Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Beautiful Capstone on One Hell of A Process

Late last year, life handed my mom a cancer diagnosis and I basically disappeared from all things blogging. I should have been writing, but the story wasn’t mine to tell. My story was so intertwined with my mom’s that separating the two would have been impossible. As it always does, life moved on but cancer became the constant underlying theme of our days.

Cancer is initially paralyzing, but the further into the journey you get, the less scary it becomes (although the many unknowns are always present). There is an incredibly fine line between knowledge and ignorance. I had to learn to be content with not knowing, a lot. I’m a curious person by nature but I had to stop Googling all things medical because I learned that knowing too much sent me over the edge into a place from which I couldn't always quickly return.  Cancer, like other big life events, shows you who your people are, that tribe you can always count on or call upon regardless of time, space or distance. Finding those people and holding on tightly helped sustain me throughout these past several months. 

My mom handled her diagnosis and treatment with incredible grace and beauty, never complaining. She was extremely patient when things went wrong and determined to continue on when given the option to stop. 

Thankfully, earlier this week, my mom finished her treatments. Monday evening a local park held an event where people could send wish lanterns into the sky, a lovely way to celebrate the end of a long chapter. We wrote private wishes on our respective lanterns and sent them upward, both silently wishing and hoping they come true.



One of my friends perfectly described the evening as “a beautiful capstone on one hell of a process.” Indeed it was. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fall

Summer has faded into the much cooler, rainier days of autumn and while usually I’m sad to see summer go, this season I’m looking forward to fall. Often seen as a time for renewal, for fresh starts, and for tucking yourself into the house just a little bit earlier now that the suns setting earlier the fall season brings many things: seasonal baked goods, quiet evenings with close friends, hot tea and blankets.

For me the fall season is also bringing earlier mornings and longer evenings. After two years and some odd months, I had the ability to shift my hours. While this means my alarm going off at an ungodly hour, it also means quieter mornings in the office before most people trickle in at 9 or 10. After a week of new hours, I will never be pegged a “morning person” but, I don’t mind the early mornings as much as I thought I would. The longer evenings are certainly a welcomed change. I’m hoping this brings more time for writing and reading and all the other things I love but haven’t really been making time for, though, if I am being completely honest, its currently allowing me more time for binge watching all the episodes of Criminal Minds on Netflix., which also leads to me double locking all the doors on the house and the windows, but that’s another post.

I’ve been away from writing, truly writing and not just putting up a review or fluff piece, for a while now and I miss it. Blogging has changed a lot from when I first joined this ever growing community and I know it will never be the same. I’ve stopped journaling too and there is really is no explanation. One day I just stopped and I haven’t started again. In some ways it’s been freeing, living life without the need to document or feeling the need to make a record of events but its also been something I’ve missed. Not writing my thoughts and feelings sometimes makes me feel disconnected from others and more importantly, myself. It’s also shifted my focus away from social media to a degree. I used to love scrolling through Twitter, obsessively sometimes any free change I had, but these days, most days, I only open up the app once or twice. Maybe that will change again, but if it doesn’t I’m ok with that.

This fall, I’m looking forward to making more time for writing. And looking forward to adapting summer rituals into fall rituals when they can be. I’m excited for fall evenings with a hot beverage warming my hands while catching up with friends, whether they are the next town over or far away. I’m looking forward to pumpkin flavored everything and pulling out my KitchenAid more often and trying some new soup recipes. I’m excited for hooded sweatshirts and crisp air. I’m looking forward to seeing the leaves change and drinking some of my favorite wines that go better with this season than the previous one.


What are you looking forward to this season, friends?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Review: My Thinning Years

From Good Reads: As a child, Jon tried desperately to be his father’s version of the all-American boy, denying his gayness in a futile attempt to earn the love and respect of an abusive man. With this he built a deep, internalized homophobia that made him want to disappear rather than live with the truth about himself. That denial played out in the forms of anorexia, bulimia, and obsessive running, which consumed him as an adolescent and young adult.

It wasn’t until a grueling yet transformative Outward Bound experience that Jon began to face his sexual identity. This exploration continued as he entered college and started the serious work of sorting through years of repressed anger to separate from his father’s control and condemnation.

My Thinning Years is an inspiring story of courage, creativity, and the will to live--and of recreating the definition of family to include friends, relatives, and teachers who support you in realizing your true self.

My thoughts: Lately, I've been fascinated reading memoirs about other people's lives -- how they lived, how they grew up, how they survived some of the circumstances of their life. This was one of the most engaging memoirs I've encountered as of late.

Written almost as a personal letter to a friend, this book takes the reader through the childhood no child should be forced to endure. Croteau grew up with a controlling father, a mother who wasn't strong enough to help her son in the way he needed. He continually tried to be someone he wasn't. Growing up, the continual struggle of denying his true self led him down a road of unhappiness. In dealing with the struggle of self acceptance, Croteau developed a severe eating disorder and an obsessive running disorder. Oftentimes running long distances with very little to sustain him, at all hours of the day, in an effort to starve the gay within him. 

Eventually, the author is able to start to accept his true self and create his own family.. His struggle to  his true self is powerful and captivating. The odds he has overcome are incredibly inspiring, yet heartbreaking in knowing what he has survived. 

This book is a wonderful read. I actually read in just a few days because I needed to know how the story turned out, its such a beautiful book about the power of acceptance -- of yourself and others.  I would definitely recommend this book if you enjoy inspiring memoirs. 

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: Little Island

From GoodReads:
Grace
Flowers
By the water
Have fun!

These are Grace’s mother’s last words – left behind on a note. A note that Grace interprets as instructions for her memorial service. And so her far-flung clan will gather at their inn on Little Island, Maine, to honor her.

Twenty years ago, a tragedy nearly destroyed the Little family – and still defines them. Grace, her husband Gar, and their three grown children, Joy, Roger and Tamar each played a role in what transpired. But this weekend, they will discover that there is more than pain and heartbreak that binds their family together, when a few simple words lift the fog and reveal what truly matters.

My thoughts: This novel is a study of family dynamics at its finest. The book cycles through different points of view as well as shifting back and forth through present and past. While for some, it may be confusing, I felt that the author handled the transitions very well. As someone who enjoys reading about various family struggles, secrets and the aftermath, I connected with the characters right away and thoroughly enjoyed this story.

The setting of coastal Maine is a beautiful backdrop for a family gathering that brings about drama, strife, old feelings, and the struggle of moving forward from ghosts of the past. Britton brings the reader into the world of Joy, the eldest sibling, who is at odds with her role in life and her marriage now that her child has gone off to college. Roger, one of the twin siblings who drinks to drown out the past and Tamar, the working mother of twins who spends more time with her career than her family. Their parents are struggling with the loss of the family matriarch who leaves the instructions for her memorial service which has brought the family back to the Little Inn.


This book is wonderfully written and the story engaging. I loved reading and if books about family drama set amid the coast appeal to you, I would definitely recommend this novel. 

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: The Conditions of Love

From Goodreads: Dale M. Kushner's novel The Conditions of Love traces the journey of a girl from childhood to adulthood as she reckons with her parents' abandonment, her need to break from society's limitations, and her overwhelming desire for spiritual and erotic love. In 1953, ten-year-old Eunice lives in the backwaters of Wisconsin with her outrageously narcissistic mother, a manicureeste and movie star worshipper. Abandoned by her father as an infant, Eunice worries that she will become a misfit like her mother. When her mother's lover, the devoted Sam, moves in, Eunice imagines her life will finally become normal. But her hope dissolves when Sam gets kicked out, and she is again alone with her mother. A freak storm sends Eunice away from all things familiar. Rescued by the shaman-like Rose, Eunice's odyssey continues with a stay in a hermit's shack and ends with a passionate love affair with an older man. Through her capacity to redefine herself, reject bitterness and keep her heart open, she survives and flourishes. In this, she is both ordinary and heroic. At once fable and realistic story, The Conditions of Love is a book about emotional and physical survival. Through sheer force of will, Eunice saves herself from a doomed life. 

This engaging examination of a mother and daughter's relationship will appeal to the same audience that embraced Mona Simpson's acclaimed classic Anywhere But Here and Elizabeth Strout's bestselling Amy and Isabelle.

My thoughts: This is a beautifully written story about a young woman's odds to overcome the circumstances of her childhood.  A debut novel that follows Eunice from a turbulent childhood into adulthood, The Conditions of Love is at its core a reminder to keep your heart open to love.  Eunice's life is touched by a variety of relationships that shape her thoughts, heart and overall being. This novel is very character driven and an absolutely engaging read.  At a few points in the book the love scenes felt a bit much but over all the defining relationships -- both emotional and physical contribute to the overall theme of the story. 

I read this story quickly and would like to go back and reread. The writing flows so effortlessly, the words so vivid and smart, I was whisked away with the words and the story line.  The Conditions of Love Received a TLA Lariat Award nomination for Outstanding Adult Fiction in 2013 and its not hard to understand why. I enjoyed reading this novel and if literary novels appeal to you, I'm betting this one will too. 

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



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: Outside In

From GoodReads: From Memorial Day until the student workers and tourists leave in the fall, the island community of Put-in-Bay, Ohio, thrives on alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and any other means of forgetting responsibilities. To Brad Shepherd—recently forced out of his job as a junior high math teacher after the overdose death of a student—it’s exactly the kind of place he’s looking for.

Allured by the comfort and acceptance of the hedonistic atmosphere, Brad trades his academic responsibilities and sense of obligation for a bouncer’s flashlight and a pursuit of the endless summer. With Cinch Stevens, his new best friend and local drug dealer, at his side, Brad becomes lost in a haze of excess and instant gratification filled with romantic conquests, late-night excursions to special island hideaways, and a growing drug habit. Not even the hope from a blossoming relationship with Astrid, a bold and radiant Norwegian waitress, nor the mentoring from a mysterious mandolin player named Caldwell is enough to pull him out of his downward spiral. But as Labor Day approaches, the grim reality of his empty quest consumes him. With nowhere left to run or hide, Brad must accept that identity cannot be found or fabricated, but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.

A look at one man's belated coming of age that's equally funny, earnest, romantic, and lamenting, Doug Cooper’s debut novel explores the modern search for responsibility and identity, showing through the eyes of Brad Shepherd how sometimes, we can only come to understand who we truly are by becoming the person we’re not.

My Thoughts: First of all, I love that this book was set on Put-In-Bay. As a lifelong Ohio resident, I’m quite familiar with Put In Bay and the surrounding islands. Reading about locales and even the way Cooper describes the ferry boat ride from the mainland instantly swept me back to past trips. This debut novel is about a young man’s journey to cast off responsibility and lose himself into a world of late nights, drugs, and sex is a fantastic read. Narrated in first person, the main character, while at times not likable, is definitely relatable.

I appreciate that this coming of age novel isn’t about a teenager, but instead a 28 year old who spent his early 20’s doing what he thought he was supposed to do – going to college and graduate school, becoming a teacher, working on being an adult. It takes a tragedy like a student overdosing to make him question all of that. The quarter life crisis exists and sometimes it takes throwing everything aside and starting over again to realize who you truly are and what you want in life. Sometimes you have to experience things you might not have ever experienced; in the end you’ll be better for having had those experiences.

Outside In is a quick, engaging read I thoroughly enjoyed and I bet you would as well!

For further insight into the characters, themes, and plot stop by Doug Copper’s blog.  http://bycooper.com/blog/


To win your own copy of Outside In, simply leave a comment on the blog and a winner will be selected using a random number generator. 

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

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.