I keep thinking about these positive self-talk charts I see from time to time on Facebook. They’re usually designed for teachers to use with students, or for people with ADHD or various learning differences. Here’s one example I found after a quick Google search.

So even though it’s not specifically listed here, I’m trying not to keep saying, “I am terrible at following through with a plan to do something every day,” such as, say, writing 100 words. Because I can clearly demonstrate that I am capable of doing some things every day. I brush my teeth. I feed and care for my children. I feed myself. And usually I do a number of other required tasks also, although not necessarily every day. So I am trying to remind myself that even if there are days that I haven’t written here (because rarely does a day go by that I’m not writing something) that doesn’t mean that I should give up on the challenge.

Last week Zoe and I went to see Jacqueline Woodson–one of our favorite authors–speak at Central Library. Woodson has written many middle grade and young adult novels and memoirs as well as amazing picture books. After she was interviewed by librarian Diane Kersh and she read a couple of her picture books, Woodson took questions from the audience. One woman asked if Woodson keeps a journal, which it turns out she doesn’t. Woodson said whenever she’s tried to journal, she just feels like she should be writing something for one of the books she’s always working on. The woman who asked the question said she keeps four journals, each with a different purpose. I don’t remember what her four journals are for, but I was exhausted at the thought. There are always so many things in my head that I want to write about but that amount of time and differentiation is beyond me.

On top of loving Woodson’s writing, I really enjoyed what she had to say at the library. Zoe and her friend Andrea, who we ran into at the event, asked Woodson how and when she started writing. She said (and she mentions this in her memoir in verse–Brown Girl Dreaming) that when she was a child she frequently got in trouble for lying. Until one day a teacher told her that if she wrote it down it wasn’t a lie–it was fiction.

When Kersh introduced Woodson, Kersh cited someone whose name I didn’t catch who had talked about the importance of kids reading books whose characters were “mirrors and windows,” meaning the readers see some people like themselves with whom they can easily identify, and other characters who are different in any number of ways, who provide a window into other identities, cultures, backgrounds, etc. I love this concept. And I especially love that, after a lifetime of reading mostly mirrored books, I am flying through one window after another after another. And that Zoe, who has only been reading novels for a few years, has already read enough windows that I feel confident she will not get stuck in her own mirror. I love the fact that so many phenomenal authors are telling stories that are mirrors for kids who’ve had painfully few mirrors, and windows for kids who are thirsty for new views. Especially as I’ve spent a lot of time in my church and in my community and in our country learning about white supremacy culture and white privilege, I am reminded again and again about the power of books to cultivate understanding and empathy. I am convinced that there are some books that, if every human read them, humanity would be changed for the better.

Recently at my church we had an outstanding workshop called Beyond Categorical Thinking, designed to help our congregation think more openly and broadly about ourselves and the kind of minister we want to call, as we are engaged in the ministerial search process. Rev. Keith Kron, who led the workshop, (and has led this workshop in UU congregations hundreds of times before), said that one of the most common concerns in congregations about calling a minister of color, or an LGBTQIA+ minister, or a minister with a disability, is that they will be a “single-issue minister” and all they will preach about from the pulpit is race, or sexuality, or ableism. One of the activities we did during the workshop was to discuss in small groups how our childhoods and lives might have been different if we had been born a different gender or sexuality, a different race or ethnicity, a different religion, or with different abilities. I encourage you to think about that. What opportunities would you have had or might you have been denied, in any of those scenarios? There’s a lot more I could say about this, but as usual it’s past midnight. My point is that it isn’t actually that hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, through a book of windows, or imagining an alternative path for your life.

Jacqueline Woodson said everyone has a story to tell and everyone has a right to tell their story. I believe that 100%. And what’s more, I think we have an obligation to bear witness to the stories that others are telling.

While we did not set out to do a long hike or traverse rugged terrain, my family did walk 44 miles in five days during our recent trip to Florida to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary. My parents generously treated the four of us and my sister and her husband and son to a fabulous tour of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center (which has such eclectic attractions we decided Epcot stands for Every Possible Combination of Things), Legoland, Universal Studios Orlando, and Disney Hollywood Studios. None of our kids had experienced Disney or the rest of the parks, and the grown-ups hadn’t been in years, so this was a monumental and thrilling vacation for the family. We decided to fit in as much fun as we could stand.

Turns out that was a lot of fun. Some of the highlights for me from our day at the Magic Kingdom:

Learning that Zoe loves roller coasters. Although she is almost 12, she had never ridden a real roller coaster before this trip. Now she is absolutely hooked. Although she still fretted and gripped my hand while we waited in every line, worrying that each ride would be too scary. None of the rides were too scary for her. The moment she lifted up the safety bar, she exclaimed how amazing the ride was and how she wanted to do it again. She never felt sick. She raised her hands in the air. She screamed. She soaked up every second of the ascents and the plummets and the twists and turned and loved it all.

Rocking out to the tunes of the birds and the flowers in the Enchanted Tiki Room, because apparently that is my sister’s happy place. I did not have the slightest memory of the Enchanted Tiki Room, but my sister remembered it fondly and grew up listening to the tiki song on a Disney tape we had (where was I during this part of her life? I do not know.) The Tiki Room is decidedly low-tech compared to a lot of the newer CGI and 3D-infused rides. It is old school and a classic. But those charming and chatty birds delighted my sister, which delighted me.

I don’t care what anyone says, I like It’s a Small World. I know the song is repetitive, and the subject of much mocking, but I think the ride is sweet, and it’s one of my mom’s favorites. It was a great one to start with when we arrived at the Magic Kingdom. And I enjoyed laughing at my husband’s and sister’s and brother-in-law’s running commentary as we drifted through the world being serenaded by all its peoples. Is that last part of the ride, where everyone is dressed in white, actually heaven? Quite possibly. And I like all the signs at the end that say goodbye in different languages. Farvel everyone!

Taking my mom to the County Bear Jamboree. After most of us had ridden Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (a great coaster and the only one that didn’t make Zeke feel sick), my mom spotted Country Bear Jamboree and wanted to go, but it wasn’t open yet. A little while later after the group had split up to try different rides, she asked whether it was time for some jamboree action. She and my dad had a special moment with one of the country bears early in the day, during which the bear greeted her like a long lost friend, so perhaps she was eager to reconnect with the other bears. Not unlike the Tiki Room, the Country Bear Jamboree is old school animatronics, but well-paced and funny. If the Tiki Room is my sister’s jam, Country Bear Jamboree may be my mom’s.

The unexpected amusement of the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. After my sister and her family had gone back to the hotel, and my husband and kids were taking another spin on the Astro-Orbiter, I accompanied my parents to the nearby Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. My expectations were not high, but my stomach was not feeling like another ride, so I was willing to give it a chance. My parents haven’t even seen Monsters Inc., but I have and enjoyed it, so why not? Turns out the Laugh Floor was hilarious. This attraction uses technology in which the animated characters on the screen are able to “see” and interact with the human audience. Screens on the side occasionally show members of the audience with funny–but never mean or mocking–captions and comments. Everyone is in on the joke. It was funny and it was air-conditioned. What’s not to love? As a bonus, in Tomorrowland where the Laugh Floor and Astro-Orbiter are located, we found a snack bar that sold delicious churros (with chocolate sauce on the side) and the Mickey Mouse-shaped soft pretzels (with cheese sauce on the side) that I came to know and love. The amusement park food lacked a certain diversity or nutritiousness, but I would have those churros and pretzels again anytime.

A side note about the food. Some of us ate lunch at a baseball-themed hot dog restaurant, where I enjoyed a ridiculous meal that featured a hot dog topped with mac and cheese and bacon. Not something I should repeat, but it’s always good to try new things. Anyway, while I was ordering food for everyone, one of the cast members (Charlotte, from Melbourne, Australia, according to her name tag) behind the counter noticed my button that said “I’m celebrating my parents’ 50th anniversary” (my sister had arranged for all of us to have these buttons) and she congratulated me and gave me two little cakes to bring to my parents with her best wishes. Charlotte was training an older woman who was operating the cash register with careful deliberation. Although I ordered six meals, after I paid I realized that only four were listed on my receipt. I returned to ask Charlotte to correct the mistake, and got out my wallet to pay for the missing meals, but she waved me away, saying she would take care of it. Thank you for your kindness, Charlotte from Melbourne.

Next up–reflections from our day at Epcot, or Every Possible Combination of Things.

Never in my life have I imagined that so many people besides my mother love matching shirts. Growing up, I thought my mom’s penchant for buying matching dresses for my sister and me, or matching sweaters for her and me, or custom-made matching sweatshirts that say “Hugging is My Favorite Exercise” was excessive. I must now apologize to her because I have seen first-hand thousands of families demonstrating a much more extreme degree of matchiness.

Before you stop me and say, “Wait, didn’t your whole family wear matching t-shirts to the Magic Kingdom last week?” I will acknowledge that yes, of course we did, in honor of my mom and in celebration of my parents’ 50th anniversary, which was the occasion for our trip. My friend Annie designed the shirts and my sister and I gave them to everyone for Christmas. So I am not trying to be hypocritical here, just expressing amazement at the level of matching we witnessed on our trip.

We spent five days at five parks in and around Orlando, and every day in every park we saw hundreds or maybe thousands of groups sporting matching or coordinated shirts. Some were parents with kids, some were couples, some were groups of girlfriends. These families were white, Black, Latinx, and Asian. Most shirts were t-shirts, but some were tank tops. Most shirts featured the iconic Mickey Mouse ears, but many had slogans like “My real home is Fantasyland” or “I’m here for the snacks” or “Best Day Ever.” (Although I also saw a cynical shirt that said “Most Expensive Day Ever.”) There were also plenty of Harry Potter shirts, particularly in Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure where the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter live. People were representing their Hogwarts houses and favorite Quidditch teams or displaying the Deathly Hallows. In Legoland we saw a large group wearing white and yellow baseball style shirts that said, somewhat meanly in my opinion, “I hope you step on a Lego.” A kinder, gentler shirt sported by an older gentleman read, “I would walk across Legos for them,” meaning his kids or grandkids I assume.

In both the Disney parks and Legoland, many families had shirts that identified each member, not necessarily by name, but by their role in the family. Like “Husband” and “Wifey” (ew). Or “Daddy” and “Mommy” and the names of each kid, like “Isabelle” or “Ryan.” I didn’t see shirts that said “Son” or “Daughter” but I did see “Sister” and “Brother.” I also saw “Birthday Girl” and “Uncle of the Birthday Girl,” etc.

Somehow these shirts that reduced their wearers to their familial role only in relation to the other people present rubbed me the wrong way. I might wear a shirt that said “Betsy” but I would feel weird wearing a shirt that said “Mommy” even though I am very proud and honored to be the mom of both my kids.

Similarly, I am not a fan of the shirts that say, “I’m with her” or “I’m with him” with many Disney-themed variations.

The only shirts in that vein that I liked were from the Star Wars shops in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I also liked this one. I liked it because not everyone in the family has to wear it for it to make sense. It’s relevant and positive but it doesn’t only work if you’re in Hollywood Studios while you’re wearing it. The shirt demonstrates a sense of familial unity without being cutesy.

I love our shirts and I’m delighted that we wore them to Disney World. I just had no idea that everyone else was going to wear theirs too.

My dad and me in our shirts on the first day of our trip.

In the airport on our way to Florida last week, we passed by this row of seven Nutcrackers with their backs to the wall. Four in red and three in green, all sporting ringlets and tall, plumed hats.

Why were they facing the wall? Sure, it’s a few months past Christmas so they may not be needed in an official capacity, but where’s the shame in that? Are they turned to the wall because they’re off-duty and they’re getting a little shut-eye, even still standing at attention, so they won’t embarrass themselves or their station? Are they playing team hide and seek? Closing their eyes and counting to 100 while seven other Nutcrackers march swiftly around the airport looking for places to hide, which may be tricky when you’re a six-foot-tall statue, although it is a large airport. Are they turned to the wall in sad resignation because they no longer feel useful and cannot bear to see the passers-by glance at them in puzzlement, or worse, derision? Do they feel dejected because they worry they have been forgotten, abandoned for more than 10 weeks when their fellow Christmas decorations have long since been carefully packed away. What if they are left to face the wall until next December? Oh, the horrors.

Yesterday I fell asleep before I had the chance to write my 100 words for the 100 words a day for 100 days challenge I’m doing with Zoe. But to be fair I had already written a few thousand words earlier in the day. Those words were about high school students meeting with construction industry professionals to get help with their resumes, high school students participating in classes about how to live drug-free lives, and high school students using their math skills to measure their classroom and price out paint and flooring as if they were going to remodel the room. I also wrote a bunch of words about how to get end your marriage if you live in Ohio. Apparently if you and your spouse agree on all of the terms, you can get a dissolution, which is faster and cheaper than divorce. I’ve never heard of this, but I’ve also never tried to get divorced in Ohio. I’ve learned during the course of my work for this particular client that there are a lot of fees you have to pay if you want to get divorced or change custody arrangements, and that’s not even including attorney fees, if you can afford an attorney.

I started today at home and am finishing the day in a hotel in Orlando. Truthfully all the travel went as well as it could’ve, even though it required several different vehicles and a lot of long lines and there were seven of us including three kids. We met up with my parents at the hotel, as they had taken the auto train here. While it took a lot longer, it sounds a lot more relaxing. And in eight hours, the nine of us will be making our way to the Magic Kingdom. Mickey awaits!

For a while when I was in elementary school, I would come home from school and turn on the tv to watch reruns of ridiculous shows. At the time, I’m not sure I realized they were reruns or ridiculous. The Dukes of Hazzard was one–please don’t judge me, I am well aware of how offensive it is now. And the Addams Family was another. I don’t remember much in the way of the plot of the Addams family, but I do know that hearing those first few bars of theme music would prompt an immediate snapping response. I didn’t realize until today that the Addams Family originally aired in the 60s, several years before I was born.

But today I was amused to see that the snapping response was nearly universal among members of the audience at the delightful Chalice Theatre production of the Addams Family musical.

The tv show theme song isn’t even in the musical, but just those first few measures, woven into he overture, are enough to stir the muscle memory of snapping.

Beyond the nostalgia, however, I really enjoyed the show because it featured a fantastic cast that included several friends of ours–mostly Zoe’s age. Many of them are already Chalice Theatre veterans who have acted in South Pacific, Shrek, and Peter and the Starcatcher. I love seeing their hard work and hearing them sing and watching them dance and so obviously have a great time performing. I love the intergenerational casts of Chalice shows and seeing some familiar faces in totally new roles. I love seeing new faces who light up the room. There was a teenage boy in tonight’s show who was a ballerina and danced en pointe with so much joy and passion, not to mention unbelievable strength and talent. I love the sets and the costumes and the fact that I’m surrounded in the audience by people I know. I love that my kids are completely captivated by these performances, and that they get to meet the actors afterward and congratulate their friends. I love the fact that all the snacks sold in the lobby are $1.

Although they are young and could change their minds, my kids have indicated that–like me–they love to watch theater but they are not inclined to appear on stage themselves. At least for now we are content to allow our friends to make the magic and we will simply be enchanted by it.

I just spit into a tube, repeatedly, until my saliva reached the wavy black line. I put the cap on the tube, releasing the blue stabilizing solution, and shook it. I put the tube in the plastic envelope, sealed it, and put the plastic envelope in the little postage paid box, and sealed that. Tomorrow I will mail the box to a lab in American Fork, Utah.

Magically, or miraculously, or you might even say through science, my quarter teaspoon of spit will reveal to me who my long-lost relatives are and just what I am made of, at least genetically speaking.

I confess I have already done this spit-in-a-tube activity before, and I received endless pages of reports that I did not quite understand about how I relate to neanderthals and confirming what I already knew that I am half Ashkenazi Jew and the rest a fine but certainly unexotic blend of Irish, Scottish, and German with some other Western European stuff thrown in.

I am repeating the exercise–through a different DNA testing company this time–because of an unexpected conversation I had last summer with the mother of one of my best friends. I was at a street festival in the neighborhood where I grew up, and my friend’s mom happened by. We ended up sitting on the curb for a while talking about how to mobilize democratic voters, and then the subject turned to one of her favorite hobbies–genealogy. I knew she had spent years conducting copious research into her family’s history, but I learned when we talked that she had also spit into several tubes to maximize the information she could gather from various testing services which might have access to different pieces of her genetic inheritance. She assured me that Ancestry.com was the most comprehensive in terms of helping you build a family tree and finding family members to nestle among the branches.

Did you know you can buy these DNA spitting kits all over the place now? I ordered mine online, but I recently saw them on a shelf at Target. Once scientists unlocked the human genome, we ran with it until vast stores of genetic information are as easy to get as it is to fill your red cart with over a hundred dollars worth of stuff you didn’t know you needed every time you shop there.

Here’s what I really want to know–what were the lives like of my great-grandparents who came from Romania and Hungary? Are there other descendants of them out there who I might meet? What could I discover about my Jewish roots? My dad has a small family. He has one surviving brother and one surviving first cousin. I know my Grandma had younger twin sisters, but I don’t know their names or their children’s names or anything else about them. I don’t know if my Grandma or Grandpa had cousins or if they did where they lived or if they had children. I know my Great-Grandfather was listed in census records as a peddler. What did he peddle? I desperately want to know.

I have no idea whether my questions are beyond the scope of the quarter teaspoon of spit that I have collected for analysis, but I cannot wait to find out.

Zoe’s English teacher announced this week the prospect of a new challenge–write at least 100 words each day for 100 days, beginning today, March 1. Apparently if you write every day for 100 days you become a Writing Centurion and you get to choose a t-shirt from Woot! Shirt. I can safely say this is the first time this school year that I have wished I were in sixth grade. Writing and t-shirts–two of my favorite things! So when Zoe said she was accepting her teacher’s invitation, I immediately said I would join her. This means you will be seeing a lot more words from me over the next 100 days. Maybe if you like what I write, you’ll buy me a punny t-shirt too!

March also happens to be National Reading Month, and reading is one of my other favorite things, up there with writing and t-shirts, so I am lined up to volunteer at both of my kids’ schools doing book-related activities. At Zeke’s school on Monday I am going to be a guest reader in his kindergarten class. I think I will read Mo Willems’ Nanette’s Baguette, which may not have the name recognition that Elephant and Piggie or the Pigeon do, but it is hilarious and reading it makes me so happy. I hope Zeke’s classmates share my feelings about Nanette and her baguette. (As an aside, I am ecstatic that Mo Willems was recently named the Kennedy Center’s first Education Artist in Residence, meaning we will have the opportunity to see some of his characters come to life at the Kennedy Center and perhaps meet him sometime over the next two years. He is, in my humble opinion, a creative genius.)

After I read to Zeke’s class, I will skip down the hall to the library to volunteer at the book fair. It should be obvious that book fairs are another thing that I love. I volunteered at the book fair at Zoe’s elementary school for all six of her years there and enjoyed every minute of it. Zoe’s librarian was marvelous and she and I exchanged book recommendations every time we saw each other. At the book fair I would often help kids look for good books and write down their wish lists, or help teachers or parents who were browsing. And between classes I would read books myself, and buy a few. And come back the next day. And buy a few. And then the kids would come in with me and they would choose books and we would buy a few. Book fairs are dangerous for me. But so satisfying. So I have high hopes for Zeke’s school book fair. Since this is his first year at the school I don’t know many teachers or kids besides the ones in his class, but hopefully I will get to know some in the library. For a few weeks I have been reading for an hour a week with some first graders at his school, so I’ll know them too. In any case, I will have the opportunity to walk around and look at and touch all those beautiful books.

On Tuesday I will be at Zoe’s school bright and early to help set up Booktopia, a day-long book giveaway where we will lay out 1,500 books on tables all over the gym (which we sorted by genre and boxed last week) and invite every reading and English class in the school to come in browse. Each student can choose a book and take it home for free. The PTA started this event when they discovered that many students at the school couldn’t afford to buy full-price books at the book fair, and that the book fair didn’t always have books that reflected the diversity of the student body. So the books we will give away at Booktopia will include a wide variety of new and used books selected to appeal to a wide variety of kids of all reading abilities and backgrounds. In middle school, parents definitely don’t have as much opportunity to hang out at school as in elementary school, so I’m looking forward to this chance to observe all the teachers and all the classes and hopefully connect some kids with some books they will love.

When Zoe’s school year started, I was surprised to learn that she had a reading class as well as an English class. Reading is mandatory for sixth graders, and I was skeptical because Zoe was already a great reader. But I soon realized that the class was not offering remedial help (although it does for those who need it) but pushing her and her classmates to read compelling and intriguing texts by amazing authors, and read critically and think about what she’s reading at a higher level. I have been incredibly impressed with the books she’s read in reading class, including Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, The 57 Bus, Amal Unbound, and Child Soldier. Pretty much every time Zoe finishes a book, she brings it to me and says, “You’ve GOT to read this.” And I do the same with her, at least with young adult novels I read.

So when Zoe’s school announced a read-a-thon that kicked off today, I was all over it. I am so excited to support her in her reading and help her raise money for literacy programs at her school. If I had not become a writer, I definitely could have been a children’s librarian. I did spend several glorious months right out of college working at Barnes & Noble, which was unbelievably fun. I got to be around books all day! I got to tell people what books I thought they should read! (also we had to clean the toilets at closing time, but the books!).

Right now I’m reading a YA book called Saints and Misfits, about a Muslim girl who feels pulled between her secular friends and her Muslim community. She wears a hijab like her Mom, but her Dad (divorced from her mom and remarried) disapproves. It’s fascinating and beautifully written.

Zoe is eager to read my Day 1/100 sample, and I am pretty sure I’ve exceeded my 100 word requirement. I better save some of my words for the next 99 days.

button flowers

I painted and and cut and pasted these.

floatingyourlifewhereveriturnsacreddivine

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