Top 5 Books I Read in 2015

I am currently celebrating the fact that I hit my 25 books in 2015 goal via Goodreads! This could not have been done without the completion of my Masters degree, the joyous book club I joined (here’s to you Changing Hands Bookstore/First Draft Book Bar), and the copious amount of free time I have had in the past few months.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 4.33.51 PM
I originally planned to rank all 25 books in order from best to worse, but that would take way too much time (and reading on your part) so I chose to only review 5 of the best books I enjoyed this year.
5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 5.08.51 PM
This was a book I had heard good things about in the new year and was excite to read. I wasn’t disappointed at all. It kept me on my seat throughout its entirety and also left me with so much thought after it was done. I didn’t think I would be a fan of the thriller type books that have been out recently, but after this and Gone Girl, I definitely get the trend.

 
4. Did you Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 5.08.19 PM
Just tragic. Those were the words I repeated so many times as I read this book. That feeling of closure, and the fear of never getting it, allows so much feeling that we all as humans can connect to. I loved hearing from other perspectives surrounding this one small town, and left the book wanting to make sure everyone was just okay, because I knew that would be all they would ask for.

 
3. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 5.07.45 PM
I had been waiting for the perfect time to read this book, and finally found my opportunity as I boarded the plane back home to Kansas City for Thanksgiving. I am not much of a flyer, so I knew I needed a book that would distract me 100 percent and allow me to laugh as I flew through bumpy skies. Bossypants was the perfect antidote. Tina had me laughing out loud throughout my entire flight home and back to Arizona. Not only was this book hilarious, it touched on things I often think about with being a woman seeking success and the possibility of having a family, and my creative spirit…all of those things and more including childhood stories and growing up made me love this read.

 
2. Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey by Maya Angelou

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 5.07.10 PM
I should have known Maya Angelou would come right at the last minute and steal my heart. This was my last book of the year, and I’m so happy it was. As a twenty-something trying to figure out who I am, I could strongly relate to this book. I have been in need of a prose from an African American woman, and I sought out Maya for that solace. Quickest read I have ever done, but was filled with so much impactful content.

 
1. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 5.06.18 PM
This book. I was nervous yet excited to read this as I had heard rumors about the plot and how it differs from To Kill a MockingBird, but what I did not expect is what made me love this book so much. Its timeliness of its publication was eerily perfect, and so needed in a time where we think racism is over and we don’t have to talk about it anymore…No, we really do need to. Harper Lee wrote this before To Kill a Mockinbird and I bet her editor said, “people are not ready for this yet”. Sad to say, I don’t know if people today are still ready for it, but I strongly encourage everyone to read this! Even though it was not edited as thoroughly as most books are, the message packed a great punch, and I loved hearing Scouts voice as a twenty-something trying to figure out her life. This book couldn’t have spoken to me more at the exact right time it needed to.

 
Honorable mentions: (in no particular order)
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Elegance of a Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for reading!

V

Advertisements

My Letter to Fear

I love when I hear something inspiring that makes me think or reflect on my own experiences. I was fortunate enough to have some inspiration this past Sunday, when I heard Elizabeth Gilbert speak about her new book, Big Magic (P.s. Buy it! – locally please!). Her new book is about living a creative life, and the purpose of fear. She said that fear should not be completely gone from your life, and that fear and creativity actually depend on each other. She told us fear is more than welcome to join her throughout her journey with creativity, but in no way is fear allowed to make any decisions or have a voice. I absolutely loved this. Elizabeth wrote a letter to fear telling it just that: that it had no voice in her life, but its presence is more than welcome.

This inspired me to write my own letter to fear. My personal acceptance of its purpose and putting it in its place. Fear and I have come through hell and high water. Sometimes I could win, and tell fear to shove it, but more often than anything, fear found a way to make me feel vulnerable and afraid of an outcome I wasn’t sure of. When I first started writing this letter, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Little Rascals and the lovely note that was sent to Darla (for reference, please see video). I wanted to so badly to grill at my fear and tell it to stay out of my business and that it truly did make me want to vomit. In my head there was so much I wanted to yell at fear for. For all the times it held me back to living a my creative life, but I decided to take a step back and be really honest with my fear. To let it know that I did appreciate it for being there, because like Elizabeth Gilbert had mentioned during her talk, “If you live without fear, you would pretty much be a sociopath” (not exactly the direct quote, but close enough). So I decided to take a crack at writing to my fear as truthfully as I could, and I decided to share it with you all.

Dear Fear,

How’s life treating you inside my head? You have been putting in a lot of extra hours lately, and for that, I respect your want to work over time, but it doesn’t mean you will be compensated for it. I wanted you to know that I am no longer trying to quit you. That I am okay that you are up there in my head, giving me all the ways things can go wrong with what I want to do. What I am thankful for is that you have no place in my heart. My heart belongs to me and my creativity. You know creativity, right? I’m sure you have met before. Its the one that you push off the swings every now and then because you aren’t the biggest fan of sharing my mind. Well, creativity and I have had enough of your bullying. Creativity and I have the reins in this here body of mine, and I would like for it to stay that way. I know that you are here for a reason, and that sometimes I will hear your voice and start to feel my palms sweat and my anxiety kick in, but instead of listening and following your voice, I’m going to turn to my heart and let creativity be my guide.

Forever and always, but never in charge you will forever be.

All my love,

Virginia

#vegasbuffettrail2015: Checking off my Bucket List

Vegas. Sin city, or what I would like to call “sinful eating”. Since I live a 4 hour drive away from Las Vegas, I have a hunch that I will be in this city more than I ever expected, so with this, I have created a new item on my bucket list: To eat at every buffet on the Las Vegas Strip.

Last week, I had the opportunity to get in as many buffets as I could within four days, and with already having one on my list from my first Vegas visit (thank you, The Wynn Hotel), I was feeling pretty confident that I would make a dent on The Strip. Well, needless to say I tried, and failed miserably, to eat buffets during both lunch and dinner, and decided on day one to settle for buffets being dinner only.

Through Vegas streets and frigid desert nights, I conquered four buffets during my trip. Below are my current rankings of all the buffets I have been to thus far, and hopefuls for next time.


5.) Flamingo Hotel: Paradise Garden Buffet

Scenic view at the buffe

Scenic view at the buffet

This hotel gave me all the feels as it was the first one I recognized from the Griswold’s vacation movie and knowing that it is the oldest hotel on the Strip (developed by the mafia, no less) made it even better. The Paradise Garden offered scenic views of flamingos and incredibly large fish swimming outside near the pools, and a good amount of food options. One plus was that it provided wine or sangria with the meal, which no other buffet did (kudos, Flamingo), which was a great start to my buffet trail journey. The food selection was standard to any other buffet I have visited, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there just weren’t any surprises. Overall, I left happy and full, and fell asleep at 7 o’clock.

4:) Paris Hotel: Le Village Buffet

Looks just like the Eiffel Tower, doesn't it?

Looks just like the Eiffel Tower, doesn’t it?

The theme of this buffet was cheese. So much delicious cheese I could have cuddled with it all night. And when I say cheese, I mean cheese in all variations. I had a delicious cheese tray variety as an appetizer, a cheese entrée, and the winning prize of it all: the cheesecake. As a new member of the cheesecake club, I was hesitant to try the dessert, but it was so pretty on display, I couldn’t let it out of my sight. I ended up eating four of those mini cheesecakes with raspberry on top. I was in cheese heaven from beginning to end, which is fitting considering France is well-known for its abundance in cheese. The buffet was very french cuisine, meaning fancy with minimal options, but fancy nonetheless. I did not try the duck, but it did look good. After a few trips down the buffet line, I had sampled everything I wanted, and just went back to the cheesecake.

3.) Planet Hollywood: Spice Market Buffet

This buffet was my lunch attempt, and why I had to decide on only doing buffets for dinner. I left so full, I don’t know if I even ate dinner that night (…just kidding. I ate at the reception I attended. But it was a very small meal). I was really impressed with all of the options they had, including the Middle Eastern section of the buffet. I had delicious humus and chicken curry that could have been its own meal, but of course I had to see what was going on elsewhere. This buffet was the first I went to that had a decent salad bar, which people who know me know I appreciate a good salad bar. I had a wedge salad that I had to do a lot of picking to get around the tomatoes, but it was still really good. The only reason why this buffet couldn’t crack the top two spots is because the food options were there, they just weren’t explosive enough to leave me daydreaming.

2.) The Wynn: The Buffet

Cue the beginnings of daydreaming. The Buffet (bonus points for The Wynn for keeping it simple with the name) was my very first buffet experience in Vegas, and I am glad it was. It set the expectations high for any other buffet to come after because of its amazing decor and spaced out range of food, but also because of its dessert room. Yes, I said dessert room. It is a literal room! You walk in and there are trays upon trays of options, including the love of my life: tiramisu. I remember eating so much I looked forward to walking down the Strip back to our hotel. I remember leaving Vegas craving the food from The Buffet, and thinking at that point in time I would never return, that I was glad that was the buffet I chose to go to.

1.) Cosmopolitan: The Wicked Spoon

And then there was The Wicked Spoon. I never knew love until this place. I always knew I liked the Cosmopolitan. I like the layout of the hotel and this was the only place I actually won money in (only $10 but a win is a win), but I did not expect their buffet to be THAT good. To be honest, the original plan was to eat at the Bellagio buffet on our last night in Vegas. Fortunately for us, the line for the Bellagio buffet was the largest I have ever seen for food, so we went to the next one on the list. I am so happy that this was my last buffet in Vegas for this trip. There were so many food options and they were not just any old standard buffet food. There was ratatouille and spicy mac and cheese. There was Steak and the true love all, this pan smeared salmon with leeks and deliciousness all packed in one plate. I tried everything at this buffet from the cute wedge salad to some siracha honey hot wings, but I kept coming back to that salmon. At buffets, I try not to return to the same meal more than twice, but that salmon just wouldn’t keep eying me as I passed the other food choices. The waiter we had even called me out on it, betting that I would grab another plate of it on top of my dessert. There was no need. I had to say goodbye at the fourth plate and move on to dessert. The cheesecake they had here, a dulce de leche style, was pretty amazing too. Not as amazing as the Paris cheesecake, but I was so happy about everything else, it made this cheesecake just as good. The icing on the cake for this buffet was that it has to be the only buffet on The Strip to serve Coca-Cola products. That should be enough to sell you right now. I am not a Pepsi person, but every buffet I went to before Wicked Spoon, I had to suck it up and order a Pepsi. I am still reliving this delicious buffet and hope to return to it again.. and again.

Thanks for the shout out Cosmopolitan Hotel!

Thanks for the shout out Cosmopolitan Hotel!

So good...

So good…

I know there are still more buffets to tackle, so I do have some hopefuls I am looking forward to eating during my next visit: The Aria, Bellagio, and Caesar’s Palace are on that list. Until next time, happy Vegas Buffet Trail of 2015!

V

The Infamous Graduation Cap v. Kinky Curls: Styling Natural Hair on my Graduation Day

No one’s hair looks good in a graduation cap. This was what I constantly would hear and wanted so desperately for it not to be true on this particular graduation day. I was graduating with my Masters and I wanted my hair to be “masters worthy”. The battle was on.

Curly hair is infamous for wanting to do its own thing, and I was donned with these said curls for the past 25 years. One thing I always hated was how curly haired people always struggle when it comes to graduation caps. Sometimes people give up the fight and straighten their locks, some embrace the curls and wear the cap in whatever way works best. I was ready for the battle with the cap to begin.

Round 1: Denying the Curl
Before I made a decision on my hair style, I needed to know if I even wanted to show my hair in its ‘almost true’ natural state. As I tried on the hat, I could tell whatever style I was wearing needed pinning. This is also because I have a large head that does not allow the cap to sit on my head as it does for the petite skull. It was decided. I was going to straighten my hair for the first time since being natural.

Round 2: Accepting the Curl
As I was doing some research on the “straightening” process of my kinks, I got nervous.. did I really want to damage my hair for looks? I logged off the internet and took a look at what I was born with in the mirror: I can make this work!

Round 3: Prepping the Curl
Even though I was ready to accept what my momma gave me, I still wanted it to look as great it can be. I sent my mom pics of me goofing off with my graduation cap and my hair style options, and with her feedback and mine, I made the decision of what my cap hair was going to look like. This took an hour or so of washing, conditioning, twisting my hair in mini twist to perfect a good curl. Now all I had to do is wait and see what the final product was. With my hair, it could go any way, especially if the weather is not in my favor.

attempt styling 1

attempt styling 1

 

11215996_10152747779421372_1840989406_n

 

 

 

 

 

The Final Battle: Success!
Waking up the morning of graduation, I was excited to see the finished project, and based on my family being in town and my best friends with me, I knew it was all going to turn out.

And Viola! It was a success. My hair looked fabulous and I felt great with my natural afro curls

 

Yay!

Yay!

I know this post seems pretty vain, but to be honest, this was surrounding a bubble of insecurities and low confidence. Confidence is something that I am working to grow in, so writing this post is a little practice for me to talk about the things I like about myself. Whether its your curly hair or something else, I hope you can take away that there is ALWAYS something about yourself that you should love. I am learning this with you!

V

#TBT: Road Trip!

I am starting a new trend on my blog post: #TBT (Throwback Thursday in case you didn’t know) I will post past travel adventures that I have had and relive them while I’m stuck in grad school mode.

Before I took a hiatus from blogging, I accepted a position to work in Upstate New York over the summer. I was excited to explore the East Coast my way, and as a semi-adult. This was my first road trip experience where I was doing the navigating, which made me nervous but excited at the same time. My mom was my travel buddy, and together we mapped out the cities we wanted to see: St. Louis, DC, Philadelphia, and Rochester New York.

First Stop: KC to St. Louis
A quick 4hr drive, but we wanted to kick the trip off by saying goodbye to “Gateway to the West”. Fun fact: there are no bathrooms outside of the Arch park.. You either have to enter in to the Arch museum area or walk back toward downtown. The day we stopped, there was a line for the Arch that looked like it was never going to move and there was construction on the main street to get to downtown so we had to take a detour route that added another 10 minutes to our hurried pace of finding a bathroom. Thankfully we found one in a hotel and could go back and enjoy the beautiful view of the arch.

Meet me in St. Louis

Meet me in St. Louis

Second Stop: DC!
After a full day of driving and my fear driven attempts to drive through the West Virginia mountains at 1am (with no cell service!) we finally arrived to DC! Watching my mom get on her first subway train was the highlight of this trip. I was so thankful that I could share this experience with her, which is what I’ve always wanted to do – explore the world with my parents.

To say we conquered DC in a day is a complete overstatement. We didn’t get to explore all of the museums and take the touristy photo in front of the White House (we did see walk to see it though!), but we did get to explore the history that mattered most to my mom and I. We first got to see the home of Frederick Douglas, and learn more about his fight to end slavery for so many people in the south. From his house, there is an amazing view of the city, which is fitting to what Douglas wanted for our future.

Later that day, we stood on the steps of Lincoln Memorial and all I can remember is chills running down my body. To think that on those steps, people witnessed one of the greatest speeches in history, and here I was eating a taco on it. I hope Martin Luther King was proud of that delicious taco, because I sure was.

Another memorable moment was being able to get a behind the scenes tour by my step brother as he showed us what he does within the military and walked the grounds of the Arlington National Cemetery. We got to experience the changing of the guards for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as visit the burial site of John F. Kennedy and his family. At his site they have a thing where if you throw a type of coin on their grave, it is supposed to resemble how close you ever where to the President. A quarter represented the people who witnessed his assassination. It was crazy to see how many quarters there were.

In front of the Lincoln Monument

In front of the Lincoln Monument

Third Stop: Philly! (all about the food)
Being obsessed with food, my number one mission in Philadelphia was a Philly Cheesesteak. My mom and I had a strategy: Divide and conquer. My mom went to Pat’s and I went to Geno’s. To be honest, my vote would have to go to Pat’s just because I appreciate spice more, but both of them were delicious.

My second mission in Philly: to lick the Liberty Bell (HIMYM anyone?) Of course I didn’t get to lick it, but I was close! I loved visiting the old historic parts of Philadelphia and began to understand why it was called the “City of Brotherly Love” although I would argue there was sisterly love too. Fresh Prince of Bel Air song played in my head the entire time we were there.

Deliciousness. Enough said.

Deliciousness. Enough said.

Well. Almost

Well. Almost

Final Stop: Rochester NY & Niagara Falls
When we woke up ready to start our day in Rochester, we were welcomed with a Memorial Day parade that gave us a good feel of the people of Rochester. We also got to explore another home of Frederick Douglas on the way to my surprise stop.

I wanted to surprise my mom as a Mother’s Day gift to take a trip to Niagara Falls. I knew it was only an hour and a half away, and that she would appreciate it more than anything. I don’t think I’ve seen my mom smile as much as she did when we got to climb down to the rocks of one of the falls. We couldn’t stop laughing as we touched the cold rocks and watched our ponchos become soaked in falls water (the flip flops they gave you are amazing too!)

My first road trip experience was everything I could have hoped for, and being able to experience it with my mom made it even better.

Literally in the falls.. amazing

Literally in the falls.. amazing

Happy #TBT everyone!

V

A Bibliophile’s Review On: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

**Note: The following thoughts and reflections are my own and do not have to be a view for everyone to agree with.. Just sharing my thoughts!

Wow. That was my first impression of this book. I kept telling myself that the stories couldn’t be real. Shaking my head at any chance I got to make myself believe that everything in the book was fiction… And then I read the Author’s note and how not only the stories are true, but the names as well.

I couldn’t believe it, but at the same time, I knew experiences like this happened in India, its just hard to picture at times.

I am so thankful that this book found me. A friend in my program loaned it to me upon return from her travels in India, visiting the slum areas and seeing the images the book portrays herself. I wanted to go on this trip with her but due to finances, I was not able to, so I was hoping this book would be able to paint a picture on what I missed.

All I can say is wow. I really enjoyed the book (even though it took me forever to read – but I blame myself and grad school for that)

I waited to reflect on the author’s point of view until the very end. I wanted to hear her side of the story before I made any comments. I do often times wonder what her experiences were like there as a white female telling the story of the Annawadi people. She mentions briefly that it was difficult in the beginning, but with all of the details mentioned she included in this book, I can’t imagine their community to want their full truths out there in the open without a little confidentiality. I mean, there were stories of theft, prostitution, fraud, bribery, etc. and full names were accurate throughout the book.. I can see it as being great to finally bring truth to how the Annawadi, and possibly other villages surrounding Mumbai, live, but I also have been thinking about privilege a lot and what that entails for a journalist like Katherine.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and recommend anyone who is interested of the details behind what a slum village is like and may not have the means of going there at this time, to read it.

Be sure to check out Katherine’s website for more information on the book!

VA

“I’m Bringing Blogging Back.. Yeah!”

In the inspiring words of JT, I am bringing blogging back.

Truly I did miss it. I always felt regret when I didn’t take the time to get on the computer and just write what I was feeling. I enjoy writing. I journal regularly, why am I not capable of holding down a blog?

Personally, I felt that if I wasn’t traveling or doing something exciting (you don’t want to hear about my grad life of readings and writing theoretical papers on student development?) there was no reason for me to write.. wrong! I need to keep telling myself that, at least.

So, to spice things up, I have added two new pages to my blog:
Bibliophile and A Moveable Feast where I will talk about my two favorite things: reading and eating. (on that note, a great book suggestion if you love travel stories is A Moveable Feast by Don George and other amazing travel writers)

Here’s to a new year and an updated blog!