life interruptions

I hate admitting this, but life has become a little…busy.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. But I am working two jobs (60 hours, 7 days a week), while simultaneously trying to move, paint two of the rooms in the house I was living in (they were painted since we moved in), and job hunt for when the Library job is over.

Regardless, 7 Day Challenges are going to be suspended for a little while. I’m just not able to finish anything or focus on any big projects, and it’s incredibly frustrating.

In the mean time, I will still maintain the following challenges which I’ve been trying to keep up with:

  • Maintain my nails (I’ve consciously stopped myself from picking at them three times in the last two days…)
  • Run 4 miles per week (despite busting my ass last week, I still got 3.4 miles in!)

Similarly, I hope post updates on the following, which are either complete, or which I have been working on for a while:

  • A craft project I completed (made a book safe!)
  • A couple other craft projects in the works
  • What Scares Me: Thoughts for the Future
  • Compile a list of books to read
  • Compile a count-by-count breakdown of the Big Apple based on what we worked on in Cat’s Corner (all by my lonesome, no help from others!)
  • A really awesome Jack&Jill competition from Korea

Eventually, I will also post about how I will soon be re-vamping the blog and incorporating it into a (hopefully) more professional website. But that might be a while yet.

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accidental DJ debut: ain’t nobody here but us chickens

It happens – a car breaks down, someone runs late, or someone forgets a power cord. For whatever reason, the scheduled DJ doesn’t show up. Tonight, at Hotjam, it was a bit of miscommunication: both DJs assumed they were doing the second set. As such, neither had shown up by 8:45, well into what was supposed to be the beginner’s lesson. The lesson had started late, so I didn’t think anything of it…but as more and more people showed up, I realized we had a problem.

See, the deal is this: tonight, due to rare circumstances, neither Michelle nor Nima could run Hot Jam tonight. Michelle called me at about 4pm and asked me if I would be able to step in – since I attend every week, and I’d offered to assist if they ever needed help, I was ready to jump in and keep things going smoothly. Seeing as HJ is well-established, I didn’t really plan for any problems. My mistake.

Problem #1: I did not plan for there to be no DJ.

As luck would have it, I was planning on getting some work done while tending the desk at HJ, and had brought my computer. But here, we run into a few more issues.

#2: I have never DJ’d, and was wary to try.

#3: I recently lost all the music on my computer, and own a grand total of 185 songs, of which I have only listened to about 20. The rest, as far as I can determine, is a mish-mash of danceable jazz, neo-swing, and rock-a-billy swing. And I had no way to tell what was what.

So I politely excused myself from the beginner’s lesson, pulled out my computer, and hit play on the Cab Calloway CD – the only thing I knew for sure would be danceable. I figured out the volume controls, turned up the music enough for people to hear but low enough that the beginner’s lesson could wrap up, and went outside to call Nima.

A few phone calls later: it would be at least fifteen minutes before the DJ relief rolled in. Even with my limited song collection, I knew we would manage – I was reasonable enough to understand that it would be (nearly) impossible to kill Hot Jam in the first twenty minutes. I also understood, however, that I needed to pull together a few songs which weren’t by Cab Calloway.

I started pulling everything which was labeled “jazz” with a bpm of 170 or less (thankfully, the friend who gave me this mish-mash of music had bpm’d it all!), and looked for titles and artists that I vaguely recognized. And this is what happened:

“Are You All Reet?” by Cab Calloway – 79 bpm
“Hey Now, Hey Now” by Cab Calloway – 162 bpm
“Everybody Eats When They Come to My House” by Cab Calloway – 76 bpm
“Are You Hep to the Jive” by Cab Calloway  – 77 bpm (I finally sat down and started pulling some different songs)
“Lullaby of Birdland” by Count Basie – 168 bpm
“I’ve Got the World on a String” by Louis Prima – 138 bpm (Note: while the song starts at 138 bpm, it has an awkward part which speeds up significantly…sorry! I didn’t know, haha…)
“Opus One” by Glen Gray – 169 bpm (At this point, I was incredibly excited to see Jim walk in the door!)
“Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” by Louis Jordan – 152 bpm (Sort of in honor of my mother…)
“Banana Split for my Baby” by Louis Prima – 92 bpm

So, while I really only had to DJ five songs, it was still nerve-wracking considering my limited selection, limited knowledge of the selection I had, and limited experience as a DJ. Thankfully, I will be quick to point out, the beginner-intermediate scene in Atlanta is happy to dance to almost anything, as long as it doesn’t have a funky intro and the beat is relatively easy to find. And luckily, all the songs I pulled (mostly) fell into that category.

I’m not sure I’ll ever pursue DJ’ing. But I won’t lie – when people finally stopped talking after the lesson was over and I turned the music up on “Are You Hep to the Jive,” I got a little rush – every single person was dancing. (Except for the one guy who couldn’t find a dance partner, since the lead-follow ratio was off.) And though I was pretty focused on trying to find the names of songs I recognized, I still looked up to make sure they kept dancing. And it made me happy to find that they did.

And yes, Tonia. I posted this list for you.

review: power of one

Power of One by Bryce Courtney

Book Jacket Summary:

In 1939, as Hitler cast his enormous, cruel shadow across the world, hatred of a similar kind took root in South Africa, where the seeds of apartheid were newly sown. There a boy called Peekay was born. He spoke the wrong language — English, the language spoken by those who had sent the Afrikaners to the world’s first concentration cams during the Boer War. He was suckled by a woman of the wrong color — black, the color of fear and disdain. His childhood was marked by humiliation and abandonment. Yet he vowed to survive — he would become the welterweight champion of the world, he would dream heroic dreams.

But his dreams were nothing compared to what awaited him. For he embarked on an epic journey through a land of tribal superstition and modern prejudice, where he would learn the power of words, the power to transform lives, and the mystical power that would sustain him even when it appeared that villainy would rule the world: The Power of One.

This is possibly the worst book jacket summary ever — because honestly, it does no credit to the power and beautiful construction of this novel.

I’ll be honest; this is less a review, and more an endorsement of your time. Because if you haven’t read this book, you need to amend that oversight in your life. I first read this book in high school (9th grade?), and I remember only two things: Peekay is the embodiment of a Renaissance Man, and the ending made me cry. Not because it was sad, but because I’d physically read the last page, and I wanted more. And I am so glad I re-read this novel; everything about it is an example of great literature — so great, that I barely know how to begin.

First, at the very basic, the sentence construction is beautiful. As if Courtney labored over every single word, every single phrase. The action scenes are intense and powerful; the death scenes deep and moving; the landscape almost more beautiful in words than it could ever be in person. I find myself always completely engrossed in the moment, for even passages which are only necessary to understand the upcoming events — passages which seem rough and jarring in most books — seem to move the story forward, rather than stagnate.

Next, the characters are entirely engrossing. Rather than focusing on just a few people, Courtney provides a wide and vivid cast of characters who never seem superfluous, who never bore or annoy me, who always grow and develop whether present for a few pages or for the majority of the novel. The villains are deeply evil, the heroes inspirational and empowering. My favorite characters include Doc, Geil Piet, and Mannie — and you would never meet three people more different! They all push Peekay in their own way — his intelligence, his boxing, his ability to work the system — all the meanwhile providing their undying love and friendship for an incredible young boy.

Peekay is an inspiration. A boy who is intelligent, passionate, and determined; who manages to inspire not only those close to him, but an entire nation of people who believe in his innate power and greatness. Peekay has his feet in both worlds of subjugated black and ruling white: able to speak most tribal languages, out-box every boy he meets, identify nearly every species of cacti in the desert, and play Chopin. It is easy to become immersed in his story — the story of a boy coming of age in a nation which is troubled by hatred that he finds stupid, and his fight against the apartheid in favor of the unifying love of Africa.

While this novel makes no trite attempt at what would be an all-too-pretentious ending of peace and happiness for all, it manages to leave the reader with a sense of some victory in the battle against hatred and racism.  It makes me believe in one’s own ability to succeed against the odds through perseverance and determination; the ability for one person to do something great, to inspire, to succeed, to help. The power of a single person to leave the world a better place.

Despite the trite cliche, it’s the inspirational and overwhelming feeling of this novel — the belief in The Power of One.

review x2: “grave” series

On Grave Surprise and An Ice Cold Grave, by Charlaine Harris

I won’t lie: I got a little overzealous, and I ended up finishing the next two books in Harris’s “Grave” series before getting around to the whole “review” process I’ve been trying to set up. As such, I won’t bore you with two vaguely similar reviews, but instead offer one post which covers both.

Grave Surprise

Book Jacket Summary:

At the request of anthropology professor Clyde Nunley, Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver come to Memphis to demonstrate Harper’s unique talent–in an old cemetery. Nunley is skeptical, even after Harper senses–and finds–two bodies in the grave beneath her feet. One of a man centuries dead. The other, a young girl, recently deceased, whom Harper had once tried, and failed, to locate. But Harper’s new investigation into the crime yields yet another surprise: the next morning, a third body is found–in the very same grave…

First off, Harris does a much better job in the second installment of this series of making me have to work at figuring out the identity of the killer. While I initially guessed right, Harris manages to create enough confusion around the murder that it was easy to doubt my first instincts. She also provides additional motives for other characters who I didn’t initially suspect, which almost made me change my mind a couple times. Overall, the character development is easy and enjoyable, and the plot development is similar. A very tidy little book — though there were no mind-blowing surprises, it was fun to read.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the mostly-fraud psychic Xylda (though she does have her moments of true talent) and her tattooed and pierced grandson, Manfred. Like I said, I enjoy the “new”ness of these books, in that each book provides a new set of characters to meet and become invested in. The traveling nature of Harper’s job makes a constant source of new and entertaining people.

And finally, the romance: it begins to pick up, as Harper realizes she wants a little bit more than just a close relationship with her step-brother. Harris neatly (and repeatedly) explains that Harper and Tolliver are united through a shared childhood but not by blood, making their budding romance strange, but not stomach-churningly-inappropriate.

An Ice Cold Grave

Book Jacket Summary:

Harper Connelly heads to Doraville, North Carolina, to find a missing boy—one of several teenage boys who have disappeared over the last five years. And all of them are calling for Harper. She finds them, buried in the frozen ground. Soon Harper will learn more than she cared to about the dark mysteries and long-hidden secrets of Doraville—knowledge of the dead that makes her next in line to end up in an ice-cold grave.

I think this book fits best in the “mystery” category. From the very beginning, it is challenging to guess who the killer is — but I wanted to know so badly that I flew through the book, determined to find the killer and bring him to justice. The set up and execution of this mystery is very clean and very well orchestrated; in fact, I didn’t even have a single idea at the identity of the killer of eight young, innocent boys.

I also love how dark this book is — the final fifty pages, in particular, are entirely engrossing. I think Harris really dives into the psychology of a serial killer — and even as things seem to be winding down, they suddenly pick back up with an intensity which had me (almost) biting my nails.*

My biggest frustration with this novel is that it puts information on the table which it does not address until the very end, making Harper appear almost stupid as she forgets a clue which she gave herself. Similarly, I have also started to become frustrated with the capabilities of Harper’s “gift.” While it is intentionally poorly defined, as Harper herself knows very little about its limitations, I find that Harris uses the gift to provide spotty but crucial information when she is stuck on how to move the story forward.

My second frustration, surprisingly, is the romance between Tolliver and Harper. I thought I would be so happy when they got together…but it seems almost too easy. They immediately speak of their mutual love, with no building romance. Though there are two and a half books leading up to this romance, I never felt I got an impression of their courtship — secret touches, awkward first kiss, bouts of insecurity — and thus never got a chance to root for their eventual success. It just…succeeded on its own.

Overall, I would say that Harris trades the execution of the mystery for the development of the characters in this novel. Regardless, it’s well written and fully entertaining, and I highly recommend it as a great casual read!

***

*Not really — after all, that would defeat the challenge this week!

april challenges: bring may flowers?

So to review last week’s challenges:

1. Drink a pint of water before my feet hit the ground.

Fail. But for good reason — it wasn’t suiting my needs. Actually, it just made my stomach really upset for the morning. I think I’m going to instead switch to drinking a pint of water through my morning routine. When that becomes easy, then I’ll return to drinking a pint before my feet hit the ground.

Overall score: 6/10

2. Keep track of every dollar I spend.

I did okay. I kept to my budget, but I had a couple purchases which I guess I forgot about, because the amount in my wallet does not match the spread sheet. As such, I’ve purchased a small booklet to keep in my purse to track my spending. Similarly, I bought a coupon-sized file folder for my purse to manage all my coupons / rewards cards which I don’t regularly use.

Overall score: 7.5/10

3. Run at least 3 miles.

Success! In fact, I ran 3.55 miles from the 5th to the 11th, and another 2.2 miles yesterday (total in eight days: 5.75!). And this Friday I plan on running at least another two! This is, by far and away, the most success I’ve ever had at personal fitness motivation.

Discoveries about running: don’t eat / drink immediately before running; running with people is awesome — not nearly as awkward as I’d assumed.

***

As such, the challenges for this upcoming week:

1. Keep track of every penny I spend using my spiffy new notebook. Update my spreadsheet whenever I get a chance.

2. Take care of my nails. My mom has beautiful fingernails, and I’ve always admired how she cares for them. But mine? They’re chewed and peeled off, and the cuticles are an absolute mess. As such, I also bought a small nail kit and some clear nail polish (the colors weird me out, so I’m going to go with clear for a while). Maybe I can finally learn how to maintain my nails?

3. Run another 3 miles between today (13 April 2011) and next week (19 April 2011). Totally doable. (Note: this is a side challenge — not counted in actual challenge tallies)

***

Goal: take a hike through the woods. I don’t know when, but I know it will probably be through Wesley Woods on campus (I have special permissions, despite the fact that there’s a “DO NOT ENTER” sign — love being the favorite!). I’m hoping some of the wildflowers might still be in bloom if I can get out and do it next Monday or Tuesday. I really want to see some Solomon’s Seal and Trillium…

productivity monster!

Today has been one of those super-beyond-productive days (and still more to do!)

  • Worked 5 hours
  • Read 50 pages in Grave Surprise
  • Ran by Home Depot for tape and paint brushes
  • Taped Shelby’s room in preparation for KILZ
  • Started laundry (1/2 way through!)
  • Ran 2.3 miles (25:35 minutes, making for a very slow 11.1 min/mi — but it’s the most I’ve run in one go!)

Still to do:

  • Finish laundry (the drier just stopped!)
  • Pack at least two boxes of personal belongings for moving at the end of the month
  • Emory Tango
  • Hot Jam
  • More reading

Part of the slowness for my running was due to debilitating stomach cramps — I’m sure I could have run under a 10 minute mile if I hadn’t had to walk every .5 or .75 miles. Beth, Breanna, Savs, and anyone else who knows even a little about running — any advice? I’m not sure what I should eat / drink / do before running to reduce the likelihood of cramping.

Anyways, I’m super-proud of my awesome productivity. <3 Now to put on a bit of music, work on my Laundry, and pack some boxes!

review: grave sight

Grave Sight, by Charlaine Harris (no spoilers, I promise!)

Book Jacket Summary:

Harper Connelly has what you might call a strange job: she finds dead people. She can sense the final location of a person who’s passed, and share their very last moment. The way Harper sees it, she’s providing a service to the dead while bringing some closure to the living-but she’s used to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. Traveling with her step-brother Tolliver as manager and sometime-bodyguard, she’s become an expert at getting in, getting paid, and getting out fast. Because for the living it’s always urgent — even if the dead can wait forever.

Oh goodness, how I love Charlaine Harris — just look on my bookshelf, and you’ll see almost every book in the Sookie Stackhouse series in glossy hardback first-editions (and what I wouldn’t do to own the first two in similar format!). And so I’m sitting there, working at the Library sorting books out, and what do I come across? All three books of another of Harris’s series about another young woman named Harper Connelly. I was in need of some reading material, and short on cash — so why not? I was not disappointed! Harris is classically witty, smart, and entertaining. Her writing is succinct, yet always engaging. Moreover, I love her characters.

I was most worried about Harris’s character Harper, who had the potential to be so similar to Sookie Stackhouse that she would be predictable or uninteresting; in fact, I think many authors fall into the trap of always writing similar characters across the board. However, I was pleasantly greeted in the very opening of the novel by a unique and interesting character who has nothing more to do with Sookie than a strange ability which sets her apart from the crowd. Harper was struck by lightning at sixteen, and has since been able to locate the dead; while her ability is fairly unimpressive and subject to much speculation in the long run, it does provide her with a steady source of income in providing solace for the grieving — whether it’s determining real COD or finding a missing body, there’s always a someone who wants her help. Harper is shy, and she’s absolutely terrified of lightning (for good reason), but she’s not mousy or annoying (a trait I find in many shy heroines). She also has clear loyalties to her family — particularly her step-brother, Tolliver — and a need to do right by the dead: as she says, all they want is to be heard.

Speaking of Tolliver — mmmh, cut me off a piece of that. Despite his acne scars and troubled past — or maybe because of it — Tolliver is a bit of a lady’s man. Confident and business-savvy, yet still dark and moody with his troubled past, he acts as Harper’s manager. He’s incredibly protective of his sister in a way that screams “future romance of the novel” in all the good ways — because remember, they’re not blood related! Harper and Tolliver together have a dark history, made light only by each other — they were forced into the same family when her mother and his father married and indulged in some pretty nasty things (drugs), and grew close as they helped keep their little family going. It’s all very dramatic, but never full of angst — they’ve had a rough life, and it’s made them unique characters.

And now to the story! Harris clearly prefers to dabble in the supernatural, first with Sookie Stackhouse and now with Harper Connelly, and she does it so well! The skepticism that Harper and Tolliver meet as they fulfill their contract is entirely believable, and the trouble they encounter (especially as they aid police investigations) is equally credible. While Harper can’t see who the killer is (that would be too easy!), she becomes a problem when she provides crucial information to the investigation — because what killer would really believe she isn’t a fake until she reveals what only the dead (and the killer) could have known?

I always love Harris’s ability to build tension and develop action sequences. Though her writing style always leads you to know it’s coming, it’s still easy to get caught up in the moment. My only complaint would be that this book is not quite a mystery, despite its classification as such. Given the characters at the beginning and the development of the story, it’s pretty easy to stay two or even three steps ahead of Harris. In fact, you could probably pick out the killer right in the first quarter of the book, given any experience with various crime shows or mystery novels. However, that still doesn’t take away from the novel — because even if Harper struggles to reach conclusions the reader might instantly see, it’s because we (as readers, viewers, and media-saturated human beings) are familiar with the structure of these stories, and not because we would have so quickly drawn the same conclusions in real life. As such, I just had to maintain my patience as Harper struggled through some of the clues. And low-and-behold! I was rewarded with a surprise! Granted, it was only a slight deviation in the end I’d already predicted…but it was exciting and satisfying just the same!

Things I look forward to in the next book:

  • A greater understanding of Harper’s past, both with her family and with the lighting strike. Surprisingly, we don’t find out much about either in the first novel — Harris gives us just enough to understand where Harper comes from and to keep us interested, but not so much that there’s nothing left to tell. In fact, I crave more information about her dark past.
  • Romance! Harris really holds in the reigns on the romance in this first novel. While she does give us a tasty little treat in the form of a dashing young cop (and the husband of a murder victim), she holds back on the clear potential romance between Harper and Tolliver, almost ignoring it entirely to lead us off track. I will not be fooled, however, and have already become excited about what might become a truly sweet (and challenging) courting, full of bumbling mishaps and adorable misunderstandings…

***

Conclusion: well worth your money! One day, when I am rich and able to afford to buy books I have already read (rather than supplement my collection with ones I have yet to tackle), I will purchase these books in hardcover to add next to my collection of Sookie Stackhouse. Because honest and truly, I love Harris’s writing style. If I were to ever want to pursue writing again, it would be with similar goals: to create something entertaining, witty, and easy to enjoy. On my mental bookshelf, this book already lies right at eye-level: a place of honor, but more importantly, easy to reach for when I’m craving a good re-read!

***

Miscellaneous thoughts: I have already started the third book, Grave Surprise, and am incredibly satisfied with what I’ve read thus far. The cool part about this series is that the job description requires a completely new cast of characters each novel — because each novel, we are at a different job. And (teaser!) there’s a whole bunch of bumbling and misunderstanding already!

***
Miscellaneous news: an upcoming “additional challenge” will be to start and maintain a list of books I want to read. I allowed myself to merely take my Dad’s suggestions when in high school and college because I had neither the experience nor the time to pick books for myself. However, as I get older, I find there are a growing number of books I believe I either should read or want to read (or both!), and I’m having trouble keeping track of them all! Look for this list in the (hopefully) near future!