31 December 2006

Happy new year!

In the words of Franz Liszt, "Merry Christmas, y'all." (Bet you didn't know he was from SOUTHERN Hungary, did you?)

It's been a busy year at Burton Manor, home of the Burton-Lyfords (or, if you prefer, Lyford-Burtons). We have spent a lot of time adjusting this year. The boys are both doing very well at Montessori School. Kid1 has started kindergarten at The Big School and is learning so much that in two years he'll be overqualified for management. Kid2 is now one of the older kids at The Little School (aka preschool) and is starting to develop leadership skills. However, I don't know if I like his plan of annexing Ohio first. Kentucky seems a better target, but you have to let kids learn.

The boys have also started karate classes, to help with their coordination, concentration, discipline, and appreciation of old Bill Cosby bits. "Now he only picks on jello and whipped cream."

Richard took Eva to her first Indy 500 this year. What a finish! What a first race! Not only was it one of the best finishes ever, it was great for her to see another Andretti loss in her first race. She wrote about it in her blog in June, so you know it's huge if it's been blogged. She may not be too interested in going again, especially on such on a hot day, but it is something everyone should try once.

We took two trips to Brown County State Park this summer. The first was a day-trip to go hiking, with a side stop at the Oliver Winery, which we've been asked if we own now that we wear the Oliver hats. While on the hike, kid2 spotted a bullsnake that kid1 had passed and wanted to step into poison ivy-laced undergrowth to check it out. From a distance, it looked like it might have been a rattlesnake, and that hiss sounded close enough to a rattle. Richard, fortunately, did not need his spare set of boxers, and the boys got a nice lesson: nature is not all Disney. We also saw some wild turkeys in the park, which nearly inspired the adults to crack open the wine on the way home after a day of kid-herding. The second trip was in late summer, right before the boys went back to school. We stayed at one of the Abe Martin Lodge cabins in the woods. It was neat for Eva and the boys, but Richard, having grown up listening to Waylon and Willie, didn't find it quite as fascinating. This didn't involve too much danger, except for short but steep climb at the end of one hike. There was also a huge scary-looking spider near the cabin that inspired all sorts of Tolkeinesque stories, some from the kids.

During the summer, Eva and Richard went to southern Ohio to visit his mother's relatives, the outdoor toilet side of the family. Oddly enough, Eva did not run screaming to the horizon, though that does make sense given the local snake population. That she didn't immediately file for a divorce/annulment is a good sign, though we shouldn't expect her to wear a Git'r'done belt buckle with Daisy Duke shorts any time soon.

One of Richard's highlights was taking the boys to their first Colts game, a pre-season affair with the Bengals. The Colts do know how to do pregame introductions, with both boys' eyes rivetted to the field. A big motorcycle on the field! Fireworks! Cheerbabes! Popcorn! It was the coolest thing in the world!

You may not have heard, but there has been an addition to our family. On that fateful day, Richard called his father to let him know that he was about to become a grandfather again ... of a bouncing baby beagle. As soon as she came into the play area at the Humane Society, we were all sold. Eva dubbed her Perl, after Richard's favorite programming language, and she has become the center of our family life. Eva and kid1 took her to a few basic obedience training classes, and Richard took over when Eva got sick. (Too bad the place only works with dogs, not kids.) Perl is an absolute sweetie, though there are days when Eva is accurate in saying she is "slightly less trouble than she's worth." She still has a lot of puppy in her and has charmed everyone she's met. Our house and life is very dog-oriented. Seeing how Perl and the boys interact, Eva and Richard are now wondering why they didn't get a dog earlier.

Here's hoping for a better new year than the end of this year was. Eva has been sick for four straight weeks and counting, kid2 and kid1 have been sick off and on, and after holding it off for so long, Richard has finally succumbed. Eva wants to call a "do over" on November, but Richard's knowledge of physics and time says that this is unlikely to happen. On the other hand, Richard is considering a correspondence course to be medicine man, starting with the "You Too Can Speak Sioux in Twenty Lessons or Less" cassette series.

Here's to a happier, healthier New Year for all.

30 December 2006

Guest review: The five ancestors audiobooks

By Elliot

Elliot recently finished listening to 3 of the 5 books in the series The Five Ancestors by Jeff Stone: Tiger, Monkey, and Snake. Following is his review, presented as an interview with Elliot about the books. I first heard about the books via an interview on NPR.

What are the books about?
Ying wants to find the dragon scrolls, he wants to be a dragon kung fu master. Each character has different styles of kung fu training.

So there's different styles of kung fu?
Dragon, monkey, snake, crane, tiger, deer and dog are some of the styles in the book. There is eagle style too.

Who's your favorite character in the book?
Ying. I don't want him to win but I like him. I enjoy reading about Seh, the snake master, too.

What was the most exciting part of the book?
When Seh met Angangseh, the cobra. Angangseh is secretly Seh's mother. She killed two armor-clad soldiers. It wasn't scary. She had poison under her fingernails.

Are the books violent?
Of course. But not too violent. It was pretty good. it would scare a scaredy-cat.

Do you do tae kwon do?
Yes. I am a yellow belt. I have learned some of the stances that were in the books, like the horse stance. I am practicing the no-shadow kick.

What's next in the series?
Dragon and Crane. I'm waiting for them.

New! Just out recently
Crane (5 Ancestors)

26 December 2006

Did they finally take me seriously?

I just realized today that it appears my family and loved ones finally took me seriously in my regular affirmatons about the benefits of using the public library collection, the Project Gutenberg e-books, my fussing about lack of space for book storage, and angst over my ever-growing hopper of books to read at my bedside. For the first time in, probably, ever, I didn't get a book for Christmas.

Oh, they all did plenty well with gifts (Star Trek DVD collection! Woo-hee!) but I was shocked to receive not a single piece of literature. Not one. Nada.

And, as the kids said, it was still the best Christmas ever. I was home with my children and family, everyone fairly healthy, well-fed, warm and secure - I really couldn't ask for more, except hoping that everyone else enjoyed the day too. Merry Christmas, all!

20 December 2006


I'm trying to make sure this holiday season that I'm logging 10,000 steps a day, to combat the rising digits on the scale with rising digits on a pedometer. I'm doing ok, but have seen no real change in the scale yet, though a previously unwearable pair of jeans has now become merely tight. That's ok for now. I'm also thinking that setting an average goal of 10,000 steps a day in the new year may be something that gets me up and moving, breaks my sedentary habits, and is an exercise I can actually get my heart into (and hopefully, for the holidays I'll get a cool and more usable pedometer to replace my old but servicable one; unfortunately, the reset on that one is prone to jarring and a heartrending 00000 appears midday.) I don't watch tv or sit around much, other than when computing. After wearing the pedometer for a few days without consciously trying to change my habits (although I suppose I must have just by putting on the pedometer!), I found I logged a baseline of 5,000 or so steps 'natively'. After trying to adjust my habits a little - by following the Jane Fonda credo to "park far and walk" to get in shape, I started to get up and moving more - and that surprisingly nudged me up to around 7000 steps easily. Wow, a 40% change with just a little more thoughtfullness. Yesterday, I put the dog on the leash and we went for a trot; this sent me right up to 13,000+ steps.

I'm also planning to log my steps at walkertracker.com. Check out the nifty widget they have for me, now debuting in my sidebar. I love useless statistics and trivia, and this widget blends them so artfully.

18 December 2006

Piling it on

Another challenge? Am I insane? I am still working on the From the Stacks Challenge (Lincoln!!) and just signed up for the 2007 Classics Challenge (Ulysses? Oh lord...) so why in the world would I agree to another?

Well, fresh from my success at the GIFT Challenge, perhaps I'm feeling cocky. Also, I'm an avowed Optimizer and am unashamed to double-dip for my reading; I once submitted a paper on Montaigne for history class in college, then reworked the darned thing for my philosophy class as well. I consider it a survival skill in my hectic life, one that I take opportunities to hone now and then.

So, with that preamble, I reach again into the hopper and come out with Doris Kearnes Godwin's Team of Rivals, (754 pp, sans footnotes) and James Joyce's Ulysses (705 pp). Both qualify for the challenge, being sufficiently weighty enough to heave at the dog at need. Further, I have had a struggle reading Team, for which I have no idea as to the cause - it is a genuinely nice read, when I settle down with it. Perhaps that is the trouble; I tend to read on the go, while waiting somewhere or in 5 minute segments I grab somewhere. And this is a book that has to be read in place to do it justice. I anticipate the same struggle with Ulysses. My hope is that with a little extra nudge on these two - just the sort that a challenge can provide - perhaps I can crest the peak and wrap these up.

Thanks Bookfool for letting me know about the challenge!

17 December 2006

G.I.F.T Challenge Success

I have to dash off next to update Carl V. at Stainlesssteeldroppings that I have completed the challenge! The challenge from Carl was to pick 4 of 6 of various Christmas memories, and 2 must be new to you, or something you haven't done in a while. Here are my choices:

  • Christmas movie: A Christmas Story, which I've never seen before. I got it from the library Wednesday the 6th and waited until it was way overdue to get time to see it. Duh. Still, it was cheaper than a rental fee, even from netflix which has been hounding me lately to get a subscription. So, I put the moviein, opened a bag of yummy cashews and settled in. Ten minutes later, I was folding laundry, then hanging the Christmas stockings, then cleaning the linen closet... in other words, the movie didn't keep my attention. There were some good scenes, like the ones involving the father - he ws quite a scene stealer. Otherwise, not much to think about. I can't believe I hadn't seen this before now!

  • Christmas short story: O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi, which I am hoping will convey the message that it is better to give than receive, and that a gift from the heart is best of all. I think this is a particularly good message for young children who have only the means at their disposal to make popsicle-stick ornaments. Instead of reading the story to them straight through, as I think some of the narrative segments having to do with setting and character may bypass their esthetic, I've reread it myself and will give them the summary/paraphrase as a nighttime story. I had forgotten what a wonderful wordsmith Henry is, remembering the story only for the surprise ending. But how I relished the phrases such as: "A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad." Would many modern authors rise to use a word such as mendicancy? I took the time this read to look up the term pier glass also, which I had skimmed over before. Knowing what it is gives a much clearer impression of the James' flat.

  • Christmas traditions: Baking! Snickelfritz (my younger boy) loves baking, and until now I have never made cookies with him. He got the gender-neutral EZ Bake oven (in blue) and a chef's dress up kit from my parents for his birthday and loves baking. Heck, the kid even likes to do dishes.

  • Christmas song: It turns out Doodle (the eldest) has been learning one I sang myself when I was in Catholic school ages back. I refreshed my memory of the words and here they are for you too. I love the beauty of these verses in Latin.

  • Adeste Fidelis

    words by John F. Wade

    Adeste fidelis, laeti triumphantes
    Venite, venite in Bethlehem
    Natum videte, regem angelorum
    Venite adoremus, venite adoremus
    Venite adoremus, dominum.

    Cantet nunc io, chorus angelorum
    Cantet nunc aula caelestium
    Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo
    Venite adoremus, venite adoremus
    Venite adoremus, dominum.

    Ergo qui natus, die hodierna
    Jesu, tibi sit gloria
    Patris aeterni, verbum caro factus
    Venite adoremus, venite adoremus
    Venite adoremus, dominum.

16 December 2006

Magnanimous Men

In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton is one of the most gut-wrenching accounts I have read about WWII and the terrible, heroic sacrifices that the ordinary people called to serve had made. In popular culture, the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis survivors is best known through Quint's monologue on the subject in the epic movie Jaws, which I recall being absolutely terrified by when I first saw it.

The scientific explanations as to why the survivors drifed so far apart after the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis show a depth of research by the author that is unusual in the genre of war histories, that tend so often to have an overly patriotic, rah-rah tone. The stories shared by Lewis Hayes, the ship's doctor, are terrible and mighty. The ordeal of the survivors, their efforts to live, the delusions suffered by some lost in the briny water and the tropical heat (and nightly chill) are told so well that there is a sense of immediate realism and engendered sympathy. The efforts of the crew to later exonerate Captain McVay reads a little dully for those not interested in military proceedings, but holds the story together in the end as a motivating factor for the survivors. One very interesting outcome of their exoneration efforts was the amity that developed between the survivors and Mochitsura Hashimoto, the commander of the Japanese submarine that sunk the ship with a torpedo attack. In a day when resentments and slights seem to linger for too long, the magnanimous spirit of these men serves as an example to us all.

If you visit Indianapolis, be sure to see the monument raised to the memory of the missing shipmates of the survivors.

12 December 2006

Tipsy point?

Are you struggling to keep up with the conversational gambits of your erudite friends at holiday parties? Do you find yourself at a loss when conversation turns to fashion, the latest trends, and the marketplace of ideas after a few eggnogs generously spiked with rum? Let me introduce you to an author whose ideas can enliven your chatter for months to come.

I recently ran into an old friend in the audiobooks section of my dear old library - Malcolm Gladwell. I love this guy's books. I've found myself referring to him recently in a few conversations and email chatter about blogging, so I thought I would re-acquaint myself with him through a quick listen to his audiobooks. Speaking of audiobooks, I highly recommend finding a few read by the authors themselves; take a listen to their inflections, emphasis, and intonations and help yourself to a new or better understanding of their works. The best example of this I know is the audiobook of Jim Lovell's Moon Shot, whose story is known to most people through the movie Apollo 13.

Gladwell may be familiar to some as the fellow whose analysis shows that swimming pools are far more dangerous to children than handguns, or that the crime rate in NYC fell in the 80s not due to a tactical cracdown on squeedgy wielding ne'er-do-wells, but due to the legalization of abortion in 1973. Of course I simplify these ideas and arguments here for the sake of brevity, so please do take a look at the work in its entirety before you make any final conclusions about Gladwell's efforts. If you're pressed for time, his reading of The Tipping Point is excellent. His basic idea is that social trends spread using methods and vectors analogous to those that spread disease through a population. He identifies three types of people who are vital to this kind of idea epidemic: connectors, mavens and salespeople. He then disects and analyzes a variety of events and activities, ranging the gamut from Paul Revere's Midnight Ride, the production of Sesame Street, and the parlor game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (who is, coincidentally, an actor in Apollo 13.). I know I'll never look at Sesame Street the same way, although I still love the muppets.

10 December 2006

2007 Winter Classics Challenge - 5 books

I determined my final 4 additions for the challenge, as follows, with some help from mom and the monk. Here is my final list. Notice the theme?

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce; I finally decided the agony of wondering if I could finish it on a deadline could be met stoically or not..

  2. Emma by Jane Austen

  3. Jane Eyre by Charlote Brontë

  4. Julius Caesar by Wm. Shakespeare

  5. Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I'm excited I can get all of these as ebooks. Whoo-hoo! Now, I have to finish my hopper so that I'm clear by January. I think my next bout of insomnia will be spent with Lincoln instead of tweaking the blog. I've got some good notes for that book so it should be a definitive post on that tome. Ciao for now!

For more info on the challenge, see: http://readfromatoz.blogspot.com/. Thanks for organizing it!

08 December 2006

Guest review: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, reviewed by a monk

I'm trying out a new idea here, which I may or may not continue. Following is a 'guest review' from Richard of Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. I have a few friends and family who read widely and well, and thought it might be interesting to share their book thoughts on this blog. Thanks to Rich for sharing his review, and letting me hypertext it up.

This fall I reread Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim" for the first time since high school. Why I took so long to reread the book I can't say; probably because it was largely ruined for me, like "Huckleberry Finn", by my English teachers. Conrad's stories of sailors and the sea are definitely of another time, but his character portraits and plots would not fall out of place in any movie today. The story consists mostly of a character named Marlowe telling a tale or three about the title character, a young man named Jim whose great crimes are that he tried to save his own life and that he has an incurably romantic nature. (Anyone who doubts that Marlowe could not have talked for so long on one subject discounts Conrad's ability to tell a story, and probably hasn't attended a corporate-mandated meeting.) Marlowe ran into Jim several times at key moments in the latter's life and Jim's story fascinated him, largely because Jim's problems could have been anyone's if fate had twisted or changed. Jim seems to have finally found peace with himself and the outside world in a remote area of Celebes, having won this at great risk and with great valor. Marlowe visits Jim himself in this remote corner of the world to see how he was doing, and came away happy for Jim but uneasy, particularly as Jim's new lady love was uneasy, thinking Jim would want to leave.

I leave the ending for those who would read it. Conrad wrote in a very masculine style and was an advocate of the strenuous life. The book probably would appeal most to those who like stories of this type, but be forwarned that, having been written at the beginning of the 20th century by a man who had sailed the world over, there are terms, ideas, and assumptions that are not politically correct in today's prissy world. Still, it's a great tale that unfolds to its conclusion.

06 December 2006


Am I insane to consider James Joyce's Ulysses for this challenge from Booklogged ? Well, yes, but so...? I nearly named my firstborn Ulysses; a fate he narrowly escaped but the thought of hormonally induced name problems gives us chuckles today. Perhaps I should read the book that is better known for that name nowadays than are the original Greek stories.

I love the greek mythologies, have studied the classics as part of my history/philosophy work in undergrad - so it is possible that I can get all the arcane references and plot points that I am led to understand Joyce has used throughout his masterwork. I'm just daunted by the thought of all those more diligent readers than I who have failed to finish Ulysses. Worse yet, would I get caught up in the Bloomsday hysteria by 6/16?

But I really want to know why she says yes at the end:

"...I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."

And although I've read the last chapter, I feel like I'm missing something. It is only 578 pages in the ebook from Project Gutenberg. I can do 578 pages standing on my head, considering the volume at which I usually read. So this is do-able, right?

I need to think about this some more before I can do a list of 5. Right now my list would look like this:

  1. "Ulysses."

  2. Ulysses.

  3. Ulysses?

  4. Ulysses...

  5. Ulysses!

I need to find 4 more still for the challenge...

Editing to link to my post with all 5: Winter Reading Challenge

03 December 2006

Fiddling with Frappr

I set up a Frappr map a while ago for a set of friends, and then today stumbled upon their "Friends" map feature that allows me to create a map which I could use to let blog visitors note that they've visited. Neat! However it looks pretty lame, brand new and all, with just a few paltry pins in it. It passes muster for a post but definitely not for my tweakily obsessive sidebar - yet. (I have this eerie vision of a beautiful, badge bar type of sidebar where all the badges are only 80 pixels wide and still legible, interesting, and thematic. I must be dreaming.) Help my Frappr map by adding a pin or two and maybe it can make the grade. : ) And thanks to my pal Jenni for (I think accidentally) clueing me in to this feature in Frappr by updating her Frappr profile!

02 December 2006

G.I.F.T Challenge

The G.I.F.T. Challenge

Thank you ExLibris for clueing me in to another excellent challenge from Carl V. at Stainlesssteeldroppings. I have been thinking today precisely of this; how to share holiday excitement and fun with my sons this year. The challenge from Carl is to pick 4 of 6 of various Christmas memories, and 2 must be new to you, or something you haven't done in a while. Here are my choices:

  • Christmas movie: A Christmas Story, which I've never seen before.

  • Christmas short stories: O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi, which I'd like to read to the kids.

  • Christmas song: The eldest son has been learning some latin piece at school for their winter show; it sounds vaguely familar, so I'll try and figure out what it is and learn it too.

  • Christmas traditions: Baking! My younger son loves baking and I have never made cookies with him so I will plan to do this with him.

Stay tuned for an update as to how well we do with this challenge. For now, I'd better get my butt out of blogging mode - I just got a call that the in-laws are coming over and I haven't showered yet today!