Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool


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Newbery Medal winners and honorees are always so good. We seek them out often enough to abbreviate them as Newbs. When I checked Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest out, the librarian talked about her kids’ favorite books. I thought we were talking books, but we weren’t. She was struck with a bad case of presuming-I’m-a-parent-itus. Nope. For a second I felt like a weirdo fraud for being in the kids’ section without a kid. I read kids’ books for pleasure. Take that, friendly librarian.


Moon Over Manifest, 2011 Newb winner, was worth the moment of mild awkwardness at the library. This is the kind of book that pokes your heart. The story is about 12-year-old Abilene Tucker and the summer she spends in her dad’s hometown of Manifest, Kansas, a town of many Eastern and Western European immigrants. Set in 1936 and 1918, in that order, the story follows lonely Abilene as she tries to reconnect with her dad by learning about Manifest as it was in 1918, when he lived there.

Abilene enjoyed nomadic life with her dad, Gideon. She’s still not sure why she couldn’t accompany him to his railroad job like usual. He wanted her to go to Manifest and live with Pastor Shady for the summer so she did. The town’s not what she expected based on her daddy’s stories, but he’ll be back for her at the end of summer, sure thing.

Memories were like sunshine. They warmed you up and left a pleasant glow, but you couldn’t hold them.

In Shady’s former Baptist church-turned-speakeasy/home, she finds a cigar box of trinkets, letters from 1918, and a hand-drawn map of the town.The letters are between Ned, a soldier fighting in France, and Jinx, the friend he left behind. In addition to reading the letters, Abilene learns about the town’s rich history through local newspaper columns published during 1918 and by listening to the stories of a Hungarian “diviner” named Miss Sadie.

From losing young men to the war and growing tensions between immigrant communities, to the Spanish Flu, Ku Klux Klan and something about a spy, Abilene and her two friends get to know Manifest in a way many of the older residents seem to have forgotten. And how can they resist trying to find out who the spy was? The girls get themselves into some genuine mischief, looking for clues to the past and finding them everywhere.

I adore the warm woven texture of Vanderpool’s writing. Her storytelling style is perfect for children’s historical fiction.

And if someone pays you such a kindness as to make up a tale so you’ll enjoy a gingersnap, you go along with that story and enjoy every last bite.

Reading this got me thinking of my dad and older relatives, none of whom ever talk about their past. Ever. Letters were never saved. Photo albums disappeared in moves. And they don’t understand the curiosity. As if wanting to know more about the people who gave you life and attempted to shape that warm, needy lump of flesh into a good person is a bad thing. Parents. Today my sisters photograph and document every breath of their kids’ lives. When our present becomes the past there will be few mysteries.

My dad is a closed book until one of his grandchildren or some friend is in the room. Then out comes a story my sisters and I never heard before. Where do these stories come from? We call it the far side of the Dad. Similar to the far side of the moon, any glimpse is a rare gift.

I love the side I get to see, but can’t help wondering if there are really alien bases over there. At least with Moon we have satellites to photograph the mysterious dark side. How beautiful.



Parting words are kind of my forte



Curses to my lousy afternoon Internet. The only thing reliable about it is it’s flakiness from 2 pm to 4 pm every weekday, a.k.a. the danger zone. As a freelancer working mostly from home I try to schedule what few meetings I have well before the danger zone but sometimes it can’t be helped.

Google hangout meetings with cameras and mics are rough enough, even when the world outside cooperates – no sirens, no screaming children on the stairwell, no locked out neighbor buzzing and buzzing my bell. The word “meeting” sounds so formal when really these are casual-ish check-ins, but not THAT casual. Still, nothing to stress about.

Today’s was something special. I should’ve expected as much when the meeting popped on my calendar for 2:30. All was fine for the first five minutes. Then the big red X blinked over my connection. I reconnected, hadn’t missed anything. Nothing to miss until I noticed the big red X flashing again. I reconnected for long enough to catch my client say “Where’d she go?” Then another big red X.

My mistake was trying to type something in a panic before my connection cut out. I meant to write “I keep getting BOOTED”. I wrote:

I keep getting booty

My fingers type like jerks when I’m frustrated. It took me years to reconnect. Only to add:


You know, in case they didn’t understand me the first time.



billionaire DeVos gets her ROI


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Mocking billionaire’s so-called “president” is amusing and sad because it’s simply a matter of repeating his own words. Republicons just pawned children’s education for profit and there’s nothing amusing about it. Any more than a few minutes of political news at a time and I start getting this-is-happening headaches. People voted for this. No wait, we didn’t, the electoral college voted for this. Donald lost the popular vote. The Senators that oppose Devos represent 36 million more people than her supporters. A government of the people, by the people, for the people this is not.

Before trying to find a bright side, a reason to not be angry, consider this quote from DeVos, published in The New Yorker

“My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

Disconnecting from the Internet for hours at a time is working miracles for my peace of mind and concentration. Trying not to feel nostalgic for that magical time when kids in public schools learned how to read. Back before Republicons permitted the dumping of coal mining debris and waste in drinking water and in the same breathe moved to rollback a bill preventing mentally ill people from owning guns.

Thanks? I feel so protected.

Had a very New York moment this weekend. After a long chilly run in the park, we stopped at our bagel place for tofu cream cheese and an everything egg for Raj. This is my favorite deli in the neighborhood. It smells and feels just like the bagel places we went to growing up in NJ. So much so that paying the sister tax on family visits means bringing a dozen bagels along.

So we go to our deli. We buy extra bagels to do a tiny little something to help offset their loss of income from closing last Thursday in order to protest the Muslim ban. While we’re waiting, Raj points out that this is a Muslim-owned business staffed by Mexicans, making a Jewish food. And the result is perfection. I never really thought about how much cultural overlap there is in this city and how much goodness comes out of it. I never thought about public school education as something we’d have to fight for.

The Department of Justice posted this on an alternative Twitter account.

The Senators who voted for DeVos whose terms are up in 2018

Flake AZ

Wicker MS

Fischer NE

Heller NV

Corker TN

Cruz TX

Hatch UT

Barrasso WY

Kids deserve a champion


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My little buddy turned 6 years old and received the royal treatment complete with a hot tray of cowboy cookies. We discovered these cookies after reading Kate DiCamillo’s Leroy Ninker Saddles Up last summer. It’s about a man who wants to be a cowboy and falls in love with a horse. The first question from the girls – what do cowboys eat? The only thing that came to my mind at the time – cowboy cookies. Their next question – can we make them? Am I glad I checked to see if cowboy cookies were a real thing before just making something up. As it turns out, cowboy cookies are a thing and they’re delicious even when veganized and gluten free-ized. They’re also a gateway concoction cookie. With a chewy foundation of the right butter, sugar, oats and flour ratio, the gals go nuts on the add-ins.

After two weeks of cringing at the news and an anxious return to NYC via JFK airport, spending a few hours with happy children was like basking in a pocket of light.

They love learning. They love reading and math. They’re always building something or making messes in the name of scientific curiosity. They adore their public school and the teachers who work so hard to help them grow.

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Cowboy cookies. What better way to celebrate Republicans backing off from selling 3.3 million acres of public land?

Calls make a difference.

Kids in public schools deserve a champion on their side and Betsy DeVos doesn’t have the ability or the will to hold that honor. If you haven’t called your representative to oppose Betsy DeVos, now’s the time. This morning, with a vote of 52 to 48, the Senate voted to advance her to a final confirmation vote, possibly on Monday. Pence breaks a tie so there’s an additional seat to flip. 202-225-3121

If you’re in Maine or Alaska, your Republican Senators need a bigger push. Both Collins and Murkowski have said they intended to vote against Devos, but this morning they voted to advance the confirmation.

Call your Representative.

Call your Senator.

Yoga at home year 3! Woohoo!


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The city is an amusing place to be this time of year when everyone’s a bundle waddling through grey slush on these weirdly warm days following a snow. A few days ago, I was just being a perfect angel looking out for shady patches of ice and corner puddles of winter surprise. Little did I know that while I’m looking down, ladies are checking out my fellow.

A food truck gal shouted “Woohoo! Nice hat!” in his direction. That’s what I heard. He heard “Veggie patty?” Maybe he got catcalled, maybe not. I’m glad she liked his hat so much though. Her delight reintroduced Woohoo! into our world when it’s needed most.

Why? What happened?

It’s not easy to talk about. Okay. The Psyche Me Up CD that my sister burned for me ages ago cracked. It’s hard to muster up enthusiasm on sore days without this magical, ancient CD. Woohoo! is helping because you can’t say Woohoo! without smiling. Unless you use it ironically but don’t do that.

Adriene’s 30-Day Yoga Challenge is helping with the soreness. This is my third January with Adriene, which means my almost daily home yoga practice is entering it’s third year, which calls for pie. This year’s challenge is just what all my many ever-bulging muscles needed. Plus it’s nice to stick with one instructor for a month. Usually I alternate my daily practice between Adriene’s videos and those on DoYogaWithMe.

These classes run about 30-35 minutes. A few are so gentle it’s like nap time, but most of them leave me feeling lighter, limber, and no longer sore. Right now they’re a nice boost when winter loveliness slops up the running paths.

Give a home yoga practice a try if public classes aren’t your thing. I love everything about yoga and yet have no desire to ever do it in a room full of people ever again. In classes, I always felt trapped and hyper aware of so many bodies around me. Rather than sinking into breath and movement, I was looking from the clock to the door to the clock door with moving limbs always tottering on the periphery. It took me way too long to realize I could build my practice at home thanks to the many many super teachers posting classes on the Internets.

In February I’m going back to Fiji McAlpine’s 14 Days of Yoga Challenge. This one is intensive, perfect if you’re cooped up and craving an invigorating workout. My hand was busted the first time I did these classes so I wound up modifying most of the movements to keep weight off of it. I’m looking forward to trying them at 100%. Woohoo! Never interacting with other humans ever again! Woohoo!

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster


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I checked out A Room with a View by E.M. Forster because the title is all I want. Well, a view and to not have to worry about health insurance but A Room with a View and Health Insurance doesn’t have quite the same ring.

Apparently, dodgy construction companies all over the city are saving money on storage by simply leaving scaffolding up long after it’s in use. After a neighbor told me about an upcoming bill proposing reducing scaffolding permits from years to 5 months, we started calling and writing local officials about the scaffolding next door that was put up three years ago and hasn’t been active in 18 months. Its a few weeks later and the scaffolding was taken down this week. We can actually see out our window to… a luxury building. The opposite of inspiring, but if I hang half my body out the window I can see the Statue of Liberty and she’s a looker. I’m counting this as our first victory of the year. Score!

A Room with a View is more than just an evocative title. The novel is smart and amusing with the kind of knowing tone you want to wrap up in. Why can’t every book be this good?


This was my first time reading A Room with a View. I know. Naughty, naughty. It’s a character driven story with a straightforward plot and grogeous prose. So many sentences to stop and admire as if they’re paintings on a museum wall to be discussed in the cafe over tea with a hard clump of sugar.

Lucy Honeychurch is a young woman on holiday with her cousin/chaperon Charlotte. They’re staying at an inn in Florence called the Pension Bertolini and Charlotte is not happy that their rooms overlook the courtyard. Hearing this complaint, an older man named Mr. Emmerson, traveling with his son George, offers up their rooms with lovely views. He says men don’t care for views as women do. After much feigned reluctance and protests of impropriety, Charlotte accepts the rooms.

Side note: Perhaps Mr. Emmerson’s view on views isn’t shared by all men, but it does apply to my boyfriend and dad. I’ve dragged them up steep endless staircases for rooftop views, up rocky seaside cliffs, on long hikes to clearings surrounded by mountains – places I could enjoy being for hours and hours. Both of them react to views in the same way. They take one look and maybe nod before saying something like Okay. Seen it. Now what? If I’d only read this book sooner, I would’ve learned to appreciate views alone.

The hemming and hawing over the rooms tells you everything you need to know about the stuffy bubble Charlotte and most of their fellow travelers choose to inhabit no matter where they are. Lucy begins to sense the narrowness of these ways once they’re held in contrast to the Emmersons, who are too intelligent to bother with verbose Victorianisms and stuffy rules of civility.

Lucy’s inner world expands when she’s with the Emmersons and contracts when she retreats. She has the possibility to change, but struggles to reconcile the gap between her family’s expectations and what she wants. Then George Emmerson steals a kiss in a field of violets and Lucy makes a run for it. She’s a fuzzy character because she wants to change and grow but she’s a people-pleaser surrounded by people with dated views.

There is much that is immortal in this medieval lady. The dragons have gone, and so have the nights, but still she lingers in our midst, … But alas! The creature grows degenerate. In her heart also there are springing up strange desires. She too is enamored of heavy winds, and vast panoramas, and green expanses of the sea.

The second part of the book takes us to Lucy’s home in Surrey as she accepts the marriage proposal of a man she doesn’t love. The life ahead of her is bleak. Her submissiveness is that much harder to read because now she’s aware of it. In Rome, her future fiance saw her as a mystery.

A rebel she was – but not of the kind he understood – a rebel who desired, not a wider dwelling-room, but equality beside the man she loved. For Italy was offering the most priceless of all possessions – her own soul.

Once engaged, she’s a country girl he must cultivate so she may properly entertain the grandchildren of fancy people. Then the Emmerson’s move to the town and stir Lucy’s heart and mind once more. It’s a typical love story in that Forster keeps the lovers apart until … SPOILER ALERT … the very end.

The experience of reading this book reminded me of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. It’s full of yearning and the stakes are high if Lucy continues to deny what she wants. Every character is fully developed and the vast physical spaces offer necessary breathing room whenever Lucy’s oppressive upbringing starts closing in.

She disliked confidences, for they might lead to self-knowledge and to that king of terrors – Light.

I’m so glad I finally read this book.


The Barkley Marathons documentary


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Happy new year, you. All the horrors of 2016 aside, it was a good running year for me. I hope that soothes your soul as the dreaded day approaches in which he will make a bunch of promises he’s already broken, taking an oath to uphold a document he doesn’t understand.

Somehow my running buddy deleted our mileage file, but at last look in early December I was at 2200+ miles for the year. This year I’ll track my own mileage on this dusty antique called pen and paper. I’m 12 miles in to 2017 and it’s time for an adventure. We had to cancel our Montreal trip because someone got himself sick. Netflix to the rescue.

the barkley marathons.jpg

Running is so much more than testing and pushing your limits. The Barkley Marathons documentary illustrates this in a most amusing way. This is my favorite running doc yet and its nice to have a place I can share that without receiving eye rolls. Dubbed as “The race that eats its young”, The Barkley Marathons is streamable on Netflix right now. If you want to smile and feel good about the world watch – whether you run or not. Who doesn’t adore blisters and gore?

I love running stories of all lengths, settings and torment, though could do without extreme close-ups of the bottoms of ultra runners’ feet post 80+ miles. So I’m wondering who made mangled foot shots obligatory in running docs? Who had the brilliant idea of zooming in on blisters and crusted skin then really went the distance in just holding the camera there while I, the viewer, take a bite of warm brownie? Give viewers a warning: Gross feet ahead. Look Away. Don’t indulge even though the warm brownie window closes tragically fast.

Foot shots are forgiven this one time.

The Barkley Marathon is a monster ultra in the Tennessee mountains (Frozen Head State Park) created by Gary Cantrell, Lazarus Lake, a runner who comes across as smart and fantastically wicked. I wish we were neighbors. The documentary unpacks the idiosyncrasies of this race and the man behind it through the eyes of those who dare attempt to run it. Very few have ever finished, some years none managed to complete the five clockwise, counter clockwise loops with a sum total elevation gain of 60,000 feet, equal to ascending Mount Everest twice.


A lot of people apply to this race and only 35-40 are accepted in the form of a condolence letter, including a human sacrifice, a runner clearly way over his/her head. In addition to the $1.60 entry fee, runners bring a license plate from their respective state and a shirt or package of socks or whatever Gary Cantrell happens to need that year. This year it’s a pair of gold-toe dress socks (black or dark blue). Races are stupid expensive and he could get away with charging whatever he wanted, but he does this instead and that confirms what you already suspect. This race is all about the race. No frills like course maps and pacers or budget-breaking entry fees.

What I didn’t expect was how gruesome the course is. There are eleven points along the way, each with a paperback book in a plastic bag. Each participant has a different number for each loop and must tear the corresponding page from the book at each point to nullify any possibility of cheating or accidentally taking a shortcut in the dark. Smart logistics on top of the runners’ grit, determination and messy defeat (to the playing of Taps ) make this fun and inspiring to watch.


Gary Cantrell. 

The Barkley Marathons is about defeat, and pain and why nots. Part of the joy in watching the documentary is learning about the oddness of it all and how much sense it makes. My favorite moment is when Cantrell says of one runner:

You can’t write off someone. You never know how much they will come up with from deep down inside.

Check it out whether you need motivation, a pick-me-up, mental stimulation, or alas a place for that $1.60 burning a hole in your pocket…













The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock


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In my family, those without kids do the traveling a few days before Thanksgiving. It’s tradition! On Wednesday we converge and bounce around the kitchen each making and baking our own favorites to share. We used to follow a script, making every single dish from childhood whether they were loved or not, looking at you candied yams, because it’s tradition. Traditions are special and meaningful until they’re a chore. One year I drove 40 miles out of the way and then 40 miles back just to get date nut bread for the cream cheese sandwiches we loved as kids. There were loaves of fresh date nut bread at the bakery down the street, but if it’s not baked in a can nobody eats it.

At some point the holidays started feeling like a rerun,  like we were always following other peoples traditions even though those people were us. That’s no fun. This year I’m trying my hand at corn bread stuffing and baking my favorite vegan pumpkin pie while my boyfriend makes his famous collard greens and my dad spreads cream cheese on canned bread because some traditions shouldn’t die. It does taste better from a can.

Usually I read foodish fiction in November because tradition. But The Smell Of Other People’s Houses was too evocative to resist. The sense of smell triggers powerful memories. The right smells are like a magical time machine. One whiff of real kielbasa or stuffed cabbage drops me at my grandpa’s kitchen table beside his DIY meat hole [meat hole: an aromatic hole knocked in the wall for hanging smoked meat].

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s The Smell of Other People’s Houses is not the cozy tale the cover led me to believe. It’s another well written taste of life in Alaska. Unlike Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs, this one’s more bitter than sweet.


A handful of teenage characters tell their stories of growing up in 1970’s Alaska. The narrative shifts between their different points of view as their lives interweave despite very different backgrounds. Some of the girls live in Birch Park and survive on spam, church leftovers and layers of thrift clothing. Another feels her dreams of becoming a dancer slip away as she joins her father on his fishing boat for the summer per tradition. Among the most compelling characters is Ruth, sent away by a strict grandmother to have her baby in a convent.

It’s considered really bad manners to snoop and read other mariner’s charts. It’s the closest thing to a journal for men who trust no one but the sea.


Detailed slice-of-life-in-Alaska moments made this a pleasure to read despite some dark story lines. I know little about this state now let alone 40+ years ago when statehood was rather new and unwelcome by some. On paper this might sound like a bunch of after school specials mashed together. These kids navigate alcoholism, death, poverty and abuse on top of typical growing up challenges, as well as picking enough wild berries and fishing enough salmon to get through winter.

I liked these characters and how they grow through the pages. It’s a quick, substantial read that exposed me to other ways of life and I need that right now. Plus the writing is lovely. And the title so fitting. Right now I miss my grandparents and my home smells like cornbread and cinnamon.




“We’re his problem now” – call your public servants


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In a few days we’re off to stay with family in PA where massive Donald signs are punctuated with arrow signs pointing to the nearest gun shop, often right around the corner. This weekend we steeled ourselves with comforting Georgian food in Brighton Beach. Then I made a few phone calls.

Some wonderful human made this “We’re his problem now” calling sheet complete with scripts and directories of senators and representatives. The scripts address health care, gun violence, police brutality and other issues constituents need to speak up about.

Take a look. Even if you’re not horrified by the election results, perhaps someone you care about depends on Obamacare. It’s flawed, yes, but without Obamacare someone I love would have died last June. Without Obamacare someone else I love would have a $500,000 hospital bill to wallpaper his mobile home with.

If nothing else, this can still be a country where people don’t die from treatable health problems or go bankrupt for daring to seek treatment. Perhaps you will consider taking a few minutes to complete Paul Ryan’s automated survey. Here’s some info from the call sheet.

Paul Ryan’s office is conducting a survey hoping to show a popular mandate to repeal the ACA (Obamacare). I just took it. It’s automated and quick. Here’s what to do:

1) Call (202) 225 – 3031
2) **WAIT through 40 seconds of pure dead silence suggesting you have called the Death Star. (Seriously. Don’t hang up. There’s no hold music. It’s a little odd.)
3) You will get prompted by the survey
4) Press 2 to participate
5) Press 1 to register your support for the ACA

The ACA is imperfect, but I have friends who depend on it. Paul Ryan expects a certain outcome to this survey. Let’s show him another.

Passing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact by December 19th?


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There’s something called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). States that pass this bill agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. For some reason it doesn’t take effect until it’s enacted by enough states to collectively represent at least 270 electoral votes – its not a state-by-state thing. Once enough states enact the bill, my vote will count as much as someone in Florida or Pennsylvania. Had enough states managed to enact this bill already, the blathering orange face would still be just another bigot in a power suit. No oval office for him.

There’s a lot of confusing interpretations going around right now about the NPVIC. This morning my heart nearly burst when I read that if four states adopt this compact, the election goes to Clinton.

Electoral votes are not cast until December 19th.

According to The Hill:

So far, 11 states possessing 165 electoral votes have enacted the National Popular Vote bill into law.

If state legislatures in, say, PA, AZ, MI and MO (57 electoral votes) convene before December 19th and manage to pass the NPV bill into law, that brings the bill up to 223 votes represented – not enough to enact the bill UNLESS a few more states work the same miracle. If this were a state-by-state thing, the 57 electoral votes in the above 4 states currently presumed to be Trumps would go to Clinton, winner of the popular vote.

Is it too late for 2016? I like to think that nothing’s over until it’s over, and electoral votes are not cast until December 19th. Technically, the state legislatures could convene and pass this bill before December 19th, right?  Or is my sleep-deprived brain floating off into la la land. A few major media outlets have written about this bill, but I’m not finding anything putting it in context of December 19th. Does that mean it’s impossible? Am I chewing on false hope? I don’t know enough about enacting a bill to know.

I do know that people are protesting and hash tagging #notmypresident. I do know that while it’s natural to be disappointed or even angry by the results of an election, people should not feel afraid for themselves and the people they care about.

If you want to do something that might actually potentially make a difference, even if the odds are slimmer than the crack of light beneath the closet door I’m tempted to lock myself in for the next 4 years, this is that something. Maybe. I don’t know if it’s too late for 2016, but elections are too close to be decided fairly by anything other than the popular vote. If your state hasn’t enacted this bill yet, get in touch with your state representatives and push push push. Find your representative. Contact your elected officials.

The following states have enacted the compact:


New Jersey





District of Columbia



Rhode Island

New York