Re-reading, revisiting, and re-loving The Dragonriders of Pern

*Note: series spoilers!

When I was in high school, I was introduced to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. I fell in love with the dragons and their riders. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have a telepathic relationship with a dragon, not to mention being able to actually ride one in flight?

I devoured the series as a teenager, and recently was discussing the series with a friend.  I remembered how much joy I had felt when reading the series and decided that since I had already met my yearly Goodreads Reading Challenge goal that I would re-read the whole series.

The first book, Dragonflight, brought me back immediately.  The abandoned Terran colony, left on its own for thousands of years, has grown into a semi-feudal society with guilds, lord holders, and dragonriders.  Now, why would a  society need dragonriders? And where did the dragons come from? All of this is explained as the story progresses, focused around the central story of Lessa of Ruatha Hold.

While the story still captivated me, still pulled me in, I was much more discerning of the way the story was written.  I felt a distinct lack of character development and insight.  This was really apparent to me in the second book when it was announced that Lessa had a child. No discussion of her being pregnant, nothing about riding a dragon while pregnant, nothing. Just that she’d had a child and that it had been difficult on her.  When I contrast that with the way Diana Gabaldon described Claire’s pregnancies in the Outlander series, the lack was even more apparent.

That didn’t stop me from continuing to re-read the series because… dragons! And I always loved the idea of a planet being settled by a technologically-advanced society, regressing to a less technologically-advanced society, and then that society finding evidence of the original settlers and re-learning their technology.  An archaeologist’s thought-assignment (I had a similar project in the Intro to Archaeology course I took in college) turns into a series of fantastic novels.  My inner archaeologist thrilled when the Pernese explorers found various non-natural mounds that proved to house colonial transports and other technology.

I love McCaffrey’s world-building.  Pern is believable as a planet: there are tropical zones, mountainous zones, temperate zones; in short, everything that a human could want. Then there’s that whole thread issue.  Well, you always need conflict, right? What better motivator than an insidious planet-killing organism that rains down from the sky?

Then there are elements of time-travel (because what sci-fi fantasy series wouldn’t be complete without time-travel?) facilitated by astronomy and dragon skill.  The characters are a bit predictable in that they play to archetypes. F’lar, the dashing young leader; F’nor, his supportive best friend. Lessa, the Cinderella-esque heir to a hold who becomes the co-leader of the dragon renewal movement. Then, of course, there are the supporting characters who provide advice, supplies, and more conflict. So, if you’re looking for amazing characters that really leap off the page, who you could call a book-boyfriend, you may want to keep looking.  But, what is compelling is what these characters manage to accomplish within a few years of coming into power.  They completely revitalize a stagnant society, rise to meet a global threat, and leave their world a better place than the one they received.

So, Pern still pulls me in. I definitely read it differently than I did as a teen, but I still love the series. If you’re looking for a fun, easy-to-read series, take a trip to Pern.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Outlander Hiatus = Time to Write

It’s been quite a while since I actually posted new, and original, content. I apologize for that, Dear Readers, but sometimes life just takes hold and won’t let go.  Or in my case, Outlander took hold and didn’t let go.  At least until the mid-season finale which aired on September 27th in the US.

I was faithfully glued to the tv each Saturday night, watching in awe as one of my favorite books came to life on the screen. During the weeks, when not at work, I was faithfully glued to Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other social media site I could deal with before my brain gave up and forced me to go to sleep.

Dinner? We’d better be home before 9 o’clock! Movie? Same deal. Channel changed at 9 o’clock to Starz. One of the most enjoyable elements of the show, for me, was being able to watch it with my folks, seeing them fall in love (or at least become interested) in the characters I’ve loved for so many years. I came home one evening and found my dad watching The Wedding episode by himself because he “had to catch up.” And then there was the time we had to DVR the show because we were away.  We came home from our trip, and as soon as dinner was done, Dad said “Outlander, Outlander!”  Score 1 Outmander convert for this gal!

So now it’s over for the time being and the fever-pitch of fandom has cooled. Now is the slow simmer of our discontent… at not having Outlander on the television every week. But, there is some good news to be had at the 6 month hiatus of Outlander. I can get back to writing.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I faced an existential crisis at the end of last year- I didn’t meet my Goodreads goal. I was devastated. I’ve pretty muched blocked last year out of my memory with regard to books, but doubled my efforts for this year to make sure I didn’t fall behind my schedule. I’m proud to say that I’ve read 84 books since January 1st and I’m 9 books ahead of target for my goal of 100 books for 2014.

But what about the writing? Well that has suffered more than the reading has.  The reading is an integral part of my day. Without reading, I feel undernourished. If books had calories, I’d be in deep trouble.  Thank God they’re nourishment for the soul, not the body. But writing, writing is different. For me, writing is based on mood and energy.  If I don’t feel like I have the mental energy to write, I won’t.  I  can only dedicate my focus to a finite number of things. This summer, work took up most of my focus. Outlander  took the rest. This is probably why I have never finished the novels I’ve started.

I have six months now, before the slow simmer roils back to a boil, in which to explore my writing again. I’m thinking of participating more in NaNoWriMo, so that I can possibly, finish one of my novels before the end of the year.  Even if I don’t do that, I do want to make sure to start writing more frequently.  I’ve missed the interaction that writing publicly brings, as well as the chance to hone my craft.

So, thank you, Outlander, for giving me time to write again. I’m off to make the most of it.

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Breezy Point – A Year After Sandy

2 friends and I stand on the deck of Grammie's house

2 friends and I stand on the deck of Grammie’s house

Both sets of my grandparents settled in Breezy Point, New York, in their youths.  My mom’s parents went in on a bungalow with her aunt and uncle on Suffolk Walk in the ealry ’50’s.  My dad’s parents built their bungalow at the end of Beach 217th Street in 1957.

My dad’s paternal family had lived in Far Rockaway since arriving in New York with the polo ponies in the mid 1800’s.  My great-grandparents owned a hotel where my great grandmother cooked and music was frequently heard.  Pop-Pop was a member of NY’s Bravest, FDNY.  When dating my Grammie in the Bronx, he’d go over an hour by train to visit.

My dad’s mother’s family frequently visited the bungalows in the “middle” of the peninsula, staying with friends, enjoying the sea air.  Quarters were tight, walls were thin, there was no air conditioning, and the Brooklyn breeze always brought bugs, but no one cared. They were at the Beach.

Both sets of grandparents met, married, bought houses in the Bronx and Richmond Hill, and then invested in Breezy Point.  It was a place where far-flung families could gather.  My mother often speaks of spending summers at Breezy with her cousins. They were more like siblings to her.  My dad’s cousins often visited too. In fact, since they lived in New Jersey, their time at Breezy Point was the only time he did see them.

Growing up as the child of two Pointers, I always felt a sense of freedom when we arrived at Breezy Point.  Shoes and socks could come off, bathing suits and sunscreen went on, and the fun began.  We usually stayed with my paternal grandparents because they had a little more room for four rambunctious children to play in.  For the longest time, I didn’t realize there were any beaches other than Breezy Point.  Breezy = Beach in my mind.  In fact, at this point in my life (and I’ve now been on quite a few beaches), Breezy is still one of the best beaches in the world.

I think one of the best things about Breezy Point was that it was a home away from home. I knew that if I needed to, I could stay the night there.  In fact, my grandparents often allowed us to spend weeks at a time with them which were really wonderful bonding times.

Everything at the Breezy Point house was a little bit worn- the second best pots & pans, the second best glasses, the plastic dishes, reams of paper plates and napkins… it wasn’t fine china and crystal- Breezy was the best of simplicity. Breezy was the place where you could let your hair down (or pull it back, whatever was easier), walk around with a wet head (even though you were bound to get raise eyebrows from Grammie), and drink Lipton Iced Tea on the deck in the sun (or shade, depending on how badly you burned).

For me, Breezy Point- my Grammie’s house- was my “calm” place.  Any time I needed to meditate or find a place of calm, I’d see the view from the middle bedroom looking out over the dunes with the ocean far off in the distance. It was amazing how far the water grew as the beach grew due to Co-op conservation and anti-erosion efforts.

Grammie sitting in the living room at Breezy

Grammie sitting in the living room at Breezy

One of the most inspiring views for me was late one summer night- looking out over the dunes and seeing the moon looking like it was sitting right on the ocean. I felt like if I’d just been a bit more adventurous, I could’ve walked that moonlit pathway over the ocean and touched a little bit of heaven.

As I grew at the beach, I was witness to several changes in the Pointer way of life.  First there were no more bonfires allowed on the beach.  Then no more cars. Then the Piping Plover decided to make its nest in the grasses that had been planted by the Co-op and the area became restricted- an endangered species nesting area.  By the way, in case you didn’t know, the Piping Plover likes to build its nest below the high water mark. Not the brightest bird in the air.  Each year, after the Piping Plover appeared, there seemed to be more restrictions by the EPA.  They cordoned off more and more of the beach.  They would kill any domestic animal found in the dunes where the birds lived.  Fines for breaking Plover eggs ranged as high as $50,000.

In addition to all these restrictions, we were growing up too.  My mother’s  parents died, then her aunt & uncle, so the Suffolk Walk house was  sold.  That was one anchor lost.  Then my Pop-Pop and Uncle Jerry died, and a year later, my Aunt Mickey.  The Bayside house was sold.  The only family left at Breezy were my Grammie on the Ocean side and my mom’s cousin and his wife on the Bay side.  We also moved further north in NY and it became an ordeal of a 2 hour drive to get to the Beach.

Anyone who’s had to drive in Brooklyn or Queens will tell you that it is one of the most miserable experiences of his/her life.  To get to Breezy Point (Queens), which is across Jamaica Bay from Coney Island (Brooklyn) you have to drive through both Brooklyn AND Queens.  Once we moved north, we had to drive through the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens over two bridges.

But even though I didn’t get there a lot, I knew that Breezy Point – my Grammie’s house- was going to be there forever.  I saw myself bringing my future husband and children there, eating grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on the deck… but in the span of a day that dream was shattered, along with the dreams of so many others.

In October of 2012, Super Storm Sandy hit.  By the time it hit NY, it was no longer a “hurricane”.  By the trail of damage it left, you’d never know it was anything other than a hurricane.  Due to the position of the moon, tides, and force of wind, a 13 foot storm surge flooded New York Harbor.  Lower lying areas along the ocean, many rivers, and bays were flooded.

Grammie’s house was lifted off its cinderblock risers and spun into the house next to it before eventually dropping down into the maintenance tracks that run behind the houses. All of the furniture that had been brought inside for the winter was thrust through the walls, or tumbled around.  It was waterlogged, weed-soaked, and ruined. Our first image of the house was seen on FoxNews.Com’s Sandy coverage. Ironically, the only thing that survived intact was the hurricane-proof shingles that my grandmother had installed the summer prior.

Grammie's house lifted off its piers

Grammie’s house lifted off its piers

The house was red-tagged, set to be demolished.  My grandparents’ house- that place of childhood refuge- was going to be destroyed.

My older brother and sister-in-law braved the traffic, lawlessness, and lack of public services following Sandy to salvage what they could from my grandmother’s house.  They were able to retrieve some nicknacks, some linens, and some other items, but the bulk of it- all the pictures, the memories, my grandfather’s binoculars… all of it was gone.

Many people asked if we had flood insurance. We didn’t.  The last time my grandfather had flood insurance, and it flooded, he was told the damage was wind damage and that there wouldn’t be a pay-out.  So he dropped the coverage.  And for 40 years, there was no flood.  If they’d paid flood insurance, they would’ve paid more than the value of the house over those 40 years.

Then there was the question of FEMA aid.  Because the bungalow was not my grandma’s primary residence, FEMA aid was out of the question. As a family, we didn’t begrudge anyone receiving FEMA aid. There we people who lost their primary residences and all their possessions in Sandy. We just wish that the insurance company had been a little more compassionate in their decisions. Or that there had been some other agency which could’ve helped my 97 year old grandmother recover some of her losses.

So a year later… very few houses that were demolished have been rebuilt. Breezy Point is almost a ghost town.  There have been fundraisers and charity drives galore, but no one helps the summer residents.  No one really thinks about them when considering giving aid.  No one considers the fact that people like my grandmother had built that house with hard-earned money and owned it free and clear. To rebuild now would require more energy and effort than a 97 year old woman should have to expend.

And that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that the various regulatory agencies haven’t come to decisions on the new regulations for rebuilding.  Some of the early regulations were going to require that all houses be built on 11 foot piers.  Obviously the geniuses who came up with that one have never had to watch a 97 year old woman climb a flight of stairs.  Or pondered how to make a ramp that would geometrically feasible for that type of construction.

Additionally, the regulatory bodies seem convinced that there are going to be more of these super storms on a yearly basis. Well, I hate to break it to you, folks, but there wasn’t a single hurricane that made it to the NorthEast this summer/fall.  And the Ocean only met the Bay twice in 40 some-odd years.  The odds actually are in favor of not building 11 foot high piers for foundations.

I think one of the saddest things my family faced this summer was not having our typical celebrations at the Beach.  Normally we would’ve gone down for Fourth of July weekend, which was the official opening of Grammie’s summer.  The a week later we would’ve been down to celebrate her birthday. This year, we celebrated at a Chinese restaurant in Westchester.  It wasn’t the same.

This is not to say that I’m not grateful that I have my family safe and whole.  I am. I recognize that we are so much more fortunate than so many others who lost everything in Sandy.  I just am so saddened by what we lost: our place of peace and happiness; our place of family gatherings; our memories; our last physical connections with those who are no longer with us.

So now the process begins of coming to grips with the fact that my “Fortress of Solitude” no longer exists and may never be rebuilt.  I truly have a newfound respect and gratitude for the people in my life, as well as having a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on the table.  While we suffered losses, we still have each other. And like Pointers from of old, we’ll find a way to come back.

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Help Me Choose My Next Song!

You love to hear them, I love to write and sing them… but I had four bouncing in my head on the way home today- so who do I finish first? Take the poll and let me know!!

#Outlander #Songs

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How Did I get Here? Influencing Jeannie

When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother “What will I be? Will I be pretty, will I be rich?” Here’s what she said to me… “Do your homework.”

My mom was and remains one of the biggest influences in my life. As an English teacher, she was forever telling me to look things up so that I would learn for myself. “Mom, how do you spell Antarctica?” “Look it up.” Of course I was thinking, “How can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” It was only many years later that I learned that my mom told me to look things up because she didn’t know how to spell them herself.  However, because I looked all those things up, I became a dynamite speller.  My mom is also my singing buddy and encouraged me to pursue my passion for song.

My aunt was also a major influence in my life for two main reasons: Firstly, she introduced me to reading for pleasure.  Secondly, she introduced me to travel and world cultures.  As many of you know, I’m an avid, nay, a voracious reader. Books are how I feed my mind.  When I was about 7 or 8, my aunt came over with a box of Hardy Boys books for my older brother.  Since there was nothing for me, I was rather disappointed. When she came back the next time with a box of Nancy Drews, Cherry Ames, and Vicki Bliss books all for me, I was in heaven.  I read every single one of those books and haven’t stopped since. My aunt also became my travel companion, infecting me with the travel bug, which ended up being a long-term benefit.

Those books, as well as travel with my family, enkindled in me a love for two things: Disney and castles- you can see how Disney would’ve helped grow that love of castles.   Many a time I felt I was born in the wrong time period and should’ve been a medieval princess. That feeling was so strong that I decided to major in medieval studies in college.  Realizing that I’d never get a job in the field of medieval princessery, especially since there aren’t any eligible princes available, I decided to focus on my other love: sharing stories.  So I became an English teacher.  Yes, having a mom who was an English teacher, a dad who was a math teacher, and an aunt who was a history teacher influenced my decision.

After a while, I decided that I wanted to grow as an educator and move into educating adults. I was fortunate enough to join this team, which was a bonus because of the Swan and Dolphin.  I keep coming back to Disney because it is a place where I’m able to connect with my family on a yearly basis. I’m also able to see castles more frequently than travel to Europe allows.

So, while my mother never promised me that I would be pretty, or rich, she and my aunt did instill in me a love of learning, a love for reading, and a love for travel, three passions which continue to influence me on a daily basis.  And maybe, someday, in the midst of my travels, I’ll find my prince.

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