Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[I am in Tier 1B in my county, so, say it with me now, "Shots! Shots! Shots!"

1. I wish there was a "keep as new" option for text messages, so that I didn't forget to respond to things. 

2. Ellie, our puppy (she's seven months and definitely doesn't look like a puppy) has had some stomach issues for the last three days, which has been a huge inconvenience (I have been taking her outside every 2-3 hours, round the clock, and having to clean up our artificial grass, all in horrible weather while trying to work and do everything else) and worrisome. I took her to the vet last night and they think she'll be okay in a few days, but, daaaaaamn, am I ready to move past this. 

3. Organizational tip that makes you feel super productive: take a trash bag, set a timer for 10 minutes, and just walk around your house throwing out random stuff that you have "been meaning too." Maybe it's packaging in a closet, a beauty product that's expired, receipts, whatever. I loathe clutter, so this always feels so good. 

4. Lots happening book-wise! I am reading A Burning  by Megha Majumdar for our department book club, and it's a really great read so far. I am also working through Alexi Pappas' memoir Bravey, which I hate the title of but am enjoying so far. I decided to listen to Gretchin Rubin's book about habits, Better Than Before, while I walk or drive, which is a great reset for me right now. Sawyer and I are deep into a few chapter books- James and the Giant Peach, a Magic Tree House book, and we started the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, since he is reading that for a little book club with a friend. So many books! It's great.

5. I will always stay updated on current events and politics, but I have felt so much less compelled to check the news in the past week. I don't feel like I'm missing anything if I wait until the end of the day, now. It's a welcome change, that's for sure.

6. I had my first Covid19 vaccine last Friday and I can't wait to get my second, although I hear the side effects can be more intense. I was pretty lucky and just experienced arm soreness and maybe a little bit of fatigue, although it's hard to tell because I am always pretty tired. There's a lot of apprehension in my county about getting an appointment for the second one, though, so I'll be relieved when I have that covered (even if it does make me sick!).

7. I have found the secret to making my students write good (or at least better) analysis, is to also write mediocre and bad analysis first. I didn't just turn them loose- we have a short graphic organizer and a whole process, but, seriously, when they have to create their own non-examples first it just makes for a higher quality finished process (they are on-the-spot learning from their own mistakes. After ten or so weeks of doing this, I can say that I have seen so much improvement, which is such a professional victory, considering our limited time together. 

8. I've always been a loyal supporter of the "Award Winning Chocolate Chip Cookies" recipe from that uses pudding to keep the cookies super moist, but I tried Christina Tosi's version from her kid's cook book over the weekend and the flavor was insane. These are crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and fairly flat- not what I consider my ideal "type" of cookie. I think the addition of 2 tbsp of milk powder is what makes them different, though. They're definitely in the rotation now.

9. My youngest sister got engaged last weekend! She has been with her boyfriend for like twelve years or something, so it wasn't a huge shock, but it was some happy news for our family. Plus, I love weddings. 

10. I can't be the only person who bribes their kid to behave at the dentist with the promise of a sugary treat afterwards... right?

Re: Future Post Ideas

[I keep a running list of possible ideas to research and write about- here are five I'd like to dive in to... someday... (not that someone else hasn't I just want to do some legwork to fulfill my own curiosity]

1. A deep-dive into whether the children's graphic novel Dog Man series titles have any real connection to the classics they reference. Does Dog Man: Grime and Punishment really connect to Dostoyevsky's classic? Does Dog Man: Fetch-22 evoke the same witty, dry humor as Catch-22? Is Dave Pilkey really a literary genius brainwashing our kids for future literary prowess? 

2. A look at the last lines of short stories and essays, a writing hurdle I face myself. Ending is hard (same as some good byes, right?). You want to conclude, but it needs to feel natural, not contrived and artificial. There's always this inclination to be poignant and insightful, to leave the reader with something real to chew on as they depart... but how does it happen without seeming forced? First lines get so much credit, but last lines really should get more attention. 

3. How are education and teaching represented in modern novels? There are some great novels about students and professors, but I think there's a real lack of K-12 teacher narrators out there. (I have this hunch that there are few books like this because teachers are way too busy to actually write books.) 

4. Why do some authors include "a note on the type," and why others do not. Is it the publishing house? A love of font? A pretentiousness? A nod to typesetters of yester yore? I always enjoy reading them, but their inclusion really isn't necessary. 

5. Who really reads coffee table books? Are there a whole group of people who primarily read them? I love the idea of them, but I have probably only read less than five cover-to-cover in my life. When do they come into fashion? Is it a lucrative business (they sure are expensive)? 

But... You've Never Even Slept Outside

I have always been plagued with vivid dreams, often bizarre, frequently terrifying (and often both). My son, unfortunately, has followed suit, the poor guy experiencing a few night terrors in the last few years. This whole thing must be super contagious, because Ellie, our seven-month-old golden retriever, has daily, intense, multiple, puppy dreams, complete with excessive whimpering and whining. 

"What are you even dreaming about? How could you possibly be scared or upset? You've never known fear in your life, dog."

"You are living the DREAM as the dog of a comfortable household. If I believe in reincarnation I'd want to come back as you. You've never even had to sleep outside."

"What's so scary? Did someone replace your dog treats with generic ones? Did we run out of carrots?"

"Oh no, did someone tell Ellie that she's not allowed on furniture again?"

Clearly, I've struggled to empathize with my puppy. 

Sure, it's not that big of a deal, she's, you know, a dog  and doesn't understand she's being blatantly mocked. But this made me stop and think about how often we do this to actual people. We assume celebrities have nothing to be depressed about because they're so wealthy, how a coworker shouldn't be overwhelmed because their life appears easy, or that a family member has no right no be cranky because they don't seem to have ever faced real adversity. You know how it goes, whether big or small, we've all been guilty of downplaying someone else's emotions because they don't match the image we've created for this person (or, umm, dog) in our own heads.

I've really, really tried to work on this in my own life the last few years, just as so much has come to the forefront in terms of how our society functions, whether it's mental health, race, socioeconomic woes, or the innerworkings of family. The fact of the matter is, unless you are that person, you can't fully grasp what someone is going through and can't necessarily judge whether their anxiety, exhaustion, depression, anger, or whatever is actually valid. 

I have a friend who had always done this to me, unapologetically so. It used to bother me greatly, but after a very lengthy friendship I've just accepted this trait and don't expect this person to be a high-quality listener. Complaining about something with the house? Whelp, I'm lucky to be a home owner. Tired because of my kid? Whelp, luckily I have one. Concerned about financial issues? Whelp, there are people in other countries who live on a fraction of what we do. Every single time these responses left me feeling defensive and like my concerns weren't valid, when in fact they really were, at least at that moment. I know people do it quietly, too, assuming my life is a certain way because of the happy pictures I post or the fairly upbeat attitude I try to have. Well, guess what? Life has thrown some serious curve balls at me the last few years and I could have used some empathy from people who withheld it because they believed I couldn't possibly deserve it. Luckily, I am fortunate to have an inner-circle of incredible people, so I'm just fine. Another silver lining is knowing who you can count on and who you cannot.

[Wow. That got super vague real fast.]

Anyway, here's where it gets tricky, though, because we do have to check our privilege, as applicable, and we do need to remember to at least be capable of peering through the lens of gratitude on occasion. No one likes a complainer, and no one really wants to hear how someone's sad because one of their six fancy cars are broken (hyperbolic, but you know what I mean). Just because you have more than others, doesn't mean you don't get to feel your feelings (and this isn't just limited to money; it can mean stability in relationships, one's self, socially, etc...). Someone is always going to have it worse, and someone will always have it better. 

I'm reading Fredrick Backman's Anxious People right now and within the first fifty pages the reader is being pushed in the direction of empathy, as a presumed criminal's past is being explained. Instead of feeling spite for this man, the reader is left heartbroken for his plight. That's the beauty of being an avid reader- we're forced to look at characters in so many perspectives that we realize human beings in real life work that way too. Everyone has a story and a reason for how they act like they do. It's a question of whether we choose to pause and consider multiple angles, something we can often times be in too much of a hurry to do. Everyone has a backstory. 

Again with the trickiness, though. Just because you are struggling, doesn't mean you get to treat others poorly. Say my dog started biting people when she woke up from her bad dream because she thought we were truly responsible for throwing her beloved chew toys in the trash (or whatever is happening during those doggy REM cycles of hers)- that would be unacceptable, as biting is not tolerated in my house (by people or animals). Or maybe the depressed celebrity verbally abuses her staff- not okay. We have to be held accountable for our actions when we're feeling what we feel; it's part of being a good human. But as long as we aren't dragging others down with us, it's okay to not be okay sometimes, and we need to be able to rely on those around us to be forgiving of us for acting in a way that might not fit into the schema they've created. 

On a lot of levels I think I'm incredibly empathetic, but there are people I've struggled with seeing in this light, whether because of how they've treated me, others, or because of their excess need for empathy. Boundaries are so important, though, and there is a thing as too much empathy, right? I consider this on so many levels, whether it's with students, family, friends, or even the national level. When I read Hillbilly Elegy a few years ago I remember gaining an entire new insight into why Trump voters chose to elect him. I didn't agree with them at all, but I empathized with their feelings that democrats had failed to help them break free of generational poverty and plight. It's hard right now to try to summon up empathy for people who have been so blatantly misogynistic, racist, classist, or offensive, but if we are ever going to grow as humans don't we have to set a good example and try? It's hard. 

But, back to the dog (the digression has been real, but also fairly intentional). I still don't understand what her problem is, but I know that she's experiencing one, so, yes, I've become that person who stops what she's doing and rushes to her side with extra love. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

shameless plug: are you following @bookishlyboisterous on Instagram yet? I am reallllllly trying to get that going on a regular basis this year, since I am clearly a bored person sitting on the couch twiddling my thumbs all day ;) 

1. Finally! We have a new president. I basically low-keyed cried during the coverage of the event and during (luckily I was off that period). I fully understand Joe Biden's not a revolutionary dude- but I also don't know if we need that in some areas right now. We need to right the course and then we can build from there. I just feel like the adults are back from their trip and the kids won't be allowed to have these destructive, unproductive, dangerous kick-backs anymore.

2. There have been so many highs and lows in my  week so far. I am over-the-moon excited about scoring a vaccination appointment on Friday, but I'm preemptively frustrated by the annoyance of battling the appointment system again in a few weeks for my second dose, and am also anxious about some of these variants coming out (like the South African one). I heard the horrific news yesterday that one of Sawyer's beloved preschool teachers was killed tragically in a car accident and felt really conflicted about whether or not to tell him (I'm holding off). But I am thrilled to be so caught up on grading and planning, a miracle that hasn't happened since distance teaching began. I'm feeling frustrated with some intense cabin-fever right now- I need something to look forward to that involves leaving my house. I also realized the other night that I am probably going to have to plan another pandemic birthday at home for Sawyer in April and that made me sad... and sort of tired (the wheels are already turning, though, so despite being exhausted by the effort I know I can pull off something special for him). I can do so little about all of these things, really, so I'm trying to just breathe through it and remind myself to control what I actually can (so I need to pick a new park to take Sawyer too, plan a socially-distanced friend date, etc...). 

3. I do actually have something great to look forward to- a different book club each weekend for three weeks! The third one isn't really a book club, my friend and I are both going to read Sanjay Gupta's new book about keep your brain sharp, but still. 

4. I just started watching The Flight Attendant and I'm totally hooked. I only watch a few minutes on the treadmill when I cool down or if I decide to do a hill walk, so it will take me awhile.  But still, love it- the characters, the mystery, the travel (well, at least in the first two episodes that I've seen). The main character is great, but her lawyer friend, played by Zosia Mamet, is stealing the show a little bit for me. 

5. I am listening to Gretchin Rubin's Better Than Before, a book about habits, and I find it all so fascinating! I am have been taking notes, so once I'm done I'll come back with more. I feel like I have a lot of really, really good habits but the bad ones that I struggle to break are the ones bringing me down the most. Hopefully this will provide some motivation to, say, stop the afternoon snacking problem I currently have. 

6. I am not getting a new car quite yet, but by ten-year-old CRV is starting to get up there in miles and is making some weird noises. Once we can start leaving home again I know there will only be road trips for awhile, so I'll need something reliable. Part of me wants to do it RIGHT now, since there's zero percent financing, but part of me would rather wait a few months until my student loans are paid off (no, I'm not assuming the government is doing it, I'll be forking over the cash myself). I hem and haw at all purchases over about $40, so needless to say, buying a car is a big damn deal (and my husband and I keep all that separate, so this is really my thing). I am only on my second car ever, my first car lasted nearly seven or eight years of heavy commuting (a black Saturn Ion that I bought all by myself at twenty). I find the car buying process unnecessarily stressful- I think because my first purchase was so intense as a young person. Last time I did it through AAA and was in an out faster than the ink dried on the paperwork. It's just soooooo much money, compared to, like, books and dresses, my usual splurges. Ugh. Adulting. 

7. I really tried to be more proactive about MLK day this year, instead of the standard performative Instagram posts that were everywhere. I bought two books by black authors (Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendell and THe Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans), donated a few dollars to the SPLC, and made sure to have a talk about Dr. King and BLM with Sawyer (I'm sure my conservatives neighbors got a real kick out of hearing a little boy talk about Breonna Taylor while we were out walking Ellie, haha). I'm so glad I don't teach elementary anymore- the standard rhetoric that surrounds ways of teaching things like this has to change. 

8. Are you following the @zillowgonewild account on Instagram yet? If not, do it! 

When I Read (and Some Tips for Reading More)

[hoop available on my etsy shop]

If something is important to you, you'll make time for it (within reason and with exception). I frequently get asked how I read so much, and the simple explanation is that I prioritize it, since it brings me a lot of joy. I kept a log of when I read for a week, both with Sawyer and by myself- consistency is key for both of us! He reads a lot by himself, too, but when he gets older and has his own damn blog he can handle those particulars. I love tracking time- it helps me reflect on my efficiency and troubleshoot any areas that I could be more productive during. I think right now, when it comes to reading, I'm doing a pretty good job of fitting it in, but, like with anything you love, I wish I could do it more often! 

Note: I didn't count anything less than 15 minutes and I also don't consider listening to audiobooks as time spent reading

Monday 1/4
3-3:20 Three picture books with Sawyer that he brought down and read to me after his independent room time
7:35- 8:00 The Unlikely Thru-Hiker
8:10-8:20 James and the Giant Peach with Sawyer at bedtime
9:45-10:15 The Unlikely Thru-Hiker

Tuesday 1/5
3-3:20 Junie B. Jones with Sawyer (we take turns reading pages)
2-2:20 Reviewed some Plath Poems for the upcoming week
8:10-8:20 James and the Giant Peach with Sawyer at bedtime
9:45-10:15 The Unlikely Thru Hiker

Wednesday 1/6
7:30-8:00pm The Unlikely Thru Hiker
8:10-8:20 James and the Giant Peach with Sawyer at bedtime
9:45-10:25 The Unlikely Thru-Hiker
(plus alllllll the news allllll day)

Thursday 1/7
12:45-1:00 Junie B. Jones with Sawyer
5:15-5:40 The Unlikely Thru-Hiker
8:10-8:20 James and the Giant Peach with Sawyer and bedtime
9:45-10:30 The Unlikely Thru-Hiker (finished)

Friday 1/8
2:55-3:10 Parties, Pain and Work
3:30-3:45 Junie B. Jones with Sawyer
8:10-8:25 James and the Giant Peach with Sawyer
9:40-10:15 Parties, Pain and Work 

Saturday 1/9
8:00-8:40 AM Parties, Pain and Work
1-1:30 Parties, Pain, and Work
3-6pm (intermittently, between chores, walks, etc...) Parties, Pain and Work
7:15-8:00 Parties, Pain, and Work
8:15-8:30 James and the Giant Peach with Sawyer
8:40-9:05 Parties, Pain and Work (finish)

Sunday 1/10
1:30-1:45 Junie B. Jones with Sawyer
8:10-8:20 James and the Giant Peach with Sawyer
9:45-10:10 The Bell Jar

Total w/ Sawyer 2 hours and 45 minutes
Total by myself 5 hours and 40 minutes
Total: 8 hours and 25 minutes

So, based on this and just, you know, a life full of reading, here are some things that help me read more: 

1. I find a time of day that works best Right now, it's mostly at night, since work and home consumes my day time.

2. Get your kids on board I don't count the books I read with Sawyer in my yearly total, but the time we spend reading is an investment in lots of ways. It's gotten him into the hobby, which is also important for his emerging literacy, but it's also now fun for him to sit on the couch and snuggle with me while we both read out own things.

3. *Brace yourself* Watch less TV! I watched about two hours of stuff last week (an episode of The Great British Baker and the documentary The Weight of Gold). I have limited time and there's no way I can read the amount I want to if I watch things as well. That's a personal preference, though, as I know there are lots of great things to watch that people really love! 

4. Always have a book handy I didn't record these little snippets, but if I'm early to pick up a takeout order I try to have a book with me instead of sitting on my phone. If Sawyer is taking forever to get ready for bed, I'll read a few pages. This doesn't always work for every book, but I tend to be reading two at once, with one's purpose to work for these sorts of moments. 

5. Join a book club! I am currently in two, both of which meet once a month. That guarantees me two books right there. It's something to look forward to and also keeps you focused on getting through what you need to.

6. Have options readily available! I take this a bit too far, clocking in at over 100 unread books, but I have found that sometimes I'm not in the mood what I had planned to read next, so having alternatives is nice. 

7. Add it to your to-do list I've written about this before, but I am very driven by the accountability a to-do list requires, so if I add "read 100 pages" on my weekend list, I best be getting it done. 

8. Read at breakfast (or lunch or whatever) I can't do this on weekdays, but I really love sitting down with my coffee and cereal with my book on Saturdays and Sundays.

9. Have a reading date! Sawyer and I have done this a few times before, but we'll go sit at a park or a coffee shop (pre-COVID) and read for awhile. It feel so special and almost luxurious to leave the house with the purpose of just reading. 

10. Commit to ten minutes One days where I'm super swamped or feeling to antsy to sit and read, I'll plan on just giving it ten minutes (this tip is super applicable to working out, too). Chances are ten minutes will come and go and you'll get in a solid reading session.

11. Plant a tree Okay, not a real one, but consider downloading the Forest App if your phone gets in the way of your reading time. I will plan a tree for thirty minutes and it really helps me focus on my book and not the news, email, or social media. If you don't want to spend the few bucks on the app, put on a timer stick your phone in a different room on silent. 

Nine Extremely Trivial Things I Really Really Really Love Right Now

I started adding these to my Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts  post the other day, but then realized I had enough things to share to make up an entire post. If you're in the market for some random things, have at it  (these aren't affiliate links- I'm too lazy to try to make money here):

1. Tronco Water Bottle- I am one of those irrational people who think they'll genuinely drink more water if they are deeply in  love with their water bottles. 

2. Dragon Fit Leggings- I wear these a lot (while drinking from my water bottle). 

3. Mrs. Vickie's Farmhouse White Cheddar Chips- I'm not a huge chip person, but I love cheese-flavored kettle chips. I could eat an entire bag in one sitting, but since I have to save room for cereal, I don't.

4. Liquid Skin- I have really really dry skin in general, but my hands and feet crack in the winter no matter what I do. Liquid Skin to the rescue! 

5. Purple Shampoo- I am not loyal to any brand yet, but I started using it once a week to help make blond highlights less brassy until I get my COVID vaccine and go back to my stylist. 

6. Down Dog Yoga's Nidra Meditation for Sleep- I am huge fan of the Down Dog App for yoga and have been a paid subscriber for years. Recently I have started listening to their meditation for sleep and it's really helped me. I think I'm at the point now after a few weeks where my brain has been conditioned to conk out once I hear the lady's voice. 

7. The Josiah Eidmann Studios Etsy Shop- I probably shouldn't technically list this yet, since the earrings I ordered haven't arrived, but I can't get enough of their jewelry. I swear, I'd wear 90% of their inventory! And it's reasonably priced, which makes it even better.

8. Slides Carnival- I have to create tons and tons and tons of Slides Presentations for work, and I love the free templates this site provides. There are so many options! 

9. Under-Desk Bike Pedals- I sit WAY more than I'd like to now that I am teaching remotely, but I'm not into a standing desk. I picked up these pedals the other day and I really like them! They up my heart rate about 10 beats per minute and, according to my Fitbit, I burn about 10-15 calories an hour more doing it intermittently (I don't pedal the whole time; I have my students work intermittently on independent activities and do it then when I am on mute). 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I currently have like 3 drafted posts almost ready to publish and yet I cannot get it together enough to wrap things up. Actually, I have so many creative ideas and projects on the cusp of happening that I'm insanely frustrated that I can't bring anything to fruition. 

2. It's been a really slow, annoying week. Nothing monumentally awful has happened, but I feel like my energy is lagging and I'm not getting enough done, which is basically the worst feeling for me (and consequently makes me irritable). I think part of it was that Sawyer started school this week (I did last week and had a week to ease back in by myself, which was so nice), so I've been back to running around the house like crazy all day, making sure I'm getting my work done, he's doing what he needs to do, and my house isn't falling apart. IT'S FINE.

3. I have been having a very Sylvia Plathy-y week (ha! Maybe that's why I feel  so bla). I read a biography about her time in NYC over the weekend, am rereading The Bell Jar, and am teaching her poems to my students right now. I have a deep, deep appreciation for her, but I know that trying to get teenagers to tackle poetry from afar will be a daunting task. Hopefully I can get them excited, at least a little bit.

4. I don't know about where you live, but here in Southern California we are having a warm (highs are in the 70s, with 80s on the way), dry (1 day of rain) winter. I hate the rain- I am terrified of my roof leaking (despite what others may think, I promise I'm not a selfish person... I'm just very anxious about the ensuing stress during COVID... luckily I don't control the weather) and Ellie will drive us all crazy without her walks. I am worried about the drought, though, since I am a Central Valley girl at heart. 

5. Yesterday my son was listening to a lesson on Martin Luther King Jr and he looked up and told me he didn't believe in God. Well, then. We don't discuss religion much in our house, but I have mentioned it a bit more lately because of all the nativity scenes because of the holidays. I have never once told him I don't believe in God (still trying to figure out where I fall on the whole religious-agnostic-atheism spectrum), so for him to just make that claim seemed very dramatic and sudden. It's definitely a part of parenting I'm not super excited to tackle... can't we just talk about reproduction or something easy instead?

6. I make peanut butter balls (kind of luck buckeyes) every Christmas and usually give them to basically everyone. I make HUNDREDS. This year I still bought enough ingredients to make that many, despite not seeing 90% of my usual recipient list. I don't want the excess to go to waste, so guess who has to make peanut butter balls? Me. When it's not even Christmas! Ugh. I just don't believe in baking Christmas things when it's not Christmas time (and why did I even decide they're seasonal?). 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

{Note: I started this post before the chaos of today, and finished it after]
1. Happy New Year! Day 6 and I can say it's off to an excellent start, really. The Georgia run-off is going well, my first week back at work has gone smoothly (kids ALL showing up to our Google Meets, participating, turning stuff in, actually making facial expressions to show they're engaged, etc...), some much-needed personal boundaries have happened recently, I've made sleep more of a priority, and I've already done yoga twice (in addition to my normal cardio). It's helped so much that Sawyer doesn't go back until next week, so I've had a week to get adjusted on my own first. I honestly feel better this week than I have this entire school year, so I'll take it! 

2. Speaking of Sawyer, he was supposed to go back to a hybrid schedule next Tuesday, but after 72352395 board meetings in the last month his district decided to delay the start after some last-minute direction came from the governor's office that provides stronger parameters and, you guessed it, funding for those who participate. I am sad that he is still at home and doesn't get to be around kids or his wonderful teacher, but the COVID19 numbers are out of control in our county, region, and state. ICUs are full to nearly 100% capacity and more people have died in the last weekend than in the entire month of October (in our county). Sure, kids are statistically less likely to be severely infected, but they still can carry it home. Many of our lower-income communities have families that live in multi-generational dwellings, meaning if healthy little second-grade Joe gets it and has the sniffles he can still give it to Grandma who lives with them, who could get severely sick or worse. Nearly every day I have another student who tells me their family members are sick and I worry so much for them. There is no good solution, but I will say that state and federal governments need to speed up vaccinations. 

3. I'm starting poetry with my students this week, since we have to do a unit on Sylvia Plath. I am super upfront with them about my general dislike of poetry, but how it generally grows on me as we start getting into things. I compare it to a salad- I'm never really jazzed to sit down and eat one, but once I get going I appreciate the nutrients and like parts of it (like the cheese and croutons). I think it's good for the kids to know that I don't enjoy everything we read, but can still find ways to appreciate what the writers are doing. Because of my dislike, I've developed strategies and approaches from the perspective of a reluctant reader that helps the kids too, I think. 

4. I'm reading Derick Lugo's The Unlikely Thru-Hiker right now and while it's written a little too conversationally for me, I love the escape it offers as he treks through the Appalachian Trail. 


5. I am so disappointed, angry, and disgusted by the events that unfolded at the Capital today. Surprised? Not at all. I'm not going to repeat what's been said a million times by others, as most of them will have done it more eloquently than I, but the fact that there have been so little repercussions for these [white] people, is unacceptable. I mean they were in Nancy Pelosi's office. They were flying a confederate flag. They made an absolute mockery out of what little democratic integrity we have left. 

Cleaning the Pool on New Year's Eve

(One of my goals for 2021 is to write more personal essay-type posts here, and this is the first. I am not giving up the bookish content, don't worry! Nonfiction writing has interested me more and more over the past few years, so I'm having some fun using this space as a place to experiment). 

At 11:40 PM on New Year's Eve I peeled by body off of the exceptionally comfy couch and went outside to skim leaves off the top of the pool (despite already having done it that afternoon). It was cold, by Southern California standards, and my flip flops weren't helping the cause. And yet, here I was, being a responsible, albeit neurotic, homeowner. 

While I was out trying to locate leaves in the darkness, I realized that this, being out practically in the middle of the night on a holiday, was basically me, and my issues, in a nutshell. On one level I was hunting for soggy foliage for extremely practical reasons- my pool guy had taken a week off for the holidays and I'm not strong enough to open the top of container in the pool pump that collects the debris the vacuum sucks in. If this contraption becomes too full the pump is taxed and the whole system won't work and could potentially break, resulting in a hefty bill and accompanying extra stress. The only way to prevent this is by skimming the top of the water so that leaves and whatnot don't sink to the bottom of the pool. See? Super practical and responsible. Gold stars all-around, bring on the Girl Scout badge for taking care of business. 

Unfortunately, I have become slightly obsessed with keeping my pool clean and making sure it runs properly, because I am a tad bit terrified of my pool guy and of the drama a large pool repair will cause. He hates my beautiful landscaping because of the various little petals, leaves, seed pods, etc... that it drops in the water year-round and has asked me more than once to cut back. I told him I'd have a tree or two removed, but I never really fully intended to do so after about a day of considering it (it's my yard! We live in suburbia and the houses are very close together... my trees and bushes provide privacy as well as beauty, thanks). To compensate, and not make him mad, I obsessively skim the water so that when he comes on Fridays it's as spotless as possible. 

Yes. That's right. I am worried that the man I pay to keep my pool clean is going to be mad if it's not clean when he comes. Believe me, it sounds ridiculous to my own ears as well. But what if he quits and I have to find someone new and what if they mess up the expensive equipment or charge a lot more or don't come when they're supposed to? I think that I've mistakenly given the perception to friends, family, and acquaintances who don't truly know me that I don't care what other people think. That's not entirely true- I mean, I clean my pool before the pool guy comes because I don't want to make him mad. Clearly, I'm a people a pleaser, to some degree (it gets complicated: see below). A resentful, self-aware people-pleaser, but one nonetheless. Sure, I may post sassy little status updates and post the occasional no-nonsense meme, but really, the opinions of others kind of matter. 

If we're getting down the buts and bolts of things, I don't care what everyone thinks- I have to make that complicated too, so it seems. I care what my friend and I call "the inner circle" thinks- the family members who you are close to and the friends you don't clean your house much for when they come to visit. I deeply value those relationships and their opinions matter to me. Then there are the people who are closely connected to specific things that I am responsible for that I care about the opinions of- my students and their parents (I'm in charge of their learning), certain administrators and people involved in the IB program at my school (again, student learning and well-being), healthcare professionals involved in the care of my son and I (I'm supposed to keep us healthy), my son's teachers (I'm responsible for helping my kid learn), my tax lady (I handle our household finances), and, you guessed it... the pool guy... since I'm -yay- in charge of keeping the pool clean. The in-between people? Cousins I haven't seen in years? Other family members I don't ever truly talk to? High school friends I exchange simple pleasantries with on social media? The woman who works at the grocery store? Colleagues in different departments I smile hello to in the hall and keep walking by? Those people can think whatever they'd like about me- I don't have the capacity to dwell on their opinions (which they're of course entitled to). I can't have all those tabs open in my head- it'll slow me down and I need all my energy for pool skimming. 

Also tied to this is an intense "if I say I'm going to do something then I'm going to do it" stick-to-it-ness that is both a blessing and a curse. If we're being honest, it's one part dedication but also one part stubbornness. This unwillingness to back down is what has caused me to fall in the stupid pool twice, once hurting my leg pretty badly hopping around on planters to get the tough-to-clean spots, and another in my full work clothes and makeup in between classes. This has also caused me to wake up between 4:30 and 5:00 most mornings to confirm that the pool has kicked on and I can hear the water flowing. This may have also resulted in my getting up and skimming the pool at 4:45 in the morning once, when I was up all night listening to the wind howl, knowing the pool would be a mess when in started running at 4:36 am (no, I did not fall in wearing pajamas). In all fairness, this quality has also brought me success in life and a great deal of productivity, so it's not all negative. Unchecked, though? It can be a problem (clearly). 

Let's sum this up: I am a responsible, neurotic, obsessive, anxious, stubborn, persistent, sort-of-people-pleaser who literally loses sleep over a giant cement hole filled with water outside. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? The pool equipment breaks causing me thousands of dollars and causing exceptional drama in my household? And my pool guy inevitably quits?  Pretty much.

If you need me, I'll probably be outside skimming the pool. 

Goals for 2021 (and January)

Every year I make resolutions, and every year I accomplish a few fully, make progress on a few more, and fail the handful left over. As far as 2020 goes, I'm not even looking back to see what I intended. Other than meeting my reading goal, I just don't even want to bother evaluating whatever else I intended. It feels weird, now, here on January 1st, deciding how to tackle this upcoming year, since it still feels like such a limbo-existence we're living in. When will we get back to "normal"? May? August? October? 2025? I'm guessing planning a trip that involves a passport and an airplane would be a bad idea (and travel is often a resolution of mine). 

So, what I've tentatively decided to do is to create some pretty basic, manageable, goals for the year, but really focus on a month-to-month system (and no more than five things). Sometimes what we think we need in January isn't what we really need to focus on in October, right? 

So in terms of the year I want to:
1. Meet my Goodreads goal of 74 books
2. Continue to make an effort to be social, whatever that may look like 
3. Increase non-cardio exercise (but also not really decrease the cardio, either, since I need that for my mental health)
4. Make distance learning the best experience it can be for my students at work and my own son at home
5. Be a consistent dog owner when it comes to her exercise, grooming, behavior, and training (we have a seven-month-old golden retriever puppy)
6. Bring in more of a personal essay type feel to the blog (and blog more in general)

For January, my specific things to work on are:
1. Exercise: make sure to get on the treadmill at least twenty times and do at least 10 yoga or Melissa Wood Health workouts
2. Stay on top of grading (as in never feel like I am totally drowning... believe, me that is a quantifiable measure)
3. Create two new embroidery pieces (whether for Etsy or not)
4. Add more fruits and vegetables into lunch and dinner 
5. Get at an average of at least 6 hours and 40 minutes of actual sleep time, per my Fitbit, a night (I go to bed at a normal time, but wake up early to walk the dog and also just sleep poorly)

(These will all be posted in my office area as a constant reminder) 

Best Reads of 2020 (Plus Runners Up, Surprises, and a Few Audiobooks)

It's getting close to midnight here on New Year's Eve and I'm trying to keep myself awake (while not watching The Hobbit with my son and husband, since reading it once was enough Tolkien to last me a lifetime). I'm determined, though- I a seeing this bitch to the door. Good riddance, 2020.

I did manage to meet my Goodreads goal of 73 books a few hours ago, sealing the deal with a few hours to spare. Guess that what means? Yup. Lots of stats, lists, and, of course, my top ten of the year.

If I am being honest, I am deeply disappointed in myself that I didn't surpass 73, since I read 72 last year and was ACTUALLY ALLOWED TO GO PLACES. It feels like I should have had oodles of extra time to read in excess, comparatively, but I guess I chose to doomscroll, try to distract my son from the fact that he never gets to hang out with kids his own age, and deal with a puppy (all three things not being quite so relevant in 2019). I know we're supposed to be "gentle" with ourselves while we sit in a bubble bath having "me time," but that's not how I roll. I have a long list of grievances with myself from 2020, but we won't go there tonight. Where we'll go: all the books. 

2020 Stats:

73 books
22,977 pages (63 pages/day)

Fiction: 46 books
Nonfiction: 27 books

Female authors: 48
Male authors: 27

BIPOC authors: 22

A Few Good Audiobooks (not counted in my yearly total of 73):
Open Book by Jessica Simpson
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
One Life by Meghan Rapinoe

Some Good Surprises
Misery by Stephen King
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell 
Portage: A Family, A Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life by Sue Leaf

Some Bad Surprises
The Cactus League by Emily Nemens
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (sorrrrryyyyyy)
The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes (Elissa Sloan)

And now, the moment we've been waiting for... 
Top Ten of 2020 (in no particular order)

1. The Body: A Guide for Inhabitants by Bill Bryson Bryson thoroughly discusses every component of the body in his typical "I can make pocket lint fascinating" style. 
2. Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell Mitchell can do no wrong, as far as I'm concerned. This kaleidoscopic novel details the rise and fall of a British rock band that offers a stellar story told is flawless prose. 
3. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado This book was deeply disturbing for me, making it a tough read. That being said, the response garnered my immediate respect. 
4. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong This novel is intense, heartbreaking, and written impeccably.
5. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett Bennett is a great writer, as we see once again in her sophomore novel, but the story kept me interested from the first page to the last.
6. Portage: A Family, A Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life by Sue Leaf I read this in the early summer when I should have been getting ready to go on a trip, so I deeply appreciated Leaf's way of making her canoeing adventures so vivid and reflective. 
7. Writers & Lovers by Lily King I loved King's last novel, but this one coupled novel writing and restaurant life, which are two topics I love to read about. 
8. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell This was the first book I read of the year and I still think about it to this day. A family owns an alligator theme park in the swamps of Florida and have to work to save it, and their family. There's a massive twist at the end that I didn't see that totally rocked my world. 
9. Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl This is one of my favorite memoirs of all-time, as Reichl's recounting of her time as editor of Gourmet magazine is a perfect blend of food, publishing, and New York City.
10. Rodham by Curtiss Sittenfeld- This fictional account of what Hillary's life would have been if she would have passed on Bill amused me to no end. I thought Sittenfeld totally nailed Clinton and was fascinated playing the "what if" myself. 

Runners Up:
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead 
- Make it Scream, Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison
- Me by Elton John
- Lost Children Archive by 
- The Rise of the Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn

All 73: