2021 Reading List: Part II

It’s July 2021! What a year so far in life, work, and reading. Last year I read 46 books, just shy of my personal goal of 50. From historical fiction to self-help to fantasy, reading helps me unwind and explore new-to-me worlds and experiences. The below list includes all of the books I read between July 1 – December 31, 2021 (not including 4-10 children’s books that I enjoy reading with Jameson daily!) Here’s 2021’s Part I if you’re interested.

37. The Goodbye Cafe by Mariah Stewart. A cute novel loaned to me by a neighbor. I may have to read another work by Maraih, she’s published over 40 books! To write for a living…the dream. “I guess we’re all different things to different people. … Oh well. Different environment, difference influences.”

36. The Shades by Evgenia Citkowitz. A short novel with a deep look at family, trauma, and the way some things just unravel. “As his research was teaching him, photographs were framed to create impressions; often designed to obfuscate and lie.”

35. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. A powerful glimpse at upbringing, science, god, addiction, and the people who live through it all–or don’t. “We know right from wrong because we learn it, one way or another, we learn it.”

34. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. My first read by Hamid and definitely not my last. “… and so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” And I also really liked this bit: “… which is to say that while the changes were jarring they were not the end, and life went on, and people found things to do and ways to be and people to be with, and plausible desirable futures began to emerge, unimaginable previously, but not unimaginable now, and the result was something not unlike relief.”

33. The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser. A lovely read about a woman going through a wake up call in life, and how fate seems to step in at some of our lowest moments. “And I’m sorry I said all those awful things. It’s frightening to have these feelings. And I know you don’t feel the same way, so probably I should have kept all this to myself. But I didn’t . . . I didn’t want you to think that we weren’t friends because I don’t like you. I do, I really like you.”

32. The Diamond Caper by Peter Mayle. A Little Free Library neighborhood find. Fun read, a bit predictable. “I haven’t met many celebrities, but the ones I have met were so pleased with themselves it kind of put me off the whole idea.”

31. If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous. A Bluestocking Bookshop buy and solid read. It was emotional, culturally new to me, and full of love, loss, and longing. “When I wake up, the whole world has been transformed.”

A gift upon the world

Jay’s Spark  

Today you are one day older than you were yesterday. 

And tomorrow you will be one day older than you are today. 

When you were born, you were small and needed special care. 

From warm snuggles, to diaper changes, to help sewing your torn teddy bear.  

You always had this something—your you-ness, a spark. 

I think of it like a glowing light—a firefly pulsing in the dark. 

Everyone who met you then could see your special glow. 

And even now your warmth and love are always on overflow. 

First, you learned to coo, and then you began to giggle.

You rocked your body back and forth and started to wag and wiggle. 

One day you held your head up high—all on your own. 

And another day you pulled yourself up, like a King posing by his throne. 

Eventually you began to scoot along the floor.

 “He could be a mop!” I said as you dusted door to door. 

As soon as you could hear and feel music playing loud or hushed, 

You bobbed and weaved to the rhythm, working hard until you blushed. 

In time, you were able to stand with your arms spread open wide.

Balancing your whole body without anyone by your side. 

You took one step, and then two, and then many more. 

And each step took you further than you’d ever gone before. 

Puzzles, toys, and movies became your favorite things to do. 

And while watching you’d pretend that you were in the show, too! 

I look at you today and you are glowing, brave, confident, and strong.

I am honored to be your mom and so happy you groove to your own song.

 —

When the sun goes down and bright stars glitter in the sky,  

Another day is in the past, and tomorrow rises high. 

You’ll keep growing and learning as each fresh morning makes its mark. 

Because your biggest gift upon the world, my child, is your ever-glowing spark.

Down syndrome Association MN – Classroom Kits

In 2020, I partnered with DSAMN on their classroom kit program. In 2021, I am doing the same and they are poised to reach over 20,000 kids in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day!

What is World Down Syndrome Day? It is a global awareness day when self-advocates and their families, friends, coworkers, and supporters organize and participate in activities to raise awareness, advocate for rights, and promote inclusion and well being of all people with Down syndrome.

World Down Syndrome Day occurs on the 21st day of the third month (3.21) each year, selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome. It has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012. And bonus this year, it is 3.21 (March 2021) all month long!

DSAMN’s World Down Syndrome Day Classroom Kit initiative started in 2019. Each kit contains two books donated in a student’s name to permanently keep in the classroom, as well as a packet of grade specific activities, lessons, stickers, and swag for students and teachers.

In the program’s inaugural year, they reached 3,600 students across Minnesota. In 2020, they reached more than 11,000 students in over 450 classrooms across Minnesota, as well as in neighboring communities in Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas.

The classroom kits teach students about Down syndrome, but more importantly, they include lessons on diversity, inclusion, kindness, and acceptance. Kits are FREE to teachers in Minnesota and surrounding communities. The kits are designed for students Pre-k through 5th grade. Learn more about the DSAMN Classroom Kit program. If you would like to contribute so that this program can continue for years to come, considering making a donation to DSAMN. Additionally, you can learn more about DSAMN’s advocacy work related to COVID-19.

“I am me, and that is all I need to be. Yo soy yo, y eso es todo lo que necesito ser.”

Love Is

Love is a book we read together.

Love is a jacket in snowy weather. 

Love is a sun to brighten our day.

Love is a boat to float us away. 

Love is a song we sing aloud.

Love is a wish we make to a cloud. 

Love is a poem we dream alive. 

Love is a verse we fight to revive. 

Love is a bag of all that is right.  

Love is a hand to hold at night. 

Love is a shadow when we feel alone. 

Love is a line held fast to a stone. 

Love is a whisper of care on the breeze. 

Love is a nest built high in the trees. 

Love is a feeling of comfort and hope.

Love is a word we use to cope. 

Love is a life in need of support. 

Love is a ship awaiting transport. 

Love is a source that credits the past. 

Love is the future that’s coming too fast. 

Love is the now and love is the then. 

Love is the tomorrows we won’t give in. 

Love is a secret held close to the heart. 

Love is a glass—fragile from the start. 

2021 Reading List: Part I

In 2020, I read 46 books, just shy of my personal goal of 50. From historical fiction to self-help to fantasy, reading helped me unwind and explore new-to-me worlds and experiences in 2020–a year of hardship, COVID-19, and the shifting to a different kind of normal. In this new year I plan to continue to read, pushing myself to seek works that challenge my worldview, experience, and understanding. The below list includes all of the books I read in 2021 (not including 4-10 children’s books that I enjoy reading with Jameson daily!)

Last year I simply catalogued my reading list, this year I am adding a quote from each work that most inspired me to pause and think, laugh-out-loud, or intentionally shift my way of seeing the world. Here’s my January 1 – June 30, 2021 completed reads list. For July 1 – December 31, 2021, follow Part II.

  1. Siracusa by Delia Ephron. A neighborhood free-little-library find. “This one was unbelievable and yet no one doubts it because, I suppose, his becoming a playwright encapsulates what we want to believe about life: that good comes of bad and all the absurdities play out in your favor.”
  2. A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. A indie bookstore find and fun read. I did notice some parallels to my own life … like what it is like to be a working mom versus to be a focused-mom, and how we do both well, or not so well. “The same people who were so insistent that I should do something nice for myself when my dad was sick were now adamant that I should take all the time I needed before returning to reality.”
  3. Writers & Lovers by Lily King. My mother-in-law passed away and while at a local book store, the book jacket description of this book called to me: … a mother’s sudden death and the story of a 31-year-old wannabe writer. “Fitzgerald said that the sign of genius is being able to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time. But what if you hold two contradictory fears? Are you still some kind of a genius?”
  4. Where She Went by Gayle Forman. Love, loss, and love. The path we choose and the way the world helps us find our way back when the time is right. “There are so many things I’d like to tell her, top among them is that I’ve always been ready.”
  5. The Little Paris Book Shop by Nina George. A lovely read loaned to me by a neighbor. “Reading–an endless journey; a long, indeed never-ending journey that made one more temperate as well as more loving and kind.”
  6. The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. A buy from The Bluestocking Bookshop used book store in town. “Falling in love, like having a baby, rubs against the main current of our lives: separation, loss, and death. That is the joy of them.”
  7. The Watchmaker of Dachau by Carly Schabowski. An Amazon historical fiction selection. “It was. Before all this,’ Anna opened her palms and raised her arms, ‘it was sort of perfect, even when it wasn’t, even when bad things happened. It was still magical — but then, that is memory. To look back and make things brighter, bigger and better than they really were.”
  8. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. A book to read, not one I would read again. The use of the “R” word a few times caught me off guard. “…but at the ease with which whole afternoons were forgotten. The way thousands of wounds and triumphs were whittled down to only the sharpest moments, and even those failed to remain present.”
  9. the book that matters most by Ann Hood. A lovely read from a second bag of books loaned to my by a friend. “If they complained about being bored, their mother–a melancholy Parisian who used laudanum to assuage the pains of homesickness and her husband’s infidelities–would hand them a book. ‘No on who reads can ever be board,’ she’d tell them, propped up in her bed in her pink silk dressing gown.”
  10. The Skylark’s Secret by Fiona Valpy. A Kindle find and quick historical fiction read. “They mourned those sons of other mothers and fathers as though they were their own, as they would wish their men to be mourned should they fall in far-off lands: because humanity has no border.”
  11. LEFT neglected by Lisa Genova. Another read from the bag of books loaned to me by our neighbor. “Like with all the changes that have been thrust upon me in the last month, I’m getting use to it, redefining normal.”
  12. The Party by Robyn Harding. Another read from the bag of books loaned to me by our neighbor. I’m glad high school is over. “My friends?” Ronnie said, and her eyes filled. (Lisa had quickly learned that a glass eye still allowed tear flow.) “I don’t have any friends anymore”
  13. Digging to America by Anne Tyler. I happened upon a new indie bookstore and shopped the used books section. I enjoyed this read. “Like these men following the women’s gossip–depending on their gossip, relying on it for connection–Sami floated on the gentle current of the relatives’ Farsi, comprehending some ninety percent and letting the other ten percent wash past him.”
  14. Love by Toni Morrison. Another read from the bag of books loaned to me by our neighbor. “Oh, Christ, he thought, that was fifty years ago. What was the point in remembering the good old days as though the past was pure? He knew for a fact it was simply stifled.”
  15. Once Upon A Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg. Another read from the bag of books loaned to me by our neighbor. “She wishes, suddenly, that she were sitting on a bench outside alone, nothing on her mind but a jostling mass of birds at her feet, going after the crumbs she throws. Because Sadie’s question is too big; it’s too difficult to answer.”
  16. This One Is Mine by Maria Semple. Another read from the bag of books loaned to me by our neighbor. “So today, she came armed with her old standby, the single business card in her jacket pocket.”
  17. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. Another read from the bag of books loaned to me by our neighbor. Solid weekend read in and around weekend activities. “And I decided it really was true after all. You only really need two people to believe in the same thing, to feel as though you might belong.”
  18. The Good House by Ann Leary. A read I picked up from a Little Free Library around the corner while on a walk with my family. “Scott as always fascinated by this theory, about this double line of madness in my family.”
  19. Airframe by Michael Crichton. A book I snagged from my Grandfather’s bookshelf on a weekend visit with my mom and son. Quick read.
  20. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare. The Kindle description grabbed my attention and I am so glad I dowloaded this book. “So, I nod my head yes, because it is true, the future is always working, always busy unfolding better things, and even if it doesn’t seem so sometimes, we have to hope of it.”
  21. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Another read from the bag of books loaned to me by our neighbor. Love and memories. “But love after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best–well, that sort of love is ineffable. It deserves its own word.”
  22. The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. A friend posted about this book on Instagram a few weeks back and I downloaded it instantly. Wow. Being a mom to a child with differing abilities, this one hit home in a creative, meaningful, and profound way. “These children are faced with nothing but preconceived notions about who they are. And they grow up to be adults who know only the same. You said it yourself: Lucy wasn’t who you expected him to be, which means you already had decided in your head what he was. How can we fight prejudice if we do nothing to change it? If we allow it to fester, what’s the point?”
  23. The Widow by Fiona Barton – Another read from a bag of loaned books. Managed to finish in a day with a few chapters here and there, in between puzzles, meals, children’s books, art projects, Wii games, bath time, and a few kids’ clips from the PBS Kids app. “It was more difficult when I met people I knew.”
  24. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – My first time reading this classic, definitely not the last. “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”
  25. The Girl Without a Name by Sandra Block – The first read from a bag of books loaned to me from a friend and neighbor. “But you know Zoe, sometimes doing nothing ends up being the same thing as doing something.”
  26. The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by Victoria “V. E.” Schwab – A Kindle recommendation. The story creatively uncovers what comes of–or what could come of–answered dreams. “Even rocks wear away to nothing.” “A story is an idea, wild as a weed, springing up wherever it is planted.”
  27. Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier – A Holland Museum parent and child book club selection. “The Maoris of New Zealand have a saying, ‘I belong; therefore I am.'”
  28. Less (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize) by Andrew Sean Greer – A Kindle recommendation and solid read. “And I say I’m ready. And he says for what? And I say to think about more important things. And he asked, ‘More important than what?’ ‘More important than love.’ And he looks at me like I’m crazy and says, ‘What could be more important than love?'”
  29. Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat – A purposeful purchase from the local bookstore with a selection of short stories. My favorite was The Gift. “Pou sa na pa we yo. For those we don’t see. For those who are not here.”
  30. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer – This book was a gift from a friend and former boss. One of my many underlined passages “Hydrodictyon is a safe place, a nursery for fish and insects, a shelter from predators, a safety net for the small beings of the pond. Hydrodictyon–Latin for ‘the water net.’ What a curious thing. A fishnet catches fish, a bug net catches bugs. But a water net catches nothing, save what cannot be held. Mothering is like that, a net of living threads to lovingly encircle what it cannot possibly hold, what will eventually move through it.” (Page 90)

Something big in 2021

In 2018, I took the advice and support of colleagues, friends, and family and started a GoFundMe. In 2019, I self-published I Am Me. In 2020, I focused–I called, emailed, used Social Media, and even gave books away for free to share I Am Me with the Down syndrome community and beyond. I am happy to announce that I Am Me will be available as an English/Spanish book in 2021!

After hearing from so many of you about how the book inspires and empowers, and after dozens of requests for a Spanish translation, I am over the moon to be able to share the big news. With support from Niurka Aileen Diaz and Hayley Chase, I Am Me will be available in English with Spanish translations on every page.

Diaz and Chase worked with me to translate and enhance the musicality, cadence, and meaning behind I Am Me.

Yo soy yo, y eso es todo lo que necesito ser. I am me, and that is all I need to be.

Check back in 2021 for the re-launch of I Am Me, available in English and Spanish. Until then, take a look at this Literature Review guide by Learning to Give: I Am Me.

FREE books to celebrate down syndrome awareness month!

A few months ago I asked myself: What is something new I can do to help promote Down syndrome Awareness, inclusion, and community engagement?

Last year I self-published the children’s book I Am Me. About the book: A heartfelt and honest work that acts as a mantra of sorts for anyone and everyone, but especially for individuals who are “different” in society’s eyes. Children, parents, friends, and family of individuals with Down syndrome (or any human being) need not be afraid of the unknown or the different because we are all amazing, super, and created as who we are meant to be. It’s all about appreciating diversity AND celebrating it!

I Am Me is available for purchase on my website, Amazon, in other book retailers upon request, as well as Poppin Huis, in Holland, MI. In addition to retail sales, I put in the effort to connect with organizations like Jack’s Basket and Down syndrome Associations around the country to provide discounted books for use in celebration baskets, donor thank you gifts, and fundraising efforts.

As Super Jay Brand promises, for every book sold a donation is made to an organization that supports the Down syndrome community. In my local area, I make donations to the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan (DSAWM). Donations have also been made to Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network (DSDN) and the National Association for Down Syndrome (NADS). In 2019, books sales and other Super Jay products allowed us to donate $1,502.28. So far in 2020, donations are topping $3,000!

How many books have I sold? As of October 16, 2020, 1,494 I Am Me books have been purchased, with just under 1,200 of those books sold in bulk at discounted pricing. I am so grateful and thankful for the love I Am Me has received. Self-publishing is a hard process, but with hard work and perseverance, and a willingness to reach out to people I don’t know to make new connections and share the message of I Am Me, I have accomplished more than I ever imagined, and there’s more to come!

How do I get I Am Me in more hands? This year I wanted to give back on a bigger level. With a few of those outreach connections I made in an effort to share I Am Me over the last year, I was introduced to a new friend with personal ties to the Red Glasses Movement. In conversations with this fellow parent in the Down syndrome community, I mentioned that I really wanted to be able to offer books for free in celebration of World Down syndrome Awareness Month. A few weeks later I was asked to submit a grant proposal!

With support from the Jandernoa Foundation, I gave away 224 I Am Me books for FREE to teachers, classrooms, and parents around the USA in October 2020!

Free book promotion October 2020

These free books were accompanied by a reading guide (download below) and an informational postcard. Recipients were asked to provide a picture or share a note about their experience reading and sharing I Am Me.

Thank you to the Jandernoa’s for their support, encouragement, and belief in the power of a book to advocate for inclusion, community, and self-efficacy.

“You are you and I am me, just exactly how life is meant to be.”

What’s next? Maybe a new book … I’ll keep you posted!

“Thank you so much for the wonderful books you donated to our first grade students! They absolutely loved them and it was cute to watch them read along. Perfect level for a first grade shared reading. I really enjoyed your guided questions and suggested follow up activities too!” – Ms. Noel, Coopersville Area Public Schools 

Honeybee

Edited and final:

Honeybee

I saw a little  honeybee, flying near a tree.

He zoomed around in circles and landed on my knee.

You might scream or run away, or maybe you would freeze,

but I sat calmly as I watched and felt the evening breeze.

“Hello, young bee,” I said to him.  “You’ve had a busy day.

It’s good that you can stop and rest. You’ve come a long, long way.

You’ve soared for miles through the air, for many days and hours,

collecting sticky pollen, while dancing with the flowers.”

His big eyes gazed into my own, and then he flew away.

I wondered if he’d fly around and come again someday?

I wondered if he flew through rain or felt the summer’s heat. 

I wondered if he wove through cars while traveling down the street?

Does he stop to watch the children and pause his beating wings?

Does he listen to the music as a feathered sparrow sings?   

The honeybee was out of sight, no longer could I see

my little friend who paused awhile to rest upon my knee.

But when I reached into my sack to grab a bite to eat,

between my sandwich was a spread of honey, smooth and sweet.  

I realized a simple truth I hadn’t know before—

I gave the bee a chance to rest, but he gave me much more.

He gave me honey for my bread, I gave him space to be.

That was just enough for him, and it’s enough for me.

In production —

I saw a little bumblebee, flying high, up near a tree.

Soon he zoomed down toward me and landed here upon my knee.

You might scream, or run, or freeze, but I felt as calm as the evening breeze.

“Hello young bee,” I said quietly as he buzzed upon my knee.

He was resting, I could see, tired from his long journey.

Soaring miles through the sky, dancing along flowers as he flew by.

Collecting all that wondrous stuff, sticky pollen smooth and tough.

Bumblebee, buzzing bee, sitting here upon my knee. Soon he was looking up at me.

His big eyes gazed deep into my own, and then he was off and flying home.

I am left to wonder, where? How far he flew, from here to there?

A journey through wind and natural struggles, and cars and bikes, and playful bubbles. 

Over hills and through lush green forests, a morning flight and an all-day chorus—of wings fluttering with such speed and need, in search for gold without greed.

I watched his journey through the sky, with a curious and patient eye.

For inside the bag there with me was a sandwich made with fresh honey.

I smiled to myself and nodded to the night—my bee no longer visible, out of sight.

But now I see something more, something I did not realize before.

That buzzing bumblebee that rested here upon my knee, gave me the honey nestled between this bread, spread so generously.  

And all I did was allow him to rest a moment upon my knee.

I did not scream, or run, or freeze, for he just needed a perch at ease.

That little buzzing bumblebee that landed here and sat with me.

He gave me this honey, and I gave him space to be.

That was enough for him and it was enough for me.

I Am Me – Team Super Jay

Each year, Down syndrome Associations across the country gather together members and the local community to celebrate and raise awareness. Super Jay Brand is committed to giving back annually.

Although we are not sure if this annual fundraising event will take place in person or virtually, we want to make sure we’re participating as best we can. We will use our voice and our actions to be agents of change and take action for the common good. You are meant to be. I am meant to be. We are meant to be!

This shirt design promotes love, inclusion, community, and self-efficacy. All proceeds will be donated to DSAWM’s (Down syndrome Association of West Michigan) 2020 Step Up for Down syndrome fundraising event.

Buy your shirt today! Shop Here

Youth sizes $19.99 (Green or Grey) | Adult sizes $22.99 (Teal or Grey)

One in a Million Award(s)

Super Jay Brand is part of the One in a Million movement by Multiplying Good x2! Check out the award for the book I Am Me and the award for Masks with a Mission.

About the awards: For nearly fifty years, Multiplying Good has lived the power of creating positive change through helping others and recognizing the extraordinary. It is time to celebrate every good act – from the medical personnel, first responders and essential workers to the teachers and caregivers to the millions helping in any way they can. Now more than ever, innumerable acts of bravery, generosity and good are giving us hope and bringing us together.

“You are you and I am me, just exactly how life is meant to be.” #IAmMeMeantToBe #SuperJayBrand