Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Club Monday: American Sniper by Chris Kyle

American Sniper is one of those books that you read just to see what the fuss is about - at least it was for me. Like many others, I saw the movie in theaters and opted to pick the book up to see what they'd changed for the film. While they both stand on their own two feet just fine, I thought they complemented one another wonderfully.

The book's author, Chris Kyle, was a Navy SEAL with the highest number of confirmed kills in Navy history for a single sniper (I believe), and did a staggering four tours of Iraq, fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi - some of the most dangerous places in Iraq at the time.

Unfortunately, Chris was killed in February 2013 while at a shooting range with a couple of vets he had been trying to help with PTSD, as well as issues that arose after coming home from overseas. His killer was convicted earlier this year. While the book doesn't go into specifics about Kyle's death, I think it gave an insight into war that most civilians never think about - especially in the early 2000's, when the Middle East was rife with insurgency and, at least Iraq, had no governing body. The stories within the pages of American Sniper not only opened my eyes to this, but to how lucky we all are, as Americans, to have people as selfless as Kyle in our own armed forces so that we never have to see the reality of war first-hand, on our oil.

Throughout the book, there were small quotes from Chris' wife, Taya, which really helped me, as a reader, understand both sides of the story. Those portions of the book humanized Chris Kyle, for me, at least. Being the wife of a Navy SEAL can't be an easy job, especially amidst a war where she was raising two children alone.

As someone who appreciates our armed forces as an American, but not in the guns-God-government kind of way, I found myself feeling like I learned a lot from American Sniper, and got to see the other side of war, as I mentioned earlier. Whether you saw the film and are curious, like I was, or just looking for an interesting read, American Sniper is an excellent choice, and is definitely worth the read.

Monday, April 20, 2015

How did you celebrate Record Store Day 2015?

Whether you did or didn't celebrate, Record Store Day is a great event for anyone who loves music. Founded in 2007, the event celebrates independent record stores for all they are - local places who contribute more to music than any big-box store. Most recently, there have been exclusive presses put together for the event, which are incredibly popular and cause lines outside of record shops at 7AM on the third Saturday in April.
photo stolen from Rock 'N Roll Land

This year, I was one of those people! Standing in line outside of one of my favorite record shops, Green Bay's Rock 'N Roll Land - I was near the back, since I didn't arrive until about 6:45. What was I there for? The second Sons of Anarchy soundtrack on vinyl. That's it! Of course, I walked out with more than that, but it isn't really the point. It was great, and refreshing, to stand in line with people who genuinely love music and who wanted to support a local business in the meantime.

Say what you want about Record Store Day as a whole, and how it is nothing but a cash grab for artists to re-release things or overprice them, or blah blah blah. Obviously, those things don't matter a whole lot to me, seeing as that's my reaction. To me, it's a great event that exposes local record stores to business, whether new customers or regulars like me. And who can complain about that?

the pandemonium inside the store.
my spoils.
As you can see, I got what I went for, as well as a numbered reissue of the first Social Distortion album, the re-press of Elvis' first recording from Third Man, and a Lucero 7". I felt great about all of my purchases, but most of all, I felt great about supporting a local business.

These days, you can order damn near anything online - from records to toilet paper, really - and if you wanted, you could never leave the house and have everything delivered to your door. It is refreshing to me to be able to message the guys at the record shop and get them to order the things I want, instead of ordering them online. This way, I know exactly who I'm dealing with, and I'm supporting someplace local. Sure, I may pay a couple extra dollars, but that isn't the point.

Even if you didn't participate in Record Store Day, do you have a local record store that you like to hang out at? Do you have any great albums collecting dust in your basement? Get 'em out and give 'em a listen! You would be surprised at how much better vinyl sounds than even digitally recorded music. And even if it isn't a record shop, get out and throw some money at your favorite local businesses. They're worth supporting!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Club Monday: A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

Browsing the shelves of my local book shop, I likely would not have given Jan Ellison's A Small Indiscretion a second look, to be honest. It was not my usual read, but I really, really enjoyed it. For a taste, here is the back jacket description:
At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in her washed-out hometown for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Some two decades later, in San Francisco, she is a successful lighting designer married to a good man, and the mother of three children. Then, one June morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, igniting an old longing and setting off a chain of events that threaten to overturn her family's hard-won happiness. When Annie returns to London seeking answers, her indiscretions come to light, and she must piece together the mystery of her past - the fateful collision of liberation and sexual desire that drew an invisible map of her future.
What I found, though, was a great surprise. A Small Indiscretion was a fun read, with twists and turns so sharp that it can't fit into just one genre. It flew from a mystery to a drama in just the flip of a page, and I really loved the flow and fit of the story into each of its' different settings.

The story follows Annie Black, a lighting designer and the owner of a light shop called the Salvaged Light in San Francisco. She has what seems like the perfect life, with her husband, doctor Jonathan, and three children; Polly, Clara, and Robbie, the oldest. Everything seemed to be going well, until she received a mysterious photo in the mail, a photo from a past in London long ago.

Split into parts, the first portion of the story steadily creeps along in a multitude of different times, from the present day in the voice of a mother to her injured son, to the past in London. In London, Annie was a different girl - 19 years old, in search of an education. What she did find was an education and a job, working for a man much older than she, named Malcolm. A Christmas in London with Malcolm and his family set the stage for a photograph that would haunt her and wound her family, even many years later. Coincidentally, she also met her husband on that trip, but the two lives intertwined to create Annie's history, whether or not she wanted to face it.

With well-developed characters working together to create an entertaining story,  A Small Indiscretion is a wonderful debut novel from Jan Ellison, and was a real surprise to this reader. I would definitely recommend it make your to-read list. And since it releases tomorrow, January 20, 2015, you will be able to read for yourselves.

Disclaimer: This review was part of a paid blog book tour, courtesy of Random House and 20 Something Bloggers. I received an advance copy of the novel from Random House free of charge.

As a bonus, I am giving everyone the chance to win their own copy of A Small Indiscretion! Please enter below for your chance to win! Follow the directions below for multiple chances to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dem Cats: A Review of Blue Wilderness Dry Cat Food

As promised, I am planning to roll out some reviews of the pet items I use here in my home with my two cats - and in case you missed my introductory post to them, here it is!

Like many others, I try to do the best I can for my pets - I think it's just human nature to be that way. With the advent of new, grain-free diets, I was interested, but I wasn't entirely sold on the idea. That was, until I lost a five year old cat, who had a lot of life left to live, to kidney failure. At the time, I was doing a dry diet, free-fed, with canned food once in a great while. What I found out in my research after the fact was a bit astonishing.

I had never bothered to look at the ingredients of the food I was using - that being regular blue bag Cat Chow. And when I did? I don't know exactly how I felt - maybe just bummed? Bummed to find out that I was feeding my cats a mixture of chicken heads and who knows what else. I had just purchased a new bag of food, and for whatever reason, flipped it over and read the ingredients. After I did that, I grabbed the receipt, got in my car, and drove back to the store where I'd purchased it, returning it immediately. This was in the beginning of my research, of course, and I had earmarked a few different foods I wanted to try instead.

Through research, and talking to my vet, I figured out that cats cannot thrive on just a dry diet. While it works, for the most part, a combination dry/canned, or just a canned diet is much better for cats in the long run. Why? Because they don't naturally drink a whole lot of water, and they get a lot of water from canned food. I attempted to combat the water problem by supplementing with canned food, as well as getting a water fountain (which I will review next), to generate interest. And it worked, all around!

My "natural" pet food journey started with a variety of Wellness-brand foods. Eventually, something didn't sit right with Vegas, and he started having some issues with vomiting and all else. So, I made the switch to Blue Wilderness. Initially, I was just using their Chicken recipe, and then this stuff came out - Blue Wilderness Chicken Recipe Indoor Hairball Control. My pet food savior!

Having two long-haired cats can be a bit of a challenge anyway, but with one who stress eats on occasion, as well as (in the past) yacked up at least one hairball a day, I couldn't not try it. And to be totally honest, it has changed my cats for the better in a multitude of ways. First and foremost, no more hairballs! On the rarest of occasions they still happen, but nowhere near the frequency as in the past. And not so much just this formula, but the Blue Wilderness brand as a whole, has changed everything from their energy levels to how soft their fur is! It is truly, truly a godsend.

While it may be more expensive than the old blue bag Cat Chow (a five pound bag will cost you around $13), it is definitely worth every penny. At this point, I feed a split diet, between this and a variety of canned foods (which I will cover in another post), and am so, so glad that I found this product, and will continue to pay the higher price tag in order to know that I am doing the best I can for my critters - and that's enough for me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

WIP Wednesday: Green Seed Stitch Scarf

Wednesday isn't quite over yet (at least not here in Wisconsin), so I figured I should share my progress on the green scarf! 

As you can see, I have gotten quite a bit done and will be finished very soon! The plan was to do a cowl with this, originally, but it wound up being a bit wider than I originally anticipated. What I'm going to do in order to remedy that is sew it in half and still go with the cowl - that way, it will be doubly warm, and doubly soft! I am really excited about the project, and hope that it winds up as good as I hope it will. 

One of the things I love about knitting, or just making things in general, is that you never know what can happen with the simplest of ideas!