Monday, August 18, 2014
At my new library there is a section titled "Hot Picks" by the new fiction and non-fiction. "Hot Pick" selections mean because the book is so hot with the library patrons that only a 7 day check out period is allotted with no chance for renewal and a $1 a day fee for being overdue. When I browsed for books to take on vacation, I came across 'Orphan Train' by Christina Baker Kline in the "Hot Picks" section, and although it looked great, I knew that I'd be looking at a $5 fine because we'd be gone longer than 7 days. Thankfully, my awesome neighbor bought "Orphan Train" and before she even finished reading it leant it to me. How awesome is that? I finished it in two days because #1) It's short AND #2) It's very good, so I wanted to finish it quickly and give it back to my neighbor.
"Orphan Train" recounts a time in history that I knew nothing about, but now I plan for sure to research. In the book description it says, "between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?" The orphan in question for this story is Niamh, a young, red-headed Irish immigrant who loses her entire family to a fire in their tenement building. Thrown into the Children's Aid system, she is one of the countless orphans who board the orphan trains like cattle. She morphs into a new life as Dorothy and then Vivian as she is shuffled from foster home to foster home, even if the first two are far from anything anyone would call home.
The present day narrative that frames the historical story of Vivian's search for home revolves around another girl in her own foster care dilemma. Molly, the 17 year old, whose hard exterior is just a cover for her hopes and dreams, gets in trouble for stealing a copy of 'Jane Eyre' at her library. Her foster mother shows nothing but disdain for her and wants to send her away for committing another act of insubordination. Because this isn't Molly's first offense, she could face serious penalties, but her dreamy boyfriend, Jack, hooks Molly up with her mom's employer, an old woman named Vivian who lives in a huge mansion and needs help cleaning out her cluttered attic.
As Molly and Vivian clear out box by box, they both face their own dilemmas of the past and present and piece together a meaning of home. They partnership is mutual and they both grow and learn from each others' stories.
Although at times, the Molly narrative rings false, Vivian's story of immigration, separation and salvation save everything and make this book more than worthwhile to read. It's also fast as the narrative moves at a solid clip. The details fade a bit at the end of the narrative and I was left wanting to have more information about Vivian's adult life, but just like life moves in fast forward and stop action motion, this book does as well.
The ending feels like a Hollywood sort of wrap up. I can almost hear the surging music, but I shed real tears for Vivian and all that she went through in the course of her orphan experience.
We are all on a journey. Some of us have longer more painful travel experiences than others, but hopefully we can all get to the peaceful place of acceptance of the past to move forward in the present and welcome the future. Near the end of the book Molly, while sitting in a rocking chair in Vivian's kitchen thinks that "for the first time she can remember, her life is beginning to make sense. What up until this moment has felt like a random, disconnected series of unhappy events she now views as necessary steps in a journey toward . . . enlightenment is probably too strong of a word, but there are others, less lofty, like self-acceptance and perspective."
Any book - a "Hot Pick" or not, that helps me to get closer to self-acceptance and perspective by living the journeys of the characters is worth reading. A book that combines that and teaches me something about a time in history that I didn't know existed, makes it to the top of my "to read" list.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I'm a book gusher. I always have been. When I love a book, I want to gush about it to whoever will listen (which is why I enjoy book blogging so much). One of my favorite parts of being an English teacher was when I gushed about books I loved. My classroom bookshelf took up an entire wall, so anytime I could recommend books to my students, I would need to stop myself from rambling too much and gushing at an uncontrollable rate.
When I meet another book gusher, I love to hear about their book passions. The books they can't put down. The books that make them want to shut out the rest of the world until they finish every last page.
My friend, Kris, is a book gusher. Maybe she doesn't gush about every book, but when I recently visited Pennsylvania, she told me that she was in the midst of a relationship with Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things," so her time was limited. She didn't want it to end, and she said, "Alma is so strong, so very strong." I asked her if I could borrow it after she finished, and she happily agreed to let me borrow her book.
The last week of my life I've been consumed with the lives of the Whittaker family and their torrid and fascinating history. The book begins with Henry Whittaker, a poor but very clever boy, who ends up making a fortune by stealing plants and selling them. When the owner of the plants, Sir Joseph Banks, discovers the thefts, he sends Henry (basically to banish him) around the world on voyages with the formidable Captain Cook to study botany. Henry becomes an astute botanist, and learns to survive, listen, and practice abstinence while all the other sailors fall prey to indulgences.
Upon his return from voyage after voyage, Henry forges his own fortune and moves to Philadelphia with his equally strong willed wife, Beatrice. After many miscarriages, they finally have a girl, Alma, who not only survives, but thrives and can hold her own in arguments and discussions with world travelers and astute philosophers at her father's always entertaining dinner table.
Although the beginning of the book revolves around Henry, Alma becomes the center of the rambling plot as she consumes books about botany and revels in all pursuits of the mind. She learns to live with her adopted (and much more beautiful) sister, Prudence, and even finds friendship with a flighty and ridiculous girl named Retta Snow. Alma's academic pursuits always take precedence over her pursuits of the heart as she navigates her love for George Hawkes, a fellow scholar who loves Alma for her ideas but does not see her as a romantic interest. When Ambrose Pike, an angelic traveler who has spent his life drawing the intricacies of orchids arrives at Alma's home, White Acre, the story line diverts in odd and illuminating directions and the truth of the title, "The Signature of All Things" is revealed "namely that God had hidden clues for humanity's betterment inside the design of every flower, leaf, fruit, and tree on earth. All the natural world was a divine code."
The remaining half of the book follows Alma through her middle ages and her own renaissance of spirit and understanding of herself and her world. Her studies of mosses and her unique strength and wisdom make her a heroine to be loved and cherished, a warrior to be feared, and a humble innocent who the readers can sympathize with in her darkest moments. We feel her grief. We see her strength. We celebrate her triumphs. When Alma realizes that she wants to live rather than drown and sees clearly "that the world was plainly divided into those who fought an unrelenting battle to live, and those who surrendered and died" I wanted to stand on my chair and shout to celebrate her existence and her strength to live and fight.
The scope of the book revolves around evolutionary theory and the survival of the fittest - not the most beautiful or the most desirable or the most sensitive. As Alma discovers in her feverish exploration of mosses and the interconnectedness of the world (which she calls "A theory of competitive alteration"), "the trick at every turn was to endure the test of living for as long as possible. The odds of survival were punishingly slim, for the world was naught but a school of calamity and an endless burning furnace of tribulation. But those who survived the world shaped it - even as the world, simultaneously, shaped them."
Each page in Gilbert's sweeping epic novel sings with intelligence and original freshness. I loved watching Alma's self and world discovery from her baffled thoughts on her beautiful, China doll-esque sister, Prudence, to her befuddlement over relationships. I loved her interactions with her fiery, titan father, and his doting admiration of her. I loved the travels to Tahiti and back again. Although there were holes in the narrative and incredible leaps at times (as well as some underdeveloped secondary characters), I would definitely gush about this book to someone else who wants the challenge of the 500 page epic.
This book restored my faith in Gilbert (much as her Ted Talk did) after her lucrative success with "Eat, Pray, Love" which I found mildly entertaining albeit a bit whiny. This book is a ferocious journey through love, loss, and mostly the survival of the fittest.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
It's hard to review a book that took so much courage for one of my favorite authors to write. Any author who chooses to reveal the struggles of his or her family in the hopes that their story might help other families dealing with the same difficulties, makes my heart open to that author. The reason I love memoirs so much stems from this simple fact - sharing your story honestly will make others care. It will connect you to people who have had similar struggles. It will increase empathy and understanding.
That's why it's even harder for me to admit that I didn't love Ron Suskind's book "Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism" about his family's struggles and triumphs with their autistic son, Owen, who started as a relatively normal boy and retreated into autism at age 3 after the family moved to Washington, D.C.. I wanted to love it and wanted it to teach me more about autism, but I found the repetitive nature of the book which explores Owen's eventual connection to Disney animation as a communication bridge a bit tedious (sorry Mr. Suskind).
To be completely honest, I am in awe of Suskind's work. "A Hope in the Unseen" ranks up there with my favorite all time books. The story of Cedric Jennings and his harrowing journey out of inner-city D.C. and away from the "dream busters" who didn't believe he would be able to make it to the Ivy League, made me reexamine everything I knew about education and the Oprah "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough. Knowing that as Suskind wrote "A Hope in the Unseen" he simultaneously struggled with his own version of "dream busters" in his personal life with his son Owen, makes me love "A Hope in the Unseen" even more.
Just like when I read "A Hope in the Unseen," The hair on my arms did stand up in certain points while I read "Life, Animated." In the very beginning after Owen is diagnosed as PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified) and before the family starts using the daunting word Autism, Suskind thinks about, "how many wild-eyed expectations you carry around about your kids, especially when they're young. Presidents? Nobel Prize winners? Global celebrities? Super Bowl quarterbacks and prima ballerinas? It could happen" and then thinks further about the "damaged goods" kids like Owen and the "new planet" they have arrived on where expectations shift of your child's future, and where the goal on many days is to find a way to ease the frustrations of both the child and the family members.
I also got teary eyed when the person who Owen idolizes, Jonathan Freeman (a.k.a. the voice of Jafar in Aladdin), calls Owen at the prompting of Ron Suskind's letter. When Freeman asks Owen what the real meaning of Aladdin is, Owen replies, "I think it's about finally accepting who you really are, And being okay with that." Even the man who did the voice for the evil Jafar gets a little sniffly with that profound statement.
The highlight of the whole book for me wasn't the ending (very unlike a Disney ending where everything works out beautifully since Owen's future still remains uncertain), but when Owen gives his graduation speech from KTS. Instead of an impressive guest speaker at this monumental occasion, each of the 18 graduates prepared a speech about the lessons they learned at KTS. "Each speaker simply says the truest thing they know. And that's why there are so many awed faces looking up toward the stage, waiting for their moment to express the truest thing they know: that, yes, each graduate is more than worthy. When the crowd gets a chance at the end to cheer, they won't stop. They can't."
I wanted the whole book to feel that way - the not wanting to stop cheering at Owen's triumphs over the dream busters (like that horrible kid who threatened him in music class), but I didn't feel like that most of the way through.
Don't get me wrong, Suskind is brilliant, and this book definitely goes to the heart (unflinchingly) of Autism's impact on an entire family. I just wanted less of it rather than more, which means to me that although I love Suskind and Disney, too much of a good thing can feel over indulgent and a little bit disappointing.
I go back to my original point, though, of how amazing it is when a person opens the vault of their personal lives for the world to see, prod, pick apart and internalize in their own way. Telling the truth of your life (especially the truths that hurt to tell) takes courage, and that's what Suskind showed in writing the story of his son, Owen who is a true hero.
Monday, July 28, 2014
I'm pretty sure that I need to go to Paris. NOW.
I've been to Paris twice in my life. Once when I lived in London, my roommate Deni and I hopped on the Chunnel and spent a three day weekend in Paris. We started together visiting his brother and going to museums. Deni got bored with that, so I continued on by myself which suited me better. I reveled in my alone time, popping into cafes and wine stores, stumbling upon my favorite museum EVER, the Musee d'Orsay, a beautiful art museum in an old refurbished train station. Deni and I would meet for dinner in the evenings, talking about our days of getting to know Paris in our own way.
About six years ago, my husband and I took a five day trip to Paris. It rained the whole time. Not just a little bit of rain, but the soaking kind. It didn't dull our experience at all. We walked everywhere huddled under one small umbrella, stopping for cafe creme when we needed a break. While on top of the Eifel Tower, we saw a storm moving in and ran to the bottom narrowly missing the gusty rain as we sought shelter in a cafe. We went to jazz clubs, and wonderful dinners, museums and parks. We walked until our feet hurt, got lost on the winding streets and loved every second of it.
After reading Janice MacLeod's "The Paris Letters" the pull to Paris with it's beautiful parks, museums, shops, markets and different pace of life gets hard to resist. Even more hard to resist is MacLeod's infectious creative attitude towards life. After realizing that her face paced, LA life complete with stressful career in marketing, does not satisfy her and isn't very fun, she makes a plan to get to Paris and become an artist. How does one begin the process of getting to Paris? Follow MacLeod's ingenious plan to either make or save $100 a day. She begins by using up the things she already has and stops the endless cycle of buying more and more. She sells her car, her bike, asks friends to meet her for coffee instead of pricey dinners, and sells paintings on Etsy (the rest of her list appears in the back of her book).
Rather than starting her year with a thin resolution to Lose 10 pounds, she challenges herself to write in her journal every day. She never forgets the saying on the card she bought when she was 20 years old that said, "Write to learn what you know." She needed to know that she was in charge of creating her life (don't we all?). In her wisdom from her journey to Paris she reflects that, "We must know how to design our lives. We are all artists, and each day is a canvas. Writing in my journal each day was how I redesigned my life. I became conscious of just how much I disliked my day-to-day existence. I would get up, react, and repeat. I had created a fast, busy, messy life. There was no one else to blame. I designed it, tried it, didn't like it, and had to erase and redesign."
How many times in your life have you felt this way but didn't do anything to change the "get up, react, and repeat" part? Maybe you are stuck right now in your daily grind and don't know how to make change.
What I love about MacLeod's book is that she used her creativity to find out how to make money by doing what she loves - writing letters and painting. She combined those two talents and developed her Paris letters concept. She also found love, found contentment, learned to love herself more, and learned a new language. Not a bad year.
This book inspired me, and it was another reminder of how important writing is in my own life. I do make excuses for how I don't have time to do it (when I have plenty of time to watch Master Chef and House Hunters and the occasional episode of Chopped). We all have the time to do the things that will free us from the lives we created that we don't like very much. What do you want to do that you have never thought you could do? Why not do it?
It also reminded me that traveling and getting out of our daily grind can make a huge difference. We build routines of drudgery and don't always know how to break the cycle especially when it is a cycle of necessity or one that revolves around our children, or our spouses, or jobs that we think we need because we are too afraid to take the leap and change.
If you read "The Paris Letters" you might just get the motivation that you need to create a fresh burst of new wonderful in your own world. And, I bet, you might just want to go to Paris. NOW.
Friday, July 18, 2014
I read memoirs to meet incredible people with incredible stories. Su Meck's memoir "I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia" tells the incredible story of how at age 22 she was struck on the head by a ceiling fan and suffered a traumatic brain injury. In her memoir, she pieces together her treatment (which seemed inadequate for the extent of injury), her life at home with two her two small boys after the accident, her marriage to her ever absent husband, Jim, and her survival without any memories and without the thinking ability that she had before the accident.
I will never look at ceiling fans the same (the day I started reading this book, my husband stuck his head under our ceiling fan in the bedroom that was recently installed to check if it was wobbling and I freaked out a bit until he moved his head away from the blades). I will also never take my intact memory or ability to learn or function in my life for granted. Su Meck's story reminded me that we can really do whatever we want to do in our lives even when we are presented with seemingly insurmountable obstacles to success. After her accident, Su mimicked those around her without understanding the "why" behind actions. She would frequently have what she terms "lightening" episodes where her brain would almost do a system shut down when she was presented with too much information or things got too intense. Sometimes these "lightning" episodes would happen when she was alone with her two boys, and even when she was driving.
As she coped with being misunderstood by her husband (who is brave for allowing his wife to share their story since he comes off as a villain in many respects), her family, and the medical community's lack of understanding at how severe her injuries were and the extent of her memory loss and functionality, she achieved so much every day. Even getting breakfast, lunch and dinner together for her family was a huge task for her not to mention that she went on to teach aerobics classes, volunteer in her son's classes, move to Cairo and learn how to function as a mother in a new space, and she even goes on to achieve a college degree even though she basically had to relearn everything including letters, colors, numbers, reading and writing at the age of 22. After applying to be on the Phi Theta Kappa board at Montgomery College, and being selected as an officer, she and the other members were asked to bring in a bag of significant objects to aid in getting to know each other. Su brought her "Hop on Pop" book and explained to the group that it was the first book she had ever read. She shocked everyone when she told them she read it at age 22.
Because she opened up to that group, her life began to change again. Being accepted by her fellow Phi Theta Kappa members helped her to see that she people needed to hear her story. Daniel de Vise from the Washington Post wrote a story about her (and eventually went on to help her write her memoir).
Although this book wasn't the best written memoir I have ever read (there are so many exclamation points in this book), but I overlooked the lack of style and graceful writing knowing that the author's incredible story of climbing her way back after a traumatic brain injury led her to write a book about her experiences in order to help others who might be suffering in silence like she did for so many years. Su Meck's book is a great reminder for me why I love memoirs - they show me that nothing is impossible and they connect me to amazing people who I would have never met otherwise. Stories truly do connect us to other people, and Su Meck is one person that I feel honored to be connected to after reading her memoir.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
I have attended over 36 weddings, and feel like I am somewhat of a wedding guest expert. At these weddings, I've been a bridesmaid, a musician, a reader, a greeter, and watched as my husband was a groomsman, an usher, a d.j. or the musician. I love being a big part of weddings, but being a guest with no responsibilities or financial obligations other than getting there and buying a gift can be pretty great, too.
A few years ago, on our flight to my best friend's destination wedding in Puerto Rico, my husband and I wrote down our memories of each of the weddings we attended either separately or together and gave them a rating. Just recounting the love and joy as well as some of the wedding mishaps that either we as guests encountered or created lasted longer than when our plane touched down in Puerto Rico, so the entire five days that we were at the beautiful resort and attending wedding festivities, we laid on the sand or by the pool and talked about the favorite parts and our least favorite parts of each wedding.
When I saw Jen Doll's book "Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest" on a recommended reading list for "hot summer reads," I was excited to pick it up and find a kindred spirit who has seen the wedding circuit and had funny insights into the wedding world.
I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this book, but I know that it wasn't what I wanted. For something that I thought would be a quick, fun read, I slogged through each chapter which contains a narrative about one of the weddings that she attended. Besides the first wedding chapter about her very first wedding ever attended as a child, she goes on to tell about her drunk hook ups, her friend drama, her designer dresses, her insights into the world of love and marriage and relationships, and her inability to stay sober at receptions.
I found Doll's narratives shallow and sad. I didn't find a kindred spirit or many funny moments to chuckle about or to feel connected to as I read. I mostly rolled my eyes as she got herself into one drunk situation after another - a volatile outburst, picking fights with friends, a temper tantrum as a friend tried to pry her from a dangerous situation at a wedding after party, or passing out and waking up with a horrible hangover. Each chapter presented another of Doll's failed relationships and it was hard for me to keep all of her boyfriends straight or to understand why any of them stayed with her in the first place.
It's not that I have never had a drunken experience at a wedding, or that I think wedding days need to be perfect. I have attended every kind of wedding to those with receptions in the basement of firehalls, to those that are in fancy hotels. I've been to weddings so beautiful and personalized that I cried and others that were so dreadfully boring that I couldn't wait to get to the open bar at the reception only to find that there was no alcohol available for the guests because it was against the religion of the bride's family.
Doll seems to have attended only one kind of wedding which is one that requires a certain kind of dress and heels (that she describes in each chapter with more detail than the wedding itself). Although Doll admits to having "kind of a drinking problem" the alcohol soaked receptions that end in uncomfortable moments seem to be the constant through her wedding experiences as well.
At the very beginning of the book, Doll makes a few very important insights about weddings. She says that "while one might assume a wedding is about them - the couple getting married - a wedding is about everyone. It's a means through which we guests can identify and reidentify our friends, our enemies, our lovers, and those we no longer love. Through it we see what we want, what we don't want, what we think we want, and sometimes, dangerously, that we have no idea what we want. Each wedding we attend, in whatever role we uphold, will highlight some aspect of our own lives, reflecting and reframing the way in which we look at ourselves." That's what I love about weddings. Each time I go, I am reminded about the beginning of a love story. I am reminded that I love to dance, and see my friends. I am reminded about how much fun my family is. I am astounded by the depths that some people go to in order to make their wedding uniquely theirs to reflect their love, and sometimes I am saddened by how much money gets thrown away on just one day for the sake of show.
In Doll's "Save the Date" she shows a soft side every once in awhile for the couple getting married, but mostly she dips into the darker side of herself. I love when people are real and divulge their "not so pretty" personality aspects. Where Doll comes up short for me is that she doesn't seem to be aware of the flaws she repeats over and over again. Maybe the audience for her book are the other elite New York City socialites who go to big (and small) fancy weddings to get drunk and hook up. I'm positive I wasn't the right reader since I found so little to enjoy in this book.
The biggest take away for me, is a reminder that I love going to weddings, and I know there will be more coming in my future since my sister in law recently got engaged. It's fun to be a guest and see the beginning of someone else's love story as I reflect on my own. My husband and I will be celebrating our 15 year anniversary in August, and it has been more than a tumultuous ride, but absolutely worth it. The wedding is just one day - maybe for the guests just as much as for the bride and groom, but the future for all of them is forever. My wish for all the weddings you attend in the future - be a good guest and try to leave your cynicism for love and for weddings aside as you watch the bride walk down the aisle. And maybe just maybe try to be conscious of over drinking as to not make a total fool of yourself.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
"How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves." - Brene Brown
Brene Brown's Ted Talk is one of my favorites of all time. Her quality to allow people to feel deeply and take a hard look at the way they live their lives inspires me. Researching predominately in the areas of shame and vulnerability helps her to guide people to a "Wholehearted Living" revolution. She defines wholehearted living as living with courage, compassion, connection, and deliberate boundaries. Her book "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are" serves as a guide to wholehearted living and can truly change the way people view themselves and their lives.
Right when I moved to Crystal Lake, one of my very dear friends had a package waiting for me to welcome me to my new home. Inside she had bubble bath, some tea, a cute towel and the book "The Gifts of Imperfection." I cried a little when I got the package. Moving is overwhelming; the most overwhelming part is how much new there is every single day. New is great and change is important, but getting a wonderful package from home from someone who truly knows my soul made my whole week feel more normal. My friend's package was another reminder for me to stay open and know that I will find exactly what I need, exactly when I need it if I give myself a break.
Giving myself a break is sometimes easier said than done. My husband and I are the types of people who want to have everything completed RIGHT NOW, but after a major move to a new state where we know virtually no one, we are learning patience. Patience with home renovations. Patience with finding places. Patience with our daughters' see-sawing emotions as they transition away from everything they know into this new space, and most of all patience with ourselves. Brene Brown's book helped me to love myself even more through our new life beginning here and recognize that loving myself is the key to success through this journey of change.
Each chapter of her book leads the reader through a series of guideposts (Letting go of what people think, letting go of perfectionism, letting go of numbing and powerlessness, letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark, letting go of the need for certainty, letting go of comparison, letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth, letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle, letting go of self-doubt and "supposed to," letting go of being cool and "always in control"). The guidepost titles themselves were enough to motivate me, but Brown's soothing tones and down to earth approach on each of the topics through her life stories helped put everything in perspective for me especially during this huge time of transition in my life.
I don't need to be certain and being vulnerable in this new space is a given, but after reading Brown's lessons, I feel that I can give myself permission to be imperfect like when I tripped and almost did a face plant at the splash pad while trying to retrieve my 5 year old from the too high monkey bars, or when I accidentally hit the bumper of a car in the parking lot as I adjusted my GPS on my dashboard and tried to talk to my daughter at the same time. All this new takes focus, and I am constantly reminded that I need to concentrate to achieve that focus.
There are bound to be missteps, but I feel like Brown's book gave me even more tools to join the wholehearted revolution. I might not be perfect, but I am proud of who I am and even prouder of the person that I am becoming.
Each night as we sit down to our family dinner, my daughters, my husband and I all say our "charm" for the day ("charm" was a term that our daughter, Story, came up with when she was 3. It means to say what you are thankful for from the day). My charms come so rapidly since we have moved to this new community. I have so much to be grateful for - a beautiful new home, my amazing and quirky little family, friends who send me packages from home, my health, being surrounded by love and for new experiences and opportunities. Most of all I am thankful that I am beautifully imperfect and able to embrace myself exactly as I am.