A Sweet Reunion

On August 20, 2014 my cousin Matthew returned to the United States after a 13 month stay in Bolivia. He did some amazing work with the youth population in La Paz during his time there and I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of him. Matthew and I have always had a connection because we have the same birthday and it was actually a little strange not having him around for our birthday on Mother’s Day weekend! 🙂

Last weekend, on Labor Day, my mom, my sister and I met up with Matthew and a few other family members at Cracker Barrel in Mebane. I honestly half expected him to be a completely different person but he is still the same sweet, country cousin I know and love but it’s clear to see that his time in South America changed him. Maybe he can help me with my Spanish now! 😉

Bienvenido a casa, Matthew!

Weekend in Los Angeles

I absolutely love to travel and I was super fortunate to spend last weekend in one of my favorite cities, Los Angeles. The main purpose for the trip was to cover the press junket for The Giver (out August 15th!), but I managed to squeeze in some sightseeing and family time.

My trip was Friday-Monday and on Friday evening, I had the opportunity to screen the film at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I admit, I was a little hesitant about this film at first, but I really enjoyed it! I’ll have a full review coming on Shelf to Screen next week so stay tuned for that.

Saturday was spent at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills where I interviewed Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush, and the woman herself…acclaimed author Lois Lowry. She is such a fascinating woman.

Brenton Thwaites

Lois Lowry

Odeya Rush

Cameron Monaghan

After wrapping up at the Four Seasons, I headed a few miles down the road to In n Out Burger because I mean, come on…how could I not?! After my delicious lunch, I headed to the Getty for a little culture and some sightseeing. I’ve always been told that the Getty Center is a must-see but I never really had an open chunk of time to visit before. The art that is on display is gorgeous and the architecture of the Getty is amazing. I wish that the sky had been clearer but wishing for a Los Angeles day without smog is like wishing for the sky not to be blue. It’s just not going to happen. Later that evening, I met up with my friend Angie for dinner.

On Sunday I drove out to the Inland Empire (the Ontario/San Bernardino/Riverside region), which is where my Dad grew up. I had the day completely free and I had contacted my cousins and my great-aunt to let them know I would be in the area for the day. It was the first time that I had been in the area since my Aunt and Uncle passed away so I wasn’t completely sure how it would affect me.

I stopped by my great-aunt’s house first where I had quite the welcome! My Auntie Bola was there, along with two of her brothers (and my late grandpa’s brothers), my Uncle Ben and Uncle Arnold, as well as my second-cousin Laurie. My other second-cousin Annie would arrive later with her family. My Auntie Bola is such a special woman and just recently went through a battle with breast cancer. She’s pretty fiesty, that one. And hilarious. I think I get some of my sense of humor from her.

After leaving my Auntie Bola’s house, I stopped by Vallarta’s Bakery in Rialto to pick up some Mexican pastries. California is different from North Carolina in MANY ways but one thing that California has that NC does not, is a variety of good and authentic Mexican bakeries/restaurants. Mexican restaurants here in the South get a little Americanized. From there, I drove out to Riverside National Cemetery to visit my Grandpa and my Uncle Louie. I’ve written about what my family has endured over the last year here, so I won’t get into that much but it was definitely an emotional visit. My Grandpa and my Uncle are buried just two rows apart from each other. From there, I headed over to have lunch with my cousins Krissy and Diane and their children.

When I made it back to Los Angeles, I met up with my dear friend Erin for dinner. She is one of my biggest inspirations and I adore her so much.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and come Monday, I really found myself reluctant to get on the plane to head home. No one knows what the future holds for them but if my career aspirations work out the way I hope, Los Angeles may just be my new home one day, so this trip was a nice little peek at what life like that might be like.

One Year Later

One year.

It might seem like a long time for some, but for me, one year ago still seems to feel like it was yesterday.

I’ve written about what my family has endured during the last year for a friend’s campaign page here, so I’ll share the abbreviated version here now.

In April 2013, my dad’s older brother, Louie, was told by doctors that his liver cancer had spread and that he had six more months to live. In June 2013, my dad’s younger sister, Sandy, and caregiver for my Uncle Louie, wasn’t feeling well and went to the ER where she was told she had Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. They both fought hard. On December 25, 2013 my Aunt Sandy passed away and ten days later on January 3, 2014, my Uncle Louie passed away as well.

One year ago this week, my sister and I traveled to California, which ended up being the last time that I would see either of them. It feels just like yesterday. I still think back to that short trip and remember those days fondly, rather than view them in sadness. While we were there, my sister and Auntie Margaret were busy taking care of my Uncle Louie, who ended up being admitted to the hospital during the trip. Because the rental car was in my sister’s name and with me being under 25 years old, I wasn’t able to drive anywhere due to insurance related things. So my days were spent at my Aunt’s house helping to make her breakfast, bring her her medicines, fix lunch, make her tea, sit with her while she watched Long Island Medium, and anything else she needed. Maybe that sounds boring to some, but those are some precious memories that I will always carry with me for the rest of my life.

To this day, when we make tostadas here, I am whisked back to my Aunt’s kitchen where I made her tostadas for lunch during our stay.

Christmas 1997 in California

My Uncle Louie was a one of a kind person. Most often, he was a loose cannon and we were never quite sure what would come out of his mouth next. He and my Dad didn’t have the best relationship growing up, but it was truly overwhelming to watch them reconnect during the last eight months of his life and to see them as brothers. My uncle was truly a caring person, who bravely served in Vietnam twice during the Vietnam War. Though the majority of my visit was spent with my Aunt at her house, I don’t think I could ever forget the last moments I spent with my Uncle.

He had been admitted to the VA because of his elevated ammonia levels, related to his liver, and mentally he was confused and a little disoriented. I remember getting a call from my mom and stepping out into the hallway and suddenly becoming overwhelmed by my surroundings and the reality of everything going on around me. But what sticks out to me, is the moment just before we walked out of the room to leave and I told my Uncle not to run off on us (he had wandered out into the hallway, confused, not long after we arrived) and although he was in pain, my uncle cracked a smile.

My mom has always told me that since I was a child, if there was ever a serious moment going on, I was always the one to crack a joke or do something silly to lighten the mood. I love to laugh and especially to make others laugh so I love that this was my last vision/memory of my Uncle.

It doesn’t even seem right that it’s been a whole year since I’ve seen them, but I’m surrounded constantly by their presence and our memories. I carry them with me every day.

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)
I am never without it (anywhere I go you go, my dear)”

– e.e cummings

My Kind of Paradise

People of the world, if you have not visited Asheville, North Carolina…you are seriously missing out. It’s truly a “hidden” gem nestled in the North Carolina mountains. I’ve been a lifelong lover of the mountains. After all, I did choose to attend a university located in the mountains. But having grown up so close to Charlotte, I’m accustomed to the hustle and bustle that one would typically find in a larger city. I don’t live in Charlotte technically, but close enough that I just tell people I’m from the “Charlotte area” since odds are, they’ve never heard of my little town just a couple miles away.

Asheville is a perfect mix of these two worlds that I love. It’s a mountain town, with picturesque views of the Blue Ridge Mountains no matter where you’re looking. But it also has a thriving downtown city life with a crazy assortment of unique restaurants, bars, and shops to explore. The historic Biltmore Estate is located just outside of the area and the Blue Ridge Parkway is nearby for countless scenic overlooks and hiking opportunities.

So, now that you know why I love Asheville, I’ll share with you how I spent my weekend in, you guessed it…Asheville.

I bet that totally caught you by surprise, huh.

Over the weekend, I headed up to Asheville for the weekend with two of my closest friends from college. We’re all teachers and we all live/work very spread out from each other so it was nice to come together to hang out in such a fun city. A few highlights:

Friday night: Roamed the streets of downtown Asheville for a bit and came across an AMAZING street musician that was utilizing an electric violin and a looper pedal (View my short Instragram video HERE). Also took in the sights and sounds of Pritchard Park on a Friday evening, which consists of a huge crowd of Asheville’s finest (hippies) at the weekly Friday night drum circle. Walked down to Mellow Mushroom where I ate my weight in a Buffalo Chicken Pizza. Nom.

Saturday: Drove to the Cherokee Indian Reservation to explore for a bit. Only about 50 minutes to an hour away from Asheville. (P.S there’s a theme park just outside of Cherokee called Santa’s Land and yes, it’s just as ridiculous as it sounds). Visited Harrah’s Cherokee Casino where I tried and failed at gambling. I did turn $5 into $16 but I decided to quit while I was ahead. Came back to the hotel and ended up napping for almost an hour. Went to dinner at The Southern Kitchen and Bar which was good, but honestly nothing to write home about. After dinner, we walked down to Off the Wagon Dueling Pianos Bar, which was so much fun!

Sunday: You cannot go to Asheville and NOT pay a visit to Tupelo Honey Cafe. I’ve always hear how amazing it is, so we went and MAN OH MAN was it amazing. I got the fried chicken and biscuits and it was absolutely delicious!

Fun fact: There’s a Charlotte location so you better believe I’ll be frequenting that location very soon. After brunch, we headed to the parkway to try and channel Katniss Everdeen. That kind of failed but we got to see some gorgeous views and drive through TUNNELS.

TUNNELS

Low Country Shenanigans- YALLFest 2013

It’s been a trip in the works since May when Veronica Roth was announced as the keynote speaker but finally the time arrived for me to head down to Charleston, SC for YALLFest 2013. YALLFest in a Young Adult Book Festival created by bestselling authors Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, and Melissa de la Cruz. This year’s festival included 50 fantastic authors with New York Times Bestselling Authors Veronica Roth and Rae Carson as the keynote speakers. I attended with my friends Sarah and Jenna who I have known for over three years but had yet to meet in person until now.

L TO R: Myself, Sarah, and Jenna

The day began early at 6:45am as we stood in line to receive our wristbands for Veronica Roth’s signing line. They were only giving out 500 and we needed to get lower wristband numbers so we wouldn’t miss out on Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs’ Coffee Talk session. We love them. Luckily, we were issued wristbands below #50 so we were able to head straight up to the signing line after the keynote speech was over.

Meeting Veronica Roth was actually very cool for me. Although I’m still a little perturbed with Allegiant‘s ending, I really am a big fan of her series. Having created my fansite Divergent Nation (now merged with Divergent Lexicon as of Oct ’12) in June 2011, I’ve been a part of the Divergent fandom almost since its inception and yet I had never met Veronica Roth! She told me loved my site (and my shirt!) and said she was bummed that she was not able to make it to the Divergent set in May when I, along with many other fansite reps, descended on Chicago. Success!

Getting my book signing by Veronica Roth!

Following Veronica’s signing, we headed around the corner to Coffee Talk with Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi. Both are New York Times Bestselling Authors and happened to married to each other. If you follow them on Twitter, you know they are hysterical. Let me just tell you that they are SO entertaining in person!
Watching these two talk and hearing their crazy stories makes me seriously want them to get their own reality show. Immediately after the panel, we followed them down the road again for Tahereh’s signing. Her line was huge but I finally got to introduce myself to her since I also run a Shatter Me fanpage which she happens to follow on Twitter. They are both super sweet to talk to! (Fun Fact: When Jenna was going through security at Charleston International to go home, she went through with Tahereh and Ransom!)

Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs

From there we had lunch and were planning to go to Ransom’s signing but he contracted food poisoning 🙁 We called it a day on YALLFest and we back to the hotel to rest before doing more sightseeing.

I honestly can gush enough about this trip! YALLFest was fantastic and Charleston has to be the prettiest and classiest city around. We’ll definitely be going back next year!

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