Book Review: Orphan Train

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orphan train book

Last month my mom recommended the book Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline to me. She said she read practically the entire book in one sitting so I knew it was worth a try.

The book is about a troubled teenage girl named Molly who has been in and out of foster care her entire life. At the present she is in trouble for stealing a library book and has to complete community service. She manages to do this by helping a wealthy elderly woman, Vivian, clean out her attic. These two seemingly vastly different individuals get to know each other, and as Vivian sees and touches items from her past she tells Molly the stories behind them- the stories of her life. The book switches back and forth from the present (which was the year 2011) and Vivian’s past, starting in 1929.

Vivian immigrated to America as a child from Ireland around 1929. Her family had little very little money and just barely got by. After an unfortunate incident, Vivian (birth name Niamh, pronounced “Neev”) was left orphaned and abandoned in New York City. She had no way of getting back to her remaining family in Ireland and no one in the states to care for her. At this time in NYC there was a big problem with what to do with children like Niamh. Many were living on the streets and getting into trouble; some even ended up in jails with adult criminals. The Children’s Aid Society was founded and it, along with the New York Foundling Hospital, sought to find refuge and care for these children. That leads us to the so-called Orphan Trains.

Children of all ages would be piled into close quarters in a train headed for the mid-west. Ahead of time flyers would be hung up in various cities announcing the impending arrival of the orphans to try to stir up interest of the local citizens to harbor one or more of the children.

orphan flyer

Upon arrival at these cities, the children would be lined up like cattle and inspected by the interested townspeople. The infants were usually chosen first, while the older kids were often sought to be used as apprentices or servants; it was up to the families whether or not to officially adopt the children or take them in to be a part of their family. Some people at these auction-like events even went so far as to inspect a child’s teeth or musculature to make sure they could handle heavy labor.

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Vivian recants to Molly about her various experiences with different families she lived with growing up in this situation. Most experiences were dreadful and you couldn’t help but feeling terrible for poor helpless Niamh. I don’t want to give too much away, but obviously Niamh grows up to be Vivian and she does well for herself.

Sharing these stories bring Molly and Vivian closer together- Molly herself feeling abandoned most of her life. They become kindred spirits of sorts. Overall I’d have to say that this was a very interesting and heart-warming story. This is a part of history that I don’t ever recall learning about it in school and I feel like a lot of others might not be aware of it either. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into that particular part of history and see it through the eyes (albeit, fictional eyes, but they still seemed accurate from what I can tell) of someone actually experiencing it. The story can be heart-wrenching in parts, but I definitely recommend it; it’s certainly a page-turner.

If you’re interesting in learning more about the orphan trains (besides just using Google, obviously) you can visit the National Orphan Train Complex and research center in Concordia, Kansas. They have records of people who passed through on the trains and all kinds of pictures and memorabilia and information. Who knows, maybe you even have a relative who was involved somehow. If I’m ever in that area I’d love to check it out.

If you give Orphan Train a read let me know how you like it. I’d love to hear other views on it.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!

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The Big C and the Big H.

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Is anyone else afflicted with the career indecision bug? Maybe you have a degree and don’t know why you got it or what to do with it, or maybe you’ve just been working random jobs since you graduated high school because you don’t know what else to do, or maybe you’re one of the lucky few that it just seemed to click for and you’ve got a great career and you’re happy (if this is you, you suck and the rest of us are jealous so go be content elsewhere…Just kidding! Tell us your secrets!). One thing that I’ve noticed about myself over the years is that I’m interested in a little bit of everything. Kind of like the old cliché “jack of all trades, master of none”. I really want to be a master of something, but I can never focus enough to delve deep and really get into something. Instead I tend to dabble. I’m not sure if I lack follow-through or what, but this is a behavioral pattern that I’ve noticed in my life. As fun as it is trying a variety of things, it doesn’t always feel like it’s super conducive to finding a good career to settle into and be happy. I mean, that’s what we all want, right? The big H. Happiness. Sure money is a factor. We all want the green stuff. But why? So we can feel secure and Be Happy.

Lately I’ve been trying to change my way of thinking in regards to this matter. Maybe the fact that I like so many different things doesn’t have to be a hindrance to finding a suitable career. Maybe there’s  a way that I can combine some of the things I’m passionate about and find an area to make my own.

To give you a little background, I’m starting my master’s degree in Counseling in a few months (after changing my mind many many times over the last few years, I should mention), and it was a tough decision to decide to go back to school. After previous attempts I’m still a little nervous that this isn’t the right area for me to pursue. That I won’t be good at it or won’t like it. I know I can’t expect to wake up every day feeling pumped to go to work. I don’t think that ever happens with any job.  But I do want to enjoy my job and look forward to it most days. My whole life I’ve watched the adults around me work jobs that they didn’t enjoy just to make money and get by. And so far since I’ve graduated college, that’s what I’ve been doing too. It’s ridiculous how simple it is to get sucked into a job and stay just because it’s easy. And before you know it you’ve wasted three years of your life. One of my friends (a wise and lovely lady, I might add) says that Complacency is one of her biggest fears. I love her for that. She hits on exactly what I’m talking about here. I refuse to wake up one day and realize that I’m 40 and that I’ve wasted my potential. I absolutely refuse. So, despite my trepidation, I’m going for that master’s degree (and eventually a Ph.D.) and after I’m sufficiently trained I will make therapy my own. Whether I decide to have my own practice or work in some type of community therapy setting, I know I can find my own unique way to help people.

Just in case you’re at all curious, here a few things I want to incorporate somehow in some way into my career one day, whatever the career ends up being: healthy living, exercise, stress management, I want to have a trained therapy dog to help people feel at ease and relax (and who doesn’t love dogs? If you don’t love dogs then you can get outta here, dog hater weirdo. J/k. Not really. Leave.), and so many other things. I’m not sure yet what my focus will be technique-wise. I imagine I won’t know that until I’ve had some training. I have a lot to learn. And I’m not sure how I’ll end up mixing those into my career; maybe some of them will stay on the hobby side of things, who knows (I feel like hobbies is a post all on it’s own)(wow I sure do use a lot of parentheses))))). And you know what, I could end up doing something completely different. Maybe I’ll fall into something else and end up being super passionate about it and it will take me in a completely different direction. And that’s fine too. I’m learning not to plan too much because things rarely work out how I imagine they will. And that’s okay.

Another way that I want to adapt my thinking is to learn to live more in the moment. I’m always so future-driven that I often forget to slow down and enjoy what’s around me. I get too focused on what might be instead of enjoying what is. I need to accept that this whole Life thing is a process. There’s no end result. It’s a lifetime of moments strung together, and hopefully when you’re time is up you can look back and be at peace with what you see. In the meantime, I want to enjoy those strung-together moments, to let go of the unpleasant ones and focus on the good ones. The ones that make it all worth living.

So what is it that you’re passionate about? Are you in the same boat as I am and aren’t 100% sure where your life is going? How do you handle it? Maybe you have a different way of looking at these things that I haven’t yet considered. I love talking to people so feel free to leave comments or messages.