Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: March 2020

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

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

Let’s start this roundup, shall we?

Books I Read in March 2020

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

2. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

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

4. The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

5. The History of Love by Nicola Krauss

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

7. It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

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

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

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

11. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

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

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

Reading Challenge Updates

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

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

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

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

State of the Goodreads TBR

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

Books I Acquired in March 2020

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

Bookish Things I Did in March 2020

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

Current Podcast Love

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: February 2020

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

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

Let’s round up some books, shall we?

What I Read in February 2020

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

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

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

4. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

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

6. As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg

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

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

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

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

11. How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat

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

13. Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg (no review)

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

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

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

Reading Challenge Updates

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

Here’s what my challenges look like right now.

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

Slowly but surely!

State of the Goodreads TBR

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

Books I Acquired in February 2020

NONE, thankfully! 😀

Bookish Things I Did in February 2020

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

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

Current Podcast Love

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

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

I should have let it linger longer.

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

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

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

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

Real Life Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: January 2020

Welcome to February!

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

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

What I Read in January 2020

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

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

3. The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

4. I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn

5. I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

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

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

8. The Color of Love by Marra B. Gad

9. The Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

10. Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

11. Tangled by Emma Chase

12. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

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

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

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

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

Reading Challenge Updates

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

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

State of the Goodreads TBR

*gulp*

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

Books I Acquired in January 2020

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

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

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

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

Missing Max by Karen Young

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

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

Bookish Things I Did in January 2020

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

Current Podcast Love

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

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

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

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

Real Life Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 🙂

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 Misérables 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. 🙂

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. 🙂 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. 🙂

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. 🙂