Thanksgiving Non-Planning

I haven’t made my Thanksgiving meal plan yet. I may still have some black beans left over. I may make the Roasted Chickpea and Broccoli Burrito I want to try from Thug Kitchen. I will probably pick up a store-made pumpkin pie and some whipped cream as a special treat to myself. But the only turkey I’ll eat will be the deli meat I got for sandwiches this week.

As you can tell, I am not celebrating Thanksgiving. Also won’t be celebrating Christmas. It’s very likely I’ll give New Year’s Eve a pass. 

I just don’t really do holidays anymore. And I don’t miss them.

I know for most people this is a kind of sacrilege. I’m not saying it’ll be this way forever. But right now, what I want more than anything isn’t to have a bunch of people cook a lot of food and come together to eat it. What I want more than anything is a little break, a little quiet, a little time to catch up. Money is tight, time is tighter, and the opportunity to spend a little time alone with my thoughts, the projects I need to catch up on, and my Netflix queue is pretty great. 

It’s not that I don’t miss my family. But I can’t obsess about it. I’ve missed so many holidays over the years because they’re far away and the time and money just aren’t there to make the trip. The last time I was at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving was 2006. That came during a brief stretch from 2004-2006 when I actually went home for Thanksgiving. During my 7 years away at school I only went home for Thanksgiving once. My best estimate is that I’ve had 4 Thanksgivings with my family in the past 18 years. Saying I’m used to it is an understatement.

The first year I had Thanksgiving all by myself, the anticipation of knowing I’d be alone wasn’t great. But the actual day was okay. It was just a day. It only has the power you give it.

This week I will clean my house and catch up on my writing and sleep in and go out on a date and catch a matinee. I will slow down my life. I will let things be quiet and let myself appreciate the stillness. 

Honestly, I’ve been to other people’s Thanksgivings before and it’s just not where I want to be. It’s just not the same and I’d much rather enjoy my own day my own way than try to get a knockoff version of the holiday with someone else’s family and someone else’s traditions. 

I haven’t missed any of the holidays, actually. I just kind of stopped celebrating them bit by bit. Didn’t go to fireworks for the 4th. Didn’t get Easter baskets for the kids. Didn’t go on a date for Valentine’s Day. Didn’t do a barbecue on Memorial Day. This may all sound sad, but it really doesn’t feel that way. It feels like a well earned break. Some time off from these traditions that tend to get so bound up in to-do lists and forced togetherness. 

I do a little Christmas for the kids, and we’ll do it again this year. (Although as someone who lives an entirely secular life, I do it mostly because they’re too little to really understand why we wouldn’t celebrate it, especially when their extended family does.) It’ll probably be a few days before with explanations about Santa’s tweaked schedule, but otherwise a repeat of last year’s stripped down version

I won’t say I never get a little sad. After all, this week is the beginning of “the dark times.” That period from Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day when it’s hardest to be single and far from family. And lucky me, that period also includes my birthday, so that makes 5 holidays in short succession. But this year when I realized the dark times were upon us, I didn’t feel that sense of dread that I had last year. 

A lot has changed in my head in the last year, even though my circumstances are pretty similar. Last year I felt restless and anxious. There was a lot of pondering and yearning. This year… I don’t know, I guess I’ve settled in. I’m not starting the dark times feeling all woe is me because I don’t have a serious relationship. I have no expectation of getting one any time soon, whereas last year I was still stuck in that “why not me” feeling. 

And maybe I’m actually getting myself pulled out of the real dark times. That new phase really is here, it really did show up, and I really have gotten my brain straight. It feels good. So yeah, I’ll take my week and I’ll spend much of it in my pajamas and I’m pretty happy about that.

Best Books of 2015

It was a good year. A really solid year. I am on my way to setting a new record for # of books read in a single year, so making a Best List presented a bigger challenge than usual. In the end, my Top 5 was relatively easy. Just like last year, I knew while I was reading them that they would be here. Sometimes you just know. I actually struggled the most with the rest of the list and I still feel guilty over all the books not included. 

My Top 5 are all pretty damn heavy, I won’t lie. That’s the kind of book that tends to affect me and settle down inside my bones. Honestly, it’s not until you get out of the top 10 that you’ll find lighter offerings because I naturally gravitate towards dark and complex books. With that said, 4 of my top 20 are absolutely delightful and heartwarming and wonderful, so I’m not fully gone. Promise. There really is something here for everyone. It’s been a really good year.

Beyond breaking these down into 1-5, 6-10, and 11-20, I couldn’t do any additional ranking so please take them in Alphabetical order within their chunk. These are only 2015 releases, I’ll cover a broader look at books in a later post.

Top 5

 Best Books of 2015 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It should not be a surprise to see this in my Top 5. I read it in January and immediately declared it the best book I would read this year. Maybe someday I will have the strength to re-read it and see if I can cement it on my all-time list. I’ve been a huge advocate for it, and it’s always wonderful when you see a book you tell everyone to read get the kind of success this book has had. It is not your typical giant book, it is not your typical prizewinner, it is not trying to be cerebral, this book is just feelings, lots and lots of feelings, high melodrama. If horrible things happening to people is too much for you, you may want to skip it, because it turns the dial up to 11 on the horrific and the sublime. Friendship, trauma, healing, love, it’s all there.

Between the World and Me Best Books of 2015 by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is rare for nonfiction to show up at the top of my list, but this book is so important, so affecting, so unforgettable that it demands nothing else. Everything you’ve heard about it is true. It is not possible to over-hype this book because it delivers so thoroughly. It is wise and deep and speaks truths that we all need to hear about race in the US today.

 Best Books of 2015Fifteen Dogs Best Books of 2015 by Andre Alexis is probably the biggest underdog on this list (though it recently won a big Canadian prize, and I’m so happy for it!) though I think it has great mass appeal. The titular 15 dogs are given human consciousness, and that alone should be enough to get you hooked. This is one of those books that keeps you on the edge of your seat with a quick and fascinating plot, gets you all attached to its characters, and at the same time speaks volumes about what it means to be human. An amazing and underappreciated book that deserves your attention.

 Best Books of 2015The Fishermen Best Books of 2015 by Chigozie Obioma. After multiple Rioters talked it up, I finally picked up this book on audio. No one warned me. I wanted to listen to this book constantly but I also dreaded turning it on because I worried so much about what was going to happen next. It’s very hard to talk about it without spoiling, so I won’t add any more detail. Needless to say, this book about four brothers in Nigeria will leave you absolutely floored. We’re talking Shakespearean level drama. I cannot believe this is a debut novel. I also cannot get it out of my head.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015The Story of the Lost Child Best Books of 2015 by Elena Ferrante. This book gets a very unfair advantage since I read it shortly after devouring the three previous books in the Neapolitan series. So it gets to ride all my accrued love for those books and for the author, who writes under a pseudonym and whose real identity is unknown. I have probably recommended these books more than any others this year and I will keep doing it. Outside of book nerd land, I don’t know that Ferrante has caught on all the way, but you really should get on board. You will not regret it. These books are absolutely amazing, and like many of the other books on this list, they’re incredibly readable, piled high with plot, and have characters that you’ll never forget. 



Daughters Unto Devils Best Books of 2015 by Amy Lukavics. Don’t underestimate Young Adult novels. This YA horror is one of the most frightening, creepy books I have ever read. It is scarier than most adult horror. It is a masterclass in horror. It’s basically a kind of Little House on the Prairie meets Rosemary’s Baby, with a family living on the frontier, literally getting cabin fever, possibly being haunted by demons, etc. Just read it. But maybe not at night.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015In the Country Best Books of 2015 by Mia Alvar. A short story collection on my top 10! Will wonders never cease? I read some great story collections this year, but this one is by far my favorite. There is not a weak one in the bunch and it’s so full of emotion. Many of the stories have that classic short story moral dilemma, but there is so much complexity in each brief tale. The stories are about Filipino families, those living in the Philippines and those who have emigrated to the US or to the Middle East. These are not the kinds of stories you get to hear very often, and that’s exactly why you should read it. (Also because the writing is so good I can’t even.)

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015The Library at Mount Char Best Books of 2015 by Scott Hawkins. Another one I picked up based on Rioter buzz. I tend to be cautious about Fantasy,  but this really isn’t Fantasy as much as it is every single genre all together. This book is stuffed to the gills with mythology and surrealism and horror and everything else you can possibly think of. And yet it works. It works beautifully. There is high and low, beautiful and horrible. But there’s also cops and ghosts and reincarnation and swat teams and pretty much anything else you can think of. This book will blow your mind in the best way.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015More Happy Than Not Best Books of 2015 by Adam Silvera. When I read this YA novel, I really liked it. But then something happened. I couldn’t shake it. It stayed in my head. It did not leave. And it remains the one that I come back to in a year where I read some incredibly strong YA. This book will give you so many feelings. Aaron is a poor brown kid in the projects. Thomas is his new friend. And as they become inseparable you start to wonder, “Is Thomas maybe…” and then I will not spoil a thing. But this is a great book dealing with identity, LGBT youth, and much, much more. 

The Whites Best Books of 2015 by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt). I love me some Richard Price. He’s one of the best crime writers we have, arguably the best. And this book was his attempt to write something lighter, faster, and more pulpy. It didn’t work. It became a Richard Price book, sprawling and epic, yet intimate and tight, showing crime from a variety of different angles. The parallel narratives are particularly strong, one of his best, and his best is really, really good.



 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Dumplin’ Best Books of 2015by Julie Murphy. I read it in a frenzy and immediately told most of my friends who read a lot of YA to read it immediately. Dumplin’ is a contemporary YA with a lot of what you’d expect: struggles with friends, with family, with romance, with identity. What separates it is a heroine with a vibrant voice who also happens to be fat. She knows she’s fat, she knows how other people look at her, and she loves herself anyway. Being in the presence of Willowdean is a joy.

Eden West Best Books of 2015 by Pete Haumann. I’d never read Haumann before, but after this book I looked into him and wasn’t surprised to learn that he’d written one of the seminal YA novels on religion and faith. Eden  Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015West is also about those topics, and honestly I think it can be marketed just as easily to adult as teen audiences, I don’t really know where I’d personally categorize it. The story follows a young man growing up in a cult whose life is changed when he meets a local girl while he’s walking their borders. There are lots of cult stories. It’s kind of a thing. I read at least 3 just this year. This one had so much truth and it’s rare to find a book that can respect its character’s faith in something that is objectively terrible to an outsider.

Fates and Furies Best Books of 2015 by Lauren Groff. It’s one of the big books of the year, you’ve probably seen it and heard about it by now. It’s a book that demands discussion, and I found it incredibly intriguing and interesting. I love books that mess with your expectations and this one completely does. It’s an exercise in structure and character that is also incredibly satisfying, a rare combination. A warning: you have to give this book more time than you usually would. You’ve got to get at least halfway before you really know what you’re getting into.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Kitchens of the Great Midwest Best Books of 2015 by J. Ryan Stradal. I don’t read a lot of happy books, as I mentioned. Kitchens is a book that manages to be happy AND hit my dark and complex sweet spot. It’s one of those books of connected stories, a difficult task, but one Stradahl does better than anyone I can remember off hand. All his characters feel real. And reading his book reminds you how heavy our modern fiction is with city people, how rarely we depict the people who make up most of our country. It’s also great for all you foodies out there.

The Sellout Best Books of 2015 by Paul Beatty is a dark, biting satire dealing primarily with race. Even when it seems fun or jaunty, there’s always some wise darkness just around the corner. You cannot relax with this book. It does not let you get comfortable. It makes you judge characters then makes you anxious about judging them. It is some of the strongest satire I’ve seen in years and we really need more books like this in the world.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Best Books of 2015 by Becky Albertalli. I often read a book not knowing the author’s name due to the formatting on electronic galleys. I was convinced this book was written by a young gay man, one who’d recently been to high school and lived through these kinds of experiences. But no, Becky Albertalli was never a teenage boy. How she creates Simon and makes him so full I don’t know, but I’d love to ask. This is straight up contemporary YA, but it’s so perfectly done that it should be a model for the genre.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Sorcerer to the Crown Best Books of 2015 by Zen Cho. The canon has a problem. It’s all white authors and white characters. And then you get into genre fiction and you find the legacy continuing despite the world having changed. Fantasy, science-fiction, historical fiction, it can be hard to find books by authors of color with characters of color. Luckily now you have this book, which is kind of like if Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a lot less brooding and had a lot less white people. So basically, it’s AWESOME. It’s also hella feminist (another problem you run into) and witty and delightful and really, why haven’t you read it yet? (I don’t even like Fantasy and I totally dug it.)

Unfinished Business Best Books of 2015 by Anne-Marie Slaughter. The only book on work-life balance I have ever liked. The only one I’ve ever read where I nodded my head and said, “Yes, yes, this is exactly it.” I hate the articles, the panels, the same discussions over and over again without anyone saying what the real problem is and what most people face every day. I just want to get rid of everyone talking about these issues and instead have us all read this book. Give it to your boss, give it to your company’s CEO, give it to the working women and men in your life. It needs to be read.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Welcome to Braggsville Best Books of 2015 by T. Geronimo Johnson. At first you think this book is about being that kid who never fit in in a small Southern town and going to college and finding your people. But that’s just the intro. This book has much more to say and it’s not going to beat around the bush. It’s going to give you crazy plot twists, commentary on race and media, and a distinctive voice that stays with you. Amazing stuff, perhaps the book I’ve read that most reminds me of Junot Diaz’s Oscar Wao.


Honorable Mentions

A God in Ruins Best Books of 2015by Kate Atkinson. A companion of sorts to Life After Life, but I liked it better. Gutsy and ambitious.

Idyll Threatsl Best Books of 2015 by Stephanie Gayle. Fantastic new mystery series about a closeted cop who moves to a small town.

Lost Canyon Best Books of 2015by Nina Revoyr. Deliverance for the modern age, this time featuring more than just white guys!

Our Souls at Night Best Books of 2015 by Kent Haruf. His last, slim novel is beautiful and still and utterly affecting.

Speak Best Books of 2015by Louisa Hall. What is intelligence and consciousness and connection? A book with a lot to think about.


The Story Starts Here

sponsored post image The Story Starts Here
Post Sponsored by Scholastic

I knew before I had kids that I couldn’t expect them all to be readers just because I read. I’ve seen in my own family how everyone is their own person, you can build a strong foundation but it’s everyone’s choice to make for themselves. But I still wasn’t quite prepared for how hard it was to incorporate books into parenting.

While everyone else had pictures of their infants flipping pages in board books and lovingly munching on the corners, my baby wouldn’t look at a book. I followed all the suggestions for how to read to your baby, but it just wasn’t happening. He hated it. I hated it. It was a bust.

Things started to change when Graham was 1 or 2. That was when we had the whole year of one book, Thumper’s Fluffy Tail, a real riveting read that I had completely memorized, not just the words but the pauses before I turned the page so Graham could rub the textured parts. Everything had to be just so or Graham wailed in protest.

But we perservered. We pushed through. It took years of work, finding the right books, and then having to start over somewhat once we added Tessa to the mix. But even if reading doesn’t get off to a great start in your house, there’s still hope. 

As Graham’s reading has progressed we’ve changed our rituals to accommodate everyone’s needs. I know a lot of other families are in a similar situation, with one or more older readers able to read on their own, with younger kids who can’t read yet. We’re making it work and I have a few tips on getting reading time to work for you even when you have kids of different age levels.

scholastic 1 The Story Starts Here

Something for Everyone

We all take part in reading time, but everyone has their own role to play. Graham and Tessa each pick out a book of their own and there’s also our regular chapter book on top of that. Everyone has a part of the reading that’s just for them, but they’re also able to enjoy everything else.

Practice for Early Readers

Graham is now in first grade and is supposed to read on his own for 20 minutes a day. We work that into our bedtime routine. He reads picture books sometimes, but most of the time he’s reading early reader books with short chapters. We’re working our way through Arnold Lobel’s entire bibliography along with anything else that catches Graham’s fancy as we go. 

Have Structure, But Be Flexible

We usually start with Graham reading, then Tessa gets her book, then we finish with the chapter book. But if one is in a groove or the other is really excited, we can always mix it up. We always have our routine to fall back on, but when people are extra antsy that may mean less reading (or it may mean more, since reading is right before bed at our house and it also helps to serve as calm-down time). If the story’s really good, we can always add another chapter or another book. 

The structure makes it much easier for me to transition us into reading time without stress or anxiety. I don’t have time to plan fun reading activities or curate themes in our reading. I just want us to have this time together and to enjoy the stories.

If Tessa is just not feeling it, which happens some days, we still have enough rules set up that she knows to be quiet and let Graham listen and concentrate. And every now and then if Graham really doesn’t want to read, I give him a pass. (In the picture above, Tessa is doing her own thing while Graham does his reading. Totally cool.)

Be Patient with Chapter Books

I’ve talked to other parents who find it difficult to begin the process of reading a chapter book. And it does require everybody to adjust a little. Kids are used to pictures and used to something shorter and more engaging, so you have to give them plenty of time to adjust. We started with chapter books that are heavy on pictures (our first was My Father’s Dragon, which felt a lot like a long picture book) and if a chapter is particularly long we’ll break it up.

If you find that the kids are fidgety, don’t worry. Most adults I know can’t focus on an audiobook and that’s basically what you’re asking your kids to do when you read a chapter book aloud. Graham tends to stay close by, though sometimes he’ll wander a bit or fidget. Tessa usually pulls out toys and plays while we read the chapter book. But no one complains, in fact when I had to skip it when I was sick and lost my voice, everyone was pretty sad.

Let Emerging Readers “Read”

Graham has been reading to us for a few months now, and Tessa has finally decided it’s time for her to “read,” too. She usually does this by choosing one of a few books that are pretty low on words. She’ll either have me read it and then repeat the words or she’ll “read” it by herself. I let her go and don’t tell her what the book actually says, she remembers it pretty well and Graham pipes in sometimes to help. Her favorite book for this right now is I Want My Hat Back, which is short, repetitive, and silly. Perfect for a 3-year-old.

Older Kids Still Enjoy Picture Books

Graham still loves picture books aimed at kids much younger than he is. He loves all kinds of books, so we’ll be keeping picture books in rotation for a long time to come. He gets to listen to me read, read on his own, and then have the full interactive experience of reading a picture book over my shoulder and taking in the reading and the visual story. It’s all slightly different skillsets and it helps him be able to follow along and see new words in a low-pressure situation.

Add New Books to the Mix

There tends to be a lot of repetition when we’re reading a chapter book for a couple weeks or the same picture book over and over again. So we make regular library trips and I try to pick out a new book to add to our home library every so often. 

Speaking of new books, we got a bundle from Scholastic to incorporate into our reading and I have to admit, I was impressed with their choices. 

StoryStartsHerePrizingImage e1447632674541 The Story Starts Here

Peek-a-Boo Farm is an animal identification board book with a flap to pull to reveal the animal. Yes, Graham is 6, but he still enjoys these. And Tessa is in school now, but she enjoys the participation element. The simple formula also means she can “read” it to herself while she lays in bed.

Where’s Walrus and Penguin? is one of those wordless stories that’s great for a wide age range. Tessa can “read,” Graham can comment on what’s happening, both kids really enjoyed the hide-and-seek game of the story. (I’m sure my kids aren’t the only ones who love a book where they see something the characters don’t.)

Friendshape is probably my favorite, great message, witty illustrations, a really fun elementary shapes book that does something different.

If You’re a Robot and You Know It is the one they won’t put down, as is always the case for a pop-up book with tabs to pull. My kids ADORE tabs, it’s kind of a problem. 

Zen Socks is a complex story with gorgeous illustrations that’s a nice addition for families talking about mindfulness. 

TheStoryStartsHere 4C Stacked 300x261 The Story Starts HereBasically, the set was a big hit and the kids are working the books into their rotation. 

I know looking for books for kids can be overwhelming, so many choices, so many authors, and that’s where Scholastic’s new site The Story Starts Here comes in. Whether you’re a parent, a friend, a teacher, or a librarian looking for books for every age group, you can find great recommendations. Plus downloadables and videos that tie in to the stories. 

I am a big fan of doing books for Christmas, birthday, Chanukah, you name it, I think it’s a great time for books. And if you’re gifting for someone else, you know their parents will be much happier if you give them a book than one of those really loud and obnoxious toys. So head on over and take a look. 

Thanks to Scholastic for sponsoring this post. As I’m sure you can imagine I am pretty thrilled to be working with them. Yay reading!


All About the Hamilton Lottery

Last week I was visiting New York. I’d hoped a few months ago to buy a ticket to see Hamilton, but on a single mom’s budget even one ticket was out of my price range. Almost every show is sold out for months and the only seats available are scalped tickets for exorbitant prices.

Everyone wants to see this show. Everyone. President Obama saw it (twice!). Beyonce was in the audience. It is the ticket du jour and shows no signs that that will change any time soon. So for the poorer among us, the lottery is our best shot. 

I scraped together a bit of information on the internet but I was mostly clueless about how the lottery would work, so I decided to compile together the information for everyone. The very patient people who run the lottery were very kind to answer a few of my questions, and their expertise combined with my experience trying it twice during my visit to NYC last week can hopefully have your bases totally covered.


If you haven’t used a lottery system for a show before, here’s a quick summary. Often a show will save a few seats each day to be given away at a drastically reduced price using a lottery system. It started back with Rent, once one of the hottest shows on Broadway. Given that Rent was about impoverished Bohemian types, it made sense for them to offer tickets on the cheap to an audience that could relate. They sold the front two rows as rush tickets for $20, first come first serve. But when it started getting out of hand they switched to a lottery system, which is the most common you’ll find now. 

Some shows have gone digital and use the app TodayTix for a lottery to save fans the trouble of waiting in line, but Hamilton is old school. 

Tickets in the Hamilton lottery are $10, cash only. (Who’s on the $10 bill? Yup, that’s why they call the lottery #Ham4Ham, one Hamilton for another.) Lottery seats are for the first row, and occasionally there are standing room only seats as well. There are 21 seats given out in the lottery, not including SRO. The number of standing room seats will be announced at the time of the drawing. When I was there they had 4 available.


IMG 20151104 171321 300x300 All About the Hamilton LotteryThe Richard Rodgers Theater on 46th Street, it’s just West of Times Square, next door to the Marriott Marquis, and across the street from Finding Neverland. The closest subway stop is 49th street for the N, Q, and R.


The lottery starts 2.5 hours before the show and names are drawn 2 hours before curtain. Check the official Hamilton site to confirm times, but generally shows are at 7 pm Tuesday and Thursday; 8 pm Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday; with a 2 pm matinee on Wednesday and Saturday; and a 3 pm matinee on Sunday. (Sometimes there is a 7:30 pm show on Sundays. Schedules vary.)  

There is generally a line that forms ahead of time, but it’s not necessary to get in it. Just make sure you arrive by the time they close entries 2 hours before curtain. Once the lottery begins, things move quickly. One night when they were particularly busy, with around 800 people attending, everyone was easily able to enter in the 30 minutes. (But not so easily able to fit in the cordoned off waiting area.

I arrived around 5:10 on a Wednesday for a 5:30 lottery with a 6:00 drawing to try for the 8:00 show. The next day I came at about 4:20 for a 4:30 lottery with a 5:00 drawing to try for the 7:00 show. 


I know you’re young, scrappy, and hungry and you do not want to throw away your shot, but even Alexander Hamilton takes a little advice from Aaron Burr sometimes. It’s time to wait for it, time to talk less and smile more, time to acknowledge that you are the one thing in life you can control. 

Let’s be honest, if we all approached the lottery like we’re Alexander Hamilton, the lottery would have to close. So roll with it and have fun. There’s a real buzz in the air, a strong sense of community, and everyone is pretty nice about celebrating the people who win. 

If you arrive early, don’t worry too much about the size of the line. After all, someone has to win. 

Now for my special tips for extra good juju. 

You’re Gonna Need a Right Hand Man

You can enter for 1 or 2 tickets. But if there are 2 of you, both of you can enter for 2 tickets. You keep out of trouble and you double your choices. If you go solo, just find someone near you in line who’s also going it alone. But I saw at least 3 people win tickets who’d only put in for a single, so it’s definitely not impossible.


One of the biggest draws at the Hamilton lottery is the #Ham4Ham show. Cast members and other performers from around Broadway will usually put on a short performance for the people waiting at the lottery. The performance takes place just before names are drawn. 

Ham4Ham generally takes place on 2-show days before the evening performance, so usually Wednesday and Saturday. Expect a much bigger crowd at Ham4Ham, the Wednesday one I attended (the first #Ham4Holidays performance with the Broadway Inspirational Voices) had around 800 people. When I asked the staff about it, they confirmed it was a very heavy day, one of the busier ones they’d seen. 

But even though your odds go down, the fun goes up. If you haven’t seen any #Ham4Ham videos, you should seek them out. The universal favorite has quickly become this performance from just a couple weeks ago, featuring all 3 men who have played King George III in Hamilton performing as the Schuyler Sisters.

There are occasionally #Ham4Ham performances off the usual schedule, your best bet is to keep tabs of Lin Miranda’s Twitter feed

The Story of Tonight

Once the entries are all collected, there’s a countdown and then a quick recap of how it’s going to work. I recorded a quick video: 

The line for the lottery is on the sidewalk on 46th Street but as soon as you fill out your slip and enter you are hustled to the street where there’s an area cordoned off for people to wait. Though there are still random passersby on the sidewalk in the midst of this insanity. (That’s why you see randoms during Ham4Ham videos.) On busy nights the crowd can get rather unmanageable, especially since this generally goes down during rush hour. But the staff assures me it stays pretty peaceful and positive, though there was this one time a couple ladies were throwing elbows and Lin Miranda had to tell them to stop. 

Enter your slip. Enter only once. They know you’re trying to cheat and they will stop you, so don’t try. Step aside and enjoy the company of other serious theater nerds all united in one cause.

What to Do If You Lose

hamilton tee All About the Hamilton LotteryThe odds for the Hamilton lottery are tough, even on good days. Have a plan to do something fun to console yourself. I totally get that even when you go in expecting to lose, something about being RIGHT THERE outside the theater is so energizing that you find yourself in a weird pumped-yet-melancholy place after losing. Take your right hand man and go do something kickass, whether it’s grabbing cheap tickets to another show from the TKTS booth down the street or eating a great meal or retreating back to your home or hotel to act out your own version of the musical to the soundtrack. 

Good news, though, even if you lose, you can ask to go into the theater when they open just to buy merch. Though you can also get some of them online, including the limited-edition tee I purchased. (I went high nerd and got the #YAYHAMLET tee.) Prices at the online store look to be the same as the theater store, if you’re curious.

Or, you know, if you just want to put your headphones back on and start the soundtrack again while you walk the streets of New York City, you can do that. (My favorite walking-through-the-city songs are Dear Theodosia and Wait For It.) 

What to Do When You Win

Scream like a maniac, of course. It honestly doesn’t matter what advice I give you or what you plan because if they call your name or your right hand man’s name, time speeds up and you have no idea what you are saying or doing. My friend Becky’s name was called and I’m pretty sure there was a lot of screaming? It’s a blur, sir. I’m also pretty sure I squeaked, “That’s my buddy!!!” far too loudly. 

I cannot really explain how it feels to win the Hamilton Lottery because I’ve never won anything that exciting or that I wanted that badly before. I was going to have to wait until far into next year to buy a ticket and paying for even the cheap seats would be a real sacrifice, so this was so perfect and so wanted I can’t even tell you. Words fail.

But once you calm down and remember what words are and your hands stop shaking, you have important business.  You have to buy your tickets as soon as they’re done calling the winners, so have your $10 or $20 (for two of you) ready. CASH ONLY. They’ll give a wristband to the winner to prevent scalping, and then you’ve got 2 hours where you’ll be giddy and high on adrenaline. You may want to have a plan on what you’ll wear if you’re in your grungy street clothes, and you may want to have a plan about where to eat. 

You should definitely use this time to brag to all your friends on social media in all caps.

This is the face you make when you win the #hamiltonbway lottery.

A photo posted by Jessica Woodbury (@jessicaesquire) on

Some of your friends will think you won the actual lottery that gives you money. You will need to correct them and tell them you’ve won something far, far better.

Eat and drink strategically because the last thing you want to do is get up to pee in the middle of The Schuyler Sisters

Be cool. Do not be the girls down the row from us who had elaborate choreography and too-loud screaming that were so bad that the cast reported them to the ushers. Seriously, that is the worst. Let everyone have their moment.

Because it IS a moment. And while it’s easy for me to say this having won, there’s something about being in that front row that goes beyond the slight fatigue in your neck muscles that comes from looking upwards for 3 hours. There’s something about knowing that YOU, the people of the lottery, the ragtag band of misfits who found your way to the greatest city in the world with only a dream, are so close to the stage and the cast that you could reach out and touch them.

If you happen to be in my seat, you may find that you make eye contact with Lin Miranda so many times that you think you’re now officially friends. (Or maybe it was just something about my aura that kept drawing his eyes back. Who knows? More data is needed.)

One of the most beautiful things about sitting down to watch Hamilton and having that triumphant experience is that you realize that this happens almost every night of the week. That nearly every day, a few lucky souls take their seats to revel with some rebels. 

If you have already had the soundtrack on repeat for days or weeks or months, it will all feel so familiar and yet entirely new. And they are all just RIGHT THERE. Actual breathing, singing, moving beings. (Also you will realize that while you figured out the Laurens/Philip and Lafayette/Jefferson dual roles that you totally missed Hercules Mulligan/Madison because he’s virtually unrecognizable and Okieriete Onaodowan is some kind of crazy genius.)

Oh, and be prepared for serious tears. And not just your usual orphanage tears. We’re talking a whole other level of tears. Y’all, I wept all through Satisfied because I love Angelica so much and I was right there and she will never be satisfied, and will any of us ever be satisfied??? Bring tissues.

When it’s over, that double adrenaline shot of live theater plus lottery winning will not fade quickly. A large glass of wine didn’t dull it. I barely slept that night. I could not settle. I could not calm. I was wound up in the best way and unable to stop it. 

And when your life begins anew the next morning, wear the Hamilton tee you just bought and make sure that you find a way to insert winning the Hamilton lottery into every conversation. Celebratory dancing and jumping is welcome. (Well, maybe not welcomed by others, but totally welcomed by me.) 

You may want to consider getting on the inspirational speaking circuit. Because you have been touched. The world turned upside down. 

Have questions? Drop them in a comment and I’m happy to see if I can answer them for you!

10 Biggest Disappointments of Hamilton

IMG 20151104 171321 300x300 10 Biggest Disappointments of HamiltonYesterday my friend and I won the lottery for Hamilton tickets. (More on that later.) While it’s still fresh I wanted to pass along some consoling information to those of you who haven’t seen it yet. So here’s my Top 10 list of things that kept my Hamilton experience from total perfection.

10. Hamilton still dies. (Don’t even call spoilers on me, it’s in the first song and um hi HISTORY.)

9. Everyone that dies on the soundtrack also dies in the performance. I cried lots of tears.

8. Leslie Odom, Jr. did not stop in the middle of a song to let me know how excited he was for me to be there.

7. Philippa Soo and I never made eye contact so I don’t think we’re friends now. (Though I secretly hope she sensed my presence, like a disturbance in the Force.)

6. Had to wait in line to get inside and everyone was all orderly and lacking revolutionary verve. Alexander Hamilton would’ve said, “Screw it,” and just walked right in.

5. No one in the audience was in cosplay. 

4. Renee Elise Goldsberry did not bring me on stage to be the 4th Schuyler sister.

3. Lin-Manuel Miranda did not blow me a kiss, even after he clearly saw me sitting right there in the front row. (Nor did he give me the tiny flower he promised me.) 

2. I wasn’t given my own box to attend whenever I want to.

1. It ended.