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My Top Five of 2015

Another 525,600 minutes have come and gone. (Okay, so there’s a few hours left.) Time to reflect on the past year. Aside from the day to day, ordinary activities–much of which provide many unexpected special moments; there are those stand-out things that make the year unique.

Here’s my list for 2015:

63ac43d64175ea5318660196bf16c54eMovies. I started the year watching a lot of independent films on Netflix and with Amazon Prime. There’s quite a bit out there to explore. Some are quite creative and unique. Others are just good old fashioned story-telling. And of course, there are many that are downright terrible. I didn’t keep track of how many I watched but I’m sure it was over fifty.

Michael and I saw quite a few main stream movies this year as well. For years I’ve avoided going to movie theaters because people can be so rude and annoying. We found though, if you go to the first showing of the day; you can avoid most of that. Plus, our local theater just replaced all their seating with recliners and reserved seating. Very comfortable and convenient.

Hateful-H8ful-EightWe’ve seen probably a couple dozen movies in the theater this year. I don’t remember much of what we saw– so many were either bad or just okay. I have to admit that the best film I saw this year was one I had dreaded going to see. Quentin Tarantino’s The H8ful Eight is glorious story-telling. We saw it Christmas Day at one of the 98 theaters presenting the movie in the 70mm road show edition. I can’t say I miss film over digital but the work itself is pretty fantastic. It was the last and best film we saw this year.

I also should mention I really enjoyed (for different reasons) The Age of Adaline, Trainwreck and Get Hard; all released this year and all of which I saw while flying overseas.

 

day4Politics. The abnormally early start to the Presidential campaign has been impossible to escape. Much of it has left me dumbfounded. I don’t want to offend anyone (at the moment) by spouting my political views. I just want to say that this election cycle can best be described as the worst, bottom of the barrel, reality TV possible. No one could write this stuff.

elephant-donkey-republican-democrat-symbols-background_0_0It’s not just national politics that gets me worked up. I’ve spent a lot of time this year following local politics as well. You know what? It isn’t any better.

The bottom line is that you can’t trust politicians. Even the supposed good ones. They all publicly support or oppose one thing– and the turn around and quietly vote the opposite way. Too much talk –too little action. Action that doesn’t back up the talk. Why is it so hard to find an honest politician? (Insert joke here.)

 

s167566754460200885_p8_i4_w750Reading. I used to love to read. This year I challenged myself to read 20 books. I’m ending the year having read 96 books! I know, I know– why didn’t I push to finish 100? That wasn’t the point. Returning to one of my great loves was the thing.

I started reviewing books as well. Goodreads, Amazon and NetGalley are my prime target audiences. Goodreads continuously has book giveaways called First Read giveaways. I was fortunate to win 9 books in 2015.

 

rp-book-towerIn August I wrote about my three top favorites and they remain my favorites now at the end of the year. You can read about them here and here.

I don’t know how I let myself get away from reading. Whether for entertainment or education– I have really missed the world of books.

You don’t even have to spend a lot of money on books if this is your passion. There are many places online where you can find free books waiting to be read. I know I’ll be reading many more in the coming year.

 

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Published. One of my bucket list items has always been to be a published author. That dream came true in October with the publication of my play, The House of Evil.

It is available in print and digital formats through Amazon and a number of retailers. You can purchase it by clicking here for print or here for digital.

Version 2The House of Evil is also available for production throughout the world.

Though I’ve had the satisfaction of completing a number works– this finally allows me to claim the title of published author. Which is pretty exciting.

I have written a number of things over the years that I also hope to eventually have published. I’m currently in the preliminary stage, planning a book on Christmas decorating; and I have a new novel in the works.

My play, September’s Heroes will be published early in 2016.

 

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Eighteen Days in Southeast Asia. Traveling to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore was the biggest thing of the year for many reasons.

It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The people, the history, the cultural differences– were all enlightening and overwhelming. It was a whirlwind stimulation of the senses.

Michael & I riding an elephant in Thailand.

Michael & I riding an elephant in Thailand.

We spent many hours over the months leading up to our adventure- planning and researching, to make the most of our trip. Hours very well spent. All the pre-planning and anticipation were half the fun but certainly didn’t come close to the amazing experience itself.

If you haven’t already, you can read my day-to-day blog posts starting here. I’m really glad I have the blog as record of our trip. Along with the thousands of pictures I took, it helps trigger many memories I might otherwise forget.

Next stop? Italy in 2016.

 

Happy New Year, Everyone!

 

new-year-2016-wallpapers

 

 

Christmas At Home: Pictures

Merry Christmas Everyone! Here are some pictures of our house decorated for the holidays. 321 Division Street is all lit up. A total of 34 trees lit this year, inside and out.

Our house shot from across the street.

Our house shot from across the street.

Daytime shot of the front porch.

Daytime shot of the front porch.

 

Our 'A Christmas Story' Leg Lamp in the window.

Our ‘A Christmas Story’ Leg Lamp in the window.

 

The Front Parlor.

The Front Parlor.

Tree in the Foyer.

Tree in the Foyer.

 

Our tree in the front yard with the church in the background.

Our tree in the front yard with the church in the background.

 

Front Porch at night.

Front Porch at night.

 

Dudley looking like the Grinch.

Dudley looking like the Grinch.

 

Christmas Snowflakes.

Christmas Snowflakes.

 

Cash, my old man.

Cash, my old man.

 

321 Division Street, Christmas 2015.

321 Division Street, Christmas 2015.

Belle- Wondering why she couldn't be Santa.

Belle- Wondering why she couldn’t be Santa.

 

Dudley and Cash were not amused by the head gear.

Dudley and Cash were not amused by the head gear.

 

The Christmas Day Full Cold Moon. First one since 1977.

The Christmas Day Full Cold Moon. First one since 1977.

merrychristmas

Wishing everyone the happiest of holidays and an extra special, peaceful New Year!

Christmas At Home: Finding Christmas

1b0f119bca5919243ea4a70ccdb8c3d1I really haven’t been in the Christmas mood this year. All the evil, hate and violence going on in the world has taken center stage– at least that’s all that is being spewed through the media. It has made me sad, angry and frustrated. What is wrong with people? It has made it really, really hard to find the Christmas spirit.

I’m so sick of Donald Trump… a hypocritical Congress that lies to the American people outright… and an uprising of action, based completely on fear of what might be versus what is. This is a dark moment in our history. Bah humbug!

So this morning I happened to come across the video of Jordan Smith, the recent winner of The Voice,  and his version of Mary Did You Know trending in social media.

 

It’s good. Really good. Just not as good as Donny Osmond’s 1999 version.

 

 

I like Donny’s version best, not as much for his technique as for his passion and sincerity. It touches me. I think his rendition is a better fit for the true meaning of the song.

This led me to keep searching through my Christmas music. Actually, aside from the repetitive playlist on the FM station in my car… I haven’t listened to much Christmas music this year. And, I just hadn’t found my Christmas moment.

There’s always a single moment or two that defines Christmas for me each year. It’s usually something quiet and simple… and it’s not usually a moment I share. Mostly, because it’s a feeling, it’s personal– and that’s often just too hard to describe.

Anyway, this search through my playlist brought me to My Grown Up Christmas List one of my favorites of all time. In spite of my fondness for the song, I hadn’t listened to it this year.

So I clicked play on Kelly Clarkson’s version of the song… and there it was. My moment. Unexpected. Simple. Pure. A rush of emotion summing up all that I’d been feeling– melting my anger and frustration and giving way to hope. My Christmas moment.

 

 

This song says it all. We claim to be a civilized society. At this time of year, if at no other, I would hope people would search their hearts and find what is truly important.

Peace. Hope. Love. Giving. Sharing.

And perhaps most important of all– living without fear.

Merry Christmas.

Send a Christmas Card & Save the World

diy-christmas-card-photoHave you mailed your Christmas cards yet? Do you send them out or have you stopped altogether? What if you could actually save the world; or perhaps closer to home-  a life — by the simple act of mailing a holiday card? The title of this post may seem a little over dramatic but I stand by the sentiment and I’ll explain why.

No, there is no gimmick or marketing ploy here. I don’t work for a greeting card company and I make this suggestion out of sincere concern for where our society is headed. We are rapidly tossing out traditions in the name of progress and the overused phrase, ‘being more politically correct’. We can say we’re too busy or we’re saving money…. but why not be willing to say you’re too lazy or just don’t care?

I’m not judging anyone here. I realize this just isn’t important to some people. If you choose not to send out cards– for whatever reason; that’s fine by me. BUT– if I can encourage you to just consider participating in this time-old tradition… then it was worth my time.

I just read an opinion piece by someone who is sending out their cards (this year) for the last time. Some of their justifications are: a) not getting enough cards in return, b) thinking the recipient will be disappointed if there isn’t a gift card or cash inside, c) it takes too much effort, and d) it’s easier to just send a message online.

I understand how someone might come to these conclusions but I also think they are shallow assumptions and, well– just plain wrong. I also see some of those excuses as just plain selfishness.

Who doesn’t like receiving Christmas cards? (Unless, it’s because it makes you feel guilty for not mailing them out?) The comments from people attached to the above mentioned story all disagreed with the author’s perceptions and want to receive cards. They like this traditional token of holiday cheer.

So how can a silly thing like sending a card save the world?

Here are a few of my points to consider:

  • Communicate, connect, share. Show someone you care. Isolation can be a terrible thing. Your act of thoughtfulness could be the only positive thing someone experiences today. You may be reaching out to someone in desperate need. Someone you know may be feeling completely alone and disenfranchised. You’re card could go a long way to brighten someone’s day.
  • So much Conservative emphasis is on the cause of world problems being the fault of the breakdown of the family. One of the ways families stay connected is through holidays and traditions. As society places less value on the family, society starts to fail.  Whether it’s a biological family, chosen family or coming together as a community— society needs ways to connect that are positive and unite us– giving us strength. Eliminate traditions… eliminate family and a peaceful society is the next to go.
  • Can’t afford to send everyone gifts? Why not a simple, heartfelt note inside a card? This can mean so much more than a gift that will soon be forgotten. A few kind words letting someone know you are thinking of them can go a long way.
  • The Christmas card tradition keeps many people in different industries employed. Authors, artists & designers, sales, marketing, transportation… all benefit.
  • “It’s easier to say Merry Christmas on Facebook.” Yes, it is easier. It takes no effort at all. I’m not belittling the sentiments– I’m saying it isn’t the same thing. AND– not everyone will see it. If that’s your substitution– it isn’t working.
  • “Christmas cards are a waste of money and negatively affect the environment.” Not true. Many cards are made of recycled paper and can be recycled again. The paper industry, by it’s very existence, contributes positively to the environment through replanting and maintaining forests and environmental systems.
  • “Christmas cards aren’t PC.” Really? The celebration of Christmas goes far beyond religion. How many people do you believe are really offended by Christmas cards? If this is a concern of yours: How about a generic holiday card? It’s the idea behind the card that counts. It’s letting someone know you are thinking about them.

Screen-shot-2012-10-27-at-6.24.06-PMSure, a Christmas card can be viewed as a small, meaningless thing.  How about parades? Can we get rid of those next? And Fourth of July fireworks? Do we really need to celebrate birthdays anymore? If you take cards, along with many other small, meaningless things away– what are you replacing it with? What do you have left? We are slowly chipping away at many of the elements that have allowed society to connect and to function successfully for many years. Individually, they don’t seem like much but they are a small part of a whole.

It’s all about living and sharing.

Call, write, visit…connect. let someone know you care.

Here’s an idea: I’ll go one better… you can get rid of Christmas cards but throw an annual holiday party for all your family and friends instead. Is there any better way to connect and express your appreciation than in person? Holidays are for sharing. Nothing is better than being there and sharing an experience. Only, you’ll have to make sure they’ll all be able to attend on the date you select.

Of course, you’ll also have to send out invitations…. which is a card…

 

The Haunting Faces of Angkor Thom: A Photo Essay

A Sweaty Selfie at Angkor Thom.

A Sweaty Selfie at Angkor Thom.

Angkor Thom was probably my favorite location of all that we visited in Southeast Asia. There’s an aura that is simply magical. I found myself standing– high up amongst the faces in the ruins– and I got kind of emotional. How incredibly lucky was I to actually be standing there? It was one of those moments that words fail. Hopefully, these images will explain it all.

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat in Black & White: A Photo Essay

Here are some more images from our visit to Angkor Wat, Siem Riep, Cambodia. I did filter them to age them. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world– visiting here is a must! Photos can only go so far in bringing the awe-factor through the lens.

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Wat (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

The Never-ending 36 Hour Day

Southeast Asia Travel -11/16 – Day Eighteen & a Half:Today was the longest day ever!” People always say that when a day seems extremely slow or stressful– it’s the longest– but 24 hours is still just 24 hours. Unless, of course, you are flying back through time zones from the other side of the world and 24 hours becomes 36 unbearable, long hours.

Michael and I got up at 4:30 AM Monday morning to get ready to leave for the airport at 6 AM. Plenty of time. Michael had prearranged transportation online before we even started our crazy adventure. All we had to do was call and confirm a day in advance.  Only…. No answer.

IMG_1502We’d allowed plenty of time, being an international flight, customs, etc. and we still hoped the car would show up as scheduled. We made repeat phone calls and no answer, no recording… nothing.

At 6:20 AM we gave up and had the hotel call us a taxi. Which, by the way, was cheaper than the original arrangement we’d made in advance. (We did get a full refund through Viator later.)

The simple story is that we flew from Singapore to Seoul, Seoul to San Francisco; and after a five-hour layover, home to Chicago. We flew business class to boot. Easy huh?

Except- it really wasn’t easy. It was like torture. Mainly because with the extremely dry air on the plane, I got a bad sinus infection early on that had me in pain and irritable most of the trip. I couldn’t breath, my throat was sore and I was starting to develop a cough. I started calling it ‘the airplane flu’. This made sleeping extremely difficult as well.

I need moisture. I looked it up and airplane air is down around 10% humidity– almost nonexistent. I had plenty of fluids but I couldn’t stay hydrated. It’s not the airplane air itself that makes you sick but the extreme dryness leaves your body unprotected to any germs you might be exposed to on the plane or from others.

We had turbulence (nothing severe) much of our flight time; preventing even standing up and stretching from being an option.

I just kept reminding myself that it would soon be over and we’d be home with our dogs. I also kept imagining what it would have been like if we’d flown coach. I think I would have been ready to jump out the window! In addition to being sick, my body was aching and my cramps had cramps.

By the time we reached San Francisco, I was desperate for a break. I would have given anything to just walk around for a while. Except, immigration and customs took almost two hours! 1) Because the person in charge of line control for the automated immigration kiosks was clueless and half the machines were always empty; and 2) Michael got randomly pulled for his bags to be checked at customs. I find it somewhat amusing (and sad) that airports and customs all over the world can get it right– but the US is the most unorganized and slow. It was a good thing we had the five-hour layover before our final leg to Chicago. We needed nearly four hours of it just to get into the country and then through screening for our flight home.

Everything from Singapore was on time… until we reached Chicago. Surprise, surprise. We landed and had to sit on the plane waiting for a gate for nearly an hour. Not because the gates were full—but because O’Hare had shut down all the gates for the night– making all incoming flights wait and take turns at the few open gates.

Then of course, it was the same situation at baggage claim. It took another 30-45 minutes for baggage while Peggy was patiently standing by to pick us up.

By the time we got home, we were so tired and wired at the same time. It was good to be home. Best of all– almost better than anything you can imagine– was seeing my old boy Cash. He was happy to see us, greeting us with kisses and a big warm puddle in the driveway because he was so excited.

We pick up Belle and Dudley from boarding tomorrow after we (hopefully) have had some rest.

There’s a reason the saying, “there’s no place like home” has had such longevity. I love traveling and experiencing new adventures but there is nothing like your own bed, your pets nuzzling you– and the tranquility of your own space. It’s been such a whirlwind adventure. It will take time just for everything we were privileged enough to experience–just to sink in and sensory overload to catch up with us in real time.

For now, it’s all about getting back to normal, getting over this stupid cold and steamrolling into the holidays.

Next stop? London and Italy in September.

Maybe we can teleport there.