June Goals

I used to do this monthly, create a list of goals here to hold myself accountable. I got away from it for whatever reason, but I think this time where I am transitioning from highly structured days of distance teaching my students and homeschooling my own first-grader to the abyss of summer break. I have lots and lots of things I want to do, but I'm trying to limit it to fifteen or less.

1. Redo the caulk in the master shower- Yes! Let's start off with something super glamorous! This has been on my to-do list since November when we had a dripping valve replaced and I've lagged big time. I've done it one other time, like six years ago, and it was a huge pain in the butt.

2. Read ten books- This will ensure that I am on track for my Goodreads goal. It might be a little lofty, but it really means about 100 or 150 pages of reading a day, which sounds doable.

3. Get caught up with my 2020 year-in-review book- I have a love hate with doing in, but I think now that I have a new laptop it will be a much easier process. My old MacBook hadn't been updated in eons and the whole process of uploading pictures was tedious.

4. Work on patching grass- Another incredibly fun project, but there are a few areas of our front lawn that need to be reseeded. 

5. Bake a cake from Christina Tosi's All About CakesI bought this on release day when it came out a year or two ago and still haven't made anything.

6. Finish a puzzle- My husband bought a 2000 piece Star Wars puzzle that we started in March and it's still sitting on the table, maybe 1/5 of the way done. 

7. Catch up with Etsy orders- I have a few in progress and a few in the queue. Thankful for the business!

8. Do fun enrichment projects with my son (but also keep progressing with reading and math skills): I'm a teacher, I can't help it. Plus he has made so much progress with all this one-on-one teacher-mom help, I don't want to lose it.

9. Keep engaging with my students onlineI toyed with "disconnect from work" for this one, but the truth is that I need to keep my incoming class at least slightly engaged in just the idea of IB, me, and literature. Nothing major, but a few posts on Google Classroom and my teacher Instagram account each week.

10. Get the backyard cleaned up a bit-  I need to take the covers off the furniture and rise it all off, repaint a few parts in our flowerbed walls that are peeling, etc... 

11. Work on writing- I know, I'm always claiming to want to be a writer and produce very little. I have an idea of how to sort of jump start myself, which I'll write about in a different post soon

12. Organize my laptop- When distance-teaching learning started I decided to replace my nine-year-old Macbook that I hated (I love my iPhone, but I am just too used to Windows). I had totally let my old computer go- the files were a disorganized mess and I never updated it, since it got to the point where it just... wouldn't. The end of the school year is the perfect time to clean it up.

13. More yoga- I have absolutely no problem getting between 12,000-16,000 steps a day, but I need more yoga in my life. It makes my joints feel better and my head clearer. I want to do ten sessions in June!

14. Set up a little sitting area in the master bedroom- I have been spending more and more time in my bedroom lately at night after Sawyer goes to bed and would like to make it look a little better. I took a rocker and foot stool from his room, since he never uses it, but I've been using an ugly lime green foot stool for balancing things. I just want to it feel like a relaxing little space. 

15. Stay on budget- I am really good at budgeting in general, but I am sometimes tempted to order things sometimes to cheer myself up (I am developing quite the Target cheap sunglasses collection). 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I am reading Susan Leaf's Portage right now and it is so good. Basically, it's just about a family's experiences canoeing, mostly on the northern Mississippi, which sounds sort of lame, but, honestly, it makes me so happy. It just proves that someone can write about moth balls if they've got talent. 

2. My Etsy custom-portrait option is starting to take off! So exciting! I opened the shop late-last summer and it has grown at the perfect rate for my life. I never planned to make a fortune or anything, but the proceeds have supported the hobby, haha.

3. I submitted senior grades a few hours ago, which was so... difficult. Difficult because some kids earned higher grades than they deserved, but the law is the law. Difficult because I miss them so, so much. Difficult because we don't know what next year will look like.

4. That being said, I have already reached out to my incoming juniors and have over a third of them signed up for next year's Google Classroom, just we can have some casual interaction over the summer. I just really put out the call yesterday so 50 of 146 is pretty good for a whole bunch of kids I don't know.

5. One more thing about work- I get to go in tomorrow! I'm so excited to get to go somewhere that isn't the grocery store or a take-out place! I also will get a few hours peace and quiet, which is also very, very exciting since that can be really hard to come by.

6. I've been watching Mindy Kaling's new show, Never Have I Ever while I work out and it's such a distracting, delightful little half hour. 

7. The baking bug has started to finally catch up to me- I made a boysenberry pie over the weekend, cookies yesterday, and I plan on doing homemade pizza tomorrow and these little bagel cream cheese bomb thingies in the air fryer soon, too. I also need to pick a recipe from Christina Tosi's cake book, since I bought it on release day and haven't made anything (I have from her other book, though, and everything requires tons of random stuff but it's so worth it).

Summer Activities for Early Elementary: Stay-at-Home Style

Oh, summer 2020. This one's going to be interesting...

Our past few summers have been pretty amazing- Sawyer and I have gone on trips (Banff in 2018 and the California central coast in 2019) and then rest of the time our weeks are full of fun activities and days where he is at school so I can have time to do my thing. I had saved and planned on a big (for us) trip, but clearly that's a no go, as is taking him to school, or going to our normal places (the jury is out on where we will get to go, but definitely not the same flexibility as before). So, here we are. Together. In the same house. Still. 

I like our days to have some structure, which is why we've been doing well spending huge chunks devoted to my work and his schooling. Our school years are both wrapping up, though, which is slightly terrifying, to be honest. I plan on still having him do some ELA and math skills practice for about an hour or so a day,  taking our daily long walks, and independent play time. I am a huge proponent of playing with your kid(s), but also of firmly setting boundaries and having them spend time without a parent directly engaging with them (safely, of course). He does about 75 minutes of "rest time" in his room every day, so we can both have some space (basically he can do whatever he wants as long as he cleans up and is safe), and I also sort of trade off when he's up- I'll play with him for thirty minutes, but then I want him to play alone after for awhile so I can read or whatever. This isn't to say this is the right way to do it, but for he and I it works. 

Given that, there will still be a lot of open time in our day, and I want to have some ideas of activities that are fun, different than the norm, and can be educational (obviously they don't have to be, I've just included easy ways to do for little kids). Between my own ideas, the internet, and things I've already done, I've put together a list of 25 options (my son in going into first grade). I've tried to not include much technology in this, since we don't do a ton of screen time. I personally hate background noise and I just feel like as long as I can prevent excessive ipad/videogame/TV time the better. It works for us. 

Feel free to use, adapt, share or ignore! I also included a list of Sawyer's favorite toys at the end, in case you want to spend some cash to keep your kids entertained.

1.  Recycled sculptures- Save random cardboard and plastic containers for a few weeks and then help your kid (if they can't do it alone) create a robot, a castle, a city- whatever their little imagination wants. Afterwards they can paint or decorate it, which can turn this project in a multi-day one, if desired. (make it educational: talk about shapes, mixing colors, bring in simple machine concepts for moving parts)

2. Tent time- playing is so much more fun in a tent, for whatever reason. If you don't have one, a two-person one is less than $40 and will last for lots and lots of play days. (make it educational: talk about the five senses while being outside,  discuss different plants or animals outside, read a camping story and discuss the sequence of the plot)

3. Mail call- People love getting fun mail, so create cards or letters for loved ones (make it educational: writing skills, penmanship)

4. Sidewalk Chalk Murals- Take your sidewalk chalk up a notch and make a family mural! I know, it sounds cheesy but we've had so much fun doing scenes from the desert, the ocean, and the movie Up. (make it educational: learn some facts about the animals you're drawing, practice sight words, do math problems, create an obstacle course for movement)

5. Collages- My son loves making collages, so I save my magazines and junk mail, for him (yes, I still get a few magazines to read on the treadmill). I have to admit, I like getting in on the action, too.  (make it educational- find pictures that start with a certain letter, create a scene connected to something you've learned about, write a a sentence about what you've made).

6. Story Creation- my son has started dictating stories to me that I type of up and print out so he can illustrate them (make it educational: discuss story parts like beginning/middle/end, characters, problem/solution, etc...)

7. Build a city- we take out all the blocks and building materials we have and make a huge city all over the largest room in our house. This takes time to make and then a lot of time to play with (make it educational: bring in some social studies and discuss what sort of buildings and services towns need, read  Iggy Peck Architect)

8. Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt-  there are so many printable ones online that you can use, or create your own. It took us over thirty minutes and was a great way to slow down and observe (make it educational: five senses, write about what you see and draw a picture)

9. Baking- My son loves to help me bake and at six he is actually a lot of help! And it doesn't have to just be baking; we've been practicing the ever-so-culinary PBJ. It's a great way for kids to feel involved, self-sufficient, and to contribute to the household (make it educational: measuring, counting, and even chemistry if you talk about how certain ingredients interact)

10. Puppet shows- There are so many fun puppets on Pinterest! I love the tried-and-true paper bag ones, but you can go crazy with socks, Popsicle sticks, or whatever else you have. Afterwards, either have an impromptu puppet show, reenact a favorite book, or create your script (make it educational: shapes, story structure, and problem/solution)

11. Drawing videos- There are so many drawing videos on Youtube (I know, this one defeats the no-screen idea, but we'll make an exception). I love the Art Kids Hub channel because the videos are less than twenty minutes, the directions are clear, the host is goofy, and the characters recognizable (make it educational: write a sentence about your character)

12. LEGO car balloon races- I saw this on a pin, but basically you construct little cars out of LEGOs, leaving a space where you could put the end of a balloon. The balloon is blown up, inserted into the space you left, and the car should take off as it deflates (make it educational: STEM skills for building different cars and testing their speeds and elements of physics) 

13. States of water experiments- My son is so mesmerized by the idea that ice is water, so we'll be doing some experiments with liquid, solids, and gases (make it educational: talk about what atoms are and how they are moving during the temperature changes and write a few sentences with illustrations)

14. Density/floating experiments- There are so many ways to do this, but the easiest is to fill up a tub or the bath and make predictions about what will float or sink. You can also make tin foil bats and predict how many marbles (or whatever) will take to sink the boat (make it educational: talk about density, work on the scientific process with hypothesis creating) 

15. Career day- Ask you child what they want to be and spend the day researching the career, role playing the profession, and maybe even finding someone who has that job to interview (make it educational: write about the experience, practice research skills)

16. Design your own ________ map- We have done this for lots of places; we designed an amusement park, an island, but have also made maps of places that actually exist. You can stick to basic coloring supplies, or incorporate paint, different materials, etc... (make it educational: learn the parts of a map, talk about what different community elements need, measurement)

17. Swimming skills- This will depend on your access to a pool, obviously, but my son is pretty scared of swimming (we have a pool). I will spend time this summer teaching him to hold his breath, kick, etc... 

18. Ice cream in a bag- We did this the other day and it was so much fun (I used the Martha Stewart recipe). It's just like you did it in elementary school- put some heavy cream and milk in a bag with some sugar and vanilla, seal it up, place it in a bag with ice and salt, and shake for ten minutes (make it educational: measuring, states of matter, five senses)

19. Teachers-Pay-Teachers- If you're ever stuck and are willing to spend a few dollars, this is a great resource. Sawyer really loves maps, for example, so I downloaded a really well-done activity packet and PowerPoint for less than $5 that provided probably 7 hours of learning.  

20. Paper towel/toilet paper/wrapping paper roll cities- I saw this somewhere and it was adorable- save rolls for a few weeks and then paint them into buildings (or even trees). When you're done you can add roads and reuse the set up in the future (make it educational: shapes, city parts) 

21.  Water toys- If you have space, you can have water play! I have found over the years my son will play with anything in the water- simple containers, kitchen tools, etc... Right now he really likes to use the Little People from when he was smaller and make boats for them (make it educational: sorting, water density with floating)

22. Bean bag toss- I am going to sew some simple bean bags and we are going to make our own cornhole game with old cardboard, since I don't have anyway of actually sawing wood. You could also do it with buckets or some other containers to toss in, which we will probably do too (make it educational: measure the distances that the bean bags are thrown)

23. Clay animal zoo- We have done this a little already, and it's super fun for both of us. There are lots of examples online, or you can just go with your own imagination. I plan on doing this slowly and then making a little diorama kind of zoo at the end (make it educational: learn about the animals that you are creating, take virtual tours of real zoos, work on measuring and shapes when making the structure)

24. Design your own board game- Using Candyland or Chutes and Ladders as a guide, create some sort of theme, board, and rules. It can be tiny or huge! Painted or drawn! There are so many options (make it educational: patterns, counting, sequencing, writing) 

25. Bedroom door decorations- We've been doing this for four or so years, but every couple of months Sawyer and I decorate his bedroom door. Sometimes it's seasonal, sometimes it's based on something he comes up with, sometimes it's something we've learned about (Make it educational: spring/summer door art based that can be paired with learning the butterfly cycle, marine animals, weather, etc...) 

Favorite Toys
1. Magnet blocks 
2. Marble run
4. Action figures of all varieties 
5. Drawing supplies
6. Scooter
7. Perler beads (the ones that you melt)
8. Play-Doh (pro tip: get a plastic table cloth and cut into fourths; every time you do something messy use it to easily clean up the mess)
9. Magic Tracks (bendable tracks with battery operated cars)
10. Puzzles
11. Jenga and Candyland
12. Sidewalk chalk
13. Water table (we have had it since he was two and he still plays with it)

Upcoming Virtual Book Events and Resources

I really love going to readings and was going to far fewer than I would have preferred before Covid19 struck. In the meantime, I am trying to put together a list of virtual bookish events and resources that are upcoming. I won't be able to necessarily attend many, but in case anyone else is interested, here you go:

Stephanie Danler is promoting her new memoir at tons of places- check here

Ann Patchett will be doing a Zoom call about summer reading with the New York Times on Thursday at 9:30 am- rsvp here 

Curtis Sittenfeld will be promoting her newest novel on a variety of sites- choose on here (the one she is doing with Roxane Gay is linked here, since it seems to be broken on her main site)

This Books and Bathrobes series seems like they've gotten some pretty interesting guests, like Colum McCann and Lily King. 

Emma Straub has several events for her new, novel here

A local bookstore here in Riverside hosted Roxane Gay and a friend just let me know that Susan Choi will be "there" soon too. 

The Anatomy of a Good Day, Right Now

A few months ago particularly good days were usually Saturdays, with an activity somewhere fun planned with Sawyer and I, maybe with friends. It would be arranged ahead of time and the logistics would be easy, since I have a flexible like kid who is up for anything. Maybe Knott's, hiking and lunch, the Zoo, a museum, something that got us out of the area and expanding our horizons. Most of the time the outing would end mid-afternoon and we'd do something for dinner, sometimes takeout sometimes a restaurant. Nothing crazy, but fun and something to look forward to during hard moments during the week. 

Now, my days are... fine. We are still staying at home and haven't had any time with people outside of our home in two months now. We Facetime, Zoom, and walk a lot, but, like everyone else who is playing by the rules, things are predictable. Like I said, most days are fine. We have our health, our routine, I have my work, I have Sawyer's education to manage, and I have plenty of hobbies. Some days are bad, too, I'll be honest (internally... I try to keep a happy face for my kid). Being fine is starting to feel really stagnant and sometimes depressing. I'm fighting it as hard as I can, but I genuinely like being busy and social, so more and more mornings this lock down is feeling more and more challenging. I hate saying that, since I know I am privileged in many ways, but I can't help how I feel.

Friday, though, was, finally, a good day. Early in the day I found out that two of my students were on The Today Show for their work with a voter registration initiative and got to do a Zoom call with Michelle Obama. I emailed them both and their excitement was contagious, as was that of the many colleagues I talked to. Sawyer and I had a good day walking and with his work, even doing a virtual field trip that my friend had put together for our students and shared with us. I had to host a Zoom meeting for my students and alumni for a video we are putting together and was so relieved when my speech went well and that we have 70 kids show up! I was hoping for 25, to fill one screen, and instead we had triple! The colleagues I am coordinating it with were equally ecstatic. Later in the evening I had a two hours book club with two great friends and it was so nice to caught up. For the first time in a long time I went to bed truly happy.

So how do I replicate that? How do I keep that momentum going (spoiler alert: back down to "fine" the next day)? I think there were a lot of key things- I felt productive, I felt like a good teacher-mom, I had plenty of social interaction, I stayed away from the news and social media more than usual, and I was able to get in time doing things I love. Granted, a lot of the things that made that day were so great aren't specifically easily replicated, and the fact that they all fell on the same day was coincidental. But as a whole, those categories, productivity, social interactions, less media, hobbies, and movement are the equation right now. I can work with that. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. There's a difference between speaking your mind and being rude. As I look at online comments, social media accounts, etc... I just see so much downright childishness. I just don't understand people who can't show empathy and who take so much pride in being jerks. 

2. My seniors "check out" in about a week, which means all but one of my periods of teaching are headed towards the final countdown. We are having a virtual graduation, but I'm also super excited about the fact that our district has decided to do a drive-through one, so the kids have the opportunity to walk across a stage in a cap and gown. I volunteered to go, which I'm even MORE excited about, since I haven't been able to distribute senior yard signs, help with passing out laptops, etc... 

3. The weather has been all over the place lately, we had a few days in the 90s and now we are back down the the low-to-mid 70s. It makes a huge difference to me, under lock down, to be honest. When it's hot I can't walk as much and I don't feel like getting in treadmill time either. I know it's inevitable, but I hope we have a late summer this year. 

4. I did it. I made the viral mini pancakes. But, let me get one straight: THIS IS NOT CEREAL.

5. I watched the Michelle Obama documentary on Netflix and I basically choked back tears the entire time. It was basically the film version of her book, which was totally fine with me.

6. I'm super bummed- I was supposed to go to a virtual Q&A featuring Roxane Gay and a local bookstore and I totally forgot to buy the tickets for it. My friend had a good point, though, that this is probably going to be a popular format for readings for awhile. 

7. I've been working on a top-secret fun project for work with some colleagues and it's making me so happy, just our weekly progress meetings, seeing the content role in, and knowing the big reveal will be special to a lot of people. I think productivity, whatever it looks like for you, is so important right now when it's so easy to flounder. 

8. I just had an interesting conversation about the connection between empathy and having meaningful friendships. I believe that people who struggle with friendships often struggle with empathy, with exception, of course. The whole " what came first, the chicken or the egg" things is relevant too, of course- do you have a lot of great friends because you're empathetic or do the friendships make you more empathetic? 

For Consideration, Summer Edition

Every year I order a box of books to kick off summer vacation, a definite source of motivation to get me through the last few weeks of the school year. This year is different, as in I don't really want the school year to end (I will miss the routine I have created and also the connections with students and colleagues) but also in the sense that I will have SO MUCH time to read, since we will be at home a lot. 

I am working on a list of contenders; I will by no means order them all (OR WILL I?) but just in case anyone else is building their summer reading list I thought I'd share:


Rebel Chef by Dominique Crenn- Chef memoir! I love her episode of Chef's Table. 

Stray by Stephanie Danler-  I enjoyed her novel Bittersweet and am interested in her actual story.

Look Alive Out There  by Sloane Crosley-  I have become a huge fan of her essays after seeing her interview another author earlier this year. 

Reborn on the Run: My Journey from Addiction to Ultramarathons by Catra Corbett- I love running memoirs and I've been really interested in her story since hearing about if a few months ago. 


Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld- I love Sittenfeld and I can't wait to see what she does with Hilary's story.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell- My husband and I are huge fans, so this will definitely be here on release day. I probably won't include it in my big batch order, though, since it comes out in July.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett- I loved her first novel and can't wait to see how this one turns out. 

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh- I love everything I've ever read from her. 

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane- This has been pretty popular in the book blogging community and bookstagram world and seems interesting! 

All Adults Here by Emma Straub-  I think her books are great for summer.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier- The premise is just so quirky and fun. 

A Week of Glennon Doyle

Before the last week I had had very little exposure to Glennon Doyle; I knew her name and that was about it. I saw her new release Untamed doing very well, so my interest was sparked a little, and then when I saw  a friend reading it we decided on a little impromptu book club with another friend. Her books are often ones I might choose to listen to, but, if we're being honest, her voice often gives a very intense energy that I can't always handle. So, reading it was. I ordered Love Warrior as well, since it was cheap and I found the story of her marriage interesting. 

So, in the last week I have read both memoirs and also listened to her on a recent episode of Armchair Expert (which I founded a little awkward... the chemistry of everyone was just off, perhaps because they were all together). It's been a lot of Glennon Doyle.

One thing I had to sort to sort of check myself about was criticizing things she couldn't control. The entire time I was reading Love Warrior I was inwardly making snarky comments about how easy it was for her to make huge life decisions without seemingly needing to worry about money (I think her ex-husband had a solid job and then her career started taking off). But, that's her life and they seemingly worked hard for financial comfort. I also was frustrated sometimes with the incredible amount of time she was able to dedicate to her inner turmoil and personal growth- yoga, breath classes, therapy, a few nights away in a hotel to think, etc... But, again, she made her life in such a way where these kinds of luxuries were possible, even with three kids, and I can't fault her for that. 

In terms of her writing, I found her books super quick reads. Untamed was set into super short essays which flew by, while Love Warrior was comprised of much larger sections, which I think some were maybe too long (there were a few sections of deep reflection that got on my nerves a bit). She writes like a blogger, if that make sense; she knows she needs to provide a lot of context and examples, while also getting to the point to retain her readers. Her tone is conversational and feels honest, as opposed to lecturing or that of a know-it-all, which I think some self-help books end up being (oh god, like Marie Forleo's, which I quit listening to after an hour or two). 

I appreciated how she sort of grappled with her spirituality during the two memoirs, clearly a believer of God, but a critic of organized religion. She did spend a few too many pages going on about "the knowing" in Untamed, as far as I'm concerned, but I can see some people who are more in tune with their inner voices or how the talk to God into that (I don't know what I am... an agnostic flirting with atheism? TBD... ask me again in twenty years). I do like the fact that she was able to stand up for herself and really be true to some important ideals when deciding how to go to church. 

I really respect and admire Doyle for ending her marriage literally right after Love Warrior was published; she had been so unhappy and when she met her now wife, Abby, she knew that it was over and she had to figure out herself on a new, different level. I think so many women would have stayed with their husbands, terrified of the PR consequences of changing her tune, so I applauded her bravery. 

Untamed had far more of an impact on me than Love Warrior, and it's a book I'll never lend out to anyone, as my quote underlining was out of control and is far too much of a look into my psyche (no, I'm not a lesbian, if that's what some of you are thinking... not that it would matter if I was, but I know this is how rumors start, haha). Love Warrior feels more like a standard memoir to me, while Untamed a combo of self-help and memoir. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

There's a weird place between denial and pessimism that I am living in right now. I know that, say, K-12 will take a huge funding hit over the next few years, but do I want to hear it? Nah. 

I am reading Lily King's Writers  & Lovers right now and it is fantastic- it makes me want to really start writing again. Her main character, Casey, is so heartbreaking and smart, it just kills me.

Apparently I'm a Glennon Doyle fan now? Sort of? I read Untamed for an impromptu book club and then started Love Warrior, just to learn more about her life prior to her most recent book. She gets on my nerves a little bit when listening to podcasts and whatnot, so I know I wouldn't be able to listen to her audiobooks. But reading her has been really thought-provoking. 

I had some great Zoom sessions with my students last Friday about Kate Chopin's The Awakening. The kids are still totally capable of discussing literature and making me laugh. 

I am now teaching (Google Classroom-ing?) the last book of the year, The Scarlet Letter, which isn't my favorite, but at least thematically it's relatively easy and easy to sort of piece out to them over the course of a few weeks. Reading it can be a big fat chore, though, so I hope they can pull through. 

Over the course of a recent twenty-four hours I had so many interactions with people outside of my house it was so nice. I had to run to the store the other night to get ice of for a planned power outage and someone standing many, many feet in front of me, wearing a mask, made a dumb joke, an administrator/friend from work called to ask me something, I had an hour and a half FaceTime call with a friend, and I chatted with the nicest customer representative from AT&T. I know, this all sounds pathetic, but I am desperately missing my social life. 

May Reading Goals

In March my reading lagged big time, as the schools closed halfway through and things became dramatically different overnight. In April, things got rolling a little and I ended up clocking in at six books. Whelpppp, as my son would say, I have big plans for May (and even bigger for June) and I'm the type of person who thrives under public accountability, though, so here are my plans or the month:

1 & 2. Untamed and Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle (the first was for an impromptu friend book club, the second because I want to hear more of her story)

3. Writers & Lovers by Lily King (loved Euphoria)

4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (for work)

5. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (for our English department book club)

6. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (I've always meant to read it)

7. Portage by Sue Leaf (a memoir about a family who got super into canoeing)

8. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (I haven't read any short stories lately) 

April Reads

April was such a long year, guys. 

I mean month.


I had initially wanted to read eight book in April, but considering how spread thin I have been, I'll take it.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was read with Sawyer at night and it took us a really long time, but we finally finished. The illustrated versions are beautiful, and they the the same exact text as the normal ones. It was so much fun to revisit them with him, and we're already a chunk into the next one.

I reread the The Awakening by Kate Chopin for the 32329th time, for work, but I still love it. I just had a Zoom meeting with some of my students to discuss it (and have another one in an hour), and they all really like it too. There's so much to discuss in terms of class, gender, the arts, and society to talk about. It's barely over 100 pages, so if you haven't read it, you really should. 

I finally finished Elton John's memoir, Me, and it was outstanding. I am a huge fan of his, so I loved all the tidbits he offered about his career. I wasn't as interested in the beginning, the childhood and early, early singing stuff, but as a whole it was really great. 

Towards the beginning of the month I read Lauren Wilkinson's American Spy, which I knew little about, other than that Obama loved it. It ended up being a solid B- the writing, the characters, and the story were all really solid. I admittedly got a little bored during some of the super political moments, but that's just personal preference (and probably why Obama liked it so much!). If you are into spy novels, but want a little more depth I highly suggest this one.

I read Don DeLillo's White Noise, which Julie and I did a Blogger Banter post for (check it out here).

Finally, I finished Colson Whitehead's newest novel, The Nickel Boys, a few days ago for our book club meeting last night. I thought it was well done on every level- I enjoy his writing style, I thought his characters all possessed true depth, and he did justice to the subject matter. Highly recommend this one.

Maybe eight next month?

Top Ten Worries from the Realm of Social-Isolation

I am a worrier by nature, although generally not about things like health, which I know is weird. Money? Yes. Relationships? Yes. Employment? Yes. Education? Yes. My home? Yes. I can trace most of this back to my childhood, but we'll save that for a future visit for therapy, if I ever have the time to actually go (ha). Of course I am worried about BIG things- the economy, a vaccine/therapeutics for COVID19, how this is impacting POC, what this means for people who were about to retire, etc... but this is just a glimpse into my specific life. I think that a lot of people view my social media and whatnot and think that I have it all together, since I choose to mostly highlight the positive, something I vehemently think everyone has the right to do. And I guess I do, for the most part, because I work so hard to stay steady for my son. But internally, sometimes it's an absolute shit show. 

1. That I am not doing enough work- I know I am doing a ton of work, but no matter how many hours I put in each day (and night), it never feels like enough. I know a lot of this is because it is done at home, as opposed to my classroom, and because I don't physically see my students, but I could work 20 hours a day and still feel like I wasn't doing what I needed to right now.

2. That I am not doing a good job teaching my son- Is it fun enough? Is he being challenged? Am I using too many worksheets? Am I doing math in the right order? Will he have the necessary skills for first grade? Should I do more? Less?

3. Food weirdness- I have been grocery shopping every ten days and the idea of food shortages still really scares me, especially when you read some of the headlines. Plus, it's so unsettling to go to the grocery store and not to get things. I definitely always took it for granted that I'd always have access to things like yeast and butter easily. 

4. What will happen next school year?- What will classrooms look like? How will I handle the logistics of my son being in another district, which he will just be beginning under these weird circumstances? How will he adapt? (I think academically he will be fine, and I think socially he will probably be fine too, since he's a friendly kid and all the other first graders will not have seen each other for over a half a year. If this was fifth grade I'd be a wreak). 

5. Will I lose my mind?- By four in the afternoon Monday-Friday I am frustrated, frazzled, and short on patience. I am putting forth more mental, emotional, and even physical, some days, energy than ever and I am not getting enough sleep. I am very burnt out, but I know that I have to plow forward. I am also anticipating a lot of challenges about transitioning back to going into public and work and whatnot, which have been occupying my mind a lot these past few days. 

6. What kind of pay cuts will happen down the line for teachers?- I am thankful for my job and seniority, but I know that the state is losing a ton of money and there will be K-12 cuts eventually. 

7. Will my grandparents stay safe?-My grandma has Alzheimer's and is in a tiny residential home and some relatives who are still working are living with my grandpa, who has a history of heart disease. 

8. That I will offend people by not handling my privilege correctly- I try to conscious about what I have and not broadcast it in people's faces, nor complain widely (here is different, because I know I have few readers). I didn't boast about my new laptop I bought for work (my old one was not up for the task of distance learning), I don't show my cartload of food on my stories, packages arriving, etc... But I know I am still subconsciously slipping it in, even by expressing concerns about work, since people have lost their jobs. I am able to stay home and do my work, while my family is safe and healthy, and I know that is a huge advantage. 

9. That people in a rush will jeopardize everything- People who don't interpret data correctly, people who are bored, people who are inpatient, people who hate the governor, etc... are putting way too much pressure on politicians to open RIGHT NOW. These people aren't looking at how long it took Wuhan to open are totally ignoring the experts who say too fast will be too bad. I also am ready for the onslaught of ignorant "it wasn't that bad" comments, which is what WE WANT to happen- for social distancing to have worked so that less people became sick. I don't know why I get so angry and upset by the stupidity of people I either know are dumb or who are strangers, but I do. And I don't think this should go on at this level indefinitely; I am very supportive of a phased in return to "normal."

10. That I won't get to see my seniors- I am worried our district won't end up having a real graduation or that it will be poorly attended and that many kids who I loved so much will never come back (this is completely speculative, the district says they are having one and a lot of kids are probably going to distance learning first semester, so they will be in town). The real end-of-the-year for seniors is such a big deal normally, and I make such a big deal about it, and this year we learned fifth period we were leaving, after I had seen most of my kids for the day. It breaks my heart.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

How are you? Really? On a scale from 1-10 I would say most of my days average out at 6.75. I can wake up at a 3, feel like a 9 on our walks in the sunshine by flowers with my kid chatting, to a 7 when I am getting in a good work groove, back down to a 2.5 after I read a bad article, to an 8 while getting in a half an hour of reading or stitching time before dinner. I think this is why I am tired so often. 

I finished Colson Whitehead's book, The Nickel Boys, and really loved it. We are discussing it at our book club in a few days.

I am caving in and reading Glennon Doyle's books. I ordered them both and Untamed arrived first, which I think will be good for me right now. Two of my friends and I are also reading it and are going to have our own little book club for it as well.

Guys. I tried on my wedding dress last night. It's come to that. (I was actually pleased- I couldn't physically zip it up alone, because the zipper is a bit touchy, but I am pretty sure it fits). 

I think I've spent more on candles since being home than in the last year. I just want my house to smell like Bath and Body Works threw up all over it, okay? Sorrynotsorry. 

I thoroughly enjoyed watching those urgent care doctors from Bakersfield get debunked by like everyone the other day. HELLO. They're urgent care doctors. I love me some urgent care, but let's admit that they're not exactly experts at anything more than handing you an rx for antibiotics or rash cream and sending you home. But yes, let's trust EVERYONE IN SCRUBS. Their logic, statistics, everything was so speculative and it was irresponsible of them to capitalize on the fact that people are anxious to get out of their homes. 

One activity Sawyer has been doing for his school work is writing letters and thank-you notes. It's great- he is practicing penmanship, sound things out, gets to draw, and makes people happy with fun mail. Bonus: we are helping support USPS and their wickedly expensive stamps.

Distance Learning- Six Tips for Interacting More with Students

[my favorite student + me working]

I'm going to save everyone the trouble of listening to me lament the woes of distance teaching/learning. It's really, really, really hard to be thrown into it with no training or warning, and the kids have been told that their grade from the first progress report stands for the entire semester, even if they don't do one assignment (they can increase their grades, though). I teach IB seniors, who are typically motivated kids, but senioritis was already setting in, so getting them involved is really hard sometimes. I have had mixed results- there are assignments with 85% of the kids participating and ones with 35%. I feel like, as a whole, I am having some success and engaging with them, though, and here are some techniques that I've used-

1. Daily Google Classroom Questions- This has been the easiest way for me to get steady work done from kids and also shows me they are doing some reading at home. The questions usually ask for 3-5 sentences (once in awhile I'll throw them a bone and just say 1-2) plus textual support. I provide a personalized response for every single one and it's credit or no-credit, so it's easy for me to keep track of and for them to use improve their grades with. It's perfect because I can sit down and respond to ten kids, help my son with some of his work, and then jump back on and reply to a few more. 

2. IGTV Book Rec Channel on my Teacher Instagram Page- I started this a week ago, and most work-days I put up a 2-5 minutes video talking about an influential book in my life. The numbers show most of my kids who are following me are watching them, so I can rest knowing that they're hearing me talk about books like Crime and Punishment, The Handmaid's Tale, and memoirs. I think, whether they want to admit it or not, it reminds them of my literary-tangents the classroom.

3. Recognizing three students a day- I started doing this on my Instastories and saving them to a Highlight, and the views are really high. Every work day I recognize three kids who are doing an awesome job, have improved, or have done a great job at a particular assignment. It's basically the equivalent of giving a kid a certificate and I always tear up a little when they reply with so much gratitude (social isolation is making me sappy, what can I say?). 

4. Emails, emails, and more emails- I email kids for doing a good job, for not doing work, to remind them to do an upcoming assignment, and to check in to see if they are doing okay. I also email parents, although I haven't gotten many responses. 

5. Flexibility- I am typically not a very flexible teacher when it comes to a lot of things. I have well over 100 students and I need things on time, I need to stick to a carefully thought out pacing calendar, and I need to prep my students for the IB test. These are different times, though, and they require a different approach. I am providing a lot of wiggle room on turning work in, am re-figuring how much time I give kids to do the reading, and am making exceptions for kids who email me and explain their situations. My kids know that this is a HUGE deal and they're communicating with me about what's happening in their lives because of it. 

6. Being honest with my feelings and open with my at-home life- The kids really appreciate it when their teachers are human, and that's something I've always tried to be with them. I am constantly relaying anecdotes from Sawyer to them in the classroom, and life in general. It's hard to want to work for someone you don't feel you know well (at least that's how I am)! I have opened my life up to them even more now. I include snippets of my schedule and my feelings in my weekly letter to them, I share pictures of my son on Instagram, funny things that go on around home in my stories, screen shots of things I find interesting, etc... Obviously I keep it appropriate, but I find keeping that connection really important. 

Things I don't do:
1. Try to get them to use a whole bunch of new platforms- I stick to the basics that they are all familiar with, instead of downloading a whole bunch of new things. I know that this is overwhelming enough as is, and, honestly I don't have it in me right now to learn 4825932598 new programs that two of them might use (or sign up for all the free trials and deal with all the new passwords). 

2. Take their lack of work personally- They're teenagers and have been thrown into a weird, weird world. I do occasionally get frustrated, but I know they're good kids and their situations are all very unique.

3. Assume that the assignments that worked in the classroom will necessarily work now- For example, every book we did had a very involved physical notebook that went with it. That definitely won't work now! 

I cannot wait to back to the classroom and start the slow process of returning to normal, but for now I am doing what I can with what, and who, I've got. 

Blogger Banter- White Noise

We did it again! Julie and I both read Don DeLillo's White Noise and ended up being split on our opinions of the text. I love that! I feel like a lot of time when I go to book club everyone loves what we read. Not that this is bad, but sometimes a little controversy can be good. Here's our conversation (beware of spoilers!):

Julz: Whelp, I didn't like it. I felt totally let down by the conclusion and I felt there wasn't any sense of resolution. I mean, what were the repercussions of Jack shooting the pharmabiologist dude?

Christine: I actually really liked it, minus a few complaints. I think I was ready for DeLillo’s style and sort of sensibility, though. He’s definitely unique (I went to one of his readings once, too, he’s an interesting man...). There’s definitely an air of pretentiousness, but I think it’s at least self-referential, which ties back to what you were saying about Murray (see below).

Julz: I thought it kind of ironic that Jack and Babette both had know-it-all kid. Heinrich seemed to know everything about everything and Denise was super perceptive.

Christine: They were all so, so flawed, even the kids (Wilder... man... they adored him, but the crying episode would have driven me crazy). I loved the contrast set up between the siblings, Babette and his other wives (so many of them!), and even Jack and Orest.

Julz: How did you feel about Murray? Personally, I wanted to stab a fork in my ear every time he soliloquized (if that's even a word).

Christine: Murray was a strange dude! He was a bit annoying, but I think it was intentional on DeLillo’s part, to sort of create the archetype of an eccentric, self-important professor. The one scene where he was talking to the prostitutes cracked me up- at first I thought he was calling oral sex the Heinrich, and then I thought he really did want to perform the maneuver... ha. I think?

Other things I really liked:

The setting- such an eccentric little college town with it’s insane asylum, mysteriously toxic elementary school, and eventual disaster simulations. The classes the two men taught? Oh man....

The dialogue- I loved the verbal gymnastics that DeLillo crafts, clearly often unrealistic, but so supportive of the thematic concepts he was pushing. It meant itself to that sort of existential crisis that Jack, and even Babette and Heinrich to some degrees, were grappling with.

Death/Dylar- Jack’s insane preoccupation with death was fascinating to me, since it’s not something I really spend a lot of time worrying about (yet, I guess). If he was someone in real life I’d tell him to shut up, but the way his character is written so fully let me suspend my annoyance. The fact that he and Babette become so obsessed with Dylar is so... sad, I guess, especially for her. Clearly she’s depressed and needs real help, not just someone trying to scam her in a hotel room. Her need feels genuine, while his a bit egocentric.

Black Cloud/White Noise- another contrast! Basically this idea that anything that takes over your senses there’s foreign can have negative effects, whether it’s something toxic in the air or invisible coming from consuming media. The idea of what you can and cannot control is important too, and how it effects people in different ways. Who is seemingly immune, who is susceptible, etc... (it feels like I’m talking about the pandemic, haha).

Julz: Speaking of the pandemic, I had to site this Heinrich quote: "If you came awake tomorrow in the Middle Ages and there was an epidemic raging, what could you do to stop it, knowing what you know about the progress of medicine and disease?" That hit a little too close to home. However, I doubt Richard III would have understood Social Distancing. Although Henry VIII was more enlightened and new to avoid populace places when plague broke out.

Obviously the white noise is a commentary on consumerism, since there's so much mentioned about product labels, television ads, and radio programs. Do you think it would have been a totally different novel if it had been written today (35 years later) what with all our prescription commercials and being constantly bombarded with ads on our smart devices?

Christine: I totally think this would be different now; I kept wanting to scream at them to just Google Dylar, but then I remembered they couldn’t! We’re so immersed in the noise... there’s no escape.
The few issues I had:
The dialogue- while I did like it, occasionally I Would lose track of who was saying what, which is annoying. I read a Chuck Palahniuk memoir/writing guide recently and he takes about how much he hates that style.
The end- I am fine with the way it ended in the sense that he was so self-congratulatory about not killing the guy and then helping him to the hospital. He wasn’t a killer (except I actually thought he might kill himself after he talked to Murray). I even found the scene at the German clinic kind of hilarious. More than anything it bugged me that he drove the car back, covered in blood! It was his neighbor’s! Rude.

Julz: It’s so interesting how two people can have such vastly different perceptions of the same book!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[the things we do for our students]

I want to keep this on the more upbeat side today, because I am in a good mood, and don't want to get cranky, so please know that I am well aware that our world is in a state of chaos and that I am fully aware of my privilege as someone who still has her job and is healthy (I am trying to give back as best I can, I promise, I just don't want to sit here and pat myself on the back as to how). So, disclaimer written, moving on.

I really, really love the Bad on Paper Podcast now. I have moved from a lukewarm fan to an enthusiastic one as of late. Both of the women are single, living in NYC apartments, and are still posting every week. They offer honest takes on how isolated they feel, how they are adapting, and what this means for their careers. 

I am also listening to Wine Girl by Victoria James, a memoir of a the youngest sommelier, and am really enjoying it. I am not super into wine, so I was a little concerned when I downloaded it, but it is much more about her life and the industry.

I let Sawyer sort of direct our science/social study topics, prepping things he voices interest in. We've done bugs, dinosaurs, and a few other things, but right now he's super into maps, so I downloaded a pdf from Teachers-Pay-Teachers and it's been super fun. He made a map of his bedroom the other day and took it so seriously. 

I have two packets of yeast left and there hasn't been an at the stores lately- I am going to use one to make homemade pizza tonight. My dreams of a sourdough starter are evaporating (unless I order one...).

I am almost done with Elton John's memoir and then I need to read Colson Whitehead's newest by the end of the month. Our English Department book club used to meet every three or so months... we've now decided to do one monthly. This is definitely a good thing. MAKE ME READ MORE BOOKS!

I have started an IGTV channel on my teacher account where I talk for a few minutes about influential books a few times a week and so far I've gotten some good feedback from the kids! My first book was Crime and Punishment, my second Charlotte's Web, and the third The Handmaid's Tale. After I do a dozen or so I'll try to do a post here about why I chose the one I did.

Sawyer's birthday is this weekend and I went through a very sad period several weeks ago once I realized it would be spent in lock down. We had originally planned on taking him to Disneyland, but he had no idea, thank goodness. His heart was set on taking cupcakes to his class, which I have promised him we'll do when this is all over (even if he has moved schools and it's cupcakes to his old teachers, of even his new class if his teacher is down with that, who knows). I let myself be sad for a few hours, but then sprang into action. I ordered a ton of Avengers decorations, including a life-size cutout of his favorite, Spiderman, stuff for his cake, and presents. The best thing is that I put out a call to certain special people in his life to send me video messages that I could edit together and people have SHOWED up. I tear up every time I think about it- a few family members, friends of our family, both kids and adults, and the best- several videos from his teachers and the kids that are still at his school. I think it'll be nearly ten minutes! Now to not cry while he watches it... I'm also going to suck it up and pay to rent the new Trolls movie, which we have been listening to the soundtrack for, and basically we'll play to his heart's content all day.