Tete-a-Tete With Tea

Today, folks, let’s talk about tea. Not too long ago, when discussing grief with my homeschooling kids, we talked about how it’s ok to grieve for *anything* that is meaningful to them. One example that I used is my love for tea, and how devastating it would be for me if I could no longer drink tea for whatever reason. I can give up a lot of stuff if I absolutely had to, but tea…? That would be difficult.

Tea, to me, is so much more than a simple drink. It is, essentially, comfort in a cup. It’s warm and cozy, and few things can make me relax better than a good cup of tea and a book. The preparation is also key – heating the water, measuring out the tea, letting it steep for the appropriate time. Adding sweetener and milk, watching them swirl in the cup as I stir…even that part adds to the overall vibe of drinking my tea.

It’s also very complex – depending on how it’s treated, tea can be *so* many things. There is white tea, green tea, black tea. Tea can be smoked, or roasted. It can be herbal (which is actually NOT tea, but a tisane), or a rooibos. It can have spices added to it (Chai, I’m looking at you!), essential oils, or bits of fruit and flowers. Even chocolate gets added to tea at times! Honestly, the options seem endless.

Over the years, I’ve become somewhat of a tea snob. I have my favorites, and when I have to travel (typically, for a gymnastics meet with my daughter), I take my own tea with me. At work, I have a special bag that I keep tea, sweetener, cream, and a special tea spoon in – I just make sure, every couple of days, that all my supplies are replenished. I even have a tea cabinet – I think it probably used to a buffet, but I decided it was better for my tea than silly dishes. It is loaded with tea paraphernalia – mugs I’ve collected, a Japanese tea set from long ago, a Yixing clay tea pot, and LOTS AND LOTS OF TEA. Some were impulsive purchases, some are flavors I wanted to try, and some were specifically purchased as part of a fund-raiser for one organization or another. But some are die-hard favorites, the ones that I try to *always* have on hand.

Up first? Portland Breakfast tea from Smith Tea company. This is the one I take to work with me, and I purchase it in bulk sachets (because loose tea is not very feasible when running a bookstore with no break room). Smith Tea was actually started by Steven Smith, the same guy who started Tazo tea, and the guy knew his tea. He’s passed now, but lives on with Smith Tea and the amazing people still running it. If you happen to be in the Portland area, there are two great tea shops where you can not only drink this, but try their EXCELLENT Sparkling Strawberry Honeybush. It’s light and refreshing and delicious. But for a really good, everyday kinda tea? You can’t go wrong with Portland Breakfast.
https://www.smithtea.com/products/portland-breakfast?variant=14659225485357

The second company that I tend to frequent is *also* local to me, and I LOVE THEM. There are three teas I tend to get there, though it’s not uncommon for me to come home with others. The first is my standard, every-day-I’m-not-at-work tea that I purchase in bulk leaves. It’s not uncommon for me to start the day at home with 2-3 cups of their English Breakfast. I used to be a die-hard fan of another brand that I ordered, but then I was able to compare their tea with Jasmine Pearls’…and there really was no comparison. JP’s tea was whole and fragrant, rather than being dusty and dry with little smell. So, I stick with theirs and I’ve not been happier.
https://thejasminepearl.com/english-breakfast/

The other two teas are both chocolate, though one is actually a black tea and the other is a rooibos. The black tea version is called Cocoa Deluxe, and on a day when it’s rainy and cold, and you need something to lift your spirits – something warm and delicious and comforting? THIS IS IT. Steep it, add a little honey and some milk or cream – then sit back, relax, and let your soul unclench for just a little while.
https://thejasminepearl.com/cocoa-deluxe-black-tea/

But, sometimes, those soul-unclenching moments are needed later in the day, and I’m super sensitive to caffeine after about 3pm. Cocoa Rouge to the rescue! A rooibos is perfect for that, giving me the same comfort – but WITHOUT the sleepless nights. I make this the same way, with a bit of honey (or agave) and milk, and it’s a balm before bedtime. The only downside to this one flavor is that it *is* seasonal, so I tend to stock up on it when I can.
https://thejasminepearl.com/cocoa-rouge/

I do also enjoy collecting more unusual tea mugs – ones that don’t have “Made in China” stamped on the bottom. It’s something I like to look for when I travel with my daughter, though I also enjoy getting the Starbucks mugs for different locations. One of these days, I’ll have a shelf just for those, but…ah, well. If you’re in the market for a tea set or a mug to go with that excellent tea you just ordered, I *highly* recommend Etsy. There are some talented peeps on there, as long as you wade through the nonsense. It’s also fun just to look at the vintage tea sets sometimes, just to see all the gorgeousness from another way of life. AND…one of these days I’ll get this, just for the grin it would bring every time I use it: https://www.misshavishamscuriosities.com/store/p653/Green_Havisham_Kindly_Fuck_off__Cup_and_saucer.html#/

Do you have a favorite tea, or other drink? I’d love to hear about it – I’m always open to expanding my horizons!

A piece of the same Japanese tea set I have. It’s got quite the history!

#BookstoreStories – The Magic 8 Ball

I’m lucky enough to work in a bookstore, and I’m even *luckier* that the bookstore is in an airport. No, really – I love it. We rarely ever have the same customers twice, which means we rarely get complaints. Many of the people traveling are going on a vacation, so they’re already in a pretty decent mood. I honestly love the variety of people, situations, and requests. And…we also get some fun(ny) moments as well. Things that you just never see coming, but that you’re still laughing about days later.

For example, there was a father and his son in the store a while back. Kid was maybe 8? 9? Dad said he could get a book, but the boy was MUCH more interested in getting one of the Magic 8 Balls we had for sale. (Hm. This story may age me. But for those of you unfamiliar with what a Magic 8 Ball is, I give you this link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_8-Ball) ANYWAY. He really, really wanted this toy instead of a book. Dad, knowing they’re going to be trapped on an airplane for a while, buys him a book that had been shown the *teeniest* bit of interest, and on the way out, the kid is still wheedling for the 8 Ball. He insists that it would be more fun on the plane, and decides the best course of action is to…ask the Magic 8 Ball. He shakes it and shakes it…and shakes it some more. I think he thought the more energy he put into it, the better his outcome would be? While he’s shaking, he’s asking, “Would the Magic 8 Ball be better than a book?”. After a few final shakes, he stops and holds it still – and waits for the answer to appear. When it does, he slowly reads the response out loud….

Not likely.”

He didn’t leave with a Magic 8 Ball that day.

Review: Dopesick

I read Dopesick when it first came out in hardcover, and I was stunned by the stories and the information contained inside. It was released before it became more common knowledge about how the drug companies bargained with and bribed doctors to prescribe more pills. Before we knew that the companies were aware of how addictive Oxycontin is – and continued to sell it alarming rates anyway. Before many were aware of how bad our opioid epidemic truly is – and how much worse it’s likely to get. I read this book because, as with so many, I knew someone who fell into its trap.

I met one of my closest friends in adulthood in a group I belonged to – a gal so much like me in so many ways, that we became close pretty quickly. Her other half was a great guy, funny and outgoing, doting dad to their daughter. And then…in what felt like overnight to me and turned out to be anything but…her world came crashing down. It turned out that he had been nursing an addiction to opioids for quite a while, based on a prior injury. At some point, that pill addiction morphed – and so did he. Things started disappearing from their house. Their bank accounts were emptied. He lost his job, and found out he had been using fake medical struggle stories of her to borrow money from work that never got paid back. His personality changed, and this kind and funny guy became mean and cruel and even frightening. It all came to a head when she kicked him out, left with no savings, many of their valuables hawked without her knowing – while she was being diagnosed with a disease and their daughter was facing major surgery. She tried, so valiantly, to get him into this rehab or that rehab – and they never took. You know those radio and tv commercials about rehab facilities? THEY’RE LIES. It can be a battle to get a loved one into one, and often by the time there’s a bed ready – they have disappeared back into their drug use again. I now have to turn the radio off or down when they come on because I get so angry at the empty promises made to desperate people. This became her daily struggle, along with fielding calls from creditors, trying to find ways to help him, dealing with her own health concerns and that of their daughter, and knowing that he could call or show up at any time and demand money that she simply didn’t have.

Then Dopesick came out, and I scooped it up. I have always been the “no such thing as too much information” type, and I wanted to learn. And boy, did I learn. I learned that our country is dealing with a crisis, one of our own making. A crisis we tend to see in shades of black and white, even though it is anything but. One filled with people who have been negatively labeled, though so SO many of them were simply trying to fix their pain and didn’t know at what cost. What Beth Macy did was to make all the information that too few knew, and make it easily accessible and understandable, even to average folks like me.

Macy shows how our current treatment systems are flawed, and how so much of those flaws come from our own biases about those addicted to these drugs. How families go though hundreds of thousands of dollars, trying to get help for their loved ones. She shares methods that *are* working, and talks with the people who are actively trying to make those methods more common. Most of all, though? She gives the addicted a voice. She allows these people their stories, without judging, and gives hope to those reading that change *is* possible.

My friend is now happily married, and managing her disease as best she can. Her daughter got an amazing scholarship to an excellent school, and she is thriving. Her former partner? In and out of jail and prison, still addicted, and more often than not living on the streets. It’s all around us, if we only open our eyes.

We all know someone who knows someone who has an addiction. It would be difficult to find someone who has NOT been touched by this battle, in one capacity or another. And change is happening, though far too slowly for so many out there (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/2/4/21115481/trump-state-of-the-union-2020-overdose-deaths-opioid-epidemic). However, it’s still a HUGE problem, and the emergence of fentanyl is only complicating that. As such, it’s on ALL of us to learn what we can, and to have the knowledge of what is happening around us. We all may say that it would never happen to us or to anyone we love – but I’m here to say that I thought that too.

NOTE: To purchase a copy of Dopesick, you can use this link, which takes you to options for independent bookstores, as I won’t link to Amazon: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780316551304

Beth Macy also has an audio book out, titled Finding Tess, that follows up on one young lady she profiled in Dopesick. It’s not a long listen, but its immediacy in that format is undeniable, and it’s a should-listen for sure. Have kleenex, and be prepared to be angry and upset and to have *all the feelings*.

#FeelGoodFriday

This is a company that is local to me, and their products are AMAZING. Seriously. But even better – their social ethics are wonderful. ❤ (Website to find out more and to order: https://grounduppdx.com/)

AND they have a COOKBOOK!

https://www.today.com/video/this-nut-butter-company-aims-to-build-confidence-in-the-women-they-hire-77884997803?fbclid=IwAR35okELekvrTjV-6iK8TWGTHYNZ-axBR1l_BSys11t_qTScaKk4mv_Jkcg

Pre-Order now to benefit Australian Wildlife!

A new funko is being released, with proceeds going towards helping Australian wildlife that have been impacted by the terrible fires. I’ve ordered mine (remember the exchange rate – you’re not paying as much as you think you are), and you can get one too! They’re at pre-order stage right now, but if you don’t want to order, you can simply donate to the RSPCA. The article below has links to both purchase (click on the ‘Bushfire Heroes’ link at the top) and to donate (link at the bottom of the article).

In the slightly strange-but-true category, and fitting with my post yesterday about dogs (https://stillmorewords.com/?p=199), Spotify has announced that they’re releasing playlists for dogs that are home alone. No word on a cat version yet, though likely, they would be irritated with *anything* that played.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-odd-spotify-dogs/spotify-launches-playlists-for-dogs-left-home-alone-idUSKBN1ZE1D8

And last, but CERTAINLY not least – Big Green Bookshop had a “Buy A Stranger A Book” day, and it was a huge success. As a bookseller, and a lover of books, this is such an awesome thing. Heart-warming that so many people stepped up and bought books for strangers!

It Starts Small, and it Starts With Us

I have long held the belief that you should do what you can to make things better. For someone else, or for the world around you, the smallest of things can make a huge difference. Sometimes it’s donating money, sometimes it’s going door-to-door for a cause you believe in, and sometimes it’s something as simple as buying the person behind you in the drive-thru their morning coffee. It doesn’t take a lot, and it can make even your day that much brighter.

For us, we’re a military family. My husband retired after almost 26 years. I was medically discharged after seven. We have friends all over the U.S. that have served (or are still serving) their country, and we are both very proud of that fact. I also had a cousin that served, grandparents – it’s not what you’d call a family tradition, really, but we do our part.

One day at work, I was on my lunch break in the food court area (I work at the airport), reading my book, when I looked up and realized I was *surrounded* by dogs. I mean, it’s not uncommon to see a dog or two come through the airport – lots of people travel with their pets. But I had literally at least 7 dogs sitting in positions all around me, and THAT’S unheard of. At least, it was for me at that time. Now, we love animals in our house. My husband told me when we got married that we would never have cats – we bargained, and we currently have three, plus one that decided he’d rather be outdoors. 😉 We’ve always had a dog or two, and if we lived out more in the country, we’d have chickens and such as well. So I watched these dogs in the food court, wondering what was going on. Before too long, I noticed one woman – long, blonde hair and *super* efficient – who seemed to be in charge, so I watched her. When I noticed she had something written on her shirt, I googled it quickly and came up with a group called Northwest Battle Buddies. By this time, my lunch was about over, so I bookmarked the site and went back to work.

We had talked about being fosters before. In fact, 2 of our cats are foster-failures, as was one of our prior dogs. But fostering for the organizations always seemed out of our reach – SO MUCH TRAINING INVOLVED. My husband travels for work, I have two kids at home (one of whom is a competitive gymnast, so *that’s* like having at least 2 kids), and the time factor just is not there. But that never took away the nagging feeling that I should be doing *something* to make a difference – I just hadn’t figured out what that something was.

When I got home that night, I spent some time researching the group (NWBB from here on out), and was super excited by what I read. Reasonably local to us (hence training at the airport), and their mission is to train service dogs for veterans with PTSD. As a veteran with that very health issue (though not to the degree of many), that touched my heart. As I read further, I got more excited, until I read that they were looking for foster families. Well…I hesitated. But as I read further, I realized – the foster families don’t train the dogs. They love them, they take care of them, they give them a puppyhood with new experiences – but the training is done by that amazing woman I had seen at the airport. Even MORE impressive is the *amount* of training she gives the dogs – it’s among the highest of all programs. AND THE DOGS ARE PROVIDED FREE OF CHARGE TO THE VETERANS. Read that line again, while realizing that service dogs can (and often do) cost thousands of dollars, making it next to impossible for far too many people.

By now, you’ve heard that sad and sobering statistic that approximately 22 veterans take their lives PER DAY. That’s close to an entire school classroom of children, gone. And in many cases, it is absolutely preventable. There is much that needs to be done in this country to truly work on this problem, but I defy ANYONE to say that these people are expendable and that 22 veterans a day is something we just have to live with.

First in a five-part series. They’re short, and it’s worth it to watch them all.

And so, I talked to my husband. I am not ashamed to say that I pushed. I felt so very, very strongly that at last – I had found something to do that could help me give back in a way that fit our family. He agreed (Mmm…he may not have felt he had much choice… 😉 ), and so I put in an application. I *may* have put in the application before he fully agreed, but I will neither confirm nor deny that possibility.

It didn’t take terribly long before we heard back, and I spoke with Dorothy – the puppy coordinator. She’s a rock star too, and she went through the rules and expectations (which I had already read online because I didn’t want to apply and then back out), asked for some information and photos about our house and yard. This woman, guys – she’s a FONT of knowledge. Not even kidding. And from there – it wasn’t long until we came home with this little nugget:

Nitro

Nitro was a doll, and we adored him. Unfortunately, at one of his checkups, they noticed what they call “fear behaviors”, so we kept a closer eye on him. It wasn’t long before he started showing them in more situations, so the decision was made to wash him from the program. On the plus side, he now has a VERY happy life with a former teammate of my daughter’s. ❤

Addie

It wasn’t long after that we ended up with Addie, who is a typical lab. She’s stubborn, smart, and FULL of energy. She’s also just a very good girl, and as she’s gotten older, I think she’s going to make a wonderful service dog. NOTHING phases that girl. After we had Addie for a while, we also ended up with this little love:

Nyx

Yes, she’s just as sweet and adorable as she looks. She’s a lover, this one – wants to be with her people ALL THE TIME, PLEASE AND THANK YOU. She’s also the only dog we’ve ever had that has figured out how to get through the dog gate in the house by herself if it’s not latched, so…there’s that. With Addie and Nyx together, it’s not uncommon to see a lot of play, or something like this:

They’re quite the pair, these two…

People ask often if it’s going to be hard to give them up. Absolutely!! They’re great dogs, and they’re part of the family! But NWBB posts on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NorthwestBattleBuddies/) when dogs are paired with their handlers, and guys…I cannot express to you what it means – how it FEELS – to see the looks in these veterans’ eyes when they get their dogs. These dogs will be their lifelines. And in so many cases, these dogs are literally giving these veterans the ability to function outside of the house again. There simply are no words for what these Battle Buddies mean to them. And to be a part of that? Even a small part, by giving these dogs a home and love until they’re ready for training? It’s a fabulous feeling. For me, even more so, since a friend of the family that I love dearly has a service dog. And it wasn’t until after we started fostering that I realized Rimfire is also a NWBB dog – and Phil still does a lot to help incoming classes learn and feel comfortable with their training. Knowing how important Rimfire is to Phil – and that it all starts with fostering – gives a new purpose to what we’re doing.

Phil and Rimfire

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to at least check out Northwest Battle Buddies’ website (https://www.northwestbattlebuddies.org/). Though, as I said above – it’s about doing what we can. If you can’t foster, donate. If you can’t donate, spread the word. Like their Facebook page and share their posts – maybe someone you know will feel that call. 22 servicemembers a day is 22 too many. And the more people who get involved, the bigger the program can grow, and the more veterans will be able to be paired with their own Battle Buddy – allowing them to have the life that they absolutely deserve. It starts small, we do what we can – but it ABSOLUTELY starts with us.

“Due Process” and How it Really Works for Victims

NOTE: TRIGGER WARNING – SEXUAL VIOLENCE

Harvey Weinstein. That name alone brings to mind power. Movies. Wealth. Fame. These days, it also brings to mind rape. Sexual assault. His name will forever be linked to the latter, no matter what happens with his current trial or with him after it’s over. For some, they want him to rot in hell. Or prison -it could potentially be the same thing for him. For others, they feel he’s been framed, because surely it was consensual – the women looking for fame and power they didn’t have. Everyone presuming that “due process” would make sure the right thing is done. However, as Megan Garber of The Atlantic put it in this article (https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/02/the-weinstein-trial-and-the-ugly-realities-of-due-process/606262/), “This is due process wielded as a weapon.”. That weaponization of due process is something I am intimately familiar with, as are so many of us who have been victims of sexual assault while serving in the Armed Forces.

I was 24 years old, and had recently re-upped. I had every intention of continuing my service – I liked my job, was living in a place I enjoyed, and had made some amazing friends. I was due to get together with a few people I had been stationed with previously, so we went out to dinner. Unfortunately, it ended up being a smaller group than expected, and it was just the two of us that decided to go out for some drinks and catch up. I knew this guy, had been stationed with him for a couple of years and liked him well enough, though that’s as far as it ever went. We drank, and since I didn’t want to drive home after drinking, he offered to let me crash in his hotel room for the night (he was in town briefly, hence the catch-up). I honestly thought nothing of it, as often being one of the few females in the group, I was accustomed to crashing at others’ places – and nothing had ever happened.

The assault took place shortly after we got into the hotel room. It didn’t matter how many times I said no, he insisted the answer was yes. I had nowhere to go, I was reasonably new in town after being transferred, and had no one to call. And, honestly, there was some part of myself that simply could not accept that this was happening. I felt sort of…separated…from myself – the part experiencing and talking, and the part that was in shock. Eventually, he had my pants off – and the only thing that made him stop was when I told him that if he was going to rape me, he may as well go all the way and do it anal so he’d feel better. I don’t know why that pushed his buttons, but…it did. I was finally able to leave the room, and I drove home, still drunk. I spent the entire drive sobbing, half wishing I would get pulled over by the police so I could tell them what happened, and half terrified that I would get pulled over because I didn’t know if anyone would believe me.

Once I got home, he called. He apologized – profusely. Told me that he knew what he did was wrong, and he would support me if I reported him. That he had never done such a thing, and that he understood why I was so upset. I look back, and know that he was probably trying to manipulate me, but…it seemed in earnest to me at the time. I told him I would think, that I couldn’t think clearly. See, I was torn between the “He did this to me” and “I thought he was my friend” – as so many so-called “date rape” victims are. When I told a friend, she immediately had me come over, and – quite reasonably – told me that friends don’t rape friends. Sounds weird, but it’s not how my brain was thinking at the time. So – I reported it. And here is where the due process kicks in.

I went to a hospital, and had a rape kit done. Anyone who says those things are ok is LYING. It’s like being raped twice. It is invasive, scary, miserable, and occasionally painful. Now, the doctor and the nurses were kind and tried to be as gentle as possible. But it’s still a horrible, sad, cold and sterile process. I was asked so, so many questions – many of them repeats. Occasionally while my legs were up in stirrups. At some point after this process, the military took over, and it got worse for me.

I was removed from my job “because of the stress and trauma”. I was shunted to another department, not doing anything remotely related to what I loved. I was treated with kid gloves by people who didn’t know me and were afraid to GET to know me. I was given a lawyer who had never tried a military case before. Meanwhile, he got a Naval lawyer who had years of experience and was able to keep his job. Mind you – he was a medical professional, accused of assault, and he kept his job. I lost a lot of people who I had considered friends – they either sided with their fellow male – though many hadn’t known him any longer than I had – or were too afraid to be seen as a “traitor”. And yes, that term was used. I was alone, new to my job and the area, with few people I knew local, and in a terrible depression.

Eventually, the court martial came up. I was asked questions about my sex life prior, my drinking history, my mental state. I was asked so many invasive questions, things I wouldn’t talk about with many friends, let alone in a room in front of strangers, my rapist, and my mother. It was like the rape kit all over again. And, even with all that had happened and his promises to tell the truth and support my report – he got off. The Old Boys network wins again. Worse was when I happened to be in an elevator with one of the jurists – and was told, quietly, that they believed me and still nothing could be done.

This, folks, is “due process”. That same “due process” that everyone thinks will make sure the guilty are convicted and the innocent proven so. The same “due process” that left me reeling, alone, and giving up on my military career. The same “due process” that had me medically discharged, with PTSD and depression – while he continued in his job as a medical professional until he retired. I don’t have a lot of faith in due process, particularly when there is a well-established trend towards believing the White Male.

Harvey Weinstein has a well-established pattern of sexual assault. He has done it to a LOT of women (allegedly 😉 ). Several reporters from different news outlets have followed up on this story, and many brave women have come forward. And still – his lawyer, a white woman (natch), says that she’s never been assaulted because she “would never put (herself) in that position”. Charges have been dropped before. His lawyers will work to destroy every witness and victim they can – regardless of the repercussions to those women afterwards. Essentially – he has a lot of money that he can fling towards making this all go away. That, folks, is “Due Process” for people like him – and for the victims who have accused him. And this is why those who say #MeToo can only be detrimental to men just show their ignorance, their privilege, and their arrogance. Because men already have all the cards – and one of those cards is labeled “Due Process”.

Some Traditions Are Not Made to be Broken…

I started this blog because I wanted to start writing again. And so far, I’ve found things to write about that run the gamut from sports figures, to books, to personal loss. Today – I find myself AT a loss. So many things spinning around in my head, but I’m not sure how much I want to – or should – share. However, this blog is something that I said I would be completely honest with, so…I shall do so here. I’m afraid that nothing else will come until I get this out.

Folks, let me give a piece of free advice. It is NOT ok to spring something relatively major on people AT A FUNERAL. One shouldn’t, for example, decide relatively unilaterally to bury one’s son’s ashes *at the same time as his grandmother is being buried – and in the same hole* without mentioning it to other family members. Because, having just experienced that this weekend – it is DEVASTATING.

I don’t know about you all, but that period of time between a death and the service is spent largely in mentally preparing. Going home again, seeing family members you may not get along with, dealing with the service and burial, dealing with the aftermath…it’s a lot, as anyone who has gone through it will testify. So that mental preparation is key to making sure that sanity is gripped tightly, that emotions are kept reasonably in check, and that opinions are kept behind a firmly zipped mouth. Especially when you’re going home to a place that tends to be the antithesis of what you believe in. And all it takes to wreck two full weeks of preparing is to be confronted with a complete surprise in finding out that your brother’s ashes will now be part of the equation – AS THE URN IS BEING WALKED TO THE HOLE IN THE GROUND. While being pretty darn sure that it’s not what he would have wanted, but is going to happen anyway. Watching family members look confused and appalled, because they thought the service was over and were chatting loudly in the back. Seeing others look horrified when realizing that some of their family had already walked away. Watching your dad get his ass chewed because people didn’t know – even though he didn’t know for sure, either. Seeing YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER CRUSHED because she adored her uncle and didn’t understand what was happening – like the rest of us standing there.

Grief is a hard thing, and it affects us all in different ways. And as I’ve written before (https://stillmorewords.com/2020/01/28/when-grieving-feels-weird/), THAT’S OK. But what is *not* ok is to use your grief as a bludgeon to others, to try and make them feel like they loved the individual less than you did. I don’t know how one works around that, honestly. I’m just experiencing it for the first time myself. I *do* know that it makes me less likely to want to be in that person’s presence, or to want my kids to be there either. It makes me angry and hurt that this wasn’t just done to me and other family members, but to her own granddaughter. What it doesn’t do? Make me view that person with any degree of positivity, but instead to see them through a lens of hurt and anger.

I found myself explaining a lot of things about traditional funerals and services to my girl before all this happened, as she’s old enough to ask why and understand the answers. So much of what is “traditional” actually is not something that would fit her dad or I at all. In fact, much of the “traditional” steps are being done away with by people all over, in favor of eco-burials, or something more personal. Some traditions are there for a reason, however. Like that of people knowing what is going to happen. People deserve the right to be prepared, and by forcefully yanking that away with no warning, you’ve broken boundaries that may never get repaired. And, grief or no, that’s all on you.

Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz

I am fascinated by any books about books, bookstores, librarians. I suppose it comes from my longest-running love affair being with books. So I was curious about this one, excited – but also a little hesitant. I had the book for over a month before I decided to finally dig in. Auschwitz is a heavy topic, books notwithstanding – and it’s even more fraught these days, with what we see happening all over the world. However, read it I did – and it was excellent. It is a reminder of what was, a caution of what could be, and – above all – a celebration of the indomitable spirit and will of one young lady.

The book is based on the very real life of Dita Kraus, a young Jew who is sent to Auschwitz in her teens with her mother and father. All of them destined to die there, in one of several horrifying ways – along with thousands and thousands more. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Dita’s family gets assigned to Block 31 – the family block – and she gets lucky enough to be in with the children. She ends up in charge of the few books that have managed to be smuggled into the camp. Possession of a book means an immediate death sentence, a knowledge which follows her every waking minute in the camp.

The Librarian of Auschwitz isn’t just Dita’s story, however. It’s also the story of those strong enough to try and resist in whatever ways they could. Of those who were weak, and failed to speak up about what they saw happening. Of those who, once upon a time, would have been just another person – but instead, chose to become killers. It’s a reminder of what was, and what could be yet again. As that famous quote goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”.

I greatly appreciated the Epilogue, the Postscript, and the “What happened to…” sections at the end of the book. And for the final details? The endpapers – in the front, the map of Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp, August 1944. The back? Birkenau Extermination Camp, September 1944. All the pieces tie this book together in a way that really forces one to be absorbed into the story.

There was a very real chance that this book could have turned into some overly dramatized, maudlin mess – thereby negating anything it was trying to say. Thankfully, it did not do so, which is a credit to both the author and the translator. It is an engrossing read, with heart and spirit and warmth. It is also a horrifying read, one that shows the worst of humanity while highlighting the best. Having said that – it can be quite dark. There were truly awful ways to die in the camps, and not all of them by stepping into “a shower”. Definitely more for the Young Adult audience, unless you know you have a reader mature enough to handle the themes. Regardless of age, *absolutely* a book to talk about with your readers after they have finished it. As with us all, much of life is about the choices that we make – for good or ill – and that shines through here.

This book is about a librarian – a young, teenage girl who does what she can to preserve knowledge while stuck in one of the worst places ever to have been created by man. A girl who sees the best and the worst of humanity, all in the same place. It’s also about all of us, and whether we have the courage to step up when hate comes calling.

For more information on Dita Kraus, please visit https://www.ditakraus.com/

#FeelGoodFriday

It’s been a year this week, hasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted – and I’m getting ready to head home for the funeral of my Grandma Rose (https://stillmorewords.com/2020/01/27/grandma-rose/). That will be emotionally draining, for so many different reasons. So, for the foreseeable future, I’m designating Friday as #FeelGoodFriday to give us all something happy. Mental breaks are healthy, and giggling like a fool or making heart-eyes at the screen isn’t terrible either. 😉

First up – this friendship is straight out of Disney. Except that it’s apparently fairly common. That little dance is absolutely saying, “Hurry up, fren! We gots things to do!”.

Anyone yelling that kids these days are terrible is probably old and cranky, and hasn’t met these kids. *Tear-jerker alert*

And this guy, well…he’s stolen my heart. I thought it was the sweetest thing when he made the “snow” angel after the Superbowl, but this – this tops that in SPADES. You, sir, have permission to sing the Toy Story “Friend In Me” theme song FOREVER.

BETTER THAN DISNEY WORLD!

So, there are 3 fabulous stories meant to make you smile. It can be hard sometimes, but do try to find the positive in life when you can. And the harder it seems, the more important it is to do. And that makes me wonder – what made YOU smile this week? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Have a great weekend, and as Ellen says – Be Kind To One Another. Because right now, it’s more important than ever. ❤

Baffling Book B.S.

Do you ever just look at something, and KNOW that it’s just jacked all the way up? I mean, not talking about politics? Because shock and awe is how I’m feeling right now, and it’s not the good kind. How many of y’all saw this:

My first thought was along the lines of, “Huh. That’s kinda cool.”. THEN I READ FURTHER. And I have no words to describe the idiocy that is this idea. THIS IS NOT HOW INCLUSIVENESS WORKS, PEOPLE. You don’t take a bunch of books and just slap new covers on them with POC to make them *seem* inclusive. That’s like slapping a band-aid on a GAPING CHEST WOUND, ffs. It ain’t gonna work, and you look like a damn fool for even thinking it might.

This particular move strikes me as so incredibly tone-deaf, what with all the chaos about the RWA (Romance Writers of America) and their issues, and about American Dirt and its issues…basically, you’d *think* that those making these sorts of decisions would think carefully and thoughtfully about whatever moves they make at the moment. Instead, B&N apparently went out, got drunk, played some shitty pool, and threw a random dart at a board labeled “How to be more inclusive”. Obviously, they missed the board and came up with this dumbass idea instead.

Guys, being inclusive in the book world means hiring outside the white, hetero box. It means finding authors who are able to write #ownvoice titles, and putting the weight of your time and energy behind them. It means reading titles by POC and others, and making sure they are represented on bookstore shelves. It means helping customers find those titles. IT DOES NOT MEAN SLAPPING NEW COVERS ON OLD BOOKS AND CALLING IT A DAY.

Same, girl. Same.

We all need to start doing better. And we start by listening, and by learning. I know I’m trying, so I suppose the best I can hope for is that this can be a learning opportunity for not only B&N, but for everyone in the book world (including readers). Inclusiveness – and the lack thereof – is a real problem. This kind of thing is NOT how that problem gets resolved. Honest conversations, true effort, and a willingness to change is how that happens. #DoTheWork