Commentary #107: “Everything Wrong with Rachel Hollis”

This photo is not wrong or a bad thing. This was the photo that made Rachel Hollis go viral in 2015. I remember feeling inspired! Any woman who feels confident enough to rock a bikini is awesome. Image Credit: msrachelhollis.com

A wonderful friend shared this YouTube video earlier this week on her Facebook page: Everything Wrong with Rachel Hollis (Deep-Dive)


I’ll admit, I was originally intrigued by Rachel Hollis. See the bikini photo above. Several authors I follow on social media, and a few bloggers, have lauded her personality and her business, among other things. One author in particular has mentioned Hollis and her self-help books – Girl, Wash Your Face, and Girl, Stop Apologizing – on her podcast multiple times.

I almost bought both books.

But, I’m so glad I didn’t.

Granted, this is only one video that’s an hour and 33 minutes long. However, within minutes of the opening commentary, I felt so relieved that I haven’t bought into Hollis, her books, or her influence.


Even putting the words “everything wrong with rachel hollis” into Google brings up a slew of articles and videos about how harmful Rachel Hollis’s message is!


I almost feel bad for Rachel. The daughter of a Pentecostal preacher, she has said in multiple interviews and videos to her fans about how awful her family life was and how her childhood was so terrible.

She moved to Los Angeles at age 17. She worked as a production assistant at Miramax for a while, and then she started her own party-planning business. When she was 19, she met Dave Hollis, who was a Disney executive. He was eight years older – 27.

The age difference doesn’t matter, but the way they have treated each other does. Listening to the excerpts of videos during this hour and 33 minutes made me cringe. First of all, Dave looks like and sounds like a creep and an asshole. I feel terrible for their four children. I stopped the video multiple times, and reflected on how much of their relationship sounded like the abusive relationship I was in from 2006-2010.

Aside from all the narcissism and veiled abuse, Rachel’s messages to her fans are full of, absolutely dripping, food issues, hypocrisy, and toxic positivity.


To add to it all, Rachel has been a guest speaker at multiple conferences and retreats for multi-level marketing (MLM) companies! There’s excerpts of her speeches at events for LuLaRoe (LLR), BeachBody, Arbonne, and doTERRA. These companies have already ensnared vulnerable women, and Rachel appears to be a role model! She’s a woman, a wife, a mother, a Christian. All valuable, desired, normal things.

So much of her message is hypocrisy and surface-level bullshit. She gives the barest bones of “advice,” but a lot of it is toxic.

The RISE conferences that she and Dave have hosted cost up to $1,795! And that doesn’t include airfare, hotel, and other things.

Hard pass.

In addition, she doesn’t realize when she’s causing harm. Actually, she likely doesn’t care when she’s doing it. And that’s the worst thing.

After getting just one negative / critical book review on one of her fiction books, she hasn’t read or looked at any other reviews of her books. Not one.

And, get this, her fiction books – Party Girl (2014), Sweet Girl (2015), and Smart Girl (2016) – have been lauded and praised. They’re much better than the self-help ones, from what I’ve heard.

She immediately blocks people who even breathe a word or shadow of negativity or criticism. She ignores it all. And that’s so sad.

I immediately picked up on the passive-aggressive stance. It has to be exhausting to be that way ALL THE FUCKING TIME.


So, I wasn’t surprised when I saw the news yesterday that she and Dave are headed toward divorce. I should be thrilled for her. But, all I could think about was her having to deal with such a toxic relationship for the last 18+ years. I was relieved for their kids, but only briefly. I think all four will need major therapy.

I feel sorry for Rachel Hollis. But, at the same time. I’m really glad I didn’t buy into her influence. I’m just sad for the countless wives, moms, military spouses, and those who have joined MLMs who have been swept up under her spell.

I hope, for her sake, that Rachel Hollis will be able to raise her children to be better than her and her soon-to-be ex-husband.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Hot Topic #30: Thoughts on The Murder of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, White Privilege, and Being An Ally

George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020.

Black Lives Matter.

If there’s one thing that I understand completely, it’s that I have white privilege.

I’m committed to being a better ally.


Over the last week and a half, I’ve asked a lot of questions. Shout-out to my wonderful husband for being my main sounding board!

Here are a few snapshots of my recent thoughts.

At the end of this post, I’ve included a long list of resources, ways you can help, ways you can educate yourself and others, and other sources that I’ve found helpful.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, June 1st

I’m having trouble concentrating. I’m so angry about so many things. I’m personally not brave enough to join any of the Black Lives Matter protests, but I am committed to listening. I’ve been carefully observing my friends’ interactions on Facebook, which is my primary social media platform. I don’t have Instagram, and my Twitter is long out of date. I haven’t deleted or blocked anyone, but I have unfollowed a few since Friday. And I think that number may go up.

I deleted the CNN app from my phone, and removed the website bookmark from Google Chrome. I immediately felt better after that.

I have several friends that have participated in protests already, and I pray for all of them. I’ve tried really hard to limit my overall news and social media consumption since George Floyd was murdered one week ago, but it’s so hard to do so.


Tuesday, June 2nd

Today, I felt compelled to go through all my yearbooks – Elementary, middle, and high school. Part of it was nostalgia, but part of it was to study my classmates.

I’m from an upper-middle class, all-white family. Where I live in Virginia is largely “well off,” but each city has its own issues. I was raised in an affluent part of Chesapeake. I was educated in good schools, with excellent teachers and decent administrators. In eighth grade, I applied and was accepted to the second class of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Oscar F. Smith High School. I was thrilled, but I recognize now how nervous and apprehensive my parents were.

Why? Oscar Smith is one of the high schools that has some of the poorest students in Chesapeake. And many of them are black.

I attended OSHS from 2003 through 2007. Were there problems? Sure. There were regular fights. The biggest news story, aside from our championship football team, was a fellow senior getting arrested just two weeks before graduation in the spring of 2007. I drove home from school, and saw a reporter in front of the school sign at the top of the 5:00 news. He’d had a loaded gun in his locker, and there were reports of buried marijuana on the football field.

But, in a way, I was shielded from a lot of the problems and issues. I was part of the “smart kids.” My IB class was fairly diverse – We had, what I think, anyway, a good mix of white, black, Filipino, Mexican, and Asian students. But, we were only 41 students of more than 2,000 students at the school. The only times I truly interacted with students other than IB kids were in P.E., driver’s ed, and orchestra.

The staggering observation I made is that I’m still friends with mainly white people from my early school years. The black, Filipino, Mexican, and Asian people I’m friends with are all wonderful people. My issue? I met them either in college or after that.

I think this is bothering me so much because I’m pretty sure, unconsciously, I valued my friendships with white classmates and acquaintances higher than others. And I hate that!

But, at least I’m recognizing that now, right?

Before we went to bed, Al and I watched the first 20 minutes of the ABC News special titled America In Pain: What Comes Next. I nearly cried three times in those 20 minutes. And I felt so much shame.


Wednesday, June 3rd

I made the following comment to a post on Facebook: “I’ve been coming to terms with a lot of things in my life since George Floyd was murdered. I’ve asked a lot of questions, and I’m learning every day. I’m committed to being a better ally. I know now that I haven’t been the best ally, even though I was blindly confident that I was a good one … I’m currently listening, but I’m going to use my voice on my blog soon about this. Thank you!”

I took the opportunity to participate in a landmark “Safe Space Discussion” through my work today, from 11:00 to 12:30. I was so moved that afterward, I wrote an email to the Chief Diversity Officer, expressing my appreciation for the work that was done on the presentation, as well as fully admitting that I’m not a good ally. She replied about 30 minutes later, saying how appreciative she was, and offered her assistance in helping me to be better.

I remarked to Al how my mom, years ago, had told me the story of the riot at her high school, Miami Killian High School, when she was a student. I want to sit down with her, when it’s safe again, and record that story. I want to learn more. So far, I haven’t found any evidence of it through various Google searches. I wonder if it was covered in the news at all.

A bit of good news came in the afternoon: The murder charge against Derek Chauvin was upgraded to second-degree. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. I was happy to see people celebrating at the memorial for George Floyd, but I’m still apprehensive about a lot of things. Only time will tell.


Thursday, June 4th

I felt less angry this morning when I woke up, but still nervous, apprehensive, anxious. Over the last several days, it dawned on me: This is a watershed moment in American history. And I hope true change is made.

A friend shared an article from The Washington Post on Facebook this morning: Perspective | White parents teach their children to be colorblind. Here’s why that’s bad for everyone.

It was published in October 2018, but this article absolutely hit home.

“White parents often refrain from speaking with their children about race, racism, and racial inequality.”

“This silence reflects society’s view that white people ‘don’t have race’ — that race refers exclusively to people of color.”

“Without fail, parents responded with an expression of shocked dismay, and then emphatically stated, ‘No. What is there to say?'”

“Among the white parents I interviewed, the majority of whom were middle class, parents expressed a desire to raise non-racist white children. Most felt the best way to achieve that goal was to avoid speaking with their children about race, racism and racial inequality – past or present.”

“They also remained silent about the topic of police violence toward African Americans. When I asked parents why, many said they didn’t want to ‘upset’ their children. Others noted that the subject didn’t ‘relate’ to their (white) family’s life.”

“Most white parents who speak with their children about race adopt a colorblind rhetoric, telling their children that people may ‘look different’ but that ‘everyone is the same.'”

“As sociologist Margaret Hagerman argues in her new book, ‘White Kids,’ white parents’ decision about the best neighborhood to raise a family or enroll their children in school shapes the social context in which white children develop an understanding about members of their own racial group and members of outside racial groups.”

“As research demonstrates, identity development is relational. That means people develop an awareness of themselves as a member of a particular group when they spend time around people whom they perceive as being different from them.”

“White people aren’t ‘outside’ of race – they’re at the top of the racial hierarchy.”

——-

All those quotes to say – This is EXACTLY how I was raised. And it makes me sad.

I’m angry that it’s taken me to the age 31 to have my eyes opened. But, at the same time, I remember being afraid, hesitant, ashamed to ask “hard” questions of my parents. It wasn’t until I was in college that there were several late-night instances of discussing life and the world with my dad, long after my mom went to bed. But we didn’t talk about race.

There were glimmers of differences in my childhood and adolescence, but not many. I felt a lot of pity.

Example #1: One of my classmates, D., and his family were recipients of Angel Tree gifts from our church because his dad was in prison. D. is black, and his mom managed to hold the family together in one of the lower-income neighborhoods down the street from our middle school. I certainly didn’t know the whole story, and, at the time, I didn’t think I needed to know. One thing that was clear, crystal clear, was D. was an angry kid. He was always getting into trouble at school. And, now, as an adult, I think part of the reason was because his dad was in prison. I wish I’d reached out to him, offered to help him with his work. But, I knew, even at age 12, it would be frowned upon by my parents.

Example #2: My parents were not shy about their feelings with us buying a house in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is one of the cities in our region that has lower incomes, higher crime rates, and so-so schools. The main reason we chose Portsmouth is because we couldn’t afford the house we wanted/needed where we grew up in Chesapeake, or in northern Suffolk – We needed a house that split the distance between our jobs and commutes. We like our neighborhood, and it’s one of the safer, more affluent neighborhoods. I personally don’t want to think about moving anywhere else until after we have our first child. We have a lot of time to make that big of a decision – We’re not ready to have kids. And when we do, we have at least five more years to consider the schools. However, my parents have made snide comments to me about moving, the schools, and coming back to where Al and I grew up in Chesapeake. It’s frustrating. The other thing I noticed in the last two weeks – We have more white people in our neighborhood than I originally realized. We do have black, Latino, and Asian people. But, our street in particular is all white.

———

The other thing I’ve realized is my perception of the police has changed. I have a few friends who are law enforcement officers (LEOs), but not many. I know, as a white woman, I don’t have to have to worry getting shot when I get pulled over. And that’s just one of multiple instances of white privilege.

However, there has been too much police brutality. It has to stop. The “brotherhood” mentality needs to give way to full accountability. If you stop protecting the people to protect yourself, then you’re automatically biased. If you stop protecting the people to protect your brother or sister in blue, then you’re automatically biased. If you turn off or hide your body camera, you are biased and doing something shady.

There are so many things that need to change. I’ve posted a link to Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent letter to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer below. I agree with all of Sanders’ points, and I’m sure there’s a few more.

One of the biggest issues that currently exist is qualified immunity. I’ve posted links about that below.

So much needs to change.


What I’m Doing

I’m speaking out. I will no longer be silent. I have been afraid to use my voice. No more.

I am committed to supporting more black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) businesses, restaurants, authors, journalists, and elected officials.

I was already a registered voter, but I am fully researching every candidate that will be on my November ballot. I will be voting!

I’m examining the authors I read, and the subject matter of books. I want to read far more books, essays, short stories, and poetry by BIPOC authors. Just Mercy is next on my TBR. I’ve already ordered White Fragility, and The Nickel Boys. I’ve been researching books by Elizabeth Acevedo, Celeste Ng, Julia Alvarez, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison.

I’ve prayed multiple times a day for many people and many things: Black Lives Matter, POC, our country, our LEOs, our military, and our world.


Resources

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide – Southern Poverty Law Center

The BIPOC Project

Black Lives Matter

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Stand with Standing Rock

Sanders Calls for Sweeping Reforms in Senate Democrats’ Policy Response to Police Violence (Press Release)

Legal immunity for police misconduct, under attack from left and right, may get Supreme Court review – USA Today

Qualified immunity – Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School

Best Books Written by BIPOC Authors – Goodreads

7 Books to Read Right Now to Help Support BIPOC in Your Community and Beyond

A Resource Guide for Anti-Racism + Being An Educated Ally for BIPOC

DiverseBookFinder – Multicultural picture books

Police brutality must stop – American Medical Association (AMA)

Solutions – Campaign Zero

Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual (ACLU)

How to Register to Vote – United States


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Book Review #89: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity”

When I did a recent Tag post, I picked this book as “An intimidating book on your TBR.”

I wrote: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity by Axton Betz-Hamilton. I know the backstory behind this book, Betz-Hamiltonโ€™s memoir, from the Criminal podcast. (Make sure you listen to Episode 51 first, then Episode 125). I want it to be as amazing as I think it is, based on the podcast episodes that were so masterfully produced.”


As soon as I heard about Betz-Hamilton’s book on Episode 125 of the Criminal podcast, I added it to my wish list. I was so thrilled when I opened it as part of my Christmas gift from Al at the end of 2019.

It took me nearly six months to get to it, but I knew I was avoiding it. I had so many high hopes for this book, and I did not want to be disappointed.

Thankfully, this was not disappointing.


It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away certain things. But, I will say that I hope Betz-Hamilton writes more books. She did an incredible job with this. It’s such a personal story, and she truly turned it into action. She has done incredible work with helping identity theft victims for many years, while simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of identity theft in her own family.

If you’ve wanted to learn about identity theft, and its interesting history, this is a great book to read. Betz-Hamilton started her investigation with hardly any resources, and little law enforcement involvement. Times have certainly changed, and she helped educate many people along the way. Without her work, I don’t think identity theft would be as widely known or investigated now.

I related to this book in a few ways. Axton and I were both only children. I struggled with my relationship with my mom, especially as I became a teenager. But, I realize how good I had it. Axton lived in a version of hell under her mother’s roof until she went to college. I recognized so many signs of abuse, sadly.


The chapters were the perfect length. I flew through multiple chapters every night, and struggled with putting the book down.

It was so interesting to read about her life. This book spanned from before she was born up through the early 2010s. I really enjoyed the personal anecdotes, mixed in with academia and identity theft history. I’ve found myself searching for presentations she’s given. I’m hoping she’ll offer a course on identity theft. I want to learn more from her.

This is currently my favorite book of 2020. I’m already planning to re-read it next year.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Commentary #106: “The Public Library as a 21st-Century Indoor City Square”

Isn’t this space breathtaking? I could stay here for days. Image Credit: Civic Architects

My cousin Ryan sent me this link recently, and I was immediately intrigued!

Hereโ€™s the link: The Public Library as a 21st-Century Indoor City Square


This article was published in March 2019, but it’s a really cool idea. The U.S. should really start paying more attention to what the Europeans are doing!

The premise: Amsterdam-based Civic Architects helped transform a former locomotive shed into a public library and public space.

The skeleton of the locomotive shed was basically preserved. There’s a ton of natural light. A series of movable textile screens are able to be adjusted through a computerized system.

In addition to books, there are small “labs” in the space, visitors can learn new skills and experiment. Meetings are held, exhibitions can be displayed on the large reading tables, and there’s a coffee kiosk. The space can hold up to 1,000 people at one time.


I really like this idea. There are so many abandoned buildings and industrial spaces, and that’s not just in the U.S. If this idea were to be embraced, it would take time and money, but it would also create employment opportunities, engage revitalization efforts, and help the community at large.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Book Review #87: “Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life, and Let Go of Your Fear”

This was one of FIVE books that Al bought me for Christmas!

This book, along with Kristen Martin’s Soulflow (Review coming soon!), felt like divine guidance when I needed it most. I was in such a slump with blogging and writing until the beginning of May. Then, it felt like a switch was flipped in my head. I felt inspired again. And both these books were big contributors.


I’m planning to read more from Gilbert down the line. But, this book is just what I needed at this particular moment. It’s part memoir, part self-help, part inspiration.

Although not pleased with how choppy everything felt at the beginning, I liked how she structured the book. It was like listening to a wise friend or relative tell stories over the course of a summer afternoon. And there was something for me to remember or ponder over with every chapter. She placed good reminders in my hear and heart.


It’s hard to describe Big Magic! But I felt comforted the entire time. It was a breezy read, perfect as the weather here has gone up and down and sideways. Until yesterday, it felt like September!

As someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and struggle most days with imposter syndrome, this book allayed my fears. It’s shown me to stare my fear(s) straight in the face, and proclaim, “You don’t own me. You don’t control me. I do. So step aside and let me finish the work I was called to create. Thanks!”

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Commentary #105: “I Wrote A Research Paper About The Publishing Industry … Here’s What I Found”

Image Credit: The Reedsy Blog

I thought Charis Rae’s research was so awesome, I wanted to share it!

Here’s the link to Charis Rae’s post: I Wrote A Research Paper About the Publishing Industry … Here’s What I Found


Charis brought up some excellent points and statistics. Here are a few of them:

  • Nearly 100,000 books were published by major publishing companies in the United States in the year 2019.
  • In 2018, more than 1.6 million books were self-published digitally and physically.
  • The odds of getting a publishing contract is 1 in 4 (25 percent), according to a 2014 report.
  • If you choose to self-publish with Amazon, you will get roughly 70 percent of the profits.
  • A traditionally published author will only receive 6-10 percent of the royalties.

Reading her analysis, it’s pretty obvious that self-publishing is the easiest way to get your book out to potential readers. However, you also face stiffer competition because there are far more self-published titles available by volume, and for less money. If you haven’t, just take a glance at Amazon Books, plus their Kindle Store. It’s overwhelming.

That said, there’s other booksellers, and publishers, than just Amazon. Many traditional book publishers still exist – HarperCollins, Hachette Livre, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Kodansha, Scholastic. In terms of other stores, there’s Barnes & Noble, Walmart, ThriftBooks, Books A Million, 2nd and Charles, Waterstones (UK), Strand Books, Book Depository, and even eBay.

In addition, you can also request Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) through sites like NetGalley. Several of my friends have done that.

I was really impressed with Charis Rae’s research and analysis! I hope you take the time to read her post.

Also, consider your sources when you purchase books. Of course, I will always recommend borrowing books from the library or getting e-books if you’re into that (I’m not, but that’s just a personal preference). Amazon makes it really easy and convenient, but I encourage you to think outside the box a bit, and consider other sellers once in a while. For example, I bought a copy of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson from a friend’s online store through eBay!


As for me and my writing journey, I’ve been studying both avenues for the last several years. I personally want to go the traditional route first, mainly for the experience because I’ve never attempted it. If I find myself struggling after a period of time, I’ll consider the self-publishing route. I’m excited to get my work out there!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Commentary #104: “Ten Books I Wish I Had Read As A Teen” (Top Ten Tuesday)

I saw several posts recently about ten books I wish I had read as a teen!

Books, Libraries, Also Cats – Top Ten Tuesday Books I Wish I’d Had As A Teen

The Bookish Hooker – Ten Books I Wish I Had Read As A Child

bookloversblog – Top Ten Tuesday #261

that artsy reader girl – 22 YA Contemporary Romances Teen Me Would Have Loved


Here’s my list!

Note, there are several here that were published after I left my teenage years. I turned 20 in 2008.


  1. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
  2. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky (1999)
  3. Crank, Ellen Hopkins (2004)
  4. Looking for Alaska, John Green (2005)
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie (2007)
  6. Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher (2007)
  7. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (2008)
  8. Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson (2009)
  9. Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell (2012)
  10. Dumplin’, Julie Murphy (2015)

Out of these ten, I’ve read The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Looking for Alaska, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Hunger Games, and Wintergirls. I read most of these when I was in college.

As for the others, I’ve only read parts of them, or heard of them through various media sources or other bloggers. However, I plan to add these five to future TBRs.


What about you? Have you read any of these books?

What books do you wish you’d read as a teen?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Book Review #86: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

My friend Cynthia sent me a copy, along with a beautiful letter telling me how much she enjoyed this book. I’d heard of Neil Gaiman for years, but never read any of his books until now.

Some nights, I read multiple chapters. However, most nights, I slogged through one chapter and then went to bed. I almost gave up on this book about four chapters in.

I’m so glad I didn’t.


This book renewed my interest in fantasy. Gaiman is a master storyteller and world-builder. There were several events and plot points that I considered to be violent and unsettling, but I think that’s me, my personality, and this being my first introduction to Gaiman’s writing.

Even though I slogged through a chapter or two more often than not, it’s likely because of how immersive Gaiman’s world is from the get-go. You’re right next to the protagonist, unnamed, his family, and the Hempstocks the entire time. I put the book down once or twice and realized that I, in fact, was not in the English countryside with the characters. You’re immediately invested in every detail.

The imagery is profound. It’s fitting that he used the word “ocean” in the title – This book is like an ocean. Its never-ending words and story, lapping over you like constant waves. And it’s a good thing. It’s hard to put it down after one chapter, and the chapters are shorter than I thought they would be. It keeps pulling you in for more.


If you’ve read fantasy before, this is a treat. It will take you away, and not spit you out until the very end. It’s beautifully written, almost lyrical or song-like.

If you haven’t read many fantasy books, I’m not sure this would be a good place to start. Gaiman is a great writer, but he’s very heavy. I experienced multiple emotions while reading. It’s very dark, but it’s dark for a reason. However, that’s not a bad thing. It’s award-winning for so many good things.

In the end, this book was a good one for me to read. It came into my life at a good time. Reading Gaiman is almost magical, and I was sad when the book ended, because it ended.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Hot Topic #29: Banned & Controversial Books

Found on CNN

This is a topic that comes up every single year!

The idea for this post came from a recent article on CNN: These books are gaining ground in an Alaska town after a school board voted to remove them from class.


The books that are under fire in the town of Palmer are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man; Joseph Heller’s Catch-22; Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried; and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

Members of the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School Board met in mid-April to “approve the district’s High School English Elective Curriculum and reading list.” After lengthy discussions, “an amendment was introduced during the meeting to scratch the five books off the curriculum. Five members voted in favor of the removal, two voted against. The vote has no impact on the books’ placement in school libraries. In the same vote, the board also removed ‘The Learning Network,’ a resource for educators from The New York Times Company as a mentor text for district teachers.”

Palmer is about 40 miles from Anchorage in the southern part of the state. It serves 46 schools and more than 19,000 students.

Board members received a one-page flier from the district’s Office of Instruction regarding the potential controversies. “Concerns about the pieces of literature, according to the flier, included sexual references, rape, racial slurs, scenes of violence and profanity.”

All this to say that the books have not been banned from the district. The article was written to make the point that the school board voted in favor of removal.


What about community members?

According to the article, “No community members had signed up to comment prior to the meeting.” And, “since the decision was made as an amendment, community members didn’t have a chance to give their input.”

“The material for the English elective class were reviewed through a stakeholder survey, a community survey and a council of educators — including teachers, librarians and administrators — among other reviewers in the 2019-2020 year, the school district said.” The recommendations were then brought to the school board.


Positive spin on the situation

There is some good news. A Facebook page was created after the meeting, advertising “The Mat-Su Valley Banned Book Challenge.” Any student that read all the works can enter for a change to win $100. However, the administrators of the page have considered upping the monetary prize because of the interest in the challenge. At the time the article was published, over 200 students had joined the page.


Protecting students?

There were several quotes in the article regarding the students, and the school board’s intent to protect them from the content of these books. Many of them depict abuse and violence.

“To think that by not reading ‘Why the Caged Bird Sings’ means therefore children will not be exposed to sexual abuse is … closed-minded and ignorant.”

“‘There are many, many students in our district who don’t know that the trauma maybe they’ve experienced is trauma that somebody else has written about and yes, they can go and talk to somebody then,’ Welton said in the meeting.”

‘”I think you’re putting your head in the sand,’ she said. ‘If you really, truly believe that you are protecting your children, you can protect them by just saying, ‘Don’t take that class.'”


The main takeaway for me is that these books are for an English elective class. To me, however, I think these quotes hit the nail on the head. If these students aren’t supposed to or allowed to read these books in school, what other opportunity would they have to read them? Would these students take them out of the library themselves? Apparently, the chance to win money is plenty inspiring.


If you’re interested, check out the links regarding banned and challenged books below.


For me, I’ve read The Great Gatsby and The Things They Carried. I read Invisible Man and Catch-22 so long ago! I’ve read parts of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I think I’ll add the last three to a future TBR. I re-read The Great Gatsby every year. And I think I should re-read The Things They Carried at some point.

Have you read any of these five books?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Commentary #103: “The Elegance of Kindness”

Image Credit: Found on Gratitude and Trust

This post started with an email and a YouTube link. Thanks, Momma V.!

Al’s mom sent this link to me, asking if I’d seen it: Story Behind the Song: The Rainbow Connection


I hadn’t, so I clicked on it. It’s a bit dated now – It was posted in October 2016. However, what I clicked on and witnessed was nearly 12 minutes of magic and appreciation. It was an interview where Paul Williams discusses how “The Rainbow Connection” came to be. In the middle, Williams mentioned his website, Gratitude and Trust, along a post he wrote called “The Elegance of Kindness” about Jim Henson. I paused the video, grabbed a Post-It note, scribbled that down, and continued the video.

Visiting the website a little while later, I noticed that Paul posted it in September 2013. But, dates don’t matter.


As I started reading, all I felt was warmth when I digested Paul’s words. What an amazing life he’s had as a songwriter. He’s also a recovering alcoholic, a major feat by itself. And, to meet AND work with Jim Henson! Wow.

He told the same story in the video as he did in his blog post, about not wanting to throw any surprises at Jim when he and Kenny Ascher were beginning to produce the music for The Muppet Movie (1979).

Jim smiled, and reassured Paul with these words, โ€œOh, thatโ€™s all right Paul. Iโ€™m sure theyโ€™ll be wonderful. Iโ€™ll hear them in the studio when we record them.โ€

Hearing Jim say that immediately allayed Paul’s fears and worries. He also told this story in the liner notes when the soundtrack was re-released for the nearly 35th anniversary of the movie. And, in a way, this meeting paved the way for one of the most memorable and warm songs that has ever been created.


But the point here is “the elegance of kindness.” As I was telling Al about the video and the blog post, he immediately nodded and said, “Yes, exactly. That’s how many people have described Jim Henson. How kind he was.”

Jim Henson died in 1990. I wasn’t quite two years old when he left the world. But, I’ve learned who he was. And what an impact he has made! In his short 53 years, he became a legend. He created the Muppets, helped develop characters for Sesame Street, produced The Muppet Show, started the Jim Henson Foundation, and founded Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.


I made the same connection that Paul did about Jim. With kindness comes trust. With kindness and trust, magical things can bloom and grow. I don’t think “Rainbow Connection” would have been written if Jim Henson didn’t trust Williams and Ascher. There have been so many issues with trust, time and time again, with the world of entertainment. And it’s not limited to entertainment, either.

I write this post as the pandemic continues. I’m frustrated and appalled at the President of the United States and other leaders who have spouted clear lies, and they have incited great fear among millions of people. Millions of people who have gotten so many mixed messages at the worst possible time. No wonder I have trust issues! And there’s not a shred of kindness from the top. Sadly.


However, my spirit has been renewed. There is kindness, still.

Some Good News with John Krasinski is AWESOME!

I’ve loved Steve Hartman since he started reporting with CBS News in the 1990s (Remember Assignment America? And throwing a dart at a map of the U.S.?). A while ago, he did a four-part series called Kindness 101. Not only are his kids adorable, but he’s sharing many of his stories, old and new, and reminding everyone who’s watching what the important things are in life. Character. Gratitude. Empathy. Optimism. Purpose. I’ve watched all of them, and I’m excited the series is continuing.

Just today, I read a father’s account of his daughter, Emerson, and her letters. Her handwritten letters and decorated envelopes. She wrote a letter to her mailman, Doug, expressing her appreciation for him to help her mail her letters. Now, it’s gone all over the country, through thousands of people and postal workers. I’m inspired to be a pen pal again.

And, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sesame Street’s theme is now “Smarter, Stronger, Kinder.” The elegance of kindness can, and should, be embraced as young as possible. But, you’re not too old to start. You’re never too old to embrace something like kindness.

Enjoy a special performance of “Rainbow Connection” from Kermit that posted to YouTube last week.

Stay safe, stay well, friends.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚