Kiss Goodbye to 2009

It's that time of year to post New Year's resolutions that we all know I'll break during the first week. But, it's the thought that counts, right? I'm using this opportunity to reorganize my blog. Based on some recent posts by my AW friends Krista and Vero, I've decided to set some goals and a schedule that I'll be sure to not stand by for the New Year. Yay!

White Vero's schedule is set around writing, I didn't originally set out to make this blog all about writing. In fact, I started writing and blogging at around the same time, so this blog has mostly been about my random thoughts and rants. At the same time, I slowly added in teasers and posts about writing. So, I want to do a schedule around both random things and writing things. But, I can't just rant, right? I mean, I whine about lots of things, but I'm not a completely awful person. So, in keeping with Krista's 12 Blog Posts of Christmas idea, I want to be thankful for SOMETHING every other week, no matter how small it is. There's always something in the midst of all my complaining that I am grateful for. I'll post that to.

So, in keeping with the melding together of all these ideas, here's my bi-weekly schedule idea*:

Sunday: Random post (i.e. whatever I feel like posting that day)
Tuesday: Teaser Tuesday
Thursday: Thankful Thursday
Saturday: Random Post (because life shouldn't be too planned)
Monday:  Music Monday
Wednesday: WIP or Writing Wednesday (e.g., talking about writing, interview author, or guest author writes)
Friday: Photo Friday

What do you think? Is this interesting? Do you have any other ideas or these days? Am I doomed from the start***?

*Note: Although I will do my best to keep to this schedule, I know myself quite well. You can always send me an email through the blog by checking out my Profile to gripe at me for not keeping to the schedule. :-D
**I actually have another blog where I have been posting reviews, but since I can't keep up with it, I'll move those over to this blog and start reviewing books every other week.
***I like starting things off at the week's beginning (either Sunday or Monday depending on where you live). Since I live in Britain, my week will start on Sunday, 3 January. That means this new blog schedule will also start on that day.

Where is Laura? Where is Laura?

Here she is!

I've been away for a while, because my parents have been here over the holidays. We've been going places and generally having fun. But really, I've just been lazy about my blogging. I started out posting the third post in my Rome series, but realized that all the pictures are on the other computer. Being the lazy person that I am, I couldn't be bothered to get up, walk to the bedroom, and blog from that computer. Instead, I'll be incorporating the rest of the Rome posts and other travel posts in my new schedule I am introducing on 31 December. Stay tuned!

While the parents have been here, we've done such exciting things as walk around the German Christmas Market in the city centre, walk around the Arndale Center, sit around avoiding the snow and ice, and shopping at the Trafford Centre. Oh, yeah, there were a couple of days where the weather was decent enough to go places like Yorkshire! That was really fun, but also very cold. My feet never got warm, but that didn't matter, because the scenery was so pretty. Oh yeah, and there was the impromptu job interview with an offer in there, too! It's been pretty crazy!

I'll definitely miss the parents when they go home. But right after they leave, we'll drive down to Cambridge to see the hubster's family! Fun times!!

AND, in a little almost 3 weeks the hubs and I will be celebrating our 1 year anniversary!

My Time in Rome: Part 1 - Really Cool Free Stuff

With the holidays coming up and everything, I've been really bad about blogging. So, I'm going to try to remedy that now. But, we all know, I'm not a reliable blogger, so if you notice that I'm not blogging, send me an email to give me a good kick in the pants...

And now, on to My Time in Rome: Part 1...

Note: I'm not sure why the pictures are coming up different sizes, but you can click on them to see the full image.

It's a commonly known fact that Rome is expensive. I'll not dispute that. You can definitely spend a ton of money there, especially if you like to shop. Lucky for me, we didn't have a lot of time, and shopping wasn't that high on my list of priorities for Rome. Also lucky for me? My wonderful hubby had basically pre-planned our whole first day, so I didn't have to think about anything! His plan had us walking from the train station to our hotel, which was across the river in Vatican City. Since we had to pack light, there was no need to drop our bags, affording us the opportunity to sight see all day!

Based on our first day, here's a tip. If you don't want to spend a lot of money in Rome, go to the churches! Seriously, almost every church we went into had at least one work by a master artist such as Caravaggio, Rubens, and Raphael. Do your homework ahead of time to figure out which churches have what art. If you like art, churches are the way to go and they're FREE! I mean, if you feel moved to, you can donate, but other than that, it's an incredibly cheap way to see some amazing art. Even the art by less well-known artists were incredible. The churches were ornate and had such a sense of space. Words fail when trying to describe how utterly beautiful they were. So, here is an example of the art you can find for free (most didn't turn out that well, because of the lack of light, so you'll just have to go see for yourself!):

Above: "Ecstasy of St. Theresa" by Bernini
Below: "The Crucifixion of St. Peter" by Carravaggio

I could get into a whole art discussion about this one artist, because Carravaggio's one of my favorites. I took a couple of semesters of art history in college, and I find all things art and architecture fascinating. Rome turned out to be an excellent place to indulge that side of me. And, like I said, a lot of it was free.

Speaking of free, another great way to spend the day is simply walking around the city. It may sound boring, but not only is it a good way to walk off all the yummy food you'll be eating, there are some amazing buildings that literally took my breath away. Really. I gasped several times in amazement. Ancient buildings are tucked away between "new" buildings (like, you know, new ones from the 16th century). You'll most likely stumble upon some of these sites:

If you don't recognize that, it's the know, an almost 2,000 year old temple-turned-church-turned-tourist-attraction. It's famous for it's dome (pictured on the right), which is still to this day the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Can you imagine? This was one of the breath-taken-away moments. I was gobsmacked. I'd seen the dome in pictures, but you really just can't imagine the force of it when you see it in person. And, it's FREE!

After you pick your jaw up from the floor and continue walking, you'll likely come across many fountains and large obelisks just standing in the middle of many a piazza. Of course, you'll be looking at history. The fountains all have some sort of beautiful sculpture, most likely by a famous artist like Bernini. Many of the obelisks were either given to the Romans by the Egyptians or taken by the Romans from the Egyptians way back in the day. There's also quite a few columns dedicated to some awesome triumph over different groups of people by different Roman emperors. Those were equally cool. Some examples:

See? That fountain is Trevi Fountain, which had quite a few artists plan and work on it. The final product you see here was a combination of planning by Bernini (who moved the original fountain) and work done by Salvi. It's on most maps, but it's certainly not just out in the open of some huge piazza. The obelisks do tend to be out in the open, and they are plentiful.

You can also take a walk to the Vatican and see St. Peter's Basilica for free, but I'm covering the whole Vatican in another post, so you'll have to wait for pictures of that. If you're into ancient Rome, there are several sites you can see from free, like the Roman Forum (from the outside) and the Coliseum (from the outside). I'll cover these locations in a separate post as well, because we paid to go into the sites. There are loads of other ancient Roman ruins just lying about, though. So, just take a stroll to the part of town near the Colliseum (and brave the droves of people). You're bound to see some amazing things like this:

These were just some ruins lying out in the middle of some more modern buildings. It looked like an excavation that hadn't really been touched in a while. But, when we got up to the signs, we found out that the "curia" or Senate House (not pictured, because it wasn't there) at this site is believed to be the location of the assassination of Julius Caesar!! Seriously, and it's just waiting there for you to find!!!

Next up in the "My Time in Rome" series: The Vatican

I found Rome brick, I left it marble.

Well, ok, I mean, I actually found it a mix of brick and marble, but I had to have a quote by Caesar Augustus, right? And with that, I start off a short series of blog posts about my surprise birthday trip to Rome! Note: My husband told me that I couldn't brag about his surprise-building, gifting, or all-around greatness skills, so I'll try to keep it at a minimum.

In this episode of "Laura Amzingly Fantastic Weekend Getaway to Rome" (hmmm...I'll have to work on that title), I'll be talking about getting to and from Rome.

When planning a trip to Rome, one must be mindful of budget. If not, one could end up spending a small fortune on airline tickets, hotel rooms, and food before ever getting to the good stuff (not that the food isn't good...)! So, when Gavin planned this trip, he opted for a budget airline, because it was the most feasible thing to do. He knows I'm a total miser, so it just warms my heart that he thought to save us some money! Seriously, though, I was really impressed with the amount of research he put into this trip!

Our budget airline (which I won't name on this blog, because I'm not an ad or a complete meanie) had us leaving Manchester at a little before 7 AM. This worked out quite well, since I couldn't sleep with all the excitement. Plus, it got us to Rome in time to spend the whole day walking around! How awesome is that?

I was pretty impressed with boarding procedures, considering the horror stories I had heard about budget airlines, but this one had seat assignments! Unfortunately, it didn't assign us to seats next to each other. But, you know, by some miracle, I slept almost the entire flight, only coming awake to catch myself with my mouth wide open. I didn't hear all the advertisements they apparently made over the loudspeaker. Gavin didn't fair so well. His legs actually hit the back of the seat in front of him, and he couldn't move. So, tip to you: if you're 6'7", you might considering paying the 6 pounds to move to the seats that have what regular airlines call "economy" seats, but what budget airlines call "luxury" seats.

Since we flew the budget option, we had only a backpack and soft briefcase between us to avoid the checked baggage fee. It made landing and getting to the train and walking around Rome, MUCH easier. Speaking of getting the train, there was an express train from the airport to the center of town. Gavin did his research on this, too. So, we managed to avoid the lines for tickets by using the machines in the middle of the terminal. And, we made the train that was just about to leave.

When we got closer to town I was in awe at all the artwork that was just sitting around on the buildings! I mean, I was expecting Michaelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio, and Raphael, but so much art already. I was blown away! I just wondered who the names referred to, and why the art seemed to be spouting obscenities at me. So, really, there was a lot of graffiti. Everything was covered in it, the train, the buildings, the underpasses, everything! BUT, rest assured, if you ever go to Rome, the rest of the city is much better (well, for the most part), and the graffiti tends to lessen in the more touristy parts of town. I was, in all truthfulness, impressed by some of the graffiti coming into town. It was very colorful!

Once there, we did a whole lot of fun stuff. Don't worry, I'll get to that in another post. But, now, what you've all been waiting for, our departure! We took the same train back and got to the airport in plenty of time to get to the gate. Only thing is, we followed the sign that said "To Gates". Apparently, that means "To Gates as long as you're not flying international...if so, you'll have to walk to the very end of the incredibly long building, past all the signs that read 'To gates' pointing you in the opposite direction to another sign at the very end that says 'To gates'" Now, if that's not confusing... Needless to say, I was tired after walking 2 lengths of the building after having walked for the last 3 days. But we made it to the gate. And, 30 minutes before they were supposed to board, they were boarding!!!

It makes perfect sense though, because the budget airline doesn't have you board at the take a bus and climb stairs. So, it takes longer, see. All perfectly reasonable.

Then, we waited and waited and waited while the flight attendants tried to figure out how to reseat a family that had been assigned seats in different parts of the plane when they had 2 small children. After figuring that out, they couldn't get all the bags to fit in the overhead bins. I think at some point the captains just said they were leaving, because we were 20 minutes late, and they have a tight turnaround schedule. So, as we pulled back from the gates, the flight attendants made the mad dash to stuff the overhead bins. One bin broke...and how do we fix that?! Masking tape, people...masking tape.

I thought I was done laughing for the day, until the flight attendant came over the speaker talking about all the sales and deals they had to offer. Yes, not only do they have to keep us safe, put up with our bad attitudes, and try to get us to purchase the meal deal, but now they also have to be walking ads about perfume sales! If I haven't seen everything...

Ok, so I'll admit, this wasn't really about Rome...but rest assured...I'll get there...

In the next several posts, I'll talk about the trip by category (e.g., food, churches, and Roman stuff).

Speaking of Debut Authors...

You can win a copy of Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick by going here. My friend, Steph, is doing a book giveaway this month--well, several, actually. This one ends tomorrow, 9 December at noon MDT. So, get over there and comment on her blog!

2010 Debut Author Challenge

The StorySiren is hosting a book challenge for 2010. Basically, set a goal to read a certain number of Young Adult and/or Middle Grade books by debut authors in 2010. I decided, since I've been reading so darn much lately, I would take up the challenge! I'll probably concentrate on YA, since that's what I enjoy most. To find out more and sign up for the challenge, click the pretty picture below:

The Story Siren
From the StorySiren:

What is the 2010 Debut Author Challenge?
  • The objective is to read a set number of YA (Young Adult) or MG (Middle Grade) novels from debut authors published this year.* I'm going to challenge everyone to read at least 12 debut novels! I’m hoping to read at least 30! You don’t have to list your choices right away, but if you do feel free to change them throughout the year. I will also be focusing on mostly Young Adult novels.
  • Anyone can join, you don’t need a blog to participate.  If you don’t have a blog you can always share your views by posting a review on, or any other bookish site.  
  • The challenge will run from January 1, 2010- December 31, 2010. You can join at anytime! 
* I would like to limit the novels to those released in 2010.
With that, here's a preliminary list of books I plan to read* in 2010 (ordered by UK release date):

  1. (07 Jan 2010) The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard
  2. (01 Feb 2010) Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
  3. (04 Mar 2010) The Line by Teri Hall
  4. (16 Mar 2010) The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
  5. (01 Apr 2010) Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
  6. (27 Apr 2010) Mistwood by Leah Cypess
  7. (27 Apr 2010) Whisper by Phoebe Kitanidis
  8. (01 May 2010) Prophecy of Days - Book One: the Daykeeper's Grimoire by Christy Raedeke
  9. (06 May 2010) Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
  10. (01 Jun 2010) Everlasting by Angie Frazier
  11. (01 Jul 2010) Other by Karen Kincy
  12. (13 Jul 2010) Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus
  13. (21 Sep 2010) Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
  14. (14 Oct 2010) Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
  15. (2010) The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
*Bolded titles indicate that they've been read.

I hope you'll consider taking up the challenge and supporting the talented debut YA and MG authors of 2010!

Another Round of Teaser Tuesday

After my writing freak-out of the last two weeks, I forced myself to sit down and write. In doing so, an entirely unplanned character popped in to say hello. Not only that, she's forcing me to rework some of the locations I had planned before she showed up. But, I rather like her, so I think she'll stick around for a while. In this teaser, Hailey Sinclair is introduced to the reader. Anna has just arrived at a job site for a Habitat for Humanity house. As always, this is rough and unedited. It's what flowed from my head to my fingers in the first round of writing.

FYI: I'll be snipping the teaser on Wednesday or Thursday.