I Love the Shadowlands Record by Romantica and You Should Too

Shadowlands by RomanticaTwin Cities band Romantica has officially released their new album, Shadowlands, after a five-year hiatus and a one-year delay. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s worth the wait.

Last year the band crowd-funded their new project and recorded it in a barn south of the Twin Cities. One of the rewards was a  pre-Valentine’s Day show that I gushed about.

While the new album was done, and lucky backers like myself got copies, it never quite released publicly. Turns out the album landed a record deal and an official release, which happened last week. Now you can listen to the album on Spotify or Apple Music and buy a copy on iTunes or Amazon.

And you should buy a copy. It’s good. Continue reading I Love the Shadowlands Record by Romantica and You Should Too

How Does Our Democracy Move Forward in the Trump Era?

The current political climate, in the third week of the Trump presidency, is a little, um, overwhelming. I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about the constant political discussion on social media, and retreating from the conversation.

I get that.

But at the same time, well, this is not a normal time. I’m trying to figure out how to navigate this new not normal. I think we all are.

The Era of Fake News & Alternative Facts

It’s frustrating because as much as Donald Trump complains about the media and “fake news,” hasn’t he been one of the main perpetrators and benefactors of fake news?

He stoked the birther movement against Barack Obama. He questioned the legitimacy of a sitting president, refusing to believe that the son of a black, Muslim immigrant could rightfully be president.

It was the epitome of fake news.

And where did it get Trump? The oval office. Continue reading How Does Our Democracy Move Forward in the Trump Era?

I’m Sorry

We’re two weeks into the Trump era, and I need to apologize.

In just two weeks we’ve entered brand new territory. I say that in the most non-partisan way possible. Some folks say this is just the polar opposite of eight years ago when Obama took office, but I think this is something different (and when I talk to conservatives, most [though not all] agree with that sentiment).

I need to apologize because I never took this election seriously.

In general I’m not a big fan of debating politics publicly (which may come as a shock, given my flurry of political tweets in the past few weeks). I’ve talked before about how I did too much of that in 2008, and didn’t like it. Throughout the 2016 campaign I didn’t say a lot. I said things here and there, but in general I didn’t engage.

I kept thinking there’s no way Trump will get the nomination.

Then I thought there’s no way he’d win the presidency.  Continue reading I’m Sorry

Encourage Women to Run for Elected Office

Before the election I wrote a blog post about women running for potential political firsts on my ballot. Only one of the three women I highlighted actually won, but it was still progress.

West St. Paul has its first ever female mayor in Jenny Halverson.

That’s pretty cool.

Yesterday a whole lot of women marched, making a powerful statement that they will not be ignored. It was pretty amazing. I’m inspired by all those bold women, and I want to see more women running for office.

For too long the political arena has been dominated by men, and I think when we’re so dominated by one, singular voice we can miss out on the contributions and perspectives of so many other voices.

Yesterday women marched. Today, I hope women run.

So who are the women who could run for office in upcoming elections?  There are some offices up for election in 2017. A ton of positions will be on the ballot in 2018—school board, city council, mayor, representative, governor, etc. Continue reading Encourage Women to Run for Elected Office

Coming to Terms With President Trump

Today is a bizarre day in American politics. In a few short hours, Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.

I say it’s bizarre because I think people need to understand how far removed we are from politics as usual. A lot of conservatives tell me that now I’ll know what it was like for them to live under Obama.

But I don’t think that’s the case. I know what that was like. We had eight years of George W. Bush. Most of us have disagreed with presidents in the past. Maybe we didn’t like the person or we didn’t like their policies (Iraq, economy, healthcare, gay marriage—pick your issue), but there was still a sense of this is our president, and I can voice my complaint and we’ll move forward.

Donald Trump is something else.

A lot has been said about all his antics and the way he antagonizes so many minority groups. I could go on and on. But I think this Politico piece talking with Trump’s biographers offers a fascinating look into his psyche.  Continue reading Coming to Terms With President Trump

2016 Racial & Gender Diversity in My Reading

I read a lot of books. That’s no secret.

I love the power of reading, but I also think we have to be intentional about the kinds of books we read. I’m a big fan of reading what you love, but I think it’s still important to pursue diversity in those choices.

I’ve learned from experience that you have to be intentional about that. So every year I track those diversity stats to see how I’m doing. It’s not a perfect system and it’s not the only thing I do, but it’s one step.

I base gender simply on the author, counting a book if any contributor is a woman. For race I count a book if a contributor or main character is a person of color.

Here are the results for 2016:

  • 54% POC books
  • 59% female authors.

Here’s how diverse my reading has been since 2001:

2016 diverse reading chart

Here are the actual numbers (with totals) for 2016:

2016 diversity tracking

Results

While the numbers are just numbers, I think the real results are showing up in my lists of favorite books for the year. Both my fiction and non-fiction lists this year were topped by writers of color, and my fiction top five is all writers of color. Those lists have been getting more diverse over the years.

It’s all pretty subjective, but in general I think it continues to push me toward hearing and responding to more voices, especially ones that are different from my own experience and perspective.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Save the Good Ideas in Affordable Care Act

It feels like my social media feeds exploded this week as Congress began the work to repeal and dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Especially with the 1:30 a.m. vote.

Now I get it, Republicans won control. They’re going to do what they want. There’s no saving the ACA as we know it.

But we can save the good (and popular) ideas in the ACA.

I’ve seen an outcry over all the good things in ACA that could be lost. And I’m not just hearing it from my lefty friends. Support for the Affordable Care Act is widespread:

  • 66% of voters want preexisting conditions covered.
  • 63% of voters want to be able to keep their kids on their plans until age 26.
  • 56% want subsidies for low-income Americans.
  • 56% want federal funding to expand state Medicare programs.
  • 53% want insurers to cover birth control.

The ACA is flawed and needs improvement, but it has a lot of worthy ideas that have improved healthcare in America. Some of these ideas have literally saved lives.

For six years Republicans have tried to repeal the ACA without the votes to do it or a plan for anything better. It was simply a way to earn political points. In November they cashed those points in, but they still have no better plan.

But that’s fine. There are plenty of good ideas in the ACA. Take them. Use them. Come up with a better healthcare plan. Lives are depending on it.

We somehow managed to make it through a horrendously long political campaign season without having much of a substantive, public debate on healthcare. It seems a little late to do it now, a little late to hold candidates accountable when they railed against Obamacare but didn’t offer alternatives. But better late than never.

Contact your representatives. Participate. Be heard.

West St. Paul Fires City Manager for No Reason

 

I spoke at the West St. Paul city council meeting tonight. Not my favorite thing to do. I don’t like public speaking or confrontation.

Here’s the short version: Two new council members elected in November and sworn in last week tipped the balance, and City Manager Matt Fulton was forced to resign. The city council members behind this offered no rational for firing Fulton, other than wanting a “fresh start.”

Of course that “fresh start” will require an interim city manager,  increased burden on the staff as they wrestle with all the changes, a search for a new city manager that’s likely to cost thousands of dollars, and—oh yeah—the severance package for Matt Fulton that will include an additional six months pay.

Why do we need this costly and time-consuming “fresh start”?

Continue reading West St. Paul Fires City Manager for No Reason

Top 10 Non-Fiction of 2016

I read 158 books in 2016 and have some favorites to share. I already shared my fiction favs, now here’s a look at the best non-fiction.

  1. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes – I’m not usually one for self help books, but this was funny, engaging, inspiring. Good stuff.  (I even wrote a blog series based on it.)
  2. Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles – Best faith-based memoir of the year. Gay atheist finds God through feeding the poor.
  3. Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark by Addie Zierman – Second best faith-based memoir of the year. (I wrote a blog post about this one.)
  4. Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella – A great collection of inspiring stories.
  5. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum – Very helpful insights on racism.
  6. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G.I. Hart – Very helpful insights on racism within the church. (blog post).
  7. Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson – Unique collection of art and prayers.
  8. Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton – A very insightful look at how we spend our money and why it does or doesn’t make us happy. (I wrote a blog series about this one too.)
  9. Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres – A very difficult to read memoir about adoption and abuse.
  10. Just Write: Here’s How by Walter Dean Myers – He wrote something like a hundred books and shares his writing tips and insights in this quick read.

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

You can also check out more of my reading favorites for some suggestions.

Top 10 Fiction of 2016

I read 158 books in 2016 and have a few favorites. Here’s a look at the best fiction.

Novels:

  1. Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr. – Exploring freedom and humanity in the aftermath of the Civil War.
  2. Roots by Alex Haley – Following multiple generations from freedom in Africa through the harrows of slavery to eventual freedom. This is the story of America.
  3. Copper Sun by Sharon Draper – Much like Roots, this book tells the story of slavery from Africa to America, but instead of generations it follows one girl. I read it one night.
  4. Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson – This book mixes memoir with fiction as the author explores her family’s native roots and ties to the Dakota War.
  5. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – I’m not usually a fan of fantasy, especially when it’s not very clear what’s happening, but I rolled with it on this one and really enjoyed this story of a persecuted group of misfits with the power to control seismic activity.
  6. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – This is fan fiction for a fictional universe created for another fictional story. Follow all that? Plus, it’s a lovely homage to Harry Potter.
  7. Frindle by Andrew Clements – Read this to my kids and we all loved it. It’s about how words come to be.
  8. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate – Another outloud book for the kids and another 5-star book from Katherine Applegate. This story mixes the power of imagination and a child’s perspective on being homeless.
  9. Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff – This story of a girl in search of a family is a quick read, but touching.
  10. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – This is a sad, but I think ultimately hopeful story. It’s probably my favorite book club book of the year.

Continue reading Top 10 Fiction of 2016

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.