Top Ten Favorites Read in 2017 (Plus Some Stats)

2017 was a very, very full year at home and at work, but I made a lot of time for reading- I'm proud of the 70 books I managed (the most in one year since I started blogging in 2011!). Before I get down to my favorites read this year, here are a few fun stats:

34 books were by men 
34 books were by women
2 books had multiple authors 

43 books were fiction 
27 books were nonfiction 

4 books were graphic novels 

of the nonfiction: 
4 books were on feminism
3 books were running/fitness related
3 books were on parenting 
7 books were memoirs
(the rest were a mix)

16 books were for work in some capacity 

19,884 pages were read, or 54.47 pages on average a day

And here, in no particular order, are my top 10 books read in 2017:

1. The Nix by Nathan Hill

2. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

3. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

4. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

5. Hunger by Roxane Gay

6. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

7. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

8. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

9. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

10. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

[pictures are saved from my Instastories, part of how I record my books]

Honorable Mentions:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Stranger in the Woods by Micahel Finkel

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

What did you love? Or hate (that's always fun too)

December Reviews

Last batch of the year! These are quick, since I will have a bunch more posts  soon that I am unfairly devoting my energy to right now:

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
288 pages
If you're not familiar with this memoir, Walls recounts her childhood living with her eclectic, neglectful, but still loving (in their own way) parents. Walls' parents choose to raise their children in terrible poverty, moving around the country and forcing them to grow up to be incredibly self-sufficient, and close-knit.

Verdict: I found this book painful and wonderful- I was often so furious at her parents but also impressed with the resiliency of the children. I can see now why so many of my students have taken such a liking to it (I've had so many kids recommend this to me over the last few years that I finally got to it). 

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel 
256 pages
This Latin American novel is heavy on the magical realism (just like I like 'em), breaking up the book into installments that feature recipes and the most recent development in Tita's stifled romantic life and family.

Verdict: My good friend, who knows about my love for MR, suggested this book, as did my students, who read it in Spanish. I'm glad I took their advice! I loved the unique format, the story, the characters, and the genre. 

The Accusation by Bandi 
256 pages
This collection of short stories was written and smuggled out of North Korean by a writer living under the oppressive circumstances there. The stories give the reader insight into the government, marital dynamics, and the rigid social hierarchy.

Verdict: I read this book originally because I felt sort of, well, obligated, but I ended up really learning and appreciating it. The risk alone that the author took to smuggle his tales out of the country is admirable. While I am scared as all get-out of North Korea, I now truly pity the civilians. 

No-Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson
288 pages
This book uses advances in neuroscience to help parents better discipline their kids better. They offer common-sense suggestions, provide plenty of examples, and encourage parents to learn from their mistakes.

Verdict: Every once in awhile I like to read a parenting book, just when I feel like maybe I'm a bit impatient with Sawyer or that he's developmentally changing and I need to catch up. I don't think anything in here was a shocker, but it was a good reminder that I need to make sure to not expect more than he is cognitively able to give. It also encourages things like cutting down on the parent talking during discipline, making sure your kid knows you love them even when they're being a little shit, and taking the time to relate to your kid on their level (for example, instead of barking at them to get in their car seat, ask in a squeaky voice or a robot voice; this sounds super lame but it just helps things from getting negative). I disagree with their dislike of timeouts; for Sawyer that is a great deterrent because the BOY DOES NOT LIKE TO STOP WHAT HE IS DOING AND SIT STILL. They do encourage families to find what works for them, though, which I totally appreciate. 

80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald
272 pages
Basically, to sum it up quickly, you should run slower 80% of the time and kick your own butt 20% of the time. Fitzgerald provides A TON of research (too much, really) to back this plan up.

Verdict: I thought that a lot of this book was a bit boring, but I really loved what it was getting at. I can validate slow runs? Say what? It's actually harder that it sounds, because you have to go even slower than your own slow, which I struggle with. Nonetheless, this principle makes a ton of sense to me and I have been trying to implement it into my training. 

1,160 pages

How I Got My Three-Year Old to Finally Sleep

This has nothing really to do with reading, but after searching the Internet countless times for help, I found nothing but comments on forums on this topic and thought I'd write a post on my solution in case there were other desperate parents out there. 

Sawyer is three and a half and has always been a terrible sleeper, waking up anywhere two to four times a night. He doesn't cry a ton or throw a fit, but he wakes up and fusses some or needs his blankets fixed, to go potty, to find a stuffed animal, etc... I've tried everything, trust me, from sleep training (not for us) to laying on the floor holding his hand to ignoring him. His room is on the corner of our house, and hence street, with a few windows, so I think part of the problem has been him waking up due to outside noise. Whatever the reason, he woke up often and therefore woke me up. By October of this year I could count the times I'd had a really good night of sleep on two hands (not counting the few glorious nights away I spent in hotels). 

I tried to tell myself that some kids are just poor sleepers and this was all part of the process. "Some day you'll be begging him to wake up," I tried to remind myself. But the truth of the matter was that after three and a half years of being woken up several times a night and never sleeping past 6 (although he was usually up much, much, much earlier) I was completely and utterly exhausted. I felt myself becoming less articulate, struggling to maintain my patience, forgetting things, and feeling annoyed with the world. Some people can survive on 5.5-6 hours of broken sleep a night, but I cannot, especially teaching all day and trying to maintain an active lifestyle.

In early November I was talking to a friend about my situation and I jokingly said, "I need to just give him melatonin." (I was kidding- I don't even like giving him the Dimetapp the doctor said I could give him in small doses for colds). I started googling "kid sleep aids" and found that there are actually melatonin supplements for kids as young as two, which appear to be safe. I had serious, serious reservations about this, but decided that if it continued much longer (because 3.5 years wasn't long enough, apparently) I'd call the pediatrician. But then I started thinking- I remembered reading about tart cherry juice being a natural source of a low dosage of melatonin. I had actually tried it a long time ago myself, but didn't drink enough and have a think about drinking calories from juice (I know, I know). BINGO.

I found a few other parents who had tried it with great luck, so I went to Target the next day to buy some (more about that in a minute). I also ordered a new night light that would stay on all night for his room and started infusing lavender at bedtime.

Finally, we had all three things going on. I gave him a few ounces of tart cherry juice (not the actual stuff from concentrate, since that tastes horrible) at breakfast and maybe four or five at dinner (we use this). He didn't love it at first, but now totally does. I've never given him much juice at all, though, so I think that's why (he still gets milk after his juice is gone).

Within two nights my child slept from about 8:15 until 6:15 the next morning, not even getting up once. Ten hours straight! This continued, with him sleeping through the night or maybe getting up once to go to the bathroom around 4:30 or so. Recently he didn't get any and we had the roughest night that we've had in the four or five weeks since I've started using it. 

Unfortunately, after having havoc wreaked on my own sleep cycle for so long I cannot stay asleep the entire night and often have trouble getting to sleep. Nonetheless, I still average 20-30 more minutes of sleep a night and feel so much better. I've started using the Calm app's Bedtime Stories feature to help me get to sleep at night, which has helped in that area (basically they're boring stories about nature told in a super melodic voice). 

I am well aware that this spell could be broken at any moment- the magical cherry juice could stop working. At that point I probably will call the doctor, since the fact that it worked so well tells me that he probably does have some issues regulating his sleep cycle and that's why the melatonin from the cherry juice worked so well. 

For the meantime, though, I will just be thankful and keep giving him the juice! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Hey folks! Link up! Link back! Say hey!

1. How was your Christmas? Good? Ready for the holiday to be over or sad to see it go? I'm a little of both- I loved the excitement of it with my son, but I just want to get through Target and the grocery store without losing my mind.

2. I'm heading North for my Mom's last-minute city hall wedding this week. WHAT? It's a long story, sort of, but I'm actually excited to see all of my siblings and enjoy the hotel life for a few days. I am not excited for what turns into a seven hour trip with a three-year-old, but he usually does okay, so fingers crossed.

3. I downloaded The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine to listen to, Reese Witherspoon's latest book club book. I like to listen to easy mysteries when I drive, so this one seems perfect. 

4. A recent conversation between my husband and I:
Me: I have a conundrum
Scott[raises eyebrows]: Do you really?
Me: It doesn't involve cereal.

5. So, the other day I went into our upstairs bathroom and there was some definite evidence of the toilet leaking at the base. Water damage upstairs is one of the biggest fears as a homeowner, so I sent my wonderful plumber a panicked text. He called me within seconds and as we got to talking I realized that said "water leak" was actually probably the result of my horrible job taking Sawyer to the bathroom the previous night in the dark at 4:30 am. I cleaned up everything and dried it out and we've had no trouble since, so fingers crossed. Three days later and everything is dry.  

6. Why do one's beauty products always run out at the exact same time? Especially when one really wants to buckle down on her finances next month?

7. I just finished The Glass Castle the other day and I loved it! It was a painful read, though, but it will nonetheless be a contender on my yearly top-ten list. Now I need to see the movie. 

Merry Christmas

[Santa Sawyer- our Christmas card this year, photographed by my talented husband]

I hope everyone finds lots of books (or gift cards to buy books) under their trees and has a wonderful day with family and friends eating all the food. 

Dear Santa: 2017 Bookish Wish List

After nine years of marriage and thirteen or so years of together-ness, my husband and I cut to the chase when it comes to the holidays and just give each other Amazon wish lists, with agreed on predetermined spending limits (both of our birthdays are also within a month or so of Christmas too). We both generally go rogue and get some off-item lists, but it's nice to have something to fall back on (and boy do we both). It's not necessarily romantic or creative, but it relieves a lot of our stress and we get what we truly want. Here are some of the books I asked for this year (I do not expect to get them all):

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (got this one for my birthday)

Underground Airlines by Ben Winters

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

My Life Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul 

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and Jane Billinghurst

Chemistry by Weike Wang

The Leavers by Lisa Ko 

The Futilitarians by Anne Gisleson (got this one for my birthday)

Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Good Without God by Greg Epstein 

The Relive Box and Other Stories by TC Boyle

Things I'ms Seeing Without You by Peter Bognanni 

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende 

And a few I've added in the last few days to my personal wish list:

Outline by Rachel Cusk

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Future Home of the Living Gods by Louise Erdrich 

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory 

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood 

Christmas Book Reading Tradition

I know this isn't anything terribly unique, but since Sawyer's first Christmas we have been reading a Christmas story every night starting on December 1st and for the fourth year in a row (how is this his fourth Christmas???) we're keeping the tradition going. I have probably 30-35 Christmas books that we've acquired over the past few years, plus ones I had from when I taught elementary school, so we definitely have some variety. Besides reading one per evening, he also takes the red tub full of them into the living room to read them alone and in the morning for the car ride to school as well. 

Here are some of this year's favorites so that you can add them to your wish list for 2018!

Sawyer's definite favorite this year as been the Curious George one, but he also took a liking to the Grinch after we watched it the other night. Santa's Stuck has great repetitive phrasing that a three-year-old can participate in and Who Will Help Santa This Year provides a ton of great different options to assist Santa, including dragons, wizards, and even leprechauns. Olive, the Other Reindeer has a great message and A Pirate's Night Before Christmas has fantastic illustrations and is super fun. 

I always save The Night Before Christmas for Christmas Eve, which I can't believe is only two days away! The older you get (and busier) the more the holidays fly by. Wasn't it just Halloween?

Favorite Audiobooks of 2017

I have a serious love/hate relationship with audiobooks, since I never want to listen to a book I'd like to actually read but love to have the distraction when I'm driving around alone (or with a sleeping kid). Usually this means that I spend my monthly Audible credit on memoirs, health or running nonfiction, mysteries, or mainstream books that get a lot of buzz but seem too "easy" to actually read (book snob alert!). I also don't count these as books I've read in my yearly totals or Goodreads challenge, which makes my relationships with audiobooks even weirder. I listen to one every month or so and sometimes even look forward to traffic if I have one that I really love (crazy, I know). 

Here are the five that I enjoyed the most this past year:

Who Thought this Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco
Oh how how I loved this book! Mastromonaco served as Obama's Chief of Staff for a few years after working on his campaign and also as a staff member, which allows the listener/reader an interesting perspective on what happens behind-the-scenes at the various stages of presidency (well maybe not the current one...). She recounts trips abroad, the heartfelt call she received from Obama when her cat died, and how the exhaustion and stress eventually impacted her health. She's also primarily responsible for the tampon machines in the West Wing, something I'm sure Trump is having removed if he has not already. She's witty, hilarious, and honest, as well as a fabulous narrator. Basically, I want to be her best friend. 

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
Holy moly did I learn SO MUCH about drugs from this book. Cat Marnell was a beauty editor at a few different huge magazines, but her full time job was really being an addict. She began her life of drugs in prep school when her father, a psychiatrist, sent her prescriptions for ADHD medicine, which just opened a terrible can of worms that is still open to this day. She tells of wild nights, horrible mornings, and how she managed to cling to her editorial positions by the skin of her teeth. While she does spin everything would a good dose of humor, this memoir is incredibly dark, both in terms of what her addiction did to her life, but also in terms of white privilege. 

Beartown by Fredrik Backman
I can't decide if I want to read of listen to Backman, but I remember I was looking down the barrel of a three hour trip home from LA alone and needed something to listen to immediately, so I went with this one. In this novel Backman beautifully creates a small hockey town that is absolutely obsessed with their minor league program and it's star. Unfortunately, this young man rapes the GM's daughter and the entire town is embroiled in the repercussions. The ending made me sort of angry, but as a whole I was incredibly caught up in the story and think it would be an awesome books for teenagers and their parents to read. 

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
This travel memoir describes TV writer Kristin Newman's expeditions around the world during the sabbaticals for the shows she worked on. Newman goes far off the beaten path with different friends and sometimes alone, describing her adventures and intertwining her romantic affairs into them. I love that she went to so many different, non-touristy kinds of places, and really immersed herself into the local culture. One of my favorite stories was when she went to Patagonia, which I'd love to get to one day. Newman uses her journeys to reflect on her personal and professional struggles and to learn new ways to cope with challenges. 

Running Man by Charlie Engle
Whenever I feel myself getting sort of disillusioned with my half-marathon training plan I either listen to or buy a running-related book. Boy did this one do the job- Engle is a straight-up beast. He started running as a kid and took it to a whole new level, conquering ultra marathons, participating in adventure races, and, most notable, running the Sahara (Matt Damon funded the documentary). Meanwhile, Engle battled a major addiction to cocaine and alcohol for over a decade- his first marathon was the morning after coming off a bender (and he finished in less than four hours- COME ON!). Engle discusses his running, but also his personal life and his stint in jail after the feds decided he was in too deep with some shady loans during the recession. I will say that Engle might be a little bit of a cocky jerk, although still strangely likable and worthy of respect for his athletic endeavors. Nonetheless, whether his writing is completely honest or not, his running accomplishments must be applauded. 

I'll be back at the end of the month with my top ten favorite books that I actually read next week! 

Bookish and (not so Bookish) Thoughts

[my favorite animal picture from the zoo- he was asleep!]

Link up, link back, say hey!

1. Today I made two types of peanut butter balls, cake batter cookies with Christmas sprinkles, another type of cookie that I don't remember the name of, a large layered sugar cookie tree for Sawyer and I to decorate, and fudge. And I ran 9.5 miles and did other super boring things around my house. I think I deserve some couch time tonight. 

2. My friend taught my to knit yesterday and I think I love it! It's always great to learn something a little challenging, but doable. I know how to cast on, knit and pearl, so eventually I'll have to get a pattern and try to actually make something, but for now I'm just practicing. I think I might be able to handle an infinity scarf if I can figure out how to join the ends, since I feel like mistakes would be easy to hide that way.

3. I had the best visit to the optometrist yesterday- I had a great conversation about the book I was reading and world politics with the nice young guy working the desk, was told by the doctor that I could switch to a cheaper version of contacts, and ordered a pair of new glasses that I really, really love. 

4. My son is "winking" at me right now with "two eyes." He cracks me up. 

5. Tomorrow I am going to go see Star Wars! I am so excited! 

6. Monday I took Sawyer to the San Diego Zoo and we spent nine and a half hours there. We walked over 20,000 steps, all on no nap for him (this was a litmus test for Disneyland, which we are planning to take him to in a few months, and he totally passed). They have tons of lights and little shows at night for their Jungle Bells feature, which was really neat. There were absolutely no crowds at all, so we were able to see almost every single animal at least once, if not more times, plus go on the Skyfari Aerial Tram a few times, plus the bus that takes you around the park. We will most definitely be back for this next year. It was a really, really fun day. 

7. In the past week They have messed with out money and our internet- I'm pretty sure this is what's going to start making red states mad. 

Recent Beauty Product Loves

[little Christine, learning early]

Yup! It's that time again when I rave about my most recent and favorite beauty products. Book lovers like to feel pretty too, okay? 

Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum- I noticed a few sun spots over the summer and within a week they had faded dramatically with this serum. I bought the bottle in July and have been using it 5 or so times a week and I have a month or two left, so it lasts a long time. It’s amazing- I can’t say enough good things about it, seriously.

Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel- I love this lightweight moisturizer that I put on before my makeup in the morning. I'm not sure if it will do the job as well in the dry, colder months, so I might have to switch it out for awhile, but the other nine months of the year it's great. 

Batiste Dry Shampoo- I generally use this product on the second day of a curl or flat-iron style when I need to add some body and texture. I do use it on days where maybe I’ve gone one day too many without washing, too, when I just plan on throwing it in a ponytail or bun. It’s great for adding some grip tfor styling, too!

Trader Joe’s Head to Toe Moisturizing Balm- I know I’ve mentioned this one before, but I love it so much I had to give it another shout out. I use it on my hands, on my nose if I’ve had a cold, my feet before running, and this morning I ran a little bit through my hair since the humidity was making it a mess.

Quai Memory Mist-  This is a heat protector and also helps to maintain your style (but isn’t a hairspray, which I know sounds sort of strange). Basically, I spray it on before I curl or flatiron my hair and it helps preserve the shape so that the next day I can basically brush and be done (I do use some hairspray, too, though, if I curl it). It also smells great.

Laneige Water Sleeping Mask- I have really dry skin that has also been really dull lately, since I haven’t been sleeping well and have been under a lot of stress. I have only used it once now, but I can already see a difference in the hydration and brightness of my skin. I plan on using it two or three times a week (it’s only $25 and the tub is huge!).

TonyMoly Masks- I read about these recently and I was skeptical because they're less than $4 at Ulta, but I love them! Sheet masks aren't for everyone, since they're messy and since these are so cheap they're a little flimsy and cut poorly. But the serum really works to brighten and moisturize (hint: don't rinse the leftover product off; let it soak in).

SheaMoisture Manuka Oil and Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Hair Masque- I have crazy dry hair that's colored/highlighted every few months and is abused several times a week with heat. I've noticed lately that my curls and waves weren't holding and decided it might because of the dryness, so I picked up a single use packet of this and after one use my hair was completely different. I even had students notice the next day that it looked better. This one is a few bucks per packet or I think $15 for a tub. I only plan on using it once a week, since it is pretty heavy, but I'm so glad I found it. 

Boo Products for kids- I have a huge phobia of lice, so now that Sawyer is around a whole class of little kids everyday I’ve been washing his hair with their shampoo and spraying his hair with the spray after I style it in the morning. It’s natural, so I don’t feel bad, and if it helps then thank you baby jesus.

A Delayed Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[when you let your son pick out the tree topper and don't look at the box]

I'm finally on break for three weeks (all kinds of yay), so I thought I'd pop in with the post I had planned for last week but didn't have time to finish. 

1. As I said, I am now on winter break, which is three weeks (usually two, but they took a week from us at summer and added it here). We ended the week with several games of Scrabble in each class, pajama day, and being happy about finishing our initial analysis of Sylvia Plath. I also am in good shape with my grading, with just a set and a half of essays to grade (yes, 200 ungraded essays is nothing for this English teacher), so I feel good about going into finals when we return and doing semester grades. 

2. I couldn't be happier last week when I noticed that Sawyer had decided to entertain himself with getting scraps of wrapping paper and tape, making "sand castles" on the floor. It was creative and cute and he even cleaned up when he was done without being asked.

3. I am a total Christmas person this year- gimme all the Christmas activities, music, crafts and baked goods. Having a three-year-old who is obsessed with the holiday has transformed me. So far we've done Breakfast with Santa, the Mission Inn Festival of Lights, normal Santa pictures, a showing of Polar Express at my school, gingerbread house making, and tomorrow we are going to the San Diego Zoo to see their holiday lights. I also make sure we have plenty of time at home, too, though, so we can relax and just soak it all in.

4. Can men just not touch women without permission? Can we have just have some compassion in a tax bill? BUT, Alabama! I was so impressed and pleased.

5. Do I need an Instapot? Why or why not?

6. I think I can officially call myself a Ludite-Lite. I love technology to a point, but I don't want to keep adding more and more, especially at work. I think it's important to expose students to it, of course, but I think sometimes the want to add so many gadgets, interfaces, portals, etc... is just too much. 

7. I am currently listening to Charlie Engle's memoir Running Man and love it so very much. He was a former cocaine addict who took on extreme running (including the Sahara) and then had some other issues to resolve in life that landed him in jail. It's honest (I think), raw, and incredibly interesting.

8. I am reading The Accusation by Bandi and like it a lot more than I thought I would (this is the short story collection written in secret by a North Korean). I just finished Like Water for Chocolate and adored the magical realism. I have high hopes for reading the rest of this month, since I have so much time off. 

9. Because of the previously mentioned Scrabble thing, I've reactivated my Words With Friends account- play me at Christeenie222

10. I haven't see the new Star Wars movie yet because we don't currently have a sitter and had wanted to see it together. I told my husband to just go over the weekend and I am going to go on Thursday- can you believe I have never been to a movie alone before? I consider myself to be quite independent, but never have I been solo in a theater. This week I'll finally put on my big girl pants and do it. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Happy Wednesday! I have about 1,000,000 million things on my plate right now, so I'm going to write today's post off as a wash and go deal with the 999,999 other things going on (nothing bad). Luckily, winter break starts in less than forty-eight hours and it will be posts galore! Have a wonderful week! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back, say hey.

1. The other day I was thinking about how a large group of my friends and I got together regularly for massive board game/food nights at different people's houses towards the end of senior year and the summer after. It was really, really fun, as lame as it may sound, and I wish I could do that now with my friends. Maybe when everyone's kids are older!

2. Saturday Sawyer's preschool is having a Parent's Night Out- for $10 they'll watch the kids from 6:30-10:00 so parents can have some time. My husband is at a conference, so my friend and I are going to get dinner and drinks at a family-UNfriendly place and catch up. I can't wait!

3. Besides that, my plan is to Christmas the shit out of this weekend. Tomorrow Sawyer and I are going to see Polar Express at my school that the choir is hosting, Friday (if it's not too windy), we're going downtown to see the Festival of Lights, Saturday morning we're having breakfast with Santa at a local restaurant, and hopefully Sunday I'll do some baking.

4. My students and are wading through Sylvia Plath's poetry (I know, so festive), and it's actually going really well. I've split their work on each poem in thirds, between independent/group/whole class analysis and they're doing well. And because they're so receptive to the work, I'm enjoying it a lot more. Win-win.

5. Between nonsense going on with the government (looking at you, tax bill) and our school board, I have to be really careful about what I consume right now. It's so easy to get wrapped up and emotionally carried away. 

6. Earlier today I got the urge to just book a train ride up the coast, snag a window seat, and read and roll for a day. I have no idea where it came from, but it just sounds so peaceful.

7. I hadn't planned on going to Modesto to visit my family over the holidays, but *newsflash* apparently my mom and her longtime boyfriend are getting hitched at City Hall and I feel like an asshole for not attending. So it looks like Sawyer and I are going on a little bit of a road trip. I'm hoping that if the weather is good enough and I can coerce at least one other family member into it, I might head to San Francisco for a day. 

8. I finished listening to Jodi Piccoult's Small Great Things and what a piece of crap. Sorry (but not really). It's so over-the-top and the ending is just so far-fetched and ridiculous. She didn't racial issues justice at all. I am now listening to Running Man, Carlie Engle's memoir, and so far I'm enjoying. 

Zadie Smith in Conversation with Michael Chabon


The other day I was looking up a reading for the spring at UCLA and saw that two days later Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon would be together for an evening. My first reaction was disappointment, since I had nothing to do with Sawyer (it started at 8, which means that I'd have to leave by 5:30 to fight seventy miles in the horrible LA traffic- my husband usually comes home around 7:15). I then mentioned it to Scott and, knowing how important seeing these two would be to me, suggested I drop Sawyer off at his office with the iPad for the last part of his work day. DONE. Traffic ended up being worse than normal, since a few big rigs decided to overturn, so I had to leave at 5:10 and ended up getting to UCLA at 7:40. Sigh. It's the price we pay to live down here, I guess.

The event was at Royce Hall, which is absolutely beautiful and one of the buildings I had class in once upon a time in my youth. The political and social rhetoric of those emceeing the event were just what you'd expect for an arts program at a UC, something the audience obviously appreciated- I definitely had a "I'm home!" kind of moment. Once Smith and Chabon came out they agreed to put off talking about the general horrible-ness that is the US as long as possible, which ended up being a solid thirty minutes or so.

Chabon mentioned that this was the fifth time the two had participated in an event like this one, which is explained their natural chemistry and knowledge of one another (sometimes when it's just local moderator it's a bit awkward if the proper research and pre-interview conversation haven't happened). The two spent awhile talking about what they were reading and the role of the historical novel, since they are both reading older books and she is writing one right now (despite not being very fond of them). The topic of conversation then turned to the internet and how it's such a huge weight on them both, especially in the current climate. Smith talked about how she read something about Trump on a plane the other day and then spent hours just reading comments and articles that validated her opinion. They then contrasted escaping into the internet with escaping into books, which I could have listened to for five hours. 

The two took some questions that had been pre-written by the audience, which asked about the importance of places to them in real life and in their works (something I then started reflecting personally on), cultural appropriation, inspiration (Smith made a comment on how she takes things from her own life, puts then into her novels, and then ends up being incredibly tired of them, like tap dancing), and writing dialogue (the both downplayed it's importance and even said it can be used as a "crutch"). 

I must say, that this was definitely one of the best events I have ever been to, and there are have been many. I thought that Chabon might come off as a bit pretentious, since I've gotten that vibe from him through his writing before. I wasn't sure what Smith would be like, but maybe a little intimidating because she's just so damn brilliant. Instead I fell in love a little more, listening to her talk about going to dinner with her husband and kids and feeling like a circus act since none of them were on their phones and were trying to entertain and corral the whole time (I have a no device policy at dinner for my kid too, so I was like "I get you, Zadie!"). They were fantastic. 

Things to Look Forward to: December

1. Reading a different Christmas story every night with Sawyer 
2. Breakfast with Santa at a local restaurant
3. Traditional pictures with Santa
4. Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn
5. Our nightly Star Wars Advent Calendar
6. Dinner out with a friend while Sawyer is at his preschool's Parent's Night Out (and his other parent is at a video game convention)
7. Decorating the tree and rest of the house 
8. Donating to toy and canned tree drives
9. Making a "snow globe" door for Sawyer's room
10. Knitting lessons and lunch with a friend
11. Seeing New Star Wars movie
12. Making a million peanut butter balls
13. Seeing if we can pull off this year's Christmas card photo shoot 
14. Finishing up my 2017 family photo book
15. Wrapping gifts (I really, really love doing this)
16. Going to Santa's Village in Lake Arrowhead
17. Making a cookie a tree with my ridiculous new Wilton's cutters
18. Watching Home Alone
19. Being thankful our gifts for Sawyer this year don't involve assembly 
20. Seeing my brother when he visits California (and hopefully my mom)
21. Three weeks of winter break
22. Attempting a Scrabble tournament in my classroom
23. Pretending to hate Christmas music but listening it in secret with Sawyer 
24. Watching Home Alone 
25. Putting everything away and getting life back to normal 

November Reviews

Happy December, guys! I've never been a super excited "ohmygod I love Christmas" kind of person, but I have to say having a three-year-old who "gets it" makes this holiday season one of the best yet (hopefully). November had some life hiccups, but I did read a few good books- here's a glimpse:

Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
304 pages
This short story compilation has a range of stories, including everything from a woman who throws herself an artificial insemination party to a friendship that has to cope with dementia to a man who doesn't receive the proper medical care for intestinal issues abroad. The stories sometimes sound a little silly from a brief summarizing sentence, but they deal with complicated issues like aging, relationships, and family. 

Verdict: I really, really think that this book is being overlooked by people. I know that some were disappointed in The Marriage Plot, after his first two, but this one was a really strong collection. These stories are truly crafted and were a pleasure to read. 

Artemis by Andy Weir 
320 pages
Andy Weir's sophomore attempt following The Martian is about life on the moon and the challenges of it's class system. Jazz is a young smuggler who desperately wants to save enough money to upgrade her living situation (she lives in what is basically a coffin and has to use a communal bathroom where showers are paid for by the minute). She is presented with an offer she cannot refuse, which ends up going awry. 

Verdict: I had a feeling this book would fall short, and it did. In short, it was a bit sloppy- the character development, the dialogue, the predictable nature, and even the ending. There were some fun moments and it was kind of a kick to read about someone's idea of life on the moon, but it was nowhere near as good as his debut. I'm sure the movie will be super entertaining, though. 

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden
272 pages
This memoir focuses on the year that former Vice President Joe Biden's son Beau suffered from fatal brain cancer, chronicling his journey through treatment and navigating the private life of the family. Biden also discusses much of the political ongoings he was involved with the time as well, often juxtaposing his professional life with his private one.

Verdict: As a whole, I really enjoyed this book (plus, who doesn't love Joe? Remember the memes? I miss them so much). It moved me to tears several times, as Beau tried so hard to keep positive and make his family promise they'd be okay if he passed away. I thought at some points there was too much governmental and politics talk, but I may just be bitter because it made me so sad to see how things were once run right. And now they're not. Ahem. Moving on.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
304 pages
This is a novel that at it's heart about ethics, morality, religion, and guilt. Linda, a high school student who is very lonely and as a detached relationship with her parents, ex-cult/commune members, works as a babysitter for a family across the lake who has a four-year-old named Paul. Paul always seems a little sickly and his mother a little a odd, both intensifying when the husband/father comes to visit. Unfortunately, it's hard to really talk about this one without spoiling a huge part of it, so trust me when I say it's controversial and heartbreaking (but not in a Jodi Piccoult kind of way). 

Verdict: I really enjoyed this novel and read it in a weekend. I thought the pacing was excellent and that Fridlund does a wonderful job of integrating the setting, mood, and plot in a way that really sort of takes over your reading experience. She bookends the story with a connection to one of Linda's middle school teachers who is arrested for child pornography charges, which is a little odd, but relates to the greater issue of this book of how children can be let down by adults. 

1,200 pages 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back, say hey!

1. Yesterday I was looking up a Colson Whitehead event at UCLA next spring and discovered that Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon were giving a talk tomorrow! I have never seen either of them and immediately started trying to figure out how I could bribe Sawyer into behaving for an event that started at his bedtime in a city that would require a 90+ minute drive thru traffic to get to. I mentioned it to Scott, who now works ten minutes away, and he said that I could drop him off at his office with the iPad and headphones and they would make it work for the last hour or so of my husband’s day. I hesitated for approximately twelve seconds and then bought the best ticket I could find. I’m so very excited (although also sad because my normal book-reading buddy can’t come with me).

2. I’m teaching sixteen Sylvia Plath poems over the course of twelve days. It’s like a marathon, but worse. I have a very systematic way of guiding my students through the work, though (read/annotate alone for ten minutes, collaborate with a group for ten minutes, and then discuss as a class for fifteen, before working on it the rest of the way alone at home), so I hope that we’ll all get in the groove.

3. I started reading Like Water for Chocolate and while I’m at the very beginning, I can already tell I am going to enjoy it. Magical realism is one of my favorite genres.

4. Can you believe in God but not the afterlife? Asking for a friend (who might be an atheist anyway).

5. Fact: when I have gift cards for clothing stores I cannot find anything I like (but when it’s my own money I find plenty). Fact: when I am bursting at the seams with blog ideas I have no time to write (but when I have time to write I have no ideas).

6. The last day of school before winter break my classes are having our first bracket of a time-based Scrabble tournament. I’m not even playing and I’m super excited. It actually might be a disaster- the kids are excited and willing, but they don’t know how to play. We’re also doing it in groups of six, as opposed to four, and we’ll only have about thirty-five minutes that day to play. But whatever. It’ll still be a fun, relaxed way to end break, since the next few weeks are consumed by Madame I Put My Head in an Oven.

7. I mapped out my grading calendar for the next three weeks, and if I am extremely diligent I can leave for our three week vacation being totally caught up. It’s probably not realistic, but I am implemented several ridiculous progress checks connected to bribes to make it happen (pedicure… massage… Peanut Butter Shake from Sonic…. I AM A GLUTTONOUS MONSTER). When we come back in January we have one regular week and then finals, so if I’m not in a good position I’ll be hating life.

8. My car accident has been resolved in less than a month- thank you Mercury! My insurance found the other driver at fault and they wanted to assign both of us 50%. My claims adjuster pressed them and they took on half of my half, which we are accepting. I get half of my deductible back, which I had kissed good bye, and my rates won’t be impacted. Good enough.


Today is my birthday, which I really, truly don't care that much about. Sure, a tiny part of me wishes for grand gestures and being excessively spoiled for a few hours, but that's never been the way and I'd probably feel uncomfortable. Plus, I have shit to do. No time for bells and whistles, folks. The pies won't bake themselves and Sawyer can't exactly drive himself to the dentist or flu-vaccination clinic, right? 

But still, it's a birthday. And that's a reason for some reflection, if you ask me. Here are some things I've learned in my 33rd year that will hopefully make 34 a little better:

I Measure My Worth in My Productivity
I can't help it, I seriously feel a rush of adrenaline crossing things off my to-do list and staying busy. Tuesday I got up, took Sawyer to three different grocery stores for our weekly shopping/Thanksgiving prep, put everything away, got back in the car, got gas, drove to Buena Park to hang out at Knott's Berry Farm for four or so hours, drove home, cleaned three bathrooms, played LEGOs, vacuumed upstairs and down, put together three bookshelves, cooked dinner, hung out with Sawyer some more and did the bedtime routine, went back to the store for something I forgot, made pumpkin bread, finished a book, and then went to bed. It sounds like a ridiculous amount, I know, I admit it, but I literally felt giddy by the time I went to bed because I had accomplished so much. I am addicted to productivity and this year has helped me accept and embrace it. It's who I am. 

I Don't Care What People Think About My Internet Presence
I've never been extremely hung up on what other people think of me, but I do try to be conscious of not bombarding feeds. But you know what? I don't care. I still don't post excessively to Facebook, my blog, or regular Instagram, but if I want to put up ten Instastories a day, then I will. If I want to blog three days in a row about non-book topics, then I will. If I want to link to a progressive, liberal article on Facebook and risk pissing off a relative or coworker, then I will. I try not to be obnoxious or annoying, but I've come to the realization that people have a choice about what kind of media they consume and if they don't like what they see they can stop viewing it. You can't please everyone and you shouldn't have to. 

It's Time to Amp Up the Skin Care Routine
I've been noticing things I'd rather not in my face lately, so I've tried to really up my game when it comes to skincare (I actually have a post about my current favorite products coming soon). I know aging is normal and natural, but I can slow it down a bit, if I'm willing to shell out a few bucks and be consistent. 

It's Time to Go (Without Guilt)
This past year has made me realize how much I need to travel, and how much I deserve it. I have a few degrees and credentials, I work hard, and I've saved a more-than-adequate safety net. I need to stop feeling guilty about spending money on travel when I'm financially responsible and have a true passion for seeing other places. I've been hemming and hawing for weeks about booking our Banff trip, but I really, really intend to do it before I go back to work. I've run the numbers a million times, have done my research, and now feel really confident with the Great Car Seat Situation (basically I just learned how to install one a week ago). I owe it to myself, and I owe it to my son as well. 

My Friends are the Best
I have a group of maybe five or six women that I consider close friends and who all play different roles in my life, but are equally important. I know who I can go with if I have a weird parenting question, or who to talk to about relationship stuff. There's someone for politics, for work, for random outings (and some of these overlap). My friends range in personality, age, and background, but they all have helped me through rough times whether they realize it or not. They always seem to check in at the right time or suggest making plans when I need it the most. They aren't needy, they have realistic friendship expectations, and they're all just really special. 

Make the Best Out of Things
There have always been bumps of various sizes in the road and my 33rd year was no exception. But the older I get the better I get at handling things and quickly morphing into problem-solving mode (my default setting). It's so corny, but this is all we're getting, unless you believe in reincarnation (god, I hope it's not a real thing), and you have to make the best out of things. Sure, I do freak out still and I do overcompensate in planning and saving, but the older I get the better I am at taking a breath and making a plan.

I think thirty four will be great. I have at least one half marathon planned, a few trips, will see my seniors graduate, and will get to watch my kid keep growing and thriving. I plan to read great books, maybe get in some writing of my own, and keep surrounding myself with the people I love and respect.