Browsing Category

Stories & Storytellers

Cabin 10 Restored My Faith and Challenged Me To Live Unlimited

July 26, 2016

 

I hate camping, but I love summer camp. Zooey Deschanel

Summer camp was always a thing for me, and my thoughts on this topic go back as far back as I can remember. It was August in Texas, and my mom was pregnant with my sister when my parents sent me off to camp for the first time (an act that now, as an adult, I clearly understand in its full light of desperation and brilliance). I was eight at the time, and I was hooked from that point on.

I never went to a fancy camp that I could name drop in a job interview or anything… in fact, the camp I went to was called Highland Lakes Encampment (that’s right, it had the word “Encampment” in the title)…but even in its basic, unfancy (encampment) offerings, there was something magic about going into a completely different space, especially as a kid from a small town, and being around lots of other kids my age doing camp things that expanded and evolved my perspectives. In short, I’m fairly certain that camp changed my wiring for the better.

Right about the time I had been thinking about the whole camp-makes-you-a-better-person concept and my social media feeds started reporting on kids packing up trunks for weeks away, I received an invitation to visit an MDA Summer Camp in Georgia with Christine Koh, Jill Krause and Denene Millner.

I replied yes before I even finished reading the email.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anything about MDA, because between all the kids going to camp in my Facebook feed, there was a strong and steady, constant, unending stream of unfathomable and overwhelming bad news that my brain isn’t wired to process. I needed to get outside. I needed a camp.

So I went to MDA Camp just outside of Atlanta.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 9.35.42 AM

When I met these ladies in Atlanta and we started the hour-long drive to the middle of the forest, we inevitably started processing through a number of things going on in our world right now. I think it’s fair to say we are all a bit overwhelmed. There are so many current human problems that need human responses (human responses that are too often nowhere to be found), and we lamented that we felt low in energy and limited by what we could do.

Then we pulled up to Camp.

4

The first thing that hit me was whoa, this camp is way nicer than the crappy encampment that I went to. But that’s where the dissimilarities ended.  The smell of camp, a visceral olfactory memory of fresh outdoor shady comfort, hit me at once…and it felt right. It felt true and wholesome and all the things you want kids to feel and smell and experience. It felt good.

I started breathing it in.

Bridge

As someone who travels too much for work, I don’t usually fully comprehend what I’m about to do until I’m there, in the middle of it. And sure, I was given a ton of facts and overviews about what was happening, but it wasn’t until we arrived at MDA Summer Camp that I realized I had no real idea about what to expect. What would the kids be like? What would they be doing? What could they be doing?

cafeteria 2

It was very early in the day, it was really quiet and there were no kids anywhere. Someone let us know that they were in their cabins getting ready for breakfast, so we waited in the dining hall, where I found another difference from my 1970s encampment. I have no recollection of what we ate 100 years ago when I was a camper, but I’m 100% sure that it wasn’t “Farm to Table.” And this camp completely is, like, it has an actual farmer. His name is Nathan.

While we waited for the kids, I read the signs on the wall which actually were conversation starters: What’s your favorite joke? What activity are you most looking forward to? What superpower would you want?

But, as it turns out, these kids didn’t need help starting conversations. In a rush of energy, almost 100 campers, ranging in age from 6-17, and their 100+ volunteer counselors came into the joint, it was all  just as I remembered it: loud, joyful, energetic, and LOUD! They quickly gathered together, ate, and then started doing a complicated ritual of banging songs into tables morphed into challenges, affirmations, announcements, spirit awards, cabin shout outs (To Josh in Cabin 12 who caught a fish; To Armando in Cabin 3 for going down the waterslide 20 times; to Paul in Cabin 11 for being a Cutie Patootie). And then the next thing I knew trays were systematically put away and kids were walking, running and wheeling out in every direction. One girl was wearing a smaller version of the same Nirvana shirt that I’d slept in the night before. I wish I’d kept it on. Another little kid had on a “Not Braggin, Just Swaggin” shirt, and I decided he would be my new best friend.

 

cafeteriaThe counselors’ meeting started right about then, they briefly introduced us and I found out I was assigned to Cabin 10. But there was work to be done, and so they kept plotting out the day, discussing with impressive specificity an understanding of individuals and needs by name. They’d only been here three days and they already seemed to know everyone and I mean everyone.

Turns out, it’s all very individualized. One camper to one counselor. This seems almost impossible, but it’s true. And that means there are a lot of volunteers because this summer MDA Summer Camp will provide thousands of kids with muscular dystrophy and related muscle-debilitating diseases “the best week of the year.” There are nearly 75 weeklong summer camps across the country (four in Texas) — offered at no charge to families (totally free) — to give kids with limited muscle strength and mobility a life-changing experience in an environment without barriers.

1

It costs $2,000 to send a child to MDA Summer Camp (which includes all associated expenses that make a safe, healthy and enriching camp experience possible). And their goal is to send 20,000 kids to camp by the year 2020.

So here’s how it works.

Camp Activities 2

These kids are here to defy limits.

For some it’s a stretch to play soccer. For some, it seems impossible to swim or to ride a horse or to catch a fish. They’ve been told all of those things are not possible for them.

MDA disagrees.

Cabin 10 b

Meet Cabin 10. They are not here for your limits.

And after spending time with all these girls, I now agree with that disagreement. These girls can do anything. I know this. They showed me.

Hanley and Maddie

Meet counselor Hanley and one of the campers in my cabin. It’s their eighth and fifth years at camp respectively. They have been paired up every year since Hanley started coming, and they are a team. They are also two of the happiest, friendliest and most upbeat people I’ve been around in years. In. Years.

They were so open and welcoming to me and brought me right into the Cabin 10 fold. Hanley says that’s just what happens. She experienced it first hand when her brother Hunter, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy (the most common and the most severe form of MD) (It affects about 1 out of every 3,500 boys), attended this camp. He was diagnosed when he was four, with an original diagnosis to live until he was 20. He’s 20 now (and currently in college) with a doubled life expectancy thanks to progress and preventative medication. I’m sure amazing family support has something to do with that too. Other sister, Joanna, is also a counselor in Cabin 10.  

Hanley’s camper quickly let me know she was up for anything. “I’ve already done everything and I’m ready to do it all again. It’s my 8th year here and I still am not bored.”

Since I’d only been at camp about an hour at that point, I could only believe her and also inquired what “everything” was. “Oh you’ll see,” she said. “Yesterday I flew.”

What?

Hanley was quick to confirm that this was true. “There’s always a way.”

Pool 3

Then we were all at the giant pool where they were blasting the song of the summer (Justin Timberlake) followed by a Justin Beiber song (the good one).  The kids were being typical kids at the pool. Some swam, some slid, and there was always someone (or lots of someones) there and ready to coach or carry or catch.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 9.35.57 AM

See that superhero standing by the pool? Whoa. A.) I think he might be an American Gladiator. B.) In a matter of minutes, I watched him carry at least 25 kids to exactly where they wanted to go, including to the very top of the slide.

Pool 4

Some individualized to quieter spots. This is where I meet a volunteer named Adam. A friend of the family originally told him about MDA Summer Camp when he was 17, he then volunteered as a counselor and fell in love with the camp. He’s been coming here every year since, for 15 years, and now he and his wife Lindsay (who is a physical therapist) live in Charlotte, but take time off of work and fly in from Charlotte to come.

He told me that earlier in the week he asked an 8-year-old boy in his cabin what superpower he wished for.  The camper’s answer: “Super Strength. So I can move my house to camp.”

Live Unlimited

This is the part of the story where I admit to you that I straight-up started tearing up not once, but five different times while standing by a swimming pool blasting Cake by the Ocean. And this is not because there was anything sad going on. It’s because I found (first hand, in real time, right in front of my face) the humanity that I’d been missing for months, and the energy I’d been needing from humans. These 8-year-olds are not here for your nonsense. Or your limits.

They are here to live unlimited. Watch them.

 

 

Along with MDA, they are fighting to make today free from the harm of muscle-debilitating diseases and tomorrow free from the diseases themselves. They have no time for negativity. They have no patience for limits. They have no interest in “can’t.” And they are inspiring. They inspired me to pull myself out of the negative feed and back into Ssummer Camp.

Then they inspired me last week to go to SoulCycle. But that’s a completely different story.

Any time you reach beyond your limits, whether they have been set by someone around you or yourself, you are achieving a #LiveUnlimited moment. Visit mda.org/LiveUnlimited to create a personalized image you can share to social that shows your #LiveUnlimited moment. For every #LiveUnlimited moment shared through July 31, 2016, a generous partner will donate $5 to MDA, up to $30,000.

Together, they will show the world that our limits don’t define us. To every doubter and every “you can’t do that,” they say, “watch us.”

Zip-Line-5Adam gets all of this. He told me his group was going to go flying that afternoon at 4 pm and encouraged me to show up and see.

Zip line 2When we arrived we found that all five of the young men in Adam’s cabin were preparing to go on the zipline. All five.

Zip Line 4This 13-year-old boy volunteered to go first. “I want to fly like superman.”

Zip-Line-6

After being securely harnessed in, the camper climbs to the top. After he steps out of the ledge, a voice from below says, “Don’t be scared, You can do it. Let’s countdown.”

He responds, “Let’s not. Let’s just go.”

Zip-Line8

He steps off the platform into the nothingness and he just goes.

He flies.

Zip-Line-10

Adam is waiting at the end of the zipline with his chair. Marvin, a 22-year-old college student at Georgia Southern, catches his camper and helps him off the zipline.

Adam and Marvin

Marvin and Adam

Marvin is here all summer and he loves his job.

“My job is really just to let these kids be kids,” Marvin says as we wait for the next camper to come down. “There are kids here who have never been in water before…and they’re paddle boarding over there. There are kids here who can’t move on their own…but in the pool, they can move their bodies how they want to and where they want to go. There are kids who can’t walk…but on the zipline, they’re flying.”

Zip Line 12Marvin kept going. “We just let them do things that people have told them they can’t do. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s not about ability or disability, it’s about overcoming fear. It’s about doing things you don’t think you can do. And that’s what they do. Every single day.”

Girls

While I was at the Zipline Hanley and two Cabin 10 Campers came down to say goodbye before they got ready for the dance that night.

“So what do you think?” Hanley asked.

I told them, “you girls have restored my faith…it’s hard to put into words. And the irony of that is…that’s exactly why I’m here, to put what you are doing into words.”

Hanley, ever the optimistic counselor, was unfazed and encouraging. “You’re going to be so surprised when you sit down to write it. I bet you’ll be proud of yourself. Everyone who comes to MDA Summer Camp ends up proud of themselves.”

She has a point. And she makes a point. We should all feel so lucky and so proud.

Here’s How You Can Support MDA Right Now.

  • Create your #LiveUnlimited image at mda.org/LiveUnlimited. For each image shared through July 31, a generous sponsor is donating $5 to MDA, up to $30,000, to support research, programs and services like MDA Summer Camp. (People can continue to share their images after July 31, however shares will no longer be matched with a donation after that date.)
  • Support MDA families and programs like Summer Camp by buying a Live Unlimited bracelet from Endorphin Warrior at http://www.endorphinwarrior.com/live-unlimited. $6 from the sale of each bracelet goes directly to MDA to help kids like those I met at Summer Camp.
  • Support MDA Summer Camp by making a donation at mda.org and/or learn how you can become a summer camp volunteer counselor.

This post was sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. All views and editorial are mine.

10 Reasons You Need to Go Watch “Man Up” Right Now

December 17, 2015

If, like me, you are always tragically hoping for romantic comedies to meet their potential, this one’s for you.

Man Up is a just-about-perfect rom-com. I loved it. I wanted to eat it like a cupcake.  It does everything I ever hope a rom-com will do:  It tickles you with witty banter, churns along with great dialogue, hooks into the pleasure of romantic tension between two people, breaks your heart a little, puts the difference between “alone” and “together” into stark relief, and gives you all the delightful feelings of falling in love.

It’s in some cities in theaters right now–but it’s also for rent to stream on Amazon.  Watch it tonight.  I promise–you’ll be so glad you did.

Here are ten reasons this movie is now in my top rom-coms of all time.

  1. This lonely moment on the train.

OneThere are real stakes in this movie.  There are moments that linger on isolation, and disappointment, and feeling lost and alone.  Pay attention, movie world!  Romantic comedies should never just be comedies!  The story has to have moments of genuine sorrow to give weight and meaning to the act of finding love.

  1. This adorable man.

twoPossibly the cutest rom-com dad ever.  Celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary, he toasts his wife, and says:  “We probably won’t make it another forty years–” And she jumps in and says, “I bloody hope not!”  He concludes: “But here’s to spending whatever time we have left together.”

  1. Lines like:  “Congratulations on your massive pack of lies.”

threeGreat dialogue.  Great banter.  It’s a pleasure to hear, and it creates great chemistry.  Screenwriter Tess Morris rocks it out.  “Massive pack of lies” is my new favorite phrase.

  1. Simon Pegg cries.Twice. 

four

What does Brené Brown keep telling us about vulnerability?  “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”  It’s also the birthplace of all kinds of goodness in a romantic comedy.  Simon Pegg full-out cries for a long scene in this movie–snurfly, nose-wiping tears. And guess what?  It works.  I’m trying to think of the last time I saw a man cry in any movie–other than Adam Sandler, for yuks.  American rom-coms have been acting too tough of late: leaving out all the raw emotions, the vulnerability, and the bravery that should course through movies like this.  Man Up is not afraid to go all-in, and the tenderness makes the story matter.

  1. Lake Bell does NOT cry.  Much.  Okay, she cries a little.

five

She holds it together most of the time–but the way she holds it together, despite disappointment after disappointment, makes you root for her.  You’re RIGHT THERE with her.  One of her goals is to “Put yourself out there.”  Man Up shows us just how hard it is for her to do that–and then she does it anyway.

  1.  The Best Bowling-as-Foreplay Montage Ever

6a

6b

6c

Bowling is the best. Why HAVEN’T there been more bowling-themed love montages?

  1. The Reflex

7

Does this movie NEED a scene with a dance fight to a Duran Duran song?  Not really.  Is it a total bonus that it has one?  Yep.  It’s awesome because of Duran Duran–but it’s also so charmingly comic the way Nancy and Jack’s voices are annoyed but their bodies are having fun.  Plus, is this a real dance?  Is this something that everybody knows, like the Thriller dance?  The minute the song comes on, they both jump in, like, Of course.  Did I miss it back in the ‘eighties?  Doesn’t matter, I guess.  It works.  Plus, they’re singing the nonsense lyrics to each other like those lyrics mean something.  Just yummy all around.

  1. The way Jack watches Nancy while she makes up an imaginary sexual history for them in front of his ex-wife.

8a

8b

His face just runs the gamut from concerned to surprised to amused to befuddled to titillated and back again.  Great face.  And he is really, really listening.  And who doesn’t love a man who listens?

  1.  The way it doesn’t insult you.

9

This is not a rom-com that hates rom-coms.  This movie is unapologetically a story about people who would like to find love–and are trying to do just that.  These people feel like real people and the choices they make feel like real choices for the real world.  There are no jokes about boobies in this movie.  There are no pole dances.  There are no references to Jonah Hill masturbating.  It has a sweetness to it that in today’s movie climate feels very brave.

  1. The end.

10a

10b

10c

The movie opens with a long tracking shot through a party, and it ends with one, too.  The final shot floats along, checking in on all the characters we’ve just met before floating outside and stepping back.  The whole movie feels like a love letter to love.  It’s a dreamy way to end–tender and sweet–as everybody goes on with their lives.  It leaves you with a feeling not that things will never change and we must statically be Happy Ever After from this second forward–but more that life will move on, as it always does, and there will be sorrows and struggles, but there will also be moments of joy worth savoring.  For the moment, all is well.  I love those moments in life.  Don’t you?

Here’s the trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QgPlqoxu4M

Enjoy!

Katherine Center is the author of five novels: The Bright Side of Disaster (2007), Everyone is Beautiful (2009), Get Lucky (2010), The Lost Husband (2013)–just optioned for a movie!–and Happiness for Beginners (2015), with two more on the way.  Read more about Katherine here.  Or here.

This Week: Fishsticks & Queso & Books. Oh My.

October 13, 2015

Image Source

Announcing FISHSTICKS AND QUESO: The Party*. (*Not to be confused with FISHSTICKS AND QUESO: The Crime Fighting Grocery Store Duo. We are currently trying to trademark that and sell NBC on the pilot, so no stealing!)

Fishsticks and Queso in a bookstore?

Yep, and drinks too. BookPeople of Austin welcomes author and artist Mary Laura Philpott for a signing of the adorably weird little gift book about modern adulthood, PENGUINS WITH PEOPLE PROBLEMS. Don’t miss the warm welcome from Wendi Aarons and Laura Mayes, hilarious local writers from popular blog The Queso.

RSVP here! (We really hope we see you there.) And you can read more about it here. 


ABOUT PENGUINS WITH PEOPLE PROBLEMS

Stress-eating after a breakup? Frustrated by the cost of a good cocktail? Stymied by the weirdness of abstract art? These penguins share your pain. The “random penguins” are a lineup of quirky, lovable weirdos with minds of their own. They understand the agony of social awkwardness, the power of the perfect smoky eye, and the arm- (or wing)-flapping terror of having a bee in the car. In fact, these winged characters get into the same sticky situations we all do. They are Penguins with People Problems.
So meet your favorite new flightless friends. They’re brutally honest (except when they’re lying), comically insecure, and totally relatable.


ABOUT MARY LAURA PHILPOTT

Mary Laura Philpott is a writer and illustrator whose work is featured regularly in major media. She is the author, most recently, of PENGUINS WITH PEOPLE PROBLEMS, as well as the founding editor of MUSING, the online literary magazine produced by Parnassus Books.

Read more about Mary Laura Philpott right here. 


We hope to see you Friday night, October 16, at BookPeople in Austin for Fishsticks, Queso & the Resulting Shenanigans.  

Jenny Lawson “The Bloggess” Gets Furiously Happy con Queso with an Interview, an Announcement and an Old-School Giveaway

September 21, 2015

Jenny Lawson is my BFF and it just so happens that she has a book coming out tomorrow. Or today if you are currently in Australia. I say that because a whole chapter of her new book is set in Australia…and I know that everything Australian in the book is 100% true because I happened to be with her in Australia when it happened. So sayeth the Koala.

jenny-sydney

Exactly. And that part didn’t even make the book. A lot of other things did though, things that were even better. But the book isn’t about Australia, not at all. It’s about being furiously happy…which, granted, is somewhat easy to do when you are in Australia, but that’s not really the point.

The point is about choosing. Choosing life. Choosing happiness. No, more than that, choosing to be freaking furiously happy no matter what is going down. And with Jenny, there’s always a lot going down. At this point, she would make a really lewd joke and I wouldn’t get it or even know what was going on, and then she’d tell me between fits of laughter what I had just said and then I’d be like, crap, now I have to edit that out, that’s not at all what I meant, and then she’d laugh so hard she couldn’t breathe and we’d forget what we were talking about because she was now effectively dying of not breathing. And really that’s sort of what the book is about. Seeking and finding and celebrating happiness and laughter and joy even in the midst of confusion and embarrassment and suffocation. Or something. It has a lot going on. And it’s good. It’s my favorite thing she’s written yet. Keep reading.

jenny-and-me-small

A little backstory: Jenny and I have been friends for a decade now. We met through blogging when she was writing for the Houston Chronicle on Mama Drama and I was writing here at Blog con Queso.

P8L4XQkOTJyXHNsDMjGnhw

Photo credit: Ed Schipul

One time we threw a party called Mama Drama con Queso at a random Mexican restaurant for really no reason at all.  (We even had a logo! And listed and linked everyone who attended. Old school, y’all.) It made zero sense, but it was fun. That pretty much sums up most of my favorite things.

jenny-drinking

And this pretty much sums up our friendship right here.

jenny-and-me-and-karen

Over the last decade, we’ve been to an embarrassing amount of blogging conferences together. I even help run one now. I know, so nerdy. So fun. Photo credit: Rita Arens 

jenny-kirtsy-book

And here we are at the Kirtsy book launch, where Jenny was first published. I think that’s true. This was in her “I wear comfort wigs everywhere” phase.

karen-jenny-me

We quit our jobs at the same time. (Purely coincidence. She left to write a book. I left to take naps in the middle of the day.) Photo credit: Karen Walrond. Although I’m not sure how that’s possible since Karen is in the photo. Magic!

 

dead-dog

We moved to the country at the same time. Related, her dead dog was half pulled up from the grave by vultures. So I helped run off some vultures. (Texas forever.) All that was in her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. 

nyt-best-seller-jenny

This was us the moment we found out that her first book had debuted #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List. Oh yes it did. So now you’re caught up. And now Jenny has a new book that’s coming out, and we are furiously happy about it!

furiously-happy

Are you ready? Because new book. And it comes out tomorrow (today if you’re in Australia). And you should get it. Like right now. Go.

Harry-and-Jenny

While you’re doing that the rest of us will look at this photo of Jenny and my son Harry, who happens to be turing 10 on the same day that Jenny’s book comes out tomorrow (today, Australia). He is a bit younger than 10 in this photo. THAT IS HOW LONG IT TAKES BOOKS TO COME OUT. I feel like we’ve been waiting for this one forever. And now it’s here! Finally!

So let’s do this. An interview with Jenny Lawson, a big announcement and a totally rad and ridiculous giveaway. Keep reading. And get ready to get happy. Furiously Happy. 

IMG_4247

Laura: Hi Jenny. You are nice. And I like your outfit. What are you doing?

Jenny: Thank you!  They’re pajamas.  Don’t tell anyone.  BTW, your hair looks fantastic.

L: Thanks! It’s real. Okay, some serious like I know what I’m doing questions now. Are you ready?

J: Ready! And I will try to pretend like I’m a responsible person who answered these questions on time. * cough *

L: Okay. Let’s go.  When we met, you were doing spreadsheets for a living, basically. Did you ever think you’d be writing books?

J: Yes. I just didn’t think people outside of my house would ever read them.

L: Fair enough. But then they did! And people seem to like them. I’d even say they’re quite inspiring. So what are your greatest creative inspirations? 

J: I read a lot.  Possibly too much, if that’s possible.  Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, and David Sedaris inspire me with their irreverence and humor in tackling hard subjects.

L: Good answer. Remember that time you stalked Amy Sedaris? Good times. Ok. What is your favorite word? 

J: Tintinnabulation: The sound of ringing bells.  My favorite definition of it though is the lingering sound of a ringing bell that occurs after the bell has been struck.  I love that there’s a name for that noise that comes after a noise.

L: Deep. What is your least favorite word?  

J: Panties.

L: Valid.  And what is your favorite curse word?

J: Fuck.  It’s a verb, a noun, an adjective.  It’s positive or negative depending on the tone.  It’s the most flexible thing I own.

wolf-blitzer-bloggess-41

L: What is your favorite room in your house? 

J: My office.  It’s filled with books, my computer and a shitton of taxidermied animals wearing Victorian clothing.

L: Not unlike the taxidermied animals you wear out in public. Favorite spot in the world not in your house? 

J: The swing in my backyard with a good book.

L: Speaking of, what are you reading right now?

J: I always have a lot of books going at once because I like to read what best fits my mood.  Right now I’m rereading Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune for the 5th time, Kindred for the 2nd time and Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood for the 1st time.

L: The best part about being your age?

J: I don’t have to go to high school ever again.

L: Nightmare job? 

J: Scorpion tester?  Is that a job?  Because I wouldn’t want it.

L: I don’t think that’s a job. But maybe. In Australia or something. That’s a teaser for the book. Get it? How about a talent you wish you had? 

J: I wish I could not care what people think about me.  That probably isn’t a “talent” but it’s something I’m working on.

hats

L: Your definition of kindness:

J: Forgiving someone who never said they were sorry.  It’s a kindness to them and to yourself.

L: Your definition of awesome:

J: This guy: https://instagram.com/dallasclayton/

L: What’s your favorite new discovery or find?

J: Calamityware.  It’s like the blue willow china my mom had, but infested with octopuses and pirates and aliens. http://calamityware.com (This just in: Calamityware has added to the giveaway below. Keep reading…)

L: A six-word memoir that captures your life as an artist OR your art life.

J: “I apologize for everything in advance.”

L: Okay, but that should not apply to this new book because it’s awesome.

red-plastic-cup

L: But shifting gears, this is The Queso after all, so here are few Texas questions for you. First, what’s your favorite Texas food?

J: Kolaches.  Not the meat ones.  The fruit/poppyseed ones.

L: Your favorite season in Texas?

J: We have seasons in Texas?

L: Allegedly. What about your fave Texas word?

J: Y’all.  It’s almost as versatile as “fuck”.

L: Almost. Where’s one place in Texas that everyone should visit?

J: Big Bend

4533789502_5d2648c018-1

L: What’s one quintessential Texas experience everyone should have?

J: Watching a thunderstorm storm blow in from your porch.  That amazing smell of rain hitting dust.

L: Texans get a lot of crap for being obnoxious…and sure, we get that…but what’s one thing that makes Texans unequivocally awesome and/or pretty great?

J: Friendliness.  Especially in the country when every time you pass someone on the road you wave at them.  Not a full wave, but lifting two fingers from the steering wheel in recognition of “I see you.  We’re both here.  Thanks for not hitting me.”

L: Who is your favorite Texas artist right now? Music or Maker.

J: Miranda Lambert.  She’s perfect to sing along to when you’re really angry or really happy or both.

L: Favorite thing about being Texan?

J: That there are so many definitions of being Texan.

L:. Preach.

J: Right?

L: Completely. Favorite “Texas” recipe? 

J: Um.  Booze slushies?

L: Interesting. And you don’t cook, so very apt. I will follow up with you on this later. I see Jenny’s Boozy Slushies recipe will be here in coming weeks.

J: No.

L: Yes. 

L: Okay, where’s your recommended spot to get the best queso?

J: Your house.

L: Aw! Come over right now!  

J: I can’t I have a book coming out tomorrow and I can’t find my shoes.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 7.00.23 PM

L: Legit. But seriously now, let’s get serious. We’ve all read this blog post which was the origin story and inspiration for Furiously Happy…but what inspired you to take it to the next level and write this book?

J: Being a bit “touched” is so intrinsically part of being me that I thought it would be the next logical book.  Write what you know.

L: What was your favorite discovery you found when writing Furiously Happy?

J: That even people who didn’t have or understand mental illness were still interested in learning about it.  I was afraid that this book would have a very limited sort of audience but it turns out that everyone can relate to a little bit of crazy.

L: What is the one thing you want people to take away from Furiously Happy?

J: That depression lies.  That everyone is fighting his or her own personal battle.  That kindness saves lives.  That being different is nothing to be ashamed of.  Wait, did you say “one thing”?  Sorry.  I suck at math.

L: That’s okay, I am too, and I like all those things. The more, the merrier. And the book covers even more than that. As well as our trip to Australia and a fancy dermatologist amongst other things. But all and all and in the end, what’s your favorite definition of Furiously Happy?

J: Madly joyous.  That looks like I just used a thesaurus but I did not.  I can’t even find my thesaurus. I suspect it was abducted by possums.

L: What’s your deal with possums, man?

J: What’s YOUR deal with possums, man?  You’re practically infested with them.  We went on the other side of the world and you still managed to find them.  I think you might be haunted.  With possums.

L: Rude. That’s also a teaser for the new book, yes?

J: I can not confirm or deny this.

weird-face-thing

The above photo is also a teaser for a chapter in the new book. It’s less scary than it looks. Possibly.

L: Right but now to the questions we’ve all been wanting to know: Is blogging dead? No really. Is it dead? The blogging? HA HA HA. Hahahahaha. Ha.  

J: What’s “blogging”?

L: That’s what I thought. What else do you want us to know?

J: That my feet are shrinking.  They got bigger when I was pregnant but in the last 6 months they’ve shrunk and now I’m walking out of all of my shoes.  What does that mean?

L: I think it means you’re probably going to be the next helper on Doctor Who. Or personal assistant. Or whatever.

J: COMPANION! And You’re Fired!

L: Okay, Donald. Role of BFF is so wide open for the taking, folks. Because nope.

J: Yes! And okay, you’re not fired. But you just have to watch it with me, YOU HAVE TO! You will change your mind.

L: No, no. I already watched that one long one with you and it was totally scary, like worse than Fantasy Island scary. And I didn’t like it. And I still have bad dreams about that creepy kid. 

J: No. You have to keep trying. You have to watch at least three. That’s the rule. TRY! TRY AGAIN! Everyone knows that. You have to watch three.

L: I will watch three if you will come back and tell us your favorite boozy slushy recipe.

J: Okay. I’ll make something up.

L: Deal. But most importantly, before you go. What’s the password?

J: Password.

Me-and-Jenny

 

Are you still here? Still reading? Well if so, I’m extremely impressed because that was long, so you get two rewards.

  1. You get to be one of the first to know that Little Ms. Jenny Lawson will now be writing at The Queso from time to time. Oh yes she will. And two…
  2. We’re going to do an old school, old fashioned giveaway here. Old school blogging, y’all! If you leave a comment here on this post, you will be entered to win the randomly selected by randomized Bloggess Prize Package that has at least seven things in it. Probably more. Here’s what that looks like. At least.
The Old School Giveaway Bloggess con Queso Prize Package

A signed copy of Furiously Happy.

A signed Traveling Rory. The original Traveling Rory, in fact. Total collectors item.

 A signed copy of Jenny’s audio book which she recorded herself. Well, I mean it’s her voice reading it.

Some other random crap I find around that I get her to sign. This could be anything. God help us, every one.

Basically anything else I think of or find to throw into the care package. It will be good, y’all.

A certified certificate that states that you are a WINNER!

Some Sour Patch Kids.

Aaaannnddd….THIS JUST IN!…

The artist owner of Calamityware has reached out to us and he would like to play along in the Furiously Happy Old School Giveaway Bloggess con Queso Prize Package madness so he is throwing another high-quality item into the mix:

(Only he’s not actually throwing it, because it’s porcelain, and he is responsible.)

AND Jenny’s favorite Calamityware plate 

So LEAVE A COMMENT RIGHT HERE telling us what you think of Jenny and/or books and/or possums and you are immediately and instantly ENTERED TO WIN! And my God, I hope you win.

Also, go to Jenny’s At Home Book Party on Tuesday night and join us at Book People in Austin on Wednesday night.  In Houston on Friday night. In Dallas on SaturdayAnd/or go see her anywhere on the road between now and December.

Or come back here. She’ll be here, too.  Consuming Queso as per usual.

But first…

A FEW BIG UPDATES!!!!!!

11045491_10153121974371821_3374788001057792154_n

A) Jenny’s book debuted at #3 on the New York Times Best Seller List! Whoa! Go Jenny! Go You!

Also…

B)  Here are some photos of the goods one of you will win!  Here’s how it shakes out.

rory-2

There’s the whole signed Furiously Happy package of goodness. Book that she used to do her reading (the book she read from) at her first Furiously Happy Tour Stop book reading (!) which happened in Austin. Signed copy of the audio book. Signed Rory mask. And the original traveling Rory. 

giveaway

I forgot to pick up random items in my house, so I just pulled random items out of my purse for Jenny to sign. Like some playing cards, a receipt, a package of tweezers, a scarf. Oh and teabags…signed by Jenny, Victor and Hailey. You can have tea with the whole Lawson family.

unnamed-1

Plus, Calamityware added one of Jenny’s favorite plates to the mix: Tentacles. 

Plus, a certificate, some other things, sour patch kids. It’s really good. You’ll see. But this contest is almost over (midnight CST 10/2) so if you haven’t left a comment to enter, do that now!   On this post.

Also…

2014+Texas+Conference+Women+tR05oU_YLLrl

C) Our Texas Conference for Women giveaway ends tonight, too (same time, midnight CST 10/2) so if you haven’t left a comment to enter that one, do that now!  On this post.  We’ll be there. You want to be there. Celebrate good times, c’mon.

Go.

Summer Reading Recommendations from an Award-Winning Author and Storyteller, Katherine Center

June 25, 2015

Part of being a reader is knowing what you like to read. We’re all looking for something when we turn to a book—and it varies a lot from person to person. Some people like the puzzle of a mystery.  Some folks like the heart-thumping anxiety of a suspense novel.  Some like to luxuriate in the exquisite poetry of literary prose. The trick a good read, I think, is knowing what you’re looking for—and then finding it.

Right now, in my life, I’m just looking for great, page-turning, utterly engaging stories that don’t let me go.

I’m looking to feel connected to the characters and to care about them and to root for them. I want to feel like their story matters, and I want to get pulled in—all in—in a page-turning, up-past-bedtime way.  A little bit of comedy is a plus.  Great, snappy dialogue is an even bigger plus.  And I never say no to a delicious love story.  If I can feel inspired, or turn around at the end and look at my own life in a new way, even better.

Here are some books I enjoyed, admired, and could not put down.

unnamed-35

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

John Green

I might be the last person in America to have read this book, but I just finished, and I loved it too much not to say something.  It’s hardly new—it’s a movie by now, after all.  It’s sad, sad, sad—but satisfying.  The setting, the parameters of the story, the troubles the characters have to deal with?  All heartbreaking.  But there’s comedy, too, and genuine human connection.  You turn the last page and feel changed.  You come out of the story feeling more alive.

 

unnamed-34

ELEANOR & PARK

Rainbow Rowell

There’s an intensity to this story that does not let you go.  It feels so real, so urgent, it’s as if you’re living it with the characters.  The love and connection these two mid-western teenagers in the 1980s find for each other captures the intensity of first love—but the story captures something bigger: the beauty  and power of how people take care of each other.

 

unnamed-31

THE ROSIE PROJECT

Graeme Simsion

This is a story of a university professor who’s not great at reading social cues.  He reads an article about the health benefits of being married and decides to take a wife—by creating a survey to assess potential candidates.  It’s a great premise with lots of comedy—but the thing that hooks you is how engaging he is as a character and how hard he tries.  He gets it wrong over and over, misreads people and does the wrong things, but you are one-hundred percent all in rooting for him like crazy.

 

unnamed-36

ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO

Jonathan Tropper

My brother-in-law gave me this book, saying, “This guy is the male you.”  So that got my attention.  It’s definitely a very guy-ish book—opening, for example, with the main character on his way to make a donation the sperm bank (in contrast to my bedside table reading stack, which tends to be very Ladies’ Nite)—but I felt affection for the main character, rooted for him, and most of all loved stumbling on the story’s many wise insights about life and what it all means.

 

unnamed-33

ME BEFORE YOU

JoJo Moyes

I had this one on my night table for a long time before I tackled it.  People kept saying, “You have to read it! You’re going to cry your face off.”  But the thing was, I didn’t really want to cry my face off.  I didn’t want to get to the end and have to lie on the floor in despair.  So I put it off and put it off.  When I finally opened it up, I read it in a day.  Did I cry my face off?  Nope.  Moyes renders the story so well that everything that happens feels meaningful and right.

 

unnamed-30

A WALK IN THE WOODS

Bill Bryson

An oldie but a goodie.  This is one of my top two Bill Bryson books (along with Made In America).  It’s the story of Bryson, in his forties and out of shape, deciding to walk the Appalachian trial.  An old friend from high school joins him, and this story is equal parts comedy, disaster, terror, camaraderie, and Bryson-esque trivia about anything and everything.  A movie version (with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.  Read) is about to come out.  Read the book first!

Happy Summer Reading!

And read more about Katherine here.  Welcome Katherine!

Meet Our New Contributor: Katherine Center

June 25, 2015

I met Katherine Center about seven years ago in Houston at a book reading…her book reading. She was introducing her first book, and as she read it, I envisioned fireflies and s’mores and watermelon and twinkle lights on a warm Texas evening by Lake LBJ. That is not what her first book was about at all, but that was the vibe I remember. I walked up to her afterwards and said, “Hi, I’m Laura, I think we’re going to be friends.” Which, what? Total stalker move. Only I wasn’t a stalker because I was just introduced to her work for the first time and also, it didn’t seem weird at all. Because that’s the kind of approachably cool warmth that Katherine gives to everyone. She seems like your best friend, because she probably is. Just like your best friend, or at least the one you imagined you’d have one day.  You get the same feeling about her characters in her many books. 

unnamed-40

And don’t even get me started on her house. It is a haven for creativity and conversations. An old-school Texan, she oozes the perfect blend of welcome, warmth and acceptance with a dash of no-bullshit irreverence. And she can tell a story like no one else. So when Katherine agreed to join us at The Queso to talk about stories and celebrate storytellers, I felt like we’d won the lottery. Because I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have around my kitchen table. I know you will love her too. Welcome Katherine!

unnamed-38

If you like to get to know people, here are few get-to-know-you questions that I stole from a number of get-to-know-you memes.

What are your greatest creative inspirations? People who try really hard.  People who do the right thing.  Books that turn their own pages.  Great fonts.  Vintage signs.  Acts of love, self-sacrifice, and care-taking.  Hand-sewn embroidery.  Goofiness.  Banter.  Tina Fey.  The way people pick themselves up after life knocks them down.

If you had a free hour, what would you do? Read in the bubble bath.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Grateful.

From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio: 

What is your favorite word?  Astonished.

What is your least favorite word?  Bulbous.

What is your favorite curse word? Fuck, for the shock value.

From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme:

A song/band/type of music you’d risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio?  That theme song from the 50 Shades of Grey movie.  Nope.

Favorite movie? When Harry Met Sally.  I have it memorized.

Favorite restaurant? Anything Tex-Mex

Favorite room in your house? The kitchen.  It’s bright and sunny with a fire-engine red table.  The radio is always on.  The kids do their homework and I cook and chop things and sing along.

If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be? I wish I owned a t-shirt shop.

Nightmare job? Anything involving math.

Dream vacation?  Driving up the East Coast, stopping at historic towns.

The best part about being your age? Being over it.  Whatever it is.

What’s on your nightstand? Three different stacks of books piled 13 high.  Next read will be JoJo Moyes’s ONE PLUS ONE.

From the famous “Weird Things” blogoshpere meme:

Tell us 3 weird things about you:

  1. I once spent an entire day driving around singing Beatles songs with the guy who played Booger in Revenge of the Nerds.
  2. My mom has a steak knife that was a wedding present from the George and Barbara Bush.
  3. My grandmother was an identical twin, and she danced in a show in the 1930s with Clark Gable.

From Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoirs series: 

What is a six-word memoir that captures your life:

Always look for the good stuff.

 

We’re looking forward to all kinds of good stuff from Katherine…and mainly that comes from just hanging out with her. This is going to be good.