Still Alice: The Scariest Book I've Ever Read

I knew that Still Alice by Lisa Genova would bother me. A highly-intelligent, young (fifty, which is young for this condition) woman who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's? A woman who does everything she can to stay healthy,
mentally and physically is plagued with this horrible disease way too early]. I'm all about preventative care; I've been wearing sunscreen since I was sixteen, am very active, get physicals every year, and try to stay away from saturated fat and all those other things that will kill you (although I do drink Diet Coke and eat processed sugar, so subtract five years). My point: the things you can't control about your health frighten me. Like Alzheimer's. 

My grandmother is in her eighties and is suffering from the disease, and the progression was slow, until the last year or two (I don't want to divulge too many personal details, because it's not my place, but I saw her over the weekend and if I were a betting woman I'd say it's the later stages of Alzheimer's). She was an opinionated, productive, busy woman her entire life, raising six children. She played bunco, was in a bowling league, ran Girl Scout troops, volunteered at the food bank, was in the church's Mission Circle, camped in the trailer with my grandpa once a month, and enjoyed crafts. She wasn't the type of grandmother that would jump up to tell make you a sandwich- she pointed you to the fridge and told you to help yourself. She was always up for a last minute trip to the store and could kick most people's butts at Up Words. She was active mentally and physically, but the synapses in her brain decided to rebel. Nature? Nurture? Both? 

Alice, in Still Alice, knew something was up when she started forgetting things frequently. Some of the things were simple, like her Blackberry. But there were also more important things, like how to get home when jogging around the neighborhood she had lived in for years. She devised a test that asked basic questions about her life and programmed her phone with an alarm so that she'd take it every morning. If she failed she included a note directing herself to a folder on her computer with instructions on how to commit suicide. It was fascinating to see the loss of complexity her answers contained as the months, and her illness, progressed. Her relationships changed, her position at work became obsolete, and all the while a little piece of her knew that she wasn't who she once was. 

It's a horrible way to live. And die.

Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that effects more than just simple memory; it takes over how people act, think, and behave. It effects more women than men and is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. There is a lot of promising research, some of which links cardiovascular health and head trauma to developing the disease (also genes and race). Prevention suggestions range from staying active, to eating healthy, to staying social and intellectually challenged. [source].

Still Alice broke my heart, but not with the ending I thought I saw coming. Forgetting the people and things you love is almost as bad as them being ripped away from you. But, then there's the other side, too. What about those who love you that are no longer remembered? And must give up so many things to care for you? It's horrible for everyone and there is no "right way" to do it. For some families, caring for the person in-home with some professional assistance might be their right way. For other families, placing the person in a facility with round-the-clock care might be their right way. I've already told my husband that I'd like to be placed in a center (a really nice one, though, with like botanical gardens and piano players and fluffy robes) if I develop anything along these lines. 

Confession: I hadn't visited my grandparents in seven months before reading Still Alice. It's hard going over there, for me personally, and I can't take Sawyer since it's just not the right place for him now that he is so crazy mobile. Lisa Genova offered me a new perspective though, and I felt inclined to pop in for a few moments to say hi (they live an hour or so away). 

Getting old sucks. So, while we're in the process of slowly dying it's important we make the most of our time. Put that on a Hallmark card. 

A Day in the Life- Summer Break Edition

I was on the fence about doing one of these day-in-the-life posts, since I know that they're a little self-indulgent. On the other hand, they're also a nice way to log how life at certain times is. Right now it's summer and I'm a temporary stay-at-home-mom, so I thought it would be nice to record a typical day for Sawyer, my fifteen-month-old, and I. Four out of five week days we have some sort outing, usually to see one of my friends or to a park or beach or something fun like that. I try to take one day a week to stay at home, because I think that's important for both of us. Even we are out and about, I make sure that we have a chunk of time, usually the afternoon, so that we're home and he can nap and play. There as to be a balance between everything! 

Wednesday, July 29

6:00-6:20 Sawyer wakes up at six, after sleeping ten hours, so I can't complain too much. I mean, I really hate waking up that early, but it beats his old 4:50 wake up call, and my soon-to-be 5:15 alarm. I take him back to our bed, hoping he'll doze off. He does... for like five minutes. He likes to crawl all over and torment my sleeping husband (lucky), so we get up and head downstairs with the dogs.

6:20-7:50 I get breakfast for Sawyer (oatmeal, banana, milk), the dogs, and myself (cereal and lots of iced coffee). I put dishes away while Sawyer attempts to eat a whole banana (his idea), load the dishwasher, and then we head back upstairs. Sawyer goes into his crib to play while I get ready, and then I get him dressed. We head back downstairs and Sawyer plays with Scott for a little bit before he has to leave for work.

7:50-8:15 We walk around the neighborhood with whatever Ninja Turtle the purple one is. 

8:15-8:45 When we get back I hop on the treadmill. I'm not training for anything in particular and wasn't really feeling it today, so I decided to just walk some hills and read a bit of Judy Blume's new book. I have a play area set up for Sawyer, which he tolerates for about a half an hour. At some point I hopped off to give him something and rolled my ankle, all the while face planting on the floor. Once I ascertained that it wasn't broken, I stupidly got back on and finished my walk. 

8:45-9:05 I put Sawyer in our big soaking tub in the bathroom so I could get get ready to leave the house later in the morning. This is probably the last time I can do that, since he chose today to learn how to crawl out. 

9:05-10:00 I lay Sawyer down for his morning nap. While he slept I iced my foot while working on a blog post. We needed to leave the house a few minutes after ten, so I had to wake him up to get him dressed in his "nice" clothes (ie the ones that aren't $4 a piece at Target). He was slightly less than thrilled to get up and have to change his clothes and get his hair done. Too bad, kid.

10:00-11:30 We drive to the mall (ugh) and walk through Nordstroms, Macy's, and JcPenney's, trying to find a pair of Stride Rite shoes for him, or something comparable. He's sill not walking yet, but since he's in PT from his torticollis still (which is gone, they just won't exit him until he walks so they can make sure he's aligned properly), I get plenty of suggestions from the therapist. She thinks a lot of the issue is just a lack of interest- crawling works well for him. She also thinks he may have inherited my weak, flat feet, so she suggested getting him a pair of shoes that's more supportive than his flimsy sandals, might help, or at least not hurt. We had zero success, so I'm going to have to go to the actual store when we're in Orange County tomorrow. 

11:30-12:30 We meet my mother-in-law, who wanted to see Sawyer, at the Cheesecake Factory for lunch. He's pretty well-behaved in public, but would rather goof off than eat lately.  

12:30-12:45 He falls asleep on the drive home and I plop him in his crib when we get back. This has been super easy to do lately.

12:45- 2:10 While Sawyer naps I do some chores (wipe down the bathrooms, sweep the kitchen, clean the stainless steel appliances, and fold a load of laundry). I finished the blog post from the morning, look up a few things online for tomorrow's outing (unless my foot gets worse). and read a few more pages.

2:10-2:45 Sawyer wakes up, he has a huge snack to make up for his lack of lunch, and we get ready to go swimming. I text the neighbor to see if she and her son want to join us but I don't hear back.

2:45-4:00 Pool time! 

4:00-4:30 We run up to the grocery store to grab fresh french bread for dinner

4:30-6:00 After we get home we read the three new books Sawyer's grandma got him (well, I read while he plays, but close enough), we play ball, and then LEGOs. I also drink some coffee because by this time of the day I start getting sleepy. I read a few more pages of my book while he destroys the Tupperware drawer. We also learn that he can finally drink from a straw, which he's super proud of. 

[Mr. TIger Goes Wild was great; I'm planning a new kids book post soon!]

6:00-6:35 The neighbor invites us over to play in the backyard, so we go over there to hang out for a little while before dinner. He tortures their two cats- "meow" is the only animal sound he knows so he was very, very excited to see one in person. Every time he touched it he giggled hysterically. And then the little boy tried to beat Sawyer up, so it was time to go (he's two, though, so what can you do? Sawyer was fine, just a little surprised, and the mom intervened immediately. I'm learning to roll with this sort of stuff). 

6:35-7:00 I give Sawyer his food (peas, meatballs, bread, and oranges) and prep ours. Nothing glamorous tonight- french bread pizzas. Last night I made this fancy roasted tomatillo dish that had lots of steps and ingredients, so tonight was a little basic. 

[I only took a picture of this because I realized how few I had for today]

7:00-7:15 Bath time for Sawyer. He's a huge fan of lining up all his little animals on the tub, and I'm a big fan of sitting on my ass and watching him. Scott comes home. 

7:15-8:00 Scott and I eat together in the dining room (I feel very strongly about this, and luckily he goes with it; we never ate in front of the TV growing up... I prefer, you know, like talking to each other!) while Sawyer discovers he can figure out how to stand on his tip toes and play with the shudders. I clean up dinner while the two of them play. We then bust out the bubble wrap that came in a package. Fun for alllllll. Teeth are brushed, good nights are said.

8:00-8:15 I take Sawyer up to his room and we sing our little song and talk about our day and he's out in less than five minutes. I always hold him a few extra minutes, though, because he's so cuddly and sweet. One day he will smell horrible and look at naked women (or men) on the Internet and I won't get to snuggle with him.

8:15-8:45 Shower. Relish in the quiet. Carefully plan out my powerful speech accusing my husband of using my razor (he staunchly denies it. Now I don't know what to believe). 

8:45-9:05 Talked to my husband about a work thing he needs me to help him brainstorm for (he's a copywriter at an advertising agency). Ice very, very sore foot. 

9:05-10:20 Talk to husband, read, answer a few work emails, go to bed.

(13,549 steps... on day I hurt my foot! Not bad.) 

Super exciting, I know. It was actually a really easy, enjoyable day, minus the foot pain. Got some stuff done, played, read... not bad.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Hello! Link up, link back, or just say hi!

1. I just finished Andy Weir's The Martian and loved it. I'm definitely not a sci-fi reader, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was truly emotionally invested. Weir balances the science talk with a great personality and plenty of emotion. I don't think it's exceptionally well-written, exactly, but the story and voice make up for it. I convinced my husband to read it and he started this morning, which reminds me of college when we took some of the same English classes. I love talking about books with people, so I'm pretty excited.

2. Last night on a late-night allergy pill run to Target (side note: now that I'm 100% done nursing I can take awesome things like cold medicine and Claritin again! Interestingly, within a week of being done my allergies came back with a vengeance, after laying low since getting pregnant) I head a couple having a heated debate about keeping things out on the kitchen counter. He was made about the banana hammock and she thought it was fine. I'm totally Team Clean Counter- I am for a small stack of mail, the coffee maker, and a container with some cooking utensils. It also made me happy that there are other couples that argue over really stupid shit.

[I googled "cluttered countertops" and had an anxiety attack; source]

3. Over the past few weeks I've been around two newborn babies and have felt zero inclination to have another one any time soon. I was worried that holding those sweet, sleepy, innocent little ones would make my ovaries start hurting, but not even a twinge. I can't decide if this is good, bad, or natural since it's been only fifteen months since Sawyer was born and I'm just now getting good sleep. 

4. I finally bought a map for my Reading Globally Project that has been in the works for at least a year. Now I'll have to go back and figure out the settings for the books I've read in the last seven months and pin them. I'm trying to figure out the rules, though, since many books have multiple settings. Maybe the primary two? Or over a third of the book has to be spent at a particular place?

5. I downloaded Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies on Audible and so far I'm entertained but am glad I didn't buy the book to read- it's like funny chic lit so far. 

6. My friend, who is a new mom, texted me a link to a Mindy Kaling reading/talk that's happening in LA in two months asking me if I was interested and if we could make it work with the husbands watching kids. Heck yes! I just know her from The Office, but a chance to go into the city together, without kids, is enough for me.

7. Last Friday I took Sawyer to Irvine Regional Park and we had a great time. We road the little train, went to the zoo (it's more of a place where native animals have been rescued), watched other kids go on pony rides, and had lunch. We've also baked cookies together (he's getting good at pouring things in and loves to talk about the "balls" aka eggs, and the "vroom vroom" aka mixer), gone swimming a few times, kept up our walking routine, and visited with lots of friends. Tomorrow I'm going to attempt to take him to the Orange County Fair, which I have never been to.

8. I can't decide if being good at small talk is a skill I wish I had or not. I've been in instances lately where my lack of ability has been painfully obvious (at least to me). 

9. Yesterday I let someone have it on Facebook because they posted something about defunding Planned Parenthood (along with a Confederate flag, claiming PP had killed more "black babies" than "the other side"). I was so, so, so angry, as Planned Parenthood is a phenomenal organization that has helped so many women in times of need. Maybe it is with an abortion, maybe it's with STD screening, birth control, or good old-fashioned information. I'm getting angry again just thinking about the ignorance. 

10. My "bad foot" is in bad shape right now, and I just rolled it hopping off the treadmill this morning. I have flat feet, am an over-pronator, and have an extra bone in my ankle, so anytime I'm off it for more than thirty minutes it gets stiff and hurts for a bit when I get up, as is. Plus, it's always a little swollen. I've had to ice it every night before bed to keep the pain manageable, and I'm super sick of it. I've saw a podiatrist many years ago and spent a lot of money getting inserts made, at his advice. When I started using them they were very uncomfortable and did nothing for me. I guess the only other alternative is surgery, which I'm not interested in. So for now I'll just whine. And ice. 

Reading Margaret for the First Time as an Adult

Somehow, I missed the memo as a preteen that I was supposed to read and identify Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. I read some of her other books, but this one somehow slipped through the cracks. I saw Blume speak a few years ago at a festival and mentally put the YA novel on my wish list (for the record, it's the only YA book on there) but, once again, overlooked it. I finally picked it up this summer after grabbing her newest adult novel, In the Unlikely Event, and seeing other bloggers, like Rory, revisit this classic. So, I decided I'd read about twelve-year-old Margaret for the first time at thirty-one.

One thing that stood out to me the most was the lack of technology. I loved it! These kids had to work at finding out if someone liked them- they couldn't just jump on SnapChat. They had to use house phones and look people "in the book." They experienced boredom. They had to go outside and run in the sprinklers to cool off instead of streaming a movie on Netflix in the air conditioned indoors. Oh, and they use encyclopedias for school work (and to look up male anatomy, naturally). It's all so endearing and refreshing. 

Another thing that struck me was Margaret and her friends' extensive conversations about boobs and periods. Maybe it's just me and my total disgust with bodily functions, but I never ever remember talking about those sorts of topics with anyone when I was that age. It's probably a good things I have a son.

I did love how religion was handled in this book. Margaret's parents aren't practicing, since their parents had conflicting ideas about such topics before they married, yet she is still very interested in religion and embarks on a school project to invest her options. Honestly, after reading this I decided that everyone should wait until they're an adult to pick their religious path. So often people are Catholic or Methodist or whatever because that's how they were raised and haven't really thought about it for themselves. But anyway, I digress. 


It was a super, super quick book that I read in snippets while keeping one eye on the kid. It was nice to see what all the fuss is about, but I'm guessing I'd feel a little more warm and fuzzy about the whole thing if there was a nostalgic factor for me, which there is not. I do think this is still a great book for the ten-twelve crowd, though! 

Reading Log- A Week of Keeping Track

There's a lot of things I have been doing very little of this summer, that I thought I'd actually be doing more of, like drinking wine (my child's sleep is too erratic), swimming (the weather has been fairly mild, for this area, and cloudy), and cleaning (wahhhh I don't want to!). Then there are things that I've been doing more of than I thought, though, like socializing, cooking/baking (usually the heat minimizes oven use), and reading. I thought it would be fun to keep track of my reading habits for a week to see how I'm doing and then repeat the process once work starts. 

Before I go any further, I invite you to do the same! I think it would be fascinating to see how everyone finds the time to plow through their TBR pile. Let me know so I a can be nosy. 

For those that are new followers, or found this blog because Google failed them in some way, I'm a high school English teacher on summer vacation, mother of a very active fourteen-month-old, a wife to a low-maintenance husband, and lover of to-do lists ("read ten books" is an item on my summer list). I also don't really watch much TV (we don't have satellite), which frees up a lot of time. We are currently working our way through Newsroom (love, love, love!), so we maybe watch two or three episodes a week at night after Sawyer is in bed, and maybe two or so movies a month.   

Here's my log:

["nap time" is when Sawyer sleeps... not me]

[Yes, I leave my child so I can go read at Starbucks]

First of all, this is the beauty of summer vacation; when I'm back to work full time in two weeks things will drop off drastically.

Secondly, I feel good about the time I read in front of my son- it's always while he's independently playing, right in front of me. He's obsessed with the tupperware cupboards lately, so I sit in the kitchen with him while he's destructive. I always stop within a minute or two if he comes to see me and if he indicates he'd like to play ball, be read to, etc... He also goes to daycare twice a week for a few hours, which is good for him socially and to stay familiar with the care-giver, so I'm able to read during that block too. I've been reading two books at a time lately, something I've never done before, so that I have something less challenging while I'm hanging out with him. I like that he sees me read- I know I'm setting a good example. 

And last of all, I think that this proves that if something is a priority or passion, you can fit it in (as long as it's reasonable, that is). I try to do things, like folding laundry, when Sawyer is up or my husband is around. I make sure we're busy and having fun outside of the house, but I've tried to not double-book us or over-extend our days. My husband and I spend time together in the evening, but he has his own hobbies too, so we tend to sort of split the difference. If only cleaning organizing were something I was as devoted to (not that my house is a dirty disaster, I just need to do some of those boring, not fun projects we all have).

Let me know if you log your time, too (no you don't need your parent to sign off), or if you know how much time you read a day. It's always interesting to see how people fit it in. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up and link back!

1. So, last week my kid smacked his head pretty hard on the floor, and this week he managed to pop his elbow out of the socket and need it popped back in, along with precautionary x-rays. We have no clue how he did it, although I guess it's a common injury (the laymen's term is "Nursemaid's Elbow" and it can be reoccurring... great). Maybe when he figured out how to open doors and fell? When I was helping him walk up the stairs? When he was trying to sweep? We have no clue. All I know that is you haven't lived until you've had to hold down a hysterical toddler for arm X-rays. Luckily it seems like he's good-to-go today (thank goodness; he wasn't mending as quickly as the doctor wanted and he mentioned sending him to neuro... boo).

2. People rave about Liane Moriarty, but she seems like chic-lit to me. So, I've decided I'd be fair and give her a chance, since some people I respect dig her. I'm going to listen to one of her audiobooks, though, since I have an available credit on Audible. Recommendations?

3. I downloaded Mariah Carey's recent greatest hits album and it's pretty magnificent. Yes, I agree that she seems like a huge bitch, but man, "Dreamlover" just takes me baaaaaaaack. 

4. Do you remember the reading logs that teachers would ask of you back in elementary and junior high school? Don't get me started on how stupid they are (I never used them when I taught the younger kids- between the students and parents I'm pretty sure most were fabricated), but I've decided to keep one for myself for a week. I only have a few days left and then I'll share my super-interesting, scientific findings. No, my mom isn't going to sign off and apparently no one is going to let me pick something from the treasure chest if it's completed on time.

5. I'm slightly addicted to planks. It's my goal to be able to hold one for two minutes straight by the end of the summer and I'm currently up to a minute and twenty seconds. I have no clue what most people can do, but I've never been one to care much about upper body strength, so I'm pretty proud. I love that you can just bust one out pretty much anywhere, any time. 


6. Our July weather is Southern California has been crazy- I rarely have used the air conditioner and last weekend we got somewhere around two inches of rain, which is a lot for us. Obviously this is great because of the drought, but it's a little concerning because flooding in our county showed that we are not equipped for storms and meteorologists have been predicting a severe El Nino this fall. 

7. We went to the super tacky, overpriced, Rainforest Cafe last weekend at Downtown Disney (the area surrounding Disneyland, which is free) because we knew that Sawyer would love it and I've been trying to think of things we can do as a family that involve getting out of the damn house. It was pretty much the pinnacle of eating out for him- he saw moving animals, was allowed to color with crayons, and got his own order of food for once.

8. I'm getting my hair done Saturday and, without fail, I'm on Pinterest trying to find somehow to spice things up. I want to keep the length, so I feel limited (bangs are 100% not an option). And in terms of color, I want something different... but I don't. I just don't know.

9. There are two great things about surrendering the Tupperware cupboards to the kid: it keeps him busy FOREVER and I don't have to feel guilty about not attempting to keep them organized. There is absolutely no point.

10. I'm reading Still Alice and it's scaring the crap out of me. I'll write more later, but Alzheimer's/dementia is a current issue in our family and I'd really prefer not to lose my memory later in life, thanks. 

Top Ten Tuesday: Diversity

This week's TTT asks us to list our top ten choices dealing with diversity, which is always a sensitive topic and one that seems to become more and more complicated. My issue? I'm afraid of saying the "wrong" thing; it seems that as an upper-middle class, healthy, educated, American, white, heterosexual woman I'm on thin ice (not that I'm complaining about these things or asking for sympathy on this matter). "But hey!" I want to scream. "I grew up in a low-income family! I've watched mental illness wreak havoc on my family! My husband is half Mexican! My kid is a quarter Mexican! I'm a feminist! I donate money to Planned Parenthood! I teach in a low SEC area with a high-level of EL students! I'm a Democrat! I'm very sympathetic to the plight of the illegal immigrants! I have friends of color! I-" But association and action doesn't always matter. 

So, I have no idea where I'm going with this. Bottom line: I get it, it's hard to give a shit about the opinions of someone like me when you're oppressed. But, world, I'm trying to understand. I'm trying to practice empathy, and teach it to my son. I'm trying to look at the big picture and small one. 

And, while we're all still trying to figure out how to get along, we can keep reading and using the lessons in literature to make us better, more educated humans. Here are my picks for this week's diversity list (I focused on mostly contemporary reads that helped me understand people that are different than I am): 

1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- What is means to be an African, living in America (and not identify as an African American).

2. Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle- This book reinforced the compassion I had for Mexicans coming to the United States illegally. 

3. Five Days at Memorial by Shari Fink- This nonfiction account of the events that happened at Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina showed some of the major gaps that happen during crises- ones influenced my race and poverty. 

4. A Single Man- Christopher Isherwood- This simple story about a homosexual man who loses his partner is very poignant. 

5. 'Master Harold'... and the Boys by Athol Fugard- This is a play I read with my students every other year that examines race and the Apartheid in South Africa. 

6. The Round House by Louise Erdrich- I had never read much about modern life on Native American reservations, so this shed some light on this way of life.

7. Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun- This short, bleak novella about a young runaway Asian girl who gets mixed up into drugs helped me find compassion for some students in tight spots over the years.

8. Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Aspergers by John Elder Robison- This memoir was a fascinating look into someone's mind different than my own. I think that the media and pop-culture are attached to certain personas in terms of Autism and Asperger's, so this defied some stereotypes.

9. The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar- Set in Southern California this book shed light on not only illegal immigrations, but also domestic employees.

10. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall- I think we're super quick to ridicule Mormons, Scientologists, etc... but this novel offered a unique perspective.  

What the Hell?

There have been several "what the hell?" moments in my life lately, and I just need to get them out there. I'm not a complainer but have done my fair-share of listening to people bitch and moan over the years, so I'm just returning the favor to the universe here for a hot-second. I understand that it could be much worse, as I am not dying of cancer, walking uphill for water to carry back on my head, or a recovering homeless drug addict, but here I am running my mouth. Indulge me. 

1. There is a weird water running sort of noise that comes up in our home every so often (maybe once or twice a year?). It makes me super paranoid, as I imagine something crazy happening in our pipes that will result in massive amounts of repairs being required. I spent several minutes going over our past water bills and saw no increases during the times that I remember matching up with this noise before. I don't want to call a repair man, but if it goes on for more than like a week I may have to. 

2. I've been going to Starbucks a little more often that I should this summer, but I refuse to give up my Sunday morning coffee-run. I go alone, before I grocery shop, and it's become a nice ritual that lets me sit, uninterrupted. When school is in session this is even more sacred, as I need the short break even more, not to mention the caffeine (their coffee always seems to have more than what I brew at home). Anyway, my local Starbucks is closed for renovations... for the second Sunday in a row. It makes me very angry.

3. We're sort of on the cusp of toddler-eating pickiness- I can feel it. Sawyer used to eat any sort of chicken, but lately it has to be of the nugget variety. Anyway, I thought I did a good job making sure he's consuming enough healthy calories and that he's not eating junk food. Recently, someone made me feel really insecure about what I feed him and now I'm second-guessing it at every meal and when I'm buying him things at the store. And I typically couldn't care less about what this person says, which makes the whole thing even more aggravating.

4. It has been super humid and rainy for the last twenty-four hours here in Southern California- I don't remember the last time we had this sort of weather in July. It's great, because of the drought, but puzzling. And all the talk about El Nino? 

5. I have a horrible fear of earthquakes- I can face steep heights, hairy spiders, or freakish clowns, but even thinking quakes makes my anxiety heighten considerably. The other day our  annual homeowner's policy came in the mail, and, like every other year, the information about adding a supplemental earthquake policy came with it. I reviewed it and decided that an $80,000 deductible and and extra $1,000 annual premium was probably a poor financial move. And then an article came out in the New Yorker about some plate or fault or something in the Pacific that will basically demolish the West Coast WHEN it decides to shift. We're all going to die. I guess #1 on my list shouldn't matter, since my house is going to be reduced to rubble. 

6. Gas prices are absurd. Ridiculous. Infuriating. I just paid $4.39/gallon the other day. Apparently Southern California is being punished for some local refinery issues. And I have some driving to do the next few weeks. Also, an interesting, broad, observation: the more liberal the state, the higher the price at the pump (not 100% true, I know). I guess it's the price I pay to live with my people. 

7. In case you can't tell, I'm fiscally conservative when it comes to personal finance. Somehow, though, I got swooped up in the Nordstrom's Semi-Annual sale and bought a really expensive pair of boots that I've been eyeing for a logn time but had decided to hold off on, considering several unexpected expenses this summer. They're so expensive I'm not sure how I'll react the first time they get scuffed or it rains when I wear them. Is it weird to cry over boots? Nonetheless, where did this irresponsible spending come from? I was on the treadmill.... Sawyer was happily playing... Scott was at work... I had my Cheerios and coffee for breakfast... and then BAM! Into the cart, out comes the credit card. Yes, they were nearly half-priced, but still, so much. This is not like me. I am not a woman that spends money on footwear.  

8. Sawyer really enjoyed playing with the Thomas the Train Engine Track at Barnes and Noble, so I was thinking about buying him just a little train. The stupid little things are like ten bucks. I think not.

9. I feel like I've gotten absolutely nothing accomplished during summer break so far, and I only have three weeks left. That's probably the hardest of all of these to swallow. My husband suggested that I lower my expectations. I flipped him off. It's time to break out the big guns, I guess. That's right. A revised to-do list. 

10. I'm still stuck on my dental issues. I take such damn good care of my teeth and every time I eat something or bite down these two mother-effing temporary crowns remind me of the thousand dollar bill I have with the dentist and punishment for frequent brushing, flossing, and mouth-wash swishing. 

I feel much better, now. No joke.

Make me feel better. Any "what the hell?" moments for you lately? 

Go Set a Watchman- Preliminary Thoughts

I, like most people, was excited and cautious when I heard about the new Harper Lee book a few months ago. I was skeptical about the timing (Lee's sister had died) and I knew that there was probably a reason Go Set a Watchman had never been published. Nonetheless, it's a literary event one way or the other! I pre-ordered my copy, set myself up to finish To Kill a Mockingbird just before release day, and stayed the hell away from advance commentary (and still have, until this post is finished, and then game on). So, honestly, I'm not sure what everyone is saying, but here are some of my preliminary thoughts on the book (spoilers will be indicated!):

1. It's boring- I had a really hard time getting into this book, and a found it difficult to become invested (in fact, I didn't, but more on that in a second). So often I just wanted to be done. There was some information that just didn't seem that pertinent and made the novel drag on. 

2. Remembering context- There are going to be a lot of inconsistencies between the two novels, since she wrote GSAW first (it's set twenty years in the future, when Scout is an adult). Don't hold it against Lee or the book. 

3. A first draft?- Go Set a Watchman reads like a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. It seems the editor took a look at it, told her to keep some characters and take the idea of the childhood flashbacks to turn into the real novel. There are some similar lines that are used in each.

4. (SPOILER... sort of?) The Atticus situation- We all love Atticus Finch; in fact, if he were a real man I'd like to leave my husband for him (kidding, kidding). So when it comes about that he has mingled with both the Klan and other racist groups people are going to be devastated. But remember, Lee didn't originally intend for him to the be saint he was in TKAM; this is the real Atticus, essentially. He's far less progressive than we're used to, and while he's not exactly a full-blown racist (the argument of whether or not you can be partially racist is another conversation), he believes the Civil Rights movement needs to slow its roll. There's this idea in the book about Scout realizing that her father isn't a God; as readers we need to accept this as well. 

5. It's not well-written- While TKAM is rough around the edges at times, it does have some polished, well-crafted poignant moments. GSAW really doesn't have much that's comparable. But again, TKAM was written by a more experienced writer.

6. The characters are flat- The characters in  GSAW are fairly one-dimensional, lacking the depth and development that they could. The biggest culprits are Aunt Alexadria and Henry. I would have loved to get to know Dr. Finch more, and Scout herself could have been fleshed out a lot more. No one is special, no one is really worth becoming emotional over.

7. Probably more realistic- When it comes to race, GSAW is much dirtier than TKAM, in regards to racism. There was racism in TKAM, but Atticus' white-knighting (no pun intended) was more the focus. In GSAW we see the darker side of how the white leaders in a community saw civil rights. It's sad, and it's not as pretty or feel-good, but I feel there's probably more truth in GSAW.

8. The ending- The ending is rushed, a bit forced, and wrapped up too neatly, considering the heavy topics (race, father-daughter relationship, marriage, etc...) that are being handled. 

9. You should read it- This, as I mentioned before, is an important literary event and it's a really interesting study in terms of novels published so long after they are written. 

I know this isn't exactly the most scholarly, in-depth analysis, but I wanted the opportunity to jot down what I was thinking before I start reading what others have written. 

Have you read it yet? Are you going to? 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up and link back! Today's BNSBT is picture heavy- here's what I've been up to this week!

1. This morning Sawyer and I went to Sprinkle's Cupcakes in Newport and he had his first ever (mini) treat of his own (minus the chunk a bird jumped on our table to steal). We then spent over an hour walking around the beach area, which he loved. I managed to pick up some super cheap sunflowers while I was down there too- I've developed a love for fresh flowers on my counter that I like to indulge once in awhile. They just make the room look happier. 

[Newport Beach]

["Sawyer, hat back on head! Now!" Haha] 

2. This was delivered yesterday and while I'm only twenty pages in, I'm fairly underwhelmed. I've stayed away from all reviews, which I'll read when I'm finished. Quick rant: it is NOT a prequel! It was written before TKAM, but it's set twenty years in the future, therefore making it a sequel that was written first. 

3. Go to hell, Target:

   Wait. These are cute. Maybe I love you still.

4. Last night Sawyer was climbing over Chomsky, as he does seven million times a day, but this time Chomsky heard someone getting food and decided to get up, mid-climb. Unfortunately, they were on the travertine and Sawyer flipped over him and face-planted. He had a huge goose-egg and was very, very upset. But, like any warrior (or idiot?), he was back at it this morning:

5. I excitedly ordered overalls last fall for super cheap and when I got them I didn't like how they fit; they were a little bit tight and I was still getting the post-baby body thing straightened out. I decided on a whim to try them on yesterday and was instantly transported back to high school (which I liked). I don't care if no one thinks they're cool. I don't care if my brother asked me to not wear them in public with them. Whatever, haters. I styled them up and will wear them again. With my brother. 

6. So these Peanut Butter M&M Truffles from Sally's Baking Addiction are ridiculously delicious and addicting:

7. I'm already scared of the withdrawals I will have when I can't get up every morning and walk the row of palm trees in our neighborhood. I have a huge cup of iced coffee, get me and the kid ready, and we head out for 30-60 minutes every day (like at 7:30 am... we're up early). It's the best way to start the day, just in case you need a reminder how awesome a morning constitutional is (I always say that because of 101 Dalmatians and I'm pretty sure no one gets it). 

8. I can't even with these books. What the effing hell? I just can't even say anything that doesn't involve extensive profanity. Barnes and Noble lost even more points with me now, for stocking them. 

9. We went to a local permanent farmer's market sort of place and this sign cracked me up. GET IT? 

10. My LEGO building skills are really improving this summer. Here you have a stand-alone garage, complete with roof top garden for the Joker and Batman to keep their animals and carry on their secret friendship:

Have a great week!

Top Ten Tuesday- New Friends

[Recycled picture alert: sorry/it was too easy]

Not buying books is like trying to put certain foods (here's looking at you, everything with sugar and fat) on the do-not-eat list: it works okay for a little while, but then all the sudden, you really want a huge bowl of ice cream. Or box of books. Whatever. So, I buy books when I want and I find that in the end I purchase the same amount as I would with the restriction-binge cycle that I've committed to before. So yes, my recent acquisitions are very recent (like within the last month). Whatever. As requested by The Broke and the Bookish, here are the last ten books I bought (two of which were ordered, but I have been charged, if we want to get all technical):

1. Got Set a Watchman by Harper Lee- No explanation necessary. Arriving tomorrow.

2. The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp- Also arriving tomorrow. Sawyer is fourteen months now and I'm hoping this book teacher me how to squash his blossoming opinions (just kidding, it's more a proactive thing, and Karp's book about babies was the only one I used).

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- I'm rereading it right now. When I went to the shelf to grab my copy I realized that I didn't actually own my own, that I just used the school's when I taught it, and my husband's was missing.

4. My First Farm by Dawn Sirett- No, I'm not working on my ag credential. The tiny human has a thing for animals right now.

5. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume- I saw her speak a few years ago and she was working on this, so I felt obligated. Plus, it's Judy!

6. Are You there God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume- Confession: I've never read it.

7. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer- August book club selection! I'll start reading it in a few weeks.

8. Still Alice by Lisa Genova- My grandmother suffers from dementia/Alzheimer's, so I definitely gravitated towards this one.

9. The Martian by Andy Weir- I was steering clear, since I'm not a sci-fi person, but between the kick-ass movie trailer and everyone else's positive reviews I figured I'd pick it up.

10. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan- Someone compared this to Where'd You Go Bernadette, so I was instantly interested. I have a feeling it's pretty fluffy, which will make it a good book to read during the day when I try to sneak in a few pages. Or by the pool.

Everything I Never Told You- A Book that Broke My Heart

I'm not accepting many books to review these days (so many of my own to get through!), but Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You has been on my radar, so when I was offered a copy in promotion of the paperback launch from Penguin I agreed. And man, I'm glad I did. I haven't been this affected by a novel in quite some time. I know part of the emotional reaction that I had was in part because I have my own kid now, but also a result of Ng's fantastic prose.

From the beginning of the novel we are made aware that sixteen-year-old Lydia Lee is dead. Not long after we're made to know that she was found in a lake. The story is told in third-person from the perspectives of each family members: Marilyn, her white mother who desperately tried to live vicariously through the daughter she pushed too hard academically, James, her Chinese father who wanted his kids to fit in, since he had not, Nath, an older brother on his way to Harvard that was both jealous of Lydia but protective of her as well, and Hannah, the younger sister that quietly watched everyone and wanted things to be peaceful. The story weaves between the present and past, slowly giving the reader insight as to why Lydia may have ended up dead and how the family dynamics may have contributed.

This book rocked my world. There were times I had to step away from the heaviness and others where I couldn't stop reading because I was so incredibly desperate for just one iota of hope or happiness to find it's way into the Lee family. Ever since giving birth to my son last year I respond almost viscerally to anything dealing with a child's death, whether young or old. Like many, I have an overactive imagination that tends to lean the way of very pessimistic and dark. Lydia's death and other things that happened between characters nestled their way into my brain and I had to make sure to preface each read with a reminder to myself to focus on the story. 

In spite of this, or possibly because of this, I can confidently say this is one of the best books I've read this year. Ng's story and writing were such perfection that they were able to grab a hold of me and break through my cynical self for a response. I can be a tough audience. I cannot wait to reader her future endeavors. 

Why We Write- A Glowing Review

I'm always looking for inspiration and motivation when it comes to writing, so I decided that I'd finally give this book a read after having it on my shelf for quite awhile. The format is conducive to baby-wrangling; each of the twenty authors are given just a few pages and those are divided into even smaller sections. It's a book packed with a lot of gems in small snippets. Perfect for current my up-and-down lifestyle.

The author editor Meredith Maran coaxed into participating (a portion of the proceeds go to the charity 826 National)  are a fascinating, diverse crew that includes greats like Ann Patchett, Meg Wolitzer, Isabel Allende, Gish Jen, and Michael Lewis. Each talked tried to answer the question, "why do you write" and also gave background story on their writing career, highlighting moments such as when they "made it," rejection, and their process. There were a lot of differences in approaches, paths to success, and outlooks, but the biggest two things they had in common were telling readers to write often and read constantly. 

I tabbed a ton of quotes and ideas to remember, which is unusual for me. I'll spare you a huge list, but here are a few that really stood out:

Isabel Allende advises writers to "be very careful with dialogue" and that "colloquialisms change and become dated" (8).

David Baldacci acknowledges his status as a commercial writer, saying, "People who write literary fiction are more disciplined. They spend years and years and years and years of their lives on one project. They bring to bear everything they have on that one story" (17).

Jennifer Egan speaks about her process, saying that when her writing is going well she "is living in two different dimensions; this life [she's] living now, which [she] enjoy very much, and this completely other world [she's] inhabiting that no one else knows about... it's a double like [she] gets to live without destroying [her] marriage" (28). She also advises people to "read at the level at which you want to write" (35). I love this and think it works for my students, too.

Sara Gruen advises female writers against being labeled a "chick lit" author, cautioning that "if you're a woman and you write novels with female characters, the industry tends to pigeonhole you, and if you're not careful you get slapped with a pink cover no man would be caught reading on the subway" (67).

Rick Moody also tackles genre, saying that "genre is a bookstore problem, not a literary problem. It helps people know what section to browse, but I don't care about that stuff" (151).

Ann Patchett made me smile when describing her lifestyle. She thinks that her readers may be a little surprised to hear that she's a "housewife in Nashville" and "has a dull life" (187). She is a self-proclaimed homebody that is a "dream wife" because she makes a ton of money but still cooks dinner (187).

Jane Smiley recounts a time when she was writing her Pulitzer Prize winner A Thousand Acres and was feeling very tired all the time. She remembered "it turned out the chimney of the furnace was leaking carbon monoxide. When we stopped using the furnace, the novel stopped putting me to sleep. The lesson there is, sometimes it's not as bad as you think" (212).

Definitely a great read for readers and writers.