What I'm Reading: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be writing about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 


First, you need to know that despite the name and despite the teenage protagonist, this book is 1, not a coming of age novel and 2, not appropriate for teens.  Need to be very clear on this.

I received The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani from Daniel, the owner of Boswell Book Company, a few years ago.  It's the first "uncorrected proof for limited distribution" that I've ever gotten my hands on!  There weren't any typos that I noticed, but some formatting and random quotation marks sprinkled throughout.  It was fun for me to see this brief little part of the publishing process.

Thea Atwell is sent to The Yonahlossee Riding Camp by her parents because of some heart-breaking family drama that she seems to be the root of.  She is snoopy and quiet, but one of the most popular girls at camp quickly befriends her.  Thea is an exceptional equestrian and develops a terse but peacefully competitive relationship with the best rider at camp, Leona.  She in an interesting social position, but even that is a little odd because she is so unsocial.  She grew up in a secluded property in Florida with her twin brother as her bestie, and their cousin who frequently visited them, and that was basically the extent of her interactions with people her age.  At home she rides her horse, takes care of her horse, takes lessons from her father, and follows her brother around their property looking for interesting or needy animals.  Even when they go into town, their mother is pleasant with people but obviously acts superior to the "townsfolk."  

While the "now" takes place at the riding camp, we learn about Thea's life in a series of flashbacks and daydreams.  However, the formatting of the flashbacks because aren't always clearly separated from the "now."  In the "now," we experience Thea's first couple days at camp with her, and -suddenly!- she's been there for several months.  So, some timing issues, but we can get past that because Thea is MAKING OUT WITH HER.... Nah I can't tell you.  I won't!

Because of the jump in time since her arrival, we miss Thea learn how to be a friend and interact with other girls.  While we aren't bogged down with visual descriptions of the buildings, the landscape, what meals are served, the complete layout of the camp, etc.  We learn exclusively about Thea and her experiences.  The book has all the making of a coming of age novel: loss of innocence, a journey, testing boundaries, rites of passage, but as I said earlier that's definitely not what this book is; Thea is lacking the epiphany.  In theory she overcomes her family tragedy, but doesn't gain insight into herself or the people she's involved with or grow from those experiences and introspection.  Her drama at school isn't something she feels bad about or wants to evolve from.  It's almost something she simply accepts about herself, like I'm 17 and a bad girl and I don't need anyone.  I'm not positive that Thea changes at all even though she is THE topic of the book.  It's unfortunate, and kind of sad.

There's a school dance and she definitely is interested in a boy, they dance closely and get in trouble.  She is filled so deeply with shame that she feels that all eyes are on her and she must leave the party.  This is one time she is incredibly self-conscious, but through the rest of the book she lives pretty uncaring to what other people think of her.  With her isolated upbringing, this makes sense but doesn't, to me, at the same time.  I'm no psychologist.  The boy she danced with writes to her, but she does not respond.  Somehow during this time Thea decides that she doesn't want boys, she wants men, but the decision is so out of place since she hasn't spent hardly any time in her life with either.

Thea takes solace from her family's rejection, or maybe indicates she needs some serious therapy following her family-drama, in a relationship with her headmaster... Icky, yes.  She definitely plans their affair, she is definitely the leader of it, and she definitely does not know what she's doing.  I'm not sure she even knows why she is doing it.  Her behavior is alarming, but what is more alarming is that there are no adults in her life to call her out or help guide her decision-making.  You would think a man who has been headmaster of a girl's boarding school would either 1, be way more experienced in selecting and seducing a student to have an affair with or 2, have a steely resolve not to have an affair with a student.  But Mr. Holmes is neither of those things and his motivation is unknown.  When he's around Thea he quickly gets inebriated enough to disclose secrets about the camp's funding and sometimes about the other girls, and it's during these times that Thea takes advantage of him.  She decides where and when they go places, and skips classes with the other girls without a second thought- from either of them.  As readers we learn more about their intimate discussions with each other after his wife returns from a trip and the affair promptly ends, so the significant clues about Mr. Holmes and his situation end up undeveloped.

Finally, I have to expose a book routine I have...  When I get a new book, I get a 3x5 notecard and write down the book title, author, and maybe the circumstances under which I received the book.  When I begin and finish the book I write down those dates; sometimes I write down the books I read before.  Always, though, well, pretty much always, the notecard also gets filled up with quotes from the book that were funny, meant something to me, or were simply beautiful.  But through this 388-page book, I have no notable quotes from this book.  The book is about Thea, and in my opinion Thea is unremarkable.

 

She lives pretty uncaring to what other people think of her, and seems to do whatever she wishes.  With her isolated upbringing, 

On Writing, Fear, and Perfection

There is a tremendous amount of experiences to be afraid of.  It's not even worth taking the time to discuss, at this point.  There is, simultaneously, a tremendous amount of solidarity among people.  Women are encouraging each other and supporting each other and, often, just being conscious that everyone does things a little differently.  I have often felt so self-conscious in comparing my work to other's, and comparing my creativity to other people's will to create, that it stops me from creating something myself.  There is so much to fear in American life right now, why am I afraid of my own creativity?  Of expressing myself?

I've been hearing about Plato, and I think something about the relation between a one single form stands alone from everything else, but anyway I've been told that nothing can be perfect because there is no way to compare what is to it as a perfect thing since it is at it simply is.  Read that over again: nothing can be perfect because it cannot exist in another state than it is, so what is may perhaps just be perfection.

And there is this one other seemingly small blip in life that I am totally inspired by, and it was a statement in an Instagram comic by Mari Andrew: Just get some words down and <PooF!> instant writer.  I read about so many people getting book deals and publishing and editing and drawing and expressing themselves creatively or intelligently or hilariously, and I think that statement is true because it all started with the simple act of writing. If you write, you're a writer.  If you create art, you are an artist.  If you make music, you are a musician.  Why not?  Who is going to tell you otherwise, and why would you listen to them anyway?  Why be troubled by perfection when ..what even is perfection?

So I'm putting this out into the universe tonight because I literally don't have the time, or capacity, or strength not to:

I AM WRITING.  

And next I will be reading!  I'm about a third of the way through an advance copy of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani that Daniel at Boswell Book Company gave me several years ago.  WILL I finish it by Friday?  No one can tell!

What I'm Reading: And Now We Have Everything, by Meaghan O'Connell

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 


In the months after Hardy was born I didn't really do a lot of reading.  I often didn't have hands to use, and it was more fun to watch my baby and try to keep my home and body clean than to escape into a book.  Once he was sleeping mostly through the night with just one 2am snack, I read LOTS of books on my iPad: Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, The Call of the Wild, The Last of the Mohicans, Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, O Pioneers!, Peter Pan, The Scarlet Letter, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Grimm's Fairy Tales.  Admittedly, I probably stayed up in the rocking chair holding him and cuddling with him much longer than I needed to, because, well, stories.  And then Hardy's 2am snacks ended (what a blessing!), and so did the reading.  We'd put him to bed around 7 and then I had quiet evenings to myself after a long day of work and parenting.  I was too tired to do anything of substance; I remember painting my nails and watching TV while mostly unconscious with exhaustion.  Slowly, very slowly, things started to change for me. 

One Saturday we went to the library, and I ventured into the adult section alone and browsed through the familiar stacks.  Atwood, Austen, Bronte, Forester, Greene, Hemingway, Marquez, Oates....  Sometimes I feel like I've read a lot of books, and then I go to the library and.... whoa, there are so many books left to read.  People are so creative! And so dedicated to what they are inspired by!

Anyway, I picked up a book, checked it out, and over the next few evenings while Hardy was asleep, I READ IT.  And since then, I've been reading.  I had to find that part of me again, though.  While I was in the midst of my mom-transition, I felt so overcome with my child and breastfeeding -and being back at work didn't help- that the ideas of "self care," which is so big right now, and "my identity" were completely overwhelming, the thought of doing something extra was going to push me over the brink.  What I didn't know what that it just takes time for things to settle.  Time.  Simple as that.  And suddenly, slowly, I began to find myself again.  I was different; the same, yes, but different.

Last week I went to Boswell and bought myself a couple books for my birthday (32!).  With my second mother's day coming up, I was drawn to books that touched on the experience of women and mothers, and I ended up buying two books: one, a collection of poetry called She Walks in BeautyA Woman's Journey Through Poems selected by Caroline Kennedy; two, And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I was Ready by Meaghan O'Connell.

O'Connell's book begins with her feelings about parenthood, plans for married life, her life as a cool lady in NYC, and then she finds out she is pregnant.  Whaaaaat!  She and her fiance stuggle through what they imagined their life would be like after they get married versus where they found themselves, and ultimately she decides to have the baby.  So they do.

Week by week of her pregnancy, O'Connell takes us through funny, sad, strange and confusing moments of being a pregnant woman out in the world.

11: Prenatal yoga is a lot like regular yoga except the teacher talks about Kegels and has us walk around grabbing our pubic bones just to get us thinking about them.  The new utility of our private parts.  [...] Whoever is the most pregnant wins.  At eleven weeks, twelve weeks, thirteen, I am apologetic, a chubby imposter, merely bloated.  Each body is a revelation.  I wish I could put the women nearing forty weeks behind glass and ogle them properly.

Her perspective is great, and so, so real.  As readers we are in her head, experiencing things with her as the thinks through it and hearing her candid responses.  I had my own experiences which were funny and complicated and sad, but it's so affirming to read another woman's story.

She also touches on the process of learning about childbirth from people who have or haven't gone through it.  For example, she, like the rest of us that aspired for a natural childbirth (at home, for me), holds in high regard Ina May Gaskin, the Queen of Midwives, while she takes childbirth from a teacher she describes as "a chipper blonde woman who has never had a baby."  She also touches on the expectations and plans made from reading and watching other women's birth stories.  Of course we read and watch these experiences because we have no idea what is coming up for us and we want to have some idea of what it looks like.  Just like you watch people on a roller coaster, and review the track while you're in line so you know that the big turn comes after the second loop, we pregnant women want to know the path we will be strapped onto.  The thing though, is that each woman gets her own path, and its in the dark. So, good luck.

Next we experience her labor.  Start to finish.  It was emotionally challenging to read, but funny at times because she's a funny lady.  Obviously I was thinking about my own experience birthing Hardy while reading her story, and while these are two very different stories, they are similar in that they are hard.  Labor is hard, and giving birth is no small feat, no matter how long any of it lasts.  Pregnancy, and often birth, leave lasting marks on a woman's body and soul, so while we can come to terms with what we've gone through (and even look forward to it again!), an important part of moving on or embracing our story is often forgiving ourselves for our not achieving our high (and often unreasonable!) expectations.  (Again, the roller coaster no one else has been on and is in the dark.)

Washing dishes one night, she listens to an episode of The Longest Shortest Time podcast where the host interview Ina May Gaskin.  I want to summarize this, but it deserves to be read in full.

The host confronts Ina May, telling her that the books made her feel like a failure when her birth didn't go the way she'd envisioned.  "I was under this impression," she said to Ina, "and maybe it was the wrong impression, that you believe that all women could have, if not a pain-free labor, then at least, like, a relaxed labor?"

"No," Ina May says. "No! Not everybody has a great time.  Someimtes it's really rugged, it's really hard. You're not alone if you felt like you experienced a lot of pain and you felt like you failed." When I hear this I put down the bowl I am scrubbing and brace myself against the sink and sob. I'm a little horrified by how much her words affect me and how much I needed to be forgiven by this woman I've never met for what I think of as my poor performance. 

Then Ina tries to explain.  "What if we just told people that it always really, really, really hurts?" she asks, and then she answers herself: "Well, that wouldn't be very good, because you'd get everybody so frightened."

This meant something even to read second-hand in this book.  Like, seriously.  

She also has to share her trauma with her fiance.  In my experience, I wanted to move on and be cool, but my midwife encouraged that Ben and I discuss our birth story, the highs and lows.  I, like many other women, often internalize my experiences and often just can't find the words or the right time to share my fears.  After struggling to resume their sex-life post-baby, O'Connell finally opens up.

In a week or a month from this February 13, we'll find ourselves in bed in the middle of the day, and after another botched attempt at sex, I'll confess to him about the birth flashbacks I get sometimes when I'm on my back, pinned down.  We'll cry together in bed and it'll be the beginning of the end of my avoiding him and avoiding difficult conversations.  I'll know, soon, that just because something is hard and takes work and doesn't come naturally, doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile.  It doesn't mean anything.  I'll know that as long as we can talk to each other, we aren't doomed.  But we have to do it on purpose. We have to try now. Ugh.

The final section of the book, Extra Room (1 to 26), will be everyone's favorite.  Well, probably.  It was for me.  1-26 are short, maybe weekly, moments shared with the reader.  I felt like their baby was growing so quickly before my eyes, and her path as a mother changed overtime in a path I can recognize.  Moving, childproofing, starting a daycare, leaving the house for the first time ALONE, sleep training, successful sleep training (#19: I am not sure what to do with my newfound free time in the evenings.  I hide out, paint my toenails, watch TV.), ending breastfeeding, celebrate a fun night out without the baby, pressure from other people to have another baby.  Gosh, it's fun to read, and it was fun to go through myself.  

For all the birth stories I read, and birth videos I watched, and plans we made for our baby's birth, nothing could have prepared me for the labor and delivery I went through, or how completely I would be changed by it and motherhood.  I'm not sure if reading this book prior to having a baby would have changed my expectations at all. Or if I could have learned anything in advance about myself potentially in labor or as a mom.  Even surrounded by women and moms that I love, it was special to read this woman's story in the privacy of my own home, without having to give advice or share my thoughts.  O'Connell is the queen of her story, I am the queen of mine, but to feel her story the way a reader often internalizes a good story was, at this specific point in my life, oddly ideal, it was vindicating.

Domes!

Since my schedule revolves around Hardy's sleep these days, we go on short outings in-between his naps on my days off of work and on the weekends.  We packed up and drove over to the Mitchell Park Conservatory for a couple hours.  Did you know construction on the domes started in 1959?  No, I had no idea.

Milwaukee's first conservatory and greenhouses were built in the late 1860s, and were attached to the home of Alexander Mitchell.  When Mitchell died, his house was sold (now the Wisconsin Club) and a portion of the property was purchased by the Board of Park Commissioners.  Some of the land was donated by the Mitchell family, more was purchased from the Burnham estate, and by 1906 Mitchell Park was 62 acres.  The conservatory idea didn't fade away, however...  In 1898 construction began on the Mitchell Conservatory as designed by Henry Koch. The current domes were built to replace the Milwaukee Conservatory which was in place from 1898-1955.  The domes were dedicated in 1965 (by Lady Bird Johnson!), but they opened between 1964-67 (Show in '64, Tropical in '66, and Arid in '67).   In 2008 the domes were temporarily closed for improvements to the non-dome areas (I enjoyed this article in the Shepard Express about that).  They closed in early 2016 for repairs (concrete falling!) and reopened again in late October; in March 2017 they were designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

That's enough for history, we go to see the PLANTS, right?  As a plant lover, visiting the Domes is a really fun experience, romantic, even. 

Visiting the Domes is like going to a small museum since you just walk around and look at things. But these are living things just doing their thing: growing. Creating air.  Making babies.  

I love the unexpected colors and flowers displayed by many of the plants in the arid dome (which is my favorite of the three).

For me, a visit to the domes isn't about talking.  It's more about pointing out awesome textures and colors, and ideally enjoying the presence of my Love.  So if a picture is worth a thousand words, here are the highlights according to Laura:

In the show dome right now was COLOR.  I love the first spring flowers that are starting to pop out of the ground before you even think something could be growing.  My tulips and daffodils surprise me every year, and there is already so much life in my roses that I know they will bloom one day and I won't even know when the buds arrived.  The process of life creation is really too incredible for my mind to comprehend.  And plants really put it all out there, too.  "Pollinate me, pleeeeaaase" they seem to beg!  (This is relevant!  There is a Pollinator Week at The Domes June 19-23.)

The more I read about the Domes, the more I'm excited to go back.  This summer the display in the show dome is called Ultra Violet Summer Floral Show; who wouldn't be excited to see what that looks like?  EVERYTHING WILL BE PURPLE.  See more.


  1. History of Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes 1795-1955. Accessed June 6, 2017.  https://milwaukeedomes.org/early-domes-history
  2. History of Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes 1955-2008.  Accessed June 6 2017.  https://milwaukeedomes.org/late-domes-history
  3. Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes.  Accessed June 6, 2017.  https://savingplaces.org/places/the-domes#.WTdkOXKZOi4
  4. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory.  Accessed June 6, 2017.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitchell_Park_Horticultural_Conservatory

On the Eve of 30

I've always been into my birthday.  My family always put a little effort into make a birthday into "Your Special Day."  As I've gotten older, my birthday is still one of my most important days, and if you were a loved one of mine who choose to include me in your own birthday, I would do  my best to make it special.

For a while when I was little I had a beautiful canopy bed.  The sheets and the canopy itself were white and pink, and my bedroom on a sunny morning would just be so bright and cheery that it was never hard for me to wake up.  To this day I like a bright, cheery bedroom, and sunny mornings are just the most beautiful.  Anyway.  I was maybe in second grade or something, and I woke up to the brightest sunny morning.  My parents and brother brought me breakfast in bed (pancakes, of course, probably chocolate chip) and sang me the Happy Birthday song.  We use these "It's Your Special Day" dishes on your special day, be it birthday or other equally good news, and it really does make the day extra special.  I think that was the birthday I got roller skates.

Eventually May 12 became a rainy day.  I no longer wake up to the sun, no one is singing me the birthday song, there is definitely not anyone bringing me breakfast in bed, and the Special Day plate is at my parent's.  Even if I had all those things happen, it would never compare to that sunny morning and the pleasure I felt as a child.

So, 30.  It's here tomorrow.  It was bothering me quite a bit, the milestone, you know?  Then I realized that entering my 30s means I get to say "g'BYE!" to my 20s and that actually sounded pretty good, it's been time to move on for a while.  Goodbye to all those lost friendships and relationships.  Goodbye to now long-gone furniture, clothes, apartments, things.  Goodbye to lingering stress, embarrassment, shame, and guilt.  Goodbye.

Out with the old, in with the new, right?

Hello to getting my floors refinished instead of buying...stuff.  Hello to overpaying my mortgage.  Hello to simplifying, cooking at home, nurturing relationships. Hello to honesty, commitment, generosity.  Hello to parenthood and this new Laura I haven't yet met.

Hello, 30, I'm ready; Let's GO.


I've written about my birthday before here and here.

hi :)

First off, hello!  How are you doing?  Probably good but busy, right?  Everyone is just so busy these days...  I think I read an article about how people describe their lives as busy, but in reality we have an amount of work that is equal to or less than in the times past.

I am also good!  I won't say that I'm busy (if I did it would include the word "super" first, but let's be honest, when I'm done writing I don't have cows to milk or something, I got a TELEVISION to watch while I am sitting down), but I will say that I have been kept occupied.  Fortunately I can definitely say that I have not stopped doing fun and interesting things since I last posted....eight months ago....but I obviously have not documented those things here!

In January 2015 Ben and I bought a house.  That is still incredibly crazy to say.  What other times in life do average people spend tens- nay! -hundreds of thousands of dollars at once?  That is overwhelming.  That purchase is spent with hours and hours of painting over other people's paint choices, and then that is followed by the agonizing process of "Making Your House a Home."  Is agonizing the right word? Eh, maybe, maybe not?  Obtaining and placing the correct item to the right place is wonderful, it's the process of obtaining that is perhaps agonizing?  Whatever, it doesn't matter.  The point is, I bought an adorable little house, and I love it.

So that happened.

Then lots of other things happened, like concerts and great meals and even a road trip out west (driving from San Francisco to Seattle up the coast--breathtaking!), but I guess the other big thing that happened is that I got pregnant.

....was that surprising?  Yeah, it was for me, too!  It probably shouldn't have been, but I since I didn't have to pay any doctors or undergo any procedures, it was a little surprising!

So we've got a little bébé coming late this summer!

"How are you doing?" says everyone all the time.  

"GREAT" I non-sarcastically reply.  "Seriously!"  My two most noticeable symptoms have been exhaustion (first trimester 1 and part of 2) followed by this:

 Don't even talk about my messy messy bedroom. &nbsp;I am selling so much stuff on CL and eBay right now..and don't even talk about my bear claw hands...

Don't even talk about my messy messy bedroom.  I am selling so much stuff on CL and eBay right now..and don't even talk about my bear claw hands...

And my third symptom that is fun but makes me crazy is NESTING.  It's real, and I've got it bad.

That bell didn't just pop out, btw, that is six months of baking in there!  

So, let's talk about you, what are you up to? You super busy too?

The Good Land

Now that I have a Monday through Friday job, I love filling my weeknights with Things To Do, whatever it may be, to help move the week along.  Sometimes it's a little exhausting, but if, on Sunday, I wake up and feel like I just completed an AWESOME week, then I forget about the exhausting part.

A few weeks ago I had my friends Kevin and Erin over (remember them from skating at Pettit?) for dinner.   When I was in Nashville in May, my dear friend Maiken made falafel for dinner, and since I idolize her, I decided to make that for Kev and Erin.

I used this recipe, and it actually turned out GREAT.  (I skipped the cilantro due to a cilantro/spaghetti sauce debacle several years ago that has apparently ruined my voluntary taste for it.)  Erin brought a quinoa/olive/cilantro dish, which was the perfect compliment to the meal.

In my opinion, the best hummus in the city is from Shahrazad on Oak&Loc, so that was the finishing touch.  For dessert, we all shared a Mast Brothers chocolate bar (the cocoa nib one) (which I also got in Nashville).  


Food and friends are two of the best things in life, so it may not surprise you that the activities continued on Friday that same week, when Erin, Ben, and I marched ourselves down to Fish Fry and a Flick to combine food and friends with something else I love: a good movie!  Wayne's World was the move de la nuit.

My company does Summer Fridays, so I get every Friday afternoon off May through October.  It was a beautiful day (insert cliche photo of tree, cloud, sky, taken from hammock), I had a restful afternoon, and I was getting excited to see Cassandra wail on the wall of Discovery World.

The crowd at the movie was fantastic.  No one was disruptive, I think everyone had a good seat, and while the food was mediocre, the beer selection was on point and Angry Orchard cider was on tap.  Happiness for all those GF people out there.

The entire crowd cheered when Alice Cooper talked about Milwaukee.  Everyone laughed together and quoted the most quotable parts together.  To me it was almost the perfect Milwaukee night.


Birthday Part 2

Remember how I mentioned that I'll often celebrate my birthday for days on end?  This year was one of those birthdays.  

I generally take off from work for my birthday.  I've spent the previous weekend camping, so on my Big Day, I like to do something personal.  Last year I went to the gun range.

Afterwards I went to watch my niece Julia's soccer game, and met my friend Ryan for dinner.  It was a good one.

This year I wandered Lake Park.  For hours.  It was perfect.  Lake Park was beautiful and nearly abandoned.  I only saw one other person while I was there, and I bet that man was doing the same thing I was: enjoying being outside in the best company the globe offers.   You know, birds, trees, a cool breeze.