Author Archives: Michelle Ross

Wordless Wednesday: Habitat for Humanity

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Favorite Poems

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Favorite Poems

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This week, the gals over at The Broke and the Bookish have left the Top Ten Tuesday prompt wide open. So good…and so bad! While it will be awesome to hop around the blogs and see what others came up with (many which I will lament not having thought of myself) it did mean that I had to sort through a million possibilities in my own head before even beginning this week’s list. Instead of sticking with a typical list of books this week, I’m going to veer off into a different literary genre for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday: poems! I, by no means, consider myself well-read when it comes to poetry, but I do have a core collection of favorites, which are the basis for this week’s entry. (Presented in alphabetic order, just to save me the stress of figuring out which is my all-time favorite, as that distinction is always in flux.)

“A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes– It might not be long, but it packs a punch in its few lines. Our dreams are what make us who we are; dreams are what push us to get out of bed each day and become better. But, if those dreams are stymied over and over, whether by an individual or a government, the power of them is going to have to be released (unleashed?) somehow. What will that explosion look like?

“Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe- This one easily made my top ten and always will. I love the pull between the fairy tale setting by the sea and the macabre final stanza. A love existed that was so precious and pure that heavenly angels crushed it in jealously. That’s some pretty great Gothic imagery.

“I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes- Somewhere along the lines in school I had to memorize this one for an English class and it has been stuck in my brain ever since. I love the strength and conviction in it.

“If” by Rudyard Kipling- Choices and attitude are the underlying themes of this poem, both of which I believe we must actively own. By setting up the dichotomies throughout, Kipling reminds us that we ultimately have control over our actions/reactions. I can choose my behavior and attitude towards a situation, even when I can’t control the details of the event. Not a bad life lesson…

“Oh Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman-­ This is one of those poems that I can’t read without a swelling of patriotism/pride in my heart. What a beautiful tribute to a rising nation and a fallen leader.

“Oranges” by Gary Soto- I love Gary Soto’s poems and they were always a favorite to teach to middle school students. This one is such a perfect glimpse into early love, the stress of impressing a young girl with just the few coins in a boy’s pocket. It is tender and sweet, but doesn’t discount the nerves as a boy makes his first moves into the world of dating.

“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou- There is little that needs to be said about this immense poem of strength and resilience. In a world where women (and men) are judged constantly on superficial traits, Angelou reminds us all that we are so much more than that. She reminds us that our power comes from within and that we should not let negativity get us down. Push to be better; push to be phenomenal.

“Warning” by Jenny Joseph- Love this poem! Again, it was a favorite to teach with my middle school students, because after we read it, I would assign everyone to rewrite it in their own style, “warning” us of something we need to know about their future. It was awesome watching kids write poems warning us about when they were famous baseball players, when they were the school principal or when they finally received their driver’s license. The creativity that this poem sparked in my students always made me smile!.

“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks­- Lacking the pretentiousness often associated with poetry, this short work just puts a teenager frame of mind into a new genre, succinctly displaying both the bravado and audacity of teens as they face the world.

“Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein- Of course, a poetry list on this blog would not be complete without an eponymous entry! And, I love that by putting the list in alphabetical order, this fell at the end, as a great wrap-up to the poetry week. Living abroad, moving every few years and traveling as much as possible, I am always in search of the end of the sidewalk, not because I want the journey to end, but because I want to see what is there and then I want to see what is on the other side of “the end.” New people, new places, new ideas. You never know where the sidewalk will lead or what you will find, but it is always worth having a look!

 

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Stumbling on the Sidewalk

When in pursuit of sidewalk endings, adventures are bound to pop up along the way. Most of the time, the escapades that seem the craziest at the time, once survived, end up being the best stories and they are the reason we sling on our backpacks as much as possible and go-go-go. But, not all adventures take us down a road we want to travel, and that, my friends, is how I almost became Thad’s personal ACS case last week. (ACS= American Citizen Services.)

It all started on a bright, sunny Friday afternoon, three weeks ago. I had just driven back to the embassy from a going away lunch at a local polo club (great Indian food!) and was settling in at my computer for an afternoon of sorting and scanning diplomatic notes. Strangely, my left eye was super blurry, but I blamed it on the raging sunshine outside and figured it would quickly adjust to the florescent lights of the office.

It didn’t.

All weekend.

By Sunday night, I was doing the worst thing anyone with any kind of ailment can do: I Googled it. Suddenly, WebMD had me convinced I had rare eyeball cancer and was going to die before morning. Thank you, internets. The upside to my internet searching was that it made me realize maybe my blurry vision was a bigger deal that I was giving it credit for and maybe, just maybe, I should pop in to our embassy medical unit to have them take a quick glance on Monday morning.

Which I did. After finishing the visa intake for the morning. (I was really not too panicked about this whole thing yet. I’d get to MED when I go there…) Going in, I told the medical officer that I had only half-vision in my left eye. I would have slated it nearly a horizontal line across my eye, with vision on the bottom. Without much hesitation, I was shuttled off to an ophthalmologist here in Kuala Lumpur for a series of tests, but I still wasn’t feeling super worried about the situation.

That sense of calm would not last much longer.

After a succession of eye tests at the hospital here, the ophthalmologist sat me down and without much ado announced that he was diagnosing me with optical neuritis and that I must be admitted to the hospital immediately for an MRI, as the condition is a precursor to multiple sclerosis. Suddenly, I went from having what I thought was a bit of blurry vision to the possibility of a life-long, potentially debilitating disease. How did that just happen? Not really sure what to think or do in the moment, I told him I needed to check in with the embassy before making any further plans. I was in shock and couldn’t really process what was happening. Had my life just changed in the course of two minutes? I quickly got ahold of the medical unit, who decided if that is the route we were going to take, we were going to take it in Singapore.

Back to the embassy I shuttled to throw together the makings of an emergency medical evacuation. By this time it was Monday evening and I was scheduled on an early Tuesday morning Air Asia flight, with specialist appointments booked for Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. (All of these bookings happened in the course of about an hour. When MED moves, they move!) Before leaving post, I had to get a few things in order at my desk, I had to top off my cell phone minutes, I had to pack a bag for a week and load up as much school work as I could fit to take along. Things were a blur, and not just because my left eye had quit working!

It was all happening quickly.

Too quickly.

Which is how my crazy medical condition also nearly made me become Thad’s personal ACS case! In the midst of the chaos of prepping and packing to go, as I moved all of my money and cards to the purse I was taking to Singapore, my credit card got left sitting on the dining room table. On Tuesday, I caught the quick one-hour flight to Singapore and headed to the 4 Seasons hotel where I would be lodging for the duration of my stay. The great medical section team in Singapore had the room pre-booked, so when I arrived, I just rolled on up to the counter, ready to sign in. I passed my credit card over and scanned the fancy lobby as I waited for the desk clerk to run it. Soon, he had a worried look on his face. He swiped the card again, but I could tell something was wrong.

Oh no! He didn’t need to say a word. I might be partially blind, but the lightbulb went off.

A few weeks ago, we had some weird taxidermy charges on our credit card out of Texas. (You know how I like to keep stuffed dead things lying around my house!) The credit card company shut off those cards and sent us new ones. Well, the card in the hand of the desk clerk was the old card and the new shiny one was sitting at home, in Kuala Lumpur. Not good.

So, there I was, in a foreign country, half-blind and with only the cash in my purse: about $200USD total, trying to pay for a hotel that ran $300 a night. Uhhh…Thad to the rescue! I quickly called him and had him give his card number to the hotel so I could check in. He then had to sign an avadavat saying he would cover my costs for the entire stay (room service, anyone?!), but he quickly sorted it from his end so I was able to drop off my bags before heading to the first appointment.(It is almost as if sorting out unprepared Americans is his job or something!) But, the lack of functioning card did make me basically destitute in what is definitely not one of the cheaper cities on the globe. I spent the next four days, until he was able to join me in Singapore, convincing doctors and hospitals to take my card by just the number, without physically having it in-hand. (Scary how well this actually worked! I was able to put thousands of dollars of medical bills on a card I did not actually carry.)

I felt like such a dunce! Maybe the eye-sight really was a bigger brain issue.

Over the next three days, I had eye tests where I realized that no, I did not have 50% vision in my left eye, but closer to 5% and that I was basically color-blind as well. I had an MRI, which at the cost of that thing, I’m not sure why they can’t add a muffler to the machine. And I was admitted to the hospital for three days of IV steroids to reduce the swelling on my optical nerve. (My nurse friends will attest, I have what must be close to the world’s worst veins, so this was a rather unpleasant period for me. I’m such a terrible blood donator that Red Cross usually sends me away, not able to get enough blood to bother with. The doctors at the hospital in Singapore had to call in the head phlebotomist, who was still not able to get three full vials of blood and then had to poke and prod to find a place to insert the IV. No fun for anyone! Three weeks later, my right hand still has two rather good sized bruises on it from the poking and prodding procedures.)

To make a long story short, the answer to the big question is “we don’t know.” Thankfully, the MRI scans came back clean, no lesions, so for now, no MS. (This is something that will have to be monitored long-term with follow-up MRIs in the future, but clean and clear for now.) The IV steroids and subsequent oral steroids (don’t mess with my right now, man!) have brought my vision back to probably 90% and its improving each day. With nothing to go on, the doctors are leaving the diagnosis as “optical neuritis” and will just monitor. I’m headed back to Singapore in a month for follow-up exams (you can bet I’ll have my credit card next time!) and then it will just be a wait and see (literally!)situation.

Adventures, for the most part are fun, but sometimes the sidewalk gets a little blurry, which gets a bit scary. Over the last three weeks, my sidewalk nearly disappeared but is slowly coming back into focus and is a good reminder to keep searching and enjoying the journey. (It’s also a good reminder to always carry a valid credit card!)

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Wordless Wednesday: Singapore Uniphant

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I REALLY Want to Meet

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I REALLY Want to Meet

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(Capitalization as provided by the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish, as I definitely don’t feel that strongly about it!)

I almost skipped writing this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, but then realized if I didn’t sit down to work on this blog entry, I’d have to sit down and write a paper about ethics and travel writing that I just haven’t quite sorted out in my brain yet. (You know when you have an idea of what you want to say, floating around in your head, but none of it is coming together into any sensible order? That is where I am at. So, rather than sit down and focus on creating an outline there, I’ll procrastinate with a Top Ten Tuesday list!) The reason this list almost went undone is because I have just never been super drawn to the idea of meeting celebrities. (Okay, I met Michelle Obama last year and that was about the best thing ever, but still…) I don’t really get starry-eyed over the rich and famous, but the more I thought about this topic of authors I’d like to meet, I realized it would be fun to put together a list of ten authors I would like to invite to the same dinner party and then just sit back and watch what happens! As you read, imagine them all together for an evening, the conversation taking itself where it would…With this group of characters, the possibilities are endless!

Beverly Cleary- Ramona! How do you not invite the creator of Ramona to a dinner party? These books were the first “chapter books” I read on my own (although we didn’t call them that back then) and I couldn’t get enough of my box set of paperback. Beverly Cleary has opened up reading to generations of young kids and I would love to hear her take not only on current children’s literature, but see her chat the classics with Poe and Hemingway.

Edgar Allan Poe- Of course. No one who has spent any time on this blog would not expect to see him on the list. I’d love to see his reaction to his current fame, considering he died destitute in a gutter.

Erik Larson- I credit Larson with turning me on to narrative non-fiction writing. Before reading Devil in the White City, I would only pick up non-fiction when it was required for a class, but after being drawn in to his style of weaving various stories into a single true tale, I’ve become quite the follower of new books in this genre.

Ernest Hemingway-I think he would probably be a pompous ass. But, just entertaining enough to put up with for an evening. Besides, we’ve got to have some Idaho representation at the party !

Haruki Murakami- This is an outlier, but I’m strangely drawn in my Murakami’s writing. When I am actually reading it, I don’t always understand what I am reading or where the story is going. I don’t even necessarily like the writing while I am in the midst of it, but somehow, each time I finish one of his novels, I walk away with a sense that I really loved what I just read, even if I barely scratched the surface of understanding.

Maya Angelou- She’s amazing and inspirational and I can’t imagine a literary gathering without her.

Orson Scott Card- Again, an author chosen for having opened the door to a new genre for me. I’m wouldn’t call myself a big science fiction fan, but before reading Ender’s Game when I was in high school, I would not have even given the genre a chance. Ender’s Game caught my attention in a way that surprised me and I quickly read through his entire library at the time. I honestly haven’t stayed as current with his writing as I probably should have, but as the doorway to a new genre, he deserves a place at my table.

Roald Dahl- I had a love hate relationship with this man as a child. I loved The BFG but was terrified by James and the Giant Peach, and yet, I couldn’t not pick up those books filled with just enough irreverence to make me think I was getting away with something. (So much fart talk!)

Stephen King­- Possibly a surprise member of my dinner party, since his novel It made it onto my recent Top Ten Books I’ll Never Read list. But, while I can’t go in for the horror he creates, I do think he is an amazing writer and has some important idea on the teaching of writing. I really respect him academically and think that these dual qualities would add to the conversation on many levels.

William Least Heat-Moon- I just finished Blue Highways by Heat-Moon and really liked the smoothness of his writing style. There is a comfort and ease to his writing; although I am sure the writing itself was neither comfortable nor easy. Blue Highways was published in 1983 and I’d love to catchup with the last three decades of his ideas.

In hindsight, getting these ten authors together on a single night might be utter chaos. The whole thing could quickly dissolve into egos and power plays, and yet, I do think the sidebar conversations would be worth the efforts. With a mixture of classic and contemporary authors, fiction and non-fiction writers, the literary world would be their oyster!

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Wordless Wednesday: Singapore Botanical Gardens

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Will Probably Never Read

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Will Probably Never Read

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I love this week’s prompt from the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish, as let’s face it, even the most bookish of us have titles that we either have good intentions of getting to but always seem to drift to the bottom of the “to read” pile, or we have those ones that we are just well aware that we will never pick up unless we’re desperately stuck with nothing else to read. (Actually, I’m experiences a bit of that now, having traveled without proper bookage and am not forced to choose between the few English channels my hotel in Singapore gets or a terribly boring book I brought along, hoping it would be better. I might be wishing a bit for a few of the books on this week’s list after all.)

Again, in the normal “no particular order” I present you with ten books I will just probably never get around to reading…

50 Shades of Gray by E. L. James I know these were super popular, but they just never held any appeal for me. Not that I need all of my books to be super “literary” but I do think I’d like a bit more plot than it sounds like these offer and honestly, I have a hard time with the fact that that crazy relationship was somehow twisted to be a positive and mutually respectful one. Not really a score for feminism, I’m afraid.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky– I just never went down the Russian literature road and don’t really see it in my future. I did read Anna Karenina and was so annoyed with her character that I didn’t go any farther with the genre.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert­- Again, a caveat on this one, as I may end up picking it up by the end of the year since I am currently studying travel literature, a topic I find fascinating, but this one never drew me in. It feels so overly self-indulgent and self-centered. I’m all for travel narratives that incorporate personal growth along the way (a theme heavily relied on in many travel narratives by female writers), but this one just seems over the top. (Again, having not read it, I base that on what I have read/heard about the book, so it is probably not a totally fair summary, but since this week’s list is of books we don’t plan to read, I assume we are all in the same boat on that particular issue.)

It by Stephen King– Just too scary! There is no way I could make it through this book without having to store it in my freezer, a Joey move from Friends. I saw the movie the summer I graduated from high school and didn’t sleep well for weeks. There is no way I could handle the imagines my mind would come up with if I were reading it.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville– This is probably sacrilegious considering I have a BA in literature and am currently working on an MA in literature, but Moby Dick just isn’t for me. I had to read it as an undergraduate and somehow skimmed enough of it to take part in class discussions and was lucky enough to find totally unrelated topics for my term papers because skimming is a pretty generous term for what I did on this book. My undergrad days were before internet was super useful for such searches, so I basically read topic sentences, a paragraph or two per chapter and called it in when it came to class participation. I definitely will not be picking this one up again! The white whale may be been Ismael’s nemesis, but this narrative is mine!

Snow by Orhan Pamuk- I tried. I really did. It was a Nobel Prize winner, after all. And yet, I just couldn’t get into it. I think I stuck it out for about 100 pages before finally setting it aside, something I rarely do with books. I’m a bit of a finisher when it comes to books, even the ones I don’t totally love because I never know when I am going to miss out on something spectacular. Any maybe I am. I must be. It won a Nobel Prize, after all…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson- The first of these books came out in English while I was in the Peace Corps, so I wasn’t able to jump on the bandwagon early and then they became so crazy popular I was kind of turned off by them. But, the more I learned, the less likely I was to pick up this series anyway. Graphic violence is just not my thing, either in books or movies, and I feel like there was enough of this to make me look other places with my book buying dollars.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks- (Or any of his other books, to be honest.) I have a sister-in-law who is going to kill me for this addition to the list, but I’ve just never been able to get on the Sparks bandwagon. I don’t know why. I am not much of a fan of romance novels and judging by the books covers (a no-no, I know) it seems like they all follow a very similar plotline with few characters outside the realms of middle class white folk.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Persig- I gave this one a shot. Actually, several shots. Over the years this one has been recommended to me time and time again, but each time I pick it up I don’t make it far before being thoroughly confused and bored. I know it is supposed to be deep and meaningful, but I can barely follow the plot/theories and often end up thinking about lunch, a nap, the laundry and just about anything else other than the words on the page. Even if it is pushed my way again, I doubt I’ll give it another go.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling– I am putting this one last so that maybe people won’t give up on me until they’ve read the rest of my list. I know for a lot of book-folks out there, this is the be-all, end-all of series, but I just never really go into it. (Please don’t hate me!) I read the first two. Liked the first one a lot, felt indifferent enough about the second I never picked up the third. I saw the first movie and called it good after one there as well and I have no real intentions of going back to the books at this point. I never say never though…

After finishing this week’s list, I’m not sure I’m as enamored with the topic as I was when I started writing an hour ago. I feel so negative about books right now!(In my defense, I had a hard time coming up with ten books/series, so there is much more good stuff out there!) There are so many great ones out there and even those on my list are loved by loyal readers, so I feel bad panning them because they aren’t my cup of tea. In the end, read what makes you happy! This is my list of books I doubt I’ll ever pick up, but as I learned on Reading Rainbow many years ago, “Don’t take my word for it!” Find a book, a series or an author you love and read until there is nothing else to read.

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