Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wuthering Heights Review

I am now, officially, not an Emily Bronte fan. What can I say? I tried, I succeeded in reading the book, finally, but was not overy impressed. It was not what I thought it would be.

I thought there would be love involved. Instead there was only selfishness, greed, and all manner of similar sins. Oh, yes, and abuse. Not one of the characters was the least bit likable, really, and all of them were intent on their own interests at all times. And just when you finish with one story, it's repeated in the next generation, with similar results.

That being said, I was a bit surprised by the ending. All in all, however, I found the book depressing and it was all I could do to get through it, once and for all. I will not be returning to Emily Bronte's world but the question is, how does Charlotte's world compare?

I know this is a lackluster, pathetic review, but it's all I can muster for a book that's brought me down every time I've picked it up.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Smoky Mountains

Yesterday, we headed to Smoky Mountain National Park, which is just about forty miles south of Knoxville. It was a very nice drive until we got to the touristy Pigeon Forge, filled with family vacation entertainment that made my stomach roll. (Seriously, it was like entering the Twilight Zone!) But, above is our caravan into the Smoky Mountains. How I love it when trees form a canopy over roads!

This was a lookout point where you could see Gatlinburg below and Mt. Le Conte above at 6600 feet. A great contrast!

The drive was, to say the least, stunning. You could spend days, weeks, trying to see it all!

There was some fall foliage but, unfortunately, the camera cannot adequately capture the vibrant, amazing colors.

There were streams and waterfalls, though we didn't get to any of those, and the temperature dropped by fifteen degrees as we ascended into the mountains. Everything was just gorgeous!

All in all, it was a great drive and the perfect prelude to my birthday.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Uma in Knoxville

I'm sure if Uma knew that she was going to be the star of today's blog, she'd have looked at the camera. Ha!

I got into Knoxville yesterday afternoon and everything I've seen so far has been beautiful. The trees and mountains flying in were just gorgeous! Fall foliage isn't exactly abundant yet but some trees are starting to change. I'll have more pics of this tomorrow.

For now, you get Uma, who I hadn't seen in three years. She's put on a little weight since then, but she's still a sweetie. Her skinny sister, Chloe, is less excited to see me again. Ah, well, cats!

More interesting pics tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I'm off to Tennessee today to visit a friend. The original plan was for me to drive as I'm longing to take a road trip. But, practicalities got in the way. I want to be back on Friday; that's too much driving in a very short amount of time.

However, there was some good news. I'd earned enough miles for a free ticket. Going to Europe has it's advantages! The bad news is that the plane is a small one. After my traumatic flight home from Rome, I'm a little hesitant about flying and small planes are always worse. Ah, well, suck it up, Doniamarie!

Anyways, hopefully I'll have some pics - of some kind - for tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fall Veggies

On Saturday, I went to our local nursery and picked up some fall vegetables to plant in the garden. Our tomatoes and peppers are still going strong (and the blueberries are a perennial) but I wanted something to take advantage of our second growing season here in Texas.

So I bought some different greens (the only recognizable one to me was arugula) with which to make salads eventually. The broccoli was on sale so I bought two broccoli plants as well. We'll see how it all grows in fall-like temperatures.

As if on cue, a cold front swept through yesterday and our temperatures dropped from 90 on Monday to 65 yesterday. All day long, I sat shivering in my office (stupid AC) and finally went off to make my first cup of hot tea of the season. It was very nice.

When I got home, I opened up some windows and the cat went crazy running from one to the other, tracking birds and squirrels. I even slept with the windows open!

Ah, how I love fall!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bobby Faye, Third Time Around

On Sunday, I had the overwhelming desire to get lost in a book. And while I'm reading several novels at the moment, none of them are "getting lost" material.

So I turned to Bobbie Faye with When a Man Loves a Weapon by Toni McGee Causey. This is the third Bobbie Faye book and the series has had a make-over - one that is not entirely welcomed by me - compete with new, ridiculous titles. Gone are the cute craw fish covers and in their place are boring covers. But Bobbie Faye is the same, thank goodness.

She is a whirlwind of (mostly) inadvertent destruction. These books are like action movies with a female heroine and cute cops/Feds, surrounded by Southern eccentricities and humor. It's a great mix and totally "getting lost" worthy. The first book was great (Bobbie Faye's Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day) and I probably should have re-read it this weekend, after my endless stream of bad luck last week.

Honestly, sometimes I feel like Bobbie Faye, who seems to have a sign on her back that says, "Please Screw Me Over."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Time Traveler's Wife

I finished reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger over the weekend. You may know it from the movie that was just released, but before it was a movie, it was a bestselling book. I wanted to read it before seeing the movie; I have a bad habit of never reading the book after seeing the movie.

Niffenegger was surprising, mainly because she came up with a great premise - time travel due to genetics - but chose to focus almost entirely on a love story instead of the interesting stuff involved with time travel. Sure, love is great, but I didn't really need to know all about Henry and Clare's sex lives. Something left to the imagination is always good, in my opinion. There were some really creepy episodes due to Henry's genetic disability - if you can call it a disability - including a sex scene. Past Henry has sex with Clare while present-Henry sleeps soundly right next to them. I mean, ew. I guess it could be worse....a threesome, maybe.

Ew, now that I've grossed myself out.... It was, overall, an interesting read but the book seemed to stall in the middle when Clare and present-Henry finally meet. And then, before you know it, the end comes and you know the ending is coming. Niffenegger focuses on the beginning and the end with little substance in the middle.

A pleasant surprise within this book was a setting that I frequented quite a lot while in Michigan: the lakeside town of South Haven. I adored this haven with it's slice of Lake Michigan. Reading about it made me want to go back. Henry works at the Newberry in Chicago (a frequently visited place for my friends up north)... Kalamazoo is even mentioned! Oh, memories.

I'm glad I read Niffenegger's novel. Even with some disturbing scenes and lack of true plot developement, it's originality cannot be questioned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Twenty Wives, O My!

I'm on an Eastern kick lately. Maybe I got tired of all these books on Henry VIII and other British novels. Really, what's the fascination with Henry's wives?? It's ridiculous! Furthermore, I can't read a story revolving around a monarch I detest. There are actually few monarchs I like but Henry VIII is so far off my chart, he's in the despicable category.

Anyways, The Twenthieth Wife, by Indu Sundaresan, is set in seventeenth-century Mughal India. In fact, this story immediately precedes the story in Beneath a Marble Sky, by John Shors. I thought this would be a love story of an emperor and it was....but the marriage takes place at the end of the novel. There's not much love in this book but there is a lot of history.

Mehrunnisa, our heroine, falls in love at an early age to Prince Salim, son of Emperor Akbar. When it comes time for her to marry, she is sent off, at the emperor's request, to be the wife of a lowly soldier. Her dreams shattered, she endures her marriage to an unintelligent oaf of a man. The one good thing to come out of her marriage is a daughter, Ladli. Meanwhile, there are assassination attempts and plots, rebellions, and wars going on throughout the empire.

Her husband, after ten years of marriage, dies a traitor and Mehrunnisa comes home to the royal harem and the "dowager" empress, who took a liking to her as a child. Eventually, Prince Salim, now emperor and called Jahangir, courts her and they marry. Mehrunnisa's neice, Mumtaz Mahal, marries Salim's son, Shah Jahan, who later builds the Taj Mahal in her honor. It seems that Mehrunissa's family had a way of charming the emperors.

The problem with this book is the characters. Mehrunnisa has no concept of humility and even when she is "suffering" she has more than the common person. Her sense of entitlement is annoying. And Jahangir....well, he seemed to be a bit of a wimp and I have no respect for wimpy men, especially those who are monarchs.

This was a good read but definitely not on par with Beneath the Marble Sky.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Italian Cats

This is my last Italy post and I wanted to do something fun. At some point along the trip, I started taking pics of all the random cats we ran into. I saw very few in Rome but there were tons of outdoor kitties in Umbria. And they were too cute. Above, one catnaps in Assisi as the crowds pass by. Just a beautiful girl!

In Spoleto, we were hanging out at the city fountain, waiting for our restaurant of choice to open, when this kitten wandered into the busy town square. Several of the old men around the fountain tried to shoo it away, to keep it safe, but the kitten kept coming back. At one point, a teenage kitty started attacking this poor thing! We had to fend off the older cat and we eventually found a crate that this kitten was living out of. It was very stressful watching such a tiny creature fend for itself!!

Another cat in Spoleto, sitting by the city fountain. She didn't seem to know the above kitten.

A cat wanders amidst the ancient Etruscan temples at Largo Argentina in Rome. The last time I was in Rome, this place was filled with cats. Now, there was only this one.

Look closely.... This cat sat perched in a window of what used to be the Roman amphitheater in Spoleto. We were afraid she'd try to jump down but she didn't.

We encountered this lonely kitty on the walk home from the Spoleto train station.

And finally, lest I be called discriminatory, here's a dog we saw in Assisi. I felt bad for the dogs as there was very little grass in the city centers of these towns.

That's about it from Italy. Next week, you'll hear about my rather boring life here in Texas.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bella Italia!

Unlike Texas, which is now drying up and browning in the 100-degree heat, Italy is blossoming with all kinds of beautiful foliage. I thought I'd show you some of the beautiful plants and flowers I saw. Above: there were grapes - grapes!! - growing amidst the ruins at Ostia Antica! Crazy!

We saw some fragrant lavender at the fortress in Spoleto, to which all the butterflies were attracted!

Unless I'm completely wrong, these were cherries growing at the theatre in Spoleto - just too cool!

And oleander! I'd never seen oleander but there was tons of it in Itlay - in all kinds of shades and colors. So beautiful!

I can't remember what this was, growing over a shop on a busy Assisi street, but it was charming. There were so many beautiful plants overflowing from pots in Assisi, decorating windows and entries. I wish more Americans took the time to beautify their house. It makes for a charming street!

As my pics are drawing to a close, I'll have one last post tomorrow - of cats! I hope this one will make you laugh.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Randomness from Italy

Now, back to Italy. Here are some random shots that I thought you might enjoy. Above, an ancient Roman mosaic from the National Museum of Rome at the Palazzo Massimo. I love the cat; she reminds me of Sookie, our fearless hunter kitty! (Cats are the subject of my Friday post, so stay tuned!)

While wandering around the church of S. Rocco in Rome, we came upon this dog who was asleep, and practically dead to the world. (This one is for AL!) It was quite interesting to venture into all these churches and to see how many people milled about, took pictures, or prayed.

I love this shot. We went up to the fortress in Spoleto but still couldn't see the famous bridge below. While descending from the town's stronghold, I almost tried to scale the walls, I was so desperate for a view. Finally, I peered through the slits in the walls - for the archers - and got this shot. Thankfully those medieval builders were very strategic in their defensive architecture!

Mom and I searched and searched for the Roman amphitheater in Spoleto until we figured out it no longer really existed - houses had been built on top of it, like many other amphitheaters, in the Middle Ages. The only thing left of it is the outer city wall and the curve within it. Judging from all the graffiti, this is where the local youths hang out at night.

Our last view of Spoleto, seen from the train bound for Rome. We climbed all the way up to the fortress!! I think, just maybe, all the walking helped balance out all the gelato.

And what flavors of gelato were consumed? Well, let's see.... Stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate chunks, my absolute favorite by far!), strawberry, lemon cream, mango, milk chocolate, mint chocolate, strawberry yogurt, yogurt... I really meant to try the pistachio but ran out of time. I guess I'll have to go back!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Girl from Junchow

I know I said to expect pictures of Italy this week, but I wanted to write this before I forgot anything important! I bought The Concubine's Secret, by Kate Furnivall, in the Rome airport to read on the ten hour flight home. It's the sequal to Furnivall's action-packed The Russian Concubine. When I got home, I learned that the book I had bought is selling under a different title in the US: The Girl from Junchow.

Furnivall has picked up Lydia's story where she left off... Lydia has left 1930s China with two companions in search of the father she believed to be dead. In reality, her father has been a Russian prisoner for ten years, held by Stalin for his engineering abilities. He has been forced to create a weapon that would kill thousands.

Meanwhile, Lydia's love, Chang An Lo, fights for a Communist China. Lydia has lost her mother and left behind her love; her pain is great but she is hopeful for her father. The search for him is dangerous and no one is left untouched by Stalin's merclessness.

Furnivall keeps the action flowing at a reasonable speed and, truthfully, I read for probably six hours of our flight. I had only a few pages left and I finished those last night. I have no idea why Furnivall is so focused on 1930s Communist countries as they're not exactly romantic settings. Her The Red Scarf was brutal in its descriptions of labor camps. But I will keep reading because her strong, intelligent female leads are a delight.

I get amused at bookseller's attempts to sell "summer reads" - which they say should be light and fluffy. Furnivall is not light nor fluffy. After reading her, though, you will have a newfound respect for the human spirit.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I'm home from Italy and given the lack of blogging material, you'll be seeing more pics from the trip in the week to come. It was a great trip - a tiring trip - but I saw (and ate!) so much. Mom and I went to Assisi during our sojourn in quiet Spoleto and it was just as beautiful as I remember - and more crowded!

The flowers were in bloom - oleander, geraniums, roses - making the steep streets gorgeous!

Of course, part of the charm of Assisi is the view of the valley below. The old part of Assisi is perched on the side of a hill, three miles from the train station in the town below. I was super proud of Mom and I for figuring out and taking the bus (totaling all of 3.80 euros) instead of an expensive taxi. We were quite the frugal travelers!

The attraction of Assisi - the reason pilgrims crowd the streets - is, of course, St. Francis. The basilica built to house his remains would appall him (he was such a simple man) but this was how the Church chose to honor him - a man who breathed new life into a struggling, corrupt institution in the Middle Ages. It's ironic that this basilica, in Assisi, is the only property owned by the Vatican outside of Vatican City.

I've never seen so many pilgrims - and tourists - as there were at Assisi that day. The last time I was there, it was a quiet, sleepy town. It seems, however, that Assisi is now in vogue in Italy. There are more religious souvenir shops than ever before.

It saddens me to see the first friar turned into a money-making machine. Everyone wants a part of this man - or, at least, everyone wants to be able to say they've been to Assisi.

Anyways, mom and I visited almost every church in the city and we walked our legs off! Then, once were again in the town below, we walked from the train station to S. Maria degli Angeli - the church that houses the church Francis rebuilt, and the place he called home. This place is almost more moving than the great basilica. To step inside Francis' church is always a humbling, thought-provoking experience.

And that was our day in Assisi.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spoleto Sights

My mom and I are now in Umbria- Spoleto to be exact - with limited internet, so this will be a short post. Spoleto is built on a hill and the other day we decided to make our way to the top of that hill, where a fort sits majestically perched above the town. There were a lot of steps. Picturesque to be sure, but tiring as well!!

Half-way up our climb, we stopped at the Duomo - or cathedral of the city. Very beautiful!!

The views, once we got to the fort, were amazing. The entire Umbrian valley was sprawled below us!

And here's the fort - built first in the Carolingian age as a strategic defensive position for Rome - and then rebuilt later on by a pope in the Middle Ages. Spoleto held off many invaders who had their sights set upon Rome! And the area was inhabited as early as the Bronze age. Yay, Etruscans!

The medieval Ponte della Torri. The woods across the ponte were held to be sacred by pagan Romans and Christian Romans. This is where Michelangelo escaped to think when the pope became overbearing in his demands. Amazing.

I'm a bit rushed but will try to post more when I get home. Our trip is quickly coming to an end and we leave Italy on Saturday!! More later, I promise!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ostia Antica

Sunday was Ostia Antica day and boy was it a day! A long, hot, interesting day in Rome's old port town. A scholar from UT (Austin) has been excavating at a synagogue found in the city, and he gave a group of us a very nice tour of the town. Above, one of the many beautiful mosaics that's survived two thousand years.

Here, you can imagine a road lined with shops. Above the shops, apartments. Apparently the upper apartments were the cheapest...and the hottest.

Doniamarie amidst the ruins.

The Capitoline temple was huge and built for the patron gods of Rome: Juno, Jupiter, and Minerva (I think). A very impressive sight!

A public latrine. Beneath the toilets was a steady stream of flowing water. Those Romans were very inventive.

My first poppy sighting, growing in an old Roman wall!!

This mosaic is from one of Ostia's baths (sorry, I can't remember which one!). Just amazing!

And here is what our UT guy (Michael White) has been working on - the synagogue. The only way to tell it's a synagoge is the menorah (look closely!). How incredible is that?!

One of our lasts stops was what I was waiting for: the mithraeum. Though Ostia has fifteen of these temples dedicated to Mithras, this was the only one we got to see (most are not open to the public). This mithraeum was beneath a bath complex and has this incredible statue of Mithras slaying a bull.

Yet another amazing mosaic. I love the swimmers!

I've never walked so much in my life as I did at Ostia but it was worth it. Just incredible! And only 1/3 of the town has been excavated!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Vatican

I'm sorry I didn't get around the writing Friday, but it was a crazy day. My mom got into Rome on Thursday night and it was not an easy trip and not easy finding her. It was actually quite traumatic for both of us! BUT. The next morning we headed to the Vatican and spent all day there. Above is the Baldacchino in St. Peter's beneath the magnificent dome.

We got there around 9am and the sun was streaming into the windows at the front of the church. Just spectacular!!

Somehow we beat the hordes of tour groups and it was so nice having a somewhat quiet experience in the great basilica.

Here we are in St. Peter's Square.

We spent all afternoon at the Vatican Museums. The place is so very overwhelming. Above, an Egyptian cat in the courtyard.

The building and their decorations are just as fascinating as the art housed within them! These decorations were similar to the ones we saw in the Raphael Loggia. (And yes, we scoped out the secret door we went through to get to the Raphael Loggia!)

The dome of St. Peter's from somewhere within the maze of the Museum.

And finally, those awesome winding stairs at the exit of the Museum.

In the morning we also got to go on our Scavi tour beneath the Vatican. It was the most amazing thing! There were pagan mausoleums down there dating from the second century A.D. that looked like houses where entire families were laid to rest. One was even a Christian family! And then, beneath the altar of St. Peter's, we saw the lone remaining column of what is believed to be Peter's tomb.

If you go to the Vatican, you must jump through all the hoops it takes to go on a Scavi tour. It's a priceless experience.

And we saw John Paul II's tomb, a very modest monument for such a great man. It was quite a day!