13 Oklahoma Artists, Startups, & Small Businesses You Should Shop This Christmas

During my brief 24 (almost 25!) years on Earth, I’ve had the great fortune of meeting countless wickedly talented self-starters in Oklahoma. These are a collection of friends from high school, fellow artists, former and current colleagues, and even a few of my own business partners. As someone who has dabbled in (way too many) for-profit self-ventures (knitting, novels, design, you name it), I know how invaluable the support of community can be. It’s tough to dig your heels in and build something out of nothing.

That’s why, this Christmas, I’m urging you to do something a little different.

In addition to your normal go-to stores, consider shopping with one of these Oklahoma startups or small businesses. When I say small business, I do mean small! Most of the following are run by an individual, small family, or at most a staff of five. Through personal relationships with each maker, artist, go-getter and business owner on the list, I know with confidence that your purchase will undeniably be appreciated. You can also feel good about keeping a portion of your holiday spending in-state!

So without further ado, I give you 13 (and growing) local startups to shop this year.

Sunshine & Sparkles Boutique

Adorable goodies for just about everyone in the family. Tumblers, thermoses, onesies, and bumper stickers, Allyson makes original pieces and is always up for custom orders! You can message her through the shop’s Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/sparkleandsunshineboutique/

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Honey, I’m Home Door Designs

A burlap wizard, Alison can make pretty anything you throw her way. Trust me, I’ve thrown some wild ideas her way! You can browse her selection on her Facebook page or send her any Pinspirations you might find online.

https://www.facebook.com/honeyimhomedoordesigns/

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Jak’d Up Tees

Based in Edmond, this screen printing company (run by a close family friend) sells at an unbelievably good price. Luckily they have recently expanded online, so you can shop from the comfort of your own home!

http://jakduptees.com

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Respire Photography & Madalyn and Cameron Photography

I have had the privilege of working with both photographers extensively, and each time it was a smashing success due largely to the amazing talent behind the lens. With extremely affordable mini-sessions, both photographers are perfect for holiday photos.

http://www.respirephotography.com/#welcome

http://cameronandmadalyn.com

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Bison Brew Coffee

An absolute favorite in my house! Bison Brew offers five distinct blends, each one mirroring a different ecological region in the state of Oklahoma. You can grab a bag at the Norman farmers market.

https://www.facebook.com/BisonBrewCoffee/

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Me!

Shameless plug warning! Did you really think I could leave myself off the list in good faith? As always, you are invited to indulge in any or all of my creative whimsies, whether it be a book, Puppicon, or custom Christmas cards.

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Crooked Roots Design

Thinking of sending Mom or Grandma a bouquet this year? Let the lovely ladies at Crooked Roots whip up a modern, elegant arrangement you most definitely won’t see at Homeland. Until their website is done, you can contact them on Facebook or Instagram.

https://www.facebook.com/crookedrootsdesign/

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Steven Thorn

A friend of mine from our time spent in Oxford, fellow author Steven Thorn knocks it out of the park with his Phoenix Guardian series. This book (or entire series!) would be an unexpected delight for any young bookworms in your life.

https://www.amazon.com/Steven-Thorn/e/B004X35RLM/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

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Mixed Madness Apparel

Edgy designs and quality products, Mixed Madness blends a variety of styles in a really cool way, making each piece unique from anything you’d find in stores.

http://www.mixedmadnessapparel.com

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Resume Reactions

I realize no one wants a resume critique as a Christmas present, BUT this startup is still extremely relevant as hundreds of people search for extra work during the holiday season. If that’s you, let Lori brush up your resume first to make sure you get the job!

http://www.resumereactions.com

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The Baron’s Custom Glassware

Whether you’re into merlot or martinis, cabernets or Cokes, Aaron’s got you covered. This custom-cut  glassware makes an excellent drinking cup and a gorgeous votive (for you ladies out there).

https://www.facebook.com/Baronscups

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Decorate the 918

Calling all Tulsans! Among many other creative ventures, Andrea designs and creates stunning nail art for the home (like my amazing Disney quote shown below!). Check out some of her portfolio and give her a shout on Instagram.

https://www.instagram.com/decoratethe918/

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Do you know of an Oklahoma artist, entrepreneur, or small business you’d like to add to the list? Shoot me a link in the comments! It’s Christmas time, and that  means the more the merrier.

 

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The Problem with “Marketing Yourself”

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I’ve sat on this topic for quite some time, mostly because I am guilty of everything mentioned below and because it has great potential to be taken out of context. But no matter how many times I abandoned the draft, a tiny tug inside brought me back until the words were simply gone. After many weeks, I have decided to publish my thoughts come what may.

It is a post that needs to be shared, for better or worse.

As many of you know, I’m in the marketing/PR industry. Shouldn’t I be telling you how to market yourself instead of warning you not to? Maybe, but that would be doing you a disservice. Because no matter how competitive the job market may be, no matter how many of your friends seem to have it all together, and no matter how many awards you’ve won since college, I believe there is one thing that should never be marketed.

You.

Before I elaborate, I want to take a moment and explain. When I say that you should never be marketed, I don’t mean your hobbies, pet projects, side businesses, blogs, or employers. Otherwise this post (and any subsequent sharing) would be totally hypocritical and useless. I’m specifically referencing the internet’s increasing demand to curate our lives in an unnatural way, the craving to be seen and impress on both a personal and professional level. Not the sharing of your thoughts, but the sharing of your soul. I’m talking about your daily life.

But before we dive in, let’s go back 20 or 30 years ago. You would call your closest friends to share the news of your engagement. Your growing list of professional awards would be read only by your next employer. If your boyfriend surprised you at the office with roses, you would gush over a cup of coffee with your best friend. Life was shared in community, a place where good news could bloom in stride with the rise and fall of life. A few years ago, you never had to compare yourself to the world.

Sounds relaxing, right?

Today, the social landscape is a little different. We are encouraged to promote ourselves for better jobs, better dates then better spouses, better houses, better lives. I especially feel the pull in the PR industry, where it’s common to brand yourself as an industry expert gain credibility (which is a joke at age 24), and your personal brand is almost as important as the work you produce. But the reality is, marketing yourself is an unhealthy practice spiritually, emotionally, and physically because – no matter how you feel – you are more than what people think of you.

“We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Due to the public nature of social media, we are constantly branding ourselves – whether deliberately or not. When good things happen, we broadcast it to the world not because we want them to share in our joy but because we feel like we are supposed to. We want to keep up, stay in the game. I know I do. And with this mindset, it is impossible not to live for achievement instead of experience.

Today we have the power to control the message of our day-to-day lives through LinkedIn updates, Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram photos, Goodreads updates… The list goes on and on. Nearly everything we do in 2016 is public information, and that’s dangerous. What happens when we are suddenly given the power to influence our public perception like a brand? We reduce ourselves to advertisers and goods, and we lose our purpose.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” -Psalm 139:14

When we begin to see ourselves and others as commodities instead of souls created by a loving, intentional God, we become susceptible to unhealthy competition, resentment towards those who appear better, and low self-esteem when we fail to impress. We are blind to the bleeding heart behind the sterling resume or the anxiety weighing down the new mom. When we value ourselves only as much as others do, we lose sight of our own potential and the God-given worth of our friends and family. Because when the camera is always on, it’s hard to be genuine.

When there’s no room for error, it’s hard to just be human.

Of course, it’s never wrong to celebrate the joys of life with friends and family – the little moments and the big. Life is about love and community. But there is such a fine line between celebrating and bragging, and I know because I often tow both sides of the line. I think this is an increasing struggle for my generation. When our lives are so easily broadcast, it’s hard to know the true motivation of our hearts and even harder to keep our pride in check. We no longer recognize the beauty of humility, a trait that has been revered throughout the Bible and history. It is so easy to mask our insecurities in self-promotion, which can only breed arrogance. When we choose to market ourselves, we choose not to humble ourselves.

But there is wonderful news.

We don’t need to market ourselves to be thriving, joyful people. Noah wasn’t chosen to build the ark because of the blueprints he uploaded to LinkedIn. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t a successful national leader because of his influential Instagram quotes, and Galileo never published a DIY guide on how to chart the stars. These people accomplished amazing things through humility, by engaging with others instead of marketing to them.

So whether it is for a day, a month, or even the next year, I challenge you to turn the camera off. Continue to promote your art, your business, your blog, but save some moments for yourself. Choose humility over a fleeting sense of pride. Do things because you want to do them, not because you want to be seen doing them. Have secrets. Chase humility. Choose to see human needs instead of filtered photos and job promotions.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:12

Let’s choose to pursue wisdom. After all, if we all take a break from marketing ourselves we might just enjoy being ourselves.

7 Disney Sequels I Refuse to Acknowledge

As a Disney enthusiast, I am often asked to share my opinion on a variety of Disney films by the friends I somehow miraculously have. Inevitably, these always include a laundry list of home entertainment flops, aka the list I have so diligently prepared for you today.

“But, Laura, this is just a list of sequels!” you cry.

Wrong, young Disney noob. This is a list of bad, cringe-worthy, waste-of-cabinet-space sequels that I have and will continue to ignore until I die. In full disclosure, I have seen each of these seven films at least once, which was more than enough.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Pocahontas II

So, hold up. Let me get this straight. You want to replace John Smith with another yet completely different white guy from England who is also named John? Nope. Not having it. FOREVER MEANS FOREVER. Why do I feel so much like Taylor Swift right now?

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2. Lion King 1 1/2

If a Disney sequel features a younger version of any character, said movie will make you want to peel your skin off and bleed out slowly to the sound of bad tween dialogue. Thanks, but I’ve been through puberty once. That was enough.

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3. Ariel’s Beginning

See #2 minus puberty because babies, which just makes me feel weird as an adult viewer.

4. Tim Burton’s Alice Through The Looking Glass

As a lover of Lewis Carol, this movie really rustles my jimmies. If you’ve got an hour to waste (who doesn’t?) head over to The Disney Movie Review to hear an unabashed soapbox spiel about Tim Burton crushing my dreams and why Belle should only wear her blue dress.

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5. Hunchback of Notre Dame II

If we’re being honest, I can’t even remember this movie because all I can think about is Jennifer Love Hewitt’s cheeky smile at minute 1:15 in that VHS commercial.

6. Literally any Cinderella sequel ever.

So, here’s the funny thing about villains – they’re usually evil. And without extensive phycological rehabilitation, evil people usually stay evil. So unless I missed the Royal Therapy scene, sassy Cindy and the increasingly effeminate Ken doll get an oh-heck-no from me.

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7. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas

Beast banned Christmas, and then he unbanned it. Done. That’s the entire plot of the movie, which was a bust. Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes, because even they were too embarrassed to reprise their role in this sequel.

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As you see, this list could go on indefinitely, so in the interest of time I did my best to only choose movies that brought me to tears.

So, Laura, you’re saying ALL Disney sequels are doomed to fail?

Wrong again, my silly little friend! There are plenty of Disney sequels (even triquels!) that I genuinely adore. Yes, I invented triquel©. I’m not really sure how copyright works, but I put that fancy C symbol next to the word so I think so we’re all good. Anyway, the good sequels include The Little Mermaid II (AKA My Life Story), Lion King II, 102 Dalmatians, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, and any future Toy Story movies. On a good day, maybe even Lady and the Tramp II. Maybe.

Have you been personally scarred by a bad sequel? Are you an in-the-closet Pocahontas II fan, or perhaps you have a good sequel story to share? Shoot me a comment below because trivial Disney convos are my jam.

Someday When My Kids Are Grown…

As you all know, I don’t have any children – hey, I’m only 24! Still, as more and more of my peers settle down, I like to imagine the kind of world my own future children will inherit. What will matter to them when they’re my age, 20 or 30-something years from now? What will they enjoy, pursue, fear? Which of my favorite shows will make it to TV Land? What will the world look like someday when my children are grown?

This is a collection of my thoughts. 

Someday when my kids are grown…

I hope they read about civil unrest in books, not the news.

I hope “Adopt Don’t Shop” is the norm.

I hope they never saw me complain about stretch marks or wrinkles.

Someday when my kids are grown…

I hope that my daughter is called by her name, not Mrs. Husband.

I hope that my son changes diapers and vacuums like a boss.

I hope they find a spouse who will watch Friends on TV Land.

Someday when my kids are grown…

I hope I’m there to see it.

I hope my grandkids aren’t little turds.

I hope the world is worth a few more birthdays. 

Someday when my kids are grown…

I hope social media is outdated and cell phones obsolete.

I hope the garter toss is no longer a thing because it’s awkward and just why.

I hope all the teachers haven’t moved to Texas yet.

Someday when my kids are grown…

I hope that in a casual culture they make some things sacred.

I hope they love their body because I probably made it, and I’m good at crafts.

I hope that seeking therapy doesn’t have to be a secret anymore.

Someday when my kids are grown…

I hope they know how to shoot a gun but never need to pull the trigger.

I hope Disney World is still the happiest place on Earth.

I hope tolerance isn’t confused with truth.

Someday when my kids are grown…

I hope they come to visit.

I hope they know the difference between joy and happiness.

I hope they chase meaning.

Someday when my kids are grown…

I hope my children walk with Christ, the reason I hope at all.

5 of Your Favorite 90s Childhood Crafts (That You Can Still Buy for Under $20)

1. Lite Brite

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Right out of the gates, we’re starting strong with my personal favorite on today’s list, king of creativity, the Lite Brite. What couldn’t you make with one of these bad boys? Never mind that the little plastic pegs always slipped out of your chubby toddler fingers. If you could manage to stab one through the board, man. The world was yours, my friend. I’ll bet there’s some legit, professional-level Lite Brite art out there. Hmmmm. Now that’s an interesting thing. Excuse me, I need to Google something.

Yep. Called it!

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P.S. These run for about $18 on eBay.

2. Perler Beads

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Okay, I’m back! Believe it or not, you can still buy complete Perler bead sets at Hobby Lobby. Obviously the price depends on the kit you buy, but I can assure you from recent experience with my boyfriend these are still insanely entertaining. Tip: Retro pixelated designs are pretty much a guaranteed success, if you’re looking for high-reward, low-risk. If you want to make the Mario Piranha Plant above, check out my other post for a tutorial!

3. Beaded Keychains

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Monkeys and lizards and turtles – oh my! If you had one of these on your backpack in elementary school, you probably listened to aTeens on HitClip, rode a scooter everywhere, and pulled a roller BSB backpack to school. Okay, fine, I’m referring to myself. Today, these unopened babies are infinite on eBay and sell for as low as $1. Yes. One single dollar. Have at it, kids.

4. Plastic Looms

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I’m not sure this distinctly 90s, but I have definitely never seem a kid “looming” in 2016. They’re probably too busy writing CSS or learning how to Tumblr. Meawhile, we were off weaving used hairbands together and calling it art. Either way, this loom kit was a staple of my childhood, providing hours of tedious entertainment and literally drawers full of weird, stretchy potholders that my mom politely tolerated and occasionally used in private. If the loom calls to you, you can grab one at Walmart for under $5. Careful. Don’t spend it all in one place.

5. Blow Pens

Oh man. Blow pens. I don’t know about you, but I bugged my parents relentlessly for blow pens thanks to that insanely cool infomercial on Nickelodeon where they made sweatshirts and hats and other commodities far beyond my ten-year-old skill level. You don’t remember it? Here, let me take you back to 2001.

Can we just talk about that invisible ink? THE SECRETS I COULD TELL. You know, after I finish washing the spit off my hands, that is. You probably didn’t have $19.99 plus shipping and handling then, but you sure do now, you high-rolling adult. The complete set you always dreamed of for just $10.99 on eBay.

Just so you know, there are way more than five of these gems out there. I deliberately excluded Floam (because it smells weird and ew) and Marvin’s Magic Doodle Pad (because I literally could not make that amazingly cool fish from the ad to save my life, and yes, I’m still upset). Whether you’re shopping for yourself, your niece/nephew or your own kid, please let us live vicariously by sharing your craft projects below.

So, anyone planning to buy one and/or have used one recently?

What’s Up with All These Disney Remakes?

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The Jungle Book. Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. Beauty and the Beast. For the past five years, Disney has been in an experimental relationship with live-action fairytales that (as far as I can tell) has no end in sight. In 2015, Cinderella racked in $132 million globally on opening weekend. Try $294 million for The Jungle Book. Needless to say with figures like these, Disney has taken a cute from Queen Bey is about to put a ring on remakes.

But what’s so magical about a remake, anyway?

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In high school, I did a lot of babysitting because I had no money and two X chromosomes. We watched The Lion King, Finding Nemo, Tarzan, the usuals. Every week, I would optimistically offer up suggestions for movies that I had loved growing up. The Aristocats, 101 Dalmatians, Snow White, Pinocchio, even The Jungle Book. After being shot down like Bambi’s mom time and time again, I finally caught on.

“That movie’s too slow.

“It’s a boring one.”

“No, that movie isn’t very funny.”

The next generation is a new audience with new expectations.

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But all hope is not lost. Many animation studios make the bulk of their profit from tentpole films, meaning movies with never-ending sequels like Kung Fu Panda 3, The Avengers, Shrek, etc. With the exception of Marvel and LucasFilms, Disney hasn’t relied too heavily on tentpole films in the past. Lion King 1 1/2 happened against our will, and yes, Pocahontas II disappointed audiences everywhere because apparently Mel Gibson is too good for sequels. But these were just home releases – a small boost, not a blockbuster.

But now the tides are turning. To stay relevant, Disney has three options. Generate new blockbusters (Frozen), reinvent forgotten classics (Pete’s Magic Dragon), or set up new tentpoles (Star Wars). While I believe all three are in the works, there seems to be a strong emphasis on creating forgotten classics with the goal of establishing new tentpoles.

Clear as mud, right?

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Basically, live-action remakes are low risk and high reward because fans already love the story. They’re also an easy (though expensive) way to reinvent old stories for young viewers, which will allow Walt’s legacy to stay relevant in the age of CGI. In short, it’s fish bait for your children. The craziest part? It’s working like magic.

So, what’s next for Disney?

According to US Weekly, “Other projects in the works from Disney, all set for release between 2017 and 2019, include A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay; Jungle Cruise, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; Dumbo, directed by Tim BurtonMaleficent 2, starring Angelina Jolie; and Jungle Book 2, a sequel to the just-released live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling‘s book, starring Neel Sethi,Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and Idris Elba.”

Notice how I put this in quotes because I was too lazy to research it for myself. Regardless, you can see that Disney is preparing for a tidal wave of live-action profit, that will hopefully position the company for years of financial gain and never-ending merchandise opportunitites.

Personally, I think this is excellent news. The possibilities are literally endless, folks! I am thrilled to see old Disney icons like Pongo, Belle, Marry Poppins, and Mowgli meet fresh, young eyes because these characters mean something to me. As they live on, so does a precious sliver of my childhood. Through these films, old dreams drift into the future. They are the Bing Bong to my Riley, the White Rabbit to my Alice.

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What are your thoughts on all of the remakes?

 

We NEED to Talk About the New Beauty and the Beast Trailer

In case you missed it, Disney released a trailer teaser for the new live-action Beauty and the Beast, which is code for “DROP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING AND WATCH IT RIGHT THIS SECOND.”

Sorry not sorry for the drama, but we’re reliving the birth of the Disney Renaissance, folks. Your undivided attention is a must. As a self-professed Disney princess enthusiast whose favorite film happens to be Beauty and the Beast, I’m basically on sensory overload. That being said, I’ve tried to catalogue my thoughts as coherently as possible! In this post, I’ll mostly be talking about my reaction the trailer, but for a more thorough rundown of the film itself check out The Disney Blog.

From the trailer, it appears we will be treated to a darker retelling – I expect somewhat similar to the 2016 The Jungle Book and less like the 2015 Cinderella. Personally, I’ve always been drawn to the gothic undertones of the story more than the glitz and glam of the Disney princess franchise, so obviously I am thrilled the trailer is more suspenseful than romantic. Here are a few other quick thoughts I had while watching (and re-watching) the clip.

First Thoughts

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  • Unlike the live-action Cinderella, I am ecstatic to see that (so far) the musical score remains true to 1991. We all know Alan Menken is gold, and if you don’t cry during the “Transformation” score you should probably post a listing for your missing heart.
  • Although I never had a single doubt, Emma Watson is perfect. Just perfect.
  • Cogsworth and Lumiere sound pretty much exactly like the original, and this news is just wonderful.
  • I think I stopped breathing for a full 10 seconds as the camera panned over the ballroom. So, when can I move in?
  • In the original film, the only portrait shown is the one Beast scratches, which shows his human self. In the new trailer, we are shown a different portrait with three figures. Could this hint at a long-awaited backstory for Adam?
  • I’m glad our first look at Belle is in the blue dress, not the gold dress. It seems trivial, but I’m a big advocate of blue-dress Belle. After all, she’s only in the gold dress for, what, an hour tops?

Hopes and Dreams

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  • We haven’t yet seen the Beast, and honestly I hope we don’t until the film. It’s good to leave something for the imagination, right?
  • If this resembles Beastly in any way, I’m going to break down in tears.
  • Although I’m not positive the musical aspect is going to fit into this retelling, I am still highly optimistic Emma Watson may sing a number or two.
  • It may be a stretch, but I would love to see a cameo or two from the original cast – Enchanted style.
  • The Beast’s roar sounds a little like a stalled lawn mower, but I don’t hate it. It reminds me of a cat-like purr, almost. After seeing The Jungle Book, I am very optimistic in a realistic, animalistic portrayal of the Beast.

Things I Wish We Had Seen

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  • I’m dying for a look at the costumes. While I am typically a stickler on reinvention, I adored the way Disney updated iconic outfits in Cinderella while staying true to the original.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but I’m dying for some stained glass.
  • Obviously it was just a teaser, but I can’t wait to see Gaston’s unanimated counterpart. I also hope that every inch of him is covered in hair. If you think I’m being creepy, here’s the song.

Things I Hated

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  • Ha! Seriously. Good one, guys.

So, fellow fans, what is your immediate reaction to the trailer?

Q&A: Buying Your First House

So, you want to a buy a house. Well, my friend, you’re in luck! In December, I bought my very first house. Even though it’s only been 6 weeks, I have loved every minute of it except for painting. I did not love that one bit. Anyway, since sharing the news, I’ve had lots of interested buyers ask me about the process. In response, I thought I would do a quick Q&A about the ins-and-outs of buying your first house!

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Me entering the astroturf threshold of my new house for the first time!

Am I an expert on home buying? LOL No. But I am 24 years old and (still) mostly clueless about the world, so I feel that makes me pretty relatable. Fair warning, dear reader: the home-buying process is hard. You will cry and yell and curse your piddly bank account on the regular. But in the end you will literally own property, and that’s pretty cool. So, let’s get started!

Q: What are the pros and cons to buying a house?

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A: On the plus side, a mortgage payment will typically be cheaper than renting an apartment of the same square footage. Unlike renting, you can own pretty much any pet, make major renovations, and potentially use the property for profit as a rental unit.

However, owning a house means paying for all repairs, entering a long-term contract, and paying a billion deposits for things like garbage, water, and so on. It also means routine maintenance, like mowing the grass.

Q: Can you afford to buy a house?

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A: The answer might surprise you! Mortgages are actually very affordable, but the tricky part is clearing the down payment. As a first time homebuyer, you’ll be expected to pay 5% of the sale price upfront. If you can afford the down payment, chances are you will no problem once the house is actually purchased.

Q: Should you get a realtor?

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A: Depends. I had a realtor, and I thought it made the process way easier. A realtor is basically like a spirit guide with really organized binders. However, it’s possible you may not get as good of a deal on your house as the seller will pay your realtor fees. For a first-time buyer, I’d use a realtor. But remember! They will probably advocate a quick bidding process and/or discourage you from negotiating when you absolutely should. As long as you go in prepared, you’ll be fine!

Q: How much should you spend on a house?

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A: While you can always take on roommates to help pay the mortgage, it’s critical that you are able to afford the house on your own if you’re the only one on the deed. For help with the specifics, check out Zillow’s mortgage calculator. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great place to start!

To speed up the process, you can apply for preapproval at your bank. Basically, this is just your bank’s way of saying, “Yeah, as long as you find a house in this price range we’ll spot you.” Remember: Your bank will approve you for a number MUCH higher than what you can afford because they profit from your inability to pay through interest. That being said, look for houses BELOW your preapproval price unless you just like being broke.

Q: What can you expect while touring homes?

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A: It’s best to establish a few deal-breakers to save yourself from touring 600 homes any given weekend. My must-haves were a bathtub, garage, and a fireplace. You’d be surprised how many options that eliminated!

After you tour one or two homes, they will slowly begin to blend together. For that reason, takes notes at each house on the things you love and hate. You may spend a little longer at each house, but you will thank yourself later. Trust me.

Q: You found a house, now what?

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A: You did some shopping and found a home you’d like to bid on. When entering negotiations for the price of a home, there is one guiding question to ask yourself: Would you rather have a lower monthly payment or more money upfront?

If the answer is a lower monthly payment, you will want to lower the sale price of the house. If you’d rather have more money upfront for repairs and/or to help with the down payment, you will ask the buyer to contribute more in closing costs instead of reducing the sale price. In the end, it’s all the same money. But do you want it now or later?

Q: Is it a good time to buy?

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A: Winter is typically the best season for buying a house because the majority of homes are bought in the spring/summer. This means you are competing with fewer potential buyers for your house. However, purchasing a house in the winter means you could be juggling the holidays with packing (which totally sucks) and/or doing all of your decorating in the dark because the sun basically sets at noon. Also it’s really cold.

Q: What happens after a seller accepts my offer?

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A: Paperwork. So. Much. Paperwork. You can try to read everything thoroughly, but if you don’t understand it don’t feel dumb because literally no one does. Not even your dad. The most important thing to do is make sure your closing costs, repair cap, and sale price match on ALL documents. If these numbers align, you’re (probably) in the clear.

Q: What should I expect at my closing?

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A: Once all negotiations are through and your bank approves the loan, your loan officer will set up a meeting with the title company. There, you will sign more papers until your hand literally stops. If you have a cool realtor, you might also get a goody basket.

Some people say that you should expect to spend a few hours at your closing, but mine only took about 45 minutes. I brought my mom along for good measure since I am buying the house alone, and it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes!

Q: What if I don’t like my house after I buy it?

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A: Sell it, rent it, and re-evaluate your decision-making skills.

Hopefully this has been a helpful start to your home-buying journey! I know how crazy and confusing the process can be, so if you have additional questions please feel free to ask away below! Good luck, and happy hunting!

Short Story: Darwin’s Funeral

In case I have not yet shared the good news on As Told by Laura, last month I was honored to win second place in a local writing competition for one of my short stories! Although the competition did not include publication, I thought it might fun to share the story on my blog for those of you who might be interested in a quick read.

Typically I stick to short, lighthearted posts, so please bear with me as we try something a little different today. Also, a quick friendly reminder! If you enjoy my writing, you are always welcome to purchase a copy of my novel. Yes, that is my only shameless plug (for today). I promise! Now, without further ado, I give you “Darwin’s Funeral”.

Enjoy!

——————–

Darwin's Funeral

The goldfish swam to the water’s surface and consumed three round pellets one by one. Myra watched in wonder as the fish ate his breakfast, entirely unaware of her towering presence. Despite her short stature, Myra looked like a giant through the tank’s warped glass. Breakfast proceeded in the same way every day at eight o’clock sharp. Never a minute early or a second late.

Myra’s sister never understood the excitement.

“Don’t you ever get sick of watching that fish eat?” Kate ripped open a new box of Pop-Tarts and grabbed a bottle of orange juice from the fridge. “You do realize that he eats the same number of pellets every day, right? Nothing really changes.”

Myra stared at the goldfish as he darted through a plastic neon tunnel.

“Myra, I’m talking to you.”

Kate’s voice was sharp and frustrated, but her sister never noticed things like that. She tossed breakfast and a package of crackers into their backpacks while Myra continued to ignore her.

Myra.

“What?” she asked, uninterested.

“What is the big deal with that fish? It’s so boring. Do you seriously have nothing better to do?”

Myra swirled her finger in the water, and the fish hurried up to greet her.

“His name is Darwin.”

“I don’t care what his name is,” Kate snapped as she headed towards the door. “He doesn’t do anything. And if you don’t hurry up, I’m going to leave you here. I can’t be late to school again because of that stupid fish.”

She left Myra in the kitchen to marvel at Darwin’s uneventful life and boarded the bus alone. Kate fell into the first open seat and whipped out her iPod. With eyes closed, she nestled into the rigid seat. She didn’t worry about unfinished homework or her upcoming biology test, despite a total lack of preparation. There was only Freddie Mercury and a sweet squealing guitar.

Moments later, the bus lurched forward. Kate opened her eyes. Myra had taken a seat by herself a few rows ahead, like usual. Sprawled beside Myra was her dearest companion, a pristine copy of Quantum Mechanics: Volume IV. Myra had smiled when the package arrived from Amazon, signaling an emotional high. Kennedy High didn’t offer quantum mechanics, as most students were lucky to pass geometry. The complex workings of science were one of Myra’s many interests and, really, her truest vice.

“Quantum mechanics?” Jeremy Doyle asked, reaching over the seat and snatching up Myra’s book. Overly cruel and handsome, Jeremy carried out his daily round of torture with a gorgeous grin. “Oh, I get it. You’re just so much smarter than the rest of us, right?”

Annoyed, Myra stared into the empty seat.

“I thought she was just a retard,” teased Jeremy’s girlfriend, who whispered just loud enough for everyone to hear. Jeremy leaned across the aisle to plant a kiss on her bronze cheek. His steel eyes lit up at the sound of laughter.

“Well? Which is it? Are you a genius or a retard?” Jeremy asked, swinging the book in front of Myra like a dog. A few kids shifted uncomfortably in their seats, but the rest were simply trying not to laugh too loudly.

Jeremy’s stunt grew awkward when Myra didn’t respond.

“I guess she’s a mute, too.” He slid her book under the seat and launched it towards the back of the bus. “I knew you were just a retard.”

Kate watched quietly as usual. Bullies were part of Myra’s morning ritual, like Darwin’s breakfast. Neither could remember what unintelligent joke Jeremy cracked yesterday or the day before, much like Kate couldn’t remember what cereal she had for breakfast.

In the beginning, there was guilt. Kate used to cry whenever she left Myra to fend for herself. But as days slipped into years, her conscience shrunk. Kate really didn’t know whether Myra understood betrayal, but not once in seventeen years had she seen her sister cry. Years ago, Myra had become a sort of mysterious robot in her mind. Easily managed, but never understood.

After the bus emptied, Myra walked to the back of the bus to collect her book. Her sister had already left. Kate slept through first period and failed a biology test in second, focusing instead on her best friend’s upcoming sweet sixteen. After a deafening lecture on molecular structure before lunch, Kate caught up with her friends near the back of the cafeteria.

Kate lowered herself onto the empty seat across from her best friend, Kyla. She and Kyla had shared at least three classes for the past two years. Despite opposite personalities, close contact made them friends. As soon as she sat down, Kyla slid a folded, paper invitation across the table. If possible, Kyla’s box-dyed hair seemed even darker than yesterday.

“Whoa, an invitation. What is this, second grade?” Kate asked, turning the paper over between her skinny fingers. She crammed the invitation into her already full backpack.

“I know it’s lame, but my mom made me take them to school,” Kyla apologized while taking a swig of her Diet Coke. “She’ll be mad if I come home with all twenty invitations tonight. I know I’ve told you about the party like a hundred times, but I just want to make sure you’re coming. It starts at eight.”

Kate nodded yes, her mouth stuffed with mushy cafeteria food. While Kyla rambled on about her new dress, Andy plopped down beside her with three slices of pepperoni pizza. Every few seconds he shook the hair out of his face, revealing two warm, chocolaty eyes.

“Au naturale,” Andy crooned in a French accent, pointing to Kyla’s barren face. “I like it.”

“Don’t make fun of me!” she squealed, punching him on the arm. “I was running late this morning. I didn’t have time to put on makeup. Geez.”

“I’m not making fun of you!” Andy smiled. “I genuinely like it.”

Kyla’s cheeks burned red as she busied herself with dessert.

“Thanks,” she muttered, nonchalant.

There was an awkward silence as Kyla, the conversation ringleader, scraped the bottom of her pudding cup. Kate texted her boyfriend underneath the table while Andy slathered his pizza in ranch dressing.

“Does she eat alone every day?”

Kate followed Andy’s gaze over to Myra. Her lazy ponytail swung close to her food, and a baggy T-shirt concealed her feminine frame. She read between bites.

“She probably likes eating alone,” Kyla offered, spinning around to join the conversation. “Otherwise she would find some friends to sit with, right? Besides, I never see her talking to anyone. Like ever. Maybe she’s just weird or anti-social, or something.”

Kate nodded in agreement. Suddenly her hunger disappeared.

***

   After the lunch bell rang, Kate dodged the crowds and landed in Evan’s arms. Her father never did approve of Evan, as he was a senior and “too experienced”. At school they could be together, despite the scowls of nearby teachers. Evan pushed Kate up against the lockers. He stole a hot kiss while running his fingers through her straight hair.

“How was class?” Kate asked with arms locked around Evan’s neck.

“You kidding me? I hate this place. The only reason I come is to see you.” He stole another kiss. “Too bad you’re such a goody-two-shoes. If you skip class with me tomorrow, we could have a lot of fun. My parents are gone this weekend, you know.”

“I’m not a goody-two-shoes.” Kate slapped his chest. “If I skip school one more time Principal Wheatley will call my dad again. I’m pretty sure he’d rather have a crack whore for a daughter than a high-school drop-out.”

As Evan’s lips traced her jaw, a familiar face appeared out of nowhere.

“Kate?” Myra asked, oblivious to Evan’s demanding hormones.

Kate shoved Evan off of her and fumbled to smooth down her hair.

“Yeah?” she asked after clearing her throat.

“Are you getting a ride from your friends or are you riding the bus today?”

“Bus.”

“Okay. I left my house key on my desk, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get inside.” Myra wrung her hands together nervously. “If Darwin doesn’t eat at five precisely, it will take twenty-one days to reestablish his habitual nature. He has been on the same feeding cycle for three years.”

“Uh-huh,” Kate replied while dodging Evan’s confused stare.

“So you’ll be there?”

“Yes, I’ll be there.”

“Darwin can eat at five?”

“I said yes.”

“Are you positive?”

Kate gritted her teeth.

Yes.”

“Okay. That’s all.”

With no warm goodbye, Myra turned and left. Her half-tucked shirt drew plenty of snickers, but she didn’t notice. Evan’s gaze stayed on Myra, the one-woman show of Kennedy High School. “Who ‘s Darwin? Do you even know that girl?”

Kate shrugged.

“She’s just some kid on my bus.” She felt bad keeping Myra a secret, but never badly enough to be honest. “Anyway, I have to go. Another tardy in Mrs. Manning’s class, and I’ve got a detention.” She wrestled free from his embrace and vanished in the crowd. Kate caught up to Myra and grabbed her by the shirt, leading her around the corner by a broken vending machine.

“Hey, you okay? What’s going on?”

Despite Kate’s calm voice, Myra tried to squeeze out the anxiety by hugging herself tightly.

“I’m just afraid you won’t be there after school. Then I’ll be locked out, and my whole schedule will change. Darwin’s whole schedule will change. I would have to call Dad, and he would be so mad that I forgot my house key.”

“Myra, you know that Dad wouldn’t be mad. Every time you think he’s going to be furious about something, he isn’t even upset. Am I right?”

Myra nodded slightly.

“I promise I will be there, alright? Don’t worry about it.”

Kate laid a hand on Myra, and she winced. Without another word Myra ran off to class. She was always on-time. Never a minute early or a second late.

***

The day marched on uneventfully, and Kate smiled at the thought of being one day closer to summer. Myra boarded the bus with a slight grin, which amazed Kate. Even though she suffered hell at school, Myra always found joy at the sight of the bus. The bus meant going home, and going home meant seeing Darwin.

The bus rolled to a stop in their neighborhood, and the sisters exited separately. After they were far away from the other riders, Kate jogged up to Myra.

“How was school today?”

“Same as always,” she replied without enthusiasm, quickening her pace to greet Darwin. Myra hustled down the long driveway and left Kate walking alone.

Myra threw down her backpack, ran over to the tank, and resumed exactly where she had left off that morning. Kate stepped in a few minutes later. As the bug-eyed fish wiggled up to the surface, Myra smiled at him through the glass. She dipped her fingertip into the tank, and Darwin nibbled lightly on her skin. Unamused by the spectacle, Kate went upstairs to watch TV and find a suitable outfit for Kyla’s party. After twenty minutes or so, she could hear Myra humming to herself through the paper-thin wall they shared.

“Can you cut it out?” Kate yelled. “I can’t hear my show.”

The humming stopped.

Ghost Hunters resumed as Kate tossed countless shirts on her closet floor. Finally she stumbled upon a tattered black dress she bought last year. Short and ragged, the dress had an appealing edge. Ripping off her fitted shirt and skinny jeans, she wiggled between the layers of tight fabric. Suddenly, the high-pitched squeal of some obnoxious classical instrument pierced through the wall.

“Myra!” Kate yelled with her head stuck halfway in the dress. “Turn it down!”

The dress hardly fit, but she wasn’t ready to accept defeat. The shrill note carried on forever and sounded too much like finely-tuned nails on a chalkboard. After stretching the tiny lace over her curvy hips, Kate marched down the hall and beat on the door.

Myra!”

Her sister peeked through the open crack, humming along with the melody.

“Yes?” she asked innocently.

“I need you to turn. It. Down. I’m trying to do my homework,” Kate lied.

“Did you know that multiple studies suggest listening to classical music while studying can actually improve cognitive performance by a considerable amount?” Myra grinned to herself, like she was proud to have a stake in the discovery.

“That’s great, but you play the same song over and over every day. Look, I get that you like classical music and all. Good for you. I hate it. Please just turn it down.”

“Not everyone can comprehend the abstract movements behind the notes,” Myra conceded, nodding her head along with the melody. “I forgive you.”

Her words stung, but Kate shrugged it off with a familiar numbness. Myra didn’t mean it. She never did. Kate walked back to her room after Myra agreed to turn down the Beethoven. The quiet lasted for eight whole minutes, a new record.

***

“So, Dad,” Kate began, twirling spaghetti onto her fork. “I got all of my homework done today. Aren’t you proud?”

“That’s great, sweetie,” Paul said with a tired smile. Work often left him exhausted by dinner, but he did his best not to show it. He ran a calloused hand over his balding head before picking up his fork.

“I also cleaned my room. You were right. It was getting pretty messy.”

Paul glanced up. With his index finger, he perched his round glasses up high on the bridge of his crooked nose. He stared down at his youngest daughter.

“What? What do you want?”

Kate pretended to be taken aback. Her hair flew forward dramatically as she laid a hand over her heart. Paul seemed unamused, but Kate pressed on.

“Can’t a girl brag on herself a little these days?”

Paul’s fork clattered as it hit the plate.

“What do you want?”

“Okay, so Kyla is having this huge party on Friday, right?”

Myra shoveled food into her mouth like a bulldozer. Paul folded his hands on the table.

“Kyla?” he asked. “Isn’t she that little blonde you’re always running around with? The one who wears her sweaters too tight?”

“Technically she’s a brunette now, and her sweaters are not too tight,” Kate corrected. “Anyway, her sixteenth birthday is on Friday, and I have to be at the party. I sort of already promised her I would help set up. She’s going to be so disappointed if I don’t go.”

Paul calmly began eating again, glancing up from time to time at Kate.

“Who will be there?”

Kate’s stomach did summersaults while she fumbled over her spoon.

“You know, just my usual friends from school.”

“Is Evan going to be there?”

As a cop, Paul interrogated witnesses for a living. There was no lie he couldn’t spot.

“Maybe, if he can make it.” Kate shrugged casually with a sugary smile. “Well, he might be out of town so he probably won’t even be able to go.”

Her father nodded to himself while gnawing on some bread. Myra glanced up occasionally, absorbing the scene like an anthropologist in the field. After a few seconds, she grew bored with their conversation and returned to her plate of spaghetti.

“I know you hate Evan, but you just have to give him a chance! He is really sweet and mature, once you get to know him. You just haven’t been around him enough, Daddy. If you let me go to this party, I’ll never ask you for anything ever again! I swear on my life.”

Their father chewed and chewed on his garlic toast. Kate squirmed in her seat. Time seemed to stop altogether. After an eternity, a devilish smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.

“Alright. You can go,” he announced.

Kate’s arms flew around his neck as she planted a sloppy wet kiss on his shiny forehead.

“You are the best, Dad.”

Paul stood up from the table to fetch a second helping.

“That is, you can go if you take Myra.”

Kate’s jaw dropped. “What?”

Myra’s head snapped up at the sound of her name. She hunched down to scoop the last bite into her mouth before guzzling down a glass of milk.

“Dad, that’s not fair! Do you have any idea what people would say if I brought Myra?”

“I’m sorry, but if you want to go you have to take your sister. It isn’t fair that you get to go out on Friday while she sits at home reading books up in her room.”

“But she likes doing that crap!” Kate yelled back.

“Kathryn!” her father snapped, slamming down his plate for emphasis. “Watch your mouth. I’m not going to discuss this anymore. You can take it or leave it.”

That’s not even a bad word!” Kate cried, desperate.

She pleaded her case over and over while Paul scrubbed away at a pile of suds-soaked dishes. His appetite for seconds disappeared, thanks to Kate’s persistent whining.

“Dad, please! Myra doesn’t even want to go to this stupid party. Right, Myra? She likes being alone.”

All eyes were on Myra. She moved freely under the tension that weighed down the room. Seemingly unconcerned, she grabbed a Popsicle from the freezer and bit off the top.

“Myra, wouldn’t you rather stay home?” Kate pushed.

Myra didn’t have an opportunity to respond.

“You two can work it,” Paul announced, throwing down a dirty towel. “You’ve got a few days.”

He shuffled over to the ripped couch and summoned a recorded episode of NCIS. Myra joined him. The conversation died along with Kate’s optimism.

***

   The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. Kate made her way over to the trash can and spotted Myra on the way. With her nose buried in the spine of a book, she moved briskly out of the cafeteria and toward the flooded hallway. Kate ran after her.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a second?”

Myra considered. “Okay, as long as I’m not late.” She cradled the book in her backpack and followed Kate around the corner to an empty bathroom. “Do you need something?”

“Look, about the party on Friday. I’m sorry if I freaked out last night or said anything mean. You know I didn’t mean it.” Her voice bounced off of the pink tiles.

“I know,” Myra answered matter-of-fact. “Dad said you’re still grieving over Mom.”

A hard lump forced its way into Kate’s throat.

“No I’m not. She died like five years ago.” She glanced in the mirror, embarrassed by her flushed cheeks. “Look, I’m not here to talk about Mom. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings last night, but I know parties aren’t your thing. There will be tons of people, loud music, and hopefully some booze. You would hate it. Trust me.”

Myra looked up at the ceiling while she mechanically considered the words. Myra shuffled back and forth on her feet, Kate watching in the mirror all the while. On the outside, they looked so similar. Myra had their mother’s mouth, but otherwise they could have passed for twins.

“It’s not fair,” Myra finally said.

“What’s not fair? That I get to go to the party? If we don’t work something out soon, there’s a good chance I won’t be going. You heard Dad.”

Myra lowered her gaze.

“No, that you have people to sit with.”

Kate’s mind froze, reaching for words that simply weren’t there. With three minutes until the next bell, Myra grabbed her bag and abandoned Kate in the bathroom.

***

   Friday came quickly, and Kate had decided to attend Kyla’s party. With no compromise from Myra, she laid out the tight-fitting black dress. On the bus ride home, Kate circled her eyes with dark liner and dabbed on bright red lipstick. She needed to leave before Paul got home from work. At best, she would be grounded for sneaking out. At worst, her dad might crash Kyla’s party. Still, it was worth the gamble.

As the bus neared home, Kate listed off everything she would need for the night – mainly clothes, a curling iron, jewelry, and some heels. The bus lurched to a halt, and the sisters began their silent march toward the house. Once the bus had pulled away, Kate sucked Myra into idle conversation that lasted until their feet found the porch.

Once inside, Myra threw her things on the floor and raced over to Darwin’s tank. But something wasn’t right. Kate could tell. From far across the room, she spotted a gold silhouette floating on the water’s edge. An unspeakable heaviness pushed down on the room. Kate’s breath caught in her lungs, paralyzed like her mind. From the hallway, Kate waited for Myra to shatter the silence. Soon she would talk about the life-span of goldfish, or maybe discuss the logical factors in Darwin’s demise.

But she didn’t.

Kate watched in shock as Myra displayed the emotions doctors claimed she would never feel.

“Why, Kate?” Myra’s shoulders began to shudder. “I did everything right. I followed the instructions perfectly. I took exceptional care of him.”

The air left her body in panicked bursts.

“What went wrong?” she asked shakily. “I don’t understand, Kate. I don’t understand.”

She laid down her backpack and took a few steps closer. The room was silent. The silence was deafening and the sorrow suffocating. Without warning, Myra broke.

“It doesn’t make sense!” she shouted at the top of her lungs, slamming her fists slamming down beside Darwin. “I did everything right! Everything!”

Her eyes were wild with hurt and confusion. Despite dry eyes, Myra’s spirit had already drowned with Darwin. She crumbled onto the white linoleum and rocked softly on bended knees.

“I cared for him,” she whispered. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Kate’s heart knocked hard against her ribs. Myra had never acted this way before, not once. It was terrifying and new, but somehow the pain made her seem more real. More human.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Myra said again.

“Not everything has to,” Kate whispered, laying a hand over her back. Myra didn’t shudder under the touch. “Things don’t always make sense,” Kate said, knowing Myra still wouldn’t understand.

With her sister shrunken on the kitchen floor, Kate grabbed a Ziploc bag and scooped out the slippery corpse. Without a word, Kate offered her hand to Myra and pulled her off of the ground. Two sets of watery eyes glinted in the kitchen light.

“Come with me.”

Kate led Myra into the guest bathroom. They hovered around the porcelain toilet, wedged between the countertop and shower. Though Myra had returned to her usual quiet, things were not the same. Maybe they would never be the same again.

“Do you want to say something?”

Myra nodded no. Her silence served as an understated farewell, and the water washed Darwin away. They stood there together for quite some time, looking into the empty toilet.

“You’ll be late for your party,” Myra said at last.

It was an observation, not a concern.

“I wasn’t planning on going.”

Kate didn’t have to understand Myra to understand her pain. It was there, at Darwin’s funeral, that autism ceased to exist.

9 Signs You’re in a Long-Term Relationship, As Told by Tina Fey

1. Sweatpants Are Considered Date Clothes…

Goodbye, sundress. Hello, Snuggie!

2. …Because Netflix IS a Date

Given that the television is actually the third member of your relationship trifecta, it only makes sense.

3. You cut the crap.

Oh, you want to drive cross-country in a remodeled Volkswagen to observe the real America? No. We’re not doing that. Why are you so weird?

4. Farting.

All. The. Time.

5. You deal with each other’s weirdness.

Enough said.

6. Illness is no longer a good excuse not to hang out.

It’s not true love if you don’t French kiss strep.

7. You’ve basically forgotten how to be single.

I could totally snag another lover. I have all the flirts.

8. You order for each other when you’re out to eat.

Except sometimes bae asks what you want to eat and you say “I don’t care” and then he orders the WRONG THING.

9. Despite everything, you’re happier than you’ve ever been.

Suddenly unshaven legs and Funyun-breath look like happily ever after.