Monday, March 30, 2020

Rainy Thoughts: Qaurantine Life Week 1

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well, in spite of everything going on. I felt like maybe I could talk about my quarantine experience as everyone else seems to be doing now-a-days. But somehow, hearing people's different experiences, makes me feel a little less alone with my feelings, so maybe that my blog post will be just that for you. 


So, I live in Texas. As of the time of this blog posting, we are not on a state-mandated stay-at-home quarantine. Our Governor is leaving that up to each individual city and my city, San Antonio, has decided to do a quarantine, but I don't think it's as restrictive as some other places such as California and New York. Only essential places can be open, but I feel that those "essential" businesses are pretty broad. We have only had this mandate for a week now, so we'll see if our quarantine will go any deeper. Anyways, it was my first full week of full quarantine life and these are my thoughts.

On one hand, I enjoy working from home and being home in general. I feel like cutting my time of commuting has left me and my husband time to do things around the house,  getting more exercise in because I'm not as frantic with the time and enjoy cooking a little more again because of the time thing. It's nice. I also have time to read, write my second book, write on my blog, play the new Animal Crossing and just have time for the little things again.

On the other hand, I miss the normalcy of everything. I work for the San Antonio River Walk Association and our offices are located in the heart of downtown that relies heavily on tourism. It's really sad to see all the people that we work with on a daily basis, have to shut down with the unknown of when and even how they would come back up. It's also just weird to me see everything so dead. I enjoy my nights in with movies and video games, but I also like to occasionally go out and dance and eat at restaurants and go on Target runs for fun. I miss that. I miss Target. I also don't like this uncertainty of when things will go back to normal. My husband's family lives in a different city and we have had to cancel our plans to see them and we really do miss seeing them, but don't know when we can see them again.

It really feels surreal that we're living in a time like this. A time where everything feels like it has stopped. Time has stopped in a way. I'm just ready for the time when this is over and we can all enjoy each other's company once again.

Well, I don't know if  I will be reporting back my thoughts each week, but definitely wanted to write down everything at least once. But I do have quite a few book reviews coming up in April so stay tuned for those! Until next time, Happy Reading and doing all the little things!




Sunday, March 22, 2020

Book Review: Postcards from Lonnie

POSTCARDS FROM LONNIE
HOW I REDISCOVERED MY BROTHER ON THE 
STREET CORNER HE CALLED HOME
by
Lisa Johnson
Biography / Photo Journal / Poverty Publisher: Rand-Smith LLC Date of Publication: January 14, 2020
Number of Pages: 200
Scroll down for the giveaway!


 
It all started on Christmas Day 1993. Lisa and Lonnie were sitting on their mom's rickety yard swing, when Lisa's curiosity took over. She asked Lonnie questions about his life on the street, about being homeless. To her surprise, he answered honestly, humorously, and thoughtfully.
That conversation continued throughout the next four years as Lisa wrote questions on postcards addressed to herself, then mailed them in packets to Lonnie at the flower shop on his corner. He wrote his answers and mailed them back. Lonnie answered a lot of questions and even asked a few, too. His detailed, matter-of-fact responses gave Lisa an unfettered view of a population living on the fringes of society and the issues they face every day.
Postcards from Lonnie is a dialogue between Lonnie, who speaks through the postcards, and his sister, who not only learns a lot about her brother but also about herself. Intimate and revealing, this is a unique family memoir and a universal story of love, respect, family, and ultimately hope.
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Where do I even start? How about that this book really pulled at my heartstrings and I felt so much for the author and her brother. I can't imagine my siblings or just any of my relatives being homeless and just feeling so out of touch with them. This is a really touching story that makes you come back to reality and remember that every homeless person has a background, and they have someone who still loves them. They have so many stories, and this one is Lonnie's.
 
The flow of this book went really smooth. When I first read the synopsis of this story, I was wondering how it would flow. I was pleasantly surprised when the cards did not compromise the flow of the story. I felt that I really found out about the author and her brother from the beginning to the end. One would also be impressed by how the questions on the cards went seamlessly from one topic of question to another. For instance, we learned about how Lonnie lived on the street, why he chose and why he still chose in that order. It was never out of order. Not sure if that was intentional or not, but it turned out great in the end.
 
"Lonnie's story would have been a report not on how Jesus helped him get off the street, but what it was like to live on the streets with Jesus."
 
Like I mentioned in the first paragraph, this story brings out all the feels. Like Lisa, I was always rooting for Lonnie to get up from his situation, admit that he didn't like it and take the necessary steps to get through. Then I was always surprised by how he wanted to live that way, and I always felt for Lisa as she had to hear this from her brother. 

The only criticism I really have is that some of the scanned cards were hard to read, though Lisa does a great job of examining each individual card and explaining what might have been going on through Lonnie's head.

Overall, I give Postcard from Lonnie a 5 out of 5. It's not a super long book, so if you have some extra time on your hands, I really suggest this book. If you're going through a similar situation with a loved one, this book may help you feel less alone with your feelings. I applaud the author for telling her story as I know it may help different people in different ways. And I want to end this review by saying that on my way home from work one day while I was reading this book, I heard Amarillo By Morning by George Straight and it instantly made me think of Lonnie. Until next time, Happy Reading!







Lisa Johnson was born in Middletown, Ohio, at Middletown 
Hospital, where her brother, Lonnie, was born almost five years earlier. Two years after Lisa was born, they settled in Houston, Texas. In a couple more years, they moved to Baltimore, Maryland. Before Lisa started elementary school, they moved again, to Atlanta, Georgia. Lonnie was in fifth grade and was starting to misbehave in his classroom, not “applying himself.” A new first-grader, Lisa applied herself big time, and, once she got a taste of the praise and affirmation that came with high grades, she was hooked for life.
By the time Lisa was in junior high, they had moved again, to Topeka, Kansas, and as she started high school, they moved back to Houston.
Lisa went to college, Lonnie got married. Lisa got married, Lonnie’s daughter was born. Lonnie got divorced, Lisa got divorced. Lonnie’s daughter drowned in the bathtub. Lisa graduated from college, went to graduate school (where she got a good taste of misbehavior but lived through it). Lisa moved to Houston to mooch off their parents for a year or so. Lonnie remarried. Lisa moved to New York to teach at Queens College, CUNY, but soon found her dream job as a copywriter in a large New York ad agency.
Lonnie got divorced and disappeared onto the streets of Houston. Lisa moved to Atlanta. Their dad died. One Christmas Day, Lonnie and Lisa dreamed up an idea for a book. She started sending Lonnie questions on postcards, and he answered every one.
Lisa quit the advertising business to go to seminary — loved seminary, hated being a church-based chief executive officer. She returned to Houston, where their mom still lived. Lonnie died. Lisa found a job writing corporate stuff for a large oil-related company.
Then Lisa finished the book she and her brother had dreamed up: Postcards from Lonnie: How I Rediscovered My Brother on the Street Corner He Called Home. 

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Signed copy of Postcards from Lonnie 
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Monday, March 9, 2020

Rainy Travel: Tour of Italia

Hey Everyone! If you followed me on Facebook, Instagram or even Twitter, you may know that I recently went on a Tour of Italy trip with my husband for vacation. And we left the day before Italy basically shut down everything. But we made it out fine, we are fine, we did call UT Health Services and they said we are not experiencing any symptoms. And I am emphasizing that because there was a post about the coronavirus on Facebook and some people were commenting that everyone who traveled to countries who were infected should be "burned alive" or "killed off." I also want to emphasize that when we left for Italy, there were only like 2 cases in Italy, and those two cases were not even Italian citizens.  So there's that.

ANYWAYS, happier thoughts. This was our first time going to Italy, it was also our first time going to a European country. If you're just joining me on my journey, the only other place we have traveled outside the U.S. is Japan and you can read about that experience by clicking here. Italy was so different compared to Japan, yet so much fun and unique!

I'll be highlighting the different cities we visted, Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. I will also talk about taking the trains, scammers and any language barriers we encountered so you can plan for your own Tour of Italia!

Rome

 

Rome, also known as Roma, was a very big and very touristy place. Rome was our first stop on our Tour of Italia. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast that we booked through Airbnb (which you can receive $55 off if you use my code). It was nice because breakfast was included with our price. We woke up every morning to a nice breakfast of different croissants every morning, tiny toasts with Nutella, a juice box and coffee. Every morning. We very quickly found out that croissants, juice and coffee in the morning were very popular for Italians. So if you enjoy a big American breakfast, you will not really find that here, not even at McDonalds. Our bed and breakfast was also nicely located next to the train station to take us to our next stop, which was Florence. I'll touch on the train situations later in this blog, but if you are going to be traveling to different cities, it is best not to stay too far from your train station. 

Food

Our very first actual meal in Italy was delicious and really set the bar for the rest of the food on our trip. Our first meal, I ordered the spaghetti pomodoro with meatballs and David ordered pizza and everything was delicious. DELICIOUS! And I did listen to every travel blog and vlog that I watched before going on our trip. We ate out of the way from all the touristy sights, so that we could get a real grasp for real Italian food and not Olive Garden Italian food. Also, when we were in Japan, we had some really good Italian food. So, in Italy, we decided to eat at an Asian restaurant and it was a wonderful taste! If you're in Rome, try the Asian food!


Attractions

We actually booked our whole trip around 2 things. One, Carnival, two, Sunday church service. I wanted to experience a church service at the Vatican WITH Pope Francis. And I did not realize until wayyy too late that he doesn't conduct Mass on the weekends, he only does it on Wednesday afternoons. We flew in on Wednesday at 5 pm. We missed it. BUT we did get to receive his blessing on Sunday. So if you want to go to Rome and want to see Pope Francis, I suggest going on Wednesday and checking his schedule

We booked our Coliseum, Roman Forum and Vatican museum tours ahead of time, which I suggest you do because there were long lines waiting to get into the museums and we passed right by them. For the Vatican museums, we booked a tour that just got us in early, no one stuck around like a traditional tour. When we got to the Coliseum and the Roman Forum, that is when we had an actual group with a tour guide and I'm really glad we did that. I'm not a big fan of organized tours, but our tour guide gave us so much information and gave us time to take our pictures and explained everything in a fun way. And if we hadn't booked an actual tour guide, we probably wouldn't have known any of the back-story or found out any good information. Also, I didn't even know what the Roman Forum was and it turned out to be my favorite part of our time in Rome. So much history and great photo opportunities. 

BONUS

The weather in Rome was probably my favorite because it felt like actual spring weather. It didn't get too cold and the sun was nice and bright during the day, so it felt really comfortable.

Florence 

Florence, also known as Firenze, was a great up and happening place. This time, we stayed at an Airbnb that, unbeknownst to me, had the shower in the kitchen. The shower was small, the stairways were small, it was small. But it was also cute and felt like I was really living like a local. We also had a tiny TV, which I loved because when we are winding down for the day, I enjoy watching what other people watch in their country. Turns out Italians love their cooking shows just as much as we do.

Food

I enjoyed the night time in Florence much more than I did in Rome. I just felt like Florence was more connected (we were also more in the central area). And there was so much good food! We even ate at THE Gucci restaurant, which was just as expensive as it sounds, but the food was not overrated. And if you're in Florence you have to try All'Antico Vinaio Firenze. It is a sandwich shop. It will be the BEST sandwich you ever had GUARANTEED! They are so good that they have two stores right across from each other. You will probably have to wait in a line, but worth every minute.

Attractions 

There were quite a few things to see and do in Florence, we just didn't get to do it all. I would recommend seeing the Duomo, I can show you multiple pictures, but the amazing architecture of this building, photos just don't do it justice. You also must see David. You can see so many statues in your time in Italy, but the statue of David just takes your breath away. He is so smooth and well kept that no other work of marble will ever impress you ever again. We also visited the Da Vinci Interactive Museum. I knew I wanted to visit a Da Vinci museum while we were in Italy, and there are I think 5 museums dedicated to him, but this was, as the name suggests, interactive. It's also very fascinating to find out all that Leonardo created.

BONUS

So the first night of Florence, we found this group where one of the group members played with a trash can and string converted guitar. They sounded beautiful! The next night, we ran into them again in a completely different spot! Turns out they have an actual album and I am linking one of their song on YouTube right here.

Milan

Milan, also known as Milano, was a totally different city from Rome and Florence. Milano is more modern and industrial than the other two places. But it had it's own charm and rhythm nonetheless. Milan was also our shortest stay because everyone suggested that Milan wouldn't live up to our expectations, but if we had more time, I would've definitely taken more time to discover more of this beautiful city. My husband and I stayed in another Airbnb, this time with the shower in the proper bathroom.

Food

Since we only stayed one night in Milan, I can't speak for a lot of the food part, but we did eat pasta for lunch and I ate a roasted chicken with vegetables for dinner. I still think about that chicken to this day and I don't think I will ever forget the wonderful taste of that chicken.

Attractions

Milan has the Duomo di Milano, which is another church, BUT this one is beautifully gothic. I didn't choose to climb up any other church except the Basilica and this church. If the church could talk, I'm sure it would tell us so much history. 

And of course, shopping is a prime thing to do in Milano. I went inside a mall right next to the Duomo and it was nothing but designer clothes. I wanted everything, but our credit card told me no, unfortunately.

BONUS

So, when we got to Milan, it was the first day of Fashion Week. I didn't even plan it that way, but I was so happy that we got to be there during a very fun time in the city. We only spent one full day in Milan, so we didn't get to go to one of the runway shows, but I did look up the Milan Fashion Week club that gets designers from all over the world to come out and talk to people, show off their designers and shmooze. It was an awesome time and if you get to be in Milan during Fashion Week, just do it!

Venice


Oh, Venice. Like I had mentioned earlier in the blog, going to Venice Carnival was one of the main reasons I wanted to go. It was always a dream of mine and it's crazy to think that the dream came true! I was there and I fell deeply, madly in love right away. Venice could do no wrong to me. 

Food
The food is Venice was wonderful! There's lots more seafood options and on our first night, we had lobster with noodles and it was one of my favorite dishes.

Attractions
By this time of our trip, we were a little done looking at historical places and architecture. I even went a day without taking my camera, because I was done and I just wanted to relax. Therefore, we didn't do anything that you could do the rest of the year. We did participate in Carnival with seeing one of the Best Mask Competition in St. Mark's square, enjoying the DJ in the evening and going to a Venetian masquerade party on a boat. The boat party was my favorite. So much food and the drinks kept coming. I also found it funny that the singers and DJ were playing American songs.

The only other "attraction" we did, was going to Burano. Taking a boat to Burano took about 1 1/2 hour, but it was well worth it. Burano is a colorful island that is small, but well worth the day trip. It was so cute and so lively and, as you can see in the photo, a great place to take a photo!


Other Things

These are just some other things to note about traveling to Italy.

Trains

If you're going to be traveling from city to city in Italy, I do recommend the train. It was easy to take and of all four trains that we took, only one was delayed. I also bought our tickets early. I wasn't sure how fast train tickets run out in Italy, so I decided to get them in advance instead of taking a chance. I'm pretty sure it would be fine if you waited but if you're a planner, like me, might as well be safe than sorry. Here is the link to the train site we used.

Language Barrier

We didn't have too much trouble with this factor. LOTS of Italians spoke at least 3 different languages, in fact, everyone kept talking to us in Spanish first, before we let the know English was our preferred choice. A lot of restaurants will have menu's in different languages. We only had a few times where we thought to take out our phones to figure out some of the menu's and signage, but if you are familiar with a romance language, like Spanish, you can definitely figure out some of the words.

Scammers/Pit Pocketers

During my research of Italy, almost every vlog and blog I came across talked about the scammers and pit pocketers of Italy. I was hearing how people would cut open your bag on the train, not to wear a backpack on your back, etc. I also heard of all the weird scams people do and did witness some like the flower scam where a guy goes up to you and says "free flower" and then when you take said free flower, he will ask for money. I know, doesn't make sense. But we did encounter scammers during our trip. The most prevalent places were Rome and Florence. And David wore a backpack and he was just fine. I wore a small crossbody bag that didn't have easy access and was short enough that it snug close to the front of my body. No pickpocketing happened to us, but just be cautious and plan for that scenario.


Overall

 Overall, Italy now is in my top 3 vacations. I loved it and my husband enjoyed our time and we do want to come back. I want to come back again for Carnival and then we want to come back during the warmer months to enjoy the lovely beaches and travel to the places we didn't get to see, such as Napoli, Tuscany and Sicily. Siciliy just so I can say, "Picture it Sicily 1922.." Bonus points if you get my reference!

So if you're planning to go to Italy, do it! It was worth every penny we spent. Comment below if you would like for me to break down the places I went into their own blog posts or if you would like for me to do any other travel tips! I believe our next travel destination will be here in the states later this year in 2020. Hint, it'll be somewhere witchy 👀 Until next time, Happy Travels!




Friday, March 6, 2020

Rainy Book Blitz: Bayou City Burning


BAYOU CITY BURNING
Harry & Dizzy Lark, Book 1
by
D.B. BORTON
Mystery / Detective / Humor / Historical Publisher: Boomerang Books
Date of Publication: May 30, 2019
Number of Pages: 390
 
  

Houston, 1961: comedy meets mystery and history. It's hard to be hard-boiled when your biggest fan and worst critic is your twelve-year-old daughter, especially when she's cracking your case for you and defending you from the bad guys, along with sidekicks human and feline. Houston is still a cowboy backwater, but Texas politicians dream big. P.I. Harry Lark is out to save the city for President Kennedy's moon mission. Dizzy Lark is out to save Harry. Jani Brooks of Romance Reviews Today calls Bayou City Burning “a terrific mystery loaded with humor, lots of excitement, and fascinating, well written characters” and rates it “a Perfect 10 book.”
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Visit D.B. Borton's website to read the Prologue, Chapter One, and Chapter Two of Bayou City Burning! 

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D. B. Borton is the author of two mystery series—the Cat Caliban series (Berkley, Hilliard and Harris) and the Gilda Liberty series (Fawcett)—as well as the recent novels Second Coming, Smoke, and Bayou City Burning (all from Boomerang Books). She is Professor Emeritus of English at Ohio Wesleyan University. A native Texan, Borton became an ardent admirer of Nancy Drew at a young age. At the age of fourteen, she acquired her own blue roadster, trained on the freeways of Houston and the broad stretches of oil-endowed Texas highway, and began her travels. She also began a lifetime of political activism, working only for political candidates who lost. She left Texas at about the time everyone else arrived. In graduate school, Borton converted a lifetime of passionate reading and late-night movie-watching into a doctorate in English. She discovered that people would pay her to discuss literature and writing, although not much. But because she found young people interesting and entertaining and challenging, she became a college teacher, and survived many generations of college students. Later, during a career crisis, she discovered that people would pay her to tell stories, although even less than they would pay her to discuss stories written by someone else. Borton has lived in the Southwest and Midwest, and on the West Coast, where she has planted roses and collected three degrees in English without relinquishing her affection for the ways in which actual speakers constantly reinvent the language to meet their needs. In her spare time, she gardens, practices aikido, studies languages other than English, and, of course, watches movies and reads.
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