Friday, December 27, 2013

P4A (Again) And The Best Of All The Things 2013

I know that I blogged about Project for Awesome (P4A) last week, and you probably don’t want to hear about it again, but I’m going to tell you anyway.  One of the best things about Project for Awesome is the 48 hour live stream.  A bunch of people who are involved in the Project stay awake for 48 hours and try to be entertaining.  The video above is the weirdest moments from this year’s live stream.


2013 is pretty much over.  I was thinking about the 60ish books that I've read this year and trying to come up with my favorites.  Most of the books that I read were classics, and I’ve discovered that classics tend to blur together in my mind, especially the British ones.  I still love reading classics, but none of the ones that I read this year really stand out in my mind.

Which books did stand out (for good reasons)?  Here are my top 3 that came out of the All The Things pile.  The Summaries are from Goodreads.

#3.  The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Why I liked it: Like all of John Green’s books, the plot was predictable, and the characters were similar to characters in his previous books, but that didn’t matter because I thought that he handled the Cancer Kid thing perfectly.  The characters were kids who happened to have cancer.  The cancer did not define them.  They also didn’t die gracefully as disease martyrs.  I thought that the book was very realistic in that way. 

(And, if you watched the video above, the author of this book is the guy with the Sharpie on his face).



#2.  When Prophecy Fails: A social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World – Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, Stanley Schachter

When Prophecy Fails [1956] is a classic text in social psychology authored by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. It chronicles the experience of a UFO cult that believed the end of the world was at hand. In effect, it is a social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction of the world, and the adjustments made when the prediction failed to materialize. "The authors have done something as laudable as it is unusual for social psychologists. They espied a fleeting social movement important to a line of research they were interested in and took after it. They recruited a team of observers, joined the movement, and watched it from within under great difficulties until its crisis came and went. Their report is of interest as much for the method as for the substance."-Everett C. Hughes, The American Journal of Sociology.

Why I liked it: I have been an amateur cult researcher for a lot of years, and this was one of my favorite books about cults ever.  The authors infiltrated a benign UFO cult and recorded how the cult grew and developed as it was happening.  Most books about cults are written by scientists who studied the cult from the outside or by former cult members.  This one is unique.



#1.  Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood

"Cat's Eye" is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, an artist, and a woman--but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories. Disturbing, hilarious, and compassionate, "Cat's Eye" is a breathtaking novel of a woman grappling with the tangled knot of her life.

Why I liked it: Margaret Atwood is tied with Stephen King for my favorite author ever.  I’ve read all of her short story collections and all but 3 of her novels.  I loved this book because of the characters, especially the bullying that happens within the group of young girls.  It was disturbingly realistic.


Here’s the final All The Things update of 2013.

I’m currently reading Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.

All The Things = 17 books.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Project For Awesome 2013

Project for Awesome 2013 is over, so you can’t vote or make videos, but you can still donate to the Foundation to Decrease World Suck.  As of this blog post, the 2013 Project for Awesome has raised $795,191 for charity.  That’s the biggest Project for Awesome ever!  I love this project, and I’m thrilled that it did so well this year.

The Project for Awesome was started by YA author, John Green, and his brother, Hank Green, in 2007.  The event is held annually on December 17 – 18.  Here’s how it works:

1.       People create videos promoting their favorite charities and upload them to the Project for Awesome website.

2.      People vote for their favorite videos or charities.

3.      People donate money to the Foundation to Decrease World Suck.

4.      The ten charities that get the most votes (and are approved by the Foundation’s board of directors) split the money that the Foundation raised during the Project for Awesome.

5.      The charities do good work, and the world sucks a little less.

The goal of the Project for Awesome is to raise money for charities while promoting awareness of charities.  There are a lot of lesser-known charities that do great things and could really use donations.  The Project for Awesome and the Foundation to Decrease World Suck are run by volunteers, so there are very few overhead costs.  Almost all of the money raised goes to the charities.

In 2012, the Project for Awesome raised $483,296.  Each of the following charities received $40,500.

Office of Letter and Light / NaNoWriMo.  This charity organizes events that help children and adults get excited about writing.

Not Forgotten.  This charity partners with local ministries to help abandoned children in Peru.  They created my favorite video for the 2013 Project for Awesome.  I hope that they win again.

Wildlife Waystation.  This organization rescues and provides sanctuary for exotic animals.

Alzheimer’s Society.  This organization provides information and help to people and families who are suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Harry Potter Alliance.  This is a huge group of Harry Potter fans who work together to find creative ways to help the environment and stop poverty and genocide.

Save the Children.  This organization works to improve the health and safety of children all over the world.  John Green made his 2013 Project for Awesome video about Save the Children.

BGSU Dance Marathon / Mercy Children’s Hospital.  This is a program at Bowling Green State University that uses dance to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network.  The money goes to support research funding, enrichment programs, medical equipment, and anything that will increase the quality of life for children in Northwest Ohio.

Uncultured Project.  This organization helps people who are living in poverty.

Techo.  This organization is working to end poverty and promote positive community development in Latin American and Caribbean slums.

Love146.  This organization works to raise awareness of human trafficking.

If you want to give money to a charity, please consider any of the charities above or participate in next year’s Project for Awesome.  I’ll let you know this year’s winners when they’re announced.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Eat Like You’re Going Extinct

I have a health magazine that came with my gym membership, and it has a ton of articles about the paleo diet.  The articles claim that you’ll be healthier if you eat like a caveman or a dinosaur.  That statement confuses me because dinosaurs are extinct, and the average Neanderthal had a lifespan of less than 30 years.  That doesn’t seem very healthy to me.  I don’t want to go extinct, and I’d like to live to see my 30th birthday.  However, the diet was interesting enough that I bought a cookbook called Paleo Comfort Foods: Homestyle Cooking for a Gluten-Free Kitchen by Julie and Charles Mayfield.

According to the internet, there are a few different definitions of “paleo diet.”  This book’s introduction says, “What is our definition of paleo?  We eat meats (predominantly grass-fed), poultry (pastured), game (Charles is an avid hunter), fresh seafood, and any other high-quality proteins we can get our hands on.  We eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow.  We eat little bits of fruit here and there—especially when in season, and picked fresh from our garden.  We consume fat without the fear of fat making us fat” (page 31-32).  Later in the introduction, the authors say, “These recipes are filled with ingredients and foods (for the most part) that your grandmother would recognize.  However, here’s what you won’t find in these recipes: grains or gluten, legumes (with the exception of two recipes using green beans, in which you’re eating mostly the bean pod, and they don’t have near the lectin load as dry beans), and the only bit of diary is with a few recipes that really do need the milk solids in non-clarified, but still grass-fed butter” (page 34).

Overall, Paleo Comfort Foods is a really nice book.  I love the giant pictures.  The book is durable and fairly easy to clean if you spill stuff on it while cooking.  I haven’t made all of the recipes, but most of the ones that I have made turned out well.  My favorites were jambalaya (even though I made it too spicy for most people), fried chicken (it’s actually more like baked chicken), and farmer’s pie.

This probably isn’t the best book for beginner cooks.  I’m a horrible and impatient cook.  Most of my food comes out of a box and goes into a microwave.  I sometimes get annoyed if I’m required to stir the food halfway through microwaving.  Cooking the recipes in this book was a big change for me.  A lot of the recipes took hours to make, and there were a few times that I had to call my mom because I didn’t understand something.  The book did help me start to get over my fear of touching raw meat.  This diet has a lot of meat in it.

There are two things that irritated me about this book.  The first is the font size in the foreword, acknowledgements, preface, introduction, kitchen foods, and cooking tools sections.  These sections take up approximately 50 pages, and the font is huge.  Huge font = higher page count = more expensive book.  I would have liked to have a smaller font or fewer sections at the beginning of the book so that the price would have been lower.  The price is $29.95, which isn’t horrible for a book with huge color pictures, but it might have been lower without 50 pages of monster font.  

The other annoyance was the index.  It’s sparse and not very useful.  For example, you need 1 teaspoon of filé powder to make jambalaya.  I had never heard of filé powder, and I wanted to know if I just needed it for this recipe or if it’s a common ingredient in a lot of recipes.  I looked it up in the index.  It wasn’t in there.  That makes it difficult to know if you should buy a lot of an ingredient or just enough for one recipe.  Some of the ingredients in this book are very expensive, so it would be nice to know how much to stock up on when they go on sale.

Even though there were a few annoying things about Paleo Comfort Foods, I’d still recommend the book to anyone who likes to cook and wants to try the paleo diet.  I don’t eat paleo often enough to know if it has any impact on my health, but it’s yummier than a microwaved Lean Cuisine.