REVIEW: The Dog Lived (And So Will I) by Teresa J. Rhyne

I am on a mailing list for an independent publisher called Sourcebooks, and several months ago I got a newsletter with a contest for The Dog Lived (And So Will I). All I had to do was send an e-mail with my favorite pet story for a chance to win a signed copy. I decided to go with this:

When I was in ninth grade, we moved to a new house to put me in a different school zone. The first day that we all went to work and school, we left our German Shepherd mix dog outside in a little fenced-in area that came with the house. I was daydreaming on the bus ride home from school when I heard someone yell, “Hey, look at the cute dog!” As a dog lover, I hurried to get a glance at the dog. To my surprise (and horror!), it was my dog. He was walking steadfastly, as if he knew exactly where he was going. I yelled at the bus driver to stop and jumped off the bus. My dog and I made the mile+ walk back to the house, and as we were walking I realized that he was heading in the exact direction of our old home. The poor thing thought we had dropped him off at a new house and was coming back to get us! That night, as I was relaying the story to my parents, our cat decided to run up a lit fireplace. Panic ensued. After rescuing her (with no harm done), we decided to spend some time helping the animals get used to their new home. It didn’t take long before everyone was happy and all was well.

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My Jake

I was one of the winners and got my copy of the book shortly after that.

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I was finishing up my summer classes, as well as preparing for a move and a holiday, so I was not able to pick it up immediately. I started reading the book right as I was leaving for my trip to Guam, and I finished it at some point during the fourteen hour flight from Newark to Tokyo.

Before I get into the review, I have a confession I need to make: I am really not a fan of beagles. One of my family members has a beagle, and that dog is the most awful, obstinate, terrible, stinky, stubborn, bullheaded dog I have ever had the misfortune of dealing with. After her, I swore off beagles, saying the only one I’d ever love again was the cartoon Snoopy. This book has helped me learn a few things – the biggest of which is that I like beagles a lot better when I am not the one responsible for taking care of them. Looking in on a beagle’s home as an outsider, I find them endearingly amusing. Also, all of his quirks aside, Seamus had been added to my very short list formerly only containing Snoopy of beagles that I have a fondness for.

So, on to the book review! Here is the description of the book from the publisher (here is the link to the book’s page):

Teresa Rhyne vowed to get things right this time around: new boyfriend, new house, new dog, maybe even new job. But shortly after she adopted Seamus, a totally incorrigible beagle, vets told Teresa that he had a malignant tumor and less than a year to live. The diagnosis devastated her, but she decided to fight it, learning everything she could about the best treatment for Seamus. Teresa couldn’t possibly have known then that she was preparing herself for life’s next hurdle — a cancer diagnosis of her own. She forged ahead with survival, battling a deadly disease, fighting for doctors she needed, and baring her heart for a seemingly star–crossed relationship. The Dog Lived (and so Will I) is an uplifting and heartwarming story about how dogs steal our hearts, show us how to live, and teach us how to love.

I genuinely enjoyed this book. I am always a sucker for an animal book, though I constantly have to remind myself that the ones with animals dying will usually turn me into a sniffling, crying mess. I appreciated that the very title of this book ensured me that the dog would indeed live.

Seamus was a joy to read about. I laughed out loud more than once at Seamus’s antics (especially the food-grabbing, which is definitely funnier when it isn’t happening to me). When he got sick, I immediately began to root for him. When his vet didn’t seem to care as much about him as she should, I was angry on his behalf. I knew he would live, but I still breathed a sigh of relief when I found out that his cancer had gone into remission. I also loved the little quirks such as his affinity for toast and the author’s translation of Seamus-speak.

This story was just as much about Teresa as it was about Seamus. Her cancer diagnosis and her relationship with her boyfriend are prominent plots in the book. Though I was expecting the book to be largely about the dog, I was pleasantly surprised at how emotionally invested I found myself with Teresa.

She has a fabulous sense of humor and a way with words that made every aspect of her life fascinating. I enjoyed reading about her relationship, meeting the parents, her adventures with Seamus the beagle, and her journey through cancer treatment. She wrote it all with such a spark that you want desperately for her to succeed at everything from stopping Seamus’s uncontrollable barking to beating breast cancer. Her writing is clean, articulate, captivating, and funny. I loved the blog posts written by both her and her boyfriend Chris (especially those dealing with his hair growth). I actually began laughing uncontrollably when she relayed the story about going in for chemo and seeing the Beanie Babies hanging by their necks from the I.V. stands. Seeing as it was the middle of the night on my fourteen hour flight, I am sure my fellow plane passengers enjoyed my amusement. Oops.

What I appreciate most about this book is that it has heart without being preachy. The author doesn’t rhapsodize about praying or remaining constantly positive and eternally optimistic. She willingly acknowledges the struggles with both her cancer and Seamus’s cancer. There were tears and hopelessness and anger and frustration, but there was also a light at the end of the tunnel.

As soon as I got off the plane and to a computer, I looked up Teresa to see how she was doing. I was glad to see that she is doing well, but I was saddened to learn from her blog that Seamus passed away in March. I still think it is wonderful that he lived for eight years after his cancer diagnosis and that he had such kind and caring owners to see him through it until the end. And though his story has ended, I still highly recommend The Dog Lived (And So Will I) for dog lovers, cancer survivors, and anyone who loves a good, funny, well-written memoir.

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“A Return to Normalcy”

I don’t actually have any concept of ‘normalcy’ in my life, but it seemed like a good enough blog title so there you have it.

I have just returned from a nearly two week trip to Guam. The island was lush and beautiful – plus I had the benefit of visiting family members as well as getting a tropical holiday. Two for one! It was absolutely wonderful getting to know the nephews I’ve really only ever spoken with via phone calls and Skype. They are fun and bright and exuberant and adorable, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with them. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephews will be coming to visit us in Virginia for the Christmas holiday, and I cannot wait to show the nephews around my turf.

So, Guam! I could write plenty about it, but here are some pictures since they sum up the beauty better than I ever could:

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Simply gorgeous. My flights to and from Guam were atrocious (mainly because of issues with United Airlines then an illness that I thought was a cold but turned out to be bronchitis well on its way to pneumonia). United will be getting a nice, long e-mail from me about their horrific service and all of the issues I encountered trying to make it through this trip without getting stranded somewhere. I very rarely complain about airline service since I expect it to be poor, but my experiences this time were really abysmal.

But anyway! I am now back in Virginia, moved into a new apartment, and ready to start the first classes of the last half of my MLIS degree – which includes an internship.. I have continued to receive Advance Reader Copies of books, as well as winning a few in contests. I owe several books some reviews (mostly because the books were fantastic and deserve more traffic, even if it is just from my silly little blog). Look forward to future reviews of The Dog Lived (and So Will I) by Teresa Rhynes, Help for the Haunted by John Searles, and Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh.

Tonight, though, I am just going to say that I hope everyone has had a fantastic summer! Mine has been pretty remarkable, and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for me.

REVIEW: The Returned by Jason Mott

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Description from Amazon:

“Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That’s what all the Returned were.”  

Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time…. Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old. 

All over the world people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human. 

With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

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I received a copy of Jason Mott’s debut novel The Returned from NetGalley to read and review. I was thrilled to get it because two of my lovely coworkers made it to BookExpo America, and they said this was one of the very highly anticipated novels from the expo. To be perfectly honest, the fact that the book was published by Harlequin scared me. I associate them with bodice-ripping romances, which are not on my radar at all. A little bit of reading up on The Returned had me intrigued enough that I had to find a copy. Be warned that my review below contains some spoilers.

This was one of those amazing, soul-crushing books that will sit heavy on your mind long after you’ve finished it. The premise is beyond interesting: people have suddenly begun to return from the dead. No explanation, and no rhyme or reason as to who returns or where they return. It is something most people have thought about. What would happen if our loved ones could return? What would we say to them? I sometimes find myself thinking about what would I say to my deceased family members if I could see them just one more time. But Jason Mott reminds us that it isn’t so simple.

I love the flow of this novel. The main story follows Harold and Lucille as they deal with the return of their son Jacob, who drowned in 1966. Interspersed throughout are stories of various others who have returned and the living family members grappling with this unexplainable phenomenon. While there is confusion throughout regarding the return of these people, you see it rather quickly morph into suspicion. Suddenly, Harold and Lucille’s small town is turned into a large holding cell for the Returned.

The characterization in The Returned was excellent. The suspicious townspeople who quickly turn against the Returned and attempt to drive them out of town, the family who was brutally murdered by a passing stranger and Return together only to be shunned by their friends and neighbors, the Bureau agent who never really seems to believe in the abilities of his department to solve the issue of the Returned and who ends up being a surprising ally, and the couple who tragically lost their son decades ago only to have him show up on their porch – Harold, the man who makes up jokes with his son, and Lucille, the devoutly religious woman who has a deep love of finding the perfect word for every situation. In the beginning, Lucille appears to be far more receptive to the return of their son Jacob, but you find out in the most heartbreaking way that things are not always how they appear.

This is not an action-packed novel. Most of the actual action occurs at the very end. Up to that point, it is a meandering, slow buildup of tension. I believe that what made me love this book so much is Jason Mott’s raw talent. So many authors could have taken this concept and cranked out a mildly entertaining, mediocre novel, but Mott crafted a beautiful story that continues to stay with me weeks after I finished reading.

I believe that most people will find the poignancy and beauty in the novel, but it is not for everyone. If you want constant action, full explanations, and happy endings, you would be better served elsewhere.

Jason Mott has also written several short stories set in the same universe, “The First,” “The Sparrow,” and “The Choice.” The Kindle editions are free. You can access the first two here and here, and the third will be available here beginning August 1.

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The Returned will be available beginning August 27, and a pilot is currently being filmed for a television show based on the novel (the show is called Resurrection). I highly recommend the book, and I plan on tuning in to the show when it airs.

I’m Still Here!

I want to apologize for the last of posts recently. I so love the idea of being a blogger, but everything hit me at once and I simply haven’t been able to keep up with it like I wish. Summer classes, work, and preparing for an out-of-country vacation and apartment move have kept me extremely busy.

Fear not, though! I am in the process of writing a blog post to review a fantastic book I read recently (The Returned by Jason Mott), and I have a huge stack of Advanced Reader Copies of books to read and review.

In the meantime, feel free to visit and add me at Goodreads. I have kept that slightly more up to date than this blog with regards to reviewing books.

I hope everyone is doing well and reading some fantastic books this summer!

REVIEW: The Shade of the Moon

A few weeks ago, YA author Susan Beth Pfeffer hosted a giveaway on her blog for ARCs of her soon-to-be-released The Shade of the Moon, the fourth book in the Life As We Knew It series. The books tell the stories of several families dealing with the aftermath of a asteroid hitting the moon and knocking it closer to Earth. The first and third books, Life As We Knew It and This World We Live In, are written as the diary entries of Miranda Evans, a teenager living in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. The second book, The Dead and the Gone, is a companion to the first book that follows devoutly religious Alex Morales in New York City as he experiences the same events. The asteroid hitting the moon proves to be catastrophic. The event leads to tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes, and a steep drop in temperature. There is illness, starvation, and desperation in the post-apocalyptic world.

I love the book covers!

Unfortunately, I did not get an e-mail saying I won a copy of the book in the giveaway. I was disappointed, but I figured August isn’t too far away. But! Not all was lost! One of my coworkers had also entered, and she did win a copy. I waited patiently (or not so patiently) until she and her son finished reading it, then she very kindly passed it on to me.

Before I begin my review, a disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of The Shade of the Moon that was borrowed from someone who won it from the author. I am writing this review because of a personal goal I set for myself to read more, review more, and blog more. Also, this is an honest review. I tend to be a little harsh with YA fiction because I am constantly finding so many problematic elements. I did have some issues with this book, but overall I enjoyed reading it.

Caution! Spoilers!

There will be major plot spoilers for all four books from this point on! I will try to not give away too much about the fourth book, but small plot points will be discussed.

I really love the idea that Susan Beth Pfeffer has explored with her novels. One big problem that I have with a lot of post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature (especially YA) is that I often find myself asking, “But why?” I can never quite suspend my disbelief long enough to accept that the chain events the author gives could feasibly cause the plot of the novel. With the Life as We Knew It series, I could really buy that an asteroid hitting the moon could cause some serious issues. I could imagine the tides getting messed up (along with all of the other natural disasters), and I could see the reasonable ensuing panic.

In the first book, we are introduced to Miranda Evans and her mother, older brother Matt, younger brother Jonny, neighbor Mrs. Nesbitt, and other minor characters. We know that she has a father and a pregnant stepmother. The family struggles in the aftermath of the moon disaster, but through her diary entries we see them survive. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads because despite the fact that I am not too terribly fond of diary/first-person POV novels, I fell in love with the idea and I enjoyed reading it.

The Dead and the Gone is set in the same timeline as Life As We Knew It, only in New York City instead of Pennsylvania. We meet highly religious Alex Morales and his younger sisters Briana (who is the most pious of them all) and Julie (who is a bit of a spitfire). Unlike the first novel, there are no parents to help the situation. Alex, who has taken a traditionally male role in the family, struggles to adjust to daily chores such as cooking and bigger tasks like keeping his sisters alive and scouring fields of dead bodies to see if his mother is one of them. By the end, he and Julie are able to procure tickets to get into a community that can help them survive. Briana dies (and I must say that while it seemed obvious afterwards, I did not see that death coming!) My Goodreads rating for this book was 3 stars. I still loved the idea and the execution was good, but most of the characters annoyed me to the point that the book was slightly less enjoyable.

This brings us to the third book, This World We Live In. Unfortunately, this book was my least favorite. We are back to Miranda’s diary, and we see soon enough that her father, stepmother, and half-sibling arrive with three strangers in tow. Two of those strangers just happen to be Alex and Julie from the second book. Her older brother Matt sets out and returns with a wife, Syl. This growing group of people are trying to survive on dwindling supplies and food. Since it is the end of the world, it is only natural that the teenagers pair off in romantic couples (Miranda with Alex and Jon with Julie). I prefer my books without piles of sappy romance, so that aspect of the novel – while understandable and believable – was not my favorite. I was also quite upset about the cat and Julie. Miranda wrote about how furious she was that her sister-in-law Syl humanely killed their family cat, yet Miranda herself humanely killed Julie after she was terribly injured. She was so angry at Syl because she felt that Syl was not part of the family and did not have the right to do so. If that is the case, why in the world did she think she had the right to kill her boyfriend’s sister?! This book was a 2.5 star book for me, but I rounded it up to 3 on Goodreads since we can’t do half stars.

Since I wasn’t incredibly fond of the third book, I was not sure how I would like the fourth one. It was an unexpected – though not unwelcome – surprise to see that there was going to be a fourth; I thought she was finished after three. I was intrigued to see where these characters could possibly go from the end of the third book.

Susan Beth Pfeffer posted the first twelve pages on her blog. You can find them here. The first few pages of the book tell us that Miranda’s brother Jon lives with his stepmother and half-brother. His dad died on the way to the enclave where they currently live. They got in using the passes that Alex procured in The Dead and the Gone. This series has slowly moved from the post-apocalypse to a new, dystopian society that was created to deal with the fallout from the moon incident.

This society includes two main groups of people, the clavers and the grubs. Grubs do manual labor and live in subpar housing. Clavers are the upper class, living in houses with proper air filtration and eating the best food available. Jon feels a lot of guilt over the death of Julie, not realizing that Miranda was the one who ended her life. As a claver in his enclave, he has grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle – one that includes plenty of food and domestics to do the cooking, cleaning, and babysitting. His mother, along with a pregnant Miranda and her husband Alex, live in the nearby grub town and work as a teacher, greenhouse employee, and bus driver.

I don’t want to give away many major plot points or spoilers, but suffice to say things get ugly fast. The clavers feel some sort of entitlement over the grubs, and it leads to loads of drama and, of course, some tragedy. The way society naturally devolved into two main groups, the haves and the have-nots, illustrates a pretty typical dystopian element that really works well in this instance. It was hard to digest at points, but I believed it could really happen. I believe that it is entirely plausible that certain people would feel that entitled to the finer things in life while the rest, the majority, struggle to exist. I mean, it is basically a more intense imagining of something that is already happening to a degree.

One thing I must note, though: I hate Jon. Really. He is completely selfish and obnoxious and just awful. I appreciate that he went through some character growth throughout the novel, but I still thought he had loads of maturing to do at the end. The way he treated people (especially how he described his nights in the grub town ‘taking’ any girls he could) was pretty gross. Even with my hatred of the main character, I still enjoyed the story. I would have liked to see more uprising from the grubs, though. These are not stupid people – many of the grubs in the book were highly educated people who just happened to be in a profession before the moon disaster that was not productive in the aftermath. With all of those educated people, surely they could stage an uprising and use their smarts to their benefit? The one huge showdown between the clavers and the grubs in the book did not end well for the grubs. I know they have a lot going against them, but it would be great to see them really fight against these new societal classes.

Overall, I really liked The Shade of the Moon. The things that were meant to disgust me disgusted me, and the book kept my attention the entire way through (something that is surprisingly commendable thanks to my absurdly short attention span). I am glad that we got to see what became of the rest of Jon’s family. There was a healthy dose of action, drama, and heartbreak. There was one scene in particular that broke my little stone heart. I also like that it was open-ended enough that Susan Beth Pfeffer could always write another book in the series.

I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. Contrary to popular belief, I am not a literature snob. I do love my F. Scott Fitzgerald and George Orwell, but I also see the value in a solid idea and execution in general fiction and YA. And that is exactly what the Life As We Knew It series is – a solid, enjoyable read.

 

Sophisticated – God, I’m sophisticated!

My resolution to blog more has clearly been a bit of a failure so far this year. I was off to such a good start, but I put aside my normal topics to write a blog for a man that I respected very much after his passing in January. After that blog I lost a bit of mojo, so I decided to wait until I was ready to talk about something else. That time is now, so here we go!

I was able to procure tickets to see an advanced screening of The Great Gatsby this past Monday. It is one of my all-time favorite novels, and I have been beyond excited to see the film. I even showed up with my Great Gatsby earrings that a friend got for me a while back.

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I was not entirely sure what to expect from this film. While I am a fan of Baz Lurhmann (his Romeo + Juliet is still one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my life), I am incredibly protective of Gatsby and did not want anyone to mess it up. I was also slightly skeptical about the casting. Leonardo DiCaprio is not the Gatsby I expected, and I have a hard time separating Carey Mulligan from her guest role on Doctor Who as Sally Sparrow.

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Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good Luck.

Personally, I absolutely adored the film. It was beautiful and fantastic and everything that I had hoped it would be. It was very true to the novel in terms of dialogue and narration. There was one facet that was unique to the film, but it was not something that I disliked or felt was out of place. All of the actors slid perfectly into the roles assigned to them. I have never enjoyed Leonardo DiCaprio or Toby Maguire as much as I did here. The costumes were amazing, and the party scenes were to die for!

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Ain’t no party like a Jay Gatsby party!

My only gripe (and it is a fairly small one) is the soundtrack. Unfortunately, that was one Baz Lurhmann-ism that just didn’t fully work for me. I appreciate that he was trying to seamlessly blend the upbeat Jazz Age music with current music, but there is something about hearing Jay-Z playing loudly whilst hundreds of people in tuxedos and flapper dresses dance at Jay Gatsby’s house that threw me out of the scene a bit. Not all of the music was bad, but I think I would have preferred more authentic music.

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Gatsby may raise his glass to Jay-Z’s “$100 Bills,” but I was not a fan.

I have noticed the film receiving less than positive reviews. Many say that, despite all of the opulence and pizzazz, the film is empty and without heart and soul. I have to wonder if they’ve read the book. THAT’S THE POINT. The whole novel (and movie, really) revolves around the fact that all of the money and luxury and extravagance was covering up complete moral bankruptcy. The film may not have accomplished this entirely, but it seems silly to complain about lack of heart. There is no heart and soul in this story. There are no good guys. There is no happy ending or moral to the story. I mean – COME ON. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” That is a far cry from, “And they all lived happily ever after!” No one is obligated to like the film or the novel, but nothing gets accomplished by imposing unrealistic expectations on it then getting upset when it does not rise to the challenge.

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Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s sad eyes are judging anyone disappointed with the lack of happy ending.

Do you like Baz Lurhmann? The Great Gatsby novel? The Roaring Twenties and its accompanying fashion and music? Leonardo DiCaprio? Going to the movies instead of doing homework? Any of these are reason enough to go see The Great Gatsby. I loved it, and before long I am sure will have a spot on my DVD shelf.

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A Few Words on Don Nultemeier

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things. But, vice versa – the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things. Doctor Who season 5 episode 10 “Vincent and the Doctor”

When I made the resolution to blog more, I did so with the intentions of blogging about books and school and other fairly inane things. I never anticipated the need to write a blog such as this, but it is the least I could do for a man who did so much for so many people.

My mother informed me when Don Nultemeier was admitted to the hospital four months ago. I was surprised and incredibly concerned, but it never once crossed my mind that he would not come out. I figured he would be out and fully recovered before it was time to start throwing his summertime pool parties. Every time she went to visit him I sent her along with my well-wishes, figuring I would get to see him at some point in the future. The news that he has passed away has left me extremely sad – a sadness that cannot be fully expressed on an online blog, and my heart aches for his family. He has left behind a massive community of people who loved him and will miss him dearly.

I transferred to Princess Anne High School about nine weeks into my ninth grade year. I wanted to get into the chorus program because my best friend was already there. Mr. Nultemeier did not grant me permission to transfer in once the school year was well underway. I was miffed; I did not think a high school chorus was a big enough deal to warrant the attention he seemed to think it needed.

Anyone who has been in one of Mr. Nultemeier’s choruses understands just how wrong my original thinking was. He wasn’t a ‘teacher’ as much as he was a powerful hurricane in teacher form. Immediately after chorus started up my sophomore year, we were off and running. A Don Nultemeier chorus was not your typical “stand up on some bleachers and sing a bit” chorus. It was a production. There was singing, dancing, acting, costumes appropriate for a professional theatre, incredible lighting and sound, special effects, and more. All you had to do was look around the chorus room – it was decorated with photos and trophies from his past triumphs. This was a man who played to win.

I thought regular chorus practices were tough, but they were nothing compared to preparing for the musical that he put on every year. Monday evenings were already accounted for with regular rehearsal, but the plays demanded eight-hour Saturdays and countless evenings. Mr. Nultemeier would not present a play that wasn’t perfect. I was in Princess Anne High School’s production of Grease. I cannot remember how many times Mr. Nultemeier would stop us a few bars in to whichever song we were working on. “No, no, stop! That SUCKED! Do it again!” So we did it again. And again. And on and on until we were exhausted and it was perfect. As frustrating as it could get, there was something amazing about pulling off a wonderful finale and hearing the audience begin to applaud uproariously as the curtains closed.

(I’m in there somewhere!)

It was during this time that I got my mother involved with the chorus. Mr. Nultemeier was in need of people who could sew, and I knew someone perfect for the job. I dragged my mom to a rehearsal one night (to be honest, it was most likely done in an attempt to gain some brownie points). She got on really well with Mr. Nultemeier’s wife Sharon, and the next thing I know one of my mom’s best friends is my teacher’s wife. It was really one of the best things that could have happened. My parents now have a whole circle of friends that came from Mr. Nultemeier, and they have been presented some amazing opportunities as a result.

It wasn’t just concerts and plays at the school, either. During my time in chorus I got to sing on a Caribbean cruise boat and visit the amazing New York City. My parents went on several of the trips after I left chorus. They’ve been to New York City multiple times, Orlando, and Las Vegas thanks to Mr. Nultemeier and his “go big or go home” attitude towards life.

I was only a member of chorus for two years, one of which was spent behind the scenes doing spotlighting. I was never going to be a star. Singing was enjoyable to me, but I did not have the passion or commitment to succeed in Don Nultemeier’s chorus. My singing was best kept to the shower and the car. I’m perfectly okay with that. Chorus was intense. It could get frustrating and maddening. There were times when I hated chorus. It was so much work. I didn’t care about being the next great musician; I just wanted to sing a bit. Even though I was not suited for the chorus, I still maintained a massive amount of respect for what he was doing. I continued to accompany my mother to chorus rehearsals as a helper my senior year of high school and through college until Mr. Nultemeier retired.

Nulte created and nurtured stars (and a few divas, but that is the nature of the business of course). He could spot talent from three miles off. He knew exactly what needed to be done to make a show perfect – even if it was as simple as moving someone a few feet to the left during a number. You could practically see the smoke from the gears turning in his head as he stared at the stage. You may have wondered what was going on in his head, but soon enough he’d begin shouting his new ideas to make everything better. And it was always better.

As time went on I began to know Mr. Nultemeier more as my parents’ friend than as my former chorus teacher. He was clearly a magician because he got my father, Mr. “Football, Fishing, Hunting, Art is for Girls,” into musical theatre. He had his dream pool installed in his backyard, and I have spent several enjoyable summer nights at a Nultemeier backyard party. He had this twinkle in his eye and a great belly laugh that could be heard all over when something amused him.

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(4th of July at the Nultemeiers’. See the sign in the background? Someone – a former student, I believe – hooked Mr. Nultemeier up with a 42nd and Broadway street sign. That thing made him so happy!)

The older I got, the more my fondness and respect grew for this man. He has inspired so many people. His death was announced this morning, and already dozens and dozens of people have expressed their sorrow on Facebook and beyond. People who have not seen him for two decades are reminiscing about being a part of a Nultemeier chorus. His name will be known to more people than I can even imagine. I bet former students will be telling their children and grandchildren years from now about Nulte. His legacy will live on.

I want to revisit the quote from the beginning of my blog. The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things. But, vice versa – the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things. It is from one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows. The episode is equal parts beautiful and tragic, and this quote sticks with me. Today has been full of bad things. We lost a great man today, but he did so many good things that we cannot forget them in our sadness. Throughout all of his years as a teacher, a family man, and a friend, he added so much to many peoples’ “pile of good things.”

So thank you, Mr. Nultemeier. Thank you for being a such a powerful teacher. Thank you for being a wonderful friend to my parents. And most of all, thank you for being absolutely and unapologetically you.