Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Year of Books: 2016

My New Year's Resolution this year was to read more books by diverse authors. I realized last summer my then 8 year old and I were reading a lot of biographies of white men, I thought, "We can do better." Not only can we read about more diverse people, but we can enlarge our view of the world by learning from authors who write from a different background than ours. 

All books in red are written by diverse authors. A star is next to the best in category.

Diverse Authors

1. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Insight as to life as a Muslim teen in Australia. Amal has the usual teen drama in her life with friends, boys, school work and a grouchy neighbor. When she decides to wear the hijab full-time, some things in her life change, but she also realizes that there are issues that anyone can struggle with regardless of religion.

2. Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena. When I first started this book I thought it was just another teenage angst book, but then so many layers unfolded. Danny feels like he doesn't belong at his white private school or with his Mexican relatives. There are family secrets, truths, self-doubt, self-cutting, self-realization, strength, missing parents, broken parents, reforming parents and unlikely friendships. I was left rooting for every single character and cheering as Danny discovers what it is to be himself.

3. Flight by Sherman Alexie. This book was very violent and yet it explored the themes of violence, killing, murder, betrayal, anger, revenge, and oppression. I did like that it recognized that anger doesn't add, it multiplies and revenge is a circle within a circle withing a circle, unending. And yet, there can be people who come along and show goodness and mercy to break the cycle.

4. Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez. Insightful book as the author imagines how her life would have been if her family had stayed for the Dominican revolution instead of leaving just before it happened in the 1960s.

5. War Dances by Sherman Alexie. Interesting collection of short stories and poems, many with a Native American focus. Bonus: the CD is read by the author!

6. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa. Poignant story of a housekeeper who finds herself employed to former Math professor who only has an 80 minute memory as the result of an accident. Not only do the housekeeper and her son find joy in learning, but they find that family isn't always biological.

7. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama. Fascinating insight into Obama's young life through his community organizing days and ending at his acceptance to law school. From childhood in Hawaii to his mother's new marriage and home in Indonesia to college in California and community organizing in Chicago and finally a trip to Kenya to meet his father's family after his death. Bonus: Book on CD is read by the author!

8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. This book was so bad I only listened to 1/3 of it and decided I had better things to do. It revolves around a Dominican family and works back through their family history, starting in New Jersey in the 1980's and when I ended in the Dominican Republic in the 1950's. I found this book slow, crude and depressing.

9. The Great Call of China by Cynthea Liu. A quick read about a student discovering her past, adventure and taking chances.

*10. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely. What a powerful book. What would you do if you were the victim of police brutality? What if you witnessed it? This book raises so many questions - but adds more like the layers of an onion. Shown through the eyes of two young men, both struggle to make sense of the society that surrounds them.

11. NW by Zadie Smith. I did not enjoy this book. Too much drugs and sex, I couldn't relate. I did like the parts of the book that related to culture and the influence that had on the characters lives.

12. When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds. The story of three boys turns into a story of how boy reacts to his brother having Tourette syndrome and how their neighborhood friend views their relationship.

13. The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. The story of a boy who deals with his mother's death by working in a funeral home.

14. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This reminded me a lot of The Lovely Bones. This story is told through flashbacks as to how a family deals with the death of a 16 year old daughter and sister and how being a half Chinese family affects their experiences.



Book Club Books

1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I didn't really enjoy this book. A violent crime that ends in the death of a young girl who continues to watch her family and friends from her version of heaven.

2. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. Excellent biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I was enthralled to see how her life played out - from losing her mom just before high school graduation, working extra hard in college to prove as a woman she could handle it, early marriage, law school with a toddler and a husband facing cancer, her early career and how she became a judge and ultimately sits on the Supreme Court. Even her current 22 year span on the Court is fascinating. I'm glad that her life is continuing beyond the book and I look forward to following her life!

3. The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer. Fast paced medical thriller that was fun to read.


4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Why wasn't this quote in the movie? "Enough about my beauty," Buttercup said. "Everyone always talks about how beautiful I am. I've got a mind, Westley. Talk about that." Otherwise the movie closely followed the book which made for an adventurous read.

5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck. This book really boils down to thinking positively and viewing "failure" as an opportunity to learn.

*6. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. I am still processing this book, even after finishing last night. It was so visceral. Dana travels back in time to a plantation where her ancestors are slaves. She experiences first hand what slavery was like. Her white husband also travels back during on of her trips and has different experiences. Throughout the whole book Dana strives to understand why she has traveled back in time.

7. The Bridal Chair by Gloria Goldreich. I liked the history contained in this book - Chagall's family escaped the Russian Revolution, settled in France but then became a target of Hitler because they were Jewish. But, I couldn't relate to the family relationships.

8. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I thought this book was only mediocre. It was a little patronizing that the male main character, of course, knew what was best for the female main character and helped her to find her true self - with his money. I felt the characters could have been a bit ore developed, there was a rich field of euthanasia, but none of the characters go very deeply into their thoughts and feelings regarding this.

Fiction & Non-fiction

1. Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich. As usual, this book had my whole family laughing at the antics of Stephanie, Lula and Grandma. Grandma is catfishing with Stephanie's photo on dating websites, a fraternity is missing two of it's members after a run-in with the college administration and a wacky professor has a plan to spread bubonic plague. Mystery, murder and laughs abound.

2. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. Three generations of women reflect on their lives, the impact family has made, and their futures.

3. A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs is back, but she's not quite the same. Personal tragedy leaves her contemplating her life while she stumbles upon a murder and begins to put her life back together as she unravels the mystery.

4. Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea. This book had a good premise: the lover of Frederick Engels, sponsor of Karl Marx in England. But the book was so slow and boring I had trouble keeping interest.

*5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! In 2044 teenager Wade sets out to win a Virtual Reality contest that tests his knowledge of 1980's culture, video games and role playing games. Along the way he makes friends as well as enemies and has to discover life through actual reality.

6. This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — plus plenty of valet parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich. Washington politics from 2008-2012.

7. Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman. I really enjoyed this book and reading the histories of these two great women who had many similarities, but also many differences. How they influenced modern histories, but also how they were influenced by the world around them. As a woman who grew up after the 1970's I take for granted so many things that these women endured, persevered and changed so that not only women but all Americans could benefit.

8. Armada by Ernest Cline. Another great read from Cline. Zack's father died when he was a baby, but he is obsessed with the things his dad liked: 80's music and video games. His video game prowess has him recruited by the Earth Defense Alliance to defend the world from an alien enemy. So many things are not what they seem in this book. The nostalgia will attract older readers, but there is enough action to engage younger readers too.

9. Disconnected by Jennifer Weiner. This was a very weird read. It was hard to figure out what was going on and the drug use lifestyle was something I am not used to.

10. Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner. The story of a mother and her adult daughters as they navigate circumstances leading them into new experiences and changing their lives. Silvie deals with her husbands infidelity after building her entire life around him. Lizzie wants this exit from rehab to stick. Diana has always been in control of her high achieving life until she finds someone she can't say no to. All three find that they must change because nothing stays the same.

11. Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand. The story of two friends trying to put their friendship and their lives back together after the death of a husband the the imprisonment of the other husband.

*12. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I didn't want this book to end - and yet I wanted to see everything resolved! On the surface this book seems to be about the intricacies of parental relationships between kindergarten parents and yet below the surface lurks the lies of bullying, infidelity, and violence. There is a colorful cast of characters, mystery and intrigue, I kept wanting to read more!

13. Looking for Alaska by John Green. When Miles goes away to school he is looking for the "Great Perhaps." Alaska opens up new views for him, but her sudden death has him questioning what he knows about her.

14. Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie Plum is back at it with tons of crazy new characters as she investigates deaths at an ice cream factory.

Children & Young Adult

1. Fair Weather by Richard Peck. Three farm children and their grandfather visit Chicago for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition which inspires not only them, but a influences a generation.

2. Old School by Jeff Kinney. Hilarious as always, Greg manages to get himself into funny situations that lead to a camping trip with school.

3. The Fugitive (Theodore Boone #5) by John Grisham. We've enjoyed reading this series by Grisham about a "kid lawyer." Since both of Theodore's parents are lawyers, he knows the law well for a 12 year old. In this book he finds a sees a fugitive and when he reports it, he helps reel the fugitive in and observes his trial for the murder of his wife.

4. The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1), by Rick Riordan. Another good book by Riordan on mythology, this one focusing on the Norse myths.

5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I re-read this book with my kids. So much to mull over after reading: social classes, death, family, responsibility, friends.

6. Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein. This sequel was every bit as engrossing and exciting as the first book! Both my kids and I loved trying to solve the puzzles and anticipating what would happen next. I personally loved that the focus of this book based challenge was banned books.

7. Unfriended by Rachel Vail. Good book on Jr High drama and the way different kids deal with it. Truly always wanted to be popular, but when she gets what she wants, she finds out things aren't always what they seem. The morals of the book are being yourself and how to be a good friend.

8. The Teacher's Funeral : A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck. What happens when your older sister becomes your teacher? If the writer is Richard Peck, lots of hilarious situations like a burning outhouse, snakes in desk drawers, and lots of other pranks.

9. Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck. I really enjoyed this book about female auto mechanics and race car drivers in the early 1900's! Add in four Butler University library science majors and this small Indiana town is in for lots of changes! Richard Peck's writing style always has you seeing the characters in vivid detail and of course has hilarious plot details.

10. If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth. This book tells the story of Lewis & George during their 7th & 8th grade years in the 1970's. Music brings them together and the bonds they forge help them navigate such life issues as: extreme poverty, physical bullying, racial perceptions and military family life. In the end, those parts of you that you strive to keep hidden from others are the parts that reveal the most about yourself.
11. Raging Sea (Undertow #2) by Michael Buckley. My kids, ages 9 & 13, loved this sequel. I did not. The premise was creating an army of 6-18 year olds who were hybrids that would fight the Alpha and other sea creatures. I just couldn't stomach a whole book focused on war by such young kids.

12. Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis. What happens when you find out your own Mother's business ethics are not always clean cut? Luther learns about himself, life, and what kind of person he wants to be in this book that takes place in Flint, MI.

13. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This book was really dark. Children with peculiar talents hiding out in a time frozen day always under threat of attack. My kids and I decided we did not want to continue the series.

14. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt. I love how Schmidt can say so much by saying so little. This book gave me a lot to ponder: child abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy, foster care - and yet there is always hope, starting with those who truly take the time to care about others, especially the "others" that start off as hard to care for.

15. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. There was so much to this book: The Great Depression, how minorities fared, learning what it meant to have things stacked against you from how you looked, perseverance, hope, kindness, family. We listened to this on CD in the car and my kids kept begging to turn it back on as soon as we got in again since they wanted to see what happened next.

16. The Scandal (Theodore Boone #6) by John Grisham. Another Theodore Boone book! My kids like the adventures of this 13 year old who titles himself as a "kid lawyer."

17. The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson. We did not enjoy this book. It was dark, morose, and flat out creepy. Octavian doesn't know that he's been born into a social experiment in pre-Revolutionary America. His captors educate him in science, philosophy and music, all the while making judgments on how skin color affects intellect.

18. Who Was Betsy Ross? by James Buckley Jr. Interesting facts about Betsy Ross.

19. The Boy Who Owned the School by Gary Paulsen. A funny book about a boy who thinks he's not good at anything, but discovers he does have a lot to offer.

20. Fins of Fury by Mo O'Hara. My 10 year old picked this book. It was a little silly, the adventures of a zombie goldfish, but contained evil scientists, best friends, camping and mysteries.

21. Spy School by Stuart Gibbs. Read with my 10 & 13 year olds who really enjoyed it. I was a little dismayed at the use of ass and damn, but otherwise the mystery and suspense were good.

22. Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Moving read on loyalty, connection, duty, war, regret and family.

*23. Revolution by Deborah Wiles. Excellent book. This book takes place in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1964 - Freedom Summer. History intertwines with the lives of 3 youth who are figuring out their town, their families, themselves, and their future. The incident that stands out to me the most is when the front porches in town are peppered with fliers from the KKK, because this also happened in my town this summer. While listening to this book with my children I could see how closely the past and the present are woven together. The present doesn't exist without the past and how we view the present has been shaped by the past. Also poignant is the voter registration drive, when blacks are risking their jobs and sometimes their lives to register to vote. As we embark on a presidential election season the candidates are just as important as the voters. Even without the lens of current events, the story line of this novel brings the past to life while illustrating social events of the 1960s such as The Beatles, integration, the Vietnam War, and divorce through relatable characters.

24. As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds. This book starts off with two brothers spending a month with their grandparents. While most of the book is light-hearted fun, family secrets including mental illness and suicide are uncovered.
25 Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs. Ben is back and he, along with his friends from Spy School, start of at camp, but end up stopping evil villans from taking over the US.

26.The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman. Jemmy and Prince Brat form an unlikely friendship.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Year of Books

I was surprised when Goodreads.com told me I read 90 books in 2014. I decided to keep track of my 2015 books here!

While half the books I read were Children's or Young Adult, I am happy that I met my New Year's Resolution of a Non-Fiction book each month. My "best of" from each category is highlighted in red.

New Year's Resolution: to read one Non-fiction a month!
1. The Ultimate book of Impostors, Ian Graham
This book contained over 100 stories of fakes and frauds, but I think I would have preferred fewer stories that were more in depth. My favorites were William and Ellen Craft who escaped from slavery by Ellen pretending to be a white slave owner, were at risk of being sent back from the North, escaped to England and came back after the Civil War.

2. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan. Wow, so much info in this book! The history of corn and processed food. The evolution of big farming. Organics. Hunting & gathering. Lots of information to digest!

3. Nancy Drew and her Sister Sleuths
ecret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia, Michael Farquhar. This books sounds much more interesting than it was. It took me over a month to read and was basically violence and sex. 

5. Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome, Robby Novak. This book was so much fun to read! Lots of inspirational ideas of how we can treat ourselves and others better.

6. Alan Turing: The Enigma, Andrew Hodges. For everyone who saw The Imitation Game and thought you'd like to read the book behind the movie, let me save you the time. This book was heavy. It was long and filled with mathematical and computing theory. The human elements were few and far between. I slogged my way through for 3 months and only got 5/6 of the way through. But when the book had to go back to the library, I wasn't going to renew!

7. Orange Is the New Black, Piper Kerman. "Prison is quite literally a ghetto in the most classic sense of the world, a place where the US government now puts not only the dangerous but also the inconvenient - people who are mentally ill, people who are addicts, people who are poor and uneducated and unskilled." Great memoir of Piper's year in federal prison. Compelling because she could be you. And not as "sensational" as the tv series.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
8. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed. I have not seen the movie - but I really liked the book! Cheryl is a few years older than me, but I loved hearing how her life diverged from mine as she set out to hike sections of the Pacific Crest Trail following tumultuous personal experiences. This story wasn't just her hiking journey, but told of her life journey and how all her experiences shaped her. This was the hardest to pick because Call the Midwife and Unbroken could both tie for first place also! But, this book is still resonating with me.


9. Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, Chester Nez, Judith Schiess Avila. Imagine fighting for a country that doesn't give you the right to vote and not being able to tell anyone the contributions you made toward winning WWII. While Chester Nez downplays the discrimination he received in his life and in the Marines, he up plays up the honor and integrity of his fellow Navajo's who developed the only unbroken code in modern warfare. From Chester's childhood herding sheep on a reservation, to boarding school that was designed to get rid on their Indian-ness, to being a Marine in WWII and the Korean War, to families and raising kids, Chester's experiences are fascinating.

10. Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s, Jennifer Worth. What I liked about this novel was how Worth combined medical stories with social statistics and human elements. The lives of her patients were juxtaposed against a still war-ravaged England of the 1950s. Worth proves herself a fascinating storyteller as she recounts tales of women and their families who stayed on her mind long after she left midwifing in the London slums.

11. Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began, Art Spiegelman. The gripping continuation of Spiegelman's relationship with his father and his father's concentration camp experiences.

12. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand. What an amazing story of survival, perseverance, resilience, tragedy and triumph. I was glued to this book from Louie's running days leading up to the Olympics, the start of WWII and how a downed airplane led to over 40 days of floating in the Pacific, POW camps and torture, the war ending - but the after-effects making it impossible for the soldiers to get back their previous lives. And yet, Louie was able to redeem his life and become whole again while inspiring and helping others. Many times this book was hard to read, and yet I laughed and cried during the triumphs.

Book Club Books
1. The Handmaid's Tale, Margret Atwood.
I did not really like this pick with it's disturbing view of the future and the sublimation of women.

2. The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Bank. This book chronicled the dating life of Jane and while it was a quick read, it did not leave me with any lasting impressions.

3. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler. An interesting account of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and their wild lifestyle in the 1920s & 30s.

4. The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel. I felt this book started off a little slow, but as it zoomed through the 60's I was fascinated by this account of Astronauts, their wives and the culture surrounding them as America created the space age.

5. A Knight in Shining Armor, Jude Deveraux. I was a little leery about a book that involved time travel and I wasn't sure about the heroine when she first appeared as a self-centered husband hunter, but I warmed to the story as the characters learned more about each other, their eras and how circumstances can change us and help us grow.

6. The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller. I found this book to be the unbelievable account of a highly exalted affair.

7. The Moment Between, Nicole Baart. My pick, I had read this a few years ago and wanted to discuss with a group. 3 timelines: the present, the recent past and the childhood. The story of two sisters. One who has committed suicide after a life of chaotic mental states and the other sister who is left trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that makes sense. The sister's quest leads her to a vineyard in Canada where she is left with more questions than answers but finds hints toward a spiritual life that she is drawn to.


8. Maus, I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, Art Spiegelman. I was completely skeptical when a "comic book" was assigned for book club. I put off reading it as long as I could - until I was a captive audience on an airline flight. And then I couldn't put it down! This book was so fascinating. A son tells his father's holocaust story through his artwork. The tone of the book is comparable to a kitchen table conversation. And yet, it's impact is incredible. Spiegelman's father retells of his life in hiding as Jew in occupied Poland. The hiding, scheming, always trying to stay at least one step ahead of the Nazis. The horrors of murder, separation, starvation and exposure. And then the effect this also had on the generation born after the War's conclusion. My only complaint is that I only had book one, and when it left off I was desperate to see the continuation. I picked this because I am still so surprised that a graphic novel could be so engrossing and also based on true events.

Fiction
1. Catching Moondrops, Jennifer Erin Valent. This was an ending book in a trilogy I listened to on CD about race relations in a small town before civil rights.

2. All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner. I listened to this book on CD and this was one I couldn't wait to turn on when I got in the car. It was so engrossing. A fictional tale of a professional mother's addiction to prescription drugs and her journey to salvage her life. 

3. The Job, Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg. Light read about an FBI agent and a felony who combine forces to bring down an evil villain.

4. The Language of Bees, Laurie R. King. Mary Russel and her husband Sherlock Holmes investigate a mysterious new religion that has framed his son for murder. An interesting look at London in the 20's and the rising bohemian society.

5. Grift, Jason Mosberg. The author sent me this book to read for free in exchange for a review! So, here goes: This was a fast-paced read that kept me flipping the pages to see what would happen next!
Piper and her family of teenaged con-artists are living a luxury life in Las Vegas: Custom penthouse, parties, concerts - the best in entertainment and food. But all this comes crashing down when Piper's actual younger sister is kidnapped. They all band together for the ransom. But what happens when the con-artists find they have been conned? 


6. The God of the Hive, Laurie R.King. This book built off the previous in the series and kept me wondering what would happen next.

7. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver. This book was amazing: a fictional account of a man's life ranging from post-WWI in Washington DC, to employment by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Lev Trotsky in Mexico, and back to post-WWII America and the Communist scare. History really came alive and personal as Harrison navigates his way between two cultures and the many ideologies of the 1920's through the 1940's. I am still thinking about this book! And I love historical tie-ins!

8. Small Blessings, Martha Woodroof. This book had a lot of twists and turns in it. College small town, the drama of college faculty and their families. What makes a family?

9. Funny Girl,

Big Girl Panties, Stephanie Evanovich. A love story between an overweight widow and her trainer. Funny and cute, although the details of the best friend's sex life is a little weird.

11. Mr. Kiss and Tell, Rob Thomas. I wanted the mystery to be solved without the book ending! This book read exactly like an episode of Veronica Mars with all the wit and repartee you'd expect. Veronica's investigation into a rape & beating lead her to old characters while the race is on for the sheriff's election which has Keith running into his past.

12. Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple. Funny, smart and lots of twists & turns - this book kept me guessing and kept me coming back to find out what happens next!

13. Shopaholic to the Stars, Sophie Kinsella Becky Brandon once again kept me laughing with her adventures, however this book ends on a "to be continued!"

14. A Good Year for the Roses: A Novel, Gil McNeil. This novel about a newly single mom of 3 boys had me cracking up with her parenting insights as they move to the country to run a B&B.

15. The Next Best Thing, Jennifer Weiner. This book was slow until the end when Ruthie finally stops compromising and produces her tv show creation her own way.

16. The Geometry of Sisters, Luanne Rice. This book explored the complexities of relationships, especially within families. I was always wondering what direction the storyline would turn next. While all the characters grew throughout the novel, often the younger generation was leading the older. And I loved the Michigan connections with parts being set at Mackinaw Island.

17. The One & Only, Emily Giffin. Ugh, did not like this book. It was about football and falling in love with your best friend's father.

18. Younger, Pamela Redmond Satran. Would you pretend to be 15 years younger if you could get away with it? Reeling after a divorce, Alice finds herself without a job and no marketable skills after being a stay at home mom who's daughter is now grown. When she gets a make-over and people thinks she's younger, she doesn't correct them and relives her youth with the wisdom of experience. I love the tv show and thought I'd check out the book behind it. I was not disappointed.

19. Pirate King, Laurie R. King. I love this series with Mary Russel and Sherlock Holmes. This book is about a movie about making a movie about a play. With pirates and kidnapping, it does not disappoint for adventure!

20. Winter Garden, Kristin Hannah. This book was intricate, spanning communist Russia to present day America and shows how our past affects our present. Two daughters who thought their mother never loved them are surprised and shocked to hear of their mother's past and with the telling they begin to examine their own lives and choices.

Kid's books

1. Who Was Ulysses S. Grant? Megan Stine. I was surprised at how excited my 8 year old was to open up this book at Christmas! We read it together and learned more about the man who became the 18th president of the United States.

2. Who Was Henry Ford? Michael Burgan. Living in Metro-Detroit and very close to Henry Ford Museum, we already knew much of what was in this book. But it was a great summarization of this man's life.

3. Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Ginnifer Choldeko. We had read this book years ago, but just discovered the third in the series was out, so we wanted to refresh before moving on. This series follows Moose Flannigan, a 12 year old who lives on Alcatraz because his father works at the prison.

4. Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, John Grisham. This was an interesting book about a boy whose parents are both lawyers and has grown up around courtrooms and the law. He helps out friends and acquaintances whenever he can. The only thing we didn't like was that things didn't wrap up neatly at the end - but that is because there are more books!

5. Summer According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. My kid's love this series about a hamster and his view of the kids in his classroom. In this installment Humphrey goes to summer camp and meets some new friends.

6. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, Frank Cottrell Boyce. We loved the first book, but I was a little hesitant to read a book that was not by the original author. No fear - this author was not only adventurous, but created a hilarious family for Chitty's adventure.

7. Al Capone Does My Homework, Gennifer Choldenko. A great 3rd installment of the capers on kids and convicts on Alcatraz Island. Moose learns some lessons in human nature and strenthens his own integrity.

8. Mysteries According to Humphrey,  Betty G. Birney. Humphrey is back and this time with mysteries to solve. Where did the teacher go? Why does the substitute entertain instead of teach? We all enjoyed learning the answers with this classroom hamster!

9. The Abduction, John Grisham. The second book in this series has Theodore Boone hot on the trail of his friend April's disappearance.

10. Millions, Frank Cottrell Boyce. With England shortly converting to Euros, two brothers happen upon a bag of money and must spend it without raising suspicion before it becomes worthless.

12. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, Ally Carter. My kids liked this book that is about a girl's spy high school and what happens when they try to become "normal" teens.


11. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon, Frank Cottrell Boyce. My kids didn't want to see this series end, but this book did a wonderful job of combining all the previous plots so the story-lines wrapped up.

12. Winter According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. Our favorite hamster is back and he learns about winter holidays, concerts and more lessons on how to be a friend.

13. Theodore Boone: The Accused, John Grisham. This book wasn't quite as believable as the first two when Theo is on the opposite side of the law and is framed for breaking and entering a store to steal electronics and is also the target of scare tactics.

14. The Island of Dr. Libris, Chris Grabenstein. We enjoyed Grabenstein's last book, Escape from Mr Lemoncello's Library, so much I couldn't wait to read this book. And it did not disappoint! Billy is stuck at a cabin with his mom for the summer, but finds that book characters come alive on Dr Libris' Island. I love how the author weaves classic tales and characters into his books that either remind you of great reads - or make you want to discover the books you haven't read yet! The plot had both my kids wanting to know what would happen next.

15. Secrets According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. The class is learning about ancient Eygpt and Humphrey learns that secrets that exclude others can be hurtful.
16. Imagination According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. Mrs Brisbane's class learns how to use their imaginations to write stories.

17. Who Is Steven Spielberg? Stephanie Spinner. This was our first "who is" book about someone still alive! This book is filled with lots of information about Steven Speilberg's life and the movies he has made.
 

18. Who Was Walt Disney? Whitney Stewart. Lots of facts in this biography of a man who's legacy has affected so many people.

19. Who Was Dr. Seuss? 

20. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet must navigate the tricky line between being honest and being kind.

21. Theodore Boone: The Activist, John Grisham. This book wasn't quite as good as the previous. It seemed to have a few legal loopholes and Theodore has to grapple with ethical issues as he tries to stop the development of a new highway through his town.

22. Who Was Neil Armstrong? Roberta Edwards. Interesting read about the first man to walk on the moon.

23. Who Is Stan Lee? Geoff Edgers. There was so much information about this man who has spent his life in comics and superheros!

24. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie. This book is like "Wonder" for the high school crowd, with cultural overtones. Alexie delivers a convincing account of a 15 year old Indian who breaks away from tribal tradition to attend school in a white town. Best Young Adult, my husband and kids laughed, I loved the socio-economic view.

25. Book Scavenger, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman This book uses scavenger hunts to solve clues revolving around a missing person.

26. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Found this book in my quest to read more non-white authors. Aristotle and Dante start an unlikely friendship and then navigate being gay teens in the 1990s.

27. The Case of the Deadly Desperados, Caroline Lawrence. A wild west mystery for kids!

28. Who Is George Lucas? Pamela D. Pollack, Meg Belviso. A great biography on a man who's movies have touched many lives.


29. A Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck. My entire family loved this book - from ages 9-42! When Joey and Mary Alice are forced to spend the summers with their Grandmother in the country they can't even begin to imagine the tall tale type adventures they are in for! Stories that are funny, engaging and clean cut like this don't come along often! Best Children's. Stumbled upon this book that was wholesome, adventurous and hilarious!

30. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck. Again my whole family loved this sequel to A Long Way from Chicago. We roared with laughter at the situations Grandma dragged Mary Ellen into, and yet, Grandma shows herself to be an astute reader of human nature and teaches her granddaughter life lessons that stay with her.

31. The Worst Class Trip Ever, Dave Barry. My kids, grades 4th & 7th, LOVED this action packed (fart jokes included) book. When Wyatt and his 8th grade classmates embark on a class trip to Washington DC they encounter spies, terrorists and a presidential assassination plot. Taking matters into their own hands they hilariously foil evil-doers.

32. Crenshaw, Katherine Applegate. This book was a heartfelt tale of a young boy who used an imaginary friend - a giant cat - to deal with his family being homeless, "car camping," when he was younger. After his family has enjoyed some stability, it looks like they may be sliding into the predicament again and Crenshaw the cat comes back. This book is perfect for older elementary and explores truth, trust and imagination.

33. Scavengers in Space, Alan E. Nourse. The Hunter brothers search for their father's killer in the asteroid belt.

34. Who Were the Wright Brothers? James Buckley Jr. The story of two inventor brothers who advanced modern aircrafts.

35. Mary Poppins Comes Back, P.L. Travers. The prim and proper Mary Poppins is back bringing a host of new adventures for the Banks children.

36. The Best Halloween Ever, Barbara Robinson. This book was cute, but did not have the emotional revelation that the previous two did. That being said, it's a fun Halloween read!

37. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, E.L. Konigsburg. I liked this book because it was a bit different than books written recently. The two main characters, young girls, had an elaborate game of playing that they were witches and making up potions and spells. It was refreshing to see children playing make believe rather than caught up in drama.

38. The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate. This book was a moving tale of wild animals in captivity and how they worked for better circumstances.

39. Who Is Jane Goodall? Roberta Edwards. It is always inspiring to read about amazing people who are still alive! From Jane Goodall's start, without a college degree, to her discoveries about chimpanzees, this book kept our interest.

40. Who Was Amelia Earhart? Kate Boehm Jerome. Another inspiring story of a women who worked to break down gender barriers as well as break flying records.

41. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson. Love, love, love rereading this book at Christmas with my kids. It ALWAYS makes me reflect on the Christmas story differently, like how Mary & Joseph were refugees, dirty and tired and probably not like the squeaky clean version we tend to think of. And what if the wise men had gone back to Herod? And all these are brought about by a group of kids who were the unlikely suspects for telling the Christmas story.

42. Undertow, Michael Buckley. I'm a little conflicted by this book. I really liked the storyline, but I did not like the main character. I just didn't feel she was believable. She was rebellious, but obedient. She was independent and dependent. I was disappointed that an author that had written strong, diverse female characters in The Sisters Grimm and written such stereotypes here. All the women and young women we either in a relationship or striving to be in one. They all looked to men/young men for direction. The best friend character was much more interesting than Lyric, the main character.

43. A Season of Gifts, Richard Peck. Mrs Dowdel is back and she is as full of hijinks and life lessons, as usual, when a new family moves in next door.

44. Twenty and Ten, Claire Huchet Bishop. Great short read on 20 evacuated French school children who hide 10 Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of France.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Happiness

When one of my sons was 7 he asked me, "Mom, can boys marry boys?"
"In some states."
"Good, that's what I want to do!"
Now, having worked with kids my entire adult life, I know that most 7 year old boys think girls have cooties, but I also knew in a split second that if this was not that case, I in no way wanted to plant the seed of doubt that I wouldn't accept my son. So, I answered, "What kind of cake to you want at your wedding?"

Fast forward some years later and due to the recent Supreme Court decision I decide that conversation may need an update.
"Remember when you asked me if boys could marry boys and I said, "In some states" well, now the Supreme Court says that it needs to be in all states."
"That's gay."
Now, I'm not even sure how to take that comment, so I ask for clarification, "Did you mean that as a fact or as an insult?"
"I'm not sure."
"Because if you meant that as a statement, it's okay. If you meant it as an insult, that's not okay."
Now I've totally confused my kid, so I try to save the conversation by saying, "I just hope whoever you marry makes you happy." And after a lull, "Do you think Dad and I make each other happy?"
"Well, I think you make Dad happy, but I don't think he makes you happy."

Dang, where did this come from??? Now I'm analyzing myself, but I come up with the conclusion that my son is right!
Does my husband make me happy? My first thought is that it is no one's job to make me happy. No guy can do that because I am responsible for my own happiness.
Does my husband make me unhappy? No.
Am I happy that he is my partner? Yes.
But can I say that my husband make me happy? That's not his job. His job is to be my partner and when I am unhappy it is my job to either change things or change my attitude.
Life is better together and I am happy for that, but no one else has the obligation to "make me happy."

And now that I've figured out the theory to happiness....

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

30 Days of Thankfulness: 2014 edition

1. While we were turned away from hearing President Obama speak tonight at Wayne State (there were more free tickets than seats), I am thankful for all the experiences I have been able to give my kids. Just recently we've walked across the Mackinaw Bridge with 25,000 other people, we explored Memphis from Graceland to the National Civil Rights Museum, we camped at Michigan's first state park and explored "The most beautiful place in America." I'm thankful for our adventures and looking forward to more.
 
2. I'm thankful for my home, where my family lives...together.

3. Today I'm thankful for lunch. I'm really needing the food AND mental break today...

4. Today I'm thankful for the opportunity to vote and for all those who sacrificed so that I could have that right. While our nation is not perfect, I think we become great when the current generation puts aside their own desires for the benefit of future generations.

5. I am so thankful for my husband. One of things I have come to appreciate more and more is that he is not the same person I married 15 years ago, or met 21 years ago. He continues to grow and learn and change. I most recently appreciate that when I went back to work full time, he has taken on much more of the parenting duties including picking the kids up from school, making dinner and supervising chores. When we lived apart, I honestly felt like a part of me was missing, so saying that life is better with Alex is a truth that I learned quite well!

6. I'm thankful for Greyson. He is so confident, which I hope he can temper with humility because that confidence attracts others to him and his ideas. I love that he is not in too much of a hurry to grow up and still has an innocence about him, still believing in Santa Claus and the Toothfairy, even though his younger brother does not (although maybe he's feigning for me, and I'm alright with that too). He is also so very helpful, you can count on him when he's needed and even when he's not he tries to lend a hand or whatever is needed.

7. I am thankful for Grant. Anyone who has hung out with him knows he has a sense of humor way beyond his 8 years and he truly enjoys making people laugh. He is such a sponge with information, soaking it up, but because he is such a goofball, people are often surprised at how smart he is. And as my "baby," he has also been the cuddler of the family.

8. I'm thankful that my kids enjoy books, and reading, and learning. We've always read together every night. We started with picture books and moved on to chapter books. We've read the classics (the Chronicles of Narnia, Mary Poppins, Henry Huggins), we've read read new books (The Wednesday Wars, Percy Jackson, The Sisters Grimm), and listened to books on CD on our endless car trips (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has a great narration). I think the variety and depth of these books has helped to start discussions about history, politics and ideologies. And I love it when I see them pick up a book on their own, even when its not something I would have picked

9. I'm thankful for friends. While I met some great people in New Orleans, there was something so comfortable about coming home to friends who have known us 20+ years. Friends who know our quirks, who have seen the good, and offered their help during the not-so-good. I wouldn't have made it through "single parenting" without all the friends who helped out. I appreciate all of you, and while I hope you never *need* my help because your life is smooth sailing, I hope I am there to support you the way you have me.

10. I'm thankful for sunsets and sunrises. We had a gorgeous one tonight!

11. I am thankful for the many freedoms I enjoy, which therefore makes me thankful for all those who fought, sacrificed and worked to make that happen!

12. I'm thankful for my family. I come from a pretty big family that is also fairly close. I saw their love in action today at a funeral, but I've seen it so often otherwise, and on both sides. I can honestly say that I'm friends with the people in my family and I'm glad my kids grow up knowing that love.

13. I'm thankful to be living in a place with 4 seasons. The crispness of fall with the most gorgeous colors nature can paint, blankets of white snow and silence you can hear in the peacefulness of winter, springtime that roars in like a lion to make way for colorful shots of grass and flowers, summertimes that I once heard described as, "you know those magical childhood summers described in books and movies? With hot days and cool nights? Swimming and fireflies? Those actually exist in Michigan!"

14. I am so thankful for weekends. Lately my weekdays have started at 5am and go nonstop until after 9. Even though the weekends are filled with errands and chores, the slower pace is a welcomed change.
 
15. I'm thankful for life's annoyances. Everything that annoyed me today is something to be thankful for: the grocery shopping means my family has food for the week, the messy house means we have a place to live together, the laundry means we have clean clothes to wear! So, today I'm thankful for the annoyances.

16. I am so very thankful for the discussion groups I've been a part of. Pub Theology in New Orleans, book club and dinner & a movie in Michigan. It amazes me how a group of people can all read or see the same thing but have different views based on their own life experiences. My life has really been enriched by these interactions and I've expanded my horizons through them.

17. Working at a new job can make you reflective about past positions. I am so thankful to have had great work experiences! At Campfire, Judi took a chance on me and allowed me the experience of working on a team, organizing, planning, supervising and how to pitch in where needed. At Detroit Conference Camps I got to explore the creative side I didn't even know I had and I met so many wonderful people who were campers, volunteers, staff and supporters. And I consider how many peo...ple I worked with over those 10 years that I still consider GOOD friends. At GrowthWorks I worked with people who were definitely not in it for the money but cared enough about people to make an effort with every client, even though it was the small majority that let themselves be helped. Those people are some of the most generous I've ever known. Even at Tulane, where the work culture was isolating, I am thankful for the vast amount I learned about childhood mental health and poverty. Some people just have jobs, but I am thankful to have had learning experiences, knowledge, support, growth and friendship.

18. I'm thankful that all my rain turned into rainbows today. I left work late, but that meant I missed the traffic! The kids were supposed to have pizza at the trampoline party, but instead they were refunded the food money & Alex used that to buy Little Ceasar's for everyone

19. I'm thankful that what my kids argued about tonight was...who got to shovel snow. Because they both wanted to. For real.

20. Today I'm thankful that all things come to an end. It's been a loooooong day!
 
21. I'm thankful for my sister Shelly and her family. This is the 2nd time since we've moved back that they've said, "Come on vacation with us! Just bring yourselves...and maybe a sleeping bag!"
 
22. I'm thankful for my sister Marie. She lived with us for 4 years while going to college and has been like a 2nd mother to my kids. Since we love the same movies we are always quoting them to each other. She plans trips for us and was great at organizing a birthday trip for me to Las Vegas this year. Plus everyone is always complementing the hand-me-down clothes she sends my way!

23. I'm thankful for my brother Stanley and his family. They have always loved including my kids in activities and it has been great for Greyson to have a cousin his own age!

24. My kids received an advent calendar today and it made me think: I'm thankful for anticipation and having things to look forward to.

25. Last night my 8 year old asked, "Can we get a poinsettia? My art teacher says I'm really good at drawing them!" I am thankful for people who are encouragers.

26. I'm thankful my kids are learning how to cook and clean. Hopefully life skills will help them grow self sufficiency!

27. "This is the thanks for all that's good: home and family and friends and food."
reading This Is the Turkey.

28. "Never say no to adventures. Always say yes. Otherwise you'll lead a very dull life."
I'm thankful for all the adventures I've said yes to.
reading Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

29. I'm thankful for celebrations!
 
30. Out of all the days in November, this is the day that has me most thankful! My two best friends, Alex and Marie, were born on this day (of course, they were born 8 years apart!) and I am so thankful to have them in my lives!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Have kids, will travel: Memphis

My husband had a training for work scheduled in Memphis and asked if we'd like to come along. At first I was like, "What's in Memphis?" But, you know I'm always up for an adventure, so I started researching things to do with kids.

Day 1: I called this day "Water & Fire Day"
I started the day off by taking the kids to the Civic Center Plaza, which has cool fountains that spray up from the ground, so they could run around just like they were at a water park - but for free ;)
Next up we went back to the hotel pool, which was on the 10th floor and overlooked the Mississippi River, so the kids could get some serious swimming in.
After becoming waterlogged - it was time to warm up with some fire! We headed over to the Memphis Fire Museum. The downside was that we found out most of the exhibits were closed, the upside was that it was free to see what exhibits were open! The museum has since reopened, so I'd recommend checking out the updates!
We rounded out the day with a trip to the Peabody Hotel, which is known for it's duck parade at 5pm. The ducks parade out of the fountain in the lobby, go to the elevator, spend the night on the roof, then come down the next morning to swim the day away in the lobby fountain and do the whole routine over again.
We had dinner at the Blues City Café on Beale Street and I've got to say: the #1 thing I like best about Memphis is that when you say you're from Detroit, people excitedly reply, "Detroit! That's Motown!" which is a lot different from other responses I've heard around the country.  The #2 best thing about Memphis is all the live music! And there is no shortage at the restaurants, cafes and bars on Beale Street.


Day 2: Mud Island
Memphis has a super cool Island, Mud Island. You can walk over for free, but we took the monorail which also included tickets to the Mississippi River Museum. The most famous part of Mud Island is the scale model of the Mississippi River that is 5 blocks long!!! It shows a lot of detail too, including river heights and cities and other landmarks along the river's path. Definitely something to check out if you are in Memphis!
After this long walk in the sun, we headed down the street to Riverfront Bar and Grill. My kids had passed it the day before and wanted to eat there since you could eat outside overlooking the Mississippi. The food there turned out to be YUMMY!
We also toured the Gibson Guitar Factory. And got a fascinating lesson on how their guitars are made.


Day 3: Memphis Museums
So, while poking around on Pintrest, I found that the Memphis Museums offered a FREE family pass for the summer just for signing up! Their largest museum is The Pink Palace, which has a little bit of everything! Fossils, dinosaurs, skeletons, Tennessee and Memphis history, music, and more! There were hands-on exhibits for the kids and the whole museum took up the morning.
After a yummy Mexican lunch we headed to the Lichterman Nature Center, which was also under the free museum membership. There was a small visitor's center with displays and tons of walking paths. However, my kids were pooped from the morning at the museum and the hot Tennessee sun, so we stayed just long enough to get some amazing views of the American lotus pond.
Dinner was at Central BBQ, famous for giving you a ton of food!









Day 4: Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum
After being thrifty and doing free or close-to-free things all week, we splurged and went to Graceland. After living in the Detroit area for so long, and touring the homes of the auto barons from the early 1900s, I was surprised at how small, unadorned and modern Graceland was. Still it was interesting to see the place of legends and to hear more of Elvis' history. The kids demanded we add the jets to the tour, so we saw Elvis' personal airplanes, and there was also a car museum that the Detroiters in us loved.
We ate lunch at the Hard Rock Café in Memphis, yep, we were going all out on the regular tourist thing. Then we went to the National Civil Rights Museum at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. What a sobering time. We've come so far, yet have so much work still to do. I would love to go back to this museum sometime when I don't have two young kids trying to hurry me through! I highly recommend visiting, but make sure you have the time to spend uninterrupted so that you can take it all in.
We ate dinner at The Kooky Canuck, because, you know Detroit isn't close enough to Canada, so we had to get Canadian cuisine while we were in Tennessee!

Day 5: The End
We only had the morning to sightsee, so we went to The Mallory-Neely House, another included in the Memphis Museums! We were the only ones there for the first tour of the day - so we got a personal tour! This house was absolutely AMAZING! So carefully preserved, thankfully because of having few owners. THIS is what I was missing when we toured Graceland. Original woodwork, stained glass, turn-of-the-last-century furnishings. I didn't take any pictures because this place because it just seemed disrespectful, so just take my advice and visit it!!!
So, after not really knowing why I'd want to go to Memphis, I've concluded that it is a WONDERFUL city, with lots to see and do. Yes, I'd visit again!  





Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Have kids, will travel: Northern Michigan

Lots has happened in the last few weeks! We made the 1060 mile move from New Orleans to Metro-Detroit. And in the midst of unpacking and settling my sister offered to take my kids camping. Well...since I don't have anything else to do right now, I wanted in on the fun!


Very yummy blueberry cobbler in a dutch oven
Thankfully she said, "All you need to bring is a sleeping bag," so the kids and I were off! We camped at Interlochen State Park, which I learned is the oldest state park in Michigan. We had a great time boating, fishing and cooking out, but the highlight of the trip for me was heading to Sleeping Bear Dunes, which won Good Morning America's title "The Most Beautiful Place in America" in 2001.


Since we had young children (4 between the ages 2 and 11) we only climbed the first dune at the park. Hiking the entire trail to Lake Michigan is pretty strenuous, so we just sat back and enjoyed to view while the kids went over a few hills thinking they were great adventurers!


There is more to do within the National Park system in the small town of Glen Haven. We visited the US Coast Guard museum which performs a life-saving demonstration every day at 3pm showing how they would rescue survivors of Great Lakes shipwrecks. Also, on Thursdays there is a demonstration of a Lyle gun, the only gun invented by the Army to save lives, and we were there for it! The kids also got to "help" pull it in. We visited the Blacksmith shop and saw a demonstration of techniques.


So happy to be back in Michigan and take advantage of all the natural beauty this state has to offer! As wall as the great State and National Parks!

Friday, June 20, 2014

What I learned in New Orleans

Wow, so many emotions going through me in the past two months. First I had spent a large portion of my time on job hunting, found a job I was excited for only to learn the day before I was supposed to start that my husband was offered a job in Detroit.
I always knew we were moving back, but I did not think it would happen so soon. While the kids and I have spent two years living here, Alex had been here a total of five years. I was excited and I was also nervous because I knew circumstances would leave me with the packing while solo parenting. And not just the household stuff - but Alex would not be coming back for the loading, so this time I would be packing the shed and electronics as well as any other personal things Alex was not able to get to. Don't get me wrong, he worked incredibly hard doing the most that he could before he left, but like most of life, there just wasn't enough time.
I was also surprised that in all these feelings, there was a little sadness too. I've grown a lot in New Orleans, and it was my refuge after an incredibly hard three years when my life forever changed from unexpected single-parenthood and unemployment.
In the midst of all these emotions though, there are some lessons I've learned, or that have deeper meaning to me now that I'd like to share.

Jump into life and forget the waiting place. Sometimes we are caught waiting for things to happen before we move on. Changing your surroundings can also change your perspective. I found myself saying, "What are you waiting for, just do it!" And I'm finding the more "risks" I take when I forget about waiting, the less regrets I have.

Our garden put in by Green Light New Orleans.
Do what you like. I was lucky enough to have a flexible part-time job and I got to explore my interests more. It also helped that my kids are older and we went back to being a two-parent household. I volunteered at my kids' school, I went from making cookies for Prime Time Family Reading Time to being a storyteller (reader), I volunteered at a local farm market, learned how to make more vegetable dishes from local vegetables and started composting and gardening. Again, most of these things I had been "waiting" to do and it was so gratifying to actually be able to do them and explore my interests more.

Politeness is important. Sorry, but this is going to be a little criticism of New Orleans and the South. Maybe I just don't get how to interact with people here, but can't believe how rude people are. I do know incredibly nice people, but some of the interactions I've had, at stores and in public, leave me shaking my head at just the flat-out rudeness of people. Then when I'm back in the Midwest I'm surprised at the politeness - people smiling at you, saying hello, holding the elevator. I'm leaving with a renewed resolve to be politer.

Volunteering at Second Harvest
became a family activity. 
Be there for people. This is my 3rd time moving in 3 years, two of those times cross-country. None of
those times have been paid for by our employer, which leaves me to do the packing and then is still a pretty hefty price tag. I was a single parent for three years (yes, that's what I call it when my husband comes home for a weekend once every six weeks). I've solo parented a month this time. I lost a job I loved after 10 years. I lost a job I was ambivalent toward. In all these times, I've been surprised by the people who have stepped up and helped out, or offered to help. And I've been surprised by those who haven't. I hope this makes me more aware of others. And I'm especially thankful that a byproduct of hardship can be greater empathy for others.

Payoff debt and save money. We've had some curve balls in the last 5 years and one of the things that has helped us to make better decisions is not having debt. It's frustrating that the two houses we've sold in the last two years have just barely covered moving expenses - but those are expenses that have not had to turn into further debt! This time around everything happened on short notice: putting our house up for sale, coming up with a down payment for a rental house, paying for a cross-county move and having a car die and needing a replacement. I am left wishing we had saved more money, but we were able to do fairly well with at least rearranging our finances to make things work. This is a huge reminder for me to prepare for the unexpected with savings.
We became members at the Audubon Zoo
so that we could frequent the exhibits often!

The treasure in your backyard. We got to do a lot in New Orleans. Both tourist things and off the beaten path kind of things. But the thing is - even without living in a touristy city, there are plenty of places "in your backyard" to be explored. Nature, history and culture are everywhere. Sometimes you need to dig a little, but it's always worth it!