Don’t be like FEMA ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

941744406620643329Shrugging and poking fun at authoritarian behavior, clicking on Facebook posts about ICE demanding to see identification on domestic Amtrak trains with an angry emoji and calling it activism, and succumbing to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ over calling and marching isn’t the only unlearned lesson from history. FEMA hasn’t learned from the disastrous lessons of Hurricane Katrina either.

From The New York Times: The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.

For this huge task, FEMA tapped Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least five canceled government contracts in her past. FEMA awarded her $156 million for the job, and Ms. Brown, who is the sole owner and employee of her company, Tribute Contracting LLC, set out to find some help.

Good intentions without follow-through only help the one with good intentions to feel warm and fuzzy. And blaming others (FEMA blames Ms. Brown, Ms. Brown blames FEMA, the subcontractors blame Ms. Brown, Ms. Brown says ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, and Puerto Rico is left with crackers, chips, and dirty water. Oh, and paper towels.

Read the NYT article that highlights what happened, or didn’t happen, by October 19th when the TRIBUTE contract was cancelled. (And remember that this was the 6th FEMA government contract cancelled with TRIBUTE.)

Here’s one more gem: In November, The Associated Press found that after Hurricane Maria, FEMA awarded more than $30 million in contracts for emergency tarps and plastic sheeting to a company that never delivered the needed supplies.

Let’s all be just a little better than FEMA. Let’s plan for what we CAN do, and then follow-through with action.

Here are a few tools:

Contact your elected officials: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

Resistbot: https://resist.bot/

Daily Action: https://dailyaction.org/

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Life at 23: Happy Birthday, Trayvon Martin

27540197_1801716216565674_492740138872809870_nMillion Hoodies launched six years ago in the wake of the racist and horrific murder of Trayvon Martin. Today, what would have been Trayvon Martin’s 23rd birthday, the Million Hoodies NYC chapter launches their #Lifeat23 campaign to honor Trayvon and the lives lost from police brutality and gun violence. Too many lives from our communities are cut short due to systemic racist practices and prevents young Black and Brown children (and their families) from fulfilling their goals.

Million Hoodies invites you to share pictures and reflections of what life was like when you were 23, or alternatively, what you hope life would be like at the age of 23. Please use #LifeAt23 and share your posts over Instagram, Facebook, & Twitter.


At 23, I was still in the relatively safe space of graduate school. Even more, I was a Resident Director, living on campus and eating in the dining hall. It was a consuming job that enabled me to get through my degree without worrying about rent or meals, thus spectacularly, without any loans.

At 23, I remember thinking that the stress of graduate classes was the most intense stress I’d ever felt. The fear of judgment, the haunting suspicion that I wasn’t even close to the smartest person in the room, the nervousness of peer review and outspoken criticism, the nagging sense of un-belonging sparked because I rarely (ever?) took a class led by someone who looked like me all kept me anxious and on my toes.

At 23, I supervised a staff of six, ran a building of about 200, led workshops and mediations, planned events and trips, and disciplined college students when their experimentations and inability to live in harmony with others interfered too harshly with campus life.

At 23, I worked short stints at a local Friendly’s and answered a few calls for substitute teaching at the local high school. I took guitar lessons for a few months. I went to Chili’s for happy hour. I spent crisp and clear nights cross-country skiing in the campus Nature Preserve. I watched a lot of movies.

At 23, I was still a year from moving to NYC. I knew I would be a high school teacher, but I hadn’t yet looked into the steps to make it happen. I reveled in the safety and comfort of being a part of campus life; I felt secure in my job and my eventual graduation and that those around me supported me.

At 23, 25 years ago, I knew I was lucky and appreciated it. I worked hard and did more than expected. I learned both confidence and humility in academics and work. I was silly and serious and caring and apathetic.

Today would have been Trayvon Martin’s 23rd birthday. He never got a chance to choose a path or make 20-something mistakes or feel the anxiety and pride that comes with first time achievements. No matter how much I empathize and feel pain for his loss and what his family and loved ones have endured, I know that my experience as a white woman, even as a mother, mean that my day-to-day experiences are very different. As much as I may worry and fear for my children, I don’t have the additional anxiety and reality of a mother of children of color. Join me in honoring what could have been and what should have been for Trayvon and so many others for #LifeAt23.

 

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Glad I Saw It: P.A.C.E. Music Group and Rachel Brown

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It always amazes me when spectacular events come together to both entertain and inspire. That’s what happened on this past Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Day ON. You can read all about it here.

And while the crafts and activities and good works were absolutely wonderful, something new to me was wholly phenomenal. We hosted the truly terrific P.A.C.E. Music Group, including The Trumpet Chicks, and then the hugely talented Rachel Brown performed “Happy Birthday,” the Stevie Wonder edition, for us all. I felt like I’d had a mini-vacation by the end of the morning.

The P.A.C.E. Music Group is made up of teenagers from Camden, NJ, and they are led by their conductor, Mr. Jamal Dickerson. He is phenomenal. Really, see this recent video about his mission. Check out the school here: Camden Rep.

Here is the full video of the performance the P.A.C.E. Music Group gave us on Monday.

(Holding this space for Rachel Brown’s birthday song!)MLK-4-e1516141180737.jpg

Do teens who make sweet, sweet music inspire you? Throw them a tip at their GoFundMe page! Help fund them HERE.

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Glad I Saw It: Managing Big Emotions

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A toddler’s temper tantrum causes headaches. An adult’s outbursts cause conflict. A leader’s inability to handle criticism, stress, and responsibility causes disarray and misery for many.

It seems like we could all use reminders about how to manage big emotions from time to time, no matter how helpless or powerful we may be. If you know anyone who could use this poster, here is the link to the printable.

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Book Review: IS THIS GUY FOR REAL? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman

IMG_5605Andy Kaufman brought joy, anger, laughter, discomfort, confusion, and deep sadness to his audiences. Whether it was performaing as Mighty Mouse, Elvis, Latka, or the Women’s Wrestling Champion of the World, watching Andy Kaufman in action never failed to elicit emotion. In IS THIS GUY FOR REAL? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, an upcoming graphic novel by Box Brown, we are given a hint, more than a hint, of who the real Andy Kaufman was.

Written with compassion, straightforward description, and a tender lens aimed at the eccentric, lovable Andy Kaufman, Box Brown creates a story that makes the reader feel like they’re getting the inside scoop on this entertainer. The graphic novel is an easy read, and it can go fast, but take time to pore over the wonderfully drawn and paced frames. There are details and commentary in the drawings and asides that enrich the biographical aspects of the book.

Fans of Kaufman will appreciate the behind-the-scenes feel of Brown’s treatment of the stand up that introduced “foreign man” and Elvis. And for those unfamiliar with the acts, the book will quickly get them up to speed. The importance of meditation, wanting to make audiences purge anger, and the various kindnesses in Kaufman’s life will realign the entertainers image that time and a feature film have dampened. However, it is Andy Kaufman’s love or and fascination with wrestling that drives the story.

The bibliography for the novel is extensive, and Box Brown personally interviewed several major players in Kaufman’s life. The details that create funny, touching, discomfiting, and heartwarming moments make the book feel intimate and honest. This is especially true in the treatment of the final few pages, which will probably make you want to backtrack and re-read.

Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown is out February 6, 2018 from First Second. Recommended for readers ages 12+

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Intentions and Inspiration for 2018

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I’m not sure if this comes from a TEDtalk by Alexis Ohanian, but he said it in 2012 or so.

In the last few weeks, and really every time one more nutty thing happens at the top rungs of the USA government, I’ve seen more and more people shrug or throw up their hands or just say, “Whatever.” And I get it. I really, really do. Self-care comes in all forms.

When it seems like some people get to do whatever they want and blurt out whatever falsehoods they like with few or no consequences, it’s tough to keep caring about nuance and seemingly sisyphean tasks. And that seeps into caring about the bigger issues. Even the issues that will affect us all for more than a generation. When news tornados include horrifying, eye-rolling, and then mundane issues, the thing we must most resist is apathy.

i am holding your hand

My favorite at Women’s March 2016

Apathy is a luxury, a privilege. And many of us have no right to escape into it. That doesn’t mean you don’t take breaks. Do that too. But then come back.

We are in this together. I am holding your hand, and I need you to hold mine. (It’s okay if it’s virtual hand holding. Especially during cold and flu season.)

So how do we keep resisting and persisting and keeping on when there are stubborn and painful fires that need squelching all around us? Often, when I need inspiration, I turn to art and quotations from people I admire. Here are a few I like to keep close by.

 

Together We Rise by Sousa & Machado

Bad Feminist inspired by Roxane Gay

You’ll be criticized anyway from Eleanor Roosevelt

And hey, even if you feel like no one is there to hold your hand, and even if you feel like you’re a bad feminist and a bad activist and a bad human being, and even if the criticism you thought you were ready for hurts and makes you want to give up, know this: You Are Not Alone. There are many of us here with you, trying and failing, getting up and trying again, feeling tired and despondent, hoping for support and then feeling unsure if support is wanted. Even if we don’t agree on every detail of policy and what is good and bad and how to live a worthy life, we can still support one another.

You are loved. You are appreciated. You are needed. You are loved.

loved

 

 

 

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The First Morning After the Darkest Night of the Year

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We know they are coming, those longer nights. We know we will lose the sun. We string lights and burn candles and celebrate to chase away the enveloping dark. We know it is here. And yet we are startled, worried, surprised at the lingering darkness in the morning. Repeated glances at the clock to make sure of the time. To anchor us in our routines. Our commitments. Our lives.

The first night after the darkest night of the year is one of relief and celebration. So I’ve heard. But in the morning after that darkest night, when the tilt of the earth has barely, hardly, doubtfully welcomed the sun a moment earlier, I wonder. Or perhaps I worry. Will the dark push back, refuse to budge, revolt against the promise of the sun? What if Dawn has grown weary of bringing hope? What if we haven’t earned another go around? What if, what if we are just not worth it.

And then, like emerging from a cloud of grief, like waking from a paralyzing dream, like choosing forgiveness, like saying no, Dawn slowly, firmly shrugs off the night and refuses to be overcome. She begins the cycle anew, not asking or caring if we will join her.

We do.

 

 

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Books for Middle Readers: Best Gift Ever

There are so many amazing books out there that make the perfect gift. Throw a cool bookmark on top, and you’re good to go no matter who is on your gift list. This list is for the avid young readers in your life; the ones who tear through books and then look for more. I’ve paired up a few books for those hungry readers so they can be sated for at least a weekend.

Baptiste_JumbiesRise-jkt_rgb_HRMiddle Readers: THE JUMBIES and RISE OF THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste are aimed at the 4-7 graders in your life. With themes of overcoming fear, defending your family and home, and discovering your own strength, and being misunderstood, the stories will appeal to a wide variety of children. The strong, spunky protagonist of The Jumbies and Rise of the Jumbies, Corinne Le Mer, is a likable new hero to discover. In addition, the connections to Caribbean and West African folklore and mythologies makes this modern set of stories feel recognizable and fresh. Together, the books create an exciting story arc that will keep kids reading, and probably re-reading, through school break.

  • Bonus suggestion: Do you have mermaid fans at home? Add FISH GIRL to the pile for an extra dose!

9781419723087THE MIGHTY ODDS and AGAINST THE ODDS by Amy Ignatow follow a group of middle-schoolers with one thing in common: accidentally acquired Slightly Super Powers. This is a fast-moving, fantastical albeit realistic tale of what middle-school can feel like. Personality conflicts and popularity struggles, family and friendship obligations, and learning to appreciate themselves and each other are intertwined with Bad Guys, dangerous mysteries, and standardized tests. The cliffhanger chapters and stories will ensure eager anticipation for the third installment of The Odds Series.

  • Bonus suggestion: Got kids who love the idea of superpowers? Try ZACKTASTIC for some kid-genie adventures.

9780374301309_p0_v4_s600x595A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME by Phil Bildner and RAIN REIGN by Ann M. Martin make an interesting pair of books to give together. With major characters on the autism spectrum, they tell two very different stories with messages applicable to any child facing adolescence and all the conflicts and challenges it brings. A Whole New Ballgame is about friends, Rip and Red, facing an exciting, challenging year in 5th grade. They learn that working with others and leaving your “comfort zone” can work out well. 9780312643003_p0_v4_s600x595Rain Reign focuses on Rose, who has Asperger Syndrome, and how her dog Rain helps her cope with difficult times at home and at school. In this story as well, Rose has to choose to leave her “comfort zone,” albeit in a both literal and figurative way. At once inspirational and heart-breaking, Rose’s narration will help readers empathize with her and root for her throughout the story.

  • Bonus suggestion: Have someone who loves to experience life through different lenses but they’ve already read Wonder? Give OUT OF MY MIND. This emphatic suggestion is from my 10 year old son, as I haven’t read it yet!

This just brushes the surface of what’s out there! Stop by your favorite independent bookstore and ASK for suggestions or browse the stacks. Let us know some more suggestions in the comments! Happy giving and reading!

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Books for Kids: The Best Gift Ever

My home is overflowing in books. Each member of our household, save the dog, has lots of books and a true aversion for clearing out the shelves (or stacks…). Even so, there’s always room for more!

What follows are some suggestions for graphic novels for the kids in your life. Some are new for 2017, and others are older BUT have follow-ups coming soon in 2018! For an adult version, focused on women writers, go HERE.

Cici's Journal cover

  • A really fun book for ages 7+ is CICI’S JOURNAL. The main character loves
    mysteries, writing, drawing, and adventure. The book is a mix of traditional graphic novel panels and journal page layouts that are lovely recaps of Cici’s adventures and her feelings. Mysteries that center on art and animals and long, lost loves fuel the two storylines. With conflicts between mothers and daughters, as well as friends, many children and young people will recognize everyday adventures as well.

 

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  • STAR SCOUTS is a fast-paced story that will appeal to a wide range of ages from 8 and up. It begins thanks to a happy accident, and from then on there’s no stopping Avani Patel, the main character. With a diverse host of alien beings, lots of attitude from the heroes, fart jokes, and a parent who seems oblivious to strange goings-on and doesn’t question odd wording on permission slips for a week of sleep-away camp, there’s something for every reader. See a full review here. The next installment, THE LEAGUE OF THE LASERS is due out in March 2018!

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  • In the 10-14 year age range, there is PASHMINA, a story about a search for identity and truth that is at once realistic and magical. The main character, Priyanka Das, wrestles with questions, conflicts, and relationships that will feel very real and intense to readers. The power of imagination and the feeling of being connected to culture as well as what home means all play a role. The imagery shuttles between black and white and vivid color, and the dialogue is realistic.

 

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  • For slightly older kids, CAST NO SHADOW hits all the adolescent pangs without being saccharine and predictable. The main character is dealing with loss, change, and generally eye-rolling at his hometown. His crush on a local ghost complicates matters considerably. The mystery of why the main character doesn’t have a shadow culminates in the novel’s climax, and while adult readers may feel it’s too crowded at the end, most teens will find a lot to relate to and recognize. The illustrations are at once simple and expressive, and the story and dialogue are touching and funny.

 

9781626721807GIANTS BEWARE! and DRAGONS BEWARE! will be joined by the third in this series of Claudette, Gaston, and Marie conquering foes with MONSTERS BEWARE! in March 2018. The adventures are sure to continue with spunk and clever solutions to often humungous problems. Giving the first two books as a gift to prepare your little readers for the series conclusion!

9781626723399THE CREEPY CASE FILES OF MARGO MALOO is incredibly fun, and it is filled with hidden teases and Easter Eggs for readers to find. The book puts an active spin on the Monster-In-The-Closet story, and it humanizes monsters and presents kids with challenging and irresistible adventures. Readers follow Charles, a reluctant transplant to Echo City, as he grumbles about his new home while discovering local secrets and new friends, both human and…perhaps not human. Even though the follow up (THE MONSTER MALL) doesn’t arrive until September 2018, kids will be sure to read and re-read these adventures as they wait.

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Glad I Saw It: Bench Trimmed in Green

There are several memorial benches around Brookdale Park. Some have pithy sayings, and some are more simple. This bench, overlooking the meadow, has been lovingly trimmed in greenery for the season. It is lovely, and it made me smile. IMG_5297

It is in honor of a young man lost too soon, and a little bird told me that Vincent DeFalco loved peppermint sticks. So if you pass by, leave a candy cane or two for someone to find and enjoy. And let us remember that this season of joy and celebration for so many faiths and cultures is a very difficult time for many people as well. If you are feeling a loss more deeply during this time, look for coping methods that work for you.

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Other posts here about grief: Your life, trying to be remembered, Readings on Grief, Peanut Butter Pie (for Mikey).

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