From my storytelling pal, Tracey Miller Segarra, comes this easy & delicious egg quiche-type thing. It was so good and it actually tastes a lot like the base of a Panera egg soufflé. I’ve been making a knock-off version for years but it’s fairly labor intensive. This, however, took hardly any time at all. So, I’ll be tweaking that recipe a bit and will report back. Now, for the Dutch Mama…
- Heat oven to 425 degrees and put an oven-safe pan inside while the oven is heating up.
- 3 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
Mix wet ingredients and then add in dry and stir til it’s blended together.
Put a big pat of butter into the hot pan, swirl around and let it evaporate in the oven until it forms a glaze on the bottom.
Pour the mixture into the pan and cook for 15-17 minutes (until it rises and looks like the photo.
Take out of oven, sprinkle with powdered sugar and voila! Yum! I ate half in one sitting and it was delicious fresh from the oven. I saved the other half and heated up in the microwave for breakfast and it held up better than I expected. Now that I know that, I will definitely tweak the Panera soufflé recipe as I like to make 4 or 6 soufflés in advance and have them as an easy, ready-to-heat-and-eat option.
Easy, quick & delicious! In addition to the ingredients, you’ll need three bowls and a plate with some paper towels to soak up the oil after frying…
- Goat cheese log, freeze 15 minutes before cutting
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
- 1 tspn each thyme & parsley
- 1/2 tspn garlic powder
- 1/4 tspn fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, beaten in a separate bowl & left by itself (Poor egg!)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (also alone in it’s own bowl)
- vegetable oil (for the pan for frying)
- Freeze the cheese log for about 15 minutes to firm it up before cutting.
- In one bowl, combine panko breadcrumbs, pecans, thyme, garlic powder, black pepper and salt in a small bowl. The beaten egg is in a separate bowl and the flour is in it’s own separate bowl.
- Remove the cheese from the freezer. Slice the goat cheese into ½” rounds. You can reshape the cheese easily after it’s been dipped in flour.
- Dip the cheese in the flour, then egg, and then panko mixture and coat both sides.
- In a small frying pan, add enough oil to reach halfway up the goat cheese. Heat the pan over medium-high heat
- Carefully place the cheese into the pan and cook until golden brown which is pretty quick…only about 30 to 45 seconds. Flip it and fry the other side.
- Drain the fried cheese on a paper towel to remove any excess oil.
- It holds well and stays crisp for at least an hour if you want to prepare it ahead of time.
Hey! Remember Milkweeds? I was gonna make some seed bombs for some of you. The pods never opened and became “ripe” or whatever while I was around, and then I was gone from the cabin for a few months. But, hey, I’m hunkered down, self-distancing, trying to avoid the ‘rus and did some work in the yard today and, lo! We found a stem with three pods bursting open and dried up.
It was out all winter so I have no idea if the seeds will be any good…but aren’t seeds in nature out of our control anyway? So yeah they probably are good. I dunno. I got some compost, Christian’s gonna grab my clay that I left at home when we skedaddled out of dodge.
But look at the pretty silk! That’s the stuff they used to make life vests in WWII. Read my old post for more on that. It’s worth a look-see as the Milkweed is fascinating and useful and food for the caterpillar versions of the beautiful monarch butterfly!
We forgot to pack up some bananas the last time we were here at the Rock House, so when we got back they were pretty overripe (not rotten or covered in fruitflies thankfully) and perfect for making some homemade banana bread. Here’s the recipe I used, though I wish I had some pecans or walnuts or something to add to it. Next time. Meanwhile…
- 3 ripe mashed bananas
- 1 cup white sugar (I use a Splenda/Sugar for baking mix)
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.
- Combine bananas, sugar, egg, and butter together in a bowl. Mix flour and baking soda together in a separate bowl; stir into banana mixture until batter is mixed then stir in salt . Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan.
- Bake about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.
Not really optional:
Serve warm with homemade vanilla ice cream.
Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit
by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker – My 2nd of his to read, the 1st being Killer Across the Table in October. There wasn’t much redundancy which is nice. Like a lot of non-fiction books about multiple cases or serial criminals, it can get a little exhausting. However, the stories are all very fascinating and were clearly chosen to highlight a specific type of crime or investigative tactic (hostage situations, staging as a ritual or as an attempt to throw off investigators, insanity, etc.) The author comes off a tad arrogant but, I dunno, who can blame him? I mean he describes criminals with freakish accuracy. For example, he said one killer would be driving a dark blue or black car. Sorcery like that has led to solved cases and, most importantly, prevented countless more crimes. Pat yourself on the back all you want, dude. You’re neat. Fascinating stuff.
Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardwick – The authors host a podcast “My Favorite Murder,” so I expected the book to be about some murders. It’s actually a dual mini-memoir / telling of how the co-authors’ friendship and podcast came to be. I’ve actually never heard an episode but I still very much enjoyed the audiobook which they read separately and together with some parts taped in front of a very enthusiastic audience of their fans. It didn’t matter that I’d never listened to their show.
One random thing that made me hit rewind: While talking about victim blaming and how it’s only the fault of the criminal no matter what the victim did, was wearing, etc., Karen mentioned how sometimes a woman has to take a bus late at night because maybe she’s a single mother without a car, can’t drive for physical reasons like she is blind or deaf. Uh, what? Deaf people can drive! LOL!
I got emotional a few times from their sharing of family stuff and enjoyed their banter and humor. It was nice to hear how two women –one who is my age; the other 10 years younger– became friends and found support in each other and turned a hobby into a very successful gig. Good for them.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson – I enjoyed this book so much more than the other of his I read “Devil in the White City…” It’s engaging and comprehensive without being exhaustive.
I finished this on New Year’s Day and it was a bit of a downer to start the year. A terrible tragedy. So much grief and pain and suffering in people’s final moments and, as with most events when examined in retrospect, there was so much that could’ve & should’ve been done to spare the world from it all. It’s all terrible. That there are “rules” for governing the mass destruction of property and lives is dumb. War is dumb.
As we find ourselves in dangerous territory thanks to the most extraordinarily ill-equipped and unqualified President of the US, I wish I’d read it at another time.
Alright…this is my last time doing little write-ups for each book. I’ll likely still post the books I read w/ links for my own reference, really. Which, let’s be honest, is what these more extensive blog entries have been all this time!
January 2019 Booklist
February 2019 Booklist
March 2019 Booklist
April 2019 Booklist
May 2019 Booklist
June 2019 Booklist
July 2019 Booklist
August 2019 Booklist
September 2019 Booklist
October 2019 Booklist
November 2019 Booklist
A few more self help books than usual. I equate it to having had a rough October with some staffing issues, broken trust and the annual insurance payments/audits for QED which are the largest expense outside of rent and salaries and a huge time/emotional drain.
Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals by Rachel Hollis – Unlike the 2nd book in this list below, this book has a ton of actionable items. Helpful for anyone who is struggling to move ahead with their dreams and goals. I enjoyed her first book Girl, Wash Your Face, but she has a lot of people who dislike her for one reason or another. It’s odd how much vitriol a person can get for putting out positivity and tools for a better life. I can only equate it to when Christian lost weight and he got the most vile hate mail as a result. Seeing genuine accomplishment is an indictment of one’s own shortcomings.
That said, she’s bit more self-aggrandizing this go around (talking about her wealth, looks, fake boobs, etc.) but she’s using them as examples of ways she’s gotten what she wants and sorry, she’s not sorry. I can totally see how that would turn off folks as being un-Christian-like (she’s a Christian, apparently?) or unrealistic for women who are struggling to make ends meet while raising kids, etc.
There was some repetition from her first book, but not overly so. It’s divided into three parts: Excuses to Let Go Of, Behaviors to Adopt, and Skills to Acquire. She gives specific and practical advice some of which I already practice myself using my Passion Planner journal. I swear by these, have been on board with them when they were in the developmental Kickstarter phase and gift them often. They’re great. #PashFam
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer – A self help book on spirituality, meditation, mindfulness, etc. but also a bunch of yammering. It gives no actionable, tangible advice except that you should meditate and let it go. Let it go? I’m boiling with rage, stress and fear and need to let it go?! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THAT, MOTHERFUCKER?! I suppose breathing, meditation, yoga, all the things I already know and would implement if my soul crushing schedule allowed. As with all books, seminars, things I experience, I say that if I walk away with only *one* thing learned then it is worth it. So this book was a worthy read for me in spite of my frustrations with it, because I did take away a few things:
I am not my thoughts and should become more aware of those idle thoughts and not get swept away in worrying about things that haven’t even happened. Those are big ones for me. Before I opened QED, I was sleeping maybe 2 hours a night because of the freakish amount of worry over stuff that hadn’t happened and, to date, has still not happened. What a WASTE of energy, emotion and time!
Also, the section on death and how not fearing death is freeing is so true. When I was going through cancer, life became technicolor and the whole “enjoy every moment while it lasts” cliché became my mantra. While I do still like to plan and have lists and goals, I’m no longer worried about the big ones down the road because I might not ever make it past today. I’m not sad about it. It’s just true. So today is pretty great, and I’m better at recognizing it.
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman – They’re comedians and so this is a light-hearted romp. A long, dual interview the banter between them light and you can tell they genuinely care for and crack each other up.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg – Another book written by a rich, white woman about becoming a leader in the male-dominated workforce. But I actually did like this one! The usual stuff was in there about work & life balance, motherhood, etc. But lots of other helpful reminders/advice about women not inserting, exerting or challenging themselves and the importance of mentors and diversity in hiring. Nothing groundbreaking, but I enjoyed it.
Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon – Oh, man, “heavy” is right. It made me so emotional. It’s written as a letter to his mother, a beautiful and difficult framing.
Recently my friend Renny read my memoir. He’s in prison with my dad and so had refrained from reading it so as not to upset my father who had told him not to read it saying, “It was bullshit. Full of lies.” Renny finally read it, admitted to Dad that he did and opened up the lines of communication about domestic violence. Renny told my father, “Think of the book as a long letter to you.”
So, yeah, I related to Laymon’s memoir in more ways than one. We both grew up poor in abusive households but he had the added struggles of being black and raised by a single mother in Jackson, Mississippi. His mother is as beautiful and smart and complicated as my father. His story recounts much physical and sexual abuse, weight and food issues, gambling, and struggling with a world skewed to benefit white people.
Laymon also shared a letter from his mother on his blog that acknowledges his truth, apologizes and thanks him for sharing it. I dream of the day my dad can do the same.
I’d like to re-read this book — a 2nd reading is often much more insightful because you are not in shock of discovering new (often uncomfortable) twists in a story. And I’m going to write a letter to my dad.
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do (A No F*cks Given Guide) by Sarah Knight – If you don’t like the “F” word, skip this and her other books. It is used liberally. Truthfully it was a little thin on practical advice and advice on lot of stuff that I just don’t sweat like workplace and friends/family etiquette (weddings, showers, family travel/gatherings).
In a nutshell: What do you enjoy doing? Do more of that. What activities that drain your energy? Find a way to eliminate those so you can do more of what you enjoy.
So, taking this author’s advice, December will be the last time I write out these reviews. It’s a time suck and I don’t really enjoy writing them. I feel…guilty? And also I really whip them and my thoughts together so haphazardly that the reviews aren’t even great reads. Will this disappoint you or anyone? I don’t give a fu*k. 🙂
January 2019 Booklist
February 2019 Booklist
March 2019 Booklist
April 2019 Booklist
May 2019 Booklist
June 2019 Booklist
July 2019 Booklist
August 2019 Booklist
September 2019 Booklist
October 2019 Booklist
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell – I’m in awe of this incredible woman, Virginia Hall. The book is a best seller and is being adapted into two movies for a reason. Hall was an American spy who worked undercover in France during World War II and later for the CIA. Remarkable acts of bravery, persistence and cunning throughout that are really only now coming to light thanks to the brilliant work of Purnell. That Hall was not more celebrated before is partly due to gender discrimination and in part due to the secretive nature of her work and Hall’s unwillingness to exploit that no matter how many years had passed. I can’t wait for the movie as some of the scenes –an escape through snow-covered mountains– must be seen to fully absorb the breathtaking scope of Hall’s daring nature and perseverance.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep – “A compelling hybrid of a novel, at once a true-crime thriller, courtroom drama, and miniature biography of Harper Lee. If To Kill a Mockingbird was one of your favorite books growing up, you should add Furious Hours to your reading list today.” —Southern Living
“Thriller” might be a bit much –it’s pretty clear who is killing people and why– but it’s most definitely an interesting look into the early days of the insurance industry when anyone could buy a policy on anyone else’s life without any checks and balances. That is just begging for murder & mayhem. How stupid!
The courtroom stuff isn’t all that dramatic either but, again, quite interesting if you’re into crime, law and punishment.
The miniature biography section was immensely enjoyable. I had little knowledge about Lee and her relationship with her childhood friend Truman Capote. I also enjoy hearing tales of writers living in NYC in the decades before me. Overall, a really great book that I would recommend for fans of Lee’s and/or true-crime narratives.
Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller – Emily Doe was raped by Brock Turner who received a paltry 6-month sentence (the appalling lenience resulted in the judge’s recall). Emily Doe is reclaiming her name –Chanel Miller– and identity by coming forward in this exquisitely written account of the events that unfolded that night and in the days since. I expected it to be so much more upsetting and depressing than it was. Instead, I was so impressed with her story and beautiful writing. What an inspiration she is to me, giving me the instruction manual on how to be brave in the face of extreme fear. What a rebuttal she has given to the nasty pit that is anonymous public opinion on online comment and forums. I’m immensely proud of her.
The Killer Across the Table: Unlocking the Secrets of Serial Killers and Predators with the FBI’s Original Mindhunter by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker – Serial killer stuff is so fascinating to so many people and that is, alone, worth investigating. Why is this so interesting? The Netflix show “Mindhunter” is based on the work of Douglas and Olshaker. More than a few people said of the show, “It’s okay, but you would like it.” Mmmkay? LOL!* So I looked up Mindhunter, found out Douglas has written numerous books and decided to check out this latest one.
In it, he mainly studies four criminals, but other infamous cases are discussed as tangential examples of revealing criminal behavior, desires, motivations, etc. Coming from his logical and methodical way of studying criminals and this being a narrative from the criminal and investigator’s perspective, the book depletes much of the humanity of the victims and families. But it is incredibly fascinating and these gentlemen have done great work in developing criminal profiles and stopping more violence against innocent people. Kudos.
*I ended up watching season one and people are correct: It’s okay. Just okay. I won’t keep watching, though. The lead character based on Douglas is a bit bland. Mostly, I feel like blurring the truth with fiction in this tv dramatization muddles everything up. If I’d like to watch something on the BTK killer, for example, I’ll just watch a documentary or read a book.
A @nycmarathon@nyrr memory & how a flippant comment inspired: In 2009 as women leaders ran through my neighborhood an @NBCSports TV announcer said, “the runners are now in the less-than-picturesque part of Queens.” I was appalled. How dare he? I LIVE HERE!
Of course no one was there greeting runners so it looked like an uninhabited sh*thole. The announcer kinda had a point. I mean on my block the only lame playground is across the street from a strip club. Mornings were littered w/syringes, Four Loco cans & bloody, ripped t-shirts*.
I vowed to return the next year to that very spot the announcer dissed & REPRESENT! In 2010, I made a sign for me, (bright orange “Welcome to Queens”) and my Chihuahua (¡Andele! ¡Andele!).
We stood at the foot of the Pulaski Bridge & made a ruckus. No way an announcer would have the gall to say something nasty now! A happy lady & her dog were standing in that sh*thole proudly holding her homemade sign!
FF to 2015 a friend texted me a picture of a portait hanging in the @MuseumofCityNY & asked, “Is this you?” Why, yes it is! Don Emmert snapped it for @GettyImages@AFP & the Museum included the photo in its exhibit celebrating the NYC Marathon https://mcny.org/exhibition/new-york-city-marathon
This glorious portrait & memory serves as a reminder that even sh*tholes are comprised of real *people*. We the people can choose to gripe about a rude comment & demand to speak to the manager, or we can invest our time & energy into making that announcer wrong. Very wrong.
That jerk announcer injected me w/some #Queens pride! Since then, I’m so invested in this “less-than-picturesque” part of the @NYCMarathon that I tattooed the iconic World’s Fair Unisphere onto my body & built a performance/community space @QEDAstoria from scratch. F that dude.
Tomorrow as the @nycmarathon runners exit the Pulaski Bridge, I’ll be there again welcoming them to my fair borough w/the same sign (different dog) before I head to @QEDAstoria, a brick & mortar symbol of my devotion to #Queens. Be the change…yada, yada, yada.
But seriously, F that dude.
*The playground has been closed for renovations for almost two years now with zero work done on it over long stretches of times. The strip club continues to thrive and is actually quite nice.
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight – This book took me almost a month to finish but I have never read any single book about Douglass, so I had a lot to learn about his extraordinary life. I had already read so much about him through biographies of past presidents Grant and Lincoln, the Civil War, etc. And all of that is in there. But like when I read Washington’s biography, I felt like I had already learned and knew too much to really get wrapped up in large chunks of the story.
I very much enjoyed learning about his early childhood and days in bondage, his escape to freedom and finding love, purpose and family and the difficulties that come with being an icon and living life on the road.
What I hadn’t expected, was to relate to Mr. Douglass so personally as an artist. After slavery was abolished and the Civil War was over, Mr. Douglass earned a living by touring the country giving speeches. Traveling in those days was grueling enough so imagine how difficult it was for him an older, black man. It’s admirable and honorable, but a tough way to eke out a living.
But he was an artist. His art was his storytelling. <3
After a whirlwind tour giving his “How I Escaped From Slavery” speech, he fell into a depression of sorts. What I liken to “post-publication depression” that my comedy and author friends have all experienced. That feeling after a major accomplishment of, “What next? Is my last, best thing behind me? What if this is all I ever am or do or will be known for?” Douglass felt some shame in that feeling. It was a bit perverse to feel empty and longing for more. Here he had helped abolish slavery, why wasn’t that enough for him?
Reflecting back on the immediate aftermath of the war Douglass admitted that “a strange and perhaps perverse feeling came over me. Great joy over the ending of slavery was at times tinged with a feeling of sadness. I felt that I had reached the end of the noblest and best part of my life.”
I was riding my bike when I was listening to this part of the audiobook, and I laughed out loud so hard I startled a construction worker. I just couldn’t believe my ears. I say and feel this way all the time after Ochi’s Lounge and Comix closed, after my first memoir was published, after the book tour wound down, and now with QED…I replayed the section several times and shared the passage with some creative friends.
In Douglass’ case –as I and many of my friends do– he’d write new speeches, schedule another tour but the audiences weren’t always as keen on his new lectures…they wanted the greatest hit: his escape from bondage. He’d moved on and tired of that story. It was all so relatable and interesting that I wish he were here today to write a book about *that*.
Anyway, it’s a very long read and a good one and I’m glad to have gotten to know an important figure in American history in a more personal way.
Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey by A.J. Jacobs – I had read his book “It’s All Relative” since history/genetics/genealogy interests me. I enjoyed his humor and learned a bit so I decided to try out two of his other books. I have found all of his books are breezy and easy reads. His premises remind me of my friend Mark Malkoff who has filmed stunts like visiting every Starbucks in NYC in one day, having strangers carry him across Manhattan, living in an Ikea, etc. This book was just about gratitude. Be thankful. Okay. Will do. Next.
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs – In this book, Jacobs attempts to follow the Bible to the letter by taking everything literally. Most sane people agree this isn’t possible or even what the Bible is meant to be, and it’s not far into the book that even the non-sane people would agree. But he isn’t here to make fun of anyone’s beliefs. He’s fair and patient while keeping it light-hearted while not shying from pointing out some of the more outdated and ridiculous rules about punishment for crimes, mixed fabrics, dietary restrictions, etc. He also asks a question that I have wondered, “How can any woman belong to anything that’s so expressly sexist?” Some of the women I see around NYC are trapped in a cult parading as tradition, in my opinion. And that tradition/religion is dead-set on keeping women subservient.
Jacobs was raised Jewish but is agnostic. I was raised without religion really but with heavy-handed doses of crazy, evangelical, speaking-in-tongues, divine healing nonsense shoved down my throat by Dad’s relatives who were frantically trying to brainwash me during my short summer vacations on the Crews farm. Time was of the essence, ya know? Rapture was imminent, after all.
In the end Jacobs remains agnostic as do I. He learned what good people already know: Life is sacred, be kind.
I considered sending this card to my dad in prison for Father’s Day. Christian said it would never pass inspection to reach him. “Way too pornographic,” he said. “Yes, it will,” I insisted. “There’s not even nipple!”
When Dad is released we will all definitely need therapy.
Dad loves the risqué vintage postcards I send him. They, umm, fill a void since he’s incarcerated and pornography is prohibited. I stopped sending them for a while when things got harried and overwhelming for me. In short, I built & opened QED, Mom came to live with us, I got sober from booze & sugar only to get cancer. I had a whole lifetime crammed into three years. Who has time to send half-nude pinups to their jailed Deaf dad, ya know?
While I was trying to stay alive and keep QED afloat, Dad was sending long lists of questions, needs and wants in every letter. Finally, I begged him to lay off. “Give me some time and space! Life is really hard for me right now!”
He was sorry; he didn’t want to be a burden, but maybe I could send a quick pinup postcard? “I really like and miss those,” he said. I felt terrible for him, alone and lonely. You want some Sorority Sluts, Dad? You got some Sorority Sluts!
To offset the ickiness and make use of my time and the stamp, I wrote some serious business on the card. I need power of attorney so I can help him with his pension applications & look into getting him dentures now that the TDCJ is changing their policy. This card ensured me that he’d read my note!
While the TDCJ had no problem with Sorority Sluts, the Father’s Day pinup of the lady on the bearskin rug was indeed returned in an envelope stamped in red ink and capital letters, “DENIED.” Not for the content, but the lack thereof. I sent it blank w/the blank envelope it came with which makes it contraband and can be used as currency. Logical in hindsight. #TheMoreYouKnow Dad desperately wanted to know what he missed and begged me to send it back. This time I had to write in it, so I chose to send him the biographical history of the artist behind the pinup.
Gil Elvgren was an American artists born in Minnesota and whose work was mostly in adverstising a Brown & Bigelow, a company founded in 1896 and still operating today. Many of his pinups were painted on the noses of military aircraft during World War II.
While digging around for Elvgren’s bio, I came across the original model photo as well as the work of Dutch artist Erwin Olaf. I remembered when Olaf debuted his “Mature” series in New York in 2001 which featured women between the ages of 61 and 89 reconstructing in the style of pinups by Elvgren, Alberto Vargas and others. It dominated the press here in NYC for a few days and sparked conversations about sexuality and aging. One of his recreations that I recalled from 2001 was a mature lady reenacting the “Bear Facts” pinup by Elvgren. It was only when seeing it again I put it all together. Funny how things go in circles.
This led me to read article: Aging, Performance, and Stardom: Doing Age on the Stage of Consumerist Culture. As I and my performer friends are now solidly in mid-life or older, it’s interesting to see how we adjust from the type of stories we tell, the audiences we cater to and how we spend our free time. Personally, I found Olaf’s photos pretty saucy and inspiring. But the big question is: will the TDCJ find the *real* photo of the mature lady’s “Bear Facts” contraband or not? Christmas is around the corner, so we’ll find out soon! ;-P
I’m’ taking a whirlwind trip to TX to visit Dad in prison this weekend. The warden approved an extended 8 hour visit over 2 days. That helps make up for the last few years of owning QED and having cancer and so couldn’t visit him at all.
Bonus: the 1st weekend of the month = pictures! This will be our 1st pic together in 6 years. Wow! When I finally got to visit him last year, it was wasn’t picture day, but its probably for the best as he was really emotional and broken from his terrible dental situation and the disappointment of being separated by glass with a shortened visit. I had gotten there pretty late in the afternoon after church let out, so they were too busy to allow a contact visit and needed to make room for other visitors. This time, I plan to be there right at opening hours 8am-ish so even if there’s a long wait I’ll have plenty of time.
We’ve already compiled a list of things to talk about. He’s anxious to share his stories of being locked up, so I’ll see what he thinks of a documentary or blog or other mediums to channel all the pent up anger and frustrations that’s been brewing for 17+ years of incarceration.
Meanwhile, here are pics from 2012. #DeafinPrison
Know Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth by Mika Brzezinski – I read this in June or July and forgot to put it on my post and didn’t include it in my little cover collage. An indictment on how well I enjoyed this book? Perhaps a little. It was fine. Pretty basic stuff about negotiating and making demands, stuff I’ve read or heard before. If I were back in the corporate world vs owning my own business this would come in handy as a nice refresher. I did recommend it to a young woman who was complaining about work as she’d just found out she was making considerably less than her male peers, some of whom started after her. Same old song and dance. She was contemplating her next move. This book is exactly what someone in her shoes would need right now. The basics, in a quick, relatable format as a kick in the pants to get what’s rightfully hers.
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner – He was the professor for my Civil War and Reconstruction classes at Columbia, so naturally I wanted to read his book. He was also the main champion for the creation of the Reconstruction Era National Park. It was all a bit redundant from my studies which goes to say what a great instructor he is and how thorough his lectures were that I felt like I already knew everything. But it all bears repeating. This is the stuff that needs to be taught in schools. The book expired before I finished it, though, so I feel a little guilty for not reading the whole thing. But…hey! I already studied for almost 2 years with the guy. Too often Reconstruction is thought of the work of incompetent black politicians and carpetbagger Yankees lining their pockets. But from this period came the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and so much more.
A quote from Prof. Foner in an article re: the monument in the NY Times: “This was a pivotal moment in history that really changed the Constitution, and changed the definition of American citizenship, which, in parentheses, is really under attack right now,” Prof. Foner said. “It really began the process of making African-Americans equal members of American society.” I’m super excited to go see Prof. Foner at the NY Historical Society where he’ll be discussing his latest book which is also about Reconstruction, though I’m not sure I’ll read it. Shhhh…
Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson – Really enjoyed his first book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck so got on the waitlist for this one. I finished this in one day. Super short and engaging. I really do like his style, even with all the unnecessary cursing which I know turns people off. He had a huge chunk on how to start your own religion which was really interesting to me as I have been toying with the idea of a solo show about my “god” David Lee Roth and how religion and who we look to for guidance is all circumstantial but also follows all the same patterns, just wearing a different fabric. This book was less about giving advice from his perspective of experience and more about examples and studies throughout history. One example he cited a case study found in Descartes’ Error by Antonio Damasio about man “Elliot” whose brain surgery resulted in leaving him completely without empathy. Feelings are essential to a balanced way of life. This exact case study was featured in another book I recently read (wish I remember exactly which one). Clearly Damasio’s research had some impact on authors I read and he has a healthy list of published books, so I’ve added him to my “to read” list. Back to Manson. It’s such a quick read, I’d recommend it for that reason alone.
What’s not to lose? He also reiterates one of my biggest takeaways from his first book: With commitment comes freedom. I’ll quote:
“Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy. Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again? Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.”
Before We Were Yours: A Novel by Lisa Wingate – Apparently this is based on real events so, truthfully, I would have preferred to read a non-fiction book about this. I always prefer fact over fiction. That said, I didn’t know that going in. My library app recommended this one to me (algorthmsm and A.I. have me pegged), and I bit. Alternating between events from the 1930s* to present day*, it follows the story of some poor swamp boat kids who are taken into custody (kidnapped, truthfully) and given up for adoption in spite of having a family (past) and a lawyer daughter, her senator father who is battling cancer and his mother who has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home (present). It’s really lovely. I enjoyed this very much and the author did provide some factual information and recommended reading about the real-life woman, Georgia Tann, who operated the black market adoption ring. Not sure that I’ll read more about it…the book did a fine job of educating me and I’m familiar with the stories in the news. Definitely recommend this one.
*Hmmm, is this a trend? A lot of books do this, including my own memoir! I do like the device, just noticing it a lot lately)
It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs – Another book that I got when I thought I would expand the QED bookstore. It touched off all the right bells for me (mixed metaphor, I’m sure) with genealogy, history, what constitutes “family” and the revolution of DNA.
I’m cracking up at this book but also devouring all the fun facts. He’s got a really snappy, witty writing style so it’s a really fun read. I’m going to gift this to my mom or sister-in-law for sure. I think they’d both like it but also this is just to see if they read my posts. 😀 I reserved a few of his other titles based on his style alone and not on the subject material (God is one, don’t remember the other).
Comedy Sex God by Pete Holmes – I met Pete and his first wife just days after they’d moved to NYC. It’s nice to see him happy and enjoying success. I always get the audiobook version of comedians’ memoirs so I can hear their delivery, cadence and, well, just to hear their voice again. It’s always weird to hear about people and places during which I was there. He mentions my former assistant at Comix several times and my husband. “Christian Finnegan got me to stop wearing my cell phone in a soft, clear plastic case I clipped on to my belt with two words: ‘Belt clip’?”
Holmes grew up in a fairly strict Christian household which stunted his sexual maturity, so there’s lots of the “sex” from the title. It touches on his trajectory in comedy, and I laughed hard and out loud a few times at times. The book is only lightly about comedy, though. Much of it is about his evolution from this sheltered Christian kid who judged others and denied himself to a young husband and comedian whose wife leaves him to an atheist to this matured, spiritual version of himself who is enlightened thanks to the help of gurus Ram Dass & Maharaji. It gets a little hippy dippy with talk of psychedelics, spirituality, and “what is *this*?” that we’re experiencing, but in a good way (in my opinion). I see some negative reviews wish he’d just stuck to talking about his comedy and sex life, but I found his journey away from and finding god and not being ashamed of it all to be quite thought provoking. Plus I’ve had my fill of comedy and sex talk. ?
Two things that kept cropping up in my mind after finishing the book:
1) A funny analogy that I appreciated has Jesus of Nazareth on the football field running an amazing kick off return all the way to the 25 yard line. But then he’s tackled and the ball is fumbled and YOU are suddenly on the field holding the ball with Jesus screaming at you to “GO! GO!” Instead of running, you put the ball down to clap and celebrate his incredible return. Pete says, “Dude, you’re supposed to run with the ball. Yes, worship, celebrate, sure. Fine. But get on with it. He showed you the plays…don’t just celebrate his ascension, get to ascending yourself. Go and do likewise.”
2) Pete shares this insight from Barry Taylor, the road manager for AC/DC, who said, “God is the name of the blanket we throw over the mystery to give it shape.”
An exasperated Pete says, “Come on! Shouldn’t I have heard this in church? Why am I hearing this from the road manager for AC/DC?!” ?
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Historical fiction and a riveting, gorgeous piece of writing. While it is historical, it’s also a bit fantastical imagining the underground railroad as a literal one built by slaves with rails and conductors and engineers operating underground. But I’ve read my share of slave narratives and studied so much of the Civil War and Reconstruction era to know that the extreme violence and nightmarish situations weren’t pure fiction. I’m always struck by how casually horrific acts violence were carried out. I was so invested in the heroine Cora’s escape from slavery and the pitfalls and traumas she sustained along the way that I found myself staying up later to finish chapters and missed my subway stop. Terrific read.
The Stranger by Albert Camus – A French classic from 1946 which I bought and read in one sitting back in 1998 or 1999. Cracked it open for another read as I really don’t remember why I bought it then or really anything about it. It’s a slim book and easy read. The main character Meursault is an apathetic atheist who goes along with things in detached, unemotional ways and says exactly what he’s thinking without regard for how others might feel or perceive things. He’s a bit divorced from reality. He strikes me as being on the autism spectrum. The 2nd half of the book is where it gets a little more existential, though Camus rejected the claim that his book was about existentialism. So…anyway, it’s good. It’s easy. It makes you think if you allow it.
Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis – I read this because it’s like a crazy top bestseller and was looking to branch out on the types of books QED carries. I didn’t really know what it was about other than a little self-helpy and those do well at QED.
But, man, people are NOT fans of hers and people who love her, reallllly love her. Her critics call her self-absorbed and disingenuous, living a sheltered life with only one intimate life partner, with no real struggles and that her advice is downright dangerous (she’s not an expert in mental health, domestic violence, etc.) and some of it is simply regurgitated from other writers. She’s pretty, white, rich, has a nanny, etc. and there are more important, valued women writers whose voices are more worth listening to.
Her fans will say she *has* gone through things and is sharing her honest perspective based on her own experiences.
I can see both sides and am glad I didn’t read the reviews before diving in to this book, because I did enjoy it in spite of catching on to some of those criticisms (The faux “y’all” dialect drives me bonkers, for example…you are not southern, girl. Just stop. It’s an attempt to sound hip and casual and regular.) As I’ve said before re: going to seminars or workshops and reading self-help books, etc.: If I learn as little as one thing, it is worth it. The one takeaway I got from this was that if I make plans with myself (write, paint, exercise, whatever it is…) and then bail on those plans, what kind of friend am I to myself? Would I stay friends with someone who was constantly reneging on plans? No. So why do I do that to myself? Also, this sets up patterns and expectations so that when the plan is made, I already know I’ll bail. Good advice. Whether it comes originally from her or not, I got it and made a note to myself.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe – A very detailed account of “The Troubles” in Ireland. I recall as a young kid being frightened and confused by news reports, but could not tell you really what it was all about. This book was suggested as a true crime story — the mysterious disappearance of a widowed mother of 10– occurs during these times. As it turns out, it’s mostly a freakishly detailed historical account of The Troubles themselves. Some reviews have been critical by saying the author doesn’t present a balanced view of events between the paramilitary IRA groups and the British loyalists and army. I also wish there were more personal interviews and accounts and less transcription of fact after fact after fact. It got pretty exhaustive and redundant. But, hey, now I know more today than I did yesterday and that’s all thanks to the reporting in this book.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – There’s a super long waitlist for this book so it’s the hit of the summer, I’d say. It’s a look at the whole species of us from gamillions of years ago to today.
From the publisher: One hundred thousand years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?
I found it interesting and really enjoyed how most things like corporations, religion, the USA and its constitution, etc., all require us to use our imagination and collectively agree that these things are real even though we completely made them up. Religious fanatics will probably hate that, but it’s all fascinating to me.
The Witch’s Daughter: A Novel by Paula Brackston – This is the 2nd book of hers that I’ve read. The first being The Little Shop of Found Things: A Novel which I reviewed last month (or the month before?). I loved that one likening it to Outlander (which I don’t watch; I’ve seen bits of one episode, and apparently it’s very good). Anyway, like the Little Shop book, this one goes back and forth between the past and present and has witchcraft/supernatural elements mixed in with some historical fiction. Here, the main character who practices as an herbalist in present day, befriends a teenager and mentors her about herbs and spells. Along the way she tells her a tale. In doing so, we are transported in time to three separate eras. I won’t spoil anything, just know that it’s filled with some pretty intense sexual violence and gets pretty bonkers so might not be for everyone. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the 1st book of hers I read but did still like it, mainly because it’s so fantastical it helps take my mind off the very real stuff of work and family.
Milkman: A Novel – It’s December 2019 and I just realized I had read this book and forgotten that I had. Went through my history and didn’t even add it to my reading list / reviews. So, I guess I didn’t really enjoy it that much…so forgettable? But my friends and critics love it so maybe I read it too quickly or was distracted. I do remember it being after “Say Nothing” which had exhausted me on IRA paramilitary stuff.
Alright, so that was July! I went to the Grand Canyon at the end of the month and gearing up for the trip had me focused more on that than reading. I don’t really enjoy reading books on planes I’ve come to realize. Magazines, crosswords, documentaries and news articles are more my jam, so I indulged in all of that during my travels.
I was offline last week because I hiked the Grand Canyon again. It’s a pretty great place and I hope everyone gets to see it in real life. I was alone on the trails for long stretches so didn’t take many pics. But it was amazing. I took the South Kaibab Trail down and somehow managed to destroy the Bright Angel Trail on the way up finishing it in 6 hrs 8 mins. Really surprised myself with that one as I took many breaks, chatted with people I encountered along the way, meditated and cried and thanked the heavens many times.
If I do it again, I hope Christian will get to go with me. Now, though, our travel and vacations are separate thanks to QED and the dogs. It makes me sad, but it’s how it is (for now) and so we’ll enjoy the travel times with friends and family instead. Thanks to Christian and the QED crew for keeping the ship sailing, so I could go clear my mind and enjoy some dirt and rocks.
For my birthday, my lovely husband, Christian, got me a pass to the 2019 New York Musical Festival. We saw a matinee of “Illuminati Lizards from Outer Space” (Because with a silly title and premise, how could we not?) and a few hours later I saw “Ladyship” on my own, then we met up in Foley Square for the Lights for Liberty vigil.
Both shows were on Theater Row at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, a gorgeous, accessible space with a big open cafe/bar and lots of varied seating.
At Illuminati, a lovely woman named Doris was escorted to the single seat next to me. We quickly struck up a conversation as I helped her with her things. Doris is elderly and has trouble seeing, holds a PhD in communications and lives in Jackson Heights! So close to us! She hadn’t heard of QED but was delighted to hear all about it and asked for a card or brochure. Sadly, I didn’t have any as I packed light for my 12 hour day walking around the city, but I scribbled down my phone number since she doesn’t do email or the internet. ?
Doris has macular degeneration and said it was all happening very quickly so she’ll be completely blind soon.“But I’m here!” She said. “Yes, you are! You showed up!” I read to her bits of the program –the premise of the show, some of the other programs at the festival, etc.– and then it was showtime!
Illuminati Lizards from Outer Space was silly and fun, funny and cringe-y, smart and dumb, good and bad in the way a new musical with that title should be. Conspiracy theories, lizard people living amongst us, the Illuminati…all sounds pretty dumb, huh? And yet…well, here we are! We laughed a lot, Doris was delighted by the show. “The best thing I’ve ever seen!” and we said our goodbyes. I don’t know if she’ll call me, but I’m glad to have shared a very brief moment in her long life.
Christian and I parted ways, I had a treat at Pinkberry between shows and then returned to see Ladyship about Irish sisters condemned to the Penal Colony of Australia during the 1780s and sent on a 10+ month journey across the ocean. Bleak, to put it mildly! Well acted with lovely costuming and staging.
After the show, I headed down to Foley Square for Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps to protest the inhumane conditions faced by migrants.
Christian joined me and a friend Valerie. It was lovely and we ran into our friend Eric whom we hadn’t seen in a while. But we wondered what good this vigil does, really? Trump and his followers are ramping up racism, rhetoric and hate and show no signs of stopping. I fear where we are headed. Will a vigil matter? I don’t know, but I don’t want to be a person that doesn’t speak up in the face of wrong.
As Martin Luther King has said:
— “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
— “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
–“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
So I spoke by showing up to the vigil. My new and short friendship with Doris taught me that showing up –being present– is the most important part. This might not change anything…
But I’m here! Yes, I am! I showed up!
Earlier this spring I spent an afternoon ripping up thorny, invasive plants and planted various flower bulbs in hopes that they’ll propagate and provide lots of color and cut flowers for vases over the years. So I’ve been keeping a close eye on that wild little patch looking for any signs of success. I noticed some tall, thick plants with large, broad leaves. Were these one of the random bulbs? I didn’t think so but what were they?
Yesterday I noticed one had bloomed a delightful, bouncy, floppy head of little flowers with more ripe for blossoming. They certainly had not been there in the last several years. These are big gorgeous globes of silly pink blooms. No way I wouldn’t have noticed them, even back when I mainlined gimlets.
I uploaded pics to Garden Answers Plant ID app (10/10 would recommend) and discovered this is a Milkweed. And from there, I tumbled down the internet rabbit hole and discovered that Monarch butterflies are endangered because they feed exclusively on milkweed and the milkweed is endangered because humans. God, we suck.
As it turns out, the milkweed is a remarkable plant. Ignore the weed in the name, trust me, I spent my entire night off learning (and now writing) about this genus. This versatile plant and its floss has been used for medicine and food and filler for life jackets. What?! Yeah. No kidding. Back in 1944, during WWII, the silk became a critically urgent need as it took two bags of pods to make one life vest. So, the Commodity Credit Corporation of the U. S. D. A. created a “Milkweed Floss Division of the War Hemp Industries” (I’m not making this up!) and launched a campaign to collect and donate pods. The CCC USDA MFDWHI worked in conjunction with the Department of Education, to recruit school kids to help and used slogans like “Two Bags Save One Life”. Brilliant. It takes a village to topple a regime, ya know?
I’m delighted to have discovered it growing naturally. And, like in the 40s, there are active campaigns to help collect milkweed pods not for a war effort but by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service & others to spread the seeds and bring the dwindling milkweed population back up to snuff thereby helping the monarch butterfly.
So, I spent my Wednesday night learning all about how to do that and here’s what I’m gonna do: This fall, I’m going to collect the pods from my plants. Empty the contents of the seed pods inside a paper bag and put in a couple of pennies, close the bag and shake. The pennies will separate the seeds and then I’ll make seed bombs. I’m going to give them to you and you’re gonna plant them to save a butterfly so you can sleep better tonight. Cool? Let me know if you want a seed bomb. If you don’t, I presume you have no access to a yard or you’re a butterfly hating monster. Meanwhile, enjoy pictures of this wonderful plant, the Milkweed (genus Asclepias).
“Failures are like skinned knees: painful but superficial.” — Ross Perot
Ross Perot passed away of leukemia today. As a student in Texas in the 80s, Perot was a household name well before he was a presidential candidate. He oversaw a TX public schools reform committee which led to No Pass No Play and so we students talked of him often and worried of the sweeping changes he wrought. I saw an original Magna Carta at the National Archives thanks to his loan of the document which he purchased in 1984. He (or, rather, his foundation) sold it at auction in 2007 because Perot wanted funds to start projects for wounded soldiers, medical research and education.
Perot was pro-choice, supported Planned Parenthood and gay rights, increased AIDS research and stricter gun controls like assault rifle bans. He supported veterans beyond measure and so many other civic causes including museums, hospitals, and more. He was a true Texan, veteran and philanthropist of great distinction. What a firecracker.
This line from the New York Times obituary says it all:
Mr. Perot remained proud of his singular life. “Eagles don’t flock,” he told visitors in Dallas. “You have to find them one at a time.”
After taking the 4th off, QED is open! Show business as usual! Thankfully I’m working from the cabin for a few days after having spent 20 straight days at QED, most of it on my feet and much of it over 12 to 16 hour days and nights. Finally able to rest, I have slept about 24 of the last 48 hours. Cannot. Stay. Awake. The quiet, the fresh air, the heat, are all elixirs for sweet, sweet ZZZzzzZZZs.
I feel a little anti-social spending the holiday alone in the woods, but I so needed the time away. I did manage to take Grizzy out for ice cream and french fries today now that the traumatic fireworks are over. The explosions also scared some sort of very large wild animal (A bear? Bobcat?) while I was on the patio which had my heart racing. It was too dark to see what it was, but it was making very unusual hissing/screaming noises (? very hard to describe) and the sounds of leaves and trees moving got closer and closer from below the rocks to above at my level and behind the outbuilding. My flight instincts kicked in and I gathered up the dogs and things and headed inside. I’ve tried to figure out what it could have been by listening to YouTube clips of wild animals, but I haven’t been able to pinpoint it. It was weird.
I planted lilies last fall between the hostas as a way to add some flowers and color. They’re doing okay for their 1st year, but the hostas are still too big and gobble up all the sun. This even *after* I dug up bulbs last fall and trimmed shoots that were sprouting up this spring. They just grow and grow and grow. I’ll dig more up again. Want some? Taking orders now! No charge but you will be required to send me pics of them sprouting in spring!
Happy July 4th and a lovely summer to all!
A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold – The families of murderers (or attempted ones, like mine) grieve and suffer lasting consequences, too. It’s not often you hear their stories from this perspective. Sue Klebold, mother of one of the two boys behind the murders at Columbine, has written hers. There is some enlightening information and useful resources regarding mental illness and suicide.
I wish there had been something about gun laws, though she does discuss how media can produce copy cats and blueprints for the next shooter. She says she saw no signs of the impending massacre, but there were signs that her son was struggling with a “brain illness” (she prefers this term over “mental illness”) or other issues and so it was hard not to pass judgment on how she was either checked out or glossing over some facts. Regardless, her grief is real and deep and my heart goes out to her. Her lasting legacy –no matter what good she does in the world– will always include the caveat that she raised a boy who chose to massacre his classmates and a teacher in his suicide bid. That extraordinary burden could drive many to dark places. I’m very glad she is giving back and rising above and sharing her story.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson – I had no idea there was a sort of cult obsession with this murder case of the late 1800s until I went to find the link for the book to include here. Whoa! The options of books & movies overwhelms! This one was new and recommended by my library, I like crime and history, and the cover is delicious. So, that’s how I ended up reading this one over all the others.
Lizzie became the OJ Simpson/Casey Anthony of her time when she was arrested and tried for the murder of her father and stepmother. The crime was a “locked door” mystery that has never been solved. There are many theories that have been espoused over the decades. This book covers the crimes and the trial and doesn’t speculate. Though the author does mention other theories that have sprung up and the whys and wherefores. She also includes evidence and sidebars that the jury never heard.
Of particular interest to me was how a pail of bloody cloth (presumably used menstrual rags), a small bloodstain on the underside of her skirt and other blood evidence was treated. Men couldn’t bring themselves to review that sort of evidence and, of course, it was an all male judge, jury and prosecutor (women could not serve on juries in Massachusetts until 1950. NINETEEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY!) so the horror of a woman’s monthly cycle was ignored and the blood was insinuated to be proof of her guilt of an axe murder. There was also some question of her mental state due to her monthly flow. There was a prevailing opinion that women were susceptible of insanity and violence during menses. Oy. Anyway, all that was interesting. Had I realized the great wealth of books on the subject, I might have had trouble choosing. I’m not entirely sure this one would have been my choice, either. But it is all well researched and thoughtfully laid out. I enjoyed it.
The jury made their decision and there were no appeals. So, did she or didn’t she? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – Powerful. This book is an important testimony to how deeply unfair and brutal criminal law and punishment can be. Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and has devoted his life to helping the poor, young, mentally ill and wrongfully convicted navigate the cruel, racist and inhumane criminal justice system. At several points I was full on sobbing; wailing and grief-stricken for everyone involved in the cases laid out in this incredible book. I was particularly anguished at the execution of one inmate Herbert Richardson, and for who and what we are as a human race. Stevenson has gained every ounce of my respect. I am awed by his tireless commitment to his life’s work and will be the first to line up for the movie of his life. It can and should be made. What an inspiration.
An Anonymous Girl: A Novel by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen – This was much needed junk food after some intense reads. I rolled my eyes hard more than a few times reading this and yet didn’t stop thinking about it and was enjoying it all play out. I had read the first book by this pair, The Wife Between Us, and enjoyed their writing. Both books are classified as a mystery but, no, I totally disagree. They are character studies and there is some slight intrigue and psychological thriller-y aspects to both. But this one was just some good fast food before I dove back into some history and true crime.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson – I *should* love this book. It’s filled with history (the Chicago World’s Fair and the architects behind it) and murder (a serial killer preys on victims). Even though it’s the Chicago fair, I love reading about them since my borough of Queens has hosted two. I’ve even owned a beautifully framed Chicago World’s Fair poster for almost 25 years. But this book doesn’t do it for me. This was actually my 2nd time trying to read it. The first time I gave up before I was even 1/3 of the way through. This time I slogged through but it was, indeed, a slog. Way too much about the architectural plans and construction hiccups, longer than it needed to be and cuts to the juicy chase way too late in the book. Apparently Leo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese are teaming up to tell the story (A film or series? Not sure.) and I will give that a go because the subjects *do* interest me.
My Year of Rest & Relaxation: A Novel by Ottessa Moshfegh – This is a fictionalized account of a total twat. Amusing and well written. I was disappointed overall, mostly because there was no real growth for the main character. Okay, sure she was clinically depressed and self medicating and by the end of her year is no longer doing that. So, growth? But the author invoking 9/11? Nah. You lost me. I’d rather it be a memoir or some other non-fiction so at least there can be some growth or redemption or lesson. If Or, if it’s gonna be fiction, then something like “Fleabag” where the main character is an asshole but it pays off. I totally recommend Fleabag instead. A few times it felt like the book’s main point was to serve as a pop culture snapshot of what NYC was like in the early aughts and before 9/11. It could be that I’m too close to the source material and so any time a date was mentioned I recalled where I was and knew where we were headed. I’m really curious as to why this is such a hit. It *is* well written and the unabashed asshole-ish nature of the main character is fun at times, but I don’t get it.
A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation by David W. Blight Ph. D. – Part biography and part first-person narratives of two men, John Washington and Wallace Turnage, who escaped slavery to freedom in the years before and during the Civil War. The narratives by Washington and Turnage are rare and extraordinary. Turnage was cunning, daring and brave beyond measure and his account is more detailed on the numerous failed escape attempts that led to his eventual freedom. Washington’s was more intimate in recounting his deep loss and longing for love, home and family. I shook and sobbed at his recounting being separated from his mother who had been hired away. The night before, she came to his bed. “Her tears mingled with mine amid kisses and heart felt sorrow … I would rather die” than leave her. That trauma is what gave him the steely resolve to escape.
I bookmarked this line by Blight speculating on why these two men chose to write: “Perhaps they could never quite realize their tomorrow, until they had told the story of their yesterday.” <3
As someone who has written a memoir, that quote and this one by author Richard Rodriguez on reasons why former fugitive slaves turned to 1st-person narrative struck a chord. “Autobiography seems to me appropriate to anyone who has suffered some startling change, a two-life lifetime. To anyone who has been able to marvel at the sharp change in his life. ‘I was there once and now my god I am here. Was blind but now I see.'”
That is exactly why I had wanted to write my story so many years ago. Indeed I underwent a startling change and lived a two-life (or more) lifetime well before I was 30 and a few more since then.
A small complaint on the editing / layout choice of the book: Blight prefaces the narratives with each man’s life history and genealogical information which was a bit of a spoiler and takes away the power of their own words. I think I’d have rather read their personal accounts first and *then* had a summary or historical timeline as to what became of them and their families. Or maybe have the biographical notes mixed throughout. Their narratives seemed a little tacked on. Of course, due to the nature of the subject, the narratives still carry so much emotion and importance no matter where in the book they land.
Editing choices aside, this book should be studied in schools and is a treasure.
Thankful to have witnessed the funeral for Det Luis Alvarez, a 9/11 first responder & advocate for others like him to ensure they receive funding and support needed. Bearing witness was a responsibility & paying respects an honor. Rest In Peace. #NYPD #LuisAlvarez
I had to work on my birthday weekend but it’s okay because it included a science-themed kids party with a live demonstration of lava, dry ice, goo and more plus a cake decorated with the periodic table of elements. Then there was a one-year-old’s birthday party that had the dad dressed as a shark. Both parties were a lot of fun and the families were all so appreciative. As I tell private party guests, it’s a real privilege to be included in these milestone family events. QED (and me) become part of the fabric of their story. What an honor. I got a lovely note from the dad which I’ve shared below. Notes like that breath new life into me!
I enjoyed some frozen yogurt with my sweet friend Lauren, got a gorgeous bouquet of tropical plants including a bunch of miniature bananas! Christian got me some funky new Keds and I got a Cause Box filled with wonderful summer treats (the straw tote pictured below is one) made by women and all for worthy causes. All in all, it was a lovely birthday and while working parties are a lot of work, they are so worth it! Glad to have them and hope for more!
I just wanted to send a quick note to you and Christian and tell you how thankful we were for all of your hospitality and help celebrating [baby’s name] 1st BDay. Kids parties are always a little bonkers, and ours was no exception. We had a comedy of outside errors yesterday which derailed our morning but you and Christian were the only solid ones. I’m so happy we were able to cater and have your space taken care of for us. Everything quickly came together albeit a little late. Thank you again for being so clear with us and accommodating. We hope to see you guys again soon.
You know the old saying about New York, “If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere?” Well, I always say that it’s less about competition and the struggle to stand out and more about the daily slog of everyday life that New York makes so much harder. It is HARD to live here. Physically and mentally. Today was was one of those days for me.
I helped out a house-bound friend and left my umbrella on her table. I got a bad cancer screening (my 3rd in a row since ending my cancer treatments) and found out another biopsy would be needed. I emerged from the hospital shocked and disappointed only to see it POURING rain outside. That’s when I realized I’d left my umbrella at my friend’s house and she wasn’t replying to my texts or calls. I was already pretty wet so had lunch, donated blood and finally gave up and trudged home in the muggy heat and pouring rain dodging under awnings and vestibules when the rain got too bad. I got home and it was still raining, but by the time I got up the stairs to my 4th floor walk up the sun was doing this shit. ?
The &$@!? sunshine started showing its face AFTER I just after getting a bad breast cancer screening and donating blood?! That is the ultimate F.U. from the Universe. Doing all the right things did not pay off. :
Tomorrow is a new day! I’m going to give mock interviews to recently released inmates then put in some hours at QED to get ready for a big weekend of parties and shows. And I’m gonna wear rubber boots and raincoat the whole time. ? Photo of my outfit today. Alright NYC, I ain’t playing.
I’m a volunteer with Fortune Society, conducting mock interviews and welcoming new clients. I am captivated by their logo. It’s so perfect: A dove emerging from caged bars to freedom. ?
May fared much better for my library choices. Besides some great books review below, I saw some live theater: “Tootsie” on Broadway and my friend David Crabb’s new solo show he’s workshopping “Us & Them & Me & You”. Throw in the final season of “Game of Thrones” (I enjoyed it. Take that!), season two of “Fleabag” on Amazon (?), “Dead to Me” on Netflix (so good!), and some excellent documentaries (“Knock Down the House”, “Three Identical Strangers” and “Perfect Bid”) and my head and heart are full. On to the books!
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro – Read this in one sitting. True, it’s on the shorter side, so not *that* impressive of a feat, but it was fascinating enough that I flew through it. Shapiro was already a well-known author so when she discovered through a DNA test that the father she knew and loved was not, in fact, her biological father of course she had the makings of another book. As a writer, storyteller and producer, I can’t help but think she was secretly thinking, “Cha-ching!” Cynical, I know, but I’d put a hefty wager on it. Regardless, her entire foundation was shaken and the mystery to solve it would unveil more than just a name. It also brought up larger questions: What is identity? What matters most in nature vs. nurture? What ethical dilemmas do we face with regard to DNA, sperm donation, adoptions, etc.? So much to contemplate and I very much appreciated the author for making me take time to reflect and consider.
The Witch Elm: A Novel by Tana French – I’ve read a few of her books now. This newly published one wasn’t my favorite. It started out strong but … I don’t know… it didn’t captivate me. Overly long, not much action, soooooo much dialogue between unlikable characters. She departed from her usual Murder Squad characters and it just was a lot of work to get through this. I’d read her other books for sure. This one missed the mark for me.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – Stunning. I have watched several movie versions of the book and of Truman Capote’s life. Each time, it was a challenge to get through it emotionally intact. It’s very powerful and close to home in many ways. There’s enough time between me and the movies and my dad’s crimes to delve in again. I’m glad I did. If you aren’t familiar with the story, In Cold Blood is a “nonfiction novel” about the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas in the late 50s. There’s a letter from Perry’s sister Barbara written to Perry while he’s in prison but before his trial that I want to copy and paste and mail to my dad. I’m going to go to the library to borrow a print copy to do just that. Word for word for word she says all the things I’ve wanted to say to Dad. Brilliant and blunt.
The Little Shop of Found Things: A Novel by Paula Brackston – The library suggested this for fans of “Outlander”. I don’t watch that TV show but my mom loves it and I hear that it’s interesting. I peeked in on an episode Mom was watching and it was so cheesy and outlandish (sorry) but filled with historical tidbits that kept grabbing my attention. “Nah, I’ll watch a documentary instead, thanks.” Well, this book was great. I was my friend Sue’s ride to the hospital and stayed in the waiting room during her surgery and as she was waking up and flew through about 1/2 the book during that time. It’s so far afield from anything I read (Supernatural psychic stuff and time travel?! Get real!) but it contains two things I love: mystery and history. I enjoyed the heck out of it and will recommend it to my mom, sister-in-law and nieces and will definitely look into her other titles.
April was frustrating due to a lack of my top “to read” books not being available from my library. So, some of these were a little different for me both good and bad.
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow – How can I have read Grant and Hamilton and *not* read Chernow’s other notable biography? So, here we go with Washington. I was surprised and delighted about how much I already knew of the Revolutionary War, his presidency, and personal relationships. That’s what a deep dive into Hamilton did for me, I guess. Of course it was well written and incredibly researched –it’s Chernow! Good, thorough and is a really long history lesson. Not Chernow’s most compelling story but I’d venture to say that’s due to the subject matter and my exhaustion of the same, since I found Grant RIVETING. Anyway. I read it. It’s good.
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit – This one is super short and a little outdated due to the political news cycle being on jacked up on meth right now. I grabbed it because I’m a fan of her writing and she updated it with a new foreword. Plus, there was nothing else at the library. She wrote it post-Bush, Jr.’s election in 2004 as a way to encourage hope. Yikes. Past-Solnit has no clue what’s in store. Truthfully, I skimmed it so quickly because I’m just too angry and concerned about the direction of things in our country and kept thinking how quaint the issues of the early aughts seem in comparison. I’d mumble to myself, “Buckle up, buttercup.” That said, there are lots of quotable bits of wisdom about hope (click here to read through them on GoodReads.com. One of my favorites: “Inside the word “emergency” is “emerge”; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” Overall, it did inspire me to hang in there & keep fighting the good fight.
Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto – It’s a riveting tale that reads like a movie. Gripping drama filled with rich details. If you’re interested in NYC, colonial history, or the Dutch, it’s a must read. This is a 2nd reading for me. The first was back in July 2018 right after I discovered my Dutch roots. My maternal great grandmother Ola Mae Newkirk is descended from the original van Nieuwkirks of Midwout (n/k/a Flatbush, Brooklyn) and Wiltwyck (n/k/a Kingston, NY). Newkirk Avenue and Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn? Named after my 8th great grandfather. Bam! Since then, I’ve discovered my 9th great grandparents were kind of a big deal in the New Netherland colony of Wiltwyck and are all over the history books and memorialized in the Old Dutch Church in Kingston. I’ve learned so much more in the last year so thought it worthwhile to go back and read again with my new knowledge.
Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto – I’m still on my history kick and am going all in on learning about my Dutch ancestral roots. Shorto is a terrific writer and historian and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading about a city I’ve never even visited, but I so enjoyed his book Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America that I read it twice. Did you know Amsterdam had the first stock exchange? I didn’t! I learned quite a bit about its history, wars, artists (Vermeer and Rembrandt, of course), tolerance and progressive views that clearly helped shape New York City before the English took over.
On a side note re: Shorto: I’m going to take a class of his to focus my attention on writing historical non-fiction to see if I have any lasting interest or talents there. I’ve got some major ADD when it comes to my projects outside of QED and hope a class might keep me on track. And, if I lose interest in the class or struggle with the research, then I can be assured that my fascination with my Dutch ancestry will be nothing more than a hobby. But right now, I’m having trouble shaking loose the niggling thoughts of “What if this story is worth telling and *I* don’t get to be the one to tell it?”
She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer – I feel terrible adding books that I don’t enjoy let alone don’t finish. But I did spend quite a bit of time *trying* to get into this one and want to bookmark it for the future in case time and circumstances allow me to try it again. It sounded fascinating regarding heredity and genetics and family stuff but so much of the early chapters was spent on the extraordinary minutia of chromosomes and genomes and tinkering with sheep to create merino wool and zzz zzz sheep zzz zzz. There’s no doubt there is an audience for this book. The praise is effusive. Have any of you read it? If so, should I take another stab?
On to May where my booklist will hopefully be less redundant.
Grant by Ron Chernow (Biography) – Sobbed when I finished it the first time. Sobbed again even harder this third time. It only took me a full month to get through it this time. 🙂 I know it’s a long book, but I think Section 3 which covers post-Civil War Reconstruction should be required reading. I’m certain this will be made into a movie or mini-series and I will be the first one to line up to see it. Meanwhile, this has officially surpassed Les Miserables by Victor Hugo as my all-time favorite book. I’m obsessed with Grant’s legacy, how it was tarnished by racist revisionists and how it is making a comeback much in part thanks to Chernow. A very, very thorough and riveting read.
You All Grow Up and Leave Me: : A Memoir of Teenage Obsession by Piper Weiss (Memoir/True Crime) – A quick read about an obsessive middle-aged man who coached tennis to young girls attending various prestigious Manhattan prep schools in the early 90s. The author was one of those students and this is her coming-of-age story which coincides with the coach’s failed attempt to kidnap one of his teenage students. It’s about the trust we put in the institutions and adults that mentor our children
BlacKKKlansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth (Memoir) – I saw and thoroughly enjoyed the movie directed by Spike Lee and so wanted to support the author by reading his story in the original form. I’m particularly interested because, of course, I hope my own memoir will be turned into a movie one day.
Anyway, the author, the first black officer and detective on the Colorado Springs police force. He oversaw an undercover operation to expose KKK activity even becoming a member and having lengthy phone conversations with the then Grand Wizard David Duke. It’s all wild and fantastically improbable the way real life often is. After so much history about the Civil War and Reconstruction, it was nice to have some deeper understanding about the roots of modern racism and the historical references made.
Spike Lee’s version is very true to the book so there was a part of me that felt like reading the book was a little bit of a waste of my time. Eep! I hate typing that but there are so many books, movies and shows to read and enjoy that in the future I will pick one version, enjoy it and move on. That said, the book was great. The movie was great. I enjoyed both thoroughly and am so glad his story was told.
Sullivan County’s Borscht Belt (NY) (Images of America) by Irwin Richman – A collection of old picture postcards that is fun to flip through with little notes here and there about each area but lacking in genuine historical research or text. It makes me think I could easily turn my little vintage postcard project into a book, too.
American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer – Well. It’s a dark hole I climb into when I contemplate the prison system and what it does to people. I feel like I’ve been rode hard and put away wet. This book is two in one. First, it’s a deep dive into the history of the modern prison labor system and how it is the ugly offspring of slavery. Second, Bauer went undercover at a private prison in Louisiana and this is an unsettling exposé of his experience. Chapters alternate between present day and past and they are equally disturbing and disheartening.
Any suggestions for April reading? I’d love to hear them!
Unwifeable: A Memoir by Mandy Stadtmiller – I’ve known Mandy since right before she moved to NYC in the early 2000s, so of course I had to read her book! It’s a riveting read in which she bares it all in a raw honesty that is so admirable. The “all” that she bares is her very heavy drinking, some drug use, a lot of risky sexual encounters. Her late 20s /early 30s sounded a little too familiar. I so appreciate that over any sugar coating or glossing over of reality any day. Since she was a reporter for the New York Post and contributed to Page Six, there’s also lots of name dropping and gossip related to the comedy and media scene. It’s so strange to read such a personal account of stuff that was happening parallel to me, sometimes in the same circle. It had me riveted and I flew through the pages.
Her “rage blackouts” were also familiar to me. I was so angry at everyone and everything for my childhood, family and the feeling of being boxed in and not able to rise above or live up to my potential that I had these episodes. Thankfully they are in the rearview with only a stressful, more manageable and less scary flareup now and again.
I’d definitely recommend this to my sober friends or anyone who has wondered if they have a drinking problem.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (Memoir) – I cried so many times while reading this, not from her words or life, really, but in grief for what we had as a nation, what we have lost and what we now have to overcome. It’s a long book and often not too exciting but still engaging. It’s a telling of an ordinary life that became extraordinary to use a quote of her own. I found myself giggling and squirming when it came time for her to meet Barack and their subsequent romance. ? ? ?
I’m glad to have gotten to know her through her book. To be honest, though, she treats a lot of stuff with so much grace and diplomacy, it’s clear she’s holding back. She is true to form: going high when others go low. She’s certainly an inspiration and I’m so grateful for the sacrifices she made (private life, career, family time, etc.) in order to serve our country as an admirable, intelligent and kind First Lady.
Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Dave Hill (Memoir) – This is another friend’s book that I’ve wanted to read for too long, and one that I sell at QED. This is actually his second book of essays. His first, Tasteful Nudes, is also for sale at QED, but I chose to listen to the audiobook version of this one first.
I’ve know Dave casually for almost as long as I’ve been in New York. Since opening QED, Dave has produced a show here and there, and we’ve chatted more often. Recently I was on his podcast. His questions were thoughtful and we covered a lot of ground. We recorded in his apartment where I fell in love with his art collection. There were lots of pieces that inspired conversation and made me curious about his life and adventures. Thankfully, he has this handy book to help me do just that.
This collection is brimming with laughs delivered in his trademark dry, level and almost monotone cadence. But Dave surprised me with levels of sweetness and emotion. From the loss of his mother and his relationship with his aging father, it had me tearing up more than I expected. I fell into a YouTube hole after finishing his collection, wanting more of Dave’s life for myself. When you read this, I’m sure you’ll come away thinking as I did, that Dave is very smart, funny (duh!), talented, adventurous, kind and lovely. Thanks, Dave, for sharing your stories with me!
Grant by Ron Chernow – Yeah, I’m reading it for a 3rd time, what of it?! I really wanted to re-read since I completed three semesters of Civil War and Reconstruction online at Columbia. Several week’s worth of study on the Dred-Scott decision, was mentioned in just one line in the book. It’s nice to understand that decision fully and the reference in the book without distraction. I’ve already reviewed this book here and here, too. and will be listening to it for the rest of February as I travel through Texas so am gonna push publish on this entry.
Any suggestions for March reading? I’d love to hear them!
- I’m going to Texas this weekend for a whirlwind trip to catch up with some folks! First up, Austin to see Brendan & Jenn Dodd McLoughlin and my dear old friends queso & tacos.Sunday I’ll drive to Huntsville to see Dad in prison. Our last visit in July 2013 was not a pleasant one, because Dad had an angry outburst with a female guard before he & I even had our first hug. “Premature evisitation,” I called it.Visiting Dad in jail is like riding Coney Island’s Cyclone. It should be fun but it beats me up & makes me angry I paid to ride it again. But I did leave with a souvenir photo!Since then I’ve limited our contact to letters. I’ve warned him to be on his best behavior. No souvenir photo this time. TDCJ only has photographers on the 1st weekend of the month. I’ll bring about 10 pounds of quarters for the vending machine and a wireless bra for myself.I hope to meet a fellow CODA & prison interpreter afterward and then will head toward Conroe for dinner with my 6th grade social studies teacher.I won’t have time for much else, but hope to be back in Montgomery in June for our 30 year high school reunion. Eep!
As expected & planned, I’ve slowed down my reading for 2019 as compared to 2018 (82 books last year! Plus 3 semesters online w/ Columbia University! Plus soooo much genealogy reading and research!). But with shorter booklist my reviews are a little longer! My plan is to read at least 4 books a month. These are the four that I read in January:
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown – This book was published in 1970 and it squashed any romanticized versions of “how the West was won”. Chiefs Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Crazy Horse and others struggle to save their tribes, culture and identity. The brutality and obliteration is beyond heartbreaking.
After this past year of studying of the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement and New York’s early Dutch history, I can’t say I’m shocked at the heinous behavior of the white man. The Natives wanted to preserve their way of life and raise their families in peace. So simple, so pure and so easy, yet time and again, tribes are betrayed and massacred in the name of westward expansion, greed and the hubristic and absurd belief in Manifest Destiny. Such god awfulness. The greed and arrogance shown by white settlers is one thing, but the savage brutality, the inhumanity…it’s all revolting and shameful. It’s a bit exhaustive but an educational and enlightening read.
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (Thriller!) – A great palate cleanser from all the history, feminism and politics I’ve been immersing myself in over the last few months. I enjoyed the story about two extraordinarily bright and ambitious teen girls, bonded by a deep secret who then meet again later in life and drama ensues. It was a fast read and had me pacing and talking to myself saying things out loud like, “I can’t even stand it!” It’s inspired by a true story of Marie Robards profiled in Texas Monthly (Click here for that profile but be WARNED OF MAJOR spoilers!) but is definitely a work of fiction and not a true crime novel. I was bummed to see some of the top reviews on Amazon were negative. I really enjoyed the book and started questioning my taste! But there are plenty of other positive reviews and, hey, I still enjoyed it. It was much needed break from the heady stuff but still smart and engaging.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Memoir) – Vance grew up as a poor hillbilly in Ohio and Kentucky with a lot of drug and alcohol use, raised by some classic characters found in any coming-of-age book about poor white trash. The young marriages, broken marriages, multiple marriages, etc. all added to him bouncing around and making do. While it’s a memoir, Hillbilly Elegy is also a study on class and poverty and a look into the lifelong consequences of adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s). The link is to a Google search result of scholarly articles on ACE’s. The clinical studies and tests are a worthwhile read if you have a few minutes.
This clinical look into the long-term outcomes of adolescent trauma through the lens of his childhood helped me get through the book a lot easier than had it been a straight memoir. Had it been the latter, it may have wrecked me. It all had a very familiar ring…a really loud clang on a bell that still has my ears ringing.
I bookmarked this quote:
Kids who go through this lifestyle don’t lose contact with their parents because they don’t care, they lose contact to survive. They don’t stop loving or lose hope that their loved ones will change. Rather they are forced, either by wisdom or by law, to take the path of self-preservation.
Like the author, I carry around the baggage and wear the scars, both literal and figurative, of a chaotic family life. And, like, Vance, moved up and away to make a change, break the cycle and persevere which is, oh, so similar to preserve.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond – This book covers the eviction process and housing from the view of tenants and landlords in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The author is a sociologist and immersed himself in his study, living in a trailer park and becoming entrenched with his subjects. A lot of government policy and law is covered.
The housing system and laws, welfare, poverty and such might not sound like an interesting read, but it was a gripping tale and, damn, it’s relentless. Damn. The things we humans do to each other. One landlord could be labeled a slumlord the way she works the system in her favor. The laws all work to ensure than once evicted, it’s almost impossible to climb out and rise above. Again, I found myself appreciating all the court scenes, statistics and data to relieve me of the horrible pit of the memory of knowing what it feels like to have your home taken away, immediately and without any forewarning. To be told to pack your things from your childhood home –even if it was just a trailer, it was ours!– and move out in less than 24 hours.
It was the only book I had left on my list and I *did* want to read it, but on the heels of Hillbilly Elegy…it brought up a lot more painful childhood memories than I feel like I can withstand given all the awfulness in the world right now.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston – During my genealogy studies at the NYPL, I found a volume of books of first-person accounts by African-Americans about their experiences as slaves. “My god,” I whispered to Christian who was browsing nearby. “I can only imagine what horrors these books contain.” I made a mental note to go back and read some. There were at least 20 large, hardbound volumes and I haven’t found the name on the NYPLs site online, but I know exactly what shelf they’re on in the Milstein Division at the main branch for the next time I’m there on a rainy day. UPDATE: A rainy day came and I found the 41-volume set titled The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography edited by George Rawick.
All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold. The Kings and Captains whose words moved ships. But not one word from the cargo. The thoughts of the “black ivory,” the “coin of Africa,” had no market value. Africa’s ambassadors to the New World have come and worked and died, and left their spoor, but no recorded thought. ―
In 1927, Hurston tracked down and visited Cudjo at his home in Alabama. Lewis, at around 86 years old, was the only known survivor of the last slave ship, the Clotilda, to arrive in the US. He came to be on the ship after his tribe was attacked and slaughtered by a group of female warriors. After he was captured, they held him captive in “barracoons” before he was auctioned off to a an American slave trader who brought him to America a full fifty years after international slave trading was outlawed. The domestic slave trade still thrived, of course.
Hurston spent a few months drawing stories out of Cudjo. She used his African name Kazoola and brought him gifts of peaches, watermelon, time and patience. Cudjo was very poetic in his telling, but his story is distressing.
*Her manuscript was never published until last year. There were issues, it seems, with accusations of plagiarism which she remedied and supplied ample supporting documents. Also, this book is written as Cudjoe spoke, in dialect critics said played up black stereotypes. Hurston refused to change it and, apparently, that is why at least one other publisher turned down the manuscript. So, this “new” book is seeing the light now, and at a time when we need it most with an openly racist President fueling a hateful MAGA, white supremacy culture.
Here’s a passage in which Lewis describes having spent several months with other disoriented and traumatized new slaves who had come to lean on each other only to be separated to toil on plantations:
We very sorry to be parted from one ’nother. We seventy days cross de water from de Affica soil, and now dey part us from one ’nother. Derefore we cry. Our grief so heavy look lak we cain stand it. I think maybe I die in my sleep when I dream about my mama.
It’s heart-rending to hear a first-hand account of the traumas he endured. From the attack on his tribe to becoming “cargo” and a slave so traumatized and confused and without a shared language with those around him, I wept and got angry and wept some more.
After the Civil War, without reparations (he received nothing; no 40 acres and a mule) as payback for being kidnapped, taken from his country, enslaved and used up solely for profit, he and other Clotilda survivors raised and saved money and founded Africatown in Plateau, Alabama, where Ms. Hurston came to meet him. Lewis went on to outlive his children and wife, dying at the age of 94 or 95, a few years after telling his story to Hurston. I’m so glad I read this. I’m so glad his story lives on. I’m going to the library and making sure to get the names of the other volumes of stories and read as many as time allows.
Here’s the HGTV website link: https://www.hgtv.com/…/house-…/episodes/stand-up-in-new-york
My fellow word lover and should-have-been-a-librarian, Liz Simons and I hosted the first ever Adult Spelling Bee at QED with great success! I had a bumble bee pin in my hair for the occasion and enjoyed some delicious custom-made donuts from Sugar & Water shaped as the letters Q.E.D. with little bees on them!!!
It was a super fun night with 24 contestants and great prizes from local Queens businesses. The competition was tough but supportive with people high-fiving, cheering, oohing and aahing. I hope the next one is just as great even though it’s a school night. Save the date: Thur, Feb 21 at 7PM. Limited to 25 contestants!
I shocked myself at my use-it-in-a-sentence improvisational skills. I definitely want to use the online dictionary for this in the future but it was fun coming up with random sentences including this part that my niece Kaelyn will appreciate for the #Hamilton reference.
Noguchi Museum, Loose Leaf Tea, The Bonnie, Lavender Label, Lagree NY, the aforementioned Sugar & Water. And starting next month, the Museum of the Moving Image has donated passes for prizes. How great is that?! Again, save the date: Thur, Feb 21 at 7PM. Limited to 25 contestants as we anticipate this selling out every time!
I’ve been studying the Civil War and Reconstruction at Columbia University online taught by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian, Professor Eric Foner. It’s been enlightening and has helped satiate my hunger for knowledge of early American history, as brutal, ugly and discomfiting as it is.
Reconstruction, in particular, is all very depressing. But there is also some comfort to be gained, especially during this tumultuous and violent-#MAGA-racist-Trump-agenda, Charlottesville-era we’re living in. The history of the US has been consistently cyclical. With each advancement, there is an immediate backlash and reversal of the progress.
Interested in meeting some like-minded history buffs so I can really talk about this stuff, I joined the Civil War Round Table of New York. Their dinner meetings are held once a month at a gorgeous mansion on 51st Street in Rockefeller Center that is now the Women’s National Republican Club. Their placard made me pause when I saw it upon entering. The building, event link and Google address promoted it as 3 West Club, a special event space. Methinks their rentals wouldn’t be as fetching for New Yorkers with the R word in there.
Each Civil War Round Table meeting features a guest speaker and discussion topic. My first meeting was in September and the first of the new “season” with guest Ed Bearss on the topic “Ask Ed Anything”. Intriguing, but so different from all the other speakers I was seeing on the site who were scheduled to talk about specific topics such as “The Common Man in the Civil War” and “The Court Martial of Fitz-John Porter”.
Mr. Bearss is 95 yrs old at the date of these photos and a delightful, knowledgable historian. He was introduced by a very colorful character whose name escapes me but who clearly participates in enactments as evidenced by his long wavy locks and thick beard. Mr. Bearss spoke without notes, answering questions and eliciting laughs.
The best part was Mr. Bearss’ going off on tangents to tell personal anecdotes.
When asked how he felt about certain movies and their depiction of events, he mentioned going to see “The Horse Soldiers” in 1959. “I was courting my wife and took her to see it. Had I not been courting her, I would’ve walked out. You can play with history; but you can’t play with it too much.” Okay, I’ll mark this movie on my “Don’t Bother” list.
While talking about his military service he mentioned a very tough drill instructor who, if you were caught chewing gum, would make you stick it up your butt. “One man was not very smart and got caught twice.”
My favorite was Mr. Bearss declaring, “I once gave an anti-Chamberlain speech in Maine.” The audience gasped and ooohhhed which was followed by knowing laughter. “Chamberlain” is the revered (to Mainers, at least) Joshua Chamberlain, decorated Union General who served one term as Governor of Maine. I laughed hard, too. Not at the joke (I actually had to look Chamberlain up to see what I was missing), but at how this group knew a super specific punchline to a super specific anecdote about a random General in the Civil War. Nerds! My people! I have found you!
After he spoke, he stayed to greet people. It was an honor to have met him and I’m grateful he has shared so much of his love of country with so many generations. I haven’t been back to the Round Table, unfortunately. They changed their meeting night to Monday which is when I’m running things at QED. If the stars align and I’m off on a night they meet, I’ll definitely go back even if it’s held at the Women’s National R$@%! Club. ?
I sent some Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez swag from the campaign events we held at QED Astoria to my niece. My niece is a proud feminist & soon-to-be voter in Missouri who loves her “bright and shiny new object”. You wear that
#NY14 pride well, young woman. #ShowMe #AlexandriaOcasioCortez
I spent the New Year’s Day holiday up at the Rock House with Christian and my father-in-law, sitting around the fire, watching movies, doing a puzzle, making (and eating) beef stew and a chicken burrito bowl in the crock pot, and some homemade cookies and cream ice cream.
I also had some more fun with my Let’s Make Art subscription box. I painted a cardinal and a pickup truck with a tree using patterns I traced with carbon paper. The bird’s tail got messed up when I dropped the painting while it was still wet, and it landed flat on its face. Oops. But it wasn’t such a great work of art to begin with so no harm, really. I definitely enjoy painting along with the tutorials if solely for the fact that I’m unable to do anything else (read about the Mueller investigation or anything Trump, check Twitter or emails, etc.).
I look forward to learning a little more about how to handle the colors and the patience to let parts dry before tinkering with them. But even if this is as good as I get, the unplugged time is all I really want or care about right now. It was a lovely holiday and a peaceful start to the New Year.
Every New Year’s Eve, I keep saying good riddance to the year before as each has been chock full of challenges. But this year it’s become clear: this is just my life and my life is really challenging right now. I can hope for an easier time of it but, in the meantime, my (continued) resolution is to enjoy all the books, plays, comedy, arts, crafts and the mix of city and country life as much as I can even if the moments are fleeting.
Happy New Year to us all!
Four books for December puts me at 82 books read for 2018*. I’m unlikely to match this pace for 2019 but ya never know. I read a lot of really great books, learned more about American history this year than I ever did in all my years combined, became politically active and a card-carrying feminist. Thank you to the New York Public Library, Queens Library and Ramapo Catskill Library System for the tremendous year.
I’ll be snagging this nifty “Knowledge is Power” card during my regular visit to the NYPL’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. God I love that place. How did I not become a librarian? I turned my bedroom in my trailer into a fully functional library! I was a library aide at Montgomery Elementary School! I own a card catalog!
(*Plus one in progress and one I did not finish but those don’t count!)
Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward – Part of me wondered why I’d want to read this given that we’re still currently living under this madman’s rule. But the larger part of me said that this is history in the making and I want to better understand and fully inform myself as much as possible. Trump is so ill-qualified and everyone around him seems to know it and yet are powerless or unwilling to stop him. Electoral college aside, time and the American voter will handle it unless he kills us first or Mueller and other investigations beat us to it.
The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story by Miriam C. Davis – A recounting of a string of axe murders and attacks in New Orleans in the early 20th Century. It was all bloody and terribly and though two men were tried and convicted it remains unsolved. It reminded me of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara in that I was exhausted by the details of brutal crime after brutal crime all with no solution at the end. Of course in the latter case the Golden State Killer was caught after the book’s publication. In the case of the Axeman, he’ll go through history like a Jack the Ripper, leaving a legacy of fear, pain and injustice. Because it will remain unsolved (no DNA evidence exists) and the crimes all bled together, I found myself more intrigued by how each crime was investigated and the legal proceedings which led to two men being wrongly convicted.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott – A terrific narrative of four* women who served their causes (the Confederacy or the Union, depending on which story you follow)
*Elizabeth Van Lew operated a spy ring for the Union while living in the Deep South much to the anger of her neighbors. But much of her information was aided by her slave Mary Jane Bowers who Elizabeth sent to live with and work for Jefferson Davis. That Mary Jane’s story is not more highlighted is not surprising as an enslaved person of color their stories often became secondary, but it is as remarkable as Van Lew’s. So it should be 5 women. Bowers also “disappeared” after 1867 —no further records can be found of her— so she was not around to help propel her story the way that two of the others did — one going on to write a memoir and perform in shows around the country.
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister – She’s the eminent and prolific feminist writer of this current generation it seems. She can pump out the books faster than I can read them! That said, there was a lot of redundancy in this book and her book “Big Girls Don’t Cry” which I’d read only last month about Hillary Clinton’s bid for the nomination during the 2002 Presidential primaries and the VP nomination of Sara Palin. While recent history is worth discussing, reflecting on and learning more about, it seems Traister has tapped the well of history from the 1st and 2nd waves of feminism. That said, I will continue to buy and read everything she writes. She’s smart and thorough in her coverage and since we are still fighting the same exact fights, it’s worth drudging up the past over and over and over again until we fix things!
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*There were some months where I watched documentaries instead like the phenomenal Eyes on the Prize (PBS). I also read lots of historical and reference books that didn’t actually make it to my list and I completed two semesters (online) studying the Civil War and Reconstruction at Columbia with Professor Eric Foner. A banner year, indeed!
Last winter, during my cancer treatment and recovery time off, I got busy! I designed and built this wall plate rack with the aid of my mom. We almost killed each other during assembly, but we did it!
Pinterest will send you down a K-hole of design ideas but you’ll walk away without concrete plans. So I found a design plan on Ana White’s site that I tailored to fit my liking and specific space and dimensions. It’s very easily adaptable and all the pieces you need are easily found and cut to size at your local lumber store for super cheap. Cheaper than most anything you’ll buy online anyway.
The design itself is so very basic and simple that you don’t really need any blueprint but sometimes it’s nice to have a clear vision and shopping list, especially before walking into a Home Depot which suddenly erases every clear thought I’ve ever had.
I added bead-board on the back to make it look a little more polished, and I’d still like to add some molding or stenciling to add more visual interest. But it’s already been immensely useful, clearing up room in our only cupboard and keeping dishes super handy and easily accessible.
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs – Riggs was the great, great, great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a poet herself which shows on occasion in her lyrically writing. In her final work, Riggs covers her experience living and dying from metastatic breast cancer while raising two small boys, dealing with her mother’s cancer. I was hoping for some insight into how I’m feeling now that my cancer is (hopefully) in the rearview. Answers to larger questions on the meaning of life because right now, frankly, I don’t see the point. Instead it’s more of a personal account of regular, everyday life but with cancer, pain and loss. Her writing is lovely and it’s terribly sad that she died so young and her sons lost their mother. An awful tragedy, and I’m glad she has this legacy to leave them. It did touch on some things covered in Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End which I’d read earlier this year. That book is about quality of life during the end days and, while more clinical, I found the frankness about death and dying very comforting and valuable.
Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women by Rebecca Traister – All about the 2008 presidential primaries and election. Knowing what the future holds gave me some different perspective as I read about Hillary Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama and Sarah Palin’s Vice Presidential run with John McCain. Oh, the good ol’ days. I’d forgotten about how much attention had been paid to Clinton’s clothes and how she showed some cleavage. (Oh my stars!) I also had to accept that, while I’m definitely no fan of Palin, having a woman on the ballot is still a good thing for women in general.
Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World by David Brion Davis – An epic review of slavery, abolition, uprisings, sexual exploitation, classical and biblical roots, Haitian and Brazilian revolts, the emergence of African-American culture, and on and on and on. If you only read one book on the history of slavery, this would be the one I’d recommend. It’s sweeping and comprehensive, not too long and covers a lot of territory. I was particularly interested in and enlightened by the Haitian revolution (I’ve added The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution to my “To Read” list) and England’s not-so-altruistic reasons for the abolition of slavery. An excellent history lesson and a must-read, in my opinion.
The Roosevelts documentary by Ken Burns – Not a book, but an in depth and worthy documentary that I wanted to note for myself. I enjoyed this during my travels to New Mexico and back to NYC from Arizona. The long plane rides flew by in a flash thanks to this excellent documentary. I had watched it some years ago but really enjoyed it more the 2nd time around now that I’m more educated on NYC history. There actually is a companion book to this that I saw while at the Grand Canyon. The National Parks love Teddy for all that he did for the park service. Thanks, Ted, for making my trip into the Canyon a possibility!
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I was super deep into my Civil War studies at Columbia and volunteering for Midterm elections, so I didn’t get much extra reading done this month. These are the books I enjoyed in October:
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series) by Audre Lorde – Somewhere earlier this year, I’d read a criticism that to be a better feminist, middle-aged white women should read more works by minorities. I’ve since read and enjoyed a few this year, including Hunger by Roxane Gay and Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper. This one was recommended by one of the teachers at QED and is written by the black lesbian feminist poet Audre Lorde. It is a complication of her essays and speeches which means there is a little crossover / redundancy like similar collections but the writing is powerful and important. I’m so glad I took that criticism to heart and took corrective action. I’m not certain I would have chosen these books had that criticism not found it’s way to me and burrowed its way into my conscious.
I had not heard of Audre Lorde until now and I am really angry about that. Same is true of James Baldwin who I just discovered this past year. If you’d asked me after I finished this book, I would have sworn she was a living, present day writer. I was shocked to learn that she had passed and that this book was published in 1972! Her writing is so damned relevant to today which fuels my already frustrated rage. How can this be written so long ago and be true still? Maddening. Anyway, I’m grateful to the woman who recommended it and will likely read it again now that I know more about Lorde and that it was written 4 decades ago and not last year. #%!&@. And if you have any books to recommend by WOC please do let me know!
The Library Book by Susan Orlean – This is one of my favorite books of the year. It’s all the things I love: investigative journalism meets history lesson meets true crime all set in a library. It’s really great. It covers the 1986 catastrophic fire at the Los Angeles Public Library which destroyed hundreds of thousands of books. Was the fire the work of an arsonist? Orlean digs in deep. I loved it.
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister – You definitely don’t have to be single to read and enjoy this. Yes, it’s about single women, but it’s also covers the changing roles of women since the 1800s. While I am married to Christian since ’06 and was married before that from ’89 – ’94, there were 12 years between I was single and living alone without family support. I also moved to new cities alone, knowing no one. And being married is no guarantee. Lots of women find themselves single after divorce or death and it presents its own set of challenges. I appreciated the statistics and research presented from the 1800s to today. The number of single and/or never married women has increased over the decades, of course, as societal pressures and norms have evolved but I learned so much more. Traister is prolific and I’ve enjoyed all of her writing. I’m glad to have gotten to know her work.
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I made some pitstops along the way at a Native American pueblo Acoma Sky City, drove through the Petrified Forest and spent an afternoon in Jerome, AZ. A town where I would love to own a shop. So full of character and history. I got a cool kaleidoscope to keep as a reminder even though it wasn’t actually made in Jerome.
I had hoped to go on a hot air balloon ride during the sunrise in Sedona but they called the morning of (5:30am) and said there wasn’t enough wind. Bummer. So I went on a hike instead and lo and behold, what do I see in the distance? Balloon after balloon launching. I was so fu*king pissed and disappointed. The company said that those balloons were w/ a different company and that, although they launched, they almost immediately drifted into the side of a mountain and stayed stuck there for 45 mins. So, yay? It was still a bummer.
On the way out of Sedona on the drive to the Canyon, I stopped at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff hoping to do a night tour / star gaze / telescope look-through. Their telescope discovered Pluto! I got there at 4:30 only to find out it closed at 5pm on Sundays while there is still daylight out and, therefore nothing to see. Again, I was so upset and disappointed. I felt like Clark Griswold from National Lampoon’s Vacation. I just needed to scream and cry and punch a cartoon mascot in the face.
The Grand Canyon made up for all that and then some. The Canyon went above and beyond in making sure I was rewarded and paid back for my bad luck in Sedona. I planned to hike but hiking to the bottom of the Canyon and back up on the same day isn’t advisable. It’s highly recommended that if you hike to the bottom, you have a plan to stay overnight. To do that, you have to have a camping permit and, well, camping gear (tent, etc.). I certainly don’t have that stuff and wouldn’t get it for just one night as a solo traveler. There is also a set of cabins / dorms at the bottom called Phantom Ranch. It’s booked so far in advance and so popular that the only way to secure a spot in a dorm or cabin is to enter a lottery 15 months in advance (they’re taking lottery entries for Feb 2020 right now).
My friend Robin had joined me part way thru my trip and she & I talked with a park ranger named Ron Brown at the visitor center to get his advice on what to do/see in two or three days. He mentioned taking a mule ride. I said how I’d heard mixed reviews from other customers so decided against it. He said, “Doesn’t matter anyway, because the mules are sick with a respiratory infection…but, hey, you know what that means? It means you could probably get a last minute spot at the Phantom Ranch.”
Since people who either can’t or don’t want to walk down to the bottom and hike up again, getting down by mule is the only way. So, if you were planning on going down by mule to stay at the Ranch you’re S.O.L. Lo and behold they only had two slots left and they were both in the female dorms. !!! Robin and I high-fived and made our reservation and headed back to tell Ron the good news and thank him for the tip. He was so thrilled he loaned us his walking sticks saying, “I’ve been loaning these out for 15 years and they always come back to me.” NOTE TO SELF: DO NOT BE THE PERSON TO LOSE RON’S STICKS!
We had even better luck the next morning when we checked with the Phantom Ranch people stationed at The El Tovar Hotel. We found out they could upgrade us to a private cabin. A private. Cabin. At the bottom of the canyon! WHAT?!
We had the best breakfast in the fancy El Tovar dining room where I fell in love with the artwork and Mimbreño china then hopped the shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead to begin our descent.
To be continued…
Since opening QED in 2014, I haven’t been able to travel save for the occasional trip to upstate. My mind, body & soul were aching for a vacation. I have major wanderlust and it’s been straight-jacketed for over 4 years as I nearly killed myself with exhaustion and stress opening and running my little theater and going through cancer treatments.
This past August, Christian announced he’d be enjoying a full month in Edinburgh, Scotland to stage his solo show “My Goodness” as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was jealous. Utterly, completely, unabashedly jealous. It also meant I was left to care for two dogs and QED solo in the heat of summer for a full month. Doable, obviously, but not ideal. As a thank you, Christian promised me a full week of being “me” at QED while I took a vacation.
September and October were jam-packed with QED stuff, of course, but I also threw my whole heart, soul and body into working on the midterm elections. Win, lose or draw, I decided that the morning after Election Day would be the perfect time to unplug. Where best to do this? Why, Santa Fe, Sedona and the Grand Canyon, of course!
Our election night party at QED was bumping, packed to the gills and full of excitement as the results came in. I left at the crack of dawn for LaGuardia. People love to hate on LaGuardia. But I was out the front door and at my gate in 21 mins, including a pit stop for coffee and a banana. Not my record of 12 minutes (!!! Not joking. I once did this in twelve minutes.) but there was construction and it was a busy work day during rush hour. Seriously.
I got in late thanks to a layover and needing to get a rental car. Driving in the pitch black backroads of Santa Fe was a little scary, but I was checked in to my hotel and had a great travel day of reading and writing and last minute work stuff.
In the morning I realized those backroads were not back at all, they were pretty regular and very near the city center. They just don’t have street lights or giant buildings and people must go to bed with candlelight or something. I was thrilled to discover I hit the sweet spot with fall colors, too. I always think of the northeast for “leaf peeping” season but, lo! The cottonwood is a showstopper.
I love a good walking tour, so I found one that started at noon leaving me time for breakfast in the town square at the Plaza Cafe.
Chiles are everywhere here. In restaurants, they’re in practically every dish (even dessert) and ristras (dried bunches of chiles on a string) are hanging all over the place. There are two kinds of chiles: green and red. But the red is simply a ripened green chile. At I ordered a breakfast burrito which was served covered in peppers. When I ordered they asked, “Do you want red, green or Christmas?” I opted for Christmas which is a mix of both types. Tis the season and all that jazz.
Since it was nearing the actual Christmas and not just the fun name for a chile mix, the town square was being decorated with red hatch chile ristras. I told you! The chiles were EVERYWHERE.
Waiting for my walking tour to start and found a cozy nook in front of a fabulous fireplace at the La Fonda Hotel which was designed and decorated by the architect Mary Colter.
Have you heard of her? I hadn’t. But the tour guide mentioned her and another tourist asked something about The Harvey Girls and The Fred Harvey Company. They all seemed to know what that meant but I wasn’t in on it. The tour guide noted how it was usual for a woman to be an architect –there was no law against it, it was just something women did not do. So Colter got her start by working as an interior designer. When the guide discovered I’d be headed to the Grand Canyon, she said I’d learn lots more about her there as she designed and/or decorated many or most (all?) of the original structures including The Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon.
Her work as an architect and designer was highly influential — her style of “parkitecture” became known as National Park Service Rustic— and yet I’d never heard of her! How is that?! Everyone has heard of Frank Lloyd Wright and yet Colter is arguably more influential than he was. The fu*king patriarchy, man.
Invading Paradise:Esopus Settlers at War with Natives, 1659, 1663 by Andrew Brink – A review of the causes of the two Esopus Wars in what are now present day Kingston and Hurley in Ulster County, New York. I recently discovered that I’m descended from the original Dutch settlers in New York and, because they were so prolific and thorough in record keeping, my 7th, 8th and 9th great grandparents, aunts and uncles are all over the history books. Pretty neat. This book discusses specific immigrants / settlers (my fam!) and their challenges, motives and more. There is some discussion about PTSD which surely they suffered from after some horrific attacks on their settlement which included my 8th great uncle being tortured and burned alive, slaughtering and capture of women and children and, well, some brutal stuff. From the author, “Were they prepared for what confronted them upon acquiring native agricultural lands? Readers are invited to consider exactly what happened to bring on violence.”
Educated by Tara Westover – A memoir that is generating so much positive buzz, including accolades from President Obama. Whoa. How lovely for her. She grew up in a Morman fundamentalist survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho. Off the grid and unschooled. It’s a stressful book to read as it contains so much abuse and neglect that is, of course, familiar. It’s also incredibly frustrating especially as I deal with my mom’s pathological need to keep up of appearance and have everything be cool even as she’s standing on hot lava. The author does a wonderful job of detailing without judgment and, with the help of some folks along the way, how she became educated.
Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean – Dean profiles 10 women (not necessarily “feminists”) who contributed to “cultural and intellectual history”. I liked the structure –a chapter profiling one woman, then the next and so on. However the author drops in interactions, influences and disagreements from one to the next, linking them all together. There were lots of interesting facts and some women I actually hadn’t heard of. I can’t say it was the most riveting read, but it was a nice compilation of literary women over the last several decades.
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner – I’m studying the Civil War and Reconstruction at Columbia. This book is written by my professor and is a comprehensive, yet succinct overview of Lincoln’s political evolution. It won the Pulitzer Prize for History, so yeah, it’s very readable and a good substitute if you can’t take the courses at Columbia. Prof. Foner is a smart cookie. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from him.
Legends of the Shawangunk (Shon-Gum) and its environs, including historical sketches, biographical notices, and thrilling border incidents and adventures relating to those portions of the counties of Orange, Ulster and Sullivan lying in the Shawangunk region by Smith, Philip H. (Philip Henry), b. 1842 – Just a little light history reading about my ancestors during the Esopus Indian Wars and the history of the surrounding areas where my cabin is.
Re: the Esopus Indian Wars: This book is available online (click link above) and there are two short chapters detailing the conflicts with the Dutch and Esopus Indians starting with page 15. It is all so graphic and horrific, but made doubly tragic by the fact that they lived in harmony before the introduction of alcohol to the Indians who became violent and “mad” when drunk. Then the English took over power of Wiltwyck (renaming it to Kingston) and wiped out the Esopus altogether. Terribly bloody and horrific and unnecessary.
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Grant by Ron Chernow – “He was nothing heroic…and yet the greatest hero.” — Walt Whitman of Ulysses S. Grant
It’s a time commitment –this was listed on a previous month, in fact, but it expired and I had to get on a waitlist again. It covers his entire life from childhood to death, his struggles with alcohol, naïveté (gullibility?) in business ventures, his rise to glory for the most horrific reason (the Civil War, of course), his humility and grace all while keeping the Union together during Reconstruction and protecting the freed slaves and on and on and on. I cried when I fished the book –sobbed, really– and made a special trip to his tomb to pay my respects.
My sister-in-law bought me my own copy for my birthday and I plan to read it again along with the audiobook which I’ve placed on hold with the NYPL. That way I can hopefully read a little faster all while underlining, highlighting, bookmarking and researching all the footnotes. I’m loving my Civil War / Reconstruction studies at Columbia with Professor Eric Foner (Pulitzer Prize winner to you, thankyouverymuch) and this book is very relevant. I’m sure he’ll be adding it to the recommended reading list for future classes.
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson – A nice, overall biography of a pretty smart and incredible man, a founding father who, like the others had his flaws. Franklin’s biggest being that he lived in Europe for over 15 years while his family was left behind in the US. Which, speaking of..I found his relationships with younger women interesting. He was rumored to be a ladies man and quite flirtatious but in all of the many letters and documents, there is no evidence of anything more than friendship and affection. Yes, sometimes flirtatious which would be harmless enough, but for the era. He was still married even if his wife was an “ocean away”. They do show that he enjoyed serving as a mentor and friend to several women over his lifetime. This student’s write up provided a nice summation on his relationships.
Sidebar: When I was in my early 20s, working my way up through the corporate banking ladder, I had a mentor who was nearly the same age as my parents. He was a dear friend to me and taught me more than anyone at any other job ever. Rarely were we flirtatious (we were co-workers, too, after all and this time period being on the heels of Anita Hill and workplace harassment being in the forefront) but we were good friends who were sometimes very silly together during our long drives to court, visiting bank-owned properties, etc. We sang “War! (What is it Good For?)” by Edwin Starr at the top of our lungs and met in the stairwell for coffee runs using the code, “The ship is in the harbor” for no reason other than to have an inside thing we shared. He schooled me on the Ohio court system of course, but also on 12th century explorer Ibn Battuta and bored me with lectures about the Byzantine Empire. When I was appointed officer and then assistant vice president so soon thereafter, all while so young and without a college degree, there were rumors. Unfounded and I shirked them off. We remained friends a full 10 or 15 years after we parted ways until we lost touch not long after 9/11. He retired and so his email went away. He moved and his name is too common. In fact, I just spent two hours trying to cyberstalk to no avail. Maybe this post will send some smoke signal into the Universe that reads, “The ship is in the harbor.”
But, hey, did you know Ben Franklin invented Soduku? Sudoko? Sodoku? However you spell it or say it, Franklin invented it. I mean, electricity is cool and all, but seriously this blew me away.
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – a gift by my Kentucky friend, Liz. This is a collection of essays and short stories by Keegan who died unexpectedly 5 days after graduating from Yale at age 22. Her writing does sometimes sound really young which makes it all the more heartbreaking. Her essay about the sun dying one day and none of this mattering broke my heart. I do prefer her non-fiction to the fiction, but that’s true of my reading preferences in general. Overall, it was a touching read and a lovely legacy for her family.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – A classic which I enjoyed long ago. People love to hate on it or use it as a punchline and I couldn’t remember some things so I re-read it. I still enjoyed it.
God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright – I was hoping for more of a chronological telling of some history of Texas. Instead it’s a bit all over the place timeline-wise. Some bits I really enjoyed (anything with Ann Richards is a win) and others were so out of place (Matthew McConaughey was his neighbor once. Okay?) and it was just a bunch of random essays all smushed together with some name dropping. I think I needed to be more familiar with the author and his writing to really enjoy it. Some complicated things in Texas history were glossed or skipped over and, I dunno, maybe I just don’t have any love left for Texas. I had a hard time finding how he had any pride for the state at all.
Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold – I heard about this new book on the podcast “Why is This Happening?” with Chris Hayes. An excellent, excellent podcast. The author struck me as incredibly intelligent and thorough in her investigation, and so I was intrigued. This book is a terrific piece of investigative journalism centering around residents in Pennsylvania towns named Amity and Prosperity who are sickened by the environmental pollution from fracking waste. It reads like a drama but it’s real life and frighteningly close to home. This could literally happen in our backyard and the US government is, of course, a part of the problem more often than the solution. I wouldn’t doubt if Griswold wins an award or two for her brilliant and thorough work. A great read which also served to educate me on lots of environmental laws and issues.
Not books but three documentaries I watched that I wanted to note for myself.
I Am Not Your Negro by and about James Baldwin. So mad that I had never heard of him. What a shame that he wasn’t discussed in my school at all.
The Uncomfortable Truth about the racist past of the documentarian’s family and An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland about her experience during the Freedom Rides
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Click here to read my January Booklist
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a few frustrating phone calls* with customer service for registering my cell phone with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Purple Video Relay Service. My last name is different from Christian’s who is the account holder of my AT&T cell phone account. Hoo boy, did the patriarchy take umbrage with that one. That meant we had to be in the same room to call in and register. Harder than it should be as we’re often together after business hours.
Anyway, I got word today that I am approved. I can receive video calls from My Jailed Deaf Dad. Great! Great? Grreeaaat. I don’t know. We’ll see if I immediately regret this. I can confidently say that I won’t have any problems with the rules, thankyouverymuch. Egads.
I painted for the 1st time in my life tonight* thanks to @letsgomakeart! I treated myself to their December monthly subscription box which included four watercolor painting kits. The kit arrived in a jiffy and was well packed and sorted. Tonight I followed along with Sarah Cray’s tutorial on YouTube and painted the flowers for week 1. Watercolors will definitely take some getting used to and a few trials and many more errors but she kept it breezy and simple. Even though I’m a complete novice, I still skipped forward a few times to trim the “fat” of the video and rewound a few other times to review a technique before dipping my brush into anything.
After my flowers were done, I decided to try painting the luna moth (individual kit available on their site) even though I didn’t have the kit, because it’s pretty and I was having fun. Even though I didn’t have the colors I needed, it still turned out great! Watercoloring will take some getting used to but it was quick and fun and easier than I expected. I will definitely try the luna moth again when I have the right colors as it is gorgeous. We have luna moths here at the cabin every spring / summer and they truly are works of art.
Anyway, here’s how I spent my evening!**
*My paint by numbers don’t count!
**Well, about an hour or so of it. I spent the rest of the night making homemade rocky road ice cream, finishing up the last chapter of Inhuman Bondage, watching Survivor and answering emails for QED. A pretty great night off!
Love my QED t-shirts & wish you had one? Want to support a woman-owned business? Want to
#shopsmall? Of course you do! Now’s your chance to get one & have it by Christmas! Order by 11/30 or else. Plus, tomorrow is day of the big Shop Small / Small Business Saturday holiday bazaar. We’ll have 25 of the
neighborhood’s foremost creative makers selling their wares at QEDAstoria tomorrow from 12-5pm. Expect to come across one-of-a-kind ceramics, hand-made jewelry, imaginatively designed greeting cards, eye-catching art and super delicious treats.
When you #ShopSmall with a vendor at QED, you’ll receive a free souvenir tote while supplies last. And, if you make a $10+ purchase from QED, you’ll receive an Admit Two pass good for a future show!
QED will be featuring lots of great drink specials for this event such as $6 draught beer, house wine & mimosas! Plus we’ll have plenty of mulled wine, hot apple cider, fresh popped popcorn and yummy snacks from This Chick Bakes.
Here’s where to pre-order a tee shirt: https://www.customink.com/fundraising/qedastorianyc
Q.E.D. is the only independent, woman-owned and operated venue for the arts in Astoria, Queens in NYC. It’s a labor of love, really. As a small community space, we’re very proud to pay artists, producers, teachers and creatives for their work and provide a free space for performers of all types at our open mics.
At Q.E.D. you’ll find stand-up comedy shows with performers ranging from the beginner to the very famous. We also have arts and crafts workshops, writing classes, board game meet ups, storytelling, movie screenings, watch parties and everything in between. Our affordable classes and shows are as diverse as Queens itself. With 100 or more events each month, there’s something for everyone.
Show your love of Q.E.D. and the arts by wearing an official Q.E.D. t-shirt, hat or hoodie! Your support will ensure Q.E.D. can continue to bring Astoria, Queens incredible programming. Plus these shirts are super fashionable and show the world you have great taste in entertainment!
As a New Yorker purchasing a novelty kitchen item like an ice cream maker isn’t the wisest move. But I had been diagnosed with cancer and said to hell with it. It wasn’t on my “bucket list” (is making homemade ice cream on anyone’s bucket list?), but I *had* always wanted my own ice cream machine. Everything is trash and we all die anyway and none of this really matters, so I’m gonna make some damn ice cream. (It was a great summer. /sarcasm)
After some online research, I got a Cuisinart 1.5 Quart Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream Maker in white, thought they do make other fun colors. I quickly realized that many ice cream recipes call for cooking. What? No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I just want to make sweet creamy stuff and freeze it and eat it all in one sitting.
So I found the *perfect* no-cook recipe for vanilla, chocolate chip, cookies & cream, mint, coconut and other concoctions. It’s dangerously easy to make with 4 simple ingredients. Not chocolate, though. Don’t fret! I found a great chocolate recipe also included below. But first the super easy adaptable one from All Recipes billed as a Mint Chocolate Chip, but it can easily be adapted to any flavor combo you want.
It takes less than 3 minutes to mix up the following in a bowl then dump into your machine. That’s it. Like I said, dangerously easy…
* I’ve mixed and matched extracts up to about 2 to 2.5 teaspoons. Coconut vanilla, coffee and raspberry, you name it. Chocolate is really the only thing I couldn’t make work with this. Cookies and Cream made with crushed up Oreos is probably the best version ever. It’s shamefully good.
For chocolate…I tried a few until I finally landed on *the one*. No cooking at all and a damn fine creamy chocolate flavor.
Get a bowl. Stir together the sugar and cocoa. Add the egg yolks and blend with a mixer. Add cream a little at a time, beating as you go. Put the mix in the refrigerator while you grate the chocolate chips in blender or food processor or whatever, until fine. Stir into cream mixture. Use your ice cream maker to freeze it and let it ripen about 8 hours or more. You can eat it earlier…it’s just better after time.
If you have any qualms about raw eggs, then skip this recipe but the eggs make it so much creamier and richer.
That’s it! The hardest part is finding a spot to store the machine when not in use. Well that and not eating gallons of ice cream every day. But I have made a delicious low fat, sugar free frozen yogurt and a sorbet, so there are healthier options, too. So get yourself a machine or ask your Santa to deliver one to you this Christmas. You’re welcome!!!
Grateful to have QED closed for Thanksgiving so Christian and I could enjoy a quiet holiday at the cabin. It was just the right balance of work and play as I banged through my inbox and reading list. We decorated our new tree, hung garland and wreaths, enjoyed a fire both in real life and on Netflix, and kitchen time for making turkey dinner, brownies, ice cream (recipe in the next post) and a perfect looking omelette. We also started the Haunting of Hill House which is great TV while at a cabin in the woods. Our country mouse time is over…back to the city we go!
For Thanksgiving, Christian & I drove upstate to our cabin to bury my sweet little budgie Dinah who passed while I was on vacation. She brought us a lot of joy, especially when she played with our dogs, Paquita (2001 – 2013), then Griswold and lately our silly Billy.
The playlist below my post has a few really short, but fun and cute videos of Dinah interacting with all three of them. It was always hard to capture just how funny and brave she was as getting the camera always caused a break in the action.
Dinah and Griswold were like Woodstock and Snoopy. She followed him everywhere, “fed” and groomed him and they both regularly teased each other and played together. She would dive bomb him or sneak up and peck him while he was sleeping. It always scared the bejeezus out of him but she was always too quick and flew away before his eyes were even fully opened. They would even play a “hide and seek” chase game around the coffee table.
Dinah was impulsively purchased around 2007 at a crappy pet store on Steinway Street for $14. Who knows how long she’d been there or how old she was, but she was never afraid of anything or anyone and was always free to fly about putting herself to bed at dusk and waking up with the sun. Her cage door was rarely, if ever closed.
My hope in bringing her home was that she could be a friend to my other budgie Larry who was getting up in age and not enjoying life. She opened up his whole world. He almost starved to death feeding her every bit he could, so I had to separate them until his love for her calmed down a bit. He went from never leaving his cage, to regularly joining her on adventures around the apartment, including playing with Paquita.
He passed in Spring 2010 and within the year Griswold joined the household. It was interspecies love at first sight. She loved his wiry, wild fur and his supreme laziness which meant he was unwilling to move even as she annoyed him. She traveled with us to and from the cabin where she loved the wide open floor plan, high ceilings and all the treasures she could find buried in the sheepskin rug.
Griswold grew less tolerant in the last few years as he gets grumpier with age. Chief Billy Bowlegs, however, is a young (maybe 3 years old now) pup we adopted in 2017 and isn’t aware of the option of simply walking away. This meant Dinah had some fresh meat to peck. Billy is a silly thing, always down to play. I’m certain that the two of them would have bonded, if only they’d had more time.
We hope to bury her next to Paquita, not far from a bird house and at the cabin they both so enjoyed. Right now the ground is too hard to dig, so she’s in an iPhone box in the freezer. And, as much as I loved her, we’re still planning to eat the turkey that sits in the same ice box.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever have another bird. She was so sweet and special to me. My live little fascinator who perched on my laptop, watching and sometimes helping me peck at keys. There is a budgie-shaped hole in my heart and home that can only be filled by her bright white light.
I’m writing this really late so I’m bummed to not have written some of my thoughts immediately after reading. But here’s what I read in July
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam M. Grant – This one wasn’t quite profiles of “originals” as more of the regular business-y self-help type of book with specific examples or “case studies” along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink. As I become more politically engaged, I particularly enjoyed learning about the strategies used by Serbian political activist Srđa Popović, leader of the student movement Otpor! to remove Serbian president Slobodan Milošević. Many tactics were adopted from Gene Sharp‘s writings on nonviolent action and Popović continues to help others organize political uprisings. The book lost me a bit on birth order –first born vs. the baby kind of analysis that really didn’t pique my interest– but otherwise I found it all interesting and a very quick read.
Miss Ex-Yugoslavia: A Memoir by Sofija Stefanovic – She is producer of the wonderful NYC-version of the worldwide show Women of Letters on which I’ve been honored to take part twice*. I really loved her memoir / history lesson. Her family left Serbia for Australia during Slobodan Milošević’s reign and the subsequent student movement Otpor! and civil war which I had just learned a lot about from the previous book. I had no idea that both would cover this topic and was taken by surprise at the coincidence. She was an immigrant without a true place to call home. She came of age while learning English while trying to retain her original identity and language, fit in at schools, have a *place* and *sense* of belonging…it really shed light on the difficulties faced by immigrant children. The title comes from her entering a beauty pageant for ex-Yugoslavians. She entered with the intent to use it as a paper for college, but it became much more. It was a really great read and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs.
*BRAGGY BRAG BRAG: I’m only one of two performers who’ve appeared on Women of Letters twice. The first time I performed on the show, the lineup included Molly Ringwald. Kathleen Turner was in the audience and, after my set, turned to the producer and said, “Now, I *liked* that!” Then at the after party Ms. Turner and I chatted up and I was completely gobsmacked by her presence. I love her.
The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto – In discovering my Dutch roots –my maternal great grandmother Ola Mae Newkirk is descended from the original van Nieuwkirks of Flatbush (n/k/a Brooklyn) and Wiltwyck (n/k/a Kingston), New York. Newkirk Avenue and Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn? Named after my 9th great grandfather. Bam! What does that get me? Not a damn thing. Maybe some super specific talking points to someone interested in the Dutch roots of NYC and the American Colonies? Anyway, the book is great. It covers
Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir by Lisa F. Smith – I recommended this title to the NYPL a couple of years ago. I got an email alert that the library purchased the title so I felt obligated to read it. It was good! It’s especially great for anyone who is thinking of quitting drinking. Hers isn’t a story of lost jobs, horrific embarrassments, DUIs or anything like that. She just gradually morphed into someone who drank very heavily and did coke. Something that is all too easy to do in NYC with easy access, home delivery and the fast-paced lifestyle that comes with New York. It’s definitely not as gritty –she’s got a great job, doesn’t hang out in seedy neighborhoods or visit crack dens– but I think that’s what makes it worth reading.
The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why by Amanda Ripley – A writer for the Atlantic, thoroughly researched and very fascinating. She takes a good, long look at disasters like tsunamis, stampedes, fires, plane crashes and includes studies on why humans behave like they do. There didn’t seem to a lot of Eureka! moments as to why those who survive do –only a few examples like one man in the Virginia Tech mass shooting playing dead (a natural instinct that also sometimes serves and sometimes hurts rape victims) and a bus boy taking control / authority during a horrible fire and saving many lives as a result. I’m shortening this wildly but it’s
Grant by Chernow (2nd half) – Sobbed like a baby when it was over. I can’t wait to go visit his tomb and give him a big H.U.G.
Other books and lots of historical research included:
Invading Paradise, Esopus Settlers at War with Natives, 1659, 1663 –
Ulster County Probate Records
History of Kingston
Click here to read my June Booklist
Click here to read my May Booklist
Click here to read my April Booklist
Click here to read my March Booklist
Click here to read my February Booklist
Click here to read my January Booklist
I will remember this day as a wonderful example of the things Life brings, good and bad.
I walked through the park and paid a visit to General Grant, an American hero and patriot who arguably did more for the advancement of civil rights than any other of his generation. Afterward, I saw the original Hoffman paintings of Jesus donated by John D. Rockefeller to the Riverside Church. They’re worth over 100 million dollars and are just there…not even shown or guarded. I asked Raymond in the gift shop if I could see them. He opened a couple of cabinets and voila! He said he gets asked about 15-20 times a week. Not that often! I told him I’d tell people.
It’s a beautiful and vibrant area with the park, Hudson River, Barnard and Columbia Universities, Grant’s Tomb and the Riverside Church where MLK Jr gave many sermons including his very famous anti-war speech not long before his assassination.
Afterward, I enjoyed a slice of apple pie and vanilla ice cream at Tom’s (famous for Seinfeld but really just a great, fast diner) where I & two other diners shouted at the TV incredulous at the Brett Kavanaugh inquiry. I hit up the Morningside Heights Library where I knew they wouldn’t have TV and recharged batteries, answered emails and wrote in my journal.
Finally, I meandered to Times Square where I took in “Come From Away,” a musical based on true events that occurred on and after 9/11 when 7k passengers were rerouted and stranded in Newfoundland. It was good. I got a rush ticket for only $30.
I got rained on a little bit as I walked to meet Christian for nachos. While telling him about my day, a live mariachi band played “Happy Birthday” three times in a row and then other songs I didn’t know.
At home, we played with the dogs and watched the news. I cried and got wound up about it all so then watched “Fargo” and now it’s time for bed.
What a day.
Below are the books I read in June in the order I read them. Summer has been too busy with short staffing for the July 4th holiday, my birthday and getting sidetracked on some super cool genealogy discoveries and research on the history of our Rock House. More on that later. Meanwhile…the books!
The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel – I kind of skimmed it fast and should have tabled it for another time, because I did enjoy it. The writer was recommended to me by my niece, and this was the first title of hers available at the library. It was part of a series but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of it. It was pretty graphic / gory at times which I like. But, like the two other mystery books I’d read in February by Jane Jensen, there was some cringeworthy “romance” that seemed contrived. I’ll probably read another one of hers and hope she skips the random, out-of-the-blue, Skin-e-max sex scenes.
Animal Farm by George Orwell – A classic I hadn’t read since junior high. Holds up. Good stuff.
Grant by Ron Chernow – So long, but so good. I got 1/3 of the way through before it expired and I had to get on the waitlist. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law bought me my very own hardcover edition which I’ve picked up in late July. The first 1/3 already had me so in love with Grant, especially after I learned that the other cadets at West Point teased him because his given name, Hiram Ulysses Grant, spelled out the itinitials H.U.G. Awww! And now that’s all I wanna do is give him a posthumous one. Because of that teasing, he preferred to be called Ulysses but the kids twisted that into calling him “Useless Grant”. Kids, man. Kids. I got through Shiloh and just before his showdown with Robert E. Lee. Very engrossing and educational. I’m enthralled.
The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson – This should be required reading. Till was kidnapped and brutally killed by a group of white men in 1955 at age 14 for allegedly whistling at a white woman*. The injustice and brutality of it all will break your heart and enrage you. The past isn’t so far behind us at all. The book is very, very good and very, very upsetting. It’s powerful; an incredible historical account & indictment.
It’s also a wonderful profile in courage of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. Her love, bravery and political savvy has assured her son won’t be forgotten. Do her the honor and never forget her boy.
The white woman at the center of it all, Carolyn Bryant Donham, is now 84 and lives in Raleigh, confessed to the author that Emmett had lied during the investigation and trial. Tyson interviewed her two times for six hours total. That the author got this admission is remarkable. Of course we all knew she had lied but to hear it directly from her and so plainly? Wow. Jaw dropping.
For the week after I read it, I could hardly think of anything else, telling everyone they must read it. I even posted about it on Twitter on July 11th imploring all to read it and telling other Twitter users about the details. Then, the morning of July 12th, the Justice Department announced they were reopening the investigation in light of “new evidence”. Surely that new evidence is the woman’s confession to the author, but really it reeks of a political show by the racist Trump administration.
*The whistling part is a little unclear –some witnesses say he never whistled, while others, including his cousin, say he did– but obviously that is no cause for the brutality.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Simply gorgeous. My stars! Another departure for me in choosing historical fiction and I’m so glad I read it. It’s set in Europe during WWII and tells the parallel stories of a blind French girl and a German boy made to join the Nazi Youth. Their paths cross but it’s not contrived. It’s not forced. It’s gorgeous.
Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig – it gets rave reviews on GoodReads.com but I’m on the fence. It’s about an autistic 14-yr-old girl named Ginny Moon, duh, who bounced around in foster care before being taken in by a forever family. There’s some mystery in the why and how Ginny was separated from her real mom and she’s obsessed with how her baby doll is doing. From the praise and my limited experience, Ludwig has really nailed autism and the way Ginny’s mind works. I was frustrated, impatient and got angry a few times, too, which certainly means I was engaged and invested in the story. Ultimately, I was so glad when I was done as the story was stressful and became tedious. This probably means I’ve made the right choice by not having kids! LOL! That said, I absolutely loved the character Eleanor Oliphant from the book Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine which I’d read earlier this year. Eleanor is also on the spectrum and the book also has a bit of intrigue, but with so much more heart and soul and believability. If presented with the two, I’d choose the latter.
I Was Told There’d be Cake by Sloane Crosley – Did not finish. A collection of short stories / essays and well written and funny but right now the world is on fire, and I feel like I need to feed my brain with more important things right now. I enjoyed essays on her family’s potential move to Australia and a pony collection from ex-boyfriends. She then wrote about what she’d described as the worst move in NYC. But her getting locked out of the same apartment twice really didn’t measure up as all that bad, and I put the book down after that. Sometimes you need to eat some fish and veggies and this book is more fast food. With my head filled with Grant, Civil War and Civil Rights…this just felt too frivolous to enjoy in the weeks leading up to the Midterms.
Eyes on the Prize (PBS) — Okay, this is not a book but a 14-part documentary by PBS that originally aired in 1987. It’s an incredible piece of work about the Civil Rights movement and race in America. The first part chronicles 1954–1965, including the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Selma marches, and more. The first episode actually covers the murder of Emmett Till in which I was now fully educated, and it was just as devastating and worthy of all the tears and rage. Each episode is at least an hour long so I opted to watch this and put down the books for a bit as I waited for “Grant”. (Poor Mrs. Grant, now I know how she feels.)
The first part (6 episodes) should be part of classroom discussions. It’s so thorough and includes then current interviews with key figures. I wish I were an educator so I could introduce this to my students. I’d be especially keen to show this to students at my alma mater Richland High School and note that the school mascot The Rebels with a Confederate flag was chosen by students and passed by the board in 1961, a veritable “F you” to the Civil Rights movement. Those students, their parents, the school board and, well, everyone should be ashamed of that hateful legacy they saddled on us.
ETA: Well, well, well, per the Wikipedia page they made an educational version of this in 2006. Good.
Click here to read my June Booklist
Click here to read my May Booklist
Click here to read my April Booklist
Click here to read my March Booklist
Click here to read my February Booklist
Click here to read my January Booklist