Remembering the Brightest Jack O’Lantern

The thing about your family acquiring multiple pets in their youth over the course of a few years is that they grow old together and then break your heart while it’s already broken. This is my third cat eulogy post in the span of a year.

Jack O’Lantern gave us 11 years of happy and funny memories as we watched him change over time: from young to old, feral to domestic, outdoor to indoor, playful and adventurous to mellow and always sleeping. Perhaps the biggest change was when he went blind and, his eyes needing annoying drops a few times a day and doing him more harm than good, we had his eyes removed. With or without eyes, he was always handsome in his own goofy way.

The day after we said good-bye to our Jack, I was wandering around Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant and found myself spontaneously wandering through the National Zoo. I sought out the black and white animals, in honor of the black and white Jack. The Von der Decken’s hornbill, skunk, and giant pandas all had coloring that reminded me of him.

I thought about the phrase “charismatic megafauna,” and the fact that giant pandas are a prime example, and I got to wondering if there was something especially appealing to people about black and white animals. Pandas are widely beloved. A preschool child I taught a decade ago loved zebras; a six-year-old I know claims puffins as his favorite animal.

Jack, for his part, has been given the role of a few black and white animals for celebrations like Halloween, taking on some extra accessory just long enough to take a photo. Put little orange puffin feet cutouts on top of his front paws and turn him into a puffin. Buy panda ears at the National Zoo’s gift shop, put them on Jack’s head, and voilà, he’s a giant panda.

Black and white cat wearing black and white panda ear headband

Jack the panda, Halloween 2010

But it’s not just Jack’s black and white fur, including his adorable black diamond-shaped nose, that made him a charismatic fauna. I once wrote that he possessed an “effortless charisma.” He did not cling or beg for attention the way some of our other pets did. But he hung out in the same room as us, followed my mother around when she did yardwork back in his semi-feral days, and got along with everyone. Jack had the most easygoing, laid-back personality, and he won everyone over without really trying.

In his younger days, he loved having a buddy. First there was his feral cat friend Purple, then there was his feral cat friend Noodle. We provided food and vet care and Christmas presents for Purple and Noodle, who sadly both died young. Jack taught them to trust humans, went on adventures with them, snuggled with them, and occasionally had to assert his dominance by swatting them or eating first but overall was best buddies with them.

Jack also loved his dog, Duncan. When one of us humans walked Duncan, Jack would follow for part of the way. It ranks among the top ten most adorable things that have ever happened in the history of the universe.

Some of Jack’s other adorable moments include rolling around in the dirt and leaves and becoming black and brown instead of black and white (and then grooming himself and making his fur pristine again just minutes later), meowing in a way that sounded more like the quacking of a duck, climbing trees, and, even in his last days, perking up and walking over as fast as he could whenever he heard anything that sounded like a bag of treats being opened.

We will always remember Jack and his long, exciting life. He brought joy to humans, cats, and a dog (who was probably also a bit perplexed by him). Just like his name suggests, Jack O’Lantern was indeed a silly, cute face on the outside; and on the inside, a source of bright, warm, peaceful light.


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Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge Update (August 2018)

August’s words were: above, beach, boat, camera, few, help, house, sun, yellow


Glass Houses by Louise Penny


I Am a Camera by John Van Druten

Picture Books:

Sunny Days by Trudi Strain Trueit

Toy Boat by Randall de Sève, illustrated by Loren Long

The House that George Built by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Rebecca Bond

Short Stories:

“Tea at the House” by Meg Wolitzer


Help Me” by Luis Alberto Urrea

“Paper Boats” by Rabindranath Tagore

“Listening to a Flute in Yellow Crane Pavillion” by Li Bai

Beach Walk” by Henri Cole


Here’s a list of organizations that are mobilizing to help immigrant children separated from their families – from pro bono legal services to backpacks filled with stuffed animals and toiletries.

How you can help victims of the California wildfires – article from early August providing ways to assist amid the devastation sweeping through parts of California.

Museum colours: contemplating yellow – Hazel (a sort of shade of yellow?) Saunderson of the National Museum of Scotland wandered the galleries looking for yellow objects. Her detailed post is not just a list of what she found, but a reflection on what attracted to her to the different shades of yellow in a variety of objects.

The Latest: Italy wants to pay less to help asylum-seekers – immigration-related news in Europe reported by the AP on July 23.

The Problem of the House Museum – an opinion piece from Traditional Building argues that the historic house museum as a model has a low success rate, with individual examples flourishing only under certain financial conditions.

Cat Self-Help? – Hank Phillippi Ryan and Alice Loweecey discuss cats in real life and on the covers of cozy mysteries. Glass Houses by Louise Penny (see earlier in this post) is about as cozy as I can handle, and I don’t think I’d ever read a mystery with an adorable cat on the cover. But I do love cozy adorable cats in real life!

Dave Eggers: A Cultural Vacuum in the White House – While we may not think of arts and music and literature as the most important subjects for a president to care about, Eggers argues, “Every great civilization has fostered great art, while authoritarian regimes customarily see artists as either nuisances, enemies of the state or tools for the creation of propaganda….[Art] expands the moral imagination and makes it impossible to accept the dehumanization of others.”

Red Cross helps homeowner after fire makes house unlivable – sad news, but with some relief, from Rockford, Illinois.

A Few Maxims For The Instruction Of The Over-Educated by Oscar Wilde – for example: “To be really mediæval one should have no body. To be really modern one should have no soul. To be really Greek one should have no clothes.”

The Sunny Side of Armed Conflict – a 2010 article by Edward Tenner noting that notwithstanding the horrors (ecological, among many other kinds) of war, the lack of development in some war-torn or military-protected areas has had a positive effect on the preservation of beaches and wildlife.

Red Cross receives $1,200 Helping Hand to put smoke alarms in homes – The Helping Hand is a donation given by KWCH in Wichita.

8 Signs Your “Pokemon Go” Team Is Definitely Team Yellow– I am Red, because that’s what my brother already was, but I would really fit in better with Blue. Yellow, as described in this article, sounds like the kind of person I would be friends with.

George & Amal Clooney Donated $100,000 To Help Migrant Children & They’re Not The Only Ones Protesting – As the Clooneys wrote in their June 2018 statement against family separations, “At some point in the future our children will ask us: ‘Is it true, did our country really take babies from their parents and put them in detention centers?’ And when we answer yes, they’ll ask us what we did about it. What we said. Where we stood.”

Can Artists Do Anything to Prevent Climate Change? Miami Beach Has Recruited One to Find Out – Misael Soto is the new artist-in-residence with Miami Beach’s Office of Resilience; the program is sponsored by the Art Center of South Florida, whose CEO explains that resilience is used as a “code word for the things that concern us here… South Beach is ground zero for rising sea levels.”

Does It Really Help Research When Scientists Work Close Together? – I was expecting this 2011 article to be about a room of not-even-cubicles, where noise ricochets in mysterious ways and desks don’t have enough room for more than two stacks of paper and one glass of water, but it’s actually about proximity of offices (same floor? same building? same campus? same city?).

Romantic or racist? Perceptions shift on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ – I have written before that there’s a difference between museums and monuments, between remembering history and honoring history. Similarly, there’s a difference between studying an author and naming an award after an author.

Maryland State House could get laser cleaning to remove biofilm – as the headquarters of Maryland’s legislative body, the State House serves as a living museum in that it’s a historic site where governmental business still happens in the present. But just because it’s a living museum doesn’t mean it needs a layer of microorganisms creating a resilient slime on the surface of the building.

Luis Laplace Creates a Museum Above the Clouds in the French Alps – This article is interesting, but I object to the word museum to describe a fancy, remote vacation home with art in it.

Danica McKellar: Netflix show to help tween girls find ‘inner confidence’ – article from 2015 about an educational show designed to get girls into STEM subjects.

“Don McGahn Hates Rudy with Intensity of 1,000 Burning Suns”: Is Trump Ready to Cook Giuliani? – if the Trump administration were a fictional political thriller, I’d complain that it was too long and too implausible with too many characters.

Madeleine Albright sounds off on Trump: He acts like he’s ‘above the law’ – The former Secretary of State speaks out in favor of freedom of the press and in opposition to “foreign policy by tweets.”

Why Retaining Older Women in the Workforce Will Help the U.S. Economy – “U.S. businesses should put particular focus on retaining older women. Now and even more so in the future, increasing their participation would create substantial economic opportunity. To realize that opportunity, more companies should consider making flexible work arrangements a staple of their employee recruitment and engagement strategy.”

Gut Enzyme Could Help Solve U.S. Blood Shortages – a certain sugar structure could be altered to change blood from one type to another.

Relief officials say Marshalltown immigrant families should not fear seeking help – After the hurricane that swept through Iowa in July, aid organizations tried to reassure the community that they were there to help everyone, regardless of immigration status.


Doc, Help! by Harry Bliss

Audiobooks that I read (in print form) years ago and fell (or tried to fall) asleep listening to in August:

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

Open House by Elizabeth Berg

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge Update (July 2018)

July’s words were: apple, between, blue, cabin, desert, many, stay, water, wood/s

Here’s what I read…

Middle Grade Novels:

Last Summer with Maizon; Maizon at Blue Hill; and Between Madison and Palmetto by Jacqueline Woodson

Picture Books:

Too Many Toys by David Shannon

Short Stories:

“Young Man Blues” by Luis Alberto Urrea

“Welcome to the Water Museum” by Luis Alberto Urrea

“The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue” by Poe Ballantine

“Ayama and the Thorn Wood” by Leigh Bardugo

“In the Manner of Water or Light” by Roxane Gay


“Wiisah kote: The Burnt Wood People” by Heid E. Erdrich

“Sisters Stay on the Other Side” by Heid E. Erdrich

“Sex in the Desert” by Heid E. Erdrich

“I Watch Her Eat the Apple” by Natalie Diaz

“Jimmy Eagle’s Hot Cowboy Boots Blues” by Natalie Diaz

“The Red Blues” by Natalie Diaz

“Refugee Blues” by WH Auden

Testament Scratched into a Water Station Barrel” (Partial Translation) by Eduardo C. Corral

“The Apple Trees at Olema” by Robert Hass

Between the Wars” by Robert Hass

“The Woods in New Jersey” by Robert Hass

“The Blue” by Camille T. Dungy

“See a Furious Waterfall Without Water” by Patricia Lockwood

“Natural Dialogue Grows in the Woods” by Patricia Lockwood

“Wade in the Water” by Tracy K. Smith

Watershed” by Tracy K. Smith

“The Blue Room” by Patrick Rosal

“The Woman You Love Cuts Apples For You” by Patrick Rosal

“About the White Boys who Drove by a Second Time to Throw a Bucket of Water on Me” by Patrick Rosal

“Sonoran Desert Sutras” by Luis Alberto Urrea

“Teocalli Blues” by Luis Alberto Urrea

Entry from 50 Great American Places: Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S. by Brent D. Glass:

White Dove of the Desert, Tucson, Arizona


They Started School Afraid of the Water. Now They Are Saving Lives.New York Times article about success stories at a high school in training students not only to swim, but to be lifeguards.

Jacqueline Woodson wins 2018 Wilder Award – announced in February 2018.

Jacqueline Woodson: US teen author wins $600,000 Astrid Lindgren prize – another award for the author, who will be at this year’s National Book Festival.

Jacqueline Woodson On Growing Up, Coming Out And Saying Hi To Strangers – NPR interview with the author.

Farming in the Desert – Deborah Fallows writes of Ajo, Arizona: “I saw that none of this happens by accident. Rather, it is the result of identifying the town’s needs, researching programs that can help, understanding how to seek support from foundations and other outside organizations, and seeing the projects through.”

A Waterfront Library – Deborah Fallows discusses a beautiful new library in Erie, Pennsylvania, with an art collection, public programming including outreach to refugees, and views of the waterfront.

Innovations in Conservation, From the East Coast to the West and in Between – James Fallows (husband of Deborah Fallows, who wrote the above two articles) collects examples of environmental efforts around the country.

One land, many voices – British poet and critic Fiona Sampson discusses what can be, to readers, an overwhelming body of contemporary British poetry, from which she has teased out the following categories: “Plain Dealing, Dandification, Oxford Elegy, Touchstone Lyric, Free and Anecdotal Verse, Mythopoesis, Iambic Legislation, Modernism, Surrealism, New Formalism and the Expanded and the Exploded Lyric.”

The Post-Charismatic Organization: Another Sign That the Steve Jobs Era Is Actually Over at Apple – a 2012 article by Edward Tenner on rifts over device design at Apple.

‘Fox & Friends’ host: Many migrant children ‘turn into MS-13’ – I can’t say that Brian Kilmeade is at the top of my National Book Festival list.

Katherine Applegate finds a new voice for endangered animals – the author says, “I write better when I write about things that make me angry.”

Poet Spotlight: Karenne Wood – post about a poet I heard years ago at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Patricia Lockwood’s Crowd-Pleasing Poetry – “She’s bolder, more sure of herself, than you are, and she has a genius for writing in the language of vulgar misogyny as she speaks to its absurdity.”

Apple is fighting the wrong encryption case – in this 2016 opinion piece, David Ignatius quotes then-FBI director James Comey as saying that the debate on whether government can force a tech company to hack into a terrorist’s phone is “the hardest question I’ve ever seen in government.”

John le Carre biographer Adam Sisman: ‘Many things he told me didn’t add up’ – Sisman is quoted: “I hope I haven’t succumbed to the spell of the wizard and preserved that splinter of ice in my heart that every writer needs.”

Blueprint of a Meltdown – Justina Ireland writes of the roles of the writer and reader as participants in a conversation, in which the writer’s part is over once the book has been published (despite some authors taking to social media to defend their critiqued work) and how characters’ and readers’ marginalized identities play into this phenomenon.

‘All American Boys’: One book, many discussions – article based on interview with the authors (Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds) of One Maryland, One Book’s 2016 selection.

We Are Many. We Are Everywhere. – article, and list, provided by Roxane Gay at The Rumpus.

Cages Are Cruel. The Desert Is, Too. – Francisco Cantú, former Border Patrol agent-turned-author, writes, “Receiving training as an E.M.T. allowed me to cling to the idea that I was helping migrants by administering aid while ignoring the fact that I was participating in pushing them toward death.”

A Family Of Woodchucks Ate Paul Ryan’s Car – Ryan is fortunate in that he does not actually need a car until after he retires, since he has a security detail. But it’s still unfortunate to have woodchucks eat one’s car.

Are Detained Immigrants Being Asked to Choose Between Asylum and Reunification With Their Children? – “’She was told that had she just stayed in detention [instead of seeking release while she pursued her asylum claim], they would have been reunited more quickly,’ [immigration attorney] Lincoln-Goldfinch says.”

Woman Sees Her ‘Slave Cabin’ Birthplace in African-American Museum – very cool story from April 2017, about a museum I still need to visit!

9 Books That’ll Help You Understand What “Bigger Than The Watergate Scandal” Really Means – a reading list on Nixon and Watergate, provided by Bustle.

How many of these ’50 Great American Places’ have you visited? – an article at Penn Live discusses Brent D. Glass’s book, highlighting historic sites in Pennsylvania and nearby states, including the DMV.

Margaret Atwood, the Prophet of Dystopia – “In writing ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Atwood was scrupulous about including nothing that did not have a historical antecedent or a modern point of comparison.”

The country’s first underwater museum is now open off the coast of Florida, and it’s free – I want to visit!

Migrants Allege They Were Subjected To Dirty Detention Facilities, Bad Food And Water – Disturbing details about detention facilities in this NPR story.

What Happens in Central America, Doesn’t Stay in Central America – And here are some disturbing details about what people are trying to escape.

The False Choice Between Family Separation and Detention – This post by Human Rights Watch discusses an alternative approach that was effective, more humane, and less expensive than detaining undocumented migrants.

Evan Rachel Wood Fasts Over Immigration Crisis as Detained Mom Describes Kids ‘Crying for Their Mothers’ – Among the many celebrities fighting zero tolerance policies at the border, here is one whose last name is one of the July keywords.

Tech condemns Trump: Apple, Microsoft, Airbnb oppose separating families at the border – And among the many companies fighting Trump’s immigration policies, here is one whose name is a July keyword.

Cartoons and visual art sequences:

“Warm Water by Harry Bliss

Like Water for Chocolate” by Gaby D’Alessandro

Audiobook that I read years ago and fell asleep listening to in July:

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

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Heartbroken but GRAYtful

Last week, my family had to say good-bye to our elderly kitty Edison Gray, aka Grayboy, aka Pinkles, aka many other nicknames. Gray and Grayboy come from the fact that his fur was gray. Pinkles comes from the fact that his jelly bean toes were pink.

Grayboy was a stray boy when he showed up at our house in fall 2006, and he officially joined our family the day before Thanksgiving. We have been thankful for him ever since. If the prolonged snuggles he gave his humans in the last few days of his life are any indication, he was grateful for us too, and hopefully pleased with his choice of us for a family.

During the years we had Grayboy, I learned about wearing many hats. In my graduate Museum Education Program, we frequently discussed how museum educators have to wear many hats; in fact, one class presentation involved a group of students bringing in a variety of hats and stacking them on the head of a classmate who volunteered to help illustrate their point. (We were all about the object-based learning.) Later, as I transitioned to a new career path altogether, I saw the ways that one individual can wear different hats over a lifetime.

Grayboy, too, wore many hats, along with costumes that often took the form of a box he could put himself in. He wore the hats of gift givers and helpers (Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, elf, reindeer), just as he tried to help his humans by lying on our half-completed jigsaw puzzles and walking on our computer keyboards. While he was always an entertaining creature, he was especially entertaining when he dressed as an entertainer, like a jester or a fool.

Handsome gray cat sleeping on top of spread out jigsaw puzzle pieces

Grayboy helping us put together our Smithsonian puzzle

When he wore a king’s crown, he reminded us of what a leader he was, squeaking brilliant ideas that we wished we were smart enough to understand. Sometimes he wore the hat of an animated character (Sven, Jolteon), and sometimes he dressed as a character from a children’s literary classic (the Mad Hatter, the Wardrobe).

As a pumpkin on Halloween, a bunny on Easter, and the sun on the occasion of 2017’s total solar eclipse (his siblings were the moon and Earth), Grayboy personified the different hats worn by Mother Nature. He sat in boxes in order to be a playblock and a snowman, he took naps in his Easter basket, and he insisted that open egg cartons are a comfortable place to lie down. Family game nights involved Grayboy in the game box, if not on the actual board or cards or dominoes.

Grayboy will always be remembered as a sweet, talkative, silly creature with green eyes, a long tail, and puffy gray fur masquerading as big cheeks, who liked to spend time and snuggle with his humans on his own terms, and whose humans love him to the end of the universe and back times infinity.

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Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge Update (June 2018)

June’s words were: bell, bird, bride, live, none, river, some, town, when

I went on a family vacation for half of June, which gave me lots of extra time to read – on planes, in airports, in four different unfamiliar beds. Since we traveled to Italy, that country is the subject of some of the below readings. Many other articles relate to the separation of asylum-seeking migrant families, a crisis that was unfolding and unraveling back home while I was on vacation. (My experience of trying to explore and enjoy Italy, the horrors at the border always on my mind, will likely be the subject of another long blog post.)

Other items I read in June are relevant to my interest in museums, or have something to do with my current job, or were written by or about authors on the recently announced 2018 National Book Festival speaker list. Or, in other cases, I just saw a link on Facebook or something interesting in a little or big library.


Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Vita Nuova by Magdalen Nabb

Short Stories:

“Cold Little Bird” by Ben Marcus

“The Origin of the Birds” by Italo Calvino

“Lucy Lives in a World of Infinite Possibility” by Roxane Gay


When My Brother Was an Aztec” by Natalie Diaz

When the Beloved Asks, ‘What Would You Do if You Woke Up and I Was a Shark?’“ by Natalie Diaz

“Why I Don’t Mention Flowers When Conversations with My Brother Reach Uncomfortable Silences” by Natalie Diaz

“A Wild Zoo Life” by Natalie Diaz

“Blue River” by Keith A. Gilkey

Articles/Essays/Editorials/Blog posts/etc.:

Asian Art Finds a Home on the Blue River Parkway – a year-old article about a new art gallery in Colorado.

the vr experience ‘lube river‘ is undoing the stigma around sex toys – No, this is not a case of mistyping the close anagram “blue river” as in the previous article. This NSFW piece by S. Nicole Lane discusses “a cross between experiential gaming and art installation” brought to New York City by artists based in the New Museum’s artist incubator.

A family was separated at the border, and this distraught father took his own life – amid the news of a couple of recent high-profile suicides, we also learn of one tragic ending to the traumatic events happening at the United States border.

‘New York Is a Union Town!’: MoMA Union Demonstrates Outside GalaArtNews reports on efforts by the Museum of Modern Art employees’ union on a number of issues.

Sailor museum exhibit reveals stories of life-saving pigeons, morale-boosting dogs, mascots – article about an exhibit at Illinois’s National Museum of the American Sailor.

UNO Student Tackles Bucket List With 6 Months to Live – a heartstrings-tugging story out of Omaha, where a college student living with cancer is determined to continue studying, visit France and Germany, and play Pokémon Go.

New Bell Museum to have bird-safe glass – a natural history museum in Minnesota will be in compliance with state law, which “requires bird-friendly design for buildings funded by the state” beginning in 2013.

Saving lives in her plan: Gaby Baack uses planning skills to organize blood drives – highlighting a Nebraska high school student who wants to give something Baack.

The Right Way to Run Out the Clock at Work When You Can’t Leave Early – because sometimes, you need to find a way to give your brain a break and still be productive.

7 Unexpected Ways to Boost Your Creativity (Even if You Think You Have None) –  I actually think I have a lot of creativity, so I found it interesting to read these suggestions (most of which I already do, quite a bit) from Jimmy Okuszka at

How to Ask to Pick Someone’s Brain—Without Being Annoying – five tips on the elusive informational interview, including not suggesting coffee.

Give A Pint At Audubon’s Red Cross Blood Drive, And You’ll Receive A Pound Of Birdseed – I love that this nature center in Jamestown, NY is offering an incentive directly related to their content area and mission. A typical blood drive provides snacks for blood donors, but this one also provides snacks for the birds.

Parks and Rec Aquatics Division honored by the American Red Cross for excellence in lifeguard training – probably the happiest thing I’ve read about Texas all month.

On Hawaii’s Big Island: Near Kilauea volcano, life ‘normal for none of us’ – recent sad news from Hawaii.

70 Different Email Sign-offs (for When You’re Sick of Saying “Best”) – I sent this list to a coworker, since she and I have also spent time brainstorming creative, often alliterative ways to end emails. I’ve personally never been a fan of “Best.”

How to Be Friends with Someone Who Works for You – I am pretty sure I could not be like Einat: In her role, Mariah often knew information that would impact Einat’s job, including possible layoffs and promotions. Even though they were close friends, Mariah had to keep this sensitive information confidential. Mariah trusted that Einat would understand the constraints on transparency because of their roles at work. When I talked with Einat, she did understand and called it her “suck-it-up muscle.”

Red Cross Safety Town Returns this June – an educational opportunity for kids in Greenwich, Connecticut, with classroom components as well as tours of emergency vehicles.

The Horror of Inhumane Immigrant Family Separation Demands We Cut Trump Supporters Out of Our Lives – I can’t agree with, and found it very uncomfortable to read, this Alternet piece, which demands a different kind of family separation.

Life Inside D.C.’s Motel Homeless Shelters – in recent local news, the conditions at motels serving as homeless shelters are pretty ugly.

17 Real-Life Would-You-Rathers I, a Woman, Have Had to Ask Myself – Isabella Giovannini’s piece at McSweeney’s clearly resonated with female readers, if my Facebook network’s newsfeed is any indication.

Madeleine Albright on Her Life in Pins – an interview with the former Secretary of State in Smithsonian Magazine, on the occasion of the 2010 exhibit of her pins.

(About that) Water is Life – information about a 2017 exhibit at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts curated by poet Heid E. Erdrich.

What the dip in US life expectancy is really about: inequality – a deeper look into a somber trend of overall life expectancy declining for Americans uncovers the widening gap between life expectancy for the wealthy and the poor.

Rep. Maxine Waters Goes On Live TV And Reads Actual Quotes Of Trump Inciting Violence – because the “lock her up” crowd suddenly wants civility. I am so confused.

Ajo, Arizona: A Small Town Pushed to the Brink, and Coming Back – Deborah Fallows discusses how an economically struggling town embraced art as a way to move forward.

What’s a Land Artist to Do When His Living Sculpture Starts Dying? David Nash Comes to Terms With the End of ‘Ash Dome’ – a British artist planted trees in a secret location with the intention that they would outlive him, but a fatal fungus has thwarted this goal.

We Wake Up When the Bombs Come Home – a thoughtful and prescient 2015 blog post from the brilliant Nerissa Nields.

When accountability looks like abuse: a call for trauma-informed social justice – something that has often been on my mind but that I’ve never been able to articulate this well. “And so here we are. Re-enacting our trauma on each other. And we’re letting it slide (or not seeing it) because our society isn’t trauma-informed. Including our political discourse. Even in social justice. For some us, the trauma we experience turns into mental illness.”

In Trump, some fear the end of the world order – a Washington Post article on the G-7 Summit held in June.

Gena Turgel, Holocaust survivor known as Bride of Belsen, dies – a moving obituary of a concentration camp survivor who helped care for Anne Frank in her last days and later dedicated her life to teaching new generations about the Holocaust.

Ark, lifeboat or something wilder? Future of zoos under debate – discussion of what role zoos should serve now and in the future. One question that must be considered, as ethics continue to move to the forefront of such conversations, is the well-being of species versus individuals.

The 5 Places Where People Live the Longest and Healthiest Lives – the common denominators seem to be unprocessed plant-based food, time for exercise as well as rest, a strong community, and a sense of purpose.

Why A Pro-Life World Has A Lot of Dead Women in It – in discussions of the complex topic of abortion, it is important to remember the financial and health risks of having a baby in the United States.

Bowie’s benefits touted on live local television broadcast – article by Capital Gazette shooting victim John McNamara.

Teen of the Week: South River senior is budding entrepreneur – article by Capital Gazette shooting victim Wendi Winters.

Rome’s Sparkling Fountain of the Four Rivers – A travel blog’s description of one of the sights I saw during my June trip to Italy.

Donald Trump only heeds “the law” when it comes to separating immigrant families. – From not defending the Affordable Care Act to ripping up documents to everything being investigated by Mueller, all these examples paint the portrait of a president who believes he is above the law.

When Justin Trudeau Asked How Canada Could Be a National Security Threat to the U.S., Trump Brought Up the War of 1812 – Jordan Weissman concludes that “Canada’s leaders have been wielding a catchy but slightly bogus argument to criticize America’s obviously insincere but perhaps legally sound justification for starting a trade war.”

When a Day in Court Is a Trap for Immigrants – Steve Coll’s New Yorker article explains, “Most often, ICE agents target criminal defendants who may be deportable, but they have also arrested people in New York family court, juvenile court, and specialized courts devoted to the prevention of human trafficking.”

When the White House Can’t Be Believed – NPR’s David Folkenflik argues that the Trump administration’s untrue and contradictory statements about the family separation policy fit right in with the president’s history of lying. Folkenflik concludes from Trump’s rationalizations, “It’s OK, apparently, to deceive the public as long as it’s through the nation’s leading newspaper.”

The Red Hen owner is right. Stop defending decorum and do something about Donald Trump. – Jason Sattler argues against the “We go high” approach that I’ve generally embraced, saying that to be civil is to “go on acting as if everything is normal as anti-immigrant smears turn into what many experts call child abuse.”

What Happens When Parents and Children Are Separated At The U.S.-Mexico Border – Transcript of an NPR interview: “There is an immigration attorney with the ACLU who described kids clinging to their mothers, having to be physically separated and parents telling the older ones – be brave; be brave.”

When ICE Tries to Deport Americans, Who Defends Them? – another New Yorker piece by Steve Coll. The stories here further confirm what I’ve come to believe after five years in the legal field: to the extent that the legal system can work at all, it only works when both sides have access to counsel. Period.

When you look at Melania Trump’s ‘I really don’t care’ jacket, remember the President’s worst crime isn’t family separation – “But take a closer look at that executive order, and it turns out Trump’s most horrible crime to date isn’t even locking children in cages – it’s having the balls to try and trick us into thinking he’s actually going to stop doing it,” argues this opinion piece.

Louise Erdrich discusses her new novel, ‘Future Home of the Living God’ – the author talks about one of the novels I read in June.

Scientists Pinpoint the Secret Password That Unlocks Cowbirds‘ Self-Identity – “…the auditory system generally associated with recognizing birdsong is divided into two components. One part helps them to identity other cowbirds using the chatter password, and the other enables them to learn songs from those cowbirds once they have joined a flock.”

None of the old rules apply’: Dave Eggers travels through post-election America – so eerie to read this November 2016 article in June 2018. “Would he really try to build a wall? Would he really try to exclude all Muslims? Would he actually appoint a white nationalist as his chief of staff? And did 42% of American women really vote for a man who threatened to overturn Roe v Wade and who bragged about grabbing them by the pussy? Did the white working class really elect a man whose most famous catchphrase was ‘You’re fired’?”

Southern Bells – blog post by Elizabeth Thomas about material culture she encountered and contemplated in her research on her ancestor William Holland Thomas.

When in Rome…Go Birding! – I can’t say I “went birding” in Rome, though I did see plenty of birds, in real life and in art.

Agnone, the bells’ town – a town in Italy known for its “ancient papal bell factory.”

Rome seals off roads caked with droppings from birds that binged on olives – fortunately for me and my family, this happened in January 2016, not in the last few weeks.

This Town Has a Plan to Protect Kids From ICE – Mount Pleasant, Iowa and its First Presbyterian Church are determined to keep its resident families together.

Everybody’s got the right to live: Living wages and housing – Just as in the above article, it’s always interesting to see other religions (in this case, the United Methodist Church) advocate for similar ideals as my own.

Beyoncé’s control of her own image belies the bell hooks ‘slave’ critique – Roxane Gay responds to hooks’s calling Beyoncé an “anti-feminist” and a “terrorist”.

9 Genius Ways To Change Someone’s Mind, According To Science – the ideas in this listicle cover a variety of situations, such as pitching a project proposal at work and trying to change another person’s beliefs.

Nazis separated me from my parents as a child. The trauma lasts a lifetime – “We can expect thousands of lives to be damaged, for many years or for ever, by ‘zero tolerance’. We can expect old men and women, decades from now, still suffering, still remembering, still writing in the present tense.”

All four living former first ladies condemn Trump border policy – No support for the policy exists among the bipartisan group of former first ladies alive today.

How can America sleep at night when families are being torn apart? – asks Jessica Valenti, rhetorically, in The Guardian.

How to sleep at night when families are being separated at the border – answers Alexandra Petri, satirically, in The Washington Post.

What’s Really Happening When Asylum-Seeking Families Are Separated? – lots of details on what has been happening at the border, including the difficulties migrants face in reaching the ports of entry where they are technically allowed to present their asylum cases (“So if you cross any other way besides the bridge, we’re prosecuting you. But . . . you can’t cross the bridge.”) as well as the two separate agencies tasked with detaining children and adults, respectively, with no system to reunite the two.

Sarah McBride: ‘Queer To Me Is Not Just My Identity. It’s An Action.’ – interview with trans writer and activist Sarah McBride. Happy belated Pride!

Audiobook whose print version I read years ago and fell asleep listening to in June:

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul

Movie version I watched of a book I read years ago:

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

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Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge Update (May 2018)

May’s words were: pearl, flower, clasp, pale, mountain, one, never, dog, around

Here’s what I read and listened to:


On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood by Irmgard A. Hunt


Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng


Asleep! O Sleep A Little While, White Pearl!” by John Keats

Pale Grace and Ashes” by Robin Niendick

The Clasp” by Margaret Cavendish, which the poet wrote, in the 17th century, about my life (“For I did walk, and think, and break my brains.”)


Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ Is a Masterpiece of Racial Metaphor” by Mimi Wong at Electric Literature

One-third of American households have struggled to afford either food, shelter or medical care” on MarketWatch. Survey results add yet more evidence of a grim new reality.

Teenage Vandals Were Sentenced to Read Books. Here’s What One Learned.” – article in the New York Times, about a local museum-and-book-related case in Loudoun County, VA.

Millennials born in 1980s may never recover from the Great Recession” by Tami Luhby on CNN’s website. Ugh. I was born in the 1980s and was hoping to recover maybe in time to retire someday?

Dog Always Brings A Leaf To ‘Buy’ Himself Treats At The Store” – this story from The Dodo is adorable.

No one is an ‘animal’ “ by E.J. Dionne Jr. in the Washington Post, arguing that it is never appropriate for the president to use dehumanizing language.

We read every one of the 3,517 Facebook ads bought by Russians. Here’s what we found” is a chilling USA Today article.

One French Museum Just Discovered Half Its Paintings Are Fake” in Fortune discusses an unhappy discovery at the Terrus Museum.

Museum Discovers One Of The Largest Eggs Ever Laid Mislabelled As A Model” at regarding the Buffalo Museum of Science is perhaps the flip side of the same coin as the previous article.


Around the world in 15 minutes” – a 1992 broadcast from the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Books that I read start-to-finish in the past, for which I listened to parts of the audio versions in May 2018 (and slept through other parts):

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – plus I watched the movie in May

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard


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Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge Update (April 2018)

In April, I received doctor’s orders to listen to podcasts, so this list includes pieces that I read (with my eyes) as well as items I listened to (with my ears).

The key words for April were: clear, rain, lily, basket, out, gather, valley, all, cross


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Young Adult Novels:

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah


Rain in Summer” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In the Valley of Cautertz” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘Yes, I loved those nocturnal gatherings – ‘” by Anna Akhmatova

Flower-gathering” by Robert Frost


Check Out the World’s Largest Archive Digitally Preserving At-Risk Heritage Sites” in the Smithsonian Magazine details this digitization project, which features 27 heritage sites so far, including three I have visited (the Lincoln Memorial, Taos Pueblo, and Teotihuacán).

The new Bible museum tells a clear, powerful story. And it could change the museum business.” A review of DC’s new Museum of the Bible in the Washington Post discusses how the museum’s underlying assumption of the Bible being absolute truth would be received differently by believers as opposed to atheists, agnostics, and adherents to other world religions. I am also curious about how the messaging would be interpreted by members of religions whose holy books have some overlap with the Bible, as well as Christians who believe in the Bible as metaphor but not literal history.

We do not all ‘have as many hours as Beyoncé’” by Bobbi Dempsey in Quartz: “You never know what’s going on in people’s lives—and if you come at them with a shaming attitude, you likely won’t ever find out, because nobody is going to open up to someone who treats them in that way.”

Unsellable 196-Foot Picnic Basket Marked Down to $5 Million” on Gizmodo gets a handle on the woes of Longaberger’s giant basket-shaped building as of September 2016. (The building eventually sold in late 2017.)

Not everyone feels welcome camping out in ‘third spaces’ like Starbucks” is an NPR article that I found on The headline should not be surprising to anyone who’s been following Starbucks in the news of late.

Podcasts/audio articles/etc.:

You Cannot Go Out” on UU World

We Have All Been Charged” on UU World

The Audio Book Club Squints at All the Light We Cannot Seefrom the Slate Audio Book Club

Museums at a Crossroads with Rainey Tisdale” at Museum Archipelago (okay, maybe it’s a stretch to count this as having two different words from the challenge)

The Red Cross Task Force” – a 1964 broadcast from the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross

Basket of Deportables” on This American Life; the episode starts out as a tearjerker, then segues into how haphazardly, and with how little coordination with experts and government agencies, the travel ban was put into effect in January 2017.

Scientists Seek To Save Endangered Western Lily” – a short recording from WBUR in Oregon

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