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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

We will never forget.

Photo by Ira Block - compliments of @natgeo

15 years ago I was sitting in an eighth-grade classroom next to my teacher and classmates. All of our eyes were glued to a box television - the old-school kind, perched atop a metal frame with wheels on the bottom so that it could be easily moved about. On the screen two thin skyscrapers, glinting silver in the late summer sunlight, poured steady streams of grey-black smoke into the sky. And then the first tower fell.

For all of those who were lost on that day - in planes, in stairwells, in an attempt to help others - we will never forget. For all of those who were affected by the hysteria that followed 9/11, for those who were beaten, for those who were bombed, for those who would be forced to endure years of hatred and discrimination because of where they were born or what they looked like or how they worshiped, we will never forget.

Let us not turn on each other, but raise each other up in times of suffering.

Love is the only answer.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Summers End + Enchanted Forest.

A little photographic reflection on this season's adventures as we near the end of summer (more on my utter dismay and devastation regarding that fact later).

Take me back to the Lakes. Take me back to the trees and the hills, to the meadows, to the seas, where the air is clear and quiet is a gently pervasive, and ever-present king.

Take me back.


Tried to get a photo of O, but my lens refused to focus on anything other than that wood.

Entirely enchanted.

Until next time.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Atop the fell, into the tarn.

Ever since I moved over here, my (now) husband has been insisting that there are mountains in England. Despite his obvious earnestness, I always felt slightly skeptical. The area around where we live is so....flat. Where were these mountains? Why hadn't I seen them? 

The prospect of being able to hike and explore without having to leave the country intrigued me, as one of the things that I had mourned the most when making the decision to move was the loss of the vast and varied geography of the states. 

You can see why, then, when we decided to spend our summer in the UK and, more specifically, in the Lake District, I was immediately excited. I had heard so much about this part of the country - the network of footpaths being the definitive pinnacle of English "walking" (basically hiking) experiences, while the landscape has provided inspiration for many poets, authors and artists - most famously, William Wordsworth.

I wanted adventure and, well, England delivered. Adventure and beauty and much, much more.

This was day 1:

Overlooking Coniston Water.


Acting a fool in the tarn.

The Lake District is breathtaking no matter how you choose to explore it, but it certainly is an advantage to have some locals as your guides...as well as your most gracious hosts and superb chefs. 

How spoiled we were. 

More photos to come.