2013 Book List

In my last post, I mentioned that I read a truckload of books last year, and I thought folks be interested in what they were. I’m not going to write a review of each one, but if you’d like to know what I thought of any of them, please ask!

Adult Books:
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkanan – J.K. Rowling
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling
4. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling
6. Unorthodox – Deborah Feldman
7. Titanic – Matthew Vollbrecht
8. The Story of My Life – Helen Keller
9. A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift
10. Back to Basics – Barbara Frank
11. Bitsy & Boots – Jonathan Joy
12. Things I Learned from Knitting Wether I Wanted to or Not – Stephanie Pearl McPhee
13. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
14. The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
15. God is Not Great – Christopher Hitchens
16. Missionary Position – Christopher Hitchens
17. Zlata’s Diary – Zlata Filipovic
18. Forest Friends – Elizabeth Ford
19. Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
20. We All Wore Stars – Theo Coster
21. Honey and Hand Grenades – Logan Sheffield
22. The Mystery of the Talking Skull (Three Investigators) – Robert Arthur
23. The Mystery of the Moaning Cave (Three Investigators) – William Arden
24. Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds – David A. Adler & Susanna Natti
25. Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
26. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
27. Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
28. Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key – Jack Gantos
29. Summer Falls & Other Stories – Ameila Williams
30. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
31. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – James Thurber
32. Orphan Train – Christina Baker Kline

Children’s Books:
1. The Wind Blew – Pat. Hutchins
2. We’re All In The Same Boat – Zachary Shapiro & Jack E. Davis
3. The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Stawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear – Don & Audry Wood
4. Knufflebunny – Mo Williams
5. Extra Yarn – Mark Barnett
6. Tortuga in Trouble – Ann Wilfred Paul
7. King Solomon and His Magic Ring – Eli Wiesel
8. Where’s Milo’s Ball? – Mike Austin
9. Milo Armadillo – Jan Fearnley
10. Wild About Books – Judy Sierra & Marc Brown
11. Llama Llama Mad at Momma – Anna Dewdy
12. Llama Llama Holiday Drama – Anna Dewdy
13. Llama Llama Red Pajamas – Anna Dewdy
14. Bunny Days – Tao Nyeu
15. Brave Fire Truck – Melinda Melton Crow
16. If You Give A Dog a Donut – Laura Numeroff
17. Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep – Joyce Dunbar & Debi Glioro
18. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site – Sherri Dusty Rinker & Tom Lichtenstein
19. Steam Train, Dream Train – Sherri Dusty Rinker & Tom Lichtenstein
20. The Ferryboat Ride – Anne Rockwell
21. The Biggest Thing in the Ocean – Kevin Sherry
22. The Prince’s Bedtime – Joann Oppenheimer, Miriam Oppenheimer, & Jim. Broadbent
23. Carrot Soup – John Segal
24. Wolves in the Walls – Neil Gaiman
25. Where’s My Mommy – Carol Roth & Sean Julian

2013 Year in Review

It’s January, and time for a year end review! 2013 has been a good year for me. I became a full-time nanny an part-time crafter, started blogging, and got back in touch with a few long-lost friends. I began budgeting, keeping track of my money, and making a plan for paying down that mountain of student loans. I joined the WV Reads 150 challenge, and read 32 adult books and 25 children’s books for a total of 57. I finished up 22 knitting projects, 15 embroideries, and 6 machine sewing projects. I got to visit friends, family, and homesteads in Missouri, West Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire. I had a completely beautiful holiday season filled with more love and acceptance than I could possibly have wished for.

In personal development, this is the year that I feel like I’ve really come into my own. I made an effort to spend time around people who are positive, encouraging, and believe in what I do, and tried to give negative, draining, critical people a wide berth. I’ve made an effort to let go of past insecurities, failings and incorrect beliefs about myself, Four Agreements style. I’ve tried to spend my time doing things I truly enjoy – life is too short for books you aren’t interested in, art projects that feel like obligations, and work that isn’t bringing you joy. I’ve learned that it’s ok if your goals change, and that of course what you needed or wanted at 21 isn’t going to be what you need or want at 32. I’ve learned, and will continue to learn, how to be enough.

Of course, there are still things I’d like to work on in the coming year. Budgeting and taking care of my health are ongoing goals, like they are for most people, along with finding your best work/life blend. And we have a lot of changes coming up in 2014 to look forward to. I’m looking forward to a few more adventures.

“Times change and so must I… We all change when you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good. You gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear.” -Matt Smith as The Doctor.

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About That Barbershop Video…

So any time I want to make a reply on Facebook that ends up being more than a sentence or two long, I try and redirect it over here to the blog. This is one of those times.

A video has been going around about a white girl who stops by a black barbershop with her boyfriend, and one of the hairdressers becomes highly critical of their interracial relationship. All three of those people are actors hired by a show called What Would You Do. Their schtick is that they put people in uncomfortable situations and see if anyone will speak up. I have a couple of criticisms about this video, some of which are from personal experience and some of which are from plain old critical thinking.

The first is this: While it is not stated, the video heavily implies that the terrible behavior on the part of the “hairdresser” is a common occurrence, when in reality, it’s completely set up. It’s important not to conflate this piece of performance art as the current state of race relations in barbershops.

Second, everyone except the “hairdresser” behaved either neutrally or in support of the “white girlfriend.” While in a situation such as the one presented, neutrality might not be the best response, but imagine the same scenario without the setup – neutral or supportive behavior would have made for a perfectly pleasant trip to the barbershop.

And third, while no one has the right to deride any human being in such a manner, I still have a hard time processing the idea that the onus for maintaining race relations has shifted to the black community. There ARE still plenty of examples of racism and discrimination in housing, education, employment, stop & frisk policies, unequal sentencing laws and incarceration rates. Like I said, no one should behave like this “hairdresser” did, but I also don’t think the black community needs to apologize for being pissed off about actual injustices.

Now for the personal experience part. I had occasion a few years ago to find myself as the “white girlfriend” in a black barbershop in Atlanta. I got some curious looks, my then-boyfriend vouched for me by saying, “She’s with me,” and then everyone smiled and I was introduced around. By then, I had come to expect the whole “curious look – vouching – welcoming” process, and in four years I never experienced anything more unpleasant than that in the black community (the white community made me far more nervous on a few occasions, though). I had exactly the same experience that everyone in that video would have had if there were no planted actors and camera crews.

Don’t get me wrong, this video gave me a lot of warm fuzzies to see people standing up for one another. We all should do that in real life when we see injustices. But let’s be sure that we’re addressing actual, real-life injustices rather than getting snowed by inaccurate videos designed to prey on our compassions.

October Updates

The month of October has been completely slammed for me – but mostly in a good way.

Early in the month, our fair city had The Greater Boston Yarn Crawl featuring 15 shops all around Boston. My friend Deborah and I hit up or regular shops as well as a few others, and I got some awesome hand-dyed yarn called Sun Also Rises from Toil And Trouble. All her colorways are inspired by literature, but despite its name, Sun Also Rises reminded me of Ponyo, everybody’s favorite little fishie by the sea.

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Ben and I also did a weekend overnight with Charlie and Alex while their mom & dad went to a wedding in New York. The four of us had a great time! We had a ton of fall fun playing Monster Mini Golf on Saturday and going to the EcoTarium on Sunday.

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In the middle of the month, Charlie and Alex got a brand new bunny they named Bunnysaurus Rex. He’s an English Spot and lop mix, and the boys’ mom and I have been building him an epic house for the living room. It’s 2’x6′ and features an interior with a ramp up to a mid-level shelf and another ramp up to his “rooftop garden.” The top level will have a plug to keep him from escaping when all of his people are out for the day, and a wooden fence to allow him to safely explore the upstairs. Both levels will have padded floors to protect Rex’s feet and the wood will be sealed with high-gloss paint to protect from any errant puddles. Of course it will have all the regular bunny amenities such as his litter box, water bottle, hay trough, hiding boxes, and plenty of toys. I’ll get some photos up of the finished house in the next week or so.

The end of the month is of course, Halloween. Ben and I like Halloween just fine, but for the last few years we’ve both been to swamped to do much about it. And we live in an apartment complex that doesn’t lend itself to trick-or-treating, so we didn’t even buy any candy this year. But after looking at pictures of people making costumes for themselves, their kids, and their pets all day on Facebook and Reddit, I decided our bunnies needed some costumes. At 3pm I broke out some stash yarn size 3 needles, and black scrapbook paper and around 11:00, THIS was the result. I was pretty pleased with myself.

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So in addition to all of this, October featured my usual nannying schedule of one 65-hour week alternating with one 30-hour week, and my regular knitting projects – a hat for Samantha’s Monkey, a. Minion hat and Daniel Tiger’s blue Tigey for various Halloween costumes, and a pair of mitts for my new HH Etsy Shop. And wouldn’t you know it, the Red Sox were in the World Series, and I needed something with which to taunt Ben’s Cardinals-loving brother. Trash-talking ensued, and thus was born a pair of Loser’s Granny Panties, suitable for wearing on one’s head to the winner’s delight.

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So the downside of all this business is that in the past six weeks, two of them have been spent curled up on the couch feeling miserable. This week I realized that it was probably a recurrence of whatever it was last time and went to the doctor. Sure enough, a sinus infection that made my asthma go nuts has resulted in both being sick and being pretty exhausted all month due to not being able to breathe properly. But I got all fixed up with with a whole pack of medicines, and while it’ll take a little while to be fully recovered, I’m well on my way, and that’s good news too.

Income Inequality and The American Dream

Looks like a few other people have some smart things to say rebutting the condescending Generation Y article that was my last straw. First of all, Adam Weinstein wrote this fantastic article outline how exactly the world is different than it used to be, and why the deck is stacked against people trying to build their careers.

Then, there’s the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Death of an Adjunct, describing how an 83 year old professional woman was driven into poverty by the reprehensible policies of her employer (ostensibly for a greater religious good, I might add).

And on The Daily Show this Monday, Jon Stewart interviewed former Labor Secretary Robert Reich about income inequality, the gutting of the middle class, class warfare, upward mobility, citizen activism, and his new film, Inequality For All. He argues for a living wage for full-time work, and against the idea that the working poor are taking advantage of the absurdly over-paid upper echelon.

And I’d like to add this thought to the mix: We need to do away with the idea that being rich somehow makes a person more valuable, their work more worthwhile, and their life choices more justified. Some of our most important professions are among the least compensated – teachers, social workers, firefighters and police – as well as the people who make our daily existence possible – retail workers, grocery store cashiers, restaurant servers. If a person works full time hours, they should be able to pay rent, buy food, drive a reasonably safe car, and educate their children. And I don’t think that being able to take a week off for the holidays and one in the summer is unreasonable either.

Pundits talk about how a rising tide lifts all boats, but that doesn’t matter one bit if you’re standing on the shore wishing you had a boat to begin with. Right now, we have a structure where a very small percentage of people take home more money than they could ever spend, while masses of people are struggling to meet basic human needs. And that’s something we should really be working to correct, as individuals and as a country. Think about how embarrassed we’re going to be if Doctors Without Borders becomes a primary source of medical care for rural America, or when NGO’s show up to help us dig clean wells because there’s been a cholera outbreak in a bankrupt city. And just to be absolutely clear, I’m not arguing for socialism here. I’m arguing for democracy and against plutocracy. It’s time we did more to live up to our own myth of the American Dream.

On “Kids Today”

Ok, so I’ve just about had my fill of these “What’s Wrong With Young People Today” articles. Not only have the “kids are selfish, spoiled and entitled” sentiment been around literally since Socrates, they’re overlooking an important point: “Kids today” expect a lot because they’ve been promised a lot. Because they were raised by the adults in their lives to believe that as long as they don’t royally screw up, they will inherit a world with even more promise than the world of their parents. And I don’t say that as an indictment of our parents’ generation: that ideal was the truth they saw in their lives. But the fact is, the world changed drastically about five years ago, and what was a fair and reasonable expectation of life’s trajectory was completely transformed.

I don’t think most people in their late 20’s/early 30’s believe they are special snowflakes entitled to be rock stars by 27. Many of us, are however, disappointed by feeling like we’ve worked our asses off for ten years and aren’t very much further ahead. And frustrated and fearful that our parent’s standard of living seems increasingly out of reach for us.

Life isn’t fair and the world isn’t equal, and each of us has to put on our big girl panties and deal with that. But painting an entire generation with a belittling, condescending, self-absorbed brush is really kind of a jackass attitude.

The vast majority of us work very hard. Most of us work hard without the guarantee of job security, health insurance, upward mobility. Many of us feel like we had the rug pulled out from under us. So rather than regurgitating the “10 Things We Need To Give Up To Be Happy,” or “What’s Wrong with Generation Why-Me,” or any other variation of “Why I Think You’re Living Your Life Wrong,” can we all just take that time and energy and be supportive of one another and the work that we’re doing (or not doing) and the kids we’re trying to give a decent life to (or enjoying or work without kids) and remember that we’re all just doing the best we can?

Be loving. Be understanding. Be forgiving. Because it’s who you are, not because they deserve it. And for god’s sake, forgive yourself too.

Humanist Heroes: Jane Addams

It’s time for a new segment! In Humanist Heroes, we’ll have a look at some really important people in history who embodied Humanist values including equality, education, health care, feminism, children’s rights, reason, freethinking, and many other ways to be a positive influence on the world. Even though this blog is from a Secular Humanist point of view, not all of the Humanists featured here will be non-believers. I’ll be focusing instead on the example they set with their actions, as it’s entirely possible to be a Secular Humanist, a Christian Humanist, a Jewish Humanist, etc. As they say, it’s your behavior that makes you a good person, not your beliefs.

Our first Humanist Hero is Jane Addams. Born 153 years ago today, Jane was a pioneer in the Progressive movement of the early 1900’s. She founded Hull House in Chicago, which was a residence for around 25 women, and a community center that offered a kindergarten, music and drama classes, and continuing education for adults, as well as a gym, coffeehouse, art gallery, and services for new immigrants from Europe. They used the latest statistical methods to determine where things like overcrowding, poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality, cocaine use, and typhoid fever were at their worst. Because of their study and documentation, Hull House was able to make significant strides in the treatment and prevention of social ills. Jane was a pacifist, feminist, suffragette, and advocate for children, minorities, and immigrants. She set an example of compassionate service that had a direct impact on the lives of those she served and a legacy that would last more than 100 years, and for her efforts, she was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize.

If you’d like to read more about Jane Addams, you can scope out the above links, today’s Google Doodle or Part 1 and Part 2 of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast.<

Edit: Here’s a fascinating article on Jane Addams, her partner Mary Rozet Smith, gender expression and sexuality during their time, and “Boston Marriages.”

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