Friday, July 21, 2017

Homegoing

by Yaa Gyasi

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.



*****

This book is truly a feat. The author, Yaa Gyasi -- born in Ghana and grown in Huntsville, Alabama -- is only 26 years-old, which makes this even more impressive to me, when I consider the maturity of most of the 26 year-olds that I know, and once was.

The novel encompasses some huge themes -- slavery, colonization, and family culture among them. The story begins in the 1700s, when the British were starting to arrive on the coast of Ghana, eager to buy and sell Ghanians into the new slave trade kicking up in America and the Caribbean islands. Ghanian villages had a hand in this. Many leaders made pacts and deals with the British, raiding enemy villages, kidnapping their enemies, and selling them to the British for their own cut of profits. 

I've read multiple reviews in which readers suggest that Gyasi is wrong for implicating the Ghanians in slavery at all; some felt that it undercuts the responsibility that the British and Americans have for enslaving Africans. However, I didn't feel that way. Slavery was (is) extremely nuanced, and Gyasi simply reported history. She also did so without any sort of bias towards anyone. Whatever her personal feelings are surrounding the sordid history of slavery, she kept them out of her story. This is not to say that her characters didn't have significant feelings one way or another -- they did. But, to write a novel like this without giving characters strong negative feelings would be disingenuous and unbelievable.

Perhaps what I found most incredible about this novel is Gyasi's layout -- and the research she must have conducted in order to write the story. The novel starts with Effia and Esi; they are half-sisters who do not know one another. Effia marries a British soldier and lives in a castle on the Ghanian coast (the castle is real and still exists to this day! I googled it.) in relative wealth and comfort. At this same time, Esi is in the slave dungeon in the basement of the castle -- unbeknownst to Effia -- being held in wait for her transit to American slavery. Effia and her life comprises the first chapter; Esi and her life comprises the second. From there, the book bounces back and forth between the two threads; Effia's son has chapter three, and Esi's daughter has chapter four. The book spans hundreds of years and many generations -- one thread documenting life in Ghana through the centuries, and the other documenting life in America. 


What I found especially interesting about the plot of the novel, is that neither thread seemed to have better fortune than the other. When Gyasi starts with Effia and Esi, I thought "Yeah, I'd definitely rather be Effia. Her story is much less painful to read than Esi's." Who wouldn't prefer to live in the castle, rather than be imprisoned in it? However, as the years went on, the line between good-fortune and misfortune blurred. Sure, I would certainly not want to be an American slave. I also wouldn't want to live in a rural African village with the constant fear of being pillaged and set on fire. Of course, one of these threads only happened due to kidnapping and force, so that needs to be considered. As the centuries pass, America moves into the future. Life in Ghana remains very close to what it was in the 1700s. Both threads have nice stories, and both threads have horror.

Regardless, Gyasi nailed it with this book. Her writing talent shines through in every aspect - character development, plot development, and historical accuracy. I'm knocking off half of a star because there were a couple of points that I felt moved a little too slowly -- but this was such a minor fault. I recommend this book if you're looking to learn something new and interesting.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Buy this book here.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Debut Author Interview: Kate Hickey Discusses her Novel It's Me

As I mentioned in a prior post, my friend Kate Hickey has written and self-published a book. Her debut novel, It's Me, is now available on Amazon for purchase.  As someone who has always wanted to write a novel, I was impressed with Kate's perseverance, and curious as to what the novel-writing-and-publishing process entailed from start to finish. Luckily, we're friends, so I had the chance to sit down with her and chat about her experience. I have never interviewed an author before, but I found a wealth of interview questions on Writers' Digest, so I was able to tailor those for our purposes.  

So Kate. When people are deciding on the book they want to read next, they obviously want to know some details about their options. Will you describe to us what your book is about?
Sure. It's a coming-of-age story, focusing on the awkward, humorous ride known
as college, and the hardships of navigating life as a young adult in
the real world.


That will resonate with a large audience. When you're writing, where do you write from?
I write from my home office. I really want to be one of those
people writing from my laptop in a coffee shop,
but I am easily distracted and end up people watching.

Maybe the people watching is what helped you to write your story! What did lead up to this book?
I have always been interested in writing and have sort of an odd
sense of humor that I think many people share deep down. Once, I was
visiting my brother in Maryland and an amateur bank robber closed down
the main street where we were walking and I thought in that moment,
"People are ridiculous. I need to start documenting that." That weekend
I went home and started writing down stories and the book evolved from
there. For those interested, the bank robber was caught and no one was
hurt. And no, there is no mention of that particular story in the
book, but maybe one day.

Hahahaha what? Are you serious?
100%.

That would only happen to you, honestly. Okay, so what was the time frame for writing this book?  Tell us an interesting detail or two.
The book took me just about two years to complete. It started out
as something completely different, following the main character,
Perry, from when she was in middle school. Then one day I was staring
at the computer screen and saw the real story within the story. I
erased the first forty pages and from there it sounds cliche, but the
story wrote itself.

That's amazing. Also, you self-published. What were your 1-2 biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?
Like you said, I self-published my book and what I learned is, there is no wrong
or right way to publish. A good story is a good story no matter what
format it's in. If you believe in your work and you love it then you
have a product right there. What was surprising to me was how slow the
traditional publishing world moves.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
Writing is hard, but worth it. I think what helped me is making it
a priority and sticking to a schedule. There were days when I was so tired
that I didn't have the energy to write, but I still sat down at the
same time to make a habit out of it. Even if I wrote one sentence, or
edited one word. I was at the computer every day.

That follow-through, I've found, is always one of the hardest parts of trying to write a book. Or, I suppose, of any project, really. On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I would be more patient with myself and enjoy the process more. In
the beginning, I was so focused on the finished product that my story
was not forming the way I wanted because I was anxious to get as much
done as I could. It was only once I started focusing on the process
that I was able to cut the b.s. and the real story began to form.

Did you have a platform in place?  On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
I'm relying heavily on word of mouth. Social media is genius!

For marketing, it really is! Do you have any choice writing advice we haven’t discussed?
My advice for aspiring writers would be don't force it. You may
have an idea that's great, but if it doesn't work with the story, cut
it. The faster you can recognize that, the easier it will be down the
line when you're ready to edit the final product.

Okay. Tell us something about you. Something personal about you people may be surprised to know.
Something personal people would be surprised to know is that in
the last ten years I have lived in four different states. I love to
move. I'm always on the go. I love exploring new places, learning
about them, and then moving on!

This is why we're friends. What’s next?
Next is the follow up book to It's Me. The ending leaves a lot up
in the air!

It's Me is available on here on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback versions. Also, stay tuned on this blog, as I will be hosting a giveaway within the next week! You'll have the opportunity to enter the contest to win a paperback copy of the book. Details will follow!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Photo Challenge - Water

The best month (for me) of 2017 continued this past week when I went road-trip crashing. JC is currently continuing his tour of the United States and on Thursday I flew out to Vegas to join him. Of course, Vegas is in the middle of the desert, so my "water" prompt for the week didn't seem promising, but I told you I would pull water from a stone for this blog, and I intended to do just that. 

We started our trip hiking in the Red Rock Canyon National Reserve. I love the desert, so I thought this was insanely beautiful. Also, hot. It was 110 degrees. Dry heat though is a true story. Had that temperature been paired with New England humidity, it would have probably killed us. Instead, it just felt hot. We hiked up a mountain to La Madre Spring. "Spring." If you look very closely, you can see water trickling off of that rock. (Told you I would pull water from a stone). There was a sign saying that the water was untested and not to drink it, but we rolled around in it anyway. 

After our hike, we got in JC's car and began driving. 

On our way out of Nevada, near Area 51, we saw an Alien Gift Shop. Yes. We pulled into the parking lot because obviously we needed to go into that alien gift shop. Plans changed when we saw that is was attached to this gem. JC made a joke about checking it out. I made a joke about pushing him out of the car and leaving him in the desert for the crows. We drove on.

Out of Nevada and into California! We spent the night in a cabin in Death Valley. It was so ridiculously gorgeous... and dark. There are no streetlights or anything (there's no electricity), so strong high-beams are a must.

 I made JC drive through the desert to a ghost village (it used to be an old mining town in the 1800s) that is now deserted. Except...it's not. Someone has taken it over. There are no lights in the entirety of the desert -- the two "resorts" are so in the middle of nowhere that their only power source is a diesel generator -- and yet, there were lights on in this town. It was terrifying. There's also a defense radar set up, flashing all over the place. Also terrifying. We booked it the hell out of there, being startled to death by a roaming donkey as we tried to flee. The good news -- because it was so dark, I saw the Milky Way for the first time in my life. Anyway, this side-story isn't about water. Moving on.

Our next stop was Lake Tahoe. Now we're talking about water!





Lake Tahoe is gorgeous. It's huge. Some sections of the water are more green, and some are a very clear blue. We went tandem kayaking, which was mostly just me hanging on for dear life as JC paddled. I'm used to kayaking across placid ponds -- this was not that. There were a lot of wakes from speed boats, and I was basically afraid for my life. Still though, the views were incredible. The woman who rented us the kayak told us to be careful, because the water is so cold. We smiled. We had just touched the water and it felt warm enough to our Atlantic Ocean experienced souls. However, the bottom of the lake drops quickly, and once that happens, it's like ice. This makes sense, I suppose because of all the snow on the Sierra Nevadas behind the lake. When we were done kayaking, we waded in the shallow part of the lake, where it was still warm.

Finally, we had to head back to civilization so I could catch my flight home. I was flying out of San Francisco so we spent the night there, and got into town just in time to get to the beach to catch the sun going down over the Pacific. 



Obviously, I live near the Atlantic Ocean so I expected to be widely unimpressed by the Pacific. An ocean is an ocean, or so I thought. But, I was so wrong. They are not the same. The Pacific Ocean had waves unlike anything I've ever seen on the East Coast, and when the water washed over my feet, it wasn't cold enough to hurt. The sand was really dark in color. I was in love immediately. I love the Atlantic, but the Pacific... hot damn.

Then I came home, and got to see two of my favorite faces!


One more trip to go, and then the month of July will be over! 

Coming up on this blog:
Tomorrow: Interview with Kate-the-Author! (Her book is now available for purchase on Amazon, get it here).
Friday: Review of the book Homegoingby Yaa Gyasi (excellent read).
 Next Week: Photo Challenge: Swing, or Twirl (should be interesting!) 




Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

by Kathleen Rooney

She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, “in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it.”

Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It’s chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now―her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl―but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed―and has not.

A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop. Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young.


*****

I loved this book. I listened to it on Audible (which I have since cancelled, will talk about later), and it was perfect. Lillian is just the best character. A raging, passionate feminist, she took over New York City at a time when women weren't considered capable of having careers. She's witty, intelligent, and completely her own. This never changes throughout the book; in fact, the only time she seemed depressed or unhappy with her life was when she was straddled with a husband and a child she didn't particularly want to have (to be clear - she did love them both). 

I honestly wish Lillian was real, and that I could get to know her as a person. She is everything I strive to be, and as I read the book, I related to just about everything she said, and every view she had on her life and the world around her. 

Lillian is telling this story as she takes a New Year's Eve stroll through New York City. She meets a variety of people along the way, and has the most interesting encounters with them all. Even when meeting people who would normally cause stress, Lillian is cool and collected, and handles herself in a smart (and hilarious) fashion.

The books spans history, starting in 1930 and ending in 1985 (which is the present-day in the novel). The events of American history serve as a backdrop for the story as Lillian recounts her life, and I'm certain that Rooney must have done significant research to accurately create such a female-powerhouse during this range of years.

I didn't read this book; I listened to it on Audible, so I think that it was well-written, but I honestly wasn't paying as much attention to that. I liked the way the book was laid-out -- the chapters alternated between a historical moment, and the present. 

Now, the narrator for Lillian was perfect. She had an older voice (Lillian is in her eighties), and she read at the perfect pace, and with perfect intonation. With that said, I think I would have liked this book better if I had just read it myself. I cancelled my Audible subscription after this one; I kept getting distracted on the train, and had to re-listen to various parts. I found it discouraging, and I think it took a little bit of the joy away from the book.

Still, I'm giving it 5-stars. Kathleen Rooney shouldn't be punished for my crappy commute, and neither should Lillian. This books is amazing, and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Buy this book here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chemistry: A Novel

by Weike Wang

Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She's tormented by her failed research--and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. 

But there's another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can't make a life before finding success on her own. Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she's confronted with a question she won't find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? 

Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry--one in which the reactions can't be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.

*****

I really enjoyed this book, even though it felt very much like a kick to the gut. This book had everything I generally want in a novel: relatability; short, concise chapters; flawed, but not entirely horrid characters.

The nameless protagonist of this story is a chemist, working on her PhD at a Boston university (I assumed Harvard, but I could be wrong as it's never explicitly stated). Her work is not as fruitful as she would like; her advisor is breathing down her neck to finish up; her parents put ungodly pressure on her -- at one point saying "You're nothing to me without that degree," and to top it all off, her (wonderful, also a chemist) boyfriend, is a huge success at all that he does. She's floundering on the brink of a breakdown.

I loved the story of this book, because I just understood it so clearly. The main character (much like myself, and many others I have known), has had the same plan for her life for as long as she can remember. She puts everything she has into seeing her plan through, and it still doesn't seem to be working out. Once this happens, she's completely lost in life. Her reaction to this situation is much different than mine was; I think that everyone experiences things differently - however, I completely understood her sentiment and struggle. 

Conversely, her best friend lives in NYC. The best friend's life has gone according to plan exactly, but still, she suffers through her own dilemmas and struggles. I appreciated this parallel account (still told by the main character), because it just goes to show, roadblocks pop up, no matter the preparation level.

On a technical level, I liked the way this book was written. It's chapter-less, but has many section breaks, making it easy to read as much or as little as you would like. The book as a whole is short - it only took me two days to read. The writing isn't necessarily lyrical, but it's simple and straight-forward, which fits with the book's vibe. 

I recommend this one if you're looking for something quick, witty and intelligent. 

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Buy this book here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she'd never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.


*****

The problem with reviewing books weeks after you've read them, is that the memory of the book becomes hazy. Although, maybe this wouldn't happen if the book really struck a chord -- which for me, this one did not. Who knows. Anyway, this book was fine. Paula Hawkins wrote The Girl on the Train, and if you liked that one you may like this book as well. They're not similar in story, but they're similar in writing structure and genre.

If you look on Amazon, you're going to find mixed reviews and an average rating of 3.3 stars, which seems fair to me. It also looks as though readers generally either loved it or hated it -- which was not the case for me. I was completely indifferent to it. Like I said, it's been weeks since I finished it, and I don't honestly remember a whole lot about it. Thus, this review will be short and to the point.

The good:
I kept reading it. I read it quickly. The pages turned, and the story was interesting enough. I didn't guess the ending, though I probably could have if I had tried. 

The "eh, whatever":
There were many, many point-of-views (most of which I didn't really care about), there were entire sections that felt inconsequential (it was almost as though Hawkins' editor told her she needed to hit a specific word-count), and none of the characters were very likable, nor did they ever redeem themselves (in my eyes).

I think this book is probably decent if you're looking for a quick, summer beach-read, in the thriller genre. I don't think this one will have the same cult-following that The Girl on the Train had, but it will make its mark in the genre because Paula Hawkins is so popular right now.

Rating: 🌟🌟

Buy this book here.

Post Script: There will be a barrage of book reviews this week; I've fallen behind on writing them. I also want to note that I will not be reviewing The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. I had it listed as "up next" in one of my prior reviews, and that has since changed. The writing was pretty, but I just couldn't get myself excited to pick it up and read -- so I stopped reading it and moved on. Life is too short.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Photo Challenge - "Colors"

July is shaping up to be my favorite month so far this year, and it's on track to remain so. I've crammed a lot into 10 days -- I got to celebrate a 30th birthday (not mine, obvs) with two of my closest friends who I don't get to see nearly enough. I've done a lot of deck lounging, rose drinking, and baby-niece squeezing. I went to the beach for the 4th of July, and I went to Portland this past weekend to visit Kate-the-Author. I have two more trips coming up; one is this coming weekend, and one is the last week of July/first week of August. I'm pretty pleased with all of this.

My trip to Portland was perfectly timed with the week's prompt - "Colors." Maine has lots and lots of color. I had an amazing weekend. Portland is an incredible city, and it was so great to see my friends. Further, it was hot while I was there, but the city did not smell like garbage. I can't even remember the last time I lived in a place that didn't smell like a steaming pile of filth in warm temperatures. Yesterday, I sadly got in my car and headed back to Boston. When I got back home, JC called me as he drove through Arizona. This is not a verbatim transcript of our conversation, but it went basically like this:

JC: Hey! How was your weekend in Portland?
Me: I LOVE PORTLAND WE'RE MOVING TO PORTLAND!
JC: Okay! I'm interested. Did you have a timeline in mind?
Me: YESTERDAY!
JC (in his head): Good plan you psycho.
JC (out loud to me): Okay! When I see you this weekend let's put some plans on the books. We can come up with a timeline and plan a trip to Portland to view the city through a "should we move here" lens.
Me: I'M SO EXCITED TO MOVE TO PORTLAND
JC: I see this!

Anyway. Like I said, "Colors" was a perfect prompt, and here's what I came up with.

 I got to Portland on Friday night. Kate-the-Author and I sat on the deck drinking wine for hours, and then we went to bed. When I woke up in the morning, she wasn't awake yet, but her husband made me some coffee. (Later, Kate-the-Author shook her head at the fact that he put my coffee in the "K" mug when my name does not start with a K, but I liked this mug and immediately started searching online for the same one with an "M"). I happily sat on her deck and drank it. I love the colors here - the turquoise table with the red chairs just makes it.

When she woke up, she took me on a tour of the city, which I was instantly obsessed with. (Sidebar: For those of you wondering - yes, we were supposed to run a half-marathon this weekend. After a lack of training and actual interest in doing it, we decided not to run it, and to go for a walk and get donuts instead. We're happy with this decision. We still picked up our shirts though). Popping sunglasses in this picture!

Later that day, we left Portland, and drove up to Phippsburg. Phippsburg is a peninsula on the coast of Maine, and Kate-the-Author's family rents a house there every year. They checked into the house on Saturday, so I went up there with them for the night. They brought their golden retriever, Nellie. Nellie is awesome and I wanted to keep her as my own. I don't know the name of this other dog - but he was super cute. He belongs to the neighbors, who share the dock with Kate's family.

My suggestion to everyone would be to befriend Kate-the-Author and get invited on her family vacation. I hadn't seen her parents in years and it was so wonderful to do so. Basically, her family will treat you like royalty the whole time you're there, and give you a bedroom in the house with an ocean view. I took this picture on Sunday morning, sitting in my bed.

We drank coffee on the dock, and then Kate-the-Author and I went for a walk with her husband. We passed these lobster traps, and I love lobster traps. Nothing makes me more nostalgic than lobster traps. They're also incredibly colorful.

Then, I went home to Boston. Womp womp.

Now, whether I move out of Boston or not, I still hold a begrudging love for it in my heart, and it will forever and always be the city I most closely associate with my own personal identity. So, I didn't want to leave it out of this post. Especially since the city is filled with its own colors.

This is the Latin Culture building on Northeastern's campus. If you're looking for color, this is it!

And obviously, I can't leave out the Adirondack chairs on the lawn of the MFA. They're beautiful and they scream - SUMMER!

And of course, Bananas. He's a multi-colored cat sitting on a multi-colored rug, pissed off at me for leaving him for the weekend.

That's all I've got! I'm tagging along for a few days this weekend on JC's road-trip, and I'm psyched. Ironically - while I just spent the weekend in Maine, on the ocean, the prompt for this week is "Water." I fly to the Mojave Desert on Thursday. 

"Colors" would have been a good prompt for my upcoming adventure, but it's fine. I will produce water from a stone, and take a picture of it to put on this blog.

Enjoy your week!







Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Photo Challenge - Patriotic

Hello hello, hi hi, I'm running behind, sorry. This week's photo challenge prompt is PATRIOTIC. Which is perfect -- as it coincides with the Fourth of July -- obviously intentional. So without further ado, I present the patriotic photos I took (or received).

I went to visit a friend in Plymouth (Happy 4th from America's hometown!) this weekend, and we had a perfect beach day. The Fourth of July is lacking, in my book, without some body of water to admire.

Also seen in Plymouth, this giant American flag -- setup for the 4th of July festival. Too, these traffic barrels. Honestly, nothing says "AMERICA" like a flag and constant roadwork. 

Many personal boats had American flags, too.

I didn't take this picture -- my sister sent it to me. This, is apparently the face my niece makes when my sister insists upon patriotism.

I also didn't take this picture -- I stole it from my sister's SIL's Instagram. I love this picture though for a million reasons, my niece is cute, her outfit is cute, my sister is in love, she's the perfect mother, etc. etc., /end gush.

SIDEBAR: I really feel though that these two pics of my niece embody the 4th of July truth. In the first one, she's dressed nicely and neatly in her little dress. In the second one, she's hot, sweaty, her eyes show her distress, and her outfit is disheveled -- dress shoved high with underwear showing. Also, it looks like at some point she needed a shirt change -- possibly unable to hold her milk. If that doesn't capture the essence of 4th of July celebrations, I just don't know what does. Nothing changes when you get older. You just switch from milk to some form of alcohol and pray that someone takes care of you the way a mom takes care of a baby. 

AND FINALLY:
Bananas is celebrating by lying next to a red throw pillow.

Happy Fourth of July! Hope it was wonderful.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Your Wedding, From My (A Guest's) Perspective

I'm going to write it as delicately as I can, because I know it's a sensitive topic. I'm writing this post to explain to you -- brides and grooms of 2017 -- what it's like to be a guest at your wedding. I'm going to preface this by saying, I care for you deeply; if I didn't, I wouldn't even be considering spending time or money on your wedding. But, I'm feeling a bit taken for granted, and I've quite honestly had enough.

You're getting married. We should look happy like this.
The proverbial straw that broke this wedding guest's back occurred yesterday, in a wedding details-
related incident. I'm not going to rehash this event here; it's between me and the bride and the groom, and ultimately, I still love them and don't wish to hurt their feelings. But, the drama that occurred between them (the soon-to-be married couple), and me (the wedding guest), is not unique to them, to me, or to their wedding. So, this post feels overdue.

This year, 2017, is for me, the year of the weddings. I'm to attend no fewer than 7 matrimonial events. This number includes only the invitations that will be, or have been, addressed to me, and my plus one. This number does not include the weddings that JC has been invited to, and in which I will be the plus one. That brings the number of weddings we will be attending into the double digits. We care about you, and are happy to celebrate you. I am not complaining about being invited to your wedding; it's an honor.

But, it's expensive. I know it's expensive to plan and host a wedding -- but it's also expensive to be your guest. And we have an estimated 10 weddings we're attending this year. So, when I break that down in the most basic of ways, it looks like this:

Nights in a Hotel (10): $100 per night x 10 nights = $1,000
Wedding gifts: $100 per gift x 10 gifts = $1,000
Appropriate wedding dresses (3 to rotate): $100 per dress x 3 dresses = $300
Vacation Days I have to take (5): 7 hours per day x 5 days = 35 hours (or, one full week of work)

Bare-bones Total: $2,300 and a full week of vacation time. 

And, this is a low-ball estimate. Some of the hotels will cost well over $100. Some hotels I will need to stay in for more than one night. Some of these weddings require airfare -- which is between $300 and $500. All of these weddings require gas money, and spending money. Some of these weddings require that I spend a few hundred to be a guest at a bachelorette party. 

I guess this is all yours now. Just take it.
These things bring the total cost higher -- closer to $5,000-6,000. $6,000 this year to be a wedding guest. And, this is just me. This doesn't include JC's costs.

It's money I'm fine with spending -- again, because I care deeply for you -- but it would be nice if you took this into consideration. I'm not a Kennedy. $6,000 is the down-payment on the new car that I need. 

Oh, and to be excruciatingly clear, putting me on a group email that says "I know we're all attending a lot of weddings this year and I'd like to keep the costs for my bachelorette low, so I was thinking we'd do something small, like take a 10-day European cruise" does not count as being understanding. No offense, but I don't really want to travel for your bachelorette. I want to go to Europe with my boyfriend, where we can sit, and drink, and take in beautiful, ancient ruins. You don't get to cheapen Europe for me by forcing me to wear some ugly-ass tank top that says "bridesmaid" and a necklace adorned with plastic penises. Sorry.

Detailing for me how much I should expect to spend at your bachelorette party does not count as being understanding. Let me make this as simple as possible for you: you don't get to expect me to spend money on you. Any amount. Ever. Some of the emails I've received are astounding, and frankly, it's like this -- the onus of being grateful does not fall on me. Sure, I'm grateful that you want me to be at your bachelorette party, but more than that -- you should be grateful that I love you enough to celebrate you. You do NOT get to take my attendance as an expectation. I'm not required to attend anything, or spend anything, and you should not act like I am.

Like I said, I'm to be a guest at many weddings. Re-read that last word: guest. I am the guest. Not your slave. Not someone you pad your list with to ensure you get more gifts. I'm your guest. Which makes you, bride and groom, the hosts. 

See all those people in the background? Those are your guests.
They matter.
If you've ever attended any sort of social event, then you know that it is the responsibility of the hosts, to ensure that the guests are having a good time. Not vice-versa. I have a very strict moral code by which I expect others to treat me, and by which I abide to myself. I don't care if it's your wedding day or not. You still need to treat me, and all your other guests, well. You don't get to reprimand me, ignore me, or make any sort of demands of me. You may think that because you're getting married you're suddenly the late Princess Diana brought back to life (she was a gem, by the way, and I guarantee she treated her guests with utmost respect), but you're not. If you're not treating me well, I'll respond in kind. 

Your wedding, is nothing without your guests. Without your guests, you might as well just head over to the town hall and have some clerk sign your marriage certificate. You can pull a couple witnesses from the people down the hall who are there to fight traffic tickets. That's where you're at without your guests. You should be bending backwards to ensure that your guests are accommodated, and enjoying themselves. When you think you've bent so far backwards that your back might break -- you should bend a little further. When you're the host, it's not your job to enjoy yourself. If you find yourself having a good time, great -- but that's actually not your aim. It's your job to flit about, talk to everyone, and make sure everyone is having the best time ever. If that's not what you're doing, you're doing it wrong -- and you're a shitty host.

If you're reading this and getting steamed, thinking "This is NOT what I'm doing" -- feel free to message me privately, and I'll give you at least one personalized instance in which you've hurt someone's feelings, or been out of line in your bride/groom behavior.

When I leave your wedding, I won't remember how much money you spent on decorations, or even what they looked like. I won't remember what your food choices were, I won't remember what your signature drink was, and I won't remember what the color scheme was. 

It's gorgeous. I can see why you would want this. I won't
personally remember it though.
I will remember if you looked happy to be there (because honestly, I've been to weddings where the
bride and groom seem miserable and it always makes me think "Why am I here?"), and what lengths you took to accommodate your guests. I don't care what frills you have at your wedding if I'm having a crappy time. 

I'm telling you this because I love you, and it is your special day, and I'm guessing that when you look back on it in 20 years, you're going to want to be thinking "Wow, what an amazing day that was," and not "Why don't I have friends anymore?" 

Take it for what it is. I apologize if you feel slapped in the face by this post -- but frankly, that's how I've been feeling as a wedding guest all year. I think it's best that we understand what the other is feeling, and move forward from there.




Thursday, June 29, 2017

I'm Friends With a Published Author

Guys. I have such exciting news. As of next week, I will be friends with a published author. As of next week, my name will appear in a published novel as an editor. Yep! My incredibly talented, brilliant, and creative friend Kate, has (after two years!) completed writing her first novel, It's Me. It will hit Amazon bookshelves next week in both e-book and print versions!

I met Kate when we were both in our early 20s, living in Chicago, and heading to DePaul for our Master's degrees. We found one another at our grad school orientation, and quickly bonded over our many similarities:  New England-Transplants-In-Chicago statuses, a strong affinity to Patriots football, and a shared love for dive-bar-PBR-Saturday nights followed by high-end-restaurant-cocktails-and-brunches-Sunday mornings. We also shared a general disinterest in the drama surrounding many of our classmates and their relationships, but had the tendency to be bribed into listening and doling out advice. 

For example:

Classmate: Guys look, I brought homemade trail mix!
Us: Yum! Thanks!
Classmate: Now let me tell you about my boyfriend drama.
Us: :::Mouths full of trail mix::: Sigh.
Classmate: He cheated on me. How do I get him back?
Us: You don't. He cheated on you. He's a douche. You don't want him back. Psssst. Pass the trail mix? Thanks.
Classmate: Yeah but...
Us: No.
Us: This trail mix is so good. 

So essentially, Kate and I started hanging out immediately and have been close friends ever since.

However, no matter how close you can be to a friend, you don't know everything about them. Case in point, I did not know that for the past two years, Kate has been writing a book. I did not know this, in fact, until she flattered the hell out of me by asking me to edit it. I immediately said yes.

 So, here's what I can tell you. It's Me is a hilarious, coming-of-age novel, written for adults. Often times when people hear the term "coming-of-age," they think of a YA novel. I would not classify this as such. It is adult themed, highly-relatable, awkward, and hilarious. I'll refrain from giving away plot points at this juncture, but once the book is available for purchase, I'll be posting a full review.

Further, once this book is out officially, I'll be doing (my first!)
giveaway contest (details TBD). The winner will receive a free (autographed, because I know the author and was in her wedding) print copy of the book.

My friend is a published author! And, I had the opportunity to edit a published work! (Do you think I can put this on my resume?) 

Finally, I guess talented people run in talented circles because Kate's friend, who is an illustrator, completed the cover art for this novel, and it looks fantastic. Sneak peak here:



Follow Kate on Twitter, or Instagram for further updates from the author herself, and stay tuned for further details next week!


Monday, June 26, 2017

Photo Challenge - Summer

Wednesday was the first day of summer, and, quite aptly, the photo challenge prompt for the week was "Summer." I actually took pictures this week -- though it was pretty easy to do because I went on a weekend away in Maine, and also, signs of summer are everywhere. I have many summer pics, and I'm breaking them up into categories for this post.

Weekday Summer


Nothing says "summer" quite like Adirondack chairs. I saw these when I was cutting through Northeastern's campus on my way to work.


This tree is in front of a school that I walk past every afternoon. Last fall, I took a picture of this tree when the leaves were turning and it was bright red in color. Obviously, it went bare for winter, and now it's robust again in summer fashion.


White wine and deck sitting is quintessential summer behavior in my life.


Bananas thinks so, too.

Weekend Away Summer


JC and I went on a quick jaunt to Coastal Maine this weekend. This was the view from our brunch restaurant.



After brunch, we walked through downtown and sat on some benches overlooking the water.


Some wine was consumed. 


And eventually, we ended back up at our motel to sit on the deck. Unfortunately, this didn't last too long, as the mosquitos came out, and I started getting whiny.

And, that's what I've got for the prompt "summer" though I imagine that through the next couple of months, many of my photos will take on a summer flare.

Enjoy the start of the season!