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???

reading challenge · reading life

Crossing the Finish Line on the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge!!!

So, this week, in celebration of Banned Books Week, I read this book:

(Incidentally, it came from my own shelves. I bought it from a used book sale last summer. It’s one that I’ve always wanted to read but had never gotten around to it before. Mission accomplished!)

I didn’t write up a review; this book has been around long enough that the world probably doesn’t need yet another review of it. It’s definitely a product of its time and has a *lot* of racist and misogynistic remarks and references. I haven’t seen the movie; I thought the story line was interesting but predictable (though really, it ended in the only possible way that made sense), but it’s a good study of human nature and power.

BUT. With the completion of this book, I now have THIS:

I FINISHED!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge is one for the books! (Buh-dum-CHHHH!!!!)

Whew! That was a lot of books.

My thoughts on this challenge:

I enjoyed it. Not quite as much as I liked last year’s Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, but it was fun. I felt like there were lighter book choices for this challenge; I definitely read more YA than I did last year. There were a few books I didn’t care for (It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips; The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald; I didn’t love State of Wonder by Ann Patchett); I read a few books I haven’t been able to stop thinking about (The Color of Love by Marra B. Gad, Sunny Days by David Kamp); I read some books I’d been meaning to get around to for ages (Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithewaite), I discovered new authors I love (Dani Shapiro, Geraldine Brooks, Camryn Garrett) and read authors who are like old friends to me (Naomi Kritzer- an actual old friend!, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Jennifer Weiner). It’s been an interesting, fun literary tour this year- not without stress and some scrambling changes, thanks to the pandemic and the months-long closure of the library (thank goodness for ebooks!!!), but it was a worthy challenge to participate in, and I’m glad I made the decision to join in.

I’m planning on forgoing the usual challenges for a bit in order to read the books off of my own shelves in between reading down my TBR, but who knows, maybe I’ll join in something else later on in 2021. Who knows. But I’m pretty proud of myself for completing the 2020 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge with plenty of time to spare!!!

Are you a fan of reading challenges? How are you doing this weird, weird year? This is the second year I’ve participated and finished my reading challenges of choice (though I made the decision to not do this year’s Book Riot Read Harder or the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge. The pandemic threw a *lot* of things off and made reading really difficult for a while). I like that it directs my reading and introduces me to new authors I might not have read without the challenge, to new subjects I may not have considered reading about without a prompt, to new formats (last year, I read poetry for the first time in years, and I’m still planning on reading more!). It does get a little frustrating sometimes when I would prefer to be taming the beast that is my TBR, but really, the trade-off is worth it.

Are you planning on taking part in challenges next year?

Happy reading, friends, no matter what shapes your book choices. 😊

Catch-up post

A catch-up post full of mini-reviews!

Eek! You ever have months where blogging just gets away from you? This was one of those months. It’s hard cramming in everything I need to get done every day, and sometimes at night I just want to collapse and not think anymore. And thus we have here a post to catch up on all the books I missed out on blogging about. I hate doing these; each book deserves its own post, but such is life, especially these days.

Ready? Let’s do this!

I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post Holocaust Memoir by Esther Safran Foer (yes, she’s Jonathan Safran Foer’s mother) was a book I grabbed during my first library appointment, on the New Books shelf. She writes of the story of searching for the family she lost in the Holocaust, of online searches, long-distance phone calls, dusty paperwork, and lengthy plane rides to visit the site of the villages where her family once walked. It’s moving, heartbreaking, and almost miraculous at times, especially when you see the picture of her family after reading all that had been done to ensure that they wouldn’t exist.

I just happened upon Hostage by Guy Delisle, whom I’ve enjoyed in the past, at that same library trip- literally just walked by the shelf this was on, on my way to searching for something else, and this leapt out at me. He tells the true story of a man working for Doctors Without Borders when he was kidnapped in the Caucasus region and held hostage for three months. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a man chained to a radiator for that length of period would make for an engaging graphic novel, but Delisle’s sparse style makes this book an absolute page-turner.

Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares by Aarti Namdev Shahani is a memoir of her family’s experience in America: surviving as undocumented immigrants, the greencards that helped secure their status, and the things that happened that showed them how quickly it could all go up in smoke. If you haven’t read much about the nightmare of the immigration process in the US, this might be a good place to start. If her family’s story had happened today, I don’t think the outcome would have worked out so well (although *worked out well* is relative here) and that hurt my heart for all the families struggling with these kinds of situations right now, but Ms. Shahani tells her story so smoothly, it nearly reads like a novel. I’d love to hear her speak one day.

I’d avoided reading Roomies by Christina Lauren for a while, but I needed something on the lighter side during my last trip to the library and since they’re a favorite of mine, I grabbed this. Roomies tells the story of Holland, who discovers the perfect musician for her uncle’s Broadway performance, only to find that Calvin, the Julliard-trained street busker, is Irish and here illegally. In order to help her uncle and feel like she’s really contributing to the theater (where she also works), she marries Calvin to help him obtain a greencard, but of course it’s all a bit more complicated than that. I avoided this one for a bit because I felt, and still kind of feel, that it’s a little tone-deaf in light of the horrific things the US is doing to undocumented people these days, and the book never mentions any of that (mostly because, I assume, it was written before all this came to light?). The book itself is extremely well-written and I very much enjoyed both the romance and Holland learning to be her own person and design her own course in life. If you can separate this story from the disgusting reality of what happens to brown people when they’re discovered to be here without papers, it’s a great read, but it’s painful when you’re aware of the realities versus the privilege Calvin had, both due to the color of his skin and his connections once he was brought into Holland’s circle. Excellent writing, great love story, hard to square with reality.

Another Christina Lauren novel for my lighter reading enjoyment. I didn’t like Twice in a Blue Moon as much I liked Roomies. It tells the story of Tate, the daughter of one of the most famous actors in Hollywood. She’s had no contact with her dad in ten years and no one knows where she went. She spills her secrets to Sam, a boy she meets on a trip to London with her grandmother. She and Sam are falling in love and it’s something major, something special…until he betrays her. Fourteen years later, Tate is one of the most famous actresses in the world, and the screenwriter of her new project is, of course, none other than Sam, whom she hasn’t seen since London. Messy? Oh yes. Liked it, but didn’t love it; I felt like Tate and Sam didn’t have quite the same chemistry as Holland and Calvin did, but it was an okay read.

And that’s it! All caught up. It wasn’t quite as many books as I had thought. I’ll do my best to update on a regular basis next month!!!

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.