Bonus Tuesday post

When you read to a child, when you put a book in a child’s hands, you are bringing that child news of the infinitely varied nature of life. You are an awakener.
Paula Fox

A few weeks ago, a friend of a friend reached out to me to ask if I’d be willing to participate in a short interview about our family reading habits. After years of teaching preschool, I’d had a lot of practice discussing the importance of reading to young children, and I jumped at the chance chat with Kumkum Pandey. She’s working on a nonprofit initiative to promote reading to young children and is looking for more input from parents about the challenges and realities of reading on a daily basis.

I volunteered to signal boost for her because I know my audience – we’re a bunch of book-obsessed nerds, and regardless of what titles may be on our individual to-read lists, we’re connected by a passion for the written word. If you’re interested in extending help to a project that will try to tear down barriers for parents who’d like to read more to their children but may not have access, time, or support, consider participating in a ten minute interview with Ms. Pandey.

If you’re interested, or have further questions, post a comment and I will connect you with Ms. Pandey via email.

An Address in Amsterdam, Mary Dingee Fillmore

When I was nineteen, I spent two days in Amsterdam. I was on an art history trip with eighty classmates (my university had a study abroad program in the Netherlands, and during our semester, we took two trips as a group – one to Paris and one to Amsterdam). It was late September, and we hadn’t been in Europe long. While I made use of the fact that the drinking age was lower than at home, I had no interest in seeking out any of Amsterdam’s seedier attractions, and a few friends and I happily spent our time at the Van Gogh Museum, renting bicycles (completely in awe of such a bike friendly city, having come straight from Boston, where cyclists must be at least half mad to compete with traffic), and standing in front of the Anne Frank House. I remember the keen disappointment mixed with relief that the museum was closed for repairs. I desperately wanted to see it, but I also remembered how sobering it had been a year before when I visited the Holocaust Museum in DC on spring break with the very same women standing beside me.

an-address-in-amsterdam3I’ve always found World War II to be a fascinating period of history. My grandfathers both fought – my mother’s father, a firebrand even onto his death at 90, told me about being a part of the liberation of Dachau, of how he carried chocolate bars to give to the children there (it only occurred to me recently that he must have left out many details too horrific to relive, or to speak aloud to his granddaughter), while my father’s father, always a gentle and courageous man more comfortable behind the scenes, found his place teaching others how to parachute out of planes. When I was in school, WWII was a topic covered in history every year, and yet it’s only as an adult that I’ve read and learned the stories that have sunk into my heart and haunted me.

This book, borrowed from my best friend, a passionate Jewish woman who has, since we were ten, been teaching me to examine the world from uncomfortable and worthwhile perspectives, is one of the stories that will hover just outside my conscience for the rest of my life. The story evokes Amsterdam – an Amsterdam before the death of 100,000 of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands – with such prismic clarity that I was transported. It was such an exquisite city when I visited, and yet the world as Dingee Fillmore creates it is infinitely more special.

Her heroine, Rachel Klein, is so similar to the girl I remember being when I walked the streets of Amsterdam. She was carefree, a good student, surrounded by loving friends, and anxious to have a boyfriend. She is a good daughter not because she has to be, but because she loves and respects her parents, and their opinion of her matters. She exists in a bubble that every teenager deserves to experience – one where the most exciting and important things in her life are tantalizingly out of reach – but in a present that is still sweet and special and intoxicating.

The Rachel we meet at the beginning of the story and the one we leave at the end are hardly the same person. She is a woman who has watched as one by one, her rights and opportunities have been stripped away, leaving her with nothing but memories of friends and neighbors being beaten and stolen and tortured for the amusement of others. In one of the book’s most poignant moments, after Rachel has just barely escaped yet another belligerent encounter with the Dutch police, she has a moment of bitter insight:

If she had been alone in the world, Rachel would have leapt at him and hit him the way Joost had taught her. They would have locked her up as another crazy Jewish terrorist. Yes, terrorist, she thought, the more they brutalize and go after us, the more they accuse us of being the aggressors. And a terrorist is someone every civilized person is authorized to hate. (p 147)

When I finished this book, I immediately called my friend to let her know how heavy my heart was, how it felt as though it were straining to take in so much sadness, and how it was desperate for fresh air and bright skies. She and I talked, as we have a few times before, about how different a book like this is for each of us – for her, hearing the voices of her people silenced in a number so staggering as to be as incomprehensible as the stars, and for me, buried in guilt wondering if I would have resisted, if I would have helped to save my neighbors, or if I would have stayed safe.

When I was a kid, another dear friend’s mother had posted this quote by Martin Niemöller, a Protestant minister, on her refrigerator, and I remember staring at it every time I was in her kitchen:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Back then, the part that chilled me was the idea that no one would be left to stand up for me, but as an adult, it is the sick fear that I might not do so for my neighbors. The world we share is not so different from the one Dingee Fillmore paints – the gap between privilege and oppression is as razor thin as it was in 1940. The resistance people like Rachel were brave enough to put up is viewed differently in hindsight than it is in any given moment. Those who are comfortable will always be made nervous by upheaval to the status quo, and those who ignore hatred in its many forms will always be caught unaware when the day of reckoning arrives.

It frightens me anew to read about how insidious and normalized oppression can be, how it slips through cracks until it has wound itself into and around everything, choking out reason and freedom. Dingee Fillmore includes certain details – the purchasing of Stars of David, the signs forbidding Jews from entering shops, the loss of access to bikes and public transportation – as almost an afterthought, as surely they must have seemed to many people at the time. When rights are taken away gradually, people accept the new normal much more willingly, even though to us, it’s obvious what it was – a chilling shift in political perspective. Instead, the moments seared into Rachel’s brain, as they undoubtedly would have been for most people, were seeing a friend’s home ransacked, or listening from behind closed curtains as families were dragged into the street in the middle of the night, or watching as her parents argued and grew thin under the occupation.

This book is truly a love story between a young woman and Amsterdam. It is about her incredible resilience and the undeniable horror she had to face. Rachel is just one woman, but her experiences remind me of all the untold stories – the victims and persecutors, those who were complicit in their silence, and the ordinary people who lived and fought and died, transformed into heroes through their willingness to risk everything for justice and freedom.

To read more from Mary Dingee Fillmore, head here.

Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy Beautiful Life, Glennon Doyle Melton

You can hide from the sun, but it won’t take that personally. It’ll never, ever punish you for hiding. You can stay in the dark for years or decades, and when you finally step outside, it’ll be there. It was there the whole time, shining and shining. It’ll still be there, steady and bright as ever, just waiting for you to notice, to come out, to be warmed. All those years, I thought of God and light and the sun as judgmental, but they weren’t. The sunrise was my daily invitation from God to come back to life. (p. 19)

51dss9gpynlI was introduced to Melton’s work via my husband’s cousin, who read this first book of hers while on a year long trip around the world. She read a hundred books while they were traveling,  which covered topics as diverse as immigration policy, social work, international adoption, racism in the prison system – I could go on, but as I’m sure you can imagine, she is a woman with a great heart and a passion for difficult learning.

Many of the books she read sounded interesting, and I marked them to come back to when I have less toddler brain, but this one intrigued me. I followed the link to Melton’s blog and was instantly hooked. Here was a woman with a difficult past who was using her experiences to build a powerful and loving network of women. I’m privileged to know similar beacons in my own life, but it’s always heart opening to meet another.

If I am in the habit of turning my back on others, it is because I haven’t learned that God approaches us in the disguise of other people. If I am confident but not humble, my mind is closed. If my mind is closed, my heart is closed. A closed heart is so sad. It is the end. A heart cannot grow any larger if it decides to let no more God in. There is always room for more. A heart expands exactly as much as her owner allows. (pp. 175-176)

Melton is easy to read. She’s self-deprecating and funny, and it’s obvious she has honed her skills on her blog. She has the conversational style that I enjoy in a memoir, and I found myself eager to come back to her wisdom each evening after putting my son to bed. I was often reading new blog posts in conjunction with this story, which makes for a fascinating blending of real time and the past.

At the moment, she’s getting ready to go on a speaking tour for her new book, which I’m anxious to get my hands on, and I keep hoping her tour will be updated to come to a city near me. I don’t often have much interest in hearing authors speak (let’s just say there’s a reason why most use the written word), but her events have a way of becoming a massive empowerment of self and community love.

I find the idea of such a gathering both intriguing and terrifying. Given that I’m not the sort of person who even likes to hug, the possibility of being surrounded by hundred or thousands of emotionally stirred people strikes me as potentially the worst decision ever, and yet, her words resonate with me. Her ideas make me want to act. Her ability to make a difference, even with all the poor decisions she’s made, is inspiring. She isn’t held back by imperfection. She doesn’t point fingers or demand retribution. She simply tries. She tries to be the kind of person she wants to be, failures and all, and to me, that is the distillation of goodness – not perfection, but struggle and perseverance.

The only meaningful thing we can offer one another is love. Not advice, not questions about our choices, not suggestions for the future, just love. (p. 198)





The Accidental Terrorist, Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary, William Shunn

Over the month I took to read this book, I recommended it to twelve people. My husband was the first, and he’d finished it before I got through the third chapter. Two of the people I told were former Mormons themselves, and they not only wanted a copy but also told me they were going to pick it up for a few of their family members and friends back in Utah. The fact that I spread the word far and wide makes an odd kind of sense given this was the memoir of a questioning young man striking out on his mission in the great white north.

accidental-750pxI grew up with several Mormon friends (the Church of Latter Day Saints shared a parking lot with my high school, so we had maybe more than the average number of Mormon students for a small town in New Hampshire). Every single one of them could be described as the nicest person I ever met. Unfailingly friendly, kind, and considerate, I was never prosthelytized to or even subject to any conversation about God while with them.

Looking back, I don’t know whether it’s just that teenagers – even those growing up in a religion that expects generous time to be spent on the topic of conversion – just want to blend, to survive those four years without being labeled or judged, or if it’s that the specific people who would be friends with me were a little less devout. All I knew about them then was that we had fun goofing around in class and at play practices, and that they belonged to a church that required a lot more time than mine did.

It wasn’t until I started reading this book that I had any real concept of the history of the Mormon church. Shunn’s perspective is fascinating because he grew up loving and fearing his religion in equal measure. He had a great respect for those in authority and accepted the lessons he was taught until adulthood. I suspect that some of the information he shares in the book is considered sacred to Mormons, and his writing about it prompted a two-fold reaction in me.

On the one hand, I was incredibly curious about the secret rituals of the church. Ever since I first went to a service with one of my best friends, who’s Greek Orthodox, and was told women were never permitted to go behind a certain screen in the sanctuary, I’ve known I have an obsession for peeking behind the curtain. What could possibly be so sacred? A part of me burns to know, I’m sure in part because my own church is the complete opposite – everything on the table, free to access for anyone regardless of where they might be on their journey with God.

On the other hand, I have a deep respect for all religions, and although I don’t agree with every element of every faith, I do believe people have a right to practice with a sense of safety. People should be able to relax into their faith, to feel secure enough that they can explore a relationship with God, if they so choose. To make naked another faith against the will of its members makes me uncomfortable.

Shunn does an admirable job of balancing this, at least for me. That being said, I’m not a Mormon and have no concept of the history or tenets taught to members, so I recognize that I’m speaking about this as a wholly unaffected outsider. In that position, I found both his personal journey and the extensive history of the church and its founders to be fascinating. He pokes a little fun at the forefathers of the church but is respectful of his contemporaries. Both his story and Joseph Smith’s were absolutely captivating, and I intentionally only allowed myself to read a bit at a time so I could process what I was learning.

I realize it would be in poor taste to make a joke about bringing this book from door to door, but it’s truly been impossible not to want to share it with as many people as I can. If you’re looking for a book to rev up for fall after an indulgent summer, this is it.

You’ll Grow Out of It, Jessi Klein

There are plenty books I recommend across the board. It’s rare that I talk about a book that I know won’t appeal to a family friendly audience, but this one – by a comedienne and writer on the sketch show Inside Amy Schumer – is neither family friendly nor intended for all audiences. It’s hilarious and excellently written, but it’s not for everyone.

186c98c0323fd6c5cf1008b23d0e36edIf you’re not familiar with the television show Inside Amy Schumer, you may well be on the list of readers who will want to skip this book. My husband and I stumbled across it right after our son was born, and in a sleepless haze, we burned through most of the episodes over the course of two months, occasionally succumbing to fits of silent laughter, tears streaming down our faces while the baby slept in our arms.

Recently, we watched an episode with a sketch about a lamaze class, and at this point, we’ve probably played that five minute clip about twenty times. We quote it at the park when we run into intolerable or ridiculous parenting, and we quote it at home when our own kid is running around like a tiny naked savage before bathtime.

My husband was also the one who sent me the recommendation for this book. He hadn’t gotten around to finishing it yet, but what he’d read, he knew I’d like. He was right. I ate it up. My favorite chapter was called “Poodle vs wolf.”

One late night when I was working at SNL, I wandered out of my office for a break and saw that some random TV in the hallway was tuned to an interview with Angelina Jolie (I think it was with Charlie Rose, who was shamelessly hitting on her, as is his wont when he interviews a pretty lady). I wandered over to watch, as did Emily, one of the senior writers there at the time and an all-around hilarious and fabulous lady. We both stared at Angelina in awe.

“Isn’t it amazing,” Emily asked, “that we’re the same species she is? It doesn’t even feel like we are the same species.”

“I know,” I said. I continued the riff: It’s like with dogs. A poodle and a wolf are both technically dogs, but based on appearances, it doesn’t make any conceivable sense that they share a common ancestor. We decided that some women are poodles and some women are wolves. And no matter what a wolf does (puts on makeup, or a thong), it will still be a wolf, and no matter what a poodle does (puts on sweatpants), it will always be a poodle.


BUT BEING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT WHAT MAKES YOU A POODLE OR A WOLF. There are millions of beautiful wolf women out there. It’s how much of the beauty feels like work, like maintenance. It’s a very French concept, which is probably why we think every actual poodle was born in France and we always imagine them in berets. (loc 581)

I’ve always struggled with the marriage of femininity and being a woman. Being a mother is something that feels very natural to me, as does caring for others – both of which are considered “feminine” characteristics. Putting on makeup or any outfit that doesn’t include questionably clean jeans and a tee shirt? Makes me feel like a horse in heels. And although I consider myself to be a sensible and reasonably intelligent person, there was genuinely a part of me, when I got married, that expected to wake up the next day ready to wear dresses and enjoy cooking (or at the very least become a competent enough meal planner that every day didn’t look like my first in the kitchen…).

I kept waiting for the moment when I would “grow up” – in this case, “grown up” meaning that I looked and acted the way mothers of my childhood looked and acted. Sure, they all worked outside the home, but they also were primary caregivers, doing the housework, the shopping, the laundry, the child care. (For the record, the fathers I knew and know did share some of that load, and most of them now do much more of it – my own father is the ultimate dish/laundry/vacuum king, and has been for years.)

And even though I’ve never specifically thought of myself as someone struggling with gender identity, reading Klein’s lighthearted take on the issue made me realize that my entire life, I’ve had expectations based on observation that have zero to do with reality, or at least my reality. Those expectations have pressed down on me, led me to spend money on products I don’t need or want simply to try to buy my way into becoming a poodle, when really, being a wolf makes me happy. (Honestly, just the thought of those two animals:  wolves are rugged and have a pack. Poodles are intelligent but have always seemed reserved to me – mild mannered even in their athleticism.)

Like Klein, I have a great admiration for “poodle” women. They seem to sit in their skin so easily, as if being a graceful, elegant, well-mannered woman was no chore at all. (In comparison, I’m currently eating handfuls of Cheerios straight from the box while trying to remember the last time I saw my comb…) Reading her book was much like reading Tina Fey’s, in that it felt like a whisper of truth. It’s a truth I didn’t even know I was looking for, and I’m certain that if I had been, I wouldn’t have expected to find it in this book.

Nevertheless, there it was. A hallelujah moment hidden in plain sight, amongst the jokes and the self-deprecation. I love to laugh, so it shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does when I find wisdom in my favorite escape, when women like me – strong but also questioning – hold some of the answers that I’ve been searching for.


Introductions, Susan Glassmeyer

I’m visiting family this week, but I’m posting this in celebration of two friends of mine I met in a yoga class at my gym a few years ago. We’re decades apart in age, have wildly different careers and personal lives, and under most circumstances, never would have done anything but nod politely to each other. Fate had other plans for us though, and  even though we don’t all make it to class anymore, every few months, we get together for lunch and have the best conversations about art and books and traveling the world. It’s just glorious.


Let’s not say our names
or what we do for a living.
If we are married
and how many times.
Single, gay, or vegan.

Let’s not mention
how far we got in school.
Who we know,
what we’re good at
or no good at, at all.

Let’s not hint at
how much money we have
or how little.
Where we go to church
or that we don’t.
What our Sun Sign is
our Enneagram number
our personality type according to Jung
or whether we’ve ever been
Rolfed, arrested, psychoanalyzed,
or artificially suntanned.

Let’s refrain, too, from stating any ills.
What meds we’re on
including probiotics.
How many surgeries we’ve survived
or our children’s children’s problems.
And, please—
let’s not mention
who we voted for
in the last election.

Let’s do this instead:
Let’s start by telling
just one small thing
that costs us nothing
but our attention.

Something simple
that nourishes
the soul of our bones.
How it was this morning
stooping to pet the sleeping dog’s muzzle
before going off to work.

Or yesterday,
walking in the woods
spotting that fungus on the stump
of a maple
so astonishingly orange
it glowed like a lamp.

Or just now,
the sound
of your
own breath
or sinking
at the end
of this

Ash and Bramble, Sarah Prineas


Do you ever sit down to write and get sucked into creating the perfect playlist for said writing instead? I don’t typically have time for that kind of procrastination these days, but there was something about today…Maybe it’s because the internet and all its accompanying distractions went out an hour ago, or because it’s one of those epic sunny days with a light breeze that would have meant a day at the lake when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because my coffee isn’t strong enough to counteract how little sleep I’ve gotten recently, or because somehow the morning slipped away, along with the energy from that egg burrito I ate at 7. I’m not sure what happened, but I know I sat down to write this long enough ago that I need to stretch now. Pro tip: a stretch break after the first paragraph is written is not a great place to be, productivity-wise.

20652088It’s funny too, because fairy tale retellings are my kryptonite, and I didn’t expect to have any trouble writing about this book. I have the hardest time passing these stories up even if I’m meant to be reading something else, and this particular book kept me sane through a lot of long nights recently.

It’s the perfect blend of YA, fairy tale, dystopia, and SFP (strong female protagonist). Prineas and I probably are about the same age, and I could practically feel the bookish desires of my thirteen year old self oozing out of the pages – which is not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable read for me now, but there was something so warmly familiar about it. It felt like a story I’d always wanted to read but never had, come to life on my kindle. And although it’s not a story I would ever tell myself, it felt like I could have imagined it after a summer spent riding my bike to the cool sanctuary of our old library, tearing through the shelves every week, frantic for new material. I could have fallen asleep and dreamed of Pin and Shoe.

Playlist for procrastination*

Dancing in Gold The Von Trapps
Dead Sea The Lumineers
Sunday New York Times Matt Nathanson
The Wrong Direction Passenger
Road to Ride On Joshua Radin
Headphones Matt Nathanson
Four Five Seconds Rihanna
Brand New Ben Rector

*Eventually I started procrastinating on the playlist, which is why it’s only eight songs long.