Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: December 2021

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(Uh. We hope. *fingers crossed*)

Farewell, 2021. Begone with your demon sibling 2020, and may the way forward be only blue skies and smooth sailing.

A girl can dream, right???

December is over and January is here, and all our Goodreads challenges have settled back again at zero. I hope your December was full of health, happiness, safe gatherings, and plenty of good reads. We had a wonderful, relaxing vacation from school, spent at home reading, taking walks, taking NAPS (so many naps), and spending a lot of quality time together. It was much-needed and very appreciated!

Let’s get this roundup started, shall we?

Books I Read in December 2021

1. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

2. Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting by Danya Ruttenberg

3. Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos by Natacha Du Pont de Bie

4. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

5. God Is in the Crowd: A Model for Post-Diaspora Judaism by Tal Keinan (no review)

6. Have You Seen Hyacinth Macaw? by Patricia Reilly Giff (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

7. Children Under Fire: An American Crisis by John Woodrow Cox

8. When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers by Ken Krimstein

9. The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

10. American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption by Gabrielle Glaser

11. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu

12. Challenging Pregnancy: A Journey through the Politics and Science of Healthcare in America by Genevieve Grabman (review to come)

13. Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir by Aileen Weintrab (review to come)

14. The Joy of Sects: A Spirited Guide to the World’s Religious Traditions by Peter Occhiogrosso (no review)

15. Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration by Reuben Jonathan Miller (review to come)

Slightly better numbers this month! I’ve got a lot of projects going on at home, so I still don’t have as much time for reading as I would really like. And that’s not likely to change for a while; I have a whole list of New Years’ resolutions I’m wanting to tackle, but at least some of them are reading-related! I’m definitely wanting to better manage my time and not spend so much time scrolling online (but it’s just so interesting…)

Only five of these were from my TBR this month, yikes!

Reading Challenge Updates

Not currently participating in any reading challenges. I seriously considered whether I was going to do one this year, but I think I’m not quite ready to commit to one yet. I’m enjoying making my way through my TBR, and while I love the way reading challenges introduce me to new authors and styles and subjects, I’m not wanting to commit to one more thing and ignoring my TBR. I *may* pick one up at some point in the year if it feels right. We’ll see.

State of the Goodreads TBR

We left off last month at 156; all those Best-of-the-Year booklists descended upon my house, and…uh…we’re up to 162. Hmph. But I have a plan! I swear!

Books I Acquired in December 2021

None!

Bookish Things I Did in December 2021

Nothing truly book-related, but I was able to attend a virtual gathering put on by the Union for Reform Judaism, where the subject of books came up and I recommended a bunch of books to the group I was in, does that count?

Current Podcast Love

Still listening to Ologies with Alie Ward! Super fun, educational, and fascinating all at the same time. Truly cannot recommend this one highly enough.

When I nap, however, I usually put on a true crime podcast, and I usually go with Crime Junkie. I like their storytelling style.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

I did it! I finished The Joy of Sects by Peter Occhiogrosso!!! I’m so proud of myself for finally getting it together and figuring out a reading schedule that worked for me.

After I finished, I went downstairs and peered at my basement bookshelves for a bit. I finally decided that my next Read Harder book will be American Literary Almanac: From 1608 to the Present, edited by Karen L. Rood. This has been sitting on my shelves for over a decade, so it’s time to spend my time on it. 15 pages in already!

Real Life Stuff

So here we are, 2022. ’21 was a tough year, but it also brought with it a lot of gifts. I completed my conversion to Judaism (something I’d dreamed of since I was young), I picked up a new hobby (art), I began working on my grandma’s cross-stitch again (getting closer and closer to finishing!), and of course, I read a lot of great books (and some meh ones, but it happens!). Overall, it wasn’t the worst year for me. Challenging, of course, but I made it through mostly in one piece.

School starts up again on Tuesday. To say that I’m not thrilled about this would be about the biggest understatement I’ve ever made. I have no idea how they’re going to consistently keep the schools open the next two months with the way that Omicron spreads like wildfire. I was planning on letting her stay for lunch after winter break, but that’s been cancelled, and I’ll be picking her up for lunch every day still. Pain in the butt, but I’ll do anything I can to lessen her exposure.

Not much in the plans for January. I’m sure at some point, we’ll visit with my mom. She’s been sick, so she wasn’t able to come up for any kind of holiday celebration. Her rapid test was negative, but everything she said makes it sound like COVID (and given Omicron’s ability to evade tests, I’m guessing she had a breakthrough case. Not surprising, because her husband remains unvaccinated *eyeroll*). She’s on the mend, but felt terrible for quite a while. I need to schedule some doctor appointments; nothing serious, just check-ups and follow-ups. And I have a virtual school board meeting to attend later on in the month. That’s about it!

I do have plenty of goals I’ll be working through in the New Year. I blogged about those the other day at my other blog (nothing fancy, it just keeps track of all the things I do every day. I enjoy being accountable for my time). I’m going to be doing a monthly update post on those every month, so follow along if you’re interested (or you just really want to know how many times a week I load the dishwasher…)

Hang in there, folks. Living through history is tough, but we’re tougher, right? We can change and adapt and learn to live in challenging circumstances if we lean on each other and take care of each other. Nothing about this is ideal, but we can do our best to survive, stay healthy, and maybe even thrive a little.

May 2022 bring you excellent reading, love, good health (physical AND mental!), personal growth, friendship, oases of calm amidst the ongoing storm, confidence that we’re strong enough to face whatever comes our way, and peace. Love to you, my friends.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: November 2021

Holy low amounts of reading this month, Batman!

Some months are like that. I’ve been working on some house projects and trying to get things in better shape around here, which has eaten up a lot of my time. Plus, I’ve finally gotten into a kind of an everyday schedule, which has done wonders for my mental health, but has left me with less time to read. That’s okay. It happens. Not every month can be bookishly perfect.

But it hasn’t been a bad month at all. November is always one of my favorites. The weather is getting colder, and the trees here were absolutely stunning this year. I’m back to actually getting dressed most days- in actual people clothes, as we jokingly call it- and that makes me feel more productive. We’ve had a few snow flurries, but no accumulation yet…but I’m sure it’s coming! And Hanukkah has started, and if you’ve never had a latke, you’re absolutely missing out. Crispy fried oniony potatoey deliciousness. Seriously the world’s most perfect food. I wait all year for these and they never disappoint.

But books!

Let’s get this roundup started, shall we?

Books I Read in November 2021

1. Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words by Annika Sharma

2. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

3. Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America by Eyal Press

4. Princess in Disguise by E.D. Baker (no review; read out loud to my daughter)-

5. The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live by Danielle Dreilinger

6. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

7. White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color by Ruby Hamad

8. Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by Lev AC Rosen

9. Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson

10. The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert

11. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

The nonfiction I read were heavy books that took me a long time to get through- some books just take more time to process than others- so that definitely accounts for my lower numbers this month. All-of-a-Kind Family was a reread; my daughter didn’t remember it from the last time we read it, so we wandered through it again. It’s a sweet, charming read, and she enjoyed it a lot. Princess in Disguise, however, was just…not good. The Little Prince is one of my favorite books, though the translation we read, I’ve always felt, is clunky. There’s a more recent one and eventually I’d like to check that out.

Seven of these books came from my TBR.

Reading Challenge Updates

Not currently participating in any reading challenges, but my library has a winter reading bingo that starts up on December 1st! I may try to wrangle some of my TBR picks into that, we’ll see.

State of the Goodreads TBR

Last month, the total rang in at 156; this month, we’re sliding in at…156. Those end-of-year book lists are starting to creep in. I’m in trouble!

Books I Acquired in November 2021

None!

Bookish Things I Did in November 2021

I virtually attended my library’s monthly board meeting! The sound quality was pretty terrible, but I could mostly follow along, and it was actually pretty interesting. I was cheered to learn that my library is in such great financial shape, and they showed drone photos of the new library building’s progress, which was, of course, extremely exciting!!! I plan on attending these as often as I can, so I can stay in the loop.

Current Podcast Love

Still making my way through Ologies with Alie Ward. Cannot recommend this highly enough; Alie is so bright and energetic and such a fabulous interviewer that even episodes that don’t seem like they would interest me much turn out to be fascinating.

I had an unfortunate experience with a migraine Thanksgiving night, and migraines require true crime podcasts (I have no idea why, but it’s the only thing I want to listen to when I’m down like that. So weird). During that time, it was back to Crime Junkie.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

It’s on! I’ve *finally* made progress with this and gotten into a good routine here.

So, the book I picked up for this challenge at the beginning of my daughter’s school year was The Joy of Sects: A Spirited Guide to the World’s Religious Traditions by Peter Occhiogrosso. It’s a sizeable book that’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years, and one I’ve wanted to read for a very long time. Pre-pandemic, I’d usually read a set chunk of my Read Harder book- 30 pages, 50 pages, whatever worked for me at the time with the book I was working through. That technique wasn’t working for this, however, and after trying several things and failing, I decided to start with how I was working on cleaning projects: by setting a timer. So every day after lunch and Pilates (if my back isn’t too garbage to do Pilates), I sit down with The Joy of Sects and set the timer for 30 minutes, and I read until the timer beeps. I’m currently 275 pages into this book, and I’m pretty proud of that!

Real Life Stuff

My daughter has now had both vaccines (she’ll be considered fully vaccinated December 10th!), and I had my booster shot! WOOHOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No side effects for either of us, neither of us has grown a tail (disappointing!), and our internet is still the same speed as it always was. (And if I’m microchipped, well, I apologize for my boring life to whoever is tracking me, and am relieved that they’ll have an easier time finding me if I ever go missing. All those true crime podcasts, man…)

She had her first playdate since the pandemic started; a friend from school came over for a few hours and they had a wonderful time. And we were able to celebrate Thanksgiving with my mother-in-law, her boyfriend, my sister-in-law, and my nephew. Everyone there was vaccinated (the kids had each had one at the time), and most of the adults had received their booster (daughter and I went the next day). It was lovely, though a bit strange, as we were all still feeling a little weird being unmasked and anywhere close to people we don’t live with! We’ll still be keeping very safe, but we feel a little better knowing the kids are on their way to being better protected.

We also attended an outdoor Hanukkah gathering, which was a lot of fun. Music, donuts, candle lighting, and a walk through some outdoor lights made for a great evening! It was nice to have somewhere to go and something to do, after so long of…just…not, you know?

I’ve also started blogging again at my old blogspot blog, Stephanie Gets It Done. If you’re interested in what my (fairly boring!) daily life looks like, you can check it out. I’ve got a lot of projects in mind for the new year and I felt the need to be more accountable for my time. Starting to blog there again helped me to kind of organize my thoughts and my time and pull me out of the life-is-somewhat-normal-again-now-what kind of panic I’d been feeling earlier this year. It’s what helped me get back into more of a regular daily routine, which is incredibly helpful.

Other than that, it’s been a nice quiet month! We’re pretty low-key about this time of year, so there’s not a lot of hustle and bustle. I’m looking forward to the colder months, of snuggling up on my chair with my crocheted afghan and plowing through some good reading.

I wish you all love, light, and peace as we move into this last month of 2022! May your reading be merry and bright. : )

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: October 2021

October flew by as well! I’m starting to think we’re either in some kind of bizarre time warp, or I just don’t understand how time works anymore.

It’s been a good month in terms of quality of reading, but I’ve been reading a lot of really emotionally intense things. I’m working down my Goodreads TBR list of what’s available at my local library, and it’s a lot of harder books, subjects I’ve put off or have been waiting until things are slightly less crazy in life to get to. Well…I don’t know when or if things are ever going to truly settle down, so I’ve been diving in. It’s been a rough month in a number of ways, but the reading has helped a lot. I hope you’re hanging in there as well, and that you had a happy Halloween, if it’s something you celebrate! Welcome to November. I’m grateful for books, my library, and for you. 🙂

Let’s get this recap started, shall we?

Books I Read in October 2021

1. The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

2. Men Who Hate Women – From Incels to Pickup Artists: The Truth About Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All by Laura Bates

3. Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness by Jennifer Berry Hawes

4. The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

5. A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

6. Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood by Mark Oppenheimer

7. In the Land of Believers: An Outsider’s Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church by Gina Welch

8. Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi

9. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (no review)

10. Broke In America: Seeing, Understanding, and Ending U.S. Poverty by Joanne Samuel Goldblum and Colleen Shaddox

11. How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France (review to come)

12. Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home by Lauren Kessler (review to come)

So, bit of a slow month overall, but amazing in terms of quality, and not easy in terms of the emotional impact of these books. Undocumented immigrants, violent misogyny, racial hatred that led to murder, a middle grade historical fiction, the psychological effect of a mass school shooting, antisemitism that led to murder, undercover writing about Evangelical Christianity, Islamophobia, more racial hatred, extreme poverty. Once again, phew! I do have more fiction on my TBR, I promise! I WILL get to it eventually! I just enjoy nonfiction a lot, even the tough stuff. I enjoy learning about the world from someone else’s perspective and feeling like I’m using my brain (the opportunity for that doesn’t happen often these days, so I’m grasping for any chance I can get!).

My daughter and I are reading Anne of Avonlea. I don’t know that she enjoys this one as much as she did Anne of Green Gables, simply because it’s harder for her to relate to a more grown-up Anne, but I’m enjoying it! Not sure what’s next on our list.

Nine of these books came from my TBR.

Reading Challenge Updates

Not current participating in any reading challenges.

State of the Goodreads TBR

Last month, we left off at 156 books on said TBR; this month, we’re down to 150! Imagine, there once was a time when it was down to 78…It’s nice to have goals, right???

Books I Acquired in October 2021

None!

Bookish Things I Did in October 2021

I was browsing an online calendar for virtual Jewish events at the end of September when I came across two events that I immediately wanted to attend. The first was an appearance by Mark Oppenheimer, author, journalist, and co-host of the Unorthodox podcast, to discuss his latest book, Squirrel Hill. I hadn’t read the book yet, but as luck would have it, it came in at my library that night. The interview with Mark was wonderful and illustrated his emotional ties to both the Jewish community as a whole and his ancestral neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. The second event I attended happened several days later; author Dara Horn was promoting her latest book, People Love Dead Jews, which I had already read. She discussed her book and debated a few topics with another speaker; she’s wildly intelligent and I really enjoyed being able to hear her speak.

These online author presentations are one of the few gifts we’ve been given from this awful pandemic, and it’s something I hope continues long into the future.

Current Podcast Love

Still listening to and enjoying the Ologies podcast! It’s endless fun, and a fun way to learn as I’m falling asleep, or when I wake up in the middle of the night. Alie Ward is a fabulous interviewer, and even subjects I have no interest in, she makes me go, “Huh, maybe this is interesting after all…” Highly recommended!

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Uh, yeah. No progress on that this month. I’ll talk about why below.

Real Life Stuff

Oof, what a month.

Depression and anxiety hit me HARD last month. Like, really, really hard, and it only continued to get worse this month. My heart was racing, I couldn’t focus, my stomach noped out of eating pretty much anything because it felt like it was full of pre-performance butterflies at all times…things were bad, friends. Like, finally bad enough for me to break down and call to get a same-day doctor appointment with a doctor who I’ve seen before but who is not my regular provider. Crying to someone you barely know while wearing a mask really sucks, you know? He was kind and sympathetic and agreed that I was entirely emotionally tapped out from *gestures broadly at everything* and prescribed me a low dose of antidepressants to get me over this hump. And fortunately, they kicked in after about a week and a half…

…just in time for my back to go out again! (I can’t win.) I had been doing great since my caudal injections last month, until I bent over to buckle my daughter in her car seat and something on my left side spasmed mightily, leaving me in heaps of pain, struggling to walk and once again feeling like my pelvis is trying to electrocute me when I’m in a sitting position- only this time, because of the antidepressant, I couldn’t take the gabapentin to control that like I would have before. My physiatrist’s office responded to my message on Monday; they were able to fit me in for an emergency appointment the next day, where we scheduled more caudal injections. She said if I keep flaring after this set of injections, she wants to redo my MRI and consult with the surgeon about maybe going in there and shaving off the herniated part of what’s left of my L5S1 disc. Not my ideal situation, but it would be nice to, you know, move normally again and not be in SO much pain all the time, so we’ll see. Round 2 of injections happens tomorrow, so think good thoughts for me! 🙂  (On the way out the door, my doctor saw my copy of How to Survive a Plague by David France and remarked, “Oh, that’s a really good book!” She’s got excellent taste in books, y’all!)

That’s about it! I’m crossing everything that my daughter will be able to get vaccinated this month; our local Walgreens said they were preparing to vaccinate kids in the next week or two, so here’s hoping! May your November be filled with love, warmth, light, and beautiful colors, no matter where you’re at in the world. Be safe, friends.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: September 2021

I legit do not understand where September went.

I suppose that after March 2020, any month seems fast, but this one blazed by like lightning. The month just started, and now it’s October? What??? The temperatures took a drop here, then popped back up; we’re in that yo-yo season, where it could be either 50 or in the high 80’s, and most days it starts off chilly enough to need a light jacket but ends up toasty by mid-afternoon. There’s really no telling around here. We’ve trick-or-treated in shorts, and we’ve trick-or-treated during snow storms, so who knows where we’ll be by the end of the month! (Or even what we’ll be doing. As it stands, I *think* we’re going to attempt trick-or-treating- masked, of course- but with the pandemic still changing so rapidly, who knows. I will say, our county- which boasts the highest vaccination rate in the state- is faring pretty decently in terms of numbers, and- KNOCK ON WOOD- there have been zero cases in my daughter’s entire school district this week.)

It’s been a pretty good month for reading in terms of both quantity and quality, though so much of what I’ve been reading has been super heavy in terms of content and emotional toll. I’m down to 45 books on my TBR being available at my local library, and a lot of those are ones I’ve kind of put off because of their intensity, so here we are! My goal is to try to finish this list up, then read off my own shelves in between waiting for interlibrary loan books. We’ll see how quickly I get there!

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

Books I Read in September 2021

1. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

2. Fixation: How to Have Stuff Without Breaking the Planet by Sandra Goldmark

3. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

4. Someday Angeline by Louis Sachar (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

5. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

6. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair; translated by Carolin Sommer

7. Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession by Sarah Weinman

8. Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

9. The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control by Steve Hassan

10. People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present by Dara Horn

11. Paddington Goes to Town by Michael Bond (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

12. Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation by Eboo Patel

13. Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy by Talia Lavin

14. The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt

15. Flying Couch: A Graphic Memoir by Amy Kurzweil

16. Love at First by Kate Clayborn (review to come)

17. They Went Left by Monica Hesse (review to come)

18. Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II by Svetlana Alexievich (review to come)

19. I, Houdini by Lynne Reid Banks (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

Phew, that’s a LOT of heavy reading this month. We have: therapy, the potential destruction of the planet, politics, nuclear disaster, Nazis, murder, more politics, more Nazis, religion, white supremacy, infrastructure, post-Holocaust family trauma, a romance novel, a post-Holocaust novel, and Russian children during World War II.

I need to add some fluff to my TBR more regularly, don’t I??? Cripes.

My daughter and I had some fun reading this month. She’s loved everything we’ve read together, especially Bunnicula. We’re missing the next book in the series, but we own the two after that, so once I grab a copy of the second book from the library, we’ll start in on that. I brought up a huge stack of books from the basement shelves the other day and have been letting her choose which one we start each time we finish, so that’s been nice. We just finished I, Houdini by Lynne Reid Banks, about an escape artist hamster, which is cute but dated in a few spots (and I had to gently censor a few bits about hamster mating that she’s not quite ready to hear about, and one completely WTF line about forced mating that I truly hope has been edited out in current versions). Not sure what she’ll pick next, but it’s always fun to read out loud to her. 🙂

A good month for reading from my TBR! Fifteen of these came from my TBR list of books available at my local library. All the books I read to my daughter came from our own shelves.

Reading Challenge Updates

Not currently participating in any reading challenges.

State of the Goodreads TBR

Last month, we left off at 164 books; this month, we’re clocking in at…156! The elevator is going down. Slowly, but still going down!

Books I Acquired in September 2021

I stopped at the thrift store to check for a water bottle for my daughter (we had a great metal one with a flip-straw top, which she needs for school, so she can put the straw under her mask to drink. “This one will last forever!” I thought. She dropped it on its head and shattered the plastic flip-straw, because of course she did), and along with getting her some clothing, I also picked up a three-books-in-one book: A Room with a View; Howards End; and Maurice, all by E.M. Forster. I’d read parts of A Room with a View years ago, but didn’t get around to finishing it, and I always wished I had. Now I can. 🙂

Bookish Things I Did in September 2021

I was able to virtually attend presentations by both Wes Moore (author of The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates) and Lori Gottlieb, whose Maybe You Should Talk to Someone I read this month. Both were inspiring, insightful speakers who gave me a lot to think about. I’m deeply grateful to what I refer to as our local parent education group (but students are always present at these presentations as well and are often assigned these books as in-class reading) for continuing to host such dynamic authors and educators.

Current Podcast Love

I listened to a lot of the Leaving Eden podcast at the beginning of the month when I was cleaning and organizing, but I felt like I needed something new to listen to at night while I’m falling asleep. I have a lot of rules for my nighttime podcast: it can’t be too loud, it can’t be too linear (I need each episode to have different content, not building on the last episode, so that when I wake up in the middle of the night, there aren’t any spoilers), no music, or not much, and it can’t be too scary (I’ve discovered that a lot of true crime podcasts give me nightmares). I searched around a bit and then came across a podcast I remember my friend Sandy recommending at one point: the Ologies podcast! In each episode, host Alie Ward interviews some sort of -ologist: a paleontologist, a cosmetologist, a hematologist, a mythologist. It’s FASCINATING. Alie is delightful and fun, and her guests are all so interesting. Even if the subject isn’t necessarily something I’d explore on my own, Alie asks great questions and makes everything so interesting. It’s completely stress-free learning, and I love it so much. 🙂

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

I’m still trying to get into the flow of this. My current goal is to read through The Joy of Sects: A Spirited Guide to the World’s Religious Traditions by Peter Occhiogrosso by reading a small amount each day. I take my daughter out of school for lunch each day (to cut down on her need to be maskless in school, and thus cut down my anxiety), which breaks my day in half. The morning is full of cooking and often cleaning (although I’ve kind of slacked off on this lately; I’m tired of cleaning for people who very much don’t care if they live like pigs in a hovel and who immediately trash any effort I make); my husband is home at 2 pm most days, and it’s hard to focus on any harder reading when he’s home and talking. Plus I’m also doing some of my volunteer work during this time, so everything’s still a little up in the air in terms of schedule. Pre-pandemic, I would do my cooking and cleaning, then settle down to read my Read Harder challenge book, but the lunch break usually means I have to stop my reading short, which breaks my focus. Still trying to figure this one out.

Real Life Stuff

To be completely honest, I’m struggling a lot right now. We’re, what, nineteen months into this pandemic now? With my daughter at school, I spend most of the day alone…which would normally be great, but I’m emotionally empty and starved at this point, and I’m struggling with feeling anything other than burned out and depressed. I have so many things I would like to do, but I’m overwhelmed at the idea of actually doing any of them, and it feels impossible to get started on anything. I’ve struggled keeping up with my blog posts at times and even struggled getting them posted after I’ve written them (though this has gotten better this past week!). I don’t necessarily want to take a break from blogging, because this is one of the few things keeping me on track, and writing about what I read helps to cement the books in my brain, which I love. I’m just…tired. I feel like an empty shell.

I don’t want to complain too much, because I know so many of us are struggling. These restrictions are tough, and living through history really sucks when we’re called to do difficult things in order to stay safe. Rationing sucked during World War II. Doing without pretty much everything stank during the Great Depression. Traversing the US in a covered wagon was likely not a great time, nor was it a great time when settlers showed up to steal the Native Americans’ land. This pandemic is just another tough part of history; comparatively, we have it pretty good, but mentally, it’s exhausting. I’ve been coping by reading a whole, whole lot. Soon, my swing will have to be put away in the garage for the winter and I’m pretty sad about that. My son is still living with his best friend, so I may use his room as my winter reading nook if he stays there, a quiet place I can go to escape the noise of my husband and daughter running around and shrieking like banshees (I wish I were exaggerating; they quite literally chase each other back and forth in front of my reading chair, shrieking and screaming. My sister-in-law was over once while this was happening and shot me a stricken look and said, “Is it like this all the time here? I would go nuts…” to which I just nodded).

I don’t mean to be such a Debbie Downer here, but I guess every update can’t be sunshine and rainbows; sometimes it’s just rain, but there wouldn’t be any flowers without that rain, so let’s hope for better next month, eh? I hope this is a month we can all be glad that we live in a world where there are Octobers (thanks, Anne Shirley!).

Keep your chin up, friends. We’ll get through this, and there are always books on the crummy days. 🙂

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: August 2021

AUGUST, AMIRITE???

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

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

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

Books I Read in August 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six of these came from my TBR!

Reading Challenge Updates

Not currently participating in any reading challenges.

State of the Goodreads TBR

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

Books I Acquired in August 2021

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

Bookish Things I Did in August 2021

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

Current Podcast Love

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

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

Real Life Stuff

What a month!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: July 2021

August is here! My birthday month!

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

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

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

Books I Read in July 2021

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

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

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

4. The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

5. Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

6. Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

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

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

9. This Side of Home by Renée Watson

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

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

12. You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

13. Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

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

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

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

Reading Challenge Updates

No current challenges going on.

State of the Goodreads TBR

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

Books I Acquired in July 2021

WOOHOO, I WENT TO A BOOK SALE!!!

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

Books to read aloud to my daughter:

Books to learn from:

Books to kick back and dive into:

And Jewish books!!!

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

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

Bookish Things I Did in July 2021

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

Current Podcast Love

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

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

Real Life Stuff

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

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

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

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

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: June 2021

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

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

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

Books I Read in June 2021

1. The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

2. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

3. Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

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

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

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

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

8. The Book of V by Anna Solomon

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

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

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

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

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

14. Well Met by Jen DeLuca

15. Well Played by Jen DeLuca

16. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell

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

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

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

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

Reading Challenge Updates

No reading challenges going on here right now.

State of the Goodreads TBR

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

Books I Acquired in June 2021

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

Bookish Things I Did in June 2021

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

Current Podcast Love

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

SO.

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

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

And then this happened

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

And…

Thirdly…

*drumroll, please*

I got my writing published!!!

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

This happened.

And this happened.

And this happened.

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

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

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

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

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

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: May 2021

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

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

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

What I Read in May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Challenge Updates

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

State of the Goodreads TBR

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

Books I Acquired in May of 2021

I actually have books to list here this month!

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

Bookish Things I Did in May 2021

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

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

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

Current Podcast Love

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal!

Real Life Stuff

Finally, summer break!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: April 2021

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

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

Let’s get this recap started, shall we?

What I Read in April 2021

1. Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

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

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

4. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

5. Once Upon a Bad Boy by Melonie Johnson

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

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

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

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

10. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

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

12. Down to Earth by Rhonda Hetzel

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

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

Reading Challenge Updates

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

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

State of the Goodreads TBR

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

Books I Acquired in April 2021

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

Bookish Things I Did in April 2021

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

Current Podcast Love

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

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

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

What a month!

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

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

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

And now, for my biggest, happiest news…

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

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

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

Mini reviews

A Collection of Mini-Reviews!

You ever get a little behind in things?

It’s been a month around here. Several months, in fact, and the past two weeks have been rough. Chronic pain can be unpredictable, except when it’s not- looking forward to something? INSTANT FLARE. And such was my daughter’s spring break, which I’d been looking forward to for months. Not that we were going anywhere, but it was an entire week where she didn’t have to log into virtual school, I didn’t have to supervise (“Sit up, you’re not in the camera.” “Are you even doing this?” “DID YOU HEAR WHAT YOUR TEACHER SAID? WRITE IT DOWN SO HELP ME GOD!!!”), and I would have a whole week long to actually get stuff done around the house instead of having to constantly threaten an almost-seven-year-old all day long. *tears hair out* Which of course means that my back, which was already not doing well, went full speed ahead into one of the worst flares I’ve had in my life (not *the* worst, but probably the second). It was so bad that not only was moving around incredibly difficult, I wasn’t even able to sit upright.

That’s right. That spring break, where I planned to get so much done? I spent all of it lying in bed, trying to keep my already cooped-up kiddo entertained that way.

Yeah. I don’t get paid enough for this.

After multiple doctor appointments and what basically amounted to a wheelbarrow of medication, the flare is finally mostly under control and I can do fun things like sit in a chair without feeling like my pelvic bone is electrocuting me to death. I also had another MRI and have yet another consult with the spine doc at the end of the month (not expecting him to be able to do anything for me; no one ever really seems like they can). But I’m a little behind in reviews, so I’m going to do a catch-up post of mini-reviews here to maintain my sanity, because it’s barely there as it is!

Mini-reviews, right ahead!

Boyfriend Material

by Alexis Hall

(Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2020)

Cute little M/M, opposites-attract, fake dating romance. Luc is a ne’er-do-well child of aging celebrities; his job depends on not screwing up at the non-profit’s major fundraiser for the year, and it would help if he had a respectable boyfriend. Enter Oliver, upper-class, buttoned-to-the-top barrister who could also stand to be seen dating someone for his parents’ anniversary party. It’s a perfect match, in more ways than one.

I didn’t find this super exciting, but it was a pleasant-enough read. Luc wasn’t really a hugely likeable character to start out with, so it was interesting to watch him grow throughout the course of the story and see how the author treated that. There was a family story arc here that felt deeply realistic, more so than other estranged-parent-returns storylines in other books, and I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel.

Once Upon a Bad Boy (Sometimes in Love #3)

by Melonie Johnson

(St. Martin’s Press, 2019)

Cutesy romance about Sadie, an actress on the verge of hitting it big in her first leading lady role, and Bo, the stunt coordinator in charge of keeping Sadie safe. The two of them had been a couple as teenagers, deeply in love, but ten years have passed, and things are…complicated. Can the two figure things out and find their way back to each other?

A fun distraction. I loved that it was set in Chicago- seriously, not enough stories are set in this area; it’s a great place!- and that, while not a major feature of the story, so many of the characters were Jewish. An excellent combination. 😊

Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice

by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow

(Vendome Press, 2009)

 So, during the nightmare hellscape that was Europe during the 1930’s and 40’s, Jewish people were forced to “sell” all their property, including artwork, or had it outright taken from them because Germany and its territories needed to be “Aryanized.” *insert barfing noises here* And, of course, after the war, most places were like, “Us? Do something wrong? *GASP* But it was LEGAL back then, so really, that stuff actually truly belongs to us now, kthnxbai.” Sometimes, through legal means, people- or their surviving family members- had their stolen artwork returned to them. Usually, they didn’t, and this book tells the stories of some of the families who lost art collections they’d spent their entire lives building.

This book makes me feel extremely suspicious of even the biggest, most well-known art museums. So many places exhibit stolen art- art that they know was stolen, that they know was sold by force or under duress, and their attitude to that is, “Eh, not our problem.” I like art. I like looking at it, I enjoy learning about it, I sometimes enjoy making it, but…I’ve lost a lot of respect for art museums as a whole because of this book. If I found out that something I’d bought that had previous owners had been stolen from someone who lost everything- maybe even their life- I couldn’t in good conscience keep that object, and I can’t respect anyone who would. Excellent book that tells a deeply disturbing story of the art world’s lack of ethics.

What They Saved: Memories of a Jewish Past

by Nancy K. Miller

(University of Nebraska Press, 2011)

Memoir of a woman doing research on her Jewish family, à la The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn, though lacking that memoir’s direction and panache.

And that’s it for now! I’m really loving the book of short stories I’m reading now, so I’ll definitely get a single review up for that once I’m finished with it. I hate getting behind, but with that nasty pain flare, it was inevitable (it’s surprisingly difficult to operate a computer when you can’t sit up). It’s good to be back on track! 😊