Thursday, August 27, 2015


  •  August 10th 2005 was the first ever meeting of the Short Stories Book Club (SSBC) held at Broad Vocabulary: Milwaukee’s Feminist Bookstore which just opened that year. The owners of Broad Vocabulary were ladies who had been the driving force behind the College Feminists when I first started at UWM in 2000 and I wanted to be a part of this new and exciting business.  My friend, Megan, started the group with me, but I am unsure if she attended any other meetings after this first one.
  • The first book was Trash by Dorothy Allison and the founding members were: Ashley, Lonna, and Jackie.  Ashley was my new girlfriend at the time and is in second place for attending the most meeting of SSBC and has been my longest supporter. Fun fact, I have only missed one meeting and that was due to my car breaking down on the freeway about hour before we were to meet.

  • Whenever I think of those early meetings and how we went around and gave our reviews of the book we read that month, Jackie and Lonna always reminded me of 1990’s sketch comedy series In Living Color and the particular segment “Men on Film” where Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier portrayed two gay men reviewing films and whenever the film in the sketch was focused on women their response was always in unison “Hated It”!  Whenever Jackie and Lonna were asked for their thoughts on the books they were not usually fans, only liking maybe 5% of what we read.  “Trash” was our first book we read and one of the few books I know they both liked.
  • There was one particular meeting at Broad Vocabulary that first year where I showed up and no one else did.  I am so glad that I had not been discouraged and given up at that moment.
  •  Katy would be the first member to join us, who did not have connection with anyone else previously in the book club.  She would soon become a part of the crew and attending dinners with us at Lulu’s after meetings.  About a year after joining she would bring our youngest member to book club, baby Connor.  Connor was the first baby to join us at book club, but he wouldn’t be the last.
  •  Jackie and Lonna then introduced us to their friend, Tina, who would become another long-time member and was more open to fantasy and bizarre fictional stories than her buddies.  It was Tina who recommended that we read Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, which is actually a novel and not short stories. We sometimes break the rules.  The book was made up of 23 stories of a group of writers whom have locked themselves in abandoned theater as writer’s retreat for 3 months and then slowly start killing and eating each other, I remember enjoying it.  Lonna and Jackie response: “Hated it”, but this grim and dark humor is one of the books that gained us our only male book club member.
  • Charles is the mysterious one in book club, no one knew what he did for living for long time and he continues to surprises us.  We can never predict if he is coming to this upcoming meeting or working on his plays, but we are always happy when he makes it on his orange scooter.
  • Shortly after him, another stranger would wander off the streets and join us at Broad Vocabulary, the lovely Lilly.  With Lilly, Ashley and I had found another lover of bad horror movies and she introduced me to the wonders of wine, which I am drinking as I write this piece. 
  •  A year after starting the book club, I began graduate school and most of my social life disappeared for the next two and half years. However, the SSBC stayed strong and was my only constant social event each month.
  •  Over the years I have often met friends and acquaintances that say they would love to be a part of a book club when I tell them about SSBC.  I will send these folks an email with the information and the majority never attend even one meeting.  Most people claim they are too busy and are afraid they won’t complete the book.  For the record, only about half the members read all the stories in the book on a good month, and those who have read them will summarize for the others during our meetings.  Sometime in 2007, Laura, my new friend whom survived graduate school with me, would do the impossible and show up to a book club and then continue to attend meeting to the present day. 
  • When Broad Vocabulary closed down, we moved our monthly meeting to Anodyne in Bay View.  We enjoyed eating cookies and drinking coffee at Anodyne for many years and fighting with the local knitting group for the big table.  After Anodyne started serving pizza last year finding a table became a challenge, we decided to move once again and are now rotating between member’s homes. 
  • We have lost members over the years with people moving to Oakland and Madison, but I am a firm believer that if you were once a SSBC member, you are always a member.  We have gotten some new members too, most recently at Lonna’s baby shower a few years back we were introduced to her friend, Erin.  Lonna is now living in Madison, but Erin has started coming and has become a faithful member and we are lucky to have her.

  • On average we read about 11 books a year, since we skip the month of December due to the holidays.  I estimate that we have read about 110 books total since starting in 2005.  I had to laugh when Lonna told me a few weeks back that she never really liked short stories.  I have come to respect short stories that are well written and can capture your imagination in brief amount of pages.  Also, doing the short stories thing has allowed people to keep coming to meeting without reading much of the book and not feel like a complete ass for not finishing it.  Maybe when we are in our seventies we can start reading novels.
  •  When I first started this book club I just finished my undergraduate degree and was hanging out at bars with my friends on most nights and working at Walgreens.  My job was not my dream, but I had a great social circle of friends and I have always yearned to be a part of group.  Growing up in eighties I loved the movie The Goonies and I always wanted a group of friends I could count on and go on adventures with. 

  • My college days are long gone and many of those friends I still see on occasion and continue to have much love for, but we are all busy with our own lives; however, I know that I will see my SSBC peeps every month.  I have found a group of friends to go on crazy adventures with from camping at Devils Lake, winery tours, harvest parties, pizza parties, being back up dancers to ‘Nsync songs, extras in Tool Shed commercials, creating zines together, being the slowest team at AIDS Walk every year, and hotel parties in Madison.  I can count on these ladies and dude to be there for me when I am need and I feel so fortunate that this little book club has brought such amazing people into my life.  To be honest the Short Stories Book Club is one of my proudest accomplishments and I hope that it continues for another decade.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

REVIEW: The Scene You Need

This last Thursday, I attended the opening night of third and final installment of The New York Stories Trilogy: The Scene You Need.   I had not seen the first two installments: Another Tale of Eddie and The King of Pop, but was still able to follow the plot and enjoy The Scene You Need.  My friend, Katy, and I came that night to support our fellow Short Stories Book Club member, Charles Sommers.  Charles directed and wrote the third installment of the trilogy and he sat with us on opening night.  I learned from him that many of the six main characters in this play were in the previous two and the focus of the trilogy is on Manhattan artist culture in the 1970s.  In this play the characters are hanging out at CBGB and towards the end are moving to Studio 54. 

The play begins with Eddie, a struggling playwright, and Rose, his soon to be ex-girlfriends in the middle of their last fight together as a couple.  The play then follows these two ex-lovers a year or so later, where they both continue to live in New York and do there best to avoid each other.  We also meet four other characters a veteran, a punk rocker, the mayor, and a party girl who hangs out with Andy Warhol.   In the various acts they discuss a range of topics from the horrors of the Vietnam War, the greatest game, the end of punk rock, and falling out of love.  

I asked Charles after the play what his reaction was from seeing it with a live audience for the first time.  He reported that he was surprised that “it was funnier than I had expected.”  I agree with Charles that there were plenty of laughs in this play, even when discussing some difficult topics.  One of my favorite scenes is when Izzy, who claims that she created punk rock, strikes up a conversation with Sam, a Vietnam vet, at an adult movie theater.  These two keep the audience laughing as they discuss their favorite artist at the Met and the give a review of the porn movie they are currently watching.

I would highly recommend checking out this brilliant play that gives you glimpse of the New York art scene in the 1970s.  The play is showing at the Alchemist Theater (2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave, Bay View ) on June 25, 26, 27, and July 9, 10, and 11th at 7:30pm.  After seeing this play I wish I had seen the first two of the trilogy, but this one is capable standing by itself. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

June 1st will marks six months that I have been working at my new job.  These months have flown by and I do enjoy my new job for the most part, but it has consumed my life in many ways in adjusting to my new role as case manager and things such as keeping up with my blog have fallen behind.  I hope to start writing more often and keep trying to find that balance of managing my work life and personal life. Here are a few things I have learned so far:

  •  The TO-DO list will never be completely done:  I have been a fan of writing to-do list and post it reminders for a long time.  At my new job I am constantly writing list of what needs to be done today and what can go on the list of trying to accomplish later this week.  Prior to this job I was able to mark off all items on my to-do list completely at times and would feel a sense of accomplishment.  At work I am usually able to accomplish somethings on my to-do list, but there is always something that will continue on the list for another day or week.

  • Do your best and don’t be too hard on yourself: Whenever I have started in a new role in my life it takes more time than I expect to become familiar and confidant in myself.  When I first started graduate school or training to be a pharmacy technician, it took time for me to understand the ropes and feel capable.  The major difference is that I am working with humans to help them become more independent and I can try my best to help them improve their lives, but they will still make choices that don’t always benefit themselves and this is out of my hands.  I can only offer to keep assisting them and trying new approaches to benefit them.  If they stumble at times, I have to try to not take this on as my own failing as case manager and remind myself we all make mistakes and that we just have to keep on trying.

  • It is important to create boundaries:  When I would be driving home after completing a shift at Walgreens, I would not spend much time worrying about what did not get done that day or analyzing how things played out that shift.  I catch myself thinking about my clients a lot of time on my days off from work and thinking what needs to be done next week.  I feel at times that I never really punch out from the job.  Many people who’ve worked in a social work field have warned me of this problem.  I am trying my best to separate my off time and work time, but this is more problematic working with clients, where some are going through some major problems.  I need to keep working on this so I can enjoy my life and build up my strength for the next week, so I do not burn out.

  • Always do your best to be compassionate to others: I have always been interested in how other people live and how their personal histories are affecting their current lives.   For this reason explains why I loved the TV show LOST.  The show had such great character development and you saw glimpse into their lives before they came to the island and their experiences affected the choices they would make on the island.  I did not always agree with the choices that John Locke made on the show, but knowing his history and desires, I still had compassion for him and almost all the characters on the show.  Some of my clients have anger issues and make rash decisions that I cannot always comprehend; however, I know from reading their charts and spending time with them that they have experienced various hardships that I cannot imagine and am not sure how I would react to those experiences.  You never know what someone has seen in their lives so try your best to show compassion and be less quick to judge.
 P.S. I know many people do not like the episode of LOST, where Hurley, Charlie, Sawyer, and Jin fix up the van and drive around drinking beers for a few brief minutes, because it does not add to plot or explain the mysteries of the island.  This was one of my favorite episodes, it includes four of my favorite characters, who remind us that even though life is crappy at times, we can still manage to have fun with our friends once in a while. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In honor of Game of Thrones Season 5 starting tonight, I am re-posting  HOUSE OF ALTADONNA, which I created about a year ago.  I am looking forward to watching the premiere with my parents and Ashley.  Also hopefully I will finally start reading the third book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire.  With this new job and everything else, I have fallen behind on my reading, but I will be working on fixing this very soon.


Friday, April 3, 2015


Ashley and I were talking about our favorite karaoke moments this morning and it inspired me to list my top five, in no particular order.  Please share your favorite karaoke memories.

Back in November 2012, we had the final Making the Cut fundraiser for Ashley’s surgery.   We sold tickets for a catered dinner and a judged karaoke contest.  I decided to do something bold and sing a song by myself.  All of my previous karaoke performances I had always done in large groups.  I am not a great singer, but I decided on this ABBA song and did my best to memorizes the words.  I knew there was no hope to win the contest, but I am happy that it went okay and that I survived. 

In 2002 my cousin, Niki, graduated from high school and at her graduation party there was a karaoke machine and some terrible performances occurred that evening.  One of those was when me and my four other girl cousins decided to sing this Madonna tune.   We had foolishly thought we knew the song and it was all under control, however, a few chorus in we all realized we did not really know the lyrics to this tune.  Luckily, there was beer at this event and it was just fun trying to sing along to the song with my cousins.


Ever since I met Dixie and Josh whenever there is a karaoke going on they will perform this song together and they always do an amazing job.  Unlike my cousins and I they know all the words and do not even have to look at the lyrics on the TV screen.  Whenever, Cactus Club has karaoke all the performers are amazing, many of them are in bands and know what they are doing.  I will never sing solo at one of these events.  I did do Spice Girls “Wannabe” at Cactus, but there were at least 10 of us on that stage for the performance.

The winner of Making the Cut final fundraiser was Ehren, an old fried of Ashley’s she had not seen him in a few years.  I predict that part of the reason this dude showed up that night was to support Ashley, but the real reason was that he is a karaoke hustler.   Ehren knew all the words, but more importantly he knew how to put on a show.  He was doing the robot on stage and blowing minds with that performance.  

Two years after “Like a Prayer” massacre, my cousin, Chris, graduated from high school and yet another karaoke party.  At this event I brought my new boyfriend, Kyle, who met most of my extended family that night.  Kyle got up and sang this tune and everyone was so impressed and was considered one of two performances that night where the person knew how to sing and did the song well.  Family members still recall this performance and when I hear this song on the radio it makes me think of that moment and smile.

Friday, March 20, 2015


Today is the first day of spring and I am happy for it to have arrived, even though I just got my first real cold of 2015 a few days ago and wish I could enjoy this revival a little bit more.  I have many friend and family who have moved to warmer climates and some of them report that they will not move back to Wisconsin and it’s harsh winters, however, I can’t imagine living some place without seasons.   I agree that winter goes on too long, but I need that time inside and then when spring comes I appreciate even more the rebirth of the nature.  
The last few months I have been consumed by my new job and trying to get adjusted to what is expected of me. I am starting to get a handle on this career change and I am trying to get back to pursuing my other hobbies outside of work.  I have not been keeping up on blog lately or finishing the book club books, but I am trying not to be so hard on myself.  Life is like the seasons, at times things are chaotic, but we do our best to move through them and know that this is only a phase, it soon will change.  Here is quote that captures my thoughts from Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

            The psyches and souls of women also have their own cycles and seasons 
            of doing and solitude, running and staying, being involved and being
            removed, questing and resting, creating and incubating, being of the 
            world and returning to the soul-place…Once, we lived by these cycles  
            and season year after year, and they lived in us.  They calmed us, 
           danced us, shook us, reassured us, made us learn creaturally. (p. 276-277)

About a week ago we opened our kitchen window for our cats and Gatsby, our black cat, gracefully jumped up to the kitchen table and took her place in the window.  You could hear the birds chirping in the warm air and we all breathed in this new chapter.  I needed to take these last few months to adjust my new life, but now I am ready to get back to nature and start taking my long walks, reading poetry, and writing about this magical world.  

Friday, February 13, 2015


Today, February 13th, 2015, marks my Grandma June’s 85th birthday.  Sadly we lost this fine lady seven years ago and barely a day goes by that I do not think of her.  I know many grandchildren are close with their grandparents, but my five cousins and I were all very close to her.  In our family I am not sure if any of us ever ask ourselves the question, WWJD/What would Jesus do?  However, I am pretty sure most of us have asked WWGJD/What would Grandma June do?  I know whenever something big happens in my own life, I often wonder what would Grandma June think and how would she react.  There are many times when I feel that there is no one else I would rather talk to right now than her. 

She was such a loving woman, who only wanted to spend time with her family and dogs, which were also family in her book.  Growing up we will butt heads with are parents at times, whom are trying to do their best to raise us right.  However, I tend to find that grandparents are less concerned about if we are getting good grades or not; instead they just want us to be happy.  One of my favorite memories of Grandma June was when all the cousins, some of our parents, and Grandma June all went together to Disney World.  It was decided that since we would be walking a lot, it was best to rent Grandma June a wheel chair during the day.  For some crazy reason they let us kids push her in the wheel chair.  I remember her chair hitting some other tourist ankles occasionally and her being pushed into a water fountain, by my cousin, Chris.  The best part of having Grandma June there in the wheel chair was when we rolled up to rides and stated that one of us in the group was in a wheel chair and they would let us move ahead in the line.  There would be a total of 12 of us cutting ahead of everyone else. God bless, Grandma June, we would make her go on all the rides, such as the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. In that ride, once you hit the top floor in the elevator, it suddenly drops and many of the riders rise from their seats as it reaches a top speed of 30.7 miles per hour.
Growing up I always had a passion for history, which I credit my mother for, whom has always loved historical fiction novels.  So back in 2001, I got myself a small tape recorder and conducted three interviews with Grandma June on her childhood and growing up in Milwaukee.  I believe we did these interviews in her car, at McDonalds, and in her bedroom.  I learned that she was the fourth and last child of Ed and Rose Riopell.  She grew up in a boarding house, that her parent’s ran, for Marquette students.  She married, Jack Marine, my Grandpa, whom was kid that she grew up on the same block as her.  A few years ago for Christmas I finally edited these tapes for my family and I tried to do my best imitation This American Life.  I called the final product The June Tapes, which down below are a few minutes of the tapes.  Grandma June is talking about World War II and how it was for her family.  I miss her so much, but she lives in on my memories and I know she is with me where ever I go.