Sunday, October 15, 2017

Starting a Family: Take One.

Earlier this year, my wife Kathy and I decided to finally embark on the quest of starting a family. (Beyond the one we already have, of course, full of animals and friends and loved ones.) While we are still just scraping by financially, as we probably always will be, we both have steady jobs and an extra bedroom in our apartment. We love where we live. The there is never a perfect time to start a family advice friends had given us was starting to feel legit. 

(Although I will say that while this statement is true on the surface, for some people there are definitely bad times to start a family. An experience that ended up working out for you won't necessarily work for everyone. If we weren't privileged, we wouldn't even be able to think about this process, or see truth in that statement.)

We decided to give a biological baby a go, for a few different reasons. The trouble is, though, as a queer woman, I felt like I had absolutely no idea where to start. Some Google searches helped me figure out the differences between IUI and IVF. Cool. But as a librarian, I really wanted a book. I wanted to be able to walk into Powell's and pick up a manual for queer ladies who want babies. But as far as I know, such a book doesn't exist. I grew extremely jealous that some people can just sex it up and POOF get a baby for free.

After a few months of attempts at IUI, though, we have learned some things, and I wanted to document some of the steps we've gone through on here. First, because maybe describing it can help someone else looking for either advice or solace. Secondly, because Kathy and I have actually decided to start a new route towards a family, one that we are very excited about. But I don't want to discount the last few months of our lives. This process is weird. Life is weird. It's important to talk about it.

So here we go! Steps to make a baby if you are a lady who loves ladies:
1. This is boring, but important. If you have health insurance, find out if your provider covers fertility services. SHOCKER, most of them don't. This is part of the cold calculus that goes into so much of our health care system. In a sense, yes, fertility services are a choice, or "voluntary" care, even for hetero couples who can't conceive naturally. Because we could all just choose to...not conceive, right? In a calculus where the only thing that matters is money, sure. But from an empathetic, human perspective, it's pretty messed up that only people who were born with the natural ability to get knocked up, who then couple with someone with the ability to do the knocking up, are the only ones who can have families. That was a long and awkward sentence, but you get it. There are a lot of children born to parents who don't really want them. It seems fair that the people who really do want them should be able to have them without the prerequisite of being billionaires.
We have Kaiser-Permanente insurance, one of the few companies who offer 50% coverage for most fertility services. This was a big reason we were able to start trying. But even then, 50% didn't end up meaning 50% for everything. 
2. You then have to actually get hooked up with a fertility nurse. The way I did this was scheduling a regular pap appointment with an OB-GYN, who then got me a referral to the fertility department. This "Uh, so if I wanted to make a baby with my lady, how would I go about that" conversation with my OB-GYN was super awkward, but I got through it, and you can, too. And hey, even if you don't want a baby, make an appointment for a pap with your OB-GYN! They are important!
3. Meeting with our fertility nurse, and afterwards our fertility doctor, was super great and one of the most positive parts of our personal experience. They never once made us feel weird for being queer, and were supportive and helpful whenever I had questions. I am very aware that this is probably not true in every clinic everywhere in America, so I am very grateful. If you are going all in on this thing with a partner, make sure you show up to at least the first appointment together. You'll both be signing some paperwork. It will feel like the first official step and it'll be pretty exciting. 
4. Once you have some blood work done to ensure you are healthy and producing progesterone (a magic word you will become very acquainted with; it just means you are ovulating), you have to get the sperm. And this is the frustrating, expensive, and gross part. In our experience, we had to procure the sperm on our own, and there are only two sperm banks in the vicinity of the Pacific Northwest that they recommend: the Seattle Sperm Bank, and one in California. Seattle is closer and cheaper, so, obvs we went with them. They give you this catalog where you see donors' baby pictures and what they majored in in college. It all feels very creepy. 
5. Once you decide on a donor, you have to figure out when you are going to ovulate, which you can do in a number of ways, but the most surefire way is by peeing on a ClearBlue ovulation test stick every morning. Peeing on a stick: not as easy as it sounds! My biggest piece of advice would be to track your cycle for AT LEAST a few months before you're going to try so that you really know what's going on with yourself. 
Because listen, the sperm ordering time window is stressful. You have to order it before you ovulate, obvs, but you don't want to get it TOO early so that your frozen sperm die before you can put them inside you. But if you order too late, your sperm could still be in transit somewhere while your egg is making its way downtown and you have like, as little as 12 hours to get that stuff in there. This is the worst because sperm are fucking expensive and if you blow it, you've wasted a bunch of money AND you have to wait at least four more weeks to go through this nightmare again. Oh, and guess what. Sometimes you don't ovulate at all! Yeah, I know! What kind of a cruel joke is that! 
6. Once you get the sperm, you or your partner can put it inside you yourselves, but one, ew, and two, how do you know you did that shit right?! So make an appointment with your doctor. It's simple and painless. HOWEVER, if you make a Jane the Virgin joke when your doctor is confirming that all your info is correct, your doctor might make a kind but slightly annoyed comment insinuating everyone makes that joke, and you will feel unoriginal and like you've totally blown the opportunity to impress your super cool and funny doctor. So. DON'T MAKE THAT JOKE. 
7. Then. The worst part. You wait. This part is the same for everyone who's trying to get pregnant, queer or not, but it really is awful. You tell yourself, it's fine! It's cool! Whatever happens happens! You know the odds aren't that good (because they really aren't, at least with IUI). But on the inside, of course, you hope the odds will be on your side. You can't stop yourself from watching creepy ass videos online about what could or could not be happening inside your body AT THAT EXACT MOMENT and reading message boards full of baby crazed ladies who use a million weird acronyms for LITERALLY EVERYTHING. It is the weirdest feeling, knowing this incredible thing could be happening. Or it could totally not be. And the only thing you can do is wait.  
8. The most fucked up thing? If you get your period, not only are you really sad that you're not pregnant, but you also HAVE YOUR PERIOD. It is the worst kind of double whammy. Plus, all the symptoms of being pregnant are the same as getting your period. You are already hyper aware of everything happening to your body. Sore boobs? General achey-ness? Overly emotional? Guess what! Could be pregnant! Could just be getting your stupid period!
And that, essentially, is how far we ever got.

Before we started this journey, I was always frustrated at the societal norm of having to stay silent about getting pregnant until you're however many weeks into it. I understand this, of course. So many women have miscarriages or other complications early on, so you want to "make sure" before making any big announcements. But those miscarriages and complications are painful and traumatic. The whole process of even trying can be exhausting and frustrating and take up all your mental space. Why can't we talk about it? Why are we always silencing women's experiences?

After going through some of it, though, I don't necessarily think it's always women censoring themselves. Sometimes the process really does just feel special and private, and something you want to keep to yourselves. Sometimes you just don't want to have to answer questions, especially when you're queer. 

I'm also hyper aware of how much talk about babies can consume women at a certain point in our lives, and how boring and irritating that can be to friends and family who are, in fact, not interested in babies at all. Honestly, most of the time I had a mash-up of all those feelings at once. I couldn't tell if I didn't talk about it with everyone I knew because I didn't want to or because I felt like I shouldn't. 

But if you want to talk about it. You can. If you want to take a day or two off of work because you got your period when you really didn't want to and you are super bummed, that is okay, too. 

I also felt slightly selfish throughout this process for wanting to attempt a biological baby at all. Why add another human to the world when there are so many kiddos out there already who need someone to love them? Why spend so much money on sperm when I owe Navient and the state of Oregon and all my credit card companies so much money? But even though we are moving on from the idea for now, I don't regret it. And I do feel sorrow at letting go of the idea, sorrow that I am attempting to honor by writing about it here.

One positive of trying to get pregnant is that you learn a lot about your body. I had never even really kept track of my cycles before, and learning more about how my body worked in that way felt cool and empowering. It gave me the same feelings that training for the PCT gave me. Knowing your body, feeling in control of it, feels so powerful. I feel like I've only started to truly know my body in my 30s, and it is work, work that I'm definitely not always good at. But it's important work. I wish we taught people to do it earlier.

I also have a renewed respect for women who not only get pregnant--because researching it more thoroughly and imagining it all happening to me was, frankly, terrifying--but who try for months and months or years and years to do so. It is a time consuming, anxiety inducing experience, and to keep going through it shows such incredible strength and resiliency.

And if you're someone who struggles with feelings of selfishness, too, about wanting to have a biological baby, don't. It's not stupid. It makes as much sense to never want to give birth as it makes sense to want to. These decisions are big deals, whether you're queer, straight, or single. Everyone's feelings are valid. You can do what you want.

As we navigate more avenues of building a family, I'll continue to document what I want to on here. Because I still haven't found any manuals but maybe one day we'll build one together. Because it's weird and important and it's okay to talk about it. Even when you don't know the ending.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fave Five: Parents' Visits, Summer 2017.

We are almost fully a month into the new school year, which means life is starting to feel all too real and all too busy to me again. It's a good kind of real and busy, but simultaneously makes me wistful about the summer that's just gone by. And there's still a lot that happened this summer that I haven't talked about, like when both my dad and Kathy's parents visited in August. So allow me to indulge in summer nostalgia by talking about it!

Some of the things we did were the same things I did with my mom and Richard back in February, but they were just as fun this time so I'll write about them again. We are so grateful for our family members who take such long plane rides to see us and who are always open to being dragged along to wherever we want to drag them.


5. Picnic at Wildwood


I had visited the Wildwood Recreation Site near Mt. Hood earlier in the summer, and found it to be such a lovely, peaceful, and accessible spot. Most of the trails are paved and relatively flat, making it easy for anyone of almost any ability level to be submerged in the beauty of the Salmon River area. It's also full of picnic tables in idyllic settings. So I got it in my head that taking our parents and our dogs on a picnic there would be an amazing idea.

I persisted in this idea even when the area was beset by record setting, 100+ degree temperatures on the day we had planned to go, because I am a stubborn person who has a hard time letting go of ideas. Accordingly, I spent most of the morning stressing about whether all six people and two dogs plus coolers of food would get to Wildwood in one piece and actually enjoy themselves. But in the end, while it was a briefer visit than planned so none of us would die of heat stroke, I think it went pretty well. 


4. Ping Pong at Pips & Bounce


Pips & Bounce, man, it's just so fun every time. I learned this go 'round that both of our dads are surprisingly baller at ping pong, and that it makes Kathy's mom laugh hysterically. And I love anything that makes Kathy's mom laugh hysterically.

3. Perfect afternoons in the Willamette Valley


With the help of our good friend and McMinnville local Katie, we now know how to enjoy ourselves in wine country, an area that always intimidated us before. While there are too many wineries to even comprehend in the Willamette Valley, one of the most scenic is Brooks in Amity. The vibe at the tasting room, and the open, sweeping views of the vineyards and the hills beyond bring me to a deeply peaceful, happy place, a place where I am richer and fancier than I am in real life. But it's fun to pretend.

The perfect thing to soak up wine consumed at Brooks is a sandwich from Red Hills Market in Dundee. These sandwiches are LE-GIT. I am obsessed with their tuna melt (above) but the salami and ham, which I've also tasted, are also crazy good. The traffic crawling through Dundee can be tough to suffer through, but a visit to this joint is completely worth it.

I actually took two different trips to enjoy both Brooks and Red Hills in as many weeks, once with Dad and once with Kathy's parents, and I'd take the same exact trip again right now.



2. Mt. Rainier with Dad


While I've visited Mt. Rainier National Park a few times now, I feel I have yet to really do it justice. All my trips have been simple day trips, and it always takes slightly longer than you think to get there from Portland, making the time spent in the car long and the time in actual nature too short. And there is so. much. nature to see here.

Still, I think the day trip I took with my dad this August was the best visit yet. Even though we were in the middle of the hazy, smoke filled heat wave, we were still able to get many gorgeous views of the ridiculous mountain (it is seriously ridiculous), as well as visiting the Grove of the Patriarchs, Myrtle Falls, and the lodge at Paradise. And maybe the drive there and back didn't feel as bad because I made us listen to the entirety of Hamilton along the way. All in all, a really good day.



1. Fancy Eatin'


Any family visit--or just any day in my life, really--involves a lot of good eating. But during this trip in particular, we had a lot of fun revisiting some of our faves, as well as branching out and trying new (to us) restaurants while our parents were here. Some of our fave revisits included the likes of Podnah's Pit (the mouthwatering first picture above) and Tasty 'n Alder. As well, of course, as Pinolo Gelato.

But for a couple fancy nights out with Kathy's parents, we tried two other legendary and high class Portland eateries for the first time, The Country Cat and Laurelhurst Market. The middle photo above is from Laurelhurst, and my verdict is thus: fancy veggie salad thing, very, very good; mac n' cheese side, just okay. Our night here, a celebration of Kathy's mom's 70th birthday, was particularly fun, and followed up by a delicious trip to the new location of Fifty Licks across from the Laurelhurst Theater.

I have one more entry about the summer in mind that I'd like to write. And then, I swear, I'll be able to move on to all I love about the fall--the very bestest season of them all.

Monday, August 14, 2017

6 Songs of Summer, 2017.

I once read somewhere that by the time you reach your 30s, you lose the ability to enjoy new music. This is, of course, a broad statement that I have no data to back up, but I have to say, in general, it feels pretty true for me. This is enhanced by the fact that almost all my auditory timespace these days is taken up with podcast after podcast. (Which I also really need to write more about on here. I like them a lot!)

But for most of my formative years, music was everything to me. It shaped who I was and how I processed all of my experiences. As proof, the only tattoo I currently have is a treble clef, covering a big chunk of my lower back. This is thankfully covered most of the time because I took terrible care of it as a foolish teenager. If I ever come into extra cash, I will pay to touch it up and also get the twenty other tattoos I want. Everyone in Portland is so beautifully tattooed and I don't know how they all afford it. I am jealous at pretty much all times.

So! In an attempt to balance out my outward Ravenclaw self (nerdy podcasts) with my inner Gryffindor (music that makes me magic), I'm trying to listen to music more again, do a little less thinking and more feeling, remember who I am.

Here are the current results of my efforts: the top six songs that have been my soundtrack to the summer of 2017. I'm pretty committed to making lists of five on here, generally, BUT I really wanted to include every one of these. So self-imposed rules be damned, here are six.



6. Supercut, Lorde

I love this song because, like a lot of Lorde's songs, it's catchy and perfect for summer road trips. But also, the lyrics and the concept of the whole thing are so great. Whose memories don't condense into either a sentimental or fictionalized supercut? It's what our brains do, to either our benefit or detriment. As always, we feel you, Lorde.



5. A Sign of the Times, Harry Styles

As opposed to my respect for Lorde's honesty about memory and reflection, I don't really give a fig about the lyrics to this one. Like, what the hell is Harry talking about in this song? I have NO IDEA. I also DON'T CARE. Because hoo boy, is this song dreamy and insistent and strangely addicting. It is just a thing of beauty. I have listened to the whole Harry Styles album and sadly, I don't really love it, even though I totally get why so many people do. The whole thing strikes me as very Hanson-y so you would think I'd be down, but for some reason, I'm just not there. But this song! This song is in my head all the time. Related: I also adore Hanson's cover of it!



4. Castle on the Hill, Ed Sheeran

Listen, I've heard that Ed Sheeran might not be that A+ of a person, but I can't help myself from loving his songs. He crafts such solid pop music, and I always have and always will love pop music. "Shape of You" has also been my jam this summer, but when I hiked 50 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail last month, this song was in my head for a lot of it. This is probably just because it was likely one of the last songs I heard on the radio before we left, but I become emotionally attached to any song that gets stuck in my head while backpacking. Seriously, what you sing to yourself in your head out there can really help you put one foot in front of the other.

The lyrics to this one are not original in any way, but still relatable to anyone who has moved away from home and becomes too nostalgic about returning. I mean, nostalgic music about your teenage years is one of the essential things that moves the world, and I hope it always does.



3. Only the Wild Ones, Dispatch

Speaking of nostalgia about your teenage years! I know, I know. This whole list is super white and, with the addition of this one, super bro-y. But this new Dispatch tune, so very Dispatch-y, has dug its way into my veins this summer. I would have loved it when I was 16, and when I was an undergrad, and I love it now. I will always desire to be a wild one.



2. Old River, Middle Kids

This list so far doesn't actually dispute the notion of not listening to any new music past your 20s, because it has consisted of musicians I'm already familiar with. But THIS! This is the first brand spanking new-to-me band that I've gotten into for....years, maybe? Which makes me feel a little hope for myself. I'm 33 and I can still find hip music that I genuinely enjoy! 

If you're looking for a new First Aid Kit that rocks just a bit harder than First Aid Kit, Middle Kids are for you. Their whole EP is really, really good, and you should go listen to it on Spotify right now. The first track on the EP, "Edge of Town," is the one that's gotten the most attention, and it grows on me each time I listen to it. Talk about perfect summer road trip music. But the first song from the EP that really grabbed me was "Old River," and I still think it kicks the most ass. Seriously, good stuff.



1. I Was Born, Hanson

Did you think it'd be anything else? This song is cocky as hell, just like the Hanson brothers. And it is a damn good song. The video, full of their numerous spawn, is supposed to be sweet, I think, but just strikes me as creepy. And yet! I can't wait to see them on tour this fall and dance my ass off to this and everything else. Oh, Hanson. I sort of really dislike you as adult humans now, but every now and then you put out a gem like this one, and it makes me want to forgive you and fall in love all over again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Favorite Books 2017: First Half.

Doing a favorite-books-of-the-year round up at the end of the year always stresses me out, although I have done it several times here in the past. A year is such a long time. And my reading memory is bad. It's hard to recall all the exact reasons why I loved a book in January eleven months later. My general recollections with books or movies or other cultural things end up having to do more with emotion than detail as time passes by: Oh, I remember loving that. I liked that! But then when a student, for example, wants to excitedly talk about plot points or characters in a book they have also read, my mind blanks and I just have to nod enthusiastically or agree in vague, generic terms.

So I hoped to do more frequent round ups this year, every few months or so, both to reduce the anxiety and make more accurate and readable lists. But shockingly, that didn't happen! A six month round up still kind of stresses me out, to be honest, but it's better than twelve!

In general, I need to get better at writing about books on here. I need to get better at talking about books everywhere. It may seem strange, as I am a librarian and am very passionate about being one, but I feel like I'm still learning how to talk about books. The example above might be proof of that, but it's not all about having an old person memory.

Reading still feels like a very private thing to me, something that gets to the deep down quiet place inside of myself, a place that has remained the same since I was small. I've been writing more in a paper journal this year, and in that journal I've started thinking about parts of my identity that have traveled the bridge from the small girl in Pennsylvania to the grown woman in Oregon. So many things haven't traveled across that bridge (which isn't necessarily a bad thing) but there are a few important things that have. The need to be alone every now and then. The need to explore. And reading.

Maybe because of how personal my reading life feels, there's also a weird level of insecurity when it comes to being really vocal about books. Even though it's literally my job. I should say that I LOVE doing book talks at work. They are so fun, and kids get so excited. It is the best! My job is the best. But at the same time, these thoughts always wander in. What if I recommend books to people and they hate them, and subsequently judge me and my ability to recommend books? Or sometimes, telling everyone in the world about a story takes away from the personal connection I had with those characters, that time and place. Which is selfish, of course.

This is all a neurotic explanation to say that I'm going to be better about talking about books, because I want to be better at my job. I want to better influence this world that means so much to me. So I'll tweet and Instagram more about what I'm reading. And maybe in 2018, I'll write more frequently in here about books than every six months. But for now, here are my Top Ten fave reads of January through June of this year! I know, I know, it took a long time to get here, but here we go! This list is middle grade heavy because middle school was where I did the most book talks this spring.

10. Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson
Realistic Graphic Novel; Middle Grade
Dial Books/Penguin 2015


This graphic novel was so great! Based on the summer camp that the world-famous PDX roller derby team, the Rose City Rollers, puts on for girls each year, it was super fun seeing all the Portland-y stuff incorporated into this book. But what this story really captured so well is universal: how hard it is when you start growing apart from the people who used to be your best friends. Astrid wants to be a roller girl. Her best friend Nicole...doesn't. Throughout the book, Astrid is so stubborn and dramatic about so much stuff, but it felt really real to me. You are stubborn and dramatic when you're a kid, especially when you're starting to discover who you are. I loved the art in addition to the writing--fun, colorful, accessible to readers of all levels.

Plus, this book won a Newbery Honor, which is really unique and wonderful for a graphic novel. Yay for graphic novels!

9. The Gauntlet, Karuna Riazi
Fantasy/Adventure; Middle Grade
Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster 2017


This book was pure fun. It's half Jumanji, half Rick Riordan mythological adventure. Farah and two of her friends get sucked into a twisted game called, ominously and awesomely, The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand. Farah's brother was whirled into the game first, but Farah and her friends need to complete a series of difficult tasks within the game before she can find him and they can all escape back to the real world. While the concept itself is fun, what makes this book really special is that Farah is Muslim and everything in the game has Middle Eastern and South Asian themes. All the food that's described in particular made me so hungry! It is not that this book is great just because there are diverse characters in it, it's that kids don't get to read these types of stories with these types of characters in them enough. And the folks at We Need Diverse Books are changing that, and it is super exciting and rad.

8. Along for the Ride, Sarah Dessen
Realistic/Romantic Fiction; Young Adult
Speak/Viking 2009


Reading all of Sarah Dessen's back catalog became a hobby and a goal for me this year, one that I actually plan on writing a whole separate blog post about, so I'm going to save most of my thoughts for that. But I'll just say that while I think Saint Anything was my favorite of hers that I read last year, so far this year, Along for the Ride has given me the most feels.

7. Full Cicada Moon, Marilyn Hilton
Historical Fiction; Middle Grade
Dial 2015


The contents of this book are just as beautiful as its cover. This is a novel in verse, which I am just a sucker for. An absolute sucker. I don't think I've ever read a novel in verse that I didn't like. But! I was especially moved by this one. It's set in 1969, and Mimi and her parents have just moved from Berkeley to a small town in Vermont for her dad's job. Mimi, who is half black and half Japanese, suddenly stands out starkly from her white classmates, and most of this story deals tenderly and deftly with her finding her place in a foreign land. As you can imagine, it's by turns enraging and heartbreaking. At the same time that her racial identity is confusing to people, she's also a girl who wants to be an astronaut, which confuses people's gender expectations, as well. Mimi is the best, and so is this book.

6. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, Lindy West
Non-Fiction, Essays; Adult
Hachette 2016


Aaand this is where we awkwardly jump from mostly-middle-grade fiction to non-fiction for badass ladies! Because I contain multitudes, and I'm a school librarian, but I'm also a body positive opinionated grown ass feminist, and it's good for me to read books like this every now and then to remind myself that I get to be more than who I am at work. Not that I'm NOT a body positive opinionated grown ass feminist at work, but, you know what I mean. I can't always be as loud of a woman as I am in my head. 

Like all essay collections, there were ones in here that I loved more than others, but overall I appreciate Lindy West for everything: her honesty, her humor, her ability to stand up to awful human beings online but still be vulnerable and human. The first essay in here had me legit laughing out loud, but after that, a lot of them take on more personal, serious tones, but I am here for all of it, the witty pop culture stuff and the gut-punching personal stuff. I don't always necessarily agree 100% with Lindy--which is good--but the world is better with her in it.

5. All American Boys, Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Realistic Fiction; Young Adult
Atheneum/Simon & Schuster 2015


All American Boys tells the story of police brutality and its fallout, from the point of view of the black kid who was brutalized and the white kid who witnessed it, and who also has a personal connection with the officer. I love Jason Reynolds and anything he does, so I loved the Rashad chapters, but I also loved Quinn's chapters. They were both really complex characters in tough situations, both with complicated relationships to the police, trying to figure out the right thing to do in a world that, honestly, doesn't give them that much guidance. This might be a small spoiler, but in the end, I think maybe it all wrapped up a bit too idealistically. But honestly, ideal conclusions aren't always bad for kids to see. Kids need hope. This was one of the first teen books to deal with police brutality, and to deal with it well, and it was a game changer.

4. The Marvels, Brian Selznick
Historical/Realistic Fiction; Middle Grade
Scholastic 2015


God, the painstaking detail that goes into Brian Selznick's books. They are magic and I have absolutely no idea how he does it. I don't think I could accomplish ONE of these masterpieces in a lifetime, and he has done THREE! And will likely do MORE! Anyway, if you've never read one of his feats of genius, they are half written word, half gorgeous pencil drawings, and they are enchanting. The Marvels is split into two: the first half, an epic visual journey through the seafaring, theater loving family of the Marvels; the second half, a novel about a boy running away from his boarding school to London, where he finds and tries to get to know his mysterious uncle. This book talks about Shakespeare, HIV, family, and loneliness, and every time I think about it it breaks my heart a little more.

3. The Screaming Staircase, Jonathan Stroud
Fantasy/Horror; Middle Grade
Doubleday 2013


This is one of those gems that I only read because a student recommended it to me, and then it ended up being awesome! This is a much scarier book than I would normally ever read (and YES, it's a children's book, WHAT OF IT). But after reading it, I understood why kids like scary books so much. Because man, was it FUN. Basically, it's about fighting ghosts in London, but it's written so well and charmingly. The suspense is spot on and wraps you in so you don't want to put it down. Kids' books are the best!

2. The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner 
Realistic Fiction; Young Adult
Crown/Random House 2016


The Morris Award winner this year, The Serpent King is...not fun. But it is stunning. There's not a lot of action in this book, as opposed to The Screaming Staircase, but the characters are so good. I love books where not a lot happens but the characters are so good. The main character, Dill, is a poor kid in the South whose father, a delusional preacher who believed his power to control poisonous snakes was proof of the power of God, is currently in jail for possessing child pornography. The story shifts between Dill and his two best friends, Lydia and Travis. All three are incredibly different but somehow fit together in a place that isn't too kind to any of them. 

I liked this book for a few reasons: even though Dill's father is obviously an example of religion gone bad, Dill still struggles with what Christianity and faith means to him. One of my students whose Christianity is really important to her loved this book. And I love that both she and I could love this book. I also liked this for its honest portrayal of what it's like to be poor, especially in a small town. How hard it is, how it makes you feel stuck, no matter how much more privileged people tell you you just have to dream big and everything will be better. These characters were all real and brave in their own ways, and getting to be part of their friendship through reading this book felt really special.

1. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
Realistic Fiction; Young Adult
Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins 2017


THUG has been THE It book of the 2017 youth literature world. And having finally read it, it deserves every single accolade it's been given. I have to be honest and say that I started reading this book--which begins right off the bat with a fatal police shooting--soon after it was released in March. And by the time I got to the chapter where Starr, the main character who witnessed the shooting, and her mother left the police station, I had to put the book down. I was so infuriated by everything that had happened already in the first 50 pages and I knew everything that was going to happen next. And with everything happening in the world these days, I just couldn't handle it. Which is ultra white privilege-y of me, to just shut my eyes to things that are hard. Which I recognize. But a few months later, I did pick it back up, and once I did, I couldn't put it down for the next 400 pages. Not only is this an important story, but it is such a well written, engaging one. It is so wonderful.

I hate that I even have to say this, but everyone should read this book because it takes the headlines and humanizes them. I hate it because I wish human beings inherently saw other other human beings as human in the first place. But alas, I know how many students at the high school where I work tried to write research papers for their English classes this year about how Black Lives Matter is a terrorist group. So I know that we don't. And I hate that my first thought was how parents and some students will be upset about this being in my library because of how much cursing there is. But man, I hope protective parents can get past the words to the story. Because I was absolutely floored by it.

Runner-up good reads from the first half of 2017 that I ran out of space for: Marian by Ella Lyons (historical queer YA fiction); Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch (non-fiction; education policy); and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (luscious middle grade fantasy, current Newbery winner). See you in December for more.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

LA & Joshua Tree 2017: Top Ten.

My goal for capturing my personal adventures on this blog lately has been to condense everything into a Fave Five list. But in thinking about the jam packed week we just spent in Southern California, documenting only five things simply doesn't feel right. So this will be a Top Ten kind of adventure! 

Top Ten adventures, especially in the heat of summer, are exhausting but epic. I am happy to be home in my green, temperate Pacific Northwest, reunited with my cat and dog and my own bed, but also grateful for the time I got to spend in both the desert and the adrenaline fueling freeways of LA. While it had been a while since my last visit, I've been to LA a few times now, and even though it's sprawling, overwhelming, and gritty, there is something I love about it. There is something freeing about exposing as much skin as possible to the hot sun (even though I know how bad it is for me), and something refreshingly primal in remembering how green-blue the Pacific can look, in contrast to the stormy, overcast blue-gray I'm used to in the Northwest (even though I love that Pacific, too).

I love the food and the street art. I love the palm trees and the Spanish language flowing everywhere, listening to KROQ while sailing down freeways in a smooth rental car. I love how different it is from everywhere else I have ever belonged, but how I can still feel a small tug from somewhere inside towards those unforgiving landscapes and streets. All week we kept saying, "There are too many people here." But like New York, like all major metropolises, there are reasons why so many humans flock to a single place. And the more people, the more stories, the more possibility. It's a vast, complicated place, but that means there is always more to explore, more to want to return to and know.

Here's what we discovered this time, starting, of course, with food:

10. Komodo & Chego (& okay, more)



When we first got in, we spent the day exploring Venice, always an entertaining venture. But during a day that involved air travel and an unforgiving heat wave, we were wiped and needed a break from the crowds pretty quickly. Dipping in to Komodo for lunch was the perfect respite. I had three of their tacos: the Asian Marinated Chicken, the Loco Moco, and the Banh Mi Chicken. They were all delicious, but the Banh Mi (in focus in the photo) was undoubtedly the juiciest and my favorite. Although in terms of prettiest, props need to be given to the Loco Moco, which had the cutest, tiniest little fried egg atop the cutest little beef patty.

I also splurged for one of their "nectars," fancy SoCal word for juice, in the seasonal special of kumquat. And not only was it delicious and ridiculously refreshing, but the excellent workers in the dining room gave us constant free refills, which I was not expecting at all. I would definitely go back and try everything else on the menu.


In other Korean fusion news, another favorite place of mine was Chego!, a Roy Choi creation in a Chinatown mall that you might miss behind the line for Howlin' Rays chicken. This was, in fact, how we ended up eating it, once we realized that a 2+ hour wait for chicken wasn't going to quite work in our timeline, but I'm really glad we did. I opted for the Sour Cream Hen House bowl, along with an order of the Ooey Gooey Fries. Both were outstanding--those Ooey Gooey Fries were really something else--but my only complaint was that I truly wish the serving sizes were smaller. That might be an obnoxious thing to say, and it is very likely that I created my own downfall by ordering TWO dishes covered in that ultra rich sour cream sambal, but I could only dig into half of each before feeling completely overwhelmed and overfull. It's always disappointing to me when I have to waste so much good food, especially on vacation when I know there's not many other options, aside from finding a homeless person to give to, which I don't always remember to do.


We did make Howlin' Rays a goal though, and returned the next day determined to survive the wait and eat that Nashville hot chicken because, like, it's good not to give up on goals. I had an anxiety attack about an hour into the wait, but with the helpful donation of a Xanax by Manda and a trip around the block to the Chinatown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, I made it through. Thank you, public libraries, for not only contributing to the betterment of our societies but for providing an air conditioned place for a girl to take some deep breaths in.


As for the chicken itself once we finally achieved it, I got the hot level of heat because it's called HOT chicken, right? Even though I was warned it contained ghost peppers and the description on the menu is "burn, baby, burn," I didn't know if I'd be able to do it after the first bite. But again--goals. It took a lot of focus and a lot of pickles and comeback sauce but I ate it, and it was really good, but to be honest my memory is more of the pain than the taste. Like, if hiking 150 miles on the PCT last summer was a 10 in difficulty for me, finishing this fried chicken breast was probably about an 8. I just want to make the people who love me proud.

Finally, I don't have any pictures of it, but I must also mention the mac & cheese from Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown, outside of Joshua Tree. This was the strangest location of anywhere we ate, but it was worth the weird drive to nowhere. My actual entree was the pulled pork sandwich, which you could tell was actual freshly pulled pork with a great sauce, but my side of mac & cheese was out of this world. I couldn't finish it because at a certain point my stomach forced me to stop, but I ate enough until I was in pain because it was SO GOOD.

I promise the rest of this list won't be as long-winded as this. There was just a lot of food.


9. That "Lock Trump Up" Guy on Venice Beach


As we walked up and down Venice Beach, we kept crossing paths with a man who was pulling a boombox in a wagon, blaring over and over a little rap diddy he had clearly penned himself entitled "Lock Trump Up." The chorus of this was pretty easy to catch on to, and it brought me pleasure each and every time. This was a couple days before the Trump Jr. emails, so I imagine now he could definitely revise his Russia verse!

This guy was in fact different from the guy who resided over the booth pictured above. But they are both true American heroes.


8. Little Tokyo




We spent time in a lot of different neighborhoods, but I found myself particularly charmed by Little Tokyo, specifically Japanese Village, a pedestrian friendly plaza full of shops and restaurants. Cafe Dulce is the heart of this inviting neighborhood, and it's full of donuts, rotis, sandwiches, salads, matcha, and strong coffees and teas. I tried the Hong Kong milk tea and it was intense and delicious. 


7. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams





While I've already talked about food a lot, ice cream deserves its own number. Shockingly, we didn't eat a ton on this trip, but we saved the best for last with a visit to Jeni's Ice Creams on our last night in town. The shop was bright, attractive, and friendly, and I got a scoop of salted peanut butter with chocolate flecks and a scoop of orange blossom buttermilk frozen yogurt. Both were wonderful.


This ice cream date followed a dinner at Yuca's Taco Stand down the street in Los Feliz, where I got a cheap and perfect burrito. One thing I will say about a trip to LA is that it is almost prohibitively expensive--I don't know how we survived it--especially the food and drinks. Having an authentic, simple, and completely affordable last night meal--taco stand and ice cream--was so thoroughly enjoyable.


6. San Gabriel Square




For the last half of our trip, we stayed at a nice hotel right across from San Gabriel Square, a huge shopping mall full of Asian shops and restaurants that was so fun to explore. We had dinner one night at Wang Xing Ji/Juicy Dumpling on the second floor of the mall, and everything we tried was really good and our waitress was so kind to us, even though it was clear we were ignorant white people. I ate my whole meal with chopsticks (a skill I have always been poor at) and I don't think I made too much of a fool of myself! We also learned the proper way to eat a dumpling (even though I still just popped the whole thing in my mouth).

We bought a bunch of Japanese candy at Aji Ichiban, some Hong Kong pastries at Kee Wah Bakery, and of course, a bunch of adorable and cheap things from Daiso Japan, the BEST STORE EVER. Another morning, I got a lavender milk tea boba at Boba Ave 8090, and was so delighted when it came in this fat little bucket of a cup. This photo sadly does not really capture its delightfulness.

5. The Abbey




The food was just fine, the drinks were expensive (although they were expensive everywhere), but goddamn, there is something about a gay bar. I just immediately felt so happy here, in such a deep and safe way, like I immediately feel happy and comforted when I feel the rumble of Dykes on Bikes about to start a Pride Parade. If we had more money and time, I would have stayed there all night. I understand why straight people are jealous of us. We are special and we are fabulous.

4. Seeing Good People

Because we are lucky enough to know a lot of wonderful and talented folks, we know a lot of people in LA. We were able to meet up with a lot of them: singing "That's Amore" with Cat at C&O Trattoria and watching her kill it at karaoke, having a fantastic brunch with Ali at Messhall Kitchen, enjoying a long lunch in Chinatown with Ann, and being able to squeeze Zoe and Pablo in Malibu on our very last day. All of it made my heart richer. And still, we missed being able to catch up with Erial, or Ellie and Matt, as well as some of our extended families who live in the OC. Guess we'll just have to go back...

3. The Broad





Manda was able to reserve us tickets to The Broad, a new-ish art museum in Downtown LA that is free but so popular that you have to reserve a spot weeks in advance, and people wait in a standby line outside every day for the chance to get in. I am so glad Manda is on top of these things, because this really was a wonderful museum. 


The top attraction is Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room, for good reason. A room full of lights, mirrors, and water, each visitor enters alone for 45 seconds. You have to sign up for a chance to visit the room pretty much as soon as the museum opens, or you might not get in at all. I know, intense art museum times! I was happy we were able to get in, especially since the exhibit is only on display through September of this year. While I enjoyed my time in the room, what I enjoyed as much or more was watching a small girl, maybe six or seven years old, exit the room ahead of me, her eyes wide and full of wonder.


The rest of the museum is also great, though, and includes a lot of video installations, as well, to an extent that I hadn't experienced before in art museums. I understood approximately 10% of these films, but still, it was cool. What I was most taken by were a number of huge sculpture pieces by the African artist El Anatsui, almost all made from found materials like wrappers and aluminum and copper. They were absolutely astounding. 

2. Universal/The Wizarding World of Harry Potter



This was the original intention for our trip, and as with all theme parks, it was amazing and exhausting! Disappointingly, though, this day helped me discover that I am, in fact, old. Meaning, apparently my system can't handle 4D things, or, I don't know, anything fun. We had expensive but incredibly useful Front of the Line passes, so within twenty minutes of being inside the park, we had already accomplished the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, which was short but fun, even if some of the rotations made my stomach hurt a little. We then raced into Hogwarts for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. The design of this ride and the whole building itself is really incredible. However, once we were strapped in and started racing through the air, I very suddenly thought, oh no. Oh dear. And I proceeded to close my eyes, grip my constraints tightly, and just pray pray pray that I wouldn't throw up. A quick jaunt into the dark, cool Three Broomsticks helped considerably, but eventually we had to stop going on the 3D/4D rides. Which consisted of most of the rides in the park. And I love rides. While in line for a Krusty Burger, there was a generic old white dad in front of me who said, "Hogwarts made me even sicker than the Simpsons ride," and I was like RIGHT?? and immediately thought, oh my god, I am a generic dad. This is who we've become.

Anyway, I also got drunk off of one huge, overpriced Duff Beer, thoroughly enjoyed the Jurassic Park ride, and loved Waterworld. We returned to Hogsmeade later in the day to shop at Honeydukes and visit Ollivander's. Both were wonderful, but Ollivander's was truly magical. My favorite part of the Wizarding World for sure.

1. Joshua Tree





Apparently visiting Joshua Tree in the middle of July is not something most tourists do, as the temperature each day we were there made its way into the 100s. Still, even though it was hot AF and we literally couldn't do a lot of things outside for any extended period of time during the day, I still found myself feeling really connected to this bizarre desert landscape. I can definitely understand why artists and freaks, a population I typically feel a kinship with, are drawn to it. Even if I don't think I could ever live there. Because I like feeling the sun on my shoulders but I also like sweaters.

Kathy and I woke up early one morning to do a short hike at Hidden Valley in the park, which I highly recommend. Even though it was only a mile loop, it was so full of weird plants and rock formations and landscapes that it felt like we had traveled to a whole different world. In town, we loved Crossroads Cafe, and pastries and smoothies from Natural Sisters. I loved the friendly park rangers and learning all about Joshua trees in both national park visitors' centers along Highway 62. And of course, I loved looking at all the strange art and random stuff around Art Queen.





We stayed in this really awesome little camper, nicknamed The Cubbyhole on Airbnb, and once the sun started to go down it was cool enough, meaning in the 80s, to sit outside or enjoy the hammock. This was my favorite part of Joshua Tree, and perhaps of the whole trip--just sitting outside the Cubbyhole, reading and looking out at the landscape, enjoying the golden hue the sun shone onto everything as it made its way through the sky. Our first night there was lucky enough to be a full moon, and it rose quickly and suddenly, a bright red fireball at the horizon from the haze.

We also saw lots of animals in the desert: a coyote, lizards, quail, and a bunch of roadrunners! One animal that we saw too much of, though, was bees. At both Keys View and Cholla Cactus Gardens in the park, there were actual warning signs about the bees, and as we saw them literally swarming in the parking lots like a horror movie, we decided to stay in the car. I don't know if this happens all year or just during the summer, but let me tell you, it was NOT advertised in the brochure.

We learned a lot of things on this vacation like: never try to drive to Malibu on a Saturday. Always take advantage of a pool and hot tub if your hotel has a pool and hot tub. Budget more money for parking. Budget more money for constant hydration when you visit the desert in the summer. A Joshua tree is not a woody tree but an agave! We might want to kill each other at the end of long, hot days, but we still love each other. All we probably need is a good night's sleep. From the food to the desert dust still residing in all of my shoes, I'll be processing this vacation for a while.