Thankfully Reading 2014: Kickoff, Field Goal, Benched


Home sick from work today, most likely because of some overindulgence yesterday at Thanksgiving dinner. I was so good at sticking to only the gluten-free foods.  Temptation? Bah! As much as I wanted to, I didn’t sample any of The Husband’s fake turkey, nor did I have any rolls. Hell, I didn’t even have dessert!

Which, y’know, totally explains why I’m feeling like crap.

And I need to get better fast because The Husband and I have tickets to see James Taylor tomorrow night. We love him, and this will be the third time we’ve seen him in concert. It has been ages since we’ve done anything like this and I’m really looking forward to it.

Anyway, so this not feeling great nonsense gives me more time to participate in 2014 Thankfully Reading, which is always one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. (Plus, I wasn’t able to do the 24-Hour Read-a-thon in October, so this makes up for that.)

Last night I finished my first book, Gabriel: A Poem, by Edward Hirsch, whose poetry I really like.

GabrielThis is memoir-as-poem. Hirsch’s words about the death of his 22 year old son Gabriel are utterly devastating, heartfelt, and raw. It is painfully clear that he is struggling with this unexplained and sudden loss, and questioning so much of himself and the world. Any parent who has searched for answers for a child with any type of issue – whether it is an issue that’s known or one that confounds specialist after specialist – will be able to relate to Edward Hirsch’s pain in these few pages that speak volumes.

Early this morning – when I couldn’t go back to sleep – I started Anne Lamott’s newest book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, which is Book #2. Also in my pile for this weekend:

Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, by Ron Suskind
Heaven’s Coast, by Mark Doty
The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson
City of a Hundred Fires, by Richard Blanco
Directions to the Beach of the Dead, by Richard Blanco
Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS,  and Survival, by Sean Strub
Writing to Wake the Soul: Opening the Sacred Conversation Within, by Karen Hering

I know I won’t get through all of these, but it will be fun trying. I’ll update this post throughout the weekend.

Happy Thankfully Reading!


happy dysfunctional thanksgiving. (culinary-speaking, that is.)

So, today is Thanksgiving and my son just asked me what’s for dinner.

“Are you freaking kidding me?” I said, watching my language because my in-laws were sitting right there next to my laughing son.

In a way, it was a legitimate question because, culinary-speaking, we’re a little bit of a dysfunctional family. (We’re dysfunctional in other ways, too, but we’re not going to go there right now.)

I’m gluten-free and vegetarian.

The Husband is vegetarian.

The Daughter leans toward being vegetarian.

The Son and my in-laws are full-fledged carnivores.

Personally, I would love nothing more than to go out to dinner for Thanksgiving but I have guilt issues with that.

I’m also not interested in cooking anything elaborate. Been there, done that, gotten the rolled eyes from the teenagers and the skeptical looks from The Husband. It has taken me awhile, but I’ve finally learned: the simpler, the better.

So, my solution has been to do some combination of simple cooking and ordering prepared foods.

Here’s my 2014 Thanksgiving Menu to (hopefully) satisfy everyone at our table. The Gardein savory stuffed turkey, vegetarian mushroom gravy, and GF cornbread stuffing came from Whole Foods; everything else is from Aldi.

3-5 lb. turkey breast from Honeybaked Ham (thanks to a gift certificate)
Gardein Savory Stuffed Turkey
Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy (gluten-free)
Glutino cornbread stuffing
regular cornbread stuffing
green bean casserole
fresh green beans
cranberry sauce
instant mashed potatoes
pumpkin pie
cookie assortment

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!




Book Review: Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, by Anne Lamott

StitchesStitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair
by Anne Lamott
Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group
96 pages 

Stitches is described as a “follow-up” to Anne Lamott’s 2012 book, Help,Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. 

Which is why I almost didn’t read it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I happen to love about 98% of what Anne Lamott writes – but Help, Thanks, Wow fell flat for me and I assumed Stitches would be similar.

I was wrong.

I liked this more than I expected. Maybe it’s because I read this at a good time – meaning, during a time when Anne Lamott’s words resonated moreso than usual. (“Sometimes love does not look like what you had in mind.” (pg. 66)

Written in the aftermath of the Newtown, CT shootings, Stitches opens with the matter-of-fact statement, “It can be too sad here.” (pg. 1) We know immediately that the here Anne is talking about is our country, our society, our world. We know this even before she asks

“Where do we even begin in the presence of evil or catastrophe – dead or deeply lost children, a young wife’s melanoma, polar bears floating out to sea on scraps of ice? What is the point of it all when we experience the vortex of interminable depression or, conversely, when we recognize that time is tearing past us like giddy greyhounds? It’s frightening and disorienting that time skates by so fast, and while it’s not as bad as being embedded in the quicksand of loss, we’re filled with dread each time we notice life hotfoot it out of town.” (pg. 2)

The answer is to begin where we are.

“We live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky. If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching. And maybe the stitching is crude, or it is unraveling, but if it were precise, we’d pretend that life was just fine and running like a Swiss watch. This is not helpful if on the inside our understanding is that life is more often a cuckoo clock with rusty gears.

In the aftermath of loss, we do what we’ve always done, although we are changed, maybe more afraid. We do what we can, as well as we can.” (pg. 13-14)

It’s a theme that Anne Lamott has used before, and if you’ve read her stuff for awhile, as I have, much of this now seems familiar. In Stitches, Anne carries the thread metaphor throughout the book in a way that feels comfortable, yet new – we’re all connected by the rag-tag threads holding us together, all we can do in difficult times is hold on by a thread.

Reading this is like wrapping oneself in a blanket, snuggling up for a much needed talk with a friend who gets it. No matter if you’ve covered some of the same topics before.


during these times, the poetry of terrance hayes

University of Pittsburgh (6)

Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

Not writing about and not commenting on Ferguson somehow feels wrong.

And anything I can think of to write or say also feels wrong.

That’s just where I am right now.

As it turns out, I’ve been reading the poetry of Terrance Hayes, a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and who was recently named as a 2014 MacArthur Fellow.

This intersection of my most recent literary selection and the events in Ferguson are somewhat coincidental. I picked up Hayes’ latest collection Lighthead shortly after the MacArthur announcement in September simply because I hadn’t read Terrance Hayes before and I was curious about his work.

One of the reasons I read poetry – or anything, really – is to gain a different perspective on something. “There are less ideas about what’s a great poem and what’s a bad poem if you’re really thinking about perspective, the perspective of the poet,” Hayes says, in an interview posted on his website. That seems to be especially true with Hayes, a poet who writes about the African American male experience, identity, music, family, Pittsburgh, and more.  In his three books I’ve read thus far (Muscular Music, Wind in a Box, and Lighthead) his work is raw and gritty. Humorous yet reverent.

I was struck by this quote from Mr. Hayes’ webpage, from an interview in which he was asked why poetry is important and if poetry should be important to African-Americans (an odd question, if you ask me, but … whatever):

“Poetry resists generalities. Maybe we can call it an art of paradox, of clarity married to mystery, of thinking married to feeling. Hence, I can’t say why it should be important to African Americans in general, but I can say it “can be” important to an individual– and for different reasons for each individual. For me, Poetry is a way of discovering what I believe/feel about the world around me. Though even that answer is slippery since what I believe/feel changes. I think poetry has a lot to do with intimacy and we all benefit from “talking with” more than being “talked to” as say television talks to us.”

Perhaps that’s where to start with all of this.

With the quiet words of poetry.

And sharing them. With you.



sunrise of fire and ashes

sunrise of fire and ashes.

as seen this morning over carnegie mellon university here in pittsburgh.

Sunrise Over CMU

Sunrise Over CMU 2

photos taken by me, 11/24/2014

The Sunday Salon: 11/23/2014

The Sunday Salon

What a week.

Seriously, this was the sort of week that seemed like it would not end. It just dragged. A big part of that was because of all the uncertainty and sadness surrounding the death of The Husband’s grandfather on Thursday.  I mean, you generally expect such things at a certain age, but this was somewhat sudden – as these things go. Not to mention, the news in the greater world was also just so depressing and sad, too.

The big news from this weekend is that I officially have two teenagers. I’m not exactly sure how that happened – especially since The Daughter seems to have been a teenager for quite some time now.

Unfortunately, the weather was a bit lousy, so our plans to go out to dinner were scraped for dinner at home and a Chocolate Brownie Cookie mix that I happened to have in the pantry.  My in-laws will be here over Thanksgiving, so believe me, everyone will have plenty of opportunities to celebrate.

I’m saving my few remaining vacation days for Christmas week, so I’ll only be off on Thanksgiving Day this week. That’s OK.  The Husband and I have tickets to see James Taylor on Saturday, which we’re really looking forward to. We’re big fans and have seen him before (this will actually be the third time) and he always puts on a great show. It’ll be interesting seeing him at Consol Energy Center here in Pittsburgh; our other JT concerts have been in Philly and at smaller venues.

ThankfullyReading2014One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is Thankfully Reading Weekend, hosted by Jenn’s Bookshelves. (Consider this my official sign up post.) As usual, I’m behind on my reading goals for the year. I’m at 61 books read for 2014 when my goal is 75, so Thankfully Reading is always a good time to try and catch up.

This week, I finished reading two poetry collections – Muscular Music and Wind in a Box, both by Terrance Hayes. I’ve been curious about Hayes’ work since learning  in September that this Pittsburgh poet was among the newest recipients of a MacArthur fellowship.

Muscular Music (1999) and Wind in a Box (2006) are both impressive, strong poetry collections about the male African-American experience within the family as well as within the greater history of the world. There’s an emotional rawness to these poems, a harshness of language and imagery that give his experiences even more resonance (not that they needed it).

Also this week, I finished listening to Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. This was a fairly short audio (at least, it was compared to the 30-hour long Drood that occupied my last six weeks in the car) and like Freakonomics, it is mostly entertaining and informative anecdotes about thinking differently. I love the Freakonomics series of books (even though I haven’t read Superfreakonomics yet) and I thought this was perfect for a book to and from work.

I’ll try and have longer reviews of both of these up later this week – particularly Think Like a Freak, since it is still Nonfiction November – at least for one more week!





On National Adoption Day, Baby G. Still Waits

Daffodils in snow 4

Baby G. just turned 4.

You remember Baby G., don’t you?

If you’re a new reader to my blog, these posts might help fill you in. If the name Baby G. sounds familiar, these posts might help jog your memory about a little girl who is still waiting for a home.

A four year old girl who has all but been forgotten by the Wisconsin judicial system, including the Wisconsin Supreme Court which accepted G’s case on this matter – and then, inexplicably, dismissed it outright without a hearing.

A four year old girl who has been ignored by every Wisconsin child services agency and professional whose job it was to protect her legal rights.

A four year old girl whom a judge has bounced from one, two, three foster homes in her four years – and taken away crying from the adoptive parents who loved her in their home (that’s four!).

A four year old girl who knows the meaning of the words “court,” “judge” and “hearing.”

A four year old girl who wonders EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. if tomorrow is the day when she will go home to “her Mommy and Daddy” – the adoptive parents chosen by a birthmother four years ago to love her forever.

The adoptive parents who have, unlike a Wisconsin judge and a trial jury who voted for foster care without receiving all the facts about the adoption case,  not forgotten about G.

Not for one day, one hour, one minute.

The adoptive parents who have exhausted every dime of their savings, sold a car, tapped into retirement funds, held fundraisers, went through parenting classes, got certified as foster parents (although they are currently not G.’s foster parents), launched a crowdfunding campaign, borrowed from family and friends, reserved a spot in the best school district and, oh, after all that? Remodeled their home to not only accommodate G., but G’s TWO BIOLOGICAL BROTHERS AS WELL so that they could ADOPT ALL THREE SIBLINGS TOGETHER.

And still, on this National Adoption Day, when we’re bombarded by media images of celebrities telling us how blissful adoption is (and make no mistake, adoption is absolutely a wonderful thing when a system does its goddamn job and works as it should), there are three children among the more than 100,000 children in foster care who are waiting for permanent and loving families.

But here’s what makes these three different.

Here’s the soundbite of this blog post.

These three children in Wisconsin?

They have adoptive parents who are approved. Who are certified.  Who want them desperately.  All three of them.

These children? Their long wait can be over tomorrow.

Their adoptive parents will get in their car right now and start driving, all night long.

The hold up is a Wisconsin court that is woefully out of compliance with the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), enacted into law by President Bill Clinton and which requires that States move to terminate parental rights for children who have been in foster Care for 15 out of the last 22 months.

G. and her brothers have been in foster care for much longer than that.

Much longer.

That’s a violation of ASFA. Wisconsin has also not documented why parental termination is not in G.’s best interest.  Another violation of ASFA.

(Her birthfather is a convicted felon, serving a five year sentence. Her birthmother has never spent any unsupervised time with G.  Oh, and if you’re a taxpayer in Wisconsin? Your hard earned tax dollars were spent defending these birthparents in court for the past three years while the adoptive parents have sacrificed everything.)

The adoptive parents sent a letter to the ACLU of Wisconsin. That was on September 12, and still no reply.

Meanwhile, National Adoption Day ends and it is bedtime in Wisconsin.

And three children are going to sleep wondering why a judge still hasn’t said they can be adopted by the parents that have loved them for three years.