It’s been almost exactly four years since I posted any writing on this blog. As you can see below, I was in the middle of a 31 day writing challenge where I posted a book review a day and then I…stopped. There was no single catalyst, I just stopped. Back then I was working part-time at the library, figuring out life with chronic kidney disease while in pretty life-altering treatment, and overall adjusting after living in Mexico for Spanish school. Five months after this I started working full-time in the children’s department of my library, then in fall 2016 I started graduate school, and in fall 2017 I was promoted to Youth Librarian at a different library branch (still in school), and in the midst of all of that, blogging went dormant, for the internet and for me.
I inhabit so many different corridors of the world and I wanted to write about so much but knew that no matter what I wrote about I would make someone I cared about deeply unhappy or upset. So, I stopped. I wrote for myself in journals or Google Docs here and there, ranted to the people closest to me, or kept it all inside. But publishing publicly, especially now in the year 2018 where the slightest thing could make you “viral?” No thank you. Then as I added responsibilities to my life, I had no bandwidth for writing like this.
I don’t have more time now: I’m still busy working in a very demanding job, studying and writing for my MLIS (Master’s in Library and Information Studies), and trying to read and write just for my own enjoyment in the corners of time that I can carve out. But the time for being quiet feels over. Too much is at stake to keep to myself.
If you’d like to see a little of what I’ve been working on writing-wise over the last year and a half, I post once a month-ish on a blog for library school students called Hack Library School. Mostly I write book reviews connecting what I’m reading to the world of library science, but I also share a few things from my classes. If that interests you, check out my latest post for HLS about the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
I don’t know how I’ll continue to use this space, but I hope to not stay silent again until October 2022.
One bad moment in a book has the potential to put a sour spin on the rest of a good story. Freefall to Fly has one of those moments. Rebekah Lyons’ tells her story of how she overcame fear and anxiety, but undercuts that story with one potentially dangerous assertion. I wanted to like this memoir–but it isn’t safe.
With her husband and three kids, Lyons moves away from the comforts of living close to family and friends in the south to a completely foreign life in busy New York City. The transition is difficult and she doesn’t handle it well. She begins having panic attacks and wonders if the move had been a terrible mistake.
Lyons’ story is compelling and her writing interesting. However, her conclusions about mental illness and how to deal with it run this book off the rails. Consider the following quotes:
In our frailty, many of us don’t believe we can be free. If we start to feel defeat and helplessness creeping in, we medicate, we numb out, we order our lives to escape our pain. We seek comfort anywhere we can find it. Our careers, a prescription, a cocktail bar, another person’s arms (135-136).”
“We are born with a large capacity for coping, especially when aided by human mechanisms. Each incident we encounter thickens our skins a little more to take the next blow. The more we medicate, the thicker the skin becomes. Before we know it, we are staring through pain and tragedy with eyes that don’t blink, tears that don’t come, skin so tough we feel nothing (136).
I just don’t even know where to begin. I think she’s confusing medication for, I don’t know, perhaps depression? These blanket statements about medication are flat-out wrong. She bases these assertions about using medication to numb out on the experiences of people she knows, and especially the situation of her father who suffered from severe mental illness. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Anecdotes are not the same as facts. Just because some of the people you know used medication as a way to avoid dealing with the problems in their lives does mean everyone uses medication as a way to avoid dealing with problems. Just because you (the author) might use medication to numb out does not mean that everyone who takes medication for depression is numbing out.
Telling readers that by taking medication for depression you are only trying to numb yourself is dangerous and wrong. Lyons is entitled to her own opinion, but the editor and publisher (Tyndale House, a Christian publisher) who let that stand in the book were irresponsible and negligent. Those with depression are struggling enough–they don’t need to be told the lie that medication isn’t necessary and that they just need to try harder to get better. Would Lyons’ (and the many others who say medication for depression is an escape) tell someone with a broken leg that they just need to try harder to heal the broken bone? Would you deprive someone of antibiotics for an infection and tell them that medication will just numb them? Absolutely not. Depression is real, and medication for depression can be exactly what someone needs to get on the path to healing.
I won’t tell you not to read this book. I will tell you that if you do read this book, be discerning. Once I read her thoughts on medication and mental health, I had a very hard time taking to heart any of her other conclusions. In fact, I can barely remember anything else about the book. This book was a disappointment.
Freefall to Fly, Rebekah Lyons, 1-star, Christian memoir
It’s strange to think about a book set in 1991 as historical fiction, but it was over 20 years ago. The World Outside by Eva Wiseman, with the setting of a Hasidic community in 1991 New York, definitely falls into that genre. I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately I only gave it a 2-star rating.
Teenager Chanie Altman is part of an ultra-conservative Jewish group living in New York in 1991. Everyone in the community follows their rabbi with the utmost devotion, to the point of believing he is probably the messiah. Chanie’s world is strictly controlled, but as is the case with most main characters in novels such as these, she yearns to break free from the restrictive rules. She meets a boy, of course, who encourages her to use her never-trained yet amazing singing voice and apply to Juilliard.
The underlying conflict in this book is racial tension between the Hasidic community and African-Americans. Chanie and her community are offensively racist, at least Chanie is until she meets and befriends an African-American girl her age, who shows her that she shouldn’t be so prejudiced. If you can’t infer my implied eye roll at that plot point, know that I found it ridiculous. I was intrigued to learn more about this conflict, based on real-life events, but it was so simplistically and unrealistically handled that I just couldn’t take it seriously.
The World Outside had a great starting point. However, thanks to lazy story-telling and poor characterization, it just fell flat. Other reviewers of this book claimed that Chanie and her group were unfairly and incorrectly portrayed. I can’t speak to that particular claim, not being an expert in Hasidic Judaism, but overall I found the portrayal of the people and their community to be far too simplistic. To top it off, I hated the ending. It came out of nowhere and didn’t fit the story or the character. The World Outside was a disappointment.
The World Outside, Eva Wiseman, 2-stars, historical young adult fiction
When I began my new job, I started spending more time in the car driving to work. I realized I needed to maximize all possible reading time in order to have a hope of finishing my 100 books in 2014. The solution? Audiobooks. Listening to a book on CD is a very different reading experience than visually reading a printed book or e-book. I can’t flip ahead, or even get spoiled by accidentally reading further along on the page. I’m at the mercy of the pace of the narrator, but it’s a great way to challenge my brain to pay attention a little differently.
I chose Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin as my first audiobook experiment because it caught my eye on the audiobook cart at the library. I was going on a drive to Arkansas the next day and I wanted to be prepared for the drive with listening material. Last year I read Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever, a book on the same topic. I loved reading the stories behind such popular TV shows, even ones I had never watched (and never plan to watch, like the Sopranos) and was interested to learn more from Difficult Men.
Where The Revolution Was Televised explored the background of a number of tv shows, Difficult Men focused specifically on the male creators and showrunners of tv dramas from what Martin calls the Third Golden Age of television. Martin writes about the complicated lives of tv writers like David Chase, David Simon, Ed Burns, David Milch, and Alan Ball and the stories they all told through their shows. Needless to say, a lot of drama went into making all of their dramas.
I really like reading about television. I also enjoy watching television, just not the television this book talks about. I haven’t seen The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, or Breaking Bad. I don’t really plan on watching any of those shows, except maybe The Wire. I just don’t have the emotional space to watch all those dark, upsetting dramas. I don’t need to watch hours of those shows to know it would be too much for me. But reading about those shows and how they were created? That I can do: reading about these shows doesn’t have the same emotional weight and I learn so much about the creative process. Also, many of these shows have become such pop cultural touchstones that I want to have a rudimentary knowledge of their stories. Listening to Difficult Men was an excellent way to learn more.
When Joanna Rakoff was 23 in the late 90’s, she took a job as an assistant at a New York literary agency: an agency that just happened to represent famous author J. D. Salinger. The agency resists the pull of the forthcoming 21st century, refusing to use computers or the internet and sticking to typewriters and Dictaphones. Throughout this year, Rakoff navigates the idiosyncrasies of her coworkers at the agency, as well as a relationship with an odd boyfriend. She also becomes responsible for answering Salinger’s fan mail, and her stories about these letters and her responses to them are fascinating.
Publishing,writing, Salinger, life in New York City as a young woman. These are just a few of the topics I learned more about from reading My Salinger Year. This is why I read memoir, why I read anything, to learn about what I don’t already know.
Who doesn’t love Goodnight Moon? I’m sure there must be some heartless readers who don’t enjoy this classic tale by Margaret Wise Brown, but I’m not sure I want to know those people. Goodnight Moon was one of my favorite books to read to my students–the kids loved to point out their favorite items in the room. When I saw the book Goodnight June by Sarah Jio on the shelves at the library, I knew I had to try it out. Goodnight June is a novel that imagines a friendship between Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown and the aunt of the title character, June.
June is an uptight business woman who has been ignoring her past and her family. She answers the call to go home, though, to settle her aunt Ruby’s estate, which includes Ruby’s bookstore, opened in the 1940s. June has to make the difficult decision of whether or not she can keep the store open. While she’s going through the store, though, she discovers letters written between her aunt Ruby and author Margaret Wise Brown. Her aunt has left her a scavenger hunt of sorts, asking June to find classic children’s books in the bookstore to find more of the correspondence between Ruby and Margaret. Through these letters, June learns the story of the friendship between her aunt and Margaret Wise Brown, as well as more about the origins of Brown’s Goodnight Moon.
I don’t read a lot of adult fiction, because much of what I have read has been boring and predictable. Obviously I don’t pick that well because I know there has to be interesting and exciting adult fiction. Goodnight June is somewhere in the middle of that continuum–it wasn’t boring, but it was predictable. It was interesting, but not terribly exciting. Overall, though, it was a good story that made me want to read more by this author, even without the Goodnight Moon hook.
I have only ever seen the Jurassic Park movies with my friend Christine. I watched it for the first time on vacation with her in Florida, then we watched it when it came out in the theaters in 3D, and this summer we watched it outside at Tulsa’s Guthrie Green. Before she moved away in August (insert sad, crying emoticon here), we fit in Jurassic Park 2 and 3 on DVD. After watching all three movies, I decided I needed to read the book, because Christine assured me that it was better than the movies.
I started reading Jurassic Park as an ebook from the library. Then, just as it was getting good, I opened it up on my desktop to find that it had expired someone else had already checked it out. Thank goodness I work at the library where we still have more than a few printed books. We had a paperback on the shelves, which I checked out immediately.
In Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, eccentric businessman John Hammond has paid a lot of money to bring dinosaurs back from extinction. With detailed explanations, Crichton convinces you that the science behind this crazy idea could actually be plausible. Throughout the book, you also meet a cast of interesting characters, who may or may not survive to the end of the story. And of course, there are dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaurs.
After watching the movie adaptation and reading the book, I have to say that I enjoyed both and can’t rank one over the other. Jurassic Park isn’t my typical read, but it was certainly an enjoyable one that kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s a great book to choose if you’re looking for a little adventure in your reading life.
Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton, 4-stars, suspense fiction, dinosaurs
The Divorce Papers made me realize how much I love epistolary novels. Susan Rieger’s story of how lawyer Sophie Diehl manages the divorce of Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim is told through correspondence, including legal papers, emails, newspaper articles, and more. Even though reading through paperwork might sound boring and divorce is an unpleasant topic, The Divorce Papers tells a fascinating story.
Sophie is not a divorce lawyer. Yet somehow, a longtime client of her firm, Mia, decides that Sophie is the right lawyer for her divorce. Sophie’s firm wants to keep their client happy and asks her to take on this daunting task. As Sophie learns more about divorce law and of the story of her client, so do you. She asks for assistance from her bosses, reads articles about the law of her county, and keeps in close contact with her client. You learn more about both Sophie and Mia, as well as the intricacies of divorce law through each piece of correspondence.
Normally when I choose a book, I check Goodreads for it’s average rating and I don’t often read books with a rating of less than 3.5 stars. I either didn’t check before I read The Divorce Papers or I decided I didn’t care, because it has a 3.32 rating. The masses are not always correct: sometimes a book just falls really well with you even when many others hated it. That was the case for me with The Divorce Papers. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. If you’re looking for good epistolary fiction, I recommend this book.
Some might not count short children’s books towards their reading goals, but I do. Hey, some of the other reading material I’ve finished this year have more than 400 pages, so I think it all evens out. One of my favorite children’s picture books I read this year was Peter Brown’s You Will Be My Friend!
Lucy, the title character, is desperately looking for a friend. And she will try anything to make a new friend. She goes to all the other animals in the forest and attempts to enjoy all the activities they like to do. No matter how hard she tries, though, she struggles to make a good friend. For the others in the forest, she’s just too much.
I love this little book so much because, despite its intended audience of young children, I found it astonishingly relatable. In fact, when I first found a copy of this book at Goodwill, I joked that it was essentially my memoir: the story of someone who runs up to people and declares friendship. I can’t count the number of times I have felt like Lucy, struggling to find friends and realizing that others think I am too much. I care deeply and passionately about many people, causes, and ideas—and some people find that too overwhelming.
I’ve learned (for the most part) to embrace my too much-ness and try not to put too much stock in the opinions of those who would wish my too much-ness away. Whether you’re a young bear in the forest or a young woman in the real world, making friends is hard and life is too short to be worried about the people who aren’t interested in being your friend. I’ve been fortunate in my life to find many good friends–the question is, though, will Lucy find someone to be her friend?
You Will Be My Friend! Peter Brown, 5-stars, children’s picture book, adorable
I read #GIRLBOSS one morning in July when I woke up accidentally at 4:45 AM. My medication woke up my brain before my body wanted to get out of bed so I picked up #GIRLBOSS (yes, the hashtag is included in the title) off the top of the giant stack of books next to my bed. It’s not a long or difficult read, and I had the book finished by the time my alarm went off at 7 AM to get ready for work.
Part memoir, part self-help, part business tale, #GIRLBOSS is Sophia Amoruso’s story of how she grew her business NastyGal. She started out as a one-woman shop on eBay selling vintage clothes she found in thrift stores and over the course of a few years grew that shop into a multi-million dollar company. I had never heard of either Amoruso or Nasty Gal, but the book had been recommended by a website I read for young professional women called Levo League.
What I liked most about this book was, as is the case for most memoirs, is Sophia’s story. She’s honest and open about the mistakes she made in her young adulthood and as she started her business. Her journey to becoming the CEO of a giant brand was, to say the least, unconventional. She didn’t go to college, she didn’t attend business school. Instead, she built her business through trial and error and wasn’t afraid of making mistakes if she could learn from them.
Interspersed through her personal story are tips for the modern young professional women, the #GIRLBOSS. She has rules like, “Money looks better in the bank than on your feet,” and “Dream big, start small.” None of these tips or rules are new or earth-shattering, but they are practical reminders that can help young women take charge of their personal and professional lives.
#GIRLBOSS, Sophia Amoruso, 4-stars, memoir, business, advice, some swearing
Months and months ago, Linda Holmes of NPR recommended the book Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher on my favorite podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. Alas, at the time she recommended the book, she had read an Advanced Reader Copy and it wasn’t set to be published for months. In September, the book was finally published and since I was at the top of the holds list at the library I was able to start reading Dear Committee Members right away.
DCM is a short novel of letters from a professor of English at a small college to many, many people. Professor Jason Fitger writes biting letters of recommendation for students pursuing jobs and degrees at a wide variety of institutions. With a few exceptions, these are not positive recommendations. In most of these letters, he is irritated at the requester or the intended recipient, and is not shy about his irritation. He tells these committees exactly what he’s thinking, with no filter. While these kinds of letters would be terrible to receive in real life, they are hilarious to read. Professor Fitger writes what people actually think, but aren’t brave enough to say.
Mixed in with these letters of recommendation (or rather, un-recommendation) are yet more letters detailing his attempts to help one of his students publish a manuscript. In each new missive, you discover just a little more about Professor Fitger’s life, relationships, and work. Epistolary novelsare so much fun to read: details are teased out piece by piece and you never know which letter will have a bombshell of new information. DCM is an especially entertaining example, because it is filled with wit and humor. If you like to laugh, you should read this book.
I am a lifelong reader and book nerd. Even though there have been seasons where I didn’t have the time or energy to read as much as I would have liked, books and reading have always been an important part of my life. I also love sharing about what I’ve read, but I’ve never been very successful at actually writing down and publishing any reviews. When I came upon the idea of #31daysofwriting in October, I knew I had a topic ready-made for this challenge: #31daysofreading. I’ve read 67 books so far this year (finished an audiobook in the car this morning on the way to work!), so I have plenty of material to review. For this first day, though, I wanted to write about the tools I use to aid my reading habit, as well as what kinds of books I usually read.
While I already own hundreds of books, I also really like reading new shiny books. Alas, my book budget cannot sustain my new shiny book habit, so it’s a good thing I work at a library. I’m always hovering around my 50 items checked out limit, and I have over 80 items on hold. Even though I know I won’t ever read them all, I love having choices and perusing these new shiny books.
One of my biggest partners in my reading adventures is Goodreads. I keep my imaginary bookshelves filled with what I’ve read, what I’m currently reading, what I’ve put in hibernating, what I’ve rejected completely, and what I want to read (the shelf that is ridiculously optimistic). I can also record my reading progress (page number or percent completed), which is helpful since I tend to read 15-20 books at the same time. I know many people can’t fathom reading more than one book at a time, but I love jumping from book to book and Goodreads helps me stay on track.
Goodreads also hosts a reading challenge every year, which I have participated in since 2011. That year, I read 20 books, the next year I read 40, and last year I set a goal of 50 and read 53. For 2014, I wanted to really challenge myself and decided to attempt to read 100 books. The reading challenge lets me know how well (or not well) I’m keeping to the pace I need to be reading in order to finish 100 by December 31, and right now I’m 7 books behind the pace.
When I finish a book, I give it a star rating using Goodreads’ system: 5-stars: it was amazing; 4-stars: really liked it; 3-stars: liked it; 2-stars: it was ok; 1-star: did not like it. Most of my books are rated 5s and 4s, because if I really don’t like it, I don’t normally finish it. If I give a book 1 star, it generally means I hate-read it, meaning I disliked it so much yet I had to finish it because I hoped it might improve (see my 1-star review of The Magicians).
My favorite genre of books is memoir because I enjoy learning about life from someone else’s personal perspective. Sometimes I choose a memoir specifically because the writer has lived a life very different than mine and I want to explore that difference. Other times I choose one because I relate to the author and can place myself in her shoes. Beyond memoir, you will also find me reading young adult fiction and historical nonfiction, with the occasional adult fiction and graphic novels. Working at the library is expanding my reading horizons, but I mainly stick to these genres when I’m choosing my reading material.
I’ve read a lot of great books this year, as well as some not-so-great books. You can see them all on my Goodreads page. I don’t plan on reviewing every book on my list from this year, so if there’s a book in particular I’ve read that you’d like to see, leave a comment letting me know. I hope that with my #31daysofreading you’ll discover new books to enjoy.
After months of just thinking about writing a post to link up with Leigh Kramer‘s What I’m Into series, it’s finally September and I think I’m finally going to manage it on time. While I’m still dealing with my kidney problems, life finally feels like it’s settling into a normal rhythm. Thank you September, for calming down a little.
Spanish School Friends
One of the greatest parts of Spanish School was making new friends: Mexican, American, and Canadian. I miss most of these friends as they’re flung out all over the world, but fortunately two of these friends only live a few hours away! They made the trip to Tulsa in the beginning of September to visit Emily and me before Emily returned to Mexico for the fall. Natasha and Levi’s visit was one of the best parts of September: there’s nothing quite like being able to spend time with friends who have shared a very important and specific life experience like attending language school in a foreign country.
Did you know I knit? I took a bit of a hiatus from knitting in the past couple years, and in September I pulled out my yarn and needles again. I had some half-finished projects that took some time to figure out where I had left off, and I also started some new projects. Necks will be warmed this fall and winter! If it ever gets cold. Note: knitting is fun, but it’s time-consuming and not cheap if you like nice yarn and needles. If you receive something handknitted, know that person loves you an awful lot. Second note: I don’t give many knitted items. My mom is still waiting on a cowl I started two years ago (maybe it will be done this Christmas…..)
As of the end of September, I have finished 66 books this year. I’m still hopeful to meet my goal of 100 read by December 31, but I’m pleased with my progress so far. These favorites from this month were all very good, especially My Salinger Year and Dear Committee Members–I basically devoured both of them and would recommend them highly.
Inspired by this post on Book Riot, I’ve started a spreadsheet to even further analyze what I’m reading (I KNOW and I don’t care. I’m a nerd). Goodreads is awesome for overall tracking of books, but I’m interested in information that Goodreads doesn’t really track, like gender or country of origin of the author. I’m working towards expanding and diversifying my reading habits, and I want to quantify what I’m lacking. I also just want to make a spreadsheet of my books.
Ah, fall, the time of new television. Some of my favorite shows have started their new seasons in September, including Bones, Once Upon a Time, Big Bang Theory, and Castle. All of these shows (ok, except for BBT), started off their seasons with a lot of drama and excitement, and I’m looking forward to how these shows will play out their current storylines. The new season of Doctor Who has also started, but they’re stacking up on the DVR, as yet unwatched because I’m just not that into the new doctor yet.
Another show I’ve been enjoying the last couple months has been Project Runway. I loved the first few seasons, then fell away as a viewer when they switched to Lifetime. I came back this season because of how much I love Tim Gunn, and I have not been disappointed. It’s been an interesting show, especially the episode featuring American Girl dolls (which led me to searching eBay for American Girl doll accessories, so if you’re looking for the spinster nerd club, it’s meeting over here at my house).
Another September TV highlight was the Roosevelts on PBS. I love history, I love the Roosevelts, I love PBS. My dad and I have finished 8 of the 14 hours so far and will be finishing the remaining 6 hours soon. It’s an amazing documentary, and if you can set aside 14 hours of your life to watch it, you should. It will make you smarter.
At the end of September, I spent the weekend in Arkansas–even though it’s not that far from Tulsa, going somewhere different just for a couple days is so refreshing. My college roommate and I made a point of visiting Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, an art museum built and sponsored by Wal-Mart, to see their current special exhibition called State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. It is an excellent exhibit with many different creative pieces and you should go see it. Also, it’s free, which is even more reason to go see it. Go get cultured!
Around the internet, I found this challenge called #31daysofwriting for the month of October. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be doing #31daysofreading for my #31daysofwriting. In theory, I will be writing reviews and thoughts on all these books I’ve been reading this year. In practice, I’m not entirely sure what I will be writing. Stay tuned.
May, June, July, August: Summer 2014 flew by for me. I started a new job in the spring, muddled my way through my kidney problems and diagnoses, started new medications, went on vacation, came home and got a promotion, and now August is almost over and now it’s September. It was a challenging summer, but a good one.
Where do I begin with my #kidneyproblems (I’ve decided to stop fighting and simply embrace hashtags)? Between insurance changes and long wait times before I could see a specialist, I didn’t visit a nephrologist (kidney specialist) until the end of May. The only way to find out for sure what was going on with my kidneys was to have a biopsy of my kidney. Alas, with more insurance confusion, it took almost another month to schedule and then have the procedure.
Within a week of the biopsy, though, I received a diagnosis: a kind of glomerularnephritis (kidney inflammation) called IgA nephropathy. According to my kidneys, I’ve had this inflammation for 5-10 years, without symptoms. When I caught a virus in the airport or airplane on my way home from Mexico, it set off the underlying kidney inflammation. All those unpleasant symptoms I had in April, May, and June (including kidney pain, overwhelming fatigue, and other unmentionables) had nothing to do with being in Mexico–I’ve had this disease for years.
After receiving this diagnosis, I started medications to try to reduce the inflammation, which I’m still taking as of this writing. Almost immediately after starting the medication, I felt like I woke up from a three-month long fog. I finally had energy again and I no longer felt fatigued all the time (just some of the time). Alas, even with these benefits, my medication also has its downsides, including sometimes causing me to wake up at 4:30 AM and making me want to eat all the time. It’s been a long summer of figuring out how to handle being on all the different new medications and coping with their side effects. In September, though, I may be able to start making some medication changes—I’m just waiting on my next nephrologist appointment.
There are few things I love more than vacation, and particularly a vacation at Lakeside. For one week every year, I am able to go to my happy place. I have a whole week to read, spend time with family, and eat delicious food, and it is glorious. While I was more tired than usual this year (thanks kidneys), I still found a way to finish twelve books, enjoy my family, and appreciate sunsets on the dock.
I started working at the library in April as a Bilingual Circulation Clerk. As will shock no one who knows me, I love working at the library. I have direct access to nearly any book I want AND I get to help people: two of my favorite things. In July, I went on vacation for two weeks in Ohio (and it was GLORIOUS). Upon my return, I was offered a promotion to Library Associate–and I took it! It meant a chance for more hours as well as a significant pay increase. Instead of working in Circulation, I now work at the Information Desk at the same branch of the library. I work with people from so many different walks of life–I never know what kind of problem people might need help solving. I sometimes help patrons find books or research information, but I primarily help troubleshoot computer, email, and internet problems. I also teach computer classes in Spanish twice a month. This new job has been a great opportunity for me and I’m excited to see where it leads.
As will surprise no one, my love of books has only been encouraged by my library job. I’m still not quite where I need to be to meet my 100 books-in-2014 goal, but I made a lot of progress this summer. You can check out my Goodreads page (if you have a Goodreads account) for the full list, but here are some of my favorites from this summer.
At the end of each month this summer, I would think about writing that month’s “what I’m into” post. Alas, I could never muster up the energy and thinking skills to actually write something. Being sick all the time will do that to you. Here’s hoping that this fall, things will be different. I have some ideas about what I would like to write and publish here, most likely including reviewing some of my favorite books I’ve read this year. We shall see what my kidneys decide.
In April I came home! I said my goodbyes to my sister, my Mexican family, and many American, Canadian, and Mexican friends. I managed not to cry until I sat on the plane in Huatulco, bound for Houston. When I finally arrived in Tulsa at the end of a long travel day, I was so excited to see my parents and my friends Christine, Rebecka, and Brett waiting for me at the airport. It’s hard to go home when you’re leaving another home–but it’s so great to be at this home.
I had a lot of plans for my first month back in America, but things didn’t turn out exactly like I’d hoped. Also, it took me forever to write about April. But here it is, What I Was Into in April, inspired by Leigh Kramer.
Health and Food
After more than six healthy months in Mexico I got sick within 48 hours of coming home. At first it seemed like just a little virus, but after a series of unfortunate events (including many trips to the doctor, getting better then getting sick again, a blood test, and a CT scan) it turns out that I have some kind of kidney inflammation. I’m waiting to see a nephrologist (kidney doctor), but the earliest appointment I could get is in the end of July. Until then, I’m drinking a lot of water, sleeping a lot, and eating a low sodium diet.
That sounds easy, doesn’t it, just eat less sodium? Don’t add extra salt, don’t eat salty foods? Alas, sodium (and too much of it) is in almost everything. If I want to make a simple sandwich at home, I can easily eat over 1000 mg of sodium in just the bread, lunch meat, and cheese. That doesn’t sound terrible, until you learn that it’s recommended that you eat about 1500 mg of sodium a day, 2300 mg should be your upper limit, but most of us eat more than 3400 mg a day. I’ve been trying to eat between 1000 and 1500 mg a day (or less if I can manage it) to take care of my kidneys while I wait to see the doctor and see what’s going on. Some foods, like fruits and vegetables, naturally don’t have much sodium. Many, many other foods also naturally don’t have sodium but have tons and tons of added salt and sodium because that’s how we like to eat our food: salty. And eating out? Is nearly impossible. There is no such thing as low sodium fast food or restaurant food
I’ve had many friends who have eaten specific diets, some by choice but most for health reasons, like eating gluten or dairy free. No matter what your dietary need is, it’s hard to eat differently than everybody else. Eating low sodium is difficult–there’s no special section for low sodium foods, you just have to spend a lot of time at the store reading nutrition labels. Thanks to the amazing help of my mom, though, I’ve been able to consistently eat low sodium, even when it’s challenging. Believe me, no salt-added food tastes way different than typical food.
April was not all dreary health and eating problems. Ten days after I returned fro Mexico, I was offered a part-time job as a Bilingual Circulation Clerk with the Tulsa Library! I emailed a resume for this job in March, letting the library know I would be home from Mexico in April. The day before I left for Tulsa, my mom let me know that the library had called my house (thank goodness I put my house number and not my cell number on my resume) wanting to talk to me about the position. I was able to interview my first week back and the next week I got a call offering me the job and I started the next week. I still can’t believe I got a job that quickly and that I now work at the library. It’s been great so far and I’m excited to see where this position will lead me. It’s been so great to immediately use my Spanish at work. I worked really hard to learn that language–I don’t want to lose it now!
I had hoped to read a lot in April and get on track with my 100 books in 2014 goal, but being sick ruined that for me. When I’m sick, my brain refuses to concentrate on reading. So I spent a lot of quality time with HGTV, but that’s for another section. I did read five books in April, but here are my two favorites:
I won my copy of Girl at the end of the World in a contest from Elizabeth Esther. She eloquently tells the story of her abusive childhood in a fundamentalist cult, and how she was able to leave and start over: I highly recommend it. Boxers is a comic/graphic novel telling a story from the time of the Boxer Rebellion in China. If you don’t know what that is (and even if you do), I recommend reading Boxer to learn more about that important time in history.
Dear TV, Thank you for being there for me when my kidneys decided to misbehave and my brain decided to take a vacation. I especially want to credit HGTV, along with its shows House Hunters, House Hunters International, Property Brothers, and Income Property. I do not thank Love It or List It or Love It or List it Too, because they’re horrible shows. After watching a ridiculous amount of HGTV, I feel qualified to go buy and remodel a house. As I can barely keep my room clean and I have no money, though, it seems unlikely.
I’d also like to thank Parks & Recreation and Bones for having solid seasons (though Bones might not actually be over yet?) for me to enjoy when I returned from Mexico. I still have the P&R finale on the DVR and I rewatch my favorite scenes, especially when Leslie Knope meets Michelle Obama.
April didn’t go exactly as planned. Instead of reading, I watched HGTV. I started organizing and decluttering my room, but persistent fevers in the beginning of April made me lose my steam and not it just seems too overwhelming. I wanted to jump into new opportunities, maybe visiting a Spanish speaking church or finding a Bible study or just being with people, but I spent a lot of April exhausted and sick instead. I was very sick. And I’m better, but I’m not fully well either. However. I did turn 26 on April 16 and celebrated my birthday with some of my favorite people (just see the list of the people who met me at the airport). I got a job! And a bilingual job at that, at the place where I hoped to work. Here’s hoping for a healthier May as I figure out how to live my life here in America.
PS Please enjoy the pictures below. I’m sure it would be prettier if I interspersed them throughout the post, but that’s more work than it’s worth.
The month of March has been my opportunity to try all kinds of activities here in Mexico. I was able to go on a couple of medical outreach trips with the clinic, I helped a little in the preschool and primary school, I taught English, I read a lot, and more. It’s been my last full month here in Mexico, and it has been a good one. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to stay past my Spanish school graduation to practice my Spanish and enjoy some more time living here in Mexico.
One of the best ways to practice my Spanish was translating for doctors on medical outreach trips. It was difficult and challenging, but very rewarding. After all, the only way to improve my ability to speak and understand Spanish is to practice (and make many, many mistakes).
On one of the trips, we needed double the translators because we went to a village where many people speak only Mixteco, an Indian language that sounds similar to Chinese and has no relation to Spanish. The patient would speak to a Mixteco to Spanish translator, then the translator would tell me in Spanish, then I would translate for the doctor. Then the doctor would have a question and we’d send the question back down the chain of translation. It’s a long process, but a fascinating one.
I learned two words in Mixteco, because I learned to recognize them in context: ña’ni meant nothing and u’u meant pain. While many people in this part of Mexico in various villages speak Mixteco, learning these two words (or any in Mixteco) is only useful for that particular village. Go to the next Mixteco village, and the dialect is a little bit (and sometimes a lot bit) different: in a different village, the word for pain is different. Language is overwhelming in its ability to change and morph in different settings, even as close as the next village over.
In addition to being able to practice Spanish and learn more about another language, I had the opportunity to see a number of interesting medical cases. I even attempted to explain genetics IN SPANISH to a young woman who had only finished middle school and whose first language was also not Spanish, because the doctor thought she might have a genetic disorder. I’m not sure how successful my explanation was, but I tried.
I finished 8 books in March, including a manuscript written by a fellow Spanish school student. It was so fun to read a book by a friend and then be able to discuss it immediately after I finished reading it. When it’s published someday soon, I will rave about it.
According to my Goodreads Challenge, I’ve read 17 books in 2014. Since I have read an unpublished book, I can’t add it to my Challenge. Hence, I’ve actually read 18 books this year. I’m not on pace yet, but I’ve decided to stop worrying about pace and enjoy what I’m reading.
My favorite published book I read this month was the Poisonwood Bible. I remember being told long ago that it was a book that made all Christians and missionaries look terrible, and it defamed the Bible, so I shouldn’t read it. Well, none of that was true. Instead, once I actually read the book instead of believing what other people thought about it, I learned that it was a fascinating story describing the course of history in the Congo in the 60s through the eyes of a misguided missionary family. I loved this book and recommend it highly.
I have just days left in Mexico. I am sad to leave this place where I have learned so much and where I now know and love so many people. I am also excited to go home and see what will happen next. I really have no idea what I’ll be doing, because sending resumes by email from Mexico isn’t a particularly successful method of job-hunting. I’m so thankful for my time here, but I’m ready for what’s next.
As I publish this post, it’s mid-March. The internet hasn’t been great here, so most days the thought of fighting the internet to upload pictures in order to blog is just too much. Hence, this post about February is nearly three weeks late.
February was a great month in Mexico. After months of classes and hard work, I have graduated from Spanish School. As I’ve said every month, I still have far to go in my ability to speak and understand, but after completing Level 4 I have all the tools I need become fluent. I just have to keep practicing! While I’m not fluent yet, I’m on my way and I can understand and communicate so much more than I could when I started school in September. I’m staying until the first week of April to keep practicing my Spanish (I knew back in September that I wouldn’t want to leave as soon as Spanish school was over) and to just enjoy living in Mexico for a little while longer.
In other good news, my sister returned! In the middle of February she was able to finalize all her paperwork and come back to Mexico as a temporary resident. Part of the reason I came here to Mexico was to spend time with sister, so it’s great to have her back!
This month, I successfully found someone in Cacalote who cuts hair, made an appointment for a hair cut, and asked for a specific hair cut, all in Spanish. To top it off, I also got the hair cut I asked for, which means I can speak Spanish after all! For a day or two, my hair cut was all people wanted to talk about at Spanish School—not a lot happens here, so any change is news.
I finished five books in February. This pace is still not quite where I need to be to read 100 books this year, but not being in Spanish School anymore might help me with that goal.
To celebrate my graduation from Spanish School, Emily and I went on a weekend trip to Oaxaca City, the capital of our state. It’s a beautiful city that is unfortunately only reachable by a terrible mountainous bus ride. I’m almost done with a post describing our trip—until then, enjoy these pictures from beautiful Oaxaca City.
Those who know me well know how much I love the Olympics. I have watched every Olympics (Winter and Summer) religiously since the Atlanta Games in 1996. Alas, I don’t have access to satellite or cable television, the internet is slow, and even if the internet wasn’t slow NBC doesn’t allow people outside of the US watch its broadcasts online. Our weekend trip to Oaxaca, though, coincided with the last weekend of the Olympics, and our hotel had fast internet AND cable TV. We caught snippets of different events, but it was just a treat to watch some of the competitions.
It’s quite different watching on not-NBC, where they show every contestant in an event, sans effusive’ commentary and replays. One of the main events being shown was downhill skiing, where we watched many skiers slide off the track while others finished the course many seconds from the medals. As soon as one skier finished (or didn’t), the camera went straight back to the top for the next competitor. Even if there was a spectacular wipeout, we didn’t see it in an instant replay. It’s surprisingly fascinating to watch the same course being skied dozens of times.
This is a sight never seen on NBC, where the tapes of the winners and Americans are packaged for a prime-time American audience. I missed that familiar packaging and story-telling but it was entertaining to see a different side to the Olympics. I look forward to watching the Rio Olympics in 2016—but I had no idea I’d be in Mexico for Sochi, so who knows where I will be for Rio. I just hope not actually in Rio de Janiero: I learned Spanish, not Portuguese.
March will be my last month living in Mexico. I had no idea last year that this would be my life, but I’m thankful for it. I hope that after spending this extra month practicing Spanish after Spanish School, I will feel more confident in my Spanish speaking and understanding abilities. I’ve enjoyed my time here in Mexico, but as I get closer to April I’m more excited to return and see what’s next for me in Tulsa.
I began January in my cold home of Oklahoma, waiting to go back to my much warmer home in Mexico. Winter used to be my favorite season, but this year, going from the warmth of Mexico to the shock of frozen weather in Oklahoma was just too much. Who knew that I, who used to love cloudy, dreary days, would miss the sun so much? By the end of my time in Oklahoma, I was over the weak sun and early sunsets. So off I flew to my other home in Mexico (a couple days late, but that’s another story) to finish up Spanish School and enjoy the beautiful weather. January was pretty great: Here’s What I Was Into inspired by Leigh Kramer.
My travel to Mexico was supposed to be simple. I would take two short flights, then get picked up at the airport about 2 hours away from my final destination of Roca Blanca. However, thanks to bitter cold, changes in the FAA’s rules for how long pilots can work before they have to rest, and incompetent airlines, my travel became much more difficult. My first flight from Tulsa to Houston was cancelled the night before it was scheduled to leave, and despite the promises of United’s website, I could not just easily rebook online. And when I tried calling (approximately 15 times), the automated system asked me a number of questions then simply told me it wished it could help, but operators were too busy, call back later, CLICK.
It was very stressful to go to bed not knowing if I was going to travel the next day or not, or if I would have to wait another week for the next flight to Huatulco. When my mom and I went to the airport the next morning (a Monday) to talk to an actual human to fix my flights, it was 5 degrees. All I could think was: I was supposed to be in 80 degree weather today!
Fortunately, the human employees of United are excellent. A wonderful ticket counter attendant was able to switch my whole itinerary to fly to Puerto Escondido, an airport only 45 minutes away from Roca Blanca. That was a much better alternative than waiting a whole week more for a flight to Huatulco! My flight to Houston would leave on Tuesday at mid-day, I would spend the night in Houston, then fly to Mexico City early Wednesday, then go from Mexico City to Puerto, arriving in the early afternoon on Wednesday.
My itinerary was changed at no cost to me, but because my flight issues were allegedly “weather-related,” the airline did not have to pay for my hotel in Houston. I bet the airlines were pretty excited to have that terrible weather the same weekend as those rule changes, because it sure saved them a lot of money in hotel and food vouchers.
Once I actually got on my way, everything went smoothly. My hotel in Houston even had 2 TVs! I also got to experience the Mexico City airport for the first time, which was awesome because I could actually communicate with workers and others in the airport. Hurrah for international travel! It was a lot of traveling and a medium amount of stress, but I made it to Mexico, just two days late. It was such a relief to finally arrive in my other home.
In January I started my final level of Spanish school! Once again, I am the lone student, which makes decisions like who in the level will give the first devotion pretty simple. My speaking is improving, but I am still struggling with understanding more complicated conversation and almost any conversation from someone speaking at a normal speed. I’m glad that I’m staying here until the beginning of April after the end of my time in Spanish school to have more time to practice here.
I’m a big fan of shows from the USA Network, like Psych, White Collar, and Monk. One show I always knew I would like be never took the time to watch was Covert Affairs. I’d seen an episode here and there with a friend, but if I were going to watch it, I wanted to start at the beginning. I bought the first three seasons on sale once, and kept them for a rainy day. Or, as it turned out, a sunny month in Mexico. I finally started watching, and promptly finished all three seasons in January. It was amazing. Spies? Strong female characters? Washington DC? Trips to the Smithsonian? Positive inclusion of a character with a disability who doesn’t constantly need help and is most often the one who saves others? SOLD. The fourth season has aired, but is not yet available on DVD, so I will have to wait until I go back to the US to find out what happens next. I highly recommend Covert Affairs.
I set an ostentatious reading goal for 2014: 100 books. I basically need to read 8 books a month to pull that off, and I only finished 4 in January, so I’m going to need to pick up my pace. I might not read 100 books this year, but I definitely won’t if I don’t give myself that goal, so I’m at least going to try.
The two main highlights of my completed books in January were Shatter Me and Under the Never Sky, two dystopian young adult literature (YAL) novels. I’d been in the beginning of both of these books for quite a while, but could never get into them. Then one day that changed and I I was quickly reading both of them. This was occasionally confusing, because while they are unique, the female protagonist and strange dystopian world combination sometimes made me forget which one was which.
I loved Shatter Me more, because I thought the author’s writing style was fresh and different. For example, the main character’s thoughts that she is ashamed of or scared of are presented with a line through. It was a great way to show her confusion, without constantly having her say, oh I don’t know, I’m confused. I identified with the character, because sometimes my thoughts feel that way, words running across the screen of my mind, some of which need to be struck through because they aren’t quite right or just not ready to be thought yet.
Thanks to church and worship services here, I listen to a lot of great worship music in Spanish. In my down time though, I prefer to give my brain a break and listen to some English. In January, I listened to a lot of Florence + the Machine, Brooke Fraser, and Alison Krauss. Apparently January is the month for female artists for me?
When I came to Mexico back in August 2013, the main thing I was not looking for was a man. I came to Mexico to learn Spanish, to get away, to live in another country for awhile, to spend time with my sister. Starting a relationship was not on my list of things to do. At all. Well, then Kevin came to Spanish school in October. And then we became friends. And then he liked me and I liked him and then I went home for Christmas and we communicated nearly every day and then I came back to Mexico and now we’re dating. !!!
I was here in Mexico last January, visiting Emily. My life is literally nothing like it was then, except that I’m back in Mexico. Had you told me then just how much new there would be in my life now, in January 2014, I wouldn’t have believed you. But now here I am in Mexico learning Spanish, and so is Kevin, and it’s pretty wonderful.
In February I will be graduating Spanish school. I’m not returning to America right away, not until the beginning of April. I wanted to spend more time practicing Spanish after school and to spend more time with my sister. Alas, my sister is still in America waiting on things like paperwork and redtape to sort itself out. I’ve gotten really good at explaining in Spanish the whereabouts of my sister—that happens when everyone is asking you in Spanish where she is. I hope that in February I can report her return!
Ah December. After spending the first week of the month in Mexico, my sister and I returned home to family, friends, food, pop culture, and more. Being home has been lovely, but it’s time to go back to my other home! But before I can go back to my Mexican home, it’s time for December’s edition of What I’m Into inspired by Leigh Kramer.
In the beginning of December, I didn’t finish many books. My typical reading time was taken up by finishing up Spanish school and returning home, among other distractions. I made up for this lack of reading, though, at the end of December while on vacation in Florida. Here are my December favorites:
The important thing is that I accomplished my goal of reading 50 books in 2013 by reading 53! If you’re interested, I created a shelf on Goodreads of my favorite books read in 2013. I’ve set a ridiculous goal of reading 100 books in 2014. I read so many great books in 2013 and I can’t wait to read more in 2014, whether I hit that goal of 100 or not.
One of the main goals on my “In America To-Do List” was to watch Catching Fire. The first week back, my sister Emily and I went to see Catching Fire in the iMax. Let’s just say, going to the iMax as one of the first pop culture experiences after being in Mexico for three months was a little overwhelming. After I got over the initial shock of loud noise as the movie started, it was a great experience! I read Catching Fire in 2009, so I had forgotten most of the finer points. I loved this movie, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do for Mockingjay (even if they are dividing the last book into two movies).
Another In America goal was to catch up on some of my favorite TV shows. Thanks to the wonders of resubscribing to Netflix and a free trial of Hulu Plus, I was able to enjoy some episodes of favorite shows. I saw season 8 of How I Met Your Mother and mostly hated it. I caught up with both Parks & Recreation and Bones and really enjoyed both shows. I had other shows on my list, but seeing friends and family were higher on the priority list.
My grandparents have become the kind of people who winter in Florida, so this year for Christmas my family went to visit them in Florida for Christmas. My sister and I had never been to Disney World, so our family went for a day. And, as expected, it was Magical.
After Disney World, my family and I went to the gulf coast where my grandparents stay. It was beautiful and so nice to be away from the cold temperatures in mostly sunny Florida.
This December was full: tests, travel, family, friends, and more. As I finish up this post, I am preparing to leave tomorrow (Tuesday) to return to Mexico, a day later than planned thanks to bad weather leading to a cancelled flight. We won’t even talk about the incompetence of United’s phone, website, and app, but once I went to the airport and talked to an actual person, I was able to get my flights fixed. I can’t wait to get back to Mexico!
I woke up this morning, this last day of 2013 with a cold or allergies, a scratchy throat and achy ears. It’s a fitting end to this year that started with my laptop crashing and taking with it 2 years of my life (including all the pictures of my students from my two years of teaching) and middled with me leaving the ministry I’d planned to work at for the rest of my life. The musician Brooke Fraser has a song called Crows + Locusts, with a chorus that partially reads:
It was the year The crows and the locusts came The fields drained dry the rain The fields are bleeding
It was the age, the foxes came for the fields We were bleeding as we bowed to kneel And prayed for mercy, prayed for mercy
For me, 2013 was the year the crows and the locusts came. Nearly everything I had ever planned or hoped or wanted for my future is no longer. In the place of those lost plans, though, other dreams grow instead. I spent September through November of 2013, running around southern Mexico, learning Spanish, making new friends, loving my new Mexican family, finding a metaphorical second home, reviving my broken spirit, and discovering new ways to live my life. Everything isn’t magically perfect, but life is better.
This year has been heart-wrenching, soul-wearying, and life-changing. In less than a week, I go back to Mexico for three more months of Spanish school and practice and other new opportunities. 2014 has to be better.
Brooke Fraser’s Crows + Locusts ends with the following lines, lines that describe how I want to approach this new year.
She limps on up to the top of a mount Looks at the faltered harvest Feels her sweat in the ground And the burn in her nose
And the knowing in her guts Something’s still gonna grow She ain’t leaving ’til it does
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood