Friday, January 22, 2016

Casual Fridays

Yes, helloo. I've hit a writing block, and I'm having a hard time thinking of something clever to open with, but seeing as I'm just about to drown you in PhotoGrid collages anyway....who cares, right?

So let's get to that. Cody and I have been wearing out our Busch Gardens passes so far this 2016. We've gone two Thursdays in a row now, and I'm game to keep it up because Busch Gardens has this new (I don't really know how new it is, but it's new to me so that's good enough) Animal Care Center where you can go and watch them do check-ups and actual surgeries on the animals in the park. And yesterday, we got to see them do an ultrasound on a pregnant sloth. It was so cool.
This was last Thursday, and on this particular visit, we met the elephant trainers and the tiger trainers and got to learn a bit more about those animals. Also, when we rode the train, the giraffes were actually ON the track. Seriously. I could have reached out and touched one (almost). And remember how I was just telling you about the Animal Care Center a second ago? Well, we went in there for the first time and I made hyena meatballs. Which, just to clarify, are meatballs for the hyenas to eat, NOT meatballs made out of hyenas. It was gross, but also fun.
This was yesterday and the park was a lot busier than last week. I'm not sure what's up with that, but we still had a fun day. Once inside, we went straight for the Animal Care Center where we discovered we had just missed them doing a procedure on a wallaby to clean out an abscess in the back of his throat. Bummer, right? But we checked out his x-rays and found out they'd be *hopefully* doing an ultrasound on one of the pregnant sloths later in the day. (Also, they haven't officially announced that they have two pregnant sloths so you didn't hear it from me. Capiche?) Anyway, Grizzly (the sloth in question) was cooperative insomuch as she came to the animal care center, but she wasn't as cooperative for the actual ultrasound so we didn't get a super-clear shot of her baby, but the vet was able to make out and show us the little skull. It was just so cool. I kindof want to go hang out there everyday to watch all the different stuff they do. Are you so over this? Well, too bad. Go write your own blog. 

But moving on, let's talk about my dogs now because haircuts!
This was them on Monday. You can't see any eyes, right? Right. Well, Major got his last round of puppy immunizations Monday afternoon so as soon as we got home from the vet, I called and got them grooming appointments for Wednesday morning because the amount of dog hair I've been vacuuming up lately is appalling. As you may or may not remember, when Colonel got his first haircut, I insisted on an entire photo shoot before and after. So of course, I had to do the same thing with Major. And look how cute he is!
I mean, right?! He is so stinkin' adorable!
Colonel, on the other hand, always looks a bit malnourished after a big haircut. Bless his scrawny little heart. And on this particular occasion, his groomer left his face and ears way too long making his head look abnormally large for that skinny body. Poor guy. He'll look normal in a week or two. But look at that before picture. I love his long hair so much. Cody can't stand it though. He likes to be able to see their eyes. 
Okay, last one. I mean, just look at him!! Such a cute little ball of fluff!

Well, that's it for today. Essentially, one big post about animals. Don't you just love Fridays around here? 

What's your favorite animal? Do you have any pets? Any guesses as to what my favorite animal is? (Besides my adorable pups, of course.) Hint.

Have a wonderful weekend and stay warm out there!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Word for Wednesday

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

~Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee~

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Let's Bust a Recap : To Kill A Mockingbird

Yesterday I finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. You guys. I can't believe I had never read this book before! I've never heard somebody say they didn't like it, and now I know why. What a phenomenal novel. I don't really know where to start so I'ma just copy the blurb off the back of the book. (Usually, I'm against reading the back of a book, but this one is pretty good and especially vague on actual details so I'm down with it.)

"One of the best loved stories of all time, To Kill A Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable coming-of-age tale in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father--a crusading local lawyer--risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime."

I would highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down. The way Harper Lee tied this story together from beginning to end was masterful. I laughed. I cried. I got angry. I was touched. Her characters were all convincingly believable. I could relate to Scout's Southern upbringing. I loved the relationship the children had with their father Atticus and the wisdom Atticus imparted to his children. And I was so impressed with how Lee brought everything together at the end of the story. There were times throughout the book that I wondered why this was such a central part of the plot when it seemingly had nothing to do with that obviously bigger aspect, but at the end, it all was wrapped up into one beautiful package of a novel.

If you've never read To Kill A Mockingbird, you're missing out. I would advise that if you're younger than...14 maybe?...or if you're a parent and want your child to read it, that you be deliberate about discussing the book together as it deals with some pretty tough issues and uses terms typical of the 1930s that are not acceptable today. I mean, the book is about the prejudices between white people and black people: do the math there. But having said that, I would encourage any parents to read this book with their children when said children are at an age to have some of those difficult conversations as I think it would create a wonderful opportunity to open up some lines of communication for those hard topics.

Now, having given my little recap and recommendation, I have a question. Has anyone read the sequel that was recently released and should I read it? I've heard a lot of mixed reviews, and having finally read To Kill A Mockingbird, I can understand the apprehension. I would hate to have any of the characters tainted in any way, particularly Atticus. I'm intrigued to follow up with these characters 20 years later (I think that's when Go Set A Watchman is set), but if they're all bitter and don't have healthy relationships with one another, I might just want to leave it well enough alone. Thoughts? 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Casual Fridays

This past weekend, I got to check another major item off my Bucket List. I saw the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. 
You guys. I have been wanting to see the Rockettes since the very first time I watched the movie Annie when I was a little girl. And I got to go to the Christmas Spectacular! Let me tell you: it lives up to its name. It was everything I always wanted it to be, spectacular in every way. The Rockettes were fabulous, and the entire show was wonderful. 

Not only did I get to see the Rockettes, I got to spend the night at The Plaza! This quick trip was a Christmas present from my Mom, and it was such a blast.
We flew into New York early Sunday morning (we left home at 4 AM...not my greatest time of day), caught a cab into the city, and checked into The Plaza which is probably the most beautiful, decadent hotel I've ever stayed in. After we dropped our stuff off and discovered the heated floors in our bathroom (what?!), we took off into the city to ooh and aah over the Christmas windows at Bloomingdale's, Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, and lots of others. We went up in Trump Tower and had coffee, and eventually headed back to The Plaza to get warmed up and ready for the show. The show was awesome (as I already mentioned), and afterward, we went to Rockefeller Center to check out more Christmas decorations. And yes, we were those obnoxious, selfie-stick usin' tourists you've all heard about.
The next morning, we had breakfast in our room (I can't even start to talk about this. So much yum.), and then packed up to check out and head back out into the city for more Christmastime fun. The plan was to go ice skating in Central Park, but as soon as we stepped outside, we realized that was not going to happen. It. Was. Freezing. We opted for a pedicab ride around Central Park instead. Even though we couldn't feel our hands or feet by the end of it, it was so much fun. Our pedicab driver regaled us with all kinds of questionable anecdotes about the different monuments and architecture we encountered. He seemed more confident of his movie and celebrity trivia than the historical facts he was giving us, but he was hilarious and kept us laughing the entire time.
According to "Jon" (our driver), this is the fountain where the theme from Friends was shot. He was dedicated to getting a picture of us jumping in front of it. After probably about a million attempts, I think this was the only one where all our feet are off the ground at the same time. #laughsfordays

After our pedicab ride through subzero temps, we decided to spend the rest of our time inside The Plaza, eating super-thin NY pizza and browsing all the adorable shops. After an hour or two of thawing out and soaking it all in, it was time to grab our bags and hail another cab back to the airport.
I couldn't have asked for a better two days or two better women to spend them with. My mom and my mommy-in-law are two of my best friends, and I absolutely loved sharing this experience with them. Until next time, New York!

 ~January 3 & 4, 2016~

Have you checked any big-ticket items off your Bucket List lately? 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Word for Wednesday

"'They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions,' said Atticus, 'but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.'"

~Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee~

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Let's Bust A Recap : TR

Yes. Yes, you read that right. We're recap-ing TR: The Last Romantic by H.W. Brands because I FINISHED IT.
Five parts, thirty-one chapters, eight hundred twenty-two pages. 

I officially began reading this book in September of 2013. SEPTEMBER 2013. That's right. It took me over two years to get through this monster, and I'm thinking about going out and buying myself something large and expensive for persevering to the end. The only thing stopping me is the irritating fact that if I had just buckled down, I most certainly could have finished it last year. I turned the final page at about 12:30 AM January 3rd. So really it only took me two days into 2016 to finish. Oy.

So what did I think? Well, as I mentioned just a second ago, the book is divided into five parts: Part I: Preparation, Part II: Engagement, Part III: Fulfillment, Part IV: Restless Still, and Part V: Fading to Dusk. I thoroughly enjoyed parts one, four, and five. I tore through those sections of the book with no problem. I pretty much always like reading about where people come from and their early life which was all of part one. It's personal and interesting, and I have no problem staying invested in those kinds of details. Parts four and five covered his life after the presidency to his death. He went on two major expeditions (a year-long, big-game hunting adventure in Africa and an exploratory/hunting trip through uncharted areas of the Amazon jungle in South America). In the last years of his life, WWI was going on, and all four of his sons served. All of this was exciting and engaging, and that, combined with the fact that I was so close to finally finishing the biography, made for some quick reading.

But y'all. Parts two and three were a bit painful. A meticulously detailed account of his entire political career. Interesting? Somewhat. Mind-numbing? Quite a bit. On top of all that, I discovered that I don't like Theodore Roosevelt. He was not a great guy. He was arrogant, self-righteous, and completely obnoxious. Basically, he was your quintessential politician. Once he became President, the power of the position went straight to his head, and he stuck his nose into things he had no business using the weight of the presidency to influence. He was a proponent of big government (something I am totally against), and, as one Supreme Court justice said, "he [didn't] give a damn for the law." As President, he considered himself above the law and qualified to re-define it as fit his needs, though he'd never actually admit that. 

One big political issue dear to Roosevelt's heart that I can actually get behind wholeheartedly was military preparedness. He believed the United States should have the strongest military in the world, and I totally agree with him on that. 

But boy was he hypocritical. His entire life he despised and flagrantly opposed third party politics. However, in 1912, he created the Progressive Party so that he could run for President (even after vowing he would never serve a third term) against Taft (the Republican) and Wilson (the Democrat). In doing so, he effectively split the conservative vote and handed the presidency to Wilson whom he absolutely detested. This is just one of many examples where, through a series of political events, Roosevelt would completely change his stance on an issue, convinced that he was right originally and equally right even after changing his mind.

He did have his good points though. I can honestly say that I admired his adventurous spirit and his devotion to family. He was faithful, loving, and affectionate to his wife all their married days and encouraged his sons to be the same in their marriages. One of my favorite quotes from Roosevelt himself was dispensed to his oldest son Ted shortly before Ted got married. 
"There is nothing in the world that equals the happiness that comes to lovers who remain lovers all through their wedded lives, and who are not only devoted to each other, but wise and forbearing and gentle, as well."
When his sons were all serving overseas in WWI, he constantly wrote them how proud he was of them and how much he loved them, things every father should tell his children.

Another positive quality of Roosevelt's was that, no matter how misguided he might be, he had a clear sense of what was right and what was wrong, and he would fight tooth and nail for what he deemed right. Another Roosevelt quote I love made during WWI before the United States officially entered the conflict was, "More and more I come to the view that in a really tremendous world struggle, with a great moral issue involved, neutrality does not serve righteousness; for to be neutral between right and wrong is to serve wrong."

The flip side of that coin was the ugly quality of self-righteousness which I mentioned earlier. If you didn't agree with Theodore, you weren't only wrong, you were hell-bound. 
"This was vintage Roosevelt: judging the character of a man in terms of whether that man sided with him or not."
Because of this, he severed many friendships throughout his life, and people either really loved him or really hated him. 

I could go on and on about Theodore (I mean, hello! 2+ years of my life invested in this guy!), but let's get down to brass tacks: would I recommend this book? 

If you are a major history buff and enjoy a detailed biography, sure. Read this one. I feel like I know just about everything there is to know about Theodore Roosevelt, and ultimately, I'm glad I read it. It's one of my personal goals to read a biography on every one of our Presidents, and, although this was a pretty daunting one to start with (yes, I said start with--I have a long way to go, I know), it was good, and I feel well on my way.

However, if you're only mildly interested in Roosevelt or you have a tendency to get bogged down with minutiae, this book is not for you. I'm sure there are myriad other options out there for you if you want more of a basic overview of his life. Or if you just want to come talk to me about him, I'm pretty sure I'm now the world's leading expert on him since I actually read this entire book. I mean, amiright? 

So there you have it. 2016 is off to an excellent start. And for those of you wondering if I'm so intent on reading biographies of all the presidents, why isn't one on this year's book list, have no fear. I have a George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson vying for the open spot on my list. Feel free to cast your vote in the comments.

Have you started any books yet this month? What did you think of my thoughts on Theodore? Are you for or against big government and/or military preparedness? Let's start this year off with some good discussion down in those comments. And if you're new around here or are just having trouble commenting, refer to this post for some help with that. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016 Book List

And just like that, it's a new year. Time for this year's book list. Let's just get right to it, shall we?
Theodore Roosevelt : H.W. Brands
The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex : Sheila Gregoire
In Their Own Voices : Simon & Roorda
Let Me Be A Woman : Elisabeth Elliot
The Weight of Glory : C.S. Lewis
Secrets of the Blessed Man : Paul Tassell
The Pilgrim's Progress : John Bunyan
A Midsummer-Night's Dream : William Shakespeare
Macbeth : William Shakespeare
Sense and Sensibility : Jane Austen
Great Expectations : Charles Dickens
The Last of the Mohicans : James Fenimore Cooper
The Scarlet Letter : Nathaniel Hawthorne
Little Men : Louisa May Alcott
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn : Mark Twain
To Kill a Mockingbird : Harper Lee
The Book Thief : Markus Zusak
Stepping Heavenward : Elizabeth Prentiss

You'll recognize several of these titles from last year's book list that I didn't end up reading. A few of these I have already begun (as you well know--TR, I will finish you!). A couple of these were Christmas presents (To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book Thief--yay!). As you can see, I have listed 18 books. My goal this year is to read 20. One slot is reserved for the next Christy & Todd book by Robin Jones Gunn (I can't wait!), and one slot I am leaving open for the book of my choice. I am going to try to do a better job this year of sticking to my list and actually reading all 20 books (and hopefully more!). I think it's totally do-able. 

Happy New Year! 

What are some of your reading goals or New Years Resolutions?