Hey Big Brother, We Cannot be Silenced

I’m about to commit a thoughtcrime. Big Brother won’t like this, but I am infuriated by the recent banning of seven important words from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) vocabulary.  The words “diversity,” “fetus,” “transgender,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “science-based” and “evidence-based” are no longer allowed to appear in the CDC budget.

This is a big deal.CDC 7 banned words

This action, intended to begin to silence the American people, may also lead to reduced quality of programming and essential services. We cannot ignore health disparities that require us to acknowledge diversity. We cannot ignore the word fetus and downplay the importance of prenatal care or pretend like abortions don’t happen for many different reasons. We cannot ignore people who identify as transgender and their unique health needs. We cannot forget that our societal structure leaves particular members more vulnerable than others, necessitating the running of entitlement programs to create a more just and equitable society. Lastly, we cannot ignore the importance of program evaluation to ensure that we are making a positive and measurable impact on the health and wellbeing of our fellow citizens using programming and curricula that is science and evidence-based.

Trump is testing the waters. We must sink this before has the chance to pull on his floaties and wade into the water. So, what can you do? Call your congresspeople and demand action. Don’t know who your congresspeople are? Look them up here. Then, print out this list of the CDC 7 banned words and display it in a prominent place to remind yourself that these words cannot be erased from our vernacular. There’s too much at stake.

Trump Attacked our Reproductive Freedom, Now is Our Chance to Fight Back

By issuing an individual mandate last month, Trump rescinded reproductive freedoms promised to us by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The new rule makes it so that employers can use religious or moral beliefs to block employee access to copay-free birth control. Yes, you read that right – your employer can tell you whether or not you can have access to affordable birth control, regardless of why you need it.

Your time to fight back and have your voice heard is now. The Administration is accepting public comment on this rule now through December 5th. You can submit your comments here, demanding that essential health and reproductive freedoms are reinstated.

Need inspiration? Here’s my public comment:

Contraception is a basic preventative measure that makes public health and economic sense. I, and millions of other women across the country, use birth control to regulate acne, reduce cramping and other menstruation-related pains, and to remain in control of a deeply personal decision: whether and when to become a parent, among a variety of other reasons. Birth control also reduces the need for abortions, which is something the Administration cares deeply about. The removal of the guarantee of copay-free coverage jeopardizes health care and reproductive freedoms, and it is time to rescind this discriminatory rule.

Three years ago I made one of the best decisions of my life: I got an Intrauterine Device (IUD). This opportunity was afforded to me only because of the ACA. The ACA allowed me to stay on my parent’s health insurance while I worked multiple part-time jobs to pay for school, and then gave me the freedom to choose the method of birth control that I wanted without fear of cost. What would have cost me over $1,000.00 out-of-pocket was completely covered by my health insurance.

Health care and the ability to remain in control of your own body are human rights. It is our government’s job to protect those rights.

Don’t forget to submit your comment by December 5th!

Channeling Brene Brown to be Brave

Flashback to 2013, I was sitting in an adolescent health class feeling insecure and inadequate as a young graduate student at just 22 years old. My professor started to play a TedTalk titled “The Power of Vulnerability.” I listened as Brene Brown, celebrity social worker and storytelling extraordinaire, discussed how vulnerability is core to fear, shame, and worthiness, but also that it is the root of joy, creativity, and belonging. Her message both challenged me and resonated with me for the juxtaposition and clarity it provided. Through the years I have come to love Brene Brown and look to her as a member of my “brain trust” (more on that later). She tells me the things I know deep down but sometimes have trouble unearthing, things like: it is okay to be vulnerable, do not be afraid to dare greatly, and, most recently, be brave. Easier said than done, right?

I had the great honor of seeing Brene Brown give the keynote address at HubSpot’s Inbound 2017 this September. True to her signature style, she challenged me to be brave and not to fear belonging. Her message was simple: “when you show up and be your authentic self, you belong.” In today’s cultural and political climate it can be difficult to stand up for our beliefs, especially when we fear that those beliefs make us an outsider.

Our quest should not be to fit in or be liked, but to find the courage to sometimes stand alone. Moreover, we need people to turn to when we feel fearful or need a shot of courage – these are the members of our brain trust. These are people we admire, alive or dead, whether we know them personally or not, who can provide guidance and encouragement when we need it most. For Brene, her brain trust includes Ken Burns and Oprah Winfrey. Mine includes Michelle Obama, Robert Kennedy, and Brene Brown, among others. According to Brene, belonging is not something you negotiate with other people, and the people with the highest sense of belonging are the least afraid of standing alone or feeling like an outsider. True belonging is feeling comfortable being your most authentic self. These are the types of brave, unapologetically authentic people that are a part of my brain trust; they are the role models that inspire me to stand up to injustice, even when I feel alone and afraid.  

Now and again I find myself whispering, “just dare greatly.” Whether this means asking difficult questions, acknowledging when I do not know something, or going out on a limb for something I am passionate about, I imagine Brene and the rest of my brain trust there with me. This was also true when during her keynote, Brene asked the entire audience to stand up and turn toward one another to belt “American Pie” by Don McLean. The walls of vulnerability melted away and we joined together in song, albeit off-key.

I guess I am not so alone in this quest to be brave after all. That vulnerability TedTalk has gone on to be one of the top five most viewed TedTalks of all time with over 31 million views. That Inbound conference? I sat in a sea of 10,000 people, mostly from the corporate sector, who stood to give Brene a standing ovation. My takeaway is this: in order to be brave and find belonging, we must first allow ourselves to be vulnerable. It is here, outside of our comfort zones, but deep within ourselves, that we will find the strength to move mountains.

Finding Comfort in the Unknown

Recently, on my 25th birthday, I posted a photo and jokingly wrote in the caption that a quarter life crisis would follow. Apparently it wasn’t actually a joke. Against the advice of my family and friends and totally out of character, I quit my full-time job. I’m so “Type A” that I have anxiety when the volume for the TV or radio is something other than an interval of five. As you might imagine and in typical Type A fashion, I always have a plan, and I’m always prepared… until now. I have no idea what my next move will be. But you know what? I am not nervous or anxious; I am liberated.

Former colleagues are asking me about what is next, and for once in my life I am responding by saying “I don’t know”. At first I was embarrassed, but now I am not. I have never had a “break” in my entire life. I deserve this moment in time to undo the burnout I feel and truly figure out what my calling is in life. I worked my ass off, and still do. I got my first real job at fourteen, and haven’t stopped since. I almost always have two jobs while going to school or pursuing some other passion simultaneously. So much so, that during my last year of graduate school I was enrolled in full-time coursework while working full-time.

Even though I soon won’t have a full-time job, I still have two part-time jobs, and what feels like a million other side projects, so don’t be so quick to label me as a “typical” millennial. I’m not lazy, never have been, and never will be. I am still responsible and gave my employer ample notice, but now the countdown to the unknown is on… literally. I have an app on my phone that is counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until I am unemployed, and I could not be more excited (as I write this there are 11 days, 21 hours, 49 minutes, and 46 seconds left).

Quitting isn’t cowardly; on the contrary, it is brave. I am practicing self-care and creating space for myself to begin down a path that is more purposeful and better set with intention. This is the least anxious and depressed, and the most free I’ve ever felt. For now, I am finding comfort in the unknown and embracing it with open arms. This is my time.

Building your own Wellness Wheel

Q: What the hell is wellness and how do I know if I am “well”?

A: First off, health and wellness are distinct, but linked. What started as a hippie movement in California is now known as the journey to good health, and can be achieved by everyone, not just the hippies in California. Journey is the key word here. Wellness is an on-going process, involving 6-8 components (depending on who you ask). We often see wellness conveyed through a Wellness Wheel, resembling a pie with a slice for each area of wellness. One who is “well” has achieved a balance in all areas of wellness, represented by even slices of their “pie” or Wellness Wheel.

With my students I use an eight component Wellness Wheel (modeled after SAMHSA), representing the different dimensions of wellness: intellectual, emotional, physical, occupational, financial, spiritual, environmental, and social. Need definitions of each of these wellness components? Check them out here.

Wellness Assessment

Wellness Wheel Personal Assessment Worksheet

At the start of the semester, to help them assess their personal wellness, I have them complete a Wellness Wheel Personal Assessment (see image to the left and download the worksheet PDF here). The intent of this assignment is to create a visual representation of the amount of time and energy they already dedicate to certain areas of wellness. With this, they can better understand which areas have room for improvement and where to focus their wellness efforts (and it’s a great conversation starter, too).

Did you try it out with your students? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Wellness Wheel-ing!

A Mental Health Road Map (Spoiler: it Ends in Happiness)

Ma$e was on to something. Sometimes you just need to breathe, stretch, shake, and let it go. Depression, stress, and anxiety are on the rise, and now more than ever we need to be mindful of and intentional about our own mental health. There are many causes of mental illness, but the ultimate antithesis of depression, stress, and anxiety is happiness.

Be happy. You’ve been told this before. Someone was trying to console you or cheer you up and they told you to “be happy”. You many have smiled as a way to show that you appreciated the concern, but what are you supposed to actually do with that advice? How does one “be happy”?

Let me tell you, it isn’t easy. If we’re trying to battle depression, stress, and anxiety, with the end goal of achieving happiness, we need coping strategies. On your path to minimize, master, or tolerate any of these ailments its helpful to put your problems into two buckets: “What are the things that I can control?” and “What are the things I cannot control?” Here’s a handy visual for you:


Either way, happiness is the end goal, but how you get there for things you can control vs. things you cannot control can be very different.

For things you can control:

  1. Seek Help. No matter what is causing you trouble, you are not alone. There are 7 Billion people in this world. Find someone who can understand or at the very least empathize with you to help you work through your problem.
  2. Problem-solve. You’re smarter than you think. Try approaching the situation from a different angle, gain a new perspective. Things are never as flat or linear as they seem.

For things you cannot control:

  1. Vent. It is normal and therapeutic to talk about what is bothering you. Vent and then move on. The moving on part is key – holding on to what is bothering you will only cause you more grief. Let it go.
  2. Adjust Expectations. This is not the same thing as settling. Sometimes we work ourselves up over what could or should be, causing unnecessary depression, stress, or anxiety. It is okay for things to not turn out the way we imaged them.

The more in-tune you are with yourself and the problems that are causing you distress, the easier it will be to handle them. Take a moment everyday to check-in with yourself. Start your day with an intention, find time to meditate or practice breathing, create a self-care plan, and be mindful of your emotions and what is causing them.

YearinPixels image.png

Year in Pixels 

One easy and fun way to check-in with yourself and be mindful about your personal emotional wellness is to fill-in a “Year in Pixels” chart (click the link to download the attachment). Every box on the grid represents a different day of the year. There are 8 different emotional categories. At the end of the day simply assess you overall emotional well-being and categorize it as “amazing, awesome”, “really great, happy”, “normal, average”, “tired, exhausted”, “sad, depressed”, “frustrated”, “stressed”, or “sick, ill”. After a year you will have a really easy, colorful way to understand your current mental health status so that you can make a plan to improve it.

It is so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day that is life and even easier to ignore personal mental health. Make room for yourself and be happy.


Books Bend Brains – 25 Favorite Reads

In my 25 years of life I have read a lot of books, but not nearly enough. In my Wellness Course I preach that reading is a key component of intellectual wellness – expanding knowledge, skills, creativity, and curiosity to fuel lifelong learning. At times I struggle to put down my phone, remove myself from work obligations, and forego Netflix binges to focus on a book. Once I find a book I love, though, there is nothing else in the world that could capture my attention. Here are 25 of those books (in alphabetical order because I could not possible rank them):

11/23/63: A Novel by Stephen King

Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out. President John F. Kennedy is dead.
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke…Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

1984 by George Orwell

Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thoughtcrimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching…

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

In The Bean Trees they found a spirited protagonist, Taylor Greer, who grew up in poor in rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when Taylor heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time she arrives in Tucson, she has acquired a completely unexpected child and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true. At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

The Catcher and the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

Dog Days: A Year in the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile by Dave Ihlenfeld

It was the ultimate road trip: a year-long journey in a 27-foot-long fibre glass hotdog across the US and Europe. Rife with breakdowns, meaty puns, the burdens of instant celebrity and more Wiener Whistles than anyone could ever hope for, this book explores a year in the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs

You may not know it, but you’ve met Augusten Burroughs. You’ve seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twentysomething guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve; when the ordinary person went home at midnight, Augusten never went home at all. Loud, distracting ties, automated wake-up calls and cologne on the tongue could only hide so much for so long. At the request (well, it wasn’t really a request) of his employers, Augusten lands in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey Jr. are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers. But when Augusten is forced to examine himself, something actually starts to click and that’s when he finds himself in the worst trouble of all. Because when his thirty days are up, he has to return to his same drunken Manhattan life―and live it sober. What follows is a memoir that’s as moving as it is funny, as heartbreaking as it is true. Dry is the story of love, loss, and Starbucks as a Higher Power.

Fight Club: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk

The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. In his debut novel, Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation’s most visionary satirist. Fight Club’s estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret boxing matches in the basement of bars. There two men fight “as long as they have to.” A gloriously original work that exposes what is at the core of our modern world.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Eddie is a grizzled war veteran who feels trapped in a meaningless life of fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. His days are a dull routine of work, loneliness, and regret.

Then, on his 83rd birthday, Eddie dies in a tragic accident, trying to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakens in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a lush Garden of Eden, but a place where your earthly life is explained to you by five people. These people may have been loved ones or distant strangers. Yet each of them changed your path forever.

One by one, Eddie’s five people illuminate the unseen connections of his earthly life. As the story builds to its stunning conclusion, Eddie desperately seeks redemption in the still-unknown last act of his life: Was it a heroic success or a devastating failure The answer, which comes from the most unlikely of sources, is as inspirational as a glimpse of heaven itself.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an excitement addict. Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever. Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family – Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank, He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home. What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Invited to an extravagantly lavish party in a Long Island mansion, Nick Carraway, a young bachelor who has just settled in the neighbouring cottage, is intrigued by the mysterious host, Jay Gatsby, a flamboyant but reserved self-made man with murky business interests and a shadowy past. As the two men strike up an unlikely friendship, details of Gatsby’s impossible love for a married woman emerge, until events spiral into tragedy.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life-which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job-Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That’s when things start to get crazy.

At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn’t brilliant compared to the other kids; he’s just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable and Craig stops eating and sleeping-until, one night, he nearly kills himself.

Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

Lit by Mary Karr

Karr’s longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, Shakespeare-quoting blueblood poet produces a son they adore. But she can’t outrun her apocalyptic past. She drinks herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide. A hair-raising stint in “The Mental Marriott,” with an oddball tribe of gurus and saviors, awakens her to the possibility of joy and leads her to an unlikely faith. Not since Saint Augustine cried, “Give me chastity, Lord-but not yet!” has a conversion story rung with such dark hilarity.

Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr’s relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up–as only Mary Karr can tell it.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

When we first meet 14-year-old Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. This was before milk carton photos and public service announcements, she tells us; back in 1973, when Susie mysteriously disappeared, people still believed these things didn’t happen. In the sweet, untroubled voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death and her own adjustment to the strange new place she finds herself. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. With love, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie watches her family as they cope with their grief, her father embarks on a search for the killer, her sister undertakes a feat of amazing daring, her little brother builds a fort in her honor and begin the difficult process of healing. In the hands of a brilliant novelist, this story of seemingly unbearable tragedy is transformed into a suspenseful and touching story about family, memory, love, heaven, and living.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Our sharpest and most original social critic goes “undercover” as an unskilled worker to reveal the dark side of American prosperity.

Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job — any job — can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly “unskilled,” that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you int to live indoors.

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity — a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Read it for the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich’s perspective and for a rare view of how “prosperity” looks from the bottom. You will never see anything — from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal — in quite the same way again.

Room by Emma Donoghue

To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. . . . It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack’s curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

The year is 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, have come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Multiple murderess Rachel Solando is loose somewhere on this remote and barren island, despite having been kept in a locked cell under constant surveillance. As a killer hurricane relentlessly bears down on them, a strange case takes on even darker, more sinister shades—with hints of radical experimentation, horrifying surgeries, and lethal countermoves made in the cause of a covert shadow war. No one is going to escape Shutter Island unscathed, because nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems. But then neither is Teddy Daniels.


Okay, maybe I can choose a favorite – The Glass Castle. Hands down.

Note: all book descriptions taken from Amazon. 

The Land of Opportunity Sets Students up for Failure

“Be careful. This isn’t a good place for you.”

That is what my Uber driver said to me as he dropped me off at a public middle school in Miami Gardens, FL. I am a twenty-something blonde and blue-eyed White woman, and clearly in the minority. I was there to do a site visit and check-in with administrators and educators who were using a nutrition education program I manage. Obviously, his statement left me a little unsettled, but concern about my own safety quickly dissipated and concern for the wellbeing of America’s public school children heightened.

I patiently waited for the Principal to meet with me, silently observing the inner workings of this school community. Posters featuring Black leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. lined the display case, carefully preserved, offering words of wisdom and inspiration for all those who pass by. As I waited in the main office I was greeted with more “good mornings” from staff and students than I have ever received anywhere else. This school is not a scary place.

The community that surrounds the school may have high rates of violence (6.3 in Miami Gardens compared to 4.6 in Florida and 3.8 nationwide), but it is a safe-haven for the neighborhood’s children. The new Principal has seen to that.

The new Principal was assigned to this school, on the brink of receivership, with the task of boosting test scores to keep the school run by the district. If the school maintains its “F” rating for the third year in a row, then the state will take it over. The Principal keeps a list of last year’s standardized test averages on display in front of her desk as a daily reminder to persevere. Her predictions for this year’s test scores will bring the school to a “C” rating, a significant feat when faced with so many obstacles.

Standardized tests do not set students up for success. Test outcomes drive focus within classrooms, discouraging skill or knowledge development that does not fit neatly into reading, writing, or math boxes. A school district that is truly focused on the whole-child knows that these strict foci are not the keys to student success, especially when test results drive school funding and teacher salaries. Students from neighborhoods with high rates of violence and poverty mean that they are faced with numerous personal obstacles even before they set foot in a classroom.

The Miami Gardens middle school Principal knows this. In her first year she is working to raise rates of school breakfast participation, raise literacy levels in creative ways, and build a sense of community through events and programs like a social media campaign that encourages healthy eating and a field day.

Students are distracted, hungry, and experience high rates of administrator and teacher turnover due to burnout and low pay. How can we expect students or teachers to succeed without proper support? We need more services and opportunities for them, not less.

Tying school funding and curricula to test results is doing everyone a disservice. We need stronger leadership for public school education from the top down. Betsy DeVos is not a wise choice for our nation’s education secretary, but in the interim, leaders like the Principal at this Miami Gardens middle school give me hope that even when facing every possible obstacle, hard work and compassion can lift disadvantaged students up and create opportunities for success, no matter where you come from.


Trump Trolls & Other Feminist Tales

Hi, my name is Jamie and I have been trolled. It started November 9, 2016, the very day Donald J. Trump and his tiny Twitter fingers were elected the 45th President of the United States of America, when a Facebook group I had joined in unity with Hillary Clinton changed its name to “I Support Trump”. Then, on January 21, 2017, the very day millions of people across the world came together to peacefully protest Trump’s ascent and everything he represents, I was trolled again.

The morning of January 21, 2017, I pulled on my Rosie the Riveter socks and I marched in solidarity with 175,000 women and allies in Boston, MA. We were a sea of signs and pink hats, lifting each other up, emanating hope, and organizing for change. I proudly shared each step of my journey from bedtime reading to poster making to marching on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, using hashtags and geotags to connect with a global support network.

Social media can feel like a close confidant, encouraging you to share your thoughts and opinions, making you feel comfortable and secure. You are liked and loved by friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Then one day you wake up and realize you are sinking into a slowly rising swamp surrounded by trolls who have escaped from under uninviting bridges to hide behind thoughts of building walls and revoking reproductive health care rights.

16143409_10154742696300199_2589150310302248528_oThe Rosie the Riveter sock and ode to Beyonce’s lemonade-soaked feminism photo did me in. I shared the post on Facebook, garnering many positive reactions and this comment: “Are you fighting for equality of outcome or opportunity?”. I read it over a few times, and in my head, I thought: Jamie, not worth responding. You know this person and you know that he says things like this to rile you up. I let it go.

Less than 24 hours later he writes again: “Jamie, are you supporting equality or the redistribution of money from workers to pay for your reproductive parts?”. He did not just say that, did he? Is he really that narrow-minded? Is he actually dating a WOMAN I consider a friend and can say something so snidely disrespectful about a gender someone he loves identifies with while at the same time pitting this same gender against the working class? I politely responded: “How about you don’t try to start shit on my photo celebrating womanhood and a day of lifting marginalized groups up.” Boom.

He was not done. He told me that I could not possibly be for both and that I must choose. Guess what, I am for everything you are not and so much more. Better yet, so are my loving male friends and mom (hi, mom) who stepped in and showed up. Who said that “health care isn’t limited to where men’s needs begin and end”, who stated that equality is a no-brainer, and thoughtfully pointed out that if this person was so firmly against the government redistributing revenue in a way that benefited some or many, but not all, then he could pay back everything he has likely already taken from the system in the way of public libraries, transit, the post office, etc.

Our government certainly does not work for all, but it works for many thanks to the thoughtful leadership of the Obamas and many others. Eight years of progress are on the line, threatening to be unraveled. Now is not the time to sit idly by. This is why I march.

I dedicate this post to men and women who rise up, show up, and do not hide behind their computer screens and tiny Twitter fingers. May the resistance be with you. God Bless America.

Millennials: We Will Keep America Great, Together

The rhetoric on social media is clear: my millennial peers are not happy with the outcome of this election. Friends, colleagues, and former classmates are flooding Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat with posts exclaiming that president-elect Donald Trump is “not my president” and that it is “time for a revolution”. Like me, they feel angry, hurt, and blindsided by this election. Maybe we did not fully understand what was at stake, maybe we lost faith too quickly when Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race, maybe we assumed that others would donate their time and money to elect a president that best represents our values. Despite crushing disappointment, we can no longer be complacent and we will not wait to take action or make a stand again.

I should not have been blinded by this election outcome; I should have known better and I should have done more. On February 6, 2016, I laced up my sneakers and anxiously, excitedly hit the pavement in my New Hampshire hometown, canvassing for whom I hoped would become America’s first female president. Bernie Sanders was still in the race, but I had faith in my state and the rest of our nation.

On that cool, spring-like day I knocked on the door of a normal middle class home. A middle-aged White man opened the door and when I asked him who he was considering voting for in the 2016 New Hampshire primary he responded, “either Hillary… or that other guy”. At this point I assumed he meant Bernie Sanders, but I was hesitant to put words in his mouth. It seemed logical to me that someone would be undecided about two candidates from one party, not two candidates reflecting extremely different values and visions for this country. Then he proceeded, “you know, the one with all the money”. That was it. He was undecided between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump just days before the primary. What would become the 2016 presidential election unfolded in front of my very eyes: an America that is confused and divided.

My millennial peers were just as lost, desperately searching for signs of who to vote for just hours before the election or defiantly claiming that they would simply abstain from voting, refusing to chose between “the lesser of two evils”. These proclamations deeply unsettled me, but people like my grandfather, a simple, uneducated man who does not claim to be a feminist, yet firmly believes in equality for all genders, and who wholeheartedly believed in a Clinton-Kaine ticket, kept me hopeful. Every time I spoke to him throughout election season he expressed his excitement, through a quivering voice on the brink of tears, to see a woman take the Oval Office. He told me that in his 78 years of life he had never seen a more qualified candidate run for our nation’s highest office, and I agreed.

I am disappointed that respectively 17% and 13% of male and female of my millennial peers reported that they would not vote for either major party candidate in this very controversial and high-stakes election. I am confused by the thousands of Black and Hispanic voters who cast their ballots for Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections, but consciously chose not to vote for Hillary Clinton, the very woman who built her campaign on the basis of extending Obama’s legacy of progress for these groups as well as for those who are LGBT, female, and who represent many other marginalized groups.

I am a privileged, white, educated, middle class millennial woman, but I can empathize with the overwhelming sense of fear, uncertainty, and deceit many Americans felt during this election season. I understand the harm a Trump presidency will do to our country, and I am fearful for the millions of Americans who will lose healthcare when the Affordable Care Act gets repealed; for our Black and Hispanic neighbors who each and every day fear unnecessary incarceration and police brutality; for the millions of women who are terrified they will lose autonomy over their own body; and for the three to five Supreme Court Justice seats that may be appointed during Trump’s reign, making fundamental decisions that will impact our health, wellbeing, and rights for decades to come.

Together we must channel this fear to not make America great again, but maintain the greatness that is America. We will ensure that confused, divided Americans like the one I encountered in-person days before the New Hampshire primary or over the internet hours before the election are no longer conflicted, but ignited to continue to build an America that is united and works for all of its citizens. As President Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek”.  We will persevere and we will carry on the legacy that my generation, grandfather, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton had hoped for us. This time we waited, but we will not make that mistake again.