Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category

  • Saying Goodbye to Paw Paw

    Date: 2015.07.02 | Category: Family, Health, Home, Life, Love, Me, Nostalgia | Response: 7

    Today is a surreal and sad day. My grandfather, one of the most important and formative people in my life, passed away today. I immediately felt two strong emotions well up inside of me: the sadness, of course. How can I not be sad that my Paw Paw is no longer available for a goofy grin or a silly joke, or to ask me where I’m traveling to next and take pride in my achievements? But another part of me was instantly relieved. He has fought a long and hard battle with Parkinson’s disease that grew especially difficult and frustrating for him over the past two years. I know he was ready to go.

    On Monday, fearing the end was near, the six of us loaded up the van and drove over to see him. Having lost control over most of his ability to communicate, I didn’t know what to expect. But I watched amazed as he perked up when I brought the twins to see him, smiled at Mark and me, and even managed a small wave as Norah boisterously shouted “Paw Paw” and wiggled her little hand at him.

    That was my Paw Paw, always a man who loved children.

    Over the course of today, I’ve been thinking about the huge role he played in my life and the lives of my sisters and cousins.

    He led a big life. He was the Louisiana Secretary of Commerce, the grandson of a construction company dynasty, sat on numerous boards, co-founded a school and even climbed to the very top of Amway. But he was also “Paw Paw,” a man who dropped everything to spend time with his grandchildren, who he loved fiercely.

    “Paw Paw! Let’s ride the airplane!” we’d cry, and he would load us all up in his Caddy and drive his car through the front yard in circles, narrowly avoiding magnolia and pine trees, bushes and ditches. We would squeal in delight and he would giggle right along with us. He would take us to his office after hours, and let us decorate white boards, dig through office supplies, use the old typewriter and raid the company snacks.

    At the infamous family annual Christmas party, Paw Paw would don his well worn Santa suit and load up his sack with presents as we each begged for the chance to be his helper elf (which usually involved putting on a very tight white and green striped onesie with curled green shoes).

    Our family has always loved to play games together, and he was always eager to jump in. Party Lines was a favorite and he was great and coming up with lines that got the whole family laughing with tears pouring out of our eyes.

    Ever the sports fan, Paw Paw kept diligent notes about sporting stats and encouraged us all to take up a sport. I remember many a summer spent at LA Techsters basketball camp while Paw Paw rubbed elbows with the coach and visited with everyone – after all he knew everyone who lived in Ruston.

    One day, my grandfather and I sat talking when I was 16. He asked me if I could travel to anywhere, where would I choose. New York City was at the top of my list. A couple weeks later my parents received a phone call. My grandfather had a business trip that would be taking him to NYC and would I like to go with them? Together we sat down and made a list of all the things and places we wanted to see and go to. When the time arrived, he took that list with us to New York and made sure we did every single item on the list, crossing each off as we accomplished them.

    Together, my grandparents and I traversed the entire city, eating at Tavern on the Green and Sardi’s, going to the top of the Empire State Building and visiting FAO Schwartz. We saw The Lion King and Les Mis on Broadway, and I even remember venturing out to Hard Rock Cafe late at night with them just to cross it off the list.

    My grandfather lived to bring joy to others. Each year he would foot the bill for all four of his children and their families to go to the beach together. Inevitably the kids would get tired of just sitting outside, and he and my uncle Mix would load all the children up and take us to the Big Kahuna water park while the other adults enjoyed the peace and quiet. Another day, they would take us down to the Holiday Inn where we would sneak in through the side door to use their swimming pool and enjoy the arcade. He certainly encouraged a us to have fun, even if it meant a little mischief.

    My sisters and I went to visit him and introduce him to the twins a couple of weeks ago. In a rare moment of clarity, he looked up when we came into his hospital room and said, “Let me see that baby,” and grinned when I brought Luke over. He also spoke my name. I’m so glad that we got to see him at the end, and even introduce the twins to him.

    Dear Paw Paw, I’m so glad you’ve found peace, but so sad my children will never know the way your face lights up when you see your children and great grandchildren, how you always have a funny joke or well-timed wit, or how much and unselfishly you loved with your whole heart. I am so thankful that you always encouraged me to be a better person, and to travel and be successful. I am so blessed and so grateful that I had 30 years with you. Thirty years to love you and bask in the glow of your smile, to hug you and kiss your cheeks.

    Going through some old things tonight, I found this letter he wrote to me after our trip to New York. This was everything he was to me in a nutshell.

    I love you Paw Paw, and I miss you terribly. I look forward to the day we meet again on the other side.

  • The Girl Factor

    Date: 2013.05.14 | Category: Baby, Family, Home, Life, Mark, Nostalgia, OMG YAY!, Pregnancy, Sarah | Response: 17

    By now news has spread about Baby R. being a girl. I’m thankful to say that the overwhelming response has been positive! We’ve had a few naysayers, “Oh man, I really wanted you to have a boy this time.” Or  “Are you sure you’re ok with that?”

    Because, you know, if I’m not I can just wave my magic wand and turn Baby R. into a boy.

    So let me say it now, not only am I ok with it, but I’m positively thrilled about bringing another little girl into the family.

    Here’s why:

    1. SISTERS!

    I am one of three girls and have no brothers as a reference point, so I realize I’m biased going into this. But I love having sisters. Yes, we fought quite a bit as kids, but for every fight, there was more playing, more coordinating dances and acting out made up plays. There were extensive parades wearing mom’s old formal dresses and cheerleading uniforms and impressive attempts at putting make up on one another. There was hauling the dog into the baby stroller and dressing her up in our doll’s finest.

    (P.s. How much does Sarah look like my youngest sister MC?!)

    As we got older we were able to support each other in the feminine aspects of life, especially when Shannon and I got pregnant at the same time. Now we share in the chaotic, but awesome bond of motherhood. Plus, sisters seem to have an intuitive bond with one another, both emotionally and well, whackily. For instance, it’s really not fair when Shannon and I are on the same team when we play Cranium – a hunched back walk is quickly identified as “Ghandi” and the other players throw their arms up in disgust.

    Event with my youngest sister, I’ve walked a similar path seven years before she has, and she calls me for help and advice. I’m sure you can do the same with brothers, but I am so thrilled my girls will have a feminine resource in one another.

    2. SAVINGS!

    I hardly have to buy any clothes for Baby R. Granted my girls won’t be born the same time of year, but with all the mamas adding to our growing collection of girl clothes, we’re covered. Plus, I get to dress Baby R. in all those smocked dresses I got, borrowed, and bought, thus making my husband feel somewhat better about their initial purchase.

    Also – we bought most of our big stuff gender neutral first time around, but a few things were extremely girly, namely the crib bedding and the bouncy chair. No need to make a little man suffer the indignity of pink!

    3. FAMILIARITY!

    Another girl! I’ve done this once before! Yes, I know no two kids are ever the same, and I am trying to prepare for that. But my gosh I can recognize a yeast infection, know how to properly clean a little girl and can expect some of the other girl side effects that come with being an infant.

    4. WE’RE NOT MISSING OUT

    Well not really. My nephew J is four days younger than Sarah and is like a brother to her. They spend every day at daycare together and usually at least one weekend day. Both of my girls will have their rough and tumble boy cousin to keep them in check and teach them how to get appropriately wild and dirty.

    Is there some disappointment about not having a boy this time? Well I’m sure Mark would love a running buddy in his growing house of women, but any underlying disappointment has already been squashed by the thought of more girlish giggles and pigtails.

  • 2012

    Date: 2012.12.31 | Category: Books, Family, Friends, Leela Fish, Life, Mark, Me, Nostalgia, Pets, Sarah, Work | Response: 9

    2012 has come to an end, and I must say it’s been a fantastic year.

    We had some firsts:
    • Sarah had a first birthday and first birthday party!
    • I photographed my first (and second) destination weddings.
    • I took a baby to the beach.
    • I visited Pittsburgh for the first (and second) times.
    • We flew with a toddler.
    • We got to be the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
    • I ran my first 10k with Becki.
    • I led my first big scale donation collection for a family in need.
    • I became a gym regular.
    • I nearly mowed over an NFL quarterback with a stroller.
    • I took Sarah to the zoo (in Indianapolis).

    We traveled to:
    • Dallas, TX
    • Lafayette, LA
    • Indianapolis, IN
    • Pittsburgh, PA
    • Ft. Walton Beach, FL
    • Austin, TX

    I met some of my fellow bloggers for the first time in person including:
    Unapologetically Mundane
    Bluz Dude
    Carpetbagger (and Mrs. Bagger).
    Facie

    We lost Mark’s grandmother, Sarah’s namesake, and had to battle with that grief.

    But there were babies born to best friends: Susan had Olivia and Tammy had Kiriel.

    We learned what Addison’s Disease is when we nearly lost Leela at the ER Vet clinic.

    I read a lot of books. According to Shelfari, 53 total. (I’m going to do a post on the best and worst soon!) And I gained an awesome reading partner in Noel.

    I redesigned a magazine and won awards for design on The Best of Times.

    2012 did have its share of sorrow, but it was also filled with so much joy and love. Here’s to a happier and beautiful 2013!

  • A History of Love

    Date: 2012.10.19 | Category: Family, Life, Love, Mark, Me, Nostalgia, OMG YAY! | Response: 9

    When I was a teenager, I used to daydream endlessly about the man I would marry. In my mind, he was tall, dark and handsome (of course) and could play the guitar (because, don’t you know, guitar playing is sexy).

    When I met Mark, all those many years ago, we were both seeing other people. Unbeknownst to one another though, both of our relationships were on the rocks.

    Mark and I worked together. And by worked together, I mean he managed the I.T. department and I was an intern doing some technical writing for the company (oh, the scandal!) His assistant, a sweet Chinese girl named Yan, got it into her head that Mark and I should date. She told me so and I laughed it off. But then, he and I started playing raquet ball together at the gym. Shortly after that, my long distance boyfriend of a year dumped me.

    Mark, being the smart guy that he is, looked on the company intranet to make sure I was over 18 (I was a couple weeks shy of my 19th birthday). Not long after, he asked me out on a date. I surprised myself and eagerly said yes.

    That first night, we quickly discovered that we were very compatible. We placed our values in the same places, and conversation came easily to both of us. Yan, our coworker, was thrilled and told me, “Mark needs a good girl. You’re a good girl.” We kept our dating a secret for three months at work, then “came out” to everyone at the company Christmas party.

    That was just over nine years ago. The rest, as they say, is history.

    We married on October 20, 2007, five years ago.

    He’s not tall, nor does he play guitar. He has bright, light blue eyes and amazing  dark hair. He is, however, exceedingly handsome.

    I love that I dreamed about the man I thought I wanted, and God sent me the man I needed. He’s not a hopeless romantic songwriter, but he’s the practical, fix-anything, no nonsense rock I need in my life. He’s an amazing dad and a hard worker. He makes me feel beautiful, even when I’m down on myself. Our love has evolved over the years, none so much as when we had a child together.

    I may not always say it, but I’m thankful for every year, every day, every moment we have had with one another.

    Happy Anniversary to Mark, the love of my life.

  • 18 Months

    Date: 2012.10.11 | Category: Baby, Bonnie Barrell, Dogs, Family, Home, Leela Fish, Life, Nostalgia, Photography, Sarah | Response: 17

    18 months. A year and a half.

    Where has the time gone?

    Almost every day, Mark and I stare at our girl and try to imagine how that little lump we brought home from the hospital has turned into this amazing, energetic, intelligent, little person.

    And to think I was worried about speech? Our girl is now enthusiastically saying a number of things, including: “Dog, Kit-Cat, Pretty, Uh Oh, Ow, Today, Star, Shoes, Stomp, Doll, Duck, Go, Tickle, Doc,  Jake and Hotdog (thanks Disney Junior). Oh, and her favorite phrase, “What is it?” Not to mention she can enthusiastically roar like a lion, mew like a kitty and mmmm like a cow?

    She can also identify her eyes, nose, mouth, ears, head, hands, foot and bellybutton by pointing.

    Climbing has become her favorite activity and one of the most difficult phases for us as parents. After a week long assault on the glass coffee table, we finally just got rid of it. She’s taken more tumbles out of her high chair, off the couches, and off her plastic picnic table than I can count, but it doesn’t stop her. Climbing on the arm of the couch and leaping onto the cushions is one of her favorites, as is scaling on to the back of the oversized chair to turn the fan switch on and off.

    We’re starting to see signs of the terrible two’s with complete and utter meltdowns over small things. Take something away from her? Game over. Try to pick her up when she doesn’t want to be picked up? Limp noodle body.

    Did I mention her favorite toy is a neon green and orange rake? She uses it to rake things up in the house, especially while daddy is sweeping. She totes it around the yard and dips it in the kiddy pool water. She combs the dogs with it, and she freaks out if you try to take it from her. That’s why it appears in all these photos.

    Also that head of hair is like woah. You would think we were sprinkling magic growing dust on it or something. Though I am thrilled that means crazy pigtails now.

    She also likes to do the motions to the following songs: “Wheels on the Bus” (especially the babies crying), “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (especially the part where we wash the spider out) and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” (with rousing stomps for the angry part).

    She loves day care now, and runs from us when we go to pick her up. I guess mom and dad aren’t quite as fun as throwing stuffed blocks in the air? Either way, I’m happy she’s happy during the day.

    Food has also become a challenge. She still hates fresh fruit with the exception of bananas (unless I put them in smoothies), and has decided that she doesn’t like a number of things she used to, including cheese. However, foods she suddenly does like include red beans and rice with turkey sausage, and mild Indian food. Who knows?

    All I know is that this kid wears me out and fills my heart with more love than I knew was possible.

    Happy half birthday kiddo.

    P.S. For reference on growth, here’s a few with lambkin over time:

    It’s the incredible shrinking lamb!

  • The Reunion

    Date: 2012.09.23 | Category: Friends, Life, Mark, Nostalgia | Response: 8

    My 10 year high school reunion is fast approaching, and I’ve been debating on whether or not I’m going to go. I’ve wondered, in the day and age of Facebook and social media, what’s the point in going? I keep in touch with some of my friends from high school already. Then I started thinking about the variables. My close knit group of friends I used to hang out with, I now just watch from a distance on FB streams. Some are active, some are not. And other classmates I wasn’t as close to have friended me since and talk to me more now than they ever did in school, sharing photos and stories about children.

    The other variable: me. Let’s face it, when going to an event to see people I haven’t seen in over 10 years, I need to show up looking great. We’ve all changed since high school (at least I hope), but what’s changed?

    Well for one, I was heavy in high school. And while I’m certainly not thin now, I’ve slimmed down. I’ve traded sloppy, baggy pants and t-shirts for more fitted shirts and skirts. I make some attempt at my hair and even wear a little makeup from time to time. Plus, I’ve already booked my fashion forward sister to help me look fabulous for the event.

    Socially? I’ve married a great, handsome guy and have a beautiful, amazing little girl.

    Professionally? I feel like I’m successful and I love my job(s). Editing and graphic design are interesting, ever evolving and takes some skillz to do.

    In high school, I wasn’t one of the popular kids, but I wasn’t a complete loser either. Some of my best friends were a grade above mine. I had my group that I hung out with and went to Mardi Gras parades with. I didn’t have boyfriends though, and that was a sore spot for me. I guess I was just picky and a late bloomer. That turned out to not be an entirely a bad thing. I excelled at my telecommunications class and English, and had fun running lights for school plays. I was an academic overachiever and a great big book nerd (some things never change).

    Thanks to Facebook, I know that most of my group I used to run with in high school is going, so I’ve decided I’ll go. I even managed to talk my husband into going with me, though I didn’t think that was possible. I think I need to figure out some way to “live tweet” the event for some of my high school buddies who live in Seattle and New Orleans and won’t be attending (what do you think Kacie?)

    If all else fails, it’s at a neat venue and it will certainly make for a great story.

    Tomorrow’s goal: Find the perfect dress. Wish me luck!

  • Koyasan

    Date: 2012.04.24 | Category: Food, Friends, Life, Me, Nostalgia, Travel | Response: 9

    I’ve been caught up in this book for the past few weeks and I’m still not done with it. 1Q84 was on all the lists of the top 10 books of 2011 and it’s written by one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, a master of magical realism and alternate realities.

    The author is Japanese and the story takes place in Japan. As a result, I’ve been thinking about the country quite a lot.

    As many of you know, I visited the country with one of my oldest and best friends Becki in the summer of 2008. Just the other day she posted this on my Facebook wall:

    How strange that she should put that as I’ve been thinking a lot about our time there lately.

    It’s funny how having the experience of a place can give you a better sense of a story that takes place there. It’s also interesting that things in the book make me go back and look at my time there in a new light.

    Koyasan, the place Becki mentioned, was a once in a lifetime experience. Becki completely planned our trip there and even though, or maybe especially because, it was more complicated to reach Koyasan, it was the best part of the trip.

    The train you take to get there isn’t on the JR rail pass, but with the help of a nice English speaking man, we managed to get tickets on the right train. The voyage there is stunning. The train actually goes up Mount Koya and the views are gorgeous.

    Once you get off the train, you have to get on this really steep cable car for another 5 minutes up the mountain. From there you take a bus that winds up the mountain – which is scary. But, once up there the weather is about 20-30 degrees cooler (and considering how unbareable the heat in Osaka had been, I was in heaven.)

    Mount Koya, as the name implies, sits at the top of a mountain in Japan. It is the center of Shingon Buddhism, which, up to that point in my life, I knew absolutely nothing about.

    When we arrived I was amazed by the quiet and tranquility of the small city. It was full of beautiful traditional Buddhist temples and you see monks wandering the streets.

    Thanks to Becki, we had lodging all lined up in a Buddhist temple. We slept in Japanese-style rooms on tatami mats and abandoned our shoes at the door. We were served vegetarian meals at floor tables and sat next to other tourists from across the globe.

    At the temple, the only bathing option was, again, Japanese style. This meant a community room for women with individual washing stations and giant, steaming wooden baths. Before going to Japan, the communal bathing freaked me out the most. But once I experienced it, it really was nothing to worry over.

    Part of staying at the temple was attending morning prayer services. We didn’t have to participate, but we sat and watched as the monk chanted and the worshipers stopped at different stations around the room and bowed.

    During the day we wandered through the temples and walked through a huge, ancient graveyard down to a lantern temple. It was like something out of a gothic fairy tale. The graveyard was phenomenal, huge and beautiful covered in stones and Buddha statues.

    The temples were all different. Some were elaborately decorated, others were simple. All were quiet.

    I was amazed by the beauty and stillness of it all. We were only in Koyasan for a short time, but if I ever make it back to Japan I will definitely return to that sacred city on the mountain.

    p.s. Nothing reminds me more of a Murakami story than this photo I took of the cat lounging by an entrance to an ancient temple.

  • Farewell to a Great Lady

    Date: 2012.01.17 | Category: Baby, Family, Life, Mark, Nostalgia, Style | Response: 20

    Saturday evening we got the phone call that Mark’s grandmother had passed away. It was sort of expected and sort of not. When we visited her New Year’s Day, she was doing better than she had in months. She remembered things, laughed, ate cupcakes and delighted in playing with Sarah. So we were a little shocked when we got the phone call.

    It’s hard for me to reflect on her life, because I’ve only known her the past 8 out of 88 or so years of her life, but I do know she meant the world to Mark. So much so that our daughter is named after her.

    Grandmother and Mark in 2007.

    Personally, I was always struck by her kindness and stubbornness. She immediately adopted me into the large Italian family, but sternly told me that I better take care of her grandson. She always had a smile and a laugh and insisted people did too much for her. She shared many a Christmas Eve with us and constantly asked when Mark and I were going to have a baby. And when we did have Sarah, despite her despair over her recent strokes and trouble speaking, she always lit up as soon as she saw our little girl. She would hold her, smile, play peek-a-boo and laugh at Sarah’s constant mobility and babbling.  And the woman could make some mean spaghetti and meatballs and never failed to bring them to a Thanksgiving feast.

    Visiting with me on our wedding reception in 2007.

    Mark loves to reflect on his experiences with his grandmother. Last night he told me about the train set she bought especially for him and his sister to keep at her house (and that’s saying something considering she had over 30 grandchildren and even more great grandchildren). He told me about how they would play ambulance and he and his grandmother would cart his sister around on a board like it was a stretcher. His grandmother loved to talk about how Mark was as a baby, kicking his legs when it was time to eat (something Sarah does now). To say he loves her fiercely is no understatement.

    Tomorrow we will bid our final farewell to her at her funeral. The giant families of her seven children will come together. I imagine it will be a very difficult experience, but good all the same.

    I’m sad that I didn’t get to know her longer, but thankful that I was a part of her life, even if it was a short time. I’m even more thankful for the giant, positive impact she had on my husband and all the joy she brought to him in his 35 years of life. And I’m glad she got to meet her great granddaughter, her namesake, and delight in her at the end of her life. I know Sarah won’t remember her, but I’m glad we have the photos, the videos and the experiences to share with her when she’s older. We’re proud to have our little girl named after such a great lady.

    Sarah, Mark and Grandmother at her house in September.

  • Top 10 Reads of 2011

    Date: 2011.12.28 | Category: Books, Me, Nostalgia | Response: 6

    At the end of every year, I like to look back on the books I’ve read and highlight my favorites.

    I was terribly afraid that I wouldn’t have a good selection to choose from because of Sarah taking up so much of my time.

    Turns out because I wanted to read too badly, I managed to read quite a bit. A healthy 37 books. That’s just over three books a month. And I’m not even counting all the children’s books I read to Sarah regularly. Score!

    So here are my top 10 favorite books I read in 2011.

    (Note: I re-read the entire Harry Potter series and it’s still amazing, but because I re-read it I won’t list it here).

    10. The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman

    I love Alice Hoffman. So when I was digging through my mom’s books looking for something to read, I picked this one up. At first I couldn’t get into it. The initial story was lackluster and I considered putting the book down, but then I got to the second story… This book actually is composed of three stories that go backward in time. Each earlier story affects the story you read before it. And each story is also better than the one before it. I’m glad I stuck it out, because the second and third stories were fantastic, especially when taken into context of all the stories combined. I loved the mind play.

    9. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

    I listened to the audiobook of this right before I had Sarah. Yes, it has a vampire love story (which I know, I KNOW). But, it takes place in Oxford, which has a special place in my heart. And it’s really more about these amazingly nutty witches and supernatural creatures and their search for a mysterious book. Despite some moments of cheese, I enjoyed this book and enjoyed the characters even more. I didn’t know this was the beginning of a new series though, so the cliffhanger ending was such a disappointment.

    8. Heidi by Johanna Spyri

    This book was on my list of top 100 literary classics I want to read. And while the story was simple, it nostalgically reminded me of watching the movie as a kid. And I loved Heidi’s character and wanted to take a trip to the mountains after reading this book. I can’t wait to share this story with Sarah one day.

    7. Day of Confession by Allan Fulsom

    I’m not normally a mystery/conspiracy reader, but I stumbled upon this one at the library while  I was looking for a fun distraction from life as a new mother. This face paced thriller fitted the bill. It was a fast chase with some awesome and chilly characters. A fun, easy read.

    6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

    I had heard so much about this book from so many people, so I picked up the audio book read by the author. It was bizarre, but beautiful. Lots of universe traveling with a great message. This story had heart and I would gladly read it again.

    5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

    My friend Dana sent me this book and said I had to read it. This was a story within a story, and while the outer story was bland, the inner story of a famous, mysterious author dictating her biography was fascinating. There are creepy, mysterious twins, a ghost, a house burning and lots of Jane Eyre references. I fun, macabre read. This also made me pick up Jane Eyre again.

    4. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

    Another random library pick, though I do love Neil Gaiman. This is a collection of macabre short stories.  Some were whimsical, some were fascinating, some were creepy and some were down right disgusting. All of his stories have the right amount of mystery and endings that link back to beginnings. I enjoyed this story collection, especially “The American Gods” novella and “The Sunbird.” Wonderfully weird.

    3. Bossypants by Tina Fey

    This book will always hold a special place in my heart because it was able to make me laugh despite going through PPD. This book  put me in a good mood every time I picked it up. Tina is such a talented writer and has perfected self deprecation to an art. Her response to hate posts on the Internet were especially funny, as were her stories about her childhood. A funny, quick read.

    2. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

    Murakami’s stuff is so weird, but so fascinating. This book was no exception.  I love how he mixes ideas, philosophy, reality and the metaphysical to create great mystery stories. There is something very “Lost” about this novel that makes you want to read more and more. Of course, in true Murakami style, there are some disgusting parts to this story, but they all tie in together. And while there are still some parts I don’t completely understand, I loved the ending and how everything came together.

    1. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire and Ice Book 1 by George R. R. Martin

    Fantasy literature is easily my favorite genre. So when I saw that HBO was making a series based on this epic fantasy novel, I added it to my must read list. I wasn’t disappointed. This book has tons of characters, each with a distinct point of view enmeshed in a world of brutal power struggles. Each character is so believable and Martin isn’t afraid to do the unexpected. I absolutely loved this book despite it’s 700+ page length and am already eagerly devouring book 2 of this series.

    Note: All opinions and the list are my own, though if you click the book and buy it through Amazon, I do get a little commission.

  • That Time I Stayed with a German Family

    Date: 2011.12.16 | Category: Life, Me, Nostalgia, Travel | Response: 9

    When I was in college I was fortunate to make friends with a German exchange student named Anja. During our time in college together, I was her wheels in the U.S. and she helped me with my German homework. We got to be good friends.

    So when I studied abroad in the summer of 2005, I planned to fly to Germany during one of my long weekends and stay with her and her family.

    When the appointed weekend came, she picked me up from the Hannover airport and drove me to her home. Her neighbors met me in the driveway, anxious try out their English on me. Her parents were exceedingly gracious and welcomed me to their home.

    It was an interesting experience. I spoke a little German and her dad spoke a little English. She was fluent in both.

    During my stay I was treated to a traditional home cooked barbeque, complete with German beer and schnapps shots after the meal. I was 20 at the time, but legal drinking age in Germany was 16. I learned that her grandfather was taken prisoner during WWII in Ruston, Louisiana (where my grandparents grew up and still live). He told me he was thankful to be taken by the Americans because all the soldiers he knew who were taken by the Russians froze to death.

    One day of my visit, after a breakfast of fresh baked bread and chocolate spread (Yum!) she drove us down the Autobahn to Berlin. We parked on the outer limits of the city and took the U-Bahn (underground) into Berlin.

    I couldn’t get over how clean the city was.  We started by going to the top of the Alexanderplatz and getting a good look of the whole city from the top. We then made our way to a backerei for lunch. The bread was absolutely incredible, and we had Russian cake for dessert. We made our way across the city, stopping to see a fountain, the German History Museum (which had lots of interesting pictures from WW2), the Berlin Cathedral (which was stunning beyond words), the famous Brandenburger Tor, and German Parliament. We also walked along the line that runs through the city that marks where the infamous wall used to be. Needless to say we were exhausted. Anja drove back while I kept falling asleep.

    Berlin Catherdral

    Anja and me in front of Brandenburger Tor.

    During my time there I had lots of first experiences, including my first trip to an Ikea (I had no idea what one was at that point), first trip to H&M, first time trying German ice cream (kind of tangy, but really creamy).

    I also got to see beautiful old windmills and an ornate Russian church.

    Windmills!

    When it was time to go, her parents presented me with a really nice book with pictures and histories of Gifhorn, which is the city they lived in. I packed it and the German chocolate I had bought up with all my things and headed back to the airport.

    That short trip is still one of my favorite memories.

    Another day we went to Hannover.