Saturday, December 27, 2008

What I read: "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

Recommended to me by several people, "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak ranks among the best books I've read this year. I had put the book on hold at the library and waited a couple weeks, even though the library's Web site showed several available. When I went to look again, I found that the library keeps this book on the teen shelf. Thinking I wasn't in the mood for a "teen" book, I almost skipped it.

But at a Christmas party, my friend loaned me her copy -- practically forcing it into my hands. Thank goodness she did.

"The Book Thief" was nearly impossible to put down. It's one of those books you can't stop reading, can't wait to see what happens next, yet hope never ends. Finishing the book, I found myself wanting to turn back to page one and start over.

Like the characters in his book, Zusak paints vivid images with his words.

"Their glasses chimed together and the moment Liesel raised it to her mouth, she was bitten by the fizzy, sickly sweet taste of champagne. Her reflexes forced her to spit straight onto her papa's overalls, watching it foam and dribble. A shot of laughter followed from all of them, and Hans encouraged her to give it another try. On the second attempt she was able to swallow it, and enjoy the taste of a glorious broken rule. It felt great. The bubbles ate her tongue. They prickled her stomach. Even as they walked to the next job, she could feel the warmth of pins and needles inside her."

Himmel Street and its inhabitants come to life, struggling with each other, what's happening in the world around them and their own inner demons. I knew little about the book before I read it and I don't want to say too much about the plot or the characters because it was such a joy for me to discover them on my own. I hope you can do the same.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Another beloved performer has passed away.

Eartha Kitt, the self-proclaimed "sex kitten" whose sultry voice and catlike purr attracted fans even as she neared 80, has died. The singer, dancer and actress was 81.

I always loved hearing Kitt sing, and she was the Catwoman for me. She even made a great (hilarious) Disney villain as Yzma in "The Emperor's New Groove."

It seems that 2008 has taken a lot of favorites from Paul Newman to Bernie Mac to Heath Ledger to many, many others. Each one reminding me of my own loss while at the same time giving me a bittersweet taste of nostalgia.

Enjoy her rendition of "Santa Baby."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

All was merry and bright

Christmas 2008 has been a good one, despite my initial misgivings. I received a care package from my sister-in-law. I spent time with friends and family. We had a great meal of turkey, baked sweet potatoes and green beans with pine nuts. I watched some Christmas movies, including "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and one of the 12 showings of "A Christmas Story."

Thank you to those who made my holiday season better than I thought it could be without my mom. I hope you all had as good a day as I did -- or better.

God bless us, every one.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Where's my brain?

Between the crowds at the grocery store and the lack of breakfast, my mind doesn't seem to be working properly this morning. Maybe I'm reverting back to a little kid -- so excited about Christmas Eve that I can't think straight.

There are several presents under the tree, but only one of them is for me. So it's not the brightly wrapped gifts that have turned my brain mushy. Maybe it's the sweet potato boiling away, getting ready to be whipped into a pie. Maybe it's the gifts I'm going to give. Maybe it's the people I'm going to see later today, with the promise of good food, wine and laughter. I'm sure it's a combination of all of these things.

Here, look at a picture of my cat staring down a hippo. Because my brain has already moved on to other pursuits today.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas nostalgia

Who didn't love the Rankin and Bass Christmas specials? They don't make them like that anymore. ABC Family is showing Christmas movies and specials all month. And just because I don't have kids of mine own doesn't have to mean my inner child is dead.

There have been plenty of things throughout the past two years that have chipped away at my inner child's innocence. But a good Christmas movie seems to be just what the doctor ordered. There's nothing that will melt my cold black heart quite like an old-school Christmas special.

A couple nights ago I recorded "A Year Without Santa Claus." And it's just as wonderfully cheesy as I remember.

Here's Big Bad Voodoo Daddy showing the love.

If you're not feeling the Christmas spirit after that, there's not much I can do for you. You should probably go read "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and check the size of your heart.

And he puzzled and puzzed, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more."

Monday, December 22, 2008

What I drove: Toyota Venza

I recently drove the all-new Toyota Venza, and it's one snazzy crossover. It's sleek and refined and priced well out of my range. But that's what's great about doing test drives. I get to drive luxury and near-luxury vehicles without paying the price -- or having to come up with the extra insurance money.

The Venza is loaded with standard equipment like an eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, power windows with auto up and auto down on all four windows, chrome exhaust tips and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass. The V-6 version comes standard with 20-inch alloy wheels, while the four-cylinder version’s standard wheels are 19-inch alloy.

The Toyota Venza is something of a cross between a Toyota Highlander and a Camry, the sales consultant said. It has as much ground clearance as a Highlander but with the agility and comfort of a sedan. With it’s sleek, up-scale design, the Venza should appeal to both the Toyota and the Lexus crowds.

Although the Venza has similar attributes to its Toyota stable mates and its Lexus cousins, it shares no platform with any other model. Toyota built this vehicle from the ground up, putting a lot of thought into ergonomics and ease of use, I was told.

If I had $39,000 burning a hole in my pocket, I might consider driving the Venza. It's a really nice car. But considering the Subaru Forester rings up at nearly $14,000 less and offers many of the same amenities. I'd probably have to go with the Forester.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What I watched: Humbug edition

It started yesterday afternoon with the 1938 version of "A Christmas Carol" on TCM. That version stars Reginald Owens as Ebenezer Scrooge. It's a faithful adaptation, but my favorite, by far, is 1951's "Scrooge" starring Alastair Sim.

While TCM seems to show the 1938 version each year, I can't find any channel showing "Scrooge." But thanks to the magic of YouTube, I was able to watch the entire thing online. (Click the link to watch the first 10 minutes, then watch #2 through #9 for the rest of the film.)

The 1951 movie holds a special place in my heart because one of my hometown television stations showed it every Christmas Eve after the late news. I would beg to stay up and watch, then lie awake, afraid the ghosts would come and show me the error of my ways.

I love this movie and I love the story of "A Christmas Carol." I watch the movie nearly every Christmas season and have read the book multiple times. It's such a wonderful story of redemption -- none of us are past hope if we're still alive. As a child, I didn't understand Dickens' criticism of the debtors' prisons and poorhouses, but I knew what it meant to be charitable and I loved the wonderful scary chills the movie gave me.

My other Christmas favorites are "Prancer" for all its sweet cheesiness (and Sam Elliot!), the animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (of course) and "Scrooged."

Put a little love in your heart!