Archive for March, 2012

I have a super special guest for you guys today! Debra Kristi is here to visit and share one of her fabulous experiences. This is all about fashion and the art of display pieces. Take is away, Debra!

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Thank you for having me, Karen. *waves* When Karen first asked me if I would guest blog about art, I wondered what I could possibly say that would be of any interest. She’s had so many interesting posts on some pretty amazing talent, how could I possibly fit? But Karen knows that I come from a family of talent and she seemed determined to squeeze something out of me. Little did she know I’m the less talented of the bunch! *laughs*

Growing up I was surrounded by my mother and grandmother’s rich oil paintings. My mother even went on to teach classes in her soft Impressionist style. I, on the other hand, always preferred to work with pencil or ink, sticking primarily to the black and white hues.

Painting never became my thing, but working with tangible elements that I could move and arrange – that was something I got into. I learned a lot about art over the years. It has a lot to do with placement – where you want the eye to be drawn. Upper right corner is the usual, natural location. I almost always recommend up. And, of course, color palette – will you be using similar colors, complimentary, or strikingly different? The combinations are endless.

A few years after graduating from college with a degree in business (Operations Management), I ventured back into the artistic world, attending the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. It was one of those crazy expensive decisions we sometimes make in life, looking for validation of what we think we know, but are yet unsure. It is a project from this period in my life I thought I’d share today. It’s definitely different from anything Karen has shared with you so far.

Think about walking down 5th Avenue in New York City and taking in all the fabulous window displays. For someone like me, that’s like a six-year-old stepping foot onto Disneyland’s Main Street filled with Disney characters. I bubble over with excitement. Those windows are what visual designers aspire to. Of course, I’m not going to tell you I was the superb designer on any of those beauties. I’ve never even been to New York. But I have created artistic displays in a similar fashion.

My personal taste has always been “less is more.” I don’t like clutter. It confuses the eye, leaving you with no idea where to focus. If your display is a mannequin, be it just one or several, include minimal props. Smaller windows use the same concept, using only a few supporting elements to make the focal items look more attractive.

In 1996 my visual design partner and I got the opportunity to create a window display featuring two 1960’s vintage dresses. We didn’t have much to work with, but I did say less is more. What we had were a couple of blank mannequins. Painted in an old flat white paint, they did little to highlight the dresses and make them pop. Yes, I know. White is good, even great, when you want the focus to be on other things. Yet there are times when you can do better. Our dresses demanded a little more drama and pizzazz. A simple change to flat black alone made a huge difference. The fun little go-go dresses suddenly found new life.

There may have been life, but was it enough? Turning to the dresses for further inspiration, from each of them we pulled out a pattern to wrap around their respective mannequin, pulling color from the dresses in a thin, less conspicuous line. After that, only one more element was needed to give the window a complete look. Oversized chains were added, dropping them down in a clean straight line from the ceiling.

POW! We had the look we were striving for. A simple white backdrop, two nondescript flat black mannequins, a couple of amazing vintage dresses, some foam core, metal hoops, paint and brushes and voila – an eye catching design.

Not many stores take the time to do more than slip an outfit on a mannequin these days. Unless, of course, you’ve made your way to 5th Avenue in New York or some other trendy fashion district. Do you notice when a store designer takes the extra time on a display, be it in the window or on a vignette inside the store? Is it something you’ve ever done or had the desire to try your hand at?

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Debra Kristi lives with her husband, two active children, and one White’s Tree Frog. She is currently working on her first Young Adult Fantasy novel, but has many more stories to share. She holds a degree in Operations Management and a Professional Designation in Visual Display and Spatial Design. She graduated from FIDM as Valedictorian, receiving the Niedermaier Merit Award and the special honor of creating the California Student Aid display for the State Capital. When not writing, she is usually building puzzles or Legos with her kids in her free time.

Picture it: green grass, blooming flowers, castles, a nice cool drizzle, and lots and lots of potatoes.

Where else could we be other than Ireland?

I loved Ireland. It was actually refreshing to go here after already having been to Italy, Greece, Spain and Morocco. Why? Because they spoke English. Now, I’m all for culture shock and being surrounded by the native language of these other countries, but I’ll be honest…It’s hard. It really is difficult to be American and travel to these other places. You have to tread carefully and make sure you know what to do and what not to do.

In Ireland, it wasn’t like that.

The Irish love Americans. They really do! They’d find out we were from the States and they’d ask us all sorts of questions. Everyone was nice over there and the culture shock was very minimal. For the most part, the entire country is incredibly laid back. They were genuinely glad that we were there. It was a wonderful feeling.

I have a lot of stories to tell about Ireland, but I think I’ll stick to the one place that most everyone knows about this country: Blarney Castle.

Now, I almost did a very, very stupid thing when we went here: I almost didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone.

Yeah, stupid.

And why, might you ask, did I almost not kiss it? Well, there’s a lot of stories about what the locals to do the stone when they’re between “customers.” It’s quite, erm, questionable. I honestly don’t know if it’s true or not, but it is rather disgusting. I wasn’t going to kiss it, I said. Not a chance!

Then I actually thought about it.

I’m. In. Ireland.

When am I going to get to do that again? Probably never. How many other people (that I know) can say they’ve gone to Ireland? How many can say they’ve seen Blarney castle? How many can say that they kissed the Blarney Stone?

That opening is where you lie down and lean back in order to kiss the stone. It's 80 feet from the ground!

I can think of only a handful of people…and those were the ones that were on the trip with me.

I can’t believe I almost made that mistake – almost didn’t go through with something because it seemed silly. It’s just a rock! What’s the big deal? I didn’t need to kiss it to say I’ve “been” to Ireland.

Yes, I did.

Yeah, maybe there are a lot of germs on this Blarney Stone, but come on. Who cares about that? You only get this kind of opportunity once in a lifetime (unless you’re super famous and/or super rich and/or actually live in Ireland…). I am so glad that I did it. It was actually really fun!

View from the archer's window.

And you know what? Officially being blessed as having the gift of gab has got to be a plus if I want to become published, right?

Bottom Line:

Watch it.

Details:

[Light spoilers]

I’m going to try really hard not to go crazy on this review because I know a lot of people are going to be talking about this movie, but I just wanted to throw in my two cents. [EDIT: Obviously this is me trying not to go crazy and failing completely. Sorry about that.]

(P.S. Here’s a great review from a movie writer at Hypable. Definitely worth your time, and a bit more technical than mine will be if that’s your thing. And here’s a fellow movie reviewer’s take on it. We’re both fans of the books and our reviews definitely echo each other’s, so you’ve got to know the movie was that good! AND here’s another one by a fellow blogger. She has a few different opinions, and that’s always great to read about! And, lastly, here’s a fellow nerd’s take on the film.)

Now, I’m a little biased. I was SO pumped for this movie. I’ve read all three books several times, and I love each and every one for a different reason. When I heard that they were coming out with a movie, I was extremely excited. Of course there was a little bit of fear and doubt in the back of my mind – films like Harry Potter and Twilight haven’t been super faithful to the books. And, you know, that’s fine! There’s reasons why things had to be cut and regardless of my personal opinion of how it was handled, I do understand that.

I had nothing to worry about when it came to THG.

(On a side note, [NERD WARNING] I was so excited that it literally felt like Christmas morning for me. I woke up at 4:30 and was like, Ugh, way too early. Then I woke up again at 6:30. That was fine. 6:30 I could do. I was too energized by the thought that I was finally going to see this movie to go back to sleep anyway.)

The acting was incredible. Jennifer Lawrence lived up to the expectation that everyone had of her. I’m so glad she was cast, and incredibly proud of her for stepping into these shoes. She had a lot of pressure on her shoulders, and boy did she deliver.

Peeta was great and so was Prim. I thought Gale was a little lacking, but then again he didn’t have a lot of screen time. Haymitch and Effie were wonderful, and I loved that their back-and-forth relationship translated so well from book to movie. I’d have to say that – aside from Katniss – my favorite character was Rue. She didn’t have a whole lot of screen time, but she owned it when she was there. I could probably write an entire essay on why I love her character – both in the books and in the movie – so much. Her main scene (you know the one I’m talking about…) was incredibly powerful. I wish I could say exactly what I loved about it, but I do want to try to stay away from spoilers.

I don’t cry that often (especially not in crowded movie theatres), but this movie definitely brought me to tears in a few places (if you’ve read the books, you know exactly what places those are). The acting is just that commanding.

The actual adaptation of the book was incredible. They left very, very little out. And, you know what? What they did leave out wasn’t necessary to the plot anyway. I’m not upset at all. They did add a few scenes, which was a great idea. I think a few of them worked better than others, but nothing felt out of place. One of my favorite parts of the movie as a whole was what we saw in the Gamemaker’s Center. That was really cool!

So, what were things that I had problems with? Well, everyone is citing the “shaky-cam” as one of the biggest problems. In the very beginning I did have trouble with it – it was just a little too shaky. But this pretty much drops off once you hit the Capitol, which I think does a lot for the film stylistically. Some of the action scenes at the end were similar to the beginning and it was hard to follow the fight sequences. I like seeing the fighting and the moving around in these places, so I didn’t enjoy the close-up immediacy of the style that Gary Ross (the director) used. Overall, though, it wasn’t as bad as a lot of people were making it out to be.

There were some other small things. I wished that Katniss had played up to the cameras more, like she did in the books. That was a really enjoyable thread for me in the series – her extreme consciousness of the audience that was watching her. I wished that we saw and/or knew that the mutts had the eyes of the Tributes. I felt like that really showed how sick the Capitol was, plus it does sort of become more important later on. I didn’t particularly like how the cornucopia turned out, but I thought it served its purpose well in the end.

But, really, how important were these things? Not important at all, just things I enjoyed “seeing” in the books and was hoping to see in the movie. No big deal.

The CGI was not fantastic, but it didn’t throw me off or anything. The mutts could have been better, but the scene was at night and the semi-darkness allowed them to leave some of the details out. I didn’t mind. The flames were…I’m not sure. I loved them, but they were a little off for me too. But you know what? They weren’t supposed to be real anyway, so I think it’s fine that they looked a little different, a little otherworldly. The only thing that I’m genuinely concerned about is [SPOILER WARNING] the fact that Katniss doesn’t actually love Peeta right away. I don’t think this was an easy conclusion to come to in the movie, until *maybe* the end. But, I’m sure we’ll get more of this in Catching Fire. [END SPOILER WARNING]

There were some things that genuinely surprised me. I went in thinking this wasn’t going to be a funny movie (and it’s not, just to clarify). I heard Woody Harrelson was taking Haymitch down a notch, so I thought we wouldn’t really see a whole lot of humor. Wrong. This is by no means a comedy, but I definitely laughed out loud in a few parts. There are some really witty scenes.

The way in which Ross and his team put you in the movie is actually incredible. The close-up shots and the shaky-cam both do this, but not to the extent that the sound of the movie does. The Tracker Jacker sequence was in-cred-ible. I loved how it was shot and edited, and you just knew exactly how Katniss was feeling. This same thing comes later after the explosion. The sound gets muted and you can tell that her hearing isn’t quite right. There are also some other small places in which this happens, such as when she’s nervous to be on stage with Caesar Flickerman and he has to ask her the question a second time.

I also liked how the beginning started with text on the screen explaining the Reaping. I felt that this was a simple solution to the problem of giving the backstory. I didn’t want them to waste time developing that, so I was glad to see they did it in this way. Also, the little details really made me excited, like seeing Buttercup or Prim adjusting her little duck tail.

I read a lot of books and I watch a lot of movies. This is by far the most faithful adaptation that I’ve seen. I can’t sing any higher praise for it. If you haven’t yet, read the books. They’re powerful and incredible and poignant and relevant. Then go see the movie. It’s just as good, and in some ways develops the story further than what Suzanne Collins was allowed to do in the books. If you can’t be bothered with the books, please go watch the movie anyway. You won’t be confused. They do a great job of setting up this world and really immersing you in it. Caesar Flickerman serves as the host of the Games and they cut to him to explain certain things to the people in the Capitol (and, as a result, to the movie-going audience). I went with two other people who had read the books and one who did not. The one who didn’t read them beforehand wasn’t confused at all, and all four of us came out loving it.

I can’t wait to see it again. I think I’ll probably have to give in later this week. I just don’t know if I can wait that much longer until it comes out on DVD…

Remember the video I posted a while back of the dog versus the pile of leaves? I’ve got another one! This one shows man’s best friend going up against the evil Dr. Doorstop. The leaves never stood a chance, but Doorstop is a much greater challenge! See how our superhero makes out in the video below.

I won’t have a ROW80 post going up on Sunday, since we’re taking a week or two off before the second round starts. HOWEVER, I’ll be bringing you my review of The Hunger Games on Monday, as I’ll be seeing it on Saturday morning. I AM SO EXCITED.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone.

I usually don’t post ROW80 updates on Wednesday, but I believe this is the last date to do so for round one. The second round starts on April 2nd. And you all can participate! Check out the blog here to find out what you need to do.

This was my first time ROWing, so I’m not totally sure how everyone usually wraps it up at the end. I’m just going to go ahead and do my own thang, then. ;)

I really want to focus on the positive, so here are all the things I’ve accomplished since that initial check-in back on January 1st:

*I finished editing D1 by January 15th.

*I’ve managed to stay on a blogging schedule (BIG deal for me)

*Successfully read two books on craft, plus joined WritersMarket

*Finished my WIP (now “L1”) by February 5th

*Started writing D2 and got through the first third of the book

*Passed 50 blog posts, 2,000 views, and 400 comments

*Decided to drop D1 & D2 (for now) and go with my gut instinct to stick with L1 instead

*Became a copyeditor for Hypable

*Decided to take the plunge and make my own Facebook fan page

*Wrote 40,000 words since the beginning of this round

Well, dang. That’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be. There are definitely some things I wished I would’ve done, but I’ve learned a lot this round and I’m sticking with the happy thoughts. I’m going to apply what I found out to round two and come in with some new goals that I hope will make the second round more successful than the first.

I also wanted to give a huge thanks to everyone who has been stopping in regularly to cheer me on. You know who you are, and you guys are AWESOME! Here’s to an even better round next time!

Coming Up Short

Posted: March 19, 2012 in General
Tags: , , ,

Well, I did have a nice little mash-up of things to talk about today, but a good portion of them fell by the wayside. It was out of my hands, unfortunately. But, you can check out the carnage below.

First, we’ve got Clay’s March Movie Madness coming around for its second birthday. This tournament was a first come, first served basis in which we picked our favorite movie heroes. Clay randomly matched them up and EVERYONE gets to vote. My heroine was Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill and she was slaughtered  by none other than…Belle from Beauty and the Beast? *checks fact sheet* Yep, that’s definitely right. Belle beat out my character and gets to go onto round two.

So, I was going to go beg you all to vote for Beatrix, but I guess that’s out now. Instead, I’ll just ask you to head on over to Clay’s site tomorrow (Tuesday) and vote for anyone you want to. There’s a lot of MyWANA and ROWers in the tourney, so it’s going to be quite an interesting matchup where we see where everyone’s loyalties lie. You can check out the slander and bribery on Twitter using the hashtag #MMM2.

(I’m already planning for next year, by the way.)

Secondly, I was going to beg you guys to vote for Kait Nolan’s book Red in the DABWAHA book contest. She’s pretty awesome, and her book sounds amazing. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard great things about it. (It’s on my list, Kait!) The reason I said was is because she was beat out by Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Kait was the only Indie in the field, though, so that’s something to be proud about! We even pulled ahead for a solid half hour. But, no worries. She made it to the second round and even that is an accomplishment to be proud of.

(So, what does that say about me and Beatrix? *sniffle*)

Lastly, I’ve got something that was not affected by this bad luck streak we seemed to be having around here the past few days: being tagged by Marji! You can see which questions she got and how she answered them here. These are my answers to her questions:

1. Book or movie and why? ALWAYS the book. I’m a huge film buff, but I still prefer the book over the movie in every way. Nothing can compare to the original story in the original way it was told (with words).

2. Real book or e-book? REAL BOOK. I’m getting into the whole e-book thing, but physical books make me happy in ways that an e-book can’t. I literally start feeling depressed if I go too long without reading a book in which I can turn the pages.

3. Funniest thing you’ve done in the last 5 years? Gosh! This is the hardest question on the list. You’d think I’d be able to think of something. Umm… How about the funniest thing I’ve seen? (That sort of counts as “doing,” right?) I saw Gabriel Iglesias perform in my hometown. That man is HILARIOUS.

4. How would your best friend describe you? “Crazy.” Pretty sure that would be her first choice. Yeah. Definitely “crazy.”

5. Do you put yourself into the books you read/write or the movies you watch? Yes, all the time. I find this especially true with books. My heart physically aches, I feel scared, I feel happy, I laugh, I cry. The same is true with movies. There’s no point experiencing either if you’re not going to commit yourself.

6. Favorite kind of car and why? A mustang. Preferably a neon green one. I just love the look of mustangs. I wish I could get more technical than that, but I do not know anything about cars. And bright green is my favorite color.

My birthday is in November, FYI.

7. Would your choice of party be a catered meal or barbecue out back? Barbecue for sure. Nothing compares to a home cooked meal. I’ve got some pretty talented people in my family, so I’d make them cook for me!

8. What’s your favorite season and why? Summer. I love the warmth, the sun, the fun that you can have. Winter makes me want to hibernate. Summertime makes me feel alive!

9. What specific lesson have you learned – Spiritual, educational, occupational? That I am capable of anything. And no, that’s not bragging. Sometimes my days can be overrun with worry and fear and panic. On those days I just have to sit back and remember everything I’ve already accomplished. I am an amazing person, and I can do anything when I set my mind to it. (And you guys can too!)

10. Besides writing, what’s your favorite thing to do when you get some extra time? Reading is high on the list. I love watching movies or making origami. I’m not a super creative person, but I try really, really hard. That counts, right?

11. What’s one place you can be found at least one time every week? My best friend’s house. I’m pretty sure we were separated at birth. Our parents just aren’t admitting to it yet.

So now I get to pick 11 other people and ask each of them to answer 11 questions. You don’t have to participate, but I think it would be really interesting!!

1. Fabio Bueno

2. Marcy Kennedy

3. Julie Glover

4. Debra Kristi

5. Chris Stocking

6. Belle DiMonté

7. Kaitlin and/or Michael Branch

8. Karen McFarland

9. Jessica Salyer

10. Patricia Sands

11. Stacy Green

And here are your questions:

1. What book or series can you read over and over again without getting bored?

2. If you decided not to be a writer, what would your other dream job be?

3. What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

4. If there was one fad that you could bring back from when you were a kid, what would it be?

5. Who is the one person that has singlehandedly inspired you the most in your life?

6. If you could take a trip to any foreign country RIGHT NOW, which one would you choose?

7. What is one talent that you’re hopeless at, but you wish you had?

8. What TV show are you most addicted to?

9. If you were stuck on a deserted island, name three objects and three people you would want with you.

10. If you could be any animal, what would you be?

11. What is one trait or physical characteristic that you are proud of/love about yourself?

(Anyone else – feel free to answer them in the comments if you want!!)

I’m sitting outside on my porch while I’m typing this. The sun is shining, there’s a thin layer of clouds, and the breeze is rustling the bare branches around me. It is a beautiful day. (Wow, my computer looks so dusty in the sunlight.) It’s got to be about 70 degrees – warmer in the sun. This is not weather we’re used to having in Upstate New York in the middle of March. It would make much more sense if we had a foot of snow on the ground right now. Seriously.

But I’m not complaining! In fact, I’m trying to take as much advantage of it as I can. I’m about 99% sure we’re going to get socked with another snowstorm between now and May. It always happens.

I’ve got tons of stuff to update you guys on – plus that lovely, lovely news that I promised I’d share with you. But first, my check-in:

(Oh, and color me surprised when I found out this morning that we only had four days left of this round. Really? I can’t believe it’s been that long already!)

  1. Go to Writer’s Market at least three times a week. Incomplete. I didn’t do this at all. I’m definitely avoiding it. Better luck next time. As always, I hope to get some time in today.
  2. Write at least four days a week. Done! I’ve been editing L1 all week and I’m about 2/3 of the way through it now. I fixed “chapter six FROM HELL” and it’s a lot better now. I hit another snag the other day, but I plan on sitting down and reworking that as soon as I get this post up. I’m not sure how many words I’ve added to my WIP (or taken away) but it’s been a fair amount. I haven’t written anything else (short stories, background information) like I was hoping I would, but I’m not too worried. L1 is my main focus right now, and that’s what I’m most concerned about working on.
  3. Exercise five days a week. Done! Since getting my new DDR game, I’ve been much more excited to do this – which is what I was hoping would happen. And, just like I knew I would, I’ve been running to dance to the Spice Girls song each and every time. What? I’m a 90’s kid! Weighing myself only on Sundays has definitely made me feel better – checking in too often was too hard on my mental state. I’m not dropping a lot (or sometimes any) weight, but that’ll come in time.
  4. Read every day. Done. Since I count blogs and other articles for this goal, there’s pretty much no way this can ever not be accomplished. I’m struggling to pick up Tiger’s Voyage and finish the last few chapters of the book. I just don’t really care. But I’m not one to give up on a book if I’m that far through it already. I’m going to try to get through it and get on to the next book. My to-read list on Goodreads keeps growing and growing, and I have to start making a dent in it!
  5. Blog at least three times a week, not including my ROW80 updates. Done! Super easy, of course. I love hanging out with you all. Being a part of Triberr has brought me some new blogs to read and has brought some new people to my own blog. It’s been a great experience and Triberr is now one of my favorite websites to visit. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out Jenny Hansen’s posts on it here. EVERY blogger should be on Triberr. And if you’re a part of ROW80, you already have a tribe that you can join!) I love blogging, and I love when my posts can help or entertain other people. Believe it or not, it’s one of the things that keeps me sane!

Okay! Now onto some super-ultra-awesome stuff.

First off, I now have a page on Facebook, which you can find here. It was very nerve-wracking for me to finally do that and admit to the rest of the world (ie. friends and family) that yes, I want to be a writer and yes, I’m serious. But I did it and there you go. Everyone has been great so far. I invite you to “like” my page and then link to your own page in the comments so we can all “like” each other!

My next announcement is the big one. It was the reason I finally made that page on Facebook. I promised myself that if this came through, there was no holding back. I was going to be out there for everyone to see and I wasn’t backing down. I am a writer.

Hypable.com is a nerdtastic site that covers all sorts of fandoms, from Avengers to Glee to Harry Potter and way, way, WAY more than that. It’s from the same guys who brought us Potterheads Mugglenet. I’ve been a fan of Hypable from the very beginning and have been lucky enough to watch it grow and change and become this wonderful thing it is now.

I’ve applied for positions before, but my schedule never made me an ideal candidate. That’s fine, I thought. As a fan, I’d rather them choose someone who can really bring something to the table. So, I wasn’t that disappointed. Then a few weeks ago another posting went up. They want to add to the website – they’re not just looking for news writers now (which is what I applied for before), but content writers. They want people who can write up histories on the fandoms and make Hypable an all-inclusive website. A one stop shop for everything you’ll ever want to know about what you’re interested in. Oh, and they want copyeditors, too.

What!?

Yes! I love reviewing, editing, and critiquing all sorts of documents and articles (except my own, of course). This was just the thing for me. It’d allow me to attach my name to this amazing website, but – and more importantly – it’d let me do what I already love doing. I applied to be a content writer, since that is obviously close to my heart too. But a copyeditor? I wanted that more than anything.

They e-mailed me a week in and told me I was being considered for the position. “Don’t get your hopes up” was my mantra for the following week, but I already had. There was no use not getting my hopes up. I wanted this. Bad.

And I got it!

I was so incredibly grateful. I’m not sure how many people applied, but only three copyeditors were hired. It is volunteer-based, but I don’t care. The website is run by a bunch of college students because they love what they’re doing. Not to sound corny or anything, but to be a part of that is just as good as getting paid. I’m more than happy and more than grateful to be on their team.

You may recognize the name Hypable from Jessica O’Neal’s blog – she does a couple of different things for them, too. Please go check out the website – it’s the only place you’ll ever need to go to brush up on news for all of your favorite movies, books, TV shows, video games, and musicians. They’re always adding to the site, so don’t be discouraged if they don’t yet cover a fandom that you’re a part of. And here’s some good news – if they don’t cover something you’re interested in, they have a “News By You” section that you can submit articles to. The articles will be published on the website with your name attached – awesome!!

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough about myself. What about you guys? Do you have any awesome news to share? Don’t forget to link to your facebook page below! I’ll make sure I go around and “like” all of you. :)

The winter weather was really getting me down. We got dumped on a week or two ago, but now it is WARM. Like, even warm by other people’s standards, not just Upstate NY standards. That doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy some pictures from much warmer places, though.

Today we’re headed off to Morocco. There is one main thing you need to know about Moroccans:

These people are awesome.

They have two official languages, Arabic and a native dialect. However, many of the inhabitants know French and/or English, as well. Spanish is also a popular one. If you’re a native Moroccan and don’t know AT LEAST three languages, you’re considered uneducated. *hangs head in shame* The majority of the people here are Muslim and quite religious. And, guess what? They LOVE Americans!

(On a serious note, obviously I am writing this in a general sense. I can’t possibly account for all of the people in this country, and I’m sure there are many who are not religious or don’t love Americans or only speak their native language and are quite fine with that. ALSO – if you’re reading this in anticipation of going to this country, please be very careful. The people that I met were quite taken with us – maybe a little too much. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the boys in this country are very smooth talkers. Be mindful of what you may be getting yourself into.)

Right. Where was I?

Oh, yes! Welcome to Morocco.

The first city we went to was called Rabat.

This little adventure is going to be different from the last two in that we aren’t visiting a specific monument today. This trip really introduced my group to the culture of Morocco, and I want to keep it that way. We did see some important sites, but I want to show you what really caught my eye. Sit back and check out the photos!

This palace was one of the first places that we went to. You have NO idea how long it took me to get a shot of it without any people standing in the way...

They also took us to a tannery, which was actually pretty fascinating. They gave up a sprig of mint to sniff in case the smell got too bad.

Can I get a Coca-Cola PLEASE?

This is called the "Medina" or city. Most of the streets are covered and the entire place is just a labyrinth of alleyways. There is no map of it - I doubt that anyone would know enough of the streets to be able to create one.

Here's what a typical street looks like. Pretty simple, but they were all so beautiful! You could only see just a slice of sky between the top of the buildings.

Don't be fooled. Just because it says "dentist" doesn't mean that they were formally trained. Knowledge of the "craft" was often passed down from father to son. Oh, and if they were having a slow day? They'd also perform circumcisions...

We also went to a place that made all sorts of mosaics. This shop was HUGE. And I made it through it without breaking a single thing. ;)

American culture is everywhere over there, but it's especially obvious with the younger generation. The boys could've fit right in over here in the States - they wore Nikes and polos and spoke English.

Just as we were entering an old fort, there was a man sitting on the steps selling baby chickens. And as soon as he saw that we were American...

...he pulled the top off of these. YES those are real, and YES they are alive. Although the idea of someone doing this to these chicks makes me sad, you can't deny that a purple chicken would be pretty neat to look at...

Have you ever been to a foreign country that was vastly different than your own? Did you have a good experience or a bad experience? Have you ever been pleasantly surprised once you got there? What did you learn?

Bottom Line:

Watch it.

Details:

[Medium to Well-Done Spoilers]

I’ve developed a strange affinity for martial arts films, especially foreign movies.

Enter Raging Phoenix.

This movie caught my eye because it was about a girl (Deu) who was nearly kidnapped by human traffickers, but then got away and decided to learn martial arts to get revenge on them. Other than that, I had no idea what the movie was about.

Well, I was pretty surprised.

It turns out that the basis for the style of martial arts that they do is getting really, really drunk. It’s actually a lot cooler than it sounds. And it sort of makes sense. Anyway, it’s a made up style, but it’s a combination of Muay Thai and break dancing. (Yeah, you read that right.) Deu finds out exactly why the kidnappers wanted her (for the human pheromone market. …Yeah, you read that right, too.) and she decides to offer herself as bait so they can find their hideout. This is when the real action started.

So, I actually liked this movie quite a lot. The style of martial arts was interesting and different, to say the least. I’m not sure how it would work in the real world, but in this story is was effective and it looked cool. The fighting sequences were much better than a lot of the ones that I’ve seen in American made fight movies. The acting was also pretty good, and I liked the general layout of the story. It was funny, but deep and thought provoking. Some of the visuals were gorgeous. And even though you need to read the subtitles (unless you speak Thai, of course), it isn’t dialogue heavy and you can sit back and enjoy the fighting scenes.

However, sometimes I didn’t know whether this was trying to be a comedy movie or an action movie. There were some pretty hilarious scenes and some great one-liners. Three of the main characters were also named “pigshit,” “dogshit,” and “bullshit.” No, I’m not joking. I think that was one of the problems – there’d be something really funny in a serious scene, and I wasn’t sure if they were trying to be funny or not. I think they were, but it did sort of jolt me out of the movie a little bit.

Another problem I had was the pacing. The first half of the movie was pretty awesome, but it was only halfway through that we found out what the real plot was. It was like the entire first hour was exposition, which we all know isn’t a good way to get the story up and running. Over and above that, though, was the fact that I actually liked the exposition better than the real plot line. The real story was a little hokey. (Human pheromones on the black market…really???)

Lastly was the ending. I won’t give it away, but I will warn you: if you like happy endings, tread carefully if you want to watch this movie. It felt like it was leading up to one thing the entire movie, and then all of a sudden that choice is completely taken away. It wasn’t the most satisfying ending, but it could have been worse, I guess.

I’d watch this movie again just for the visuals during the first half, plus the fighting sequences. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes foreign films or martial arts movies. Even if you just like good action movies, this might keep you entertained.

Also, here’s a funny story…I was debating on whether I wanted to watch this one or a movie called Chocolate. It turns out that the girl who plays Deu (Jeeja Yanin) actually plays the main character in Chocolate. How crazy is that! I’ve read around a bit and a lot of people are saying that Chocolate is a lot better. Guess that’s up next for me to watch (and review)!

I was watching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the other day and I began thinking about my favorite characters from the movie. The list surprised me, so I thought I’d share it with you, too:

5. Aslan

I’m sure some people will consider this blasphemy, but Aslan only just made it into the last spot. Regardless, I do love him. The regal voice of Liam Neeson (love that guy!) is a perfect fit for this majestic character. I love his wisdom and mysterious nature, but most of all I just love how much he loves the children.

4. Mr. Tumnus

It was tough putting Mr. T (no not that Mr. T) in this spot, because I really adore this character. He’s such a gentle being, and you can tell that he immediately became friends with Lucy. He’s a flawed character – cowardly and meek – but it doesn’t stop him from doing what is right in the end. He risked his life for Lucy and had to pay the consequences. In the end, though, he was saved by Aslan. Yay!

3. Edmund

Edmund very nearly made it to the second spot on this list. I love Edmund. He’s a flawed character, too. In the beginning he was greedy, mean, sarcastic, and brooding. It’s tough being the second youngest child, and the youngest male in the family. He had a lot of expectations to live up to, and you could tell that it affected him. BUT Edmund learns his lesson – and not the easy way. He almost loses his family, not to mention his own life, on several occasions. In the end, though, Edmund did what was right. He even went on to become one of the most noble and just characters in the entire series.

2. The White Witch

This was probably the most surprising addition to my list, but I stand firm that the White Witch deserves my number two spot. I think this has less to do with the character and more to do with the actress: Tilda Swinton. I love, love, love her! She’s an incredible actress, and I really enjoy when she plays supernatural characters. (My other favorite role of hers, by the way, is Gabriel from Constantine.) The character itself is wonderful – she’s an evil queen, who is intelligent and merciless. She’s not an easy foe to beat. But even better than that is Tilda’s acting. I love that otherworldly look to her face – the alabaster skin, the big dark blue eyes, strawberry blonde hair, and her high cheekbones. She has a certain way of talking and moving that really lends itself to this character. I’m even a little sad when the White Witch dies at the end (good thing she shows up again in the next movie!).

1. Lucy

Okay, this probably isn’t the most original pick for the number one spot – but can you blame me? Little Georgie Henley is a superb actress. (She’s not so little anymore…she’ll be turning 17 this year.) She did a really great job in this role and brought to life a well-loved character from the series. So that brings up Lucy and why she’s so fantastic. Why is she so well loved? The simple answer is because she’s the youngest (and cutest) Pevensie, and you can’t help falling in love with such a sweet child. But I think it’s so much more than that. Lucy is a dreamer. She believes in what seems to be unbelievable – don’t we all wish we could do that? She kept faith in Aslan even when everything seemed so doubtful. And even though she struggled with her own personal flaws, Lucy was one of the most genuine and loving characters in the entire movie.

The reason why this list was so surprising to me is because when I first started watching the movies and reading the books, I immediately wanted to like Susan. She was more my age and she seemed to be intelligent, pretty, and talented with the bow. What could you not like about that? But, her darker side comes out eventually and you find that she’s one of the most flawed characters in the books. That’s why she’s not on my list. I also thought about adding Peter, but even he couldn’t match up to the likes of Mr. Tumnus and Lucy. He struggled much more with his own fatal flaws and, even though he overcame them in the end, there was just no room for him here.

So, how does my list compare to yours? Did I miss anyone that you feel should be on here? Were any of my choices surprising to you?