YA Books That Made My Year (even if they didn’t come out in 2018, although a bunch of ’em did)

You know that feeling when you finish a book and you loved it so much that it almost makes you sad it’s over and you basically want to turn back to page 1 and read it again IMMEDIATELY? Yeah, me too. I’ve read some seriously epic books this year, but here are just a few of my absolute favorites:

The Hate U Give

  I mean, obviously this is one of my favorite books this year. Who didn’t love this book? Starr is such a compelling character, faced with so much heartache and life-altering decisions. Thomas does a fantastic job of bringing the reader into the situation, and makes it easy for us to love the characters. It was impossible not to root for Starr from the very beginning, but as things started to escalate, I literally could not put the book down. This book is not only well written, but so important. Captivating and eye opening. (I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m dying to!)

 

 

 

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Truly blown away by Jeff Zentner’s beautiful writing. The story pulls you in from the very first page, and only gets better as the story unfolds and you get to know the characters. My heart truly broke for Carver Briggs.

 

 

Puddin’ 

This page-turner is all about love, acceptance and friendship, and is a great companion for Dumplin’ (which is out on Netflix in a couple of weeks — yay!).

 

 

 

 

Monday’s Not Coming

Could not put it down. Tiffany Jackson has written an incredibly haunting, delicate and painful book with Monday’s Not Coming. I’ll admit that the change in tense and time was a bit confusing for me at times, but I was so captivated by the characters and desperate to find out what was happening in this incredible story, narrated by Claudia, probably one of my favorite YA voices ever.

 

 

 

 

Dear Martin

If you loved The Hate U Give and you want to keep reading along the same lines, DEFINITELY read Nic Stone’s novel, Dear Martin. It’s a quick read, but really packs a punch. Ugh, just thinking about the ending is making my heart hurt all over again. Martin is a beautiful and thoughtful character, and his story is heartbreaking.

 

 

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda & The Upside of Unrequited

Becky Albertalli writes the best teen characters! I know Simon is not a new book, but I procrastinated and then devoured it! I had so much fun — not just watching this story unfold, but getting to know Simon and his little quirks and observations. So much angst! So many laughs! And the love story IS AMAZING. Sweet and perfect. So, of course, then I had to read more Becky Albertalli. The Upside of Unrequited may not be as perfect as Simon, but it is just as adorable, full of love and fun (and real) characters, and Albertalli’s signature way of making you wish they were your besties.

 

The Beauty That Remains

Ashley Woodfolk, I bow down to you! This book was beautiful. So poetic and stunning. My heart broke for the characters. I loved all 3 points of view, how each character speaks to the deceased. I loved watching them feel stuck, move forward, process their loss, their pain, watching them try to heal. Man, that was a sad book. But the writing was so on point and achingly beautiful that I never took a break from it.

 

 

Emergency Contact

I’ll admit these were some strange characters, and it took a while for them to grow on me. Ultimately, that was what was so great about them. They were a breath of fresh air, something you didn’t know you needed and then found yourself rooting for anyway.

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My Random Explanations For Scary Movies

Thanks to the mostly-brilliant  on Netflix and other spookiness like #Hereditary, I’ve been having some too-scared-to-sleep-moments lately and I decided to come up with some explanations for all the terrifying sh*t.

  1. The lady who can bend all the way backwards as she climbs the stairs … is probably a yoga instructor.
  2. The ghoul under the bed who is ready to grab my ankles when I get up to pee … just wants to give me a pedicure.
  3. The ghost on the ceiling … had some of that fizzy lifting drink from Will Wonka. She’s just trying to burp her way down to safety.
  4. That ominous music … is my new DJ neighbor, practicing a for a Halloween party.
  5. The little girl standing menacingly beside the bed … just needs a glass of water so she can get back to sleep.
  6. The ghost hovering in the corner won’t turn around or show his face because … he’s got embarrassing acne.
  7. The guy with the hacksaw chasing innocent teens across a field … is a landscape artist, looking for a garden to trim.

What else am I missing…?

 

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“A true mom’s work is never done.”

 

Just a picture of me, checking my daughter’s hair for lice. Using this headlamp is oddly rewarding (especially when the kids are, in fact, lice free!). Plus, my husband gets to make fun of me for looking like a dork. So … win win? #momlife #licefree

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Play Hooky With Your Kids Tomorrow!!!

 

I know, I know. We’re all super busy, but sometimes don’t you just want to slow it down? Y’know, hang out with your kids and, like, get to know their cute little selves a bit better? I do! So I wrote all about it on Real Simple. Check out the full article here.

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Let’s Celebrate Earth Day Every Day!

Earth Day happens on April 22nd, but we should really be pampering Mama Earth year round. I’ve got some fantastic tips and ideas for celebrating Earth Day every day. For instance, stop using plastic!!! Check out the full article at Real Simple.

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11 Secrets To Traveling With A Toddler (Without Losing Your Mind)

Let me be honest, I don’t look like one of those moms who has her act together at the airport. You know who I mean: That woman strutting through B terminal with a fresh blow-out, pulling a roller suitcase that works, while two well-behaved children walk swiftly behind her, each carrying his or her own Trunki without complaint. Yeah, I’m the frizzy-haired one in sneakers, yelling at my kids to hustle, like a farmer might herd cattle.

Here’s the thing, though. I may look like a train wreck, but I really do know my sh*t. Since having kids, we’ve traveled everywhere from Barbados to Great Britain, South Africa to Albuquerque. We’ve been on planes, ferries, cars, busses. That’s why I have a pretty good handle on how to travel with toddlers—without losing my mind. Have a look at some of these tried-and-tested tips, and see what’s worth incorporating into your next adventure.

Travel early, and remember the sleep schedule. You have probably experienced “the witching hour” with your toddler (if you haven’t, I’m jealous!). There are certain times of day when our kids turn into absolute nightmares—usually when they’re ready for a nap or bedtime. If you’re flying, get an early flight, and leave plenty of time to get to the airport. You’ll experience less traffic, fewer lines, and your kids will be “fresher” and hopefully won’t have any over-tired Exorcist-level meltdowns. Alternately, start your road trip when the kids are halfway to dreamland and let them sleep in the car.
Prepare for motion sickness. Whether or not your kids get carsick regularly, it’s best to be prepared for the possibility. Maybe you’ll be taking a few windy roads to get to your destination, or a choppy boat ride on the beach. My kids puke at the drop of a hat, so I always carry OTC motion sickness meds, no matter what.
Wrap new toys. I’m a big believer in wowing my kids with something new and shiny. Not only do they love the opportunity to unwrap a present, but then they’ve got something they’ve never seen before, which makes it all the more fun to play with. Doesn’t have to be anything crazy, simple stickers or a new book can be wrapped and are a great way to pass the time.
Pack snacks. Hi, have you met your kids? They like to eat. As a mom, I have learned to travel with a wide variety of snacks, in various compartments of the bag. Some healthy (for earlier in the trip) and a few junkier treats (for when you’re struggling through hour 11 of a 15-hour flight, and your kids are starting to become psychotic). Decant boxed snacks into plastic baggies, or get a large pill container to create a variety of portioned snacks—I like to think of this one as the Advent calendar snacking method.
Bring extra clothes. If it’s an overnight flight, car ride, or boat trip, pack a pair of PJs in your carry-on. Always bring extra undies (or pull-ups) for the recently potty-trained crowd. And, I hate to say it, but be prepared for the upchuck factor. If someone voms—on themselves, or most likely on you—you’ll want to avoid smelling like pizza puke for a seven-hour flight (#beenthere).
Load up on plastic bags. We’ve all got plastic grocery bags around the house, right? Use them to organize clothes in your suitcase, and then they can double as trash bags, diaper bags, or somewhere to stash wet bathing suits.
Skip the hotel and rent an apartment. Unless you’re planning on staying at an all-inclusive resort with all the bells and whistles, renting a house will save you money while also providing a more relaxed space, and allowing you to prepare food for your picky eater rather than suffering through fancy restaurant meals they won’t eat.
Don’t forget the apps. Whether you’re on a plane, at the beach, or visiting a museum in Rome, you’ll be glad you have an arsenal of trusty apps and games to keep your kids entertained. Apps can fend off meltdowns and keep the kids entertained while the grownups attempt to soak up a bit of the local culture.
Pack a first aid kit. There’s nothing worse than arriving at your destination and realizing your little one has a fever. Always pack a thermometer and children’s pain relievers, as well as the rest of the first aid staples in case of cuts and scrapes.
Don’t over-gear. If you’ve got all the baby gear, from carriers to strollers and travel cots, think about your destination before lugging it all to the airport. Going to the beach? A stroller might be too cumbersome for the sand. Planning on bringing a travel cot? Double check with your hotel or rental to see if they might be able to provide one. Believe me, you won’t be lacking for things to lug through the airport.
Prep for a good night’s sleep. Consider bringing blackout shades if it will be light at bedtime where you’re going. Also, you might try getting your toddler on a new sleep routine a few days before you head to a different time zone. That way, you’ll get more out of your vacation time.

**Originally posted on Momtastic.com**

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My Kids Are Totally Destroying My Spotify Cred

I used to pride myself on listening to the newest, hippest indie and electronic music. I’ll never forget the year my best friend and I went to SXSW, cramming a hundred bands into four fabulous days. It was amazing to be on the pulse, to see Bon Iver and the guys from Mumford & Sons before they became famous. Music has always been my lifeline. I get that itchy feeling if I’m in a quiet room with no music playing. I always know the right song for each mood, and I love it when date night includes a small music venue with a talented new DJ or one of my favorite rock bands. For years I’ve curated my musical tastes to be exactly how I like them, to represent every part of my personality.

… And then I had children. At first, my Spotify app became dappled with lullabies and Mozart for Babies. As my daughter grew older, I threw in a little Laurie Berkner and Anna Banana Band. From an early age, we’d indulge in some pop music, too. I’d play her the classics I’d grown up with—a little Mariah, some Ace of Base or TLC—but then it was always back to listening to music on my terms. Stuff like Bowie or Gold Panda.

I was still in control—of my Spotify, my stereo, my ears. It wasn’t until my daughter went to kindergarten that things really started to change. I’ll never forget the day. Trixie came home from school with a friend, the two of them singing and dancing. And then it happened. When I was least expecting it, they asked me to play “Timber,” by Ke$ha and Pitbull. It was like that scene from Psycho when Anthony Perkins pulls the shower curtain on Janet Leigh and starts stabbing her, except, instead of a knife, I was being slowly bludgeoned by my daughter’s crappy taste in music.

I mean … Timber. Where do I even begin? Is it the line, “She says she won’t, but I think she will,” or maybe the one about Miley Cyrus twerking in her bra and thong? There are so many gems, it’s hard to keep track. Honestly, I don’t think my daughter has a freaking clue about Pitbull’s gagworthy intentions in this song, but it’s pretty damn nasty. You may be wondering: Why don’t you listen to the Kidz Bop version? Y’know, the version where they replace Pitbull’s lecherous twang with a bunch of wholesome pre-teens repeating the only non-offensive part of the song (the chorus) over and over again. I mean, who wouldn’t want to subject themselves to opt for that?

Yeah, no.

But, we have. Oh yes, we have listened to Kidz Bop. I have succumbed to those sassy, untalented, soul-and-sound-sucking demons. Maybe I’m a bad mom (don’t answer that), but I also have musical standards, and even if Pitbull and Ke$ha promote an unsavory message, Kidz Bop might actually be the devil.

Eventually, I had to put my foot down and give Kidz Bop the ax. Mostly, I have trained my daughter to overlook the bad words so that we can listen to the original songs. They’re still pop songs, still fluff. But it’s worth it, even if I do catch her saying, “You PMS like a bitch,” (thanks, Katy Perry), or “I got passion in my pants and I ain’t afraid to show it,” (h/t LMFAO). It’s still better than hearing my daughter mimic ridiculous lyrics like, “Here’s my cup, put some water in it.” Liquor, it’s supposed to be liquor! Amirite, Bruno?

Kidz Bop is mostly out of our lives now, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still listen to more cheesy pop music than I’d ever anticipated, past the tenth grade. It’s like, somehow I created this world where my Spotify Daily Mixes consist of Taylor Swift and Shawn Mendez. Who the hell is Shawn Mendez anyway, and why does he need stitches? Because his girlfriend won’t kiss him? Move on, dude!

The fact that I even know who these people even are is a bad sign. I’m losing my grip, my cred. Instead of being up-to-date on bands and new sub-genres, now I know when Selena Gomez has a new single out. I know the damn music from Disney’s Descendants, for f*ck’s sake! In one way, I feel like a failure as a human being. But, in another, I feel like I’m bonding with my kids in one of the best ways ever. We sing together; we perform; we emote. Less and less am I in the front row at small concerts, not-dancing with the other hipsters, but now I’m learning some pretty sick Beyoncé move in my living room, thanks to “Just Dance.”

The reality (my reality), is that I can’t be a music geek forever. I’m too old for that sh*t. I’ll always be into music, and I’ll still seek out indie playlists and peruse local concert listings, but it feels kind of relaxing to not work as hard at it. Like I’m passing on the gauntlet. It’s time for my kids to be in charge. Even if that means listening to Kidz Bop—JK! Anything but that.

[Originally posted on Momtastic.com]

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I Want To Be An Activist, But My Kids Are Holding Me Back

Ever since the presidential election last fall I’ve been outraged, depressed, terrified, and wanting to get more involved. I regret that I didn’t volunteer to call undecided voters or put up posters in 2016, but would it have made a difference if I had? I don’t know. What I do know is that the world sucks and I constantly feel that I should be doing more to help make it better.

Right now, I’m wearing my Moms Demand Action sweatshirt. Sometimes my husband jokes about it, that it gives us an excuse to make out, but (and you probably already know this), underneath the line Moms Demand Action, it says For Gun Sense In America. I bought the sweatshirt when it was advertised in an email from Everytown For Gun Safety. I’ve also got the Nasty Woman t-shirt benefiting Planned Parenthood, She Persisted stickers from NARAL Pro-Choice America, and a tote bag from Earthjustice, among other merch. My email and Facebook accounts are drowning in updates from congress reps and news organizations and liberal non-profits.

You got a petition? I’ll sign it. And I’ll forward it to my friends.

But sometimes that’s all I can do. Why? Because #MomLife. Maybe it’s a crappy excuse, but while this country is maybe/maybe not going to war with North Korea and some stodgy old men in DC are trying to take away my fundamental womanly rights, I’m fishing a Lego-sized booger out of my son’s nose. I’m checking reading logs and math homework, sewing holes in tights, folding laundry, potty training, cooking, crafting, combing for head lice — the list goes on. It’s hard AF being a mom and a human, and when you add concerned citizen to the mix, it gets even harder.

Every time I get an alert or an invitation to a rally or a march, it coincides with taking my son to the dermatologist or my daughter to the ENT. The vigil I would so passionately like to attend? It starts right at bedtime, and my husband’s working late and I can’t find a sitter. Depending on the issue, maybe I don’t think it would be safe to schlep my kids to a protest, and the one thing I don’t ever want to do is put my kids in danger.

Even if the protest happens to be on a weekend, my kids don’t want to spend their Saturday doing that boring-a*s crap. They want to go to the park or ride bikes. They don’t want to stand completely still, two to three feet shorter than everyone else in a crowd of hundreds of people, listening to local members of congress scream through tinny megaphones about stuff they’re too young to understand. Not that I don’t try, sometimes. We’ll show up at rallies and I’ll have a backpack full of snacks — every crunchy treat I can find in the house, plus emergency chocolate. I make sure my phone is fully charged so they can quietly play games or watch videos while we’re standing there. We’ll cheer, we’ll applaud. After a while, when the wriggling and whining begin to distract the people around us, we’ll decide to pack it in.

I try to make it real for them, explaining what we’re there to support or oppose, but it isn’t easy or even remotely comfortable to define white supremacy or sexual harassment to young kids. It sucks.

And that’s where I’m at, stuck in a cycle of guilt and bursts of involvement followed by distractions and avoidance. I do my best. For me, that means donating money whenever I can, however small the amount. It means wearing my Mom’s Demand Action sweatshirt and signing every petition that comes my way. It means having my senators and congress people’s phone numbers in my phone and calling them when I can. Maybe on speaker phone while I’m folding laundry, or when I’m walking to the school bus stop. It always makes me a little self conscious, folding Paw Patrol undies while thanking Senator Gillibrand for doing everything in her power to reject Trump’s tax reform plan and asking her to keep fighting for the rights of immigrants and women, but she can’t see the undies or the blush on my cheeks, and hopefully the calls occasionally mean something.

Maybe I’ll never be the activist I really want to be (although I know some moms who are doing it all, and to them I say THANK YOU!), but I’ll keep trying. Because even if my kids are holding me back, sometimes they’re the only thing keeping me going.

**Originally posted on Momtastic.com**

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I Can’t Deal With The Swearing Rules That Kids Have

I could see it in her eyes right away. When I picked my 6-year-old daughter up from school, she looked upset. The drama had happened that morning, on the bus ride to school, and it took nearly half the walk home for me to pry it out of her. Apparently, she had used a bad word on the bus when talking to her friends, and a third grade boy had made it into a big deal, chanting “Ooooh, she said a bad word!” Even retelling the story, I could see the way my daughter squirmed, how humiliated this experience had made her feel. If there’s one thing I know about my daughter, it is that she is insanely sensitive and hates being told off (I mean, who doesn’t?!)

“What did you say?” I asked. “What was the bad word?”

Naturally, I prepared myself for an F-bomb, but she got very quiet and said, “Hell.”

Now, it’s no secret that I enjoy swearing, and I have no problem with allowing bad words to be spoken in our home. The rule is, we don’t swear outside of the house, and don’t use bad words around friends, relatives, or teachers. …But … hell? That was the bad word some a*shole third grader had lorded over my weepy first grader?

“Huh, so ‘hell’ is that bad?” I mused as we strolled down the block. Maybe it’s because I’m an athiest or the fact that I swear enough to have become immune to such a bland, commonplace word, but I honestly couldn’t believe it. So I probed further. “But … how did you say it? Like, give me the context.”

She shook her head, too ashamed to elaborate. I gave some examples. “Did you say, ‘How the hell are ya?!’ to one of your friends like an old-timey newspaper reporter? Or was it more like, ‘It’s hot as hell today!’ or something actually negative like, ‘Go to hell.’?’”

Again, she wouldn’t answer, but I know my daughter and, like most 6-year-olds, she would never tell someone to go to hell. It’s mean, which I get. What I don’t get is the actual bad words themselves. I mean, I can’t keep up with it! Swear words for kids include stuff like “shut up” and “jerk” — words I try to use in order to stop myself from saying actual bad words. Jerk sounds pretty PG, if you ask me. And it wasn’t until I was trying to cram one more towel in the “stupid” washing machine that I learned that was on the no-no list, too. Yes, “stupid” is a bad word. Even when you’re talking about a f*cking towel.

I understand that kids need to have limits, and raising them to be respectful, well-mannered, clean-mouthed young people is important and may lead to a better future. But I also think it’s way too easy to create a mountain out of a mole hill and make banal words seem like weapons. Especially when some suck-ass, lame word like “hell” makes my daughter the subject of a third grader’s ridicule, driving her to tears on the school bus. In fact, she was so upset about being heckled that she was still in tears when she got to school, too embarrassed to admit to her teachers what a horrible crime she had committed (even though they later reassured her that she was not in trouble).

Seeing how seriously my daughter took it, though, all I wanted was to make her feel better. It took a lot for her to admit what she’d done, and I was proud of her for that — not to mention pissed at the kid who’d totally blown it out of proportion. I did my best to explain to her that she’d done nothing wrong, and reminded her that there is a time and place for cursing. I told her the third grade boy was probably being a bit of a show off and that she should forget about it, but I could tell the humiliation was still eating away at her. So I took a different approach. A much more “me” approach.

“You know what?” I said with a shrug.

“What?”

“…Fuck ’em.”

Finally, she smiled.

[Originally posted on Momtastic.com]

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How I’m Talking To My Daughter About Kissing (Earlier Than I Thought I’d Have To)

My 5-year-old daughter is married. It was a pretty rushed engagement — school was only about a week or two in when I heard the news. Needless to say, I was surprised. Five, and married – who is the boy?! My husband and I started to joke that they’d move out and find their own apartment, wondering when they’d hit Tiffany for wedding bands. Obviously a kindergarten union is a harmless affair, but I couldn’t help thinking: What happens in a kindergarten marriage? I’ve seen them hug like frantic monkeys beside the bus stop. They chase each other up and down the block every morning. I even heard that my new son-in-law kissed my daughter’s hand once; this info came from a third party and my daughter denied it, because kissing is not allowed. That is not my rule, BTW. It is a School Rule. Not that it’s a bad rule but, to be honest, I’ve been so consumed with keeping my picky kids fed and bathed and stimulated and alive (etc, etc, etc), that somehow I forgot to prepare myself for kissing.

But it’s a thing. They’re 5-years-old, but it’s happening. Recently, I was catching up with an old friend who practically turned pink when she confided to our small group of moms that her precocious, sunny daughter had been caught kissing at school — a few too many times (with a few too many boys). When she said it, I laughed. I thought I was supposed to. I mean, they’re 5! But it turned out that several moms had concern about the kissing epidemic. It’s totally possible that I’m a slacker and completely biased because my daughter has always been so shy. It’s only now — in kindergarten — that she finally seems to be opening up and happily hugging her friends. For as long as I can remember we’ve encouraged our kids to hug at the end of a playdate. As toddlers, if they gave one another a peck on the cheek we’d ooh and aah and whip out our cameras. So why is it suddenly taboo?

Maybe the answer — much to my horror — is that our little kids are starting to grow up. My husband stopped letting our daughter hop into the bath with him the day she wouldn’t quit asking about his penis. I mean, it’s normal. Being curious is normal. But maybe as parents it is our job to interfere a bit more.

So, how am I supposed to talk to my daughter about kissing? Here are a few ideas, though I’m always open to more.

1. Keep it in the family. Several friends have mentioned the idea of reminding your child whom kisses are for. Kisses are a way to express love, and should be saved for family members only. Mollie Grow, MD, a pediatrician with Seattle Children’s Hospital, agrees. “If there were a party line it would be: Only with family and only when you choose/feel comfortable with a kiss.”

2. Make kissing in school prohibited. Chances are, your child’s school already has a “no kissing” policy. Just let your kids know you support this rule, even if it means they take it to heart and refuse to give mommy kisses at drop off!

3. Take the scientific approach. “Louis Pasteur established a germ theory by the late 19th century…” As my BFF suggested, going into a lengthy scientific explanation is sure to bore the idea of kissing right out of them. In all seriousness though, no kissing means less germs and therefor less colds — something to consider!

4. Discuss cultural traditions. For a more nuanced discussion, Dr. Grow suggests talking with your kids about different cultures around kissing, “like for greeting people,” she says. We all know about the French double-cheek peck; can your come up with any other cultural references?

5. Explain why we set limitations. Not everybody wants to be touched all the time. Look at who you’re kissing: Do they look like they want to be kissed? It’s important to be able to tell. As a good friend told me: Although kissing is something people do to show love, we only show love with actions when we have permission.

6. Open up the conversation. Dr. Grow suggests asking your child what they think. “Ask them: What are other ways to show affection to people we care about?”

7. Wait for the phase to pass. As my sister-in-law pointed out, her kids (ages 9, 12, and 15) find kissing hugely embarrassing. It’s true, I remember getting totally icked-out when my parents kissed in front of me as a kid, and when I saw people kissing on TV. For big kids, kissing is often disgusting.

8. Prepare for the phase to return. Chances are, my 15-year-old nephew won’t find kissing yucky forever, and that’s what my sister-in-law — and moms across the globe — will have to face next. God help us all!

[Originally posted on Momtastic.com]

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