Obligatory (& Necessary) Thanksgiving Post

Just for Fun, Lifestyle/Personal

 

book-page-pumpkin-1_thumb[7]Although we shouldn’t need a holiday to remind us to be thankful, we’re human. We’re self-obsessed beings who thrive on pity, and focus on the bad instead of the good. We need Thanksgiving to take a step back and think about all of the people and moments that make us happy. To remember that life is fragile and we should enjoy what we have before it gets taken away from us.

I’m thankful for… (equally and in no particular order) 

  • family and friends
  • my niece
  • my boyfriend
  • LOVE & LAUGHTER
  • sight and health
  • books and words
  • music and movement
  • travel and adventure
  • dreams and goals
  • traditions (new and old)
  • good food and sweet wine
  • inspiration and creativity
  • work
  • romance and hand holding
  • passion and dedication
  • YOU!
“Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.” 
― John Henry Jowett

 

Happy Thanksgiving!
Vanessa xo

Big Heroes

Just for Fun, Lifestyle/Personal

I’m currently reading Cataract City by Craig Davidson and I cannot stop re-reading a certain part, a part about big heroes.

“Big heroes, you know? Larger than life. As you grow up you find most heroes are the same size as anyone else; their heroics are small, selfless and continual.”

What a wonderful thought — growing up and realizing how many heroes we have in our lives. I can think of a few heroes in my life that are no taller than six feet, no stronger than you or me, and no wiser than your average Joe. But when called into action they are prepared, donning an invisible cape, a sword, and a shield. When my heart aches in agony and my whole body shuts down they put everything aside to rub my shoulders, to spoon me as I weep, or even to listen, just listen to me. Even though I wish I could shower them with a million praises and a thousand gifts, real heroes will have none of that. Their actions are selfless, constant, and true: all they want is a smile or two.

I tend to forget about the real heroes in my life. I tend to take their constant affection and attention for granted. I forget how much they care about me and how much they want me to be happy.

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My heroes, they know who they are, are the reason I’m standing tall, strong, and proud.

* hug your heroes *

___

Love Always

Vanessa Xo

Quote from page 15 of the ARC of Cataract City

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B [Book Review]

Book Reviews

coverEvery book lover has read a book that had such an impact in their life that they can read it over and over again. For me, it’s Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, read for the first time in the 8th grade. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B has the potential to affect a teenager’s life the same way that Speak affected mine.

When Adam meets Robyn at a support group for kids coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder, he is drawn to her almost before he can take a breath. He’s determined to protect and defend her—to play Batman to her Robyn—whatever the cost. But when you’re fourteen and the everyday problems of dealing with divorced parents and step-siblings are supplemented by the challenges of OCD, it’s hard to imagine yourself falling in love. How can you have a “normal” relationship when your life is so fraught with problems? And that’s not even to mention the small matter of those threatening letters Adam’s mother has started to receive . . .

Adam is a truly wonderful character, a character that you can sympathize with without pitying him. He is a strong, brave boy who not only has to deal with divorced parents, a mother who is getting threatening letters, all of the angst and desire that comes with being a fifteen-year-old boy, but he ALSO has an extreme case of OCD. It pained my heart to read about the amount of times he had to count, or tap his foot, until he “felt right”. Imagine having to feel nauseated by the prospect of walking into your own home without performing a certain ritual. It reminded me of my own OCD tendencies, they can literally take over your life.

Adam, wonderful Adam, deals with all of that and spends the remainder of his day worrying about his mother, his half-brother, Robyn, his father, his Group Therapy friends, and pretty much anyone he knows. He genuinely wants to save everyone and that takes an even greater toll on him than he realizes. Talking is his only form of freedom. When he actually opens up and talks to the group he feels a weight lifted off his shoulders. He finds his voice and the world doesn’t crumble — who’d of thought?

And Adam felt fine. Shockingly, brilliantly fine. Once again, he had told. once again, a relief so pure and powerful rocked him to the core.” (Page 181 of the ARC)

There is something so special about this novel, I can’t even put it into words. It’s the type of story you can’t stop reading. It’s the kind of story that breaks your heart and makes you smile at the same time. I truly believe that every student should be forced to read this book. Every fifteen-year-old should pick up a copy and (hopefully) relate to it enough to let it impact their life.

We’re all unlikely superheroes, we’re all powerful enough to save ourselves.

We’re all free to speak — talking about how we feel and what we’re going through is the only way to get through the hard stuff.

Read this book.

Let it fix you.

Love Always

Vanessa Xo

Creeps [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Lifestyle/Personal

When a copy of Creeps by Darren Hynes showed up in my mailbox I was ecstatic! I love YA novels, particularly ones that are REAL or depict high school in a true light. Creeps is The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets The Fault in Our Stars meets Invisible — three books that I love dearly, so you can only imagine how I feel about this one.

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Fifteen-year-old Wayne Pumphrey wishes he were courageous enough to actually send the heartfelt letters he writes to friends and family. He also wishes his father would drive on the right side of the street, his mother would stop packing her suitcase to leave, and his sister would stop listening to Nickelback. But most of all, he wishes that Pete “The Meat” would let him walk to school in peace. After all, how many times can one person eat yellow snow?

Then one morning, while facing Pete and his posse, Wayne is rescued by Marjorie, the girl with a dead father and a mother who might as well be. Together, the two of them escape Pete’s relentless bullying by rehearsing for the school play, and an unlikely friendship is formed. As they grow ever closer to one another, they begin to dream of escape from their small town and restricted lives. But Pete now has plans for both of them—and after a moment of sudden violence, nothing will ever be the same again for Wayne, Marjorie, or Pete himself.

Creeps is a tough book to read, in that it hurts you your heart. For a fifteen-year-old kid to feel so helpless and so alone, to be picked on to the point insanity, whose only comfort is writing un-sent letters, your heart bleeds for this child. The language, scenes, and bullying leave very little room for imagination. They are what they are and there’s no sugar-coating it. Some kids go through hell in high school and this novel is a testament to that. It’s an eye-opener for anyone who doesn’t believe that there are real bullies out there. Bullying seems to be worse now than when I was in high school. It’s harder to ft in, it’s harder to stand out, it’s harder to be accepted.

…I’ll take the job anyway because it’s good to have somewhere to go and something to do and someone other than the wall to look at and say stuff to.” (Page 59)

Wayne, is a character I won’t soon forget, he is everything I was in high school. The kind of kid who likes the quiet, who writes instead of speaks, who knows that the day will come when he or she has to get LOUD, has to stand up for his or herself. His words and his letters will stick with me for a long time. His fears and his insecurities are things that I would never wish upon anyone. He is a great character that can teach readers many things. He can teach you by showing you. He shows you that we all have problems, even if we try to keep them inside. He shows you what it is to be brave in ‘silly’ little ways. He shows you that you’re not as alone as you think you are. He shows you how big of a difference one person can make.

…he wonders how it could be that yesterday he felt so young but now feels like a man and it occurs to him that something begins at the same time something ends, so he’ll always be in motion, moving towards and away from things.” (Page 180)

With his raw and sincere writing style, Darren Hynes has crafted a book that should be on the TO READ list of every ninth-grader.

Creeps will have you turning pages, shedding tears, and hoping for the best possible ending, because Wayne deserves it.

___

Love Always

Vanessa Xo

Never Throw Out Anyone

Family Time, Just for Fun, Lifestyle/Personal

photo-1On Tuesday night  I squished into a booth at Kelsey’s with five girlfriends from high school — you might remember my post about cutting them out of my life. I came across that Audrey Hepburn quote (on Instagram) mere hours before I went for dinner with them and couldn’t get it out of my head. I forgot how relaxing a night out with the girls can be, I forgot how much fun I have with these girls, I forgot how much we made each other laugh, and it was nice to get to know them all over again. By the end of the night I realized that I didn’t throw anyone out, we just took a break and somehow turned into adults. We’ve found our way back as a group and that’s OKAY. In fact, it’s actually pretty wonderful. We might not see each other all the time, we may lead completely different lives, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be there for one another.

There’s a certain confidence and pride that comes with learning to cherish and appreciate your family and friends. There’s a calming agent in knowing that if you put the effort into a relationship or friendship you’ll never be lonely. I went through that whole “I’m twenty and it’s time to be selfish” phase (doesn’t everyone or just me?) but now I’m finding more pleasure in the things I do for others than the things I do for myself. I’m finding a different kind of happiness in being around people that I didn’t know I could feel. I’m more open than ever when it comes to going out and doing things and enjoying the moment.

I’ve never felt so free, so content, so inspired.

Love Always 

Vanessa Xo

Being Honest with Yourself.

Just for Fun, Lifestyle/Personal

You make a decision when you’re eighteen going on nineteen. You’re stubborn, adamant, and you actually believe that you’re right. You try to find yourself by getting rid of everyone, and you do. You become relatively confident, you grow, you learn, you change. You become more self-assertive, passionate, and different. You’re happy with the person you’ve become and then BOOM, you realize there’s something missing. You feel an immense sense of guilt for the decision you made all those years ago. You know that there’s no turning back and guilt is useless but you decide on something new. You decide to allow changes to happen, to flow freely with whatever winds decide to pick you up and carry you, to stay true to yourself, and to trust in the idea that people come into your life for a reason.

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I’m sure you understand that this “You” is Me — I’m the girl with no regrets but the one above. Granted, back then it felt justified, I thought I would never know who I was if I was always with the same people. You are who you hang out with, right? Wrong. You are free to choose who you want to be. I think I was just looking for a fight, a rebel without a cause. How fast the years fly by, how naive and angry and shy was I. And so to right this wrong, my stubborn-mule tendencies have to dissolve. We’re all different people now, we’re grown up strangers, with a shared past, and all the time in the world to get to know each other again.

Love Always

Vanessa Xo

Then Again [Book Review]

Book Reviews

978-1-58836-942-0Knowing my obsession with memoirs, Lindsey recommended Then Again by Diane Keaton and I’ve been enthralled by it. I’ve mentioned it a few times in the past few blog posts and now that I am finished it, I highly recommend it. I’ve never cared much for Diane Keaton but I found reading about her life intriguing. She tells you everything, she writes beautifully, and she isn’t afraid to cast herself in a bad light. Diane Keaton has seemingly low self-esteem and doesn’t think much of herself considering she had a dream and made it happen. I was left in awe when she spoke of her relationships with Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, and Al Pacino. It was incredible to read how she taught Al Pacino how to drive or how Woody Allen wrote Annie Hall based on her life or her true feeling about The Godfather. It was fascinating to read Woody Allen’s love letters to her.

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The most amazing part of her memoir though, and the entire premise behind it, is that it’s a combination of her mother’s memoir as well. Dorothy Hall kept journals, took photos, and made scrapbooks, and they all make an appearance in this memoir. This memoir compares a housewife of the 1960’s with big dreams and a knack for writing, creativity, and self-expression, with an aspiring teenage actress, letting you see how similar those two can actually be.

Dorothy Hall is one of the most inspiring women I’ve read about. She is a woman who found her voice by putting a pen to paper. She believed in the power of THINKING. She believed in her family and I found her portrayal of family dynamics enriching. Her words tugged at my heart-strings and I learned a lot from Dorothy Hall and Diane Keaton. This memoir made me wish for a simpler time, where people need to make a greater effort to communicate. Now, I want nothing more than to TALK more to my mom, to THINK more, to DREAM bigger, and to WORK harder. This memoir will always have a soft-spot in my heart and I can’t wait to pass it on to my mom and dad, who will love it for different reasons.

dorothyhallpg-vertical“Dad was always telling me to think. Think ahead. Think….But it was Mom’s struggles, her conflicts, and her love that made whatever ability I have to think possible. She supported choices that created experiences that expanded my life. As a girl, Mom, like me, had vague grandiose aspirations, but, unlike me, no one helped her expand on them; no one could.” (171)
 

Love Always 

Vanessa Xo

Living for the Weekend…

Just for Fun, Lifestyle/Personal, Restaurant Reviews

Although I love my busy weekdays, nothing compares to a weekend filled with great food, great company, an interesting book, and a sun that won’t stop shining. During the week I don’t see much of my family, sometimes it’s two or three days before I actually see my brother, so I love spending weekends in their company. On Friday my sister and bf came over and we had a movie date with my dad — Django Unchained is the best movie ever!

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My niece is getting big (or so I would assume by the way my sister’s stomach is expanding) and she has the softest, sweetest kicks/punches. You really have to press down on my sister’s belly to feel Izzy’s punches or her heartbeat but it is the most beautiful tap I’ve ever felt. Next time Jess comes over I’m going to read Izzy a story, my favourite in fact (The Balloon Tree) so she can get used to hearing my voice.

Yesterday the bf and I went for a little drive and ended up at Katz’s Deli near Yorkdale Mall. My mouth is watering just thinking about the warm corned beef sandwich on rye bread, topped with mustard, that we demolished in about 30 seconds. It’s a great place with deliciously fresh food and fantastic coffee. It’s been around since 1970 and is the perfect Saturday meal. They have an eat-in and take-out option and their cashier is a wonderful old man, using an old-school cash register, cracking jokes at your expense. I will be back more often than I should now that I know how close it is to the subway.

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I hope you all enjoyed this beautiful sunny weekend.

I hope you spent it with the people you love, with wonderful food, and with the comfort that comes from having a great book waiting for you whenever you get home.

Love Always 

Vanessa Xo 

Bursting the Bubble [Week 4]

Book Reviews, Bursting the Bubble

It wasn’t until I purchased my second Metro Pass that I realized I’m almost a month into my 12-week internship. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?! The weeks are literally flying by! The good news is that I still love it, I’ve haven’t gotten over the sincere calm I feel when I’m on the subway, or the excitement that flutters in my heart as I walk toward my building, or the spring in my step when I hear the church bells ring – people told me that all of that gets old pretty quickly, I’m glad they’re wrong so far. I am thoroughly enjoying every minute.

THIS week I’ve been mesmerized by Paul Auster’s memoir Winter Journal, where he gives a sensory account of his life –

…put aside your stories for now and try to examine what it has felt like to live inside this body from the first day you can remember being alive until this one. A catalogue of sensory data.” Page 1

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This memoir made me think about my childhood and made me wonder about the memories I could conjure up if I sat down and really thought it out. I spent an entire subway ride home in this contemplative state, probably making odd faces as the past resurfaced. Is it odd that my memories are few and far between? I don’t remember anything before the age of 4 (or is it 5?). I remember the first house we lived in (where I was born, not conceived in case you were wondering), my old friends, the musty smell of our huge basement, the blue toy room we spent our days playing in, and the kitchen (also in the basement) that never seemed to be used. I remember our court being very quiet – I remember a wiener dog running around on our patch of grass.

Most vividly, and perhaps only because it pertains to this week, I remember my father taking us all to a Jays game. My brother wasn’t born yet, I wore my favourite red dress with small white polka dots, the dome was open and the sun was blistering hot. We took the subway down, an adventure in and of itself, and I remember seeing people sleeping in the middle of the floor, some sitting up and holding signs, some playing instruments, most begging for money. I remember being afraid of these dirty, loud people (give me a break I was 6). Then I remember my dad, throwing coins into whatever hat, cup, or case sat in front of them. I remember him handing cigarettes to a man when he ran out of change. I remember some of them saying thank you, over and over again. I don’t remember thinking much of it while watching the game but my dad’s small form of generosity stuck with me long after that.

It would be silly to pretend that I haven’t noticed people sitting on the streets since I’ve started interning downtown. I spend a lot of time on my lunch walking around and of the many homeless people I have walked by, I only helped out one of them. Why? In truth, I tend to get distracted when I go for walks — I’m busy taking pictures or admiring buildings. Other times I try to walk by as quickly as possible since I never have change on me (that sounds horrible). BUT the other day I made eye contact with the lady who sits outside the nearest Tim’s and as she wished me good day, I found myself asking her if she wanted a coffee. She replied yes-please-thank-you-so-much. So, I bought her a coffee and a muffin, handed it to her, smiled and walked off.

Only as I walked away did I realize that this woman held a genuine kind of gratitude in her eyes. Her hair was ashen with dust, her teeth yellow and chipped, but her eyes were filled with thanks and life.

Moral(s) of my story: be generous like your father (and mother).

The smallest gestures go a long way.

You can see so much if you just OPEN YOUR EYES; if you slow down a little.

Isn’t that what new experiences are about? Isn’t that the only way to burst your bubble?

By looking, seeing, and paying attention.

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Love Always

Vanessa Xo

Subway Rides and DNA

Book Reviews, Family Time, Just for Fun, Lifestyle/Personal

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A father (mid-fifties) and son (maybe 18?) walk side by side through the underground pass leading to Wilson subway station. I’m a few paces behind, not really paying attention when suddenly I’m startled by how similar this father-son team is. They are the exact same height, not even an inch off, they are slouching at the same angle, their hands are in their pockets with elbows protruding forcefully outward (not sitting naturally). Their walk is the same, heel-toe-heel-toe, and their steps are in perfect unison.

Normally, I wouldn’t notice this kind of thing but I think The Juggler’s Children might have something to do with it. It’s got me thinking a lot about heritage, DNA, family, ancestors. Do my mother and I have similar mannerisms? How much is my brother like my father? How about my sister? What genes will my niece get? How much do I really look like my father? My Nonna? My great-great-great Avoa? Am I Portuguese and Italian or is there some other nationality hiding in the mix?

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What family secrets are hiding in documents, in DNA, in diaries, in memories? Are there any?

What is the story behind the Grillones? The Camachos? What do they have to do with me? How can I find out?

…another subway ride, another thought

Love Always

Vanessa Xo