On the edge

American Falls and bridge


For someone so afraid of heights, you wouldn’t take me for a crazy waterfall fanatic.

But something about cascading water — plummeting, falling, twirling, twisting — always holds me captive. And of all the cataracts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing? Well, Niagara Falls stands alone. (Until I see the Devil’s Throat, anyway.)

My first visit was in 2004 on a family trip with my sister and parents; we hit Buffalo, Toronto and surrounding areas one muggy week in July. I had my first “legal” beer at a bar on the Canadian side of the falls, my dad teaching me how to tip the bartender as I tried not to gag on the light-colored brew. (Pretty sure it was Labatt Blue. Kind of a thing up north.)

My husband grew up in New York south of the famous sight, so they’re a wee bit “old hat” to him. On my first-ever trip to meet his family, we detoured from Buffalo to see Niagara — my second visit ever, and my first on the American side. I was captivated, especially when we donned ponchos to see American Falls from below. We got soaked; we smiled and laughed; I felt far away and happy.


Niagara 2010

American Falls from below


When I think of Niagara, I think of looking over the precipice with Spencer. Wind in our eyes and our hair; mist gathering around my shoulders. I remember our romance and how exciting it was to visit when everything was bright and bold and Technicolor. We were with the kind, wonderful woman who has become my mother-in-law, and the very dear friend who would someday serve as the best man at our wedding. The sun was shining, the roar was pounding in my ears . . . and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so happy.

Because of the company, of course.

And because of the giant, exhilarating waterfalls.


Niagara II


When I stand at the edge of Niagara, I have that free-falling, free-floating feeling — like my feet have gone out from under me. My toes tingle. My stomach flips. It’s like I’ve been dropped into a barrel and that barrel is ricocheting toward the edge. Like I can’t be righted, as though I’ve lost my balance; everything is topsy-turvy and uncontrollable.

It’s a strange sensation, an odd stomach-gripping feeling; it’s like I really do need to grip the railing and hold on.

Just a little like love, perhaps.


Niagara I


Though I’m many years out of school, it’s spring break!
And I’m breaking to enjoy time up north with our family.
I’ll see you back here on April 21! Happy Easter, friends.


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Book review: ‘Black Lake’ by Johanna Lane

Black LakeNestled in the Irish mountains on a lake so dark the locals call it “black,” the impressive and imposing estate of Dulough sits perched on a hillside. It’s home to John, the stressed but determined patriarch, as well as his wife, two children and members of staff. The daughter of a middle-class Dublin family, Marianne isn’t accustomed to a life of leisure — and can only busy herself with gardening and tutoring Kate and Philip. There isn’t much else to do.

Descended from a long line of wealthy but untitled Irish families, John can hardly bear to reveal the troubled state of the Campbells’ finances — but when he does, a solution must be found. Opening Dulough to tourists seems to be the only way to keep the estate in their possession while trying to release the grip of impending poverty, but the family’s move to a small cottage nearby ends up costing them more than they anticipated.

Johanna Lane’s Black Lake is moody, atmospheric, compelling and strange. At just over 200 pages, it’s a slim novel that still packs a wallop — mostly because of Lane’s interesting storytelling. We know right away a tragedy has befallen the family, and it’s easy to determine what’s transpired. It’s another 100 pages until the truth is finally revealed, however, and when it is? It’s almost like an afterthought. Stated as fact.

That actually worked for me. Really well.

The core of this story is a foursome struggling to find their place in the world — a “room of their own,” if you will. Before we’re given an actual timeline and history of the estate, I believed Black Lake took place in the early twentieth century. Once I realized John and Marianne’s birth dates and college years would put them closer to modern day, I was actually . . . shocked. There’s just something so stately and Downton Abbey about living in an imposing mansion; I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that this place could exist in the here and now.

But it could. I felt John’s sense of stewardship over the property acutely; it was obvious that history and tradition mean a great deal to him, and to let Dulough be sold would represent a failure. Through diary entries and the revisionist history John himself pens, we’re introduced to some of Dulough’s past owners and visitors. The epigraph puts it perfectly, in fact:

“. . . I regarded men as something much less than the buildings they made and inhabited, as mere lodgers and shorterm sub-lessees of small importance in the long, fruitful life of their homes.”

– Charles Ryder, Brideshead Revisited

The story is short, and not much “happens.” I assumed the book would revolve around a single incident, and . . . well, it both did and did not. Marianne and John are complex characters, but we’re not privy to most of their thoughts. The narration shifts several times throughout the story, from husband to son back to husband and, finally, to wife. I enjoyed getting Marianne’s perspective the most, especially because she was the most unmoored.

Though I never fell in love with these characters, exactly, I did feel as though I came to truly understand them. The Campbells are captains of a crumbling ship, and the atmosphere Lane creates is thick and palpable. It wasn’t hard to imagine myself standing on a cliff, bracing sea air whipping my hair from my face; I could easily run my fingers across the shoddy cottages or sturdy furniture moved from Dulough, or see the green-capped mountains in the distance.

Black Lake is well-written, interesting, unusual. Not like anything I’ve read recently, and definitely one that gave me pause. Fans of literary fiction, character studies and family dynamics will be intrigued by this one. Though rather sad, it’s a powerful book that would hardly qualify as a beach read . . . but is likely to be one on the lips of readers this summer.


4 out of 5!

Pub: May 20, 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor on Twitter
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review


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Wordless Wednesday: Spring comes to Culpeper, Va.

Culpeper 1

Pink flowers

Culpeper 2

Cousins


Celebrating our cousin’s first birthday in Culpeper –
how I love to see blossoms blossoming!
And spend time with family.
Look at all those sweet faces!

For more Wordless Wednesday, visit here!


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A springtime stroll

Blue skies

Gray skies are gonna clear up . . .


Walking everywhere sounded so romantic.

As a suburban girl who grew up riding everywhere in the back of her parents’ minivan, I’ve never been one to entertain the idea of hoofing it anywhere. We have no real public transportation here in Southern Maryland; sidewalks are often a joke. I grew up on the side of a major highway just outside the Beltway in D.C., and walking? Yeah, no one walks. Not unless you have a death wish . . . or your car broke down.

When Spencer moved into his condo — our home, now — in town three years ago, we were so excited at the idea of being able to walk to things. I had visions of us stepping out for coffee on Saturday mornings, strolling the busy streets or walking to the town’s summer concerts when the weather gets warm. There are so many amenities within walking distance: restaurants, a theater, the post office, stores.

But do we walk there?

Rarely.

I’m going to go ahead and admit that I’m really the one at fault. Despite my get-healthy routines and life revamp in 2013, I’m . . . pretty lazy. And for most of the year, the weather in Maryland is humid or sticky or ugly or rainy or HOT, and I don’t play that. I was a woman made to wander the great indoors, and that’s generally how I like it.

But it’s spring. We’ve all been so cooped up for so long, the idea of spending another second in a dry, dark room is unbearable. It was so gorgeous last weekend, and the trees have finally begun to blossom. I guess I’m feeling nostalgic, too, because I know we won’t be here much longer. We won’t live in town past the spring, and I’m already feeling the twinges of that change.

Typical. Feeling sad before I need to, before I must.

So we walked to dinner last Wednesday, dodging cars and potholes in our journey to a local bar. We thought about eating outside, but the air was just a touch on the too-cool side for comfort. Groups of friends perched on wrought-iron tables on the patio, though, chatting and laughing and smoking the occasional cigarette. We watched the sunset through dusty windows, then stopped to capture the first buds of spring on our jaunt home.

We walked on Sunday, too — all the way to lunch with family and our local theater for a show. That was our farthest walk yet, and I thought about how good it felt to be footloose and fancy free in the sunshine. No worrying about parking lots or meters or tickets in town; no stress over getting “the right spot” at the busy matinee. Just the two of us in our light jackets, holding hands next to the train tracks.

Happy.

It figures I’d come around to the idea of taking my own two feet wherever we needed to be just in time for us to move on. Though our house will only be about a 10-minute drive away, it won’t be pedestrian-friendly.

But that’s okay. New times, new adventures.

And I know we’ll stroll again.


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Book review: ‘My Beloved World’ by Sonia Sotomayor

My Beloved WorldThings I knew about Sonia Sotomayor before beginning My Beloved World, a memoir of her youth in the Bronx and formative years as she tirelessly pursued knowledge and opportunity:

1. She’s an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
2. She’s the first Hispanic woman appointed to the Supreme Court.
3. She seems nice and no-nonsense.

And . . . well, that was about it. So what prompted me to pick this one up? Meg’s review, for one, but something else — something intangible — called to me from the library shelf. I listened to this work on audio and, though Sotomayor does not narrate it herself (she is rather busy, after all), I became so engrossed in her tale. Riveted, in fact.

I’ve come to the decision that approaching a biography or memoir blind is actually a really great idea. The best idea. No preconceived notions or prejudices, you know? And nothing is dull, boring, uninteresting. Everything is fresh and new. If you know little about the person in question, nothing blocks you from really getting to know them. You just jump in.

So it was with My Beloved World, which chronicles Sotomayor’s childhood, teen and early adult years as she grows up in the Bronx, attends college and ultimately begins her law career. The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Sonia’s only escape in childhood is at the home of her abuelita — but not even her grandmother can save she and Junior, her younger brother, from the effects of their father’s alcoholism. Their beautiful mother, though loving and hardworking, remains emotionally distant . . . both before and after the death of her husband. When Papi eventually dies, the family must surge forward to build something new.

Woven throughout the narrative is the story of Sonia’s own illness, too — and her attempts to understand and live fruitfully in the face of it. Diagnosed at age 7 with type 1 diabetes, Sotomayor learns to give herself the crucial shots needed daily as a young child. One of the most moving passages in My Beloved World comes early on: when Sonia recounts how she learned to inject herself with insulin as a form of autonomy. Her mother is despondent at Sonia’s diagnosis; in the 1950s, when so little was understood about the disease, they took it to be a death sentence.

It wasn’t.

From a young age, Sotomayor feels called to the law — something rare in her working-class neighborhood. She grows up in the projects with aspirations of more . . . but no clear idea of how to get there. Through books and education, however, Sotomayor continues to widen her circles and is never afraid to reach out for guidance. Even after she is selected to attend Princeton University on full scholarship and, later, to Yale Law School, she remains down-to-earth, gracious and determined.

I think she’s awesome, basically.

It would be impossible to emerge from My Beloved World without wanting to grab a drink with this woman. She is powerful, assertive and incredibly wise, but also completely able to give credit where credit is due and comes across as genuinely humble. Though some readers may feel disappointed the book ends just as Sotomayor’s career as a judge is getting started, I saw this memoir as a way to pay homage to the many people who reached out their hands, hearts and minds to guide her on an incredibly impressive path — and really loved it for that.

Sotomayor’s deep, abiding love for her family is the lynchpin holding this book together. I loved the stories of going to her grandmother’s house for big dinners and dancing the night away with the adults in the living room, basking in the warmth and love of having so much family close together. As her father’s health deteriorates when she is still a young child, that pain was palpable to me, too. Though Sonia loves her mother deeply, of course, I respected the honest way in which she recounted some of the difficulties of her youth . . . and how they’ve carried over into adulthood.

Fans of memoirs and biographies will find much to enjoy in My Beloved World. It speaks to the experience of first-generation Americans as well as the ubiquitous American Dream, and I found it incredibly well-written, quick-paced and inspirational. Women, especially, will appreciate Sotomayor’s rise in a male-dominated world — and she makes the best of everything.

After reading her story, Sonia is no longer a face I see and simply pass over on the evening news; she feels like a friend. A very powerful, kick-rump friend.


4.5 out of 5!

Pub: 2013 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonOfficial Biography
Audio copy borrowed from my local library


About the audio: Academy Award-winning actress Rita Moreno does a fantastic job capturing the nuances of Sotomayor’s serious, sometimes-gritty but ultimately beautiful prose. Her Spanish and accent are impeccable, and if I didn’t know better? Well, I would assume she was Sotomayor herself. Loved her pacing, her cadence, everything.


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State of the bookshelves: complicated

When I moved in with Spence last fall, one of the most difficult parts of the process was, beyond a doubt, hauling my books.

All of my books.

So, so many books.

If you’ll remember, friends, Spencer popped over to our local Borders clean when it shuttered in 2011. He brought home several (very large) bookcases, installing them in our living room, and they’re now the focal point of that room.

It’s hilarious to see the empty shelves now, knowing what I know. Knowing how far I’ve fallen.


Bookshelves

The good old days – 2011


Those shelves? No longer empty.

Not even kind of.

I’d take a picture to show you a current view of my overflowing shelves, but I’m not that crazy. Don’t you know everything shared online can live on forever? I don’t want to be haunted by this disarray a decade from now. My once-organized novels have been taken over by paperbacks, review copies, old library books. Stack upon stack upon stack.

We’ve reached critical mass.

Good thing we’re moving.

But having just schlepped hundreds of books up to our second-floor apartment (with the help of my dad and sister) in October, I’m none too eager to repeat the experience. Though my goal was to actually streamline my to-be-read stacks and have fewer novels starting 2014, the opposite has happened. Not even my digital library can save me now.

The other day I thought, Fine. This is it. Some of these MUST GO, but then I realized . . . regardless of whether I’m moving them to the new house or donating them to the library, I still have to carry them. They still must leave the premises.

I’m so tired of carrying things.

When I moved before the wedding, everything was piecemeal until the final push. Every visit to Spencer’s included recyclable bags full of my stuff — things I’d forgotten I even had until I was emptying my childhood bedroom of all its worldly goods. I actually moved my books before I moved much else, mostly because I wanted the place to feel “homey” — requiring my beloved classics, natch — and also because those jokers were heavy. Carting over the heaviest stuff at the beginning, when I had the most strength, seemed a reasonable plan.

I don’t know what we’re going to do this time. For one, the bookcases are actually bolted to the walls in the living room; they’ll have to be removed and the holes patched up for whoever we find to rent our place (please, please let us find renters, Universe). It feels strange to be boxing up my books without having their new home established . . . but, well, our new home isn’t set up for us yet, either. So.

Despite the lug-factor, I’m still contemplating making one big sweep of the shelves to discard what I simply don’t plan to read. Unlike clothing I eventually admit I’ll never wear and can easily donate, it’s so hard to part with books. Everything in my bookcase is there because, at some point, I really wanted to read it. I don’t accept review copies because YAY FREE BOOKS — I have enough problems. And I definitely don’t spend cash on novels that don’t appeal to me. That would be . . . odd.

So what remains? Ones I once fancied. But I simply can’t take all of them with us. I don’t want to take all of them with us. It’s freeing to part with books I’ve had eyeballing me for years because, as they say, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. I don’t feel guilty having them there, per say, but overflowing shelves do make me feel stressed. I don’t need all of them, and I’d rather they go to a better home.

One that isn’t ours.

I have my work cut out for me. Maybe I’ll do a big giveaway or something. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

. . . My loss, your gain.

Let’s reconvene in a few weeks.


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Lilac and spring daydreams

Lilac


It’s spring!

I know, I know . . . another post about winter being over. But seriously: this one was one for the record books, and I’m just so thrilled it’s over. As temperatures reached (and have stayed) above the 60-degree mark since Monday, I’m prepared to declare the cold vanquished and prepare for some sunshine, sandals and ice cream.

(By the way, these photos are totally of my mother-in-law’s stunning lilac from last year . . . but let’s pretend, shall we? The buds of trees are only just starting to open now, and I have absolutely zero photogenic shots to share.)

In less than two weeks, Spence and I will be taking our first non-honeymoon trip as Mr. and Mrs. — up to spend time with his parents in Western New York! And to pop up to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a few days of walking, talking, eating, hanging and photographing. I am so excited to be spending time with them, and so happy to be on the move. As the cold held us all captive in our own homes, I’ve felt caged and listless and suffocated by winter.

Must go.

I also just bought a really cute, barely-used suitcase in an all-over London-themed print from a coworker for $30, so. Bargain and a new bag . . . win/win.

Nothing renews the spirit like travel. Even with the impending home purchase and floating $$$$ signs following us everywhere we go, we’re going to get away twice before summer — and I’m so ready to get out of dodge. Maryland, I love ya, but I need a change of scenery.

In a big way.


Lilac 3


Have you noticed the lack of Wordless Wednesday posts around here? It’s pitiful, I know. I feel guilty every time we reach midweek, desperately wishing I had something — anything! — to share. I like consistency, organization, routines. And WW has absolutely been a routine through the years. But if I’m being honest, I just haven’t been out doing anything worth photographing. I have nothing new. I haven’t been creative enough in our tiny apartment to branch out, and Spence and I have basically just been hibernating and signing paperwork.

Paperwork is kind of our thing.

On the home front, there’s not much to report as yet. Our closing date got pushed back, which is not a bad thing; it gives me more time to emotionally prepare, for one! And . . . well, I’ll need that. I think we’re both alternating between wanting to just move and get it over with and wanting to soak up the vibes in our first shared place together as long as we can. I love being in the center of town, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to go on a few evening walks before we go.

But with the first bursts of sunshine, the first warm breaths of spring, I feel so revitalized and ready for a new challenge. I’m still scared, still worried, but I know this is a good thing. A grown-up thing. A family thing.

And I’ll find plenty to photograph very soon.


Lilac 2


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