Thursday, March 27, 2014

Some Thoughts On A Year

This past weekend marked the one year anniversary of my stepfather’s passing. While his death is not something that I dwell on, the past week has brought an array of emotions and memories. Reliving the last few hours in the hospital, some of the last conversations I had with him, going to the funeral home with my mom to help with decisions I wasn’t prepared to make, the amount of love shown to us by friends and family.

In the days and weeks after my stepdad’s death, most of my memories were short term: the ones in the days and weeks leading up to his death, being at the funeral home, the first days without him. Slowly, those have faded allowing room for memories of happier times and funnier moments. It’s been a somewhat strange year, holding my breath around certain dates and events, not sure what sort of memories or feelings they might trigger. Its odd in a way, to know that an entire calendar year has passed, the first major functions without my stepdad have happened, and things are ok. They are certainly different but things had been different since his stroke.

A year like this past one has a funny way of changing you, certainly puts things into perspective, and makes you into a different person. Same at the core, but older, wiser, a member of a club I wasn’t ready to belong to; there are things that only other people who’ve lost a parent can relate to or understand. This past year has taught me, most importantly, the importance of surrounding yourself with good people and the importance of showing up. I don’t have many incredibly close friends locally, but one friend in particular, I thought would come to the funeral or at the very least call, but she didn’t. Other friends I didn’t expect to show up, did. One friend with her twin daughters and newborn in town, another a long time childhood friend I hadn’t spoken to in years. In the weeks that followed, many long distance friends sent cards, packages, texts, all of which were so much appreciated. Show up. Be there. Send the card or text.  Do what you can. It’s become a mantra when someone close suffers a loss, because I know what it’s like when people both do and don’t.

I’ve got less time in my life for people who bring their bull shit to the table, people with whom I was getting together with out of some odd sense of obligation and instead have sought out spending more time with people who matter, make a difference, and enhance my life, not drain it. I’ve reconnected with some people from my past, realizing I have so much more to learn from them, people who challenge me to think and grow. Typing this out makes it sound silly, like it shouldn’t have taken a death to make me realize this, but sometimes its those jarring moments that spur changes. Changes that likely should have happened long before.

I have a hard time reading books about death or dying. I’ve gotten from books from the library thinking that they would be really helpful only to drop them in the book deposit a short time later, not yet prepared to read about the after part of losing a parent or a main character who loses a spouse or parent. I don’t like to read about people having strokes or watch tv shows that deal with death or dying. Maybe someday I’ll return to them, but for now, it’s not something I’m interested in.

I’ve learned about the importance of remembering. It’s a way to honor your loved ones life, to talk about funny stories and to share those memories with others. But also remembering important dates in others lives. Its nice when someone reaches out and says, I remember your loved one and I remember this day. It makes you feel less alone and is just really nice to know other people remember too.

As cliché and cheesy as it sounds, I’ve been reminded life goes on. The seasons keep coming and going, the pages of the calendar keep flipping, the world keeps spinning, new life is created, friends reconcile, new memories are made, fun trips are taken, and the sad memories wane. The past year wasn’t unhappy but it was a big year of growing, changing, and adjusting. I know that will continue for years to come, but for now I’m breathing a little easier. The first year without a loved one is a big one. But my family and I survived it, certainly in our own different ways, but we did it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Once, the Musical

My friend, Alli, has raved about the musical Once for the past year or so, when I found out it was coming to Pittsburgh, I was incredibly excited. I was even more excited when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust offered me two tickets. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Mother Nature fully cooperated on the weather front by giving my mom and I a beautiful 70 degree day as we sped up the Parkway into the city. Well, sped may be a bit of a misnomer, as always there was a lots of traffic but when the windows are rolled down and the sun is shining, I don’t think anyone cared. We were in downtown early enough to enjoy some time people watching in a little park, walking around a bit enjoying the sunshine and listening to the man playing Old Crow Medicine Show on his guitar. It was much needed and refreshing.

I knew very little about this show going into the theater. I wanted to fully immerse myself in the experience, characters and music. Before the show, audience members were invited up on stage to buy drinks from the set bar while cast members played some upbeat Irish music on their violins, accordions, guitars and a piano. Once is completely different from every other show I’ve seen, the cast (only 14 members) all play instruments and double as the orchestra. The set is comprised of various sized mirrors, ambient lighting. 

Tables and chairs are brought out resulting in a shift from a music store, bar, bedroom, and shared flat. You don’t realize its happened until its over. There are no flashy costume changes, fancy lighting sequences, showy dance numbers or overly done set desigsn. Its simple and beautiful, allowing theater goers to fully focus on the story that develops over a week. The main characters are simply billed as Guy and Girl. The supporting cast is always nearby, off the sides of the stage providing instrumentation and background vocals as needed.

I loved the story and the actors. But the music? The music was absolutely amazing. The actors playing and singing ballads about love and life left me breathless. Seeing the show, its no wonder the musical has scored multiple Tony’s and a Grammy Award. The actors voices meshed so perfectly, enough to register goose bumps on my arms."Falling Slowly" has been on my playlist for quite a while, without me realizing it comes from the musical. I have been obsessively listening to it since seeing the show. YouTube it, you won't be sorry. 

Over all, the story is minimalist and beautiful and it totally works. A story about loves, past and present, finding our way with people we might not imagine, but ultimately showing how a few days and new people have the power to completely change lives.

Once the Musical is running at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh until March 16th.  The US Tour will also be running in several other cities over the next few months, full schedule located here.

If you have the opportunity to see this amazing show, do it. You won’t be disappointed and you will leave feeling transformed by the simplistic beauty of this play.

Disclosure: I was provided with two tickets to see Once from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions contained in this post are my own. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: The Deepest Secret

From Goodreads: For fans of Jodi Picoult, Kim Edwards, and William Landay, The Deepest Secret is part intimate family drama, part gripping page-turner, exploring the profound power of the truths we’re scared to face . . . about our marriages, our children, and ourselves.

Eve Lattimore’s family is like every other on their suburban street, with one exception. Her son Tyler has a rare medical condition that makes him fatally sensitive to light, which means heavy curtains and deadlocked doors protect him during the day and he can never leave the house except at night. For Eve, only constant vigilance stands between an increasingly restless teenage son and the dangers of the outside world.

Until the night the unthinkable happens. When tragedy strikes, it becomes clear that this family is not the only one on the quiet cul-de-sac that is more complicated than it appears. And as Eve is forced to shield her family from harm, there are some crises she cannot control—and some secrets that not even love can conceal.

Deeply moving and stunningly suspenseful, The Deepest Secret is a novel of rare power—a story about hope and forgiveness, about the terrifying ways our lives can spin out of control and the unexpected sacrifices that may save us.

My thoughts:  Having never read any of Carla Buckley’s previous work, I was unsure of what to expect with this large novel. It sat one my bedside table for a few weeks, taunting me, until I was able to pick it up. And once I did, I didn’t want to put it down.

The novel is told from three different view points: Eve, her husband David, and  her son Tyler who suffers from XP. xeroderma pigmentosum, which makes any form of UV rays deadly. I’m not always crazy about alternating pov’s but in this case it works really well.

 Through the intertwining voices of the three main characters one learns that the family is barely holding it together and all have their own secrets. Eve, is the vigilant mother  who feels she is the only one capable of caring her for son. David is  the father who wants the family to relocate and is largely absent from the day to day management of the family.  Melissa is the eldest daughter who feels she must be perfect and in that role, already on the verge of emotional angst. Tyler is the young teen who roams the neighborhood after the sun has gone down, photographing and observing the neighbors in their nightly routines.

The family intricacies are complex but then add in an even bigger secret and the ramifications of that choice, and the family is on the edge of cracking under the weight of those secrets and choices. This book kept me turning the pages long after I should have gone to bed and was a quick read, despite the fact that it’s a longer book. While I did truly enjoy most of the story, there were parts that were slow and a bit repetitive but not enough to have a detrimental effect on the book.

If you have been looking for an intriguing, gripping read, look no further! This book will absolutely have you questioning the choices you would make and just how far you would be willing to go to protect your family.  Definitely check Buckley’s The Deepest Secret.

Disclaimer: I was provided this book by TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for a review. The thoughts and opinions in this post are my own. 

Friday, March 07, 2014

Five Things Friday

1. I’ve been feeling uninspired lately, in a lot of areas of life. I know a large part of this is the weather. Winter is kicking my ass, I hit my winter wall several weeks ago. My seasonal affective disorder has kicked in. I will be glad to move the clocks this weekend and regain some sunlight in my life. Right now, when I leave work, its dark and I’m longing to sit on my deck, drink wine, and feel the sunshine on my skin. I’ve had to change my plans several times due to the snow. Last weekend we had another 8 inches. I’m shaking my fist at you, Mother Nature. Here’s hoping warmer temperatures are on the horizon.

2. Due to the winter, I haven’t left the confines of my valley in months. I’m hoping to roadtrip to DC as soon as I have a free weekend and the weather cooperates. While I do indeed choose to live in my little valley, I feel like my best self when I can get out and go. I am looking forward to feeling the urban vibe soon. And maybe making a longer road trip later in the Spring, to see a few friends in the South. I know, I know….I am not really a fan of all things South but this is what 4 months of snow and ice do to a person. I do miss the few friends I made in GA and a few friends from my valley live in Jacksonville. Tour de East Coast perhaps?

3. My blog is in desperate need of an overhaul. The information in my bio is woefully outdated. I really need to make the time to update that and a few other pages. Sometimes I forget that people actually look at my blog on a computer and aren’t just accessing it through their smart phones. Its been a long time since I’ve messed with the management of my blog, here’s hoping I remember how.

4. My mom and I are in the beginning stages of planning a big trip for next year to Alaska. Have you been? We are going to do a cruise and other than signing up to get all the mail and email from various tour companies and sites, I don’t know what all else this entails. If you have gone, please share your knowledge with me! What do we absolutely need to see or do? Have a cruise line you would recommend over another? We’ll likely book through a travel agent because trying to figure out everything out on our own is a bit overwhelming. Tips, secrets, and suggestions are welcome!

5. I had breakfast earlier in the week with someone from my college years. She’s a creative soul and our breakfasts include inspiring discussions about books, unblocking creativity, inspirations, and intentions. Its refreshing to have someone to talk about these things with face to face. Our latest discussion has me ruminating on a few things I’m hoping to write about this weekend, as posts for next week.

Have a great weekend, friends! 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Review: Under the Wide and Starry Sky

From Good Reads: At the age of thirty-five, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne leaves her philandering husband in San Francisco and sets sail for Belgium to study art, with her three children and a nanny in tow. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her brood repair to a quiet artists' colony in France where she can recuperate. There she meets Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who is instantly smitten with the earthy, independent and opinionated belle Americaine.

A woman ahead of her time, Fanny does not immediately take to the young lawyer who longs to devote his life to literature, and who would eventually write such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson's charms. The two begin a fierce love affair, marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness, which spans decades as they travel the world for the sake of his health. Eventually they settled in Samoa, where Robert Louis Stevenson is buried underneath the epitaph:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
My thoughts: This was my first experience reading Nancy Horan’s work. This novel covers many decades from the back story of Fanny van de Grit Osbourne to the tale of her life with Robert Louis Stevenson as they wandered from place to place in search of a place. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s work in high school but never gave much thought (as with most classic authors) to his private life and the woman who helped drive and inspire him.

I was drawn to the character of Fanny, a woman who had very modern ideas and devoted herself to a life of beauty and art, despite some unfortunate circumstances. Her avant garde attitude was appealing and she settled right into the slightly bohemian lifestyle she chose to live after leaving her husband and comfortable life in San Francisco. While she sometimes felt overshadowed by her literary husband, she was absolutely devoted to him.

Robert Louis Stevenson was a dreamer who, against his family’s wishes, chose the life of a writer. Together with Fanny, they traveled, often times searching for the ideal climate for his ailing lungs. Fanny’s children are minor characters who drift in and out of the story. I feel like there could have been more development and interaction with them, given how much of the first pages of the novel are devoted to their story. At times the travels of Robert Louis and Fanny were a bit monotonous.

This novel is quite lengthy and honestly, sometimes lost my attention. I appreciated the story but still felt that at times, the book was just too long. I’m glad that I stuck with it, but overall thought the book was just ok. Historical fiction about the life of an author isn’t something I’m likely to return to again. If you ejoyed Horan’s first novel, Loving Frank, chances are you will enjoy Under the Wide and Starry Sky. If Robert Louis Stevenson’s book are something you absolutely love, then definitely check out this novel.

Disclaimer: I was provided with this book by TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thought and opinions in this post are my own. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Coffee Date

Coffee is one of my favorite times of the day; whether it’s the first glorious, necessary cup of the morning that lets me take a few minutes to close my eyes and focus my thoughts or a cup being enjoyed across the table from a friend, lettings us catch up and talk about life. Coffee plays a pretty serious roll in my life, so let’s pretend we’re catching up over a mug of beloved java.

Via pinterest

I would you tell that I’m feeling the winter blues and have basically hit my winter wall. The mornings are a struggle, its cold, I’m tired of scraping my windows, and doing the granny shuffle across the work parking lot. Last week, there was rain, which melted the snow and turned everything dreary shades of gray and brown. Then it snowed and iced and snowed again. I’m ready for warmer days, reading outside, and deck drinking.

I’ve been reading a lot, currently I’m reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home and absolutely love it. The writing is beautiful, the characters believable, and I’m carrying my Nook around with me to use any moments I can as reading time. I have a few other books lined up and am looking forward to dive into those.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a few different people offer up some pretty strong compliments on me. While the compliments are incredibly flattering, they also leave me feeling like I’m not that person. One told me how together and how “on the ball” I am. The truth is, I’m generally being held together by a thread and feel like I’m under the ball more than on the ball. It leaves me feeling like I’m putting forward this false face or sense of who I truly am. I’ve been conflicted about it for a while now.

Podcasts have been making my life lately: This American Life, Joy the Baker and The Art of Simple are among my favorites.

I have some posts in my drafts that I’ve been afraid to publish. I’m not sure why or when I became afraid of my words or even yet, how people will react. I worry its not a good time to share them. So I don’t. I need to work harder at finding my voice and not being afraid of that voice.

I am in dire need of doing some cleaning out. I have a lot of clutter in my life and I’m sort of over it. What I need to do is take some serious time, start throwing things away and evaluating the place of “things” in my life. What once fit my life, don’t necessarily fit now. I have a completely unplanned weekend and need to start the cleaning out process. You can bet that I’ll be dragging my heels the whole time, complete with “but I don’t wanna.”

Your turn! What would you tell me if we were catching up across the table from one another? What are you reading? What are your favorite podcasts? 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: This Dark Road To Mercy

From Goodreads: The critically-acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller A Land More Kind Than Home returns with a resonant novel of love and atonement, blood and vengeance, involving two young sisters, a wayward father, and an enemy determined to see him pay for his sins

When their mother dies unexpectedly, twelve-year-old Easter and her six-year-old sister Ruby are shuffled into the foster care system in Gastonia, North Carolina, a town not far from the Appalachian mountains. But just as they settle into their new life, their errant father, Wade, an ex-minor league baseball player whom they haven't seen in years, suddenly appears and wants to spend more time with them. Unfortunately, Wade has signed away legal rights to his daughters, and the only way he can get Easter and Ruby back is to steal them away in the middle of the night.

Brady Weller, the girls' court-appointed guardian, begins looking for Wade, and he quickly turns up unsettling information linking Wade to a recent armored car heist, one with a whopping $14.5 million missing. But Brady Weller isn't the only one hunting the desperate father. Robert Pruitt, a shady and mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta, is also determined to find Wade and claim his due.

My thoughts: Having enjoyed A Land More Kind than Home, I excitedly dove into Wiley Cash’s second novel. I am a big fan of Cash’s writing style and how he weaves together his love for his home state into the prose. This Dark Road to Mercy is told through alternating narrators about the two sisters and their relationship (or lack thereof) with their father, the man who seeks to bring them home, and a man harboring a long time vendetta seeking to get even with the girl’s father.

Easter and Ruby are little girls longing for family. Wade is desperately trying to rectify past bad decisions (while continuing to make bad decisions). Despite his past transgressions, I couldn't help but feel like rooting for him. Brady, a man who is troubled over his past relationship with his daughter, attempts to make things right by tracking down Wade, Easter and Ruby.

The story wonderfully demonstrates the need we all have at one time or another for grace, mercy, and forgiveness (from both others and ourselves) when attempting to right old wrongs and doing what we feel is the right thing. This book definitely tugged at my heart strings. I found myself hoping most of the main characters found mercy to forgive themselves. If you loved Cash’s first novel, you will likely enjoy this fantastic second novel. I was immediately drawn into this book and devoured the novel in just a few hours. I will absolutely be recommending this book to friends in the future and awaiting other works from Wiley Cash. 

In another fun note about author, I noticed he was listed as living in West Virginia, so I turned to Google and discovered he had in the past been a professor at a local university.  It’s always fun to discover some random local ties to an author.

As with previous reviews, I was provided a copy of this novel from TLCtours and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.