Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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Kristen Bell posted a picture today on Instagram (above) about how you can "be excited about Beyonce" and "be horrified about current events", so that's the approach I'm taking today. I'm going to write about my equivalent of Beyonce, which is books and other fluff, but I'm also going to get political (and human).

1. It is not illegal to seek asylum. 

2. If you are "pro life" and say that "all lives matter" how can you not be outraged that these poor kids are being torn away from their parents? Their lives matter. 

3. You can bet you ass that if I felt that my child was endangered where I lived I would hightail it the eff out of there to somewhere that I felt my family had hope, safety, and a chance. Let's say the US all of the sudden went to total crap, we had no free public education, I made only a few bucks a week, health care was hard to find, our water was sometimes contaminated, and I worried that my family might get shot in our neighborhood. And then, LOW AND BEHOLD, I hear about this amazing country to the north, in our case Canada, where we could have a chance? Bags would be packed and northern movements would begin. I wouldn't care about politics and laws- I would want my son to HAVE A CHANCE, since chances were only given to the super wealthy in my country of origin. 

4. There is immigration reform, and there is cruelty. This is cruelty. What sort of denial are people living in when they think these families are going to be easily reunited some day? These kids MAY NEVER SEE THEIR PARENTS AGAIN! That blood is on America's hands. Disgusting. 

5. Upward mobility isn't necessarily a thing in certain Latin American countries in  the way we see it here. People can't just hop on LinkedIn and find well-paying jobs to apply to or simply "go back to school" to earn a better degree. We have it so, so, so good here. We need to use our outrage and take action- vote, call, donate, just DO. 

5a. I'm just adding this in, since I saw Trump signed an executive order to stop families being separated, but seriously, one family is too many. One child, too many. One day was too many. He is not a hero, he is not a good person, he is a monster, as are the rest of those involved (here's looking at you Kristjen). 

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Now, Beyonce.
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6. I have basically completely stopped accepting ARCs in the past few years, but I went ahead and accepted Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers- I probably would have bought it anyway!

6. I am currently reading Marisha Pessl's YA novel, Neverworld Wake, because I love her, and... I just don't like it. I'm so, so, so sorry Marisha! I feel like I'm a horrible person for saying this, but I will probably really struggle to finish. In her defense, though, I am not a YA reader or fan, so maybe it really is good, for YA? 

7. We watched Love, Simon last night and I thought it was great. There were some issues that I did see, like extreme white privilege in terms of the main character, a slightly annoying soundtrack at times, and unrealistic teenage dialogue, but overall I appreciated the message and thought it was pretty funny at some points (if you have seen it, the Freudian Slip costume cracked me up).

8. My mom is here! We're leaving for lunch soon before I grab Sawyer from preschool, and then tomorrow we're heading to the beach with my brother. Friday Scott and I are going to a late dinner at a new Cuban restaurant in Irvine while she babysits, and then Saturday we are all going to the Skirball Center in LA to see the Muppets Exhibit. Fun stuff.

9. Monday, when Sawyer was at preschool again (2-3 times a week, I promise I'm not taking him everyday), I did a five-mile hike on my own and it was such a treat. 

Why Everyone Should Read About Running

I have a definite soft spot in my reading habits for good running memoirs, since it's a sport I have an abundance of appreciation for. I also have a vested interest, since I try to get in three or four runs a week, although I'm not currently training for anything. I don't have ambitions of every being fast, but it's good for me mentally and physically, so I try to stay consistent. When that drive wanes I generally find myself reading a good running memoir to help on the motivation side of things. 

While recently reading Deena Kastor's book, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory, it occurred to me how applicable the lessons from these types of books are to life in general. There was so much sandwiched into her running philosophy that I could apply to teaching, parenting, and other obstacles that pop up from time to time. Why it's taken me over a decade of running and probably a dozen or two books like to realize this is beyond me. 

For those who are runners, have been runners, have tried running, or completely shun it, no one can dismiss the fact that it's tough. It doesn't matter if you're a recreational jogger who just laces up on weekends or a professional track star with endorsement deals. Running taxes your cardiovascular system, puts pressure on your joints, strains your muscles, and challenges your mind (especially for those of us who use treadmills or run the same routes continuously). A lot of the principals and practices runners use, or at least try to, are not only applicable when exercising, though, they come in handy when trying to tackle other challenges as well. 

Positive Thinking- A huge section of Kastor's book deals with training your brain, not just your legs. She spent a lot of time focusing on gratitude, seeing the positive, and focusing on what she had control over. She embraced her competitors and knew setbacks along the way would just serve to make her stronger. This isn't unique to Kastor, countless other memoirs I've read have also emphasized this approach and discuss how hard it really is to stop negative self-talk.  

Utilize Discomfort- While running shouldn't make you feel like you are injured, pain definitely pops up, whether it's from aching muscles, the need for new shoes, chafing, etc... Pain often makes us stronger though, especially when we are trying to become faster or increase endurance. The pain is actually a good thing, since it signals the fact that the tears that have been created in muscles are healing and becoming stronger. If we always stop when we feel pain there can be no growth or improvement (although you have to be careful- if it's a sharp pain or super consistent see you doctor, as I am most definitely not one). 

Goal Setting- Runners constantly have goals, whether it's related to speed, mileage, number of runs, types of runs, or race performance. Most of the runners I've read books by or know in real life tend to be pretty realistic about how much they're able to push themselves and what they need to do to get there. Things may not always work out, but there is usually forward motion, both literally and mentally.

Perseverance- I have run many, many races over the years and by the time I have finished 13.1 miles I can typically count on less than two hands how many people I see camped out in aid stations (out of tens of thousands of people). Sure, everyone has to modify their plans during a run sometimes, but the only way to improve or finish is to persevere. 

Efficient Routines- All of the memoirs I have read, by greats like Kastor, Kara Goucher, Dean Karnazes, Matt Fitzgerald, and Hal Higdon, all maintain running schedules that maximize efficiency. There are days for speed work, for fartleks, mile repeats, and long runs, all depending on the goal of the runner. For some of us, our running routines are much more simple and are more along the lines of "I will run for thirty minutes four times a week with some intervals thrown in at least once." Fitness fades fast, so running is an activity that you have to be consistent about. 

Positive thinking, utilizing discomfort, goal setting, perseverance, and creating efficient routines aren't concepts that are unique to running, they're just ones that show up frequently. These are all attributes that I can encourage my students to adapt when it comes to things as focused as an essay or as broad as how they pursue their educational careers. They're concepts I am already trying to instill in my four-year-old when it comes to simple things like practicing tracing or putting his socks on. Personally, they're all things I strive for daily- strive being the key word. When it comes to my actual non-running life I know I could definitely use a crash course when it comes to positive thinking, and when it comes to running I need to work on pushing through the pain a bit better. 

Basically, I use running books for my own version of self-help. They motivate me to add miles to my exercise routine, but they also give me a fresh perspective and remind me that you just have to work harder to get to where you want to be. 

And just in case I've convinced you to either take up running or at least utilize the philosophy encouraged in most running memoirs, here are some of my favorites to get started:

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor

The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike

The Long Run by Matt Long

Marathon by Hal Higdon

An Accidental Athlete by John Bingham

Running for Women by Kara Goucher

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Baking Tips

[marbled frosting ftw]


I have been baking since I was probably six or seven, helping my mom at first and then tackling simple recipes alone soon after. We had an actual recipe box full of tried and true recipes, as well as some well-loved cookbooks, with splotches of batter and dustings of flour on many pages. To this day, I probably bake something from scratch three times a month, sometimes to take to work, sometimes for friends, sometimes just to have here at home. I'm always surprised at how many people will tell me that they "can't bake" or "am more of a cooker, not a baker." 

YES. YOU. CAN. 

Stop denying yourself freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, deliciously frosted cakes, and the buttery, flaky crust of a pie. Follow these tips that I've really come to appreciate and practice over the years and you too will baking like a champ:

1. Read every word of the directions, and then read them again- Often there are hints in the intro or the cook's notes, as well as rationales as to why things are being done a certain way. You'll also know what to prepare ahead of time and the order in which you will need ingredients. 

2. Measure precisely- Baking is chemistry, really. Sure, you can mess around with things like subbing chocolate chips for raisins, but when it comes to the core ingredients like flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, butter/oil and baking powder you have to be precise.

3. Buy parchment paper- Parchment paper is key for lining pans that you need to carefully remove things from (like cake rounds). Don't stop here, though. Use a thin layer of shortening and then a dusting of flour (that you tap out), and then place the carefully cut parchment paper on (I trace the pan and cut the circles out). It's seriously a lifesaver and worth the step, especially with cakes.

4. Pay attention to temperature- Remember the chemistry comment? Temperature is important when it comes to the ingredients, so if the recipe calls for room-temperature then make sure to set out the butter or eggs ahead of time. Pay attention to cooling directions, too, since many desserts tend to need to set or cool before another action can be taken. Consider investing in an oven-thermometer as well, since a lot of ovens are off or heat unevenly.

5. Don't be afraid of yeast- I have heard this SO many times! Yeast is awesome and opens up a whole new category of baking. Most recipes will have you activate the yeast ahead of time, with warm water and maybe a little sugar or honey. A trick I've learned with the temperature of the water is to the temperature right before you get steam. If the yeast mixture doesn't start foaming, just start again (yeast tends to come in three-packs, so you'll have extra). 

6. Don't overmix- This is a common mistake, I think, because we just want to make sure everything is incorporated. This can cause major texture issues, though, since you let too much air into the batter, and you also mess with gluten development. When I stop seeing individual ingredients (like flour) I mix for another five or ten seconds and then quit. 

7. Try not to omit or substitute- I know a lot of times we'd prefer not to jump in the car and run to the store when we run out of something, but a lot of times it's worth the thirty minutes. There are a few that work, like making buttermilk from regular milk and vinegar, but try to avoid it if you can.

8. Crumb coat your cake- When frosting your cakes always use the crumb coat strategy. I'll assemble my coat and do a quick, think coat in frosting and pop it in the freezer for ten minutes while I'm getting the rest of my supplies ready. When I take it out the cake has been sealed up and all those pesky crumbs are suspended in that original layer so that you can decorate without worrying about them getting in the way. 

9. Clean as you go- This one sounds silly, but I think another deterrent from baking is the mess. I try to put ingredients away as I go, wipe down counters between steps, and completely clean up the kitchen while my dessert is baking.

No go forth and make something delicious! 

Author Events: Gail Honeyman and Michael Chabon

[Gaily Honeyman and I at Pages]
I was fortunate enough to attend back-to-back author events this week and am now so inspired to read (more) and write (more). The first one was an afternoon with the author of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman, that I won through an Instastory contest through Reese's Book Club x Hello Sunshine, and the other was a Michael Chabon's talk at the Skirball Center in LA. 

I wasn't really sure what to expect with the lunch, since the reps from Hello Sunshine basically just told us where to meet and what time to be there. It turns out a bookstore in Manhattan Beach, Pages, was hosting a luncheon for Gail Honeyman, in which the local "ladies who lunch" crowd paid to attend. The other winner and I were placed on either side of the author at a table full of Penguin reps, so that was definitely interesting! I was able to chat with Honeyman quite a bit, and she was incredibly sweet and down-to-earth. We spoke about her crazy travel schedule, the purchase of the film rights of her book, her progress on her next novel, and then she also asked about my job and family. I honestly forgot that her book had sold for over six figures in a huge auction- she was totally nice and normal. Her editor, Pamela Dorman, was there and I was able to talk to her for a minute, as well (she also works with JoJo Moyes).  Honeyman spoke to the crowd and then we drove to the bookstore to do some photos and videos for Hello Sunshine's social accounts. I have no problem with any sort of media that doesn't require me to talk- I am dreading the videos. We had to talk about why we liked the book and also did a sort of rapid-fire Q&A with the author. Despite my inability to be articulate on camera, it was a really, really fun day. The other winner was great and it was just a pleasure to be around fellow bookish people. 


Last night was the Michael Chabon event promoting his new short book of essays, Pops, which I highly recommend. My friend and I drove down to West LA and heard him discuss his experiences parenting and how this influences his writing. He touched a bit on his process, discussing how he has created a daily writing habit and about his revision process (he is an incredibly meticulous wordsmith). This was the second time I've seen him and I think he is now tied with Isabel Allende as my favorite author to listen to. He's so witty and intelligent that you just can't help but to like him and want to immediately devour everything he's ever written. 

One of my biggest take-aways after reflecting on the two days is that both authors have had to do whatever necessary to make writing work for them. Honeyman had a full-time job and was staring down the barrel of the big 4-0, so she started using snippets of time before work and at lunch to write her first novel. Chabon has a set time he uses every day and strives to hit at least 1,000 words, whether they'e great or shitty. They're passionate about their endeavors and refuse to let excuses bog them down. It was definitely motivating, to say the least. 

I can't stop but to acknowledge the fact that the only reason why I was able to go to these two events was because one of my good friends was able to pick Sawyer up from preschool on Tuesday and yesterday my husband was able to keep him at work for the last hour of the day. Once-upon-a-time I could go to things like this a few times a month if I wanted, but the logistics now are a bit more complicated. Luckily it worked out for me this time around! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[American Graffiti Parade shot]


Happy Wednesday! If you care to play, leave your link in the comments!

1. I swear, the more I sleep the more tired I am! Is there some sort of scientific explanation for this? I'm going to have to look it up. 

2. The other night, on a complete whim, I bought Elton John tickets for next February. I've always wanted to see him and since he's retiring, supposedly, after this round I went for it. 

3. I'll post more later, but yesterday I had the privilege of attending a lunch with Gail Honeyman and it was super fun. Tonight I'm headed back to LA to the Skirball Center to hear Michael Chabon with a friend, so I'm definitely getting my literary fix.

4. It's almost Father's Day! Sawyer and I have A Plan. 



5. The other day I finally put up the prints I've been buying for a gallery wall over our stairs, and DANG was it a pain. I knew that it was going to be tough and I planned it out on the ground and then traced the shapes as guides for the stairs, but I am still not satisfied completely with the spacing. I think we're going to paint in a few years, so this will be revised eventually anyway. I do really love the prints, though, since I tried hard to find ones that reflected all of our interests. 

6. Last weekend Sawyer and I flew up north to visit my mom for a day and it was a relative success. He as completely fine, but, honestly, handling all of our stuff, him, and his car seat was tough. I checked his seat as baggage, so it really is just from the car to the counter, but still.... We are flying out of LAX when we go to Canada, which is a horrible airport, so I'm not looking forward to that part of it. 

7. While we were in Modesto we saw the American Graffiti Parade, which the city puts on each year in order to pay homage to George Lucas' movie with the same title. People from all over, including my mom's husband, enter their classic cars and drive the parade route. We snuck a ride for awhile, which was fun for Sawyer. 

8. I just started Florida by Lauren Groff- so far so good! 

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