Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. The other day I was thinking about how a large group of my friends and I got together regularly for massive board game/food nights at different people's houses towards the end of senior year and the summer after. It was really, really fun, as lame as it may sound, and I wish I could do that now with my friends. Maybe when everyone's kids are older!

2. Saturday Sawyer's preschool is having a Parent's Night Out- for $10 they'll watch the kids from 6:30-10:00 so parents can have some time. My husband is at a conference, so my friend and I are going to get dinner and drinks at a family-UNfriendly place and catch up. I can't wait!

3. Besides that, my plan is to Christmas the shit out of this weekend. Tomorrow Sawyer and I are going to see Polar Express at my school that the choir is hosting, Friday (if it's not too windy), we're going downtown to see the Festival of Lights, Saturday morning we're having breakfast with Santa at a local restaurant, and hopefully Sunday I'll do some baking.

4. My students and are wading through Sylvia Plath's poetry (I know, so festive), and it's actually going really well. I've split their work on each poem in thirds, between independent/group/whole class analysis and they're doing well. And because they're so receptive to the work, I'm enjoying it a lot more. Win-win.

5. Between nonsense going on with the government (looking at you, tax bill) and our school board, I have to be really careful about what I consume right now. It's so easy to get wrapped up and emotionally carried away. 

6. Earlier today I got the urge to just book a train ride up the coast, snag a window seat, and read and roll for a day. I have no idea where it came from, but it just sounds so peaceful.

7. I hadn't planned on going to Modesto to visit my family over the holidays, but *newsflash* apparently my mom and her longtime boyfriend are getting hitched at City Hall and I feel like an asshole for not attending. So it looks like Sawyer and I are going on a little bit of a road trip. I'm hoping that if the weather is good enough and I can coerce at least one other family member into it, I might head to San Francisco for a day. 

8. I finished listening to Jodi Piccoult's Small Great Things and what a piece of crap. Sorry (but not really). It's so over-the-top and the ending is just so far-fetched and ridiculous. She didn't racial issues justice at all. I am now listening to Running Man, Carlie Engle's memoir, and so far I'm enjoying. 

Zadie Smith in Conversation with Michael Chabon


The other day I was looking up a reading for the spring at UCLA and saw that two days later Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon would be together for an evening. My first reaction was disappointment, since I had nothing to do with Sawyer (it started at 8, which means that I'd have to leave by 5:30 to fight seventy miles in the horrible LA traffic- my husband usually comes home around 7:15). I then mentioned it to Scott and, knowing how important seeing these two would be to me, suggested I drop Sawyer off at his office with the iPad for the last part of his work day. DONE. Traffic ended up being worse than normal, since a few big rigs decided to overturn, so I had to leave at 5:10 and ended up getting to UCLA at 7:40. Sigh. It's the price we pay to live down here, I guess.

The event was at Royce Hall, which is absolutely beautiful and one of the buildings I had class in once upon a time in my youth. The political and social rhetoric of those emceeing the event were just what you'd expect for an arts program at a UC, something the audience obviously appreciated- I definitely had a "I'm home!" kind of moment. Once Smith and Chabon came out they agreed to put off talking about the general horrible-ness that is the US as long as possible, which ended up being a solid thirty minutes or so.

Chabon mentioned that this was the fifth time the two had participated in an event like this one, which is explained their natural chemistry and knowledge of one another (sometimes when it's just local moderator it's a bit awkward if the proper research and pre-interview conversation haven't happened). The two spent awhile talking about what they were reading and the role of the historical novel, since they are both reading older books and she is writing one right now (despite not being very fond of them). The topic of conversation then turned to the internet and how it's such a huge weight on them both, especially in the current climate. Smith talked about how she read something about Trump on a plane the other day and then spent hours just reading comments and articles that validated her opinion. They then contrasted escaping into the internet with escaping into books, which I could have listened to for five hours. 

The two took some questions that had been pre-written by the audience, which asked about the importance of places to them in real life and in their works (something I then started reflecting personally on), cultural appropriation, inspiration (Smith made a comment on how she takes things from her own life, puts then into her novels, and then ends up being incredibly tired of them, like tap dancing), and writing dialogue (the both downplayed it's importance and even said it can be used as a "crutch"). 

I must say, that this was definitely one of the best events I have ever been to, and there are have been many. I thought that Chabon might come off as a bit pretentious, since I've gotten that vibe from him through his writing before. I wasn't sure what Smith would be like, but maybe a little intimidating because she's just so damn brilliant. Instead I fell in love a little more, listening to her talk about going to dinner with her husband and kids and feeling like a circus act since none of them were on their phones and were trying to entertain and corral the whole time (I have a no device policy at dinner for my kid too, so I was like "I get you, Zadie!"). They were fantastic. 

Things to Look Forward to: December

1. Reading a different Christmas story every night with Sawyer 
2. Breakfast with Santa at a local restaurant
3. Traditional pictures with Santa
4. Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn
5. Our nightly Star Wars Advent Calendar
6. Dinner out with a friend while Sawyer is at his preschool's Parent's Night Out (and his other parent is at a video game convention)
7. Decorating the tree and rest of the house 
8. Donating to toy and canned tree drives
9. Making a "snow globe" door for Sawyer's room
10. Knitting lessons and lunch with a friend
11. Seeing New Star Wars movie
12. Making a million peanut butter balls
13. Seeing if we can pull off this year's Christmas card photo shoot 
14. Finishing up my 2017 family photo book
15. Wrapping gifts (I really, really love doing this)
16. Going to Santa's Village in Lake Arrowhead
17. Making a cookie a tree with my ridiculous new Wilton's cutters
18. Watching Home Alone
19. Being thankful our gifts for Sawyer this year don't involve assembly 
20. Seeing my brother when he visits California (and hopefully my mom)
21. Three weeks of winter break
22. Attempting a Scrabble tournament in my classroom
23. Pretending to hate Christmas music but listening it in secret with Sawyer 
24. Watching Home Alone 
25. Putting everything away and getting life back to normal 

November Reviews

Happy December, guys! I've never been a super excited "ohmygod I love Christmas" kind of person, but I have to say having a three-year-old who "gets it" makes this holiday season one of the best yet (hopefully). November had some life hiccups, but I did read a few good books- here's a glimpse:

Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
304 pages
This short story compilation has a range of stories, including everything from a woman who throws herself an artificial insemination party to a friendship that has to cope with dementia to a man who doesn't receive the proper medical care for intestinal issues abroad. The stories sometimes sound a little silly from a brief summarizing sentence, but they deal with complicated issues like aging, relationships, and family. 

Verdict: I really, really think that this book is being overlooked by people. I know that some were disappointed in The Marriage Plot, after his first two, but this one was a really strong collection. These stories are truly crafted and were a pleasure to read. 

Artemis by Andy Weir 
320 pages
Andy Weir's sophomore attempt following The Martian is about life on the moon and the challenges of it's class system. Jazz is a young smuggler who desperately wants to save enough money to upgrade her living situation (she lives in what is basically a coffin and has to use a communal bathroom where showers are paid for by the minute). She is presented with an offer she cannot refuse, which ends up going awry. 

Verdict: I had a feeling this book would fall short, and it did. In short, it was a bit sloppy- the character development, the dialogue, the predictable nature, and even the ending. There were some fun moments and it was kind of a kick to read about someone's idea of life on the moon, but it was nowhere near as good as his debut. I'm sure the movie will be super entertaining, though. 

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden
272 pages
This memoir focuses on the year that former Vice President Joe Biden's son Beau suffered from fatal brain cancer, chronicling his journey through treatment and navigating the private life of the family. Biden also discusses much of the political ongoings he was involved with the time as well, often juxtaposing his professional life with his private one.

Verdict: As a whole, I really enjoyed this book (plus, who doesn't love Joe? Remember the memes? I miss them so much). It moved me to tears several times, as Beau tried so hard to keep positive and make his family promise they'd be okay if he passed away. I thought at some points there was too much governmental and politics talk, but I may just be bitter because it made me so sad to see how things were once run right. And now they're not. Ahem. Moving on.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
304 pages
This is a novel that at it's heart about ethics, morality, religion, and guilt. Linda, a high school student who is very lonely and as a detached relationship with her parents, ex-cult/commune members, works as a babysitter for a family across the lake who has a four-year-old named Paul. Paul always seems a little sickly and his mother a little a odd, both intensifying when the husband/father comes to visit. Unfortunately, it's hard to really talk about this one without spoiling a huge part of it, so trust me when I say it's controversial and heartbreaking (but not in a Jodi Piccoult kind of way). 

Verdict: I really enjoyed this novel and read it in a weekend. I thought the pacing was excellent and that Fridlund does a wonderful job of integrating the setting, mood, and plot in a way that really sort of takes over your reading experience. She bookends the story with a connection to one of Linda's middle school teachers who is arrested for child pornography charges, which is a little odd, but relates to the greater issue of this book of how children can be let down by adults. 

1,200 pages 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. Yesterday I was looking up a Colson Whitehead event at UCLA next spring and discovered that Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon were giving a talk tomorrow! I have never seen either of them and immediately started trying to figure out how I could bribe Sawyer into behaving for an event that started at his bedtime in a city that would require a 90+ minute drive thru traffic to get to. I mentioned it to Scott, who now works ten minutes away, and he said that I could drop him off at his office with the iPad and headphones and they would make it work for the last hour or so of my husband’s day. I hesitated for approximately twelve seconds and then bought the best ticket I could find. I’m so very excited (although also sad because my normal book-reading buddy can’t come with me).

2. I’m teaching sixteen Sylvia Plath poems over the course of twelve days. It’s like a marathon, but worse. I have a very systematic way of guiding my students through the work, though (read/annotate alone for ten minutes, collaborate with a group for ten minutes, and then discuss as a class for fifteen, before working on it the rest of the way alone at home), so I hope that we’ll all get in the groove.

3. I started reading Like Water for Chocolate and while I’m at the very beginning, I can already tell I am going to enjoy it. Magical realism is one of my favorite genres.

4. Can you believe in God but not the afterlife? Asking for a friend (who might be an atheist anyway).

5. Fact: when I have gift cards for clothing stores I cannot find anything I like (but when it’s my own money I find plenty). Fact: when I am bursting at the seams with blog ideas I have no time to write (but when I have time to write I have no ideas).

6. The last day of school before winter break my classes are having our first bracket of a time-based Scrabble tournament. I’m not even playing and I’m super excited. It actually might be a disaster- the kids are excited and willing, but they don’t know how to play. We’re also doing it in groups of six, as opposed to four, and we’ll only have about thirty-five minutes that day to play. But whatever. It’ll still be a fun, relaxed way to end break, since the next few weeks are consumed by Madame I Put My Head in an Oven.

7. I mapped out my grading calendar for the next three weeks, and if I am extremely diligent I can leave for our three week vacation being totally caught up. It’s probably not realistic, but I am implemented several ridiculous progress checks connected to bribes to make it happen (pedicure… massage… Peanut Butter Shake from Sonic…. I AM A GLUTTONOUS MONSTER). When we come back in January we have one regular week and then finals, so if I’m not in a good position I’ll be hating life.

8. My car accident has been resolved in less than a month- thank you Mercury! My insurance found the other driver at fault and they wanted to assign both of us 50%. My claims adjuster pressed them and they took on half of my half, which we are accepting. I get half of my deductible back, which I had kissed good bye, and my rates won’t be impacted. Good enough.


Today is my birthday, which I really, truly don't care that much about. Sure, a tiny part of me wishes for grand gestures and being excessively spoiled for a few hours, but that's never been the way and I'd probably feel uncomfortable. Plus, I have shit to do. No time for bells and whistles, folks. The pies won't bake themselves and Sawyer can't exactly drive himself to the dentist or flu-vaccination clinic, right? 

But still, it's a birthday. And that's a reason for some reflection, if you ask me. Here are some things I've learned in my 33rd year that will hopefully make 34 a little better:

I Measure My Worth in My Productivity
I can't help it, I seriously feel a rush of adrenaline crossing things off my to-do list and staying busy. Tuesday I got up, took Sawyer to three different grocery stores for our weekly shopping/Thanksgiving prep, put everything away, got back in the car, got gas, drove to Buena Park to hang out at Knott's Berry Farm for four or so hours, drove home, cleaned three bathrooms, played LEGOs, vacuumed upstairs and down, put together three bookshelves, cooked dinner, hung out with Sawyer some more and did the bedtime routine, went back to the store for something I forgot, made pumpkin bread, finished a book, and then went to bed. It sounds like a ridiculous amount, I know, I admit it, but I literally felt giddy by the time I went to bed because I had accomplished so much. I am addicted to productivity and this year has helped me accept and embrace it. It's who I am. 

I Don't Care What People Think About My Internet Presence
I've never been extremely hung up on what other people think of me, but I do try to be conscious of not bombarding feeds. But you know what? I don't care. I still don't post excessively to Facebook, my blog, or regular Instagram, but if I want to put up ten Instastories a day, then I will. If I want to blog three days in a row about non-book topics, then I will. If I want to link to a progressive, liberal article on Facebook and risk pissing off a relative or coworker, then I will. I try not to be obnoxious or annoying, but I've come to the realization that people have a choice about what kind of media they consume and if they don't like what they see they can stop viewing it. You can't please everyone and you shouldn't have to. 

It's Time to Amp Up the Skin Care Routine
I've been noticing things I'd rather not in my face lately, so I've tried to really up my game when it comes to skincare (I actually have a post about my current favorite products coming soon). I know aging is normal and natural, but I can slow it down a bit, if I'm willing to shell out a few bucks and be consistent. 

It's Time to Go (Without Guilt)
This past year has made me realize how much I need to travel, and how much I deserve it. I have a few degrees and credentials, I work hard, and I've saved a more-than-adequate safety net. I need to stop feeling guilty about spending money on travel when I'm financially responsible and have a true passion for seeing other places. I've been hemming and hawing for weeks about booking our Banff trip, but I really, really intend to do it before I go back to work. I've run the numbers a million times, have done my research, and now feel really confident with the Great Car Seat Situation (basically I just learned how to install one a week ago). I owe it to myself, and I owe it to my son as well. 

My Friends are the Best
I have a group of maybe five or six women that I consider close friends and who all play different roles in my life, but are equally important. I know who I can go with if I have a weird parenting question, or who to talk to about relationship stuff. There's someone for politics, for work, for random outings (and some of these overlap). My friends range in personality, age, and background, but they all have helped me through rough times whether they realize it or not. They always seem to check in at the right time or suggest making plans when I need it the most. They aren't needy, they have realistic friendship expectations, and they're all just really special. 

Make the Best Out of Things
There have always been bumps of various sizes in the road and my 33rd year was no exception. But the older I get the better I get at handling things and quickly morphing into problem-solving mode (my default setting). It's so corny, but this is all we're getting, unless you believe in reincarnation (god, I hope it's not a real thing), and you have to make the best out of things. Sure, I do freak out still and I do overcompensate in planning and saving, but the older I get the better I am at taking a breath and making a plan.

I think thirty four will be great. I have at least one half marathon planned, a few trips, will see my seniors graduate, and will get to watch my kid keep growing and thriving. I plan to read great books, maybe get in some writing of my own, and keep surrounding myself with the people I love and respect. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[from a recent trip to Downtown Disney for the LEGO store]

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1. Thanksgiving break is flying by- I barely blinked and the week is half over! At least once we go back it's only a few more weeks until Christmas vacation.

2. I ran a 5k at UCLA over the weekend and did much better than I thought I would, considering it's a really hilly course (I gained the equivalent to about twenty flights of stairs during it). It's always really fun to run around the campus, though, since I only go back once a year and there are always so many changes. Training on the boring treadmill sets me up for success in this respect, too, since outdoor running is so much more distracting (a good thing). After running I walked around campus for an hour, reminiscing and even reading for a few minutes (and losing my credit card for a few anxiety-producing moments). 

3. Today I get to take my three-year-old for a flu shot and dentist appointment. He will do fine, since he much rather waste his tears on trivial things like LEGO buildings falling apart, and one appointment is fine, but two waiting rooms and two clipboards of paperwork to fill out and several medical professionals to make small talk with is just too much. Not really fun for me (nor the best way to ring in my thirty-fourth year of life, but that's what being a mom and getting old is all about, right?). 

4. I fully intend on going all-out with pie crusts this year, using the different designs on King Arthur's Instgram as inspiration. It's just the three of us, but I don't care- I live for cooking Thanksgiving food. French bread cubes are drying out as we speak and I'll start the turkey brine soon. 

5. I've finished two books in the last few days- Artemis by Andy Weir (definitely not as good as The Martian.. review to come next week) and History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (so good, but so depressing). I just started Joe Biden's memoir and it's moving pretty quickly, so I'm feeling good about my November reading!

6. I'm just going to come out and admit it: I really, really like Taylor Swift's new album and yes, I actually bought it. Because I know no one my age who feels the same way I randomly text an old student my thoughts. 

7. I've been trying to throw a bag of stuff out every day during break, whether it's just leftovers or trash from my car or random things I spot around the house. I love getting rid of crap- it makes me feel so much better about my house. 

8. Is it me, or does it seem like such betrayal when you abandon on old family recipe for something new? I did that the other day for pumpkin bread and felt like I did something wrong. 

9. I have pretty much no interest in Black Friday, except I do want to find Scrabble on the cheap so I can pick up a few more for my classroom and maybe some cardigans at Loft. 

10. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Moonlite Review


A little less than a year ago a friend tagged me in a post about the Moonlite Projector, which was in the process of being Kickstarted. I was instantly sold- it's a little projector (think Viewmaster from when were were young) that clips on your Smartphone and projects images from a story on the ceiling. The text from the story appears on your phone, which you then read to the child and click certain buttons for sound effects as you manually click through the picture reel. 

After several delays, as is not uncommon to crowd-sourcing, our Moonlite Projector arrived a few weeks ago and we've used it a few times since then (I must add that the creator and company through in some bonus stories to make up for any inconvenience, which was a nice touch). Here are my thoughts so far:


- The novelty is fun, and it's a cool way to shake up story time once in awhile at bedtime (I still prefer the old-fashioned method, though)
- The set up of the actual projector, the downloading of the app, and the functionality of both combined are extremely easy to use
- The projector has been created so that it's pretty universal, meaning a variety of devices and brands
- The images project clearly and the colors are vibrant 
- I love the idea of using my phone for something.... else
- It doesn't seem to phase my battery 

- I wish there were more stories and that there wasn't the delay of ordering them (I know, what else can you do?)
- The packaging is extremely wasteful and bulky- I'd much prefer something sleeker 
- Some of the sounds effects are a little dinky, but I'm sure they'll be jazzed up as the project is updated 
- It is a little expensive

All in all, watching the project updates and development, as well as actually experiencing it in person has been really fun. I think I overpaid a bit, but we did get several stories and two projectors with the package I backed, so at least I have something to show for my money. It's definitely not a necessity, but I think it's a fun little addition to our library. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. No matter how many stacks of papers I have (a lot), it's still always great to finish a pile and put them in the grade book.

2. I'm reading History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund right now and it's really disturbing me. It's good, definitely, but she alludes to something happening to a young boy at the beginning so I'm just on pins and needles for this bad thing to happen. Since I've become a mom I have a really hard time with this sort of thing, but I'm sucking it up for the writing.

3. Joe Biden's new memoir, Promise Me, Dad and Andy Weir's Artemis both came in the mail for me yesterday. I think this will conclude the book buying until after the holidays. 

4. Starting on Saturday I have things going for nearly a weeks straight, but I am SO excited, since it's all fun stuff (I have next week off for our Thanksgiving break). I'm running a 5k at UCLA, I'm taking Sawyer to Knott's for a few hours (we have super cheap annual passes, so I can do that now and not feel bad), I'm getting my hair done, I have plans to see friends, and hopefully some reading, running and relaxation. I just have to get through the next few days at work.

5. I think the site Cupcakes and Cashmere is a little fluffy, so reading her blog is definitely a guilty pleasure. She did post something timely for me last week, though, about remembering that a lot of the time when people act negatively towards you it really is a problem on their end. So, basically, yes, people may hurt your feelings but often it's because they're having a rough time, are insecure, or thrive on negativity. Obviously that's not always true, since we all deserve attitude from others on occasion. But recently someone I care about greatly has been a little judgmental towards me and I've remembered to pause and look at things from a different perspective. 

6. So, it has to happen- we're getting more crappy Ikea bookshelves. We have several tall Billy book cases with shelf extenders in our great room, but we've outgrown them. We want to do custom shelving, but that is probably after a year or two of saving for the Big Remodel. For now I'm going to get a few small white units for our dining room, which means I get to reorganize. 

7. I made this pumpkin cake, minus the toppings, and layer instead of sheet, last weekend and it is so good! It's basically pumpkin bread in cake form with an extremely delicious.

8. One of Sawyer's teachers is leaving next week and I am so bummed. She is the lead teacher for his room (the other two teachers are great, though) and has been such a huge help transitioning him there. I know this is part of the process, but I still was sad when I head the news. 

The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo

As most of you probably know, November is National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. If you choose to actually participate in “the movement,” you pledge to write 50,000 words by the end of the month, which equates to about 1,666 words a day. Five or so years ago I decided to do this, and was successful at meeting the final word count with a day or so to spare, no easy feat considering I was working full time and hosting Thanksgiving. Every year during this time I reflect on the experience with mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m glad I did it. On another, it was actually kind of a huge waste.


A friend of mine at work participated at the same time, so it was a fun experience comparing numbers and lamenting together.

I always enjoy a project.

I loved the graph features of the website- I’m driven by numbers and progress, so it was really motivating to log on and see where I was every day.

It was a good writing exercise- there is something to be said for being able to produce under pressure.

Bragging rights!


NaNoWriMo is really about quantity, not quality.

Somewhere around day 15 or 20 the goal became a massive chore, which took away from the initial fun and passion.

Because of the time and word count the process never felt organic. If you lag one day you have to make it up later.

There really isn’t time to revise, at all, which for many people is part of their natural writing process.

Novels are generally more than 50,000 words, so if you really want to write a book and try to publish it, this would be an awkward amount to stop at (not really a novella, but not a novel either).

I am actually quite embarrassed about what I wrote, which seems like a pretty pathetic end to a month of hard work.

Personally, I'll never do it again and the whole thing sort of left a bad taste in my mouth. Anyone else try it? Thoughts?

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. I finally got all the nonsense surrounding my small car accident taken care of- DMV paperwork sent, car dropped off at body shop, rental picked up, and statements give to both insurance companies. Adulting is such a pain.

2. I wrote a post yesterday about my reading since the election. Here it is in case you missed it.

3. Not only is Friday a day off, but it's also the day Taylor Swift's new album comes out. Stop judging me, thanks. I'm in the car for over 90 minutes a day and need new music. 

4. I'm getting a little desperate with Sawyer's up 2-4 times a night sleeping schedule (sometimes it's to go to the bathroom, sometimes he just wants to get up for the day, sometimes he just needs to be redirected back to bed, sometimes he has nightmares; we don't let him sleep with us and he's not throwing fits, so it's just all really frustrating and exhausting). I ordered a new nightlight, started infusing lavender oil last night, and am going to start him on an ounce or two of tart cherry juice this weekend. If none of this works I may have to ask the doctor about baby melatonin (I am very, very hesitant to do this, though, but I am not opposed to just talking to the doctor about it). This has been going on for over a year and it's tough (mostly for me).

5. My students just turned in a huge stack of "future memoirs" they wrote after reading Michael Ondaatje's and I am actually excited to read them! Using his as a model, they had to write seven pages of text and then use two other mediums for three more pages (photography, maps, song lyrics, etc...), discussing a trip home twenty years in the future. They had to have some sort of purpose (reconciling with a family member, a reunion, personal growth, etc...), so it was really more of a creative assignment than anything. Several of them admitted that they really enjoyed the assignment after so much whining, which is always a win as a teacher. Now I just have to get through some of their regular essays first. 

6. I'm still plugging away at Jeffrey Eugenide's short story collection and I really like it. I just haven't had much time to read this week, but hopefully I can finish it up this weekend.

7. My son just got mad at me for something and told me to "go to Target." Like that's a punishment? 

How the 2016 Election Has Impacted My Reading

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of that one time America voted Hillary Clinton as President. Unfortunately, the Electoral College did not, so today our already conflicted country is now run by a man who has no real interest in maintaining or promoting peace, social justice, human rights, environmental stability, health, or really anything else positive and fair. The night of the 2016 election I remember a feeling of numb disbelief as I sat on the floor and ate Halloween candy with a side of wine for dinner. I was scared and pessimistic, and I still am today. This country is on the verge of collapse on so many levels that I can’t help but to constantly question how Hillary Clinton possibly could have done a worse job.

Relatively soon after the loss I took stock of what I could personally do to back up my vote. I started donating more money when I could to causes I knew would feel the brunt of budget constraints (Planned Parenthood, The Sierra Club, and the ACLU). I have contacted representatives over the issues I am most concerned about (it’s so easy with email, guys!) and I give my students opportunities to reflect about causes that impact their world (DACA, fears regarding shootings, etc…).

This last year has greatly impacted my reading, as well. I have made a significant effort to better educate myself on issues that I may not have first-hand knowledge of or need to understand better. I also bought my three-year-old son a slew of books as a starting point to talk about concepts such as gay marriage, poverty, racial differences, and gender equality. Reading and books have always been what I turn to in times of stress and when I need to learn, and the last year has been no different. Because of this I have seen a bit of a change in my reading and purchasing habits and I thought I’d share some that have helped me better cope and, more importantly, understand.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
I read this book immediately after the election to try to wrap my head around the mentality of those in states who voted Republican. Vance offers a unique perspective as someone who was able to make it out of the extreme poverty of the region and obtain an advanced education. I don’t think anything in this book necessarily was incredibly new, but seeing it spelled out in front of me last November was helpful.  I finished the book feeling depressed and angry, but I did have a better understanding of why some people voted the way they did.

How to Win at Feminism by The Reductress
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
As a woman and a feminist I don’t think I have ever felt in my lifetime that the progress of our sex is in as much jeopardy as it is today, whether it’s because of an attack on the right to make decisions about our own bodies, access to affordable birth control, or the way the president has treated women in the past.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
This is beautifully written novella that describes the journey of a young refugee couple from, presumably, Syria who face extreme difficulty while trying to simply work for a better, safer life. The magical realism adds an additional element that enriches their story, as does the complex relationships Hamid creates. We see the horrific pictures on the news of refugee boats capsizing and countries refusing to help, but it’s so easy to click to a new site or change this page. This book resonates longer and humanizes the crisis even more.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
I confess, I have been a total slacker when it comes to taking the time to really understand the Israeli/Palestine conflict. In an effort to better understand more than just the basics, and to read more graphic novels, this book was a really interesting starting point.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
One of my favorite books of the year, Shamsie retells Antigone using ISIS and the public’s perception of Muslims. The story begins with the protagonist at an airport carefully answering security questions so that she will be permitted into the United States to further her education- she knows how meticulously she is being scrutinized and that many may judge her for wearing a Hijab. Differing opinions regarding cultural assimilation end up being at the forefront as well, straining familial and potentially romantic relationships. Shamsie’s usage of the underlying themes and issues in Antigone, in combination with more timely issues proves to be close to perfection.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
I am definitely not a YA reader, but I had some serious FOMO when it came to this book, and I had a hunch that it was important. I was right- every white person needs to read this book, like, yesterday. Centering around police brutality/shootings, this novel deals with the complexity of race in America and how we need to be better. I will never understand what it means to be and African American, just as a man will never understand what it means to be a woman, but I can listen, ask questions, and be an ally when/if needed. Next semester my students have to read an outside reading book dealing with social issues, and I will definitely let them read this one (with parental permission, of course).

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
This was a much  more interesting read than I thought it was going to be- I was worried it may become bogged down with political jargon, long-winded excuses, and rants. Sure, there was a little bit of that, but I thought as a whole it was a really thoughtful reflection of what happened before, during, and after the election. I’ll never say Clinton is perfect, but I still stand by my opinion that she was the best choice last year.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
We read this for book club last month and I learned a lot about the eviction process and issues with housing in America (this book was set in Wisconsin). It is so, so hard to get out of the cycle of poverty and eviction, and there are so many people out there ready to take advantage of those caught up in it (or just ignore them completely). What struck me is how tough it is for the kids- when moving from place to place and watching one’s parents struggle so hard, it’s incredibly challenging to know how to do differently as an adult. It’s heartbreaking.  With gentrification, the widening of the class divide, and the ineffectiveness of the government, help doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco
I listened to this book over the summer and adored every minute. Mastromonaco was Obama’s Chief of Staff and it was fascinating hearing about her experiences in the White House. She’s funny, smart, and the professional, diverse, fair environment of the White House she discusses seems starkly different to what it seems to be now. It made me miss Obama even more than I already did.

Purchased (but not read yet):

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
I purchased this when the “taking a knee” controversy started at football games, even though I had meant to pick it up months ago.

The Accusation by Bandi
North Korea is the enemy, but what about the actual people who live there? I know so little.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of what all was published last year on the social, political, or cultural level. I also didn’t limit myself to books just in line with these is

Lessons from Last Week

Car insurance is so important/if no one gets hurt you win
I was in a decent-sized fender bender with Sawyer on Thursday and while both cars got banged up, and the other driver is trying to place blame on me (I'm not going to get into it right here, right now), everyone was completely fine and both cars were drivable. Even if I have to eat my deductible, it's still so much better than the alternative. And again, everyone was safe. I saw two horrible accidents within twenty-four hours after and I just can't stop feeling thankful (and being really, really, really careful when driving). 

Don't Wear Tight Pants
I wore extremely tight fake leather pants as part of my costume on Halloween (I was Batman) and ended up with extreme stomach pains and accompanying issues for the rest of the night, to the point where I told my husband that if Sawyer wasn't sleeping I would have had him take me to urgent care, I so miserable. I was totally fine otherwise and hadn't eaten anything weird. Mama just can't hang. 

Just Take the Cold Medicine
Christine, you already dealt with an upset stomach, don't be martyr. Just take the DayQuil (I did, although I was fine the next day, so I'm not sure what the problem was). 

Don't Google Your Child's Health Concerns
So, without going into too much detail, Sawyer had a GI issue earlier this week and I knew immediately without the internet that I needed to run it by the doctor asap, but couldn't get in until Thursday, leaving my over two days to ruminate. My fear and stress got the better of me and I started poking around online and my concerns were confirmed. Luckily, after seeing the doctor he felt that the fact the symptom was presenting in isolation meant it was most likely a fluke, although he sent us for blood work and an ultrasound to be safe. I have to say my kid is a champ- he didn't cry at all during the lab work and he was so chill while getting his ultrasound he fell asleep! My gut (ha. ha. ha) is telling me that things are probably fine, but I will be thankful to get the test results later this week. He's my best buddy and the mere notion that something is wrong makes me feel as sick as I did when wearing tight pants. 

Promise Your Students
I swore that I'd have all of their reading quizzes graded and put in the grade book by Monday and that sense of obligation pushed me to get that stack done this weekend (that stack... there are many more stacks at work). So, spending many hours grading this weekend wasn't fantastic, but it'll be nice to be able to check to so many assignments off my grading calendar tomorrow morning. I really, really try to be honest and straightforward with my students at all times, so it was important to me that I hold up my part of the bargain. 

Take a Minute
Obviously, last week was pretty crappy. Everything was manageable, but two bouts of sickness, a potentially stressful health issue for my son, and a small car accident all in one week was a lot for me all at once. Yesterday my husband had plans all day, so instead of working through Sawyer's nap time like I normally do, I said screw it, watched This is Us and cross stitched for an hour and a half. It felt gluttonous and was what I needed.  

Your Kid Will Never Sleep In, Ever, Not Even For a Sleeping Holiday 
Nope, there was no extra hour of sleep for last night's sleeping holiday (come one, that's really what it is). I knew that was going to happen, but the 4:45 wake up this morning was still sad. I made the best of it, though, taking Sawyer to get pancakes before 7 and to walk around the duck pond before 8. My kid chooses not to observe the WONDERFUL HOLIDAY that is the End of Daylight Savings, but that is his ethical, moral, and personal choice. I have to respect it. 

Sometimes You Have to Be An Adult
Because of the unexpected expenses of at least putting up the initial costs for car rental and my insurance deductible, I made the call to cancel my quick little weekend trip up the coast alone to be fiscally responsible. It stung, a lot (there may have been a tear or two), but I knew in the end the added expense would be more stressful so I pulled the plug. There will be other chances. 

Remember the Good
There were some good moments this week- Halloween, pre-stomach disaster, was so fun this year! Sawyer had a costume parade on Friday too, at his school, that was the absolute cutest. I've also been loving Jeffrey Eugenides' newest short story collection and am excited about an unrelated blog post I'm working on for this week. I got in two short runs this weekend, taking it easy after not feeling well this week, and a few walks too. I was able to touch bases in various forms with several friends over the past few days, and of right now I'm winning my week for Fantasy Football. It's not all bad. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back, say hey!

1. Due to some minor stomach issues, I had to avoid coffee and Diet Coke today. I am completely miserable, and I don't care what that says about me- my drug of choice is completely approved by the FDA, thanks. My head doesn't hurt at all, surprisingly, but I have unintentionally nodded off twice today (not while driving or with students in my classroom, don't worry). Tomorrow I should be back on the sauce. 

2. Halloween was a success! Sawyer was a shark, I was Batman, and my husband was the Daddy Who Got Home in Time to Go Trick-or-Treating this Year. We went with the neighbors and the kids go way too much candy. Luckily my stomach is feeling better and I can start implementing the Mom Tax (hopefully the Republicans don't take that away). 

3. Go buy Everything but the Bagel seasoning from Trader Joe's right now, then put it on basically everything. 

4. I think I found a new band to love: Portugal. The Man. I'm still undecided, but they're growing on me.

5. Last Saturday I went hiking with my friend on a trail that runs a five mile loop in the hills of Claremont. I love exercising with friends- you can catch up while getting a work out. I ran seven miles the next day and by Monday my legs were total toast. 

6. I just started Jeffrey Eugenides' newest book of short stories and so far, so good. I might read The New Jim Crow concurrently, but we'll see.

7. It's November! My favorite month- the weather is cooler, we get a day off for Veteran's Day, I get to go away for a weekend alone, we have our anniversary, I get a week off (while Sawyer's preschool is still open so I can take him part of the time), and there's all the fun of cooking a Thanksgiving feast. November is where it's at. 

October Reviews

Happy Halloween! I’m off to dress up like Batman (seriously) and take my little shark trick-or-treating soon, but here’s a quick rundown on what I read this month:

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
448 pages
This book chronicles the lives of several families, most of which are African Americans, living in poverty in Milwaukee and constantly facing the threat of being evicted. Desmond provides a look at the psychological, economical, and sociological factors behind their situations, showing readers how hard it is to break the cycle of the housing crisis. Once evicted, it’s difficult to find a new place. When homeless it’s difficult to find a job. When you are completely broke and without a home for you and your family it’s hard to be happy, resist vices and temptation, and thrive.

Verdict: This was one of those books that was difficult and depressing, but also important. I firmly believe in personal responsibility, but how can we as a society expect people who have absolutely no opportunities to even survive? And what about if that’s all you’ve ever known your whole life? We need to do better.

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
203 pages
This is my third time reading this book, since I teach it to my IB seniors every other year. The memoir tells the tale of Ondaatje’s return home to Sri Lanka to learn about his family and find some closure. The memoir is uniquely constructed with photographs, poems, notebook/diary entries, and maps

Verdict: I enjoy this book more each time I read it, and  because of this I think the kids are more and more receptive to it every year (funny how that works, huh?). I appreciate Ondaatje’s prose, but also at the different components that fit together to offer different perspectives of his journey home.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
336 pages
Ng’s second novel looks at two different families living in Shaker Heights, a town that tries so very hard to be perfect. On one hand, we have the Richardsons, full of bright, well-adjusted, upper-middle-class, entitled people (minus one of the daughters, who we learn starts her family’s home on fire within the first few pages). The other family, the Warrens, is made up of just Mia and her daughter, Pearl (go ahead and start reading into the Scarlet Letter symbolism now), two vagabonds who bounce from town to town however Mia, an artist, sees fit. Mia rents a home from the Richardsons and their connection commences, becoming increasingly murky as Pearl becomes involved with the Richardson children and both families become embroiled in an adoption scandal that rocks the town.

Verdict: I have to admit to liking her first book better, but this one was still really intriguing and solid, in terms of writing and character depth. I still struggle a tiny bit at sort of the dated quality of the adoption angle, as it is a little reminiscent of a 1996ish made-for-TV movie of the week (although this is when it’s set, so I’ll give Ng that). It’s definitely a book I’ll buy a person or two for Christmas and one I’ll recommend to my students.

Roar by Stacy Sims
304 pages
This is an interesting look at female physiology, including body composition, diet, exercise, and metabolic processes. Sims offers suggestions on fueling, activity plans, and hydration needs for those who are serious about being active to those who are more in line with competitive endurance events.

Verdict: I saw a running blogger reading this and thought it looked interesting. I am extremely active, but I know that I don’t always fuel myself correctly and am horrible at managing my hydration needs. It was interesting on the scientific and practical levels, although definitely not for everyone (though it is incredibly accessible).

1,291 pages