Book of the Week: Brooklyn Burning

After taking the summer off, then having a false start this fall (that first week of school I was Super Woman) I’m finally into a good rhythm and will be cranking out Book of the Week selections on a regular basis. Thanks for your patience through the change of seasons! I’ve got a ton of material to share, and with the recent cancelation of both Netflix and Hulu, will be adding to it quickly!

Book of the Week for September 20-26

Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brenzenoff


Why it’s interesting:

Full disclosure, Steve is my neighbor and our kids play together. But this book is one of the best YA books I’ve read in years. The main character is gender neutral, which seems, on the surface, like it could be a stumbling block for the reader to really become attached, but that wasn’t my experience at all. From a reader perspective, I loved Kid and became completely immersed in the story. From a writer perspective, this was one of those books that I finished and went “Holy crap. How’d he do that?” I’ll definitely read it again.

The blurb:

When you’re sixteen and no one understands who you are, sometimes the only choice left is to run. If you’re lucky, you find a place that accepts you, no questions asked. And if you’re really lucky, that place has a drum set, a place to practice, and a place to sleep. For Kid, the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, are that place. Over the course of two scorching summers, Kid falls hopelessly in love and then loses nearly everything and everyone worth caring about. But as summer draws to a close, Kid finally finds someone who can last beyond the sunset.

Have you ever read a book with a gender neutral (or gender fluid) main character? Did it make you change the way you think? What are you reading right now?

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

I am writing this with the caveat that, while I technically have a minor in Biblical Studies from the time I spent at a Christian College, it wasn’t on my diploma when I graduated. I spent a lot of time leading Bible studies and doing small group sermons once upon a time. I don’t do that anymore.

The church I attend, Jacobs Well, has this really doable Bible study program called SOAP. I started SOAPing this summer, stopped, and recently started again. SOAP stands for Select, Observe, Apply, and Pray. Yesterday’s reading was Acts 2:1-14.

Before I say this, let me just preface (once more) with: I understand that you shouldn’t take any section of the Bible completely out of context. I don’t feel like I’m doing that here, as I have studied the Bible extensively, and while I’m going to talk about a specific passage, I’m not disregarding the rest of the Bible in any way, shape, or form.

The verse I selected was:

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

This was my observation: Do our churches speak in a language people can understand these days?

I’m going to say, in general, no. We don’t. The King James English isn’t often used anymore, and the words may be words everyone knows, but they’re so often spoken in a way that’s completely un-relatable for people who don’t already follow Jesus. The flip side is, when we do use relatable language, it’s not often done to describe God’s mighty works.

Even though it’s not always our intention (sometimes I think it absolutely is) we, as Christians, like to use language that separates us from the world. Language like that isn’t welcoming new people to the church. When a service starts with Father God Jehovah, we exalt your might name. Descend your holy fire on us this morning. it may feel good for the faithful in the room, but how do you think it feels to the person who didn’t grow up in church? (I’ll tell you: to them, it feels, at best, weird, at worst, like you’re crazy or scary. You want Jehovah’s witnesses to burn the church down?) That might be an extreme example, but I don’t think it’s that far out in left field. I have visited A LOT of churches and something along those lines happens at the beginning of most Evangelical/Pentecostal services.


There’s a lot of ways to take this wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray out loud in church. We absolutely should. But maybe in a way that someone who hasn’t drank the Kool-Aid yet can maybe understand, and maybe even want to try at home.

I’m not saying if If flowery, formal language is how you connect with God, there’s no place for it. There is. You can pray that way privately, or with the small group of believers you meet with each week.

I’m just saying: maybe we need to think more about what our language sounds like to the ears of the listeners rather than to our own ears.

The apostles didn’t continue to speak their own languages and get mad when the Jews didn’t understand what they were saying. God gave them the ability to speak in the language of the people they were trying to speak to, to describe His mighty works in language they would understand. I think he’s given us that ability to. We just need to use it.

The Genius Bar Made Me Cry

Today, for the second time ever, I got bad service at Apple’s Genius Bar. And, for the second time, I cried about it.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t cry easily. I’ve been treated poorly by customer service people before, and I never cry about it. But I’m batting 1000 with the Apple Store. A bad experience = tears.

So now I’m thinking about how I respond to customer service. Why do I react so strongly to Apple? Is it because I have such high standards for the Apple Store that it’s harder to stomach when it’s not good?  Have I grown so used to being treated badly other places that it just doesn’t bother me as much?

I think it’s a bit of both, and it’s sad. Both that I hold the Apple Store to such high standards (seriously, people mess up. It sucks, but tears? Come on!) but also that I have such low standards in other situations that this would have urked me, but I wouldn’t have been that mad about it.

In case you’re not familiar, the Genius Bar is really not a bar at all anymore, but a group of Apple employees that are there simply to help you with your products. They trouble shoot, do little maintenance things, and handhold. All for the low low price of nothing. Zilch. Even if your machine is out of warranty and four years old (in computer years, that’s like 150) they’ll help you out. Even if you’re still rocking the original iPod. If it can be fixed, they’ll do their darnedest to make it happen.

Except when they don’t.

The first time I cried at the Genius Bar was in Nashville. Austin was two weeks old (he’d spent the first week in the NICU, so he’d only been home for a week) and I had to start working again. Remotely, but still, I had to be available to serve my clients. And the monitor of my Macbook laptop had died for the second time. The computer was still under warranty. When the screen died the first time they told me if it happened again the computer would need to be replaced. That day, though, I was told the computer needed to be sent in for repair that could take up to two weeks.

The man went in the back, I put my head down on the counter and cried. (To be fair, it was mostly because I was exhausted and stressed about going back to work, and not so much about the computer.) When he saw me, he said, “Be right back” and came back with a new machine that he kindly swapped out. It was kind of like crying to get out of a ticket, except I didn’t do it on purpose, I was just genuinely sad.

Today it was much less dramatic. Last week I took my computer to the Genius Bar because it was shutting itself off (super fun) and the only solution was to wipe it. Rather than being able to restore from a backup, I had to manually rebuild it because there was no way to tell what program had been causing the problems. Then I could pull the few things I needed (Microsoft Office and My Documents) from my backup disk. Except today, when I plugged in my backup disk, it wouldn’t let me pull anything, so I made an appointment and headed to the store.

I’m not going to go into everything that happened, because, honestly, it’s boring and doesn’t matter. The gist is, they were short handed, someone who didn’t know what he was doing told me to do something (and, because I was at The Genius Bar, I listened) and it caused my computer to be wiped clean again. So now I’m looking forward to an evening of re-setting up my computer from scratch, again. (There’s no backup of the new system because I was afraid to overwrite old backups.) I don’t think the person that “helped” me was purposefully rude or condescending, but he was. He was the keeper of the schedule, and he had the actual Geniuses skip me. He told me, in so many words, to suck it up and re-buy Office because “it’s not that expensive.” And through it all, he never once apologized.

I talked to the manager, but there’s really nothing that can be done. I don’t want the poor guy fired or anything. There’s no fee to be refunded, there’s nothing they can do to make the setup faster. I came home, and started working on setting up the new computer. Then something came up for work, and the idea of trying to find all my passwords and get into what I needed to  do was too much. I started crying.


Learning to deal with it

I just sat down at Starbucks with my decaf coffee and was about to begin writing in my journal, but decided to share this on here instead.

I’ve written quite a bit here about my wardrobe issues — namely, going from a bazillion clothes to an almost-capusle wardrobe. It took a lot of work, and, truly, some feelings of withdrawal,  to learn just because the jeans fit doesn’t mean I need them and yes, the dress is cute, but I don’t need it and many other lessons about not buying just to buy. I still get the Gap and Old Navy emails because, let’s face it, the four people in my house do need clothes, so it’s good to know when things are on sale. But I no longer open every. single. one. and check to see what new items have been added to the clearance section of stores.

My clothes. That’s as far as the lesson had gone. Until recently.

My computer, a 2011 Macbook Air that I love, except for the minuscule hard drive, has been acting up. My trackpad sometimes works just fine, sometimes it acts like an invisible person has taken control. My cursor moves and clicks randomly, completely by itself. It’s awesome. Not really. At the Genius Bar, they cleaned it out for me and told me I can send the computer in to get it fixed for about $300.

Our bathroom faucets recently stopped shutting off. Sometimes they drip, sometimes they trickle, sometimes they full-on run. When we called the plumber, we found out that “all new pipes” in our house meant “all new except the one in the tub. To fix our faucets, we have to have the piping replaced. To do that, the tile, vintage 1950s or 60s blue ceramic that we actually kind of love, has to be ripped out. Another wall of the shower has severe water damage—last year tiles started falling off, but we were able to put them back up and re-grout around them, plus the window has a rotting wood frame (yes, a wood framed window inside the shower)— so if we’re ripping one wall out, we might as well rip the other two out too and get it redone correctly.

I’ve been going to yoga at our gym a few times a week. One of my favorite classes is Hot Vinyasa, even though it’s truly one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done (if it was two hours long, I might even say it is harder than the triathlons I did) and, because she loves or hates us, our teacher usually picks one terrible pose to hold for an insane amount of time toward the end of class. Vinyasa means movement, so this hold is to help us get our breathing and heart rate back under control, but also, as she often says, for us to “deal with it.” Whatever comes up, during the plank or chair or warrior, (for me, it’s often sweat and shaking and limps falling asleep and muscles giving up) we need to deal with it. “If you fall out, get back up.” “You can do anything for five breaths. And five more.” I freaking hate it. But when it’s done, it’s ahhhmazing.

There’s a lot of things I want, but I don’t need. A new computer would be great. A fully renovated bathroom…that would be awesome. A walk-in closet full of clothes that I love and make me look amazing. New pots and pans. A kitchenaid mixer. Brand new bikes for my kids, and rollerblades and gymnastics classes and every lego set ever made and, for Chris, the new Star Wars Droid. But none of that is what I really need.

We’ve never carried interest-bearing debt other than our mortgage, car loan and student loans. We budget carefully, do our best to stick to it, and figure stuff out. We “deal with it.” Right now, that means buying an external mouse for my computer, and getting our shower, but not the rest of the bathroom, fixed. It’s teaching our kids to appreciate what they have (if anyone has advice about this, I’d love to hear it) and save their money for what they want. It’s learning what we need, and realizing the rest might be inconvenient, but it’s not going to kill us. It’s learning to lean into the discomfort and deal with it. Because, sometimes, we learn things when we’re most uncomfortable.

It’s hard to do in our society. We see something like a billion marketing images each day. It’s easy to feel like everyone else has what they want and I’m stuck with this. I’m lucky to have friends that have chosen to live this way also- not monastic by any means, but considering what we need, considering what we can afford. In learning to deal with it, to learn what we really need and what we just maybe kind of want, we also get the opportunity to see other ways we can serve and be of use to other people.

This is what I’m thinking about this Tuesday morning. I know it was a bit ramble-y.

Book of the Week: Fangirl

Book of the Week for August 24 – August 31

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Hey Guys! Book of the Week is back from it’s summer hiatus! I’m starting with my author-of-the-summer, Rainbow Rowell. I read three of her books this summer and devoured each and every one. She captures feelings in her writing so amazingly well (Eleanor and Park was my introduction to her, you can read about that here.)

The blurb:

In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life–and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?


What are you reading right now?

The New Normal

The summer is officially over. School started today. While I think we were all ready, it was/is still a little sad. It’s really been a fun summer. We went to Tennessee, spent lots of time up north, went camping, lots and lots of pool and library time, a few camps, and a trip to North Dakota.

I’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks thinking (fantasizing) about having my days back and what that would look like. Since the kids were born I’ve had a hard time with mornings, because it’s my most high-energy time, and that doesn’t coincide with anyone else’s energy levels in my house. I want to get up in the morning, workout, and dive right into creative work. I haven’t done that for years, because it doesn’t work for everyone else. I work out after the childcare opens, and I don’t actually start writing until after 9:30 when the kids are at school. That’s changing this year. Chris and I have decided that I will get up and work out and go right into my work day, he’ll handle the kiddos in the AM. Then I’ll be done working once I pick them up in the afternoon, and he’ll take a little extra time then.

It has been really hard for me to accept this new schedule, even though it really is a dream. I’ve done the “Ideal Day” exercise so many times, and every single time I finish feeling guilty because childcare is not part of my morning routine. With having them home this summer, though, I’ve really come to accept that being with them when I can really BE WITH THEM is 1000x better than being physically there while my mind is somewhere else. I am a better mom when I take care of myself.

This morning was a bit off because I wanted to take the kids to school (first day!) but it started out with a run and I had my day planned out and my morning pages done before I dropped them off. It’s noon now and I feel good about where I’m at rather than upset I didn’t get enough writing done or stressed about everything else that still needs to happen before I get the kids. Time will tell for sure, but I think I’m going to love this new normal.

(Oh, you didn’t think I would have a post about the first day of school without the picture, would you?)

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I killed my 333 Wardrobe!

Photo by Emily May

Photo by Emily May

Okay, so, maybe not as dramatic as that. But I committed a cardinal sin. I broke the “You can only wear your workout clothing to workout” rule. And not just by waiting too long to take a shower and running to the store in my gym clothes.

I bought gym clothes to wear as “real” clothes.

There’s a really long story you can read about how and why this happened below if you want to, but what I really have been thinking about is how engrained impulse buying is in our culture, in my life, and how easy it is to fall back into. It’s like binge watching television, you have to actively shut it off. I have been actively not impulse buying clothes for three years now, ever since I learned that I owned 27 pairs of jeans and most of my co-workers owned 5 or less. It was like an addiction I had to break, and it was hard. (The super cute $10 dresses at Target didn’t help at all.)

This year, especially, I’ve been trying to be really conscious of what I buy not only for myself, but also for the kids. It needs to be high quality (relatively in the kids’ case), something that fits well and will for a while, and there needs to be a solid reason to need one more shirt or pants or whatever it is. It’s been going pretty darn well, actually, but it’s a struggle. Every day I have the option to buy something nice but not necessary.

I grew up in a small town, we didn’t get to go to the store more than once every week or two, if I didn’t buy what I wanted when I saw it I might well not get the chance again. But that’s not the case now, nor has it been for the last 17 years. I’ve lived in major metropolitan areas for the last 15, I can go to the store every day if I want (sometimes whether or not I want.) But this impulse to buy buy buy, whether the item is exactly what we need or not, is the reason we have such an abundance of self-storage garages (and television shows), closets bursting at the seams, and overflowing landfills.

Have any of you successfully shut off the buying impulse? How’d you do it?



The long story of how I got the shorts that I didn’t need:

First of all, in my defense:

  • It was hot. Like, hot for Minnesota, anyway.
  • I don’t own a single pair of shorts. They look terrible on my legs.
  • I was tired.
  • Even the “real” shorts I tried on looked terrible on my legs.
  • We were going camping.
  • The shorts I bought were so comfortable!
  • I was tired.
  • They were on sale for really, really cheap ($6.)

I bought two pairs of “capri leggings” from Gap Fit—a black pair and a blue pair— and I’ve been wearing them with t-shirts, calling it an outfit. I know I don’t look terrible, but I certainly don’t look great. I don’t wear them in public much, I don’t feel good about my body in them. They were not a good purchase for me (other than being so comfortable!)

I had actually been doing really well all year with the control over impulse clothing buys, but I definitely see how I fall down this rabbit hole:

My favorite jeans died. When I went to replace them, I found the company (again, Gap) had changed the design of them significantly, so I ended up with a different style. They were on sale, along with a bunch of other stuff. There is a serious lack of nice shirts in my closet, but there was nothing I really loved, so I refrained. Then, while taking the kids to mall for shoes, I went into this store I’d been wanting to check out for a while, found and fell in love with a shirt on clearance: by one get one for $1 clearance. But, the kids were done and I didn’t have time to look for another piece, so I left with nothing. That shirt haunted me though, it was perfect: so comfortable, so flattering, so casual yet dressy…so I went back to the mall a few nights later sans kids. I spent over an hour looking through the store’s clearance (and trying on many, many items) before I finally found what I was looking for. I got two great shirts for a great price. But the jeans and the trying on had sparked the bug, and I was tired of wearing jeans when it was hot out, so I started looking for shorts. The whole think-before-you buy barrier was down, especially because I already had to make a trip back to the mall because I didn’t buy the first time. So I just did it. I bought them.

I’m going to give myself a pass on this, say lesson learned, and relegate these to the “lounge wear” category.

Writing is hard

Photo by Ouadio

Photo by Ouadio

It really is. Not the actual act of sitting down and typing or scribbling words onto the page/screen. But the confidence that what I’m doing matters, at all, in the grand scheme of things. Taking the few hours in the morning to try to craft a story that won’t leave me alone (I dream about this thing) but also won’t come out in any cohesive way is hard.

I’m procrastinating writing right now, in fact, by writing this blog post about how hard it is to write.

I woke up in the middle of the night and realized what my problem was. I have three stories going at the same time right now, two in editing and one in drafting. I’m trying my darnedest to work on all three, but I end up not really getting much of anything done. I’ve been reading a lot of books about story structure, and I want to make sure I really get it right in these stories. One of them is the book that I really feel like is going to be the “best thing” I’ve ever written. I am in love with the story and the characters and I want to make sure my limitations don’t prevent it from serving the readers in the same way its served me. So I paused it. I’m doing a lot of reading and taking notes. Another, I’ve had “done” for a while, but knew it was missing something. I’ve spent the last two hours revamping the overall story structure, ripping my scenes apart, moving them around, and marking them to be rewritten. I’m at the three-quarter mark in the new outline and am terrified I still don’t have it right.

I haven’t gotten nearly as much writing done as I wanted to this summer. Part of it was that I gave myself a pass to spending more time with the kids. But the bigger part of it is: Writing is Hard. It’s harder than my day-job (which deals with people a lot of the time and is certainly no cake-walk). It’s harder, a lot of the time, than dealing with my kids, who are finally at the age that they’re entertaining themselves and each other without me. It’s harder, obviously, than writing this blog post. It’s just plain hard.

I’m not stopping, not by any means. But I just wanted to put this out there, in case anyone else is going through something similar. It’s easy to feel like we’re alone in this struggling-to-make-art thing because we rarely do it with or around other people. So I just want to publicly declare: This is hard.

But I’m going to keep doing it.

Sometimes I want a flip-phone

When the iPhone 6 came out and all of the cell carriers “removed the discount” they had been offering on smart phone lines, I seriously looked at getting a flip phone. With the change in structure of the cell bill, we had the choice of either buying our phones outright and then having to wait 2 years to get a new phone and pay a higher data charge (but still having the option to sell the phone when we got a new one) or signing up for what amounts to a payment plan where we lease the phones and can get a new one in a shorter period of time (we chose 18 months) and keep the discounted data charge. (We looked at every major carrier, the only one we could have done anything cheaper on was Sprint, but it doesn’t have a reliable network here.)

Our phones end up, essentially, costing the full $700 no matter which way we go. That is INSANE. I don’t need a $700 phone. I’m not solving world hunger here, I’m just writing. I’ve got a computer and iPad and I can use those to get on the internet. I don’t need to be that hyper connected. In fact, I don’t want to be that hyperconnected. I’m tired of feeling tethered to email and facebook and twitter and work. I wanted freedom.

I decided to get a simple flip phone. I would use it for *gasp* calls and texts and that was it. Great idea, right?

Nope. It was MORE expensive to go the low-tech route (over time) than to just get the new iPhone and all it’s bells and whistles (including the GPS that I desperately need.) So I got it. And I love it, it’s a great phone. But I still feel tethered. Attached. Dare I say, addicted?

It’s not all bad. Having a smart phone has allowed me to work a weird schedule this summer and keep up with everything I need to do while the kids play at the playground or the pool or the library. I’m immensely thankful I can stick a tiny computer in my back pocket and not have to haul my laptop everywhere. But I still feel like there needs to be a happier medium that I haven’t yet found.

We’re going camping next month and the spot we got doesn’t have electricity. There will be no way to charge anything other than in the car. I’m both looking forward to and am terrified of the disconnection. It’s only 2 days. I’m worried both that it’s too long, there will be too much to catch up on when I’m back “on the grid” but, also, that it’s too short. I won’t be finished with the withdrawal symptoms yet, so the hit I’m going to get when I plug it back in on the drive home will only make the attachment (addiction) worse.

How about you? Anyone out there feel the same way? Is there a medium ground between a landline and the computer in my pocket (or on your wrist?)

Ruby Slippers Updates

2015-06-11 10.04.45 IMG_1949There’s been some exciting new developments in the real-life Ruby Slippers investigation that my books are based on.

As you may or may not know, Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids, MN, the town right next to where I grew up. The town is the home of the Judy Garland Museum, and a pair of movie-worn ruby slippers was stolen from the museum in 2005. There was no evidence except for a single sequin found at the scene. In the last ten years, there have been all of the usual speculation and rumors that goes along with an event of this magnitude in a small town, but never anything actionable.

Last month, during the first two days of the annual Wizard of Oz Festival (formerly known as Judy Garland Festival and Emerald City Festival) a team of divers from the Itasca County Sheriff’s Department conducted a series of dives in the Tiago Mine Pit Lake.

2015-06-11 10.32.33Pit lakes are created when the water backfills into areas where Iron Ore mining had been happening. During the mining, the water is diverted and actively pumped out. As soon as those pumps are shut off, it fills. (If you’re not on my mailing list, check out last month’s newsletter to see a video of a dive in another mine pit.) The water in these mines is crystal clear because it’s ground water that is coming up through natural filters: rocks, sand, silt, etc. They are gorgeous.

Operations at Tioga ended in the 50s, and, from what I understand, the water backfilled especially quickly because of the lake’s proximity (across the street) from Pokegama lake. At it’s deepest point, Tioga is nearly 300 feet.

I was there for all four dives, and as far as I observed, all that was found was some garbage. However, even at the dive site, rumors abounded about what had been brought up: a sawed off shotgun, a black duffle bag and a coffee can with “ruby red coloring” inside, a plastic shoebox that would have been the right size for the shoes…

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Several news crews were on hand the first day of diving, and while I was interviewed by a few different people, I only made it on to one station. That’s fine, I wasn’t dressed for it 🙂

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The renewed interest in the theft comes as we approach the ten-year anniversary of the crime, and because Morgan White is making a documentary film about The Ruby Slippers. I did an hour-long on-camera interview for his film, but as it’s focused more on the actual shoes and the legends surrounding them, I don’t know how much of it will get used. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing!

Documentary Photo