Steinbeck is a great writer, but at the time I was impressed with his conciseness more for my own good than for its literary merit!
  7. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    Around the time Scarlett came out (the Gone with the Wind sequel, Google tells me it was 1992. I was 13), my mom had hardcover copies of both of the books in our house.  I was impressed by the length of the book (“It’s bigger than the dictionary, Mom!”) and decided to read it one summer.  I remember laying out in our backyard for HOURS devouring the tale of Rhett and Scarlett and wishing I lived in the South.   It was YEARS before I saw the movie and although I appreciated the whole making-a-dress-from-curtains thing, it wasn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped.
  8. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    I don’t remember much about the plot of this anymore, but I remember loving the book when I was younger.  And I’m sure it has helped shape my current obsession with Lost and all it’s time-travel loops.   Time for a re-read on this one as well.
  9. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
    I jumped on the HP train kinda late. I refused to read them when they first became popular simply because they were popular.   Then I took a trip to visit my grandma.  Was reading the books and had the first 3 in paperback by the bed in the spare room. I couldn’t sleep and didn’t have anything to read, so I opened up the first one and was immediately enchanted.   I made it almost halfway through the first book that night and she let me borrow the other ones.    The next day was September 11, 2001.   During the days that followed, I watched the news like everyone else, but I’d spend my nights reading about Harry and Hogwarts.  Perfect escapism.
  10. Lamb by Christopher Moore
    I love Christopher Moore’s books.  The first one I read was about the grim reaper.  This one is a fictionalized story of Biff, Jesus’s best friend. It’s funny (and not quite as sacriligious as it sounds).  Moore’s books are great vacation/easy reads.
  11. Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lyn Vincent
    This book was given to me as a gift and even though the gift-giver described it as “kind of spiritual” I read it anyway. (I don’t usually go for “spiritual,” but I almost always feel obligated to read things people give me.)   I’m so glad I did.  It’s the story of a homeless man and an upper-crust art dealer who become friends.  But, more importantly, it’s a story about love and sacrifice and just being a good person.  I read the ending on a plane and couldn’t keep the tears from rolling down my face.  I highly recommend it.
  12. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
    I’m not sure how or why I started reading Anne Rice.  I’m not especially interested in vampires and I never was much of a “horror” reader, so maybe it was the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise movie that encouraged me to read the book.   I loved it!  And I quickly devoured more of the books in the Vampire Chronicles series.  They are MUCH better than that *other* vampire series.
  13. The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss
    This was my mom’s favorite book growing up.  We had an old, tattered hardcover copy at our house, the kind with the cloth cover (you know… it wasn’t slick and shiny like hardcovers are today.)   I remember picking it up because I needed something to read, but I have NO CLUE how old I was.   It’s the story of a couple who adopt a bunch of “unadoptable” kids– racially and ethnically diverse kids who “nobody wanted.”   Another for the re-read list as I wonder how well it would hold up today.
  14. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
    Like just about every kid I know, my first introduction to poetry was through Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic, but the book that actually sticks with me is The Giving Tree. My aunt Linda gave me this story about a boy and his unusual relationship with a tree when I was fairly young, and that book has followed me to college, to internships, to various apartments/houses, and now it has a place on my bookshelf at work.  It’s cheesy and sentimental, but–at it’s heart– has a good message of friendship and of, well, giving.
  15. Scruples by Judith Kranz
    This is by far the most random book on the list. I remember buying a box of books at a garage sale when I was in 7th or 8th grade.  My cousin and I “shared” the box and sifted through it to find something to read.  We landed on this story of a woman who does something in the fashion business.  I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but I REALLY liked this one.   We both read the book and would take turns looking for the “good parts.”   This may have been a precursor to my short-lived fascination with Jackie Collins!


So, there you have it:  15 books in 15 mins (although it took considerably longer to write this post!).  Quick– can you think of 15 books that have stuck with you over the years??

And, yes, I plan on reading Jane Austen now.  You’ve all convinced me!! :)


About Twilight…

I’ve been sick.  Stupid stomach flu has kept me inside for the last 3 days and I’m going crazy.  This afternoon was the first time I even felt good enough to get online, if that tells you anything.   I watched MOST of the Oscars and took notes but haven’t had a chance to search for/upload pix.  If you’re still interested in my post-Oscar fashion re-cap, let me now. Otherwise I’ll skip it this year.

On to Twilight–    Because I had 3 days of nothing to do and TV made me nauseous, I managed to finish the Twilight series.   I have to say that, as a whole, I was disappointed.   I kinda thought it was a little hokey after the first book, but I promised myself I’d reserve judgement until the end.    And, you know what?  I honestly don’t see what all the hype was about.

Yes, I can see why teenage girls like it.  Yes, it’s easy to read.  Yes, I found myself wanting to know how it all turned out in the end.

But, the problem is:  I really didn’t CARE about any of the characters.  Well, maybe Charlie.  But the rest of them were just prototypes–  The awkward, misfit, “She doesn’t know she’s beautiful”  duckling that turns into a SWAN (Get it?  Bella Swan?  Real subtle),  her dashing “prince” Edward (who is way cuter in the book than in the movie posters I’ve seen btw), with amazing self control, the tortured “best friend” Jacob who just loves Bella more than life itself… yada, yada, yada.  

I also had a problem with the storyline.  Although I did wonder how Stephanie Meyer would tie everything up in the end, there was never any doubt that she would  tie everything up… in a nice, little, no-real-harm-done-here little bow.  It was so simplistic that I was surprised it took 4 books and over 2500 pages to tell the story.   And NONE of it was new– vampires vs. werewolves, shape shifters, vampire “law,” immortal children. I’ve seen it all before, and it’s not like I’m a huge vampire fanatic (although I have read some Anne Rice and I do enjoy the TV show True Blood).

I think the thing that bugged me the most about these books is the fanfare.  These books have been billed as  “the next Harry Potter.”  I think that’s a huge insult to Harry Potter and JK Rowling.    Don’t get me wrong… I wanted to get swept up in Twilight mania. I wanted to find something as lasting and as magical as Harry Potter.  But this, my friends,  just ain’t it.  

The Harry Potter world is true fantasy– filled with all kinds of magical people, places, and things.  This world is our world– filled with people (and vampires and werewolves) that are pretty much just like us.  And I realize that the “realness” of the world is part of the appeal… part of the fantasy that this could REALLY happen, but it also takes away some of the richness and depth.  

For me, these books are more like the “next Sweet Valley High;” fun to read, entertaining, but utterly forgettable.  I know many of you disagree, so please feel free to tell me why you liked the books.   ‘Cuz I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is about.

The Hostess with the Mostest– accidents, that is!

I love “entertaining.”  Since I live by myself, I don’t normally cook that much, but I enjoy doing it from time to time.  Plus, it’s just nice to have a full house every once in a while.

This week* I decided to host two events at my house, the rationale being that I’d only have to clean once.  SCORE!!

Thursday night was book club. 

It was one of the best meetings in recent memory.   We read This is Your Brain on Music, which was fascinating, if a bit dry.  But the most fun came when we played songs for one another.  It was really great to listen to some different types of music and to be able to share what we liked with one another.  You can read more about it (and see pictures!) on our book club blog.  (yeah, we’re that cool!)

Oh, and I broke a wine glass that night.  It was my wine glass, so I didn’t feel so bad.  Just a little embarrassed/clumsy.

Friday night was Bunco night! 

We haven’t played Bunco in months so it was good to get everyone together again.  I made a taco/nacho bar that seemed to go over well and, as always, there were lots and lots and lots of drinks.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many pictures.   I was apparently having too much fun playing hostess to remember to take photos, even though I had my camera out.   Plus, there’s the unfortunate situation with my camera cord (see below)  D’oh!!    

For the first time in maybe forever I actually WON!!  I got most wins and a $25 prize.  Awesome!

The “highlight” of the evening came when I decided to sit on my fold-up buffett table.   I had already put most of  the foodstuffs away and we were just sitting around gabbing.   I hopped up onto the table and it decided to fall out from under me… everything on the table (the remainder of the food, the tablecloth, me) slowly but surely slid to one side.  Everyone was laughing so hard they were crying and Kim managed to snap this pic with her cell phone (the quality isn’t great, but I think you get the point)



After that we decided to go to the local strip club.  Yeah, yeah, I know… but I’m fascinated with strippers… and it’s within walking distance… and it’s a bit of a tradition.

Anyway, this was NOT my night to be at the “club.”   I got knocked in the head by a stripper heel and had to call security on a creepy guy who wouldn’t leave us alone.  

Note to guys:  Just because girls are in a strip club doesn’t mean they want to sleep with you.  Or talk to you.  So when someone asks you to leave, LEAVE!!  Don’t argue, just move on.  Get yourself a lap dance or something.

In conclusion, I had two parties at my house in two nights.  I’m 2-for-2 in breaking things:  first a wine glass, then a table.  Awesome!


*My mom’s &**%-ing really cute puppies chewed through my camera cord, so I can’t post pictures from LAST weekend, but now I’m caught up.. SCORE!!

I figured it out…

No, not the meaning of life.  Or even what I’m going to wear tomorrow.

I just figured out how I can like music lyrics so much but have a hard time with poetry.  It’s because I can HEAR the songwriter’s intentions.  I know where they want to place emphasis and what parts of the music are supposed to be stressed.  I guess there are clues in poetry (rhythm, meter, line breaks) but I haven’t quite learned how to interpret all that quite yet.

Oh, and I figured this out at the gym… a culmination of sweat, poetry, Jay-Z, and a book I’m reading for book club.  I love it when world’s collide.

2008: A Year in Review, Part 2

Welcome to the 2nd half of my year. I just realized that I probably should’ve done these in reverse chronological order, but whatever.

July–I took my blog public, making it a whole lot easier to remember what I did for the rest of the year.  I also started biking to work and we had Kristi’s Bachelorette Party Boat Trip:



August– I took two vacations this month, plus a Tour de Philo.  First up was my staycation and then a second trip to Nawlins for Kristi’s wedding:



September— I started running, became obsessed with Mad Men and reconnected with an old friend via Facebook.  We also had Bunco at Erin’s in conjunction with Philo Fest, but-unfortunately- I have no corresponding photos :-(


I do, however, have a photo of this thing that I found on my fence (I know you all needed to see it again)




October– was downright insane.   There was a crazy gas station incidentmy cat died, and I was involved in train accident on the way home from seeing Cross Canadian Ragweed in Carbondale.  To top off the craziness, this was the first year in a long time that I *didn’t* dress up for Halloween.  Odd.


And then there was the trip to Chicago to see the New Kids on the Block:




November– is always a busy month.  This year, I went to San Antonio for work. And had the usual Thanksgiving with the family.  Oh, and there was that whole historic election thing.

I also made a trip to Chicago for Nikki’s Big Ten Bar Crawl:



And attended my only (gasp!) U of I tailgate of the season




Family and friends of Ryann Smith held a benefit in Tuscola and raised a bunch of money. I realize that I haven’t blogged about Ryann at all.  She was born a couple days after Christmas with a rare birth defect called CDH.  She is a fighter.  Please keep her and the family in your thoughts and prayers. If you want to know more, visit her caring bridge page:


I also had Christmases with my Grannie Rich,  my brother, and the rest of my extended family.


(And, because I know you can’t get enough of me and firearms, here’s the infamous gun shot one more time…)



I spent my Christmas break lounging, watching movies (Marley and Me and Seven Pounds), reading (still making it through the Twilight saga… I’ll reserve judgment until I’m finished with all the books), and spending time with friends and family.


I rang in the New Year in Chicago, but failed to take a single photo.  Maybe I should resolve to be a better chronicler this year :)


Reflections on 2008

All in all, the year turned out pretty good.  In some ways, this is one of the hardest years I’ve ever had, but I’ve learned so much.   I’ve learned how to ask for help from those closest to me.  I’ve learned to say “no” on occasion and I’ve learned to enjoy myself in less-than-ideal circumstances. I’ve made some new friends, reconnected with others, and have spent more time with some of my family members than ever before.


This blog has really been a great outlet for me and I appreciate each and every reader, hit, and comment you all have given me.


Here’s to happiness and prosperity in 2009!

Interview with a Vampire-lover

I stole this idea from illini_girl, but it’s been a while since I’ve done one.  And I have so many random things to discuss.

Are you really too busy to blog?  What’s that all about?

Honestly, yes.  And no. It’s not that I’m too busy to blog. It’s that I’ve spent a lot of time away from the computer, so my blogging time has been limited.

Are you done with your regular Wednesday posts?  What about Foto Friday?

Yeah, I think I’m giving up Website/Wordy Wednesdays. It’s just too much of a commitment and I have kinda run out of things to talk about. I’ll keep Foto Friday, though.  But I gotta start taking more pix.  Seems like I have to dig through the archives more often than not these days.

Are you becoming a professional dog sitter?

I’m thinking about it.  Last week, I watched my mom’s two dogs-Desi and Lucy- at my house.   And this week I’ve been dog-sitting Knee at a friend’s house.  Thus, the lack of night-time Internet access.

Knee?  That’s an awfully strange name for a dog isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s short for Anfernee (you know… like Anfernee Hardaway, the bball player). But she’s the sweetest dog ever.  Oh, yeah, Knee’s a girl.

So, what’s up with this “re-training” of Roxie business?

I won’t bore you with the details, but basically Roxie has a “dominance” issue.  And she’s spoiled.  To help break her of this, I’m re-training her to sleep in her crate instead of in my bed.

What made you decide to do this?  How did you know what to do?

Well, the final straw was when Roxie scratched my friend in the face for getting too close to me.  But it really needed to be done.  

I did some research online and then I called into Afternoon Magazine on WILL FM.  They had experts on from the Dog Training Club of Champaign-Urbana.  You can listen to it online at  (Click on the Friday, December 5 archive. I’m at about minute 28 or so).  

They gave me some good advice, so I got a crate and started re-training  on a Monday.

How’s that working for you?

Continue reading

I Was Told There’d Be Cake

I just finished I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley.  It’s a collection of essays from a single girl in New York who is almost exactly my age.

Usually, these kinds of books annoy me.  They’re either really vapid and self-indulgent (“Look at me… I spent my rent money on $800 shoes!”) or focus WAY too much on the sexual escapades of being single in New York (call it the Carrie Bradshaw effect.)   And they always make me feel worse about myself.

Luckily, this wasn’t one of those books.

Granted, Crosley’s career in publishing is a bit different than mine. Her volunteer experience is at the Museum of Natural History and not the Champaign County Humane Society, but there’s enough shared experiences to make this a delightful read.  

It made me think of a Steinbeck quote* I once read:

We are lonesome animals.
We spend our life trying to be less lonesome.
One of our ancient methods is to tell a story
begging the listener to say
–and to feel–
‘Yes, that’s the way it is,
or at least that’s the way I feel it.
You’re not as alone as you thought.

— John Steinbeck

With anecdotes about playing Oregon Trail, drinking Zima and wishing her parents had moved her to Australia,  Crosley successfully delivers a plenty of laugh-out-loud “hey–me, too!” moments.  

And she does it without being intimidating or condescending.  Yes, she works and lives in New York City. And, yes, she went to an Ivy League school.  But it’s her average, everyday (and hilarious) stories that really resonate with me, that make me want to say, “Yes, that’s the way it is.”


*I had to Google to verify that this was, in fact, a Steinbeck quote.  I discovered that it’s part of a longer quote on the relationship between writers and readers.  It’s interesting, but I like the shorter version better.