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Book Review – “The Diviners” by Libba Bray

In Books, Paranormal, Supernatural, Writing on January 2, 2013 at 9:15 am

Diviners

I just finished reading The Diviners, by Libba Bray. I have read a lot of books every year, but I have to say that this young adult novel is special. It’s set in the roaring 1920s (which I loved reading about), the protagonist is a flapper, and there are enough creepy supernatural things going on to keep you up at night. (With a flashlight and a blanket over your head.) The time period was clearly well researched, and the details were rich without being overly done.

I was sitting on the edge of my seat through most of the novel, and really enjoyed it. If I had to come up with any criticisms, I would have to mention that the use of 1920s jargon was just a little too thickly applied. Also, there were times when I felt that Evie’s uncle would conveniently disappear just so the young adults would be left alone long enough to put themselves in extreme danger. Other than that, I give a firm two thumbs up (and maybe some big toes as well.)
Highly recommended!

What’s Ahead in 2013 – Dream Big!

In Family, Friends, Kindness, Life, Positive thinking on January 1, 2013 at 11:49 am

2013
Well, here it is, the beginning of what promises to be an amazing year. Let’s face it, 2012 was a year that a lot of us would like to forget. With the economy in a sad state, multiple shootings of horrific proportions, and several pretty awful storms that devastated families and left them homeless, 2012 is a year that we are all glad to leave behind.

Why do I think that 2013 will be a whole lot better? I think it’s because we will all make it be better. Ever heard of positive thinking, and/or the power of prayer? I’m one of those optimistic people that believe that collective positive thoughts will bring about positive change. Imagine if the whole world spent a few minutes here and there thinking about all the great things that will happen in 2013. Could we change things for the better? I’d like to think so. But thoughts without action might not be as effective.

Recently, Ann Curry (an NBC news correspondent and former NBC Today Show host) tweeted out a challenge to her fans—do one act of kindness for every victim in the Sandy Hook shooting. This may not seem like a big deal, but I believe it is. If every one of us took on this challenge in 2013, we would be changing the world for the better, no matter how insignificant it may seem. (Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnnCurry)

But what if we took it further? What if we each did something kind for someone every single day of the year? This doesn’t mean that we buy things for others, or donate lots of money for charity. It can mean that, of course, but most of us don’t have the luxury to do that. Kindness could be as simple as opening a door for someone, complimenting someone on a job well done, or bringing someone who needs comfort a nice home-cooked meal.

Gnocchi

I’m going to challenge myself to do something kind every single day of this year. Today, I plan to take cookies to several of my neighbors just to let them know that we love and appreciate them. Tomorrow, I plan to do something nice for the staff at our local youth theatre. I challenge you to do something kind for someone every day of this year. Let’s make 2013 one of the best years yet. We are all in this together.

Cookies

I would love to hear your thoughts. Will you take the challenge? What things will you do to make this year a positive one?

Community

In Books, Family Fun, Friends, Life, Writing on October 22, 2012 at 11:36 am


When you hear the word “community,” what images/words come to mind? Yes, the community or neighborhood you live in may pop into your head first. But community is so much more than a place.

I have many different communities. My children go to different schools, and each one of those schools is a different community for our family; a different circle of friends (kids and parents) for each one.

I’m a member of a fabulous writing critique group called Writers in the Rain. (Shout out to Fabio Bueno, Angela Orlowski-Peart, Eileen Riccio, Suma Subramanium, and Brenda Beem.) In our own little writing community, we help to keep each other sane. We meet every week, read and critique each other’s pages, and give helpful suggestions or sometimes, a reality check. We are a family… a community unto ourselves. Who else gets as excited about our characters and plot lines as we do for each other’s stories? I am grateful for my writing community every day.

Even our kids’ after school activities are a community; from my son’s T-Ball team and Taekwondo studio, to the dance studio where both my kids dance, to the youth theatre where both my kids act. All community.

I could list all the communities that enrich my life, but I’d rather hear from you. Think about the communities in your life, and how they add value to it. How do you lean on your communities when you need their support? In turn, how do they lean on you? Isn’t it nice to know how much support we all have?

Tell me about your communities. Maybe it’s a group of college friends, a yoga group, or perhaps an organization in which you volunteer. Which ones have the most impact or are the most meaningful to you? I’d love to hear your stories of community and how they’ve shaped your lives.

“Senseless”

In Entertainment, Family Fun, Halloween, Outdoor, Paranormal, Theatre on October 14, 2012 at 9:42 am

Deep in the heart of the forest, a band of lost souls lurk, hoping to get their ticket out of the woods forever. From behind bushes, underneath bridges, and tucked into the recesses of the trees, they wait. They have all lost one of their senses, and wish to get that sense back… from you.

Last night, my family had the privilege of attending Mercer Island’s Haunted Forest “Senseless.” This spooky show is much different than all the others out there. There are no deranged zombies running after you with chain saws; no blood and gore. What sets this show apart from the rest, is that it is actual theatre. The young actors have helped to create their characters and they do a great job of carrying the story-line all the way through. While I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this show as over-the-top scary, I would say that it is very creepy. There’s lots of interaction between the audience and the cast—that’s what makes it fun. I highly recommend that you go see the show before it ends on October 28th.

This is a great show for families, large groups, small groups, and folks of all ages.
You can get your tickets at: http://youththeatre.org/on-stage/productions/senseless-mercer-islands-haunted-forest/.

Show times are as follows:
October 13, 2012–October 28, 2012
Evening tours for ages 8+: October 13, 19, 20 & 27
First tour leaves at 6:30, last tour leaves at 9:20 (tours are approximately 40 minutes long)

Daytime tours for ages 3+:October 21 & 28
First tour leaves at 11:00 am, last tour leaves at 2:20 pm (tours are approximately 30 minutes long)

Living Dead in Dallas (Sookie Stackhouse) Book Review

In Books, Paranormal on September 28, 2012 at 10:26 am

(I give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars) In this second book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, Sookie travels to Dallas with her vampire boyfriend, Bill. Under obligation to help the higher-ups in the vampire community, Sookie and Bill set out to find out a missing vamp named Farrell, who is friend to Stan, a very powerful boss-man. Along the way, there is murder, a fanatical group of religious zealots bent on convincing vampires that they should “go to the sun” (or in other words, to commit suicide), and Sookie’s quest to exonerate Sheriff Andy from a crime he did not commit.
 
Compared to the previous book in the series, this book was much better. Even though the first book was a fun read, it had some inconsistencies in the main characters that distracted me. Living Dead in Dallas fixed all those inconsistencies, allowing me to just enjoy the story.

I will definitely pick up the next book in the series to see what Sookie is up to next.

Dead Until Dark -Sookie Stackhouse: a quick review

In Books on September 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m torn between giving it 3 or 4 stars. I loved the concept of the story, and it definitely kept me turning pages. But I thought sometimes the characters weren’t as consistent as I would’ve liked them to be. Sookie vascillates between being weak and naive to strong and daring. Of course, I expect that from the last half of the book, after her character has grown. However, I had kind of a hard time figuring her out in the beginning. To me, Bill’s character also fluctuated a little too much. I needed to get a more solid idea of what he was all about.

However, I’m going to read the next book in the series–not only because I want to find out what happens next in Sookie’s life, but also to see if the characters become more concrete and real.

View all my reviews

Book Recommendation – Divergent

In Books on August 9, 2012 at 8:14 am

Divergent (Divergent, #1)

I just finished reading Veronica Roth’s debut novel, Divergent. I heartily recommend it to folks who love reading YA or who just love a good story. (i.e., everyone.)

Here’s why:

  1. It has an awesome cover (yes I sometimes do judge a book by its cover!) At first glance, the cover is reminiscent of the Hunger Games with the focus on the main symbolic element. However, the Divergent cover is more beautiful and complex. Thumbs up!
  2. When I first started reading I thought, “Oh no, another dystopian society where the government controls all, and the main character is matched with a boy,” blah, blah, blah. I’m happy to say, I was wrong. Instead of a flat character who rides the wave of the storyline with seemingly no control of her own, I was pleasantly surprised that our main gal, Beatrice, or Tris, as she later becomes, is a badass girl who is tough as nails. She may be small, but she packs a mighty punch. I am a sucker for a strong female protagonist.
  3. The dystopian society in this book is so much more interesting than I had expected. Set in futuristic Chicago, I was captivated in particular with the five different factions in this society, and the characteristics of each group of people. At age sixteen, the members of each faction get to choose if they want to stay in the group they had grown up in, or switch to one of the others. Tris’s newly chosen faction, the Dauntless, is by far the most interesting faction of the five, as they are pierced, tattooed, and fearless. Because this is not a book review, but rather a recommendation, I will not give away any of the plot points. No spoilers here!
  4. And the final reason why I enjoyed this book;  the protagonist’s love interest is, well… he’s pretty hot. There I said it.

So, if you haven’t read it already, you should. The minute I finished reading Divergent, I got the next in the series, entitled, Insurgent. I’m hoping this book lives up to the expectations set by the first.

Part 5: Adventure Vacations for Families

In Adventure, Family Fun, Travel on July 13, 2012 at 10:05 am

Closing out the week with the last of the Top 10 adventure vacations for families are, the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica! But be sure to read to the end, because Laura couldn’t stop at just 10. She included even more ideas to inspire you to get out and travel!

9.  Get Up Close in the Galapagos

Location: Fly into Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Then fly 600 miles over the Pacific to the Galapagos Islands.

Accommodations: Small ship (16-100 passenger) on sailing trips (recommended).

Small inn or boutique hotels on land based trip.

Activities: Hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, wild life, bird watching, exploring by panga, beach fun

Go eye to eye with wild animals.  Snorkel with sea lions, swim with penguins or wade with stingrays.  Meet a giant tortoise or tiptoe around hundreds of marine iguanas.  (Honestly, if you get too close, they will spit.)  Climb to the top of a volcano or hike along black lava fields.  Watch a comical blue footed booby do it’s mating dance or peek in on a mama bird tending her babies. The Galapagos is a cluster of islands, each with its own unique terrain.  The national park, beautifully preserved by the people of Ecuador, is like a journey back in time.  This means no mass tourism, crowds or large cruise ships allowed.  All visitors take boats with trained naturalist travel guides leading the way. They provide a wealth of information on history, geography, and animals of the islands.  You will find yourself inches away from a collection of creatures unlike anywhere else in the world…Wildlife is unbelievably approachable in these islands made famous by Charles Darwin with his theory of evolution.

10 night cruise starts at $3849 per person, all inclusive.

There is a huge variety of choices for this region with trips customizable to your interests.

10.  Go Beyond a Vacation in Costa Rica

Location: Starting in San Jose, Costa Rica

Accommodations: Small inns, cabins, huts and boutique hotels

Activities: Hiking, whitewater rafting, zip lining, swimming, beach time, farm visits, hangin’ with the locals

Pura Vida!  This charming Central American country is a haven for active adventurers, and ecological-minded families. Costa Rica has amazingly diverse terrain, weather, activities and culture.  This is a place to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone.  There’s so much to see and do here, you will be hard pressed to take it all in.  Zip-line over the cloud forest canopy, ride the rapids of thePacuare River through the rainforest, or hike around an active volcano.  Look for howler monkeys and sloths as you teeter across a suspension bridge, or slip into the jungle on a night hike in search of the ever-elusive poison dart frog.  Pick fresh exotic fruits at an organic farm and press your own sugar cane.  Sway in a hammock at an off-the-grid eco-lodge and make your own chocolate for dessert.  Swim in the surf of the Caribbean at dawn.  Soak in the local hot springs or play soccer with friendly villagers.  Big action and exotic wildlife may be what brings you here, but the warm, genuine nature of the Tico people is what you will remember most.

Cost: A typical 10 day trip starts at $1850 per person.

Note: All prices above are starting prices (subject to change) and do not include taxes, tip or airfare.

Honorable Mention: OK, it was painful to limit this list to just 10 places.  The world is a wonderfully big place and we’re just scratching the surface…  Here are a few other faves:

11.  White Water Rafting out West: Pulse pounding fun right here in the good ol’U.S.A.  Trips for any skill level from beginners to adrenaline junkies.

 12.  Paddle Impossibly Blue Waters of Belize: Stay in rustic cabanas or canvas cabins with no electricity on remote barrier reef islands. Snorkel, kayak, paddle board, fish, play volleyball, hang in your hammock or dance with the locals. On the mainland, float into the darkness of an underground river cave, hike the jungles and climb ancient Mayan ruins.

13.  Sailing Croatia: With just a handful of guests, a cook, a captain and a guide, set sail on a sweet little yacht. Explore remote islands, secret beaches and coves, and take in this Mediterranean gem. Hike, bike, swim, snorkel or kayak.

14.  Biking Europe: You name the country and there’s a great guided biking trip available.  Mix local culture and cuisine with great scenery, history, exercise and family bonding.  Plenty of down time to swim or just relax.

15.  Hiking the Dolomites: Northern Italy’s Alps areEurope’s best kept secret.  Escape the crowds and get away. Everywhere you turn, the scenery is postcard perfect. This mountain range of steep limestone cliffs, peaks, spires and gorges, borders Austria,Switzerland andItaly. The region is a melting pot of art, architecture, people and food. Meet the locals at cozy inns, on a cable car or at mountain cafes with edge-of-the-world views.

Give Back; you’ll be glad you did.

Pack with a purpose: Tote a little extra and bring clothes, toys, school or medical items for the locals. Use available space in your luggage to provide much-needed supplies. You can make a big impact on the lives of children and families in the community you visit.

Volunteer: Ask how you can give your time and energy on your trip. Reach out and spend a few hours or a few days doing a service project. There’s no better way to learn about a culture and earn respect than to work side by side with locals. Make friends and make a difference. Pick a project you’re passionate about and leave your destination a better place.

Financial Aid: We all know cash counts.  Make a monetary donation, sponsor a child or champion a fundraiser for a reputable charity.  Ask your agent for ideas on how to help.

 “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

We would love to hear comments on your favorite adventure destinations too!

My husband Ted and I own Go Custom Travel in North Bend, WA outside of Seattle.  We specialize in active vacations and off-the-beaten-path adventures… Basically, we dream up cool getaways for families and groups.  Every now and then, we get to jump out and experience some of the things we conjure up.  For more information, visit: www.facebook.com/GoCustomTravel

Part 4: Adventure Vacations for Families

In Adventure, Family Fun, Travel on July 12, 2012 at 8:59 am

More adventure vacation ideas for your family!

7.  Go Wild in Africa

Location: Tanzania

Accommodations: Unique lodges and boutique hotels (mid-price range)

Activities: Game drive expeditions with amazing wildlife viewing, walking or hiking tours, swimming, beach time.  Optional luxury tent camping, hot air ballooning, mountain climbing, and bike riding.

Tanzaniais unforgettable and exciting with its fascinating balance between wildlife, landscapes and people. The options here are endless… Venture out on a spectacular game drive to track zebras, elephants, leopards and rhinos. See the storied “Big Five” game animals in action. The vast plains of the Serengeti are home to more than two million wild animals. You’ll be treated to a private safari customized in a spacious Land Cruiser just for your family led by a professional naturalist guide. This is a perfect multi-generational trip for grandparents and kids alike. See the sun spill across the savannah as you sip our morning coffee from the lodge set high on the rim of the Ngorongoro crater… the world’s largest extinct volcano. Stroll barefoot along the pristine white sands of the spice island of Zanzibar.  Add a spectacular balloon safari, ride bikes between villages or climb the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro. Most importantly, experience the culture, warmth and beauty of the African people. Yes, this is the trip of a lifetime.

Cost: 7 night/8 day expedition starts at $2210 per person for a party of six.

Prices vary by destination, activity, lodging choice and number of travelers.

Option: Additional excursions, lodging upgrades, including luxury tent camping, available

Note: Group tours or custom adventures also available inKenya and South Africa.

8.  Find your bliss in Fiji

Location: Navini Island in the Mamanucas

Accommodations: Roomy beachfront bure (traditional Fijian hut) with hand carved furniture and full amenities.

Activities: Snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, fishing, explore neighboring islands, volleyball, visit a village, local games and traditional ceremonies.

Bula and welcome to Fiji!  This is the ultimate way to experience the dreamy scenery, spectacular waters and happy culture, of the South Pacific.  Escape the tourists and inflated prices of the big resorts. No crowds and no invasion of day trippers here.  This tiny island is for guests only, just one hour from the airport.  With only 10 bures (traditional Fijian huts) and a friendly staff of 36 (outnumbering visitors) you’ll feel like you are on your own private island.  Because there are so few guests and so many staff, you experience true Fijian culture and warm hospitality. Play vidi vidi board game with the locals, and feast on a traditional Fijian lovo dinner taken steaming from the underground oven.  Sing and dance during the kava ceremony. Here time is your own to do as little or as much as you like.  With a crystal-clear coral reef sanctuary to play in and complimentary water sports, you will be in a marine nirvana. After an action packed day, sprawl out under a thatched umbrella to read a book or have an outdoor Fijian massage with a fresh tropical flower in your hair.  Aaaahhh… pure heaven!

Cost: 7 nights starting at $4069 for a family of four.

Includes meals, most activities and round trip boat transportation from the Nadi airport.

Note: Boat transportation from airport is additional for less than a 7 night stay.

Option: Highlands whitewater rafting on the main island of Viti Levu.  Explore lush rainforest, narrow canyons and hidden waterfalls.

Part 3: Adventure Vacations for Families

In Adventure, Family Fun, Travel on July 11, 2012 at 8:12 am

Welcome back! Here are two more fun-filled adventure vacations to check out.

5. Embark on a Tall Ship Sailing Adventure

Routes: Caribbean, Mediterranean, Baltic and Costa Rica

Accommodations: Tall sailing ship with 170- 227 guests

Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, island exploration

Not every cruise requires coat ‘n tie dining with strangers, hokey lounge singers, or all you can eat over-indulgent midnight buffets. Why cruise with thousands of others?  As an alternative to the mega ships, there is a wonderful array of small ship cruises out there. Visit ports untouched by the large cruise lines.  No need to jockey for a pool chair on a small ship.  Forget rigid schedules and relax or read a book while a local band plays some soft tropical tunes. The setting is casual and easygoing. One line, Star Clippers, is a particular favorite. They have the world’s largest and tallest sailing vessels, offering an authentic, grand sailboat experience. Climb the mast to look out from the crow’s nest. Help hoist the sails and drift away at sunset to your next island under full sail. Teens will have a fantastic time, but don’t expect kiddie programs. Rather than being sent away to kid’s club, you may find yourself on a scavenger hunt. Swim, play games and explore the islands together as a family.  Looking for more adventure?  Try the marina platform, which lowers from the stern for water sports.

Cost: 7 nights starting at $2075 per person

Includes free airfare to the Caribbean andCosta Rica (current promotion)

Note: Last minute deals occasionally available.

Option: Land excursions with a myriad of adventures

6. Take an Expedition in Alaska

Embarkation: Juneau, Ketchikan or Sitka, AK

Route: Along the Tongass National Forest

Accommodations: Small ship with 60- 76 guests

Activities: Kayaking, hiking, standup paddle boarding, snorkeling, glacier viewing, and exploring by skiff.  Hot tub on deck with mind-blowing, majestic views.

Skip the crowds, take your time and see Alaska in the way it was meant to be explored… on an expedition boat. Inner Sea Discoveries is the polar opposite of a mega cruise. With less than 80 guests, you can venture into fjords where big ships cannot.  Linger in the midst of a pod of spouting, whales. The boat has flexibility to change coarse if wildlife is spotted. Get up close to thundering tidewater glaciers and gaze at the vast wilderness. You’ll meander into rare, out-of-the-way places. The route follows the edges of the nation’s largest national forest, through pristine waters full of humpbacks and orcas, porpoise, sea lions, and seals. Bald eagles perch along the shoreline. On land, you might see bears, mountain goats, deer, mink, river otters, and maybe even, moose.

Cost: 7 night/8 day cruise starts at $1795 per person

Option: Land extension to Denali via dome train and flight seeing adventures

Read more about fun adventure getaways on Go Custom Travel’s facebook page and click “like.” https://www.facebook.com/#!/GoCustomTravel. You can also visit Laura’s webpage: http://www.gocustomtravel.com/Go/Welcome.html

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