Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Best of 2016: Fiction

reviews, books, book reviews

This is it! The last Best Of list this year! Of the 64 books I read this year, 26 were in this final category - adult fiction. Here are my favorite five in alphabetical order by author:

Jennine Capó Crucet
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
This is the first book I finished this year! Here's the story: The first in her family to graduate from high school, Lizet leaves Little Havana in Miami to attend an elite college in New York. This creates a permanent and heartbreaking rift with her family, especially with her mother who fixates on the immigration of a young boy, a fictionalized Elián González, whose own mother drowned en route from Cuba to Florida. A compelling and heartfelt about family, loyalty, and upward mobility.

Liane Moriarty
The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty's 2016 release, Truly, Madly, Guilty, wasn't her best, but I read two other novels by this fave author this year that I couldn't put down, including this one. In Hypnotist, Moriarity establishes the humanity of both leads, Ellen and Saskia, from the start. This is notable because Saskia is a stalker - she can't let go of Patrick, her ex-boyfriend, who is now dating Ellen. Saskia feels compelled to follow Patrick - around town, into restaurants, and on vacation. It would be easy to dismiss Saskia as just crazy, but Moriarty doesn't let you. As a bonus, the motif of hypnosis interested me intensely.

Ann Patchett
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
This is my favorite read of 2016. The story begins at Franny Keating’s christening party. In a weird and inevitable moment, a guest at that party, Bert Cousins, kisses Franny’s mother when the two are alone in the baby’s room. So begins the entanglement of four parents and two sets of siblings that lasts more than 50 years. These relationships invite an interrogation of the meaning of family and power. Who has “full citizenship,” as Franny puts it?  Who decides? It's genius, and I loved it.

Curtis Sittenfeld
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
I really sink into Sittenfeld's writing, and this Pride and Prejudice re-boot felt like it was written especially for me. Liz Bennet is a 38 year-old, white feminist writer. She's picking up the pieces for her family, a broke-yet-upper/middle-class bunch, while simultaneously sparring with Fitzwilliam Darcy, a brain surgeon in a Cleveland hospital. Of course, I love Liz so, so much. I am, after all, the ideal demographic - a 38 year-old, white feminist wannabe writer who majored in English lit. I couldn't put this down - it was super fun and really well done. 

Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead's extraordinary work is on everybody's best list. Mine too! This is the story of Cora, a slave on the Randall Plantation in Georgia, who steals off toward freedom, as her mother did before her. She relies on the Underground Railroad, in this case an actual subway car and series of tunnels, to inch her way toward liberty. Whitehead is imaginative, skilled, and unrelentingly specific. Cora’s horror is our horror. Whitehead develops minor characters, too, assigning them both distinct and emblematic qualities that alternately bind readers in affinity and repel them. An important book about whiteness, blackness, and the enduring trauma of American slavery, I'll be thinking about this for years.

And here are the rest of this year's titles! Links go to full reviews (by me!) at Literary Quicksand.
Looking for an audio, middle grade/YA, or nonfiction pick from this year or either of the last two? All the lists are compiled HERE.

Want more book blurbs to your inbox all year long? It's easy. Just sign up for the newsletter right here. That would really thrill me.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Best of 2016: Middle Grade and YA

YA, Middle Grade, Best of
Today, I'm naming my favorite Middle Grade and Young Adult reads of 2016. Of my 64 books this year, 23 were in this category. These are the best five in alphabetical order by author:

Ali Benjamin
The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Suzy and Franny’s best-friendship suffers a painful, yet not atypical splintering in middle school. And then, Franny dies in a drowning accident before Suzy can try to repair it. Suzy, a lovable oddball with iffy social skills, grieves her former friend in a particular way – by investigating her death using the scientific method. The author is a science writer, and the book is filled with fascinating nature and wildlife facts. Heartfelt and convincing. One of my top five reads this year overall. Heads up: It's very sad. Hopeful, but sad.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ten year-old Ada and six year-old Jamie are evacuated from London in 1939 in advance of the bombings. Ada has a club foot, an abusive mother, and no sense of her own worth. Enter Susan Smith, a grieving woman who lives in the channel-side village to which the kids evacuated. Susan doesn't want any children, but she has to take these. The rest is sad and magical. Ada's first-person narration is heartbreaking and convincing. 

Firoozeh Dumas
It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

I'm so glad we chose this as an all-class read for the sixth-graders at my school. In it, Iranian immigrant Zomorod Yousefzadeh (she re-names herself Cindy because it's "normal") and her family try to fit in in their Newport Beach community. It's 1980 and middle school is the usual kind of terrible until American hostages are taken in Iran, and everyone begins to  associate Cindy and her family with terrorism and danger. Dumas's autobiographical novel is about empathy, friendship, and global competence. Timely, right? And also really funny. 

Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Cath is a first-year college student, and she and her sister are obsessed with the Simon Snow franchise. Simon is a fictional character - a wizard who goes to a wizarding school - and who stars in his own series of books and movies. Cath and her sister, Wren, have been popular and prolific writers of Simon Snow fan fiction for years. Now, in college, Cath holds on to Simon, while Wren seems to want to let go. Family drama and first love swirl around this sister story. I loved it a lot. As you might imagine, it's a Harry Potter nerd's paradise, and I am a Harry Potter nerd.  Rowell is also a great writer - she was on my faves list for Eleanor and Park in 2014.

Laura Amy Schlitz
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Schlitz writes with compassion and humor, bringing Joan, a housemaid with a love of literature and adventure, to life through her diary entries. Joan (“a real Joan,” says a key character, comparing her to Joan of Arc, “full of imagination and the spirit of revolt”) won a place in my heart with her charming naiveté and guileless wit.  Although I found this 2015 book in the children’s section of my local library, it’s got wide appeal: teens and adults, especially those with a penchant for 19th century British and American lit, will fall quickly in love. 

Here are the other books I read in this category this year. 
  • Booked by Kwame Alexander - I haven't recommended to a kid who doesn't like it.
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson - This made my Best Of Audiobooks this year
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate - Wonderfully, hopefully sad
  • Nine, Ten: A September Eleventh Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin - A well-plotted and deeply affecting portrait of one of the worst days.
  • The Selection Series by Kiera Cass - Un-put-downable. The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games.
  • One Crazy Summer - Rita Williams Garcia - An important story about three sisters and their Black Panther mother in Oakland, 1968
  • The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley - Charming, honest, hilarious, satisfying
  • Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks - A nuanced read with ghosts and high school drama
  • One for the Murphys by Linda Mulally Hunt - A bittersweet tearjerker with relatable characters
  • Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson - A realistic, emotional portrait of the ups and downs of middle school friendship
  • The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson - Caper-tastic! Fast-moving and featuring a quick-thinking, racially-diverse group of nerds.
  • Legend by Marie Lu - A dual-narrator tale of adventure and rebellion
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney - A hopeful, moving story, but the poetry is ho-hum
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling - Of course, I love Harry, and I'm happy to see him as a dad. But...I'm sure I'd love this as a play
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - An excellent book that I wish I loved
  • Drama by Raina Telgemeier - Quick, fun, quirky, 3-dimensional GLBT characters

Looking for a Best Of list in another category? They're all linked HERE.
Next up on Wednesday: My last Best Of list this year - Adult Fiction. I'm excited.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Best of 2016: Nonfiction

nonfiction, review, book review
I read 15 nonfiction titles this year. A little low, right? But, there were some good ones in the mix. Here are my top 5 in alphabetical order by author: 

Alison Bechdel, review, nonfiction
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
This graphic memoir is the story of a mother-dauther relationship, layered under the story of therapy and psychoanalysis around that relationship, layered under literary and psychoanalytic theory. It's super meta and super smart. I mean, it's Bechdel. This is the follow-up to Fun Home, which I devoured. Are You My Mother? is a harder read - harder, as in intellectually demanding of the reader - but no less rewarding.

Review, Daniel James Brown, nonfiction
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
I came to love narrative nonfiction later as a reader - it's really been in just the last few years, since I read Unbrokenthat I've been drawn to this kind of story. I blurbed Brown's book in the Best of Audiobooks post earlier this week. I'll just add here that people who like underdog stories, sports stories, or even wholesome and heartwarming love stories might like this book.

Rivka Galchen, review, nonfiction
Little Labors by Rivka Galchen

I have notes on this lovely and thought-provoking little book (it's only 130 pages) ready to write a review for Literary Quicksand. Spoiler alert: It'll be a rave. Modeled after Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book, a Japanese work written around the year 1000, Little Labors is "not a novel and not a diary and not poems and not advice, but it has qualities of each." The primary subjects are mothering, children, art, and literature - and the curious way in which you sink into motherhood, both loving it and held uncomfortably captive by it.

Mindy Kaling, review, nonfiction
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Last spring, my sister Mary read this when we went on a trip to Chicago. She kept laughing out loud while I was trying to fall asleep. "Hurry up and finish that," I told her. "Give it to me!" I went back and forth about including Kaling's book in my Top 5 because I read other, more "serious" titles I could choose instead.  But, I laughed my head off while reading this book. If I'm being honest, I didn't like those other books as much as this one. Mindy is super funny and a really good writer. I love the inside Hollywood anecdotes, and I want to be Mindy's friend. Top 5.

Patti Smith, review, nonfiction
Just Kids by Patti Smith
I became obsessed with this book this year. I've written about it a million (four) times already on this blog. I blurbed it in the audiobooks post, too. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but it just seems like Patti Smith has a really strong sense of herself. Her feelings are her feelings. Her art is her art. I really admire her, and I loved this recent piece in the New Yorker by her. I'm going to read her next book, M Train, in 2017 for sure.

Here are the other titles I read this year with little blurbs. The little blurbs are a nice addition for Book Lists 2016, I think.  Links go to the Literary Quicksand reviews I wrote.
  • Write Time by Kenneth Atchity - A definitive, yet gentle guide to completion and publication.
  • The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker - Alternately appalling and amusing.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown - The excellent TED talk on vulnerability suffices.
  • The Big Thing by Phyllis Korkki - A charming, quirky, and helpful menu of motivational strategies.
  • American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus - Loved the ghost story; endured the history and geneology.
  • The Year of Yes by Shona Rhimes - Like the sentiment, not sure about the style.
  • Still Writing by Dani Shapiro - An affecting but somewhat gloomy portrait of the writer's life
  • Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell - Cool sentences and word choices. I'm not into history enough to love it.
For teachers:
  • Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst - Effective lessons for engaging students in reading
  • Understanding Independent School Parents by Michael Thompson and Allison Fox Mazzola

Next Up: Favorite 5 Childrens and YA coming on Monday!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Best Of 2016: Audiobooks

audiobook reviews, best audiobooks
It's that time! I'm reviewing my year in reading starting today!

I've done a lot of writing about reading this year. In many cases, I've written about these books in the newsletter, in Writerly Wednesday, on Goodreads, or at Literary Quicksand, the book blog to which I contribute. So, I'm lifitng some sentences from myself for these blurbs. It's fine.

Here are the stats: I've read 63 books this year, including 17 audiobooks. This was an interesting year for audiobooks in that there were several books I loved, but that I wished I'd read on paper.  So, here are the best five audiobooks - books that do really well in this format - in alphabetical order by author.

wintergirls review, laurie halse anderson
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Narrated by Jeannie Stith.
Anderson is a master at writing teenaged girls with real and scary problems. Two years ago, I had this author on my list for The Impossible Knife of Memory, about a girl whose dad suffers from PTSD. In Wintergirls, eighteen year-old Lia details her spiral into mental illness and near-fatal anorexia. Her conditions intensify following the death of her ex-best friend Cassie, herself a bulimic who had called Lia 33 times on the night she died. Lia's pain gives rise to a raging fantasy life that terrified me and held me transfixed. Narrator Jeannie Stith conveyed Lia's desperation and confusion believably.

boys in the boat, daniel james brown
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Narrated by Ed Herrmann.
Brown's work is a riveting emotional portrayal of individual sacrifice and team dedication against the backdrops of the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler. Brown's primary subject is Joe Rantz, a sympathetic underdog from rural Washington, who together with eight other guys from the UW crew team, aim for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As narrators go, Ed Herrmann ranks among the best I’ve heard. He emotes without condescension or smarm. Nothing in his performance – not even the closest of crew races – seems overdone. Full review at Literary Quicksand.

just kids, patti smith, review
Just Kids by Patti Smith. Narrated by the author.
Smith's memoir, the story of her creative partnership with Robert Mapplethorpe, is a hypnotic and spare tribute to the artist's life.  Smith's writing floats along conversationally, deceptively simple. You're just reading, taking in the stories about art and life in the 1960s and 70s, until you’re  stunned by the beauty of a particular sentence. It happens over and over again. I loved hearing Smith reading this herself. At one point in the recording, she sings a few bars, and I had chills. Full review at Literary Quicksand.

the martian, andy weir
The Martian by Andy Weir. Narrated by R.C. Bray.
The Martian is totally not my kind of book. In a super-sciency sci-fi novel (originally published serially on a blog!), Mark Watney gets left behind on Mars by his crew who understandably mistakes him for dead. As he's not dead, he describes his situation - the compromised equipment, the dearth of food, the loneliness and isolation. Watney's first person narration, interspersed eventually with vignettes of NASA problem-solvers on earth, kept me listening. R.C. Bray delivers it with a perfect deadpan, accentuating the strong humor (and strong language). This is a funny thriller with a happy ending, great for a road-trip with teens.

Monica Wood
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Narrated by Chris Ciulla.
My takeaway from this book is that "It's never too late." An odd eleven year-old Boy Scout befriends Ona Vitkus, a 104 year-old woman whom he convinces to both record memories ("shards" of her life) on tape AND to pursue a Guinness World Record (World's Oldest Licensed Driver). This is not a spoiler, as it happens right away: the eleven year-old dies of heart failure, and the 104 year-old befriends his sometimes-absent father, Quinn, who takes over the scouting duties. Chris Ciulla effectively conveys Quinn's crushing grief, the boy's lingering recorded voice, and Ona's high, breathy sarcasm, as well.

Here are the other audiobooks I listened to this year in alphabetical order by author. 
This year, I'm including a short blurb! Links go to full reviews I wrote for Literary Quicksand.

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - Charming, gimmicky, saccharine, and ageist.
  • The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly - Good writing, good plotting, fun characters.
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk - Filmy, dreamy, too smart.
  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler - I admire the book, but not the narration. Read the paper.
  • Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois - Engrossing, page-turning, self-important.
  • A Sudden Crush by Camilla Isley - Frothy, frivolous, fairty-tale fun
  • Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson - Far-fetched, but endearing.
  • Great House by Nicole KraussSerious, layered, accomplished, complex- read the paper.
  • Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty - Not my favorite Moriarty, but she's still my favorite.
  • After You by JoJo Moyes - Great fun to revisit Louisa Clark. A satisfying sequel.
  • Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell - Cool sentences and word choices. I'm not into history enough to love it a lot.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - An important book about whiteness, blackness, and the enduring trauma of American slavery. Read a paper copy.
Click HERE for booklists from 2014 and 2015.

Next up: On Friday, I'll publish my list of nonfiction faves from this year's reading.

Monday, December 19, 2016

2016 Best Of: 10 "Popular" Posts

Best of, Popular Posts

Right off the bat, I'm going to tell you for the sake of transparency that this is going to be an imperfect list. For one, I redid my Google Analytics in April. The Better Living Through Criticism series ran in March. Maybe I'm the only one who really liked that? Now, there's no way to tell.

Secondly, by far the most popular posts on this blog are the Book Top-5s. There's no contest, like, at all.

Those book posts will be up in the next week. Due to popular demand (okay, one person asked), I put links to the back issues of the Book Lists on a new page. Yay! So, replace 7-10 on this list with the forthcoming book lists, and we're getting close to an accurate picture of what people like to read here.

In any case, it's been a good year. I love writing, and I'm keeping this blog again next year. So, that's a #win.

10: Harshing My Vibe

I have no idea why people clicked on this. It's a story about my wallet getting stolen two and-a-half years ago. ?!

9: Summer Status Report

This features the picture of the cyst I had removed from my head. Only on number 9 and already I'm questioning my work here as a blogger.

8: In 6 Weeks, We'll Be Swimming in Outdoor Pools 

This was a list of 3 Excruciating Truths About Minnesota Spring. It's from before I learned about SEO, and how the title of your post should be more informative. But, I liked those old titles from The West Wing and Project Runway and Random Song Lyrics, too.

7: Eighty-Eight MPH

I linked to a recipe about homemade energy bars. That must be why people liked this? I'm feeling increasingly inadequate while compiling this list.

6: Concert Review: The Dixie Chicks

"My brother Noah said it seemed like Natalie had a run-in with a lawnmower, but that's ridiculous. Natalie looked super chic, and I love everything about her."

5: Back 2 School: Social Graces

An embarrassing story about my poor behavior in school meetings. Gratitude Buddies. I laughed out loud at that. No one else did.

4: Self-Examination: And How Are YOU Crazy?

Confessional about my failings in marriage. Meta: I'm feeling better about myself now that the posts on this list are actually stories I've written and not random things that people click when looking for something else. 

3: Annals of Parenting: The Birthday Deal

The party buy-out. One of my best parenting decisions of all time.

2: You Can't Know

This is nice. It's when I launched the Word Savvy Weekly(ish) Newsletter. People clicked it. Lots of people get the newsletter, and that makes me happy.

1: Annals of Medicine

I'm so not suprised about this. It's my bulbous and purple hemorrhoid. It was a good one. Everyone benefits when I have weird and funny medical problems.

Tell Me:

Which was your fave? What's the most popular post on your own blog? I'm kind of dying to know. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Winter Break 2016

winter break, no school, dance captain, survival

Good news: It's Winter Break in these parts. I made it through the week. The students did their work, mostly. I did my work as best I could.

We ended the week - I'm talking Friday afternoon with an hour to go - with a rowdy cross-grade level game of Pictionary/Charades. There was screaming. It was hard to take.

Then, we went to the gym for the last 15 minutes and did the paper plate dance with recycled paper instead of plates. Here's how the dance goes: a leader, in this case Lynne, our Assistant Director, stands in front. The teachers stand behind. The music starts. Everyone is holding a piece of recycled paper in each hand.

Then, you follow the arm-centric dance movements of the leader, shaking and rattling the paper in your hands, doing swirls and twists and cheerleader-type movements. There were some jumps and kicks, too, with paper thrusting and rattling. Everyone's more or less in sync because we're following the leader.

Can you picture it? Someone took a video, but I can't find it online yet.

In any case, I really gave the dance my all, as I always do because I'm a dance captain at our middle school. Shef, who was seated in the front row, said I tried hard. My heart pounded with the effort.

And, then I grabbed my own personal children, and we left the school. I've got a lot of to-dos, but for the morning, I'm going to chill. I think we got nine inches of snow last night. The current air temperature is 7 degrees and falling. Maybe I'll catch up on my reading. Revise a chapter of my novel. You know. Indoor activities.

Fashion woes: The red sweatshirt

My first stint as Dance Captain at my Middle School

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Musical Theater Review: Fun Home

Fun Home, Alison Bechdel, musical, touring company

I don't really know how to review musical theater, but as I learned in the Better Living Through Criticism blogging challenge, I enjoy reviewing things even if I have no context or qualifications for doing so. Here we go!

Fun Home is based on a brilliant graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel. Here's what both the book and the musical are about: Alison grows up in a small Pennsylvania town. Her dad is unpredictable and exacting. Sometimes, he's warm and brilliant and talking about books and intellectual life. Sometimes, he's angry and yelling and the kind of person that makes you feel like no matter what, you can't do anything right.

Have you lived with this type of person? If you have, you'll recognize Bruce (Robert Petkoff), viscerally. The portrayal made me feel a little sick, especially during the part when Helen (Susan Moniz), the mom, makes the kids furiously clean the house while Bruce takes a shower. Then, everyone stands straight for inspection, and Helen sings a line about never knowing what will happen when Bruce comes down the stairs.

In the musical - I saw the national touring company of Fun Home - a 43 year-old Alison (Kate Shindle) remains on stage the whole time. She's trying to write a book about growing up with her dad. She conjures memories and tries to caption them, as in cartoons.  There's a small Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino), a kid, who wants desperately to be accepted in Bruce's world, but who also finds his demands troubling. There's a medium Alison (Abby Corrigan), a wonderfully awkward first-year college student. Her posture and especially her jeans are awkward. She discovers through reading, and then via Joan (Karen Eilbacher) that she's gay. When she tells her parents this news, she finds out that her dad is also gay.

Memory is paramount in this show. You watch the oldest Alison try to remember things. "It's just memory," I think is what she says. "I'm remembering something." The appropriate sets slide on and off the stage as backdrop for these moments. In fact, the whole show mirrors the writing of Bechdel's memoir. In the beginning, there's no fanfare - Shindle just walks across the stage to her desk and starts working and talking, and you realize it's begun. The orchestra sits upstage on a platform. You see bricks and would-be props around. Then, scenes get built. Drawings get made. Childhood blurs with adolescence blurs with a adulthood. Alison tries to process a terrible tragedy, and the walls appear all around her.

You know something bad is coming, and you want happiness for Alison and her family. It seems like, just like in real life, some things turn out okay, and other things really don't. The songs reflect these dual outcomes. They don't rhyme, and they have repeating refrains about specific images that echo the nature of memory. For instance, what stands out to Small Alison about a handsome butch woman is the woman's huge ring of keys. That's the chorus of the song about that memory - the keys.

Can you tell I loved this? I have seen three great plays of late, two which I reviewed right here. December may become known as the Month of Theater. I hope not. December is busy enough already.

Young love in the back of my English classroom.

When I tried to coach Shef into winning a research study. What is wrong with me?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Annals of December: Keep Truckin'

December, Stress, Winter Break

One week left until Winter Break. For better or for worse, the emotional ups and downs of a teaching calendar are pretty predictable. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but we're now staring down the barrel of one of the trickiest weeks of the year.

Here's the kind of thing that happens when I'm hanging on by a thread, like I always am at this time of year:

You know how when you press lock on your key fob? That turns off the headlights. I've been relying on that handy kill switch for six years now. But all of a sudden, the key fob stopped turning the lights off. I first noticed it when I went to visit my mom two weeks ago. Since then, I've been doing a good job of remembering to manually turn the lights off. I've only forgotten sometimes, and then only for short periods.

Fast forward to yesterday when I took my car to get serviced. They charged me a hundred and twenty dollars to diagnose my problem, which stems from a broken censor in the driver's side door. It was going to cost another hundred and sixty dollars to fix it. 


I decided to wait to fix it until the new year because of all the other December expenses. That seemed responsible.

When I got home from the service station, I promptly forgot to turn my lights off. I left them on all day long. By the time I was ready to leave for The Christmas Carol with Mac, the battery was completely discharged. That's how my owner's manual refers to "dead."

I made the most of this car situation by first using Uber to travel to and from the theater. Then, this morning, I purchased some jumper cables and learned how to start my car all by myself. Even when things are tricky, you can always rely on a Life Long Learner identity to power you through.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

I Did Another Embarrassing Thing

Something happened to me the other week.

I mean, to be fair, probably I should say, "I did something the other week."

But I didn't do the thing on purpose. It was just one of those things.

What happened was this: I was in a professional context. To be specific, I was in a Q & A with a candidate for our Middle School Director position. So, I was interviewing a guy that could be my new boss. I was trying to be impressive-like.

I had a question about the role of parents in our community. "Could you comment on the role of parents in our community?" I asked the candidate. Now that I'm thinking about it, I probably should have asked something more specific, but oh well. It's what happens next that I'm trying to tell you about:

Somehow while asking this question, I inadvertently depressed the home button on my iPhone. I pressed it for too long - long enough to summon Siri.

I don't talk to Siri that much. Mac programmed her to call me "Mac Likes to Eat Cheese." If I ask Siri what my name is, she says, "You're Kathleen, but you asked me to call you Mac Likes to Eat Cheese."


I had summoned Siri, but I had no question for her. I had a question for the candidate, which he began answering. Siri must have thought I was still talking to her, and she said really loudly - loud enough for the whole room to hear - "I didn't quite get that." And then she started to say something else while I fumbled frantically to silence her.

Of course, the whole room heard this. All of my colleagues heard it, and the candidate did too. The poor guy was just getting into his answer about parents as partners. People laughed and laughed, like guffawing. My co-workers really thought my Siri mishap was hilarious. I caught some wiping tears from their eyes.

Of course, I apologized profusely, and the poor contender continued his answer.


After the meeting, lots of people made fun of me for inviting Siri to the Q & A. My friend Adriana patted my arm in a conciliatory kind of way. "I feel like this is just the kind of thing that happens to you," she said.

It totally is, I'm sorry to say. Why am I so embarrassing?

Gratitude Buddies

Sometimes Getting Out of Sweatpants

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Theater Review: The Oldest Boy

theater review, jungle theater, sarah ruhl, motherhood

The true story of the evening is that I didn't even really want to go. I'd been running around all day - driving to hockey and doing school work and lots of other stuff.  I felt harried and stressed.

But, I was meeting a friend and I'd purchased the tickets.

And lucky for me, The Jungle Theater is a beautiful building with a small, intimate theater. My row had lots of leg room, and I didn't even have to stand when people wanted to get by. As soon as I sat, I was happy I rallied.

The play begins, and the main character is a woman who could have been me. A white mother in a large city, she sits on the stage, meditating. Her nose itches. She's wiggling. She opens her eyes, sees the audience, and turns the whole operation around. With her back to us, she tries again. There are little bursts from the baby monitor. The mother stands and sighs; she determines the waking to be a false alarm. She flops on the couch, picks up a book, and pulls a secret stash of potato chips from behind a cushion.

We laugh. The doorbell rings. It's monks. "Maybe you're looking for my husband?" the woman asks. Her husband is Tibetan. He's in exile. The family is Buddhist. The monks are looking for the husband, but then again they aren't - they're really looking for the couple's three year-old son, the oldest boy. Tenzin, the monks believe, is a reincarnated lama - a high teacher. The boy should be educated in a monastery in India. He won't live anymore with his mother and father. The mother balks. The father says, "You can't just be Buddhist when it's convenient."

That's basically just the first 30 minutes. The rest of the story prompts you to think about this: to what extent do our children belong to us? To what extent are they people of the world, apart from us?

And the play is also about love and trust, teachers and teaching.

At the end, as I wiped away tears, I thought to myself that The Oldest Boy is the best play I've ever seen. I actually think it is.

To be fair, It might not be the best play you've ever seen, but it was perfect for me at the exact time I saw it.

And here's something extraordinary that I almost forgot to mention: the boy in the play is a puppet. The role is played by the puppet and an adult actor. It totally works, and it's not distracting at all. The puppet has a luminous face, and the interplay between it and its actor is lovely and moving.

If you live in Minneapolis, I think you should go see this show before it closes next week. And then, you should tell me if you liked it.

Sense and Sensibility Review

After the Apple Review

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Film Review: The Diplomat

The Diplomat, David Holbrooke, Richard Holbrooke

I saw a movie last night called The Diplomat. It's a documentary about a real-life person named Richard Holbrooke. You might know Richard Holbrooke as the guy who brokered the Dayton Accords which ended the war in Bosnia in 1995. You might also know him as the Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan under Secretary Clinton. Holbrooke tried to sell President Obama on his Afghanistan policy until the day he died. On that very day, he had an appointment with David Axelrod at the White House, but Axelrod wouldn't give him time in the Oval. Holbrooke and Obama didn't get along, as it turned out. That dynamic, as portrayed in the film, fascinated me.

Anyway, I saw this documentary at  a special screening. After I finished watching it, the director, David Holbrooke, answered questions about its making and talked about his subject, who was also his father. You can imagine that Richard Holbrooke might have been something of an absentee dad, what with all the State Department positions he held in the administrations of three different presidents.

Luckily, it seemed like David had mostly forgiven his dad for being gone a lot. At least, he totally understands that his dad was doing really important stuff while not at home. I was pleased to note that David seemed pretty well-adjusted.

Here's how The Diplomat impacted me:

  • I felt like I should know more about foreign affairs. I found some podcasts from the Council on Foreign Relations, so that ought to help.
  • It reaffirmed my commitment to education. Kids need to understand that big, complex problems can get solved, and that they can be part of those solutions.
  • It made me want to be a risk-taker. Yes, there are big decisions and tough choices, and not everyone is going to like you. But, being liked isn't the whole thing. Sometimes it's more about looking around, learning, rolling up your sleeves, and trying some things.
I highly recommend The Diplomat.  5 stars! You don't have to go to a special screening, but if there's one available, you probably should. It's always good to talk to the artist and understand what he was trying to accomplish. I like that.