Meet Eric, my Hero of the Day

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Meet Eric at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. I was connecting through PHX from San Diego, and I saw a post that my dear friend Ian was delayed here. I sent Ian a text, and discovered he was all the way across the airport from me, and I had about 20 minutes until I was boarding. 

I made a quick decision and flagged Eric down. 

“Can you help me?” I asked. “I have a friend on the other side of the airport who needs a hug. My flight boards in 20 minutes.” 

“Oooooookay,” he said. “Are you sure you can make it?”

I said yes, let’s do it, and he whisked me all the way to Ian at concourse A. On the way, we chatted, and I asked him about my options to get back to make my flight on time - it was much further than I expected. 

“How long are you going to be?” He asked. 

Two minutes, I told him. I just need to give him a hug. 

“I got you,” Eric said. And he waited with my bag on his cart while I gave my friend a few giant hugs and we promised to see each other longer than two minutes very soon. 

Friendship. Good people. It’s all worth every effort. 

Thanks, Eric.

[Post script: Eric brought me back to the entrance to the Southwest concourse, and I strolled to my gate. I got in line and found that I was next to someone with my same exact boarding number. Huh, I thought. That’s weird. Turns out they had changed my gate and I had to go halfway back, so I had to run and got my exercise in today.]

First published at Facebook.com/KristinVShaw

All Out War, All Out Good Time {Guest post by intern Madison Ward}

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Introduction: Madison is our entertainment guru, keeping us up to date on the latest books, TV shows, and movies. She loves to cover pop culture and I'm glad to have her voice in this capacity.

{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

The month of October provides many entertainments, including Halloween; slightly less obvious are many upcoming premieres of television shows. Riverdale season 2, Supernatural season 13, and so on (new and recurring), October sets up the season of fall for a very bumpy, and yet extremely enjoyable, ride.

AMC’s The Walking Dead (TWD) is one of the highly-anticipated recurring shows that I am thoroughly invested in. Though last season (season 7) left viewers feeling a bit depressed, desperate, and weak, and  enveloped with a very melancholy tone, season 8 is predicted to be a showstopper. Action-packed and high spirits are to be expected, violence, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. Converging the three communities together for the first time, the characters finally feel confident in their position against the Saviors, and the hope that they have desperately tried to hold onto is now resting easy on their shoulders. People will die--main characters will die--but we can at last see a promising future for not just these current communities, but the generations that will follow them - the children that will have a chance to live and thrive, even in the apocalypse.

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TWD wasn’t always my favorite. I watched the first episode with my dad years ago and refused to watch it again for a long time because of what happened to Rick’s horse in Atlanta. Who wants to watch a bunch of flesh eating, slowly rotting corpses devouring innocent people and animals, while a group of survivors walk from one place to another, losing people and finding people, but always fighting for their lives? Now, this is enough for a vast array of people and I guess it interested me enough to come back and watch more, but once I got into watching it, episode after episode, season after season, I can see the even greater appeal.

The show has continued a unique shooting style of long dramatic sequences before people/cars/moments of scenes come into view. These long clips build up copious amounts of suspense and seriousness to such a laughable subject as zombies. And throughout the show, there are also a few common themes and devices that continuously arise and develop: hair length, deer (food in general), and limbs, and then the changing morals, learning through trial and error, the living v. the dead, but now more the living v. the living.

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My favorite one of all is hair length. If you are sitting there, reading this, thinking, this girl is crazy, I completely understand, but seriously, hair has been used as a symbol since the very beginning and has always affected a character right afterward. Examples follow as:

  • Shane--shaves his head and then goes psycho,

  • Rick--has little hair and is  scared in the beginning, grows a beard and longer hair and is awesome, shaves and cuts his hair and goes crazy, grows his hair again and is good, trims and tries to look cleaner and is weak, grows messy hair again and is ready to fight

  • Hershel--clean shaven at his home in the country and almost kills everyone by locking walkers in his own barn, grows a beard and ponytail and dies saving his family from the Governor

  • Aaron--clean shaven and short hair in the beginning and lives in a community that can’t protect itself at all and basically just lets it happen, grows scruff and longer hair and is ready to fight for and with his now-ready-people

Basically, the longer hair, the better.

Food is a big deal as well. The deer shown are almost awe-inspiring. They have continuously caused characters to stop and smile and think optimistically, and yet usually don’t end up being caught, like the shot to the deer that shot Carl and the two deer Rick and Michonne didn’t get (mostly Rick’s fault). An example of food in general could be the sorghum truck Rick and Daryl found; Jesus interfered and it ends up in a lake, extremely unfortunate and heart-crushing, but a good reminder to try harder next time. Survival isn’t a walk in the park (unless there are walkers walking in that park about to eat you, then it may be).

The limbs symbols are made up of a darker kind of humor and follow a set of strange rules: lose a leg and you become a better person, but later die (Bob and Hershel); lose an arm and we never see you again (some Saviours and Tyrese); lose an eye and you contract slowly escalating anger (the Governor and Carl); lose a hand and no one knows yet, but will probably happen since it does in the comics (Rick and possibly others).

 

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The changing morals and living v. living themes are pretty self-explanatory and have been coming about more now that the walkers are not the main problem, but other survivors. The characters have questioned how far is too far and have sometimes crossed the line, sometimes not crossed far enough. Since this season is All Out War and we know exactly who the common enemy is supposed to be, hopefully these issues will sit on the back burner so we can have a little fun.

TWD’s season 8 premiere was Sunday, October 22 and was also the show’s 100th episode, which will surely mean a lot of memories and references hidden throughout it! The show has come a long way and still has so much more to go if the comics have anything to say about it. Jesus is supposed to later end up with Aaron--so bye-bye Eric-- Rick is supposed to lose his hand and get a cane, and Ezekiel and Shiva died around this time as well. Who knows what the directors will decide to do and if they will stay with or veer from what is to be expected, but we will survive and, hopefully, our favorites will survive too.

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Visit the Gaylord Texan resort this year for holiday magic!

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Two years ago, my husband and I took our son up to the Gaylord Texan resort to visit right before Thanksgiving. As soon as we walked in the front door, we were struck by the gorgeous lighting, the sheer breathtaking, awe-inspiring thoroughness of the decorations, and the details for each aspect at the resort. 

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We checked out the icy-cold ICE exhibit, where master carvers spent almost a month in shifts inside a 9-degree freezer, to transform two million pounds of ice into a jaw-dropping exhibit. Every guest is offered a subzero parka, and it's still incredibly cold, but not unbearable. 

Once again this year, Ice artisans from halfway around the world in Harbin, China have created crystal ice, white ice, and colored ice to form the 'Twas the Night Before Christmas attraction. There are also five two-story tall ice slides, and a nativity set carved from ice. After visiting ICE, grab a hot chocolate and some snacks and warm up again. ·

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I'm not sure which was the highlight of my son's stay: the cookies and story time with Mrs. Claus; or the 12-lane tubing hill with real snow. I know for sure which one was my favorite part: tubing down those hills as fast as I could with my family. We don't get much snow in Texas, so it felt very special. We tubed down those hills over and over again!

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Other options: photos with Santa; an escape room activity; snowball throw; Build-A-Bear Workshop® Scavenger Hunt; ice skating; and gingerbread house decorating. Basically, everything you need for a perfect family weekend.  

Thinking about going? Check out their value days, below:

Exclusive Savings - Christmas Value Days!

SAVE up to 20%* on your Holiday Stay, book by 11/20/17.

*Valid select dates from November 10, 2017 through January 7, 2018.

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Expanding your family? Check these reviews to see which vehicles fit your car seat needs first.

This is a sponsored post; all opinions are mine.

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Before my son was born, I researched car seats ad nauseum (confession: I researched A LOT OF THINGS ad nauseum). Based on recommendations, online ratings, and reviews, I chose the car seat I thought was the safest and most versatile. What I didn't think to research, however, was which cars were best for the type of seat I chose, and how that might fit with other car seats.

Recently, I was searching for information about a sedan I was covering for a review, and needed to know about car seat configurations for a reader. I stumbled across the Cars.com site, where I discovered that they have three certified car seat technicians on staff, and they run a battery of tests on every vehicle they can. They conduct hands-on tests and offer ratings in six categories: LATCH, infant, rear-facing convertible, forward-facing convertible, booster, and third-row access (if applicable). 

Speaking of LATCH, did you know that it stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children? LATCH is required on car seats in most vehicles manufactured on or after Sept. 1, 2002. A safety tip I learned at a Britax event recently was to check the vehicle user guide and car seat user guide to determine if LATCH or the seat belt restraint is best for your child, depending on his or her size. Each seat has safety guidelines for the maximum weight the LATCH can hold. And (I didn't know this prior to the event) it's actually less safe to use BOTH the LATCH and seat belt, because the car seats are designed to use one at a time.

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If you already have kids in the mix or plan to do some carpooling, it's smart to find out how your vehicle of choice performs with more than one car seat. As an automotive journalist, friends ask me on a regular basis about which cars can safely and comfortably fit three car seats across the back, as well as which are the best vehicles with three rows. 

Cars.com answers those questions in two separate roundups: 

Which cars fit three car seats?

2017 Three-Row SUV Comparison

One of my favorite sedans I reviewed last year was the Kia Cadenza, which my family drove round trip from Austin, Texas to Ft. Myers, Florida for Christmas vacation. It was roomy and comfortable, and my son's Britax high-back booster fit behind the driver's seat with plenty of room to spare. When I looked up the ratings on Cars.com, I was pleased to see that the Cadenza rated very highly

Whether you are expanding your family or extending your carpool, check Cars.com for more information on how your plans fit with the type of vehicle you have; and if you're car shopping, take these guidelines under consideration. You'll be well prepared for a variety of situations that suit your family best! 

 

Our voices matter. Every one of them.

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Stick with me, this is a multi-year story:

When I was in my early 30s, I was working for a company in Atlanta, in a job I really liked, with a female boss I loved. I was writing the CEO's speeches and helping to organize the annual sales meeting and writing and producing a company-wide TV show. The job was so much fun.

At my first annual conference, I was wearing a red pantsuit. I'll never forget it, because I can remember so clearly standing there talking and meeting people. One of the regional vice presidents approached me - he had been friendly to me in the past - and in a low voice, he said, "How about a nice bubble bath and massage in my room?"

To this day, I can still hear his voice in my ear, and my stomach still sinks.

I didn't know what to say. I believe I stammered something like "That... that wouldn't be a good idea" and got away from him.

The next week, my director asked me how my first conference went with the company, and I said it was great, learned a lot, etc. Casually I mentioned, "But one of our VPs said something really weird to me" and I told him what it was. His face blanched.

As per the protocol, he told his boss, who told the Chief of Human Resources, who showed up at my office door. I refused to tell her his name, at first. I just got this job and I loved the job. I didn't want to be the whistle blower. She would not leave my office until I told her.

"You owe this to the other women at this company, Kristin. We have to address it."

So I told her. And the result was that he got a reprimand, and word got out that I had reported a well-liked and popular executive. It certainly didn't help me or any other women there.

The following year, one of the other executive vice presidents started propositioning me in front of the other officers of the company.

"Are you coming to my room tonight, Kristin?"

No one said anything.

Another executive vice president slipped his hotel room key across the table to me at the following year annual conference and said, "I'm in room xxx if you want to have the most fun you've ever had." He was married, with two kids.

I didn't tell anyone, because I had learned that all it did was hurt me. I had learned that years before, when I opted to not report a sexual assault because I knew it was my word against his and all that would happen, most likely, was that my reputation would be dragged through the mud.

I'm telling you this story because whenever a prominent figure is accused of sexual harassment or rape - Cosby, Weinstein, even the president of the United States (and I'm not just talking about the current one) - it takes a great deal of effort to stand up. It takes a groundswell. One woman, standing alone against harassment gets disdain, not support. That's why some women take a settlement, because they don't feel any hope for justice.

For all of you out there who have experienced harassment of any kind and didn't speak up because you didn't feel that your voice was loud enough on its own, I understand, Rose McGowanGwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd. I get it.

I don't know the answer of how to fix the problem, but I do know that our voices have power. I'm here with you.

The Most Important Elements of a Story {Guest post by intern Madison Ward}

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Introduction: Madison is learning the craft of writing and is developing her skills; she is putting in the work. This post outlines what she sees as some of the most important elements in a story and in what way they may have the greatest effect.  

{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

First and foremost are The Basics, the tell-tale mundane structure and chronological list that lays the foundation for a work.

The Basics:

  • The genre (Action/Comedy/Documentary/etc.)

  • The characters (known and constantly developing)

  • The settings (reliable and varying)

  • The culture (a tied community like society or difference b/w societies)

  • The music (if a movie/tv show; works closely with theme)

  • The themes (nature v. nurture/prodigal son/etc.)

  • The transitions (shift b/w scenes that flows nicely)

  • The arrangement (twists and unexpectant styles to go further than a type A plot)

Though some of The Basics may be less complicated and developed than others, they are not subtle and underlying enough to enhance more concentrated parts than themselves. They have just enough ‘core’ness to be on its own and not a supporting element such as The Journey elements. These elements are the more intangible parts than those of physical plot demonstrations.

The Journey:

  • The problem (obstacles/opponents faced)

  • The reason (belief/meaning throughout everything)

  • The imperfections (failures/almosts that didn’t quite succeed/weaknesses)

  • The want (what is desired)

  • The need (what is necessary and enough)

  • The destination (end goal)

  • The solution (how to achieve end goal)

The Journey elements can be thought more of as the invisible plot that characters work through mentally. These are situationally concepts that travel our hero from point A to point B as a transformed or more informed individual, or they change something in a way that is different from how it was when this whole experience started. The results of these transformations and changes can be called The Gives and Takes.

The Gives and Takes:

  • The blood (family)

  • The roots (background)

  • The fillers (ALMOST useless people/moments/things main character(s) come across)

  • The tethers (stuff that holds you back)

  • The weapon (thing that saves you from your obstacles/opponents)

  • The wings (freedom/thing that releases you)

  • The price (sacrifice)

These elements are a combination of physical and intangible and are the elements that give you all you need to ‘survive’ if one just uses them correctly. They are taken if they are misused or thwarted in a lack of protection. The Basics, The Journey, and The Gives and Takes all can create a solid structure of ‘story’, but they need cushion and intelligence which comes with The Delivery.

The Delivery:

  • The reality (cynical/realistic problems we wish could be avoided but aren’t in real life)

  • The understanding (...of the basic human body and that one thing called gravity)

  • The contemporariness (connection with a modern audience)

  • The guidelines (rules followed throughout that also keeps us sane and grounded)

  • The hints (little nuggets tucked throughout that can be put together to fit the plot puzzle)

  • The symbols (hidden meanings/themes demonstrated through objects)

  • The character interactions (dialogue and development that ties us to the people)

  • The counterargument (part(s) that proves your argument/meaning by eliminating others)

  • The examples x, y, and z (how you get from point A to point B within reason)

The Delivery of a story are the ways in which to succeed with earlier mentioned elements, or add in devices that amp up the maturity and wisdom the piece hopes to achieve. They are pretty vague and can be optional, but are good to at least be considered before finalizing a story. Paying attention to what the audience wants surrounding The Basics, The Journey, and The Gives and Takes is the key and then you can decide how you want your audience to receive it, or The Feel of your work.

The Feel:

  • The ‘right’ atmosphere (negative/hard/positive/light/tense/carefree)

  • The ‘right’ shot (angle means everything; positon writing/design shooting; words/camera)

  • The ‘right’ pauses (drawn out suspense/quick clips)

  • The ‘right’ humor (awkward/nonexistent/sardonic/understating)

  • The ‘right’ boundaries (lines drawn that characters either toy with/cross/won’t cross)

Also known as The Dramatics, The Feel elements are what give your story sass, lack of sass, or somewhere in between. It is the kick, the direction, the push of mood and tone to make us emotionally connected to what is being displayed. A story may have a dark, harder feel, with suspense, and ruthless, unforgiving danger, or may be the complete opposite, flying through cloudless skies of light blue, sun and happiness, casual conversations and laughter. Whichever, these are the elements that lead your viewers to feel that certain way in subtle correspondence with each scene.

As I have said in other posts of mine, these are my thoughts, untainted by literature plot charts or composition analysis worksheets. I honestly tried not to look up anything at all for this compiled list. I may be completely off-base compared to other, probably far more language-minded individuals, but maybe this will connect with someone.

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Reese Witherspoon and Home Again: the Perfect Distraction for a Girls' Night Out

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The first time I saw Reese Witherspoon on screen was when she appeared in the movie Pleasantville, with Tobey Maguire (whom I loved in Cider House Rules). But really, I became a fan of hers with Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama

Home Again was directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Her mom, Nancy Meyers, is a veteran movie director with hits like The Parent Trap, Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday, and It's Complicated. And her dad is Charles Richard Shyer, who directed Private Benjamin, Irreconcilable Differences, and the Father of the Bride movies. With a pedigree like that, it would be almost impossible for her to fail. 

Knowing Meyers-Shyer is a rookie director, it was easy for me to forgive a few awkward moments and a few clichés. I brought three friends with me to the screening, and I started to shrink near the beginning of the movie with the portrayal of the typical hotelier and a few cheesy pick-up lines in the bar. However, I noticed that they were laughing along, and soon I was too, as the movie picked up steam. 

Witherspoon with Pico Alexander, who plays Harry, the young romancer. 

Witherspoon with Pico Alexander, who plays Harry, the young romancer. 

Alice Kinney, Witherspoon's character, is recently separated from her husband, and moves from New York City back to her hometown of LA with their two girls. The memories of her dad are front and center as she takes up residence in his former home, and his artifacts become her treasures. 

The trailer reveals that Alice takes in three aspiring movie makers, so I'm not giving anything away there, and along the way she finds a How Stella Got Her Groove Back kind of romance with a much younger man. I'm going to be honest with you here: this part reminded me so much of the summer after my own divorce that it brought back a lot of good memories of the men who helped me regain my confidence through the dating process. A couple, yes, were much younger than I was. 

Alice's love interest was 27 in the film, but he looked and acted younger. By the end, I had kind of hoped she would end up with one of the other guys, but... well, you'll have to see it for yourself and decide what you think. 

What I loved about this movie, despite a few quirks, was that it was funny and fun. It was not believable in several parts of the storyline, if we were living in real life, but I feel like that's the point of watching a movie: it's not real life. It's supposed to entertain you and the viewer can suspend disbelief in favor of having a good time and forgetting all of the stress of real life.

Home Again did that for me, and for the three mom friends I brought along. We had a chance to grab a bite to eat and catch up both before and after the movie, and that time is precious. Grab a girlfriend and go see Home Again, not because it's the greatest story ever told, but because it's Reese. And it's sweet relief from the news. 

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Lethal Legacy {Guest post by Madison Ward}

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{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

On September 21, 2016, the television show remake of the Lethal Weapon movie franchise series premiered its first season.  I have been hooked ever since, and am currently waiting impatiently for the next one. It may have been only one season, and I may be disappointed with what they decide to do from here on out, but season one was spectacular. FOX always has new fun things they’d like to play with, but I truly believe they have a real, solid future with this remake, and not just because the originals did so well themselves.

I would first like to state that I have not seen the original four Lethal Weapon movies. I’ve heard they are great, and they obviously were successful if there were four of them, but I guess these were some of the few oldie but goodie movies my Dad forgot to encourage me to watch. I do have plans in place to watch them in the future, but I am actually happy that I got the opportunity to start this new remake off without a preconceived notion of what it’s ‘supposed’ to be like. Reading books and then later seeing them being made into films, I am always afraid that they will let me down and seem inadequate in comparison, same with remakes, like Footloose or something.

Actually, I pointed out the show to my mom one day after watching a few trailers when watching commercials, saying how it looked really good and she then told me that it was originally from a movie series. I had the opportunity to judge it just for me, before knowing that it was generally liked. Watching this new old story play out in a modern and slightly more mainstream atmosphere definitely helps me, as a 2000s baby, and I also just wanted to have faith that they would have that one ‘something’ that somehow called in the spirit and enthusiasm that the originals brought on.

And I definitely felt it in this new television series.

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Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh are very well-written characters in the first place, from what I can see, but having Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans play their parts is phenomenal. At first, I was a little worried about Wayans because I couldn’t imagine the star of My Wife and Kids as a veteran detective fighting heart problems, but it definitely worked.

And not only does Crawford do an amazing job of drawing the line between series drama and exasperated humor, he just has ‘it’. You know what I mean by ‘it’. He is one of the very few actors I have ever encountered that has this air around them, that no makeup, no camera lights, no photoshop can create. He doesn’t merely act well; he transforms a character into a developed yet incredibly base concept that no one else could achieve. Sure, there are actors that can act the part, but Crawford is the part.

And the chemistry that the actors have together is outstanding. They were a perfect choice for Martin and Roger and the actors chosen for Trish Murtaugh, Maureen Cahill, Captain Brooks Avery, and Leo Getz, were also incredibly well done.  From the outside, it seems that it would be much easier to make the TV show than the movie because the outline of it was already in place it may actually be considered cheating in some parts, but I couldn’t care less. They clearly did take parts from the original movies, and a lot of things are going to be the same, but there are a lot of new things as well and it has been sculpted to fit contemporary time. It’s barely the beginning and I can feel the legacy of a well-done old tale and a promising new chapter all in one.

Lethal Weapon, Season Two is to be released on September 26, 2017 and let it be known that it is written, highlighted, and set to alarm on my phone’s calendar. I seriously don’t know how I will survive this month while I wait for it to air.

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Confessions of a Goodreads Fanatic {Guest post by intern Madison Ward}

Photo by Prasanna Kumar

Photo by Prasanna Kumar

The 8 struggles that every searching reader has probably felt at least once in their life, according to intern Madison Ward:

1. Wanting to read the bad reviews of a book to prepare oneself in case of poor grammar or to see if a book is slow or boring, while also trying to not affect your own opinion of said book.

2. Finding bad reviews that ruin the rating of a book, not because it was bad, but because it wasn’t the reviewer’s “type of book”.

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3. Your reading challenge ends up at 0 out of 200 for your yearly goal, because you didn’t set it to “currently reading” before setting it on read.

4. When you’ve read all the books in the recommended section under the good book you just read and don’t know where to go next with your life.

5. When a book that ends up killing the main character gets better ratings than books with a much higher writing IQ, just because Nicholas Sparks made tragedy cool. Some kind of code-word warning would be nice so I know what I’m stepping into.

6. When an author sets a book up to come out at the vaguest possible date, e.g. ‘Published 2017’. WELL! It’s getting closer and closer to the end of the year and you haven’t specified an exact date so that I know when I can start quickly re-reading the series before the new one comes out.

7. Or even worse: an author sets a date that everyone is prepared for, and then two months before it is supposed to come out, they set it back five months, or don’t even change it at all, even when that date has already passed.

8. You find out that a book is only an ebook, not printed and published. So even if it’s someone like me, who prefers reading online, if I wanted to, I would never have the chance to have a physical copy to cherish. Some of my friends only read paperback and when I want them to read something, sometimes only an online version exists.  

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10 tips for young women starting college this fall

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The summer after I turned 18, I packed up my teenage life and loaded it into my dad’s car. I was moving to Cincinnati, five hours away, to live in a tiny dorm room with someone I’d never met.

Those four years flew by, and they had their share of joy, and angst, and heartache, and incredible new opportunities and friends. Each person has to make her own way; here is my humble offering of advice to young women starting their own journeys.

You may be in the process of finding yourself in your college years, and it’s the best time to do it. You don't have to know all the answers going in. 

1) Get a job.

Whether you’re completely funded by Mom and Dad or not, you should consider starting to earn your own money. There are plenty of jobs to be had on campus and off, and if you can find a job that allows you to study, that would be ideal. My job for four years of college was with the intramurals department; I sat in a chair next to the gym, or the racquetball court, or the track, and checked student IDs while reading my text books. Not only was I making money, I was making new friends (and sometimes studying).

When you get out of school, you’ll need a reference — why not work or volunteer part time, even one day a week? It’s a great start to real life, a resume builder, and you might meet some new and interesting people.

2) Don’t let alcohol — or drugs — get the best of you.

The week before I started college, the dorms were open for orientation and general debauchery. My new friends at Siddall Hall were incredulous to find that I’d never been drunk before, and that changed one night. Luckily, these girls had my back and made sure I got home safely and I remember everything, including taking my shoes off on the dance floor at a local club and laughing like an idiot.

Everywhere around you, people will be drinking and trying drugs. I’m not going to preach and tell you to turn it all away; only you can make that decision. Stand your ground if you are not into it and no one will care. Trust me — I was offered drugs plenty of times, especially in the rock band crowd I followed. I said, “Nah... no thanks” and no one made fun of me or asked me to leave the party.

As a woman, you need to be extra careful and don’t drink past your tolerance — blacking out is a bad idea, especially when you’re with people you don’t know well. All kinds of things can go wrong and you wouldn’t know for sure what happened the next day. That first night of Boone’s Farm wasn’t the last night of drinking, but I learned quickly to be careful; as an athlete, I also didn’t want to take a chance on my status on the team. Know your body’s limits.

3) Be cautious about inviting a stranger to your room. And be wary of “friends” too.

I was very naive. Out at a club past midnight near my dorm, I was chatting up a tall blonde upperclassman who happened to be a second- or third-string quarterback for the football team. When I was ready to go home, all of my girlfriends had already left, and Mr. Quarterback offered me a ride back to my dorm (which was just across the street) in his red sports car. I don’t remember if I invited him up or if he asked to come up, but I do remember he was sitting in a chair on one side of the room and I was on the other, talking away obliviously about sports. It wasn’t long before he realized I was clearly not a “Sure Thing Freshman” and took his leave.

Not everyone is quite the gentleman, and another time I was alone with another freshman, he was not nearly as chivalrous. I was at a fraternity party and a freshman hopeful named Jason lured me upstairs with the promise of a tour of the house. He went to high school with one of my girlfriends, and I didn’t think twice about it. Once upstairs, he shoved me onto a bed and began to paw at me as I attempted to detach him and said no as he tried to unbutton my shirt. Luckily, I was pretty strong and he was fairly drunk; I threw him on the floor.

The time that really shook me, however, was the evening I went to the dorm room of a guy who was dating a friend; he called me to come over and talk him through a problem he had (so he said over the phone). I was taken by surprise and I didn’t escape unscathed; I didn’t tell anyone about it, thinking I somehow invited this. In fact, the first time I could bring myself to speak the word “rape” aloud and tell my husband was last year — some 20 years later. Don’t be as naive as I was. And don’t be afraid to tell someone — you deserve to be heard.

4) Be smart. Be safe.

First of all, know the safety statistics of the university or college you’re attending. Where are the problem areas? My husband says that nothing good happens after midnight. My younger mind rebels against this statement, but I’ve come to realize that in certain situations, he’s right. Especially if there is alcohol involved or if you’re by yourself, be smart.

Take a self-defense course. It will help you be more confident and walk with purpose, but you can also potentially extract yourself from situations as in No. 3, above. Even if you you’re a black belt, though, don’t walk alone at night and don’t kid yourself: crime can happen even on the nicest campuses.

5) Change your major if you want to.

Who, pray tell, at 18 knows what she wants to do for the rest of her life? Not too many people. Take advantage of campus career counseling — they’ll steer you in the general direction. Even in high school, your counselors are there to help. And take heart: it’s not likely that you’re going to want to switch from English Lit to medical school. You’re probably in the right vicinity and need to tweak it a little.

Enrolled in Anthropology and hate it? Make a change. Do it now. Don’t look back.

6) Show your professors that you care.

In high school, I think I coasted through. Yes, I did my homework and everything that was required of me, but when I got to college, I didn’t really know how to STUDY. Focus. Pay attention.

After trying to sail through my freshman year the way I did in high school and coming up with a couple of Bs and a C, I was disappointed in myself and made some changes. First of all, I sat up front in class. Sitting in the back in a huge lecture hall doesn’t give you the opportunity to interact and learn the material. When you sit near the front, you are engaged. You’re more likely to ask questions. You have to pay attention because the professor might call on you.

Challenge yourself.

Your professors will also give you the benefit of the doubt if you seek them out during office hours. I was struggling with Statistics, which I detested, and my professor had a very pronounced accent I could not understand in class. Talking to her one on one, I could get the instruction I needed, and I’m sure it made a difference in my grade. In my much-anticipated Philosophy and Religion class, I had earned a C- on my first two essays. I approached my professor to find out what I was doing wrong; he gave me a chance to revise my first two essays and told me if I worked hard to earn an A on the third and final paper, he would give me an A in the class. He was true to his word.

Oh, yes... and try not to skip class. You’ll miss something for which you’re paying thousands of dollars a year to learn.

7) Be open to new friends.

Moving to a city you’ve never lived before, and rooming with people you’ve just met is daunting. Give yourself a pat on the back just for that. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse yourself in something new. Even if you have 20 friends from high school in your dorm, meet new friends. Look around and find common interests. You might be surprised.

My best friend in college was a tall, slender blonde with a boyfriend with hair as long and blonde as hers. I thought she was cool and untouchable until we realized that we loved the same music and bonded over Motley Crue (and we still love it). We’re still friends, 23 years later.

8) Pick your roommates carefully.

Once you’re out of the freshman dorm, you’re going to look for people with whom you’ll live for the next year or more. I had very thoughtful, conscientious roommates for three out of four years who paid the rent on time, didn’t keep everyone else up all night, cleaned up after themselves, and were terrific people overall.

I also had one roommate who collected the utility money from the other six of us and then used it to buy something for himself. We found out when I opened a bill to discover we were way behind and in danger of our gas and electricity being shut off. When we confronted this roommate with proof of his deceit, he caved and paid it all back quickly.

9) Experiment.

No, not THAT kind of experimentation (see #2, above). Try a class that intrigues you; for me, that was a whole year of Japanese. Years later, I impressed the Japanese-born CEO for whom I wrote speeches by writing his name in hiragana.

College is not just about the school itself... it is the chance to learn how to be on your own.

Be willing to fail to succeed, and put yourself out there to try something new. As a freshman, I was a walk-on for the rowing team after zero athletic endeavors since grade school, aside from aerobics and going to the gym on my own. It became my passion for four years; 5 a.m. wake-up calls and all.

10) Participate.

This goes hand in hand with #9 — the best way to get the most out of your college years is to dive in. Join a club. Rush a sorority, if that’s your thing. My sister was active in Euchre club (ahem — card shark). It will never be so easy to find groups of like-minded people and try activities you never imagined you would. There are so many ways to get involved with your community.

And finally...

BE YOURSELF. This should be No. 1, because it’s the one you need to remember the most. You may be in the process of finding yourself in your college years, and it’s the best time to do it. At the same time, don’t waste it and throw away your own money or your parents’ money. These may not be the best years of your life (for me, that time is right now — many years later) but they are pivotal, exciting years.

HAVE FUN!

P.S. Embarrassing moments will happen (trust me). Shake them off and move on.

Don't be afraid to get your hair wet (or to jump!): life lessons

My son, seven, leaps into the water, splashing with joy. He is exuberant and does not care a whit what the thermometer says; it’s pool weather and he’s jumping in.

My nieces, tweens and teens, take their time. Segment by segment, they wade in, allowing their bodies to adjust to the cool water.

“Why don’t you jump in?” my son asks his cousins, quizzically. Why, indeed? He wonders what is taking them so long. The water is perfect and it’s time to play.

“It’s easier to jump in when you’re younger,” one of my nieces replies, with a smile. She’s eleven, but already she is more cautious and does not throw herself into the pool with abandon the way she did when she was his age, just a few short years ago.

As I skim the leaves and water bugs from the surface of the pool, I think about the myriad of ways this is true. When I was younger, I would leap headfirst into most things. I thought I was invincible and it was a shock to discover that I wasn’t, sometimes.

I jumped. I often failed. But it didn’t stop me from leaping into other situations without thinking. Sometimes, it worked out; sometimes, it didn’t. As we become adults, we tend to take the road we have traversed before, and taking those risks and not being afraid to dive in without a second thought is not as intuitive. The jobs I took, the rejection I risked, the times I wasn’t afraid to make a mistake are little victories in my life when I look back at them now.

The summer I was 10, a friend was swimming in our aboveground pool and she slipped into the deeper center from the sloped edges. I swam to her, using all my YMCA swim-class knowledge to try and pull her back to the shallow section. She was splashing and panicked, and she nearly took me down with her as adrenaline coursed through her body.

My father was nearby, and to this day I still have a crystal-clear live-action memory in my brain. He leapt over the side, his right leg clearing the white rim of the pool and the rest of him following it into the water. Two strides later, he was there and pulled us to safety, coughing and sputtering and scared. My dad has saved my life more times than I can count, and that’s a whole collection of stories for another time.

Often, getting back on the horse makes the difference that determines where your courage will take you next, like a true-to-life Mad Libs book. As a member of the rowing team, our crew was tight; one year, 18 of us lived in a giant former sorority house and spent all our time cooking and eating food or riding our mountain bikes when we weren’t on the water in our 4- and 8-person shells. We hit the trails hard on our bikes and had a code of honor that if a rider fell during the creek crossing, he or she had to double back and tackle the creek again. On my turn, I fell twice, on the second time crashing so hard I was wobbly and bleeding. My teammates took me back to the van, that time, but I got back on my bike and rode again later that week. I was 19, after all, and not ready to be defeated by a metal frame and some pedals. I jumped back in.

The summer of 2004, I was in the middle of a painful divorce and all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed every night after work. My friends, however, didn’t allow it. “Get up, Kristin,” they’d say on the phone. We’re going out.”

And we did. They didn’t let me stay on the path of wallowing in grief and sadness; they guided me back to the road to life, where I could meet new people and test my injured wings out again. And later that summer, when a certain man indicated his interest without any coy games or pretension, I was ready to step a toe back on the road to loving someone else. Of course, I didn’t know that yet, and I pedaled backward, away from any chance of getting hurt again. When he invited me to visit him in Phoenix that fall, I told my mother I didn’t know if I should.

“Go,” my mom said. “Just have fun. Don’t overthink it.”

Mom likes to take credit for nudging me gently toward the man who would become my husband now, the one who cherishes me more than I have ever been cherished and is the father of that little boy we love so much. I’m glad I took a chance on him, despite my fear. Despite my misconceptions about finding love again at my age (a young 33, then!) and whether I deserved his love or any other.

Meredith Walker, the co-founder of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls organization, has a mantra she uses: “Get your hair wet.” In other words, don’t sit by the side of the pool and stick your little toe in the water. Don’t move so slowly that you can’t enjoy the spontaneity of the moment. And I’m going to push myself to do better at jumping, too. Age is just a number, and I’m not going to let it define how much fun I have.

So jump in.

Get your hair wet.

Play.

Laugh.

Go on the Ferris Wheel with your kids because they want to, even if you're a little scared of heights. 

Be a little reckless and fearless, the way you were when you were younger.

Celebrate life. This one, right now. Not the one you used to have or sometimes pine for. THIS ONE.

Enjoy.

Out With the Old and In With the New: My Favorite Spider-Man to Date {Guest post by Madison Ward}

{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Back to movies! As I mentioned in my Wonder Woman review, I am a big Marvel nerd and it was an obvious choice for me to review Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Be aware: there are spoilers in this post!

I have a pretty rocky relationship with the Spider-Man movie franchise. Spider-Man has always been successful in its many comic books and films, but there have been so many that at some point it feels as if it is just a giant editing process, revamping and tweaking and sending out one after another, trialing until it is ‘just right’. And as much as I like Goldilocks and the three bears, I can’t keep testing out things that don’t work and I was a little hesitant to begin another experience with another Spider-Man. Of course, after Captain America: Civil War, I, like so many other viewers, fell in love with this particular Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, and was given hope that maybe, just maybe, his story would resonate with me and not rely too heavily on the Spider-Man films of the past. Thankfully, this Spider-Man stood apart from all the others and became more about the boy than about the legend.

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Photo: Columbia Pictures

After watching the movie, I can tell you that I am immensely pleased with this film. Tom Holland did a fantastic job as Spider-Man and seems to have finally captured the true essence of who Peter Parker is. He may be smart and a little goofy, a bit of a loner, but he also has a quiet strength and a drive, that, with Tony Stark’s questionable mentoring, makes him not only a hero with the suit on, but something special without his suit, as well. That was one of the big themes of the movie: not being nothing without the suit, being better than Tony, taking his mentor’s advice and becoming an even better grasshopper, and recognizing that his present high school experience is just as important as his future. Peter desperately wanted to become a real Avenger, no training wheels, no monitoring, but sometimes it’s okay to be ‘the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’, to live on the ground for a little while, to go to high school, make new friends, take Spanish tests, and take things slow. I really do believe that Spider-Man should be a teenager. It suits him well, with his eager little-puppy enthusiasm and humor. The youthfulness was refreshing and unlike any other individual Marvel film.

I was extremely grateful the movie skipped over his ‘transition into superhero-hood’. Everyone knows the story of how he was bit and how his uncle died and how any love interest besides MJ is sure to die too, and it was so nice that they understood that as well, because I was for sure done with that. I don’t care about Uncle Ben and I don’t care about Gwen. Liz, his high-school love interest, was sweet, but we all knew she was temporary and they made her temporary, they didn’t ask us to invest emotionally in her and I thank the heavens for that.

 

This film was about a lower chain of the Marvel universe. Peter Parker is part of the second generation of heroes and this was also why making him and his Aunt May young a wonderful idea. Tony made a big deal about how the things Peter was handling were not on the Avengers’ radar, because they were not catastrophic enough. The funniest part of this is that even though Peter seems to be doing ‘lesser’ work, he is also literally picking up after the Avengers; not only trying to pick up, as in, learn from them, but also trying to gather up their littered alien-like powerful materials and therefore fixing their problems. This connects Peter not only to the Marvel hierarchy, but adding to the bad side, shown in Captain America: Civil War, of what a hero means, consequences and all. Spider-Man had some consequences of his own, but he was still trying to be better.

Of course, I must talk about the shocking scene of Michelle telling everyone in the end that her friends call her MJ, as in Mary Jane... as in the future Mrs. Parker. This was to be expected, especially with their non-subtle focus on her throughout the movie, but also because as I said before, Liz felt pretty temporary and a sophomore dating a senior is not the most ideal situation. I am incredibly excited to see what they will do with MJ’s story, but she was not the only side character that had more merit than they seemed. Peter’s friend Ned, was also featured in another Spider-Man story, turning into the Hobgoblin, although that is hopefully unlikely to happen again. Liz had been a love interest before, Flash has always been the bully and Betty usually turns out to work for the paper. The Vulture, the Shocker, and the Tinker all had their moments and Mac Gargon, the man the Vulture tried to make a deal with on the ship and later saw in prison, is supposed to become the Scorpion at some point. Donald Glover, the small-time criminal, the Prowler, and his nephew, the Ultimate Spider-Man, although I hope if they do that that doesn’t mean they’re going to kill Peter like the original says. Even Principal Morita! He plays his own grandson, after he played Jim Morita in Captain America: The First Avenger.

And finally: my absolute favorite character besides Peter in this film…  Karen!

I liked Karen from the moment I heard her first scene with Peter, but I didn’t realize how interesting her character was until I did a bit of minor stalkage. I first looked at who played her voice and from there it become so much cooler. Karen is played by Jennifer Connelly. Now, if anyone knows Jenny, you know that she has played in many, many movies, usually as one of the main characters, and she is beyond gorgeous. She is also married to a mister Paul Bettany, who may also be none other than Vision, J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice come to life. Jennifer and Paul are married with three adorable kids and they both play voices in the Marvel universe. Jenny is also not new to Marvel and played the female lead in an early Hulk. This is no coincidence, people. The directors joked about playing her because she was Paul’s wife and that seems to have happened and with such a successful actress as herself, I cannot imagine her not becoming a physical being during one of these movies as well.

 

And I am so hyped for that. All of this matches up with what I said about Marvel’s side characters being a bit more influential and beneficial to Marvel entirely, contrasting to that of the current DC movies.

I am just so happy that I was born at a point where I can watch this sequence of Marvel movies unfold and enjoy the ever-flowing movement of each story, seeing all that every character has to offer, their little quips added in and carried throughout the different movie scenes, giving them cushion and comfortable transitioning. Marvel is casual, but it is also powerful and still likes to surprise us with films like this youthful one. And I am not getting tired of them in the least.

Recipe: Magical Michigan Cookie Pie

I met the lovely people from Eagle Brand at the Mom2Summit this spring, and they kindly provided me with three cans of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk. The rest is all me! 

I have been making magic cookie bars for years; it's one of my favorite go-to desserts to make quickly and bring to an event. It's simple, quick, and I almost always have the ingredients on hand for an impromptu treat. 

If there's one thing that I know drives readers generally bonkers, it's having to read 10 paragraphs before getting to the recipe they came to this page to see in the first place. So without further ado, here's the recipe. If you want to read more, keep going past the recipe card. If not, happy baking.  Go on with your Martha Stewart self :-) 

Luckily for me, I had an assistant for this project - the adorable 8-year-old daughter of a good friend of mine. We visited them in Michigan a couple of weeks ago, and I enlisted her to be my food model. She was right in the middle of a Music.ly session, but she broke free to help me out. As my assistant, she was free to partake of a few extra chips in the process of creating our cookie pie. Meanwhile, her little brother and my son were creating Minecraft worlds instead of helping us bake, and they missed out. 

Once we opened the chips, we were ready to distribute them on the pie crust and pour the Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk on top. Voilà! Time to bake. You could do this whole thing without measuring cups and eyeball the amount of butterscotch and chocolate chips you need; in the recipe above I gave you some guidelines in case you're a math-based kind of person. 

Near my house in Austin, there is a tiny little snowball shack (New Orleans-style snowballs are made of finely-shaved ice, as opposed to the coarse ice chips of the typical sno-cones) called Sweet Caroline's Snow Shack. If you go, order the wedding cake snowball, which is topped with their special cream. I don't know all of the ingredients, but the owner told me that she only uses Eagle Brand condensed milk and not another brand, because it's tastes so much better. I'm right there with you, Miss Caroline. 

We put together an amateur video to show you how simple this is to put together. I am not saying I'm a video expert, so please don't judge. 

Assemble. Bake. Eat. That's it! Enjoy. If you like nuts, coconut, craisins, Oreos, or other additions, go ahead and throw them on before pouring the condensed milk on top. Go crazy. It's your pie. 

WARNING: this is super rich. Trust me when I tell you that a small piece will make you very happy. 

My 2017 Summer Manifesto

Yes, I know it's almost the end of July already. My son has only a month left until school starts again, and I don't want to waste that time with him. Who knows if I'll have this kind of time next summer? Who knows how he will be different? I want to know that I've done my best to make the quality moments count. Not EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT. Because heaven knows we all need time to ourselves, time to renew with friends, and time to follow our careers and dreams. What I mean is that I want to ensure that the time I do spend with my son is time that I savor and appreciate. 

I've had this in my drafts for about two months, and I've kept it to myself, worrying and wondering if I have been doing it right and following my own advice. These words have been clamoring to come out and be shared, and I'm listening to them. These are my no-hassle, no-regrets guidelines for my summer this year. My summer manifesto. 

1)  Eat ice cream and sno-cones and watermelon. 

My personal favorites on our road trip so far are the Twisted Cow and Simonton Lake Drive-In in Elkhart, IN; Sander's in Rochester, MI (trust me: you want to try the bumpy cake ice cream); and Graeter's in Dayton, OH. I got to know Graeter's when I was in college in Cincinnati and fell in love with their French small batch method and their homemade marshmallow creme and sprinkles. 

2) Enjoy nature. Appreciate and love the small creatures. 

My mom, my sister, and I drive the two hours to Chicago every summer to visit the Shedd Aquarium with our kids. It's a special holiday that we all look forward to each year; we spend the entire day at the aquarium and then drive back that evening in time for dinner at my parents' house. It's a great way to teach my son about marine life, in an environment that is very humane and caring for the animals. 

My favorite part, by far, is the Stingray Touch experience. The rays are so soft, and they swim gently underneath the visitors' hands, some of them actively pushing their smooth bodies up for a caress. 

froggie.jpg

3) Swim. Jump in. Fly.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of leaping through the air to jump in a refreshing pool, no matter where you are. I have some friends who do the polar swim on January 1 in Austin, but I say NO THANK YOU to that. Count me in for a summer splash, though. 

Jump!.jpg

4) Take a road trip with the family - somewhere, anywhere - and see something new.

This summer, we're traveling from Texas to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. The Midwest is incredibly beautiful this time of year, and while we keep up with some perennial favorites, like the Elkhart County 4H fair (which is a fantastic spectacle of animals and fried foods), we like to explore new places too. This year, we visited the Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI for the first time, and it was just as magical for me as it was for my son. Maybe more so, especially when we got to ride in a real 1925 Ford Model T (car fanatic alert!). 

Kia loaned us a fantastic little red Soul Turbo and we had a ball zipping around town in it; the sunroof is so big it's almost like having a convertible... which is perfect for summer.  

5) Relax. Spend quality time with your kids. Slow down and savor summer.

Today, I spend the morning teaching my son how to do magic tricks with a deck of cards, and we had a blast. I'll have to make up for it by working late tonight after he goes to bed, and I'm grateful I can structure my day that way. 

6) Say yes to catching fireflies, getting sandy, and lying in the grass. 

My sister and mother can't stand the feel of sand, but I love it. I encourage my son to get muddy, sandy, and dirty all he can. I tell him it's good for his skin. And mine. 

7) Recognize the wonder in your children's eyes and remember the summers when you were a kid, too. 

This is my sister and I when we were 4 and 1 in our new front yard, fresh from moving from New Jersey; I can still remember the smells, tastes, and feel of summer and everything that goes with it from my childhood. My parents still live in this house, and it is a gift to revisit old memories and create new ones. 

8) Eat more ice cream. 

Can you recommend any new places? We're always up for ice cream. 

Clockwise, from top left: Bumpy cake ice cream from sanders in rochester, Michigan; Greenfield village at the ford museum in detroit, michigan; my kia soul on loan, from illinois to indiana to michigan to ohio; my son and a friendly and helpful employee at the stingray touch experience at the shedd aquarium, chicago, illinois. 

Clockwise, from top left: Bumpy cake ice cream from sanders in rochester, Michigan; Greenfield village at the ford museum in detroit, michigan; my kia soul on loan, from illinois to indiana to michigan to ohio; my son and a friendly and helpful employee at the stingray touch experience at the shedd aquarium, chicago, illinois. 

Thank you to Kia for sponsoring my road trip this summer, and for the generosity of the Shedd Aquarium and Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau, who sponsored visits so we could enjoy new experiences together. 

With Love,

Kristin

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.