Thursday, December 31, 2020

Sunday Salon on Thursday, Because What Is Time, Anyway?

Hey there, readers and friends.

I just wanted to share some bits and pieces from my winter break and holiday with you. 

Here's the slideshow I made for my students in case they wanted ideas about things to do while stuck at home. I highly recommend both Blob Opera and the jigsaw puzzles. I've done a LOT of online puzzles in the past month!

I did not take pictures of my family over the holidays. My kid is in one of those stages where she refuses to let me take candid shots, and honestly, I just didn't think about it much. Here are some of the non-people pictures though.

We got three new board games. I bought us one; my husband bought us one; his brother bought us one. So far we are playing a dumbed down version of Obscurio that we're enjoying, we've figured out the Parks game, and we have yet to dive into Viticulture.

I knit a gnome, though his beard looks sadly like a bib. I also got inspired as I was digging through my yarn and have started knitting myself a pair of socks from some pretty yarn I got at a holiday bazar in 2019. Spot the Reindeer is just there for cuteness.

The daughter of one of my oldest friends got married in September. In July, when I thought I might be able to go, I ordered a pretty dress from eShakti. The wedding had to be scaled back to just family and the couple's closest friends, so I never got to wear the dress. On Christmas day, when my family was in sweats or PJs all day, I decided to wear the dress. Then I declared I was "too pretty" to help in the kitchen. ;)

This year's tree was slimmer than last year's, so we were a bit more discerning in which ornaments we put up. It was sunny the day we got it, so we got to tramp around the tree farm for a good long time looking for the one we wanted. The first place we went had already closed for the season--apparently this year was a skimpy year for trees--and we ended up paying a bit more than I'd like, so...

I used the trimmings from the tree and some clippings from the yard to make a wreath for our door. I like a wild and shaggy wreath, and it definitely would have cost more to buy!

Somewhere along the way, Americans decided that holiday cards are supposed to be photo cards of your family. Traditional types take a family portrait in matching-but-not-exactly outfits. Rebels share some of their favorite snapshots of the year. 

People, I love you (and your kids and dogs), but this is wrong. Holiday cards are supposed to be beautiful, or funny, or sweet. They are supposed to be creative and unique and reflect your own taste. If you want to stick a family photo inside, fine. You do not have to do what my sister does and design and make your own card each year. But since you are so stuck on your boring photo cards, I dedicate an entire ribbon to the cards I've gotten from my sister over the past several years. The bottom two are older ("Peace, Baby" and a folded paper ornament), but now she makes a color pencil piece of art (always incorporating a peace sign and some sort of fairy figure) then shrinks it down and reproduces it. She's also a calligrapher, so she finds some bit of song or poetry and writes that as well. 
Here's this year's:

To be fair, I don't expect anyone else to reach this level of amazingness with their cards, but I was quite happy with these cards from others.  Some are handmade, some are store bought. 

from my niece, whose mom makes the above cards

store bought and a photo my friend's husband took of their pointsettia

handmade and simple--so sweet!

A couple of cute store bought cards.

One morning shortly before my winter break started, I came downstairs to discover my husband had left Spot reading a Jan Brett book. 

Our anniversary is in early December. We used a gift card we'd gotten last Christmas (!) and ordered take-out from a really good local restaurant. I worked that day, so I got the table ready while my husband and kid went to pick up the food. It's usually when we start putting out the holiday d├ęcor.

It was the Christmas of Ursula K. Le Guin for me. My daughter gave me So Far, So Good, her final book of poetry, my MIL gave me No Time to Spare, her last book of essays, and my sister gave me earrings of The Left Hand of Darkness. Other outstanding gifts were a set of Pottery Barn towels, the first "nice" towels I've ever had (soft AND absorbant!), a DNA test kit, and some new baking sheets. The family got an Echo Dot from Santa, and although I'm not sure what the point really is, I'm enjoying having music in the background much more often. 

Our weather has alternated between cold and sunny and cool and rainy, which is typical Oregon winter weather. We finally put the garden all the way to bed, though to be honest, this is one of those cases where "we" means "my husband." I got to Zoom with my sisters and nieces, including my 7 year old great niece, one afternoon. Nobody in my bubble is sick, I've got a cup of coffee brewing, and life is just fine today.

Happy 2021!

2020 Sucked, But The Books Were Good (Pies, Bars, and other Charts to Prove It)


It's time for the annual statistical rehashing of my reading life. I already shared some of my favorites (and  since then I've also read and loved Grown, Dancing at the Pity Party, Darius the Great Deserves Better and Red Hood). To avoid any further last minute additions, I'm taking a page from Deb's book (ha!) over at Readerbuzz. She starts several books at the end of December and begins her year by finishing them all, setting up her new year. I am doing the same so that I don't have to skew any of my 2020 statistics. Besides the three teaching books that have been lingering on my "currently reading" shelf since summer, I have seven books I've started in the last week that I will wrap up during the first week of the new year.

Many of my statistics remain essentially the same from year to year, at least in the five years I've been doing this. HOWEVER, 2020 had one significant change I'm proud of. 

I use a Google Form to track much of my reading, but of course Goodreads has some nice visuals as well.

I no longer set "number of books" type goals for myself, Well, I set a fairly low (for me) goal of 100 per year, just because yes, it's nice when Goodreads congratulates you. But I don't need to focus on a specific number. 

I guess that means I should start logging picture books again! I stopped doing that a few years ago when I was trying to read 200 books per year. But if I'm not worrying about numbers of titles, I can add picture books guilt free. I still maintain that Deathless Divide should have been two books.

No major surprises here. A modern classic, and the second book in a little-known series by a local author.

More non-surprising data. I round up on Goodreads, and I am good at picking books I like, so my average rating is quite high. And Fighting Words is one of the best books I've read, hands down. Others agree. 

On to my personal record keeping! 

My own ratings skew a bit lower, since use half stars and am less forgiving in general. Still, pretty high overall!

This is one area where blogging has changed my reading habits drastically. 70% of what I'm reading is from the past three years. I know that in my pre-blogging life, that would not have been the case. I just picked up whatever caught my eye at the library, most of which was decidedly more backlist than that.

And while the public library is still my #1 source of reading material, my classroom library is clearly right up there too. These don't add up to 100% because if I buy a book for my classroom BUT I read it first myself, I put it in both "bought" and "classroom library." Next year I'm going to just pick one.

Another statistic that has changed during the life of this blog, although for a different reason. While I've always enjoyed YA fiction, becoming a reading/Language Arts teacher has pushed me to focus much more on YA and MG literature than anything else. I was telling my sister the other day that when I retire, I plan to re-read old favorites and dive into adult fiction, but for now, I feel such strong obligation to keep up on what's current for my students that I don't have time. 

No big surprises here either. I read a tiny bit more graphic novels this year (probably due to my Joe Hill phase) and read a few more ebooks as compared to print books, but that blue part of the pie is still a lot bigger than everything else. I like books, what can I say?

If you add together all the speculative fiction, you see that contemporary is actually NOT my prominent category. Maybe in 2021 I'll just group them that way; I don't really care if I'm reading sci fi versus urban fantasy, etc. 

I like how "horror" and "horror!" became two categories, because I didn't have it on my list and they were what I wrote in as "other." I guess those two with the ! were more horrifying to me. Looks like "horror" needs its own box to check off. 


Here's the one where I actually achieved some change. Yes, "white" is still the largest category, but instead of being 75-80% of the authors I read, which it's been consistently as long as I've been tracking it, it's dropped to 60%. In June, as the protests around Breonna Taylor's murder and George Floyd's murder broke forth, I decided to try to read two books by a person of color for every book I read by a white author. I kept that up for the summer, and while it's no longer a formal challenge to myself, it's something I do keep in mind. Given that I didn't push myself to do this until that far into the year, I feel good about the results. I definitely noticed that the more books I read by IPBOC authors, the easier it became to keep doing so. Instead of looking for books to fit the challenge and feeling like I was being boxed into them (which is my struggle with EVERY challenge--looking at you Classics Club list I keep ignoring), I was instead finding more and more books I wanted to read that fit my mood at any given moment. I hope to continue with this in the upcoming year, and I've created more specific categories in my Google Form to help track that.

I realize there are plenty of other identities that authors have and other #ownvoices categories I can look for, but as a white American, this is the one I need to focus on. Also, there is more intersectionality in these books than there used to be. Publishing is still super white and still features people saying things like "Pick a struggle" or "Why do we need Angie Thomas if we have Jason Reynolds?" but for all that, I've read books this year about gay Persians, Muslims with OCD, nonbinary Black Deaf people and more.

I love books. I love reading my way to new understandings and new experiences. I love the escape, and I love the coming home. I wish all of us a better 2021, but I know that whatever happens, the books will be good.

My niece's holiday card.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Top Ten Christmas Cookies: An Annotated List


Full disclosure: this is my sister's photo from a few years back. She does those colorful pinwheels and the molasses cookies. I'm sure my sisters and I would have similar takes on the cookie list, but not the same.

1. Russian Teacakes: I wouldn't have called it #1 as a kid, but it snuck up on me since then. We served them at between our December wedding and the luncheon afterwards, along with mom's breadsticks. I've made (and eaten) most of a double batch in the past few days.

2. Chocolate crinkles: If we were ranking by dough alone, this would be #1. I could eat that stuff by the spoonful. Wait. I DO eat that stuff by the spoonful. But the cookies are lovely too. Currently my daughter's favorite. We've made and eaten a batch, and will be making a gluten free version to share with my mother-in-law in the next day or two.

3. Krumkake: Pictured above, these cookies are basically tiny fancy waffles rolled up. For years they were my favorite, but I don't have a krumkake iron, so I've let others replace them in my heart. When I get together with my sisters to make cookies, we definitely make these, so here's to next year. As a kid I prided myself in my ability to roll them hot off the press without flinching at my singed fingers.

4.  Spritz: another childhood classic I'm less insistent on these days. Mostly because they are a royal pain to make. For years I was the only one who would make them, because I thought I had the knack, but either I was fooling myself or I've lost it. I do have my mom's press, which is highly sentimental. Buttery and delicious.

5. Fudge: specifically Aunt Julia's Five Minute Fudge, which is really just the recipe off the back of the Carnation Sweetened Condensed Milk can. 

6. Divinity: my husband really doesn't like it, and I love it, so there's the quandary--do I make it just to eat it all myself? The kids like it too, but it's not #1, so it doesn't get made very often. Besides, it requires corn syrup, and it's the only thing I bake that uses it. 

7. Candied walnuts. Yes, this is the third non-cookie, but they COUNT, okay? 

8. Jan Hagel: From the Betty Crocker Cookie Book I grew with, these are buttery and walnut-y and quite tasty. I occasionally make these when it's not Christmas (unlike everything else on this list), but they still have that holiday feeling.

And the best Christmas cookies I don't make:
1. My friend Marian's rumballs, which are boozy and amazing, and I am not able to reproduce.
2. My sister's pinwheels, pictured above.
3. The Oreo-cream cheese truffle my colleague made us this year.

Mmmmm! What are your favorites? (Please don't say thumbprints with Hershey's kisses. Those are good, but they are not Christmas cookies.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Top Reads of 2020 (so far!)

 There ARE two more weeks in the year, and I DO have some books I'm very excited about reading over break...but this is what I have so far, in handy bookmark format. I printed them up and laminated them as stocking stuffers for people in my family who are big readers. They're alphabetical by title. 

As for the absolute best of the best...Dig, Stamped, Fighting Words, and The Fifth Season. I can't choose between those! And given that these represent YA, nonfiction, middle grade, and adult, I feel pretty good about that. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

November 2020 in Review


My Reading

# of books read: 10
Bests In which I tell you all my favorite reads and make up categories so they each win something:

Best series ender: Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Best graphic novel: Class Act by Jerry Craft
Best LGBQTIA+ book with Latinx witches and ghosts: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Best adult book that feels kind of like a practice run for the author's later masterpiece: Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
Best West African inspired fantasy: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Bookish Events and Happenings

I ordered "Ex Libris" stamps from Etsy for my nieces. I took a couple of weeks off from being the bookmobile for my students, but jumped back on it this week. That's pretty much what passes for "events and happenings" in 2020, right?

On the Blog

I posted seven times, which isn't much BUT is equal to the amount I posted in July, August, September, and October put together, so I'm actually pretty happy with it. I reviewed a couple of books that are up for CYBILS awards this year, Class Act and Raybearer. I did a couple of not-quite-top-ten posts, one about some spectacular falls I've taken in my clumsy life, and one about a topic that was covered during my hiatus: long titles. I also posted a discussion about the audience for ratings, a Sunday Salon post, and a Classics Club choice.


A teacher I follow on Twitter had offered to create decorated quotes for anyone who sent him one, so I did, and I got this:

Thanks, @natebyr0n!

It's the time of year I start crafting. My kid chose this as our Thanksgiving day craft, then wouldn't actually do it with me. I found the one and a quarter mittens I'd knitted last year for my sister and figured out how to go ahead and finish that second one. I've also been making lots of holiday cards. One in five looks really good, but they're just paper, so I don't mind tossing the outright failures.

Otherwise, my life is basically teaching with a little bit of Catan tossed in. 

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight, as are terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole and Shannon usually put together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

TTT: Books I Want to Read Again


 TTT (Top Ten Tuesday) is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is: BOOKS I WANT TO READ AGAIN.

I could cheat and just tell you all the books from my classics list that I put on there in hopes of re-reading. But I'll try to range a little wider afield than that.

I know I've said it before, but as a kid (pictured above), I re-read all the time. As an adult, I only re-read if in two situations: if I'm reading a book aloud for a class and if a new book in a series I love has come out and I need to freshen up my memory of what happened before. This is how I've read The Thief half a dozen times. 

When I re-read books I ALWAYS find more than I did on the first reading. Partly because I only read quality books repeatedly, and partly because I tend to speed through my reading when I want to find out what happens next.  I also love getting really familiar with a book and a world in the way I am with my childhood favorites. I can look at a list of books I've given five stars to, and there will definitely be a few on even that list I have zero recollection of. But a book I've re-read stays in my mind and heart a lot longer.

So why don't I re-read? It's a question of time and attention. There are so many good books out there waiting for me. It kills me that I will never get to all the books on my TBR. Re-reading makes it even less likely I'll be able to put a dent in it. There's also sometimes a fear that a book I adored at a different stage in my life will now either fall flat or make me cringe with the problematic content (looking at you, A Horse and his Boy). 

But these are the books I'd be tempted to re-read. 

FANTASY: Worlds I'd like to get lost in again
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Graceling series by Kristin Cashore
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Shades of Magic series by V. E. Schwab
The City Watch books from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

CLASSICS which I already re-read in my youth, but not since then
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
He, She, and It by Marge Piercy
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
The River Why by David James Duncan