Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Things I Liked in 2013

I ain't gonna lie: 2013 was, overall, a really hard year. (I'll eventually get around to posting about why.) I felt sick more of the time, felt down more of the time, and had less energy pretty much all of the time. The year wasn't without its bright spots, however, and so I would like to present the Things I Liked in 2013.


Abbey decided she wanted to be in the jeans photo, too.
Please also note my awesome shoes.

This will sound funny, but one of the things I really liked this year was a pair of Jolt jeans I purchased this summer. I haven't had new bluejeans since 2008 because I don't wear jeans very much anymore; I find that stiffness of denim is a difficult texture for me to tolerate except for very short periods. But these new jeans are soft enough and loose enough that I can wear them comfortably for long periods on days when I'm feeling well. They're also very stylish, looking great with the cuffs rolled up in the summer and rolled down for winter. They're slim enough to wear inside boots but not so tight as to be uncomfortable. The last time I fell in love with a pair of jeans was in 2003. I have other pieces of clothing that I love, but my inability to wear anything more physically demanding than T-shirts and fleece most of the time means that the majority of them only get trotted out once or twice a year. I've been able to wear the jeans on quite a few occasions and they make me feel not just like an ordinary person, but a very stylish ordinary person!


I read a lot more in 2013 than I have in previous years because I spent more time in bed. While reading was taxing for my migraine brain, I had to do something to fill those hours. I read some two dozen Agatha Christie novels because they were easy for me to consume, but I did venture into some slightly more challenging territory. The books listed below (in no particular order) are all books that I read for the first time this year and enjoyed enough to subsequently reread.

Kate Atkinson has been consistently one of my top three favorite authors since I was in my teens, so of course I liked her latest effort, Life After Life. It's made a lot of Top Books of 2013 lists, so I'm not alone in finding pleasure in her work. Very generally speaking, this book is about a girl, born in the first half of the 1900's, who is given the opportunity relive life again and again--and to get it right. It paints an especially vivid portrait of London during the Blitz of 1940-1941 and the bleak years immediately following war, which contrasts nicely with the more idyllic (though still perilous for our young heroine) country life depicted earlier in the book.
I was given this book, Border Songs by Jim Lynch, as a gift by someone who knew about my interest in birds. I really like this book for a number of reasons. For one, it takes place not too far from where I live, so the landscapes (and the birds) are familiar to me. Secondly, in many ways, I am very much like the protagonist in that I have extra keen senses that allow me to notice things that others miss. (Unlike the protagonist, I am not dyslexic and I am quite socially adept.) I enjoyed the concept that a bird-obsessed individual with a sensory hypersensitivity disorder might accidentally, through those unusual traits, find himself a hero of the border patrol.

Written by the same author, Sara Gruen, as Water For ElephantsApe House had such a compelling story about a group of research bonobos and the woman that loves them that I read it in a single sitting because I wanted to know what as going to happen next! This and Border Songs are the only books among those I've listed here that are told in chronological order and Ape House could be said to be much more plot-driven than even that book, as in it's not focused on character development. That is not to say that the characters are not fully developed: I found them to interesting, believable, and sympathetic. But the bonobos are the real stars (this book grew out of the author's experience of getting to know a group of research bonobos) and you care deeply about their fate.

Erin Morgentsern's The Night Circus is strange and magical. I use the word "magical" both in the sense that it's a spell-binding tale and also that the tale is about magic. It's a sinuous, sensual story that winds through time, flickering, tantalizing, and full of shadows. I was able to build an approximation of the circus at the heart of the story in my mind as I read, though I do wish that that bewildering and bewitching place really did exist! I give the author a lot of credit for building such a beguiling and unusual world; here's to great imaginations!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette was a big hit last year, but I didn't get around to reading Maria Semple's novel until this year. It's fast-paced and fun, written as a compilation of documents: emails, faxes, letters, report cards, and other miscellany come together to form a cohesive portrait of a wacky cast of characters. It also pokes loving but well-deserved fun at Seattle, Microsoft, and the culture that surrounds them both. As someone well  acquainted with Seattle, Microsoft, and said cultures, it was fun to see my world skewered by someone with a sharp eye and chorus of over-the-top characters to speak on her behalf. Also, I had no idea how it was going to end until it ended, so it gets extra points for that!

I read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh straight through in one sitting, took a day off, then read it from start to finish in one day again! There are many different aspects that can make a book great, from a great plot to great characters to great dialogue to great language. This book nailed, more than any book I've read recently, the category of great emotional authenticity. I really believed that the (difficult) characters felt the way they did, so much so that I teared up both times I read it, and I'm not the sort to weep over books or movies! It gets the Read It Straight Through And Made Me Teary-Eyed stamp of approval.

Horse Heaven, by Jane Smiley, has been around for years, but it worked out perfectly for me to encounter it for the first time during a year when horses played a very important role in my life. It follows the stories of multiple race horses and the owners, trainers, jockeys, fans, and other people who love them. It immerses you in the world of horse racing and is vivid, often funny, and not sad or sentimental. I liked that--I was not interested in any sad horse stories this year! I retain vivid memories of attending the races a few years ago, back before I started riding, and standing at the rail and gaping at the magnificent horses. I didn't care about the races; all I wanted to do was eat those gorgeous animals with my eyes. Horse racing has a lot of negative elements to it, and while Horse Heaven doesn't gloss over the fact that it can be the ruin of horses, trainers, owners, and gamblers, it also captures the starry-eyed fascination that keeps drawing people to horses.

I enjoyed Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child for its uncanny blend of realism and fairytale. Is the girl that the grieving, crumbling couple spot in the Alaskan wilderness a manifestation of their shared longing for a daughter, the snow child of Russian folklore come to life? Or is she just a little girl who has learned to not just survive but to love the fierce winters? Does it matter if she's mythical or real if she can be what the couple has always desired: a child to care for? And what happens when a snow child or a child of the snow develops desires of her own? It's an interesting premise for a novel and I liked how the grim realities of the couple's backbreaking, tenuous existence seem very realistically rooted in the world we know, making its element of the fantastic all the more surreal and disorienting.


Let's be honest: Jonathan Rhys Meyers
was the main reason to watch "Tudors"
I didn't watch much in the way of TV shows or movies this year because all that visual and auditory sensory info was just too much for me to cope with. I did spend the whole year working my way through all ten seasons of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" on Netflix. I liked that the episodes followed a predictable format, that there was little emphasis on the violence of the crimes that occurred, that the characters were interesting but not so interesting that I cared about them, and that justice was always served at the end of the show. It was, for me, the television equivalent of all those Agatha Christie novels that I read in bed. I watched "The Tudors," which was fun, and but only part of "Borgia," because it was too intense, and while I enjoyed the way they evoked the world of their times, they don't quite make my official cut of "Things I Liked in 2013." I gobbled up "Orange is the New Black," but so did everyone else, so I don't feel like I need to make it a special highlight.

A series that does make my list is "Earthflight," which aired on PBS. The six-episode series about flight covered birds on every continent, providing some utterly breathtaking images. I had never imaged that scarlet macaws could be so beautiful when on the wing! The quality of the footage is just incredible--you can see every barb on the feathers in some shots. I was extremely pleased that the final episode was devoted to showing how they got those amazing shots of the birds in action.

Another series that I enjoyed this year was "The Paradise," a BBC/PBS show that kept us handily entertained while waiting for the next season of "Downton Abbey." It's a costume drama, a genre I enjoy, and one that creates a fully realized world: that of the (fictional) first department store in England in 1875. The heroine of the story is a intrepid young woman who leaves her small town to find fortune in the city, where her natural business acumen makes her a great asset to the store and store's owner. Around this central premise stir friendships, rivalries, romance, familial love, and the tension of long-standing way of life giving way to modernity. I'm looking forward to the second season!


My mother and I love watching shows about dance. We're ardent fans of the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance" and have watched most of the documentaries about dance that are available on Netflix. I'd heard some mention of the film "Pina" before I spotted it while scrolling the "Social and Cultural Documentaries" section looking for movies either about dance or design, so my mother and I took a chance on it, even though we haven't watched many performance documentaries. We were not in the least prepared for the breathtakingly powerful, surreal, witty, and visceral dances by German choreographer Pina Bausch. Many of the dances depicted are staged in places other than the theater and most of the dancers are of "non-traditional" ages and sizes, granting the performances an extra element of power and beauty. The film had been planned with Pina's collaboration, but she died shortly before filming was to begin. Thus, it becomes not only a collection of amazing dances, but also an amazing eulogy to a great talent.


I didn't listen to much music in 2013 because I wasn't feeling well enough to tolerate the noise, but I have to brag about my cousin Jameson's work, a blend of folk and rock with a touch of country. He put out two albums recently: last December he released a full-length studio album with his band, Jameson & Co., and this December he released a six-track EP of songs featuring just him and his banjo. He's the whole package: crazy talented, handsome as can be, and a really nice, kind, and humble guy. You can find the full-length album "Out of the Canyon on Crutches" by Jameson & Co. on iTunes, as well as other music outlets, and the acoustic banjo EP "Pronto" on Bandcamp. Below are a couple of videos to give you an idea. The first is one of the more hard-rocking tracks off of "Out of the Canyon on Crutches" and the second is a song off of "Pronto."

Jameson & Co.: "Gun Full of Bullets" (Live Version)

Jameson: "Surprise" (Live Session)

I'd heard of Questlove and the Roots in the past, knowing only that they were a highly-respected, critically-acclaimed hip hop group that had been around for eons but had never made it big, but I didn't actually seek out their work until I read the profile on Questlove in the New Yorker, which is just about the whitest and nerdiest way to decide to check out a hip hop group, but there you have it. I'm now in the habit of checking from time to time to see if they've done any new fun things with Jimmy Fallon and I spend the whole time watching Questlove. I just think he's cool, okay? I like how comfortable he looks in his skin, like he doesn't need to try to be anything other than himself (that's really unusual among musicians!), and how there's a quietness to the way he holds himself. There are lots of great videos out there of him talking about music and he's obviously an incredibly intelligent and eloquent person who puts a tremendous amount of thought and effort into what he does. AND he has a deep voice and I love deep voices! What's not to like? Anyway, it was in pursuit of Roots clips that I watched the version of "Blurred Lines" performed by Jimmy Fallon, Robin Thicke, and the Roots on classroom instruments. I can't say I care much for the content of the song, but it is very catchy, and I think this version is really a lot of fun. Also, Black Thought's replacement rap is great! If I find myself needing a little pick-me-up, I trot over to YouTube to watch this video and then I feel better. (I also like Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, and Miley Cyrus' a cappella version of "We Can't Stop.")

Jimmy Fallon, Robin Thicke & The Roots: "Blurred Lines"


Dogs, of course, are always a major part of my life. I acquired two new dog-sitting clients this year, Cutie the Great Pyrenees and Goldie the Golden Retriever, and said farewell to Sweetheart, the wonderful German Shepherd, when she moved to Texas, and again when she passed away at the end of December. (All dog names are changed to protect their privacy.) Here are some of my favorite photos of all of my dog-sitting clients from this year:

Mr. Gorgeous

Mr. Gorgeous





Sweetheart and Cutie





And then there are my favorite photos of 2013 of my own dog, Abbey…

If you missed it, here's my annual tribute to my beloved dog.

Abbey's Pack profile
And since I love to take photos of dogs, I've really been loving Pack, a photo-based social network for dogs. It's always the first thing I look at when I get on the internet and I spend a fair amount of time specifically taking photos of Abbey to post. My friends are very tolerant of the number of photos I post of Abbey on Facebook, but on Pack I don't have to worry about being dog-obsessed because I fit right in! I've noticed that while there are plenty of blurry camera phone shots, many of the posters who are drawn to Pack have considerable photography skills, like the people behind Barney, George and Boston, Hawkeye and Lark, and Captain, to name just a few. (There are also lots of photos that are just plain cute and don't get me wrong, I love those, too!) If you've got a pup that you love to photograph, I encourage you to join Pack, track down Abbey-6, and I'll track you back!

Of course, I also have my favorite dog blogs/dogs on Facebook! A couple of new faces join the list from last year.

Foster dog Moby of
"Our Waldo Bungie"
First up: Our Waldo Bungie, found here on Facebook and here in the blogosphere. Our Waldo Bungie (pronounced with a hard "g," like in "goat") documents the life of foster dogs taken in by a couple and their two pups, Rufus and Turk. I've got a serious crush on Moby, the current foster dog, so much so that I will be very sorry when he's adopted, but the credit for the huge crush on the dog must go to the woman behind the the scenes who helps bring the dog to life online. I'm sure he has very much the same personality in the flesh as he does in his photo captions and blogposts, but I suppose the real live Moby doesn't actually write you back if you comment on his Facebook page. I know that Emily, the lady pulling the strings, will be able to work the same magic with future foster dogs, but no one has as long a tongue, as big of ears, and as bright of eyes as good ol' grass-eatin' Mobe-a-Lobe.

Moby has a bad case of the handsomes.

Jake & Melvin of "Oh, Melvin"
I've also become a fan of Oh, Melvin (Facebook here and blog here), which documents the life and times of a sweet and patient Lab named Melvin and a googly-eyed gargoyle of a French bulldog named Jake. I gotta say, it's Jake and his outward-facing eyes that keep me coming back--I wouldn't necessarily want to own him (the people at their local Poison Control recognize the family's phone number and say, "Oh, is this for Jake?"), but his exploits are extremely entertaining to read about! There's his love affair with the rug and his other love affair with his brother Melvin's butt and his tendency to get stuck staring at the wall and his difficulty in mastering the Wookie-sack… There's always something funny going on with that guy around!

Those eyes! They are looking in opposite directions! (Photo credit: Kate with a Camera)

Rudie looking contrite. Kinda.
And speaking of dogs that I wouldn't want to own but whose exploits are extremely entertaining on the internet…it's Rude Dog! Rude Dog is an Old English Sheepdog mix who will do anything for food: when I say, "will do anything for food," I don't mean he'll do tricks, I mean he will trash your kitchen. He's got a Facebook page called Rude Dog's Trashcapades which is regularly updated with photos with funny captions. ("Maybe YOUR beard is tracking in mushy leaves…ever think of that?" is one of my favorites.) He loves tacos and peeing on garden apartment windows and rearranging the furniture and barfing on the bed after his mom has had a hard day at work. He also has a large stuffed trout named Clarence. What's not to love?

I'm the proud owner of a Rude Dog shirt! It makes for an interesting conversation starter...

Oh, and Betsy & Pups, who made the list last year, has added a French bulldog puppy named Norm to the pack! Betsy, I am sorry to report, passed away this year, but with Norm, Lottie, Lola, Dewey, occasionally Argus, and a rotating cast of fosters and friends around, there's a steady stream of charming updates. You should totally check them out if you want fabulous dog photos in your Facebook feed!

Norm (bottom right) and the rest of the Betsy & Pups pack.


I've taken nearly 18,000 photographs with my DSLR this year. Those numbers were driven largely by my fascination with insects and mushrooms (I look 800 mushroom photos on a single day back in November), but lots of plants and animals caught my eye, too. The following are some of my favorite photos of 2013, broken down by category. Remember, you can click on any photo to see it in a larger format!


You can see more horse photos in this post about Drifter and this post about draft horses.

 Farm Animals





If you missed them, be sure to check out my photo-laden posts on the local bird population here and here!

Insects & Other Invertebrates

There are many more photos of insects featured in this post about pond insects, this general post about insects, and this post about how insects eat.


I add photos to my Facebook photography page nearly every day, so if you love what you see here, stop by and become a fan!

And the Thing I Liked Best in 2013 Award goes to... 

The thing this migraineur with gastroparesis loved most of all in 2013? Liquid gabapentin. Gabapentin is a drug I've taken daily in capsule form for nearly four years now to reduce the frequency and severity of my migraines. In October, my neurologist switched me to the liquid form, the theory being that the capsules were not breaking down properly because of my partial stomach paralysis, as my migraines had become much more severe after the onset of gastroparesis. I found that with the liquid solution, not only did my migraines improve significantly, my stomach function improved significantly, too! Suddenly I had energy, was able to eat a wide range of foods, could tolerate changes in the barometric pressure, my mood improved, and my migraines decreased. Prior to the change in medication, 2013 was definitely in the top three in the Worst Year of My Life category. Since I've been able to end it on a good note, Worst Year of My Life is off the table and we can settle instead for A Really Hard Year During Which I Took a Lot of Cool Photographs.

I like this self-portrait I took
for my birthday in 2013.
I've had some decline in wellness over the course of December, but am still much better than I was prior to changing some of my daily doses of gabapentin to liquid form. I hope I can retain enough energy and have enough low-pain days to do all the dog-sitting that is on my plate in the coming months, but even more so because I desperately want to do some writing. I've posted relatively little on this blog in 2013 and most of my posts have been photo-based; it's not from a lack of things I wish to write about, but from an inability to write because of cognitive difficulties brought on by both the migraines and the digestion issues. It's very frustrating for me not to have this voice and I fervently hope to use more of it in 2014. I'd also like to get some new lenses for my camera, including a birding lens, but beyond that, I don't have big plans. To be as well as possible, to do as much as I'm able: that must be enough, and thankfully, it usually is. I hope that you had much to like in 2013 and that 2014 is even better!