Book Review: Majesty (American Royals #2)

I love reading, but there have been years in my life where I haven’t done much of it because I was too hung up on just reading “good” or “serious” books. But no more. Reading is a respite for me, and sometimes, retreating into light hearted fiction or a throw-away “airport” book is exactly what I need. In the last year, I have started just reading what I feel like reading and stopped trying to justify my choices–because truly, no one cares what I read. Sometimes it is narrative nonfiction–sometimes it is contemporary fiction, and sometimes, like today, it is fun, young adult fiction.

*I was very excited to received an ARC of “Majesty.” Thank you Random House!*

I really enjoyed “American Royals”until I got to the end–and realized that it was just the first installment in a series and was ending on a cliff hanger! The general premise of the series is that America never became a Democratic Republic and, instead, remained a monarchy. The series follows Princess Beatrice (next in line for the throne), Princess Samantha (the spare that becomes the heir), and Prince Jefferson (the handsome prince) and their friends (and sometimes significant others) as they navigate finding love while constantly in the public eye. If “Gossip Girl” and “Princess Diaries” had a love child–this series would be it.

“Majesty” picks up where “American Royals” left off. The King has passed away and Beatrice is now the first Queen of America to rule in her own right. She is left to decide if she wants to continue her relationship with Connor and call off her wedding to Teddy (Duke of Boston) or set aside love and do what is best for her country. Meanwhile, the Prince, Princess, and their friends work to sort out their own love lives–and we meet a new character along the way.

When I finished “American Royals” I was sure that I knew the direction that McGee planned to take the series, but I was both assuredly wrong and pleasantly surprised. There were more than a few unexpected twists and turns. This light and breezy YA novel doesn’t disappoint–until of course you realize you have to wait for the third installment.

5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: “A Well-Behaved Woman A Novel of the Vanderbilts”

Having recently read a couple of Fowler’s books, I was excited to discover this 2018 book about Alva Vanderbilt. I went into the book thinking that Alva Vanderbilt was only interested in social standing and extravagant homes. Even though the book is a work of fiction, it really altered my opinion of Alva for the better.

Alva lived in a time where women had few options. She may have married for money, but that was what was done at the time. She masterfully maneuvered the Vanderbilts into the highest social circles, and being in the best social circles allowed her to be a force for change. Her divorce was shocking to many at the time, but she called to light that men were given many passes by society as their wives were expected to sit by and feel grateful. She was seen as a pariah when she was really the wronged party.  Her forcing her daughter into a loveless marriage is a bit difficult to understand, but it was not nearly as shocking then as it seems now. If you are interested in Consuelo, I very much enjoyed her ghost written autobiography, “The Glitter and the Gold.”

It feels as if history has neatly filed Alva away as a sensational figure, a fortune hunter who tossed her husband aside and chased a title for her daughter. True, she was a divorcee, a women’s rights advocate, etc. But, this book suggests that there was more to Alva. Yes she did seek a divorce, but she was married for two decades prior to that. She lived an entire life with W.K. Vanderbilt and worked to advance their family. Yes she built lavish homes, but she was integral in the process–additionally her NYC home played a significant role in how the city was developing. She campaigned for all women–regardless of their race to be able to vote.

This book will have you googling socialites every few pages, wondering what it would be like to be that wealthy, and feeling grateful that women no longer have to be immensely wealthy to be independent (although I have to imagine most of us wouldn’t turn the $$$$ down).

Four out of Five Stars.

Book Review: “A Good Neighborhood”

I am normally a heavy library user, but I recently joined Book of the Month Club.   And while justifying the cost, I jokingly promised to send my husband a book report on all of the books that I purchase through BOTM.

I selected two books for June, “A Burning” and “A Good Neighborhood.” I haven’t had a chance to read “A Burning” yet, but I recently finished “A Good Neighborhood.” It is Therese Fowler’s 6th novel. Prior to it’s release she had most recently published “A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts” (this is next on my TBR pile) and is most well-known for “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” which was adapted for television.

“A Good Neighborhood” received a lot of good press in advance of its March release. And given the national conversations about race, I expect it will continue to be buzzy. Told from a variety of perspectives, the book follows the lives of two teens–one black and one white and their respective parents whose yards abut one another. As the teens relationship blossoms the parents relationship wither; lawsuits, love, and tragedy. The book speaks to race, class, and the prejudices that accompany both.

Although the teens are at the heart of this story, the parents actions and inaction push the needle. Would things have been different had Valerie intervened when she saw Juniper and Zay together or if she had never pursued the lawsuit? If Brad wasn’t so disillusioned about Juniper, would he have gotten the police involved? Should Julia have known? Should she have acted sooner. None are innocent–they all bear some blame.

The book is a literary reminder that racism is real and has lasting painful ramifications and that all that glitters is not gold. People are not always as they seem. The story is raw, and frankly, difficult to read.

Immediately prior to picking up this book, I read “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” and was enthralled. Initially, I found the books to be very different in style, but reflecting back they are more similar than I initially thought. Fowler’s writing propels you into the characters lives–which isn’t always comfortable.

I would give it 3 of 5 starts (for reference, I gave “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” 5 stars).

Being “Aware”

October is, apparently, “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.” I have never been one to get very excited about raising “awareness.” It has always seemed a little lackluster—all hat and no cattle– and left me feeling like all I am doing is helping to buy more rubber bracelets that will never actually be worn…but, I have been wondering if maybe, I was wrong.  Maybe we all need to be a little more “aware” of one another’s struggles—maybe we all need to remember to think before we speak, keep our comments kinder, and remember that everyone is fighting their own battle. More often than not, those battles are invisible to the naked eye.

Once again, I have found myself enlightened by my own experiences—most recently, my battle with grief. Grief has left me feeling equal parts emotionally fatigued and selfish. The fatigue I can handle, but the selfishness is harder for me to both articulate and address. Frankly, I am a bit embarrassed at my recent inability to look beyond myself and my emotional state. I have always prided myself in being sincerely empathetic, but emotional responses that once seemed so natural now feel a bit forced. And as odd as this might sound, I am having a difficult time striking the right tone, quite literally. Sometimes, I hear myself talking, and I can tell I sound a little off– a little too enthusiastic and bright. I suppose that I am trying to “fake it till I make it,” but its proving much harder than I ever anticipated it would be.

I kept telling myself that if I could get through June, if I could get through the summer, I would start feeling better and everything would be okay. I would have a new season, and a fresh start. But as the leaves began to change instead of starting to feel better, I have just been reminded of how different I had planned on this season of my life being. Travel plans, holidays—we had planned everything around having a baby in the beginning of November, and we won’t have a baby then.

For a while, I tried to convince myself that if I can just make it past our due date that I will start feeling better, but that too has started to feel like wishful thinking.  I have lately been reminded that you can’t put an expiration date on grief, and I just need to find a way for it to be a part of me without letting it define me. Moreover, I am never going to feel as I did before. I have said it before, but grief has a way of leaving an indelible mark, and people that have been touched by it never forget. And just like Alice, “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

But back to “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month,”  I don’t feel the need to make people “aware” of my story per se (except for that massage therapist last week, but I mean, she was really nice), but do I think that we should all be “aware” of how what we say and do impacts others. Each time someone who doesn’t know me well jovially asks why my husband and I don’t have any children yet (if you ever ask people this question, please stop doing so immediately) I try to keep my composure and brush the question off, but it’s upsetting. Almost as upsetting as when people I do know make jokes about me being better off without kids because they are so much work or too expensive. I could go on in this vein, but every unintentional, stinging comment is a reminder not only of my recent loss and pain but also of all the times that I have flippantly inquired about others’ personal business or lives. I cringe when I think about the times that I have asked people about marriage plans, future children or a myriad of other sensitive subjects.

Moving forward, I am going to try to be more “aware.” More “aware” of the potential, unintended consequences of my words and actions, and more “aware” of how others might be hurting. Hopefully, my recent experiences and grief will help me be a better friend and a more comforting presence to those in my life that have faced insurmountable challenges. But at the very least, I hope that I always remember to think before I speak/act/post and spare people any additional pain.

And,

That’s All She Wrote

Grief: Can’t Go Under it, Can’t Go Over it. Gotta Go Through It

Grief feels like a language that I am still learning to speak. Thick and heavy on my tongue, it’s syntax is still new to me. Yet as I struggle to find the right words, I have a new appreciation for the many people I know that understand and speak it fluently. Like a traveler to a foreign country, I am comforted when I encounter someone who shares even a little of this new language with me. And in my lesser moments, I envy those who are unable to understand even a snippet of it.

I have learned that grief has a way of leaving an indelible mark, and people that have been touched by it never forget.  Like a tattoo this mark might be displayed openly its symbolism explained in great detail to all whether they ask or not, shared with just a few, or dutifully hidden. Yet no matter who sees it, the mark remains, and although each one is unique, many of us bare this type of mark.

Grief is both a singular journey and one of life’s most widely shared experiences. While it stems from a unique place,  those that grieve similarly find themselves at the edge of a great chasm. This deep abyss can be crossed but the journey is not easy; there are no maps or Sherpas. We must navigate our own paths and carry our own, heavy loads.

As I find myself at the edge the first chasm that has been put squarely in my path, I am reminded of one of my favorite children’s books, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” The premise is that when confronted with an obstacle, you must meet it head on–“Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, gotta go through it.”

Eventually, I must cross through this chasm because, if I want to move forward, I will need to get to the other side. Fortunately no one is timing me, and I won’t be judged too harshly if I get lost a time or two. But someday, I will reach the other side, and when I do, I won’t forget the journey. Rather, I will bare that indelible mark, and I will remember because some things are far to great to forget.

And,

That’s All She Wrote

The Longest Day

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This year, the summer solstice fell on Tuesday, June 21st which was fitting because Tuesday was the longest day in what has felt like the longest month of my life.

My husband and I started June joyfully counting down the days until we would find out the gender of our first child. We were looking forward to getting serious about names and nursery themes (okay, I was maybe the only one excited about nursery themes..). When the doctor called and asked us to come in for an ultrasound due to abnormal quad screen results, my heart plummeted. My husband and I wanted nothing more than for our baby to be okay. As first-time expectant parents we worried about being able to give our baby the best possible life even if that life would be different than the one we had hoped and dreamed.

Yet, we still hoped and prayed that it was nothing and that the doctor was just being overly cautious, but I think we both knew that he would never unnecessarily worry us. At our appointment, we learned that our sweet baby had anencephaly and would not survive for longer than a few minutes, hours, or, at most, days after delivery.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that was a big pill to swallow. We were scared that we couldn’t be brave or strong enough to survive the coming months.

I have never felt so vulnerable. Normally, I am a very private person, and here I was emailing coworkers and texting acquaintances to explain the situation. It was hard, but somehow, sharing made it more bearable. I frequently thought of a favorite C.S. Lewis quote from “The Four Loves,” “To love  at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” Our hearts were broken, but we had so many people working to help us pick up the pieces. My husband and I will have to work on putting those pieces back together, but I know that we can (it helps that he loves a good jigsaw puzzle). With each passing day, it started to become easier to accept the diagnosis, and we were determined to love our baby the best that we could for as long as we could.

On June 21st, we went in for an appointment to ensure that both our baby and I were doing as well as possible. We had prepared questions about a birth plan and were anxious to inquire about the possibility of organ donation. It was truly a shock to learn that we had miscarried. I guess it is true that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” *Shout out to my mother-in-law for successfully pulling out the appropriate Robert Burns quote and to my husband for knowing it was correct. What was otherwise a beautiful and still summer day became gloomy and dark in our eyes and hearts.

Although this new reality may be less physically trying, the emotional strain remains the same. I keep saying that June has been an emotional roller coaster, but that isn’t quite right because the lows keep getting lower and we haven’t managed to climb to any new heights. I have thought a lot about our decision to have the quad screen done in the first place. Initially, the possibility of it coming back abnormal felt distant and unlikely. We did it as a precaution with the thought that if something were awry we would want to have extra time to be prepared. Had we not had it done, we would have gone in for our anatomy screen only to learn that we had miscarried. We wouldn’t have had two extra weeks to love our baby and to be reminded of how much our family and friends loved both us and our baby. I needed those two weeks.

As we near the end of this month, I feel older and more vulnerable. Tears feel closer to the surface and laughter is not bubbling up quite as easily. But most importantly, I feel loved, and I feel love.

And,

That’s All She Wrote

*Song credit goes to my dear friend, Anna Schulze, who best conveys comfort through her music.

 

To Live is an Awfully Big Adventure

I love children’s literature–especially the classics. They are all that is simple and good; there is none of the strife of the real world just simple lessons that most adults, including myself, can benefit from, and reading those books is an opportunity to escape from the harsh realities of “adulting.”

“Peter Pan and Wendy” has long been one of my favorites. I can never decide if I am more like Wendy or Peter, but maybe it is less about who I am more similar to than who I want to share more similarities with. Likely, everyone would tell you that I am a Wendy. I want to take care of and make people comfortable.  I love a plan, and Wendy seems like the kind of girl that likes a plan too. Peter, on the other hand, is so untethered. He operates on whims and fancies, and surprisingly, that is something that I envy.

Peter is always ready and willing to go on an adventure. In the book, Peter even goes as far as to say “to die would be an awfully big adventure.” The quote has always stuck with me. Although, I must admit that I much prefer the variation that was used in the popular Robin Williams movie, “Hook,”  which is “to live would be an awfully big adventure.” Recently, I have been reminded that living, is indeed, an awfully big adventure, but all adventures come with their fair share of challenges and strife. It isn’t all mermaids and flying; more often than not there are pirates lurking out at sea. And, some nights it feels as if a heavy fog has settled, and it is far more challenging on those nights than on others to find the “second star from the right” and fly “straight on until morning.”

When you are on an adventure, one of the greatest difficulties is changing course. My husband and I were thrilled to learn that we are expecting our first child, and we were preparing for the adventure of parenthood and raising a child. It was going to be a great challenge, but it is one that comes with many very tangible as well as intangible rewards. Unfortunately, we have had to change course after learning that our sweet baby has anencephaly and will not survive for more than a few minutes, hours, or days, at most, after delivery. We are now challenged with loving and caring for our baby the best that we can for as long as we can. We are hopeful that there will be rewards in this challenge as well, but I don’t think that they will be the tangible type. Right now, we are trying to navigate through the fog to find the “second star from the right.”

I know that it will take us awhile, but we will continue to move forward. I hope that I can be a little more like Peter and have the courage to embrace this element of our adventure. Because of course, it wouldn’t a true adventure it were easy. And in the meantime, I might pick up a few more children’s books to read.

And,

That’s All She Wrote

 

 

Long Live the “Instaship”

The other day I happened upon an article titled “Posting Pictures Like Popping Molly, Millennial Addicts Need to Cool it With the Instagram: It’s time to get clean. It’s time to unfilter our lives.” I normally would not have clicked on such an article because, admittedly, I enjoy Instagram and don’t want be made to feel guilty about that fact. But, a fellow Hillsdale College graduate, Philip Wegmann, wrote the article, and since I have been feeling a bit nostalgic about my alma mater lately, I decided to give it a read.

You might be able to glean the author’s point just by the title, but I would still recommend reading the piece. I found myself wanting to agree with the author. I wanted to be able to be a bystander chastising the millennials for living life behind a lens because I truly believe that many millennials are addicted to oversharing and carefully crafting “paper” lives.  But, I just couldn’t do it. I could neither fully reject nor accept his argument.

As odd as this may seem, I couldn’t accept his argument because of Hillsdale College. There is a lot to be said about Hillsdale College, but I will leave most of that to another day. What I will say is that people are able to cultivate beautiful friendships while at Hillsdale (this is most likely true of many institutions of higher education, but my experience is at Hillsdale), and there are few things in life more worthwhile than having and being a good friend. Aristotle puts forth three types of friendships within the Nicomachean Ethics (I wouldn’t be a true Hillsdale College alumna if I didn’t at least mention Aristotle once); friendships of utility, pleasure, and virtue. The virtuous friendship is, of course, the highest form of friendship. It is the type of friendship that makes a community thrive, and I think that it is this type of friendship that I witnessed and participated in at Hillsdale.

Unfortunately, I live in a different time zone from almost every friend that I made while at Hillsdale, but in many ways, Instagram has made the distance between us seem much shorter. I like to call it, the “instaship.” Through Instagram, I have come to know about the daily lives of my college friends. I see pictures of their families and their homes. I see pieces of their lives; those pieces might be a bit shinier, but I know that. And, maybe this desire to see beauty in the mundane isn’t so terrible.

“Instaships” are nowhere near as fulfilling as friendships. If the highest form of friendship is a sturdy rope, an “instaship” is a few strands of that same rope. I suppose the question is would you rather have a few strands of the best friendship or none at all? I know that I would rather cling to those few strands for as long as possible. Those strands have allowed me to remain connected to people who otherwise would have slipped through my fingers and out of reach as I drove away from Hillsdale that final day. I may not be an active participant in their lives, but I am an active observer. And maybe, someday, because of those lasting strands, circumstances will allow us to reassemble that rope and make the transition from observers to participants.

Although, I am unwilling to give up my “instaships,” I can also see the danger that Wegmann illustrates. My approach to Instagram and social media is likely the exception not the rule. I am not looking for likes, shares or follows. In fact, most of the time, I agonize over whether or not I want to post at all. When I do post, it is because I want to share a slice of my life with friends and family who are dear to me. Maybe it will make them smile to know that I too saw a beautiful sunset or was able to gather with old friends, but maybe it won’t. And, that doesn’t bother me.

Abuse of social media is commonly associated with the societal desire to be liked, to be included, to be beautiful, or even to be envied. And of all the social media platforms out there, I can see the danger that Instagram presents. Like a drug (possibly molly…), some users are unable to stop. Whether it be scrolling through photos, coming up with quippy captions, or framing the perfect photo, they choose to preserve a moment rather than to live it. And often, users go as far as to fabricate that moment. Instagram itself isn’t bad, but sometimes the way its users approach it is harmful.

Instagram offers us the opportunity to “share” photos. Share can be described a number of ways, but its use by Instagram has always brought to mind the term defined as “to divide and distribute in parts; apportion.” When, I click the “share” button, I am showing my followers a fraction of my life. It is not a true representation of my life; it is an incomplete piece. And as I enjoy my “instaships,” that is something that I strive to keep in mind.

Instagram should be used intentionally and in moderation. Molly should be avoided.

and,

            That’s All She Wrote

Life in the ‘C’ League

I am sure that all of my avid readers (Mom and Dad) are familiar with my bio which reads, “Bureaucrat by day, ‘C’ League athlete by night, I fill the rest of my time thinking about things I should be writing about and sometimes fighting crime.” I will leave an account of my career as a vigilante for another day, but  I will take a little time to tell you about my life in the ‘C’ League. The timing only seems right as my volleyball team starts tournament play today.

I have been living large in the ‘C’ League for three years now. I am sure you are bursting with questions.  What is life like in the ‘C’ League? How did I get here–how can you get here? All are good questions. You don’t wake up in the ‘C’ League; getting here has been a journey which is why this will be a two part post.

Am I an athlete? Mrs. Larson’s 5th grade class certainly thought so when they voted me “most athletic girl.” This distinction of my athletic prowess put me up there with the best of the best; the cream of the crop. *Jenny, *Kelsie, and I reigned as the most athletic girls in the whole of the 5th grade.*Names have been changed–athlete’s of this caliber don’t need to be distracted from their training by pestering fans.

I stuck it out with the greats for a few years. but I always knew when it was time to retire. Some people might question my usage of the word “retire” rather than “quit.” Quitters walk away when they are faced with adversity; that’s not what I did. I made a series of strategic choices. Following the prolific career of an elite athlete can be  tough. So, I will break my career down by sport (starting in Junior High) and reason for retirement.

Sport: Track

My track career ended after a highly successful 8th grade season.  I walked away from the last meet  as the regional champion in high jump, long jump, and triple jump much to the chagrin of *Kelsie who was the favorite in the jumping events. Some might argue that I shouldn’t have walked away while I was on top, but ultimately, it was the right choice. I considered jumping into another season, but on my way to the first practice, I made a last minute judgement call and instead opted to enroll in a pottery class at the local rec center.

Reason for Retirement: Diversifying my interests while still on top

Sport: Basketball

I was a solid starter throughout junior high. Tall and lanky, I was an excellent re-bounder who inevitably spent almost as much time falling on the floor as I did running up and down it. Years of YMCA basketball had prepared me for the rigors of being a true baller. During my 8th grade season, we ran the sideline play “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” (I suppose I should note the coach was also our history teacher) like a well-oiled machine. Hindered only by a lifelong ankle injury, I finished that season well-prepared to enter the world of freshman ball. That summer I geared up by attending a basketball camp at a college campus in a neighboring state. It was there that i learned that there is very little I like about girls basketball. From the shoes to the shorts to how serious all the girls took it, I just knew that the sport wasn’t for me.

Before camp was even over I had decided I was done. However, I did purchase a great sweatshirt that remains a household favorite. So, there’s that…

Reason for Retirement: Required open gym attendance would infringe on valuable time in the boat the following summer. 

Sport: Cross Country

I ran varsity cross country from 7th through 10th grade. Cross country is, for the most part, just as miserable as you would imagine it to be. I am not a natural runner, but I managed to make it work. But after four years running varsity, I reasoned that it was time to turn in my spikes (this is literally just a saying–I never thought buying spikes was that necessary much to the annoyance of my coach). My main contribution to the team was a positive attitude.

Reason for Retirement: Came to my senses

Conquering (or achieving the most marginal level of success) and later retiring from sports was an important step in achieving my current status in the “C” League where I am currently living large.

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An Entrepreneurial Spirit: Varmint Control

I might currently be a bureaucrat, but there are certainly days that I vehemently wish that I owned my own business. This desire is generally the strongest when there are sub zero temperatures, and the idea of putting on work clothes seems about as appealing as contracting leprosy (in my alternate, business owner reality I get to wear sensible shoes and jeans to work in the winter). It is on these days that I fondly recall the summer sun, bare feet, and my first venture into the business world.

I was young. I was hungry. I was ready to take the world by storm. Reality check: I was 6. It was summer, and I lived one door down from Ed’s Bait Shop aka The Candy Store. I was looking for an extra 35 cents. *Don’t scoff. 35 cents could get you a tootsie pop, a blow pop, and 3 gummy worms OR 35 tootie fruties OR 5 peachies and 2 gummy worms. The possibilities were endless. Like any self-respecting 6 year-old, I liked to hit up the candy store around 3 pm after having a nice little rest. My mom was certainly willing to finance this daily venture, but 25 cents was all I got. I had big dreams; 60 cents could buy a full bag of skittles. Summer is always full of possibilities, and the summer of ’96 was no exception.

What was my business you ask? Lot’s of kids go for the lemonade stand, but not me. Well, I should say not us. At 6, I wasn’t ready to give up all of my time to growing a business. I had a very active social agenda, and I saw the value in having a few partners to lean on and help with math that went beyond simple addition and subtraction. It was a family venture. My older brother and I boldly entered into a partnership with a brother/brother combo. Our business was critter catching. The neighbors no longer needed to worry about that pesky raccoon getting into their garbage. We were prepared to trap it.

How successful was our business? Well, we caught every critter we went after–we had a 100% success rate. This meant, of course, that we caught one raccoon. Why didn’t we stick with it? I really couldn’t tell you, but I like to chalk it up to differing management styles. My career as a varmint hunter and a principal owner of a successful business was short-lived, but I know what success (and a full bag of skittles) taste like. So who knows, maybe someday I will once again be struck with the entrepreneurial spirit. But, it’s tough to imagine a better career for me than varmint control.

**Correction: After posting I was reminded that the 3 pm trip to the Candy Store came after rest time rather than prior to it. 

Here we are after our first (and only) great success. Not we are all holding up one finger to note that this is just the first of many critters we intended to catch.

Here we are after our first (and only) great success. Note we are all holding up one finger to signify that this is just the first of many critters we intended to catch.