Adventures of the Charmingly Odd

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

Last week was a rough one for my family. It’s all very so I won’t put it on here but HOLY HELL it was a punch in the gut from multiple directions. But a gift from the Universe – The Lord of the Rings Blu-ray 4K set I was on the waitlist for and wasn’t expecting to come until the end of February – arrived on Saturday. Poor Steve has already seen The Fellowship of the Ring twice times but never the sequels. (1st time was when we first started dating and 2nd was at the live orchestra accompaniment at Lincoln Center in NYC). A blizzard was coming and we stocked up on snacks and I went full on mopey mode, sitting on couch crying about the people of Middle-earth – as one does.

Saturday we watched The Fellowship of the Ring, as the blizzard started Sunday night we watched The Two Towers, and about 10 inches deep in snow on Monday we watched The Return of the King. All extended editions, of course, I get annoyed when the theatrical versions are on TV. Finally at the end I asked Steve if the films were what he thought they were going to be after all these years.

He replied with a simple, “Yeah. There was a lot of walking and fighting.” Ha! He’s not wrong but I know it captivated him more than he was willing to admit. I joked on Twitter that it only took a pandemic and a blizzard for him to finally watch the movies after 6 1/2 years together.

Currently Watching

‘Dickinson’

Even with all my sleeping pills, I’m still having bad insomnia. One night I stayed up until 4am binging season 2 of ‘Dickinson’ on Apple TV+. Listen – you guys are swooning over ‘Bridgerton’? GET OUT OF HERE! Hailee Steinfeld as Emily Dickinson is the real home historical home runner.

 

‘Sylvie’s Love’

I also watched ‘Sylvie’s Love’ (2021) on Amazon Prime last night! The movie stars Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha as two young lovers in the summer of 1957 in New York City. The movie is beautifully shot with an incredible jazz soundtrack. The script is pretty meager – but to be fair, that’s exactly how romance movies such as this were written in the late 50s & early 60s. I’d also recommend this one to watch, especially with Valentine’s Day around the corner already.

 

Currently Reading

‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ by V.E. Schwab

I’m only about 60 pages into this one but I’ve never read Schwab’s work before despite the fact that I love following her on Twitter! I’m already captivated and I want a color changing coat ASAP.

‘Winter of the World’ by Ken Follett

This is the second book in the Century Trilogy by Follett. I loved the first one ‘Fall of Giants’ and I’m already fully immersed into this next one. I’ll be a Follett fan for life – his ability to seamlessly weave characters in and out of different historic settings is astonishing.

 

 

Currently Listening To

‘Piano Chill’ Playlist on Apple Music Classical

I haven’t been listening to much this past week – just good background music while reading, crying, or in bed with a headache. I came across this playlist earlier this week and I’m so thankful I did – it’s going to be a staple in my musical habits for sure.

 

I hope you guys have a great weekend and I look forward to talking to you on Twitter!

20 Things from 2020

Apparently I only use this blog to do my end of year wrap up. I want to change that in the new year – the best way to start is to reflect on what will be one of the most historic years of this century. I have many unfinished drafts of posts from throughout this year that I never completed – just fragmented moments of despair from February, May, June, July. So here are 20 Things From 2020 that either broke me, saved me, distracted me, or gave me a glimpse of happiness in this truly terrible, terrible year.

1.) First and foremost, I would have lost my mind if it wasn’t for my fellow Book Inc. writing group. I joined a group of strangers ( to me) on a whim a year ago and decided to embark on this crazy journey: we would all write a book from start to finish in 2020. Lots of people applied to this program but I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the 12. Throughout this year we had 3 people drop out – but the remaining nine of us? We fucking DID IT. We wrote entire novels by October 1st, 2020. After that we have a set schedule for reader critiques, time to edit, submit again to our peers and continue this process until we are ready to send out query letters for our polished manuscripts. Out of all the truly horrible things that have happened this year, this incredible group of people cheered me on and wouldn’t let me giving up on my strange but wonderful little novel.

 

 

2.) If that was the happiest things in 2020, the saddest things were the losses we experienced My dearest, darling grandfather whom we called Lolo (Tagalog for grandfather) passed away at the age 80 from COVID-19 on Sunday, July 26th, 2020. His end came way too soon – he was the youngest 80 year old I know. Virgil Fuentes was an immigrant from the Philippines who followed his sweetheart, my Lola, to America when he was 20 years old. They have the most amazing, exciting, bravest love story I have ever known. Over the years I constantly asked them to tell it to me again, because it was the stuff movies are made of. They were married for almost 60 years. He had an immense love of movies, which I obviously inherited. In high school and beyond we would have movie dates, just the two of us. The last movie we saw in theaters togethers was “Rogue One”. He loved it as much as I did. He will never see me get married or hold my published book in his hands. But I know he’s cheering me. The greatest honor I could have received was my grandparents, together, giving Steve my grandmother’s engagement ring, to use to propose to me. They knew how much their love meant to me, and I will wear it for the rest of my life in honor of their adventurous love affair.

3.) Another gut wrenching death was that of our dog Barney on Monday, February 3rd. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you might remember that in June 2019 we found out Barney had a 20lb cancerous tumor in his spleen, which was not there at his previous vet visit less than 6 months earlier. We took the risk and Barney had it surgically removed. He fully recovered and back to his old puppy days.

However, on Super Bowl Sunday February 2nd, 2020 Barney suddenly would not eat, vomiting, and lethargic. We took him to the vet the next day and learned that his tumor has grown back to the full size again. My mom & sister raced down to us at the vet in Asbury Park to join us in saying goodbye to our best friend. I’ve written a lot on social media how much he meant to us, especially Steve, so I won’t repeat it here. But just know he was the moved beloved and spoiled dog and loved every day he was with us. Afterwards I was able to raise over $500 for Rawhide Rescue, where Steve had rescued Barney from 7 years ago.

 

4.) I was laid off with most of the country the second week in March 2020. In April I had to cancel our plans to stay in a castle in upstate New York for my 30th birthday. Instead, Steve proposed at home in the most perfect, genuine way. What a crazy two months. To think now that the Spring was only the beginning still of what this year had in store for us.

5.) I re did our downstairs bathroom and turned the guest room into my dream office. On the days I couldn’t write because my head was overwhelmed with anxiety, I threw myself into home renovation projects. Previously I had only upcycled a vintage dresser but with Steve’s wary help, I turned our downstairs bathroom into a victorian haunted looking little room. When we are allowed to go to thrift and antique stores again, I can’t wait to fill it with weird vintage pieces. The gigantic mirror and chandelier were both super cheap finds from Facebook Marketplace.

           

The office was the next huge project! When we bought this house, it had previously been used as a nursery. Steve and I used the room as a guest room with full sized mattress adult bunk beds for our friends and family to crash in when they wanted to visit us at the beach. But since there was a pandemic with no sleepovers in the near future and my working full time on my novel – I jumped at the chance to turn it into my little writing oasis. If someone had told me I wouldn’t be writing my first novel in cafes or bookstores or hotel lobbies, but at home I would have thought you were mad! But thankfully I was able to make over this room for basically free. I had all the furniture already, just gave a few pieces a fresh coat of coat. It was grueling to strip the paint and sand the doorframes and trim but I’m so fucking proud of how everything turned out.

           

 

6.) I held a socially distant wedding in my backyard!

A friend from Drama Club in high school, Erin, and I hadn’t seen each other in almost ten years.We kept touch online but nothing extensive. However, in May when she asked if anyone had a backyard her and her fiancé could get married in – I jumped to offer mine. Turns out Asbury Park was already a special place for Erin & E and within a few days we had a socially distant game plan for a wedding! I notoriously hate weddings so Steve was surprised when I told him but he loved the idea.

We were able to decorate the yard a bit and Steve took some incredible photos of Erin & E. A pure afternoon & evening in an otherwise dumpster fire year.

 

 

7.) Justin Quizon was my pandemic buddy

Justin and I first met in person at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con on the main floor, but we did become Twitter friends before that. We’ve stayed in touch over the years but it wasn’t until March when Justin started calling me to see how the world was in the East Coast. Since then we’ve talked almost every week, for hours, about the insane twists our lives had taken, what we saw individually, and woefully watching the rest of the world.

I have never been a fan of talking on the phone (who is these days?) but I am so gratefully for these check-in sessions with Justin. From politics to movie news, we discussed the highs and lows of 2020. He was a friend that showed the fuck up this year and I want to be more like him.

 

8.) 36 Questions musical podcast

A friend recommended me this musical podcast to me back in July right after my grandfather passed away and I am forever grateful for this music and story that helped heal my soul. I don’t know how I didn’t know about this musical but it immediately gutted my soul and I will love it for as long as I live. It stars Jonathan Groff (most known from Hamilton and Frozen, but I first met him at the stage door when he starred in ‘Spring Awakening’ in 2007) and Jessie Shelton – who is an original cast member for my favorite musical – Hadestown! I cannot express how much this musical means to me and the comfort it’s given me during this horrible year.

 

9.) Desk hammock. No I’m serious

Hey – see where I mentioned that I wrote a book this year? I have spent countless hours at my desk, writing or whining about not being able to write. The best thing I did for myself back in the spring was buy a $28 desk hammock from Amazon.

 

10.) I Became an Amateur Expert on Nikola Tesla

When I started writing my book back in January, I did not expect to have Nikola Tesla as a secondary character, let alone incorporate his inventions or scientific theories into my writing. It’s a perfect example of your writing guiding you – not the other way around. I am someone who always excelled in English and History but struggled in Math and Science. I am an art student to my core! So learning about Tesla’s in depth electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and futurist work was equally compelling and fucking frustrating. However, I now own about dozen books on and by Tesla as well as watched every film and documentary available. (Even that terrible one starring Ethan Hawke).

 

11.) I Learned a Lot About Writing: The Best Books About the Craft

  • “Save the Cat: Writes a Novel” by Jessica Brody
  • “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield
  • “Story Genius” by Lisa Cron
  • “The Science of Storytelling” by Will Storr
  • “The Emotional Thesaurus” by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
  • “Consider This” by Chuck Palahniuk

                            

 

12.) Fiction Books I Loved

  • “The Flight Girls” by Noelle Salazar
  • “The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn
  • “City of Girls” Elizabeth Gilbert
  • “The Masterpiece” by Fiona Davis
  • “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr
  • “Fifty Words for Rain” by Asha Lemmie
  • “The Evening and the Morning” by Ken Follett

 

13.) Favorite Non-fiction Books I Loved

  • “The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shinning Women” by Kate Moore
  • “The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul” by Eleanor Herman
  • “Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and The Race to Electrify the World” by Jill Jones
  • “When the Dancing Stopped: The Real Story of the Morro Castle Disaster and It’s Disaster Wake” by Brian Hicks
  • The Creative Destruction of Manhattan” by Max Pace
  • “Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940” by Chad Heap
  • “Bobbed Hair & Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties” by Marion Meade
  • “Opium: A History” by Martin Booth
  • “My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla”

     

 

14.) My Favorite Albums Released This Year

  • “Local Honey” by Brian Fallon
  • “Every Feeling I’ve Ever Had” by Ellen Winter
  • “Folklore” and “Evermore” by Taylor Swift (a first!! I’ve never liked TS until these albums!)

15.) Movies of the Year

Honestly, I can’t think of new movies I saw that blew me away this year besides Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7”. Maybe my brain is fried but the only new release I remembered I purchased from home was “Bill & Ted Face The Music”. My favorite piece of film I saw this year was actually Dave Chappelle’s “8:46”. 

 

16.) TV Shows of the Year 

The shows with * were rewatches but ones that brought us great joy during quarantine

  • Poldark
  • Parks and Recreation*
  • Schitt’s Creek*
  • The West Wing*
  • The Queen’s Gambit
  • The Mandalorian
  • Kim’s Convenience
  • Dickinson
  • Bridgerton
  • The Alieniest

                   

 

17.) My Favorite Self Care Items:

      

18.) New Tattoos!

Thank goodness for my amazing tattoo artist, Karissa Anne – she is a germaphobe and I knew I could trust her to be super clean. I had my Freddie Mercury tattoos touched up as well as the red flower from ‘Hadestown’. I’m working towards turning right arm into a 3/4 sleeve instead of just random tattoos hahaha.

Karissa then referred me to another artist, Rich Cahill, who specializes in finger and delicate tattoos. He did an incredible job and I’m so in love with how beautiful my hand looks.

 

19.) Friends

I have never been so grateful for Twitter. In isolation, I was able to stay in touch with my friends from around the world while not having to specifically call or text them. Justin, my best friend Leah, and my parents were the only ones I had the mental energy to call on a regular basis but thanks to Twitter I also was able to see the world from my friends points of view during the (hopefully) most dramatic year of our lives. The riots, the pandemic lines at stores, the quarantine lives we settled into. I lost my job, my vibrant city notorious for live music was silenced, and my world didn’t extend far outside my house. But thanks to Twitter I could share all the ups (writing! advocacy! tv shows!) and downs (the lives lost due to COVID or police brutality) and I’m grateful for having such a strong community online.

20.) Steve

Now where would I be if I didn’t have Steve this year? Honestly – probably in a psych ward. My anxiety and panic disorders flourish in the unknown so 2020 was the perfect breeding ground for my brain chemicals to go fucking crazy. Throw in loosing Barney and my grandfather? AND writing my first novel? Holy mother of god, I had many meltdowns. But Steve was always here with a loving and steady place to fall into. We don’t care much for weddings or titles but we have been together for 6 and a half years, lived in this house for 3 and a half years, and got engaged 8 months ago. I knew from our first Tinder date he was the one for me and I wouldn’t have wanted to do this INSANE year without him.

 

Now, excuse me while I quietly slip into the New Year with no frills or fuss. If we are carefully, maybe 2020 won’t have noticed we left at all.

“And so, life in the Shire goes on, very much as it has this past Age…

There’s currently a snowstorm bustling outside here in Asbury Park, NJ. My cafe is closed and Steve is working from home so we are bundled up by the fireplace with our dog Barney. Four days into 2018 and already things are perking up from last year! I’m cuddled on the couch with some tea and will finally get around to taking down our Christmas decorations today. Here are a few things going on in my part of the world:

Wellness

I’m currently doing the Whole 30 challenge after starting on 1/2/18. Here’s a link to the official website but in short I’m not eating any processed food or bread/dairy/legumes/sugar for 30 days. I did this for 3 weeks back in July before my brother’s wedding and so many people complimented how healthy I looked. But since taking over the cafe in August, I’ve had unlimited access to bread, gourmet cheese, gelato, and lattes everyday and while I enjoyed every second of it – it really caught up with me.

This time around, I prepared like mad. I bought every single Whole 30 book, including the daily journal, and for Christmas we asked our families to give us cooking supplies. Cookbooks, a spice rack subscription, a KitchenAid mixer, and KitchenAid utensils – Steve and I have been cooking WAY more than we ever did before. One of our goals for 2018 was to cook and Whole 30 has motivated us to conquer that one. Steve isn’t doing the program with me because it would be cruel to subject him to a month without bourbon, where as I don’t drink alcohol at all. (Not because I’m against it – I run a cafe with a full liquor license! – but booze mixed with my anxiety meds makes me puke hardcore.) Steve is being VERY supportive. He used to be a CrossFit junkie and I’m grateful for his experience on living a healthier lifestyle.

Whole 30 isn’t hard if you prepare and give yourself the right tools. Am I having fun? No. I would kill to be able to put Splenda and milk in my coffee right now or have pizza delivered. But cravings are fleeting.

Mental Health

I’ve mentioned it briefly on Instagram & Twitter that depression has been keeping me feeling “bummed out” as I have been known to describe it. There are different kinds of clinical depression of various levels but I’m still hesitant to call it that. The first time I was diagnosed with depression was because I was living with an abusive ex boyfriend. All I did was go to work and sleep. My life right now is worlds away from that time in my life but somehow that nagging, heavy weight on my chest won’t go away. I can’t seem to get out of bed until the very last minute before I have to leave for work, and when I get home I just want to stay on the couch and read. At work I’m unmotivated and I’m becoming a pro at fake enthusiasm.

It’s probably a mixture of my anxiety, seasonal depression, and nerve pain flaring up because the temperature is so low. Whatever it is, I’m acknowledging it and doing everything I can to push through it – like Whole 30.

Watching

The best house rule we have in our home is no TV. Theres a television in the guest room that has hardly been used (except for random football games and a Stranger Things binge) and I love it! Steve and I come home after work and want to spend time with each other that doesn’t involve mindless shows. He is on his guitar for hours every night. I’m reading or watching Netflix on my phone, which I don’t count as television because it’s a conscious choice to watch a specific thing.

Currently I’m almost done with “The Last Post” on Amazon Prime. It’s about a British post in 1965 in Aden, Yemen and the families that live there. It has the same aesthetic as ‘The Crown’, which I loved, but ‘The Last Post’ is more gritty and intense. It’s one of the better historical fiction type shows on a streaming service and if that’s your thing, check it out for sure.

Reading

I want to scream it off my roof top: YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK ASAP. “The Enchanting Life of Adam Hope” by Rhonda Riley set the bar pretty fucking high for 2018. It’s a historical fiction novel set during WWII about a young woman, Evelyn, who falls in love with someone quite different from us. It might be considered science fiction, but only in the way “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is scifi. “Adam Hope” has beautiful prose that pulled me into the story immediately and left me in a fog thinking about the characters when I wasn’t reading.

The passionate love story between the asexual character A and Evelyn had my heart aching to be near the person I  love most. Everything was well written, from the character development to the scenic landscapes, to the sex scenes. I bought the Kindle edition after reading the description in my daily BookBub newsletter (seriously, if you own a Kindle and on the hunt for a good deal, BookBub changed my life. 90% of the books I read last year were recommended by them). Right now it’s only $10 for the paperback and $7 for the eBook on Amazon.

I finished it last night and I’m still in a haze over it. I’ve tried picking up half a dozen books to read today but none of them fulfill the void “Adam Hope” has left me in so I should wait another day or so.

That’s all for now. I really want to blog again this year. The last two years I haven’t had the motivation to do so because I felt like my life wasn’t as exciting to other people as it once was. But I 

still have words & ideas dying to pour out of me. Plus I now live in the best little city by the sea and I can’t wait to tell you all more about Asbury Park.

Happy New Year and stay warm!