June Reads

Ten books! I am pleased that I was able to meet my June goal this month, finishing my last two books on my last day (all of these are physical books read). I have gotten in the habit of reading two books at once, a fiction and a nonfiction usually, and that has proven to be a good method for me. Before I start, one of the nonfiction books I read this month I won't be discussing, just because it's on a topic that I don't feel like talking about here. 

I plan to write a post on this book soon, but I read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, which is about how the criminal justice system in the US unfairly treats black people and perpetuates a cycle of poverty and crime. It's very dense, so I found that reading 10-12 pages a day for a month was a really great way to absorb and digest the content. 

Two of the books I read this month were for separate book clubs I belong to, Isabel Allende's A Long Petal of the Sea and Emma Straub's All Adults Here. I enjoyed them both! Allende's was a sweeping look at two families that were influenced by the Spanish Civil War and then the regime changes in Chile. Like always, her books really focus on family, love, and identity. Straub's is also family-centric, but in a much different way. I have made the comment several times that it reminded me a little of The Gilmore Girls, which is a definite compliment. It's a quirky look at a family going through lots of changes in a small town, navigating their place in the world and their love for each other.

I have to admit that I was a little hesitant to read Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls, since I really haven't loved the other two books I read of hers. This one was much more enjoyable! I don't think she's necessarily a super literary writer, but, still, the story line was interesting and the main characters a delight. 

On the flip side, Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half  was stunning. She's a fantastic writer and her book explored race in such a unique way (two black twins are born in a black town that celebrates light skin; one twin identifies as black while the other passes as white). I learned a lot and just really appreciated Bennett's ability to craft a story.   

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier  and The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai were both quick, quirky, stories that I enjoyed. Pizza Girl  felt akin to reading an indie movie, the narrator a recent high school graduate that finds herself pregnant and employed as a pizza delivery girl. She befriends a mom she drops off a pizza to, while also figuring out what to do with the father of her baby. The Makkai book told the story of a librarian who ends up sort of kidnapping a young kid, but also vice versa. It's complicated and while it wasn't as good as her most recent novel, it was still super enjoyable.

Modern Love, a collection of essays about love, ended up being super charming and was sweet without being sappy. I ended up enjoying the non-romantic love stories more than those about marriage, but as a whole it was just a great read that made me hate people less.

Speaking of hate... don't get mad at me. I read Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist for the first time and I really, really did not like it. I appreciated the message and writing, but I just did not enjoy the actual story. I can see how it could be really meaningful for people, but it just wasn't my thing. It happens!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I don't consider myself a glimmering ray of sunshine, but I am also no Debbie Downer, either. I feel like I'm realistic and I try to look for silver linings. That being said, I think that alongside covid19, an epidemic of epic complaining is underway (and yes I get the hypocrisy of complaining about complaining). Some people have the right to complain, for sure, but I know SO MANY people who are just complaining because they feel the circumstances of the world are giving them carte blanche to just do so. 

2. Sawyer and I went to another new-to-us wilderness area this week, tucked away in the hills of Anaheim. It was really, really pretty and I really appreciated the diverse plants that were growing in the park. They didn't have a map, though, and cell phone service was spotty, so I was a little nervous in the beginning about getting lost. I was able to eventually get a bar of service and screen shot one and felt silly once I did, since all the trails were loops and none were more than about a mile. I wish we had been able to go on the trip I had planned this summer, but I am pleased I have been finding new places to explore locally.

3. Some friends came to visit last week and are coming again tomorrow. We just set up lawn chairs outside and are staying away from each other, so everyone feels safe and like we are following the advice of health experts. It's also really good practice for Sawyer, since he is used to hugging guests and being close to friends. 

4. I am starting daily July challenges for my students on my teacher Instagram page as a way to start really prepping for the 2020-2021 school year. We aren't sure what it's going to look like yet, but I have always felt that my connections with students has been one of my strengths. These days educators have to look for new was to build bridges, and if it means having my new juniors send me pictures of their pets one day or play "would you rather" games so be it. 

5. I have decided that buying a small Class C RV is on my list of goals for the next 5-6 years. Owning one right now seems like such a jackpot situation- you can just pack up, drive off, and BOOM! Instant vacation. I have spent quite a bit of time researching them, and I feel like if I can save a certain amount and also finish paying off my student loans this might actually be something I can afford. I could technically go and do it right now, but I despise monthly payments and am currently not really sure about how much my childcare costs are going to run when we go back to school. I am really nervous about driving one, but when the virus eases up my mom and I have a tentative plan to rent one and take a trip. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I had my yearly well-woman exam the other day... over the phone. Ha!

2. Sawyer and I are starting a fun little project for part of his school review time that we do most days- he is writing letters to characters from books he loves. To start things off he did one to Hagrid today, complimenting him on his dragon and asking about the itchiness of his beard. There are so many skills- letter writing format, spelling, writing different kind of sentences, reading comprehension, and art when he draw a picture. 

3. I head Laurie Santos, a psychologist, on The Armchair Expert talking about happiness and was so excited to hear she has her own show, The Happiness Lab. I listened to one episode yesterday about creating good habits and I really liked the practical advice of her and her guests. I can't wait to listen to more! They're in the 25-45 minutes range, which is perfect. 

4. People are always surprised to hear the types of audiobooks that I listen to- mysteries, self-help, memoirs, etc... I never want to listen to something that I think is of a higher quality, since I rather read it!  That being said, I just finished Then She Was Gone  by Lisa Jewell and the first 2/3 was pretty good, the last 1/3 when they were tying things up a little predictable and forced. I just started Tarryn Fisher's The Wives and it's fairly entertaining. 

5. Our friends from out of the state are out staying with their family and are coming over for a socially-distanced visit in our front yard tomorrow. I'm excited! New faces! At my house! 

6. Masks! I have worn them in places where I can't social distance from the beginning and originally made some of my own. Now that Sawyer and I are going to more parks and trails I want to have some for him, just in case we find ourselves in a situation where he needs one (plus he might have to wear one when he goes back to school in the fall and needs to get used to it). The biggest problem I have found with him is getting the elastic loops to stay on his ears, so I ordered one from Vista Prints- it is super soft, cute and the ears have adjustable locks. The only problem is that they're $14 a pop! I ordered some little silicon tubes that fit over the elastic as well, so I plan on making him some more and using those, too. 

7. Earlier this week we went to a wilderness preserve nearby and hiked around for almost two hours in the morning. It was beautiful! It's a thirty minute drive from my house, which isn't bad at all and there are enough people around so that you fairly safe, but you also don't really cross paths either. Perfect!

8. One of good friend's moms passed away from Covid19 the other evening, after a valient, rough battle with it. Please wear your masks, stop having get togethers, and be smart about where you're going. No one is too special to follow community health protocols. This isn't political, we aren't turning into a "socialist country," and just because you think you're strong enough to withstand it doesn't mean you are, or the people you live with are.

9. I've had to really practice responding with grace lately and it's really, really hard. Oh, Covid19, you really are character building. 

10. I started my 2020 year-in-review book yesterday and it's going to be the strangest one yet! I am so lucky we did so much in January thru mid-March. I am looking forward to doing the stay-at-home times, just because I know in a decade I might not remember how odd this time of our life was (at least I hope I'm not dwelling on it...). 

What I've Learned from the Last Three Months of Social Isolation

I will admit my privilege before I even begin this post, just because I know I am fortunate to have my job, home, health, and amazing son. I also know that I only have one kid, which is far easier than having multiple on many levels (but also really tough because he relies on my for all of his basic needs being met and companionship). That being said, this has been the hardest period of my life for obvious reasons, and others. We all have our stuff, right? Again, I feel like a jerk confessing this, considering so many fortunate aspects to my life, but it's the truth. That being said, there have been bright spots and I have learned a lot, some serious and some more trivial. In true-to-me nature, there's a LONG RAMBLING list:

If you really want to be connected to your friends you'll find a way. Zoom, Facetime, House Party, Marco Polo, texts, calls, etc... all work! They aren't the same, but they're better than nothing and often more convenient. There are friends I think I actually talk to more now that before! How awesome is that? This has definitely been a reminder that I need  my friends and am super fortunate to have the ones that I have. I have a standing happy hour late every Friday night, another one every-other-Mondayish, am in two book clubs, Marco Polo one friend multiple times a day, plus all the other random forms of communication. I am slowly getting to add in socially distanced outdoor visits with friends, but it's definitely not the same as getting to sit across from them at lunch or getting coffee. But still- I feel good about my social efforts. 

I go through a lot of scented candles when I am home. 

Mandatory rest-time for my child is absolutely necessary and good for us both (he does not rest; this is the original intent, but it has morphed into "be quiet and stay in your room until your alarm goes off"). I know I mention this all the time, but I don't care. 

There is a correct balance of social media consumption; I haven't quite found it. Too much leads to wasted time, not liking people I didn't actually realize I disliked so much, and emotional drained. Too little and I feel disconnected and isolated.

News is best read once or twice a day. It changes a lot, but the change in and of itself is predictable. Also, I have had to learn to remind myself a million times a day to remember headlines are just click-bait and not to worry when I see "Expert's dire warning of xyz," as it may actually  be applicable to something 500 miles away. On that note, I hate paywalls. 

There are people I find to have, shall we say, "really toxic auras," and I've had to do a lot of blocking, muting, etc... On that note, it has been a good exercise in empathy. Are they being a huge ridiculous pain because that's actually who they are? Or are they lonely? Stressed? Scared? It's hard and admittedly not always my go-to way of interpreting social media posts, but it's been a good way to stretch. 

My son is an absolute gem of a person (despite the fact that I do in fact need breaks from him). He has had his whole little world turned upside down and he still wakes up smiling, over-the-moon excited when he's surprised with the occasional glass of chocolate milk, and ready to draw a million pictures a day. He has made so much progress with his reading, talks pretty much every waking moment, and has become excellent at folding towels. He is the best part of every single day and this is more bearable because he's with me. 

Exercise is the only way I've been able to survive this, in terms of keeping my sanity. We take a long walk in the morning, usually close to an hour, I have started doing more and more yoga in the afternoons, and I often run or do an incline walking session after Sawyer goes to bed, or before dinner. There are things that have brought my some incredible anxiety (I know, I'm not the only one) and exercise has always been my form of therapy. It also helps tire me out so I can sleep at night. 

Despite limitations, I have still had to plan things to look forward to. Now that we are able to add some parks and trails in the mix I am trying to use that as the carrot I need dangled in front of me, as well as any sort of social interaction I can get. I still treat weekdays as more structured time, including getting up and ready at a normal hour, having my son do some review work, creating schedules for myself, etc... Weekends I get to sleep a little bit later and Saturdays I try to not do any boring home projects or extra domestic stuff. In the past I relied on time away from home with Sawyer as a break and for fun, and it's admittedly been a bit crippling to not be able to do that anymore. I spend a lot of time outside in the backyard too... I don't know. It's just really hard. I'm not sitting here lamenting not being able to like go to Fiji or something, but... yeah. I'm still trying, though, to have those things to work through the hard times for, as creative as I have to be (a new recipe to bake? Take out on Saturday nights? Sneaking out while Sawyer has his screen time at night so I can walk and call my mom? Ordering something? All of this). 

I have to take responsibility for my own happiness. This isn't just a social-distancing thing, of course, but this time has been a huge reminder of that.  We are all going to have our own narrative when we look back on this time and so far I can say that I've struggled, but I've worked hard to make it the best that I can, for both me and Sawyer. There are days where I feel like I should get a trophy for getting up and getting Sawyer his morning bagel-cereal combo or a medal for keeping the house clean and dinners made, but no one is going to thank me or send accolades. And it's not even that I need that much validation, it's just that sometimes doing the same thing over and over again doesn't really feel like auto-pilot, it feels exhausting. Luckily, after a walk and coffee I'm able to rally and knock out my to-do list, play with my kid, etc... But, again, it's on me. I listen to the Armchair Expert and they talk about having a list of things to do when you feel that happiness slipping away; it's my job that I use it to control how my day goes.  

I don't want to do house projects. I mean, who does, really, but I seriously don't feel like re-caulking the shower, touching up paint around the garage door or back cement wall, steam cleaning the carpets, or deep cleaning every room in the house (those are the things I had planned on). I mean, I will, hopefully, do all of these things before the summer is over, but I really don't want to. I also am very aware of my limitations as a homeowner- pardon my language, but I don't really know how to do shit. 

A One-Woman Anti-Racist Book Club

I have one major issue and one major prediction for the outpouring of support for Black Lives Matter and racial inequality in this county. The issue: so many performative allies. Post-post-post-post-post-post. But what are you doing? What is your call-to-action? The prediction? Americans, as a whole, have the attention spans of rats (like, you know, getting bored of being safe for a global pandemic after like five minutes) and I can see this becoming a passing phase for many. 

I don't want to be that person. I have tried to create my own call-to-actions every week, whether it's donating a few bucks to charity, working on the BLM embroidery hoops for my Etsy shop, reading books on my own, talking to my son about what's happening, or emailing elected officials (this is so, so, so easy, and I have found after sending Facebook messages to many local ones that I get quick, personable responses back within hours, including two police departments, a mayor's office, and an assemblyman). But who will hold me accountable to keep doing things?


And that's the thing, as non-black people we need to take a good, hard look at our track records of staying focused, disciplined, and to follow through. How many diets or work-out routines have you quit? How many friends or family members have you simple lost contact with because you couldn't be bothered to text? How many home projects have you not seen through until the end? And those things aren't even that important, in the scheme of things. I'd hope that something this significant and huge would maintain a strong hold on America, but when I look around, I just don't know.

And sure, you don't need to shout from the rooftops what you are doing. Does it hurt to mention it, to gently nudge the talkers into becoming doers? I don't think so. You don't need to screenshot your donation receipts or a video of you calling your mayor, but I think it can be motivating to people who need a kick-in-the-pants to act to see that their peers are out there actively trying to be a part of the solution. There's a difference between being showy and self-serving and encouraging. 

I can sit here and be pessimistic (or realistic?) about the fickle nature of my fellow countrymen, or I can take responsibility for myself. What I pledge to do each month:

- Make a donation to Southern Poverty Law Center or Campaign Zero
- Keep the dialogue open with my son
- Post links to relevant articles and podcasts on my Google Classroom page- I think I will start doing this on each Monday
- After fulfilling the orders for the BLM hoops on my etsy show I'll keep it going for those who are interested (I donate the profits to chartiy)
- Start my one-woman book club... keep reading!

The One-Woman Anti-Racist Book Club
Okay, fine, this isn't really a true book club, since it's just me. But I want to make sure I am reading at least one nonfiction or fiction book a month that is by a black author. I went back through my records and in 2019 I read ten. This year I want to read twelve or more, and from this month forward I plan to post here about it, focusing on what I learned, applicable quotes, and more about the author. 

There was a hashtag going around twitter recently about how much authors made for their book advances, at the discrepancies between white authors and BIPOC was clear- using our voices as readers and bloggers is one way to highlight books that deserve more attention (while learning how to be better allies ourselves). 

I read a few posts lately from black authors who are reminding readers to not just read nonfiction accounts that are strictly about race; to paraphrase one (sorry, I don't remember the source) she  said that we need to read about the everyday lives of black people that show them falling in love, getting annoyed at their kids, having careers, etc... So my goal is to read a variety of books! 

I just finished my first one, Brit Bennett's newest, and will post about it next week.

I hope that everyone will join me in finding some sort of way to act, not just post or talk, about making America a place.