Archive for November, 2012

  • Beautiful Carly

    Date: 2012.11.28 | Category: Friends, Love, Photography, Travel | Response: 6

    A month ago I went to photograph Carly’s wedding, who just happens to Cassie’s sister, all the way up in Pittsburgh. I waxed poetic about the barns and fall leaves on my visit. And while I miss being up there, I’m happy to say those of us in the deep south are finally celebrating our flaming leaves  just in time for Christmas. I guess that’s the way of things around here.

    Anyway, I’m getting ready to mail Carly her wedding photos, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites here.

    Katie also took a million photos, so it’s safe to say that Carly will have one of the best documented weddings ever. I’ve seen a couple of Katie’s photos, and I have to say, they’re amazing!

    Somehow I managed two destination weddings this year and I enjoyed both immensely. Too bad I don’t have time to squeeze one more in this year. Anyone want to get hitched in the Bahamas?

  • Thankfulness

    Date: 2012.11.21 | Category: Baby, Dogs, Family, Friends, Health, Holidays, Home, Leela Fish, Life, Love, Mark, Me, Pets, Sarah, Work | Response: 8

    People have been posting all month about the things they’re thankful for, and all month long I’ve been silently doing the same. Sometimes I find that I get so caught up in my goals and wants that I don’t appreciate the things I have.

    So here are the top 10 things I am abundantly thankful for.

    1. My home. The place that shelters my family keeps us safe and provides all the necessities. I remember reading a book one time about a refugee woman who couldn’t get over the warm, running, clean water we all take for granted in the U.S.

    2. My dogs. Leela has survived a lot this year and I’m so thankful that despite it all, her springy, frisky spirit is still with us. And Bonnie has become the most gentle, loving dog around Sarah, always happily baring her hugs with a smile.

    3. My family’s health. I’ve had years of bad health and hospital stays and seen a number of friends in the hospital with their little ones this year. Sarah had a terrible year of sickness last year. So this year I’m so thankful we’re all ok.

    4. My books. I have a healthy appetite for literature and it helps keep me sane. It is the one thing that I truly do and enjoy for myself without having to consult anyone else. (Though I do solicit opinions on what to read next!)

    5. My job. I love my jobs (day job, freelance and photography). They bring me great joy, push my creative boundaries, and allow me to  meet some amazing and inspiring people. And, with my husband’s work, they provide for my family, allowing us to live comfortably.

    6. My extended family – my sisters, parents, grandparents and in-laws. I’m so thankful to live near most of them and have them part of my life.

    7. My friends, both in real life and online. How have I been so fortunate to know so many wonderful people? People who will have lunch in the park with me, people who will council me through stressful times, people who will share a glass of wine and conversation and people who share my love for a good book.

    8. Mark. As I’ve said before, my husband is my rock. He is an amazing father, a caring husband and a good cook to boot. He listens to my worries and complaints and helps me put things in perspective. Sometimes he’ll even get up with Sarah so I can sleep or let me put my feet in his lap while we hang out on the couch. He is my support and my love and I am so extremely thankful for him.

    9. Sarah. My litte love. Sarah is my sunshine, my light on a dark day and my greatest source of entertainment. She is an independent little thing, but loves a good snuggle every so often. She has her mother’s love for books and her daddy’s interest in how things work. She’s full of smiles, hugs, laughter and joy. I was once told that getting pregnant would be a long and difficult road, and God gave me her anyway and she is one of my greatest sources of thanks.

    10. My faith. Faith is hard. My own has been tested and questioned a lot this year. But I am thankful that I have it in my life every day. It gives me strength when I feel I have none left and continues to help me build myself up and learn.

    I hope all of you have a thankful and beautiful Thanksgiving!

  • Assassins, a Woodpecker, an Angel War, Dragons and a Fairy Tale

    Date: 2012.11.20 | Category: Books | Response: 2

    And here are the rest of the books I’ve plunged into over the last couple of months.

    The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

    Is it weird that I wasn’t really sure what to think of this book the whole time I read it? And I actually like it more now in retrospect than when I was actually reading it. The story is about two brothers who are killers-for-hire, taking jobs at the bequest of the mysterious Commodore. On their quest to seek out and kill a man in San Francisco, they run into a witch, a weeping man, a red she bear and a man who has discovered a chemical way to find gold during the gold rush, among others. There’s a horse you feel sorry for as well and a man who’s been looking for gold for so long on his own that he has convinced himself that the dirt he uses to make coffee is actual coffee. It’s obvious these characters represent more than what the appear, and I liked that. I liked the easy way the characters spoke and the dark humor throughout. The whole time I was reading, I was reminded of Oh Brother Where Art Thou. And after reading, I saw that many people related this story to Coen brothers’ films.

    Bottom Line: It’s weird, but a good read if you like Coen Brothers movies and allegory.

    Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

    A tragic coming of age story centered around… a giant woodpecker? First, let me say that I love that this story was set in a small town in Arkansas where the mundane details tell much of the story. When some guy claims to have spotted an extinct woodpecker, the whole town explodes with excitement. And that’s just the background of the story. At the forefront are two unrelated suicides, a guy who becomes obsessed with the Book of Enoch and the Archangel Gabriel and the kidnapping of a 15-year-old boy and how those who are close to him cope. It’s sad with moments of humor tied in. And when all the dots finally start to connect near the end, I began to enjoy it.

    Bottom Line: Looking for something realistic, southern and a little sad and weird? This is your book. Plus, it’s a quick read.

    Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

    I have been waiting for this sequel to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone for over a year now, and I was like a kid on Christmas morning when it came out. I loved the first installment so much that I couldn’t wait to see what happened. So man was I disappointed when my favorite strong willed heroine turned into a spineless, helpless girl doing the bidding of someone she hated. To preface, the first installment pits chimaeras (creatures made from a combination of different animals and human features) against angels in a centuries long war. The main character, Karou, has a forbidden love affair with the enemy, only to be accidently betrayed by him at the end of the book. The second book is a story of war, with all the long scenes of devastation, death and remorse that come with it. Love is all but squashed in it as the two main characters wallow in self pity and doubt, losing all the things that made me love them in the first book. This book is still as beautifully written as the first, but where the first installment was fast paced, this one stalls in unnecessary war descriptions. That being said, I’ll still read the final installment when it’s finished because, as the book pushes “hope,” I have hope it will finish with the main characters finding their feet again.

    Bottom Line: If you’ve read Daughter of Smoke and Bone (and if you haven’t, you should), then pick this one up to find what happens, but prepare yourself for a sad and overly drawn out installment.

    Among Others by Jo Walton

    Oh. My. Gosh. I think this book was written for me personally. At least it feels like it was. It’s almost hard for me to review because I know not everyone will love it as much as I do. This is the story of a 15-year-old girl who runs away from her Welsh home only to be placed in the hands of a father she’s never known and her three aunts. They in turn put her in an expensive English boarding school. But, the special thing about this book is that the girl, Mori, can do a bit of magic and has suffered from some mysterious injury that has left her crippled and killed her twin. Oh, and her mother is a mad witch and she can see and sometimes talk to fairies who get her to do their bidding. It sounds crazy, but the way the author tells the story, it seems as if all of that was perfectly plausible. To top it off, Mori is an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy books, paying homage to all the classics in the genre throughout the story, particularly The Lord of the Rings and Ursula LeGuin novels. The plot isn’t exactly fast paced, but I was under its spell so I didn’t care. This book is truly a love letter to the SF/fantasy genre and won the Nebula Award and Hugo Award this year. Oh, and the language is beautiful!

    Bottom Line: If you love sci-fi and fantasy literature, read this book. If you don’t, then I’m not sure if you’ll like it. Either way, it holds a special place in my heart.

    Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

    Among Others prompted me to look up some of the classic sci-fi/fantasy books Mori mentions. One series I’ve always heard references to but never read were the Pern books. Dragonflight is the first in the series. I was hesitant to start it because I’ve found a lot of books written in the early 60’s have dry prose. But this book kicked that stereotype right out of the window. On the planet Pern, humankind has become complacent after 400 years without attacks from Threads that fly off a red planet when it’s near, burrow into the ground and kill the earth. Back when the Threads fell often, humans engineered dragons to combat them. In the many years of peace, the dragons have dwindled, the Lords of the surrounding lands no longer see a need for them and the dragon leader has become complacent.  When a dragon queen egg appears, dragon riders go in search for the right woman for the dragon to choose as her “weyrmate.” Lessa is plucked from the dregs and turns out to be the dragon’s match. And as the red star appears and the Threads threaten to fall again, a new dragon leader takes charge. A great story of love, determination, time travel and, of course, dragons.

    Bottom line: This book should be on the reading list of any sci-fi/fantasy buff, or anyone who loves an epic adventure story.

  • Dystopia, Music, Werewolves and the Apocalypse, oh my!

    Date: 2012.11.20 | Category: Books | Response: 4

    Time for another book, er, books review. I’m breaking these up into two parts because it was overwhelmingly long as one post.

    The Scorch Trials/ The Death Cure by James Dashner

    These are books two and three in the Maze Runner trilogy. I posted the first book in my last book review.

    The Scorch Trials was an amazing follow up to The Maze Runner. The mystery intensified, the characters endured more weirdness and hardship, all the while more clues to the overall picture were dropped. Two new dynamic characters were introduced, and there was a shocking betrayal and  grand finale that had me staying up late to finish.

    Which is why I was so disappointed when The Death Cure fell flat. The final installment lacked the mystery and charisma of the first two, and was plagued with repetitive, stretched out passages with some unnecessary scenes. To cap it off, the ending was rushed and the surprise part of the ending was done without much ceremony and seemed kind of pointless. And the worst part? Most of the questions that were posed over the first two books were never answered leaving me frustrated and unhappy with the conclusion. The fun in the first two books was replaced with a badly written zombie apocalypse that seemed out of place.

    Bottom Line: The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials are crazy good and worth your time, but the final installment is a big disappointment without any real answers and almost not worth the energy to plow through.

    The Kill Order by James Dashner

    This was the prequel to the Maze Runner series. I turned to it in hopes it would answer all my burning questions from the trilogy. What I found instead was a completely different and almost entirely unrelated story. And while it had a few good characters, the story ended up being so repetitive and sad that I couldn’t enjoy this book at all.

    Bottom Line: If you’re looking for answers from The Maze Runner trilogy, don’t bother. In fact, this book is so repetitive and sad that if you’re looking for a good YA dystopian book, ask me and I’ll give you a list of better books.

    A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

    I had heard so much about this book and its many awards, so when I saw it on sale, I picked it up. The novel reads more like a collection of stories that are vaguely connected and all lead back to the music industry from it’s glory days to it’s evolving production of cookie cutter pop songs. But it’s weird. For example, amidst the story of the rise and downfall of a book music professional’s personal and professional life, there is a story about a washed up PR professional trying to make good press for an accused terrorist, the story of a girl who is a clepto and a story about a kid who counts pauses in songs. Some of the stories were really good, and some were just really bad. If each of the stories could have sustained the weird and interesting plot lines like the first two chapters had, it would have been a good book, but unfortunately almost all the stories after those were disappointing.

    Bottom Line: I don’t get what all the hype and awards are about. Maybe I’m missing something. At least the author builds weird and interesting characters.

    Mercy Thompson Series (all six of them) by Patricia Briggs

    I’ve seen Roxie say before that she judges books by their cover, despite the fact that many of them are misrepresented. I feel the same about the Mercy Thompson series. The covers are provocative with a tattooed, half dressed woman on the cover. When I saw it, I rolled my eyes and moved on. But then I kept seeing the books get 4-5 star reviews consistently and realized it was written by a female author, which gave me hope that it wasn’t some overly sexualized male fantasy. So I gave the first one a chance, and I’m so glad I did. This series reminds me of the Sookie Stackhouse books (in their good days), except that they are better written with more serious plot lines. The story is told from the perspective of Mercy Thompson, who is an auto mechanic and a “walker” who can shift to coyote form and see ghosts. She gets entangled with a mystery surrounding the local werewolf pack, and the story evolves from there. All six books follow supernatural and compelling mysteries, and the characters are interesting. As Susan said after I introduced her to them, “I had to make myself stop after reading three of them because I wasn’t getting anything else done.” Of course, the writing isn’t exactly sophisticated, but all six of the books in these series are addictive and fun.

    Bottom line: If you liked the Sookie books but want something better in the wake of their recent decline, pick these up for a fun, supernatural read.

    Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

    I love Neil Gaiman so much and I like almost all of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books I’ve read, so this one was a no brainer for me. It’s the story of the Apocalypse gone wrong from the perspective of an incompetent angel and demon who have become friends over the thousands of years they’ve been on earth together. In true Pratchett style, most of it is funny and I found myself actually laughing out loud on some parts. That being said, it didn’t live up to what I had hoped in my mind. Gaiman’s imaginative storytelling just isn’t there in its usual dark, beautiful form, and it helps to be familiar with Britishisms when reading. And while I don’t think it’s the best of either author, it made me laugh and I can’t in good conscience say bad things about the two authors I love so much. That being said, please don’t read this first and assume this is like either authors’ other works.

    Bottom line: Think the end of the world is nigh and need a good laugh about it all? This is your book. Also good for people who love British culture and think American fast food is killing the world.

    To be continued tomorrow…

  • The Gift of Missionaries

    Date: 2012.11.14 | Category: Health, Life, Travel, Work | Response: 10

    As I’ve shared before, working in journalism I’m constantly running across stories and people who amaze me and open my eyes.

    In the works for a while now, we’ve been planning a story about a married couple who served as medical missionaries in Cameroon, Africa. In the states, he works at our local state hospital as an OB/GYN and his wife is a retired nurse. Through a Catholic-based medical missionary organization, the two of them spent three months literally living in a hospital in one of the poorest and most desolate area of Cameroon, primarily doing obstetric work. Assisted by a group of Franciscan nuns and other Catholic missionary doctors, they made do with three tables made out of boards with a shallow bowls in the center for delivering babies.

    Kelly conducted a lengthy interview with them and is writing the story for our publication, but I had the chance to talk to them for a while too and look at the photos they took.

    In the 30 minutes I spoke to them, I quickly became deeply grateful for the medical and obstetrical care I receive here.

    In Cameroon, you have to pay state hospitals up front or you’re turned away from medical care, even if you’re in active labor. Catholic mission hospitals will accept anyone, but the line to get into the clinic at 6:00 a.m. is already extremely long in the blazing heat. Women walk for days in labor to get to the hospital, and then line the hallways during their active labor, periodically being checked by the sisters and quickly ushered into one of the three wooden board tables when it’s time for delivery.

    The doctor told me about a woman who was eclamptic with extremely high blood pressure during her labor and she kept having seizures all day long. Without the medicine there to stop them, the doctors had to come up with their own cocktail to get them to stop. And they did. Both mom and baby were fine in the end.

    He showed me pictures of where they scrub up for surgery – rusty old sinks with a bar of soap, gloves that they wash and reuse, operating “rooms” made out of wall partitions. He spoke about the amazing work the sisters there do every day.

    And, of course, HIV is rampant there. Mothers and babies all suffer from it, and the medicine the government is supposed to supply is nonexistent.

    Their story makes me so thankful for people who are willing to put their own wants aside, and step in and help those who are most in need, especially these Franciscan sisters and the doctor and nurse team who so willingly spend their vacation time helping others and enthusiastically plan to do so again.

    I’ll post a link to the final story after it’s published.

    If you’re interested, you can learn more about the Mission Doctors Association by visiting this website: http://missiondoctors.org/

  • Trick-or-Treating

    Date: 2012.11.08 | Category: Family, Halloween, Holidays, Home, Life, Mark, Me, Sarah | Response: 16

    I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work, which means I haven’t talked about how trick-or-treating went!

    Mom’s neighborhood it the trick-or-treating mecca of where we live. All the kids and churches pile in, and the streets are packed. It’s a lot of fun (though you have to go early, otherwise people run out of candy).

    This year was Sarah’s first to trick-or-treat and I had no idea what to expect. We let her pick her own costume: a kitty cat ballerina.

    And surprisingly, she loved the ears and kept them on all night. She also loved her Madonna gloves.

    My nephew was an adorable little Charlie Brown.

    After a brief squabble over who got to hold Snoopy, we loaded them up and headed out.

    Do you know that wagons come with seatbelts now? They proved to be quite handy when both kids decided to abandon ship when we approached a house with scary clowns on the front porch. Jacob left in an attempt to go to them and get more candy and Sarah, ever her mother’s daughter, screeched and nearly made it out of the moving wagon to get away from those awful things. I scooped her up and we both left immediately.

    It worked out though, because Sarah liked walking up to the friendlier doors and holding her bucket out.

    We made it all the way down one long street and halfway down another (where they were handing out full sized Snickers bars for parents!) And since we managed to avoid the rest of the scary faces, we both enjoyed ourselves.

    When we knew they were done with their trick-or-treating, mom, Mark and I hung out with the kids on the porch and handed out candy. There were only a few frightening masks, and she had so much fun dancing and playing with dad that it didn’t matter so much.

    We also let her have her first dum dum sucker, and learned how much fun things get when suckers get stuck in hair.

    Over all, it was a rousing success and I know next year will be even more fun!

  • Leela’s Great Escape

    Date: 2012.11.03 | Category: Bonnie Barrell, Dogs, Family, Home, Leela Fish, Pets, Photography | Response: 8

    Dear Leela,

    I know things have gotten tougher since we had Sarah and that you’re not all that fond of her trying to hug you. I get it. That’s why we let you lay on the furniture (mostly) out of her reach.

    You’re outside more when the weather’s nice (heck, I wanted to be outside with you today. It was 82 and breezy!)

    Yes, things have gotten a little tougher on you, but that doesn’t mean you had to pull a Houdini and disappear out of our backyard. We love you and we want you with us, we even fork over vast sums of money each month to treat your Addisons Disease.

    And even though that nice apartment manager, her husband and children loved you so much that they took you in, bathed you, trimmed up your hair, loved you and strongly considered keeping you before their consciences caved in and they called us, does not mean we love you any less.

    I feel terrible because you look sort of rough. You like to roll in the dirt, you have a big patch of hair shaved off your rear end from a hot spot and you got out without Mark and I even knowing you were gone. We feel like terrible dog parents. And to think those people didn’t even know you have Addisons Disease and you could have been dead in two months without your regular treatment. The thought makes me heart ache.

    So today, Leela, I’m thankful for you. I’m thankful you are a good dog who didn’t wander far. I’m thankful that Mark and I finally bought monogrammed dog collars with our phone numbers on them a few months ago.

    You genius simply amazes me. The back gate is locked and we have a privacy fence, so we didn’t expect you to be able to escape. How you got to the apartments behind that fence was a mystery to all of us, especially since Bonnie didn’t manage to figure out how you did it and stayed put (or maybe Bonnie was happy with where she was).

    And then we saw this:

    A hole you and Bon had chewed out of the fence. But even then, that hole only led to our neighbor’s backyard. That means you found another hole in her back fence to get to the apartments.

    So Leela, we’re glad you’re back and we’re thankful for the joy you bring to our lives. Please don’t take off again. The next people who find your pretty little tail may not be so inclined to call us.

    Welcome home girl, and please, stay home.