Friday, December 31, 2010

Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind

I have finished it. Just this morning. My expectations were high--I'd even watched most of the TV series: Legend of the Seeker (which I enjoyed up until the point of taking a hiatus, and went back to it, the scales removed from my eyes, and I saw it for what it was). Why can't producers stick to the story as it is? It would be SOOO much better.

Well. I initially enjoyed the journey Terry Goodkind sent me on--always running from evil with never a moment to breathe, magic of all kinds threatening to kill off the persevering Richard Cypher; the exotically beautiful Kahlan that, for a reason we find out much later, he can not be with (or, consequently, live without. I'm a sucker for love stories); the eccentric and witty Zeddicus Z'ul Zorander, Wizard of the First Order. And I was right there, ready to enjoy the rest of the series until we met the terrible, violent, sadistic in ways I would never have imagined, Mord-Sith.

From that particular phase of torture and beyond, I was...lost. While I understand what Goodkind's doing, it reminded me of why I generally prefer YA Fantasy--the moral dilemma's aren't as 'ugly' and 'disturbing' as adult fantasy can be. That being said, I enjoyed this book, the journey, and his creativity, but his representation of 'evil'--which earns every bit of the word--is just not the kind I enjoy reading about. Maybe some day I'll read more of this series, but for now, I'm still worn out from enduring Richard's gruesome torture.

Next up...Crime and Punishment!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!...and a joyous New Year!

Ben and I spent a marvelous Christmas Day at my parents. And those parents, the wonderful people they are, waited until we arrived before everyone opened gifts. Mom was Santa's skinny, dark-haired twin, handing out gifts to their proper (and eager) recipient. Samson attempted to play with Gigi, their dog, who did nothing but bite and swat at him (he has the bloodied battle wounds to prove it. I've come to the belief that Samson is a masochist). Gigi, however, stood undeterred, on the hunt for Dad's chocolates--compliments of Annie. Which,
thanks to Annie's foresight, wasn't actually placed under the tree. Gigi has a rather unfortunate habit of opening wrapped boxes of See's chocolates, eating the lot of them, forcing my mom to spend an exorbitant amount of money at the Vet.

Left: Samson & Gigi (see
how she shuns him?)

Right: Me & Annie

Gigi likes to hide under the gold couch.

And Samson waits. And waits....

We ate a delicious meal of honey-baked ham, scalloped potatoes, bluegrass salad, and hot rolls (thanks Mom!), and afterwards Annie helped me serve my Italian dessert (see, I told you I'm obsessed with all things Italian): Stracciatella Semifreddo, recipe given to me by the infamous Uncle A.

It's home-made custard, whipping cream, and nutella folded together and frozen on top of a graham cracker crust. YUM!

Afterwards, We all took up varying locations upon the floor and napped.

Mom and I played a round of Scrabble, to which I was the willing victim, and we all finished the night with Sherlock Holmes. It really is a "good-clean-fun" movie for any of you that haven't seen it. Ben and I particularly enjoy the soundtrack.

Next year this time we'll be living in Arizona. After 14 years of living in California, this is my last Christmas here. I wonder if we'll decorate a cactus next year. My fingers are hurting just thinking about it.

2010 has been a year of anticipation and hope: applying to Dental school's, Ben wrapping up his last few classes to graduate, flying to DS interviews, waiting...waiting, and me handing out my unfinished manuscript to an incredibly insightful beta-group.

I might say that 2011 is a brand new chapter, although it feels greater than that to me. More like we're opening an entirely new story. The story of personal milestones: Ben's graduating, we're moving to another state (a much, much hotter one), Ben's starting Dental School, I'll be starting a new job (hopefully), and I'll be submitting my manuscript (aka throwing out my heart and soul to be trampled on by professional critics). Needless to say, I feel blessed to have these sorts of challenges and opportunities--and all the support of great family and friends. There's a lot to be thankful for. And, like everything that happens along this journey we call life, I'm excited to have Ben right there beside me, holding my hand, every step of the way!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stockings, Christmas Trees, and Decapitated Snowmen

It is that time of year. Our banks accounts dwindle, the air is filled with pine, Christmas lights replace trim (singlehandedly causing an energy crisis), and if you're like me in the valley of Northern California, you wish some miracle would happen and it would snow. But we make the most of it.

To me, making the most of it usually requires music and cookies. So this week, the amazing and brilliant Annie (my sister) came over.

We decked the halls--well, we decked
my kitchen counter--with cookies, icing, sprinkles. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

<---that's Annie's meticulous hand.

Samson the Faithful
waited by our feet,
hoping desperately to catch a
rogue sprinkle.

Annie had to keep rinsing excess
frosting from her hands...

Gingerbread lost limb, star lost point, snowman lost head--all in a duel between the territorial cookie sheet and the spatula.
Very few cookies perished.

Ben came home from a long a
grueling final to indulge in the festivities.
He also started taking photo's.

Even the amazing Uncle A,
all the way in Atlanta, was able to join us!
Skype is THE fastest way
to travel.
(Ciao il mio preferisco Zio A!)

An afternoon well spent.
We enjoyed the fruits of our labor.
With a side of egg nog, of course. :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Unexpected Lingua Franca

I had to document this story--something that happened to me earlier this year. It is too priceless to chance times expected dissolution of my memory.

If it isn't particularly obvious from my blog, I have a sort of fascination with Italy. I go as much as I can (which, of course, isn't nearly as much as I want), delight in their delectable delectable's, revel in their history and bewildering architecture, mimic their gesticulations, indulge in their bountious wine get the point.

Prior to our trip in January, I decided it was time to learn their language. So, I began teaching myself the summer before. Pimsleur is excellent. I practiced and practiced--all in anticipation of our upcoming trip. Eager to overwhelm some poor Italian with my bad grammar (have you seen how many verb forms they have?! It's enough to make one fall over senseless and have nightmares about attacking verbs).

We flew all night and landed in Roma, picked up our luggage and headed to the Termini to catch a train to Firenze. Italians were everywhere, speaking Italian. My ears were in raptures. If only someone would speak to me. Someone. Anyone.

We boarded the train, and lo! An older woman was in the car, about half Ben's height, with short blond hair. This didn't discourage me much. Not all Italians have dark hair. I just wanted her to talk to me. She scowled at us as we approached, meandering down the narrow walkway, looking for a seat. And then, without warning, she stabbed her pointer finger at my face and started yelling. And it wasn't Italian. I didn't know what it was.

Wide-eyed and confused I glanced back to Ben who was just as confused. The woman continued pointing at us and pointing to her things, while yelling--yelling louder thinking increased volume would some how miraculously make us understand. Through her movements, we gathered she wanted help moving her luggage to the shelf overhead. Once that happened, her eyes twinkled and she gifted us with smiles all around. She knew absolutely zero Italian. And almost the same amount of English.

Very slowly and deliberately I asked, "Where are you from?" with particular emphasis on that last word. My hope dwindled as she bit her lip, looked up to the ceiling in thought. And then very decidedly she said: "Moscow!"

So we wouldn't be speaking Italian. We wouldn't be speaking at all. But then she suddenly turned to me: "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" she asked, to which I answered, while laughing, "Ein bisschen" (a little).

So there we were, on a train in Italy on our way to Florence. Speaking very fragmented German to a Russian lady.

I love Europe.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Need I say more?

Ode to iPhone

How I love thee, iPhone!
I take you everywhere.
I tell you where I'm going,
You show me my way there.

There's, of course, Pandora,
Genius-ness at best.
It plays the songs that I adore,
Or: thumbs down, put to rest!

With NASA I travel far,
And watch the bright stars burn.
Then play 'Words with Friends', and wait,
Impatient for my turn.

In my very hands I get
Internet and mail,
Banking, buying, apps galore,
Photo's, music, retail.

How I've lived without thee,
I may never know.
With you I can do anything,
Except, perhaps, make it snow.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

The reason I picked up this story was because of it's author. Don't get me wrong, the titles in the 1800's leave nothing to the imagination. They tell you exactly what the story is about. Besides, how can a book about princesses and goblins be boring?

But I'll return to my first point. George MacDonald was a favorite of JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (all time favorite author's of mine) and Lewis Carroll, so I simply had to check him out for myself.

On the surface, The Princess and the Goblin is a fantastical adventure. All the elements of Fantasy: monsters (the horrid, malevolent goblins and their terrifying pets), dark tunnels beneath the earth, murderous plots of revenge, Princesses, Kings and Queens, a 'fairy godmother'. But what I appreciated most about the story were the strong moral and spiritual themes that George MacDonald wove into the very fabric of the plot and characters. After all, he was a pastor.

Our heroine is Princess Irene and our hero is the simple son of a miner, Curdie. Although, MacDonald makes a point to inform the reader that Curdie has the courage and bravery of a King, which makes him one despite his 'class'. Curdie works in the mines and discovers the goblins evil plot, while the Princess makes a discovery of her own: her great-great-great-great grandmother lives up the old stairs in her house. It's just that Princess Irene is the only one that can see her. The Grandmother is beautiful, despite her old-old-old age and can appear as a light in the sky, and gives the Princess a gift of thread, which eventually leads our heroine to saving the hero. And together, the Princess and Curdie save the entire palace from disaster at the hands of the Goblins.

MacDonald puts great emphasis on believing in the things that are unseen--having faith and trusting in that faith to guide and protect you (through the Grandmother). And it takes a childlike innocence to accept it. Irene has a disposition to accept more readily while the hero, Curdie, has to learn to accept--which he eventually does. MacDonald used the Princess as model of virtue: always telling the truth, admitting when you're wrong, and keeping your word.

The style of writing is so conversational, I felt as if I were sitting at the fire with my legs crossed sipping hot cocoa while my grandfather was reading me a story. This is definitely one I'll be sharing with my kids some day (should we have them). It has a sequel, The Princess and Curdie, which I plan to read soon. The adventures and themes are timeless and I would recommend this to anyone wanting to escape into the heart of childlike innocence.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ben is Moving Me to Hell (& not in a handbasket)

It happened this morning, when Ben got the phone call. It didn't start out with candy and roses. It didn't start out that way at all. In fact, we began the morning with me trying to keep a good attitude and cheer up my crestfallen spouse who had heard no word from any of the 3 dental schools he interviewed at.

With eager minds and shaky hands we watched the computer last night, midnight eastern time, 9pm our time. The server crashed, we waited. It moved slowly, we waited some more. Finally logged on, nothing. No change in status. No trace of that grand glittering golden word: ACCEPTANCE. Our hearts sank with the realization that we'd be one of the thousands waiting. Possibly waiting to still find out nothing.

All the rabbit trails your thoughts venture down! What if, what if, what if? One more year. Another long, grueling, expensive application process. What is wrong with admissions?!

There we were driving to work and school this morning, each with our own silent solutions to those 'what if's', when Ben reached back and retrieved his phone. "Huh?" he says, "I missed a call." My heart stops. "From Phoenix. There's a message." Now my heart is racing. Ben listens to that message (I can hear it too) and it's the dean of Midwestern University, School of Dentistry in Glendale, Arizona, congratulating Ben on his acceptance!

Of course I do what every good wife does. I simultaneously start screaming and bawling, almost rear-ending the car in front of us.

Within seconds, the burden had vanished and we were soaring miles above the clouds. How one moment can change everything. What brings me the most joy is seeing Ben. How happy he is. How encouraged he is. After all the hard work, it's the greatest reward he could ask for, and I'm so grateful we are on this adventure together!

That being said, we are thrilled and giddy like little kids on Christmas morning. It also doesn't go without saying that I have a few concerns. They are, as follows:
1. Heat.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gratitude from a Late Bloomer

Here I am. The scientist, by all accounts. Except I don't care about science. Not really. It's interesting, don't get me wrong. So interesting I even majored and minored in it and am currently employed in the field. While I do enjoy my job and the aspects science has to offer (namely incredible technology, theory, and brilliant co-workers), I've discovered something else. Something that usurps all of my thoughts, all of my time, and, consequently, all the ability to do housework. Writing.

I've always loved reading. Getting lost in the adventurous tales of peril, whether it be physical or emotional. From the depths of Mordor to the crazy donkey-chasing Aunt Betsey in David Copperfield, I love them all. The lessons, the struggles. I was perfectly satisfied losing myself in them, until one bright shining day, Ben, my devoted 6'5" cheerleader without pom-poms, suggested: "Why don't you try writing?" "Me?" I gasp. "Remember I do numbers and Greek letters, not words." But there sat that obnoxious idea, forcing every other idea out.

Scenes began to flicker in my mind. Scenes of people I didn't know, places I'd never seen. I became curious. Curiosity turned obsessive. Obsessive turned to the computer. And ideas spewed forth.

It is as an adult that I've discovered a love (and obsession) for writing. Whether anything comes of it, or it remains simply a passion of mine, remains to be determined. In the meantime, I fight with my computer. Fight after drag out fight. Edit after harrowing edit. (Me and the delete key are still coming to terms.) There are many of you--many supportive, encouraging, amazing people--that have helped me tremendously as I embark on this unique endeavor. Reading draft...after draft (Ben, you're amazing). Giving honest feedback so that I may learn how to create a great story. Thank you for giving me hours and hours of your undivided attention, reading the pages I hand to you, believing in me through the process--I feel blessed to have so many people near, genuinely excited, helpful, and supportive.

I'm still working (almost everyday) on that story some of you have read. After some soul-searching and reading books on writing, I'm on re-write number 4 and draft number 10,000 (or so it feels). There's much work to be done, but I'll let you know when I reach my next stage: submission (shaking).

It's been 1.5 years now. The journey is incredible in ways I never would've imagined, and I'm grateful to all of you for keeping me on it! I couldn't do it without you.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Greatest Fear of Samson the Terrible

Samson is our dog. You may have seen him perched in the window, scanning the perimeter for trespassers. For hours. You may have dared cross his path, earning yourself bark after relentless bark, hoping to get away with your pants still intact. But just like any terrifying creature, he has his fears.

Ben was away for a Dental School interview. I was left with Samson. Samson is excellent company, usually. Always watchful. Always wanting to play. I was busy writing and had forgotten about him (mistake #1).

To get my attention, he hops on the couch with droopy ears, trembling. Violently. "What's the matter?" I ask. Of course he understands everything I say to him. He's brilliant.

He trembles some more, licking his lips like he always does when he's scared. I walk around our house turning on all the lights so that nothing can hide in the shadows. Everything is fine. And Samson is still shaking.

I press gently around his huge, muscular frame, checking for injury. Nothing. I throw his buddy--a fluffy bone made of lamb wool. He just stood there and watched it land. If you've ever been to our house, you know this is strange. Very strange. Now I'm scared.

Samson slinks off into our dark bedroom, hops on the bed, and curls up with a sigh. I've called Ben, called my mom to get the number to the animal hospital, and figured out how to budget our food for the next few months to pay the vet bill.

As Samson lay there on our bed, I heard a soft squeak. He whimpered. Soon after, another squeak. It suddenly occurred to me how many Greenies we'd given him over the course of the past few days (mistake #2). More than normal, because of all the travel. We felt bad (I certainly hope this habit doesn't carry over in to child rearing someday). I heard another squeak, and frightened whimper.

I couldn't believe it. He had gas. Lots and lots of it.

For all his ferocious barking--for all his yanking on the leash to chase after any dog, or person, within eyesight--he's afraid of his own gas.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Caved.

BLOGGING. (Biting fingernails...) Here I go. Kicking and screaming (thanks Ben) into the world of online journaling. For so long I've resisted. What do you write about? Does anyone really care? The answer to that: who knows.

So I'm finding out for myself. Going to see what 'blogging' is all about. Keep a record of life as it happens to me. And life as it doesn't happen.

Now if I can just figure out how to work this thing...
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