Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Taking Woodstock

Having grown up in Sullivan County in the 90's and early 2000's, Woodstock was always an undercurrent of the history of my land. My parents, having been alive during Woodstock but not living in the area, could still recall the news of the traffic heading to Bethel and how many people had experienced it. My father was of the Vietnam generation and Vietnam vets that were not-so-former hippies were the watchful eyes of my childhood. This was the culture I grew up in; something that I found quite normal then realized wasn’t so common once I left the area.

As a teen, however, I was fascinated by the Woodstock and flower child era, I appreciated all details given to me. The music was great, the videos shown on VH1 around the time of the Woodstock anniversaries were captivating, and I found myself proud to be from there.

To this day, you can visit the town of Woodstock or the Woodstock Festival site (they’re two different places, mind you!) and find hippies who never really left. They'll show photos they took or tell you of their experiences. After moving away from the area and going to DC where people are the furthest thing from the hippies I grew up around, I found myself missing it all in a nostalgic way.

Reading this book reminded me of my childhood home. I found the humor in what I often times disliked about the Sullivan County region. Elliot, our narrator, describes the area clearly and accurately. It hasn’t changed all that much. From the strong opinions to the farming community, he provides honest detail. I can understand Elliot's desperation to escape that area, I had felt the same way as a teen, and I find it amusing now that so much of what Sullivan County was described as in this book is still the same during the present day.

Elliot babbles on a great deal about his personal life – specifically about prior adventures into the gay community of New York City and his art history. He gives a good substantial backstory that provides the information needed to better understand why his parents behave the way they do and what brought them to upstate New York. Still, I sometimes felt that Elliot went a little too far off course.

We don’t dive too deeply into the festival itself but see what happened behind the scenes. How the festival was brought together, the driving force that brought it to Bethel, and the insanity that descended upon the town are described in detail. I wanted that, I appreciate it, and wow – the film that’s based on this book is pretty spot on as well!

The book was great, although at times some of the details were repetitive. But my favorite thing? I realized, midway through the book, that a favorite Italian restaurant my family and I used to go to was El Monaco's in White Lake (the very location of Elliot’s family hotel!) and I never even realized the significance of that location until this book. Funny.

This will definitely be something I'll return to whenever I'm a bit homesick for my hometown.

Last Week's Review: True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart by Tara Barch
Next Week's Review: Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

I have always suffered from mild anxiety difficulties. I'm a type A personality that strives to get stuff done, do it well, and beats herself up if it's not done with utter perfection. I'm quick to feel devastated by the smallest corrections and worry endlessly about, often enough, things I have no control over. This has been something I've dealt with nearly my entire life but it increased over the past two years. I began having panic and anxiety attacks. They were world-stopping. I would feel that I couldn't breathe properly, my heart would race, I couldn't move, and everything was closing in on me.

Two years ago, they came occasionally and while I thought "I need to seek help about this," I didn't. I was "too busy" and I didn't have the money to pay for therapy. I left that job and the poor health insurance I had there and started a new job with better insurance. The attacks began to pick up. The pressure at my new job, being something entirely new and finding that I had more control over my own destiny at work than I had ever been given before, doubled by full control and expected knowledge of the position I had, heightened my anxiety. My own book blog, even, was triggering panic. Class work, friendship drama, deaths in the family all contributed to this. By this past summer, I was suffering from multiple anxiety to panic attacks multiple times a week.

My work was suffering -- I often had to leave my office, slipping away so no one noticed, so that I could panic in the privacy of a bathroom stall or at the nearby park. My relationships were strained -- every Sunday as I would say goodbye to my beau and head home, I would be reduced to an anxiety-ridden mess. I knew what occurrences and general thoughts brought on the attacks and I knew they were ridiculous and not worth the upset. But knowing that and getting your body to react appropriately are two different things. It's like a possession -- you know your normal thoughts, the expected way to react, and that the events you are panicking over aren't worth panicking over... but your body is possessed. The "demon" has control over it. It makes your body break out into a cold sweat, your heart rate go faster and faster, tears leak from your eyes, and your emotions take complete control.

By the end of July I had enough. I began searching for psychologists in the area because I simply did not want to live that way anymore. I have many friends and family members who have sought therapy for depression and anxiety and had good results. I had faith that this could help me. Beside that, I was going to many other doctor appointments to check my levels and was diagnosed with IBS, which can throw you all out of whack. But changing my lifestyle, changing my diet, wasn't working fast enough and I was determined to get control over the demon that is anxiety.

Right away, my doctor latched onto my love for books and suggested some reading to do outside of the office. Her first suggestion was True Refuge by Tara Brach, a local (for me) psychologist and Buddhist. She follows the idea of mindfulness and has penned many a self help book.

Not being religious, but open to spirituality and different religious ideas, I was down to learn about mindfulness and give Tara's book a try. So, let that be the precursor: I went into this knowing very little about Buddhism, psychology, mindfulness, and anxiety. I went into this not knowing how to care for my own anxiety nor how much it really affected myself and those around me.

There is a lot of story telling in this book. I feel, with self help and teaching ways to handle emotional situations and health, this is a great way to provide the lesson. I'm a person that learns through visuals and reading the different struggles that Tara wrote about -- patients and friends who suffered, her own health experiences, and so on, allowed me to not only see how becoming mindful helped to benefit these people, but it served a greater purpose: it made me realize that the problems I had with anxiety were not problems of a sole individual. I was by no means alone and the thoughts, the feelings, and the seemingly lack of control did not in any way make me "broken" or "different."

I also learned it's something that I can gain control over.

While Tara referenced a lot of Buddhist ideas, none of which I fully understand, follow, or believe in, I feel someone who is familiar with Buddha's teachings would find these references beneficial. Still, I came out of the book feeling a little more sure of myself and with a better understanding of what anxiety is and that you are by no means broken for having anxiety.

There are also practices which Tara details in the book, often at the end of chapters, which can help curb your anxiety or other emotional struggles you may have. Tara has other works, a website, and seminars. I have not read her other work nor attended anything sponsored by her and I likely won't, as this book (and her beliefs) are more religious than I intend to dive into. But that doesn't mean the book is unhelpful, as it certainly made me feel better about my situation and gain hope of getting better. It, at the very least, gave me a greater understanding of all that had happened and could happen and for that, I'm so grateful to have been urged to pick this book up.

Last Week's Review: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Next Week's Review: Taking Woodstock by Elliot Tiber

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Cajun Encounters -- Swamp and Plantation Tours of Louisiana

What: Cajun Encounters Tours -- Combination Tour
Where: New Orleans, LA
When: May 2013

There were two things that I wanted to do in New Orleans no matter what: see some plantations and go on a swamp tour. I poked around the internet, trying to figure out what tour group we should go through, and found quite a selection of options with varying reviews. Still, I settled on Cajun Encounters as it offered a dual trip for a swamp tour and a plantation tour. It looks a little pricey but please don't get scared away from the cost: it's well worth it.

Jackson Square

Booking: If there was anything that I disliked about the trip, it would be the booking process. My friend made the booking arrangements and it seemed much more confusing than necessary. We had reservations for the trip, but didn't pay on the spot; this could be good if you had transportation issues but it left us with a little less security that we were guaranteed a seat (which ended up being something not worth worrying about). The women that my friend dealt with for booking were giving differing instructions over the phone and made our pick up location a thirty minute walk away from our hotel, while we later found out the company had pick-ups much closer to where we stayed. While waiting for our pick up the first morning, there was confusion of when the bus would arrive and those we called weren't helpful.


The General Tour Idea: You are picked up by a van that displays Cajun Encounters on the side (if you're meandering around New Orleans you may spot these vans here and there) it’s air-conditioned and rather comfy. This is fantastic, as my friend and I went to New Orleans without any mode of transportation.

I suffer from having long legs that usually are squished into seats on buses, trains, and planes, but I certainly had enough legroom in their vans. The bus driver takes you to your destination, and both there and back he tells stories of the area, or points out different sites to give insight into how much you're actually seeing. Once at your destination, you're handed off to either plantation tour guides or swamp tour guides and your driver is there to pick you up when you're finished and is even accommodating enough to drop you off wherever you need to be, even if it's not at your original pick up location.


The Plantation Tour: This was the longest trip of the two. We had quite a hike up the Mississippi River but it was great to get away from the city. We saw some of the countryside that makes up Louisiana, something we wouldn't have experienced had we not gone on the tour. The first stop was the Laura Plantation -- a beautiful home with a rich history. The house still has slave quarters, which was fascinating for me. After having learned so much of American history, but growing up in New York where America's history with plantations that were run by slaves were not quite as prominent, I had never seen such areas of living. It put it into perspective and I felt I had a better understanding.

Laura Plantation
Part of the remaining slave quarters.
Much of the plantation is still the original building and wood. The owner of the plantation gave us a tour and he was so filled with knowledge, I felt that nothing was left out. You could see he was passionate about the plantation and preserving its history.

After a quick lunch break, we drove down the road to Oak Alley Plantation. This is more famous, as the alley of oaks is often captured in movies or imagery of the south. Personally, I was most excited because this was the location used for the film Interview with the Vampire as Louis' home.

Oak Alley Plantation
The grounds are huge but, unfortunately, we weren't given much time to investigate. We were shuffled off to a tour of the household which was quick from point to point and we were given very little time to really linger in each room, then the tour was done and we were given very few precious minutes to see the rest of the area, use the bathroom, or grab more food before we were expected back on the bus. My friend and I rushed down the oak alley so we could get proper photos of the long walk with the oak trees hanging overhead (as seen in the above photo) but had no time to do anything else. I feel Cajun Encounters could work to make the plantation tour a lengthier experience -- if only by a half hour! -- so that guests can visit Oak Alley longer, but comparing our experience at Laura Plantation to Oak Alley, it seems a lot of the fault falls onto Oak Alley. It's quite the business and that's clear in how orderly everything is. I hope I can go back one day to both plantations and schedule my own tours so that I may have more time to visit the locations. But really, Cajun Encounters is wonderful by providing this opportunity and I feel I had a fasntastic, memorable experience.


The Swamp Tour: The van trip to the swamp was incredibly informative as we passed the different wards of New Orleans and our driver pointed out the very wide area that was under water after Hurricane Katrina. It was kind of mind-blowing. You remember the news coverage of it all and how devastating it was, but to see the area and judge the distance that was under water in real life is quite overwhelming. Some buildings were still a mess and others still had the watermarks.

Cajun Encounters boat and a little gator swimming over!
As we left the city and crossed Lake Pontchartrain, towards New Orleans East, we began to see bayous, which our guide pointed out. I would have thought it a creek but lucky for us the tour guide was informed (as I am sure they all are). He dropped us off at the Cajun Encounters swamp tour location and we joined the line to get our tickets. They had bathrooms on site, which look like a close cousin to a port-a-potty but they're actually quite clean and air-conditioned. There's pre-packaged food as well, plus snacks, but if you want something bigger you'll have to wait or pack your own. There are a couple of picnic tables outside that you can sit down and eat at. However, if you think you are going to eat prior to your tour, you might not have enough time so plan accordingly.

Tourists are given a rubber bracelet that's of a specific color and you're split into groups through that. My friend and I joined up with others in our group before we met our tour guide, Bishop.

An alligator waiting for a marshmallow treat!
This guy was exactly how I imagined someone from a swampy area to be. Funny, full of jokes, and with that Southern twang, I felt like I had truly come to the swamp. Bishop had us laughing but also informed us to no end. If we had a question, he answered it, and he tried his best to give us the best tour possible.

In the shallow swamp waters.
After loading the boat we headed out onto the water and I have to say: I was greatly surprised that there weren't any bugs. Typically I am like a juicy hamburger in the eyes of mosquitos and I thought I was surely going to be chewed alive at a swamp. Maybe it was the time of year (late May) or maybe it's a misconception on my part, but I wasn't bothered by bugs at all. In fact, I was more so bothered by bugs in New Orleans proper than at the swamp.

A baby swamp pig named Breakfast.
Bishop introduced us to various wildlife in the swamp, explained the type of trees we saw (that certainly do not exist around Washington, DC), and pointed out locations that were hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina.

It was fascinating, funny, and informative, and when my friend and I both got on the bus to head back to the Crescent City we agreed: not only was it money well spent but we would take another tour through this company again.

View other Wanderlust Wednesday posts

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Opposite of Loneliness

It is hard, actually damn near impossible, to read this collection of work without feeling a sense of loss, or for your mind to bring up ghosts of your own past. Ghosts of classmates, friends, and acquaintances who you not only recall for their smiling faces or quiet personalities, but because they died long ago when they were just as young as Marina Keegan (if not younger), without the opportunity to really display their talents to the world. While they did not have the opportunity, Ms. Keegan did (after death) have her talent displayed; how lucky are we, those who continue on, that we get to carry with us the impressions the young-who-have-been-lost and in that way, their talents live on.

This collection is of Keegan's work, which ranges from fiction to non-fiction. If I have come to understand Marina Keegan, based on the articles I've read and the well written introduction of this book, it's that she had a lot more written material that didn't even appear in this publication. Still, her talent shows through these pages like a beacon. I found myself going, "Yes, yes, yes!" as I read her words, "I understand that! I've experienced that! I want an endless parade of gluten-filled foods before I die as well!" but just as quickly it was followed by, "No, no, no" and "How can writing that seems so alive be written by a girl who is no longer here?"

And that's the thing – her writing is alive and in that she lives. For someone so young, she had an enormous amount of talent and amongst all the other feelings I felt, I often was startled by how clearly she could describe all emotions and senses. She understood life in ways many people twice her age are still striving to handle.

When I approached this book, I was interested in her story – a girl who was published after she died – and I was determined to not allow that fact to sway my opinion. It hasn't swayed my opinion, not entirely, because I know some of my swaying emotions were caused because I kept thinking, "She was so young, she was so talented," but that's the fact: she was so talented.

So much of her work seemed to whisper of death, whisper of hopes to live on and it is a coincidence now that she is no longer here. But she did live on, she was young and she had so much to do with this thing called life, but in a way she's doing it all.

Above all, I'm thankful that her parents printed these pieces of work. I can't imagine how painful it is to lose a child and I'm sure that pain continued while going through her hard work. Thanks to their decision, I've had a chance to remind myself of my younger self who wanted to be the best writer I could be, and of friends who have passed on when they were so young. It reminded me of life, in general, and how easily it leaves you, but above all, you can continue existing in one way or another.

Last Week's Review: Prince Lestat by Anne Rice
Next Week's Review: True Refuge by Tara Brach

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Reading Nook -- Erica

My Reading Nook, a feature from Soon Remembered Tales, gives readers a chance to show off their favorite place to read.

What's your reading nook?

In the corner of our study, with a large window on one side and my bookshelf on the other, is my reading chair. I get plenty of natural daylight and keep a blanket handy for ultimate cozy book reading.


Why is the nook special?

My nook is special to me because I earned it! My chair, purchased at Pier 1, was my first expensive piece of "adult" furniture. I had looked all over for The Perfect Reading Chair when I moved to Virginia and after nearly two years, I saved enough money for the purchase. I've had it in three different homes since I purchased the chair but it's always been located in a special place. More important furniture has been added -- a new bookshelf and a cute side table (purchased at Pier 1 as well) -- and I hope to get a foot rest someday in the future. I particularly love placing my reading nook near a window because I can enjoy the view when I take breaks as I read. I'm a daydreamer and I've noticed that often when I read, I'll pause and stare at the window as I think about the book. Sitting by the window, I get to see the little woods outside -- one of my favorite scenes. I'm often joined by cats while sitting in this chair reading away or watching movies and that only makes the experience more enjoyable!

Where else do you read?

I also read in bed or on our living room couch. The break room at work or the train are other locations. I have trouble reading in public because I'm often distracted, so long as I can tune out what's going on around me, I can read just about anywhere.



About you:

I'm your neighborhood writer for this blog and creator of My Reading Nook. I feel that where you choose to read says a lot about you and the life you live. It's interesting, special, and I love getting a peek into the lives of readers in this way. Everyone lives differently, everyone reads differently, and that's what makes it special.

Check out Erica's sites!


Interested in sharing your own reading nook? Take a look at the My Reading Nook tab for more information!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Books of 2014

While away, readers will read.

I've spoken about what kept me busy during the past year but I've managed, luckily enough, to spend a good chunk of time reading. With traveling and time spent commuting, it was perfecting reading time, and now that I'm settled into my new home I've found I can read more often. 

Last year I was able to read a lot of great books though, many of which will be written about and posted on this blog in the coming weeks and months. I felt somewhat guilty writing reviews for books to be posted at such a later date than when I had originally read the book, but if the book stuck with me and I want to share my find, then it'll be appearing on this blog. 

Not all books will be reviewed, of course, but definitely a good handful of them will grace this blog's pages. None the less, take a peek at some of the books I've read in the past year!


Books Read in 2014





What books did you read during 2014? Did you have a reading goal and, if so, did you achieve it? My goal was to read a book a week and I managed to squeak by with one book past my goal. I know for a fact that wouldn't have been achieved had I not read a few children's books along the way.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Prince Lestat

Anne Rice did so much more than introduce me to the world of the Vampire Chronicles. At the young age of thirteen, I discovered Interview with the Vampire at my school library. I devoured the book in a day and didn't turn back, each book following that first one I read quickly and obsessively. I was fascinated by the articulate, interesting vampires and even more, I found her writing to be wonderful. She was descriptive and at times wordy, much like another author I loved -- J.R.R. Tolkien. While as an adult I, at times, feel that her wordiness is just proof of poor editorial practices, when I was thirteen I discovered a world of description. I realized the power of description and how to really use the English language to display a clear image of what you are sharing with your reader. 

I believe Anne Rice made me a better writer and she certainly helped me in other avenues. By seventeen, with the internet really gaining hold on my generation (is that aging myself?), I found a number of Anne Rice fans through journaling sites (Livejournal and so on) who were all my age. We became friends and I'm happy to say, ten years later, that I am still friends with these people. Some are what I consider to be best friends, people who I share personal secrets with and have been with me through the ups and downs life gives you over a period of ten years.

Ten years ago was also the last time Anne Rice published a book with her vampires taking the lead. Over the years since the last publication I have gone back to read The Vampire Chronicles over and over. This past year, knowing that she was returning to her vampires to publish Prince Lestat, my friends and I did a re-read of the Chronicles. The one thing that I have found to be consistent in this journey is that every time I reread these books, I see them with a different eye than I did during the previous read. Am I more critical with age? Has the shine worn off after all of these years? Has real life experience affected my perception of these novels? 

I realized while reading Interview with the Vampire that the book was more vibrant after I vacationed in New Orleans -- the main setting for that book. I was able to better picture all that Rice was describing by means of the buildings, culture, and the beloved French Quarter. With the other books, I noticed more negative aspects in relationships, inconsistencies,  my true love or dislike of characters (that may or may not have changed from my initial reading). I realized I enjoyed The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned more than I previously did. I also realized how much I wanted to strangle Lestat in Tale of the Body Thief for being a stubborn fool. Having reread the books back to back right before Prince Lestat truly allowed me to go into the latest Vampire Chronicle with a clear head and solid memory of what happened to the cast beforehand.

The title Prince Lestat made me believe this would be a book similar to The Vampire Lestat, in that it would be voiced solely by our Brat Prince as he told the initial plot: vampires across the land are going up in smoke due to a faceless voice that is telling vampires young and old to kill their own kind. The vampires are more tied to the modern age of technology with the use of cell phones, computers and radio, all at their disposal. While the plot of the book is pretty spot on, my assumption of the narrator was not. 

For the majority of the book, Lestat is silent or not the narrator at all. Each chapter is shared from the narration of different characters. It focused on characters we met either briefly or not at all and we become familiar with them as we travel along and the story develops. So I was thrown that this wasn't solely Lestat's book. But the title, much like the title of Queen of the Damned, certainly has an emphasis for the end result of the book.

Still, I enjoyed reading about the different vampires. I have long been a fan of the vampires who get very little page counts in the books: Zenobia, Eleni, and Gabrielle. I was pleased that I was able to see all three of these characters in the book, although they weren't present long enough to satisfy me. The other vampires that made their entrances were exciting as well. Through these characters, readers have the opportunity to hear more details of other vampires. We learn more about their mortal lives (such as the mortal, or early vampire years, of Akasha and Enkil) and how the spread of vampires truly makes them all interconnected.

But some points of the book had me feeling absolutely furious. Rice kills off some very beloved characters that have been around for years (in the published books) and to be honest, I was pissed. I found the deaths to be quick and not given the attention they deserve. I found the deaths to be just write offs of the characters and feel Rice, if she had wanted to kill these characters, could have done such a better job in handling their deaths. She is capable of wordiness, she is capable of describing something to the point of doing it too much and too well, she is capable of really getting to your heart and making you feel the emotions of the characters but I found this lacking. I know from my past readings that these deaths could have been handled with more care. They were side notes, often mentioned but not really focused on, and I feel that was an injustice to the characters and how important they were.

There was also an inconsistency with this book and the many others. It is often pressed upon that older vampires can endure more. Sunlight won't kill them and they are powerful enough to stop mere baby vampires of only a few hundred years old from harming them. Why then, do so many "ancient" vampires so easily fall?

I also realized that Lestat is now extremely annoying, at least to me. So often I rolled my eyes and wanted to claim "Just, Shut. Up." Yes, yes, he's the Brat Prince but does he really need to behave like such a brat? If you were to meet a twenty year old who behaved in a brattish way, you'd want them to grow up and have very little patience for them. This dude is over two hundred years old and yet all anyone does is praise his brattiness.

The resolution of the book also felt too quickly accomplished. For more than half of the book the readers are given all of this information about characters and how The Voice is trying to control each or has controlled others. But when it comes to the action of the book -- destroying The Voice or trying to get it in control so that it may stop harming vampires -- I feel it was somewhat quickly and too easily fixed. It was also a very obvious resolution. Again, another quick wrap up.

Aside from all of this, I was able to look with a more critical eye after I had finished the book, but I knew that in the end I had found some enjoyment of it. The book was, as books often tend to be, an escape from the stressors of life. I felt the familiar pulls in my heart for a book series that meant so much to me when I was a young teenager and for that, I'm glad there are more books. My opinion is allowed to change with age, I am allowed to become more critical, because I've grown and learned more about reading, writing and the world. Every book has its faults and this book certainly had many. I can't help but feel a little betrayed, that a series I so loved now seems to just be something of a cash cow while the rules of this world are often ignored. Still, maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, I know I'll be reading any additional publishings.


Next Week's Review: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan