Sunday, July 30, 2017

A 33rd Birthday Wishlist


I make a birthday wishlist every year, not because I expect anyone to buy me gifts but because I think the older we get, the less we think about frivolous items we want, replaced instead by practical items we want, or even items we need - stuff we wish we didn't have to pay for ourselves, purchases we're putting off but know we'll eventually buy.

Once a year, at least, it's fun to think about items I just plain want, not stuff I need. On this year's list:
  • Tie-Waist Jumpsuit from Old Navy:  I look dumb in rompers but loved their long-legged cousin, the jumpsuit. I already own two casual, black-&-white printed jumpsuits from Old Navy, but if I'm being honest, both are a little snug around the midsection right now. I'd love a well-fitted one, & this all-black beauty is just the ticket. ($34)
       
  • FabFitFun subscription: I've got one box left on my existing year-long subscription to this, the mother of all subscription boxes, & I'd love to continue getting it after that. Alas, I've sworn off subscription boxes in the lead-up to our wedding, so I haven't renewed my subscription. How will I get my quarterly trinket fix without it?! ($179.99)
       
  • Red Fan Earrings from Gudbling: Do I need more statement earrings? Probably not. Do I want more? Always & forever, yes. I've long had my eye on this edgy homemade pair, which is way more colorful than my standard style - but unfortunately more expensive, too. ($47.45)
       
  • Sherpa Bedrest from Target: Lately I've being doing a lot of reading in bed, which is wonderful & cozy except my pillows aren't sturdy enough to keep me comfortable. This backrest pillow is part of Target's college line, surely designed for 18-year-old dorm life, but I still want it for my 33-year-old self. ($13.49)
       
  • Ceramic Cactus Fragrance Diffuser: What cuter way to send soothing essential oil blends into the apartment air than with this adorably disguised cactus diffuser? I don't actually, um, use essential oils, but maybe I would if I owned this. That's how that works, right? ($20.99)
       
  • Oy Fucking Vey Bracelet from The Curated Gift Shop: This Etsy shop sells bracelets with nearly every engraving possible ("I KNOW GUAC IS EXTRA"), but as a good little Yid, this one is the most applicable to my life. You don't want to know how many times a day I say/think this sassy Jewish phrase. ($28)
       
  • Prints from Madame Talbot: I first discovered this macabre print-maker while visiting the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, & Mike & I quickly fell in love with her spooky Gothic/Victorian style. She has so many prints that I don't know which I like best, though as our wedding day approaches, I'm partial to the creepy "'Til Death to Us Part" option.
        
  • A vacuum cleaner: This item isn't linked to any specific brand or type because what the hell do I know about vacuum cleaners? I have a Dirt Devil that does the basics, but with a bigger place & a carpeted bedroom, I'd like a real vacuum - I just don't want to do the research to find one. And fine, this is probably closer to an adult need than a frivolous birthday want. ($why are these so expensive)
       
  • Book of the Month Club subscription: Here's another existing subscription box that's about to wind down for me - & it's far & away my favorite. Each month, I choose one of five curated new-release options, & BoTM populates my home bookshelf with pretty hardcovers that I get to read before they hit stores. A book lover's dream! ($44.97)
Because I'm about to be 33 goddamn years old & no one buys you gifts when you're a freaking adult (except my best friend, Christina, who gave me an awesome gift over the weekend - thanks, Christina!), I went ahead & treated myself to a few of my wishlist items. They are:

  • Barrow Flats from MooreaSeal.com: I've never owned a pair of shoes I like as much as these or am complimented on as often, so naturally, I decided I needed ("needed") a second pair. Less than a week after my new charcoal pair arrived, I broke my tan pair... so I ended up treating myself to not one but two pairs of these shoes. Really, though - they're worth it.
      
  • Schwinn Hybrid Trailway Bike: Yes, I bought a bike from Target - but it's a reliable brand, & it was on sale! I'm a little afraid to ride it lest I die in a pothole, but I've started by riding it the five blocks to my favorite coffee shop. Luckily, remembering how to ride a bike is like, well, riding a bike.
          
  • A house-cleaning from Cardinal Maids: With a slew of positive online reviews, Cardinal Maids was the obvious choice when Mike & I decided to pay someone else to clean our place. I'm neat but hate cleaning, so this sounded like a great way to take off some of the pressure. They're coming tomorrow, & I've literally never been so excited about a clean home.
Whether or not your birthday is coming up, tell me: What's on your personal wishlist? Hey, Christmas & Hanukkah are only a few months away! 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

On Birthdays: Thankful for Today & Thinking about Forever


I turn 33 on Saturday, August 5th, a little more than a week away. I knew my birthday was coming, of course, but I just didn't realize how quickly, how soon. I kept thinking, "I'll make plans for my birthday. I've got time!" - & now, all of a sudden, time has just about run out. I'll be 33 next week.

I've been thinking, lately, about my last few birthdays, or at least the ones I remember. I can remember & differentiate as far back as 27, I think, but it's my thirties that have been on my mind.

I wasn't upset about turning 30. In fact, I was excited. I was excited that I'd made it, especially after a suicide-by-30 promise that I'd made to myself about a decade earlier. And I was excited to feel like an adult, to have my opinion heard & trusted more than I ever felt like it was in my twenties. The night before 30, I had a panic attack; I hardly slept, worrying about what I was doing with my life & what the next decade had in store for me. But then, the day came & went, & I was 30, & all was fine.

I turned 30 in D.C. just a few months before I decided to move back home. It was a slow, laid-back day; I went into the office that day but then headed home a little but early & missed my office party. I hosted a get-together with friends at a taco place I loved, & my boss showed up. It was his birthday, too, & everyone in attendance sang to both of us, then passed around 30 cupcakes, 10 apiece from the best bakeries in the city. I drank late into the night with a college friend who didn't mind heading into work hungover the next day.

I turned 31 just a month after moving to Cleveland, & it was a day that went by without much fanfare. Mike & I had been together just a few months, so we got a little fancy for the first birthday we'd ever celebrated together, making dinner reservations at Spice Kitchen + Bar in Lakewood. The meal was just OK, but what really stands out is the birthday gift Mike gave me: The complete boxed set of the Harry Potter series, the kind that comes in a Hogwarts trunk. It was accompanied by a two-page letter that I still cherish.

I turned 32 last summer, & my actual birthday was the hottest day of the year. I took of work to go feed giraffes at the Cleveland Zoo, but I bailed because it was just too hot. That night, Mike & I drove to Columbus & stayed in an AirBnB before heading to the Ohio State Fair (a.k.a. my favorite place in the world) very early in the morning. We spent the day eating fried foods & marveling over the Butter Cow & walking about 20k steps

I've just been thinking lately about... well, life, I guess. I've been thinking about how much life changes over the years, for all of us. We've gained new friends & lost old ones & gotten married & gotten divorced & had babies & moved across the country & gone to grad school & gotten new jobs & bought new houses & God-knows-what-else. At almost-33, I finally feel like... yeah, I'm an adult. I may not always be a good one, but I do, finally, feel like I supposed to be here, like I'm allowed to be here.

But I've been thinking, too, about how, at the same time, so many things feel the same as they ever have. Last night, I got together with my longtime best friend & soon-to-be maid of honor, Christina, who lives in Tennessee. We are vastly different people - than each other, than we used to be, everything. And yet, when we get together, we are exactly the same as we always have been: We laugh so hard it sometimes hurts, we reminisce, we tell stories, we find the stupidest things to be hilarious. We sat in her childhood bedroom working on a craft project for my upcoming wedding, wearing pajamas & watching Newsies & eating Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, her parents asleep downstairs as we laughed well into the night.

I thought getting older would be so scary. I thought getting older would be so scary that I once legitimately planned to die before I had to face it. Now? God, that seems laughable. Life is so good. Not always, of course, not every day, but overall, life is so fucking good. Things change & life moves forward & we become new, different - but somewhere in there, too, we're still just us. Older versions of the same people we've always been inside, finding ourselves & working it out & trying our damndest.

I am not afraid to be 33. I think of my friends who didn't make it here, of Dave & Elissa & Zach, & I am not afraid to turn 33 or 35 or 40 or 60 or 100. I am not afraid to grow old, to feel like an adult, to be someone's wife & mother & grandmother, to be a grown-ass woman who pays my bills & goes to bed early but still laughs until she cries with the same best friend she's had since she was 9 years old.

I feel lucky as hell to have today, to hope for tomorrow, & to dream of a whole, big, beautiful life, for however long I've got it. Happy almost-birthday to me - & here's to many more.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

8 of My Favorite Summer Treats


I don't have much of a sweet tooth; I'm more of a salty snacks kinda gal, truth be told, with little ability to resist the likes of flavored cashews, BBQ chips, or Chex Mix. In the summer, though, there are a few treats I just love - & even if I don't indulge in them very often, they're simply better consumed during the warm-weather months!

Here are a few of my faves. What are yours?
  1. Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Milkshake from Tremont Scoops
    I'm not a vegan or lactose intolerant or anything like that, but if all dairy-free foods tasted as good as this milkshake, I'd commit in a heartbeat. Truly, this shake is the best I've ever had - & you can even get it with vegan whipped cream on top.
      
  2. Sweetened Iced Coffee with Soy Milk from Civilization
    This is my everyday go-to, though I try to minimize the "sweetened" part. I go through about two of these a day in order to achieve my desired level of caffeination. I usually pay for my refill when I buy the first one!
      
  3. Arnold Palmer from anywhere that serves it
    For some reason, I can never remember the name of this drink, which is half lemonade & half iced tea; I've been known to ask for "a Tom Collins but without the booze" (because a Tom Collins is just a boozy version). Embarrassing... but so deliciously summery.
      
  4. DK Smoothie from Beviamo
    Sure, I could make this smoothie at home, but when a local joint makes it this well, why bother? It's made with just peanut butter, bananas, & vanilla protein powder, & I get a free smoothie after every 10 purchases... which I've reached more often than I care to admit.
      
  5. Dinosaur Plums from the West Side Market
    I'd never heard of dinosaur plums until a fruit vendor at WSM offered me a free sample - which is probably because they're just colloquially known as pluots, a plum/apricot combo. I don't love either plums or apricots on their own, but something this hybrid is incredibly tasty.
      
  6. Mango Lassis from Tandul
    As Ron Burgundy once said, "Milk [is] a bad choice" on a hot day, but when it comes to mango lassis, that's somehow just not true. This yogurt-based dairy drink is so cool & refreshing, & I'm fortunate to live very close to the best mango lassi-maker in town.
      
  7. Phat Beets Smoothie from Beet Jar
    I don't even really like beets, but somehow I'm loving them in smoothie form. This thick, healthy smoothie from Hingetown's healthiest joint is just the right amount of beetiness - not too earthy, but not too sweet from the other ingredients, either.
       
  8. Bubbles Rosé Ale from Cidergeist
    Is it fair to include booze in here? Hey, I'm doin' it. This pink-hued ale is made with apple, peach, & cranberry with a crisp taste that's not too tart or sweet - & is totally refreshing, especially when consumed on the front porch on a sunny day.
What are you indulging in this summer?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

My First Blogger Meet-up in the CLE!


When I first started this blog in 2007, the D.C. blogging scene was a beauty to behold. It was large, active, welcoming, & full of really cool people doing really cool things, writing about all of it as they did. I never became super closer with any of the other bloggers, but I think fondly on my time participating in their many meet-ups (like the time we ended up at - & got kicked out of - a Dupont Circle strip club - ohhh, to be 23).

Now, though, people say the heyday of personal blogging has passed. They say blogging is dead. They say social media is the new blogging, that no one wants to read blog posts when they could just scroll through the captions in their Instagram or Twitter feeds.

I disagree, of course - & after all, you guys keep proving that conventional wisdom wrong by continuing to read & comment here (THANK YOU!). But the heyday of meet-ups, at least, does seem to have passed. Forums like 20SB & roundups like DC Blogs went dark. When I moved to Cleveland, I was eager to check out the Ohio Blogging Association, but I was dismayed to find that it was nearly defunct.

I've always known there must be other bloggers in Cleveland, bloggers I didn't yet know about, but how to find them? I wondered if the days of blogging as a local community activity were, in fact, dead.

A local blogging friend who I'd yet to meet in person, Crystal of Eat*Drink*Cleveland, recently added me to an Instagram pod for Cleveland bloggers, a group designed to help us engage with one another's content & help lift each other up. Through that, I found a bunch of blogs I hadn't yet known about - & then, last week, I saw that one of the bloggers, Leah of By Travel and Error, was hosting a local meet-up.

What?! Meet-ups were back?! I knew I had to go, anxious though I was sure to be.

Yesterday was the day. I headed over to Hi & Dry, a new bar-slash-bowling-alley just a few blocks away from my apartment, for Leah's Cleveland blogger meetup. It was attended by about a dozen other women, only one of whom I'd ever met in person (I had dinner with Kala of Cook Drink Decorate last month). In short, I was nervous as hell, but I just had a feeling it was going to be worth it. You know that feeling?

Of the group, I've been blogging the longest (10 years next month, daaaamn!), but these ladies, many of whom have only had blogs for a year or two, or even just a few months, blew me away with their savvy, their creativity, & their enthusiasm. If the heyday of personal blogging is dead, you'd certainly never know it based on the conversations I had & the content I heard about.

Truly, it was such a rejuvenating moment for me as a blogger, a Clevelander, & an aspiring creative type. I look forward to many more events like this in the future!

PS: Want to read these ladies' blogs? Check out Leah of By Travel & Error, Stacy of Styled By Stacy,  Crystal of Eat*Drink*Cleveland, Stella of The Heart's Delight, Alie of Alison's Five Things, Alyssa of The Mexitalian, Kala of Cook Drink Decorate, Brittney of According To Brittney, Amanda of Closeted Fashion, & Debi of DebiDarnell.com. Three of the ladies in attendance have yet-to-be-launched blogs coming soon!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

If We Were Having Coffee: Scenes from a Virtual Friend-Date



If we were having coffee, I'd be drinking a large iced coffee, sweetened & with a little bit of soy milk. I'd tell you that I'm always weirdly excited when I get to my favorite coffee shop & they know my order before I even have to speak it aloud. I'd also probably confess that I sometimes wonder whether the baristas think I'm the lamest person ever for being there so often & for so long.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that flew solo for much of this week. Mike was at an artificial intelligence conference in San Francisco, so I was my own, which means I indulged in some of my favorite single-lady behaviors. It also means that while I cleaned my entire apartment, I also ate takeout food for days. Hey, cleaning is my jam; cooking is not.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I've been having some great weekends this summer. Last weekend alone, I went to a Billy Joel concert & a Gold Cup soccer game & the Taste of Tremont festival & a new brewery - & that's just last weekend! It's been so much fun to treat summer a little bit more like I did when I was in college - full of adventures & experiences, even if I still have to work every day.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I've been really embarrassed about my sweatiness. I honestly think I have some sort of disorder - & according to my Internet research, there's basically no cure. Cool. When I'm out & about, I scan the people around me to see if anyone else is as sweaty as I am - & no one ever is. It's mortifying, & I've been so self-conscious about it this summer.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I'm nervous about a blogger meetup this weekend. Leah from By Travel and Error is hosting a get-together for Cleveland-based bloggers on Saturday afternoon, & while it's right here in my neighborhood, & it's not even a very big event, I'm still really scared to attend because... I don't know why. Because I'm a generally anxious person? Sigh.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I could use a vacation... & that I don't have any coming up. I went to New Orleans in March & D.C. in April & my cousin's cabin in Pennsylvania in June, so I can't really complain, but man, I could use a secluded getaway someplace where my only responsibilities are to sleep in late & read a book or seven.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I'm panicking about the wedding. Nothing bad is happening, but OMG it's less than four months away, & I'm reaching that point where it feels really real. I'm trying to get everything in order but what if, like, I forget stuff? Details aren't my forte, & I'm feeling pretty pressed about the details. Weddings have a lot of details, you guys.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that it's almost my birthday. I turn 33 on August 5th, & honestly, I've barely thought about it at all. I was hoping to have a get-together of some sort, whether at a bar or at our new place, but then I just lost track of time & never planned anything. Oh, well? I'm sure it'll be fine - though I still can't believe I'm almost in my mid-thirties. Life flies, eh?

If we were having coffee, what would you have to tell me? Comment with some life updates!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Let's Talk About Weddings, Money, & Really Bad Advice


Even if you choose to go the most minimalist route possible, weddings cost money. And if you're anything like most brides, you'll probably get caught up in at least part of the hoopla & hype that surrounds the wedding industry, whether you want a big bridal party or tons of gorgeous flowers or a poufy cupcake of a dress or a destination ceremony in a tropical paradise. And if you want all of the above? Well, it's gonna cost an arm & a leg, at the very least.

I'm in a Facebook group for CLE brides- & grooms-to-be, & as is the case in any local Facebook group, it's often a source of utter weirdness. From hideous dresses to maid-of-honor horror stories to plain old "WTF are you thinking?" plans, there are plenty of posts that make me cringe. Today, though, one caught my eye, & I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

One woman posted asking for advice on the following abridged-for-the-blog situation:
"My wedding is August 18th and we are having trouble affording the rest of the reception costs ($1400). It's basically a choice between having the reception and paying the bills this month. With the wedding being so close everyone has chosen their food options so how would I go about switching the menus to just cake and some appetizers?"
Whoa.

My first reaction is "How the hell did you get into a scenario where you're having a wedding you so badly cannot afford to be having?" I assumed other commenters would say the same thing, perhaps more gently - but you know what they say about assuming. By & large, the other commenters did not share my view.

For starters, one commenter wrote:
"I applaud you for being willing to be responsible with your budget. People tend to loose their sense when it comes to weddings." 
Wait, I'm confused. Is it... is it responsible budgeting to get so far in the hole that you have to rework your wedding at the last minute? Somehow I didn't think that was how responsible budgeting worked. And it gets worse. Though some people shared helpful ideas for cuts to make instead, here are the most jaw-dropping bit of "advice" group members provided:
  1. "Payday loan! They have installment loans, try Mountain Summit or maybe Money Key...hey nobody wants to do it but you have to have your reception!"
  2. "I received money before my wedding esp from people who were not going. To be able attend it was around 500 total but it helped with last min expenses."
  3. "There are alot of 0% apr credit cards right now for 12+ months.....check out credit karma it will give you best options."
  4. "I knew a groom who had abismal credit, he was able to get a personal loan for the rest of the costs. Might be an option."
  5. "Is a credit card an option? $1,400 is such a small amount in the grand scheme. If people come expecting a meal, they will be hungry and super pissed to find just cake and apps."
  6. "Not the best idea but get a loan, and pay it off after the wedding. I'm sure lots of ppl will give you cash for a gift."
  7. "You cannot ask people to come to your wedding after they are already expecting a meal they chose (and they are bringing you gifts and money) and just give them appetizers and cake. You need to find a different option or cancel all together."
  8. "Just say that your caterer quit last minute and you had to choose something else, and on last minute decisions it ended up being appetizers."
  9. "We're in the same boat...Ive been selling stuff on FB, opened 2 new accounts at Huntington, deferred my car payment, and got a loan with hopes to pay off after the wedding."
Mike & I initially planned to have a very low-key wedding, but we're fortunate that our parents offered us money to help cover the cost of a larger wedding. I don't take lightly that gift, & I recognize that many couples aren't in similar situations in terms of familial or financial support. 

But look: At the end of the day, you should only be having a wedding you can afford. If you can't afford it, that money isn't just going to magically appear. If anything, new expenses are going to crop up - but new funding probably isn't. Make a budget, get creative, make cuts along the way, et cetera, but you should not find yourself, a month before the big day, choosing between paying your bills or financing your wedding.

If you can't afford your bills in order to pay for your wedding, you shouldn't be having the wedding you're planning to have. If you plan in advance to take out a small loan or something of the sort, OK - but having a strategic financial plan is a far cry from "Oh, shit, this ship is sinking, & I've got to take out a sketchy payday loan just to provide the meal I promised my wedding guests." Why did you plan that freaking wedding?

Maybe I'm being overly judgy here. Maybe I'm going to get nasty comments about this post - & honestly, if you've got a different POV that I'm missing, I'd love to hear it. But as someone who is very frustrated with the wedding industry & the many gratuitous expenses it insists are vital, I can't help but be aghast at the idea that people are going bankrupt just to have a wedding that looks like the movies. Aren't we smarter than this?! Aren't we more realistic than this?!

Real life isn't the movies - & real weddings don't need to be, either. Save the cash for your life together, not for an all-out wedding day that will leave you with a mountain of debt to start out your marriage.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Explore Cleveland's History with Western Reserve Historical Society! (+ a Giveaway)


Three things you didn't know about me:
  • I minored in history in college. I have a terrible memory, so I love learning about it... & then learning about it again after I inevitably forget what I've learned.
  • I grew up in a family of car fanatics, which is an understatement. Once, at a garage sale, my dad glanced at a car covered in a tarp &, without seeing it, named its exact make & model based on shape alone, astounding its owner. 
  • I love Cleveland. Like, a lot.
OK, OK, maybe you'd guessed that last one.

The three of those things combined contribute to my love of Cleveland's Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, part of the Western Reserve Historical Society & one of the coolest historical offerings in the city. Northeast Ohio was a crucial hub of development in the transportation industry at the turn of the century, & University Circle's Crawford Museum shows off the city's many contributions. It's home to 140 antique cars, 21 other vehicles (motorcycles, bicycles, & boats), & 10 aircraft - to name a few.

When I first attended the museum, I sent my cousin Jim approximately 20 Snaps of beautiful antique cars & frantic captions like, "WE NEED TO GO HERE! FAMILY FIELD TRIP!" Jim, an aerospace engineer who knows just about everything about cars & regularly responds to my needy texts about my own vehicle, calmly responded that he already knew about the museum... & has visited it a number of times.  

Damn, fam, why didn't you clue me in sooner?!

But I should've known. The Western Reserve Historical Society also encompasses the Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel, Costume Collection, Hay-McKinney and Bingham-Hanna Mansions, Kidzbits Family Hands-on Center, & the Research Library. They run the coolest historical exhibits & programming in Northeast Ohio - & they're celebrating 150 years of preserving its rich history to share it with the public.

As a kid, I made lots of trips to Hale Farm & Village, a living history museum on a 200-year-old family farm in the Cuyahoga Valley (think an Ohio-themed Williamsburg), & I love the gorgeous Euclid Beach Grand Park Carousel, a restored 1910 carousel now set indoors at the Western Reserve Historical Society's headquarters. I'm also really excited about their newest exhibit, opening in November: Cleveland Starts Here will be a core exhibit & digital portal that explores Northeast Ohio's rich, diverse history.

Want to check it all out for yourself? The Western Reserve Historical Society is generously giving away a one-year membership! To enter, just complete this short WRHS survey & like them on social media as instructed below. Happy exploring! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway Disclosure: I was asked to help promote the Western Reserve Historical Society’s survey & offerings in exchange for a complimentary annual household membership, plus one to give away. As always, all opinions are strictly my own! 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What I Read in June


It looks like I read a lot of books this month, but as you'll see, four of them were quick, easy reads - two trashy crime novels & two YA throwbacks. It's summer, & while I don't have any big beach vacations planned, I do like the keep my reading a little bit lighter (though, yes, I also ended up reading a Holocaust book, so...)

July 1st was also Book of the Month Club's book reveal day, & I chose not one but three books, which will be delivered soon: The Child by Fiona Barton, Hunger by Roxane Gay, & Final Girls by Riley Sager. Bring on the books! (If you're interested, use this referral link to get your first three months for just $9.99 each, plus a book tote.)

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

This book of very, very macabre short stories came free from Blogging for Books, which I was really excited about because I'd been dying to read it. Enriquez weaves tales of the underbelly of life in modern-day Argentina, with a twist of the grotesque & borderline magical. In one story, a disabled girl goes into an abandoned house & never returns; in another, a drug-addled teen mother sacrifices her children to dark magic. It was a compelling read, but it also freaked me the hell out. ★★★☆☆

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor

This book was a recommendation from my coworker Evan's blog, & I tore through it in two sittings (or should-be-sleepings). Senghor, who became a crack dealer at age 14, committed murder at age 19 just months after being shot himself (& likely suffering from some serious PTSD). He spent nearly two decades in prison, at first violent, angry, & withdrawn but later relying on faith & writing to help him find the strength to evolve into a peace-loving, justice-minded activist, husband, & father. Now, he works to better the Detroit community where he grew up. ★★★★★

Before He Takes by Blake Pierce

This series is like a bad crime show I can't stop watching - so cheesy, yet so readable. In this book, the fourth in the series, young FBI agent Mackenzie White investigates the case of missing women in an Iowa farming town. As usual, it ended with a stressful, unrealistic, heroine-of-the-day scenario... that I totally dug. What can I say? Some people love trashy romance novels; I love trashy crime novels. ★★★☆☆

Before He Needs by Blake Pierce

Yep, I kept going. Once I finished Before He Takes, I realized the next book in the series was already available - damn, this dude writes fast! In this one, Mackenzie investigates the violent murders of four Miami couples who all turn out to be swingers. This one didn't seem to move quite as quickly as the books before it, but (spoiler alerttt) the two main characters did finally hook up! ★★★☆☆

An Abbreviated Life by Ariel Leve

This memoir tells of the childhood of the daughter of an eccentric, mentally ill Manhattan poet who was active in the early feminist movement. Though not abusive in the traditionally thought-of manner, Leve's mother left behind mental & emotional scarring that her daughter, now an award-winning journalist living in Bali, carried & struggled with well into adulthood. Her mother's extreme neediness, gaslighting, irresponsibility, & neglect left Leve floundering to learn trust, love, & normalcy. ★★★★☆

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

Last month, I read a book from my childhood, & doing so felt really wonderfully nostalgic - so I did it again this month. I was inspired by a recent episode of the podcast Criminal about the short-lived campaign to advertise the faces of missing kids on milk cartons; this book was one of my favorites in the early '90s, though I never got to its sequels. ★★★★☆

Whatever Happened to Janie? by Caroline B. Cooney

When the details of her kidnapping are revealed, Janie Johnson, is sent to live with her biological parents & four siblings, whose life is a far cry from the one she's always known. They insist on calling her by her birth name, & they disparage the only parents she's ever known (who actually didn't kidnap her - long story?!); the whole family struggles to find peace. ★★★★☆

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank's birthday was June 12, & after reading through a bunch of quotes from & about her for a work-related project, I decided I needed to pick this up & (re?)read it. This unabridged version, published within the last few years, is a powerful testament to life during WWII, to a life spent in hiding, & to a brilliant young mind taken far before her time. May her legacy outlive us all. ★★★★★

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