Wednesday, February 19, 2014


It's true.  I've moved over to Wordpress.  The whole thing has been a real pain in the butt.  My posts aren't formatted correctly, the pictures didn't move over right: it's a work in process.

Still, you can find NEW POSTS over at  If you receive posts via e-mail, I will hopefully transition you safely to the new site.  However, just to be safe, the best way to receive new posts is to sign up over at the Wordpress site.  There's a nice, neat little box to put your email address in.

I cannot count on Facebook anymore!  Only 10% of people who "liked" my Facebook page actually see what I've posted there, because Facebook is mean and arbitrary.  So please subscribe!

This site will remain up for a while, though Google really hates when two sites have the same content.  Suck it up, Google.  Suck. It. Up.

See you at Wordpress.  Unless I change my mind and come back here out of frustration.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Year of Books in 2013: Part 2

This is part 2 of my 2013 Year in Books Review.  Part 1, which is fascinating and has been nominated for several blog awards, can be found here.

The following is based upon a survey that I stole from the internet.  

How many books read in 2013? 51

Fiction/Non-Fiction ratio?  1 non-fiction, 2 memoirs, 48 works of fiction.  

Male/female authors? 17/34

Favorite book read?  Harriet the Spy.  It was actually an audio book.  The kids and I started listening to books in the car, and it was life-changing.  We would drive somewhere, and they would be quiet.  Silent. And if someone would start to speak, he or she would receive a mighty shush.

I never read Harriet the Spy as a child. It was entertaining, funny, vivid, heartbreaking, and honest.  Caleb liked it so much I bought him the sequel and companion book, and he’s currently halfway through the sequel.

Caleb is in the middle of at least four books:  Harry Potter (the fourth one), Ender’s Game, The Long Secret (Harriet the Spy), and some baseball book.  It drives me crazy.  I just want him to finish a book, and then start the next.  He’s doing it all wrong.

Least favorite?  Breed by Chase Novak.  It was recommended by Stephen King.  I also read Under the Dome by Stephen King.  Neither was any good.  I am losing faith in Stephen King.

Oldest book read?  The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, 1937  

Newest:  I think The Goldfinch, October 2013

Longest book title? The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton; Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Shortest title? Feed by M.T. Anderson

How many re-reads?  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Most books read by one author this year: Susan Beth Pfeffer.  I binged and read all four books in her young adult series in three days.  

Any in translation?  I started The Infatuations by Javier Marias, but I got bored so I quit.  Because you can do that.

And how many of this year’s books were from the library? 21.  I think my overdue fees probably equal the amount of money I would have spent on books had I purchased instead of borrowing them.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t? The Infatuations by Javier Marias, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, Paris was the Place by Susan Conley

Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013? Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Most humorous?  May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

Best series you discovered in 2013?  I don’t generally read series, but I will (shamefully) admit to reading a young adult series by Susan Beth Pfeffer about what happens when an asteroid knocks the moon out of orbit.  It was scientifically preposterous, but I think she laced the prose with crack because I had to see how the thing ended.  

Favorite new author(s) you discovered in 2013? Rainbow Rowell, Leah Stewart, Graham Joyce

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013? Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?  Fangirl.  I’ve already read it three times.  It’s short and enjoyable.

Most memorable character in 2013? Will Traynor in Me Before You, Levi in Fangirl, David Schickler in The Dark Path, Harriet in Harriet the Spy, Rose Baker in The Other Typist

Most beautifully written book read in 2013?  The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?  Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? Harriet the Spy

Shortest and Longest Book You Read In 2013? Night by Elie Wiesel and Under the Dome by Stephen King

Genre You Read The Most From in 2013? Literary Fiction

Best 2013 debut you read?  The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?  Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Book That Made You Cry in 2013?  Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014? Middlemarch by George Eliot

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tuesdays with Grandma

Yesterday, I was feeling pretty perky for a Tuesday, so I decided to use that energy for something good.  I went to visit Grandma.

Grandma lives in a senior retirement community.  It kind of reminds me of a cruise ship.  She has a lovely, clean apartment, and access to the following:  2 beauty parlors, a cinema with recliners, a quaint café, two gorgeous dining rooms, a little store to buy milk and other sundries, an exercise room, an art studio, and a library.  Oh, and a bar. 

“Have to have the bar!” Grandma says sarcastically. 

At the community, there are movies played and various cultural excursions offered daily.  They provide transportation to church, to the grocery store, and to the mall.  They offer diversions like Bingo and Po-ke-no, a game that requires a lot of pennies.  (Grandma is always flush with change.  If she’s had a good night at Bingo, she’ll pay for my lunch when I come to visit.) 

They play Lawrence Welk in the community room every evening at 7:00.

Here are some events planned JUST TODAY:  Pet therapy with Diane!  A Chair Exercise class!  Guest Speaker Mike the Getaway Guy in the Meeting Room!  Band practice at 7:00!  Beth’s Classical Music Program at 3:00!

I get excited looking at all of these events.

“Grandma.  Want me to come watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance with you?  I’d like to sit in those comfy chairs.”

“A movie?  I’ve gone to four movies since I’ve been here.  I walked right out of the last one.  I couldn’t hear a thing.”

Grandma is overwhelmed by the calendar. 

“These city people always have to go go go.  They can’t just sit and be still.  When I tell them it used to take me 40 minutes to get to the mall, they just can’t believe it.  City people just expect everything to come easy to them.  They have to be entertained all the time. “

“So that’s a no to Poetry with Mary Lou on Saturday? “

“Poetry with who?”

Yesterday, I met her at her apartment.  We always walk to the café, which is about three to four corridors away. That’s how you measure distance there, in corridors.

“Just leave your purse here,”  Grandma commands.

I place my purse on the floor and deftly pull out my cell phone and slip it into my pocket.

“Can’t you be without that thing for even an hour?” Grandma says. 

I’ve been caught.  We go through this every time I come to visit, which used to be weekly but is now more sporadic.  Some days, I’m just not perky enough.

“I have to take it with me.  The kids’ school expects to be able to reach me if there’s a problem.”

“And what did your mother do when you kids were in school?  Stay by the phone all day? “

“It’s different now.  This is just the way it is.”

Grandma throws her hands up in the air.

“All this technology has to stop someday.  Don’t you think?  I mean, how much further can they go?  There has to be an end.”

“I firmly believe that computerized robots will take over the world within 20 years, rendering the human race obsolete,” I say.

“Well, I’ll be dead by then.”

We walk rather quickly to the café.  Grandma has a new hot pink walker.  The nice thing about these walkers, I have to say, is that if one gets tired, there’s a seat built right into the thing.  You just have to turn the walker around and plunk down.  Very convenient.

The café is bright and clean, and has an eclectic staff, which Grandma always comments upon.

“Look at that boys hair.  Have you ever seen something like that?”  I have to admit the boy’s hair, which is shaved on one side of the head and long and wavy on the other side, is unusual.  The long side is constantly falling into his eye.   He kind of looks like a cocker spaniel with only one ear.

The food is good.  I eat a grilled cheese sandwich with a pickle.  Grandma always gets a chicken sandwich on a roll.  We each drink a diet Pepsi. 

There is a large, two-sided faux fireplace in the café where a man has pulled up his walker, which he sat upon, slumped over, asleep. 

“That man was here at 10:00 when I was out for my walk this morning,” says Grandma.

“Aww, he’s like a puppy.  Curled up by the fire.”

“I don’t understand why they can’t sleep in their own rooms.”

It does seem to be a common issue at retirement communities.  There are scores of elderly men and women who choose to doze off in the most public of places.  You walk into the main lobby, and there are three of them, drooling and dreaming. 

We walk to one of the other lobbies so Grandma can show me the damage that occurred when the pipes froze last week during the Polar Vortex.  I have to duck under a tarp.

“How tall are you, anyway?”  Grandma, who did not have to duck, asks.

“I’m 5’5”. “

“I was 5’4” once.”

Back at her apartment, we settle in chairs and I get the scoop.  Avis back in Schroon Lake is still blind and living on her own.  Virginia is adjusting well to life in her nursing home.  There’s a new person who moved in down the hall.  They come, they go.  Mostly they go because they die. 

“I felt very overwhelmed at Christmas,” Grandma says.

“Where there too many people?  Were the kids too crazy?”

“No, I mean the presents.  I’ve NEVER seen so many presents.  Kids these days just have so much stuff.  We got one present at Christmas.  One year, I got a suitcase because I was going on a class trip to Washington D.C.  Your grandfather never got any presents.”

This is the part that gets wearisome.  It’s the same every week.  I want to tell Grandma that I’ve read Tom Brokaw’s book: I know all about the plights of the greatest generation.  (Full disclosure: I have not actually read Tom Brokaw’s book.) 

The trick is to smile and nod, and eventually the lecturing stops and she delves into some story from the past.  This week, it was about her father and the store he ran, the store that my grandfather took over when he and my grandma were married. 

Grandma is turning 90 this month.  She’s lived through two world wars, a depression, the introduction of the washer and dryer, the dishwasher, the microwave, the television, vaccines, Beatlemania, space shuttles, the computer, and (alas) the cell phone.  She’s lost her husband, her brothers, her parents, her newborn son, her 7-year old sister, and most of her friends. 

I’m cutting Grandma some slack.  But, since she disdains computers, I know it’s safe to blog about her. 

She makes for excellent blog fodder.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Year in Books 2013: Part I


There is no brownie mix in my house.  I know, because I just tore my pantry apart looking for one.  In fact, the time I spent desperately searching for a brownie mix could have been spent making brownies from scratch.  I searched every deep, dark crevice of the pantry.  I found a mix for lemon bars,a Funfetti cake mix, two opened bags of chocolate chips, more elbow noodles than I will ever need, a dead moth, two Hot Wheels cars, and a lip gloss I'd been looking for.  Eventually I gave up, and now here I am, curled up on the couch writing this post, not enjoying the aroma of fresh brownies baking in the oven.

I was so sure I had a brownie mix.

Rogue Cheerio

My Other Dyson

Yesterday, while I was vacuuming, I came across a rogue Cheerio.  I went back and forth over it for a good minute before it eventually broke into pieces and was taken by my mighty Dyson.  I could have picked up that Cheerio and put it in the garbage at least eight times in that same period of time, but that would have meant letting the Cheerio win.  I don't let smug Cheerios win.  Hearing that sorry excuse for a circle break apart and get sucked into oblivion might have been the most satisfying part of my day.

The point is that I'm stubborn.  And so last year, when I told myself I was going to read at least four different books by C.S. Lewis, I was doomed before I even started.  Because I don't like people telling me what to do.  Even if it's myself.

I did not read any C.S. Lewis in 2013, and I don't really want to talk about it.  I did read other books, though.  51 in total, though I have included two kids chapter books and several young adult novels in my list.


Books by male authors: 17
Books by female authors: 34
Pages read:  18,071

The Books; Part I 

This year, I'm going to focus on four books. I had no intention of reading four novels concerned with the aggressive integration of consumerism and public sharing in society, but it happened. These weren't even my favorite books, but they all fit together.  In fact, when looking back at all the books I read, it was eerie how well these four fit together.  If you read these books in a certain order, you can put together a bleak timeline of the future.

Part I of the year in books 2013 starts with with Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloane.  The novel has a more cheerful tone than the others; Robin Sloane is a self-professed techie, and so are the characters in his book.  I thought the novel was a little bogged down with technological detail, but the prose flows nicely and is full of humor.

The protagonist, Clay, has taken a job at a bookstore that is open 24 hours.  He soon discovers that books in a sealed-off section of the store hold a secret code, and he resolves to break it.  Never mind that a cult-like group of individuals has been trying to break the code for over 500 years!  He has a computer, and techno-savvy friends.  A childhood friend who became a millionaire by designing life-like boobs for video games funds his quest, and a girlfriend who works for Google makes it her mission to crack the code, using her bountiful technological resources. (When she's not helping Clay, the girlfriend is on a mission to document "old knowledge" so that everyone can have access to all information ever collected in the whole entire history of the world. This is the exact plot of the next book I am going to talk about!) If  you don't know what Google is capable of, you should probably not read this book.  I'm currently looking into ways to live "off the grid."  Unless "off the grid" is not near a Wegmans.  If that is the case, then I'll embrace the grid.

Robin Sloan embraces new technology while paying homage to classic literature. Clay carries his "ironic" first-generation Kindle around with him, but also loves those old-fashioned bound books with actual paper. There's a lot of talk, in at least in three of these novels, about the smell of books.  I pulled open my new copy of Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore and took a long whiff and smelled... not a whole lot.  Maybe it was too new. I think I'll store it in the basement for a couple of years, and then it will smell more authentic.  The book DOES have a glow-in-the-dark cover, however.  It's good for you to know this before you put it on your night stand so you don't wake up screaming in the wee hours of the morning, carrying on about aliens coming to get you. Apparently, this kind of behavior can be "unnerving" to your significant other.


We segue into Dave Eggers' novel The Circle, which is the name of a futuristic social networking site.  The Circle is Twitter and Google and Facebook and Instagram and everything else out there all rolled up into one huge powerful corporate entity.  Mae is our vapid and naive young protagonist who, through a college friend, lands a plum position at the world's largest Internet company.  The Circle's campus is probably modeled on Google's campus.  It is shiny and modern and clean and a little bit creepy.  The author hits us over the head with Orwellian themes: The Circle's motto is "SECRETS ARE LIES, SHARING IS CARING, PRIVACY IS THEFT."   Employees at The Circle are encouraged to go "transparent."  Transparency means sharing your entire life online through the TruYou technology of The Circle.  Every time The Circle comes up with a new piece of technology that makes the world that much smaller, and therefore, that much more transparent, the community celebrates.
Holly:  So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause.
John:  Wow, that's a great quote.  Who said that?  Thomas Paine?
Holly:  Queen Padme in the third Star Wars movie.  Right as the emperor was taking over.
John:  I've got nothing.
The Circle is my first Dave Eggers novel, and honestly, I thought a book by the author of a novel entitled "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" would blow me away with its profundities and deft prose. I was not blown away; the writing is simple and the characters one-dimensional, but the plot carried me along.

We journey into the more distant future.  Everything goes to crap in Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story.  America is in a deep depression, losing a war with Venezuela, practically owned by China, and worst of all, Staten Island has become the hip place to be in New York City.  Staten Island. Citizens of this cheerless America have become excessively shallow, materialistic, and obsessed with youth.  They are also nearly illiterate.  Books are no longer read, but scanned for pertinent information. (Lenny Abramov, our rather pathetic protagonist, is much maligned for having "smelly" books in his apartments.)  Texting is the dominant form of communication: actual talking to one another is termed "verballing."

Lenny works for an Indefinite Life Extension company, selling extended life spans to the exceedingly wealthy. Lenny, on the other hand, is in his late thirties, balding, and is very much in love with Eunice, a Korean girl 15 years his junior.  He has decided he wants to live forever, but cannot get his hands on the very technology he sells. (The love story is essentially a retelling of Graham Greene's The Quiet American.) The one thing he has going for him is his stellar credit score, which is easily shared with others via his apparat.  An apparat is an advanced piece of technology worn around the neck that constantly streams information to other apparat's, so that at any given moment, a person can view any and all information ever recorded about you.  

Super Sad True Love Story is pure satire, but although described as a "tragicomedy," I didn't smile throughout the entire thing.  Not once.  

We journey even farther into the future and come to the bleakest of the four books, the young adult novel Feed, by M.T. Anderson.  Let's cut right to the chase: in this story, the Internet is IN YOUR HEAD!  Which means that you can instant message and shop with your brain.  Any time you want.  And if you thought today's teenage lingo is hard to keep up with, it's much, much worse in the future.  Also, teens party on the moon.  Really.

In Feed, the world is dying.  Corporations own everything, even public schools.  Pollution has taken its toll: the sky is manufactured, and natural air is no longer safe to breathe.  People are developing horrific lesions on their skin, but rather than concern themselves with the decaying of their bodies, the commercial powers-that-be turn the sores into fashion statements.  The sores are a ham-fisted metaphor for a world that is decaying, not just physically, but socially. Here we have a world completely consumed by commercialism, propelled by technology, where everyone is online, all the time. But what happens if a hacker shuts down your feed?  

There's also a love story, but based on everything I have learned in these tales, love does not thrive in the future.

Reading these novels has made me slightly apprehensive about my complicity in the death of culture, but quite frankly, I'm more concerned about that giant volcano under Yellowstone.  These authors hold a very grim outlook of the future.  It's almost like they're trying to warn us of something.  They are very afraid someone is going to take away their books, or at the very least, won't let them smell their books any longer. However, these same authors would hate it if Apple came up with an app that makes you iPad smell like an old book.  

I'm going to go now.  I've just come up with a great idea for an app for Google.

Part II of "The Books" is coming shortly.

For further enjoyment:

Why Do We Like Dystopian Novels?

Ring of Power

That's a person named Eunice... In honor of Eunice from Super Sad True Love Story, here is a clip from the classic comedy "What's Up Doc,"  starring Barbara Streisand, Ryan O'Neal, and the incomparable Madeline Kahn.

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013: A Poor Quality Photographic Retrospective

I asked for a camera for my birthday.  Initially, I wanted a nice point-and-shoot camera, because I thought a DSLR was out of our price range and too difficult to learn to use.  Also, owning a DSLR comes with other expectations.  I would feel pressured to learn Photoshop (the real kind, not Elements), and join Instagram and learn how to make digital watermarks for my online pictures. However, my goal for 2014  is to win the Seneca Park Zoo annual photo contest.  To optimize my chances, I decided upon a DSLR Canon EOS Digital Rebel.  Thankfully, it has an "AUTO" button, and joining Instragram is apparently not a prerequisite for ownership.  So, better pictures will be taken in 2014.  Also, tomorrow I'm off to the zoo to capture the snowy owl in the snow.  

Pictures in 2013 were taken mainly on my iPhone 4.  They are of poor quality.  Nevertheless, here's a selection of photographs that capture the goings on of the Jennings family in 2013:

Daniel helped us bring in 2013!  (This is Daniel, right before he nodded off while sitting up, and right before I dove to rescue our friend's carpet from his sparking cider.)

This is Ella's reaction to the tree coming down on January 2.

Caleb turns 10.  That's two whole hands.

Grandma eats some pizza.

The family that reads together stays together.  Also, this is the start of Ella's I'm going to wear a winter hat inside all the time phase.

Argh.  Dog.  Wet.  Cold.  Ick.

Ella turns 6!

So does Dan!  And that's the best picture I got of him on his birthday.

Cold winter nights are spent playing Battleship.

Ella takes up residence on the stair landing.

Ella keeps warm by growing a mustache.

Caleb plays the piano at his school's ice cream social.

Easter!  The sun may be in their eyes.  I don't know.

We take cousin Macklyn and aunt Mary to the Strong Museum of Play for their very first visit.  

I find this picture of John in a box.  Hee hee.

So I watch my nephew for an afternoon and this is what he does.

Spring arrives!

We hang out in a lot of parks while Caleb has baseball practice.

We participate in "Crazy Hair Day" at school.

More hanging out at parks.

Sometimes, dirt is found.

Caleb.  Baseball.  Life.

At the piano recital.

Ella reads a book to her class.

Ella has a dance recital.  This was her mood that day.  She sat down in the middle of her second dance.  Right on the stage.  Then she walked off.  

Caleb gets awarded for being a generally smart and decent individual.

Ben turns 8.

Summer arrives.  Water balloon fights commence.

We go to Letchworth with the cousins.  Holly gets chastised by a park ranger for reasons she won't even write in her blog.   It's the first time Holly has been very, very sad inside Letchworth Park.

This toad takes up residence on the front porch for at least a week.  

We get a zoo membership.

We go slip-and-sliding.

John wears this suit. In public.

We go geocaching.

We take over our friends' pool, military style.

We go to a church picnic.

We go on vacation.

Holly breaks this $400 paddle board.

This is the one that Holly didn't break.


We go hiking.

We find a way to take Ella to sporting events.

I cut Caleb's hair a little too short right before school starts.

We spend quality time with aunt Joyce.

Ella and Holly take a road trip.  Look how super excited Ella is about it!

We go to the Philadelphia zoo.

We participate in the ancient ritual of trick-or-treating.

We commence the holiday season by torturing the dog.

We take the boys to see "A Christmas Carol."

There is an ice storm.

I say goodbye to the Grand Caravan.  It was time.

I am happy happy happy about it.

My friend Janet gets a new puppy and I love it and pet it and squeeze it and call it George.  

I receive a new camera for my birthday, and my husband proceeds to take about 100 pictures of the dog.

John tries to teach his friend how to saber open a champagne bottle and they spend New Year's evening in the emergency room.

Happy New Years!