Saturday, December 31, 2011

What did YOU eat last year?

NPR offers some food statistics on the American diet, based on data provided by the USDA (which, by the way, contains historical data, as well, going back to 1909). I've often wondered about these...especially meat consumption.

Some highlights (which I believe are based on 2009 numbers): Per person per year we have
  • 1996 lbs overall -- yes, that's just about a ton, or about 5.5 lbs/day -- really???
  • 185 lbs meat - or a little over a half a pound a day -- really? Every day?
  • 141 lbs sweeteners - that's nearly half a pound of day -- yikes!!! and
  • 85 lbs fats
  • 197 lbs wheat and grains -- really???
  • 630 lbs dairy, as compared with
  • 688 lbs fruits and veggies (415 veggie, 273 fruits, and that includes bulk stuff like corn and potatoes)
  • about 2700 calories/day -- and we wonder why we might be getting obese.
I have to hope that some of that is wastage (food we buy but throw away).

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 books

As I did, last year, I'm posting a list of books read/listened to this year.

It's been a rather dark reading year, but very good for the most part. My best reads for the year ranged from depressing to horrifying, including Revolutionary Road, Invisible Man, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo/Girl Who Kicked A Hornet's Nest. I don't know why the list was so down -- I wasn't looking for downers. But I enjoyed it, anyway. Mostly. When I wasn't crying.

* = Recommended
X = Stay away!
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Mark Twain (I'd put this as a *, but it may not be for everybody)
  • How to Read and Understand Poetry, Part 2 (audiobook): Willard Spiegelman, via The Teaching Company
  • The Year of the Flood (audiobook): Margaret Atwood - followup to Oryx and Crake -- there's one of them downers!
  • Our Kind of Traitor (audiobook): John le Carre - I've loved a lot of le Carre's books, but this wasn't one of my favorites. Of course, an OK le Carre is better than a lot of other things.
  • The Island Beneath the Sea (audiobook): Isabel Allende (I'm tempted to put this as an X...I liked a lot about it, but it kind of crashed-and-burned at the end, and was mediocre in many ways elsewhere...pity...I generally like Allende.)
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge: Thomas Hardy -- and another downer
  • The Sea Gull: Anton Chekhov -- and another downer
  • * Revolutionary Road (audiobook): Richard Yates -- I'm putting this as a *, though it may not be for's very dark
  • Burning Bright (audiobook): Tracy Chevalier -- this one was a disappointment -- Blake is such an interesting character, she could have done much more with him in the story.
  • Witness: Vicki Weisfeld (Lot of fun -- I was honored to function as an alpha tester -- can't wait for the release!)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (audiobook): Charles Dickens -- Gotta love Sydney Carton! Poor Carton!
  • The Red Queen (audiobook): Philippa Gregory -- I think I'm about Gregoried out...they're all starting to feel the same.
  • * Invisible Man (audiobook): Ralph Ellison -- I'm putting this as a *, but it's sometimes a little difficult's a bit like Henry Miller prose...beautiful, but often hard to follow stream-of-consciousness
  • Madame Bovary (audiobook): Gustave Flaubert -- I know it's a classic, but it really didn't do much for me -- there was just nobody I really cared much about in there. And talk about down!
  • * The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (audiobook): Stieg Larsson -- Loved it, down and all!
  • * Sense and Sensibility: Jane Austen (for only about the 6th time) -- one of the few uppers...that's what I love about Austen...the smart girl always gets the good guy
  • On Civil Disobedience: Henry David Thoreau -- I guess I'd have to disagree with his arguments for anything much less heinous than slavery. But since slavery was his beef, you have to admire him for his intellectual honesty in following through with them.
  • * The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (audiobook): Stieg Larsson -- Loved it, in spite of the downer!
  • Emma: Jane Austen -- doesn't hold up as well after multiple readings as P&P or S&S, but at least it was up :-)
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court: Mark Twain -- now there's an upper on the virtues of technology! If only it were all that easy!
  • * The Rubaiyat: Omar Khayyam
  • Dr. Zhivago (audiobook): Boris Pasternak -- I'm not actually quite done with it -- I dragged my heels a bit. This has got to have been one of the most difficult books to follow that I have ever read...I have a feeling the audio didn't help -- pretty poor narrator -- but I think it would have been hard even in print. It's a very interesting book, artistically and historically -- though the history is some of what's really hard to follow. And down we go again!
  • The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot: Charles Baxter
  • * The Cuckoo's Egg: Clifford Stoll (I'd read this's still one of my alltime favorites...but it's on paper...doesn't follow me around as electronic does)
  • Don Quixote: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra -- I enjoyed it at first, but it got very repetitive. Also the translation was lovely in many ways, but I think it probably lost the voice of Sancho Panza who sounded almost as courtly as Don Quixote, rather than bumpkinish which I'm sure would have been there in the Spanish -- this was distracting to me.
  • 1984: George Orwell -- just didn't do too much for me - I found it a little cartoonish, which in my mind detracted from its point, unlike Animal Farm, which I reread a couple of years ago, and found absolutely prophetic, despite its deceptively simple fable-like voice.
  • Wandering Stars: Sholem Aleichem
  • Our Daily Bread: Lauren B. Davis (working on it right now -- fits in perfectly with that downer trend for the year)
And with Sidharta
  • Adventures of Tom Sawyer (parts): Mark Twain (I'd put this as a *, but despite the humor and lovely, light voice, it's surprisingly difficult vocabulary for a kid, and it's really hard to explain the all the cultural context and satire)
  • * The Phantom Tollbooth: Juster Norton (one of my all time favorite kid books)
  • Interworld: Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves (parts -- was probably too advanced for him)
  • All sorts of Calvin and Hobbes: Bill Watterson
  • Kenny and the Dragon: Tony DiTerlizzi (very sweet)
  • Varjak Paw: SF Said (parts -- he finished up, himself)
  • Odd and the Frost Giants: Neil Gaiman (parts -- he finished up, himself)
  • Harriet the Spy: Louise Fitzhugh (parts -- sadly it didn't do much for him)
  • The Lost Hero: Rick Riordan (audiobook we listened to on summer vacation trip)
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles and Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles: Tony DiTerlizzi (parts -- he read most of them on his own)
  • * The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman (part -- he lost interest at some point...pity, it's a fun book)
  • The Report Card: Andrew Clements
And with Annapurna
  • Johnny Tremain: Esther Forbes (as a young adult I was totally obsessed with her extremely off-beat A Mirror for Witches)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee (parts -- she read most of it herself for school; I LOVE this book, though it was a little hard for Annapurna to get -- I think kids now look for a lot of action, and it's a challenge slowing down to Lee's subtlety and pace of a 1930's southern town. Or maybe it demands more than teenage maturity. I'm not sure.)

Monday, December 5, 2011


I just found a reference to the word "zigzag" in Emma (published 1815.) It shows up just as Emma discovers (after a lot of zigzagging around in her matchmaking) that Mr. Elton is actually after her, rather than her friend Harriet.

"If there had not been so much anger, there would have been desperate awkwardness; but their straightforward emotions left no room for the little zigzags of embarrassment."
I don't know when I thought it was from, but it struck me as odd in the middle of an Austen piece.

Surprisingly, The Word Detective does not seem to have an entry on the term. However, I did find some history here. It seems that Jonathan Swift (who was also an early adopter of "bamboozle") used the word as early as 1728.