Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why I'm Not Taking the Ice Bucket Challenge

I had hoped to get through this fad without being nominated so I wouldn't have to look like a jerk for not doing it. But I did get nominated, so rather than just come off like a loser, I'm writing this post to share why I'm not doing it.

For those of you unaware, the Ice Bucket Challenge works like this: if you're nominated by someone, you have 24 hours to either dump a bucket of ice water on your head or donate $100. Why? To battle ALS, of course! What, you didn't automatically connect ice water and ALS?

If you know me, like, at all, you know I'm all for some good awareness campaigns. There are several issues near and dear to me that I will raise awareness for all the time, even with silly campaigns. But I have a problem with this one. It strikes me like that "make your status the color of your bra for breast cancer" thing that appears every few years on Facebook. It's funny, but there's not a whole lot of difference-making that comes from it. Kony 2012, which get's all sorts of flack, had more impact than this one, from my perspective.

The way I see it, the majority of the participants are not actually learning about ALS or helping out in any way. Most of the people being nominated are teens and young people, meaning they don't have the $100 to donate, so of course they're going to dump ice water on themselves. Plus, taking the challenge (and posting in online as the proof) bumps up their social media image and makes them look good (not that I'm anti-social media. Hellooo. Have you met me?)

True awareness is about more than "hey this thing exists". It should be educating people, saying "this exists, this is why it's bad, here's what we can do about it". Have I always done the awareness thing well? No. It's something that I'm still learning and changing my views about. The older I get, the less I want to just take silly challenges or share a link, I want to really make a difference. Those things are good places to start, but let's take it further. Let's make it a lifestyle of caring, not simply a 30 second post. Maybe then we can actually change the bad things in the world.

Also, I don't want to be bullied into financially supporting a cause. It shouldn't be a punishment to support a great organization. People should be donating because they believe in the organization and what they're fighting for. And for me personally, I'm very careful about who I give my money to. I don't just throw money at anyone, no matter how good your story is. I want to know that you are actually going to use my money like you say you are. I'm going to do my homework to make sure you're a trusted organization. You are not getting my money and support until I look into you and approve. I gave up chocolate because I don't approve of the slave labor involved. Chocolate. I've written term papers about how delicious and necessary chocolate is, and I gave it up. So yeah, you have to work a bit to earn my monetary support.

Now, if you've taken the challenge, are going to take it, or think it's a good thing, that's fine. This isn't an attack on you, so please don't take it that way. Many people I love have done it, too. I'm writing this to make you think, and to challenge you to go further. Take the challenge if you want to, but do so in the way it was intended. Take a few minutes to educate yourself and others about the disease. Share a fact or two before you dump the ice, and link the ALS Association or another organization in your post. Make a donation, regardless of the presence of ice. But if that education/donation piece isn't part of your Ice Bucket Challenge, then it's no different from the stupid milk or cinnamon challenges from a few years back.

Whatever the cause, whatever the challenge, take a moment to think before you go after it. Is it something you support? Great! But is that action going to make a difference? Is it paired with tangible change? Go out there and raise awareness and support for the things you are passionate about in a way that will turn the world upside down.

And if you're really concerned about your social media presence, just imagine the things you can post all the time if you're living a life that really makes a difference.

Endnote: I am not against raising awareness or funds for ALS. It's a horrible disease and should go away. But I'm a nurse. I see many ugly diseases and painful deaths daily. I also am more aware than I want to be of child sex trafficking, FGM, forced labor, sweat shops, the LRA, starvation, children being beheaded, and so many other atrocities in the world today. As someone who cares, a lot, I've come to know I cannot save everyone or stop every bad thing. I choose to spend my time, energy, and money supporting a few different causes and organizations doing awesome things in the world. I believe that each person, unless you've got unlimited funds, has to decide which few things our of the thousands to wholeheartedly support. For some, that's ALS. For others, it's Compassion or Invisible Children or the Red Cross. I don't care what you support as long as it's something. Stand for ALS, not the Ice Bucket Challenge. Stand for hope and change, not fads.

What do you think of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Have you taken it? Have you had the same thoughts I have? Share with me in the comments!

Friday, August 8, 2014

"The Death of the Wave"

This is, at first glance, your typical dystopian novel: the world's gone to hell so now it's up to a few nobodies to lead a rebellion and save it. In this book, the nobodies don't even have names, just numbers or words given in place of names when they passed their exams.

The premise of this story is interesting. The concept of the arts being forbidden and becoming the tools of rebellion is beautiful. The more-than-human overlords and the standardized testing that determines your fate is perfect dystopian story fodder. The idea of heroes who are broken and deadly is what makes for pop culture win. The story itself is attractive (if you get rid of that random, unnecessary incest). However, the things that make this book unique are the same things that ruin it for me: it's written in unrhymed prose from the points of view of seven main characters.

The writing style or the switching characters alone could have been very intriguing. Telling the story from several perspectives then bringing them all together sounds fantastic. But the combination of these two techniques, and the execution made for a difficult and confusing read. Just when we'd start getting to know a character, start to see behind their facade, it would switch to someone else. We would never get to really know the characters very well at all. I felt like the main character, Author, is the one we know the least, and much of the book is from her perspective!

It was very hard to keep everything straight in my head. I'm not stupid, but there were many things I didn't get until I read the time line after. Which is another thing. If you require a character guide at the start, and a time line at the end (which sums up what the entire book spelled out), your story might be too complicated.

I hate to give negative reviews, especially when there's so much potential in the story, but I cannot recommend this book. It was too confusing and jumbled.

Not Recommended, 1/5 Stars

I received this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rusty Monkey Shampoo

Okay guys. Last night's dream was amazing. It's screaming to be shared, to be a real thing, so I'm writing the whole story here for you.

It was a Sunday night. I know, because it was Best Friend Date Day and stores were all closing early. Chrissy, Kathryn, and I were wandering around Toys R Us, not really shopping, just browsing and playing with the toys. There was only one staff member on duty, a grizzled old man with white hair, an old-timey inventor's mustache, and a gray vest. He kept giving us the stink eye for touching the merchandise. He was making such angry grunts and looking at us so disgustedly, that I finally grabbed the least expensive item off the shelf next to us - $25 Rusty Monkey Shampoo - and headed to the register.

After taking my payment, the curmudgeon clerk told us to stay put, and hobbled with his hunched posture to lock the front door and turn the sign to closed. He then pulled out a map of the store and told us to follow this aisle to the back of the store, to Door Four where he would meet us. My purchase earned us a challenge. If I washed my hair here in the store, I could get a refund. And it didn't seem I had a choice but to accept.

We made our way as he had shown on the map to the giant Door Four. I don't know how we had missed this entire wall of gigantic orange warehouse doors, all with non-sensical numbers assigned. Next to Door Four was Door Twenty-Five. After glancing over our shoulders to make sure the clerk wasn't watching, Chrissy opened Door Twenty-Five and slipped inside, leaving the safety of the group. The clerk came up behind us the exact moment Chrissy pulled the door closed, but he didn't seem to notice anything was amiss. I couldn't understand why Chrissy would go off on her own, when this situation definitely didn't seem smart or safe.

The clerk pulled open Door Four and motioned Kathryn and I into the dark. He led us through the nighttime warehouse, through the stacks of toys and products, to the very back of the room. He stopped in front of a metal staircase whose entrance had been chained off. "Go all the way upstairs. You'll see the place. We stay here."

Now this really didn't feel safe or smart, but his angry manner didn't give me much choice but to leave Kathryn behind and ascend the rickety stairs. Up three flights of unstable, metal steps in the dark brought me to what seemed to be an open platform. I turned right off the last step towards it. As soon as I did, loud game-show-style music blared from unseen speakers and bright stage lights illuminated a small pond, edged by a lazy river, all supported by a stone wall. Rusty monkey statues sat poised on the corners, their smiles strangely inviting and creepy at the same time. I looked around to see Kathryn and the old man on the ground two stories below. Chrissy, having been somehow informed about all of this by the clerk in advance, was on a special tower at the far side of the pond holding a camera.

The old man's voice came louder than I thought possible, "You will wash your hair with the Rusty Monkey in an entertaining way. If you succeed, your purchase will be refunded. Failure could mean... certain death." Suddenly, the whole situation was impossibly hilarious, and I was cracking up! The best laugh I'd had in a long time. I bought a bottle of shampoo at Toys R Us, and suddenly I'm in this weird non-televised game show in the back room?? "On your mark, get set, GO!" I rushed into the pond, laughing the entire time, dipping my head into the lazy river, lathering with the Rusty Monkey Shampoo, doing my best to be entertaining about it, flipping my hair back and forth and doing a silly dance. Kathryn and Chrissy were hysterical laughing at me. I think I even saw the clerk crack a smile.

And then, I woke up. But I think I earned my refund.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Day to Cork and Blarney

This post is part of my British Invasion 2014 series. Click here for all posts in the series.

Our second day in Ireland was amazing! Well, they all were. 
We had booked 3 day trips in advance with Irish Daytours, a subset of Extreme Ireland.

All of their day tours leave super early (between 6:30-6:50am) from the Old Stone Church, conveniently located downtown near Trinity College, a 13-minute walk from our apartment. 

We loved this company! Their prices are reasonable, include admission to the attractions, and have plenty of extras throughout the day. The guides were all wonderful, and we learned a lot about the country. We will absolutely go back with them! I've got my eye on that 15-day adventure they offer....

For our first tour, Cork/Blarney, we had the Best Tour Guide Ever: Barry. He was cute with a terrific accent, he was funny, unbelievably knowledgable about everything, had great music playing on the coach, and had the best catch phrases. It's possible we're still using the line "bet ya a bag o'skittles" every chance we get. 

The Cork/Blarney tour's first stop is at the Rock of Cashel, a cathedral built in the 1100s. As we were driving, we rounded a corner, and I looked out the window. Just beyond the gas station, I could see an ancient castle. Turned out, that's where we were going! 

Cashel is an adorable little town. We had a few minutes to explore, but it was a Sunday morning, so everything was closed. But still, adorable. With the exception of a 10 minute downpour, we had great weather this day. There was even a rainbow as we arrived!

That rock up there? Part of the wall that fell down ages ago. 

After exploring inside (minus the chapel part, which was shut down for repairs) we headed outside to the cemetery. 

There were gorgeous views all around this place. Unfortunately, this is when the rain storm hit, so none really came out.

The cross in the center is the original Saint Patrick's Cross, moved indoors to protect it. If you go to Cashel, stop at Cashel Woollen Store (down the hill on the left from the Rock). It was the only shop open when we were there, and the cashier woman was so friendly! She was so excited to ring up a transaction in USD because it was "exotic!" They've got little touristy trinkets, as well as beautiful woollen products.

Our next stop, and the main attraction of the day, was Blarney Castle. We purposely planned our trip so our first day we could get the Gift of Gab, to make the rest of the trip would be better :) Blarney Castle is exactly what you'd want your medieval fortress to be: big and strong, complete with a dungeon, poison garden, and a Murder Hole. 

As soon as we got there, we booked it to the line to kiss the stone. The Blarney Stone is a rock imbedded in the castle 90 feet from the ground, installed sometime in the 15th century. Rumor has it that kissing the stone gives the kisser the Gift of Gab, or Eloquence. There are dozens of theories on why this is the case, but no matter what story you go with, it's something of a tourist requirement that you go kiss the stone. 

We had great timing, so there was barely a line! Before you head in, you can see just how high up it is. If you look close, you can see a person kissing the stone by the arrow in these pictures. 

You don't just get to walk over and kiss the stone though. You have to work for it. You climb 100 steps (most of them tight and windy) though all these ancient rooms until you get to the top.

It was so dark I couldn't get a good picture of the stairs while moving, but I kinda like it blurry. Because let me tell you, if you climb up, then down, a hundred tight spiral steps holding only a rope handrail with vertigo, this is how it feels. Hope you're not claustrophobic!

All these dark, tight stairwells and rooms, then suddenly you're on top of the castle, looking over the grounds! It was windy this day, and I kinda love this picture.

You have a few dozen more people to wait though at the top of the castle, but it goes really quick from here.

Before you know it, you're sitting on a padded rubber mat, being flipped upside down by some Irishman who is at least 80 years old, as he tells you in his lovely accent to hold on to the rails and lean back, kiss the stone, and then upsy daisy! you're all done.

If you look to the bottom right of the left photo, you can see the line of tiny people forming outside. By the time we all took a turn and went down the stairs of death, the line was ridiculous! So glad Barry got us there when he did. Guy knows his tourist attractions!

We had two hours total to spend at this place, and could've definitely used more! But we did see quite a bit. The grounds are interesting and beautiful. Just behind the Castle is a garden. Not a regular garden, though.

This "exhibit" was most interesting to me. At first I didn't understand why there was a jungle gym in the middle of the poison garden, but then I saw the signs for the plants inside.

This is how they ensure the cannabis and opium plants don't go missing. Just beyond the poison garden is the battlements, with this fun little tower thing that's perfect for a photoshoot. I wasn't brave enough to stand in the opening, though (remember the whole vertigo-spiral-stairs thing that just happened? yeah.)

At the base of the castle, there are a few caves and dungeons that you can explore. We didn't go too far, because the rain had made it way too slippery and muddy for us to want to venture too deep inside. But still very cool.

All around the grounds are pretty little spots that make me want to stop for a picnic, or settle in with a really good book, or something. 

 Plus, this really awesome strange tree:

As we were leaving, there was this art piece set up (or destroyed? It's hard to tell with art, especially when it's just named "Weather Vane, Beacon, Float & Rope").  Anyways, this one part? I'm pretty sure whatever they're calling it, this is actually a Golden Snitch on Steroids.

Before heading back to Dublin, the tour makes one final stop in Cork city for a bit. Like true-blooded American women, we managed to wander into a mall (Merchant's Quay) and had burgers before actually exploring the city. Cork sits on the River Lee, with it's beautiful bridges.

Our day ended with an accident, because I obviously can't vacation without an injury. We made a bathroom stop at a highway reststop (just like home, with gas station and minimart). I bought some Pringles, because I needed them. Ladies, you know what I mean. So I had them open by the time I left the store, and was walking to the bus. As I was walking between two cars, this woman, without even looking out the window, whips open her door, slamming right into my arm and thigh, spilling half my Pringles all over the ground! I was teary by the time I reached the bus. When I told Chrissy what happened, she asked if I was crying because I was hurt or because of the Pringles, and I couldn't decide! I was equally upset by both facts. I was left with ugly, suspicious-looking bruises for the rest of the trip, and no Pringles. Bummer.

How do you think the Blarney Stone got it's powers? Ever kissed it? What's your best travel-accident story?

Stay tuned for the next installation in the British Invasion series: Cliffs of Moher, coming later this week!

Disclaimer: I am not cool enough to have affiliate links or sponsors (at least not yet). All opinions are strictly my own, and all links are shared because I think they're awesome.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Day in Dublin

A few weeks ago my friends and I went on a fun adventure across the pond, our very own British Invasion! Our first stop (and my favorite) was in Ireland. We only planned four days there, but I so wish we had done more! I've already got ideas for my next trip...

We set up home base in Dublin at the Staycity Serviced Apartments - Christchurch, and I highly recommend it! So nice to have our own apartment instead of a small hotel room, but still have a front desk to bother with questions. We had booked a one bedroom flat, but somehow got upgraded to a two bedroom corner apartment on the top floor with a huge living/dining room.

 Plus, great views. This is what I went to bed to every night (note, it's 10:30pm in this picture. I don't think the sun ever really goes down. It was light whenever I was awake):

If you book with them, just know that while this is how most sites show the building (side note: that top row of windows is our flat):

this is where you enter, and where a taxi will drop you off:

Even though we were exhausted and unrested after our red eye flight, after we settled in a bit we went out exploring! This was our only day without a planned tour, so we wanted to see as much of Dublin as we could in a day. One of the great things about the Staycity location was that it was a 15-20 minute walk to just about every major tourist attraction in the city! And true to it's name, Christchurch is right next door to the building. 

So we headed out towards Trinity College. On our way, we just happened to walk by a freakin castle. I mean, in how many cities can you be walking down the street, and just accidentally go by a castle from the 1700s?

Once we made it to Trinity College, we decided to spend time exploring everything Dublin has to offer, rather than spend money to take a tour to see the Book of Kells (it's on the list for next time). But we did take a little stroll around the grounds. It was a gorgeous day.

After getting cornered on Grafton Street by a super-friendly guy trying to sell us Japanese Horoscope Scratchers for kids of addicts, we took a little break to walk through the serene St. Stephen's Green, an oasis in the middle of the city. In the midst of all this greenery we learned something unexpected: there are palm trees in Ireland!

After a visit to the library, we grabbed lunch from the PeacockGreen Christchurch.

PeacockGreen was one of our favorite places to grab a bite or some tea/coffee. Cute little place, great atmosphere, and it smelled delicious! I think our only complaint is that they didn't open til 7:30am, so we couldn't stop on our way to our day tours!

After a little rest at the flat, our next goal was to find the Stiletto in the Ghetto. It's real name is The Spire, but from what I understand, most Dubliners hate it. The government spent millions of euros to build this giant 120-meter-tall monument to nothing, so locals have all sorts of colorful names for it. The Stiletto is the one we liked the most.

We wandered around a bit more, seeing the sites on and around O'Connell Street.

We took a stroll over the Ha'penny Bridge on our way home, which wasn't as exciting as I expected it to be. Just a sort-of-cool bridge jam packed with people.

We ended our day with some delicious take away from Umi Falafel

and some Irish gameshows on the TV, resting up for our tour the next morning. It was a long, busy day, but it was a pretty good first day in Ireland!

Have you been to Dublin? What was your favorite thing?

Disclaimer: I am not cool enough to have affiliate links or sponsors (at least not yet). All opinions are strictly my own, and all links are shared because I think they're awesome. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

BookCon 2014 Recap

The last weekend in May found me on a day trip to NYC for the greatest event in bibliophile history: the first-ever BookCon! I heard about this through a friend of a friend on Facebook and had to go. So I recruited some friends, and off we went! It was held at the Javits Center, home of this gorgeous entry:

Oh my gosh...I'm at BookCon!!!! My people!

So what is BookCon? A full day of book-lovers and authors hanging out, talking about books, with free books and book-related paraphernalia. Also? Famous people. Going into this, there were two people I had to meet. The first? The Dread Pirate Roberts himself, Mr. Cary Elwes! Sadly, our bus was running behind, so we were too late to get in line. I was so bummed that I had to settle for a few quick photos (including this awesome one) as I walked by:

 BUT, he decided to stay longer, and they reopened the line just as I was walking by. I hopped in line and was meeting Westley in a matter of minutes. Because of the demand, we weren't allowed to take photos with him, but I snapped this one while he was talking to the person in front of me (complete with epic photobomb), and this selfie as I walked away.

He was so nice! He apologized for having allergies and being sniffly. As I was wandering down an aisle, I spied a book called "Fun with Kirk and Spock" and figured that would be a great gift for my brother who couldn't make it to BookCon due to a really bad sciatica flare up. The author, Robb Pearlman, signed it "Get to the sick bay!" when I told him who it was for.

By the way, BookCon had some GREAT lighting for photos! You may remember I said there were two celebrities I wanted to meet at BookCon. The second? TOPANGA (aka Danielle Fishel), who was also very sweet and hasn't aged, like, at all.

BookCon was a BLAST! I came home with free books, bags, pins, pens, posters, an awesome "I Read YA" cup, and all kinds of book-related promos and stuff. It was so much fun and I can't wait to go back next year! Except, I'm going to get a hotel overnight so I don't have to miss anything!

Did you go to BookCon. What was your favorite thing?

Disney Princess Half Marathon

In February 2014 I ran my first ever half marathon...and I finished it!

If you're unfamiliar with Run Disney events, Disney organizes races of different lengths throughout the year at both US parks. The courses literally go though the parks, costumes are encouraged, and Disney characters are all over the place.

It was the middle of 2013 when I first learned about these events (particularly the WDW Princess HM) and sent it to my bestie saying we should get in shape and do it "next time". She promptly told me we were doing it this time. It basically went like this:

So, nine months before the race, I stepped on a treadmill and went for my first ever run. I've never run. I've been the adamant "I hate running" chick. But now....while I still hate the treadmill, I'm starting to like running. Sorta. It's a weird sport.

By the way, I suck at running. When I say I'm "running" what I really mean is "I'm walking fast with some bursts of running in between". My average pace is considered power walking by most tracking tools. I am getting better, though! Very slowly but surely.

Anyways, the main event starts uber early, since it needs to be over for the parks to open. We were up at 3am to get into our Princess Woody and Princess Buzz costumes (best friends....princess-themed I really need to explain our decision?) and to the bus with plenty of time to spare. Then we spent an hour or so waiting in our O corral, excited but sleepy.

Finally, it was our turn to start! As each corral starts, Disney sends the runners off with fireworks!

Then the run is on! Because we weren't used to the heat, and we both had a rough start that morning (and I was having...female issues), we ended up power walking most of the race, but still. We finished! The course for this race was more highway than I expected, but hey- it's the Disney highway! And they've got a lot of character photo-ops along the way. We didn't stop, since we were going way slower than we expected, but it was still high energy and fun! Disney runners are the greatest, most encouraging people ever!

Here, have some race selfies:

So, the course. It starts outside Epcot, onto the Disney highway heading past the race track towards Magic Kingdom. The most exciting part is when you turn a corner and realize you're on Main Street heading towards the castle. It's this burst of energy at the half point of the race that spurs you on! After running through Tomorrow Land, you come up behind the castle and there're two heralds blasting their trumpets as you run through the castle! Then you head out the back of Magic Kingdom, back on the highway, and end up at Epcot via back stage Epcot.

Just before you reach the finish line, at mile 13, there's a live gospel choir spurring you on to the end. And at the finish line? Mickey and Minnie are giving high fives. It's super exciting, and then they give you a medal, a cold towel, and a snack box!

That's what I look like after a crazy 13.1 mile expedition that I fully didn't expect to finish! At mile 3 I was certain I wouldn't finish, had a brief revival around mile 6 at the castle, then lost faith again from mile 8 on. It wasn't until around mile 12.9 that I thought I might actually make it. But I did. I still can't fully believe that I did a half marathon.

The night before we left, RunDisney announced a brand new race in DisneyLand: The Avengers Half Marathon!! Guess what we're signed up for?

Also on this trip? Other amazingness. I had dinner in the Beast's West Wing. THE WEST WING! It's forbidden, you know.

Belle had the napkins folded like roses (obviously), We got to see THE rose, and Beast was even home to meet us. Yes, I tried the grey stuff (and, yes, it was delicious).

And, to satisfy my geekiness, I had a butter beer in Hogsmeade after a terrifying broom ride around Hogwarts.

This was such a fun week! Definitely one for the memory bank! 

Have you done a RunDisney race? What did you think?
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