"There is no question that THE UNDEAD POOL is the best of the series!"The Undead Pool Kim Harrison
Reviewed by Annie Tegelan Posted January 1, 2014
Welcome back to the Hollows! In the twelfth book of the series, Kim Harrison gives readers exactly what they have been wishing for in THE UNDEAD POOL.
Witch and day-walking demon, Rachel Morgan has yet another problem that has been wreaking havoc on Cincinnati. Spells have been misfiring all over the place, but seem to be originating her from ley line. This puts her in a spot responsible for cleaning up this mess, but when the union between humans and the Inderlanders rock on shaky ground, she is wondering if maybe this is a task too big even for her. With undead master vampires also posing an issue, it could be an all-out war if this mess isn't contained immediately.
Meanwhile, Harrison toys the with concept of romance between Rachel and Trent, her love interest for what seems like too long now. As they toe around each other, giving hints and sharing kisses, readers are kept on the precipice as Harrison addresses the question of Will they ever get together?
With Harrison's stellar writing and amazing worldbuilding, it's really no wonder why this series has gained such a following. The characters continue to grow, the world is constantly changing and each plot in the books feel fresh and new. There is no question that THE UNDEAD POOL is the best of the series!
Learn more about The Undead PoolSUMMARY
Supernatural superhero Rachel Morgan must counter a strange magic that could spell civil war for the Hollows in this sexy and bewitching urban fantasy adventure in acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison's Hollows series.
Witch and day-walking demon Rachel Morgan has managed to save the demonic ever after from shrinking, but at a high cost. Now, strange magic is attacking Cincinnati and the Hollows, causing spells to backfire or go horribly wrong, and the truce between the races, between Inderlander and human, is shattering. Rachel must stop this dark necromancy before the undead vampire masters who keep the rest of the undead under control are lost and all-out supernatural war breaks out.
Rachel knows of only weapon to ensure the peace: ancient elven wild magic, which carries its own perils. And no one know better than Rachel that no good deed goes unpunished . . .
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
My favorite series is drawing to a close. This isn't the last one. There will be one more ... but I'm experiencing withdrawal pangs!
It is a common misperception that the Celts had an Underworld, a place of the dead. The fact is that the Celts believed in reincarnation, and that the time between lives was spent in the unpleasant Tech Duin. Those gods normally associated with the Underworld are nothing of the sort, nothing more than misperceptions based on our own views of the world. For instance, Pwyll of the Mabinogion seems to be no more than a king who travels from one world to the next. Manawydan, a Welsh god, is the eponym for part of Lothian and the island of Man. He is more closely related to the sea than the dead.
The confusion is due to Celtic mythology’s complexity. The mythologies of Greece, Rome, and the Norse as they have come down to us have been simplified and systematized by the likes of Bulfinch and Snorri Sturlsson. The Celts had no one like that. As a result their mythology is more difficult to follow and often inconsistent. Irish myth held that their gods were only the second most recent of five invasions by supernatural beings, the Tuatha de Danaan. These beings had residences similar to the gods of other mythologies, on mountains, in the sea, and what not.
But the enemies of the Tuatha de Danaan responded differently. In Norse myth, the enemies of the gods were still active and needed to be constantly subdued. In Greek myth, the Titans were brought to Tartarus once they were beaten. The Irish believed that once defeated, the Tuatha de Danaan’s foes hid using their magic. Their sanctuaries were apart from the world the Celts knew, magical and hidden. It was these Other Worlds to which heroes often went, the realms of fairies and the other creatures of myth.
Because they were places of hiding, it comes as no surprise that the Otherworld had so many geographical locations. For the Celts they were the hills of the countryside, the islands to the west, and the darkest places in the forest. To get an idea of what the Celts imagined, think of a Guillermo del Toro movie such as Hellboy II or Pan’s Labyrinth. These mysterious, magical people lived in magical places that confounded the Celt’s concepts of space.
In the British Isles there dwelled leprechauns, fairies, elves, and dozens of other perfectly civilized beings of shrunken size. These all lived in worlds other than those humans could see. None of their worlds are actually named, so it’s impossible to know if they all lived in the same Otherworld or different ones.
What I find fascinating is the make-up of the world or worlds themselves. The older stories about them always had rulers who gave opulent feasts and royal entertainment for guests that far outdid anything to be found in the human world. But what I’ve found interesting are the occasional hints at magic/superior technology. A mist conceals the entrance through which no human can see, occasionally a glass boat takes the knight there. Time moves at an accelerated pace. Fairies can fly. Otherwise there is the distinctive feel of something well beyond human abilities or technology, though nothing specific is said. For the Celts these were superior beings not to be trifled with in our world. To go into theirs was to court disaster.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
I want magic to be real. There is a deep, irrational well of longing in me that believes in magical places buried in woodland and mist. This is my favorite blog, my favorite website. It lets me feel close to the magic.
I wish that I could wave a magic wand and make the world a kinder place for animals; cats, dogs, cows, pigs, sheep, horses, whales, dolphins, elephants, animals used in laboratory experiments — you get the picture, right?
Animals are awesome.
Animals should have legal rights — they should be better protected and defended.
Everyone has issues they’re passionate about, and this is one of mine.
No animal needs our help more than wolves.
Wolves are being killed, slaughtered, mutilated, exterminated.
My tugboat man and I drove up to Sacramento so that I could testify at the Fish and Wildlife Service‘s wolf delisting hearing on November 22. He was there to make sure that I stayed out of jail. It’s kind of a joke but not really. Being around hunters and others who enjoy killing animals makes me so mad that you can almost see me explode with RAGE. The smoke-out-of-the-ears kind of rage. The kind of rage that has no filter. THAT kind of rage.
I’m sure that I’m one of the most skeptical people in the world when it comes to the reasons why our government is motivated to do ANYTHING, but this particular issue boggles my mind to a crazy degree.
This horrible and scientifically flawed idea that wolves are in a position to have recovered enough numbers to be formally removed from the Endangered Species List is what has driven thousands of Americans to protest, speak out, argue against it, and do whatever they can to continue to protect these beautiful creatures from certain extinction — again.
A hunter who kills a wolf belongs to a subsection — a microcosm — of a human being whose sole purpose in life is the extermination of a species.
It’s scary, people. Really scary.
From what I understand, funded in part by the Koch Brothers’ smoke screen organization, American Prosperity Group, ranchers and hunters have declared an all-out war against the wolf — any wolf, Gray Wolf, Red Wolf or Mexican Wolf, coyotes, any and all predators that they incorrectly believe threaten THEIR skewed right to breed, grow, and eventually murder their own cattle and sheep.
Current research indicates other successful non-lethal options to protect their “investment” animals — living and breathing creatures whose sole existence is to breed and grow to one day be killed — yet another reason why we don’t eat meat.
What this potential delisting has helped to unleash is a group of sadistic hunters who are entrenched in zoosadism.
Zoosadism is a term used to refer to the pleasure that an individual gains from the cruelty to animals. SEXUAL PLEASURE. Zoosadism is getting sexually excited by causing harm to animals and is considered a form of animal abuse. Have you seen all those horrible photos on the internet? Zoosadists are true sociopaths.
At the hearing, one of the first speakers was Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem WintuTribe of American Indians near Mount Shasta. She received much deserved applause and shouts of support when she said that the wolf had long been a spiritual figure for her tribe.
“The wolf is our teacher,” she said, explaining that its extended pack relationships served as an example for human families. She compared the hunting of wolves out of fear to the killing of American Indians.
There were so many amazing speakers who spoke with intelligence, passion, dedication, and concern for the wolf.
Selfie cos hub takes horrible pics.
WIth 500-600 attendees, and the knowledge that there was a videographer who recorded all the speeches as official government testimony, you’d think I would have been nervous, but I’ve always had plenty of public speaking confidence (some might call it chutzpah,) — especially with five-inch heels and a Chanel on my arm.
***TRANSCRIPT OF MY SPEECH***
“It is past time to take the words of Gandhi to heart: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Why is the term “delisting” synonymous with hunting, bloodsport, and the murder of a species?
Is this the only barbaric method “good science” has for “species management”?
Instead, let’s call it what it really is: government sanctioned murder.
De-listing really means that it’s OK to hunt, torture, and destroy species and is really just legalizes more brutality.
We cannot allow the current administration to give up on wolf recovery for the gray wolf OR the Mexican wolf or relinquish species survival to the states.
I’m from here in California where we have excellent habitat but no wolves and I absolutely do NOT support any (Fish and Wildlife Service’s) proposal to delist the gray wolf, a barely recovering endangered species that’s currently being slaughtered for political gain.
We need to manage wolves and other wildlife in a healthy and sustainable way so that future generations can enjoy the benefits of our rich wildlife heritage. However, management cannot mean the hunting and murder of a species.
That the irrational and enduring hostility to wolves still exists, and that hundreds of more wolves will be killed — is wrong and the cruel methods allowed for hunting and trapping wolves are deeply disturbing and sociopathic, egregious, and inhumane.
Our own life changing visit to Yellowstone in August fulfilled my dream to see the wolves of Lamar Valley.
At 6:00 a.m., a few miles outside our camp at Slough Creek, we followed others to a bison carcass, and our efforts paid off with a multiple sighting of many wolves, including 755.
There was an overwhelming sense of awe among the dozens of us who silently watched him cross the road and then a collective sigh of relief when he disappeared safely over the ridge.
Those same wolves are being murdered the instant they cross that invisible border out of the park. It’s absolutely insane.
WE hold the power to ensure that we’re not the last generation to view a wolf in nature; not confined in a zoo, or most importantly, not dead after being tortured and then displayed as a “trophy”.
The truth is that wolf recovery is far from over.
According to many leading scientists, we’ve entered into an era of mass extinction, which will not have run its course until biodiversity levels are less than twenty-five percent of what they are now.
I’m here to push back against this culture of extinction.
I’m here because of the legacy I want to leave behind for our children.
More than thirty years ago, I did my small part to advocate for the addition of wolves to the Endangered Species List.
I wrote letters and joined forces with groups dedicated to protecting the wolf from certain extinction and it’s shameful that we’re back to the beginning.
It appears that the last thirty years have culminated in the nurturing of this species’ growth for the single sacrificial purpose to provide animals for thrill killing hunter/murderers and that’s why continued protection is even more necessary.
Our collective legacy will not be celebrating wolf recovery, but rather their unnecessary deaths will become your ONLY legacy.
Do NOT delist the gray wolf. Outlaw all hunting of wolves.”
Cleveland Amory: “Hunters should be hunted themselves, to prevent hunter overpopulation and to undo the effects of inbreeding.”
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
Destroying wolves is one of so many things we are destroying. We need to stop killing our world one species at a time. There is a reason the animals were created before humans. They deserve a piece of nature, to be safe, to live, love, breed and hunt as they were meant to. Please - We are not owners of the earth. We are just residents, no more or less than the wolves and whales and eagles. And trees. We have no right to destroy it all and we will pay dearly for it.
Morris “Moe” Berg, a professional baseball player who also served his country as an intelligence officer, lived a life many can only dream of. A true Renaissance man, Berg graduated from Princeton University, passed the New York State bar exam and learned eight languages.
After graduating from college in 1923, Moe played 15 seasons of major-league baseball as a shortstop, catcher and coach. Pictured are his cards as coach of the Boston Red Sox in 1940 and as catcher for the Washington Senators (from 1932 - 34).
Mixing Baseball and Intelligence
Berg’s entrance into the field of intelligence began when he, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other baseball greats formed an all-star team and traveled to Japan in the mid-1930s for exhibition games.
Proficient in Japanese, Berg talked his way into one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo. He climbed to the rooftop alone and used a movie camera to film the capital city’s shipyards. Reportedly, the US used Berg’s footage to plan bombing raids over Tokyo in World War II.
OSS Intelligence Career Highlights
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Berg initially joined the White House’s new Office of Inter-American Affairs but left for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1943. He became a paramilitary officer and carried out various intelligence operations in Europe, including parachuting into Yugoslavia to evaluate resistance groups there.
By 1945 Berg had been tasked to determine whether Nazi Germany was close to having a nuclear weapon. Using his language skills and charm, he managed to locate and chat with Werner Heisenberg, a top physicist in the Third Reich. Berg accurately determined that the answer was “no.”
Berg stayed with the OSS until it dissolved in 1945. Afterward, he served on the staff of NATO’s Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development.
A Word from Berg Before his death in 1972, Berg said, “Maybe I’m not in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame like so many of my baseball buddies, but I’m happy I had the chance to play pro ball and am especially proud of my contributions to my country. Perhaps I could not hit like Babe Ruth, but I spoke more languages than he did.”
The baseball cards pictured here are held in the CIA Museum’s collection.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
I thought maybe this was urban legand, but this is from the C.I.A.'s own website, so I guess not! How come this hasn't been made into a movie? It reads like one!
Charles, the Olympus representative out of Dallas asked me if I wanted to review the Olympus E-P5. I jumped at the chance but I clearly stated that I’m giving my honest opinion. All of my previous in-depth reviews were of cameras that I bought myself. This would be the first time I received a review unit from a manufacturer but I wanted to remain as impartial as possible. Charles agreed and he sent me a two toned, black and silver E-P5 with a black 17mm f1.8 lens. I got the camera just a few days before my business trip to California so I got permission to bring it out there with me.
I’ve already done many posts about my experience with the E-P5 out in San Francisco. This review will go into depth and add my thoughts about how it stacks up against other cameras. I decided that street photography in a big city would be a great way to test the speed, handling and image quality of Olympus’ newest micro 4/3 camera. I shot in and around Market Street in San Francisco. After I got back home, I also shot down on 6th street in Austin. All told, I had the camera for about a week and half.
I currently own 4 Olympus micro 4/3 cameras, 2 E-PL1s, an E-P3 and an E-PM2. I also own 7 Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses. I’ve shot at least 20,000 frames with my Olympus cameras, so I know these cameras well. I’m here to say that this is my favorite Olympus micro 4/3 camera, hands down. It’s certainly the most refined both from the design, fit and finish and performance perspective. While I don’t own an Olympus OM-D E-M5, I’ve used it enough to be very familiar with it. I strongly considered getting one until I ultimately decided to get the entry-level E-PM2. The E-P5 has better controls and fits better in hand than the OM-D.
Note: Micro 4/3 is a standard that is shared between Olympus and Panasonic. Lenses from both manufactures fit each other’s camera bodies. Micro 4/3 also referrers to the image sensor size. It’s a lot bigger than point and shoots and the 1 inch sensor on the Nikon 1 but it is not as big as the APS-C sensors used in DSLRs and the Sony and Fujifilm mirrorless cameras.
The E-P5 is the camera I was hoping for when I wanted to upgrade from my E-P3. I really like the form factor and I wanted the new Sony sensor. I seriously considered the OM-D but that camera never felt comfortable, at least without the optional grips. I like micro 4/3 for its compact size so I wasn’t keen on adding grips that would increase weight and bulk. The E-P5 feels great in-hand and is the perfect size — big enough to have comfortable controls and small enough to be the perfect travel partner. I own many cameras including the Canon 6D, but the micro 4/3 cameras are what I use the most.
Starting in 2012, Olympus began using the 16MP Sony sensor. This sensor finally put Olympus on par with Canon’s APS-C offerings. Previous to my Canon 6D, I owned the Canon 7D which has a APS-C sensor. I was surprised to find out that my E-PM2 exceeded the low light performance of the DSLR. And amazingly, Canon had not improved the performance of their APS-C offerings in more than 3 years. While I suspect the just announced Canon 70D might finally improve image performance, for the time being, Olympus micro 4/3 matches or at times exceeds the image quality of the APS-C Canon DSLRs. Now keep in mind that full frame DSLRs like the Canon 5DM3 and 6D are a different story. That’s one of the reasons I also own the Canon 6D. The full frame cameras offers a different class of low light performance.
The bottom line is the Olympus E-P5 is a fantastic camera and a blast to play with. It is surely the best Olympus micro 4/3 camera to date and it arguably is the fastest handling mirrorless camera from any manufacturer (with the possible exception of the Nikon 1). For fast action sports, DSLRs may still have the edge but for almost anything else, the E-P5 is plenty fast. The biggest issue for the E-P5 is it’s price. At $999 for body only and $1449 with the 17mm f1.8 lens and EVF, the camera is pricy. The mirrorless camera market is now very competitive and there are many worthy cameras out there. How does the Olympus E-P5 stack up against the competition? Read on to find out.
The E-P5 is basically the same size as the previous generation E-P3. The grip size and feel is remarkably similar but improved somewhat with the rubberized thumb rest. Olympus upgraded the controls with easier to adjust dials on the front and back of the top plate. The jog dial and the tall dial on the E-P3 can be fiddly to adjust. Not so with the improved E-P5 controls.
Unlike some of the OM-D buttons that can be small and mushy, the E-P5 buttons are all easy to access and solid. Olympus slimmed down the previously bulky flip up LCD, used on the OM-D and E-PL5. Now the LCD fits flush with the body and has a thinner border.
It seems like every detail of the previous micro 4/3 cameras have been rethought and fine tuned. The camera did feel a bit heavy compared to my light-weight E-PM2. But after using it on the streets of San Francisco, I found the weight to be a non-issue. The camera is certainly a lot smaller and lighter than any DSLR. If anything, the extra weight gives the E-P5 a very solid and high quality feel.
The menu system remains the same as the previous Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. For anyone familiar the Olympus interface, the camera will fit right in. Some say that the Olympus menu system is too complex with too many configurable options. I agree that there is a level of customizability beyond most camera brands. As a serious shooter, I like the control it gives me. For the novice, the menus might overwhelm.
I know lots of authors, artists, and singer/songwriters. When we get together we talk about the creative process in remarkably similar ways. I've no doubt that my feelings and reactions are not universal (everyone differs) but they cut broadly across ages, media, and genres. What we all seem to need is an outside audience.
What got me thinking on this particular path was spending a chunk of time a few years back hanging, to my serious delight, with the brilliant and talented Kathy Li (who few of you have heard of and fewer have seen, since she doesn't have a website of her work, damn her eyes, and I'll be getting to that). Among many talents, she's an avid amateur photographer*. On one afternoon, she showed me a candid portrait of me she'd made that I really liked; it is very much one of the more successful efforts at capturing me that anyone has done. Perhaps only DDB and Kyle Cassidy have done better. Then she showed me an extraordinarily evocative photograph of a luminescent red tide that had me intensely staring at her itty bitty iPod Touch for minutes.
You can't see her work, because she hasn't bothered to put together an online gallery. She doesn't think she's very good. But really, how bad can someone be if they show me two photographs I like that much in one afternoon? I mean, I ain't the ultimate arbiter of taste, but I've got a bit of an eye. It can't be crap. But, nah, she doesn't think she's worthy.
Another friend freezes up in the face of potential sales. He's a good photographer. Intellectually, he knows he's a good photographer. He's not as divorced from reality as Kathy. But when it comes to selling his stuff, he makes me look like Steve Jobs, and I am pretty bad at this, truly I am. He doesn't even have to dither over what to offer. People have already asked for his work. He just has to put it out there. It would do his ego immeasurable good. He always has an excuse. They're palpably stupid and illogical excuses...to everyone except him. I'm convinced that on some level, he just doesn't feel like he's good enough to deserve an audience. Which is bulls*$#. And irrelevant.
Most artists have good days and bad days. Mostly we have meh days. Good enough, but.... And that's when all the doubts creep in. Oh, there are those good days. I have actually made a handful of dye transfer prints in my life that I think are perfect. 99.9% of them, not so much; I can see a wart, a flaw, in design, composition, execution, something that keeps it from being ideal. I grit my mental teeth just a bit and move on. Same with my writing. I've written a few columns that were effortless and as perfect as I'll ever write. My Jim Marshall eulogy and my Photo-Fetishist columns were like that. They just sprang, full-blown, from the brow of my muse on to the screen, almost as fast as I could dictate them, and they sang. Why? I dunno, ask my Muse. Maybe her Muse inspired her. Maybe it was just the right cup of tea that morning. Or maybe the phase of the moon. Whatever, she was rockin'.
Other times, she'll just churn out the words, and I'll find myself writing four, maybe five, thousand words in a day, because I won't want to be doing anything else, and they'll be fine, but not perfect. Good enough. And sometimes it's a horrible slog; she doesn't want to write, and I don't want to write, but it has to get written. Then it gets reworked and rereworked into some tolerable semblance of publishability, and off it goes.
Except for those incredibly rare shining moments, whether it's photography or writing, it feels only good enough. That's where it starts to go off the rails. Because any even-semi-successful artist is one of their own worst critics.
This is not a character flaw; this is not an insecurity; it is not something that can be fixed by good therapy (or drugs). It is a necessary part of our success. We need to be more critical than most our our audience, so that we can be sure of getting rid of all the warts that they would notice. That's the way to be sure (well, hemi-demi-semi-sure) that they will enjoy the experience we're handing them. We have to be better than them; it's what they're paying us for.
Consequently, those of us who toil mostly in isolation, mostly in the company of our own minds, witty and entertaining as that company may be, mostly live with our own very worst critic. We lack perspective. That can only be provided by others.
I can recall, back when I was printing Jim Marshall's photographs, that I reached a point where I started to doubt the quality of my work. Printing the same photographs repeatedly, I became intimately familiar with every single flaw and failing they contained. It's not that the prints were bad or anything like that, but to my eye they didn't look terribly good. In the back of my brain there was this nagging little thought, "Gee, I can't believe Jim is willing to pay me so much money for prints like these." Intellectually I knew that there wasn't anyone else likely to be able to make better prints for him, but, still, the work I was turning out wasn't making me feel very good.
Then one of the galleries in San Francisco mounted a major retrospective of Jim's photography, the black-and-white work being represented by platinum prints and the color, of course, by my dye transfer prints. I went to the opening and for the first time saw a substantial body of those prints in their proper venue: nicely framed, well lit, and being admired by hundreds of attendees. Suddenly, I could slip into their heads and see the prints the way they were seeing them, and I realized that, damn, I'm good. I mean really, really good! Which is what everyone else had been telling me, but I'd been losing the ability to see it for myself.
It can be a tough old thankless task being a devoted parent or loyal family member. You can spend your whole life raising those little ones, bouncing them up and down on your knee, taking them to the park and buying them ice-creams and sweets, showering them with gifts year after year at Christmas and on birthdays. You’ll spend time, energy and money ensuring they have a great time as you take them to theme parks and fairgrounds, teach them how to ride their bike, protect them from danger and comfort them when they hurt themselves. As they get older you’ll try to give them advice and help them with their choices in life, guiding them the best you can. You’ll have arguments with teachers, neighbours and friends in defence of your family, even when you know deep down your clan was in the wrong. And when they need you, you’ll be there. Always; without question. Then they go through the metamorphosis of puberty and things change.
When your sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren grow up, for some, all that time and love you put in will count for nothing. You’ll find the respect you feel is due is forfeited when you call it in. And if you’re unfortunate enough to find them hurtling along a rollercoaster of decline, your love will make you reach out to stop them; but if that descent is too steep and the decline has gathered too much pace, the best you can expect is that your arm will be ripped off. At worst, if you can’t help but cling on to save them, they will drag you into a maelstrom of pain and despair and neither one of you will come out of it good. You may get your respect due at the end, but there may be too much damage done to all parties for it to make any positive difference. It is a pretty tragic and desperately sad aspect of a fractured or dysfunctional family unit. So much so it makes me think that blood and genes make you related, but only proper respect and loyalty makes you family.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
I was thinking about this very thing and feeling sad. How painful to have learned so much yet have so have so little influence over events.
It seems like a dream after almost 23 years. Even while we were there, driving the twisting country roads -- inevitably lost -- Ireland had a dreamlike quality that made it perfect for a honeymoon.
Friends were surprised at our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “But you aren’t Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled with puzzlement. Why do people assume the only reason to go to Ireland is to look for roots? In Ireland, everyone asked if we were Irish. When we said we weren’t, they would say “Are you sure?” We said we were sure. It turned out one of us was wrong.
Ireland was wonderful. From Dublin to Sligo, through Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely cities and villages in between, everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. When folks learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to free rounds of drinks, desserts, and upgraded accommodations — at no charge. Even on the airplane, we were moved up to first class. Way to go.
We stayed in bed and breakfasts. Using the National Tourist Board guidebookand a road map, we’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. Every place we stayed was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although often tiny by American standards.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
In honor of Valentine's Day, which we don't actually celebrate, our honeymoon in Ireland seems appropriate. Garry and I used to travel quite a bit and we always had a great time. There are people who seem to spend their time looking for things to complain about. We go the opposite way. As long as the bed is clean and the plumbing words, we look for all the fun stuff we can do, all the places we can visit. With the result that we've never had a bad vacation. We are out to have a good time and we always do!
Ireland was the best of the best! I know it has probably changed -- quite possibly a lot -- since 1990. But that's the way it lives on for us, in our memories and in the 27 rolls of film we shot while we were there.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Looking back on my younger school days, I can remember the lame way we were taught about the first Thanksgiving like it was a wholesome party on top of Plymouth Rock. They ignored the fact that the Pilgrims had no business being there and the Native Americans would have been perfectly within their rights to shove a hot spear into thou’st rectums; but they didn’t.
This is not a piece of work where I’m going to argue how unjust the discovery/founding of America was etc. because those arguments are stupid. I was born in 1986 and didn’t have a damn thing to do with any of that. But the Pilgrims do remind me of that friend everyone has who conveniently has no cash, stays on your couch too long, cleans out your fridge and then puts pox infected blankets on your bed so you’ll die and he can take your house.
The popular understanding of why the Pilgrims came to America is so they could gain religious freedom, a tale simply untrue. The Pilgrims originally moved to Holland where the laws regarding religious practice were much less restrictive. But, after 12 years, they decided to travel to North America because of financial troubles. In other words, they were tired of paying for stuff and set sail across the earth looking for some free stuff. Well, they found it and then some, and it didn’t take them very long, either.
511RMxYZIALAbout five minutes after landing, the Pilgrims began looting some Native American graves they found near the shoreline. The Wampanoag Indians left supplies, as many civilizations did, for their dead’s journey into the afterlife. The Pilgrims mistook this for some sort of community chest and began hoarding the sacred items for themselves. Naturally, when the Indians found out about this they began to shoot arrows at the thieves. Thus, the first Thanksgiving fight was born.
Thankfully, as in every typical Thanksgiving throw down, there was a moderator who eased relations between the Pilgrims and the natives. Squanto is like that uncle who doesn’t drink and is sane enough to stop the fighting before it comes to blows. It is typically taught that Squanto spoke English because of interaction with past settlers. Actually, Squanto was kidnapped five years before the Pilgrims arrived by explorer Thomas Hunt and brought to Spain. There, he learned English and promptly got the hell on back to North America. When the settlers arrived, after muttering, “not these mo-fos again,” Squanto decided to make peace between his people and the Pilgrims. He taught them how to grow corn so they wouldn’t steal anymore from graves. He also taught them a lot of other things that I’d rather not research and write about. Squanto made the fatal mistake when it comes to moochers: he showed them where the beer is.
“If you offer a man a beer, he’ll have a drink; if you show him where they are, he’ll drink all day.” – An Alcoholic who doesn’t fish.
peanuts-thanksgivingThe first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621. It is thought to have begun because the sorry-ass Pilgrims weren’t prepared for the coming winter and begged the natives for food. This also isn’t true. The Pilgrims weren’t totally stupid and were aware they needed to stockpile food for winter. What we call “Thanksgiving” started when the Wampanoag became suspicious of the Pilgrims one day after hearing gunfire. They feared the settlers were preparing for war and became defensive. Instead, the Pilgrims were hunting. Squanto once again was the voice of reason and it was decided that the two sides would enjoy the fall harvest feast together. Happily for us, the Thanksgiving tradition was born.
(Too bad they didn’t follow through on those war suspicions and kill all the Pilgrims in their sleep because in ten years they would become hostile and start trippin’)
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
If you think this is an exaggeration, it's not. If anything, it's an understatement.
I love that you thought of me for this award. She and I have had fun chatting about her children’s book, my husband’s clothes, and the differences between grocery stores in Dubai and Salt Lake City. Check out her blog at:
I'm pleased and proud to receive this award. I'm not giving it out to a bunch of people because I've been slinging awards all over the Internet recently -- an embarrassment of riches -- and I've run out of steam.
I'm absolutely CERTAIN beyond any possible doubt that all of you who follow me, even occcasionally, know more than you could possibly want to know about me. Too much information is my middle name.
So thank you. I'm honored and proud and congratulations to all you other winners! It's a good day to be me ... or you!
No, not Los Angeles. Nor old movie stars full of Botox to make them "look younger" (really makes them look like corpses, but I digress).
I’m talking about My World. A small, form-fitting world populated by beautifully dressed, if slightly dusty hard plastic people. Mostly girls, a few men and boys. The girls are my favorites because they take me back in time and spirit as effectively as any wormhole in the fabric of time. When I hold one of my dolls, I’m young again …and it is a time and place when my best friends were dolls.
You must not blame the girls for their plasticity. They are not plastic by choice, after all. I wonder, had they been given their druthers, if they would have preferred living flesh. I don’t know. As it is, they have stayed young long after time would have ravaged their beauty. You never know. So many “real” people choose to emulate my plastic pals, perhaps they are the model for women of the future as the world drifts to them. They become iconic images of past and future.
When you live in Britain the media and the state like to remind you about the scourge of ‘benefit scroungers’. The Daily Mail are often the spearhead of media outrage against the lower-class, welfare pariahs and ‘chavs’ who they seem to believe enjoy do nothing more than hanging around waiting for their 15 minutes of fame on Jeremy Kyle in between picking up state handouts.
The scourge of the benefit scrounger is usually reignited every couple of months by an inflammatory story highlighting an isolated case of extreme governmental incompetence; like the one where Kensington and Chelsea Council moved a family of Somali’s who had migrated to England from their war torn country and placed them in a £2million pound house in a posh part of London. Then there are stories like the one about Joanne Sheppard, who has 12 children by three men and hadn’t worked for 19 years. Her 12th child (“an accident” apparently) was to a man who had no job, but was collecting £89.80 a week for long-term incapacity whilst allegedly still pursuing his hobby of riding motorbikes. This was the one that tipped the scales of outrage for The Mail, who stated that Miss Sheppard claimed £30000 a year in benefits. Perhaps Miss Sheppard and her partner have a long term plan to create there own Apostles and set up the church of Evel Kinievel, who knows what could motivate such irresponsible copulation. More to the point, who would seriously want to raise that many children on welfare money!?
Benefits couple with ELEVEN children rake in £30,000 a year and a free-five bedroom home (and now they’ve got another on the way)Somali asylum seeker family given £2m house… after complaining 5-bed London home was ‘in poor area’
I’d like to think that most rational people would recognise that both of these stories are exceptions to the rule. For the vast majority of people who are claiming benefits long term, life is pretty grim. Let’s face it, you can’t exactly live it large on around £70 a week. However, for those of you who may be ‘between jobs’ due to the total mismanagement of the country by government and the total mismanagement of taxpayers money by bankers which has left you unemployed due to a declining economy; if you have decided to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) for a period of time whilst you sell yourself cheap to an employers market, you will find that just making that claim is a harrowing process. A process that makes you want to dive out of a window – a plate glass window that is closed and exits a 10th story apartment. I found myself in this position and spent a very frustrating hour or so trying to make a claim. Although not as frustrating as the time I spent three weeks on the phone to BT technical support in some place in India trying to get my broadband problem resolved, but that’s another posting…
1. The first call – 0845 608 85 04 You start off with a call – that’s where it always starts, that first call. You know how it is, you’re wondering; “How many button choices will they give me to get to the right department? What will her voice be like? Or will it be a he? What about the hold music – classical, calming, some Costa coffee, soft, indie, rock/pop – what will be poisoning my ears for the next twenty minutes? Or will it be an hour? Ooh I’m scared!!!” But you have to make that call. I’d actually been told in the Job Centre that they prefer you to make the application online, but that has become little more than the alternative of two evils these days, and often results in having to make a phone call afterwards anyway, so I thought I’d try and skip the middle man. Bad idea.
2. Navigate the automated phone directions She has quite a nice voice – calming and almost caring whilst also somewhat alluring. But it’s early days. She hasn’t even repeated anything yet. She gives you the customary preamble, which like the lengthy opening credits of a HBO series, is worth sitting through the first time round, but after episode 3 you’re reaching for Sky+ fast forward on your TV. Fortunately the second option was the option I need so I opted for option two. This option instructs you to give your postcode so that you can get put through to the right area. My postcode is for Manchester, so I got put through to a woman in a call centre in Eastbourne, which is about 220 miles away!
3. The first interrogation So you get asked a whole bunch of questions in this bit – name, address, national insurance number, when you want to claim from etc, etc, etc. Essentially, you answer enough questions to fill a good-sized application form – then you get told you can’t make a new application over the phone, you have to do it online!
4. Complete the online application form This takes about 10 – 20 minutes depending on how much information you put in. There are some really useful questions like ‘How did you find out you could claim Job Seekers Allowance? Who did you ask for advice about claiming? When did you ask them? What did you ask them? What did they tell you? Is it safe?’* But this is okay because you’re only given 200 characters to answer the long questions. After you’ve completed the form you are informed that you will be contacted by telephone within the next 48 hours between 7am and 9pm. This all makes it seem quite exciting, like an important arrangement between secret service operatives.
5. Wait for the call I missed the call – both of them. Instead I got an answer machine message telling me that because I missed both calls I had to call a freephone number to complete my claim otherwise they will assume that I no longer want to continue the claim. So I called the number 08000 55 66 88…
The second call (listen)
6. Call the 0845 number again When you navigate the options for this call you find you get redirected back to the first number you rang!
The third call (listen)
You eventually get put through to someone who tells you to call the 0800 number again. By this stage you have heard the recording four times and the lady’s voice is no longer calming, caring or alluring, it’s just fucking annoying. The hold music is like an acoustic ice ballet performed on your brain by miniature sadists wearing razor blades for skates. You try to stay calm as you explain that you have already made an online application and you have already called the 0800 number. They detect the tremulous hint of desperate frustration in your tone and concede that the automated directions aren’t very clear, so they instruct you to select the option for a new claim, even though you are calling about a claim you have already made. You accept those instructions and you end the call politely.
7. Call the 0800 number again You call the 0800 number again, this time making the incorrect selection in order to get to the correct person but…
The fourth call (listen)
…this takes some time. Your patience withers and wanes as you are told over and over again to make your application online, knowing that you have already made an online application. Your ears start to bleed as you listen to that first part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons again and again and again and again – knowing that when it finishes you’ll have to listen to her voice again telling you to make your application online. And this seems to go on forever and ever and ever. In desperate reverie you imagine yourself smashing your phone against the wall and the pieces shattering in slow motion before you turn to the owner of the automated voice – who looks like the woman you hate most in your life – and you imagine strangling her with the strings from one of those violins playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Then you imagine just giving up on the claim, buying a local newspaper and replying to the first vacancy for door staff, cleaners or traffic wardens – anything just so that you don’t have to hear Vivaldi play that tune again!!!!!!!
Then you get your breakthrough. A voice. A voice at the other end that isn’t automated. You feel like Columbus, starved and deluded after months at sea, when suddenly land appears on the horizon. Hallelujah!
8. …It’s not over yet I don’t know if it’s the effects of exhaustion or chronic exasperation – but you are calm. You’re just happy to hear a voice again – a real voice. This voice asks you questions that you have been asked before over the last hour but you answer them calmly. Then she tells you to ring that 0845 number again!
9. …you’re almost there To your surprise you do not explode. You appeal to the lady in Eastbourne to consider your situation and ask her to actually try to resolve the issue rather then putting you through that hell again. Then there’s a pause at the other end of the line.
“Ok, can you just hold for a second whilst I speak to my supervisor?”
Now this can go one of two ways; the supervisor can resolve your issue there and then or they can insist that you have to jump through another administrative hoop and do something else. I got lucky and the lady from Eastbourne came back to me and went about resolving my problem. And the solution was? I was given an appointment to go into the job centre and complete a ‘clerical’ application.
10. The Clerical Application Having spent over an hour making phone calls and filling in online forms I now have an appointment to go into the job centre. When I get to the job centre I will have to fill in a paper form in order to make my JSA claim.
Epilogue Fortunately I was offered a job before I actually made the claim and I am now in gainful employment again. The thought of having to become an unwilling player in the sadistic administrative pantomime of welfare living frightens me. I cannot believe that anyone in their right mind would genuinely want for this. The process in itself is almost like a war of attrition. I can only assume that those who have been on long-term benefits without any genuine reason simply don’t have a mind that is right, or have been oppressed into submission by this process. They have been demoralised to the point of abject inertia as their resolve and motivation has been eroded by pointless and monotonous administrative processes. If daytime television isn’t enough to get you out to work, surely being counted and questioned and qualified every fortnight must be. Whatever the reason you find yourself on welfare, one thing is for certain – there are far easier ways to process a claim.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
Who has not experienced this ... or at least something very similar. It's funny to read -- hilarious -- but first, you have to get there ... and even then, is it over? Really?
Awakenings is venturing to take a journey across America in search of historical, entertaining, and/or perhaps just personal ties to her blogging community. There is always some tidbit, special nugget of history just waiting to be shared one more time or perhaps for the first time.
The action is hot and heavy on store shelves this week as a truckload of new releases are becoming available for the couch bound movie watcher. "The Last Stand" is a gonzo action flick that marks the return of one of the biggest action icons of the 20th century to the big screen.
As sheriff of a sleepy little town, Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who is now semi-retired after years in the LAPD narcotics division has never had a lot of action in his new post and that's just the way he likes it. However that is all about to change when drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) busts out of FBI custody and makes a beeline for the border at 200 mph in a supercharged corvette and makes the mistake of running into Ray and his inexperienced deputies who will defend their small town at any cost.
Debuting to North American audiences for the first time, director Kim Jee-Woon brought a frenetic sense of energy and fun back to the R rated action movie that people just didn't seem to connect with. That being said they really should have as this film kept the action going at a fantastic pace as we jump into this universe that while admittedly is filled with a little bit of corny dialogue, knows exactly what it is doing. Jee-Woon doesn't mess around with exposition anymore then he absolutely has to and brings a lean and mean sensibility back to the action genre that we haven't seen since the 1980's. All the while with a script that has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, only asking us to strap in and go along for the ride. Rather than try to be taken dead seriously, this modern day western just wants us to have a little fun with it, and this ensemble cast knows exactly what kind of film that they are trying to deliver on and they do not disappoint.
In his first leading role since 2003 due to his term as governor of California, an older and wiser Arnold Schwarzenegger brings a certain sense of self-deprecation to the role of Ray Owens and it works to perfection. It's no secret that he is a 66 year old man, so the occasional old joke while kicking ass and blowing people away fits the tone of the film like a glove and even years away from the leading man roles, with the right material Arnold still proves that he can carry a picture. Eduardo Noriega chews the scenery as well as anyone as our renegade drug lord and the likes of Luis Guzman, Forest Whittaker, Rodrigo Santoro, Johnny Knoxville, Genesis Rodriguez and Peter Stormare populate this story with a wide array of scenery chewing characters making for a frenetic R rated action romp that we can still get a good laugh out of and there isn't a damn thing wrong with that.
The picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are absolutely first rate and the special features on the Blu-Ray include deleted and extended scenes, a making of "The Last Stand", behind the scenes looks with actors Johnny Knoxville and Jaimie Alexander and much more.
At the end of the day, I am the first person to acknowledge that "The Last Stand" just might not be for everyone. However, if you miss the lean and mean violent action thrillers of the 1970's and 80's that still had a little bit of gleeful wit to them, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this piece of action gold that will inspire you to pop the popcorn, and revel in the ride that the film takes you on.
"The Last Stand" is now available to rent on DVD, Blu-Ray and via On Demand from all major providers, you can also find it available for purchase from all major retailers.
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Being a Scottie Mom has plenty of advantages. Think: unlimited snuggles, undivided attention (once the toys have been destroyed and all the squirrels chased out of the yard), and someone to look after us just as much as we look after him or her. But for first-time Scottie Moms, there can be a bit of a learning curve. Take it from one who had the honor of learning from the mischievous Mr. K. So, for the new Scottie Moms or those considering becoming one, here are some things you might expect:
10. Scotties aim to please. Nothing makes Mr. K happier than to see me happy. Conversely, nothing saddens him more than when he thinks he has let his hoomans down. Go easy on the little one if he or she upsets you and keep your attitude in check. Scotties are sensitive creatures.
9. Your possessions become your Scottie’s possessions. No further explanation needed. May I suggest, however, to pay special attention to the clothes in your laundry bin before they start disappearing.
8. Scottie-tude comes with the territory. As much as your Scottie loves you, he or she may not love other dogs and especially not cats. Socialize your pup as appropriate with other dogs…and as for the cats, few Scotties I’ve known have taken nicely to them so tread carefully.
7. There are no rules. Sure, you might say no dogs are allowed on the couch. You may even stack up the pillows on the couch to prevent them from climbing atop the sofa. Just don’t be surprised when you come home to find paw prints on the pillows.
6. Anything within a Scottie’s reach (and sometimes even those items that are not) is at risk. Leave a Scottie home alone without Scottie-proofing the house and you’ll undoubtedly come home to a few surprises. Topping Mr. K’s list are: an organic shampoo bar, a chewed up, nearly unrecognizable blue highlighter and a bag of cookies…and that was just one occasion.
5. Accidents happen. It’s important to get your Scottie on a schedule to prevent accidents but sometimes, life happens and it gets thrown off. It may get frustrating, especially if your Scottie is like Mr. K and becomes acquainted with peeing in the house randomly and just minutes after you’ve walked him because he’s “getting even” for being left alone. Lucky for this Scottie Mom, introducing Heather – the alpha (fe)male – was all that was needed to get rid of this nasty habit.
4. Scottie Security is legit. While your Scottie may not like everyone that walks through your front door, take special note of those that he or she does like. Scotties are incredible judges of character so if your Scottie doesn’t approve of a date, perhaps it is time to reconsider.
3. Sometimes, Scotties stink. What did you expect? They’re dogs! But, in addition to that fact that baths are a necessity in a Scottie’s life, know that Scotties are notorious for clearing a room after passing gas. Beware the bottom!
2. Strength isn’t measured by size. Scotties are a lot stronger than you might think. I’ve been told their jaws are the same size as that of a German Shepherd and I know they’ve got the fight of a big dog inside that tiny little body of theirs. My first weekend with Mr. K, he decided to challenge a Rottweiler. NO fun.
1. Expect the unexpected and enjoy every moment. Life with Scotties is never dull and there’s no way to predict what tricks they have up their sleeve next. Whether it is spontaneously waking from a nap to zoomie around the house or stealing a shoe and shaking it until you chase after him or her, Scotties love to have a little fun and get a kick out of entertaining their hoomans. So sit back, relax and enjoy the Scottie show!
Embargoed until the delivery the State of the Union address, US President Obama signed the expected and highly anticipated cybersecurity executive order.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
This is important information. You may not understand all of it, but you should at least have a sense of what is going on becaue it doesn't matter who you are, if you use the Internet at all, you will be affected to some degree and possibly, to a very large degree. And quite probably, you would never know it unless you take the time to understand what's going on. Take the time. Understand. It's worth the effort.
In Africa there is a type of hawk that dives straight down to catch it’s prey. When Busch Gardens decided to make a diving coaster they wanted a name of something that dives straight down, so why not? The cars of this ride are 8 across and floorless. The only other coasters like this type were in England and Japan, so they know they would have something unique.
Once buckled up, the floors underneath the cars drop out so you can start. The lift hill is very suspenseful, because you can see the drop sitting there waiting for you all the way up. Once at the top we make a quick turn to the right and we creep to the edge… and stop. A reverse chain lift at the top of the hill holds us for four seconds before we finally plunge down at ninety degrees. The drop has an abundance of airtime during the whole drop, until you reach the bottom. Then you start climbing up into the Immelmann inversion, if you sit on the edges of the cars their is even more airtime and this time it is upside-down. Around a curve and onto the trim brakes before another drop into a cave that sometimes has mist sprayed through it. Out of the tunnel and around a curve to the lake where tubes on the sides of the trains spray water into the air. Around a helix and this falcon’s flight is finished.
I liked SheiKra but it was too short, even then it perfects the straight down drop and i am giving it a 9 out of 10.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
My name is Marilyn and I am an addict. I became an addict at the tender age of 8 on my first excusrsion to Coney Island and riding the Cyclone. Ever since, I've finding whatever the biggest baddest coaster in the area may be and riding it despite my increasing age and decrepitutde. I hope I never have to go on the wagon. That would be so dull.