June Reviews

Check back tomorrow for a giveaway!

I have been off for the last four weeks and it has been pretty fantastic. We went away for a long weekend to see my mom, she also came down to visit, and we've done some things locally. But I've also had a lot of time at home, which has allowed me to knock back ten books this month. In the interest of full disclosure, my kid generally naps for at least two hours a day, which allows me some solid time by the pool or on the couch with a book (as long as the chores are done first... sigh). 

More than anything, I really appreciated the diversity of topics, authors, and genres this month. I have classics and contemporary literature, nonfiction and fiction (two plays!), female authors and male, and three authors from abroad. Here are some quick thoughts:

Othello and Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
128 pages and 209 pages
Oh, you know the drill- someone in power, someone trying to bring them down, destruction and death left in the wake. You've probably read them by now, and even if you haven't you're probably not going to now (and honestly, I don't really blame you; I plan on reading only one new-to-me Shakespearean title this summer, and that's just because I want to read a contemporary book based on it). 

Verdict: For me, Shakespearean plays are nostalgic and fine in small doses. They're sort of like listening to music from high school. Am I going to start listening to Third Eye Blind on repeat? No. But if "Semi-Charmed Kind of Life" comes on I'll probably sing along. 

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
208 pages
Andrea is getting older, and societal pressures are becoming more abundant. When is she going to get married? Have a kid? Really settle down? Meanwhile, she hates her job, sleeps around, struggles to accept her friends are buying into the white picket fence dream, and is just generally unhappy (not that marriage and kids will bring you lifelong cheer). Things are tough on the home front, too, as her brother and his perfect wife have a child that has a severe birth defect that requires around-the-clock care. There are a few mom issues, too. 

Verdict: The title and premise both sound like chic-lit to me, but some bloggers whom I respect were singing the book's praises, so I decided that it might be a good pool-side read. I was right (as were they). There is so much more depth and a sardonic humor that I appreciate. 

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
224 pages
I wrote about this here.

Verdict: I really enjoyed this book, since I have a thing for nonfiction survival tales and am deeply connected to the idea of needing alone time (maybe not hermit-level alone time, though). There are some concerns that I have, which I write about in my post, which really just serve as a good reminder to be critical readers.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
320 pages
Roxane Gay's memoir is about her hunger, both in terms of food and things she craves in life. It's told in a non-linear format with short chapters, and discusses many, many tough things that she has endured: rape, bullying, depression, serious body-image issues, eating disorders, dysfunctional relationships, and more. It's complex and honestly written, but definitely not for the faint at heart.

Verdict: Gay won me over with Bad Feminist, so this was an easy sell for me. It's a challenging read because no matter what size you are or what you've experienced relationship-wise, this book will make you pause and reflect. For me I appreciate that this wasn't a "and this is how my life turned out so magical and I am okay" memoir, like so many at least dance around. She's upfront about this not exactly being a success story (at least not in conventional ways). 

A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life by Ayelet Waldman 
256 pages 
Writer Ayelet Waldman suffered for many years from depression, anxiety, and severe moodiness. At one point she was diagnosed as being bipolar, but that never seemed fully right to her. Eventually it was settled on that she was afflicted by PMDD, which was controllable until she hit pre-menopause. At this point she stumbled across the idea of microdosing, or taking a tiny bit of LSD every few days in order to help make her less irritable/anxious, able to sleep, and to control some pain issues she'd been having. She experiences success and writes about her experiences for the month that she experimented, also bringing in a healthy dose (ha! get what I did there?) of scientific research on drug usage.

Verdict: I found this book fascinating, as this wasn't something I knew existed (for the record, I am not condoning drug use, at all, I just think that this was interesting). There were some things that struck me as particularly amusing, like her struggles to find LSD in Berkeley (ha!), the fact that she's Michael Chabon's wife, and her discussions of the drugs they have done together in the past, once in awhile (ecstasy), for "the sake of their marriage." Her handling of drugs with their teenage kids also made me think, since I'm sure one day I will have to broach the topic with my kid. 

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
272 pages
This compilation of vignettes returns the reader to Lucy Barton's hometown, giving the reader a more complete picture of what she left behind, and where she'd be if she would have stayed. We are given snapshots into the lives of her siblings and many of the characters mentioned in the previous book. Extending beyond individual characters, the book is about personal connections, small town dynamics, and rural life. 

Verdict: I love Strout's ability to connect characters through the short story platform. Her ability to be simultaneously simple and complex continues to shine, as does the way she manages to extract sympathy towards those that might not otherwise earn it. 

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
341 pages
This graphic novel tells the story of Marjane Satrapi's coming of age in Iran during the revolution, giving Westerners a better idea of what growing up in a time of war is actually like. There's conflict aplenty in this text; political, familial, social, and personal. Overlaid onto this incredibly serious historical time period is Marjane's own struggle for identity, as a woman, a liberal, and an Iranian. 

Verdict: I enjoyed this book so, so, so much more than I thought I was going to. I'm still sort of dipping my toes into graphic novels, but I've heard nothing but great things about this one and would like to recommend it to my students for outside next reading this year (with parental permission, of course). I admittedly don't know much about the Iranian conflicts, so I liked learning more in that regard, but I also appreciated Satrapi's candor on the personal side. 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett 
336 pages
A christening starts off as just another family event, but ends up being the pivotal point for the destruction of two families and the creation of a new one. This book spans over fifty years, looking at the siblings and parents involved, centering on a tragedy that is slowly unveiled to the reader throughout. (I kind of feel like it's hard to give a lengthy synopsis without giving things away...)

Verdict: In my book, Patchett can do no wrong. I'm not sure if I liked this as much as some of her others, but it was still outstanding. Patchett develops powerful, dynamic characters that are slowly revealed throughout the novel. Her attention to detail is ever-present in her typical way, as is her carefully crafted prose. 

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (*yes, two books this month by women named Ayelet!)
352 pages
One night after working late at the hospital, Dr. Eitan Green hits an African immigrant in the middle of the Israeli desert. He abandons the dying man, only to meet his widow at his home the next day (he left his wallet at the scene of the crime... sigh...). She blackmails him, forcing him to provide medical assistance to other refugees in exchange for her silence. As if having a family, a job as a neurosurgeon, and now moonlighting as the head of an illegal medical clinic isn't hard enough, Green's own wife is investigating the murder. Things are complicated.

Verdict: I really, really enjoyed this book, albeit a few issues with pacing and slight redundancies. The issue of refugees and immigration is so prevalent all over the world, and I think sometimes in the US we restrict our discussion to that concerning issues with US and Mexico, so this was an important perspective. There are several twists and turns in the plot and some emotional revelations and developments that are done decently. 

2,646 pages

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's that time again. You know the drill.

1. I don't typically pay attention to how many years and whatnot that I have been blogging, but I realized that it will have been seven years here in a few days! Come back and visit for a post with a giveaway soon.

2. Saturday I took Sawyer to walk around Newport Beach for awhile and it was perfect. He loved it, the weather was absolutely perfect, and it was nice to get away from the area where I live for awhile (we're about an hour inland). It also finally felt like summer; sometimes I have trouble with change and transition, so I haven't really settled in to my time off yet (I know, I sound like an asshole to all you people that aren't teachers). But now that I've done that, gone to LA for the reading the other night, and have some more things planned I'm starting to feel like I am finally taking advantage of the time. 

[a Little Free Library outside a super wealthy person's beach mansion]

3. My Harry Potter sorting hat results are spot on:

4. I've been spending some time reading The Rumpus lately and can see it being a serious time suck.

5. Some good parenting advice about helping your kids acclimate to life's adversity:


6. I've started reading Persepolis, the graphic novel, and am really getting into it. I don't know a ton about Iran, so I feel like I'm learning a lot, too. 

7. I'm working on my photo book for 2017, hoping to get caught up before I go back to work, and I have come to the conclusion that my computer is the equivalent to someone else's incredibly messy closet or guest room. I'm fairly neat, but this laptop is a ridiculously unorganized shit show that I can't even begin to get together. 

Roxane Gay Reading

Last night one of my good friends and I drove up to LA with the primary mission of seeing Roxane Gay discuss her newest book, the memoir Hunger. Secondary: a stop at The Pie Hole beforehand for some of their deliciousness (their Maple Custard is the best pie I've ever had). There was no traffic either way, the weather was cooler, and parking was only $5. Clearly, it was a good night. 

Gay spoke to a packed auditorium at the Japanese American Culture and Community Center (put on by ALOUD) and was hilarious, honest, and poignant. At the time I was two-thirds through her book (now done), so it was interesting to hear her elaborate a bit on some of the topics she writes about. The discussion was often quite serious, as it should be when discussing rape, body image, and the cruelties of society (and self). Gay refused to let the mood stay somber, interjecting a healthy dose of humor into her reflections as she often does in her writing. I appreciated her mentioning that she writes only for herself; she is aware of her audience and respects them, but her authenticity prevails. Her trajectory into the public eye has been a challenge for her, as she often desires to not be noticed at all. She also revisited the struggle of her role as an imperfect feminist, as well, which I relate to immensely. 

I highly, highly recommend reading Hunger and seeing her if she ends up in a city near you. Her writing is thought-provoking, forcing you to analyze how you see yourself and others. 

Travel Considerations

[image source]

This summer is a low-key one for travel around these parts. So far this year I've been to Vegas, Yosemite, and Modesto, so my hotel expenditures are on hold for the time being. That doesn't mean I haven't been dealt a healthy dose of wanderlust, though. It doesn't help matters that I've had a few conversations with friends about potential future trips, and that Sawyer is turning out to be such an excellent little traveler. 

In the past I've taken some pretty great trips- Italy, Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, NYC, etc...- but not really since Sawyer has been born (just Tahoe, Yosemite, and Modesto). My husband is not a traveler, which is totally fine, but taking a young kid alone on an airplane, and then navigating through the logistics of a car seat and whatnot, have admittedly been a little daunting. But in the next year or two he will be able to move into a booster, which will make things a lot easier to manage, and will also be easier to leave at home so that I can go alone or with friends (I have left him for three nights before, but the older he gets the less guilty I will feel about maybe five or seven days, since he is less trouble and a better sleeper). Given these developments, I've been doing a lot of daydreaming about potential trips and scenarios. I have some savings goals I'd like to hit first, but hopefully 2018 or 2019 will allow me to get back into the big wide world. Here are some of my current considerations:

As a Family

Seattle, Washington
Scott and I have always wanted to got to Seattle, and a few years ago our good friends moved up, so I have been bugging him for ages to go. I think this would be a great first plane trip for Sawyer, since it's only a few hours and a direct flight. Judging from all the pictures I have seen of the area between friends and family, it's beautiful and full of plenty of family-friendly activities.

Scott and I went together for Christmas in 2010 and had a blast (this is actually the only time we have ever flown together!). I think Sawyer would have a really great time and there are so many family-friendly resorts. We stayed at Turtle Bay on the North Shore and I loved it SO much I wouldn't be opposed to returning. 

With Just My Husband

Scotland or Ireland
This is really the only international trip he has expressed significant interest in, so if he's willing I'm ready! I don't think this is a trip I'd want to take a Sawyer on anytime soon, although I am no longer against paying to take him abroad like I was before I had a child (my opinion that Europe should be a rite of passage for a young adult who can pay his/her way has been replaced with my own selfish desire to have a guaranteed travel buddy). It just seems like there would be better options if he was tagging along. 

With Just Sawyer

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada 

Sawyer and I love nature and hiking very much, and I have had my eye on this place for years. I think it would be amazing to go during the winter, but probably more practical during the summer in terms of outdoor activities and my lack of experience driving in the snow. I'd stay on Lake Louise, I already have a few hotels in mind, and it seems pretty easy for Americans to rent cars there, so I feel like this trip would be pretty manageable. Plus maybe we could hang out in Calgary for a day or two as well! Out of all the potential trips on here, I am actually most excited by the prospect of this one. 

Portland, Oregon

Despite there now being a Voodoo Donuts in Southern California, I still want to visit Portland. I hear nothing but great things about it, and it too would be an easy flight from Southern California for Sawyer and I. 

With My Fun, Spirited, Adventurous Friend

Parts of Europe or Iceland 

Recently a friend and I started throwing out some travel options for the two of us to consider for the next few years. We talked about Europe (Switzerland! Germany!) and Iceland, for starters. I have never taken a trip with her before, but I am pretty confident we could travel well together. A lot of things we are on par with (like willing to splurge on, say hotels, for example), so that makes a huge difference.  

With My Book-Loving Friend and Colleague

Nashville, Tennessee 

This is mostly because I want to go to Ann Patchett's Parnassus and this friend and I go to readings and other literary events together (she has no idea about these hypothetical plans, haha). We've traveled together for work a few times before, so we definitely can handle that part (the logistics of leaving our families and jobs would be the hard part, not surprisingly). 

With My Mom and Brother

Denali National Park, Alaska

I really haven't had an overwhelming desire to ever take an Alaskan Cruise, as I am confused about what the time at sea would be spent doing (I am pretty confident there aren't people sunbathing on deck sipping margaritas while lathering on suntan lotion, which is my preferred sailing activity). But flying up and spending some time exploring Denali? That sounds wonderful. I WANT TO SEE A MOOSE. My mom has always wanted to go and my brother is the young, outdoorsy type, so I know we'd have fun. 


Washington, DC

I want to spend a day alone in the Smithsonian. Maybe two. Is it bad that there are a lot of American-y places I have no desire to go to at all? Sorry Abe.

New York City

I have been to the Big Apple before, with my mother-in-law, and we crammed basically every touristy thing one would want to do into three days. It was basically the survey course for NYC and it was fantastic. I'd love to go back alone and revisit some of the places we went to (The Natural History Museum, the Guggenheim, Central Park, etc...), try some more obscure, well-reviewed restaurants, and see some places I didn't the first time around. 

A Spa Somewhere Fairly Remote

Honestly, I don't care where exactly it is, as long as it's quiet, there are massages, and I can look at my windows and see trees and water. While there are some really beautiful ones on the West Coast, it would probably be good to go somewhere new. Maybe... Maine? There are some really, really beautiful ones there and I've never been.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back, say hey!

1. Today is the last day of our first heat wave (supposedly). We've been up at 100 for a few days now, and I while I know other places in the country have it far worse, it's still pretty disgusting. I must say how thankful I am for our attic fan (or whole house fan), that cools off our upstairs once it gets cool at night for pennies, compared to the AC.

2. I love my life, most of the time, but I can't sometimes help wishing I had become an OBGYN so I could join up with Doctor's Without Borders and go help women deliver babies and learn about prenatal care in developing nations. I really, really feel called to do that, but I can't because talking about themes and motifs and everything else I am trained to do probably would not be helpful as they're trying to push something the size of a football through a hole the size of a grape (or something like that).

3. Am I the only person distrusting of Airbnbs? I love the price and the idea of all the variety, but it just seems strange to me.

4. I've had this fear that the preschool Sawyer is set to start at soon somehow lost his paperwork and didn't save his spot (it's hard to find a good, secular preschool where we live), so I finally put on my big-girl pants and called and we're good to go (I had signed up in February, so it's been awhile). They also invited me to come pick up some of the calendars for the next month so he can go on field trips or participate in family night, which I thought was nice. He is SO excited to go and give his love of the teachers and kids at gymnastics I think he's going to do well.

5. I made the above cake for an early birthday for my mom, who has been visiting. I love The Milk Bar's style of cake making so much- sure it's a little bit of a pain, but it's so forgiving and you don't have to worry about a crumb coat. 

6. I got back on the Goodreads train! I spent an entire nap time last week putting in all the books I have record of since starting my blog many years ago and the ones I haven't gotten around to yet. I'm not putting a widget on the blog, since I don't want to screw up the design I didn't make, but I'm going to attempt to put one in below so that anyone can follow me if they want (who knows if it will work).

 Goodreads: Book reviews, recommendations, and discussion

7. I am reading Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen right now and am really enjoying it. It's about a doctor in the deserts of Israel who kills an African refugee and must then pay the price in an unexpected way once the man's widow arrives at his doorstep. 

Lemme Tell You a Story (4)

My perfect compromise to not joining SnapChat but still having fun with the idea- Instastories. Every month or so I pop a few of mine up here to lighten the mood:

TED Talks to Watch

Have fifteen or twenty minutes to spare while drinking your coffee in the morning or while folding laundry? I highly suggest these fascinating TED Talks (links are in the titles and I have embedded the videos, but we all know what a b-word blogger can be, so they might not work, especially on mobile platforms):

I try to read up on this topic, since dementia is something that is currently impacting my family, and there were a few things in this talk that I still learned (this is the author of Still Alice). For example, learning things in depth is the best way to stay cognizant, even if afflicted with the condition. The more neuro pathways you can create about a topic the more likely you will retain memory as you start losing connections. Also, just in case you need a refresher, maintaing cardiovascular health (exercise! stop eating red meat!) and getting sleep is also really important. 

This is definitely one of the most controversial talks I have watched, as it is the discussion of a rape between the rapist and victim. When Thordis Elva was only fourteen Tom Stranger, her older boyfriend, raped her one night after they were both intoxicated. He returned to his home country while she dealt with the psychological aftermath for over a decade, finally reaching out to him in order to catalyze a long healing process. Their story is obviously very unique and personal (they have also written a book), and many are angered by it because Stranger was never held legally accountable. I too want to get on my feminist, human-rights soapbox, but I also must remind myself to take a step back and remember that I have never been in this position and should probably listen, be empathetic (towards her), and not judge (it's hard!). 

Here's another talk where empathy is incredibly necessary. As parents, we all want to say that our sons or daughters would never be capable of a horrific attack as the world witnessed in Columbine. Sue Klebold is here to keep us in check, reminding everyone that she was unaware that her son was suffering until it was much, much too late. While as a parent and educator I do in fact disagree, or at least question, some of the things she says, I do wholeheartedly agree with the fact that mental health awareness is one of the most important things we can do for our society. We can't assume that teens are just angsty or that people are "fine" just because they say so. 

Megan Phelps-Roper grew up as a member of the extremist church Westboro Baptist, priding herself in protesting and judging others. As she got older, she took to Twitter and a few who were respectful, firm, and informed took to engaging her in debate. Eventually, her views softened and she decided to leave the church with her sister, with the help of a social media friend. They traveled the country and met people of different backgrounds and faith and learned that people who were, say, gay, or Jewish were actually not from satan and should be treated kindly. Phelps-Roper talks a lot about engaging in productive dialogue with others, which can be applicable to any sort of disagreements. 

Nonfiction Nagging: The Stranger in the Woods

I just finished The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel and feel a little... conflicted.

This is the story of a a man named Christopher Knight, who lived in the wilderness of Maine, reportedly, for twenty-seven years. He claims to have never used fire for fear of being caught, and fed himself by burglarizing empty cabins and camps (and also stealing propane for his stove). Everyone in the area spoke of his presence, but had never really seen him or could confirm his existence. One night, he was caught, and Michael Finkel was captivated by his story and decided to pursue the truth. He met with Knight many times when he was in jail, corresponded through letters, and then also meeting with him upon his release, once he was living with his family. Knight relished in his freedom, silence, and time to reflect and read while he lived outdoors. He is blatantly honest in all regards, especially when discussing his dislike of associating with others- he partakes in no social formalities. Various psychologists speculate he has some form of Autism or a personality disorder, but Knight brushes these diagnoses off a typical desire to label others. 

Many hesitate to believe his story, especially those victims of his theft. People are also very skeptical about his desire to survive in the frigid winters of the area, where temperatures can get to far below zero (especially when he refused to have a fire). But, there are many that did accept his story and credit his ingenuity and resourcefulness. People from all over the country have offered him land, jobs, and companionship, all of which he has declined. 

Finkel mixes in some historical accounts of other hermits, as well as a dose of psychology. Finkel certainly seems to be quite the fan (see title), being a man who enjoys nature and solitude himself. Interesting to note about the author is his past issues with reporting; about fifteen years ago a major publication cut ties with him after he compiled a series of interviews from different people into one voice. He was shunned for awhile but then slowly made his way back to the journalism scene. I did appreciate him mentioning this earlier in the text, but also doing due-diligence at the end by mentioning his two fact-checkers and his reporting methodology. Nonetheless, while Finkel maybe was a bit of a fanboy, and maybe a little bit of a thorn in Knight's side, I think his interest came from a place of good and admiration. 

At one point in the narrative there is a discussion about how long one can go without human contact. Finkel includes information about solitary confinement and past accounts of sailors who have spent great lengths of time at sea. He himself has only gone a few days. Me? I really had to think about this, and I'm guessing perhaps no more than a day, back when we lived in our apartment and my husband was gone overnight during a summer when I was home? Maybe? How long would I like to go? I often fantasize about going away for a few days to spend some time reading, writing, hiking, and sleeping in a cabin up in the High Sierras (but one with electricity and good water pressure), but I really think I'd start getting a bit too lonely after, say three days? It would be an interesting experiment if I ever have the luxury of conducting it. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back, say hey!

1. You know it's summer when the Peach Tart gets made on repeat. It seriously only takes fifteen minutes to make and it's delicious. 

2. I have been loving the band The Head and the Heart lately. It was perfect for driving.

3. Listening the The Nest, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, was also good listening material, once I got into it. I loathe starting new audiobooks because it takes me at least twenty minutes to get used to the narrator's voice, decide if I'm interested, etc... Fiction is even harder. Nonetheless, I was right in it being a book that I might not necessarily read but that would work out well on audio. 

4. I finished my latest cross stitching project, a sugar skull-esque Stormtrooper that took about three months to do. I know it's lazy, but I really like monochromatic patterns, or ones with big blocks of colors. Changing thread is such a pain when you're sitting on the couch (for once). My current plan is to just save all my favorite projects and then when I have ten or twelve to do a sort of gallery wall in our guest bedroom. So far, I have three, so at this rate it will take me about three more years. (I'm okay with that).

5. My MRI came back fine, which means that the problem is most likely  in the joint/bone, since it's not soft tissue, and I was referred to an orthopedist. Yesterday I told my husband I was going to "yoga the shit out of it" until my appointment, even thought I know it won't help that. 

6. I have been reading The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel and it's fascinating how someone can live for twenty-seven years alone (it's the true story of the "last" hermit). I have very conflicting feeling regarding solitude, as in sometimes it's all I want and others it's the last thing, so his desire to be so removed is truly interesting. 

7. The other day while I was finishing up the Stormtrooper while Sawyer was napping I watched like six TED Talks- post to come (I'm really just including this to motivate myself to do it).

8. My downstairs bathroom has been free of the diaper genie for quite some time, but the little potty is also gone now. This makes me so happy. 

9. Sawyer is really starting to get a handle on pronouns THANK GOD. He generally referred to himself in third person, which sure, is cute, but to an English teacher a little... not cute. I've been trying to gently point out uses of "me," "I," and "you" and it's finally paying off. 

10. I had an epiphany the other night (in the shower, of course) about the book I'd like to write but have been struggling with a little bit. I'm going to completely overhaul the narrator into someone that I think I can come at from a more organic angle. Now to prioritize writing more! 

11. Fun things are on the horizon- my mom comes for a few days, I'm going to a Roxane Gay reading with a friend, we have tickets for a local baseball game's fireworks show the Sunday before the 4th, and I need to pick dates for a trip to the Getty Museum, the beach, and a children's museum not far from us. The weather is unfortunately heating up, but that means the pool is going to be bearable super soon. 

Going Home

Going home, to where I grew up, in Modesto, is always a little strange. My mom still lives in the house we grew up in, with my two sisters and her long-time boyfriend. But it's not really my house anymore, they've made changes, a lot of his belongings are there (as they should be), and the pets are no longer the ones from my childhood. I also don't expect people or things to stay the same, so it's absolutely okay. 

Modesto is also the place that I wanted to get away from, which I did by going to UCLA out of high school (my mom gently suggested community college would be just fine if my financial aid didn't work out and I cried). It represents some tough times growing up, like everything leading up to my dad's death, my family's constant financial struggles, and not being properly introduced to a hair straightener. But, my family is there, so I try to make the trek back once a year, which is a really good thing for me. The Central Valley is so different than Southern California- people work harder physically, they care less about highlights (raises hand in guilty admission), and they still haven't quite recovered from the recession. There's a lot of poverty- over half of most counties up there rely on governmental medical assistance and areas that used to be seen as safe maybe aren't as much so now. But there are huge green fields, vineyards, dairies with thousands of cows, and orchards aplenty. 

It's complicated and it's simple, and it really is home. 

So last weekend I took Sawyer for three nights and we watched the annual American Graffiti Parade to commemorate George Lucas' movie, stopped by the car show, visited a few parks, ate at some of my old favorite places, and hung out with my family. Sawyer fell in love with my mom's cat and he entertained everyone with his crazy three-year-old antics. It is definitely exhausting driving the 369 miles alone with a kid, but luckily he and I both slept better in hotel beds than we have in weeks. 

I'm not in a rush to go back, for now, but I do wish my family all lived closer.

Required Reading, Summer Edition

Every summer I give my incoming students a few assignments to help them prep for the fall when they return- we call it summer work, aptly named. This summer I have some of my own to get through, besides working on forty letters of rec for upcoming scholarship and college applications (I will keep my juniors from last year and teach them as seniors next year). 

The first set of readings I have is for the actual work I assigned the kids. There are four poems they have to analyze by the usual suspects, like Dickinson. This is just a quick springboard into some analysis we are going to do the first two weeks of school. Then, I have to (re)read Othello, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and The Tempest, since I gave them the option of picking one from those to do some work on. They'll have an essay or some sort of test when they return, so I need to actually read the plays so I can plan accordingly. Right now, since I haven't actually started yet, I'm excited! I teach Macbeth every other year right now, and when I used to teach a regular English class I did Caesar, but that's where my Shakespeare reading has lied since college. 

I am also advising four students' Extended Essays in English, which is a 3,500 word essay on basically whatever they want. I have one student comparing Anthem and Fahrenheit 451, another looking at magical realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Midnight's Children, and a student studying the graphic novels Blankets and Daytrippers (the fourth student is still narrowing down his choices). With the exception of the two graphic novels and Anthem, I've read the other selections, but I still like I need to reread in order to adequately advise. 

One one hand, this seems like a lot of required reading- four plays, four novels, and two graphic novels (and then two more, depending). But the plays and the graphic novels should move quickly, although the magical realism books are a bit more dense (but oh-so-good). I need to space everything out, though, so that I don't get bogged down at the end, but so I remember everything for when we start back in August. 

I was always the kid in high school that secretly loved summer work. When I was in eighth grade our pre-IB summer assignment was to read Jane Eyre and to do the infamous 175+ questions in the yellow packet that accompanied with it. Always a student at heart, I guess!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back, say hey!

1. So, after talking and worrying about it for like two months now, I finally had an MRI on my hip today (also, the pain is getting worse and worse and worse, so YAY! I am thankful exercise doesn't worsen it, but the 6+ hour car drive I have this weekend will for sure). Turns out I still feel a bit claustrophobic in an open machine, but at least I dozed off towards the middle for a bit (it was nearly 45 minutes long). I should have some info by the beginning of next week, finally.

2. This is a long story, but I'll just say that we had our house painted and there was issues with the color and now I have to fear the HOA and prepare to go to battle. We have a valid case and story, but I just really don't want to deal with it, given everything else that's going on. The house looks great, but I shouldn't have to go through this sort of stress when I paid a lot of money to professionals.

3. Also, they broke my lawn gnome and didn't even have the courtesy to tell me. The audacity. So many expletives. 

4. I made Gaby's Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salsa for the first time this summer (it's kinda a staple around here) and probably ate half it from the bowl on a spoon (if you make it, add the oil, lime juice, and cilantro to the food processor for a smoother dressing).

5. I leave for the Central Valley with Sawyer in a few days and I am hoping and praying he naps in the car, mostly because it will ensure he shuts up (three-year-olds talk in the car NONSTOP) and is in a good mood when we arrive, but also because I just downloaded The Nest to listen to.

6. I just finished reading Ayelet Waldman's A Really Good Day, a look at her month microdosing on LSD, and I was interested in a conversation she had with her therapist on the idea of being so over-extended. The therapist told her to imagine she had a dozen clones of herself. What jobs would she give them to do? Why? I looked at my own life from that vantage point and had a really, really hard time allocating the work to my counterparts. It's safe to say that I am okay passing along bathroom cleaning, dishwasher unloading, floor cleaning, and shutter dusting to my clones. 

7. If you have  young child that likes stickers and to color, go to Michael's and pick up their Grab and Go Play Packs for $1. They have like ten different ones and they're perfect for occupying your little guy or girl when going out to eat or meet a friend for coffee. 

Stay-at-Home Activities for the Toddler/Preschool Crowd

I am definitely not trying to moonlight as a mommy-blogger, but as a teacher and mom to a three-year-old I know what it's like to have long stretches of days where your kid is annoying the hell out of you and you just want them TO DO SOMETHING AND BE QUIET OHYMGOD. So, over the past year or so, I've used Pinterest, Instagram, and my own brain to come up with some cheap, minimal mess (well, for the most part), fun activities that will occupy your 18 month- 3.5ish year olds. These are nothing special or wonderful, but they work. 

Water Activities
1. A water table- this is the most expensive item on this list, since most run between like $40 and $100, but if you think about the hours your kid will stand at is then it's totally worth every penny. We also bought a fire-pit canvas cover to protect it from the weather (and so it looks nicer and tidier when not in use).

2. Indoor water play- I'll lay down some towels on the floor, strip Sawyer down to his undies, and give him a few pitchers of waters, along with an assortment of whatever I pull out of my cupboards (ice cube trays, turkey basters, spoons, colanders, etc...). There's something about pouring water between containers that kids love. Plus, my floor ends up super clean in that spot of the kitchen. 

3. Water beads- These are less than $10 on Amazon and you only need a tablespoon to have PLENTY. Sawyer plays with these with his water table or inside. They're also really fun to watch grow over the course of six or so hours, while they are absorbing water (if your kid still puts things in their mouth you may want to hold off). 

Sensory Stuff
4. Rock/bean tub- We call this "Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site" after one of Sawyer's favorite books, and it lives upstairs by my treadmill. I had some leftover floral pebbles that I combined with a couple of bags of assorted dried beans, added some of the trucks, animals, spoons, and small containers he already has and BOOM! A station that keeps him busy forever. 

5. Pipe Cleaner/Colander/Beads- I honestly have no idea what to call this contraption, but I cut down some pipe cleaners, showed him how to thread them through the holes and to slide beads on. Now that he's really into colors and sorting it's serving more of a purpose than just fine motor skills.

[bonus: it can be a hat]

6. Play Dough- Oh, I hate messes, I do. But when you have a kid, you have to learn to deal with it, so I buy cheap disposable table cloths and cut them in thirds. I then tape them to the table ahead of time so that when he's done we can just save the big chunks and throw out the tiny little crumbs. 

7. Bean Sorting- I bought a bag of the 10 bean soup mix (or however many beans are in it) and I set up cupcake liners so that he can sort the different colors. I was really surprised how long he spent on this one and how meticulous he was about the whole thing.

Arts and Crafts (aka part of the reason I save Michaels coupons)
8. Door Decorating (picture at top)- For every holiday or season (so every two or so months) we decorate his bedroom door accordingly. I don't do a lot for seasonal decor in my house, so this is sort of my concession. We recently did an ocean theme and every few days we'd do a new craft (easy ones from Pinterest). It's really cute to see him involved and take ownership of the projects.

9. Canvas Painting- Michaels runs some crazy sales on cheap canvases where you can get a pack of like five or six for a few bucks a piece. I use the tablecloths from above and old paintbrushes and we're good to go. They make good gifts for grandparents, too! You an also reuse them (paint them white when no one is looking- our secret). 

10. Big Boxes- Save some of the old boxes you get from furniture or other big items and when you're desperate bring them inside and put your child in the box with some crayons, markers or stickers. They're confined, the mess is in one place, and it's recycling! 

11. Sticker Books- Sawyer has an old blank book that I got somewhere and he loves to sit and just put stickers in it. I pick them up when I see them in dollar bins and have ransacked my classroom cupboards, and now that people know how much he loves them he gets them for gifts, too. 

12. The Usual Suspects- Sidewalk chalk (LOVE! Costco has a huge box for less than $10), coloring books, stamps, bubbles, LEGO, puzzles, balloons, paint daubers (I had never seen these until last year- they're great!), etc...

13. Tape roads- We use painter's tape to make roads all over the living room for his cars.

14. Cooking- Since Sawyer was old enough to sit in a high chair I've let him play with measuring cups and stuff while I've cooked. For the last year or so he's gotten really into helping and I'll give him "jobs" that he loves (cupcake liners into the pans, putting toppings on a pizza, unwrapping sticks of butter, rolling out pieces of scrap dough, etc...).

15. Magnet board- When Sawyer wasn't even two yet we got him a magnet board and some magnets (Melissa and Doug!). Now every time we go somewhere new he gets a new one, so that we can add it to his collection. It's a great way to talk about past memories and work on vocabulary, too!

16. Melissa and Doug Jumbo Building Boxes- As far as I'm concerned, Melissa and Doug walk on water, and these blocks are one reason why. They're also a little expensive, compared to these other activities, but they hold up really well and are used all the time. We make towers, garages for his cars, chairs for his stuffed animals, etc...

Hang in there, moms. We're in this together.