Monday, June 27, 2016

Best : February 2016.

It has been so long since I've done one of these. Do I even know how to do one of these? Can I even remember what I did in February? Trying to catch up on these will be such a shit show but I do like shit shows and I am also a little drunk, so let's try it anyway!

I obvs can't remember what meals I cooked in February, but I DO know that our restaurant of the month was Pip's Original Doughnuts, a PDX food cart/van turned into a SUPER POPULAR AND HIP brick and mortar store on Fremont. Pip's jam is mini donuts and chai. So like, how could you not like that. The donuts are good but what I was really drawn to was the chai--you can get a FLIGHT OF CHAI! Like beer, but CHAI! Not all the chai actually tasted that wonderful to me but STILL! A CHAI FLIGHT! We got there nice and early so we didn't have to wait in line too long, but if you get there after 8:30 on a weekend, good luck to ya. I feel a little jaded about Pip's now because I decided to follow them on Instagram and they post way too much. Like, we get it! People enjoy your mini donuts! I see it every day! Of course I could always make the decision to unfollow them on Instagram but I apparently prefer to keep looking at their photos and complaining about them!

Damn, I read a lot of books in February. Good for me. OK, let's try to run this down real quick!

George by Alex Gino is the cutest and the best book for elementary/middle grade kiddos about being transgender you will ever read, or that at least exists right now, for sure. I am so, so happy it exists. Even though it's really meant for even younger readers, I got it for my middle school and I've seen quite a few kids pick it up and look at it and while only a couple kids have actually checked it out, no one has complained about it yet, so SCORE for me!!

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver is just a really lovely, lovely fairy tale that reminded me why I love upper elementary/middle grade books so much. I truly feel like some of the best writing in the world exists at this age level. Like all fairy tales, this was often incredibly sad but enchanting and beautiful.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead, okay, I can't remember exactly what happens in this book other than I liked it. I don't know if any of her books will suck me in like When You Reach Me did, but I remember Goodbye Stranger touching on so many good real life shit themes, and that it was a bit of a slow burn, but Rebecca Stead writes so beautifully that it was all worth it. Man, what a great review. Read her books, okay.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman, awww, I loved this book so much! Which was surprising to me because I despised If I Stay like a lot! But this was the perfect sweeping epic romance. And it takes place in Paris! In guess what, just one day! It was also V. SEXY at points! Just a really fun satisfying read.

So in 2015 I tried to have a Best TV/Movies pick for each month, but in 2016 the reality so far has been that I've listened to and been entertained by way more podcasts than I have TV or movies. So this year I'll still give shout outs to movies/TV that deserve it but also try to remember some of my favorite podcast eps because some of them have been real gems.

I don't know if I would call Anatomy of Doubt a "gem" because "gem" implies happiness and goodness and there is absolutely none of that here! Jesus Christ this episode of This American Life wrecked me to the very bone. This iTunes description says it's a story about doubt but here's the truth, it's about fucking rape and rape culture! And how easy it is for women to be shamed into silence when every single person in their lives doubts their pain, even when they're brave enough to tell it. And how even when it's proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were telling the truth, people, including the people who are supposed to love you the most, will look for any scrap of guilt they can project back onto you. To still make it your fault somehow. So yeah, this made my brain turn into a fiery ball of rage! But it's important and anything ProPublica touches is pretty fantastic and you should listen to it. But take a deep breath first.

My memory is especially poor when it comes to music so I don't know if it was February exactly when I obnoxiously played this song over and over, but at some point early in this year, I definitely played this song over and over. At this point I've played it so many times that it's lost its magic, sadly, but for a good while it just made me SO HAPPY. 

This song also now reminds me of one day this spring. I was playing a mix of music in my middle school library while preparing for an event and one of my favorite students, a white girl, was helping me, and when "My House" came on she was like "I LOVE this song!" And then told this story about how she was talking about loving this song in class once and a fellow white student said to her, "Oh, I didn't know you were into THAT music," and I said to her, "What does that even mean?" (even though I know what it meant) and she said "I KNOW, right??" So don't worry guys, in 2016 children are still judging even the most banal music made by black people! (I know. I know their brains are tiny and they will learn and grow. They will.)

All right, now on to the best STUFF of February two thousand sixteen! Much of our time was occupied by our brand new PUPPIESSS and while Fury (on the right) is pretty much the same here, omg, Tegan (on the left) looks like such a baby! She was also probably being a massive and exhausting pain in the ass to Manda, but so cuuuuuute.

One of my major goals of the new year was to walk all 30 miles of the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park, one because I've always wanted to, and two because I needed to start training in long distance hikes for my PCT backpacking trip this summer, and Wildwood offered a good alternative to tougher, further out hikes that were still packed in with snow. (My PCT adventure is now less than two weeks away as I'm writing this! And in case you are reading this and don't know, I have a PCT blog on Tumblr now!) I actually didn't complete the entire trail until March, BUT I'm pretty sure February included the weekend where I did a 12 mile day on Wildwood, which was tiring but satisfying. Even though it's technically within a city park, Wildwood still feels pretty wild. Manda was essential in me completing the whole thing, as she took time out of many weekends to drop me off and pick me up along the trail this winter, which was pretty great, but that's the kind of friend Manda is.

Every winter around Valentine's Day, our favoritest friends Ashley and Kelly come to Portland from Seattle for an event they have lovingly termed LIVER SHIVER because we drink a lot and it's cold. We are HONORED to be invited to this outstanding tradition, but this year Kathy was sick as a dog. So I left her at home and went out drinking in her honor, because that's just the kind of wife I am! We went to Gigantic Brewing where Fury was petrified to be on one of her first public outings and where we just happened to run into one of my favorite dogs of all time, Taylor (Taylor's owners aren't too bad either!), then to Hopworks, then to Cascade Brewing, then to Gold Dust Meridian where we made a really great choice to get one of those huge bowls of alcohol that you order when you've just turned 21. I should say just Ashley and I made that choice. That one's on us.

In the next couple weeks I'm hoping to get in as much reading and writing and depressing documentary watching as possible--in other words, all of my favorite things--before I leave for the trail. Maybe in that time I'll drink more and be inspired to catch up on the best of March and April and May and June! OR I will write about all those things in six months. Hard to say! I like to keep you on your toes.

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.