Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: December 2020

Fare thee well, 2020, and may the door hit you twice on the way out. Let’s cross our fingers that 2021 will be a better year than…you know…whatever that mess was. *glances nervously behind me*

December started out to be about the slowest reading and blogging month I’ve had yet. Having far too much to do resulted in so little time to read- with a bit of a reprieve at the end. Yay, winter break! Not having much reading time grates on me, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I can’t create more time, and I can’t delegate any of the tasks I need to do, and I can’t create more quiet space for myself in the times where I’d like to read but can’t focus because it’s too loud in the house. (Even as I write this, I have 2348348932479832 things I need to get done today, including multiple errands that will take me out of the house, and the television is on across the room. Story of my life these days! At least no one is screaming.) Seriously, these vaccines cannot roll out fast enough, and I’d like to order one child-safe version so my daughter can go back to school in person for at least SOME of second grade next school year!

But if that’s my biggest complaint, I’m doing pretty great. A dear friend has had Covid and seems to have fallen into the long hauler category, and I’m worried about her, as well as her family member who isn’t doing well. So many others are struggling and suffering for so many reasons, and my frustrations pale in comparison.

Anyway. Let’s get this monthly roundup- small as it is!- started, shall we?

What I Read in December 2020

1. The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism by Katherine Stewart

2. Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

3. The Drawing Lesson: A Graphic Novel That Teaches You How to Draw by Mark Crilley

4. What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper

5. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness by Rebecca Lerner

7. The Land of Truth: Talmud Tales, Timeless Teachings by Jeffrey L. Rubenstein (no review)

8. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t by Stephen R. Prothero

9. Chicago History for Kids: Triumphs and Tragedies of the Windy City, Includes 21 Activities by Owen J. Hurd (no review)

10. Julie by Jean Craighead George (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

11. Meet You Under the Stars by Traci Borum

12. Looking Back: A Book of Memories by Lois Lowry (no review)

13. Come Back to Me by Mila Gray

14. The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy (review to come)

I enjoyed most of what I read this month, so that’s great! The last three books came from my own shelves. Go me! Religious Literacy took me a long time to get through, solely because it was information-dense, which makes it more difficult for me to focus on (same for The Land of Truth). The Drawing Lesson made a MASSIVE difference in my drawings- I felt like it taught me so, so much, and I’ve been hearing the author in my head as I’ve been drawing with my daughter (you can see my latest drawings on my Instagram; there’s definitely been improvement!). What the Night Sings is still ringing in my head as well; it’s such a powerful, devastating, beautiful book, and I’m so glad I read it.

Now. Julie of the Wolves. Some of you probably remember this as a childhood classic. Maybe you even had to read it for school. (I never enjoyed books about nature when I was young, so I avoided it, and it never ended up on any of our lists at school.) I have a large book with all three books from the series crammed into one, and so I’m reading it to my daughter, and it hasn’t held up particularly well. My brilliant friend Sandy noted this in a better way than I ever could. Be sure to click on the review by Martha Stackhouse; she picks apart this book in an authoritative way and you shouldn’t miss that. Julie of the Wolves and the subsequent books in the series highlight the absolute necessity of the Own Voices movement, and my daughter and I are having plenty of conversations about the inaccuracies in the book and who gets to tell what stories as I read to her. She’s a huge fan of PBS’s Molly of Denali (highly recommended, especially the episode titled ‘Grandpa’s Drum.’ Get the tissues ready; I cry every time we watch this one). Huge thanks to Sandy for making me aware of the issues with these books before I started reading them to my daughter.

Reading Challenge Updates

I did manage to complete the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge earlier this year, a massive feat in this dumpster fire of a year, and I’m pretty proud of that. Here’s my final list:

Tada! I had to switch up some of the books I’d originally planned to read, simply because my access to other libraries was curtailed due to the pandemic. A bummer, but again, as far as problems go, not the worst to have. I’m just proud of being able to finish this one at all!

What’s next in terms of challenges for 2021? The only formal challenge I’ll be participating in this year is a challenge my longtime online parenting group is putting on. Twelve books, one book for every month (but they don’t have to be read in order and we can get through them at our own pace!), and the suggestions are fairly simple. I’m super excited about this! All my other reading will pingpong back and forth from my Goodreads TBR to my own shelves. I’m going to try to read one book from my own shelves for every book I read from the library, but we’ll see how that goes.

Something else I do throughout the year is keep track of where my books are set on my living room map of the world, by placing a marker on each country in which a book I read is set or about (each country gets only one peg, though I sometimes read multiple books set there). Here’s a (crummy) picture of how my map ended up this year:

I’m happy with all the books I read set in Asia and especially southern Asia; that was new for me this year. Europe is almost always featured heavily, but I definitely need to pick up the pace on South America and Africa! (I don’t necessarily try to vary the locations where my books are set; this is just how it ends up.) Who knows how things will go this year, with my reading looking different than other years due to being restricted to only one library.

State of the Goodreads TBR

From 176 last month to 187 this month! Those end-of-the-year book lists are killer!

Books I Acquired in December 2020

I don’t *think* I acquired any new books this month… I never receive books as holiday gifts, solely because I read so much that no one wants to take the chance of getting me a book I’ve already read, which is pretty smart!

Bookish Things I Did in December 2020

I’ve been able to attend several webinars via Zoom that clued me in to a few books I want to read, one on continuing Holocaust education and another on the future of Judaism now that it’s been forced to make a large digital leap (more on this below!). I so appreciate these opportunities to learn different things and, of course, find more great books to read!

Current Podcast Love

I’m still slowly making my way through Judaism Unbound with Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg. That second Zoom webinar I attended featured Dan Libenson as the main presenter, and it was fantastic to see and hear him in a different format than I usually do! He even referred to a few different episodes of the podcast, which I had actually listened to, which was kind of funny, because out of the several hundred people logged into this webinar, I was one of the few who was there due to the podcast (most of the rest were attending because of their association with the organization putting the webinar on). Dan and Lex are absolutely brilliant and sometimes I have a hard time keeping up with them because they’re so incredibly intelligent, but I learn a lot from this podcast and am really enjoying it.

I’ve also started exercising regularly, and on the days I use my exercise bike in the bedroom, I’ve been listening to the Leaving Eden podcast with Gavriel Ha’Cohen and Sadie Carpenter, about Sadie’s rejection of her IFB church upbringing (similar to, but with some differences from the Duggar family’s ATI cult group). It’s funny and heartbreaking and dark and intriguing as heck, and I cannot recommend this one highly enough if you’re interested in cults and niche religious movements.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

What a busy month! Lots of various holiday preparation and activities around here; studying for my Judaism class (which continues to be awesome and I love it so much). Lots of cleaning and organizing around the house. Lots of cooking (latkes!) and baking (cookies!) as usual. I was able to see my parents- masked, distanced, and standing apart on the front porch- briefly. I cut my daughter’s hair from almost waist-length to shoulder-length, and it’s so cute! (Both kids are rockin’ the mom cut right now!) I’ve started exercising recently in the hopes that at least *some* of my clothing will still fit when the pandemic is over and also in the hopes that my body will stop looking like a semi-melted candle. (A girl can dream, right?) My kids are enjoying this break from school and the exhaustion that is virtual learning- and so am I. It’s hard to be constantly monitoring my daughter’s behavior AND academic performance while also trying to get my own stuff done. COME ON, VACCINES FOR KIDS!!!!!!!!!!

What’s next for 2021? WHO KNOWS??????????? It’s hard to make any predictions about anything right now. I’ve made my peace with the fact that my daughter will be at home for all of first grade; it’s the safest thing for everyone right now, but I’m cautiously hopeful that she’ll see at least some of second grade in person. My husband and son and I will be jumping at the chance to get the vaccine when it’s offered to us (whenever that is!), as will the vast majority of our close family members. I’ve already had quite a few healthcare worker friends receive theirs and I’m beyond thrilled for them!!! There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how distant.

This will be a year of changes for me, in terms of conversion to Judaism (although the timeline on that depends on the pandemic, and that’s fine- pikuach nefesh, the preservation of human life, reigns supreme here and I’m happy to bide my time so that everything is done only when safe for everyone involved) and hopefully being able to get involved at my synagogue in-person. I’m seriously looking forward to that!

In terms of reading, I’m assuming this will be a slow year for the most part, and that’s okay. Nothing to be done about that. I’ll still set my Goodreads goal at 100 books like I do every year, and I *should* be able to meet that, but I highly doubt I’ll get anywhere near the 200-some books I read last year. I’ll consider it a massive win if I even get to 130, simply because I’m just so pressed for time. I wasn’t thrilled with a lot of my reading this year, and I realized that’s because in years when I’m happy with my reading, I skew heavily towards nonfiction, and this year I read way more fiction, solely because it’s easier for my brain to process (and that’s not a slam at people who solely read fiction. I love fiction; I just also really, really love learning new things and I like to put my brain to work! It makes up for all the rest of my life being about taking care of my kids and scrubbing the kitchen counter!).

This is a year of taking it one day at a time, I think. With so much up in the air, everything so uncertain, I’m just going to enjoy the days as they come, read and learn as much as I can, and keep on doing everything I can to keep life as even as possible for my family. I think that’s probably the most we can hope for until things settle down- and hopefully they will (although my heart is still shaken by the suicide bomber that blew up 2nd Street in Nashville. I lived in Metro Nashville for a year and moved out to the suburb we lived in for four, but I’ve walked that street many times, and it hurts to see photos of the devastation. America, what are you letting yourself become???).

I’m wishing you all a safe, healthy 2021. May your year be filled with good health, as much normalcy as we can create, and the beauty of fabulous books to carry us through the ups and downs. Be well, my friends.

6 thoughts on “Monthly roundup: December 2020

  1. I can only imagine how challenging this year was for parents and children with schools closed for most of the year. Sorry to hear about your friend. COVID recently struck my circle, and two of my family members ended up hospitalized and are still on oxygen, but at least at home. This whole pandemic has revealed how under prepared our local governments were/are. The federal government provided each state with vaccine, and local officials had no solid plan in place for distribution. My state missed the deadline, so don’t even get me started. Here’s to a new year, which hopefully is better than the last.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness, I’m sorry about your family members. This virus is so scary. 😦

      There definitely needs to be massive improvement on all levels in the US when it comes to handling these mass outbreaks, because sadly, this probably won’t be our last. South Korea and Australia and New Zealand have done what seems like an excellent job of not letting Covid-19 spread the way we did here in the US; hopefully we can learn from them- or LEARN ANYTHING- when this is over.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Unfortunately, those countries have a much smaller population than the US (NZ 4.9 MM, SK 51.6 MM, AU 25MM, US 331 MM). Hard to compare as when you talk about population size, there are definitely more challenges. Same with the influx of visitors to the country. The US ranks very high there too.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh no, I get that, it’s just that they were testing thousands of people per day before we started testing at all. We had no strategy to deal with this whatsoever. Husband and I watched the documentary Totally Under Control the other night (I think on Hulu) about how we basically fiddled while Rome burned, and it was just so enraging and devastating. He’s watched some of this go down- he’s a scientist- and while everyone’s going to make mistakes while dealing with something of this size, ours went beyond that and is firmly into negligence territory. We could have done so, so much better. Viruses aren’t political and this should never have gotten so bad here. 😦

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  2. Whew! Your post always make me feel exhausted. Sounds like your home life is busy, busy, busy ALL the time. I’m surprised you get any reading done at all! I’m glad you found some books you enjoyed this year, even if it wasn’t as many as usual.

    Good luck with everything in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I AM busy, haha! My mom once spent the night and was there when I was rushing around in the morning, dropping my son off at zero-hour gym and husband at the train, then getting my daughter ready for school and breakfast and getting dinner thrown in the Instant Pot all before dropping daughter off at school, and she was like, “Jeez, mornings move fast around here!” 😀 I sneak reading in whenever I can, though, and it adds up (at least when I’m not doomscrolling the internet!).

      May you have a beautiful 2021! 🙂

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