Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's finally spring in Southern California and all I want to do is go to the beach to read in the sun while Sawyer plays in the sand next to me. He is pretty scared of the water, so it's kind of a perfect situation... for me.

Things are getting bussssssy. Friday night is Sawyer's preschool graduation, Sunday we have plans with friends, and Monday I will be at Disneyland all day with one of my best friends chaperoning a school trip (it's pretty awesome- we ride down in the bus, wave at the seniors as they walk away, and count their heads when they arrive back twelve hours later). Then next week is the end of the year- finals, grades, classroom cleaning, etc...

Podcast note #1- listen to the tax cab episode of The Daily. I had no idea how the medallion system worked in NYC and found the whole thing fascinating.

Podcast note #2- I juuuuuust started listening to My Dad Wrote a Porno and I was giggling to myself all the way to pick Sawyer up. This man's older father wrote an erotic story and gave the draft to his son, who then promptly turned it into a podcast with his friends. 

You know what? I still really, really love print magazines. I only subscribe to two, In Style and Shape, but if I had the choice I'd get fifteen.

Have you watched Dead to Me? It's so good. I love half hour shows and this one is the best combination of drama and comedy, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini totally perfect together. I've been trying to only watch two or so episodes a week to make it last. 

Last night I googled something and FOR ONCE THE RESULTS WEREN'T BAD. I really try to not look things up that are causing my anxiety, but I did and it turns out an occasional dry wall nail poking out is actually more a cometic issue than one of indicating your house is about to fall apart. 

Manageable Chunks

One of the hardest parts of blogging is not over-sharing. Actually, I think that’s sort of the hardest part of living. I always wrestle with this concept- you want to tell people enough about you so that you feel connected and supported, but you also don’t want to be that person. You know, the acquaintance that you haven’t seen in five years but run into at Trader Joe's and all of the sudden they’ve told you their deepest darkest secrets when you really just wanted to get some cheap bananas? I mean that hasn't happened to me exactly, but you know what I mean.

I run into this problem at work all of the time. I teach my students for two years in a row, as juniors and seniors. I want them to respect me as their English instructor, but I also want them to see me as a human who has emotions and has had experiences outside of the classroom. There’s a line, though, and I constantly have to decide what’s okay to divulge and how. I think I do a pretty good job of sharing parts of my life with them, and in return they do the same with me. If you want people to work for you they have to feel emotionally invested on some level.

So, basically, this has been one long preface to say that there have been some really heavy things going on in my life for several months, which is part of the reason why things have been quieter around here and sometimes lacking substance (or at least that's what it feels like to me). Because of the whole boundary concept, I can’t really divulge what’s up, but I will be okay and life will work out, eventually.

Because of this I’ve really had to put safeguards in place to protect, well, my sanity. I’ve been feeling bogged down emotionally but also with the sheer volume of things that need to get done between work and home. I haven’t lightened my load in terms of any of these things or with doing things on the weekend and whatnot. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t enough caffeine in the world to get me through life. I resist relying on others for any sort of support and I also refuse to stop adhering to the whole "fake it 'til you make it" mentality on a day-to-day basis. 

So, in response to this, I’ve really started practicing what I preach to my students: you have to create manageable chunks.

Yesterday this concept drove my entire day and I was able to get so much done. I’d clean for thirty minutes, spend thirty minutes doing puzzles with Sawyer, grade for thirty minutes, go back to cleaning, etc… and by the end of the day everything was crossed off my list. Being productive makes me feel better, so it was a win-win. I felt better and more on top of things that I had in a really, really long time. 

I’ve been using this concept for bigger things as well. When I was doing all of the HELOC paperwork I was pretty stressed out. I felt in over my head at times and was worried I’d missed something in the documents. In order to combat this, I assigned myself a task every day- answer an email to the loan officer, discuss the solar panel balance with the credit union, ask my accountant brother-in-law for clarification on items, etc…. This week I have a ton of insurance claim paperwork to deal with, complete with tracking down some stupid billing codes, so each day I am going to chip away at a different chunk.

Really, it's sort of a lifestyle, if you think of it. Manageable chunks- if you tackle things slowly and methodically, bit by bit things will happen. 

I highly recommend it. 

Five Reasons Why You Should Read the Theban Plays

I honestly don't even know who I am anymore. Me, the girl who did everything in her power possible to avoid classics classes while in college (as in BC work, not like Bronte), read Sophocles' three Theban Plays for fun this past month (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone). I actually taught Antigone again, for the fourth time, so I guess that one was obligatory. I had such a good time explaining the backstory, though, that I even sold myself on the whole thing and ordered copies to read for pleasure. I had read Oedipus when I was in high school (didn't we all?), but Colonus was a first for me. I admittedly like Antigone the best, probably because I know it so well and Colonus the least, but really, I can truthfully say I thoroughly enjoyed the process. And now I'm here to convince you to do the same:

The stories- Incest! Death! Suffering! Family drama! This is how I entice my students before they start reading Antigone, by giving them the details on poor Oedipus killing his dad and marrying his mom. They're horrified, but hooked! They went into Antigone being intrigued and were more motivated to tackle the language. I have a ton of kids reading the other plays for outside reading now, since these themes have proved to be so interesting. And really, they are. The way that Sophocles just totally destroys Oedipus' family is horrific- basically the first train wreck people couldn't stop watching (except a chariot... really).

It's accessible (especially with the right translations)- I know we typically think of things written by scholars and great playwrights like Sophocles as incredibly challenging, but I really think with a tiny bit of literary elbow grease anyone can successfully tackle these three books. And then, when you surprise yourself and do, you can be super proud that you're nailing Sophocles.

Sophocles' commentary on power- Creon's progression through various degree of power is such an interesting process and is so timely. Sophocles shows what happens when someone gets too much control and refuses to listen to others- he's left with nothing, no one, and without respect. The church vs state debate is also relevant, the challenging notion clearly a problem that has haunted civilization since the dawn of infrastructure and bureaucracy. 

Fascinating minor characters- I love discussing Ismene, Antigone's sister, with my students. Is she smart in her desire to protect herself from Creon or is she a coward? Teiresias plays such an integral part in the three plays as well, despite not having many spoken lines. Haimon is also a fascinating character, as Antigone's cousin-fiancee who pulls the original Romeo and Juliet sort-of-move at the end of the series. 

The minimalism- I gravitate towards contemporary novels with details, extensive plot development, multiple perspectives, and hundreds of pages. The Theban Plays are quite the opposite, considering Sophocles was really at the forefront of developing a lot of these theatrical advances. Not long before Sophocles' time there were only one or two characters in a play! These plays are still very short on cast lists, don't devote any space to developing settings (except in Oedipus at Colonus, there is some time spent discussing a sort of sacred area he is at), and there aren't a ton of stage directions. It totally works, though, as the reader/audience isn't getting distracted by irrelevant information that detracts from what Sophocles is doing with the characters and their tragic story. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

This past weekend was super busy and fun. I started things off with the Strumbellas concert in Orange County with a friend. They were absolutely amazing live- it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a show before. If you haven’t heard of them before I highly recommend checking out their last album, Hope, on Spotify. Their newest one is good, for sure, but the one from 2016 is the best.

Sunday Sawyer and I met up with my brother and his wife at the San Diego Zoo. It was raining, but we came prepared with umbrellas and jackets, and had so much fun. There were two particular highlights- getting to see a zookeeper carry a sloth right by us (we naturally followed them) and then seeing a giraffe in labor (the poor thing had the calf’s legs sticking out for hours and hours; we didn’t see the actual birth it took her so long).

I have been tracking all my expenditures for a few months now, and it’s been so incredibly helpful for trimming extra expenses. I’ve always been fiscally aware, but it’s amazing how a $10 order from Amazon one day, a $3 treat the next day, and a $18 run in to Target on the third can add up. Just like tracking calories, knowing that I’ll be held responsible really makes me question the necessity of things.

Our weather here in Southern California is ridiculous. It’s almost June and I’m sitting here in long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a blanket. I know I’ll be eating my words in a few months, but the clouds are what kill me. I need sunshine.

I’ve started reading White Dog Fell from the Sky by Eleanor Morse and so far I am really enjoying it. Morse isn’t herself African, but I do appreciate the increase in novels being published about this continent over the past few years.                      

What You Should Read While Lying By the Pool this Summer

Or, anywhere, for that matter. Just take a break and read something, got it?

Every year I come up with a list of suggestions of “beach” reads for those who are maybe a tad more literary-inclined, books with a little bit of bite but maybe not as much as normal. That way if you’ve had a poolside cocktail, are stuck on the tarmac while traveling to your destination, or are holed up in an office pissed at the world over not having a summer break you can still concentrate.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
226 pages
Mystery, international setting, family bonds
This tongue-in-cheek murder mystery set in Africa is written in quick little chapters that make it a perfect traveling companion (especially if you have small kids that CONSTANTLY want to show you something). Braithwaite’s descriptions and development of the sisterly relationship show she has writing chops beyond what your “typical” mystery writer might have, though, which I greatly appreciated.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
383 pages
Memoir, tech, family bonds
In a world consumed with Apple, who doesn’t want an inside peek into the Jobs family? I know there has been some criticism surrounding his daughter’s memoir, but I thought her perception was fascinating and struggled to find any real incentive to lie. The book read like a novel, for the most part, and I couldn’t put it down. 

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
368 pages
Music, interview format, drama
This book was read in anticipation of some serious book FOMO, since everyone read this when it came out. The interview format makes it feel like a Behind the Music episode and the characters were directly inspired by Fleetwood Mac, which classic rock lovers like myself will enjoy. It’s not a book that requires a great deal of concentration and is super easy to pick up and put down, so it’s totally idea for a busy summer schedule.

Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold
320 pages
Memoir, outdoor adventures, amazing accomplishments
Can’t get away? Want to partake in some outdoor adventures but can’t? Honnold’s account of free-soloing Half Dome won’t necessarily be a substitute, but will help take the edge off your wanderlust. He details his ultimate feat, but also describes many of his climbing expeditions from around the world beforehand.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
194 pages
Short stories, race, sci-fi-ish
I find short stories (and essays… see Sedaris below) to be a perfect solution when I know that I’m going to be on-the-go and may not be able to devote a ton of time to a lengthy novel. Enter Friday Black. These are definitely not ordinary short stories, though, there are messages relating to social justice, cultural issues, and humanity in general. The subtle sci-fi layers, and even horror, add a whole layer of complexity as well (and I’m not necessarily a fan of either of these genres; it totally worked for this collection, though).

Calypso by David Sedaris
272 pages
Humor, essays
This was my first dive into Sedaris, almost a year ago, and I found myself laughing aloud constantly! Many of essays center around the beach home he purchases, which totally jives with our summer reading theme. I remember really loving how he incorporates his loved ones into his work; he’s honest, pokes fun, but you can tell her really cherishes them. His astute descriptions and comical realizations are the perfect combination.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
421 pages
Literary fiction, AIDS epidemic, complex relationships
This is the book for those of you who don’t want something a little easier or slimmer this summer- you want the big book that maybe you wouldn’t normally make time for. This is the one, folks. Spanning over several decades, tackling a tough issue (the AIDS epidemic and intense relationships), and forcing you to engage with a variety of emotions, this your big kahuna.

Happy (almost) summer!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I am on a total Sophocles kick (an admission I never thought I’d utter). We are finishing up our study of Antigone, so I revisited Oedipus and then read Oedipus at Colonus for the first time. Who am I? I’m hoping to write more on this crazy turn of events soon.

I rarely watched movies, but my husband and I watched Wine Country on Netflix last weekend and I really wasn’t very amused….

I’ve written ad nauseam about whether or not I want to start an Etsy shop for my embroidery (“I don’t suck at it!” “But the market’s saturated” “It would be cool to make a few extra bucks” “What if I never sell anything?”). I’ve decided I’m going to do it (I even snagged my Instagram handle name for a shop), but what I really need is a hard deadline for the opening date (I want to have 10-15 hoops totally done and at the level of quality I would want for selling). I wouldn’t call myself a procrastinator by any means, but I do much better without flexibility. (follow me on Instagram @daily_floss_ )

I can’t believe that there are only two full weeks of school left before finals. I am never one to turn down time off, but, for the first time in my entire career, I’m not salivating for break. I love my students, I’m in a good place with grading, I enjoy being on campus every day with a few good friends, I like having time alone in my classroom during my prep period and before school, etc… I just feel like I’m in a good groove right now, which is basically unreal for being a teacher in May.

Every May I order a box of books for the summer, and this year I was extra good and HOARDED all my Amazon gift cards from holidays, so it cost me nothing. My box arrived and is waiting to be opened on June 7! I’m already starting to forget what I ordered…

The other day Sawyer and I were driving home and he was looking at his last Scholastic mailer of the year (sniff) and he started talking about a Panda book. I heard him sounding out words and, sure enough, he had sounded out “Zen,” all by himself, without being prompted. Proud mom moment!

This past weekend I basically had no plans, besides a quick proctoring session Saturday morning at work. Honestly? It was horrible. I need things out of the house to look forward to and obligations to help me focus my time. I got a lot done, but I didn’t end the two days feeling happy, fulfilled, or stimulated. I totally understand that this is probably an issue I need to work on, and I own it, but the fact that I’ve been struggling a little to stay as positive about life lately was not helped by laying low at home.

On that note, I’m crossing my fingers that this weekend goes as planned. Friday night one of my dearest friends and I are going to the Strumbellas concert, Saturday Sawyer and I are supposed to meet up with a friend and her new puppy, and then Sunday Sawyer and I are going to San Diego to the zoo with my brother and his wife, since we all have annual passes now.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. This week feels all out of whack; it's May and it's cold and stormy, I'm out of my classroom twice to proctor AP exams, and I last night I woke up at 2 am because some spammer from Morocco was calling me (my phone is connected to my Fitbit, so it vibrates). For awhile I thought tomorrow was Friday, alas here we are.

2. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother's Day- plenty of time to remind me how much how little the work I do is recognized [shrugs shoulders, rolls eyes, moves on]. 

3. I just started reading Dave Eggers' Heroes of the Frontier and I just have this feeling that it's not the right book for my current headspace. Does that ever happen to you? It's a good enough book but where you are psychologically isn't a good match? I will power on, but having this thought in the back of my mind isn't making me anywhere near obsessed with reading it.

4. Just in case anyone was wondering, cutting up string cheese doesn't work the same as using shredded mozzarella [shrugs shoulders, rolls eyes, moves on].

5.  The current diplomacy issues our country is having is disturbing. 

6. Also disturbing- listen to The Daily's last two podcasts on surveillance in China. Daaaaang. 

7. I think my five-year-old is attempting to be sarcastic at times- I'm not sure if I'm proud or worried.

8. I think the stars might align and I might get a few hours to myself, at home, on Saturday. This basically never happens, and while I love my family and all that, I CANNOT WAIT. 

Teacher Mom

One of my biggest challenges as a “teacher mom” (aka a mom who is a teacher) is trying not to be overbearing with my son at home. This has grown progressively tougher, since he’s older now and is truly capable of academic learning. He is finishing up his second year of full-time preschool (I initially only was going to do one year, but we had to make some childcare decisions when he was three) and will be in kindergarten at the same private facility in the fall (he will move to public school in first grade). His preschool has done a wonderful job of exposing him to the alphabet, sounds, numbers, and fine-motor activities (cutting, arts and crafts, etc…). I could not be happier with his educational experience so far and really think that his school has been hugely important in his academic and social development.

But still. He’s five now. I received Charlotte’s Web a month after my fifth birthday and read it to myself. In all fairness, I started kindergarten several months before my fifth birthday, but still. How are we ever going to have a mother-son Harry Potter Book Club if he doesn’t get going?

In all seriousness, I have been feeling conflicted about where to go from here. The mom in my wants to let the school handle things- he’s still in preschool, for Pete’s sake. The teacher in me wants to accelerate his progress, especially since he in really inquisitive and is able to sounds out CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words fairly well now. I also have to remember that my natural tendency is to go balls-to-the-wall when I take on a project and I don’t want to ruin what should be a magical experience (I can say that here and not feel ridiculous).

My approach so far has been pretty relaxed, but this summer I plan to integrate some sort of reading practice or activity most days. Here are some things that I’ll either do, or continue to do:
-       Institute a 100 book challenge; once we get to 100 books read aloud together he can go to the book store to pick out one or two new ones
-       Play our version of Bananagrams: We use the game to practice sounds and create words with the tiles
-       Use old magazines and junk mail to cut out letters and sort upper and lower case letters, as well as recognize different variations of the same letters (like a)
-       Work through the beginning reader books that we already have. I have gotten quite a few super cheap ones through Scholastic, so we need to start putting them to good use
-       Work on site words, but NOT with flash cards. I have really mixed feelings about how “drill and kill” some schools are on site words, and while I fully comprehend their importance, I don’t know if I love the strategy. We recently read a Knuffle Bunny book the other night and I made him in charge of reading every “the” we came across, spelling it out and looking at examples before we began. I am much more of a fan of practicing them in context.
-       Story creation- While learning the parts of a story don’t technically come until later, I want him to maintain an excitement for books and plots. He loves to make up stories, so recently he and I talked about him telling me his stories so I can write them down and he can illustrate them.

I am admittedly not as enthusiastic about number sense, which is something I need to think about. I also want to do some more small science projects with him, since we both had a really great time with our butterfly projects last year.

Clearly this yet another piece of evidence that teachers do not quit teaching when they leave school at the end of the day... 

April Reviews

I squeaked by this month with six books read, which, all in all was pretty good, considering how crazy life has been. I am right on track with my goal to read 72 books this year, although I am admittedly a little disappointed, since I like to be ahead. I guess that’s what summer is for!

I started off the month reading Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, which I wrote about here. I really, really enjoyed the book and is one I still think about wistfully, wishing I wasn’t done. In terms of fiction I also read Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer, about a woman named Korede’s experiences dealing with her seemingly narcissistic, sociopathic sister, who kills the men she dates. It was a sort of witty, sometimes profound, take on the normal mystery novel, and was also set in Africa. It was a super quick read and will definitely make my list of recs for the summer. I reread Sophocles’ Antigone, to teach to my students, and I have to admit that I really, truly like it now. It’s taken approximately five reads, but I’m on board.

Rounding out the fiction was Kevin Wilson’s collection of short stories, Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine. I have enjoyed his other books, especially Family Fang, so I had high hopes going into this. For the most part I found his stories quirky and an interesting take on family dynamics, although there were one or two that fell a bit flat. Also, an important warning: if you find child loss triggering, stay away. Since becoming a mom I find myself deeply affected by those sorts of stories and found myself doing that rapid “IwillnotcryIwillnotcry” blink on the bus yesterday while chaperoning.

I try to read at least one nonfiction book a month, and in April it was two. I loved Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, her account of the fire at the Central Branch of the LA Public Library System (read more of my thoughts here). I also read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, a look at living your best creative life. It was… fine. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I find her writing a tad annoying. There were some really good reminders in the book, though, and I appreciate her sentiment.

1,631 pages

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Today has been long and pretty darn good. I had to wake up well before dawn to head to UCLA to chaperone a field trip for Michelle Obama's College Signing Day. We spent a really, really, really long time on the bus, but it was worth it to be under the same roof as her. There were other celebrity guests who were a part of the show, like Usher, Conan, Elizabeth Banks, John Legend, but, honestly, I was there for Michelle. It's always great to return to UCLA, and my knowledge of the campus came in handy today, as we were trying to navigate Westwood. 

I just started Small Fry, the memoir by Steve Jobs' daughter, and am into it. I have resisted reading criticism, and will after I am done, but I wanted to go into it without skewing my perception. 

Last weekend we celebrated Sawyer's fifth birthday, with a small family party on Saturday, and then a trip to Legoland on Sunday. It was EXHAUSTING. Fun, and he loved it so much, but I was dead Sunday night. I think I'm still recovering. 

On that note, I'm really trying to get to bed earlier this week. In theory, it's such an easy thing to do to improve one's quality of life, and I can always feel a difference. On top of simply not getting to bed early enough and waking up at a god-awful time, I also sleep very poorly. According to my Fitbit I usually get an average of like six hours and ten minutes of sleep a night. Not good. My simple goal is to just increase my weekly average- even if just by a few minutes.

One of my biggest sources of anxiety is the threat of large home repairs, whether realistic ones or not. Lately I have really been trying to work on figuring out ways to help myself cope with some really large stressors in my life, and decided a HELOC (home equity line of credit) would really help in this area. Tomorrow the notary comes out and I'm thinking knowing I have a very large safety net in place will help ease some of my fears (now if only the other issues in my life could be taken care of this easily).

My students are reading Antigone and I'm always surprised with how much I have really grown to appreciate the story and teaching them about what happened to Oedipus' family prior to this play. I draw this really horrible family tree on the board that allows me to kill off people and slash out Oedipus' eyes and it's really just a lot of morbid fun. I haven't read Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus in decades, so I'm actually *gasp* considering reading them again.

I don't really watch movies, and I definitely don't rewatch them often, but lately I've been wanting to revisit some of my old favorites like Jerry Maguire, Dirty Dancing, Clueless, etc... A simpler time, that's for sure...