Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fifty Fave Books - In No Particular Order

Have you heard about The Big Read? Well, let me fill you in if you haven't. (If you have, then bear with me...)

In 2003, the BBC conducted a survey of the British public in order to find the "Nation's Best-Loved Book." It was a controversial show, as some praised it for raising public awareness of literary reading, while others saw it as a sensationalist approach to literature. Similar contests were held in other countries, including: Australia, Germany, Hungary, and various cities in the United States.

Here in the States, that original premise has morphed into The Big Read, a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Its purpose? "...to restore reading to the center of American culture." How are they doing that? Click on the links at then end of this post for more information.

Now, this post was inspired by reading a meme I've seen on blogs lately. It lists 100 Books - supposedly from The Big Read (but actually not, as blogger The Rabid Paladin found out after some digging) - where you're supposed to mark the ones you've read, the ones you plan to read, and the ones you've loved.

Well. I'm not about to type in a list of 100 books that someone else made up, then only mark about 30 or so of them! (Yes, I checked...) So instead, here is a list of fifty fave books I've read and loved - in no particular order:

1. The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
2. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
3. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
4. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
5. The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett
8. Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
9. The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
10. Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
11. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
12. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
14. The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
15. Sons by Pearl S. Buck
16. Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck
17. A Painted House by John Grisham
18. Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy
19. All of the Harry Potter Books, by JK Rowling
20. All of the Robert Ludlum novels, by, well, Robert
Ludlum
21. Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf
22. The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly
23. The Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls by Elise
Primavera
25. Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke
26. Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
27. All of the Narnia books by CS Lewis
28. The Lemonade Club by Patricia Polacco
29. All of the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
31. Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo
32. Coyote Summer by W. Michael Gear
33. Centennial by James Michener
34. Charleston by John Jakes
35. One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
36. Roots by Alex Haley
37. Queen by Alex Haley and David Stevens
38. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
39. The Touch by Colleen McCullough
40. Good Families Don't by Robert Munsch
41. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
42. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
43. Tuesday by David Weisner
45. Black Beauty by Anna Sewel
46. The Giver by Lois Lowry
47. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
48. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
49. Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
50. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I could go on...

How about you? What are some of your favorite books? Drop me a comment (or several) and let me know...


Sources on The Big Read:


Friday, July 25, 2008

Book Review: Frog and Toad Together, by Arnold Lobel

     Frog and Toad were reading a book together. 
     "The people in this book are brave," said Toad. "They fight dragons and giants, and they are never afraid."
     "I wonder if we are brave," said Frog.
     Frog and Toad looked into a mirror.
     "We look brave," said Frog.
     "Yes, but are we?" asked Toad.

Summary:
Frog and Toad are the best of friends. They do things together. They help each other when things go wrong.  They have cookies together. They read together. They even have heart-pounding adventures together. But mostly, they are the best of friends. 

For Teachers and Librarians:
Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad stories are short, sweet, to the point, and loved loved loved by the little guys. (I know, I'm probably preaching to the choir, here...) Yet, despite their simpleness, they are full of possibilities in the classroom. Frog and Toad Together as a whole is perfect for a unit on friendship to illustrate the many things good friends do for each other and with each other. Or, how about reading it aloud as part of a lesson on how to fix your day when things go wrong - as Toad learns in A List? The Garden is a fun way to introduce a plant unit - What does a seed need to grow into a plant? What did Toad do that is not useful to get your seeds to grow? Help your kids grasp the concept of willpower by reading Cookies. There are so many more ways you can use this book in your classroom. Read your copy again (or go get one and read it) and open your mind to the possibilities.

For Parents and Caregivers:
This is a book your little guys will love for many, many years - even once they're "too old" for it. Frog and Toad are the best of friends. Though they are both quite different at times, they are always good friends to each other. Toad tends to be a bit grouchy, and a bit afraid of new things or stepping outside what is familiar. Frog is always there to support Toad, and gently guides him when he thinks Toad is being a bit silly or isn't doing something quite right. The situations Arnold Lobel puts Frog and Toad in are ones little kids frequently find themselves in. What kid hasn't tried to test their bravery? And how many have stuffed themselves silly with too much of a good thing (cookies!). And how many (adults included) have worried that their best friend might leave them - in a dream, or for real? Fun to hear read aloud, and fun to read on their own, kids will cherish this one.

For the Kids:
Frog and Toad are the best of friends, and they are always there for each other. Have you ever had a problem, and you didn't know how to solve it, but your friend helped you figure it out? Frog does this for Toad. Have you ever tried to plant a seed, but it wasn't growing and you didn't know why? That happens to Toad, and Frog is there to help him figure out what to do. Have you ever tried to see if you are brave? Was it scary? Wait till you read about what Frog and Toad get into when they try it! This book has five different stories in it, and great pictures to show you what's happening. So, you can read it all at once, or one part at a time, and both ways will be fun. 

For Everyone Else:
All you early forty-somethings on down to teenagers out there may remember the Frog and Toad books fondly. Go find your old copy, dust it off, and take a trip down memory lane. See if it doesn't make you feel good, like it did back then. If you don't have it, or didn't read it, head off to the library and find it, and see what you've been missing.

Title: Frog and Toad Together
Author and Illustrator: Arnold Lobel
Pages: 64
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publisher and Date: HarperFestival - a Division of HarperCollinsPublishers, 1999
Edition: I Can Read Picture Book Edition (reprint)
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $16.99
ISBN-10: 069401298X
ISBN-13: 978-0694012985


Author Spotlight: Arnold Lobel

Arnold Lobel called himself a daydreamer instead of an author and illustrator, because he saw pictures in his mind before he thought up the words to go with them.

Born May 22, 1933, he grew up in the care of his grandparents in Schenectady, NY. As a child, he was out of school and sick through most of second grade. When he got well, he worried about returning to school, and so made up stories to cope. Once there, he began making up stories on the spot for his fellow second graders. They loved the stories, and it helped him gain the acceptance of his peers.

He realized he wanted to be a professional artist while still in high school. He went on to attend Pratt Institute of Art in New York City, where he met Anita Kempler. After graduating from the Institute in 1955, he married Miss Kempler, and the two moved to New York City, living, working and eventually raising their children there. 

He began a freelance art career in 1961. His very first book that he both authored and illustrated was A Zoo for Mister Muster, published in 1962. All told, in his twenty-six year career he wrote and/or illustrated nearly 100 books. Many of those received awards, including a Caldecott Medal for Fables (1981), two Caldecott Honors for Frog and Toad are Friends (1971) and Hildilid's Night by Cheli Duran Ryan (1973), and a Newbery Honor for Frog and Toad Together (1973).

Arnold Lobel died on December 4, 1987.

Sources:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Today, We Were Slugs

Sleeping in until almost 9AM

Eating a most decadent breakfast of chocolate and vanilla ice cream sprinkled with Trix cereal

Reading books

Giggling at mindless but funny cartoons

Reading books

Marveling at the darkening skies, rumbling thunder, flashes of lightning, and brief downpours that cycled all day and into the evening

Eating lunch at 2 in the afternoon while still in our PJ's

Making up stories with whatever toys we can get our hands on at the moment

Having snacks with no "it has to be a healthy one" prerequisites

Getting dressed and playing made up games out in a little bit of rain with two lacrosse sticks and a cheap plastic air-filled ball

Coming in and putting the PJ's right back on

Playing card games

Gathering soft blankets and cuddly toys to surround us when the thunder got a little too loud

Telling funny stories

Telling potty jokes

Telling more potty jokes

Reading books

Playing lovely songs on the piano

Writing stories and comics

Making art projects

Giggling during dinner when we saw a neighbor grilling her dinner on her deck in the rain

Staying up late

Laughing through bedtime stories

Playing 20,000 questions to stretch bedtime out just a little longer

Snuggling off to sleep

I hope it rains tomorrow, too...


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Take That, You Bloodsuckers!

July 23rd is Mosquito Day. Well, at least I think it is. Some sites list it as August 20th - the day, in 1897, when Ronald Ross discovered that mosquitoes spread malaria through their saliva when they bite 
their victim. One site even listed it as May 13th.



Well. I need a topic now, not in August, and certainly not all the way to next May. So, as far as Bugs and Bunnies is concerned, July 23 is Mosquito Day. That being said, did you know that there are 170 different kinds of mosquitoes in North America alone? Or that there are over 2,000 types of mosquitoes worldwide? Ick.

And, did you know there is such a place as the OFF! Biting Insect Center? Well, there is. They hatch over 150,000 mosquitoes weekly. (What?? They actually breed these things? On purpose? Listen, Insect Center People: why not just go to my old neighborhood near the Chesapeake Bay? You can collect those little bloodsuckers all day long if you want. Folks there would be more than happy to share their overabundance with you.)

Moving on: They say everything in nature has a necessary function, but it seems that not everything in nature has a beneficial function. Mosquitoes bite. Or rather, they suck blood. (The females do, anyway. The males only go after plant juices.) They raise ugly, red, itchy welts on my skin. They carry a whole host of nasty - and not always curable - diseases, including: malaria, Dengue fever, yellow fever, the virus that causes elephantiasis, and several types of encephalitis (including West Nile Virus). Nasty little buggers.

Therefore, they are Public Enemy Number One in your backyard. What to do, then, when you want to enjoy a nice get-together on the deck on a lazy summer evening, but don't want to go the chemical/pesticide route? From what I have read, the best defense is a good offense, so I've compiled a little How-To guide for you. As you read, keep in mind that mosquito larvae need to float on the surface of still water to grow and hatch, and it will all make perfect sense:


Ten Non-Chemical Ways to Mosquito-Proof Your Backyard
  1. Don't let water stand in flower pot saucers or pet bowls for more than two days. 
  2. Toss out unused containers, from the teeniest to the largest, that could collect and hold water.
  3. Clean out rain gutters.
  4. Change water in birdbaths and wading pools at least once a week, and keep swimming pools clean and chlorinated. (OK, there's a bit of chemical here, but would you swim in a pool that wasn't chlorinated? Right, then. Let's continue, shall we?)
  5. Turn over canoes, boats and wading pools.
  6. If you have wet spots in your yard, plant vegetation that likes "wet feet."
  7. Put sand in the dark, damp areas beneath the deck.
  8. Plug tree holes and stumps.
  9. If you have ornamental pools in your yard, stock them with small, top-feeding minnows called - appropriately enough - mosquito fish.
  10. Plop a large fan on your deck. Yep. A fan. Turns out, wind speed of over 1 mph messes with their flight. Who knew?
Now, I can't guarantee you'll be totally mosquito free if you follow all these tips, but they should at least help you cut down on the swat factor, anyway.

If all else fails...make friends with a few dragonflies. They have a voracious appetite for mosquitoes from itty bitty egg all the way to full grown menace. Talk about your natural remedies!

OK, I gotta sign off. I. Am. So. Itchy...

Sources:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Thermostat Wars

I am the CFO of our household. I manage all income that finds its way into our little family bank account. Therefore, I know exactly what it takes to keep our electric bill from blowing us out of the water, and I behave accordingly. 

Notice I said "I." 

Not "we." 

"I."

So, you may be asking, what is it that's causing this undercurrent of household discord? 

The thermostat. Or rather, the set temperature of said thermostat. 

Here's the thing: I have not always been so, shall we say, rigid, concerning the thermostat. But, as oil prices rise to ridiculous heights, so has our electric bill. Therefore, I have combated the problem somewhat by keeping the air conditioning temperature set at a warm but still bearable - assuming you don't move more than necessary - 75 degrees. Three out of four of us have gotten used to it, more or less, and the two of us that are under five feet don't complain too terribly much - as long as a few popsicles are offered every once in a while. 

Well.

When somebody comes home from his oh, so comfortably air-conditioned office, our house undergoes a Temperature Transformation.

After he's been home a while, I suddenly notice it's quite comfy in the house. At first, I think, Ahh, that's nice. Then I think, Wait a minute! Why is it nice in here?

Then, I mosey over to the thermostat. As suspected, my budget-conscious setting of 75 degrees has been pushed to a budget-breaking 70. I gaze at the offending dial, imagining my budget being smashed to pieces. Then, I resolutely push it back up to 75. Satisfied, I wander back to whatever I was doing.

Fast forward to late evening. I usually retire well before the Thermo-Tamperer. He says he's doing work during those wee hours, but I know better. 

How, you ask?

Well, I don't sleep well of late, and unfortunately find myself awake at various points throughout the night. So I'm awake at some wee hour of the night, and suddenly notice I feel refreshed. Not good. I march downstairs and take a gander at the thermostat. This time it's set at a big, fat 68. Aaaccckkk! I shove the little lever up to 75. Again. Then, I head back upstairs, flop into bed, and manage to catch some Z's.

Since the Thermo-Tamperer gets up for work somewhere in the later but still wee hours, he does not seem to notice my reset, since it's still at 75 when I wake up a few hours after he's left for work.

But rest assured, come quittin' time, we'll start our little battle all over again...


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rats! I Missed Them!

When I was a young girl, I was determined that one day I would see each of the Seven Wonders of the World. Then, years later I discovered that it was impossible, because only one of the original seven was still in existence. Do you know what the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are? And, do you know which one still stands?

Ancient Wonder #1: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The most reliable account indicates the gardens were built by King Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned over Babylon for 43 years, beginning in 605 BC. It is said he built them to cheer up his homesick wife, Amyitis. Though the gardens do not now exist, they have been described by the Greek geographer Strabo, as he saw them in the first century BC: "It consists of vaulted terraces raised one above another, and resting upon cube-shaped pillars. These are hollow and filled with earth to allow trees of the largest size to be planted. The pillars, the vaults and terraces are constructed of baked brick and asphalt. The ascent to the highest story is by stairs, and at their side are water engines, by means of which persons, appointed expressly for the purpose, are continually employed in raising water from the Euphrates into the garden."  

Ancient Wonder #2: Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The building holding this famous but now nonexistent statue was built in 450 BC by the architect Libon, and was as tall as a modern four-story building. The statue itself - carved by Phidias, who was considered the greatest Greek sculptor - filled most of those four stories, with its head nearly brushing the ceiling. It was made of ivory, and wore a robe and jewels made of gold. Even the throne on which the statue sat was made of cedarwood and inlaid with ebony, ivory, gold and jewels. Though some columns of the temple have been uncovered during modern archaeological digs, that is all that remains of the once impressive statue.

Ancient Wonder #3: Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Ephesus Artemis was goddess of fertitily, and her temple at Ephesus was most likely built near the river on marshy ground around 800 BC. It was said to be a magnificent temple, as seen in the high praise of Philon of Byzantium: "I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the mighty work of the high Pyramids and tomb of Mausolus. But when I saw the temple at Ephesus rising to the clouds, all the other wonders were put in the shade." It was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the ensuing years, getting larger and more grand with each new design. The final temple was 425 feet long and 225 feet wide, and had 127 columns soaring 60 feet high that supported the roof. Unfortunately, this final rebuilt Temple of Artemis was destroyed in 262 AD during a raid by the Goths.

Ancient Wonder #4: Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus
This was an opulent tomb for a king who "loved all things Greek."  In fact, the term mausoleum as we define it today has origins that trace back to this very place. It was the tomb of Maussollos, the king of Caria (in the Persian Empire) and Governor for the king of Persia, and was completed in 350 BC. It was situated on the coast of Halicarnassus, the capital of his territory, and built by his wife/sister Artemisia as her dedication to him. (It was customary in Caria at the time for married rulers to be siblings.) It was an enormous building, standing 135 feet high, with magnificent sculptural decoration. It stands today only in ruins.

Ancient Wonder #5: Colossus of Rhodes
Colossus of Rhodes is a massive statue that stood over 2000 years ago on the island of Rhodes, located on the southern tip of Asia Minor. Built as a celebration of freedom, it was a giant statue of Helios, the island's paton god. Constructed with an iron framework, and covered in melted down bronze taken from war machines left by the would-be conqueror, Demetrius, it stood 110 feet high, and was placed upon a fifty foot pedestal. It was nude, wore a spiked crown, shaded its eyes with its right hand, and held a cloak over its left hand. In fact, our own Statue of Liberty was similarly constructed, and is sometimes referred to as the "Modern Colossus." It is said that an earthquake collapsed the statue, after it had stood sentry at the Rhodian harbor entrance for about 56 years. 

Ancient Wonder #6: Lighthouse of Alexandria
Located on the ancient island of Pharos in the harbor of Alexandria, Greece, this lighthouse was one of the tallest structures on earth - a whopping 400 feet high. It was designed by the Greek architect Sostratus during the reign of King Ptolemy II. One of the last wonders to disappear, the Alexandria lighthouse guided sailors into the city harbor for 1500 years - with a mirror at the top reflecting sunlight by day, and a fire to guide them in by night. The word "pharos" came to mean "lighthouse" in French, Italian and Spanish, precisely due to the fame of this impressive structure. It was destroyed by earthquake in the 14th century AD.

Ancient Wonder #7: Great Pyramid at Giza
The Great Pyramid is the oldest and largest of three pyramids in the Giza necropolis, near present-day Cairo. It is the only remaining member of the original Seven Wonders of the World that is still intact. It was constructed over a period of 20 years - with completion around 2560 BC, and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3800 years! It is believed to have been built as a tomb for Egyptian pharoah Khufu, and at completion it stood 280 Egyptian royal cubits tall - about 481 feet. Due to erosion, it now stands at about 455 feet tall.

                            --------

And there you go. Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but only one still stands. Well, I was born far too late to be lucky enough to see the first six before they met their demise. I still have a chance at seeing the Great Pyramid, though. That would truly be the trip of a lifetime...


Sources:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sweet Dreams?

I have weird dreams. And I remember most of them, much to my husband C's chagrin. I used to tell him all about my weird nocturnal in-head stories, even before I knew him very well. (And he's still here, bless him...) So one day, after I recounted a particularly odd dream - even for me - C was speechless. He sat and stared at me for a full 2 minutes with bugged out eyes. Then he said, "Don't tell other people about your dreams anymore. Not ever."

But, I just know my freaky dreams are trying to tell me something. I don't know if it's necessarily something important, but something, all the same. Yet, I'm not supposed to tell anyone about mine. 

Technically, C said never to "tell" anyone about them. He said nothing about typing them out... So, I did a little research on dreams. And now, here for your entertainment and my edification, are the fruits of my search-engine-combing labor (and a few peeks into my dream life, despite C's frantic attempts to dissuade me):

Ten Common Dream Elements
...And What They Might Mean

Animals - Dreaming of wild animals denotes trouble, fears or even misfortune. Domestic animals in your dreams (especially pets) usually mean good fortune. Further, if the animals are fierce, it is a warning, and if they are calm, it signifies happy times. So, that recurring wolf dream I used to have probably was not a "good tidings" type of thing...

Chase - If you dream of being chased by something frightening, it can mean it's time for you to set out on your destined path. But, you are refusing to let go of elements in your life that are hindering your quest. If caught, it means you have much work ahead of you. If you escape, it means you're almost free and your life is taking a new road. Or, here's an alternative interpretation: you're running away from your problems. OK. So, that recurrent wolf dream I mentioned? Well, the wolves chased me through a dark forest, and I finally escaped them (and ended the recurrences) by hopping across a line of stepping stones strewn across a narrow but raging river. Alrighty, then. It's finally starting to make some sense...I think. Let's move on, shall we?

Lost - No, not the show. (Though it is a totally awesome show...) If you dream of being lost, you are lost in life - adrift. Something is gone from your life: love, career, spirituality perhaps. In addition, the setting - where it is that you are lost - holds the key to your salvation. If you dream of losing an object dear to you, that object is key to the dream. I have "lost" dreams a lot, and I always seem to be lost in big, maze-like buildings. Maybe I was a lab rat in a previous life?

Forgotten Test - This has long been assumed to mean the dreamer feels unprepared for a task at hand. It may also signal the sense that one is being tricked or "set up." I have this one all the time - I'm in some college somewhere, and I keep forgetting to go to a particular class until exam time, when I finally remember there was another class I was supposed to be going to, and it was a totally crucial class, and now I would fail it - and that's when I wake up in total panic. Other times, I dream I'm back teaching, and not one kid in my class is behaving or even remotely paying attention...but that's a whole 'nuther category.

Losing Teeth - Dreaming of losing your teeth reflects your fear of being defenseless. Teeth are related to our sense of power and ability to communicate. This type of dream also is associated with feelings about your appearance. Yeah, this one pops up in my dreams, too, and they're always permanent teeth, and they fall out one after the other.

Stuck in Slow Motion/Unable to Move or Make any Noise - All I found for this one was "feeling stuck in life." This one is pretty common in my dream repertoire - where I or someone I love is in some kind of peril, but I can't make a sound to warn or call for help - no scream, no nothing. I hate those ones.

Falling - You're falling, and falling and falling...and then wake up. This is said to symbolize insecurities and anxiety. Something in your life is out of control and there's nothing you can do to stop it. An alternative: you have a sense of failure about something, and feel you can't control the situation. Can't say I remember having a falling dream. Sounds like that might be a good thing, though.

Flying - If you dream of flying, it means you're on top of things, in control of things that matter to you. Or - you've gained new perspective on things. Or - you are strong-willed and feel invincible. If you are afraid while dream-flying, you may have challenges you don't feel up to. OK, I have never had this type of dream. Crud.

Naked in Public - You're trying to hide something, or are not prepared for something. If you're naked and no one in your dream notices, then what you're afraid of is unfounded. If you don't care that you're naked, then you're comfy with who you are. I've never had this type of dream either. Though there was that one real-life time back in elementary school: I went to my coat hook at dismissal and had some type of time warp and thought I was home and it was bedtime so I needed to put on my pj's... Luckily, I caught myself and remembered where I actually was before any skin was revealed or any clothing left my person. Talk about your waking nightmare...

House/Apartment/Building - If you dream of something along these lines, the building usually represents you. The rooms represent different aspects of your life. Doors are opportunities. If it's your own home, you are on a solid spiritual foundation. If the building is a strange new place, it indicates your future and what you must do. Whoa. So all those dreams about being lost in a big, maze-like building mean...that I really was a lab rat in a previous life. And a fairly unsuccessful one at that. Oh, well. They're only dreams, right??

Sources:


Monday, July 14, 2008

We All Have a Little "Odd" in Us

Everyone has some kind of little-known, odd physical fact about themselves. Some are more interesting than others. Like, the best I can come up with for me is that my jaw clicks, and a doctor once told me that one of my eyes is slightly higher than the other. Yeah, not too exciting. But, someone near and dear to me - but not me - has these freakishly long middle toes. Or, you could say this person has freakishly short big toes. It's a six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-the-other kind of thing. And I'll never forget going to summer camp as a kid and marveling at that girl who could suck in her rib cage until her chest area was totally concave. (Seriously. Her chest made this loud, but sort of muffled pop when she did it, too. It was totally cool and so, so freakish all at the same time.)

So, while I had those little tidbits swimming around in my brain, I searched the internet for some other odd but interesting facts about the human body. Here are a few of my faves:

Little-Known Facts About the Human Body

When looking at the one they love, a person's pupils dilate. Sounds great! A fool-proof was to figure out if that person you're exchanging googly eyes with truly digs you. The Ultimate Love Detector. Waaaay more accurate than that whole thing with the daisy and pulling off the petals. But see, here's the thing: a person's pupils also dilate when they look at someone they hate...

Nerve impulses to and from the brain travel as fast as 170 miles per hour. Impressive. Now, if only the body could figure out a way to extricate it's foot from it's oral cavity when the wrong set of signals whips from brain to mouth...

The acid in your stomach is strong enough to dissolve razor blades. Luckily, you also get a new stomach lining every 3-4 days.

Human hair cannot be destroyed by cold, change of climate, water, or other natural forces, and is resistant to many kinds of acids and corrosive chemicals. And yet, few in the human race are immune from the dreaded "Bad Hair Day." Why is that?

Human feet have 500,000 sweat glands, and can produce more than a pint of sweat a day. A pint of sweat a day? I don't know about you all, but if the only way I can truly understand a person is to walk a mile in their pint-of-sweat-filled-shoes...well, sorry, but we're just never gonna reach an understanding...

The average person expels flatulence 14 times each day. You don't say. Well. I guess that means Handsome Boy is waaaayyy above average. (He'll be so proud when he finds out!)

Here are a few dreamy stats: The average human dream lasts only 2-3 seconds. The average person has at least 7 dreams per night. And get this: the colder the room you sleep in, the better the chances are that you'll have a bad dream. Or seven. Man, if that isn't an incentive to turn up the thermostat, I don't know what is. I mean, who wants seven bad dreams? Even if they are only 3 seconds long, bad is bad, right? 

Finally, most people have heard that a sneeze can travel upwards of 100 miles per hour. But did you know that coughing can cause air to move through your windpipe faster than the speed of sound - over a thousand feet per second? Even laughing causes you to expel short bursts of air up to 70 miles per hour. Wait a minute... there's an idea! OK, stay with me: remember the movie Monsters, Inc? You know, where the monsters powered their world with screams and then (later) laughs from little kids? Right. So, here's my theory: the answer to our world's current energy crisis is the same one Mike and Sully discovered for their monster world: to harness the power of laughs! Well, technically, we'd be harnessing the power of the air speeding out of people's windpipes from laughs, sneezes or coughs, but you get the picture, right? It's the answer to all our energy woes! Sure, we'd need to find a way to separate out all the spit and snot and germs, but still. Oh, I'm so getting a Nobel Prize for this...

Sources:


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Make With the Happy...

...'cause today is Gruntled Workers Day! 

Yep. 

Gruntled

As in: pleased, satisfied and contented (according to my computer's dictionary app).

So, rejoice, Gruntled Workers! Today is your day!

And if you're not gruntled, get there! Don't be a spoiled sport and ruin the holiday for all the other gruntled workers. 

Besides, you can always go on back to your regular disgruntled self on Monday...


Friday, July 11, 2008

Book Review: To Catch a Mermaid, by Suzanne Selfors

Boom Broom awoke to find his little sister, Mertyle, looking for spots.

"It's a good day for spots," she announced, examining her knobby knees with a magnifying glass. While Boom rubbed sleep from his eyes and stumbled out of bed, his sister made up another ridiculous excuse for not going to school.

Summary:
Delving further into To Catch a Mermaid, the reader discovers that Boom Broom is a twelve-year-old with a lot on his shoulders. Ever since a freak twister touched down in Fairweather Island a year ago right in the Broom's front yard, and carried off Mrs. Broom, the family had never been the same. Mr. Broom refuses to leave the attic except for bathroom breaks, or to grab food prepared by the hired cook. The cook is a proud Viking descendant named Halvor who only prepars fish, fish, more fish, and thick black coffee. Mertyle, Boom's little sister, refuses to leave the house, inventing one sickness after another so she wouldn't have to go to school. Boom refuses to let the twister alter his life and tries to carry on, but he still has to deal with his family's eccentricities, and with neighborhood bully Hurley Mump and his equally bully-ish family.

Then one day, Boom is sent out to get fish for dinner. He brings home a very odd fish salvaged from a reject seafood bucket down at the docks. When he and Mertyle discover the fish is no fish, but a real, live merbaby, things start to get interesting...

For Teachers and Librarians:
The author crafts a totally believable story around a freak twister, a grieving family...and a merbaby. This book is an excellent addition to a fantasy fiction unit. A project on mythical creatures could morph from there. A study of weather patterns on islands would be an interesting extension. From there, you could expand into a comparison of weather on cold water islands vs. warm water islands. A discussion centered around not letting fear or grief get control of your life could spring from reading this book, too. There's a lot of material to be mined from this complex and vastly entertaining story. But past all of that, it's just a great story. Imagine...finding a merbaby who grants your most fervent wishes...

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Suzanne Selfors got the idea for To Catch a Mermaid while jogging one day in Vancouver, British Columbia, as she watched children play in tidepools:


I realized that one of the universal joys of childhood is discovering things. What would be a neater thing to discover in a tidepool than a baby mercreature? And so, the story was born. - Suzanne Selfors - Class of 2K7 Interview

Your kids will delight in a fantastic story about a wish-granting merbaby, and the hilarious and intense situations that follow. This is a book with something for everyone - humor, suspense, action and adventure, and mystery. Give it to your kids to try, and they won't be disappointed!

In a different direction, kids who have lost a parent, through whatever circumstances, have a lot of sorting out to do. Perhaps this book could help them work through some of those feelings. Everyone in the Broom household is trying to figure out how to live life after Mrs. Broom is swept away, but none of them is doing a very good job. Until that fateful discovery of the merbaby. Eventually, each of the Brooms learns something about themselves, and each of the Brooms finds a way to move on, and each of the Brooms learns to depend on each other. It's a roundabout way to figure things out, but this book might open some doors...

For the Kids:
A twister carries off Boom Broom's mother, right off of their front lawn. A year later, his dad won't leave the attic because he's afraid of the wind, his sister invents illnesses so she won't have to leave the house, and the family hires Halvor the Viking descendant to cook for them. But he only cooks fish, and fixes thick, black coffee. One day, when Boom is sent to get fish, he comes home with an odd one. Soon, though, he realizes it's no fish - it's a merbaby! Imagine! Finding a merbaby!  And, it grants wishes! But, Boom, his friend Winger, and his sister Mertyle get a lot more than they bargained for when things start to get hairy - literally - and Mertyle is in danger. Can Boom save his sister? Will his father ever leave the house? Are they doomed to eat fish and black coffee forever? Pick up the book and find out...

For Everyone Else:
If you love a good fish story, this is the book for you. If mythical creatures intrigue you, this is the book for you. If you're a Viking descendent, you'll learn a thing or two about Vikings and mermaids. If you're looking for an interesting twist on a twister story, this is the book for you. Really, you can't go wrong. Check it out.

Wrapping Up:
Mystery, suspense, adventure, humor, action - what's not to like? To Catch a Mermaid has all the makings of a classic.

Title: To Catch a Mermaid
Author: Suzanne Selfors
Pages: 256
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Little, Brown Young Readers, 2007
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $14.99
ISBN-10: 0316018163
ISBN-13: 978-031601866


Author Spotlight: Suzanne Selfors

Suzanne Selfors started writing seriously in the fall of 2002, on the very day her youngest child stepped on the bus for school. She has had the writing bug, however, ever since fourth grade, when she wrote, cast and directed a play for her school. 

Having written two previous novels for adults, her debut middle grade children's novel, To Catch a Mermaid, was published in 2007. She followed up with Saving Juliet, a young adult novel published in 2008.

Mrs. Selfors studied at Bennington College in Vermont, then graduated with honors from Occidental College in Pasadena, California, in Documentary Film Production. She then received an MA in Communications from the University of Washington.

Born in an army hospital in Munich, Germany in 1963, she now lives in Bainbridge, Washington, where she grew up. She, her husband and two kids live in a historic house there built by her pioneer Norwegian ancestors.

Sources:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

So What You're Saying Is: You Got Nothin'

Twenty-four hours.

Forty-eight hours.

Two weeks.

Fifteen to twenty-five days.

Eight days to two weeks.

The above time frames are answers I found on pages in the Google search query "life expectancy of a housefly." 

Really.

Well, that explains it. I had always heard that houseflies live no longer than 24 hours, but that had never been the case for the ones who managed to wrangle their way into my house. This week has been no exception. One of those creepy, ginormous black flies zinged past me Monday morning as I headed out for a day of (ugh!) clothes shopping with the kiddos. (Which, incidentally, turned out far better than expected...) 

Anyhoo, I barreled back into the house and...well, maybe it will be more interesting if I give you a little run-down:

Monday 
Day One. Big Fat Hairy Fly zings past me into the kitchen as the kiddos and I step out. Attempts to shoo it out are unsuccessful. It has free reign in my house aaaaaaall day. (Yes, the shopping trip took that long...)

Tuesday
Day 2. Big Fat Hairy Fly buzzes around my living room, taunting me as it lands on top of the ceiling fan. Unwilling to unleash the significant dust bunnies from the fan blades - can dust bunnies be buff? - I concede defeat again. Knowing we have to go back out for more clothes shopping since Monday didn't yield all we needed, I turn my back on the living room and usher the kiddos out the door. All during the drive to the stores, I try not to think about the germ-filled interloper hanging out in my house. Or the fact that in fifteen minutes I will be shopping. Again. Yeah. Did I ever mention I hate shopping?

Wednesday
Day 3. Big Fat Hairy Fly buzzes irritatingly behind the office blinds long into the night as I tap out my Teddy Bear Picnic post. Every few sentences I whack at the blinds, to no avail. I shut down the computer, grit my teeth against the maddening buzz, and retire for the evening. Mercifully, it does not follow me.

Thursday
Day 4. Big Fat Hairy Fly doesn't appear. The kiddos and I have a leisurely morning, reading, eating breakfast, playing. No fly. Lunchtime comes, and we stage our own Teddy Bear Picnic in the living room, complete with scads of teddy bears, one Turtwig (don't ask), crackers, green tea, milk, apples and brownies. Still no fly. By late afternoon, it cools off, so we play outside. Late afternoon turns into evening, and we make a reluctant return indoors. Still no fly. Dinner. Chowder and Flapjack. Still no fly. Bedtime, stories, smooches goodnight. Again, no fly.

Assuming the Big Fat Hairy Fly was finally in that Big Garbage Can in the Sky, I plop down in front of the computer and get to work. 

Well. You know what happens when you assume...

10:41 PM - BFHF slowly buzzes around my desk, then wobbles through the air to the teeny space between wall and bookcase. (Natch.) Buzzing stops. Whew!

10:45 PM - BFHF emerges from behind the bookcase, crawls across my inkjet paper, then does a buzz-by past my head. Where is that little...

10:49 PM - Bzzt! Bzzzzzzt! Dang! Where did it go?

10:53 PM - No buzz. Dare I think?

10:56 PM - Still no buzz. Alrighty then, this has to be it.

11:05 PM - Type. Type. Type. Munch on licorice. Type. BZZZT! BZZZZZZZT! You have GOT to be kidding me! What is this? Invinci-Fly? We're goin' on 96 hours, for cryin' out loud..

11:19 PM - Still buzzing... Errrrgghh! Enough! I'm going to bed. Big Fat Hairy Fly apparently lives to annoy another day. 

Twenty-four hours, my eye!