Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Precipitation

“‘Twas the day before Halloween and along with their dad, the kids just kept arguing if Halloween was bad.”  My six-year old son had come home from school in quite a huff announcing that we should never “precipitate” in Halloween.  After asking a few more questions about what he meant, I found out the word he was looking for was “participate.”  Apparently, he felt very strongly that not only should he not get dressed up or trick-or-treat on Halloween, but that we also needed to put up a sign on the door explaining why Halloween was “wrong” and not pass out any candy.
Long before our children were old enough to utter “Hershey Kiss,” my husband and I made the conscious decision that we would not endorse Halloween nor do the whole “trick-or-treating” thing because of what the holiday was essentially celebrating.  Because our children are enrolled in a religious school, we found full endorsement from the kids.  The older ones whole-heartedly expressed that they had no desire to get dressed up and go door to door asking for candy when they had plenty of the good stuff at their finger tips.  It also helps that my kids are somewhat terrified of the spookier costumes and won’t even go near a party store with costumes hanging up front.
So, the debate raged on about whether or not passing out candy counted as celebrating Halloween.  My nine year old daughter saw nothing wrong with passing out candy, but my son believed that would be “precipitating” which was just as bad as celebrating.  In the past, if we happened to be home on Halloween, I’d usually pull out a bowl of candy and have the kids give some out to whoever came knocking because it seemed like the nice thing to do.  Even if we weren’t celebrating, I wanted the kids to know that if a neighbor comes to your door asking for something, then you should help (this is why we are the go-to family whenever girl scouts cookies, little league chocolates, or useless candleholders are being sold for any possible fundraiser).
                We still haven’t come to a clear resolution as to what will be done tomorrow.  Since I will be out of the house speaking at an event for most of the day, I’m going to willingly let my husband field this one.  After all, while a little “precipitation” may not be a bad thing, lots of it could lead to some pretty terrible flooding. 
For those of you who are celebrating the holiday, “Happy Halloween” and for those of you who are not, have a wonderful weekend! J    
     -Suzy Ismail

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Torment, a Fallen novel by Lauren Kate (Book Review)

The good, the bad, and the bottom line
Daniel Grigori was once a very high ranking angel until he fell (literally) for Lucinda Price.  The couple is cursed.  Lucinda (Luce) dies and is reborn every seventeen years and in each lifetime meets and falls in love with Daniel all over again with no memory of her past lives.  All while poor Daniel loses the love of his existence repeatedly, forcing him to wait for Luce to be reborn and mature, knowing he’s only going to lose her again and again. 
The good:  Premise.  Imagine you’re so amazing that an angel leaves his prestigious job in Heaven because he can’t live another day without you.  Total epic swoon fest.  Oh, and by the way, there’s also Cam, the sexy bad angel who has also been vying for your affection throughout the centuries.  Two guys fighting for you.  What’s not to love?  Decades of past lives.  The creative possibilities are endless.  This is the backdrop for (the)Fallen series.  For the record, I really liked the first book.  Daniel is complete leading man material.  Cam plays his role of foil exceptionally well.  And Luce is a decent clueless heroine (and they all start out clueless, don’t they?)  This book also contains my favorite kiss in YA history.  Two pages of well written lip smacking goodness.  That being said…
The bad:  Torment starts out so well.  Luce is hidden for safe keeping.  She gets to hang out with some nephilim in a place that promises to provide many answers to Luce’s questions.  Questions Daniel won’t answer.  Problem is, not much else actually happens here.  Torment is nothing more than a springboard for Passion, book number three.  Total Empire Strikes Back syndrome. But unlike Empire, Torment does almost nothing to advance the plot.  And I don’t even mind that so much if you’ve got awesome characters that I just want to hang out with.  I’ll put up with a bit of fluff for some three dimensional characters and awesome dialogue.  But the new characters in this one fell flat.  The highlight for me was Arrianne showing up to properly kick some bad angel butt.  But it was only one scene. 
And Luce?  She starts with a legitimate question for Daniel, such as ‘do you hook up with anyone else while you’re standing around waiting for me to be reborn?’  Total legit question to ask of one’s eternal angel boyfriend.  But as soon as Daniel shows up, she gets all swoony, he soars her up into the clouds for some beatific making out, he brings her back down to terra firma, and they fight.  I literally held the book away from myself and went “Seriously?” because that scenario is repeated throughout the book.  And I can actually buy the whole Daniel wanting to protect her and not throw too much information at her.  But dude, throw the poor girl at least one of those little dog bone treats.  She's starving.
Luce finally says ‘enough’ and sets off to find her own answers by book’s end.  Good for you, Luce baby, but it took ya long enough.
Bottom line:  Lauren Kate is a solid writer.  This series is definitely worth reading for all you paranormal romancers, adult and teen alike.  I’m glad I read it even though I never got my “rabbit hole experience” (This is the point near the end of a book where I lock myself in my bedroom to block out screaming kids as I race to the nail biting end).  But will I pre-order Passion months before its summer release date?  Yep.  The potential for greatness is still there.  I have faith in you, Lauren.  Throw us a bone.

     -Suzi Ryan

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Life As We Know It (movie review)

I had the very unusual, not-often-does-it-happen, chance to watch another non-kids’ movie last week.  The movie was “Life as We Know It” and the rating from my end, at least, was definitely two thumbs up.  Completely contradictory to the critic reviews online, the movie was pleasant enough, leaving me with a warm and fuzzy after-feeling like one of those must-cuddle-with-Snuggie-and-cup-of-coffee-in-hand holiday movies.  Not to mention the cute actor who could easily turn quite a few heads (I’m talking about the baby in the movie—although the leading man wasn’t half-bad either).    
So, what gave this movie with the same ole’ romcom storyline a compelling enough hook?  The entire premise of the movie is based on the idea of countering unexpected change.  Change, when you don’t see it coming, can be scary, but often leads you towards paths you never dreamed you’d follow.  Deviating from the usual and the expected course, whether you want to or not, can be incredibly cathartic and literally life changing.  With a little divine intervention, the unexpected can be the exact track you were meant to follow in your life.
I don’t want to fill this post with spoilers in case you decide to check this movie out, but suffice to say that one of the most compelling aspects of the movie is the message that good things often come after tragedy--- even if it takes you awhile to figure that out.  There is a common Muslim saying:   “With hardship, comes ease.”  It’s a little like the grey cloud/silver lining proverb but takes that concept a step further by mandating that you need to look for the ease in order to identify it.
The nicest part of the movie, without a doubt, lay in its predictability-- even though it was ironically all about change.  There is still something to be said about finding comfort in familiarity bred by a movie that sticks to the winning formula of “guy gets girl” or “girl gets guy” after quite a few travails that are overcome by love, patience, and acceptance.  Now that’s one nice feel-good Hollywood ideal not in need of any changing at this particular moment. J   
     -Suzy Ismail

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ever have one of those dreams where…

You feel yourself slipping back into consciousness and a part of you screams and tries to claw your way back into the fantasy because it was just that good.  You open your eyes with a groan and stare at the ceiling.  Not wanting to forget, unable to let go, the blu-ray of your brain replays the scenes over and over again, committing them to memory.  Stumbling through the necessary activities of the day, the dream whispers in the back of your mind, haunting you.    
It happened to me over a year and a half ago.  Finally, out of desperation to get the images out of my head, I did the only thing I knew to do.  I flew to CVS to purchase my first Mead notebook since college and with a possessed fervency, I scribbled down everything I could remember, and interestingly, the few new scenes that my brain had conjured up.  And again, I did what I always did, I tucked the notebook away, random scenes and an unfinished story. 
And then I rediscovered my love for reading (see post Thank you Stephenie Meyer).  I looked up Stephenie Meyer’s webpage, amazed that authors had these things now.  I read about how she came up with Twilight.  She was a stay at home mom of three kids who woke up one morning with a dream stuck in her head that she couldn’t get out.  And after not writing for a really long time, amongst all the mommy things she had to do, she sat down and wrote Twilight.  As I read her story, tears ran down my face. It was exactly what had happened to me.     
So, for the first time, I opened Word 2007 on the laptop my husband had bought me for Christmas, the absolute best gift of my entire life (though I’m sure if he knew what a nut his wife would turn into, he’d never have bought it for me in the first place) and I did something I swore I’d never do: I wrote by typing.  I had always been an old fashioned pen and notebook kind of girl.  But it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the click click click of the keys…the speed at which my words could flow… the ease of erasing a “what drugs was I on when I wrote that?” moment.  I wrote like a woman possessed.  And I have probably written almost every single day since then. 
I even took a dream I had had back when I was nineteen, one that had stayed in my brain all these years, and I completed my first book in three months.  Just like Stephenie.  The first three chapters of that book currently sit with an editor and the waiting game is on to see if a full submission request will be made.  And I am now back, working on book based on the dream that started it all.  A book that may have remained a few random scenes, jotted down on a notebook, tucked in the top of my closet, if I had never looked up Stephenie Meyer’s website.  And so for the second time in my life I say, thank you Stephenie Meyer.  If I am ever blessed enough to be published, I owe you a huge thank you note, perhaps one with a field of wildflowers on it…   
   -Suzi Ryan                        

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Social Network

I’ve been on a self-imposed Facebook ban for the past week and a half.  Ironically, the ban was not put into place because I was spending too much time snooping into the lives of friends and acquaintances or because I am clueless as to how to set privacy settings or protect pictures from unwanted eyes. 
No, I went on a Facebook strike after watching “The Social Network,” which may or may not be a somewhat dramatized version of how the pervasive social medium came into existence.   I always thought that whoever started this phenomenon had to be a megalomaniac bent on some form of world domination.  But, since I never cared enough to look into the history behind it, I never realized that Facebook was actually the brainchild of a drunken Harvard student, young enough to be my kid brother, who set out one night to hack a bunch of dorm pages and create a terribly demeaning and demoralizing misogynistic site to get back at his ex-girlfriend who dumped him due to his social ineptitude. 
And from this lofty beginning the story just got worse.  Not only did Mark Zuckerberg begin his social networking site with bad intentions, but he moved on to steal the full concept of a college connections site from his classmates and then continued his unconscionable efforts by eventually cutting out his start-up partner and only friend from any profits once the company made it big.  Many lawsuits later, Zuckerberg, with plenty of money to spare, received nothing more than a reprimand and a nominal settlement penalty that was undoubtedly a mere drop in the proverbial bucket of billions that his company is worth.
Did the movie provide an entertaining documentary look into the making of this current cultural trend?  Uhh, no!  It was disturbing at most and shocking at best.  From the extremely risqué scenes of drunken and drug-laden college behavior across the nation’s top ivy leagues, to the implicit individualistic idea of getting ahead regardless of the cost, the movie just left me feeling devoid of any sympathy for a brilliant man who’s made billions at the expense of others. 
While some might argue that ideas are everywhere and success comes to those who choose to do something with their ideas, I think there are simple human morals that need to dictate who benefits from which ideas.  It seems like what started out for me as an innocent movie review appears to have turned into a ranting social commentary blog post. 
At the end of the day though, there must be some truth to the fact that ill-intentioned ideas can be used for good, like the Facebook posts about different fundraisers, awareness campaigns, or information posted that could actually benefit others.  Even things like keeping in touch with long distance friends or family or celebrating milestones, events, and other successes seem to be a great way for using a network that could go either way.  And with that mental epiphany, it’s time to end my ban and hop into Facebook again in order to “like” my blog post in the hopes that my ramblings might prove interesting to someone out there in cyberspace. J            
  -Suzy Ismail

Monday, October 11, 2010

You know you're getting old when...

Grandparents.  I was fortunate to have good ones who I spent oodles of time with.  And even though they were the best mommom and poppop I could have asked for, there was still something about them that confounded me.  The whole ‘waking up at the crack of dawn even though I’m retired’ thing. 

Please understand, I was busy staying up late studying and working on papers (cough, cough…and talking on the phone to my boyfriend at the time…and reading the latest 800 page fantasy novel published by Del Rey or Tor) and I still had to get up by 7:00 a.m. to get ready for high school/college.  I only dreamed of being graced with the luxury of ‘sleeping in’. 
Yet, every morning, whether weekday or weekend, my mommom would be up before the sun dared to peek over the top of the cemetery near their home, often humming a hymn or two.  She was always certain to get up at least a half hour before my poppop. And I would lie in bed and moan and think to myself, ‘when I retire, I’m going to sleep until noon.’ 
 And so this summer, I had a plan. Heck with waiting for retirement. On the days I didn’t work (I work part time), I was going to sleep in.  My kids are pretty well behaved first thing in the morning and are content to play in their rooms for a while.  Plus they’re old enough that I’m not worried about anyone poking their fingers in outlet sockets or guzzling window cleaner.  I waited eagerly for summer to begin. 
 On the first day of summer, I woke up all on my own, no alarm clock.  I swear I heard a choir of angels singing the Hallelujah chorus!  I examined the bedside clock and gasped in horror.  6:30 a.m.  Same time I got up to take my kids to school.  But I was wide awake!  So I fired up the Keurig and flopped in my chaise lounge (otherwise known as Mama’s Throne) and opened up my laptop.  Ah, my laptop.  My favorite present my husband ever bought me.  And there I was, just after six thirty in the morning, snuggled up with a mug of Donut Shop coffee splashed with a smidgen of half and half.  The only noise in my house or  the entire neighborhood was the happy hum of my computer—I’d found utter delight in the early hours of morning, much like my mommom, who woke up extra early just to have some quiet time with a cup of coffee, instant Taster’s Choice no less <she gags> , and the newspaper. 
 Swirling some caffeinated joy around in my mouth, I checked my email, my blog, Facebook, and last but not least, I proof-read whatever words of fiction I’d conjured the night before.  A bit of Heaven on earth.
Looking back now, far too late to tell her I concur, I’ve discovered my mommom was quite a wise woman.  The wee hours of the morning (as my mommom would say) have turned out to be my moments of peace and sanctuary.  I guess that makes me officially old.  Oh well.  Worse things to be. 
--Suzi Ryan 



Friday, October 8, 2010

In Predawn Darkness

It’s 5:00 am and as I sit here typing, I can’t help but wonder why I am punishing myself by sitting in the cold downstairs office feeling a pressing need to do something.  The house is silent except for the tiny waterfall cadence of the fish tank filter.  The thought flits through my mind that the filter needs to be changed along with a thousand other things that should be taken care of; the dishes in the sink, the dirty laundry in the hampers, the exams and papers that need to be graded, the book that needs to be edited, the chapters that need to be written, the girl scout badges that need to be sewn on, the soccer uniform that needs to be mended and a million other things that need to be done.  Instead, I sit here, shivering slightly and typing away.
Each day begins with this usual sanity-saving ritualistic routine; the early waking up, the pre-sunrise prayers, the moments to make my mental to-do list and the built-in “me” time that precludes any logging in.  In those early morning moments, it’s the silence that I relish… the quiet so loud that it’s only slightly broken up by the tap, tap, tapping of the keys on the keyboard.  Like the chanting mantra of a studied yogi, this is where I find my peace.  An extra hour of sleep seems like a small sacrifice for the chance to do something that doesn’t need to be done.  In less than two hours, I know that the Jekyll and Hyde transformation of my sanctuary will begin as every corner is filled with the rowdy getting-ready-for-the-day shouts of my husband and three children chasing each other down the stairs, crashing into the office, and filling every corner with their impossible to ignore presence.  This alone is enough motivation for the keyboard clicking to double its pace.
Yet, as much as I relish the rambunctious noise and crazy schedules that fill the day and leave me utterly exhausted after my emails and online classes are wrapped up by midnight, I can’t help but look out into the early predawn darkness and hope for an extra moment of quiet before the sun starts streaming through the cherry wood blinds, urging my lightning bolts to wake up.  It’s the calm before the storm.  As minutes change to hours, I find myself bracing for the deluge and mentally prepare for the start of another insane day.  And with that thought, the calm begins to break before the thin line of dawn even winds its way through the dark skies.  Soon enough, I hear the clichéd pitter-patter of three pairs of little feet, sounding more like the stomping of sleepy elephants, making their way towards me.
Deep breath… big smile… it looks like an early start today. J
     -Suzy Ismail

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On the fast track

So my friend Suzy recently finished observing Ramadan, a month of daylight fasting.  And we started chatting about fasting and whether or not Christians fast. I’ve had a few thoughts.

My Catholic friends are all very accustomed to fasting during the Lenten season, forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.  Unlike Ramadan where no food or drink can be taken in during daylight hours, Catholics during lent give up something in their lives as a sacrifice to God.  My dear Catholic friend (one who I have had many enlightening Catholic/Protestant debates with over the years) feels that fasting during Lent draws her closer to the Lord instead of the things of this earth. 

So what about me, a Protestant Christian?  I have fasted before in similar to Lent mechanics.  I always give up my greatest temptation, sweets.  That’s what hurts the most (check out my hips if you don’t believe me).  I start out by letting God know:  I tell him what exactly I’m giving up (I need to be precise, otherwise I find ways to cheat), I tell God for how long, (this gives me a finish line to keep my focus, and anyone who knows me, knows I have focus issues) and most importantly, I let God know why I’m doing it.  I present my specific prayer request since in the Bible fasting and praying go together like chocolate and peanut butter.  See, how hard giving up sweets is for me?  So, I’ve found in my own life, that fasting is my way of letting God know that a specific prayer request is extra important to me. 
  -Suzi Ryan
Would love comments on your own personal experiences with fasting. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Little Things...

As I stare at the blank open document and wonder what thoughts or random musings I should sprinkle upon it today, I take a long and drawn-out sip of lovely morning coffee and hear a contented little sigh escape from my happy lips.  And then it hits me… I don’t need to wax and wane about some monumental topic.  Sometimes it’s the little things in life that mean the most. 
I know that line sounds like something I stole off a Hallmark greeting card (no, I don’t mean the ones that play gaudy music and have bawdy bathroom humor birthday wishes—I mean the other kind with the clichéd rainbows and butterflies sending get well wishes your way--- although the singing bathroom humor ones often spout more wisdom than the others).  Anyway, I swear I’m not posting about rainbows or butterflies or even the little smiles our kids’ might put on our faces with their out-of-place innocently funny comments (now there’s another post just begging to be written).
The little things I’m talking about are that first sip of morning coffee, that tiny bite of dark chocolate cake that you may think twice about and then sink your teeth into with utter abandon, or that extra few minutes of sleep that you squeeze in once you’ve hit the snooze button seven times more than you should have (but subconsciously you know it’s okay because you’ve set your upstairs alarm clock to be 10 minutes fast just in case).  The funny thing though, is sometimes it takes some serious stepping away from the good stuff to know how good the stuff really is (not necessarily breaking up with the chocolate or coffee—but maybe just taking a break).
A few weeks ago, my mind, body, and soul went through the annual “break” of Ramadan.  Yep, it’s that month of fasting that many people know has something to do with Muslims, but aren’t quite sure what it entails exactly.  It’s the month where no food or drink is allowed for observant Muslims from sunrise to sunset every day.  Since the Islamic months are based on a lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan changes every year.  This year the month began in mid-August with sunrise tolling in at around 4 am and sunset extending past 8:00 pm.  Difficult to go through all those hours with no food and drink, you ask?  Yes… and no.  The food and drink are the easy parts after the first few days of your body adjusting to a different intake level.  It’s the spiritual part that’s a bit trickier.  The Muslim fast is about more than just learning patience and self-discipline; it’s also about focusing on the good things you’ve got in life and realizing that others do live without the basics every day.  It’s quite an eye, heart, and pocket-opener on an empty stomach.  It’ also amazing how changing something simple like an often mindless routine of eating and drinking can completely change entire perspectives, thought processes, and actions.
As I reach over for another “ahhhhhh” sip of my French vanilla flavored coffee, I realize that the little things don’t seem so little when you’ve taken a break from them.  Mixing things up and stepping away from routine is such an awesome awakener when you’re stuck in a rut.  Funny, but I’m suddenly feeling a serious craving for a bite of dark chocolate cake.  Looks like a great time for another “ahhhhh” moment. J
  -Suzy Ismail