Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Hope no one had great expectations for a post around these parts- Halloween? Middle of the week? Owner of a small child? Ha. Maybe if I did crazy things like regularly schedule posts I'd have this sort of shit on lockdown, but that I do not.

We had fun- Snoop Dog went trick-or-treating, we did the carving pumpkin thing, and everyone has full bellies of candy. Tis the season, right? 

I'm excited for October to be done, as it was not my favorite and some less than amazing things went down in my life (yup, vague blogging, but once they start paying me for this I will tell ALL). November is the month of my birth, home of the my favorite holiday (and we are hosting again this year, which makes me wanna-be-Martha-Stewart heart happy), and, most importantly, possessor of our first break of the school year (ah-effing-men). 

See you soon! Back to the Twix. 

Reading to Learn: Tell Me How it Ends

Two weeks or so I noticed a post on the Subway Book Reviews Instagram account that featured Valeria Luiselli's Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, a short book (not even 100 pages) that discusses how undocumented children are treated in our country. Beforehand I really wasn't all that familiar with the situation, figuring that most undocumented kids are just separated their families during immigration processing once they arrive. While this is in part true, there are also a lot of kids who area here completely alone. This book helped shed some light on the situation.

Luiselli, a Mexican writer who was waiting for her own green card, worked as interpreter in New York City's federal immigration court, translating for kids who were filling out paperwork to hopefully acquire a pro-bono immigration lawyer to fight for citizenship. She approaches her essay by question, while interweaving her own experiences in between points. 

I think the quote that resonated with me the most from this slim volume was, "If something goes wrong, and something happens to a child, the coyote is not held accountable. In fact, no one is held accountable" (Luiselli 51). While every kid's case is different, most families arrange for a coyote, an expensive "chaperone" of sorts, to take their child to the Mexico-US border, whether from Central America or Mexico itself. The journey involves crossing miles and miles of desert landscape and often illegally boarding a dangerous freight train that runs through Mexico the the US. There are countless obstacles: the heat, the landscape, gang members, and US vigilantes. I can hear people now, wondering how a parent could possibly endanger their child, but that's just the thing: they accept this risk because staying at home is worse. Many of the kids fear violence, unsafe living conditions, or incredible poverty. 

Once the kids arrive they do their best to be detained, so that they then have help finding whomever it is in the US they are trying to find (sometimes a parent, or an aunt, a cousin, someone the family knows, etc...). They are then entered into "the system" and wait for court dates to plead for leniency. Humanitarian organizations do their best to match the kids with lawyers, many of which volunteer their time. One exception is when Mexican children are immediately deported, which happens sometimes, too. 

It's heartbreaking, and a problem. Violence is a huge issue in Latin America, and the American connection is interesting. During the 1980s the US deported a huge number of Latin American gang members, which led to increased violence in their countries of origin. Then, there were destructive civil wars, which the US often had a hand in encouraging for economic means. I'm not going to sit here and pretend to be an expert of have a solution, but there's no denying that when kids are involved the issue becomes a real humanitarian crisis.  

This lengthy essay was fascinating, heartbreaking, and helpful in understanding what's happening with undocumented children in our country. 

Things I Might Text My Husband:

[I have NO IDEA where he gets his weirdness from]
I think I have a complicated relationship with the pool guy. And by “complicated relationship,” I just mean that I want him to send me thank you texts when he notices I skim the pool or empty the filter basket. I’d also like to be told that by doing this I make his job easier and we are his favorite clients.

If I am ever in charge of planning a funeral there will be a mandatory sing-a-long to “Stairway to Heaven” (I’m pretty sure my mom would really appreciate this, and my brother already said he would help).

Sometimes I pretend to be magnanimous and extend due dates on large essays or projects by a day or two when I really just want to delay grading them.

I used to think moms that wouldn’t get their kids puppies were mean and not fun. Now I get it. I wrong.

There is a definite hierarchy of Diet Coke (starting at the top/best): McDonald's, all other fountain Diet Coke, from a can, from a small bottle, from a two-liter.

I am such a sucker for stuffed animals at gift shops in places like amusement parks, museums, zoos, and airports (exhibit A: Sawyer's room)

I truly believe that when I water the grass at home it turns greener automatically.

I want Lasik and a dab of Botox but am terrified of them both (so I won’t get either).

I often forget that radio is a thing- don’t we all just use Spotify?

I fantasize about soft pretzels and shitty cheese from the place at the mall on an almost daily basis.

I forget to see if Sawyer’s shoes are too small for him and tell him to stop complaining when he says his feet hurt. Then I check. Then I feel bad. Then I immediately order pairs in the next size up. 

I am positive that leg hair grows faster when it is colder. It seems like a perfectly natural biological adaptation.

It is my goal to someday quite the entire song “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips when helping someone through a break-up.

Three Things I'm Doing This Year to Help With my Students' Writing

As much as I complain about getting up early, mountains of essays to grades, and meetings, I actually really love the fact that I get to hang out with (mostly) cool kids and talk about books and writing all day. And because of that, and my steady, life-long consumption of the IB Kool-Aid, I really want to do a good job at it. One area that my kids really struggle with, year after year, is writing. I know this is not a unique problem- this is something college professors complain about too. I'm in a unique position in that I have my students for two years, so I'm really able to target particular areas of need and work hard on them. Right now I'm focusing on three main area: more sophisticated theses, analyzing the author's style, and making sure everyone turns in their large take-home process piece essays on time. I know I have some teacher readers (and no, not my friends from work), so here are a few ideas if you find yourself in a rut:

Monthly Thesis Workshops
High school English students have a really tough time with creating sophisticated thesis statements (as opposed to “Janie was influenced by many factors, including her marriages, race, and search for identity”). Because of this, once a month or so I am holding a mini-thesis workshop where students come with a thesis for whatever essay we are writing in class written on an index card. The students in their groups score them according to a four-point system, where points are taken away when they don’t meet the requirements of avoiding lists, having an argument, not being too vague or specific, and being free from grammatical errors. Students then rewrite their thesis statements on a new index card, which they then submit to me. I score the cards in the same way as their peers did and have it back to them at the end of the period of the follow day for super quick feedback. They are then welcome to come to me after school for additional guidance. 

Essay Planning/Rubric Deconstruction Posters
The IB rubric we use for scoring essays has five components, one of which is our dreaded “category C,” which calls for the students to analyze components of the writer’s style (diction, syntax, imagery, etc…). The kids do a decent job of integrating this into their essays when they’re given a passage to write on, but really struggle when it’s a more traditional question-based prompt. For the last two books I have given each group of students a different prompt each and they have to create a plan for the essay on a poster, which they then present. Each poster has to include the prompt, a thesis, and what they’d write in three body paragraphs, including their “category c” material, textual support, and additional analysis. They present the information to the class and then actually write the essay as a timed write in class. This occurs towards the end of the book we’re studying, but I’ve seen the students’ efforts to produce more well-rounded essays that comment on both the novel’s content and the author’s style improve.

Class Rivalry for Extra Credit

This a little more on the trivial side of thing, but I have been fostering some friendly competition between the four sections of IB English I have in order to get kids to turn their essays in on time. It’s simple: whatever class has the highest percentage of the assignment turned in on times gets 5 points extra credit. IB kids L O V E extra credit, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if some would, like, walk on fire for it  (not that I would ask them to). A little peer pressure and the enticement of a few extra credit points (even if really a tiny amount by the end of the semester). 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[Sawyer's first Halloween, as Han Solo]

I put up a quote from Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Unsheltered, last night on Instagram, and it’s been fascinating to see how people have reacted. Kingsolver wrote, “A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child,” which I found extremely thought provoking (and might warrant a whole post on the matter when I’m done with this book). I think to some degree this is true, but always? I’m not convinced.

I wish I would have kept more of my books from growing up.  When I was young I would sell them to a used bookstore (shout out to Yesterdays Books! It’s still alive and kicking after all of these years) so that I’d get credit there and could buy more (I also used the library a lot).  You gotta do what you gotta do, when your allowance is less than five bucks a week.

I LOVE the “stacked” feature that Belletrist does, even when I’m not familiar with the author. I love getting to see how people organize their books and what some of their favorites are.

I redownloaded the Serial Reading app and am going to start trying to slowly chip away at a few classics that I’ve read before and have forgotten. First up: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Last Thanksgiving break I had planned on a little solo trip up to Hearst Castle but had to cancel it because I was in a car accident and felt like I needed to be fiscally responsible until the insurances sorted out who was at fault (not meeeeeeee!). This year I had planned on Sawyer and I going to Zion National Park for a few days, but our pool pump had to be replaced ($$$) and we spent almost $500 in vet visits on Chomsky…. all in the same week. So, once again, in order to be a mature adult, I have canceled my Thanksgiving plans. Honestly, it’s probably for the better- I have a lot to get done around the house and would like to take Sawyer to preschool a few days so I have some time to myself. I’m mad…. but not too mad.

I scored really, really horrible David Sedaris tickets for next month at UCLA. I have only read Calypso and am now resisting the urge to buy his entire back catalog. Maybe one or two collections, though. I love when I have an excuse to go to my alma mater!

I'm actually looking forward to all the actual Halloween festivities that start Friday and go for a week. Sawyer is Snoopy this year and we have a trunk-or-treat at his school Friday, pumpkin carving at some point, his class Halloween party, trick-or-treating at home, and then his costume parade a few days later. Like most holidays, having a kid has definitely made me appreciate it more! 


Reading: I am about 50 pages into Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel, Unsheltered, and while maybe a tiny bit slow, I am still enjoying it. I can’t say that I am ohmygod so riveted and am tempted to stay up all hours of the night reading, but I am definitely interested. I have also read the introduction for Can We All Be Feminists, edited by June Eric-Udorie, and while I am passionate on the subject, it’s a book that has to be read in silence, with a highlighter in hand, and preferably in long chunks.

Grading: I am almost caught up (say whaaaaat?) until the onslaught of assignments hit me starting Friday, but do have less than a class set of timed writes to get through. My students read an excerpt from Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef and had to write an explication (literary analysis), examining how things like syntax, diction, and tone enhance the content. I just finished a huge stack of process pieces on The Catcher in the Rye, which, truth be told, became a little painful. These explications are much faster and more telling of their current analytical abilities.

Listening: I just finished the Audiobook I was listening to and am in need of a new one! Until I take the time to figure that out, I’ve been listening to The Armchair Expert Podcasts, including the one with Amy Schumer. I really want to get to the third season of Serial and Dr. Death, too, as both come highly recommended by a friend who know my taste!

Purchasing: My motto: when the going gets tough, the tough buy books (even if they should not). Some were preordered, some were, say, spotted on, say, the Subway Book Review’s Instagram feed and purchased immediately. I recently ordered Are You My Mother by Allison Bechdel, The Best We Could by Thi Bui, and Tell Me How It Ends, edited by Valeria Luiselli. I have preordered Christina Tosi’s All About Cake (arriving today!), Kim Hooper’s Cherry Blossoms, and the paperback of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power.

Pete Souza- #throwshadethenvote

Sunday two of my friends and I went to Pete Souza's talk in Culver City to promote his new photography book, Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents, and it was beyond awesome. Pete Souza served as the official photographer for President Obama while he was in the White House and had the privilege of having a very unique vantage point of the presidency. Since Trump's win he's taken to Instagram to wittily critique 45's tweets, rants, and decisions. This newest book offers a side-by-side cheeky comparison between Trump's presidency and Obama's. While they are initially pretty witty and humorous, the underlying reality is sobering and quite worrisome. 

Souza spoke for over a ninety-minutes, mostly under the structure of what we need to seek in our next vote for president. His examples were personal, involving his family, genuine, as seen with his handling of Sandy Hook, and professional, showing intense, pensive concentration in the Decision Room. The photographs are all amazing and Souza's talent for capturing the smallest gestures and facial expressions is impeccable. 

More than anything, I didn't expect how emotional the event would be. I'm sure I've teared up a time or two before with other speakers, but Souza had me wiping tears away MULTIPLE times (and not just me, everyone around me was dabbing their eyes). The hardest was his footage of Obama handling the tragic Sandy Hook shooting, but it was also incredibly bittersweet seeing how emotional he and Michelle were as they flew away from The White House together. There was also a ton of laughter, and lot of vigorous nods of agreement.

If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend getting to one of Pete Souza's talks (or at last follow him on Instagram). He's not a politician or even a flawless speaker, which is actually nice. He feels like just a regular guy who got to spend eight fascinating years with one of our country's best presidents.

Writing Update: A Plan (1)

For anyone who's new around these parts, my dream in life is to travel from large metropolitan city to large metropolitan city a few months out of the year, clad in head-to-toe Boden or Anthro, to talk about the books I have written. I will win people over with mild self-deprecation, stories about my son, and a deep passion for what I have published. There will be after-parties full of wine, passed hors devours, and incredibly smart people that intimidate me so much I have to take full advantage of the free booze. It'll be equal parts terrifying and awesome.

There's one main problem: I don't write. I have full confidence that there is at a book, or seven, in me, but yet still, my word count is abysmal (and my abysmal I mean non-existent).

I've blogged about this before, about how I somehow keep the dream and confidence alive year after year. And I am also incredibly realistic, despite my opening paragraph. I know that once I finally finish the novel that is ricocheting off the walls of my head nothing will probably come of it, other than a celebratory blog posts and the pats on the back I give myself. And that's totally okay. I don't think I'm cut out to be famous. 

I don't want to be sixty or seventy or eighty wondering if I could have finished writing at least one novel, though. I already regret not trying harder to pursue in medicine, and while the boat that dream was perched on is long gone, this one is still waiting at the dock. (And with this sort of amazing abilities, HOW CAN I NOT TRY?)

I need a plan- a reasonable, clear plan that holds me accountable (god, this reminds me of all the SMART Goal inservices from a decade ago).

Sawyer is older, I've got work under control (well, as much as an English teacher can), and I have the itch to get things going. Now is the time. 

First of all, I need to summarize the ideas that I do have and pick one. I've started so many over the years and have had to toss them aside for life. Basically, I need to write up some book proposals for myself to choose from. One to two pages typed, for each of the three or four options I'm wrestling with. 

After this happens, I need to loosely outline what's going to go down. I think part of the reason why I have struggled over the years is because I have a solid idea of the beginning and just assume the rest of story will just come to me as a I write. Why the hell do I think this is something that would be successful for me? I plan 90% of my life, why would this be any different? Enough with the "I want the writing to come organically shit" and at least have some sort of road map. 

I've realized that I am extremely driven by public accountability, whether it's just telling me husband I'm going to do something, posting it here, or getting social media involved. I think the best thing for me would be to post a writing update some time during the first week of every month. Just a quick check in to see how many words I've written, how I'm feeling, what some challenges have been, etc...

Initially I had planned on the final component to this plan being a word count, but I think that feels a little too NaNoWriMo for me. I don't want this to be about racing to finish, but instead feeling like progress is consistently being met, so I'm going with time goals instead. I think for the first full month, which will be November, I just want to hit a total of six hours (since there's only eleven days left this month I just want to get the initial ideas typed out). I will probably download some sort of app to keep all of this on the up-and-up. 

Sorting out ideas, organization, accountability, and the accumulation of time- it sounds like a good plan right now. I know how life gets, though, and a lot of times these sorts of things take the back-burner. There's no money on the line, and not even really pride, since this isn't something most people every actually try to even attempt. That's why I have to use every tool I have to make this happen, starting with this platform!

Tun in.... 

Reading to Learn: Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

In an attempt to better educate myself on the struggles and issues that others face in our country, I’ve been reading a much more diverse selection of nonfiction since the 2016 election (and will hence title future posts "Reading to Learn"). My most recent read, Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas continues this trend. Vargas, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, writes about his experience living in the US without documentation as a gay, educated, Filipino. His candid memoir humanizes him and millions of others who so often get offensively labeled and objectified- without a doubt a must read for all.

Vargas came to the US with a man he thought was his uncle when he was twelve and didn’t find out that he was actually without proper documentation until he tried to obtain a learner’s permit at the DMV. He was told that his green card was a fake and sent off, changing Vargas’ life forever. He quickly learned of his family’s secret, that his grandparents had saved up thousands of dollars to have him brought to the US while his mother remained in the Philippines. He struggled heavily his secret for the nearly fifteen years afterwards, only letting those who were close to him know. Luckily, he went to an extremely affluent high school in Mountain View, CA and was able to acquire some very generous benefactors who created a scholarship that made it possible for him to go to college. He went on to earn several internships and positions at reputable newspapers, like the Washington Post and even win a Pulitzer for his collaboration on a story.

Eventually, though, the pressure of working so hard to keep his immigration status a secret started to take it's toll and he ended up revealing the truth in an essay he published about himself. After clearing the air, and not being instantly deported as feared, he began working hard for those like him. Vargas founded Define America, an organization that works to advocate for kids like the DREAMers (which Vargas barely missed the cutoff for). He's also been involved in documentaries, legislative efforts, and countless awareness events on the topic. 

I have taught many hardworking DREAMers as a high school teacher and am so proud to have seen so many of them go on to college. I've witnessed their determination, fear, and honesty and am so thankful that I work at a high school that even has a club for these students to find additional assistance. I saw so many of my kids in Vargas and it deepened my perspective of the emotions they have most likely felt to some degree at one time or another (or will, as they mature). 

This book also made me realize how I often I take my own citizenship for granted. It was a breeze for me to get my driver's license (well, minus the running into a curb on the first try part), I got my passport a month earlier than expected, and I've never had to hold my breath through an ICE checkpoint. The pressure of needing to do everything perfectly all the time to fly under the radar would be suffocating- I can't imagine (that's why I read books like these). 

While the subject matter is dire, especially in the current state of politics and administrative empathy, Vargas still maintains a consistent tone of realistic optimism and hope. I teared up a few times at his recollections of people who have been so overwhelmingly kind and generous to him over the years, whether with financial support or emotional. There may not be enough good people in the world, but there sure are some.

Tomorrow my students will be reading exerts of Vargas' revealing article after watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story" and reflecting on their own experiences (and practicing a bunch of skills necessary for state testing, of course). I'm excited to hear what they think and hope some will opt to read his book for their outside reading requirements. 

No matter what side of the aisle you vote for, this is an important read. Let me know what you think if you've read it!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

You know the drill. If not, I bet you'll catch on- you seem smart. 

1. I just finished Undocumented: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas and it was fascinating and moving. Everyone should read it. Hopefully I can get it together to do a post soon...

2. I'm just finishing listening to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck and I'm a bit disappointed. I think at times her contradictory and seems to step over the line between tough love and being an ass a little too often for me. My biggest problem was probably that I thought it was going to be a little different.

3. These cacio e pepe beignets from Joy the Baker look amazing. I also want to make some of the Milk Bar's Bagel Bombs or pumpkin cinnamon rolls from Sally's Baking Addiction. Clearly it's gonna be a carb fest up in here.

4. There are some weeks where you just have to stop and take a minute to be so thankful for those friends you can answer honestly when they ask how you're doing. Not that the friends you just say "I'm so tired, I can't wait for Friday! How is it going with you?" to aren't bad, it's just that there are different levels of friend who can handle your word/feelings/news vomit, ya know. 

5. Our teacher's union reached a tentative bargaining agreement with our district today and I'm so happy with the settlement. I don't always agree with the tactics used, but my union allegiance runs deep. My grandpa was, well, is, a Teamster and I remember so many times that my grandparents changed grocery stores where they shopped so that they didn't cross picket lines. The rumblings of strikes and whatnot have been a tad distracting, so it will be nice that that has cleared the air. 

6. I ran a 10k last weekend and it ended up being simultaneously worse and better than I thought it was going to be. My time was really slow, but I ran the whole thing, which I didn't think was going to happen. I'll take it. 

7. I just discovered that the Great British Baking Show has cookbooks. Be still my heart. I need to bake some sponges. 

8. I have to redo all of the bulletin boards because I finally, after flying the under the radar for ten years, got nailed by the fire marshall (many of us did). If I'm being rational, I understand the theory behind it in terms of how long fabric burns compared to paper, but MY WALLS WERE PRETTY AND MADE ME HAPPY, GODDAMMIT. Now it looks like a goddamn prison because I'm waiting for the colored paper I ordered to come in. Oh, and not to mention the fact that I don't have time to actually redo everything. I know. I sound like such a teacher. 

Lessons I've Been Working to Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fingers crossing this weekend speeds up! 

Weekend Update, Fall Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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