Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review by AOK: A Guide to Self-Publishing Comics

A book review by Aidan:

A few months ago (okay, several months ago), my mom handed me The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics by Comfort Love and Adam Withers. I read the whole thing that day. I've reread most of it several times since then too.

Two thumbs up from me. I think it would be invaluable for any sprouting comic creator. There are a ton of great tips and advice. The book still manages to be funny and welcoming, with a lot of great art. 

It's not a book about how to draw, or even that much about the art of comics (for that, see Scott McCloud's books), but how to market, publish, and promote your own work.

I really like that they included other comics so you get different points of view. 

My mom received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this honest review.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

You Can’t Go Home Again


You can’t go home again, wrote Tom Wolfe, because your home will have changed, and so will have you.

Still, you can visit what was once your home, which will only highlight all that has changed, and all that you have lost and all that you have gained. That’s what we did the first weekend after school let out for the summer.


I had been debating for days whether or not we should drive by our old house. The house had only been framed when we bought it in 2004, so the hours and muscle and money we poured into making it a home had made us extremely attached to it. I sometimes joked we could never move because it would be so odd to come back (so many people move away from Moab---and then move back) and have someone else living in our house.

I was verklempt just driving past the stop sign where our boys got off the bus in 1st grade, and was sure we were making a mistake driving to the house.

not our house

Then we turned a corner and saw this green house. Not our house, but a green house. And we all started laughing. It was like a gift---it was so clearly not our house anymore. Several neighbors recognized our car and we had a mini-reunion in the middle of the street. The new owners could not have been more gracious and gave us a tour of all their renovations and updates. And I felt elated. The house I had loved, the one I brought my babies home to and found so hard to let go, no longer existed. I’m so happy it has a brand new face and that the new owners are making it all their own.


When planning our trip, we each contributed to a short “must-do/see” list for our weekend. Mass with our much-missed community at St. Francis was easily a “must.”

St Francis

I know this will shock you (ha!), but I was always critical of our parish in Moab. Not enough youth programs, not enough Glory & Praise songs, etc. At the same time, I knew we were blessed to have found a home parish at long last. It’s where we celebrated almost a dozen Nativity plays, Nolan’s Baptism, Aidan’s First Communion as well as Sean’s. And it is where the boys met and fell in love with our dear Miss Bobbie.

We went to at least four different churches before settling upon one here in Colorado, and after attending the same one for several months, Brian leaned over one Sunday and whispered, “Just so you know, when I go, I want my service at St. Francis.” That was out of character for Brian in many ways, but it reinforced what we all still feel---that our home parish is in Moab.

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Shave Ice from Tropical Sno was also on our list, as well as dinner at the Diner, lunch at Milt’s, and breakfast at Love Muffin. Check, Check, Check.

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I wanted a Friday afternoon at Old City Park, just like old times. Grateful to CeCe, Catherine, Marva, Liz, Kathy, and Natalie ---who came out, despite some thunder and the threat of rain. It wasn’t the same lazy afternoon, with mamas on beach towels and blankets, but it was close---it’s impossible to avoid the intensity that limited time brings. One huge highlight was Aidan getting to see his best friend, whom we all thought wasn’t going to be in town that weekend. They were too cool to hug each other, but they both had huge grins on their faces the whole time.

The weather didn’t cooperate with biking or hiking, but as great as that would’ve been, this short weekend was all about seeing people. Brian got to meet up with his friends for a beer. I got to hug Miss Tiger and have a fast chat with Sarah, and a crazy adventure at Woody’s with Christy. The boys had gaming with friends at Moab’s Library on their must-do list…but couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let them check out a pile of books! Christy met me at the library, and we solved world problems as well as our own while pretending our kids were still toddlers in the play area. Christy makes me laugh as hard as she makes me think---a rare treasure.

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So grateful to our friends, Kathy and Tom, who hosted us at Hotel Lacy. Loved sitting on their patio talking about old times and new times with them and the Wallings, while we all pretended not to notice the boys sneaking so many marshmallows that they were all gone by the time we went to make s’mores!

As anyone who has moved knows, not all friendships survive the lack of proximity. When you are no longer part of the minutia of each other’s lives, it can be hard to get past the generic: “How are things?” “Things are good.”

It made me appreciate Instagram---I loved being able to ask a friend about the race she’s training for, or when others knew little things that aren’t important enough to mention but that, ultimately, are the things that matter most to us.

And then there are the magical friendships where you just pick up where you left off and it feels like, surely you’ll see each other again tomorrow. The friendships formed while raising your babies and toddlers are as intense as the ones from college---when we were raising ourselves!

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On the six-hour drive home we stopped at Chipotle and guess whose writing was on my cup? My old friend (even if she doesn’t know it) Barbara Kingsolver---writing about the importance of community.

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She writes that scholars who research social well-being have found that the happiest people aren’t the very poor or the very rich, but “the ones with the most community.” (Interestingly, Mexico, Ireland, and Puerto-Rico are named as the places with the strongest sense of community).

Back in Golden, I was happy to see Duke and our house, but, as a friend here pointed out, I was comparing 10 years worth of community to the 10-months worth that we have built here.

There are numerous reasons why we left Moab, and just as many why I’m glad we are here, but I do wonder if we’ll make the same ties.

I’m working full-time now, and am grateful for the smart and funny people I get to work with daily. But those connections will never compare to the ones made while you are both trying to nurse your babies at a park.

I’m part of a book club here and we live on a cul de sac with great neighbors…but I’m working full-time now, so where will the time come to connect in the same way?

Our kids are older now. So, while I’ll get to know their friends, I can’t imagine I’ll know their friends’ parents in the way that you automatically do when your kids are little---when your friendships dictate who their friends are.

At times I feel too old and tired to make good friends again. I have enough already, and too little time to be the friend I want to be to my old friends. At other times, I feel like the manic bear in YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND! If only I could shrink the world. My close friends are spread out, not just in Moab but in different states. My old friend in New Zealand calls and I feel that relief---I can tell her a story and not have to fill in all the background or the cast of characters. She’ll get it. New connections require more effort, time, and energy than I have.


And then I remember the words of women wiser than me. Karen Maezen Miller would tell me, “You have all the time in the world.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh advised us to remain “empty, open, choiceless as a beach.” And young Jess Lively says, “Our purpose is to serve others in the present moment wherever we happen to be.”

I’m not quite sure what to do with those words at this point, but I know in my heart that they are true.

And that you can go home again---so long as home is not a place.

In the end (and the beginning), Moab is no longer our home.

But it will always be our Holy Land.

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Monday, June 1, 2015

What I Learned in May 2015

Forgive some obviousness and repetitiveness. I am always learning the same things over and over.

1. The only thing better than being a work-from-home parent is having a work-from-home spouse.

Brian took some vacation days to help the boys kick off summer. Do you know what a difference it makes to know your children are with their dad? To be able to go to work early---without making breakfast or packing lunches? To not wonder if you left wet clothes in the washer or whether you should have defrosted something for dinner.

It makes me realize that not only did I have it good all those years I worked from home---so did he!

2. Life is too short to save the good stuff. 

I finally opened the case holding the marble chess set Brian gave me many years ago. Our magnetic travel set can actually be a travel set now. And---shocker---beauty attracts! It's been played with almost daily since I set it up.

3.  Our senses are a gift, a link to the present moment. 

This is probably the most obvious one on the list, but has honestly been the biggest "a-ha" for me this spring. When life gets busy, I struggle with feeling like I'm on a conveyor belt and life is happening to me. This has less to do with busy-ness, and more to do with being too much in my own head. 

And the way out of that funk is almost always paying attention. And my own senses have been a key to that this spring. Our boys are growing fast, our calendar is full, but we can stop and listen, and smell and taste and touch and see! Who knew what magic we already possessed?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

On my nightstand: Short Stories

My friends Angie,  Lara, and I have been offering each other a different challenge each month this year. I love the challenges! They usually involve something I want to do, but wouldn’t make time for without the external obligation I feel to my friends (classic obliger mode, according to Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies).

I chose our May challenge: to read one short story every day in May.

Lara is a ferocious reader and has done various reading challenges in the past (reading 52 books in one year, reading #24in48, and the instigator of our Book Bingo FB group). I’m usually wary of any reading challenge, as my inner rebel comes out. I like to read whatever and whenever I want, but like Book Bingo, this one allowed me to choose my titles. In the end, I settled for reading 31 short stories in May---as some days I didn’t find time and then caught up on the weekends.

Here's what I read, in the order I read them, with the top 10 in bold:

1. "A Temporary Matter" by Jhumpa Lahiri
2. "Reflections of Luanne" by Marjorie Holmes
3. "My Father Addresses Me on the Facts of Old Age" by Grace Paley
4.  "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor & “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
5. "Advanced Beginners" by Melissa Banks
6. "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" by Jhumpa Lahiri
7. "Sexy" by Jhumpa Lahiri
8. "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri
9. "A Real Durwan" by Jhumpa Lahiri
10. "I Knew You'd be Lovely" by Alethea Black
11. "Mrs. Sen's" by Jhumpa Lahiri
12. "The Third and Final Continent" by Jhumpa Lahiri
13. "This Blessed House" by Jhumpa Lahiri
14. "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" by Jhumpa Lahiri
15. "The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing" by Melissa Banks
16. "Wants" by Grace Paley
17. "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
18. "Poison" by Roald Dahl
19. "The Office" by Alice Munroe
20. "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin
21. "Immigrant Story" by Grace Paley
22. "Conversations with My Father" by Grace Paley
23. "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" by Grace Paley
24. “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” by Amy Hempel
25. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
26. “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton
27. "Sixteen" by Maureen Daly
28. "Homage To Switzerland" by Ernest Hemingway
29. “The Happiest I’ve Been” by John Updike
30. “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olson
31. “The Roads Round Pisa” by Isak Dinesen, and her “The Deluge at Norderney”

This year’s Book Bingo requires an anthology of short stories all by the same author, which is why I finally read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. It didn’t disappoint, despite a decade's worth of hype. I have to admit, only a few of the other titles are new to me. I reread a few that I used to teach (Eleven and Poison), and a few from my mother's high school lit book, one of the most meaningful gifts she ever gave me.

Before I knew the word typography, I was fascinated by it in my mother's anthology from Siena High School.

Most were old favorites, but these were new to me: Hemingway’s "Homage to Switzerland.” Alice Munroe’s “The Office,"“I Knew You’d Be Lovely” by Alethea Black, and two of Grace Paley’s stories about her father.

Some think rereading is a crime since there are more great books than time to read them all. I find that silly. Reading is not a race or a conquest. Nabokov supposedly said the best reading is rereading, and I firmly side with him. A few weren't as good as I remembered them ("Roman Fever"); some were even better ("Revelation").

I hadn’t read “Sonny’s Blues” in years, but it took me back to the awe I felt reading it at 17, in Dr. Harold’s Literary Analysis class during my first semester at Loyola. I remembered bringing it home the following weekend for my mother to read, and her reaction: “You can actually see the music.” 

At 17 I was clueless about many things, but I did know that this was magic---that Baldwin could make marks on paper and years after that, the people he imagined could show up in my own mind just by my looking at those same marks on paper. And when the writing is good, as it is with Baldwin, those people become part of my story too, people I carry with me.

Reading is magic.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On my nightstand: Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming best booksPhoto from April 2015, and more to come about those other two titles.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was chosen by my book club here in Golden. My friend Freida invited me to join last fall, and I like how they choose their books. Everyone suggest titles and then they vote, with the top 12 becoming the books for the year. When you host, you choose which of the remaining 12 will be read that month. I’m hosting this fall and chose All the Light We Cannot See.

I already had Brown Girl Dreaming on my ‘to read’ list as many friends and fellow-book-nerds in our Book Bingo group raved about it. Then I heard this interview with Woodson and Terri Gross. Even with those high expectations, I was blown away by Woodson’s writing.

It’s a memoir, which I love. It’s written in verse, which I love. Back when I taught poetry, my students and I would wrestling to form a definition of poetry. The best definition we came up with was: “saying the most with the least amount of words.” Woodson somehow captures the perspective of a young girl, the personalities of her family, and the intensity of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 70s---all with so few words. With a few brush strokes. With moments.

Brown Girl Dreaming is classified as a book for children; it received a Newberry Honor and should be in every middle school library. And yet, I would place it beside Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

I’ve often lamented that there are so few bildungsroman from a female perspective. I had read To Kill a Mockingbird numerous times as a teen before it finally hit me that, even though Scott was the narrator, it was Jem’s story. Here, finally, is a portrait of the artist as a young brown girl.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Around Here

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Sean turned 10, closing out the spring birthday season around here. I love that crazy expression above. I had hidden the Wii game in with a shirt, and it was the last gift he opened. He is a sticker (like his dad) for manners and didn’t express his disappointment, but when he finally found the game, he was ecstatic. He’s been working on his literary scrapbook of Tom Sawyer. He wanted The Hobbit, but someone else got it first. No worries, though, because he will get enough Hobbit this summer---he’s in a play production of the novel this August. Honestly, I would be lost without Sean. He is an incredible helper, especially with his little brother. Reading, drawing, listening to music, playing soccer, and arguing about obscure details are still his favorite things.  

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Aidan grew another foot, or so it seems. He’s past me and gaining on Brian. He somehow managed to wear us down, and introduced his brothers to the legends of Zelda. He finished his science experiment on how food digests (pretty grossly, imo) and is counting down the days until school is finished. He went on a weekend retreat with our church youth group, and has spent many hours this spring bent over the drafting table in his room drawing. He passed his first Tae Kwon Do test last month too. He got out of school early one day, so I picked him up and brought him back to my work. He read at the Starbucks in the building. I tried to imagine being his age and sitting at a campus coffee shop. I hope it had a fraction of the impact it would’ve have had for me at age 13. Lately he says he wants to live in London when he’s older—partly because he thinks his British accent is so good.

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Nolan wrote the above book, with my favorite part being his “About the author” page on the very back. He turned seven in March, which I think was very inconsiderate. He is our baby, and in some ways is so grown up now and in others, the same sweet little boy. He’s learning to be more assertive on the soccer field, and he has two best friends, Will and Annabelle. When my sister came to visit last month, he and his cousin Henry declared each other “best buddies” and played LEGOs nonstop, and somehow managed to sleep in the same bed. He’s a reader now, and I’m just as surprised at how it seemed to happen overnight as I was with his brothers. He’s dying to start the 5th Harry Potter book, but I’m holding off for as long as he’ll let me. He’s already growing up too fast!

2015-04-02 us BandW at GEconcert

We have made the big transition---to a new state, new town, and new jobs. To be honest, at 45, it’s been exhausting. I feel guilty complaining because we have been so lucky every step of the way. Unexpected gifts everywhere---our house sold within weeks of being on the market. We found a furnished rental in Golden, which is almost unheard of, and in the heart of our little downtown, which was incredibly fun.

We had an amazing, patient realtor (I’m linking to her here, in case you too are looking for a home in the Denver area; she’s that good). We found a house with a real backyard (also slightly unheard of around here), near good schools and with less than 15 minutes commute to either of our jobs. Great neighbors---including teenage twin girls who became our afterschool babysitters as well.

And I got a job, doing things I love like learning, writing, and capturing things with my camera.

And yet, I still complain because none of it has been easy. At least once a month we each have a “We’ve made a big mistake!” moment in which we question every decision of the past year and wish we were back in Moab. Luckily, they’ve never overlapped or we might have packed up and gone back.

Transitioning from free-lance to full-time has been the hardest change for me. That’s a topic for another post. Brian has been amazing, of course. He’s taken on more than his share of the chauffeuring, and took all three boys to their dentists appointments and well-child visits this spring. I’m grateful for that, but it stings a bit too.

Brian has had to travel quite a bit more for this new job, and fire season is starting (I may be the only person thrilled by all the recent rain, secretly hoping it means fewer fires). He continues working on the house, painting trim and closets, and hanging frames.

The hanging of frames, like these in our entry, are the real signal to me that this place is becoming our home.


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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Unanticipated Gifts


We celebrated Easter with good friends. During dinner we joked that since we have now celebrated both Easter and Christmas together, we would have to share Thanksgiving dinner next. Only then we realized we have shared a Thanksgiving, back in 2005 when they joined us in Moab. “So the 4th of July!” one of the boys added. And then we cracked up realizing we were together on the 4th in 2013. Kris commented on another visit, in 2012, and how, at that time, neither of us would have guessed we’d get to be neighbors again (albeit different town neighbors). Life is full of surprises, and this one has been a great blessing.

(Yes, I realize I haven’t posted in…well, months. And there is too much to catch up on, but catching up is tiresome. So, if I’m to return to the blogging habit, I have to just jump in!)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Irish Table: a book review

my Irish Table

I immediately fell in love with Cathal Armstrong’s story and Scott Suchman’s gorgeous photography in My Irish Table, but I need a good Colorado snowstorm to actually move the book from coffee table status to the kitchen essential shelf.

Armstrong was born in Dublin, and his family life sounded familiar save for one fact: his father did most of the cooking. At age 20, Armstrong came to America and worked his way up in the kitchens of great chefs, eventually opening Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, VA.  Armstrong shares his failures along the way to his success. I loved his humility and honesty about what led his first place, The Baytree in Monkstown, to close. He was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 2006, and now owns several establishments.

irish breakfast

Siblings and cousins, look familiar? Other than the fancy toast holder, that looks like my mom’s breakfast table. She even had that exact pattern of blue dishes. The book includes a recipe for black pudding, one of my dad’s favorites.

I love that Armstrong makes the same point I have unsuccessfully tried to make for years. He talks about the special dispensation the Catholic church gave to celebrate St. Patrick’s day during Lent, and concludes with this line: “One thing you probably won’t find on the Irish Table is Corned Beef, which is an American tradition.” YES! Instead he shares a Roast Leg of Lamb recipe with au Jus and Herb Pesto. My nana, Mary McMahon, made roast leg of lamb on Sundays, and I’m excited to try this version.

Armstrong still includes a recipe for Corned Beef but as an appropriate dish for Halloween. His takes 17 days to prepare…so I probably won’t be trying it soon.

I hope I haven’t given the impression that his recipes are all complicated or old school Irish. There is a definite French influence, and he also has simple delights like Cheese on Toast, given an upgrade with tomatoes and chili powder.

cheese on toast

I know my sister Erin would enjoy his emphasis on quality salts, local beef, and homemade stocks. My cousin Maureen would love the photography, which includes the Irish countryside and shop fronts. My copy is sure to soon be stained and spotted, a sign of being well-loved. My anti-Brussels Sprouts family enjoyed his recipe (bacon can save almost anything), and I loved his addition of a Serrano chile to Beef Stew. Next up, we’re going to try his Irish Soda Bread along side my mom’s recipe and compare.

Also, because it is a rare quality in many cookbooks, the book is well-indexed and organized with a conversion chart, glossary and list of resources for humanly-raised meat and poultry.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this honest review.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Best of 2014: Music

It’s the last day of January so I have got to pack up this Best of series and get focused on the new year!

It was not a great year for new music in our house. Everything else in our life seemed new and unpredictable; perhaps that’s why we mostly stuck to old favorites and soundtracks. Lots of “Get Out the Map” by Indigo Girls, “Late for the Sky” by Jackson Browne and “The Most’' by Lori McKenna. 2014 was also the year of soundtracks in our house. Mostly these four:

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As we left “Guardians of the Galaxy,” my 12 year old said, “We have GOT to get that soundtrack” and I replied, “Actually, we already own most of those songs.” Of the four pictured, it was the best overall soundtrack.

One of our favorite books of 2014, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, led us to this video of “Major Tom,” which led us to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” our favorite movie of the year.

Top Songs of 2014…in our house, regardless of when they were released:

  • Stay Alive by Jose Gonzalez
  • Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede
  • Come and Get Your Love by Redbone
  • Skyfall by Adele
  • Home by Phillip Phillips
  • Stay With Me from “Into the Woods”, as well as Agony, The Last Midnight and more.
  • No More by Mandy Patinkin
  • So Now What by The Shins
  • Broke Window by Gary Jules
  • Let It Go from the movie “Frozen” (hard to believe that was this year…but it was)
  • The Air That I Breathe by The Hollies
  • Pompeii by Bastille
  • Boulder to Birmingham by Emmylou Harris
  • Brave by Sara Bareilles
  • Tuesday by Sarah Masen
  • I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers
  • Budapest by George Ezra

Songs the boys loved (and destroyed by overplaying):

  • Best Day of My Life by American Authors
  • Believer by American Authors
  • Weird Al’s Word Crimes, Tacky, Handy, & First World Problems
  • Happy by Pharrell Williams
  • Everything is Awesome! by Teagan and Sara
  • Immortals by Fall Out Boy
  • Pompeii, So What Now, and the first four from my list above were favorites of theirs as well.

and how could I leave out: “It’s Raining Tacos

I’m not sure why I’m compulsive about tracking our favorites from each year. I know I’d love to hear what my mom read or listened to when I was ten years old, but I’m not sure my sons will care. Really, it is another form of memory keeping for me.

Literal memory keeping, since I can’t remember titles of anything any more, and figurative, because I hope reading this list in the future brings back memories.

Memories of the boys singing “Let It Go” in the car as a quid pro quo for frozen yogurt. Our Jimmy-Fallon-esque lip sync contest on the beach in Inverness to “Hooked on  Feeling.” How that annoying taco video led our boys to hard shells. James Taylor’s “Mexico” in February. The best misheard lyrics from Bastille’s Pompeii. The Colorado playlist that accompanied us over the Rockies, and Nolan’s request that we play “Home” as we made the final drive up to our new home in October.

I hope 2015 will introduce us to more new artists and new songs, but I’m grateful to the old favorites that accompanied us through 2014.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Best of 2014: Movies

best movies of 2014 DOKedition

Here are my favorites that we saw in 2014, regardless of when they were released. I’ve broken them into random categories, though it’s still hard/ silly to compare works of art to each other.

Oscar Contenders


Okay, only three of the above are nominated for Best Picture, but I think “Into the Woods” and “Wild” should have been. They are in order of my preference from Left to Right.

Maybe it was due to extreme high expectations, but I found “Boyhood” a disappointment. I enjoyed some scenes and the music (a bit heavy-handed at times). “Grand Budapest Hotel” was great fun, but like “American Hustle” last year, not much more to it. The two best songs of “Into the Woods” were ignored by the movie (“Children Will Listen” got thrown to the credits and “No More” was made an instrumental), and still I loved it. “Birdman”---in my opinion---was brilliant. Entertaining and original---about the struggle to matter, to make something true, and the terrible temptation to listen to your ego.

Sci-Fi/Action/Brian Movies

action movies

I wish these five were the only action movies I saw, but there were more: “Rush”, “Fury”, “Elysium”. For record, Brian did see “Fault in Our Stars” with me.

I did not enjoy “Interstellar”, which seemed to last f o r e v e r, and lose its way during the last hour. “Edge of Tomorrow” felt like a violent video game, but had just enough “Groundhog Day” thought behind it to make it interesting. And Emily Blunt who can do no wrong.

And the truth is, I LOVED “X-men: Days of Future Past.” Great casting helps when a movie requires such a great suspension of disbelief. We then watched all the other ones in May and June (yes, I saw the last one first, but it still worked), so between the movies and Aidan reading all the graphic novels, it was the summer of X-Men around here.

We went to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” during our house-hunting trip in July. We were all desperate to escape our own worries and fears at the time, so we loved it even though we felt a little horrified that Nolan saw it. Definitely aimed at teens not littles. It also became the soundtrack of our summer/year.

Quirky/Independent/Deirdre Movies

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All year I was hoping for something as sweet, imperfect and original as my favorite in 2012. “Short Term 12” was excellent; we rented it last January, and it has stayed with me. But…it wasn’t call-all-your-friends-and-insist-they-watch-it-now-amazing.

“Begin Again” was delightful, though the music was forgettable (for me).  “In A World” was hilarious, especially her relationship with her dad. “Enough Said” was quirky and crazy and so good, but I had one small hang up. The same small hang up with “Chef,” which seemed to have the potential to be great but was edited so oddly and ended so abruptly.

Here’s my issue: can you imagine Molly McCarthy as the chef with Hugh Jackman as her ex and Jake Gyllenhaal as her maĆ®tre d'/lover, and not one review saying that was unrealistic casting? Obviously the double-standard exists outside of Hollywood too, but come on? (To his credit, I heard Jon Favreau interviewed about his casting and he justified it with the line, “That tells you just how good his cooking must be.”)

All that said, I’d love a movie with Julia Lewis-Dreyfus and Jon Favreau as the leads because I so enjoy them. They seem like Hollywood anomalies---both married to their respective spouses since forever, and both seem to really enjoy their work. I like that in a person.

Movies You Saw Last Year that I Saw This Year

web moviesearly2014

There were others. Despite the crazy length of this post, I’m not including everything. I loved “Nebraska,” enjoyed “Inside Llewyn Davis,” thought “Her” was the most depressing, beautifully shot movie, and, because I had extremely low expectations and watched it all by myself, adored “August: Osage County.”


anim movies

My sweet boys took me to see “Frozen” and I loved it. My sister Mimi gave me the soundtrack and it was another theme for the whole year. The boys insisted that Brian and I had to see Big Hero 6 after their grandmother took them to it. I loved it because they loved it, but come on, do all animated movies have to be so sad? “How I Trained my Dragon 2” was excellent, but also crazy sad and intense.

I don’t care what wins the Oscar because “The Lego Movie” was one of the best movies, animated or life-action, of 2014. Our expectations were high and it didn’t disappoint. The piece of resistance? The Kragle? Brilliant. And Batman. And our beloved Chris Pratt. Maybe because we have our own “man upstairs” who is tempted to keep the Star Wars ships up on a shelf (though he has never threatened to use Krazy Glue), we laughed and loved this movie as a family.



We watched “Jaws” with Aidan this summer, and it is just perfect. The script, the casting, even the silly shark. Aidan campaigned hard for “Terminator”---for two years. I can’t even remember now what were the final terms of our bargain, but we gave in, with lots of fast-forwarding and skipping much of the violent opening. I remember the first time I saw it and being terrified, but there were key scenes I had never seen. My brother filled me in that the video we watched in high school had been heavily edited. A-ha!

Aidan loved the 2nd one even more and went as T-800 for Halloween.

Brian and I saw “To Have and Have Not” on the big screen shortly after Lauren Bacall died. It’s not my favorite Bogie, but it was still fascinated to watch the man I adored as a kid. A quirky kid for sure.

Bri also watched “Ordinary People” with me late one night, and afterward he turned to me and asked, “This is the movie you were obsessed with in high school?” Yes. It too is perfect in so many ways. Granted, there are a dozen movies I obsessed over during those years, but “Ordinary People” was on a LOT in our house. It deserves a blog post of it own, but suffice to say, watching it all these years later, I now understood just why I loved it so much way back then---and can see how much all those viewings influenced me.

Movies the Critics Hated (and maybe you did too?) but I LOVED:


We finally saw it this year right after our trip to Mexico. Funniest thing ever. Bizarre and crazy and either you will love it or hate it. I so love it. Also---the most quotable movie ever.

secret life of walter mitty

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is my favorite movie of 2014.

Again, not everyone’s cup of tea. There is a non sequitur riff on “Benjamin Button” that is ridiculous, unessential, and completely hilarious. Plus, I live with Walter-like day-dreaming boys, and we were on the floor watching it. We rented it again on my birthday, and it is now a revered classic in our home.

Would I have loved it if I had paid full price and saw it in a theater? If I had watched it without my sons? Don’t know. But I do know that the timing, the company, all of that is a huge part of why I love what I love.

Also---the best soundtrack of the year.

Also---it has the line that became a theme for our year and our move: walter mity

If you’ve read this whole crazy-long post, you deserve an Oscar or some kind of trophy. If you saw a great movie that didn’t make my list, please mention it in the comments. Especially if you have that elusive imperfect-but-sweet-&-original indie to recommend!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Poem or Prayer

web 2014 02 11_Mexico_0113_waves on feet


Late Fragment

by Raymond Carver

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.


Photo from our trip to Puerto Morelos, February 2014. Poem from Carver’s last anthology, A New Path to the Waterfall

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Best of 2014: Books

Books in August

Like everything else in 2014, my reading was influenced by all the upheaval in our life. We learned about the possibility of moving in February, and didn’t have the final offer until June.  It feels like we spent a year preparing a house to sell, packing, finding a rental, unpacking, searching for a house, packing, unpacking again. And painting. Lots of painting.

My precious reading time was mostly spent on and researching. I also reread some old favorites, as I have a tendency to do during times of stress. Thanks to my Moab book club, Lara’s Book Bingo, and GoodReads, I still discovered some new favorites.

Favorite  Nonfiction Reads of 2014:

1. Paradise in Plain Sight by Karen Maezen Miller

Miller’s books have topped my list in the past, but this book still managed to exceed my expectations. She's funny. What a rare gift, especially in writing about personal responsibility, Buddhism, freedom, death and letting go. She writes about all of those and more, in the context of looking at what is right in front of you---in her case, the 100+ year old Zen garden that happens to be her backyard.

"The nature of life is impermanence. One day it'll get your attention. Reality might dawn in a single blow or accumulate in a thousand cuts, but one way or another you'll see that things change. Nothing is solid. Everything disappears. In a million, billion ways the world will fail you. How can you bear it?"

and almost in answer to that very question, several chapters later, there's this:

"Nothing is beneath or beyond you. You can do the smallest things. You carry peace wherever you go and share it with everyone, mindful that we're all doing our best, and headed in the same direction."

2. The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith

I love Myquillyn's style, but I love her voice and encouraging spirit even more. I felt guilty buying this book for myself in August, while we were in temporary housing and after the movers had made more than a few comments about all our boxes of books. Best indulgence ever. Until writing up this list, I hadn’t realized that, while their faith and spiritual practices are different, Miller and Smith have so much in common. Both encourage us to see the beauty in the imperfect, the gifts right in front of us.

“I’ve finally figured out that almost no one is living in their dream house. And I don’t know anyone whose life has gone exactly like they would have planned. You make the best choices you can at the time with the information you have, and then you deal with the consequences, and that’s the part where your life happens.”

3. Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist

I’ve been reading Karen Maezen Miller and Myquillyn Smith for years, and love that their books were as good or better than their online writing. Shauna Niequist was 2014 discovery for me, even though her earlier books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, have been on my To Read list for years.

Bread & Wine is my favorite kind of book, a mash-up of cookbook and memoir. I devoured this book in one weekend, while struggling with a novel that had taken me all summer to read. I was cooking daily in our rental, but not entertaining, not experimenting beyond our tried & true. So Niequist’s words brought what I was missing most---that sense of community that is best celebrated around a table.

Other nonfiction reads I highly recommend: Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider; Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, my perennial favorite,  A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander and others, and The Diet Fix by Yoni Freedhoff, which is the type of book I’d normally be too embarrassed to share but I’m compelled to because the last half of it is brilliant.

Oh, and I almost forgot---two humor books that I loved: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. The chapter titled “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry” was one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.

Favorite Fiction of 2014:

1. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple


Read on the beach in Mexico last February, it will always remind me of that magical time.

Even well-aimed satire can get old fast. While the emails were funny, I loved the heart and soul I found in Bernadette, who reminded me of Brene Brown's warning that unused creativity is not benign---"It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame." That was certainly true of Bernadette. As I was reading this, Nolan's sandcastle, which he had spent all day building, was washed away by the incoming tide and he was devastated. I told him the story of the 12-Mile house and he was more than empathetic to the idea that could send one over the edge.

2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

So many of my favorite topics woven into this narrative: language, siblings, childhood secrets, the power/dilemma of retelling, and the question, “am I my brother’s keeper?”

“The happening and telling are very different things. This doesn’t mean that the story isn’t true, only that I honestly don’t know anymore if I really remember it or only remember how to tell it. Language does this to our memories, simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An off-told story is like a photograph in a family album. Eventually it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”


3. Another Marvelous Thing by Laurie Colwin

My friend Lori introduced me to Colwin a few years back, and I’ve been slowly making my way through all her work. I started this and was put off, though now I can’t remember why. The adultery? The fashioning of related short stories rather than a full novel? Don’t know, but I’m glad I picked it up again. I loved Frank and Billy, and especially Billy’s sense of humor and her way with words. Frank had his moments too:

One day he said, looking at her brother's old sweater and a skirt that might once have been olive green: "You're the one girl, Billy, whom you dread to hear say: I'm going to slip into something more comfortable."


Other notables: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Favorite books I read with our boys:

1. Wonder by P. J. Palacio

Tied with Paradise in Plain Sight for the book I loved most last year. Sean and I read this together, laughed and cried together. I'm in awe of what Palacio accomplished here, especially as the book could easily have turned sentimental or too clever or too didactic. There were some close calls, but what saved the story every time was the authentic voice of Auggie, and the other narrators. The perspective of his sister Via was my favorite part.



2. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

Nolan had been impatiently waiting to read the Harry Potter series since he was oh…two? Gotta love having older brothers.  On his sixth birthday in March, we gave him his own copy of the first book and dove in. We raced through the first four books, even though we took breaks and read other books in between each. I’m imposing a longer break now because the last two are so much darker.  It was my third reading, and I find myself more in awe of, and more grateful to, J.K. Rowling with each reading. Her work has been the backdrop to so many of the best conversations I’ve had with my sons, and provided us with a common language and narrative that runs through their entire childhood now.

3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Obviously my affection for YA and JV fiction is influenced by the conversations it leads to in our home. I finished TFIOS on an airplane (do NOT attempt this unless you are more comfortable with public weeping than I am!), and Aidan ran out of reading material on the same trip.I ended up handing him TFIOS. He loved the sardonic wit of these teens, and I loved the conversations it led us to have about life, death, sex, and books. I recommend that any parent read John Green’s work before handing it to their tween---they are definitely intended for an older teen.

We also love his video series, Crash Course at:



I joined in the summer of 2007, so it looks like a little more than 30 books a year is my running post-kids average. I’m hoping for 40 in 2014, with at least 15 of them being novels.

Here’s to a new year filled with great reads!

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