Book List 2021 (part 1 of 2)

I finally finished reading Moby-Dick!

After only reading thirty books in 2020, I was determined to make more of an effort in 2021. Here are the books I read in the first half of the year.

  1. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. 3 stars. Goodreads tells me I started reading this book in May 2019. Parts of it were really beautiful but parts of it were really dull.
  2. The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. 4 stars. An NPC in an RPG I was playing in a few years ago told my PC to read this book. So I did. Actually enjoyed it quite a bit.
  3. Frederick Douglass: The Story of an American Slave, by Frederick Douglass. 5 stars. I am still trying to read more biographies and autobiographies, and this is a good one.
  4. Animal Farm, by George Orwell. 4 stars. I read a couple of books about the Russian revolution this year and this was a good addition. If you do read the edition that I did, with a forward that goes on about why the original subtitle was “A Fairy Story,” please do not read that forward because it’s maddening.
  5. Into the Magic Shop: ! Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart, by James R Doty. 4 stars. I non-so-secretly love books on neurology. Both the parts about neurology and meditation were very engaging.
  6. Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account, by Miklos Nyiszli. 4 stars. Another non-fiction book. I’m not sure why I wanted to upset myself with this, but I did.
  7. Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin. 5 stars. This was written by a white journalist in the 1950s who medically darkened his skin to pass as black. This was a really stressful book to read, but worth it.
  8. The Queen’s Gambit, by Walter Tevis. 5 stars. As fun as the show.
  9. The Worst Is Yet to Come, by SP Miskowski. 4 stars. A continuation of the Skillute cycle, which I read last year.
  10. The Man in the Brown Suit, by Agatha Christie. 4 stars. The only Christie book I read so far this year, but it was a good one.
  11. If You Find Me, by Emily Murdoch. 3.5 stars. I got this as a free audiobook. It’s about abused children living in the woods, and I usually only like books with the second part of that equation. The story was okay but the narrator deserved 4 stars, so I bumped up my rating.
  12. The Doors of Perception, by Aldous Huxley. 4 stars. Honestly, it’s absurd that I hadn’t read this yet.
  13. The Worm and His Kings, by Hailey Piper. 4 stars. If you like urban fantasy set place in NYC, read this. After you read the books I wrote, of course! 😉
  14. The Temple of My Familiar, by Alice Walker. 5 stars. I had no idea there was a sequel to The Color Purple. This novel was so good, so broad in scope, so many great characters.
  15. The Forgetting Machine: Memory, Perception, and the “Jennifer Aniston Neuron,” by Rodrio Quian Quiroga. 4 stars. I love books about neurology. This one focused on memory, obviously. If you like that sort of thing, you will like this book.
  16. The Book of X, by Sarah Rose Etter. 5 stars. This entire book is both a metaphor and a mood and covers a lot of women’s issues and I very much enjoyed it.
  17. Buddism for Beginners, by Thubten Chodron. 3 stars. It is what it says, but I thought it could have been better organized.
  18. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, by Hope Larson (Adapter, Illustrator). 4 stars. This was one of my favorite books as a child, adapted into a graphic novel. I bought it for my son, but he had a hard time telling what was flashbacks (slightly muted illustrations).
  19. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte. 4 stars. I haven’t read hardly anything by the Bronte’s, and I choose this book because of its feminist themes. Enjoyed it!
  20. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. 5 stars. I so much enjoyed this while reading it! My only criticism is that there should have been more women characters.
  21. In the Vanisher’s Place, by Aliette de Bodard. 4 stars. This was a really fun, quick fairy-tale read.
  22. Adi Parva – Churning of the Ocean, by Amruta Patil. 4 stars. This was a very beautifully illustrated collection of mythology.
  23. Habibi, by Craig Thompson. 4 stars. Another graphic novel, but this one for adults.
  24. Good Neighbors, by Sarah Langan. 4 stars. Horror is not usually my thing, but this was well done, with just a hint of supernatural horror as well.
  25. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. 5 stars. I very much recommend this novel about two rival mages, set in a magical circus.
  26. To You We Shall Return: Lessons About Our Planet from the Lakota, by Joseph M. Marshall III. 4 stars. Of course it’s somewhat depressing, but all of us who live in the United States should read this.
  27. Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk. 4 stars. I can’t believe I haven’t read anything by this author before! Reminds me very much of Kurt Vonnegut.
  28. The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern. 5 stars. Never have I ever read a more that is more me than this book! It has everything I love–an enormous magic library, secret doors, secret societies. I cannot recommend this enough!
  29. Buddism for Beginners, by Tai Morello. 4 stars. This is a better book than the other one I read with the same name.
  30. Nightlights, by Lorena Alvarez Gomez. 4 stars. I bought this graphic novel for my older son at the book fair, but the artwork is so beautiful!
  31. Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood. 5 stars. I’ve been wanting to read something else by this author for a long time and finally did! I was not bullied as a child, but this is very visceral and I think everyone should read it.
  32. Why Buddhism Is True, by Robert Wright. 5 stars. I took a Coursera course with this author on evolutionary psychology and loved it. This book is the product of those lectures!
  33. Moby-Dick or, the Whale, by Herman Melville. 2 stars. I believe this is the longest I’ve ever taken to read a bookI think I started in 2018? I didn’t like it and when my dog started chewing the pages, I did not rush to stop her.
  34. The House by the Sea, by Louise Douglas. I didn’t rate this book because I really didn’t like it but feel bad about it for an unknown reason. My husband bought this on kindle by mistake.
  35. The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli. 5 stars. I loved this non-fiction book on the nature of time! I read it on audible, and part of the rating is probably due to the narration by Benedict Cumberbatch.
  36. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson. 5 stars. This was very poetic, a good follow-up to the book I read before it, and easily understandable.
  37. The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. 5 stars. I specifically wanted to read this for Pride month. It was so good! I don’t usually read love stories, but this retelling of the Achilles/Patroclus myth is a definite must-read.
  38. Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. 5 stars. This was another I wanted to read for Pride (also by a lesbian author). I wish I hadn’t watched the Korean film, The Handmaiden, before reading this. That film was so good and totally recommended, but it was based on this book. Oh well. The book is still better than the film, and very beautifully written.
  39. Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. 4 stars. This is a completely nonfiction book that the semi-nonfiction movie was based on. Actually, it’s a bit more hopeful than the movie. I have a secret desire to travel the country by van and/or build and Earthship, and both those things are in this book.

Early Summer Yard Update

Last year was my first year with a grassy yard. I also had a number of plants around the edges of the yard. Then, in September, I got a puppy. Not only did I have way less time for yard maintenance, the puppy thought the plants were “playing” with her, and jumped upon and bit every single one of them until they died.

Destructive puppy in the yard! (From last fall.)

Now, she is almost a year old and and maybe won’t kill them as much if I replanted? I’m also thinking I would like more hardy plants, if possible. Perhaps a rose bush or some other kind of shrubbery? But before I plant anything, I would love to have an area of the yard delineated for non-grass plants.

The sadness of now (mid-mow).

There is one long edge of my yard that’s against a fence that I think would be perfect for this. So, without much planning (besides measuring–I’m not totally inept!), I went and bought concrete edging materials, brought them home, and then attempted to dig. After a half hour of digging and a few inches to show for it (the total space is 35 feet), I called some contractors. The lowest price I was quoted was around $1,500. But I don’t want to pay that much, so now I am thinking of going back to digging.

This entry is me, setting my intention and trying to get up the courage to dig!!!

Spring Camping (sort of) Trip!

I love writing about my vacations with family, as it helps me to remember and appreciate them more, and some day I imagine I’ll be able to look over past blog posts with fondness. That is why I hesitate to write this one.

Having spent a portion of my life living alone in a rural area, I am not easily freaked out by animals or whatnot that one might find in the woods. I have come very close (too close!) to bears while hiking, almost stepped on more than one rattlesnake, had a litter (I know it’s not a litter–what is it?) of garter snakes hatch in my linen closet, had a tarantula appear SOMEHOW in my closet on a day I moved into a different apartment (I tried to trap it for a year, but only saw it again the day I moved out). I’ve been bit by a Northern Widow spider (fortunately a baby) and a Wolf Spider while camping. None of those things bothered me that much.

But there is one thing that very much bothers me and that thing is ticks!!!! Despite many hours of hiking, and a lot of that going off trails, I have seen maybe a dozen ticks in my life. I wish I could go back to those days! But let me tell the story from the beginning.

Ziggy perhaps sensing she is not alone in her skin.

My family of five (two parents, two kids, and a dog) left the relative tick-less safety of New York City on a Thursday. After stopping to see the kids’ grandma for lunch, we got upstate (near Kingston, NY) by late afternoon. Almost immediately, I was reunited with my very good friend who I haven’t seen in almost a year and a half. We got everyone situated and left to go grocery shopping. After a joyful but quiet night, we all went to sleep.

The next day, I was my birthday! I wanted to celebrate with a morning hike, lunch at a restaurant, mini golf and go-karts, shopping, and then dinner at another restaurant. Basically, I wanted not to cook or clean up! Well, we went on the hike on the trails near where we were staying. The trails were marked but a bit overgrown. I didn’t think anything of it, because the dog is on flea and tick preventative and we all sprayed ourselves.

“Kids, go stand by that Murder Shed!”

The hike was underwhelming until we got back and saw we each had varying numbers of ticks and the dog probably had 35 or so. UGGGHHHHH. After tick picking and showering, we had lunch in town, which was nice. After lunch we decided to go back to the campsite and take stock but ended up falling asleep somehow. When we all woke, we realize there were more ticks on the dog and ourselves, and even just on the ground where the dog was going to the potty. So we left. We sealed everything in plastic bags and went to Target for new pjs and a new dog bed (the old one was discovered to be full of ticks). Then we went to eat because it was somehow after 9pm and most restaurants were closing.

My friend offered for the five of us to sleep in his apartment, and it was very much appreciated. We all showered again and gave the dog a bath in flea and tick shampoo. Then we went to sleep. The next day, somehow, more ticks were found, albeit not on Ziggy. I think the preventative was killing any that landed on her. We made breakfast and spent the day walking around Woodstock, which was fun. The flea market and most of the stores and restaurants are very dog-friendly. But that night, we found more ticks, which made me think we picked them up either in Woodstock, or in the yard where I took Ziggy to go potty.

Found in a shop in Woodstock. Highly recommended!

The next day, we left, but obviously brought some ticks with us. I picked one out of my younger son’s hair on Tuesday afternoon. I don’t even know what to say. I’m still horrified. I washed everything ten times and sent the dog to the groomers (they found nothing on her). We are supposed to go camping two more times this summer (different areas), and I don’t want a repeat!

Sustainability Project: June 2021

Not stinking up the beach, due to my plastic-free deodorant.

Trying to keep doing these sustainability swaps, with a focus on reducing my use of plastics. Last year, I switched from regular Dove deodorant to a more sustainable one in a glass jar. I liked it, but the jarred product was not pleasant for me to use. I wanted something in stick form. I had heard about Native products, but they didn’t have their deodorant in plastic-free packaging at the time.

But I recently looked again, and now they do! I choose the two ones labeled “sensitive” because I believe myself to be quite a sensitive soul. I like both scents equally. I’ve had no issue with pit stink or skin issues. I may even try non-sensitive formulas next, because on second thought, maybe I’m not as sensitive as I think.

I really hope this company starts using non-plastic packaging for more of their products!

Day in the Life of a WFH Mom

When I wrote this last post, my kids were still attending online school, and I had to help the younger one a lot. Now, they are back at school full-time! Full time school is Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 2:00pm. Back in 2019, when I was commuting most days of the month, there was after-school programs that lasted until 5:00pm. But now, there is still no after-school available. I am fine with that for now. I’m just so glad they are having the opportunity to learn with their peers in person. And both kids (even the younger one who used to hate school) are really happy about learning in person!

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

6:30am: I wake up and quickly get dressed and feed my dog Ziggy. I’ve bought an automatic feeder for my cat and it’s changed my life. For awhile the cat would wake at 5am and yowl for food, waking the dog, who would then lick my face until I got up. It’s sad that I now think of 6:30am as sleeping in.

6:45am: I take Ziggy out for potty. Now that it’s spring (almost summer), I am trying to get my almost potty trained dog to the point where she doesn’t go in the yard anymore. This is extremely taxing since I’m the only walker of the dog.

7:00am: I wake up the kids, get them dressed and ready, and feed them breakfast. I also pack their lunches.

8:00am: We are out the door, walking the half mile to school with the dog.

Happy to be back to school in late April!

8:40am: I am back at home with the dog. I eat breakfast and drink coffee while reading a book.

9:00am: I have finished coffee and switch to tea, which I bring into my office, as it’s time to start working.

12:00pm: I take the dog around the block for a potty break, and grab lunch from the kitchen and bring it to my office to eat while working.

1:40pm: School is out soon, so I take the dog with me to pick up the kids. They play in the schoolyard for about 20 minutes before we start walking home. This is my official lunch break.

2:35pm: At home, I fix a snack for the kids (usually cheese or hummus and crackers, fruit and carrots, or pizza rolls).

2:40pm: Back to work. The kids have “free time,” which means usually TV or video games. On Mondays, the older has piano. On Tuesdays, their uncle takes them to the park. On Wednesdays, a babysitter takes them to the park or plays board games. On Thursdays and Fridays, sometimes one of us parents will be free to do something.

5:00pm: Off work! I usually go around checking in on the kids and then take the dog for a walk. Sometimes we’ll all go to the park briefly if the kids didn’t go earlier.

6:00pm: I feed the dog and cat and make dinner. Then we immediately clean up: do the dishes, clear off the table, clean the counters, go through the kids’ backpacks and clean out their lunchboxes and water bottles. We try to have the kids do most of this. I also check homework and help do it if necessary, but both kids seem to do their homework in school.

7:00pm: My new favorite time of day. The kids are allowed to play video games and the dog has already had three long walks, so I sit in my west-facing window and read a book. Usually, tea is also involved.

8:30pm: The kids are done with their game time. We watch one show together.

9:00pm: We head upstairs. I’ve started putting them to bed a little earlier than when they were in online school since now they actually have to be up and dressed before 8am. The kids take showers. I read to the youngest for awhile, and then the oldest gets an audiobook. I usually shower while this is happening.

How does a 23-pound dog take up most of my bed?

10:30pm: One last potty time for the dog, and then we head to bed.

For now, I am loving this schedule, which allows us to have plenty of time together, as well as plenty of independent time. I’ve also never had better work-life balance. Soon, however, summer vacation will be upon us and all will change again!

Sustainability Project: May 2021

This photo of my dog at the beach has both water in it and the cause of my increased laundry load.

Almost a year has gone by since I switched my dish-washing detergent. As I mentioned in that post, I was planning to switch my laundry detergent as well, and now I have. I really like the Dropps laundry detergent, but they have a new rose scent, and I might switch to that the next time I order.

Anyway, I have not much else to say about this swap other than I plan to continue with this product, but I also considering trying the laundry strips (made by a different company) in the future.

What I Eat in a Day, Part 2

I still like watching these types of video, so I thought I’d do another one of these blog posts!

For breakfast lately, maybe because of the warmer weather, I’ve been eating cold cereal. So interesting, right? This cereal is what I think of as being granola, but the package said muesli. Is there a difference? I don’t know. Into the cereal, I added some mixed berries, chia seeds, and peanut butter. (I would add peanut butter to everything if I could.) Also, oat milk.

For lunch, I have been experimenting with adding non-meat proteins to salads. Above is an example of one of these salads. It is kale, quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, and some carrots (just what I had to use but I would have added more if I had them). Dressing is just olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast.

I haven’t been snacking in the mornings, but in the afternoon I will snack if I’m hungry. Usually hummus and carrots or gluten-free crackers, fruit, or a smoothie.

In the photo above is a dinner that I recently made that is probably one off my favorite new things! It is mashed polenta (every time I have polenta, I question why I don’t eat more polenta–it’s so good!) with fried onions and chorizo. Excuse my hand in the photo, but I wanted to show the packaging. This product is made with pea protein! Link to their website here. The green blob on top is just a bit of avocado.

I have been not eating after dinner but what I do have a lot of that’s not pictured here is tea–probably about four cups a day. I don’t put anything in the tea, so it doesn’t have calories or count as food and of course a mug of discolored water isn’t pretty. I typically drink black tea and green tea during the day and after dinner usually just herbal tea.

Painting a Wall Mural!

More than a year ago, I started doing artwork, most drawing with graphite. Soon after that, I took over the guest room as my dedicated office space. We used to have guests at least once a month, but didn’t have any last year and none so far this year. Nevertheless, the bed is still in the room, but in a way that it looks more like a sofa than a bed. My dog uses it a lot while I’m working too. So I knew any design would have to include the bed.

Mural in daylight and overhead light. The black rail is the daybed frame. The dark purple goes down to the floor but it’s mostly hidden by the bed.

I mention the bed because it takes up an entire, unbroken wall (except for an outlet that’s in a very odd place). This room was painted white on three walls and dark green on another by the previous owner many years ago. We bought the house more than eight years ago, and it looked newish then. Since I’ve been working in this room for the better part of a year, I got bored with the color. But instead of just painting it one color, I wanted to paint a wall mural. The wall is on the eastern side of the room, so I wanted to depict a sunrise. Note that I am a nerd and got out my compass, so the sun painted on the wall is exactly east when standing in the center of the room.

Dark view of the mural, with just the very cool night-light for illumination.

After watching a bunch of videos on YouTube, I was convinced I could do it in three days. HAHAHAHA! In reality, it took longer than a month from painting a sample to scale, sketching on the wall in pencil, buying the paint, priming the green wall, painting the other three walls a very light sort of rose-grey color called Winter Morning, painting the trim, painting the actual mural, doing touch-ups, and re-arranging furniture. I only bought three colors for the mural, a dark purple, a dark orange, and white. I mixed them for the shadows and highlights, and I added in my own acrylics (red, black, and green).

Overall, I am happy, but now I am thinking about doing a gallery wall elsewhere in the room, so another project is forthcoming!

A Major Sustainability Swap

I have sadly fallen behind on my sustainability swaps that I used to do once a month. Mostly this is due to getting a puppy and quickly realizing that taking care of a puppy is a lot harder than I thought. I am going to try to pick them up monthly again, but it’s possible this may not work out.

When I was 18, my dad really wanted me to drive a stick shift. Right after this was taken, I crashed into the fence. That was the last time I drove stick.

However, since it is Earth Day, and the anniversary of starting these swaps, I wanted to write about a major change. We bought a new car! For the past few years, we’ve leased cars, because once you start to lease a car, it is easier to continue leasing. We wanted to stop doing that and actually own a car. We also wanted something that used less gas. It would have been nice to get a totally electric car, but also too expensive. So we bought a hybrid. I don’t actually have much else to say about that, because I have never been interested in cars. I try to drive as little as possible. However, I am grateful to have a car when I need it, and this hybrid car has not yet needed to be filled with gas in the two months we’ve had it.

Day in the Life of WFH and Homeschooling Mom

Since March 13, 2020, I have been a full-time working from home mom who also sort of homeschools two kids. I say sort of because since the end of March last year, the NYC DOE has been having Zoom/Google classroom schooling. But back then, I had to do everything for both of them, including keep two very separate schedules. And also do my own job. And also feed everyone.

Slowly, everything has been shifting. Since the fall, my older son has been able to handle all of his assignments without my help. This morning, my younger son showed me that he finally learned to take attendance by himself.

But these homeschooling days may soon be over. Next week, my kids are supposed to go back to school five days a week, from 8am to 2pm. I am very glad my older son, who is graduating elementary school in June, will have the opportunity to see all of his classmates in person again before switching schools and maybe not seeing them again ever.

It’s a little bittersweet, because while this life has been challenging, I feel like I never would have gotten the opportunity to know my kids so well had we not been forced to be in each others presence for 24 hours a day for more than a year. Thinking about that give me the idea of writing down my typical daily schedule, before it changes again.

6:30am: I wake up and quickly run to let Ziggy (who’s 95% house trained) outside. I haven’t set an alarm in more than a year. This is just when I get up now. Then I feed my cat, Oz, while the dog is still outside. Once he’s eating, I let her in and get her breakfast. Then I make coffee.

7:00am: This is probably my favorite time of day. No one else is up yet. I typically drink my coffee while sitting in the bay window and reading a book. When I commuted, I loved reading on the train, and it was the one time dedicated to reading for pleasure. Since I don’t commute anymore, my reading time went way down in 2020. But now that I’ve found this perfect time to read, I’m a lot happier. Plus, unlike subway reading, I can do it in my pajamas with my feet up.

It’s hard to read when being squeaked at!

7:30-8:00am: The kids wake up and demand breakfast. I attempt to get them dressed as well.

8:00am: I take Ziggy out for a short walk while the kids eat and watch TV. Note that my spouse is still home–the kids are not alone.

8:30am: School starts for both kids. Sometimes, I have to do something with the younger but usually I take the opportunity to eat breakfast.

9:00am: Work starts officially for me. I get another drink (sometimes coffee or tea or just water) and head into my private office, which I am so happy to have.

9:20am: Morning class is over for my younger son. He comes to tell me this and then sits by me while reading a book.

9:45am: Book finished, son begs for “free time.” Usually I am working, so I have no choice but to allow the free time.

11:15am: Older son reports that his class is over. He either plays with Ziggy in the yard or reads or plays with his brother. I may walk the dog if she’s not playing. Otherwise, I start lunch prep. They kids eat lunch early because of class schedules.

12:10pm: Younger son’s second class starts. I usually take my lunch back to my office.

2:00pm: Officially school is over at this time, but there is still a lot to do depending on the day. My older son has piano class once a week, a school tutor once a week, and a private tutor twice a week. My younger son has both a school tutor and a private tutor twice a week. Once I get them settled, I’ll try to step away for a short walk with the dog. Then, back to work.

5:00pm: Work is over! I am fortunate to work for a place that allows me to take breaks as needed, but at the end of the day I am very happy to forget work and take a long walk with the dog. Sometimes, people will come with me, but I don’t mind either way.

6:00pm: Back home and dinner for the animals, and then I prepare dinner for the humans. We are usually done with dinner by 7.

7:00pm: If there is no homework to do and it’s nice, we all might go for another walk, especially if, for some reason, I’ve had to skip the earlier one. If not, we all might watch TV together or play a game. I have a low level of patience for TV, so I can only do this for about an hour before I switch to something else, like reading or artwork. The kids can play video games with their friends at this time, so they usually do this, either by zoom meeting or facetime. This has been their primary means of socialization for some time, and I’m glad they do get to talk to other kids apart from zoom school.

A walk at the local reservoir.

9:30pm: Bedtime for kids. They take showers, youngest first. When he’s done, we read a physical book while the older is showering. Then they both listen to an audio book while I shower and get ready for bed.

10:30pm: I let the dog out one last time and then retrieve my phone from the kids room and say goodnight (even though they are asleep). Our cat, Oz, sleeps with the boys. He takes turns which bed he sleeps in. Then I go to bed. Ziggy runs upstairs after her last potty break and passes out immediately on my bed, so I usually have to ask her to roll over. I may read or meditate, or just pass out immediately as well.

Exciting, no?!? Well, boring or not, I have been having a great time with more relaxing days at home with my kids than I ever thought possible. While I am looking forward to them being back in school, I know I will miss this time!