Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Happy Wednesday! Leave your link in the comments (and please link back!)

1. I have been a union member (CTA!) for twelve years and have a grandpa who was a teamster for decades- today's SCOTUS ruling is personally offensive and it's TIME TO RALLY.

2. I started David Sedaris' Calypso and I absolutely adore it. I've read other essays of his here and there, but this is the first actual collection I've owned and now I want them all.

3. I am also reading Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion and while I am enjoying it, I do think that she could have trim about 75 pages of fat to make a bit of a tighter novel.

4. I am excited for IOS 12 later this year to be released- it will have a suite that includes an app that tracks how you spend your phone time! I have been asking for this for years (and clearly they are specifically answering my actual needs because I am THAT important). There are third party ones, but they ask for way to much access to my phone to utilize them. 

5. I have been considering a new Instagram account for book-related matters only, but I'm afraid it will be too much work. Anyone do this? Thoughts? Do I have to log out and back on each time I change accounts?

6. I love that my mom reads so much more now that all of her kids are grown. She went from only reading Redbook when we were kids to reading 2-4 books a month! She tries to alternate between an author she knows and a new one, so I always use holidays and birthdays (like hers yesterday) to buy her new ones. And she reads them! It's so great. I would have never imagined this twenty years ago.

7. Lately I have been able to hang out with people who mean so much to me and I am so very, very thankful. Some of these occurrences have been simple, fun things, others much more serious and profound. I know good people that make my life that much better. 

5-4-3-2-1 Quick Picks

I haven't done a list like this in a long while, so here are some quick picks in case you need help with your next read:

5... "easy" books in paperback and perfect for the airport/pool/lunch breaks

About a Boy by Nick Hornby (or anything, really)

The Revised Fundamental of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion 

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

4... books to make you laugh

Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Fathermucker by Greg Olear

The Sellout by Paul Beatty 

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 

3... books that are slightly more obscure (but ones you should still read) 

Open Me by Sunshine O'Donnell

Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson

Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita 

2... books that will offer perspective on the border crisis (if you need it)

Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle

Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar 

1... book that I am currently reading (and enjoying) 

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer 

This was fun. Maybe I'll do it again soon! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts


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

1. It is not illegal to seek asylum. 

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

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

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

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

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

Now, Beyonce.

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

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

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

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

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

Why Everyone Should Read About Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor

The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike

The Long Run by Matt Long

Marathon by Hal Higdon

An Accidental Athlete by John Bingham

Running for Women by Kara Goucher

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Baking Tips

[marbled frosting ftw]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No go forth and make something delicious! 

Author Events: Gail Honeyman and Michael Chabon

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

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

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

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

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

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[American Graffiti Parade shot]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I'll Be (Maybe) Reading this Summer

I've told you fine folks what to read. I've told my students what to read. Now it's time to assign myself some books, I suppose. 

I generally just read whatever I want, taking a quick break from this laissez-faire sort of approach when it's time for book club or when I have to teach something. I might read something the day after it comes in the mail, or I might go for something that's been on my shelf for five years. Ya just never know. So while I can't guarantee anything, here are some books that I am feeling pretty confident that I'll get to in the next seven weeks:

Florida by Lauren Groff- She's basically reached the "can do no wrong" status in my world.

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl- I read maybe one YA book a year, and this will probably be the one. I love Pessl and was honestly disappointed to hear she was going down this route, but maybe I'll change my mind. 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo- I have heard great things about this and I'm always open to learning more outside my white middle-class bubble.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison- I just finished listening to her memoir Addiction, so I'm interested to see what these essays are about.

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nove Jacobs- This one totally sucked me in by the blurb that it was a "novel in clues." 

The Overstory by Richard Powers- It's a long book about trees, so I'm thinking summer is the time. 

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben- Since I'll be reading about trees with Powers, might as well keep a good thing going

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolizer- This is another lengthy one that I've been saving since it came out for summer.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward- Finally, right?

Swing Time by Zaide Smith- From what I've heard this is the perfect summertime by the pool Smith novel.

Love in the Time of Techno by Anthony Mara- I keep putting off, which is ridiculous, since I haven't heard anyone say anything bad about it. 

Something by TC Boyle- I have an embarrassing amount of unread Boyle on my shelves. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Hey folks! Link up in the comments if you participate.

1. Tonight is graduation! I sit down on the field every year with the kids and it's always such a special, fun night. Some of the kids are first-generation graduates which is just awesome. Graduation is an accomplishment no matter what classes you took, what path your taking in the future, or what your friends did. High school is hard for everyone at some point, academically, socially, or both. 

2. This video on reading from The Onion is great.

3. I bought Sawyer is his first Where's Waldo book and I might possibly be more excited than he is. 

4. I went into this week thinking that it would be smooth-sailing, but I forgot about all the last minute things that pop up at the end of the year- paperwork, sign-off sheets, cleaning, storing, etc... Granted I'd be in a far worse position if I wasn't caught up with grading!

5. Tomorrow is book club and we're discussing Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, which I read last year. I go back and forth on whether I think it's a "good book club book," but no matter what it's always fun. This is always the meeting where we decide on what to read next year, so my books up for voting will be Circe by Madeline Miller, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and No Country for Old Man by Cormac McCarthy. The first I feel like I should read, but won't unless I have a reason, the second is because I think it would be cool to discuss a graphic novel (I've read this one), and the third is because I keep meaning to read more McCarthy. We'll see if any get chosen!

6. Friday Sawyer and I are flying up to see my family for a day (I was planning on staying longer but have to cut it short). This is his first time on an airplane and therefore my first time trying to fly with a kid, our stuff, and his gigantic car seat. I bought a ridiculous backpack to put his car seat in, which I'll just check. I feel stupid doing that since it's an hour flight, but the idea of schlepping it around (the bathroom! Augh!) sounds terrible. Fingers crossed this dress rehearsal goes well and we're ready for Canada next month!

Summer Plans

I hate the phrase "bucket list" and think that's thrown around way too liberally these days. Originally it was intended for when you were going to, you know, KICK THE BUCKET. As in die. As in cease to exist. I know I am completely outnumbered on this one, but I don't care. So, this isn't my "summer bucket list," it's just a huge list of things I want do do with the eight weeks I have off. 

[Rant over]

It's no secret that I need to stay busy to stay sane and that I like experiencing new things and places both alone and with others. I also know that it's important to just be home, though, to relax and so that Sawyer has plenty of time to play with toys and experience that childhood necessity, boredom. I'm keeping all of that in mind. He's going to preschool two-ish days a week to keep up with their routine, see his friends, and give me a break to do what I need to do, so that will be good for both of us. The place were he's at focuses more on fun enrichment activities during summer, which makes me feel a tiny bit less guilty about it. 

The idea of a summer wasted makes me incredibly anxious, so I have to plan ahead of time; it's who I am. So, this massive list is really just for me to have for my own benefit and if it sparks ideas for others than awesome! (If you are from Southern California or are planning on visiting, I have written more extensively about fun things to do with families here).

Here we go! Summer 2018!

Go to... 
1. Modesto
2. Canada
3. The San Diego Zoo (we have passes)
4. The Wild Animal Park (included in the above pass)
5. Knott Berry Farm a few times (we have passes)
6. Big Bear (hopefully overnight with a friend, but if not just a day)
7. The Broad (Sawyer has never been and I think he'd love it)
8. A friend's wedding (it's a coworker and all the fun colleagues are going)
9. See the crazy umbrella alley in Redlands 
10. The Hollywood Bowl with friends for the Grease Sing-A-Long 
11. Griffith Park (Sawyer has never been and I haven't been in a decade)
12. Vegas (we are going for two nights and leaving Sawyer with my in-laws so we can go spend one night on the strip)
13. The beach (Sawyer has been asking almost daily)
14. A baseball game 
15. See some movies (The Incredibles with Sawyer, Jurassic Park with Scott, and then maybe one or two on my own)
16. The Gail Honeyman event though Hello Sunshine 
17. The Muppet's Exhibit at the Skirball Center 
18. The Michael Chabon reading 

Around the House:
1. Put up a gallery wall behind the staircase
2. Clean the ever-living-shit out of my house
3. Completely reorganize and clean out Sawyer's toys
4. Completely reorganize the treadmill/toy room
5. Paint an accent wall in the guest bedroom (yellow?)
6. Clean out the garage and break down ALL boxes
7. Redo the shelving paper in the kitchen (hold me- I am scared)
8. Have people over at least once (I love entertaining, but it just doesn't happen a lot)
9. Shampoo all the carpets (so glamorous, but it needs to get done) at the beginning of the summer and at the end
10. Look into having our travertine floor in the kitchen resealed and patched in a few areas 

Self Goals:
1. Read 18 books
2. Tackle some tough/new recipes (Baked Alaska, Gnocchi, fondant)
3. Learn to BBQ! (and master the art of the BBQed pizza)
4. Update some things here on the ol' blog
5. Have at least 4 ALONE days (this is where those preschool days will really help)
6. Yoga an average of twice a week 
7. Make more of an effort to hang out with my husband (weeknights are so hard during the school year between my schedule and his) 
8. See friends on average of once a week (luckily most of my friends are teachers)
9. Watch TV (seriously)
10. Finish a cross-stitching project or two 
11. Work on writing project (I'm not going to set a specific goal, I just want to feel good about the progress)
12. Catch up on my yearly family photo book 
13. Go to a new bookstore 
14. Get rid of clothes 
15. Finally apply to be an IB scorer 
16. Finally try out Orangetheory 

1. Help Sawyer make progress with letter recognition
2. Appointments: dentist and physical
3. Work on bike-riding skills (the kid has weak legs- he needs to do squats)
4. Try to eliminate the swimming fear
5. Practice penmanship 
6. Do some more science experiments

Who knows if all of this will happen, but I can sure try! 

On Loss

I feel obligated to preface this post with the fact that it’s most definitely not about books. It’s just me, sharing something personal because sometimes as humans we just need to do that. Plus, this is hard and it’s important to do hard things. I also wrote in at 12 am one night when I couldn't sleep and didn't want to waste my efforts by not posting. (Clearly this post is making me a little... uncomfortable. But I am not perfect and I don't have everything under control all the time and I think it's important people understand this).

May has been one of the hardest months I’ve experienced in a really, really long time. There were some tough, but manageable things: some crappy stuff at home, Sawyer had a high fever and then strep throat, work was busy and I had a deadline for grading, etc... But then there was Loss, something I simply do not handle well.

Some background on Christine and Loss: While I've known plenty of people who have passed away, I’ve really only lost one person before whom I was close to, and that was my dad. He was bipolar and took his own life when I was a freshman in high school. I handled this blow by going to school the next day so I didn’t miss my physics test, confirming with my mom we’d manage financially, arranging to borrow a black dress from a friend to wear to the service, and refusing to let my guidance counselor tell my teachers. I cried a few times... but not in front of others. It was all about survival and I didn't have time to get weighed down by much else. Since then I’ve treated this part of my life almost clinically or like business- “Our partner didn’t want to continue with the corporation and decided to cut ties. We wish him the best of luck in all future endeavors.” I am also aware of the biological/neurological issues and the fact that the pharmaceuticals used for treatment of mental health in the late 90s were practically primitive. I am a pro at compartmentalizing, what can I say? Nonetheless, it’s been over twenty years and I haven’t had any nervous breakdowns over the matter, which is good. Is this a healthy way to process the death of a parent? Probably not.

Fast forward back to the present.

The first Loss is the month was Cordie, our thirteen-year-old Golden Retriever, whom I wrote about here. I cried over her, of course, especially when we took her in for the final time and stayed until she passed. My throat closes up a twinge and I feel teary during routine moments that she’s now gone for- when I feed Chomsky, when I let him outside, or when I vacuum and her hair isn’t clogging up the canister. I had had three months to prepare, but it’s still been achingly sad. It’s also been rough trying to explain to Sawyer what happened and he still brings it up every single day.

Two weeks later, the day after Memorial Day, I received a text while I was listening to outside reading presentations that said a student whom I had been incredibly close to in the class that had graduated two years ago had died that morning. I had had this student for her junior and senior years and taught her sister as well, so I knew the family to the point where I was on a first name basis with the parents. I don’t want to go too much in detail to respect the student and her family, but the kid went through a lot while I had her and I found myself becoming very attached as I did my best to support her. To say this child wormed her way into my heart would be an understatement. We have kept in contact since and even had plans to meet up for coffee in a week or two. She was one of the brightest students I have ever taught, was an amazing artist, and was so very generous (once she showed up for no reason with a coloring book and crayons for Sawyer, another time she bought a bouquet of flowers and just handed them out to people- she was just constantly kind). She taught me about her religion, we played word games, she tried to make me like Lana Del Rey, and we talked about Big Life Issues a lot. I felt compelled to let a few other teachers she had know, which was really hard for me to do, since I am emotionally stunted when it comes to Loss. It’s been a week and I cry, in private, every day still. Her memorial is soon and I am utterly terrified and severely anxious.

The third type of Loss I’ve had to deal with this month is a little different, but still leaves me with a heavy heart. Thursday my seniors all checked out and left. I am of course incredibly proud of them and also excited for their futures, but after having them all for two years, some three, and a dozen or so even as fourth graders, I genuinely feel a sense of Loss here too. I saw them every day- they were entertaining, interesting, kind, and distracting. I was quite close to a group of them and I realistically know I may never speak to them again after graduation (which is totally fine- they are closing a chapter of their lives and no one is entitled to keep in touch with their high school teachers! I only did with one). It feels like a bandaid was ripped off and now I’m left with that annoying stinging feeling that you know will go away eventually but sometimes just takes a few minutes longer to fully fade. These have been My People and now they’re gone and my classroom will be empty until we are done.

On the inside I feel like I have been severely beat, like my entire abdomen is bruised and some of my organs may stop functioning. On the outside I respond to everyone’s inquiries about how I am with a smile and a “I’m fine, just looking forward to summer!” I am unable to admit to people that I am grieving hard right now and that my heart hurts, because I don’t want their sympathy. I don’t mind sympathy when it comes to some things, or even when it’s delivered in written form, but for some reason the face-to-face sympathy that comes connected to death horrifies me. I have a visceral reaction when someone starts expressing their condolences. It makes me feel like I am being perceived as weak and vulnerable, which is the last thing in the world I want to be perceived as. Plus, I never know how to respond. Do I shrug it off and therefore trivialize the Loss? Do I breakdown and make things insanely awkward? It’s easier to just make the world seem that I am coping just fine. The problem independent people like myself have is that it’s hard to admit when we need support. But I don't, because I'm fine. 

Every day gets easier, as they do when this sort of thing happens. The back-to-back-to-back instances this month have just been simply too much to handle. I know that I’ll be okay and that summer will be healing and that there are tons of things coming up starting this week to distract me. One day at a time.

Senior Good-Bye Book List

Lot's of list lately, with possibly a few more to come! When my seniors left the other day I gave them a good-bye letter, since I'm incredibly inarticulate in moments of any kind of emotion, complete with a list of the ten books that I really  wish I could teach. Who knows if they'll ever read them, but, just in case one day they have some time on their hands they'll be prepared. I thought I'd share them here:

Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle- This book's multiple perspectives on immigration really struck me

Family Fang by Kevin Wilson- Wilson is quirky, hilarious, and brilliant

House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende- Magical realism at it's finest

Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky- The symbolism! The themes! The character development!

Spark! by John Ratey- This book may not be packed with symbolism and metaphors, but it's incredibly motivating to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood- There's so much to examine and unpack on this book, in terms of the literary and social levels

Persepolis by Marjame Satrapi- I would love to push myself to teach a graphic novel some day, and I love that this one not only delves into the coming-age genre, but also provides a history lesson

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett- Wonderfully written and a way to encourage kids to talk about mental health. I shared a passage from this and had several kids read it for outside reading

Homegoing by Yaa Gjasi- There's lessons about race, history, and character, all packed into a carefully orchestrated narrative

As the Great World Spins by Colum McCann- Speaking of amazing narratives... I also have a soft spot when authors carefully connect characters through various threads

May Reads

My main reading material this past month was student work- I graded like maniac. I managed to squeeze in three books, which still seems like a victory despite being pretty meager. Now that the grading is done I hope I can make up for lost time. Here's what I read:

I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara 
328 pages
This is the true story of Michelle's McNamara' attempt to solve the case of the East Area Rapist aka The Gold State Killer. McNamara pieces together clues old and new, interviews those who were involved, scoots her way down many dark holes on the internet, and returns to multiple crime scenes. In so many words: she was obsessed. McNamara writes the grim, horrifying details of the rapes and murders, describing an absolute monster of a man. Unfortunately, while investigating and writing the book she unexpectedly died, so it was finished by her colleagues and husband, Patton Oswalt. Also, on a bittersweet note, the Golden State Killer was captured a month or so ago, something McNamara would have loved to witness.

Verdict: I was captivated by the first 2/3 of this book, but the whole thing started to get a little tiring to me by then. I knew the case wasn't going to reach any real conclusion, which also tarnished it a little for me, admittedly. If true-crime is your thing you will probably love it, though, as it is well-written and thoroughly researched.

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
223 pages
This collection of short stories focuses on a variety of women, most of which are approaching middle-age, examining the role relationships and sexuality play in their lives. There's one story about a women who considers having a one-night stand in order to get her driver's license back, another about a woman who had a past relationship with a popular food/lifestyle blogger who then publicly comes out as bisexual, and another about a young woman who volunteers at homeless shelter and fears becoming an old spinster. 

Verdict: This is a perfect "beach" read, since the stories are short, fairly interesting, and offer various perspectives on what it's like to be a woman these days. As a whole, though, the collection was particularly spectacular or memorable, though. The writing was good, but not great, the stories interesting, not amazing, and the short plots were well-constructed, but not genius. I recommend it, still, just because Sittenfeld is still quite talented and it feels like a good female read without being chic lit. 

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
142 pages
This novella is summed up perfectly in one quote, said by the Agu, the boy soldier. The young man says, "All we are knowing is that, before the war we are children and now we are not." This is the heartbreaking story of a boy who is taken by the enemy in an unknown feuding land in Africa, and is made into a soldier. He is made to kill violently, and must endure sexual abuse, starvation, and emotional trauma. 

Verdict: This is definitely not an easy book to get through, given the subject matter, but it is so important. It's so easy to look at situation in other countries with judgement and contempt, but books like these offer us a different perspective. Agu did terrible things, but he was just a brainwashed boy who was trying to survive. Does that make it right? No, but it helps us understand. Iweala's narrative voice utilizes the stream-of-consciousness style, ensuring the reader become as acquainted as possible with Agu.

693 pages