Friday, November 25, 2016

Currently reading.

My favorite. Thanks Mom!

Back when school started, in September, I set a goal for myself to make more time for reading.

I was a voracious reader growing up - something of a Rory Gilmore, always a book on the go - but as I got older and my academic agenda became more demanding something had to give and reading for pleasure fell to the bottom of the priority list.

I hoped that when I wasn't bogged down by books relating to my studies, I would have more time and and an increased desire to return to reading as a daily habit but, sadly, the working world has proved to be just as draining as the world of education.

So, I made a goal - and so far I feel like I'm achieving it. I have been pushing myself to choose reading over other, more mindless activities and have made it through a fair few books this autumn. Every once in a while, though, when things get crazy, I just feel the need to put down the book and pick up something a little more relaxed.

So, here it is. What I am currently reading - a big ol' stack of magazines - mostly Real Simple magazines that my mom saved up for me over the past few months since they don't sell them in the UK.

The perfect indulgence :)


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hopes and high horses.

Someone that I love and respect, but who happens to have very different opinions from me on just about everything, said something recently that struck me. In all of the build up to this election, she reminded me that no matter how we feel about any particular candidate, it isn't right or fair to call anyone supporting that candidate "stupid" or to speak to those individuals with rudeness or contempt. 

Looking back at the many politically charged things that I have posted this election season, I feel pretty confident that my opinions were shared with respect - although I am sure that frustration did color my words at times - I am only human after all. 

Still, I feel that a reminder for kindness is never fruitless and it has made me think a bit about what might motivate people's votes.

↡   ↡   ↡   ↡   ↡   ↡

These are the words that I wrote on Wednesday November 9th, as I sat on an airplane heading for Washington D.C. 

It was coincidence that I was flying there on that day; I was on my way to a wedding. Yet, I was grateful that it had worked out that way because after the shock of waking up to the world gone topsy turvy I really needed it. Six quiet hours, thousands of feet in the air, miles above all the bullshit, followed by five days of family-fueled wedding chaos. 

It was a brief, but blissful escape.

I always knew I would have to come back down to reality, though, and address the present situation, but a week-and-a-half later I am still not sure that I have come to terms with what has happened.

For much of this last week, I have been plagued by a real sense of despair. The result of this election is such a great contrast to the atmosphere of the last eight years, which have been all about optimism and progress. For all of my desire to see the hope in any situation, I can't help but imagine the bleakness of the time to come.

At first, I suppose. I was in shock, but that has slowly given way to a gut wrenching disappointment. Yes, I am disappointed in my fellow American citizens - in their ability to put forth such an unqualified candidate in the first place and then to choose him to represent our country and the entirety of its people. 

I am also anxious. I worry about the future. I worry about our society moving backwards. I worry about the millions that are likely to be affected by the whims of a man who has openly and unashamedly expressed himself in a sexist, xenophobic and bigoted manner throughout the presidential race. 

No matter how unappealing the opposing candidate, I simply cannot reconcile myself with the fact that we have asked this person to be the face of America. We know that our actions define us, so maybe the face of America is actually the heart of America. Maybe the majority of Americans do still have racist, sexist, and bigoted inclinations. I don't want to believe this and, furthermore, the fact that Clinton won the popular vote suggests otherwise, but the numbers are still high. Far too high.

What I think is more likely is that too many don't fully understand or value the impact that this will have on those who are not white, not Christian, not male. They don't understand what it is, as it is, to live in fear of being denigrated, humiliated and persecuted, so discrimination is allowed to continue.

This fear is not irrational; it is being reinforced every day by the actions of police officers and strangers on the street, by words scrawled on students' lockers or on driveways or on walls, by flags flown high, proudly proclaiming "I do not value you.

This is wrong. I think most of us would agree and those who live in this fear desperately want to feel supported. So how horrifying, then, to have a man, who is campaigning to act as the ultimate representative, stand up in front of the entire world and openly proclaim in his words and in his actions that he will not be protecting them or seeking to prevent any further inequality. 

Or worse still, then, to have your friends and neighbors stand up next to him and with their vote say, "That's fine. There are more important things to think about than your sense of dignity, safety or fair representation.

Too many of us do not or are not willing to recognize all that our actions communicate, and so injustice is allowed to prevail.

I also wonder how to overcome the fact that so many individuals feel, in this era of renewed civil rights campaigning, that their needs are being overlooked. 

Honestly, part of me wants to tell them to "grow up" because the reality is that their needs aren't being overlooked, they are just no longer the predominant focus over the needs of others, which have been ignored for millennia. The other part of me though, wants these fellow human beings to feel that they are still cared about and to understand that just because people are asking for fair treatment, doesn't mean that they are asking for others to be treated unfairly. I want them on side. 

Furthermore, there are the marginalized groups of people who live, also ignored and unrepresented, in desperate poverty in the depths of our country, who hear words like "gun control" and fear for their own lives and the lives of their families because hunting is not just recreation, but a part of their daily survival. What about them? How do we reach them? How do we show them that blame and hatred is not the way forward?

I don't know how we find one voice for everyone. I don't know if it's even possible, but I do know that this man, to whom we have given the ultimate power is not that voice. Realistically he is unlikely to be a voice even for those who voted for him. Even for the most racist, most misogynistic, most intolerant. He does not care about you. Not really. He cares about himself and his power and his money, and I fear that he will disappoint us all.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, 

Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny.”

    -Mahatma Gandhi

Is this really our destiny?


Saturday, November 5, 2016

On this day.

I can't believe that it has been a year since our traveling honeymoon. For the last three weeks, photos from our trip have been popping up on my memory apps and the feeling has been rather bittersweet.

The photos are a reminder of such a special time. Each day was new and exciting and held so much promise, and these memories have been so lovely to revisit, but I encountered a surprising jolt of emotion when I saw the photo marking our first day in Mexico. 

Thinking back to that day - all of the promise that it held of everything to come - filled me with such a sense of longing, a desire to be back there at the start, floating free and unencumbered by any responsibilities other than planning the next steps of the journey.

The three weeks that followed were some of the most incredible that I have ever experienced and it has been such a pleasure to remember them that I decided to post some of the photographs that I took during that time - most of which haven't been posted before.

Day 1: First ever snorkeling experience - Playa del Carmen.

The day we floated down the river in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve - Tulum.

Downpour days spent in Tulum cafes.

Beach walk - Tulum.

Chichen Itza.

Cenote swimming in Valladolid.

Sunset colors in Mérida.

High in the clouds at Monte Albán.

Colorful Oaxaca.

Visiting a friend in Xochimilco, Mexico City.

During those three weeks we felt limitless, as if we had all the time in the world. So, it's amazing to think that this all happened over a year ago. 

This time last year, we had just left Mexico and were preparing to tour the Galápagos Islands. I can't wait to see the photos that pop up on my feed next and to share some more of that magical place with you.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

There's a first time for everything #273.

Angry parent phone calls. Anyone who has ever worked in a school has had to deal with them and whilst they may become easier to field or manage over time, they never fail to leave their mark.

Today was a first for me. 

I mean, I have spoken with parents who are unhappy or frustrated before - when emotions are running high it's bound to happen and when children are involved, well, watch out.

I usually find that the situation can be solved, though. It tends to be a case of misunderstanding or misinterpretation, and more often then not, the conversation ends with friendly chit-chat and shared laughter over the woes of adolescence.

But today's phone call was a doozy. 

There I was, after school, tired from a long day, but determined to settle in and get some work done. The phone rang, I answered the call and then, happily, agreed to be put through to speak to a parent. 

Maybe you know it, maybe you don't. That sinking feeling you get when, after having innocently and unknowingly answered the phone, you realize that you probably just should have stayed in bed this morning.

Well, that was me. 3:15 in the afternoon. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Holding the phone just away from my ear in order to accommodate the volume of the person shouting on the other end. [Seriously, I thought that only happened in cartoons.]

It is very difficult to have a constructive conversation in this kind of situation. The kind where you are being screamed at and constantly interrupted, where your character is being personally attacked and ill wishes are being made upon you and the place that you work. It is very difficult, in this type of situation, to think straight, to form competent thoughts and to communicate them in clear, concise sentences. It is very difficult to understand one another and very difficult to find a common ground.

I tried my hardest to address the concerns I was hearing, to explain the policies that motivated my decisions, and to promote a sense of mutual understanding, but when you are that irate (not me, the other person) there is little possibility of a harmonious ending. 

In this case, the ending was a follow-up phone call made by my line manager, and the decision that all future communication would occur between the two of them. I do understand that this decision was made for my own safety - to keep me out of the line of fire, but to me, it doesn't feel like a solution at all. 

I hate leaving things like this unresolved. I am very much a fan of meeting a problem head-on - discussing things calmly and rationally once we have all had a chance to calm down. I find that this usually ends in a stronger and more effective working relationship - something I would like to have with as many parents as possible, considering that I will be seeing them regularly for the next four years.

But I do understand the decision. I realize that it was made by someone with far more experience than I have and I trust in my colleagues to have my back. 

I accept the things I cannot change and I relinquish control into the hands of those who seek to protect me (wait, hold on a minute, I'm just convincing myself).

Cheers to first times and new experiences and growing each and every damn day.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Muse - victory! and what came next.

Finally finished...

The Muse by Jessie Burton

Yes! Thank goodness, the tale of this reading experience does have a happy ending. If you saw the last post in which I discussed this book, you will know that it took me a while to get into it. In fact, the first mention of this book and my life appeared in this Instagram post from over a month ago...

But, finally it took root. The story blossomed with each word that I read and before I knew it I was hooked - dedicated to the characters, desperate to know how everything would be resolved.

The three decade span of the story adds an extra element of interest - different time periods means a more complex history and double the delectable imagery - there is a lot of talk about clothing styles!

I also found the plot to be more intriguing and less predictable than that of The Miniaturist, but, sadly, the ending left me with a very similar feeling of dissatisfaction.

I don't mind it when authors avoid the well-rounded, disneyland ending, where everyone gets what they want and lives happily ever after. In fact, I usually prefer it when they do because, as we all know, that is just not real life, but I do feel that the story should still feel finished. The events of the story should come to an end that feels natural and the last words of a book should leave the reader with a mental picture of what they have just read that is devoid of gaps or blurry bits.

Jessie Burton does a better job of this in The Muse than she did in The Miniaturist, but I was still left feeling a little confused and uncomfortable. The ending felt too abrupt, too incongruous, maybe, to the rest of the story - which took ages to unfold.

Another real barrier that I encountered while reading this book had to do with the fact that the author, who is white and British, was supposed to be conveying the perspectives and innermost thoughts of a black, Caribbean-born woman living in London in the 1960s. Although, Burton has obviously done her research in an effort to remain both honest and respectful, I just generally tend to take issue with white authors writing from the perspective of someone from another race or culture. 

I just think that it is almost impossible to accurately portray something that does not inherently belong to you, and it opens the door for, at best, misunderstanding and misrepresentation and, at worst, stereotyping and racism. That, however, is a very complex issue - probably best left for another time, or a face-to-face discussion, if you should so wish.

Overall, a much more developed read than The Miniaturist - I felt - and a storyline worth the time that was invested, but I'm still not a Burton convert and I think it is going to take a lot to motivate me to pick up her next book.

Next up.....

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


With the new film coming out, this was an obvious next read. Cannot wait to see how it turns out.

Note: Since I started writing this post (about a week ago) I have already finished this book. Now THAT is what you call a 'page turner'.


Monday, September 26, 2016

The book I'm pretending to read and the book I am actually reading.

Who says you can't read two books at once?

It used to be that when I couldn't get into a book, I would force myself to stick to it anyway, moving through at a drudging pace, with only a half-hearted focus until I finally reached a point that peaked my interest.

Very rarely will I actually abandon a book for good - I mean, it has to be really bad in order for me to do that. I hate to leave a story unfinished; it feels like I haven't given it a fair chance.

Recently, though I've stopped fighting my reading instincts and started working with them. When I'm reading a book that just isn't catching my attention, my mind tends to wander to other titles that I could be indulging in, so....I do.

I don't mean that I completely let the first book go, I just set it aside for a bit and explore my other options. I read a bit of something else, then get drawn back to my original choice, then back again to book number two, and before I know it I've reached the bit where things start getting good and I am whisked away into the story, finally able to give it the full attention that it deserves.

The one I am meant to be reading - The Muse by Jessie Burton:

I've gone through all kinds of emotions with this book. I'll admit, I was a bit disappointed after reading Jessie Burton's first novel - The Miniaturist. The story was interesting - I'm a sucker for historical fiction - but I didn't feel as hooked by it as I thought I would, based on the rave reviews I'd heard from other people. Then The Muse was released, along with an absolute fanfare of book plugs and advertising, which made me even more wary of it. My thinking was that if the book was actually any good, it would just sell itself. Wouldn't it? Still, I couldn't shake my curiosity about it and when I saw that it was being read by someone whose reading tastes I totally trust, I knew I had to give it a go.

Honestly, for me, it started off slow. The story has some unique elements, but the plot was just dragging, and the main character.....meh. I stuck to it, though, and allowed myself a little reading flexibility and I have been finding myself a little more endeared to it as of late.

I'll let you know how it all turns out.

The one that I am actually reading - The Mistletoe Bride and other Haunting Tales by Kate Mosse:

I don't know why my interest in the horror genre developed so suddenly. I never enjoyed scary stories growing up. In fact I've spent most of my live actively avoided things that might give me nightmares.

This all changed, though, a couple of years ago when I found a copy of Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories at my local library and, for some reason, I just couldn't leave without it. I think I was intrigued by the fact that it was a book of short stories - which I felt I must be able to handle as a level-headed adult - coupled with the fact that it was almost October and I was missing the autumn chill and the spooky nights leading up to Halloween in Michigan. Whatever the case, I enjoyed the collection so much that it set me off on a run of the horror genre - mostly books, but this is also when I became a little obsessed with the American Horror Story television series (I blew through the first season on Netflix in less than a week).

Ever since then, I have felt myself drawn to this kind of fiction - especially around this time of year. So, when I saw this book of short stories - all written by the very popular Kate Mosse - I just knew I had to grab it, even though I was already involved with the aforementioned novel.

As with most short story collections, there were some hits and there were some misses - The Mistletoe Bride being one of the most spine tinglingly impressive. If you enjoy suspenseful and multi-layered plot lines, with ties to history or literature, and a strong sense of place, then this collection is for you.......

...even if it's not the only thing that you're reading ;)


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

My husband almost didn't make it to our wedding.

I remember the day that I figured it out.

It was May, shortly after my birthday, and less than three months until our wedding date. We had been struggling to understand why we hadn't yet received any information regarding our Green Card application and after hours of online research and several phone calls we still weren't getting anywhere.

I remember that I was taking care of some admin while the little girl that I nannied for was asleep. The laptop was open on the kitchen counter and I was browsing yet another immigration advice website when I finally found the answer that I had been looking for. The website explained that the process that we had thought was almost complete was actually going to take another several months, if not years, and that my husband might not be allowed into the United States until that process was complete.

Basically - my worst fear had come true.

For those of you who have had the good fortune to avoid ever acquiring any knowledge of visa procedures, there are several, complicated steps to the the US Green Card application - including a pre-application process during which you must prove the legitimacy of your relationship. The ability to apply for a Green Card depends entirely on the approval of this pre-application paperwork and this first step can take six months or more.

To make matters worse, until an application is processed, applicants are advised not to travel to the United States, because they may be denied entry based on their declared intent to immigrate. In other words, once you have made it known that you are trying to move to the US, you are very unlikely to be allowed in, even for a visit, until your application has been approved, because they are afraid that you will enter early and stay.

I don't know that I had ever before experienced the level of immediate despair that I felt in that moment. I am, generally, quite a rational person and while I am no stranger to disappointment, I am usually able to maintain a certain sense of composure, safe in the knowledge that there will be some way to make things better. In that moment, though, I felt hopeless.

In the past, our visa experiences, while nerve-wracking, had been fairly straightforward and manageable, but this time there was no guarantee and, terrifyingly, everything to lose. There was every chance that in two-and-a-half months time when my husband tried to enter the country, he would be turned away at customs and forced to return to the UK. Everything was ready - the dresses, the venue, the caterer, the DJ - everything. If we cancelled, the deposits would be gone and the signed contracts would mean that we would probably have to pay the remainder of what we owed.

The bad thing - the thing that we are always worried is going to happen, but never actually does - had happened. 

I remember collapsing to the ground. Dramatic, I know and I swear that this isn't a normal reaction for me (at least not since I was seven), but I have never felt so suddenly distraught or so utterly alone. I wanted to phone my husband - to share the news and seek reassurance - but the time difference meant I wouldn't be able to speak to him for hours. 

So I sat there on the kitchen floor with tears streaming down my face, consumed by this revelation, clutching it to my chest like a terrible secret and desperately hoping that the little girl upstairs would sleep just a little bit longer so that I could pull myself together.

Most of you will already know the ending to this story. Plus it is insinuated by the title, so I won't bore you with all of the details of the in-between or stretch it out as if it were a mystery. In the end, my husband passed through customs essentially unchallenged and the wedding went on, as planned. Our decision not to cancel the wedding wasn't made with any sort of assurance or professional guidance. We simply weighed our options and decided to take the risk. We knew that if we cancelled, we would be bound to the payments anyway, and while we didn't want to inconvenience any of our guests at the last minute, we felt that they all loved and supported us and that if the worst did come to pass, that they would understand.

Despite our confidence in the decision that we had made, the remainder of the time leading up to the wedding still felt like a sort of limbo. We had done everything by the book - always. We had the cleanest of records to prove it and, still, we were left with absolutely no control over something that we should have been celebrating as one of our first ventures together as adults and as partners.

The day he arrived at the airport.

This experience is one that I have wanted to write about ever since we made the decision to proceed with the wedding planning, although I don't think I would have been able to go through with it if things had ended differently. I haven't shared this part of our journey with many people because at the time it took everything in me just to get on with things, all the while mentally preparing myself for any possible disappointment.

We knew when we chose to get married that our differing nationalities would always be a factor in our relationship and that our journey would not be without it's own particular bumps and bruises. I'll admit, though, that with all of our careful planning and consideration, this was not an experience that we foresaw.

Although I have always known I would write this post, it has been delayed and delayed for one reason or another, but recently we have been encountering more visa-related obstacles and the timing just felt right. There are certain things that shouldn't be difficult for us that will be simply because we weren't born in the same country. Each time the disappointment is raw and real, but looking back on that experience makes me feel more and more confident that we will emerge from this turbulent time successful and stronger. If we can make it through the uncertainty of those couple of months then we can make it through anything.

I believe in Love.