Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Despereaux Tilling is a mouse like no other. Born with his eyes open (which is simply unnatural, and quite disturbing to his family) and with ears that were much too big (also unnatural and disturbing) he is destined to be set apart from the rest of the mouse community.

He steps further outside of typical mouse-like behavior as he develops a love of reading, is mesmerized by the light and the beauty of the world, and falls desperately in love with the human princess. Eventually this leads Despereaux to being banished to the dark, deadly dungeon.

In the dungeon lives Roscuro, a rat who also loved the light of the outside world, but has now been trained in the evil ways of the rats. Through a series of unfortunate (and slightly ridiculous) events involving a chandelier and a bowl of soup, Roscuro is left bitter and hateful, and determined to exact his revenge on the princess.

And finally we have poor, poor Miggery Sow. Traded by her father for a handful of cigarettes, a hen, and a red table cloth, her new "uncle" is dark and abusive, giving Mig "a good clout to the ear" every time he is unsatisfied (which is almost always.) This abuse not only leaves her with cauliflower ears, but also very hard of hearing, and (understandably) extremely dim-witted. (Basically, the poor girl never had a chance in this world.)

Eventually Mig is brought to the castle that Despereaux and Roscuro call home, and becomes a chamber maid for the princess Pea. Once there, Roscuro pulls Mig into his revenge plot, leading her to believe that she can somehow trade places with Pea and become the princess herself. And so it becomes Despereaux's destiny to take on the role of mouse in shining armor, and rescue his lovely princess.

This is a sweet story, filled with adventure, heroism, and a very wide range of emotions. I had never read it before (and honestly wasn't eve sure what it was about) but my sister recommended it for my kids, and so we read it together (complete with the dramatically performed voices that my sister insisted on. Good times.)

Although some of the more complex themes were lost on my six-year-old, she still really enjoyed the story, and got invested in the characters and their adventures. My eight-year-old was better able to understand more of the subtleties, and got a little more out of the story than his sister did (while also loving the characters and their adventures.)

I really enjoyed the book too. It was silly, but sweet, and had enough thought-provoking elements to keep adults entertained. If you have kids, I would recommend enjoying this one together.

On a side note, I haven't seen the movie adaption, but my sister strongly recommends that you avoid it. According to her (and I trust her as reliable) the movie is terrible, and does not do the book justice at all. So if you've seen the movie, and it left you with no desire to read the book, keep in mind that the book is much, much better.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Celebrity Grammar Snobbery

If you've been on Facebook at all over the last couple of weeks, there's a good chance that you've seen people posting the video of Weird Al's "Word Crimes." If you haven't watched it yet, you really should.

I've always loved Weird Al, but I respect him even more now. (Being an admitted grammar snob myself, I suppose that's no surprise.) He says several things in the song that I've said for years. But maybe now that a celebrity has said it, people will start to listen. ;)

The best thing about this song is that within just a couple of days after it was released four of my friends had sent me the link to it, and suggested that I would appreciate it and/or that I should adopt it as my new theme song. I love how well my friends know me.

And if you happen to be a fellow grammar snob (or appreciate funny grammar snobbery) then after you watch Weird Al's video you should also go check out The Oatmeal. All of his stuff is fantastic, but I particularly love his grammar related comics, like "What it means when you say literally" and "How to use a semicolon." Great stuff.


I hope this has given you a few laughs, and helped brighten your day a little. To see what other people have to say about the letter C this week, please visit the ABC Wednesday page.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Once again picking up right where the previous book left off, Allegiant finally brings an end to the story of Tris and Tobias, and all of the other characters that we came to love (and hate) in the first two books of the series.

After the shocking revelation at the end of Insurgent, when everyone learned that the factions did not simply evolve the way that they had been led to believe, society is left in even greater turmoil.

While some believe that the faction system should be completely abolished, others still feel a strong allegiance to the only way of life they've ever known. Meanwhile, a smaller group is determined to venture outside of the walled-in city to discover the full truth behind their existence.

 The truth, it turns out, is nothing that they ever could have imagined, and understandably difficult to adjust to. With a history of genetic manipulation and the government's repeated attempts to correct their mistakes, the great moral question of genetic superiority/inferiority has become an increasingly heated source of conflict. Now Tris and the others must decide which side they will take.

None of those answers come easily, and while everyone struggles to come to grips with their new reality, Tris and Tobias's relationship (as always) is put to further test. Unlike the two previous books, which were told entirely from Tris's perspective, this one alternates point of view between Tris and Tobias. It's an interesting change, and makes sense as far as the plot is concerned, but it does take some getting used to.

I know that a lot of people had a problem with the ending (with varying degrees of passion and anger.) I won't give any spoilers here, but I will say that it was a bit emotional. Personally, though, I didn't have a problem with it. A "happily ever after" ending to this kind of a story would just seem out of place.

Overall, I enjoyed this one, as I did the rest of the series. It wasn't my favorite (in my experience, the rest of a series rarely lives up to the first one) but it was still a fun, exciting read, and I thought that it concluded the story nicely.  I think Roth has quite a lot of potential, and I look forward to seeing how she develops as a writer.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Volcanoes, Water Babies, and Frozen Concoctions

Yes, friends, it's Monday. And once again that means it's time to reflect on the things that made us happy over the past week. And of course now is also the perfect time to set the tone for a great week to come! 

If you missed my take on LML, you can find it here. If you missed the explanation of LML Monday, you can catch up here.

Volcanoes (and Great Views)
Our summer plans changed a lot this year, due to several unforeseen circumstances, so we didn't get to do most of the things that we had planned. (That's just the way life goes sometimes.) But since the kids will be heading back to school later this week, my husband and I decided to take a few days last week and squeeze in some fun.

We headed up to Las Vegas, where unfortunately the weather isn't any better than it is in central Arizona, but at least it was a nice change of scenery. And the views, as always, were fantastic.

We decided to stay at The Mirage this time, which was nice.

We had a pretty great view of the volcano. (It was impossible to get a good picture at night because of the reflections.) But we got to watch all of the "eruptions" from our room, which was cool. The kids got a kick out of it every time.

And during the day, the volcano's waterfall made a pretty nice background for a photo of some adorable children. :)

Water Babies (and Relaxing by the Pool)
Speaking of adorable children...

Most of the times that we've vacationed in Las Vegas, we've done quite a bit of sightseeing and exploring. We still did a little bit of that this time - Hershey's Chocolate World wasn't open yet last time we were there, so we had to check that out - but mostly this trip was more about relaxing and enjoying the end of summer vacation.

My husband and the kids (who are fortunate enough to not be allergic to the sun) spent a lot of time in the pool. And I (the one who is not so fortunate) spent a lot of time in the shade. But that was good too.

I had a nice view.

And plenty to keep me entertained.

Unbeatable Frozen Concoctions
Far be it from me to advocate overindulgence. But when I'm in Vegas, there's a pretty good chance that I'm going to enjoy the free-flowing alcohol at least a little bit. There are plenty to choose from, of course, but during the summer the frozen drinks are definitely the way to go.

And if you're anything like me, when you hear the phrase "frozen concoctions" you immediately think of wasting away again in Margaritaville.

A bit overpriced, perhaps, and it always takes forever to get a table. But it's still one of my favorite places to visit at least once while we're in town. If you're a fan of Jimmy Buffett, and/or the island atmosphere, you kind of have to love it there.

Ok. I shared mine - now it's your turn! Please leave me a comment and share some of your recent LML moments. 

Focus on the happy thoughts, and let's all have a great week!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Being Bipolar

I've shared a lot with y'all over the years, but there is one thing that I've always held back. It's not so much that I was hiding it. It's just that it can still be really, really hard to talk about, even after all of these years.

Because the thing is, mental illness still comes with a stigma. Sure, things are better than they used to be. There are much better treatment options available, and people in general are starting to be more understanding and less judgmental. But we still have a long way to go.

When I was in my early twenties, I was (mis)diagnosed with depression. I had already been suffering from chronic pain for many years, which, understandably, is depressing. But there was more to it than that. And even though I had suspected for years that I might be bipolar, I was too afraid to speak up. Because I was afraid that I might be right. And I was afraid of what it would mean.

After remaining untreated for much longer than I should have, I finally reached a breaking point. And it was during a week-long stay in the mental health wing of the hospital that I was finally diagnosed and began receiving the treatment that I so desperately needed.

Okay, I have to pause here for some incredibly painful honesty. Even though I've come to terms with my illness, and I know, logically, that it's nothing to be ashamed of... it is still terrifying to talk about it so openly. To tell someone that you were hospitalized for mental illness means holding your breath and waiting for the judgment. And the look of "oh, I didn't know you were that crazy."

So even though it's scary, I still have to talk about it. Because the more of us that do - the more that we can be open and honest about it - the less painful and scary it will be.

I don't want people to be scared of talking about this. I don't want people to be ashamed, or feel like it's better to suffer in silence than to get help. We should never, ever have to go through this alone.


A big thank you to ABC Wednesday for inspiring me to share this story. To find more beautiful "B" posts, be sure to visit the their page.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Return of LML Monday

Those of you who have been with me for a while might recall a thing I started a couple of years ago about wanting to see more LML (love my life) in the world, and less FML. (You know what that one means.) If you haven't read it, please go check it out.

Not long after the idea for LML, the idea for LML Monday came along. In a nutshell, it was all about focusing on life's little happy moments, finding reasons to smile, and trying to make Mondays suck a little bit less. If you haven't read that one either, please check it out too.

Sadly, LML Monday kind of died late last year. I lost momentum. It fizzled out. Things happened. More stuff happened. It wasn't that I stopped seeing the LML moments. They just never made it to the screen. And that always kind of made me sad, but I never did anything about it. Until now.

As I mentioned last week, I'm kind of at a point of new beginnings right now. (Or at least I'm trying to be.) So in keeping with that, I thought I'd try the revival of LML Monday that I've wanted to see for a long time. Join me, won't you? Let's see where it takes us. :)

I'll leave you with this, as we start the week...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A New Beginning. Again.

If you've followed this blog at all over the years, you know that I've had my fair share of stops and starts. There are always several factors involved each time, but the end result is that I just stop writing for a while. And then eventually I start again. And stop again. And... you get the idea.

That's just the way things go sometimes, and I've learned to accept it. And each time it happens I do my best to make it a learning experience, and be happy with the opportunity for personal growth. Because as frustrating as it might get sometimes, there will always a bright side. You know that.

So I take the time that I need, and I work through it, and then I start again. Because that's what you do when life gets you down.

And so that's what I decided to do. Again.

As I sat down last week and started thinking about writing again, it occurred to me that it had been a while since I had checked in with ABC Wednesday, and I wondered where they were in the current round. Of course (because that's just always the way things seem to work out) it turned out that the new round was about to start. Perfect! So I decided to take it as a sign that I was meant to participate. :)

I don't know if I'll finish the round this time, any more than I know if I'll stick with any of my current plans. But there's a reason that the "get back on the horse" cliche exists. You have to do it. Usually several times. So here I stand, back on the horse, trying to be brave.

On a related note, if you find yourself curious about why this happens from time to time (or just want to know something a little more personal about me) be sure to come back next Wednesday. We'll find out together if I'm really as brave as I think I might be.


Want to read some other awesome "A" posts from this round? Be sure to check out ABC Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When Things Don't Go As Planned

As I've said before, I am I firm believer in sharing my embarrassing moments, particularly so that others can feel less alone when they have their own. So even though I asked everyone that heard about this not to tell anyone else (so word wouldn't spread about how dumb I am) I realized that I still have to share it. Particularly because of the bright side that came with it.

Because... yum!
Last night after dinner, I decided to take my kids to the local McDonald's for dessert (to celebrate National Strawberry Sundae Day. Because that's the kind of thing that we do.) We're rapidly approaching the end of their summer vacation, so it seemed like a good idea to go out for some fun and enjoy a treat together.

Unfortunately our quick trip down the road didn't go quite as we had planned.

Because, displaying my incredible brilliance, I locked us out of the house. And the car. Yep. The kids and I were in the garage, with my keys hanging securely on their hook in the kitchen. It was one of my worst "I-Can't-Believe-I-Did-That" moments ever.

I felt terrible (and dumb) and of course my less-than-happy reaction upset the kids. But when they started to cry I realized that I had to show them that everything was okay. So first we called my husband, because getting his key was the only way we were getting back in to the house. Then we set about figuring out how to pass the time until he got there to rescue us.

And that's when my son decided that since we couldn't drive to McDonald's, we should walk there. It would be fun, he said. And a good adventure.  I was hesitant, because while the dust storm warning had been cancelled it still looked like there was a good chance of some rain moving in. But that was okay, he said. If it rained, we'd just get wet. No big deal.

I was just starting to consider the idea of giving it a shot, when what he said next convinced me. We needed to do it, he said, "because we should always try to make the most of our situation." As it turns out, he really does listen to me now and then, and he is apparently growing up with the "find a bright side" outlook that I can't ever argue with. It makes a mother very happy.

So we decided to go for it. It was a long walk, and fairly exhausting. But we made it. And we even avoided getting rained on. Plus there was the promise of ice cream to keep us going.

We ended up not walking the entire two miles to McDonald's, once we realized that there was a Dairy Queen on the way (and a half a mile closer.) So we stopped to rest, and wait for my awesome husband to come get us.

And we finally got our sundaes.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tell the Truth Day

Today is Tell the Truth Day, and it got me to thinking. And while I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, it seemed like a good time to offer some food for thought.

For the most part, I consider myself a pretty honest person. I tend to not hold much back, and most people who know me well know that I'll usually tell you what I'm thinking.

Except when I don't. Because we all tell "little white lies" sometimes, don't we? Did you really not hear the phone, or did you just not feel like talking right now? Do you really have plans tonight, or do you just not feel like going out? Does she really not look fat in that dress?

Some people would say that the truth is always better.

And maybe that's true. Although I'm not sure that telling every little truth is worth making someone cry. Maybe it's better to take Thumper's advice.

Personally, I try to strike a balance. I don't think sparing someone's feelings is the worst thing in the world, so sometimes avoiding the whole truth might be better. But at the same time, telling those little lies all of the time just because you think they aren't hurting anyone probably isn't the best way to go either.

Are little white lies the gateway to a larger evil? Perhaps not. But like anything else that becomes a habit, it becomes increasingly easy to do, and we start to become desensitized to it. Eventually, it just becomes a part of who we are. And I don't know about you, but that's not the kind of person I want to be.

So today, like every day, is a good time to think about who we are, and how we want to live our lives. I don't want to just drift along doing whatever seems easiest. I want to make a conscious effort. I want to put some thought into what I say and do. I want to be the kind of person that I really want to be.