Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I am currently finishing up my first Haruki Murakami book, Norwegian Wood, and am totally loving it. The only other Murakami I have read was his memoir on running, which I liked, but this is of course much difference. Have you read any of his? What one should I read next?

My son is extremely chatty, which is normally just fine, since I love to hear what he has to say, but I absolutely loathe it when I am trying to run on the treadmill and he keeps interrupting me. The other day I gave him three cards and said that he could "spend" each of them to tell me something, but when he was out I was going to ignore him until I was finished (unless it was an emergency, of course). He used the first three in twelve minute and I ignored him for the remaining twenty. I'm curious to see if he ever becomes more strategic with them. 

I had really wanted to start a summer book club with some of my teacher-friends but I completely dropped the ball and, weirdly, lost motivation. If you're reading this and I initially contacted you I'm sorry. I suck. I still might? Maybe the end of July? I'll decide asap.

Someone suggested that I listen to Judah and the Lion since I love The Strumbellas so much, and I am totally into their album Folk Hop N'Roll right now. It's so much fun. 

I just finished listening to The Habitat podcast and I really loved it. The eight (or something like that) episode series follows a group of people locked in a habitat in Hawaii for a year, meant to simulate what will happen to astronauts if we ever send any to Mars. It looked at their daily routines, their interactions, challenges, and what happened to them after the experiment. It was fascinating, and the host, Lynn Levy, was delightful. 

As this posts, Sawyer and I should be headed up the coast for our little trip. We're planning to go to Hearst's Castle, Big Sur, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. I'm so excited! 

Bookish Banter- Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me

Recently Julie from JulzReads and I both read and virtually discussed Ian McEwan's latest, Machines Like Me, a sci-fi love triangle that asks some serious questions regarding humanity and society. She and I have been blogger friends for years and years, so this truly was a long time coming and I'm sad we live half a continent apart and can't meet up in person (some day, some day). Read on to see what our thoughts were:

Julz: Considering we both went into this with pretty low expectations, I think we both enjoyed it.  Because the man can write!  I thought his character development was great.  Even as a robot, Adam was a dynamic figure.  What did you like best about it?

Christine:    I agree, I really didn’t have high hopes. It’s sort of the same with how I feel about Metallica- their old stuff is where it’s at and recent attempts seem to fall pretty flat. That being said, once this picked up momentum I was totally into it!

I think one of my favorite parts about the book was this idea of how we define personhood, and whether or not that definition is fluid. Do our definitions need to evolve as science does? The juxtaposition of this sort of innovative scientific perception of consciousness versus the traditional sort of political component of the story, as well as the quintessential “Adam/Eve” naming, was also well-done. I loved how he took so much liberty with history and science in his timeline. 

Julz: That is such an English teacher response!  And your feelings about Metallica match my feelings about Dave Matthew’s Band.

I think my favorite aspect was the whole Alan Turing alternate history thing.  What a world it would have been had he lived!

The night Adam went missing and the Prime Minister was assassinated, I was convinced Adam was the culprit for a few pages there.  Did that at all cross your mind?

Christine:  I never even thought about Adam being involved, but I totally see how they would have crossed your mind

Julz: How did you feel about Miranda taking justice into her own hands with Miriam's rapist? 

Christine:  I had really mixed feelings about Miranda’s actions, as well as Adam’s, which of course was McEwan’s intent. At the end of the day, I appreciate the orderliness of law/rules, and I think that if we don’t adhere to some sort of process society would become even more chaotic. But it bothered me deeply that he’d get away with raping and hence causing a suicide- the abhorrent misogynistic act of this sort of violation is never permissible. Her vigilante way of taking care of it was a risk, and I think she handled it well. I just wish there had been another way to honestly bring about justice in her friend’s name.

I found myself often annoyed with Charlie, his work ethic, his lackadaisical approach to the slightly-frightening robot living in his house (although I get it; Adam became more and more human-like, therefore harder and harder to easily turn off), etc... What were your thoughts on his character?

Julz:  In some ways I could relate to Charlie it two respects: getting by in life with minimal effort and true love being his driving force.  But I would have taken advantage of Adam as a slave way more than he did.  That’s right, bitch, I’m never doing the dinner dishes again and my house will always be immaculately clean.  Why spend so much money on Adam if you’re still going to do your own washing up?

Otherwise, I thought he was pretty harmless.  I didn’t feel strongly about his character one way or another, but I did enjoy witnessing him falling in love and how that matured him.

Christine:  Also, what did you make of McEwan’s use of the little boy, Mark? I thought it was an interesting, useful little side-plot. 

Julz:  I hate to see kids born into bad situations.  Mark’s parents were garbage and that was no fault of his.  So the idea that Miranda and Charlie could be his saviors was really moving.  And it was a sub-plot I was not expecting.

I had SO much fun doing this and I can't wait to do it again, hopefully later this year!  

What's a Feminist to Do?

I recently read The Farm, Joanne Ramos' very buzzed-about book of 2019. The premise for this book is that mostly poor women are recruited as "hosts" for the the wealthy's embryos. The women are compensated generously at various stages of the pregnancies, as well upon delivery (bonus if you forego a c-section!). The women have pristine living conditions, have their health monitored meticulously, are provided with the prefect pregnancy diets, and aren't expected to do anything but grow their babies. Basically, it's like a nine-month stay at a wellness spa, except the fact you're growing someone else's baby and have little control over your own body. Oh, and all of your communications with the outside world are monitored and you have very little privacy. 

My knee-jerk reaction is to bristle severely at the prospect of using these women like animals on a farm. Their freedom is restricted, they're constantly monitored, they're censored with outside communication, and their bodies are being used for the wealthy? Disgusting. 

But.... Is it? Completely? They were completely aware of what they were doing, had everything spelled out contractually, were compensated handsomely, and were living in luxury. They made the choice to become "hosts" and would benefit financially from the agreement. Sure, some of them were hesitant, but no one dragged them in against their will- they signed up for it. Assuming the women were of sound, body, and mind, is it actually an antifeminist concept? Or is the idea of using your body how you choose actually an act of feminism? 

This dilemma is much broader, if you think about past this literary example. Is surrogacy a problem? That's basically what these women were doing, although with more strings attached and more money to be gained. Most people see surrogacy as a beautiful thing. And what about sex workers? If a woman is empowered and doesn't feel that selling sex is her only option, is that a crime (think about the connotation between the words "prostitution" and "dominatrix"). The list continues- porn actors, skimpily-clad cocktail waitresses, strippers, etc... If a woman makes a conscious decision and is fine with what she's doing, who are we to judge? We use our talents to gain money all the time- artists, writers, hair-stylists, accountants, lawyers, chefs,... But, is she really fine with her choice? Will she be in ten years? Is she extremely young? Does it matter? Are we allowed to make our own choices? 

What's a feminist to do? 

There's no standard, one-size-fits-all rule that we can apply. At the end of the day we have to trust each other, but we also have to look out for each other. 

Two Audiobooks and Two Podcasts

Over the years I've moved into someone who only listens to music in the car to someone who now splits the time with podcasts and audiobooks. When Sawyer is in the car with me we stick to music, since I can't focus on much with all the chatting, but when he is not I often to listen to what he calls my "talking books." Here are a few things I've listened to and enjoyed lately that I thought I'd pass on, in case you've missed them:

Slow Burn, Season 2- These nine episodes take a deeper look into the Clinton impeachment, focusing on Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp. I was in high school when all of this originally went down, so I knew the basics, kinda sorta. I blew through these in just a few days, mostly on my solo trip from Vegas to Zion and back. 

Armchair Expert, Experts on Experts: Elizabeth Gilbert- I wasn't exactly a huge fan of Eat, Pray, Love, or Big Magic, for that matter, but I loved the idea of an author being on the show, so I listened. She was absolutely delightful and fascinating. 

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb- I listened to this audiobook about a therapist who went to therapy, after a sudden breakup. She discusses her own experiences as a patient and on the other side of the couch, both sides equally insightful. This book really caused me to do some reflection, and, long story short, my decade-long desire to go to therapy is even stronger now (I am too cheap to pay weekly copays, have no time, and am intimidated by the process of finding one). 

So Here's the Thing... Notes on Growing Up, Getting Older and Trusting Your Gut by Alyssa Matromonaco- I listened to her first book about her time working for Obama and absolutely adored it, so I couldn't wait to listen to this one. She didn't let me down- her candor, humor, and insights on being an independent woman are spot on. She isn't preachy, she isn't trying to be a self-help book, and she doesn't self-promote. Basically, I want to be her best friend. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

When I was driving in Vegas last week I saw a billboard from a hospital that announced births as they were happening, and then when I was back in town I saw one for a local college congratulating specific graduates. Such positivity and happiness! I love it (especially the baby one... it's like the hospitals that have special chimes when a baby is born- so many warm fuzzies).

I know people are totally into grocery delivery services or curb-side pick up, but I'm way too old school for all of that. I like to go in and select my own produce, compare prices, find new products, etc... Maybe if I was injured, elderly, or had a new baby I'd feel differently, but I'm going to keep hoofing it in to shop. 

I've finished two books in the last few days, one on running and the newest Ian McEwan book. It feels good to get some momentum going, since I want to get through fifteen books this summer. I've taken Sawyer to preschool the last two days and have made sure to dedicate some specific chunks to sitting on the couch in quiet, away from my phone, to read. It makes all the difference! 

The running book, 26 Marathons, by Meb Keflezighi, was incredibly motivating. I don't have any real running plans right now, other than fitness, but just hearing him talk about perseverance and he finds the bright side in tough situations was such a great message. For a few weeks after I read book like this I always notice that I have an easier time sticking out runs, improving my posture, and adding mileage. I guess I need to just read a running book each month! 

I made this lasagna recently and it was so, so, so good.

Scott and I watched Always Be My Maybe on Netflix and I thought it was super cute and reminded me of the good ol' romantic comedies from my youth. I know people love Ali Wong's standup, but I HATE standup. Ugh. I've tried, but I just can't.  

My Fitbit Versa strap has been in the process of breaking and the warranty replacement from the company finally arrived. I went to change it yesterday, and two mangled thumb nails, four hundred f-bombs, a few tears, and one husband who couldn't do it either later I had to drive to a jeweler for help! I was desperate! It took him two minutes and he didn't even charge me. For someone like me who is incredibly co-dependent on her tracker, it was a much-needed happy ended.

Sawyer and I are off to the beach today! It's cloudy and cool, which is fine by us! He will play with his sand toys while I read, we'll take a break for a picnic lunch, and then get back to the reading and playing before we beat the traffic home. I love that he's old enough to make this so easy now. 

Ten Things I'm Looking Forward to this Summer

I'm not going to lie- I have a printed, categorized, to-do list that I carefully prepared a week ago. It's summer break! I have eight weeks off! If you know me in the slightest, or have been reading here for awhile, you know that it's in my nature to see this time as a period requiring hyper-productivity. It's who I am.

Instead of boring everyone with every last entry ("clean out each each junk drawer" and "steam clean carpets"), I thought I'd condense it to the top ten things I'm looking forward to the most:

1. Our trip to Vegas/Zion- fine, that's done already, but it was a great way to see a new place and kick off summer

2. Our trip to the coast- Sawyer and I area staying in Monterey for three nights and plan to hit up Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Santa Cruz while we are there. I haven't been to that area in well over a decade, and Sawyer never, so it will be a fun little adventure. 

3. Cleaning every nook and cranny of my house- I'm maybe not looking forward to this, but it will make me feel better

4. Going to the Natural History Museum- Sawyer has developed quite the love of dinosaurs, so we will head out to LA at some point to see them there

5. Beach time- I was able to make a few beach trips last summer and want to get out there at least three or four times this year. It's about an hour each way, so it's not too crazy. Sawyer loves to play in the sand and I love to read while listening to the waves. 

6. Reading reading and reading some more- Self-explanatory, right?

7. Starting my Etsy shop- My goal is to officially open it when I have ten pieces ready to sell. I have two right now, so if I want it to happen at the beginning of next month I need to hustle. 

8. Visiting with my family- My mom and sister are coming down in a few weeks to stay with my grandparents, and my brother and I are trying to plan a day for all of us in San Diego at the zoo. 

9. A cheap bathroom re-fresh- A remodel isn't in the budget right now, so I've brainstormed some things I can do in the master bathroom for under $100ish to get it looking better. Right now I plan to redo all the caulking in the shower, give the walls a fresh coast of paint, and sand down and stain the cabinets. It's going to be quite the project, but I really feel confident I can do it. 

10. See friends- A lot of my friends are teachers, so this is always the perfect time of year to get together with them, since we are all off!

A Quick Trip to Zion

I have always wanted to visit Zion National Park, so when a friend offered me a spot on their Subway Hike (you have to have a permit) I sprung into action trying to figure out how it would work with childcare. Luckily my in-laws live in Vegas, which is on the way, so I was able to drop Sawyer off with them on Wednesday afternoon and then drive two more hours to where my friends were staying, in time for the hike Thursday morning.

I have a weird relationship with hiking- I don't necessarily go our every month or anything, but I've done the laborious trek up to Half Dome in Yosemite twice and have done some local trails. Sawyer and I were also able to explore in Canada last summer, as well (he is part of the reason I don't get to go as often as I'd like, truth be told). I consider myself to be relatively in-shape enough, so I don't balk at the idea of a tough, long hike, even though I'm not out there in the hills super frequently. I don't consider myself experienced, but definitely enthusiastic and willing. 

Given that, for once, I wasn't the one who had to coordinate things (thanks Jeannette and Matt!), I sort of didn't look into this one much before I went, other than just some of the basics. My friends had already done it and assured me I'd be fine, so that was good enough for me! Unfortunately, what I couldn't have predicted was coming down with a cold the day before I left California. It started out as a sore throat and turned into a fever on the drive to Nevada. I shrugged it off, took some Dayquil, and just planned on being better the next day. Spoiler alert: not quite.

We started hiking around 6:30 in the morning and climbed down to the bottom of a canyon- it was absolutely beautiful and the weather was perfect. It was a really steep, rocky descent and I was definitely concerned about the way back, but what can you do? After about an hour and a half of hiking we took a break and I was feeling like absolute crap- my fever was clearly back. I seriously considered quitting, having them drop a pin at my location and pick my up in like six hours. Fortunately, my friend had Aleve, and within twenty minutes I had a renewed pep in my step and was good to go. That girl is a lifesaver, I'm telling ya. 

We hiked to the Subway part, which was also our turnaround, and it was absolutely beautiful. I fell multiple times on the slippery rocks on the way there, so I was bruised and scraped up quite a bit, but it was still really pretty and it was so nice to just sit there and relax. 

The way back we tried to stay in the super shallow river (?) water, which was never higher than out hips, mostly mid-calf. It was a more direct route and was cooler, since we started getting the sun. There were hundreds of little toads jumping around, which were super cute.

The killer was hiking out of the canyon- it was thirty minutes of torture. I can't even count how many four-letter words I dropped, dripping in sweat and with my heart rate at like 165. But, we did it! And, despite the hiccups, I'm really glad I was able to push myself. I haven't done something super physical and challenging in a long time, so I was really proud of myself. Most of the hikes I have done in the past have really clearly marked trails, but this one was rough- we were constantly climbing over rocks and finding our way. It was different, in a good way.

After the hike (about 10ish miles and 9 hours) I basically got right back in the car and drove back to Vegas to relieve my in-laws. It was a really hard drive back- I was tired, I was still not feeling great, and I was in this weird state of starving and not wanting to eat, which I find typical of myself after I do something that requires a lot of endurance. I had to stop a few times to get out and stretch, since my legs were cramping up and I got sleepy.

I'm back home, getting over my soreness (my legs, my arms, my chest....), but I am so glad I was able to go. The company was excellent, the scenery was unlike my normal trips, and it was a nice break away from home. I really feel like it's important to push yourself- it would have been so easy to bail on the trip when I started to feel sick, but I knew I could do it. And I did. 

Box-o-Books 2019

For the past few years I bribe myself to get through the end of the school year craziness with a box of books. This year I saved some Amazon gift cards and also grabbed some desk copies that I might consider using in my classroom one day from a publishing company. All of these books cost me less than $25 out of pocket- not too shabby. 

A lot of these have been on my wish list for several months and I was being good and saving them for the occasion, so I'm proud of my self-control. I've actually bought only six books for myself so far this year, which is goddamn miracle, if I do say so myself. I'm trying to get my TBR pile down to 80 books by the end of the year, although this new stack of reads doesn't really help that situation.

I definitely don't plan to read all of them this summer, since I have some other books I've been waiting for summer to read. I know I will definitely get to Norwegian Wood soon, since we might try to teach it for our IB curriculum. I just started 26 Marathons by runner Meb Keflezighi, since I always find these sorts of books inspiring, exercise-wise. The Farm has gotten a ton of buzz lately, so I'll probably get through that as well. After that? Who knows. Whatever I'm in the mood for. 

Have you read any? What are you reading this summer? 

The Week that Nearly Killed Me

Maybe I'm exaggerating, but dang. It's been touch and go.

Last weekend was on the lighter side of busy, so I was just at my typical level of tired to start the week. Monday I chaperoned the Disneyland trip for our senior class, which meant over 25,000 steps walked and not going to bed until 1 am Tuesday morning (was past my bedtime). I was then up at 5:30 to teach all day, and then the same for finals Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday night was also graduation, along with dinner with a friend afterward.

Did I mention the grading? Ugh. 

I was actually fairly caught up, but because our turnaround time for grading finals and submitting the semester marks is ridiculously short, I was pretty slammed. A few times I fantasized about leaving all my work in my car with the doors open at night in front of my house, hoping someone would steal them (even safe neighborhoods have theft, right?). Nonetheless, it all got graded.

I also had to rush to finish our book club book yesterday too, which meant finishing the book about two hours before lunch, during my prep period. Clearly I am learning from my students. I prefer to finish the day before so I can let things sort of percolate before discussing, so I didn't feel like my contributions were very articulate. Granted there were only two other teachers there besides me, so it didn't really matter. But still. 

Today I worked to clean my classroom for like four hours and ran around campus taking stuff to my car, chatting with colleagues, and finishing up our checkout procedures. 

But, really, there was so much good in the crazy. Disneyland was SO MUCH FUN. The two parks were virtually empty (this NEVER happens) so my friend and another colleague that joined us were able to go on a ton of rides between the two parks. Sawyer has had a blast at school this week as they kick off their summer curriculum (will water day excitement ever wear off? I think not) and has started talking about how happy he is about kindergarten in a few months (he's been a little anxious about switching classes). I've seen so many of my friends this week and have been able to catch up on their lives. Graduation is always such an important day, both in terms of seeing what the kids and teachers have done during the school year. Oh, and the weather is finally warm and when I checked my air conditioner the other day to make sure it was still working after a long winter, both units fired up immediately (this seems so minor, but our units are getting older and those suckers are pricy). I've had some epiphanies about things I can do on the cheap around the house, as well, and we all know how much I love a good project.

But now, Friday afternoon? I am genuinely concerned about my ability to hoist my body of the couch when need be. 

I'll be back soon to regular posting! I have a whole bunch of new books to share, as well as some books I'm excited about reading this fall. 

May Reviews

Admittedly, I didn't read quite as much as I usually do or would have wanted to this month, but that's life! Busy at home, busy at work, you know the drill... Here's what I did get through-

I tackled the other two plays in Sophocles' Theban series, getting through Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. I wrote more about how much I have grown to appreciate the trilogy here

I read two novels as well, Dave Eggers' Heroes of the Frontier and Eleanor Morse's White Dog Fell From the Sky. The Egger's book is about a divorced mother who has recently lost her dentistry practice and takes her two young kids to Alaska to drive around in an old motorhome. It's a tragi-comic, episodic account of her experiences there, and is well-written, of course (it is Eggers, after all). It just wasn't a good fit reading-wise for me when I read it, so it took me awhile. It probably could have been a shorter and would have been easier to tackle. At times it felt like my journey reading it was as meandering as hers driving, but not in a good way.

 The Morse novel was excellent, a story about a young man named Isaac who escapes South Africa to Botswana only to be accused of being someone he is not. The novel parallels his story with his employer, Alice's, who is having a bit of an early mid-life crisis, and ends up becoming more involved in her gardener's life than she would have ever thought. It was one of those books where I'd sit down to start reading and be surprised at how far I'd gotten and how long I spent when I finally checked the time. It was excellent. 

902 pages