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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Bookends: March 2017


One of the things I love about Massachusetts.

My time in central Massachusetts, experiencing the discourtesy people here call “direct,” has been six years of cultural fatigue. There are things that I love about the area, but the people are consistently prickly. Yes, people can be impolite anywhere and in a surprising variety of ways, but most places I’ve lived and visited, the rudeness has been shocking in part because it happened so infrequently. In Massachusetts, discourteousness is like an element: living here, we swim in rudeness, whether we participate in it or not.

Late in March, my family spent a week in California. From the moment we landed, the difference was obvious. Sure, we lost thirty minutes in the rental car place because the guys working there were inept, but at least they were friendly. Everywhere we went, people smiled, they were cordial, they spoke kindly to one another. I felt little to none of the social anxiety that clings to me in Massachusetts. For the first time in ages, I felt like I could exhale.

Going to San Diego was like jumping from a polluted river into one that ran with fresh, clean water; coming back has been the opposite experience. Just this morning I observed a cashier and her customer openly ridicule another customer for thinking the cashier had given her a friendly look. “She thought since you looked nicely at her that meant it was her turn!” said the first customer, and she and the cashier brayed together as the second customer apologized and got back into line. If the three had been friends, I could understand it as rough but good-natured joshing, but I saw nothing to indicate that these people knew each other.

On the plus side, this kind of interaction makes travel even more appealing. Time to put our passports to work.

Aside from this unpleasant but not unexpected welcome back, March has been wonderful. Not only did I spend a week in a place that felt like home, but I got a lot of reading done, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching my children write and illustrate their own books and stories.

My seven-year-old has moved from filling journals with his stories to typing them out on legal-sized paper on the Smith Corona my dad used in graduate school in the early 1980’s. My son will kneel on a chair at the dining room table, typing for hours and yelling at anyone who tries to interrupt him for something as trivial as dinner or bedtime. All he needs now is a bottle of scotch, an overflowing ashtray, and a fedora.

Something to look forward to: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is April 29! I’m especially excited because this time around, a goal of the readathon is to raise money for Room to Read, a non-profit focusing on literacy and girls’ education across Africa and Asia. To learn more about this part of the readathon and to donate, visit the Dewey’s Room to Read campaign page.

Reading through the night won’t be happening for me on April 29, but I plan to clear my schedule at least for the daylight hours. If I take part, I’ll post about it here and on Instagram.

Until my children finish their masterpieces, I’ve had to content myself with what’s already on the shelves. Here’s some of what I finished reading in March:

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California Dreaming

I’ve been doing these yoga practices and meditations from Kelly McGonigal’s “Boost Your Willpower” four-week online program, and I find myself thinking of California.

Cowell Ranch Beach near Half Moon Bay, California, on my 30th birthday.

Cowell Ranch Beach near Half Moon Bay, California, on my 30th birthday.

I know that part of this is because it’s cold and snowy here in New England and part of it’s because Kelly was one of my instructors for yoga teacher training when I lived in California, and her voice and image are tied for me with the memory of riding my bike to the California Ave studio where I did my training, yoga mat bungee-corded to my bike rack. I remember the cool of the pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks and the anxiety I felt each time, wondering if I could maneuver my bike around the metal bike barriers or if I should walk it around the barriers instead.

When I think about California, I get a sense of home and a sense of hope. I have no idea if these are personal to me or if these are common feelings people have about California.

The home feeling comes from the landscape, from the golden hills against the blue sky, from the dusty eucalyptus smell and the dry air, from the way the rocks meet the coastline. I spent my first ten years in California, and then four and a half years in my mid-20’s to early 30’s. I’ve spent more time in California than I have in any one state; it makes sense that it would feel like home. When I’m gone from there, I miss it. It is so different from the rolling New England countryside. It is so different from anywhere else I’ve been.

The hope feeling is a little tougher to trace. Maybe it’s just the effect of living in a place with so much sun or a place that was founded by people who put all of their possessions into a wagon and headed west in search of fortune or adventure or freedom. Or maybe it’s because the last time we moved there my husband was about to start a postdoctoral fellowship and I had quit my corporate job and was trying to make my way as a doula and yoga instructor. Maybe it’s because that’s where I gave birth to my first child and began my journey as a mother. Whatever it is, I get a sense of possibility when I think of California, a sense that anything can happen there.

I’m not a fan of earthquakes or traffic or yuppies, and the cost of living is just oppressive, but still. To hike through redwoods whenever I want to or to pick citrus fruits and pomegranates and persimmons from the trees in my neighborhood or to be around so many people who are confident that they have the ideas and drive necessary to innovate and change the way people all around the world connect with each other.

It’s taken some time away, but although I can think of lots of reasons to live other places, I remember why so many people can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Six States and Counting

Prominent roads and cities in Massachusetts.

Image via Wikipedia

Today I got my Massachusetts driver’s license. From the time I began driving until today, I’ve had licenses in Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, California, Utah, and Massachusetts.

I’ve visited DMVs, BMVs, and RMVs.

I’ve waited for hours and hours (California) to get my license and registration, and I’ve not waited at all (Utah and Massachusetts).

I’ve been spoken to rudely by the staff (California and Ohio), and I’ve been treated very kindly and in an extremely friendly and attentive manner (Utah and Massachusetts).

I’ve taken written tests in five states (Massachusetts didn’t require one), eye tests in all six, and a road test in one.

I’ve registered to vote at the motor vehicle registry in five states (consecutively, not concurrently) and with three different parties (if you consider “unaffiliated” a party).

Of these six states, my favorite places to get a license are Utah and Massachusetts. Both have their quirks. Utah made sure I knew how long military personal with Utah residency could maintain their Utah driver’s license after they’ve left the service. Massachusetts doesn’t have proof-of-insurance cards (and doesn’t require insurance to get a driver’s license), and I had to get my insurance company to send a stamped registration form to get my plates. But both the Salt Lake City DMV and the Worcester RMV branches were very friendly and accommodating.

I don’t know why exactly, but I’m very nervous when dealing with government agencies. I’ve not done my own taxes since 1998 (I’ve had them done, they’ve just not been done by me), simply because I get way too anxious that I’m going to inadvertently fill out something incorrectly.

I’d done tons of research about the license and registration process in Massachusetts before my husband and I left the kids with my mom and went to the office today. Still, I had pit stains before we even walked into the building because I was so nervous I was sweating more than usual.

Luckily, the wait was not the two hours plus as I’d been led to expect. In fact, we didn’t even have a chance to sit down before our numbers were called.

Luckily, too, the woman who helped us was extraordinarily friendly. The other agents kept coming to her for help with their customers, too, which delayed us a bit, but after our nonexistent wait time, we felt like we were way ahead of schedule. In addition, it was quite pleasant to see such a collaborative spirit among the agents there.

In California, the staff seemed to talk with each other a lot, but it seemed to be more of an “agents versus customers” brand of collaboration than it was a “let’s try to put our heads together and figure out a complicated issue” kind of collaboration. (Not to bad-mouth California. The branch we were at was ridiculously busy, with lines out the door even for those with appointments who were just trying to check in at their assigned appointment times. With as overworked as the staff were, I can see how they might develop an adversarial attitude. And there was one agent there who was very helpful and friendly to us. Well, to my husband. I got the agent who talked loudly and unflatteringly to another agent about me while I was standing right there at the counter).

Long story short, I was surprised to find that I actively enjoyed my RMV experience this afternoon, and I made a point of telling the agent just how much I appreciated her friendliness. What’s even more surprising is that I enjoyed it even though I left there more than $300 lighter than when I went in.

I hope it’s at least several years before I need to add a seventh state to the list. If I do get a seventh, I wonder where it will be…

Hey, Joe, Where You Going With That Hummus in Your Hand?

When we left California in 2008, we didn’t realize we would be leaving behind Trader Joe’s. Our standard Sunday routine in California was farmers market, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods. That combination gave us the greatest variety of foods at the lowest cost. In Utah, the farmers market only ran mid-June through mid-October, and there were no Trader Joe’s. Our reliance on Whole Foods increased dramatically, especially during the wintertime, and our grocery expenses increased along with it.

Now here's a dilemma: three bottles of wine and no one to share them with. I must acquire some local friends...

But now we’re back in Trader Joe’s country. I got three well-priced bottles of wine, along with chocolate-covered frozen banana slices (which, it turns out, only I like), mini rice crackers, freeze-dried blueberries and strawberries, and a 4-flavor variety pack of hummus. I still like my hummus best, but until I get my VitaMix tamper back (I accidentally let the movers pack it), I’ll be relying on store-bought. And Joe’s hummus was pretty decent.

We ate our purchases (except for the wine) in the car amid calls from the backseat for more “dip” and more “boo-babies”. We ate our impromptu lunch on the shore of Bartlett Pond while waiting to tour a rental property. An elderly gentleman out for a walk gave us tips about where to hike and where not to hike to avoid ticks, and suggested that if we were planning to fish, we wait a bit because they just put chemicals in the pond to kill off the weeds. He also talked up the local high school, from which his granddaughter just graduated, and gave us directions to some walking trails that involved statements like, “go past the old state hospital on the left, but going this direction it will be on your right,” and then a quick series of first lefts and second rights that we promptly forgot.

“Have a nice walk!” my husband called as the gentleman went on his way.

“Oh, I’m just staying on the road,” he said. “I’ve had enough ticks in my lifetime.”

As he left, I wondered if I should have offered him some hummus.