Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: February 2021

It’s March…again. Did last year’s March ever really leave, though? Isn’t this really just March II: The Marchening? It’s all been one hideously long March, hasn’t it? What a weird, weird year it’s been.

February went by in a massive snowstorm here. It snowed, and then it snowed some more, and then it snowed a little more and it just kept snowing! (See below for a picture of a waist-high snowdrift in my backyard!) I was also plagued with migraines and a flare-up of my back, so while we were all cozy and tucked in at home, I was also tucked in with a whole heap of pain. Not the greatest month, but I’m still here, and still reading, albeit slowly. Migraines don’t make for the best of reading conditions, and some of the books I read this month slowed me way down, but that happens. Hopefully your February was a little smoother than mine!

Let’s get this recap started, shall we?

What I Read in February 2021

1. The Pauper and the Prince by Mark Twain (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

2. The Boyfriend Project by Farah Rochon

3. A Girl Named Anna by Lizzy Barber

4. The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (no review; read for book club)

5. Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn

7. The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

8. Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, and Ryan Estrada

9. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

10. Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez (review to come)

11. The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden by Ivette Soler (no review)

12. Paddington at Large by Michael Bond (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

13. Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey (review to come)

Slowish month, but that’s okay, I had a lot of challenges. The Lost took up quite a bit of time- eight days, I think, which is a significant portion of a short month! I didn’t review The Revisioners; it’s outside of the scope of my normal reading and more literary than I usually tend towards, so I didn’t feel as though I totally understood it as well as I needed to in order to write a competent review. And I didn’t review The Edible Front Yard; I was more just looking for some gardening inspiration. My daughter and I got through a ton of books together this month, though! 😊

Reading Challenge Updates

Banned Book Club and The Prince and the Pauper were for my parenting group reading challenge! Four left for this challenge. The only books I read from my own shelves this month were the ones I read to my daughter; I’ll try better to get to my own books a little more in March!

State of the Goodreads TBR

Last month, I clocked in at 187 books; this month, I’m down to 179!!! I’m pretty excited about that. Six of my books this month came from my TBR. I took a few off, including one I started from the library but that just ended up being so terribly written that I couldn’t bring myself to continue. It happens!

Books I Acquired in February 2021

I won a prize package from the Writing Slices blog, which included a copy of Cash Flow for Creators by Michael W. Lucas (and a bunch of other cool stuff! Thanks, Alex!!!). I think that was it for the month; we’re still not going out anywhere, and it’s been too cold and snowy to visit any of the nearby Little Free Libraries.

Bookish Things I Did in February 2021

It was a pretty good month, bookish-event-ly speaking! I attended a Zoom presentation by Talia Lavin, author of Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy (which I haven’t read yet, but it’s on my TBR). SUPER fascinating presentation about an extremely disturbing topic. I also attended a Zoom presentation by author Jodi Eichler-Levine, author of Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis: How Jews Craft Resilience and Create Community. It really made me miss crafting seriously (which I haven’t had time for this past year!), and it made me think about possibly getting together some sort of crafting group when all of this is over. I attended an online interview of Tara Westover, author of Educated, presented by our local parent education group. The quality wasn’t great, unfortunately; the sound and video weren’t synced up, which made it a little hard to follow along, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I signed up to attend my library’s virtual Own Voices book club Zoom, where we would discuss The Revisioners, but I hadn’t realized that that date fell on Purim, so I opted to skip the meeting and virtually attend Purim services instead. I tried, though! And I did read the book! And, while not entirely book-related (though I did add one book to my TBR mentioned during the second presentation), I did attend two virtual tours of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel (phew. Even virtually, it’s heavy. I held it together during the first presentation until we got to the Children’s Memorial, and then I lost it).

Current Podcast Love

Still moseying through Judaism Unbound with Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg. I’m behind in Leaving Eden with Gavriel Ha’Cohen and Sadie Carpenter; between migraines and my back being messed up, I haven’t had any good exercise time lately, so no time on the bike to listen to this awesome podcast. Hoping for better in March!

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal!

Real Life Stuff

Phew! What a month. Snow, snow, more snow, lots of Zoom presentations, a little bit of reading, a WHOLE lot of pain (boooooooooooooooooo). I’m not sure if my back is acting up because I’ve spent so much time not moving due to migraines, or because of the constant weather fluctuations around here (we’ve recently gone from temperatures in the single digits to some days in the 40s and 50s, which is normally a huge problem for my pain levels), or because my back just feels like being a jerk, but I’m hurting pretty badly right now. But it was the migraines that sent me back to the doctor a few days ago. I had one last month, and then another one this month that just. wouldn’t. die. I hate it when my back hurts, but I actually prefer that over migraines. Migraines just ruin every single thing about the entire day and leave me feeling crummy for several days afterwards. The migraines probably aren’t helped by my stress levels; my girl cat’s sensitive stomach has been acting up. She’s old and probably doesn’t have a ton of time left, so I’m doing everything I can to keep her happy and comfortable, but it’s still hard.

Still no vaccines on the horizon for us, but both my parents have received their first shot, and I was able to help my mother-in-law secure an appointment! She got her first shot a few days ago as well. That made me super excited. 😊  The more people protected, the better! Next comes shot #2 for all of them; it seems like that’s the tough one with the higher instance of side effects, so I’m crossing my fingers they’ll breeze on through.

What’s on the calendar for me in March? Two more presentations from Yad Vashem, what should be my final study session with my rabbi, a doctor appointment for my son. Hopefully less snow and some above-freezing temperatures for us. I’m SO ready to put my swing out on the back patio and spend my days reading there. That probably won’t happen until late May; the weather around here can be seriously temperamental until very late spring (we’ve even had some stupidly chilly Junes!), but I can at least pull my folding chairs out onto the front porch and read on the warmer days, and heck, I’ll take that. Digging in the garden probably won’t start happening until April, but a girl can dream, right?

We’ve circled back around and made an entire year of this pandemic, folks. Be gentle with yourselves; it’s not easy to think of all that we’ve lost over this past year. But keep looking forward; this will end one day, we’ll get through this, and really, there’s so much to look forward to. Hang in there, my friends.

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: November 2020

It’s December already! Although, technically, I think it’s actually still March, right??? What a weird year.

Slow but steady month around here, folks- nothing new. My stomach is still recovering from the stress it went through with the elections earlier this month. Our Covid numbers are horrible where I am. 11-12,000 cases per day, 150-200 deaths each day. My daughter’s school decided to go virtual for the week after Thanksgiving; I’m thinking they’re hoping that anyone that’s going to be symptomatic will be by the time the kids go back. I wish they’d go all virtual until after winter break; I think that would be the smarter, safer move for everyone, especially since yesterday’s return to virtual school involved stories from all the students about where they traveled to to spend Thanksgiving and with whom they spent it (one girl is *still* out of state and will be all week). It’s all such a nightmare.

But we’re doing okay and staying healthy at the Not-At-the-Library-Because-They’ve-Returned-to-Curbside-Pickup-Only household! I’m not getting much reading time in; I can’t read during the day because I also have to pay attention to my daughter’s classes so I can keep her on track and reinforce what she’s learning, and then we do extra stuff when she’s released from her virtual learning sessions. But I’m making my way through my last stash of library books and then I’ll move on to reading some from my own shelves, because I promised I’d be better about that this year, and I will. 😊

Let’s get this recap started, shall we?

What I Read in November 2020

1. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

2. Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter

3. The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

4. The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

5. Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen

6. Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen

7. The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright

8. The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

9. An Introduction to Judaism by Nicholas de Lange (no review)

Quiet month around here! Five of these were from my TBR; two were read-alouds (don’t bother with The Frog Princess; the writing was so awkward and the dialogue so stilted that it made for a kind of terrible read-aloud); one was an impulse grab. An Introduction to Judaism was a short book but a slow read; the author is at Cambridge and writes in such an academic style (and in a way that shows he is way, way smarter than I could ever dream of being!) that getting through this took all month, especially with my limited reading time. Six fiction; three nonfiction.

Reading Challenge Updates

Nothing from my own shelves this month (other than the two read-alouds, but that’s solely because I’ve been anticipating another library shut down, so I grabbed a STACK of books), but I’ll do my best to get back to those next!

State of the Goodreads TBR

173 last month; 176 this month! Not too much creep, so that makes me happy! We’ll see what this looks like next month, haha! All those ‘Best Books of 2020’ and ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2021’ lists should be making their way to the internet soon. Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapppp…

Books I Acquired in November 2020

Um…none? I don’t think?

Bookish Things I Did in November 2020

So, not entirely bookish, but at the beginning of the month, I virtually attended a seminar on the future of Holocaust education in the US, which was both sobering and super interesting, and I added a book or two to my TBR from this (one of which I have checked out from the library right now!).

Current Podcast Love

Still listening to Judaism Unbound, and I’ve added in Stuff Jews Should Know, which is super fun and informative. 😊 The iTunes podcast player keeps shutting it down and telling me some episodes are temporarily unavailable, which is annoying and wakes me up at night, so I’ll only be able to listen to this one at certain times.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal, although I’m trying to keep a Judaism-themed book going at all times (I have one on stories from the Talmud next), which also factors into my other reading time, so this kind of counts? Maybe?

Real Life Stuff

Just another month of quarantine life around here! We just did virtual parent-teacher conferences for my daughter; she’s doing really well in everything (especially reading!), so I’m very happy with her progress- not that I doubted it, because I’m literally RIGHT BEHIND HER at all times during school, haha! Her math has improved as well; I really love the curriculum the school uses, as I feel it teaches math in such a logical way. She has such a better grasp on math than I did at her age, which makes me incredibly happy. She’s also started picking up chapter books and reading them on her own, which is a HUGE deal. She’s currently enjoying the Bad Kitty series; I get such joy out of watching her read and giggle.

My son has taken up cooking as a hobby, so I hang out with him in the kitchen and help out when he needs advice (I also chop onions for him; he reacts pretty badly to them!). He’s made some seriously amazing food so far, including a baked ziti that was restaurant-quality and better than anything I’ve cooked in the last eight months. I highly approve of this new hobby!

My husband and I have been watching The Path on Hulu at night, and since it’s about what basically amounts to a Scientology-like cult, you know I’m in. I’ve been knitting hats for a mobile homeless shelter (for whenever things go back to normal) while we watch (at least most nights! Some nights I’m too tired), so I’m at least trying to make the best of that time.

Thanksgiving was quiet here. I made a turkey-flavored seitan with white bean mushroom gravy, my son helped make not-crab cakes (made with black-eyed peas; he also made crab cakes for the rest of the family) and a red pepper tomato mayo sauce, cheese potatoes, green beans, and rolls. We had a store-bought cheesecake for dessert. Everything was SUPER delicious! I’ve spent half of my adult life living out of state from the rest of my family, so Thanksgiving with just the four of us was really nothing new. We did meet up with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for a masked, distanced outdoor walk afterwards, but that was the extent of our gathering. No virus-sharing for us!

That’s about it for us, it was a quiet month. Hang in there, friends. We’ve got Hanukkah and Christmas coming up, still distanced- except for the people who won’t, and that’s going to overwhelm our healthcare system. The small hospital where I was born is at capacity with HALF of their patients in there because of Covid. Don’t be one of those people; wear your mask, keep your distance, celebrate virtually so we can all be here to celebrate in person next year. And, as always, fight for justice and equality wherever you go; elevate the voices that get pushed out of the way; lift as you climb. Society doesn’t function to the best of its ability unless we’re all able to participate equally.  

Happy reading, friends! May your December be full of warmth, light, love, and amazing books.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: October 2020

Goodness. What a month. Have you ever had a month where you get so little reading done, it’s laughable? That was this month. It’s just been one thing after another. Nothing major, just pandemic-life business. Daughter’s virtual school blends into daughter’s home school which fades into Zoom class which turns into errands and then dinner and then daughter’s bedtime and then husband wants to watch something on TV. And there goes my entire day! We’ve had a LOT of days like this, with errands, chores, online meetings, and household tasks (like overhauling my daughters room, AGAIN; three hours of life I’ll never get back, AGAIN) that have just sucked away my reading time. It’s not been a great reading month for me.

Things are crazy all over, though; my state is doing terribly in regards to case numbers and people are screaming like toddlers about their rights to cough all over nursing home residents (“They’re old! They were going to die anyway! Disabled people can just stay home! It’s my RIGHT to eat in a restaurant!!!”), and I just don’t understand anything anymore. I can’t imagine November is going to be any calmer, but I’m glad I have plenty of books to get lost in when I have time for them, because boy, the real world stinks right now.

Let’s focus on recapping October, shall we?

What I Read in October 2020

1. Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today by Ari Goldman (no review)

2. Pointe by Brandy Colbert

3. The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

4. Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World by Lynne Martin

5. Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

7. This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick

8. Year of the Rabbit by Tian Veasna (no review)

9. Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul by Naomi Levy (no review)

Seriously about the worst month of reading, numbers-wise, that I’ve had since my daughter was a non-sleeping infant/toddler! But if we look behind the numbers, The Librarian of Auschwitz was emotionally taxing and took me a bit to work through. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is information-dense and isn’t a quick read at all. This Is Where You Belong was a great read but a bit bittersweet, since literally none of its suggestions can be implemented right now, and then there’s the constant doomscrolling I’ve been engaged in, and the fact that my husband wants to watch TV with me every night and the fact that I have a hard time reading when all of first grade is taking place about five and a half feet in front of me (and I spend probably a good three+ hours a day engaging with my daughter with either classwork for her virtual schooling or doing extra school stuff that her school just isn’t able to do virtually, due to time constraints). It’s been a month, seriously. Home Sweet Anywhere and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle came from my own shelves, so I’m happy with that progress! There’s actually SPACE on my shelf by the TV!

Reading Challenge Updates

In the Read From My Own Shelves challenge, I’m down two books (and took another one off, because two pages in, I realized this was absolutely not the book for me). These books will head off to a Little Free Library near me as soon as I can remember to grab them before I head out the door on a walk!

State of the Goodreads TBR

170 last month, 173 this month. Four of the books I read this month came off of my TBR. Slow month for everything!

Books I Acquired in October 2020

Hmmm. I grabbed a bunch of books for my daughter on a quick trip to the thrift store, including a copy of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, which I’m reading out loud to her now. I’ll give her this stack of books for the holidays; she’s started to pick up chapter books on her own, without being prompted (a HUGE deal; she’s a good reader but hasn’t seemed hugely motivated to read unprompted in the past, so I’m extremely excited about this!!!), so hopefully these will be a welcome gift. I didn’t find anything for myself on that trip, but that’s okay, because I won an ARC of Katie Henry’s This Will Be Funny Someday on Twitter! I adore her, so I’m looking forward to reading this. 😊

Bookish Things I Did in October 2020

Do things even exist anymore???

Current Podcast Love

Still making my way through Judaism Unbound. I lay awake through all of the interview with author Eric Weiner the other night and ended up adding the book he was promoting to my TBR. 😊

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

Whew. Just an entirely crazy month. So far my daughter’s school *seems* to be doing okay (that we know of…) but there have been multiple cases of Covid in other local schools, and a few neighboring districts have returned to virtual learning due to an explosion of cases (including the high school I attended). We’ve chosen for my daughter to remain at home; I no longer harbor any optimism that she’ll attend in-person school this year. My son’s freshman year of college will remain at home as well, and he’s considering changing his major to marketing from music education, because he sees more of a future in that. I’m sad for him; he loved helping behind the scenes with high school choir so much.

My daughter has specials on Wednesday: art, music, and gym class. She was really self-conscious about doing art by herself, so I’ve joined her, doing some sort of drawing along with her every Wednesday. I’m not exactly the greatest artist, and I haven’t done any kind of art at all since I was about sixteen (and that was something I made for work; prior to that, I’d quit drawing around age 12). I’ve been posting my art creations on Instagram as part of what I’ve titled #ShittyArtWednesday (along with another set of doodles I did to keep my heart rate from exploding due to rage during the final debate), so if you’re interested in viewing some not-at-all-professional art, check out my Instagram.

That’s really about it! We’ve already had several days of snow; no accumulation, but the long, cold days of winter (let’s face it, winter lasts from late October to late May here) have begun. My anxiety has been out of control this month, but it’s increasingly more and more difficult to tell if it’s anxiety or fear about legit things. Mostly I’m just sad about the state of everything.

Hang in there, folks. I don’t think November will be any easier, especially since it’s not safe to gather for American Thanksgiving, but people will anyway, and healthcare workers like my friends Jen W. and Jen T. and Jen B. and Alicia S. will all be working themselves to the bone and coming away with PTSD because of it. Think of them before you gather; things are getting desperate and they don’t need you on their wards, because an unfortunate amount of people leave there only to be stashed in portable morgues, and the rest leave with permanent organ damage and health challenges science doesn’t yet understand. Be safe, please.

Keep up the fight for justice, friends. So many people are hurting right now; kindness matters, but remember, kindness doesn’t mean suffering hatred and bigotry with a smile on your face. Sometimes the kindest thing of all is to stand up and speak out, loudly. Black Lives Matter. Love is love. Women’s rights and trans rights are human rights. No human being should go to bed hungry, not if they’re out of work, not if they’re here without papers, not if they’re disabled, not if they’re addicted to drugs. Far too many people have lost their humanity and forgotten all of this. Cruelty isn’t attractive, y’all.

May your November be peaceful.

Monthly roundup · reading life

Monthly Roundup: September 2020

Month 438247392838924389792 of the pandemic, folks, with cases on the rise in the US because no one cares anymore, and human lives and suffering mean nothing! It’s utter insanity here. People in my own town are screaming to reopen the schools (while schools a few counties away have had to shut down because their students keep testing positive for Covid-19, and my son’s former high school had to quarantine the entire cross country team because someone went to a meet while awaiting the results of a Covid test that turned out to be positive, but apparently we are incapable of learning anything from anyone and no one will be happy until everyone has permanent lung damage), people are gathering in large groups and breathing and coughing all over each other, and no. one. cares. It’s crazy-making to watch, and I’ve basically been coping by reading every moment I’m not cooking, cleaning, or acting as my six year-old’s office assistant. (Shout-out to all you teachers teaching virtually; you are AMAZING and I love you all.)

I hope you’re all managing to stay sane while the world melts down around us. September seems to have gone by in a flash for me, but time means nothing these days, so maybe it dragged on as long as March seemed to. Who knows? *crazy laughter* Anyway, let’s talk books instead of pandemic.

Ready to recap?

What I Read in September 2020

  1. Living a Life That Matters by Harold S. Kushner (no review)
  2. Nazi Wives: The Women at the Top of Hitler’s Germany by James Wyllie (review to come)
  3. Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger by Louis Sachar (no review, read out loud to my daughter)
  4. Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell
  5. Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
  6. Like No Other by Una LaMarche
  7. In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
  8. Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  9. Overcoming Life’s Disappointments by Harold S. Kushner (no review)
  10. There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar (no review; read out loud to my daughter)
  11. Overground Railroad: The Green Book & Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy A. Taylor
  12. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman
  13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (no review, though I mentioned it here)
  14. Plum Fantastic (Sugar Plum Ballerinas #1) by Whoopi Goldberg and Deborah Underwood (no review, read out loud to my daughter)
  15. Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness by Nathanael Johnson
  16. Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults by Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr
  17. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (review to come)

Not bad for a month of reading. Two of these were from my own shelves, as per my new reading goal of reading my own books. Eight of them came off of my TBR. Three were read-alouds to my daughter; we loved the Louis Sachars, but neither of us really enjoyed the Sugar Plum Ballerinas book (A+ for diverse characters, though!). Ten non-fiction, seven fiction. That’s a pretty good mix.

Reading Challenge Updates

I finished the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge (go me!), so my newest challenge is to read off of my own shelves. I started the challenge late in the month; so far, I only have two read off of my by-the-TV shelf. That’ll increase in October. Watch this space next month for updates! 😊

State of the Goodreads TBR

Like I said, because I’ll be focusing on my own shelves for a bit (and most of the stuff on my TBR comes from the library), this won’t be decreasing at any real rate anytime soon, and that’s something I’m okay with. Last month I had 158 books on here; this month I’m up to 170. The last two library books I have checked out are from my TBR, though, and after I finish those, I’ll read four from my own shelf!

Books I Acquired in September 2020

None!

Bookish Things I Did in September 2020

Nothing but reading on my swing on the back porch every afternoon (and on my chair in the evenings!), but sadly, those days will be coming to an end soon, since the temperatures will be dropping this week. I’m going to miss those hours of quiet outdoor reading…

Current Podcast Love

I’ve been mainly listening to Judaism Unbound, but I find their voices so soothing that it puts me to sleep almost immediately! Hard to get much listening done that way!

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal, whenever that is…

Real Life Stuff

I swear, I wish I had time to keep a journal, because it’s hard to remember what happens when all the days kind of look the same…

My son is doing well with virtual college. My daughter is into the swing of things with virtual first grade learning, and I’m basically acting as her personal assistant, signing her in and out of meetings, keeping an ear out for what she’s doing so I can help her with her schoolwork later on, monitoring her behavior to make sure she stays focused (NOT an easy task!), along with getting my regular housework and cooking done and trying to keep up with this blog. It’s not exactly simple, but we’ve adjusted well and my daughter is doing just fine (perfect score on her reading assessment the other day!!!). Her school is attempting to go back to a hybrid model in the middle of October; she’ll remain entirely virtual because I’m not interested in taking chances with her health, our health, or her teachers health. I feel for the families who are struggling with all of this and feel they have no other choice but to send their kiddos, whether because of the difficulties of virtual learning or due to work or both. Nothing about any of this is optimal for anyone.

Her school district is being really awesome and is participating in a program that hands out food (no income restrictions) to its students; if people don’t participate, they lose funding, so twice a week, we schlep over to the school for a bag of breakfasts and lunches for my daughter. It’s amazing of them; the food is surprisingly healthy and my daughter, who spent all of last year pining for school lunches, is in love (it also takes some of the stress off of me, since I don’t have to figure out what to make her for lunch anymore, and she’s got a pile of healthy snacks she can grab so I don’t have to get up- which sounds like laziness, but it’s really just a benefit for my back, which has been kind of terrible lately. I’m still walking and getting exercise, but getting up and down can be acutely painful, so this helps). They’re doing this all this year, and I’m extremely grateful.

Our other big excitement this month: we got a bird feeder! It sits right outside our living room window and I can watch it from my reading chair. We mostly get house sparrows and song sparrows, but we’ve also had a crow of some sort (it stops by so rarely that I haven’t been able to narrow it down more), a cardinal, some sort of what I think is a warbler, a blue jay, and a few hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder. It’s so fun and relaxing to watch them, though they eat like hogs and are constantly bickering and pecking at each other. I’m looking forward to seeing if the birds we get change or increase in number during the cooler weather.

What’s up in October? Who knows! Our village hasn’t made any decisions about Halloween; I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about taking my daughter out anyway. If everyone wore masks, that would be one thing, but I don’t trust that people will do that (other than in stores where it’s mandated). Either way, we’ve reassured my kiddo that there will be plenty of candy, and we’ll make some special food and watch some kid-appropriate spooky movies. We won’t let her miss out on the fun stuff. 😉

Hang in there, folks. Nothing’s going to get any easier until we work to make it that way, so try not to lose hope; fight with fire for justice and equality for everyone, and keep masking and social distancing, because otherwise, we’re never, ever going to get through this, and people will continue to die and suffer permanent organ damage. There’s been far too much of this already, and it doesn’t have to be like this. ☹

L’shanah tovah, g’mar chatimah tovah, and may you all have a peaceful October filled with amazing reads.

How was your September???

blog tour · fantasy · fiction · YA

#TheWriteReads Presents: Promises Forged (Venators #2) by Devri Walls Blog Tour!

Aloha and welcome to the latest stop on #TheWriteReads’ superawesome blog tour for Promises Forged (Venators #2) by Devri Walls (Brown Books Publishing Group, 2019). If you remember, I was also a stop on the tour for Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) back in March, which at this point is the equivalent of seventy billion years ago, so feel free to click on my first review to give your brain a refresher. I’m here today with a first chapter review, and Devri Walls still has it going on in the sequel to her story of college students whisked away to a land where everything supernatural is real and they have powers they never expected.

When we rejoin our friends, we meet up with Zio, who is connected with her dragon Maegon via her magical amulet. Much to Zio’s delight, Maegon is about to wipe out the Venators. The addition of Beltran, a skilled shifter whom Zio has wanted to control for ages, turned her hunt for them into more of a battle, but now they’re almost in her pocket. Unexpectedly, Maegon is wounded, allowing the Venators to escape. Zio’s rage flares before she manages to control herself and then reshape her plans.

In the dungeon, tied to a chair and unsure of what happened (and exactly how much he had to drink last night) is Ryker, Rune’s ne’er-do-well frat-boy brother. The glowing tattoos on his arms begin to clue him in that this might be more than a frathouse prank or a lesson his sister’s trying to teach him about the evils of partying too much. The entrance of three short, squatty, very non-human creatures brings him back to some bad experiences of his childhood, and he vomits before his anger overtakes him. Escape isn’t difficult, and even when his only weapons against goblins armed with swords and axes are pieces of his broken chair, he’s still aware that those goblins…are scared of him. Hmm. As Zio marches in and explains that he’s awoken in a new dimension where everything supernatural is real, Ryker learns that his sister is there too, along with Grey, his archenemy, but as Zio tells it, they’re working for the evil side. And no, Ryker cannot be taken to them.

YIKES!

Devri Walls’ storytelling style is consistent here, and as much as fantasy isn’t usually my genre of choice, it felt almost like greeting an old friend- albeit one covered in glowing tattoos and cackling evilly alongside a pet dragon- to come back to this series again. The almost immediate mention of Beltran, the trickster-like shapeshifter, piqued my curiosity, as he was my favorite character from Magic Unleashed. Leading with the villainous Zio? NICE. And following that with a scene from Ryker’s point of view? SO well done, as we learned so very little about Ryker in the first story. The info we were privy to came from Rune and Grey, so his point of view here will fill in some gaps for the reader. Is he really as big of a jerk as he seemed? Will he ever learn to appreciate Grey? Are his powers as a Venator as strong as his sister’s? Will accepting that everything supernatural is indeed real finally force him to stop partying so much to cope with his creepy childhood memories?

For fans of the first Venators book, Promises Forged seems to carry on in the same vein, with all the strength of Magic Unleashed‘s worldbuilding. Fantasy isn’t my usual literary home, but Devri Walls definitely has a gift for creating a fascinatingly scary yet intriguing world (that I never want to visit thankyouverymuch!) full of magical and monstrous creatures (none of which I really want to meet!), and her first chapter had me right back in that spooky, drippy dungeon with Ryker annihilating that wooden chair. If you need an escape to a world that maybe makes a little more sense than ours right now, Devri Wall’s Eon in Magic Unleashed and Promises Forged are pretty good choices.

Thanks to TheWriteReads and Devri Walls for including me on this fabulous blog tour!!!

Visit Devri Walls’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow The_WriteReads on Twitter here.

reading life

Comforting Reads for Troubling Times…

Raise your hand if you’re having a hard time reading right now, whatever that means to you.

*raises hand, waves it wildly*

Focusing is difficult. I find myself constantly refreshing various open tabs on my computer, looking for someone or something to make all of this better. And I know that too much time online isn’t good for my ability to focus, but…

Time is also a major factor. Herding my daughter through her schoolwork, helping my son learn to cook (and cooking all the rest of the time), cleaning the mess left by four people and two cats who rarely leave the house, daily hour-long walks with the family- exactly where can I shoehorn reading in???

Some of you are struggling through schoolwork, others are worried about bills and lost jobs, others find themselves with the impossible conundrum of how to care for very young children and still manage a full day of working from home, and so many of us are worried about sick friends and family. It’s impossible, these are impossible demands, and yet here we are, persisting, supporting each other, and doing our best every single day.

We all need a gigantic hug right now (or whatever your preferred form of soothing affection is), so today, I’m serving up some of my favorite comfort reads, which are basically hugs in book form, and who doesn’t love that???

Fiction

What it is: Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith

Why it’s a comfort read: Betty Smith is the author of the beloved classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Joy in the Morning is written in the same clear, fluid style that her fans will instantly recognize. Joy has a similar feel to it. It tells the story of newlyweds Carl and Annie, struggling to make a life together in 1928. Both are young, neither family supports the marriage, and they’re entirely on their own, doing their best to figure things out. Adjust your mindset to what life was like at that time and you’ll find this as charming as I did.

What it is: Fifteen by Beverly Cleary.

Why it’s a comfort read: This is the sweetest romance you will ever read in your life. Fifteen tells the story of a teenage girl’s first love and all the awkward, anxious moments that come along with it. I’ve read this probably more than fifteen times in my life, and each time I appreciate it more. It was first published in 1956 and there are a few bits that are dated (including a friend group trip to Chinatown where Jane is entirely unfamiliar with the food), but it’ll throw you right back into the terrible, wonderful, exhilarating whirlwind of falling in love for the very first time.

What it is: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Why it’s a comfort read: Magic! Gardens with edible flowers that will change what you need them to. An apple tree that throws its fruit at people. Women that can whip up delicacies and concoctions that will not only taste great but will cure what ails you. This is a book you can wrap around yourself like a beautiful silk scarf, that will leave you reaching for a notepad and a spade so you can plan, then plant your own magical garden. Along these lines, you’ll also want to pick up Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman and Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons.

What it is: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Why it’s a comfort read: If you’re sick of politics as they are, this book is politics as it should be, with the addition of one of the most adorable love stories I’ve ever read. International intrigue, love between a British prince and the son of the American president, this gave me ALL the feels and was exactly the antidote to the existential despair that *gestures broadly at everything* was giving me at the time. If you haven’t read this yet, put it on your list immediately.

What it is: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Why it’s a comfort read: Along the lines of Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, this is the story of a very sweet first love set against the background of a Parisian boarding school for international students. Anna is struggling to define herself in an environment she’s not thrilled to be in, but the presence of floppy-haired Etienne helps…a lot. Super adorable and sweet, and a must-read if you love all things French.

What it is: Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

Why it’s a comfort read: Macy and Elliot’s relationship is charming and will have your heart weeping and soaring through the clouds. It’s a friends-to-lovers-to-strangers-to…well, you’ll have to read it to find out, but there’s not much better than hanging out in the (actual) closet and reading with these two characters.

Nonfiction

Who says all comfort reads need to be fiction? I’m a major nonfiction fan, so here are a few nonfiction titles that gave me the warm fuzzies.

What it is: The Lord God Made Them All by James Herriot (and really, ANY James Herriot book works here)

Why it’s a comfort read: James Herriot’s stories of his work as a country vet in post-World War II England are utterly delightful and will give you renewed faith in humanity and the beauty of the natural world. I usually steer clear of animal stories, but his books are the major exception to that rule, they’re that good. You’ll be ready to pack up your life, head off to Yorkshire, and buy a farm on a rolling green hill, scattered with cows and goats by the end of each book. I’ve heard that his books make for great family read-alouds, if you’re looking for a way to pass the time.

What it is: Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick

Why it’s a comfort read: If you’re a woman of a certain age or if you’re younger and read all those books your mom or cool aunt saved from her childhood, this book will be a joyride back to those cozy days of your youth. Who doesn’t love to reminisce about their favorite childhood books?

What it is: A Girl From Yamhill: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary (and its follow-up, My Own Two Feet).

Why it’s a comfort read: Beverly Cleary, iconic children’s and young adult novelist, has detailed her childhood in Depression-era Oregon. Times were tough; her relationship with her mother was often strained; opportunity didn’t come often, when it even bothered. But somehow, Mrs. Cleary managed, and her stories of schoolwork, playing outside with friends, reworking clothing to make new-to-her outfits, and making the best of every situation will have you feeling like this, too, is doable.

*****

Book suggestions are great (and fun to make!), but we all know the best comfort read is something that relaxes us, that isn’t difficult, that we can sink into like a soft feather bed, and what that is differs for everyone. So in this difficult time, when reading may be tougher than normal or next to impossible, it’s okay to retreat to whatever brings you a moment of peace. Reread that series everyone else hates. Pick up Harry Potter for the forty-third time. Revisit that book you loved as a kid, or grab seventeen ebooks in a row by your favorite author. If it’s what helps bring some calm and quiet to your worried, scattered mind, it’s exactly what you need to be reading right now.

What are your favorite comfort reads?

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: April 2020

So March started and then went on and on and on and on, until we were all sure that we were experiencing some sort of bizarre time wizardry and the month actually had 243877234983289 days. And then April started and ended pretty much immediately, leaving us all blinking in deep confusion and wondering what happened. Jeremy Bearimy, anyone???

It’s been another month of weirdness, and we’ve got at least one more to go (and with good reason, because we’re in no shape ready to reopen anything). It’s frustrating and sad difficult to have life be so different, but it’s so, so necessary. The stories I hear from my healthcare worker friends are devastating. Stay home and stay safe, friends.

It’s been an interesting month for reading as well. I’m still only able to read mostly at night, so my reading has slowed so, so much. THAT’S definitely frustrating. I’m doing my best, though, and that’s all I can do right now.

Let’s get this recap started!

Books I Read in April 2020

  1. The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

2. The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

3. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

5. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (no review; read out loud to my daughter. A re-read for me)

6. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

7. Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

9. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

9. Wiving: A Memoir of Loving, then Leaving the Patriarchy by Caitlin Myer (review to come closer to release date)

10. Concealed by Esther Amini

11. Love Starts Here (A Morgan’s Grove Novel #1) by Traci Borum

12. Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis (review to come)

Ehhh, not a great month in terms of numbers, but again, cutting myself all the slack here. I’m also homeschooling and dealing with my now 6 year-old’s big emotions regarding the loss of school, the ability to see her friends/play with other kids/go anywhere other than walks around the neighborhood, cooking, cleaning, helping my son learn to cook, gardening, reading for my class…life is busier than ever around here! We’re all doing the best we can.

Reading Challenge Updates

Not too bad here this month! The stack of books I had checked out from the library were all off of my lists, so I was able to tackle quite a few of the prompts on the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge, and I even added one to the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge, and two to the Book Riot 2020 Read Harder Challenge. Now that I’m through with my library books, though, I’ll have to see what my library offers via ebook that fits into my challenge prompts. I’m up to the challenge!

Here’s what my reading challenges look like right now.

(No change to the second page, so I won’t add that.)

Although I didn’t get that much reading done this month, it almost all went to a challenge, so I’m happy with that!

State of the Goodreads TBR

So, when all of this is over, I’m basically just going to pack my stuff up and move in to the library. It’s the only way I’m going to tackle this TBR, folks.

Last month found me holding steady at 109 books, but thanks to some really great-looking books and a few really inconsiderate ‘awesome things to read when you’re stuck at home!!!1!!!!1’ lists, my Goodreads TBR has ballooned up to a hefty 124 books! (Remember once upon a time when it was down to 78? *weeps gently*) S’alright, though, it just means that someday in the future, I’ll be reading some seriously amazing things. 🙂

Books I Acquired in April 2020

None, with the exception of some Magic Tree House books we picked up from one of the Little Free Libraries during our neighborhood walks. 🙂 My daughter and I will start this series soon; right now, we’re working our way through some old copies of Patricia Reilly Giff’s Polk Street School Kids series, which are fun but occasionally dated, and the kids can be really mean to/about each other. They spark a lot of good conversation about proper behavior and how to treat our friends and neighbors, though!

Bookish Things I Did in April 2020

Uh…I read? At home?

That’s about it.

Current Podcast Love

So, I finished all the back episodes of Unorthodox! I’m trying to keep current on the latest episodes during my solo walks around the neighborhood; the neighbors get to see me laughing like a maniac and nodding along to the wisdom and wit of the hosts. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this show’s new Thursday episodes.

I’m not currently latched on to anything new in particular. Life has been so exhausting lately that instead of listening to a new podcast for ten to fifteen minutes before falling asleep, I begin listening and am out within a minute or two, and even when I wake up during the night, I’m back out within a minute. I’ve got friends who aren’t sleeping well at all, but I’ve been sleeping like the dead, it’s SO weird for me. We’ll see what I’m able to come up with next month, podcast-wise, if anything.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold.

Real Life Stuff

Not entirely how I pictured my daughter’s 6th birthday, but we celebrated anyway! She was thrilled with her new pajamas, new unicorn shirt, and kids’ Kindle Fire (on which she is playing as I type this; that’s about the only way I can get any kind of work done! Although not always, as she narrates every. last. thing. she does on there…) She had a moment during the day where she wasn’t okay and cried on me for about two hours, poor kiddo, but I’m doing my best to keep things as normal as possible and fun for her, including starting a nature journal. She’s super into that and is really enjoying drawing pictures of the things she sees on our walks (aided by the PlantNet app, which helps us identify the wildflowers that have been popping up in neighborhood yards).

I had a rough day on what was supposed to be my son’s final choir concert. That really stank. Right now, he’s planning on going into choral music instruction in college, with the hopes of becoming a choir director, so if that works out, there will be more of his concerts to attend in the future. But what a bummer of a way to end high school. His school is planning on a virtual graduation, followed by a potential ceremony if it’s safe in July. We’ll go pick up (trunk pick up!) his cap and gown the first week of May. Speaking of which…

My son hadn’t had a haircut since NOVEMBER. He has wildly curly hair and has been in that teenage phase of wanting to see what happens when he lets his hair go. As I told him it would, his hair never got long, it just continued to get bushier and grow OUT and not down. He finally gave up on the last Saturday of April and said, “I’ve had enough. You can cut it.” I had no clippers, only scissors, but guys, he looks SO MUCH BETTER! You can actually see his handsome face again. No pictures, I’m respecting his privacy, but he just looks so nice right now. 🙂

My (Re)Introduction to Judaism class continues via Zoom! We only have three sessions left, which makes me so sad, this class is such a meaningful spot in my week. And along those lines… Right before Yom HaShoah, while searching for some schoolbooks in our basement, I found my husband’s copy of The Holocaust Chronicle by John K. Roth et al. It’s an enormous book, the subject is difficult, and my reading time has been reduced to smithereens, but I’m going to be tackling this little by little as part of my learning, because it’s so, so necessary.

The baby owls from the owl cam that I’ve been obsessing over all hatched, and they are RIDICULOUS, OMG. Who knew baby owls were this cute??? I can hardly stand their little floofy feathers and their goofy little faces. Check them out, and keep checking back if Mama is in the box covering them up. She leaves for longer periods of time now and it’s adorable to watch them bob and stumble around the nesting box on their own. I’m going to miss them so much when they’re big enough to fly off on their own!

The calendar is empty again for May, with the exception of a doctor check-up for my daughter. They still want the kids to come in for those, so she and I will be wearing the cloth masks my friend Meghan made for our family (THANK YOU, MEGHAN!!!!!) to attend that, and scrubbing our hands half to death afterwards. Otherwise, we’ll be here at home, learning, reading, walking the neighborhood, gardening, and generally hanging out. As people in lockdown do, in order to keep their friends, family, and neighbors safe and healthy. 🙂

Stay well, friends. Stay safe, stay healthy, take care of yourself and others. Be the kind of person you want others to be to you. Spread love and kindness, put yourself in others’ shoes, be mindful of how your actions affect those around you. It was kindness and love that got Bill Murray out of his Groundhog Day, and it’s the only way we’ll get through ours. Sending you all love from our lockdown hidey-hole!

How was your April???

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: March 2020

Ahhhh, the library. Remember that place? Do you remember ANY places? We used to be able to go places, right?

What a weird, weird millennium this month has been. We started out quietly and have ended up with the majority of us isolated in our homes. To be honest, I saw this coming at the beginning of the month and began preparing accordingly, filling in the few gaps that remained in my pantry (with things like another 50lb bag of bread flour, two pounds of yeast, extra soy sauce, a bulk tub of peanut butter, etc. We’re also well-stocked with toilet paper, so there have been no worries there for us). I also managed a trip to the library the day before it closed, so I still have a stack of books to read- not that I’ve been doing a great job of reading. It’s hard to focus, hard to stop hitting refresh on my computer screen, and I’ve heard plenty of other reader friends say the same thing. So if you’re struggling to get through that stack of books, even though you suddenly find yourself with all the time in the world, you’re absolutely not alone.

Let’s start this roundup, shall we?

Books I Read in March 2020

  1. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

2. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

3. The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon (both of these books were reviewed here)

4. The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

5. The History of Love by Nicola Krauss

6. Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Harold Kushner

7. It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

8. Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship, and Other Leaps of Faith by Anita Diamant

9. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

10. His Hideous Heart by Dahlia Adler et al (those not linked, with the exception of A Little Princess, are reviewed in this post)

11. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

12. In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream by Eric Dregni

Not a great month for reading, and an even worse month for reviewing, but I’m cutting myself ALL OF THE SLACK. Everyone is worried and anxious and scared at this time, and it’s not easy to focus. It took me an entire week to read His Hideous Heart; during normal times, I would’ve blown through that in two or three days. But it’s okay. I’m doing the best I can right now, and so are you.

Reading Challenge Updates

So, the good thing is that everything I have from the library, which is still like six or seven books, are from my reading challenge lists, so I’m still working on that for the time being. After that, though, these will have to be put on hold until things calm down enough for the libraries to re-open. Totally understandable. Fortunately, I’ve got PLENTY of reading material here at the house, along with access to ebooks through my library (some of which will work for my reading challenges!), so I won’t run out of things to read anytime soon.

Here’s what my reading challenges look like right now:

There’s a second page to this, but there’s been no change, it’s still blank, so I won’t post that. Nor will I post this year’s Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge, as there’s been no change to that.

I think I only read five challenge books this month, but that’s okay. This year is different in a lot of ways, and how I go about and complete these challenges is going to look different too. ALL THE SLACK-CUTTING GOES HERE.

State of the Goodreads TBR

Still at 109 books, so it’s holding steady from last month, which is good! I’m not particularly worried about it creeping up right now, though. If I find things I want to add and it makes me happy to add them, I’M ADDING THEM.

Books I Acquired in March 2020

None for me that I can remember, but we did buy a math workbook and a 300-page workbook of first grade material for my daughter. Does that count? 😀

Bookish Things I Did in March 2020

Before the world shut down, March wasn’t a terrible month. I went to a library program where a woman did a historical reenactment as Miep Gies, the woman who helped hide Anne Frank and her family. A few days later, I went back to the library (where they already had out a vat of hand sanitizer) for a program on the rock band Fleetwood Mac, which was SUPER fun and interesting! Everything after that, unfortunately, was cancelled, including Nicola Yoon’s visit, and my Judaism class’s Shabbat. Super bummer, but understandable.

Current Podcast Love

Still listening to and loving Unorthodox! I’m not having as much time to listen as I did before, though, since everyone is home and I don’t want to blast it in the kitchen as I cook…

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

Phew. What a MONTH. And there will probably be more exactly like this, for a while.

The good parts: My husband’s job is perfectly fine and he’s considered essential (his research involves the mouse colonies at the lab, so he’s partially responsible for keeping the mice, which are the culmination of years of research and a LOT of money, alive), so things are okay for us there. He’s working a slightly reduced schedule and sometimes going in at weird times in the lab’s attempt to reduce the amount of people in the lab at any one time, but financially we have zero worries at this time, which makes us very, very fortunate.

The bummers: my son’s senior year. He’s doing mostly okay with this and is enjoying doing school online, but he’s pretty sad about missing all the senior year choir stuff, and I feel really, really sad about this for him. I’m going to miss all his last performances and all the things he’s worked so hard for, including the springtime a capella group. Odds are there will also be no prom (he’s not bothered by this, but I know a lot of other kids are) and no graduation, either. It’s a sad way to end his compulsory education.

My daughter’s kindergarten experience. She’s really missing her friends, her teacher, and the routine of school. We’re doing a full day of schoolwork most days- I homeschooled my son until he was in fourth grade and still have the vast majority of the books I used with him (I kept them specifically in case there was a time when the schools shut down, and boy are they coming in handy), so she’ll be doing well educationally whenever the schools are able to start back up again. We read the first two Molly books in the American Girl series, which led to a lot of really great conversations about rationing and sacrifice and having to make do with what you have (VERY timely right now!), and it helped my daughter to understand better what’s happening and why the grocery stores have empty shelves, and why we can’t afford to waste anything.

My back. UGH. YOU PICKED A FINE TIME TO LEAVE ME, LUCILLE. My back has been utter rubbish the past two weeks. I’ve iced, I’ve heated, I’ve stretched, and still I can’t move without at least wincing and sometimes moaning in pain. It’s come down to me messaging my doctor, and I’m now on a course of prednisone to try to get the swelling down in order to decrease my pain and give me a little better range of motion. Being stuck at home isn’t all that bad for me, but being in that kind of pain was a major downer. Fortunately, the prednisone is making a serious dent, for which I am ridiculously grateful.

My days look like this: wake up, drink coffee, brush teeth and switch from my nighttime sweatpants to my fancy daytime sweatpants, school the girl, lunch, school the girl, walk, clean the kitchen, cook dinner, eat dinner, shower, read, bed. Lather, rinse, repeat (and I’m not complaining; I’m guessing that a lot of your days look similar). I have to say I do envy parents of older kids, those parents who are able to kick back a little and throw whatever you want on TV and not have to worry it’s inappropriate for younger eyes, or who can work on other projects without having to be on Child Destruction Watch or Question Answering Duty every other second. (I seriously, SERIOUSLY feel for the parents who are attempting the impossible in simultaneously homeschooling/supervising schoolwork, working from home, and supervising smaller children. You guys have all my sympathies!) Basically, we’re all struggling in different ways here!

Two things that have been giving me a lot of enjoyment throughout this ordeal:

  1. The Wild Birds Unlimited Barred Owl Cam. We’ve been keeping an eye on this girl since the second week of March. She’s beautiful. Her three eggs probably won’t start hatching until the end of the first week of April, possibly the second, but it’s fun checking in on her and seeing what she’s up to. We’ve caught her with a dead mouse, a squirrel leg, and an earthworm, and sometimes she sharpens her beak on the righthand side of the owl box. Hearing her hoot at other owls in the distance is also pretty wild.

2. The Cornell Lab FeederWatch Cam. These guys, and the waterfowl in the background, can get LOUD. This feeder is often really busy and it’s lovely to watch all the birds- and the stupid squirrels, who constantly try to jump on the platform and often miss, resulting in a huge cartoon-like crashing sound- come and go, and how they interact with each other. It does start to stress me out when the feeder gets low, though!

3. Cincinnati Zoo’s Home Safari. We’re a few behind, but the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens are putting on a ‘home safari’ for the kids stuck at home every day, featuring an appearance by one (or more) of their animals and an educational talk given by the animal’s keepers and handlers. My daughter and I are really enjoying these and look forward to the new ones.

4. Geography Now. Paul Barbato, aka Barby, runs a web series featuring every country (I’m not sure what letter he’s up to now; my daughter and I just finished with the E’s, as we’ve been at this series for a while). Each 10-15 minute video features a fast-paced explanation of a country’s history, demographics, culture, physical geography, and more. Younger kids will need the video paused often so that certain things can be explained to them, but older kids should get most of what he’s saying. We’re using this as part of our schoolwork in conjunction with The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World by Roz Hopkins, which I picked up years ago from a yard sale in hopes of teaching my daughter a little more about the world. The book is colorful and awesome, and we’re learning a lot about all the various different countries. Between the book, googling more of the stuff we find in the book (pictures of landmarks and geographical features, languages, music, etc), and viewing an episode of Geography Now, this takes up a good half hour for us every day, and it’s FUN!

My Introduction to Judaism class is still meeting online. While it’s not the same, it’s still a major uplift for me to learn and connect with my classmates. The synagogue is offering a lot of online meetings as well, and my daughter and I were able to connect for a preschool storytime the other morning, which was really nice for both of us.

So that’s about it! The calendar for April is wide open, with the exception of my daughter’s birthday at the end of the month. She already understands that there will be no party with family and friends, but that once this is done, we’ll both have a party and we’ll do something awesome together as a family to celebrate. It’s yet another bummer in a whole lot of bummers, but I’m glad she’s so accepting and understanding about this. If this had happened even last year, I don’t think she would have been mature enough to get it, so I’m deeply grateful for the growth she’s experienced this year.

Friends, you’re all in my thoughts and in my heart at this difficult time. Reach out- to me, to your friends, to your family, to each other, to members of your community. Being quarantined and isolated doesn’t have to mean being alone. We’re all in this together; we’re each one of us responsible for keeping each other healthy. Staying home and staying apart is difficult, but it’s necessary, and the sooner we all get indoors and stay there, the sooner this will all be over. But we can still meet up in chat rooms, on Zoom and Facetime and all the other awesome virtual places that make this time a little more bearable. Stay away from each other physically, but connect in other ways. This is a group effort here and we’ll get through it by working as a team. ❤ Please let me know in the comments how you’re doing.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay at home, and stay connected, friends. I wish you a safe, healthy, peaceful April.

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: February 2020

Welcome to March! Winter and spring have been playing a bit of tug-of-war in these parts, with snow and icy winds on some days (although the monster snowstorm that had everyone freaking out ended up being a bust of about three inches total) and 50 degrees and rain on other days. I’ve been combating the cold by huddling under my heated blanket with my books on days I don’t have to be out of the house. It’s been nice!

That’s not to say I’ve had as much reading time as I would like- do we ever? Laundry and cooking and errands all still need to be done, kids need to be driven and picked up. I have a bunch of reading, both in the books we have for class and online articles, that I have to do for my class every week, so that takes up most of my Monday reading time. It’s been a busy but all-around pleasant month, I’d say.

Let’s round up some books, shall we?

What I Read in February 2020

  1. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

2. The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel

3. The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth by Ken Krimstein

4. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

5. The Best of Sholom Aleichem by Sholom Aleichem, edited by Irving Howe and Ruth R. Wisse

6. As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg

7. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

8. Let’s Call It A Doomsday by Katie Henry

9. Aleph Isn’t Tough: An Introduction to Hebrew for Adults by Linda Motzkin and Hara Person (this and several other books are included in my post with four mini reviews, found here)

10. Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (no review)

11. How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat

12. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

13. Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg (no review)

14. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (no review, read as part of my own personal Read Harder Challenge)

15. Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) by Devri Walls (review to come, read as part of a blog tour)

Not a bad month, although I do miss the days where I was reading 20+ books a month! Some of the things I’ve been reading lately have taken more mental space, though, so I’ve been reading them more slowly and pausing to look up things I don’t understand or further delve into concepts that intrigue me. Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg, for example, was only 170-some pages and a small-sized book at that, but he’s such an intelligent author that I had to reread things, look things up, pause to write down full paragraphs of things I wanted to remember, etc. Fiction of that length, I could normally blow through in a day, but this book took me several days. Six books ticked off of various reading challenges; it was a much slower month for that.

Reading Challenge Updates

Major slowdown this month! S’alright though, I’m not in a big hurry this year. I’ve been overwhelmed a little with class reading and the stack of library books I brought home last month (I still have three left!!!) and my outside reading for class, plus a book I need to read for an author talk coming up and another one I need to read for a blog tour, plus next month’s book club pick. Throw me a raft, I’m drowning here, people!!!

Here’s what my challenges look like right now.

(I only have books read for THIS page, so I won’t post the blank second page…)

Slowly but surely!

State of the Goodreads TBR

OY. 109 books, people. I’M DROWNING HERE. I’m dreaming of a deserted island, just me, a source of water, food, and shelter, and my TBR. No responsibilities, nothing to do, muscle atrophy no longer exists so I never have to get up and move around again, just endless time to read. Can you believe my TBR was at a cool 81 books a few months ago? *lolsob*

Books I Acquired in February 2020

NONE, thankfully! 😀

Bookish Things I Did in February 2020

It was a good month for bookish things! I heard author Andrew Solomon speak about mental health midmonth; if you’ve never read him before, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity is incredible (he has others that I really want to read as well). And our monthly library book discussion group discussed In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park. It was a lively discussion and we were all pretty horrified by the living situations there. I came to the group having read several other books on North Korea, whereas this was the first for most members.

I also attended a lecture by Dr. Ross Greene, psychologist and author of books like The Explosive Child. He had a lot of really poignant things to say about kids with challenging behaviors, so at some point, I’m going to read his books for further information.

Current Podcast Love

Still listening to Unorthodox (and loving it!) and probably will be for a few months more, at the rate I’m going. Once the weather warms up, I’ll listen to it while I walk, which might help. I have a list of things to listen to next, but who knows when that will be!

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

So I thought maybe last month I’d let this go for a bit, but I ended up grabbing the copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez that had been lingering on my shelf for like fifteen years at this point.

I should have let it linger longer.

Not a huge fan of this one. I didn’t consider it any kind of epic love story at all, just kind of…a guy with a bizarre lifelong obsession with a woman who couldn’t really have cared less. Also, the guy ended up being a weirdo creeper who was sleeping with the teenager he was supposed to be a guardian of when he was in his 70’s, and there was a lot of talk about bowels (like this example sentence: ‘But the decisiveness of her message shook him to his very marrow, and when he walked into the cool shadows of the drawing room he did not have time to think about the miracle he was experiencing because his intestines suddenly filled in an explosion of painful foam.’), and a mention of liking the scent of one’s own asparagus pee.

So, you know, you can totally see why it’s a classic…

That said, I’m marking it down as the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge prompt of a classic you didn’t read in school. Done!

Not sure what I’ll read next for this; maybe I’ll actually take this month off to play catch up…

Real Life Stuff

Busy month! We attended my son’s school play, The Foreigner, which was hilariously funny. I seriously had tears during a few of the scenes. Part of it was just knowing the kids, but mostly it was because they’re so talented and played their roles so very well. If you ever get a chance to see this play, DO IT. It’s fabulous.

It’s been a busy month for my daughter’s Daisy scout troop, with a lot of different events. She loves it so much, and I’m glad that she’s enjoying it and that her troop is so active. I’m so grateful to her troop leader; I don’t think I could do what she does, so I need to tell her how awesome she is. 🙂

I’m still loving every second of my Introduction to Judaism class. It’s all so moving and resonates with me deeply. I’m getting to know some of the other members in my class and I come home each week invigorated, inspired, and proud of myself for making this leap. I’m so glad I signed up for this. We have a class Shabbat dinner, followed by services, in mid-March and I’m REALLY looking forward to that!!!

March in general is already shaping up to be ridiculously busy. There’s a documentary I’m wanting to see (I missed the one in February due to weather). I’m going to see a presentation on Anne Frank at the library, along with a presentation on Fleetwood Mac. My daughter’s school is performing a musical, so that should be cute, and the school also has what’s known as Heritage Night, where the students and families can share their cultural background via food, music, presentations, etc. Author Nicola Yoon is coming to my area mid-month, there’s a local library book sale (because I totally need MORE books to read right now!), my son has a choir performance, and my library book discussion group will be discussing The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff. SHEESH. Can anyone figure out where I’ll squeeze in time to read???

Here’s to the coming of longer days and good health (begone, corona virus!) for everyone in March!!! How was your February?

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: January 2020

Welcome to February!

Where I live, January has been cold, gray, and icy as heck. We got some snow, nothing massive, but enough that it got icy and crunchy really fast, and we’re still skating all over the place every time we step outside the front door. My driveway is an icy death trap and I live in fear each time I need to leave the house. My biggest fantasy these days involves winning the lottery (not that we play…) so I can install a heated driveway. Flip the switch to turn it on, leave it until everything is melted, turn it off. (Uh, there may need to be some sort of advanced drainage/water vacuum system in there as well, if we don’t want to be right back at the beginning once all that melted snow and ice refreeze.) A girl can dream, right?

It’s been a quiet month for reading around here; I’ve been busy getting a lot of house things in order and working on some other projects, so I haven’t had as much reading time as I would have liked. Let’s check that out, shall we?

What I Read in January 2020

1. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

2. Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer (now nominated for an Edgar Award!!!)

3. The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

4. I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn

5. I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

6. The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing by Adam P. Frankel

7. In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreams Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language by Arika Okrent

8. The Color of Love by Marra B. Gad

9. The Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

10. Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

11. Tangled by Emma Chase

12. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

13. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

14. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

15. Opera For Dummies by David Pogue and Scott Speck (no review, read as part of my own personal Read Harder challenge)

Not a bad month in terms of quality of books. Twelve of these fit prompts for the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge; one was an impulse grab off the New Books shelf; five were YA (there are a lot of great YA picks for reading challenges, and I definitely find myself reading more YA when I’m participating in various challenges); two memoirs; one historical fiction; four nonfiction (this is a really low number for me for nonfiction, but I like that reading challenges force me to read more fiction. I’d be happy reading nothing but nonfiction the rest of my life, but I’m striving to be more balanced here).

Reading Challenge Updates

And here we are! I’m deep into the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge; I like that I’m reading new authors, considering new subjects, visiting new places in a fictional sense. Here’s what my list looks like so far:

Twelve books knocked off this challenge! Just over one-fifth of the way done. I’m happy with that.

State of the Goodreads TBR

*gulp*

It’s not been a great month for my poor TBR. I’ve added so, so many books, what with my fellow bloggers always reading such interesting things, and all these “You’ll Quite Literally DIE If You Don’t Read These Specific Books Being Published In 2020” lists coming out, and award winners and nominees being announced. My TBR started the month at a respectable 81 books, but has since ballooned up to a much more daunting 102. YIKES. I like to keep it under 100, but right now, I’m engaging with a lot of books for reading challenges and for the class I’m taking, so I know it’s going to go up more before it goes down. Quick, everyone leave me alone and do all my housework for me and exercise for me so I can get some reading done!!!

Books I Acquired in January 2020

My daughter and I stopped by a local thrift store on what turned out to be half price day and came home with these books, a huge stack of children’s books, and two dresses for me for only seven dollars! (I wear mostly skirts and dresses and leggings these days, with the occasional yoga pants; jeans pull really badly at my right hip and increase my pain, so dressing this way is, for me, basically the fancier equivalent of sweatpants. Looking nice is merely a side effect!) The books are:

To Be A Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Hanna’s Daughters: A Novel of Three Generations by Marianne Fredricksson

Missing Max by Karen Young

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

I also grabbed a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish History and Culture by Benjamin Blech, which I’ve read before but not for a very long time. A refresher never hurts!

Bookish Things I Did in January 2020

It was back to the Library Book Discussion Group with me this month! Besides the librarian, who’s a few years younger than me, I’m the youngest group member by about ten years, but I love it. This month, we read The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict, about the actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr. I hadn’t known much about her before reading this, and the book led to some interesting discussion. The librarian also let us know that there’s a documentary about Hedy Lamarr on Netflix right now, titled Bombshell. I watched it this weekend while attacking some of my giant mending pile and it’s really interesting, if you’re into history and looking for something to watch.

Current Podcast Love

Still working my way through back episodes of Tablet Magazine’s Unorthodox; still loving it! I ended up having so many problems with my Podbean app shutting down and not playing stuff that I switched over to the Stitcher app. I don’t like that app as much as I liked how Podbean worked (when it worked), but it’ll do.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

I’ve finally finished Opera For Dummies: A Reference for the Rest of Us by David Pogue and Scott Speck. The CD that came with the book ended up being so pitted and scratched that it wouldn’t play, but I used Youtube to view and listen to the performances, and they’re all quite lovely. I’d love to be able to attend an opera at some point, and I’m particularly intrigued by Don Giovanni, mostly because of the final scene. I don’t know that I’ll ever be one of those people with season tickets for the opera (mostly because $$$$), but I like knowing more about it. The book itself is a little dated and occasionally makes jokes that haven’t aged well (it was originally published in 1997 and so, in this world, the internet barely exists and you need to actually call the opera box office to buy tickets, which seems like such a quaint concept these days…), including some sexist, fatphobic, and homophobic jokes, so consider yourself warned.

And now that I’ve finished, I’m using Opera For Dummies as the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt about a book on a subject you know nothing about (see above graphic in the Reading Challenge section). I knew nothing about opera beforehand, and now I know random things like the stereotype of operas being full of women wearing horned helmets comes from a single opera (Wagner’s Die Walküre, part of the Ring Cycle group of operas), what recitative is, the definition of an aria, what surtitles are, and that you too can chat about opera in groups of opera fans on America Online- if you need help, pick up a copy of America Online For Dummies! (I did say the book was dated.)

I’ve got more to say on my personal Read Harder Challenge in a minute…

Real Life Stuff

The kids going back to school got interrupted with my daughter being sick not long after. Nothing serious, just a random virus that left her with a fever and feeling run down, but it definitely threw my schedule off (poor kiddo, she even put herself down for a nap. Normally, she’s climbing the walls, so if she’s voluntarily going to sleep, you know she doesn’t feel good. I’m anticipating more of this, because her best friend at school came back today after being absent for illness…).

I’ve been trying to keep the house up a little better- not that it was awful before, but I’ve been on a little bit of an organizing streak. I cleared off a shelf in one of my living room bookshelves so I can put my sewing basket and my mending there. It’s the shelf right across from my chair, so my mending is just sitting there, STARING AT ME, which is much better than being tucked away in the bedroom- which is where it used to live and how it grew to such a ridiculous height. I kept putting it off, but now that I’m looking at it all the time, I’m actually getting it done. I even pulled out my sewing machine and turned a pair of torn-up pants into shorts for my daughter and put a satin binding on a blanket for my son (the cheap binding it came with torn and frayed beyond repair in the wash). And I took a grease-stained shirt of my daughter’s and, instead of turning it into rags, covered up the stains with a few heart patches (and added a few extra hearts):

I am seriously the world’s worst photographer, but you get the idea.

That took a looooooooong time to do, as I hand-stitched everything, but she was SO excited; she loves hearts, and this made her really happy. I also patched up an old bra, whose fabric between the side straps had basically shredded, by covering the straps with knit fabric. It worked; I’m wearing it today. 😀

My (Re)Introduction to Judaism course began and it’s so fascinating! It’s a pretty big group, I think about 40 people, and though we’ve only had one class so far, we had some pretty great discussions. I’ve got several books for the class and there’s a lot of suggestions of supplementary reading material, all of which I desperately want to read. I may bypass some of my previously planned personal Read Harder Challenge in order to fit some of this material in while I’m taking the class, so we’ll see. I’m very much looking forward to learning more most Sunday nights through May!

February is already shaping up to be busy. I’ll have three classes this month; my son’s school’s theater is putting on performances of The Foreigner, which we’re looking forward to seeing; my daughter’s elementary school will have a talent show, which I’m sure will be adorable. The author Andrew Solomon is coming to speak in my area again mid-month, so I’m looking forward to hearing him for the second time. There’s a local showing of the documentary Sky and Ground, about a Syrian-Kurdish family seeking asylum, that I’d like to go see, and my son has a choir performance. My Library Book Discussion group is reading nonfiction about North Korea this month, and my daughter has a Daisy Scout meeting and a tea party. I’m exhausted just looking at my calendar this month!!! I’m crossing my fingers I find ANY time to read…

I hope your January got you off to a wonderful, fresh start to the year, and that your February will be full of love, laughter, and excellent reading material. Read on, friends!