Monday, March 14, 2016

Best : January 2016.

All right, 2016! Three months in and I'm already way behind! Today marks the first time I've actually turned on my computer at all in at least a month. I keep telling myself I can be good at my Library/School Life AND my Personal/Writing Life at the same time but it keeps not working out that way. IT'S FINE. I'M HERE NOW SO THE SOONER I START THE MORE I'LL GET BACK INTO THE HABIT AND THEN I'LL BE SUPER ON TOP OF EVERYTHING FOREVER. NO, I DON'T REALLY KNOW WHY I'M TYPING THIS ALL IN CAPS, BUT I HOPE I GOT YOUR ATTENTION!

My two favorite books of January were both National Book Award finalists, so basically the National Book Award committee and me are likethis. Bone Gap also ended up winning the Printz Award this year, and while I'm not always crazy about Printz winners, I was totally, totally down with this one. Combined with my love of last year's Printz winner (I'll Give You the Sun), the Printz ain't doing so bad lately! Most Dangerous also won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction this year. What I'm saying is, good job award committees, and me, for being geniuses!

Most Dangerous's full subtitle is Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, and it is essentially a history of what eventually became the Pentagon Papers. I love Steve Sheinkin and would read anything he writes ever. This is one of his longest books for teens thus far, and it's because that history of how the Pentagon Papers came to be is so long and complicated and frustrating. I also think this book is important because how many high school US History classes actually get to the Vietnam War? I'd say a majority are lucky if they can get all the way through World War II. I didn't know a heck of a lot of the information in here, either, and it's such a fascinating, devastating, important, and foretelling part of our national identity.

Even though it's pretty clear Sheinkin sympathizes with Ellsberg here, this could also result in some great discussions about whether what he did was right, or moral, or legal. What I'm saying is, people should read it!

Bone Gap, on the other hand, is hard to describe--it's great YA magical realism in that it blends the fantastical with the very real, and there's mystery, and romance, and really interesting characters, and most of all, a really vivid setting and sense of place and atmosphere that I got totally sucked up into and didn't want to let go.

Plus, you know this book has got to be good when I will so readily profess my love for it even though it has a BEE on the cover and I REALLY REALLY HATE BEES. One of the main characters is a BEEKEEPER and I still liked her despite that! I basically just tried to block all the bee descriptions out of my head and it was fine. Kind of. Why am I writing this paragraph. It's making me think about bees and I HATE BEES. 

I made a few decent meals this month, but one of the prettiest looking ones were these buffalo turkey lettuce wraps. Also pretty healthy!....except for when I smothered them in blue cheese.

I already outlined my love of The Things I Regret back in November, but this month on a couple long drives I finally got to really listen to this album as a whole, and it is so full of life and joy and fire and I love it all. I'd go far enough to say it's one of my fave Brandi albums ever. Ever!

Jill's Top 5 Tracks:
5. Mainstream Kid
4. Wherever is Your Heart
3. The Stranger at My Door
2. Murder in the City
1. The Things I Regret

January marked the beginning of my "training" for Oregon PCT 2016, a month-long hike I'm hoping to accomplish in July. This first month of training involved a 7.5 mile stroll along the Clackamas River Trail, the longest hike I'd ever done at that point, as well as starting on my mini-goal of hiking the entire 30 mile Wildwood Trail in Portland, which I'm almost done with now. I really need to start documenting everything in more detail on my hiking blog, but I think this was a good start to the year, especially the Clackamas River Trail, which presented some challenges that it felt good to work through.

Right now, I go through periods of working out a lot and feeling strong and focused and like I GOT THIS, and then I'll go a week without exercising at all but instead eating a lot of fast food and sitting on my ass, and I start to feel like I DON'T got this. I think the more I document my efforts and my plans and my feels about Oregon PCT 2016, the more motivated I'll become. This is me writing a paragraph all about how I need to be writing a lot more paragraphs about what this paragraph is about. Hope you liked it!

A couple other fun things from this month!

As a belated celebration of Kathy's birthday/Christmas/New Year's, we had a LEGIT DATE NIGHT downtown, and it was super fun! We got drinks at Henry's and then delicious pasta at the hip and delicious Grassa. Did you guys know spending time with the one you love in places that you love is super fun? Well, it is!

Took a couple of fun weekend trips in Jan Jan, including a trip to Eugene to strategize PCT-ness with Cliff, and a trip to Seattle that was principally for a librarian training but REALLY so that I could hang out with Ashley and Kelly. I sadly didn't take any pictures of Ashley and Kelly being the greatest pals, but they did take me to Ada's Technical Books & Cafe, which is my newest favoritest Seattle place. A month where I got to go to Eugene AND Seattle is a good month because THE BEST people live in Eugene and Seattle.

The most momentous part of January, of course, was the kickoff of The Year of the Puppy. After our soulmate JP passed away in December, Kathy and I waited a whole few weeks until we couldn't stand it anymore and needed a new doggy companion. The day we got Fury, the pup on the right here, was one of the more stressful and anxiety-inducing days of my life, but it was worth it. To be fair, Fury isn't truly a puppy, probably landing somewhere a little under a year old when we adopted her, but she's definitely the youngest pup we've ever had. She's extremely different from JP, and Toby--she's tiny, she's timid, she's lazy, she likes other dogs. She also had a damaged foot that had to be amputated, so she's also the first three-legged dog we've owned! If I tried to capture how I was really feeling about Fury at the end of January, it'd probably be a little weirded out still, a little nervous, a little upset that she wasn't all the things I'm used to in a dog. I still miss JP, a lot, who was something special. With each week that goes by, though, I realize how special Fury is, too, and she reveals herself a little bit more to us, and I can now clearly see the chunk of my heart that she will end up occupying growing bigger and bigger and bigger.

Manda also got a pup in January--a legit wild, crazy pup--and that's the monster on the left. Tegan and Fury are the bestest of friends, and Manda has put in so much time and effort and sanity to help mold this munchkin into something amazing. She's already grown so much since this photo was taken, and I CANNOT WAIT to take her on runs and hikes and adventures!

2016 is going to be something special, y'all.

Monday, January 4, 2016

2015: The Year I Got Real Into Comics.


It's strange to me that in old school (or sometimes, misguided modern day) books or movies or TV shows, kids that are super into comic books are depicted as the uber-nerds. And being a nerd in these tropes is always a BAD thing. The kid is always a loner, an outcast, or some other version of Different. Because to me, and especially these days, folks that are super knowledgeable about comics are, in fact, the UBER COOLEST. The kind of cool that knows using uber as an adverb isn't hip anymore! The kind of cool that I will likely never fully attain but that I am uber jealous of!

2015 was the year I started my attempt to casually meld into the comics world. Of course, it all started with Lumberjanes. I enjoyed the experience of Lumberjanes so much that I wanted more, more, more to help fill in the spaces between Lumberjanes issues. I started to learn some comics-world lingo--because there is totally a whole lexicon--and I started to learn that each comic shop is its whole little universe with its own quirks. I created a pull list at my local shop, felt less intimidated each time I went in, and by the end of the year, achieved my greatest comic nerd triumph: added so many titles to my pull list that I'm now on their Tier One discount level! PROCEED TO HOME, COLLECT $200!

I also learned that a comics habit can be a very expensive habit.

Since I mostly have the emotional sensitivities of either a very tender 11-year-old or a mostly conservative 86-year-old grandma, sometimes comics can be hard for me. I tried but quickly gave up on series that I heard nothing but rave reviews of (Rat Queens; The Wicked and the Divine) because I knew the violence was going to be too much. I braved through a few titles that were often too violent for me (Bitch Planet; Black Widow) but I stuck them out because my feminism overruled my fear (as it always does and should). 

But here are my Top 5 of 2015, the series that are almost never hard for me, the ones I always looked forward to seeing in my box at the comic book store, which I am absolutely cool enough to now have:

#5: Sex Criminals
Matt Fraction / Chip Zdarsky (Image)

As a youth librarian who sometimes has a hard time straightening out the life/work divide, reading books like this is so hard for me because it is SO GOOD but I can't tell students about it EVER or I will totally get fired. But I like to keep my blog squarely in my Personal Life Brain, so if a student somehow ends up reading this, I'm sorry (but not really).

Sex Criminals introduces us to Suzie and Jon, who hook up at a party and soon realize they hold the same secret: when they orgasm, time stops and magical stuff happens. 

In the first arc, they use this frozen-sex-time to plot robbing the bank where Jon works in order to attempt to save the library where Suzie works, which is about to be shut down. What makes Sex Criminals so good though is that while that premise alone sounds pretty freaking fantastic, there's so much else at play here. Sometimes I actually leave these issues to read last from my current stack of new comics because it's probably the heaviest comic I read, at least at times. Fraction joked once in the (extensive) notes at the back of each issue that people show up for Sex Criminals expecting the sex and then BOOM are hit with story lines about depression instead! Suzie and Jon's relationship can be hard and real as they both struggle with their own demons. But aside from relationships, there's also a ton of stuff in here about sexuality, morality, society, and feminism.

And, you know, a LOT of sex jokes. (A lot.) 

#4: Hawkeye
Matt Fraction / David Aja
Jeff Lemire / Ramon Perez (Marvel)

Hawk-guy! Of all the classic(ish) Marvel characters I attempted to introduce myself to this year, this series is just so freaking fun and fantastic. I love the art, the storytelling, I love Clint Barton, and I LOVE KATE BISHOP. I love Kate Bishop SO HARD. Kate Bishop is MY GIRL.

The Fraction/Aja Hawkeye that ran from 2012 until its final issue this year garnered about as much praise as it seems you can probably get in the comics world, and it's well deserved. I've also started reading the Lemire/Perez All-New Hawkeye series that picked up since then and I'm loving it just as much. I personally love the interweaving water colors of Clint and Barney's back story, and the humor is still totally spot on. And it's the humor of Hawkeye that draws me in the most.

Marvel editor extraordinaire Sana Amanat put it really well in her letter at the end of the Fraction/Aja series (don't worry, no real spoilers here), about why we all love Hawkeye so much:
"It focused on a character with no super-powers, who keeps getting the crap beaten out of him, who can't quite get his life right, but keeps trying to make others' better. While he may not have the power of Thor or the muscle of Steve Rogers, Clint Barton's character lies at the very heart of what makes Marvel Comics so great: He's so futzing relatable. Maybe we don't have those archery skills, the perfect aim, or the ability to take that many punches--but when we do get knocked down, we all want to have the invincible determination to get back up. And man, Clint had to do that a lot in this story." (He sure did.)

#3: Paper Girls
Brian K. Vaughan / Cliff Chiang (Image)

Considering there have only been three issues of Paper Girls so far versus alllll those issues of Hawkeye I read last year, maybe it seems unfair to put it ahead, but you guys, THOSE THREE ISSUES HAVE BEEN SO GOOD. A girl gang of teens in Ohio in the 1980s are delivering the morning paper in Cleveland, kicking ass, and then...well, then some alien shit starts happening. Even that might be too spoiler-y. The guy at my comic shop basically just told us we HAD to read this when it first came out: "They're paper girls...I really can't tell you anything else. BUT JUST READ IT, IT IS SO GOOD." Thank you, guy at my comic shop!

Even in just three issues, the character development of these girls is so awesome and I love all of them. I think I would read a comic about them even without the alien stuff. But the alien stuff is real good, too. (And creepy, which I am pushing past my grandma sensitivities to enjoy. I am very proud of myself.) I am so pumped about continuing to read this in 2016.

#2: Ms. Marvel
G. Willow Wilson / Adrian Alphona (Marvel...but duh)

There are almost no words to describe the depth of my love for Ms. Marvel. If you haven't heard of Kamala Khan in the past year I feel like you probably don't care much about reading. And in which case, I think you should really give reading a second chance for Kamala Khan. Here's the scoop: she's a Pakistani-American teen living in Jersey City and one day a terrigen mist takes over the town and gives her funky but awesome polymorph powers. She's the first Muslim to ever headline a Marvel comic, and she's the best. She's geeky and fangirl-y and smart and righteous. She struggles under her family's expectations at the same time that she's loyal to them. She is insecure sometimes but always infectious.

And then there is BRUNO! I have major Bruno feelings, you guys. On top of Kamala-discovering-her-super-powers fun and Bruno feelings, other famous Marvel characters appear here and there, and the bad guys are alwas fun to hate. Everything about this series is solid.

#1: Lumberjanes
Shannon Watters / Grace Ellis / Noelle Stevenson / Brooke Allen (BOOM Box!)

I think it takes a tremendous amount of talent to create something that appeals to literally every age of humanness. Reading this series over the past year, it felt like something that was created just for me, perfectly right now, in my 30s. I also feel great about buying it for my high schoolers, and it's also featured in Scholastic Book Fairs making their way through elementary schools this year. Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types is the summer camp every kickass lady or queer kid or human being who's always felt a little quirky has longed for. If I was able to attend it, would I handle all the monsters and adventure with the same pluck and courage that the Lumberjanes do? I don't know, but I like to hope so. 

The Lumberjanes, every last one of them, feel like your friends from Issue One, and finding friendship and joy and comfort in the pages of a book--or comic--is exactly what literature is meant to do. The world is a better place now that this comic exists.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best : December 2015.

Okay let's do this! I WILL get this done before 2015 finishes because that is definitely the most important thing to do on New Year's Eve!

December was the Month of Charcuterie. For our New Restaurant o' the Month, we visited Cheese and Crack off of SE 28th, and it was so damn good. And pretty. Very pretty. Inspired, we later bought a bunch of fancy cheeses and meats and chocolates and little pickles and stuff to make our own charcuterie for Christmas Eve. Herein we learned that when you assemble your own, there is no one to tell you when to stop and how to properly balance your small plates, and you will eat nothing BUT cheese and little pickles all night and then feel sick. But Cheese and Crack will not make you feel sick because they know what they're doing.

I'll be honest; December wasn't the best month. However, I DID read a lot of good books! The Walls Around Us is dark as hell, you guys, dark dark dark daaaark, and more than a little scary at times, but Nova Ren Suma just writes so damn well and creates that magical realism so, well, magically, that I enjoyed it a lot more than all the other dark "literary" YA I've read lately. Also, that cover! Gorgeous! Highly recommend.

I've also been reflecting lately about how I feel like I've been abandoning my middle school library at least mentally in comparison to the reading/work I've put into the high school this year so far. Did you know that trying to run two separate libraries is kind of a lot sometimes? Anyway, when I was asked to give some book talks this month at the middle school, I realized I hadn't read any new middle grade in a looong time. And even though The One and Only Ivan isn't new, I thought it would fit the reading level of the kids I was talking to well, and I should really be up on all those Newbery winners anyhoo, so I read it over a weekend and OMIGOD. Good middle grade fiction, man, it can just punch you in the gut. This one was based on a TRUE STORY of a silverback gorilla that was kept cooped up in a circus-themed MALL for over TWENTY YEARS. UGH. UGH. UGH. The book is told from the gorilla's point of view, and there are elephants, and a small dog, and a wise and compassionate little girl, and ugh. It killed me.

On a lighter note, let's talk about Felicious Day! She is just SO FREAKING LIKABLE, you know? And her book, You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) only confirmed that over and over. I mean, that title alone! How can you not like it! I do admit that I only knew of Day through the Whedonverse really, so I never watched The Guild and accordingly never REALLY knew the extent of her nerdiness, but man, it is DEEP. She's also able to be completely humble and human and enjoyably self-deprecating WHILE ALSO making clear that she is pretty much a genius who has worked freaking hard to accomplish the things she has. It was a thoroughly fun read and I think the book and Day herself are so inspiring for young people to have no shame about loving the things they love, and making amazing things happen because of that love. Also, because she is so golden and lovely and good, the chapter on #GamerGate will make you want to punch someone in the face. Actually, many people in the face. But I'm sure it wasn't easy for her to write or include, and I'm very glad she did.

Finally, March Book Two knocked me on my feet even more than the first volume of this non-fiction graphic novel series. I personally found the interweaving of the tumultuous 1960s time period events with John Lewis's attendance at Barack Obama's inauguration moving, even though I kept thinking it would be a turnoff for all the students who I know have been raised to hate Obama. And then I started thinking about how sad it is that so many children have been raised to hate Obama, and it's a whole 'nother spiral, but anyway. If I could make young people read ONE THING next year, it would be March. Just so well done.

Right, so I am not the biggest Star Wars aficionado in the world, but I do love witnessing other people loving something real hard! And the anticipation and excitement of our movie theater crowd when that logo came up and that magnificent John Williams score burst into our eardrums again! So great. I enjoyed the shit out of this movie. BB-8 and Rey! I love you!

When I scrolled through my Camera Roll to refresh my brain parts about what I actually did this month, I realized (as I normally do) that even though there were crappy parts of this month, there was also a lot of good things. One particularly good night was Kathy's work Christmas party. These parties are notorious for being hot drunken messes, and over the years I've learned that that mess can be a GOOD hot mess, but it can also be a baaad one. But good news is that this year's was good! One of the most epic White Elephants that was ever elephanted. For real.

For our friend Arielle's birthday, we went to a pottery-painting place, which I had never done before. And as happens sometimes with things you've never done before, I was sort of like "eh, sure" beforehand, but then once we got there, I was immediately like THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER. I also got sort of Surprise Drunk in the middle of the day, so, that could have also contributed to the enjoyment. Either way, would go back, four stars.

This week our friends Becky & Nick let me borrow their perfect dog Mixie and we went on a hike at Cape Falcon on the coast, part of Oswald West State Park. I should note that I wasn't planning on going to Cape Falcon, or even the coast at all; there were two separate hikes on the way that I had researched but I couldn't find the effing trailheads even though they're supposed to be RIGHT OFF THE HIGHWAY. Anyway, Cape Falcon was well signed so eventually I said SCREW IT MIXIE GIRL, LET'S GO HERE. And it must've been fate because this was one of the best damn hikes I've ever gone on. I'm hoping to write about it in full on my dorky hiking blog soon. I'm actually hoping to write in my dorky hiking blog a whole lot in the upcoming year because I'm prepping for possibly hiking the Oregon portion of the PCT next summer and I have some hiking muscles to hone like whoa. Did I mention that Mixie is a perfect dog?

Even though we haven't been able to spend Christmas with our families on the East Coast in a long time, I love Christmas in Portland, too. I love Peacock Lane and the large but random assortment of Christmas decorations we throw all over our little apartment. I love anxiously waiting for packages full of presents from our loved ones scattered across the country. I love opening one stocking gift and one real gift Christmas Eve. I love Kathy making breakfast Christmas morning. I love making Christmas cookies and I love Christmas songs and watching the same damn Christmas movies over and over again each year. I love Christmas and I love New Year's Eve, too. I love reflecting on the year gone by and planning and scheming for the year ahead. 

I know holidays aren't always happy for everyone, but I hope yours were as happy as they could be. Happy 2016!

Best : November 2015.

Well, on the upside, I updated this blog in 2015 more than I did in 2014--by a few more measly posts! Heck yeah, pathetic to slightly-less-pathetic! And this Best series was fun for me and helped me remember a lot of cool stuff. On the downside, I was TOTALLY POSITIVE that I had hit up the best of every month of this delicious year but in reviewing the facts today, I have discovered that I TOTALLY LEFT OUT March and April. Huh. Which is too bad, because who the hell knows what I did then? Those months are FOREVER ago. 

However, I am committed to starting 2016 fresh and clean clean, and closing up shop on the Best series for 2015 RIGHT NOW. So bam, November and soon December, here we GO go go go goooo--

For the last few months of the year, I've been trying to cram in as much reading from two book lists as possible--one, Young Readers' Choice Award (YRCA) nominees for this year, as I promote them at school, and two, Mock Printz 2016 nominees for an uber-nerdy library workshop I'm attending in January. Basically, one is full of books that teens thought were good over the last few years, and the other is full of books that adults thought were good this year.

Guess what?

The books teens thought were better are SO MUCH MORE FUN, KIDS.

In fact, most of the Mock Printz ones I've read so far have been so gloomy and tedious that I'm almost starting to be mad bout it. But it's okay; the YRCA ones are making up for it, and one of my faves so far is Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza, nominated in the Intermediate (7th - 9th grades) division. It's about a teen female android! Who doesn't know she's an android for the first like six chapters! (This is not much of a spoiler because the plot is outlined on the back cover.) I mean come on, that's fun.

The Port Chicago 50 is wayyy different in that 1) it's non-fiction and 2) it's not very fun at all. Well, it's fun in that it's a really fascinating and incredibly readable piece of youth non-fiction, as is all of Sheinkin's fantastic work, but not-fun in that it's about a grave injustice in our nation's history that still hasn't been totally rectified and that I previously knew NADA, ZILCH, NOTHIN' about. It tells the tale of African-American soldiers in the World War II-era segregated Navy, working at a port near San Francisco called (confusingly, imo) Port Chicago. You see, at the time, we allowed black folk to risk their lives by loading bombs onto ships (with absolutely no training), but we didn't trust them to actually, like, take a step onto a ship, or fight the enemy, or whatever other little things they ACTUALLY wanted to do. So then when, unsurprisingly, one of those freight ships full of bombs blew up in Port Chicago and killed a whole bunch of people, the black soldiers started saying oookayyy now, let's cut this out and STOP loading bombs onto ships without proper training, or at least give us the option of doing other things to help with the war effort because, you know, racism sucks. And the United States said nahhh, we'd rather charge you with mutiny! Good times. Not really, but a good read.

I've always liked Aziz Ansari, but after watching his greatest achievement to date, Master of None, I LOVE him. This show is just so good. It feels authentic and real without being pretentious or tortured; it is HILARIOUS while also being downright sweet at times and almost always touching somehow. His parents are AMAAAAZING in it and I am obsessed with Dev's friends Denise and Arnold. It also deserves all the awards for the Dudes Walking Home From a Bar v. Girl Walking Home From a Bar scene. Just watch it and you'll know the one. Aziz gets it, you guys.

After feeling perfectly neutral about a lot of music this year, some tunes popped up into my atmosphere this fall that are all pretty different but are all my JAMS, son.

S.O.B. by Daniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (hahaaa, what a gross/great band name): Ugh, OK, so local radio has already started overplaying the shit out of this song so its magic has started wearing away for me, but the first few times I heard it! Hot damn! The chorus is just him yelling SON OF A BITCH and GET ME A DRINK! And it's all very gospel-folks-y complete with hand claps and background mmm-mmms and ohhhs that are just spot on with his gravelly voice. My wheelhouse completely.

Downtown by Macklemore: So this whole song is pretty aight, but what I really just LIVE for is the chorus where the singer just let this line RIP: "Have you ever felt the warm embrace of a leather seat between your LEEEEEGGGSSS" and it is just SO SEXY AND FIERCE. And up until this moment I always, stereotypically, pictured a fab black woman singing those lines. So I just went to look it up so I could give that fab black woman proper credit here, and I discovered that that fab black woman is actually...uh, a white dude. Named Eric Nally. So, boys and girls, this is what happens when you assume! AND when you are a victim of a gender binary society that taints your brain!

The Things I Regret by Brandi Carlile: Brandi's latest album, The Firewatcher's Daughter, contains so much joy and energy and kick-ass-ed-ness that her previous, more sorrowful releases were sorely lacking. Her latest single from it, The Things I Regret, is one of my faves, particularly because of the way it ends! LIKE A HOLY ROLLING STONE!!! - CUTTTTTTT, BOOM, MIC DROP, SO GOOOOOOD. 

WTF by Missy Elliott: I must admit that other than her huge '90s singles I don't know much about Missy. When hipper people my age were listening to her in her heyday, I was mainly listening to, you know, Simon and Garfunkel. And Hanson. But I am more than willing to start my education now because each time I listen to WTF I like it more. That beat! If this doesn't make you want to dance, well, I'm sorry for you.

I should note that one of my other normal favorite things to talk about each month is favorite food, but I think I just ate like shit all November (other than Thanksgiving, which I'll get to in a sec, but that counts as a whole separate thing, obvs), and life is too short to really comb through my memories for one decent meal to share. So we'll skip it and just start the Best Things of November 2015.

We got to see Carrie Brownstein do a reading/interview/talk thing on her promotional book tour for Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl and originally Tig Notaro was supposed to be her interviewer, but at the last second she couldn't make it so instead Janet and Corin were there. Because OF COURSE. It almost felt like this was inevitably going to happen always. We learned that Carrie has a very large and impressively nerdy vocabulary and that Janet is hilarious and sort of rambly and Corin is very Corin. It was a way too brief event but also felt like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was also very, very Portland-y. I still haven't actually sat down to read Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl but I already know it is going to make feel a lot of feelings.

Kathy and I took a super quick but super great day trip to Seattle one weekend to see Sam (who I still refer to as Sam M., even though she's technically Sam L. now) who was in town for a conference, and then a "quick" visit to Kelly and Ash's, which Kathy was originally convinced we could make last only 20 minutes so we wouldn't get home too late, hahaha. Late arrival at home = worth it. God, Seattle, and all of the people I mentioned in this paragraph, are the best.

Food! Food! Fire! Food! While we normally spend Friendsgiving in Eugene at Kim and Cliff's, for multiple reasons this year we opted out and had a Kathy-Manda-Jill-sgiving at home instead. And if you're wondering just how much food the three of us can whip together for, you know, just us three, well, it is a lot. Thanksgiving also commenced Kathy's Obsessed With Fire period, an affliction which is still ongoing, but does make the apartment rather cozy.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Best : October 2015.

My privileged and luxurious five-day Thanksgiving break comes to a close tonight, and while I've gotten some errands done and spent good time with good people, the majority of it has been a festival of lazy. I'm not always good at being lazy, a term which for me usually involves reading, eating, and watching depressing documentaries. Party animaaaaaaaal ovah here! And all those super awesome things are what I absolutely in my head wish I could be doing all the time. And for the first day or first few hours of doing these things, I am always SO HAPPY. And then it's like after that honeymoon period of Jill Alone Time Bliss, less oxygen begins to be pumped to my brain and heart and I almost start to be annoyed at all the books I need to read, all the media I need to consume, all the self-reflection I need to revel in and I'm like oh yeah, this is why having a job where I'm required to leave the house is so much better for me. At this point, on Sunday night, the oxygen has almost cut off completely, and I want to murder that last sentence I just wrote on account of its annoyingness.

One good thing has come out of this current stint of laziness, though, and it's thinking about, as the year winds down, how I'm going to be better next year at this. Work right now for me is very good. Personal life, very good. But there are the two things that I've always done Just For Me, that make my brain and heart actually tick and expand, and those two things are words and pictures. I still don't quite know how to fit them in to my current life, but I know I need to. This Best of the Month thing on my blog this year has been fun to work on, I think, and good for me in terms of recording and remembering things, but I think in the future it will be more meaningful (and perhaps more interesting to other people? not that that really matters) if I complete them, in fact, at the end of each month in real time. And I need to do more than JUST these lists. But ah, the end-of-the-year resolutions about writing more and taking more pictures, what is new here? Nothing, but it always feels new; it always feels important, and so it is.

Thanks for that space to think out loud, Blogger. You're a real peach. More soon.

For my birthday this month, I requested a dinner at Montage, whose technical name is Le Bistro Montage but how snooty is that, a restaurant I was obsessed with during our first few years of living in Portland but which we hadn't returned in a long-ass time. And guess what. I'M STILL OBSESSED WITH IT.

Montage is a Cajun/Creole restaurant in this shabby building that is literally UNDER A BRIDGE (the Morrison Bridge, just as an FYI) with long communal tables and they have all kinds of gross seafood like oysters and alligator--okay, I guess alligator isn't exactly seafood? right?--but the reason I love it is for their macaroni. Their macaroni is worthy of all the best emojis in the world, from the shiny hearts to the black leotard clad twins kicking their legs in joy. There's always the difficult option between their Spold Mac, a blend of their spicy mac and their "old" (read: heavy cream and garlic) mac, and their new(ish) addition of a Buffalo Mac, which is notable because of the 20,000 pounds of blue cheese that comes with it. (I went with that one this time.)

Okay, I just checked to see if I'd already written about the Montage mac on this blog before, and as suspected, I was all over it in 2011. In a blog post that made me cringe glancing through it but which somehow had SIX enthusiastic comments on it. Gosh, people really liked me back then.

Anyhoo, I have no foto of the Montage mac from anytime I've eaten there, apparently, probably because I scarf it down so quickly, and the lighting is so dim in that joint it'd probably be a horrible foto, anyway. But here's an Instagram of the front stoop of Montage that I took a long time ago. Here is what Google Translate reports that it says:

Come to me, you who labor the stomach, and I will restaurebo you.

Seems legit, Google Translate. Seems legit.

There wasn't a single 5++++ star book standout for me in October, but these are two really solid 4 - 4.5 star ones that I really enjoyed. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B is realistic YA about a group of kids who meet in an OCD therapy group who take on pseudo superhero identities to help cope. They also sometimes visit a Catholic church, whose somber rituals soothe their OCD tendencies, and sometimes they fall in love. There was a lot of sweet romance here but there was also a lot of fascinating stuff about mental health. I only read this because it's a nominee for the Young Readers' Choice Award, an award I promote at school. I love this award for a lot of reasons, but an unexpected one so far has been that since students from British Columbia and Alberta also participate in the award, there's always at least one stellar Canadian title in there that I wouldn't have previously heard of because apparently stellar Canadian titles can run under the radar in the US because the US is stupid. Anyway, each one I've read so far, like Toten's, is eloquent, sensitive, and interesting.

The Name of the Star is pure fun--a modern-day Jack the Ripper tale in London--but I was pleasantly surprised by it because I was less-than-enthusiastic about the only other Maureen Johnson book I've read, 13 Blue Envelopes. Envelopes was also very fun, but also sort of meandering and pointless and I felt there were so many character elements that weren't fleshed out. This was sad to me because I looove Maureen so much on Twitter. But in terms of plot and character and tension, The Name of the Star felt so much more solid. It is also the PERFECT book recommendation for middle and high school kiddos in October (spooky, but not TOO scary), so A+ timing for me!

Project Runway is just the best, you guys. I've already made my love for this show apparent on this blog, but goshdarnit, I love it. Other shows will languish on my DVR queue for months but this fall Kathy and I would watch each episode every Thursday night in practical real time. [collective gasp from the audience] I feel like some fans were real grumps about this season, but I loved Ashley's final runway show SO EFFING MUCH. Is the overall quality of design as high as it was in the early seasons? Probably not. Are all the designers still more talented than I could ever be with some cloth and a needle? Absolutely. Plus, other than Candice most the time, and that one horrible Bitchfest episode, a lot of folks on this season were just genuinely nice people. And when it seems like the world is full of not-so-nice people more and more lately, sometimes it's stress relieving to just watch nice people make cool stuff on TV.

Okay, now for the Best Stuff. I dragged Kathy and Manda to the middle of nowhere, Washington State, to go on a hike for my birthday. And I mean real middle of nowhere. Probably the most middle of nowhere I've dragged other people to for a hike, ever. Lower Lewis Falls is in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest on the outskirts of Mt. St. Helens land, and even with its middle of nowhere-ness, this was a real nice day. The weather was nice, I got to play all my favorite music in the car, the hike was interesting and cool but not TOO strenuous, there was fall color, JP got to come with us, we had a really cool viewpoint of Mt. St. Helens on the way back, it was just nice.

So. Let me tell you. We saw Hanson this month, but I really wasn't THAT enthused about it beforehand. First of all, Hanson are all kind of assholes now. Second of all, I haven't listened to any of their new music in years (and yes, they ARE still coming out with new music--like, all the time--like, probably too much--for those people out there who are somehow NOT in tune with the Hanson universe). Third of all, this was a weird ass tour where they came to each city for two nights in a row and you HAD TO BUY TICKETS FOR BOTH NIGHTS. It was their "Roots of Rock and Roll" tour lololol and one night would be mostly cover songs and another would be "classic Hanson hits" lololol. And the combined ticket price was pretty pricey, way more than I'd normally pay for a concert these days.

BUT, because it is our legacy, we went. And oh man. Oh man oh man was I SO FUCKING HAPPY for the duration of a few hours for both of those nights. CURSE YOU HANSON, YOUR MAGIC STILL WORKS. I'm such a loser for even trying to be sarcastic about this because for instance, I just mocked their pretentious title of this tour, but it comes from an actual line in one of their songs, "Been There Before," and when I screamed along with it on one of those nights: "Does it fill your heart and soul with the roots of rock and roll?"  all I felt was YES! YES IT DOES!

On the second night, while dancing and drinking and singing along, I spent a lot of time writing a letter inside my head to my current favorite high school students, a letter that I was firmly planning on writing as soon as I got home but never sending, to the ones who love One Direction and Twenty One Pilots so fiercely. I was going to tell them--never be ashamed of your fandom, because I know what it feels like, and that feeling is so necessary when you're young. And one day, when you're in your 30s, maybe you'll still be going to One Direction shows, and you'll remember that feeling, of freedom and joy and being alive, and it will be just the same, and you will be so, so grateful for it, because for so many 30 year olds--for you, most of the time--it is a feeling that is almost entirely forgotten. I never wrote the letter, of course, which is a shame because I know I said it all so much better in my head when I was there, when it was all right there. But now I'm back to being a normal grown up, and the forgetting happens so quickly these days.

I feel like I don't normally include so many selfies in these Best Of posts, but I had a lot of really happy selfie times this month. Apparently my go-to happy selfie pose is to open my mouth really wide. Which I'm okay with. Because why not?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Best: September 2015.

On this day when the world seems scary and awful (which is the way the world looks most days depending on who you are), I am going to selfishly focus on the good stuff. Good stuff from September, which already seems ages ago. I've been labeling the date as "2016" for like a month. As far as I'm concerned, after Daylight Savings hits, the world has shifted and we are MOVING ON, FOLKS. But September was really good so I'm happy to make this slight timey wimey exception and go back to it.

This lemon pepper chicken orzo from my fave, BB, just SLAYED it for me this month. Instead of using whole chicken thighs as Beth did, I just used biggish chunks of chicken breast because HELL-O that is my white girl initiative. I also was able to use up the last of my fancy lemon pepper blend that my mom sent me for Christmas a long time ago, and I used a LOT of it, and I used a LOT of feta, DUH. My orzo turned out PERFECTLY which soothed my Orzo Anxiety, born after making a recipe earlier in the summer with Fancy Organic Orzo From the Organic Bins Aisle, which turned out slimy and mushy and gross. But this recipe proved that it wasn't me! Just get the mass produced shit in the box and everything will be fine!

Seriously, I could eat this recipe forever.

Oh my god, I'll Give You the Sun. This book gut punched me and I loved every second of it. Actually, this isn't true. For the first chapter or two, the artsy fartsy hyperbole of Noah's mind caused lots of eye rolling on my part. But when it drew me in, it drew. me. in. The writing, the structure, the yearning romance, it all held me in its rapture. It deserved every ounce of that Printz Medal. One of my favorites of the year thus far.

Anna and the French Kiss, on the other hand, was pure romantic fun, but such a GOOD romantic fun! Not as artsy fartsy as Jandy Nelson but I loved every second of this, too. St. Clair is the swooniest of all the swoony YA male romantic leads, but Anna is great, too--relatable and funny and interesting. I read Lola and the Boy Next Door after this, which, I should note, is the one book I received multiple complaints about last year at my library, and it was okay but just not as good as Anna. (Was it worthy of the complaints, though? My personal opinion: nah.)

September brought the return of new TV (THANK GOD) and the best season premiere of them all was Black-ish. Kathy and I started watching this at the tail end of its first season at the beginning of 2015, and quickly fell in love with it. I think I fell in love with the kids first, but now I am fully OBSESSED with the mom, played by the incandescent Tracee Ellis Ross. The first episode of this season WENT THERE by being all about the n-word, and without drawing any concrete or preachy conclusions at the end, was full of discussion that was poignant at the same time as it was HEE-LAR-IOUS. I have learned that teens at my high school have VERY strong opinions about the n-word; several classes have held Socratic Seminars about it. I can only cringe when I imagine the things that are said by all of our white students. I almost wish that instead of having to hear their peers' uneducated teen brain opinions about the word, they were just required to watch this episode in class, instead.

But really, this show is the best.

Manda's birthday is in September, and in celebration this year she wanted to go to the coast and blow some glass. Blowing glass is something I've never had a huge desire to do myself, but I was pumped about a road trip--which we spent almost the entirety of blaring P!nk and it was perfect. When we got there, though, and I watched Manda and Kathy mold their molten globs of beautiful, fiery glass [I was the documenter], I was FASCINATED and taken over by the uninhibited glee of being really awed by something you weren't expecting. It was the coolest thing ever, you guys. THE COOLEST. EVER.

Plus, we went to a burger place that wrote your name in ketchup in your fry sauce, and visited this weird geology store that had a huge animatronic dinosaur that roared and flailed its tiny T-rex arms at you. In short, it was THE PERFECT DAY.

While we missed the tulip festival this year for the first time in many, many years, we did make it to the dahlia festival in September. And while the pure scope of the tulip festival is the most impressive, the actual badassery of dahlias is far superior, and hence my favorite festival. What, you don't think flowers can be badass? I suggest you look at the fine specimens in these here photographs and think about how dumb you are.

These two lovely souls visited from SoCal this month for a friend's wedding, and it felt like we hadn't seen their faces in SO LONG. It happened to be a cold and wet weekend they were here, which was somewhat shocking to their SoCal-adjusted systems, but we went on a lovely hike anyway, because that's what Pacific Northwesterners do! Ellie and Matt are as thoughtful and genuine and kind and funny as ever and I am very glad to know them.

Brandi Carlile. ~hearts for eyes emoji~
Edgefield. ~hearts for eyes emoji~
Kathy. ~hearts for eyes emoji~

My second year at work swung into full swing in September and while it's somewhat hard for me to talk about school here because I'm trying really hard to maintain a school / personal life divide, it'd be wrong for me to summarize my September without mentioning it. The start of my second year was so much better in many ways than my first because I already knew so many of the students, and it was so lovely to see them again, and staff already trusted me. At the same time, I feel more pressure than ever because staff and students do trust me, and I know there's so much more to be done to really advance student learning via the library. I also feel a lot more exhausted working at two buildings than I did last year. Last year I was probably just running on the fumes of the excitement of having a full time library job; this year, I'm feeling more and more that to really accomplish things at both schools, I need more time than a couple days a week at each one.

I also started GSAs this year, and while at this point, I don't think the middle school one will really get off the ground, the high school one has been completely awesome and gratifying thus far.

We also started a comfy reading corner at the middle school, and I'm making progress in making the high school library my own, and I have a decent budget, and my staffs like me, and I have an awesome new principal at the middle school who really supports us and what we do, so I should just shut my trap about any complaints. 

My life is good, and I'm very happy to be alive. I'm not going to pretend to say anything in French, because I have always sucked at French and always will, but I am very, very happy to be alive.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Best : August 2015.

August was a good/bad, weird/wonderful month for me. I've been struggling with how to accurately describe it, because it was so full of excellent, fun, exuberant things, make-you-feel-alive things, all while (mostly) being on Summer Break, a thing that most adult humans don't get to experience, and complaining in any way about it would make me seem like a selfish privileged bitch.

But the thing is, this is my blog so I can say what I want, and the truth is that I was so ready for this summer to be over. I am much more of a social being than my navel-gazing lonely teen self would have ever imagined, but at the same time that quiet navel-gazer is still at the heart of who I am. I think none of us ever truly leave who we were as teens. I like doing fun things but I also like being by myself. In fact, I NEED to be by myself. I need quiet. I need time to process all the fun things I've been doing in order to actually appreciate and process them. This quiet time usually results in me being my happiest, fullest self and ready to go out and live more life.

I had very little of that alone time this summer, and it was hard for me. I think it's okay to be honest with yourself when things are out of balance, and to say that things have been weird/wonderful, even if outwardly it really seems like you should only be wonderful.

So now that I've acknowledged the weird, let's do the wonderful.

Oh my GOD was the food this month wonderful! Like OH. MY. GOD. When Kathy's parents visited this month, we were tired of our regular haunts that we'd already taken everyone else to this summer, so we decided to try some new joints. Two of those joints were Podnah's Pit and Gravy. Now listen, we really weren't thinking outside the box or anything here, as these are both verrrrry established North/Northeast Portland restaurants, but somehow in our eight years of living here we had just Never Made It There, and how I am regretting that now. I ate all of my Podah's plate so fast that I felt so sick but it was so worth it oh my god. At Gravy, this is perhaps self-explanatory, but I really could've eaten that gravy forever.

I also made a meal for Kathy's parents at our apartment one night, an event that is becoming something of a tradition when they visit, and I think this might've been one of my finest ones yet. I finished the meal off with a peach cobbler that was especially excellent, and I felt SO PROUD OF MYSELF, like a real live adult!

Kathy, Manda, and I also chose Pacific Pie for our New Restaurant of the Month, an Australian themed place that specializes in "pasties," savory handheld pies, in addition to actual sweet pies. I had the Pulled Pork Pastie. It was good. How could a pie themed restaurant be bad?!

We saw Spy with Kathy's parents at my favorite second-run theater, The Academy, and enjoyed it 176213 times more than I expected to. If you like fun and funny things you will like it. If you don't like fun and funny things, you are doing something wrong and should stop trying so hard.

Couldn't narrow it down this month so here's the run down:

March is a graphic novel about Congressman John Lewis's life and the story is important and the art is just lovely. Book One focuses on Lewis's early life; Book Two focuses on the march from Selma to Montgomery and the March on Washington. Eager to get my hands on Book Two soon.

Nimona is a very different graphic novel, from one of the genius minds behind Lumberjanes, Noelle Stevenson. I have to say that Nimona took me a little while to get into--this is going to sound stupid, but Nimona was actually a little too violent for me even though this is essentially a comic for children, hahaaaa I am the wimpiest wimp--but by the end, I loved her SO MUCH and didn't want to leave her.

Brazil's Dance with the Devil is by Dave Zirin, a sports writer who frequents the Melissa Harris-Perry show. I'm filled with glee every time he's on the show because his anger and disgust with injustice and stupid people is so unapologetic and awesome and sometimes hilarious. I could listen to Dave Zirin rant about shit every day for the rest of my life. This was the first book of his I've read, and I swear I could hear his voice jumping off every one of these pages. I feel like I learned a lot from this book--about Brazil, about soccer, about international sporting events as a whole--and learning a lot from books is my favorite thing. Thumbs way up.

Lastly, I know that some avid YA readers take issue with some of Rainbow Rowell's writing and choices, and I get it, I do. But reading Fangirl confirmed that I'm on the Rowell train full steam ahead. Her romances just make me feel so good and warm and fuzzy, and her boys are always so sexy! I did feel like Cath could've fangirled harder, really--this story focused on fan fiction and fan fiction only, when fandom can really mean SO MUCH MORE!--and there were only a few Simon Snow excerpts that really drew me in. But the real story, of Levi and Cath and Cath's dad and writing in college being weird, I was totally there for.

And now for all the other stuff that occupied this month:

As you have surmised, Kathy's parents were here for a long visit, and so many things we did were fun and Portland-y and good. Particularly, we went to a fireworks show for the opening of the new Tilikum Crossing bridge downtown, and it was........amazing. AMAZING. THE MOST AMAZING PORTLANDY THING EVER. And we ate a lot of good food and Kathy's parents were very hilarious and Kathy's parents-y. This paragraph is very vague to anyone who isn't me. You're welcome.

Amester came to visit and in a relatively short amount of time, we managed to do a LOT of stuff. Like a LOT. Beer and donuts and street fairs and waterfalls and Mt. Hood and the coast and explosion of Pacific Northwest goodness!

Right after saying goodbye to Amy, Kathy and I hopped on a plane to DC for some family time, and it was so nice, from getting to hug babies and talk about numbers and letters with Genius Nephew Evan to getting to be a tourist in DC for the first time in forever to getting to eat and drink Dunkin Donuts. My mom helped arrange the whole trip and I am so grateful to her. Thank you, Mom! I love you!

One of the best parts of this summer was getting to go to multiple Portland Thorns games. Portland is Soccer City USA, and while I love going to Timbers games, too, there is something special about the Thorns. A ladies' soccer team is a force to be reckoned with. Next year we're going to be actual season ticket holders and true hardcore Riveters. I love the game, I love the chants, I love our stadium, I love our players, I love the fans. BY ANY OTHER NAME BITCHES.

It's such a cool thing to see people you love evolve their life into the best possible life for them, and that's exactly what Scott and Kelly are doing--buying their own farm where they can see Mt. Hood from their backyard every day, raising goats and pigs and a million chickens. And at their wedding at said farm this month, Kelly rode into the ceremony ON HER HORSE, the coolest wedding entry there ever was. We got to meet up with a bunch of good people that we haven't seen in too long at their wedding, and it rained but it was perfect. As I wrote in their guestbook, I can't imagine our lives in Portland without Scott and Kelly.

Thank you for all the good stuff, summer. I have somehow stumbled into the luckiest, best life.