What We’re Doing: Auspicious August

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

August has been an intense month.  If you’re into astrology, there are a host of astrologers ready to explain what’s been going on.  For us, the biggest challenge has been my health.  I spent a week and a half virtually immobilized (I could get around the house, and I took my kids to their recurring classes) from a cyst in a poor position.  The one excellent piece of my immobility: I spent a lot of time at the desk, editing my books and getting them ready to send off to publishers.  I’ve completed two novels, and I’m assembling a new collection of poetry.  (Shameless plug: here’s my previous poetry collection for reference.)

I haven’t been this productive with my writing in a long while, and it feels good to clear away old projects, so I can start addressing ones still in concept or outline phases.  Of course, homeschooling and parenting from a chair or bed can be a huge challenge in creativity.  We read a lot more books, watched more shows than usual, and I took my son to see $1 movies, since I could sit still without major issue.  More than that, I set out my son’s tumble mats, and encouraged him to practice his gymnastics more.  We played music, and though I couldn’t get up and dance with him as I usually do, I did arm dances, and scooted out close to him, to hold his hands while he did some fancy footwork.  He got to draw more, and he took walks with his sister, and together, we all got through it until I could move around again.

Then there was the nestling tossed from its nest in our driveway we rescued (based on advice from the Audubon Society and a few rescue shelters) … the only survivor of a vicious invader who killed all its siblings the next day.  Since placing it in the ground cover and bushes, we’ve seen no sign of it since, and hope we improved its chances of survival.

The momentum of my writing hasn’t ceased, though formatting and synopsis writing aren’t really feeding my urge, and whenever I feel this, I follow it.  Motivation must be lassoed whenever it comes, and ridden as long as I can hold onto it.  With autumn brings change, and I’ll be teaching kids beyond my own, my son and I will be spending several hours alone together every day and I need to plan for it, and my daughter will be entering college and need a different form of support in the evenings.  For the foreseeable future, this means I’ll be writing less in this blog.  Instead of once a week on Wednesdays, expect one or two entries a month until our new schedule steadies out, and I’ve found my footing.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

51fd2bhh2ssl-_sy497_bo1204203200_We’re working on encouraging our son to try using the toilet again.  For the last few months, he’s outright refused to try, nor will he wear the underwear he picked out.  Since the best time to run around half naked learning to potty is in the summer, I’m hoping he’ll be inspired in the next few weeks while the weather’s still warm.  I checked out the Potty for Boys box from the library, which contains an anatomically correct doll with potty seat, several books, DVDs, and a CD to help teach about pottying. Also, we came across Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman, which is a charming little book about vegetables wearing underwear, and while it’s simplistic, it hits home that babies wear diapers, big kids wear underwear, and vegetables come in various shapes and sizes.  Since checking it out, my son has had us read it to him three times in one day.

With the imminent release of the movie, I’ve begun reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. While I’ve delved only into the first few chapters thus far, I’m already captivated by the realism of a boy’s struggle in being a good son while his mother battles cancer.  Though the movie trailer below shows us an outsider’s perspective, adding the drama and the inherent sense of sadness or pity for the enormity of his experiences, from the boy’s intimate perspective, he downplays everything in his life, not wishing to directly name his fears or acknowledge the severity of the bullying he receives in school.  I’m looking forward to following his journey through the book, and seeing how his story is adapted for the film.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We’re still watching Economics through Crash Course a few times a week, and we’ve been attending the $1 Regal movies regularly, but since finishing all 8 seasons of Charmed, we’ve gone for a lighter show’s reruns: Dharma and Greg.  If you’ve never watched it, it begins with two people from opposite sides of (white) American culture: a woman with hippie parents who decry capitalism, and a man who works as a lawyer and whose parents are among the upper 2% of the economic spectrum.  The day of their meeting turns into a long date with a lot of travel, culminating in their marriage.  Thus begins the entire premise of the show.  So far, four episodes in, my daughter is delighted, and my son eats his lunch and doesn’t complain, but is ready to dash off the moment his food is finished.  At least it’s only a 25 minute show, so we have been able to watch one before he’s done.  The Dragon specifically said she enjoys watching the opening credits, as they make her happy.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

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Spicy Chicken and Pasta

1 lb. boneless chicken thighs
1/2 c. sundried tomatoes soaked in olive oil
1 tomato
1 lg. Beaver Dam pepper (or equivalent medium pepper)
1 c. white wine
salt, black pepper, tarragon, olive oil
1 pkg. caserecce or other pasta
grated parmesan, asiago, or blend
6 cloves garlic

In a large pot, prepare pasta according to instructions, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and cook chicken thighs with a pinch of salt and pressed garlic.  Remove meat and chop into small chunks.  In the same skillet, cook chopped tomato, sundried tomatoes, and Beaver Dam peppers* until tender.  Add wine and tarragon, cook another five to seven minutes until the alcohol is cooked off.  Pour the contents of the pan into a small mixing bowl and blend with a hand blender.

Warm pasta with olive oil in the pot.

Serve chicken and pasta onto plates separate or together.  Dress the pasta with cheese, and spoon the sauce over the chicken.

My partner and I ended up mixing all the food together on the plate, our children did not.  Everyone thought it turned out well (although for the toddler, I reserved only the tomato mixture, cooking the peppers separately. Once his was served, I added in the peppers, and blended some more).

 

*Beaver Dam peppers are my absolute favorite chili peppers in the world.  They grow as big as poblanos and anaheims, and reach a similar level of medium heat, but the heat builds slowly, releasing a host of tempting flavors other peppers don’t achieve.  Even when lightly sauteed, they have a smoky quality without needing to smoke or grill them.  If you can get your hands on some, I highly recommend them; they tend to be red and green striped, rather than a single color.  I have yet to successfully grow them, but I try anew every year.

What We’re Doing: 16th & 46th Birthday

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Last week, we celebrated the twin birthdays of my partner and my daughter.

The actual day involved feasting from the morning through the night.  We explored some of our favorite parts of Seattle, and kept things low key.  On Saturday, though, we focused on our daughter by throwing a party at a local park.

She wanted something comparatively easy to throw together, something fun and open to a number of our friends and family.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

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With a lot of planning, we threw together a sword & sorcery party at the park during the early evening, followed by gaming at our house until midnight.  We made over twenty boffers (long swords – 3′ pipe, short swords – 2′ pipe, daggers – 1′ pipe, staffs – 3′ pipe with equally split foam) and sewed thirty-six bean bags (potions, spells, bard’s songs).

Though some of her friends weren’t able to come, we had plenty of guests participate.  We grilled food (a learning experience for me), engaged in friendly battles, and spent a lot of time talking.  Some of our guests followed us home for cards and jokes, a few of our neighbors stopped by, and we pulled out the futon.

All in all, a good time, and my daughter enjoyed herself immensely.

 

THE RULES

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Charlie’s Angels Pose

Since we wanted the one day LARP to be casual and not requiring a lot of intensive character creation or storyline, especially with two three year old pixies running about.  I threw together the follow, though it became clear after a couple of hours my rules need some fine tuning and clarification.

Welcome travelers from far and wide!

You’ve arrived at the fair Loch of Cottage where Taiathess, Guardian of Ink, celebrates her 16th Name Day. Eat, drink, and fight in the name of friendly competition.

When you arrive:

1. Pick a character back story
2. Pick a name and place on name tag
3. Pick a boffer

Guidelines:

A. Be respectful of everyone

B. Do your best to stay in character; if you’re speaking to someone out of character (ooc), place your right hand or fist over your chest to indicate you’re ooc.

C. Physical combat should only involve boffers. If someone else’s boffer touches one of your limbs, consider that limb too injured to fight. If the boffer touches your abdomen, it’s a critical wound; do a rock-paper-scissors to see if you lose the challenge. Both arms injured means you’ve lost the challenge. NO ATTACKING YOUR OPPONENT’S HEAD OR GROIN. Do so, and you’ll lose the challenge automatically.

D. Any monks or fighters using hand-to-hand, describe your action, and use rock-paper-scissors to see who wins the challenge. Winning five rounds of rps wins the challenge.

E. Magical combat will involve bean bags (for potions) and imagination, describe your actions, and use rock-paper-scissors. Five “wins” of rps, and you win the challenge.

F. Clerics will be on hand to heal characters between competitions. Be kind to them, or you might remain too wounded to fight. At least there will be food, right?

G. Remember, this is a friendly competition for the amusement and enjoyment of Taiathess, Guardian of Ink.

H. Be inventive, be clever, and bring your character to life!

We used character back story generators and name generators to come up with lists.  I created a template for name badges and went to FedEx to print them on label paper, cutting them out by hand.  People chose the backstory label they each liked best and wished to roleplay, then selected a name from the list of randomly generated names ranging from high fantasy to cutesy (e.g. Smoochiecuddlecakes) to silly (e.g. Skullmeat, Lumpcheese).  They competed for the chance to win the Great Sword of Flying Pig (a boffer we made using flying pigs duct tape).

At some point soon, we’ll be updating the rules for this casual form of LARPing, and hope to start a proper roleplaying group (either tabletop or LARP) with local families, because my daughter adored it when people stayed in character.

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WHAT WE’RE EATING

At the party, we grilled vegetable skewers, lamb souvlaki, chicken satay, and we had a garden salad with local produce and flowers, chips, berries, hummus, raspberry zinger cake from Flying Apron, and the one thing people wanted the recipe for the most:

Quinoa Tabouli

1 c. Dry quinoa
2 c. water
1 large cucumber
1 large tomato (heirloom preferred)
1/4 c. Mint, fresh, chiffonade
Olive oil
Juice from 1-2 lemons
Salt, garlic granules, and black pepper

Cook quinoa as directed (ours involves bringing to a boil, covering and simmering on low about 15 minutes).  Once cooked, transfer to a bowl. Add chopped vegetables and mint, season with salt, garlic, and pepper to taste. Squeeze lemons and add juice, the. Drizzle with olive oil (more than expected, but long before saturated with oil).  Mix well with a large spoon. Serve warm or chill first.

Two Books and an Update

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The Dragon and Fox out on a Pokéwalk

Much happened since my last post, and it’s taken me a bit to come around to all of it.  A dear friend passed away, I visited my best friend who attended the death ritual, our family started playing Pokémon Go, and I completed my solo debut novel’s manuscript after letting it slide for over a year.

 

Why include Pokemon?  Because my feet have blisters, and it’s changed how we spend our days, even those we consider “at home” days.

Since all of these changes have left me rather ill, I am working on resting before throwing myself too hard into my next project, so this post will be brief.

My son has been enjoying two books from the library this week.  One helps us talk about death in a gentle way, and the other keeps us playful and bright.

81ow8gvvh6lA serendipitous find, we stumbled across Mrs. Huggins and Her Hen Hannah by Lydia Dabcovich from a recommendation at just the right time.  The gentle pictures of a rural life shared between an elder woman and her best friend, shows the joys one can have in daily tasks when in good company, and the life that goes on even after death and grief.

follow-me-9781481471473_lgThe other book, Follow me! by Ellie Sandall, shows a different sort of life: a communal life of ring-tailed lemurs as they move from waking to sleep and all the joy and danger in between.  The images are bright and clear, the language simple, yet allowing for a lot of variation in delivery, which is great for my drama prince who giggles when my theatrical training comes through during storytelling.

 

EDIT: Since my daughter will be celebrating her 16th birthday (and my partner his 46th, on the same day), we’ll be extraordinarily busy next week.  There will be no post, but the following Wednesday, I’ll have a new update about the party.  Thanks for your patience.

Things My Three Year Old Loves

13592205_10153719898923059_5651370052460487932_nPlaying in the park.  Nothing pleases him more than heading to a local park and finding a lot of other children there.  Like many novel situations, he stands and watches for several minutes before determining whether or not something is safe.  Once he’s sure, he dives headlong.  He treats making friends the same way.  He watches the other children for a while, walking right up to a group and listening in.  Once he’s gathered intel, he decides whether to move on to a different group of children, find a solo playmate, or engage in whatever activity the first group decides upon.

Back and neck massage to help him nap. Since giving up milk at nap time, for months we’d pretty much given up nap time because even attempts at “quiet time” failed.  One day I was too tired and desperate for my own quiet time, so I invited him on the bed for a back rub.  He loved it so much, he fell asleep.  Now every day I’ve been offering the same during quiet time.  He doesn’t always fall sleep, but I can get a quiet break for up to an hour for fifteen minutes of back, neck, and leg massage. So worth it.

13512014_10153693760728059_5127652802662483956_nPainting with vibrant colors.  We explored tempera paints for the first time together and used it as a chance to talk about color theory. He adored it and wants to do it again!  (We’re starting the bidding for his debut piece, “Roads, Space Rockets, and Flowers” at $30,ooo.)

Watercolor spraying with an old sheet hung up outside.  Now that it’s summer again, we can drag out the spray bottles, watercolors, and old white sheet for creative play.  Leave it out in the rain to wash it away and start again, or put it away and add more layers.

Access to percussion instruments.  Bang bang rattle clang ding and dong.  Nothing like helping a child find his voice than providing him with copious amounts of percussion instruments.

Playing with his babydolls.  Sometimes he cuddles his babydolls (Callie and Alejandro), sometimes he puts them to bed, and sometimes he walks them around the house in their tandem stroller.  He asks often for assistance in clearing a path for the stroller and pushing it over obstacles.  He wants to be a good daddy to his “kids.”

13510861_10153700899978059_766190641590540333_nAnything to do with cars and other vehicles.  Still obsessed, but after putting all of his non-stuffed toys into the same place in the living room (instead of in places around the house), he’s been far better at keeping track of his toys, and in putting them away in their bins.

Making boffers.  Ok, he likes watching me make boffers for his sister’s 16th birthday party, and picking up the unfinished ones to play with.  We have several started as PVC pipe and pool noodle foam, now to move on to applying the many colors of duct tape we bought.  We’re making swords, staeves, daggers, and a couple of short swords for the three year olds.

Cuddles, lullabies, and story time.  Who doesn’t like these?  But as a group, they’re ubiquitous to the pleasures of being young and tiny.  Three year olds are still in many ways babies, though they won’t be for much longer.  Bask in all the toddler kisses and snuggles you can, because they make life sweeter by the minute.  One of the latest finds at the library was quite adorable and charming.  Dear Tabby by Carolyn Crimi features an alley cat who works as an advice correspondent to the local animals of Critterville. They send in letters full of their woes (and a small treat as payment), and she writes back with her sage wisdom. Definitely worth checking out.

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Expanding Reading Selections

In making plans for the summer and coming fall, I’ve put myself out there as available to teach Reading Selections beyond the scope of my previous classes.  

I’m a bit nervous about it, because this time around, I’ll only know one student.  Part of my summer will involve refining my earlier selections and working on clarity of expectations with kids who aren’t my own or those of a close friend.  One parent interested has already asked me to completely gut my selections of any genre pieces outside literary fiction and teach her children exclusively; I declined to do so.

Science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery are all part and parcel to a diverse literary education.  They invite us to safely speculate upon history, the future, and the human condition without necessarily having to plunge into the gory depths of what we actually do and have done to one another. Many of the classics I use fall into genre fiction, at that.  Phillip K. Dick, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, Hans Christian Andersen … are these not literary enough authors to warrant mention?

But I digress.  The point is that, in preparing files for scrutiny, in preparing for my daughter’s impending party (mere weeks away now), and in preparing for my friend’s death with dignity schedule for this week, I’d let slip my blog writing once more.

On the theme of literature and reading, though, I wish to share an important article on the common practices for teaching literacy that utterly fail our children: What Doesn’t Work on Edutopia.com. These five points are valid whether in a class or at home, and I’ve managed to avoid these mistakes, though I’ve made plenty of others in my time.

My literary analysis class certainly touches on some of the article’s points: children learn new vocabulary (and how to spell the words they learn) through active use and discussion.  The latter helps with comprehension of content and seeing a piece from different perspectives, which allows for deeper questions to be asked during future readings. 

Small group learning is something I wish I could provide my own children more opportunities to engage in, but with their ages so far apart, starting local discussion groups is the best I’ve got so far as a homeschooled.

What We’re Doing: Jumping June

For our family, May through July is a parade of birthdays.  My friend’s sons whom I call my nephews have their birthdays, my girlfriend has hers, one of my baby cousins, and so on.  In June we celebrate four different cousins’ birthdays, and in July some of my close friends, my daughter, and my partner all have birthdays (the latter two are birthday twins, 30 years apart).  Between the birthday parties, presents, and social media wishes, we’re busy celebrating summer.

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Fathers’ Day Hike at Wallace Falls 2016, Willow & Birch

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

herbspiral.jpgWe finished our herb spiral!  After months of doing little bits of work, the herb spiral is fully established (except for a pair of marshmallow plants on their way), with a variety of herbs, most of which are surviving.  The mini clay pond at the tail of the spiral is filled with watercress with space for one of our ordered mallows.  Play chips surround the whole thing, and we have a bird bath set up.  One of our neighbors let us take a huge amount of mint, oregano, and Shasta daisies, and the former two are bordering the play chips ring, making the air fragrant and delightful.

For Fathers’ Day, we followed my partner to Wallace Falls Park, and hiked to the lower falls.  It wasn’t easy; my body barely made it to the destination, but we survived it all.  We celebrated with tasty treats from the taco truck on Main Street in Monroe.  On our hike, we saw a snake, a woodpecker, a beaver dam, several butterflies, and a host of mosquitoes dining on our collective buffet. The drive up, we also enjoyed the horses, cattle, goats, sheep, and a lone raven along the way.  While it wasn’t profound, it was a peaceful, enjoyable day for all.

Monday was Litha, or Summer Solstice, and we celebrated with midsummer vegetables, stuffed roast chicken, and peach pie (more like peach soup with crust; I added too much butter to the top).  The kids and I had to stay home to await the delivery of my daughter’s new loft bed.  We have low ceilings on the top floor, so it had to be a low loft.  She wanted space beneath to have a sitting area, but at least she has more storage.  Tuesday was all about assembling it (though the mattress has yet to arrive); there’s yet more to finish, and a few screws we’ll have to drill holes for because bad designers, bad.

This week we plan to take an outing to Woodinville Lavender to see fields and fields of purple.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

My son and I hit the library’s “rhyme and song” book section hard.  At present his three favorites from our temporary collection are The Wheels on the Bus (no surprise, it’s about a bus, and he loves the actions that go along with the song), This Old Van by Kim Norman (a hippie counting book with vehicles sung to the tune “This Old Man”), and The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly (loved for the what the heck factor, and the chance to make gross out noises).

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The choice of Yu-Hsuan’s version of The Wheels on the Bus is due entirely to the interactive nature of the book.  While the verses are limited, my son adores actually turning the wheel, moving the babies up and down, and so on.  If you want one with more verses and amazing art, check out the version by Paul O. Zelinsky, who is a master artist and creator of some of our favorite fairy tale picture books (see: Rapunzel and Rumplestiltskein for examples).

Meanwhile, my daughter finished her essay on On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Howl by Allan Ginsburg, which together we turned into a poem.  She completed Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut, and is in the process of writing an essay exploring the use of time travel and non-linear storytelling and how the story would fare if presented in linear time.

9780553279030-us-300This week she begins one of my all-time favorites, Neverness by David Zindell.  It’s the first book before a trilogy called The Requiem for Homo Sapiens, and has been compared to Dune by many reviewers.  Far in the future, on a planet known as Icefall, a young pilot of The Order of Mystic Mathematicians and Other Seekers of the Ineffable Flame embarks on a journey, falling through the stars, and reciting poetry to a goddess with moons for brains.  This book is to the Requiem for Homo Sapiens with the Hobbit is to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Where Neverness focuses on Mallory Ringess, the three books that follow focus on his son, Danlo.  Truly epic, marvelous, and highly recommended by me. I’ve bought many copies to give to friends and family.  These are books that combine classic space opera science fiction with mysticism mathematics, poetry, myth, and the exploration of what it means to be human.  The whole series is a shining work of art that often reads like poetry.  It’s the richest food for the soul.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

maxresdefaultOk, how many times have  I plugged Crash Course?  Well, I’m doing it again.  This time, their Economics series.  While some of their subjects are dry or presented by people who don’t hold the same delightful presence as John Green, the Economics course is extraordinarily engaging.  There are two hosts, one an instructor of economics, and the other an applied economist, and they’re so lively and make this subject so interesting, my daughter can see herself becoming an economist.

That’s right.  My daughter who loves art and telling stories and teaching little children, when I made a joke she’d become an economist or investment banker, she turned to me with a serious face, nodded, and said, “Yeah, I just might.”  If that isn’t an endorsement for this show, I don’t know what is.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

The Dragon has been baking.  A lot.  It’s her favorite new hobby, and I’ve been benefiting from tasty, gluten-free desserts.  At my insistence she make scones (three weeks of insisting and buying fresh lavender for the purpose), she finally made some.  Lavender lemon scones, totally gluten-free (to make vegan, sub coconut cream and Earth Balance for dairy ingredients).

She based her recipe on the Lemon-Lavender Scones by Kira Bussanich, but she made some modifications.  First, she said to skip the sand sugar and use this Martha Stewart Lemon Glaze (or any other glaze you like). She ended up using more butter, too. Added another six tablespoons. Also, she used tapioca starch instead of potato flour, and brown rice flour instead of white rice flour.  We ended up with six standard sized scones and another dozen smaller scones (the three balls of dough weren’t split evenly from the original batter).

They turned out AMAZING.  We had so much fun kneading dough and eating the scones, we forgot to take pictures.  The smaller ones got a bit crisp and dark on the bottom, so keep an eye on them!  35 minutes was too long for the small ones.  My breath tasted of lavender for days — be prepared!

 

Grief Pride and Community

Purchase this image at http://www.stocksy.com/180516With the tragedy in Orlando, I’ve been feeling rather alone, despite a full house.  My partner is straight and cisgender, my son is three, and my daughter seems distant about it having not truly engaged in the LGBTQ community beyond a few Pride parades.  So I reached out to my neighbors online to see if anyone had planned a vigil or gathering to find solidarity.  By the act of asking, one neighbor talked to the Unitarian pastor in our area and secured a location.  A time has been set, and I’ll get the space I need to grieve. Yet I feel uneasy about it.  If over a hundred people gathered as a supportive community were shot in what they thought was a safe space, how can any of us feel safe?

For my readers unaware, this mama is a pansexual, genderfluid woman.  While many people we see in passing assume we’re a cisgender, heteronormative, monogamous couple, and we benefit from that assumption, going to any event with a specific focus on the LGBTQ community becomes a target.  I’m grateful for the support my local community has shown, but I know there are plenty of people in our area who aren’t so understanding, who maybe think what’s happened is excusable or even desirable.  If they exist, they’re being quiet in our online forum.

grief-reactionSo, on Thursday evening, I’ll be visiting with my neighbors who share in the grief of this tragedy, and hoping the presumed safe space remains safe.

Since we don’t have cable, and all our media is from selected videos, the internet, and radio, my son hasn’t been exposed to it the way some young children have.  I haven’t had to explain the hate in some people’s hearts yet. I haven’t had to explain the danger.  But I’m one of the lucky few.

If you’re having to talk to your kids about these issues, speak honestly and from the heart.  Keep it age appropriate.  For a 4 year old I know, his mom talked about the man having a heart filled with hate instead of love; that four year old went on to ask his parents to keep love in his heart for him and he’d do the same for them.

190px-gay_flag-svgFor more discussion about LGBTQ issues, BrainPickings.com has an intriguing selection that includes the classics Heather Has Two Mommies and  King & King within it.  I definitely need to check out the Maurice Sendak book I’d never heard of before.  Bustle.com also has an extensive list published the day after the tragedy, with a little crossover between the two, yet neither mention the charming Jacob’s Dress, which my son and I adored together.
If you’re close to someone who was harmed or killed in the massacre, or your sensitive children aren’t sure how to approach their grief, here’s a list of 64 books about grief in every flavor to help you navigate these vulnerable feelings.