Tuesday 15 June 2010

Book Review: Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

 From the back cover:
In 1986, Susan Jane Gilman and a classmate embarked on a bold trek around the globe starting in the People's Republic of China.  At that point, China had been open to independent backpackers for roughly ten minutes.  Armed only with the collected works of Nietzsche and Linda Goodman's Love Signs, the two friends plunged into the dusty streets of Shanghai.  Unsurprisingly, they quickly found themselves in over their heads--hungry, disoriented, stripped of everything familiar, and under constant government surveillance.  Soon, they began to unravel--one physically, the other psychologically.  As their journey became increasingly harrowing, they found themselves facing crises that Susan didn't think they'd survive.  But by summoning strengths she never knew she had--and with help from unexpected friends--the two travelers found their way out of a Chinese heart of darkness.

When I picked this book up I expected it to be about the travel adventures of two young women, freshly graduated from Brown University and ready to take on the world.  What I found...well, it wasn't quite as simple as that.  Susie and Claire, the two main characters, certainly begin their journey thinking they are "young and brilliant", the "leaders of tomorrow", and particularly as feminists they feel empowered to do what might seem impossible.  Working both for and against them was an epic naivete so profound it could only have been the product of an Ivy League education.  Gilman herself acknowledges this:  "Like most grandiose ideas, ours had begun stupidly."  But instead of realizing they were about to bite off waaaay more than they could chew, they are excited by the perceived challenges that await them, and they even entertain romantic notions of joining the ranks of the history's great explorers.  "All we'd thought was:  Hey, let's be Odysseus.  Let's be Byron.  Let's be Don Quixote, Huck Finn, and Jack Kerouac all rolled into one--except with lip gloss.  Let's conquer the f*cking world."

They soon find themselves living the reality of traveling in an undeveloped Communist country where they don't speak the language and very few people speak theirs.  The language barrier is deeper than sheer linguistics;  the two quickly find that they don't fully comprehend the extent to which political ideology can permeate a culture and personal life, and they are shocked and often distraught to find concepts like privacy and personal space are as foreign to their Chinese hosts as the two tall and gangly Westerners themselves are.  This was the sort of culture clash I expected to read in this book.  But as interesting as that is, it really only serves as the backdrop for what begins to happen to Susie, and especially to Claire, and for the changes that occur between them, and it is these changes that truly make this book fascinating.  The psychological and physical pressures of their adventure affect each of them quite differently, and the result is a page-turner of a book.

I won't give away the surprise to the plot, but I will say this:  When Brianne from Hachette Book Group first offered to send me two books to review, I was much more interested in the other one.  In fact, I only requested Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven as almost an afterthought.  But when the package with both books arrived, I picked up this book and read the first page.  That was all it took--I was hooked!  I rarely put it down over the next few days as I read it, and didn't even pick the other book up until I'd finished reading this great memoir.  I really enjoyed it;  it was easy to read, very entertaining and I just couldn't wait to see how it ended!

You might enjoy Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, too!  It's available in bookstores now, or you can order it online at Amazon.com or your favorite online bookseller.  Thanks so much to Brianne from Hachette Book Group for giving me the opportunity to review this great book!

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven 
By Susan Jane Gilman 
ISBN: 9780446696937

Monday 31 May 2010

Is This a Urinal?

Saw this on Wossy the other night (aka, Jonathon Ross) and LoML and I laughed about it for the rest of the night.  The unfortunate thing is that the guy is American.  Ah well...you can't hide the morons forever.  Eventually they come out of the Port-a-Potty.

Macro Monday 1

Ever Wanna Bee on TV?

I've been playing around with a little macro photography lately.  Dude...macro is HARD!  Or maybe it's just me.  Not sure, but I can't seem to adjust the focal area to get the whole bee in focus.  Surely that's possible?!  Anybody have any ideas?  Please remember that I don't speak camera completely fluently yet.  :)

Found this guy on my Sky remote and was grateful for his cooperation while I took several shots of him.  Ehh...who am I kidding?  I took about a hundred shots of him, most of which are crap.  Like I said, macro is hard!

Constructive criticism would be very much appreciated! 

For more Macro Monday fun, go here.  Lisa's Chaos is an amazing photoblog...take a look and enjoy!

Sunday 30 May 2010

Eurovision Song Contest 2010

My Second Eurovision!

Last year, only a few weeks after I moved to Ireland, I got to experience my very first Eurovision Song Contest.  Many, if not most, of my American readers probably have no idea what that means, and I had no clue before last May either.  It's an annual competition among European countries, each of which enters a single act to represent it.  Each participating country then assigns a certain number of points to the songs they like best, and these are totalled to determine the winner.  Imagine if American Idol were an Olympic event...that's sort of what Eurovision is.  (Something I learned last year:  ABBA actually got their start as Eurovision contestants in 1974 with "Waterloo"!)

Anyway, I got to enjoy my second Eurovision this past week.  We watched the semi-finals on Tuesday and Thursday, and the final was on tonight.  Most of the acts are cheesy beyond belief!  The songs are totally cornball, and there seems to be a separate competition to see who can do the most with smoke, flames and wind machines.  Last year treadmills were popular, too.  A lot of the songs are sweeping, sappy ballads...blech.  But still...I love it!  (Judge me all you want...I KNOW I have excellent taste in music, but even a five-star chef enjoys a Big Mac once in a while.  Not that I know any five-star chefs to ask.  But I'm sure there must be at least one out there confident enough in his or her skills to admit they like the McJunk on occasion.)
Ireland has had great success in Eurovision historically, and actually holds the record for the most wins with seven.  We made the final this year, but didn't do that well in the final standings.  Personally, I found Ireland's entry this year rather sleepy and boring.  A few years ago, though, it was anything but.  It seems Ireland pissed off the rest of the continent by sending Dustin the Turkey as their 2008 Eurovision representative, and the very first puppet to ever grace the Eurovision stage as a contestant.  I think that's hilarious, but I guess nobody else got the joke;  he didn't make it past the semi-final stage.  (You can see his performance in the 2008 semi-finals here.)

 This year's contest was full of mostly rather forgettable songs.  There were a couple that stood out for me, though.  Tom Dice represented Belgium, singing "Me and My Guitar".  It was great!  You can see it here.  I also loved Germany's contribution.  Nineteen-year-old Lena Meyer-Landrut became the second German ever to win the competition with her song "Satellite".  It's definitely a catchy tune, and it has earned Lena dubious comparisons to Lily Allen and Kate Nash.  You can check it out here, but be warned:  It WILL stick in your head like gum to the bottom of your shoe!

 My favorite part of the whole evening, though, without a doubt was the great interval act with Madcon.  They are Norwegian (a fact that somehow escaped my notice until tonight), and the event was held in Oslo since Alexander Rybak won last year with "Fairytale".  They performed with a flash mob that danced across Europe to Madcon's "Glow".  It was a great event that must have been ridiculous to try to organize, but it came off really well.  I'm a HUGE fan of the flash mob thing anyway...though I can never decide if I'd rather be part of one or a gobsmacked onlooker.  Anyway, we got to see Madcon et al dancing in Oslo, Reykjavik, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Vilnius, Ljubljana, and Gothenburg mob-style, along with families in their living rooms in countries across Europe, including Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, Israel, Portugal, Albania, Serbia, Switzerland and others.  It was brilliant, well-organized and really well-executed.  You can see it below;  it's definitely worth watching!

Monday 24 May 2010

Funny Video: Tickle Kitty

Okay, this video has me in stitches tonight.  I was actually looking for a different but similar video.  No luck there, but I found this one and it cracks me up every time I see it!  Enjoy this--it's short, sweet and super funny!

Sunday 23 May 2010

Weekend Stuff

The weather has been beautifully and unusually hot here in Dublin this weekend, but things haven't been so great at our house.  Nothing terrible, just frustration at nearly every turn.  For example, the hose to our shower in the main bath sprang a leak this past week.  The coils seemed to come loose or something.  Kinda weird.  Anyway, it drastically reduced water pressure so we had to replace it.  We bought a new one at Ireland's version of Home Depot, B&Q, where we told that the one we eventually chose was UNIVERSAL.  We, in our hardware naivete, understood that to mean that it would fit any shower system, any shower head holder bracket thingy.  Funnily enough (or not), we had just bought a new UNIVERSAL shower head bracket a couple of months ago that really didn't fit our existing shower head.  The purpose of that had been to make it easier for me to adjust the height of the shower head.  It didn't work out, but we just left it on the pole and continued using the old one.  So now we have two supposedly UNIVERSAL shower head bracket holder thingies and a new UNIVERSAL shower head and hose, and none of them fit together.  So my obvious question is "If these are all supposed to be UNIVERSAL, WHICH UNIVERSE are we talking about?!"


LoML:  'War crimes prosecutors??'
H!:  Well, by all accounts, she IS a bitch!


The Girl has been grounded this past week for crimes against humanity.  Oh, all right, it was for drinking and lying and having a generally Very Bad Attitude.  But her maturity in accepting her punishment, almost to the point of enforcing it herself, has been remarkable.  In fact, she just headed off to bed a little while ago, about five minutes earlier than her 'while you're grounded' bedtime of 10pm.  After she left the room, all smiles and kisses and 'see you in the morning's, LoML just shook his head in disbelief and asked me, "Did that really just happen?"  It's not so unusual for her these days, though, which is sooooo great!  She's a champ when it comes to taking her lumps, and handles it far better than I ever did, I think.  And this particular grounding was pretty harsh.  No TV, no computer, no iPod, no phone, no going anywhere but school, walk your dog every day, clean your room and pick up your stuff before bed, etc.  She even had an opportunity to go to the beach with her mother today, but she chose to stay home and be grounded.  (WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE GIRL?!)  She'll be ungrounded tomorrow evening, so we'll see how things go when she's FREE at last!


Here's something kinda funny I found at in which a girl reads.  Enjoy!
(Because my template pushes content to the left, you might want to click on the video to watch it at YouTube.  'Cause I don't feel like figuring out the HTML to resize it.  So there.)


'Til next time I feel like it....

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Wordless Wednesday 10

First Communion

For more Wordless good stuff, go here for mine or here for everybody else's.

Tuesday 18 May 2010


Yo...Dawg...That Was Hot!

Yay...we have winners!  Check it out...two winners were drawn for the giveaways that ended last week.  They have both confirmed and will be enjoying their prizes very soon!  

The winner of the Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion is...

Joanne J., who said:
Tweet http://twitter.com/joannej1982/status/12881354169

And the winner of the Beverage CADDi is...

Still Blonde after all these YEARS, who said:

I follow you on Google Friend connect #2 

Congratulations to both of you!!

If you didn't win this time, please stay tuned for some exciting NEW giveaways starting soon!

Saturday 8 May 2010

Skywatch Friday 1

Maynooth Sky

I have never had a chance to play in the weekly Skywatch Friday meme, but I realized tonight--with less than an hour to spare--that I still had time to get these posted for today...yay!  I just shot these photos a few hours ago while sitting on a street in Maynooth waiting for LoML to come out of a shop.  It was actually quite a lovely day, but the clouds were doing some interesting things in the sky, and I had my camera on (of course), so I took advantage of the situation.  This is what I got.


I don't know why, but I just liked this kind of silly shot of a pigeon in a tree.  I think it sort of looks almost solarized, but it's a natural solarization.  The only post-production work I did was to resize it.  I just love pictures that allow me to get lost in a crazy pattern like this!

For more Skywatch Friday, check out mine...wait, this is my first time playing!  Okay, then...check out everybody else's right here!

Wednesday 28 April 2010

What Up Wit Da Girl

(Or,  Gimme an E!  Gimme a Y!  Gimme a J!  Gimme a...oh, forget it.  Maybe We Should Just Spell 'Volcano'.)


They say: 

I say:
Stupid stinkin' volcano.

The Girl should still be in the United States right now.  She's not.  That damned volcano in Iceland, the name of which nobody can pronounce, has really messed things up.

To give a little background, The Girl is part of a cheerleading team.  Now, cheerleading isn't a very typically Irish thing to do;  in fact, she is part of the only cheerleading group in the country.  Since it's not something that has any history or standing here, they have been struggling to get some recognition and support--financial and otherwise--for what they do.  So, in an effort to prove the legitimacy of their sport, last year Team Ireland started working hard to raise money to fund a trip to compete in the 2010 International Cheer Union World Championship competition in Orlando, Florida.  That's right, Disney World.  Traveling anywhere is always exciting when you're fifteen, but going to America is HUGE.  And Disney World?!  You can imagine how excited she's been--for months.

 Photo from Daily World Buzz
 But that stupid volcano on Eyjafjallajokull had to blow its top.  And it had to spew its ash all over the place, obstructing all air traffic and making flights in or out of Ireland (along with most of the rest of Europe) impossible.  (It should be obvious that anything with a name like Eyjafjallajokull has to be bad news, right?)  And while I know that hundreds of thousands of people experienced some disruption to their lives due to the stupid thing, I saw how crushed The Girl and all her cheering friends were.  I know there were many, many people who were in a hurry to get to important meetings, vacations, weddings, funerals or even to just get home.  I know it was difficult and an absolute mess for everybody else.  But this is the story *I* know, so I'm telling it. This was, for some of these kids, the chance of a lifetime.  To have it snatched away from them for such a bizarre and really kind of surreal reason has been...well, at the risk of using such a strong word, simply devastating.

What still shocks me is that the only part of the entire trip that is refundable is the airfare.  I suppose I can understand the hotel they'd booked having a non-refundable reservations policy, but Disney World??  Really?  For a bunch of kids, an extracurricular activity sort of group of kids who were coming to Disney World to compete in a wholesome and healthful physical sporting activity?!  That surely isn't what I'd expect from the Happiest Place on Earth.  This doesn't come to me directly from Disney World itself, but rather through The Girl from her coaches who organized the trip.   My personal feeling is that the issue should be pursued to see if any arrangements can be made, especially since, as I understand it, admission tickets to Disney parks are good forever [anybody know if that's true?], and the group is planning to try again next year.

Anyway, it is an all-around bummer, and that's why I wrote a strongly worded Post-it Note to Eyjafjallajokull the other day.  To her credit, and to our delight, however, The Girl has taken it fairly well.  She was very, very bummed, of course, but some of her disappointment has been eased by a trip the whole group took this past weekend to a waterpark in Cork.  She's taking it on the chin, getting on with things and looking forward to next year.

And really, isn't that the kind of optimism you'd expect from any self-respecting cheerleader, anyway? 

      The Girl is in the front row, second from the right.               

Wordless Wednesday 9

Lost Ball

(Just for fun--solarized and swirled!)

For more Wordless good stuff, go here for mine or here for everybody else's.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Wordless Wednesday 8

Parade of Characters 2
(better late than never?)



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