Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: "A Discovery of Witches"

"A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness
First book in the All Souls trilogy
First published in 2011
579 pages
My rating: 5 out of 5

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It only took a few pages for me to discover that "A Discovery of Witches" would be the best book I've read this year; it's a perfectly written story of the supernatural, history, science, romance and suspense.

 Diana Bishop is a renowned historian who also happens to be a witch -- but she refuses to use her talents and downplays her witchy identity as much as possible, despite descending from one of the most famous witch families in history. She's researching alchemical texts at Oxford University's Bodleian Library when she encounters Ashmole 782, a strange old leatherbound manuscript that she can instantly tell is bound up in magic. She knows the book holds secrets that she can access if she uses her skills to retrieve them, but she refuses to let magic interfere with her work and simply makes a few notes about the manuscript before sending it back to the library stacks.

The next day, a multitude of creatures descend on the Bodleian -- other witches, vampires and daemons -- all drawn to the magic of the mysterious manuscript, which turns out to be highly sought-after by powerful creatures. One of the new visitors to the library is a 1500-year-old vampire named Matthew Clairmont, who has a special interest in Diana and Ashmole 782. The powers and events Diana inadvertently released by calling up the manuscript will change her life -- and Matthew's -- forever, and force her to come to terms with her abilities and her identity as a witch.

Deborah Harkness' writing is superb -- the book is a masterfully crafted epic that encompasses not only a magical world but centuries of history, alchemy, science and genetics. Harkness must truly be a Renaissance woman -- she writes with confidence on everything from military brotherhoods of the Crusades to yoga to wine to the mystical.

The second book in the All Souls trilogy, "Shadow of Night" came out this summer and I'll be reading it soon. I saw that, like every good book nowadays, "A Discovery of Witches" is set to become a movie. That's one I'll definitely go see!

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Conan's Canine Lymphoma: Today We Start Chemo


What a whirlwind week it's been for us. After some research and very little debate, Jarrod and I opted to go with the intensive (and expensive) five-drug, 25-week chemotherapy treatment plan for Conan's stage 2a lymphoma. When I first heard the words "chemotherapy" come out of the vet's mouth and through the phone, I instantly thought of human chemo and the hair loss and nausea and general crappy feeling that seems to accompany it and my initial thought was, "There's no way we can put Conan through that."

But it turns out that most dogs tolerate chemo pretty well. The dosage is drastically decreased from human chemo and many dogs only experience more minor side effects like fatigue and some vomiting. Still, last night when I was Googling the names of the five drugs Conan will be receiving over the next six months, my own stomach churned in nausea. Side effects (for humans, at least) include such fun as mouth sores, finger and toe nails coming loose from nail beds, stomach cramping and painful urination, not to mention the ubiquitous hair loss and loss of appetite. If any of the fluid happens to leak out of IV catheter or his vein, it would likely cause extensive tissue damage.

I'm horrified at the thought of these harsh chemicals that sound like they could strip paint off a wall running through my beloved Conan's veins. If I were the one having to undergo these treatments, I'd be scared out of my mind. I'm terrified of needles, for one thing, and just the thought of Conan suffering through an IV treatment every other week makes me blanch. But the only other real option was to simply let the cancer run its course and lose Conan in a few short months. And that wouldn't do either. So paint-stripping chemicals it is.

With all that running through my head, it was pretty hard to drop Conan off at the vet this morning. And even harder because he was clearly anxious, and when it was time for him to head through those evil swinging double doors he kept jumping up on me as if to say, "Please, Mom, don't leave me here!" Perhaps he could sense my own worry, though I tried so hard to keep my own emotions at bay for his sake.

Today Conan is scheduled for a chest x-ray to check for any additional swollen lymph nodes or tumors and to receive his first chemotherapy treatment: an IV of vincristine, an injection of aspariginase, and the oral steroid prednisone. But Conan might not even be able to start his chemotherapy this week because the incision on his neck from his lymph node biopsy may not be healed up to the vet's satisfaction. And, obviously, it's not a good idea to kill all of Conan's immune defenses while he has an open wound.

I want to get Conan started on the treatments ASAP, so I'd be disappointed if he wasn't able to begin today, but I'd also be relieved -- it would mean I get one more week of my sweet Conan as he is, without the impairment of drugs or cancer.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What I Wore Wednesday

Aloha and Happy Wednesday! I'm afraid my outfits are a bit uninspired this week. Lately I've been slip-sliding back in that all-too-familiar trap of "saving" my more fashionable outfits and nice (new!) clothes for some mythical "special occasions." My husband will be back from Afghanistan in a few weeks (woo hoo!!!) and every time I put something cute together I think, "No, I should wait and wear that when he gets back." I suppose part of my problem comes from not wanting to repeat outfits on WIWW.
And how silly is it that WIWW, which is meant to encourage us to have fun with our clothes and put some effort into getting dressed, actual hinders me at times? Who gives a crap if I post the exact same outfit on WIWW more than once? That's what I get for overthinking things!

As always, I'm linking up with The Pleated Poppy. Have a great Wednesday!
I'm in love with my new earrings! I lusted after them for over two months before I finally bought them a couple weeks ago.

Unfortunately, I'm not quite in love with my hair here (or, let's be honest, ever). It's got such a random texture -- I can't put it in a nice smooth ponytail, but it's not wild enough to make a stylish messy pony either. Oh hair, will you and I ever come to terms with each other? (Hair's response: "Doubtful.")
pleated poppy

Saturday, August 25, 2012

DIY: Florida Gators Felt and Yarn Argyle Wreath

College football season is nearly upon us, as is my husband's return from his deployment to Afghanistan. Born in Gainesville, Jarrod is an obsessive Florida Gators fan. I saw this pin for an Oklahoma Sooners wreath several months ago and just knew I'd have to make a Gators version to surprise Jarrod with.

To make my University of Florida wreath, I wrapped a foam wreath form in gray yarn, then made the argyle pattern with 2-inch felt squares. I really wanted to use blue instead of white but the craft store was out of royal blue felt at the time. Then I wrapped my blue yarn around the wreath twice, whipped up some felt flowers (thanks for sending the blue felt, Mom) and painted my wooden UF letters. It was super-simple and cheap, and now everybody on the block will know where our allegiance lies!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Furry Friday: Screw You, Lymphoma

conan and lily

On Wednesday night, I got some heartbreaking news from the vet: the results from Conan's recent lymph node biopsy came back positive for lymphoma. Conan has cancer.

Somehow I managed to hold it together through the entire 10-minute phone conversation with the vet, but as soon as I hung up I disintegrated into a sobbing mess. And my sweet, sweet Conan patiently licked the tears and snot off my face as I balled into his fur for half an hour.

Lymphoma isn't curable -- the best we can hope for is a lengthy remission. And, according to the vet, lengthy in this case means a year. If she's right, our dear Mr. Nub most likely won't make it to his seventh birthday.

I've done some research in the past two days (and so has Jarrod in Afghanistan) and tomorrow we'll convene on Skype to discuss the treatment options the vet laid out for us. Option 1 is to give Conan prednisone, an oral steroid, which will help with the symptoms but not do anything to ward off the cancer's progression, with a likely prognosis of three months. Option 2 is a one-drug chemotherapy program. And Option 3 is an aggressive five-drug, 25-week chemotherapy regimen in which Conan would spend one day a week at the vet and hopefully attain a one-year remission. Option 3, which may be the most likely candidate at this point, comes with a gasp-inducing price tag of $5,000 to $7,000, not including costs for any "complications" Conan may have along the way.

During the small bit of research I've accomplished, I've learned that a diet makeover will likely be in order for Conan. Carbs and sugars feed cancer cells -- bad! -- and we'll want to cut those out as much as safely possible. Conan already eats a grain-free kibble (Blue Buffalo Wilderness) but I'm going to get some information from the vet on a home-cooked protein-based diet.

Apparently lymphoma is an aggressive, fast-moving cancer. It's just astonishing to me that Conan, who seems to have no symptoms whatsoever other than an enlarged lymph node and is still as happy and energetic as ever, could deteriorate to the point of death in just two or three months without chemotherapy treatment.

As devastating as it was to learn that our Nubby has incurable cancer, I have hope that we'll make the right decision treatment-wise and give Conan every ounce of love and TLC we can for however long we're lucky enough to have him with us.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Review: "City of Bones"

"City of Bones" by Cassandra Clare
Book 1 of the Mortal Instruments series
485 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Clary Fray is a normal 15-year-old New York City girl until several strange things happen at once and suddenly a whole new world is revealed to her -- the Shadow World. Hidden from humans under a powerful glamour, it's full of warlocks and witches, vampires and werewolves, demons and Shadowhunters, whose mission it is to kill demons and other evil monsters.

Clary meets a group of three teenage Shadowhunters when she attempts to stop them from committing what appears to be the murder of an innocent young man -- but whom Clary will soon come to learn was a demon in disguise. Later that night, after receiving a panicked phone call from her mother, Clary races home to her apartment to find her mother has vanished and a demon is waiting for her. The Shadowhunters -- Jace, Alec and Isabelle -- soon realize that Clary is no ordinary "mundane" and they agree to help Clary find her mother, whose past holds far more secrets than Clary could have imagined.

They all want to know why Clary can suddenly see the Shadow World, why the name of an evil Shadowhunter long thought to be dead is resurfacing in connection with Clary's mother -- whom they assumed was also a mundane human -- and why demons are after Clary. As they endeavor to locate Clary's mother, it becomes clear that a lot more than the fate of Jocelyn Fray rests on their shoulders; they may just be able to save the Shadow World from the brink of war.

"City of Bones" wasn't at all what I expected going in (I guess I didn't read the jacket blurb well enough!) and instead came over as a bit of a cross between the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series and the TV show "Grimm" (of which I sincerely hoped to become a devoted fan but just couldn't ever get into). There were plenty of demon-slaying action sequences, a bit of romance, and plenty of teenage angst mixed in. But I wasn't totally crazy about the plot; even as I turned the final page I still didn't feel like I full grasped the nuances of the Shadow World and felt vaguely confused. I think part of the issue lies with the pacing of the book, which seemed slightly off. Not enough information was revealed, then too much at one time.

Working at a library, I'm witness to the fast-growing trend of adults reading YA novels. But I've been disappointed in the few I've read besides the famous trio of Harry Potter, Twilight, and Percy Jackson. While "City of Bones" didn't convert me into a YA fan, I'll most likely pick up the second book in the series and try to keep an open mind about other books in the genre.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What I Wore Wednesday

Aloha! It's Wednesday again -- the week is halfway over! At this point, I'm thrilled to mark off each week (ahem, day) on the calendar since Jarrod will be leaving Afghanistan in less than a month! Woo hoo!

As always, I'm linking up with The Pleated Poppy to share my outfits and browse all the other awesome looks posted by other WIWWers. Happy Wednesday!

This is the debut of my black skinny jeans as well as my newest scarf. I just love the romantic floral print!



pleated poppy

Monday Musings: I Hate Mustaches and Zombies

So for today's Monday (er... Tuesday) Musings I just want to tell you that, months into the trends, I still absolutely cannot fathom the crazed obsession with the "impending" zombie apocalpyse and mustaches. Perhaps I'm just not cool and hip, but I don't get it. I'm tired of seeing stupid zombies and stupid mustaches everywhere and I thought I'd share some of the ridculousness with you.

I have to admit that this one does have a certain appeal...

(image source) does this one.

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See how that baby is making a fist? I think it's foreshadowing for how he's going to feel 25 years down the road when these pictures show up in his wedding slide show...

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Why, oh why, anyone desire a mustache-shaped sandwich?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Knitting: Mystery Shawl

It's finished! I had such a great time participating in my first mystery knit-along project. If you're not familiar with the term, a mystery KAL involves a large group of people knitting a project together without knowing what the end result will look like because the pattern is released in pieces. It was so fun to watch the other shawls come together and see all the different color choices and knitting styles.

Ravelry project page: First Mystery KAL




Book Review: "Austenland"

"Austenland" by Shannon Hale
First published in 2007
196 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
(image source)

Jane Hayes is a New York City graphic designer in her early 30s, dramatically unlucky in love and suffering from a gradual onset of Jane Austen-obsession. Jane becomes convinced that swoon-worthy gentleman Mr. Darcy of "Pride and Prejudice" is the only man for her -- except that Mr. Darcy is fictional and no real man can ever live up to her Mr. Darcy standard.

But Jane gets a chance to live in Regency England and play out her Mr. Darcy fantasies when her great-aunt dies and, in her will, leaves Jane prepaid trip to Austenland. Set in the idyllic English countryside, Austenland is theme park of sorts that provides a full immersion into Jane Austen's 1800s England, complete with actors, period clothing and Regency-era social etiquette.

Jane decides to accept her aunt's last gift for a three-week stay at Austenland in hopes that living her fantasy will finally help her kick her Mr. Darcy dream. But as Jane, clad in a corset and a bonnet, plays her part, she begins to question who the real Jane is, what real love is and whether she can really be free of Mr. Darcy once and for all.

This short little novel was a fun, charming read sure to be enjoyed by any Jane Austen fan. While it didn't completely enthrall me, it was a nice break from the intense page-turners I've read recently like "Gone Girl" and "Fifty Shades Darker." According to Shannon Hale's website, "Austenland" has been made into a movie starting Keri Russell, though the release date is still forthcoming. There's a sequel to "Austenland" and the book sounds like it has a lot more substance and even a bit of mystery involved; I'll have to add "Midnight in Austenland" to my reading list.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What I Wore Wednesday

Aloha! This week I bought some black skinny jeans. In fact, I went on a quest for black skinny jeans. And while I was on this quest it occurred to me how strange fashion can be. A couple years ago, nobody would be caught dead in black denim OR skinny jeans. How is it that clothing that's been at the height of uncool can suddenly become trendy again? Who decides these things? Are we all going to be rushing out to buy fanny packs soon?

Back to skinny jeans, my next shopping quest will be for pair of white to go with my black, dark blue and medium blue. And I'd really like to have someone tailor all my beloved designer bootcut jeans into skinnies (or drag out my sewing machine and attempt it myself). In the past couple months, I've almost stopped wearing them entirely (unless I'm doing the un-WIWW thing and going out in a plain outfit) and that makes me sad. I've had some of my jeans going on five years and I've made so many memories in them. I'm not ready to part with them yet! (And thus lies the joy of buying $150 jeans -- five years later they still fit and I still love them and they haven't fallen apart!)

As always, I'm linking up with The Pleated Poppy to share my outfits. Happy Wednesday!

08-11-12 WIWW
Yay -- I'm finally one of the cool kids with a chambray shirt! I absolutely love it, and I have to say that this outfit was unexpectedly comfortable. Typically I put on my gym shorts and t-shirt as soon as I get home from anywhere, but I actually wore this outfit for the entire day. Like 12 hours. That's saying something!

08-11-12 WIWW1
Whoa! This shirt really isn't quite that blinding shade of pink!

I was originally wearing my new black jeans with this outfit but I decided to change into my teal crops. I haven't worn them recently, and since we're moving to much old climes this winter I figure I'll get more than enough use out of all my jeans then!


pleated poppy

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday Musings: "Hunger Games"

"The Hunger Games" DVD releases this Saturday! Can you guess what I'll be doing on Saturday night?

In other "Hunger Games" news, the role of Finnick has finally been cast for the film version of "Catching Fire," which is due out in November 2013. Sam Claflin of "Snow White and the Huntsman" and the great PBS Masterpiece Classic miniseries I just so happen to be watching right now, "Any Human Heart," landed the coveted role.

While he's definitely handsome, this is not how I pictured Finnick when I read the book (though he does look like he'd make a good Christian Grey -- it's all in the hair!). Perhaps simply because I had just finished watching the entire "Gilmore Girls" series for the first time right before I read the "Hunger Games" books, my Finnick looked more like Rory Gilmore's college boyfriend Logan: tousled dark blonde hair and a kind of palpable cockiness. (Somewhat ironically, Sam Claflin's character in the PBS movie I mentioned is also named Logan...)

While I seldom find a movie to be better than the book it's based on, I always think it's interesting to see how other people interpret and imagine scenes and creatures and people from the book. I guess that's one of the joys of reading -- each individual reader gets to fashion his or her own little imaginary world from the writing.

Happy reading (and movie watching)!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review: "Death by Darjeeling"

"Death by Darjeeling" by Laura Childs
First published in 2001
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

"Death by Darjeeling" is a charming little murder mystery set in Charleston, South Carolina. A despised property developer keels over dead after drinking a cup of tea from the Indigo Tea Shop at Charleston's annual Lamplighter Tour, an evening walking tour of quaint, historic Charleston held in late October. After a friend and occasional assistant at the tea shop becomes a suspect, Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning decides to do some investigating of her own.

This tea shop mystery pretty much stuck to the usual plot points, writing style and atmosphere of most amateur sleuth novels. While I know this series won't become my favorite of the genre (that honor goes to Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow series) I'll definitely read more of these easy, inviting tea-themed murder mysteries. The cast of characters is likeable, there's a dog involved, and these days I'm all about tea. Maybe I'll save the rest of the series to read once we've moved to Ohio this winter and I can curl up next to the fireplace on a snowy day. Isn't that the ideal setting to read one of these cozy mysteries?

Happy reading!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Furry Friday: 5 Years of Conan


This Wednesday, August 8, was the five-year anniversary of the day we got our beloved Conan! He was just 11 months old and so, so adorable. This picture is one of eighty gazillion that were taken shortly after Conan became our furry son. Who could resist that face? Certainly not us!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What I Wore Wednesday

Aloha! After a short hiatus from WIWW, I'm back! While I thoroughly enjoyed not having to drag the tripod out front and photograph myself every time I wanted to leave the house, I quickly discovered that it's soooo easy to slip back into boring, lackluster outfits. Without WIWW, I found myself choosing simple, quick looks -- nothing horrific, but nothing special either. WIWW inspires me to look at my closet in new ways, accessorize, get creative with fashion and take small steps outside my comfort zone. Happy Wednesday!

pleated poppy

08-07-12 WIWW


Book Review: "Gone Girl"

"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn
First published in 2012
My rating: 5 out of 5

Gillian Flynn's number-one New York Times bestselling novel is an essay on marriage gone horribly, darkly wrong. "Gone Girl" is masterfully written and superbly thought-out novel. It centers on married couple Nick and Amy, and Amy's suspicious disappearance on their five-year anniversary. The mystery -- and the truth -- is revealed in small doses, layers to be peeled back by eager/horrified readers.

After a storybook courtship and marriage, Nick and Amy have had a rough couple of years. They were both laid off from their jobs and moved from posh New York City to rural Missouri to care for Nick's ailing parents. Suddenly, they're having money troubles and personality clashes. The book opens on their fifth wedding anniversary, when Amy inexplicably vanishes. Though the evidence is to the contrary, Nick maintains that he had nothing to do with Amy's disappearance. But it turns out that everyone is hiding something and no one is quite who they've been pretending to be.

Flynn deftly switches between masculine and feminine, sweet and shocking, playful and vengeful, romantic and rageful. She kept me on my toes, never quite sure who to believe, and my alliance shifted accordingly between the characters throughout. After suffering through so many novels with rushed or amateurish or bogged down, heavy writing, Flynn's novel was a soothing balm. It was perfect.

And while the plot may sound vaguely ordinary, this novel is anything but. It's one of those rare books that I'll remember reading forever; there's something so unique, so haunting about this story. Though I knew I wouldn't like what I found, I kept plowing through the pages to discover the next stunningly horrific development. It's because, as dark as the book is at times, there's also something so stark and honest and true about it, about the relationship between men and women, about marriage, and about our own behavior.

Happy reading!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What I Want From Etsy

I adore Etsy, but if I bought all of the gorgeous handmade products I lust after then I'd be broke! Typically I think about an item for at least a couple of weeks before I purchase it -- if it's for myself, anyway -- to determine if I really, really want it. There are several items on my want-to-buy list right now, so I thought I'd share!

Etsy shop: LaLaCrystal

 Etsy shop: blockpartypress

 Etsy shop: symmetricalpottery
This can be customized with all sorts of colors and pet's name, too!

 Etsy shop: PrettyLittleCharmsUK
This is my favorite snitch necklace I've come across on Etsy.

 Etsy shop: TaylorsEclectic
This necklace is made of wire and paper!

 Etsy shop: JenniferCasady

 Etsy shop: FlourishCafe
$15 for a 5x7 print
So very true!

Etsy shop: FlourishCafe
$10 for a 4x6 print
I've been thinking of redecorating my kitchen in cheery shades of yellow, turquoise and grey. This would be perfect!

Etsy shop: barnowlprimitives
I've been eyeing this sign for something like a year, but I've held off because of the whole re-decorating the kitchen idea. Wouldn't this look nice in turquoise?

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