Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Treat Yo Self

Last week was rough. But the upcoming weekend was a bright spot on the horizon. Kevin was planning to go to the beach with some coworkers, which meant I'd have the house all to myself. I decided to make the most of my weekend of freedom and treat myself, a la Tom and Donna in Parks and Rec.

On Friday I made a big pan of risotto (quickly becoming my new comfort food, plus I can throw in a bunch of spinach and pretend it's healthy) and caught up on all the shows that I hadn't been able to watch the previous weekend when we had company.

The plan for Saturday was to go tubing for Jen's birthday in the morning, then head to Tyson's for a shopping spree and finally make a spicy pasta for dinner that I wasn't sure Kevin would like. But plans must be malleable. And though the day didn't go entirely according to plan, it was still fun and relaxing and ultimately a very good day.

Because I live way out in the suburbs, I managed to avoid the carpool, which meant I was able to drive myself. Most people will tell you that I'm an anxious or bad driver, and that's because I tend to be when there are other people in the car. I get lost, I get distracted by conversations, it's just not great. But by myself on small mountain roads with a proper buffer built in? That's my happy place. I scheduled an extra half hour to get to the tubing place, got lost several times, cranked my music up loud, and generally enjoyed the scenery. As expected, I got lost more than once. But I had time to get lost, so it wasn't a big deal.

Of course it's difficult to wrangle a large group of people, so tubing itself got a little delayed. I'd been expecting to be done by 12:30, 1 at the latest. But we didn't get on the river until after noon. Such is life. The float down was a lot of fun. Tubing is a great social activity for introverts, because there's a good mix of socializing and hanging out by yourself on the river. I did get dunked once, which wasn't fun, but it was mostly a nice, relaxing way to spend a few hours.

I think the rest of the group went down the river again, but I decided to leave once we got back to shore. Another perk of skipping out on the carpool: I wasn't beholden to anyone else.

I took the highway back and made it to the mall just before 5. At this point my contact was seriously bugging me (it got ruined when I went under the river) and I had a slight headache from dehydration. So I slashed shopping list and just picked up a bath bomb from Lush. Then I decided to eat out instead of cooking and enjoyed some excellent gorgonzola encrusted beef medallions.

After dinner I was feeling good enough to wander through the bookstore (though I'm rarely not feeling good enough for that), and I picked up a bunch of books. Now my to-read stack is a little unwieldy again, but these were mostly shorter books rather than the long epics I stocked up on at the beginning of summer. I should go through them a bit quicker.

I fit in my long-anticipated bath when I got home, complete with a glass of wine and a book. But the tubing earlier had left me so exhausted that I fell asleep shortly after 9. The next morning I went out in search of new slippers and gym shoes, then curled up on the couch with a book for most of the rest of the day. Kevin got home earlier than I expected, and I subjected him to the spicy pasta I'd been looking forward to. He enjoyed it, though I imagine that I'll be eating most of the leftovers.

It was so nice to have a weekend all to myself, and I really felt relaxed and rejuvenated at the end of it. But then I woke up Monday morning and checked the news and all that stress and sadness came rushing right back. At least I managed a couple of days of peace.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Book Review: Mort

With the fourth Discworld book, we're really getting into the Discworld I recognize. Death is hanging out, trying to figure out humanity. The characters make epic mistakes out of ignorance and do their best to fix them. There are a ton of puns, some sadness that hits you right in the gut, and a few great observations about how the world and stories work.

What's weird is that this isn't quite the Death I recognize. It's a little strange to think that Death has a character arc. He seems so unchangeable and final all of the time. But he definitely becomes more empathetic towards humanity over the course of the series. I think a lot of that happens in his next book Reaper Man, but you can see the beginnings of it here. He's curious and he's lonely and he turns to humans to help with this. Unfortunately that leaves an opening for his apprentice to royally screw things up. But then, fixing that is what reminds him of who he is.

All in all this was a pleasant little book, perhaps lacking the weight of some later installments. But it's early yet, and it's nice to be enjoying these books so much.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: Sin City 6: Booze, Broads, and Bullets

Unlike the other volumes in the Sin City series, the sixth one, Booze, Broads, and Bullets, is a collection of one-offs rather than a single arc. Each story is about 20 pages long, and this made it a lot easier to get through than most of the other books.

There were a few stories in here that I actually really liked. There was an awesome female assassin who appeared in two, first becoming initiated and then going on a job. There was an actual story about the Old Town Ladies seeking revenge that didn't have a single man in it, except the creep they were killing. There were a couple of great stories starring Marv, who has strangely found a place in my heart. I like Marv. He might be my favorite character in this entire mess of a series.

There were other stories that were less interesting, but at least they were over fast.

Next up, the final volume in the series. It's been sitting on my shelf for years, but I've never worked up to actually reading it. That changes this weekend.

And after all this, I probably won't end up seeing the new Sin City movie after all. Knowing what I do now I can't justify spending the money. I'll catch it when it hits Netflix.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: Sin City 5: Family Values

I was surprised by how much I liked this installment of Sin City, which concerns the ladies of Old Town as they seek revenge on the mob for killing one of their own, likely sparking a mob war in the process. The premise was good, and it's nice to see acknowledgement that this is a chosen family, with ties as strong as any other family. Something of a haven for girls and women who have it much harder than the men of Sin City.

That said, it'd be even better if the entire thing weren't framed as Dwight's story. It's not his story and he really has no place narrating it or driving the action. He says he's doing it as a favor to Gail (of course), but it would have been so much better if Gail had been leading the charge. If Miho had ever gotten a line of dialogue, or if she'd managed to kill all the mob goons without her breasts constantly falling out of her shirt. The entire fight scene was like a game of "spot the nipple".

But like I said, I enjoyed it more than I expected to. Of course, my expectations for this series have absolutely plummeted since I started re-reading it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: Never Let Me Go

I started reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go way back in college. Or possibly just after college. I remember hearing that Joss Whedon has used it as partial inspiration for Dollhouse, which didn't premiere until 2009, and I think that's why my mom bought it. But things are hazy. The point is that, for one reason or another, I got 2/3 of the way through the book and then stopped reading it. It's haunted me vaguely ever since, so when I found a cheap copy at McKay's I had to buy it.

This book is something of a mystery with some mild science-fiction elements. Really mild. I'd hardly classify it as sci-fi at all, really. Sure it's about advanced technology and its ramifications on humanity and society. But it's much more personal than that. More intimate than the books I typically classify as science-fiction.

The narrator, Kathy, is a carer and has been for many years when the novel opens. She's approaching the end of her career and is reminiscing about her childhood at Hailsham and young adulthood on a farm. She has two close friends, Ruth and Tommy, who were with her at both of these places, who dated each other for a long time, and who she ends up caring for later in life.

Her relationship with Tommy always seems like it could be more than it is, like they connect on a deeper level than either is really willing to admit. Meanwhile her relationship with Ruth basically defines the term frenemy. They're close, but Ruth is also manipulative and very sensitive. Kathy recognizes this, and she mostly just puts up with it in the name of friendship. The three of them are so very close in their childhood, but unfortunate circumstances (and Ruth's manipulations) drive these insurmountable obstacles between them. Then again, when they meet later in life, none of it seems quite as impossible anymore.

There's a lot of pull between the past and the present. Between the surety that something happened a certain way and the fallibility of memory, and how this comes to define us. There's an added layer here because these characters are all clones (the sci-fi element). They wonder to what extent they are defined by their original selves, and if meeting those people will answer any questions. For all that, though, the book seems to come down on the side of nurture over nature.

The book meanders in a really pleasant way, connecting memories thematically rather than chronologically. I had a lot of fun disappearing into it when I was reading. I'm almost glad I didn't finish it all those years ago, because I was able to experience it all over again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Connor's Here!

Connor is officially living here now. He got an apartment just a few miles from our house and is all moved in and mostly organized. I'm so excited that he's living so close by, and extra excited for how awesome his new apartment is. It's right next to one of the better sports bars in the area, across the street from Wegman's (god's gift to grocery stores) and really close to the movie theater and mall.

Connor and Dad drove his furniture across the country together and got here on Thursday morning. They dropped some furniture off at our house - Dad gave me his leather, wingback chairs - then went to Connor's apartment. We went over when we got off work to see the place and grab some dinner. We spent the night playing pinochle instead of doing anything helpful like unpacking or organizing. But Connor will have plenty of time to do that over the next few weeks.

On Friday Dad and Connor continued to unpack and shop and get everything set up. Dad's girlfriend, Max, flew in the evening. We'd planned to all get dinner together, but her flight was delayed. Instead it was just the four of us at the Mussel Bar by my office.

The rest of the weekend was spent cooking, eating, and visiting. Dad and Max were busy helping Connor, which meant that I had time to shop and read and do laundry around all the visiting, which was nice. The whole trip was short and sweet and filled with lots of good food. We have so many leftovers in our fridge right now. It's great to have my brother living so close. I'm excited to be able to see him as often as I want to.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Questions Raised While Dogsitting

This past week we watched Zach and Sarah's dog, Lily, while they were on vacation. I'd hadn't entirely realized that having two dogs would end up being more than twice the work of one, mostly because there was some work to be done integrating Lily into the household. To that end, quite a few questions came up and were answered over the course of her stay.

Is this food? Lily largely refused to eat the food that was placed in her bowl. Or rather, she refused to eat it for long enough that either Kina or Onyx would get there first. We spent a lot of time telling Kina no, telling Lily yes, and attempting to lock Lily in one part of the house with her food so the other animals couldn't get it. At one point, I was sitting on the couch in the basement telling Lily she was a good girl and generally cheering her on every time she took a bite of food. Unfortunately, that strategy only worked once.

Despite snubbing her own food, Lily was eager to experiment with other forms of food. I caught her attempting to eat grass and other plants on our walks. I'm fairly certain she followed Kina's example at least once and grabbed a "treat" from Onyx's litter box. She ate our spatula because it had egg on it, and we foolishly left it on the kitchen counter without supervision. I stopped her from going after an empty tuna can that had been left on the counter. We quickly learned that we had to be a lot better about keeping our kitchen clean than we usually are. No more leaving the dishes out overnight.

Lily eventually started eating a little more. I gave her these stew-like dishes that were more liquidy a couple of times and she chomped them down. On the last night she even ate most of Kina's food, which we were perfectly happy to let her do by then.

Just who's in charge around here? The hierarchy of pets in our house very definitely goes: Onyx -> Kina -> Lily. Lily mostly knows this, from having visited before. But the cat still felt the need to enforce it. This was most notable at bedtime, when Onyx would claim the bed. Kina would lay down on our floor between the bed and the door, and Lily was forced to stay in the hallway. If we called her in to cuddle with us, the cat would protest loudly. We did get her into the bed once or twice while the cat was distracted, but Onyx was never happy about it. Once Lily knew that Onyx was in charge, though, everything was pretty peaceful, and the cat even came downstairs to hang out with everyone and keep an eye on Lily. In all the time they've known each other, that's a first.

How absorbent is that diaper? This was one of my first questions upon Lily's arrival. She's been sick so, as a precaution, Zach and Sarah bought a doggy diaper to help prevent (or at least contain) accidents. It's basically a maxi-pad and Lily hated it. I wasn't entirely sure it would be effective. Still, we kept it on whenever we were asleep or out of the house. A few days in, we woke up to discover Lily had had need of her diaper. The answer to my question? Not quite as absorbent as we'd like. The pad had soaked through to the diaper and we had to run the diaper through the washing machine, which also meant leaving it off Lily for a few hours when we were gone. Luckily, Kevin was able to get home around noon that day, and there were no more accidents.

Is this drool or pee? Closely related to the previous question. After we woke up to Lily's sodden diaper, we were worried that it hadn't fully contained the mess. This led to two separate searches of the house to determine if and how badly the diaper had leaked. We checked the usual places (is it bad that there are usual places for this? Each animal has basically claimed a room to have their accidents in) to no avail. Then I laid down on the couch and immediately found a wet spot underneath my foot. We tried smelling it, but we couldn't determine what it was. So we cleaned it to the best of our ability without ever knowing what the mystery liquid was. It was probably drool.

Which way are you going? Walking two dogs at once is a whole lot harder than just walking one. Lily is easy enough, but Kina isn't always. I had to keep an extra sharp eye open to avoid potential problems with other dogs. I even ended up altering when I walked them to avoid other dogs as much as possible. The biggest challenge ended up coming from getting tangled in the leashes. Kina and I have a system built on her preference for passing people on the left. Her consistency means that I always know where she'll be and can pass the leash around accordingly. On our very first walk, Lily initially passed me on the right. I thought, Great! That makes it easy to keep them separated. But it turns out that Lily has no system like Kina's and will pass on either side, willy-nilly. I was never really expecting this, and ended up tangled in the leashes several times per walk because I'd incorrectly assumed Lily would a different way than she did.

Am I allergic to dogs? Very Probably. I spent most of the week congested and even more sneezy than usual. Though that could have also been a mild cold, since Kevin experienced similar symptoms. But it doesn't matter if I'm allergic to Lily and/or Kina. They'll still get all the love.