Wednesday, December 14, 2016

30 Second Book Reviews: Wrapping up 2016!

Hi guy, I just finished my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for 2016 of reading 52 books this year! Woohoo! It's not as much as I used to read, but it's still a solid target for someone who works full time, has a kid, enjoys spending time outside of a book with actual human people I love, and for a person who can't stop watching Leah Remini's new Scientology show or is excited for the latest installment of The Bachelor in January.

So I've got a few book recommendations for you. Maybe you've got some extra time off around the holidays. Maybe you want a good way to hide from that family who is staying in your house and just won't leave after Christmas. Or maybe like me, you've always got a book, or twenty, on your nightstand and you're looking to add to the collection. Here we go, 30 second book reviews or shorter, because no one's got time for more this time of year!

Finders Keepers by Stephen King and End of Watch by Stephen King - I'll review these two together since they are the sequel and final installment in the Bill Hodges detective series. I loved all three of the books in the series, which starts with Mr. Mercedes. They could be read on their own but the character development and intertwining history and plot make they better together. Classic King.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware - I like this one just fine. Nothing amazing. A thriller. Something dramatic happens. People die. If you haven't read Ruth Ware's In a Dark Dark Wood, start there instead, it's better.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley- The latest in the Flavia deLuce mystery series. You can pick these up and start reading at any book, but they're better when you start at the beginning. Our heroine is a precocious too smart for her own good chemistry aficionado who keeps stumbling across a dead body every couple of months. This one was lovely as usual, but damn, that ending was harsh.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur- I haven't read poetry in so long. These are small powerful pieces. I could read this ten times and find something new each time.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton- This novel set in 1700's Netherlands started off strong but felt too predictable and petered out near the end. While the writing is lovely, if you love dollhouses and miniatures maybe you'd love this one, I kept expecting more.

The Apartment by SL Grey- I found this book terrifying and a perfect Halloween read. I'll never look at Air Bnb or VRBR rentals the same way again. I don't want to give it away, but read it during the day in your own safe home.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch- One of my favorite books of the year. This sci-fi thriller will blow your mind with it's complex plotting and layered story line. Confounding, confusing and so so so good.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance- I liked this memoir of growing up poor in the Appalachian culture of Kentucky and Ohio, but I also found it to be frustrating and troublesome. Well written and interesting.

Tell No One by Harlan Coben- Murder, intrigue, missing wives, guilty husbands, really enjoyed my first Harlan Coben. Probably won't be my last.

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney- This was fluffy fun. Adult children fighting over a trust left to them by their father, and figuring out how to grow up, solve their own problems, and step away from the drama. Great beach or vacation read.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld-And fun and funny modern retelling of the classic Pride and Prejudice. Now I just want to go watch the movie version with Kiera Knightly.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez- This was a beautifully written story of immigrants to the US who live next door and have struggled, fought and suffered to make their lives better. Heartbreaking, powerful and particularly timely given our current political climate.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley-Great fast paced thriller. Just well written enough to still be fun but have more character development than similar novels. Highly recommended.

Baby Doll by Hollie Overton - This novel starts with a woman escaping from the man who kidnapped her years ago as she walked home from high school. Terrifying and a gut punch for any parent, I liked the characters, particularly the sisters' relationship, and the backward way the story was told.

Things No One Tells Fat Girls by Jes Baker- Self help and self love all in one book. Funny, wry, bluntly honest and deeply refreshing.

I Am No One by Patrick Flanery- A frightening examination of privacy and paranoia in our society. Beautifully written and eerie. Plus Joe went to high school with the author, and he's lovely.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer-Solid. Raunchy. Deeply personal. Sometimes funny. Sometimes inspiring. Pretty good but no Bossypants.

The Accident Season by Mo├»ra Fowley-Doyle- I'm not sure how to describe this book. Supernatural, high school romance? Klutzy family has a party in an old house? Odd and enjoyable. I wish I'd read it when I was 14, I would have loved it.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes - If you liked the movie Sleeping with the Enemy you'll like this book.

The Widow by Fiona Barton-Eh. Slow. Not that thrilling but not bad. Just meh. Too many people fawning all over this one for my taste.

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher - Perfect for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or other supernatural mystery shows. Great audio book series.

Shrill by Lindy West- One of my absolute favorite books of the year. Yes. A thousand times yes. Pardon my language, but fuck, this book was funny and sharp and bold and honest and inspiring.

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child- This was a thrilling creepy romp of a novel, some kind of mysterious monster is killing people in the Museum of Natural History, two very different detectives help solve the mystery. Kind of like The DaVinci Code with South American monsters.

The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund- Too dark for me. I just couldn't take the ongoing descriptions of child abuse and violence. So I got about half way through, skimmed the rest and called it quits. I liked the writing, the subject matter was just too bleak and heavily described throughout the book.

The Fireman by Joe Hill- I love Joe Hill. This book is dense and action packed and takes the staid post apocalyptic novel concept and breathes fresh life into it. I loved this book. Again, another one on my top list of 2016 favorites.

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher- Another in the series, this was the best one yet! Really loving this audiobook series, great pacing, humor, action and character development.

An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay-Devastating. Spectacular. Adding everything Roxanne has ever written to my library hold list immediately. She is a power house.

Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer-What am I even reading here? I think I love it. I don't know what to think about this series. I respect it more than I liked it. It has left me thinking about it and wondering what I just read. One of the strangest reading experiences of my year.

Happy Like Murders by Gordon Burn- Nope. Just a big nope. I like true crime nonfiction, but the writing style was unpleasant and meandering. Repetitive, confusing and little to no insight into the murders. I read true crime to have a better understanding of how and why crimes like these can happen while no one notices. This fails in that regard. And these despicable people don't need any more of my time. Skip it.

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher - Again another in the "if you love Buffy you'll love this" series.

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black-A solid classic noir with a shoot em up ending and a gorgeous dame gone wrong, just like you'd expect. Read by my favorite audiobook actor, it was a dark, smoky treat.

Columbine by Dave Cullen - Detailed, deeply troubling, and a thorough examination of what lead up the Columbine, what happened that terrible day, and the aftermath.

The Silent Girls by Eric Rickstad - Eh. Fine, another thriller. More crime against women and girls. It was fine.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher - First in the Harry Dresden supernatural detective series. You might get hooked.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin- I picked up some helpful tips and ideas about habits from this book, but man, it was boring. Where The Power of Habit was fascinating, educational and well written, this book was dull, Rubin is fairly unlikable to me, and it just felt repetitive and more of that privileged wealthy white lady memoir/self help that I find irritating.

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon- I wanted to like this one more than I did, but I suspect my reading it in dribs and drabs over a month instead of reading it in larger chunks in a few sittings made me less inclined to like it. Not bad but didn't seem to fulfill its early promise. The twists and surprises just fell flat for me. Eh. Not bad just not in love.

Ok, friends, happy holidays, and happy reading!

Monday, December 12, 2016

The 2nd Anniversary of "Parents and Son Day!"

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the day that Joe and I met Xavier. It marks the instant he became our son, the second our hearts were owned by that shy smile with the dimple, and those large dark curious brown eyes framed by the longest eye lashes in the known universe. That first meeting we shook his hand and Joe could tell he wanted more. So he asked, "Do you want a hug?" and Xavier went right into our arms. We all stood together there for a minute, for the first of many hugs ahead.

Sometimes he looks 9 and sometimes he looks 5. #xmantrip
This was day three of our big family adventure!

After our initial meeting, we went out to lunch with Xavier and his case worker, and the second we walked out the door he ran into some other kids he lived with and piped up with this proud big voice and said "These are my parents!" And it began. This adventure started right off from there and hasn't stopped since. These last two years have been the best and hardest of our lives. The most beautiful and emotional. The smelliest and most frustrating. I've never read so much Shel Silverstein and Joe has never argued with a small person so much over story problems. But these two years make me so excited to see what comes next for all of us, but mostly for the brave, funny, high energy, strong, wild child we have the pleasure of calling our son. Ok, in order to stop myself from crying while writing this entire post, in honor of the last two years crash course in parenting, I've got a top eleven (in honor of Xavier's age) list of things I've learned from being the proud mom to my superb, and superbly challenging, child:

1. Homework sucks, has sucked, will always suck, no matter how old you get. I still hate fractions. But it's a lovely thing to be able to say "I've finished school. This is your homework, not mine. I'm not getting graded here, you are. Let me help you, kid."
2. Being outside for at least thirty minutes a day, even if it's terribly cold or hot, makes us all feel better even if/when we fight it. There are locks on front doors for this very reason. You can go five minutes without a drink or a snack. I know you can. Get back outside.
3. White karate uniforms are the dumbest thing ever invented. Dumbest. I decree they should all be black and maybe made of some high tech, affordable, stain resistant fabric not yet invented. Get on that project, fabric companies!


4. Tide Stain pens are the most fantastic thing ever invented. Hands down.  Better than iPhones, better than electricity. Better than Netflix.
5. I have no idea what's coming next in our lives and I'm starting to be ok with that. Just starting to. Ok, not today, but maybe tomorrow or by Friday I'll be getting there. Maybe 2017?

The artist at work.

6. If a drum is sitting there in the living room every single child who walks into your house will find it and immediately try to play it. Every single one, every single time. Even if you've repeatedly said, "Don't do it, dude." They must touch the drum.
7. I've never felt more loved in my entire life. Every call for "Mom!", every request for family Wii game or movie night, every polite demand of "Mom, can you make me a smoothie?" at 7:30pm, it all makes me feel needed and that's a deeply satisfying feeling. Every tiny unsolicited "I love you" from that nearly asleep little boy, makes up for the chaos and arguments of the day to day.


8. I've never felt more scrutinized in my entire life. No one but your own child can think it's appropriate to ask in the middle of dinner, "Hey Mom, why do you have a double chin?"
9. My heart is bigger and softer and stronger than I ever knew.


10. A house full of dudes means a house full of farts, shoes everywhere, and smelly socks and dirty dishes. But mostly goofy, easy fun and hugs, and so much wrestling and tickling and shouting. And we only have the one kid.
11. Hangry is a fact. And while you think you're preventing it, it can still sneak up on you like some kind of masked horror movie villain. Suddenly it's there, there's no creepy music to warn you though, and no granola bar or yogurt can be digested quickly enough to avoid a minor melt down.

Someone was very happy with his Hawaiian ice after lunch today.

Thanks for being here for us during the last two years. We've needed you and relied on you, even if you were just listening or commiserating or silently cheering us on, we know it, we felt it and it has made all the difference along the way. A huge thanks to our parents, our siblings, friends and extended family, for taking Xavier for a few hours to give us a fancy date night, for loving him almost as immediately as we did, for being patient, and kind and generous in your attention and time for him, he's a deeply lucky kid to have the extended family and network of cheerleaders that he has. And so are we. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And here's to the next step in this grand adventure together.


Thursday, December 01, 2016

My Heart is Out There Riding His Bike Without a Helmet

You guys. You guys. You guys. I'd like to calmly tell you that I'm terrified. Not this second, not really. But I'm so scared sometimes. So scared. My heart races. My palms sweat (ok, they do that about 72% of the time anyway) but this having and loving and adoring and raising a kid business is gut wrenching, and ridiculous, and lovely, and so so terrifying. I'm scared in a way that I never knew before.


I have a tendency to borrow trouble sometimes. Neurotically thinking too far ahead. Overthinking about things out of my control. Fearing things that haven't happened yet, because I read some article or someone told me that we might want to anticipate this type of issue in the future. But how do you not worry as a parent? Biological parents worry. Adoptive parents worry.  I don't consider myself a particularly anxious person. But the fear and anxiety of raising a child is something that ripples underneath my consciousness all of the time now. And it's not the kind of fear like walking through a haunted house or when a surprise spider lands on your forehead because the idiot built a web right across your front door, or a potential cancer diagnosis after a weird lump appears. It is different. It feels like a new organ in my body. Like my muscles and skin are stretched out over this thin, thrumming transparent layer of concern and vigilance that hovers right over my bones. It is always there. It is me now.  Joe and I first hugged this small,brave dark haired boy while standing in a library in West Texas, and I felt this new sinew starting to grow. And the pain and joy of my expanding heart, and this new vigilant organ growing over my bones has been challenging over the last two years.


I'm not saying anything new here. I'm not saying anything revolutionary or unique. I'm just writing about being a mom. So common that I'm basically a stereotype just sitting over here. I'm saying it and typing it and sharing it because I want to. Because I feel compelled. Because I have to remind myself I'm not the only one out here scared. Worried about what the world will bring for my son. Worried about yelling too much. Or my often frayed lack of patience. Or maybe I'm not giving the right advice to my son about how to make friends or talk to girls or finding creative ways to get him to actually consume a vegetable or making sure he is wearing his helmet every single time he climbs on his bike to ride down the street to jump on a potentially deadly trampoline with his friends whose parents I've only met once. And what if they have guns in their house and I never asked? Or I'm not making him read enough or his day isn't structured enough or he doesn't feel loved enough or like he belongs or we don't help him connect to his Mexican American heritage as often as we should? Oh, stop me. Good lord. It's too much.


What if we're screwing this up? When would you even know? There is no easy way to tell if you're doing this right is there? I guess you could look at certain immediate markers like kindness to others, empathy, grades, friends, not setting pets on fire, but long term, no way. Some days I think we're ok. I think we're great actually. I think we're experts at knowing how to parent our kid. It feels right and good and happy. And some days are HARD. HARD. HARD.  Our situation is different since we adopted our kid at age nine, and sometimes I feel at a disadvantage because I don't know if our issues are universal with stubborn eleven year old boys or if we're struggling harder because we've only had our boy for two years and he's been burdened with this shitty history not of his making, or all of this. It's guessing it's all of this. All of it.

We have an amazing family therapist. And by amazing, I mean this kind of warm, realistic, educated, open, experienced woman who says what we need to hear exactly how we need to hear it. She reminded us yesterday that all of this parenting is truly a crap shoot. Of course, she's classier than that and didn't call it an actual crap shoot. But pretty close.

She has watched us parent our son and talked to us about parenting for almost two years. She has seen the ups and downs, the chaos, the meltdowns, the struggles, and she said bluntly to us both, that we're doing exactly what we should be doing. We're doing it as well as if not better than almost anyone she works with. But we will still have no idea how this kid is going to turn out. But either way, his life is going to be better because he's with us. Well, fuck me. That's what I needed to hear. Read that again. Honestly, I need to hear that like every single day. I should have asked if I could record her saying it, so I could just play it on repeat when I'm feeling like drinking all of the wine in the house  while simultaneously eating all of the salty and sugary things in a three mile radius.  And of course I immediately started crying once she said it. In fact, I'm goddamn crying now just remembering her saying it. I felt the tension in my shoulders oozing away like a thick fog when she said it and when I repeat it to myself. She says this and my constant fear of failure evaporates enough that I can literally feel it falling away inside my gut. And then I sat with that thought for awhile.

That thought feels ultimately freeing and a little futile too. She said it to be honest and clear about how parenting, and specifically parenting the kid we are parenting really goes. Children with significant trauma from the abuse and neglect that many kids living in foster care have experienced, and the frequent mental health diagnoses these fragile, resilient, amazing kids often struggle with, tend to make their outcomes damn near impossible to determine. But then again, is anyone's outcome from child to adult all that clear? There are so many variables. A sea of variables that come into play. And for me, the only thing that makes sense as we navigate that sea is making sure that we are his life boat, his life preserver, his life vest, all of the flotation devices he might possibly need during the biggest storms and highest seas that are to come. We will ride it all out together. Not matter what.


But now I get to cut myself a little slack too. I feel released a bit. I'm parenting to the best of my ability on any given day. It varies. Sometimes there's more yelling. Sometimes there's more, "Skip the homework and veggies, and let's watch Napolean Dynamite on a school night complete with a floor picnic of pigs in a blanket and salsa and chips!" But I'm doing my damnedest to think before I speak. To hug so often it's almost irritating. To rub that kid's back until he feels smothered with my affection. To read to him every single night until he moves away to college if he so chooses, to discipline in a way that heals and gives structure and builds trust, to manage my anger and frustration when he's using his super powers to push our buttons, and push them fucking hard.  I'm also trying to leave more room for myself to feel imperfect, to feel flawed, to feel like I made a mistake, and move along. Move right along. Because either way, his life is better because he's with us. He's where he belongs. He's healing. He's ours. And I think every single day, he starts to believe that more and more.

Photos courtesy of the charming Joe Sands, except that bottom one.

Monday, June 06, 2016

How Do I Turn My Anger into Change?

*I'm sorry, but this is not a fun post about my kid, or cooking or travel. And it's got profanity. Quite a lot. So move along if you aren't up for that today.

I'm angry and frustrated and cannot stop thinking about something today. I feel ineffectual and at a loss. My heart hurts, but mostly I'm just fucking angry. Maybe you feel the same. I spent my lunch hour today reading articles and commentary on the Brock Turner rape case and sentencing. If you don't know what I'm talking about then start here. Impartial articles followed by outraged comments sections, full of angry, frustrated people who can't understand why a rapist convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault will probably only spend three months in a county jail, yep, not even a real prison. Wait, wait a minute. They all know exactly why he won't do more serious time than that:  his parents are wealthy, he's a talented athlete, he's white, the girl he violated was very intoxicated, it happened on a gorgeous college campus after a raucous fraternity party, so all of this means it wasn't really as bad as real rape, you know that real stranger rape. This was just a typical college overindulgence with two horny drunk twenty somethings and some mistakes were made, on both of their parts. Plus Brock has already said that he plans to help educate kids on the dangers of excessive drinking and promiscuity. Yes, the man convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault wants to educate your children. About promiscuity.

I'm not going to talk about the rapist anymore. Instead, click here, Read the victim's own powerful statement, read it twice. Hell, three times. She deserves your attention. Her writing deserves your attention. In fact, stop reading whatever I've written here and go read her statement. It's brave and blunt and goddamn beautiful and powerful. Share it, post it, read it with your sons and your daughters, I'm saving it to read with mine when he's a bit older. This was rape. What happened to her was wrong and her rapist should pay a price for what he's stolen from her.  Rape is a serious goddamn crime. And it should be punished as such, whether you're a creepy stranger wearing a dark ski mask in the park at night or the happy, smiling future Olympic swimmer violating an unconscious girl behind a dumpster. It makes my stomach hurt and my face clench and my blood pressure rise just thinking about it. But I'm not writing this just to rant and throw myself into this conversation.

My biggest issue here is, what to do next? It's not like this is the first terrible article you or I have read about rape or light sentences or victim blaming/shaming. This is just the most recent shitty story that highlights a problem we all should already know plenty about. And so instead of sitting here feeling inept and filled with rage, I feel like it's time I took some kind of action. Oh, I've donated to some good causes before. I work with some great organizations who help victims of sexual assault, but is that enough? It doesn't feel like it anymore. It's all well and good for me to sit here filled with righteous indignation about the injustice of this rapist only spending 3 months in jail, but what does a regular person like me do to help the situation?

How many women are raped and never report it because who would willingly want to put themselves through a trial? The shaming, the digging into the victim's personal life, the judgment and harassment, not to mention cases that have little physical evidence and unlikely to even be prosecuted. Read Missoula by Jon Krakauer if you want a clearer picture of the rape epidemic on college campuses. So yes, I can be riled up and pissed off for women who have been sexually assaulted. I can write about my indignation and wish things were different and shake my head at the people who don't believe that what happened should even be considered rape. But what can I actually do to change a goddamn thing? What can I do to stop it from happening to other women? What can I do to make sure my son understands consent in every sense of the word? What can I do? What do I do?

Because my tears of anger are fucking pointless without action. What organizations can I help that are doing great work to end our rape culture, end the shaming and blaming of women who have been victims of rape, what else can I do to help the women, and I know some men, whose lives have been forever altered by this terrible cowardly violent act? That's the part I'm struggling with now. I hate feeling helpless. Selfishly, I want to do something. Something for me, frankly, so I feel like I'm part of a solution rather than just watching it all happen and complaining to everyone who already agrees with me. 1 in 6 women has been the victim of attempted rape or rape. 1 in 6. Think about that, think about your friends, family, and think about how many of them have had to deal with the after effects of a rape or assault or some sexual violation that they did not agree to and did not want. I can think of at least 25 women I know, right off the top of my head, that have dealt with this trauma and violation. I'm in that group. So count me as one of your 1 in 6. Not raped, but violated sexually in a way that will stay with me forever, that I did not want. So I think of that number and I think, how do we reduce that? How does that shrink away? Where do I go to get started helping? Beyond talking about it, what is the next move? So now it's research time. Join me, find something you can do to help, that makes sense for you. I'm going to figure out a plan for myself that makes sense and makes me feel like I can help make a difference. Here are some ideas and some organizations that might get us started. I'll report back, because this is too serious to ignore.

MOCSA - - Our mission is very straightforward. MOCSA exists to improve the lives of those impacted by sexual assault and abuse, and to prevent sexual violence in our community.

RAINN - - RAINN: The nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization.One of “America’s 100 Best Charities" 

COVERSA - - COVERSA (Collection of Victim Evidence Regarding Sexual Assault) is a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to providing quality, compassionate post sexual assault patient care and improving community collaboration efforts as it relates to sexual assault education and prevention.

Monday, April 04, 2016

30 Second Book Reviews: 2016 so far!

With the addition of kid responsibilities and all that time consuming parenting stuff on top of work, marriage, a social life, some hobby art classes, and the occasional Netflix binge watch, I'm reading less, but I'm still reading. Granted, half of these were audio-books that I listened to on my work commute, but those still count. So here's what I've read so far in 2016, you might find a gem or two for yourself, or at least a weird new way to fold and honor your underwear:

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo - I loved certain parts of this book and they've really changed the way I organize my drawers, folding socks, underwear and T-shirts differently, and keep certain household areas tidier. But honestly, I'm not unpacking my purse every night so that my purse can rest. I'm not thanking my house when I walk into my home, or god forbid, getting rid of books I own that I haven't read yet. That's just crazy talk. And no one who really cooks or has kids is going to have completely clean, empty kitchen counters. That's just nuts. But otherwise, totally useful and aspirational.

Solsbury Hill by Susan Wyler- I have to admit, with the addition of the kid, my energy for reading is limited, so I'm not reading as much heavy dark stuff as I used to. It's a phase I'm certain. But this was just the exact right book at the right time. Perfectly light, but well written, minimal conflict, windswept moors, likable characters and a lovely happy ending. Might have loathed it in a different mood, but got swept up in its romance. And it's got a bit of a story line based on Wuthering Heights but less silly and angsty if you ask me. You might like it. I did.

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton - I adore Brandon's blog and Facebook posts. Joe and Xavier bought me this for Christmas and I've probably read it all the way through three times. Lovely photography and it lays out in each story the wide range of human thought and experience in a thoughtful and approachable way. I'll read it again next month I bet.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty - Fluff, pure and simple. But charming, scandalous Australian fluff, I enjoyed this audio-book and had some fun guessing at what might happen next. Read it at the beach or in your dentist's waiting room, because fluff is necessary sometimes.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates - After a group of fluffy, fun novels to open the year, I read my first serious book and was glad I did.  Poetic, disturbing, thought provoking and sad. I respect his gorgeous lyrical writing style and his challenging, repetitive reveal of the ongoing pain of being the back upon which the "white American" dream has been built, but I feel like this book must be read along with others with some kind of vision to improve the world rather than the bleak unchangeable world view Coates himself shares. Maybe this is my blurry hope as a "white" woman who has some belief in our ability to create a better more equitable world, but without some kind of hope to change it, why bother?

Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by by Gregory C. Keck, Regina M. Kupecky, Jim Petersen - This book is a life line for families parenting children who have had complex beginnings in foster care or adoptive settings, it's been hugely helpful for Joe and I, and I've recommended it when our families have needed more insight about our kiddo's experiences, reactions, behaviors and background. I'll read it again in a month or two, I'm sure.

True Evil by Greg Iles - I love a good serial killer mystery and this hit it out of the park. Multiple killers, FBI agents, plotting adulterous spouses, you've got it all. A fun, frightening mystery with one of the deadliest, creepiest killers I've read in a novel in a long time.

The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child by Alan E. Kazdin - Another strong parenting guide, but this one, while useful, doesn't quite work in our situation. Though I highly recommend reading it to better understand kids and their thought processes and the flawed way many of us use discipline vs. punishment.

Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes- Thank god the acting in the audio-book was so good, otherwise I would have fallen asleep while driving and listening to the too long and boring first half of this book. The second half was great and while all the conflicts were tied up in an improbable bow at the end, I was so taken with the characters, setting and story that I didn't care. Push through the first half and the pay off is a joy. Plus whales and dolphins, lots of whales and dolphins. Just make sure you're caffeinated.

The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman - Started strong and lost me about half way through. Another murder mystery, and usually I can handle and enjoy a little supernatural thrown in for good measure, but this one jumped back and forth between two different storylines so abruptly that it was jarring and unpleasant. Eh. Weird. Disjointed and the ending felt rather slapdash.

The Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver - Ok, here's where I admit that I'm kind of embarrassed that I even read these books, and I kind of liked them. I love youth fiction, or young adult books now and then, but these just aren't very good and yet I found myself reading them, all three of them. I liked the second one probably best of all, but the ending was a disappointment. Now I don't know whether to recommend the series or not. If you like dystopian authoritarian teen romance, this might work for you, and while I thought plot device 100+ years into the future love is now viewed as a disease, and treated with a "cure" that sounds shockingly like a lobotomy, I kept wanting more history and world setting. Why did love get diagnosed as a disease? What tragedy befell the nation to prompt this response? What's happening outside of the US? I wanted more, even just to the Hunger Games level. And Oliver never delivered. And then that ending, all loose ends. So I don't know what to tell you, I don't need the "cure" to deal with any kind of love for these books, just a mild, friendly like.

Next up, in an effort to get my own butt in gear and start exercising and eating better, I've picked up Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, and I'm hoping to create some new healthier habits, now that I finally feel like I've come out of the fog of that first year of parenting, which for me came along with weight gain like I was actually pregnant! So I'd like to feel better, and hope some advice from Ms. Happy herself can help. Now what are you reading, friends? What should I add to my library hold list?

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Snowy Yoda Easter

I think Easter is a perfectly lovely holiday. I was raised Methodist, and when forced to fill out a demographic form I will still default to checking "Methodist" for my religion, but our family are not regular church goers at this point in our lives. Some of my favorite church memories growing up involved Easter. Dressing up, getting new shoes, candy, kids in pastels running like mad in pursuit of ALL THE EGGS, but one of my favorite memories was flowering the Easter cross. 
A massive wooden cross hung at the front of our church sanctuary, all dark wood in a dark brick 1980's Methodist church. We had stained glass windows, but everything seemed dark in there until Easter. On Easter, that dark serious cross turned into a massive flower cross when a large wooden frame filled with small holes was placed over it. Then before the first service, all of the Sunday school students and teachers filled each hole with a fresh flower. The narthex smelled amazing when filled with those hundreds and hundreds of lilies, tulips, carnations and roses. Once all of the holes were filled with flowers, several of the men would lift the frame, carry it into the sanctuary, and carefully hang it over the wooden cross. It was such a joyous moment, filled with the sensory power of color and fragrance as hundreds of springtime flowers filled the sanctuary, reminding us all of why we were sitting there dressed in our Easter best, filling the pews. That's the kind of Easter I enjoy now. A celebration of spring time and renewal and time spent with loved ones. So we had our own version of that this year, plus some snow.
Xavier's got the Easter bunny all figured out, so we still hid some eggs and gathered his favorite treats in a basket, but it was more mellow excitement than last year. 10 years old don't always want you to see how excited they are and a little bit of cynicism starts to sneak in. But even in the snow, he ventured out in pursuit of the eggs and had a great time, ever present Easter ring pop firmly in place. I told him that all day  I could imagine what he looked like as a baby, since that ring pop looked like a pacifier shoved in his mouth.  He was unamused. After the eggs were retrieved, candy consumption had dwindled, and Joe and I had consumed some massive quantities of coffee after our 5:45am wake up, we lounged around in our pjs, the weather making us less inclined to get out of the house until our family dinner plans later.
So the boys watched some TV, played a little tablet, I did some drawing, talked to Grandma Becky on the phone, until we all got a little bored and Xavier asked if we could cook something fancy for lunch. Instead of fancy lunch, we decided we'd finally try out our Star Wars cookie cutters.  
I mixed up our go to 3 in 1 Sugar Cookie recipe, got the dough chilling in the fridge, and made my very first Royal Icing. Wow, that's so easy with a Kitchen Aid mixer. It almost felt like cheating, it took so little effort. And once the icing was all bagged up and ready, we waited for our dough to chill out and watched the classic Easter movie, The Wolverine. Ok, maybe it's not an Easter classic, but doesn't Wolverine fit in with that whole rebirth, rejuvenation theme? I kid. 

Once our dough was chilled, we rolled it out and started cutting. Now I want to be real with you here. These photos are adorable. My kid's focused attention, the fun with knives and cutters. The peeking into the oven to see if the cookies are done. Oh so cute. And I love baking. But. But baking with a ten year old, a stubborn, challenging, deeply independent 10 year old, is hard and messy and sometimes frustrating. It's not bad, but it's not easy. So much wrangling and instructions ignored, and eventually I just leaned in and let him do his own thing. Because they're just cookies, right? So he set himself up with a little jelly bean cutting station, and got to decorating, because the Star Wars cutters were "kind of boring and needed to be more fun." And who doesn't think Darth Vader looks even more menacing with red jelly bean eyes? So I'm teaching the kid some actual baking/cooking skill and he's teaching me to be less of a control freak in the kitchen, ok, in the world at large. 

Cookies baked, we could get down to the fun part: the decorating! We each took a turn with the icing bags, and we came out with some gorgeous Storm Troopers, some wise green Yodas, a jelly beaned set of Darth Vaders, some abstract stars, and crunchy delicious Boba Fetts too. It really was fun. And no 10 year old can be cynical when Mom lets you pipe green frosting directly into your own mouth at the end! 

So cookies baked we headed off to my dad and step-mom's house for family dinner complete with uncle and cousins and homemade biscuits, all the necessities of a happy Easter. It was a really nice day. 

The thing I'm figuring out with having kids at the holidays is that expectations need to be managed. Ours and his. I need to be less controlling about the plan of the day, I need to anticipate that the non-routine weekend filled with less sleep, more sugar, more people, and more stress, will almost certainly guarantee some kind of kid melt down, and that's ok. I need to just be ok with hanging out with my family without some kind of Pinterest fantasy of what the day will hold. Sure, I wanted a lovely family portrait on Easter. We all looked nice and showered and happy, and of course my kid stuck a blueberry ring pop in his mouth moments before photo time. But who cares? This is what he looks like. This captures his personality and ours better than some pleasant holiday portrait. So I'm working on embracing that part and caring less about how straight my Storm Trooper frosting is. So Happy Easter to you! Embrace the crooked Storm Trooper in all of us!

Monday, March 07, 2016

15 Months In

I've been a mom for a total of about fifteen months now. It simultaneously feels like fifteen years and fifteen minutes. I love it. I love it every single day. Oh, there are moments, almost every single day, where I think: "well, this sucks" or "why did I pick this battle?" or "How are my bones actually tired?" or "Did I really just say 'asshole' in front of my kid again? Yep. I did." or "Really, more laundry?" or "I'm wiping pee off the floor again." or "What in the hell are we having for dinner?" or "I really, really wish I could sit here and read my own book instead of reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid:The Long Haul." or "Is it bedtime yet? What? It's only 7??" or "Is it really that bad if he had a bag of Doritos for breakfast once this week? Ok, twice? Nah." And I think of all of the other parents out there doing their own version of what Joe and I are doing, and I feel like we're probably in some pretty excellent company.

I went back recently and read some writing I had done just a couple of months after Xavier joined our family, and man, I've gained some confidence in myself as a mom since then. I want to hug that early 2015 version of myself and tell her to just hang on. It was somehow both natural and shocking to suddenly love and care for this kid. And I was thrown for a total loop, for a few months. My identity and confidence were tossed around. My fear and anxiety hit new impressive levels. I wanted to cry, and then throw up, and then hug everyone in a twenty foot vicinity, all within just a few minutes time, and then shout to the roof tops about how wonderful and terrifying it all was. It was like a kid tsunami had hit my shores. I felt displaced and raw and new and scared and ready for it, all at once.

And then we settled in. We did. Just being together. Time. The beautiful simple sedimentary layers of bedtime stories, and long hugs, tickling on the couch, and teeth brushing and road trips, and school drop offs and inside jokes, and lunch boxes packed, and dancing around the living room, and tablet negotiations, and all those layers made us into a family. We settled in. Throw in some helpful professionals, and excellent family support, and here we are, figuring it all out just fine. I don't mean to gloss over the hard parts. They exist. They probably exist in all families, and they have a particular challenge when you add older kids to a family, but I think we're all doing really well, like shockingly "you've earned a gold star" well, especially Xavier. Most importantly Xavier. When people give me a compliment about it, I'm starting to actually be able to just say "Thanks!" and not laugh and give fifteen examples of how I've screwed up as recently as this morning. That's progress, right?

But we've tapped into our resources too. We see a family therapist. She is the earth mother, funny, wise, expert realist that we need. I've seen my own therapist, who can look at my face and somehow know exactly what I'm about to say, she is a gold star human too. And we've had great teachers and doctors, and friends and neighbors, and lots and lots of family who love Xavier and want to spend time with him one on one, so Joe and I can have the chance to "drink wine and kiss and watch R rated movies" at least once or twice a month too. (Xavier's description of what date night must be like without him.) And suddenly there is no doubt we are a family, and that Mom title has started to feel like mine.

Over these fast and frenzied fifteen months I've realized, good lord, this is the best title. Being a mom is a blast. Every day is more fun in some ways than my days were before. Not the kind of ways like I had before with free, open, luxurious stretches of time, but it has highlighted and brought more to my life than I even knew to want. So much. So much laughter in our house and car and everywhere, every single day. And yes, so much pain and joy and drama. Usually that brief, fleeting drama, Jesus, ten year old kids are dramatic, or at least ours is. But the emotions, good and bad, are just thrilling. Not adrenaline pumping like a good chase scene in a movie or a first kiss, but thrilling like seeing a whale burst out of the ocean where there was only flat gray water seconds before, or thrilling like catching a glimpse of leaves that have gone from green to fire engine red over a weekend. You know these things are going to happen, they just do, but they still thrill. To watch my child develop new skills or get excited about something new, or to get stronger, taller, more stable. It's thrilling to watch my kid get more and more comfortable with our families. To watch him develop relationships, to come out of his shell, to finally get our sarcasm (not appreciate it, certainly, but get it and mimic it disturbingly well), to open up, to start to settle in somewhere, to realize he's never leaving, ever, ever. He's taller and stronger, and he really needs some new pants. There's more of him there, and that is the best feeling. Because we helped make sure that would happen. We're all settling into our roles. And my cheery brand of positive realism has found its best role. I forget so much of the negative stuff so fast, and that works here. It works well.

 It took awhile for it not to feel like I was pretending to be a mom. Like someone wasn't going to pull me aside and ask me trivia questions about my child to prove I was his mom. "No, seriously, I promise, he's mine!" I get brief flashes of that feeling sometimes when people I don't know well ask me if I have kids. "Oh, I do, I really do have kids", but I still have this odd feeling when I answer, because the full story is so different from your typical family. And yet it's really not. It's so so different and so so the same. Just as all families are the same and different.

Anyway, since things feel a bit more settled, I feel ready to start writing more again. I'm back! I have no shame about writing mostly about kid stuff, I'm trying to compile some kind of history of our little not-typical family, so I've been jotting down notes and impressions and glimpses of my feelings/our experiences into a word document over the last months, saving emails and funny kid Facebook posts, so I don't lose it all in the chaos of the day to day. There's so much I want to write about and keep and remember about these first years and all the next years too. So I'm writing some, some for just us and some to share. Because families need their stories, especially new families. We need our stories. Kids need to know who they are and where they've come from, and Xavier has a nine year history that we weren't a part of, but that we can help him learn to understand.  He also deserves to get to hear about how our new family came together and to let us reflect back to him the ways we've seen him grow and change. The silly dances and songs he makes up, the friends he has now, the things he loves to do, the snuggles with the dog, he has parents to watch and remember and tell him how much he's changed over the ten years we get to have him, before he heads off on his own. Ok, eight years or so before he heads off on his own. But ten years just scares me less. So let's stick with ten. And if I write about our family and share it here with friends and family, I feel like it helps fill in that gap of nine years when we didn't have him in our lives yet, we've got all of those years to make up for when uncles and aunts and grandparents and cousins would have bonded and connected with him and us as a family, so if I can help our loved ones feel like they know him better here, then it feels like that nine year gap gets a little smaller.  All that is to say that I'm planning to write a little more. About parenting, but also back to our trips and lives and cooking and things that amuse me, and also as a way to force Joe to cough up his photos, so I can put them to good use. It's a little like coming out of a new parenting fog, ready to join the world fully again. So here we are, we're a family. I'm a mom, and a bunch of other things too obviously, and I feel like I'm fully back again.