Book of the Month – The Raven Cycle Series

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Surprise, surprise, more young adult fare!

I picked up the first book in this series, The Raven Boys, on a whim. It was on the Staff Recommended shelf at the library, and I had a vague memory of reading somewhere that Maggie Stiefvater was a highly accomplished writer. So I thought, What the hell, and gave it a shot. Little did I know that it would lead down a dark path! The second I finished the first book, I put holds on the second and third, and waited with zero patience for them to arrive. (As always seems to be the case, the third one came in first. I went to the library three times in two days just to get my fix of Blue, Gansey, and the rest.)

Here is the premise: Blue comes from a big, cosy, enmeshed family of psychics, but she herself is not psychic. She is more like an amplifier; when she is around, everyone else’s supernatural powers are stronger. Every year, on St Mark’s Eve, she accompanies her mother to a particular church, where the spirits of those who are going to die in the next twelve months make themselves known. Blue never sees anything. Except, this year, she does. And his name is Gansey, and he is one of the supremely privileged boys who attends Aglionby Academy. He also happens to be on a years-long search for Glendower, an ages old Welsh king whom he believes is slumbering somewhere, waiting for the right person to come along and wake him up. Oh, and did I mention that every psychic Blue has ever encountered has told her that if she kisses her true love, he will die? So Blue is sucked into the magical, tortured, privileged lives of Gansey and his friends, Ronan, Noah, and Adam.

On the surface, the premise sounds ridiculous. I was not immediately sold on it. But whoever it was that put it into my brain that Stiefvater is a consummate storyteller, pat yourself on the back, because oh. my. God.

I love paranormal young adult fare. It is my bread and butter. But I got sucked into Henrietta, Virginia, and the world of Blue and her raven boys in a way that I haven’t since Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. I tore through those pages as fast as I could possibly go. I thought about them before I went to bed and immediately reached for my book upon waking.

And when I got to the end of the third one, I wanted to throw my book across the room, because it’s not a trilogy, it’s a fourlogy, and the fourth book doesn’t come out until September. 

This sent me into paroxysms of fangirl pain. My fourteen year old sister, who is pretty much the only other person on the face of the earth that I know of who gets as into fictional things as I do, received a very long post on her Facebook page about how demolished I felt that I would not get to know what happened to these people that I had come to care about so deeply until September. I have had a book hangover ever since. It took me three or four days to settle into another book at all, and even now, I am still thinking about The Raven Cycle.

It isn’t just a paranormal romance. There are so many layers to this book. There’s Welsh folklore and the verdant soil of divided classes (Adam Parrish, one of Gansey’s best friends, comes from a trailer park and works three jobs to make his way through Aglionby Academy); domestic abuse and forbidden romance; confused sexuality, feeling like an outsider in your own family, and what happens when you discover that your entire world is, quite literally, a dream.

Go. Read these books. I’ll wait here. Then we can talk for hours about all the little things we love and hate about it.

What are you waiting for?

PS. My favorite character is, of course, Ronan Lynch, the resident psychopath with a core of deep pain and love. Anyone who knows me well will have already guessed this. What can I say? I have a type.

PPS. My favorite book so far is the second one, because, surprise, it is Ronan-centric.

Book of the Month – The Raven Cycle Series

the thrill of the chase

Way back in 2010 when we were adorably awkward and not yet married.
Way back in 2010 when we were adorably awkward and not yet married.

We really like watching TV. I love mainlining a series, getting completely lost in the fictional trials and tribulations of people who do not exist (but I wish they did). Lately, it has been The Mindy Project, and it has been making me feel so many feelings.

It’s all about the chase.

That’s the exciting part, right? The newness, the thrill, the tension, the unknown – will they, won’t they, have they? A sea of firsts and acres upon acres of unexplored psychological terrain to hike through. So many caves to dive into, full of treasure like the story of how they lost their virginity, the first time they flew on a plane, their first epic heartbreak.

Things are fun. Things are intense. Things are a discovery. The uncertainty is painfully intoxicating; will we make it? Does this path lead to happily ever after?

But the thing is that, though we’ve been conditioned to want happily ever after, we’ve also been taught to crave the high of getting there. Every “will they, won’t they” relationship portrayed on television and in movies is based on the assumption that no one wants to see a happily committed couple. The story cuts off as soon as the chase is over. Like happily committed couples are boring.

And I guess we kind of are.

Bryan and I have been together for five and a half years now. There’s not a whole lot of mystery in our relationship anymore (how can there be when one partner no longer feels the need to ever close the bathroom door?). There aren’t a whole ton of firsts waiting to be checked off. We couldn’t come up with too many answers for the entreaty, “Tell me something I don’t know about you.”

Sometimes, I hate that. Sometimes, I look at our life and our relationship and I think, “Sigh. I will probably never experience the rush of falling in love again.” I will never lay alone in my bed and wonder if he’s thinking of me, I’ll never hold my breath in heart-stopping anticipation of him accidentally touching me, I’ll never bore my friends to tears because I can’t talk about anything besides him.

It makes me sad. It makes me feel a little cheated.

Which is, of course, the dumbest thing, because I have exactly what those fictional characters (and so many real people, too) are searching for so desperately: happily ever after. I have the person that I’m going to spend my life with, who loves me for every flawed, abrasive piece of me. I have the person who knows every weird habit I have and has seen me in many unfortunate and embarrassing situations and still wants to share my bed. I have an equal and supportive partner in every aspect of life.

I watch TV and I feel a twinge. I watch the tension build to a fever pitch between Mindy Lahiri and Danny Castellano, and I feel a sharp pang of loss. I look at Bryan, on the couch next to me, and think, “We are already in love, we’re never going to do that again.”

And then I remember that that is a good thing. No more awkward firsts. No more worrying about how his opinion of me will change when he finds out how seldom I shower. No more wondering if I will be alone forever.

We slid through the dizzying wonder of falling in love so that we could achieve this deep, easy, real intimacy, so that we could know each other fully and experience true acceptance. This is our reward. I wouldn’t trade it for all the heart-stopping drama and romance in the world.

Then I sit back and wonder if things are going to be boring now that (season 2 spoiler alert) Mindy and Danny are together.

the thrill of the chase

2015 Photo Project: QRSTU + Bryan + River Valley

I knew that I needed to head back to the same spot where I snapped the river valley photo from last month before the end of February, so, on Saturday, with the sun high and blinding in the sky, I set out for a solo photo walk along the river. While it was beautiful and refreshing, it was also treacherous. The weather has been so all over the place lately, the path was pretty much sheer ice and I found myself on my ass more than once. Worth it, though. I snagged a few good shots.

Q is for Quilt

My grandma made this quilt for me for Christmas five or so years ago and I have slept under it nearly every day since.

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R is for Riverboat

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S is for Street Sign

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T is for Table

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U is for Under the Bridge

This image is a throwback to one of the very first images I took with my upgraded point and shoot a couple of years ago, when I first began learning about more advanced photography. I am still really proud of that original shot, and I like the juxtaposition between the two.

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Now I have the easiest letters in the alphabet left: VWXYZ. :-S

February Portrait of Bryan

Bryan turned 25 last weekend, so we celebrated at Julio’s Barrio. With sparklers, of course. This photo was taken on my phone, obviously, but I quite like it; I think the sparkler came out really well, and the graininess adds to the mood.

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February River Valley Shot

Quite a different mood in this shot compared to January’s!

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Bonus Shot Just Because I Like It

As I was walking – okay, slipping and sliding – my way back to the apartment, I happened to glance down and see this little guy, clear as day. It was too perfect, I had to take a picture.

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Find the rest of the photo project here. I am trying out a new gallery plug-in; let me know what you think!

2015 Photo Project: QRSTU + Bryan + River Valley

2015 Photo Project: JKLMNOP

This month’s challenge has been so fun! I love being able to use stuff around the apartment, and it is an interesting exercise to stand in the middle of the living room, looking around and pondering, “Hmm, what do we have that starts with an O?” The subsequent attempts to photograph these every day objects in (hopefully) interesting ways is also an adventure. I hope that you are enjoying the series so far! Do you have a favorite image?

J is for Jar

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K is for Keys

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L is for Lighter

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M is for Mordecai the Cactus

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N is for Notebook

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O is for Origami

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P is for Plant

 

 

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Find the rest of the photo project here.

2015 Photo Project: JKLMNOP

The Failure Challenge: Volleyball Edition

Growing up, I was never great at team sports. I like to take control, to do things my way. I was always the person who would say, “No, no, I don’t want to talk” when we were doing group presentations, and then inevitably jump in and talk for half our time (oh God, you don’t even need to tell me how annoying that must have been). I did gymnastics, kickboxing, bellydancing; anything that I could do by myself.

I also harbored a belief that you were either born athletic or you were not. I believed that athleticism was an innate trait that I could not foster in myself, and that I had been born unathletic, and there was nothing I could do to change that. So I didn’t try. Then I proceeded to complain about how unhealthy I was. (Sigh.)

In the past five years, I have been working on changing that. I have learned a lot of things about myself in the process, including that I am as athletic as I want myself to be. I have done the Insanity workout program twice through, run a half-marathon, gotten deep into my yoga practice. I have achieved things that I would not have dreamed possible at the age of 17.

This past fall, my cousins mentioned that they were playing recreational volleyball, and they wanted Bryan to play with them. They also extended the invitation to me, but I waved it away, mostly because the idea of playing a team sport made my heart pound with trepidation. And volleyball? I was that girl in gym class who ducked every time the volleyball came her way. But after a day of thinking about it, I realized that I wanted to try it, for the very reason that I had originally said no: it made my heart pound with fear, and I believed I was terrible at team sports.

I hadn’t started my failure challenge yet, but I was already in that mindset.

We played one season, and, to my great surprise, I kind of enjoyed playing. I wasn’t very good: I hadn’t played volleyball in almost eight years, and the other people on our team were much more experienced. I made a lot of bad plays. I suffered from a lack of confidence. As with many co-ed teams, I got frustrated with the way the boys seemed to assume that I wouldn’t be able to do something, and so they stepped in to do it for me.

Then, for me, the season ended on a rough note, with a bad game where emotions got out of control, and I felt like I had been badly treated. I thought that I was done, that I wouldn’t play again. That I had tried it out, but that I didn’t want to go through all of that again. Still, I waffled. A large part of me had enjoyed playing, and the only reason I was undecided was because my confidence and ego had taken a battering. So I sucked it up, and signed up to play again.

We are four games into our season now, and I am playing much better. Two weeks ago, I had the best game I’ve ever had, even making a few key plays. Last week, we beat the best team in the league. I am beginning to enjoy the experience again. Here are a few things that I have learned from this sojourn into team sport territory.

  1. I am responsible for how I play, no one else. Just because someone doesn’t believe that I am capable of making the play doesn’t mean it’s true.
  2. I do not have to be affected by how someone else is responding to a situation. Other people have the right to their own emotions and responses, and so do I. Someone else getting frustrated or responding badly doesn’t mean that I have to respond that way too, and it doesn’t mean that I have to start feeling badly about myself or how I am playing. I am the one who makes that call.
  3. I do not have to be forced into a box that I don’t want to be in. Playing on a co-ed team can be an interesting experience. The boys on our team are more athletic than I am, have more experience with volleyball, and more experience with sports in general. They tend to be more confident and more assertive on the court. One of my cousins likes to be in control, and will often step in to take over a situation even when it is not necessary. I have learned that I don’t actually have to do exactly what he tells me to do. If I miss a serve once, I don’t actually have to step back and let someone else take the next serve, even if they tell me to. I can analyze the situation, adjust myself, and attack the ball on my own terms.
  4. Having my own measurements for success is very liberating, and I can celebrate those for myself. I am a competitive person, but winning a game is not my only measurement for success, especially because I am not a star volleyball player. My measurements for success are often things such as getting several serves over the net in a row, getting the ball more often than not getting the ball, and being there and ready to make a play even if the play doesn’t happen. Being able to look at these events and judge how my game went rather than simply the score on the board is a much more objective measurement of how well I am doing and what I am learning, which is a huge confidence booster, which then helps me play better in the next game. And so on, and so forth.
  5. I don’t have to apologize every time a play doesn’t go exactly right, or I make a mistake. I noticed that the boys on our team rarely, if ever, apologize for not making a play or for messing one up. But nearly every other word out of my mouth was, “Sorry, guys.” Even when something wasn’t my fault. So I made the decision to stop saying I was sorry. And that has also helped with my confidence. Things happen, my team will deal.

Ultimately, I am glad that I decided to try this thing that scared the pants off of me. Seeing how I have already grown over the last five months has been an amazing boost to my confidence in so many other areas.

Is there anything that you have tried recently that really scared you? What have you learned from the experience?

 

The Failure Challenge: Volleyball Edition

Bryan

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I don’t know how to explain this guy to you. His amazingness is hard to capture in words.

He is my partner in crime, in adventure, in creativity, in life. He is the best man I know, and the love of my life. He is kind and hilarious and goofier than anyone I’ve ever met. He is some kind of creative genius; everything he creates leaves me seething with jealousy (and pride). He is endlessly supportive of nearly every crazy idea I have ever had (he didn’t even bat an eye when I told him that I wanted to go to Ireland for six months without him; he  just told me to go).

He knows me right down to my core and he loves every part of me, and being seen that way, really, truly seen, is the greatest gift that anyone could have ever given me. He has seen the darkest corners of me, and his love has never wavered. He is the person that I never hold back with, and, more importantly, never have to.

He is brave and honest and loyal. Having him around makes me feel safer and stronger and wilder and braver, too. He is the keeper of our bright, wonderful future, and the anchor that keeps me tethered to the earth so that I am free to roam the skies. He is my biggest cheerleader and my gentlest critic.

He drags his ass out of bed to make me breakfast even when he would rather sleep for several more hours. He believes in me and himself and everyone. He loves music and has made me some of the best mixtapes of my life. He rocks a Jayne hat almost better than the man himself. He loves things fiercely and passionately and without reserve, me included.

I am lucky to know him, and even luckier to be loved by him.

Happy 25th birthday, babe. I hope that it is as mindbogglingly wonderful as you. Here’s to 75 more. 🙂

Bryan

2015 Photo Project: GHI

Chugging somewhat slowly along with February’s theme, here are the next three images! What has been your favorite so far?

G is for Game

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We babysat for our good friends the other night, and the evening involved several games of Uno (which I LOVE). Playing games is one of the best parts of hanging out with kids.

H is for Hat

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My owl – Hooligan – wearing my Delta Gamma sailor hat. (Full disclosure: I totally named him just now because puns are hilarious.)

I is for Instrument

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There is just something about a guitar, you know?

Full photo project here.

2015 Photo Project: GHI

Doing Something is Better than Doing Nothing

This past month has involved a lot of sitting. And a lot of sleeping. And a lot of not engaging with the world in general.

It has been a less than fun time, because I feel like I’m being eaten alive by depression.

Yay!

Things have begun to lighten somewhat in the last week or so. I have somehow managed to get off my ass and do something every once in a while.

Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

I often find it difficult to get my butt in gear. Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) it feels so much easier to stay on the couch and let Netflix play the next episode (and the next and the next). Then at the end of it, I feel like a zombie, and I kick myself for not getting anything productive done. So, to squash that guilty feeling of hiding from the world through television, I either watch more TV, delve into a book, or go to sleep. (Obviously, I have nothing against reading, except when it is being used as a means to hide from life instead of get more from it.)

About a month ago, we implemented a new system in our house that has made life a lot easier: Sundays, we prepare for the week ahead by doing some deep cleaning (kitchen and bathroom), laundry, and meal planning for the week, as well as a little bit of relationship housecleaning where we discuss our past week, what we have coming down the line over the next week, and the state of our finances. I cannot even explain to you how much this has changed the dynamic of our home.

Suddenly, the bathroom takes 15 minutes to clean instead of an hour (don’t even ask how often we used to clean it). Suddenly, we have clean clothes when we need them. Suddenly, we are communicating better and feeling closer to one another. Suddenly, when we sit down on the couch to watch an hour or two of television, it doesn’t feel like something guilty that we have to sneak, in case all the other tasks we should be accomplishing happen to see us.

On those days, I feel better than on most other days, because doing something is better than doing nothing. 

I try to remind myself of this when I am drowning in depression. Sometimes it works. More often, it doesn’t. But on those days when I say to myself, “Hey, self, you’ll feel so much better if you get up and do something” and then I actually manage to get up and do something, it is like a tiny miracle.

And maybe, if I keep telling myself that, the balance will tip, and more often than not, I will do something.

For now, I will be gentle with myself and remember that the nature of the beast that is depression means that doing things is hard. And it doesn’t make me a gross failure to not be able to do anything, or to only be able to do the tiniest of things. And to forgive myself, and try again. And again and again, as many times as necessary, because that is what life is. Trying and trying and trying until something sticks.

Doing Something is Better than Doing Nothing

Jamie

2014 © Kaihla Tonai
2014 © Kaihla Tonai

Happy sweet 16 to this incredible girl who makes me proud every day. I can’t believe how time has flown and what an amazing young woman you are growing into. You surprise me all the time with your sweetness and your wit and your grace. Some days I long to turn back the clock and have back the little chubby-cheeked baby that you were, but that would be robbing myself of knowing you as you are now, and that would be a shame. I am so happy to be able to call you my sister, and I hope that this day – and year, and the rest of your life – is filled with all of the sweet wonder and love that you deserve.

Love you to the moon and back.

Jamie

the transformation of dreams

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…and it can be really hard to admit.

I have long dreamed of many things: traveling extensively; living abroad, in many different countries; being a published author; having children. Some of those dreams have stayed the same, while others have morphed and transformed. For a long time, I wanted to move to Vancouver. I thought about it all the time, often searched for apartments for rent and available jobs in my down time, and fantasized about all of the amazing things that we would do when we were finally there.

And then one day, not too long ago, I realized: Lately, I’ve been having to talk myself into wanting to move to Vancouver. 

I would forget about it for a while, and then remember, and then go, “Oh, right, Vancouver. Because the winter is milder, and, uh, the mountains! And the ocean. And, um…other stuff that they have there.” I discovered that, because I had always wanted to move to Vancouver, some part of me thought that I had to always want that. So when that part of me realized that it wasn’t really something that I wanted anymore, it tried its best to talk me back into it.

But I have realized that, sometimes, dreams change. And that is okay! If dreams didn’t change, that would mean that we were the same people that we had always been, and there are few situations in which stagnation is a good thing. Changing dreams means that we are discovering new things about ourselves, growing and changing as people, and re-evaluating our world and our wants and needs accordingly. How could that be a bad thing?

I know that it can be scary. I know that it can seem like having to let go of who you thought you were, or some idea of who you should be by now. It does mean that. Letting go of preconceived notions of who and what we should be is supremely difficult, and I do not dispute that. But embracing who you are now and how far you have come and how the things that you want out of life have changed because of that is very empowering, and I gently suggest that you try it, if you haven’t already.

I no longer want desperately to move to Vancouver, but I am not opposed to the idea if the opportunity arises.

I no longer want to live abroad in Australia, but I am absolutely down for a visit that lasts a month or two.

I no longer dream of a big house full of stuff, but am happily fantasizing about the tiny house that we are going to build.

I no longer want six children, but am very excited for the two we will eventually have.

Throughout our lives, our experiences change us. That is a good thing. It stands to reason, then, that our dreams changing is a good thing, too.

What dreams have you let go of because they no longer serve you?

the transformation of dreams