Friday, May 12, 2017

Review of Unicorn Tracks


I really enjoyed this book.  It seamlessly combines elements of our world with the fantastical to create a place full of excitement and wonder.

Both of the main characters are interesting and well rounded. I found myself rooting for Mnemba from the first and was desperate to learn more about her life before becoming a guide for her cousin's business.  Kara took a little longer to warm up to, but I enjoyed how independent and curious she was... even with the mermaids, lol.

Unicorn Tracks doesn't shy away from the topic of rape or the aftermath of it.  While Mnemba's attacker was punished for his crimes against her, she still ended up leaving her home because of the judgement and expectations of those who would claim he was a good man and this was a one-time incident.  It was an especially heartwarming moment when her father said that he would kill Mnemba's attacker if ever he were set free.

Her relationship with Kara was slow going, as they figured out how to work past the trauma of the past, but it was all the sweeter when they were finally able to connect.  At the end of the story, Mnemba isn't "over" what happened to her, but she is able to keep moving forward with the support of her lover, friends, and family.  <3

I would suggest this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy, adventure, or alternate histories.  It's a quick read, but a darned good one!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Ireland: Day 4

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Our planned outing with the TnCIS group was today and we headed out early to get to the Newgrange site.  (http://www.newgrange.com/)

Older than even the Egyptian pyramids at Giza and Stonehenge, the Irish passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth are some of the most impressive buildings of ancient times. These three sites are located along the River Boyne in an area that is perfect for the agricultural communities that settled there.

Ancient Irish peoples cremated their dead and placed them in great passage tombs. Unlike today, ancient people did not forget their dead and would commune with them at special times of the year.

Newgrange us one such site and has a roof box which allows the mid-winter sun to penetrate into the innermost chambers of the tomb.

One of the reasons Newgrange and its sister sites are so impressive is that much of the building materials were gathered from far away areas and floated upstream to the building site. Huge stones were dragged up from the river, had incredibly intricate designs carved into them, and were placed in their final resting spot. Many of these stones are still intact and in place today! Perhaps we should take lessons from the ancient people on how to build things that will last through the ages.

   

Although we cannot ask these ancient Irish people their thoughts, much can be learned from what they left behind. It is highly likely that only respected elders were allowed to enter the innermost chambers, with public rituals held outside the tombs.

Feminine symbolism is found in the egg-shaped stones and the passages within the structures while masculine symbols are seen in the various phallic objects and the stone balls.

This is especially interesting because of the connection that ancient peoples saw between death and rebirth.

As an aside to the wealth of history in the area, I found it really cool that the areas around these tombs had once again become agricultural. Farmers keep cows and sheep on the land and crow crops in the same soil of old.


On the drive from Newgrange to our surprise, the town of Bettystown, a beachfront community, I noticed something...  The major roads in Ireland are called "Motorways" instead of "Interstates." Once I'd considered it for a moment, I realize that it makes sense. In the United States we have a system of roadways that connect the states, an interstate system. However, Ireland has counties and would not need an interstate system. Instead, they have a motorway to travel across the country.

Personally, I think "Motorway" sounds quite hip, but I am definitely still attached to my "Interstates." I've traveled all my life.  :-)

At the beach, many of my classmates and I removed our shoes and played in the chilly waters of the sea. Water is the element I most identify with and whenever I get the chance to experience the nature of it, life is good.

What?
Brianna and I stopped in a small cafe for a snack of french toast and we talked with the waitress about the trip we were on and what we had seen so far. She was quite sweet and said that most tourists passed right by the cafe, but that it was nice to hear we were having fun.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Beautiful People #19 | July Edition



Do they want to get married and/or have children? Why or why not?
     At this point in time, Quill does not see himself married with or without children.

     Ransom, coming from a large family, would like to have a large family of his own.  He imagines a house in the country, filled with at least six kids, two dogs, and a variety of fish... Sometimes, he thinks he'd like to run his own farm and get away from city life altogether.

What is their weapon of choice? (It doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical weapon.)
     Quill's weapon of choice is words, of course.  Ransom prefers not to be in a situation that requires weapons... However, he is trained to use and owns his own firearms.

What’s the nicest thing they’ve done for someone else, and why did they do it?


Have they ever been physically violent with someone, and what instigated it?
     A fairly easygoing person, Quill has never found himself in a position where physical violence against someone else.

     A retired veteran, Ransom now works in the cyber-crime unit of a local police station. While in the military, he found himself in situations where physical violence was the only way to insure he and his fellow soldiers lived to see another day.

Are they a rule-follower or a rebel?
     Quill is a strict rule-follower, he believes that if there is a rule in place that it must have been created for a reason.

     Ransom is the rebel of their age-group and was an instigator of many "adventures" during their youth.  While he never broke any laws, Ransom is able to see when a rule is not good for a situation and react accordingly.

Are they organized or messy?
     Quill is super organized except for when Ransom comes to visit and then all bets are off.  Shoes left in the middle of the living room?  You bet.  Socks hanging from the lamp in the entry way?  Yep.  Refrigerator all out of whack?  Definitely.

What makes them feel loved, and who was the last person to make them feel that way?


What do they eat for breakfast?
     On mornings that he is scheduled to work, Quill has a breakfast of grape nuts cereal, some fruit, and a cup of fresh coffee.

     Ransom is NOT a morning person. As such, he often just grabs a granola bar to eat on his commute and a cup of coffee when he arrives at the station.

Have they ever lost someone close to them? What happened?
     Quill's grandmother died of natural causes when he was eleven years old. They had always been close and he was absolutely devastated by her death.

What’s their treat of choice? (Or, if not food, how else do they reward themselves?)
     Both men enjoy being outdoors and, whenever possible, escape from city life to hike through the woods, up a mountain, or just go camping.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Beautiful People #18 | June Edition



What are their first childhood memory?
     One of Quill's most vivid childhood memories is of the day he met Ransom. It was at Ransom's sister's wedding and both young boys were tired (and a little cranky) from being dressed up all day long. Their mothers, who had been friends since college, encouraged the boys to play together for the afternoon.

     When he remembers Ransom's first words to him, Quill always as to stifle a laugh... "My sister just got married. I had to dress up all fancy and stupid, but it was nice, I guess. She won't stop smiling. Hey! You wanna get married? We can be married and then you won't have to frown anymore 'cause you'll be happy all the time like my sister."

What were their best and worst childhood experiences?
     Quill's best childhood experience was becoming a big brother and his worst was when he broke his arm falling out of a treehouse.

What was their childhood home like?
     Quill's parents still live in his childhood home. It is an older, Victorian style house that was cozy when family came to visit, but still had enough space that people weren't stepping all over each other. He enjoys being able to visit the house he grew up in and has many good memories that were made there.

What’s something that scared them as child?
     When Quill was very little, he was scared that aliens would come and take him away in their spaceship.

     As for Ransom? He always said that he wasn't scared of anything, when he actually was a little afraid of the dark.

Who did they look up to most?
     Quill has always been enamored with Amelia Earhart and would love to get his private pilot license and fly his own plane to different locations. Of course, he needs to somehow earn enough money to pay for pilot school AND the payment on a plane, lol.

Favorite and least favorite childhood foods?
     Quill thinks that pie is the best thing in the entirety of the world and Brussels sprouts are from the devil. When he was little, Quill's favorite pie was apple pie but his tastes have changed as he's grown older and he now prefers strawberry rhubarb pie. His mother tried to feed him Brussels sprouts once and never attempted it again.

     Ransom likes his mother's chili the best. It is a recipe that's been in his family for generations and he has grown up eating Mexican food. His Abuela has been known to rant for many minutes on the tastelessness of Americanized Mexican food. While he isn't actually a picky eater, Ransom prefers a lot of meat in his diet and not so many vegetables. He has always taken a bit of convincing to eat anything green or leafy.

If they had their childhood again, would they change anything?
     The only thing Quill would change about his youth is the year in high school where he was terrified that something was wrong with him, that somehow he was broken and that his brokenness would be found out and he'd be hated for it.

What kind of child were they? Curious? Wild? Quiet? Devious?
     Quill was a quiet child, but extremely curious about the world around him. He was always getting caught in places that he wasn't supposed to be because he would let his best friend, Ransom, talk him into exploring the woods near their houses.

What was their relationship to their parents and siblings like?
     At first, Quill was jealous of all the attention his little sister was getting from the adults in his life. He had been an only child for seven years and suddenly there was this screaming, red-faced baby taking his parents away from him. It took a few months for Quill to stop feeling jealous and to understand that babies just need a lot of attention and that his parents still loved him. After 'Lizabet grew out of her colicky stage, his parents would spend one-on-one time with Quill to make sure he didn't feel left out.

     Quill loves his parents and appreciates their support of him and his little sister. Even from across the country, he feels safe and loved because he knows that his family is there for him.

What did they want to be when they grew up, and what did they actually become?
     Quill wanted to be a firefighter when he grew up and even though he went to school to become a librarian, he has considered becoming a reserve firefighter and working part-time at a local firehouse.

     When he was little, all Ransom wanted to be when he grew up was a pirate! Sadly, he learned that piracy isn't a legal way to earn one's income and chose instead to go into technology. He now works with a police cyber crime unit.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Ireland: Day 3

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Our first experience riding the Hop On, Hop Off bus wasn't particularly great. The driver, a Dublin native, rather brusquely stated that he didn't like to hear his riders' speaking. We were told, "Your talking has made me lose my track." which appears to be interchangeable with the Americanism, "You made me lose my place."
My instructor commented... "Not very nice! I didn't hear this."
I have noticed that the Irish phrasing sounds more solid, almost as if it carries the weight of age. The American way of saying things is often very impudent sounding, often quite brash. We are a young country, after all, and the older I get the more that I am able to recognize this.

Knowing the Irish are particularly proud of their breweries, I looked forward to getting a tour of one of the local facilities.

Teeling Distillery is the only working Distillery in Dublin. It is a small, family-owned business that returned to Dublin and became the producer of the first Dublin whiskey to be distilled within the city in over forty years.

Peter, a fast-talking, highly knowledgeable young man was our tour guide. He explained how the distillery tried to purchase the original land and when they couldn't, decided to locate in the historic Liberties. The Liberties were located beyond the city walls and residents felt "at liberty" to brew whiskeys and beers without having to pay taxes on what they produced.

We learned about the different ingredients and cooking processes that the Teeling Distillery has used for years. From the selection of grains to the three copper vats where the solution is cooked down to become their signature whiskeys, everything at Teelings speaks of quality.

Peter sitting in front of Natalie.
Traditions of old and new techniques come together in the three vats named after the Teeling daughters -- Alison, Natalie and Rebecca -- to create a wonderfully smooth small batch whiskey.

During the tasting portion of the tour, Peter explained the correct way to drink good Irish Whiskey...
  1. Start by swirling it in the cup. The natural oils of a good whiskey will leave a residue called peaks and tears on the glass.
  2. Second, smell the whiskey, breathing in the different scents.
  3. Third, take a small sip and swallow, breathing out immediately afterward to allow the alcohol fumes of that first taste to escape.
  4. After these steps, one may continue drinking, allowing each mouthful to sit on the tongue as the flavors and depths are revealed.
As the Teeling family says...

At the Farmer's Market next door, a kind sort of haggling over prices occurred as vendors and their customers decided the worth of vegetables, fruits, meats, and more. The people in attendance were of the community, speaking familiarly with vendors and other customers, reminding me of the small-town grocery store where I grew up. It seems that much of Ireland still has that small-town sense of community. The people truly care about each other and their country.


We traveled through Dublin by Hop On, Hop Off bus and hopped off across the River Liffey at the Story of the Irish show.

Guided through history by an actor portraying an ancient Celtic god, Crannog, we learned of the origins of the Irish people in their own words. Crannog is one of the Tuatha De Dannan, a people of magic who are honor bound to tell the truth, and is the guide who protects you as you travel through history.

The original Irish people migrated up the coast of Europe at the end of the last Ice Age. A few of these people crossed the water in skin boats to the island of Ireland, leaving the coast of a Britain still connected to the continent.

From that first landing the island was able to escape much of the war and conquering forces of the mainland. The island of Ireland was (and has been) so isolated from the world that the gene pool remained undiluted for thousands of years and a prosperous agricultural community developed. This group of people were technologically advanced and traded with lands as far away as Persia!

The most wonderful thing I was able to take away from the show is that there is currently a revival to bring back many of the ancient Irish traditions, the culture, and language.

Hearing tales of ancient Irish kings and of the steadfast, enduring soul of the people was truly inspiring.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ireland: Day 2



FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2016


Walking to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells didn't afford us the opportunity to hear much of the local language. Conversations became background noise as we entered the college grounds.

Honestly, the only draw I felt to the Book of Kells is the huge undertaking and great accomplishment that it was for the times.

One of the most interesting things about the Book of Kells is that there were a number of different monks who had a hand in its creation. While it was not unusual for scribes and artist to embellish the copies they wrote, the intricacies and dedication to detail shown in the Book of Kells is truly remarkable!

The symbols of the Four Evangelists (from Wikipedia)
Written over a thousand years ago, the Book of Kells is proof of the talented artisans living in Ireland at the time.

Not only does the Book of Kells share the gospel of Christ, it also incorporates imagery and symbology from ancient Celtic beliefs. Throughout the book, Celtic crosses, knot work, and creatures can be seen in vivid, full color detail.

I was impressed most by the use of color in the Book of Kells. From the commonly used yellow ochre to the highly expensive lapis lazuli, pigments were gathered from as far away as Southeast Asia.


Even today, the artwork contained in the Book of Kells is easily seen and enjoyed in its original, hand-written state. It remains nearly pristine on the vellum pages and can be viewed on a daily basis by visitors to Trinity College.

The Latin in which the Book of Kells, the Book of Darrow, and the Book of Armagh are written is the language used by the Catholic church. What is interesting about this is that, while it is a dead language, Latin is still widely used in Catholic church ceremonies around the world. Not so dead after all, is it?

The Long Room
Above the exhibition floor is the Long Room. Originally the main chamber of the Old Library, this room now contains over 200,000 of the oldest books in the Trinity College Library collection. These books are shelved on the original shelves and in gallery bookcases. Being able to see materials that are hundreds of years old is a priceless opportunity that I won't soon forget!
As an aside, I was allergic to Trinity College. During our entire visit to Ireland, I only had an allergic reaction at the college. Alas, I will never be an archivist if I'm allergic to the materials I am supposed to be working with!  :P
In addition to the many priceless books at the Trinity College Library, there is also a harp. The oldest surviving harp in Ireland, it is an emblem of the early bardic societies.


After a brief communication snafu, Miranda, Bree, Sara, Brianna and I found a coffee shop with WiFi. We spent almost thirty minutes getting to know each other better. Just like the coffee shops back home, students were completing work and friends were meeting to catch up with one another. Some things appear to be universal and coffee shops being a place for the community is one such thing. Yay!
My instructor made the following note in my journal. "So glad you did all become friends! --Doug B."

Though small, our next stop proved to be quite an interesting little museum. The collection of the Dublin Writers Museum is housed in an 18th century mansion. The building has suffered from water damage and parts of the exhibit had been removed for restoration.

Even with the missing pieces, the items remaining in the exhibit and the self-guided audio tour painted a memorable image of the historical significance of Irish writers and literature.

We were even able to see Samuel Beckett's infamous telephone! He had special buttons that would block or allow calls only when he desired them and only his close friends new when the accept calls button would be pressed.

The reading of an excerpt from Bram Stoker's Dracula had be grinning long after I heard it. The dramatic flare of this most famous vampire story isn't particularly poetic, but it is vivid and imaginative. I would love to read Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan La Fanu. It would be very interesting to compare the two stories that, quite possibly, started the tradition of vampire novelizations.

After the tour, I made a point of talking with the security guard. I asked him why he chose the job he now held. I was rewarded by his reply that the opportunity to meet people from all around the world is what makes his job so rewarding. We talked a little about American politics and it was most entertaining to see how his accent became more pronounced as he became more and more passionate about the topic.

The Irish do not like Donald Trump in the least.

Walking the streets of Dublin on Friday night was a wonder! The city was absolutely buzzing with activity; both locals and tourists enjoying the beautiful weather, taking to the streets with friends and family. I heard so many accents during this first evening in the city; from German and Swedish to Korean and British and, of course, the native Irish lilt.

Celeste, Christine, Brianna, and I walked for absolutely AGES trying to find something for dinner! It seemed that every place we stopped was closed and we began to wonder if we should just find a convenience store and grab something from the shelves. When we finally found a restaurant we all liked the sound of, it turned out that they were out of the menu items we wanted. *sigh*
Finally, we decided on "authentic oriental food" and ate at the Noodle House. Yay, food!

The girl in the restaurant where we ate dinner spoke with a British accent, calling the bathroom a loo instead of toilet. She was very kind and explained that chicken gougan is sliced chicken breast, breaded and cooked.

I am curious to find out if the chicken gougan recipe matches at all with that of a chichen nugget or strip.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ireland: Day 1

I will be sharing a series of posts about a recent study abroad trip to Ireland I took with my sister, Brianna.

While in Ireland, we were required to keep a daily journal for the World Literature II class that was included in our final grade at the end of the trip... These posts will be all of what I wrote in the journal, additional thoughts (which will be indented), and pictures that weren't shared with family via my Facebook page.

THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2016

Conveniently, we flew out of Memphis International.
Meeting at the Memphis International Airport, all seven study abroad students in one place, made this trip suddenly real!

Snacks aboard our Delta flight. *nom nom nom*
I was too tired from my first international flight to notice more than the new accents in the Dublin airport. The first, and most readily noticeable, was the Irish accents and the second was that of the neighboring Brits.
Our final assignment for the World Literature class was to write about the language in Ireland. What were the differences? Nuances that we heard? Accents? Did the Irish use different words for things than Americans? It was quite a broad assignment and it was difficult to get into because of that.
I had heard Irish accents before traveling to Ireland, so it wasn't really a shock to hear the accent again. In fact, it was really nice to hear the almost musical quality of the lilting language as the locals talked with us.
One of the most different things I noticed while in Ireland was how nice everyone was. People in Ireland seemed to be genuinely kind and, in every interaction I had with them, they were interested in me as a person and making sure that I enjoyed every part of my trip.
That first evening, Brianna and I walked a classmate, Celeste, back to her hotel. Because of a scheduling snafu, our group was split between two different hotels while in Dublin. On the return trip, we stopped at a McDonald's restaurant for Street Passes. I only recently got into playing games on the Nintendo 3DS and (thanks to Corey B.) became addicted to collecting as many street passes as I possibly could... What better place to get exotic street passes than across the pond?

I was hoping that the menu (and staff) would say chips instead of fries, but it was not to be. I contented myself to eating a small order of french fries.
Interestingly, McDonald's is one of Ireland's largest employers and they started operating in the country in 1977! This is not something that I think is all that amazing, it's just interesting. I've never been a huge fan of fast food, but it was fascinating to see the different menu items they offered that I've never seen in America...
  • Fish fingers
  • Sugar donut
  • Twisty fries
  • Chocolate filled donut
  • "Toasties" for breakfast
We went to sleep that first night exhausted and excited all at once.