Tag Archives: Foreign Service

Wordless Wednesday: Celebrating Merdeka Day with Doughnuts!

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September 2, 2015 · 6:22 AM

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten (or Seven, as the Case May Be) Characters You Just Didn’t Click With

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten (or Seven, as the Case May Be) Characters You Just Didn’t Click With

toptentuesday(Brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish)

This week’s topic is an interesting one, as I tend to easily forget books/characters that annoy me. With no investment in them, as soon as I turn the last page, I’ve moved on, so coming up with ten that I just didn’t love required me to go back to my GoodReads list and look through the books I’ve read over the last few years. I also realized that sometimes I have a hard time differentiating between plots/writing I don’t like and individual characters I don’t like. For all of these reasons, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday didn’t draw me in the way some topics do, so I never did come up with ten. This week is a Top Seven Tuesday instead!

So, who did I really not care for?

Here they are, in alphabetical order.

Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard from Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest by Gregg Olsen – As a main player in a non-fiction work, Dr. Hazzard is a character that no reader is going to “click” with as she was a terrible person, in real life! There is no writing her off as a mere character, as she lived and practiced her crazy “starvation” method of treatment in the Pacific Northwest for years, scamming rich people out of their money, preying on those who had both wealth and ill health.

Husband from The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman- As far as I can remember, the husband in this story does not have a name, but he doesn’t need one to be memorable as a terrible person. Rather than dealing with his wife’s declining mental health (possible post-partum depression), he and the local doctor lock her away in an upstairs room, not allowing her books or other forms of entertainment. “Rest” is their only prescription and the husband stands by and watches as his wife descends into madness.

Job from Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya– I really wanted to love this book. The foundation is strong, about the uphill battle many immigrants face when uprooting their lives to start over in America, but I couldn’t get past Job and his selfishness throughout. My sympathy for him quickly waned as I became frustrated with his choices and the fact that he let his ego get in the way of making a better life for himself and his wife.

Raf from Glow by Ned Beauman- Overall, I struggled with this book. I felt like I had taken some illegal substance as I tried to follow the plot and Raf’s character in no way helped clear up my confusion!  Manic is a good word for both Raf and this entire novel.

Rex Yanakakisb from The Compound by S.A. Bodeen- Unlike several of the other choices on this list, I loved this book, just couldn’t stand one of the main characters. This one was of my favorite read-aloud books to share with my students when I was teaching middle school, as the plot grabs them instantly and holds their attention until the very last page. But, with that said, the father of the story, Rex, is a terrible person who puts his family in an unthinkable position, all for his own selfish reasons. The psychological damage he causes his kids is enormous and yet in his mind, it is all worth the pain as long as he gets his way in the end.

Serena from Serena by Ron Rash-  Another horrible human being. Serena has no redeeming qualities and drags those around her into her ethical black hole. (At least her husband, who is equally lacking in morals, has moments of guilt and regret.) Serena will personally kill or command others to kill anyone who stands in the way of her logging empire. Without giving major spoiler alerts, just know that there is no one exempt from her wrath.

Susan from Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman- Horrible person! I almost didn’t finish this travelogue because I found the narrator so awful. You would think if you were given the chance to write about yourself, you’d attempt to shine a light on your positive aspects, but Gilman just comes across as selfish and spoiled, easily fulfilling the role of “ugly American” in her China travels. This book should be a perfect fit with my thesis on contemporary travel writing, but there is no way I can face months and months of delving into it again and again, so it’s cut from the list! This is probably the character that I feel the strongest about from this entire list, probably in part because she is an actual person who behaved so terribly.

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Wordless Wednesday: Happy 50th, Singapore

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August 26, 2015 · 5:52 AM

Tea with Tales and Tails

Three weeks in Idaho were not just filled with gun ranges, rodeos and county fairs (see those stories here!); it had a softer side was well. In between picking up casings and stepping over piles of farm animal poo, I squeezed in a bit of “girl-time.”

My best friend, who has a fantastic new job as a traveling nurse (I must admit to not totally understanding the logistics of the program, but love the fact that if we got posted to DC next, there is a chance she could take a gig on the East Coast and we could be neighbors for a few months) flew up to BOI to spend a few days of what turned out to be non-stop chatter and catching up. As we yakked endless with stories of her new job and my new home, we did find time to do a bit of shopping and not just any old shopping, but shopping with a mission- a Marine Ball dress! She and her husband are going to be in KL this fall, arriving just in time for the annual gala, so a fancy new dress was on the “to do” list. After wandering through the mall and surrounding shops, trying on shimmering dress after glittery dress, she eventually settled on a gorgeous navy blue gown that is going to be perfect for the ball. So pretty!

BFF dress shopping was at the start of my time home, but not content to get away with just one major shopping excursion, I book-ended my vacation with another (bigger!) outing at the very end. This one was with my older sister and two nieces, who needed new outfits for their trip to Washington DC. My sister won a national STEM teacher of the year award and as part of her prize package (yes, there was a whole package!) she got to go to the White House to meet the president and she figured the clothes hanging in her closet weren’t quite White House-worthy, so back to the mall we went! This time we were in search of a couple nice dresses for her various events, as well as for the girls who were invited to the awards reception.  After an entire day at the mall, I think they walked out with six dresses (two each), three pairs of shoes and enough accessories to have everyone sparkling just right.  I do think I created a monster though when I introduced the idea of “holding” a dress while you look at other shops. I don’t think this was on either of their radars and suddenly, tough delicious about which dress to pick were put on the back burner so we could continue to pursue the mall. Put all the dresses on “hold!” In the end, everyone came out looking fantastic. Another successful styling/shopping trip in the books!

Girl-time wasn’t all filled with swipes of the credit card though (luckily most of these were not mine!), as I did get to participate in this year’s annual teddy bear tea party, hosted by my mom for the little girls. This year’s theme was “Tea with Tales and Tails.” We invited the two youngest girls (first and second grade), who were each requested to bring along a favorite tale and tail. Both girls came bearing fantastic picture books and a fuzzy stuffed friend. After hauling out piles of animals from Grandma’s teddy bear stashes, we were ready for our tea party.  A few rounds of “crazy apes” (the dollar store version of crazy 8s), we were warmed up and ready for a lunch of Uncrustables and bananas with pink lemonade to wash it all down. This tasty meal for four was accompanied by everyone reading their favorite book from the pile. Our lovely tea party wrapped up with brand new coloring books and crayons for the littles, which were promptly opened and a fantastic session of coloring commenced.

Looking back, my three weeks in Idaho were actually a well-balanced calendar of “Idaho!” and girly-girl time. Guns were shot. Dresses were bought. Cowboys were thrown from bulls. Picture books were read just in time for back to school. Take a bit of this plus a bit of that, throw them together and you get the fixings of an All-American hometown vacation.

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Wordless Wednesday: KL Fashion Week 2015

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August 19, 2015 · 5:55 AM

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Of Your Auto-buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Of Your Auto-buy Authors

toptentuesday(Sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish)

Yes, there are authors whose books I buy, sight-unseen. I don’t need to read a review or cover blurb. If these folks have books coming out, they are usually preordered and ready to be shipped/downloaded as soon as they become available. It’s quite an eclectic list, from narrative non-fiction works to fluffy reads for my many airplane trips. I’ve put them in alphabetical order because it is easier than trying to rank each one, but I would definitely put Erik Larson at the very top of the list if I were to number them 1-10.

Bill Bryson- I read first read A Walk in the Woods on a road trip. Thad drove. I read. We laughed out loud at many of the predicaments he found himself in and we were grateful for semi-soft hotel beds each night as we followed his tale of woe and discomfort on the Eastern Seaboard. I’m a little dismayed to hear about a movie coming out, but I usually am when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. After A Walk in the Woods I was hooked and have read nearly everything else he has published. Always entertaining!

David Sedaris- I love Sedaris’ outlook on the world. At times it can be a bit harsh (I remember a particular short story about China that I thought was a little rougher on the country than it needed to be), but overall his slightly bitter, slightly sardonic wit keeps me coming back for more.

Erik Larson – This is my number one when it comes to auto-buy authors. Larson is the author who drew me in to narrative non-fiction nearly a decade ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. I started with Devil in the White City and then proceeded to read through his entire library. While I didn’t absolutely love each one (I found Thunderstruck quite baffling), I do love his style of weaving several tales into a single story. I can’t wait for his next publication!

Jodi Piccoult- This is my fluff-pick on the list. When Piccoult first started publishing, I loved her works and bought each one the day it came out, but then after a few, the twist at the end became predictable, so I quit reading them for a while. I had to walk away. But, in the last year or so, I’ve jumped back on the bandwagon, caught up on the missed novels and am ready for a new one. These books have ended up being the perfect reads for long trans-Pacific flights from the US to Malaysia.

John Green- He’s definitely the go-to author in the YA world right now, but he’s more than a flash in the pan. He is able to mix tough topics with an inviting writing style that draws in not only the teenage crowd, but also those of us who have a few more candles on our cakes. Again, I haven’t *loved* every single one of his books, but that doesn’t stop me from picking up his latest publication as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Khaled Hosseini – Hosseini comes close to the top of my must-purchase author list. I have loved all three of his novels and will gladly pay hardback prices to get my hands on his next book as soon as it comes out. His characters and tales are haunting, sticking with me long after the last page has been turned. Please tell me there is something from him on the horizon!

Liane Moriarty- This is my other go-to for plane reading.  Moriarty’s thrillers of mystery and intrigue are the perfect fit for a fourteen-hour flight. They don’t take huge amounts of concentration, so when the dude next to me is snoring his way through Avengers, I can still enjoy flipping through the pages of her latest twisting plot.

Mindy Kaling- Does it count if she only has one book out? I don’t care. I loved her first and am hoping she follows it up with another. Soon.

Sarah Vowell – Another great narrative non-fiction author, Vowel is a master storyteller, drawing me in to topics I wouldn’t normally imagine myself interested in. I love that about her. Ask me if I have a deep desire to read about presidential assassinations and  I will probably tell you no, but then give me the first few pages of Assassination Vacation and I am hooked.

Wally Lamb- You need time if you’ve got a Wally Lamb book on your hands. They are never quick nor easy reads, but they are powerful and thought-provoking. Lamb’s ability to tackle tough topics in a sensitive manner is admirable and while his books often portray situations that are painful to contemplate, they are also a part of the world in which we live. He doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations and I will always buy whatever he puts out next.

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“What I Did on My Summer Vacation”

“What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” The much dreaded first essay of a new school year is a perfect fit as we wrap up Summer 2015. In school, this is where your English teacher gets a sneak peak of your writing skills. Can he use punctuation correctly? Does she know the difference between their/there/they’re? Has he figured out that paragraphs really are the go-to structure for an essay and that indentation is more than a passing fad? These are all the things your teacher is making mental notes of while you squirm and try to finagle a summer of video games and sunbathing into an essay that makes it sound like you read the complete works of Toni Morrison and spent your free time perusing the artifacts of the Smithsonian.

Although it has been years since I had to write such an essay, it is a perfect theme for my return to the blogging world. (Again, if you read the previous post, I blame my month of silence on a combination of vacation, Secretary Kerry and a bit of laziness.) Three weeks of my summer were spent back in Idaho, and what an “Idaho” vacation it was. Between a trip to the gun range, a night at the rodeo and visit to the county fair, I pretty much fell right back into the rural lifestyle with which I was raised.

Now, the gun range is not on my normal “to do” list. As a matter of fact, I’d only ever shot a gun once before this summer’s trip, but when it came up as a possibility, I was all over it! What’s not to love about pinging metal targets and shooting clay pigeons? Between the rifles, revolvers and pistols, we had a pretty good assortment of hardware for our morning outing. I do have to say though, I think I am much more of a pistol kind of girl than a rifle one. That rifle tried to knock me on my ass more than once and left a nice little sore spot on my shoulder. While we had our tiny arsenal to play with, I think the guys up a few spots from us at the range brought the militia. I have no idea what they were shooting with, but I’m going to take an uneducated guess and say rocket launchers and tanks!

The gun range outing was followed up, just a few days later, by a trip to the annual Snake River Stampede. This year was the 100th anniversary of the Stampede, so the turnout was great. A packed house! Events kicked off early with mutton busting and then headed right into full-blown patriotism with giant flags hauled around the arena by pretty girls on the back of prettier horses. (For those of you unaccustomed to the rodeo circuit, mutton busting is how dads break in baby cowboys. Little kids, think four and five year olds, are placed on the back of sheep who then haul mutton-butt across the arena, trying to rid themselves of the forty pound monkeys on their backs. This usually ends with a toddler face-first in the dirt and a happy sheep doing what they do best- huddling with the rest of its herd. I am not sure how much little kids actually enjoy this event, but for the spectators, it is hilarious!) Between bronc riding, roping and bull riding, the evening was a success- more so for the livestock than the riders, but a success nonetheless.

And, of course, any summer in small-town America is not complete without a trip to the county fair. Being the thrifty family that we are, we opted to go on “free” day- the first day of the fair. We got there right at lunchtime so we could enjoy the wonders of fair food (although, I was hugely disappointed to not get my brick of fries that is my normal go-to choice at the Western Idaho Fair) and then it was into the exhibit hall to check out the entries and 4-H projects. (As a former 4-H-er myself, I understand the last minute struggle to get those portfolios in tip-top shape just days before they are due.) I was excited to see that my 14-year old niece won several ribbons for her artwork (including a grand champion!)and her 10-year old brother got a ribbon for his woodwork piece. From there it was out to see the stars of the show- the animals! I was bummed to see that there is no longer a llama 4-H club in the area, but did enjoy looking at the cows, goats, rabbits and, of course, my favorite- the pigs. It was a hot (but not Malaysia-sticky!) day, so a few hours of wandering the fairgrounds were enough for our entire entourage. I skipped the carnival part of the fair, as I am already terrified by most rides to begin with and then you add in the fact that they were just pieced together that morning by a few sleep-deprived carnies and I will have to take a pass. How easy would it be to lose a crucial screw in the grass, misplace a necessary nut or just botch the thing in general? No thanks!

Summer 2015. It was as “Idaho” as one can get, and yet it was also just about perfect. My three weeks back Stateside were filled with family and friends, which are the things we miss most as we hop around the world from country to count every couple of years. Being home was a nice break and makes me look forward to December- our first Christmas home in almost five years! With summer quickly fading in the rear view mirror, it is time to buckle down at work (VIP visits), with school (a thesis) and personally (TLC for the blog). Ready…set…go!

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