Monday, August 21, 2017

The Ella Chronicles: 26 Hours With an Infant


About a month ago, JC and I were commissioned to watch my baby niece Ella, while my sister and BIL went down to the Cape to celebrate their one-year anniversary. Despite the fact that I had laughed when my sister got pregnant, saying to her and my BIL, "Don't ever expect me to babysit," I was thrilled when she asked me to do so. I love Ella to pieces, and was excited by the prospect of having a full day with her.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those people who so arrogantly thinks, "How hard could it be?" when it comes to spending time with an infant. I'm well aware of the responsibility and the neediness of children this small; this is one of the (many) reasons I was never sold on having one of my own. I like my sleep. I like my free time. I like a quiet atmosphere. I'm selfish. Babies mess all of this up. Plus, my own mother was a stay at home mom, and despite the fact that my sister and I were both relatively good children -- we remember reducing our mother to exhausted, exasperated tears on more than one occasion. I knew babysitting for a day would be work.

But, on Saturday morning, at 10 AM, JC and I showed up at my sister and BIL's house. "We're reporting for duty!" we exclaimed, and tromped into the house. My sister came to the door with Ella asleep in her arms. She walked us through the house, showing us where everything was, briefly explaining Ella's routine, and giving us some tips for the day. When she finished, my BIL asked, "Do you guys have any questions?"

"I don't think so," I said. "We've never babysat a baby before. We wouldn't even know what to ask."

"You can text us with whatever you need," my sister said. "Ready to take little nugget?" She started to hold Ella out to me. Ella was still sleeping.

"Should we put her in her crib?" I asked. My sister snorted. "She's not going in there," she said. She held her out to me again and I took her. Ella woke up for a moment, looked around, then then put her head on my shoulder. I tried not to swoon.

"Okay," my sister and BIL said and slowly walked to the door. "We're leaving now." They stood in the doorway. They looked at us. They did not leave.

"Okay, have fun!" JC and I said.

"Okay, we will! Thanks for watching her!" they said. They continued to stand there.

"Sorry, this is just weird for me," my sister said. She pantomimed picking up the baby carrier. "I usually have both of my hands full."

We all laughed. Finally, my BIL opened the door and stepped out. My sister followed suit, but not without throwing a look back at the house. They slowly got into their car and drove off. JC and I walked over to the couch. At this point, Ella was starting to wake up. I sat down, and put her on my lap, facing us. We made faces at her. She made faces back at us. We smiled at her. She smiled back at us. We cooed at her. She cooed back at us. She gave us a huge, beautiful smile, and JC snapped a picture.

"Send that to L," I said. "They were having trouble leaving her."

"True," JC said, and texted the picture to my sister.

"Awwwwww, my sweet baby!" my sister responded.

"Everything's going to be fine," JC said, and it was -- for the next 30 seconds.

We've got this, right?

*****

10:15 AM.
 Ella's smile turns to a grimace, as she looks around the room and realizes her parents are not in it. Her adorable little face contorts into a look of horror, and she lets out a wail. 

"My sister said she didn't finish her bottle. She's probably hungry; it's right over there," I say, pointing to a bottle on a coffee table. JC fetches the bottle, and hands it to me. I put it into Ella's mouth, but she continues to scream, bubbling milk up and out of her mouth, down her chin. 

"Oh no I'm going to choke her," I say, and quickly remove the bottle from her mouth. JC grabs the burp rag and wipes off her little chin. I bounce with her around the room as she continues to cry.

10:30 AM.
 Ella is still sobbing, and JC is now holding her, walking around the room with her. He walks with her over to the window AC unit and stands in front of it. Her crying starts to slow. "I think she was just hot," he says, as he fans the baby in front of the window. Her crying becomes a whimper. 

I start trying to blow up the children's pool I brought. "This is going to take forever," I say.

"I'll do it," JC says. "Take Ella." We trade.

11:00 AM. 
JC has blown up the pool, and the three of us go outside. Ella still has a sad little look on her face, but she's no longer crying. I'm holding her and rubbing her back. "I'll fill this up so the water warms by this afternoon," JC says, and begins filling the pool with water. I switch positions with Ella so that I can see her face, and watch her face start to turn to what we so affectionately know as "fussy face." 

"Oh no," I say, and sure enough, fussy face returns to wailing. I lift her up and smell her bum the way I've seen my sister and BIL do. Nothing. "Maybe she's hungry now," JC suggests, and we bring her back inside, trying to give her the bottle again. Again, she spits milk at us as she screams. I bounce her around the house to no avail. I bring her over to the AC unit, but she continues to cry. 

Her poor little body is hot now, and her face is bright red. My heart is breaking, because I love my niece, I don't know how to help her, and her sad little expression just kills me. I want to cry, too. 

11:30 AM. 
Ella is still crying off and on. Mostly on. JC and I are taking turns holding her and bouncing her around, and every now and then she stops crying for a second. However, the reprieves are much shorter than the periods of wailing. 

"She hates us," I say, distraught. 

"She misses L and J," JC says. 

"I love her so much, I want her to feel better," I say.

"I know," JC says, "It's okay. She's crying, but she's okay."

11:45 AM.
 Ella is still wailing. JC is holding her. "Can you check her body for me? Like her arms and legs. Give them a once-over."

"What's wrong with her arms and legs?!" I ask, my voice raising in panic.

"I don't think anything," JC says, "But let's make sure there's nothing obvious we're missing here. No cuts, or scrapes, or bug bites that might be bothering her." I check; there's nothing. "Okay, that's good," JC says. He hands the baby to me as his phone buzzes. It's a message from my sister.

"How's baby?" she asks. JC and I look at one another.

"Are we going to be honest?" I ask, "Or..." 

"She's great!" JC types into his phone. After a second, he adds a smiley face and hits send. 

"Oh good!" my sister responds. 

"Ella is fine," JC says to me. "We don't need them worrying about her on their day at the Cape." This seems reasonable. If something really was wrong, we'd tell them, but rationally we both know nothing is really wrong. As if on cue, Ella lets out an extremely high-pitched scream. 

JC takes her from me, and I make a fresh bottle as she wails. I hand the bottle to him and he puts it into her mouth. She takes it, and starts drinking from it as though she's never been fed a day in her life. The wailing slows to weeping, to whimpering, to sniffles. It stops. She gulps her food. JC and I look at one another with bewilderment, but we're happy.

12:01 PM.
 My dad texts me.



"My parents are on their way," I tell JC, excitedly.

"Okay great!" he says, matching my enthusiasm.

"And your parents will be over at 1:30!" I say.

"That's true!" he says. We both look out the window longingly. Ella finishes her bottle. We burp her, and she cuddles into my shoulder for a minute. It's blissful. Then, she remembers her parents aren't home, and begins to cry again. Again, I try bouncing her around the house. She's not having it.

WHEREARETHEY WHEREARETHEY WHEREARETHEY!?!?!? she seems to be saying to us. YOUARENOTMYMOM! YOUARENOTMYDAD! 

12:45 PM.
 Ella is weeping. We hear a car pull up. My parents get out of their truck.

"My parents are here!" I say, leaping off of the couch. They come into the house. My dad walks in with their new puppy. My mom comes in and says in a perfect grandmother voice, "I hear someone is being fussy!" JC hands Ella to my mother. She stops crying. My mom takes Ella into her bedroom and closes the door. JC and I collapse onto the couch. My dad looks at us, and laughs.

1:30 PM.
 JC's parents have arrived, and everyone is gathered in the backyard. JC's mother is holding Ella. 

Sidebar: My niece is an extremely serious child. She treats smiling like it's a scientific experiment. Now, when I curve my lips upwards, just so, people throw parties for me, and insist that I'm the best thing they've ever seen. Why is this? Must do more research.

She's sitting on JC's mother's lap, smiling. "You're just the most beautiful little thing," JC's mother tells her. She gives his mother her lopsided smile: the one where half of her face participates, and the other half lags behind. It's adorable. Everyone loves it. JC's mother is no exception. "Oh my goodness, just look at you!" she says. Ella coos.

"Do you want to hold her?" JC's mother asks JC's father.

"Sure!" he says, and puts Ella on his lap. She smiles at him.

2:45 PM.
 We've moved the group inside. Ella is back with her grandmother, and still seemingly content. She coos at her grandmother. She coos at her grandfather. She coos at JC's parents. She turns her little head on a swivel and looks at JC and me. She stops smiling. 

"She's glaring at us!" I exclaim. "Did you see that?!" I ask JC.

"I saw it!" he says.

"No she's not!" the parents proclaim in unison. They laugh at us. JC and I exchange glances. We know what we saw.

4:00 PM.
 JC's parents have left, but my parents are still there. "Let's get this baby in the pool," my dad says. JC and I take her into her room to put her into her little swimsuit (which looks more to me like something a woman would wear in a conservative place, like Saudi Arabia), and her little sun-shielding bucket hat.

"I may be a waterbaby, but you can't make me have a good time."
We climb into the pool and sit her in it with us. She splashes around, clearly loving it, but scowling, as if to say, "You can't make me have fun without my mom and dad." We oooh and ahhhh over how adorable she is -- because she just is the cutest thing ever -- and then we take her into the house and put her into her pajamas.

She can scowl all she wants, but luckily, still frame video footage shows the truth. 

6:30 PM. 
We've eaten dinner, and my parents are starting to pack their things. Ella is sitting on my dad's lap. "Are you guys mentally ready to take her back?" he asks us.
"Mimi, don't leave me with those two."

"No but for real, Papa, don't leave me with those two."

"She hates us," I say.

"She does not!" my mom says.

"Stop saying that," my dad says. 

He hands her to me. They bid us goodbye and leave. 

6:40 PM.
 Ella has not begun to cry since the adults with experience have left, and we count our blessings.

"Should we put her into her bedtime diaper?" JC asks.

"Yes but like... she's not crying right now," I say.

"Let's wait," JC says, and reads her a story.

She starts to fuss, so we take advantage of this to put her into her bedtime diaper, and her sleep-sack, which makes her look like an adorable little caterpillar in a cocoon. She falls asleep.

7:00 PM.
 She's still asleep. But this is bad. My sister's instructions clearly state that we are supposed to give her a bedtime bottle, read her four stories, rock with her in the chair, and that she will fall asleep at 8:30. It's too early. She can't be asleep yet.

JC stands up and wiggles his arms a little bit. She doesn't wake. He wanders around the house. She snores on his shoulder.

"I think we just need to put her to bed," he says. 

We do. But we know, we just know, she's going to wake up hungry -- and soon -- so we make her a bottle anyway, and wait.

7:15 PM.
 Ella is in her crib, in her room, with the door shut. We are sitting on the couch in a daze. The monitor is next to us on an end table. 

"How do we know this thing is working?" I ask JC.

"It's working," he says.

"But how do we know?" I insist. "I don't hear anything."

"It's fine," JC says.

"I don't trust it," I say. I stand up. "I'm going to go talk into the one in her room. You tell me if you can hear me out here."

"Okay," JC says, and takes the monitor, putting it near his ear.

I start to walk to Ella's room, but turn back. "When I talk to you, do not respond into the monitor," I say.

"I won't," he says.

I tiptoe into Ella's room and walk over to her monitor. I pick it up. "Hello hello can you hear me?" I say. I put the monitor down, and tiptoe back out of her room. 

"I could hear you so clearly," JC says. 

"Okay good," I say. We resume a stunned silence.

"Let's go lie down," JC says. 

We do. Ella wakes up and cries.

8:00 PM.
 Ella has eaten her last meal for the night, and is sobbing as JC holds her and rubs her back. We sing to her. She cries. We try to read her a book, but she has no current use for literature.

"Do you want me to take her?" I ask JC. 

"No, it's okay," he says, though his face says otherwise. He bounces her around. She cries. He sighs. I grab her from his arms and start patting her back. "Shhhh... shhhhh..." I say. I'm doing literally the same thing JC was a minute ago, but her wailing turns to a soft weeping... to a whimper... to a sniffle... and then she's snoring in my arms.

"Good work babe!" JC says beaming at me. I'm holding Ella, leaning back a little too far. I'm going to need a much stronger core if I ever plan to be a mother, I think to myself. I hold her and rub her back for a little while longer, and then slowly make my way to her crib. 

Slowly, slowly, I put her in the crib. I take a step back. Her eyes open, and she screams. I snatch her back up and start rubbing her back again. "Shhhhh... shhhh..." I say. The wailing becomes a weep, becomes a whimper, becomes a sniffle, becomes a soft snore.

I sit in the rocking chair and rock with her for a bit.

"Do you think I can put her in the crib yet?" I ask JC.

"Ummmm... maybe wait," JC says. I do. 

Finally, I determine it's been long enough, and slowly stand and walk to the crib. I start to put her into it, but this time put my entire upper body into the crib with her. I lean forward as slowly as I can, leaning into the crib as much as I can. I lower her to the bed, but keep my torso pressed against her body. She stirs, but she doesn't wake. Slowly, I move my arms out to the side - like I'm a bird getting ready to fly, but still keeping my upper body pressed against her. She doesn't move. I lift myself slowly off of her. Still asleep. I stand up straight and watch. Still asleep. I take a step back. Still asleep.

I turn to JC -- who, at this point is lying on his back on the floor -- and gesture that we need to leave. He stands up, and we walk out of the room. Ella's room is the creakiest room in the world, but luckily, she doesn't wake up.

We go to bed by 8:40 PM.

2:26 AM. 
My eyes snap open and I'm wide awake. What woke me up? Was it the baby? I look at the monitor. It's silent. It wasn't her. 

Good, I think. She's still asleep. She's so quiet. But...why is she being so quiet? L says she makes a lot of noise in her sleep. Why isn't she making noise? She's supposed to be making noise. The monitor is working -- we checked it -- so it's not a monitor malfunction. Why is she being so quiet?! She should be making noises. You have to breathe to make noise. OH MY GOD. WHAT IF SHE ISN'T BREATHING. OH MY GOD. SHE'S NOT BREATHING. OH MY GOD. THE LITTLE BABY ISN'T BREATHING. OH MY GOD ELLA OH NO!

I fly out of the bed and go stampeding down the hallway. I burst into Ella's room and stop, letting my eyes adjust in the darkness. I walk over to her crib and look in. She's wiggling around in her little sleep sack. She looks like she's doing a little dance. But she's moving. She's snoring softly. You have to be breathing to snore. She's breathing. I let my heart rate slow to an acceptable pace, and watch her snore. When I feel calm enough to leave the side of the crib, I tiptoe back out of the room, shut the door, and head back to bed. I fall into a fitful sleep, waking up at least once each hour.

6:40 AM.
 Ella is cooing quietly in her crib. We can hear her through the monitor. I get up to make her a bottle, as JC goes into her room to pick her up. She gives him a delighted look, like Oh wow! You're still here! Good work -- you passed my test! He takes her out of her sleep sack, and cuddles her. I hand him the bottle and he feeds her. We put her on her bedroom floor, as we know my sister often does, and watch her as she wiggles around.

My sister and BIL have an infant that sleeps for 10 solid hours. How in the hell did they get so lucky? I can only pray that my future is as bright.

JC says, "I really could go for an iced coffee. You want one?" 

"Yes please," I say. 

He hesitates. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah, it's fine," I say, as Ella gives us her little lopsided smile. 

"Okay," he says, "I'll have my cell phone." He leaves to get us iced coffees.

I pick Ella up and change her diaper, which she lets me do without a fuss. I put her into a fresh onesie, which she also seems fine with. Who is this baby?

I bring her out into the living room and lay her on her little mat. She rolls around on the mat, batting at the mobile above her head, cooing gibberish contentedly the whole time. She does this for a solid 40 minutes.

7:30 AM.
 Baby starts to fuss, so we give her another bottle, and she falls asleep on JC's shoulder. My sister and BIL will be home in a couple of hours, and we've finally learned some tricks.


8:30 AM.
 Ella is back on her little mat on the floor, playing happily again. She starts to fuss, so I put her in my lap and make faces at her. I play "Snapchat Baby." She smiles at me.



9:30 AM.
 Ella falls asleep on my shoulder. I scooch my body so I can lie down too. She doesn't wake up. We take a quick nap.

When a baby falls asleep on you, that's the position you're stuck in.

10:15 AM.
 Ella becomes fussy face again. We feed her again. We change her diaper. She goes back to smiling and cooing.

"Aunt M, you look exhausted, but don't I look so cute?"

"Okay, let me tell y'all a story about everything you did wrong yesterday."
11:10 AM.
 Ella is beginning to fuss for real. We try to feed her a bottle, but she's uninterested. The door flies open and my sister and BIL come inside. "Hi Baby!!" my BIL exclaims. JC hands her to him, and she settles down. I hand him the bottle I just made, and he puts it in her mouth. Now she's ready to eat.

"It sounds like staying at home would be fun," I say to my sister, "But clearly, you can never actually get anything done with that little one and her needs."

She lets out a snort, and nods. "I know," she says, looking pointedly at her husband.


We're exhausted, but everyone survived. Success.

12:30 PM.
 I'm driving JC home, and I'm heading through an intersection I'm unfamiliar with. The lines on the road look odd to me, and I'm confused. I pull into the wrong lane, and I'm face-to-face with oncoming traffic. I pull back into the correct lane. No one honks; everything is fine.

The fact that I was in the wrong lane, for even a second, upsets me deeply, and I can't get past it. I can feel it building in my chest. I can't stop it. "I can't," I say. 

"You're okay," JC says. "Everything is okay."

"I can't," I say again, my voice growing shrill. 

"Everything is fine babe," JC says soothingly.

"I can't," I say one last time, my voice on the edge of hysteria now. I start to sob. I wail. 

"Okay sweetheart, it's okay," JC says. "Pull over into this parking lot and let's take a break." I pull into the parking lot, and shut the car off. I throw my head against my steering wheel and wail-scream. "I'm! So! Tireeeeeeeeeeeeeeddddddddd!" I sob.

"Shhhhh.... shhhhh...." JC says, rubbing my back. "You're okay, everything is okay." He continues to rub my back, much like he did for my niece not even an hour prior. I continue to sob. My wailing turns to a weep. To a whimper. To a sniffle. I stop crying. 

I totally get it now, Ella I think to myself. One minute everything is fine... until it isn't. My reaction was swift and uncontrollable. I'm exhausted. I've never related to an infant more. 

I drop off JC, make it home without incident, fall up the stairs to my room, onto my bed, and pass out.

6:30 PM. 
I wake up confused. Is Ella okay? I remember she's with her parents now, so of course she's okay.

I roll over and grab my phone and text my sister.

"How's little baby doing?" I ask her. "I miss her soooooo much."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

An Open Letter to Anyone Mad at Colin Kaepernick

Everyone remembers Colin Kaepernick, the African American quarterback taking a knee during the national anthem, refusing to salute the flag. This was a big deal to a lot of people. Many people sided with him, joining in his protest. Many railed against him, upset with his action. Some were so mad that the NFL allowed him to kneel, that they boycotted football. I, personally didn't care.

It wasn't a debate I was interested in. I saw and understood both sides, and while I could see how some people deemed it disrespectful to those who fought for his rights in this country, I didn't truly agree; those who fight for our country are fighting for freedom -- the freedom to express beliefs and stand up for the same -- and he was exercising those rights. Either way, I could see the point. But, football season is right around the corner, and I'm fairly certain that we will see many players -- of all colors -- sitting out the national anthem this season. 


Yesterday's abhorrent press conference still makes me sick to my stomach. In a convoluted tirade, trump refused to place blame on the KKK and neo-nazis for the disgraceful protest that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend. He tried to walk the tightrope in the middle of the argument -- but in the end, placed more blame for this disaster on the "alt-left" than on the white supremacists. He tried to say there were "good people on both sides" -- but no, there is no shred of "good" in the heart of a neo-nazi. He refused to call driving a car through a crowd and killing someone a terrorist attack -- which it IS, that's a fact -- and then tried to change the subject to jobs. trump is clearly mentally-inept; the entire conference was reminiscent of an interview I watched in high school psychology with Charles Manson in prison. Charles Manson is a schizophrenic who also suffers from Paranoid Delusional Disorder. And, that's who trump reminded me of. Spewing incohesive, rambling, nonsensical bullshit. It was incoherent at best, but racist and bigoted at its heart. It was so horrible that prominent members of the Republican party immediately, and very publicly blasted their candidate and distanced themselves as far from him in the eyes of the public as they could. One went so far as to say, "I think trump's stance will be the thing that unites us."




I read the transcripts of this press conference three times. First, I searched for logic and sense. I found none. Then, I searched for a shred of common, human decency in the president. I found nothing. If you didn't see the conference, the transcripts are available online. If you're still trying to find a way to defend this display, just check Twitter, where immediately after the press conference, david duke (former leader of the KKK), THANKED trump for the support.


We can say what we want about Saturday's nazi-rally. But, Black Lives Matter showed up, and those protesters were carrying clubs and bats. 
Yes, they did. Yes, they were. But, go outside of yourself for a minute and imagine being a minority in this country right now. The KKK is a group historically known for extreme violence against black people -- you know, lynchings, dragging people behind cars, lighting people on fire. Yes, BLM showed up, and yes, they were carrying clubs and bats. They needed to counter-protest these people. They needed to stand up for themselves. And they were probably terrified. Clubs and bats don't seem unreasonable to me, when I look at the historical context. Further, BLM wouldn't even exist, if it wasn't for groups like the KKK. Think about that.

But, the KKK was there to protest against the removal of a Confederate statue. They're just trying to protest the revision of history. 
Look. We can't revise history. It's literally impossible. What happened, happened -- and that's it. Hard stop. In fact, it's usually the south that tries to revise history -- they put a winning confederate spin on some of those civil war reenactments, when we all know the confederacy lost. But further, the confederate state was a traitorous one. It fought against the flag you're currently claiming to hold so dear. You literally cannot be patriotic to America, and a supporter of the confederacy. The two are mutually exclusive. That's just a fact. And, we don't need statues to remind of us history. There are no statues of Hitler in Germany, but I doubt they've forgotten they once had a leader who committed monstrous acts of genocide.

We cannot be mad about the bottom picture without being furious about the top.

Back to Kaepernick. At this point in time -- when the president of that flag and national anthem feels no obligation to denounce a group known for lynching black people -- I no longer think it's acceptable to be upset with Kaepernick for sitting it out; in fact, I'll likely do the same. We cannot be silent about what is happening any longer. Silence is complicity; we cannot accept racism and bigotry as the undercurrent of our country. Refusing to speak up and against this is the same as aligning yourself with racists. Silence empowers the tormentor, never the tormented. We cannot be mad at groups like Black Lives Matter without being equally as furious about groups like the KKK, which BLM rooted from. We cannot be angry with Kaepernick for sitting out the national anthem, without being enraged at the racism that caused it. There's no reason to boycott football because a player is kneeling during the national anthem, if we're not willing to boycott the bigotry that caused him to kneel. We cannot ask our football players to respect our country if we don't demand and insist that our president do the same. 

That's it.




Monday, August 14, 2017

Photo Challenge - Musical

Wooooooof. So, I've missed many weeks here, and I'm not even going to try to get caught up. I missed the following prompts: Swing or Twirl (I took literally no pictures that week) Silhouette (the week I was in Aruba) and Excitement (the week of JC's 30th birthday party).  

"Your niece is getting sick of you not posting on your blog," my sister told me. My niece is 2 months old and apparently very impatient.

Like I said, I'm not even going to try to get caught up, so I'm skipping straight up to this past week, in which the prompt was Musical. Ironically, I went to a musical this past weekend up in Vermont, so this prompt is truly appropriate for the week prior, but not only that, I'm dating an extremely musical human, so this prompt is kind of appropriate for my entire life.

Anyway, with further ado, the pictures for Musical.

We started the weekend with our drive to my parents' house -- singing in the car.

While waiting for the doors to open for the musical The Music Man, we took selfies.

This is the view from the Weston Playhouse; I took this picture while waiting to see the musical.

Unrelated to the musical, but still fitting of the prompt, are two pictures that I did not take.

This is Chessie. As of noon this afternoon (fingers crossed, hope to die), this pup will belong to my parents. She is a rescue from the foundation Save-a-Lab, and an extremely welcome addition to the family. Her homecoming is music to my ears.

This absolute picture of perfection is my chubster niece, in her ladybug dress. It's a long story, but in a nutshell, when my sister was a little kid (5? 6?) she found a (dead) ladybug in her room. Not understanding that it was dead, she put it on a piece of cotton (its bed), and walked around her room singing "Lady lady ladybug. Lady lady ladybug." (That's the song in its entirety). It's been a running joke now for 25 years. When she sent me this picture of my niece, the caption was, of course the lyrics from her original hit, "Lady lady ladybug."

There you have it! Musical. Enjoy your week!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Homegoing

by Yaa Gyasi

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.



*****

This book is truly a feat. The author, Yaa Gyasi -- born in Ghana and grown in Huntsville, Alabama -- is only 26 years-old, which makes this even more impressive to me, when I consider the maturity of most of the 26 year-olds that I know, and once was.

The novel encompasses some huge themes -- slavery, colonization, and family culture among them. The story begins in the 1700s, when the British were starting to arrive on the coast of Ghana, eager to buy and sell Ghanians into the new slave trade kicking up in America and the Caribbean islands. Ghanian villages had a hand in this. Many leaders made pacts and deals with the British, raiding enemy villages, kidnapping their enemies, and selling them to the British for their own cut of profits. 

I've read multiple reviews in which readers suggest that Gyasi is wrong for implicating the Ghanians in slavery at all; some felt that it undercuts the responsibility that the British and Americans have for enslaving Africans. However, I didn't feel that way. Slavery was (is) extremely nuanced, and Gyasi simply reported history. She also did so without any sort of bias towards anyone. Whatever her personal feelings are surrounding the sordid history of slavery, she kept them out of her story. This is not to say that her characters didn't have significant feelings one way or another -- they did. But, to write a novel like this without giving characters strong negative feelings would be disingenuous and unbelievable.

Perhaps what I found most incredible about this novel is Gyasi's layout -- and the research she must have conducted in order to write the story. The novel starts with Effia and Esi; they are half-sisters who do not know one another. Effia marries a British soldier and lives in a castle on the Ghanian coast (the castle is real and still exists to this day! I googled it.) in relative wealth and comfort. At this same time, Esi is in the slave dungeon in the basement of the castle -- unbeknownst to Effia -- being held in wait for her transit to American slavery. Effia and her life comprises the first chapter; Esi and her life comprises the second. From there, the book bounces back and forth between the two threads; Effia's son has chapter three, and Esi's daughter has chapter four. The book spans hundreds of years and many generations -- one thread documenting life in Ghana through the centuries, and the other documenting life in America. 


What I found especially interesting about the plot of the novel, is that neither thread seemed to have better fortune than the other. When Gyasi starts with Effia and Esi, I thought "Yeah, I'd definitely rather be Effia. Her story is much less painful to read than Esi's." Who wouldn't prefer to live in the castle, rather than be imprisoned in it? However, as the years went on, the line between good-fortune and misfortune blurred. Sure, I would certainly not want to be an American slave. I also wouldn't want to live in a rural African village with the constant fear of being pillaged and set on fire. Of course, one of these threads only happened due to kidnapping and force, so that needs to be considered. As the centuries pass, America moves into the future. Life in Ghana remains very close to what it was in the 1700s. Both threads have nice stories, and both threads have horror.

Regardless, Gyasi nailed it with this book. Her writing talent shines through in every aspect - character development, plot development, and historical accuracy. I'm knocking off half of a star because there were a couple of points that I felt moved a little too slowly -- but this was such a minor fault. I recommend this book if you're looking to learn something new and interesting.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Buy this book here.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Debut Author Interview: Kate Hickey Discusses her Novel It's Me

As I mentioned in a prior post, my friend Kate Hickey has written and self-published a book. Her debut novel, It's Me, is now available on Amazon for purchase.  As someone who has always wanted to write a novel, I was impressed with Kate's perseverance, and curious as to what the novel-writing-and-publishing process entailed from start to finish. Luckily, we're friends, so I had the chance to sit down with her and chat about her experience. I have never interviewed an author before, but I found a wealth of interview questions on Writers' Digest, so I was able to tailor those for our purposes.  

So Kate. When people are deciding on the book they want to read next, they obviously want to know some details about their options. Will you describe to us what your book is about?
Sure. It's a coming-of-age story, focusing on the awkward, humorous ride known
as college, and the hardships of navigating life as a young adult in
the real world.


That will resonate with a large audience. When you're writing, where do you write from?
I write from my home office. I really want to be one of those
people writing from my laptop in a coffee shop,
but I am easily distracted and end up people watching.

Maybe the people watching is what helped you to write your story! What did lead up to this book?
I have always been interested in writing and have sort of an odd
sense of humor that I think many people share deep down. Once, I was
visiting my brother in Maryland and an amateur bank robber closed down
the main street where we were walking and I thought in that moment,
"People are ridiculous. I need to start documenting that." That weekend
I went home and started writing down stories and the book evolved from
there. For those interested, the bank robber was caught and no one was
hurt. And no, there is no mention of that particular story in the
book, but maybe one day.

Hahahaha what? Are you serious?
100%.

That would only happen to you, honestly. Okay, so what was the time frame for writing this book?  Tell us an interesting detail or two.
The book took me just about two years to complete. It started out
as something completely different, following the main character,
Perry, from when she was in middle school. Then one day I was staring
at the computer screen and saw the real story within the story. I
erased the first forty pages and from there it sounds cliche, but the
story wrote itself.

That's amazing. Also, you self-published. What were your 1-2 biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?
Like you said, I self-published my book and what I learned is, there is no wrong
or right way to publish. A good story is a good story no matter what
format it's in. If you believe in your work and you love it then you
have a product right there. What was surprising to me was how slow the
traditional publishing world moves.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
Writing is hard, but worth it. I think what helped me is making it
a priority and sticking to a schedule. There were days when I was so tired
that I didn't have the energy to write, but I still sat down at the
same time to make a habit out of it. Even if I wrote one sentence, or
edited one word. I was at the computer every day.

That follow-through, I've found, is always one of the hardest parts of trying to write a book. Or, I suppose, of any project, really. On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I would be more patient with myself and enjoy the process more. In
the beginning, I was so focused on the finished product that my story
was not forming the way I wanted because I was anxious to get as much
done as I could. It was only once I started focusing on the process
that I was able to cut the b.s. and the real story began to form.

Did you have a platform in place?  On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
I'm relying heavily on word of mouth. Social media is genius!

For marketing, it really is! Do you have any choice writing advice we haven’t discussed?
My advice for aspiring writers would be don't force it. You may
have an idea that's great, but if it doesn't work with the story, cut
it. The faster you can recognize that, the easier it will be down the
line when you're ready to edit the final product.

Okay. Tell us something about you. Something personal about you people may be surprised to know.
Something personal people would be surprised to know is that in
the last ten years I have lived in four different states. I love to
move. I'm always on the go. I love exploring new places, learning
about them, and then moving on!

This is why we're friends. What’s next?
Next is the follow up book to It's Me. The ending leaves a lot up
in the air!

It's Me is available on here on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback versions. Also, stay tuned on this blog, as I will be hosting a giveaway within the next week! You'll have the opportunity to enter the contest to win a paperback copy of the book. Details will follow!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Photo Challenge - Water

The best month (for me) of 2017 continued this past week when I went road-trip crashing. JC is currently continuing his tour of the United States and on Thursday I flew out to Vegas to join him. Of course, Vegas is in the middle of the desert, so my "water" prompt for the week didn't seem promising, but I told you I would pull water from a stone for this blog, and I intended to do just that. 

We started our trip hiking in the Red Rock Canyon National Reserve. I love the desert, so I thought this was insanely beautiful. Also, hot. It was 110 degrees. Dry heat though is a true story. Had that temperature been paired with New England humidity, it would have probably killed us. Instead, it just felt hot. We hiked up a mountain to La Madre Spring. "Spring." If you look very closely, you can see water trickling off of that rock. (Told you I would pull water from a stone). There was a sign saying that the water was untested and not to drink it, but we rolled around in it anyway. 

After our hike, we got in JC's car and began driving. 

On our way out of Nevada, near Area 51, we saw an Alien Gift Shop. Yes. We pulled into the parking lot because obviously we needed to go into that alien gift shop. Plans changed when we saw that is was attached to this gem. JC made a joke about checking it out. I made a joke about pushing him out of the car and leaving him in the desert for the crows. We drove on.

Out of Nevada and into California! We spent the night in a cabin in Death Valley. It was so ridiculously gorgeous... and dark. There are no streetlights or anything (there's no electricity), so strong high-beams are a must.

 I made JC drive through the desert to a ghost village (it used to be an old mining town in the 1800s) that is now deserted. Except...it's not. Someone has taken it over. There are no lights in the entirety of the desert -- the two "resorts" are so in the middle of nowhere that their only power source is a diesel generator -- and yet, there were lights on in this town. It was terrifying. There's also a defense radar set up, flashing all over the place. Also terrifying. We booked it the hell out of there, being startled to death by a roaming donkey as we tried to flee. The good news -- because it was so dark, I saw the Milky Way for the first time in my life. Anyway, this side-story isn't about water. Moving on.

Our next stop was Lake Tahoe. Now we're talking about water!





Lake Tahoe is gorgeous. It's huge. Some sections of the water are more green, and some are a very clear blue. We went tandem kayaking, which was mostly just me hanging on for dear life as JC paddled. I'm used to kayaking across placid ponds -- this was not that. There were a lot of wakes from speed boats, and I was basically afraid for my life. Still though, the views were incredible. The woman who rented us the kayak told us to be careful, because the water is so cold. We smiled. We had just touched the water and it felt warm enough to our Atlantic Ocean experienced souls. However, the bottom of the lake drops quickly, and once that happens, it's like ice. This makes sense, I suppose because of all the snow on the Sierra Nevadas behind the lake. When we were done kayaking, we waded in the shallow part of the lake, where it was still warm.

Finally, we had to head back to civilization so I could catch my flight home. I was flying out of San Francisco so we spent the night there, and got into town just in time to get to the beach to catch the sun going down over the Pacific. 



Obviously, I live near the Atlantic Ocean so I expected to be widely unimpressed by the Pacific. An ocean is an ocean, or so I thought. But, I was so wrong. They are not the same. The Pacific Ocean had waves unlike anything I've ever seen on the East Coast, and when the water washed over my feet, it wasn't cold enough to hurt. The sand was really dark in color. I was in love immediately. I love the Atlantic, but the Pacific... hot damn.

Then I came home, and got to see two of my favorite faces!


One more trip to go, and then the month of July will be over! 

Coming up on this blog:
Tomorrow: Interview with Kate-the-Author! (Her book is now available for purchase on Amazon, get it here).
Friday: Review of the book Homegoingby Yaa Gyasi (excellent read).
 Next Week: Photo Challenge: Swing, or Twirl (should be interesting!) 




Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

by Kathleen Rooney

She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, “in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it.”

Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It’s chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now―her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl―but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed―and has not.

A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop. Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young.


*****

I loved this book. I listened to it on Audible (which I have since cancelled, will talk about later), and it was perfect. Lillian is just the best character. A raging, passionate feminist, she took over New York City at a time when women weren't considered capable of having careers. She's witty, intelligent, and completely her own. This never changes throughout the book; in fact, the only time she seemed depressed or unhappy with her life was when she was straddled with a husband and a child she didn't particularly want to have (to be clear - she did love them both). 

I honestly wish Lillian was real, and that I could get to know her as a person. She is everything I strive to be, and as I read the book, I related to just about everything she said, and every view she had on her life and the world around her. 

Lillian is telling this story as she takes a New Year's Eve stroll through New York City. She meets a variety of people along the way, and has the most interesting encounters with them all. Even when meeting people who would normally cause stress, Lillian is cool and collected, and handles herself in a smart (and hilarious) fashion.

The books spans history, starting in 1930 and ending in 1985 (which is the present-day in the novel). The events of American history serve as a backdrop for the story as Lillian recounts her life, and I'm certain that Rooney must have done significant research to accurately create such a female-powerhouse during this range of years.

I didn't read this book; I listened to it on Audible, so I think that it was well-written, but I honestly wasn't paying as much attention to that. I liked the way the book was laid-out -- the chapters alternated between a historical moment, and the present. 

Now, the narrator for Lillian was perfect. She had an older voice (Lillian is in her eighties), and she read at the perfect pace, and with perfect intonation. With that said, I think I would have liked this book better if I had just read it myself. I cancelled my Audible subscription after this one; I kept getting distracted on the train, and had to re-listen to various parts. I found it discouraging, and I think it took a little bit of the joy away from the book.

Still, I'm giving it 5-stars. Kathleen Rooney shouldn't be punished for my crappy commute, and neither should Lillian. This books is amazing, and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Buy this book here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chemistry: A Novel

by Weike Wang

Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She's tormented by her failed research--and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. 

But there's another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can't make a life before finding success on her own. Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she's confronted with a question she won't find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? 

Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry--one in which the reactions can't be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.

*****

I really enjoyed this book, even though it felt very much like a kick to the gut. This book had everything I generally want in a novel: relatability; short, concise chapters; flawed, but not entirely horrid characters.

The nameless protagonist of this story is a chemist, working on her PhD at a Boston university (I assumed Harvard, but I could be wrong as it's never explicitly stated). Her work is not as fruitful as she would like; her advisor is breathing down her neck to finish up; her parents put ungodly pressure on her -- at one point saying "You're nothing to me without that degree," and to top it all off, her (wonderful, also a chemist) boyfriend, is a huge success at all that he does. She's floundering on the brink of a breakdown.

I loved the story of this book, because I just understood it so clearly. The main character (much like myself, and many others I have known), has had the same plan for her life for as long as she can remember. She puts everything she has into seeing her plan through, and it still doesn't seem to be working out. Once this happens, she's completely lost in life. Her reaction to this situation is much different than mine was; I think that everyone experiences things differently - however, I completely understood her sentiment and struggle. 

Conversely, her best friend lives in NYC. The best friend's life has gone according to plan exactly, but still, she suffers through her own dilemmas and struggles. I appreciated this parallel account (still told by the main character), because it just goes to show, roadblocks pop up, no matter the preparation level.

On a technical level, I liked the way this book was written. It's chapter-less, but has many section breaks, making it easy to read as much or as little as you would like. The book as a whole is short - it only took me two days to read. The writing isn't necessarily lyrical, but it's simple and straight-forward, which fits with the book's vibe. 

I recommend this one if you're looking for something quick, witty and intelligent. 

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Buy this book here.