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Watching: ‘The Hate U Give’.

Photo is from TIME – click to read their review of the film.

It’s the start of a short week, and I’m sure half of you are scrambling for a busy week, and the other half of you are relaxing as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches!

I’m in the latter group, but I’m using this short, likely slow week as a chance to plan for some upcoming things and get in some much-needed rest.

While I do have to work at a majority of the week, yesterday felt a little different, and I decided to bash any Sunday scaries with a trip to the movies. I FINALLY saw, “The Hate U Give” after reading the book last year (you can read my full review of the book here).

Here is the movie’s description from Google:

Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds — the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy, mostly white prep school that she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is soon shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Facing pressure from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and decide to stand up for what’s right.

I really thought the movie did a great job of bringing the book to life, and I know that’s not often the case when movies are book adaptations. Amandla Stenberg plays Starr, and she was a refreshing version of the character I pictured in my head while I was reading the book.

One thing I didn’t really think about before going into the theatre was the soundtrack for the movie… and there were some good songs in there including “We Won’t Move” by Arlissa, “Goosebumps” by Travis Scott, and “Gotta Keep Ya Head Up” by 2Pac.

Starr’s father, played by Russell Hornsby, was as equal a lead as Starr – he was so bold, and his words were half of what had me crying throughout most of the movie.

Of course, this movie is emotional – it puts viewers in the front seat (pun intended) of so many of the headlines we’ve seen over the last few years – innocent blacks killed by white cops. And it was tough to see, even though I’ve watched likely hundreds of hours of news coverage, read books, and even studied the structures of institutional racism in our country.

Nothing is quite like the gun shots, the blood on a movie screen.

But, “Making white people cry”, as Stenberg said during an interview on The Daily Show, was a large part of why the movie was made – to get the privileged to have empathy for those who are wrongfully targeted.

While I have been following this problem for years, I’d say seeing this movie is a good first step if you’re unaware of white privilege and the construct of #BlackLivesMatter – if that is you – make it your 2019 resolution to get woke, and see this movie and/or read the book. You owe it to yourself to be educated on the systems in our country.

This book and this movie reminded me that we have to use the voice we were given to speak out against injustice – no matter how big or small the issue. Do not shy away into silence.

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BBC: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’.

Happy Saturday! I went to two yoga classes right after work yesterday and slept in this morning… I’m feeling rested. I even made some homemade cranberry sauce (with a lil orange zest) for a Friendsgiving I’m going to this evening. The holidays are here!

I also finished reading the latest book from Blanche’s Book Club: “Dear Evan Hansen” by Val Emmich. Here’s the book description from Amazon:

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

I didn’t really know much about this book before reading it; I’d heard people say the Broadway musical was great, but that’s all I knew. From the book’s description, it sounds like the book was written after the musical (but I could be wrong).

It took me a little while to get into this book – it took a turn I didn’t expect. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t LOVE it. It reminded me a little of “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda“, although I think “Simon” is a much better read.

However, I do think it’s an interesting take on the things we do for others (or perhaps for ourselves) and it also touched on a fresh side of dealing with grief.

I’m recommending this book to anyone who loves YA novels, and to anyone who’s kept secrets to please someone else.

The next book I’m reading is “Blood, Bones, and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton – I wanted to read something foodie over the Thanksgiving holiday.

I do have to work next week, but I’m definitely looking forward to a long weekend… and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

As everyone gears up for the holidays, I’m planning some fun blog posts (including some unique gift guides), so stay tuned. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

The damage has been done.

Just focus on the work.

I’m staying true to my word in keeping you all posted on my work situation.

When I wrote about it last (you can catch up here), my coworkers and I weren’t entirely sure that our new boss was going to show up to work for her official first day.

Well ladies and gentleman, she did! And within 24 hours, she presented to us a rough draft of a marketing plan she created, and asked for our honest feedback.

This marketing plan was not only mostly copied from the internet, the parts that weren’t plagiarized were riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, and went against the values of the company.

I work in a heavily political job, so personal beliefs and opinions are important.

My teammates and I provided our feedback, but there was all sorts of drama swirling around beyond just this marketing plan. She was telling some coworkers one thing, and telling us something different.

Our CEO reached out to my teammates to get our feedback on our new boss, and I explained that some of her new ideas went against what the company stood for, and many of them also went against my ethics as an SEO practitioner.

We didn’t hear anything back, and for days we wondered what was happening at our other headquarters (our boss works on the other side of the country) – especially since she wasn’t interested in having meetings with us, our only communication with her had been through email.

When my coworker reached out to the CEO to make sure she’d seen the new marketing plan and ask when and/or if we should start implementing some of these things… we got a very rude email back.

It basically reminded us that she’s the CEO and doesn’t have time for our problems.

Message heard.

When no one responded, we got yet another email from the CEO, saying, “I didn’t mean to close the door for communication”…

I didn’t reply to that one either, and when the CEO’s assistant reached out for a time to meet – I ignored that as well.

The CEO’s initial email sent me home in tears – I felt like, all of the sudden, I worked for a company that didn’t align with my personal or professional values.

My silence sent a clear message, and by last Friday afternoon, I got a call from our Chief of Operations and the Chief of Staff, asking me why I didn’t reply, and why I didn’t feel like the company was safe anymore.

I explained my thoughts, and they wanted to set up a time for my teammates and I to meet via video call with the entire Executive Team first thing on Monday morning.

Great.

So, we met, and we were asked to express our concerns with our new boss to her face.

It should come as no surprise that when we did this, she acted SHOCKED, and denied all of it. When I said my concerns, I got emotional (no matter how much I tried not to), and she simply laughed at me, so I said if she was going to laugh at me, then I was done with my portion of the conversation.

And honestly, that was pretty much that.

Between the email from the CEO and having to sit on a video call visibly crying and having no one (especially my new boss) say, “I hope we can start over” or “I’m so sorry this has you so upset”… nothing. The writing is on the wall for me.

I am currently open to new career opportunities, even if they are contract-based or part-time. Bring it on!

Yesterday, a day after the meeting, our boss emailed us all saying, “Thank you for being so candid and honest…I’m horrified at the miscommunication…” – But how is it considered a miscommunication when I heard it with my own ears?

For now, I’m continuing to do my work as expected, and at the very least, I’m proud of myself for being honest, and at least trying to resolve the situation.

It’s Christmastime in the city…

Handmade gold leaf ornaments from my Etsy Shop!

Okay, so I know I might be a little early to the game – this is especially rare for me, as I’ve written many times about not feeling the holiday spirit sometimes until Christmas Eve!

But this year, the year that I’m “actively living”, I’ve learned that you can’t just let things happen to you – sometimes you’ve got to make them happen. But, I have to admit I had a little help this year in moving the Christmas buzz into my soul: my Etsy shop!

My matte white minis!

Last year, I made some holiday ornaments, and one set in particular (mini matte white ornaments with gold leaf detail) was a little popular. So popular, I drove 20 minutes north during an ice storm and dug through the entire remaining stash of ornaments at Michael’s trying to find a single box of the ones I needed.

I found five boxes and bought them all. So, I had a few boxes left over that stayed in my shop all year. They were sold out before Halloween!

It was definitely a trend I didn’t see this time last year, but then again, Thanksgiving is early this year (can you believe it’s next week?)… and I can’t help but think that the insanity of politics has our country looking for a little bit of festive joy as early as possible.

So, I have been keeping my eye out on the inventory at Michael’s and watching for their big Christmas decor sale, where they mark everything down 50%. That happened last week, and I could hardly wait to get off work and drive to the store, where I also had a coupon that would give me an additional 25% off my entire purchase!

I bought a good amount of ornaments and supplies that should get me through the Thanksgiving rush, but who knows! I spent a majority of my weekend working on ornaments, taking photographs, and posting them in my shop.

This year, I’m offering my classic matte white minis, but I’ve also added new colors – champagne, powder pink, and teal – along with medium and larger sizes. I would absolutely love it if I had an order come through that was big enough to decorate an entire tree, in various colors and sizes of my custom ornaments.

As I worked on my ornaments over the weekend, I was watching some holiday movies on Hallmark, and I was thinking a lot about decorating for Christmas when I was a kid. It was always a big tah-dah.

My dad liked things neat and tidy, so when it came time to drag out the holiday decor, we had to put our every day things away. Once the inside was decorated, we would pick a day to tackle the outside – you could consider our house the Griswolds, in the best way possible.

We had tons of lights, and while my dad often expressed his hatred for hanging them each year, he still did it. We would hang lights from the tree in our front yard, and wrap red and white strands of lights around the columns on our front porch. There were green lights for the shrubs and lighted reindeer that we put in our backyard.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we would line our driveway with glossy paper bags in red, white, and green – they all had little cut outs of snowflakes or Santa. We would line them up in our garage first, and put a little bit of cat litter in the bottom for weight, and then place a tea light inside. Once they were all lit, it was really beautiful, but I was likely too young and much too cold to really appreciate all of the work it took.

Blanche + our Christmas tree!

As my dad grew older, and I moved away, my dad stopped decorating his house for the holidays. I know there were even years he didn’t put up a tree. He also was getting more annoyed with people – hating the Christmas crowds and refusing to drive anywhere on a holiday.

This always surprised me. While I know many people consider Christmas a kid’s holiday, I’m not quite sure I believe that all of the sudden, you can just stop celebrating, especially after so many years of going all out.

Ever since I’ve had my own apartment, 11 years now, I’ve put up a tree. My decor has gone through many evolutions, but I’ve kept it the same these last few years. I have a tall, pencil tree, and I string it with the large, old fashioned bulbs (in white and multi-color). I decorate it with ornaments I had as a kid – I have one I got from my 1st grade teacher, some friends gave me in middle school, and even ornaments I made as a child.

I love getting out the ornaments and looking at each one; remembering the memories surrounding them.

When my dad passed away earlier this year, he willed me many of the Christmas decorations we put out when I was a kid. One of them is one we called “Snowbird” – a large stuffed bird dressed in winter gear, along with an LSU ornament, and even a seasonal Starbucks mug.

As I unpacked these items from the boxes he gave me, I can’t help but wonder if this was his way of letting me know that he’d never forgotten all of those days we spent together – whether if it was him on a ladder hooking lights to the roof or indoors making red and green M&M cookies for Santa – and I’m so grateful for those memories.

So, as I make all of these ornaments for my store, yes, they are certainly fun to sell, but I often think about the people who will receive them. So far, I’ve shipped ornaments to North Carolina, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Alabama, California, and Louisiana! It’s so cool to think that something I made will be a small part of someone’s holiday traditions and memories.

If you’re following me on Instagram @OrangeJulius7 – you’ve probably been seeing my stories of all of the ornaments I’ve made, and even heard that I’m already blasting Christmas music, and diving into holiday movies. Why not?

‘Tis the season!

Take a look at my Christmas ornaments, and feel free to place a custom order if you don’t see the color or size you had in mind! Cheers!

BBC: ‘Rush’.

 

Hey everyone – you made it through week #1 of the time change! I keep hearing people talk about it, and I feel like this is the first year it really seems off – I am a little more tired at earlier hours… and it’s still a little more difficult to get out of bed.

And it doesn’t help that pets just don’t understand time changes! Poor Blanche is ready to go to bed much earlier, and I have yet to change the clock on her automatic feeder, so her food drops at a whopping 5am!

Speaking of Blanche, Blanche’s Book Club read a GOODIE this week! I’m talking about “Rush” by Lisa Patton. Before I go any further, here is the book’s description from Lisa Patton’s website:

Set in modern day Oxford, Mississippi, on the Ole Miss campus, bestselling author Lisa Patton’s RUSH is a story about women―from both ends of the social ladder―discovering their voices and their empowerment.

When Lilith Whitmore, the well-heeled House Corp President of Alpha Delta Beta, one of the premiere sororities on campus, appoints recent empty-nester Wilda to the Rush Advisory Board, Wilda can hardly believe her luck. What’s more, Lilith suggests their daughters, both incoming freshman, room together. What Wilda doesn’t know is that it’s all part of Lilith’s plan to ensure her own daughter receives an Alpha Delt bid―no matter what.
 
Cali Watkins possesses all the qualities sororities are looking for in a potential new member. She’s kind and intelligent, makes friends easily, even plans to someday run for governor. But her resume lacks a vital ingredient. Pedigree. Without family money Cali’s chances of sorority membership are already thin, but she has an even bigger problem. If anyone discovers the dark family secrets she’s hiding, she’ll be dropped from Rush in an instant.
 
For twenty-five years, Miss Pearl―as her “babies” like to call her―has been housekeeper and a second mother to the Alpha Delt girls, even though it reminds her of a painful part of her past she’ll never forget. When an opportunity for promotion arises, it seems a natural fit. But Lilith Whitmore slams her Prada heel down fast, crushing Miss Pearl’s hopes of a better future. When Wilda and the girls find out, they devise a plan destined to change Alpha Delta Beta―and maybe the entire Greek system―forever.
 
Achingly poignant, yet laugh-out-loud funny, RUSH takes a sharp nuanced look at a centuries-old tradition while exploring the complex, intimate relationships between mothers and daughters and female friends. Brimming with heart and hope for a better tomorrow, RUSH is an uplifting novel universal to us all.

I added this book to my reading list after seeing it on Kathleen Barnes’ (from “Carrie Bradshaw Lied” Instagram account. She went to Ole Miss, and as I went to LSU, I figured this one would be a good one.I was also in a sorority and went through rush, or Greek Recruitment, so there were many parts of this book that were relatable to me.

This put a fresh perspective on a very old problem – albeit a very visible problem.I am really glad that someone chose to write about this topic, and Lisa Patton did it in a graceful way. I am adding her to my list of authors to keep an eye on – she’s written other books, including: “Southern as a Second Language“, “Yankee Doodle Dixie“, and “Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter“.

I’m recommending “Rush” to anyone who went through rush, and/or joined a sorority, and anyone who’s a fan of southern literature.

The next book I’ll be reading is “Dear Evan Hansen” by Val Emmich (super stoked about this one)!This weekend is the first one in a long time where I have 0 plans – which likely means I’ll be making some Christmas ornaments for my Etsy shop and catching up on all my TV shows 🙂 Have a good one, y’all!

‘The Aftermath’: Twerk ’til you drop!

The Twerk ‘N Burn trio with our Instructor and Choreographer, Lily!

Last night, Dance Austin Studio put on its annual “spooky” showcase, The Aftermath!

Per usual, spending an entire day with my dance family and getting the opportunity to put it all on The North Door stage brought up all sorts of feelings about my life, and memories of the past.

After a super tough year and choosing more difficult pieces to perform in for showcases in the past, I decided to choose one that would be more FUN to perform, and possibly easier to learn.

So, I signed up for Twerk ‘N Burn – and our large group quickly dwindled to just three of us, but I think it ended up being the cream of the twerking crop. It was really neat to get to know the other two ladies – Kim and Michaela – and finally dance on stage with them after many years.

Our performance combined many popular twerking songs and costumes to fit the bill: short, red yoga shorts and cropped white hoodies. It wasn’t quite the smallest costume I’ve worn on stage, but it comes in at a close second.

During our final practice, Kim said it looked like we were trying out to be NBA cheerleaders – and she was right.

It made me recall a dream I’ve had for many years and since buried – to dance for a professional sports team.

In high school, I wanted to grow up and be a famous choreographer. So, when we had to do senior projects, I choreographed a piece for a local dance team, which they performed on stage and I recorded it for my senior presentation.

A panel of teachers “judged” all of our senior presentations and followed it up with questions. I will never forget that one of the questions they asked me was if I really was going to study dance/choreography in school.

I told them no, because in my research, I discovered it was very rare to be able to make a decent living off of it, and it took such a difficult toll on the body. The panel was disappointed in my answer, but I graduated!

I went on to Louisiana State University – a college I chose based on their basketball dance squad, the Tiger Girls – but I never even auditioned. Despite having years of dance experience, I wasn’t as technically trained as those dancers.

But I have always admired them, and many other dance teams from afar. Sure, I love the moves, but ultimately, I love the performance: the outfits, the hair and makeup, the attitude, the swagger.

That is what I hoped to capture from my Twerk ‘N Burn performance.

A few of my coworkers came to watch me perform, and they were shocked – “Oh you CAN dance! You’re finally coming out of your shell!”

But… I’m still the same person I’ve always been. I’m introverted, and although it takes a lot for me to get on stage and dance in front of hundreds of people, there’s an art to putting it all together and that’s what I’ve been working on the hardest over the years – the facial expressions, adding style to the moves, connecting with the audience.

Many of my extroverted friends and coworkers dance in their everyday lives – in the office, at the bar on the weekends, or even when a song comes on the radio, no matter where they are. I dance at home sometimes – you know, with Blanche, ha! – but that’s just not me to want to be the center of attention.

I dance for different reasons.

Last night, I danced to prove something to myself. I proved that at 33 years old, I can still, most-definitely, get on stage in a crop top and not feel judged. I got to show an audience that twerking isn’t about Miley Cyrus or skin color or even sex – it’s about having fun and embracing your body as is.

I also got to put my nasty side-eye to great use – finally!

It was the perfect way to end a really rough month at the office. It reminded me that my energy can be put in much more productive things – and I don’t mean making spreadsheets or replying to emails – I mean LIVING.

I am still very much on my journey to actively live – to having a schedule full of adventures and things i love doing. I refuse to let the days, months, and years pass me by without having handfuls of experiences to remember.

Last night was another one I won’t forget.

Standing up… to HR, to karma.

I’ve become a pro at writing appropriate work emails to higher-ups.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some issues I was having at my day job. In particular, it seemed that my infamous “Catitude” had struck again, possibly ruining a work opportunity for me.

That opportunity was a promotion – the Director of Marketing position. My boss encouraged me to apply for it, so I did. And as far as I know, there were murmurings about my attitude, “How does she expect to be able to manage people?”

But, a few days passed, the whispers stopped, and I was scheduled for a 30-minute phone screening from human resources. Where I work, this call is simply to weed out candidates who are heavily unqualified.

My phone screen went well, and I even shared some ideas I had for future marketing, including areas where we are weak and how we could fix them.

Around this same time, my boss gave her 30-day notice after working at the company for seven years. As a small company, she worked on so many different aspects of what we do – and all of us felt the same – sad for us, but happy for her.

Her notice put things into complete panic, including the hiring process for this director position. It also flagged our CEO that our team needed a check up… which quickly led to each of us getting emails saying she was coming to town and wanted 1:1 meetings with each of us.

But my email was a little different, as it flippantly mentioned I wasn’t be considered for the Director of Marketing. Shortly after, I got the automatic rejection letter, and an email to staff introducing us to our new Director of Marketing.

I was crushed.

It wasn’t about not getting the promotion. It was about not being taken seriously, and not even considered. I didn’t even know how to (or if I should) respond. I didn’t even get out of bed the following day – a Friday.

I spent the weekend thinking things over, and trying to figure out how to reply to that email.

After days of thinking and hearing advice from my friends and family, I went back to work on Monday well-rested, and with a plan. I replied to the email simply saying, “I’ll see you when you get in town.” And my plan was to continue to do my work, and start looking for a new job.

Over the following few weeks – things were complete chaos. I felt emotionally drained; some days were okay, other days there were rumors we were all losing our jobs. I went home every night completely exhausted.

As my boss’ days at the office were numbered, she spoke on my behalf in a meeting with upper management, and explained to them that they handled my application for the Director of Marketing completely wrong.

As a result, I got an email from our HR department, apologizing, but for all of the wrong things. I took a few days to think it over, and decided to put my feelings out there. I was going to tell her everything I felt, with the assumption that she would show the CEO my email.

I won’t post the exact email I sent, but here are a few highlights:

It is my belief and experience that job interviews are a two-way street. They are an opportunity for a candidate to find out more about a company and/or the job they applied for, and it also serves as a way for the company to show who they are.

Being an internal candidate, I absolutely expected to have the opportunity to be interviewed face-to-face, even if only virtually, and even if only as a professional courtesy. Although I am not an HR professional, it has always been my understanding that if someone is applying for an internal promotion, they are seeking new challenges, a monetary raise, the opportunity to learn and grow, or perhaps even practice to brush up on interview skills.

I was encouraged to apply for this promotion, and I am also seeking all of the aforementioned. None of those were addressed during this process, which leaves me to wonder how the company considers me as an employee as I approach my two-year anniversary.

It’s honestly not about the promotion, nor is it about the reasons why I may not be qualified to fulfill the needs of the Director of Marketing position. Likely, I could tell you many reasons why I wasn’t given the opportunity, and I’m excited to work with the new hire, as I hear she has many years of fantastic experience.

It’s more about the fact that my needs and goals were not addressed in any fashion. In order to grow as a professional, I need opportunities – whether it be working as a team to see what growth for my position looks like, considering an intern for me to manage, or taking a class to grow my skills – none of that was taken seriously.

It really made me question all of the work I’ve put into the company. The work on weekends, showing up to work 24 hours after my dad passed away, creating weekly, monthly, and annual strategies for all of our social channels, attending the Hackathon weekend to create a free chat bot so our patients have a new way of speaking with our staff, and taking on many additional duties to assist our nonprofit at no additional pay, among other things.

I am honored to be working for a cause I care about, but I am also a professional approaching my 12th year of work as an Editor and Digital Strategist. Growth is extremely important to me, and I hope that I can do that with the support of a company who cares about their employees.

I felt good about my response, and she replied saying that my work is valued, that this situation was handled poorly, and that I was rightly frustrated.

The following day was my meeting with the CEO. And as soon as she stepped into my office, she gave me a very sincere apology. She also told me she needed that feedback. It was really, really unexpected and we had a really candid conversation about work, marketing, and goals for the future.

That same day, they flew in our new Director to meet with us and see our Austin offices. She met with our team individually over the course of a few days, and it was the weirdest dose of unprofessional behavior I think I’ve ever seen. Upon meeting me, she told me she:

  • Wasn’t going to complete her assigned training/orientation plan
  • Hated the company name and slogan
  • Hated meetings and wasn’t planning on continuing our weekly one
  • Didn’t believe in personality tests
  • Wasn’t sure how long she’d last at the company
  • Would go against company culture to make her ideas happen

…Um, what?

I wondered if this was the universe’s weird way of showing me what it’s like to meet someone with a truly poor attitude. And while I’m not all-smiles, I do think there’s something to be said about professionalism and making a good first impression.

But walking into a job BEFORE your first day and telling your subordinates that you’re not even sure how long you’ll last? That’s messed up.

Not to mention – this was the person they chose over me, and over many, many other candidates.

I won’t go into details, but some of the things she told us were even worse – and included unethical marketing practices and blatant statements that go against our company values.

Today is my boss’ last day, and my teammates and I don’t even know if our new boss is going to show up to work on Monday.

Things sure do have a weird way of happening, don’t they? I’m sad to admit that I’ve spent so much of my energy on all of this that I didn’t make it to a single workout class this week (I do have one tonight, at least). I couldn’t even bring myself to write this blog last night – instead, I took a bath and was in bed around 9.

I’d love to know if you’ve ever had a similar experience, or an experience that really made you question your job. How did you handle it? What did you do?

At the very least, it’s Friday, and the Hallmark Channel has already started their Countdown to Christmas (meaning, 24 hours of Christmas movies)! Happy Friday, everyone!

Year three at the Austin Film Festival!

I almost didn’t volunteer this year for the Austin Film Fest – I feel like things have been so hectic and I wasn’t even sure how much I could volunteer. But then I reminded myself how much fun I’ve had as a volunteer the last two years.

Plus… the Film Fest has been the one thing I’ve allowed myself to completely indulge in. I don’t make any money getting involved, there’s no promoting myself or the blog or what I do, I simply go, do whatever tasks are needed, and just observe.

It’s something that really feeds my creativity in a different way, and I always, ALWAYS, have to give myself permission to do that.

In years passed, I’ve done a majority of my volunteer hours downtown at the Writer’s Conference. While I learn so much doing those shifts, I wanted to stick a little closer to my apartment this year, so I chose all theatre shifts.

Theatre shifts = managing the lines going into each film, scanning tickets and badges, and often getting to sit in the back and watch the movies. Between my two shifts this year, I got to see three movies.

Surviving Bokatar

Here is the film’s description, from its website:

From the ancient carvings on the temples of Angkor to the international stage. What started as a genocide survivor’s dream to revive one of the world’s oldest sports becomes an inspiring mission to heal a nation.

A story of triumph, heartbreak and coming of age in a Cambodia on the rise.

You can watch the trailer here.

Honestly, when I read the description of this film, I wasn’t so sure how I was going to like it. But I ended up really enjoying it – I almost cried – and once the film was over, two of the people in it were in the lobby and I was so amazed to see them in person.

This documentary focuses on the Grand Master of Bokatar and his extreme efforts to have the martial art recognized as an official sport from Cambodia. He sees the importance in tradition – so much so that he’s hurting financially, taking care of many of his students as they live in the gym.

It’s all the things you want a movie to be: heartfelt, great storyline with compelling characters, and the wonder of whether or not they’ll make it.

Care to Laugh

Here is the film’s description from its website:

Jesus’ world is flipped upside down when his mother, Adelaida, undergoes emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor. Although most aspiring comedians build their careers on the road, Jesus juggles his responsibilities at home in Long Beach, Calif., with open mics and auditions in the Los Angeles area, often driving more than two hours each way every day. As the pressure of his budding career mounts, the family receives more devastating news: Jesus’ father, Antonio, is diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer.

An only child, Jesus becomes his parents’ sole caregiver. Transforming adversity into comedy, he uses his life experience as material for his routine. He continues to reach for his dream while taking over his father’s landscaping business to keep the family afloat. When his set catches the eye of producers at The Late Late Show with James Corden, Jesus may have scored the big break he’s been banking on.

I LOVED THIS!

I love the story of the underdog, the hustler, and Jesus was such a lovable character – I say character even though he is a real comic, and he came to the movie! When I scanned his ticket, I said, “Hey this movie is about you!”

Ghost Hunter

Here is the movie’s description from Rotten Tomatoes:

A western Sydney security guard and part-time ghost hunter, Jason King has spent two decades searching for his absent father. As a survivor of trauma, he seeks to reconcile his fractured memories and piece together his past. When his search converges with a police investigation, an horrific family secret is exposed – forcing him to confront a brutal past in order to reclaim his future.

This was also a documentary – this was my year because I love documentaries – and although this was creepy, it really wasn’t creepy because he was a ghost hunter, it was his past.

It was really well shot and I liked that the director included other media – text messages and voicemails – to tell the story. Very riveting, but heartbreaking as well.

See the trailer here.

And that’s it! There are still movies playing this week and sometimes they’ll message us about free movies, so hopefully I’ll get to see more, but so far, I enjoyed everything I saw. Another successful year in the books!

BBC: ‘Puddin”.

We made it to Friday, y’all – on top of a ROUGH week at work, some general life stuff, and considering today is Day 5 of having to boil Austin water – let’s praise the higher powers!

I have three non-renewable books due back to the library Sunday, so I really tried to channel any and all of my energy into reading this week. I’m only one book down, but considering it was 400 pages, I’m labeling this as a win.

Plus, I loved this book!

I’m talking about “Puddin‘” by Julie Murphy. Here is the official description from Amazon:

Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a little girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream of being a newscaster—and to kiss the boy she’s crushing on.

Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend.

When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing that they might have more in common than they ever imagined.

“Puddin'” is the companion to “Dumplin‘”, which I read earlier this year (read my full review here). The cool thing about a companion book is there’s a little bit of overlapping storyline, but not enough to make reading the other book a requirement.

For starters, I absolutely loved jumping into this world. I have a weak spot for books that fantasize high school, and this one brought me right back to some great memories. I also love that this takes place in a small town in Texas – near Marfa – and even touches a bit in Austin!

But no matter the location, this is a story about seeing who people really are – past all appearances and even a few faults. It really is sweet.

Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it. If I want to call the shots, I have to start acting like it. And when that camera turns on, it’s like someone flips a switch inside me and gives me permission to be the version of myself I only dream of.

I’m recommending this book to anyone who loves YA novels, especially those in small towns, and to anyone who’s been misunderstood.

Meanwhile, the book “Dumplin'” is being turned into a movie that will be released on Netflix, December 7th! Jennifer Anniston stars in it, and Dolly Parton has at least one song on the soundtrack. Yes!

The next book Blanche’s Book Club is “The Dinner List” by Rebecca Serle. Follow me on Instagram @OrangeJulius7 for real-time updates!

Next week on the blog, be on the lookout for my adventures during the Austin Mandatory Water Boil, and an update on my work situation. Have a good weekend, y’all!

Listening: ‘Suncity’ by Khalid.

“Suncity” EP by Khalid.

Mid-performance at Austin City Limits, Khalid announced he was dropping an EP called “Suncity” Friday, October 19.

I bought it and downloaded it as soon as I woke up on Friday 🙂

It’s been such a long time since I found an artist where I buy and download every single thing they put out, as soon as they put it out. It’s refreshing.

Although I do wish this was a full album, the song list is:

  • 9.13
  • Vertigo
  • Saturday Nights
  • Salem’s Interlude
  • Motion
  • Better
  • Suncity (feat. Empress Of)

It’s only 21 minutes long, so listening to it on repeat is easy – and it plays nice. Whenever I get a new album, I like listening to the songs (and interludes) in order for awhile before hitting shuffle. I like to hear everything in the order it was intended first.

Just like with “American Teen”, every time I listen to it, I like different songs more or less. Currently, I am loving “Vertigo” and “Better”.

I’ve been better off than broken
I’ve been battered, I’ve been beat
I wish I was more outspoken
But the words are out of reach

– Vertigo

The entire EP is pretty chill – “Suncity” is the only track that’s upbeat, and many of the lyrics for the songs are more solemn (albeit that’s what Khalid has been known for thus far).

Per usual, I went on Twitter to see what other fans thought of the EP so far. I wasn’t surprised to see that people are loving it and calling out the love letter he wrote to his hometown of El Paso, Texas.

I’m going to keep on listening, and I’m happy to have a few more songs to add into my Khalid playlist!

Are any of you guys Khalid fans? I’d love to know if you’ve listened to “Suncity” yet and what your favorite songs are. Happy listening!

Austin City Limits: The highlights.

Austin City Limits!

I went to Austin City Limits (ACL) – weekend two – over the weekend, and I still cannot stop thinking about how much fun I had!

Last year, my best friend Sheena came to Austin and we ventured to one day of the festival, both seeing it for the first time. We were there from open to close, and although it was fun, I wasn’t sure if I’d go back.

I’ve been to the Van’s Warped Tour a few times and also to Hangout Fest multiple times and both of those were much more organized and fun, I thought. But when I saw this year’s lineup for ACL – I knew I had to go, and I needed to be there all three days. I used the ACL Fest app to create a schedule and that helped me see all the bands on my list.

Friday

On Friday, I headed to the festival around 3:30, but after a debacle with my Uber driver, I didn’t get into the festival until 5:15 – Khalid was scheduled to start at 5:30, so I was BOOKING it to the Honda stage to see the start of the show.

I made it with time to spare, and he put on a great show. I saw Khalid earlier this year at Red Rocks, but I felt pretty distracted by the venue itself (and the crowd) that seeing him at ACL was a good idea. He played several of the songs from “American Teen”, and also sang “OTW”, “Love Lies”, and “Eastside”… and he also announced that his new EP would drop this Friday, October 19!

Khalid @ Austin City Limits.

Next up was Hozier, who I’ve never seen live, but have listened to plenty. I grabbed some dinner (the other great thing about ACL) and a seat far away so I could eat and listen. If you’re wondering, I got a lobster tostada and chips with green chile queso from Torchy’s – it was delicious!

Hozier also sounded fantastic live, and the place went nuts when they sang “Take Me to Church”. It was impressive.

Next, I knew I had to go to the Silent Disco – Sheena and I went last year and it was my favorite part. If you’ve never been to a Silent Disco before, you get a set of headphones upon entering. There are multiple DJs set up – in this case, three – and they are each playing on a different channel that you can tune into via the headphones.

I danced my legs off for about an hour before I treated myself to an organic strawberry lemonade, watched Paul McCartney perform a few songs, and made my way out of the festival.

Saturday

After getting there so late on Friday, I made an effort to leave a little earlier on Saturday. I got to the festival around 3:20, but it took a little more than an hour to get through the bag check line and scan my wristband.

I still had plenty of time to grab some food – a grilled cheese with fig jam from Burro – before seeing Marion Hill perform, which was a lot of fun.

Lil Wayne @ Austin City Limits.

Then, I headed to see Lil Wayne (the replacement for Childish Gambino) about an hour early – I wanted to get a good spot, which actually ended up being a giant mistake. I was in the middle, crammed in with so many sweaty people… but it was fun to see Lil Wayne (I saw him in New Orleans when he was touring songs from “The Carter III”).

He sang new songs, and took it all the way back to “Go DJ” – one of my favorites.

The headliner that night was Metallica, so I watched a few songs of their set – they sounded great – and there were tons of people there with Metallica shirts on. On my way out, I bought a Khalid shirt.

Sunday

Sunday was the biggest day on my schedule, and I’m not going to lie, I had the most fun. My allergies and a little bit of a cold were hold me down some on Friday and Saturday, but I woke up Sunday feeling much better and I was ready to roll!

I got to the festival around 2:30, in time to see Elle King and grab food (are you noticing a trend here?) – I got a vegan sandwich from Flyrite with tater tots and it was delish. Elle King was also refreshing and I made a mental note to buy some of her music.

Shawn Mendes @ Austin City Limits

Next up was Janelle Monae – I had her on my list as a “hope to see” her, but I ended up LOVING her performance and watched every minute of it! She sang all of her hit songs, complete with choreography and fun costumes. I was impressed. She ended her performance reminding everyone to vote, and said, “We’re about to change the mother fucking world!” Yes!!!!

And then it was the biggie: Shawn Mendes. He was the whole reason I bought a ticket for weekend two – and wow was that a great decision. I found a spot in the middle of the crowd, and he sounded fantastic! He sang some radio favorites, including “Stitches”, “Lost in Japan”, and “Treat You Better”, along with two cover songs. He even ran into the crowd (heavily surrounded by security, of course) and said he’s always wanted to play ACL. I loved it, and bought some of the songs I didn’t have once I got home.

Closing the night was Travis Scott, and he brought Shaq on stage – the crowd was excited and confused all at once. Many of his songs had gunshot sound effects, which was alarming, and I immediately left after hearing what I wanted to. I was surprised more people didn’t leave – I didn’t think artists were doing that anymore, and even though I am against editing expression, I didn’t feel comfortable hearing those sounds in a festival atmosphere. I don’t think I would have been able to tell if it was real or not.

The Silent Disco @ Austin City Limits.

All in all though, it was a fantastic weekend – so much fun and so much great food and music. It really reminded me why so many people flock from all over to attend their favorite festivals. We need events like these to feel free – free to have fun and express ourselves. It’s also a reminder of how great places can be – I felt really lucky to live Austin, a city that embraces creativity and progressive causes. I really needed those reminders, and I’ve been listening to music ever since I left Zilker Park. It truly was good for my soul.

My ‘ Catitude’ strikes again…

The Cheshire Cat from “Alice in Wonderland”!

A few months ago, I wrote about a situation at my job where a coworker called me out for having a bad attitude (you can read all about it here).

In a nutshell, I have often been called out for having a bad attitude, and as of January 2018, I decided it was really annoying and I should probably do something about it before I really started standing in my own way.

Since then, I’ve made an effort to smile when I’d rather have resting bitch face; made small talk when I’d rather listen to podcasts in the comfort of my office; and I’ve taken deep breaths instead of blurting out my initial reaction.

It sounds really small, but these are big changes in my world.

A few weeks ago, an opportunity was presented to me at work. It was an opportunity that would mean more responsibility, working with new people, being a part of strategic decisions, and making more money.

So, I threw my hat in the ring.

But I heard that not too many people were excited to see my name – how could she think she could manage people when she’s so rude?

I understood their thoughts, but I was crushed. Even after all the work – and effort – I’d been putting in, I was keeping myself from moving forward in my career.

Granted, these were opinions coming from people that have never worked with me, but still. I had an honest conversation with my boss and asked her if it was a lost cause.

And I wasn’t just talking about the recent opportunity; I was also talking about my job in general. If I’ve ruined my reputation so bad by just a few things (writing short emails, not saying thank you fast enough, etc.), then it was time for me to find a new job and start over.

She said it wasn’t a lost cause, but I still needed to do more self-reflection on my attitude.

So, I’m working on that, and I also volunteered to give extra training presentations (for which some people openly said they wouldn’t attend), I’ve sent cheery and informational emails, I’ve blindly agreed, and I’ve picked up extra tasks.

Most of these things have gone ignored; emails go unanswered, trainings will be unattended, and people will likely still think I’m rude.

Perhaps my attitude will always be my struggle.

And hey, if I never get a promotion, well, that’s another problem for another day. But in all honesty, it hurts my heart that people think I’m “fucking rude” (that’s the phrase that was said to me).

Yeah, I can be a smart ass. But fucking rude?

I certainly am not out to hurt people, and I’m always just trying to do my work as efficiently as possible, which I understand can come off as short. I also understand that perception is reality, and I have to be careful with how my coworkers perceive me.

But the people who’ve said these things about me work in another state – they didn’t see that I cooked and delivered dinner for my coworker and her family when they moved into a new home, when I helped someone in another department write a lengthy email because she couldn’t get her thoughts down, or anytime I make the morning coffee because our administrator is bogged down with phone duty.

I’m not asking to be praised for these team tasks – it’s what people do for each other, and I want people to see me as helpful, not hurtful.

I suppose time, and continuous effort, will tell.

I know that at most jobs, you can’t really be your full self – but I’ve never had to work somewhere where I have to watch every word, pay attention to my facial expressions, and my emails. Is this adulting?

Watching: ’13 Reasons Why’.

I just finished watching season one of “13 Reasons Why”.

Please note, the following content may contain emotional triggers.

Early last year, I read Jay Asher’s popular YA novel, “13 Reasons Why” – you can read my full review here – around the same time it debuted as a TV series on Netflix. I heard about how controversial it was, how difficult it was to watch.

But I read the book in just two days.

“13 Reasons Why” – the book and the series – is a story told from the perspective of Hannah, a high school student who killed herself. Before she ended her life, she recorded the 13 reasons why on a series of cassette tapes, and left instructions on how it should be delivered.

She intended for everyone who hurt her understand what they did and how it negatively affected her life. In the book and the series, we are “hearing” the tapes through Clay Jensen – a character that knew, liked, and worked with Hannah.

This is pretty much where the similarities between the book and the series stop. I completely understand that they had to adapt the story for TV, but it was really so, so different from the book.

No spoilers – but the book really doesn’t go into the details of Hannah’s parents or family life. It also doesn’t really get into the details of Hannah’s “friends” nor does it discuss their reaction to the tapes.

In the book, we simply get Clay’s reaction, and not much else (which makes for a perfectly complete story).

I’ll admit, the series was difficult to watch at times. The story is heartbreaking, and sadly, I know it’s not far from how many teenagers currently experience high school. I cannot explain how many times I’ve thanked the universe for not inventing smartphones and/or social media before I graduated from high school. I would have been miserable.

The one thing I disagreed with in the series is that… they don’t depict Hannah as having mental problems. I cannot sit here and say that everyone who commits suicide was mentally ill, but I also don’t think it’s something we can just say, well if we would have been nicer to that person, they would still be here today.

Again, maybe I’m wrong on this, but I would hate to think that people would watch the series and think a single date or encounter might end someone’s life.

The end of the series definitely left more to be desired, which doesn’t make sense for the book. But, there’s already a season two and I’ve got a few ideas what it will entail. However, I do think you have to be in the right head space to watch it. I binged it, and definitely needed to get outside and do something positive before going to bed.

Whether you watch the series or not, I know that no matter what – high school is tough. Teenagers go through a lot, especially today, and it’s not a bad lesson to learn that we should all treat each other a little better.

BBC: 2018 Halloween Reading Guide!

It’s October 1st, and what better way to celebrate the spookiest month of them all than with a list of books meant to scare the daylights out of you?! If you’ve been around these parts for awhile, you know that I don’t do too well with anything scary. What can I say? I’m a wimp!

stephanie

Guest Blogger, Mystery/Thriller Enthusiast Stephanie-Kaye Baker

So, I’ve enlisted a friend, who’s a fellow bookworm and she’s always reading something spooky… it’s Ms. Stephanie-Kaye Baker!

She told me she loves to read because it takes her mind someplace else for awhile. It also relaxes her – her exact quote was, “Let’s be honest, it keeps me sane so I don’t hit people. Ha!”

She also loves dogs and eating vegan food. Her favorite book is “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. Her favorite book series is Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.

Below is her extensive list of terrorizing titles for your pleasure, with book descriptions from Amazon.com:

‘Sharp Objects’ by Gillian Flynn

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

‘The Blinds’ by Adam Sternbergh

Imagine a place populated by criminals—people plucked from their lives, with their memories altered, who’ve been granted new identities and a second chance. Welcome to The Blinds, a dusty town in rural Texas populated by misfits who don’t know if they’ve perpetrated a crime or just witnessed one. What’s clear to them is that if they leave, they will end up dead.

For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace—but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt. Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her—and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down. The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway. It’s simmering with violence and deception, aching heartbreak and dark betrayals.

‘Final Girls’ by Riley Sager

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls: Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit; and Sam, the second Final Girl, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

‘Stranger in the House’ by Shan Lapena

Karen and Tom Krupp are happy—they’ve got a lovely home in upstate New York, they’re practically newlyweds, and they have no kids to interrupt their comfortable life together. But one day, Tom returns home to find Karen has vanished—her car’s gone and it seems she left in a rush. She even left her purse—complete with phone and ID—behind.

There’s a knock on the door—the police are there to take Tom to the hospital where his wife has been admitted. She had a car accident, and lost control as she sped through the worst part of town.

The accident has left Karen with a concussion and a few scrapes. Still, she’s mostly okay—except that she can’t remember what she was doing or where she was when she crashed. The cops think her memory loss is highly convenient, and they suspect she was up to no good.

Karen returns home with Tom, determined to heal and move on with her life. Then she realizes something’s been moved. Something’s not quite right. Someone’s been in her house. And the police won’t stop asking questions.

Because in this house, everyone’s a stranger. Everyone has something they’d rather keep hidden. Something they might even kill to keep quiet.

‘Woman in the Window’ by AJ Finn

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

‘It Ends with Her’ by Brianna Labuskes

FBI special agent Clarke Sinclair doesn’t give up easily. She’s spent years tracking serial killer Simon Cross, forced to follow his twisted clues and photographs across the country. Clarke knows that Cross selects only redheaded women and that he doesn’t target another victim until Clarke discovers the previous one.

He’s never broken pattern…until now.

A girl has already gone missing in upstate New York when a second one is kidnapped—a blonde. The killer’s MO has changed, sending Clarke back to the drawing board. The closer she gets to the truth, the deeper she’s drawn into an inescapable trap made just for Clarke. Whatever Cross’s ultimate game is, it ends with her.

‘It’ by Stephen King

Note from the author: Really, anything by Stephen King

Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.

‘Ink and Bone’ by Lisa Unger

Twenty-year-old Finley Montgomery is rarely alone. Visited by people whom others can’t see and haunted by prophetic dreams she has never been able to control or understand, Finley is terrified by the things that happen to her. When Finley’s abilities start to become too strong for her to handle–and even the roar of her motorcycle or another dazzling tattoo can’t drown out the voices–she turns to the only person she knows who can help her: her grandmother Eloise Montgomery, a renowned psychic living in The Hollows, New York.

Merri Gleason is a woman at the end of her tether after a ten-month-long search for her missing daughter, Abbey. With almost every hope exhausted, she resorts to hiring Jones Cooper, a detective who sometimes works with psychic Eloise Montgomery. Merri’s not a believer, but she’s just desperate enough to go down that road, praying that she’s not too late. Time, she knows, is running out.

As a harsh white winter moves into The Hollows, Finley and Eloise are drawn into the investigation, which proves to have much more at stake than even the fate of a missing girl. As Finley digs deeper into the town and its endless layers, she is forced to examine the past, even as she tries to look into the future. Only one thing is clear: The Hollows gets what it wants, no matter what.

‘The Haunting of Ashburn House’ by Darcy Coates

The ancient building has been the subject of rumours for close to a century. Its owner, Edith, refused to let guests inside and rarely visited the nearby town.

Following Edith’s death, her sole surviving relative, Adrienne, inherits the property. Adrienne’s only possessions are a suitcase of luggage, twenty dollars, and her pet cat. Ashburn House is a lifeline she can’t afford to refuse.

Adrienne doesn’t believe in ghosts, but it’s hard to ignore the unease that grows as she explores her new home. Strange messages have been etched into the wallpaper, an old grave is hidden in the forest behind the house, and eerie portraits in the upstairs hall seem to watch her every movement.

As she uncovers more of the house’s secrets, Adrienne begins to believe the whispered rumours about Ashburn may hold more truth than she ever suspected. The building has a bleak and grisly past, and as she chases the threads of a decades-old mystery, Adrienne realises she’s become the prey to something deeply unnatural and intensely resentful.

Only one thing is certain: Ashburn’s dead are not at rest.

‘Interview with the Vampire’ by Anne Rice

Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly erotic, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force—a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. It is a novel only Anne Rice could write.

‘Helter Skelter’ by Vincent Bugliosi

In the summer of 1969, in Los Angeles, a series of brutal, seemingly random murders captured headlines across America. A famous actress (and her unborn child), an heiress to a coffee fortune, a supermarket owner and his wife were among the seven victims. A thin trail of circumstances eventually tied the Tate-LeBianca murders to Charles Manson, a would-be pop singer of small talent living in the desert with his “family” of devoted young women and men. What was his hold over them? And what was the motivation behind such savagery? In the public imagination, over time, the case assumed the proportions of myth. The murders marked the end of the sixties and became an immediate symbol of the dark underside of that era.

Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, and this book is his enthralling account of how he built his case from what a defense attorney dismissed as only “two fingerprints and Vince Bugliosi.” The meticulous detective work with which the story begins, the prosecutor’s view of a complex murder trial, the reconstruction of the philosophy Manson inculcated in his fervent followers…these elements make for a true crime classic. Helter Skelter is not merely a spellbinding murder case and courtroom drama but also, in the words of The New Republic, a “social document of rare importance.”

‘Hallowe’en Party’ by Agatha Christie

At a Halloween party, Joyce—a hostile thirteen-year-old—boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub.
 
That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the `evil presence’. But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer…

‘Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder’ by Joanne Fluke

Author’s note: More funny than scary but there are murders. This entire series is hilarious!

No one cooks up a delectable, suspense-filled mystery quite like Hannah Swensen, Joanne Fluke’s dessert-baking, red-haired heroine whose gingersnaps are as tart as her comebacks, and whose penchant for solving crimes–one delicious clue at a time–has made her a bestselling favorite. And it all began on these pages, with a bakery, a murder, and some suddenly scandalous chocolate-chip crunchies. Featuring a bonus short story and brand new, mouthwatering recipes, this new edition of the very first Hannah Swensen mystery is sure to have readers coming back for seconds. . .

Hannah already has her hands full trying to dodge her mother’s attempts to marry her off while running The Cookie Jar, Lake Eden’s most popular bakery. But once Ron LaSalle, the beloved delivery man from the Cozy Cow Dairy, is found murdered behind her bakery with Hannah’s famous Chocolate Chip Crunchies scattered around him, her life just can’t get any worse. Determined not to let her cookies get a bad reputation, she sets out to track down a killer. But if she doesn’t watch her back, Hannah’s sweet life may get burned to a crisp.

‘Amityville Horror’ by Jay Anson

The classic and terrifying story of one of the most famous supernatural events–the infamous possessed house on Long Island from which the Lutz family fled in 1975.

‘The Exorcist’ by William Peter Biatty

Originally published in 1971, The Exorcist is now a major television series on FOX. It remains one of the most controversial novels ever written and went on to become a literary phenomenon: It spent fifty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, seventeen consecutively at number one. Inspired by a true story of a child’s demonic possession in the 1940s, William Peter Blatty created an iconic novel that focuses on Regan, the eleven-year-old daughter of a movie actress residing in Washington, D.C. A small group of overwhelmed yet determined individuals must rescue Regan from her unspeakable fate, and the drama that ensues is gripping and unfailingly terrifying.

Two years after its publication, The Exorcist was, of course, turned into a wildly popular motion picture, garnering ten Academy Award nominations. On opening day of the film, lines of the novel’s fans stretched around city blocks. In Chicago, frustrated moviegoers used a battering ram to gain entry through the double side doors of a theater. In Kansas City, police used tear gas to disperse an impatient crowd who tried to force their way into a cinema. The three major television networks carried footage of these events; CBS’s Walter Cronkite devoted almost ten minutes to the story. The Exorcist was, and is, more than just a novel and a film: it is a true landmark.

Purposefully raw and profane, The Exorcist still has the extraordinary ability to disturb readers and cause them to forget that it is “just a story.” Published here in this beautiful fortieth anniversary edition, it remains an unforgettable reading experience and will continue to shock and frighten a new generation of readers.

‘Cross her Heart’ by Sarah Pinborough

Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job and her best friend Marilyn.

But when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him, too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe she can trust again. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go.

But when her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see, Lisa’s world explodes.

As she finds everything she has built threatened, and not knowing who she can trust, it’s up to Lisa to face her past in order to save what she holds dear.

But someone has been pulling all their strings. And that someone is determined that both Lisa and Ava must suffer.

Because long ago Lisa broke a promise. And some promises aren’t meant to be broken.

‘The Chalk Man’ by CJ Tudor

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.
 
In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.
 
That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago. Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

‘Double Whammy’ by Gretchen Archer

Author’s note: Another funny book but has crime.
Davis Way thinks she’s hit the jackpot when she lands a job as the fifth wheel on an elite security team at the fabulous Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. But once there, she runs straight into her ex-ex husband, a rigged slot machine, her evil twin, and a trail of dead bodies. Davis learns the truth and it does not set her free—in fact, it lands her in the pokey. Buried under a mistaken identity, her hot streak runs cold until her landlord Bradley Cole steps in. Make that her landlord, lawyer, and love interest. With his help, Davis must win this high stakes game before her luck runs out.

‘All the Missing Girls’ by Megan Miranda

Like the spellbinding psychological suspense in The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive, Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.Like nothing you’ve ever read before, All the Missing Girls delivers in all the right ways. With twists and turns that lead down dark alleys and dead ends, you may think you’re walking a familiar path, but then Megan Miranda turns it all upside down and inside out and leaves us wondering just how far we would be willing to go to protect those we love.

‘Murder by the Slice’ by Mary Maxwell

Author’s note: Funny!
At this year’s school carnival fund-raiser, the obnoxious president of the Parent Teacher Organization is found stabbed through the heart with Phyllis Newsom’s own knife, with traces of incriminating frosting. Clearing her name will be no piece of cake…

‘Glazed Murder’ by Jessica Beck

Author’s note: The entire series is a fun read. There are murders and a donut maker helps solve them.
Meet Suzanne Hart, owner and operator of Donut Hearts coffee shop in April Springs, North Carolina. After her divorce from Max, an out-of-work actor she’s dubbed “The Great Impersonator,” Suzanne decided to pursue her one true passion in life: donuts. So she cashed in her settlement and opened up shop in the heart of her beloved hometown.

But when a dead body is dumped on her doorstep like a sack of flour, Suzanne’s cozy little shop becomes an all-out crime scene. Now, everyone in town is dropping by for glazed donuts and gruesome details. The retired sheriff warns her to be careful—and they’re all suspects. Soon Suzanne—who finds snooping as irresistible as donuts—is poking holes in everyone’s alibis…

***

There it is – 21 books to get you in the Halloween spirit! Which ones sound good to you? Are there books you’d recommend that aren’t on this list? I think I might pick up a few of the lighter ones… but I also have a copy of “The Final Girls” on my shelf waiting to be read. Happy reading, y’all!

‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ Tour!

Tour image from Red Rocks.

In May, I took a Bucket List trip to Denver, Colorado to see Khalid in concert at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre. While I was waiting for the show to start, I saw the image above flash on a screen promoting a concert in September.

“The Miseducation of Lauren Hill 20th Anniversary Tour”, the screen said. What???

Ms. Lauryn Hill, and specifically “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, changed my life. In a previous blog post, I named it one of three most-influential albums of my life thus far:

The Fugees’ album “The Score” was one of my first tastes of hip-hop. I loved it, so when Lauryn Hill debuted her solo album, I was all over it. And wow. I would venture to say this album has had the most impact on me, musically, in my life thus far.

This was a popular one, selling 1 million copies in its first month (8 million copies in 4 years), and it remained in the top charts for 81 weeks. At the time, Lauren Hill was an icon, and her album was everywhere – even later being placed on several “Best Album Ever” lists.

But in 2000, Hill basically disappeared from the public eye, and stayed hidden for nearly four years. To this day, anytime I see her on TV, I’m shocked. I know that a lot of artists describe an album release as having a child, and she also had a REAL child, after her album release… and I think that album was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Regardless, I respect her tremendously, and frankly, I don’t know where I’d be without “Ex-Factor”.

I LOVED “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” – despite the fact that I was in 8th grade and she was singing about things I knew nothing about at the time: abusive relationships, abortion, paving the way, and maintaining your values as a woman when society pressures us otherwise.

And yes, Ms. Hill did disappear from the public eye. I didn’t know it then, but even though her album received loads of accolades and awards (including Grammy’s, Billboards, MTV, and Vh1, among others) – it was the first hip-hop album ever to win Record of the Year at the Grammy’s, but it also received harsh criticism – people saying she didn’t even write the lyrics.

These musicians sued Ms. Hill and she settled for $5 million. Rumors swirled that she was racist, and that she’d lost control, mentally. In the few interviews she did, she said she felt trapped by fame, not being able to go public places. Her level of success was rare in those years.

…Which is why I was so shocked when I saw the screen saying she was back on tour. I knew I had to go because she may never tour again. So I looked to see where she was stopping on the tour, and Sugar Land was the closet option. Done and done!

After I bought my ticket, I dug through my remaining collection of CDs – those so meaningful I couldn’t get rid of them. I still have my original disc of “Miseducation”, but when I tried to play it in my car, most of the songs skipped. So, I got a new, digital copy, that I’ve been listening to. I still love all of the same songs I did 20 years ago, and listening to “Zion” gives me chills.

A month or so ago, Ms. Hill was in the news – a jazz musician went on a popular radio show and told the host (on air) that she didn’t write the lyrics to her album, that she only played different arrangements of those songs because she didn’t have the rights to the original versions, and he also noted a time when he auditioned for her and she demanded he refer to as Ms. Hill, among many other allegations.

Ms. Hill responded to him publicly, in an essay that addressed many of the rumors that have swirled around her for years – you can read it here.

I do not hate white people. I do, however, despise a system of entitlement and oppression set up to exploit people who are different. I do loathe the promotion and preservation of said system at the expense of other people, and the racist and entitled attitudes it gives rise to. The lengthy history of unfairness and brutality towards people of color, especially Black people, has not been fully acknowledged or corrected. The expectation is for us to live with abuse, distortion, and deliberate policies, meant to outright control and contain us — like we’re not aware of our basic right to freedom. I resist and reject THESE ideas completely. Like many Black people, I work to reconcile my own generational PTSD. I do my best to Love, pursue freedom in body, Spirit and mind… and to confront.

Throughout the essay, Ms. Hill reminded readers that she is a mother of six, she paved the way for women in hip-hop and R&B (many artists, male and female, list her as one of their top inspirations), and of her groundbreaking past with The Fugees.

While I felt that she didn’t owe this explanation to anyone, it made me love and respect her so much more. This is a woman that was, and still is, before our time. I’m grateful that her art set the stage for me – for the music I listened to and to help me understand some of the things I’ve faced in my life.

So, tonight is the concert, and well, I don’t really know when the last time was that I was THIS excited. I have no idea what to expect (I’ve never seen her live before), what the crowd will be like, heck, I don’t even know what I’m going to wear yet. But I’m looking forward to living in her world for a little bit.

It’s funny how money change a situation
Miscommunication leads to complication
My emancipation don’t fit your equation
I was on the humble, you on every station
Some wan’ play young lauryn like she dumb
But remember not a game new under the sun
Everything you did has already been done
I know all the tricks from bricks to kingston
My ting done made your kingdom wan’ run
Now understand “l-boogie’s” non-violent
But if a thing test me, run for mi gun
Can’t take a threat to mi new born son
L’s been this way since creation
A groupie call, you fall from temptation
Now you want to ball over separation
Tarnish my image in your conversation
Who you gon’ scrimmage, like you the champion?
You might win some but you just lost one
– Ms. Lauryn Hill, “Lost One”