Book Review: Chasers of the Light

Friday, January 30, 2015

Book # 9 - Chasers of the Light by Tyler Knott Gregson

[image source: Goodreads]

I'll start this review off with a confession: I don't normally read poetry.

This is actually the first full book of poetry I've read since the 11th grade when I took AP Literature with Mrs. Postlethwaite and we were reading Byron, Keats, Shelley and the like.

However, I've always had sort of a subtle passion for it and I have to say that since reading this collection, I've put nearly a dozen more books of poetry on my list to read because I loved it so much.

If you are on Pinterest like me, you have probably even seen some of Gregson's poems but didn't realize it. That's at least where I first fell in love with his work. The ones most frequently posted there are from this collection, The Typewriter Series. Once I found out that he also had a blog and a book, I was so excited to check them out and start following along.

He is immensely talented and seems to have a knack for capturing the beauty that hides in the smallest, simplest moments. Most of the poems are about love and romance so anyone who has been in love or even lost great love will strongly identify with his work. While the book is just a collection of some of the deepest and best of the series, he now has more than a thousand of these typewriter poems and you better believe I'm trying to read every single one! Ha! I hope you will too!

Summary (source)
One day, while browsing an antique store in Helena, Montana, photographer Tyler Knott Gregson stumbled upon a vintage Remington typewriter for sale. Standing up and using a page from a broken book he was buying for $2, he typed a poem without thinking, without planning, and without the ability to revise anything.

He fell in love.

Three years and almost one thousand poems later, Tyler is now known as the creator of the Typewriter Series: a striking collection of poems typed onto found scraps of paper or created via blackout method. Chasers of the Light features some of his most insightful and beautifully worded pieces of work—poems that illuminate grand gestures and small glimpses, poems that celebrate the beauty of a life spent chasing the light.

My Review
What I loved
1. Gregson is so good at what he does, I actually cried after reading some of the poems. Not necessarily because they were sad, because there are some sad ones for sure, but I was actually struck by how deeply I felt what he was describing. He has the ability to evoke an incredible range of emotions from even something as short and sweet as a haiku. His words are powerful and he certainly knows how to use them.

2. I absolutely loved the idea behind the actual typewriter series. I love seeing the words hacked out on vintage scraps of paper from an old school Remington. It adds another layer of simplicity and beauty to his work.

3. There are only so many ways I can say, "His poems are beautiful. They made me cry. You should read them." So instead of repeating myself over and over, I decided to post a few of my favorites from the series to give you an idea of what to expect.

What I didn't love
1. Not a thing, my friends. What's there to dislike about romantic poetry?

5 out of 5 stars

Mott Hall Bridges Academy and Humans of New York

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

[all photos via HONY]

When you make a donation to an organization, it’s not often that you get to see exactly where that money goes. So when I donated to a fund set up by the creator of Humans of New York to help enrich the futures of the children at Mott Hall Bridges Academy, I was happy to know that my dollars were not paying someone’s salary or going toward advertising for a giant corporation. Instead I was directly supporting something that I think this country needs desperately.

For those that are not familiar, Humans of New York is a project that started back in 2010 when photographer Brandon Stanton began asking to take photos of people he met on the streets of New York City. He would also conduct a short interview of sorts asking the same few questions to each person he met, and surprisingly, people poured out their stories to him. He then began to post these photos on Facebook along with captions that included parts of their conversations and over the course of the last few years, his page has gained nearly 12 million followers.  

A few weeks ago, Brandon met a young boy named Vidal. He posted two photos of him - the first with a caption that described the heart-wrenching reality of the rough neighborhood he lived in and the second was this:

"Who's influenced you the most in your life?"
"My principal, Ms. Lopez."
"How has she influenced you?"
"When we get in trouble, she doesn't suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter."

The response to this photo was overwhelming. It has since gained more than a million likes and many comments that praised Ms. Lopez's efforts. 

A few days later, Brandon met up with Ms. Lopez at her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn, NY. She described the adversity that her "scholars" (the term she uses for her students) face and the high expectations that she sets for them, demanding excellence so as to hopefully guide them to success outside of the violence and crime that fills their neighborhood. 

One of the posts that followed was from the next day where Ms. Lopez was leading a staff meeting full of exhausted and frustrated teachers.

"It can be especially hard when you come back from holiday break," Ms. Lopez explained. "Because it can feel like so much of the progress you made last semester was undone during the break. It's hard, it's hard, it's hard. And it's OK for you to feel like you want to give up. You can quit anytime you want, and I will pick up the phone and recommend you for a new job, because every one of you could succeed anywhere. But these kids need you. Our girls don't feel honored and respected. Our boys are being recruited into gangs. Your classrooms may be the one place they feel safe and respected. If we give up, there is nobody else. There is a system out there that is waiting for our scholars to show up in shackles and jumpsuits if we choose to give up on them."

Brandon has spent every day since posting photos and interviews from teachers and students involved with MHBA. He was so inspired by what Ms. Lopez is doing for her students that he set up a fund to raise $100,000 to take every incoming 6th grade class on a trip to Harvard University for the next three years. Why a trip to Harvard? 

“I want every child who enters my school to know that they can go anywhere, and that they will belong,” said Ms. Lopez.

One of the biggest problems that inner city youth experience today is having limited opportunities and many of them never even leave their own city. Brandon wanted to help Ms. Lopez and MHBA by setting up this fund to enrich the lives of the students there and give them insight into a world outside of their crime-ridden streets.

The response to this was again overwhelming. So far more than $900,000 has been raised for this program and they have started coming up with additional ideas for summer programs (summer in Brooklyn is one of the most dangerous and deadly times for these kids) and a scholarship program for MHBA graduates.

You want to stop the drug trafficking? Donate to this cause.
You want to stop the robberies, rape, gang violence, and homicides? Donate to this cause.
You want to make our cities safer and ensure the futures of the kids who can't escape? Donate to this cause.

Education is and always has been the answer.

Getting these kids off the streets and outside of the district of Brownsville to introduce them to a place like Harvard will show them and incoming scholars like them that there is a future beyond the hood - giving them something to work toward and inspiring the drive to get there. 

I strongly encourage you to check out the HONY Facebook page found here and begin reading their stories. For points of reference, the first time we met Vidal was on January 19th. Then we were introduced to his principal, Ms. Lopez, starting on January 22nd and the story has only expanded from there. It’s worth the read if you have the time. And if you have the capacity to donate, I ask that you consider it. You can find the website here.

Invest in their futures. Invest in this academy. Help the community of Brownsville and hopefully we’ll inspire more of this.

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men" -Frederick Douglas

Weekends From Scratch

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

This past weekend, for the first time ever, I made not just one but two things that I've always wanted to make from scratch - French bread and PIZZA!

I added them to my 101 list a while back and honestly, I thought I'd never actually make them since I've always assumed that making any sort of bread from scratch was really hard. But this weekend, I discovered that homemade bread is actually one of the easiest things to make!

I don't why I've always thought that it was tricky - perhaps because of the dense, icky breads I've gotten from bread makers (?) - but we had so much fun with it!

Friday night we tackled the pizza dough. I bought Mike a pizza stone for Christmas and he's been dying to break it in, so before I went home on Friday night, I popped over to the store to pick up some bread flour and yeast and then came home to surprise him.

He made a cheesy, pepperoni pizza, and I made one with fresh mozz, basil, and sun-dried tomatoes. They were insanely good!

We are planning to try a flatbread next, so I'll be sure to post some better pictures of those.

Then on Saturday, I got up early to throw together some crock-pot vegetable soup and I figured having some warm French bread to go with it would be perfect for the crappy weather we were expecting. I made two loaves - one for us and one to give to my parents - and now that I know how easy it is, I plan to start experimenting with all kinds of different breads! We are also hoping to try making our own pasta in the near future as well. My waistline is doomed.

Bring on the carbs!

A Life That's Good

Friday, January 23, 2015

Have you ever been going about your day, maybe at work or at home, listening to a random playlist and all of a sudden a new song comes on that goes straight to your heart? It hits you so deep and captures how you are feeling so beautifully and perfectly that it stops you dead in your tracks?

The other night, a song called "A Life That's Good" did just that for me.

The lyrics are what spoke to me the most. Every word, every line. If my heart could sing, this is what it would say.

(The song actually starts around 2:00)

Sitting here tonight, by the fire light
It reminds me I already have more than I should.
I don't need fame, no one to know my name.
At the end of the day, Lord I pray
I have a life that's good.

Two arms around me
Heaven to ground me
and a family that always calls me home.
Four wheels to get there.
Enough love to share and a
sweet, sweet, sweet song.
At the end of the day, Lord I pray
I have a life that's good.

Sometimes I'm hard on me,
when dreams don't come easy
I wanna look back and say I did all that I could.
At the end of the day, Lord I pray
I have a life that's good.

Two arms around me
Heaven to ground me
and a family that always calls me home.
Four wheels to get there.
Enough love to share and a
sweet, sweet, sweet song.
At the end of the day, Lord I pray
I have a life that's good.

At the end of the day, Lord I pray
I have a life that's good.

I am so grateful for all that I have and you can bet that I'll have this on repeat alllll day. Have a wonderful weekend, friends.

'Impossible things are happening every day'

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

“There are so many people that use 'following your dreams' as an excuse to not work. When in reality, following your dreams, successfully, is nothing but work.”
- Brandon Stanton

Until recently, I'm not sure I understood what this quote truly meant.

Yesterday, for the very first time, I gave one of the biggest presentations of my career in front of a large group of people who are all way more intelligent and way more qualified to understand what I was presenting than I am.

It was both terrifying and thrilling at the same time.

I had been physically preparing for 9:00AM on Tuesday, January 20th for weeks, but mentally preparing for months and months. I knew it was going to be intense and being the perfectionist that I am, I went through quite a few mental battles leading up to this day.

When I first received the assignment, I actually told my boss that I wouldn't do it. I was that scared. I sat in his office and repeated the word "no" firmly at least five times. But after a good thirty minutes of encouragement and reassurance, I agreed to consider it. The days and weeks afterward ticked by and once we hit 2015, I knew there was no way I could back out. So I had no choice but to dig deep and start working.

My biggest fear in all of this turned out to be rooted only in the doubt I had in myself. I was mostly freaking out about looking like a fool and being torn to shreds in front of everyone I look up to professionally, but somewhere during those 60 minutes up there in front of everyone, I realized that I not only could absolutely handle what I had been given but I was determined not to let a single person prove otherwise. And it was exhilarating.

In the end, I could not be more pleased with how it all turned out. I gave the presentation yesterday, and although I was really shaky in the beginning, I found my groove and actually ended up really enjoying the whole thing. No one yelled at me, no one threw things, and everyone actually seemed genuinely interested.

The funny part is that, to everyone else in that room, the presentation was not that big of a deal, but to me, it meant everything.

To me, it meant that not only did I have the courage to push myself outside of my comfort zone but once I was there, I could actually succeed. I'm tougher than I think I am. I'm stronger than I think I am. And following my dreams may mean more work, more pushing, more sweat and tears, and a lot more time outside of my comfort zone, but at the end of the day it is so, so worth it.

Homemade Granola

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winter does this thing to me sometimes. It kind of feels like nesting. Not that I'm pregnant or have ever been pregnant to know what nesting feels like, but if I had to guess, I'd say this feeling is pretty close.

When the weather outside is icy and frigid, I get this urge to do things around the house. I bake, I cook, I clean, I organize, I decorate. I have no idea where it comes from, but I like it. It keeps me occupied in this lull between classes when it's too dark to go anywhere.

My latest endeavor has been making homemade granola, so I thought I'd share a little recipe today for anyone else that may be thinking of trying it.

My favorite part about making your own granola is that you get to decide what goes in it! The process is so easy and there are so many things you can add! My favorite so far has been dried cranberries, walnuts, and extra cinnamon. Uh-mazing. And I've also gotten into the habit of sprinkling in a few chia seeds and ground flax seed to make it even healthier.

We like to eat the granola either as a little afternoon snack, when we go hiking, or on top of some vanilla greek yogurt and berries as breakfast in the morning. It's so much fun to experiment and I am hoping to try a couple different kinds of oats next! I hope you give it a shot!

Homemade Granola

3 cups of rolled oats
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup diced dried fruit
1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts or seeds
Feel free to add whatever you like!

Heat the oven to 300°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Place the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine; set aside.

Place the honey, oil, and vanilla in a small bowl and stir to combine. Pour over the oat mixture and mix until the oats are thoroughly coated. Spread the mixture in a thin, even layer on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes, then stir and continue baking until the granola is very light golden brown, about 5 to 15 minutes more. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool the granola to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. It should harden as it cools. Add the fruit, nuts, seeds, etc. and toss together.

You can enjoy it right away or store it in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Giving Blood for Emily

Thursday, January 8, 2015

[image source: The Baltimore Sun]

Yesterday was a pretty big day for me. I was really nervous about donating blood for the first time but I'm happy to report that all went well! I am not a fan of needles to begin with and I've heard stories of people passing out or feeling crappy for days afterward, so I had no idea what I was in for.

I hadn't actually planned on donating blood at all until I came across an article online about a little girl named Emily. Emily goes to the same school that I attended kindergarten through 8th grade. She is battling a rare brain disorder that frequently keeps her out of school. The disorder is called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) and it's an autoimmune disorder that damages her brain tissue causing symptoms like vision loss, extreme weakness to the point of paralysis, and loss of voluntary muscle function. She undergoes regular blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatments to help with symptoms and suppress her immune system so that her body won't attack itself.

In honor of Emily, one of the local police departments hosted a Red Cross blood drive this past week and since I've been to other events to raise money for her and her family, I thought I should attend this one, too. Not only is it for a great cause, but I got to check it off my 101 list!

January is also National Volunteer Blood Donor Month and ironically, it happens to be the month where blood donations are the most scarce. People are busy with holiday schedules or often fighting sickness, and the nasty weather can present its own set of problems for people trying to keep donation appointments.

So if you have time this month, schedule an appointment to donate blood with the Red Cross! There are so many people out there who need it, just like Emily!

The Year Without A Resolution

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Resolutions. Do you make them? 

Every year I say the same thing. I'm going to get organized. I'm going to start exercising more. I'm going to be more intentional with my time and money. But every year, come February, it's like I never made a resolution in the first place. The spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak, if you know what I mean. 

Last year, I decided to forego the laundry list of habits to change and instead put my efforts into a single motto: learn to appreciate what I have by doing more of what I love. 

Looking back on the events of 2014, I'd like to think I was fairly successful. 

We tried to spend as many of our free moments as we could with our friends and family. We had bonfires, crab feasts, breakfasts, game nights, movie nights, lunch dates, and dinner parties. Anything we could do find time to laugh a little more and enjoy the company of the people we love most.

We started a bunch of projects on our house both inside and out, and slowly but surely, we've been creating a home that we love. We hung up our hammock, demoed the basement, built a fire pit, grew our first organic square foot garden, and started decorating each room in the house. 

We partied it up with our friends as much as we could since, well, you're only young once and these are the years for making those crazy memories...

I challenged myself to tackle as many things on my 101 list as I could. Some of my favorite memories were learning to drive stick, going to my first drive-in movie, getting accepted to Hopkins to start my Master's degree, and taking a huge trip to Washington State to visit family and stay in a tree house.

We joined the committee for an organization that we are extremely passionate about - Pacing for Parkinson's - and we had such a wonderful time meeting so many incredible people with such amazing stories. Volunteering and giving back to others is something that Mike and I think is very important, so finding a group that we love was such a bonus!

So what about this year? 

Well, truthfully, I don't know if I'm going to change anything. To be perfectly honest, I like where my life is right now and I think I'm just going to keep on keepin' on as they say. 

We'll travel a little more, spend more time with friends and family, keep working on the house, cross off plenty more 101 goals, and keep volunteering with P4P, but in general, if 2015 turns out to be just like 2014, I can't complain.

Our Holiday

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

If you had the opportunity to take some time off for the holiday, I hope you were able to enjoy it as much as I did, because guys, it was the best, most relaxing holiday break I have ever had.

I took off for twelve straight days and it was glorious. I disconnected completely from work and school and spent the holiday really soaking in time with friends and family.

We hosted a really nice Christmas Eve dinner at our place for my parents and it was so much fun! I've never made a big fancy dinner at home before, so I had a great time setting the table up, decorating, shopping, and preparing everything beforehand. I even cooked a ham for the first time on my own in our tiny little oven! We all went to church earlier that evening and then came back to our house afterward. We ate and drank and laughed and it was so nice to start a new tradition.

I had to take a picture of Mike's wrap job for gifts this year in case people didn't believe me when I told them. Check out all that duct tape... He's such a dude.


Christmas Day was just as fun! We spent the morning just the three of us (you know I have to count Carlisle) opening presents and eating our traditional baked pumpkin french toast. Mike and I kept it pretty simple with gifts this year, mainly getting each other things we needed but Mike gifted me a full day at the spa complete with a hot stone and aromatherapy massage, hand massage, steam, and a spa manicure. Have you ever done a paraffin dip? All I have to say is ho-ly cow. The whole day was so relaxing and exactly what I needed to end the year on a high note. I also got to check it off my 101 list!

We spent the afternoon on Christmas Day at lunch with Mike's dad and then the evening with my parents. We had our steak and lobster that night, of course - my favorite tradition!

The next day, we were up early to head to Delaware to spend one night with Mike's mom and sister at their new house. We opened more gifts (we were totally spoiled this year!), baked a batch of Grammy's pfeffernusse, played games all night, and even took a trip to Bethany Beach!

We are so glad that we got to spend time with everyone this year and we're even more excited about all of the new traditions we are starting!

The rest of our break was spent relaxing, movie and football watching, organizing things around the house (I can't wait to show you pictures of the basement!), eating and drinking enough for forty people, and starting a new kickboxing routine as a result of all that eating and drinking.

Overall, it was a beautiful holiday and I hope that everyone else had a great one, too! Happy New Year to all of you! I can't wait to see what 2015 brings!