What I Read – Villa America

I must preface this by mentioning that I have an enormous amount of respect for authors. I am well aware of how much work is involved in producing a work of fiction or non. I don’t feel good at all about writing anything negative about someone’s hard work, but here I go.

I didn’t like this novel.

Villa America follows the trend of fictional novels based on real 20th century figures like Loving Frank and The Paris Wife. It tells the story of Sara and Gerald Murphy who were at the center of the American expatriate social scene in the south of France during the 1920s. They are the perfect subjects for this genre, as they were incredible muses who were once well known, but have since been lost behind the art they inspired.

The story begins with Gerald and Sarah’s childhoods, courtship, and then their idyllic life on the Riviera surrounded by their famous and wealthy artistic friends: the Fitzgerald’s, the Picassos, the Hemingway’s, just to name a few. At the same time, a new player is introduced – the fictional Owen, an untouchable, stoic war hero who’s sexual awakening as a young man cost him everything (to be read in a dramatic movie trailer voice). After his career as a WW1 flying ace, he makes his living as a pilot, running errands around Europe for the Murphy’s and their neighbors. It is Owen that creates a wedge in what appears to be their happy marriage.

It’s the addition of Owen that really turned me off of this story. He felt random; one dimensional and just didn’t quite fit in the narrative, other than to create imaginary contention in the Murphy’s story. It seemed unnecessary when there is so much potential for conflict and crisis within their real life circle of friends. It’s been well documented that Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald both had crushes on Sara and Picasso was so enamored by her that he painted at least half a dozen paintings of her. Gerald had his share of admirers, as well, including men; I’m sure, as Gerald’s homosexuality (which from what I understand is only speculated, for the most part, in real life) is the arching plot of this story.

I also found the novel a bit disjointed and busy. There were too many historical references, spanning a long timeline, along with too many supporting characters and Inconsequential details about them that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the story.

Overall, I was looking for a novel that would, even from a fictional perspective, help me connect to the Murphy’s and understand more about what made this couple so inspiring to the people they spent time with. However, the fabricated interloper, choppy timeline, and too many supporting characters that didn’t really help drive their story left me wanting.

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The Alphabet Wall

I started this post way back in 2014 when we were decorating our first daughter’s bedroom. This project was to be the pièce de résistance of the nursery and I actually managed to get in finished in time for her arrival. Of course, she didn’t come home with us, so we covered the furniture, pulled down the blinds and shut the door on that room until our little B was on her way. I worked really hard on this, and now, as we’re transitioning her room from a baby to toddler space and are considering taking it down to do something else, I think it is worthy of a post, even if it is three years after it’s completion.

Have you ever taken on a craft project and realized you’re in over your head?

It happens to me more than I care to admit. Pinterest is obviously at fault. No matter how many times I remind myself that most of my pins have been designed and photographed by professionals, I still try to live up to those impossible standards.

In late 2013, I was in full nursery decorating mode. At this point, we knew we were having a girl and we’d decided on apricot for the walls and a bright green shag rug from Ikea. For the back wall I was obsessed with the idea of an alphabet wall with an eclectic arrangement of different fonts, sizes and colours. If you do a search for alphabet walls there are tons of them similar to ours – it’s been done many times and seemed simple enough in theory, but it turned out to be far more work than I’d bargained for. Once I got started though, there was no turning back.

I will preface my vague instructions by telling you that you can buy a kit for this. It comes with all 26 wooden letters, unfinished, and costs around $100 on Etsy. I would really recommend this route if you are looking to try this yourself.

I didn’t buy the kit. Instead, I thought I could save a buck and decided to hunt down the letters on my own. It took a lot of time and energy, and really didn’t save me enough to make it worth the hassle. By the end, the cost of the letters alone, actually came close to the kit price.

Collecting the letters was time consuming and a huge pain in the ass. They came from everywhere – thrift, dollar and department stores, plus every craft/art supply store within a 100km radius. I kept a list to keep track of the ones I’d already bought but I wasn’t overly concerned about the size, case or fonts of the individual letters, I just focused on finding one of each.

Next came the fun part – painting and decorating. I used acrylic craft paint for most of them. I just bought a handful of basic colours and mixed different shades. I also bought some patterned scrapbooking paper and used mod podge to glue and seal. Then on the O (which was actually a small Ikea mirror), I added buttons because it just felt right. I didn’t have a definitive strategy for colours, I just made it up as I went along.

At this point, they were almost ready to hang. I added hardware to the letters that didn’t come with hangers already. For the ones thick enough to hammer a nail into, I used small metal saw tooth hangers, and for the thinner letters, I used adhesive fabric eyelets (both can be found with the picture hanging thingies in any hardware store).

Then, to get the layout just right, I cut templates out of paper and arranged them on the wall. This step took FOREVER. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is to make things appear random. After almost a week of arranging and rearranging the templates, it was finally time to hammer in the nails (I used thin, 1 inch nails).

The overall cost was about $130 in the end, including the letters, paint, and hardware. This was certainly one of my more successful Pinterest inspired projects and I was really proud of the end result. The execution was a bit of a fail though – if you’re trying this at home, buy the kit. You won’t regret it!

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Grief and Gratitude

Jeremy and I just wanted to express our gratitude to everyone who has offered us condolences this week. We’ve appreciated all the kind words, offers of help, flowers, food, advice and thoughts. We understand that many of you don’t know what to say. We don’t either. Losing a baby at almost 40 weeks brings with it an unexplainable kind of sorrow. There really are no words.

We do know that our friends and family are tiptoeing around us, and are afraid to ask questions about what happened. Nobody wants to pry, and we appreciate that. We’re ok to talk about it though, so we thought we’d write this to address the some of the things we been asked already.

How did you know something was wrong?

On Sunday morning I noticed the baby wasn’t kicking. This was unusual, as she was a very active baby.

At first, I didn’t give it much thought, as with only a few days to go, things were getting tight in there, and I’d read that fetal movement slows as the due date gets closer. Still, it was gnawing at me, so I decided to drop by the hospital just in case.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been to the hospital for a minor abnormality while I’d been pregnant. As it was my first, there had been unfamiliar twinges and pains that I’d had checked out, but I’d always walked away with piece of mind. That’s what I was expecting this time.

Of course, what happened next was unimaginable. I was admitted to the hospital immediately but it was too late. She was already gone. We can only assume her heart stopped sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning. From here, everything happened like an out-of-body experience. My brain stopped functioning and I just started following instructions.

Right away, they began the process of inducing labour and sent us home for a few hours to rest. We returned later in the evening for the next step, which included the epidural. They’d predicted I would be ready to deliver by noon the following day, but when they came to check on me at 7 AM, the head was already visible. The staff sprung into action. They told me to push and I did. Within minutes it was all over.

The labour was uncomplicated and physically, it looks like I came though unscathed, aside from the usual post-partum discomfort. Also, if there was a silver lining to this horrible experience, it’s that my OBGYN was on the floor at the time and was available to be with me until the end. I am grateful that she was there and not a stranger.

What happened?

It appeared to be a placenta abruption. We were given the option of an autopsy but apparently they usually come up inconclusive, so we choose not to.

Regardless, there was nothing we could have done differently, or no way we could have known ahead of time.

Did you see her? Hold her?


We decided this wasn’t something we could bear. The hospital took pictures that we can look at when we’re ready. We’re not sure if this was the right decision but we felt it was the best choice for us at that time.

Will you have a funeral?


While we realize this is something people in our situation sometimes do, we decided that it’s not something that would bring us much comfort or closure. We chose cremation and we’ll decide what to do with her ashes later on. We’re considering a memorial garden, a tree, or something along those lines, but we’re not really in a state to make any decisions that don’t have to be made right away.

What was her name?

We don’t know. We’re not sure about that yet, and it falls into the category of decisions that don’t have to be made right away. This is something we will revisit in the future.

What are you going to do now?

I’m still going to be on maternity leave until summer. The next few months are going to be hard though. We’re trying to prepare for them the best we can. We’re joining a support group, looking into counseling, and planning a vacation. We’ve also made a list of projects to do around the house. Then it will be camping season and we can get our little trailer back on the road. Staying busy and making plans for the future – we hope this will be the key to self-preservation.

Will you try again?

I’m hesitant to talk about this because I think baby making is such a personal subject, but the short answer is: yes. The prospect is terrifying to me at the moment though. The idea of another nine months of fatigue, morning sickness, heartburn and sleeplessness is daunting, especially since I’m still in the early stages of post partum recovery. Plus, there’s the possibility of having trouble conceiving. I’ve seen other couples struggle though this and I understand how stressful that can be.

Of course, there’s also the possibility of having to go though this again (although my OBGYN feels it would be highly unlikely). We’ve decided it’s worth the risk. There had been a time when we saw two paths: parenting and not parenting as equally satisfying lifestyles (we still do). If the last nine months have taught us anything though, it’s that we do really do want a child. Now that we’ve come this far, we can’t imagine giving up now.

Sadly, I know the next time we will be a less celebrated pregnancy and will be approached with so much more caution. I worry about spending nine months in constant fear, or even worse – apathetic. I’m hoping this is where counseling will be helpful.

In the meantime, I need time to recover physically, and together we need to process and heal emotionally, but we’re optimistic about the future. We hope that while we work though this, our friends, especially those with kids, don’t feel weird around us. We’re not bitter and we don’t begrudge. We are raw, but not fragile. We just want to move forward as we grieve.

Again, thank you all for your love and support.

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