These are my picks:
1. The bloody civil war in Syria, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives since 2011, finally gained the attention of world leaders when Syrian President Bashar Assad allegedly ordered government troops to use chemical weapons on the country’s citizens. Hundreds of people died in the attacks and thousands more suffered from exposure. To date, the conflict has displaced 5 million Syrians internally and forced more than 2.2 million to become refugees. At least 150 journalists also have been killed while covering the war.
2. Super Typhoon Haiyan, a Category 5 storm, hit the Philippines in early November. A month later, the death toll passed 6,000. More than 27,000 people were injured and nearly 1,800 were reported missing. The homes of more than 16 million people were either flattened or damaged by the typhoon. Rebuilding the country is expected to take at least three years.
3. The bombings at the Boston Marathon claimed three lives, injured 264 people and prompted a massive manhunt for the terrorists. The suspects, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, then allegedly engaged in a deadly crime spree that ended when the police killed Tamerlan and captured his brother. Dzhokhar is currently being held at a federal medical center while awaiting trial.
4. Edward Snowden vs. the NSA: Snowden, a former computer technician and CIA contractor, stole classified documents and released many of them to the press. The files detailed the U.S. government’s massive surveillance program, which not only spied on potential terror targets but also millions of unsuspecting Americans and foreign dignitaries.
5. The Popes: When Benedict XVI announced his resignation in February, the world was stunned because no pope had resigned from office in nearly 700 years. However, with the March election of Francis, the Catholic Church was revitalized. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years, Francis was admired for his work with the poor, his nonjudgmental attitude toward gays and atheists and his goal of healing a religious institution harmed by infighting and years of sexual abuse scandals. Francis was named “Person of the Year” by TIME magazine.
6. Mass killings — which involve four or more victims not including the killer — occurred 30 times in the U.S. this year. The deadliest incident happened at the Navy Yard, and claimed 12 lives.
7. The death of Nelson Mandela on Dec. 5 prompted a period of mourning worldwide. The beloved anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and was the first black president of South Africa.
8. DOMA/Prop 8 decisions: The Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. The justices also dismissed the Proposition 8 case, which banned same-sex marriage in California, claiming the defendants had no standing in court. In 2013, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island all legalized gay marriage. Illinois also passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, but it will not take effect until June 1, 2014.
9. The U.S. government shut down on Oct. 1 after Congress failed to enact legislation appropriating funds for fiscal year 2014 and refused to agree upon a continuing resolution. During the 16-day shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal employees were furloughed, and another 1.3 million were required to report to work without pay.
10. The Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, began when several unidentified gunmen entered the structure and took hostages. The attack lasted for four days and claimed 72 lives, including 61 civilians. More than 200 people were also wounded. The Islamist group al-Shabaab later claimed responsibility for the attack.
(Other big stories of the year include: The coup against Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president; the Supreme Court decision striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; NASA’s release of a map containing over 1,400 “potentially hazardous astroids” for Earth; the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco; the trial of George Zimmerman for the slaying of Trayvon Martin; and the birth of Prince George of Cambridge.)
1. “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern
2. “N0S4A2″ by Joe Hill
3. “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King
4. “Drama” by John Lithgow
5. “Letters From Skye” by Jessica Brockmole
6. “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman
7. “Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times” by Helen Thomas
8. “The Intercept” by Dick Wolf
9. “The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss and Life” by Marie Tillman
10. “Dead Harvest” by Chris F. Holm
(Honorable mentions: “Extremis” (The Last Assassin) by Barry Eisler, “The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family” by Josh Hanagarne, “Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public” by Helen Thomas, “Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind Myths, Tales and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to its Kids” by Ken Jennings, “Vermont Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff” by Robert Forrest Wilson, “The Letters of E.B. White, Revised Edition” by E.B. White, “The Wrong Goodbye” by Chris F. Holm and “The Big Reap” by Chris F. Holm)
3. America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country
5. The Good Wife
9. Burn Notice
(Honorable mentions: House of Cards, Once Upon A Time, Gray’s Anatomy, Haven, The Following, Revenge and Sleepy Hollow)
1. The Butler
2. We Bought A Zoo
4. Ironman 3
5. Zero Dark Thirty
7. The Company You Keep
8. World War Z
9. Now You See Me
10. Beautiful Creatures
(Honorable mentions: Warm Bodies, Monsters University, Last Vegas, Thor: The Dark World and Red 2)
I feel the need to call out the “Holiday Gift Guide” published on BOOKish.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the site, BOOKish launched earlier this year to promote books published by Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group and Simon & Schuster*. I subscribe because I like receiving reviews and excerpts from new releases.
The recently published guide, which features recommendations from the site’s editors, claims to help you “find the right book gift for everyone on your list.” This is a worthy goal. However, if some of the gift categories are any indication, the site’s editors need a serious lesson in sexism.
Under the “For Him” category, there are book suggestions for political junkies, history buffs, sports fans, comic book collectors, music mavens and film buffs.
Under the “For Her” category: Books about parenting, sex, romance, cooking, being a good hostess and bibles.
Did I miss something or have we time-warped back to the 1950s?
BOOKish, please fix this guide. You’re doing a great disservice to your readers by assuming women care nothing about politics, history, comics, sports, music, film or, you know, the world outside of the home. Oh, and if the massive restaurant industry is any indication, your male readers probably want to become “kitchen maestros,” too.
* Transparency note: My husband once worked for Simon & Schuster and had nothing but good things to say about the place.
Believe it or not, I am finished with my Christmas shopping. I completed this fun, yet monumental task on Thanksgiving, which is about three weeks later than normal.
So how do I do it? How do I avoid the packed malls, the crowded parking lots and the hectic search for a last-minute present? It’s really quite simple. Like Santa, I keep a list.
The list is generated on Jan. 1st. It contains the names of the family and friends who I know will enjoy a present during the holidays. Whenever I come up with a gift idea, I immediately add it to the list and do a quick search online for prices. If/when one of these items goes on sale, I buy it. Presents are then stacked in the guest room (which is rarely used), and wrapped just before the holidays for shipping/giving.
I recognize many may view this little quirk of mine as anal or silly, but it works for me. If, however, you’re one of the millions looking for the perfect gift this holiday season, let me offer a few suggestions, à la Oprah.
Dear readers, these are a few of my favorite things:
* FOR THE PERSON RESOLVING TO BE HEALTHIER IN 2014: Fitbit One is a wireless activity tracker that you wear on your waist or bra strap. It’s a pedometer that also tracks your distance walked, calories burned and stairs climbed. Slip the Fitbit into the included wristband and it will track your sleep habits as well. The data is then uploaded to Fitbit.com for further analysis. Use the Website to log food/liquid intake, activities, weight, blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels and/or chat with others who are also on the road to healthier living.
* FOR THE BIBLIOPHILE: The King family published some fantastic books this year. “Dr. Sleep” by Stephen King brilliantly answered the question: What ever happened to that little boy from “The Shining”? “N0S4A2″ by Joe Hill (King’s eldest son) was a thrill ride of a novel about a man who kidnaps children and takes them to Christmasland, and the young girl who tries to defeat him. For fans of more literary fiction, check out “Double Feature” by Owen King (Stephen’s youngest son), a debut novel about a young man coming to terms with his life in the process and aftermath of making his first film.
* FOR THE OBIT WRITER: I made this mug for The Society of Professional Obituary Writers conference in Toronto. Everyone really liked it, and started placing orders. I own two myself.
* FOR THE NERDFIGHTER: Strangers often ask me about my DFTBA wristband. For the uninitiated, DFTBA stands for Don’t Forget To Be Awesome and it’s the motto/slogan for Nerdfighteria, a community of Vlogbrothers fans who strive to end world suck.
* FOR THE GOTH: This Grim Reaper decal from HouseHoldWords appears on all of my laptops. Super easy to affix and remove. A great stocking stuffer.
* FOR THE FASHIONISTA: I don’t follow fashion; the whims of the industry are rarely attuned to my body size and personal taste. That said, I truly believe this chiffon scarf from Swak Couture will look stunning on everyone.
* FOR THE HALLOWEEN LOVER: These pumpkin teeth made our jack o’lanterns appear truly wicked. Loved ‘em!
* FOR THOSE WHO AIM TO BE GREEN: I wholeheartedly recommend the Toyota Prius, which is a reliable, eco-friendly and darn sexy car. Mine is named Esmeralda. For about $30, I can fill the entire tank and drive for 500 miles.
* FOR THE COOK: Organize all your spices in the Handmade Spice Rack from Storage Studies. I actually purchased a larger version of this rack, and it is now one of my prized possessions. The rack itself is handcrafted by Thayer Gignoux, and the tins are both lightproof and airtight, which help spices last longer. Tins and labels are included.
* FOR THE COOKIE MONSTER: Virgin Atlantic served me a small packet of Quadruple Chocolate Chunk Cookies by Walkers during a flight from Edinburgh to London last month. I was dubious at first — I’m not a huge fan of packaged cookies — but was quickly converted by these treats.
* FOR THE AUDIOPHILE: The Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Canceling Headphones blew my mind when I donned ‘em inside the 5th Avenue Apple Store in Manhattan and discovered the beauty of silence. They also work beautifully when connected to an iPod. I don’t yet own a pair; someday I shall. So should you.
* FOR THE PERSON WHO LOOKS TO THE STARS: My favorite discovery from Canada was astronaut Chris Hadfield, whose Twitter feed rocked the world. While we were toiling away on Earth, Hadfield was serving as the commander of the International Space Station and running dozens of scientific experiments dealing with the impact of low gravity on human biology. Hadfield also published a memoir (“An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”), wrote a wonderful article for Wired and played his guitar — in space — before retiring from the space program. If you know someone who has big dreams, give them Hadfield’s book for inspiration.
On Nov. 23, I turned 40. The big 4-0. The age at which “youth” officially ends and Middle Age takes hold.
Many of my friends reached this milestone before me, and from what I can tell, freaking out was par for the course. Strangely, I wasn’t freaked. I wasn’t even rattled.
Now 30… 30 threw me for a loop. You see, I had this list of things I wanted to do with my life, and due to various circumstances, I was seriously behind schedule when I hit my third decade. I knew I could either a) lament the things I didn’t get the chance to do, or 2) step up my game and make my 30s count.
I chose door number two, and guess what? My 30s were the best decade yet. Yes, I struggled financially, and yes, the world decided to go to hell in a hand-basket during that time period. But I also found my soulmate and married him, achieved success in my career, moved about, traveled abroad, adopted animals, read hundreds of books, wrote constantly, honed my cooking/baking skills, traipsed through countless cemeteries, reconnected with old friends and made some awesome new ones.
Needless to say, as my 40th birthday neared, I found myself less concerned about gray hair and wrinkles and more excited about how grand my 40s would be. And to start off the decade, my husband gave me the perfect gift: A trip to Scotland.
As many of you know, Scotland is very dear to my heart. Although I have no ancestral ties to the nation, I’ve always been drawn to it. On my 34th birthday, M took me to Scotland for the first time, and the moment my feet touched the ground I knew I was home. Amazingly, he felt the same way. And when we returned to Scotland a couple years later for our honeymoon, we vowed to make living there a reality. That plan still stands, and it will happen. In my 40s.
Celebrating my birthday in Scotland was fabulous. We traveled through the Highlands, sipped tea and whiskey in pubs, ate handmade pies and fresh-caught fish, visited crumbling castles and metropolitan cities, played games, warmed our feet by the fire, and even shared a birthday cake with one of my dearest friends (who flew all the way from Seattle to mark the occasion).
If the next decade is anything like its debut, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Several very kind and generous people have been messaging me about what I want for my 40th birthday/Yule/Xmas. Since so many of you are far away, I went ahead and created a wishlist on Amazon.
However, if you’d rather support a cause I hold dear, then please sign up to be an organ donor.
Currently, more than 120,000 Americans are waiting list candidates for organ transplants. Nearly 2,000 of them are children. A new name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. And every day, 18 of those people die because a match was unavailable.
It’s so easy to become a donor. Simply fill out a card or check the box on your driver’s license application. Then tell your family and friends about your decision. That way, if anything ever happens to you, they’ll know to sign the consent form and honor your wishes. Having this discussion with your loved ones also offers you the opportunity to encourage them to learn more about organ donation.
Age isn’t a factor. Neither is gender or race. Organs and tissue can be donated by anyone who decides to help others. You don’t have to have a physical exam to see if your organs are good enough to donate. Medical suitability is determined at the time of death.
If you ever become seriously injured or ill, the doctors will give you the best care available. The decision to donate your organs has no effect on the amount or quality of medical care you’ll receive. Your life is the first priority. But if don’t pull through, the hospital can use your forethought and generosity to save other people’s lives.
What can be donated? You decide. Personally, I signed up for the whole shebang. When I’m gone, the United Network for Organ Sharing can have my heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver, intestines, eyes, skin and bone marrow. It’s not like I’ll be able to use them.
Once those organs are harvested, strict federal guidelines will ensure ethical and equitable distribution. Patients in the immediate area who are critically ill will get first dibs. If no suitable match is found, the organs will be offered regionally, then nationally.
Organ donation is free. Almost all major religions in the United States consider it an acceptable medical practice. And it’s one of the few opportunities for anyone to achieve a sort of immortality. Yet millions of people still haven’t filled out an organ donation card.
Hopefully, that will change today.
Last month, I wrote a blog entry highlighting the latest projects of some of my many creative friends and colleagues. Here are several more:
Photographer Angus Bruce has a gift for capturing the beauty of Scotland. His photographs are stark, honest and breathtaking. I own several.
A.J. Jacobs, editor-at-large of Esquire Magazine, wrote a fantastic book about “his humble quest for bodily perfection.” “Drop Dead Healthy” prompted me to move more, drink at least 50 oz of liquids a day, improve my dinner options and track my food/sleep/steps.
Amanda Koster is an internationally acclaimed photographer who combines an anthropology background with media skills to create projects about human rights, cultural diversity and global equality. Click here to watch her inspiring TED talk.
John Platt is a voracious reader, prolific writer and my favorite environmental reporter. If you’re interested in learning more about endangered species from around the world — and how to save them — check out his blog on the Scientific American website, Extinction Countdown. John also covers environmental issues for Mother Nature Network.
I’ll be showcasing the work of more friends in the weeks to come. If you have a new project you’d like me to promote, send an e-mail with the subject like “FEATURE ME!”
The recently departed Lou Reed once said, “It always bothers me to see people writing ‘RIP’ when a person dies. It just feels so insincere and like a cop-out. To me, ‘RIP’ is the microwave dinner of posthumous honours.”
As was his wont, Reed was able to succinctly sum up his thoughts with a clever turn of phrase. However, I have to disagree with the sentiment behind his words.
People tend to die in three ways:
* suddenly and unexpectedly
* after a period of illness
* peacefully while sleeping
The first death is so startling in its appearance that those left behind can barely comprehend the unforeseen loss. Sure, we’re all going to die, but these deaths (homicides, accidents, natural disasters, fire) occur in ways that tend to be both violent and painful. To the deceased, I say rest in peace because light knows you didn’t die that way.
The only silver lining of the second mode of death is that it frequently offers the blessing of extra time: time to get one’s affairs in order, time to do one last thing on the bucket list, time to say goodbye. However, the dying process can be fraught with distress. Witness enough of these deaths — bad deaths — and you too may find yourself wishing the deceased peace in their eternal sleep.
To those who have the good fortune to die in their sleep, I simply say rest in peace and farewell. Silently I hope that their last batch of dreams were pleasant ones.
–Photo of the Granary Burying Ground in Boston by Chaval Brasil. Used with permission.
Four times I have been stood up by people who agreed to meet (by phone, IM or in person) at an arranged time.
Four times I was blown off.
The first person did so by oversleeping, which is forgivable — once — particularly since he later apologized. The others not only skipped our scheduled appointment, they failed to contact me in any way to proffer an excuse for their actions.
Is it so wrong to expect people to arrive promptly for a meeting or event? Or for them to reach out prior to the agreed upon time to say they’re going to be late or need to cancel? In every one of my encounters this week, I would have been more than happy to reschedule had I been told in advance that they couldn’t make it. Instead, I waited and waited, throwing away precious time for people who never appeared.
I’m not talking about the occasional tardiness here. I swear, I’m not that unreasonable. I understand that people may be a few minutes late if they spill coffee all over their clothes, get stuck in a traffic jam or slowed by inclement weather. But chronic lateness is disrespectful.
I’m not the only one who’s grown tired of such unreliable and unprofessional people. Earlier this week, I read an article by Greg Savage (“How Did It Get To Be ‘OK’ For People To Be Late For Everything?”). Savage, a leader in the global recruitment industry, pointed out that such behavior is becoming far too common. He provided examples of late friends, dawdling colleagues and even unpunctual strangers who still expected him to buy something or assist in an important matter.
“And it is not that we lead ‘busy lives.’ That’s a given, we all do, and it’s a cop out to use that as an excuse,” Savage wrote. “It’s simply that some people no longer even pretend that they think your time is as important as theirs. And technology makes it worse. It seems texting or emailing that you are late somehow means you are no longer late. Rubbish. You are rude. And inconsiderate.”
So apparently, I’m not the only one to experience this problem. Nor should I be faulted for being exasperated by people who just can’t seem to follow through on their promises. I respect their time; I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they respect mine.
Alas, good manners seem to have vanished. Any suggestions on how we can bring back common courtesy?
–The White Rabbit illustration by Sir John Tenniel, from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland, 1871. Used with permission.
I’m fortunate in many ways. I’m fairly healthy. I’m madly in love with my husband. I have a good job, a roof over my head, food in the larder and a heat source that I can turn on during chilly Autumn evenings.
I’m also blessed with many creative friends and colleagues who constantly amaze me with their talents. Allow me to share some of their current projects:
Courtney Mroch has turned her interest in the supernatural into a fabulous project called Haunt Jaunts. Now she’s become a “paranormal travel advisor” whose blog will tell you the best places to find haunted hotels, hair-raising cruises and macabre walking tours.
Bob Sassone recently launched The Letter, a monthly newsletter sent via snail mail. Yes, Bob is single-handedly trying to save the USPS, an organization that reported a $5.2 billion loss for the third quarter. If you’d like to receive something other than catalogs and bills in the post, subscribe. I do.
Lastly, Beth Winegarner just self-published “The Columbine Effect.” This book challenges the oft-heard notions that video games, the goth culture, heavy metal, paganism and role-playing games create violent teens.
I’ll be showcasing the work of more friends in the weeks to come. If you have a new project you’d like me to promote, send an e-mail with the subject like “FEATURE ME!”