Lessons I've Been Working to Learn

In effort to post more, and increase my writing in general, I plan on coming on here with additional non-bookish topics a little more than normal. I know that I technically don't need to explain, which actually falls into item four below, but it's who I am.

Lately, I've been feeling older than usual, which is technically true if we're looking at the simple math behind things. It's not that my bones are suddenly creaking or I feel less cool (both of those things have been happening for a decade),  but instead maybe I'm just a  little more contemplative about life in general. There's also been an uptick in audiobooks that could be labeled "self-help" this year, which I'm sure might lend itself to some sort of correlation. Nonetheless, I've been really thinking about what it takes for me to be happy,  how to run my life efficiently, and what I need to change to get where I need to be. 

There have been some lessons that have really resonated with me lately, ones that I've worked hard to understand and to use as sort of guideposts when considering decisions and how I view my everyday life. Nothing is fool-proof or works all the time, and I screw up ON THE DAILY, often multiple times. But there has to be something to be said for trying. 

One that I've really had to work to adjust my perspective on is taking the attitudes of others less personally, in all areas of life. I view myself as a pretty considerate person, despite the sarcasm and strong opinions, so I'd like to think that I'm not seen as a highly offensive person, professionally, socially, or at home. Yet if someone is short with me, responds to a lengthy text or email with one word, or is downright rude, I generally assume it's because they're "mad at me," which I struggle with. In reality, the person in question is probably having a bad day, is preoccupied with their own stress, is tired, or is just generally burnt out. It happens to all of us- we're having a rough day and we're more quiet than normal or snap easily. This doesn't mean I'm giving everyone in my life carte blanche to use me as a door mat, nor does it mean that I am assuming I don't give people reasons to be irritated with me. It just means we could all give others the benefit of the doubt. If we've made good choices about who we spend time with these people are probably deserving of a break. And, frankly, it's not all about you. Or me.  

I've  heard it so many times lately, in what I've listened to and while reviewing some philosophy-based content I've been working with for one of my classes, that our levels of happiness return to "normal" not long after something big or life-changing happens. The example that is always given is losing a limb or winning the lottery- whether good or bad the initial "OH MY GOD!!!!!" sort of extreme feelings level out and we just ease back into the status quo, with maybe a few adjustments. Obviously we'd prefer the more positive spin, but my pessimistic-self has been dwelling on some worse case scenarios- it's comforting to know that even if that were to happen, I'd be okay eventually. Our brains and our bodies do what we need to do during times of stress, but then we work on making the best of the new norm (although this isn't always straightforward; emotions, anxiety, and depression can cause additional obstacles). 

When it comes to being productive I'm sort of all over the places. I get a lot done, constantly, but I always feel like I slack on the quick tasks that I could knock of my to-do list. I've been focusing on lately on JUST DOING things that take less than five minutes. Running upstairs to put away an armload of stuff, unloading the dishwasher, folding a load of towels, grading two essays (they add up!), paying a bill, grabbing the dry cleaning, cleaning out my car, checking in with a friend I haven't spoken to, emailing a politician, making an appointment- the list of quick tasks that I tend to procrastinate on goes on and on. But if the dreaded chore takes less than five minutes, I'm really trying to push myself to just effing do it. 

Last weekend I was at a store with my friend and she predicted the saleslady was going to try to convince us to sign up for the store's mailing list. I rolled my eyes and said I'd claim to be needing to reduce my excess email and she pointed out a few podcasts she'd listened to that talked about simply saying no. It made me think- I feel the need to explain why I decline things all the time. I need to learn to just smile and say no thank you, rather than explain. That's honestly really, really hard for me, because I feel like I'm being rude. And I don't think that's always the way to go, but when I'm declining to apply for a credit card, donate to another charity, or whatever else that's not going to cause hurt feelings or confusion, I smile and say "no thank you." I don't owe strangers reasons for my decisions. 

This past weekend our pool pump finally bit the dust, a sentence our pool guy had given it well over a year ago. This sadly means $1500 in replacement costs, half of which I am responsible for, according to how my husband and I run our household finances. I have plenty of money in savings, which has money earmarked for this exact sort of thing, but I was still so irritated with having to use it for that. But, seriously, what is the point of having things if you aren't willing to use them? Sure, it's good to save money, and I do habitually, but the emergency fund is partially for house repairs. And what about the other things in life? I used to only put on my expensive perfume on special occasions, use the good glasses when people were over, and wear certain articles of my clothing when I went to certain places. Part of this was how I was brought up, but, seriously, life's too short, and I don't know about you, I don't want to die with a half-full bottle of $100 perfume. 

So, nothing profound; I'm not going to be penning my own guide or becoming a life coach. Heck, I probably only follow my own advice half the time of the time. It's taken my 34.9 years to figure this out, so I'm hoping by seventy I'll be good to go. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Wednesday, also knows as "IAmTiredandWishitWasTheEndOfTheWeek-Day." Just me?

I just started Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room and am really enjoying it so far. I know it’s nitpicky, but, as a California Central Valley girl, it slightly annoys me that her fictional prison set in that location is actually named after one in Southern California.

Speaking of being annoyed by small things, I started listening to Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I have to come the conclusion that since having Sawyer, I really have done a good job of prioritizing what I truly care and don’t care about. I don’t actually, for real, let things like the above comment bother me. I don’t freak out if someone doesn’t use their blinker, if a colleague does something differently than I would, or if someone doesn’t answer my texts for a few days. Sure, there are blips along the way, like when I get annoyed at Target for not carrying something they should or when my students don’t underline the title of a book (HOW HARD IS IT????). But as a whole, I really feel good about what I let bother me. It’s still a funny book, though, and does have some really interesting perspectives on coping with life’s obstacles.

Sawyer has speech for fifty minutes every Friday afternoon and I am actually, strangely, really enjoying it (except the cost, but that’s not something up for debate). It’s fifty minutes I can sit in one spot and read or cross stitch and not have to talk to anyone or get up and do chores or help anyone out. The fact that it’s at the end of the week, during a time slot we never have anything going on, makes it even easier to digest. He really loves going and is really receptive to the practice she’s giving us at home (so far), so I’m feeling good about the arrangement.

You should go read this post, which Cely, a blogger I’ve read for years and years, bravely wrote. I think it's really important to remember that women in all walks of life or sexually assaulted and it's hard to come forward at any point. I'm glad conversations are happening, but it's still frustrating that our own government does want to protect women. 

I have been loving the “screen time” function after writing that I was excited that it was added to the iOS last week. I have already consciously made more of an effort to not mindlessly pickup my phone have seen a decrease in usage correspond to increased productivity (I read while drinking my coffee, for example, as opposed to mindless phone scrolling).

I feel like I’ve hit sort of writer’s block when it comes to posts lately. It’s funny how ideas come in starts and stops, at least when it comes to reading and books. I think one of my biggest problems is that, even after all of these years, I don’t really consider the blog as I am reading. After I’m done with something I’ll want to write about it, but I feel discouraged by the fact I didn’t take notes while I read or tab pages. Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star is the perfect example. She did such creative things with her narrative structure, yet while I was reading I didn’t read like a blogger or student; I read like someone who was reading for fun. I also need to be better about jotting down ideas for posts and being more willing to write about non-bookish things as well.

I saw that Roxane Gay was doing a class on Skillshare about personal essay writing and I’m really thinking about doing the free trial to check it out. I have no ambition to write my own memoir or anything like that (you’re welcome, world), but I think it would be awesome to learn from her as a writer in general. There's a few Master Classes that I would love to do too, but that subscription is pretty pricy, and has to be paid all at once (but having Margaret Atwood "teach you" about writing? So tempting!).  

This weekend my brother and I are taking Sawyer to a corn maze and then Sunday I am running a 10k in Huntington Beach. I already have no expectations for this run, which is disappointing, since as of a month or two ago I was feeling good about it. Since then I have had a lingering cold that is just now resolved, needed to take a few days off for my tattoo to heal, and am having some major issues with the ankle that has an extra bone (the pain has started radiating past the bone itself and is now burning as well as aching, which is a super fun addition!!!!!). But still, at the end of the day, it’s an opportunity to get some exercise on the beach and if I have to walk, I can listen to a podcast and still enjoy the time. It might rain, though, and if it does I might skip the thing all together. We’ll see.

Fingers crossing this weekend speeds up! 

Weekend Update, Fall Edition

The temperatures in Southern California have dipped into the 70s, so we're all about fall now- I actually busted out my boots yesterday. We had a super busy-semi-fallish weekend, so I thought I'd share the highlights (especially since little reading has happened in the past four or five days). 

Saturday morning Sawyer and I met up with one of my friends and we went to Irvine Regional Park for their pumpkin patch. Since it's early in the season and their supply hasn't been picked over, we were a little in awe with the variety and amount of pumpkins they had. There were free hay rides around the park and games for the kids (for a small fortune). Afterwards we hit up a Safety Fair at the shopping center near our house that we go to every year. It's actually really neat- the city brings out an impressive variety of emergency vehicles and there are tons of booths. They encourage the kids to climb all over the firetrucks motorcycles, ambulances, and patrol cars, which makes it even better.

Afterwards, I passed off the munchkin to my husband and drove to pick up another friend and we drove to LA for my long-awaited tattoo. I was admittedly really nervous about the whole thing, mostly because the tattoo artist, Daniel Winter of Winterstone Tattoos, is kind of a badass. I found him on Mandy Moore's Instagram and had to wait six months to get an appointment. I figured he'd be a bit intimidating, but he was actually incredibly professional, friendly, and confident. The tattoo (a tiny tree right under the hairline on my neck) took about ten minutes and barely hurt. It's healing nicely and isn't even red- if I ever want more ink he will most definitely be my guy. 

We headed to Eataly and the huge, amazing mall it's in, to window-shop. Eataly is a huge Italian market with a few different food counters and a restaurant. We had bellinis and custom cannolis for a snack- clearly it was a "treat yo self" kind of evening! We had dinner reservations at Tom Collichio's Craft, which was delicious with impeccable service. We then stopped at the new LA Milk Bar, in the Fairfax District, for dessert and headed home, since it was way past our "we have little kids and are tired" bedtimes. 

This morning Scott and I took Sawyer to Knott's Berry Farm for their Spooky Farm, which lets the kids dress up and go trick-or-treating in one area of the park. He has wanted to be Snoopy since August, so he was in heaven today at the park. He has warmed up to the characters, so it was so cute seeing him with all the Peanuts in his cute little costume. He was quite the hit too, especially with all of the employees, who asked him repeatedly where their paychecks were. 

I've busted out the fall decor, am burning an autumn candle, and we bought the supplies to decorate Sawyer's bedroom door with ghosts and witches (and a whole bunch of other things that he sweetly thinks I have the talent to create... ha). I even unsuccessfully attempted to nap under an actual blanket today and ate soup for dinner- we're going for broke. 

I hope everyone had a great weekend and has an awesome week. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's Wednesday! Leave your link in the comments if you post!

1. No matter what, parent-teacher conference week always feels insane. This time around is no exception. I teach two late classes as is, Sawyer has speech on Friday, and then I had an extra meeting on Tuesday, so every single afternoon this week has been spoken for. I know I'm whining, but I seriously can't stand it (especially since I still haven't full shaken this stupid cold). 

2. My grandpa is scheduled to have triple-bypass on Friday, in LA, which was unexpected and is of course very worrisome. Throwing a wrench into the equation is the fact that one of his carotid arteries might need to be dealt with first, which they won't know conclusively until tomorrow (Thursday). I lived with my grandparents for three years in college and we've always been close, so it's killing me that I won't be able to be at the surgery, not that it really matters since his six kids will probably all be waiting. It's hard when the people you love start really aging.

3. On a happier family note, my brother got married over the weekend and it ended up being a really fun celebration. Sawyer TORE the dance floor up- I had to literally pick up when it was time to go, as he dramatically (and jokingly) yelled after the bride to keep dancing. 

4. I wish I had the time to write a short story a week. I momentarily considered NaNoWriMo next month, but doing short stories instead, but I just can't (I have some issues with NaNoWriMo as is, but still, it always sounds good in October). Whenever I have ideas and feel inspired I have no time. When I have time, I feel lukewarm about my ideas and lack creative drive. Someday the stars will align, right?

5. I finished Educated a few days ago and ended up really, really loving it. I'm always a little nervous about books that have enormous buzz, but Tara Westover did not disappoint. 

6. I love it when I have students who give me the wrong impression at the beginning of the year for whatever reason, behavior, academic, or personality-wise, but then totally surprise me, in a good way. I've had that experience a few times this school year and I really love it (another kid left my class at the beginning of the year, deciding it was too hard, and then asked to come back a few days later after having a change of heart. He's now doing an awesome job and has asked about a few different ways to keep challenging himself). 

7. I am passionately in love with the "screen time" function in the new Apple iOS update. I had heard it was going to happen and now that it has I am obsessed. I am super competitive, so every day I want to spend less time on my phone, especially on certain apps. I have already noticed an increased feeling of productivity the last two days. I AM NOT JOKING. Seriously. This was made for me. 

September Reviews

Confession: I really don't feel like doing reviews this month. I know, I'm the worst book blogger ever. If we're really going to get honest, I actually never really enjoy doing my monthly post and it's incredibly quick, compared to a lot of my fellow bibliophiles with sites! I think maybe my format is the problem, so maybe I'll fiddle around with it in the upcoming months. For today, I'm just going to go for it.

I think the least impressive of the mix was China Rich Girlfriend, by Kevin Kwan. It wasn't horrible, by any means, but a little silly and not exactly the world's best writing. It was definitely entertaining, though, and some of the satire from the first novel, Crazy Rich Asians, was there. It's a good book for reading in between serious reads.

For work I reread Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, which is one of my favorite books to teach. There's just so much to do with the language, historical/cultural context, and the story itself. We talk about race, gender, marriage, and a whole range of symbols. The kids like it, too, which makes the whole process even better.

The third work of fiction I read was the novella The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector and I was totally blown away by her unique narrative structure. It's a quick story about a poor girl in South America who falls in love, in dumped, and then dies, but it's really so much more. I need to get my hands on more of her works soon.

I read two nonfiction books as well, the first being The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, just because I appreciate the occasional self-help book that makes me question things about myself. I am constantly trying to figure out how to be more efficient and make the most out of my life, so I thought this book would have some good insights, which it did. I really appreciated the scientific approach and have really thought a lot about it when I'm try to, say, cut back on snacking in the afternoon.

Finally, I just finished Educated by Tara Westover for book club this week and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you were a fan of The Glass Castle you will absolutely love this one, since it was an even better, in my opinion. I can't believe everything Westover and her family went through as she was growing up in Idaho and am so impressed with what she managed to accomplish with no support at home. It made me really think about the idea of writing our own histories (which is interesting, since that ended up being her area of study), as well as my own childhood with someone who was bipolar (my upbringing was really different, but I did seem some similarities between our fathers, in some regards) 

1,611 pages 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Happy Wednesday (ohmygod is that it?), folks. 

1. So, if you weren't aware, I have a thing for Patrick Stewart. The fact that Michael Chabon is helping to write the new Star Trek series makes the whole project even that more enticing. With Stewart's good looks and Chabon's brains, the SKY IS THE LIMIT (I'm not joking, guys). 

2. This is Us has been out for a full day and I haven't watched it. This makes me really sad. 

3. Have you ever heard of Scandinavian Egg Coffee? It's fascinating and disgusting, all at the same time. Basically, you mix up your coffee grounds with two broken eggs, shells and all, and then pour garbage-disposal-esque mixture into a pot of boiling water. the egg brings everything together and then cold water helps move the egg remnants to the bottom of the pot. I watched a Instastory on it the other day and was intrigued. I don't think I'll try it to actually drink, but maybe as a fun little science experiment? 

4. Unpopular feelings: I will resist online submission and grading as long as humanly possible. I need things physically in front of me, and I need to write with pen. Call me a Luddite, tell me I have issues with change, I just don't care. And considering I'm an English teacher with hundreds of essays to grade a month, just let me do what I want. (No one is forcing change... right now... I just can see where the tide is rolling and am naturally defensive about my habits). 

5. My brother is getting married this weekend! It's super small and casual, but all of my siblings, our significant others, and my mom will be there, as well as some extended family. Sawyer is going to be in the wedding, so that should be... interesting. He will probably do fine and is already excited to dance all night. I have a touch of a chest cold, though, so hopefully we are well by the weekend. 

6. Last weekend I went on a five mile hike with a good friend and it was just what the doctored ordered (well, that and waffles). It was so good to be outside, talk about life, and have a break from home. When I did get back to my guys I was in a much better mood than the day before and was ready to get stuff done.

7. This morning when I woke Sawyer up he said, "Mommy, I like your voice. Me so sorry you are sick. But your dress is beautiful." I sounded like a frog and wanted to put on sweats and go back to bed, so his happy little attitude and sweet compliments made my morning. It's been interesting to watch him become more aware of what others are going through and vocalize concern (I'm sure this a Freudian/developmental phase that I can't remember). Of course he's not always like that- sometimes when he wants something he couldn't give two shits if I'm tired.

8. My copy of Sabrina by Nick Drnaso finally came today! I don't even know what it's about, I just got excited about it being the first graphic novel to be nominated for a Man Booker Prize and ordered it. 

On Deck (and Why)

The other day I had to explain to a student what "on deck" means. Unfortunately, I don't know my students yet to make fun of them (good-naturedly, of course) so I had to bite my tongue, swallow my snark, and actually explain the sporting reference (and no, it wasn't a English-learner idiom nuance). By the time we sorted it all out I just really missed playing softball. 

Anyway, I digress. I'm here to tell you what I plan on reading in the very near future, and why, since there are some books I have to get through super soon. Here's the game plan:

Batting Lead: (okay, I'll stop)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston- This is what I'm teaching next, so rereading it for the fourth time is necessary. Luckily it's one of my favorite novels I teach, so I don't mind one darn bit.

Educated by Tara Westover- We're reading this for our English department book club and our meeting is in less than two weeks. 

Can We All Be Feminists? Edited by June Eric-Udorie- I accepted this ARC and know they were hoping it was going to be reviewed by publication later this week. I usually sort of "accidentally" ignore those requests (this is why I've been sticking to my own books the last few years), but HELLO! Feminism! I feel obligated to speed things up. 

Overstory by Richard Powers OR The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben- I'm getting my tree tattoo in two weeks and I feel like I need to read one of these, just to really go all out (because permanently inking my body isn't enough).

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan- I just finished the second book in the trilogy, so I probably should get on the final installment before I forget.

Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas- This will be perfect timing with the upcoming election. 

I'm notorious for straying from reading plans. Once things become an obligation I naturally become rebellious and want to deviate from what is expected, but some of these texts I really have no choice on. I wholeheartedly believe that most will be excellent, although I am a bit skeptical about Kwan's, since the second book treaded on thin ice for me, as is. Now I just need to quickly finish up with Fear and move on with my life (man, we could really get metaphorical there, couldn't we?)

Have a great week, friends!  

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Hey guys. Leave your link in the comments if you write one of your own.

1. Has anyone ever read Clarice Lispector before? I had never even heard of her until the Belletrist started posting occasionally and I picked up The Hour of the Start a week or two ago. I'm about ten pages into the novella and am totally blown away by the unique narrative. I feel like I need a college class to read this for and discuss with (either as the student or the teacher, not that I plan on that career path). 

2. I have a pre-sale code for the Michelle Obama event promoting her upcoming book in LA in November- cross your fingers for me! I have my hopes way up, which is stupid, since I know that there will only be a limited number of tickets available. But still. What if? WHAT IF?

3. Milk Bar LA is opening this weekend and it breaks my Christina Tosi-loving-heart that I will not be lined up around the corner waiting for some amazingness. I'll probably wait until November when the rush has slowed down and I have more down time.

4. This weekend starts a series of like six or seven weekends that I am booked up solid (ha, like I'm important or something). There's so many exciting things happening! My brother is getting married, I'm getting my itty-bitty tree tattoo, a Pete Souza event, Halloween activities and more. Now as long a we can stay healthy and I can keep up with my grading. 

5. I've started Fear by Bob Woodward and am totally fascinated... as we usually are with massive train wrecks. I've never read anything written by him before, I just know of him from his Watergate fame/heroism, so I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. Books concerning politics can be so dull! I'm about twenty or thirty pages in and find it accessible and professional. 

6. Some of my students are doing ten minutes presentations this week on The Catcher in the Rye and it's really hard for me to sit period and after period and score them. It's not their abilities, it's just literally hard for me to sit for that long every day and not be able to interject or roam around the room.

7. We are in the midst of some pretty tough negotiations between our union and district and the "s-word" has been getting thrown around quite often. The whole thing is such a distraction and at the end of the day I wish they'd have a huge meeting for all of us and both sides present their facts. I am tired of getting things second- and third-hand. The uncertainty of it all is such a distraction and I fear things are going to get even more complicated over the next few months, since there are various ranges of opinions. We'll see....

Raising a Son Who Fights the Patriarchy: My Mission

When I initially learned I was pregnant I desperately wanted a girl, but quickly changed my tune. No pigtails in the morning! No risk of frequent talks about menstruation! No one who might want to borrow from my closet or makeup collection! And the list goes on. Boys are so much easier, right? 

Not so fast. As I've become more interested in the feminist movement and have witnessed the government's total disregard for women become more prominent, I've realized what a huge responsibility I have as the mom of a future young man. I have to make sure he grows up to respect women's bodies and place in the world. This is something I can't assume that he'll just "pick up" or decide to internalize on his own. This requires deliberate parenting. 

Over the past year or two I've really tried to make specific, age-appropriate, choices that will hopefully lead my son down the right path (as in not being sexist). There are things I can't control, of course, including what happens at his school and even things domestically that occur because my husband's work schedule and whatnot. That being said, I can control what directly concerns me, so I am trying my best to do my part. I also have no clue if what I'm doing is really going to work, since this is the first time I've had to raise a little boy and he does have a mind of his own. The world will continue to change as he grows, but for now here are some things that I've made a conscious choice to do:

1. Domestic Chores- Sawyer has to help with a variety of chores- nothing is off limit because of gender. On a daily and weekly basis he helps clean his toys, fold towels, unload the dishwasher, dust, and feed the dog. He also helps wash the car (when I get around to it) and clean the cupboards.

2. Frank conversation about body parts and personal space- We don't use cute nicknames for body parts and now that he is older I am honest about what is okay to touch and what is not to on other people. He's an affectionate little guy, but I try to remind him that at school high fives are more appropriate than hugs/kisses, for example.

3. Letting him cry- I never, ever say to "act like a boy" or "boys don't cry" (I actually spoke to his old daycare provider about speaking to him like that years ago). I'm working to try to give him the language to talk about his emotions and make him feel that he's in a space that accepts emotion. It's okay to admit to pain, whether because someone upset him or because he fell down. Crying because he's upset about turning the TV off or something along those lines is a different story, though (he can go cry those tears in his room). 

4. Female-positive books- We have several books that promote women, like I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, and The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. When we read them I don't shove the feminist angle down his throat- I want to normalize the fact that women do the same things as men. 

5. Avoiding labels- Sawyer has Moana and Batman sheets, Frozen and superhero toys, and knows that I can pretend to be Batman and he Elsa. I never want him to feel bad about loving to sing "Let it Go" or choosing a Sally stuffed animal at Knott's Berry Farm. He just likes what he likes. And that's how it should be.

6. Being more than a mom- I am honest when I tell him I am going away for the afternoon to see my friends, that I need some time to grade papers, or that I want to go for a run or to read. Being a mom is obviously really important to me, but it doesn't define who I am. I don't want him to grow up expecting women to focus on kids and chores. 

Obviously things will become more complicated as he gets older and develops his own ideas. Eventually I will have to bring in intersectionality more deliberately, as well. As a high school teacher I see the changes kids go through during their teen years and know that simply reading a story book and telling him that "girls can have the same jobs as boys" won't necessarily cut it. And I'm prepared for that- I'm taking this mission seriously. 

My Favorite "Self-Help(ish)" Books

When I typically think of the "self-help" genre I picture books with either bouncy blondes or white middle-aged doctors on the front, both of which promise me weight-loss success or happiness. Inside there are lots of rules, positive mantras galore, and possibly some appendices with places for me to, like, write my goals or check off some lists or something. 

But truly, self-help really should be anything we read that, well, helps ourselves, right? And sometimes, I need to help myself- god knows know one else is going to. My grandma always used to say "God helps those who help themselves," and while I don't really know if I believe in the God part, I do really believe that we are responsible for our own happiness, health, productivity, etc... Some people hire life coaches, some go to therapy, some takes classes, and some, like me, turn to books. Here are some of my favorite non-fiction guides, some of which are actually memoirs that have served the same purpose, that I've either read or listened to that have helped me in some area of my life:

Being a Mom and Wife
Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis- She's can be a little much sometimes, but listening to this helped me remember some important things about daily life as a working mom.

How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn- More than anything, this just made me laugh about issues in my own life that had usually made me cry (or yell). It was such a good reminder that most couples have similar issues. 

One and Only by Lauren Sandler- I am only having one child, which was not a decision I made lightly. This book had some really interesting research and insights that helped me feel less guilty and more comfortable.  

Confession of an Unlikely Runner by Dana Ayers- I will never be a fast runner, but will keep at it as long as I physically can, just like Ayers. 

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor- Kastor's memoir discusses how she was able to train not only her body to be a top athlete, but her mind too. 

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and then Brain by John Ratey- I read this book many, many years ago and still suggest it to people. Exercise is so important for our bodies, our neurological health, and our emotional states. 

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer- I read this book when I was temporarily a vegetarian, and while I am not anymore, it was still really important it terms of making me understand more about the meat industry. 

The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel- While there's not such thing as the fountain of youth, taking care of our telomeres is the next best thing. This book is a great reminder to eat healthily, exercise, have sex, make friends, challenge your cognition, sleep and cope with stress appropriately. 

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkamp- I listened to this book and it really pushed me to look at my own efficiency. I really try to maximize my time and look at my time in blocks that I assign tasks to. 

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg- I actually just read this and it made so much sense in terms of neurology and psychology. There are a few bad habits (*ahem* afternoon snacking *ahem*) I'd like to break, and I've already been working to internalize some of the tips from this book. I like it when science backs up the advice.  

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King- This audiobook was read by King and it was equally motivating and fascinating. 

Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann- This book is full of tips and advice that McCann has give his students over the years, many of which I'd like to incorporate into my own life as an eventual writer (ha) and as a teacher. 

Social Issues (Race, Feminism, and Class)
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo- This book forced me to take a hard look at my race and what it has gotten me. 

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and We Should All Be Feminists, both by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- Both of these tiny volumes are empowering and also helpful for moms of boys.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance- I read this after the election and it helped me understand the midwest/rust belt/bible belt a little more. While I still disagree with so many of their views, I at least can be a little more rational now.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay- This book is one of my favorite in the feminist genre. Guess what? You can like pink, shave your legs daily, and still be a feminist. We can make mistakes and still be feminists.  

The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin- I listened to this book years ago and while parts were silly I have still hung on to one of her tidbits about not saving things for a special occasion. Use the good perfume on work days. Wear your real pearls to the gym. Have the special wine tonight. Whatever your saving use it while you're still alive and can enjoy it. 

The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got There by Amanda Ripley- This was a really interesting look at education around the world. 

Banff, Jasper, & Glacier National Parks by Lonely Planet- This travel guide made me realize that I can in fact take my kid out of the country to the wilderness and be totally okay. All I needed was to take the plunge and book tickets.  

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. Yesterday was a good book day. I was able to go to the Gary Shteyngart reading at the Skirball in LA last night, which came with his new book, and then Jane Mount’s Bibliophile arrived in the mail (I am a huge fan of hers. She and I have been friendly on Instagram for years, so it’s been awesome to see her rise). I was supposed to receive Bob Woodward’s book Fear, but, not surprisingly, it’s on back-order for a week.

2. I am currently reading China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan and while it’s still fun, I don’t think it was as good as the first one. I’m also still moving through The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and am really taking a good look at my own life lately, especially in regards to eating.

3. On that note, I ordered a new scale that connects to an app that then connects to my Fitbit. It provides way too much data- weight, body fat, bone weight, water weight, protein, metabolic age and more. I really only wanted it for the function to connect the weight to my phone, but man am I getting a lot of other info. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I guess knowledge is power? Knowledge is also stopping me from snacking as I write this, too, since knowledge can also be downright sad. 

4. Last April I booked an appointment for a tattoo with Daniel Winters after seeing the one he did for Mandy Moore on Instagram (yes, I fully acknowledge this sounds ridiculous, but the look was exactly what I'd been wanting for a few years), and I sent him an email last week asking for an estimate, since you can only pay in cash. I’ve been a little nervous about the expense and  actual pain lately, so I had decided if it was over a certain amount I’d cancel. Nope. He came in way under, so I guess it's going to happen. I am also super intimidated because he seems really cool and hangs out with celebrities and here I am, a teacher from Corona. Luckily one of my dear friends is coming for moral support, so I will probably survive.

5. I started listening to the audiobook Tragedy Plus Time, a memoir by Adam Cayton-Holland. Cayton-Holland, a comedian, writes about his experiences with his little sister's struggles with mental illness and eventual suicide in a funny, yet heartbreaking way. I'm not sure if I was in the right headspace for something so sad this week, but it has still be incredibly poignant to listen to.

6. Next week Sawyer is having a speech evaluation, since there are a few sounds he’s having trouble with and that I can’t help him figure out (it’s really hard, as it turns out, to explain to a four-year-old how to make the “k” sound, for example). The teacher in me knows this age is totally acceptable for starting intervention and that the issues he's having are totally manageable (I understand 95% of what he says, as do his teachers, but that’s because we are around him so often… someday he will go to a new school with new people, though). The mom in me feels really, really guilty and that I should have stopped dragging my feet six months ago and started this earlier. His speech skills have always been a little bit behind, which I have a theory on but won’t dive into publicly (no, I am not blaming my husband, haha). No matter what the ball is rolling, right? I'll complain about the price and inconvenience later. Ha. 

7. I bought four cross stitch patterns on Etsy the other day (they’re so cheap it always feels like highway robbery) and I wonder when exactly they will get made. Three of them are Christmas ones, so I’m shooting for 2019. Or 2020. 2021 at the latest.

8. I have never been so on top of my grading before- I have been in such a good place with all my classes. That bliss is about to come to a screeching halt, though, since this week I will have 128 IB English students each turning in essays, taking a test, submitting their The Catcher in the Rye notebooks, and taking a timed write. The end of a unit of study is always like this, but it’s going to hurt even more since I’ve feeling so good about my efficiency lately. I'm already bribing myself with a pedicure for getting all that done in a semi-timely manner. 

9. I’ve actually watched a few things lately- shocking, I know. We finished season 2 of Love on Netflix, we’re almost done with the first season of The Leftovers (nothing like the book), and I watched the second Deadpool movie on Saturday. I know. I know. Four of five hours of tv watching in one week. Things are getting crazy.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up in the comments if you play along on your blog. If you're new to this weekly post it's where we just sort of list however many tidbits we want that might not warrant full posts (or might lead to them. You never know!).

1. This week was supposed to be magical- Evil Monday was out of commission and there were only four days left over. Unfortunately, not so much. There hasn't been anything overwhelmingly terrible, but just a sort of piling up of annoyances. For example, we had an all-day meeting today, when I would have much preferred to be in my classroom. Annoying. Chase also decided to screw up a nearly $3,000 transfer I made between accounts, which they admitted to and wasn't going to cause any crazy damage if fixed this week, but still. Annoying. My new running shoes aren't fitting as I want and my feet hurt. Annoying. Sawyer's new nightly homework is a pain on my late Mondays and Wednesdays when my patience hangs by a very thing thread. Annoying. See a pattern? Nothing that I can't live with, but added on to the daily grind with a few other things, it's just... annoying*. 

(Which I am now being, because no one likes a complainer).

2. I think I am going to take Sayer to Zion National Park in Utah for a few nights over Thanksgiving Break. I know someone who goes often and she said the weather should be great and the park far less crowded than normal. Coupled with low hotel rates and some time on my hands, I think it's a go.

3. Last Monday I ran with the cross country team for nearly five miles, since I'm friends with one of the coaches and know several of the kids. I'm not sure if "with" is actually quite the right word, since most of the runners finished far before we did. It was still really fun- it turns out teenage runners are just as kind and supportive as adult runners. It was nice to be outside and to participate in group exercise again, too. It was really tough, though, since we started off on hills and it was pretty humid (keep in mind I am used to indoors on the treadmill). I tried to come up with reasons to back out all weekend, but I put on my big girl pants running shorts and did it. 

4. Speaking of athletic activities (ha), I'm on a Fantasy Football team again this year. I ran one last season and opted to not this time, but when I was asked to join a league at work I went for it. I am such a sucker for group activities that involve any degree of competition. The funny thing is that I know NOTHING about football and can't even tell you who is on my team. 

5. I preordered Bob Woodward's book, Fear. I had to. If I jumped on Fire and Fury you know I was going to be all over someone reputable's take on the current "situation." 

Reading, Listening, Watching, Buying


I'm almost half way through There There by Tommy Orange and knew from the prologue that this was going to probably be amazing, or close to it. I just finished the Tsar of Love and Techno and it totally blew me away, so I’m basically in fiction heaven right now. I’m also slowly getting through The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which for some reason I thought was super self-helpy but has been more neurological than anything.

I’m also getting through a stack of timed writes my students wrote the other day on The Catcher in the Rye, and they’re not terribly painful. It’s early, but I’m optimistic about these kids.

Sawyer and I are still enjoying a few pages of Charlotte’s Web here and there, but he’s also pretty obsessed with his Gerald and Piggie books, and now Pete the Cat. As long as he loves books I don’t care how ridiculous they are (the elephant and pig are cool, but the cat gets annoying).

I am finding the memoir Happiness by Heather Harpham, her reminiscence of the time her family dealt with her daughter’s rare blood disease, both fascinating and horrifying. I spent a few Audible credits lately and have Fast Girl by Suzy Favor Hamilton (memoir of an Olympic runner turned escort) and Tragedy + Time by Adam Clayton-Holland (family mental illness memoir) waiting for me. I also preordered Liane Moriarty’s new book that comes out in November, since I know I’ll forget. I have never actually read one of her books, but I’ve listened to a few and I love the lady that does the narrating, plus the stories are entertaining.

This weekend I’ve watched two book-related movies. Yesterday Scott and I got a babysitter and we went to see Crazy Rich Asians at the theater and I absolutely loved it. I thought it was tons of fun and (mostly) captured the tone of the book by Kevin Kwan. Today I watched the RBG documentary, which in part focused on the book that came out a few years ago, Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik.


I just received Clarice Lispector’s book The House of the Star on a total whim, as well as the other two books in the Crazy Rich Asians series, after seeing the movie. I also snagged a copy of Joan Didion’s The White Album in the same order, just to balance things out a bit. I  preordered Kim Hooper’s Cherry Blossoms (she worked with my husband a million years ago and I think it’s awesome that she has written a few novels while being a working mom, so I want to support her efforts), the paperback version of We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coats, and Christina Tosi’s newest cookbook, All About Cake. I also submitted our Scholastic book order, which I limit myself to $20-$25 on, or else I’d go crazy (this is because Scholastic Book Club flyers are basically my favorite thing in the world- I look forward to them every month, just like I did when I was a kid and elementary teacher). I need to pick up Educated by Tara Westover for book club, but I'll probably wait a few weeks. 

August Reviews

For some reason I typed out "May Reviews"- am I living in the past or the future? Who knows. While I'm trying to get my life together, here's a quick rundown on the books I read in August:

The Incendiares by R.O. Kwon
224 pages
This is the story of two college students, Phoebe and Will, who end up dating, despite sort of consistently being strained. Phoebe ends up joining a cult (which of course not called that), which Will resists but still tries to keep tabs on to protect the girl he loves. Phoebe's troubles come to light as we learn more about her childhood and relationship with her mom. The cult is ultimately involved in some horrific violence and the audience sees what happens to Phoebe and Will in the aftermath.

Verdict: There is a reason this book is receiving so much hype. The writing itself is poignant and precise, and the story possesses a great amount of depth thematically and in terms of the character relationship. There is quite a bit of shifting around in perspective, though, so if you prefer a straightforward narrative this might not be for you. 

The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir
336 pages
Essie is a teenager and is pregnant. She is also the daughter of a mega-church pastor and a member of a family that has been the subject of a reality show since she was tiny. Her situation is not ideal. She manages to pull some of the strings her mother believes that she is in fact charge of and ends up engaged to a young man at school. She actually doesn't really know him at all, but is confident that he will go with the plan due to the financial benefits it includes for him and his family. As their fabricated romance plays out, the reader is made privy to a much darker, traumatic side of the scheme.

Verdict: This book was very readable, but  also quitepredictable and often felt like more of a well-done YA novel (not my thing). It isn't poorly written or a bad book, just definitely an easier read best for slots between tougher reads.

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
240 pages
We all know this one, right? I wrote about it a little more earlier in the month here

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Mara 
384 pages
This connected short story collection focuses on painted landscape in the former USSR, each story playing a part in it's formation, change, or reclamation. The stories focus on such characters as a censor who must paint over enemies of the state, whom he replaces with his brother's, two soldiers taken captive, an older woman who had sold out her mother, and many others, all with ties to others. 

Verdict: I am pretty confident that this book will be on my best of 2018 list, for many reasons. First of all, Mara's writing is witty, yet subtle, philosophic, yet accessible, succinct, yet rich. The stories are equally fascinating, and the links he creates between the stories and characters are deliberate yet natural. 

The End of Alzheimer's by Dale Bredsen
320 pages
This book talks about the disease in general, different causes, different theories, and the author's approach for controlling and preventing it. 

Verdict: If you follow this man's plan you will have a joyless life and must basically survive on water and supplements... but you will remember things. Fine, fine, it's not that bad, but it's pretty tough. I think more than anything this was a good reminder to take care of my mind and body and to be mindful of what I do and consume.

1,294 pages