Tuesday, August 26, 2014

National Dog Day and a Look at My Furry Guardians

Good morning! It's National Dog Day today! If you know me even a little bit, you know that I am an avid (to put it mildly) dog lover, and I am so happy to be able to take a whole day to celebrate the canine loves of my life!

First, let me introduce you to my pups:

Keeley, my sweet girl.

She's my pound puppy! Actually, I adopted her from the Pet Adoption League in Tulsa, way back in 2009, when she was approximately four years old. She is (as best we can guess), a cross between a German shepherd, and a basenji. She looks more like a shepherd, but definitely has the personality of a basenji. She is my special girl. So loving and sweet and 100 percent neurotic. Her interests include tearing apart small stuffed animals, avoiding the human baby, and sneaking off to take naps in places she is not supposed to go. She is loyal, cuddly, and protective, and goes nuts is she is separated from her baby brother.

McFly, being skeptical.
Marty McFLy: 
He's our chubby little Pembroke corgi! We got him when he was just a wee pup, from a retiring breeder who lived out in the country. Before he came to our house, McFly ran around with a peacock all day. Now, four years later, he runs around with our two year old. Marty is all corgi, all the time. He is a cuddler, and is the tattle tale and rule enforcer among the pets (and kid). He is definitely the pack leader, or would be, if Norris and I weren't around to outrank him. He has trouble at the dog park, because he likes to herd the other dogs, but nobody likes to listen to him when he tells them how they should play. He is sweet, tolerant, cheerful, and talkative and his interests include napping, bossing everyone around, and eradicating squirrels from the back yard. But mostly napping.

So those are my dogs and I love them. And I would be lost without them.

My husband has a job that takes him out of town off and on, and due to my love of crime dramas and thrilling movies, I am completely paranoid about being in the house alone while he is gone. Fortunately, I know without a doubt that my loveable dogs would ferociously protect our house and family if the need ever arose, and that helps me sleep at night.

Where does your dog fall on the spectrum?
For National Dog Day, the security company Dropcam has put together a personality profile of what kind of protectors different dogs are (see image), and I can definitely tell you that both my dogs fall into the Bouncing Buzzer category. I am not even kidding, our neighbor two doors down will get out of his car, and the sound of his car door makes our dogs bark and run to the window to see what shenanigans these people are up to. (Sorry neighbors, I know you're probably not up to any shenanigans.)

Marty is more vigilant at night, and often growls softly at noises I haven't heard, which serves the dual purpose of terrifying and reassuring me, since I am worried he is hearing a serial killer, but reassured that I am getting advanced warning about the killer entering my home.

One more pic of my pups!
Keeley, on the other hand, definitely also displays behavior consistent with The Bouncer. If she hears a noise of any kind outside, she gives a thorough barking and then goes to sit by the front door in case anyone has the audacity to try to enter the house. If someone rings the doorbell, she not only barks hysterically and ensures she is with me when I answer, she shoves in front of me to make sure she greets the person on the porch and checks them out before they come in.

At night, she sleeps at the foot of my bed, facing the doorway to make sure whatever comes into the room has to face her first. Marty is her lieutenant, sleeping in the living room usually, and making the rounds to check the rest of the house. It's really fascinating to see what a well coordinated security team they are. And I love them so much for caring about the family that way. We are really a tight-knit pack.

So what about your dogs? Why do you love them? What kind of security dogs are they?

Happy National Dog Day everyone! Go hug your pets (or adopt one if you don't have one)!

*As a side note, I do want to include a link to my local pet adoption agency, The Central OK Humane Society. They work very hard to provide good, loving homes to as many animals as they can: they are 100% no kill, all pets adopted through them are neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped, and they even have a service that rounds up feral cats and neuters them so that the city doesn't become overrun with homeless animals. If you can't adopt or foster a pet, please consider donating money or time to this organization. I have worked with them, and I can tell you absolutely that every person  I have met through them puts the animals first and cares so much about their welfare. It's truly a worthy cause. Thanks for listening! 

*Also on a side note, I was approached by DropCam and asked to assess my dogs' security prowess. However, I am not being compensated or asked to overtly advertise in any way. And I leaped at the chance to talk about my little furry friends. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

It's Iced Coffee Time!

In case you don't know, coffee is awesome when it is iced. I mean, it's just so good. So much better than when it is hot. It is refreshing, revitalizing, and, apparently, good for your health! And your skin! (Coffee, that is, not just the iced variety.) 

So when the weather starts getting warm, I immediately start drinking my coffee cold.  Normally, I make a huge (like, two gallon) pitcher of cold brew coffee and keep it in the fridge, pre-sweetened. I use the Pioneer Woman method , which involves simply soaking ground coffee overnight in water, then straining it into a pitcher and adding a desired amount of water. I used Espresso Roast coffee, because it is strong, but not too bitter. Then I add Torani Cane Sugar syrup and mix it up good. It keeps in the fridge for a long time. Then I can get up in the morning and just pour it over ice and add a little cream. 

If you don't feel the need to keep gallons of coffee on hand at all times like I do, there are other options. A lot of brands created iced coffee that you can buy in the grocery store. Starbucks has iced coffee that comes in little glass bottles in different flavors, namely Coffee, Coffee Light, Vanilla, and Caramel. I have tried all these flavors, and I can tell you that if you like the taste of coffee at all, definitely go for the plain Coffee flavor. It is the only one that even remotely tastes like coffee. Not that the others are bad, they are just significantly sweeter, and for serious coffee drinkers they probably won't do the trick. 

I like the Starbucks iced coffee, but then this other thing came along and changed my life. And that is Chameleon Cold Brew. Chameleon comes in myriad flavors: Coffee, Vanilla, and Mocha. I have not tried the Vanilla yet, but I have had both the Coffee, and the Mocha. Now, to be clear, this is not an "iced coffee drink." This is straight up cold brew coffee. The hard stuff. It's clean, and bitter, and refreshing. And that's just the plain coffee. 

But if you like a flavor, I cannot recommend the Mocha flavor enough. The chocolate flavor is subtle but present, making the whole drink taste kind of like a tootsie roll, but not as sweet. This isn't some cheap addition to plain coffee. This is a flavor infusion that is aromatic, emphatic, and altogether delightful. It's great by itself, with just cream, or with full on cream and sugar. The perfect chocolate/coffee flavor comes through no matter what and creates a perfect storm of deliciousness. It is hard to express fully the sublime nature of this iced coffee. This is what cold coffee should be. 

I am officially in love with Chameleon Cold Brew coffee. Not only does it have absolutely glorious flavor, but it comes in these adorable glass bottles with adorable chameleons on their labels. Go forth and drink iced coffee!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guest Post: Steve Knapp's Top 5 Stephen King Must-Reads

This is Stephen King, laughing at your terror.

I have only recently started delving into the works of one Mr. Stephen King, and I am discovering that I wholeheartedly regret all those pretentious years of college when I was immersed in being an English major and considered myself above genre fiction. So when I went looking for the perfect starting place in King’s positively enormous canon, I knew there was only one person who could give me direction: my father. He is an absolute Stephen King expert. He has read all of King’s books, viewed (and critiqued) many film adaptations, and loves horror/sci-fi fiction with fervor. He has always advised me wisely, and has consented to share his top five recommendations for newcomers to the land of King as a special Halloween themed post. So take a gander and take your pick from Steve Knapp’s Stephen King library:

Since Halloween is fast approaching, many readers, avid and otherwise, look to find some good scary stories. Of course, when thinking of scary stories, Stephen King  always enters the discussion. As a diehard fan of King’s, and having read almost all of his books and short stories, Katie considered me to be as close as she could get to an expert (at lease for the price she was willing to pay – cupcakes), and asked me to contribute to her blog by recommending some of my favorite Stephen King books. Let me begin by saying that this is very difficult, somewhat akin to picking your favorite child. King’s books vary. Some are really scary, some have things happen that are more just strange or unusual, some just weird. I’ve liked all kinds, just like I love my daughters equally even though they are quite different. So, I’m going to recommend several of my favorites, sort of in order of preference, leaning more toward the ones that I deem to be more scary and gruesome in honor of Halloween.

1. Pet Semetary – this is one of my all-time favorites. The story of a man, his son and the family cat. After moving to a new house, the father is led to a mysterious graveyard (is there any other kind?) near their property. Weird, terrifying stuff happens, then, when tragedy strikes, the father deals with it as best he can with many horrors along the way and a twist at the end. As with a lot of King's books, it deals as much with the family dynamic and internal struggle of being a husband/father as it does with the actual horror of the events that are unfolding.

Katie here: I want to insert a memory. My dad read this book out loud to me when I was around ten years old. It…changed me. Definitely a scary read.

2. Misery – an author is rescued from an accident by his number one, most ardent fan. Sounds fine, right? Everything should work out perfectly. But, this is Stephen King, after all. The fan is not quite as accommodating as one might imagine. In fact, she's more obsessive, psychotic, crafty, and violent. And soon the writer is not only sedated and trapped, but also forced to write a book he hates on a beat up old typewriter in an attempt to placate his increasingly manic captor.

 This is a terrifying book. It would rank number one on my personal list. Not only suspenseful and full of glorious gore, but a deeply insightful look into the authorial process. It was deeply frightening to me because it seemed to me that the protagonist made no silly mistakes, and yet he still ended up trapped and fighting for his life. There is nothing to point to in this narrative to say, "See, that was the moment where he messed up and got himself into this predicament."

3. Christine – Arnie, a nerdy high schooler, finds the car of his dreams. Although it looks like a piece of beat up junk, Arnie is drawn to the car, despite the reservations of his best friend, Dennis. Arnie buys the car and begins restoring it to like-new condition. As he is doing this, his appearance improves and he becomes more confident, eventually even dating the pretty new, popular, girl at school, Leigh. However, as Arnie spends more time with Christine, his personality begins to change for the worse, and he becomes obsessed with the car to the exclusion of everyone else, including Dennis and Leigh. Eventually, to Arnie it is he and Christine against the world, and since Arnie has taken  care of Christine, she will “take care of” anyone she deems a threat to come between the two of them. In the end Dennis and Leigh are the only ones with a chance to save Arnie from Christine. I’ll let you read the book to find out if they are successful. As in many of King’s books, I really like the way he portrays the young people. To me, he is right on with his descriptions of the thoughts and actions of Arnie, Dennis and Leigh. This is a creepy story with real moments of suspense. One of King’s most popular.

Proof that King can literally make anything creepy. As is typical of a lot of King’s work, this might really be considered a coming of age tale masquerading as horror. Very effective.

4. Skeleton Crew – this is a collection of short stories. If you want to commit a little less time, this is a good place to start. All are worth reading, but my favorites are The Mist and The Raft. The Mist was actually produced as a novel on its own in conjunction with the release of the movie, but I read it as part of this collection so that’s how I think of it.  Plus, you get other stories as a bonus.  In The Mist, terrible creatures are hidden in, what else, a mist created by a mysterious research center. It turns out, though, that some of the townspeople are about as bad as the creatures. A father and his son are separated from the wife/mother and end up in the grocery store with other townspeople when the mist roles in.  Everyone is scared and many have different ideas about what to do to protect themselves from whatever is in the mist.  They know there is something bad out there, just not what exactly.  So, they end up fighting each other as much as the creatures. 

King does an excellent job of leaving whatever is in the mist to the reader’s imagination.  With only partial descriptions, you know there are lots of them and they’re not friendly, but you are left to conjure up your own scary version.  I also like the way King deals with the interplay between the people, conveying the different ways in which people might actually react in such a situation, with a crazy or two thrown in for good measure.  Without giving it away, I will say that the ending does not answer all questions, but leaves the reader to imagine how things go from then on.  Personally, I don’t mind that one bit. 

The Raft is the story of four teens celebrating the end of summer with one last swim to a stationary raft out in the lake.  Of course, it turns out to be not quite as much fun as they envisioned.  It’s hard to say much about the story without ruining it.  Suffice it to say that an unidentifiable, but beautiful, substance floats to the raft.  Looking at it too long puts a person in a hypnotic trance, which causes them to let down their guard.  When that happens, the results are not pretty.  Again, I really like the way these kids are portrayed.  The thoughts and interactions between the two girls and two boys is always believable, and the gross things that happen make for what I consider to be an entertaining story.

Okay, I haven’t read this one.

5. Duma Key - this story about a man trying to recover from physical injuries and mental instability is more in the psychic/ghost story vein. After a construction accident results in loss of an arm and brain injuries that cause episodes of violent behavior, and the end to his marriage, Edgar Freemantle moves temporarily to Florida (Duma Key) to get himself back together.  As therapy, he begins to paint ocean landscapes (he drew pictures for his daughters when they were little, but he can’t remember doing it).  This helps to calm him and seems to relieve the phantom feelings of his missing arm.  However, as he gains some notoriety for his paintings, he discovers that his works of art have a power of their own.  They either predict the future or cause it, and bad things happen to those who buy one.  Edgar investigates the island and meets his neighbors, finding out that there are many mysteries surrounding the island and its past and present inhabitants. Ultimately, Edgar is thrust into a situation of trying to save his family and friends from the evil that resides in Duma Key.  This story tends to be more psychological and supernatural, but still has plenty of scary moments. 

Or this one. Oh well. I can say though, that there is a sizable faction of people who agree that King's short fiction is superior to his novels. This is definitely a personal preference thing, but if you find reading an entire novel daunting, know that the short stories are likely to be just as satisfying.

If you know anything of Stephen King at all you probably noticed the absence of The Shining and Carrie in the list above.  While they are must reads for the most ardent King fans, they are not at the top of my favorites list.  Plus, everyone knows those stories so I wanted to go with some lesser known stories.  There are, however, many other Stephen King books that are every bit as good as the ones I did list, but got left off for various reasons, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of them.  Such as; the Dark Tower series (7 books), Thinner, The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Secret Window.  If you like King’s writing, these are definite reads.

So, I hope I’ve given you some ideas for the Halloween season and beyond. Pick one, turn out as many lights off as you can and still see to read, and enjoy. I wish you good reading and a scary Halloween!

Steve Knapp

Are any of you fans of Stephen King? Which of his books had the biggest impact on you?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Five Ways My One Year Old is Like a Dog

What a baby and dog may look like.
It seems to me that there is something of a great divide between people who love children and people who love their animals as if they were children. As someone who has two dogs, a cat, and a human child, I simply don't understand this. Personally speaking, giving birth to a human did not diminish my love for my four-legged furballs, and having the fluffy ones around has not in any way interfered with the growth and development of my baby. It has recently occurred to me that a big part of this might be because in many ways, raising my child has been a lot like raising a dog. 

For instance: 

What a baby's face looks like after totally destroying your world.
1. They go to the bathroom whenever, wherever
Obviously you know about how babies use diapers. This is not really very different from a puppy who goes to the bathroom in his or her crate, or really anywhere in the house. The point being--as a pet parent or a human parent, you are going to see and smell some disgusting things. You will touch poop. This is just one of those little unpleasantries that is then rendered "worth it" by the joy brought to you by the adorable pup-baby.

2. They respond to commands
She clearly listened when I told her to please not knock over the TV
My child is one year old, and now responds to her name, "come," and "no." She has learned the basic commands that you first teach a puppy, and responds with about the same rate of success.  And part of the reason that we have been able to use these commands with her is because...

 3. They can be trained with positive reinforcement
When my baby does something she's not supposed to, she gets told no, and will not be held. When she does the right thing, she gets smiles, and cuddles, and usually a baby treat. Or we exclaim about how smart she is and clap our hands. This is exactly the same way to train a dog. If they misbehave, you ignore them. If they get something right,
you lavish them with affection so they will be motivated to
 behave correctly again. It is very effective.

Of course, this happens too.

4. They both beg for food
She's really got the Oliver Twist face down.
My little infant-cum-toddler has recently discovered the joys of solid food. And she can't get enough of it. So we, the parents, have to be very sneaky about eating in front of her. Because if she catches us eating something that she might like a bite of, she will stand in front of us and yell until we fill her mouth with something delicious. And then, should we make the mistake of giving her one bite, she will yell more, until she gets her fill. This is slightly different from the dogs' approach, which is to sit patiently at our feet until we have finished, and then eye our dirty plates with longing until we put them on the floor for them to "clean."

Broccoli hair is imminent!
5. They love getting dirty and hate getting clean
Have you ever heard someone talk about their dog and say how he loves running through mud, and jumping in lakes, but will whine and thrash around like a maniac when put in a tub of soapy water for the purpose of getting clean? Well, it is a fact that dogs will generally prefer mud to fluffy, clean fur. Similarly, my human child reacts very negatively to having her face and hair washed after eating. Yes, she has smeared about have of her food all over her body, and there are slightly mushy cheerios clinging to her arms and legs, but she would rather wallow in this mess than allow herself to be wiped clean. She howls, the turns her face away, she threatens my life. But, as with the dogs, mom's word is law, and all the little animals get clean in the end.

*Despite how it may appear in these pictures, my child does frequently wear clothing. It just gets dirty so quickly that we have to capture some nude moments in between costume changes.

What are your thoughts on raising children, furry or otherwise? 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Review: Empath (Flawed #1) by Becca J. Campbell

Another winner from Becca J. Campbell! In her latest series, Flawed, her usual flare for suspense and the manipulation of reality manifests itself in the forms of five unique and gripping characters, all of whom possess a certain “flaw” that enhances their life experience—and not always for the better. In Empath, the riveting first installment to the series, we are introduced to Jade, a young woman plagued by the distinctive problem of being highly sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others—to the point that she often loses track of her own personality. In an effort to gain control over this phenomenon, Jade enrolls in on-campus college classes for the first time ever, and strikes up a surprising number of friendships with people who allow her to be herself. Caught in the internal tug of war of emotion, not only with her own feelings for her new friends, but with theirs as well, Jade is unable to track the emotions of the one person who may matter most: the man who is stalking her, intent on torturing and eventually killing her.

Campbell’s signature writing style shines as bright as ever in Empath, allowing the reader to be truly enveloped in Jade’s awkwardness, emotion, and conviction that she must overcome what she calls her “handicap” and have normal relationships with normal people. The story runs a winding course, cutting brutally back and forth between violent scenes that slowly reveal the villain’s intent, and touching moments between Jade and her friends that keep the reader enthralled. Though the killer purports to use people’s fears and weaknesses to destroy them, it is really the interaction between the characters minds and bodies that seems to discuss the relationship between fear and love, strength and weakness, leading the reader to question his own fears, and speculate about what it really means to be strong.

Though it is absolutely thrilling up to the very last page, this book is more than a simple suspense novel. It is a deeper probing into the idea of what makes a person normal, and how perceived abnormalities might actually be a blessing in disguise. Part thriller, part romance, and part superhero creation story, Empath by Becca J. Campbell will frighten, amuse, comfort, and inspire. With Campbell’s easy storytelling style and well-rounded characters, this is the perfect book to read when what you really need is something to devour in the course of a weekend, because it is inevitable that you will.

Bottom Line: A solid, all-encompassing book that engages and thrills. This is a series starter that will leave you thirsting for the next installment!

Side Note: I would rate this book as PG-13. Probably a good read for late middle school, early high school, but definitely not for kids. Just in case you were wondering.

About Becca J. Campbell

Becca J. Campbell is the author of the New Adult Romantic Science Fiction novels Foreign Identity and Gateway to Reality, New Adult Romantic Paranormal Thriller Empath (The Flawed Series #1), and  Sub-Normal, a series of Science Fiction short stories.
An avid lover of stories that tiptoe the line between fantasy and reality (even when they plunge off one side or the other), Becca looks for new angles on bridging the gap between the two. She holds a special place in her heart for any story that involves superpowers or time travel. Her passion is defying the limits of her own creativity. You can find her on her Author BlogFacebookTwitterGoodreads, Pinterest, and Amazon.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Empath, it will be on sale for $0.99 through the following venues: