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It's been a good run...

Happy New Year, everyone!

It's been a while since I posted on here, hasn't it? Sadly, it will be an even longer while until I post again. I've made the decision to retire this blog. It's served me well in the three years that I've had it, and I'm somewhat sad to see it go. However, as I further pursue my dream to be a writer, I've found that my blogging style has matured and become more focused. I no longer need a blog where I can talk about everything; instead, I have divided my two most focused on endeavors - writing and weight loss - into their own blogs: A Novel Idea and Tumbiggest Loser. Any posts about healthy living, exercise, recipes, and weight loss will be over at Tumbiggest Loser, whereas anything to do with writing - projects, quotes, comics, process, etc. - will be over at A Novel Idea. I also have my main tumblr, Sparkles & Dramatic Montage Football Music (lol don't ask) for my more sporatic posts, including my thoughts on football/other sports, and most of my nanny capades are tweeted about.

Thank you so much for being such loyal and long term readers! I've enjoyed my time here, but it's time to move on to bigger and better things.

-- Lauren

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A Once In a Lifetime Opportunity

So, as some of you may have seen in my most recent post, I auditioned for The Biggest Loser! I didn't, however, get on the show... which has actually proven to work out far better than I thought it would!

Instead, I was given the amazing chance to move down to Sunnyvale for the summer and focus on getting healthier! I'm super excited about it; I'll be staying with Camden & Ander's grandparents. For about 2 1/2 months I will be immersing myself in a healthier atmosphere: eating healthier, working out on a more regular basis, and ultimately getting away from the stress of Merced life! There are no words to describe how much I am looking forward to this! And I have so much support from my family and friends, and even my kiddos (though Kara did express a certain level of concern as to who was going to watch them while I was gone)! It's going to be so nice getting a change of scenery, and I'm sure I'll have fun! But exercising and getting myself healthy is also the main focus here, so it won't always be fun. I'm going to try to work really hard to get myself to the point where I can just feel good about myself.

One of the ideas we kicked around was possibly getting a personal trainer... but, as everyone knows, those don't come cheap! Finances are going to be super tight for the summer, though. So, we (Mary and I; she's been really encouraging through all of this!) thought we'd turn to others for a little help! You can donate as much or as little as you want, and however much money we raise will determine the amount of sessions I get through the summer!!

There are 4 different packages. The more sessions you purchase, the less each one costs! The packages are as follows:

5 sessions - $400 ($80 per session)
10 sessions - $750 ($75 per session)
20 sessions - $1360 ($68 per session)
24 sessions - $1499 ($62.50 per session)

(If you would like to donate, or want more information, please contact Mary Gudgel at marygudgel@hotmail.com. Any help will be greatly appreciated!)

I'm going to stay until about August 17, idealy, and I'll be blogging about the entire adventure, both here and at my weight loss blog, tumbiggestloser.tumblr.com... though I'm going to try to keep pics to a minimum. :) I can't wait! I'm super excited!!!

~Lauren

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Couch to 5k and Tumbiggest Loser!

video

LINKS OF MENTION
We could really get things done if a lot of people join up for this!!! October and I are starting the Couch to 5k program tomorrow, but feel free to join whenever! Don't even feel like you have to do the couch to 5k at all! Just come and share your experiences, workout tips, or just leave some encouragement for those that are doing it! 

If you are interested at all, PLEASE send October or me a message!!!! If you're embarrassed, feel free to leave an anonymous question... no worries... though you'll have to check our pages regularly to find the answer! This could be really awesome if we all work together!!! 

As Ali would say, BELIEVE IT! BE IT!

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#5. The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

In January 2010, Harold White, "a freelance literary researcher" who helps defend Hollywood studios against claims of copyright infringement, is inducted into the pre-eminent Sherlockian society, the Baker Street Irregulars, at their annual New York City dinner. During the festivities, scholar Alex Cale plans to present a long-lost diary penned by Arthur Conan Doyle that he's discovered, but someone strangles Cale before he can do so. Doyle's great-grandson hires White to solve the murder and trace the diary, which is missing from Cale's hotel room. Chapters alternate between White's amateur sleuthing in Europe and Doyle's own account of his search for a serial killer, aided by Dracula creator Bram Stoker. -- From Publishers Weekly 
I feel I should start off by saying I'm a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. I've read quite a few of his "penny dreadfuls" and the detective himself is my second favorite fictional person ever. All that having been said, I loved this book!

I don't know how many other books Moore has penned, but I think this may have been his first, and I'm quite impressed by it. The writing style itself is easy to get used to, and the characters are very likeable. As was stated above, the story is told in a Julie&Julia style, alternating between Arthur Conan Doyle himself, and Harold White, a modern day Sherlockian. It is mostly fiction, but it was interesting to learn what bits were actually true... I had no idea Conan Doyle assisted Scotland Yard in any cases, or that he may have been the one to locate Agatha Christie when she went on her little disappearing spell.

The story is predictable in spots and keeps you guessing in others, as well as frustrates you as it yo-yo's back and forth between story lines... but it's a fun story with great characters and troubling plot twists. I found it to be quite an enjoyable read.

It does tend to be on the dark side, however. What starts out as a lighthearted mystery becomes something far more sinister, and even though it isn't real, it gets under your skin. Not so much the Harold White storyline - though that one does get frustrating - but the Conan Doyle storyline gets dark. Very dark. To the point where you almost wish you never found out what happened... which I'm guessing is the point of the story: seeking is the goal, the search is the reward. But once you find what you're looking for, it may not be what you wanted.

An interesting read for Sherlock Holmes fans, an engaging mystery for people who just like to read... I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a few pages to turn, but be warned: it is not for the feint of heart.

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Vices & Virtues - Panic! at the Disco


2011 has proven to be a good year. As well as great books and memorable movies, the year has brought forth some great music... and it's only March! And while new music will always excite me, regardless of what it is, no new album has excited me as much as Panic! at the Disco's Vices & Virtues, which hit shelves on March 25. 

Panic! and I have had a roller coaster type relationship, starting with their first album, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out. The over the top theatrics, lackluster lyrics, and not-quite-techno, not-quite-pop sound was not to my liking. However, keyboardist and front-man Brendon Urie's vocals on "But It's Better If You Do" convinced me to stick around for the next album. 

Pretty. Odd. did not disappoint. Released on March 21, 2008 (happy birthday to me!) and completed and mixed at Abbey Road Studios (yes, that Abbey Road), Pretty. Odd. was the penultimate in collaborative efforts between Urie and songwriter Ryan Ross. Panic had become a completely different band, sacrificing their not-quite-pop, not-quite-techno sound for a more old-rock, Beatle-esque sound and trading in their lackluster lyrics for something more profound and poetic. It quickly became - and still is - one of my favorite albums of all time. 

Then, on July 6, 2009, with the promise of a third album in the works, the band split up due to Ross and other band member Jon Walker embarking on a musical excursion of their own. The split was amicable, but heartbreaking none the less. The third album would never see the light of day... or so was the mentality. But, on February 8th the tumblr community was alive with buzz about new Panic!, and it seemed to good to be true. Sure enough, however, the band - now composed of Urie and drummer Spencer Smith - released the music video to their new single, "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" and while the style was vastly different from that of Pretty. Odd. (and sounded more like a lost track to A Fever You Can't Sweat Out), it was promising. The question remained, however, as to whether or not Panic! at the Disco could survive without the brilliant lyrics of Ross... rumor was, with Ross gone, Urie was penning most of the songs.

The album was officially released on March 22, 2011 (A full three years after the release of Pretty. Odd.) and gave birth to another question: Why wasn't Urie penning the songs all along? There are more hardcore fans that will disagree, and I'm sure your opinion will have to do with what sort of sound you preferred from Panic!, but in my opinion, the album far exceeded my expectations. I adored Pretty. Odd., and I have no qualms about saying Vices & Virtues is better. Ross is a talented individual, and his work on Pretty. Odd. is unmatched, but Urie has more than proven himself on this album.

Unlike Pretty. Odd. - which sounded like a collection of songs by a great band - Vices & Virtues seems to tie together, each song a piece of a larger story (like Daft Punk's Discovery). They've gone back to the pop-like sound, but have established themselves in it, utilizing horns like they did on Pretty. Odd., as well as some magnificent string arrangements. The songs are stories within themselves, boasting some of the most beautiful and poetic lyrics I've come across in my 23 years. But the crown jewel of V&V's presentation is the same thing that made me stick around six years ago: Brendon Urie's vocals.

Urie has this strange ability to convey his every emotion with his voice. If a song is particularly close to his heart or is inspired by some painful memory, you hear that... to the point of actually feeling it. Coupled with the horn/string arrangements and poetic lyrics, Vices & Virtues serves to be a rather moving tale... a book without pages; a movie without pictures. It grabs your heart and invigorates your imagination.

The standard version of the album contains 10 tracks, and can be streamed here, but if you purchase one of many versions of the album (via their webstore, Hot Topic, or iTunes), you can get your hands on a number of the six bonus tracks available, each of which is fun and amazing, but nowhere near as amazing as Vices & Virtues is as a whole.

If you're a fan of Panic! at the Disco, or you're just looking for some new music to kick off your 2011 year, I strongly suggest looking into Vices & Virtues. Again, you can stream it here, or buy it here, here, or here. It is also available at Best Buy for a limited time for only 7.99$.

TRACK LISTING:
  1. The Ballad of Mona Lisa
  2. Let's Kill Tonight
  3. Hurricane
  4. Memories
  5. Trade Mistakes
  6. Ready To Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)
  7. Always
  8. The Calendar
  9. Sarah Smiles
  10. Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met)
BONUS TRACKS:
  1. Bittersweet
  2. Kaleidoscope Eyes
  3. Oh Glory [demo]
  4. I Wanna Be Free
  5. Stall Me
  6. Turn Off the Lights




"But It's Better If You Do" Official Music Video



"The Ballad of Mona Lisa" Official Music Video

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#4. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore


In the beginning, we were a group of nine. Three are gone, dead. There are six of us left. They are hunting us, and they won't stop until they've killed us all. I am Number Four. I know that I am next.
I didn't plan to read I Am Number Four as my fourth 11 in 2011 book... I actually didn't plan on reading it at all. At the year's start, I didn't even know it was a book; I had only seen previews of a (sort of lame?) looking movie. The trailers were short and really didn't do much to tell you what the movie was about but... it showed enough. A bunch of young kids with super powers, some bad guys, and hey teen love, Twilight style.

No thank you.

But then Nonna read it, and seemed to like it, so I figured I'd check it out. After all, I was strapped as for what to read for my fourth book. Nothing else seemed interesting.

WHAT'S BAD: 


THE WRITING STYLE. Oh my heck... there are a few things wrong with this book: the love interest is uninteresting, the characters seem to make really stupid decisions that put them in situations where the only purpose is to add some sort of drama to the story, and no one seems to ever see the obvious... but all of that pales in comparison to the style of writing. It's just... not as great as I'm used to, I guess. And, to be fair, it's a young adult novel, I believe, and I don't read too many of those, so I don't know. It might be good for a YA. But compared to what I'm used to reading, it's not great.. and being a YA shouldn't be an excuse. Coraline, for instance, is a children's book, but is written exquisitely. It also may be a taste thing, because most of the things that bothered me about the writing were little things that I found annoying, and that happened over and over again. I don't know what's considered good writing on Lorien, but I don't think it's the same as here. I find it hard to believe a 10,000 year old Elder couldn't manage to master the craft.

The other larger problem for me was that I couldn't really connect with the main character, Four. I was able to connect with his Cepan, and I was able to bond with Sam, and I am proud to admit I'm a Six fangirl... I even felt for Mark James at some point. But as far as Four went, I just could not get on board. He struck me as whiny, selfish, reckless, and stupid. For someone who's supposed to be far more intelligent than humans, he was very stupid.

WHAT'S GOOD: 


As much as the writing style annoyed me, the story was good. Very good. Basically, the planet of Lorien (a life sustaining planet like Earth, but half the size or something) was attacked by a vicious alien race known as the Mogadoriens, the reasons of which are as of yet to be revealed. A ship with 9 Loric children and their protectors managed to escape before the planet was completely destroyed, and they are now being raised on Earth, until such a time as they can fight the Mogs. Before they left, a Loric charm was put on them, so that they could only be killed in order of their assigned numbers; if any Mog attacked one of the 9 before it was their turn, the attack would be doubled back on them... like a Reflect spell. When the story picks up, Lorics 1-3 have been killed, and the Mogs are after Four. He's at an advantage, because he's begun to develop his legacies (powers that all Garde possess), but at a disadvantage because he's begun to build relationships in the town they're in... and he's not so willing to give them up.

It's just a really good set up, and for the most part it's handled well. There is a lot of secrecy, which is frustrating, but as things are revealed, it's actually quite enthralling. Not all of the mysteries are solved, but enough are that it's not discouraging.

Another thing was, while there were characters I didn't like, there were more characters that I did. My favorite was easily Henri, Four's Cepan. He's an older Loric that lost his family in the Mogadorian attack, and he's a great way to look into the life everyone had on Lorien. And as the story progresses, you learn more and more about him, and it's impossible to not fall completely in love with him... save for one moment where you want to slap him because of his stupidity. He has this air of nobleness about him; there's this loyalty that is just so endearing.

And finally, the ending was quite magnificent. I won't say too much, but just know... it was a pretty good one.

CONCLUSION:


Worth the read, quite honestly... despite its more annoying bits. It triggers your emotions which, in my opinion, is a sign of a good book. And it's just plain fun, especially since it's being played off as "real". It's a cute little escape from reality. Good read, worth your time.

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#3. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

This is the story of Coraline, who was small for her age, and found herself in the darkest danger. Before it was all over Coraline had seen what lay behind mirrors, and had a close call with a bad hand, and had come face to face with her other mother; she had rescued her true parents from a fate worse than death and triumphed against overwhelming odds. This is the story of Coraline, who lost her parents, and found them again, and (more or less) escaped (more or less) unscathed.
~Neil Gaiman
After the emotionally taxing piece of literature that was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I decided it was time for something a little lighter. Something not so... intense.

Instead, I read Coraline. Being the first book on the list of which I saw the movie first, I thought I knew what to expect. I liked Gaiman's writing style, and Coraline was a good movie, as well as a children's book. I figured it would be a relaxing read.

I was wrong. Coraline is not by any means a bad book. It is very well written, and keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. It is also not by any means a relaxing book. It hits the ground running. The first sentence is: Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house, and from there on it just gets more and more intense. So many times I've caught myself holding my breath, curled into a tight ball and seeking comfort from my pillows and stuffed animals.

If I had to sum it up in one word, that word would have to be terrifying. So many times I asked myself, how is this a children's book? I think part of it is because it plays on the fear that we've all had at one point or another over the course of our lives... and yes, I do mean all of us. If you can read this and say that you've never once opened a cabinet door and felt that moment of panic, or opened the door to your room or closet and wondered for that fraction of a second what you would find waiting for you, I would call you a liar. It happens to all of us. We all wonder if there's a snowy world at the back of our wardrobes, or a dark corridor where our closets used to be, or mysterious stairs in the crawl space that weren't there before.

In Coraline's world, there really is something where a brick wall used to be, and that something is dark and sinister and wants to possess her for itself. And the things that happen... some of them made me want to cry out. No joke. I just wanted to scream at some of the things she encountered in that other house.

And while I'm reading it, curled in my little ball, I'm wondering how this could possibly be a book for children, when it was scaring me so completely. But, Gaiman was way ahead of me, and addresses this very question when describing why he wrote the book:
It was a story, I learned when people began to read it, that children experienced as an adventure, but which gave adults nightmares.
 Which actually makes sense. The things Coraline encounters are scary to me, because I've had time to sort through my imagination and interpret some things as good and some things as bad. The other mother was terrifying to me because I expected something to go wrong. Nothing is sunshine and roses all the time and anyone that pretends to be is hiding something. For me, the fear built up and when the bad things happened they were terrifying. But a child... to a child, a kind mother with buttons for eyes that makes you delicious dinners and plays games with you all day would be wonderful, and anything that comes after that is merely an adventure, be it dangerous or otherwise. I almost feel like you have to be an adult to understand the horrors that Coraline went through, or to at least register them as horrors. 

FINAL SAY: Read it. At just over 200 pages, Coraline is Gaiman's finest work. It is poetic, meaningful, terrifying, wonderful, and so worth your time. It is the shortest book on my list (so far, and probably the shortest of them all) and still managed to be the one I like best.

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