Buy Like You Give A Damn, part I

I found Brittany Packnett via Twitter, as one does. And I liked what I saw. In fact, I really liked what I saw. So I clicked on the website she has in her profile and hello! I found a comforting and inspiring and much needed trove of items for our times. And as the website saysall sales help support organizations run by women of color, so
each purchase is an action of LOVE + POWER.

It looks like some of the items are only available through Sunday, so check it out today! You know you have an office mate, a friend, a child, a family member who wants — no, needs! – one of these right now.

Shop with your conscience.

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Lawrence Welk and the Modern Spiritual

My family used to watch Lawrence Welk every week. Together with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, it provided the backdrop for many Sunday evenings. I loved the bubbles, the outfits, the Polkas, everything. Lawrence Welk occasionally featured versions of current songs sung by members of the cast, and he calls this one a “Modern Spiritual.” Enjoy.

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Books: The Best Gift Ever

If you choose books like I choose my wine, then you know that the cover (or label) can sometimes be an uneven predictor of what’s inside. So for this gift-giving season, I’m going to help you with a taste of what’s inside. Today’s Edition: Women Writers.


  1. Have You Met Nora? by Nicole Blades is intense and passionate and painful and fun. As with Blades’ earlier novel, The Thunder Beneath Us, friendships play an important role as do “meant to be” romantic partnerships. The layers revealed about the characters and the fluctuating sympathy Blades’ demands we have for various characters ensures readers relate to the events, even if reluctantly. Struggles with identity, race, emerging secrets, and anxiety about the future all play major roles in this novel. In brief, HAVE YOU MET NORA? is a high pressure version of reality. NB: Child sexual abuse plays a role in flashbacks. 
    • For someone who enjoyed The Talented Mr. Ripley, admires Keyser Söze, and rejects Disney endings because they betray the original folktale endings. This novel also works well for someone who rejects feel-good stories and likes mystery tinged with a penchant for horror.

Emily Wilson Book, The Odyseey Homer_0

  1. The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson has been creating waves with its direct, readable, uncomplicated translation. Some reviewers have admitted that Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey is the first time they’ve enjoyed it! Even Wilson’s Translator’s Note has been posted to Poetry Daily. Wyatt Mason has a wonderful interview/profile of Emily Wilson in the NYT Magazine as well.
    • For the person who didn’t read The Odyssey in high school out of laziness or boredom. Or for the person who loves all things Greek Myth but gets annoyed at glistering heroes who can do no wrong. As the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman, the book is a milestone for a year in which we need positive milestones. In addition, this makes a great gift for someone who loves to have beautiful books; the cover is gorgeous.

What Happened

  1. What Happened by Hillary Clinton shares Clinton’s view of the 2016 election cycle in a series of essays. The format of the book makes it easy to skip around to subjects of interest (Comey, sexism, election night), read sections bound by theme (Perseverance, Frustration), or devour it whole. There is also an audiobook, read by HRC. For supporters of Clinton, the book will affirm, comfort, and inspire. For those who consider her corrupt or the leader of Pizzagate, it will be fodder for eye-rolling and shrieking fits.
    • For the person who still feels most comfortable in the fetal position, drinks tea from an #ImWithHer mug, or refuses to take down their Clinton/Kaine lawn sign. Also for the person who denies sexism was a factor in the 2016 election cycle and occasionally mutters Benghazi under their breath. I was also told that some enjoy the book as a teaching tool to learn more about a woman’s experience in politics and society. Bonus points if you have an extra signed copy to give as a gift.


  1. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay is intense and painful and life-affirming. Gay invites us to confront intimate and often glossily summarized topics, helping us to face our own feelings of discomfort around body image and food issues, whether they are about ourselves or other people. Hunger acknowledges the everyday aggravations of being oversized and invisible in a world made for less than average sizes. NB: Gay’s memoir includes a remembrance of a violent sexual assault when she was 12.
    • For the person who is a member of IDGAF Nation and wants a literary compatriot. For someone on a journey towards body acceptance, their own or others. For anyone who needs a kick in the butt regarding empathy, humanity, and appreciation of everyday frustrations. Basically, Hunger is for everyone.

Please support your local bookshops whenever you can! 

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Why I Knelt: Honoring the Good and Asking for Better

In Our AmericaMy friend Adrienne Riofrio recently shared the story of choosing to kneel during the anthem at a sporting event this weekend. It moved me for its honesty, for its vulnerability, and for its example of one way to be an ally. Reprinted below with permission.

I knelt during the national anthem for the first time today. It happened at a 5K race I took part in. I didn’t expect them to play the National Anthem, and I was caught off-guard with only a few seconds to make the decision of whether or not to kneel. To make things more difficult (and funny) I was caught by this surprise anthem announcement when I happened to be standing by the announcer, directly in front of the 100 or so racers, who were all turned in my direction. AND, I didn’t know a soul at the race, my husband having stayed home with the kids.

And so, with what felt like 200 eyes watching only me, I knelt.

I knelt to draw attention to the terrible legacy of racism that strips people of color every day of basic rights of freedom, peace of mind, equal opportunities and safety. I knelt in homage to the brave protestors, advocates, activists and survivors, whose lives are a testament to perseverance and determination. I knelt for the people I love who I pray never fall victim to police brutality but who already face indignities and injustices each day.

In those moments of the anthem, I was keenly aware of my race and that of those around me. Everyone I saw around me was white (or at least I read them that way). I was keenly aware of them seeing me as a white woman, kneeling. I wondered what they thought of me: Did they consider kneeling? (No one did). Were they angry? Would they accuse me of pulling focus from the cause we were running for? Would anyone confront me? I was aware that if I were not phenotypically white, I may have made a different decision about kneeling: perhaps I would not have felt safe to do so.

I was also keenly aware of the sense of honoring my country. Kneeling felt MORE respectful than standing. Standing is something we do every day; it’s like a waiting position: standing in line, standing while we make dinner; standing as our kids take 20 minutes to tie their shoes but won’t let us help. You stand waiting for what’s next.

But kneeling, I was fully present in the moment: the song, the feeling of eyes on me, the meaningfulness of our country and all it stands for.

I am the child of immigrants. My parents love this country and raised me with a sense that we should be grateful for the freedoms and opportunities it provides, even as we long for the intangibles we left behind. I remember my mother always stood during the national anthem, even at the movies. When the anthem would play in a movie we would all stand in our row. I’m not kidding.

Kneeling today felt like holding the history of our country, the history of my family AND holding our country accountable. Honoring the good and asking for better. Don’t we hold these two forces in our mind all the time? I’m a good parent AND I can do better. I love this country and yet we can do better.

Want a yard sign like mine? You can get one here from the Syracuse Cultural Workers.

Linked to Yeah Write’s Weekend Writing Showcase.

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Quick List of Halloween Book Treats for Kids

rothAges 3-7: ROOM ON THE BROOM by Julia Donaldson

This favorite story of a witch, her cat, her broom, and lots of room for friends is a delight. The repetition will make sure children “read along” and get familiar with the rhythm of the story. As a bonus, the animated short film is on Netflix, too!

halloween-activities-kids-classroom-books.jpgAges 4-8: BIG PUMPKIN by Erica Silverman

This is a fun story about a witch who wants to make pumpkin pie, and the friends who try to help her get a pumpkin off the vine. With a cast of traditional Halloween characters, children will find the story entertaining in the haunting spirit without being scary. As a bonus, lessons about cooperation are emphasized.


Following in the journal-entry style of many popular book in this age range, this book centers on Edgar, an uncool vampire who defies his family to bravely attend middle school. Bullied by a classmate and facing all the usual middle school challenges, Edgar has to navigate being uncool to humans and vampires alike. Or does he? Kids will enjoy the relatable problems and gross lunches as they follow Edgar’s adventures.

cast-no-shadow.jpgAges 12+: CAST NO SHADOW by Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa

This graphic novel 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.

Posted in Parenthood, Review, Things I love | 8 Comments

Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats

9781626726062The SECRET CODERS, a trio of friends diverse in personalities, gender, and ethnicity, are up against Dr. One-Zero once again. This time there is the added drama of finding a clue that may lead to Hopper’s missing dad! This fourth volume of the science-fiction series from Gene Luen Yang and illustrator Mike Holmes, Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats, continues to intertwine typical kid drama with teaching code via easy-to-understand instructions and helpful, fun illustrations. The graphic novel format works really well to demonstrate how to code as well as moving the story along.

This series, published by First Second, is aimed at 8-14 year olds, and is best for kids interested in coding and familiar with the basics. The coding breaks, which are part of the adventures, can feel like they’re interrupting the flow of the story, but they will seem natural for readers who already know some coding language or have a strong motivation to become comfortable with it. However, even children with little or no coding knowledge will be drawn to the relatable storyline, including many parent-teacher-child scenes that most kids will recognize.

While the fourth volume, Robots & Repeats, could be read on its own, younger readers may want to start with the original Secret Coders graphic novel and continue from there. In addition, there is a website with excerpts, videos, and interactive activities. Clearly, Gene Luen Yang wants to recruit a wide variety of coders in the upcoming generation! Visit the Secret Coders website here: SECRET CODERS.



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Glad I Saw It: Nasty Women

IMG_4350This has been quite a week for me. Not only did I have the honor of meeting Hillary Clinton (!), shaking her hand, and thanking her at a signing for What Happened, I was able to bring my children, two of HRC’s biggest fans. I don’t remember what I said to her, but she asked my children their names and was gracious and warm and genuine. I also had a chance to chat briefly with Huma Abedin as we waited for our signed books, and I do remember thanking her for taking good care of HRC.  The whole evening was a wonderful opportunity.

Then, the next day, as I was walking up 9th Avenue in Manhattan towards a taping of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, my friend and I passed Dr. Ruth! I think I may have squealed “Ahhhh! It’s Dr. Ruth!” as we walked by. About a half a block later, we stopped and looked at each other, and clearly thought the same thing. We turned and rushed back to grab a photo with the 89 year old sexual educator. She was just as smiley as we were. We were on a serious adrenalin high all the way to 57th Street.

My final #NastyWoman adventure this week was to get a behind-the-scenes peek at how Sam Bee and her crew manage to pull off the Emmy Winning Full Frontal with Samantha Bee every week. I was also hoping to see my current favorite comedic writer-performer Ashley Nicole Black. So when Sam Bee introduced her after showing her segment, I’m not embarrassed to admit I yelled out “I LOVE YOU, ASHLEY!” She heard me, but looked in the wrong section of the audience to acknowledge the outburst. But she heard me. And then she retweeted me. So now we’re besties, right?

ANB retweet

Anyway, rest assured that I’m now settled back into my non-celebrity version of being a #NastyWoman. But it sure was a fabulous week of inspiration!


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Back in the Swing of Things


I am a child of routine. I like knowing where I’m supposed to be and for how long I’m supposed to be there. It’s part of what makes teaching so appealing. Some people are horrified by timed bells; I am comforted by them.

Over the last couple of weeks, before school started up again, I felt like I was running around in a hellish hurricane of events and obligations and changing schedules and needs and wants and appointments and so on and so forth. I was not practicing what I preach.

Freelance work demands a certain amount of assertive response to requests and tough love for yourself in order to be successful and get work done. You have to be your own bell schedule. Even after all these years of multiple part-time jobs and myriad volunteer activities, I still don’t have that down. I’m learning to say NO, and mean it. I’m learning to schedule myself and focus despite world and national events. I’m learning that it’s not, actually, all on me. I’m learning that I can do more better if I agree to less. I’m still learning.

So today, the Monday of the first full day of school for the kids, I took my first morning walk to the park with the dog in a long time. I took deep breaths, I put my phone in my pocket, and I recommitted to taking better care of myself so that I can take better care of my family, my causes, and my jobs, myself.

I invite you to get back in the swing of things this September as well. Clear out the flotsam, definitely kick out the jetsam, and focus on the things that really matter to YOU.

Please feel free to leave tips in comments because I’m going to need all the help I can get!

Posted in Beating Back the Aging Process (ha!), People do silly things, Suburban Life, volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Glad I Saw It: In A Heartbeat

It’s been another rough week — already! Take a break and watch this heart-warming short that’s as relatable as it is lovely.

This short film is by Beth David and Esteban Bravo, out of the Ringling College of Art + Design. Check them out on Facebook here: In A Heartbeat on FB.

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Binge Watching Suggestions: Netflix Edition

b0a348e6c08dc46d8d4428ecc73743360d204ee3I love my dark and tortured shows, especially with a strong lean towards science fiction and fantasy. But of late I’ve wanted more light and goofy escapism, meaningful and in-depth social criticism, and I’m always game for period drama when it’s well done. So, basically, I like what I like. Keep that in mind with this ultimate, perfect, no-way-to-contradict-it list of summer binge suggestions. Most of these are definitely NSFW or children.

Chewing Gum: Light and Goofy, with an edge. There are two seasons of this supremely funny and painfully awkward series centers on Tracey (Michaela Coel) who just wants to lose her virginity. It’s raunchy, in the most innocently stumbling way possible. It’s squirm-in-your-seat uncomfortable, which might remind you of the discomfort in watching the British version of The Office. And you will fall in love with Tracey even while you’re unsure you want to ever hang out with her in the long-term. The second season expands attention to her circle of friends, and her sister becomes a driving force as well. Seriously, it has lifted the dark cloud of misery from my mood on more than one occasion. More details here: NYT review.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Light and Goofy, with a dark but subtle edge. Kimmy is like a more innocent, less focused Tracey. The series and its cast are the perfect brain candy for 2017. As with Chewing Gum, you may want to binge on several episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt despite not wanting to spend more than 20 minutes with the main character. And the supporting characters are the perfect foils and friends for Kimmy. Everyone is flawed in the most disturbingly beautiful ways, and you’ll end up feeling better about whatever has you in the dumps. More details: New Yorker review.

img_3844Sense8: Intense, hopeful, lots of skin and sex. If you don’t mind being confused for a while in a show, and you love sharp turns and sudden starts in your narrative, check out Sense8 for a wicked good time. You may also need to remember that suspension of disbelief is a handy tool as well. Sense8 begins in violence, and continues in violence mixed with longing, desperation, love, and vulnerability. You can’t help but fall in love with these characters, just as they all fall in love with each other. It’s both visually and thematically gorgeous and hopeful, despite the consistent dark and violent episodes. Trust me on this one if you’re into sci-fi and fantasy. It’s an antidote to a lot of the rhetoric floating around these days. There are two seasons, and (thankfully!) a holiday special coming. More details: Hollywood Reporter review.

Black Mirror: Dark, squirmy, self-critical, and sometimes funny social commentary. If you can make it through the discomfort of the first episode, you’ll be fine. And if you don’t recognize some of your own vices in the first season, you’re lying. Some of the episodes are harsh criticisms, while others are kinder, gentler lectures. You’ll reel back in horror, weep in frustration, and deny you’d ever behave in the same way. Good for you, there are many, many episodes to catch up on. (Don’t miss the San Junipero episode if you need a positive break.) Eventually you’ll admit that yeah, okay, you recognize yourself in some episodes. More details: Hollywood Reporter review.

The Crown: Slow, precise, more recent period drama. Considering that the subject of this drama is still the Queen, it feels odd to call this a period drama, but it is. As someone who  is peripherally interested in the modern monarchy, this was instructive and, well, calming. It’s beautifully made, and in these times without respect for norms and “the way things are done,” it can dispel some anxiety. It’s basically a family drama in which the decisions seem both silly and immensely heavy. There is scandal, political intrigue, and personal turmoil, all with a muted veil of decorum. The Crown is good after a particularly stressful week. More details: Vanity Fair’s review.

Dear White People: Get over yourself. It’s not a lecture; it’s a really well-made show. Go see the film on Amazon or iTunes or whatever, and then check out the first season of the series on Netflix. The characters of the series pick up from the film, but the series really delves into issues that the film introduces. Topics addressed include hypocrisy, privilege within the Black community, LGBTQ issues, peer and family pressure, obliviousness of different groups to each other, language, and in a stunning pair of episodes about Reggie, police brutality and the after effects. Each episode (or pair of episodes) focuses on one character, and each will humanize the audience further. Seriously, it’s really good. More details: NYT review.

Do you have additional must-sees on Netflix? I can already tick off a few more suggestions in my head. Share in comments!


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