Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I just started the graphic memoir And Now I Spill the Family Secrets by Margaret Kimball and it is SO good. This is the second memoir I've read this month, both of which are stunning!

My need to be a people-pleaser has been struggling with my tendencies to have strong opinions lately and it's absolutely exhausting. Navigating inner and outer conflict is complicated. There's this sort of balance I strive for- how can you make your thoughts known in a respectful way, while not being steamrolled? Obviously who you're up against is part of the battle, but no matter it's exhausting. 

Also exhausting is running with the dog nearly every morning 5:30- my body hurts everywhere, a combined effect of running on concrete (I usually run on the treadmill) and my gait being changed from handling a leash. I started foam rolling, which has just made my arms sore from pushing my lower half against the roll. I know it's worth it and I'll adapt, but in the meantime I'll just whine more than usual.

I think a topic in education (life?) that really needs to be addressed right now is moving past the trauma of the pandemic. Yes, I know we aren't completely past it, but we have to stop being reactionary and be proactive. How can we change the rhetoric next year to treading water to swimming forward?

I just yanked out my son's front tooth because it was dangling (he let me)- the Tooth Fairy needs to bring be a treat too. That noise. That feeling.

I am going out to a restaurant with some friends this weekend, for the first time since pre-pandemic (going out and the three of us being together all at once). I cannot wait. I also have a pedicure this weekend, so it's basically Christmas.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I know, I normally do these on Wednesday.... so does that mean I'm a few days late or a few days early?

2. I just finished Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad and I cannot stop gushing about it. Her memoir is about battling nearly-terminal leukemia and then traveling the country to visit people who wrote her while she was a columnist at the NY Times. It's basically perfect. I enjoyed the medical part, the personal aspect, and the travel component. If I can get it together, I plan on writing a whole post on the book.

3. I received a few books in the mail yesterday, despite my temporary deal with myself to wait until the end of the school year and purchase everything at once. In my defense there was a deal, so who am I to argue with being fiscally responsible? Two are graphic novels, and then I finally got The Final Revival of Opal Nev, which I'm super excited about.

4. I started a shared doc in one of my book clubs so we can put our ideas down for our next year of selections and I think it's so interesting to see what people put down.  I've only put one so far, but am resisting the urge to plop down a dozen more. 

5. Most of next week at work will be consumed with some online assessment, which I'm super bummed about, since we just finished Macbeth. I am, though, also super psyched to get some massive time to catch up on grading and hopefully do the rest of my lesson plans for the remaining two weeks of content I have left to teach.

6. Yes, that's right! Three weeks until summer break, basically! I can't believe it. Sawyer is in school a bit longer than I am, so I cannot wait to have a few days of time to unwind alone. We don't have a trip planned this summer, since everything was so up-in-the-air with Covid, but I renewed our annual passes to the San Diego Zoo and Knott's Berry Farm, so it will be pretty darn awesome to start going to the places we weren't able to for so long. Between those types of things, the beach, etc... I am hoping my cabin fever will be kept at bay. I might try to manage one little trip away at some point, but it also depends on a few other things. Who knows! Starting next year, I plan on a big trip every summer. Short-list options: a drive up the West Coast as far as Whistler (in a rental so that we can fly home), NYC, Hawaii (I may be able to convince my husband to come on that one... we have already been but I would like to take Sawyer), Charleston (this might end up being a long weekend sort of things with a friend), Nashville (yes, I want to go just so I can go to Parnassus.... also a long weekend situation) Chicago, and Montana. I could go on and on. There's also a BIG trip to Europe in the beginning stages of planning with a friend, Sawyer, and maybe my mom, but that's going to be in probably three or so years when he's a tad older. Maybe I need to write a whole post... stop rambling, Christine... 

7. I have been running most mornings with Ellie before work and it's so effing hard to commit to this as 5:30 am. I have found the trick is to push myself into wearing shorts and a sports bra- if I can just put these things on and get out the door, I'm awake enough after walking half a block or so to just bite the bullet and speed up. It's ironic, though, that the thing I dread ends up making her so tired and my so happy. My mood is noticeably better on days I run instead of walk, not that it's bad, it's just downright good when I suck it up and go. 

8. I'm getting another tattoo! I had been thinking about a very small new for a year or two, one but wasn't sure where I wanted it. I finally decided the other day and emailed the artist I used for my tree one and he booked me. For May. Of 2022. I know. This guy has sort of blown up in LA and is in high-demand, so I get it. I would find someone else, but he does amazing fine-line, single-needle work and since this is going to be really small writing there is absolutely no room for error (is there ever any room for error on a tattoo?). Something to look forward to, I guess!

9. I have to start dishwasher shopping.  Appliances are the absolute worst- so boring! I haven't had a working dishwasher in WAY TO MOTHER-EFFING LONG, so I'm of course absolutely thrilled at the actual prospect, it's just getting there that is a drag. 

10. The weather has been absolutely amazing where I live- it's this wonderful time of year where the highs are in the 70-80 and the nights are chilly. Having to stay inside seems like a total punishment! I just want to go lay outside with my book and Diet Coke and alternate between reading and dozing. Soon it will be approximately 187 degrees and I'll be complaining nonstop. 

11. I sent my mom a huge order of pastries from Porto's for Mother's Day. Our family's love language is carbs.

12. This weekend is kicking off a stretch of a few jam-packed ones in a row. HOORAY! Tonight we have a park play-date with Sawyer's friend (I love his mom, so this almost feels like a social activity for me, too), tomorrow we are going hiking, and I hope to take most of Sunday "off" (mom "off" is basically 50% of a break, at least when you have little ones). 

May Goals, Plus April, Revisited

The treadmill is beckoning from across the room, so I'm going to make this fast. I did pretty well with my goals this month: 

Buy a new phone- Nope! I've decided to just wait to deal with it until summer. The one I have is fine and I'm being horribly over-dramatic, so it's been tabled.

Finish and ship all Etsy orders- Yes! All seven orders, six being custom, have been sent out into the world. I also squeezed in a gift for a friend. 

Get a few health issues under control- Thank goodness! Yup! I had some issues with my eyes that are a million times better and I will hopefully be in the clear after my recheck later this week. I also had a stomach issue that improved dramatically with a round of medicine, so I am a happy camper. 

Make sure Sawyer had a great birthday- Yup! We had a great weekend. His friend dropped by a surprise gift on Saturday and then on his actual birthday Scott and I took him to walk around the beach and we did gifts, cake, lots of family FaceTime, and his favorite dinner. 

Step up my skin care- Yes again! I am not getting any younger, so I've slowly built up a good routine that hopefully will prolong the inevitable. 

Stay away from a really negative Facebook page associated with my son's school- Yes! I really don't have time for that toxicity, anyway. 2021 has been a much happier place on the Internet, so any little change that adds to it is awesome. 

Now, May:

Finish the school year without losing my mind- I like to make my goals easily quantifiable, and trust me- for a teacher this is

Have fun doing fun things- I feel like May marks my return into the world. Every weekend is pretty booked and I am beyond thrilled.

Two non-Etsy embroidery hoops- I love that people trust me to create things for them, but I have been itching to try out a few of my own ideas. One of these things needs to be updating my book hoop. All I have done is January- and these really aren't that time-consuming! It just gets pushed back first, I guess. 

Keep running with Ellie- I have converted 4-5 of our daily morning walks to at least partial runs, and I want to maintain that (for both of our sakes)

Finish rereading Jane Eyre- I really do enjoy it, I just can't always read it in huge chunks or I get sleepy

It's Okay to Be Good

The other day someone at work asked me how I was doing and I genuinely answered, "good." Not "tired," "okay," "getting through the week," or any of the other generic responses I'd typically throw out there to disguise the fact that life was mediocre or even rough, depending on the day. 

I am good. I am doing better than well. I feel content, happy, optimistic, and ready to tackle life. Even when something not-so-great happens, like the pool guy informing me that some sort of digital salt-cell indicator board needs to be fixed, I don't feel like I'm going to lose it. 

While I wouldn't have described myself as necessarily depressed, pessimistic, or unhappy, the last... two or two and half years have been really tough, personally. And then you add a pandemic into the mix? I felt like I was constantly treading water to maintain normalcy for my son and to figure out how to somehow be okay in the place I was in at the time. It was exhausting. 

But now, the last few months, I'm still exhausted, but in a different way. My husband and I are both busy with our jobs, Sawyer is in in-person school more, my sister is around to help with childcare while I'm away, my exercise is at an all time high, I've had a lot Etsy orders, I'm seeing friends again, my eye problem is basically resolved, we have a lot of fun things on the books for May- I could go on, but, the million dollar question: who really wants to hear about the happy things?

You know the phrase "misery loves company?" I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of people don't really want to hear about the good stuff, which I totally get if you're struggling. It's like a happy slap in the face and when you feel like crap that's the last thing you want. Good for you, being all happy while I'm sitting here feeling like a dumpster fire, thanks. Not that I walk around radiating giant happy face vibes, but I get it. Even if you love the person dearly, when you're in the middle of your own personal dumpster fire you don't necessarily want to hear about how someone else's has been extinguished. 

There's also the fact that there are so many horrible things happening in the world right now- India's COVID surge, the ongoing systemic racism in America, the drought, kids struggling academically after the pandemic... Who am I to be happy? What gives me that privilege?

So, no one likes a happy person, and if you are happy you should feel incredibly guilty about it, the end. 

But not really.

I compartmentalize in good times and in bad, so this is no different. You taper your happiness, depending on who you're around, reading the room. You enjoy your happiness, because it's a good thing. You acknowledge the bad in the world, because denial is unhealthy, and you use what you have to do better (I can donate a few bucks to causes I feel passionate about, work to reduce my carbon footprint, help my students make up for lost time, etc...). 

But, more than anything, you give thanks for the happiness. It won't be around forever, I know this as much as anyone. You can't let your guard down- lapses in unhappiness are inevitable. But until one comes up, you bask in your turn to feel good and you express gratitude for the opportunity to feel lighter. 

It really is okay to be good. 

April Reads

It's May! Whoa! I have a life-update kinda of post scheduled for this week, but, needless to say, things have been a bit chaotic lately (but in a good way). I'm trying to simultaneously do like seventeen things right now, so I'll keep it brief:

I reread Shakespeare's Macbeth for maybe the fifty-seventh time? Fine, fine, probably the seventh, but still. I actually really enjoy teaching this play and really getting into the analysis. It has been different this year, though, since I can't have them read it in groups like a normally do, but we're making it work!

I ready Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun with Julie, which I have an in-depth post about here. 

Two of my books were for book club, Therese Anne Fowler's A Good Neighborhood and Emmanuel Acho's Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. Fowler's was about a white family and a black family's whose social awkwardness takes a very serious, intense, catastrophic turn for the worse. We definitely criticized her writing a lot, but I think the message she conveyed about race in America was important. We agree this was a good book for someone who is still sort of trying to navigate the beginnings of their "what is white privilege?" journey, which actually so was Acho's. I really appreciated how organized his text was, breaking down the book into chapters focusing on different questions white people have, and then answering them with historical, social, and personal context.

Finally Patricia Engel's Infinite Country was absolutely beautifully done, examining immigration in such a poignant, thoughtful way- it was literary and socially realistic. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I know I wrote about it last week, but I've been making plans again, safely, and it feels so good. Between that, lots of Etsy orders, tons of work, etc... it almost feels like pre-Covid right now. It's so nice. To think, a year ago I was wiping down groceries, and in a few weeks my family is going  TO DISNEYLAND is crazy (we had tickets left from a multi-day pass from early 2020 so we got dibs on reservations. We are SUPER careful, but it still feels weird. Considering the park is at insanely reduced capacity and Scott and I will be fully vaccinated we feel good. Sawyer is a pro at wearing his mark, social distancing, and hand-washing, so while it feels SO wrong to be planning on this, it also feels really, really, really good and positive for our family). 

2. I just finished Infinite Country and really, really enjoyed it. There has been so many novels published that look at immigration in the US and this one did a great job of examining it in a slightly different way. 

3. I have finally gotten in a better rhythm and routine with concurrent teaching. I have 100 minute blocks (we were only 58 minutes pre-covid), so I try to divide the time up into three lessons, plus a block for a quick break and independent work time. I've been finding out better ways for the kids to interact and they've been giving me some positive feedback (I sent an anonymous survey asking for input, concerns, things they like, and it was so helpful- they were so kind and I have been trying to integrate some of their ideas). 

4. Sawyer is new to his school this year, and they've been back in person for about five or six week (they've gone back more this week and there aren't anymore cohorts, so his class have about 20 kids). He's made a new friend and I guess the boy's family has been waiting a ways from school so the two can walk together. So cute! I was definitely worried about him socially, since he knew no one, but he has been doing great (he is a complete social butterfly, so I don't know why I was worried).

5. Please don't tell anyone, but after being at home for a year I occasionally miss my family a teeny tiny bit during the day. But then I get to eat lunch in peace and I remember how much I love being back at work. 

6. My sister is with us and it's so nice to have her around. We walk in the afternoon together and now that we get to venture out into the world a bit more it's been great to have a adult company with me when we go places (like a regional park last weekend, picture above). 

Bloggers Banter- Klara and the Sun

Yay! It's that time again! Another Bloggers Banter with Julz
Julz: Ok, I have to start off with the fact that I just plain didn’t get it.  As I mentioned in my review, I failed to grasp whatever point Ishiguro was trying to make.  What was your take?

Christine: Preface- I have purposefully stayed away from reviews and articles since I didn’t want to be influenced by their interpretations, so this might be repetitive of what’s already out there. Anyway, I found the book to be pretty allegorical- the sun represented God, the Cootings Machine evil, her bargains to help Josie prayers, etc… I don’t think he was necessarily advocating for religion, but more the idea of having faith or hope, even in what might seem absurd. I think there was also this sort of commentary on purity in the natural- the sun, the barn, the rural landscape, Rick’s lack of “liftedness”, etc…

Julz:  Look at you with the symbolism!  Never crossed my mind, but now that you point it out, I totally see it.
It pisses me off when authors never reveal why the world they created is in its current state.  Like why is Josie’s dad a “fascist” and why do kids need to be genetically modified to have their intellects “lifted?”

Christine: It definitely leaves you wanting more, that’s for sure.  I remember feeling that way when I read Never Let Me Go. I couldn’t decide if her dad did have fascist tendencies, of if Helen was being hyperbolic, since his way of life was so much different from theirs. I also wanted to know more about the genetic modification- maybe it was just this way of further dividing people, the class divide we see now grossly transcending to an intellectual one. I guess instead of plastic surgery people start to enhance their brains (so should we be pleased at the idea of values shifting to intelligence away from looks, or just disgusted by it all?).

JulzAh, see you definitely gleaned WAY more meaning than I did.  So was a Cootings machine just an effing paver?

Christine: Ha! Yeah, one that symbolizes all that is evil and wrong in the world, I guess. The irony is that Klara is a machine herself and represents a reliance on technology and industry, just like it also does (although she’s not directly polluting as it is).

Julz: I was also thoroughly confused when Klara’s perception became fragmented.  What was the point of her sight becoming “spatially segmented?”

Christine: I think it was because they removed some of her fluid to ruin the Cootings Machine, so we see her willingness to sacrifice her mechanical efficiency for Josie. I think she was also super overwhelmed during that whole episode to the city, between there being so many people, human emotions, and stimulation.

Julz: But her segmented vision occurred even when she was in the store, long before she sacrificed her fluid.

Christine: I think it changed, or even got worse, for a bit after they removed the fluid. Before that, I got that feeling that her vision was sort of divided into boxes to help her process things- a sort of grid. I think if we were watching the movie version it would be like some weird neon blue lines with little numbers on the sides doing calculations- the “AF filter.” But then after the fluid removal what she saw seemed to be reduced to actual shapes. That whole episode was strange.

Klara is basically taken out to pasture at the end, when Josie goes to college, after helping to save the day. I was so mad! But then it also seemed like the “normal” thing to do, since she was “just” a machine. I guess that’s another whole issue in this text- can AI take the place of a human? Klara was so sophisticated and seemed to feel emotional- should that have earned her a permanent role in the family?

What did you think of the parents, both Josie’s and Rick’s?

Julz: I thought there was something cold and calculating about Josie’s mom, where Rick’s mom was Chrissie’s polar opposite, flaky and in-your-face.  I didn’t have any particular feelings towards Josie’s dad other than a bit of curiosity to want to know more about him (like we mentioned above).

Christine: I had a lot of emotions regarding the plan to turn Klara into Josie- first I was seriously creeped out, but then really sad, since it showed such devastation. But then also selfish? What about you?

Julz: Having lost one child already, I can see why Josie’s mom would have resorted to such desperate tactics.  I am relieved they never got to that point…

April Goals, Plus March, Revisited


A week into April and I'm finally getting around to this… what can you do? The last month has been a lot, so I'm cutting myself lots of slack. Here's how I did on my March goals (that I created before I knew I was going back in to work):

Average 6 hours and 45 of sleep a night- HA! Definitely not. Getting up at 5:30 to walk Ellie, instead of 6:20 like before, is throwing a huge wrench in this plan.

Get in a Sawyer-back-to-school routine- Yup! He's been doing great.

Plan workouts each week in advance- Pretty good, actually. I change things sometimes, depending on mood or energy, but I have been adding a lot more variety in.

Keep working on emergency binder- What emergency binder? Maybe this is better left for summer…

Be in a good place grading-wise for spring break- Nopity nope nope. And now I'm even more screwed because I truly took spring break off and didn't do much at all.

Buy a car- Sure did! And I have the loan to prove it (although I have a plan to hopefully pay it off in a year)

Lose 6.2 lbs- I lost a few, but Easter candy really did not help the cause

Now, April! I plan to be very reasonable:

Buy a new phone- I despise dealing with setting up passwords and all that, so I have been dragging my feet for months. First world problems, I know. 

Finish and ship all Etsy orders- I got a mention on a large blog so there are several hoops for me to complete right now! It was unexpected, but awesome.

Get a few health issues under control- Nothing major or life-threatening, but just annoying.

Make sure Sawyer has a great birthday- He turns seven in a few weeks! Last year it was completely at-home, but I think we have a good compromise in place for this "in-between" time, plus he's going to get a gift that he's going to absolutely die over, so I have a good feeling it will be a success

Stay away from a certain parent Facebook page affiliated with my son's school district- I check it for updates, since they seem to have news about schedule changes before the district office officially releases them, but the group is so toxic that it makes me very disappointed in my community.  I know good, hard-working teachers in the district and they have said reading the comments have literally made them cry- just not okay.

Step up my skin-care routine- I'm not getting any younger

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I have something that requires leaving the house each weekend for the rest of the month- it almost feels like old times. We are of course being careful and adhering the the CDC and local regulations, but I am vaccinated, my sister who is staying with us is, and my husband gets his first one this weekend. 

Coming back to work after spring break was rough, since we had a week back on campus before a week off- everything just felt super disjointed and exhausting. But, thankfully, things are starting to settle in. My sister has been with us helping with Sawyer and I think they are getting into a good routine, and I am starting to get my pacing down with our super-duper long class periods (and concurrently teaching to the kids at home). 

Today I gave my students a five minute break to stretch during our 100 minute block and I got to talking about the Dyson hair dryer with a few girls. I can't tell you normal and wonderful that felt, to one minute be doing hardcore literary analysis and the next getting stuck on a random topic like hair care.

I wonder about certain industries these days- lipstick? Gum? High heels? How are they all doing over a year into the pandemic?

Easter came and went- I'm not a big Easter kind of person, so we don't go all out. Luckily when you never go big you don't set a precedent for your kid and they assume grand festivities aren't necessary. 

I don't need a fancy pizza oven, but… I want one? How many pizzas do you have to cook to justify buying one? One a week? ONE A DAY? What we really need to do is perfect cooking them in the barbeque- our first attempt was great, the second disastrous. Send all your tips, thanks.

My sister is a reader and is excited about my little home library- I get to make her a stack of suggested books. This makes me so happy.

March Reads

Third month in a row of six books read- a real surprise for this month, considering there was a LOT of change in my household, between our jobs, schools reopening, visitors, etc... Good change, but lots of accompanying stress, so I guess some escape was needed. I've been reallllllllly trying to use the Forest app for 100 hours a month (I made it in February and fell short by two hours in March), which has helped me not waste time on my phone as much, so I think that is part of it too. Whatever it is, I hope it continues!

The two nonfiction books I read couldn't be more different. The first was How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I bought this in late February when we had to idea what was happening to the school schedules and I was clinging to the last thread of patience I had left. It's not Sawyer's fault, at all- he's a chatty only child and I'm a working mom who hasn't felt rested in, like, seven years. I read their version for little kids a few years ago and it was just a good refresher. Nothing mind-blowing, but it helps to be reminded of strategies to use to help not feel like a nag all the time. 

The second one I read was Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, which I read in part of educating myself about intersectional feminism. Kendall writes about how traditional feminism had in many ways perpetuated elements of racism, through the neglect to help black women. She does a good job of organizing the book in to categories involving such topics as education, violence, housing, poverty, etc..., detailing the issues and how they can change. If you are a feminist, especially white, you have to read this. 

I reread Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Part for the fourth (I think?) time in order to teach it to my students. It is the first time since the BLM movement got more traction, so it's been fascinating to read it through a slightly different lens. My students seem to enjoy it and I am looking forward to the discussions. If you haven't read it I highly recommend it- Achebe's simplistic prose juxtapose the complexity of tribal life in Africa when the white missionaries come. It deals with masculinity, pride, violence, tradition, and change- it's definitely a rich text. 

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters was my choice for one of my book clubs and while I thought there were areas of the writing that were a bit too heavy on the exposition, the overall story was compelling. I don't think I have read anything by a trans author before, and Peter's exploration of the issues that people feel when transitioning, and detransitioning, was educational. This goes back to my need to deepen my knowledge of intersectional feminism- I need to learn about other areas and this made me even more aware. 

Also for book club, another one, was A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet. I thought it was an excellent allegory and liken it to a mash up of The Road and Lord of the Flies. I hate the word "triggered," but that was exactly how I felt reading it, given the fact that their entire world is changed after just one event... like our with the pandemic. A group of kids is vacationing with their parents at a secluded lake house when a massive hurricane hits, deepening the divide between the young and old, testing everyone's survival skills.

I think my favorite of the month was Deesha Philyaw's short story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. These stories look at black women and their secrets and struggles, whether it's with sexuality, family, or identity. It's a slim volume that I originally planned on read in a day or two, but I found myself savoring the stories and trying to just read one a day to make it last. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. It's spring break! Yay! I am utterly exhausted, since Sawyer and I went to Yosemite yesterday- 364 miles each way, 20 hours gone from home, about 13.5 of them in the car. But it was so worth it- the waterfalls were glorious (and I think they're going to dry up early this year), the crowds were relatively thin for late March, and we had a blast together. Usually we go for a few days every spring, but COVID ruined it last year and this year since my husband isn't vaccinated still the compromise was my crazy day trip idea. 

2. I am reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro and am totally and completely loving it. If I hadn't gotten only 9.5 cumulative hours of sleep in the last forty-eight hours I'd try to finish it tonight. 

3. Long story short, my Etsy shop was mentioned on a pretty huge blog and now I have quite a few orders to fulfill. I am not complaining at all but it feels weird to have so many orders for people who I don't know, since I usually just use my Etsy shop for orders for friends. I'm excited.

4. Something else I am excited about is California opening up the vaccination floodgates on April 15, which means my husband can get his finally, as well any of my students who are interested. I know the appointment process will be infuriating, but it's a start. So far in my county about 1/3 of people have gotten at least one dose and our numbers have gotten so low sometimes I just can't believe it. 

5. I saw this quote on Instagram today, and it's SO in line with what I am trying to practice this year with certain people: "When you finally learn that a person's behavior has more to do with their own internal struggle than it ever did with you... you learn grace." It goes nicely with my "you can't stay mad at people you bad for" philosophy. 

6. I am so in love with Julia Turshen's new cookbook. I've cook one of the chicken recipes and am going to make the coffee cake in the morning- I can't wait to read the book cover-to-cover, like I did with Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. I appreciate good food almost as much as good writing, so the combo is such a treat.

7. I stated listening to Jewel's memoir Never Broken and it's fascinating! She reads it and her voice is just so melodic. If you're an audiobook fan you have to download this asap. 

Back in the Classroom Again

A year and a few days later, I'm back in the classroom, teaching to real, live students. I am also more tired than I've been in a long time (and I'm usually quite tired). My district has chosen to do a hybrid sort of model where we are teaching concurrently to the cohorts at home, so that they're still "in class," even when they're at home (some places call in concurrent teaching, some hiflex... the name really doesn't matter). I truly think this is better for the kids- instead of being left on their own to complete whatever the teacher assigns, they're involved in the class activities and are being delivered higher-quality content. That being said, it's a huge challenge, teaching-wise, if you're trying to do it as "right" as possible (what "right" even is, considering this is so new, I'm not sure). 

Here are the positives of being back (there are many):
- I love seeing my students, even though there are approximately 8738935 square feet of plexiglass in my class, we all have masks on, and there's a fancy air filter humming in a corner
- I feel that my campus is safe for staff and students
- It's great seeing my colleagues- my friends, my acquaintances, and even the ones I find slightly annoying. Interacting with people outside of my home is a welcome change!
- My students in class are actually talking to each other, both about the book but also just small talk, too. It's so nice to see those interactions happening again
- My home feels more like my home again, and not my work 
- They have built extra prep into our schedule, so I am optimistic about the amount I'll be able to grade and plan at work 
- Our COVID numbers continue to improve in our county, so hopefully we are laying the foundation to go back more "normally" in the fall 
- It's nice to be able to not be tied to my computer every second... obviously I am on it a lot still, since I am teaching concurrently, but even trips to the office on my prep period, or walking around the front of class while the kids are working in something (we can't walk around their desks)
- It just feels more normal, after a year of feeling everything but. I like getting out of my house and going in everyday! We work from home on Fridays, though, but four days is better than nothing. 
- I am much more productive at work
- I was worried I wouldn't know the kids' names or recognize them, since we've never met in person and they're half covered, but I surprised myself and remembered probably 75% of them
- I had a very valid excuse to buy some new Boden dresses 

... and the less positive things:
- Like I said, I am not used to teaching concurrently and I am constantly afraid that I'll forget to unmute myself when we're transitioning or won't be showing the right screen to the right people. I know it will get easier, but I want to integrate the kids at home into our physical class as much as I can, so I feel the pressure (albeit self-imposed)
- It's weird, plain and simple, to be teaching in this sort of ultra-sanitary, careful, distanced environment
- We are basically completely digital now, and I hate grading this way. I miss my piles of literal papers that need tending to 
- My students used to sit in groups of 4-6 and I did a lot of collaboration, whether it was discussing, projects, or presentations. Not now! I really miss it. I'm trying things out with sort of setting my room up into zones that they can at least talk at each other over the plexiglass and do breakout rooms online
- There's still the possibility of having to do the big state standardized testing this year, since the federal government is pushing it. It's totally absurd
- Trying to get things at home squared away has been really stressful. My son is in school part of the day and my husband, who works at home, can't commit to pick up and drop off. Luckily my family can help out, but they're not local so it's been a lot of logistic finagling 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. Sawyer and I have a countdown for Sunday when my mom comes! So exciting! Despite millions of phone calls and FaceTimes, we haven't seen her since Thanksgiving 2019 (I cannot believe a whole calendar year went by without me seeing my family) and now we get to in five days. She will be down for five days, will go home for my spring break, and then my sister will replace her to finish the school year. We went from no family for well over a year to family straight for nearly two and a half months. 

2. I am reading Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters for a book club this weekend and its really good. It's educational (I admittedly don't know a lot about trans culture), interesting (the story is unconventional, but totally gripping), and the writing is solid. 

3. My son watched that Netflix Movie Yes Day and I was really disappointed in how the mom was represented. I consider myself a fairly fun mom, but I run a tight ship and my lists have lists. It's hard running a family, even when you just have one  kid! The mom deserved a yes day! I was super irritated with how privileged the kids were, how no one wasn't concerned with the massive damage the kids' party caused to the house, and how dumb the concert scene was. Also, another unwanted side effect? My son fell in love with the song "Baby I Need Your Lovin'" and now we've all had it stuck in our heads since last Friday. None of us know any of the actual words, so it's just that line, over and over and over again.

4. Speaking of privilege, my new car beeps approximately seventeen times every time I get out of it and I have no clue why. 

5. I don't buy many cookbooks anymore, but Simply, Julia won my over, after seeing so many Instagram posts with it and then hearing her on the Bad on Paper podcast. It arrives tomorrow and I can't wait to try something new!

6. For the past two weekends I've had friends over outside and it makes me so thankful for nice weather. We've had a bit of rain lately, but I'm hoping most of it is gone! Last weekend I made these cinnamon rolls for our little backyard coffee date and they are, without a doubt, the only recipe I'll use for them now. 

Going Back

English teachers love the full-circle device in literature- so deliberate, so serendipitous. There's a feeling of closure and precision that the author has so carefully crafted, one we feel gleeful upon discovering. I'm susceptible to this notion in other areas of my life, so the fact that we have received the word that we're going back to the classroom a year after shutting down in-person learning seems meant-to-be. Should it have lasted this long? That's complicated and not the point of this post, so I'm not going to digress (for once). Am I ready? Yes. 

Since our county's numbers came back low enough today, we head back into the classroom Monday, for a hybrid schedule (I'll see my kids twice a week, at fifty percent capacity, once online and once in the classroom). Our COVID cases have dramatically fallen, for various reasons, along with most other places in the country, so I feel that we can reconvene with a level of safety that wasn't there before (please note I teach 11th graders, many of which have had the illness move their households and have had it themselves. Some have seen family members suffer greatly and a few even die). I, and many of my colleagues, have received both vaccinations and our classrooms have medical-grade air scrubbers, plexiglass shields, cleaning/sanitizer products, and a partridge in a pear tree. Masks for all, temp checks, social distancing, new drop-off procedures, cohort schedules, reduction in consumable materials, and whatever else I'm forgetting. The swiss cheese model in full effect. 

I cannot wait to see my students again- to do all the academic stuff, of course, but to also laugh with them (do you know how hard it is to joke around together as a class on Google Meets?) and monitor their work a bit better. I know my kids are a great group, given the perseverance and dedication they've shown since August, under less-than-optimal conditions. I keep joking with them that I'm going to arrange them in order of our Meet grid so I can remember who they are. For the last decade I always tell my students that I wish we could all just come to school and hang out and talk about books- I love the content and the discussion (the grading and the meetings I can do without). 

It's not going to be easy- we are returning to a way of teaching that we've never done before. I'll be concurrently instructing my students at home while teaching those in class, meaning we'll all be together doing the same thing. We aren't supposed to walk around the classroom much, so I think it will work. At the end of the day it means by students are going to receive double of me talking about reading and writing, so CLEARLY it's a win for them. 

I am incredibly fortunate that our childcare is handled, since that is a huge wrench in this system for most people. My son goes to school Monday thru Thursday in the afternoon, and while my husband is working from home, his schedule is not conducive to him covering pick-up and drop-off, so my mom is coming for a week and then my sister for the two months after spring break (and I know this is no one's concern, but we are compensating them- this is a huge favor, since they are both from Central California). It's so exciting, since we haven't been able to see them in almost sixteen months and they will both be fully vaccinated. For once it all worked out!

It's been a really long year that I know has made me a stronger teacher, and person. Going back isn't going to be easy, but, like I tell my students, we're pros at being flexible and changing course.

My biggest concern? Wearing shoes all day again. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. So this person blocked me (lets call them the androgynous "Casey") on social media for a reason I'm not entirely clear about but resulted in some boundaries that were ultimately best. "Casey" has now unblocked me on Facebook so that they could see my posts in a group that they are previewing (I am not an admin on the group, but I was checking to see if another friend had joined yet and was like "whoa, I shouldn't be able to see this name, what is happening?"). I spent my walk this morning pondering next steps- I could a) give this person a taste of their own medicine and block them right on back b) have fun with it and maybe block them a day, unblock them a day, etc... c) just let it go because I am thirty-seven and I find the whole blocking thing a bit dramatic (minus cases of danger). Ultimately, I have chosen the last option, just because at the end of the day I don't have extra time to play games and it's hard to really be mad at someone you feel bad for (and if that person is reading here, I genuinely hope you find something to bring you happiness and light in 2021). 
2.  Does it feel like there are more books than ever coming out on a weekly basis? Or is it because I'm more active on bookstagram now? I cannot keep up! It's a good problem to have, but I'm wondering if it has to do with the pandemic and pushing publication dates, and that they're all coming out now. I cannot believe how many I have bought so far this year. 

3. Sawyer and I have started a super scientific project- every week we make a new milkshake to see what the best possible add-in to vanilla is. The first week was poptart (it was okay) and this past weekend we made M&M rice krispy treats (so good). It's silly, but it's a fun little thing that helps Sunday afternoons not to seem so work and chore-heavy.

4. I had a wonderful realization the other day- the stupid pandemic has not ruined any of the relationships I hold most dear. My friendships have stayed either the same or have gotten even better (regular book clubs, texting groups, constant Instagram chats, outside visits, etc...) and I talk to my family all the time. I've been able to support Sawyer academically and recreationally, and my husband and I haven't gotten a divorce after being stuck in the same hours together for a year, so that's something. I think that's the thing about being a well-adjusted adult- I haven't felt worried that when "this is all over" I'll have to rebuild connections with people, since they were so solid going into this. I am so thankful!

5. I read James and the Giant Peach to Sawyer last month and now we are reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's been so much fun to revisit some favorites from my youth. My husband has been doing the same thing with movies with him, so it's been cute to see them watch things like Indiana Jones (not the second one... apparently it is too scary- I haven't seen it), The Goonies (I hate this movie- I didn't see it as a kid, so there is zero nostalgia factor for me), and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. 

6. Was anyone else a member of one of those CD clubs when they were younger? Columbia House and BMG? I convinced my mom to sign up for me, and I lovvvvvved saving up my allowance to get new ones. I haven't thought about those in ages, but for some reason I randomly remembered yesterday. 

7. I bought a new car (very new... only three miles on it!) over the weekend. It has a lot of little features on it that I do not understand AT ALL and have already had to pull out  my owner's manual about eighty times (Julie, you were right!). I am not a car person at all so I'm not super jazzed. I like the idea of having something super dependable and with a lengthy warranty, though, and I don't have to worry about maintenance for several years either. Time to whip out my calculator and figure out how to pay this sucker off asap!

8. There's a lot of uncertainty and complications about when high school will go back in my county (they're going to be changing the color-coded tier system we have a little bit soon), so I'm in limbo. I have my childcare standing by, which I am eternally thankful for. It's just really, really frustrating that it could be in a week and a half, which is right before our spring break, or after. Again, the flexibility of our childcare help is a huge relief, but I'd like to know so that I can be ready. It's a huge adjustment not working outside the home for a year and then having to do it. When we go back we will probably be teaching to the kids at home at the same time, which will be an adjustment, but will also let me cover twice as much material, which is awesome! 

9. Just so everyone knows, I am fully aware that there are frequently typos here. I just don't have a lot of time for editing- if I took the time that would call for I'd never get anything posted. Yes, I understand the irony of the English teachers having typos and I am totally here for it! Ha! 

5 Regrets (That I'm Willing to Share on the Internet)

I just finished up Matt Haig's The Midnight Library, which is all about regret and figuring out what we want out of life. This was not a perfectly written book; there were some plot holes, some lackluster attempts to gloss over things that needed more explanations, and also the occasional reliance on clich├ęs. I did find it entertaining and thought-provoking though, and appreciated the conversation it invokes about regret, something that has sort of become a bit of a taboo concept in our culture. These days we're obligated to be so #blessed while writing in our gratitude journals while drinking fair-trade coffee with oat milk in the morning. Regrets? Those are for basic people who don't compost their k-cups and probably push little old ladies into the street.

Maybe I'm exaggerating (definitely rambling). 

But I do think that regretting one's past is frowned on a bit, and if you're a mom you start delving into that sketchy territory where your regrets might eliminate certain family members, which is a big fat no-no. If you imply that you wish you would have done something differently in the past you immediately must add the caveat that you'd want your family to magically remain as is, somehow (see below for mine*).

Why does regret have to be such a bad thing? Why is it wrong to wish you would have done something differently or feel less than happy over something that played out? Isn't that an opportunity for reflection and growth? I thing having regrets and not feeling motivated to change is the real issue, and that's the space where danger exists. 

 There's a book of regrets that the character has, so, I thought I'd share with the world some of my regrets:

1. I would have traveled more (pre child): I love traveling with my son, but I wish I wouldn't have been such a tight-wad and would have gone on more trips before I was a mom. Even more quick (non-Vegas) weekend trips! I also really, really, really wish I would have done a semester abroad in college! 

[How I can fix it: once this #!%&*# pandemic is over I can take trips with friends or even *gasp* alone. Now that Sawyer is older this is more of an option]

2. I would have explored a different career path: I truly love teaching and my position, despite the challenging year we have had. I don't think there's just one career for everyone, though, and if I hadn't been a teacher I probably would have been a doctor, PA, or nurse practitioner. I also really love event planning (logistics make me happy), and I always say if I won the lottery I'd build an awesome venue and help with all the weddings and whatnot. 

[How I can fix it: I don't plan on changing professions, but I can keep learning and growing. I think I might subscribe to MasterClass this summer to broaden my horizons, and I'd still like to write a novel one day]

3. I would have partied harder in college (within reason): I went to UCLA for my undergrad and my boyfriend for three of the four years went to UCI; I went to parties at his campus a lot, but I wish I would have focused more on having a better social life at my own school. Between school itself, working and commuting for two of the years I was stretched really thin (this would become the story of my life, haha).

[How I can fix it: This one is a bit tougher, but I think I've done a good job at cultivating a really great group of friends as an adult that eases the feelings of remorse here]

4. I would have been a crazy-aggressive dog mom when our dog Chomsky was sick- He passed away really quickly, but I wish I would have taken him to the emergency hospital and not our normal vet earlier (or something like that... I honestly don't know what the right steps would have been, but I wish they would have been different so he would have lived).

[How I can fix it: Again, this one is a little permanent, but I can make sure to be the best dog mom to Ellie, even when she is driving me absolutely insane]

5. I would have stood up for myself more- There have been many moments, with lots of people, where I wish I would have advocated more myself and what I think/feel. I have set a precedent in a lot of areas of my life for being agreeable and accommodating, and it has come at my own expense. Going to therapy when I was younger and had more flexibility with my time probably would have helped this. 

[How I can fix it: It's never too late to take change! Life is too short to let others steal your joy... either get on board or step aside]

*We are going to assume that somehow every regret I had would not interfere with my family. I don't want to add that to each one "I regret xyz, but not really, because what if that means I wouldn't have my family." Boring. Let's just pretend for the purpose of this total hypothetical exercise I get my way.  

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I had my second Covid-19 shot on Monday and ended up feeling like a dumpster fire. Albeit a very grateful dumpster fire, but it was still a rough day and a half (especially getting it on a Monday... starting the week feeling horrible was not the best. Nonetheless, I am happy I got my appointments!). I feel fine now, but I still have a pretty swollen, red bump at the injection site. Interestingly, both times I had my shots I was told that I was a "bleeder" and was asked if I was on blood thinners (I am not). I left a message with my doctor, curious to see why that might be, and I guess she wants me to make an appointment. Sigh. I don't think it's anything and was hoping she'd just send a message back telling me not to worry, but it does feel irresponsible not to follow up. 

2. An appointment I am over-the-moon excited for? My hair. I had it done in August and am lucky that my stylist is willing to do my hair at her house (one of the perks of going to the same person for like 16 years). I am most definitely not one of those people content with their highlights growing out and hints of grey popping in, nor am I in love with my dry ends. It's a hot mess right now and I can't wait for order to be restored. 

3. Sawyer, my first grader, goes back to school on Monday. We've had like 391 start dates this year, but this is the real deal. Our county case numbers have gone way down and TK-6 grades can start back once their safety plans are approved my the county and state, which his district's have. He goes back for 2.5 hours four afternoons a week and I am incredibly thankful that he has the opportunity to be around others and that I am able to transport him without stressing about my schedule. It will be super weird to have him not at home... He has been under parent supervision for 11.5 months straight, so having him out in the world feels strange. I predict I'll be used to to it after approximately two days. I also predict that I will cry my eyes out on the way home from taking him (although not too much, since I have another class to teach when I get home, haha). 

4. I started my symbol-per-book embroidery hoop and am really pleased with the format. I am determined to keep up with it this year!

5. Once upon a time, when I was in seventh grade I took an aerobics elective class and I remember really liking it and thinking it was a good workout. Lately I have been taking Ellie to play outside a lot in the backyard and I've been using the pool border as a sort of step, just to move around and kill time. I then realized what I was doing was basically step aerobics and decided I might buy a step for inside and really get in touch with my inner eighties work out woman (pastel leotard optional). 

6. I am reading Interior Chinatown Charles Yu right now and am really enjoying it. We have book club for it on Friday and I can't wait to discuss it. I'm also making my way through Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, which has been really thought-provoking and humbling. 

7. Never, ever, ever put in your information in a car dealer website- they will never leave you alone. I mean in a way I think that I am playing hard-to-get is giving me some leverage, but still. So annoying (and totally my fault). I honestly don't know what I'm waiting for... 

8. I did something amazing the other day: I got the email I use for students and Google Classroom down to ZERO. ZERO! Magic, I tell ya.

9. I just read an interesting article on CNN on how family estrangement is increasing, especially in regards to the parent-child relationship. I am so, so, so thankful for how close I am to my mom and that I talk to at least one or two of my three siblings each week, even if it's just a quick text. It's great how there are little niches carved out for the three of them, whether animals, Harry Potter, sports, exercise, reading, whatever. I miss my family so much, but I am so happy we've made efforts in our own ways to stay connected. I think my mom and Sawyer have an exciting lunch date this weekend, which makes me so happy to see.

10. Three nonfiction books I've added to my wishlist:
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee 
The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Practices into Soulful Practices by Casper 
Running with Sherman: How a Rescue Donkey Inspired a Ragtag Runners to Enter the Craziest Race in America by Christopher McDougall 

Bloggers Banter: Bastard Out of Carolina

Julie and I did another buddy read and post on Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. Read our conversation below:

Christine: First of all, I have to admit that I read this when I was probably sophomore or so in high school and didn't remember how intense, and graphic, it was! It was on a recommended reading list from an English teacher and I thought it would be funny to put a book with the word "bastard" on my Christmas list. Nonetheless, as an adult I thought it was heartbreaking, powerful,  and well-written. 

Julz: I can’t even believe you read this as a 14-year-old.  I do have to admit, it probably would have made me feel less guilty about certain things I felt as an adolescent had I read it at that age. 

But good heavens, the rape scene was pretty much the most terrible chapter ever. And I’ve read some graphic stuff (American Psycho, The Painted Bird).  Even typing the words Daddy Glen makes me nauseous.  

Christine: I think Bone's mother, Annie, was one of the most frustrating, infuriating characters in the text for me that I really had to push myself to feel any sort of empathy for (she chose to basically ignore the fact that her husband was abusing her daughter). What about you? 

Julz: Yup, infuriating is the word I would have used, too.  But (playing devil’s advocate here), she was seduced at 14, a mother by 15, a widow at 19, and married to an abusive douche at 21. Tragedy piled on top of tragedy.  Ultimately, though, she was the enabler, and I know well enough that those are the worst kinds of people.  

Christine: I think that's a good point, that she was so much younger than she seems. The circumstances of her life aged her so quickly, and while that does make me muster up some sympathy I still think there is some sort of inherent maternal right/wrong one would have hoped she'd developed. I guess her leaving Bone at the end was really the only thing she was capable of doing to help her daughter.

One interesting theme that stood out to me was the emphasis on physical beauty. So much time was spent describing characters, evaluating whether they were good looking, etc… They lacked the means to provide better lives for themselves, but being naturally attractive was free. What did you make of the running commentary on appearances?

Julz: (in response to Christine’s most English teacher question so far) Beauty is a commodity.  If it helped Anney earn more tips, so be it.  Uncle Earle probably got let off the hook more often than not because he had handsome features and knew how to flaunt them.

Christine: This book is quite episodic. So many of them stood out to me- the whole chapter on theft, her aunt's nervous breakdown, and her relationship with Shannon. What about you?

Julz: I certainly didn’t think Shannon would meet her end as she did!  That was a helluva punchline for that episode.  My favorite was the break-in at Woolworth’s.  I could not figure out the dredge/grappling hook obsession until I realized how nefarious it could actually be.  The episodic nature reminded me a little of Owen Meany, except without the symbolism.  Speaking of, we encountered Wheelwrights in Irving and now we have Boatwrights…

Christine: Besides Bone, I really loved Uncle Earle. He of course had some less-than-redeeming qualities, but I appreciated his protective nature and honesty. Who did you gravitate towards?

Julz: Aunt Raylene is the one I connected with and admired most.  Probably because of her stoicism.  I figured her out from the get-go, but she still had a mysterious aura.  I loved her independence and resourcefulness.  She wasn’t maternal, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t fiercely defend her family.

Speaking of family, the Aunt factor here had a bit in common with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  And Bone and Francie are both good students who escape into books.  Did any other similarities resonate with you?

Christine: I can see that, now that you mention it. I hope that Bone was able to use her bookish tendencies to escape poverty. And aunts in general are often an interesting sort of archetype- a romanticized version of the mother. I remember when I was young I adored one of my mom's sisters. I thought she was so much cooler than my mom (sorry, mom), but in retrospect she was actually so similar, just in better clothes and the ability to be more patient because I wasn't her kid.