Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

30 October 2014

Illinois Feminista Voter Guide


It's that time again folks! And I have again put together some helpful tools to help you prepare for your visit to your polling place.

1) Where to vote? Check out "Where's My Fucking Polling Place?" Not only will it tell you where to fucking vote, but also who you can fucking vote for:

2) Who to vote for?

Since we're feministas here, I don't think I need to say who to vote for in the Governor's race, but I will point out great places to look for endorsements for the other races.
  • Judges: I put this first because most people do not take the time to get through the whole ballot to vote on judges. I think mostly because we have no idea what to do! So hit up VoteforJudges to find out what the different Bar Associations (groups of lawyers & legal experts) think of each judge. Or you can skip right to the PDF'd summary of the judges. It is important to note that a judge running for retention must receive at least 60 percent of the vote in order to be retained.
    • Interestedly VoteforJudges does not list Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier. Only those of you in Southern Illinois get to vote on him. You can read about the race at the Chicago Tribune. Page 5 [PDF] of the Illinois Bar Association ratings has their rating on him.
  • Personal PAC has a list of endorsements
  • The Better Government Association has a non-partisan comparison of the candidates for governor.  
  • IVIPO has a list of endorsements and a printable PDF sample ballot
3) What to vote for or against?

Not just people are on the ballot! But a lot of initiatives. I think that the Mujere's Latinas en Accion Guide is the one to print out and take into your polling place.

4) Wait? How will you remember all of this?

You can bring in a list of people and initiatives to vote for. You just cannot be wearing a QUINN FOR GOVERNOR button or anything that declares your vote to the public.

Do you have other voting resources feministas in Illinois should know about? Please leave them in the comments!

AND...take a photo of yourself after voting and tag it #votefeminist and share it on your favorite social media channel!

27 October 2014

Day 300 of #365FeministSelfie!

wow...Every time we hit a milestone I think the same thing. I cannot believe we made it this far.

Three hundred days of selfies by people who call themselves feminists.

What I have noticed over the course of these hundreds of days is the extraordinary way we are living our ordinary days. Many of us have kids and the selfies with kids show frustration, fear, love, and joy. Some of us are students, mostly in graduate school, struggling with imposter syndrome. Some of us are working on leading a healthier lifestyle. Some of us are just trying to get by. We express our feminism in different ways. We have pics at protests, escorting at clinics, teaching our boys that it is ok to cry, watching our girls be brave, bringing home the bacon and frying it up while our partners are away from home.

I have said it before and I will say it again, it has been an honor to meet all of you. Even those of you who have only posted a few times or ran out of steam.

I do have a few challenges in the hopper for November and December as I am also weary of this project. Which is why when people ask if this will continue into 2015, I say, "Not by me!"

Or maybe it will.

If you have ideas on how we can keep this momentum going in 2015, please share in the comments or ping me on social media. I do know I want to continue all your smiling, frowning, scared, joyous, hurt loving faces.

23 October 2014

I'm part of the 99%

of women who have used birth control.

That is what a new t-shirt designed by Natasha Lyonne and Selenis Leyva says. Sales of the shirts go towards supporting Planned Parenthood.

Oh yeah, on the back it says, "It's My Business, Not Politicians." I say we wear these on election day!



22 October 2014

Review: Ms. Marvel, Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman and Thor

I can't tell if my new habit of buying and reading comic books is a symptom of a midlife crisis (reminder, I turn 40 in December, send cupcakes & Southwest points!) or a reaction to all the awesome woman-led comics on the market. Let's go with the latter. I say that because 2014 has to be the year of the woman superhero in comics. While I am not a regular comic book reader, I do try to keep my ear open for news like this. So let's do this:

Ms. Marvel: Launched in February 2014, this is the story of a teenage Muslim girl who obtains the powers and title of Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan lives in Jersey, has overprotective parents and thus has a very strict curfew. I'm currently on issue #9 and continue to fall further in love with this character. Kamala is super bad ass because she has so much to fight against. Not only in terms of the mysterious bird-man genius who keeps testing her intelligence and strength, but well, her parents and the expectations they have of her. I was a hesitant to like "Ms. Marvel" at first because when Kamala turned into Ms. Marvel, she was the stereotypical Ms. Marvel - blonde, leggy and buxom. But once Kamala learns to have some control of her powers, she remains Kamala but dressed as Ms. Marvel. Because she is still in high school, it has some Buffy-ness to her. There are moments she just wants to be a normal girl, but for the most part she embraces it.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman: Launched in August 2014, this series is a collection of "non-continuity stories by an ever-changing roster of creators," so no need to worry about jumping on this late. There are only two out so far, but I am enjoying posting snippets of the issues on Instagram.

In these two issues, Wonder Woman has reclaimed her crown as the feminist superhero. In issue one she comes to the rescue of a fanboy who is teased for liking "girl stuff." Issue two features an origin story with a young Diana being tasked with upholding justice.

The nifty aspect of this series is not just that writers get to put Wonder Woman in any scenario without having to worry about continuity, but that it is a digital-first series, so by the time I get a copy of the issue at my work-neighborhood store, it's already been online for some time.While I enjoy reading "Buffy" as a digital comic and I swear that comics and magazines are why tablets were created, I'm sticking with the hard copies. And yes, it is with the hope that Ella will find them, pick them up and enjoy them as I have.

Last in this ladies of comics round-up is Thor, the new girl on the stand. There's only one issue out and it is all about how the original Thor dies. Sorry for the spoiler but this is how we get to have a new Thor. There's also some hint that a larger power is in on the end of oldThor and the rise of newThor. The guy at the comic book store said that the people in charge of Thor (2014) are fabulous and to fasten our seat belts for an amazing ride. Despite referring to Thor (2014) as "girl Thor," I'm gonna trust him on this. Just because any comic this as a variant cover has to be good. And I can't wait to dive in to see what Thor has in store for her enemies.

17 October 2014

Review: "They Came Together"

In a world of "Scary Movie" sequels skewering horror flicks, it was great to read earlier this year that Amy Poehler would take on the genre of romcoms. I was really looking forward to seeing this film that I let out a squeal when I was offered a review DVD copy of "They Came Together."

While I laughed a lot, I was also a bit disappointed. 

The high points: The characters practically talked to the camera to point out which rom-com trope they would enacting. Especially the way Amy and Paul Rudd described each other in the opening scene. It was a brilliant piece of writing and acting. Then the way NYC is introduced as another important character (it's also on the DVD case) was like a cherry on a sundae. Amy and Paul are spot on in their characters. 

EXCEPT...there are too many moments in the movie where they try to a shove one more trope into the movie and it just seems forced. Plus any movie with a rape and Nazi joke has to get them spot on and they were just off. 

But back to the good stuff...There are a lot of laughs stuffed into this film. Some are great laughs, most were "OMG, this is so dumb!" laughs. Of course, when you think it is dumb is really just a recognition that a certain trope of rom-coml movies is revealed to be so dumb its laughable. Cue poop jokes, surprise kid, and the cougar mother-in-law. 

There is a lot of smart stuff in this film, but again too many spots where it falls flat. Maybe I expected too much considering how much I adore almost everything Amy and Paul do. Maybe they just tried too hard. I'm thinking a lot of both. 

"They Came Together" is rated R and available on digital download and DVD. 

16 October 2014

Space Camp: Post-landing thoughts about Day One

There is the proof! I made it to Space Camp and it was awesome folks. I could write for the rest of my life and not fully describe how awesome it was to be there.

As I have said before, I was inspired to be an astronaut after the Challenger explosion so the shuttle means a lot to me. Thus being this close to Pathfinder, even if it was never built for space, was freaking awesome. Advance apologies for over using "awesome" in this post. Pathfinder does include two solid rocket boosters, genuine space shuttle main engine nozzles and a genuine external tank. So there's that.

I seriously was so nervous for this trip that I had a nightmare the night before I left that I overslept and missed my 6 AM flight. Then I was worried that I booked a flight for the wrong weekend, because well, sometimes I am prone to writing things down wrong. I double checked times a zillion the dates when I booked the flight and every few days since then. I guess when you have been dreaming of something for almost 30 years you get a little anxious about details. I wasn't calm, er, sure this was happening until I met another camper at the airport. Two people couldn't be wrong!

We got picked up by the Space Camp SUV from Huntsville Airport and a quick drive found us at SPACE CAMP!!!!! After a quick check-in process I found my room and bunk. Yup, bunk. We get the same accommodations as the kids do.

I unpacked and waited for my roommates to show up. One did and then left. She checked into the hotel next door. Yup, the bunks were certainly not hotel worthy. They were bunks. But hey, it's part of the experience right? Soon my other roommate showed up. Mary stayed. Yay!

She had made a friend, Lynna, on the way to camp and as fate would have it, she was next door and all three of us were in the same mission crew. So we headed out to find some food and picked up my airport friend, Stacy. Afterward we headed over to orientation where Stacy had to join her crew while Mary, Lynna and I met the rest of the crew of the Endeavor. We had a two couples and a father-son in the group. Our first task was to start building a rocket. The goal would be to successfully launch said rocket AND ensure a safe landing for our egg-stronaut. It has been years since I launched a rocket, pretty sure we did it in high school physics class, so I was a bit lost as to the best way to do it. And wouldn't you know it, we had an engineer on our team!

Next we were given positions for our first mission. I received the job of talking with the International Space Station. That meant I had to relay anything from Mission Control to the ISS and vice versa. I also had to help them solve any issues. During our training the trainers threw a lot of anomalies our way with O2 and N2 leaks galore! There was one point where I basically threw my hands up in a "I HAVE NO IDEA!" way. All the codes were a mystery to me and the anomalies just kept coming.We had three different reference guides and it was all written in code. The quick reference guide was neither quick nor reference!

But in the end it was all a lot of fun. And practice for our actual mission on day two. More on that later.

Astronaut selfie! Margaret Rhea Seddon's husband Robert L. Gibson! Margaret was part of the first group of women astronauts & went to space 3 times. Robert flew 5 shuttle missions! He told amazing stories. #LaunchRoniAfter dinner we received the treat of a lifetime...we met a real astronaut! The second astronaut I've had the chance to meet! And not just any old, astronaut (is there even that kind?) but Robert L. Gibson who is married to one of the original women astronauts, Margaret Rha Seddon! Yes, I was equally excited to meet an astronaut who flew 5 of the six shuttles AND was married to a woman astronaut. While I was a kid and memorized a lot of NASA trivia I use to be able to name all the original women astronauts. Gibson told some amazing stories of not just his days as an astronaut, but also has a fighter pilot. I'm drawn to space exploration for the exploration part, so I sometimes forget how intrinsically it is tied to the military, especially in the early days when being a fighter pilot was a requirement. You could tell we were at Space Camp because after he spoke to us and we watched "The Dream is Alive," the line to meet him was three times as long as the line for wine. AND...AND...I impressed him. How? My selfie taking skills. OMG, for reals! I impressed an astronaut. Sweet.

07 October 2014

Further Thoughts on Sparkle Science

I'll be talking Sparkle Science on The Morning AMp on Vocalo and then The Afternoon Shift on WBEZ on Wednesday. 

From deviantart.com
On Monday I threw in my two cents on the "Sparkle Science" debate via an op-ed published by USA TODAY. Overall I've received positive feedback and more "thank yous!" than I expected. But in the midst of writing on deadline, I missed a few things, but I want to address the only push back I've read...so far.

The first is that I framed the conversation in too much of a bifurcation of girlhood/femininity. I should know better as my daughter is certainly a tutu-wearing skinned-knee girl. OK, I can't recall the last time she wore a tutu, but she's a girly girl who also kicks ass on the soccer field.

That was the point I was trying to get across. Girls these days are much better at the fluidity of femininity than any of us were at their ages, hell even now!

Second, while I am against most sex-segregated activities, I am a proud Girl Scout and a volunteer for my daughter's troop. There are sometimes a place for girl- or boy-only spaces. Also, the idea that Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts had separate workshops most likely stems from badge requirements. When we have attended museums for workshops, they tailor the activities to ensure we hit all the requirements for our badge. I assume the same with the Boy Scouts.

And as Michael Story pointed out on Twitter (I saw this after my op-ed was live), the Carnegie Science Center does offer a variety of science programs for girls with & without sparkle:
Going to show that sometimes a photo is worth a thousand words, but the whole photo says even more. Of course the full photo does not excuse the sole offering for Girl Scouts.

Lastly...since a photo is worth a thousand words, here's the photo of the letter my friend's daughters received from GoldieBlox. OK, so I got axels and bloxes mixed up, sue me!

06 October 2014

Quick Hit: Selfie the TV Show

Because I launched the #365FeministSelfie project, I have been asked a few times what I thought of "Selfie," the new TV show on ABC. And I finally had a chance to watch it tonight, after a fairly boring episode of "Once Upon A Time," we'll discuss that show's fall from awesomeness another time. Back to "Selfie."

As most of the comments at "The Mary Sue" said, the first half of the show was sooooo hard to get through. It was seriously painful to watch as I could not feel anything for any of the characters. But the last half...now this is where we were able to see some real action. There were a few "really?" moments such as a certain character living in a glass house. Come on!

What struck me is that the premise of the show is completely the opposite of #365FeministSelfie. Almost two weeks ago we rolled past the 265 mark meaning that we're into the last 100 days of this project. The premise of "Selfie" is that Eliza is beautiful on the outside and not-so-much on the inside. The premise of #365FeministSelfie is for us to realize our beauty everywhere despite our insecurities, body issues, and sometimes emotional abuse that makes us feel ugly everywhere. I think the wedding scene is where the show hooked me - Eliza is not just using selfies to be popular, but to hide. And part of why I started the project was to ask women, especially moms, to stop hiding behind the camera and get in front.

So maybe the premise is similar, even if every five minutes they are slandering the selfie. I guess I'll just have to keep watching to find out.

25 September 2014

Book Review: Jenni Rivera: The Diva of Banda Music

The Mexican-American music scene hit repeat the night of Dec 8, 2012. Another rising star was taken away from their fans. Jenni Rivera was the Queen of Banda, a regional type of Mexican music. At the time of her death, I had heard of her, but it was mostly connected to her reality TV show. Given my bias against most things reality TV, I ignored additional news of her...that was until that night.

Chicago Public Media journalist, Michael Puente, has crafted a nice "fan" book of Rivera that serves as a 101 for those of us who missed her rise to fame. I had the chance to chat with Puente about the book and Rivera's life. Puente sums up the book as:
A chronicle of Jenni Rivera's life, her career, her achievements and her untimely passing through published reports and additional reporting. Fans of Jenni will enjoy the full-color photos and interesting details about her life.
It is true. This book is a definite coffee table book not one to sit on a shelf. There are a lot of photos in this book that document a career and life cut short.

Rivera was not just a singer who sought the cheap limelight of reality TV, rather she was a former teenage mother turned shrewd business woman. After being kicked out of her parents home as a 16-year-old pregnant girl her teachers would not let her become a statistic. Instead she finished high school and eventually earned a college degree in business. As Puente quotes Rivera, she was a business woman who decided to go into music. Puente cites her business acumen as one of the most surprising things he learned about Rivera and I agree. "She didn’t leave any detail to chance but calculated every move."

As I was learning about her business chops and knowing about her teen pregnancy, I was obviously thinking, "WHOA! What a role model!" Alas, Jenni did not want to be one. But she also knew she was and as Puente told me too it very seriously.
This is a woman who didn’t allow setbacks to get in the way with her being successful. Take away her fame, fortune and legendary career, even after becoming a mother at an early age, she still managed to graduate from college, raise a family and start a career in real estate. That alone takes a lot of self-determination to do. Of course, she didn’t stop there, moving forward on a singing career. Jenni was no doubt a role model to women of all ages for a variety of aspects. Jenni knew she wasn’t perfect but that’s what made her real and that’s why her fans loved her so much.
We rarely get to know the business side of musicians, models and other celebs. I will admit to thinking some of them just have great business people working for them making them look like smart business people. But Jenni seemed to be the real deal. And not alone as Latinas own 36 percent of all companies owned by minority women in the USA. Puente remarks:
Jenni drove her music business, from recording, to promoting to distribution. Her determination led her to become one of the biggest reality stars on Spanish-language TV. She also had her own radio show and started to move into films. As someone once said about Jenni, she was always about the next project or the next thing to come. She wasn’t comfortable with standing in the same place.
Rivera died just as she was about to attempt a crossover into English-speaking music. That got me thinking of how the music world has or has not changed since Latin Fever hit the music scene when Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin hit the scene. How would have a Rivera crossover looked like? Puente speculates:
Today, many Latino artists are respected for being musicians first. Of course, we may not be seeing as many crossover artist as we once did like back in 1999 and 2000 when Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony crossover from being primarily Spanish language singers, although Pitbull and Shakira seem to be exceptions.
There's no doubt that Latino artist can rise and be successful for their music. If you look at up and coming artist such as Ariana Grande, Becky G, Demi Lovato, Bruno Mars and Prince Royce, those are Latin artists who are viewed more for their music than being Latino although the culture is still a big part of who they are.

As for Jenni, she had plans on recording an English language album and there’s little doubt she would have been successful. She listened to and was influence by English language pop, rock, rap, hip hop and R& B music. From my understanding, Jenni recorded some rap, hip hop type English tunes back in the mid 2000s. There’s a chance that music could be released by her family one day. But recording in English or not, I believe Jenni would have always remained true to her bread and butter Spanish-language music. They don't call her the "Diva de la Banda" for nothing. 
And sadly this is what happens when someone dies as they are ascending to bigger and great things...we speculate what ifs. While Banda music is not my cup of tea, I do need to tip my hat to Rivera. She was a force to be reckoned with and that alone is enough to miss her.

To learn more of "Diva de la Banda"  and support Viva la Feminista, please purchase your book through Powells or Indiebound.

Disclaimer: I received an e-version of the book for review and access to the author for this blog post.

17 September 2014

New Book: Mothering in East Asian Communities: Politics and Practices

Demeter Press is pleased to announce the upcoming publication of the collection, Mothering in East Asian Communities: Politics and Practices Edited by Patti Duncan and Gina Wong

In Mothering in East Asian Communities, Duncan and Wong seamlessly rupture a homogenous identity category—that of the “tiger mom.” The editors invoke the works of diverse contributors who critically challenge essentialized identity categories and racialized and sexualized experiences of women of color within the institution of motherhood and practices of mothering. Here, the edited volume grapples with globalization, transnationalism, and capitalism with an East Asian ethno-racial-cultural context. Duncan and Wong offer a personal and political analysis of motherhood that is socially and culturally constructed, shaped by race, class, culture, sexuality, and other social categories.
—Roksana Badruddoja, Ph.D., M.B.A., Advanced Assistant Professor of Sociology & Coordinator of Women’s and Gender Studies, Manhattan College, New York

Mothering in East Asian Communities: Politics and Practices is a solid addition to the fields of Motherhood Studies, Asian Studies, and Women’s Studies. By critically examining a myriad of issues, such as gender, class, nation, migration, adoption, and mothering, Patti Duncan and Gina Wong expose insightful frameworks and essentially “roar back” at the ideology of the “Tiger Mother.”
—Dorsía Smith Silva, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras

Patti Duncan is associate professor and Coordinator of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University where she specializes in transnational feminisms, women of color feminisms, and feminist media studies.

Gina Wong is a Registered Psychologist and associate professor in the Graduate Centre for Applied Psychology at Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada. Gina has a program of research focused on maternal mental health and wellness.

disclosure: I am getting a complementary membership to MIRCI and subscription to the journal in return for posting these updates. It is, however, something I would have agreed to do for free because I think their work is so wonderful.

15 September 2014

Summer of Feminista - Latina Feminist Friendships [video]

Well we've turned on the heat at home, pumpkin spice products have hit the market and we have to wear socks again...this only means one thing, summer is over.

But before we put away the lawn lights (ahem...), let's take some time to view this amazing video that Kat Lazo, Patricia Valoy, Dior Vargas and Raquel Reichard took the time to make in response to my prompt to talk about how your girlfriends fit into your feminism.




Thank you mujeres for this video. It was moving, funny and sums up the summer perfectly. I'm not even going to attempt a summary post.

Thank you to everyone who participated this summer:
Linda Garcia Merchant
Vicky Barrios
Brenda Hernandez
Amy Richard
Lisa Quinones-Fontanez
Lilian Coral
April Lee
Elisa Batista
Sandra Ramos O’Briant
Estela Delgado


Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

10 September 2014

Update on Space Camp!

A quick update...

1) I am all set! And we're now just one month away from me paying for the most expensive vomit ever. YES!!

2) While I only raised less than half of what I wanted to pay for this birthday gift, I am closing down my GoFundMe campaign for two reasons. The first was the fact that they will allow campaigns to support the police officer who killed Michael Brown, but secondly they think raising money for abortions is bad. So ok, make a case that raising money for an officer before he's found guilty shouldn't be a big deal..Seriously, I'll give you that. And even PayPal and all the credit card companies are making money off this tragedy (there's also a campaign to support Brown's family). OK, ok...but what really got me is that they wrote in no abortions in the GoFundMe "What's not allowed" page. And if you know me, you know I raise money for abortions a lot, so seriously, I can't give that platform anymore of my money...which is actually your money since they take a cut before I get my grubby hands on it. But you know what I mean.

Back to the trip...the only question remaining is this: Do I pay for the jumpsuit or not?

18 August 2014

Book Review: Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan

The Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan is a beautiful addition to any home library.

Monaghan sets out a geographical encyclopedia which allows for anyone to find their goddess or heroine based on where they hail from. I am fairly certain this is the book I used early on in my goddess studies to attempt to create a personal global pantheon. The entries are fairly short, except as you might expect for the Virgin Mary, thus make an excellent starting point for any budding goddess scholar.

Since it is an encyclopedia I did not read this cover to cover. I did though enjoy the entries for the Virgin Mary, Mary of Magdelan, and the MesoAmerican pantheon. Monaghan states that goddess studies is less intense for this pantheon due to the human sacrifice aspect. I can see that. I know when I tried to dive myself into it during college, it was a contradiction that I had a hard time dealing with.

Monaghan may have died in 2012, but left she us an amazing resource.

Patricia Monaghan (1946–2012) was a pioneer in the contemporary women’s spirituality movement and published numerous books on the topic for more than 30 years, including Goddess Paths and The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog. Before retirement, she was an associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at DePaul University in Chicago, and also served as senior fellow at the Black Earth Institute in Wisconsin. She was a poet as well as a scholar, and was awarded the Pushcart Prize in literature and the Paul Gruchow Award for Nature Writing.

Support Viva la Feminista by purchasing your book through Powells or Indiebound.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher.  

16 August 2014

Summer of Feminista: Four Friends


Today Summer of Feminista is proud to welcome back, Linda Garcia Merchant. Linda Garcia Merchant, an award-winning filmmaker and Independent scholar, is technical director of the Chicana Por Mi Raza Project, a community partner for the Somos Latinas Oral History Project and the Chicana Chicago/MABPW Collection Project, a member of the LGBT Giving Council of the Chicago Foundation for Women and a board member of the Chicago Area Women's History Council. Watch the trailer for Linda's latest production 'Yo Soy Eva' , being released this fall.

Every year for the past thirty years I get together for a weekend with three women I have been friends with since college. We make it a point each year to get together at one of our homes, catch up and hang out. I first wrote about this weekend fifteen years ago for my own blog site, twotightshoes. At that point it had been fifteen years of getting together; our children were small or teens and not all of us were divorced or orphaned.

At fifteen years there was enough measure of time, change and difference that had occurred that made writing about this important. Important not just to me, but to newer friends I would tell about our weekends.

I never thought it was a big deal to have this weekend, but when I would tell people we did this, they found it fascinating that we had kept doing it. Our careers and relationships had managed to move us to different parts of the state or the country. Our lives should have drifted apart but we managed to stay in touch, to stay together, to show up every year. Why is that?

It is because we love each other like sisters. It is because we have always accepted one other at face value. We have never been judgmental about our shared experiences, personal events or choices. We trust each other; love and respect our friendships. It is hard to find a single person this genuinely motivated to care and give so it is incredible to have found three other women that think this way.
Like sisters, we call each other for the holidays, on (or around) birthdays or in preparation for our annual get together. We don’t spend time as a group, except for that one specific weekend each year. When we do get together, it is as though we haven’t missed a step in each other’s lives.

We didn’t start out agreeing to do this. In fact, every year it is me grousing about my awful schedule and how problematic this next year would be. The more I would complain the less I was heard. Every year at some point in our conference call, my grumblings would become ‘brown noise’, I would give in and get with the plan.

At first, it was at the insistence of one woman, Michele that we make it a point to check in with her in Peoria at least once a year. We all live in different cities; I’m in Chicago, Glenda is in Davenport, Michele is in Peoria and then there’s Trish who we all believe lives on the path of one of the four winds.

Trish has always lived her life on the wind. Even in college Trish followed her own path, separate and apart from the teenage fold. My favorite Trish memory from college was the first time I walked into her dorm room, decorated in what I can only describe as a Stepfordian White French Provincial motif. Missing were the bunkbeds, bolsters and Prince posters. In their place, Trish had knick knacks, fresh flowers and a white wrought iron table and chairs for two with matching tapered candles. I imagined her studying at that table, sipping tea. Trish was and is from another time and I believe, just enjoys our company when she lands in our weekend space. Trish doesn’t always make the weekends, but when she is there, the circle is complete.

Our relationship over the last thirty years has changed as our lives changed. Where once we would get together for weddings and showers, now we gather for the funerals of parents and contemporaries.

In the late seventies early eighties (when we were all young, childless and single) the conversations were exclusively about sex, shoes, boys, shopping for shoes, romance, dating, more sex, bad boys and bad dates. At some point on a Saturday night, we were headed to the nightclubs be it small town or big city. One of us was always lagging (usually Glenda), not wanting to go—the other three of us dragging her along.

The late eighties and early nineties saw our conversations switching to health plans, mortgage interest rates, bad boys, shopping for shoes and furniture, cooking at home, and renting movies with Denzel Washington in them. We seldom went to bars, preferring the cost ratio (to degrees of sobriety) of the home-based mixed drink. At one point we were all married so our spouses were included in some of our weekends.

The end of the nineties and the turn of the century came and went and our conversations turned to health plans, flossing, osteoporosis, boys pretending to be men, challenging partnerships that involved children and ailing parents. Our social forays included at least one conversation reintroducing Glenda and I to the world of popular black culture that always ended with a trip to the local record store. Friday nights were spent doing home mani/pedis and elaborate dinner preparations, then switching between the food network and HGTV. Three of us were divorced so Saturday nights, we still went out.

In 2014, we did something a little different and shared our weekend with one of our children, Michelle’s daughter, Taryn Dior, an adult now, working and living on her own in St. Louis. These days there are quiet moments more than anything. All four of us have been married and divorced. We all have children, one a grandchild, one a mother of three, one with a masters degree, one a teenager and two in college.

We still catch up with each other’s lives, the lives of our children and share photos and stories of their lives. Each year one of us in the middle of some great trauma, usually elder or child care issues. All of us have cared for elder parents, nursing them through a variety of debilitating and ultimately, terminal illnesses. Whatever the situation, we are always there to listen and love and frequently hug the one of us struggling to answer the impossible questions that come with death.

Over the years, we will sit around the kitchen table, the patio table or the fancy restaurant table, catching up on the journals of each other’s lives. We learn things about our own childhoods, our siblings, our mothers and fathers. We give each other advice about houses, spouses, parents and God. God is always there in the middle of us—filling our mouths with the right words and sentiments that each of us needs to hear at the moment that we need to hear it.

To keep up with the people that ‘knew you when’ helps you to know the ‘you’ that you have become. It is sort of like not seeing the forest for the trees and being friends with three vigilant forest rangers. I like getting together with these women because being around them reminds me of what I have become, where I have been, and where I am going. As four friends, we are the most honest and vocal guides to each other’s lives steering each other back to our own truths.

If in a year I have altered my course, compromised my direction or lost site entirely of some personal focus, I will know this. I will know five minutes after I've walked in the door of wherever we are meeting. I will know when one of them hugs me and I don’t hug them back as hard as I should. I will know this because I will look long and hard into a pair of eyes that has seen me at my personal best and worst and that I will not be able to deceive. Friends that will check that ‘faux’ hug with some snappy retort squishing that pretentious moment, then hugging me harder until I hug back just as hard. There are no secrets from old friends; no hidden agendas or realities those old friends miss.

So there is the beauty of having three close friends for over thirty years who make it a point to glue themselves together, once a year, for at least 48 fun and loving hours. I am hoping that by reading this, you will pick up the phone and reconnect with those that you knew and loved 5, 25 or 50 years ago. Those who care about, and know, the real you. The ‘you’ that existed before the world compromised you. The friends that knew you when you still cared about tolerance and understanding.

If you’ve never gathered with your oldest friends, do it. Make it a point to connect with those people that know you best. This year in St. Louis we kept it simple. We caught the James Brown movie, looked at apartments for Taryn, visited the Arch, put up with my ranting about the ‘Westward Ho’ exhibit at the Gateway Arch, enjoyed a decent meal and some R&B at the Rustic Goat then spent half the night talking, catching up and watching the Game Show Network. Every minute of this last weekend has filled my soul and will hold me together for the next 363 days until we meet again.



Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

15 August 2014

Review: Order Out of Chaos Academic Planner

Sadly, yes, it is back to school time. And I'm sharing you one of the keys to Ella's success last year...The Order Out of Chaos Academic Planner.

I was sent this at the start of last school year and had Ella use it to track her homework, assignments and her afterschool activities. I sat her down and talked her through the different ways to organize her life. We had used assignment books in the past, even one year just using a blank notebook with assignments on each page. And while she's been a straight-A student throughout school, I knew that fifth grade was going to be tougher than fourth grade. Not just because it was the next grade, but she was starting travel soccer (two practices a week) and dance class (2 afternoons a week) to her weekly main soccer team practice. Our method for juggling soccer and dance was to skip one each week - which you can tell immediately became confusing. Thus her writing what days were soccer and which were dance in her assignment book. Of course the photo above does not show this. Sorry.

But what you can see is that the segmentation of the day by class was helpful in her tracking not only daily assignments, but long term projects. Fifth grade was also the second year where we let Ella keep track of her homework herself. We did not check her assignment book every night. When she would forget her assignment book, she was responsible for calling or messaging her friends for what she forgot. We were not making those calls to parents. Last year was her training ground for this year.

This year she starts middle school and I will be purchasing a new planner for her. She is familiar with the system and with the fact that she will be changing classes for each subject, she will need a good system to keep track of everything.

Bottom line...I highly recommend this organization system. It looks like a system that might be best for college students, but my elementary school student was helped by it a lot.

Disclaimer: I received Ella's copy of the planner for review. Nothing else was exchanged.