Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Super Powers and Super TV

My siblings kept asking me whether we'd watched the finales for "Arrow" and "The Flash" yet. It took Nathan and I awhile to get around to finishing up our superhero shows (this includes "Agents of Shield" for those of you who are watching for SPOILERS) due to getting obsessed with watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". However, over Christmas break we did take the time to catch up on our superpowered television watching and vastly enjoyed ourselves.

(Each paragraph will cover a different show, which I've bolded in the first sentence. Skip if you're hoping to avoid spoilers).

Well. We enjoyed everything except that mid-season ending for "Arrow". Which was horrible. I mean, I guess you can do that kind of thing when you hit your third season, but UGH. It's almost worse than "Buffy", Season 5, cuz... well, wait, you have seen "Buffy", Season 5, right?

"The Flash" was a bit more satisfying. We got a fairly good answer as to the identity of the Man in the Yellow Suit, although for those who aren't aware of the time travel aspect of the mythos, it could be confusing. (I know very little about "The Flash" but I do know that the showrunners intended to use time travel in the show).

Now "Agents of Shield" took a pretty interesting turn. Skye's parents have been adding a good level of intrigue and emotional connection to the show. Just like Ward remained boring in season 1 until his true colors were revealed, Skye herself has become much more interesting with the revelation of her alien biology and now the emergence of mysterious new powers. Also, it seems pretty clear that Raina is her distant cousin of some sort, so that's also cool. Far less cool is the sudden demise of Agent Tripp, who I really liked and shipped with Jemma. Well, that boat sunk. *sigh* What remains to be seen is whether the show can gain audience via word of mouth, otherwise we might not get a second season. And that would be a shame, since it is picking up steam quickly, plotwise.

I'm really looking forwards to the two-hour premiere of "Agent Carter" this week! We've seen her in a few scenes of AOS this fall and it all promises really good stuff for Marvel's latest television entry. Not to mention that things are looking good for fans of superpowered television in general - "Jessica Jones" is coming to the small screen (Netflix) and "Supergirl" is being developed by the same showrunner that gave us "Flash" and "Arrow". Ooodles of good stuff coming our way!

(Also, it's not television, but with "Guardians of the Galaxy" finally on DVD, I could watch it on a non-migraine-inducing small screen with close-captions and see what all the hype is about. Totally awesome! My expectations were exceeded for sure!

Monday, December 29, 2014

John Paul 2 High goes "Near Occasions"

Word at Chesterton Press is that one of the most common questions they got this past year was "When is JP2H 5 coming out?" After how good books 3 and 4 were, it's no wonder!

I took advantage of the month long sale at the CP website to get my e-book copy for $2. So to be clear, I'm reviewing this as an ordinary reader, not a requested reviewer.

First off, I'm going to say that the last third of the book was very, very good. I was nearly falling asleep by the time I hit 80% complete on my Kindle version, but couldn't turn the light off until I'd finished. And like books 3 and 4, it ended leaving me desperately wanting more.

The problem with this particular installment, is that I wasn't really gripped by the story until I got past the halfway mark. In fact, if this were the first book in the series and if I didn't have a personal tie to the company, I probably would have given up after the first quarter. It's only because of how much I enjoyed books 3 and 4 that I kept reading. I'm certainly glad I did, but it's a shame that the first half of the book didn't live up to the second.

(mild spoilers to follow, but no big ones)

I think the issue is the POV characters. J.P. is nicely realized, but we don't really get into his head and care about him until about the midpoint of the story. Liz is better developed... but not tremendously enjoyable to share headspace with. She's whiny, abrasive and selfish and I found myself spending most of my time sympathizing with her mom, rather than her. Which was a pity because, as the last third of the book showed, she was an interesting character and the right POV choice for that part - but for the first two thirds of the book I just found myself getting fed up with her and wishing I could get out of her head and into someone elses - maybe not Allie or Celia, but Jacinta or Isabel.

It is interesting because despite being a primarily male authorship (it is a multi-author series), they do a good job with the female characters for the most part. Still, I feel like Liz could have been a more sympathetic character in the hands of a female author, perhaps one who was a tomboy herself. It seemed more like they were writing a caricature of a brash tomboy than actually understanding her. I'd be interested in hearing from actual tomboys whether they identified with Liz, or if they would have changed some of how she was written.

That said, I really enjoyed how James was developed in this installment. It was touching to see him begin to connect with the other students, to get a peek into his home life, and the tutoring sessions were HILARIOUS.

The other high point was seeing J.P. connect with the football team, which was funny, heartwarming, and of course plot-advancing...



Speaking of plot advancing, the series continues to dangle the identity of the shooter just out of our reach. Although arrested, and although having a lot of evidence stacked against him, it still doesn't ring quite true that James is the actual shooter. I do wish we knew which installment was going to wrap up that storyline, because I want to know how much longer I'm going to have to wait to find out!



All in all, fans of the series should enjoy this installment, but be prepared that it might take a bit to get into the story. Also, there is no recap of the previous four books, so I would recommend rereading at least book 4 before picking this one up. I was certainly a bit confused in the beginning, since it's been two and a half years since I read book 4.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Every Christmas is Last Christmas"

It's time for my thoughts on Doctor Who: "Last Christmas" so beware of this SPOILER ALERT!

On Christmas Day, we were all treated to what first appeared to be the weirdest Christmas episode ever. Santa Claus defeating aliens with self-moving slinkys? Did we all get high?

No, turns out everyone is just dreaming. It's not so much Doctor Who goes "Inception" but that Christmas itself does. Thus we're able to get a wonderful Father Christmas without actually having to have Father Christmas be real (apart from, you know, the real Saint Nicholas). We get two wise-cracking elves and flying reindeer and a beautiful sleigh ride and it's a dream but we get a full story with them despite that.

We also get a pretty decent supporting cast. Although two of them were more or less forgettable, Shona (Faye Marsay who also did a wonderful job as Anne Neville in "The White Queen") was a wonderfully blunt, funny and painfully true young character, and Bellows was cemented in our brains not so much by her actual character, but by the poignant ending that left her in a wheelchair instead of an arctic exhibition.

We also get good character arcs for both the Doctor and Clara, which is not always typical of Christmas episodes, which can either be tremendously important or throwaway. We got to say a full and lovely goodbye to Danny Pink and actually see him and Clara as a happy functional couple before doing so. The dream when the Doctor came and found an aged Clara was one of those beautifully painful moments that Doctor Who can do so very well when it really tries.

The aliens themselves were pretty decent and quite creepy, although unfortunately it would be very difficult to actually use them again, except in a very subplot way or it would seem too repetitive of this episode. Interestingly, it would be reasonably possible for them to be the maybe real/maybe not aliens from "Listen." Who knows?

My only disappointment with the episode was that Clara was not revealed to be pregnant. She certainly ought to be showing by now if she was... but if she's not, then how do we explain Orson Pink? Is he descended from a son of Danny's by another woman who Clara later forms a connection with? Or is he a future that has now been lost?

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Very Hajek Christmas

We hope you had a Merry Christmas and are looking forwards to a bright new year!

This was our very first year as a married couple, and Nathan and I had a lot of fun decorating our apartment together. I thought I'd give you a little peek at what we did to celebrate the holidays. If you follow me on instagram you have already seen some of these, but now you get to see the uncropped versions!

Our families have blessed us with many tree ornaments over the years, so we quite covered our new tree (purchased last year in the after holiday sales). Above is the newest addition to our collection - a TARDIS from my sister-in-law.

We spent Christmas eve at my parents house, with presents and wild rice soup, Christmas morning in our apartment with Gluten Free Pancakes and thick bacon, and Christmas day out at my grandparents cabin, celebrating with my extended family.

My grandparents built the cabin on family land almost twenty years ago, so it's been part of our holiday celebrations for a long time. The kids have gotten taller and the Christmas trees have gotten smaller, but the heart of the festivities - family and a shared faith - has remained the same.

When we woke on Christmas morning, the ground was green and the air warm, but by the time we headed out to the cabin, the snow was tumbling down in large lacy flakes. By the end of the day, the grass and trees were covered in white, while the still warm tar roads remained clear. Beauty and safe driving? What a Christmas miracle!

I did not take a photo later on, but one of my cousins did get a lovely shot of the woodpile by the front door here.

Good food was enjoyed by all, followed by good conversation. Above, my husband and my grandpa.

Best part of Christmas? Getting to see both of my siblings who currently live out of state.

The Hajeks wish you a very merry holiday season and many blessings in the coming new year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns

My upcoming novel for Chesterton Press, "The Mermaid and the Unicorn," takes place in a Parisian Convent. This has made for some interesting research challenges, particularly being a Protestant. One resource that has recently come onto my radar screen is Lifetime's new reality show, "The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns."

One of the contestants, Claire Halbur, is a friend of several friends of mine. I'd recently friended her on Facebook and couldn't help noticing this show she kept talking about. Five young girls visiting different convents to discern their calling? All sorts of nuns getting interviewed? This was exactly what I was looking for!

"But it's reality tv," you say. "It's just drama, right?"

Not at all. Sure, there is drama, and some of it is heightened because of the cameras and editing, but overall I've been very impressed with the first three episodes and the respect the show is giving both the Catholic faith and their contestants. There is a reason they are labeling it as a "docu-drama" rather than reality tv, even though that's what it is. They did a good job of picking a very diverse cast, so that the drama comes from five very different young women experiencing a very radical shift in lifestyle - which is something that happens when you get a bunch of women living together - no exceptions! i.e. it is realistic drama, not (mostly) staged.

The episodes are available online for cable subscribers. If you don't have access to a cable account yourself, it's worth borrowing a friend's account to check out this (short) series (although I hope it'll make its way onto Netflix eventually). Whether you are Catholic, or interested in learning about a new culture, this is interesting, informative and about as respectful as I think you can expect a reality tv show to be.

Monday, December 15, 2014

OUAT: Heroes and Villains

It's the midseason finale of "Once Upon a Time, and you know what that means - Spoilers Ahoy!

In episode 4.12, "Heroes and Villains," we have plenty of wrapping up - although almost none of it is nice and tidy with a bow - save for our Arendelle heroes. Okay, we don't actually get to see Anna and Kristoff say "I Do" but Anna's walking down the aisle, so until we hear further, we'll assume they are safely wed.

On the other hand, last season's wedding finally reached the tragic revelation we've been bracing ourselves for all fall. Belle sent Rumple out of the town on the point and power of his own knife. While our hearts bleed for Belle, there is little pity for Rumple, who immediately (well, six weeks later) went off in search of one-time apprentice, Ursula, to form a team of supervillains ready to fight for their own happy endings.

Can I just say that I liked Ursula much better in her our-world-aquarium persona than in the weird ABBA stage outfit? On the other hand, Cruella, while seeming very out of place in the Enchanted Forest, seems perfectly cast and poised to be the best baddie next spring.

I'm glad that Robin went with Marian, and that Regina sent him off firmly. Although I do want to see those two together eventually, I don't want it to be because of adultery. And this way gives us more drama and growth for Regina. Thankfully we did get to see something go well for her. with her and Emma finally making up, becoming drinking buddies, and Emma joining Operation Mongoose. Also, Henry finally got to do something useful this season with his curious tendencies. Huzzah!

The character who got the lamest storyline this season was Hook. I am really starting to feel sorry for actor Colin O'Donahue, who is not getting much to work with in a role that really ought to be juicy, especially now that many consider him the leading man of the show.

Our original leading man, David, and his heroine wife, Snow, stayed pretty much in the shadows this episode. I'm sure this was very much due to their own real-life new parenthood and that giving them a smaller part this half-season was in order to give them a break and enjoy time with their new son. Still, for the first time I find myself missing the Charmings and desperately wishing for an episode that centers more heavily on them. Spring, dare I hope you'll bring this to me? Now if only Snow could get a better fashion sense...

Other hopes for spring? I'm dreaming of Belle finally getting a character arc, and not a supporting role where she basically says the same thing every episode. I'm looking forwards to more Aurora backstory (they've promised her return), and MORE RUBY. Also, I sincerely hope that Robin, Marian and Roland are not going to disappear for a long time, and that we get to see them living in our world before they come back to Storybrooke.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hearing Aids and Facebook

So, first off, I thought I'd share this photo my mom took from my hearing aid fitting this morning. Second pair of aids, definite improvement in sound quality but still some issues we're working out. Praying that that'll be easily resolved so that I can have reliable new aids because my current ones are 9 years old! 

Also, my audiologist told me that he's never seen anyone with such a profound hearing loss function so well lipreading. So that was kind of an awesome perk to my day after the dress of dealing with the programming.

THEN I have finally converted my facebook page to allow for public followers. I'm at the point where I'm getting more and more friend requests from people that I know are probably followers of my blogs but aren't people I know offline, and with "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" publication coming up, I'm guessing that this phenomenon will continue to grow. (Hopefully it will!). I thought about creating a separate author page, but the research I did indicated that it'd be better and easier for the people I'm already friends with just to keep it all in one place. (I've set up some different lists so I can still keep family things more private and such) So we're going to try that. And I'd like to invite you to be among the first to officially follow me on Facebook!

Monday, December 8, 2014

OUAT 4.11 - "Shattered Sight."


"Shattered Sight" is hardly "Once Upon a Time"s best episode - but it manages to be pretty enjoyable nonetheless. This is largely due to comedy and nostalgia. On the one hand we have some pretty funny lines... and on the other hand, we have the most poignant Ingrid flashbacks thus far. There's a moment when you genuinely wish that Emma could have been raised by Ingrid and been happy.

And then you remember 'no Henry, no Storybrooke, no Show.'

But still. Ingrid is, I think, of all the villains thus far on a show all about redemptive villians the most misguided but 'good at heart' of them all. This is why her ending was perfect - a true sacrifice that never the less brought her a happy ending. We couldn't be sad for her when she was so happy - only sad that we won't see more of her.

On the other hand, there will be quite a few fans jumping with glee at the ending of the Frozen storyline. While it had it's ups and downs (Elsa was written pretty lame, I thought), it still gave us Ingrid, and a sometimes pretty awesome Anna. (Some episodes Anna was annoying, others she was hilarious and/or badass). Anyhow, while I won't miss Elsa, I do sort of wish Anna and Kristoff hang around. We REALLY need to see their wedding, 'kay?

We can't completely ignore the over simplicity and convenience of the discovery of the letter that saved the day... but I, at least, could forgive it because, well, man that was a sweet scene. Plus the stuff taking place at the jail was pretty rocking too. "DON'T you dare wake my baby!" "What am I wearing?!?" Seeing Snow and Charming fight was both painful and kind of exciting.

What I can't forgive is that the Rumple/Hook plot was way underdone in this episode. Either their scenes should have been written stronger, or made shorter (or eliminated). As it was, it was just a rehash of what they said and did last time and added nothing to the story.

I guess I have a lot of grace for OUAT that I don't have for other shows. I'm not sure why, except it keeps doing enough stuff that I love that I can ignore most of the weak points (even if the Hook fangirls get on my nerves).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Way Down South... Louisiana 2014

Oh my goodness. Where to start? 

Every Vacation is an adventure, but some more so than others. When 10 days becomes 16,  you know it definitely counts as 'more than others.'

Me, playing with Jake and Faith's puppies.

 We were down in Louisiana, about an hour and a half southwest of New Orleans. The purpose of the trip was to celebrate the marriage of Nathan's brother, Jake, to his beautiful fiance, Faith. We were both in the wedding party (Nathan was best man) and so timed our arrival to get down just in time for the joint Bachelor/Bachelorette party on Saturday, the 15th.

So THAT's spanish moss
 We had a layover in Houston on the way down, which kept getting shorter and shorter... by the time we landed, everything had been pushed around so much that we only had half an hour to get to our gate. No time to procure gluten free supper. I was grateful for the snacks I'd packed, but it wasn't enough to get me through till after midnight, cuz...

..there'd been some miscommunication about the rental car insurance, so when we got to the pick-up place, they wanted to charge us twice as much as we'd been quoted online. There was no way we could afford that. Thankfully, Jake was willing to drop everything and come pick us up right away. Still, it was 12:30 before we found me a baked potato at Wendy's, and after 3:00 before we all got to sleep.

The party was fun, although it didn't go according to plan. Plans are pretty flexible down there, apparently, and things were constantly changing from one hour to the next. But the people were lovely!

On Sunday, Jake let us borrow his car to drive down to the edge of the bayou and see the ocean. It was a simply gorgeous drive down!

My first look at a sugercane field!
 It was surprisingly chilly - Louisiana didn't escape the cold front that swept over the nation last month. Still, it was a good 50 degrees warmer than Minnesota!

We found this little cemetery on the drive down and got out and looked around. I'd never seen raised graves like this before. It was beautiful.

That night we went to the supermarket and got seafood. We made scallops and alfredo that night, and the next I made fried catfish.

This catfish is going to become a bit of a family legend, cuz the only gluten-free breading I could scrape up was frosted flakes. (Nope, couldn't find regular corn flakes.) Still, it was a big hit and my father-in-law is going to beg me to make it every time I visit from now on.

On Monday, we finally got our own rental car (SO much cheaper to rent from a local place rather than at the airport) and drove down to New Orleans. We didn't get a ton of time because we got a late start and had to be out of the city by sundown, but we made the most of the time we had.

I'd located a little restaurant in the French Market Food Court that had gluten free offerings, and was thrilled to enjoy GF crab cakes - something I've not been able to find anywhere else. All organic too!

We made a quick circuit through the flea market, then poked around in a few different shops. For a souvenir, we picked up a Christmas Tree ornament with "New Orleans 2014" written on it.

We also visited a candy factory, where we got to sample pralines and purchased gummy worms for the long drive home.

Tuesday was a rest day, and on Wednesday we visited the local Aviation and Sawmill museum.

I really enjoyed learning about how they processed and used Spanish Moss.

Plus, huge trees are always fun.

It also gave us some more time to hang out with Faith. We'd only met her in person once before, at that was very briefly at our very hectic wedding. We really enjoyed having the whole week prior to the wedding to get to know her and her family, and see her and Jake as a couple.
replicas of originals

people had better handwriting in those days

it's so small!
 Thursday was the rehearsal, which ran for a good two hours, and the dinner, which was lovely! I got some really delicious grilled fish - my in-laws had told me to order whatever I wanted off the menu, since I couldn't have the fried shrimp everyone else had access to.

It was really fun seeing Nathan get into his best man mode. He's been in a lot of weddings, and been best man twice before now, so he's an expert. (Or at least, I think so.)

Bridal bag goodies
 There were 8 bridesmaids, 6 groomsmen, one junior bridesmaid/flower girl and one ring bearer. As far as we could tell, Nathan and I were both the oldest and the tallest of the guys and girls, respectively.

The bridesmaid hair requirement was a french twist, but mine was so short, they allowed me to do it however I wanted. I think I managed okay. ;) Then I ended up doing four of the other girls' hair as well!

 Look at that train!

Look at that LACE!

I really enjoyed getting to spend a lot of time with my mother-in-law. There were just 8 of us representing the Hajek side, so we took our duties seriously

The wedding ceremony was at 2:00, followed by photos, food (buffet style) and dancing. I don't have a good photo of the hall, but it all took place in this gymnasium that had been transformed into a magical light and flower filled hall of romantic pillars, candles and mini Eiffel towers.

I really liked seeing Nathan in this old fashioned tux
At about 5:15, Jake and Faith went off in their limo to start married life! Nathan and I left soon after, ready to relax after all the intensity of the past few days... little did we know what was in store.

My bouquet
Sunday morning I woke up in extreme discomfort. I won't go into TMI, but it got worse all day, until we wound up at the ER at about 7pm. They identified the issue (doesn't always happen!) and prescribed stuff, but I didn't feel as well as we'd hoped the next day. We were a half hour from the airport when I broke down, crying, and told Nathan "there is no way I can get on that plane."

This was hard. We found out that it would be $400 to change our flight, and we couldn't get a refund on the original tickets. Still, Nathan was so patient and sweet and didn't make me feel bad about it at all. His parents were still down at Jake and Faith's house, which, since they'd left for their honeymoon, was open for a few more guests. So we went back out there and settled in to do everything we could to get me better.

It was a rough few days. I had to give up getting home to have Thanksgiving with my family, which was hard all around. However I had Nathan with me, and we got more time with his parents (whom we see less, anyhow) so that was a blessing in disguise. They were willing to postpone their own trip home in order for me to heal as much as possible. They were also willing to lend us their second car so that we could complete the final leg of our trip home.

Friday morning we finally set out for the long drive home. We spent the night in Kentucky, took a supper break in Illinois at my in-laws house, then pushed on to get to Minnesota by 1:30am on Sunday morning. My mother-in-law ended up coming up with us to visit my sister-in-law, so she got a chauffeur on the way up (Nathan) and we didn't have to worry about getting the car back to her.

That last week was really hard, but God totally had us in his hand the whole time. Nathan only had to miss two more days of work due to Thanksgiving, so that was another blessing.

But I'm really, really glad to be back home, in my own kitchen, with easy access to stores with plenty of Gluten Free options, and close to my doctor and supplement provider. All of this has made us decide that, between being gluten-free (dominos was the only gluten-free restaurant in our area of Louisiana. I had pizza 3 times.), and having unpredictable health issues, we're not travelling out of state again for a long, long time. This is sad because we have so many friends and loved ones in other states that we'd hoped to visit over the next few years and now we have to accept that it is just not feasible. I guess I'll just have to lure everyone here with my cooking or something... ;)