Seven Deadly Wicked YA Books to Read: My Seventh Heaven of YA

{This post written by Madison Ward, Intern}

Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

Time and time again, my sister Kennedy and I discuss which books we believe are superior to all the hundreds of other books we’ve read, but we always find it nearly impossible to decide. How does someone decide what is their favorite song or favorite movie? Each story has its own ‘feel’. Some authors write more flowery-like, some more harsh. Some stories are romance based, some supernatural, some dystopian. Others, like Marvel and DC, compete with friend connections, some with independence.

They all have parts that I love and they all have parts that I despise; they all move me and they all placate me. Entertainment comes in different packages and it just ends up feeling like I am picking my favorite child. There is no number one, or number two, or number ten. They all have their own ‘thing’. The best I can do is grouping and comparing, like this favorite Young Adult (YA) book list. I do have an odd number and there is one more Fantasy/Science Fiction/Dystopian book than the Contemporary/Contemporary Romance section. To me, Fantasy/Science Fiction/Dystopian books are more surprising and cultured because of the ‘other world’ societies they have had to build, but all seven made my list, so that means they were all great, unbiasedly speaking, of course (wink). 

And remember: this list is MY list. My sister’s may be different, my friends’ may be different, but these are the seven YA books that I, in my entire reading career so far, have enjoyed the most and still enjoy to this day. I hope you all enjoy them as well!

Fantasy/Science Fiction/Dystopian

Summoning.jpg
  1. The Summoning (Darkest Powers series)... This book was the second book I ever read from Kennedy’s reading list on my internet tablet. Beginner’s luck! I cannot count the number of times I have re-read this series; I love it. It may have something to do with it having such a strong connection to my first good experiences with reading, but it is also a well thought out series with strong teen characters and ‘dark powers’ no less! Chloe Saunders is fifteen when she starts seeing people that no one else can. It ends up getting her into some trouble and she is soon placed in a troubled teens home with some interesting others that may be more troubled than they originally seem. Who can resist that?! It may be a bit old by now, but age is not a factor for me for reading; I just read it a couple months ago. It definitely makes my top YA book list of my reading lifetime.
  2. Relentless (Relentless series)... I believe I started reading the Relentless series about one or two years ago, but I had been putting it off for a couple before that. When I would look at recommended books on different websites it was usually there, but I just couldn’t push myself to read some random vampire book. Let me tell you this: it is not a vampire series. Seventeen year old Sara Grey has been living with her uncle for two years after her father was murdered. Convinced he was killed by a vampire and knowing herself there are more creatures out there than humans know, she meets a man while out with her two friends and she starts to see that the supernatural society is even more complicated than she realized. It is much, much more than than just some random vampire series, and vampires are hardly the only monster to grace these pages. This series is dynamic and complex with a spectacular female lead that will never cease to entertain. Don’t hesitate to read it.

  3. Demons at Deadnight (Divinicus Nex series)... This series was also recommended to me by my sister and because I trust and love her (for the most part) I read it right away. I was not disappointed. Relentless has characters that constantly entertain, but the Divinicus Nex series takes it to the next level. Not only is the main character amusing, but the friends she meets will keep you coming back for more and more--not to mention the specials talents they all possess. Aurora Lahey is also seventeen and she and her family have just moved back to their hometown after many, many years. So many in fact, she forgot about the group of boys that used to be her best friends growing up. Aurora has been seeing demons for what seems like forever and she has learned to keep it secret, but the boys seem to have secrets of their own and she’s not sure who she can trust when the demon attacks start coming faster and harder to run away from. I have read the first three books of this series, but there is still three more to come and I can hardly wait!.

  4. Shatter Me (Shatter Me series)... Oh. My. Gosh. Shatter Me is like the champagne of dystopian series. I have read the Divergent series, but I have not read the Hunger Games series; however, I will promise you that this series is ten times better--at LEAST--than both of those and all the other ones that you can imagine, combined. The Shatter Me series is my favorite series of all time, which is saying a lot! Juliette is seventeen and she has been locked up for 264 days. Her touch kills people. Literally. Filled with self-hatred and slowly diminishing hope, Juliette finally receives company in the cement prison that has held her captive, but who is this man and can she trust him when even her own family has betrayed her? This series takes place in an apocalyptic-type time, where the sky and earth have become sickly from chemicals and The Reestablishment, a new government, has taken over as humanity's last hope. I may enjoy collections like Divinicus Nex that are truly entertaining in a funny, casual, and comfortable way, but this series is developed, it is mature, and it is a MUST read. Tahereh Mafi may be the most talented writer I have ever come across and that includes you, Shakespeare, and all those other old dudes. Maybe that is just my opinion, but I have had reluctant friends read it, including my mom, and they were blown away. The series is entertaining and intense, along with exquisite character development. Don’t doubt me on this.

Contemporary/Contemporary Romance

 

  1. Love Me Never (Lovely Vicious series)...Different than almost all of the other books, my sister Kennedy did not really enjoy this one.. She did not connect as well as I did with the writer’s voice and, though I still slightly shun my sister for it, it’s fine. I know not everyone loves the same banter and humor as I do, but if anyone understands my taste it would be Sara Wolf, Love Me Never’s author. Her writing is flipping hilarious and, along with The Summoning series, I re-read this series all the time, although it is not as old as The Summoning. Isis Blake has just moved and been welcomed into a new high school after getting away from her mom’s ex-boyfriend. She and her mom are better off alone and Isis accepts that. She makes random friends here and there, but socializing is more for show than for actual feelings, that’s what she tells herself at least. Soon though, people start tearing down her walls, most of all Jack Hunter, the famous ‘Ice Prince of East Summit High’. This series is both entertaining in the funny, casual way, but also entertaining in the intense, more mature, internal struggling type of way and may cause sensitive readers discomfort, but don’t shy away for that reason! This is my favorite contemporary series.
  2. The Sea of Tranquility... Most GOOD contemporary romances do include sensitive subjects --sorry to break it to you-- and this does sit in that category. Nastya Kashnikov just moved and joined a new school as well and plans to be as antisocial as possible. She has some demons in her past that only leave her mind, enough to even sleep, after running, and so she goes every night. One night she falls upon a garage with a boy inside of it she recognizes from her carpentry class and is drawn enough to keep visiting. The Sea of Tranquility is a harder, more painful book than I usually read. Not that I do not respect actual pain, but because when I read, I read to entertain myself, and sometimes books get so tragic it is hard to just relax. This book did have some of that, but obviously it was amazing or it would not be on this list. This book is very insightful and I think it is a great YA romance to read. So do it!

  3. Vain (The Seven Deadly series)... Vain. Where do I even start? This book is the first in the Seven Deadly series, followed by Greed, Fury, and so on. Each book includes new characters and they are all well done, but the first one is by far my favorite. This book does contain a limited amount of drugs, alcohol, and violence, but it is worth wading through. This series focuses on a group of ‘friends’ who were brought together because their parents are all extremely rich. They party and participate in illegal acts, until the main character, Sophie Price, gets caught and is finally properly punished. Sent to Africa, she must help out at an orphanage until her services are up. A must read for all teenagers, and a highly recommended read for everyone else!

Titles that almost made the list:

  1. Throne of Glass
  2. Immortal Beloved
  3. Night World
  4. Born at Midnight
  5. Stupid Girl
  6. Chase the Dark
  7. Morganville Vampires
  8. Obsidian
  9. Significance

Books, Movies, and Music, Oh My!

{This post written by Madison Ward, Intern}

Madison, at work with her Genesis staff. 

Madison, at work with her Genesis staff. 

As a young child, I hated reading. Hated it. I would do as little as I could, try just enough to get through a lesson and thank God when it was over. Going to Mrs. Pianowski for reading assistance as a kid with the only two other challenged kids and “never getting around” to taking my SRI [Scholastic Reading Inventory] tests in Mrs. Yeakey’s class, was the norm. In fact, as crazy as it is to think about today, at that time in my life I was a grade-A math student. Math!

Six grade was the year when things started to change. Christmas came around and I got an internet tablet. How old it seems now, but when I had it, it was brand-new. Of course I could play games and watch YouTube videos, but as entertaining as that was, I couldn’t help but be jealous of how much my sister Kennedy was getting out of hers. She was downloading book after book and sitting around just staring at her screen, faintly smiling and stifling laughter. I remember back to when my Mom used to read like that all the time when we were younger. She would sit on the couch in the living room, on the other side of the room, away from where we were watching tv, and she would just laugh and laugh.

I thought, “Well. I might as well try one of Kennedy’s, since we all share the same account and the books were in my library as well.”

And it was… great. And I mean really great! As in, I didn’t really know what the word “great” meant before. I could go cheesier and say it was “life-changing”, it was “real”, it was the “more” I didn’t know I was searching for. Who knew? Who knew that characters could be so charming, that plots could be so caustic, that lines could punch me in my gut and knock me down with it? I definitely didn’t know!

I had seen many, many movies. But books felt different. Partly, because at that age it wasn’t as though I had an opportunity to try out a lot of different films to find what I liked or what “felt” better, but the book… it was me. It brought me in and pulled me close in a way that I had never felt reading the books I had been assigned at school. Since it was not forced upon me, since it was my choice to read that book, it was vastly better. I didn’t feel the bitter resentment that usually accompanied reading. It was also the genre, though. I had no clue that there were books out there like that. “Hamlet” and “Where the Red Fern Grows” did little to nothing for me. I craved fiction and fantasy and nontraditional, non-educational, entertaining books. I kept reading. I read and I read and I read and I believe in what Stephen King says: "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

This out-of-class, out-of-context reading opened up English and writing to my life. My passion carried over into the humble awareness that is the English language and the real meaning of words. I did much, much better with this in middle school and that carried over to high school. Journalism class was a class I was hesitant about taking. I thought the news was boring and I didn’t want to just be writing statistics and displaying factual information in a slightly different way than someone else. But I found that it wasn’t boring, after all.

Of course it wasn’t exactly titillating, but afterward it was as if I had a higher respect for the way people wrote. I paid attention to things I never had before, like the structure and the syntax of the lines. The development of each individual piece was unique in that everyone was a little bit different and each had a special character to it, like a written snowflake. Since I had a lot of respect for the teacher, Mr. Efsits, and enormously enjoyed his class, I decided to take his Creative Writing course as well. We dug deeper in the understanding of syntax. We became aware of the flow of it, the development in the sense that it had movement, that it moved in rhythm with the structure in that funny way books and movies make you feel more than just the one-liners. It built and it soared; without those two classes, I do not think I would be in the same place that I am right now. After that class, my name was automatically submitted to the staff of the school magazine, GENESIS, because I had taken Journalism, which guaranteed me at least an interview. I also was really interested in joining myself and felt pushed to become a part of what I was gradually realizing was my future.

Madison with her co-editor-in-chief Morgan Gonsoski. 

Madison with her co-editor-in-chief Morgan Gonsoski. 

Since then, my media and entertainment field of interest has only grown and my idea of what I will choose for a career has become less and less narrow. I am now inclined more towards technology and e-books more because that was my first positive experience with reading material that I enjoyed. When I read from paperback books, I just feel like I’m reading a torturously boring school book, and I did not have the best experiences with those. But that old internet tablet led me to love books, which led me to love writing, to reviewing, to computer designing, to film, and, also, to soundtracking and music. As I said, my field of interest is pretty broad. I am lucky to have so many choices and found so many loves this early in life, and I am so very lucky that I have such a supportive family and have had phenomenal high school teachers. They have all helped me develop my interest and helped steer my motivation to where I am now and where I expect to be 10, 15, 30, 50 years from now. 

Now what the heck am I going to do about it?!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 

 

 

Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins put the ‘Woman’ in Wonder Woman

Official movie poster. Photo credit: DC Comics

Official movie poster. Photo credit: DC Comics

{Review by Madison Ward, Intern}

Taking in around $103 million in domestic gross at the box office, about 30 million more than what was expected, Wonder Woman has broke the record for best opening weekend for a female director, Patty Jenkins. The movie has not only a female director, but a female lead - a female superhero lead - the first in both DC and Marvel’s movies. Diana Prince is right up there with Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent in revenue and ratings, an A Cinemascore and Rotten Tomato rating of 93 percent.

Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot on the movie tour circuit.  Photo credit: Marvel.

Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot on the movie tour circuit.  Photo credit: Marvel.

The Amazonian was equally kind and hardcore, which resulted in a nice combo; her display of honorable strength snared every viewer’s attention and awe. It helps that the lead actress, Gal Gadot, is insanely gorgeous and actually knows how to do many of the  amazing stunts she did in the movie. Some people, including me, suspect she may actually be Wonder Woman in real life, from her background as an Israeli actress, model, martial artist, Miss Israel 2004, and - oh yeah - she also served in the Israeli Defense Forces for two years, along with the training she did for her part: swordsmanship, two types of Jiu-Jitsu, and Kung Fu kickboxing. Gal Gadot performed all her own stunts and on top of all of that, she was five months pregnant.

This film was impressive, not just in the strong main character, but also with the complete culture and society that was built. Patty Jenkins created a beautiful and developed world, one divided by innocent fantasy and harsh reality. The beaches of Themyscira versus the grey London and the dark No Man’s Land add a layer of confusion and reluctant doubt to Diana’s hopes of saving the world from Ares, the god of war, and the truth of susceptible humanity. These contrasting scenes and colors demonstrate a shift of emotion that is deeply felt, and the sharp architecture and design of the characters clothing was equally enthralling. Jenkins wove a modern story into a past existence in a way that World War I was more of an extension to her story, then her story an extension to it. The timelines just happen to correspond, they happen to take place during the same period and it doesn’t take away, or drift away the focus from her journey in the least.

The film reeled us in the most with the profound themes and conflicts Diana underwent that eventually led to the understanding and acceptance of herself, her experiences, and human nature in general. These themes include realism v. idealism, cynicism v. optimism, and just v. corrupted. Legend v. truth and/or mythological v. historical were also dilemmas leaned heavily upon throughout the film when Diana was convinced Ares was real while others thought he must be fiction. An enhanced simple plot governed Wonder Woman: man v. man, or in this case, woman, woman v. (her)self, her powers, and her strength, woman v. nature, the nature of humanity, of good v. evil and the line at which it is acceptable and/or not acceptable.

This was a story of growing, of learning, and of accepting. It’s a story of firsts and lasts, of love and love lost.

Diana’s story did include tragedy, like most stories do. Her love may have lost the ground war, her childhood may have been turned aside in order to follow her stubborn responsibility to protect and help others, leaving behind her culture, her family and the only reality she had ever known, and her innocent mindframe and endless faith may have been frayed, but Diana also benefited from this experience. Throughout the film, she underwent many losses, but she did grow and learn that life may be harder than she originally assumed and the cause isn’t perfect, but then there were opportunities to discover blinding love and new connections, new motives and new hope. She took from her sorrows new insight on humanity and and her godly power, knowledge about real, 3D love, rather than those 2D books from which she learned romance. Diana finally understood the pain and the dark shadows that seep into humans’ souls and came to understand the reality of what good and bad are and how there is an in between and that is just something one must live with.  

She did leave her family and some of the people she left them for may have died, but she was lucky to have met and befriended the people she did during her mission, because their sacrifices made it worth it. By the end, she knew that all the anger and desperate despair, the vengeance she so craved, would not bring the dead back. Diana gained control and a new kind of hope that told her leaving her homeland had been worth it, and she was a new woman to have not stayed and to have fought for something that no other could. All these new experiences turned to new metaphorical ‘windows’ of opportunity opening up to her government job later on in her life and, finally, to her partnership with none the other than Mr. Bruce Wayne himself.  

Can Wonder Woman live up to the hype?  Photo credit: DC Comics

Can Wonder Woman live up to the hype?  Photo credit: DC Comics

I want to say that I am more of a Marvel girl than DC. I have already invested so much of my time and my heart into each character, my attachment growing even further watching them all develop and intertwine with each other, but after watching this movie, I appreciate these DC Warner Brothers Pictures in a way that is completely new and refreshing. DC films, so far, have been relatively funny - nowhere near Marvel in regards to humor - but DC’s use of extremely independent main characters and, in this reviewer’s opinion, weak side characters to narrow our view point, along with following a strict storyline, is more demanding of my attention in certain ways compared to Marvel’s casual and ever flowing nature. Casual v. striking. They both entertain me. I like how Marvel is so humorous and warm, but I also respect the reality and hard plot and culture that DC relies upon. 

Wonder Woman is a strong film, especially for one that never once mentioned her being called Wonder Woman. It had heart and it had backbone. There was Diana and her cause and I think every viewer could feel that current of desperate energy that they conveyed together. Batman and Superman, honestly, haven’t done much for me, but Wonder Woman has made me a big fan of this growing DC universe.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Cars 3 Now Playing!

Disney's Cars was one of the first movies we watched with our son. It's funny, and sweet, and innocent, and contains messages about integrity, humility, and community. Lightning McQueen, Mater, Doc, and Sally are some of my favorite characters, and voiced by some of my favorite actors.

 

We have been eagerly anticipating the release of Cars 3, and as soon as this last baseball tournament of the summer wraps up this weekend, we'll have some time for movies and popcorn and cars. We're talking about celluloid cars, of course, but they're beautiful all the same. 

Want to check out a few clips from the movie? Check this out:

Welcome back, Cars characters!

Are you interested in a couple of Cars 3-related activities for your kids? 

Piston cup maze:

Spot the difference:

 

Ka-chow!  Enjoy the show. 

 

 

He is a better dad because I let them have their time, too

My essay on Father's Day is now live at the TODAY show parenting site! Click here to see it there, or read it in its entirety below. 

Will and T baseball.jpg

I woke before them this morning and padded silently to the sink for a sip of water. Turning back to look at the impression in the bed where I had been sleeping, my husband and son were snoozing face to face, their foreheads touching.

They look so much alike, I thought. I stopped to look, in wonder. They are so close.

When my son was born, I had to go back to work to support our family. I traveled, reluctantly, to cities around the country and occasionally, across the pond, requiring more days away from my family than I had liked. The postpartum anxiety I had suffered when he was a baby morphed into semi-normal maternal worrying (ranging to slightly obsessive), and before each trip, I had a long list of instructions for my husband.

At first, my husband didn’t say anything. He took my instructions and nodded his head and didn’t flinch. When I returned home after a week-long trip, I noticed our son was getting closer to my husband, and once, I admit I was driven to tears when my son asked for Daddy to put him to bed instead of me.

After I stopped being selfish about it, I came to the realization that I was very fortunate. Our son had two parents who could care for him equally well. Differently, but equally.

A short period of time after that realization, I was leaving for another trip, and I ticked off my worries to my husband, accompanied by a list of requests and procedural guidelines for parenting. Frankly, I was grilling him.

“Babe,” he stopped me, holding my stare. “Don’t you know that I love this boy as much as you do? That I can take care of him?”

I froze. Did I know that? Why was I trying to be both parents when I had a husband who was more than capable? I wasn’t giving him enough credit.

It occurred to me that my working and traveling gave my husband and son an opportunity to bond in ways they can’t while I’m there, because I take the lead. When I’m home, my son defaults to me; when I’m not, they can forge connections and make memories that are special to the two of them alone.

Contrary to general portrayals on sitcoms and even in popular children’s books, dads aren’t the bumbling idiots they’re often made out to be. Dads can feed, clothe, change diapers, and take care of their children to their best ability. The role of the father has come a long way since my mom was born, when they weren’t even allowed in the labor and delivery ward. Dads are great parents too, and maybe they can be even better if we let them do their job without micro-managing.

A few years ago, my husband and I had an argument. Frustrated and boiling over with stress after a tough week of business travel and illness that ran through our son, me, and our sitter, we were at an impasse.

Somewhere along this venting session, one of us said something to make the other laugh. And before I went upstairs for bed, I took his face in my hands and I said, “I want you to know that I think you are an outstanding husband and stellar father. No matter what, and no matter how mad I am at you, that is always true. You are the husband and father of our child I always wanted and I love you very much."

I watched his face transform. I saw tears blinked back. And I saw an expression in his face I did not expect to see: surprise.

And at that moment I realized I have not said those words nearly enough.

Since that moment, I take the time to tell him that he does a good job, and now that my son plays baseball and my husband coaches his team, I have watched their bond get even stronger with a shared love of the game. And every night, my husband reads to our son before bedtime, and they put their heads together and hold on tight in a bear hug that always pulls at my heart.

Dads CAN. And they do.

Introducing Madison Ward!

When I was in kindergarten, I met a young boy named Chad. We were in school together for many years, and grew up near each other. In junior high, I participated on a school geology trip to Colorado, and my teacher asked for volunteers to carry my nebulizer up the mountain (I was severely asthmatic). I am not 100% sure if Chad volunteered or was asked to do it, but he shouldered the extra weight in his pack all the way up Engineer Mountain so that I could climb it too.

In high school, I met Lisa through drill team. Lisa frequently had a smile on her face, and her eyes crinkled up as her smile got wider; she was always kind to me. As fate would have it, Lisa and Chad got married, and they had two beautiful daughters.

Fast forward... now Lisa and Chad's daughters go to the high school where we went to school. And their daughter Madison spends a lot of time in room A-104, where the journalists work on the magazine and yearbook, where I also spent a lot of time as yearbook editor.

When Madison called me to ask for advice on getting experience in the real world for her writing, I offered her an internship for the summer. I'm very excited to present to you Madison Ward, who will be writing for my blog once a week, focusing on movie and book reviews. Please welcome her! 

Here's Madison's official professional bio: 

Madison Ward is a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in Elkhart, Indiana and is the Editor-in-Chief of Elkhart Memorial High School’s student magazine, GENESIS, and yearbook, MONOLITH. She strives to work with both copy and design in her future careers, both editing and writing/making pages and, when writing, enjoys reviewing movies and books like she will be doing on this blog. At her school, she previously played basketball, but has this past year has gone back to soccer and hopes to letter in it before she graduates.

She is looking forward to her senior year, but is also a bit nervous and worried about what will come of it. She loves reading, watching TV and movies, listening to music, traveling, and reviewing and designing for all of those things. She also appreciates running, when she’s in shape, and attempting to bake, which so far hasn’t succeeded at all. She hates slow people walking through the halls at school, better yet, any hall, the phrase ‘lol’, and unfair situations, too long to explain. Although writing and designing are the professions she wishes to pursue, she has been told that she could also make a living as a comedian, a lawyer, a psychologist (which is actually her mom’s profession), and/or a detective, if that tells you anything about her personality.

She wants to help make people feel the things she feels when seeing or experiencing something and she feels like the only way to do that is to tell them about it so they can experience it, maybe with a new, added perspective, or design an advertisement or a label that will make them stop and try it as well. She strives to make a comfortable future for herself, where money isn’t an issue along with the added bonus of the entire white picket fence package, but also just strives to get through the day with only one morning cup of coffee, which probably doesn’t help her four feet nine inches height. Her favorite color is yellow and she loves the sun, with the occasional thunderstorm, and her goals for this summer include getting tan and buying a new wardrobe for the year, along with some skin and hair products, because why not indulge? She has loved avocados before they became such a popular trend and vanilla ice cream is her everything.

 

 

 

Touring gorgeous Arlington, Texas... and renewing my love for The Joshua Tree

I was 16 years old when U2's The Joshua Tree was released. My friends and I spent the weekends at the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan, listening to With or Without You on repeat. Many years later, I'd find myself belting out that song with friends the summer after my divorce, tears streaming down my face. 

In fact, I remember being quite unhappy with my parents when U2's tour stopped in Indianapolis my senior year in high school, and a friend asked me to drive three hours from our town to the concert. Absolutely not, my mother said. And I huffed and puffed and pouted about it. 

I did get to see them, eventually, in 2003, and it's a bittersweet memory because of where I was in my life and the company I was keeping at the concert. My head wasn't all in. 

When tickets went on sale for the Dallas show, I jumped at the chance. I was going, no matter what. It took some cajoling to convince my husband of the necessity of purchasing $100 tickets, but he knows my passion for U2 and he understood. 

The show was to take place at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, which is southwest of Dallas proper. My friend Leigh Ann picked me up on Friday afternoon, and we headed north. Our first stop was our hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites at Arlington South, changed clothes, and situated our things for later. The first thing we noticed about the hotel was the quirky-fun number plates on every room, with similarly adorable images on the key cards. The second thing we noticed was WOW, THE ROOM IS GIANT. (We both happened to bring our Dove bags from the Mom2Summit a few weeks before, so we were matchy-matchy.) 

Arlington Hampton inn full.jpg

We were looking for a place to have dinner pre-U2, and our friends at the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau directed us to some fun places in town to visit before the show, and they were right on the money. We decided to check out Legal Draft Beer Co in the Urban Union area, which is right next door to Sugar Bee Sweets Bakery. I was disappointed we didn't get to go inside the bakery because we arrived 5 minutes after closing, but you can bet I'll make that a priority next time I'm in town.

Legal Draft Beer has a great vibe with a family-friendly approach; there are games inside and outside for all, and a patio suitable to bring the furry members of your family too. They offer tours on Saturdays and they're open Thursday-Sunday every week. And they have homemade root beer, which is always a great thing. 

We needed to get some food in our bodies before heading to the stadium to dance and sing for a few hours, so the people at Legal Draft Beer Co directed us to Grease Monkey Burger Shop, an easy two blocks away. The place was jam-packed when we arrived at about 6 PM on a Friday night, and although the line was backed up, it moved very quickly. 

As a confirmed automotive nut, I loved the décor of Grease Monkey, including the car hoods hanging over the counter and hand-painted with their menu. Leigh Ann and I couldn't decide between a salad and a burger, so we got one of each and split it. I'm so glad we did, because both were dynamite. The Black and Blue Burger had a nice char on the meat and the bun was soft and flavorful. The Cobb salad was chock-full of fresh ingredients and filled us up.  We also loved the colorful soda display on ice at the register. 

We were enjoying ourselves so much we would have stayed, but we wanted to catch at least part of the Lumineers' set before U2 took the stage, so we headed out. We had the foresight to purchase parking in advance, so we had a great spot, but in hindsight, Grease Monkey offered what appeared to be a free shuttle to the concert, so that is an excellent option for next time. 

The entire area is getting ready for a new Texas Rangers stadium; Texas Live! is a mixed-use entertainment complex that will bring an upscale hotel, the world’s largest PBR (Professional Bull Riders) bar, convention space, beer garden, retail, and more to Arlington. My husband, son, and I are all big Rangers fans, so we're looking forward to that next summer. 

The Lumineers were terrific, and we're glad we were able to see them as a bonus. U2 started their segment a little later than expected, but no one minded because the crowd was so excited to hear this concert. They kicked it off with Sunday Bloody Sunday, and I was instantly transported to my teenage years watching MTV, and by the time they started their second song, New Year's Day, the tears were rolling down my cheeks.  Two hours flew by, and it was everything I had hoped for, including a stunning stage set. 

After a quick 15-minute drive, we settled in at the Hampton, tired and happy. Our beds were cozy, and we both slept like rocks. We had a handy refrigerator for our water and kolaches from the Czech Stop in West, Texas, and lots of room for both of us. 

In the morning, a bountiful breakfast buffet awaited us on the first floor just off the lobby, and the area was well appointed, with plenty of space and comfortable seating. I have never met a waffle station that I didn't like, and this one was no exception. I would definitely choose this hotel again for another concert in Arlington; it was just what we needed. 

Bono, Adam, Larry, and The Edge... come back to Texas soon. I miss you already. 

My room at the Hampton Inn was covered by the Arlington Convention and Visitors' Bureau; all opinions are my own. Need more tips on Arlington? Here's their very fun and informative site: https://www.arlington.org/

Listen To Your Mother

Me and Leigh Ann Torres, my co-producer from 2014-2016

Me and Leigh Ann Torres, my co-producer from 2014-2016

Five years of listening

My first LTYM performance in 2013 - my topic was summoning up my courage as a new mom and trust that my newborn son would be OK, and so would I.

In 2013, I set a goal to be cast in the Listen To Your Mother show in Austin, a stage show featuring stories about motherhood. I wrote an essay about how difficult it was to hand over my son to a caretaker when I had to go back to work after my maternity leave, and submitted it to the producers. A few weeks later, I found myself trembling with nervousness at the auditions for the show, and a few weeks after that, received the email confirming that I had been chosen.

The 2016 cast - they're super shy.  :-D

The 2016 cast - they're super shy.  :-D

Since that day, my life has been changed for the better. Through Ann Imig's Listen To Your Mother organization, I improved my confidence, met a whole lot of wonderful people, and had the extraordinary privilege of listening to stories about motherhood that made me cry my eyes out or laugh hysterically. And sometimes both. 

2016: As parents, we all want to teach our children how to respond appropriately to difficult situations. However, what we're thinking in our heads may be different than what we actually say.

The final Austin show

We hosted our last show in Austin on April 29, just a few weeks ago. Our cast, as they do every year, has bonded over this experience, and we have a dozen new friends every season. I miss these men and women immensely now that I don't see them on a regular basis, but I can see that they are spreading their wings and flying off to new destinations, every one. 

My co-producer Susanne Kerns is not only warm, generous, and hilarious, she is like Martha Stewart with extra caffeine. She's amazing.

My co-producer Susanne Kerns is not only warm, generous, and hilarious, she is like Martha Stewart with extra caffeine. She's amazing.

This year, on my final curtain call for LTYM, my mom and dad were in town to see me. Having my mom in the audience while I read this piece about her was an experience I can't describe or explain. It was a magical moment that I got to share with my mom right in front of me, eyes shining as I took the stage. 

I love my mom to the moon and back. She's small but mighty.

I love my mom to the moon and back. She's small but mighty.

Thank you, Listen To Your Mother, for the experience, the friendship, and the love all around. 

If you'd like to read my piece from this year's show, please see it at the Today Show Community site here: The Things My Mama Didn't Say

Kristin and mom

Unstuck

For the past year, I've been stuck. 

I've been writing, yes, but perfection paralysis has become a real thing, and I find myself editing my pieces to excess, afraid to show up if my words weren’t polished to death. I’ve been hiding most of my words in reported pieces and research that I love at sites like The Washington Post (I still pinch myself every time I'm published there!), but there are ideas and phrases and paragraphs straining to burst free.

Sometimes, all it takes is adding one pebble to the stream to change the course, and for me, attending the Mom 2.0 Summit last week in Orlando, Florida was the event to push me in a new direction. Surrounded by change makers and women who inspired me, I could see that it was time to get moving. Sitting on some of these dreams I have and waiting for them to take flight on their own wasn’t going to happen.

My highlights:

#RealBeauty is not about what kind of beauty is better than another. It's about being YOU. Being real. 

#RealBeauty is not about what kind of beauty is better than another. It's about being YOU. Being real. 

1) Real Beauty

Dove's message of #RealBeauty resonates with me in so many ways. I attended the self-esteem workshop and met the lovely Ruth of Viva Veltoro, and we both got a little choked up talking about teaching our kids about what beauty means and what it doesn't mean. 

When my son was a baby, I was using an expensive organic soap on his soft skin, and he was constantly experiencing rashes. My pediatrician recommended Dove, and we've been using that ever since. Voila: no more rashes. Their new line, Baby Dove, is even more gentle than the Dove we already love, and their new logo is a great extension of their brand. 

IMG_2568.JPG

Dove

Dove brought a lot of women a lot of joy in their suite, giving us the gift of good hair. I gave my stylist, Whitney, carte blanche, and she came up with an intricate fishtail braid that made me feel like a grownup. 

2) Vroom

Kia is a brand I have grown to love over the past two years, and my friend Elaine and I continued our tradition of tandem ride and drives from last year's Mom 2.0 Summit and took a Kia Optima Hybrid EX for a spin. This brand makes automobiles that are thoughtful and comfortable, and the warranty is spectacular. 

For some reason, they didn't let us take the new twin-turbo V6 Stinger out for a joyride. It's billed as an all-wheel drive sedan with a sports-car feel, and I'm looking forward to trying it out soon. We look good in front of it, don't we? 

3) Sponsors

All of the sponsors at the exhibition hall were much appreciated, and each of the representatives took the time so speak with us and learn more about us. Special shoutouts to the men and women at:

- Smarty Pants vitamins (which I am now taking regularly - they convinced me why theirs are better than the ones I have been taking for most of my life); Fresh Wave and OxiClean, for making my house smell better; Prudential for the fun Jeopardy game; Similac for the friendly representatives who gamely played cornhole with us; TocaBoca and Treehouse, for teaching me about new apps to help my family. 

- I told the women at the Olive Garden booth that I have great memories of OG - on my 16th birthday, my family and I were in Orlando visiting Disneyworld, and we were looking for a place to have dinner. We stumbled upon our very first Olive Garden - a two-story delight on International Drive - and fell in love with it. 

- Amazon Free Time has been on my radar, and I really like the options for parental controls. Did you know that with an Amazon Prime membership, you also get unlimited photo storage? I'm signing up this week, finally. 

-  The Best Buy team showed us several great new products, including Google Home options and a kitchen setup that had me drooling for a new smart fridge and dual-load washer and dryer. I'll be dreaming about them. 

-  Facebook had a studio all set up for us, and I was a guest on Mary Katherine's Mom Babble page first, then hosted a Live event with Dr. Deborah Gilboa and Catherine Pearlman, both authors of excellent parenting books. 

- I had the rare opportunity to meet with one of the representatives at TarcherPerigee to pitch a book idea, and I'm getting started on that now. Briana was excellent points and ideas for me to consider. 

- I snacked on Babybel all the way home, got some new recipes from Eagle Brand like these super-easy apricot coconut treats (and discovered that it tastes great in tea!), and G. H. Cretors popcorn. I offered Arnebya some of my Chicago mix (cheese corn/ caramel corn) and she ate all of my cheese popcorn. :-D

Apricot coconut.jpeg

Thank you, Eagle brand!

Apricot coconut treats

3) Today Show Parenting Team

Working with the Today Show Parenting Team is not only rewarding all by itself, the editors and staff are fantastic. To celebrate and reward us, they took us on by bus on an evening trip to Universal Studios, with a surprise detour to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was quite literally jumping up and down. 

My latest post at the Today Show Community site is about my mom. She was in the audience when I delivered it live at the Listen To Your Mother show in Austin this year. 

 

4) Friendships

The Iris Awards was an opportunity for us to dress to the nines in our gowns and fancy shoes, and even more importantly, watch some of our friends take the stage to collect well-deserved awards for writing, blogging, and content creation. I'm so proud of each and every one of them, whether they won their category or not. 

It didn't hurt to meet Andrew Shue, our emcee for the evening, either. 

Top left: Elaine Alguire, Leigh Ann Torres, Amanda Magee, Rachel Macy Stafford, Jessica Turner, and me.  Top right: when Mary Katherine Backstrom won the Today Parenting Choice Iris award, she was a little teary. Like a mom, I helped her dry her tears and then we posed with her (very heavy!) statuette.  Bottom left: Elaine and I tried to get a good picture with Andrew Shue of Melrose Place fame (1990s me was pretty excited - and does he ever age?!) but our friends photobombed us. Ha.  Bottom right:  Our time was short, but spending the evening with Rachel of HandsFreeMama is always an opportunity to refill my heart. 

Top left: Elaine Alguire, Leigh Ann Torres, Amanda Magee, Rachel Macy Stafford, Jessica Turner, and me. 

Top right: when Mary Katherine Backstrom won the Today Parenting Choice Iris award, she was a little teary. Like a mom, I helped her dry her tears and then we posed with her (very heavy!) statuette. 

Bottom left: Elaine and I tried to get a good picture with Andrew Shue of Melrose Place fame (1990s me was pretty excited - and does he ever age?!) but our friends photobombed us. Ha. 

Bottom right:  Our time was short, but spending the evening with Rachel of HandsFreeMama is always an opportunity to refill my heart. 

Finding my way with old friends and new friends is by far the best part of conferencing. I feel very fortunate to know so many people finding their way through motherhood and success together. 

I'm glad to be home - I missed my son and my husband and it has been a long week away from them. I'm also inspired to reach higher and be better in a variety of ways. There is a network of moms out there who support each other and help them find ways to take care of their families and themselves. This is a turning point. 

Perfection is overrated, anyway.

Kids and gun safety - new essay at The Washington Post

Talking about guns and kids is a highly-charged topic. Now that I'm a parent, I see firearms in a different light than I did growing up, or even after I became a grownup before I had my son. There are people on one side who believe guns have no place in any household, and there are people on the other who believe very strongly in their Second Amendment rights. 

We can't solve that argument any time soon. In the meantime, we have to find ways to keep our kids safe; we teach them how to Stop, Drop, and Roll in case of fire... what are we teaching them to do if they see a gun?

I spoke with several experts and parents on the subject for my latest article at The Washington Post. Read it here

 

Take your family to the Houston Auto Show!

When I was a kid, my dad took me to auto shows. That was our bonding activity, and it remains so to this day; I'll call my dad or send him a photo every time I see something really cool, and we oooh and ahhhh together. 

It's no surprise that I have gravitated to writing about cars, too, and it's a joy and a privilege to attend car shows and write about them for SheBuysCars. And this weekend, if you live in the Houston area or feel like taking a road trip, the Houston Auto Show is a great destination for families.

The first thing you'll notice is that the auto show floor is brightly lit and filled with manufacturers of all kinds. Toyota has a giant stand, featuring the new Prius Prime and RAV 4 Hybrid. RAM trucks has one area for display and a fantastic Truck Territory ride experience that allows you to sit in a Power Wagon or Laramie Longhorn as a professional driver takes you over a steel bridge towing multiple tons or over a rough rough and bank incline. It's like Disneyworld for car enthusiasts. 

Don't miss the Mazda section, which includes their crossover models CX-9, CX-5, and CX-3; the Miata MX-5 and MX-5 RF; and the plush 6. One thing I love about Mazda is their Drive for Good nonprofit program, which inspires people to do helpful things in their communities. For every test drive taken between November 21, 2016 and January 3, 2017, Mazda pledged one hour of their time to a community cause. Over the past four years, they have been able to give back over 260,000 hours of service. 

From the Mazda site:  "It might surprise you, but many teenagers from the surrounding neighborhoods of Chicago have never been downtown or even had the chance to see Lake Michigan, but Jahmal Cole is trying to change that. In 2014, he founded My Block, My Hood, My City (MBMHMC), an organization that helps teens experience the world beyond their neighborhood. In 2016, he was recognized for his dedication to building a better community, as the grand prize winner of the 2016 Mazda Drive for Good® nonprofit contest."

As you may know, I'm a big fan of Maserati; I find their design and interiors to be the pinnacle of automotive perfection, and their engines are the icing on the cake. Maserati launched a new SUV this year - the Levante - and I had a chance to touch it, sit in it, and talk to the Maserati experts about it. You can find more on it in my live Facebook video on the SheBuysCars page. 

New features at the 2017 show include ride & drive experiences, themed days honoring Texas’ military, and live music Friday to Sunday. The show will also bring back the popular family happy hour event and the classic cars display (my personal favorite).

Toyota hosted a special early Ride and Drive for our SheBuysCars group, and I rode in the back of the new Prius Prime. Can you see that gigantic screen right in the middle? Holy moley, it's a Jumbotron. I didn't see myself on any kiss cam. And I must mention the fuel efficiency. FIFTY-FIVE MPG. Oh. Was I shouting? Because that's pretty exciting. It's über-quiet - the only sign we could hear that it was on was the gentle blowing of the air conditioner. 

I was a little sad that I didn't get to test drive the McLaren on the show floor, but then again, you just can't let thousands of people sit inside a car that's worth more than most houses. 

Special thanks to Hyundai for allowing me to borrow an Elantra Limited for the drive. Stay tuned; I'll have a full review at SheBuysCars.com on this fun and zippy sedan. 

 

Tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for kids, and show hours are as follows:

  • April 5-7: Noon-9:30 pm
  • April 8: 10 am-9:30 pm
  • April 9: 10 am-7 pm

*Bonus* - the Mecum Auction house is hosting a giant event right next door, with some of the most gorgeous classic cars in the world.

The marketing manager allowed me and Jenn Greene to walk around the venue as they readied the auction block, red carpet, and hundreds of gorgeous classic cars. I got to sit in one of my top three dream cars: a 1957 Bel Air. I'd choose it in turquoise, of course, but I'm not complaining. I look good in that (universe, are you listening?).  A nice resto-mod (a classic car that has been restored, but modified with modern parts and technology) would be nice. Just saying. 

The Internet of Things... parenting edition

There’s a smart device for parents at any stage, from newbies to grizzled veterans, from the chilled-out laissez-faire parent to the eek-I-scheduled-too-many-activities frazzled parent. Internet of Things (IoT) technology brings peace of mind, better organization options, and life-changing safety gadgets into your home, saving you time and sanity.

When you have a family, keeping track of all the moving parts is a juggling act. With a few smart devices in your home, life can be a little smoother, a little easier. Maybe one of these will save you from a temper tantrum (yours, not theirs).

 

NEW PARENTS

Smart changing pad

No more spreadsheets and white boards! This smart changing pad can be used to monitor baby’s growth for you. Hatch Baby’s Smart Changing Pad is a traditional diaper changing pad with a built-in, wireless smart scale. Anxious new parents will find peace of mind with options to track baby’s weight and diaper changes to be sure he is thriving. The product automatically syncs to the Hatch Baby app, on which parents can record nursing sessions, sleep, pumping amounts, and more. It takes the guesswork out of those first few critical months.

4moms smart car seat

At roughly $500, the 4moms Smart Car Seat sounds pricey. However, considering that the lush Maxi-Cosi® Pria™ (which looks like a tiny leather recliner) cha-chings in at $200 more than that, and doesn’t include the smart features, it’s not bad at all.

Most sources say that at least half of all parents install car seats incorrectly, which can lead to serious injuries in a crash. The 4moms car seat installs itself (whoa!) correctly by automatically leveling and tensioning. It also verifies the installation before every ride on the app, and then continuously monitors it during use. What price for peace of mind, indeed?

FOR PARENTS OF A SLIPPERY TODDLER

Pacif-i

Yes, the Pacif-i can take your baby’s temperature via their patented pacifier. However, what’s even more appealing for the parent of a wandering toddler is that it also features a built-in proximity sensor. That means if your little one wanders out of range (up to 65 feet away) an alarm will be triggered. And much like the “Find my iPhone” feature, if you or your child has hidden or lost his pacifier, a buzzer alarm can be activated via your smartphone app.

Kinsa Smart thermometer

This thermometer – available in a smart stick or ear device – not only takes a child’s temperature, it offers guidance on next steps, tracks fever, symptoms, medications, and diagnoses. It has the capability to send your health details and photos straight to your doctor, and alerts you if fever is cause for concern. It remembers details for you such as when symptoms began, fever trends, or when to give another dose of medication. You can also share data with your spouse, a caregiver, or your doctor.

It’s kind of like having a call-a-nurse available online full time.

FOR PARENTS OF BUSY SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN

Amazon Kindle Fire for Kids

Tired of sharing your tablet with the kids? The Fire Kids Edition Tablet is the answer. The 7-inch screen is just the right size for them, and includes software that blocks access to social media, email, and in-app purchases, and limits YouTube to approved content. Parents can set screen time limits for games, age-appropriate content access, and even education goals for digital reading.

Shipped with a two-year guarantee, if anyone in the house breaks the Fire Kids tablet, Amazon will replace it for free, no questions asked.

hiku

Ready to move your grocery list from a paper notepad to a smart device? This little gadget costs $59 on Amazon and is incredibly simple to use. Hiku lives in your kitchen, either standing up on its flat edge or as a magnet on your refrigerator; it operates with one button so anyone in your family can contribute. It scans barcodes and uses voice recognition to share your shopping list to your phone so you’re always up to date.

Even better, save yourself the trip and connect hiku to a grocery shopping service like Instacart, and your supplies will magically appear at your door on command.

FOR EMPTY NESTERS

ReST Dash™

You made it: it’s finally your turn to sleep. You’ve made it through the newborn no-sleep stage to the preschool I-just-need-another-drink-of-water stage to the OMG-it’s-curfew-and-she’s-still-not-home stage. Marketed as the first “smart bed” in the world, ReST Dash™ has sensors inside the bed to monitor your body’s pressure and every movement to help you better understand how well you slept and make improvements. Best of all, you don’t have to wear any kind of device – you sleep on it. Zzzzzzz.

Trackr

Short-term memory can be a casualty of years of parenting; finding things like your car keys, phone, or wallet is aggravating. Trackr is tiny – about the size of a quarter – and can be affixed to just about anything. When an item is missing, just pull up the app on your phone and activate the beep.

Now that the kids are out of the house, you can attach a Trackr tag to your pet’s collar and he’ll be easy to find when he wanders around the neighborhood. Why didn’t they have these to track the kids when they were little?

 

Holiday gift guide 2016: my favorite things

Are you STILL SHOPPING? Don't fret. I am too.

Just in case you need some inspiration, I have a few unsolicited ideas for you. None of these companies paid me to recommend them, so this is my purely-out-of-love list.



1) First, I met James Oliver at BlogHer a couple of years ago, and I was impressed with his passion and drive. He is a dad, entrepreneur, and writer, and his company WeMontage has been featured on the Today Show. Essentially, you can upload one or several personal photos to the intuitive web site, and James' company turns it into removable wallpaper you can place just about anywhere. I have one in my son's room that includes several of my favorite family memories and I love to look at it every day.


2) A couple of months ago, I received an email from a mom I had never met, and her plea appealed to me. I liked the personal, kind approach in her communication to me, and I was happy to look into her new brain-building entrepreneur kit for kids. Venture Kits is a step up from the typical lemonade stand rite of passage, and it's cleverly put together with a great deal of thought from Leslie, who happens to be MBA from Harvard Business School and a BSc from the London School of Economics. And she is a new mom. Please check out the new Art Auction kit for future art gallery owners. Either kid is the perfect gift for kids between 7 and 13, and reminds me of the teachings of Junior Achievement back in the day



3) Do you know anyone who needs a funny luggage tag? This one makes me laugh every time I see it.


4) Jewelry company Noonday Collection is based in Austin, Texas, and the founder, Jessica Honneger, started this company when she was working toward funding the adoption of her son from Rwanda. If you were to visit the Noonday Collection offices in central Austin, you’d see a shop bursting at the seams with both products and an intangible hum that drives each employee. There is a spirit that comes from creating a community that was created to support others. Jessica’s designers are paid almost 100% in advance, and about 80% of the employees are mothers.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘help’, because it implies a position of power,” Jessica said. “Our desire is to work with people with potential and allow them to work in a dignified trade. We are all in this together.”

5) I met Christine Messina several years ago, when our children were toddlers, and she is the kind of person who radiates energy and style. She is smart and savvy and being around her elevates my fashion game, and I will never forget the day we were having coffee and she said, "I'm planning to open up a candy shop!" Her excitement was infectious. Now, her store The Candy Jar in the Hill Country Galleria is this beautiful place with candy, gifts, and a party room.



6) These holiday t-shirts are so fun. I may have ordered a few. 



7) The first time I want to the Meditation Bar, I was skeptical, but curious. They were offering free classes for the whole month of December of last year as a response to the bombings in Paris, and I wanted to give it a try. One year later, it's no exaggeration to say this place has changed my life. Learning how to slow down is something that doesn't come easily to me, and Lauren and Krista, especially, have taught me a lot. 

8) Do you have a spouse who loves the outdoors? I stumbled upon this site for Fayette Chill and it's right up my husband's alley. 

9) A'Driane Nieves blew me away with her reading of her BlogHer Voice of the Year piece the same year I was on stage to read my "More Than Words" essay. Her delivery was strong and powerful and it made me think. It made me uncomfortable with the ideas she presented on racism, in a good way. They were words I needed to hear. Now, A'Driane lives out on the west coast, and she is creating art in her own way and I can see her blossoming from across the country. Check her out at AddyeB.



10) Simply put, these Old Navy micro fleece sleep pants are one of my favorite things in my wardrobe. Cozy, comfy, inexpensive. 



11) I fell in love with Penzeys spices many years ago, and their cinnamon and their vanilla changed my baking game. And I love to bake. Not only that, but Penzeys is committed to diversity and love and they're standing strongly against hate speech and division. I love them even more for it. 

12) If you love your skin, treat yourself to Sabbatical Beauty. The ingredients are all natural and carefully sourced. My personal favorites are the Rose Foaming Cleanser and the Camellia Gold Beauty Oil. It's a process that seems daunting, at first, but your skin really wakes up and looks gorgeous. 



13) Last, but not least, when I received the TinyPrints catalog in the mail, I was impressed by the way they featured families of every color, type, and size. They were intentionally and lovingly inclusive, and as a result, I ordered all of our Christmas cards from them. 

BOOKS:
I picked up this book on a recommendation from my friend Arnebya, and I could not put it down from start to finish. This book is violent and difficult to read, at times, but it's also exquisitely written and I can't imagine why anyone would pass it up. It's masterfully done and has won numerous awards already. The Underground Railroad.






















BOOKS, Part II
If you or someone you love likes to watch movies like The Bourne Identity or read Tom Clancy, you'll love books by Brad Thor. I have often disagreed with Brad on his Twitter stream, but we also have found common ground. And above all else, he is an excellent writer with well-developed characters you will miss at the end of every book. I really like this kind of CIA Black Ops counterterrorism story, because it's gripping and it makes me think.

Merry Christmas!

Much love, Kristin

With precise clarity


It’s only when you have a chance to stop and focus that you can truly see what is around you. It’s looking at your son, sitting on your husband’s lap, and noticing anew that their eyes are so much alike. It’s looking each of them in the face every time they speak to you with nothing else to hold you back from zooming in with precise clarity. It’s moving through the real world free and unencumbered of the fog that surrounds you with work and everyday responsibilities.

You see the sweet kiss your husband bestows on your son’s temple, and the look in his eyes when he gives it.

You step out of bed and the first thing you think to do is look out the windows to see how many wild turkey and deer are grazing and not how many email messages have clogged up your inbox once again.

Your brain is cleared of clutter. It is reset with optimism and hope and the dark cloud lifts away.

You look forward to going home again to your own bed; and yet, try to retain some piece of that peace.

When you lie down next to your son to sleep, you inhale and recognize a hint of baby sweetness at the back of his neck. And instead of wishing for him to fall asleep faster and thinking about what you will do next, you are thinking about right now. At this very moment, you are here. And you know that this is the best time of your life.

The time to be mired in the mud is past. The time to create a plan and take action to help others in the community is here. The time to read and lead by example is now. Go. 



What you can do

If you're frustrated or afraid of upset this week, perhaps you're wondering what you can do, productively. I don't know all the answers. But here are a few ideas:
  • Reach out to your friends of other colors, religions, and cultures and tell them you support them. Hear their concerns.

  • Actively denounce hate. Don't let anyone get away with the kind of hateful language and behavior I have seen happening in the last couple of days. Speak up.

  • Talk to the principal and/or counselors at your school about hate speech. Here's what I sent to our principal and counselors today:


"Hello --,
Could you please share with me what we are doing for students to ensure that post-election hatred - for example, students chanting "white power" at a high school in Pennsylvania and telling students of color to go back to their own country - does not take root at our school? And how can I help?
My son and some of his friends are worried about their friends of color. The mother of a boy with brown skin had tears in her eyes yesterday at dropoff. A classmate of my son said that she was afraid Trump was going to kill her and her family because she's an immigrant.
It would give me comfort to know that we are actively taking steps to ensure our students don't engage in this language. There are people who are using the N word in our community when they don't think others are listening.
Thank you for your leadership."



My friend Lee wrote this, and I love the ending. Hope and love, baby. Hope and love.




We are the role models. US. Not them.


Yesterday, my son and his first-grade class had a field trip to the nature center near his school to learn more about bats. Austin is the home to the single-largest Mexican free tail bat colony in the country, in case you didn’t know. After the educational sessions, the class was free to roam through the park and view the rescued, injured birds on site. 

One little boy in the class is clearly agitated and occasionally shouts out and makes noises. He can’t stay still for a moment, and one of the teachers keeps her eye on him constantly, gently shepherding him back to the fold. I tell her she must be exhausted at the end of the day. This must be the boy my son tells me is often loud in class. I know that he is a boy with special needs, and I keep my eye on him too.

At the large owl enclosure, I stopped and kneeled next to the little boy and he sat down on my knee, taking my hair in his hands. He twirled my rained-on corkscrew curls and tuned into the texture and the softness and the warmth I was giving to him. For a moment, he was still. And I saw him as a sweet little boy he is instead of the bundle of tiring energy who requires eyes on him at all times, and diversion and direction and endless patience. 

As the little boy skipped away to the next exhibit, one of his classmates – a tall girl with light-brown pigtails and large hazel eyes – took his hand and stayed by his side, leading him from place to place. Another classmate took her place as his watcher, and they ensured that he was where he was supposed to be. 
I caught the teacher’s eye, and I told her that I loved the way the children took care of this little boy who needed them. 

“They are all so nurturing,” she said. “See, in this neighborhood, these kids have everything they need. They have plenty of food, shelter, and support. Their parents read to them and teach them. They are loved. But the empathy, that is what sets them apart. That is what will keep them from being takers.” 

I remembered this as the election results rolled in and I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my face. I’m an independent voter, and chose the candidate I thought was the best one to represent my beliefs. The man who was elected represents misogyny and racial divide to me, and I cried not for the other party, but for myself, as a woman, and for my friends who are Muslim, LGBTQ, Latinx, or Black. I grieved the hope for the first woman president in 250 years of presidents. 

My husband held me in his arms for comfort. I asked him how we were supposed to tell our son that it’s not ok to be a bully and mistreat women when our president, our role model, does it?

“Our president is not a role model,” he said. “He’s a politician. He is someone we hire to prematurely age for us to do a job." I laughed through my tears at this.

"Politicians are never role models," he said, with conviction. "That honor goes to our fathers, our grandfathers, and good men in our community. We are going to raise our son the way we know he will become a good man.” 

He's right: politicians are not role models. They are politicians. Athletes are not role models. They are athletes. 

*I* am the role model. *YOU* are the role model. 

I’m finished being sad and I’m mobilized to ensure that the hate that has been stirred up can be tamped down. That the white supremacists find no more power. That the anti-Semites are quieted. That my son and his generation will be taught to see women as equals and treat them as such. 

I have hope for the next generation, if we can figure out better ways to come together. Through fire we will come through, and I am going to be standing up for everyone who needs me. With love. And fierce determination to do what's right. 

That empathy my son is practicing in school won’t go to waste. It’s going to help us going forward.

Number 45

I was only 5 when Jimmy Carter was elected; somehow I remember feeling disappointed, because I wanted Ford to win. That must have been who my parents were voting for. Or maybe since I am a car fanatic, I liked Ford's name. I remember learning that Carter was a peanut farmer and I remember the Iran hostage crisis.

In 1981, I was in the hospital for my yearly stay for asthma complications when President Reagan was shot. I was wearing the hospital-issued blue gown and my mother was braiding my long, dark hair when the news flash popped on the TV - probably in the middle of some soap opera.

My friend Michelle and I were walking down the street in Indianapolis when a young man asked us if we wanted tickets to see presidential candidate Barack Obama at a rally. We shrugged our shoulders and said yes. And then we stood in the rain and swayed to Stevie Wonder and watched history in action.

Tomorrow is election day for our 45th president. It's exciting, it's scary, it's America. Above all, I hope we love each other. I hope we all want a better future for our children. I hope we can come together and find the best in the situation.

Love, Kristin


Day 7
NaBloPoMo November 2016

The rainbow


It was gloomy and gray all day; the rain came down in spits and starts. When it began to pour in earnest, the sun emerged for a short period before it began to set; it was perfect weather for a rainbow.

I slipped into my sneakers and my son grabbed his Crocs and we went outside in the rain. Sure enough, there was a gorgeous arc of a rainbow stretched across the sky. A few minutes later, a faint echo of that first rainbow appeared above, and we stopped and stared for awhile, forgetting about everything else in the world.

What's your rainbow? What makes you stop and think, wow, this world is amazing and beautiful. Find it. See it. Gaze at it and grip that feeling with both hands.

* * *

I have had this song in my head all day, for some reason, and found this a capella version from some women at Princeton, covering the Meat Loaf song "Hot Summer Nights (You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth"). This version is fun, even if it doesn't quite capture the same feeling I have for the original.



Day 6
NaBloPoMo November 2016