Friday, July 6, 2018

Parenting Lessons, Three Months In.

In one of the few entries of the year so far in this blog, I mentioned becoming a foster parent as one of my goals for this year. I'd like to revisit those goals throughout the rest of the year, even though I already know some of them ain't happenin'. Specifically, finishing The Warmth of Other Suns, since I have literally not even picked that sucker up in 2018!

I'll start with the fostering, which admittedly doesn't even really fit into that goals post because it's more a life-altering change as opposed to, say, running five 5ks. (That goal is also a stretch at this point as the year is half over and I haven't thought about completing even one, BUT ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!) But, it isn't the first time a random list I've compiled on this blog doesn't really make sense.

Our kiddo came into our lives a little over two months ago now. But let's just round up to three, because two months sounds like no time at all and it feels like way longer than that. He came into our lives as a 20 month old, and we're now making plans for his second birthday this summer. It is possible he will be with us for a long time, but we're still trying to be cautious emotionally as anything could happen in the future. Such is the situation of fostering. It is hard, and it's very likely it will get harder. From stories we've heard from other foster parents, our road so far has been smooth and easy. We are grateful for all the time we've had with our kiddo, and whatever we get to experience in the future.

I don't have any intentions on making this blog into a parenting blog, but after a couple months in, I have some thoughts about parenting a toddler. We still have a lot to learn, but these are truths I've learned thus far.

1) Naps are awwwwwwwwwesome.

With the exception of a few very busy weeks of work at the end of the school year, I've been rocking the stay at home mom lifestyle since kiddo came into our lives. And especially that week in April when he first arrived in our care, the mid-day nap seemed like a goddamn revelation. Even when you are not specifically DOING anything with a kiddo--say, sitting in a chair half-asleep watching him play with his toy cars--you still have to be on the alert. Your energy is still focused on making sure the human being in your care doesn't kill or maim himself or others (like say, your dog or your cat). So the first couple times I walked out of his room after putting him down for a nap, I was like ho-ly shit. I can do...whatever I want! The joy and the relief! It coursed through my veins like cocaine! I don't really know what cocaine feels like, but it was powerful!

What you do during naps is also a delicate balance. You will want to get all the stuff around the house done that you've been neglecting, but often doing that stuff will take up a lot of nap time and YOU won't get the rest you really need, either. In particular I've found that laundry sucks up almost all of nap time. I know there are privileged people in this world who have a washer and dryer in their house, but ours is in the basement of our building--which, for apartment living, is still a blessing--and running up and down is something I normally have to get done during nap. And you have to do a lot of laundry with a child. And by the time I'm folding clean clothes he's normally whining to wake up and my brain is always like, how did that happen so fast?!

Some days you have to get the laundry and dishes done (we don't have a dishwasher either). But some days, if you just want to sit on your ass and read a book, or watch TV, or if you want to flop onto your bed and take a nap too, you should DO IT. Even if everything around you feels like a disaster zone. There is nothing wrong with it. DO IT. 

2) Toddler TV will grow on you.

Listen. This seemed most unlikely to me as a non-parent, and some shows really are the worst, but you will find yourself genuinely enjoying some of this saccharine stuff. We start most days with an episode of Sesame Street followed by an episode of Daniel Tiger (a continuation of Mr. Rogers' legacy) and it is an hour of pureness and goodness. It is also an hour where our kiddo rarely pays attention to the TV except for his favorite songs. But whenever Daniel Tiger sings about how to deal with emotions, or when Sesame Street teaches kids of color that they are perfect just the way they are, my heart wants to burst. The other day Daniel Tiger sang about how we all get sad sometimes and how it's okay and there are ways to make yourself feel better and tears were straight-up streaming down my face.

Even the sillier shows that aren't full of too-real life lessons are fun sometimes. Two of my current favorites are Bubble Guppies and Super Wings because in every episode they go to a new country in the world or learn about a new topic and it reminds you of when learning new things was fun and exciting. As opposed to being an adult in 2018, when every new thing you learn reminds you of how awful everything is! 

You can't watch TOO much toddler TV in a day or else you will really feel like you're living in an alternate toddler world reality. And I know that my saying a show called Bubble Guppies is a current favorite of mine might make you judge me. I know. I understand. 

3) Being around other parents is intimidating as hell.

I consider myself a pretty self-confident person, especially the older get. I like being alone, I like my fat body, I like my life. I like me. BUT. Being a new foster parent and having to interact with parents I don't know changes all that in a second. I try to take kiddo to as many parks and playgrounds as possible, and whenever there are a lot of other parents around, I feel like they're all staring at me and thinking about all the ways I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Or when I'm at Target on a weekday morning and it's legit just me and other moms with their babies and toddlers, and my kid is throwing things out of the cart or making his weird loud self-soothing noises while every other child is sitting in their carts like little angels.  

I know, of course, that most likely other parents do not give a shit about me at all, as they are just as preoccupied with their own children as I am with mine. But--they may not be! There is something about parenting that makes people judge-y. It's weird and annoying.

In general, though, I've learned that parenting inherently involves talking to a lot of strangers, and knowing that you're going to be judged, and you have to just suck it up and fake confidence as best you can. The first thing I had to do this summer was find daycare for kiddo for the fall when I go back to work. The search for a daycare is so competitive that I felt like every adult everywhere was judging me: first, for even trying to find a daycare so "late" (two months before I need care), and secondly, for having a toddler who is not 100% perfect. Luckily, he was having a pretty good day when we visited the daycare we ended up securing. But the owner has since mentioned how I interacted with him in such a way that I now know she was watching my every move. And luckily, I passed the test. But phew, it is intimidating.

4) There are a lot of good people that really care about children in the world.

It's hard to acknowledge this right now, as we are living in a country where we've purposely committed trauma on thousands of children whose parents desired nothing but a better life for them, in a country where elected officials openly talk about these children as if they are not human, not deserving of love or family or freedom. A country where abortion is considered the greatest sin, but as soon as they're out of the womb and need public services to survive and thrive, they're nothing but a nuisance. 

You also hear so many horror stories about the foster care system. An Oregon state audit of our foster care system last year was particularly damning, and clearly, there are so, so many things that need to be changed, including how we keep track of and care for children even after they're OUT of the system. (See: how abusive parents were able to drive a van full of beautiful adopted children into the sea this year, a story I will never, ever be able to get over.) 

But. Our foster care certifier (the person who says we are fit to be parents and our home is suitable for a child), our foster class teachers, and our kiddo's caseworker have been wonderful. It is clear our caseworker is extremely overworked and I have no idea how she does it. There's a reason why caseworkers get burnt out so easily. But they all care.

Our kiddo also qualifies for some early intervention services from our local public school system, and his evaluators were so kind and helpful both to him and to us. Even though I work in public education, I didn't realize that public education can help you before your child even qualifies for preschool. As an educator who only really feels comfortable working with older children, I admire all of these educators and professionals so much.

In addition to the overwhelming amount of support and love we've received from our family and friends, there are also non-profits that work with foster families, including an amazing one called With Love. They dropped off so many things for us that first week, from toys to clothes to a stroller. We realized after they had left that one of the bags also included some gift cards, including one for a free coffee from a local chain, with a note explaining, "We're sure you're going to have some late nights."

I've used that little note as a bookmark for the last couple months, because every time I read it it makes me smile. And the other day when I was having a not-super-great day, when I had run out of ideas of things to occupy ourselves with, during a week that I also felt dirt poor, I found that gift card. And leaving the house to go get myself a free drink gave my spirits the lift it needed. It was such a small thing. But every kindness matters. 

5) The longest shortest time is the most accurate phrase about parenting.

Even before becoming a foster parent, I listened to a podcast called The Longest Shortest Time. It's a great, inclusive, not always typical show about parenting. But now that I am a parent--it really is the longest shortest time. It is both exhausting and boring taking care of a toddler who can't talk to you, who can't tell you what he needs or what he loves or hates or wants to do. I often think, "God, I can't wait until you grow up and become like, a real person" (and then I stop myself from thinking about that too much in case we don't get to see that happen). But then Kathy and I will stop and think about all the ways he's grown already, both mentally and physically, in the time since we've had him, and it feels amazing, how fast a person can learn and grow. And I think about what it will feel like when he's not so cute and innocent anymore, if we're still around, when he is that "real person" and I'll long for him jumping up and down in his crib and hugging his Cookie Monster stuffed animal. Longest. Shortest. Time.

6) Not everyone is going to love your kid.

This includes strangers--who, say, DON'T think your kid running into their legs as they sprint down the street is cute--and people who are close to you. 

The first thing is easy to get over, the second one isn't. I have seen enough people change completely when they become parents, and I am also so conscious of people who DON'T want to be parents and the pressure society puts on them, women especially, that I have almost over-compensated on making sure I don't appear like, you know, too much of a mom. I try to make sure I don't talk about our kiddo to friends too much, and that when I'm around friends with the kiddo, I don't focus too much attention on the kiddo as opposed to them. Another example: my disclaimer at the beginning of this post about how I'm NOT going to make this a parenting blog.

This is hard, though. What if I wanted to make this a parenting blog, because being a parent is a big part of my life now? What if I only have stories about the kiddo to talk about with my friends, because being with the kiddo is 95% of how I spend my days? I've done everything I can to make sure I'm still ME, not "just" a mom. This includes still being really invested in my job when I'm at work, and planning as much hiking and backpacking as I can this summer, just for me. But I've also noticed that sometimes when I'm out with him and people I know, I almost actively try not to show too much affection to him, and that's a disservice to him. And to me. I like being a mom. I like being affectionate with him. It's okay that parenting is part of who I am now. The people who love me will understand this and adjust, or they won't. There are some things that are out of my control. I'll keep doing the best I can to be me and to be a good mom, and that's all I can do.

7) Becoming parents with your partner should make you love them more.

We read and heard so much about how much stress becoming parents puts on your relationship, especially if you're parents of an atypical child like most foster parents, that Kathy and I had really tried to prep ourselves on the tough road ahead for our relationship. But, while we've had some arguments, there is nothing that has ever made me love Kathy more than becoming a parent with her. Watching her be an amazing mom makes my heart grow bigger every day. And we are so conscious of the other person's stressors--whether it's being at home with the kiddo all day and the stresses that brings, or having to work and be a parent all at once and the stresses that brings--that we are sharing responsibilities and communicating about our needs better and more naturally than maybe we ever have. 

This sounds kind of boastful. There are definitely things we disagree on, and our life is definitely more stressful now than it was before. But in general...I've learned that being a parent with Kathy makes me love her more than ever. And I think that's the way it should be. 

(And if that's NOT how it is, I don't necessarily think the relationship is over or has failed. Use therapy. Ask people for help. A tired brain can make a tired heart, and neither functions very well without some rest.)


I know there are many more things we've learned, both about parenting in general and about being a foster parent specifically. But this is enough for now. I'll end by saying that every child is different, every parent is different, every parenthood is different. Anything I proclaim about parenting in this blog could read as total bullshit to another parent. And neither that parent's nor my own experiences are wrong, or more right than the other's.

As long as kids know we love them, our world will get better. We all have to let children know they are loved and worthy of love--no matter where they were born or who they were born to. The humanity and decency of our world depend on it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fave Five Books: First Quarter, 2018.

5. Better Nate Than Ever,  Tim Federle

A middle grade book about a flamboyant and fabulous boy who runs away from his small Pennsylvania town to audition for a Broadway show in N-Y-C. In a very typical white gay man problematic way, I found some race and fatphobic comments in here troubling. BUT overall, Nate is utterly lovable, and this is the book I've been wanting to read forever: a middle grade book about being SO GAY, even though you don't know who you actually are yet. His sexuality is never firmly discussed in this book--there's a quick, fantastic line about barely knowing what he wants to eat for lunch, let alone knowing his sexuality (or something along those lines)--which is spot on. Nobody knows who they are in middle school! Which is why we should all just calm down about what middle schoolers are exposed to. They want to be exposed to everything so they can start maybe figuring it all out! But there is a scene towards the end of the book where he glimpses the inside of a gay club when he's in New York, and it's this lightbulb moment of what life could be. And you want to wrap him in the biggest hug in that moment. I loved this way more than Federle's YA debut a couple years ago (The Great American Whatever) and would like to read the sequels, too. Super fun.

4. You Go First, Erin Entrada Kelly

The newest release from the newly NEWBERY WINNING AUTHOR Erin Entrada Kelly, the two main characters in this book--who live in different towns and who each have their own plot but are friends through an online Scrabble-esque game--are gifted/on the highly functioning end of the spectrum. It's a quiet, character driven novel, and we all know that those are my favorites! Watching them both stumble through their middle school lives and attempt to learn how to deal with the various mishaps and tragedies life throws their way (for Charlotte, a very sick dad and for Ben, dealing with bullies) is endearing and lovely.

3. Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo

Aight, this one in actuality was way too dark for me. There was one point where a character smooshes out someone's eyeball with his thumb and I really wanted to just throw the book into a fire. BUT. Gawd, Bardugo's world building and character building is just incredible. I can't imagine having that woman's mind and talent. And my high schoolers LOVED this book this year. They are not nearly as phased by eye smooshing as I am, apparently. 

2. Finding Audrey, Sophie Kinsella

SO gosh darn Britishly charming, this one! A YA read from Kinsella, this is also quiet and character driven, with my OTHER favorite style thrown in: funny books about really serious topics! Audrey has gone through some serious bullying shit at school, even if--spoiler!--we never find out what actually went down. But she hasn't gone to school or left the house--except to visit her therapist--in months, and wears sunglasses at almost all times to avoid eye contact with other humans. There is a slight sweet romance in here, as one of her brother's friends starts to bring her out of her shell, but most of it is all about Audrey and her often over-the-top-kooky family as they all attempt to heal.

1. Front Desk, Kelly Yang

I considered several times making this post solely about this book. Because while the previous four were books I read and liked, this so far is the only book I've read this year that I absolutely LOVED. A middle grade debut, this one isn't out for a couple weeks still, but it was the first ARC I picked up and read from the stack of ARCs I got at ALA, and man. I can't describe how much I loved this. This is a perfect middle school book that all adults should read, too--perfect for the times, perfect for always. Based on Yang's own life growing up, it's about an immigrant Chinese-American family that ends up running a motel (under a corrupt owner) in Los Angeles in the '90s.

After reading it, I thought about how much I loved the Hope Larson Goldie Vance comic series, too, which also takes place in a hotel. Maybe I really love hotel stories? But who wouldn't? Hotels are filled with endless stories and personalities, and that's what we have in Front Desk. Mia Tang, the protagonist, is unflappable, constantly standing up to the discrimination and heartbreak her family has to endure as immigrants in a hopeless situation. I learned a lot about Chinese immigration in the 1990s, and what a cruel road it was for many, which I knew next to nothing about. Mia is easy to love, but so are the other motel regulars, or weeklies, who live at the Calivista. Through their stories and hers, Yang is able to convey so much about racism, family, and empathy in a solidly authentic and moving way. This has already received a bunch of starred reviews and I can't wait for it to win awards next year. Read it!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Top Ten Cranberries' Songs.

I am still processing the sudden death of Dolores O'Riordan this month.

The Cranberries, and in particular the entirety of the No Need to Argue album, compose so much of my childhood psyche that listening through all these songs on the list I'm about to make transported me immediately back to my bedroom with my navy walls and my sunflower bedspread. I had the first two albums on cassette, and To the Faithful Departed was the first CD I ever owned. I think my sister bought it for me for Christmas. I'm sure all three were adorned with a square navy and white lifetime guarantee sticker from The Wall at the Viewmont Mall. O'Riordan's voice was so haunting and Irish and weird and from a world so different from my own, but it struck right into my soul anyway.

Here are ten songs that I knew by heart when I brought them up on Spotify, even if I hadn't listened to them in years.

10. Free to Decide

I'll live as I choose
Or I will not live at all 

This is the most vanilla of all the songs on my list. But you can't help but root for a catchy pop song that has And I'm not so suicidal after all as one of its main refrains.

9. I Just Shot John Lennon

He should have stayed at home
He should have never cared
And the man who took his life declared
He said, I just shot John Lennon

I love all the fast, punchy, bizarre songs that dotted To the Faithful Departed. This one was on my work-out mixes for years. In so many Cranberries' songs, it's impossible to decipher what O'Riordan is actually singing about, but this one is about exactly what the title says. Which makes it even more perfect and weird.

8. Dreaming My Dreams

All the things you said to me today
Changed my perspective in every way

Everyone's favorite gauzy 1990s teenage dream of a hymn.

7. I Can't Be With You

I wanted to be the mother of your child
And now it's just farewell

One of the happiest sounding songs on one of the best breakup albums of all time. Even though it's not happy at all. Of course.

6. Empty

Didn't you see me?
Didn't you hear me?
Didn't you see me standing there?
Why did you turn out the lights?
Did you know that I was sleeping?

The piano notes at the beginning of this song are etched into my memory, along with the way she stretches and repeats the long vowel at the end of "empty," the inverse of those eh, eh, ehs in the chorus of "Zombie." This is one of those songs I would listen to on repeat (get up, press pause, rewind) while laying on my bed and staring into space, practicing my best Angela Chase.

5. Salvation

To all those people doing lines
Don't do it
Don't do it
Inject your soul with liberty
It's free
It's free

The ridiculousness of this song. It is so good.

4. Daffodil Lament

I have decided to leave you forever
I have decided to start things from here
Thunder and lightning won't change what I feel
And the daffodils look lovely today
And the daffodils look lovely today
Look lovely today

This weird ass song begins dark and dreary and foreboding, a continuation of the previous track, the most bleakly named "Yeats' Grave," and seemingly ends with O'Riordan's desperate plea of "I can't sleep here." But then! It bursts into a weightless feeling light, and she launches into the verse above. And my melodramatic self loved this transition so much that I created my "daffodilly" moniker from it that I then used on all my Angelfire and Geocities websites and AIM and ICQ screen names. It is, only semi-embarrassingly, still my Twitter handle.

3. Linger

But it's just your attitude
It's tearing me apart
It's ruining everything

Sometimes I feel like "Dreams" steals all the air of our '90s Cranberries nostalgia, and we all forget about this first single from Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? And it is SO. DAMN. GOOD. 

2. Ode to My Family

Unhappiness, where's when I was young 
And we didn't give a damn
'Cause we were raised to see life as fun
And take it if we can

The opener of No Need to Argue, those first do-do-dos bring me actual chills. GAHHHHH DOES ANYONE CARE? Her father. He liked her. :(

1. Dreams

Oh my life
Is changing every day
Every possible way

Yeah, it deserves to be number one, now and always. It steals our nostalgia air for a reason. It is four minutes of perfection. I will love it forever.

Rest well, Dolores. And thank you.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Goals, 2018 Style.

While I fully understand why some people swear off new year's resolutions, I've always been aight with them. I mean, they're pretty much just goals, and I like goals. Goals are generally good, unless they are focused on weight or food in an unhealthy way, and unless you are really mean to yourself about them. Goals are there to give you purpose, not to torture yourself over.

2018 is going to be a big year. There are a lot of things I'm excited for, but the following are five of the most personal. Here are the things I am going to not-torture myself over! 

5. Run Five 5Ks.

Fury & me after the Run to Resist 5K to benefit the Immigrant &
Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) in Portland last spring.

I know I said goals shouldn't be about weight or food, but they can be about things that make you feel good. Running a 5K isn't easy for me, but it makes me feel good. 

4. Finish reading The Warmth of Other Suns.

This book is a mammoth one, and it's been sitting on my side table forever, my bookmark stuck at 150 pages in or so. It is going to take some serious time commitment, but I swear, I will finish it this year! I CAN DO IT.

3. Join a local hiking community.

Last year, I got super into watching hiking videos on YouTube, which made me feel like a real millennial because previously I never watched much of anything on YouTube. Finally, I can relate to my students! Anyway, I also started following the Instagram Unlikely Hikers, and other Instagrams/online communities like it. And from the moment I found them, I thought: my people! Because those YouTube hikers I follow, while I love watching their videos, are skinny and fit AF. And that's just never going to be me, y'all. And who you are and what your body is really does affect your hiking experience, just like who you are and what your body is affects everything you do in the world.

The girl who runs Unlikely Hikers, Jenny Bruso, is based out of Portland, and often leads group hikes where anyone who feels like they are unlikely to be seen in the outdoor world--people of color, queer people, fat people, disabled people--are welcome. I've never gone on a group hike full of strangers before, and honestly the idea freaks me out a bit. Part of the reason I like hiking is the solitary nature of it. BUT, I'm going to do it this year, and hopefully make some connections and friendships. 

My long-term goal with this is that I'll find some other fat people that I can eventually plan some more backpacking trips with, and maybe even some trips on the PCT with. Cliff, who has slogged through 200 miles of the PCT with me, is a great hiking partner for me emotionally and socially, but physically I will never be on his level, even though he is supremely patient with me. He is also dealing with some injuries of his own this year. Either way, finding more hiking friends is a goal because I want to continue doing long distance hiking. And I do believe doing it solo just isn't safe, even though I'm all about the female empowerment. I've just been out there, man. Anything can happen.

Going out and meeting brand new people, while doing a vulnerable thing like exercising, is definitely outside of my comfort zone, so we'll see how this one goes.

2. Work Stuff: New Libraries! ALA!

My work life is undergoing some big changes in the next two years. Sorry not sorry to talk about work! It's a big chunk of my life. Both of the libraries where I currently work will be going byebye at the end of this school year. One will be transitioning to a brand new library; the other will be transitioning to a much smaller space while another new library is under construction. This transition will include a lot of physical moving and change, but also involve me teaching two new grades in addition to the six grades I currently oversee. It will also involve even more decision making on my part about where I'm going in the future. It is...a lot! In an exciting but also bittersweet way. It will require a lot of leadership on my part to make sure the direction of my libraries and my job stays on the course I want them to go.

Also on a professional note, I'll be attending an American Library Association conference for the first time ever this year, for four days in February in Denver! Supreme nerd alert! I have an Airbnb booked and a lineup of authors and events I want to see, and I am PUMPED. Hopefully this experience will be fun and rewarding and not stressful and overwhelming! 

1. Welcome a foster child into our life.

I wrote a blog post in October called Starting a Family: Take One. Applying to be foster parents is Kathy and my Take Two. While I was able to be as graphic as I wanted in that Take One blog post because it was about my own body, I'm honestly not sure how much I'll be able to write on here about this fostering journey, because of privacy and safety concerns for any children we get to meet and love. 

But undoubtedly, it's the biggest journey we'll take this year. It may be the biggest journey we've taken together, ever. And with each step, I feel more rooted to our decision, more sure that it's the right one for us. But there are a lot more steps for us to take. 

And unlike having a biological kid, or even taking a more traditional adoption route, where this journey ends up is completely uncertain. I mean, there are uncertainties with any child, but with fostering, we honestly have no idea what kind of child, or children, we'll be entrusted to take care of: what age, what gender, what background, what level of trauma. But I'm open and optimistic. I have so much to say about this whole thing but don't know how to say it! The gif wraps it up, pretty much. But hopefully at some point this year, after all our classes and interviews and paperwork, we'll be as ready as we can be.

Come at me, 2018! Hopefully you don't end in nuclear war. If you don't, I'll do my best to make you awesome.

Favorite Books 2017: Second Half.

See my fave books from the first half of the year here! I'm glad I was able to split it up this way this year because remembering what you read months ago is hard. Hopefully next year, I'll be able to give my thoughts every quarter, because then I'll REALLY (kind of) know what I'm talking about. 

10. The Mothers, Brit Bennett
Realistic Fiction; Adult
Riverhead 2016

The Mothers deals with secrets, abortion, families, and the complexities of female relationships in a small town. Like a lot of adult "literary fiction" I read, I found this supremely depressing. But it was so well written and well done, and full of enough compassion and heart, that in the end I was still able to enjoy it. (When literary fiction lacks the compassion and heart part, I often want to scream WHAT IS THE POINT.) The chorus of the elder women in the town that helps structure this story was one of my favorite parts.

9. Lock and Key, Sarah Dessen
Realistic Fiction; Young Adult
Viking 2008

I read three Sarah Dessen books this year, and this was my favorite. (Although Along for the Ride, on my first list this year, is a close second. Her newest release, Once and for All, was the third, and I sadly wasn't as big a fan.) I still have a full Sarah Dessen blog post in me where I'll get to the particulars about why I enjoy her books. But I will say that like almost ALL of her book covers, I think this one is awful and totally unrepresentative of this book.

8. Badass Ladies Books
Non-Fiction; Middle Grade/Young Adult

Bad Girls Throughout History, Ann Shen
Chronicle Books 2016
Rad Women Worldwide, Kate Schatz & Miriam Klein Stahl
Ten Speed Press 2016
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky
Ten Speed Press 2016

The last few years have brought a plethora of kick-ass collective biographies about kick-ass ladies, all done with distinctive, fascinating, most excellent artwork. Some of the ladies included in the collections I read this year overlapped between books, but all of the books included women I had never heard of before, all of whom had done interesting, important things. 

I savored each of these a page or two at a time, interspersed throughout all the other books I was reading. (I did a lot of reading-multiple-books-at-once this year, a practice I don't necessarily condone, but it worked great for these.) I can't wait to read Rachel Ignotofsky's new release about women in sports, and Ann Shen's upcoming 2018 release about 100 goddesses. I also got to meet Ann Shen in 2017, which was neat! Meeting talented, inspiring people is my favorite.

7. Hunger, Roxane Gay
Memoir; Adult
HarperCollins 2017

I got to see Roxane speak at Powell's this year while she was promoting Hunger, an event which I enjoyed as much as actually reading this book. Dealing with rape and body image and mental health, this memoir is brutal and raw and real. And enraging and heartbreaking. But in the midst of all the hard stuff, she's still able to infuse this book with her dry wit and humor that makes everyone, including me, love her so much. Her writing is always succinct and straightforward, and it's particularly unrelenting here, which makes it both easy and hard to read all at once.

6. The Blackthorn Key, Kevin Sands
Mystery; Middle Grade
Aladdin 2015

The Blackthorn Key is an old time-y London mystery full of apothecaries and secret codes and murder and running through dark cobble-stoned streets. And honestly, I didn't think I would enjoy it as much as I did. I have to be in a particular mood for old time-y London stories. But this one was so fun and well-done. And when the action really started twisting and turning about halfway through, I couldn't put it down. Upper elementary and middle school kids should LOVE this. I know high schoolers who have loved it, too! Really, whatever middle school kids love, high schoolers will love, too. High school kiddos ask me for stuff like Fablehaven all the dang time. We should stop underestimating teens' capacity for fun and imagination.

5. Illuminae, Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Science Fiction; Young Adult
Knopf 2015

This was one of the weirdest, most interesting books I've ever read, not necessarily for the plot alone, but how it was all told. If you have kids who are into science fiction, or technology related fiction, or artificial intelligence, or space, they will love this book. There's a lot of action and a lot of moving parts. But those moving parts are literally moving parts: this story is told as if it's a big case file that future historians are studying. Pieces of the case file include texts, testimonies, emails, programming, transmissions, just...all kinds of stuff. This is cool, but also very confusing at first, so it takes a while to start putting all the pieces together. And even then, there are a lot of questions. But after I got used to it, I was hooked.

4. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, Leslie Connor
Realistic Fiction; Middle Grade
Katherine Tegen Books 2016

Perry T. Cook is a boy who has spent his entire life (outside of school) growing up inside a prison. He's not a prisoner himself, but his mom is, and a special warden has made the special arrangement so that mother and child can grow up together. That is, until a new district attorney gets wind of the story and takes Perry away. This was a storyline I had never read before, and I loved every charming minute of it. You grow quickly attached to both Perry and all the unique personalities and stories that exist within the prison, turning the question of who the "good guys" are on its head. Which is the kind of thing I always love.

3. Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard
Fantasy; Young Adult
HarperTeen 2015

This has been a big YA release for a while, but I never had much interest in it because I feel like it got some weird reviews when it was released, and honestly, I only have so much room in my brain for so many bloody, royalty themed YA fantasy series. But! Alas, this is a Young Readers' Choice Award nominee this year, an award I promote heavily at my libraries, so I had to give it a shot. And I got totally sucked into it. In fact, I even picked up the sequel immediately after finishing it, and loved that, too. I'm even going to read the third book next! This is shocking because I am supremely bad at following through with series. If I actually make it past the first book of your series, you should feel special.

Even though this one is pretty violent, and even though you sometimes question the choices and morality of the protagonist, I still find it engaging enough to enjoy, as opposed to a book like The Young Elites, which I also read this year, and which was just way too much for me. (Not too much for teens, though. They can always take more dark stuff than I can.)

2. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
Realistic Fiction/Romance; Adult
Pamela Dorman Books 2017

This book, on the other hand, is not violent at all. Okay, well, no, maybe that's not true. There is violence in this story. But everything about this book made me feel warm and happy-sad and sad-happy and good. This is also the rare book written for adults that I didn't find overwhelmingly depressing, probably because it's a love story. But the love story is secondary, I think, to the story of Eleanor Oliphant herself. And Eleanor is one of my favorite characters I've met in a long time. And I'll keep her with me for a long time, too.

1. Evicted, Matthew Desmond
Non-Fiction; Adult
Crown 2016

The best non-fiction book I read this year, Evicted is a gut punch. It is depressing and enraging and frustrating. It is also so amazingly well crafted. Like all of the best non-fiction, it takes a larger issue and tells it through the story of relate-able, exceedingly human people. The financial stress of living in an ever popular, ever gentrifying Portland is a big part of my life. I'm at the point in my life where I vault between reveling in the fantasy of owning a house someday and the reality of knowing it won't be able to happen for us, barring a financial miracle, for at least twenty years, or maybe, never. But reading this book wiped away any sorry-for-myself feelings I've had, and made abundantly clear that there are even more ruthless and unfair cycles of debt that I could be entrapped in than the ones I already am, cycles of debt and poverty that so many Americans are living in every day. Not even living, really. Surviving. Somehow. And as housing prices continue to soar all across the country, ever more disproportionate to incomes, I don't know if there will be a breaking point the nation has to reckon with. Because as the stories in Evicted show, I feel like we've already reached one, or multiple ones, and no one seems to care.

What a cheery note to end this list on! But seriously, Matthew Desmond's book is both exceedingly well reported and well written. I was blown away.

Taking into account the 10 books I mentioned from the first six months of the year in addition to these 12 (since I squeezed in two extra with the badass lady books), here's the breakdown of these 22 best reads from 2017:

Type of books:
Non-Fiction (Adult): 3
Non-Fiction (Young Adult): 3
Graphic Novel (Fiction): 1
Fiction: 15
Middle Grade: 9
Young Adult: 8
Adult: 5
I'm pretty happy with this breakdown. It's a good mix of what I should be reading for my job and my kiddos, as well as a decent amount of books I read just for me.

Book diversity:
POC (person of color) Main Character/Subject: 10
POC Author: 6
This is not bad, but could obviously be better. The author one is always a tough, imprecise data point for me, because I don't always know the exact background of all the authors I read. But I do think keeping track of it as best I can is worthwhile, as is keeping track of all this stuff. If you don't think so, spend some more time following the work of We Need Diverse Books.
Female Main Character/Subject: 14
Female Author: 16 
LGBTQ Main Character/Subject: 2
LGBTQ Author: 2
Clearly, I have fallen WAY behind in my queer reading, especially since a few years ago, that was the majority of what I read. And especially because there have been so many stellar queer and trans YA releases over the last few years. I'll up my game in 2018, I promise.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Fave Seven: Fall 2017.

Christmas is two days away. It's in the 30s outside, and has been for weeks. I'm plotting my resolutions for 2018. But for just a hot second, I'm going to take a step back and remember Fall 2017. Because while I'm okay (sometimes) at documenting summer, I'm especially bad at documenting everything that happens in my life during the school year. 

And while this school year has been pretty epic so far, regular life has been, too. And even though our political world is a fiery hellscape, it's okay to still enjoy the moments of your life that are good. And there was a lot of good in my world this year. Here are the top moments of the last few months, that I couldn't narrow down to just five.

7. Camping Trip at the Coast

While this summer was excellent, one of the things we felt it lacked was adequate trips to the coast. So we took a trip in September, for a night of camping at Cape Lookout. This weekend was particularly memorable because it was the first time Kathy and I felt brave enough to let Fury off leash at the beach. She was a notorious escape artist in our early days of owning her, and she is a fast little bugger, three legs and all. Plus, in the past we've never had dogs friendly enough to be let off leash, so the concept is new to us. Also, we are generally rule abiding, nervous people. But especially with her best friend Tegan at her side, she was perfect. We sat on the beach long enough to watch the sun set and these two had the time of their lives.

It was also the first time we had gone tent camping with the dogs, and the first time I attempted to do some fancier camp cooking than hot dogs and s'mores. The dogs did great, my camp cooking skills, not so much. But it's fine, because hot dogs and s'mores are awesome and will continue to be so on all future camping trips!

The second day of this trip was marred a bit by Tegan rolling herself in a decaying seal carcass on the beach in the morning, making everything that she touched, like us and our belongings and the car, smell like decaying seal carcass for the rest of the day. It wasn't great. But that first day on the beach was!

6. Hanson

If you had told me twenty years ago that I'd still be seeing Hanson in concert today and still having a blast at said concerts....yeah, I probably would have believed you.

In addition to this concert, Hanson came out with a new Christmas album this year. What a world!

5. Fun Home

Manda scored us tickets this fall to Fun Home at the Armory. The Armory is one of my favorite places in Portland. Just being there makes me feel so fancy and cultured. We had all already spent hours of our lives listening to "Ring of Keys" and crying in our cars, but we had never seen the production in person. I was blown away by all the actors, but especially the kids, one of whom we saw getting dropped off by his mom on the sidewalk outside the theater before the show. Like he was just getting dropped off for a friend's sleepover. Totally normal kid thing to do.

We are so lucky to have Alison Bechdel, and I am so lucky to have seen this.

4. YQY Tour

We saw Phoebe Robinson & Ilana Glazer at Revolution Hall, one of the hippest places I have ever been, on a Friday night. While I love my job, like most people at their jobs, I have to be a somewhat restrained version of myself there. Sitting high up in the balcony of Revolution Hall with a drink in my hand, laughing my ass off to these two badass feminist babes, was one of the most freeing Friday nights I've ever had. I felt happy, blissfully in the moment, and just truly myself. It is so comforting to be surrounded by a crowd of people who share the same vision of the world as you do. 

I didn't get any good shots of the show, but I did take the above photo in the bathroom afterwards, which is just as good.

3. Vancouver Trip

I am always up for a trip to Vancouver, a city that actually feels diverse and cosmopolitan in comparison to its two biggest American neighbor cities to the south (that's us, Portland and Seattle). I am also always up for a trip to Canada in general, where things are in meters and liters and there's a lot of French and you can get British candy bars in the grocery stores, and you can comfort yourself knowing you're in the land of Trudeau! Listen, progressive Canadians, I know you have some problems with Trudeau, but as a citizen currently being led by that other guy I refuse to name on here who is leading the entire world toward its downfall, I legit do not care.

Anyway, this trip was especially fun because we were going to see an international lady soccer game for the first time ever! A friendly between USA and Canada at BC Place. Of course, we almost didn't get there because I didn't realize my passport was expired until the morning we were leaving. Whoooops! But luckily, the people who work at the Seattle Passport Agency are in fact SAINTS. Even the security guards were nice. Not everything in the USA is awful!

My verdict about the game was that Thorns games are way more fun. #ClubOverCountry, but, would do again. We also got to walk over a new (to us) suspension bridge, visit a sweet 1970s style conservatory, go to a fancy hibachi restaurant for the first time, drink the worst iced tea of my life at the weirdest Dutch restaurant, and play board games with Ash and Ilea at our odd yet enjoyable Airbnb. All in all, not a shabby way to spend a weekend.

2. Ash & Kelly Gettin' Hitched

I have never been to a wedding where the toasts went on SO LONG. I have also never been to a wedding where I loved EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF THEM more. The outpouring of love for these two broads was just so palpable and 100% relate-able. I felt honored to be a part of this goddamn beautiful wedding. And getting to see friends like Meredith and Zoe whom we hadn't seen in too long was so fantastic and just necessary. 

I had never hung out much in the Georgetown area of Seattle where the wedding was held, and I loved it. I loved our hotel and laughing way too hard with the entire Moran family the night before. The whole wedding felt close to the epic-ness of my own family weddings. Because these people are family. Also, HAM SALAD. 

1. Thorns.

I don't know if you know, but the Portland Thorns won the NWSL Championship this year. Hahaha, it's funny because anyone who knows me at all would know this because I COULDN'T SHUT UP ABOUT IT. The Thorns were so much of my 2017. They deserve their own blog entry, an entry I've been writing in my head for a few years now, but to accurately capture what they mean to me feels daunting at this point. 

We watched the championship game at the official viewing party at Punch Bowl Social, and it was a mess because they were so unprepared for how many people showed up. When will people stop underestimating women's soccer? But by the end of the game I didn't care. I was so full of happiness I could burst. We welcomed the team at the airport the next day. We went to the official celebration at Providence Park the next night, even if it was appropriated by Timbers fans. But the best moment was the moment when they won, when everyone in the bar screamed, and little boys and old ladies alike all danced and high fived.

This year was special, and it's heartbreaking knowing it was the last with Nadim and Henry, and that it was the season we said goodbye to Shim. Hopefully, as next season gets closer, we won't lose anyone else. But the future players who are inspired by this team, and the future of a league that's inspired by our attendance numbers and loyalty, that's only going to get better and better. I can't wait for it. PTFC, BAON, RCTID.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Starting a Family: Take One.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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