Life Lessons #16 – 20

It’s now March 23 and I’ve only got a few short days to provide you with 10 more valuable life lessons. Impossible? Not quite. Challenging? It’s starting to feel that way. Worth it? Absolutely.

(To be honest, I just spent the last hour crafting a well-thought out blog post, but in my attempt to save the post as I continued writing, I ended up deleting it 😦 As such, the lessons I’ll provide here will be short, but just as important and valuable as all the others.)

Life Lesson #16: Ask yourself is it worth it?

After crying to a friend about how so-and-so hardly noticed me and woe was me, my friend posed a simple question: Was it worth it? Was it worth it to like someone who didn’t like me and to be so upset about it? Probably not. What was the point in willingly putting myself in a situation that made me so unhappy? I learned that lesson early on in high school and it’s one that’s stuck with me for the past 8-9 years. And, don’t think it applies to things as superficial as having a silly crush at 16. It applies to anything and it applies to everything. If you find yourself in a situation that makes you unhappy, or that adds unnecessary stress to your life, or pushes you to your limits, as yourself if it’s worth it. Sometimes, the answer will be a clear and definite no. Nope – it’s definitely not worth it to be in this situation because I know this isn’t good for me. On the other hand, just because the situation is stressful or challenging doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. It just means you’re dealing with a difficult situation that you need to accomplish. You see, the question does more than just make you think about what you should or shouldn’t do. It helps to focus and think more clearly about whether or not it’s worth it to stay in this situation or if it’s better if we move on for now.

Life Lesson #17: Go back to the basics. 

What’s the magic word? I know you all know it.

As kids, we’re all taught to mind our manners: say “Please” when asking for something; thank someone when receiving something; ask people how they are; how the door for others; be kind to everyone; say “Excuse me” when you bump into someone or commit other social faux paus.

It’s simple: we were taught these lessons for a reason. They teach us how to respect others and how to show gratitude and compassion for our fellow human beings. We learn these manners at a young age, and yet somehow they are often forgotten as we grow up. Today, whenever someone thanks me for doing something for them, I’m often pleasantly surprised, but I shouldn’t be, should I? I almost think that these are things we should come to expect. These things aren’t hard and when we forget to them, we often make other people feel like we don’t care about them and like they’re taken for granted. So, go back to the basics – I know that it’s simple and it might not seem that important, but it can really make a difference to someone.

Life Lesson #18: If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your BS. – W.C. Fields

I’ll keep this one short. I often think about this in the context of giving a speech: If you can’t remember what you wrote for your speech, but know the general ideas, just go for it. You might not be able to get your ideas across as intended, but you may have a general idea. And if you don’t, perhaps you’ll talk in such a circular way that you’ll confuse them 😉

Life Lesson #19: Make the time for the people and things that are most important to you.

Whenever I make a short trip home, I always try to make time to spend with my mom, dad, and brother and I make sure that I spend time with all of our pets. If possible, I always try to see some of my closest friends and I always try to make time to go to mass. It’s often very difficult to accomplish these things because my trips home often only last 2-3 days and they are also usually filled with a number of appointments (i.e., doctors, car, etc.). It’s hard to fit everything, but I think it’s important that we try to make the time for the people and things that are important to us.  I think it helps people realize how much we care about them and it helps us to realize that we would want them to do the same thing if they were in our situation.

I also do have to mention that my group of friends from high school does an excellent job with this. For a few years after high school, we’d often meet up weekly or every couple weeks for some sort of shenanigans. I think it’s gotten a little more challenging as people have started moving out of the area, but we still have big events with everyone when we know most people will be around. Even though we’re all incredibly busy, we all still make the time for each other and these events are things that I look forward to year-round.

Life Lesson #20: Take the time to figure out what you want.

This lesson can apply to anything in life. Kind of seems like an understatement, doesn’t it? Take the time to figure out what you want – don’t let others, or even yourself, force you into make a decision before you’re ready. I often think about this lesson in the context of college. For many of us, for multiple reasons, we probably felt like we had to choose a major early on in college, perhaps before we were ready. Maybe we felt rushed. Maybe we felt pressure from our family or friends to make a certain decision in a timely manner. Whatever the reason may be, we shouldn’t make a decision before we’re ready. Take time to figure things out. Ask yourself what you want out of time. Don’t make a hasty decision only to realize too late that you’ve made the wrong choice. Give yourself the right figure out what you want and then make a decision.

“Beautiful Creatures”: Smart, Southern, and Supernatural Gothic

I just finished reading Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. I flew through it in less than 2 days and thought it was a great read. Read below to see my thoughts on the book.

Beautiful Creatures Book Cover

2012 was a rough year for reading for me. My last semester of graduate school was tough. Finishing my classes, writing my thesis, and thinking about what to do with the rest of my life took up most of my time and most of my ability to think. Summer turned out to not be too good for reading either. I was busy for the first part of the summer, my grandfather became ill, and then I was applying for jobs. The Fall continued on with the job search and I felt guilty about reading when I could have been filling out applications.

But, then in early December, my grandfather died. While he was ill, his death was surprising because it came rapidly and with little warning. Pain gives you new perspective. It teaches you.

Books do the same thing. The stories of others help make the events in your own story make sense. They bring catharsis. So, I resolved to not feel guilty about devoting some of my time to reading. I’ve read 2 books so far this week, 4 since the 1st of the month. So, expect me to talk about books a little more on here in the future. 🙂

130815564147378622_7wqUCqKV_c

But, back to Beautiful Creatures.

Published in 2009, Beautiful Creatures is technically a Young Adult novel for readers ages 12 and up. It is a Southern, Gothic Romance with a storyline deeply rooted in the supernatural. The novel draws heavily on themes of magic and fate. It is 563 pages.

Authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl wrote the novel after being dared to by some of the teenagers in their lives. Garcia and Stohl came up with the idea for Beautiful Creatures over lunch and wrote initial passages on napkins. They wrote the book in serial form at first, feeding pages at a time to these same teens who became increasingly impatient to read more of the story. Three months later, the first draft was complete and after some editing Beautiful Creatures is an international bestseller, the first book in a four-part series (The Caster Chronicles), and soon to be a major motion picture.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

A General, Spoiler-free Summary:

Beautiful Creatures is told from the perspective of Ethan Lawson Wate, a 16-year old high school sophomore living in fictional Gatlin, South Carolina in the present day. At the beginning of the book, Ethan is still reeling from the death of his mother Lila several months before in a car accident and is unsure how to react from his father Mitchell’s depressed behavior. Virtually ignored by his devastated father, who sleeps all day and locks himself in his study all night, Ethan relies on the love, support, and care of housekeeper Amma who is like his grandmother.

Raised to be open minded by his liberal professor/writer parents, Ethan feels out of place in Gatlin, a small Southern town deeply rooted in its history and in its conservative values, and he cannot wait until he can leave after high school graduation. A member of the Jackson High School basketball team and a relatively popular kid in his class, Ethan spends most days with his best friend Wesley “Link” Lincoln. However, as summer ends and his sophomore year begins, something is different. Since his mother’s death, Ethan has been plagued by strange dreams, and now he begins to experience strange occurrences and hear strange music. The dreams, which feature a girl Ethan does not know but who seems to know him, seem real — virtually are real — as Ethan wakes up with dirt under his fingernails and mud in his bed.

When Ethan passes a strange car on the road on the first day of school, he feels inexplicably drawn to it, but doesn’t know why. The car’s occupant is Lena Duchannes, niece of Gatlin’s shut-in, Macon Ravenwood. Like her uncle, Lena is “different” than everyone else in Gatlin and she is ridiculed for it by her new classmates. Ethan, however, is drawn to Lena in a way he can’t explain. She is the girl in his dreams, her scent of lemon and rosemary is what he smells as he sleeps, and the music she plays on her viola is the song that mysteriously appears on his iPod.

Ethan becomes Lena’s friend as the rest of Gatlin’s students and residents shun her for her “otherness” and for odd occurrences that begin to happen at Jackson High. Ethan and Lena’s friendship continues to deepen even as her Uncle Macon and his Amma protest the acquaintance. As Ethan seeks to understand his connection to Lena and their relationship develops, Ethan learns that Lena is a Caster. Along with the rest of her family and others like them, she has magical powers. But unlike the others like her family, the Duchannes are cursed — destined to be Claimed on their 16th birthday for either good or evil, for Light or Dark. In a race against time and in a struggle against disapproval, Ethan and Lena rush to learn the meaning of their supernatural connection and to prevent Lena from Turning Dark on her birthday.

In the process, Ethan and Lena learn that all in their lives are not as they seem. That the connection they share goes back over a century to the roots of Gatlin. That Lena’s life has been dominated by secrets. That they may be powerless to do anything.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

My Take:

I really enjoyed Beautiful Creatures.  Out of 5 stars, I’d give it a 4. For me it was a fast read — I read it on my Nook over the course of about 2 days. At times, the novel was a little slow and lumbering — not because the story was bad, but because there is a lot of description. With this in mind though, I couldn’t wait to keep reading — the plot kept me thoroughly entertained and thoroughly interested. I desperately wanted to know what happened next, to discover the answers to the story’s mysteries.

I also really liked Beautiful Creatures because I found it to be smart, nuanced, and funny. While some may not agree, I found its commentary on small town life and on the narrow mindedness that sometimes infects those towns (or communities or big cities too) funny and true. You’ll have to read to understand, but for someone like myself who is a more liberal persuasion, authors Garcia and Stohl point out important and blind prejudices that many of us have towards who and what may be different in our worlds.

I also enjoyed the story because of its supernatural themes. While I don’t out rightly believe that magic exists (but, who wouldn’t want Harry Potter to be real??), I appreciate the novel’s perception of supernatural connections and fate. I also found the fact that the novel is told from Ethan’s perspective and not from Lena’s to be refreshing.

Some have placed Beautiful Creatures and the three subsequent books in The Caster Chronicles series in the same category as Harry Potter and Twilight. For someone who reveres the ground that the Harry Potter series sits on, I can honestly say that Beautiful Creatures is not as good as Harry Potter. However, I feel that it is, without question, better than the Twilight series.

beautiful-creatures-new-poster-cast

A Note About the Movie:

Beautiful Creatures has been made into a motion picture and premieres on February 13, 2013. It is being marketed as a Romeo and Juliet type story and some changes have been made to the plot and to the characters. This being said, however, authors Garcia and Stohl were heavily involved in the project and I think the film’s trailer looks great!

 

The entire Caster Chronicles — Beautiful Creatures, Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos, and Beautiful Redemption — series has been published.  The fourth and final book, Beautiful Redemption, was published in October 2012.

Happy Reading! Let me know what you think of Beautiful Creatures.

Having a Good Hair Day: A Sleek, Sophisticated Up-do Idea

Good hair days and bad hair days. We all have them. I sometimes feel like my bad hair days greatly outnumber my good hair days. Mostly, this is because I generally hate my curly hair — I much prefer it when it is straightened. But, we all want what we can’t have, don’t we?

So, when my cousin’s June wedding was approaching, I knew that I needed to find a good hairstyle to rock. I wanted something sleek and sophisticated. Something that was an up-do, but not too fancy. And most important, a hairstyle that wouldn’t fall completely down after a 10 hour day full of smiling, crying, hugging, celebrating, and dancing.

Up-dos are always a gamble. I’ve had enough in my life to worry about whether I’m going to like what my hair looks like on the day of the event, let alone cringe years later when I looked at pictures. Looking back, I don’t think that I ever had a formal up-do/hairstyle that I ever completely liked.

I was always pushing curls down or making my hair look less puffy. I would agonize in the mirror and ask myself if my hair looked stupid.

My senior prom hairstyle finally gave me something that was close to what I liked:

Senior Prom, 2006. Close, but no cigar.

Then, my cousin got married in 2007 and  again I thought I had an up-do I liked, but now when I look at myself in pictures I pretty much hate how my hair looked:

June 2007. In retrospect, not so great.

 

Finally, finally. Fast forward to June 2012. I did my research. I looked at pictures on Pinterest.

I had a vision. And when the stylist doing my hair started an up-do that I didn’t like, I spoke up. A quick and easy change of tactic got me exactly what I wanted.

Finally, the sleek, sophisticated up-do I desired and a truly good hair day:

June 2012.
Side view.

Back view.

 

Front view.
Bonus: You get to see what I look like with absolutely no make-up on!

 

 

Post-ceremony. 6 hours in. Still looking good!

 

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed my little hair fashion show! Even if you didn’t perhaps I’ve provided some good hair day up-do inspiration in the process. 🙂

Growing Up at the End of the World: Karen Thompson Walker’s “The Age of Miracles”

Note: This post is a review of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles and contains plot spoilers.

—————————————————————–

Life is hard, there’s no doubt about it. But, most of us are able, at least to some extent, put life’s difficulties behind us and move on. We keep going, because the world stops for no one. We don’t ignore those difficulties, but instead compartmentalize them and leave them behind in a different time. We gain perspective. In retrospect, things don’t seem so bad. They were learning experiences, something everyone goes through — something to accept, not to dwell on and be ashamed of.

Every age has its challenges. As babies, we learn to walk and talk. We fall down, we speak gibberish. As children, we learn to read, go to school, make our first friends. We stumble over words, we get the answer wrong, we don’t quite fit in. As adolescents, we are more aware of the world around us and how it works, we develop real relationships with others, we have a crush, an inseparable best friend. Reality can be serious and not always happy, those relationships are tested, feelings are rejected, we’re not always the most popular person.

The list goes on and on. And life doesn’t stop while the list continues.

Even if the world does stop turning.

Source/Disclaimer: theageofmiraclesbook.com. Image is strictly property of Karen Thompson Walker and Random House.

What would happen to an ordinary 11-year old girl if the world did indeed stop turning? This is the story that Karen Thompson Walker presents in her debut novel, The Age of Miracles.

Julia is like any other 11 year old California girl when her life, and the lives of every other person on Earth, changes forever. She has a seemingly normal home life as the only child of a former actress and a physician. Life is predictable, her best friend Hanna spends the night, a new school year has begun, her parents sit at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.

It’s a Saturday morning in October. That newspaper is full of the stories of the day, all the things we’re afraid of. War, disease, terrorism, extreme weather, disaster. Those things we can name, things that have faces, causes, effects. Things that bring fear.

But, as Julia so appropriately observes, “it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different — unimagined, unprepared for, unknown” (Thompson Walker, 27).

Out of nowhere, the news breaks that the rotation of the Earth has slowed. 56 minutes have been added to the length of one Earth day overnight. There is no explanation. Called “The Slowing,” this phenomenon continues. One day goes from 24 hours to 32, then to 40, 48, 54, 60….

In the first days, life seems to literally stop and then stretch as people try to find things to fill the extra hours of light and darkness in their day. But soon, normal life intrudes. The governments of the world insist on sticking to the 24 hour clock, even if the hours between one sunrise and the next continues to grow. There is hope that answers can be found, that a solution can be reached.

In the meantime, life goes on. The Slowing consumes everyone, but a new normal is reached. Even as day and night become detached from sunshine and darkness, Julia goes to school, attends piano lessons, and plays soccer. Her parents go to work, the babies her father delivers continue to be born. She worries about her lack of a training bra, crushes on neighborhood boy Seth Moreno, is saddened by her best friend Hanna’s abandonment, anticipates seeing Seth at piano lessons, struggles with unpopularity in school, and worries over the increasing cracks in her parents’ marriage.

Like the difficulties of our own childhoods and adolescences, Julia’s are no less important to her than ours were to us. The end of the world does not magically end the growing up process. Life is not stopped cold.

Everyday life endures as the days continue to grow, as new problems arise, as the Earth ceases to turn.

————————————————————–

At first glance, this is not a book I would normally read. While I am a guilty-pleasure fan of some disaster movies like Twister, Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, I don’t really like “sad” stories. Especially those which are character driven. But, something about The Age of Miracles sucked me in, and I’m so glad I read it.

Source/Disclaimer: theageofmiraclesbook.com. Image is strictly property of Karen Thompson Walker and Random House.

Karen Thompson Walker is an excellent writer and her prose is both beautiful and engaging. Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Age of Miracles, even though the book’s plot device (the end of the world) can be unsettling.

Julia’s narration made me reflect on my own childhood/adolescence and on the things that seemingly made it “tough” — things that don’t seem so bad now. It was a nice chance to reminisce.

The book is excellently formulated and Walker does a great job of describing the effects that The Slowing has on the Earth and its occupants. While some of her descriptions aren’t completely original — mainly due to the amount of “end of the world scenarios” various forms of media has presented over the years — none of it seems trite or lame.

I only had one real issue with the book while I was reading, and that was trying to wrap my head around what was actually happening to the Earth. I had to figure that out and make myself at peace with the logic of it before I could move on and read the book.

Let me explain: I had to establish in my head that the spinning of the Earth on its axis had slowed, thereby making the amount of time from one sunrise to the next stretch. This, however, did not effect the time it took the Earth to orbit around the sun. So, really, as the length of one “day” lengthened, the number of “days” it takes the Earth to travel completely around the Sun decreased.

The Age of Miracles is a quick read, coming in at 225 pages. It is fast moving and well-paced and is not meant to be a story of how the world ends. Instead, it is a snapshot of events and emotions during that time.

The Age of Miracles is truly a wonderful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking read. It is not a book about a disaster. It is a story of what happens to our lives and relationships in the midst of the most Earth-shattering disaster. It is a testament that even as life ends, it continues to go on.