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Six years ago, after way too many Thanksgiving turkeys in one holiday weekend (from mutliple holiday meals with different friends), I decided to try being vegetarian for just the month of December and then January came and went and I was still vegetarian.  Now several years later I’m still happy to be a herbivore (and carbivore, but I’ll get to that).

I’ve learned from experience that I can’t give myself open-ended or extremely long-term lifestyle goals.  I need a foreseeable mile-marker to keep in mind otherwise I will quickly lose interest.

So with that said, I am giving myself two January resolutions – as opposed to 2012 resolutions.

1. Drastically reduce sugar intake

I have gotten lazy about eating well. Mark teases me about being a vegetarian who doesn’t eat many vegetables.  This must change. Not only do I need more veggies, but I also need more grains and legumes for proteins. More about my tracking tool below.

2. Work out at least 4 times a week

Fortunately I have a good start on this one since we got a treadmill at home this past Fall.  Another thing I know about myself – I don’t go to gyms, no matter how convenient or nearby they might be.  Having a treadmill at home has been wonderful! I’ve already gone from being able to run 30 seconds at a time to 3 minutes, plus lots and lots of walking.

The Tools

1. Home Equipment

As I said, the treadmill has been a boon in getting me started.  The only other equipment I’m using so far are dumbbells, an aerobic step to act as a bench for certain exercises, and a yoga mat.

I wanted a treadmill rather than an elliptical or nordic track because I knew I would need to multi-task to get interested in exercising at first.  The treadmill we have, combined with a bathtub shelf and the iPad, is the walking desk I’ve been wanting. When I’m doing a C25K routine, I simply remove the shelf and I have lots of room for the running segments.

2. Websites / Apps

C25K – Couch to 5K

There are C25K websites and C25K apps galore (even for treadmills!). It’s a nine-week program that alternates walking with running, building you up to run a 5K. If you need extra time, you can do each week multiple times until you’re ready for the next one.   I highly recommend using an app – you start up your playlist, then start your C25K app and a voice will tell you when to walk and when to run.  Usually your music will fade a bit for a moment so you can hear the instructions.  I like this Ease Into 5K app because I can choose a pleasant chipper British voice to tell me when to run, when I’m halfway done, and when to cool down.  She makes it sound so easy, of course.

200×2 – Abs and Arms

I got the idea for this from the 100 Push Ups and 200 Sit Ups programs – similar to C25K in that they build you up to a goal over several weeks.  Instead of just focusing on these specific exercises, I’m making a more general Abs and Arms program using the sets and reps of these programs (so I have some sort of target each day), and mixing up the exercises so I get some variety.  I put the numbers together into a weekly plan. This way, I can alternate days of the week between C25K and 200×2 – hopefully working out 6 times a week and easily meeting my resolution goal. 

Fitocracy is still in beta with some beta quirks, but so far I’m loving it.  Basically, you get points for working out – anything from traditional squats and bench presses to dancing, fencing, or drumming. They have quests you can do for even more points, and these are what I find really valuable.  The quests give me ideas (or at least motivation) to try exercises that I would not have done otherwise. The list of possible exercises is fairly long with (hit or miss) descriptions – very helpful for giving me variety in my 200×2 routines.  I think it really helps to be in a group with people you know.  I’m in a small group with Mark, his son, daughter, son-in-law, and brother-in-law.  It’s nice for encouragement and competition.  However, I haven’t found a way to export exercise history or data, or back it up elsewhere.  That worries me a bit, but I am tracking some of my workouts in other places, too.

My Fitness Pal

For food, I’m using My Fitness Pal – a free website and app I heard about thanks to fellow librarians on Twitter.  It has a huge database of ingredients and meals, but the thing that really sold me was the barcode scan search for the iPhone/iPad app.  I scan the code on my soymilk, for example, and immediately have all the information per serving size filled in.  All I have to do then is fill in how many servings I’ve had.  This has been *wonderful* for curbing post-holiday snacking, and also to get a picture of where I’m falling short in my diet.  After the first few days, I can already see that I need way more vitamin A and iron in my foods.

Looking Ahead

Like I said at the beginning, these goals are just for January.  I’m having fun with both Fitocracy and My Fitness Pal now, but I don’t think I could keep it up for a whole year.  At the end of January, I plan on enjoying a dark chocolate sea salt bar from Trader Joe’s while I evaluate how well I’ve done on my goals, and how well these tools have worked for me.  From there, I will decide what the goals or projects for February should be.  Stay tuned.

Hurray! I have read 6 of my 12 Books 12 Months list.  And with this book I am fully appreciating the benefits of the 12 Books 12 Months idea because without it, I would most likely have gotten lost on reading tangents about sci-fi Jesuits, emotional food, and teenage demi-gods.  And I would completely forget about all these books that the Sara from 6 months ago wanted to read.  With the 12 Books list and the brilliant monthly summaries from E on latter day bohemian (I think those monthly round-ups really play an important role in motivation), I’ve managed to alternate between my whim readings and my planned readings – thus, moving ahead on some goals while also pursuing other spontaneous interests.  It’s a really good feeling.

So even though I was very tempted to immediately jump into the sequel to the space traveling Jesuit story, I did myself a favor and picked up Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  I had heard about this book at the ALA Conference this past summer in D.C. when I had the great privilege of seeing Salman Rushdie at an author talk.  He was charming and intelligent, and his story about the beginnings of this book had me hooked.

This is a children’s book with some obvious, but playful, political messages.  Rushdie wrote this just after the fatwa against his life was announced, wondering each day if he would see his son again, to whom the book is dedicated.  So we get greasy politicians, evil tyrants, and egotistical princes.  We also get some absolutely delightful bits — like the chapter headings: The Shah of Blah, An Iff and a Butt, and a wonderful nod to Beatles’ lyrics.

My timing in reading this book was good and bad.  Bad – the pace and humor of a children’s book felt kind of jarring when I was in the middle of a stressful, high-stakes work week.  Good – the pace and humor of a children’s book jarred me out of thinking about the stressful, high-stakes work week … for a few minutes at a time, at least.

BookmarkI also had to rethink my reading style for this book.  See, I’m anal.  I know it.  I admit it.  I use folded sheets of paper as bookmarks so I can take notes while reading, and I even do this with fiction books.  It’s a habit I developed after reading Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind (very highly recommended as a book to own).  I have a 3-ring binder full of old book notes from pre-grad school, and now a nice thick manilla folder of book notes post-grad school.  But children’s books do not lend themselves to taking notes, at least not for me.  I tried taking basic fiction notes at the beginning of the book — things like characters and place names — but finally I just put the pen down and read the book for the sake of reading.  Pleasure reading.  Personal pleasure reading.

This truly is the work of a storyteller.  Sure, it might not be the best story in the world, or the most developed characters, or strongest plot, but it’s not supposed to be.  This is a book that was meant to be read aloud at night to children, or read aloud to anyone who needs a distraction.  And if you feel like being anal about it, well, read the short glossary at the end about the names in the book and then get on with the story.

“Believe in your own eyes and you’ll get into a lot of trouble, hot water, a mess…”   — Iff, the Water Genie (p. 63)

This post is about 3 books I read for the 12 Books, 12 Months reading club and 1 book that I did not.

On my original 12 Books, 12 Months blog post (, I listed out the Connie Willis related books as such:

  1. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, 1992
  2. Three Men in a Boat, to say nothing of the dog by Jerome K. Jerome, 1889
  3. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, 1998
  4. Black Out by Connie Willis, 2010
  5. All Clear by Connie Willis, 2010

Here’s the gist of this series:  It’s the year 2057, time travel has been invented but only the history departments of major universities even bother with it since the money holders found out they can’t steal things from the past (no really, they physically cannot remove objects from the past, no matter how hard they try).  I don’t recall any of the historians trying to visit the future, but then … all the time travelers are historians, not futurists. Most of the stories focus on visitng England in World War II.  Doomsday Book, however, is focused on the Black Plague, and To Say Nothing of the Dog (TSND) centers around 1888 – Victorian times.

But in my 12 Books 12 Months list, I forgot about the story that started it all — Fire Watch, from the 1984 short story collection of the same name.  So I read that first and I’m very glad I did.  Even though this story was published first, the events in it actually take place *after* the events in Doomsday Book, which came out in 1992. Fire Watch is a good place to start not only because it’s the first story in the series, but because it takes the reader right into the heart of Willis’ style.  Our hero is a PhD student in history who has to do “field work” in London, England during the Blitz.  He is stationed at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Have you ever seen war ruins? Have you visited a church or a school that has remained in shambles for decades as a reminder of how stupid war can be?  I visited such a church in Stuttgart, Germany while I was a freshman in college.  The roof was gone, the windows were empty eye sockets.  There were large laminated black and white photographs around the ruins showing what it looked like before the war.  It was beautiful.  Even as a heathen atheist, I could see how beautiful and special this place was.  And it was dead now. Fire Watch reminded me of that church and then it showed me what it would have been like to be there when it happened.  Bombs, incendiaries, fires, and more bombs.  The Fire Watch was the group of volunteers who stood guard at the cathedral and tried to put out as many fires and incendiaries as they could, often getting killed in the process.

Strange as it may sound, this novella set in World War II reminded me how painful it had been to read Doomsday Book set in 1348 the first time.  So I decided not to read it again after all.  Doomsday is a very good book — historical fiction done as historical fiction should be, but man, was history depressing sometimes.  I don’t remember the story very well, but I remember crying at least once. I don’t want to be depressed when the days are getting shorter and the weather colder so I moved on to Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K. Jerome – a comedy travelogue about three chums taking holiday on the Thames in a pleasant English June.

But first I will tell you about the book that got me here.  I first read To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis when I was a sophomore in college.  I found it on a “take one, leave one” shelf at the college library and completely fell in love with it.  I was a history major with crazy, delightfully eccentric history professors, and the book seemed to be made specifically for me.  One of my requirements of an excellent book is that it leads me on to other excellent books.  In the 10ish years since I first read it, I have worked my way through some of the other classics that it introduced me to — The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, the Sherlock Holmes canon, and – of course – Three Men in a Boat.  My re-read this time around has given me more to look up that I forgot about — Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and Dorothy Sayers’ mystery novels.

Call me a heretic, but I actually think the Connie Willis sci-fi is a far better book than the Victorian classic.  I did enjoy Jerome’s anecdotes and (some of) his tangents into English history and sentimental descriptions.  I have to admit that the Victorian elements of TSND made a LOT more sense after reading Jerome.  My advice would be to skim through Jerome’s book (it is free out on Gutenberg and FeedBooks) and get the taste of Victorian flourish and a dose of good humor before traveling through time with Willis.

Willis definitely has her own sense of humor and uses it very well in TSND — especially where dogs and cats are concerned.  I also love that sci-fi in this instance is not about the gadgetry but more about theory and thought puzzles.  In TSND, the thought puzzle revolves around time, paradox, and whether or not history can “correct” itself.  I won’t go more into it because I would just confuse us both, trust me.

Also, she doesn’t simply quote from other works, she weaves them into the texture of the story.  One of her characters uses examples from Agatha Christie’s Poirot to try and solve a problem, and another character relies almost entirely on Tennyson’s poetry for everything he says.

TSND cries out to be a hyperlink novel. Unfortunately, the ebook edition available on Amazon is pathetic.  Granted, I only looked at the sample chapter, but the format of the chapter headings was ghastly and it did not include any table of contents.  Why?  Why would you not have something as basic as a table of contents for an ebook?  I read the entire Jerome book in the Kindle app on an iPad and it had the same problems – no table of contents and clumsy formatting in the text.  Being able to quickly look up obscure Victorian terms by simply tapping made the reading much easier, though. I realized that my experience in reading these books now is very different than it was ten years ago thanks to the online search tools that I keep close at hand.  I first read TSND around 1999.  Google Images and Wikipedia didn’t come out till 2001 – which I used this time to find what the heck a penwiper is supposed to look like and to follow the route along the Thames.

I find it helpful when other bloggers write a “things I’ve been reading” post — these summaries often put other posts from the same blog in context, or serve as timely little bibliographies of a meme flying across the web.

One of my favorite side effects of reading many different things in a relatively short amount of time is the serendipity of themes running across all the readings. I hope I can get organized enough to start making a habit of collecting these little patterns and connections and summarizing them every couple weeks here on my blog.

First, I have to give a shout-out here to the Sioux City Pubic Library.  Although the website is abominable to use, their service is exceptional.  I requested a couple brand new books, thinking I might get an interlibrary loan if I was lucky, but instead they bought the books for the library and had them ready for me in less than 2 weeks from my original request.  I was mighty impressed.

So, this week’s readings.  The book I am reading right now – only about fifty pages into it, in fact – seems to be magically pulling together pieces from other texts and quotes I’ve been exposed to recently.  The book is Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas. I haven’t read anything else by this author.  I heard about this book in particular from Amazon’s Best Books of September 2010 newsletter, which made the book sound completely insane.  This appealed to me.

Page 19 –  seemed to directly refer to the young adult book I breezed through just a couple days ago – Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony.  From my GoodReads review: “I loved this book for setting the scene of a post-oil-collapse America. The author included wonderful credible details of such a future world, including a thriving black market, barter system, unreliable solar energy, backyard vegetable gardens, deserted cities, and a return to craftsmanship that makes sense. Even though nothing scary or disturbing happens in this book, the possibility of everything she describes coming true is scary enough in itself that I feel even more rushed to get that piece of land with an off-the-grid house and veggie garden. The author generously gives us until 2031 before it all goes bad, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens much sooner.”  In Our Tragic Universe, a character talks about “cultural premonition” – when people write and paint about a disaster before it actually happens.  The examples used in the book had to do with the Titanic. I’m sure there are plenty of other post-oil dystopia stories coming out soon or already available. I’m not going to look for them right now because the subject is freaky enough in my imagination as is.

Page 53 – “… a key feature of storylessness: all structures must contain the possibility of their own non-existence…”  This reminded me of a TED Talk from Andrew Bird that Mark and I had just watched, in which Andrew describes a song he hasn’t finished yet, a song about “self-destructive feedback loops” and a person who avoids heartbreak so well they end up causing it themselves, or an eye straining to see itself.

Most of Our Tragic Universe so far has been conversations between friends.  These conversations meander in remarkable ways, comparing Neitzsche to knitting, for example. These tangled threads reminded me of another TED Talk watched this weekend. This one from Steven B. Johnson, a technopundit with a background in semiotics and English literature, which makes for a very interesting mix of metaphors and examples in his writing. His most recent TED Talk is basically a plug for his latest book Where Good Ideas Come From: the natural history of innovation – which I also have checked out from the library but haven’t started reading yet.  To see a really fun, quick summary of some ideas from the book, check out this 4-minute video.

I finished an older book by Johnson last week called Interface Culture: how new technology trasforms the way we create and communicate from 1997.  The things that stuck with me were the brief histories of visual and architectural metaphors used in the graphical design of modern interfaces — from small details like “trash cans” or “recycle bins” to structural concepts like “folders” and “desktops”.   Some of his hopes and predictions for future interfaces had me wondering which of our contemporary tools might fit into his 1997 descriptions.  I had to give myself a quick refresher on historical internet landmarks in order to put Interface Culture in context.  For example:  the domain was registered in September 1997, “weblog” was supposedly coined in December 1997, Yahoo Mail started in October 1997, RSS wouldn’t be around until 1999, the iPod – 2001, – 2003, Facebook – 2004, Twitter – 2006, and the iPhone – 2007.  As I was reading the book, it was amazing to realize how much had changed in thirteen years and how much had not.  Some questions still nagging me:  what is the iPad’s interface metaphor?  Can we still talk about iOS having “windows” or has it done away with that old standby?  What is our mental concept map for navigating through apps on an iPad or iPhone?  How much longer will we continue to use paperbook metaphors in ebook interfaces?



WARNING:  This is a nonsense brain dump. Nothing here is backed up by anything.

Thought experiment:

What would it be like to have no sense of history?  Example:  peasants of the Dark Ages did not know about the Middle Ages, and the Middle Ages peasants did not know about the Roman Empire.

What would this be like today?  If we only had the stories of our grandparents to go from, if that much?  If our historical view of the world ended with sixty years in the past, that would mean we would have no Jane Austen, no Isaac Newton, no Leonardo da Vinci.  Can we even imagine that?  A world without a past?  What would we even have today if our cultural memory only reached back fifty to sixty years… no popular culture as we know it, no literature, no science, no clue about where we’ve come from, what our family was like in previous generations, or how our ideas had developed.  A world without record-keeping, without archives.

This train of thought began while I was listening to the history of Saint Francis for the New Employee Orientation — a man born in 1182 C.E.  1182.  Over eight hundred years ago.  How do we possibly have any reliable material or sources about a poor hermit from eight hundred years ago?  How have we even built our histories of two thousand years ago?

What would our mental models be like if we had no concept of the 1920’s?  Of two world wars?  I wonder just how backward we would be right now if humans kept no histories.  In my own imagination, we would be no better or further ahead than the earliest city developments — just a collection of people selling things, people running things, and some people growing things around the edges.  In a world without any history, I imagine every day would be the same — there would never be news of new developments or inventions.  There would be no newspaper / news sharing of any kind because isn’t that a form of record-keeping?

I don’t know if I could successfully map out this thought experiment in my mind.  I see history everywhere – literally, everywhere.  Our apartment is full of it, my very job depends on it.  How would we have any universities without teaching about the past in one way or another?  It’s all history.  Everything we read, everything we study.  How old does information have to be, to be considered history?

I’m also thinking about two very different stories — Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn and Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.  In Ella Minnow Pea, a small island community has a statue of the man who came up with the phrase “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” – a phrase famous for containing each letter of the alphabet.  One day the letters on the statue start falling off and the imbecile community leaders decide this is a sign from the divine that they must stop using those letters in all communication, written and verbal.  Anyone caught using the banned letters would be beaten severely, possibly die.  In Logan’s Run, we see a dystopia where anyone over the age of 21 must die.

What if some administration somewhere started deciding that we had to completely remove certain years from our history?  We would no longer teach or learn about 1066, when the Normans invaded England and gave to English it’s lovely French twist.  We would forget all about 1865, and thus, no one would ever know what happened to that one tall President … what was his name?  Or maybe we would cut out 1933 and 1934, making the whole Second World War even more bizarre and confusing than it already is.

But this is just a crazy thought experiment.  A what if.  The scary part about what-iffing … I always have a feeling in the back of my mind that every what-if is possible.  That if I’m crazy enough to think of it, someone somewhere is crazy enough to try it.

And then that leads me to other scary thoughts … what part of history HAS been erased?  What pivotal events or people HAVE been cut out from the archives and textbooks we depend upon for our cultural memory?  There are plenty of articles and books out there about the manipulation of American textbooks alone.  Fortunately, for most of the information left out of modern day textbooks, there are other sources to get the missing pieces.  But what about history going waaayyy far back?  Reading Philip Pullman’s book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ has me second-guessing all kinds of historical moments that have become mythical for us now.

I’m very grateful to historians for keeping the curiosity alive and continuing to dig, to ask questions about the past.  But at the same time, I get overwhelmed by how much we really don’t know.


Couldn’t sleep well last night so my mind went into composing poetry mode to help pass the time.


Our trees have disappeared
from the waist down
in this silent morning fog.

I walked into it, hoping to become
a misty grey blur.
It caressed me, teased me,
staying one step ahead of me.

But fog is not real.
The truth is,
we all slept in, everyone one of us.
We spent the morning hovering
between a detailed dream
and a vague reality,
while the trees looked out
above a low-hanging cloud.


People Watching

Look at them.
That couple holding hands
like two middle-aged teenagers
in love.

Mark has been taking a poetry class called Madwomen Poets, focused on Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I have the good luck to read and discuss the poems with him without having to write something like he does. 🙂 But the other night while he was dutifully doing his homework, I wanted to see if I could turn one of Sylvia’s poems into a visual. I also set myself the challenge of doing it only on the iPad. I used the Pages app – first time I’ve played with Pages much since I’ve been more inclined to use QuickOffice, thanks to the latter’s better options at getting files in and out of the app. Pages leaves a lot lacking in that area, but in terms of creating a document? Wow.

I based the mind map on Plath’s poem “Elm” – just pulling apart the themes that run across the stanzas and showing their ties. Didn’t come out exactly as I had hoped but still much better than I expected. I took a screenshot of the Pages document and published this post using the WordPress app to see how that would work with an image created on the iPad.

Update: Ah, I see. I took the screenshot sideways, thus you see it … Sideways. Oh well.


You might have seen one of the 12 books, 12 months posts going around last month. It’s a very, very cool online book club idea in which the readers each choose their own books to read rather than trying to all agree on a title. Reactions to the books are shared on readers’ respective places and thus, everyone gets to read what they want while also learning about different books from their friends. A book lover’s dream!

I had intentions of writing my own 12 books post, but ran up against a problem I keep having over and over again. My “to read” shelf is packed with non-fiction books but my motivation is stubbornly tuned to fiction of late. Trouble is, I can’t even think of 6 fiction titles I want to read, much less 12. The non-fiction on my to-read list are things I really do want to read… someday, when I’m in the mood. Which seems to be never? 😦

A couple times now I’ve appealed to my Twitter crowd for fiction ideas and had wonderful suggestions such as Matt Ruff and Susanna Clarke. I promptly devour those suggestions and then find myself back where I started – wondering what to read.

This might not be so bad if I wasn’t … well, a librarian. Even with the extra credits in my MLS I somehow never managed to take a Reader’s Advisory class, and I am now kicking myself for that.

What I really want is a series or even just an author that keeps me coming back for more. I haven’t gotten lost in fiction like that for a long time. I’ve enjoyed the books read lately, but did you ever have the experience as a kid of being so thoroughly engrossed in a book that coming out of it was like literally and physically stepping back in the room you were sitting in? That’s what I want.

“There is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of
Books.” — Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

All that’s left

Originally uploaded by Librarienne.

of this morning’s Clementine.

5. you have to fight an urge to offer uninvited help when you overhear conversations at the coffee shop / post office / in line

4. you create spreadsheets / databases… at home

3. an ex has ever accused you of loving them for their books / bookcases / bookshelves

2. you wear corrective lenses (ooo, stereotype.  But no really, do you?)

1. when you hear a movie based on a book is coming out, you read the book anyway

If you can think of 5 more clues to librarian-tude, please share in the comments.

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