Saturday, May 7, 2011

I'm a Bad Blogger

I'm So Ashamed

It's been a month and I've been neglecting my blog. That's not the end of the world because it's likely no one has noticed... but still, there's lingering guilt. I haven't simply been slacking off. In fact, I've been doing other things.

For one, I wrote a piece of mini-fiction for The Hack Novelist's 500-Word Poor Bastard Short Story Contest. If you'd like to read it, you can find it here. He added the title, "The Honorable Order of Water Buffalo" (I probably would have called it "Death on the Green"), and the paragraph breaks, which mysteriously disappeared in the process of submission. Thanks, Hack, for finding my entry worthy of publishing among your favorites!

I've also been having fun with Twitter. Among the boring, the distasteful, and the trying-too-hard, there are some fantastic nuggets of humor there. This may be pathetic, but it's nested in my consciousness to the point that when something interesting happens or occurs to me, I'll think, "Hmm, I should tweet that."

And finally, I'm in the early stages of working on a treatment for a screenplay my husband is writing. He's the action and dialogue guy, and I'm in charge of descriptive prose. We make a good team. If either one of us were more motivated to be prolific and produce a pile of work, we could get somewhere. But sheesh, isn't it so much easier to watch kittens playing on YouTube?

Tomorrow I'm flying away for a visit with my mom and dad over Mother's Day weekend. Maybe when I get back I'll update my book and movie listings over there on the left. Or maybe not, since I'm ashamed to admit I've been enjoying a whole lot of young adult vampire fiction.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011



I don't remember what compelled me to sign up for Twitter in July 2009 – maybe to follow the World Series of Poker action. But I tweeted twice that month, once more in the fall, then waited nearly a year before posting again. I followed a few people but didn't go out of my way to read the thoughts they cast out like fat worms into the twitstream.

This March I attended a social media seminar, and a tsi tsi fly of an idea wriggled its way into my consciousness and laid larvae which quickly grew into a fully-formed Twitter bug. I'm now tweeting on a regular basis – mostly to myself – and have edited the list of people I'm following to include only those whom I find entertaining or interesting, plus one guy who tweets way too much to possibly have a life away from his iPhone.

Part of Twitter's appeal is the brevity of the medium. You can say a lot in 140 characters without having to construct a full architecture of words around your thoughts. It's also the voyeuristic perspective, the ability to peek into small slices of others' thoughts. Many public figures tweet regularly, and there's never been a better way to get personal, real-time glimpses into their lives. President Obama has over seven million followers and he – or one of his flunkies – tweets almost daily. Charlie "The Publicity Machine" Sheen had over three million followers within days of opening his Twitter account. I'm not one of them.

Some of my favorites have become writer James Lileks (@Lileks), comedian Moshe Kasher (@moshekasher – not for the easily offended!), and some peeps who are simply cute and clever like @Rosie_Kaller.

What I've found irritating are people who are "fishing for follows," who've followed me for a couple of days and then dropped out when I don't follow them back. But as @SashaStrauss, who led the social media seminar I attended, said, the idea of everyone following everyone else is basically crazy and unreasonable – I'd add "if you actually want to use your Twitter account." I follow people because I want to read what they post. If anyone follows me, I hope it's for the same reason. What's the point of building up a big base of followers if none of you care what the others have to say?

Feedback is always worth-affirming, though, which is why I've linked my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Now instead of shouting into a well my tweets also go out to my friends and often lead to fun conversations. Most humans have an elemental need to communicate, which we're now doing more often by texting, email, blogging, and social networking. It's fun to take a thought, roll it up in a concise package, and throw it out like a message in a bottle to see what comes back... or just watch it wash out to sea.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mr. Peanut: The Miasma of Marriage and Death by Nut Allergy

Delightfully Dark: Mr. Peanut

"When David Pepin first dreamed of killing his wife, he didn't kill her himself. He dreamed of convenient acts of God." Those are the opening lines that hooked me on Mr. Peanut. Its author, Adam Ross, worked for nearly a decade on this debut novel. The New York Times called him a "sorcerer with words."

The death by anaphylactic shock of David Pepin's nut-allergic wife, Alice, may or may not have been murder. The story is based on a real-life incident in Ross's family, and he assembles a series of tableaus involving Pepin and two detectives investigating Alice's death. One of the men is convicted 1950's-era wife-killer Sam Sheppard, here dropped into another role. The author makes us squirm by pulling back the curtain on each of their troubled marriages in subtly relateable ways almost too dirt-under-your-fingernails disturbing to acknowledge.

Ross references the artwork of M.C. Escher in this set of braided stories that are at times as illusory as the art. (On Twitter, he goes by the handle @escherx.) As the character David Pepin writes a novel within a novel, the story becomes a Möbius strip, looping back on itself, and Detective Sheppard questions its namesake hit man about Alice's death while Mobius questions him right back about Sheppard's own infamous murder case.

The real strength is Ross's writing. My favorite passage: "Once, while David was waiting to board an airplane, he saw a mother try to stop her inconsolable daughter from crying. But what made it unique was how loud the girl was. She wailed. She howled. She screamed, no shit, at the top of her lungs, for so long that it made the expression at once literal and surreal too, as if the squalling were a gnome standing on a ladder inside her neck, the topmost rung by her tonsils, and pulling down on the cord of uvula to hold her mouth open, using the girl's whole head as a kind of loudspeaker."

My own husband was as patient as a priest as I insisted on enthusiastically quoting several paragraphs – including the one above – aloud to him in bed, interrupting his own reading. I've loaned Mr. Peanut to two friends are they've both returned reviews of "excellent." This hardcover has been toted from place to place, passed around, and even dropped in a toilet, but it's a keeper, and I'm nearly turning blue with anticipation of Adam Ross's next book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ooh, Something Shiny!

My new Kindle skin. So pretty! I couldn't resist.

Earlier this week I was browsing for Kindle covers when I ran across a book-themed skin. (Ugh, I hate the word "skin" when used with electronics. It sounds very Silence of the Lambs.) But this one is so pretty! Have you ever found something you never knew existed, much less that you might someday want – badly – and it's just so beautiful you can't stop looking at it? This was one of those. The book design is luscious, and perfect for an electronic library like the Kindle. The maker, GelaSkins, has lots of other nice designs too, but I kept coming back to this one. It was calling to me – it was howling to me. I bought it.

A Good Find Deserves a Giveaway

To celebrate I'd like to give someone a $25 gift code to buy something you find pretty – or comforting, humorous, enjoyable or utilitarian – on Amazon.

To enter, comment below telling me about an impulse purchase you've made and love (or hate), or something else spontaneous you've done. For extra entries, follow Rainy Days on Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs (lower left sidebar - one entry each) and leave an additional comment for each extra entry.

This giveaway will start on 3/15/11 and end at 11:59 pm Pacific time on 3/28/11. Open to US and Canadian residents 18+. Limit one initial entry per person. I'll pick a winner using and notify you by email, so be sure your email address is either in your profile or in your comment.

Winner Update 3/29/11

Congratulations to mandala, whose comment #142 was randomly selected as the Amazon winner! Thanks to everyone for sharing your impulse purchase experiences – I loved reading about them!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Movie Review: 127 Hours

127 Hours

Last night I was feeling a little cranky. I'd gotten through a recorded episode of American Idol in about 20 minutes by fast forwarding through the group number, mansion move-in, and Ford commercial, as well as much of Ryan's blather and the departing contestant's futile last-ditch singing effort. I'd bought myself some free time before going to bed.

Then my husband said he felt like watching a movie. No! That wasn't part of my plan for the evening. He'd seen a promo for 127 Hours, though, the Academy Award-nominated picture about a climber who gets pinned by a rock in a Utah slot canyon and eventually hacks off his own arm to escape. (This shouldn't be a spoiler; it's the basis for the movie.) It's been on my "to see" list, so I slid back down on the couch.

I thought it might be slow. After all, how much action can take place in a story about a guy trapped under a rock? I was wrong. The opening credits roll over a three-way split screen buzzing with visuals. Bikers, crowds, activity – all in vivid colors. We meet Aron Ralston, on a solo mission to take off for the weekend climbing... somewhere. Clearly a free spirit, he drives to the desert in the middle of the night, sleeps in his car, and tears off on his bike the next day into gorgeous canyonlands. Miles away from his starting point he runs into a couple of female hikers and takes them to the purest and bluest natural plunge pool you've ever seen. Water becomes a recurring theme.

By the time he gets into real trouble, we've gotten to know Aron. He's an athletic Superman. He's independent, charming, and a little goofy. Part of what's engaging about the story is that we see him undergo not only the physical ordeal of being trapped, but also a personal transformation. He changes from a selfish, freewheeling, no-consequences type of guy to someone with a sense of perspective that was previously lacking. After moving from hope to desperation to reflection and acceptance, then inspiration to perform the brutal task that finally frees him, he emerges a different person.

127 Hours is a beautiful movie, visually stunning all the way through. James Franco makes a great Ralston. He was nominated for an Oscar for the role, in which he renders a wide spectrum of physical and emotional states – and even resembles the real-life character. There's not a ho-hum moment in the film. The writers and filmmakers made what could have been a slow plod toward a known ending into a fresh, dynamic, and compelling piece of storytelling.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Education in Trouble?

How does class size affect learning?

I try to avoid watching the news. Fires, beatings, bodies turning up in the woods... I'd rather not know. But sometimes news sneaks through. Lately I've heard a lot about cuts in education spending – both locally and nationally – and what it's doing to schools. Teachers are getting pink slips and classroom size is increasing. The average class size for ninth grade math and English in Los Angeles was recently raised nearly 75%, from 20 to 34. Detroit is considering upping their max class size to 60.

Exactly how much of a negative effect larger class sizes have on learning is a topic of debate. The obvious negatives are that kids get less individual attention, and there's more work for each teacher. Several studies have shown that students learn more effectively in smaller classrooms. Some argue, however, that having skilled teachers is more important as well as more cost effective. Unless money trees sprout in public parks across the country this summer, we'll soon be finding out how much impact the cuts will have and hoping students don't become victims of a struggling public education system.

What can you do to help your student succeed, short of selling the ancestral summer home to pay for private school tuition? Be involved. Know your child's teacher and what's going on at the school, and keep track of homework assignments. Involve your kids in extracurricular activities. Get help if they're struggling. Tutoring services are widely available, from math help to SAT tutoring. Many schools also have in-house tutors as well as guidance counselors who can help keep your budding scholar on the right track.

Also let your government representatives know that you think education is a priority, and that you vote for candidates who support schools. Since no one is dumb enough to run on an anti-schools platform, check their voting records to see what actions they put behind their words.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Crazy Cat Lady in the Making?

Too Many Kitties? Never!

I have four cats. Four is a good number, right? The answer is – mostly – yes. There are four tires on a luxury sedan, four legs on a giraffe... and four horsemen of the Apocalypse. These cats are destructive forces, laying claws to woven materials and tracking swaths of cat litter on the bed. Our house is inundated with fur, which piles up in drifts that are satisfying to suck up with our vacuum's – the "Sucking Alien's" – silver wand. We call the vacuum the Sucking Alien because it bears a strong resemblance to the head of a non-human creature with ovoid eyes and a long, tubular snout.

It doesn't help that the dog sheds like crazy, either. She's a 125-pound fat retired farm dog with a one-track mind. Food. Is there food? When's dinner? Fill my bowl, please. How about a treat?

We also have a 23-pound cat. Yep, we grow 'em big around here! Even some of our aquarium fish are outsized. We're convinced our two big boys have some Maine Coon in them, but Boo Boo, the largest, is simply a whale. He's my cuddle buddy, though, and likes to snuggle up when I go to bed with a book or some puzzles. That starts the bedtime ritual, which proceeds to my husband joining us and two more cats jumping on the bed. Boo Boo is then displaced, and the "wee one," our small black and white female, starts kneading the hell out of our big, fluffy black and white male and purring like she's reached a state of ultimate bliss.

Our fourth cat, the horribly misnamed Sunshine, hates all the other animals in the house and prefers to keep to herself.

Thank goodness my husband puts his foot down and insists on a four-unit cap on our cat population. I'm such a sucker for a furry, whiskered face, I'd probably bring home one a month until someone from A&E knocked at my door wanting to feature me on a show about cat hoarders.

I don't mind being a crazy cat lady in the making, though. My house is always full of love – and fur!

My Four Cats

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Movie Review: The Social Network

The Social Network

I wanted to love this movie. That's not to say I didn't like it, because I did - but it's an Oscar nominee? Meh.

There were some brilliant things going on in the script. The opening scene was effective in setting up the background, the tone, and especially the main character. We join the story as Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg faces off with a soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend over a bar table. He's a know-it-all. He's a narcissist. He's condescending without meaning to be, just because he's so focused on himself. She eventually gets fed up and walks out on him for good, saying being with him is like dating a stairmaster. Oh, and by the way, she adds, he's going to have trouble with girls in the future and he'll think it's because he's a nerd, but it's really because he's an asshole. Snap! Score one for the ex.

He then goes back to his dorm room, launches into the dangerous combination of drinking and blogging, then hacks into a bunch of university systems to grab pictures of girls to post on the impromptu "Facemash" hot coed comparison site. After he emails out the link, so many people log on that it crashes the network and gains him a lot of attention, including that of a couple of athletic rich-guy brothers named Winklevoss. They ask him to help them set up a new social website called Harvard Connection, but Zuckerberg takes the idea and runs with it himself, creating what he then refers to as "The Facebook."

Lawsuits follow, including a mess with his best (and only) friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. Meanwhile, what started out as a genius cool computer geek idea is turning into what will become a multi-billion dollar company. The new social site spreads from Harvard to a few other universities, then all over the country, to England, and eventually the entire known universe... or something like that.

The movie is dark. I don't mean dark as in morbid, but actually dark like it's filmed in dim light. Sometimes it's hard to see what's going on. It's also noisy at times, particularly in a couple of bar scenes, and I found myself straining to hear the dialogue. Maybe this all lends some realism to it, which is appropriate since it's the story of some regular guys - as regular as Harvard guys can be - who make good, or more accurately make good while being totally, soul-suckingly self-absorbed.

Justin Timberlake steals the show as Napster founder Sean Parker, over whom Zuckerberg fawns. This guy is incredibly talented and funny. Have you seen his "Cock in a Box" video from Saturday night live? He could have gone down the wrong road after the whole boy band and dating Britney thing, but he's been a great surprise.

The Social Network left me feeling a little creepy inside, and I felt like a sucker posting on Facebook after watching it. Several days later I'm still thinking about it, though, which isn't something I can say about many movies. It wasn't the film of the year, despite its Academy Award nomination, but it's worth watching if you don't mind cranking the volume, squinting through some dark scenes, and being prepared to dislike the story's anti-hero protagonist.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Giveaway: Pillsbury Toaster Strudel

Pillsbury Doughboy prepares to nap near steaming strudel?

I love contests! Here I am with a brand new blog and dying to give something away. Let's start small. How about seven coupons for free Pillsbury Toaster Strudel? They expire on 7/7/11 and each is good for one 6-count box up to $3 in price, for a total $21 value.

To enter, comment below about your favorite snack food. For an extra entry, follow Rainy Days on Google Friend Connect (lower left) and leave a second comment letting me know.

Want some rules? This giveaway will start on 2/23/11 and end at 11:59 pm Pacific time on 2/28/11. You can enter if you're a resident of the US age 18 or older. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries, which is unknown considering this blog has been alive for all of about three days. Limit one initial entry per person. I'll pick a winner using and notify you by email, so be sure your email address is either in your profile or in your comment.

Winner Update 3/1/11

Congratulations to dddiva, who was randomly selected as the Toaster Strudel winner! Thanks to everyone for entering and check back for future giveaways.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bathroom Remodeling: My Husband is Going to Kill Me

The vanity I bought today. I love it!

I've been a bit manic today. The mice in my brain have been running their wheel harder than usual trying to straighten out the loose ends of my bathroom remodel that starts tomorrow. Tomorrow! I've been on edge, frustrated, and in "hurry up" mode, none of which pleases my darling husband, who has had to put up with me all day.

It got going a couple of weeks ago when a good friend, who is also a contractor, offered to help and took me on a long stroll through Home Depot to look at bath fixtures. I then took the resulting list, logged on to the Internet, and proceeded to tear my selections apart. An elaborate spreadsheet was born and quickly populated with items, prices, numbers and locations. I optimized what could be ordered online with free shipping and a discount, and what I should get B&M coupons to buy.

Now half this stuff is in my garage and the other half is on its way. The guys will be here in the morning to start on "demo" work (tearing my bathroom apart) so the new pieces can go in. We're basically gutting both bathrooms in the house and getting rid of all the 70's-era fixtures, and the awful shower that previously won a prize in a "dirty shower" contest.

My husband tried to be patient while I kept blathering on about tile and towel bars and bath rugs. He's one of those guys who cares how his house looks but would rather not be too deeply involved in the process. I try to inform him enough so he won't say, "Hey, what the hell is that?" when something shows up, but not so much that he's overwhelmed. He picked a nice paint color today, and I needed him there at Lowe's to help lift the vanity we bought.

Before we left to go bowling tonight, I was deeply involved in selecting towels on the Macy's web site. I mean deeply, obsessively involved, considering various permutations based on factors including color, brand, user reviews, size, shape, price, texture, design, material, whether they'd work in one or both bathrooms, whether I should get bath rugs or tub towels, etc. I'd love to just walk into a store, pick up a towel and say, "This one looks OK," buy it and move on with my life without examining and reexamining every little aspect of the towel's potential future existence in my home.

These decisions made me a big ball of stress today. I had to relax and spin down at the bowling alley, and now I'm feeling much more zen about the whole thing. I know the bathrooms will turn out beautifully and we're both excited to see the transformation. Assuming my exhaustive planning pays off and the guys come through with their usual great work, we'll have two nice bathrooms to enjoy - and I believe my husband will keep me!