Friday, March 31, 2017

Book Review: The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown

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From storytelling phenomenon The Moth, 45 unforgettable true stories about risk, courage, and facing the unknown, drawn from the best ever told on their stages.

Carefully selected by the creative minds at The Moth, and adapted to the page to preserve the raw energy of live storytelling, All These Wonders features voices both familiar and new. Alongside Louis C.K., Tig Notaro, John Turturro, and Meg Wolitzer, readers will encounter: an astronomer gazing at the surface of Pluto for the first time, an Afghan refugee learning how much her father sacrificed to save their family, a hip-hop star coming to terms with being a one-hit wonder, a young female spy risking everything as part of Churchill's secret army during World War II, and more.

High-school student and neuroscientist alike, the storytellers share their ventures into uncharted territory and how their lives were changed indelibly by what they discovered there. With passion, and humor, they encourage us all to be more open, vulnerable, and alive.

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Sometimes you pick a book and you're not sure why. That was the case for me and this book. I had no idea what was drawing me to it, but once I started reading, I knew that I'd made the right choice. While this book can be read in small snippets, I couldn't stop reading and actually read this in one sitting. Every story had something in it that made me nod or smile or even cry a time or two. I truly believe that there's something in it for every single person out there.

My one and only complaint was that the stories in the book are almost all from well known people. One of the things that draws people to The Moth are the average people who get up and talk. They were left out of this tome and I really wish that they had been more included. I'm just an average person and I really was looking for an average person to connect to in this book.

That being said, I know that this book is going to go onto my shelf and be one that I come back to time and time again. I sincerely hope that they do more in a series of books because storytelling is such a powerful tool and we all have something to share.

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I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts, comments, and opinions are my own.
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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Kids...They Grow Up Fast

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This past Saturday was a long one. Roger and I were up at 5am so that we could join his high school steel drum band at a festival for the day. The festival was pretty awesome and I'll share a link to the mass band performance at the end of this post, but that isn't what I want to talk about...I'm going to sit here and I'm just going to write about being a mom.

For the longest time, mom has been my primary title. It's been my world and my life. Those two boys have been my world and my life. It's only been in the past little while that I've started thinking about what I'm going to do when they're gone and living their own lives. I still don't really know but I am thinking about it.

On Saturday, I had expectations. I expected that this was an event that Roger and I were doing together. Except, the event really wasn't what either of us had figured it was. So, instead of spending the day with me, he spent it with his band and with his friends. He did pretty much everything with them. He sat with them. He had lunch with them. Since this wasn't my usual group of band kids, I wasn't invited to join them. I ate lunch alone. I sat in the bleachers alone. I watched them laughing and inside, a part of me hurt. I was happy he was having a great time, but it still hurt that I was on the outside looking in.

Still, there were those moments where he was completely my boy...he ran over to me to make sure it was okay that he spent $5 of the money we'd set aside for his band trip. During the concert, he was sitting on the opposite side of the gym from me and I realized that we were sitting in the exact same position. He'd make faces at me from across the room and I couldn't help but smile.

What's the point of all this you ask? Just that Sunday, after his dad had picked him up, I was sitting there thinking about the weekend and I realized something. The very fact that he was confident and comfortable enough to not need me on Saturday meant that I had done my job. He may not know how to sew a button back on but he's learned the skills that will help him become the man that he wants to be and the fact that he'll still make goofy faces at me from across the room means that no matter how old he gets, he won't forget he's my kid. With that realization, I was filled with peace and that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.

If you'd like to check out the mass band performance, check out this video!


If you'd like to hear the HHS Steel performance, head on over to my YouTube channel where it's almost all kids, all the time.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review: The Clancys of Queens

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Fifth-generation New Yorker, third-generation bartender, and first-time author Tara Clancy was raised in three wildly divergent homes: a converted boat shed in working class Queens, a geriatric commune of feisty, Brooklyn-born Italians, and a sprawling Hamptons estate she visited every other weekend. This childhood triptych comes to life in The Clancys of Queens, an electric, one-of-a-kind memoir.  

From scheming and gambling with her force-of-nature grandmother, to brawling with eleven-year-old girls on the concrete recess battle yard of MS 172, to hours lounging on Adirondack chairs beside an immaculate croquet lawn, to holding court beside Joey O’Dirt, Goiter Eddy, and Roger the Dodger at her Dad’s local bar, Tara leapfrogs across these varied spheres, delivering stories from each world with originality, grit, and outrageous humor.

But The Clancys of Queens is not merely an authentic coming-of-age tale or a rowdy barstool biography. Chock-full of characters who escape the popular imaginings of this city, it offers a bold portrait of real people, people whose stories are largely absent from our shelves. Most crucially, it captures—in inimitable prose—the rarely-heard voices of New York’s working-class women.

With a light touch but a hard hit, The Clancys of Queens blends savvy and wit to take us on an unforgettable strata-hopping adventure.
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 I finished this book over a week ago and I've been trying to decide how to write this review.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked this book up. I love memoirs but traditionally, I choose ones by people that I actually know. In this case, I have and had no idea who Tara Clancy was, though I did get to know her throughout her book. In fact, I got to know quite a few interesting characters. When the book opened up, I smiled at her memories of her grandparents and what life was like when she was with them. As the book progressed though, I found myself smiling less as the language picked up and some of the stories seemed too out there to be true. Are they true? I don't know. I mean, I have stories that people look at me and say there's no way that happened, but they did. Then, the book abruptly ended and it didn't feel as if there were any closure to it. If I had to rate this book (and I kinda do), I'd give it at 3 out of 5. It's not a bad read, but I feel as if I may not have been the right audience for it.

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I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts, comments, and opinions are my own.
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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Questioning Me Part 2

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Last post I left off with the conversation that I had with myself on the drive home after a busy day. Today, I want to tell you about what happened after that....

I came to the conclusion that I think I knew all along. Once I cut away all the insecurity and all the garbage surrounding the truth, there it was waiting for me. It wasn't anyone's doubt in my abilities but my own. He didn't use me (or anyone else) because he didn't feel he needed to. He had the confidence in his work that I never seem to have in my own.

The review on Amazon for the book that I worked on with Nick was harsh but it was true. I didn't give the book the attention it needed on what should have been its second to last pass through. As I worked on the book, Nick repeatedly told me that it needed more of me in it and after taking the time to process the review, I think I finally understand what he meant. I tweaked his story but I didn't add to it. I didn't change it. It's still Nick's book with me making the most minor of changes, things that most people wouldn't even notice when reading it.

By the time I pulled into my driveway, I was completely calm and at peace with the situation. I had hope that no longer feeling the panicked anxiety that I had failed Nick on book 1 would allow me to get back to work on book 2. Wednesday is supposed to be my writing day, you see. It's the day that I have 3 hours set aside to do nothing but write. Except, that isn't what happened...

I looked at my bag where my writing notes live. I looked at the folder icon on my laptop. I did both these things but I couldn't go further than that. I was suddenly overwhelmed by exhaustion. I decided that perhaps the time had come to lay down and explore these feelings and to try to get to the bottom of the situation. Except, the oddest thing happened...I laid down on the couch, stared up at the ceiling and started working my way through things. What was the cause of the anxiety? That part was easy...

1. I "failed" at book 1. While people seem to like it, I didn't do my job to the best of my abilities and I let Nick and myself down in that.

2. Book 2 is supposed to be far more me. Nick has made that clear when we've talked about it. This book isn't supposed to just be me tweaking. It's supposed to be me adding things to it, changing it, and when I finish this book, I'm supposed to write a third book all by myself. I'm terrified of book 3. I don't know that I can do it.

3. See author in quotes triggered my ptsd. It brought back every moment when I was told that I couldn't do something and/or wouldn't ever be anything.

Except, as I laid there, I wasn't feeling any of the anxiety. I was laying there, completely clear minded as I went over everything in my mind. Finally, I asked myself one question, telling myself that whatever my first answer would be would be what I trusted. I asked myself, "What are you supposed to do?" and without second thought, I answered "Write book 2." I had total peace and no insecurities, no indecision, just peace that this is what I was meant to do.

What does this mean? Well, it could be a few things...

1. The anxiety over working on the second book may not be true anxiety but something I've taught myself. The only way to get over it will be to force my way past it and to just pull out the notebook, to open the file and and do something. It won't be easy but it will be something I do.

2. I've acquired a form of ...numbness when it comes to this. This happens to me in high anxiety/stress situations. I don't realize just how badly things are affecting me until I have some sort of physical manifestation of the stress. This first started happening to me when I was 19. It's called conversion disorder and it's not much fun. For me, it's happened different ways...I develop a cold spot in my chest, my hands go cold, one time I had a pain that raced down my left arm and for 3 days, my hand on that side was pins and needles as if I'd slept on it.

3. I have finally, on some level, accepted that this is what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to write. I have stories to tell and I'm supposed to tell them.

If I really have to say, I'd say it's a combination of all three. Knowing that gives me power though. It means that the next time I have the chance to pull out my files and notebook, I will take a deep breath and I will pull things out. It may take me a couple of attempts to actually start working again on the book, but  I will start working on it again. I have an April 30th deadline. It won't be done by then and that's okay.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Questioning Me

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Once upon a time, I probably lived without anxiety, without fear, without constant worries, but I don't remember that time. These things have been a part of my world for so long that they've become a part of me. I've lived with certain levels of anxiety for so long that to not have it starts a new wave of fear and anxiety.

Those are the thoughts that led to me writing this post today. No, those are some of the thoughts. There are times that my mind moves so quickly that i can't keep up with it. Last night wasn't one of those nights and that's truly what led to me sitting here now writing as if I'm sharing secrets with my closest friends....

Yesterday was a busy day. I had my first eye exam in about ten years. I wasn't nervous until they called me back and put me in a chair. Suddenly I was having to take deep breaths and to remind myself that it was only an eye exam...to fail it meant nothing more than getting a pair of glasses. I felt ridiculous for being anxious over something so small.

From there, I picked up my oldest and took him to his annual check up with his orthopedist. The appointment seemed to go too quickly and she has essentially released him from her care unless something happens. That led to another round of anxiety, especially when his stepmom questioned the entire thing. I had to remind myself that her office is only a phone call away and if I feel as if I need to go talk to her, I can go and talk to her.

After that it was picking up the youngest and waiting for him to get changed into his tux, taking him back to the school, helping a little bit with the concert set up and enjoying the annual Band-o-Rama concert. It was during this that I saw an instagram post that showed that I wasn't doing editing work on a comic that I had been 150% sure that I was. I was waiting on the file to arrive. It turns out that I misunderstood and there had never been an intent for me to work on the book.

My reaction scared me. There was the usual bit of hurt and such, but then something shifted. I took a look around the gym, at the kids rushing about to make sure everything was perfect and I just stopped caring about a comic.  For the next two hours, I didn't care. Instead of being wrapped up in my fears, insecurities, and anxiety, I was wrapped up in the music and what was happening in front of me.

It was after the concert, after I had dropped the kiddo off at his dad's and during the 30
 minute drive home that it all came back. I cycled between insecurity, being completely calm, and perhaps somewhere between the two. I had entire conversations with myself:

"He didn't use anyone. He probably doesn't feel as if he needs a proofreader/editor for comics, just for prose type things."

"Yes, but he said he was sending it to me."

"Yes, that's probably how you took his yes when you asked about seeing it that week, but that's probably not what he meant."

"What if he doesn't think I'm capable of doing it? After all, that one book review said I sucked as an editor and that a professional needs to look at it and fix it. What if he agrees with her?"

"And what if you acknowledge that you aren't perfect and that you rushed the second review of the book and didn't do a third like you usually do because you were more worried about disappointing him by missing the deadline than you were with your usual level of perfectionism?"

Yep, sometimes I'm pretty darn harsh with myself. Still, that last self was right. I didn't give it the third review that I do with all of my projects. I missed things. It's the accepting that it's okay that's the hardest. Anything less than perfection in this kind of thing isn't okay and I will be going over it again and sending it back in so that hopefully it can be updated.

Why am I telling you all of this? I don't honestly know. I think, more than anything, I felt the need to write, to share some of  this with someone.

There's more to this, but this post is long and perhaps it's better left to another post...


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Friday, March 17, 2017

Book Review: Lightning Wolves

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It's 1877 and Russians forces occupy the Pacific Northwest. They are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable. The one man who can help has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer and a former sheriff lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.

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Do you want to know how you know that you're really enjoying a book? It's when the power goes out and you curl up on the couch with a flashlight so that you can keep reading. Seriously. This happened to me last night. Thankfully the power was only out for about 30 minutes, but during that 30 minutes, I was reading by flashlight. Why? Because I loved the alternative take on history. I loved the ideas of new aircraft and ways of doing things that fascinated me. The characters were well done and while I was reading the book, I celebrated and mourned right alongside them.  If I had one complaint, it's that I didn't realize this was the second book in a series. It does explain though why at some points, I felt as if I ought to be familiar with a character that I wasn't. Ninety-Five percent of the time though, this book did great as a stand alone.

Would I recommend that you track down a copy? Absolutely. As for me, I'm going to see if I can't get my hands on book 1 and book 3 of this series.

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I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts, comments, and opinions are my own. PS I want a lobo. No idea what that is? Guess you'll have to read the book...hehe...

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Crockpot Monday: Chicken and Dumplings

9:28 AM 0 Comments
Nothing says comfort food more than chicken and dumplings. All the yummy veggies in a yummy sauce with yummy bready dumplings...I may be drooling on myself now...

Ingredients:
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
16 ounces frozen vegetables
2 cans cream-of-something soup, or combine in a saucepan:
4 Tablespoons butter
6 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 can refrigerated biscuits, or one batch drop biscuits

Directions:

Put the chicken and vegetables into the bottom of the crockpot. Add the cream-of soups, or your homemade substitute.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 4-5. An hour before serving, shred chicken with two large forks, and drop in the biscuit dough.

Cover and cook on high for another hour. The biscuits are done when you can insert a knife and it comes out clean.

Serve in bowls, with a biscuit or two per person.


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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Five Years...

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Five years ago today I got the call that would lead to the end of something that had started 10 months previously. Looking back, I think I can say that it was the day that I finally lost myself after the previous 5 years of fighting to find myself again. I suppose that I ought to give some background so that this makes sense to someone other than me...

In 2005, Peter and I agreed that it was time for a divorce. In June 2006, the divorce was finalized. Memorial Day weekend 2017, I left the house that we had bought together and everything I knew to move to New York. To say that I was lost is perhaps the understatement of the century. I left behind everything I knew and in some ways, my very identity. For the 10 years or so before that, I had been known as Peter's wife. Since 2000, I had been someone's mom. There was no me outside of those two roles. I didn't have any local friends. The only people I socialized with were online.

For the next five or six years, I fought to figure out who I was without being someone's wife or mother. (Of course, I was still the boy's mom but I had made the heartbreaking decision to leave the boys with their dad because he had the job, the money, the insurance, and the location where all of Ben's team were located.) I missed almost an entire semester of school due to a depression so bad that it crippled me and gave me panic attacks whenever I tried to get into the car to go anywhere. I ended up in therapy that was mostly useless because the therapist decided that my entire issue was that I was lonely. I wasn't lonely, I was lost.

I did finish that semester of school by some tiny miracle, dropping most of my classes, and having some incredibly understanding instructors. I finished the following year as well and while it improved, I never really shook that depression. Later, I would be diagnosed as Bipolar II. I graduated with honors with a degree in Psychology and was once again faced with the idea of having nowhere to go. The people I had been renting from wanted me out and I wanted out. The atmosphere was unhealthy on almost every level. In the end, I decided to "come home". I needed to be back with my boys. I found a house to rent in Sunfield, about 25 miles from them. It wasn't perfect but it was at least within driving distance. I threw myself back into being their mother. I drove (and still do) every day to town to do homework with one or both of them. I went (and still go) to all of their events. This was a me that I knew.

Slowly, piece by piece, I recovered from losing the world that I knew and I started to build up a new one. I was finding me again. I started writing again. I started crafting again. I slowly purged the things that I had accumulated and that I really had no need for. I felt as if I had close friends, even if they again lived nowhere near me. I started working out and eating better. In fact, I think I lost close to 75 pounds and for the first time in a long time, didn't hate myself when I looked in the mirror.

My Grandparents
Then, my world started to crumble again. The only person who I had ever felt loved me unconditionally got sick and suddenly everyone was leaning on me for strength and acted as if I could somehow magically fix it. I should have been stronger. I should have said no, but I didn't. They knew what cards to play. They reminded me how she'd taken me in when my own parents didn't want me. Before I knew it, I was spending almost every weekend at her house cleaning, organizing, purging, sorting and with my poor boys in tow. It wasn't fair to me and it wasn't fair to them, but the guilt laid on me was too much for me to say no to.

I stopped working out. I stopped cooking because I was tired and stressed and I was starting to crack around the edges. I was trying to keep everything normal but nothing was normal and the guilt of the fact that I was dragging my children into it added to everything. Five years ago today, my grandmother died after being sick for 10 months. I'm not going to lie. I was glad. I was glad that she was no longer suffering and I was glad that it was over. Except, for me, it wasn't over.

For the next six weeks, my family would guilt me into going through ever box that had been packed and sorting it into things they could sell and things they could toss. I was exposed to their greed, their hypocrisy, and their selfishness. They were allowed to mourn but I was expected to work. During that six weeks, I was pushed to my breaking point and at the end, when I finally had the strength or perhaps the desperation to say no more, it was too late. I had lost myself again. I had lost myself and I had lost the few close "local" friends that I had thought I'd had. I went home and buried myself..literally.

Boxes and boxes of her things had made their way to my house either because I'd brought them there or because they'd been dumped there. On top of that, I had started to surround myself with stuff in a desperate effort to feel some sort of security. In the years that followed, it would only get worse. There are very few who know the true conditions that I was living in and in some ways, still live in. I wish I could explain how this was "okay" to me but I can't because it wasn't. The worse the house got, the worse I felt. The guilt, the anxiety, all of it overwhelmed me until I was crippled and frozen by it.

Five years ago, I lost myself again and I'm just starting to find myself. Some of you have seen the tag Reclaiming Me either here or on Facebook. That's a very real thing for me.  Just over a year ago, I started purging my house again. I've backslid at times and made huge strides at others. Eight months ago, Nick convinced me to work with him on a book series. When he brought it up in exchange for doing something for me, we both knew that it wasn't a fair deal but neither of us cared. I think he knew I needed to push myself, that I needed a challenge and as for me, I felt ready to take that challenge. Oh, I've had major bouts of anxiety and self doubt since that agreement, but I finished book one and it's had good feedback.

Five years is a long time and I'm not back to the place I was before it happened. I wish that I could say that I was, but I'm not. Every day is a challenge on some level. Today, I woke up and my power was still out because of a wind storm yesterday. I was cold, tired from waking up repeatedly because i was cold, emotional because of today's anniversary and while what I really wanted was to have a message saying I love you, I had one that felt harsh...harsher than it really was but a tired me is a vulnerable me. I'm not going to lie. I laid on the couch for an hour and just cried. The world felt like it was just too much for me. Just thinking about it has me in tears again. This morning I relived the loss of everything that mattered to me and it's still in my head... but I got up, changed into jeans, and drove to someplace warm that had outlets so I could recharge things in case there's still no power when I get home tonight.

Five years is a long time, but it isn't forever and today I'm a little bit stronger than I was then. Today, I got up off the couch. Today, I walked out my front door. Today, I wrote this. Tomorrow, I will write more. Two years from now, I will make a final decision on where I'm moving to and hopefully, I will have the courage to do it. I know where I want to be at that point. It's not just up to me though, but today, under the fear and the emotions, there is hope.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Crockpot Monday: Cheeseburger Soup

9:21 AM 0 Comments
Cheeseburgers are always a favorite around here. I have secret dreams of traveling the country trying out different types of burgers in different places. It's just one of my food travel dreams. Do you have any crazy dreams like that? I have another one for specialty hot dogs...and crazy desserts...You know, I might just love to eat good food!

Ingredients:
4 cups chicken broth
1 Tablespoon dried onion (or 1/2 of a white onion, diced finely)
1 pound lean ground beef, browned and drained
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 potatoes, cut in 1-inch cubes
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 cup milk (to add later)
24 oz Velveeta, cubed (to add later)
Tabasco sauce (optional)
Crumbled bacon (optional)

Directions: 

Brown the meat on the stove top with the onion, and drain off any fat. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a 5-6 quart crockpot, pour in chicken broth. Add garlic, bell pepper, and potatoes. Stir in the browned meat and onion.

Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or until onions are translucent and potatoes are tender. Stir in milk and Velveeta 20-30 minutes before serving. If you'd like the broth thicker, blend a bit with a hand held stick blender.

Garnish with Tabasco sauce and crumbled bacon, if desired.

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