Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tortellini Salad

Lucky me, I got the "pasta salad" assignment for two different get-togethers a week apart, and some of the same people will be at both events! This means I can't just make two big batches of my delicious Party Pasta Salad - I need to find a new pasta salad and hope to impress with it!

I got it in my head to do a tortellini salad, but the recipes I found online all included several ingredients that would be picked out by various party-goers, as we're generally a fussy bunch when it comes to food.

Because my other pasta salad is always well-received, I stuck with similar ingredients. This isn't a "recipe", because nothing was measured out, but I'll do my best to show you how to recreate it.

Frozen (or fresh) cheese tortellini
Italian salad dressing
Red onion
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Parmesan cheese

Cook and drain about 2 pounds of frozen tortellini. I used a little under half of the giant 5-pound bag of Seviroli brand frozen cheese tortellini from Costco, which is where I'm getting that "2 pounds" from. Rinse with cold water to cool them down, then drain well or dump into a large, clean dish towel to dry the pasta. Put into a bowl and douse with Italian dressing of your choice. I used about half a cup of Ken's Lite Northern Italian with Basil and Romano, but it's hard to say exactly how much to use, so assess your salad and adjust accordingly. Then I halved a pint of grape tomatoes and thinly sliced 1/4 of a red onion and tossed those in, immediately followed by some grated parmesan. The longer this stuff sits in the fridge, the better it tastes, so make this the night before you plan on eating it, if you can. Test it before serving it, and add some extra dressing if the pasta has soaked everything up and the salad has dried out.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's For Dinner - 5-Spice Pork Tenderloin

This is another of my Mom's excellent recipes. It's the most delicious marinade for pork tenderloin that I've encountered yet. Usually, we make it in the oven, but since it's Memorial Day weekend, the start of grilling season, I decided to dust off the old Weber and ask my husband to play Grillmaster.

What you'll need, for two tenderloins:
5 cloves of garlic, minced or squeezed through a press
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
3 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp honey
1 tsp five-spice*

*Note: I had a hard time finding this, until I realized it's often labeled as "Chinese Five-Spice Powder" and housed in the grocery store's alphabetized spice section accordingly.

First, have fun peeling the silver skin off the tenderloins. I'd offer you a how-to video, but I'm not that talented, and I don't think I have the look the Food Network folks are looking for. Lucky for us, the internet already contains pretty much everything imaginable, and this nice lady will show you how to trim a tenderloin.

Grind garlic, spices, and salt together. I use the back of a spoon to mash the stuff together. Mix your remaining ingredients in a big bowl, then rub the salt and spices into the meat. Massage those tenderloins like they've been working in the yard all day and you're working the knots out for them before they shower, and settle them into the honey and soy sauce bath -  they should be sitting in liquid, but they should not be covered by the liquid. Add more honey and soy sauce if you feel that they don't have enough marinade to soak in. Cover tightly and refrigerate several hours, or overnight if you can manage it. It helps if you can flip the meat in the marinade a few times while it's in the fridge, to make sure all parts get equal soaking.

To cook – fill the bottom of a pan with a half-inch of water, then place fillets on a rack over the water, to steam. Cook for 30 minutes at 350F, turning over once. Mom likes to use a broiler pan for this:

Since I don't have one, I use a regular roasting pan with a rack, and it comes out great. This was the first time I tried grilling the meat, and I followed some instructions from a cooking site that said to use medium heat and cook it for 4 minutes per side, but treat it like it has four sides. So, turn it 90 degrees each time instead of a full flip. Grills and heat distribution will vary, as will the thickness of the tenderloins, so use a meat thermometer. When you see 140 or so, you can pull the meat off the grill and cover it in foil - it will keep cooking for a few minutes and reach the recommended 145.
Here's the result:
Still a little pink in the middle, very tender, with a tasty grilled crust. I'm sorry the quality of my photos tends towards the painfully amateur... it's a good thing I'm not a serious food blogger!

This makes a great dinner with rice and salad, but it also makes a tasty cold appetizer. Just slice it thinner than you would if it was for dinner, and serve it on its own or with crackers. It's spiced garlic pork - I can't imagine anyone waving a hand at it and saying "no thanks, I'll stick with the carrots and ranch dip".

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chocolate redundancy

I got up five times last night to make cookies. I also sat back down five times, deciding that it was too late and cookies involved too much work, and I didn't need the calories anyway. But oh my LORD I craved chocolate chip cookies. Any chocolate, really. And all the chocolate left in the house was tied up in baking ingredients - brownie mix, a tub of chocolate fudge cake frosting, a Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips. Everything that would bring me chocolate required work, which was very discouraging. I moped on the couch with a bowl of strawberries instead.

Dave was surprised that I had no chocolate left in the house. You see, I normally keep a strategic chocolate reserve for this sort of situation.

"Nothing left in your stash?"

"I ate all the bunnies," I said guiltily, referring to the Lindt Easter bunnies who lived such short, short lives.

"And you have nothing else? You always have more somewhere." He couldn't believe I'd let myself get to a zero-chocolate situation.

"Nope, just chocolate chips."

I headed up to lock the doors on my way to bed, and stopped to play with Horton for a minute, when Dave showed up beside me with a proud smile and a hand extended towards me. In that hand was a small cellophane bag with Santa Claus on it, and three Lindor truffles inside. I crushed the poor man when I told him that those were from two Christmases ago, because I recognized the gift bag from a coworker at the hospital, and I wasn't at the hospital for Christmas this year. How Lindor truffles survived two years in this house without being eaten is a mystery unto itself, but I felt it was best to throw them out.

A few minutes later, as I was putting on my jammies, I heard a rustling from the closet. I walked over to see what in the world my husband was up to, when he emerged holding one beautiful, shining, silver-wrapped Hershey kiss.

My husband. The provider.

"This is from the most recent Christmas," he assured me, "so it should still be good. It's fresh - I had to open a plastic candy cane to get it."

"So what you're saying is, you have more."

He laughed, but I had a plan. "See, honey, you need to keep a chocolate stash around in case mine runs out." I climbed into bed.

"But you always have some - this situation only comes up a couple times a year, and my chocolate would go bad waiting for your chocolate to run out." He crossed his arms. "We'd be wasting chocolate."

"No, it could be like those emergency rations!" I sat up, excited. "If we don't need to break into them, because we have no emergencies, we'll just eat them at the end of a six-month period and you can re-stock the emergency kit!"

"So we need a second emergency chocolate stash."

I grinned. "A chocolate backup!"

"A chocolate redundancy? So we can avoid having a single point of chocolate failure?"

I love us.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May Flowers!

As promised, I've got some flower pictures to share.

First, the gorgeous annuals I found for the front garden:

They're called Torenia, or "wishbone flower", and I saw them for the first time this year when I went to a plant nursery with my mother-in-law, looking for stuff for her garden. I bought a 6-pack of mixed pink, white, and purple ones, and I want to go back and get a dozen more for the back yard, where the petunias met a premature demise. I blame bunnies.

Now for a couple of my back garden favorites, finally blooming! I have loved Oenothera (Sundrops) for years, because Mom always had some in her garden and they are so cheerful and sunny. They look like giant buttercups and they flower profusely for weeks.

The Nepalese Cinquefoil, or Potentilla, I bought because of the five-lobed leaves. I figured that even when it wasn't flowering, it would add some visual interest to the garden. Lucky thing, too, because last year it didn't produce a single flower. But look how wonderful it is when it decides to bloom!

I really enjoy having a pretty garden to look at, even if it's a lot of work. Right now it's a little eclectic and crowded, because I haven't been sure where to put what, but I hope that within the next couple of years, I'll have an established family of perennials in their permanent homes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Montreal Student Protests

It's been over five years since I've been able to call Montreal my place of residence, but on some level it will always be home to me.

For the last 100 days, there have been protests in Montreal as students speak out against proposed university tuition hikes. The proposed increases are substantial - 75% over five years, for a total increase of $1625. Students who believe that education should be a right and not a privilege decided to leave classes in April and have not been back since. The Student Society of McGill University has put up a website outlining the proposed changes and why they are opposed to them, and I recommend you read it to understand the background of the situation.

While I understand the resistance to a tuition increase, I am embarrassed by the behavior of the protesters who say they speak for all students in the province. There has been a dangerous violent element to these protests, with a couple of student groups sanctioning violent acts as a means of getting the point across to the government. Rocks are being thrown at storefronts and bank windows are being broken. My friends here in the United States have been warned by the US embassy in Ottawa that travel to Montreal may be dangerous. What does that tell the world about my city? For all the protesters are pounding their chests and demanding justice and freedom, Canada is not a repressed Middle-Eastern country fighting to free itself from the tyranny of a violent and all-controlling government. 
Montrealers love to strike, and Montreal's students love to protest. I am not opposed to organized strikes or peaceful protests against government decisions - history has proven the tactics to be effective. The Quebec government's recent passing of Bill 78, requiring that the authorities be notified 8 hours before the start of a protest, pissed a lot of people off, but what choice does the province have? Time and time again, a Montreal protest becomes a riot, where police cars are set on fire and tear gas canisters are thrown into crowds. Why? The legitimacy of the cause these students are fighting for is lost in the sensationalism of their violent acts.

Here's a short video from CBC News - you can see that things are clearly out of hand.

No side is entirely right or wrong here. The educational institutions need to be more transparent, as does the government, and student loans need to be made available to a larger number of people. Right now, relatively few people qualify for government-backed student loans, because the income bar is set quite low and takes into account how much money the student's parents make, regardless of whether the parents intend to help their children pay for school.

That said, the protesters also need to be more reasonable. Everything is getting more expensive, everywhere. From the perspective of students in the rest of Canada, Quebec students have no right to complain about how much university costs them. And, looking at the numbers on the Quebec government's website, I tend to agree. We've had it good for a very long time, enjoying the lowest tuition rates in the country. Even with the increase, by 2015 Quebec's students will be paying under $4000 a year for their education, still far lower than what students in most provinces pay now. Is $4000 a year really so much of a hardship? At the risk of coming across as callous, I got through school by working in retail and in telemarketing, and commuting by bus from my mother's house in the suburbs instead of renting a downtown apartment. Not everyone has those options - I was lucky to find jobs that paid better than minimum wage, and I had a family willing to put up with me at home while I finished school - but I feel like some of the protesters feel like they shouldn't have to work for their education. That's just not realistic.

Two-thirds of Quebec's students are still attending school, trying to finish the semester of classes they've paid for. The angry minority, in my humble opinion, needs to decide exactly what their battle is, who it is with, and how to fight it effectively. Protest and demonstrations are valid tools for communicating displeasure with government policy - throwing rocks and deliberately baiting cops are not.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Garden update

I'm constrained in what I can do with my gardens right now, because there are backyard projects in the planning stages that might impact the garden area, and I don't want to invest too much work if I'm going to need to move everything in a month. I keep having to talk myself out of buying just one more perennial to fill this space or that space - I need to wait until I have a plan. There's a drainage pipe being put in near the shed, and we're figuring out where to build a raised-bed planter for veggies, but it's not clear yet whether any of this will happen this summer or next, so I need to keep from putting too much effort into changing the garden around.

Yeah, I totally bought more perennials. 

Some of them were acquired for free from a neighbor redesigning one of her gardens - a big chunk of Salvia (not the hallucinogenic kind), and some tiger lilies. I split the plants up and put a little of each into the front and back gardens. In this picture, the Salvia is in the far left corner, and the tiger lilies are behind the shepherd's hook.

I also added pink creeping Phlox to the front right corner, because it will spread well and hopefully keep weeds from getting settled. There are some annuals in there to fill up the empty spaces - white and pink petunias. I picked up a perennial I'd never seen before, called Cupid's Dart, and I put those in near the Salvia. I plan to have a bed of irises in the back, against the deck, but I haven't moved the side-yard irises over yet. Which is good, because that space is currently the only available spot for my cherry tomatoes. Recurring players from last year fared quite well: the daylilies survived, as did the white Echinacea and the yellow Oenothera (evening primrose). I was glad to see the silver-mound come back after it was crushed by the pine tree - it's much smaller than it was last year, but it's alive. The Cinquefoil looks like it's going to flower this year, and the purple-leaved thing in the back is healthy, although I've forgotten its name already. The only one not to regrow was the Gaillardia (Blanket Flower), which is really disappointing because I loved it so much. It comes in an annual and a perennial form, and I suspect the plants were mislabeled and I got annuals last year.

Last year's Gaillardia (blanket flower)

Last year's white Echinacea

Nothing is flowering yet this year except the Phlox and the lone iris in the back, but I will be posting pictures of the flowers as they bloom. The evening primrose should be first, because it's already heavy with flower buds. the tiger lilies won't be far behind.

And that iris? Enough to make me reconsider tulips as my favorite flowers. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

I'm guilty of piling up dozens of "to try" recipes on Pinterest, and never getting around to actually trying them. Recently, re-pinning a chicken recipe led me to a great Canadian cooking blog called Rock Recipes, which I have since bookmarked, because I want to try so many of their ideas. 

I was in the mood for muffins, so I searched their recipe archive to see what I could work with, and their Caramel Apple Muffins seemed like a good bet, even without the caramel part. I added more apples than called for, since I was skipping the caramels, and I think these turned out so great.

Get your dry ingredients mixed together:
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup white sugar
4 tsp baking powder
2tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Then do the same with your wet ingredients:
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla

Then add the wet to the dry and mix it all up until you've got a nice lumpy batter.

Peel and chop three apples - this recipe is a good way to use up older, softer-than-usual apples. Then, and this is where I tweaked the recipe, toss the apple bits with a couple of spoonfuls of sugar and a dash of cinnamon so they're well coated. There's not much sugar in this recipe, so adding more here doesn't hurt. Fold the sweet apples into the batter.

Bake them in greased muffin tins at 350F for about 20-25 minutes. Depending how big you make your muffins, you'll end up with 12-15 muffins.

They were fluffy and not too sweet, just cinnamony enough, and very good with a cup of coffee for a quick breakfast.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Smart phones

I am asked - often - why I don't use a smart phone. I have an older hand-me-down Blackberry, perfectly capable of accessing the internet, but I haven't bothered setting up a data plan with my cell phone service. Many people think I need to "get with it" and plug in, and I generally agree with them, but right now it seems like an expensive luxury I can easily do without. I love the idea of email and Google and various apps following me everywhere I go, but for now that "everywhere" tends to be the commute between home and work, and I can be on the internet at both of those places. As much fun as it would probably be, it's not a justifiable expense, when we still have so much do to (and spend) on the house.

But there's another reason, less obvious, why I'm avoiding the pressure to join the crowd. I'm scared of what it might do to me. Already, I check in with the internet - Facebook, email, my message boards - several times a day, and I get grumpy and irritated when I'm kept away from the internet for a whole day. I can refrain from wandering the web when I'm involved in an activity or a conversation; for example, I don't run to my computer to check my email every half hour when friends are over to dinner. I worry that having a computer conveniently close by in my purse or pocket might change that, especially because so many other people are in that habit now. It's fun to be connected, and the data plans are expensive, so I can understand wanting to make them count.

Despite understanding the desire for near-constant connectivity, I can't help but find it rude when someone checks their phone often while we're out for dinner, or otherwise spending time together. It's not any better or worse than checking one's watch, or scanning the room - it gives me the impression that the person is bored with the situation and is looking for something else to do, and it makes me feel like my company isn't all that desirable. It's different, I think, if the person acknowledges the phone-check, something like "my husband said he'd text when he's on his way", while checking, instead of it being an apparently unconscious movement. When there's a tacit acknowledgement that the phone is indeed an intrusion, it's somehow less bothersome, at least for me. It's also different if the phone use is related to the conversation somehow, like showing me a picture of your cat, or looking up the actor we're talking about to see what else he's been in. But I feel like sending texts (unless it's an important reply that can't wait), or updating or responding to something on Facebook, should wait until the in-person social interaction is over. I brought this up recently at a get-together and I fear I offended some of the parties involved.

Am I being an unreasonable old fart? Am I being rude in saying that it strikes me as rude? Is this a future (hell, a present) I need to get used to? I see people walking into traffic with their eyes and thumbs on a smart phone, people sitting together at a restaurant pushing buttons instead of talking and laughing together, and it makes me sad. I think of the movie Wall-E, where everyone's on a hoverchair with a TV screen floating in their face, and I wonder if that's where we're headed. Being connected is great. Without Skype and the internet, I wouldn't have found my husband. Without Facebook and email, I'd have a much harder time staying in touch with my family and friends in Canada and across the US. Am I a hypocrite, then, to be annoyed when people are checking their phones? I feel like it's a fine line between having the ability to be connected and needing to be connected, and I'm not entirely sure where the line is (or should be), especially in myself.

What do you think?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Is it the flu?

What a week. I felt a little lightheaded on Wednesday, which progressed to dull aches in my bones and a complete loss of appetite by lunch time. By the end of the work day, I had developed a deep, barking cough and a sore throat. Needless to say, my boss kicked me out early, trying to prevent the spread of whatever plague I was incubating in my lungs.

My trusty thermometer showed a slight fever, so I took some generic cough-and-cold medicine, hoping that the decongestant would help the sniffles and cough, and the acetaminophen would fight the fever. I spent the evening on the couch, coughing and sneezing and constantly shifting to get comfortable. My sleep that night was horrible despite the NyQuil I took to knock myself out - the drugs didn't seem to be doing anything at all, and I woke up at 5am with an even higher fever. I called work to tell them I'd be staying home, took more cough-and-cold stuff, and tried to sleep, but the back pain made it impossible to get comfortable. For a while I was concerned it might be my kidney stones coming back to get me, but the pain was in the wrong place for that, thank goodness.

Once the sun was up, I called my doctor's office, and they told me they would be able to squeeze me in that afternoon. In desperation to survive until my appointment, I switched to ibuprofen for the pain - miraculously, it worked. I slept until appointment time.

The official diagnosis? Not strep throat, and not influenza. Bronchitis, likely viral, is what she labeled me with, which is sort of a cop-out, because it just means I have irritated bronchial passages. Um, yeah. I've been coughing my head off for 24 hours. Trust me, if the bronchi weren't irritated, they sure are now. The good doctor told me to pick up some guaifenesin (in some types of Robitussin and Mucinex), then go home and sleep it off.

When I went back to work on Friday and reassured everyone it wasn't the flu, I was asked "how do they know that? Did they test you that quickly?" Yes, yes they did. Thankfully for public health and for pandemic monitoring, hospitals and doctor's offices have a rapid influenza test that can give you an answer within 15 minutes. This makes it easier to distinguish "just a cold" from "influenza", and track the spread of seasonal or pandemic flu.

How does the test work?

Rapid flu test, image from
First, a swab is stuffed up the patient's nose. Usually, it's a long Q-tip type swab, and it gets rotated in the nostrils a few times before being put back into its holder for the lab. The throat can also be swabbed, because flu viruses hang out in both areas. When the H1N1 influenza, or swine flu, was spreading, it was discovered that the highest concentrations of viruses could be found high in the nasopharynx, or the place where your nasal passage meets your throat, way up past your palate. That's a very difficult area to reach, so a different, flexible swab became the preferred collection method. Here's an illustration:

Nasophagyngeal specimen collection. Image from Stanford University Medical Center.

Yes, it's about as unpleasant as it looks. I can testify to that.

Once the swab gets to the lab, it's dipped into a cocktail of liquid reagents that will extract the flu viruses from the swab, and then the liquid is placed into small wells at the end of a test card. As the liquid moves across the card by capillary action, it passes through a zone, right near the wells, where antibodies against influenza antigens (particles) are embedded. The antibodies are tagged with colored molecules, so as you watch the liquid move across the card, it will look pinkish, or blue, depending on which manufacturer's kit you're using. The antibodies get dragged along whether or not they've bound any antigen - that's why every test has a control line and a test line, to be sure the antibodies are there and moving properly. 

The test line is a strip of the card coated with antibodies against the first antibody, so as the colored antibodies get dragged along, they will stick to that area. When enough of them congregate there, you see a colored line in the control area, meaning that the capillary action is effective and the test is working properly. The control line is a little different - it's got a set of antibodies against another part of the influenza virus, so if those color-tagged antibodies picked up any flu viruses at the start, this is where they'll get caught up, and make a colored line in the test area. If there are no flu antigens in the specimen, the liquid will pass on through and no labeled antibodies will bind here, so there won't be a line.

Almost every rapid test works in a similar way. Pregnancy tests, Strep tests, anything that involves a strip dipped into a liquid specimen, or drops on a card - they all work on the same principle. The antigen, whether it's a virus (flu, mono), bacterium or bacterial toxin (Strep, C. difficile), or hormone (hCG for pregnancy tests, LH for ovulation tests), travels along a card and gets picked up by labeled antibodies, and then trapped along a test line so we can see it.

Isn't science great?

Now if only they could cure non-influenza viral respiratory infections with a magic pill!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Meet the neighbors!

I finally met the matriarch of the lovely (though churchy) Pakistani family across the street. She saw me in the front yard, washing out the bathroom trash cans with the hose, and she came over, arms wide, to welcome me to the neighborhood and apologize for not having us over. Very sweet of her, and I counter-apologized for not having them over, and we chatted a little, until she gutted me with a completely innocent comment.

“We do not see you outside very much, only your husband, working, working. We were thinking maybe you...” Her hands went to her abdomen and mimed a growing belly. “Maybe you were expecting and so are staying inside more.” I blinked and shook my head, mumbled “no, no, not quite yet,” with a weak smile and a look around for Dave to rescue me. “Because,” she continued, “we know you are recently here, we are old and we do not have little children now, we can help with the baby, help when you are expecting.” I thanked her profusely, not sure if this was a cultural gesture, a Christian one, or just this family's way.

No, dear neighbor, I am not expecting. In fact, I'm currently having a bitch of a period and I'm already past my daily dose of ibuprofen just to keep me standing up straight. I'm not pregnant, just a little fat around the edges. I'm never outside because I don't have much work to do in the front yard and I've got tons to do inside my home to keep it clean and functional. I'm sure she meant no offense, but I was completely at a loss for words.

Luckily, Dave joined us just then and we discussed the neighborhood and old houses and renovations that take more work than expected, and she took her leave by offering us God's blessing to keep us healthy and bring us (more elegant Pakistani pregnant-belly mime) when we are ready.

I think I'll let the front garden go to hell this year, or at least until I lose some weight, in case other neighbors approach me and make offers of child-care services for my as-yet-unconceived babies.

Friday, May 04, 2012


A while back, I challenged myself to read 50 books in 2012. I'm keeping track of my progress with the help of a great website called Goodreads, and you can see my little counting widget on the right margin of my blog if you scroll down. The widget will bring you to the website, which I recommend checking out if you're a big reader. I've read 18 books as of this post, only, I'm not entirely sure if they all count.

Some of these books, I admit to you, I did not read. Instead, I listened to a narrator as he or she read them aloud to me. Does that still count?

My commute to work is a solid hour in each direction, leaving me a lot of free listening time, and I've been thinking about audiobooks for a while, if not for their own merits, then at least as a way to avoid being subjected to the newest Coldplay song three times a day. I kept dismissing the idea because because I don't generally enjoy being read to, and I don't like radio morning shows where the hosts chatter and argue over things.

Well, after JoCo Cruise Crazy 2, I was on a nerdy-famous-people high, and I started listening to some podcasts. I listened to a bunch from Wil Wheaton, and a bunch from Paul and Storm, and I enjoyed them more than I expected. It was just these guys, talking about some stuff for a while, making me laugh and think a little while I'm stuck in traffic. But they don't record them often enough to fill my whole week's commute. I was seeking out more podcasts, different podcasts, longer podcasts, to fill the emptiness. Beware, friends - half hour Paul and Storm podcasts are a gateway drug. Now I'm mainlining library audiobooks.

They have their issues, of course. I have to be in my car to listen to them, so if I have downtime during my lunch break, I either have to go sit in my car or keep a second, paper, book with me as a backup plan. You never know what you're getting in terms of the narrator, and I've encountered the very good and the very bad. Sometimes the CD will start up with track #1 again and if I didn't note what track I was on before I got rebooted, I have to skip ahead and listen to the beginning of each track to see when it stops sounding familiar, and then back it up a little. Also, with real books, I have a bad habit of skipping ahead a few pages to see if I'm right about where the story is going, and I can't easily do that with a CD. For me, the biggest downside is with my beloved nonfiction books - part of what I love about them is that they refer to other great books and authors, and when I'm reading a paper version, I can write the titles down for future reference. It's dangerous to try that on the road.

But I'm finding a way to absorb more books than I otherwise could, and I'm delighted about it. I started with The Pun Also Rises, by John Pollack, which is about the history of puns and wordplay. It was good. Then I bought Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi, because Paul and Storm told me to. Now, Fuzzy Nation is fiction. There are characters and dialogue in fiction - would the reader use different voices for them all, like the famous Gollum voice Dad used when he read The Lord of the Rings out loud to me when I was a kid? Well, Wil Wheaton read this one, and he did such an excellent job that I wish everyone would hire him to read their audiobooks.

Not all of them have been great. I tried listening to Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz, and the narrator kept taking sharp breaths mid-sentence, distracting me from the material. I had to switch it off after five minutes, and I'll look for the paper version of that one instead.

I want to list the audiobooks in my total, but I'm not sure if that meets the spirit of the reading challenge. Initially, I thought I'd find a little time each day to dedicate to a book, but it's been very hard to accomplish. Do I need to cross the audiobooks out and push myself to carve out more reading time? Or can I count  my commute "reading", since I'm getting the same education through a different sensory input?