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.

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!)


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