Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: August 2021

AUGUST, AMIRITE???

This has been a MONTH. Not a horrible one, just busier than I’ve been used to for a long time. Back to school and all its surrounding chaos (AND STRESS) has been kicking my butt, and with the little bit of extra free time, I’ve been using all that to work on house projects that you can’t necessarily get done when your kiddo is home all year doing remote learning. So there hasn’t been much free time to blog or even to read; reading is done in little snatches here and there, but that’s okay. Sometimes life is like that, right?

I’m working hard at getting all my projects completed so that I can have more time to read and update my posts, but in the meantime, bear with me! I’m doing my best. 😊

So let’s get this monthly roundup started, shall we?

Books I Read in August 2021

1. Majesty (American Royals #2) by Katharine McGee

2. The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America by Carol Anderson

3. The Family Next Door: The Heartbreaking Imprisonment of the Thirteen Turpin Siblings and Their Extraordinary Rescue by John Glatt

4. Flunk. Start.: Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology by Sands Hall

5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

7. Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg

8. This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew (the unreviewed books I read for myself were discussed in this catch-up post)

9. Emily’s Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

And that’s it! Like I said, not a fantastic month for reading (but other things got done, so I’m pleased). It’s been so long that I’ve had the house to myself that I’m almost not sure how to handle it when I’m home alone, but I’ve been settling down to work almost every school day and organizing everything. Soon, I’ll be able to curl up in a nice, clean, organized house and read the day away. Hopefully.

Little Women wasn’t as fun of a read this time around as it was the last time I read it, when I was 15. I really loathed Professor Bhaer (just let Jo write whatever she wanted to write and back off!), though I did appreciate that Amy and Laurie were fairly well-matched. From the Mixed-Up Files was just as fun this time around as it’s ever been, and my daughter really loved it as well.

Six of these came from my TBR!

Reading Challenge Updates

Not currently participating in any reading challenges.

State of the Goodreads TBR

SO. 164 books last month, and with this month not being great at doing many bookish things, I’m still right there at 164. Which is actually okay! I’m glad it didn’t explode in this month of so little reading!

Books I Acquired in August 2021

You know, I don’t think I got any new books this month. Which is fine, because I really, really need to read some books from my own shelves!

Bookish Things I Did in August 2021

I actually did something seriously bookish things month! I mentioned last month that I had a meeting with the new rabbi at my synagogue, and that I was really excited about that. I met her, she’s lovely, we had a great chat, and she mentioned that the synagogue library was being reorganized and the books needed to be reshelved. Long story made short, I found myself masked up and helping to reshelve box after box of wonderful Jewish books in the synagogue library last week! It was hot, sweaty, dusty work (and I was thankful for a good day with my back!), but we tackled it all and got everything back on the shelves! It’s nice feeling useful like that, and I appreciated the chance to socialize with the two women working with me (especially since I’ve barely been out of the house for the last year and a half!!!!) and check out the synagogue’s books. 😊

Current Podcast Love

At night, I’m just listening to BBC World Service Radio, but during the day, as I organize and clean, I’m listening to Leaving Eden Podcast, about leaving and deconstruction from the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. Fascinating stuff; Sadie is so open about everything she’s been through and the hard work and self-examination it’s taken to move past the indoctrination she received about who she is/should be and what the world is about, and Gavriel is surprisingly insightful for as young as he is (which isn’t THAT young, but I definitely wasn’t that insightful when I was his age). It’s a really interesting podcast.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

This will start back up again soon! When my house projects are done, I’m planning on picking up something to read during the schoolday, something I need quiet time with no interruptions so I can focus. Looking forward to doing this again!

Real Life Stuff

What a month!

The beginning of August was, I’m not going to lie, really, really stressful. My daughter, who is seven and in the second grade, was at home, learning remotely, all last year. This year, there IS no remote learning, so it was either send her back to school in person, or homeschool her, and she is NOT a good candidate for homeschooling- though I would have done it if I felt it was my only option. Her district mandated wearing masks really before it became any kind of a drama (I wouldn’t have even hesitated a second to pull her out if they hadn’t), but not all districts around us did. Thankfully, the governor stepped in and basically WTF’ed the ones who didn’t and mandated it- I’m so grateful. That still left the school’s lunch policy, however, and I was an absolute wreck thinking of my kiddo being unmasked in a cafeteria with other kids, with the Delta variant having such a higher viral load and being so much more contagious. Like, we’re talking serious, serious wreck. I was ready to pull her out just over that.

I ended up emailing her principal, who outlined the school’s lunch policy for me, and who also let me know that parents are allowed to check their students out every day for lunch. I cried. I wept with complete and utter relief. So every day, I heat up lunch and truck over to the school, where I sign my happy-to-see-me kiddo out, and we have a picnic by the pond behind the school. It’s a nice break in both of our days. She eats quickly enough that she’s able to head back for the post-lunch recess, which also makes her really happy, since she’s finally able to hang out with her friends for the first time since kindergarten, and I feel better knowing she’s getting less exposure. Win-win all around, and so far the school year is off to a good start. My county has the highest vaccination rate in the state, so things aren’t as scary as they could be. I feel for those of you who have children in schools that aren’t masking, where the community isn’t highly vaccinated and whose members aren’t taking this seriously. I’ve been watching the consequences of this in my old county in Tennessee, where a teacher died of Covid this past week, and it’s infuriating.

And now that my daughter is at school all day, I’ve been systematically tearing the house apart. I’ve almost got the kitchen done (still need to clean the fridge), and I have a few things left to do in the living room, but that’s not bad at all since I was able to do a few of the bigger projects over the summer. Next up is my closet, which hasn’t been organized since before the pandemic, and the bathroom, which basically just needs a good hose-down. And then my poor laundry room. That’ll be a project, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s all slow-going, since I have to get dinner pulled together in there, as well as my lunch trip to the school and any errands that have to happen during the day (groceries, runs across town to pick up school forms from the doctor, etc), but I’m definitely making good progress, and I’m happy about it!

What’s next in September? Another year of virtual High Holidays, which…isn’t ideal, but we do what we have to, and I’ll be tuning in to my synagogue’s services from home. I’ll also be attending virtual presentations by authors Wes Moore and Lori Gottlieb, both of which I’m very much looking forward to (and both offered by the local parent education group, for which I’m very grateful!). It looks like another busy month, so who knows who much reading I’ll get done, but we’ll see. It’s all good work.

Hang in there, friends. It’s rough out there again and who knows when it’ll get better again. So much death and suffering. Do your part to safely ride this terrible wave out; my heart breaks for our healthcare workers who see so many terrible things each day, things that could have likely been prevented. Our society is going to be suffering from the ramifications of all of this for years…

Wishing you all a peaceful, healthy September. Be well, my friends.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: July 2021

August is here! My birthday month!

Whew, July was a hot one. Way too many days over 90 for my taste, but I still spent plenty of time on my backyard porch swing, sweating and frantically gulping cups of sugar-free lemonade in order to stay hydrated as I flicked through the pages of my kindle. Icy cold days will be here before we know it, so I’m soaking up all the gross, sweaty outdoor warmth that I can before I no longer have the option.

It’s been a great month for reading! After reorganizing my paper TBR, I decided to start tackling some of the ebooks that have been lingering on there forever, and I’ve been happily downloading library book after library book. A huge portion of my library’s budget has gone to updating their ebook collection since the pandemic started, and I’m grateful for it and for all the many ways they serve our community (new library building coming in a little over a year! I’m so excited! Be prepared to hear a lot more about this from me in the future).

Okay, let’s get this monthly recap going, shall we?

Books I Read in July 2021

1. Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong- and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini

2. Antisemitism: Here and Now by Deborah E. Lipstadt

3. Choosing Judaism: 36 Stories by Bradley Caro Cook and Diana Phillips

4. The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

5. Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

6. Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

7. We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman

8. My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Ariel Sabar

9. This Side of Home by Renée Watson

10. Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky

11. The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (no review)

12. You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

13. Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

14. Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Live as TV’s Most Influential Guru Advises by Robyn Okrant (review to come)

I didn’t review The Secret Chord because I’m still thinking about it. The style is different from Geraldine Brooks’s other books; I still enjoyed it, and it’s incredible, but I’m not actually sure how to sum it up. My daughter and I are STILL plowing through Little Women; it’s a long book and the chapters are long, so it’s a slow read for us (we’re just at the part where Jo is coming back from her time as a governess, where she meets Professor Bhaer), so that’s why I haven’t logged any read-alouds with her.

Thirteen of these books came from my TBR! None from my own shelves this month, which I need to work on. Since I’m starting to read down what’s available at my library, I may continue to do that and then read my own shelves as I wait for interlibrary loan holds. We’ll see. 😉

Reading Challenge Updates

No current challenges going on.

State of the Goodreads TBR

I’m finally starting to make headway on this thing! Last month, my want-to-read list clocked in at 171 books; this month, I’m down to 164 books! That actually feels pretty amazing to me. I haven’t been below the 170s in AGES, so I’m really happy with this!

Books I Acquired in July 2021

WOOHOO, I WENT TO A BOOK SALE!!!

A women’s group that funds scholarships for other women is back to having their massive book sales. Thursday through Saturday, the books are sold individually, but on Sunday, the books go for $10 per paper grocery bag, so you know I’m in. My son and I masked up and came away with two bags of books. Mine are pictured below.

Books to read aloud to my daughter:

Books to learn from:

Books to kick back and dive into:

And Jewish books!!!

And more Jewish books from when I stopped by the used bookstore:

So hooooooooooooo boy, are my shelves groaning this month! This was the first book sale they’ve held since the pandemic started, and I was very glad to see it (though not super thrilled with most of the people being unmasked- LOOKING ESPECIALLY HARD AT YOU, GROSS LADY COUGHING ALL OVER THE PLACE. ARE WE SERIOUSLY GOING BACK TO THAT????????????).

Bookish Things I Did in July 2021

Just the book sale and the stop by the used bookstore, pretty much. That was awesome. 😊

Current Podcast Love

Listening to Gotta Grow Up Sometime! while I bike (indoors; outside is too gross, and I can only do 20 minutes at a time right now, since more flares up my SI joints), and catching up on episodes of Unorthodox at night.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until things go back to normal (whenever THAT is…). I am trying to read a little bit of several Jewish books per day, though.

Real Life Stuff

Emotionally, this has been a really tough month. My son was struggling with our pandemic isolation and ended up moving out to stay with his best friend until vaccines are available for kids my daughter’s age. It was the best option out of a trashbag of awful options. He’s doing better and still being careful, but I miss him like crazy. Not having him here really sucks.

School is creeping closer. The plan has been for my daughter to return to in-person learning this year, but the Delta variant is making me very, very nervous, and now I’m not so sure. Couple that with the fact that we have school districts near us- ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICTS, WHERE KIDS CAN’T GET VACCINATED- making masks optional, and I’m mired in anxiety. Obviously, breakthrough cases can happen, and if a teacher has young kids in a masks-optional environment, even she or he may pose a risk to my kiddo, despite being vaccinated (and that’s if they’re vaccinated! Unvaccinated, they’re an even bigger risk). I’m extremely unhappy about all of this and really unsure about sending my daughter into a school building. While our district has mandated masks for everyone, I’m still extremely apprehensive, and I cannot believe there are parents fighting so hard for schools to take zero precautions. I’m so furious that this is even a debate and that there are parents out there so willing to chance their kids getting long Covid, and so heinously heartless that they don’t care if their kid gets mine sick with a virus that could have lifelong consequences (and that could result in massive medical bills that could ruin our family). What has this society become??? I’m so fucking appalled. I can’t imagine you’re any happier with all of this. I’m predicting that, despite their best efforts, a lot of schools are going to end up going virtual again. It’s not going to be a great year.

Despite all of this, there are good things on the horizon for me. My birthday is coming up and we’ll be able to go kayaking on a local lake, as is our tradition (cancelled last year, since the kayak rentals were closed). My synagogue has a new rabbi; she contacted me to meet up with me, and she graciously agreed to meet with me outside at a local park, since my family isn’t doing anything indoors yet, so that’ll happen soon as well and I’m really looking forward to that. I see a new physiatrist in a few weeks for my garbage back- things have settled down a lot, but I’m still fluctuating right on the edge between MOSTLY OKAY and the danger zone leading into REALLY BAD. I’m having a lot of trouble with my right SI joint and right hip feeling like they’re electrocuting me at random times, which…is about as pleasant as you might think. Fun times. Hopefully the new doc will help; she gets great reviews and patients say she’s a really good listener, so I’m crossing my fingers.

Stay safe out there, friends. Things are getting bad again and I’m worried.

nonfiction

Book Review: Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky

Right along with books, I’ve long been obsessed with languages. I learned a bunch of Japanese when I was in grade school, took four years of Spanish and of French and one of German in high school (our school schedule was structured in a way that made this possible), have been through Duolingo’s Norwegian tree five times now, and am currently picking up some Hebrew. The many different Jewish languages fascinate me as well (there are more than just Yiddish and Hebrew!). And where Jewish language and books meet is Aaron Lansky, founder of the Yiddish Book Center and author of Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books (Algonquin Books, 2005). I’ve known about Mr. Lansky since my son was very young and I read him a children’s book about how Mr. Lansky saved Yiddish books, so when I learned that he had written a book for adults, it immediately went onto my list (and my library had an ebook copy!).

As college students learning Yiddish, Aaron Lansky and his classmates had a difficult time finding reading material. New Yiddish books weren’t really being published, and most libraries didn’t have much, if anything, on their shelves. And then he learned the terrible fate of many of the Yiddish books in existence: they were being thrown out. When elderly Yiddish speakers died, their children, who often couldn’t speak or read the language, didn’t know what to do with the books and so they got tossed. Horrified, Mr. Lansky began collecting these books. As more and more books piled up when people learned that he wanted them, he opened the Yiddish Book Center and began racing against time (and weather, and terrible storage conditions) in order to preserve the literary traditions and history of a world that no longer exists.

It wasn’t an easy job. Funding was always an issue. Space was another problem. Vans that broke down, elderly folks who overfed Mr. Lansky and his crew while sharing the stories of their lives and their books (and putting them hours behind schedule!), people who didn’t seem to understand what he was trying to do, trips to pick up books that were downright dangerous, there were a lot of obstacles in the way, but things always seemed to work out, and today, the Yiddish Book Center is an amazing institution that has helped the modern-day study of Yiddish flourish.

This was such a great read. It’s right at the intersection of a bunch of things I care deeply about- books, languages, Judaism- and Mr. Lansky tells the story of his life in a truly engaging way. The Yiddish language has never been dead; it’s still in use today as a living language, though mainly among the more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) groups, who, in general, don’t engage with the mainly secular literature in the books Mr. Lansky was trying to save (which is why it was so important he collected them; these books are history, culture, linguistics. They’re the legacy of a people who survived some terrible times, but who left behind a rich literary treasure trove). And Yiddish has seen a bit of a resurgence among this current generation of non-Haredi Jews (are there any non-Jews engaging with the language on a widespread basis? I don’t honestly know). There are Yiddish classes in the city near me; the University of Chicago also offers Yiddish courses (my kingdom for a winning lottery ticket so that I could afford to attend!). It makes me happy that non-native speakers are continuing to engage with this beautiful language (to me, it sounds a little like Norwegian, which I think is gorgeous!). (I really love parentheses, if you couldn’t tell. Eesh.)

The people who gave Mr. Lansky their books are deeply moving. So often, they had already lost far too much in their lives; they understood the importance of the books they loved, and they shared their lives and their stories (and their homecooked food!) with the Yiddish Book Center crew. Elderly as they were, many of them went on to help collect books for the Center. You’ll be moved by their stories, their pain, their joy, and their enthusiasm for and dedication to their book collections (seriously, as literary people, we ALL get how important books are! The thought of any books ending up in trash heaps, regardless of whether or not I can read them, makes me scream inside my heart!).

Outwitting History left me in awe of everything Aaron Lansky has accomplished. He saw a problem- a whole culture and history being erased- and dedicated his life to solving it. And in return, scholars of Yiddish visit and contact his center every day. The Center sends Yiddish books all around the world, and Yiddish literature was the first to be digitized. He has done the world a massive service by preserving so many books, and though I don’t speak the language (though at some point, I’d like to learn some!), I’m deeply grateful to him for the books he and his crew have rescued. Imagine what the world would have missed out on had all those books been lost forever.

Visit the website of the Yiddish Book Center here.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: June 2021

Welcome to July! June here started off dry, like drought-style dry, and now we’re all peering out between the raindrop for the Ark…It’s rained and rained and rained and rained. Even in normal years, this would have me going a little nuts, but being stuck in the house with a kiddo too young to be vaccinated? OY. Not to mention, my pain hasn’t gotten any better this month. I’ve had some really nasty days, and sitting is painful again (SERIOUSLY. SITTING. WTF). But I’m taking measures to work on this, and I had some really great things happen this month as well, which I’ll talk about below.

It’s also been a pretty good month for reading! As I expected throughout the winter, I’ve been doing a lot of reading out on my swing- uh, not during the rain, unfortunately, but when it’s dry out, it makes for a lovely reading spot. A pillow, a sheet thrown over the canopy to block out any stray retina-burning sunlight, a cup of lemonade, and I’m set for as long as my daughter is otherwise occupied and content for me to read. It’s amazing, and I’m already sad that the summer won’t last forever. I love reading on my swing.

Anyway, let’s get this recap started, shall we?

Books I Read in June 2021

1. The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

2. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

3. Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

4. 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Macadam

5. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden

6. A Better Man: A (Mostly) Serious Letter to My Son by Michael Ian Black

7. Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun

8. The Book of V by Anna Solomon

9. Hand Made: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Made-from-Scratch Living by Melissa K. Norris

10. In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame in the Age of Social Media by Julia C. Duin

11. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

12. God Was Not in the Fire: The Search for a Spiritual Judaism by Daniel Gordis (no review)

13. Aleph Isn’t Tough: An Introduction to Hebrew for Adults by Linda Motzkin (my second time through this book; I needed the review)

14. Well Met by Jen DeLuca

15. Well Played by Jen DeLuca

16. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell

17. Hidden Heretics: Jewish Doubt in the Digital Age by Ayala Fader

18. Shunned: How I Lost My Religion and Found Myself by Linda A. Curtis

(My apologies; WordPress is not allowing me to link to those last books. I’ve had a heck of a time getting this post up at ALL.)

That’s some pretty decent reading! Seven fiction, eleven nonfiction. Sixteen from my TBR; two rereads (both of which were from my own shelves). Aleph Isn’t Tough is an amazing book if you’re wanting to learn to read Hebrew, for whatever reason. I had originally gone through it the first time right before the pandemic hit, before I had started attending virtual services at my synagogue. It worked well, though I was a bit iffy on a few of the letters and vowels introduced at the very end of the book, so I wanted to go through it again, after I formally converted and have over a years’ worth of learning various prayers and parts of the Shabbat service. MUCH better (and faster!) this time around! I could read everything from the beginning (instead of just picking out bits like the text instructs you to), I recognized the vast majority of prayers and passages and could even sing some of them as I read them, it was a lot more fun this time around!

Reading Challenge Updates

No reading challenges going on here right now.

State of the Goodreads TBR

So. 177 last month, and after reading SIXTEEN BOOKS from my TBR, it now stands at…171 books?!?!? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??? *lolsob* Can people just STOP writing such interesting books so I can tame this beast for a little bit? PLEASE????

Books I Acquired in June 2021

A quick trip to the thrift store yielded a super comfy long black skirt, and two books for me: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, which, while not on my TBR, I’ve wanted to read for a while, and Judaism (Great Religions of Modern Man #6) by Arthur Hertzberg. They’re now sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to get to them. 😊

Bookish Things I Did in June 2021

I do have one bookish thing I did- but I’ll discuss that below. 😉

Current Podcast Love

I’m still just listening to BBC Radio on my phone as I fall asleep. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up with podcasts for a bit; my tablet is…nine years old now? Old enough that it’s not downloading app updates, so a lot of my apps are unusable anymore. And as for my phone, it’s also five years old, and its memory is so small that the very small handful of apps I have on there (most of which I NEED to run my daily life) are causing the memory to run out, so I can’t get anything new there either. ☹

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

SO.

In some ways, this month was same old, same old. Nasty chronic pain (but I’m trying to desensitize my brain and overworked central nervous system by kind of pushing my boundaries a little bit. Exposure therapy of a sorts). Our family is still isolated like it’s March of 2020. Lots of 90+ degree days that made being outside in any context fairly disgusting and miserable even if you were adequately hydrated. (Is there such a thing when it’s that hot? My middle-aged body says no…) And then…

For one, I started doing volunteer work for The Vashti Initiative. This is an organization that helps provide survivors of religious abuse with support and the resources and information necessary to build a life outside of their former communities. (SUPER right up my alley!) Right now, I’m helping to compile lists of resources for my state, including things like food pantries (what I’m working on currently), organizations that assist with mental health and the needs of survivors of abuse, things like that. (If you’re part of a religious or civic organization that runs a food pantry, be VERY CLEAR on your website about your phone number, address, and hours where people can get food from you- first off, HAVE a website. PLEASE. Throw up a free Facebook account. A Blogger or WordPress site. ANYTHING. I am BEGGING you. Make it easy for people to find you. And for God’s sake, don’t talk down to the people who need your services. These are human beings, and they deserve food without judgment or feeling like they’re a project to you. I’ve looked at over 250 pantry sites at this point and I’ve been appalled a LOT of the time.) I’m super, super happy to be helping Vashti out, and if you’re looking for a great place to volunteer, especially right now (and/or because your body sucks and moving around and lifting things is difficult!), Vashti is all virtual! 😊 I’ve long thought that there was a massive need for this kind of service, and I knew I wanted to help as soon as I learned about this place.

And then this happened

Two thousand days of Norwegian. 😊 It’s a fun language, and it comes in handy more often than you might expect. Part of that is because I make opportunities to use it, but I’ve also run into it unexpectedly out in the wild- the occasional news article someone else posts, on TV, IKEA (which is technically Swedish, but there’s about 80%-ish overlap between Norwegian and Swedish- same for Danish. It all just looks like it’s spelled wrong to me, because the spelling between the languages varies wildly, and the pronunciations are different, but I can read both of them enough to get by), even an overheard conversation at a Scandinavian festival between a man and his mother a few years ago (he was asking about the food she was eating). Plus Norwegian has some fun pop music, and heck, announcing you’re at least somewhat proficient in Norwegian is definitely a conversation starter!

And…

Thirdly…

*drumroll, please*

I got my writing published!!!

It’s nothing huge, but the online Jewish feminist magazine Alma accepted and published a piece I wrote, which they titled The Best Books for Exploring Conversion to Judaism. (Hey, write what you know, amirite?) It originally started off as more of an essay, and I rewrote and reformatted it upon request to focus more heavily on conversion, and voilà! Publication. I’ve never been published before, so this was a pretty big deal- I just wanted to write about some books that I loved and that had influenced me, and I was so pleased that this worked out. And then…

This happened.

And this happened.

And this happened.

I never, ever expected the authors of these books I loved so very much to see this article, much less thank me for it. (In fact, I had one sleepless night before the article came out, worrying that I was wrong about everything and people would basically storm my social media with metaphorical torches and pitchforks. Anxiety is fun…) I cried, y’all. I’ve been a homemaker for most of my adult life, where 99.9% of the response to my completing something is that there’s more work for me to do, or someone complains, or a kid blows out a diaper or breaks something or has to be driven somewhere (all the while, more work piles up at home, because the cat is likely barfing on something while I’m out, and then someone else is upset because I wasn’t there to work on something else…). Having people say, “Hey, thanks, this thing you did was great!” just…it felt really, really good. 😊

So that was my June. Filled with the regular downs (CAN YOU NOT, PANDEMIC?!?!??), and some really great ups, and a lot of awesome books.

I have a virtual library program about Muslims at the end of July, but that’s literally all that’s on my calendar right now! Crossing my fingers for another month of great reading.

Stay safe, friends. There’s a lot of yuck going around right now- nasty weather (we’ve had tornados rip through my area, though not my town), intense heat, wildfires, the scary Delta variants that worry me greatly, political and civil unrest around the world… Be the good neighbor you want to see in the world. It won’t get any better unless we all work together for it.

Sending all of you love, and wishing you a beautiful July.

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: May 2021

Finally June! My swing is out, warmer weather is here (we’ve had some 90-degree days here, followed by a few in the 50’s- I have no explanation for Illinois weather…), and virtual first grade is DONE DONE DONE!!!!!!!! I’m sure I don’t have to tell all of you how exhausting this year has been. We’ve had some rough school years around here in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward so much to summer break. I seriously need a good long streak of weeks without having to listen to the iPad blaring away all day long. (I am infinitely grateful to our school district for offering virtual learning all year long and I adore my daughter’s teacher, but I’m just plain worn out.) Bring on the long days of summer reading!!!

I’m sure you’re needing a break too, wherever you are. I haven’t put in too much thought about my summer reading; I don’t know that I’ll have any kind of a plan for it at all. I’ve been doing a better job of reading stuff from my own shelves, so that’ll probably be a higher priority for me. Other than that, I’ll just wing it. 😉

Let’s get this recap started, shall we???

What I Read in May 2021

1. The New Jew: An Unexpected Conversion by Sally Srok Friedes (no review)

2. Browsing Nature’s Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs by Eric and Wendy Brown

3. Chaos on CatNet (CatNet #2) by Naomi Kritzer

4. What’s Your Pronoun?: Beyond He and She by Dennis Baron

5. Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America by Heidi Waleson

7. Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris (no review; I thought I had one for this! Super weird. It was a really good book!)

8. The Bible Doesn’t Say That: 40 Biblical Mistranslations, Misconceptions, and Other Misunderstandings by Joel M. Hoffman

9. Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish by Abigail Pogrebin

10. The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

11. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

12. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

13. TREYF: My Life as an Orthodox Outlaw by Elissa Altman

14. The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel (no review)

15. Here and There: Leaving Hasidism, Keeping My Family by Chaya Deitsch

16. All About Sam by Lois Lowry (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

17. Case Closed: Holocaust Survivors in Postwar America by Beth B. Cohen

18. It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell (review to come)

19. Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (review to come)

Phew! Pretty decent month. Lots of reading to my daughter- four of these were read out loud to her. Eleven of these books came from my TBR; four of the adult titles came from my own shelves! (The kid titles that I read out loud quite often come from our shelves here at the house, but I never count those, since we usually keep them. The fiction that I read from my own shelves usually gets passed along.) I won’t have quite as many read-aloud kid books next month; my daughter and I have embarked upon her first journey through Anne of Green Gables, so that’ll take some time to get through. I’m hopeful that she’ll love it as much as I did when I was young.

Reading Challenge Updates

I finished my parenting group’s reading challenge, and now I’m just trying to read some of the books from my own shelf. Four this month!

State of the Goodreads TBR

Last month, I was at 176, this month it’s at…177! I told you, it just never seems to move from around this number, dangit! Even after reading ELEVEN BOOKS OFF THE LIST!!! *hysterical sobbing*

Books I Acquired in May of 2021

I actually have books to list here this month!

I hit up the used bookstore for the first time in over a year and bought myself some Mother’s Day gifts (someone should do it! It’s been a year plus of serious intensive mothering…). Included in this stash is The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel, Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish by Abigail Pogrebin, and Bet is for B’reishit by Linda Motzkin. I had worked my way through her Aleph Isn’t Tough just before the pandemic hit- an interlibrary loan copy that I had requested in order to see if I wanted to purchase my own copy. I did, and I used an Amazon gift card this month to purchase both Aleph Isn’t Tough and Aleph Isn’t Enough (I’ve worked my way through this last one before, but I’m going to go through it again as a refresher before moving on to the other two). Now all I need is Tav is for Torah and I’ll have the full set! I can read Hebrew, but I’m slow and I’d like to improve, so I’m going to work my way through these books. Excellent month for obtaining books!

Bookish Things I Did in May 2021

Another excellent month in this category. My library was part of a group of libraries that virtually hosted author Alex Kotlowitz. He’s best known for his classic, There Are No Children Here, and I read and loved his An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago. It was wonderful and thought-provoking to listen to him speak of his experiences writing these books, and how things have changed, and how they haven’t.

AND…my synagogue virtually hosted author Marra B. Gad, author of The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl, which is just such a powerful book. She spoke of her experiences with racism in Jewish spaces, and of how much better we need to do. It’s painful to hear of how much hurt she’s suffered, and it was an excellent reminder of the importance of standing up and saying something when those around us make racist comments (and of checking in on your Black and brown friends when these things happen. Make sure they know you’ve got their back and give them the listening space they need to vent their feelings when these things happen. It’s so important). She is a massively intelligent and thoughtful woman, and I deeply appreciated the ability to learn from her.

Nothing scheduled in June, but that’s okay. It’s nice to have a month off!

Current Podcast Love

I’m a little podcast-burned-out, to be honest. My brain is just kind of tired, and I’ve been needing a break, so lately I’ve just been turning on BBC News World Service radio at night as I fall asleep. There’s something so soothing about listening to hushed British accented-voices that knocks me right out!

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal!

Real Life Stuff

Finally, summer break!

I have big plans to keep my daughter learning, so we’ll do a little bit of schoolwork during the week. I’ll definitely have her read and do some math and writing most days, and we’ll do a lot of reading together. It’ll probably be a little more intense than if things were normal, but I want to keep her brain growing and primed for whatever this school year looks like. We’re not sending her until she can be vaccinated; if this means I have to homeschool for a few months, so be it, so I’d rather make sure she’s not losing any learning over the summer.

Speaking of vaccines, I’m now fully vaccinated! My son and I got shot #2 mid-month. He was fine; I had about 24 hours of feeling like feverish, achy, chilled garbage, and then I got up the next morning and was totally fine. It wasn’t even bad enough to keep my husband home from work; I was still able to supervise my kiddo’s distance learning, I just felt gross while doing it and went to bed when he got home. No biggie. We’re still maintaining a ton of caution due to my daughter, though, so really, not much has changed. ☹

I may have something good to report in a bit, but I’m sitting on that for a while longer until everything is confirmed. 😉

Other than that, not really that much going on here! I’m just deeply grateful for summer break and already dreading the return of school in August! I’m sure I’ll be ready for it then, but right now, I just want a whole lot of quiet lazy days filled with great reading.

Wherever you are, whatever your plans are, I hope you’re finding some peace. I’m glad to be fully vaccinated, but I’m deeply uncomfortable with how unequal the vaccine rollouts have been worldwide. We’re all in this together and I’m so upset about the rise in cases in India, Vietnam, Malaysia, various places in South America… I think I’ve signed a few petitions trying to get more vaccine equity around the world, because it’s so necessary. Everyone deserves a chance to protect themselves from this. If you’re not yet vaccinated or you live in a country where it’s been difficult or impossible to get access to a vaccine, my heart is with you. Be safe and hang in there.

Whatever the weather is where you’re at, whatever season you’re heading into, I hope your June is filled with wonderful reading. Keep working for a better world, folks. It’s up to us.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: April 2021

May Day! May Day! (Quite literally.) It’s May 1st, and the promise of warmer weather is slowing coming to fruition. We’ve had some really nice days here lately and have finally been able to spend some time outside, including multiple picnics with family members. I haven’t moved my swing outside yet- we’ve still had some cool days, so I’m not taking it out of the garage until it’s consistently warm and I can spend my days out there reading, but that day is coming!

This has been a really special month for me, for a lot of reasons, and I’ll get into why in the personal section down below. Reading has also been pretty good for me this month in terms of quality (not numbers, but such is life), and I expect it’ll just keep getting better as my quiet time expands over the summer. Lots of good things right now. 😊

Let’s get this recap started, shall we?

What I Read in April 2021

1. Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

2. Why Be Jewish?: A Testament by Edgar M. Bronfman (no review)

3. Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

4. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

5. Once Upon a Bad Boy by Melonie Johnson

6. Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow

7. What They Saved: Portraits of a Jewish Past by Nancy K. Miller (these four reviews can be read in this catch-up post here)

8. It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories, edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman

9. Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era by Jerry Miller

10. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

11. Frightful’s Mountain by Jean Craighead George (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

12. Down to Earth by Rhonda Hetzel

Not a great month in terms of sheer numbers, but I enjoyed most of what I read! Eight of these books came from my TBR. One came off my own shelf. I’m finding it really hard to balance TBR reading with own-shelf reading, but at least I’m trying, right???

I was glad to be done with the Pippi books; I didn’t love them as much as an adult as I did as a kid, which is interesting. The Ramona books held up so well for me (especially since my daughter is definitely a Ramona Quimby!), but as a grown-up, I mostly found Pippi exhausting and *ducks* kind of irritating. I enjoyed but didn’t love the second and third books in the My Side of the Mountain trilogy; they really lacked the charm of the first book. I did walk away with a new respect for peregrine falcons and other birds of prey, so that’s pretty awesome. 😊

Reading Challenge Updates

I’m almost done with my parenting group reading challenge! One more book to go, and I’m waiting for that book to arrive via interlibrary loan.

Only one book read off my own shelves. Still working on this…

State of the Goodreads TBR

Last month, I clocked at 175. This month…176! This seems to hover around the same area no matter what I do. So frustrating, seeing as though I had it down to the 70’s pre-pandemic. Sigh.

Books I Acquired in April 2021

A brief trip to the thrift store yielded The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and a book of poetry by Robert Frost. I’ve wanted to read The Woman in White for years, ever since a friend recommended it. It’ll probably have to wait until whenever my daughter goes back to school, though, since it’s a pretty big book. Robert Frost has long been my favorite poet. I’ve been trying to read a few poems per day, but that doesn’t always happen. In terms of my daughter’s behavior, it’s been a rough month (insert cringe emoji here).

Bookish Things I Did in April 2021

I was able to attend a virtual presentation that featured Qasim Rashid, a human rights lawyer and author (and purveyor of excellent dad jokes on Twitter!). He was super inspiring and I really enjoyed getting to hear him speak. I was also able to attend a virtual author chat with Brandy Colbert, author of Little & Lion and Pointe. She’s a fabulous author and an absolutely lovely person, and I really enjoyed hearing her thought processes and what went into writing some of her books. She’s got some really interesting books coming up, too, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for that.

Current Podcast Love

It’s been a month of switching podcasts! I listened to some Judaism Unbound, of course; I’ll get back to this soon, as there are some guests on upcoming episodes that I really want to hear. And then I needed something that I didn’t have to think too much about, because when you’re in a lot of pain, all your brain goes toward processing that, and there’s very little left over. So I switched to Stuff You Should Know and have been enjoying Chuck and Josh informing their listeners on all sorts of topics, from dying of fright to hypoallergenic cats to Niagara Falls to lobotomies. I really enjoy the variety of subjects and all the research they put into each episode (which are short, so they’re not overwhelming!).

I’ve also fallen in love with Gotta Grow Up Sometime, a podcast about the short-lived, early 90s early teen soap opera Swans Crossing. The show itself, which featured a young Sarah Michelle Gellar and Mira Sorvino (among other actors and actresses), was over-the-top dramatic and campy, but at age twelve, I utterly adored it, and it’s fun to look at it with adult eyes. The podcast is full-on snark and joyful hilarity, but to be honest, it only makes me love the show more. I’ve been watching a few episodes here and there while I knit (it’s available on TubiTv).

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

What a month!

It started off still being in a fair amount of pain from my latest flare with my back (which is still ongoing, btw, though not as acute as it was in the beginning). We had an outdoor, masked cookout with family where I spent the majority of the time lying down on a picnic blanket because I couldn’t yet sit upright full-time, though I *did* manage about 50 minutes of sitting time, which felt pretty huge! This was followed by an MRI the next week, which showed that what’s left of my L5S1 disc is herniated, again, and I have less disc and less disc space there since my last MRI in 2018. Fun times.

My son and I were able to get our first Covid-19 vaccines! So many people we know had to travel ridiculously far in the early days of the vaccine distribution, but things are a little better now, and we were able to get our vaccines less than five miles from our house! The pharmacist was super nice and seemed really excited about all the people he’s been able to make happy lately, which I absolutely love. Neither of us had any side effects from our first doses, and we go back mid-May for our next doses. It’ll be a while before life really goes back to normal for us, since my daughter is too young to be vaccinated, but it’s a relief knowing we’re that much closer to being safer.

Speaking of which, my beautiful, snarky, exhausting, wonderful daughter turned 7! Her second birthday in lockdown, which is sad, but I’m happy we have the opportunity to keep her protected. We were able to have family over multiple days for masked-when-necessary, distanced picnics, and she and her cousin masked up and played in the yard for hours, so honestly, her birthday was pretty great. 😊

And now, for my biggest, happiest news…

Following years (decades, really!) of deep contemplation and longing and learning, and over a year of study with multiple rabbis, my conversion to Judaism is complete. I sat for my beit din (rabbinical court) with some amazing people who made me feel welcome and accepted and celebrated, and then it was off to the mikveh, the ritual immersion bath, which is required to complete conversion. The mikveh experience was deeply emotional and beautiful, and I’m brought to tears every time I think about it. I’ve been randomly bursting into tears and grinning like the Cheshire cat ever since. This was truly one of the best days of my life, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved at my synagogue as I’m able. Afterwards, I came home and threw my overnight rise challah into the oven, because Shabbat.

So April was an interesting month, culminating in something truly life-changing and long-awaited for me, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I hope your April was just as lovely, that your books were plentiful and compelling, and that wherever you are, you’re healthy and staying safe. Much love to my readers in India; my heart has been breaking hearing the stories of the devastation Covid is wreaking on your beautiful country. Be safe, my friends.

Onward to May! Happy reading, friends! Enjoy the beautiful May weather, and may your life be filled with sunshine and flowers, good books, love, peace, and the pursuit of justice.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: March 2021

And now it’s April! Last year’s March dragged on for approximately 4389294230432 years, but this year, it seemed more normal. Bit of a tough month for us, and I didn’t get nearly the amount of reading done that I wish I could have, but such is life (I feel like I say this a lot these days…). The month at least ended with my daughter’s spring break, so we got a little bit of relaxation in there (don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate the tiny bit of normalcy that her school schedule, even though it’s virtual, gives us- routine is good!- but a break is good now and then, especially after this month). Warmer-ish temperatures are here (though we still have chances for snow! A few years ago, it snowed for ten hours straight the day before my daughter’s outdoor April birthday party. And then the next day it was 65. Oh, Midwest…), and with them comes the promise of several months’ worth of outdoor reading. I’m so very much looking forward to that!

Let’s get this recap started, shall we?

What I Read in March 2021

1. Marriageology: The Art and Science of Staying Together by Belinda Luscombe (no review)

2. Paddington Takes to TV by Michael Bond (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

3. The Organ Thieves: The Shocking of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South by Chip Jones

4. Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches From the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

5. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

7. The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr

8. Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation by Sharon Astyk

9. Jew[ish] by Matt Greene (no review)

10. Miriam’s Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich

11. On the Far Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

12. Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine by Eric Weiner (review to come)

13. Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

In terms of numbers, this wasn’t a great month, but I’ll get to the why of that in a bit. But in terms of quality, I’m happy. Eight of these books came off my TBR, including five of them from my interlibrary loan list (so happy I’m able to get books through there again!). I didn’t get to any off of my own shelves, but that’s just how it goes sometimes and I’ll try again in April. One of these books counted towards my parenting group reading challenge.

I’m enjoying reading the My Side of the Mountain series with my daughter. I never read past the first one as a kid (which I reread a TON of times; what kid doesn’t want to run off to the woods and live in a hollowed-out tree???), and the first one is still the best by far, but the others are still fun reads. She’s wanting to take a break between books #2 and 3 to return to the Pippi Longstocking books, though, which is fine!

Reading Challenge Updates

I have three books left for my parenting group reading challenge- and really, one of them, I could fill in with a few of the books I’ve already read (it’s a prompt to read something you’re passionate about, and I read a lot on topics I’m passionate about!), but we’ll see. The only one I’m not sure what I’ll read is to read from a genre you never read. I’m thinking maybe short stories? I think I’ve read two books of short stories as an adult (one I loved, one I didn’t; it’s not a genre I normally care for), so I’m very much open to suggestions here!

State of the Goodreads TBR

Last month, I clocked in at 179; this month, it’s…175! I may just hover in this general area until the pandemic is over and the house gets quieter.

Books I Acquired in March 2021

Two this month. I stopped by the dollar store to pick up a set of nail clippers for my husband, and they had hardcover copies of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I loved that book, and though I don’t keep a lot of fiction books, I decided that for a dollar, I would absolutely love to have my own copy of it. I also grabbed a copy of Little Women from a Little Free Library to eventually read out loud to my daughter.

Bookish Things I Did in March 2021

Uh…nothing? Which is probably a good thing, as stressful as this month was. In April, I may have the chance to virtually attend a talk by Qasim Rashid, who is awesome, so I’m looking forward to that.

Current Podcast Love

I’m taking a bit of a break from Judaism Unbound and listening to Crime Junkie. I don’t normally listen to true crime stuff, but I switched one night when I had a wretched migraine and needed something that I didn’t much have to think about. I’ll probably switch back in a bit, but Crime Junkie definitely features some interesting and tragic stories. It also highlights exactly how much society doesn’t care about people from lower classes, and women in particular. If you’re female and you’ve ever suffered from addiction, that absolutely lessens the chances that law enforcement will want to search for you if you ever go missing. It’s utterly horrifying.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal!

Real Life Stuff

So.

I usually start this section off with a picture, but I’m not going to this month, because it’s still too hard for me to look through my pictures.

I mentioned last month that Reba, my girl cat, wasn’t doing well, and, as expected, she left us this month to go wherever the best cats end up. She’d been showing signs of feline dementia for quite a long time, and over the past six weeks, she declined rapidly. Making the decision to let her go was awful, but it was the right one, though I miss her terribly. It was a hard, hard month in that aspect. We still have Piglet, my tuxedo boy, but he’s not all that young, either, though he seems to be in okay health. I’ve been snuggling him a lot the past week.

All the stress of watching her decline and worrying about her led me to have several migraines and some lesser-but-still-nasty-and-debilitating headaches, which was awful. A few nights, I was in bed by 9 pm, feeling like someone shot me in the head. My body really doesn’t handle stress well! I’m currently experiencing a nasty flare of nerve pain due to my back issues; it’s next to impossible to get anything done because the only comfortable position is lying down. I got new meds for this yesterday, so I’m crossing everything that they help. If not, back to the doctor with me on Monday.

Stressing over the cat took up a lot of time and energy this month; I feel like that was the majority of what went on around here. I had my last Zoom Judaism class; now it’s on to writing an essay about my spiritual journey. “It can be any length,” the rabbi said, and I wondered, though I refrained from asking, if there was a length that would be too long. I get kind of wordy sometimes. *nervous laughter* That said, Chag Pesach Sameach to everyone celebrating! 😊

What’s next in April? My daughter’s #2 pandemic birthday; she’ll be 7, and we’ll do our best to make the day special for her when she still can’t have friends or family help her celebrate- though we may try to see family for an outdoor, distanced, masked walk and/or picnic, depending on what the weather dictates. I have my first mammogram on the 15th– FUN TIMES!!! Three days before that, vaccines for all becomes a thing in my state; I’ll wait until after my mammogram to start trying for shots for my son and me (husband got his first dose yesterday!!!), because the shots can cause lymph node swelling that may interfere with proper imaging, so I’m begrudgingly waiting those extra days! My parents, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law are all fully vaccinated, so that’s at least a relief.

Two more months of virtual school left for my daughter before summer break (and then I’m sure I’ll miss the routine of virtual school!). We can do this!!! We’ve started some plants for our garden already; not sure when we’ll be able to put those out, but we’ll at least be able to start clearing the garden out a bit this month.

Hang in there, friends. Enjoy some good books, hug your pets, and keep looking forward and working for brighter days. Do your part to end the pandemic and fight for justice for all, so that we all end up together, whole, on the other side of this. May your April be warm, peaceful, and full of the promise of better things to come.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: January 2021

Happy February! One month of 2021 down, eleven more to go!

What a strange, strange month- but are there any other kinds these days? It started off with frightening political stuff and has ended…kind of calmly,  or what passes for calm these days.  We had our first major snowfall here a few days ago, sending all the kids in my daughter’s class to virtual learning for the day. This was followed by another storm system, blanketing our town with almost a foot of snow on top of what was already there! There’s little I love more than watching the snow fall; it’s so peaceful, though I worried like crazy about my husband driving home from the city in that mess during the first system. It sure is pretty, though.

As far as reading goes, although my numbers weren’t anything crazy, I’m extremely proud of the books I’ve read this month, and I’ll get into the why of that. But suffice it to say, January hasn’t been too bad around here. We’re all healthy, I’ve taken up a new hobby (if you can call it that…), and we’re managing. That’s all we can ask for these days, I think!

Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?

What I Read in January 2021

1. Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

2. Bad Habits by Flynn Meaney (review to come)

3. My Basmati Bar Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

4. Dear Martin by Nic Stone

5. Julie’s Wolf Pack by Jean Craighead George (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. Stamped From the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

7. Such a Perfect Wife by Kate White

8. What We Will Become: A Mother, a Son, and a Journey of Transformation by Mimi Lemay

9. Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness by Alisa Roth

10 How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish, edited by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert

11. An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz

12. Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

13. Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein

14. Citizen 865: The Hunt for Hitler’s Hidden Soldiers in America by Debbie Cenziper (review to come)

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I’m SUPER happy with the quality of the books I’ve completed this month. While my numbers aren’t impressive, the amount of pages I’ve read are pretty great- two of the books I read were over five hundred pages, which is amazing for me lately. I’ve shied away from the longer, more comprehensive books this past year because my brain just couldn’t handle it, but this month, I dove right in. Seven fiction, seven nonfiction. I really love nonfiction but read so much fiction last year because I just couldn’t focus on serious things (and there’s nothing wrong with fiction at all! I just really, really love nonfiction and it hurts when I can’t focus on it), but I think I’ve evened out a little and can handle it better. Plus I’m only doing the reading challenge with my parenting group (12 books; I’ve completed six of them so far), so I’m able to read more from my TBR and my own shelves. I feel really great about the quality of the books I’ve read this month and that makes me really happy.

Reading Challenge Updates

Only my parenting group challenge to worry about, which is honestly a relief. I love reading challenges for how they push me and expand my reading world, but I really needed a break this year. Six of the books I’ve read this month- Grown, My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, Stamped From the Beginning, An American Summer, Hollywood Park, and Turtle Boy were from this challenge AND from my TBR. That’s a win on all fronts!!! The only prompt here for which I’m not sure what I’ll read is the one that prompts you to read a book from a genre you never read. I’m thinking maybe a book of short stories, since I generally steer clear of those. If anyone has any suggestions here, I’m all ears! (Or, uh, eyes? Since I’m reading this? Not sure how that saying works when it comes to text…)

State of the Goodreads TBR

187 last month- down to 181 this month! I’ve been reading from my TBR and my own shelves, so hopefully this will start dropping faster! (If I can keep from piling the books onto it, that is!) Ten of this month’s books came from my TBR.

Books I Acquired in January 2021

None! I’m staying out of the stores thanks to the new variants of Covid, and I don’t usually order books online unless they’re something I need (and it’s too cold to walk to any of the Little Free Libraries near me!).

Bookish Things I Did in January 2021

The library had a presentation by some local musicians on the music of the Vietnam War, so I attended that virtually. Super fun!

Our library is open again for browsing, but I’ve stuck to just requesting and picking up instead of going in. A librarian friend of mine pointed out that libraries’ air filtration systems really aren’t meant to handle a virus like this, so if I can be one fewer person to add to the system’s stress, then so be it. I may go in early one day and grab some books for my daughter, but ONLY if there aren’t many people in there- but we’ll see. So far, she’s making do with what I’m able to order and pick up. 😊

Current Podcast Love

More of the same this month. Still making my way through Judaism Unbound with Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg. And while I bike, I’m listening to the Leaving Eden podcast with Gavriel Ha’Cohen and Sadie Carpenter. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. It’s about Sadie’s experiences leaving the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult (similar to the Duggar Family’s ATI group, but different). Sadie and Gavriel are both extremely intelligent, thoughtful, and fun; they balance the heavier issues with lighter episodes that keep me laughing out loud as I work out. I really enjoy this one a lot.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal. I did read two books from my own shelves this month, though! Progress!

Real Life Stuff

(The red decals are to keep birds from flying into the window. Doesn’t always work, sigh. This is from the first big snowfall. There’s actually MORE snow on the ground now!)

Not a bad month, with the exception of the drama of January 6th. I skipped reading that day and my son and I stayed glued to the news and our devices. Not something I ever thought I would see in my lifetime, and I hope to never see it again, though I’m not holding my breath in this political climate.

I’ve been trying to focus more on reading these days instead of doom scrolling, and it’s working well so far. My daughter’s managing the second half of first grade just fine; my son’s new classes haven’t started up yet, so he’s mostly just hanging out and working on other projects (and spending a lot of time online, of course- what else is there to do?).

In December, I realized how much SITTING I’ve been doing and decided that needed to change. I started doing yoga every day, then started adding in some cardio as well- usually riding my exercise bike that I keep in a corner of the bedroom or doing a workout video on YouTube if the living room is free (it usually isn’t). A friend started up a group for the YouTube Channel Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Day Breath program and I started participating in that- it’s a daily video, anywhere from 16-35 minutes of yoga, and after I finish that I get on my bike for 30 minutes. At night I do a 10-15 minute ab/lower body workout, and I’m happy to say that after five weeks, I started actually enjoying the workouts instead of just swearing all the way through them, haha! I just want to be healthy and still have my clothes fit when all of this is over (a new wardrobe would be expensive and I’m really not wanting to do that! Plus I LOATHE trying on clothes, ugh). The best part is that my right hip has stopped hurting so much. There used to be something in there that hurt all. the. time. Even my physical therapist couldn’t figure out what it really was or why, and none of the exercises she gave me ever helped, and whatever it was has been hurting for about five years. I got into pigeon pose the other day during yoga, which usually feels really good on that sore part of my hip, and I realized…it doesn’t hurt anymore. Not like it did. My lower back still hurts (especially today, sob), and my SI joints are still painful, but hey, ONE LESS THING!!!!!!!!!!

Still no vaccines on the horizon for us, so I’m just happy to hole up with my books and my workout videos and podcasts and waiting until it’s our turn!

What’s coming in February? I’ll have my Zoom Judaism classes, and then something I’ve been looking forward to since last year- Tara Westover, author of Educated, is making a virtual appearance thanks to our school district’s parent education group. She was supposed to be here in person but obviously that can’t happen, but I’m so excited to have this opportunity to hear her speak, and that she’s still doing this! That’s definitely something to look forward to. 😊 I have two other authors I *may* be able to hear speak virtually; check back in next month to see! 🙂

Stay warm and healthy this February, friends! Keep up the masking and social distancing; better days are ahead of us but only if we get there in one piece. Keep standing up for justice for all and staying true to who you are. And read on! May your February be filled with excellent reads and the love of excellent people. Be well, my friends.

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.

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???