Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay // Book Review

Summary: Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life. 

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode. (via Amazon)

My Thoughts: In some ways, this books has left me speechless. Painfully, heartbreakingly speechless.

Essentially, it told two separate but related stories: one of a ten year old girl in Paris in 1942, and one of a middle-aged journalist, also in Paris, 60 years later. One slowly discovers the history of the other, while learning much about herself in the process.

Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay was a heartbreakingly painful read that was enthralling and compelling at the same time.  Click here to read more!  |

Sarah Starzynksi a little Jewish girl born and raised in France, along with her little brother. The Vel d’Hiv roundup was an actual event that occurred during the German occupation of France, where French police rounded up thousands of Jewish men, women, and children under inhuman circumstances. The vast majority would be killed at Auschwitz; very few survived. The story graphically describes the conditions that the Jews were left in, the cruel acts they were subjected to, and the overall tragedy of the event. When the police arrive at Sarah’s door on that infamous night, she locks her little brother in a cupboard, and promises him that she will return to get him out. The fact that we do not know his fate haunts most of the story, and he will haunt Sarah for the rest of her life.

The story alternates between Sarah’s experience and that of Julie Jarmond, a journalist who is assigned to cover the event on its sixty year anniversary. The further she investigates the Vel d’Hiv, the more she learns about her family’s own past and tragic connection with Starzynksi family. The book also dealt with a lot of Julie’s marital and family issues, thought to be honest I found this part rather tedious and unnecessary.

The writing itself was stunning. It didn’t shrink from portraying in brutal detail the savage acts and inhuman events that occurred. It was very real — it made me feel like I was seeing, smelling, hearing and tasting every thing going on. But it was also beautifully sensitive to Julia’s Jarmonds thoughts and motivations. The descriptions were really what blew me away. Without being soppy or overdone, using only a few choice similes or one short sentence, Tatiana de Rosnay was able to draw me deeply into the story she told.

Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay was a heartbreakingly painful read that was enthralling and compelling at the same time.  Click here to read more!  |

Be warned: it was a somewhat gruesome read. As I said before, she didn’t hesitate to describe the events as they happened, in a very powerful and vivd way. And the ending, while not exactly hopeless, isn’t hopeful either. The whole story was incredibly sad, and the ending left me feeling rather bleak. There were so many things that I wanted so badly to happen, that I wanted to turn up all right and didn’t.  But at the same time, it had to be that way. It couldn’t have ended differently. It couldn’t leave you feeling good about it. Because that’s not how life is, and the book had to remain true to that.

In summary: it was horrible, tragic, heartbreaking, and yet compelling at the same time. I would recommend that you read it, because it is something that needs to be known. It ought not be kept a secret, because any day, the same thing could happen all ever again. History always repeats itself. But I warn you: you will not be the same. At least in my opinion, it will haunt you just a little bit for the rest of your days.

8 Steps to A Super Productive Weekend

Happy Friday, everybody! Oh, and you can wish me a happy return to the blogging world! Due to the Big Change I’ve mentioned here and here, which essentially involves moving away and adjusting to a radically different lifestyle, I’ve been absent for nearly two weeks. That’s way more time than I had estimated, but it’s been a lot, and honestly, blogging just hasn’t been a priority.

The ridiculously busy and also incredibly fun schedule that I’m settling into doesn’t leave me with a lot of free time. Like a lot of people, I use the weekends to catch up on all those tasks that get neglected during the week — cleaning, laundry, and of course, blogging. But have you ever woken up on Saturday morning with a dozen tasks you know you need to get done, only to go to bed with the definite knowledge that you accomplished…well…you checked your Instagram feed approximately 800 times? I know I’ve been guilty of this more times than I can even count.

Sure, weekends are for listening to your jams, chilling with a good book, and binging on Netflix. These are all good things. But they’re also special because you don’t have to go to school/work — you pretty much have the whole day to do what you want with. How can you make sure that you use those 48 hours in the best possible way? Enter this post!

How to have a super productive weekend in eight steps:

Do you ever go to bed on Sunday night realizing that you got absolutely nothing done over the weekend? We've all been there. It's so easy to let time slip away when we don't have any major obligations or constraints. However, the weekend is a great time to catch up on here to read how! |

1. Make a list.

At least for me, having on paper in front of me list all the things that I have to get done over the weekend is one great motivation to actually start doing them so that I can check them off! It’ll also help you feel more organized and avoid that panicked feeling that you have to do it all. Be as specific as possible, and designate the three most important tasks to prioritize.

2. Schedule your time and plan your day.

In case you didn’t know this already…I’m a HUGE fan of scheduling your day. I really think it makes a huge difference in your productivity. And the same goes for Saturdays and Sundays. Here are a couple tips:

  • Preferably, make your schedule
  • Schedule “me time” in your day. You deserve to allow yourself time where you can do whatever you want to do, not what you need to do. You owe that to yourself and the people around you. Make sure that you’ll be relaxed and refreshed for the upcoming week.
  • But also schedule each of the tasks on the list you just wrote. Estimate how much time they’ll take, and write down when you’re going to do them. I know it sounds so simple and self-explanatory, but trust me, writing them down and setting specific slots of time for them way increases your chances of getting them done.
  • In general, try to get the tasks and jobs you’re not looking forward to as much done first. Once they’re out of the way, you’ll have the rest of the day to relax. And besides, we tend to be more productive in the morning anyway.
  • While you’re at, you could consider planning the next few days as well. You’ll feel way less blues-y and more motivated on Sunday night if you already have a solid schedule in place for the beginning of the week.

3. Be wary of too many obligations

I’m not saying that you should stay at home all weekend — of course not. Weekends are for having fun, as well as getting stuff done. But I know I’ve fallen into the trap of scheduling time-consuming outings weekend after weekend. And I think this should be avoided. Jam packing your days with activities is eventually going to tire you out, and all those things that make you say “I’ll do it on the weekend” will pile up.

4. Motivate yourself to actually cross those items off

If you have your list and your time slots, then it’s time to actually make yourself do it. At one point, you have to make yourself do it, but especially when you have a task that you don’t want to, then you might want to try some of these motivational tips:

  • Keep in mind the ramifications of not getting it done. Meaning “if I don’t do this, then _______.” Remember them while you’re catching up on Facebook.
  • Work rewards into your schedule. Like during the week, if you give yourself incentives, then you’re way more likely to actually just do it. For example: “after cleaning the bathroom, I will watch an episode of The Flash.
  • Share your goals and plan with someone else who remind you and help you stay on task.


5. Don’t try to fit it all in.

There’s only so much time in 48 hours. Attempting to squeeze every last thing in there will only stress you out, and leave you feeling unproductive and worried. Spread out the various duties in a way that doesn’t have you rushing around and having tiny freak out moments galore. Figure out what can be moved to next week and add it to your schedule, if need be.

6. Take time to unplug

I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down to write Saturday’s blog post, only to get sucked into the world of Youtube, Pinterest, and Instagram. Despite all the good that they do for us, our devices serve as a constant distraction — especially on the weekend, when we sense a lack of time constraints. Force yourself to get off your phone or computer and focus on what needs to get done.

7. Make your chill time worthwhile.

Again, I’m not saying that a Netflix binge every now again isn’t good for the soul. But I am saying that they (or something similar) shouldn’t be the highlight of every weekend. Use your extra free time to do something worthwhile — read a book, bake some cookies, journal, go for a walk, take up a new hobby like blogging or knitting. If you’re as busy as most of us are during the week, then this may be one of the few times you have to explore and learn something new.

8. Focus on the list

Remember that list you wrote all the way back at the beginning? Stick to it. You might feel the temptation to wander off down rabbit trails. For example, I might have written on my list, “Rewrite “About” Page.” All well and good. But, as I start rewriting, I might realize that certain images also need to be designed, or that my pages and categories need to be reorganized. Instead of heading off to do those tasks, add them to the end of your list. Stick with your original priorities — the new ones can come later —  or wait until next weekend.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the post, and that you’ll be able to apply them these tips tomorrow! Do you have any awesome tips for having a super productive weekend? 

Monthly Memo August 2016 (v. 12)

August in three words: eventful, emotional, and lots of fun.

August in three words: eventful, emotional, and lots of fun. This month has been all preparing for big changes coming soon. |

What I’m…

Doing: Hustling to get stuff done.

Wearing: I’m starting to break out all the fall fashion — cowls and boots and cute pants and cranberry colored everything. I LOVE fall fashion so much, so don’t judge me for getting started as early as I possibly can.

Watching: [nerd girl alert] All of these incredible amazing movies. I can’t even describe to you what a fangirl I am and how excited I am to find even more fandoms to fangirl over.

  1. I’m now caught up on on the Marvel Movies, except for Civil War. I loved them all, though I gotta say I’m partial to Loki and Iron Man.
  2. Continuing my superhero kick, I watched Batman Begins for the first time as well and thoroughly enjoyed it — even though I am more than partial to Marvel.
  3. I got to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and was rather unimpressed. I definitely thought that it was lacking compared to the first POTC.
  4. And finally, I just started watching the Mission: Impossible movies featuring Tom Cruise, and am very, very, very much in love.

Eating: More cheeseburgers than I care to admit. Also, smoothies, to make me feel better about my diet.

Listening: Gotta admit that I really love Rude by Magic!, and have been listening to it on repeat this month. I also discovered All of Me by The Piano Guys, and I rediscovered my love for Celine Dion’s breathtaking (and tear-inducing) version of My Heart Will Go On.  Feels.

Feeling: A whole gamut of conflicting emotions. As the big change I talked about here gets closer and closer, I look forward to and dread it at the same time. In some ways, I’ll never be totally ready for it, and so the best I can do is pray and prepare as best I can. I also feel like time is moving by at a speed that quite takes my breath away, and it’s the tiniest bit heartbreaking.

What I Read This Month:

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read as many books this month as I would have liked to, but like I said above, August has been crazy, and the result is that I haven’t read as much as I would like. And I’m not expecting much next month either, what with The Change and all.

  1. Life in Motion, by Misty Copeland // Though as a dancer, I’m not the hugest fan of Misty, reading her autobiography was incredibly inspiring. It was so motivating to read about her struggles with her family and with racism and eventual triumph over them. For this reason, I would highly recommend her book to dancers and non-dancers like.
  2. The Well-Educated Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer // As I mentioned in this post, I’m planning to embark on a serious reading program this year, following the guidelines outlined in  The Well – Educated Mind. I love how this book is really aimed towards normal people, so that anyone really can learn to read the Great Books.
  3. The Story of My Lifeby Helen Keller // Another super motivating, astounding autobiography that I cannot recommend more. It is so inspiring to read about how all that Helen Keller achieved while being deprived of sight and sound. Of course, the thing most astonishing to me is her ability to describe in words things that she cannot see in a way that makes them come to live. I envy that ability.

Accomplishments and Happenings in August

  1. It’s been an awesomely crazy month, complete with parties, outings, and a carnival to top it all off.
  2. I was able to work on my about page like I had said I would last month. You can check it out here, though I still have many things to fix.
  3. Also in accordance with last month’s goals, I was able to cross off several items on my to-do list on Trello. I consider this a fact worth noting
  4. While still not at a consistency that is ideal, I have posted more on Instagram this month than in July.
  5. And I celebrated my blogversary last month! It was so exciting to realize that I have been on this incredible journey for a year (!!), and I am so glad and thankful that each of my readers has been here to share it with me.

Goals for September

  1. In the process of rewriting my about page, I made an important realization. I realized that my target audience and my goals for this blog have really changed since I started it, and the name “Creative Explorations” doesn’t fit anymore. So this month, I’m going to be renaming my blog! (And yes, this is a huge goal for a very short, busy space of time.)
  2. What with The Change, I’m going to spend most of this month settling into a new routine and lifestyle. If I’m a little absent on the blog for the next few weeks, know that it’s because I’m making some pretty huge adjustments and going through a pretty rough time emotionally and because I’m going to be changing lots of stuff up on here.

Blog Posts Last Month:

  1. 6 Things I’ve Learned in My First Year of Blogging
  2. Open Letters Linkup, Round 4
  3. What to Do Before Summer Ends
  4. Links I’m Loving, v.2
  5. How to Take Time Off Your Phone Every Day
  6. 12 Books to Read Before You Die
  7. Do’s and Don’ts of A Great Conversation
  8. On change, time, and living in the moment

Thanks for reading and leaving such sweet comments! You guys make my day, every day. Now it’s your turn: tell me what you’ve accomplished this month and what have you planned for September?

On change, time, and living in the moment.

Sure, change can be super tough -- you want life to remain the same, to be in control. But change is also a vital step in your development as a human being. |

It’s the very last day of August. This summer — one of the happiest of my life so far — is over. And with the ending of summer comes change. Without going into too much detail, it’s safe to say that after this week my life is changing, radically. It’s one of those crazy, drastic changes, where “normal” is redefined — a whole new normal has to be created. After this week, things will never be quite same again. Life will be different.

And with this event comes a whole gamut of conflicting feelings and emotions. I’m not going to lie — facing an upheaval like this is really, really hard. I’m excited for the future, but to be honest, I’m afraid — terrified, really — to let go of the present and the past. The funny thing is that I can’t move on until I’m ready to release the life I have right now, and I don’t know if/when I’ll every truly be ready to do that. I am anticipatory of these next months, but at the same time, I dread them.

I’m a creature of habit. I like things as they are, and I want it to stay the same. But that’s not how life works. Eventually, for better or for worse, something is going to have to change. And I’ve never been one to accept that without a fight. I want to be in control of my life, but change is something that I really can’t control.

Change isn’t a bad thing necessarily. It’s nostalgic, often bittersweet. And it isn’t easy. Right now, I’m realizing more than ever how important it is to be able to move on without forsaking who you are. Not to sound cliche or secular. I mean that no matter how far away from home and family you go, your core values should stay true to them.

Eventually, we’re going to have to learn to roll with the changes in our lives, because they’re never going to end. Instead of shrinking from them, we need to face them head on, and find out what we can learn from them. And eventually, we have to

Currently, I’m just trying to hold on tightly to the few days that I have left for everything to be the same. Not grasping them too tightly and furiously, and refusing to let them go, but savoring them, enjoying them, storing them up to keep in my memory forever. I know that nothing will ever be the same again.  That’s something I have to find peace with. But in the end, everything is going to be OK. It’ll be different, but it’ll be good.

Time passes so, so fast, you guys. It feels like just yesterday that I was 5 years old, and yet here I am, moving all too fast towards big, life-changing decisions and wondering where those days disappeared too. If there’s anything I want you to take away from this post (and this blog) it’s that I’m asking you to live in the moment. Live your life as fully as you possibly you can. Enjoy right now, because no matter what big, new thing comes along, you’re never going to go back to this time. Don’t waste it.

So that’s my two cents for today. I’ll leave you with a few meaningful quotes about change:

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. (Winston Churchill)

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. (Alan Watts)

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. (C.S. Lewis)

27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (ESV)

Forever is composed of nows. (Emily Dickinson)

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things  (Kurt Vonnegut)

Life is haphazard and full of beauty which I try to catch as it flies by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?  (Margot Fonteyn)

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. (Terry Pratchett)

Thanks for reading! What have been some of the biggest changes in your life? What do you do to cope with them and adjust? And would you be interested in a second post with more specific tips?

Do’s and Don’ts of A Good Conversation

I don’t know how many times I’ve said this (and it’s kinda ironic that I’m saying it on a blog!), but we do live in a Digital Age that is getting digital-er by the second. Our whole lives can be focused around our electronic devices. And one thing that’s gotten lost in the world of 140-character tweets, email, text talk, and emojis is the art of a good conversation. The beauty of this is that nothing can ever replace a meaningful, face-to-face conversation, but all too often we throw away those opportunities to hone this skill, because having a good talk simply isn’t as important as it used to be.
I hope you enjoy these tips and that they help you to improve your own conversational skills!
Having a good conversation is fast becoming a lost art in our world of text talk and emojis. Click here to get my best tips for a conversation that is beneficial to both you and your listener. |

Do listen more than you are listened to.

Y’know those people who talk and talk and talk…and talk…andtalkandtalkandtalk? Don’t be like that. The number one sign of a skilled conversationalist is that she is willing to hear what you have to say. Pay attention to the reactions of the person(s) you’re talking to — if you notice that they’re struggling to get a word in edgewise, then that’s a good sign that you’re dominating the conversation, and you need to take a break. Approach the conversation from a humble perspective, that the other person has something important to say. And no matter what s/he has to talk about, listen attentively, and try to show them that you care.

Do be confident

That being said, I also don’t think that you should be afraid to express your opinions. A conversation goes several directions — that’s part of the beauty of it. While you need to ensure that no one is getting left out, you also have to make sure that your opinion is heard, and yet you can’t be pushy, overbearing, or domineering. Finding this balance isn’t easy. Personally, I ere on the side of silence — I’d rather just go unheard then risk embarrassment — but I tend to take this trait to an extreme. My challenge is to actively provide a useful contribution to a conversation; yours might be to tone it down and hear what other people have to say.

Do listen attentively and let them know that you care.

Here we go again with the whole electronics obsession. Do not — I repeat for emphasis — DO NOT pull out your phone when you’re talking to someone unless its an absolute emergency. There’s nothing that can turn the other person off like looking at a screen instead of their face. It’s like telling them that your virtual life is more important then your real one. Make direct eye contact so that they know you’re listening, even if you couldn’t care less about what they have to say. And no matter what they’re saying, react pleasantly. Express your opinion without being aggressive. Don’t dismiss their ideas. If they need a few words of comfort? Give it to them. Do they need advice? Do your very best to help them out. Ask questions, and try to get involved in what they’re saying.

Do try to find something that you can relate to.

This is especially true when you’re trying to talk to someone who you have never met before, say at a party. Don’t stick to the standard conversational cliches — where are you from, etc. Instead, make a list of awesome conversation starters (this is a blog post that I’ll definitely write in the future) and introductions that are unusual, interesting, or will make your listener smile. Don’t start a new relationship on a sentence as worn out and cliche as “so where you from?”

Don’t talk about yourself

Now I realize that if everybody followed this rule, then conversations wouldn’t happen. But in my experience, we naturally want to talk about ourselves. That’s human. There’s nothing wrong with it. But let’s be honest — it can also drive your listeners crazy, because everybody wants to talk about themselves too. Trust me, I’ve been subjected to this several times, and I’m sure I’ve subjected a good many people to it unknowingly. Your role as a good conversationalist is to listen to the other person(s), and to talk about things that they can relate to or are interested in.

Don’t be superficial;

Have you ever gotten stuck in a conversation with a good friend who is obsessed with The Avengers or Harry Potter or Once Upon A Time or ____________ (you fill in the blank)? And the conversation just won’t go anywhere else, even though you really want to tell her about ________? Yep, I’ve been there too. Even if you’re just as obsessed, I think that you should make an effort to create an intelligent, meaningful conversation when you can. Now I’m not saying you should only have deep philosophical discussions on the meaning of life and Immanuel Kant. Your favorite TV shows, music, or movies, or nerdy fangirling, all make for great, fun conversations. Again: balance is key. It’s not necessarily a good thing if your conversations is totally comprised of such topics, because what does that say about the people who are carrying on the conversation?

Don’t shut up like a clam

This is one of the most awkward things that can happen in any conversation. After you’ve exhausted the standard exchange (this problem can be avoided altogether if you use tip #3!), an ominous silence descends. The two of you smile at each other blankly while each thinks “UGGGGHHH. Sooooo AWKWARD.” I’ve been there. So if it gets bad, then don’t stop talking. Do whatever you need to do, but keep the words coming until the conversation picks up again. If you’re in this situation, then it’s ok to talk until the other person has something to say.


(Make sure to pin this graphic if you enjoyed the post!)
Having a good conversation is fast becoming a lost art in our world of text talk and emojis. Click here to get my best tips for a conversation that is beneficial to both you and your listener. |

Thanks for reading! What’s your awkwardest conversation story? What do you do to have a good conversation?

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