Monday, February 28, 2011

The World Without Us

Long, long ago, I caught an episode of a show on The Discovery Channel (or the like - I really don't remember), about what will happen to the world once humans are gone, and I was absolutely intrigued. And then I magically had a gift card, I saw this book, and the rest, as they say, was history.

I have been blabbing in people's faces for months now about the awesomeness of this book, even though I was reading it extremely slowly. Usually, I speed through books, but for some reason, The World Without Us became part of my morning and evening commute, and was something that I looked forward to. I read it in doctor's offices and while eating lunch, but really, I treated it as something to be savored.

The author, Alan Weisman, is a brilliant writer. A journalist by trade, he writes about scientific and historic subjects with such interesting prose, that you are excited to learn!

God, I am such a nerd.

But honestly. It does not drag. It does not assume too much about its reader. It does not preach about global warming and recycling. Instead, it merely explains what will happen to this planet once humans are wiped out. He theorizes on what might cause a worldwide holocaust, but never really settles on a direct cause -- this is just fine with me. The possibility that the destruction of Homo sapien would be the result of more than one catastrophic event or disease is much more likely.

Weisman opens the book with a chapter about the Biolowieza Puszcza, a half-million acres of forest between Poland and Belarus. What makes this forest special is that it is the oldest surviving "old-growth, lowland wilderness." Once, all of Europe looked like this forest - something resembling what the author describes as what you might imagine as a child when someone read Grimm's Fairy Tale aloud. What happened?

People happened.

Weisman explores areas of the world that many will never see: Manhattan before people, and the biodiversity it once championed; the town of Pripyat, devastated by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986; atolls in the Pacific, teeming with more predators than prey; Olduvai Gorge and the cradle of civilization - what would have happened to this planet had humans not evolved?

The book is fascinating and uplifting, but always in the background is a dark, looming, depressing idea: Humans have changed and damaged the Earth in ways that may never be undone. The pollutants in our atmosphere, the radioactive waste we've buried underground - we may have ruined this Edenlike planet with our goals of technological advancement.

And yet, it's strangely satisfying to know that eventually - hopefully - it won't matter.

I originally thought that this book might be a bit dull, a bit too scholastic. But the reason that it succeeds is because of the clear, concise, interesting writing. Weisman hits it out of the park with this book.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from The World Without Us, a reminder that nothing is constant, that everything is liquid, and what we've built will one day be erased from the Earth:

"The upheavals and pressure will change it into something else. Just like trees buried in bogs a long time ago -- the geologic process, not biodegradation, changed them into oil and coal. Maybe high concentrations of plastics will turn into something like that. Eventually, they will change. Change is the hallmark of nature. Nothing remains the same."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Madonna and The Whore, Perhaps?

I've mentioned my book club before, and I have to say - it's usually right on the mark with suggestions. This time, however, they picked two books at complete opposite ends of the spectrum for me, and put them next to each other in an email. I thought that it was mildly humorous:

Recommendation #1:

The Little Book of Saints by Chronicle Books

Recommendation #2:

Sex 365 Dare You To by DK Publishing

Um, thanks?

Saturday, February 26, 2011


I've been reading since I was four years old. I'm told that I once announced to my mom that I wanted to watch Sesame Street, but she responded that she didn't think that it was currently on. That's when I pointed to the TV Guide and exclaimed, "Yes, it is! It's on right now!"

I loved books, but Archie Comics were a guilty pleasure. I would sometimes luck out at the grocery store checkout by asking for one very, very sweetly, and our small pharmacy seemed to carry an amazing selection. I was rarely sick, but my brother seemed to have something going on every othermonth. As we waited for his prescription, my mom would let us each get some penny candy and a comic book.

I never wanted Archie to actually make the choice between Betty and Veronica, I thought that Jughead was a weirdo, and I secretly liked Reggie even though he was a total ass.

So when I came upon this brilliant take on Archie and the Gang, I knew that I had to share. Enjoy the trailer for Riverdale:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

San Diego

Y'alls, I got to go to San Diego, and LET ME TELL YOU WHAT, it was awesome.

Mike's company sent us out there, and escaping to a 70-degree climate, leaving behind temperatures in the single digits? PRICELESS.

Right, so we left on Sunday, changing planes in Phoenix (holy huge airport, Batman!). We had the most abysmal pizza from CPK, which I found surprising, but at least this airport had Coke. God.

Also, I took pictures from the plane, which Mike didn't want me to do because it's against the rules, but this was coming from the man that made me cut in line before my group was called to board the plane, and I didn't want to because it was against the law.

I didn't get in trouble. But I really didn't want to board the plane until my group was called. Mike thinks that this makes me a goody-goody. I think that it makes him a rule breaker.

When we arrived at the Hard Rock Hotel in the historic Gaslamp District, we quickly freshened up before heading up to the rooftop bar. There was a little game called The Superbowl on television, and we had a party to attend. I met Mike's coworkers and I ate some food and drank some alcohol (...there were shots. I am thirty and there were SoCo & Lime shots). It was just lovely. Lovely!

It wasn't until we returned to our room that I really had the chance to investigate. You guys, the hotel was pretty freaking sweet.

Leather pillows, you guys. Leather!

Mike had to work Monday morning, so I went to the spa, shopping, and to lunch with the ladies. YES I DID I AM A LADY WHO LUNCHES. Also, my toenails are now deep purple.

Mike actually had to work all day on Tuesday (you know, on this work trip), so I jumped at the chance to nerd out at museums all day. My first stop was the San Diego Museum of Man, a museum of anthropology and evolution. It really was my top choice of destinations, not only because I promised Sarah that I would go, but because it was something truly different. And by "different," I mean, "not dinosaurs."

I branch out sometimes.

This is a really cool exhibit if you have any interest in the subject.
I swear.

It was but a short walk to the San Diego Natural History Museum. I used my grad school student ID so that I wouldn't have to pay full price (note: I finished grad school in 2004), and it was all dinosaurs, all the time.

Oh, but then my camera died because LIFE IS HARD and perhaps it was karma for using an ID with a picture taken in 2002, but I choose to look at it differently. I used my camera phone a few times, but since I still have a flip phone, that should tell you how crisp and clear the pictures were.

SPOILER: They weren't:


I was able to get the camera working again, but only long enough to grab this shot of visibly distressed duck-billed dinosaurs.

OMG, you guys. That thing looks like a meteor.

There was also a pretty sweet exhibit with live - and not so live - lizards and snakes.

And then I picked up this little number at the gift shop, because obviously:

I cabbed back to the hotel, and then it got awesome. Old roommate Jenny drove down from Laguna Whatever, and we had drinks!

Mike and I had Wednesday all to ourselves, and we went to the San Diego Zoo.

Oh, and I rescued an owl from the Natural History Museum. Mike named him Wisenheim:

I read this sign as, "Please do not feed the muppets."

This sign leaves visitors in the dark. What exactly is the lion spraying at a range of 7-10 feet? We get an answer later...

Also, the panda smiled at me. I mean, she was no Butterstick, but she was nice to look at, I suppose.

See, now, this sign explains the ocelot's kinky pervert ways, but I still worry about what the lion was spraying.

And then the best thing ever happened. The best thing in the history of the world, you guys. We entered a walk-through aviary. It was pretty much the best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world, because the birds just flew around like you weren't even there and IT WAS SO AWESOME OH MY GOD.

Then Mike had his moment of zen when he called to the sloth bear, and it came trotting out to play like a puppy. Mike didn't want to leave him:

And the next day we flew home. Anticlimactic, I know, but I didn't think that you would want pictures of the airport here. I mean, I have some, obviously.

Anyway, it was an awesome, super, amazing trip, and we had a blast!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Book of Lost Things

David's mother has succumbed to a long illness, leaving David alone with his unimaginative father. Long before he has left his own mourning process, his father remarries and there is a new baby on the way. After moving into his stepmother's ancestral home, David feels more and more like a stranger.

His mother had long ago introduced him to books, teaching him that without David reading their words and turning their pages, they can't exist. David's new bedroom is filled with books that belonged to a boy who mysteriously vanished, and though he wants to know more, he can't bring himself to be civil enough to his stepmother to even have a conversation.

And he's not sure, but he's pretty sure that he can hear the books talking to him, calling to him.

Feeling more and more alienated from his father, stepmother, and new half-brother, David retreats to his books and into his mind. Never a totally healthy child, he experiences strange seizures that leave him unconscious and drained. He acts out against his father and stepmother, refusing to speak and accepting punishment for his bad attitude.

On one fateful night, as German planes fly low in the London sky, David is drawn to the large garden by what he swears is his mother's voice. He soon finds himself in a world of knights and monsters, sleeping maidens and dangerous trolls. His only salvation seems to be an ailing king who clings to The Book of Lost Things, his most prized possession.

Connolly deftly and magically transforms fairy tales - the old tales we all learned early in life - into scary, mind-blowing obstacles. David is faced with opposition from The Loups, creatures who are half-human, half-wolf. The Loups fear that David could mean their destruction, and ferociously hunt him across the land. This amazing tale is one of love, fear, growth, and acceptance. It's about facing those fears and learning to accept what you cannot change.

Connolly's writing is so deliciously descriptive that found myself reading paragraphs more than once. Not because I didn't fully understand what I had read, but because the words seemed to flow off of the page and become real. And I wanted to experience them again and again. Take this sentence, for example:

"On more than one occasion, David, in his urge to explore the darker corners of the bookshelves, had found himself wearing strands of spider silk in his face and hair, causing the web's resident to scuttle into a corner and crouch balefully, lost in thoughts of arachnid revenge."

Arachnid revenge? How awesome is that? I loved this book. I hope you do, too.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Graveyard Book

In The Graveyard Book, wordsmith Neil Gaiman explores the trials and tribulations of Nobody Owens, a boy raised in a graveyard. So it's a classic coming-of-age tale... in a graveyard. With a title like The Graveyard Book, this book has the potential to be macabre and disturbing, but is instead uplifting and encouraging, engaging the reader and cultivating a strong, heroic character toward his eventual adulthood.

Late one night, a man named Jack murders an entire family - save one. The entire family was to have perished that night, but a small child wanders out of the house on his own and toddles into the nearby graveyard. The ghostly residents soon realize that the child must be protected, and conceal him from Jack.

Over the years, "Bod" learns from the multi-generational and historical graveyard denizens. His closest teacher and confidant is Silas, a mysterious being who seems just a little different from the rest of the ghosts. Silas is appointed as Bod's guardian, and sees that Bod always has food to eat, clothes to wear, and books to read. But mostly, Silas is to keep Bod safe, for it is clear that the man, Jack, will be returning someday.

This was my first foray into Neil Gaiman territory, and I'm very glad that I finally took the chance. I love his writing and his imagination, and the story was hypnotic. Because it is a Young Adult book, the storyline and its parallels were a little obvious (The Jungle Book), but the twists and turns were not.

It's a quick and enjoyable read, and while I found the ending to be a little bittersweet, it nicely brings Bod out of adolescence and into the rest of his life.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pepsi Is Horrible and I Stand By My Statement

Mike took me to San Diego, and... well, here it is:

We flew out of the old terminal in Detroit. To many of you, this might sound like a death wish, and you would be correct. They've renovated the whole damn thing, which is great because you no longer feel like you're walking through an industrial wasteland on the way to your gate, but...

Tell me if you've ever heard of something like this before -- every shop, restaurant, eatery, snack stand, and vending machine served only Pepsi products. The whole fucking terminal was pretty much sponsored by Pepsi, and I almost had an aneurysm. No Coke? Are you KIDDING me?

I am not exaggerating. Even McDonald's - MCDONALD'S for Christ's sake - had Pepsi. What is the world coming to? OH MY FREAKING GOD.

You won't let me bring in liquids and then you forbid me from buying a four-dollar 20-ounce bottle of Coke from one of the bitchiest sales clerks in the history of the world?


Friday, February 18, 2011

A Very Happy Unbirthday

You guys, today is my half birthday! Celebrate!

In elementary school, this was my big day. Because my real birthday is in August, I adopted February 18 as my "school birthday." I brought in cupcakes, my classmates bowed to me, and I got to be a princess on a day that wasn't really my own.

It was awesome.

So today, to mark my 30.5 birthday, I brought cupcakes to work. As you do.

And everyone LOVES me here today.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

But... Gross!

I have a problem, you guys. In the medical community, I believe that it's called, "Picking at My Bottom Lip Until it Bleeds."

This isn't a bad habit that I've had since childhood or anything; in fact, I really can't figure out when it started. All I know is that my lips are chapped, I cake on lip balm, and before I know it, I am picking off my lip skin.

Lip skin. Ew.

Can anyone recommend anything to help me break this habit? Because I'm getting tired of looking like I've been lost in the wintry woods of North Dakota for days on end.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Long Has This Company Been Around and Do You Agree That it is Absolutely Brilliant Marketing?

Lisa Loeb Eyewear.

I mean, she should have launched this business the day "Stay" hit the charts. It's pretty much the perfect marriage of brand and marketing.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Unlikely Disciple

When I was in high school, my cousins bought tickets for the three of us to see the band Jars of Clay. They're a Christian band, but I liked them for many other reasons - the songs were catchy and they didn't seem to have a super-religious overtone. But wow. We were in for a surprise. The "concert" ended up being a evangelical come-to-Jesus kind of thing with a multitude of bands intercut with preaching, testifying, and singing, and when Jars of Clay finally emerged, they only played five songs.

What made it really strange to us, though, having grown up just as Christian as everyone else (so we thought), was that everyone around us seemed to know the various prayers and hymns. "You know the song! Sing along!" And everyone around us would be belting out lyrics, one arm raised to the ceiling and the other on the heart, and the three of us glanced at each other, confused. Left out.

Then people began running down to the stage to be "saved," and we decided that it was time to leave. We were worried that someone would notice that we were different and try to convert us. Try to get us to be... saved.

It wasn't until recently that I finally understood that event.

When I put The Unlikely Disciple on hold at the library, there were nine people ahead of me on the waitlist. And now that I've finished it, I understand why. It is a best-seller because the author experienced first-hand what it was like to enter the evangelical Christian community as an outsider, and the book was received so well because the author chose to learn why these people tick rather than writing a tell-all mocking them.

Kevin Roose, a student at Brown University, enrolled at Liberty University for one semester with the goal of learning more about a community of people with beliefs far from his own. Founded by the controversial evangelical minister, Jerry Falwell, Kevin immersed himself in a completely new lifestyle for months. He joined the choir at Falwell's church, he made good friends, he learned to follow The Liberty Way, and he even dated a bit (of course, hand-holding was as far as he could go physically, or he could run the risk of paying a fine and earning demerits).

What he discovered at "America's Holiest University" was that the students, staff, and faculty were, for the most part, very good people who truly believed in Jesus, the Gospel, and spreading the word of God. And getting through college.

Oh, and finding a spouse, of course.

But Liberty University had policies that made Kevin shake with rage, especially their deeply-held rule against the teaching of evolution and the criminalization and immorality of homosexuality. Professors were carefully chosen by the administration, and anyone who threatened to overturn the set curriculum was dismissed.

Once in a while, at one of the tri-weekly convocation sessions, someone would be "saved." He or she would accept Jesus and pledge to live his or her life in service of the Lord. And it would be the talk of campus. The whole thing was somewhat interesting, until it was revealed that only those who were "saved" would be accepted into Heaven. Your religion didn't matter - Catholic? Methodist ? Baptist? Sorry! You're going to Hell.

Unless you get the call to serve the Lord, of course.

Roose writes very, very well. The book flowed more like a work of fiction than an autobiographical account, and it was almost impossible to set down. Roose maintained his journalistic integrity, but peppered his account with his own thoughts and opinions, making the narrative even richer. The fact that he was very deeply opposed to many of the things that occurred on Liberty's campus made it more than an interesting read - one had to wonder if he was ever going to snap.

And there was always the chance that he would be discovered as an outsider.

I highly recommend this book. I would especially encourage those of you with a more liberal mindset to consider picking it up, as it really gives humanity and truth to a group of people who, I think, are mostly misunderstood as crazy, religious zealots.

Had I read a book like this before going to that concert years ago, the whole experience would have made much more sense. I wouldn't have been as confused (and frankly, scared), and perhaps I would have been able to enjoy myself more.

But I probably wouldn't have gone down to be "saved." I'm a hell-bound Catholic, after all.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Climate Control and You!

Ever since my eyes rebelled against contact lenses, I wear my glasses almost exclusively. I save contacts for extremely special events like birthdays, weddings, and going to San Diego. Of which I am doing this Sunday. Bitches.

Anyway, my office is located on the lower level of the art museum on campus, and the building is climate controlled year-round. This is nice, but that doesn't just mean temperature. It also controls the humidity levels. You know, to take care of the stupid artwork that is art and that isn't dinosaurs.

(God, I wish my office was in the Natural History Museum. It would be so much cooler if it was.)

Right, so during the winter, I walk my ass from the bus station, grab a coffee and/or slurpee, and attempt to get to work on time. When I enter the museum, my glasses fog up immediately and stay that way for a few minutes.

At the risk of looking stupid (because apparently I've decided that I care what people think, but only at this moment), I remove my glasses right before entering the museum and make my way down the stairs to the lower level.

Clearly this is a good idea, right? You don't need to have good eyesight before heading down a set of marble stairs with no distinguishing features, right?

Well, you can breathe safe, my pretties. I've only almost fallen down the stairs like, twice. The odds are in my favor at this point.

So my vision is seriously compromised at this point, but I hold on to that railing and I've made it through. It's when other items cross my path that causes tension in my brain.

When the brain doesn't get a clear picture, it becomes disoriented. Or, at least mine does. Mine gets annoyed, then confused, then scared, and then annoyed again.

Like when I wake up in the middle of the night and realize I can't see anything. It's pretty annoying until I remember that my eyes suck. But then I can't find my glasses on the nightstand because I probably knocked them onto the floor with the blanket at some point during my slumber, and this is confusing.

Then I start to believe that I'm hearing noises and become convinced that the floor lamp is a murderer. This is also the same emotion behind the reason why I don't look into mirrors at night because of the mirror ghosts, obviously. Scary.

And then I just get annoyed that I am awake at all because sleeping through the night is pretty much a delicacy.

Okay, so there you have it: annoyance, confusion, scariness, and annoyance.

When I arrived at work the other day, I removed my glasses and made my way down the stairs. Halfway down, I stopped. There was a strange guy at the bottom, talking on his phone, and staring at me.

I didn't want to make it weird, so I kept walking.
Why was he still STARING AT ME?


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story

George is a good shepherd. Not a great one, according to his sheep, but good. Raising them only for wool, he seemed to really care for his flock, giving them names like Othello, Miss Maple, and Mopple the Whale (Mopple was quite large), and reading to them from books of all genres.

The sheep liked the romance novels - the ones where the heroines all seemed to be named "Pamela" - but it was the detective stories they really loved.

The detective stories were gritty and real, and followed a distinct pattern. These were the stories that really came in handy the day they discovered George lying on his back in the meadow, an old spade stuck in his torso.

Set in the quaint Irish village of Glennkill, Three Bags Full follows George's flock as they attempt to solve the murder of their shepherd.

There are obstacles, of course, including the attempted murder of other townspeople, visitor to town, and the reappearance of one thought long, long gone.

What a fun, clever read! The sheep are amazingly worldly, due to George's stories and life lessons, but hilariously clueless on humans and the human condition.

What makes this book almost impossible to put down is that the plot doesn't race along at breakneck speed. It simply can't. George's sheep aren't humans, so they don't think like humans, and this is one of the things that I appreciated the most about Leonie Swann's novel. The sheep didn't immediately understand why humans did what they did, why George was put in a box in the ground, and who this "God" person was.

Swann weaves a tale of intense small-town corruption - a town with no secrets, where everyone knows everyone else's business, and the slightest bit of gossip can ignite into the largest scandal.

I adored this book and absolutely fell in love with its woolly, inquisitive characters.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

So That Happened...

I awoke at 5:32 a.m. to the sound of a snow blower trying to eat my house, and the first thing I thought was, "Dammit! They're going to ruin my "before and after" pictures!" And they kind of did, but that's okay. This stupid storm was totally overrated, at least in my neck of the woods.

Ann Arbor, which was supposed to get 10-15 inches of snow, got just SIX. Boooooo, Mother Nature! I wanted SNOW, not wimpy, crappy, boring snow!

Some good news, however: my landlord hired the BEST maintenance guys this winter - they are so good, you guys. Sure, they ruined my "after" pictures, but they were here before SIX in the MORNING. Love.

Granted, it's still snowing, and shouldn't stop until noon, so we might get a little more fun out of this after all.

The Focus is unimpressed and only slightly inconvenienced.

The hippies haven't shoveled yet. Obviously.

The porch chairs are extremely disappointed with the lack of snow.
They're scowling, but you can't tell from this angle.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Good God, Y'All

Southeastern Michigan is currently bracing for a Snowmageddon/Snowpacalypse of its very own. A Snowmagedalypse, if you will.

The Ann Arbor area is supposed to get 12-15 inches of snow, with the majority of it falling after midnight.


My morning job, being a temp job, but also being located at a part of the University that has more than enough money to throw around, has already told us to stay home. Considering that I'm to be there at 7:45 a.m., I am completely fine with this.

For my actual salaried position, aka "afternoon job," the University's position on extreme weather applies: "Come to work, but use your best judgment." This basically means (and I'm paraphrasing Sarah here), "Come to work, or you're in trouble. And if you come to work and get into an accident on the way, then you weren't using good judgment." Ta dah!

The University hasn't canceled classes and closed the University for snow since 1978, which means that I, as a staff person, will have to be there or use leave. Awesome.

But the other campuses are closed. UNFAIR.

Anyway, here are the "before" shots that I took from my front door. I would have taken more around the neighborhood, but lo, it is cold and I am lazy.

The Focus awaits the bombardment.

The hippie house across the street...

My front porch sans snow.
Evil genius cat won't be lounging here tomorrow...