March Reviews

I guess one of the benefits of a rainy month with sickness aplenty is that I was able to read a lot! Here's what I got through this past month:

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
214 pages
Niru is a senior in high school who excels at academics (hello early acceptance to Harvard) and track, but must navigate life after his traditional Nigerian parents accidentally learn that he is gay. His father is especially outraged and after an explosive reaction to learning the news he takes his son to Africa to try to "pray away the gay." Once the family returns to DC, Niru tries to cope with a failing friendship, dating, and his future. There is a shocking twist at the end that is timely and tragic, adding an extra element of complexity to the text (that I won't give away).

Verdict: I was really captivated by this book, but my heart ached for most of it. I teach this age group and see kids struggle with issues of identity constantly, so I was very empathetic for the protagonist. I appreciated Iweala's writing, although I do know the lack of quotation marks bothers some (not me). This book would be great for someone who likes YA but wants a more serious, advanced style and treatment of the issues (it's definitely not YA). 

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
245 pages (for work)
You know how it goes- Hester has a baby with the Reverend (scandalous), but refuses to reveal his identity. Meanwhile, Hester's long-lost husband returns and decides to make everyone's life a living hell. And so on and so forth- if you haven't read it yet I'm guessing you never will.

Verdict: This is the fourth or fifth time I've read this novel and while I find it tedious to get through, I actually enjoy teaching it to my students. There are some great literary features and thematic issues to discuss, not to mention some seriously conflicted characters.

Notes from a Public Typewriter edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti
159 pages
I picked this little book up on a total whim after seeing it on a book-related Instagram feed. Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor Michigan leaves a typewriter and endless supply of paper for it's patrons to leave messages on and over the years they've collected the best for this little volume. Mixed in with the notes are essays from the editors that talk about everything from the founding of the independent bookstore, family death, quirky customers, and, of course, typewriters.

Verdict: I am such a sucker for little books like these and this one was no different. Instantly I thought how neat it would be to do this with my students, although that may be opening up a can of worms... My favorite message was, "Maybe one day we will write enough books and read enough words to understand each other. I hope." (Gustafson and Uberti, 69). This would be a great book for grads or even mother's or father's day.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
209 pages (for work)
Okonkwo is an important, powerful man in his tribe but must grapple with issues he has surrounding his father and the changing ways of his culture. Along the way Okonkwo is banished with his wives and children to his motherland after accidentally committing a crime, an enormous blow to his wealth and pride. As time passes the missionaries arrive, bringing their religion, government, education, and social infrastructure to the Africans, which leads to even more trouble for Okonkwo.

Verdict: I loved seeing how much my students loved this book this time around (my third time teaching it, fourth time reading it) and appreciated how it complimented my concurrent reading of Homegoing. Achebe's prose are on the more simplistic side, making his ability to construct such a deep narrative even more impressive.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
300 pages
This book begins hundreds of years ago in Africa during the slave trade and works it's way up slowly to the near-present. The narrative is comprised of alternating sections told from the perspectives of two different families, which are actually connected (it sounds complicated, I know, and is to some degree; luckily there's an extremely helpful family tree at the beginning). Gyasi works her way from Africa and the slave trade to the US, focusing on plantation life, the struggles of recently freed slaves, and then through hardships of the twentieth century. The text goes back and forth between the US and Africa and connects the stories and characters along the way. There's so much more o the text than the intricacies of the narrative, though, as each character has extensive obstacles to face and overcome.

Verdict: I absolutely loved this book and probably should have written a whole post on it, since it's so complex it's hard to condense into one tiny blurb. The book really is the whole package- an amazing story, a well-written narrative, and characters with depth.

Arlo Finch and the Valley of Fire by John August
324 pages
Disclaimer: this is a kid's book (middle-grade, to be exact), but I listened to August's podcast about how he wrote and published it and was interested. Arlo Finch is a young boy that moves to Colorado with his mom and sister, only to find that the remote town they live in has a magical past. He makes friends with two kids at school and joins a sort of Explorers/Boy Scout group, which helps him learn about the magical forest. Eventually there's a big battle and his crazy uncle has to help the kids.

Verdict: I loved the podcast, but, honestly, there were just way too many parallels to Harry Potter. I also have to be honest with myself and admit that I just don't like reading YA and kid books [shrugs shoulders], with a few exceptions. I can see kids liking it though, since the characters are witty and the book action packed. 

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
249 pages
This memoir tells about the year Rakoff spent at a literary agency in Manhattan working with the agent who worked with JD Salinger. Rakoff has just dropped out of graduate school and was floundering, trying to figure out her career and love life, she took the first job she could find. Along the way she learns about the industry, helps play middleman between the world and Salinger, and sort of figures out how to be an "adult." 

Verdict: I found this book interesting, yet still a bit anticlimactic. The whole Salinger angle sort of seemed like a ploy to sell more copies, since it wasn't like she and him were having lunch every week or enjoying long personal talks on the phone. She did answer some of his letters and watched an attempt to publish one of his later works failed, but I still thought this approach to the memoir was weak. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed her writing and stories about this time of her life. 

1,700 pages

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Happy Wednesday, friends! Feel free to link back in the comments below.

I still have a lingering cough from the flu and I cannot wait until I am back at 100%. I swear, I think having one of those brutal one or two day stomach viruses is the way to go- you feel like death but are back at it within a few days.

Two weeks ago, yes, while I was sick, my husband was out of town and I became manically determined to redo our bannister. I found some tutorials and went for it- I sanded down the yellow oak, stained it a dark espresso, sealed it with polyurethane, and then gave the dingy off-white sections a fresh coat of bright white paint. I really thought I was going to mess it up, but it actually went really well and I love it.

My assigning-to-grating ratio is incredibly off, and not in my favor. If I stop and let myself truly think about the hole I am in I might have a nervous breakdown, but instead I’m just trying to look at it in tiny stacks and keep plugging along.

In a few days Sawyer and I will be on our way to Yosemite for our annual trip. I cannot wait! The weather is supposed to be perfect and my mom will be meeting us for one of the days.

Has anyone ever gotten their passport back before their birth certificate? Sawyer’s passport came in two weeks, which was really fast, but I still haven’t gotten his birth certificate back yet! So annoying.

I’m super excited about our summer plans to visit Banff, but I’m really wanting to go somewhere tropical right now. Maybe next summer? That kind of trip is a little harder to fathom with Sawyer, since my ideal situation would be lounging on a beach or by a pool with a book, which I don’t think I could get him to commit more than about ten minutes to. I’m toying around with maybe taking my mom or one of my sisters to one of the more family-friendly all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica or somewhere like that in 2019, so that I could have a few hours here and there to myself (good deal, right? I pay for a trip in exchange for a few hours of childcare). My husband’s work schedule isn’t super flexible, so it’s hard for him to commit to trips (for all of you who are wondering why I travel solo).  For now I’ll just be thankful for my travel opportunities this year!

5 Reading-Related Updates

I have too many book-related things to talk about to save them for tomorrow's regular post, so I thought I'd dump them all here today.

Cooking from... Jessica Merchant's The Pretty Dish. I have the dough for her Chocolate Crinkle Sprinkle Cookies in my fridge chilling right now, and I have high hopes, considering pretty much everything I've ever cooked from her blog (How Sweet Eats) has been delicious. I don't buy a lot of cookbooks these days, but I have utilized her blog on so many occasions that I felt compelled to support her with a pre-order. 

Needing... an audiobook for our upcoming road trip to Yosemite. I tend to listen to mysteries (but ones a tad more cerebral that your typical mass-market dime store sort of who-dunnit) and memoirs/autobiographies (but not ones bogged down with excessive facts and figures). Suggestions? I need them super soon. 

Currently reading... The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, which has gotten rave reviews by so many. I'm only twenty or so pages in, but I am enjoying it so far.

A little bummed about... last week's book club. I was in a sleep-deprived DayQuil fog and had to leave a bit early to pick up Sawyer, so I feel like I was not a stellar book club participant this time around. We read Homegoing and I loved it, so it's unfortunate. 

Just purchased... Notes from a Public Typewriter, on a whim, after seeing it on the Belletrist Instagram feed. A bookstore from Ann Arbor (I think?) set up a typewriter for patrons to use and collected some of the best notes and messages from over the years. 

Oh, Hey

It's been awhile! I know I've never been one to post super routinely, but I think this is probably the longest I've gone without writing for quite some time. It's been a hell of an eleven days, that's for sure. A week and a half ago I woke up with a fever of 102 and after throwing back some DayQuil went to work. Long story short, I had the flu (yes, I had the shot) and ended up working way too hard at work and at home and ended up completely miserable. I went to urgent care the other night after nine days straight of a low-grade fever and was sent home with the diagnosis of the flu and instructions to rest and come in earlier next time for TamiFlu. Luckily they said I was no longer contagious and, to my knowing, no one else was infected by my inability to stay home and quarantine myself (knock on wood).  Throw a weekend of solo-parenting, a night of conferences at work, and horrible sleep into the mix and things were made even worse. I will say that everyone from my son to husband to students to colleagues have been beyond understanding of this sort of fog and exhaustion I've been living in. 

Today I finally felt a tiny bit better and was actually motivated to do crazy things like wash more than one load of laundry and take a ten minute walk around the block. The lack of exercise and productivity has really started to get to me mentally, but I know that I need to ease back into my normal routine or else I will relapse. April is set to be a fun, busy month, so I really need to pace myself. 

So, that's where I've been and what I've been doing. I should be back with Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts and other posts this week! 


Five Things I’m Looking Forward To:
Taking Sawyer to see my school's production of The Little Mermaid this weekend
Our upcoming trip to Yosemite (even with the possible snow)
Book club next week
Watching the last three episodes of This is Us this weekend
The Boysenberry Festival at Knott’s Berry Farm

Four Movies I Can’t Wait to See:
Sherlock Gnomes
Pandas (IMAX)
Ready Player One

Three Projects in the Works:
Banister re-painting/staining
New prints purchased for downstairs kitchen
A writing project I’m consisting brainstorming about

Two Magazines I Would Subscribe to If I Had More Time to Read Them*:
The New Yorker
National Geographic
*I might anyway

One Thing I Want Right Now:

Sleep (or coffee)

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. Sawyer and I were at Target the other day and all of the sudden he started freaking out over a “baby dog” in a “pirate hat.” His imagination is on overdrive lately, so this wasn’t anything that unusual, but when he started talking about his “cat grandma” (what he calls my mom) and becoming more insistent/borderline teary  I started asking questions. Turns out he saw a card with a puppy wearing a pirate hat and wanted to get it for my mom. Despite it being a birthday card I had to get it and let him decorate it to send to her, since I thought that the whole thing was basically the cutest thing ever. (I fully acknowledge that this is probably one of those instances where the mom thinks this is ten times more amusing and adorable that the rest of the world).

2. I just finished Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala and loved it so very much. I immediately ordered Beasts of No Nation and can’t wait to read that after I reading Homegoing for book club next week.

3. My friend and I went to the Anaheim Packing House for Lunch last weekend and I ordered deep fried cheese curds and can’t stop thinking about them. They were that good (should I mentioned that they came with garlic herb mayo to  just bump up the nutrition level a bit?).

4. My husband and I watched Lady Bird last weekend and I thought it was really good and probably extra amusing since I teach kids that age. I am also from the Central Valley, about an hour and a half south of Sacramento, where the movie is set, so I appreciated the idea of wanting to get the hell out of the region.

5. I wish I had more time in my life to subscribe to National Geographic, but until then I’m going to swing by the bookstore and pick-up their issue on race, where they include an analysis of the magazine’s own flaws.

6. I have been able to finalize some really, really big things at work this week in terms of some assessment submissions to IB, as well as some more standard tasks, and it feels so much better. Because the seniors are “mine,” and I see them every day, I end up being the middle woman for lots of tasks and it’s been a lot to handle on top of everything else. But we’re making our deadline and I’m really relieved that this wave has almost subsided (and then in another week or so another round will start, but it will be much easier).

7. Re: The Tillerson Firing- All the grown-ups have gone home and the kids are running the school.

8. Today our school had an organized walk during school time for students to promote peace, in order to discourage them from having an actual walk out. I feel a little conflicted about this, but signed up to chaperone the event since it was during my prep period. On one hand I think that it’s absolutely awesome- we’re encouraged them to take a stand in a safe way that didn't result in them feeling like they are breaking rules. It seems like a great compromise and I am glad that we have teachers and leaders who are willing to facilitate the event. On the other, I think that it takes away from the student-advocacy part of things and detracts a little from the message of a well-done, successful walk-out. Nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction and I am more than happy to be a part of it.

All Apologies... No More

[some book I wanted to buy, so I did]

"I had a gift card..."

"I just used Amazon points..."

"I hadn't bought any for a long time..."

"We just got our tax return..."

"I got them for birthday/Christmas/Arbor Day..."

These are all phrases I tend to start any sort of post or conversation in which I am discussing newly acquired books, which sometimes come with a friend... or two... or five. I have this need to excuse both the act of adding to a pile of unread books that is approaching 100 and the act of spending money. I instantly think that people assume I'm being wasteful or am flaunting my ability to afford the expense and instantly become sheepish, whether the interaction is with my husband, friends, colleagues, or the internet. And with the exception of a few people (thankfully not the guy I am married to), I know no one probably cares, and yet I still can't help this defense. 

This extends past books as well, as I feel the need to justify many things I purchase in most conversations. If I'm talking about our annual passes to Knott's Berry Farm or the Zoo I have to include the fact that "it's such a good deal" or that "I can only afford it because I have only one child." If someone asks me where a dress is from I usually include a sale or gift card explanation when I mention it's from Boden, Anthro, of Loft. When I talk about trips I make sure to say that I've been saving for ages or justify the expense with the fact we rarely travel far. It's just so automatic for me at this point I can't help it. 

I'm guessing it, like many things in all of our lives, goes back to my childhood. We didn't have any extra money, at all, so the idea of buying in excess wasn't an option. Books were earned by saving weeks of allowance money or were just borrowed from the library. Shopping at stores other than Wal-Mart, or maybe Mervyn's on a good day, wasn't an option in our home. We never took trips and home improvements were done on the basis of necessity, served with a side of extreme parental stress. There was always a little disdain when people with more than we had were discussed, which I think is really common in our society. 

That being said, I was always hyper-aware of how much money the families had, or didn't have, around me growing up, and it made me self-conscious as I became older and hung out with some kids that were well-off. As an adult I am by no means wealthy, but my husband and I have good jobs and are fiscally responsible, with little debt (not counting our mortgage), so we are able to maintain some discretionary spending funds. I never want to make anyone feel like I just throw money around, which to me I guess buying boxes of books on occasion would maybe symbolize to some people. Basically, buying books makes me feel guilty. But it also makes me feel incredibly happy, which then makes me feel guilty (my grandmother, a hardcore Catholic before Alzheimer's set in, would probably be very happy with this guilt cycle).  

But you know what? I'm done feeling bad. I am fiscally responsible and have never run out of money because I've ordered too many books. I've never bought books over feeding my child. And I have actually been known to share my books with others (after they've been carefully vetted, of course). I also feel good about supporting authors and their ideas, many of which of late are important socially, politically, or culturally. I have room for my surplus and I have room for growth.

And, more than anything, books are what I collect. They're my thing. The anticipation of a new book, even if I won't read it for a year,  gives me a burst of joy.

So, book-loving friends, stop feeling bad. As long as your spending within your means and have some shelf/floor/table room go for it. Books make us better people, so by fueling your addiction you're really becoming a smarter, more empathetic human being. Books are cathartic, they're a safe escape, and they help us grow. Feel guilty no more.

You really can buy happiness. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I know, it’s Thursday, and these posts usually go up on Wednesdays. This week has been a complete nightmare on all fronts, so I’m taking being one day late as a win.

1. Wednesday was National Cereal Day, my favorite made up holiday, and I made sure to post a list of my top ten to declare my love for sugary cereals with animals and cartoons as mascots. I’m not even going to apologize or make excuses. Golden Grahams bring me joy. Cocoa Puffs make me happy. Ya gotta have  a reason to make it downstairs in the morning.

2. Last weekend my friend and I took Sawyer to one of those ceramics painting places and we had so much fun. I’ve never done it before, but I knew it would be a hit with my son since he is so into coloring and drawing right now. I think we spent over two hours (and too much money) catching up and watching him paint.

3. Still totally loving The Armchair Expert podcast. Dax Sheppard is equal parts charming and egotistical, but he has had a total comfort with his first three guests that makes the overall flow of conversation perfect.

4. Joy the Baker put out a tutorial for Petit Fours, which I love but have always been super scared to make. This is definitely on the short list of baking projects.

5. It has taken me a ridiculously long time to choose a new set of white dishes. White. The absence of color. Why is it so hard?  BECAUSE I AM MAKING IT THAT WAY.

6. I recently received a box full of books that I’ll share soon. My husband and I got our tax return back recently and we always dump some of it into our household account and then split the rest (we both claim single/zero, which I know is not the way to go, but it ends up in a large return that we are 95% responsible with). I save most of it every year, but I always let myself spend $100 or so bucks on some new books. They’re just sitting on a table in my living room right now calling to me. “Christiiiiiiiiiiine stop being responsible and reeeeeeaaaaad ussssss.” 

7. I am reading John August’s middle-grade book, Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire right now, which, honestly, and am having a hard time getting through it. Not because it’s bad or because it’s hard; I can see kids liking it and it’s very easy. I just have a really hard time connecting with YA and kid’s novels, for the most part. August talks in his podcast about not wanting to be compared to Harry Potter, but daaaaaang there are some obvious parallels. This is definitely not “the next” Harry Potter, either. 

8. My students are starting to get college acceptance letters and it’s the best. 

Seattle Recap

[MoPop Museum]

Last weekend my friend and I went to Seattle for an IB training for work. We had three days of training, but we also were able to get out and about some, too. We went to the Museum of Pop Culture, saw the Space Needle, dealt with snow, hit up some of her old favorite restaurants (she's from the area), walked around the Amazon Spheres, walked to Pike's Place Market, and spent some QT in our own hotel rooms hanging out. I also have some good friends from Southern California that relocated to the city a few years ago, so we went out do dinner one night and caught up. It was a great trip! I cannot wait to go back with Sawyer and Scott (if he can make it) sometime time in the next year. The flight is so easy and quick it's definitely something we could do for a long weekend. 

Here are some pictures:





[Space Needle in some flurries]

[gum wall]

[sunshine over the Puget Sound]

[our hotel was right down the street!]

[The Amazon Spheres]

[Loved it. No shame]

[Donuts and reading in bed]

[Ate at Biscuit Bitch on our way out of town]

March Intentions

It's March! The month that comes after February! The one that's before April. 

I hate being the type of person that goes on and on about time flying, but it really has so far this year. I'll take it- that means we're close and closer to summer vacation.

For those newer around here, every month I check in, setting some intentions for the upcoming month and evaluating the previous month's progress. Public accountability is good for me.

February Goals:

1. Stick to my "new" budget: Yup! We got our tax return back, so that sort inflated my accounts, but nonetheless, I am pleased with my savings and spendings this month.

2. Diversify exercise: Yes! I definitely did more than regular running, but I still have a long way to go to really be wear I want to be fitness wise.

3. Spend two hours working on my writing ideas: Nope! I clocked ten minutes. Ridiculous and in need of a retry.

4. Sell or get rid of baby things: Yes! I have started selling things on Facebook Marketplace, which was much more successful than Craig's List. I think I'm actually getting rid of my stroller/car seat combo this afternoon, for a steal, but I am glad to get these things out of my house. 

March Goals:

1. Book some travel accommodations: I need to finish up booking some flights and hotels. 

2. Less phone in bed: It's unreasonable to say none, but I need to stop falling in the rut of checking on things as I'm heading to sleep.

3. Schedule blog posts on the weekend: I have so many posts in my mind, but it's hard to get them hammered out during the week.

4. Get a new phone: This has turned into a dramatic, indecisive, over-dramatic situation and I need to take care of business asap.

5. Breathe: 2018 has been busy and great so far and April is looking like it is as well. I need to try to slow down a little more this month and just get on top of things at work and home that are piling up.  

February Reads

Happy March! I really, really, thought I was going to read more last month, since I had a whole week off. Four books isn't too shabby, though. Two of the books were fluffy and the other two much more literary and serious- sometimes you need balance. 

The American Marriage by Tayari Jones
306 pages
After less than two years of marriage, Roy is locked up for a crime he did not commit while his wife, an artist, Celestial, is left alone to cope. While Roy struggles in prison, she ends up spending more and more time with her childhood friend. Eventually the two are clearly together and not shortly after Roy is released early. Things get complicated really fast.

Verdict: The synopsis cheapens the novel a bit, perhaps, but this really was a captivating, beautifully-written story that I will be recommending to pretty much anything. Jones portrays the three different perspectives expertly, leaving the reader at a loss with whom to side with. 

Still Me by Jojo Moyes 
388 pages
Louisa ventures from the UK to New York City to be an assistant for the wife of an incredible wealthy man. She has to learn to navigate the city, make new friends, handle the family, and deal with a long distance relationship.

Verdict: For the majority of the point I struggled with the actual point of the book. Character study? No. Travelogue? No. Coming of age? No. It just was way too fluffy for me and lacked any depth at all. Her first book in the trilogy was fine, but each book after has gotten progressively worse.

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn
269 pages
Jancee Dunn and her husband have issues after their first kid- they fight more, there's unequal distribution of labor, and their different personalities make things tough to cope with this huge life change. In order to save her marriage, she undertakes several different little strategies to make things more harmonious, wether it comes to chores, handling tempers, or spending time alone.

Verdict: Let me preface this by saying I hated my husband BEFORE we had kids, so that's not why I go this book. Juuuuust kidding. I actually saw a blogger read and enjoy it, so I figured what the heck. Dunn was super funny and I think more than anything I just enjoyed the confirmation that every couple has problems, fights in the same circles, and has to work hard. 

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
380 pages
The Goldens move into a house in NYC and their neighbors immediately realize how mysterious they are, using different names and not telling anyone their backstory. The narrator ends up sort of infiltrating the family, planning out a documentary about them at the same time. While doing this he becomes completely immersed, trying to balance out his involvement and personal life. There is a lot of chaos towards the middle and end. 

Verdict: I found my interest in the story really inconsistent, which was tough after a rocky start. As a whole I'd give a B-, just because at the end of the day Rushdie still has a brilliant way with words. 

1,343 pages