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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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? ๐Ÿ˜€

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. โค Please let me know in the comments how you’re doing.

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

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: February 2020

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

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

Let’s round up some books, shall we?

What I Read in February 2020

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

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

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

4. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

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

6. As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg

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

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

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

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

11. How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat

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

13. Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg (no review)

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

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

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

Reading Challenge Updates

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

Here’s what my challenges look like right now.

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

Slowly but surely!

State of the Goodreads TBR

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

Books I Acquired in February 2020

NONE, thankfully! ๐Ÿ˜€

Bookish Things I Did in February 2020

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

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

Current Podcast Love

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

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

I should have let it linger longer.

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

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

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

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

Real Life Stuff

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

It’s been a busy month for my daughter’s Daisy scout troop, with a lot of different events. She loves it so much, and I’m glad that she’s enjoying it and that her troop is so active. I’m so grateful to her troop leader; I don’t think I could do what she does, so I need to tell her how awesome she is. ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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

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

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: January 2020

Welcome to February!

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

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

What I Read in January 2020

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

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

3. The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

4. I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn

5. I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

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

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

8. The Color of Love by Marra B. Gad

9. The Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

10. Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

11. Tangled by Emma Chase

12. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

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

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

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

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

Reading Challenge Updates

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

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

State of the Goodreads TBR

*gulp*

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

Books I Acquired in January 2020

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

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

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

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

Missing Max by Karen Young

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

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

Bookish Things I Did in January 2020

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

Current Podcast Love

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

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

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

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

Real Life Stuff

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

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

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

That took a looooooooong time to do, as I hand-stitched everything, but she was SO excited; she loves hearts, and this made her really happy. I also patched up an old bra, whose fabric between the side straps had basically shredded, by covering the straps with knit fabric. It worked; I’m wearing it today. ๐Ÿ˜€

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

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

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

Monthly roundup

Monthly (year end!) roundup: December 2019

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2020! That number sounds straight out of a science fiction novel or movie from when I was young, but here we are.

And if you’re reading this, congratulations on making it through another year. It’s been a tough one for so many reasons and I don’t know that it’s going to get easier, but you’re here and I’m glad. The book blogging community is pretty amazing at taking care of each other and being supportive, and I’m happy to be a part of it. Thanks for always being here, whether it’s to talk books, reading slumps, fandoms, or the absolute garbage that real life can be. Y’all rock. ๐Ÿ™‚

December was ridiculously busy, but it’s that way every year. There are always a millionty things scheduled and still only 24 hours a day, some of which must be devoted to sleep, so I feel like so much of my time went to running errands and getting nothing else done! The kids go back to school in a week and I still feel like we’ve gotten so little downtime, but I think I just need to accept that’s how life is these days. At least there are always books for comfort, right?

Let’s get to recapping!

What I Read in December 2019

  1. The Chai Factor by Farah Heron

2. Before They Pass Away by Jimmy Nelson

3. Becoming Eve: My Journey From Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman by Abba Chava Stein

4. What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon

5. Les Misรฉrables by Victor Hugo (no review, read as part of my own personal Read Harder program)

6. Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS by Azadeh Moaveni

7. Dating by the Book by Mary Ann Marlowe

8. The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between by Stephanie Butnick, Liel Leibovitz, and Mark Oppenheimer

9. Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich

10. This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto by Suketu Mehta

11. All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney (review to come)

12. Inheritence: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro (review to come)

The first set of books has no links because, remember, I was playing catch-up and did a post full of mini-reviews. If you’re interested in seeing my quick takes of those books, go here and here.

Not the longest list I’ve ever had at the end of the month, if we’re going by numbers, but in terms of quality, I’m happy with it. There were a lot of great reads in there.

Reading Challenge Updates

The 2020 reading challenges are out! I spent a lovely Sunday poring over a bunch of them and making out lists of books that fit in with the challenge prompts (cross-referenced with what’s available from local libraries, of course, as well as what’s on my TBR lists). I’m definitely going to do Book Riot’s Read Harder 2020 Challenge, since I loved last year’s so much, and I’m also taking on PopSugar’s 2020 Reading Challenge! The PopSugar is significantly longer, but I’m not worried about that. I’ll be doing the two challenges concurrently, reading from what’s available at the library and crossing things off as I go along. And when I finish those two, I’ll probably do the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge, just for funsies. I’m feeling ambitious this year!

If none of these tickle your fancy (where that’s located…), here’s a fabulous master list of all the 2020 reading challenges! Check them out and find something that stretches your brain.

State of the Goodreads TBR

And we’re back up to 81 books on the TBR, but the five books I have checked out of the library are all on that list, so January may see that number decrease, but only if you people stop posting about such interesting books! *sobs*

Books I Acquired in December 2019

Christmas day was weirdly warm, so while my husband and daughter played at the park, my son and I went for a four mile walk, which included stopping by a Little Free Library. I dropped off two books and picked up two more: a copy of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub (chosen solely because the heroine hails from Door County, Wisconsin, where we vacationed with my mother two summers ago), and Looking Back: A Book of Memories by Lois Lowry, who was one of my favorite childhood writers. My bookish friend in Michigan, with whom I trade books back and forth by mail, has that on her TBR list, so that’ll probably be off to her place once I read it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Bookish Things I Did in December

The only thing I did this past month was help tear down my daughter’s school’s book fair. I was supposed to help set up as well, but that was during my three day migraine (actually less fun than it sounds; I ended up having to go to the doctor for stronger meds, and I came back from throwing up in the kitchen sink to find that my insurance company didn’t think I actually needed the anti-nausea drugs my doctor had prescribed, which was fun, because I was kind of scarily dehydrated at the time). My husband stayed home to take care of me and also went in my place to help set up the book fair, for which I’m extremely grateful. ๐Ÿ™‚ Otherwise, it was a quiet month with no other bookish events.

Current Podcast Love

Still very much loving Tablet Magazine’s Unorthodox, which adds to my reading list exponentially, and which I also mentioned in my review for The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s informative, at times it’s sad and contemplative, and other times it’s joyful and life-affirming. I’ll be so sad once I’m through with all the back episodes, but I absolutely plan on keeping up with all the new ones as they come out.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

1463 pages, DONE. WHEW!

I can’t say that this made me love Victor Hugo any more than I did before (which was bordering on not at all, if I’m being honest. The Hunchback of Notre Dame wasn’t exactly a favorite here either). His fifty page asides and ranting tangents are headache-inducing and meandering at best (dude either really liked the sound of his own voice or the clicky sound the typewriter made. I’m feeling generous, so maybe it was both…). Cosette has the personality of a dollar store mop, Marius is irritating in his ‘Woe is me, I’m soooooooo in love with this girl I saw like twice and if I can’t have her I’ll DIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE’ (seriously, there’s nothing romantic about that, it’s just obsessive and weird, and it’s a testament to Cosette’s complete lack of personality that she didn’t run screaming), and while I did like Jean Valjean for the most part, by the end, his incessant need for self-sacrifice became tiresome. And what is with everyone giving speeches that last five or more pages as they lay dying??? Holy unrealistic, Batman! And, of course, let’s not forget Hugo’s weird overuse of the word ‘cloaca.’ Yeah. Ew.

But Gavroche. Gavroche was good. I loved him. Scrappy little dude. He was the best part of the novel. And the musical is, of course, stunning. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. I saw a gorgeous production of it let’s-not-discuss-how-many-years-ago with my high school French club and adored it. There are stark differences between the novel and musical, though, but I have no problem with that and find that both can be enjoyed for what they are.

What’s next in my own personal Read Harder Challenge? Last year, I got a copy of Opera For Dummies by David Pogue and Scott Speck. I’ve always enjoyed classical music (we listen to a lot of a local classical station in the car these days and I actually recognized a piece my son’s school’s orchestra played at their last concert as something I’d heard on the radio, which made me feel pretty cool, as it wasn’t a super well-known piece), and I’ve loved the bits and pieces of operas that I’ve heard, but it’s not really a subject I know much about and I’ve always wanted to learn. The book, which I bought cheaply at a yard sale, came with the CD, so I think I’m going to go through it, maybe a chapter per day, and listen to the tracks on the CD as I go along. Let’s get some culture up in this place!

Real Life Stuff

Whew, what a month! Total whirlwind of activity. My daughter has now lost her two bottom front teeth and looks like a tiny late-season jack-o’-lantern. My son had multiple choir concerts this month, both for Concert Choir and Madrigals (yes, he wore the costume and looked fabulous, and is glad he doesn’t have to wear it again but is sad the Madrigal season is over. Crossing my fingers that he makes the spring a capella group!). We traveled four times to spend Christmas with family, and I was fortunate to spend time with my son when we went to see the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Tom Hanks, about Mister Rogers (I have ALL the Mister Rogers love, as evidenced by my writing about him in the past). Super sweet movie, and it was great to do something relaxing and fun with my son, as he’s usually out and about with friends. ๐Ÿ™‚

January will be busy as usual. The kids go back to school on the 7th; my daughter’s Daisy Scout troop is visiting an animal shelter (if you hear squealing, it’ll be me, because ANIMALS!!!!). I’m going back to my local library’s reading group- SUPER excited about that! I got away from it last year due to a combination of illness and schedule conflicts, but I’m really looking forward to returning. And, something I’m even more excited about, I signed up for an Introduction to Judaism course at a local-ish congregation. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and this wasn’t too expensive and is within driving distance, plus it’s at a time when I can attend with little disruption to the family routine. All the right criteria, and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. That starts at the end of January, and I could not possibly be more excited (it also includes a crash course in Hebrew, so I’m out-of-my-mind jazzed about that!!!). The course runs through May and I can’t wait!

2019 was an excellent year for reading for me. I’ve finished the year at 203 books, which is a pretty big number (my highest number of yearly reads was the year I reached, I believe, 254, but that was the year my son and I spent a LOT of time at the park, so I had a crapload of time to just sit and read), but more than that, it was a year of quality reads. I’ve really learned that it’s okay to put a book down, to walk away if it’s not doing it for me, even if it’s a book from my TBR list. I used to grit my teeth and force my way through it, but I’ve learned that that’s not necessary. Life’s too short to read books that aren’t right for you, and not every book is going to be right for you. I’ve read books this year that made me cry, that made me think, that made me laugh out loud and that added joy and changed the way I go about my life. I’ve deepened my understanding of certain subjects, deepened my empathy, grew as a person, read inside and outside my usual genres, and learned about myself. No matter how much I ask from books, they always give me more than I ever expected. It’s been a good year for reading.

May your 2020 be filled with love, light, laughter, peace, and the joy of reading excellent books. Happy New Year, friends. ๐Ÿ™‚

reading life

AND HALT!: The Things That Get Us to STOP Reading

As book bloggers, bookworms, and book lovers, there are so many things that cause us to pick up a book (or twenty): a gorgeous cover, a new title from a beloved author, that next book in the series we adore, a novel that features our favorite trope or a nonfiction title about a favorite subject, a recommendation from a friend or fellow book blogger, a title with an upcoming in-theaters film, the list goes on and on.

But we all know far too well that there are just as many things that cause us to throw the brakes and our reading comes to a screeching halt, most of the time unwillingly, and today, I want to talk about all the reasons why we might put those books down.

(I’m cringing even thinking about it, to be honest.)

Let’s do this!

****

PAIN

This comes first, because I’ve dealt with this this year, and it was the cause of my longest period of not reading. Right now, my diagnosis stands at degenerative disc disease, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and spinal arthritis. There might be more, but digging for answers (and then the ensuing treatment for those answers) is prohibitively expensive here in the US, so right now, I’m letting it stand at that.

A massive chronic pain flareup, like the one I experienced in October this year, wreaks absolute havoc with reading time. On normal pain days (because there are no pain-free days!), reading helps me escape, but during an acute flare, the pain demands so much of my attention that trying to focus on anything is like trying to watch the television with a radio blasting behind you at full volume. Keeping your mind focused on the television- or your book- takes an exhausting amount of mental energy, a difficult feat when you’re already worn from being in pain all day.

So what’s a chronic pain sufferer to do? If you can stay awake for them, audiobooks might help here; I simply read a few chapters at a time, and then lost myself in a podcast until I fell asleep. Eventually the flare passes, but not having an end date in sight makes it tough…Hang in there, my fellow pain warriors!

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Real Life

This is probably the #1 reason that keeps us all from reading. Real life. School. Family. KIDS. Chores. Work. Places to go, people to see, things to do, all those obligations outside of the house that you just can’t weasel out of and end up spending the entire time there longing for your book and cozy reading chair.

These are rough times, my friends. While some situations can be audiobook-appropriate (work commutes, time spent maintaining the lawn or doing solo chores like running for groceries), if you’ve got small children that require constant supervision, you can’t always plug in and tune the world out. What’s a reader to do, beyond weeping in frustration?

Long stretches of uninterrupted reading time is obviously our ideal, but when life gets busy, the best you can do is to steal snatches of time here and there in order to get any reading done. Read on the kindle phone app while you’re waiting in line at the store. Read a paragraph here and there while you’re waiting for the noodles to boil during dinner prep. Read five minutes, a chapter, a PAGE, before you fall asleep at night.

(Read while you’re using the bathroom. Let’s just admit that that’s something we all do and there’s no shame. If Paul McCartney can play his guitar in there, we can get our reading on in there!)

This too shall pass-kind of the motto in regards to no-reading situations, amirite???- although never quickly enough for those who love nothing better than getting lost in a good book.

Social Media and Other Technological Timesucks

Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. YouTube. NETFLIX, for pete’s sake.

“I’ll just go on and check a few posts, scroll for a few minutes, watch one episode, search for one thing,” we say to ourselves, that book we’ve been dying to get to nestled by our side, just waiting for us to pick it up and dive right in. “No biggie. Just a few minutes.”

Five hours later, we’re arguing with a racist grandmother from Sheboygan.

Social media and the glory that is Netflix are awesome for so many reasons. Connecting with people who share our interests, listening to voices that have been marginalized in the past but can now be amplified if we choose to do so (and we should!), learning fascinating new things (and, uh, sometimes things that aren’t entirely useful but still interesting, because we’ve all fallen down a rabbit hole of searching for one particular thing, like a certain Harry Potter spell, and coming up for air two hours later on a website about, say, medieval tool usage and its affect on modern day pop music),that movie we missed with friends, there are so many reasons to enjoy the many websites and apps that allow us to forge new connections with each other.

But unfortunately, these sites are also a MAJOR time suck, and when reading time is already at a minimum, blowing forty minutes scrolling through Twitter is a LOT of that reading time down the tubes.

It’s hard to stash the social media and back away from binge watching, and everyone’s method will look different- turn off your phone? Leave it in another room? Read away from the computer?- but the constant pull we all feel towards keeping up-to-date every single second is something every reader needs to learn to deal with.

Books That Don’t Do It For Us

It happens to the best of us. We grab our next great read off the shelf, one that’s come highly recommended or that we’ve been anticipating for ages, only to find…it’s not great.

It might even be awful.

It’s a terrible feeling of disappointment, occasionally of anger, maybe even a little grief in there if the book came from the desk of a favorite author (and especially if that author has written something at odds with our sense of morality). Whatever the reason, putting down a book you’d hoped to enjoy often leaves us with conflicting emotions.

But there’s no shame in DNF-ing; we’re all readers who are strong in our opinions and what we love in our books, and if something isn’t working for us, it’s always okay to put that book down and move on to the next one.

And there’s always a next one!

Unless…

*cue ominous music*

…you find yourself in…

The Dreaded Reading Slump

We’ve all been there. We dive into our latest read, ready to get lost in its world, and…

MEH.

It’s not grabbing us, and we *know* it’s not the book, we can tell the writing is tight, the plot is fast-paced, so we try another book…and another…and another.

All MEH.

MEH, MEH, MEH.

Our brain has quit, our bookworm has burrowed deep into a tight cocoon, and our reading mojo is out the door, leaving us desolate, desperate, and grasping for something, anything to do to fill the hours previously taken up by our most favorite of all hobbies. We don’t even FEEL like reading right now, and it’s a feeling completely alien to us as readers. WHO EVEN ARE WE WITHOUT BOOKS???

So many blog posts and articles have been written (great ones, too!) on how to avoid or pull oneself out of a reading slump. I don’t know that there’s a one-size-fits-all remedy, and it may be that every slump is different and what works for this year’s slump may not work for next year’s. But reader friends, when you slump, you’re not alone, and you’re still part of this brilliant, beautiful community of book bloggers that we’ve all created (and that goes for being on posting hiatus as well!). We’re still here to support you, and who knows, maybe a fellow blogger’s post is what will strike a chord in you and get you excited about turning pages again!

And then there’s the scary one…

BOOK INTIMIDATION

Have you ever walked by a book on a shelf and wished you HAD read that…but you’re too intimidated to actually read it?

This happens a lot with hefty nonfiction tomes and novels of classic literature, things we feel we should read but worry we won’t be able to get through. Maybe we expect the book to be too dry or the style too difficult. Maybe we worry we’re not smart enough to ‘get’ it. Remember all those times in school when we learned that the blue curtains in a novel symbolized the author’s depression and weren’t just blue curtains because the author liked the color blue, and we all sat there going, “…seriously? They can’t just be blue curtains?” Experiences like these prime us for a lifetime of literary self-doubt, and instead of deciding that books can be read on multiple levels, we think, “Well, this stuff clearly isn’t for people like me,” and we turn tail and run. And in doing so, who knows what life-changing books we might be missing out on?

How many books do you have on your shelves right now that you’re scared of?

This is a problem I’ve been tackling in my own life for years. When my son was young, I used to read out loud to him while he played, like his own personal audiobook, except instead of solely reading Dr. Seuss and Margaret Wise Brown, I’d read Charles Dickens and Mary Shelley while he drove toy cars around the living room. He was five when he started interrupting me to ask what a word meant or why a character did something so foolish (this was during a reading of Great Expectations); don’t ever underestimate how much a child can absorb! Reading aloud helped me to get through a large number of classics that I never would’ve felt smart enough to read silently on my own, and in doing so, I greatly increased my reading confidence.

My daughter was a little too screechy for me to do this (and believe me, I tried!), so now that she’s in school and things are a little quieter here, I’m tackling some harder books, reading a single chapter or a small number of pages per day. Because when it comes down to it, these books, the ones that have us shaking our heads and going, “I don’t think I can…”

They’re just words. Words on paper.

And we’re not going to let words scare us, are we? We’re book bloggers and book lovers. We’re a pretty fiesty, determined bunch. It’s time to face those fears head on and tell them, “You know what? I can do this. Getting those huge books read slowly is still getting them read. TAKE THAT, BOOK INTIMIDATION!”

****

Logic would hold that for people who love books so much, one might have to pry each and every book out of our cold, dead hands, but sometimes, our reader brains aren’t all that logical (case in point: how many of us have gleefully purchased a much longed-for book, only to have it collect dust on our shelves for years? *raises hand, waves it wildly*). There are times for all of us when our reading grinds to a complete stop, and while it’s often an uncomfortable situation, it’s absolutely normal.

We may be readers, but we’re a lot of other things, too, and that’s what makes us such an interesting bunch.

What stops you from reading???

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: September 2019

Welcome to October!

For real, though, how is it October??? I just sat down to write September’s post! This whole year has just gone by at rocket speed…

This has been the first full month of my daughter being in school full-time, and it’s been interesting. I’m still at home and will be for the foreseeable future, and I’m kind of getting into a little bit of a routine, which is nice. I have a lot less free time than I figured, though, since I still have SO much to do. It’s not bad, though, and I have a new reading-related category to add to this month’s monthly post. I’m enjoy my quieter days, that’s for sure!

I’m still ridiculously behind on blog stuff, though. I’m really hoping that once it cools off, things will settle down around here and I’ll be able to jump back into the book blogging world a little more. For now, it’s all I can do to get posts written (as you’ll see!).

Anyhoodle, let’s get this recap started!

What I Read in September 2019

  1. Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of Those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson

2. Good and Mad: The Extraordinary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister

3. Ribsy by Beverly Cleary (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

4. The Suburban Micro-Farm by Amy Stross

5. The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates

6. Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

7. Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald

8. Winnie l’Ourson by A.A. Milne (no review, more on this later)

9. City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing by Lorraine Johnson

10. The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick

11. Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler

12. The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron (review to come)

13. Gated by Amy Christine Parker (review to come)

14. Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult by Susan Ashline (review to come)

15. Socks by Beverly Cleary (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

16. The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais (review to come)

Only slightly better than last month! I’ve still been ridiculously busy, so not as much reading time as I would have liked (and barely any reading time some days!) Bring on the colder weather where I can huddle under a blanket and just READ!!!

Reading Challenge Updates

I’m not currently participating in any reading challenges, but I’m already looking forward to these starting up again in the new year!

State of the Goodreads TBR

Currently, my Goodreads TBR stands at 77 books! Some of the books I had placed on there last month were cookbooks, which I checked out of the library and went through, then took off my list, so that helps to explain the slightly reduced number. Also aiding in TBR reduction is the fact that eleven of this month’s books came off my TBR list. Yay me!

Books I Acquired in September 2019

The only book I brought into the house this month was a copy of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, which I bought with a Barnes and Noble gift card. I’ve actually gotten a tiny bit of writing done this month, but not a ton, and not with any regularity. Possibly when the weather turns…

Bookish Things I Did in September 2019

I was able to go listen to author David Grann (author of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI) speak at a local school.

I didn’t want to be rude and snap a picture when he was speaking, so here’s a pic of the stage with the cover of his book as backdrop.

I feel so lucky whenever I get the opportunity to listen to authors speak! There’s a bookstore semi-local to me that often has authors come speak; I need to follow their schedule more carefully. They’re a bit of a drive from me, though, and with needing to pick my husband up from the evening train, being at the bookstore on time might be a bit of a stretch…

Current Podcast Love

I’m currently going back and forth between Cults on Parcast (seriously, it’s starting to feel like everything’s a cult, haha! There are so many more out there than I ever imagined. What the heck, humanity???), and Behind the Bastards (no, seriously, what the heck, humanity????), which I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. The host, journalist and author Robert Evans, reads a script of his weekly research on a terrible, terrible person from either history or modern days, going in depth as to exactly why and how that person was/is awful as he reads to a comedian or fellow podcaster who is coming in cold and knows little about the subject. It’s funny, it’s entertaining, it’s educational, it’s full of incredulous swear words… I’m learning so much from this podcast and it’s seriously fascinating in its depth and breadth of information.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

New category!!!

So, now that my daughter (who is my intense child, the one who makes a bid for my attention every three seconds and has sizzled my brain into a charred, shriveled crisp) is in school full-time, I have some quiet time- most days, anyway- to sit and read some of the things I’ve been putting off because they take more brainpower to get through, and who has that when you’re answering questions about unicorns and responding to “Mama, I’m done pooping!” every other minute? I was never able to finish college, which is a major sore spot for me, so it’s really important to me that I keep learning and keep expanding my world in an intellectual sense. And so my afternoons, after I finish dinner prep, are spent in a reading-and-study session, with books from my own shelves that I’ve wanted to get to for ages.

We’re a bilingual, French-English family (my husband bringing the French via his Belgian-born self), and in the past, I’ve always tried to read at least one book in French every year. Last year, I did this at night and got through Harry Potter ร  L’รฉcole des Sorciers (the first Harry Potter book). But then my husband wanted to watch a bunch of stuff on Netflix with me, so there went my quiet reading time, and I only now got around to reading my French book for the year, grabbing Winnie l’Ourson by A.A. Milne off of my French shelf (Winnie l’Ourson being, of course, the French translation of Winnie-the-Pooh). I did a chapter almost every day, writing down unfamiliar words and then plugging them into Anki, a flashcard app, so I could memorize them. It feels good to be back into language study! Winnie l’Ourson is adorable in both English and French, although I have to say that I found French-speaking Eeyore an entire passive-aggressive pain in the ass. ๐Ÿ˜€

Along with improving my French, another of my goals for my alone time is to improve my Norwegian, especially my grammar, so I’ve started slowly working my way through Norsk, Nordmenn Og Norge by Kathleen Stokker and Odd Haddal (Norwegian, Norwegians and Norway). This is a hefty tome of Norwegian grammar and vocabulary. I’m on my fourth trip through the Duolingo tree and use that mainly to keep my skills fresh every day, but I’ll be using this book to build more on what I’ve already learned. I’m hoping to find enough time this winter, too, to finally watch season 4 of Skam, a fabulous Norwegian TV series that follows a group of teenagers through their high school drama. I adored seasons 1-3 and just never got around to finishing it.

In heavier English-language reading, I’m twenty chapters into A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and I’m so grateful that I finally have the ability to delve deeply into it. It’s an intense read, shining light on perspectives in American history that we’re never taught in school (for real, I have never, EVER said WTF so many times in one single book. Most pages have something that makes me drop at least one F-bomb; for instance, when a multi-millionaire wrote his son a letter, urging him to pay a fee in order to have someone else drafted for the war in his place because “there are other lives out there that are worth less.” DUDE. WTF!!!). I’ve read quite a bit of history over the years since I left school and am still aghast at how horrible we can be to each other. If you haven’t read this illuminating book yet and you have the time and mental space for it, I highly, HIGHLY recommend it.

I’ll finish A People’s History…probably around the end of the first week of October (I try to read a chapter each day, but there are some days, like when my mother comes up to visit, that I don’t get to it), and after that, I’m going to finally tackle Les Misรฉrables by Victor Hugo in full (in English!). I got through about 400 pages when I was in high school, and then abandoned it during one of Hugo’s long rants on Napoleon. This time, I’ll complete it. I’ve already glanced through my copy, which is 1463 pages, and I’m planning to read around 30 pages a day (give or take, depending on how close the next chapter or nearest break is). I can read 30 pages at a time of anything, so while this will be a lengthy read, I have faith in myself that this will be the time I complete it.

I’m excited about this new project and look forward to sharing with all of you the new things I’m working on each month. This will, of course, be subjective to school vacations and whatnot; maybe I’ll move my more intense reading to nighttimes then. Who knows. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Also, I may change the name of this section if I come up with a better one…)

Real Life Stuff

September was, as always, a busy month, but we’re settling into new routines around here. My son is busy with school and choir commitments; my daughter is making new friends and this upcoming weekend will attend her fourth birthday party since school began! I’m busy running after both of them, of course, but I try to spend most mornings working on a household project of some sort, before moving on to preparing dinner and my afternoons with my personal Read Harder Challenge. The shelving units we had in the kitchen were bowing, so we replaced them with heavier metal shelves, which I put together and then switched out all our stuff. That took almost an entire school day (SO MUCH CLEANING to go along with it), and my thighs were killing me afterwards, but the shelves look so much neater and better now. And I spent another two hours folding the FOUR BASKETS of my husband’s clean laundry that had been living on my bedroom floor for MONTHS (yes, I’m laundry-shaming my husband!) and tidying up his shelves. The bedroom looks so much bigger now without four heaping baskets of laundry on the floor! ๐Ÿ˜€

October’s going to be another busy month. A local university is putting on a performance of Cabaret, so my mother is coming up and we’re going to see that. My son has Homecoming (his girlfriend’s dress is so pretty!), and his choir will have two shows (both of which my mother will come up to see and she and I will spend the day together, which is always wonderful). I’m going to see a documentary put on by the school system’s parent education group, my mother and daughter and I are going to go to a local craft/Scandinavian fair that we visit every year, my daughter’s school is putting on a huge Halloween bash, and then we have Halloween itself (my daughter wants to be something she’s calling a Rose Fairy Princess, and she was amenable to the idea of my doctoring up one of her dress-up dresses with fake flowers, so I’ll have to find the time to do that). Will there even be any time to sit down and read, much less blog? And then we’ll start in with the holidays…

I’m exhausted just thinking about it! I’m about ready for the snow and cold of January and February at this point! ๐Ÿ˜€

How was your September? How did your reading go? Do you find you have more time to read this time of year, or less?

Happy reading, and may your October be beautiful. ๐Ÿ™‚

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: August 2019

Welcome to September!

Summer is winding down, and the kids are either back in school or are headed that way. Hard to believe the summer went by so fast, but it does every year, doesn’t it? I barely had a single chance to catch my breath this month; I spent so much of the summer getting all the appointments made that my daughter needed before starting kindergarten (doctor, dentist, eye doctor- dentist had to be cancelled TWICE due to illness, and eye doctor took multiple attempts to find glasses that fit her), getting the house back in order from being sick all spring, preparing for vacation/vacation/getting the house back in order from being gone on vacation, etc. We had so few days to just relax…and now whoooooosh, summer’s over! So it goes.

It took me most of July and a good part of August to get caught up on my reviews (and I’m still a few behind); I did nothing at night but write out two and sometimes three reviews, for about a week and a half, so my list looks a little smaller this month than usual- less reading time! But that’s okay. Let’s get started with this recap.

What I Read in August 2019

  1. A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming by Kerri Rawson

2. Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

3. Kindred by Octavia Butler

4. The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

5. Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates

6. Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi

7. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

8. Titanic: Voices From the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

9. A Different Time by Michael K. Hill (review to come in September as part of a blog tour)

10. Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali (review to come)

11. Henry and the Clubhouse by Beverly Cleary (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

12. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (review to come)

I think August has been my slowest month yet, reading-wise! That’s a combination of using my nightly reading time to catch up on reviews and having less time to read during the day as we tried to cram in all the necessary back-to-school activities. I’d hope that my reading would pick up in September, but I’m not sure that it will, since I have a TON of projects that I’m trying to get done around the house. Eight of these books were on my TBR, though, so that’s eight books down!

Reading Challenge Updates

I’m not currently participating in any reading challenges, other than trying to tame the beast that is my TBR.

State of the Goodreads TBR

Uhhhhh…

About that.

My Goodreads TBR currently stands at 89 books, up from 80 last month. I CAN EXPLAIN!!!

So, now that my daughter is a little older and can be kind of trusted not to throw herself in front of a passing truck if we blink while we’re outside with her, we’ve started ripping up some stuff in the yard in order to use the land more wisely. My husband tore down a giant ugly fir bush, and I raked up all the crap left behind (and toted it to the backyard; we’ll eventually burn it), and we’re going to turn that (sizable!) patch into a native flower garden in the spring- although right now we tossed down some kale seeds in hopes of a late kale crop. Once my back calms down a little bit, I’ll be out there with heavy-duty work gloves, ripping out old, sad cacti and other various spiky weeds so we can plant stuff in those spaces. All that is to say that I put a bunch of books on urban farming and growing food on my TBR, so that’s why it exploded the way it did this month!

Books I Acquired in August 2019

I received a copy of A Different Time by Michael K. Hill for a blog tour! Other than that, I don’t think I brought any books into the house this month. ๐Ÿ™‚

Bookish Things I Did in August 2019

No real bookish events, but my husband did get me a new Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday! My elderly Kindle Keyboard had been having issues for about a year already, so this was a fabulous surprise. I haven’t even had the chance to use it yet, because I’ve had a steady flow of physical books, but as soon as I get these cleared out, it’s Kindle time, baby! Check out my gorgeous cover:

Current Podcast Love

After floundering a bit, I discovered Cults on Parcast, with Greg and Vanessa, whose voices are SO soothing that it would sometimes take me five or six tries to listen to an episode, because I would just fall asleep (and I’ve seen other people talk about that as well!). Cults is super fascinating and freaky, a look into often deadly religious groups, a few of which I’d heard of but (to their immense credit, because this is one of my biggest pet subjects) most of which I hadn’t. If you’re at all interested in cults and seriously weird religious groups (SERIOUSLY weird, like dudes claiming to be God or Jesus on earth, and the followers who actually take them seriously and hand over their teenage daughters to this guy because they’ve totally bought into it instead of running away screaming like most people would- SO many stories like this), give this a listen, I really felt like I learned a lot.

I listened to all the back episodes that Podbean offered, and today, I started listening to Behind the Bastards, a podcast about some of the worst people in history. So far, it’s really interesting and I’m looking forward to delving into it more next week (after the long weekend, when the kids are back in school).

Real Life Stuff

PHEW.

My son is now a senior in high school (so he’s ridiculously busy), and my daughter officially started kindergarten! The first three days were half days, but this past week was full-day. She has two friends from her gymnastics classes in her class, she made another friend who sits next to her, and a girl in first grade who was in preschool with my daughter when she was 3 remembers her and seeks her out on the playground all the time, so no worries there. She’s pretty tired when she comes home, though, which has led to some…rather screechy evenings around here. Poor kid. It’s a long day for five year-olds.

We live about a mile away from the school, so in the mornings, I walk her there and walk her back. If the weather is okay and I don’t have to pick my son up, I walk to pick her up and then we walk home. During school hours, I’ve been trying to find a balance between getting done all the BAZILLION house projects that I couldn’t do with my daughter interrupting me every three seconds and taking some time for me, and all that is to say that I’ve had some days with step counts like this:

Remember when I said my back hurt? Yeah. That’s a lot of walking.

So what have I been doing? The first few days were half days, so that didn’t leave much time to get stuff done, but come Monday, even though it was raining, I was bound and determined to start tackling my Hoarder-style garage. It’s looked like this pretty much since we moved in 4.5 years ago; after falling out there late last fall, I swore I would tackle it once my daughter went to school. Before:

Yeah. I felt exactly as embarrassed as you think I would every time my husband opened the door- and this is after I’d already done a little cleaning (albeit in the back right corner, not really visible in this picture). UGH. After 2.5 hours of absolutely disgusting work (combined with the 30 minutes I did earlier, on a different day), here’s the not-yet-finished-but-looking-better result:

I stopped working at this point because A., my back was entirely done, and B., both the garbage can and the recycling can were full to the top. My plan is to work on this on the days before trash pickup days in order to leave *some* space for household trash throughout the week (although we’re lucky if we have a single bag most weeks, along with some smaller bags from when I scoop the litterbox; the majority of our food-based garage goes into our compost, and I try to recycle as much as I can). The right side of the garage is going to be a little more difficult; it’ll be a lot of heavy lifting and I’m not sure how my back will take to that, but I guess we’ll find out when I get to it! The project isn’t complete yet, but I’m ridiculously happy about how it’s turned out so far. I’ve been out to that freezer probably fifteen times since I did this and didn’t have to worry ONCE about falling- whereas before, it was a constant worry, and like I said, I fell last fall, which is a huge concern with my bad back. So yay for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve also organized all my cabinets, my drawers (including vacuuming them out), and my kitchen island; I cleaned out the coat closet (and ripped up the dry-rotted mat that sat in front of it and scraped all the pieces off that had stuck to the floor, GROSS) and cleaned off one of my daughter’s bookshelves in the living room. And since I had space, I organized everything out in my garage freezer (the only things I could stand stocking up on are corn and spinach…). We bought new shelves for our kitchen, so once my husband puts those together, I’ll be busy reorganizing my pantry goods, so I’m looking forward to being able to do that!

What’s next? I need to clean out the laundry room again; it’s not too bad, but could stand a little reorganization and a sweep for cobwebs. My daughter’s room is getting a complete overhaul; that’ll take at least one full day, and possibly more. After the garage is totally done and I clear some stuff out of the yard, I’ll have more time for myself, and then I’ll get started on some ME projects. ๐Ÿ™‚

Speaking of which, my Blue Blanket Project (or what I’ve started thinking of as my Frozen blanket!) is coming along, slowly but swimmingly:

If anyone is interested, I’m using this pattern. It’s a nice, mindless project to work on while watching something with my husband or visiting with family.

So that was my August! Not as much reading going on as I would’ve liked, but such is life sometimes, and I’m looking forward to a long, cold winter of plowing through book after book after book this school year. I have no idea how long it will take for me to clean up the yard the way I want, or when I’ll actually get the garage finished- this is all both weather-dependent and my back-dependent, but I’d rather tackle those completely and quickly, so I can stop thinking about them! ๐Ÿ™‚

I wish you a lovely September, full of great reads and beautiful weather no matter where you are. How was your August???

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: July 2019

Welcome to August!

My goodness. July absolutely got away from me. I’m ferociously behind in regards to book reviews (to the tune of…*checks Goodreads* ELEVEN BOOKS), and I’m completely feeling like a hamster in a wheel. Not the hamster who’s trucking along nicely, making the wheel turn and turn, mind you. No, I’m the hamster in the back, flopping along and never quite able to get itself situated and upright while its furry little buddy trots happily in front without a care in the world. I’ve been desperately trying to take care of everything in real life (house, laundry, errands, cooking, etc) while driving my son places and keeping my daughter entertained by taking her to the park and other fun summer places, and I’ve started a few other projects around the house, along with exercising more regularly. All of this means I haven’t had much computer time lately!

I’ll get back up to speed, though, I promise! The kids go back to school in twenty days, and I’ll spend some of my alone time getting caught up here, so keep your eyes peeled for an eventual onslaught of reviews. ๐Ÿ™‚

So let’s get started on this recap, shall we?

Books I Read in July 2019

  1. Flames of Glory- Patricia Matthews

2. Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life- Amber Scorah

3. Ramona’s World- Beverly Cleary (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

4. Eyes On Me- Rachel Harris

5. Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women- Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu

6. Internment- Samira Ahmed (review written, will be posted tomorrow)

7. Better Than Homemade- Carolyn Wyman (review to come)

8. I Believe In a Thing Called Love- Maurene Goo (review to come)

9. Henry Huggins- Beverly Cleary (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

10. The Emergency Teacher: The Inspirational Story of a New Teacher in an Inner City School- Christina Asquith (review to come)

11. The Drowning of Stephan Jones- Bette Greene (review to come)

12. Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others- Barbara Brown Taylor (review to come, LOVED THIS!!!)

13. All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership- Darcy Lockman (review to come)

14. Waiting for Tom Hanks- Kerry Winfrey (review to come)

15. Henry and Beezus- Beverly Cleary (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

16. Their Pretend Amish Courtship- Patricia Davids (review to come)

17. Awkward- Svetlana Chmakova (review to come)

18. Icebreaker- Deirdre Martin (review to come)

19. Burma Chronicles- Guy Delisle (review to come)

Numbers-wise, that’s not a bad month! So much of my reading has been done outside the house this month, either at the park or at a library play area (on those super hot days); I finished two books on vacation (and DNF’d two others that just didn’t work for me); three were read-alouds to my daughter. I don’t see any patterns in here, necessarily; a bunch of these books, however, were from my TBR pile, so yay for me on that. ๐Ÿ™‚

Reading Challenge Update

I’m not currently participating in any reading challenges, other than the constant challenge of taming my TBR. Speaking of which…

State of the Goodreads TBR

Remember last month when I said I couldn’t seem to get my Goodreads TBR below 80 books?

80 is the magic number, because 80 is where my Goodreads TBR sits at this very moment! The book I’m reading right now is from that list, though, so I AM trying!!!

Books I Acquired in July 2019

These were acquired from a used book sale last weekend (everything you can cram into a bag for $10; my husband and daughter also brought home some treasures). I was pretty happy to find the copy of Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, as she was recently added to the list of authors coming to speak to my community this school year! I’ll definitely get that one read before her appearance (the date hasn’t been announced yet, so I have time).

My friend Sandy mailed me two ARCs; I’ve never read Alisha Rai before, but I’ve been wanting to, so I’m pretty excited about The Right Swipe! Tracey Garvis Graves’s The Girl He Used To Know was a bonus in the book envelope; what a nice surprise! Thanks, Sandy! As soon as I get to the store to buy an envelope, I’m shipping her my copy of Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle. Bookish friends are the best. ๐Ÿ™‚

My mom gave me Such a Perfect Wife by Kate White, which she had just finished and said it was good, so I’m looking forward to that. And then…

A few weeks ago, I recalled an author I’d read when I first moved to Tennessee (as in, as soon as I got my library card, after rushing there from the DMV with my brand new Tennessee driver’s license, I picked her book up off the new books shelf!). Jerramy Fine’s Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess is an adorable tale of her infatuation with royalty, romance, England, and the intersection of all of those things. She had retweeted my review of that book (this was something like ten years ago!), and I was wondering what she was up to these days when I happened upon In Defense of the Princess: How Plastic Tiaras and Fairytale Dreams Can Inspire Smart, Strong Women (sadly, at the Dollar Tree). Since I have a daughter who somehow fell in love with all things princess and wears a crown or a tiara almost everywhere we go, I figured this was some sort of sign, and the book came home with me. I’m very much looking forward to reading this!

Not pictured: yesterday, I grabbed a copy of Out of Africa and Shadows in the Grass by Isak Dinesen from the thrift store, where I stopped to grab my daughter some water bottles for school. This was on an old want-to-read list, and it’s piqued my interest again after reading Circling the Sun by Paula McLain.

Bookish Things I Did in July 2019

The only thing I can think of is the book sale I mentioned earlier. It’s the one held by an association that uses the profits made from the sale to fund college scholarships for women. I’m on their mailing list (which is dangerous!), so I was happy to show up, browse, and bring home a sack full of books. As I was perusing the general fiction table, a guy next to me reached for a copy of Alaska by James Michener, and of course I had to gush, “That’s an incredible book.” He kind of laughed and said that it was his favorite book, and he always looks to see if a copy he finds in the wild is better than the copy he has at home. I suggested he also read Hawaii (he said he owns it and that’ll be his next read); he mentioned (I think it was!) The Covenant, but it might have been Centennial! It had a C in the title! Either way, I think I own both of them and definitely need to read them. James Michener has long been a favorite of mine and I need to read more of him. It’s always nice to have a bookish conversation about a favorite author with a complete stranger. ๐Ÿ™‚

Current Podcast Love

I finished up all the episodes my podcast player (I use Podbean) would load; sadly, it only went down to like Episode 212, out of 361 episodes. I’ll continue to listen to new episodes in the future, as I love this podcast!

I’ve also been catching up on episodes of What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel, another podcast I absolutely adore. This one is SO dangerous to the TBR, though (one of the books I have checked out from the library right now ended up on my TBR list because of these episodes I’ve been listening to lately!). If you’ve never listened to this, I highly recommend it. Fascinating guests with awesome life stories and excellent reading lives, great book suggestions, and Anne is a wonderful, charming host.

Real Life Stuff

The biggest highlight of the month was the kids and I going to Branson, Missouri with my mother. We usually travel somewhere with her every year, and she’s so much fun. She likes to GO, so we ended up doing a TON of stuff while we were there. We visited their downtown area and went through a bunch of the shops, visited the mall, sunburned ourselves half to death swimming at Moonshine Beach, visited Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum and the Titanic museum, rode the Runaway Mountain Coaster and the giant Ferris wheel, rode the rides at Silver Dollar City, splashed around at the White Water water park, swam in our resort’s indoor pool, we took a road trip and ate at Lambert’s Cafe, Home of the Throwed Rolls… I’m probably still forgetting a few things! There’s very little downtime when you’re on vacation with my mother! ๐Ÿ˜€ (And the only place my back really gave me trouble was the Titanic Museum, since standing without moving is difficult for me. As long as I’m walking, I’m okay, though my back might spasm- that’s normal. Painful, but expected, so it’s not a huge deal.)

Finally, a roll of toilet paper big enough! The world’s largest roll of toilet paper, at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, Branson, MO

But even though there was little downtime, I still managed to work out three of the days we were there in the resort’s gym. I *really* let my exercise routine slack this year, being sick for so long, and as a result, I wasn’t happy with the way some of my clothes were fitting, so I made a commitment before we left that I was going to get back in better shape. And so far, I’ve been doing awesome. I do yoga on the days we’re home, and in the evenings I’ve been walking either three or four miles. When it gets too cold and dark to walk, I’ll go back to using my exercise bike in the bedroom, along with yoga. It feels good to be doing something good for my body again (especially since- guess what?- we got sick AGAIN. My daughter had a runny nose and a cough and some congestion on our last day, and of course, since she spent a few days coughing directly into my eyeballs, I got it, too. I never felt too run down with this one, though, so I’ve still been trucking along!).

I also purchased the best pair of socks in the world:

I am 1000% ready to sob my eyes out at A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood, the Tom Hanks movie about Mister Rogers, in November!!!

My husband and I have, of course, watched all of this summer’s season of Stranger Things, and now we’re going through this final season of Orange Is the New Black. And just before we left for vacation, I started on this (and continue to work on it while we watch at night):

Now, usually, I’m a knitter. I’m not the world’s greatest crocheter, and I haven’t crocheted more than a few hats for my son since before my daughter was born (crochet uses up way more yarn than knitting does, so I choose my crochet projects carefully). But I was struggling to figure out what to do with this HUGE skein of variegated blue yarn my mother-in-law gave to me (she’s a knitter). It’s this weird texture and difficult to knit with (which is exactly why she gave it to me! We had a good laugh about that this weekend), and finally, I realized that I have SO much blue yarn that I should just make a huge blue blanket, and thus, the Blue Blanket Project was born. I dug up a bag full of different kinds of blue yarn, some full skeins, some scraps, and I’ve been working on it while we watch TV and visit with family. Might as well get something else done while you’re sitting there, right? I’ll keep crocheting until it gets big enough or I run out of yarn, whatever comes first. ๐Ÿ™‚

August will be an interesting month. My birthday is coming up on the 5th (last year of my 30’s!), we’ve got a playdate with a friend we haven’t seen for a while next week, and then on the 21st, the kids go back to school!!! My son will start his senior year in high school, and my daughter will traipse off the kindergarten for the first time. His last first day, her first first day. Bittersweet, but exciting for both of them, and exciting for me! My daughter goes a half day for the first three days, and then on Monday, she’ll go full day, all the time. I have SO many projects I’m looking forward to doing, including cleaning out my seriously-you-guys-it-looks-like-Hoarders garage, ripping out huge parts of awfulness in my yard (cactuses! Whose idea was it to plant cactuses in this yard? We’re in the Chicago suburbs, for cripes sake!!!), overhauling my daughter’s room, cleaning out all my cabinets, cleaning and organizing my closet… I have a huge list of projects that I’m planning on working on, and then I’ll focus more on the stuff I want to do, like reading, writing, learning new things/studying old things, spending more time with my sewing machine, etc. Who knows, I may even get to watch a movie here and there- I haven’t watched TV during the day that didn’t involve animation for five years, so all of this is pretty exciting for me. In the two years between my son going to public school for the first time after homeschooling and the birth of my daughter, I was home full-time and was never, ever bored, so I’m really looking forward to all of this. ๐Ÿ™‚

And that’s about it for me this month! I wish you all a happy and productive August, full of great reads, low-priced books, and book reviews that flow easily from your brain onto the computer. How was your July???