ASK Musings

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June 2021



Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson

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Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of amazing, absurd stories. Fans of sincerity and genuine kindness.

In a nutshell:
The Bloggess returns with her third (I think) collection of essays, which run from tears streaming down your face funny to deeply moving.

Worth quoting:
So much, but audio book, so I didn’t get a chance to write them down. The very last line of the afterward of the audio version, however, was perfect.

Why I chose it:
I’ve read her previous books, and I love listening to her read her own work. She has a fantastic delivery style.

I utterly adore reading what author Lawson has to say. She has experienced life in such a different way than I have – and yet I always feel like I can relate to what she’s saying. I read her first book as an audio book, but her second as a standard book. For this one I’ve gone back to reading her via the audio book, because it’s just so damned delightful. Hearing someone with her talent read her own stories brings an additional level of humor, joy, and emotion.

In terms of funny stories, for some reason the chapter on the six times she lost her shoes while wearing them really stands out. It’s absurd and hilarious and something that doesn’t make sense when you hear the title, but by the end, it’s like ‘of course.’

The most memorable essay for me is the letter she wrote to her health insurance about their repeated denial of coverage for the medicines that are literally keeping her alive. It is heart-wrenching and infuriating and not at all unique, given the utterly broken for-profit health insurance system in the US. Hearing her read out all the hoops she is required to jump through, while ill, to get the treatment she needs covered by her insurance (and not always being successful at that). I feel like it should be read at every Congressional hearing where universal health care is debated.

This is an extremely wholesome book that also happens to use the word motherfucker repeatedly throughout. That’s how gifted a writer Lawson is.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a Friend



April 2021




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I think I realized I had a pretty cool sister when she gave me what is probably the best birthday gift ever:

A 2-liter bottle of Crystal Pepsi and a Steve Urkel puzzle.

I think I was turning 14, and I recall her handing me these gifts early in the morning. I believe she wrapped them together in the dust rag my mother kept on the vacuum.

Soda AND a puzzle? What did I do to deserve this?


About 80% of people in the US have a sibling, and those relationships can vary dramatically. Some siblings are so close in age that they grew up fighting constantly over everything, including friends. Some are so far apart in age that they are basically strangers to each other. Some have nothing in common, so while they are civil, they don’t, like, chat on the phone every week or two. I am four years younger than my sister, which means that I was just young enough to be annoying, but not so young that she had to, like, help raise me. I had my own friends, but I’m certain that if she had a friend over and I didn’t, I was probably bugging them.

It’s National Sibling Day on April 10th, and while having such a great sibling is something I’m sure I’ve repeatedly taken for granted, I know that having a sister — and having this sister, specifically — has improved my life in ways I’m continuing to discover.

My sister and I mostly got along when growing up, though there is evidence of the occasional fight. The biggest reminder is the broken bathroom doorknob at the vacation condo my parents own. We grew up super lucky, spending basically the whole of August at the lake, with friends visiting. We’d go to the beach or the pool most days, then spend what seemed like hours at the local video store picking out a movie to watch with the sitter who would come while my parents went out (that’s right, kiddos, we are old enough to remember VHS). My sister’s room had a door that led directly to our shared bathroom; I needed to enter from the hallway. One particularly nasty fight, I kept pushing to get in, she kept pushing me out, and boom. Doorknob broken. Whoops.

But those types of incidents were definitely not the norm, and that four year age difference proved to be kind of perfect, as we were never sharing friends or competing for the same … anything, really. My parents did everything to make sure we both felt treated equally. We both did sports, we both participated in the arts, and we even had the exact same value for our gifts at Christmas (my mom was adamant on that one – she didn’t want us to perceive any favoritism).

One area that could have been fraught is the fact that she is very tall and very thin; I am very tall and at times have been very much … less thin. That could have been a serious challenge growing up – I’ve heard of larger siblings being tormented by their thinner siblings. My sister has never said such a thing to me. She’s never looked at me eating dessert, or having other sweets and said ‘hey, maybe put that down.’ She’s listened when I’ve complained about gaining weight, but she’s never made me feel like I am more or less worthy of anything based on the number on the scale.

Her leaving for college just as I started high school was a bummer in some ways, but perfect in others, as during my brattiest years, I was essentially an only child, and didn’t take it out on her. As I got older, I could go visit her at her university – I remember one weekend where we went to see L.A. Story and halfway through she asked if there was more than one white guy in the movie. There were three, actually, but in fairness, they were pretty much visually interchangeable. Ugh, that was a boring movie.

When I got to university, she was living in LA, and then took a year-long trip to Australia. That was the hardest, because international texting wasn’t a thing then (shoot, I don’t even know if domestic texting was a thing). We had email, but it’s not like she kept a laptop with her, or had free wifi or a smart phone. I’d hope to get a call from her on a prepaid calling card on occasion, but it sucked, her being so far away without an easy way to communicate.

Since then, however, and until the pandemic, that was about the longest we went without seeing each other. I visited her when she was living in Los Angeles, and then made multiple trips when she was in Texas and then Florida. I’d often try to visit over my birthday, as it was usually close to a three-day weekend. One visit we had what I still consider to be the best restaurant dinner I’ve ever had (the perfect pork chop with this ridiculous potato dish), followed by a Jason Mraz concert. My sister is thoughtful like that — years earlier, when my family visited her in D.C., she figured out it coincided with No Doubt performing not that far out of town, so she got us tickets. There was a lightning storm, they had us all crowd in the actual seating area under cover (we had lawn tickets), and then we just … never left the fancy area. Best concert.

She’s visited me in every apartment I’ve ever lived in (except two – one because we only lived there for five months and one because PANDEMIC), and I’ve visited her. We got cupcakes together at Magnolia bakery when she visited me in NYC. We rode the Staten Island Ferry and went to the strangest museum with a lot of stuffed birds.

I’ve stayed with her a few times in Boston, and she’s always made it such a great time – last time we went to tea at the public library, and it was just delightful.

We’ve also traveled together as adults, once to Berlin, and another time to Iceland with our partners. Both times were fun in different ways. For Berlin I think I did most of the planning, and also ended up with a wicked cold for most of the trip (but I powered through!).

She did basically 100% of the Iceland planning, and it was so much fun. I knew next to nothing, so it was nice to just sort of sit back and have someone else in charge, especially someone who would know what I would and would not be interested in doing.

Traveling together is fun, but we can also just sit and hang out and talk. We once spent like two hours watching YouTube videos of 80s and 90s TV theme songs, dying with laughter while my partner looked on, eventually retreating to another room because while our laughter is infectious to each other, it’s not necessarily contagious to others. I’m sure that’s annoying, as is our ability to beat literally anyone at Taboo.


As we get older, and our parents get older, our relationship has shifted a bit, because we have to think and talk more about unpleasant things. We’re lucky in that our parents are both still healthy (and fully vaccinated now, woo hoo!), but they live in the house we grew up in, and are getting older, so we know that things won’t stay the same forever. And while our parents are seriously really good parents, we all have things that bother us, right? I have a very understanding partner, but he didn’t grow up in my house, so he can’t fully know exactly what I mean when I speak about my folks. But my sister gets it completely.

Texting and WhatsApp calls have made living overseas a lot easier, in part because I can still dash a quick text off to my sister regardless of the time of day, and know I’ll hear back from her when she has free time. It’s also allowed me to do things like give her a video tour of our new apartment, and properly sing happy birthday.

Those of you who don’t have siblings have I’m sure had wonderful life experiences that I’ll never have — having the full attention of one’s parents, not having any internalized competition with another kid in your house, not having hand-me-downs — and many probably love being an only child. I think that’s great! But I’ve only ever known a life with a sibling, and I feel so lucky.

So this National Siblings Day, if you have as great a sibling as I do, be sure to let them know.



August 2020



Sew Step by Step by Alison Smith MBE

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Two Stars

Best for:
People who already know how to use a sewing machine (despite the title)

In a nutshell:
Author Smith shares some great detailed information regarding making garments and other items, assuming you know how to use a sewing machine.

Worth quoting:

Why I chose it:
I’m trying to teach myself machine sewing and this book claimed to be a how-to for using a sewing machine.

If this book only claimed to help with patterns, fabrics, seams, etc, it would be a 5 star review. The photos and diagrams are great, the detail seems to be about right. It’s well-organized and easy to navigate.


This book claims to teach sewing machine use. The sub-title literally is “how to use your sewing machine…” The back description says “Discover how to …use a sewing machine.” It does not do any of that. There is one (1) photo of a sewing machine that is basically the same as the diagram in the instruction booklet that came with my machine, where they point out the parts. But there is zero discussion of what the different parts do! What’s the point? What the fuck is a bobbin? There seem to be two places that thread goes through – why? Seriously, how does the sewing machine work?

In a book that is more than 200 pages long, I am baffled that the author didn’t include an additional three or four pages providing even a high level overview of machine sewing. It’s odd – the book both assumes no knowledge of machine sewing (given all the detail provided in all the other sections – different seams, hems, buttonholes, etc.) and yet provides no knowledge of how to use a sewing machine.

Just … what? Why? I’d argue this is a failure of editing as much as the author – someone at some point should have said “hey, if you’re going to market this as a book to teach people how to use a sewing machine, you should include some information on how to use a sewing machine.”

I cannot recommend this book for people who are new to machine sewing, but I definitely recommend it to people who are looking for a good reference book after having a couple years of experience with their sewing machine.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it for once I actually know how to sew – the other parts seem very helpful!