The magic continues.

September 27, 2016

If you know me, especially if you know me in real life, you’ve heard of this place called Magic Target. And you know the special place that it has in my heart.

Way, waaaay back, when Target (and similar stores) only sold toys and household goods. If you wanted a “combo” store where you could shop for both home goods and groceries, you had to wade through Walmart. Back then I was broke enough that I often did. Then I heard of this magic rumor: these things called SuperTargets were opening, and they offered the same groceria/home goods experience. I turned up my nose because I didn’t think it was very sanitary, having dust from my birthday presents and sundry landing all over my food. I was so silly.

In between then and a later (but not too much later) time, Kim introduced me to my favorite wine: Jam Jar. It’s a sweet red wine, and for a time, we thought that, like black raspberry, it must only be available in New England. For we could not find it here. I tried every liquor store around – and believe me, there are quite a few! And then when I was perusing through the SuperTarget that is sort of near the house, but not as close, I found some. And lo and behold, Magic Target was thusly named.

But it didn’t stop there!

There was the summer that Kim and I were beckoning to each other wildly from opposite ends of the same aisle. I can’t remember what it was that I had found, but Kim had found a special release of Black Raspberry ice cream. I think we bought every last half gallon they had.

The next summer I found their black raspberry again (for the last time, sadly), and I was so excited, I whipped open the freezer door…and bounced it right off Gracie’s head. But her tastes run so similar to mine that she forgave me as soon as she saw what had caused me to run mad.

Magic Target is the only groceria around here that carries my new favorite quick dinner: Cracker Barrel Macaroni and Cheese. I don’t want to hear about how many preservatives or calories or anything else bad, please. I loves it and that’s that. Every single flavor (that doesn’t include the word “jalepeno”) goes straight into my cart, and then into my belly. And then I am happy.

A few weeks ago, my new colleague introduced me to the wonders of Noosa’s Mexican Chocolate yogurt. It tastes just like the mayan hottie cookies that Kim discovered! Only it’s yogurt! And GOOD FOR YOU! She could only find it at Walmart, and we all knew I wasn’t making that trip. It would take 40 minutes, just for a pack of yogurt. (Even if it was the tastiest, most cookie-est yogurt ever.) We started looking at every grocery store we visited. And you will absolutely guess where I found it: Magic Target. (Where I bought some for me, and some for Corrie. Because I am a good bestie.)

You’d think the magic would taper out, or at least wait awhile before dispensing the next little bit of magicky goodness. Except, last weekend when Gracie and I were out shopping, my eye happened to catch on something as I was looking around for my 90-calorie soft-baked chocolate chip cookies:

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Carr’s Ginger Lemon Cremes! I tried them once before during one Superbowl or another. I found them at Costco and even though it’s been years since I’ve seen them there, I still check every single time I make the pilgrimage, hoping against hope. They’re ginger snaps sandwiching the most perfect lemon cream, and somewhere is just the right amount of lemon zest that sings with a pop! of happy! at unexpected moments. I’m a little in love with them.

Magic Target has delivered yet again. Because MAGIC! Everyone needs a little magic now and again. Luckily for me, I know just where to find it, even if I don’t know what shape and form to expect from trip to trip. Dang if if that doesn’t make the adventure a little more exciting!

Our annual Fall folly.

September 26, 2016

I never learn. Ever year, I we have one cool moment – an evening or a morning when the breeze carried through open doors is enough to make me reach for my yoga pants or a pair of socks and then hold on, girls!, it’s off to the races! Time to switch out summer sundresses and booty shorts (uh, not really) for yoga pants and flannel shirts. [Again, just kidding. Gracie has been having a love affair with flannel shirts that rivals the one Julie, Corri, and I had back in 9th grade. She’s been all over her flannel shirts for the past month.]

Gracie opted in for some bonus mama-and-Gracie time this weekend, and Dad and Stepmom were nice enough to oblige. So Gracie and I spent most of Saturday being goofy together. While we were cutting up, we tried to be a leeetle bit productive, and so post-friend’s birthday party we settled into her room and tried on all. the. clothes. Seriously, I made her try on every t-shirt she had in her dresser (and weeded out about 25% of them), stole some of the more summery ones, and then moved on to long sleeved shirts. Granted, she hasn’t worn long sleeved shirts since March (February?), and my baby girl has shed every last vestige of “baby” between then and now. Of the 30 or so she tried on, I think maybe 5 fit. Ugh.It was the same thing with her closet! Sweater dresses from last year, maxi dresses from the beginning of the summer, coats from last fall – the pile of clothes to pass down to Bee got bigger and bigger. Eventually I had to carry them out and take over the chaise lounge. Poor Bee is going to be trying on clothes until the end of time!

Sunday morning, Gracie and I went out and bought a 2×3 wooden cubby shelf and some baskets in purple, grey, and taupe. We’re going to move some of my scrap doodads into my room and set up the shelving cubbies so she’ll have a place to store her uniforms and shoes and whatnot. Gracie has been so gracious living in half scraproom/half bedroom for the past year. (In return, I pretend not to notice when it looks like a war zone.) Now we’re creating storage solutions and fixing some of the mess.

Which means tonight it’s Bee’s turn. She was kind enough to try on all of her dresses, and we have a stack of really cute ones for one of her friends. I went through her bulging t-shirt drawer last night while I was on the phone catching up with Kim. Tonight we’ll tackles her long sleeve shirt drawer and the PILES of clothes she inherited from Gracie. (Some of those she might have to wait a season before they fit.) I don’t think Bee will mind though – she was bouncing her fingers together and cackling madly when she saw some of the sweater dresses she’ll inherit. Betcha anything she’s convincing the principal today to schedule some free dress days!

Which brings me to my folly – every year we pull out the girls’ Fall clothes because it’s a tiny bit cooler one weekend. And every year, as soon as we do it, a wicked warm front blows in and bam! We have the wrong clothes out. So just go ahead and blame me, North Texas, for the gross, hot, humid, unseasonable weather we’re about to have. I deserve it.

 

Five for Friday.

September 23, 2016

Is it just me, or are ALL THE THINGS! going on right now? Yeah, I thought so.

1. That. game. HOOBOY. I might be wearing my Patriots’ tshirt with all the Superbowls listed that we smashed. Under a classy red cardigan so I still fit dress code (ish), but so? Except my friends are gonna kill me because I talked them out of picking New England for the pool, so I maybe owe some of them $5. It’s not that I thought Traitor Brock and his gang (ahem, or that defense) were going to hurt us. It’s just that…well…we were on 3rd string QB and our defense sort of collapsed against Miami. I was nervous. [And maybe also working the juju a bit because everyone picked Arizona in Week 1 and look how that worked out for us. So….] In any case – 3-0, baby!

2. I forgot my dang coffee this morning. I went back to the kitchen because I almost forgot it once, and then I guess I put it down on the washing machine when I was looking for my keys and didn’t pick it up again. Sigh. This kind at work is pretty craptastic.

3. The Construction Project That Will Never, Ever End has shut down at least one of its little side projects. The Intersection From Heck is still all Heck-y, but a mile up the road where they had the street closed down to one lane so they could rework the median, that bit that’s been closed for a year? That re-opened finally! HUZZAH! We are all very excited. Now if they could just finish the intersection that’s been borked for the past two years…

4. Gracie asked if she could come stay with me this weekend. We’ve been having some pretty good mama/daughter times, and I hope they never end. I know the period where she hates my guts (or at least that we can’t be in the same room without arguing) is right around the corner. Stupid teenage years. So I’m soaking up all the bits where she wants to hang out with me while I can. Last night we ended up stretched out on the couch while I pestered teased her about some app she was using, and then started singing to her, and before too long, we had both collapsed into giggles. It was over nothing, you guys, but that moment – it was everything to me. Here’s hoping these good times keep piling up…

5. I legit heard Africa on the way to work this morning. A little disappointing that it wasn’t a cover or an a capella version from my college group (not that that could really happen), but it still made me laugh out loud. What better way to start your Friday than that?

Hope your Friday is fantastic and wonderful and filled with those little happy surprises!

And now, a word from my rather despicable sponsor: Anxiety.

September 22, 2016

I usually post my book reviews on Thursdays, but today I need to set that aside for a moment to talk about anxiety.

Most of you know I suffer from anxiety – at varying levels, at varying times. It’s not something I’m ashamed of: I have an anxiety disorder. I don’t hide it. I firmly believe in talking about it so that I can educate others, hold myself accountable for self-care, let my friends know so they can help me when necessary, and generally let those who hear me know that if they’re closeted, they don’t need to be. Let’s erase the stigma, yes?

There are still times when my anxiety surprises me. I was watching a movie tonight. A critically acclaimed one – Gravity, with Sandra Bullock. It cold opens with a big crisis and a bigger trigger for me. I thought I could manage – Sandra is who plays me in the movie of my life. She’s my girl. But less than five minutes in, I was opening my laptop and googling the plot. If I know what’s going to happen, I can sometimes talk myself through the anxious bits and still enjoy the movie. (It got me through Everest, and that ended up being a movie I’ll rewatch again and again.)

Knowing didn’t help this time. I tried focusing on the project I was working on, writing away, head down, only occasionally glancing up at the screen or reaching over to rub The Boyfriend’s back. (Human contact is a huge plus when I’m sorta freaking out.) But I knew the characters were trapped in space. And space? Well, that just happens to be one of my triggers. I have nightmares where I’m trapped in space. Or in a big, black, endless sea of black. With no hope of finding home. Or my siblings. (I’m frequently tasked in my nightmares with finding them and getting us all safe.) This movie was taking me to Not Good places.

So I hit the brakes.

Or, I should say, I tried to. I wasn’t in full freak-out mode. I was just Pretty Damn Anxious. So I tried to handle it a bit modestly. I didn’t start screaming or hyperventilating; I turned to The Boyfriend and told him I didn’t think I could watch the movie any more. “It’s just a movie!” he said. And then he laughed at me.

I can’t tell you how bad it feels in the first place to be weighed down by this horrible and unpredictable thing called Anxiety. Add to that the knowledge that this stupid, awful Anxiety holds you back from things you’d love to be able to do. And try as you might to do those things anyway, sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. And when you don’t – when I don’t, at least – you really, really don’t. It’s a horrible, gutting feeling.

If you’re the person on the outside, here’s a little advice: don’t ever laugh. Don’t dismiss or belittle someone for something that is completely and utterly out of their control. I already felt like a failure for not being able to get through a movie – a movie – about something that I know I will never, ever have to do. When I was laughed at, I felt like a person I was supposed to feel safe with dismissed my feelings, belittled me, and made me feel like I was less than everything I needed to be.

Anxiety is hard enough to live with when you’re in a constructive, healthy environment. Talking about it, talking my way through it to the other side of this setback, that can only happen when I feel safe. That might not be the reality for every person who is living with anxiety, but it’s my reality. If you’re in that situation, if you’re the person who’s supposed to be a landline, ask how you can help. And however foreign or silly the answer is, please, please do not dismiss it. Be a friend. Be kind. Be supportive.

Be kind. That’s the bottom line to so many stories.

The StitchFix that made me crave Fall.

September 21, 2016

You guys, this StitchFix game is messing with my head. I had a good box – three items that I love, another that I liked (but didn’t fit), and one that I hated. That’s a decent box! Let’s look…

I didn’t have much time to pin outfits or give any suggestions, so I was curious what would come up.

First up: a pair of colored pants (that I’d been dying to try forever).

stitch3b

Yes, they’re olive green, so I hear all of you saying “They’re not a color; they’re a neutral!” But the truth is I still need pants for work and these fit like a dream. Super comfy, like wearing pajamas. And I can dress them up or down, which I like. They’re a little pricey, but pants are a staple, so I know I’ll get my money’s worth.

The shirt I also love, and you can see it better here:

stitch3

I like the cut, the length, the fit, and the material is super thin and slinky, so it’ll work since “Fall” in Tejas is again working those 100+° temps. (Sigh.) Breathable shirts are a must! I like that it’s colorful and I can wear it with any number of pants or accessories, and I can tone it down under any number of jackets, blazers, or cardigans.

Next I tried on the shirt that I didn’t really love, but I liked the stitching.

stitch3c

The line hits my chest at an odd place – something both Gracie and Jeff commented on, so I know it must be true – and I hate giving up the stitching (the dark color is a really pretty navy and peacock blue), I don’t need any more shirts that hang in such a way that I feel like Mother Cluck. (Or, for those not conversant in Disney’s Robin Hood, like a big fat hen.) I’d wear it if I bought the entire box, but it’s not something I’d buy on its own.

The last shirt I straight up didn’t like. I like the colors, but it was a lot of a tiny, busy print slapped on to a basic t-shirt design. Slinky material or not, it was a t-shirt.

stitch3d

Don’t be deceived by the flattering photo angle – the shirt was not that flattering on me. The slinky material showed up every belly bump and bulge. So. Not so much.

The last item was something I hadn’t asked for, but fell in love with as soon as I saw it…

stitch3e

A studded cross-body purse with the perfect amount of fringe. (I am loving all the fringe this season.) I wanted that purse so much! But, that meant I had the dreaded Three Item StitchFix Dilemma.

The Three Item StitchFix Dilemma means you have to cry over losing an item you really don’t want to give up. Because if you keep three items, you’re paying as much as you would for the entire box, or sometimes even more than for the entire Fix.It’s terribly annoying.

I briefly debated keeping the entire Fix. I wasn’t thrilled with the red shirt, but I would wear it. The blue shirt… well, maybe I could give it to Gracie. It might be a bit big, but I could always swap it out for a different size. (Dang – that’s sounding more and more appealing.) But really, I want to keep the pants, the first multi-colored shirt, and the purse. The pants were an easy decision – definitely keeping them. I went back and forth the rest of the night trying to decide whether to keep the shirt (I love the colors, I don’t have a lot of patterned shirts, it’s versatile, it fits perfectly), or the purse (it makes my heart happy, I love the fringe, it’s a decent size). In the end, I opted for the shirt. Because I figured I have a better chance of finding something else like it – Charming Charlie’s and Kohls, here I come! It will probably even be cheaper. And if not, I can always ask my stylist to include it in my next Fix.

Let me know what you think – did I make the right decision? Should I keep the entire box so I can keep the purse? Did you notice how the things I loved were all things that screamed FALL! BRING ON THE FALL! And do you think that will make the temperatures cool down around here? Tell me!

Growing up is hard to do.

September 20, 2016

Does it seem to anyone else as if our children grew up all of a sudden? Like they were Lost Boys and Girls and the spell was cast and all of a sudden we have tweens in our houses? One day Gracie’s living it up in large sweaters and size 12 jeans off the rack; by the end of the summer, Miss Thang is all hips and stuff and we’re having to try on every pair of pants from the juniors section because she needs a different size in every brand. (Welcome to our world, sweetheart! It sucks!) Oh, and she’s buying shirts and dresses in the Women’s section. I’m not ready for that!! (But I did it anyway, because the alternative was for Gracie to walk around sans clothing. Clothing is good.)

Gracie’s in junior high now and everything is changing, not just the clothes. Although I am glad that she’s all about shopping now instead of “Just grab me something!” while she lounges at home. I am not interested in going back six times to find pants that fit. So there’s the shopping need that suddenly appeared, and the social butterfly aspect to joining ALL THE THINGS!!! (Ugh. Which means all the driving for the parentals.) She hangs out with all of her friends, and if she isn’t at their house, it’s a good bet that she’s Facetiming with them. Jeff grumbles from time to time that she’s getting unlimited technology time, but I see it as being on the phone. Most of us were spending oodles of time on the phone with our friends when we were in junior high. I’m glad it took so long for it to finally hit her, but here it is. She’s starting to explore the mall with her pack of buddies, without the parents being right there with them, and it delighted her. She was still surprised when she tentatively asked if she could go to the movies with some friends without grown-ups and I told her of course she could – she was in junior high. As long as she stayed in one place, that was more than okay. All the freedom! Okay, not really – a little bit of freedom to start teaching her how to do it responsibly.

Which brings us to the make-up dilemma.

Let me first say that I am not a big make-up person. My mom never wore any make-up ever. Naturally, she didn’t teach me anything about it – the little I learned, I learned from my friends. I didn’t have older sisters or cousins who could teach me. I never thought to ask my aunts. So my friends were there. And even still, I’m very basic. A minimum amount of eyeliner, mascara, and some concealer under my eyes. Done! I can teach Gracie and Bee the basics, but the plan all along was to take them to Ulta or a spa or somewhere to get makeup lessons. And Gracie gets it already – she shows me pictures on her phone of twelve-year-olds (or younger) all done up ridiculously and scoffs at them. She rolls her eyes at people trying to be who they’re not. And Gracie is very basic. I don’t have to worry about her right now. She’s pretty basic herself. She’s part (mostly?) tomboy. She’s not gonna go overboard yet. Maybe I’ll have to worry later, but she’s fine right now. And she wants to wear mascara.

The question came more as, “Mom, when can I wear make–up?” I had been thinking about the question because I knew it was going to come up soon. She is in junior high. Even my conservative dad let me wear make-up (mascara and lip gloss) in junior high. So I asked Gracie if her bestie Millie wore any. Millie’s mom has very similar parenting styles to ours, but is a leetle bit more conservative. Millie can’t sit in the front seat and has stricter policies about when she needs to be home with her family. I get it, it’s all cool, I just wanted to see where she stood on the make-up front. If she was letting Millie wear mascara, I was probably correct in leaning towards saying Gracie could.

And here’s why – light mascara makes very little difference. Yes, Gracie could pile it on, but we’d see that. (Unless she took it off. And if we’re going down that path, we have to admit if we say no, she could put it on and take it all off before we see her. So…) You can’t see mascara really unless you wear eyeliner behind it to make it pop. I think it’s a good stepping stone for Gracie. Like training wheels. She’ll feel more confident about herself without big, scary results.

The problem is that her dad isn’t really fond of the plan. In fact, he shut it down cold. He thinks it would be better to wait for Gracie’s birthday. He said he could live with it if she was thirteen. And I get that argument – it does sound bad if you look at it like 12 year olds wearing makeup. But if you think of it as a junior high kid wearing make-up, it doesn’t sound as bad. And that’s what she is. I didn’t turn thirteen until the end of the summer after 7th grade, and I got mascara.

I presented Gracie’s dad with my reasons why I think she should be allowed. I let Gracie try it on and took a picture to show how little difference it makes. It will really just make Gracie feel better. More grown up. More confident. More like she belongs. Yes, deciding to allow make-up so Gracie feels like she belongs might seem like a silly reason, but it’s monumental to her. And junior high is so crazy to begin with. I want to save my “no”s for bigger, more important things.

What do you guys think? Should the measuring stick be set at junior high? Or 13? Or something else entirely?

Quote of the day.

September 19, 2016

While watching football yesterday, I wondered aloud how many yards wide the field was. Everyone paused and tried to guess, but Bee busts right out with “It’s 50ish yards!”

We all turned, agape, at our non-football weirdo.

“How did YOU know?” we asked.

“Because Kim McKinley Greer had a math problem with that last year!”

Who says public school doesn’t prepare our kids for the real world?

Five for Friday.

September 16, 2016

It has been a crazy, insane week around here, but isn’t that just par for the course? It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, but let’s get back to business. I like the idea of piling up all my loose thoughts into baskets and tidying up before letting loose Friday night. (You all know how I go buckwild crazy on Friday nights.)

1. We were supposed to interview a babysitter last night for a couples’ baby shower this weekend. (The Care.now process is very efficient and responsive, but I’m looking forward to not having applications coming in a mile a minute.) The babysitter never showed, though. Apparently there was an ER visit, but if you were interviewing later, wouldn’t you think to text someone and say there’s a possibility you might be late? She’s offering to swing by tonight to try to salvage the gig, but I don’t know…

2. I’m going to give this Get Litsy thing a whirl. It’s my reward for making it through the day.

3. After I spent all of last week worrying over how to approach Bee’s SQUIRREL! attention span and how it pertains to school, the kid came home with mostly As and a few Bs. Yes, it’s review work right now, but I’m pretty dang proud of her. And laughing at how the universe constantly seems to be chuckling at me.

4. I am ready for some Fall weather. I want boots and jeans and scarves and long sleeve cotton shirts. And also soups and quesadillas, stews and roasts. Football and 90° weather do not mix.

5. One of my dearest friends is going through a tough time right now. And all I want to do is be there for her. Somebody move Michigan closer to Tejas, please. And while you’re working on that, I’ll be baking and curating a care package, for that is what I do when I worry. Sending love northward, in the meantime.

Have a good weekend, you guys. Have fun and be kind to each other…

ReadHarder Challenge: Smashed!

September 15, 2016

If you’ve spent any time at all reveling in the online reading community, you know about the wickedly awesome BookRiot and their READ HARDER challenge, in which we, as readers, are challenged to read more diversely. Read a romance novel. Read a book by an author whose gender is different than yours. Read a novel by an author of color. Listen to an audio book. I love reading, I love challenges, and while I have always pushed myself to read diversely, we can always use a little more nudging. So of course I signed myself up last year (and had a blast) and again this year. But this year, I added a bit of an extra challenge. I decided for the 2016 READ HARDER challenge that every book, in addition to the challenge presented, had to be written by a person of color.

It was amazingly fun, incredibly intentional, and wildly diverse. I felt like I was reading more mindfully than I have in ages. What could be more awesome than that? This week, in honor of #DiverseAThon, I vowed to knock out my last two challenges: Read a non-fiction book about science; and Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award. I did it. I completed the READ HARDER challenge! Here’s how it shook out…

Read a horror book. I went with Samantha Mabry’s A Fierce and Subtle Poison (Algonquin, 2016, 288 pgs, ebook). My original review: I found a deal and splurged on the ebook for Bout of Books because I still needed a horror story by a person of color for my Read Harder challenge. It might also be technically considered Young Adult, but I found it crossed over very nicely, mostly because of the way it played with local myths and legends in PR, turning the tale into an environmental scifi ghost story. One that’s quite readable, too. The ending wasn’t quite as satisfying as the set-up – the book definitely started out at 4 stars. Still worth curling up with it for an afternoon. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Read a nonfiction book about science. I’ll admit: I was struggling to find a science-y book that I would find engaging. And then I remembered everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. I chose Star Talk: Everything You Ever Need to Know about Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe and Beyond (2016, National Geographic, 288 pgs, hardcover), because hello! How gorgeous is that book?! And how could you not want to be stuffed chock-a-block full of all those interesting tidbits?! It was engaging, informative, and about space – one of my favorite subjects even if it does trigger a panic attack here and there. 4 of 5 stars.

Read a collection of essays. Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere, by Andre Aciman (2011, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 208 pages, paperback). My original review: This was one of the books included in my last Quarterly Box, and I was delighted because personal essays are my jam. Aciman didn’t quite get to Anne Fadiman level, but his lyricism was really a wonder to behold. His essays covered nearly all of Europe, it seemed, and were as varied as my mind on a particularly ADHD afternoon. Different wheres, different whens, and all with that soft, nostalgic gauziness of memory overlapping everything. Looking for a collection of essays for your Read Harder challenge? Look no further! 3 of 5 stars.

Read a book out loud to someone else. Every year I read a book for 9/11 and this year I chose the critically acclaimed Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2016, Little Brown, 240 pages, hardcover). The middle grade novel read well, as a grown-up who lived through those horrible events, and as someone who struggles how to even begin explaining what that was like (and what it meant) to my middle school-aged children. A variety of reactions were covered by students, teachers, and parents in the story, as well as the way that loss knitted into our identity as a country. It’s the first book I’ve read written from a post-9/11 perspective and it was still haunting even as I found it a bit healthier form of grieving. The girls were fascinated and I think enjoyed that the book is as much about friendship and other things, not just all 9/11 all the time. Super mega bonus points for a healthy depiction of a struggling family having to deal with shelter life. 4 of 5 stars.

Read a middle grade novel. As soon as I heard Francisco Stork (of Marcello in the Real World fame) had a new book coming out, I was all over that pre-order button. My original review for The Memory of Light (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016, 336 pages, hardcover): I pre-ordered this book on the strength of the other Stork book that’s one of my all-time favorites, Marcelo in the Real World. I didn’t quite feel the same magic, but I still really enjoyed the book, in spite of its different feel. About a girl who wakes up in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, Memory of Light follows Vicky as she learns to stand up for herself to her demanding father, make new friends with fellow “mentals” in the hospital, learn how to figure out what’s going on in her mind and heart, and what to do when she’s on her own, back in the situation she was when she did “the deed.” I really liked that Stork gave us the “but then what happened?” What happens after a mother dies from a terminal illness? How do the family members handle their grief? What happens after the suicide attempt? What happens after the leading character is released to the “real” world? If more of those books are out there, I haven’t read them yet, and it’s important that they are easily found, for middle school kids and high schoolers – and yes, even adults – the find and identify with. To learn from. The ending was a leeeeetle crazily convenient, but I was willing to overlook it with so many flashes of brilliance. 4 of 5 stars.

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography). I went with Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable. I took a seminar in college on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their contrasting approaches to protesting and affecting change. Both men are so charming and had such gravitational pull that I will always pick up anything about them. Given that, I didn’t learn much new, but Marable’s portrayal of such a complex figure who was constantly reinventing his story was compelling reading. I was glad I picked it up, especially given the ideas put forth in Miranda’s Hamilton: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? 4 of 5 stars.

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel. I had so much fun with this one! Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me (Harper, 2011, 338 pages, library ebook). My original review: I wasn’t sure about this story when I started. It’s the story of a teenager/young woman trapped in a cell in an insane asylum, though the world has gone nuts and it’s clear we’re dealing with an apocalyptic tale, so for all intents and purposes, our girl – Juliette – is in a cell. Her deal? Her touch is lethal, hurting (like a taser, perhaps?) anyone who touches her. And The Reestablishment that is keeping her safehostage says it’s trying to restore order and keep the public safe, but are they? And why is their leader so singularly focused on keeping Juliette his prisoner? I was a bit wary going in. The writing wasn’t knocking it out of the park, but it was good enough, and the voice was a bit compulsive. The feel of it reminded me of The Fifth Wave. I got a bit curious and had to find out what happened, and then things did happen and I was devouring it before I knew what was happening. The ending was a bit convenient and didn’t really tie up any loose ends or, say, end the story so much as it set up the next book in the series. That bugged. Oh, and one other thing to mention – as I turned the page and was surprised to find only the About the Author section, I read a bit of it and was intrigued by the first sentence: “Tahereh Mafi is a girl.” That’s it. The very first thing they want us to know. Why? Because Tahereh isn’t a name most are familiar with? Because she’s run into confusion so often? But you guys – why does it matter? It shouldn’t. It might to her, but what message does that send? That there’s no room for confusion. It says we should all know and the answers should be definite, if not readily apparent. That everyone should know. And with everything going on right now in this country, I don’t like that message. Gender can be fluid. Gender identity isn’t always concrete. It’s Tahereh’s business if she wants us to know her gender expression, but I wish there was a bit more explanation to it than “I’m a girl and that’s the most important thing I want you to know about me.” Okay. Off soapbox. 3 of 5 stars.

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award. This week I knocked out Oprah’s What I Know for Sure, a compilation of articles she’s published in O Magazine. The audiobook was only four hours long and was read by Queen Oprah herself, which helped. I love the sound of her voice, fell in love with it watching her portray Miss Sophia in The Color Purple. The subject matter itself was a bit trite at times, and cliche. I’m not a self-help book type of person. But this wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it could have been, that I maybe worried it would be, and I needed to hear what the fuss was about. It helped me learn this for sure: a good way to be grateful for what you have in your life, to take stock of where you’re at and where you want to end up, is to listen to someone you trust read words of wisdom at you for a few hours. It’s not quite Dear Sugar levels, but it got me to a very similar place. 3 of 5 stars.

Read a book over 500 pages long. This was a tough one to settle on, but in the end it was The Famished Road, by Ben Okri (Jonathan Cape, 1991, 519 pages, library ebook). My original review: You guys! (A different kind of “You guys.”) I can’t believe I waited so long to read this! A new classic about a Yoruba spirit child who journeys through fires, captivity, destitution, searching for family, redemption, and the elusive overlap between the land of his family and the spirits. I studied Nigeria and Yoruba culture quite a bit, so this story rang so many of my bells. I didn’t realize how much I missed this kind of storytelling until I was rolling in it, banging the book against the steering wheel of my car (at lunch), yelling “Yes!” Now, it is a bit of The Wizard of Oz meets A Hundred Years of Solitude, so there are points where the story sticks in the mud a bit and you just want to get it going again. But it’s worth the patience. (Or, um, skipping ahead a bit.) 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Read a book under 100 pages. Even tougher to find! I stumbled onto Swapan Seth’s This Is All I Have to Say, which is – as best I can describe – little moments of grace experienced while traveling, in between odd moments of life, remembered, reflected upon. It’s closer to poetry and essays than it is a novel. A fascinating book that embodies more than any other the purpose of this list: I never would have picked up this book or read it if I wasn’t mindfully reading diversely. 2 of 5 stars.

Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender. With the explosion of trans memoirs and stories on the shelves, you’d think there would be more featuring people of color…except for those who understand access to the publishing world (and a reading audience) is not created equal. I read I Rise, written by former Clinton aide Toni Newman and wish I could be as sure of myself as Toni is of herself. Black. Gay. Trans. Trans. I think that’s my favorite part of Toni’s story – she decided against sexual reassignment surgery and refuses to pick a label to be central to such a big part of her identity. She’s comfortable blurring the lines. Both/and. Her. That was so fascinating to me. 3 of 5 stars.

Read a book that is set in the Middle East. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi (2014, William Morrow, 452 pages, paperback). Original review: I know I’m in the minority, but I just didn’t love this book. I was hoping for the grand, sweeping narrative of Khaled Housseini, or the quiet lyricism of Jhumpa Lahiri, but I didn’t find either one. Pearl is about three young Afghani girls who treated ridiculously  by their worthless father. Rahima, our protagonist, creates a bit of hope through the tradition of bacha posh, in which she can dress and act as a boy until she is of marriageable age. This gains Rahima a bit of freedom, which turns into hope. See, it all sounds good, but the characters just never jumped off the page for me. They were only ever so many words on a page, never filled with warmth. It’s hard for me to get invested when that happens. 2 of 5 stars.

Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia. Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Bataclan (University of the Philippines Press, 2007, 155 pages) was one of the first books I read this year. I borrowed this through my library’s e-lending library and finished it for the “Read a book by an author from Southeast Asia” ReadHarder challenge. I’ve found the most delightful candidates for the challenges on my very own TBR list, delightfully! Circles is a bit of a hard-boiled crime investigated by Jesuit priests (alas, not time-traveling ones), and while I’ve mostly moved away from the genre – crime, not Jesuits – I really enjoyed this story. There was quite a bit of social justice, with enough commentary on a developing nation’s emerging infrastructure to keep me both intrigued and second-guessing the reliability of the narrator vs. author’s voice. Which was which? That criticism aside, and that of the grisly nature of the crime(s), I enjoyed where the story took me, even when it was a bit predictable. My only other criticism was that I needed a sticky note to keep track of the many characters. Nothing worse than an Agatha Christie, numbers-wise. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900. Lashonda Katrice Barnett’s Jam On the Vine is a black woman’s up-and-out struggle, a story that made me think of a blend between Toni Morrison’s Jazz and James McBride’s Good Lord Bird, and, more recently, Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House. Grand, sweeping historical fiction that covers huge changes faced by Ivoe and her family, I just couldn’t connect. It felt dry and historical, instead of cozy and historical, like Their Eyes Were Watching God. Maybe I expect too much from historical fiction, but I was left wanting. 2 of 5 stars.

Read the first book in a series by a person of color. Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra. Original review: This was much more riveting! A bit of a guilty read, actually. It’s the story of a young ballet academy where fighting is fierce for a spot in the showpiece that might get the young ladies and men a spot in the ballet company attached to the school. I had a hard time keeping the characters straight at first, but once the story got moving, it moved. It felt diverse, petty, hilarious at times, and a good drama that would adapt well to a show on prime time. If you’re looking for a first book in a series by a Person of Color for the Read Harder challenge, this is a great choice! 3 of 5 stars.

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years. ZOMG you guys! So many! I’ve discovered Joamette Gil, and Alex Araiza, and Ethan Parker, and Ashanti Fortson. My heart was captured by Lumberjanes, but while it features characters of every gender, identity, skin color, human form, and every shade of fluidity in between, it technically isn’t written by a poc. The good news is that it was the doorway that opened, making me seek out all of these other awesome creators and their projects.

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better. Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup. Original review: Yes, I’m very late to this bandwagon. I know. I picked up Twelve Years as an e-loan from the library to fulfill my “Read a book that was turned into a movie” challenge for Read Harder 2016. It’s been ages since I’ve read all of the great slave narratives and it felt a bit like coming home to slip back into one. The frame stories, the fact dropping so we could verify, the call and response, the tropes of quadroons and hair – everything was here. It was a well-crafted memoir and fits well among those of Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, and the rest of the canon. 4 of 5 stars.

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014, Fourth Estate, 49 pages, ebook). Original review: Yes, I splurged and bought it on a Deal of the Day, but I have to say the published TEDx talk is worth they money at any price. One of my favorite authors talks about what it means to be a feminist today in her native Nigeria, in diaspora, in publishing, and in the world. It was interesting how Adichie tied in classism and racism (can we ever separate the three big discriminators?) and the particular examples she used to point out how institutionalized discrimination against women is. This was the first piece of non-fiction writing I’ve read by Adichie and I loved that her voice was just as sarcastic, nuanced, and unapologetically clever as her fiction writing. I would read anything by this world-class author. 5 of 5 stars.

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction). Bright Lines, by Tanwi Nandini Islam (Penguin, 2015, 304 pages, paperback). Original review: This was one of the books I got in one of my Book Riot Quarterly Boxes, and I can see why they chose it. It’s smart, multi-culti, and a wicked debut. Who doesn’t want to feature all of those things? But you know when you’re just not feeling a book? And how you kinda kick yourself because you know if you had maybe read it at a different time, you might have had an entirely different experience? That was me. I could see how smartly written it was, how carefully constructed, but that was part of my problem. Everything felt on purpose. I never really lost the sense that I was reading a story. I never fell under its spell. The characters got bogged down under all of that intent, at times, and I wanted to just shake them loose and see what happened. It reminded me a bit of a stiff Khaled Hosseini, so keep an eye on it – just be prepared for heavy reading. 2 of 5 stars.

Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction). The Kindness of Enemies, by Leila Aboulela. Original review: Aboulela tells the story of a professor, half-Russian and half-Sudanese, who becomes entangled with her star student and his mother when she discovers her student is descended from the Muslim warrior she is studying. I appreciated how intense Natasha’s internal conflict over her Muslim political and religious leanings was as she interacted more and more with Oz and his mother. This book was shaded as much as I hoped This Is Where It Ends would be. It wasn’t riveting and felt much more like a “duty” read (I was reading it for the “political book” challenge on Read Harder), but it was okay. 3 of 5 stars.

Read a food memoir. Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson. Original review: I had a hard time finding a food memoir by a person of color, but I found a great one that was all the rage back in 2012. It tells the story of a young boy who grew up in Ethiopia, got tuberculosis with the rest of his family, was orphaned very young, and then adopted (with his sister) by a loving family in Sweden who already had a bi-racial child. I thought it was interesting that Marcus mentioned early that he had no race wounds, and yet a goodish part of the story that deal with his growing up in Sweden centered around how race factored into daily life. Then the foodie part of his life began and goodbye race stories! I wanted to hear more about that part of Marcus’s extraordinary life, but the foodie part was rather interesting, too. I felt like I was watching a special on TV instead of reading. It was compelling, even to a reader who could care less about food or cooking memoirs. It’s exactly the sort of book I never would have picked up without the Read Harder challenge. Good job, guys. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Read a play. Hamilton: A Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (2016, Grand Central Publishing, 288 pages, hardcover). Original review: This was a brilliant, brilliant birthday gift from Jeff and the kiddos. I maybe told him about it way back when it came out (before it came out, if I know myself), and every single notation was worth the wait. I think my favorite was when Lin admitted to going full-on Jordan Catalano at one point. GAH!!! The essays about how certain pieces of the show came to be, and about meet-cute stories of how everyone fell into their bits and parts – everything exceeded the hype. And this is Hamilton, so that’s saying quite a lot! Shell out the big bucks for this gorgeous deckle-edged hardcover: it’s worth every penny. 5 of 5 stars.

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness. Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon. (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2015, 320 pages.) Original review: I got Yoon’s debut novel for Christmas, in hardcover no less, and dove in New Year’s Day as we were all recovering. I figured a light YA drama complete with medical drama (our 17-year-old protag is a “bubble baby”) and romance (she becomes obsessed with the boy in black next door, and all his family’s -ahem- issues). Maddie (our protag) sees only her mom and her nurse and seems to have adjusted well to the fact that she has never, not once, been outside. She takes online homeschool courses and hangs out in the family solarium to feel more as if she’s outside. And then the boy complicates everything, as they do. I liked the premise, as long as I was able to suspend belief. I liked the characters enough that I crushed the book in two days. The writing was a bit cliche – but hey, it’s YA drama/romance. I was expecting it to be all Fault in our Stars. So it was fine right up until the ending. If it’s possible for a book to take a left-turn that is both unexpected and completely obvious, this was it. The ending ruined, a bit, the rest of the story for me. Yes, I’m still giving the book a good review because I did tear through it, needing to see what happened. But it could have been close to a 4-star review and the ending did disappoint. Like, I liked that Maddie was casually mentioned to be Asian-African instead of being all Hey! I’m a person-of-color! from the start. I liked the subtle ways that complicated her identity. I just wish that sort of ambiguity and shading had transferred itself onto the end of the story arc. 3 of 5 stars.

And there you go. An entire challenge, smashed in nine months. Nine months to birth a beautiful, wonderful, life-changing reading experience. I can’t wait for the next one!

The oft-told story of – oh, look! A butterfly!

September 14, 2016

Three weeks. We made it three weeks into the school year.

You know how much I adore my youngest daughter. Bee is one of my favorite people in the entire world, and not just because I’m bound by contract to think so. She’s one of the sweetest, most empathetic and caring souls you will ever have the privilege to meet. She knows how to work hard. She’s funny as hell – seriously, even die-hard competitive Gracie loses graciously to Bee when we play Apples to Apples because Bee makes us all cry with laughter (intentionally and not).

But, as you’ve all heard me complain about many times, Bee is also what one might call…a bit scatterbrained. I can ask that sweet girlchild to go put her shoes away, and in the space of 30 seconds and while walking a straight line, she will be distracted by eight different things and be confused when I ask her why her shoes are now in the hallway. Because she has already forgotten.

Last year gave me a bit of hope. She held on to her sweaters and sweatshirts at school instead of losing one every week. She still lost dozens of homework assignments, but at least she understood how to do the work and didn’t complain when I made her redo them. Bee will always be a lovable space cadet, but I saw a glimmer of hope that her condition might be manageable.

And then on Monday afternoon, three weeks into the school year, came the text. Kimmy G., a teacher at Bee’s school and family friend, texted me on behalf of Bee’s teacher, asking where her Unit 1 test was. The class had been working on them during the last week, but she couldn’t find Bee’s. Had I seen it at home?

So began a flurry of texts back and forth, from Bee’s teacher to me (through Kim), from me to Bee’s dad (Bee had been at her dad’s for the last three weekends, and he has them overnight on Wednesdays when graded or incomplete work is sent home), from me to Bee’s teacher (through Kim – seriously, I owe her baked goods), and finally an email from me to Bee’s teacher.

Three weeks before Bee lost a Very Important Paper. How is she ever going to survive junior high or high school when having mama peek over her shoulder is less and less acceptable? How will she fare in college or the “real” world? Yes, yes, I get that she is ten – but shouldn’t she be able to get by now, especially with all of our conversations and lectures and tears, that you need to be organized if you want to not fail?

Because that was the alternative. Bee’s teacher said if Bee couldn’t find her flippin’ test [uh, my emphasis. ahem.] that she could retake it the next day. She didn’t want to give Bee a zero. But I was tempted. That might be what it would take for the message to sink it. Bee promises to do better every time, but I’m not seeing results.

And then there’s this complication: Bee’s running for office in Student Council. She didn’t want to even participate in Student Council, but this year she’s all about it. I encouraged her once she told me, and she surprised me by announcing she wanted to be president. No low-key office for my girl! Only…my Ex told me Bee had forgotten her application (and a library book) at his house that weekend. So now we had a missing test and a forgotten application. Oh! And Student Council members have to maintain A and B averages. A zero on a certain misplaced test would mean Bee would lose her qualification before she even started.

This is where I kind of lost it. I turned into Mean Mama.

I picked up Gracie from her choir meeting and raced over for a parent/teacher presentation at Bee’s school that I hadn’t been planning on attending – it was the same Here Are the Services We Provide meeting that I’ve seen 3298209384 times over the last seven years. Bee’s teachers are the same ones that Gracie had – obviously we know them well if they know to text me through Kim G! But now I had all this mama-guilt because they were trying to do my daughter a kindness, and so Gracie and I trudged in and sat down and listened to the spiel. I was glad I did – only one other parent from Bee’s class was there.

And you know what? The fact that they know Bee’s family is supportive and engaged, that we’ll do what we can to support Bee (and them) throughout the year, that’s one of the reasons they want to help Bee out with retaking the test. I shared with them (because Bee was out of the room) that I was thinking of not letting her apply for Student Council. She had forgotten the application; she had misplaced her test. Her teachers shook their heads and talked me into letting her do it. I felt like an enabler, but I let them give Bee another copy of the application when my special snowflake sauntered in after her AfterCare program ended.

I sat down and helped Bee think of dynamic sentences for the questions. I helped her evaluate which position(s) she wanted to apply for (you had to list a few preferences) and watched her print her answers in her very neatest handwriting. I’m still conflicted, but I felt good. Maybe it will motivate her to do better. To study harder. To remember the organizational tricks we’ve discussed.

And then last night I found the application that she had carefully paperclipped into her planner sitting back on the kitchen table. Under a notebook. Forgotten about.

Again.

The butterfly nets will be coming out soon, but not because I think I can round up all of Bee’s distractions. It will be because I’m headed for the funny farm. Wow, is it a good thing I love my flutterbudget so dang much.