2016 Reading, By the Numbers

Get ready for a slew of year end posts! Tis the season, I suppose. First up are some stats on this year's reading:

2016 books read: 51 
(for comparison purposes: 2015: 52, 2014: 40, 2013: 62)

Male authors: 25
Female authors: 25
Compilations: 1

Fiction: 39
Nonfiction: 12
Memoirs/autobiographies/biographies: 7

Classics: 7

Novels set primarily abroad: 13

Books taught: 7

Books for book club: 4

Graphic novels: 1

Audiobooks listened to: 11

Books Purchased: 41(ish)

Books that would earn 2 stars or less: 3

Thoughts on the Matter

I am a tiny bit disappointed that I read just one little book less than last year, but considering how busy I was at work and at home the fact that I still managed to finish an average of 4.25 books a month is probably something be a little proud of. I would like to read more books set internationally next year, as well as nonfiction texts. As a whole, though, I am pleased with the scope of my reading and the fact that out of 51 books I only was really unhappy with 3 of them. 

Beauty Products I'm Loving

I know, I know, I'm not a beauty blogger (not even close), but I like to occasionally post about products I'm loving. For some reason my husband and son don't like to discuss these things with me. So, to share the wealth, here are a few things that are saving my skin right now in the cold, dry temps:

Giorgio Armani Liquid Silk Foundation
Previous to this bottle, I had used this brand's Designer Lift line, and it was fine but I kept hearing rave reviews about the Liquid Silk version so when my bottle ran I out I bought this one instead. As it turns out, it's worth every damn penny and is much better. My skin looks smoother and more uniform than it ever has. I'll use this stuff as long as they make it.

Philosophy When Hope is Not Enough
I have super dry skin and it's been really bad lately, so I returned to Philosophy after many, many years of using Cetaphil. A little bit goes a long way and my skin's flakiness and dullness was gone within two nights of using this cream.

It's a 10 Miracle Leave In Conditioner
I also have dry hair that has been colored and heat-styled for years, so this little bottle has brought back a ton of moisture lately. My stylist used it last time I was in and I was shocked at the change in texture it provided. 

Trader Joe's Coconut Body Butter
My skin is basically impossible to moisturize in the winter (I can't imagine if I lived somewhere that was actually cold), so I picked up a tub of this stuff (less than $5!) when I was at Trader Joe's a few weeks ago. I don't think it's any better at moisturizing than any other lotion I have tried but the scent and texture is the best. It isn't greasy and the smell is pleasant in the best way (not overpowering at all). 

Vaseline Lip Therapy
I know, this one is lame but my lips were trashed between the heater, being sick, and running outside. I have bought six tubes of this stuff and have stashed them in my car, every bag, my desk at work, and each bathroom. Sawyer is now obsessed as well. 

I have a Sephora gift card burning a hole in my pocket, so I'm sure I'll be back with another one of these posts soon. Sorry? 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

After a short break I am finally back! Link up, link back, say hi!

1. I took Sawyer on his first real hike today- he did almost three miles on his own, half of which was uphill. He was such a trooper and loved stopping to jump on rocks and collect little twigs. I look forward to many more in the future.

2. Kate's post on the most widely listed best-of-books is money, guys. She put it up a few weeks ago, but I'm just now catching up with life. Check it out.

3. Speaking of fellow bloggers, Brie is having her baby today! Stop by and wish her luck. Rory had a little one recently, too. You girls are all drinking the same water... 

4. It's so nice to be off for many, many reasons, but being able to cook legitimate dinners that require actual time has been downright satisfying. Last night I made this Roasted Tomatillo Chicken Enchilada Casserole last night (an old favorite of ours, but a bit labor intensive with all the roasting and food-processing) and tomorrow I am going to brave Slow Cooker Cabernet Beef Short Ribs with Mascarpone Polenta (as long as my bag of uncooked polenta arrives from Amazon on time, since my grocery store was out...). 

5. I don't usually get sentimental about celebrity deaths- I'm too emotionally detached to get super sad about people I don't know. But Carrie Fischer? Damn. Too soon.

6. After doing book talks with my students the week before finals, I was convinced by several students to read The Glass Castle, The House on Mango Street, and A Long Way Gone, all books I should have read but do not. 

7. I am currently about 70 pages into Brit Bennett's debut The Mothers and am thoroughly loving sassy Naomi and the intricacies of the Upper Room Chapel. 

8. I have to admit to being a little sad about packing away Christmas. This year was one of the best yet- having a toddler that is incredibly excited about every little aspect just makes the holidays that much better. We've had a lot of fun and it's been really special to see everything through his eyes.

9. I just finished listening to Lauren Graham's memoir Talking as Fast I Can and, in honor of Princess Leia, will start Carrie Fischer's The Princess Diarist next. Graham's was incredibly fun and super high nostalgia wise for Gilmore Girls lovers like myself.   

Nonfiction Nagging: Hillbilly Elegy

By about nine the night of the election I was sitting on the floor with a glass of wine, Halloween candy, glued to my phone in disbelief. Two hours later I was in bed, in tears, wondering what would come of our nation, economy, and global position. I'm still devastated and truly fearful for many populations, and even my position as a public school educator, considering certain cabinet appointments. Nonetheless, I am generally not a complainer (exception: sleep deprivation), so I started thinking about things I could personally do. I made my sporadic donations to Planned Parenthood monthly. I bought Sawyer nearly $100 worth of books on diversity so that I could start age-appropriate conversations with him now. I made my students aware that my class was a safe place and I gave them opportunities to write to vent their feelings, one way or another. I also worked to educate myself and adjust my thinking, which included becoming better versed on things like the filibuster (clinging to that sucker), the actual powers of the president (more limited than some think), and current policies that might impact my students are aren't in the country legally. I watched TED Talks, I read articles, and I tried hard to be empathetic. I also picked up a copy of J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy in an attempt to understand where those in the Midwest and South were thinking when they voted their typical red way. 

I'm not sure if I really learned anything factually new, but Vance's voice was likable and I rooted for him throughout. We know that the areas in question are predominantly uneducated, poor, proud, plagued by addiction, highly religious, pessimistic, and just plain desperate. Vance talks about how they are quick to blame the government for their misfortunes, but are slow to commit to steady jobs or providing stable home environments for their families. Vance is a product of the system and while he is sympathetic to the plight of the region, he also doesn't sugarcoat the fact that he holds them responsible for not pushing themselves to change. He also points out the cyclical nature of poverty, debt, minimal education, abuse, neglect, and all the other afflictions that plague these so-called "hillbillies." 

One thing that this did reinforce for me, though, was that I live in a bubble. Sure, I grew up in a household that struggled financially for almost my whole childhood, dealt with a father who was bipolar and ended up killing himself, had to help with my mom with my siblings in excess, and saw others in my household cope in various negative ways with our circumstances. But now? I have an advanced degree, a savings account, like-minded friends, and am in charge of my life. I am also white and live in California. I like my bubble and am incredibly thankful for it, but it limits my perspective. I have never lived in a home where abuse (physical, emotional, or of substance) is the regular. I have always seen the value of education and was never prevented from pursuing whatever my heart desired. I have never taken out a payday loan or had to sell my belongings to pay a utility bill. I have never spent excessive amounts of time with people who are racist. This book reminded me that there are so many factors that contribute to how people think and how powerful circumstance and environment is. If you have lived in a family that has endured generational poverty, haven't been fortunate enough to benefit from familial stability, didn't graduate from high school, and have turned to drugs then your way of thinking is going to be far different from mine. 

It's hard. 

But the next four years will be hard, and even harder if we don't stop to consider the opinions of others. And that goes for folks on both sides of the aisle. 

So, please, read Hillbilly Elegy, no matter where you're at politically. Sure, JD Vance's position is unique and he might not be the most authentic voice for all hillbillies (he was incredibly smart, had grandparents that constantly saved his family, and had it in him to eventually attend Yale Law), but still, the thought-provoking nature of the memoir is plenty.

A Christmas Weekend

Christmas is over. Womp womp womp. This holiday season flew by this year, partially because I so busy and partially because of a bad cold/double ear infections that zapped some of my energy for a week. It was still so much fun, though, and this weekend was icing on the cake. Saturday we took Sawyer to see Sing in the theater and then I did a ton of baking. And yesterday we stayed home and my brother joined us later for dinner. Now that we don't travel for the holidays like we used to, we are pretty steadfast in our insistence on just staying home (it's awesome). Here are some of our highlights:

[I don't decorate like crazy, but I love this little shelf]

[Sawyer will miss our tree terribly]

[the definite star of the morning- a train table!]

[I've been running outside! Twice in three days]

[the best sugar cookies ever- and I had a helper!]

[it's been quite chilly for Southern California]

[my husband knows me well- books for Christmas]

[the sides are the best- so that's all I made for Christmas dinner]

[I have gotten some quality reading in this weekend- finally]

Merry and Bright

I am happily on Christmas break now, so there will be posts comin' at you soon! In the meantime, I hope everyone has a happy, safe, relaxing holiday. 

Fun Find

This popped up on my Facebook Feed and I knew I needed it (at $35 with a 10% discount for signing up for emails it would make an affordable last minute gift for a book lover, too!):


Pop Chart Lab has created a list of 100 books we all "should" read and you get to scratch off the cover when you've covered that title. I'll probably put it in my classroom behind my desk somewhere (hello, tax write off) so that the kids can use it for book recommendations as well. I'm sure I'll disagree with some of their choices, but the whole thing just seems like a lot of fun. I can't wait until I have time so that I can look at all the other cool things they have on their site! 


Prescriptions taking: two

Papers to grade: a million

Presents to wrap: two healthy-sized stacks

Holiday outings to partake in: a few

Pages to read before Wednesday book club: 465

Christmas projects to conclude: three

Baking recipes to make: four (?)

Good nights of sleep in the last ten days: none

Work days left until vacation: five 

Nervous breakdowns had: ZERO

This is my way of saying that things have been super quiet around these parts because I am way in over my head, between work, home, and catching a nasty bug on top of everything (excellent timing, universe!). Nonetheless, though, I am in this blissful state of denial that has me thinking everything will be fine and it will all get done (maybe it's the prednisone...). So, let's go with it. I got this. Alllllllllll of it. 

Those that were looking to participate in Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts last Wednesday, I apologize! I had a fever and went to bed at a super-geriatric time of night... I'll be back next week with the link-up! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back, say hey!

1. An old student stopped by the other day, one who I only had for a little while a few years ago, and she said that recently dropped a ton of cash at the bookstore on titles I had recommended. OHMYGOD SOMEONE HAS LISTENED.

2. Recently one of my friends and colleagues kindly bought Sawyer something and I mentioned to another one of my friends that I felt bad because I feel like I am never spontaneously thoughtful enough. She looked at me like I was crazy and listed some things to prove I was wrong. Her thoughtfulness about my underestimated thoughtfulness made my day. I am so lucky to surround myself with kind people. 

3. The other night I had a dream that I was going to IB training for work in Iran (but of course!) but got stuck in Turkey and was having trouble leaving because my tickets were wrong, but they weren't and I had no reason whatsoever to be in Istanbul- it didn't say it on any of my boarding passes. I think all my dreams can just be interpreted such that I have control issues.

4. Important reminder lesson based on extensive social media observations: parents embellish their children's developmental milestones like crazy ("so and so was potty trained at xx months" when you know it was more like xx, or "so and so could read by two and a half" when you know that would be really unrealistic based on, you know, cognitive development theories). It's fine, parents are proud, but using their posts for comparison purposes is stupid. *ahem, self, ahem*

Who am I kidding? Sawyer is two and a half, can read Tolstoy, knows how to drive a stick shift, and is fairly proficient at Mandarin (!). 

5. I know this is probably lame, but I have started using the guided breathing on my Fitbit at night and it has helped me go to sleep so much faster. Maybe because it's really effing boring laying there in the dark matching your breathing to circles. Nonetheless, I'll take it. 

6. Speaking of my beloved Fitbit, I have also started using it to count calories this week. I used to use something else sporadically, but I have found that since I have my Fitbit app open all the time to obsessively check data, this is easy. Pros: it allows you to set weight goals and sets up your calorie allowances based on this, it matches your burned calories to consumed calories, and the charts are handy. Cons: there isn't data for macro and micro nutrients, which is actually a huge disadvantage (200 calories of something nutrient-dense like quinoa and veggies is way different than a candy bar). 

7. How are there only two more weekends before Christmas? Augh! This weekend we are going to take Sawyer to Downtown Disney to check out the decorations and people ice skating and then Sunday is my husband's birthday so will probably go out to lunch or something along those lines. I'd also like to bake and eat my body weight in Christmas cookies and have to find time to grade a few hundred papers.

8. I need to start rereading Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind asap for book club. I have a hard time getting motivated to reread things, but I am also a diehard "you must finish/reread the book before book club" rule follower. I read it a really, really long time ago, but I do remember loving it so very much. I'm sure I'll be happy I had a second time around.

9. Scott took Sawyer's Christmas card pictures the other night and they turned out SO CUTE. He has a beard covering his face (spoiler alert, haha), so maybe I'll bend the rules and post one. They're that great. 

December, Plus November, Revisited


It's six in the morning and I am the only person up in my house- Sawyer woke me up at 5:30 to tell me that a hangnail hurt and then went back to sleep (seriously), but I couldn't settle myself back down. Sigh. So, here we are. What better time for some quiet blogging? Or something like that... I am a few days late on this post, but that's because December is in full swing here! Before I talk about my goals for December, let's revisit November. If you're new around here, I use these posts as a way to keep myself accountable for being happy, productive, healthy, and sane. 


1. Watch 10 TED Talks- Yes! Finally! I'll be doing a post on my favorite ones soon.

2. Not screw up Thanksgiving- Yes! I think, in terms of the food, this was my best one yet. I made a few subtle tweaks (between the brine and cooking my turkey upside it literally fell of the bone it was so moist... yup, still hate that word), as opposed to trying anything crazy new, and it was for the best.

3. Track core workouts- Nope! I will revisit this one soon.

4. Run a 5k I'm happy about- Yup! I ran one at UCLA a few weeks ago and I was able to run the entire time, despite the hilly campus. I will never be fast, but I was consistent and was even able to kick it into high gear for the last quarter of a mile.

5. Attempt to potty train my kid (but be okay if it doesn't work out this time around): Yes! We worked on it during Thanksgiving break and he was doing decently, but then had some tummy troubles for a few days that weren't conducive to the process and then, just like that, break was over. Christmas vacation is coming soon, so we will try again then. He's a little boy and he is barely two and a half, so I am not sweating it. 

6. Christmas shopping started: Yup! And almost done!


1. Stay 90% on track with my grading calendar- The semester ends on the 23rd and I have every single day mapped out in terms of what I need to grade to get it all done and not have an Everest-sized pile waiting for me during finals week. So far I have been on it!

2. Run an average of three times a week- (Or 13 times this month) Things have been a little inconsistent in the work out category for me, since I've been so busy. I need to remember that a twenty minute run in better than nothing at all.  

3. Finish my 2016 year-in-review book- This is going to be quite the feat, since the only work I have done on it has been uploading my January pictures to the site I use. They usually have really great deals for the New Years, though, so I need to catch up so I can take advantage.

4. Send out our Christmas cards- My husband will hopefully get the pictures taken and edited today, I can order the cards tonight or tomorrow, and then send them out by like the fifteenth. It's later than normal, but that's life.

5. Enjoy the season- I want to make sure we do a lot of fun Christmasy stuff, but also have time to enjoy being at home together and with the house I just finally decorated. 

November Reviews

Happy December! I have never really been a Christmas person, but this year I'm excited. I am also extremely excited for December 23 when I will be off work for sixteen days and will hopefully read a few books. Meanwhile, here are November's reviews:

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
571 pages
In Foer's third novel he writes about the Bloch family, comprised of Julia, Jacob, and their three sons. Their imploding marriage is paralleled by a catastrophic earthquake in the Middle East; each faces a disastrous event (Julia's discovery of some scandalous texts between her husband and another woman, the Middle East a series of earthquakes), and then the need to process, cope, and recover. Both the Bloch's and Israel must reassess who they are and what they want long term; decisions must be made regarding a course of action. It's definitely a character study, though, and one that spans decades, which I know isn't everyone's cup of tea. It's also raw and graphic at times, which can be uncomfortable but is still some people's reality. People masturbate, die, are obsessed with computer games, text or say ridiculously sexual things at times, and deal with constantly defecating dogs. 

Verdict: I enjoyed this book; after eleven years Safran can still write fiction. There were some issues; I thought the pacing at the end was a bit sloppy and I wished for more time devoted to certain characters. I also thought his young sons were a bit too articulate, thoughtful and informed, but I guess you could make the whole nature/nurture argument. I think that this is a departure from his other works, though, both in length and even content, and I know that's not what some readers are looking for. 

I think part of the reason this book appealed to me is that I am well aware of the risks you take in your marriage when you have kids- Julia's section most acutely connects to this motherhood conundrum. You want your children to come first, but you have to be so careful or you can easily lose track of yourself (and marriage) in the daily rigamarole of domesticity. 

I also appreciated the look at Judaism and religion in general; he did not wear rose-colored glasses by any means- the inner-conflict was palpable. But there was still this sense of duty, obligation, and connection that I myself don't have to a belief system. I am not interested in feeling this way personally, but I find faith on a psychological and anthropological level interesting.  

*I had wanted to do a whole post on this beast, but... life. 

The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington
286 pages
I am going to review this one in more detail this weekend, so I'm going to cheat a little and just say that this self-help sort of book is about, well, how to sleep.

Verdict: I appreciated the solid science research, but was bored by the history of sleep and some of the more obvious tips. Again, more to come.

"Master Harold"...and the boys by Athol Fugard
60 pages
This is my third time (for work) reading Fugard's play about a South African white young man and his relationship with two of his parents' employees, Sam and Willy. Hally struggles with race, his relationship with his parents, and what kind of man he will grow into. 

Verdict: I love the simplicity of no acts, one setting, and really just three characters. The story is about a "world without collisions" and whether or not the true nature of humanity is conducive to living without conflict. 

917 pages