Monday, August 29, 2016

Review of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD Pts. 1 & 2

This month, it's back to good old book reviews for me! I couldn't be happier to be reviewing HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne (Don't all of those names sound lovely together? It must be the alliteration).

Before I jump into the review, here is the beautiful cover art:




If the cover art alone doesn't make you want to grab up the story, then I'm not sure what will. But in case you're not gripped yet, here is the synopsis of the play (Yes, I should probably mention that this is written as a stage play, in case anyone wasn't aware.):

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.


***

So I'm going to start my review by saying that I LOVED the story, which, I know, is contrary to a lot of other opinions. I gave HP AND THE CURSED CHILD a 5-star review on Goodreads, and those who have kept up with my reviews probably know that a 5-star review from me doesn't come along every day. 

*SPOILERS AHEAD*
 
I admit that for me a lot of the reason I loved the story was the nostalgia factor...Being back on the train to Hogwarts, reading scenes between Harry and Dumbledore, tasting Chocolate Frogs. I didn't mind that much of the play borrowed from scenes already written in previous books. In fact, I thought time-traveling made the other stories seem richer. 

And honestly, the read brought me back to my own fledgling storytelling days. I couldn't have asked for better role models in my youth than J. K. Rowling, Tamora Pierce, Tanith Lee, Suzanne Collins, etc. Their influence shows in my work to this day. 

I also loved the story because the tension between Harry and his son hit home on SO many levels that both time and the personal nature of them forbid me from naming them all. But seeing the transformation from son and father completely misunderstanding one another, resenting one another, then growing to see how alike they truly are had me crying buckets of tears. Do I think that a process like that really happens as quickly as it happened in the story? No. But this is fantasy! Let's suspend reality for a bit and pretend that perhaps life-long wounds really can be healed in a few hundred pages!

As someone with a history memorizing lines to later perform on stage and with writing my own urban fantasy screenplays (how weird that that's a term that seems so out-dated now), I had no issue with the format of the story. Dialogue is nearly always my favorite part of stories anyhow, so I enjoyed the presentation, unlike a lot of readers I know. To them I have to say go read bunches of screenplays and stage plays! A lot of them you can find for free online. I promise you might grow to at least appreciate the art form (though I admit I could never get into the graphic novel/comic book scene, even after years of trying).  

My biggest issue with the play was the whole Voldemort has a daughter, and she's been in hiding all of this time. With Voldemort's inhuman form, the splitting of his soul, etc, I find it hard to believe that he wouldn't be completely sterile. I also have a hard time believing that this chick would have hidden away until this magic moment in time--but I guess that's what prophecies are for?

Had she been portrayed as ANYTHING else? Even another Death Eater's daughter, then I could have gotten behind the idea of this character and the prophecy. 

But other than that ringing entirely false, I truly enjoyed the story. I read it like my eyeballs were starved--finishing it in a partial afternoon. I fully recommend HP AND THE CURSED CHILD to all HP fans. Just do what I did. Go in with NO expectations and enjoy what the story churns up. 

Did you love HP AND THE CURSED CHILD? Did you hate it? Leave your reviews in the comments below! I'd love to see what you thought of the book. 

Until next time!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 10

For my last blog post for my summer internship, I would like to share a few memories and stories that have stayed with me. They may be snippets, instead of fully formed stories, but that is the way that memories often shape up.

1) During training, we threw a gigantic ball of yarn to each other, appreciating one another. I don't remember the color of the ball of yarn, but I remember how many smiles there were and how much appreciation there was between the professional staff, the student staff, and the interns.

2) The Northeast MTC campus was absolutely stunning. I loved the gazebos, the space-age technology and furniture, and the plush chairs in the boardroom we advised in. I could feel the air in the campus change. There was so much pride at advising in a place like that campus. It amazed me how much location can change attitudes. (There was also free coffee.)

3) Outside of work, a bunch of the student staff and interns went to dinner and to see The Secret Life of Pets. We had so much fun getting to know one another better, laughing at the movie, bonding. That was one of my favorite experiences of the summer.

4) I've had some incredibly special experiences with students. One student told me that she'd moved from Virginia for a fresh start. I could see a story unfolding in her eyes. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to hear all of it. I remember another student telling me his dreams to work in film in L.A. and about the contacts he already had there. I had many students come through with excellent grades from high school who wanted to save money by attending a two-year college. Many students knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives and knew that their goals could be achieved through a community college--saving them time and money. I met with a student who wanted to pursue English and reminded me of myself when I was first headed into college. The stories and memories are endless, and even long after their faces may have faded, I know I'll still see the smiles.

5) My favorite memories of all are of spending moments sharing one-on-one conversations with different staff, student, and interns. As an introvert, I love one-on-one and small group interactions. I've made it a point to try to travel between the people that I work with to develop stronger relationships. Many of the conversations are too personal to share, but I know that they're engraved in my heart. It's been a wonderful summer of building new relationships and has reminded me how important that part of the human experience is.



It's been a wonderful summer, one that has flown by. In just a couple of weeks, we will be back in classes and 2nd years in our Master's program!

Though I may forget details and colors from the summer, I know that I'll never forget the warmth I feel for Midlands Technical College.

Until next time!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 9

I'm veering away on reflecting on my summer internship at Midlands Technical College for this post. In addition to working my internship, I have also been the summer graduate assistant for the College of Education.

Before I transitioned into the Student Affairs side of the collegiate world, I worked for the Academic side--first in a writing center, then in the testing and proctoring center. Working for the College of Ed. has been a great way to reconnect to the other half of college operations.

I've worked on several projects specific to my Master's program, including to help redesign our Practicum I course, build a new program manual for incoming first-years that focuses more on academics, and work on finishing our new comprehensive exam, which will be a portfolio of student work. In addition to these large projects, I worked on the orientation manual for PhD students in our higher education program, and I oversaw a lot of day-to-day administrative operations for the whole of the College of Education.

I've learned so much about what it means to have a long-term vision for a program. I understand far more intimately how all of the individual pieces--decisions, faculty weigh-in, program alterations--fit not only with a department's vision, but also the institutional mission and demands.

Though some of my days may consist of answering phone calls and emails, at the College of Education, I have always felt like my opinion has been valued. I've been on the ground floor of massive changes that will not only impact my last year in graduate school, but will leave their impact for years to come.

Working for HESA (my cohort) and closely with our education faculty has been an incredibly rewarding and--honestly--fun way to spend my summer. A large part of me wishes that I could continue the work that I've started over my last year of graduate school. However, I know that when I turn the position over to the new GA, I'll have done all that I can to improve and care for the program and that I'll leave it in capable hands.

Everything I've done for the College of Ed. this summer has reminded me of my years as an AmeriCorps VISTA--lots of strategic planning, lots of goal planning, lots of project implementation, but little contact with students. On the other hand, everything that I've done at Midlands--high student touch, little connection to long-term planning, day-to-day impact rather than multi-year planning--has resembled my earlier years in the world of higher education.

This summer has been a good balance of two very different worlds and very different jobs. I'm thankful for the opportunity to have pursued both of these jobs.

Until next time!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 8

As we are entering the final weeks of the summer as advisors at MTC, I've been able to do a lot of reflecting on the kind of supervisor I see myself being in future positions.

Because I have worked in a college setting since 2009, I have had the opportunity to supervise others many times at this point in my career. As such, supervision is always on my mind--what I can learn, what I would do, and what I wouldn't, based on my bosses.

From the leadership course that I took in my graduate program, I know that one of my main leadership styles is Authentic Leadership, meaning who I am at work closely mirrors who I am in the rest of my life. I chose to embody this leadership style because I consistently hold myself to higher and higher standards both in my personal and professional life--and I like to think that I encourage others to do the same.

Likewise, I strive to be someone with whom others feel safe both in my personal and professional life.

I also believe that you should be comfortable being the person you are no matter where you are--and if you aren't comfortable, you should seek out why.

Of course, MTC has given me insights to how others lead, encouraging me to once again examine how I see myself as a supervisor in future workplaces.

Everyone on the professional staff at MTC is incredibly warm and personable. I feel like I'm surrounded by family. This is the kind of office environment that I want my future students and staff to walk into. Like in a real family, there may be ups and downs, but above all, I want to support and challenge each individual with whom I work.

On the flip side, MTC has enforced that I truly want to ensure that with that challenge and support aspect, I also want to be as transparent as I am able to be. If I see work done incorrectly, I want to pull the individual on the project aside and have a conversation. If I see conflict between employees, I want to confront it early. If there are any policies or procedures that need to be addressed, I want to do that as soon as it becomes apparent.

While overwhelmingly my experience at MTC has been positive and affirming in every way, I have learned from the staff's decision to make broad observations in group meetings about problems seen (for example, filling out an advisement sheet with incorrect numbers for a class or for the number of credits given) that I want to address things not only in a group setting when appropriate, but I also want to pull individuals aside and give guidance on how they can approve their work.

I received a half a point off for professionalism on my final evaluation, based on the fact that I have back tattoos that may show when I wear sleeveless, business casual attire. I wish that this was a matter that had been brought up with me early on by a supervisor during a one-on-one meeting, instead of showing up on my final evaluation.

Personally, I take great pride in my ink and everything that my tattoos stand for--and I find that it makes a great conversation starter with students or staff who also have tattoos--but I also respect that some workplaces still see ink as a negative, instead of a positive. (Here's to hoping that we continue to break that negative stigma!)

Happily, I would have covered up the tattoos (I have them in places that are easily concealed for this very reason) had the issue been raised to me in person or talked about during our training when we went over MTC policy and procedure. Unfortunately, the issue went unaddressed until appearing on my evaluation where it now affects my grade for my internship class.

As a future (and past) supervisor, I have learned a lot from this experience about how I want to address issues. Being up front and honest with my employees ties into my Authentic Leadership style. I want to be able to balance appropriate discipline and difficult conversations with a caring and warm environment where individuals are unafraid to be themselves.

I have learned a great deal from this experience and plan on taking it into future workplaces!

Until next time! 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 7

We are halfway through July, which means that we only have a short few days until our internships at Midlands Technical College are over.

At this stage, several things are happening:

1) I've started composing my final reflection paper for my internship class. This means rereading my blog posts and spending some contemplative time by the river.

2) We got PAID! One less than ideal circumstance with the internship was the delay in our paychecks.

3) We had the option to opt into NODA and NACADA student internships. After this summer, I am fairly certain orientation isn't the place for me to be, in terms of my professional career. However, I could see myself as a director of an advising office at some point.

4) The team bonded! We saw The Secret Life of Pets as a group, had dinner together, and also formed closer, smaller relationships within the team that hopefully will last the duration of our professional careers (at least).

5) We have a country shindig to look forward to at our supervisor's house. Community colleges truly do target their communities--both in terms of attracting students and employing staff. That means that several staff members grew up around Columbia or in more rural areas of Columbia, SC. It's been neat to learn more about their lives. The party should be a fun piece of cultural sharing to round out the internship experience!

In all, so far I've had an excellent time both advising students and getting to know the individuals with whom I work.

I couldn't be happier with my decision to remain in Columbia for the summer. Though I didn't need much of a positive experience to solidify that I belong in a community college for my higher education, this great one certainly didn't hurt.

On a more personal note, it's been nice to be in a stable location for more than a year. While my AmeriCorps placements were fun, I couldn't imagine myself moving yet again for the summer when I had the opportunity to stay and strengthen connections at home.

Did I make the right choice? I'm pretty sure this picture answers that question.



 Until next time!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 6

For today's post, I wanted to take the time to talk about my lovely team and how every individual works together at Midlands Technical College to make orientation come together.

To start with, we have our executive team of professional staff. MTC believes in a philosophy where there is no job too small for someone to do. That means we see our director and assistant director on the ground floor with the rest of us, pitching in, advising, giving presentations, smoothing over all the rough edges to make orientation seem seamless.

Underneath the directors are the team of full-time advisors that work alongside us. Advisors do everything that we do, everything the executive staff do, and more! One of the full-time advisors was in the same graduate program that those of us doing the summer internship did. It's neat to see how far HESA took her.

The team of HESA interns are not the only students that the orientation and advising departments employ. MTC also employs orientation leaders and orientation assistants. Honestly, without the OLs and OAs, we'd be lost. If there is behind the scenes work to be done--setting up signs, setting up rooms, getting out snacks and water at intermission, directing students to orientation, and so much more.

All of the teamwork leads to smooth transitions and happy students. Advisors, like me, have time to go through their students' paperwork and prepare for our sessions. We are able to pitch in with orientation and with registration, but we know that we have a full team of individuals around us to help with every step of the way.

So far, our students have given us high ratings on the survey that asks about their experiences. Students come to me grinning and hopefully leave just as happy. Students talk about how excellent all of their experiences at orientation are when I ask them how things have gone so far.

I leave 9 out of 10 sessions wishing that I could get to know the students better. As I've talked about in previous posts, I know short a time our 15 minutes are with students. Yet, I also know how impactful those 15 minutes can be. They can deter students from their dreams. They can inspire a new dream. And for me, the students have a huge impact on me and how I see my job. They've helped reaffirm that I belong in the community college setting, and they've spurred some of my reflection on the issues that are facing our time.

Each of us plays a part in our team. Without the entire team, we wouldn't be able to function. But together, we make a great unit that helps students reach their goals.

"You can go anywhere from here." --Midlands Technical College slogan.



Until next time. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 5

It's hard to believe that our internships at MTC are halfway over. The summer has flown by. A month from now, we'll be gearing up for classes and returning to our graduate assistantships.

In many ways, this internship is a blip on our professional careers. However, I don't believe it's just the internship experience that will stick with us, I think it's the entire summer and everything that has happened within it.

As I have mentioned in past posts, at a community college, we serve students from all walks of life. For me, this knowledge intersects with everything that has happened this summer--the shooting in Orlando, the shootings that have sparked Black Lives Matter protests all over the country (including the protests in Columbia that blocked off our highways), the bombings, the growing refugee crisis, and how the upcoming presidential elections will potentially impact all of the students who walk through my door.



This morning, as I was serving my diverse body of students, I felt my heart clench in fear that one or more of these lovely, hardworking individuals with their entire lives and a beautiful future ahead of them may fall victim to the horrors we have seen in 2016 (and years prior). Of course, I worry about my friends, my family, and myself (as a queer person), but I had never felt such acute worry for individuals I had just met.

I didn't just feel the heavy weight of my heart, which has become a constant with the state of the world.  I didn't have a passing fear that an acquaintance may be in danger. I had a gripping, paralyzing, heart-wrenching emotion pass through me. While I have stared into the earnest eyes of these incoming students, someone stupid and hateful may not take the time to do so.

We have a duty on college campuses to protect the people that come to us. We have an obligation as student affairs professionals to help make a positive difference in the world. As the doors at MTC rotate day after day, I feel that obligation's weight more and more.



Today, I urge my fellow student affairs professionals to stay a moment longer with your students. Help a little more. Check in with someone who seems sad. Make a bigger difference. You never know when that opportunity may be your last--for yourself or for them. You never know if you could change a life or save a life with your impact.

Be the impact.

Be the change.

Please.

Until next time. 


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 4

What does a typical day look like as an Orientation Advisor at Midlands Technical College? I could take the easy way out and say there is no typical day. However, I thought it might be interesting to lay out our schedule.

Around 8:30 am, advisors arrive on campus to assist in setting up for orientation. By then, the professional staff and the OLs (orientation leaders) and orientation assistants have already done the bulk of the work--setting up signs so students and parents know where to park, arranging tables and chairs, organizing the names and files of the students attending, and getting the electronics set up in the auditorium for the presentations that will follow.

Students begin arrive around 8:30 (although sometimes they show up sooner). That is where our real job begins. Advisors are stationed in one of many key areas to welcome and assist students. We might be greeters--stationed inside or outside at either the front or the back doors. We might work the check-in table and help students get set up with their name badge and major checked. We might be in the auditorium (my personal favorite spot) where we give them orientation packets and direct them to their seats.

Orientation begins promptly at 9 am where students hear from a multitude of faculty and staff about student life at Midlands, as well as complete activities and games, designed for college readiness and entertainment. At this point, the advisors move into the advising room and begin sorting files and preparing students potential class schedules.

Student schedules at Midlands vary widely. Some may be part-time, due to their jobs or family obligations. Some may want to be full-time, but cannot build a full-time schedule their first semester because they need to complete developmental or remedial courses before moving to the 101 level.

During advising, which follows the overview done in the auditorium, students file in to see us about 10 at a time. We have about 15 minutes to follow the Appreciative Advising model, as closely as we can in such a short amount of time, and to get students set up with a schedule. On a typical day, we may complete two orientation sessions--a morning and an afternoon session--during which we see somewhere between 2 and 6 students apiece. Many students also bring family and friends, adding an extra element to the mix, one that is mostly good and sometimes a little tedious.

After students meet with us, they are advised by financial aid, then finally, they file into the computer lab to sign up for at least one course. Signing up for a course helps students feel more official, as well as adds another layer of "reality" to the fact that they're college students now! Advisors may assist in the computer lab, or they may complete other miscellaneous tasks assigned by the professional staff.

Once students have finished registering for a class, they complete a survey on their experience, receive a free cell phone charger for their car, and are free to carry on with the rest of their day. Then we do it all over again.




The process is surprisingly exhausting. As an introvert, Student Affairs can sometimes be an incredibly draining field for me to find myself within. Some days I can't wait to crash after being "on" all day. But the perspective students give me energy as well. They light up the room with their enthusiasm for the next stage in their life.

While orientation may not be my long-term career goal, due to the large volume of individuals I interact with each day and the amount of energy it requires of this introvert, I do love the people I work with, the students I see, and the purpose behind the position.

I'm thankful that Midlands has given me the opportunity to delve into another area of student services with which I previously had very little experience.

Until next time!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 3

It's hard to believe that in five short days we will have been serving as Orientation Advisors at Midlands Technical College for a month! In some ways, it feels like we've been there forever. In others, it feels like we're just getting started.

Since I last posted, we've conducted orientations at several different MTC campuses--something I've really enjoyed. While 4-year colleges may operate on a single campus or may employ an entirely different orientation team on a different campus (for example, USC--Aiken versus USC--Columbia), MTC operates with a limited team and budget, so we're doing all of the orientations.

My favorite campus so far is the Northeast campus, which looked like a cross between a space ship and a Japanese garden. The campus is mostly used for science and engineering students and featured amenities such as wall--to--wall whiteboards, computers in the majority of the classrooms, and industrial spaces to work in the building called the Innovation Center.

During lunch, one of the OLs (orientation leaders) and I explored the Innovation Center--a cavernous space filled with huge machines of which I couldn't even begin to describe the nature.

The campus also features a beautiful pond, gazebos, and balconies with tables and chairs where students can eat their lunches outside. If I were coming to MTC, I would probably want to take as many classes at Northeast as I could.

Here is a picture  (taken from one of the balconies) that doesn't even begin to capture the beauty of the campus.




I also enjoyed Northeast because of everyone's reactions to it (including my own). There is certainly still a perception that communities colleges are secondary to the work that 4-year institutions do, the students they teach, and the facilities that they command. 

Northeast blows that perception out of the water. The students there will go on to easily make 4-figures in the workforce and will perform essential duties without which our society could not function. They will enjoy their time in college at a breathtaking campus with state-of-the-art equipment. And on the day that we spent there, we got to help those students make their bright futures happen. 

Until next time!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 2

Since my last post about Midlands Technical College, we finished our week of training for orientation advising and have jumped into our sessions. During the day, we meet with somewhere between 3 and 8 students to discuss their first semester academic plan. Orientation and advising at MTC is required for all new students before they can enroll in classes. Sessions normally take between 10-15 minutes, though some can last much longer, and some fly by quickly. 

I've been able to meet with students of all age ranges, backgrounds, and majors. This is one huge draw to the community college field for me. No two days are the same, and no two students are the same. I may be working with a disabled veteran on a Monday, a straight-A 17-year-old on Thursday, and a middle-aged person switching careers on Friday. 

The diversity of the students and the crackle of energy in orientation brought me to a realization that made me stagger. 

As the orientation team, we may be a student's first impression of college. When we advise them on classes, we define the rest of their lives. Students trust our advice. They soak up our stories. We make or break them. 

I've known that I wanted to help individuals shape their lives into a better tomorrow. But I don't believe I realized the extent of my power until I started advising at MTC. This knowledge makes me want to work harder, to work better, to be better.

The pace at Midlands is incredibly quick and can be exhausting, especially for an introvert like me. However, I'm thankful for the opportunity to MTC to practice my skills, to work alongside an amazing team, and to hopefully make a difference for a better tomorrow in our community. 




Saturday, June 25, 2016

Review of THE GRACES by Laure Eve

It's been awhile, but I'M BACK with a young adult book review this month! I'm happy to announce that June's pick is THE GRACES by Laure Eve!

Without further ado, let's jump into it!



Synopsis:

Everyone said the Graces were witches.

They moved through the corridors like sleek fish, ripples in their wake. Stares followed their backs and their hair.

They had friends, but they were just distractions. They were waiting for someone different.

All I had to do was show them that person was me.


Like everyone else in her town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and apparent ability to weave magic. But are they really what they seem? And are they more dangerous than they let on?

This beautifully-written thriller will grip you from its very first page.


***

I picked up this advanced reader's copy because the description of the book immediately caught my attention. I loved the snippet in the synopsis. And it's true; Eve has an absolutely captivating writing style, and I'm a sucker for that. 

I'm also a sucker for anything even remotely supernatural. More and more books these days merely hint at magic (like Sarah Addison Allen's books), and I enjoy the thought that doses of magic exist in all of our lives...if we know how to notice them. 

I read most of THE GRACES on a plane (I know. What else is new?). I meant to write when I switched flights, but I couldn't put this book down! The same thing happened when I got home. I meant to go to sleep early, but by that time, I was 80% in and committed to seeing the read through. And now that it's over, I miss the world and the characters and hope I'll meet them again.

I left the story with mixed feelings...which I wonder if others mirrored my reaction, and that's why the book sits around a 3.75 on Goodreads right now. I won't lie. I had trouble with the ending. Unfortunately, I can't tell you why because I don't want to spoil the story. 

But let me emphasize--This story IS a thriller through and through. Don't go in expecting a soft paranormal romance like I did. You'll be sorely disappointed. 

I also have mixed feelings about the way LGB issues were handled in the book. While there is an LGB element, characters' general reactions remain ignorant and fearful. As a member of the community, I strive hard to normalize my LGB characters, their identities and struggles, and to show a side of the world that may be a bit kinder because I genuinely believe that is the direction in which we are moving. Writers have a huge voice for how young people interact with minorities. I find it to be the utmost importance for us to weave as many positive stories as we can to help be the change. So while I'm thankful the topic was broached, I'm hopeful that in Eve's next book, we'll see it handled differently!

 Finally, I'm not a huge fan of the cover, even though covers like this seem to be the new trend, and there is symbolism to it. Perhaps the print edition will have softer edges.

I do, however, want to see this main character in another book. If I were given the chance to read and review it, I certainly would. I haven't had nearly enough of River, her adventures, or her lyrical voice. When an author can write like Eve can, it's a crime to think there might not be another book.

All in all, I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, which, for me, is a high rating--one that I think Eve truly earned. 

If you're looking for YA thriller and want a book you won't be able to put down, then this book is for you. The book will be out September 1st, 2016, so be sure to grab a copy!

Did you like THE GRACES? Leave your comments below!

I'll see you next time!



 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 1

Hi Everyone!

For the rest of the summer, I'll be diverging from my typical book reviews to focus on something else--my career (though don't worry; I also have book reviews coming out at the end of this month and next)!

As many of my readers probably do not know, I am currently a graduate student at the University of South Carolina. This summer, I am interning for Midlands Technical College with the hopes of hopefully working full-time in a community college once more after I finish my Master's. I guess you could say I'm a student affairs professional by day and a rogue writer, editor, and book reviewer by night.

But without further ado, let's jump into my experiences so far!




This past Friday, we finished our first week of training to be Orientation Advisors. As I reflected, I realized that, for me, community colleges will forever feel like home. I started my own higher education journey in a community college--both as a student and then an employee. Since then, I have worked in four community colleges, including Midlands. While I love four-year institutions as well, community colleges are home, and the people who work within them are family.

Less than a year from now, I'll be venturing out in the job search process, and I have to thank Midlands for reaffirming just how much the two-year sector means to be. From the student demographics served, to the mission statement, to the strategic plan, to the vital role that community colleges play in the country, I cannot see myself committing to working anywhere else. 

I look forward to what the rest of the summer has to offer. Please check back next week for a new post!

Until then, peace.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Happy Vegetarian Half-Birthday to Me!

This month I'm venturing away from my typical book review of the month to do a special post. Sometimes life throws curve balls at you--like the move to a new city, like the start of a new job, like death, like the loss of a partner--but we truly can be reborn into someone better from the ashes.


A lot of times when grief strikes a person, they change. Maybe they become colder. Maybe they grow their hair or cut it short. I have undergone so many changes in the last year that I found myself examining who I was and who I wanted to be in every aspect of my life. One of those aspects was food--what I consumed, why I consumed it.

I have attempted to be a vegetarian several different times, but I'd never been successful when I made the commitment. Some of it was timing. Some of it was resources. A lot of it had to do with the people that I surrounded myself with. Being in the Office of Sustainability where I work now, living with a vegan, and being embraced by a community that "got" the values that I'd tried to live by has made all the difference in the world.

In September of last year, I woke up one day, went to work and class, and decided I'd grab Wendy's on the way home. However, I'd taken a class in vegan cooking and forced myself to watch some of the disturbing media that is out there on factory farming. Even though I wanted to grab a chicken burger, my hands would not drive me to buy fast food. Instead, I drove home and cooked myself a meat-free dinner.



From that day, I've been meat free. That isn't to say that it hasn't been without challenges. It's true that vegetarians (and now I eat mostly vegan) can struggle with nutrient deficiencies. And I'm one of those lucky people that after I turned 25 started to experience a slower metabolism and some health problems. But morally, ethically, and personally, I am so happy with my decision. It's truly been a change that I'd been searching to make for most of my life.



And there have been more positive benefits than negative ones! I have faster recovery time from workouts. I crave spinach and cashews now, instead of chips with every meal. I actually take the vitamins that as a kid I'd throw behind the couch. I love cooking and went from someone who burned water to someone who is proud to make meals for friends and family, someone who is unafraid to take risks in the kitchen and experiment with ingredients and recipes. I have a new relationship and respect for food.




 Being vegetarian makes a lot of sense while I'm on a graduate student stipend. While I'm not sure if I'll always eat 100% vegan or vegetarian for the rest of my life, I definitely will not be back to Taco Bell anytime soon, nor will I eat meat without knowing where it came from and how it was raised--and that does not include red meat, for which I have zero craving.





Things are so different than they were a year ago. I look back and sometimes think that last year happened to someone else. And in a sense it did. So I hope that you can join me in my rebirth and celebrate my vegetarian half-birthday (a little late).

  Are you meat-free, too? Share your stories in the comments!


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Review of THE FARM by Joseph William Burrows

This month I have the pleasure of reviewing THE FARM by Joseph Williams Burrows. This book is different than anything I have ever reviewed before and is particularly divergent from my usual young adult picks.

Being able to review something outside of my normal scope and by such a talented author was a real treat, but before I say more, here are the cover and synopsis:




Synopsis:

Some stories are based in true events, some are inspired by true events. I believe the discrepancy lies in 50%. If more then half the story is based in fact it is based on a true story. If less the 50% of the story is based in fact it is inspired by true events. I think the reader needs to decide that for themselves because some stories should never be told.

Praise:

The perspective of the narrator is captivating. The emotions and fervor in this style cannot be imitated.

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I wanted to include that particular note of praise because it struck such a chord with me. THE FARM contains something that most novels lack these days. Was it his rawness that struck me so deeply? Was it the coldness of his main character? Was it the depth of unresolved struggle? 

One thing is for certain, Burrows knows no fear. His writing will strike you. It will choke you. I had to read the book in sections because I would be so overwhelmed by the gravity of the characters' situations, their reactions to those situations, and the shifting story that I would need to take periodic breaks and remember how to breathe. 

In a world of stories with characters who embody what we might want to be, Burrows writes dark, real characters who will scare you. He also addresses relevant topics in our society in a fearless manner--like being transgender, dealing drugs, and growing up in a distant and dysfunctional family. 

I have to say again though, to my typically young adult audience, this novel is not for the faint of heart. There are graphic scenes of violence, massive amounts of drug use, gang wars, sexual exploits, and more. And Burrows deals with these scenes in an unapologetic and beautifully brutal manner.

For my readers who are seeking something that pushes the envelop, that will make you dream in the color of blood, and will make you questions literature as we know it, this novel is for you. If you are looking for those qualities in your next read, then I dare you to pick up a copy of this book and let it burn you. 

You can pick up a copy of THE FARM here.

Be sure to leave your comments on this review, as well as to leave a raving review for the author! 

I'll see you next month, readers! Until then...


Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Resolutions? What about Last Year's Reflections? 2015 Edition

I sat on the bed with my mother before she went to sleep tonight. I told her I have been searching for home all over the country these last several years...but over the past few months, I've realized that my home is just where I've left it. With her, with my father, with my friends, and a city that breathes with me and speaks to my soul. This has been the start to my 2016.

I am exactly where I want to be. I am loved. The house is warm. My stomach and my heart are full to bursting. Here, I crossed my hands over themselves, the same hands that clenched through most of last year, that shook without reprieve, that moved outside of my control.

Looking back, the last several years have had their bright spots, but I have not been where I have always been seeking to be. Honestly, I seemed to be moving further away from my dreams. In 2015, I dealt with crippling anxiety, soul-shattering depression, betrayal and heartache, loss and death. And yet, here I sat in a bed on New Year's Day happier than I can remember being in years, more at peace than I thought I'd ever be again.

And I owe it all to the small steps I have struggled through over the last several months. I stumbled. I fell. I beat the ground with my hands, but I kept on rising and stepping again until I reached the clearing that I sit in now. 

This past year, I have learned that there must be a breakdown for there to be a breakthrough...or in my case, several. I have learned that the mirror will lie unless you are searching for the truth--the truth in what you look like, who you are, what you've become, and what you still could be. I have learned that nothing can often be better than something. I have learned what it means when you face yourself at your weakest and tell her the two of you must battle a little more.

This past year, I lived as a shell. I slept, instead of seeking an awakening. My heart pounded against my chest like a caged bird because I was trapped in a body that acted beyond my control. I saw my wrinkles in the cruel bathroom light. I suffered and could not cry.

Here, I could tell you that writers or artists deserve a life of sadness. I could say I believe that a writer or artist cannot create without suffering. I could tell you that depression and anxiety will chip away at you until you must hide for fear that the lingering pieces of yourself could be stripped away at any moment. And I almost believed those things.

But not too long past, I dreamed of where I was a year ago with my hands clenched in fear and anger, controlled by someone who I would not recognize as myself now. But I am no longer there. I am no longer her. I am me again. And I do not believe those things.

I thought about listing achievements and posting pictures the way I have in the past when reflecting on my year, but the most important things that have happened to me in 2015 have happened on the inside, and they happened when I was alone, in the shower, in dreams, in conversations too personal to replay, with people too important to name. I have no way of neatly summarizing what has blossomed from the forest fire inside me. Nor do I want to  summarize these things because they are endless and still unfolding in the most glorious way I ever could have imagined.

So to myself, I simply say:

Let no one paint your sky for you in colors that don't dance in your soul. Go on another adventure. Push yourself to level up when your HP is low. Own your strangeness for it makes you who you are. Be selfish. Be giving. Be open. Be smart. Love. Hope. Watch the sun melt the sky come morning. Know who is worthy of your time. Replay soft moments in your mind, so that you may return to them when all around you is hard and rough. Do something impossible. Use the lessons you've learned, for goodness sake, so you don't keep repeating the same mistakes. Remember that you can fill the hole in your heart with words. Remember that no one is worth your happiness. Remember that happiness comes with sadness, but that happiness will return once more. Remember that life happens outside of social media and a cell phone. Keep living green. Keep eating vegetarian/vegan. Keep exercising. Exfoliate your beautiful skin with baking soda, and use coconut oil to stop the mid-winter, dry-skin itching.  Experiment with more spices. Enjoy your new business enterprise. Write furiously for hours on end. Create. Do. Struggle. Be angry. Be angry at the right things (and people). Work through your anger. Live true to who you are. Let no one define who that is or take it away. Go to school. Love your work. Love your students and your cohort. Wonder Trade more Pokemon. Nap. Travel. Drink tea. Drink wine. Laugh. Cry. Cry some more. Forgive--yourself and others. Explore your past. Explore the future. Live in the moment. Take 2016 and woo her like you've wooed yourself. This is your year. Yours. It's about time you claimed one for yourself, instead of giving her away to everyone else.

And to my dear and beautiful readers:

Whether your year was one of the best or one of the worst, thanks for reading my blog. Keep coming back for book reviews and other goodies. Oh! And don't forget to buy my book. Love ya! Happy New Year!

Until next time!