A is for Advice

I’m a little too late to formally participate in the Blog A-Z  event, but after reading some of my friends post I decided I really liked the idea! There’s no way I’ll finish these out by the end of April, but I think I’ll do them at my own pace all the same. 


I see them all the time. You see them, too, I’m sure. They’re everywhere, these lists of advice handed down from invisible so-called experts with no room for nuance. You must not marry young, you must only breastfeed your babies, you must only make these moves in your career . . . and here are the reasons why.

I’ve made plenty a numbered list during my time as a blogger, and I don’t think the format is a bad idea, but I cringe when a piece like this moves from suggestion to decree. The writers of such lists seems to assume that everyone in the world has the same ambitions, desires, dreams, goals, and situations.

Perhaps this evolves from  our desire to have one size fits all solutions to our most common problems. I can understand that. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? But unfortunately, this approach often ends up working just as well as those “one size fits all” shirts no one ever buys, because when it comes to most things, it just isn’t possible.

So here is my advice to you, dear readers:

Marry young. Marry later in life. Don’t marry at all.

Have lots of children. Have only one or two. Don’t have any.

Breastfeed. Bottle feed. Use formula.

Focus on your career. Be a full-time parent. Find a way to do both. 

Travel the world. Travel domestically. Never travel at all.

Send your kids to public school. Private school. Homeschool. 

Etcetera, etcetera.

I  can’t make your decisions for you, and neither can anyone else. Listen to the experiences of others, evaluate your own situation, and figure out what works for you. Ignore the rest. Life is too short to let other people try to control your major life decisions.

An Open Book – April Edition

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Thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for starting off the #OpenBook link up this month. (Visit her original post here.) Now, let’s get started!

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My husband is still reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in the little free time he has. As far as I can tell, he’s enjoying it! I’ve never read any Jules Verne, which I should probably change sooner rather than later. This particular selection doesn’t sound like it would be my personal cup of tea, but whatever works!

 

 

 

 

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After giving up on Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War yesterday, I picked up Eleanor by Jason Gurley. I’ve heard a lot about this book–a lot of critical acclaim, not just buzz on the book blogger circuit–and I was able to get a copy on NetGalley, so I’m going to give it a try. At 11% I’m not quite sure I understand the plot fully enough yet to attempt an explanation, but I’m enjoying it so far. The writing is beautiful, and from what I’ve heard there are elements of magical realism to come. I love magical realism! And I haven’t experienced it in quite a while. I’m excited.

 

 

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I am also revisiting the Harry Potter books via audio. I’m currently on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is my favorite in the series. This is the last book in which Harry can really be considered innocent, in my mind. Hereafter, he’s an adult in an adolescent body, and the plot grows ever darker. This is only the second “reading” I’ve done with the series, as I wasn’t formally introduced to the wizarding world until 2014, and I’m loving the opportunity to explore the intricacy of J.K. Rowling’s planning. I was aware of it beforehand, obviously, as it’s been the source of many an academic paper and literary discussion, and I noticed a lot of the foreshadowing as I made my way through the books the first time, but it’s interesting to see how even the tiniest details all point toward the end. If you haven’t listened to the audiobooks, you’re missing out on a treat. Jim Dale’s narration voice is a treasure.

Up Next

I’m going to spend this month (and the next, and probably the next) slowly whittling away at my entirely too long NetGalley queue. What I hope to read in April:

The Dressmaker’s War by Mary Chamberlain
A Girl’s Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler
The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen
Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

I doubt I’ll finish all these, especially since there are only four more weeks left in the semester and I have essays and papers to write, but a girl can dream, can’t she?


What are you reading?

Would you like to participate in An Open book and share what you are reading? 

The rules are simple:

1. Include a link back to Carolyn Astfalk’s blog somewhere in your post. (Better yet, link to the week’s post.)

2. Link up your post. 

3. Use the hashtag #OpenBook on social media. 

4. Try to visit some of the other bloggers’ sites and see what they are reading. Let’s build a community and expand our reading horizons. 

Add your link by clicking the #OpenBook image below.

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#OpenBook is a monthly link-up each first Wednesday of the month. Check out the rules here.

You can sign up for an Open Book reminder email, which goes out one week before the link-up.

Top 10 4- and 5-Star NetGalley Reads

It’s time to confess that I have a problem. I request entirely too many titles on NetGalley. Between taking classes, writing, and working, I really don’t have time to be reading for pleasure, but what can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment.

Thanks to the generosity of several publishers and authors, I’ve been exposed to some truly amazing reads lately. I post my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and my review site Read Yourself to Sleep, but I rarely share my thoughts on books here. Today, I’d like to change that! Here’s a list of the ten most recent 4- and 5-star reads I’ve experienced thanks to NetGalley!

Continue reading

A Trip in Photos: Charleston and Asheville

Vacations are intoxicating in the Ard household. My husband and I both work six days a week, with a different off day to boot, so we spend most of the year circling one another and communicating via text message. We usually only have off days together on federal holidays, so when we’re given the opportunity to have a full six days off together, it usually goes straight to our heads. We dive into our vacation with little to no plan and just get drunk on free time together. We forget to keep track of the great restaurants we discover and the wonderful places we visit.

This year, I was determined our experience would be different. I planned out an itinerary for us. I booked hotel rooms and purchased tickets to attractions in advance. And I (most likely, to the great annoyance of my Facebook friends) took tons and tons of pictures.

Spring Break coincided with our third wedding anniversary, and since this is likely the last big trip we’ll take for a few years, we decided to go a little bit further from home this year. We made it to a city I’ve been dying to revisit for years–Charleston, South Carolina–as well as Flat Rock, Asheville, and Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

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Obligatory rest stop selfie, taken somewhere in Morgan County, Georgia.

We arrived in Charleston on Sunday afternoon in the middle of a rain storm. The harbor was completely shrouded in thick clouds, and the roads were borderline flooded. Our original plans of eating seafood on an open-air porch and taking a carriage ride through the historic district went quickly out the window. But despite this upset–and a few wrong turns, thanks to an outdated GPS map–we ended up having a nice dinner at a neat little place called Sawyer’s on the Boulevard, a sprawling country-style house with a mini swamp and a gorgeous patio.

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Not pictured is the appetizer, which we decimated before we were able to photograph it: a plate of potato straws piled high with bacon, beer cheese, green onions, and sour cream. Delicious.

The next morning, we grabbed a biscuit at a trusty Chick-fil-A, since our hotel didn’t offer complimentary breakfast, after we headed out to Sullivan’s Island to check out Stella Maris Catholic Church. We’re both super Protestant, but I had to go see this church in person because it’s the place that Annemarie, one of the protagonists in the upcoming This Dread Road, worshipped as a child and teen. It wasn’t open to the public Monday mornings, but I made sure to take plenty of pictures of the outside!

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We followed that exciting morning up with a trip out to Fort Sumter, the fort on a manmade island that served as the site for the first gunshots of the Civil War. Those who’ve read The Partition of Africa will remember that this was a place Hattie was eager to see. It wasn’t my first time visiting the fort, but it was the first time since writing Partition, so it was definitely a special experience!

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After disembarking the Fort Sumter ferry, we went straight into another adventure–the South Carolina Aquarium! We experienced a 4D movie, which was totally geared towards children but fun nonetheless, a shark and sting ray touch tank, lots of beautiful fish and wildlife exhibits, and MERMAIDS!

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We capped off the afternoon with a scrumptious meal at the Charleston Crab House and a quick visit to Folly Beach, the setting for my upcoming Christmas Novella ‘Tis the Season, just in time for sunset. It was my husband’s first time to see the Atlantic Ocean!

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Tuesday was jam-packed! We started out the morning attending 8 o’clock Mass at Stella Maris before visiting Boone Hall, one of the country’s oldest working plantations. The main house was actually built in the 1930s, well after the property stopped running on slave labor. In addition to serving as a museum and attraction, several crops are still grown on the property. The oak-lined drive served as inspiration for the road into Twelve Oaks in the film Gone with the Wind. We visited a black history in America mini-museum housed in some of the surviving slave cabins, toured the home, took a motor carriage ride to survey the current agriculture, and attended a fascinating presentation on Gullah culture. We capped it all off with a wonderful pizza and house-made candy bar at EVO Pizzeria.

We discovered EVO Pizzeria by mistake. The previous night, we were absently watching a show called Unique Sweets. Neither of us had been paying much attention until the narrator said, “And if you ever find yourself in Charleston, South Carolina…” Both of us perked up, and were excited to learn about this pizza place that also made their own candy bars in house. It’s definitely worth the trip!

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After a quick visit to Lowcountry Harley-Davidson–my husband works at a Harley dealership and loves seeing how other dealers work–we thought about dropping by Fort Moultrie to see the other side of the Fort Sumter story, but instead we stopped back at the hotel for an unexpected but much-needed nap. Then, it was off to the Market district for a quick bite at Tbonz Gill and Grill before our walking ghost tour!

We spent some time in the Washington Square Park while waiting for our tour to start. Also, we tried to walk off what can only be described as diabetes in a cup–a cookies and cream milkshake with a hunk of cookies and cream fudge thrown right in. We kicked off the tour with a gorgeous cotton candy sunset, which was the perfect view while hearing about the first documented female serial killer in the US.

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The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and made a quick stop by Page’s Okra Grill for breakfast before we headed for North Carolina. This place hands down has the best breakfast food you can imagine! The shrimp and grits I had actually was designated as best shrimp and grits on the East Cost by Southern Living. JD’s chicken and waffle was pretty amazing, too! The food was really heavy–we only managed to eat about half of both dishes.

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After a few hours on the road, we stopped in Flat Rock, North Carolina to tour Connemara, the estate of late poet and biographer Carl Sandburg. Carl’s wife Lillian ran a goat farm while they lived on the estate, and the National Park Service actually maintain a herd of goats descended from her original herd. It was great fun!

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We ate dinner at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. The food was okay, nothing to write home about, but the best part about this restaurant was the discount movie theater in the back. We ended up staying to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens for $3 each, because why not?

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Our last day, we drove up to Maggie Valley, North Carolina to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum of Transportation. I took a ton of pictures there–this is only a sampling!

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.We punctuated the end to our week of fun by stopping in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to eat a late lunch at The Terminal Brewhouse, one of our favorite restaurants there. After that, it was home sweet home!

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I didn’t write the entire week, but I’m beginning to think that’s a good thing. I got lots of sleep, spent quality time with my love, managed to exercise quite a bit through our walking adventures, and learned a lot of interesting stuff. When we left I felt ragged, worn down, and on the verge of severe burn-out. Now I feel energized, inspired, and motivated! This Dread Road, ‘Tis the Season, and One Last Aria–watch out. I’m coming for you.

 

How Your High Expectations Are Holding You Back

Usually when we think about expectations holding us back, our minds immediately go to low expectations, don’t we? A fish will only grow as large as its tank allows it, and all that. And the sentiment is completely true–if our goals are small, our accomplishments will be small. It’s only math.

But today, I want to talk about the other side of that problem. I want to talk about how your high expectations could very well be holding you back from something even greater.

If comparison is the thief of joy, expectations are the murderer.

Just over five years ago, I started dating the man who became my husband. Right out of the gate, he established himself as a thoughtful gift giver. Valentine’s Day fell just three weeks after we made our relationship official, and in that small amount of time he’d somehow managed to secure a first American edition of my favorite book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which he presented to me wrapped in brown paper and strings, just like the parcels Mr. Tumnus was carrying when he first met Lucy in the Wood. To top it off, he arranged for us to view one of my favorite films, Casablanca, at a historic theater.

My little geeky heart was in Heaven.

As time went on, though, the reality of this man’s thoughtfulness when it came to selecting gifts faded under the weight of my skewered expectations. Because you see, when it comes to the “traditional” boyfriend/fiancé/husband gifts, he isn’t so inclined. I can count on one hand the times he’s brought me flowers, and on one finger the times he’s brought me flowers without being nagged into it.

This used to bother me, especially when I worked in an office with women whose husbands sent dozens of long-stemmed red roses for everyone to see. My husband was a kind, intelligent, thoughtful man–why couldn’t he just have a natural inclination to send roses, too? That I didn’t even really care for roses seemed besides the point. It was just what was done.

This seed of irritation blossomed into a full-blown bitterness, culminating in a gift of a lovely, yet I’m sure overpriced, mixed bouquet on our first wedding anniversary. While I adored them and thought they were beautiful, the truth worried at my soul just below the surface. This wasn’t a token of affection. It was the white flag of surrender, offered by my husband as a last resort in the hopes that I would finally approve of what he had to offer me.

After that instance, I stopped nagging my husband to buy me flowers and decided to be grateful for the things he chose to give me out of love instead.

After letting those expectations go, I realized I didn’t even really like flowers that much. Sure, they’re nice, but they don’t do anything. They sit there, a momentary but very mortal decoration, and before long they’ve shriveled up and died. But the things my husband chose to give me on his own? Those were things I could actively use and enjoy for a long time. And the fact that he’s specially ordered 99% of the gifts he’s ever given me, or made special trips to multiple stores that are out of his way, mean so much more to me than the times he’s caved and half-heartedly purchased something that neither of us really wanted to begin with.

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The last time he brought me flowers was this past Valentine’s Day. They were free leftover flowers at his work, and he had to bring them home by shoving them in a box so he could get them on his motorcycle so they were falling apart a little, but they were my favorite bouquet by far.

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There are times when sticking to your guns as far as expectations go are a good thing. There are also times to re-evaluate what’s really important. Don’t let your high expectations prevent you from experiencing an even greater joy. There are things you don’t even know you want just on the horizon.

Five Favorites: Early Modern Poems

Some of you might know that I’ve started working on a Master of Arts in English. This semester, in addition to the creative writing workshop I talked about last week, I’m working on another prerequisite before I can dive into the graduate level courses.

I was a little upset about this at first, I won’t lie. The thought of taking three 300 level courses seemed so unnecessary. But already, I have seen the error of my ways. These survey courses are a great way to get me back in a lit state of mind after six (SIX?!) years and have started me on a noble quest I’ve often dreamed about: becoming acquainted with the Western literary canon.

Currently, I’m studying Medieval and Early Modern British literature, and I’ve found that I absolutely adore the early modern poets. Here are, as you might be able to guess from the title, my five favorite poems (or collections thereof).

1. Paradise Lost, John Milton

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When it comes to Milton’s magnum opus, I’ve only read three books out of the twelve, and it took some major mental wrestling and guidance for me to understand even a sliver of what was there, but I still can’t help but love it. The fact that he wrote this piece after he was blind is absolutely astounding. Worrisome theological implications aside, this piece is flawless. Everyone should read at least part of it.

2. The Holy Sonnets, John Donne

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Despite Donne’s insistence on mixing his pet themes of God, the soul, and erotic love in sometimes highly upsetting ways (“Batter my heart, three-person’d God” much?), I really do enjoy his Holy Sonnets. His verse flows well and carries so many layers of meaning. Metaphysical poetry is where it’s at.

3. Astrophil and Stella, Sir Philip Sidney

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Even though this sonnet cycle is not really so much about love as obsession, these poems are definitely worth your time and energy. I think Sidney being such a sly dog is what makes me love these sonnets so much. His sonnets are filled with paradoxes and contradictions. He describes how his writer’s block precludes him from writing a love poem–in a love poem. He declares that he cannot describe his lady’s looks–in a poem describing her looks. He’s such a tricky jerk. I love that.

4. Hero and Leander, Christopher Marlowe

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Scholars have said that had Christopher Marlowe lived longer, his work would have rivaled and perhaps even eclipsed that of Shakespeare’s. Reading Hero and Leander, I understand those claims. Exploring the mythical tragic love story between Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite, and Leander, a young man from Abydos, this unfinished mini-epic explores complex themes such as nature, artifice, desire, gender, and sexuality.

5. Sonnets, William Shakespeare

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I’ve been a fan of Shakespeare ever since my father took me to see a production of Macbeth for my eleventh birthday. While the other high schoolers were groaning about having to read his plays, I soaked them in, even when I didn’t always understand them. I never would have imagined his sonnets being about to top his barding skills. I was wrong. After reading only a sampling of his poetry, I finally started to understand the true level of his talent and genius. Warning: if you, like me, are prone to literary-induced tears, don’t read too many of these in one sitting. You will indeed grow weepy.

An Open Book – March Edition

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Thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for starting off the #OpenBook link up this month. (Visit her original post here.)

Now, let’s get started!

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My husband has been reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne off and on for the past few months (he doesn’t have a lot of spare time for reading, due to his work schedule). I haven’t read any of Jules Verne, sadly–something I really need to remedy if I’m serious about diving headlong into science fiction writing over the next couple of years. I’m looking forward to hearing his report and opinion when he finishes this one up!

 

 

 

 

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I am revisiting the Harry Potter series via audiobook during my commutes and times at the gym. I finished up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone last week, and have started in strong with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this week. This is only the second “reading” I’ve done with the series, as I wasn’t formally introduced to the wizarding world until 2014, and I’m loving the opportunity to explore the intricacy of J.K. Rowling’s planning. I was aware of it beforehand, obviously, as it’s been the source of many an academic paper and literary discussion, and I noticed a lot of the foreshadowing as I made my way through the books the first time, but it’s interesting to see how even the tiniest details all point toward the end. If you haven’t listened to the audiobooks, you’re missing out on a treat. Jim Dale’s narration voice is a treasure.

 

A Doubter's Almanac

 

 

I’ve also started reading Ethan Canin’s A Doubter’s Almanac, an ARC I received from Netgalley some time ago that I’m only now getting a chance to read. The story follows Milo Andret, a mathematical genius, as he comes of age during his graduate studies at UC Berkeley in the alluring, seductive seventies. I’ve been studying quite a bit of literary fiction these days for the creative writing course I’m taking, so I was interested to see what’s out there on the commercial side of the genre. So far (about 5% in) I’m not super impressed, but we’ll see what happens.

 

 

 

What are you reading?

Add your link by clicking the #OpenBook image below.

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#OpenBook is a monthly link-up each first Wednesday of the month. Check out the rules here.

You can sign up for an Open Book reminder email, which goes out one week before the link-up.