Selfie-Expression

Selfie-Expression

I have to admit that I thought I would have a lot more free time while observing the last two months of stay-at-home orders. With school obligations and a one-year-old who is juuuuuuussssstttttt about to walk on his own, our days seem to fly by, and I wind up on the couch at 8:00 pm, wanting to lose myself in some type of true crime documentary. I’m still finding time to read, though, mostly through a collection of audiobooks from my Libro.fm and Audible subscriptions as well as Overdrive and Hoopla titles from our school and public libraries. I’ve written about this before but listening to an audiobook counts as real reading, everybody. If you can’t find time to read in the traditional sense, try listening to a book while you do housework or chores, drive, get ready in the morning, walk, etc. I switched to audiobooks several years ago thanks to the advice of two rock-star librarians I know, Shannon Grieshaber and Nina O’Daniels who have their own awesome book blog (check it out here!), and I realized I could finish a book a week pretty easily by following the advice I gave you above. I recently kicked it up a notch and accelerated my listening speed to a setting of 1.25 or 1.4, depending on the book, and I feel like such a bad-ass reader! But seriously, give audiobooks a try if you haven’t. They’ve been life-changing for me.

The book I’m featuring this week is The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais. One of my students raved about this book before our school closed due to COVID-19, and it was available as a freebie through Libro.fm’s Audiobook Copy Listening (ALC) Program. It had a powerful impact on me:

Maya is less than thrilled to be spending her senior year in a “hearing school” in Colorado after years of attending a school for the deaf in New Jersey. She doesn’t want to be accompanied by the interpreter who will signal her deafness to her classmates, and she dreads dealing with the pity and ignorance of her classmates. She doesn’t consider herself to be disabled and she doesn’t want a cochlear implant (CI); she knows it’s hard to understand, but she’s happy being deaf. Inspired by her brother’s brave fight with cystic fibrosis, she’s focused on studying respiratory therapy at a renowned local university. She just has to power through what is sure to be a crappy senior year.

It surprises Maya when two of her classmates, Nina and Beau, take an interest in her and actually make the effort to learn some American Sign Language. Beau, who seemed goofy at first, looks more and more attractive to Maya as she gets to know him, and she wonders about a future with this “hearing boy.” Maya’s senior year isn’t without challenges, though. Even the people she loves the most don’t seem to understand her resistance to getting a CI, and Maya’s not sure her dream of studying respiratory therapy can be a reality.

This is a sweet, clean romance written by an #ownvoices author, and it taught me SO much about the deaf community. I enjoyed the story, but I think the best part of this book is that it helped me walk alongside a person with hearing impairment. Author Alison Gervais has created a feisty, driven, memorable character in Maya, and Gervais does a great job of showing readers what accommodations are in place to support the hearing impaired. We need more books like this one!

The Experience

I thought about teaching Tim some simple sign language as a plot-driven life experience for this book (Don’t know what a “plot-driven life experience” is? Check out my first post about it here.), but I thought one of the most beautiful parts of the book centered around Maya’s assignment to create a self-portrait. In the book, she’s entirely unsure how to portray herself at first, and I could empathize with that because I’ve never been skilled in fine arts like my incredibly talented friend Jaime who recently shared pictures with me that document the progress of drawing her self-portrait:

Three pictures of Jaime's progress as she draws herself.
Jaime’s progressive self-portrait.

Because I can’t do anything that complex, I asked Jaime to help me find some kind of “Drawing Self-Portraits for Dummies” guide. She found and shared this website with instructions on how to create the “No Phone Selfie” which actually got me excited about creating a simple self-portrait using a mirror, a water-soluble marker, a spray bottle, and a piece of paper. I mean, even a dummy can trace her own reflection, right?

I followed the directions exactly and tried multiple times, and I have to say that I had varied success. My images didn’t transfer as cleanly as those featured on the website, but in some ways, I think this makes them even more special. I was wearing my hair in a high bun when I traced my features, and I like the way the transferred image makes me look like I have a shaved head and mohawk. I am a bad-ass! Another of my attempts makes me look like a bearded man, though. 🙁

Three different images showing how I created my own self-portrait by tracing my reflection.
The middle image was my favorite of seven attempts, and the last one reminds me of a bad Snapchat filter.

I’m definitely going to try this self-portrait activity with students when we’re all back at school. It’s quick and cheap to carry out, and I can see students having tons of fun with it.

If YOU use this method to create your own self-portrait, let me know! And think about adding something extra to your portrait to make it representative of your time at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. Maybe add a pair of AirPods to communicate all the Zoom calls you participated in, or draw yourself with even crazier hair to show how much you need a haircut. You do you, Boo!

Happy reading,

~Kelly

Know Yourself

Know Yourself

Please note that this post contains some affiliate links.

This week’s #plotdrivenlife experience is one I’ve been ruminating about since last summer. In order to carry it out, I had to do some serious self-reflection and even a bit of soul-searching. Before I share about my experience, here’s my review of the book that inspired it–Emery Lord’s When We Collided:

Learn all about it through this week’s mini-podcast by clicking on the magical play button below.

Kellyday

The idea for this week’s #plotdrivenlife experience practically jumped off the page! As Vivi’s behavior begins to become more erratic, she decides a “Vividay” is in order. “Like a holiday, only better,” a “Vividay” includes any combination of activities that bring joy to Vivi. On her day, Viv decides to drive the three hours from Verona Cove to San Jose in order to test drive a Vespa. She’s bought in to the idea that she’ll look like an old-timey movie star whizzing through the streets on her motorized bike, intent on “driving the one that goes the fastest, so fast that I outrun every dirty memory like litter scattered behind me” (127).

While I had no desire to drive a Vespa, I relished the idea of a “Kellyday.” But very quickly, I realized, sadly, that I couldn’t easily come up with many ideas of what I would actually do on a Kellyday. I was out of touch with what truly brought me joy, and it made me feel hugely uncomfortable. How could I not know myself??

It was near this time that I discovered Gretchen Rubin’s concept of The Four Tendencies, a (free) personality test that categorizes you as an Upholder, an Obliger, a Questioner or a Rebel. Rubin has written a book about the tendencies, too, which is a great tool not only to better understand yourself but also to help you build harmonious relationships with your loved ones who don’t see the world in the same way you do. My test results revealed that I am very clearly an Obliger, the type of person who is GREAT at fulfilling everyone else’s requests but really terrible at prioritizing her own goals. Learning about my tendency was, for me, a turning point in my life. It helped me understand that I wasn’t lazy or unmotivated when it came to setting goals for myself, I just needed to change my approach by establishing outer accountability, like hiring a coach, or relying on a partner or team (both of which I did). By recognizing my Obliger tendencies, I was also able to cut myself some slack with regards to not knowing which activities brought me joy. I prided myself on being productive, but I was mostly crossing off items on my to-do list that impacted other people. Like a classic Obliger, I’d failed to make myself and my interests a priority. I spent several months reflecting on what brought me joy, and, just recently, I celebrated my first Kellyday!

Start your day with gratitude.

The day started with a routine that I have come to cherish. For the last year, I’ve made it a habit to get up at least a half hour before it’s necessary for me to start getting ready for work. On school days, this means rising at 4:30 am. Before you dismiss the idea, I want you to know that this morning time, when my dogs and husband are snoring away, has become my favorite part of my day. Instead of rising to begin the dreaded process of daily grooming for the sake of going to work, I start the day on my own terms. I listen to affirmations I’ve recorded for myself, I write in my gratitude journal, and I read from a book that serves to help me grow personally. Most recently, I finished Marie Kondo’s, The Magical Art of Tidying Up. I drink my coffee, eat my toast with peanut butter, and sit by a “HappyLight.” And when my second alarm goes off, I’m ready (and willing) to tackle the list of things I need to do for everyone else. There are PLENTY of resources online to help you build a morning routine that works for you, and I can’t say enough about the benefits you’re likely to feel. Developing my routine involved some trial and error, so stick with it if you aren’t feeling the happy vibe at first.

Once I was showered and dressed, Kellyday continued with some serious breakfast eating since this is my favorite meal of the day. If you don’t have a Shack location near you, I just feel sorry for you. Not only does the Shack have a punny menu (I got the Do It Yourself Meg Ryan), but also they let the guests write all over the joint with markers– as in the walls and floors are covered with guests’ art and proclamations of love. So fun!

My cranky breakfast date.

Next up, I picked up my friend Rosie, and we drove to Main Street in St. Charles, MO. This was a stopping point for famed explorers Lewis and Clark and later the original capital of Missouri. The streets are still bricked, and many of the buildings have stood largely untouched for centuries, making you feel like you’ve been transported back in time when you visit. I have two favorite stores on Main Street that I’ll take any excuse to visit: Joy’s Collective, an antiquer’s goldmine, and Main Street Books, my favorite local indie bookstore. Rosie and I stopped in to both, taking the opportunity for a photo op in Joy’s cozy book nook.

Rosie in Joy’s book nook.

I love to support these local shops, and one of the ways you can do so is by subscribing to libro.fm, an audiobook subscription service that directly benefits independent bookstores. If you’d like to consider supporting Main Street Books, you can sign up here.

After dropping off Rosie, I excitedly arrived at Serenity Now Float Spa for my first-ever float spa experience. Mike had gifted me a float for my birthday, knowing I love to be pampered. The experience was unlike anything I’ve ever tried! Each guest has his/her own private “cabin,” which includes a large, fully enclosed tank with a little more than a foot of specially formulated salt water. Once you close the door to the tank, you can turn off the light to enjoy total darkness, and/or turn on meditative music. Even this big-bellied, eight-and-a-half-month pregnant mama felt weightless in the water, floating around in ecstasy and napping on and off for 60 minutes. It was divine.

I rounded out my Kellyday with a walk with Mike and the dogs (a daily goal) and dinner with friends (hooray for no cooking!), and I fell asleep watching the St. Louis Cardinals play their second game of the season (because baseball = spring). It was a fantastic day, and, now that it doesn’t intimidate me, I seriously can’t wait to plan the next one!

What would your own version of a Vividay look like?

Happy reading,

~Kelly

Synth-esize with Me

Synth-esize with Me

This week’s #plotdrivenlife experience is one of my favorite to date. Not only did it send me down a rabbit hole of other reading, it required a serious commitment from both me and Mike to call it a success. More on that in a sec, but first, let me introduce the book that inspired it all: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi.

I’m trying something different this week by using a cool new tech tool called Synth to deliver the review in mini-podcast format. Synth lets you record, at max, a 256-second sound-byte, and you can link these bytes together as episodes in a podcast. This is the perfect tool for book reviews as it requires the reviewer to be succinct. Easily record anywhere through your browser or use the app. Check out my mini-podcast review of Down and Across here, and let me know if you prefer a written review or a mini-podcast for future posts.

No-Spenduary

As I read Down and Across, I knew I’d have to plan a gritty #plotdrivenlife experience for myself. This lead to some fascinating conversations with Mike and my friends. I’d ask them to brainstorm ideas for gritty experiences, and everyone’s first suggestion was some kind of physical feat like a Tough-Mudder or a full marathon. These were the initial ideas that came to my mind, too, but, at the time, Mike and I weren’t in any position to physically exert ourselves; I was in my second trimester of pregnancy and he’d just undergone shoulder surgery that required six months of rehab. We’d have to get creative.

I’d been toying with the idea of going on a “spending diet” for a while, inspired by a story that was shared as part of an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Happier by Gretchen Rubin (listen to the full episode here), and when I approached Mike about trying this as a “gritty” experience, he was surprisingly eager to partner with me. We decided that we’d commit to a “no-spend month” for all of February, and we set these guidelines:

  • Can spend on necessities (groceries, personal care items, medicine, dog needs, car care, cleaning supplies)
  • Can’t spend on frivolous items (dinner out, Starbucks, Amazon sillies, pampering, clothing, accessories, entertainment or books)
  • Exceptions: each of us gets one previously scheduled “hall pass” for the month
  • Goals:
    • Explore freebies we already have access to (new Netflix or Amazon Prime shows, services through the public library like Hoopla)
    • Find and use gift cards to “treat” ourselves
    • Put saved money towards debt
    • Cook more recipes in the Instant Pot and explore the pantry and freezers for food to use up
    • Get creative with gifts for Valentine’s day
    • Tackle nagging tasks (like getting the nursery in order and sewing those ribbons on that banner I’ve had for a year)

I have to admit that on the evening of January 31, I was itchy to spend. I kept asking Mike, “Do we need anything?” and “Do you want to go get ice cream or coffee or SOMETHING?” I wasn’t excited about the idea of cooking at home almost every night or not being able to buy a cute new shirt for my growing belly. Mike, calmly, told me to relax, and we dove right in to no-spenduary, also, thankfully, the shortest month of the year!

The hardest part for me was all of the meal prep and cooking. I attended a conference for several days and shared a hotel room with friends, but I made myself pack a large cooler of snacks, and I even planned out two nights’ worth of dinners to take along. And on weeknights when I was tired after a long day of work, I really wanted to go out to dinner; it took great effort to make a new recipe. Plus, pregnancy cravings are real, people!

Mike was an awesome partner through the whole month, and I relied on him to keep me on track. We grocery shopped together, even switching to a discount store for the month to save even more money. And if I was in doubt about whether I should spend money on something, I texted him:

I pampered myself with home “spa” treatments (thanks, Color Street for the easiest mani on the planet). For Valentine’s Day, I recreated a dish from one of my favorite local restaurants, and when we had to replace Mike’s phone because it wouldn’t charge, we carefully researched and chose a discount cell phone carrier that ended up saving us $30 per month on our bill! Overall, the whole experience encouraged me to be more mindful of my spending and to fully appreciate experiences I’d taken advantage of before: I nursed the free Starbucks coffee I saved to enjoy with a friend, and when we did treat ourselves to our first dinner out in March, I ate more slowly, trying to savor the experience.

I read a lot, too. I read Grit by the real Dr. Cecily Mallard aka. Dr. Angela Duckworth. Grit is the highly readable compilation of the author’s research into the practices of particularly gritty people as well as her guidance on how to develop grit in oneself.

Grit by Angela Duckworth

I read The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, a memoir about a (fellow Canadian!) young woman with addiction issues who demonstrated true grit by committing to a full year of limited spending and self-reflection.

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

If you’re considering your own no-spend month, I recommend you read this fascinating article by author Ann Patchett who writes about how hard it is to decide what to do about gift-giving when you’re diet-spending. I liked her idea so much that my plan is to give books (and maybe accompanying book-inspired experiences) as gifts as often as I can.

So, while this experience was a real challenge for me and Mike, it’s left a lasting impression on both of us. We’re no longer restricted to eating at home and swearing off Amazon, but we’re still being thoughtful about how we spend our money. The result of our no-spend month? I saved 24% of my salary, and I feel a bit more gritty as a result.

Happy reading,

~Kelly

Fly Like an Eagle

Fly Like an Eagle

I have never been particularly interested in birds because I prefer the type of animals that you can cuddle and walk, but this week’s book had me plan a #PlotDrivenLife experience to learn more about birds native to the St. Louis area. It just so happens that the Mississippi River in the dead of winter provides the perfect conditions to spot bald eagles fishing– that is if the extremely cold temperatures and wind conditions don’t keep them grounded. More on that in a minute, but first, check out the book that inspired this week’s experience: Flight Season by Marie Marquardt:

Vivi is in free-fall after a disastrous freshman year at Yale. Instead of road-tripping around the country with her roommate all summer, Vivi relocates to St. Augustine, FL with her mother, both of them still deeply grieving Vivi’s father’s recent death. Though she finds comfort in bird-watching and reliving the world-wide adventures she shared with her dad, Vivi is panicked that she’s dangerously close to destroying her dreams of medical school. If she wants a second chance at Yale, she’ll have to dedicate herself to the hospital internship she miraculously finagled. As a result of her father’s illness, Vivi feels called to medicine, and the fact that she gets woozy at the sight of blood is just a temporary inconvenience, right? 

Broody TJ wants to make a life for himself beyond the confines of his family’s restaurant, Sabor do Brasil. He splits his days as a nurse-in-training at the hospital and his nights and weekends as a server. He never thought he’d run into the attractive, rich girl, so named Vivi, who got so drunk she took off her top and completely embarrassed herself while he was working at the restaurant over Thanksgiving break. At the time, TJ was disgusted with her and her uppity friends; now that’s she’s assigned to work on the cardiac ward with him, he can’t even look her in the eyes. 

While caring for a young patient named Angel, Vivi and TJ are forced to face their misconceptions about each other, and they learn that life rarely goes according to plan. 

Author Marie Marquardt writes about Vivi’s grief so realistically that I could feel it, and I easily connected to the characters. I liked the use of alternating viewpoints between Vivi and TJ, but I have to admit that I found Angel’s narration a bit weird. Overall, this is a sweet love story with a conclusion that will tug at your heartstrings.

Eagles Grounded

To start each of the chapters that Vivi narrates, Marquardt includes a sketch Vivi has drawn of a bird she’s spotted and facts about the bird she’s learned from a bird reference book. Vivi feels a connection to her father through the birds she sees, and the reader sees her obsessive bird-watching and recording as a symptom of her grief. It’s both beautiful and heart-wrenching.

I hadn’t ever before been bird-watching outside of an eagle-watching excursion while I was on an Alaskan cruise, but after reading this book, I was particularly interested in participating in a local Eagle Days event to learn more about the prevalence of these birds near where I live. I did not know before researching this event that, according to the Eagle Days website, “The Mississippi River holds one of North America’s largest concentrations of bald eagles.” So, with blowing winds and temperatures in the 20 degree Fahrenheit range, Mike and I suited up in our winter gear, and prepared to walk across the Mississippi River on the Chain of Rocks Bridge in January to get a good look at some majestic eagles. As we took the long walk towards the center of the bridge where volunteers had set up telescopes for visitors, I found myself doing that cold-weather coping thing where you just scream for no reason, maybe just to prove to yourself you’re still alive?

Don’t be fooled by the smile. It was take-your-breath-away freezing out there.

When we arrived at the telescopes, the only thing to see was empty eagle nests tucked into the side of a nearby bridge or the branches of a barren tree. The eagles, according to the volunteers, were safely tucked away in a copse of trees downstream. Maybe they were watching us, laughing at our ridiculous outfits and decision to walk out over the Mississippi in conditions that literally took your breath away!

So, we didn’t see any eagles in their natural habitat, but the highlight of the day was a special eagle education program we attended onsite sponsored by the World Bird Sanctuary. Josh, an employee at the sanctuary, brought with him an injured eagle named Sanibel, and we sat just a few feet away from her while he taught us about the mission of the sanctuary, how Sanibel (aptly named because she once lived in Florida) came to be one of its residents and the basics of bald eagles.

Josh with Sanibel the eagle
Josh and Sanibel.

It. Was. So. Cool. Sanibel was very chill, and so was Josh, considering that their faces were only a few inches from one another. There was no audience bird-petting allowed, of course, but this experience certainly made me more appreciative of the majestic beauty of the national bird. I mean, these birds know how to build a nest!

Me, in a replica eagle’s nest, living my best life.

If you missed out on one of the many eagle-watching events in January, consider a visit to the World Bird Sanctuary any time of year to learn more about ALL of the different kinds of eagles. I had no idea!

Happy reading,

~Kelly

The Gift of Memory

The Gift of Memory

As you can probably imagine, I’ve been a whole lot more sentimental about family since we reconnected with my dad’s maternal family in 2018. I’ve mentioned many times that we experienced a miracle, and it’s made me treasure the family I’ve always known even more. I recently reflected on some of my favorite childhood memories, and this is the book that got me reflecting: Lara Avery’s, The Memory Book:

Sammie McCoy has some serious over-achiever type goals. After she wins the National Debate Tournament and graduates as valedictorian, she’ll attend NYU and subsequently make a name for herself as a human rights attorney. So, she has absolutely no time for Niemann-Pick Type C, an aggressive disease that will steal her memory and eventually render her brain-dead. Sadly, this is Sammie’s new reality, even if she’s unwilling to accept it.

Determined not to succumb to her disease, Sammie logs important details, memories, predictions and dreams on her computer in what becomes her “Memory Book.” Sammie writes candidly about her senior year when she catches the eye of her long-time crush, Stuart; navigates her friendship and debate partnership with Maddie; reminisces about her childhood with bad-boy Cooper and tries to convince her parents that she is still well enough to attend NYU.

Sammie is a fighter. She’s trying to pack a whole life into the time she has, and she’s determined to win against a devastating disease. I thought her quirkiness and confidence were particularly endearing, and I really enjoyed reading about her family’s interesting dynamic and somewhat alternative lifestyle. This is another book to recommend to fans looking for heart-breaking stories like All the Bright Places, The Fault in Our Stars and Thirteen Reasons Why. This book is also a 2018-19 Gateway Nominee.

The Paper Time Capsule

While on a girls’ trip last year, I just happened to stumble on this little gem:

I LOVE the idea of traditional time capsules, and plan to bury one in my backyard this year to celebrate the birth of my baby in May (more on that soon!). But, as you know if you’ve read some of my past blog posts, I’m also a fan of writing sappy letters to some of my dearest friends and the owner of my childhood bookstore. The paper time capsule I found on my girls’ trip includes 12 fold-out cards, each with a writing prompt to inspire you to share a special message with mom. Prompts include “One thing I’m glad we share is. . .”, “I always think of you when. . .” and “The best adventure we’ve ever had together was. . .” Filling out the cards is the perfect #plotdrivenlife experience to complement Lara Avery’s book.

I chose to cut out the cards, and I’m going to fill them out periodically and mail them to my mom who lives in British Columbia, Canada, so she unexpectedly gets a special treat from me. You could fill out all the cards in the capsule and send it in its entirety if you prefer. Regardless, I think this is a powerful way to communicate gratitude and appreciation for my mom for all of the sacrifices she’s made for me, and, at the same time, it lets me celebrate some of my favorite memories of our time together. You could easily make your own cards and time capsule, but I just loved the cuteness of the cards with their “air mail” stickers and pretend postage stamps. In fact, I loved the capsule so much, I bought one for my dad, too.

There are a variety of other paper time capsules available to send to loved ones and even a version you can send to your future self. What I know from reading The Memory Book and having grieved the passing of beloved family members is that now is the time to treasure our memories and cherish the people we hold the closest. Would you prefer to send a paper time capsule to a loved one or write letters to your future self to store away? And what suggestions do you have for me to put in my traditional time capsule to commemorate 2019?

Happy reading,

~Kelly

Not So Far From the Tree

Not So Far From the Tree

There are many things I wish I had done better in 2018, but the beauty of the new year is that we get to make fresh, new promises to ourselves and dream about what could be in the coming months. As I reflected on 2018, I thought about this little blog and how much more I would like it to be. I didn’t post much in 2018, and I read far fewer books than I intended, so I look to 2019 with the goal to read more, carry out more #plotdrivenlife experiences and share them with you, dear reader, here. I have a new website in the works, I am fired up about my upcoming posts, and I’m trying a new tactic to keep me on track this year: the 1% Rule, a strategy I learned about from a fellow Toastmaster, Daniel, at a recent meeting. The 1% Rule revolves around the idea that if we spend just 1% of our day–14 total minutes–dedicated to a passion project or goal, we are much more likely to succeed. Everyone has 14 minutes per day to dedicate to a project that brings joy. Sneak a few minutes of time for your own passion project while in a doctor’s office waiting room, during your lunch break or while riding in a car. I have high hopes that this strategy will breathe new life into this blog and fuel at least two new posts per month through December. Let’s start with the first post!

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

In March 2018, I wrote a post about how my life (and the lives of my family) had been forever changed when, after 66 years, my dad connected with his biological birth mother whom I have lovingly nicknamed, “BG” or Bonus Grandma. If you didn’t read that post, catch up by reading it here. In the post, I mentioned that I’d get the chance to meet BG over the summer at a family (re)union, and I did! I’ll share all of the details of that meeting after I share about Robin Benway’s book, Far From the Tree:

Holy moly; this book BLEW MY MIND. Without a doubt, it’s the best book I read in 2018, and I want to sing about it from the treetops. I’m hosting a book club for staff at my high school this year featuring titles that include characters who have experienced trauma, and this book made the shortlist.

The story alternates between three half-siblings who have never met: Grace, who, at sixteen, has just delivered a baby and made the gut-wrenching choice to give her up for adoption; Maya, the youngest of the three whose family’s wealth can’t shelter her from her mother’s drinking and her parents’ volatile marriage; and Joaquin, the oldest who has lived many lives as a foster kid, still without a forever family. 

Grace’s decision to give up her daughter for adoption prompts her to want to search out her birth mother and siblings, and before long, she’s sitting in Maya’s dining room, trying to figure out what it means to be a sudden big sister. Maya and Grace email Joaquin who hesitantly agrees to meet, and the three begin to spend regular weekend dates together, trying to figure out their new normal. Grace pushes her siblings to help her find their mother, but because Grace feels overwhelming guilt and grief about her own decision to give up her baby, she keeps the secret from Maya and Joaquin. Maya and Joaquin’s own fractured lives further test the siblings’ delicate relationship.

My heart broke for these characters, but in particular, for Joaquin. His fear to connect with his foster parents because of his past trauma made me feel physical pain. More than once I was driving, listening to this book, and fighting back tears. This story packs a huge emotional punch, and I give it the highest recommendation.

In fairness, I read Far From the Tree after meeting my BG, but this book tied in so beautifully with the experience of uniting with my extended bonus family that it seemed like fate for me to read it in the same summer and include it as part of this blog post. This book explores both the joy and pain of connecting with biological family years after an adoption.

Meeting the Notorious BG

Mike and I traveled to Vancouver in early July 2018 and met up with the other members of my family for a few days before the reunion. On the day of the party, my mom and dad, aunt Janet, sister, Mike and I drove to BG’s town, just outside of Vancouver. I was figidty-nervous, and I can’t imagine how my dad must have felt anticipating this experience. Our bonus family had arranged for us to meet at the activity center in BG’s condo complex, and close to fifty guests were expected! Immediately after arriving, we were literally enveloped by my dad’s three sisters who are strong, kind women who love fiercely. I distinctly remember my bonus aunt Fiona holding me in a long hug that brought tears to my eyes. It’s a bittersweet thing, you see, to feel such an instant connection but to wonder how your life might be different if you’d known these lovely, genuine people all along.

My dad with cousin Shelley whose investigative work united the whole family.

As we circulated, I met countless cousins and family friends, two delightful great uncles, cousin Shelley who started the whole “investigation” and, of course, the notorious BG. BG had my heart in her hands from the moment I spotted her. To help us identify one another, we were asked to wear name tags, and instead of writing “Helen” or “mom” on hers, BG had written my nickname for her.

BG and me.

While I didn’t get to share much time with BG herself, the party felt like something out of a movie. BG, dad and Shelley gave moving speeches, friends and family shared favorite memories, and we played a matching game to find out interesting (and hilarious) facts about each other. My face hurt from smiling. As the guests began to leave, my bonus aunts pulled my mom, sister and me to an end table where we could talk and share, and they presented each of us with a beautiful Celtic knot necklace with the message, “Welcome to our clan.” Our bonus family could not have made us feel more special.

BG with her whole clan.

I feel so much joy for my dad who often has coffee with his younger bonus brother, is planning a vacation with his oldest sister and her husband, and has recently joined Facebook to connect with his newfound relatives. He so clearly “fits” into this family, even though he spent so many years apart. He didn’t fall so far from the tree.

Happy reading,
~Kelly