Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

I know this holiday’s origins are controversial *cue Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills”* but I hope you all have a wonderful holiday spending time with your loved ones!

If, like me, you’re preparing for finals, take a break today & try to de-stress – I’m sure you deserve it!

Enjoy your day, eat lots of delicious food, & leave me a comment letting me know how you celebrated!

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Arizona Adventures!

Hey everyone!
Today’s post is at least 3 months overdue – sorry! I’ve been having some technical issues with iMovie that’s causing delays on my Vlogs so stay posted as there’s a lot to come!

This vlog is a little disjointed as you’re seeing what was meant to be part of an ongoing series about shenanigans to get into in Arizona because I was living there & attempting to get into shenanigans – followed immediately by footage of me moving back home.
If you’re confused about when I lived in Arizona, don’t worry – you’re not alone! I was going to film a big announcement & create several videos discussing the move, however, circumstances changed quickly & creating an ongoing series seemed pointless.
Long story short, I moved to Arizona in December 2015 for a new job in an attempt to expand my Resume, broaden my horizons by living in a new state, & live closer to several friends/family members, including my godchildren. Unfortunately, my grandma was diagnosed with cancer very shortly after that & I moved back to NorCal in July 2016 to help my family & spend time with her.

Please enjoy this small snippet of my time in Arizona featuring Danny from Savage Squad, click here to see their channel! Please FOLLOW MissAl-Leigh.com to stay updated with future shenanigans, SUBSCRIBE to the YouTube channel for more vlogs, SHARE, LIKE, & COMMMENT! Thank you 🙂

Beauty Deals 2.0

Sunday Book Club! Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Initial Thoughts:
I was a bit hesitant to review this particular book once I saw the date it would be posted, the 15 year anniversary of 9/11. ELIC centers around the aftermath of 9/11 from the fictional perspective of 9 year old Oskar Schell, who lost his father in the WTC attack. I didn’t want this post to come off as attention seeking, I didn’t intentionally choose to review a book about 9/11 on 9/11, but I think there’s something a bit…poetic, in that it just happened to occur this way. One of the themes of this book & a message I’ve been seeing passed around a lot today, is that life must go on. We must continue to find joy, entertainment, & happiness, despite the horrific tragedy of 9/11. With that, I proudly present my review on this amazingly well written & thought provoking story in the hopes that literature like this continues to be created so that we truly never forget this day.

Plot:
Oskar Schell is not your average 9 year old. He doesn’t have much time for kids his own age, preferring to learn French or take photographs on his grandfather’s old camera. Many of these photographs can be seen throughout the book, almost like illustrations, an interesting addition in a Fiction novel. Oskar carries many heavy emotions as he struggles to cope with his father’s death in the World Trade Center on 9/11. One day while looking through his father’s things he finds a key in an envelope labeled “Black” & thus begins a quest to figure out his father’s final mystery. Along the way Oskar connects with many people struggling with the aftermath of  9/11 or their own personal tragedies, learns a lot about his family, & life in general. There is another plot line & narrator, but it’s hard to say too much without spoiling the twist. The other storyline centers around WWII Germany & not only explains some character’s backstories but shows a time where people experienced similar tragedy & terror like 9/11 & how history repeats itself. The use of this other storyline speaks to what I was saying above, the world will always know chaos. It’s up to the survivors to take that tragedy & create something beautiful from it that will make the world a better place.

Characters:
Oskar Schell – I’m always anxious to read novels where the main character is a child because, to be frank, I don’t really enjoy children. However, I felt a kinship with Oskar in that, we both didn’t really connect with kids our own age, preferring relationships with our family or other adult mentors. Oskar is written in a clever but often naive way. There are a few plot lines, such as his mother’s “love life” after his father’s passing, where Oskar definitely shows a more standard child like attitude. However, at the end of the novel, the reader sees how Oskar has grown & his eyes are opened to another perspective he didn’t see clearly before. Again, not your typical child character, which I appreciated & was able to connect with.

Overall/Rating: B+
Without giving too much away, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Oskar’s journey to find something about his dad really led him on a journey to find himself & some peace, which is ultimately more important. However, as a person who lost their dad at a young age too, I understand Oskar’s frustration at that abstract concept. I can sympathize because I too wondered for many years, why was there not one last “I love you”, “goodbye”, or bit of grown up advice? The truth of that unfortunately, is that there is always one last something, we just never know it’s the last until it’s too late. I highly recommend this story, especially if you’ve ever struggled with grief or loss of any kind. ELIC made me laugh, cry, think – it made me feel! Obviously I wasn’t in NY on 9/11, but from my point of view this novel has its heart in the right place. I honestly believe Foer didn’t write this story for attention or to make money on a hot button topic. This is not a political story, the focus is on the people that lived & died on that day & how the survivors still struggled. It’s a noble effort to take an event that hit so close to home & explore it with a child-like sense of curiosity & naiveté & create something that can speak to a variety of people.

Have you read or heard of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”? What about the film? I’m interested to watch the film based on the book & see how it compares. Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club is September 25th & the book is “Damned” by Chuck Palahniuk.

Music Monday! Warped Tour + Vacation Vlog

Hey everyone!
Today’s Music Monday is a little different because it’s not JUST focused on music. This week’s MM will include some clips from my very first Warped Tour (!!!! Read below for a quick recap) but also has some footage from a mini vacation I took with my family! Again, this video features Danny from Savage Squad – if you like drinking & shenanigans, please go check out his channel – here.
It would mean a lot to me if y’all showed your support by SUBSCRIBING to my YouTube channel & this blog – thank you so much!

A few thoughts on Warped Tour…
For those that don’t know, Warped Tour is a huge multi artist concert for the pop/punk genre. It’s like Stagecoach, Coachella, etc. For the last 10 years I’ve wanted to go but never have. As a teen I never went even though some of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE bands were going to be performing because it was “expensive” & I was insecure about fitting in with the crowd. I’ve talked about this anxiety in previous Music Monday posts.
Now that I’m older I care way less what other people think so I decided this was the year I went! My decision was also motivated by the fact that one of my favorite bands, Yellowcard, would be performing & they recently announced the band is retiring. I, of course, am devastated, so I needed to make an effort to see them ASAP.
I went into this experience essentially blind. I knew there would be a ton of “kids”, the food/drinks would be expensive, there would be drugs, & it would be blazing hot. All of that turned out to be true, the biggest surprise for me was the set times. I didn’t realize each band only got 30 minutes. Upon further reflection, of course this makes sense because how else would they get all those bands to play in one day? While there were other bands I was excited about, Reel Big Fish, New Found Glory, Sum 41, etc, I was really there for Yellowcard. They were amazing, as they always are live, & I’m really glad I got the chance to experience their last show at Warped Tour.
Bottom line, would I ever go to another Warped Tour? Probably not unless it was a similiar situation & one of my all time favorite bands was playing. 30 minute set times isn’t really enough for me to want to deal with all those sweaty drugged out kids & get a sunburn. Haha, I guess I’m officially old.

I hope you liked this vlog! Please keep sharing my posts & vlogs with your friends! Until next time… 🙂

Sunday Book Club! The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, & One Man’s Quest to be a Better Husband

Hello again!
Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “The Journal of Best Practices…” by David Finch.
Disclaimer: In no way do I intend to offend anyone with my Review. I have very limited knowledge of Asperger Syndrome or the mental health community as a whole, so please take my personal spin on this with a grain of salt, or feel free to educate me/start a conversation in the Comments below.

Initial Thoughts:
Many years ago I dated someone whose brother had AS & I was somewhat convinced my ex did too to some degree. As I’ve stated many times before, my To Read List is THAT old! I came across this book because I was researching AS, desperate to find an explanation for my ex’s awkward/bad behaviors. I realize now how sick it was to wish that he had AS, but I wanted an explanation that would be “fixable” & I felt like there might be a connection because of the family history & the many similar symptoms/traits the brothers shared. What gave one the diagnosis of AS & what made the other “just acting like a guy”?  Obviously that relationship ended long ago but this book has stayed on my To Read List mainly to educate myself somewhat on AS & out of curiosity to see what I’ll take away from it at this point. Keep reading to find out what that is…

Plot:
“The Journal of Best Practices…” is the Memoir of David Finch, a regular guy with a regular life that seems to be going downhill at a rapid pace – until he’s diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. While it seems odd that a diagnosis such as this would be a change for the better, Finch & his wife Kristen are thrilled at this discovery because it explains so much of Finch’s behaviors. He’s not an insensitive jerk, his brain just doesn’t process life the same way. With Kristen’s help, Finch sets out to identify his most destructive behaviors & try his best to change them. The Journal of Best Practices is a reference to Finch’s numerous notes, reflections, & realizations that he comes upon during this journey. “TJoBP” tells the story of a couple fighting to make their love work despite great odds.

Characters:
David Finch – I have mixed feelings about Finch. On one hand, I found him to be relatable yet a refreshing depiction of a married man. He loves being married to Kristen & sees the value in their friendship. Once diagnosed he goes out of his way to better their relationship, including reading Cosmopolitan in an effort to find ways to connect with her. I think it’s noble he made the effort to admit changes needed to be made, & then he tried to his best to make them, even at the sake of his masculinity. There are several instances where Finch could continue to let AS get the better of him, but he remembers his marriage is at stake & even though he’s uncomfortable, he fights it. I can somewhat relate to this because my aforementioned ex had PTSD & would pick & choose when it bothered him. For example, we couldn’t go to Disneyland because there were too many people & he would be uncomfortable. However, he was able to go to Galaxy games with his friends in a huge stadium full of people. I tried to be sympathetic/understanding, but eventually it became obvious my kindness was being taken advantage of, so I appreciate people that don’t use their mental health as an excuse to get out of things they don’t want to do. On the other hand, it’s hard to look past Finch’s egocentricity, although that’s part of AS. It’s kind of sad that he didn’t feel a need to change his behaviors until he was diagnosed. I understand because of AS he was quick to shift all the blame to Kristen, but at the same time, it’s a little hard to swallow that he felt NO responsibility for his own happiness.

Quotes:
– Pg 1: I quickly found myself enjoying Finch’s style of writing. It has a real stream of consciousness style that is relatable & comical.
– Pg 94: “Transformation is always an option”

Overall:
“TJoBP” reminded me of “The Vow” by Kim & Krickitt Carpenter. Both are told from the husband’s point of view & tell the story of a young couple fighting for love against neurological medical odds. “The Vow” was a whirlwind romance that seemed hard to believe, but I think readers will find “TJoBP” much more relatable. There’s always that moment when you realize your partner is NOT the person you fell in love with & you have to figure out what that means for the future. To the best of my ability, I understand why the diagnosis was a welcome relief to the Finch family. I was looking for that relief in regards to my ex, as mentioned earlier, because if something’s wrong, there’s an excuse! They aren’t acting this way on purpose, it’s their brain! It’s something that can be fixed with medication or therapy, they’re not an inherently bad person. Finch unknowingly let AS get the best of him & was willing & able to take steps to create a better life. Not everyone with AS is willing & able to do that, so it’s important to note that every diagnosis is different & the severity of each case ranges. Also – note to self – it’s best not to go looking for a diagnosis where none is needed. Sometimes people just change, or rather, reveal their true colors & while it’s difficult to come to terms with, deep down, we know what’s right. On another note, your interpretation/enjoyment of this story will definitely depend on your connection/feelings about Mental Health/”Invisible Illness” issues.

Rating: C+
While I found Finch’s writing clever, I think I’m growing tired of Memoirs. It got a little stale in the middle. I put the book down & almost didn’t care to pick it back up. After the diagnosis, there are some funny, poignant moments but otherwise it’s just the day to day story of this man’s life. While his journey is certainly admirable, is it entertaining? After a few chapters of “Here’s something I’m not good at, Kristen helps me, I struggle, I’m better at this thing”, I was thinking, “OH MY GOOOOSH WE GET IT!!!”

Do you have any experience with AS or other Mental Health issues? If you’ve read this book, would you recommend it? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club is June 12th; “Pictures of You” by Caroline Leavitt.

You Should Be Here

If you’ve been keeping track of the Sunday Book Club schedule – wait, what, you’re not!?
It’s easy! Click the FOLLOW button & get emails when I add new posts. Specifically for Sunday Book Club, at the end of the post I will list what book will be reviewed next & when the post will be published.
If you Follow along, you’ll know today was supposed to be the review for “The Little Giant of Aberdeen County” by Tiffany Baker. However, April 3rd is a sad yet important day in my family, & I felt like a Book Review wouldn’t be appropriate, so I moved it to April 17th.
I generally try to keep this blog as professional as possible, but in the spirit of revamping the blog & writing about some new things, I’ve decided to do a little free write on this super personal topic. This isn’t meant to be particularly enlightened or touching, I’m just sharing my thoughts & below is a video with some fun pictures of my family.

April 3rd, 1998 is the day my dad passed away. April 5th is my Grandpa’s birthday, but he passed away April 13th, 2012. Before that, my Yaya (Greek for Grandma) passed away in 2010. I’m not telling you this to make you sad or pity me. These are just the cold hard facts. That’s one of the shitty thing about death. It’s cold & hard & the people it took away from me were anything but – well, in my mind at least.

I was 7 when my dad passed away from cancer. Most of what I know about him are hand me down stories from my family, which I’m blessed to have because there are some people that know nothing about their parents. I’ve been told I’m a LOT like him, which always amuses people & me, to a certain extent, because obviously we didn’t have a lot of time together. It’s not that I’m unhappy to be like my dad, I just wish I understood him a little better. It’s hard to hear stories about someone & never really hear their side of things. Have you heard about Fathers that participate in fake weddings for their young daughters because they know they’re dying & won’t be there for the real thing? Honestly, I find it to be a bit creepy, but I understand the intent. The family is prepping for a huge moment that Dad should be there for. I’ve heard other stories of people recording videos or writing letters to inspire those they leave behind – my dad didn’t do any of that for me. For several years after his passing I searched our house hoping that tucked away in a drawer or hidden in a book, there was something for me – something to explain life from his point of view or offer some kind of grown up advice, but I never found anything.

I eventually made my peace with not finding any sort of wisdom left behind from my dad because I still had my grandparents. Sure, my birthdays had an empty chair that my dad should be at, but after awhile it just became a fact of life that I learned to deal with. Of course there were awkward moments at dance recitals when other girls would ask where my dad was, but most of the time I would have the biggest group of supporters at any event because my whole family would show up. I’ve never considered until this moment if they all came to genuinely show support or if my grandparents coerced them into coming in some way to help ease the sting I may have felt from knowing my dad should be there. Yeah, my dad won’t be there to walk me down the aisle someday, but Grandpa will fulfill that duty, is how I rationalized things to myself. Then my grandparents passed away.

It didn’t happen like “The Notebook”, a couple passing away in each other’s arms at the same moment, but they passed close enough to each other that it made my head spin & my whole life was completely different in what felt like the blink of an eye. How did this happen!? I had planned my whole future around the fact that they were going to be there for all those important moments in my adult life. We would all share a cry that my dad couldn’t be there in person to see the person I’d grown up to be & then we’d hug & laugh because we’re crying at an important event, but that’s just what our family does. Now, there’s 3 empty chairs at my birthday parties, 3 empty chairs at my college graduation, & no one to walk me down the aisle at my future wedding, although I know my mom is vying for the job…but maybe I should find a boyfriend first, haha!

In the relatively short time it’s been since my grandparents have passed away, so much has changed. The more life changes, the more complicated things become, especially in regards to my move to Arizona, the more I find myself saying, “You should be here” about my three guardian angels. The song featured in the video below, “You Should Be Here” by Cole Swindell brings me to tears almost each & every time I hear it because it so perfectly hits the nail on the head of how I’ve been feeling lately. I know my family is watching over me & I’m so thankful to have known them & learned from them while I was able to. All I can do at this point is move forward with the lessons they taught me & try my best to do them proud! I hope you enjoy the video below, these are some of my favorite pictures of my dad & grandparents. I tried to get pictures of JUST us to follow the theme of the post but Mom snuck in there a few times, don’t worry, she’s doing just fine!

To sum them up…
– Dad is the epitome of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. He taught me that it’s never to late to make a change & start living a life you’re proud of.
– Yaya taught me to do all things with love. She was an extremely passionate woman that lived every day to the fullest. She loved her friends, her family, & her life. As a grown up, I now see a little deeper under her surface, but if I could ever muster even one ounce of the vim & vigor she had for life & making the best of things, it would be a miracle, haha!
– Grandpa taught me to always eat the JELLO. When I was 5, Yaya was teaching me how to make JELLO. Unfortunately I didn’t realize you had to stir the bottom of the bowl to mix all the ingredients so the JELLO set with crusty pieces of mix stuck to the bottom. We all dug in eagerly & immediately dropped our spoons when it began to scratch our throats. I was disappointed in myself, but Grandpa kept eating away happily telling me he preferred JELLO with a texture like that. No joke, FOR YEARS!!!! I believed him. I would say it’s only been since he’s passed away & I’ve reminisced on that story as an adult that I realized, holy crap, he pretended to like it so I didn’t feel bad. So now I know, & honestly this is something I still struggle with, but I try to acknowledge the effort & intention that goes into something rather than the end result.

Nothing told here today is meant to discredit any of the other wonderful family & friends that helped raise me & have supported me throughout my life. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me thus far & look forward to seeing you at my future wedding/baby shower/Grad School Graduation – whatever comes my way! This post was just meant to address some thoughts I’ve currently been struggling with during my time in Arizona & the fact that today is the anniversary of my dad’s passing, with other anniversaries coming up quickly. Death is so different for everyone & there are a million other things I could say about it, but that’s all for now. If you have anything you’d like to add or you enjoyed this post in particular & would like to see more like this, please let me know in the comments below!

Remember, regularly scheduled Book Reviews will resume on Sunday, April 17th! I’m hoping to have another Try This! posted on Thursday – but you’ll have to stay tuned. Please click the FOLLOW button to become an email subscriber & be notified instantly when new Posts go up! Thanks for reading 🙂

Book Review! Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

Hi everyone!
Today I will be doing a review of “Big Fish” by Daniel Wallace. I had a lot to say about this book, read on for my thoughts on the book plot versus the film plot, some character break downs, & great quotes! Also, please FOLLOW me to stay updated with all the book reviews & articles I post here, thank you!

Initial Thoughts:
I feel like I’ve mentioned before that “Big Fish” is one of my favorite movies. I was disappointed that the “Big Fish” musical totally flopped (fish pun intended), so I was excited to read the original source material & see what they were working with that succeed in film, but not on the stage.

Plot:
“Big Fish” is the story of a man named Will Bloom & his relationship with his father Edward. Will grew up hearing all sorts of wild tales from his father. As a child, he loved the stories, but as he grew up he realized the stories were heavily exaggerated & felt that his father lied to him. This created a disconnect between the two until Edward falls ill. Will asks his father to tell him about his real life, not the make believe stories from his childhood, so that he can finally learn who his father is, before it’s too late.
The chapters are written somewhat like short stories, they don’t really flow. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recognize sections that were plucked from the book. Some scenes play a bigger part in the book & some play a bigger part in the movie. If you are a fan of the film, I’m not sure you will like the book. The way some of the stories were originally written create a whole different tone than is showcased in the film. Of course, this is a typical occurrence when books are turned into films. On the bright side & another note completely, I was happy to see that the characters kept the same names throughout the book & the film. It’s a small nuance that paid homage to the book & I appreciated it.

Characters:
– Will, the son, is a complicated character. It’s not revealed how old he is at first, so there’s no context for you to judge his maturity level. On one hand, I think Will is kind of brat because I found Edward’s stories somewhat adorable. They’re the kind of tales grandparents tell about situations like walking to school – uphill both ways – in snow – even though they lived in Florida. The stories mean more than what they’re really saying, you have to read into them & find the wisdom. On the other hand, I can understand how Will felt lied to. It must be frustrating to never get a straight answer out of someone you’re looking to for guidance, but…suck it up. He could have had a much worse father figure. We all think the grass is greener somewhere else though, & Will is no different. I felt that he was extremely passive & didn’t really seem to care wether he figured out his father & patched things up or not.
– Edward is also complicated. When he passes through Ashland & the townspeople warn him not to test the guard dog, he eventually races by. He is able to leave the town while many others can’t & has a friendly interaction with the dog, which shows his personality as strong & a bit stubborn, but ultimately a fighter & someone who won’t listen to nay-sayers because he believes in himself. In the film, Edward leaving the town later inspires another character to leave as well, showing that Edward was an influential person, he was a big fish all along. A lot of Edward’s movements throughout the story stem from his dissatisfaction with life, he’s always looking for the next best thing, ignoring what’s right under his nose – his family.

Quotes:
– Pg 20: “Remembering a man’s stories makes him immortal”
Definitely one of the main points of this story.
– Pg 21 & 22: Edward: ‘I’ll tell you what the problem was…I wanted to be a great man…”
Will: “…if a man could be said to be loved by his son, then I think that man could be considered great’ For that is the only power I have, to bestow upon my father the mantle of greatness, a thing he sought in the wider world, but one that, in a surprise turn of events, was here at home all along.”
Edward: “Ah…[n]ever thought about it in those terms…”
Sometimes we get so caught up in our own desires, we forget what others need & want from us. Edward wanted to leave behind a great life for Will to remember him by, instead of spending time creating a great life WITH Will. In the end, a life of shared memories mattered a great deal more to Will & he had to make his peace with not having them, or at least not having them the way he wanted.
– Pg 139: “We all have stories, just as you do. Ways in which [Edward] touched us, helped us…lots of stories, big & small. They all add up. Over a lifetime it all adds up…We’re a part of him, of who he is, just as he is a part of us.”
This is what life is all about. Everyone we meet makes us who we are & in turn we’re part of their story too. We live on through stories. We don’t always know why things happen until we look back and see how everything adds up over our lifetime.

Overall:
If you haven’t seen the film, you might enjoy this book as somewhat of a memoir of a father & son trying to patch up their relationship. After all, Wallace did write the story based on his relationship with his father. However, I think it just falls flat. The message of the story focuses on the idea that we all want to be special & mean something to others, especially within the parent – child relationship. The fatal flaw in that thinking though is that most kids just want honesty & at a certain point, to be treated like adults. Instead of being honest, Edward wanted Will to see him a certain way & ended up creating a negative relationship between them. I don’t feel like they were really ever to solve their issues, but I suppose that’s up to the interpretation of each reader.

Rating: C
I hate to keep comparing the book to the film, but the film is so much better! It’s filled with life & is so imaginative. The movie really makes Edward a hero & Will a sympathetic character, while I found them barely likable in the book. Another issue with the book was that there was really no use for the female characters. The film makes MUCH better use of all the characters & the romance within the story. I also appreciate how the film comes full circle & shows a bit of what happens to Will. The book sucks all the imagination out of the story told in the film. Where the film is magical, the book is real life. That isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just not my cup of tea, especially when I went in expecting the lush imagery & captivating story that is featured in the film. Despite my criticisms, I definitely connect with this story, to a certain extent, because part of my family is Greek & we’re big story tellers. I really believe in the message of “Big Fish”, that stories keep our memories, and those we love, alive. I really wanted to like this book, but unfortunately it just couldn’t live up to the film version that I know and love. If you at all have an interest in the film “Big Fish”, read this book if you want to learn about the source material, but don’t expect it to be like the film. If you’re not already familiar with the story in some capacity & are going into this as “just another book”, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Have you read “Big Fish” or seen the film? Which do you prefer? Do you agree with me or am I missing something? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!