Favorite Mug

I have a lot of different mugs, from a lot of different places. Most of the time though, I just use our standard blue ones that we got for our wedding.

Strangely enough, my favorite mug isn’t even one I drink from.

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I got this mug on a missions trip to New Orleans, the year after Hurricane Katrina. I had had NOLA on my list of places to go for years, but suddenly, I was there under devastating circumstances. The city was nothing like I had expected it to be, and we spent the week in construction gear, tearing down mold-infested houses.

But we also spent that week holding hands in circles with neighborhood peoples, singing Cajun prayers to the sky. There was one woman who hugged every single one of us as we left her home, so grateful to us for helping her start over.

We had one day of relief in the middle of the week, and in the middle of all that darkness, the French Quarter was alive. The people had started to come back and open the city again–and some had never left. Amazingly, the Quarter hadn’t been touched by the storm, at least not like the parts drowned by the levy.

I had my first gumbo there…oh man I dream about that gumbo. And, of course, we all packed into Cafe Du Monde for the mountains of beignets. There’s just nothing like them.

The handle has fallen off the mug at some point, so I don’t use it for my coffee anymore. Instead, it sits on my desk to hold my favorite pens, reminding me every day of that week. I made some life long friendships during that trip, some amazing memories. Someday I’ll go back to that city that I fell in love with. There was so much life even after so much tragedy.

Watching History be Made

Today’s “History” themed post was going to be all about my love of British lore, but you guys have heard me wax poetic about that stuff a million times.

And then this morning, something brilliant happened. My twitter feed started exploding with links and hashtags as the European Space Agency got closer to landing the Philae lander on Comet 67P, 317 million miles away from Earth. Once I saw what was happening, I tuned into the live feed. At first, there wasn’t much happening–just a bunch of people standing in a control room, a dull hum of voices as they hovered over computer monitors. William Shatner joked on Twitter about one particular man who looked very serious with his hands on his hips in a gray hoodie.

But then, that dull hum started to get louder. The serious faces started to get more animated, and the hands started pointing at the screens. People started moving around. And then, all at once, HOORAY!!!!!!!!! Images started flowing through Twitter, and after another few moments, they got confirmation that Philae was communicating from the comet.

I’ve been listening now to the follow up speeches, the excitement. This is the first time anyone has ever landed on a comet. There is so much discovery that can happen, so much research to be done.

I have so many feelings about what I just watched. In the aftermath of NASA losing funding, our space program shutting down, it’s so fascinating, so inspiring to see this work being done elsewhere. Even though I do not understand everything that is happening or what can happen, I love watching the brilliance that people are striving for. History was made today. People will talk about today 50 years in the future when they talk about space. I don’t know what will come out of this project, but I know I watched it happen today. And that is thrilling.

Ebooks

There is a constant debate over whether Ebooks are “real books.” It gets pretty heated sometimes.

I’m not sure there’s many bibliophiles who would disagree with me that the best smell in the world is that of old, musty book. There’s nothing else like it. And it’s true, electronic words just cannot compare with ink on a yellowed, tattered page. Kindles, even with customized covers, cannot match the excitement of a bookshelf full of multi-colored books of every size, texture, age, author, title, organized perfectly and collected obsessively.

I am so proud of my bookshelves. You know this. I will never stop collecting REAL PAPER BOOKS. And in a fire…there would probably be a few I would have to grab.

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But. All that said. I also have a Kindle. And a tablet. And I regularly use Overdrive through my library on my computer and my phone.

Why? Why do I continue to read electronically, when there are so many REAL books available to me?

Ebooks are a convenience. Every reason really comes back to that one point. I would love to buy every book, I really would. But, books are expensive. Thankfully, Overdrive has made it so easy for libraries to provide ebooks to us. I can download them to my kindle or tablet in seconds, and off I go. And I love Kindle Unlimited too! It got a lot of hate when it first came out, but I’ve really enjoyed it. And, I talked to an author the other day, who told me that after a reader gets 10% through a book, he gets paid as if they bought the book. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

The other great thing about Amazon…so many classics are free. I probably have 150 books from my Boxall list already downloaded on my Kindle, just waiting to be read. They are the hard ones, the books I will have to highlight and look up definitions–and guess what–I can do that just by holding down a finger. I can’t do that with a real book. And you KNOW I hate highlighting real books. Ugh. Some books I just prefer to read interactively!

Often times, I’ll use Ebooks as an “audition.” Once I read it electronically, I just HAVE to own a copy. Most of the books I own, I’ve already read. I do have a TBR Shelf, but it’s relatively small in comparison to the TBR folder on my Kindle. Which is another convenience of ebooks–storage. I can always have a book ready. When we went on vacation, I took my tablet, rather than 5 different REAL books. It was just easier.

Finally, having a Kindle and tablet makes it possible for me to participate in NetGalley and Penguin First to Read programs. I never thought I would be able to read books before they got published, and it’s so cool that publishers give us this opportunity! They’ve really taken advantage of the book blogger community to get feedback on their premarket books…and we all love it! GIMMIE THAT ARC! How cool is it that we are the first people to read the up-and-comings? I love it and certainly do not take the privilege lightly.

When you read as much as I do, you’ll take words in any format they come. Ink on a page, or eink on a tablet. Just please give me more more more. And if you haven’t picked up a Kindle or Tablet only because “well, people say that’s not real reading.” Trust me, it’ll make your reading experience even better. I’m reading even more than I did before I ordered my Kindle. And, probably reading better, because it’s so interactive.

(At this point, I should probaby say, this is not an ad for Kindle, and I haven’t been paid. I just really love my Paperwhite. This applies to any tablet or ereader.)

Where do you stand on the real book/ebook fence? Do you use both?

Are We Sure This is Fiction?

The best authors somehow transport us to different worlds, different times. For the moments we are lost in between pages of the book we are reading, we are no longer sitting on the little brown couch in the upstairs bedroom of our apartment, or the hammock in our parents’ backyard. In those moments, we are far away in the mountains of South Carolina, we are running from Grievers in a maze, we are dancing in a huge manor house during the London Season.

Most of the time, our fiction is obvious. But sometimes, the most wonderful books pull us in so hard that when the white pages hit at the end…we blink back into a reality with a hangover so fierce it is incomprehensible.

I often find that, for me, these are usually historical fiction, especially based on real people, famous people. Maybe it’s because the books are based on facts I already know, and that helps push me into the story deeper. Whatever the reason, I am usually transfixed by the history and the characters.

Here’s a few historical fictions that I have…a few of my favorites.

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What books seem the most real to you?

Show Me What You Write In

We are a little over a week into November now, and based on everyone’s tweets and Tumblr posts…it sounds like NaNoWriMo has not been easy on ya’ll.

I have tremendous respect for those of you working so hard to write your books. I just don’t have that fortitude and creativity…which is why I’m doing the blog version!

No matter what we are writing, we all have our methods. Some use a laptop, some prefer old school pen and paper.

I have become an obsessive journaler. I collect magazine articles, calendar pages, letters. And obviously, I write, constantly. Book quotes get written down, any random thought that comes into my head. Plans for my blog….really, just everything. As you can see, this year has just exploded, and a 3 inch binder has not been enough.

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What do you write in? Do you journal?

Games

My family is extremely competitive. We have a proud tradition of teasing and taunting…and maybe a few temper tantrums. But just a few. We certainly would never go overboard. Of course not.

We never had any structured game nights when we were growing up, but on holidays, there was always something going on. The kids would break off to play video games or pool downstairs, and the adults had a heavy game of Euchre and Aggravation upstairs. There was also a board game called Sequence–a card based game that took a lot of strategy.

As the age groups converged, outside influences started influencing the types of games played. Now, when we go home for the holidays, there is one card game we all look forward to playing:  313. This is a quick paced game, that thankfully for me, doesn’t require much math to calculate strategy. It goes in levels 3 cards in a hand means 3 of a kind. 4 cards in a hand means 4 of a kind or 4 in a run, and on it goes. Hard to explain in writing, but after a few hands you start to pick up the pattern. R beat us all in his first round, I think. My baby sister, who is the most competitive of all of us, didn’t like that so much. He and she are two of a kind.

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Last year, I introduced my other favorite game. Cards Against Humanity. Have you guys played this yet? Oh man. It’s basically Apples to Apples…for horrrrrrible people. Which I am. Yep.  My parents ducked out of this one, but us young ones stayed up until 2 am laughing our asses off at the different combinations. There’s nothing better than gigging to tears with your family.

Christmas will come a little bit late for us this year, but hopefully I’ll get to spend a little time playing games with them this year. Definitely looking forward to going home!

Can we remake this movie?

You guys have heard me talk about The Thorn Birds about a million times since I’ve started this blog. Have you gone and read it yet? Because you totally should. It’s my favorite.

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They did make a mini series on ABC back in the 80s of it…but the only person I really recognize on the cast is Christopher Plummer. Maybe the rest of the people were more recognizable back then, but there’s few I know. The acting is pretty terrible, and the costuming….well, it was the 80s.

As for the cinematography, there is a whole lot of soap opera soft focus, and dramatic camera shifting. You know what I mean. It IS a romance novel, but all just very General Hospital.

The hair is gigantic and poufy, the makeup is way overdone. I know I keep saying it….but it’s just…the 80s! The book is set in the Australian Outback and spread over a period of time from 1915 to 1969 and I just feel that there could be a much better job done to show the changes that the family went through. It is a romance, but there was also war, drought, extreme poverty, and the list goes on and on.  This is one of those books, like Gone with the Wind, that really shows a nation’s history…and I don’t feel the series did a very good job of showing that.

I’d love to see this book get redone on screen. It deserves more of a showing than it got.

Short Story

I just read the most interesting short story, and one that took me completely by surprise.

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John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” starts off with a suburban man who, instead of driving or walking home, decides to swim home. Ok, not that abnormal…until you realize he’s going to frog hop through his neighbors’ pools!

Now, in modern day society, this would be absolutely crazy, right? We hardly know our next-door neighbors’ names anymore, let alone feel comfortable enough with them to just show up uninvited to swim. But, in the country club society that Neddy Merrill lived in, no one seemed to think this odd. They offered him drink after drink at their afternoon garden parties, hugged him, toasted to him, even acted offended as he hopped off to the next pool!

At least at first.

The farther across the county Neddy got, and the closer he got to home, the stranger things became. As long as he was distanced from his home, things were just dandy, joyous, fun. But life really started to circle the drain, so to speak, as he closed in on his own back yard.

This is one of those rare short stories that really reached out and grabbed me. It doesn’t happen often, but I wanted more. I want to know where his family is, I want to know what happened at the party the night before. So many questions!

If you get a chance, go read this story. I found it in Short Fiction:  Classic and Contemporary Sixth Edition by Charles Bohner and Lyman Grant.

 

For a real treat, you can even listen to Cheever’s read the work himself here. Thanks Catherine, for sharing this with me!

Vendetta

The year I graduated high school, a life long tradition was started. Every year on this day, I watch a movie. It’s the only movie that I really have a tradition for, and I absolutely love it.

You know what movie it is.

That’s right.

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Say it with me now:

Remember, remember!

The fifth of November,

The Gunpowder treason and plot;

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot!

R gets home this afternoon, and we will for sure be watching this as soon as I get home from yoga. He loves this movie as much as I do, and even has a little Guy Fawkes mask sitting in our “nerd” collection in the hall.

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In case you thought we weren’t nerdy enough…also…this is really creepy when you come up the stairs at night.

An Introvert in an Extrovert’s World

Today’s post is supposed to be titled “Favorite Nonfiction.” And it started out that way. But, I couldn’t leave that as the title, because, while this post is about my favorite nonfiction book, it is also about much more than that.

Susan Cain published Quiet in January 2012. Where was I in January 2012? Dating. Online dating to be specific. Meeting complete strangers for drinks at bars. It was absolutely terrifying. I was terrible at it.

And then I heard about this book. Or maybe it caught my eye at a book store, I can’t remember. But Susan Cain came into my life hard. Quite frankly, she saved me.

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For those of you who don’t know Quiet, this is a book about being an Introvert in an Extrovert’s world. Cain not only describes the differences, but also goes to great lengths to help us understand ways to be ourselves and still feel comfortable and confident in today’s society.

Not too long ago, my sister had my whole family take personality tests. I was not surprised to hear that everyone, except me, was some variation of extrovert. I had known that for years. They call laughed, though, when I told them mine:  INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging). The rarest type in society. Only 1% of people have this personality. Where this comes from in my family, I don’t know, but I’m definitely the odd man out.

Growing up in an extroverted family was not easy. I very much wanted to keep up with all of the social activities, sporting events, and oh please god just let me get a word into this conversation! But mostly, my brain kept telling me that my books were waiting upstairs in my room.

School, especially college, was hard. For many people, college means parties! New friends! Clubs! For me, college meant feeling extremely out of place in a very big environment. People seemed to cling together quickly and easily, and I didn’t understand why that didn’t happen to me. Classes required group projects, and because I was in the business school, my groups were filled with aspiring sales people and entrepreneurs. Extreme Extroverts! All of my ideas were overspoken and thrown out…if I even tried to speak them at all. It has always been a very big frustration to me when I try to add something to a conversation and I get interrupted. I’ll try again once, maybe twice. After that I usually give up trying to participate.

But let me get back to January 2012. Remember that very dark place I talked about the other day? I was desperately trying to pull myself out of it. I needed something positive, fun, anything. So…online dating. Fun right? I was going to meet people. Yeahhhhhhhh….mmmk. Introvert’s Nightmare.

But then I read Susan Cain’s book. And she taught me that introverts need to recharge after social stimulation. I also learned how to prepare myself when I knew that I was going to be out in a big public place or bombarded with social stimuli.

So, I’d pick a bar or a restaurant that I could easily control. I’d show up 15 minutes early, and make sure I already have a beer before my date arrived–through the door that I could easily see. It made me much more relaxed and able to enjoy myself.

And hey…I found my husband that way, so it must have worked right? (Except he came in the wrong door on that first date. And I spilled beer all over myself.)

Applying these methods have also worked in other areas of my life too. R knows very well my “Haley Limits,” as he calls them, and helps make sure I’m recharging when I need to. My work is busy, but I am careful to watch and make sure I’m not multitasking to the point of overstimulation (and that is a problem for me sometimes, as a bit of a control-freak). I’m blessed to be able to work out of my home, so that helps too–and I’ve made my office a very calm place to focus.

My relationship with my family has grown up quite a bit as well. Maturity has a lot to do with it, but also, I know now that I will never be able to keep up with all of their activities. When I’m home though, there is nothing we like to do more than open a bottle of wine and play card games. And that, I can most certainly enjoy.

I would encourage you, at the very least, to watch Susan Cain’s Ted Talk. She discusses themes from her book–specifically our society’s obsession with GroupThink. (Confession time, I’ve probably watched this 10 times.) And I really do believe that everyone, Introvert or Extrovert, should read Cain’s book. It is that important. Especially for managers, teachers, religious leaders, parents–anyone who has any type of coaching or teaching role, especially with children. It is crucial that everyone is included in this world, that no one’s ideas are left unheard just because they are not as bold or loud as others.

Because some of us sit here, behind computers, behind books. We have ideas too. Some of the most brilliant minds in this world have been introverts. And they only become leaders because they have to. Susan Cain mentions this in her Ted Talk. They come across more genuine because they aren’t trying to steal the spotlight. They are up on that life stage because there is something out there that needs doing, and who else is going to do it but that introvert who is going to make it happen? So they stand up, even though every part of them is resisting. And at the end of it, they are beaten and exhausted and drained and small. Sometimes, it kills them. But it must be done.

Who are you listening to?