First Day of School, 2015-2016



Horrible, blurry cell phone pictures taken by a farsighted + nearsighted woman at 6:30am. I’m happy they even exist. One of these days I’m going to buy a simple point and shoot.

These signs. I don’t know where I came up with the idea because I did this on Mikey’s first day of pre-school. We’re talking pre-blogging, pre-pinterest, and pre-social media if you can remember that far back! I had this great idea to document on the first day of each school year what Mikey and his future siblings wanted to be when they grew up. It was going to be great, decades later, to see what they wanted to be in 1st grade versus 3rd grade versus 6th grade.

Fireman! Police officer! Doctor! Teacher! Paleontologist.





Every darn year since pre-kindergarten. I can’t get Mikey to change his mind! I try to switch up my questions, like a detective trying to trap a suspect.

“Hey, Mikey, don’t you want to do something with music?”


“Ok, what do you want to be when you grow up this year? You know, it’s okay to change your mind.”

“I know.”

I joked on my personal face book page that after all this, he’ll end up a high school PE teacher.

“With a buzz cut,” my friend Kendra replied.

School-1Because Nico has a buzz cut and it’s awful. He went to the barber shop without me, clearly. He came home like a freshly shorn sheep and it was all I could do to keep from recoiling in horror. All he needs is a banjo, shifty eyes, and a wayward gene or two to complete the backwoods picture. Horrible. I hate it. No one likes it except Nico, and he doesn’t like it. He loves it.

Every morning he wakes up and says, “Do I still have my awesome buzz cut?”

Yes, dammit.

“Mom, this buzz cut! I don’t have to brush my hair, or dry my hair, or do anything except feel my awesome buzz cut!”

Oh, don’t I know it!

Nico’s hair is a tragedy, but at least he takes career waffling seriously like a true American should. He’s wanted to be an astronaut, a paleontologist, and now a zoologist. My favorite, though, had to be last year. He had me write “undecided.”

College will be interesting.

Even I Get Sick of Books

There’s nothing to read.

Alright, fine. There’s nothing that sounds good enough to read. Sometimes I go through periods where everything I read is remarkably terrible. I hate everything; there is nothing new; the publishing world is out to get me. I know it’s because I’m reading too much in general or even too much of the same thing. Either way, whatever, I get monumentally jaded and watch TV. Call it a palate cleanser. Here’s what I’ve been watching lately, and of course I want to know what you’ve been watching, too.

Catastrophe | Amazon Prime


You don’t need Amazon Prime to watch this British TV show written, produced, and starred in by Bob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, but if you have it you can watch it for free.

Rob, an American ad executive visiting London on business, has a week long tryst with Sharon, a Irish school teacher living in London. Rob, back in the States, receives a call from Sharon in the middle of an awkward first date and finds out that, catastrophe of all catastrophes, they’re going to have a baby. Maybe.

The trailer sums up what I love about the show, and that’s Delaney’s injection of dry, sardonic humor. His ‘Rob’ is self deprecating and witty, and most of all nice. He’s a good guy. Rob flies back to London and takes ownership of the situation with earnest American charm. When Sharon begins to panic about having a baby with someone she just met he replies, “I’m not a stranger. I’m a familiar acquaintance. A friend who helped you make a mistake but will now help you … figure it out.”

There’s only one season out right now, with season 2 currently in production.

Mr. Robot | USA Network


Mr. Robot is a show I picked for the Mister, who loathes social media and believes online privacy and cybersecurity is a myth. It’s a psychological-thriller that I often find unsettling. Yes, I love and watch The Walking Dead, but I’ve explained that one already–those zombies aren’t real. They are a character exploration tool. Mr. Robot is very real. Elliot Alderson is a clinically depressed, socially detached young man living in New York. He works as a security engineer at a cybersecurity firm, white knuckling his way through crippling social anxiety and paranoid delusions using a mixture of drugs and cyber vigilanteism.

Elliot connects to people the only way he knows how–by hacking them until he knows every facet of their life, which he then burns onto a disk and hides under his bed. In this first scene of the first episode he confronts the owner of his favorite coffee shop.

The show is dark, and when I say something is dark you should take note. When an anarchist hacker named Mr. Robot recruits Elliot to join FSociety in bringing down one of the world’s largest, most corrupt organizations, Elliot’s tenuous hold on his sanity loosens until he no longer can differentiate between reality and delusions.

What makes Mr. Robot so chilling–besides the fact that much of the storyline is true or has since come true–are the supporting characters. Elliot is mentally unstable and as viewers we’re never sure if what he sees is real. The supporting characters (do they even exist?) are no more comforting. There isn’t an unambiguous moral compass in the cast with, perhaps, the exception of Elliot’s boss, Gideon Goddard, a man Elliot reluctantly admits is a “good person” after hacking him repeatedly in search of sins. Everyone else is violent, deranged, emotionally unavailable, or struggling in one way or the other.

I can’t wait for the season finale on Wednesday.

Hell on Wheels | AMC


I have such mixed feelings about this show. I watched it religiously when it first came out but lost interest after season 3. I took a break until a documentary on Chinese workers and the Central Pacific Railroad this summer inspired me to watch it again. Season 4 was excellent but Season 5 premiered with a spiritless and prosaic episode.

What’s great about Hell on Wheels: the acting, across the board. Anson Mount, who always comes to mind when I think of amazing, underrated actors, plays his role as Cullen Bohannon so fully that I forget I’m watching a historical TV show. Anson Mount does make-believe very well.

For me, acting is a process of make-believe. There’s no getting stuck in character. That’s a complete mess. Sometimes, I feel like I’m on a one-man mission to change American minds about this. I think that there is this tendency in our society to think about actors as these shamans who channel these alter egos and go through soul-crushing experiences in order to create a performance. It’s not. It’s just not. It’s make-believe. I think that there’s a lot of actors out there who buy into that myth because it makes their job seems more important. It’s just not. It’s just make-believe. It’s playing make-believe well. It’s playing make-believe with a sense of craft and responsibility to the material, but it’s make believe. [source]

There hasn’t been a bad actor on the show yet, and with season 5 being the show’s last season, I don’t expect that to change. However, the show is not without its faults. The female characters thus far have been a near constant source of disappointment. It’s not that the show lacks strong female actors (they’re all great) or that they aren’t given due attention. It’s that they’re saddled with uninspiring and expected roles. You have the hooker with a heart, the plucky female reporter, the moral compass, and the mother figure. You can do better, AMC.

Hell on Wheels was never meant to be a historical romance–at least that’s not how I saw it. I always saw it as an exploration of a man’s struggle with life after the war and all consuming ambition. Cullen Bohannon is a war veteran who channels his trauma into the building of the railroad. He couldn’t be a farmer, he couldn’t win the war, he couldn’t save his family, and he hasn’t shown any ability to emotionally connect with someone without losing them–but he can and will, by God, build that railroad. He is constantly winning and losing everything. He’s all of us who have wanted everything until it was just within reach and we ruined it on purpose.

Hear that, AMC? Cullen Bohannon is all of us, men and women included. Show me a woman, especially today, who hasn’t suffocated under the weight of her own ambition, who hasn’t made missteps that cost her everything, who hasn’t, at the end of the day, wondered if it was really all worth it while grabbing for more. Show me that woman or show me her compelling polarity, but don’t show me a predictable character trope.

What a missed opportunity to develop an interesting female character. We’re talking about the period immediately after the Civil War, a war where 200-500 women fought in secret according to conservative estimates, and this number doesn’t include spies, nurses, or  vivandières. Surely one of those women needed a job on the railroad? I once read an article–I’ve searched for hours, can’t find it–on a woman who became one of the largest suppliers of steel during the construction of the railroad because her husband died unexpectedly. When asked about it she said (paraphrasing) “someone had to do it.” I’d love to see a character like that on Hell on Wheels; bonus points for not making her a love interest.

There is one quasi-strong/interesting female character on the show, Maggie, but she’s regularly irregular. She appears a few times per season when there’s business trouble or someone needs money. Then she does something “a strong female” would do and exits stage left.

In this last season, Cullen searches for the Mormon wife who left him and works with Fong, the son of a Chinese foreman who is a woman in disguise. Bohannon discovers Fong’s secret when an unwanted bandage change results in The Great Boobs Reveal of 1868 (TGBR ’68). This is where I left off, and I’m praying TGBR ’68 doesn’t transition into the season of Longing Glances and Grazing Fingertips. There is potential for Fong to be the strong female character I’ve hoped for all along, so I’m watching until the final episode.

This concludes my ridiculously long post on three shows I’m watching on TV. I’ve got my eye on a host of other shows (damn you, Apple TV) and will report back with worthwhile discoveries.

Happy, Happy


Bam! Good week.

For the first time in years I had a normal mammogram. Call backs, spot compressions, lumpectomies, I’ve had it all over the years but this year it was a simple, “Everything looks good, Mrs. Kendall.” I was so shocked that I almost requested a second opinion.

I posted every day this week for the first time in at least a year. That felt really good, like maybe I’m getting back into the swing of things. For a long time I didn’t have much to say, and I didn’t like the reasons why. I was spread too thin and working too hard on everyone except myself. Be concerned for the navel gazer too busy to look at their own navel.

Last week I turned in my preferred library hours–only 2.5 days per week! I wasn’t there when the teachers tried to figure out how to organize 9 classes into that small window, and I’m glad. I heard it wasn’t easy and had I been there, I know I would have caved and offered M-F plus every other Sunday. They made it work and now I have the remaining 2.5 days during the week of my own time to organize the library, write here, and do all those super dull but necessary life tasks I put off so fabulously last year.

Oh! Here’s something random but good. Yesterday on the way to the boys’ annual checkup I heard Paul Simon’s Obvious Child for the first time in years. I’ve since listened to it on repeat and I like it as much now as I did twenty five years ago. That song is 25 years old! I’m not sure how that’s even possible, but my Googlefu says it’s true. I had a good time reading all the posts on what the lyrics mean (Paul Simon being known for his “word soup” lyrics), that is until one guy presented, in all seriousness, a 750 word dissertation arguing that the song is about male-patterned baldness. Good heavens, man! Paul Simon did not compose an ode to alopecia!

p.s. Remember when you could watch YouTube videos without having to wait until you could click the “skip ad” button?

When Sparking Joy Ignites a Fight


Tennis socks, circa 1989

Hello! You know what you should never do if you are an uptight rule abider with an ego? Watch KonMari youtube videos by a vlogger who hasn’t read the book and finds joy in every single piece of name-brand clothing in their stuffed closets. I watched a really annoying video by a KonMari “konvert” today that brought all my many faults to the surface. You guys, I counted on my fingers the number of times she said “literally” incorrectly and thought of this meme the entire time. I am a horrible person and tangentially the whole thing reminded reminded me of a fight I had with my mother a couple of months ago.

I bet my mother would hate Marie Kondo. I bet she’d call her a heartless person without an ounce of sentimentality. I know this because that’s what she called me in Lake Tahoe when I suggested she get rid of the 30 year old popcorn air popper her dad gave her.  I don’t have a heart; I don’t have any feelings; I don’t appreciate antiques. The last one made my eyebrows jump. As if anything from the 1980s is an antique!

“I may not have a heart,” I snapped back, “but at least I have cabinet space!”

We agreed to disagree. Rather, I conceded that how she keeps her house (organized, impeccably clean, full of stuff I think needs to go) is none of my business. It’s funny, because when I got home from Lake Tahoe I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and in it Kondo shares several stories cautionary tales of how she would organize (get rid of) her family’s possessions without telling them for their own good. She learned quickly that tossing out someone else’s possessions was a really bad idea. My first thought was “duh” and that Kondo was a bossy, insufferable child. Then I thought wait a minute…

If “sparking joy” was a human requirement, my family would have donated me shortly after puberty. Thank God my mom is so sentimental!

Clothing 2

Clothing 3

Yes, getting rid of things is generally easy for me, but not always. I err on the side of tossing something out probably because, unlike my parents, I grew up without wanting for anything. I also grew up learning money doesn’t buy what you really need, a lesson that was later reinforced as an adult. And my mom was right–I’m not a very sentimental person. But I’m glad she is, because I would have tossed out my high school tennis socks decades ago and had I done that, I wouldn’t have found them folded neatly in a drawer in Lake Tahoe. I didn’t bring enough socks; they came in handy and I wore them on the trip home. I was tempted to toss them out this week but decided to keep them because…I don’t know. They remind me of my mom, I guess, which is proof I’m at least a little sentimental! They also remind me to mind my own business and acknowledge that my way isn’t the only way to do things. They are now my talisman of anti-turd behavior.

Clothing 4


I could have finished everything, but I got bored and read books for the library instead. I’m at about 50% complete right now. I’m not a person who looks forward to organizing or cleaning, so I easily grab onto any possible distraction. I had one small snafu with the drawers, which I used as an excuse to put off the project for two days. Either Japan has the deepest drawers the world over, or I keep buying dressers with shallow drawers. I ended up laying the shirts slightly on their side and then filing them from left to right instead of front to back. Yes, moving shirts 90 degrees was a solution that took two days to develop. “Develop” means keeping all the shirts in a jumbled mess at the foot of my bed until hours before Mister was scheduled to come back from a business trip.


I now have a drawer for my scarves, which I rarely wear! But last year I received four as gifts and the 5th one in the drawer–the black one–is a handmade gift from my aunt. I’m keeping them because this year I plan to experiment with them as I move towards a minimal wardrobe.

Clothing-11 Clothing-10

My socks! I’ve always folded my socks and underwear, so the only thing different here is how I store them. I removed the special “sock organizing containers” I put in a couple of years ago. They actually made everything more of a mess. For once, my shallow drawers came in handy!

Clothing 12

Next week I’ll finish everything up in my room. I’m going to ask the Mister if he wants me to do his closet. He can go through his own clothes (I might throw away something I shouldn’t is my diplomatic excuse) and then I’ll go behind him and organize everything into little origami rectangles.


Everybody Rise: A Novel (Giveaway!)

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Everybody Rise: A Novel (Giveaway!)Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford
Published by St. Martin's Press on August 18th 2015
Genres: General, Girls & Women
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon

It's 2006 in the Manhattan of the young and glamorous. Money and class are colliding in a city that is about to go over a financial precipice and take much of the country with it. At 26, bright, funny and socially anxious Evelyn Beegan is determined to carve her own path in life and free herself from the influence of her social-climbing mother, who propelled her through prep school and onto the Upper East Side. Evelyn has long felt like an outsider to her privileged peers, but when she gets a job at a social network aimed at the elite, she's forced to embrace them.Recruiting new members for the site, Evelyn steps into a promised land of Adirondack camps, Newport cottages and Southampton clubs thick with socialites and Wall Streeters. Despite herself, Evelyn finds the lure of belonging intoxicating, and starts trying to pass as old money herself. When her father, a crusading class-action lawyer, is indicted for bribery, Evelyn must contend with her own family's downfall as she keeps up appearances in her new life, grasping with increasing desperation as the ground underneath her begins to give way.Bracing, hilarious and often poignant, Stephanie Clifford's debut offers a thoroughly modern take on classic American themes - money, ambition, family, friendship - and on the universal longing to fit in.

Today I’m giving away a copy of Everybody Rise: A Novel, which a large number of my friends on GoodReads put on their TBR pile. I received a copy of the book last week but haven’t yet had the chance to read it. I plan to the week the boys go back to school, despite the cover.

Because let’s be honest, the cover is atrocious. I thought maybe it would look better in person, that my maybe my email attachment was broken, but no. It’s a horrid, bright, ugly thing. It’s also appropriate. The book is set against the backdrop of New York’s wealthy elite. The preppy, happy colors turned acid, the crystal chandelier out of focus that isn’t quite right, and the harsh, black typeface suggest that money doesn’t buy everything and that appearances aren’t what they seem.

I hate giving away a book I haven’t read–I’ve actually never done it before–but I will because of the reviews and movie deal. You can read an excerpt of the novel here.

In a tightly plotted narrative, Clifford shows how Evelyn’s tenuous initiation into this most elite of social networks coincides with an increasingly desperate effort to secure her footing there…Clifford details the manners of the old-money set with a reporter’s well-trained eye. (The New York Times Book Review)

A smart tragicomedy about a young woman attempting to infiltrate the “Primates of Park Avenue” crowd. . . . Ferociously incisive class commentary. . . . a 21st-century fable of one woman’s reconstruction. (The Washington Post)

A compulsive, up-close-and-personal read about the first cracks in the greed-and-bleed U.S. economy that went flying off the rails so spectacularly a short time later. (Library Journal)

A sharp and witty cautionary tale. . . . Clifford’s shrewd look at upper-class dynamics in modern day New York society takes up the torch of Edith Wharton. . . . Filled with scandal and schadenfreude, Everybody Rise will keep readers flipping pages. (Book Page)

A masterful tale of social climbing and entrenched class distinctions . . . Tense, hilarious, and bursting with gorgeous language. Stephanie Clifford is a 21st century Edith Wharton. (J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of The Engagements and Maine)

A superb debut. Everybody Rise is a 21st century version of a grand 19th century novel–a smart, moving tale of class, ambition, and identity. (Malcolm Gladwell)

Full of ambition and grit. Clifford provides sharp-eyed access to a moneyed world and its glamorous inhabitants. (Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of The Vacationers)

A boom-time dramedy of manners featuring a bright young cast of haves and desperately want-to-haves, all clinging to a very rickety social ladder. Clifford’s lively and biting debut gets to the quick of ambition at its most corrosive. (Maggie Shipstead, New York Times bestselling author of Seating Arrangements)

Gossip Girl fans, rejoice! Behold the literary version of a Jenny-esque narrated story, had she met Blair and Serena in her mid-20s. Cue lies, affairs and mounting debt. (Marie Claire, Summer-Reads Roundup)

The summer’s most anticipated beach read…a funny, sharply observed debut novel about young one percenters in New York…a buzzy Tom-Wolfe-meets-Edith-Wharton novel of young Manhattan. (The Hollywood Reporter)

Author Stephanie Clifford has been described as a modern-day Edith Wharton. (Elle Magazine, Culture Calendar)

Addictive: think Prep meets The Devil Wears Prada. (Good Housekeeping)

The Edith Wharton comparison has me cautiously optimistic. Also, I want to read the book that garnered a 7-figure deal and movie rights a year before publication.

Edited to add: I’m going in assuming I’ll hate the book. Hah! Sorry, but that’s my technique for overhyped releases. If I go in expecting to read a “masterful tale” worthy of all its 5-stars, I’m going to be disappointed. I have mixed feelings for the authors of books with great hype. While I’m happy for their success, I pity them as well. Too much hype sets up unreasonable expectations and leaves many readers disappointed. Look at that one book I read, Luckiest Girl Alive. What a disaster! I know of no avid reader who enjoyed what was supposed to be the “it” book of the summer. Who knows if they’ll do the movie now.

Ms. Clifford, best of luck to you. Please don’t take too much offense when I say I’m going in expecting to hate your book and that it’s cover is frightful (it is, you know it). I’m only trying to ignore the hype and tip the scales back to center so that I can give your book the unbiased review it deserves when I’m finished.


The book hits stores yesterday but, if you’re willing to wait a week, I’m giving away a copy of the book along with a $50 BaubleBar card to one winner.

Some rules, to make things easier:

  • Giveaway open to US addresses only by leaving a comment on this post.
  • Must be 18 years of age or older.
  • Prizing and samples provided by St. Martin’s Press.
  • Giveaway ends August 25, 2015.
  • Winner announced on this post on or shortly after August 26, 2015. 

The winner is Christie. Congratulations!

Screenshot 2015-09-05 18.44.41