Science is the coolest

Check out these nifty science stories I’ve been reading about lately, dear pond readers. As you read these, picture your best old-timey radio announcer voice because that makes it extra fun. Also, science fiction is rapidly becoming science fact. All we’re missing are jet packs and replicators.

Mammal who survived the comet that killed the dinosaurs still exists!

Microfish tiny robots that could help deliver medicine and remove toxins!

Acoustic tweezers that can manipulate cells!

Vitamins that can minimize disease damage in multiple sclerosis!

Resurrection of a nigh-extinct subspecies with biotechnology!

The future is now! What do you think, dear readers? Leave a comment below and thanks for stopping by the pond today.

 

 

 

 

Star Trek Guide: the Conclusion

Hailing frequencies open, dear pond readers! A couple months ago now, I published a post detailing a plan to introduce someone to Star Trek in one day. Now, I can publish the sequel to how that day actually turned out. I’m re-posting the blurbs featured in the original post to give you all some context on what we’re discussing.  Enjoy!

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A small subset of my beloved Star Trek model collection by E.A. Schneider

Introductions:

You know me, Ellen, your friendly neighborhood pond-dweller who is a definite Trekkie. I have picked the viewing and am asking my nerd friend questions. The nerd friend who is the inspiration for Star Trek day is Amber of burgeoning Youtube fame as a co-host of the Drunken Library. Amber, would you like to put a blurb about yourself here at the pond with any links you want?

Amber: Sure! The Drunken Library is a YouTube channel where my friend Sam and I get drunk, talk about books, and generally revel in an abundance of shenanigans. You can find us at: http://www.youtube.com/c/drunkenlibrary

Ellen: Thanks again, Amber. Alright, on to the episodes!

The Blurb: 
Star Trek: the Original Series: “Balance of Terror” Season 1, Episode 14 This episode has everything: fabulous writing that grapples with contemporary socio-political issues, intense character moments, and some thrilling action. The performances, especially guest star Mark Leonard and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, are really something special. And that final scene? Be still my nerdly heart! It’s a good episode, especially when you think about the world of the 1960s with all that Cold War tension. ST:TOS really excels at confronting issues of race, prejudice, and the difficulties of maintaining peace with warring neighbors throughout its three season run; this episode is a great example.

 

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The Romulan warbird from the “Balance of Terror”

 

The Viewing:

Amber: When did this episode air?

Ellen: Apparently, 12/15/1966. What did you think, Amber?
Amber: I liked it. It’s cool to see them not being famous people, see where they started. I can’t help comparing it to Doctor Who, that’s my massive nerd obsession. Did they film it in color?

Ellen: Yeah, they did.

Amber: Okay, cool.

Ellen: Did you notice how diverse the background extras are?

Amber: No, not until you mentioned it. I noticed Uhura and George Takei on the bridge, that’s cool.

The Blurb:
Star Trek the Animated Series: “The Practical Joker”Season 2, Episode 3
The Animated Series is awkwardly placed in Star Trek.  It is officially licensed, it includes the same voice talent, many of the same writers from the live show write episodes, and some things from the animated series went on to influence the rest of the shows but…it is not canon. Technically, by my own rules, this series shouldn’t be in this viewing day because it is not main storyline. But, given all of the above positives added to the creative renderings of aliens impossible to show on live TV, and the bigger parts given to supporting characters, particularly women, I just can’t help but really love this series. Also, the cheesy animation is entertaining in its own right. Therefore I declare this to be Bonus Viewing! “The Practical Joker” features the “Rec Room,” an early use of holographic technology without which we wouldn’t have all sorts of awesome adventures in other series. I also think showing the pitfalls of the technology that makes this future possible in a comedic way is fun sci-fi.

 

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The  computer has a sense of humor.

The Viewing:
Ellen:
This episode aired on 9/21/1974, over ten years after TOS went off the air. What did you think?

Amber: Doesn’t take itself too seriously, it is cheesy in a cartoony way but I liked it.

The Blurb:
Star Trek: the Next Generation: “Darmok” Season 5, Episode 2
A fan favorite and a personal favorite, “Darmok,” is about the overwhelming importance of communication and the lengths a committed diplomat will go to make sure that connection is made. “Darmok” also showcases the universal importance of Stories in a very compelling way. It inspired me to read Gilgamesh, actually (you’ll understand why if you watch the episode). This episode has great action, characterization, and more than a few stellar lines by Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard. Diplomacy over violence is one of the big points of Star Trek, and Picard’s Enterprise does it so well. Even though this episode is primarily a Picard vehicle, you get to see his crew working as a team to help him through a pretty unique first contact and considering how amazing his crew is, that’s important.

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The Viewing: 
Ellen:
This aired on 9/28/1991.

Amber: Okay, I think I saw part of this series when I was a kid, not this episode.

Ellen: What did you think when you saw them land on the planet with daggers?

Amber: Didn’t think it was a duel. Maybe an offering or a hunt?

Ellen: What do you think of Picard’s response? The crew’s?

Amber: At least he wasn’t all aggressive. [The crew] was all aggressive, not necessary.

Ellen: The children of Tarmar only speak in stories, what do you think of that?

Amber: Like the concept, not sure how effective it is but thought it was cool.

Ellen: Does it remind you of anything we do?

Amber: Yeah, inside jokes and pop culture references. I like that the crew understood what was happening but not the story but the Captain understood the story without the historical library info. It was like immersion vs. research for learning a language and I find that really appealing.

The Blurb:
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Duet” Season 1, Episode 18
Deep Space Nine grappled with the messy complications of war in all its stages: before, during, and after. Through the clean-up of Bajor post-Cardassian occupation and with the Dominion invasion it does this messy job very well with a stellar cast of characters who undergo tremendous growth over the course of the show. I think “Duet” encapsulates all of these themes while showcasing the powerful Major Kira Nerys at the beginning of her journey. Major Kira has some understandable issues with Cardassians and this episode forces her to confront them but it is still a stand-alone, you get all the exposition you need within the first few minutes. Fans generally hate on the first three seasons of Deep Space Nine. While I agree that the show didn’t find its stride until season four, I think there were still a lot of good episodes with compelling stories in the first three seasons and that a show needs time to build momentum, especially a show with a big ensemble cast.

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Kira and Maritza from DS9

The Viewing: 
Ellen:
So, what did you think?

Amber: It was an interesting progression. It was sad that he tried to do something good then got stabbed. Racism at its finest!

Ellen: Were you able to follow what was happening alright?

Amber: Rough to catch what was happening at first, your background before the episode helped. It was interesting to watch her being so conflicted about something based on prejudice and overcome racism to think positively toward someone different. Always is cool when that can happen.

The Blurb:

Star Trek: Voyager: “Blink of an Eye” Season 6, Episode 12
The Prime Directive states that Starfleet personnel are prohibited from interfering in the development of other civilizations. It is their highest principle and it can be pretty hard to hold up sometimes, but what do you do when you’re influencing a civilization and you didn’t know it? This is the main question of this episode and is an excellent showcase for the strengths of Voyager. Within Star Trek the series frequently explores difficult ethical questions, especially when the Prime Directive is in play, and I think that tends to be when the franchise is at its best. The premise of Voyager,a ship lost and alone literally hundreds of years of travel away from allies, particularly lends itself to questions of morality versus pragmatics, pushing the boundaries a little on all those high-ideals Star Trek is known for. But, Voyager has a lot of haters, I used to be a doubter, but I liked the show overall when I got to re-watch it on streaming. I loved the ensemble cast, especially B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris, and I liked Captain Janeway a lot. Voyager is definitely worth a second look.

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The Viewing: 

Ellen: So, what did you think?

Amber: I really liked the captain and SevenofNine seemed cool. It was really neat to see a timey wimey civilization, almost like playing CIV [Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution] to see it all go by so fast.

Ellen: What do you think of the crew and their decision not to fight?

Amber: They put a lot of faith in the astronaut, without him they were effed. It’s a strong commitment to the prime directive. I wouldn’t have understood all that without your explanation, though.

The Blurb:
Star Trek: Enterprise: “The Cogenitor” Season 2,  Episode 22
Speaking of the Prime Directive, this is an episode that explores why a powerful, wanna-be-technologically-sophisticated race of explorers might need a rule like that if they are going to go star-hopping. Again, more big questions with good storytelling and the plucky ensemble cast of Enterprise exploring the universe. The premise of Enterprise is that it chronicles the beginning of humanity’s voyage to the stars before the United Federation of Planets was founded. Like Voyager, Enterprise also has a lot of haters, and I also used to be one. But, after re-watching the show, I realized that I let prequel prejudice color my judgment. “Why do we need a prequel? Who needs prequels, anyway?”<–younger, more nerd-rage-y, Ellen. Well, this episode actually gives a good answer to that rather petulant question. Enterprise has its ups and downs, I think it was really hitting its stride in its last season, but this episode is definitely one of the ups.

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The Viewing: 
Ellen:
Alright, the last episode. It aired on 4/30/2003 and was directed by Star Trek alum, LeVar Burton. What did you think?

Amber: Is that how they made the Federation, by going around talking to people?

Ellen: Yes, that is exactly how they made it.

Amber: Cool. That episode seemed to have a pretty big shout-out to “Dead Poet’s Society.”

Ellen: Yeah, I can see that. I don’t know if there’s a connection though.

Amber: That episode also had the weirdest flirting I’ve ever seen.

Ellen: [Laughing] Yeah…Star Trek definitely has its share of flirting over the years. Malcolm is kind of the worst security officer, too. What did you think of the story?

Amber: I get [Trip’s] impulse but still, but, if they [the Cogenitor] can’t achieve the dream you’re getting them to dream, you’re not really helping them.

Ellen: Yeah, it’s pretty complicated. You also don’t know if they ever established diplomatic relations or not after this and what could have changed if they could’ve had a diplomatic relationship. It is really bittersweet.

The Blurb:

Bonus Viewing: Trekkies(1997)The fan culture of Star Trek has a life and significance unto itself, which Denise Crosby sets out to document with love and humor in Trekkies. I think this documentary is splendid. Crosby catches everything from the ridiculous to the affecting as she travels the U.S.A. talking to trekkies of all walks of life. Who knows? Maybe if my geek friend winds up interested in watching more Star Trek, she might even watch the sequel with me another day.

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Fly on, little Trek baby

The Viewing: 
Ellen:
That’s everything, Amber! What did you think of the documentary?

Amber: It was interesting. It was kind of all over the place but it was nice to get some insight into some of the impact of the show.

Ellen: What is the verdict on Star Trek day?

Amber: This was really fun. The food was delicious. I think I’ve been missing out on food whenever I try to get people into “Doctor Who.”

Ellen: That’s okay; I do also just really like to cook, too. What did you think of the show?

Amber: I think that I’m going to watch some more. I’ll watch some of the first one and see how it goes.

Ellen: Cool! Did you have a favorite episode from today?

Amber: I liked the Voyager one, “Blink of an Eye,” the best because it was so timey-wimey. I also liked “Darmok” because I’m fascinated with language so the language barrier was really neat and it was a cool way to approach linguistics.

Ellen: Thanks again for coming and giving Star Trek a chance.

Amber: Thanks for having me it was fun. I really liked the tour format of one episode per show; it was great to get a sense of the franchise without being too overwhelming.

 

Q’pla! Star Trek day was a success. First and foremost, Amber, my nerd friend, had fun and doesn’t hate me. Huzzah! Second, she enjoyed the shows and might just watch more. I can’t ask for anything more than that. This calls for my favorite GIF.

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Picard from Insurrection found using a google search

 

Now, regarding the food, I came up with a bit of a spread. Below you’ll find my menu and a couple of recipes so that you can make it so tasty to watch Star Trek.

 

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My out of this world spread, at least in part

The food that I served included:

  • Crescent rolls
  • Lemon curd
  • Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
  • Pizza
  • Star Trek Cookies
  • Sisko’s Creole Gumbo
    • Recipe below
  • Baguette
  • Klingon G’agh!
    • Recipe below
  • Romulan Ale
    • Recipe below

The tea and crescent rolls, a poor person’s croissant, were my shout out to Captain Picard. I don’t know if he likes lemon curd but I can just picture Picard with a lemon curd decked croissant in one hand, steaming cup of tea in the other, and listening to a concerto in the morning.

I have no immediate Star Trek tie in to the pizza but I am sure that it is served in one or other of the shows because pizza is amazing. Also, any day devoted to geeky nerd fan-dom should include some pizza.

Star Trek cookies! They were just sugar cookie dough but they were super tasty all the same. I also like the cute chubby appearance the shapes took on during baking.

 

 

Sisko’s creole gumbo is a recipe that I significantly adjusted from the America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook. It was an experiment, I’ve never made a gumbo before, but the results were quite delicious. Here’s the recipe, as I did it, and please don’t blame the folks at ATK for how yours turns out, blame my freestyle in the kitchen.

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My interpretation of Sisko’s Creole Gumbo

Ingredients:

  • Condensed French Onion soup in a can
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups minced onion
  • 1 bag frozen gumbo vegetable mix
    • Contains:
      • okra
      • onion
      • red bell pepper
      • green bell pepper
      • sweet corn
    • 2 celery ribs, minced
    • 6 garlic cloves, minced
    • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
    • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    • 1 pound Andouille sausage, sliced ½ inch thick
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
    • ½ bag frozen deveined, shelled large shrimp pre-cooked
    • 4 scallions, sliced thin
    • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Directions: Sauté minced onions in vegetable oil with garlic cloves and celery until onions are golden brown/translucent, about 5 minutes. Defrost frozen vegetables for about 4 minutes in microwave. Put condensed French onion soup into slow cooker. Add cooked onion mixture, defrosted vegetables, chicken broth, thyme, cayenne pepper, and mix. Stir sausage slices and bay leaves into slow cooker. Season chicken with salt and pepper then nestle into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours. Close to the end of cooking time, boil a large pot of salted water. Add the defrosted, shelled, deveined shrimp and cook until opaque, about four minutes. Shred the chicken from the gumbo either on a cutting board or using shears in the pot. Mix in the cooked shrimp, the scallions, the parsley, and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Serve with rice or baguette.

 

For some extra interstellar flavor, I made my interpretation of the Klingon delicacy, G’agh! It does not involve live serpent worms but it does involve cabbage, which is probably just about as appealing to some. Again, I adjusted a recipe that I found in the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, Slow Cooker Revolution. I basically use their recipes as a jumping off place to experiment and you shouldn’t blame them if your interpretation of this dish doesn’t turn out. Below is my interpretation of their Sweet and Sour Braised Cabbage, which sounded like a warrior’s side dish to me.

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Gagh! A warrior’s side dish

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds sliced red cabbage
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 package pre-cooked bacon pieces
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • Dried thyme, to taste
  • Ground cinnamon, to taste
  • Caraway seeds, to taste
  • Ground allspice, to taste
  • 5 cups pure apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Directions: Microwave cabbage with half the oil and salt to taste for about 20 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker using tongs. Soften onion and spices with remaining vegetable oil in the microwave for five minutes. Put spiced onions in slow cooker with cabbage. Add the apple juice, the package of cooked bacon, half the brown sugar, and 1 bay leaf to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 hours. Stir in vinegar and sugar, adding more to taste as desired. Remove the bay leaf and serve.

 

Romulan Ale is a legendary menu item of the Star Trek universe. It is supposedly so alcoholic, so potent, that it is banned across Federation territory and bootlegging it is an under the table privilege of commanders on the edge of the galaxy. The fans know only one thing for sure about Romulan Ale: it is electric blue. Regardless of show or movie, the potent concoction is always depicted as a vivid blue that practically glows in the scene. The Internet abounds with recipes for Romulan Ale and a variety of ingredients are used of varying legality and safety. Not being a mixologist or a particularly alcohol savvy person, I fixed on the color and decided to just make something I would find tasty. I used ratios because I have no patience for measuring things in the kitchen and prefer a more heuristic approach. Good luck with this! I found it tasty but I think the basic principle of mixing what you want to drink is a good one.

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Romulan Ale with some interstellar company

Ingredients:

  • Electric blue Gatorade
  • Vodka, cake flavor (or personal favorite flavor)
  • Sprite or other clear lemon-lime pop

Directions: I did a 1:1 ratio of vodka to Sprite. Then I did a 3:1 mixture of Gatorade to vodka/pop mix, stirred, and poured. I served the drink cold, like the revenge of a Romulan. I wanted to garnish it with sour gummy fruit since DS9 established the Romulans like sour/tart flavors but, alas, I wound up not being that coordinated. You could adjust this to be more or less alcoholic based on your personal preferences but I found this to be tasty and it was certainly electric blue in the pictures.

There you have it, dear pond readers! The discussion and menu for my Star Trek day all outlined above. I hope that this inspires you to go watch some Star Trek with some yummy food and good friends. What do you think of our comments on the episodes? Do you think you’ll try these recipes? Do you think you’ll try to give anyone in your life a tour of Star Trek? 2016 is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and a perfect time to introduce people to this amazing franchise. One of my favorite Internet spots, io9, also did an article on introducing Star Trek to people that you can check out for more variety.  Leave your comments and thoughts below please and thanks for stopping by the pond today. Live long and prosper!

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Peace and Long Life

So many Days

A lot went on in April. There was Earth Day, International Tabletop Day, and Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary to name a few things. I had big plans to write blog posts about all of these things but I think instead I will do this blog post including links to things of relevance because sharing links is fun.

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Earth from the surface of the moon, courtesy of LROC

Earth Day for me is about our stewardship of this incredible island in the dark that all of us call home. Looking at the Earth from space really drives home the fact that, as incredible as space exploration is, we live on the best piece of real estate in the solar system and we really need to treat it well. The lunar reconnaissance orbiter camera (LROC) is a really neat NASA mission that is continually churning out amazing images of the moon and also puts out some cool images of Earth. That image above is not only my favorite picture of Earth but it is the product of some really hard work that is detailed over in this post by LROC that I think photography geeks will particularly appreciate. Earth Day inspired this really neat article that I appreciated. Even though there are some sad things in that story like ocean acidification, global warming, and deforestation, there are some really exciting and inspiring things in there too. I found the discovery of a coral reef and the Red Colobus Monkey to be a source of particular joy. April also marks days like World Penguin Day (April 25th) and World Tapir Day (April 27th) to shine a light on some amazing species that need conservation. We can’t give up on this wondrous world, we just can’t, and hopefully enough members of the human race never will.

Board games have become a big part of my life in the last couple of years. Thanks to an interest rekindled by watching Geek & Sundry programs like Tabletop and Critical Role, I have gotten to make new friends and have a lot of fun playing board games and D&D. International Tabletop Day was April 30th and it celebrated the fun world of board games while raising money for charity. Hopefully, they will keep going with this tradition for years to come.

William Shakespeare died in 1616 on April 23rd and we’ve been performing his plays, reading his poetry, and discussing his legacy for the last 400 years. I’m a big fan of the Bard and find his work perpetually fascinating. Every time I read his plays and poetry, I find some new nuance that I never noticed before. One of my favorite bloggers had some fun posts celebrating Shakespeare that include parts from some of my favorite pieces of Shakespeare that you can see here and here. Just because, here is another great speech from another play of his I like.

“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
― William ShakespeareA Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Now that May is under way, we have already had Star Wars day, National Teacher’s Day, and Mother’s day. Later this month we also have world MS day. How was your April, dear readers? How is May going for you? Thanks for joining me here at the pond! May the force be with us all and hopefully this will be a fabulous month.

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This also includes teachers and mothers in my book. Luminous beings indeed, lost we’d be without them.

 

 

 

Editing blues

So, I’ve been busy editing things both fictional and non-fictional and it is always difficult. Writing is re-writing until you get it right or somebody you trust tells you to quit already. Revision is your friend as a writer and scientist, but dang is it tough. Yesterday I spent hours cutting a measly 784 words from a manuscript that I just got back from a beloved Beta reader. This was definitely one of those achievements that felt both exciting and excruciating. 784 words! Yay! 784 words. Yay…<insert weeping beside my pile of journals and laptop here>

Once again, blogger and author Daniel Swensen puts how I feel into words and pictures perfectly: A helpful piece of insight entitled: “The Comfortable Void.” I encourage you to check it out while I get back to battling my verbosity to make something decent. How are you doing, fellow writer pond readers? Any project(s) driving you to distraction? Leave a comment below and thanks for stopping by the pond.

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Unfurling possibilities by E.A. Schneider

 

2015 Reading Retrospective

Now that spring is almost over, dear readers, I have taken the time to reflect on all the adventures in books that I enjoyed in 2015. In a lot of ways, 2015 was a difficult year for me, the hardest for me since 2013. I faced some highs and I faced some terrible lows of loss. I breathed a sigh of relief when the clock struck midnight on December 31st, eager to start a fresh year here on planet Earth.

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Skeptical baby bunny is skeptical by E.A. Schneider

Per usual, I rode the swells of corporeal existence clinging to the pages of tremendous books. When I think of 2015, so much is a blur that I can’t do my usual seasonal breakdown of books. Looking back, I realize that I spent a lot of time reading series rather than stand-alone novels, which might contribute to the blurred feeling. The year had some standout authors for me including Jim Butcher, Jim C. Hines, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, Ursula K. LeGuin, Samuel R. Delaney, Agatha Christie, Lord Dunsany, and Neal Stephenson. Their books pop in my memory the most. I’m grateful that their books were there to read when I desperately needed sanctuary in a good book. Below I have made a list of everything I read in 2015 in no particular order with a short capsule review on my thoughts. Also, you will find some of my favorite pictures from 2016 so far. Enjoy!

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    1. I can see the appeal of this book. The prose is well written and the relationship between Jaime and Claire is compelling but the book is 250-pages-too-long with excessive sexual violence. By the end, I did not feel invested enough to read more of the series; just relieved the story had reached a stopping point.
  2. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
    1. This book is incredibly beautiful, complex, and utterly fascinating. I will be re-reading this for years to come I’m sure. The way LeGuin depicts marriage, society, and all the bittersweet trade-offs of both is compelling with the sweet tang of truthful reality that good sci-fi can deliver.
  3. Ubik by Phillip K. Dick
    1. Another story where Dick messes with your mind’s perception of life, the universe, and everything. Reading this left me feeling small, powerless, and overall kind of dumb which is rather typical for Dick’s stories. That said, the portrayal of women was not incredibly offensive and I found his exploration of the twilight realm of life vs. death a page-turning experience.
  4. A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley
    1. I know that I will re-read this book, that it will be part of the regular rotation of comfort reads for me moving forward. McKinley re-interprets fairy tales and their heroines in innovative ways in this collection. My favorite heroine was McKinley’s Rapunzel with her heroic nature and unabashed love for her foster mother. I really appreciated McKinley’s way of obliquely mentioning magic and leaving so much so tantalizingly off page. That takes a deft touch that I hope to master in my own fiction someday.

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      Lake Michigan wave by E.A. Schneider

  5. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
    1. This book was very readable with a dry, bleak sense of macabre humor. I couldn’t stop reading and even though I finished it a year ago, passages still come to mind occasionally. So it goes.
  6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
    1. This book is magic. I love the story of Nobody Owens and his graveyard family. Gaiman has a real knack for repurposing monsters without losing sight of their monster nature. I copied out so many quotes from this book. I like the emphasis that Gaiman puts on the way life is defined by making choices, mistakes, and by the possibility of change whereas the dead are over, their story is done and no changes are left. Of course, he does play with that, too. How over can things be when the dead adopt a boy? It is a wonderful fairy tale and this book might be my new favorite Gaiman creation.
  7. The Story of the Treasure-Seekers by Edith Nesbit
    1. A fast, diverting read filled with all the sexism appropriate to the 19th century, especially since the narrator is one of the Bastable family’s boys. I will probably read more of the Bastable’s adventures when I need a light read.
  8. The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick
    1. Once again, a compelling read with tantalizing, mind-bending moments. I liked the characters of Tagomi and Julianna the most. I don’t know what Dick was speaking to with this story or if he was speaking to any particular thing. Pondering the ending, I feel like Tagomi pondering the pin and seeking transcendental answers to universal questions in a small, physical artifact.
  9. Moon Over the Back Fence  by Esther Carlson
    1. This was an odd story. At times the vignettes between Ellen and her Uncle George are absolutely charming and sweet while at others they are very strange with some disturbing gender/sexual politics. In the end, this is a poignant story of the end of childhood through the lens of magic realism/surrealism and, weird as it was sometimes, I’m glad that I read it.
  10. The Stepsister Scheme  by Jim C. Hines
    1. This book totally kicks all expectations to the curb and is absolutely amazing. I am a big fan of fairy tales and Hines mines all the best old ones to craft incredible heroines with character and humanity. It will take all my self-control to not blitz through this series too fast; I want to savor every page.

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      Lake Michigan shore by E.A. Schneider

  11. Nova by Samuel R. Delaney
    1. This is a rip-roaring space adventure with terrific prose and a page-turning story featuring colorful characters that were a delight to read. I found the galactic scale of political maneuvering tempered by the close human scale of the ship crew and I loved the ending. It’s a great book.
  12. Star Trek Vanguard #1: Harbinger by David Mack
    1. This was really fun just when I needed something light and fun and Trek. I liked that with Harbinger Mack came up with a new crew and a new station rather than trying to capture and sustain the unique vibe of the Enterprise officers. The Vanguard station crew is amazing with fun characters and I am eagerly looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
  13. Around the World in 72 Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly
    1. Nellie Bly has been one of my heroines since I was a little girl. I admired her story of pluck and courage but I confess that I was always afraid to read her actual writing. What if she was terrible? How crushed would I feel? Well, come to find out, she’s not a terrible writer or a particularly extraordinary one, but a good writer of readable stories. The book proved to be a great time capsule of America on the verge of greatness from the POV of one of its great characters who reveled in being the star of the story. I found a lot of fun, quotable passages and, despite Bly’s incredible racism typical for her class and time period, there is still much that I can admire in her work. She was so brave and her persistence in the face of emotional and financial hardship is inspiring. I have no doubt that I will re-read the book and, warts and all, Nellie Bly is still my heroine.

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      Spider monkey by E.A. Schneider

  14. Ready Player One  by Ernest Cline
    1. This book is a terrifically fun, entertaining story. I get all the references but the references at times feel like the real star of the story with the narrative a stage on which they can shine. Ready Player One has a lot to say and I feel like I’m going to be talking about it and thinking about it for a long time to come, I will probably even re-read it at some point. It also has some profoundly troubling things to say about race, gender, and identity. Sadly, the future world Cline describes seems all too plausible and very frightening from my POV, I hope it doesn’t come to pass.
  15. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
    1. This book is fantastic. I loved it and will no doubt re-read it someday. The prose, particularly the prose to describe the metaverse, is beautiful. The dystopian world is complex and feels so plausible, so real in its slippery slope description of public-private partnerships, that it’s scary. The characters, particularly Hiro and YT, are definitely the best part. I like the fact that no matter how extraordinary our technology becomes, Stephenson thinks that personal relationships are what will really make the difference. I’m inclined to agree.

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      Flying together by E.A. Schneider

  16. Thirteen at Dinner by Agatha Christie
    1. One of the cleverest murders that Christie wrote, this is an old favorite of mine. Captain Hastings helps save the day with his everyday knack for the obvious that makes him a great foil for Hercule Poirot.
  17. Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
    1. Hercule Poirot is in his element with this story. No clues, no evidence, and no cigarette ash but rather five different interviews recalling the misty events of 20 years ago. Only Poirot and his little grey cells could make sense of this story and I love it.
  18. Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie
    1. I read this because I had re-read the play based on this novel a few months previously and I wanted to compare the two. I like how Christie plays with the cast of characters even though Poirot lifts right out, and she gets to set it in the Middle-east spots she loved so much.
  19. Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie
    1. It’s still fabulous, even with its flaws. I love re-reading this book. I read it again in 2015, after listening to a Radiolab discussion of memory and Agatha Christie. That definitely added another layer to the experience with a slightly more poignant edge. Like Five Little Pigs this story features detective work based solely on recollection and showcases dialogue. Ariadne Oliver steals the show from Poirot, too, which is always a treat.
  20. Tuesday Club Murders  by Agatha Christie
    1. I bought the edition I read because the cover art was fantastic and I was craving some Marple short fiction. This anthology is a treat filled with Miss Marple’s wonderful brand of pessimistic detection based on her understanding of human nature. Terrific stuff.

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      Massasaugas resting by E.A. Schneider

  21. Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie
    1. Hercule Poirot talks to people to solve an unsolvable psychological murder per usual but the cast of both sleuths and suspects are a delight and I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this story. I particularly like that my beloved Ariadne Oliver gets to be both a first rate sleuth and the comic relief. Oliver also gets the chance to talk a bit about the hum drum work of writing to dispel some of the romantic illusions people, especially fans, might hold.
  22. The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah and “Agatha Christie”
    1. Having re-read some Christie before this book, reading Sophie Hannah’s interpretation of Poirot did spur me to re-read some more Poirot afterward. Hannah’s interpretation was pretty okay. I think she did a good job capturing Poirot but I found the detective he works with, Catchpool, a rather unappealing fellow but I suppose not everyone can be Captain Hastings.
  23. Cradle in the Grave by Sophie Hannah
    1. An entertaining read with good dialogue. I can understand why the Christie estate chose Hannah to carry the dame’s characters forward.
  24. Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas
    1. I am a big fan of Barker & Llewelyn and this adventure is a splendid read. I could not put the book down except with the most grudging feelings. I believe I finished it in less than 72 hours, which is some kind of record for me given how busy I was at the time.
  25. Codex Born by Jim C. Hines
    1. The second in Hines’ Libriomancer stories, this book really spotlights the incredible character of Lena Greenwood, book born dryad who is so much more than the ink and words that created her. I don’t know what to say about this book without spoiling things but this series is amazing and Greenwood is a complicated heroine who rocks this book.
  26. The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde
    1. This is third in the Last Dragonslayer series featuring heroine, Jennifer Strange, and the magicians of Kazam. The book is terrific; a page-turner that drew me in and gripped me and then had the temerity to end on a cliffhanger. Fforde had better take his vitamin, that’s all I have to say about that.

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      Whooping Crane portrait by E.A. Schneider

  27. Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers
    1. The book started out strong then took a 90-degree turn into shallow waters and left me feeling rather disappointed. It features interlocking narratives of past and present in the Netherlands. The narrative of the past by Gertruui was wonderful and the prose overall was lyrical with some very quotable passages but the modern narrative left me feeling cold. Maybe it just needed a second draft? It was pretty okay but I don’t need to re-read it or more from this author.
  28. More Valley Cats: Fun games and new friends by Gretchen Preston
    1. A charming book and a great sequel to the first Valley Cats adventure with gorgeous art featuring some fun new characters.
  29. Mangaboom by Charlotte Pomerantz
    1. I heard about this picture book because of the efforts of someone who tried to ban it from a library. It is a charming picture book with a good story about being true to oneself and being able to find others just the way you are. The dope who tried to ban the book missed the entire point of the story but since the person probably stopped reading on page two I suppose that is hardly surprising. I’m glad I’ve read it and that it is in my library now.
  30. Something Rich and Strange by Patricia McKillip
    1. McKillip’s language is lovely, I can only quibble with some of her lack of narrative clarity but I do enjoy her prose to the point that I don’t care so much about a few fudged descriptions. McKillip creates an enchanting world that draws you in and grips your imagination with her imagery.

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      Inca tern by E.A. Schneider

  31. Growing Up Lutheran: What does this mean? by Janet Letniss Martin
    1. I did not grow up Lutheran. I heard a lot of stories of the Lutherans growing up from my mom as well as A Prairie Home Companion. I did marry into a Lutheran family and I feel welcomed by the tribe. Reading this book explains so many of the stories I have heard with so much loving good humor that it was an absolute treat to read. I highly recommend the book to all who love Lutherans or have been curious about their ways.
  32. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
    1. This is the Austen that I re-read the least. In fact, my re-read this past summer might have been the first time that I re-read it in many years. Yet, I think that will change. Re-reading Fanny Price’s story this last summer, I found so much more to empathize with and admire than I had before. Fanny Price is an underrated heroine with her own brand of implacable courage that I found very comforting to read this past summer. Also, Mrs. Norris is such a terrific villain, she made me laugh when I needed a laugh.
  33. Persuasion by Jane Austen
    1. Second chances, wonderful humor, and a beautiful romance who could ask for more? I have frequently said that Persuasion is my favorite Austen over the years and I know that that will continue to be true. There’s just something about the steadfast relationship between Wentworth and Anne that gets my heart beating every time.
  34. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    1. Every re-read of this book I notice some nuance that I either never noticed before or am struck anew by some layer to the story that never used to catch my notice. This time, I was very struck by the discussions of mercenary vs. prudential motives for marriage and the double standards we put on the sexes. Reading this after having re-read Persuasion I was struck again by the second chance that Darcy and Elizabeth get against all probability or social expectation. While Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite of her novels it is a nonetheless treasured friend, I look forward to getting to know it all over again the next time I re-read it.
  35. Macbeth by Shakespeare
    1. This is my favorite of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I have read it many times and every time I notice things anew. This time I read a scholarly edition that I hadn’t read before with some fascinating annotations. The tragic end of the Macbeths is still a compelling story that sucks me in and spits me out every time.

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      Vulture by E.A. Schneider

  36. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    1. This book is absolutely fantastic in the most gut-wrenchingly real way. I love it. Junior’s story is powerful, charming, and a poignant look at growing up different. I find snatches of this story popping to mind so often, especially his way of talking about his brain damage when my brain is doing less than awesome things; it has really stuck with me. I look forward to reading more Alexie.
  37. The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway
    1. At first, I thought this was the dullest book in the world. After awhile, I began to see an austere poetry to the prose and the descriptions pop more because they are so few and far between. I found myself empathizing with Santiago and his need to think everything out step by step and endure everything through good-humored suffering. Still, the macho bullshit about the brotherhood between Santiago and the incredibly noble fish was super irritating to me. While the prose was clear and memorable, I don’t see myself re-reading this book.
  38. The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany
    1. The language is incredibly beautiful in this book. The prose is lyrical with syntax that just makes me want to seize my fountain pen and paper to write and write and write the most incredibly fabulous tales ever dreamed in my fancy. I can see why this book inspired so many authors. All in all, The King of Elfland’s Daughter is enchanting, succinct, and certainly the most delightful cautionary tale that I have ever read.

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      Portrait of a greater kudu by E.A. Schneider

  39. The Suspicion at Sanditon by Carrie Bebris
    1. Bebris really gets Jane Austen’s dialogue and style more than any other Austen inspired author I’ve read. The story is delightful with an almost Shakespearean comedy vibe to the mystery that is funny even as it is also kind of suspenseful in a gothic way. Now that Bebris has run through everything that Austen left besides the Juvenilia, I’m not sure where she can go next with Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Personally? I think Bebris and her characters are good enough that she can take them somewhere entirely new and it would be fantastic.
  40. Unbound by Jim C. Hines
    1. A splendid end to a splendid fantasy series, I highly recommend both this book and the Libriomancer series. I particularly like that Hines lets his characters make unconventional, difficult choices. A lot of things in this story surprised me and I feel like that doesn’t often happen to me as a reader anymore. I really like this series and am positive that I will re-read Isaac Vainio’s adventure.
  41. Anatomy of Evil by Will Thomas
    1. A fascinating interpretation of the Jack-the-Ripper case by two of my favorite private inquiry agents, I would definitely recommend both the Barker and Llewlyn series and this book. I sincerely hope that Will Thomas has more of these stories ready to publish because I am eagerly looking forward to the continuing adventures of these enquiry agents. I do hope that Thomas sends them to America in the next book; it would be a treat to see how they would do outside of their comfort zone in London.
  42. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
    1. An adventure of derring-do that had just the right amount of romance, I thoroughly enjoyed this diversion. I kind of bought it for the cover art based on fond memories of watching the movie on PBS with my dad when I was a kid. I honestly had no clue that it was based on a book. Now that I know Anthony Hope apparently wrote a series starring the Rasendyll’s I will definitely have to investigate the sequels.
  43. The Cinder Spires: the Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
    1. A new series by Butcher gets off to a great start with this book. I can hardly wait to see where he goes with this story. I like the eclectic characters that he has assembled and am delighted with the steampunk style of the world of spires he describes.

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      Boat billed heron and Ibis by E.A. Schneider

  44. The Little World of Liz Climo by Liz Climo
    1. This book is whimsically delightful. It is charming, beautifully illustrated, and the humor really speaks to me. Also, there are sloths and honey badgers and snakes. You can’t go wrong with characters like that.
  45. The Codex Alera Series by Jim Butcher
    1. The five books of the Codex Alera series are amazing. I devoured these books and reading them was good medicine when I really needed some. This series has everything: strong characters, amazing heroines, complex politics, fantastical magic, a brilliant love-story, machinations within machinations, and probably the best depiction of non-human species that I have ever read. I will re-read this series I’m sure.
      1. Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
      2. Academ’s Fury by Jim Butcher
      3. Cursor’s Fury by Jim Butcher
      4. Captain’s Fury by Jim Butcher
      5. Princeps’ Fury by Jim Butcher
      6. First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher
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White headed laughing thrush by E.A. Schneider

All told, 2015 was quite a year for reading. I got to spend a lot of nights up late with a good book, I met some incredible characters, and I got re-acquainted with characters that I thought I knew. What about you, dear readers, what stands out to you when you think about the books you read in 2015? Are any books making an impression on you in 2016? Please, leave a comment below with your thoughts and thanks for stopping by the pond today.

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Inca tern in flight by E.A. Schneider

Crafts and Treats

It occurs to me, dear pond readers, that I never did a big blog post about my holiday crafts and treats from Christmas or my 2015 reading thoughts. I will begin my catching up with the crafts and treats.

In 2015 and early 2016, I sewed a lot of towels and baby bibs but I unfortunately forgot to take pictures of some of them. I’ve compiled two slide shows of the pictures I do have all together. The baby bib slideshow features pictures that appeared in a previous post as well. I used cottons and flannels with some re-purposed flannels from old shirts. Enjoy!

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Finally, I did get the opportunity to make Christmas cookies again with one of my favorite people. This year I also got to bust out the Star Trek cookie cookies for some holiday geekery. Enjoy!

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Please, leave any questions or comments below. Thanks for stopping by the pond today, dear readers!

Spring Reading

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Seagulls watching lake Michigan’s waves by E.A. Schneider

Hello, dear pond readers! I hope your spring is off to a terrific start. Here in the upper midwest we are enjoying a roller coaster ride of weather. I woke up yesterday to a world newly blanketed in snow but left the house in the afternoon to blue skies, green grass, and pleasant breezes. What else is there to do but dress in layers and smile? Read, of course.

My reading is off to a slow start but I’m plugging away. My Goodreads goal this year is 52 books, one a week for a year, but, as Goodreads is in the habit of reminding me, I am six books behind schedule and only through 13% of my goal. I’m sure I’ll catch up eventually.

Here’s what I’ve read this year so far with some brief thoughts:

  1. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
    1. Elements of this book are incredibly poignant and interesting, Carson is a good writer, but others are clearly outdated relics of the time. As a historical artifact, this is a good reference but I don’t know that I needed to read the whole thing to get an understanding of it and its importance to history.
  2. Uprooted by Naomi Novak
    1. This is an enchanting fairy tale with a bevy of strong female characters. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to find their way through the deep, dark woods with a stellar heroine.
  3. The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K. LeGuin
    1. A lot of heavy political and social theory questions are being discussed in LeGuin’s usual thoughtful, character-driven stylish prose. The elegance of this book astounded me, she packed so much into such a brief novel.
  4. Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
    1. This book is beautiful, the ending brought me to tears in a good way. But, I think the impact of the book suffered from Mitchell’s reluctance to  commit fully to the weird and wonderful of his premise. Bone Clocks is also at least 250 pages too long for what it is doing as a narrative.  Though, Mitchell is a master of voice and dialogue so even a rambling, indulgent section is a pleasure to read.
  5. Shaman by Sandra Miesel
    1. I bought this book for the cover art (I will be doing a separate post geeking out on the artistry of book covers soon) but I actually found its content to be shockingly resonant to my life experience as well as a genuinely entertaining story. The ending veered a bit from what I thought it was building towards but it was a fun piece of fiction all the same.
  6. The Father Christmas Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien
    1. Absolutely charming! Tolkien’s labor of love for his kids is incredibly beautiful and sweet though some of Father Christmas’ adventures do veer in some unexpected directions. I highly recommend this for all Tolkien fans but I don’t think they have a general audience appeal.
  7. Kwaidan: Japanese Ghost Stories by Lafcadio Hearn
    1. This book was mostly a charming collection of spooky pieces of folklore, albeit a poorly copyedited collection in the edition I read, until the final chapter on ants. Things got weird. After an entire book pretty much devoted to a translation of folklore with only little asides for context, the chapter “Ants” had pretty much no folklore and consisted of Hearn’s utopian musings on the virtues of ant societal life as inspired by Herbert Spencer. I have to say that I was not expecting that and it was a weird way to end the collection. The foregoing stories were lovely overall and I can see the enduring appeal of the collection.

I’m in the midst of reading Stars in my pocket like grains of sand by Samuel R. Delaney but I haven’t started reading anything else yet. What about you, dear pond readers? What are you reading this Spring? Do you have a goal for reading this 2016? Leave a comment below and thanks again for stopping by the pond.

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Sun, ice, and seagulls by E.A. Schneider