08 November 2011

Reading, lately

Lately, the majority of things I've been reading has limited to Liam's board books (Fifteen Animals, Goodnight Gorilla, and other similar books), but I have also been enjoying the Eragon series of books (I'm currently on Book II - Eldest). The stories are fun, but feel a bit juvenile. Yes, I know that they are Young Adult books, but they lack the sophistication of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games books. Perhaps it's because Eragon was written by a teenager.

Liam is keeping me busy, though, so it's taking me much longer to get through the second book than the first.

My book group is currently reading The Ice Princess (Lackberg), which I've already read and really enjoyed, so I'm thinking about reading / hoping to read The Preacher, which I believe is the next in the series from Lackberg.

15 August 2011

Shameless Plug

I just wanted to take a moment to rave about my friend Nina's photography company, Blackbird Ink Photography. You should check out her website - she's a great family and wedding photographer, and she's really easygoing. We worked together in the Media Resource Center, and hilarity ensued. I love looking at her pictures, and I can't wait to have her take Liam's picture!
Here's a little Liam to brighten your day

19 July 2011

Firsts & Lasts

We went to our first movie without Liam over the weekend. We - I - chose to see "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.2" because I've been waiting to see this movie since November.
It was glorious. The movie was the perfect ending to the series, which might very well be the best film franchise in recent history. I will miss Harry, Hermione, Ron and the rest of them but am comforted by the fact that my child will also be able to enjoy the books and the films, and we will enjoy them together. I hope that he asks me to read Harry Potter to him; I think it will be a really fun experience for both of us.

Many people posted this quote on Facebook over the weekend. While I enjoy both series, I have to throw my hat in with the Boy Who Lived.
Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity... Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.


15 July 2011

Fun Friday: July 15th edition

First we went to Stroller Strides.
Liam (on right) and his friend Cody finally got to play at the end of class,
because both were awake and happy.

Then we went on Liam's first carousel ride. 
He was destined to enjoy it, 
since he loves the feeling of a breeze on his face.

That's pretty much it.
No major meltdowns.
Just a lovely day.
It was pretty awesome.
It's all about the small victories. 

10 July 2011

Review: The Man From Beijing

The Man From Beijing
Henning Mankell

We read this book for book group in the month of June, and the overall average score that this book received was a 3.43 out of 5. Originally I gave it a 4 star rating, but upon considering things as I prepared for this post I think I would have to knock my rating down to a 3.5, so I don't know what that would do to the above average.

Henning Mankell is a well-known author, though this was the first of his books that I had ever read. I got the free sample from Amazon and was hooked - the brutal murder all but guaranteed a great story that I would really enjoy. I love murder mysteries and intrigue.

I did enjoy the book as I was reading it. Let me say that upfront, because I would be insincere if I were to just criticize it and leave it at that.

The things I liked about the book:
1. I wanted to read it and see what happened next in the story, because I was interested in the way things played out.

2. The crime-solving narrative was interesting. As was the railroad narrative.

The problems that I had with the book:
1. There was a serious lack of tying up loose ends. I wasn't expecting everything to fit together really well like an episode of Law & Order or anything; there were just things that seemed like they were going to be important for a fair amount of time that ended up being relatively inconsequential and were never addressed, but I don't want to ruin the story so I won't say what they were here.

2. I think that it's possible that Mankell suffers from a bad translator, because a lot of the language seemed really forced and unbelievable.

3. The actual premise behind the murders was *somewhat* far-fetched. I say somewhat with a certain level of sarcasm, because it seemed really unrealistic.

4. The different parts, with the different narratives, didn't make the story hard to follow, but it seemed like they could have been separate books on their own and Mankell just didn't want to take the time to develop them very well.

5. There were many things that various characters did that seemed completely out of character, but they weren't explained in any way. It seemed like Mankell didn't have notes on the characters when he wrote the story, or that wouldn't have happened.

Okay, so would I recommend the book? Sure. But I wouldn't want you to expect it to be another Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Because it isn't. Where Stieg Larsson wrote a relatively complex story that was really well-developed, Mankell fell short on the development part and got a little too complex without explanation. Of course, I think that Mankell churns out a lot of books, so he might not have time to worry about these things.

Review: The Winter Sea

The Winter Sea
Susanna Kearsley
I admit, I bought this book on my kindle because it was on sale for $2.99 and since I was waiting for my book group to meet before I bought the book for the following month, I didn't want to spend a lot of money.

That tidbit aside, I was really glad that I bought this book and would have gladly paid the usual $9.99 that Amazon charges for a book to read it. The premise is both original and something I'm relatively familiar with: an author is working on a book and is inexplicably drawn to a castle on the coast of Scotland, where she gets more inspiration than she has on any previous works, because she essentially transcribes the memories of an ancestor who she *randomly* chooses to use as the narrator for the historical novel she's writing.

Okay, so the premise is *somewhat* reminiscent of a few other novels, because there are elements of time travel and romance and Scotsmen (all reminding me of Diana Gabaldon, another favorite author of mine). None of these elements make it any less enjoyable - it was not really a romance novel (though I get the impression that Kearsley may be more known for that based on the other recommended books I've been seeing) and much more of a historical fiction novel (even though that's only half of the novel).

One thing that I really enjoyed about the work was the jumping between the contemporary narrative of Carrie, and the 1708 narrative of Sophia. At times it would frustrate me because I'd be really involved in one story right as Kearsley would switch gears to the other one, but I learned to really appreciate the way that the one narrative fed into the other.

My only criticism of the novel was that I would have liked to have more of either story; I wanted to hear more than what Kearsley offered in the book. I felt like both narratives, but more so Sophia's, were unfinished. With Carrie's narrative, I felt like there wasn't enough backstory and I would have appreciated having more substance to her narrative, or more interaction with her family; with Sophia's story I felt like Kearsley could have (should) write another book that tells us what happens next, and I also would have appreciated a little more backstory. I suppose that with Diana Gabaldon's Outlander as a comparison I've been spoiled, because she always tells us what happens next.

All in all, it was a fun, light read. Perfect for summer. And the kindle sale price was un.beatable. I would rate the book 4 stars overall - it would have been higher if not for those MINOR things mentioned above.

08 July 2011

google+ (and -)

There has quite a bit of hullabaloo about google+ today.
So I put out a post on facebook asking for an invite and immediately got one from my friend Jack (thanks!).
And I was really excited to get into the whole google+ing of it all.
But I just don't get it.

And I don't know if it's because it's new, so there aren't very many people on it, or what, but something about it isn't adding up (or plussing up, I suppose). I'm having a hard time finding people on it more than anything. And I've also been trying to figure this out...can people who don't use gmail even use it? 

I'm still excited about it, but I think it will offer better competition to facebook if I can figure out how to fine people on it. 


26 March 2011

And then there were three...

It's crazy to think that an entire month has passed since Liam was born. It has both flown by and felt like the longest days and nights in the history of the world. It's a weird dichotomy.

I haven't really talked much about my pregnancy on the blog - maybe not at all - and I don't know why. So, here is the story of Liam's arrival.

About 4 weeks from my due date, he was still in the breech position. Just very comfortably sitting in a little Buddha-like position. After consulting with our doctor, we went in for a version, in hopes that they would be able to flip the baby over and I would still be able to have a traditional delivery. My doctor was confident that it would work, because I have a high tolerance for uncomfortability and the baby seemed like he wasn't a giant or anything. But, in a sign of the times to come, he refused to flip over. He was not having any of this outside manipulation of people trying to get him to change his position (I can only hope that this means he will have strong convictions about his beliefs when he grows up).

So we scheduled a c-section, which was not in my birth plan. It was a rough period of adjustment, until I started to think about the fact that I would get to avoid most of the uncomfortable parts of childbirth. Essentially, I walked into the hospital at an agreed-upon time and they pulled a baby out of my belly, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.  I was still really nervous, having never undergone surgery of any kind, but I managed to rally by Saturday.

Saturday, we left the house bright and early:

We went to the hospital, and waited for everything to be ready. 
Sean put on his scrubs:

I went into the Operating Room to get prepped, epidural-ed, etc. 
Sean had to wait until the last minute to come into the room. 
He said that he felt like he was waiting forever. 
Once Sean came in, so did Dr. Linzey:

The epidural was the weirdest thing; I knew what was going on, but since I was partitioned from seeing the surgery part, I didn't really know what was going on. I felt some tugging, but it sort of felt like it was happening to someone else. 

Really, it seemed like one second I was just laying on the table:

and the next second there was a baby:

And then we were three:

Dr. Linzey came to visit us in recovery. 
Liam seemed a little upset to be out in the world, but Dr. Linzey was able to calm him down.

And we had a baby. And EVERYTHING changed.


11 February 2011

The Oscars, 2011 Edition

It’s that time of year again: awards season. I make an effort to see all of the films that are nominated for Best Picture, because they are also typically nominated in the other big categories and I always try to win the Oscar Ballot prediction games, even if I’m not playing with anyone else.  Overall, I thought that the nominees for Best Picture this year were all viable candidates for the prize, though some stood out more than others. I just finally saw Winter’s Bone last week and now I feel like I can accurately rate and review the Best Picture nominees:

Black Swan – Natalie Portman did an amazing job in this and I definitely think that she deserves all of the accolades that she is earning for this film. And I really liked the film, too, because my husband and I were still talk about it the next day. It got under my skin. I don’t know if I really thought it was the best picture of the year, though it was definitely one of the finest performances I can recall – not just this year. Grade: A
The Fighter – again, I thought that the performances, particularly that of Christian Bale, were excellent in this film, even though I still find myself struggling to take Mark Wahlberg seriously. I appreciate the “true-story” aspect of this film. I would see it again, but it didn’t move me. Grade: A
Inception – this movie was right up there with Black Swan, and I found myself still talking about it and thinking about it days later; I felt like it needed a second viewing just to start making sense of it, rather than because I thought it was amazing. I thought it was really good, but not quite as good as some of its fellow nominees. Grade: A-
The Kids are All Right – I hadn’t seen this movie before the Golden Globes, and the fact that it won Best Comedy and the commercials made it seem lighthearted led me to believe that I was going to watch something completely different from what it was. Yes, there were moments when I found myself laughing, but it was not a comedy.  The acting was good, and I understand that the premise was to show a portrait of what it means to be a family today. But it wasn’t my favorite. Grade: B+
The King's Speech – Colin Firth, like Natalie Portman, deserves all the accolades he is getting for this role. And the story is simultaneously accurate (feeling), moving and inspiring. But the thing that makes this film different from the other frontrunners is that it isn’t just an exercise in excellent acting (like Portman) or a really good story (like The Social Network); it has it all. Grade: A+
The Social Network – I was initially a little apprehensive about this movie; it seemed like one of those movies that was getting these excellent reviews and I wasn’t sure I bought the hype.  I must admit, however, that, after watching the movie, I understand what the hype was about (though I still think it was a tad excessive). The story was actually quite heartbreaking, and I think that was the strongest part of the movie. Grade: A
127 Hours – James Franco represents Colin Firth’s biggest competition in the Best Actor category, because he basically carried this entire movie on his own. I was very familiar with the story, as I read the book a few years ago and definitely intrigued by the fact that they were making it into a movie. Franco’s ability to make being pinned down by a rock intense, moving and a stressful experience makes it deserve more accolades than it is receiving. Grade: A
Toy Story 3 – I found out I was pregnant right before I saw this movie, so I was already feeling emotional when I saw it. I think I cried more during this movie than any others this past year, but I have the same issue with its inclusion in Best Picture that I had last year with Up. There is a separate category for Best Animated Picture, and what this does is a) spoils the race in that category and b) takes the place of another movie that could have been nominated (and maybe deserved it more). Grade: A-
True Grit – I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the original, since it’s been playing on AMC regularly lately, but I really enjoyed this film. People are saying that Hailee Steinfeld should have been nominated in the Best Actress category (and not Best Supporting Actress), but I’m sure she’s thrilled to be nominated either way. The entire cast, especially Jeff Bridges, did a great job. And I don’t even like westerns. Grade: A
Winter's Bone – I remember when this film came out, and it was unclear what the film was actually going to be about. After seeing it, I still kind of feel the same way. The acting was good, and the movie was good, but I had a hard time articulating why to my husband (who didn’t watch it with me). I felt like one of the main drawbacks of the movie was unexplained backstory of the clan and such. I felt like I needed a family tree to figure out exactly who Jennifer Lawrence she was talking to. And I still don’t completely understand what happened to the father, aside from him being dead. Grade: B+

                        Best Picture
                        Will Win: The King’s Speech
                        Could Win: The Social Network, Black Swan
                        Should Win: The King’s Speech

Best Actress                                          Best Actor
Will Win: Natalie Portman                Will Win: Colin Firth
Could Win: Annette Bening              Could Win: James Franco
Should Win: Natalie Portman            Should Win: Colin Firth

Best Supporting Actress                    Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Melissa Leo                       Will Win: Christian Bale
Could Win: Amy Adams                    Could Win: Geoffrey Rush
Should Win: Hailee Steinfeld            Should Win: Christian Bale

01 February 2011

Fall of Giants

I finished this book last month; we read it for book group, which was supposed to be in December but had to be postponed. I was actually glad it was postponed because it gave me a chance to finish the book. I was just really busy with everything else that was going on around the holiday season (but I’ll get to that in another post). Anyway, onto Fall of Giants.

Ken Follett’s tome – I use that word deliberately because, at over 1,000 pages, the book itself was quite hefty. This was an example of when I am really happy that I have a kindle – I know that I couldn’t carry a book that size around in my purse, and I like to read wherever I can. The kindle was a lifesaver with this book.

The stories in the book revolve around different families in different countries during World War I. Some of the characters were more likable and relatable than others, and some of the stories were more intriguing than others, but overall I really thought that Follett’s novel showed a very clear understanding of the period and the nuances of the different experiences of WWI. Follett could find a very lucrative career writing History books for people who need history to be personalized in order to really understand it; at times, especially during the battle sequences, the historical detail can begin to get a tiny bit dry, but I still found myself able to enjoy it, even though I don’t consider myself much of a military history enthusiast. (Incidentally, I read in the acknowledgments that Follett employs a company called “Research for Writers” in New York to help with his research for these massive undertakings – will you please hire me?)

I also really appreciate the fact that Follett clearly has a plan. I know that there are two more books in the series, and I think that I would have been let down a little if I had not known there was a sequel coming. The ending, which I thought did an excellent job of closing the action of the book, felt a little unfinished, but that’s because the story itself is unfinished.

I did feel like, at times, Follett was forcing the various characters to all have children at approximately the same time for the sake of the trilogy and, while I appreciated the insight into the battles, I wish that there hadn’t been quite so many in such detail. Other than these two criticisms, I really enjoyed the book, and I felt like I learned quite a bit from it, since he makes it a point to relate things that realistically could have happened, especially when he has real historical figures in the fictional story.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy history, who enjoy the time period, or simply enjoy an excellent story and appreciate Follett’s writing. It really pulls a person into the story.

My rating: 4.5/5

25 January 2011

So busy!

I feel like I haven't posted anything in ages - and looking at my recent posts, I'm right! I guess that I could take it as a sign that I've been busy and that's something positive, right? Right?

Anyway, here's an update about what I've been up to:

On a professional note, I planned and taught a course as an autonomous unit, with myself as the only representative of an Italian department. The community college teaching is very different from the university scene. I don't mean to knock community colleges - I think they are a great resource and really important part of higher education. However, the motivation level fell into two categories: really motivated or really not motivated. My class started with 32 students and ended with 14, a phenomenon that my colleagues assured me was very common, especially with night courses that aren't obligatory (because I was really worried that it was something about me that was scaring the students off). Of these, it was almost evenly divided between people who were a) either returning to school after a long absence or else were extremely motivated to get into a particular university, and people who were b) killing time and trying to make their unit requirement. The students were all nice and the 14 in the final group all seemed to enjoy themselves in the class, but I can't figure out how to change my approach for next Fall.  I won't be teaching until next Fall because I've been busily growing a baby inside of me, and the community colleges can't hire people to cover classes for those weeks surrounding giving birth.

On an academic note, I can happily say that I defended my dissertation proposal in December and it was very well received by my advisor and the rest of the committee. One of the biggest accomplishments involved with this - I didn't even cry! I tend to get very emotional about academic things, and I tend to cry when I feel cornered (it's one of my least attractive qualities).  I think that defending the proposal on skype helped, because there was the whole internet in between us, and I was really vigilant in my preparations. I've taken about a month's worth of a break to recover, and am starting to think about making some progress again. Which is daunting in its own way. But let's just take this time to celebrate that first accomplishment.

On a personal note, I'm almost 36 weeks pregnant and totally ready to get this little alien life form out of my belly.  I've had what my friends have called a particularly "boring" pregnancy, because I haven't been sick at all or had any weird and abnormal cravings. I was exhausted at the beginning and am starting to be exhausted again, and can't wait to meet this little guy.

That's it for now. I know that each portion got a bit shorter and briefer, but it wasn't intentional.