Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Recovery Mode

Typically, when that week between Christmas and New Year's Eve rolls around, I get really nostalgic for the year that has past. I contemplate the things that have happened in the last year to get me to the point I'm at now, and I wonder about what the future holds.

But frankly, I'm so over 2016. I don't want to think about it, ruminate on it, consider all of the ways it has changed me, shaped me, molded me. Because, frankly, it kind of sucked.

Yes, I got married to a wonderful man in 2016. On Thanksgiving, I wrote a post about all of the things I was thankful for in 2016, and there are a few of them. But there were also a lot of really sucky things that happened that I'd rather just move on from... which is a tad impossible when you're still living in a construction zone.

So moving forward to 2017...

I'll be honest. I am terrible at New Year's Resolutions. (I mean... everyone is, right? It's kind of a cliché at this point for me to say I'm terrible at them, but here I am... saying I'm terrible at them.) I get these big lofty dreams in my head: I'm going to exercise more! I'm going to eat right! I'm going to finally commit to doing all the DIY projects on my Pinterest board! And then January hits me full force -- we go back to school, I fall back into my routine of not doing anything but binge watching Netflix, eating popcorn, and reading books. Whomp whomp.

So, in 2014, I decided to ditch the conventional New Year's Resolution that I could never quite stick to and, instead, chose a word to define my year. In 2014, my word was pursue. In 2015, my word was persist. In 2016, I was obviously so overwhelmed with cheerleading and my first year of teaching that I just didn't choose a word. Looking back, 2016 should probably have been plan (a wedding, a rebuilding of your home, ahead for the future... etc.)

After snooping around on the Internet (and getting lost amid a few too many cooking tutorial videos and cats wearing hats), I've decided that my word of the year will be...


2016 was a harrowing year, and I did a pretty terrible job at self-care. I avoided confronting my problems and facing my emotions, and I took it out on my poor husband one too many times.

So, for the first part of the year, I will focus on recovering from the past year. On OneWord365's blog, they write, "recovery means recognizing the problem for what it is and being willing to change your life," and that really spoke to me. I shouldn't only be realizing that I have problems, but I should be willing to do something to overcome those issues.

So, I have resolved to take better care of myself. Not so much your typical work out-eat healthy-cut junk food (because, let's be honest about who I am as a person...), but generally be more focused on my mental health. Write more. See a therapist. Stay organized (for my sanity). Keep on top of my schoolwork. Throw myself back into my students and let them heal me. Go run with my puppy. Take time for myself. Say no to things. Say yes to things I might normally say no to. Be a better friend to my friends.

I need to get back to where I was in the past and where I should be going in the future. Winter is always challenging for me, and living in a house that is still under construction is hard on my psyche. Accepting that things are difficult and vowing to help myself adapt to these changes will help in my recovery process.

Hopefully, come June 2017, I'll be revising this word to something more forceful and optimistic, but for now, this word felt right.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful in 2016

Today is Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. Of course, I've always watched the Macy's parade, especially loving the Broadway performances and the Radio City Rockettes. And then there's the food. Because allllll the food.

But one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the fact that it forces us to slow down and really think about what we are grateful for. In this busy adult life that I've made for myself, it's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day and forget to take a step back and remind myself what's great about my life. Thanksgiving is the perfect reminder we need, going in to the holiday season.

2016 was a hard year.

  • In May, my grandmother passed away. I lost my fiery, one-of-a-kind, independent grandmother. She was 93 years old, but her body failed long before her mind did, and that just doesn't seem fair. I still think about her often, and my sadness from losing her hasn't ebbed. 
  • In August, our house flooded. Being homeless is HARD. Being homeless one month before your wedding is REALLY HARD. Being homeless in the first two months of marriage is REALLY REALLY HARD. We've learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship through this, but that knowledge hasn't made it any easier.
  • In November, Donald Trump was elected President. No matter what side of the aisle you look at, most people agree that this isn't best case scenario. It's been tough seeing all the hate and mistrust that has come from this election cycle.

BUT. Despite all of the hardships and struggle that we have endured this year, there have been some bright spots. And today, I'm choosing to focus on the good that has come of this year (a recent change of heart, since Jeromy called me a "mopey zoo lion" yesterday...)

2016 is the year we were married, and for that, I will never be able to completely write off this year. Our wedding was perfect. It was incredible. I've written about it before, but its importance in our lives at that moment can't be overstated. For one day, we weren't homeless or lost or alone. We were surrounded by all of the people who lift us up and hope for the best for us. We laughed and pretended that there was no other thing going on in the world outside of us and this dance party. The honeymoon week that followed was relaxing and restorative and precisely what we needed to make it through the next few months (plus, all the Maine lobster). When I'm struggling to live with our reality, I look back on those pictures. That day was an awesome day, and I know we will have many more awesome days ahead of us.

This weekend, we are moving back into our home. Well, not really our home. A new, upgraded, remodeled home. We will be back in our bed, reunited with our kitten, and Arthur will have his doggie door back. I've been hesitant to really get excited about it, because it still doesn't feel real. I can't be more thankful for everyone who has gotten us to this point, from the coworkers and students who literally tore our home apart, to our generous family who are helping us rebuild, to my student's dad who is quite literally putting our home back together. We are truly surrounded by an amazing community.

I am most grateful to Nick and Sam, our friends who let us in their home for the last three and a half months. Taking in two adults and a rambunctious pup definitely added a bit more chaos to their lives, but they have been so generous in their acceptance of us. It's been a nice reality check living with a 3-4-5-6 month old (because we have been living with them for over half of Aiden's life now), and I can credit Sam for helping me meet my Goodreads goal this year (she's basically my book soulmate). We are ready to be back in our home, but we will definitely miss our roommates.

Sometimes, when life is crazy, it's easy to forget all of the good things in it. Sometimes, the only way to remember is to make a list to remind yourself. I'm grateful that Thanksgiving comes around and reminds us to slow down and remember to be grateful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss

“For the two of us, home isn't a place. It is a person. And we are finally home.” 
― Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss

Book Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publication Date: 2010
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult, Romance
Goodreads Rating: 4.1 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

Can Anna find love in the City of Light?

Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theater, who is just starting to return her affection. So she's less than thrilled when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year.

But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new people, including the handsome Étienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he's taken —and Anna might be, too. Will a year of romantic near misses end with the French kiss she's waiting for?

1. Light and airy. After reading Big Little Lies and A Monster Calls, I needed a pick me up. Those books were amazing, but so heavy, and I knew I needed something lighter to read. This book was PERFECT for that. It had enough depth to keep me interested, but it was a love story and there's a comfort in (hopefully) knowing how it ends.

2. Nuanced characters. In YA chick lit, it's easy for authors to fall into stereotyping teenagers, but Perkins doesn't do that. She does a great job of slowly revealing the pasts of the characters and allows the reader to fall in love with each character slowly and intentionally. (Sidenote: Anna and the French Kiss is much better at this than the two sequels... but that didn't stop me from loving the sequels as well). Speaking of..

3. THERE ARE SEQUELS. The best part about this book? It's such a quick read, but there are two more books (so far) in the series. The other two books follow new characters, but our favorite characters make some cameos (Anna is a co-worker of Lola in Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla is a student at the same school Anna attended in Paris in Isla and the Happily Ever After). I've read both of these books between Sunday (when I finished Anna) and publishing this post (3 days later). And now I want more from Stephanie Perkins.

Perkins does a great job creating humor and interest in this little love story.

“The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” 

“I wish friends held hands more often, like the children I see on the streets sometimes. I'm not sure why we have to grow up and get embarrassed about it.” 

“I mean, really. Who sends their kid to boarding school? It's so Hogwarts. Only mine doesn't have cute boy wizards or magic candy or flying lessons.” 

“How many times can our emotions be tied to someone else's - be pulled and stretched and twisted - before they snap? Before they can never be mended again?” 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: A Monster Calls

“You do not write your life with words...You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” 
― Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Book Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness
Publication Date: 2011
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Goodreads Rating: 4.33 Stars
My Rating: 5 Stars

An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

1. Short, but in a good way. I read this book in 1 hour and 45 minutes. When I say "read", I mean devoured. Maybe it helped that I was home alone, sitting outside in the sunshine with the dog on my lap, but I didn't once have the urge to put this book down. It was exactly as long as it needed to be, and I'm still reeling a bit from reading it so quickly.

2. Poignant. This book would be the dictionary definition of the poignant. Conor, who is thirteen years old, has a secret guilt that he is hiding from everyone. Ironically, the first person to see through his façade is his tormentor, Harry. We don't know what Conor's secret guilt is until the end of the book, but by then, I felt so much compassion and pain for him, I would have forgiven anything he confessed.

3. So Personal. This book isn't amazing because it has a great plot or character development. It's amazing because of the way it forces the reader to look inside of themselves. We are continuously brought back to Conor's nightmare and wondering what it is. Throughout the novel, I found myself going back over and over to try to figure out what my "monster" would be. What is my secret sin? What is the guilt I am (needlessly) carrying with me? 24 hours later and I'm still continuously going back to these thoughts, which is the sign of a great book.

Ness does a great job of slowly revealing Conor's "monster", and, in the meantime, causing the reader to question their own demons.

“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.” 

“Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.” 

“Because humans are complicated beasts, the monster said. How can a queen be both a good witch and a bad witch? How can a prince be a murderer and a saviour? How can an apothecary be evil-tempered but right-thinking? How can a parson be wrong-thinking but good-hearted? How can invisible men make themselves more lonely by being seen?"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Review: Modern Romance

“I hope you aren’t holding an ice cream cone against your chest, ’cause your heart just warmed—and your ice cream just melted.” 
― Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance: An Investigation

Book Title: Modern Romance
Author: Aziz Ansari
Publication Date: 2015
Genres: Nonfiction, Humor
Goodreads Rating: 3.84 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?” 

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

1. Perfect vacation read. I picked up Aziz Ansari's book in the airport, which, in my opinion, is the best place ever to buy books. It means you're on a (hopefully relaxing) trip, about to settle in for a good 2 hour reading session. And this book did not disappoint. I was literally laughing out lout on the airplane, which embarrassed my brand new husband quite a bit. Plus, it's really easy to put down and pick back up. The book is organized really well, and you will never feel like you're going to get lost if you don't keep reading immediately, hence the vacation read status.

2. HILARIOUS. Ok, I love Aziz Ansari. His stand up is amazing, Parks and Rec is my jam, and his show Master of None is engaging, funny, and so very real. But... when picking up this book, I was a little worried that it would read like an academic study because that's really what it is. Little did I know how great Aziz's humor would come across in his writing. Like I said before, I was laughing at loud in very public places. Also, do not skip the footnotes.

3. But so very real. This book was eye-opening. Even as an old married lady (when I read the book, I had been married for a full 72 hours, so I obviously know everything), this book held my attention. They studied online dating, the population crisis in Japan, why Brazilians are so creepy, and why Americans are so scared of committing. The most interesting part for me was the comparison between previous generations and our own when it comes to dating. The whole thing was really eye-opening in an awesome way.

Aziz Ansari's book reads like an interesting academic study that was written by a stand-up comedian -- basically the only way I want to read any academic study ever again.

“Like most fedora wearers, he had a lot of inexplicable confidence.”

“In a sense we are all like a Flo Rida song: The more time you spend with us, the more you see how special we are. Social scientists refer to this as the Flo Rida Theory of Acquired Likability Through Repetition.” 

“The world is available to us, but that may be the problem.” 

“We want something that’s very passionate, or boiling, from the get-go. In the past, people weren’t looking for something boiling; they just needed some water. Once they found it and committed to a life together, they did their best to heat things up. Now, if things aren’t boiling, committing to marriage seems premature.” 

“The most popular time to sext is Tuesday between 10:00 A.M. and noon. Yes, we looked this up twice. Strange!”

A Year (Revised)

On July 5, I wrote a blog post for the first time in a year. It was filled with gratitude and hope. Life is looking vastly different than it was four months ago.

On August 13, 2016, our home flooded. We were not the only people on our street to flood. We weren't the only ones of our friends that flooded. We were not the only people at our workplaces that flooded. But when we saw the water creeping into our home, we have never felt more alone, and also so much like a team.

Facing this disaster was best premarital counseling we could have received. We came together to work through the trauma of watching the home we worked so hard to buy and furnish and make our own be torn apart (by some of our best friends and coworkers and family that we will forever be grateful for). Looking back on those first days following the flood, I can only assume I survived without falling into a week-long (month-long) panic attack because Jeromy was there. When I was weak, he was strong. When he was weak, I was strong. We are certainly better together than apart.

One month and four days after our home flooded, we were married under an old oak tree outside a Victorian home with our favorite family and friends in attendance. It was perfect and wonderful and completely indescribable without falling into cliches and metaphors. Everyone thinks that their wedding was amazing, but honestly, our wedding could not have been more perfect. The ceremony was short and beautiful and so personal. Then, we danced the entire night away.

Two months later, and I'm still having trouble putting into words how big of a thing marriage is.

We've had our ups and downs. (No, seriously, I laugh at those people who buy a bottle of wine to be opened after they've had their first fight. We've already had about 15, and that's a lot of wine.) It's not easy being homeless, even if you are living with some very best friends who have a really adorable 5 month old. It's not easy watching your home get ripped apart and slowly (so slowly) get put back together. It's not easy asking for money from friends and family and coworkers to pay the biggest bill we will ever have to pay.

But we overcame. And we are stronger for it.

In the weeks leading up to the wedding, people asked Jeromy and I if we were nervous, and the answer was always an resounding no. We know that there is no other person for us in life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Year

Hello! It's been almost a year since my last blog post. Why so long? Well, starting a new job is never easy. Starting a new teaching job with subjects you've never taught before in a school that allows you to create your own curriculum? That's damn overwhelming.

In the past year I've planned a wedding, kicked butt at teaching teenagers, managed to take over the cheerleading squad, and bought a house with my handsome fiance. I hate to brag, but my life has been pretty amazing. Too bad I only realize that when I stop for a moment to take a deep breath.

Those breaths come rarely. Life right now is so busy, so hectic, so fulfilling. It's rare that I stop long enough to truly contemplate how wonderful it all is. If I'm done planning a lesson, I'm painting a room or sending out wedding invitations. My Jeromy, my home, my job, my kids (all of those teenagers...) -- they completely fill my life.

I started blogging when I was in grad school and feeling very, very lost. I had no idea if what I was doing was best for me. Luckily, at the beginning of grad school, I found Jeromy and I started book club. Luckily, at the end of grad school, when I had given up hope of ever finding a job I would love, I found Ascension.

My life is not perfect. I neglect my friends far more often than I should. I miss my parents more than I'd care to admit. My cat regularly escapes the yard, which gives me panic attacks every time I can't find her. I lose a lot of sleep over my students and my cheerleaders and my lesson plans.

But, right now, in this moment, I felt the need to acknowledge just how good I have it. Because I have it so, so good. My life has always been blessed, but I'm realizing just how much I have to thank God for. My parents are serious #relationshipgoals, I have a man who loves me even when I'm being a brat, and my job is one of my favorite parts of life.

Not many people are as lucky as I am, and I'm trying harder to sit in my gratitude every now and then.