Mini Review – Saga Vol. 1 & 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

I have to admit to my heart not being into writing book reviews for the past few weeks. My life has been quite topsy-turvy this month. I’m currently dealing with all the emotions that followed meeting my biological family for the first time, only to come home to one very sick kitty.

Our older cat, Isabel, has been struggling with a lot of gastrointestinal issues over the last seven days, and has needed a lot of love and attention (as well as multiple trips to our beloved veterinarian, and one stint at the ER vet). We’re currently waiting for the Prednisone to kick in and hopefully help ease the symptoms, as our vet thinks we are dealing with inflammatory bowel disease. If she isn’t any better by Monday, they will probably want to do a biopsy to rule out cancer.

Also on Monday my father will be entering the hospital for a 3-day stay for a heart catheterization after cardiac symptoms recently re-appeared. Hopefully we will know by Monday afternoon if he needs a stent, or another bypass.

Needless to say, this will be a short review!

Saga, Volumes 1 & 2

Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrator: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Graphic Novels, Science Fiction

Marko and Alana’s love story reminds me of an intergalactic Romeo and Juliet. Alana is a soldier from Landfall, a planet this has been at war with the citizens of its moon – Wreath – for…well, for a very, very long time. The Moonies are magic wielding and the Wings are brutally nationalistic and militaristic. Within that context, you have this duo that are so funny and lovable that you can’t help but root for them as they hustle to try to get out of danger and protect their newborn child. They love each other. They argue and bicker, they get on each other’s nerves. But the love they share is pure and true, and is an inspiration, considering their people hate each other’s guts.

Most definitely not for a young audience, you never know quite what you’re going to see when you turn the page. Ghost children/babysitters missing the lower half of their body, Robotic royalty with TV heads, a lie detector cat, torsoless sex workers, there is definitely some odd stuff in this graphic novel series! If Saga were a movie, it would be directed by Quentin Tarantino.

The grandparents come on the scene in Volume 2, and the family dynamic is oh-so-wonderful! In Volume 2, we also get the back story on how Alana and Marko met…it was definitely not instalove.

The narrator in both volumes is their daughter Hazel, which is brilliant. And also a relief, her narration makes it quite clear that she lives at least into young adulthood. You see, one of the main reasons Marko and Alana are being chased is due to Hazel. Her very existence undermines the ongoing war, and defies the odds, as it had been believed that a “Moonie” and a “Wing” could not conceive healthy children together.

The cast of supporting characters are equally interesting: freelancers The Stalk and The Will, Robot Prince IV, Marko’s scorned ex-girlfriend Gwendolyn, and Marko’s parents. It makes for quite an adventurous….Saga.

Monday Musings: A Poem by my Birth Mother

 

This past week was a spring break like no other. This was not a trip to the beach, or Disneyland, or a National Park. This spring break was going home, and finding a new home, all at the same time.

I am an adoptee, and I travelled back to my hometown in Pennsylvania last week to meet my biological family. While I’m not at the point where I am ready to talk in-depth about that trip: a trip filled with both joy and sadness, exhilaration and despair…I would like to share a poem written by my birth mother, Diane.

Diane lived a complicated life, one that sadly came to an end too soon in 2009, before I ever had a chance to meet her. What we do have, however, my half-sisters and I, are letters and poems. Diane loved to write, and her words are powerful. This poem is one of the most meaningful to me.

Adolescence

Angry fights, filled with sorrow
For no apologies, not even tomorrow
Missing connections, not getting through
All the time wanting to say I love you

I didn’t want to cause pain
But adolescence is not sane
Wanting to say I’m just scared
But somehow I never dared

Your values I thought to be true
But about my life, I didn’t know what to do
Everyone said I was smart
But not inside my heart

So I just went on rambling
Living life as a scramble
To prove I was right
That I was not bright

But to everyone I would say
My parents are the best any day
I would pick no others
For a father and mother

~Diane L. Watkins, June 1987

Diane

When Politicians Become Bullies: Jacob’s New Dress

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North Carolina, where I currently live, has had it’s fair share of negative attention over the past year. Most prominently, in relation to the anti-LGBT legislation known as HB2, or “the bathroom bill”.

This week, the spotlight has returned to North Carolina, only this time, it’s in regards to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) school district’s anti-bullying curriculum. My daughter is a student at CMS, a district that has 170 schools and approximately 147,000 students. Therefore, the controversy broiling between our state legislature, the NC Family Values Coalition, and our local school district has a direct impact on my family.

Since November, I have written about #ReadingasResistance, and how books can help guide a person to a new level of political and social activism. How books can be the inspiration that opens our eyes and our minds to new ideas; to people, places, and cultures that are different from us. This is nothing new; in fact, the history of banned books highlights the fear that so many people have when they are confronted with difference. With nonconformity.

Unfortunately, a wonderful children’s picture book, Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, is one of the latest books to be removed from our local school’s curriculum, and therefore, is about to be added to the banned books list. Only this time, it is not a parent or school board that was troubled over a book’s inclusion in a curriculum. It is the state legislators, my lawmakers, that are leading the charge that calls for the removal of Jacob’s New Dress from CMS schools, in the name of “family values” (aka bigotry).

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Jacob’s New Dress is a story about a young boy who loves to play dress-up, and likes to wear dresses to school. The book addresses the unique challenges faced by gender nonconforming boys. Jacob’s parents support their son and his clothing choices, but they worry about him getting teased or bullied at school. The story can be an excellent start to a conversation about what is masculine and what is feminine, and the relationship between the clothes we wear and how we are viewed by society.

The book is included as part of the Welcoming Schools program, a project of the Human Rights Committee to help create safe and welcoming schools for ALL children and families. Jacob’s New Dress is included in the lesson plan, “Discussing Gender Stereotyping with Children’s Books”, with a goal of using literature to understand gender roles and recognize gender stereotyping. Discussion questions for CMS students, obtained by the Washington Post, include the following:

  • Why do you think Christopher is upset that Jacob wants to wear a dress? What does he do to hurt Jacob’s feelings during the story?
  • How did the teacher help him? How could other students have helped Jacob?
  • What should Jacob do if this happens again? (teach students to say STOP, move away, tell a trusted adult)

Risqué stuff, indeed.

Complaints about the lesson plan first arose from one teacher within CMS, who has remained anonymous. Despite the fact that the lesson plan is meant to teach children how to handle harassment and bullying, the NC Family Values Coalition and the House Republican Caucus quickly jumped on board with their disdain.

Our society no longer makes judgments about a girl’s sexuality because she prefers to wear jeans and wrestle, so why do we react so strongly to a boy making similar alternative choices? The author’s who wrote Jacob’s New Dress were inspired by their son, a boy who likes to wear things that dont always adhere to traditional gender roles.

You can’t help but find it ironic that a public school district had to step back from using a book about addressing bullying and harassment after being threatened by North Carolina lawmakers. The NC House Republican Caucus, and the NC Family Values Coalition essentially bullied CMS into using different materials for their anti-bullying curriculum.

And guess what? The bullies don’t like that book either. Red: A Crayon’s Story, is about a blue crayon mistakenly labeled red, and was quickly selected to replace Jacob’s New Dress. The latest word is that Red will also be getting more scrutiny from the Republican Caucus. It is amazing that my state legislators have enough time on their hands to micromanage my daughter’s school reading list.

As a parent within CMS, as someone who has read Jacob’s New Dress and looked at the Welcoming Schools curriculum, I LOUDLY and STRONGLY support including more diverse stories in the classroom. And I call on the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board and District to put Jacob’s New Dress back into the anti-bullying curriculum so that it will go back into my daughter’s classroom, and back into the classrooms of other CMS students.

And let’s be clear: this anti-bullying curriculum is not about “promoting a transgender agenda”, in the words of Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald. It is about using stories and literature to promote safety and acceptance of vulnerable students. Reading a book that teaches students that all people deserve to be free from bias, discrimination, and harm, is a GOOD THING.

You can listen to Jacob’s New Dress on Youtube by going here.

Top Ten Tuesday: Gratitude

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The Broke and the Bookish have decided to take a well-deserved break, so I thought I would focus this week’s freebie on gratitude. I feel we could all use a dose of positivity these days!

Top Ten Things I Am Thankful for Today

  1. For the delicious Bosnian food and new friendships found at last night’s fundraising dinner for Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency.
  2. The recent discovery that I have two amazing half-sisters. My heart is so full over this one.
  3. My 30 minutes of quiet in the morning spent drinking tea and reading a book, or listening and watching the birds in our backyard.
  4. For my 9-year old daughter offering to help me out in a moment of stress.
  5. For Victoria Schwab; I am knee-deep in A Conjuring of Light right now, and loving every minute of the journey (a few heart palpitations aside).
  6. The exhilarating feeling knowing that today is the last day of February, and one of my favorite months of the year is coming up next!
  7. For my husband, who planted a bunch of lovely flowers in the backyard over the weekend.
  8. The solidarity and show of support from the greater community after our JCC received its second phone-in bomb threat yesterday.
  9. The excitement on M’s face when she found out she will be playing the part of Esther in our synagogue’s upcoming Purimspiel.
  10. Lastly, I am grateful for the Chocolove Salted Almond Butter in Dark Chocolate bar.

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Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.

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“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

—John Muir, Our National Parks

I have always found that spending time in the outdoors is an incredibly soothing activity, whether it involves a strenuous, miles-long hike, or just a lovely meander through a meadow.

Either way, I always come back refreshed and rejuvenated. The fresh air, the sunshine, it always gives me a mood boost.

The last few weeks have been personally exhilarating, but also emotionally draining. During times like these, I find myself craving two things: more reading time, and more outdoors time.

Thankfully, mother nature has obliged, and given us an incredibly mild winter here in North Carolina. I find myself spending as much time as possible sitting on our back deck with a book, observing our own small patch of wildlife – our backyard is filled with bird feeders, birdhouses, a stone bath or two…and we are visited every day by cardinals, sparrows, finches, rabbits, chipmunks, and rascally squirrels. Occasionally, a blue jay or red-tailed hawk grace us with their presence.

Yesterday, we went for a hike at King’s Mountain National Military Park, on the border between North and South Carolina. King’s Mountain and Crowder’s Mountain straddle the state border, and this is only our second time visiting the SC park – usually we opt for the beautiful views and trails at Crowder’s Mountain on our side of the border, in North Carolina.

Take a look at the photo above, and you may not be that impressed. The trees are bare, the ground is dry, and it still looks very much like a winterscape in the woods here. Yet. Yet. The sun was shining in a beautiful blue sky, the birds and frogs were loud and active, and the trail was the epitome of peace and serenity.

Sometimes, a person just needs to put down a book and go outside. Take a break from the chores, work committments, and daily life. Even better, make time in nature a part of daily life. I promise you won’t regret it.

Oh, and the title of this post? That’s Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Chanukah Book Haul & December OwlCrate Review!

Chanukah wrapped up for the year on January 1, and I have to say, my family was mighty generous this year! We don’t typically buy a lot of gifts during Chanukah, but hubby knew that 2016 was a pretty crappy year for me, and went out of his way to get some of my most highly desired gifts!

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Of course, the Tesla that he ordered arrived this month, so maybe they were guilt gifts, BWAHAHAHAHAHA!! Off topic – we LOVE the Tesla!! We have been planning this purchase, and saving up for a few years now, and it is everything we expected and more! And super-easy on road trips, as we just got back from a North Carolina to Florida trip!

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By far, my favorite gift this year are the two customized Funko Pops! that hubby bought for M and I. Made by Mason Bartlett, from his Etsy shop FocoCustom, these were such an amazing and thoughtful gift, that look just like us! The one on the left is M, complete with blue hair (which has faded out since the fall), her favorite Paris t-shirt, her Gizmo watch, and the kitty ears headband she wears all the time! I love that my Pop! has the sunglasses that always hang out on the top of my head, a scarf that I often wear, and even my Fitbit!

M bought me the Bernie Sanders Funko Pop!, and he has already had a rousing debate with the Hillary Pop! M received for her birthday.

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If we can’t make it to NYC to see the musical anytime soon, then this is the next best thing! Yay for receiving a gift off of my TTT Chanukah Wish list post!

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So much fun in one picture!

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
  • From M, a bunch of Forest Fellows Iwako erasers, and the school supplies eraser set. I collect these, and her picks are a great addition to my collection! Can you find the gray koala hanging out in the background?
  • The coveted clothbound Game of Thrones set, another gift on my TTT wish list post!
  • HappyHelloCo bookmarks, off of another one of my bookworm gift lists!

I also received a Sur La Table gift card from my parents, which will be used to replace our dying toaster oven! I am very thankful for the generosity of my family this year.

December OwlCrate Review

The December OwlCrate theme was EPIC!, and I wasn’t sure what to expect other than at least one HP item.

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Our Mensch on the Bench was very excited to see what was inside. (Mr. Mensch snuck into our house this year unbeknownst to me…ahem…thanks hubby and M). I’m still not a fan of the whole Elf on Shelf/Mensch on the Bench thing, but he is kinda cute.

I have to say, this is probably my least favorite of the three Owlcrate boxes that I have received so far, but it still had some great things in it to make the purchase worth it!

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Seeing a HP Mystery Mini figure was definitely exciting! We all had fun guessing which one it would be…Voldemort, Hermione, or Hagrid. And the winner was M, with her guess of…

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HERMIONE!

Despite the mixed reviews I have seen, I am quite excited about this month’s book selection, Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, especially since it was already on my TBR list for #DiversityBingo2017!

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Other items in the OwlCrate included:

  • Lord of the Rings pin, designed by Jane Mount (Ideal Bookshelf).
  • Game of Thrones coasters, a perfect accompaniment to my GoT book set! Designed by Dark Horse Comics.
  • Sticker quote inspired by The Darker Shade of Magic, designed by Miss Phi. I love this one!
  • Chronicles of Narnia greeting card by Susanne Draws. I’m not a Chronicles of Narnia fan, so I feel a bit meh on this one. However, the design is quite lovely!

OwlCrate is a monthly YA box subscription. You can find out more by visiting OwlCrate. The January Box theme is “Classic Remix”.

 

I don’t celebrate Christmas, and that is okay!

There are loads and loads of Christmas-themed posts popping up on my Reader this month, and it is nice to see the joy of all those who celebrate Christmas get into the holiday spirit. I delight in visiting friend’s homes and looking at all of their cheery Christmas trees and decorations.

Maybe this post is a gentle reminder that there are lots of people out there who don’t celebrate Christmas, and that is okay, too.

Because what really gets me, and drives me batty sometimes, is the idea that I am somehow missing out on things because I don’t celebrate this holiday. Some people don’t understand how insulting that is!

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I am agnostic, and my husband is Jewish. We are raising our daughter Jewish, so we are a Jewish family. And I can’t tell you how many times during the month of December, each year, we have to deal with some variation of a kind-hearted gesture rooted in ignorance. Or sometimes, just plain rudeness.

Such as the neighbor who, every single year, drops off an Advent calendar for my daughter, with the following remark, “I know there’s the Christian thing and all, but I don’t want her to feel left out.” My mother-in-law was visiting during this scenario last week, to which she responded, “Do you know how insulting that is to a Jewish person? We don’t have a ‘Christian thing’ or a ‘Christian problem’. We’re just not Christian.” Oy vey.

Or, the “Where’s your Elf on the Shelf/Christmas Tree/Christmas outfit/Picture with Santa? I don’t understand why you can’t do that, its cultural, not religious!” Umm…okay. The average Jewish person isn’t too interested in celebrating a holiday on a regular basis that is a part of someone else’s religion. Jews don’t do Christmas. Muslims don’t do Christmas. Buddhists don’t do Christmas.

Of course, Jewish families can now buy this:

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Mensch: a person of integrity and honor. We’ve passed on the Elf on the Shelf replacement toy, LOL.

Then there was the time I was berated for wishing someone Happy Holidays. Apparently, it was rude not to say “Merry Christmas”.  Hmm…interesting take on things. I am not offended when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas” – I usually just nod politely and continue on my way – but suddenly, I’m rude if I don’t say it in return?

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Or the time that our Chanukah flag was stolen from our front yard, and swastikas were graffitied on the street sign. That is certainly not embracing the holiday spirit for anyone.

And when M was younger, the constant refrain, “Doesn’t she believe in Santa Claus?” Followed closely by, “I certainly hope she doesn’t ruin it for the other kids!” comments. Those are the worst. For the record, M is going on 9 years of keeping that secret from her Santa-believing friends, as we ingrained into her long ago that Santa is a very important tradition for many of her friends, and we should respect their beliefs and traditions.

One of the weirdest things I’ve heard in response to my lack of Christmas celebrations is, “But Christmas is not about religion!” I think my devout Christian friends would take issue with that perspective! As would some of my Wiccan and other pagan friends. Considering the holiday was co-opted from pagan celebrations!

Our family personally does not inflate Chanukah, a minor holiday, to Christmas levels. Others do, and that is totally cool, too. Instead of exchanging a large number of gifts (8 nights!), we choose to spend time with each other doing various activities: board game night, movie night, and latke making night are just a few of the things that we do during Chanukah.

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I have been accused of not being able to get into the holiday spirit. Quite the opposite, I take great joy in sharing our family traditions with those who are genuinely interested in learning about them. As I do in sharing in the holiday traditions of our diverse group of friends and family.

For those who celebrate Christmas, it is seen as a time to be kind and generous. To contribute to peace on Earth. A great way for a person to do that would be to open their mind to experiences that are different from their own. Take the time to appreciate and learn about the diversity that surrounds you!

And for those who sincerely wonder what a Jewish family does on Christmas Day when everything is closed? I can’t speak for all Jews, but for us, that week of December is often filled with a lot of: movies, Chinese food, binge book reading, board games, Legos, hot cocoa and cookies, and a lot of chillaxing. It’s delightful. And certainly not anything to be pitied (yes…we get that, too!).

Now that you have a glimpse into what a December looks like for this family, here is a list of various holidays that are celebrated in December around the world! As you can see, December is about so much more than Christmas, and I always love to learn more about the diverse holidays celebrated on this beautiful planet. And if I have the incorrect information for anything below, please let me know!

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December Holidays Around the World

  • November 27 – December 24 – Advent. The season of spiritual preparation in observance of the birth of Jesus. In Western Christianity it begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In Eastern Christianity, the season is longer and begins in the middle of November.
  • December 8 – Bodhi Day. The Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, attained enlightenment.
  • December 10 – International Human Rights Day. Established by the United Nations in 1948 to commemorate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Sundown, December 11 – Sundown December 12 (dates may vary slightly) – Eid Milad Un Nabi (Mawlid). An Islamic celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
  • December 12 – Feast Day at Our Lady of Gaudalupe. A Catholic holiday in honor of Jesus’ mother Mary.
  • December 16 – 24: Las Posadas. A religious festival celebrated in Mexico that commemorates the journey made by Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
  • December 21 – Yule/Winter Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere). A pagan celebration on the shortest day of the year that focuses on rebirth, renewal and new beginnings as the sun makes its way back to the earth.
  • Sundown, December 24 – Sundown, January 1 – Chanukah. The Festival of Lights, an 8-day Jewish holiday recognizing the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
  • December 25 – Christmas.
  • December 26 – January 1 – Kwanzaa. An African-American and Pan-African holiday started by Maulana Karenga in 1966. It is a celebration of community, family, culture, and heritage.