TBR List Declutter, Bonus Issue 2

Tangent: Podcasts for Suburban Walks 

The past month or so I’ve been taking long walks over the weekend. I try to get in the neighborhood of ten miles. I always start from my house. Most times I do a circuit, but sometimes to expand my range I walk to a destination 10-ish miles away and have my spouse pick me up in the car.

The first time I hiked on the trails to a waterfall in one of the nearby canyons. Then I started having dreams about rattlesnakes, so I decided to set the nature hikes aside until rattlesnake season passes or, since apparently every season is rattlesnake season in San Diego, until I forget about them again.

Since then, I’ve kept it suburban.

I’ve walked to the library and on to a farmers market, then risked my life discovering firsthand the reason for the GoogleMaps disclaimer that the route may not always reflect real-world conditions. I’ve walked to Costco and met my spouse waiting in line for gas.  I’ve walked a big loop across another canyon, to Target to buy icing spatulas, and then to a different library. Most recently I walked to a farmers market ten miles away where I met my family and bought local passion fruit.

No matter my route or destination, I get about three hours by myself to think, take in the suburban sights, breathe in car exhaust, and listen to podcasts.

Here are some of the highlights from my auditory explorations:

  • Being Sincere in a Cynical World, from To the Best of Our Knowledge. This show explores the reasons for and costs of cynicism and the value of vulnerability. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and that I addressed in part in my tangent about duplicity. The third story, “Can You Change the Mind of a White Supremacist” was my favorite. If you listen to only one story from that episode, I recommend that one.
  • Loving Bees, also from To the Best of Our Knowledge. This one is all about the importance of bees—especially local bees—to our ecosystem and most notably to human food supplies. My can’t-miss from that episode was “Rebuilding Detroit, Hive by Hive” about a couple who turn a vacant lots into bee sanctuaries. We have family near Detroit, and I’m scheming to visit Detroit Hives next time we’re in the area.
  • Word Watch and Word Watch, the Sequel, from Code Switch. These episodes explore the racist origins of common words and expressions.
  • Talk American, also from Code Switch. This one deals with the information we assume about a person based on their accent and explores the origins of the non-accent that’s become the standard for network news in the United States. (Spoiler: it started in Cleveland.)
  • “Blockchain all the things. Or don’t.” and “Bitcoin IRL,” from Make Me Smart. I can’t actually decide if I love these or hate these. After listening to these episodes, I understand blockchains and Bitcoin about as well as I understand futures trading now, which means they’ve taken my understanding from abject confusion to only partial confusion, which is positive. I think.
  • On Homeschooling Culture & Rethinking School, from Brave Writer Podcast. There’s not much that’s brand new to me in the homeschool world, but this interview with Susan Wise Bauer got me thinking. Of particular interest to me is Bauer’s observation that the homeschoolers in the classes she teaches at William and Mary College are overall ill-equipped to defend their arguments. Since listening, I’ve been thinking my approach to logic and argument with my own children. Critical thinking is, in my opinion, possibly the most important skill I can foster in my children. We tend to be a skeptical family, and intellectual argument is our native tongue, but a little more formal preparation—and more intentional interaction with those with differing viewpoints—is probably in order.

That’s some of what’s been filling my ears these past several weekends. If you listen to any of these or if you have any favorites of your own, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Visual Interest:



Titles 771-782:

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TBR List Declutter, Bonus Issue 1

Tangent: Bully Pulpit

As my daughter approached middle-school age, memories of my own experiences at that age started bubbling to the surface. Because I don’t want to color her experience, I keep those memories to myself unless my daughter asks about them, but when she got ready to go to sleepaway camp, it was those memories that prompted me to find anti-bullying resources for her.

She’s encountered bullying behavior before, but not at this age and not when she was in a situation where she couldn’t come back home for us to talk it out. I wanted to know that she’d thought about it ahead of time. I didn’t want her blindsided.

Sleepaway camp was uneventful on the bullying front, but learning about bullying blindsided me.

One resource listed three types of bullying:

  1. Verbal bullying, which includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, and threatening to cause harm.
  2. Social bullying, which includes leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone, and embarrassing someone in public.
  3. Physical bullying, which includes, hitting/kicking/pinching, spitting, tripping/pushing (which actually qualify as assault, I would think), taking or breaking someone’s things, and making mean or rude hand gestures.

When I moved to Ohio in sixth grade, I quickly made friends with another new kid. We were not only new, we were each misfits in our own way. We were made fun of pretty much daily, but we were good friends and it was a comfort to know we always had each other.

Then we moved on to junior high, and the stakes grew exponentially higher. The only way to be safe from bullying—and from physical fights—was to follow every bit of fashion, hair, and makeup advice in Teen and Seventeen magazine and get yourself into the upper echelons of the social hierarchy, or so it seemed to me then. Unable to tease my bangs and terrified of being unpopular, I tried to jettison my friend in order to elevate myself into a cooler crowd. Another social-climbing girl and I would run away giggling whenever my friend showed up, and I would turn down invitations from my friend in favor of hanging out with this other girl. I felt bad about it even then, especially when I caught sight of my friend’s face, but I kept doing it because it seemed necessary to my self-preservation.

After an event in eighth grade made me realize that not only was the “cool kid” social scene not open to me, it wasn’t even something I wanted to be part of, my friend and I reconciled, but I still felt ashamed. After almost three decades, I still cringe at the memory of how mean I was, but that’s all I’d considered it: really mean behavior. Now, looking at this list with my daughter, I realized that what I had done wasn’t just “mean”; it was social bullying.

Like many many people, I’ve experienced all of the types of bullying in that list, both as a child and as an adult, but I’d only ever thought of myself as a victim of bullying, not as a perpetrator. I exchanged notes with my spouse, and he immediately recalled times he’d done similar things to his peers. We had both been fairly low in the social rankings, and in order to keep ourselves from being at the very bottom, we felt compelled to force other kids into that spot. (Edit: My spouse asserts that he was actually part of the “cool” crowd, but did admit that he was towards the bottom of that rank.)

Looking at it through this new lens, I became aware of how fluid these definitions are. It’s not that there are “bullies” and “victims” destined to play out their preordained roles, but rather there is bullying behavior in which any of us might engage in different circumstances.

Thinking of myself as the victim of bullying was a lot easier, if less honest, than this new way of thinking. Even thinking of my children as the potential victims of bullying is easier than thinking of them as potential bullies, but I have to accept that it’s quite likely they’ll play both roles at some point in their lives.

Which is, I suppose, why it’s all the more important to make them aware of bullying behaviors and to help them feel confident in themselves regardless of social pressures that might encourage them to act in ways that bring them shame. With any luck, I’m better at modeling this behavior now than I was  when I was twelve.

Visual Interest:



Titles 751-770:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 51

Tangent: But Wait, There’s More!

This TBR List Declutter post brings us to 750 titles, which means this is the last post of the series.

But wait!

If you’re despondent knowing that this long-running series is over, we here at Imperfect Happiness have some great news for you!

After the series began, the list kept growing! By January 1st, 2018, there were 782 titles on the TBR List!

And that means that for a limited time, you get two bonus issues of TBR List Declutter, at no additional cost to you!

That’s right! Two more tangents, two more visual interests, and thirty-two more titles!

So, hold onto those party streamers and sparklers for a little longer, and stay tuned for TBR List Declutter, Bonus Post 1!

Visual Interest:

San Diego skyline from Centennial Park, Coronado.

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 731-750:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 50

Tangent: Gettysburg Address

“‘But in a larger sense,'” I read, “‘we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground.'”

In our history studies we’d gotten back around to the Gettysburg Address.

“‘The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.'”

My children had gotten used to me blubbering through the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution, but the lull in between tricked them into thinking I’d learned to control my emotions better.

“‘The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.'” I made it through that sentence, barely, but I had to stop to compose myself before I could continue.

“‘It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here—‘”

“Mom, stop.” My son was using the Mom Voice on me, sternly telling me to stop so that I wouldn’t cry.

“No,” I said. “I’m okay. I’m not sad. I’m just full of emotion.”

He went across the room and got me a tissue. Then he let me continue.

“‘…to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.””

I interrupted myself this time.

“What do you think he means here?” I asked, wiping at my eyes.

“That they need to continue the war because the work hasn’t been finished yet,” my son said.

“True. That’s probably one thing he meant. But I think there might be more to it than just continuing to fight the war. What was the war trying to do?”

He thought for a bit. “Stop slavery?”

“Yes, it was to stop slavery, and to keep the country together without slavery. He says, ‘The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here.’ Did the world forget what he said at Gettysburg that day?”


“No, because if it did, you wouldn’t be learning about it now,” I smiled at him, and he smiled back.

“Maybe Abraham Lincoln wasn’t talking just to the people in front of him. Whether he knew he was or not, maybe he was talking to all of us, even those of us who wouldn’t be born for another century. Maybe he was reminding us that the work to uphold the ideals that the United States was founded upon continues on and on. We don’t have slavery today, not the way it was in 1860, but you can’t just end slavery and say, ‘Well. Glad that’s over,’ and expect things to be all better. There’s still inequality, there are still people suffering because of the ripples from slavery.”

“You mean the Civil Rights Movement,” he said with confidence.

“Yes, the Civil Rights Movement, and even more work that we’re still doing even today. It’s still not done. Even the people who wrote the Constitution didn’t live up to the words they wrote, but they gave us a framework that they hoped would create a better kind of government, one that would allow us to build a country where we could always get closer to that ideal. We never quite get it right, at least not completely. The best we can do is work towards what we hope we can be.”

“Okay,” he said. He’s eight years old and had had about all the lecturing he could sit through.

“Okay,” I said. “Just one more thing. Lincoln says what we need to work for to honor those who died at Gettysburg. Listen: ‘We here highly resolve…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.'”

And then he ran off to play. As an eight-year-old should.

Visual Interest:


Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 711-730:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 49

Tangent: TBR Tough Love

Since we moved to California, I’ve not been reading much. Even accounting for months of transition and determining where everything from our old house should go in our new house, I’m not reading as much as I usually do.

I’m not sure why that is, but I have four hypotheses:

  1. Overuse of my smartphone. I held out against getting a smartphone for a long time because I knew—I knew—that I would get attached to it. And now, despite my best intentions, it’s in my hand more often than I’d like it to be. It’s my camera, it’s my alarm clock, it’s where I store our library card bar codes and grocery store loyalty cards, it’s my GPS, and it’s my interval timer for workouts. And it’s sometimes a phone. It’s all of this, and it’s a constant source of distraction, a possible source of pleasant diversion in my pocket at all times. I place limits, but I’m a grown-up and after years and years of pushing against limits, it’s very tough to get myself to accept self-imposed limits. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
  2. Constant sunshine and near-constantly moderate temperatures. The incredible weather here in Southern California is still a novelty to me, and no book so far has compared with the enjoyment of just being outside as much as I can be. I’ve missed two readathons so far this year because of the beautiful weather. And yes, I can read outside, but it’s not as comfortable and I keep getting distracted by hummingbirds (and my phone; see hypothesis 1).
  3. Early bedtime. Finally, finally, I’ve been able to keep a reasonable bedtime. But sleeping more means reading less.
  4. Reading aloud to my children. We’ve begun using the Build Your Library homeschool curriculum, and part of this is a list of books that I read aloud to both of my children. This is indeed reading, but it’s also much, much slower reading than I can do silently. This can be a wonderful thing as it slows me down enough to catch nuances I miss during faster readings. There was so much more to Fahrenheit 451 and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler than I realized before reading them aloud. But taking more time on each book means fewer books read overall.

The smartphone thing I still want to work on, but there is nothing at all bad about spending more time outdoors or getting adequate sleep or sharing books with my children. There’s actually a lot to recommend all of these practices. I guess I just need to work on readjusting my priorities to accommodate all of the good stuff. And on adjusting my self-identification as a “reader.”

Recognizing this new reality, I’m going to tighten my TBR belt a little. Issue 48 was weak for scrapping titles. This issue, I’m going to put on my game face, adjust my bra straps, get a cup of coffee and maybe a little snack, and get tough on these titles.

Visual Interest:


Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 691-710:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 48

Tangent: Missing, After Seven Months in California

Things I miss about Massachusetts:

  • Picking fruit throughout the summer and fall.
  • Snow sparkles.
  • Animal tracks in the snow.
  • The clean, sharp feeling of breathing in really cold air.
  • The first three times shoveling snow each winter.
  • Hiking through deciduous forests.
  • Our twice-monthly ecology classes at the wildlife sanctuary.
  • Being able to identify lots and lots of animals and plants.
  • Being only a seven-hour flight from Europe rather than twelve.
  • Our friends.

Things I don’t miss about Massachusetts:

  • Ticks.
  • Mosquitos.
  • Wearing thermal undergarments for six months of the year.
  • Driving everywhere.
  • Sharing the road with people who are very, very angry.
  • Finishing shoveling snow only to have the plow come by and push a two-foot-high wall of icy slush across the bottom of the driveway.
  • Humidity.

Visual Interest:

Late afternoon in Cain, Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa, Spain

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 671-690:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 47

Tangent: Duplicity, or Junior High: You Can Check Out, but You Can Never Leave

The other day I hosted an event at my house. One of those who attended brought a friend who was visiting from out of town. They were the first to arrive, so after we made our introductions, I sat down with them to chat. Watching this person’s body language, (turning away from me and towards the other person), vocal volume and direction, and conversational content (inside jokes with the other person), it soon became clear that, although the out-of-town friend seemed willing to include me, this person didn’t want me to be part of the conversation.

This confused me, and I pondered the situation after I’d politely excused myself to try to find something to do in the kitchen. This person is someone I see at least weekly, and at those meetings, we speak comfortably to one another. We joke and share stories, and I think of this person as a friend. Perhaps not a “bosom friend” as Anne Shirley would say, but a friend I’d invite to my house for snacks and conversation. It didn’t make sense to me that this person would want to talk with me while our children played at the park, but not when sitting in front of me in my living room.

Along these same lines, there have been a couple of occasions with another not-bosom friend here in which I mentioned or asked about something this person had posted on Facebook, and they mumbled and turned away. Their reaction was so confusing to me that I went back to Facebook when I got home and made sure that I’d friended the right person. I guess I can’t be entirely sure, but they looked alike, and they had the same name and the same children, so I feel fairly confident this was the same person. So why would they act in a manner that suggested I had the wrong person?

It’s like these two individuals are entirely different people in different contexts. My spouse relates it to a need to appear “cool,” and maybe it’s as simple as that. If being cool is the most important thing, then it makes sense to act differently depending on whom you’re with and what you think they would see as cool.

And now I read over that paragraph and the word “cool” seems so 1980’s, so junior-high that I just feel blah about the whole situation. If this really is the case, making friends here may well be more difficult than I’d anticipated. Because not only am I not cool (or at least not intentionally cool, which, of course, makes me cool), I am deeply suspicious of “cool.” I did enough trying to fit in and especially trying to fit in with the cooler kids during my school years to know that when I try to chameleon my way through social situations, I behave in ways that don’t make me proud of myself.

So I’ve adopted a “what you see is what you get” way of being.

I do my best to listen more than I talk and when I do talk, both to say what I mean and to mean what I say. I try to be who I am in every situation, which I hope is kind or at least not unnecessarily rude, tactless, or offensive, because often when I’m being myself, it’s honest, but it’s not pretty.

I don’t wear makeup, I don’t shave, I don’t wear Spanks, I get my hair cut once a year, and it’s been almost a decade since my last professional “mani-pedi” and even then I only got clear polish. Not that you can’t be honest and do these things, just that if I did them, I wouldn’t be honest. On me, those things are an act, and since I want to engage with the world from a place of honesty and openness, I avoid doing them.

As a result, I am not good at cultivating an image. I try to write the way I talk, and I try to be the same person on social media I am in real life. And most of my friends are—or seem to be—the same way.

Is this a California thing? My spouse certainly thinks so, and much of the evidence I’ve gathered seems to point in that direction, but there’s other evidence that doesn’t support that hypothesis but rather suggests that while a particular culture might support more duplicity or chameleon-like behavior, it exists everywhere. And besides, the two people I mentioned above aren’t from California, and for all intents and purposes, I am.

Is it a “stages of life” thing? Is mid-life a reflection of middle school?

And because I’m the common element in these situations, I can’t ignore the possibility that it’s me. Maybe my insistence on talking with people who don’t want to talk with me forces them to be rude and/or evasive to get me to leave them alone. That’s not a pleasant possibility, but it’s a possibility.

Whatever it is, I’m going to keep on doing my best to be who I am—and hopefully the best of who I am—in all situations, both when people are looking and when they’re not.

Visual Interest:

Moreton Bay Fig Tree, Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 651-670:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 46

Tangent: Music Theory

At the park the other day, my son called to me from the swings.

“Hey, Mom! What song is this? NAH-na-NAH-na-NAH-na-na-na-NAH!”

“I think that’s ‘Für Elise,'” I said.

“Oh, right! I always get that one mixed up with ‘Iron Man,'” he said, referring to the song by Black Sabbath.

“You always get ‘Für Elise’ mixed up with ‘Iron Man’?” I asked, confused.

“Yes,” he said. “They sound the same.”

After more questioning, a little brow-furrowing, and then consulting his sister on some music theory, we figured out the culprit: minor seconds.

My spouse asserts that ours is the only house in the U.S. where the similarity between these two songs has ever been or, indeed, could ever be noticed. I’m skeptical about that claim, but either way I’m indebted to my son for linking Beethoven and Ozzy Osbourne like this for me.

And now you are, too.

I’ve shared the songs at the end of this post so you can hear for yourself.


Visual Interest:

My son’s favorite musicians (by “Iron Man” he means Black Sabbath). Photo included with his permission.

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 631-650:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 45

Tangent: TBR Envy

The other day I clicked on the profile of a Goodreads reviewer whose reviews I see with some frequency and discovered that they have more than 3,000 books on their “read” shelf, but nothing at all on their “to-read” shelf.

What an alien concept to me.

Does this person have no TBR at all, or do they have one somewhere besides Goodreads?

Either way, the idea of an empty “to-read” shelf on Goodreads is very appealing. Well, technically I have twelve “to-read” shelves and one “want to read” shelf, so in my case, thirteen empty to-read shelves would be appealing.

Along with the thirteen to-read shelves, I also keep a spreadsheet TBR, and I have a LibraryThing account, which is kind of like Goodreads except that it’s not as pretty or easy to use and using it doesn’t help line Jeff Bezos’ pockets.

But what if I took the TBR offline entirely? I could keep it in my bullet journal. Migrating it to a new book every six months might encourage me to keep the list to a manageable size. Or maybe it would just encourage me to try a travel journal style bujo.

I already have a separate Cavalcade of Classics journal. Right now it’s just for notes and quotes from the books as I read them, but I could easily add a TBR at the beginning of the notebook rather than tracking the titles online.

But then I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of moving titles on Goodreads from “to-read” to “read.”

Pros and cons.

A TBR change might be worth mulling, if only for the exercise of exploring my assumptions about how to organize books/titles. And as an excuse to ask reviewers about their empty TBR shelves.

My question for you: How do you manage your TBR?

Visual Interest:

You can’t convince me that this sticker placement isn’t intentional.

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 611-630:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 44


No tangent today. This post is all business. And I can’t think of a tangent that interests me enough to write about it. See “Visual Interest” for a tangential photo of a flowering yucca.

Visual Interest:


Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 591-610:

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