Thursday, August 20, 2015

Best : July 2015.

Today is the last day of my summer vacation, the first real summer vacation I've had since middle school, and to be honest, I'm a little relieved. This has been an absolutely wonderful and full summer, but it's also been exhausting. I'm looking forward to having a regular, boring, consistent schedule again, being able to just veg out in front of the TV at night. I'm ready to get back to my libraries and my kids, ready to contribute to something larger than myself again. 

But seriously, it was a good summer. Here's some highlights from the first part of it: Julio, Julho, Luglio, Juli--the most summer-y month of them all!

Hahaaaa so, July was a month of attempting to make a lot of new dishes and...failing miserably a lot. I tried to make baked beans from scratch for the first time and after almost three days of cooking, half the beans were still hard. I tried to make a bunch of slow cooker recipes that all ended up pretty terribly and all made approximately 298273208 servings. In the end, I think the dish I made that was tasty enough that I'd be likely to make it again was Pineapple Fried Rice from my Budget Bytes cookbook. I added some chicken to make it more of a full meal. This proves to me once again that no matter how I try to stray and experiment, Budget Byte meals are always the most satisfying. Which probably makes me a pretty mediocre and stereotypical cook, but I'm fine with it.

Say hello to two of the best recent YA reads I've had the pleasure of absorbing my eyeballs into--both with such pretty covers! But both so different! Shadowshaper is just so fun, while also being creepy and slightly scary--I was NOT a fan of some of these spirit creatures. While a totally different story, my reading experience of this reminded me a lot of Alex London's Proxy--short chapters, lots of action, a quick-moving and really unique plot, all with--gasp--diverse characters. So essentially, the type of book that teens will love. Plus, art! Caribbean inspired legends! New York! Diverse, urban fantasy like this is where YA needs to go.

As much as Shadowshaper might suck in reluctant teen readers, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender might repel them. The writing here is so lovely--it is genuine magical realism in YA, perhaps the best I've ever seen in the genre--so lovely and epic that this book will probably appeal to advanced readers, or adults. Anyway, even though the writing in this epic might seem whimsical at times, do not let it fool you! Shit turns real serious real fast in this thing. It is devastating, but still so very wonderful.

Okay, I don't know if this totally counts for this category, but goddamn was the Women's World Cup the best thing I watched on TV this month. My feelings about this team are too big to even put here.

And now to the real world stuff, the best things I did this month, or at least some of them:

Kim & Cliff came up and there was barbecuing, Drunk History watching, distillery tastings, Hopworks eating, Dairy Queen blizzards, and sparklers. And a heat wave. Way too much of the heat wave.

The most stressful part of this summer was that our dog got real sick, but before she was too weak, we went on lots of hikes together. She appears to be in recovery now, so I'm hoping we can continue going on weekend hikes this fall. I love that stupid goober, and I love this stupid beautiful state.

Cousin Brian and his wife Ann and their dog Charlie Bucket stopped by Portland for a few days on their epic road trip summer, kicking off our Summer of Visitors. I will feel eternally sorry for people who don't have cousins like mine.

Then Kathy's brother Jon stopped by for a few days. He got to experience the coast, Ground Kontrol, a Timbers match, our car breaking down on the side of the highway, and meth-fueled confrontations on the bus. Whatta lucky guy!

Chapel Hill friends Anna and Reiko ALSO stopped by for a few days! I know! Most of their short visit was consumed solely by eating and drinking...the way it should be.

The one Manda-Kathy-Jill vacation we made happen this summer was a weekend trip to Bend and Crater Lake and it was awesome and very much needed at the time. The weather at Crater Lake was perfect, the cider at Atlas Cider in Bend was so very very delicious, and the "hotel" we stayed at in Gilchrist was so very very strange. Other highlights included taxidermy, seeing a deer on the wrong trail, a weird Scrabble game, and the cider. I already mentioned the cider, but yeah, it was good.

Perhaps the most amazing thing to happen all summer was that after many many miles and many years of people telling us we needed a new car, we a new car. (Thanks to help from my mom, who was moved to my action by apparent concern for my safety. Thanks, Mom.) I thought I'd be all sentimental about the good ol' dusty red Corolla, and envisioned writing a nostalgic blog post about all the places she took us, and that might still happen one day, but to be honest, I've been so overcome by feelings of OMG MY NEW CAR IS SO AWESOME that it's hard to really concentrate on anything else. Our new child is a 2010 Honda Fit and let me tell you! The AC works! The engine is so quiet and smooth! Its paint is shiny! It is all a little too much to take in.

Love you, summer in Oregon. Thank you for the good times, but no thanks about the heat waves and drought. Let's do better about that next year, yes? Yes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Best : February 2015.

I made two dishes in February that have ended up being some of my favorites this year that I've since made and enjoyed again. One is almost exceedingly simple: Baked Italian Eggs from the Budget Bytes cookbook, the yummiest breakfast you can make yourself if you're obsessed with Italian food, and also an excellent use of the ramekins I got for Christmas last year!

The other is much more time consuming, what with the cutting of the chicken strips and then the breading and then the frying--always an extremely messy affair--but mmm, this lemon chicken is delicious.

The ALA Youth Media Awards are announced each January and are always a Big Deal for youth librarian folk such as myself. I still haven't read a lot of the winners from this year, but one I was glad I picked up was El Deafo, which earned a Newbery honor. A graphic novel that dramatizes author Cece Bell's own childhood growing up deaf in the '70s and having to wear a ginormously embarrassing hearing aid, this adorable book also deals with all the other stuff that comes along with being a young girl, particularly when you are "different"--figuring out which friends are real friends and what makes you happy. I also heart when graphic novels win non-graphic-novel-specific awards, especially big ones like the Newbery! Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier. 

Even though I don't write about TV on a professional level anymore, it almost means more to me than it ever did. Being able to just let my mind go blank and be taken over by a crew of characters after long days at work or just long days of whatever is such a privilege, and anyone who knows anything knows that TV > Movies x 1000 these days. And hands down, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been my favorite new TV experience so far this year. Which is shocking, because when Brooklyn Nine-Nine won at the Golden Globes last year for best comedy series I was like whuuuuuut and I feel like a lot of other people were also like whuuuuuuuut. Maybe it's because I never considered myself a huge Andy Samberg fan in the past, and the ads for it never exactly drew me in. But after hearing some good things--specifically, a bunch of gif sets on Tumblr that always made me laugh--I Hulu-ed a couple episodes and then couldn't stop Hulu-ing more and more episodes in many winter Friday nights of bliss until I realized there have only been two seasons and I had watched all of those two seasons and I was very sad.

B99's ace ensemble cast begs comparisons to Parks & Rec, yet I can't think of another show where I acutely love each and every character so much so equally. Obvs I love every character on Parks & Rec, but we also all know that Leslie Knope is our heart and soul and reason for being. While I enjoy Jake Peralta, Samberg's leading character, a lot, I don't watch the show for Jake Peralta. Some days Captain Ray Holt is what I live for, other times it's Rosa Diaz; sometimes I can't get enough of Amy Santiago, and I can never, ever get enough of Terry Jeffords! You guys, I just love them all SO MUCH!

The real story of February 2015, though, is all about these badass bitches who sneakily, out of nowhere, got together again and released a record for the first time in a decade, kickstarting my almost dormant riot grrrl heart. I mean, my volcano of feminist punk rock love will never actually be extinct, but feeling that magma rise up to the surface again felt all kinds of empowering and right and good.

My Top 5 No Cities To Love tracks as of 7/15:
  1. A New Wave
  2. No Cities to Love
  3. Bury Our Friends
  4. Price Tag
  5. A tie between Surface Envy and Fangless sorry I know that's cheating but they're both really good!

Along with releasing a new album, Sleater-Kinney also had the audacity to go on tour. While their Portland and Seattle shows, after first being non-existent, sold out in seconds, we trucked ourselves all the way to Spokane to see their very first show in almost a decade, which felt special, as Kathy and I had seen one of their very last shows in NYC way back when. Spokane is a kind of a weird town and ended up depressing me a bit but once the show got in full swing everything was adrenaline and Carrie Brownstein and nothing hurt. They played so many good songs and their energy was just the same and we had a perfect view and they were so happy too and I can't put into words how it made me feel other than a true and 100% alive and better version of myself.

The next day before the looong drive home, we did stop by a few of the more uplifting Spokane highlights that we had missed the day before, such as a diner inside of an old train car and the world's largest Radio Flyer and the Garbage Goat. So on second thought, Spokane isn't that bad after all.

February may be the shortest month, and looking back I can't remember at all what I did at work then, but man, it was a good one this year.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Best : June 2015.

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva was not particularly deep--although as the main character is Armenian-American, it does delve into some Armenian Genocide history--but geez, was it cute. And romantic. And gay. It was the best romantic cute gay YA book I've read in a long while! And reminded me that reading not-particularly-deep romances is just FUN and good and I'm vowing to spend more time reading them this summer.

This One Summer is a graphic novel about friendship and family and growing up and (obviously) summer. In fact I loved this one so much because I felt it wrapped up summer, and summer when you're a particular age as a kid where you feel kind of adult but also very much not, so very well. The art is gorgeous, and I liked the story a lot more than the previous Tamaki collaboration I read, Skim, even though Skim is a lot gayer.

Our new-to-us-restaurant-of-the-month in June was The Whole Bowl, a Portland vegetarian institution that started as a food truck but has had a brick and mortar location on Hawthorne forevah, where we enjoyed our lunches on a day that I remember as being pleasantly warm, before the hot-as-Hades heat wave enveloped us for the rest of the month. The concept of The Whole Bowl is pretty simple--it's just a lot of healthy stuff in a bowl. This is a concept that also forms the basis of Cafe Yumm, although Cafe Yumm takes it to a much more expanded and commercial level. Both bowl concepts also really depend on the secret sauce that forms the base of the bowl--in The Whole Bowl, a lemon-garlic concoction known as Tali Sauce, and in Cafe Yumm, Yumm Sauce, a more creamy and tahini based sauce.

My conclusion was that I like Cafe Yumm bowls more, but that The Whole Bowl undoubtedly tastes healthier and more, you know, whole-some for you. Yumm Sauce is...not good for you. Which is why it is SO DELICIOUS. But in general I am a big, big fan of bowl-based meals. I hope you enjoyed this bowl meal analysis! Bowl bowl bowl bowl!

Inside Out, Pixar's newest, was essentially made for me. It is about FEELINGS! And memories! It is so good! I cried so much! Ahhhh I LOVED IT! Leslie Knope as Joy and Phyllis From The Office as Sadness was also the most perfect casting I've ever seen.

One day this month I walked into the Kennedy School and as I waited for Kathy and Manda and Manda's parents for dinner, Rosalie Come and Go started playing from the speakers above my head and I was suddenly swept into that slightly bittersweet but comforting place that hearing a certain song you haven't heard in a long time takes you to, where you remember a person you used to be. And I realized that even though I haven't actively listened to any of his records in ages, and even though the critical part of my brain dismisses the age of my Ryan Adams obsession as melodramatic, and even though I am devastated that he and Mandy Moore broke up and am certain that it was his fault because he is kind of an asshole, in the end I will always, always love Ryan Adams.

Some songs that I will always love the most that I made myself remember this month: To Be Young! Let It Ride! Easy Plateau! So Alive! Rescue Blues!

Pride is always the best thing. It really really is. Made sweeter this month by the Supreme Court, but I've already told you all about that.

To celebrate finishing my first year as a full-time teacher-librarian, I also completed the whole hiking loop at Silver Falls this month, something I've wanted to do for quite a while, which I wrote about on my dorky hiking blog.

<3 you, summer. Here's to more of you.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Amazing Grace.

Last week, I watched a documentary called Limited Partnership. It told the tale of Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan, two homos who fell in love in LA over forty years ago. The one kink in their love story was that Tony was actually Australian, just visiting the US when he first met Richard. In order to stay--his childhood in Australia being extremely abusive, he had extra reason to not want to return--they thought getting married was the one solution. An extremely kind and adorable feminist behind a clerk's counter in Boulder, Colorado granted them their wish. 

As you would expect, the federal government did not deem this marriage certificate from Boulder in 1975 valid. In fact, Tony received an official response from the INS that stated: 
"You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots."
This quote became an integral part of Tony and Richard's story, but I knew nothing about their story before watching this movie, and my mouth dropped open when the end of that sentence was read. An official of my government sent that out. If there were any superiors at the INS that reviewed that letter, they didn't find anything wrong with it, either.

After many failed lawsuits, Tony was deported, but eventually sneaked back into the US. He continued living with Richard illegally for decades, not being able to work or receive benefits, not being able to live openly as a US citizen--not that he exactly hid. I think the INS gave up the fight of chasing Tony out of the country eventually, but of course, that doesn't mean he actually won.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the documentary was a section that took place during the '80s, I think, where, after continually losing legal battles, they thought public opinion could help sway power to their plight. They went on Donahue, where a bitter woman, among other guests, spewed the most vile hatred at them, shouting from the audience in her shoulder-padded power suit, while they both sat quietly, placidly on stage--not angry, just hurt, vulnerable, and sad.

In the end--bit of a spoiler alert here--Richard's health declines; he gets cancer. Their lawyer strongly urges them to renew their vows in a state where marriage is now legal, something they've never done, to make sure that their old Boulder marriage holds up federally if Richard dies. In the last recorded interview with both of them on screen, planning this trip to get married again, Richard says, in his weak, strained words, that he loves Tony more than ever. He dies the next day.

I spent a lot of time during this documentary feeling humbled with my own gay privilege, and thinking about how often you hear that gay rights have swept the country so quickly. I married the love of my life in the first state to ever legalize gay marriage; filing for our license was easy and never questioned. We've filed joint federal tax forms for two years now. I have a lot of guilt and conflict in my heart about the fact that I've stayed mostly closeted at my new job for the past year. But when I cross the bridge over the Columbia River and come home again each day, I breathe freely; my muscles relax; I know I can be who I truly am, without complete fear of violence. I have lived in liberal cities for the last decade, taken the easy road. I work in a conservative town, but I was still able to walk into my HR office and ask if I could add my wife onto my insurance benefits and they didn't blink an eye, because they were legally bound not to. 

Yet Tony and Richard--and so many others--fought for decades; hid for decades. Tony kept saying, "Those were hard years," in reference to being deported, in reference to all their friends dying from AIDS and being blamed for their own deaths; in reference to being publicly humiliated and harassed on the Donahue show. "Those were hard times," he kept having to say, over and over and over.

When the words came on the screen that Richard died, before they could renew their marriage vows, before they could hear the Supreme Court normalize their life, I actually said "No," out loud and broke out into sobs. It was so unfair. One of the last scenes is Tony watching the news about the fall of DOMA, alone in his pajamas. He calls Richard's sister, happy, but sad, wishing Richard was there to see it. The last update to hit the screen before the credits roll is that Tony is again petitioning for citizenship, as the widower of an American citizen. He is still, in 2015, fighting.

I've read a decent amount of LGBT history--most LGBT people have. But even as a lesbo, I had never heard of Richard and Tony, even though their story seemed pretty important, pretty pioneering. I thought about how much of my own history I still need to learn, how much more meaningful knowing this history makes current events.


Yesterday, I watched a documentary called Love Free or Die, about now infamously out Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson from New Hampshire. Yes, watching documentaries that make me cry is a nasty habit of mine, and no, they're not always about gay people. PBS has just really been gaying up my DVR recently, completely out of my control.

Anyway, most of this one wasn't news to me, as I'm already familiar with Robinson. But there was a section at the end that just had me crying and crying and crying, for the same reason that I always cry at the Gay Pride Parade, as I did here in Portland a couple weekends ago. He was speaking at a church in NYC before their Pride Parade, and his plan for the day that he implored his parishioners to join him in was to pass out cups of water to the parade participants. It was such a simple act, this passing out of water, just like it's a relatively simple act for all the churches and synagogues and mosques to march in Pride Parades, as so many now do. But sometimes simple acts of kindness really do just knock you flat on your ass. Especially when there's emotional instrumental music flowing in the background.

"It's not enough to pull the people out of a raging stream who are drowning," Robinson says. "We have to walk back upstream and find out who's throwing them in in the first place."


I have been thinking a lot about religion lately. After spending every Sunday in church growing up, I stopped going when I went to college and obtained my own free will, perhaps for obvious reasons. Yet one of the most prickly topics for Kathy and I over the last ten years has been Catholicism--I still have this stubborn desire to defend it, even when I know the church has done so many wrongs, even though I still don't feel comfortable walking back into a Sunday mass again. My defense is often illogical to Kathy, because, well, it is illogical. Most deeply rooted emotions that we don't truly understand are. The election and continuing reign of Pope Francis has been raising my Catholicism defenses to all-new heights, almost making me want to be Catholic again. Almost.

And then this year, a student of mine that I find a particular affinity with stays after school sometimes just to talk and rant about life. One day, he begins complaining, loudly, about religion, a topic that he continues to talk about in other after-school chats, about how all the Christians at this school are hateful bigots, how all religion is stupid. And it's wrong to automatically tell him he's wrong, because some of these Christians have indeed said hateful things to him, supposedly in the name of God, and it's important to not erase that. But immediately I find myself protesting this bold, blanket statement of his, imploring him that he can't just say that all Christians are bad. If we did, we'd be doing the same exact thing as people who say that all gay people are bad. That there are a lot of religious people who do really good things and are in fact not hateful bigots.

For the record, I don't think he bought it, but it's often hard to buy what an adult's telling you when you're a teen and everything sucks.


This weekend, most of Melissa Harris-Perry's Sunday show was taken up with the live broadcast from Emanuel AME in Charleston, the first Sunday service since the terrorist massacre last Wednesday. The crowds spilled out onto the street. And I know I shouldn't have been surprised, but as a white formerly-Catholic girl, it was still shocking to me to witness how this church and community that had been brutalized to horrific lengths carried out their Sunday worship. There was hurt and anger and sorrow, of course, but the church choir that was on the front steps, singing to the people on the sidewalk and in the street, were singing upbeat, joyful sounding songs, swinging their hips back and forth. And when the preacher spoke inside, he kept making the congregants laugh. He kept making me laugh! The call and response of that church this Sunday was so powerful but also so normal: it was what black churches have done to lift their people up for centuries.

Today, after a joyful morning of absorbing myself in as much happy Internet pride as I could after the Supreme Court declared gay marriage the law of the land, I sat down and watched President Obama deliver the eulogy for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney at an arena in Charleston, one of the nine slain during bible study last week, a man that Obama and his family knew personally. The speech was unreal. It almost felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, it felt so spiritual and righteous and true. He talked about Pinckney and he talked about racism--the real, insidious racism that poisons our country, that has poisoned our country from the beginning. He talked about God, and grace, and he talked about them a lot. The call and response that I had witnessed on Sunday continued, but it was more charged this time, a deep electricity pulsing through it, because this was the president of the United States. And he was taking. us. to. church.

And while I believe fiercely in the separation of church and state, while I believe those lines are still far too blurred in too many of our public schools and institutions today, at that moment, I wanted to go to church. I needed to go to church, something I didn't know until I started listening to Obama's sermon. The talk of grace and hope and resolve felt so healing, such a release, after all the anger and fear I've been bottling up since last Wednesday. The anger and fear won't go away, and shouldn't, but man, did going to church feel good. When he started singing Amazing Grace, I felt weak in the knees. It was the most unreal moment of the whole speech, but it was only because of all the words he had said before he got to that hymn, all the truths he had spoken that we've been needing to hear him say. He had preached so intensely that by the time he started singing those words, we were all there. We were there with him, and I hate that we had to get there because of this atrocious act of hate, but it's moments like these when you are there that you truly feel that hate can never win. And without those moments, we are all lost.

It wasn't my church. I was just sitting in my living room in my pajamas. But I was awfully glad I was able to be there.


It was not surprising to me, when flipping through news stations this morning, that Fox News had guests on that started talking about how the Supreme Court ruling today sets up a future war on religious freedom. That people who believe in the sanctity of one man, one woman are now somehow going to be persecuted, that somehow, they are not going to be able to live their lives freely.

This week I also read a book called Audacity, a fictionalized novel-in-verse about teenage labor union fighter Clara Lemlich in the early 20th century in New York City. In one poem, she talks about how the garment shop owners hired men to come to the picket line and tell all the Italian girls that the union leaders hated them, and the only reason they were really on strike was to get rid of them. The Italian girls went back to their workstations.
It is a tactic as old 
as the stars,
the poem read. 
and conquer.
The divisiveness that Fox News tries to cultivate is so transparent, so boring, and most of all, so demeaning to people who truly see and hear their God, who are truly people of faith. By saying that gay marriage is going to lead to a war on religious freedom, one assumes that religion is automatically against gay marriage. This is such a disservice to so many faithful and loving Christians today, to so many Jews, to Muslims and Buddhists and WhateverReligionYouWant. 

There is this perceived division in America that either you respect the Bible or you don't; that you either love the gays or you hate Jesus; that you are either red or blue. And I think so much of it is such a lie. I think people, in general, are so much smarter, so much braver than you would believe. 

Because Gene Robinson may be one of the gayest people I have ever witnessed. He is so gay. But goodness, does he love God. So much. And I think a lot of people are just like him.

You don't have to love God, of course! You don't have to believe in anything! But the possibility that you could, while also being gay or lesbian or gender-binary-smashing, that you could contain multitudes--why is that so hard to accept? In what world does containing multitudes make us weaker, not stronger?


I kept thinking during Limited Partnership that if I had so much more to learn about LGBT history, imagine what the general populace could learn about LGBT history! 

And a second after that, I thought, imagine if every non-black person knew the history of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina? The hatred and the strength that had already vibrated through those walls over the decades before a terrorist stepped into it last week? That, as Obama said today, it is a phoenix? That it has already risen from the ashes and it will again?

Imagine if these stories were told in history books. Imagine if students across the nation knew the name Harvey Milk as well as they knew Abraham Lincoln. If students knew the name Clementa Pinckney as well as Martin Luther King. If they knew about the transwomen that sparked a movement at Stonewall Inn; if they knew about the number of trans people that have been killed in 2015. (According to Wikipedia, at least 14.) If we all knew each other's history a little bit better, imagine what the world could be.


I hadn't been thinking about the Supreme Court decision that much lately. I knew it was coming, and because of the way recent history's been leaning, I hoped and suspected it would be good news. But I live and work in states where my marriage is already recognized; the federal government recognized it, too. This decision, in a way, wouldn't affect me at all.

But then when it happened today, and I thought about all those people in states that never would have passed gay marriage on their own--all those queers in Mississippi, in Alabama, in Oklahoma, in Georgia--and I thought about all those people fighting immigration battles like Tony and Richard that can be hinged on marriage, and all the people who don't get to sit by their love's deathbeds. 

And I thought about all the people who never got to see this. The dykes and trans warriors of Stonewall, the queens of the New York balls that bravely vogued their way to dignity, the fallen activists of ACT UP. Richard Adams. Jonathan Larson. Leslie Feinberg. All the icons that would have declared marriage a patriarchal piece of bullshit anyway, god bless them. And I was overcome.

And a few hours later, I thought of all the slaves, the activists, the allies, the regular beautiful people that never got to see a black president sing, simply and movingly, Amazing Grace from the pulpit of a black church to the entire United States of America. How surreal it would have seemed to them that this black president was only singing from this pulpit because black people were slaughtered in their church--again--but what an overwhelming moment this would still seem, what a teetering precipice of hope.

How lucky are we. What a responsibility we have; what a future to protect.


Our president quoted Clementa Pinckney in his eulogy today, and all of my thoughts from the past week or so were crystallized, affirmed.
"Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. 
We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”

Imagine if, even just for a few days a year, we could all go to each other's churches, whether they're in the heart of Charleston or on Christopher Street.

And imagine if we just listened.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Best: January 2015.

A lot of terror and hurt has been happening in the world lately. I've almost written about it here a hundred times, and I hope I still will, eventually, when I have adequate words, because if there's one thing I know it's that we have to talk about it. We have to talk about a lot of things.

But I still need to call out the good things in life that I like. To be able to do so at a time like this is definitely a privilege I have, but I'm going to push forward anyway at the same time that I own that privilege. And by 'push forward,' I actually mean rewinding to January.

2015 started with a reading bang for me, one of those runs where every book you pick up seems awesome and perfect and written just for you. If only these runs lasted forever! Jacqueline Woodson has always been one of my faves, but brown girl dreaming truly felt like a gift. A memoir told in verse, this is supposedly for middle readers but is really just for humans. Following her childhood from the North to the South and back again, this book aches of family and belonging and identity and longing and all the things Jacqueline Woodson's poetry says that I can't. I was so grateful for it, and it was so deserving of all the awards it racked up.

Ready Player One was the exact opposite, but so damn fun, the most fun I've had reading a book in years and years. I stayed up way past my bed time several times reading it because I was so wrapped up in its world, something my old lady body can hardly do for any book these days! And I don't even care about video games, and video games take up pretty much this whole book! It is spectacular and deserving of exclamation points! Steven Spielberg is slated to make the movie and I know it's Spielberg and all but still, YOU BETTER DO IT REAL GOOD, STEVE.

I made a couple actually decent meals this month, both just served over rice, one easy, one kind of a pain in the ass, but both delish! One was chicken tikka masala, everyone's favorite not-actually-Indian Indian dish. I used a recipe from the sriracha cookbook Manda got me for Christmas, which involved some marinating of the chicken for a while, among other things. Marinating chicken always ends up being worth it but like, you have to plan? And take extra time? Anyway, I also happened to make the basmati rice pretty perfectly, if I do say so myself, and it was a wonderful combo of tangy and creamy and spice.

My other favorite meal of the month was the "Cheater" Korean Beef Bowl from Damn Delicious, and lesbe honest, I think those should actually be triple quotation marks, because I don't think this thing authentically resembles any dish related to Korea. It is basically ground beef with brown sugar and soy sauce. BUT MAN does ground beef with brown sugar and soy sauce taste good! I added peas and potatoes to the mix, so, HEALTHY.

This whole year thus far belongs to T. Swizzle, both on a personal level and in terms of world domination, but winter was really all 1989 all the time for me.

Jill's Top 5 1989 Tracks, A List That She May or May Not Have Spent Several Hours of Commuting Time Contemplating:
  1. How You Get the Girl (I WOULD WAIT FOREVER AND EVER!)
  2. Welcome to New York (BOYS AND BOYS AND GIRLS AND GIRLS!)
  5. Shake It Off (Dwayne The Rock Johnson helped put this one on the list because now I REALLY can't listen to this song without smiling!!!)

We attended the Portland Dog Show at the Expo Center for the first time ever this month and it was...weird. It was so weird. And okay, to be truthful, I got really tired and moody towards the end of it but the weirdness of it all, and the fact that I got to see so many Newfoundlands and Bernese Mountain Dogs and St. Bernards all at once--all while getting to drink beer and eat salty soft pretzels--definitely marks it as the best thing I did during the inaugural month of 2015.

I went to the movies a few times in January, and saw other really great movies, like The Theory of Everything, but no other thing stuck in my mind and heart this month as much as Selma, a movie that was released at a strangely, heartbreakingly appropriate time. The work of Ava DuVernay and all of the actors in this film is remarkable and important, and I wish every single American watched it, and had conversations with each other about the real messages its stories told, and not about how the President was portrayed, as the President was a relatively minor character in all of it. The fact that LBJ was what America wanted to talk about in relation to a movie about MLK is all too apropos of what we do and do not talk about in America in 2015, what we shine light on and what we hide. It doesn't have to do with truth, but with what we're afraid of.

Watch movies about our history, read things, have conversations, rename that godforsaken bridge, and for the love of all that is good in this world, take down that damn flag.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Best : May 2015.

Oh hello there, beautiful little blog! Didn't see you there! Probably because I haven't updated you for five months! And last time I did update you, it was to post a humongo list of EVERYTHING I DID IN 2014 THAT I LIKED (okay almost everything) and it was great but also long and took a week to compile which was satisfying in the end but also annoying.

But it's 2015 now! Summer is in the air and I can feel it in my bones! And I have plans for you, beautiful little blog. This go 'round, instead of blogging once a year in a mind-numbing burst, I'm setting a goal of writing at least once a month about the good things that have been filling my brain parts. The best things, even. I will call this series Best. That previous sentence was a bit of a spoiler, wasn't it?

You also might have heard this, but it is June now. I know! WTF! As this is my second post of the year, I am clearly a bit behind in my once-a-month ambitions. I'm about to unroll the Best of May 2015, but I do really want to catch up on the previous months, too. I have notes in my phone about what the Best Things were of all those previous months and everything--whatta nerd!--it's just taken me this long to actually fully write one of them down here.

So after today, I'll work on catching up retroactively, and then hopefully I'll get on track. This is an over-explanation. Which is not new for me. Things Jill Likes definitely needs an editor.

I loved Americanah from the first page. What a knockout, gut punch of a novel. The hardest parts for me to read were when Ifemelu first came to America--well, a lot of her time in America, really--and Obinze's time in London. An epic about race, immigration, Lagos, America, and love. And blogging. But mainly the other stuff.

I also want to note that May was the month that I set up my own pull box at a local comic store for the first time. Nerd achievement: unlocked! I'll write about the comics I've been reading in another post because they deserve their own undivided attention.

I don't know if it's the on-point '90s references or if it's just all Jessica, but Fresh Off the Boat, which I was introduced to way late in the game this month, makes me laugh out loud. I love Jessica more and more each episode. And when I say love I mean I. LOVE. HER. This and Blackish are so good and promising and I hope that they are signs of more things to come--even more complex and even more funny stories of people that have been ignored by mainstream media for too long--not just a brilliant but brief ABC experiment of 2015.

These are new shoes I bought this month. They make me feel super cute!

I have been generally boring with music lately and just *whisper* listen to the radio *un-whisper* but gosh darnit, that "Shut Up and Dance" song is my jam. I also really love "Renegades" by the X Ambassadors which is that "long live the pioneers" song from that Jeep commercial and yes that Jeep commercial was how I first heard it oh god I am so old and embarrassing. The new Brandi single is also smashing DUH but I still haven't listened to the full new album yet so MORE TO COME ON THAT probs. 

Also let's talk about Janelle Monae and her backup dancers when she performed "Yoga" on The Tonight Show:

How I wish yoga was actually just like this.

Man oh man was I bad at food this month. I made a couple new recipes that were OK, a few standby favorites that didn't even taste as awesome as remembered, and ate a whole lot of fast food. But! I did get to visit the Portland Mercado with Kathy and Manda at the end of the month and man oh man was it neat. 

While pretty much every other development in Portland and the Pacific Northwest as a whole appears to be goddamn awful and soul sucking lately, the Portland Mercado, down the street from us on Foster, is a diamond in the rough: a bursting-with-life, bursting-with-success authentic community project. It's described as "the first Latino public market in Portland" and has pretty much everything you need: coffee, alcohol, groceries, candy, and chorizo. AND eight colorful food carts out front that each tell their own story from different corners of the Latin American world. This is a mole bowl from the Mixteca cart and it was good but now I just want to go back and try EVERYTHING ELSE.

I'm going to try to narrow down a thing I did each month that was my favorite but there will often be multiple things, as there are this month. The first notable thing we did was an urban scavenger hunt, which I thought was going to involve alcohol but actually just involved hula hooping and jumping in water fountains and talking to strangers and pretending to dance at a make believe quinceanera. It was very silly but very fun and Manda made us all matching t-shirts that said Darryl's Lesbian Haircut, which is our trivia name, which is a Walking Dead reference. Do I watch The Walking Dead? Of course not, fool. 

This is us making a ring around the world's smallest public park. It's a thing; look it up.

Kathy, Manda, and I also went on a hike at Latourell Falls, my second time doing the loop, which is a near perfect little hiking loop: awesome upper falls, awesome lower falls, Columbia River Gorge overlooks, inclines and declines, walking under a gothic feeling bridge, and a memorably odd tree. JP went with and was so tired and adorable in the back seat on the way home that I just about died.

Friends Katie and Todd also got married this month, which included a karaoke bachelorette party that began at Chopsticks III and ended with me having a serious conversation with a pitbull named Mixie on Becky's kitchen floor. It also involved a weekend full of shopping for new clothes which was almost shockingly irresponsible but also WAY FUN. And then of course there was a wedding in a barn in the Willamette Valley where you could see three Cascade peaks and lots of horses and llamas and the ceremony involved some killer Bob Seger references and even though it was hot we did our best to make it a dance party.

That was fun. Just wait until you hear about all the best of JanuaryFebruaryMarchApril!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2014: Some Highlights.

2014 had some tough times, but overall, it was actually awesome. So awesome in fact that it took me three days to compile this thing. Sorry (to myself) that I've been so slack at actually documenting all of this throughout the year, but here I am now to make up for all those months of silence. Get ready to be OVERWHELMED WITH THE AWESOMENESS of this highlight reel AND ALSO OVERWHELMED WITH HOW MANY TIMES I CAN SAY AWESOME IN ONE POST (it is a lot).

In January, we went to Florida to visit Kathy's brother. I spent a lot of time in Florida as a kid, but hadn't been back in a long time. I went to Disneyworld after graduating college in 2006 but that doesn't really count; Disney is its own state. In terms of an actual visit, it'd been a long time. The trip was great and fun and brought back Florida-y feels that I forgot I had, especially when coupled with family.

Snow! It snowed last winter, a real snow, which doesn't always happen in Portland. We made a (pathetic) (amazing) snowman. We took a walk in the snow with our dog and everything was peaceful and cold.

We won an award at trivia, an award that didn't even make sense because we had no idea people considered us foes. Like, we don't even win that often, you guys. We got trophies. What even. When playing weekly trivia wasn't enough geekery for us, our trivia team had board game nights. Or we just drank and played games at other bars. Because that is what grown ups do.

The Boston Marathon is one of Kathy's and my most favorite things in the world, and the 2013 bombings affected us in a way I can't fully describe. So it was important to us to return again this year, and somehow we made it happen. Plus, the timing of the marathon this year meant that we got to see not only great friends (plus baby!) but also family for Easter. Seeing family for holidays is a rarer and rarer thing these days, so all in all, what a fantastic trip. I will always love that dirty water.

While I've taken many, many trips to the Oregon coast, we took one in the spring that seemed particularly magic: a visit to Hug Point at low tide where there are waterfalls on the beach and caves and all sorts of wizardry, and then an overnight stay in what I believe was my first true oceanfront room. We be fancy!

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival: be still my little heart, every single time.

I took my first library class at Portland State's Graduate School of Education back in--2008, I believe? I finished all of my regular classes but then took some time off to get another master's and do some classroom teaching and try to make some money and be a writer and who knows what else, because that's the way I am, but this year I finally decided to finish my library degree for real. This meant doing two practicums--one at an elementary school, one at a high school, and then doing an additional practicum this summer at a public library. Along the way I got to visit a bunch of other unique libraries I probably never would have visited before, from the state library in Salem to art museum libraries to medical libraries. A lot of finishing up my degree was really stressful, but a lot of it was also really awesome, and affirming to me that the library just really is where I belong, and probably where I always meant to be from the time I picked up a Roald Dahl book when I was 8.

While I didn't take as many hikes this year as I wanted to, JP and I did take an awesome hike to Dry Creek Falls last new year's day, and Kathy and I hiked Cape Horn in Washington this summer, along with some other shorter hikes we did on trips. I'm hoping to get out more in 2015 and actually document more of my hikes in my seriously nerdy hiking blog.

In early summer, we headed back east to my home state of Pennsylvania for my cousin Brian's wedding to his lovely wife Ann. The wedding was in Lancaster County and Kathy and I arrived a few days early for a mini-vacation for ourselves before the festivities, and we really Amish-ed it up hard. What we learned is that the Amish can be kind of amazing and also that that many horse and buggies alongside cars zooming along roads is really strange. Anyway, the wedding was at a spectacular venue, and I took a lot of pictures, and cried a lot. My family weddings are better than your family weddings. I bet you a hundred dollars. (Notreally)

Kathy's parents came out for a nice long visit during the summer. We ate a lot of food and went to the coast and hung out on Mt. Tabor and I made them my peanut butter chicken, among other things.

Kathy, Manda and I took a day trip to Mt. Rainier, wherein I realized that Mt. Rainier is really too far away for a day trip, and it was hot as eff and the air conditioning in our car doesn't work and also Kathy was really sick for the whole long trip home. BUT! It was a really beautiful day, and we got to drive all the way to Sunrise Visitor Center, where I had never been before. Mt. Rainier is an insane place. The Earth is insane.

Along with the (dude) World Cup happening in 2014, we got to attend a few futbol games PDX style, which, let's be honest, is the best futbol style you can get in the US of A. Kathy and I got free tickets (thank you, Tiffany and Fred!) to a Timbers game, but the real joys of our hearts were the Thorns matches we saw, even if we didn't end up season champions this year. If we can swing it, we're hoping to get season tickets for the Thorns in 2015, because WOMEN'S SOCCER 4-EVAH. 

My mom visited in August, and we went on a rather epic road trip through Central Oregon. We started with a really interesting hike on Mt. Hood, then had lots of good eats and long walks in Bend, and then visited Crater Lake. And JP got to go along for the whole thing!

Speaking of road trips, we took another one to Southern Oregon with Kim to see Bela Fleck perform with the Britt Festival Orchestra in Jacksonville. Britt Fest is a music festival set in gorgeous hills that a lot of old white people really love. Like Tanglewood in the Berkshires but in Southern Oregon. So basically, I felt right at home. We spent the rest of the time stuffing cheese and chocolate and ice cream in our faces, as one should always do on road trips in the summertime.

For Manda's birthday, we had a touristy weekend in Seattle since she had never been there, and it was awesome because Seattle is always awesome. Seattle. Is. The. Best. In addition to all the classic stuff, we also did some things I'd never done before, like visiting the salmon fish ladder at Ballard Locks and actually visiting a Top Pot.

Throughout the year, we got to take a few random trips to Eugene/Springfield (really, Springfield) to visit Kim and Cliff, which feels a bit like a second home. Sorry, East Coast, we know you love them too, but man, are we glad that Kim and Cliff are back in Oregon. These trips included staying in their brand new adorable house, going to a Ducks football game for the first time (apparently a good year to do so), getting introduced to Ticket to Ride which has CHANGED MY LIFE FOR THE BETTER, and lots of delicious meals at Plank Town and Addi's Diner.

This fall, to celebrate ten years of being together, Kathy and I went to the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle. We stayed on Orcas Island at Pebble Cove Farm, which I almost don't want to tell anyone about because I want it to be OURS. But seriously, it was the type of place where we walked onto the property and said, here, we want to come back here, next year and every year. The whole trip was once of the most peaceful trips of my entire life. The Northwest continues to amaze me with all of its ridiculous Northwesty-ness.

For Thanksgiving, Sam and Steve (plus Desi) flew out from Boston and we all convened in Eugene at Kim and Cliff's for a ridiculously wonderful Friendsgiving 2014, a reunion that we hadn't replicated since Friendsgiving 2007. Hopefully another seven years won't go by until we can all see each other's faces again.

And perhaps the most important part of 2014 was that I started a new job, my first full time job as a teacher-librarian. I'm still not quite sure how to write about this job, or whether I should at all, due to public school privacy and professionalism issues (I know, professionalism, so boring), but essentially, this is my dream job. I cover a middle school and a high school in a small town and I have some really amazing co-workers at each school and each school is really different but I love them both, and am especially excited that I'll get to watch students transition from awkward 7th graders to graduating seniors. I took over for a librarian that had worked in the district to 30+ years, and after walking into her libraries, I now feel much better about my own hoarding tendencies. This fall has been busy with attempting to go through all of her old stuff and plot out how to bring these schools more into the 21st century. I've started graphic novel sections (there were none before), met with the superintendent about some staffing and budget issues and about introducing a programming class run through the library, I've met with the assistant superintendent about upgrading our library management system, I've talked to students about databases and being smart online and copyright, I've started book clubs, I've promoted Banned Books Week and the Young Reader's Choice Awards for what is apparently the first time at these schools, I've given book talks, I have deleted too many outdated books from the system to even count. What I'm saying is I really love my job and I think I'm doing a good job at it, and I'm hoping that I get to keep it for a long time, and that I continue to be better and better at it. I mean, I'm also human, and there are days where all I want to do is go home. But more often than not, I drive home with a warm feeling in my gut that says, I can't believe I get paid to do this.

I also say that it's the most important not because it's actually more important than all the other amazing things I did this year, but because the stability that it's starting to give both Kathy and I (health care? a decent paycheck? get outta here!) will allow us to do even more of the other amazing things, and start working towards some things we've wanted to work towards for a long time. 

After working part-time and freelance and retail jobs my whole life that could often literally entail working 24 hours a day, the privilege of my Real Person Schedule now is also not lost on me. Kathy and I now have every major holiday off together, and I'm still trying to get over the fact that I get winter and summer breaks. I am very lucky and very grateful.

Anyway, I'll stop crying over my job now, and say that this list of awesomeness wasn't even everything that was awesome this year. 2014 on the wider socio-political spectrum was a rough one full of hurt, but personally, this one was really good to me.

2015 holds a lot of things: planning a road trip to California for spring break that already feels like it's going to be the BEST TRIP EVER but I am not over hyping it or anything. Also everyone in the world that I love having babies. Also spending the summer actually learning how to code so that I can teach teenagers how to code. Also writing more and taking more pictures and reading more and being more awesome. 

How many times did I end up saying awesome, by the way? Probably too many. Or, AN AWESOME AMOUNT.