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I was five when they placed you in my arms, a wiggly mass of baby I didn't have a concept for. Pillows sat on either side of us, supporting us both, and I looked at you with wonder. I wanted to grow with you, teach you so many things, be more like a trusted older sister than an aunt - but we moved, and I did not see you again for a long time. When I saw you again, there was another baby that I loved just as deeply, though I did not know how to show it. Life kept us apart, you both grew into women in the blink of an eye - one of you has a baby, the other is getting married. You gained an older sister, I gained another niece I could never hope to know who has a baby I can never hope to know. I hold you in my heart, even if I cannot hold you in my arms.

The cycle continues.

I was eighteen when she put you in my arms - not a sister by blood, but by circumstance - and I adored you so completely. You were the smallest baby I ever held, I took you that night as your mother went back to school for an event, and I did not put you down. Then came the years I held you daily: late nights, early mornings, read to the baby, feed the baby - and I loved you more than life itself. I read the same book a thousand times, I held your hands and helped you learn to walk, I spoke to you so you could learn to speak for yourself. You were given a brother, but you were still my baby - then one day you were gone, and I did not see you again for a very long time. Now I am a stranger to you, but you will always be my baby.

The cycle continues.

I am twenty-eight when they put you in my arms, but I have loved you fiercely since we found out about you. I was the first person who knew you would be a girl; I bought so many clothes and nursery items, I wanted your mother to be prepared, I wanted to be helpful. You came in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy and everyone has held you tighter for it; but when they put you in my arms, I promised I would be different. I would be present. I would fight for you, shelter you, understand you in a way only your aunt can; I would be one of your first best friends, I would always be there when you needed me. For two months, I have tried my best to be there in a way I know annoys your dad, but he doesn't know my heart. He doesn't have to.

It's about six a.m. when your mother puts you on my chest, a sleepy bundle that stretches the length of my torso. You have changed so much in two months: you smile, you wave your little fists and babble at the fan, you like to hang out on your own. I cuddle up to you and try to doze, knowing these moments are few and far between, but my mind races about your future and mine. This time in my life is so uncertain, I feel like I am walking a tightrope suspended over shark infested waters: I have to make the right moves and not deviate from this path. There can be no turning back for me, I have to see this to the end - but when I hold you, I hold the promise of a future.

I want to fall in love and give you cousins, I want to build a home you can know as well as your own. I want sleepovers and birthdays and school plays - I always want to be there. When you're a teenager and feel like your mom just doesn't understand you, I want you to know you can run to me and I will still be your first best friend, while loving you with a depth you will not comprehend until you have your own baby.

In each stage of my life, I have held babies. Rocked babies. Put toddlers on unsteady feet and walked with them. I have given pieces of my heart to little humans to carry away with them, while trying not to be sad when they don't reach back for me. No one will love you the way your mother loves you, but please know that no one can love you the way I love you.
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I know this blog has been dormant for quite some time, for that I am sorry. I kept meaning to sit down, type this all out, and tell you guys what's been going on, but I'm afraid I've been busier now than I ever have been before - despite my insistence that I'm "not doing much," it appear that I am - in fact - doing quite a bit.

I am no longer at my previous job and, you know, I've never been more grateful for that in my life. I gained some valuable experience there, but I was walking the wrong path and it took being free of that job, stranded on my couch for a few days to see it. I am happier and freer than I have been in a very, very long time - it's hard to be angry or upset about a tumor that's been cut off, you know?

In the last month, I have written over 33,000 words of my novel (starting from page one on March 30th), and I've been given an incredible opportunity thanks to networking...and I really can't say much more than that right now. It's a project I'm so excited about that I want to tell you everything, but it's going to be more satisfying in a few months to just present it and say, "hey, you remember the thing? This is the thing! Go enjoy it!"

I did take a weekend away to go to California and show one of my closest friends the beautiful-and-strange city of Los Angeles. It was incredible, we covered more ground in that weekend than I think we'll manage the second time around, but we'll see. Who knows, maybe I'll be going back as an author with an agent instead of someone holding their breath, writing from their soul because that's quite literally all they have in that moment...I don't know that I'll ever stop holding my breath, but I know the mad desperation to get this story out will ebb into something else.

Hopefully something calmer.

Maybe I'll never lose the madness.

However, this is a blog for book reviews and travel posts/tips, so I imagine you'll want to know what's coming next. I'm currently reading a collection of Neil Gaiman short stories, so I should have something to say about that soon, to be followed by a romance novel and trip highlights/recommendations.

I'll close this by saying I'm finally living the life I've always wanted to live. It is rough and scary, but it is thrilling and I am so grateful you get to share it with me.
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Out of all of the books I thought I would review in 2019, I really wasn't counting on this one. Cecelia Ahern recently announced the sequel, Postscript, and I knew I would want to read it, so here I am with P.S., I Love You, a story I have a complicated past with.

I didn't know it would be so hard to read, even harder to write about.

Let me take you back to fall 2008. I'm in my first year of college, running the student newspaper, eagerly awaiting the birth of my niece. I'm eighteen, in love, and I'm on an old white couch next to the guy I am convinced I'm going to spend the rest of my life with. It's a Sunday and we're bored, idly flipping through cable channels, desperate to find something to watch.

P.S., I Love You has just started. He looks to me and says, "have you seen this yet? No? It's so great, you'll love it. Let's watch it."

He puts his arm around me and we watch Holly mourn the loss of her husband, Gerry,  to cancer. Over the next year, she gets a letter a month from her dead husband, who uses the medium to help her to move on and embrace life - even if it is a life without him. Their relationship isn't perfect, but he loves her in all of the best ways, and that's the warm blanket she wraps herself in each night for that first year.

Halfway through the movie, the guy I'm next to looks at me and says, "You know that's us, right? I love you that much, that's us in a decade. Probably not dead, though."

And this is the promise I hold onto for the next few years in our relationship. I turn a blind eye to the cracks that begin to form several months later, I sail through our first holidays together without letting my disappointment show every time he lowers my place on his to-do list, and I go all out for our anniversary. Later, when I am balancing caring for my niece, college, two jobs, and trying to keep up the brave face I put on to hide my growing fears and concerns in my relationship, I hold on to his promise that he'll be there.

That he'll continue to love me just as deeply, even though all of the signs are pointing to something else.

That the things he says and does are normal, we're going through a rough patch, every couple has one.

And sure, every couple has rough moments, but not like those. Never like those.

When this mess is finally over in 2010, I graduate with my A.A. in Journalism as barely a shell of a human. Every bright, beautiful thing about me has been lost to circumstance, to this boy who may not have truly understood the damage he was doing - or maybe he did and just didn't care. I'll never know, I never want to know. A cancer had grown in our relationship, taken over every good memory we ever made and replaced it with moments that have fueled years of nightmares for me.

Summer of 2010 I was mourning the loss of someone I thought had defined me. I didn't know who I was, if I ever did. Like Holly, I was going to have to start all over again, but without even half of the help this character had...and I resented her for it. I couldn't watch the movie, somehow the beautiful memory of it had become tarnished, and I didn't want to face it. If I couldn't watch the movie, why on earth would I read the book?

A few years later, I found it on HBO and I spent a day watching it. Over and over. I huddled up in my blanket with my cat, and I cried. I let it all out. And then I never watched it again.

Here we are, March 2019, and I am not where I thought I would end up...but I am precisely where I am needed right now. The promise of that sequel was looming over me like a shadow, and I knew I would have to face this monster before I allow myself to conquer that one. It's a DBT technique, I think, opposite action? Could be CBT. I keep mixing up my therapies, I just go through them and find new ways to help myself every day.

I started this book yesterday, and it hurt in ways I hadn't truly anticipated. I am no longer mourning the loss of what was, in the end, a terrible relationship I spent nearly a decade paying for; instead I am grieving the me I lost to that metaphorical cancer, while trying to celebrate the woman that took her place.

Cecilia Ahern is a fantastic writer, and to think this was her debut novel. Book-Holly is infinitely more engaging than Movie-Holly, even though I think Hilary Swank is the tits; Book-Holly has more room to grow, to mourn, to show you the light peeking through the blackout curtains of grief. Perhaps it has more to do with my age than anything else: I'll be 29 in that strange cusp of summer and fall, closer to Holly's age, with infinitely more experience with life and love and men than I had when this began.

Holly picks up the pieces with more grace than I managed - not hard to do, being a fictional character - but she finds a way to reconnect with and support her family and friends that feels very realistic. It's hard to live with trauma, even harder to live through it, but Holly takes it in small doses in a way that's very doable.

And it's funny! There's a dry sense of humor to it that's oddly comforting, but I suppose that's the part of me that still longs for England - even though the story takes place in Ireland, I find the humor seems to be a regional thing. It's an easy book to love, the scenes feel like they flow effortlessly together, and you find yourself awaiting Gerry's next letter just as eagerly as Holly does.

P.S., I Love You is an ode to letting go, to living through love, and rediscovering yourself in very weird places, sometimes with very weird people. If I had a nickel for every person I've met on my own adventures that have helped me or taught me or changed me, I would have a lot of nickels. Those are always the people you didn't know you needed: the stranger in the grocery store, or at the bar, or on the Tube around midnight who wants to know why you're crying. There's a sort of innate goodness in the human spirit, a desire to help that you don't really notice until years down the road, and I think this book captures all of that.

Even though I'm typing this with a knot in my throat, I'm happy to tell you that P.S., I Love You is worth reading, no matter what season your life is in. I'll be picking up Postscript when it comes out, I'm interested to see where we go from here.
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Today is a rough day.

It didn't start that way. I woke up at seven, I got dressed, and started the forty-five minute drive to work. About halfway through, I could feel the monster creeping in. I put on loud music to drown it in, I got coffee, and busied myself with work.

I accomplished everything I needed to accomplish before 9 a.m., so I had no choice but to sit with it and let the whispers in:

"Nobody ever really wants you for you, you know. They want you for what you can do for them, they want you for your support, they want your love but they don't really love you back. No one will ever really love you back, why would they? Look at you, you're not much, what could you possibly have to offer anyone?"

These are the lies my brain keeps on a loop, and that's not even the worst of it.

I've been in therapy since last year, trying to tackle the monster hanging onto my back: PTSD. Depression. Anxiety. Things that will never truly go away, but I am trying to learn to manage them. It's difficult, there's so much that has happened in my life that I never told anyone because I didn't feel like I could.

Because I thought the person who claimed to love me was supposed to protect me, and then when they were the one causing the damage, I turned that on myself. My fault, my fault, my fault. It had to have been my fault, I had to have done something to deserve this because why else would it be happening to me?

I internalize a lot in my personal relationships. I have a hard time letting people in because it hurts to be emotionally vulnerable. People I have loved have mocked my passions, have told me I would never achieve my dreams unless I changed _______ about myself, have ignored my pleas for help until I stopped asking. I try not to rely on anyone because so many people have let me down.

But I don't want that to be my story anymore, I don't want to carry these things around with me.

I'm trying to re-teach my brain that it is okay to want or need people. It is okay to talk about the things you love and the things that hurt you. It is okay to want the people in your life to embrace every part of you, and if they don't then it is okay to let them go. It is okay to be who you are.

Today I am dealing with a crippling sense of loneliness, and that is okay. It is a temporary state of being, and I have the tools to cope with it. I don't have to try and stuff it behind a mask to fester, I have the tools to deal with it. And I'm getting better all the time.

I know this isn't usually what you guys come here for, but I haven't read or watched anything that's inspired me enough to write about it. I just wanted to put this out there: if you're having a rough day, it's okay to embrace it. It is okay to not feel okay all the time. It is okay to have emotions, we are not robots. Our flaws are just as beautiful as our positive traits, they make us who we are.

Just...don't give up on yourself, okay? You're worth all of the effort you're putting in, someone will see it, I promise. Hang in there, we'll get through this, and someday "I'm okay" won't be the lie you tell other people to keep them from asking hard questions.
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The last twenty-four hours have been wild, my friends.

I don't even know where to begin, except...well, the beginning.

Last year was a rough year for me; in fact, spring 2018 saw me barely holding it together. I put on a brave face because, well, I'm good at it - I've always had to be good at it, but I couldn't read, I couldn't write, I couldn't think. Ultimately, I needed a distraction.

My sister and brother-in-law had been playing D&D for a while, and were in the middle of a campaign to get me to play with them, when Mike said to me one day, "Have you heard of Critical Role?"

I had. Everyone said it was good. I'd tried to listen to the podcast for Vox Machina at the end of 2017 while I was painting, but I just couldn't get into it. This was going to eat hours of my life! I didn't have four hours for one episode!

Or did I?

With a little pressure from him and my sister, I sat down and gave The Mighty Nein a shot - and I fell in love. I had not laughed so hard in my life, the actors were equally as engaging as their characters, and the world they were creating together blew my mind. They were telling stories in a way I hadn't been able to in years!

When the cast took a brief hiatus to, you know, have a life, I dove into Vox Machina. And that's where the real love set in. I adored the M9, I'd laughed with them and cried with them, but I wasn't prepared for the way I felt about this foundation story: by the time we meet this original band of adventurers, they're already larger than life.

Larger than life, but not indestructible.

I watched the way these characters banded together like a family, like my own family, and I watched them face every impossible challenge together. I think I got through all 115 episodes before the fall, that has to be record time, right? I couldn't stop watching because I found echoes of my own flaws in these characters, and my own triumphs too. Believing in these people and their story taught me a little about believing in myself and my own struggles too, so I got back into therapy after nearly a year-long break, easing my way towards treating the monster hanging onto my back: PTSD.

This disorder has taken a lot from me: my peace of mind, my ability to sleep for longer than a max of four hours at a time, my passion for life; like the trauma that birthed it, it took me apart in pieces, but I was regaining my sense of self. I was learning to enjoy things again, I was figuring out how to stand up for myself, and really express my passions. Things I had always preached at my friends to do.

Then on November 6th, my ten-year-old nephew died.

And my world stopped.

If you've never lost a child that you have loved, then you can't comprehend what comes next. I didn't go to work for almost a week, I developed a pretty constant tremor as I sat with our family, and whatever sleep I had been getting went out the window...and even writing that, those seem like such minor complaints in the face of that loss. Tomorrow will be four months to the day that he's been gone, and even now I sometimes feel like the grief might to overtake me.

Between grieving for Jaden and trying to process my own trauma, I felt like I was facing down a horde of dragons with my back against a wall and nothing but a stick to defend myself.

Luckily, the cast of Critical Role had taught me how to fight dragons.

And death.

And loss.

And grief.

I leaned into the struggle, and leaned on my friends and family. I told people what was happening, what had happened to me, and together we've created the tools I need to fight these dragons. I'm in the middle of my fourth re-watch of Vox Machina, and I'm not out of the woods yet, but I am re-learning how to enjoy living my life.

I'm working on my own novel. I'm planning a trip. I'm preparing for my new niece at the end of the month.

And this group of nerdy-ass voice actors playing D&D have seen me through it all.

Yesterday they launched a Kickstarter to animate these characters I love so much, something Mike and I have talked about wanting for a while. We backed it instantly, no questions asked, and in twenty-four hours they had about four million dollars. The Kickstarter doesn't end for another forty-four days. My story isn't unique, there are thousands of people on Twitter talking about how Critical Role picked them up when they were lost or struggling, and that's why they've made as much as they have in such a short amount of time.

They taught people how to believe in themselves, so we in turn believe in them - and that kind of faith is going to pay to bring an incredible story to life in ways we hadn't thoroughly imagined.

I, for one, can't wait to see what comes of all of this.

If you want to see what's going on with the Kickstarter and back it, go here. You'd be funding an independent company and giving them the means to tell their story the way they want to tell it: without cutting corners or sacrificing a lot of creative freedom. We all want to get behind indie artists and pay them what they're worth, and this is one way to do that.

People don't gain success in a vacuum: when they rise, they enable others to rise with them. Giving Critical Role this exposure is granting a potential platform to give voices to smaller artists. When we all band together, look at what we can accomplish.

The stories we tell matter, that's part of the reason I spend so much time reading/reviewing books, and this is just one more way to get them out there. I hope you'll at least join me in cheering these people on, they've given me so much that I think writing this blog post is probably the least I can do to spread the word about their project.

It's just a drop in the ocean...but an ocean is just a collection of drops, right?

Take care, I'll see you,

Tamarah
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As we addressed in my last post, I am snowed in. I have tackled the first book on my pile, and now I'm bringing you book two: The Girls At 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib.

The way these two books are related: they're both kind of about food, and I feel them both on a personal level, for very different reasons.

Small Potatoes was a celebration of food and life, of living authentically and being comfortable in who you are. The Girls At 17 Swann Street is what happens when your love for food turns against you, when you see your body as your enemy, and when the all encompassing desire to be perfect overrides even your most intimate relationships and good common sense.

I am no stranger to disordered eating.

My entire life, my weight has fluctuated: I have a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, and it basically means my hormones are really out of whack, my ovaries are really shitty at doing their job, and I can gain weight like no one's business. I also have PTSD and major depression, which also tends to work against me, but with medication and therapy, I'm currently winning that battle.

I'm aware that can change at any time.

I've also been working with a coach, exercising, trying to get my body back one pound/inch at a time. When I was younger, I was very active and could go days without eating. I loved dancing, gymnastics, and cheerleading (though the girls on my team taught me to hate it and, most of the time, them)...but I lost that desire to depression when I hit late middle school/early high school. Exercising became a lesson in humiliation, so I tried to keep my body in check in other ways.

All of that stayed with me into adulthood.

When I picked up this book and realized it was about a French ballerina with anorexia, I paused for a second. I struggle with food even now, on the cusp of my thirties, and like Anna I feel displaced, stranded in the Midwest with only the barest hope of escaping the hellscape. You know I have no love for Kansas, though she seems to try and find something redeemable in Missouri.

I feel for her.

This is contemporary fiction at its finest. The book shakes up the format a bit, quotes are in italics and you really have to be paying attention to know who's talking. There are no long, flowery descriptions or big paragraphs.

Everything is bite-sized, perfunctory, cut into chunks for easy consumption.

This book is written the way Anna feels about food, if that makes sense.

Here's this Parisian dancer who loved pastries and cocoa and life, who lived through her trauma until she had to sit with it. Meals all alone, waiting for her husband to come home, stranded in a country that is not her own...food turned into a demon fer her, it morphed into all of her trauma and anxiety and guilt.

I love Anna, I want to hug her, but this book also taught me more about myself than I want to admit. For all of my exercising and restricting, I see something I have to fight against on a regular basis: the argument over whether or not this gummy bear is going to undo my progress, looking at bread and potatoes as though they're my enemy -- to be fair, I have a definite sensitivity to bread, but death before dishonor.

The story has a happy ending, and it's a good one. All of the characters are likable, when something bad happens to one of them you feel it in your soul, and there is a commentary about women's bodies and the validity of them that is definitely worth the read. Yara Zgheib is an excellent writer, I need to read more by her.

Verdict: If you do not have an eating disorder, definitely read this book, I think you may understand it better if you do. If you have an eating disorder and you aren't easily triggered, read this book and appreciate how far you have come.

But if you have an eating disorder that you don't have a good grasp on, do not read this book. Don't do it to yourself. Whatever progress you have made is good, I'm proud of you.
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I have been snowed in. Whenever they start talking about snow in Kansas, I like to call the weatherman's bluff. "Give me snow, I dare you!" I yell at my phone, usually as I'm getting dressed or putting on mascara. "They always call for snow, but they never give me snow! Nooo, it's always freezing rain." So, like I normally do, I called the weatherman's bluff yesterday.

And at about 1:00 p.m., I received big, white fluffy flakes that I watched float to the earth with unbridled joy. I hate sleet, I hate driving on ice, but I do love snow as it's happening. Those flakes began to accumulate, I went home, and when I woke up I realized that my car wouldn't be able to get out of my driveway.

I am trapped in my house.

You may be asking why I'm telling you this story as a way to begin a book review. I'm constantly complaining about not having time to write. You know what I have plenty of, since I couldn't go to work today? Time.

You know what else I have?

A to-read/to-review pile that's bigger than my head.

I decided I'd tackle the smallest (and funniest) book first: Small Potatoes by Sarah Hunt. It's 115 pages of anecdotes, life advice, and food. Mostly food, if we're honest, and this is not a bad thing. My sister told me about Sarah, who was looking for book reviewers, so I decided to peruse her Instagram profile and I knew.

I knew I needed to read this book.

Because Sarah and I are very close to being the same person: short, loud, and highly opinionated. I had no idea what she did or why people followed her, but I reached out and after a small-but-charming exchange, Sarah sent me her book. That I put at the top of my to-review pile, and then proceeded to have a rough/busy week; but as we now know, I'm snowed in with only these books and my inner demons to keep me company -- okay, that's a lie, my bird and dog are also vying for my attention.

I digress.

If you like nonfiction autobiographies, you'll like this book. It's a third of the size of those books, with all of the punch: Sarah walks you through parts of her childhood, her life as a stepmom, and some party tips that are super on point. We don't serve ants on a log at parties, children, no one is comfortable eating them and they're only good if you're trying (and failing) to be healthy.

I think it's a pretty good first shot, if I'm honest. It doesn't necessarily have a plot or one singular point it's working towards, and it's not really linear, but I liked it because I felt like I was sitting on my best friend's couch, listening to her tell me stories with a bottle of wine between us while we wait for dinner to cook. It is a nice Sunday evening of a book, you don't want it to end because then you're going to have to return to a sea of Mondays, but it's nice while it lasts.

Also, she said on page 11 that we're now best friends, and I'm holding her to that because we both appreciate a good, weird snack, and I need new recipes.

Verdict: buy the book. I'm going to lend this one to my sister, who has been wanting to read it, and I realize that I may never see it again.

So it goes.
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