Wednesday, December 31, 2014

on the bookshelf

I just finished the last few minutes of "Full Dark, No Stars" by Stephen King... this is a milestone for me, as it's the 35th book read through in 2014... my goal was in fact 35, and after missing my goal in 2013 (I got to 27 of 30), it's rather exciting.

It almost didn't happen... I read Stephen King's "A Good Marriage" back in July, and earlier this week, started "Big Driver", also by King. I was horrified to learn that these aren't small books, they are in fact novellas, both a part of "Full Dark, No Stars", along with two other novellas. So I did what anyone would do... I downloaded it off of Audible, and read the three novellas--"1922", "Big Driver" and "Fair Extension"--that I had not read yet.

And yes, audiobooks is considered reading... I pay better attention, and I can listen/read while driving, doing dishes, laundry or at work. So there.

But that left a whole in the list? Take out "A Good Marriage" and add the whole set of "Full Dark No Stars", and I still only have 34... so I grabbed my copy of Lou Mongello's "102 Ways to Save For and At Walt Disney World", and read the last 20 pages... I've been reading it all along since it's release earlier this year. So I finished it, and it counts.

I'll go through those in an upcoming post, giving you the list of books I read, and my thoughts and recommendations on them.

But that leads us into 2015... my goal for 2015 is 40 books read. And though I don't have a complete list of books to read in 2015, after reading Jon Acuff's latest post, I decided a small list would be a great place to start... so though there will be at least 30 more on this list under the "already read it", here are the first 10 books I'll likely start with... in no particular order.

But first, here's a couple of re-reads on tap:

This book is part non-fiction, part embellishment,
part horror, part comedy, part strange, all
fantastic.  Like my life.
"Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil" by John Berendt... I haven't read this book in about 15 or 16 years, and remember loving the heck out of it. Ready to jump in early 80s Savannah.

"Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets" by JK Rowling... the first book of 2014 I read was "Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone", and my intention was to re-read the entire series. I try to do it about every 18 to 24 months or so, and I'm overdue now... but instead of "Chamber of Secrets", the second book I read was Elizabeth Smart's excellent "My Story". So, maybe the first book I'll read every year will be a Harry Potter book... or maybe I'll read the rest of the series. Guess we'll find out on January 2nd.

"'Salem's Lot" by Stephen King... my favorite of Stephen King's writings... or, maybe, my favorite one that I'll read and re-read--I think "It" is my favorite, but it's just so, so long that I can't just pick it up whenever.

Now... for the first time reads, these are likely to be my first 10 books read this year.

"Anne of Green Gables" by LM Montgomery... I do need to read more classics, and both this and "Great Gatsby" are on my list for 2015, but I'll likely read Anne first.

"Bossypants" by Tina Fey... I grabbed this one this past weekend, intending on this to be the final book of 2014, until I figured out my "novella" problem. So Tina, who I have really gotten a thing for in the last year or so, will have to wait a few weeks.

"Dark Places" by Gillian Flynn... She's the hottest thing going now in authors, with the explosion of "Gone Girl", but I've learned that it's sometimes the early work that ends up really standing out (see "The Firm" and "Time to Kill" by John Grisham)

"The Disneyland Story" by Sam Gennawey... I think (hope) this is the history of Disneyland, from construction to opening in the late 40s and early 50s. The preview makes it sound like it, but previews have burned me before.

"Do Over" by Jon Acuff... I'll admit it, I'm an Acuff Apologist. I really like the guy personally, and though he does write some boneheaded stuff sometimes, his writing really connects with me--perhaps its because he and I are about the same age and are in the same Pop Culture bubble, or maybe I started reading Acuff Astuff at the right time in my life, or maybe both. This will be released in April.

"Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness and the Quest for Olympic Gold" by Mark Schultz... there is a movie out there now with Steve Carell, who is getting wide acclaim, and Mark Ruffalo, who is getting some acclaim, and Channing Tatum, who is great in "This is the End", and I'd like to see it. I'm always intrigued by true-life murder mysteries, and I look forward to this one.

She is also the designer of the Purposeful
Planner that I posted on my Facebook page
and Instagram recently.
"Gray Mountain" by John Grisham... Anytime he releases a new book, I pick it, despite my better judgment. More often than not, I'm disappointed by the ending of a story that up until then, was a great tale. However, "Sycamore Row" was excellent from front to back, so we'll see what happens with this one.

"The Simplicity Project" by Corie Clark... I love it when my friends write books, though I then have to go get a copy (and I still need to get a copy of Justin Fisher's new book, "Crossroads: Subtitle Here", and read it in 2015), and my friend Corie wrote a dandy that will hit you in the head--all about decluttering and living much more simple than we all do.

"Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed... this is the book that has Reese Witherspoon in the title role for the movie adaptation. At publishing time of this column, I had not seen it yet, but look forward to the book.

"You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories and the Perfect Marriage of Sports & Televsion" by Al Michaels... When I heard that Al Michaels had a book coming out, I was kind of excited, because he has seen and done nearly everything sports related in the last several decades. Bob Ryan's book is also on my list, but I'll read Michaels book first.

So what about you?  What books are you definitely going to read first in 2015?  And if you said "Based on the stuff you are reading, you'll love ______", what would be in that blank?

Friday, December 26, 2014

top ten blogging in 2014

At the risk of being one of those blog sites who says "Hey, everyone come see how good I look!" or maybe "Hey, everyone come be moved by my brilliant words and the amazing way I put thoughts into verbal emotions!"... I thought this year's end might be a good idea to do something different.

For the first several years of the blogsite, maybe 2005 to 2011, I did a "Coolest 100 Things of the Year", and they were a collection of people, music, movies, events, life happenstances, books and more that I experienced or discovered for the first time in that particular year... and I'll honestly say, sometimes it was met with controversy over who/what got in, who/what got out, and a lighthearted look back for me turned into a little drama here and there, which made it not worth it. Oh, and I got lazy (what's new?) and even finished my favorite 100 things of 2011 IN the year 2013. I decided that was that for that segment.

But now, I look back at the year on the blog, and see that I've managed 85 posts (not counting this one). That number seems a bit inflated, as I participated in--and succeeded--in a challenge that had me blogging 33 straight days from late September to early November. Considering that is more blogging than I did from March thru September in total, "85" is a deceptive number, but here we are anyway.

January set forth my first writing challenge of the year, where I attempted to write an average of 500 words per day for the month. Then I set my goals for the year 2014, in Part One and then Part Two... and will probably give a post next week to let you know how I did (batting .300 is great in baseball right? Why can't it be okay for real life?).
As I mentioned before, October brought a 31 Day writing challenge, which I #humblebrag in saying that I more than completed. There are other challenges I failed to meet, like my attempt to take on the 100 Happy Days phase that is/was all over Instagram and Facebook, and what I was to call "My Summer of Happy", with 100 posts about things I enjoy. But I've come to learn that I can't give myself a topic, such as "Happy things", and expect myself to blog about that same topic for post upon post upon post... mostly because I'm all over the map, as anyone who has been here more than a few times will see.

So, for anyone new to the blog, or if you just want the good stuff, here are the ten posts this year that I really, really liked. And that's not including my homage to the late, great Casey Kasem... thoughts on Clint Eastwood's "Any Which Way You Can"... thoughts on Pitbull both here and here (yes--TWO posts about Pitbull. What.)... and writing with and without a filter.

2014's Top Ten, as chosen by me, based not only on popularity but also how much pride I had in it when re-reading it..

10... We decided to start (or, start again for the 10,000th time) on our spring cleaning. And when you have a pile of junk in the garage, it's worth documenting some of the strange things you come across. My friend Writer Chris Holmes said this was one of his favorite posts I've ever written... for pictures of not only rubber chickens and Microsoft 2003, but also the General Lee, here's "Things We Found In the Garage" from January 5th.

9... Sometimes as a writer, you just have to write, and sometimes it doesn't make any sense at all. Sometimes it's just a bunch of random words late at night that for whatever reason, a bunch of people tell they read and laughed at and enjoyed. What did I write? Nothing but the "Things Carly Simon Made Me Say Late at Night" from January 27th.

8... The fervor of the "Washington Redskins is a racist nickname" hit a fever pitch this past summer and I sat back and watched carefully, deciding where I fell on the issue (which is, that "Redskins" is not racist, or if it is, it's suspect to suddenly come after it now, after all this time). However, when a select few members of the University of Mississippi release a report saying how they are offended by the school's "Rebel" mascot... well, I just had to join in and declare "Ole Miss is Racist!". From August 9th.

7... I think one of my favorite posts from the last several years was actually one written in 2013, all about inclusion, which I'm passionate about (and likely fail miserably at doing). Another story was brought up in my mind this past spring, as I noticed on Facebook a high school friend of mine was having a birthday. I hadn't thought about him in years, and yet, the story of "Kenny Weeks & Wall Street Football" came rushing back--and had to be shared. From March 5th.

6... I love discussing pop culture, and I love making lists. So when I can do the two of them together, and talk about OutKast, Garth Brooks, Expose, Bob Seger, Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift, Fergie and more, I do it. All are including in my "Playlist for Hustla's", from January 17th.

5... With recent events in my own life (that I cannot share right here on this site, but you are welcome to ask about it), the words "leap of faith' stand out strong in my heart and mind. So re-reading this one made me smile. Because sometimes, you just have to get on that skateboard of life and ride... worried about safety? Remember that "You Can't Be Safe on a Skateboard". From February 4th.

4... Sometimes its the memories we have from our childhood that resonate with us 30 years later, much like this story from Samson Elementary, involving GI Joe, Wonder Woman and an unnamed kid who's spoils fuel the creativity of an unpopular 5th grader. It's all about getting "Clarity from an Invisible Jet", from February 10th.

3... Every year on his birthday, I make a note to Campbell, something I hope he will read when he gets older. This year's letter was popular with readers. From November 30th, "To Campbell, on Your 3rd Birthday" (his b'day is December 1st, it just got published literally 20 minutes from midnight, giving it a 11/30 publish date instead of a 12/1 date. Details, details.)

2... Ah, marriage. And pride. And pride in marriage can be a bad thing sometimes. It's a little story about butting heads as a husband and wife, and a lesson that "Pride Goeth Before the Squeeze" from February 24th.

And my favorite post of the year that I've written...

1... Autism is tough. It's a hard thing to push through, and it's tempting to wallow in parental misery about all the things you are missing. But one thing we are learning, re-learning and telling ourselves over and over is that The Lovely Steph Leann and I have to remember to "Don't Mourn the Can't, Instead Love the Can"

So there ya go... if you like one or more of those posts, then you'll enjoy the blog. If you clicked on a couple and decided "this guys sucks!", then I have a feeling this blogsite won't be for you. But you should come anyway, in case I write something that you do like! 

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 22, 2014

the gift of the mayo

We have a friend named Rachel. She's in her 20s, and adorably cute--I used the word "mousy" once as a compliment, and thankfully, she took it as just that. She's been married to her soulmate boo Brett for many months, and The Lovely Steph Leann and I really enjoy her company when she's in town.

A few weeks ago, she was in fact in town, working on a local conference, and let us know where she'd be. Obviously, we made plans for dinner, and while The Lovely Steph Leann couldn't make it, our friends McQ and her new hubby JP came, as did our friend Amy McL... we agreed to all meet up with Rachel at the brand new Newk's eatery that had opened the week prior.

And it was a grand time, with laughter and love, fellowship and friendship, with old friends like Mc!, Amy McL and myself sharing tales of many days before, while new friends like JP listened intently and chimed in, and Rachel shared her own stories of her job and her new married life. 

I had Campbell Isaiah with me as well, and Rachel and Campbell have formed a friendship... well, sort of. When she stayed at our house a few months back (on the eve of McQ's and JP's wedding, no less), Campbell took to Rachel immediately. While she tried to work on a project on our dining room table, he kept coming up to her, interrupting her with his cuteness. She would hug him, or play with him, or show him a little love, then turn back to her project... and then a few minutes later, here he comes bounding up again. The Lovely Steph Leann would call for him to step back, to let her work and to quit bothering her, but Rachel insisted it was no bother--and I believed her.

She and Brett have no children of their own, and will probably "be married" for a while before they do, but more than once she's told me that she wants a baby sooner than later. So the notion of Campbell coming up and showing her attention is just a little slice of paradise here on Earth for Rachel Mayo.

Granted, Campbell does do this kind of interaction with a few other people--but it is only a few people. He's not shy, but he doesn't just love on just anyone. Don't know his criteria yet, but Rachel meets it.

I can't tell for sure, but when he saw her again a few weeks back, I'd like to think he remembered her, and in fact did give her a little Campbell Kiss (which is, take the pacifier out, lean over, plant his lips somewhere on your face--usually your lips, but it can be your cheek, nose, chin or elsewhere--put the paci back in and turn away like "that's all you get, so enjoy it"). Usually I have to say "Campbell, give ____ a kiss" for him to do it--with Rachel, he did it on his own.

So it's easy to say out of the hundreds of people I've become friends with through social media networks, Rachel is someone who has connected with our family more than most. Yes, we met Rachel through Facebook... and it's hard to explain, so I just won't try right now.

Campbell is a very sensory oriented child. He knows how to work a cell phone like crazy, as he flips through apps and can take pictures (not very good ones, but on par with some that are on Facebook pages belonging to the 19 year old who bought an expensive DLR camera and decided to come up with a catchy name for their newly opened photography business, despite not even knowing what DLR stands for--can you tell I find this to be extremely funny?) and he loves the stocks applications, where he watch the lines up and down, and things refresh.

Currently, he has an iPhone 3 to call his own, though it's a little older and worn, and it's battery dies down fast from the three or four straight hours of use he gives it at one time.

The crown jewel of gifts for Campbell would be an iPad. He is in therapy at a local place here in town, and they use iPads during their sessions to teach various things. While the iPhone becomes like a babysitter sometimes for Campbell, an iPad would be an invaluable learning tool, once we get the right apps on it.

But they are expensive, which is why we haven't gotten him one yet. 

So imagine my surprise when Rachel did.

At the end of dinner, Rachel pulls out a bag and says, "This is for Campbell's birthday! Happy birthday Campbell!" I smiled, thinking a book or a toy of some sort, and appreciative of Rachel's thoughtfulness. I debated about whether to open it there or wait til later, but decided to open it there--I pulled out the green tissue paper, and grasped something that felt firm like a large book, but cold to the touch.

I pulled it out, pulled back the tissue and there was a silver iPad in my hands. I looked at it, and looked at Rachel, back to the iPad and back to Rachel. I simply said, "This is an iPad? Rachel... I mean..."

She smiled and quickly explained that they had gotten new versions, and she wasn't sure what to do with that one. She apologized for it having her name on the back, said that she knew it would help Campbell to have one, and then added for good measure, "I wouldn't want anyone else but Campbell to have it." 

For one of the few times in my life, I was rendered nearly speechless. I stammered a few words of something, then wiped a couple of tears away noticed how badly my allergies were acting up, and how much dust was in the restaurant.

She got our son an iPad. It was as good as brand new, it's in nearly flawless condition and it looks amazing. A little boy who she only knows from pictures on Facebook, from the stories I briefly tell on social media and on this blog, she has taken to her own heart to love, and to encourage and love on myself and The Lovely Steph Leann...

...who, by the way, had much the same reaction when she opened the bag at home. She was nearly floored too, and was nearly speechless as well. 

By the way, we haven't given it to him yet. Two things we are waiting on--first, to get a cover for it. No parent gives their children any sort of electronic anything without some sort of protective casing to go on it. Second, we are waiting to talk to his therapy teachers to find out the best way for Campbell to use it. Like I said, the iPhone is really for play, so we want the iPad to serve a real purpose.

And no, I haven't used it for my own benefit. Not saying I won't watch a movie with it or something in the future, but it is in fact Campbell's iPad, and even is now labeled that once you plug it into iTunes.

Anyway... thank you, Rachel. You are beautiful and wonderful, and we love you greatly. We hope you have an incredibly awesome Christmas, take care of that man of yours, and you'll always have a place to stay when you come to town. And a little boy who will greet you with a hug and kiss. 

Find Rachel's Etsy shop, Rachel B Designs, by clicking here.
You can find her on Twitter @rachelcmayo and on Instagram @rachelbodinemayo