Monday, June 15, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summertime: Running, Reading, and Brewfesting

First of all, I am in Week 5 of my Couch to 5K program, which means that I am up to running 8 minutes at a time. It's still difficult, and I still hate it, but I definitely feel good and my legs are getting stronger. Plus, I've also randomly begun to notice that my waitressing muscles (forearms and biceps) are starting to show. I'm gonna be buff, folks! (hahahaha I can't even say it without laughing.) But still... Now if I could stay away from Rebecca's cooking, I'd be in good shape.

Second, I can't stop reading the House of Night series I reviewed earlier. I've finished all four of the five books published in a freaking week. All of the copies of the fifth book are checked out, and I'm dying to get my hands on one! They are seriously guilty pleasures and highly addictive, and with TrueBlood starting back on Sunday, I'm worried I'm going to get into vampire mode like I was after reading Twilight. This is not good. Although in my defense, and my sister will back me up here, I've loved vampire stories since I was a little girl when my family snuck onto the set of Interview with a Vampire in New Orleans. (On a sidenote, I've never thought Brad Pitt was more attractive than in his role as a vamp.)



Third, Brewfest was a complete success! My married friends R&R came over from Tuscaloser, and Dickie made PRETZEL NECKLACES. Apparently the purpose was to cleanse our palets between tastings, but to me, it was snack on a rope around my neck, baby. And they were a HIT! People were asking where we bought them. We could have made a killing. Plus a few randoms were actually brave enough to walk up and snatch one for a snack on the go. For reals. At any rate, my favorite brew was Sam Adams Blackberry Whitbier, but I also really liked this Apricot Wheat brew, which I believe was made by Ithica, but I'm not positive. Below are some pics from our day.



That's me and Dickie, showing off our pretzel necklaces (and his pretzel earrings), and me at the end of the day, finishing off my last pretzel, more than a little sunburned, full of beer, and ready for a nap.

I've got cake on the brain...

My BFF and roommate Rebecca is a teacher, and right now I love/hate her because she has the summer off and is spending her days leisurely exercising, reading, catching up, and cooking. But ohhhh the cooking. Ladyfriend has been spoiling me rotten with homemade fish tacos, bacon-topped chicken, and lots of other goodies. And oohhhh the desserts. She made an awesome icebox cake recently, as well as a homemade strawberry shortcake, and let me tell ya - she is part of the reason that my dieting hasn't been quite as successful as I had hoped. ANYWAY - so it's fitting that recently I've come across quite a few interesting things in the cake world.


First, let me start this by saying I LOVE to make (or have made for me) cheesy birthday cakes. I'm a big fan of using Photoshop and putting pictures on cakes and embarrassing the hell out of my friends and family. CakeWrecks (my favorite blog of all time) would have a heyday with some of my creations. Anyway, I totally want this pan:


And you can totally buy me one from Amazon for just $12.95.



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Next, the Ketchup Cake. Yes, seriously. Reminds me of when I was in Costa Rica and first discovered ketchup-flavored potato chips and the like. I realize that to some people, this is a dream come true, and to those people I say.... W. T. F.

Here's the recipe if you happen to be one of the crazies who's into putting ketchup in your cake batter. I can't help but be reminded of the episode of Friends when Rachel puts beef in the trifle... can't you just hear Joey? "What's not to like? Icing... gooood. Ketchup... gooooood." Hehe.

(Skip to 3:45 in the clip, if you don't know the reference... and if you don't - shame on you!)







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And last, but certainly not least, please check out all the AWESOME cakes inspired by children's books at CakeWrecks. (They display the best cakes, as in the ones that are actually fantastic and made by incredibly talented cake decorators each Sunday.) Here's my favorite!



And that's all I've got for now! Sweet dreams.

Severe False Memory Syndrome and why I'm faster than you

Ok, so if you know me, you know I have a tendency to.... exaggerate. A whole lot. I get excited telling and re-telling stories and years later people who were involved in the story don't even recognize it. I'm ok with this, and my friends have become accustomed to it. (And besides, my versions are always more entertaining and a whole lot funnier anyway, so what's the harm?) Ha. So here's the thing... there's actually a B.S. SYNDROME! In truth, the syndrome (called confabulatory hypermnesia - a.k.a Severe False Memory Syndrome) truly has to do with folks who have severe memory loss from head injuries or whatnot, who recreate memories and think they're real.

BUT - according to the folks at The Frontal Cortex, this can affect your average person as well.

Every time we remember anything, the neuronal structure of the memory is delicately transformed, a process called reconsolidation....The memory is altered in the absence of the original stimulus, becoming less about what you remember and more about you.

So basically, we focus on what we want to, what we think was important, and after time, that becomes the memory. Interesting stuff, huh?

On a completely unrelated note, the Frontal Cortex (an interesting blog about psychology and other brain -related information) had an article a while back about how short people (like me, who barely hits the five foot mark) are infinitely better/stronger/faster than the rest of you. Well, something like that. Basically, short people have quicker reflexes and reactions, because our nerves literally don't have as far to go when traveling from our toes to our brains and everywhere else. So basically, if I lined up Danny Devito and Lebron James, and kicked them both in the shin at the same time (yeah, I've got some serious shin-kicking skills), Danny would be jumping up and down and a full split second before Lebron. So take that, tall people! Neener neener neener.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Marked (A House of Night Novel)

Marked (A House of Night Novel) by PC Cast and Kristin Cast

This is the first in a (currently) 5-book series written by a mother/daughter duo. PC Cast (the mother) previously wrote paranormal romance books, such as the “Goddess” series, and I believe she is popular with those who read that genre.

What surprised me were the similarities between this book and the Harry Potter series, although I certainly wouldn’t equate the two by any means. Marked takes place in the modern world, difference being that vampyres (yes, with a “y”) exist harmoniously among the human race and are known and accepted. In fact, one of the cheesier parts of the books was the frequent mention of current celebrities (from Faith Hill to Matthew McConaughey) who were indeed vamps, a salute to the common notion that vampires are much more beautiful and talented than your average human.

So in this world, teenagers are chosen to become vampyres (seemingly at random), and know then when they are suddenly and without warning “marked” by the appearance of a crescent moon outline tattooed on their foreheads. So once they are marked, they are immediately brought to the House of Night, where they enter into a vampyre high school (at this point, I must say I am quite tired of typing the "y" in the word), are given a roommate and an adult mentor, and are encouraged to develop their talents. They take courses like fencing, equestrian studies, and vampire sociology, and they also pay homage to the Goddess of Night and attend nightly rituals.

So Zoey is your average chick in Tulsa, dating the cute football player with a BFF from childhood, and she gets marked out of nowhere right before she walks in to take her geometry test. Her friend and boyfriend freak, she freaks, her ultra-conservative parents freak, so she escapes to her grandma’s house. Now Grandma is a Cherokee native, who has taught Zoey over the years about ancient rituals, spirits, and the like. She isn’t surprised that Zoey has been marked, as their family is rich with spiritual heritage (all related to the vampyre goddesses and spirits). While outside of her grandma’s house, Zoey falls, hits her head, and is knocked unconscious, during which she actually sees a vision and meets the Goddess of Night and is told she has been chosen especially by the goddess. And when she wakes, her crescent moon is filled in, which is something that only happens to adult vampyres once they have completely changed. Fancy pantsy.

So once she arrives at school, lots of stuff goes down in just a month. She meets some folks who will become her new posse of best friends, the most beautiful boy in the whole school takes a liking to her, and she realizes that ole Goddess of Night wasn’t joking because she has all sorts of powers. And since she’s “the chosen one” with all these powers, naturally she has enemies and causes a stir. She is quickly invited to join the Dark Daughters, an exclusive club, and realizes that its leader is inherently evil and must be stopped. Lots of craziness happens, groups are divided, teachers are involved, and… its’ a mess. I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens because, well, it's a lot lot more and very complicated, and... it ends on a cliffhanger!

All in all, I found Marked to be original (despite the reminiscences of Harry Potter), and I found myself drawn to the magic and the romance and, well, the drama. I liked it. As far as young readers go, I would have a hard time recommending it to younger teens, as there is quite a bit of pretty fowl language, some adult themes (nothing graphic, but direct references to sex and an oral sex scene in the second chapter), and a pretty sinister backdrop. In addition, unlike Harry Potter or Twilight, there is actual goddess worship and an obviously condescending attitude toward a Christian group that openly opposes the vampyre world. It’s not something that I (a Christian) am offended by, but I can’t help but think that this is the type of thing that all the Harry Potter Haters would have a hey-day with.

I am in the process of reading the second and have already picked up the third!

Marked (PB) - St. Martin's Griffin, May 2007

Evermore by Alyson Noel

So it's come as no surprise that there are now an unheard of amount of teen series in the vampire/paranormal romance genre, with authors attempting to quench the post-Twilight thirst of teenyboppers and adults alike. Day after day I'm asked for recommendations, and I've heard of many of the series, but had yet to pick any up. So for the sake of our patrons, and for all of you, and since I'm SUCH a fantastic YA-librarian-in-training, I decided to read a few so that I can make recommendations (or not) based on actually having read the books....

Evermore by Alyson Noel

This is the first book in the "Immortals" series, with its sequel (titled Blue Moon) due out in July. I wrote a review of this one for the library's Teen Blog, but of course since I WANT teens to want to read, I spun it a little more favorably and you can read that. I didn't NOT like it, but the snob in me wasn't so impressed with the writing or with obvious plot thievery from Twilight.

Basically, Ever is 16 when she survives an accident that kills her entire family, including her little sister Riley. But the thing is - she actually died with them. She followed them as they walked to the light, but just as they were about to cross over, she was distracted, lingered, and was brought back to Earth. Due to this near-death experience, she is now able to see peoples' auras and read minds. So she moves in with an aunt, goes to a new school, and changes from the peppy popular cheerleader to an unhappy loner type, wearing hoodies and an iPod at all times to drown out the thoughts and such. She has some friends, other outcasts, and she's adjusting. Then she meets Damen... and she can't see his aura... or read his mind. And he's gorgeous and smart and well-read and impossibly talented... and eerily fast and strong and (insert all sorts of Edward-comparisons here). So lots of stuff goes down. She finally figures out that he's not "normal," but he's actually not the vampire you think he's going to be (props to Noel for a bit of a twist). He's an Immortal. And so is Ever. And they've been in love for 600 years, with her continually being reincarnated and then consequently killed off by Damen's ex. Yep.

So overall, it was an interesting concept, once I got past a few things,and I liked the characters. There was some language to be wary of, but nothing too crazy, and a few references to "going all the way" and such, but again, nothing I'd really be too uncomfortable passing on to your average high-schooler. I'd say 8th and Up...

Evermore (PB) - St. Martin's Griffin, February 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

Natalie always says I'm a winner...

I never win ANYTHING. Ever. So I'm pumped that I actually won a free copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society from Random House! I follow a bunch of book blogs, including Random's, and all you had to do to win was comment on their entry. So I said...
Please enter me into your contest! I’ve been DYING to read this book, and it hasn’t stayed on our library’s shelves for MONTHS!
...(Which is totally true), and I beat out 39 other commenters. Go me!

A blurb about the book follows. I've been told it's one of those happy, feel-good types that you can recommend to anyone and everyone, and not a soul can put it down. (Comparable to Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, one of my all-time faves.) A review will follow once I get through it!

(From Amazon) The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate—and not-so-articulate—neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories. The occasionally contrived letters jump from incident to incident—including the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while Guernsey was under German occupation—and person to person in a manner that feels disjointed. But Juliet's quips are so clever, the Guernsey inhabitants so enchanting and the small acts of heroism so vivid and moving that one forgives the authors (Shaffer died earlier this year) for not being able to settle on a single person or plot. Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life—as will readers.

The Hops are Freed!

I'm a little late to report on this, but on May 19th, Governor Riley signed the Gourmet Beer Bill into law! So now Alabamians can purchase fancy beers! Yay! I have a feeling that the Brewfest will be even more of a celebration this year... can't wait!

Oh and I've been in touch with the folks at Free the Hops, and they assured me that their work is not over. I quote:
We are going to continue to fight for the beer culture in our state. There are still some laws (container size, brewpub laws, homebrew laws) that need changing. We still have plenty to fight for.
Sweet. Bring it on.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Let's say it together: awwwwwwwww.

I heart this man. From the White House's Flickr photostream:

The caption reads that "The youngster [who is the son of a WH employee] wanted to see if the President's haircut felt like his own."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A few quick updates...

First of all, Rebecca totally called me out, and apparently Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexico's Independence Day. My bad. (Surely I'm not the only person who thought this, right?)

Second, I read some very upsetting news recently about Hershey. Although one would think that chocolate sales would rise as folks are trying to cheer themselves up in our ever-increasingly bleak economic crisis (for instance, the sales of Romance novels have peaked and bars are reporting high sales in alcohol), Hershey is apparently in a financial mess and have not only raised the prices of their candy, but also are REPLACING COCOA BUTTER WITH VEGETABLE OIL. Which is a big no-no, because as all of us chocolate lovers know, cocoa butter is the real stuff. And to top it off, even the FDA says NO WAY, HERSHEY and will not allow products to be called "milk chocolate" without the ingredient. For shame... As my coworker Jake said, "Now they'll have to call it 'vegetable chocolate.'" (hardy har har) But seriously - how depressing.

So to counter this, Mars (Hershey's apparent arch-rival) is giving away free chocolate every Friday as part of a campaign for "real chocolate." Smart thinking, Mars. Here's the website where you can sign up.


Next... Alabama's Gourmet Beer bill is thisclose to being signed into law by Governor Riley. He has until Monday, May 25th to make his decision. For any of you who aren't familiar, this is the bill that will lift the ban of beers with more than 6% alcohol by volume from being sold in Alabama. Meaning, we won't have to participate in alcohol trafficking across state lines any longer to get the fancy pants beers we love and adore. Here's some more info from Free the Hops about the bill and what they call "Alabama's Missing Beers." Below I've pasted some info from their site for ways to contact the governor, including a form that sends an email straight to him.

It only takes a minute to call, fax, or email the Governor’s office in support of HB373, the Gourmet Beer Bill:

Switchboard: (334) 242-7100
Fax: (334) 353-0004
Email form: http://www.governor.alabama.gov/contact/contact_form.aspx

Let’s Free The Hops, people!

Although I'm concerned, if we do indeed free the hops, does that mean that my friends and I won't get to participate in the Magic City Brewfest from year to year? I quite enjoy doing my part to help free the hops.

(From last year's brewfest)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Best Day EVER - Part II

Now that I've expounded on what happened in the earlier part of THE BEST DAY EVER, which involved my love of reading, ghosts, and Mexican food... let's talk about music.

Most people who know me well, know that I am VERY passionate about music. I would rather lose a limb than lose my hearing and lose the tunes. It's true. And most people know that if I could listen to any artist for the rest of my life, it would be Ryan Adams. But here's the thing... before there was Ryan Adams, there was Fleetwood Mac. Oh yes.

Although my dad and his sister were big FM fans in the 70s, I attribute my introduction to Stevie & Co. to Anna Blumenfeld (Rebecca's older sister). I will never forget hearing "Silver Springs" on a tape player in the Blumenfelds' playroom when Rebecca and I were quite young (elementary school, maybe), and it's been my favorite song since. (I later passed on the love to Natalie as well.) "The Dance" was the very first CD I ever listened to in my car once I turned 16 and had the radio all to myself. And the sad part is, I never got to see them live. And after all of their shenanigans and drama, I never dreamed they would even think about getting back together.

THEN they announced a 2009 reunion tour, in which they'll be playing all of their greatest hits. They came to Atlanta, and I missed it and was heartbroken. THEN... on May 5, I got an email from Tickemaster announcing that FM was playing a Nashville show. On a Friday night. I immediately called my sister, and we got tickets. And I'm going. And I'm going to get to see FLEETWOOD MAC IN PERSON. Maybe Stevie's witchy ways will rub off on me somehow.


And that, my friends, was THE BEST DAY EVER.

The Best Day EVER

So let's look back a week to May 5, Cinco de Mayo, which has probably been my best day of 2009 so far. The day started with an excellent run, followed by margaritas and Mexican food at LaPaz with some of my favorite coworkers (we were not only celebrating the American tradition of consuming tequila and tacos to support Mexican Independence Day, but wishing a farewell to another coworker heading to NYC). Good start already, right?

THEN it gets good. I already knew there was a very exciting signing event going on at the Booksmith, but Tuesday nights are my required night on the desk, and you cannot imagine how bummed I was to miss it. However, knowing folks who have an "in" (ie the other booksellers still left at the Booksmith) does have it's advantages, as my dear friend Michal texted me to let me know that the author was there early and signing and she would sneak me back to meet her. So, on May 5, 2009, I met KATHRYN TUCKER WINDHAM and had my original copy of 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey signed and personalized. AND she gave me a corn muffin! AND I got to ask her about ghosts and found out that her biggest regret in life so far (the woman is 90) is that she hasn't actually ever personally encountered a spirit. When I asked her, "Don't you have any trouble getting to sleep at night after spending the better part of your life sifting through ghost stories?", she replied, "Well, in all of the hundreds of ghost stories I've read, there have been only a handful that are truly evil, sinister ghosts... and that's definitely not something you can say for the people I've encountered in real life!" Touche, KTW, touche.

Anyway, so here's the inscription:

It reads For Lauren, who still likes true ghost stories. Hauntingly yours, Kathryn T. Windham and Jeffrey. May 5, 2009 (A late signing).

I also got a signed copy of her new autobiography, which I can't wait to delve into!

Ok so flash back about, oh, 17 years or so, and let's look at little Lauren. Little Lauren's mother took her and her sister to the Houston-Love Memorial Library in Dothan, Alabama, on a weekly basis... but much to my mother's confusion and disturbia, all I wanted to read were ghost stories. I went through all of the Goosebumps series and basically ANY collection of ghost stories I could get my hands on, and it all started with 13 Alabama Ghosts, which I had come across at some point. And this led to my eventual love of ALL books and reading. Natalie joined me in the scare-fest, and now, at the ages of 24 and 26, we continue to love ghost stories (and we also continue to crawl into each others' beds if needed because we can't sleep). So yes, I got to meet the woman who started it all for me. My love of reading, my penchant for all things ghostly and creepy... Can you imagine? Of course I couldn't keep my cool and staggered on a bit, but it was amazing. I was grinning from ear to ear.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I'm BACK!

Hello people. So so sorry for my hiatus. I have no (good) excuse for my absence, and to make up for it, here are 10 important happenings of the past four months...

  1. On December 15, I officially became a graduate of the University of Alabama. That's right, I received my Master of Library and Information Studies, only to step into the job market during the worst financial crisis of my lifetime. I'm currently looking for full-time jobs everywhere from Dothan to Nashville to Atlanta and back. But on the bright side, obtaining a Masters degree was always on my lifetime goal list, and now I have one more thing checked off. And in the meantime, I LOVE my job and only dislike the fact that it's part-time.

  2. After spending a week in Texas (which is a long story in itself), I fully realized quite a few things. First, that I miss my friends and family terribly (especially my BFF roommates) when I am gone for too long. Second, that I DEFINITELY don't want to move anywhere that isn't a day's drive from home or Birmingham. In other words, though I haven't been cured of my wanderlust, I have indeed been cured of any wantings to go too far away.

    (I also learned some valuable lessons about relationships with boys and such, but this blog is mostly for laughs and randomness, and I won't overdivulge.)

  3. I had the privilege and honor to serve as a bridesmaid in my friend Robyn's wedding. Robyn was my college roommate, as well as a friend from high school. The wedding took place in Auburn on A-Day, so needless to say, it was busy and VERY War Eagle. It made me happy. Here are a few pics:

    Former Batcave Roommates


    Lauren and Lizzie - Roommates for 8 Years Now

    Mr. and Mrs. Richard Ahlquist


  4. Rebecca sent me this article, which scared the bejeezus out of me, and I decided to set some major health goals. I am vowing to you, dear Internets (and to my BFFs, who will keep me in check), that by my 28th birthday, I will be in good shape, at a healthy weight, and off of any medication for high blood sugar. This gives me roughly 18 months. I WILL do it. This time. I hope. Probably. If you see me eating cake, slap me.

  5. In keeping with this, I started the Couch to 5K program for the second time. The first time was a failure thanks to an upper respiratory infection that got me in Week 3. This time I'm using podcasts made by Robert Ullrey, and I'm finding them to be extremely effective. I loathe running, but I'm absolutely forcing myself to continue and follow through with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, it'll get easier, and I'll actually enjoy it one day.

  6. I chopped my hair off. Yes, again. My Grandma is going to have a heart attack. Here's a pic. Not sure you can really tell because of the dark background, but my earrings are longer than my hair (and you should see it curly!). That's Laura Mac with me, out at Oasis one night.


  7. On a single day, I met one of my heroes (literary and otherwise) and also found out that I will be able to see a concert I never thought possible. If you know me at all, you know this is HUGE and deserves its own blog post (coming soon).

  8. I finally got around to watching my FRIENDS series box set. This has become a late-night addiction that is cutting into my sleep and simultaneously driving Rebecca insane.

  9. I've started waitressing, which believe it or not, is actually something I've always wanted to try out. I'm still relatively new, but I think I'm pretty good at it. My feet and back are often tired, but it's rewarding work, and I'm enjoying it. And also my pants are a bit snug from overindulging on Italian food. But it's YUM. Come see me at Mafiaoza's in Crestline!

  10. I actually went three months without reading a single book. Can you believe it? I've been a very very bad librarian! But I'm BACK, and there will be book reviews to come.

And that, my friends, is 2009 so far in a nutshell. Thanks for sticking with me.