Bullet six.

July 22, 2016

6. Earlier, I spoke too soon.

Damnit, Friday. Damnit, world. Stop running mad, would you?

Five for Friday.

July 22, 2016

I was scared to check the news this morning. But aside from a work catastrophe and some fallout from other events (god, how callous does that sound), we seem to be in the clear for a few minutes. QUICK. BEFORE SOME IDIOT RUINS IT…

1. I am in full-on vacation prep mode. As such, and because we’re in Phase: Packing, no one gets to wear any clean clothes this weekend, unless you feel like wearing underwear that’s two sizes two small, a formal dress, or one of your 80,000 pairs of pajamas.

2. It’s also school supply weekend because stores are ridiculous and would burst into flame if they were caught stocking supplies needed for that season we’re in right now and not the one that’s two months down the road. If I wait and buy school supplies after we’re back, there won’t be any left. I tried that one year. So instead we’ll have bags of goodies sitting in the periphery from now until school. Yay.

3. I keep waiting for Chase to call asking if my card’s been stolen what with all the “suspicious” iTunes purchases. Last year I was so busy prepping and stressing for vacation that I didn’t have time to make a mix-tape. This year, I’m on disc 4. And I maybe have another one or two to go.

4. I have no comment on whether one of those discs is in my car at this moment. Ahem.

5. Off topic of vacation prep, but the construction project that’s been going on along half my route home for the past year is finally nearing completion. Okay, that might be overstating it a bit, but at least they’ve moved onto paving the other side of the road so I get my righthand turn lane back. The back up was so great that I was taking the long way to work even when I didn’t have to drop off the kiddos. Now I can zip right down the road. Maybe by the time I can move home, the project will be done and entire streets will be open again. I know, I know – but it’s Friday, I can’t help dreaming.

Look at us! Five happy things without much of a struggle. C’mon weekend! Let’s do this!

Book Reviews: Badasses, sluts, and murderers.

July 21, 2016

I had a fantastic (if slightly depraved) reading week! I think I killed my slump stone cold dead. Dead dead. Which brings to mind a funny question: I read seven books last week: can that really be considered a slump? I call it one because with the exception of one or two books over the past few weeks, I haven’t really been energized by anything I’ve read. If you’re reading just to up the book count, that’s not getting the job done. At least not for me. This week is different. This week I feel like I can’t read enough. I can’t read fast enough. I can’t read too many books at once. If I could start 20 books at once and follow the string most tempting, that’s what I would do.

In any case, let’s look at what I did read:

Book155Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly (Ballentine, 2016, 496 pages, library e-loan). World War II fiction is my jam, and this one focuses on two badass women who lead very different kinds of rebellions as Hitler’s army invades Poland. I expected much more out of this highly rated epic adventure, and I did love Kelly’s treatment of her heroines. However, I felt like a stronger editorial hand and juicier language would have helped the pacing. Not the strongest start to my week. 2 of 5 stars.

Book156Confessions, by Kanae Minato (Mulholland Books, 2014, 240 pages, e-book). This slimmer novel was a gorgeous translation about a teacher delivering her last lecture to her students. Ms. Moriguchi lost first her fiance, and then in a separate incident, her four-year-old daughter was killed at the school. This last lecture gets pretty interesting to say the least. I loved the structure of the novel, watching everything unfold through our protagonist’s speech. I thought it was very effective and helped me handle the translation with a little more immediacy. I definitely recommend for those who want to change up their vanilla reading lists. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book157If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo (Flatiron Books, 2016, 288 pages, e-book). I picked up this novel about a trans girl by a trans author to satisfy my Read Harder challenge, and I highly recommend. The writing wasn’t always pitch perfect, but the tune was there, and the honest portrayal of a difficult subject made this a hard book to put down. Coming out – hell, surviving – isn’t always a Disney story with happy songs and cheerful friends to help you along. Sometimes it’s a road so bumpy you feel like your teeth are about to fall out, but it’s the road you have to walk or there’s just no point. That sincerity comes across. If you have a trans teen in your life and you’re looking for books to help – them or you – this is well worth a read. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book158A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers, and Other Badass Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood (Candlewick Press, 2016, 354 pages, hardcover). This was included in one of Gracie’s OwlCrate subscription boxes and I finally got my turn. Short story collections are usually not for me – I want more, always more – but this just hit me in all my feels. For so many powerful stories focusing on women in so many shapes and sizes and ambitions, you guys we need so much more of that. Gracie ate it up, I devoured it – I cannot think of anyone who wouldn’t appreciate this. The stories are all between 10-25 pages, making them easy to sip on if you’re struggling to find time or inclination (ahem:Gracie). Or, you know, gulp down in one sitting (er,um,me). This should be mandatory reading for sixth-grade girls kids to show them that Yes, they CAN. Gracie’s book club says so. 5 of 5 stars.

Book159Flawed, by Cecelia Ahern (Feiwel and Friends Books, 2016, 336 pages, hardcover). This was another new release included in one of Gracie’s OwlCrate boxes. I had hopes because who loves anything more than finding a new series? Yes, booknerd problems. But not one I’m going to have here because NOPE. A slightly different modern world than ours where sins against society – not crimes, but sins – are punished by being branded and marked for all to see. And judge and ostracize accordingly, of course. It’s like Divergent meets Scarlet Letter meets Handmaid’s Tale, only without the outstanding writing and world building. I’m being harsh – I think I would have liked it better were I a teenaged girl dazzled by Edward-and-Bella-esque relationships. But I liked Twilight better than this – at least that was creative and new (at the time), whereas this felt like so much rehashing. Gracie hasn’t read it yet, so I can’t give you my tween’s perspective. 1 of 5 stars.

Book160I Am Not a Slut, by Leora Tanenbaum (Harper, 2015, 416 pages, e-loan). How much do I love my library? It’s an oasis in this politically conservative wasteland – I mean, I would think a library here would ban this book based on the title alone! Tanenbaum updated and revised her previously released critical non-fiction book Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation (which I haven’t read) to address the enormous impact of social media on labels and bullying and fighting stereotypes. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I wish it was more approachable for teenaged girls to explore, but it’s certainly a good jumping off point for several discussions. Like, whether to try to ignore the haters or fight their hate speech, something in the news this week, sadly, as Leslie Jones had the gall to appear in a movie. The nerve! Racism, gender discrimination, bullying, hatred, the Patriarchy – it’s all examined with more poise and intelligence and wit than I capable of reproducing. Everyone’s getting a copy for Christmas. 5 of 5 stars.

Book161The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer, by Unni Turrettini (Pegasus Books, 2015, 336 pages, e-book). I thought about not including this book in my reviews. With all of the tragedies in the news, you would think I’d had enough bloodshed and murder and depressing stories in real life. I have. There are so many days when I can’t even open a blank page to type. But reading is something else entirely, it’s one of my greatest mechanisms for processing what happens around me. And I wanted to process that by immersing myself. I read news stories and articles, long pieces and slideshow captions, and books and books and books and books. Pieces of books and great, big tomes. Including this one about Andrew Breivik who tried to kill the prime minister of Norway five years ago before continuing his political attack by killing dozens of teenagers at camp on Utoya Island. The book itself was well-researched, thorough, and it was very clear that Turrettini felt deeply connected to the subject matter and to her home country. However, there was a great deal of editorializing for what is categorized as a “non-fiction” format. They weren’t few and far between, either – the raised eyebrow, the rather pointed and arched inflection, the purposeful interpretation, while we’re all certainly going to reach the same end point, I was utterly distracted and a bit put off by Turrettini’s bias. It kept a good non-fiction book from being possibly a great one. 3 of 5 stars.

Book162The Vegetarian, by Han Kang (Hogarth, 2016, 192 pages, library hardcover). I really had no desire to read this. The cover kept catching my eye, but…meh. I’d read the summary and pass it by. I’m not a vegetarian, though one of my sisters and my youngest daughter are mostly vegetarian. I’m not much for the political arguments one way or another. It’s just not a thing that lights a fire under me. But a good book buddy (helllllooooo, Andi!) raved about it and said we must all read it. And that Andi, she has impeccable book taste. So when I saw it on the shelves during my last library run, I grabbed it. What the hell. I started reading it to check the box – at the very least, I expected it to be on the longlist for the Tournament of Books in December – and then this strange thing happened. I…liked it? Well, perhaps “like” is a strong word. I didn’t like the characters (in fact, I loathed them, but I think that was intentional). I didn’t like the topic. I didn’t like how heavy-handed the plot was. But it made me think. I read with the front half of my overactive brain, and I sat and thought and twisted my thoughts around and re-thought with the back half. The Vegetarian was one of those odd books that for me could have been about anything in the world – the words didn’t matter half as much; the book itself served as a sort of lens for me to think about cultural norms, who sets them, who has to listen, and what happens if you land crossways. Odd, right? So I didn’t love the book, but I loved what happened because I read it. So let’s say it was a 3 of 5 stars book with a 4 of 5 stars experience.

There you have it. A tremendously fun reading week, and I have a few more good books started. I’m re-reading Marilee as a comfort book; I’m starting on What She Knew because The Widow was such a fun read that reminded me of what thrillers can do to a reader; and The Man in the Monster because apparently I have more processing to do.

The StitchFix with the new stylist.

July 20, 2016

I’m not sure if I was the catalyst or not: after my last Fix’s less-than-stellar (but not unusually so) showing, I received an email inviting me to take a survey. One of the few questions asked me if I would switch stylists if I could. I was stuck for a moment. Loyalty is pretty big for me. My stylist was terrible, even if we weren’t exactly a match made in heaven. I didn’t want her to get in trouble – there had, after all, been a few boxes where I kept the entire Fix. But then there were boxes where she seemed to ignore every suggestion I made. And there-in lied the problem: my Fixes were crazy random. I didn’t feel like my stylist was learning anything about me so much as she was trying to float whatever was available in my size. Maybe that’s as good as this service is going to get. We’ll see. I’ve found some amazing pieces, so I’m happy I’ve done it. I’m just getting closer to pulling the parachute.

That being said, let’s see what my new stylist sent me. I asked for bright summery shirts in happy colors and/or prints, especially featuring coral, reds, pinks, kelly green, or warm teals or cobalts. I said I was looking for a go-to pair of gold earrings that were not too funky, not too basic. And funky cardigans in red or summer-purple that weren’t standard-issue boxy cardigans.

The first thing I opened were the earrings. I loved them!

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I did notice immediately that they weren’t gold, like I had asked, but there was enough gold in them that I could wear them with gold. Still worth a sigh. I was leaning towards keeping them until I saw that they were forty-four dollars. Who here thinks I can’t walk into Charming Charlies and beat that? So they were only worth it if they were free with the rest of the box.

Next was a dress in the exact kelly green shade I’ve been lusting after.

I really liked the way it felt, though the elastic waist wasn’t doing me any favors from the back. The cutout neckline front and back looked awesome and provided a lot of fun detail. I liked it! And the price wasn’t ridiculous.

Next was a fun top in a coral print that I’ve had on my StitchFix Pinterest board forever…

I like where the hemline sits (finally!), I love the bright summery color and the fun pattern. I’m not crazy about the fit being gapey and not showing off my curves, but it wasn’t as Mother-Cluck-ish as some of the others have been. It was my favorite piece.

Then there was this not-so-great shirt. In fact, I hated the pattern. Hated.

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It’s just not me. Plus there’s the fact that while the material was much softer and had more contour-fitting cotton, the shirt didn’t work any magic on me. And the length was a little awkward. (Yes, I know I’m short and I ask a lot of my shirts, but if I’m paying this much money for people and shirts to do that, I’m okay with being a bit demandsy!) The shirt was a complete miss for me.

Lastly, there was a cardigan, but nothing special. I have one in almost this exact shade. That, and for a request for anything-but-basic, I thought the cardigan was boxy and plain. I wanted something that screamed summer fun!

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The only other item of note was where my new stylist suggested pairing the two shirts with white pants to make them pop.  …  I have written down in my style guide that I can’t wear white and I’ve sent back white pants and shirts before saying I can’t wear white. So that kinda bugged that she performed so little research into my style background and history.

So. I would have kept the earrings, dress, and coral shirt if the world was magic or I was made of money. Since I’m not keeping the entire box, the earrings don’t make any kind of sense. The dress and the shirt together would be $120, and I can’t justify spending that kind of money when it would be $170 for the entire box. So I have to pick one. Thoughts? I adore that green on me, but I think the shirt fits better and will get more wear. Plus, their dresses are usually hits whereas their shirts are hit or miss. So I feel like the shirt is more of a win. I’m leaning more towards Team Shirt unless you convince me otherwise…

A three-hour step in the right direction.

July 19, 2016

Step-parenting is hard. It’s hard under the best circumstances, but when the parents aren’t always on the same page, the difficulty level increases immeasurably. This past Sunday, we had a bit of an issue, but then we, as parents, kind of hit it out of the park. That victory was so needed that I nearly cried from relief.

The X-man was tired. So tired that he nearly fell asleep at the kitchen table. His allergies were bothering him (it’s been a terrible summer), so after the third or fourth time we had commented on how tired he looked (“No, I’m not tired!”), I told him he should probably have some allergy medicine after lunch and take a nap.

The X-man didn’t like that suggestion.

“No! I’m not sleepy!” he yelled, as his eyes fought to stay open and he remembered for the thousandth time that he couldn’t prop his head on his hand at the table. His dad made some funny quip about of course he wasn’t, obviously, and we finished eating.

After our places had been cleared, a protesting X-man followed me to the bathroom, took some Benadryl, and was sent into his room. I started flipping laundry and heard him start crying and wailing – the kid really didn’t want to lie down. But, ten minutes later he was fast asleep. Shocker.

Two hours later, the X-man stumbled into the living room, looking like he didn’t even know where he was. He cuddled with his dad as he woke up, and I went to flip the laundry again.

And then I saw it: Bee’s bottle of lavender Febreeze lying on the floor in the middle of the room. The X-man had been reminded again that morning not to touch it. He’s generally pretty good about leaving the girls’ things alone, especially for a five-year-old used to being an only child who has never had to share his space. But he had been caught with the Febreeze and had been reminded that it was Bee’s to spray on her pillow at night; he wasn’t to touch it.

I picked up the bottle. Instead of being nearly full, it was completely empty. The top had been unscrewed. I carried it out to the living room and boy did the X-man wake up quickly when he saw what I was carrying.

“What’s this, X-man?” I asked. He looked down, then back up at me, but refused to answer. “X-man, what is this?” I asked again, still pretty calm. I was tired of confrontations and I was afraid Jeff would blow it off. But it wasn’t “just” that X hadn’t listened about not playing with the Febreeze, or even that he’d dumped it out somewhere in his room – the last time we had forced him to try to nap (two months ago), he had peed in his bed on purpose because he thought he’d have to be allowed to get up if it was wet. So now we had a very disturbing trend.

But Jeff jumped right on it. He told the X-man, firmly, that when a parent asks him a question, he had to answer. After some “I don’t knows” and some tears, the X-man started answering Jeff, even though it took Jeff asking leading questions to get anywhere. X did finally confess that he was mad we had made him lie down. I was proud that Jeff was firm and let X see that he was angry instead of coddling him, and that he made X sit in time out for ruining Bee’s things and for lying about it. (X said at first that he didn’t open it, then said he dumped it on the floor, and then when we investigated, we found that it was dumped on the bed and pillow, not the floor.) The X-man threw a temper tantrum about time-out, but Jeff stuck with it. The whole ordeal didn’t take longer than 10 minutes from when I found the bottle to when started the time-out timer.

When X’s five minutes were up, Jeff took him out of time-out. And that’s when the wheels came off the wagon.

X refused to answer about why he was in time-out. He said it was because he opened the Febreeze, but when Jeff asked him why, the X-man refused to answer. “I don’t want to!” he cried. He was ashamed. Jeff explained that he knew it was hard, but that he needed to know that X knew what he had done wrong. (We think X might have a mild learning disability and he does much better remembering things if he says whatever it is out loud instead of just saying he understands.) We weren’t going to have X deliberately wetting the bed every time we made him lie down. After being asked three times, X still refused to answer, so Jeff put him back in time out. It bothered Jeff, but he did it. He aced it, really. He was firm, but kind, said all the right things, and consistently put X back in time out every time he refused to answer.

After thirty or forty minutes of the X-man being stubborn, Jeff tagged out for an inning of relief pitching. Suddenly, X-man was all, “I WANT TO TELL MY DAD!” But Jeff refused to let X manipulate the situation. “You had a lot of chances to tell him, X-man,” I calmly told him. “Now it’s my turn. Can you tell me why you dumped out the Febreeze?” But the X-man kept crying. “Am I almost done?” he asked after another round or two of time-outs. Jeff reminded him that he had to tell us why he was in time-out before he could be done. The X-man started crying all over again. “Did you think your dad would let you out if you kept crying and said you didn’t know?” I asked, gently. “Well…yeah!” X answered. “I don’t want to say!”

Three hours of cycles went by: asking X in different ways why he did it, him insisting he didn’t want to, five more minutes of time-out. Jeff stuck with the plan brilliantly. The situation sucked – don’t get me wrong – but it was good for the X-man to see that both parents were on the same page and couldn’t be manipulated. When Jeff suggested that he was going to talk to Mama about not going to karate this week if X still hadn’t answered us by the time she picked him up, the X-man finally decided to cooperate. Suddenly he remembered that he dumped the bottle because he was mad at us for making him take a nap.

It was exhausting. But it was necessary for the X-man to see that he can’t cry his way out of situations. Hopefully the lesson sticks and it will soon be like so many other phases we laugh-cry about now. Parenting is not for the weak of heart. It’s a good thing our kiddos – this family – is worth it.

Five for Friday.

July 15, 2016

Again.

1. Are we ever going to be able to have five happy-g0-lucky bullet points ever again? A Friday when we’re not in mourning? A Friday when we’re not calling for peace, kindness, empathy, and understanding? A Friday where our hearts aren’t so heavy, they’re resting on the floor?

2. Given the previous, I really want nothing more than to curl up in bed with a book or three (and a mimosa or three) and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist. Stupid, silly, demanding outside (weaponized) world.

3. I was going to tell you that I got a new Kindle Fire for the girls for vacation so that they don’t have to share. I was going to tell you it was in a bright and cheery color, and that the cover is artsy and happy, and how the girls’ faces lit up when I told them. I was going to tell you about the fabulous deal I got, because: Prime Day. But: see earlier entry about stupid, senseless world.

4. Also, if this wasn’t another Black Friday, I would tell you how Gracie pitched to me that they should be able to pack their own carry-ons this year. She doesn’t mean it in a Mama-stop-being-so-controlling kinda way, but in a…well, okay, yes she does a little. It’s just that I’ve grouped things together before: one backpack has all of my stuff; one backpack has snacks, wipes, and extra clothes; one with all of their entertainment. Gracie would prefer this year that she have a backpack with her snacks, books, magazines, etc. And that Bee have hers. I didn’t quite answer, “Fine.” But almost. They get their backpacks, anyway.

5. I also won’t tell you that the planning has started, like whoa. Along with a list of books and magazines, there are games and apps and snacks and outfits. Bee has picked the new Lumberjanes graphic novel that just came out and the two Percy Jackson installments that Auntie Kim bought for her two weeks ago. Gracie is still wailing that the Harry Potter play won’t be out in time for the ride up, but it has been promised for the way back. I’ve also told them they can have $20 to spend on movies or new apps for their Kindles, but they have to budget appropriately. It’s fun watching them squirm over how to split everything. Mwa ha!

So there. Five. Five things. Five small distractions from the madness, hoping it helps me (and you) get through the day.

Mini Reviews: memories that do weird things, horrific crimes, and a Sherlock remix.

July 14, 2016

Morning, all. Thursday already? I’ll take it! I think I’m over my reading slump: eight books in the hopper this week, including three good enough to earn “Best of…” notations. Not too shabby! Let’s see what we have…

Book148The Forgetting Time, by Sharon Guskin (2016, Flatiron Books, 357 pages, library ebook). Single mum Janie’s four-year-old precocious son isn’t like other hard-to-manage or even special-needs kids: he insists he has another mum somewhere. And it’s beginning to make things awfully shady. I like that Guskin’s story didn’t require that you buy off on reincarnation – she simply presents that it’s so and then says here’s how this played out. It was pretty horrible to imagine myself in her shoes. Child Protective Services was called, her child was obviously hurting, and she couldn’t help. The “B” storyline about a psychiatrist who believes it’s possible, but has been diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease, wasn’t quite my bag either. The writing was stronger than the plot, but just barely. I probs wouldn’t have hung in there if I had anything better luring me away. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book149If I Fall, I Die, by Michael Christie (2015, Hogarth, 288 pages, used paperback). This was a Room-esque story where the single mom is trapped inside by her own mental illness instead of a psychopath. She invents a wildly elaborate home life for her son, who doesn’t remember ever going outside. A sweet protagonist and I enjoyed watching him grow and explore; but I wasn’t bowled over. 3 of 5 books.

Book150Winter Journal, by Paul Auster (2012, Henry Holt and Co., 240 pages, hardcover). This was a gift from my sister for Christmas, part of my book haul that I’ve been trying to get through. I’ve read a few by Paul Auster, but Kim enjoys him more than I do. It explains why this gorgeously written memoir has lingered on my shelf. If you like descriptive, lyrical writing about everything and nothing, the widest range of personal essays, add this to your list of books you must read. It’s up there for me with Anne Fadiman’s collections. 4 of 5 stars.

Book151The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, by Laura Tillman (2016, Scribner, 256 pages, hardcover). I splurged on this “new” book after hearing so many good things. I’ve raved about it as I’ve gone along. It’s a tremendously hard book to read – a young couple murders their three toddler-aged children in such a cold-blooded, heartless manner – but worth it. The social justice approach was so compelling and the research unparalleled. 5 of 5 stars.

Book152A Study in Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro (2016, Katherine Tegen Books, 321 pages, hardcover). I needed a lighthearted read after Long Shadow, and Charlotte was just what I needed! The premise centers around the great-great-greats of Sherlock Holmes (the titular Charlotte) and John Watson (James…er, Jamie) as they are forced into friendship and a crime-solving partnership at a Connecticut boarding school because they are being framed for murder. I’m picky about my mysteries and Sherlock hasn’t always been my bag, but Charlotte was quirky enough without being annoying, and Jamie interesting enough without being too stereotype-y. I enjoyed teasing out the whodunnit and the romance was ambiguous enough to keep everyone happy. I can’t wait for the next book in the series! 5 of 5 stars.

Book153LaRose, by Louise Erdrich (2016, Harper, 372 pages, library book). Erdrich’s Round House was one of my favorite reads from a few years ago. Her writing is crisp, her subject matters important, and cultural diversity a plus. It was enough to nearly make me buy LaRose sight unseen. I’m rather glad I didn’t. I just didn’t feel LaRose as much as Round House. Maybe I’ve had too much child abuse and murder this month. It shouldn’t be any harder to read than rape and cultural appropriation that Erdrich has covered in other stories. But the possibility of accidentally shooting a friend and neighbor’s child, and then handing over your own is just…beyond me. It escapes me. Absolutely. So the story wasn’t for me, but Erdrich’s writing is still miles beyond so many others that I can’t tell you not to try the story just because I had a hard time. 3 of 5 stars.

Book154The Widow, by Fiona Barton (2016, NAL, 336 pages, library ebook). I thought this would be a fun, fluffy summer read – I wasn’t expecting it to consume my every waking moment. I couldn’t read fast enough! It’s not as smartly written as Gone Girl (is anything?), but the But what really happened?!! factor is right up there. I loved the alternating view points; they were so well executed and helped ratchet up the tension until I could barely stand it! The crime at the heart of the story was wicked – almost too much so – but the handling of the story and the way it unfolded were masterfully done. I am definitely impatient for another book by Barton. 4 of 5 stars.

 

How you know it’s summer…

July 12, 2016

It must be gettin’ hot around here because Stepmom convinced the girls to get their hair cut! The girls (Tween Gracie Action Figure, especially) refuse when I suggest such things.

“Long hair looks better, Mom,” she says.

“I like long hair, Mom,” she says.

But the color is fading and it’s 200° outside, I say.

Doesn’t matter – long hair, don’t care attitudes have upper limits, apparently. Either that, or Stepmom is even more magical than Tween Angst. (Guess which I’m banking on…)

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Boom.

Even cuter than the pic may have been Gracie’s excited twee-ing before hand. “Going to get our hair done!!!” read 23493945 texts beforehand. And I gushed right back because isn’t that exactly what every tween should have? A mama (or two) who gushes right back and makes them feel understood and adored?

She does look fabulous. They both do. Even if I kinda miss the funky colors!

Five Things for this terrible, horrible Friday.

July 8, 2016

I am at a loss. Still, I have words. There were not words yesterday, but I’ve found some.

1. I was pretty worthless at work yesterday. I spent the day watching coverage of the events of the past few days and wondering when we’re going to demand action. Declare enough is enough. My heart is world-wary and I’m tired. My friends should not be afraid to send their husbands and sons out to store to pick up some pizza for dinner. Again and again, you guys. It’s too much.

2. Alton Sterling. Phil Castile. There is no explanation I’ve found to convince me those poor men were not murdered. They were shot and killed because the law enforcement officers went into the situations with racist mentalities. They had been taught those racist mentalities systematically by the culture we tolerate. Maybe those racist sentiments were reinforced by their home lives, and maybe they weren’t. But they went in expecting to have to shoot simply because of the skin Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile were in. We have to do something – many and much more somethings – to end that kind of thinking, that kind of culture that promotes it. We need to speak out. We need to call our congressmen, our mayors, our city councils. Get out the vote and elect more sheriffs, judges, AGs who will appoint just prosecutors, DAs – once we have fair-minded individuals (who, maybe, just maybe might not all be white. Sweet Jesus.), we might have more fair minded justice systems and police forces… Okay, no. Even that last one is a stretch for me today.

3. I had another talk with the girls last night. They broke down in tears over what had happened. They just don’t understand how people could think like that, although Gracie is starting to see the world from a different, more mature viewpoint and I think she got it. Bee is the only white child in her class. Every single dang one of her friends is black, and it’s been that way since she’s been in school. She’s scared for her friends and their families, and I did what I could to ease those fears. And then I said what I wanted to repeat, something I’ve said before: they are privileged because of the color of their skin. And they have a duty to use that privilege to help their friends and anyone they’re with. If they see something unjust happening in front of them – speak up. Try to stop it. If they can’t, if it’s not safe or becomes so, at least bear witness. Pull out their phones and record the truth. Bear witness. My girls are 10 and 12, you guys. I should not be having this conversation with them. Again.

4. Black Lives Matter. Black. Lives. Matter. My dear friend Ange, whom I’ve known since we were Gracie’s age (good gracious) put it way better than I could:

When white kids get arrested the media shows their yearbook pictures, not their mug shots. Saying black lives matter rather than all lives matter shines a light on our family, friends & neighbors that are undervalued at an institutional level and under attack in ways that most white folks are not. I am not anti-anyone, rather I am for supporting my friends that are suffering individually and as a community. I don’t fear sending my son off into the world the way others do, that’s what this is about. We have to be willing to discuss things that make us uncomfortable. Acknowledging privilege is not admitting to being a racist. It’s the first step in changing the way the world works to save each other.

Yeah, I’m trying to get her elected for obviously good reason.

5. Yes, I know what happened last night. It happened right here where I live. I didn’t sleep well, trying to solve all the problems for all the sides all at once. This morning when I heard updates, the bottom fell out again. I died inside for the wives and girlfriends and boyfriends and families who had to get that phone call. Ten officers shot by snipers, one shot cornering a suspect. Five men died. One of those officers had just had twins. Twins. But you know what? That is not any worse than shooting a man unjustly in front of his four year old. And then cuffing that four year old and keeping her separated from her mama or any family until 5 a.m. the next morning. I wish there wasn’t any loss of life. I think we can mourn everyone’s loss. It’s not, as that Jon Stewart meme says, mutually exclusive. It’s wrong for one or two men to snipe at law enforcement officers and try to kill them because the continued modern day lynchings have broken them. It’s wrong! But…and here’s where I might lose a few people…I still understand where they’re coming from. Those individuals who killed the police, yes they were wrong, but I understand. I understand the pain that birthed their actions. It’s still not right. Not any of this is right. But I bet with everything I have that because of the actions of, at most, three people, everyone with dark skin will be blamed and suspected and held accountable and that is flat out wrong.

That is why I wrote my five bullets. Hoping every single fucking one of them hits home.

Mini Reviews: War, Missing kids, and Smuggled immigrants.

July 7, 2016

It’s Thursday! I feel like we haven’t had a “normal” Thursday in awhile, and so we’ll get back to our regular programming: book reviews! Let’s see what we’ve got…

Book147The Leaving, by Tara Altebrando (Bloomsbury, 2016, 432 pages, hardcover). I took a risk and bought this during one of Kim and I’s many trips to the bookstore(s). It has a very Katie premise: six kids disappear during their first day of kindergarten. Eleven years later, five of the kids come back…with no memory. The plot unfolds like The Maze Runner or 5th Wave. Very teen sci-fi/drama. It didn’t cross over well. I couldn’t connect to the characters. Altebrando wrote down, rather than opting for rich description that teens could tangle themselves in and be lifted up, unawares. I couldn’t get lost in the story and didn’t really care what happened. A total miss for me, but I could see it very much being Gracie’s cuppa tea. 2 of 5 stars.

Book141The Small Backs of Children, by Lidia Yuknavitch (Harper, 2015, 224 pages, ebook). I had been lusting after this book since before it came out, and one day it was an ebook deal of the day. $1.99 cannot be beaten! It’s a solid story, one that belongs on my War-torn Eastern Europe Tales shelf. It tells the story of a small girl who barely survives a bomb and flees into the woods, and the American photographer who was there to snap a picture of the incident – that, and the fallout that happens to both (and a few others wrapped up in their stories). The writing didn’t feel as natural, and so the flow wasn’t as readable as, say, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena or Sara Novic’s Girls at War, but I would still borrow it sometime if you’re interested in these kinds of tales. 3 of 5 stars.

Book143Because You’ll Never Meet Me, by Leah Thomas (Bloomsbury, 2015, 344 pages, library ebook). I have certain niches of YA literature that I can’t pass up. Kids with some sort of medical or emotionally related issue – my jam. Kids who are isolated, especially in the woods? I will knock you over to get to it. This book combined the two and so I snapped it up…and then paused. It’s a decent read – said protag is isolated because his body is “allergic” to electricity (it causes him to go haywire, have headaches, auras, and seize all over). His doctor puts him in touch with a pen pal who has a pacemaker. The two write rambling letters back and forth – this is where I sort of fell out of love with the story. The premise was great, and I get why some people really enjoyed the book (debut literary awards and everything), but I didn’t think Thomas really sounded authentic writing teen boys’ voices. They just sounded a bit off to me. And so I was partially disconnected the entire time I was reading. And that sucked. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book144The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sahota (Picador, 2015, 468 pages, library ebook). This is the story of illegal immigrants who have fled to the suburbs of London, cramped in a small flat and working as day laborers. The stories of who and why they are were fascinating and unfolded a layer at a time, always hinting at more – more you had to work for, be patient for. The unfolding was a beautiful, well-told, natural-feeling thing. There was subtlety and realism on every page. I am a very picky reader (you’re shocked, I know), and I gloried in this. I don’t often read immigration stories from the Indian sub-continent, but I need to read more. This very nearly tore four stars out of me. I held back only because I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters, even if I was rooting for several of them.  3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book145The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson (Random House, 2016, 496 pages, library ebook). When I read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, I was charmed. I loved lonely Major Pettigrew and cheered his every move. Naturally, I held similar expectations going into The Summer…and found myself drowning. Too many characters thrown at us for once, too many confusing living situations, and the characters edges were a bit muddled. The characters sort themselves out, even if nothing else does. Everything else was a bit mucky, if only from the residue. I’m afraid the charming feeling wasn’t present – at least not for me. I wanted a slow pace, and though that was there, it was too bogged down. Simonson is not my favorite author for this sort of book, I’m afraid. If she wants to write a character piece with a tighter focus, I’ll be back. Otherwise… 2 of 5 stars.

Book146A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie (1950, 288 pages, paperback). This was a fun re-read for me, great comfort food for after my surgery. It’d been on my To Be Re-Read list for ages and I found the perfect time to indulge. It’s not my first re-read and I’m happy to say that it held up well again. I remembered just enough about the who-dunnit and forgot enough about the why to keep me turning pages. Charming, all the way through. The dated bits were easy enough to overlook (though I am very cognizant that that won’t be the case for every one). Miss Marple never lets me down! If you like mysteries and you haven’t had the pleasure, you should try her. This was my first Miss Marple story, and so naturally I suggest this title as your jumping in point. 5 of 5 stars. (Still.)

Book147The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott (Reagan Arthur, 2011, 246 pages, ebook). I’ve read a few Megan Abbott books (my favorite still being Dare Me), so I grabbed this when it was a $1.99 Deal of the Day. It was a decent read, though not her best. I’d lump it in with my Teen Girl Goes Tragically Missing novels, subset: Those With Nostalgic 1970s Feel. It entertained and kept me turning pages, though not that quickly or investedly. I paused, even, in the middle to read another book, going back to finish when the second book was done. So it’s good, but either borrow or grab it on sale. 3 of 5 stars.

And there you go! I’m still working on some good ones. I’m still working on Long Ghosts of Small Children, and I’m devouring A Study in Charlotte. I’ll have those and more mini-reviews for you next week. Promise!


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