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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Crying in the Library of Congress

My family are library super-users. We manage holds, checkouts, renewals, and returns with a carefully balanced choreography. We love libraries so much that when my children go to bookstores, my daughter spends an hour reading portions of books, taking note of the titles she wants to check out from the library, even when we’re there for the express purpose of buying a book to take with us while we’re traveling.

When my children learned that on our recent trip to Washington, DC, they would have the chance to visit the largest library in the world, they were thrilled. “How many books do they have?” “Do they have translations?” “Do they have movies?” “Do they have the Warriors series [by Erin Hunter]?” “Can you check things out?”

Most of our questions were answered by looking at the Library of Congress website. 164 million items, including 38.6 million+ books in more than forty languages. They do have movies. They probably do have the Warriors series. You can’t check things out until you’re sixteen, when you can get a card to check things out within the library.

“How do you check things out within a library?” they asked. I assured them that was a question that we could ask our tour guide. Even not being able to check things out, they were excited to look at so many books.

The afternoon we’d set aside for our visit, we set out from our hotel to walk to the library. It took a little longer to walk there than we’d anticipated, and we found ourselves running up Capitol Hill, getting through security at the library, and arriving, breathless, just in time to join the tour group as they were walking up the stairs.

The tour was really cool. The library is incredible, with murals and statues and mosaics on every surface; you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting an allegory. If security would let you bring a cat into the Library of Congress. And if you felt like swinging it.

My children waited patiently throughout our hour-long tour, learning all about the art and the history of the library.

Once my daughter pulled me aside and in a stage whisper said, “It’s been forty-five minutes, and we haven’t even seen any books.”

“Don’t worry,” I assured her. “It’s a library. We’ll get to see books.”

And just a few minutes after, we did get to see books…from the Main Reading Room observation deck a couple of stories up and enclosed in glass. There were rows and rows and rows of books, and my children were practically salivating to get in there with all of them.

And then that was it.

As the tour ended, our tour guide, Harvey, said, “The greatest thing about the Library of Congress is that it’s for everyone! You just need to be sixteen or over and have a valid drivers license or passport to use the reading rooms.”

My daughter asked, “Is there any way someone under sixteen can go into the reading rooms?”

Harvey looked from my son to my daughter and then to me. “No, I’m sorry. Maybe you could ask Congress to make an exception.” Laughter from the rest of the tour group.

It turns out that not only can someone under sixteen not check things out, they can’t even go into the reading rooms. They can’t even, ironically, check books out from the Children’s Literature Center, the contents of which are held in the General Collections, which are only available to those with a readers card, i.e., those over sixteen.

For example, they do, in fact, have Erin Hunter’s books—like her Firestar’s Quest, but you have to request them from the Jefferson or Adams Building Reading Rooms, to which my children do not have access. Screenshot of what you get when you look up Firestar’s Quest in the the LOC online catalog:

My children were not prepared for this.

Crestfallen, we went across the entryway to visit the re-creation of the Jefferson library. There my son looked up at me and began to cry.

“Mommy, he lied.” (“He” meaning Harvey.) “He said that the library is for everyone, but it’s only for people sixteen and older.”

My daughter was more stoic, but still I found myself hugging and comforting my children in the middle of the Library of Congress, surrounded by books they could neither read nor touch.

Luckily there was a Young Readers Center, a room where my kids could sit around reading books that were great for middle-grade readers but lacking for those between the ages of twelve and sixteen. It was like margarine when you’re expecting butter, but it was down an echo-y and very reflective hallway, which they enjoyed. It salvaged the trip for them a little, but the injustice still stings.

At bedtime that night, I told them a story (shamelessly paraphrased from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) about two children and their mom who hid out in a bathroom at the Library of Congress and then snuck out after the library was closed to read books all night in the Main Reading Room. We talked a bit more about how unfair it was that they couldn’t use the library.

“I know Harvey was kind of joking,” I said, “but you really could write to Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey when we get home. And to our representatives. And we can ask all of our friends in different states to write to their representatives in Congress and ask them to change the rules.”

“Senators must get a lot of mail,” my daughter said.

“Yes, they do. But if enough people write, the letters will catch their attention. They’ll think there’s a groundswell of public support for allowing people under the age of sixteen to use the Library of Congress.”

“What’s a ‘groundswell of public support’?”

“Time for bed now, my darlings.”

Raising Readers: Selecting Books

A week or so ago, I wrote about how my spouse and I accidentally created a Reading Culture at our house, and then accidentally inculcated our children into it.

Today, I wanted to write about how our kids get books into their hands. Do they read just what they’re assigned to read by parents and teachers, or do they read only what they pick for themselves? Do my spouse and I limit what they are allowed to read, or do we let them  read whatever printed materials they get their hands on?

In our house, the short answer to both questions is: It’s something in between. Read More

Homeschool – A Day in the Life: Wednesday

Third in a series of prose snapshots of a day in my homeschooling life. This is a reflection of an ideal Wednesday. An actual Wednesday might look a little (or a lot) different. For example, an actual Wednesday may well end with me swearing that we’re not going to watch anymore videos (EVER!) if the kids are going to yell at me and shove each other after they’re done with screen time. However, I prefer to dwell on the ideal rather than the real.

Wednesday is my children’s favorite day. It begins like any other day, but after breakfast, we get dressed, gather our library books, make our list of books to check out that day, and head to the town library.


The kids pick out books until it’s time for the storytime and craft. My daughter has aged out of storytime and craft, but they grandmother her in because she enjoys it so much and wants to be with her brother. The kids dance and sing and listen to stories and get glue and glitter on themselves and me, then we finish picking out books. By 11:30 or 12:00, we finally leave the library 2.5 to 3 hours after we arrived.

CIMG9973At home, lunch is macaroni and cheese because that’s what we eat on Library Day (at least, that’s what my kids eat. I eat a green smoothie, like I eat for nearly every breakfast and lunch). If we drove to the library, we take a short walk around the neighborhood. If we walked, we skip right to the reading. I read a few books, then my daughter and I do a tiny bit of homeschooling—a chapter or three from Life of Fred and flute practice.

Then the kids get to watch videos. I try not to let them watch videos except on Wednesdays. Usually it’s Sesame Street or Super Why! for my son then Wild Kratts for my daughter. I try to encourage them to compromise; I don’t let them watch more than one screen. My son is less choosy about what he watches, so his sister usually gets her choice. While they’re watching I make phone calls or blog or read, then I start dinner.

From dinner on, it’s business as usual: dishes, books, bedtime routine, lights out, mom staying up too late, etc. Or sometimes it’s dishes, books, bedtime routine, mom passes out while putting the boy to bed and wakes up after 11 hours with a crick in her neck and a sense of lost time. Either way, it’s soon on to another day.

ROW80: Halloween Check-in, Library Love, and Indigo Girls

I love library days (usually Wednesdays in our house). The kids and I trek to the library, pick up bags of books, and trek home. Used to be, we’d walk to the library every week. Now that it’s gotten rainier and our book bags have gotten too heavy for the under-basket of the stroller, we’ve been driving. The drive home is the best. The kids are too engrossed in their newly acquired books to care that their mother is behind the wheel in tears belting out Indigo Girls lyrics along with the radio (thank heaven for college radio stations, too).

Tidbit about me: Indigo Girls is the only band I’ve ever seen perform live twice. I stopped listening to them for several years because I was belting out their songs 15 years ago  just before I got a stomach bug and female voices harmonizing over acoustic guitars has made me a little queasy ever since. But then “Least Complicated” came on the radio today, and I didn’t feel ill at all, just flooded with pleasant memories of trying to harmonize with my college roommate in our dorm room or screaming out lyrics at choir parties. So, it looks like the kids get to listen to Indigo Girls!

Today is extra special because there’s the promise of an after-dark walk through the neighborhood with a kangaroo and a firefighter to collect junk food from our neighbors. I’m trying not to ruin the excitement by thinking too deeply about the six pounds of non-fair-trade chocolate I bought to hand out to the ghouls and Buzz Lightyears who come to our door tonight.

Of course, today is triply special. Not only is it Library Day and Halloween, it’s ROW80 Midweek Check-in! I am ecstatic to report that I have written every night so far this week, even Hurricane Night. I don’t know if it’s writing every night that’s put me in a fantastic mood or if the positive mood is what’s gotten me to write every night. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. It’s quite possible the fabulous mood is due at least in part to the anxiety that preceded the hurricane and the relief that came after when we were left relatively unscathed. There seems to be a feeling of celebration throughout our little city, but whether that’s just in my head or because of the hurricane or Halloween or two days off school or some combination, I am not sure.

Happy Halloween!

The Mood-Enhancing Properties of the Library

The Salt Lake City Public Library. The America...
The Salt Lake City Public Library. Marlborough's library isn't as spectacular, but it's enough. (Image via Wikipedia)

Nothing of substance has changed in our situation.

There are still no rentals available, we’re still in the tiny hotel room, the roads around here are still confusing and lacking sidewalks.

The difference today: we went to the library.

The Marlborough Public Library isn’t beautiful and award-winning like the Salt Lake City Public Library. It’s small and the building’s old and it’s oddly provincial for an area that I think of as very scholarly and technologically advanced.

But it is, after all, a library. And libraries for me have always been places to recharge. I know libraries, and I feel at home in them.

My children apparently feel the same way. My son chanted “libaby!” and “liraby!” all morning and threw fits when I tried to explain that we needed to complete certain tasks before going to the library, like eating breakfast and putting on pants.

My daughter is now enrolled in the summer reading program and has Anne of Green Gables she’s going to be working on, along with some Angelina Ballerina books and an Arthur video. My son requested all animal books. He’s got A Giraffe and a Half and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (both of which I find to have diminishing rates of return as they lose their brilliance by about the tenth reading), as well as a nonfiction book about baby elephants.

At this moment, my daughter is reading and my son is napping and the hotel room is quiet. Right now it doesn’t bother me (much) that my room key stops working at least once a day, and the cleaning people haven’t shown up yet and we need clean towels, and we don’t have a place to live, and I don’t know who to send my “intent to homeschool” letter to.

I would venture to say that I could just about shine brightly about the quiet and the sunny weather and the library and the fact that I found my way to the car wash so our little car isn’t covered in 2400 miles of road grime anymore. I’m going to sit here and soak in all of this and maybe have a cup of coffee, and then I’ll jump back into the housing issue again. Blacker than black, we have to pay for the hotel room because our Utah house has sold, and then we have to move into the house with the 7-foot ceilings.

Really, that’s not so bad. At least the house with the 7-foot ceilings is easy walking distance from the library.

Ahh, Friday…

NaNoWriMo Day 12 word count: 20,906

I got a good hour of writing in at the library today, paid all of my overdue fines, picked up a book I had on hold (How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman), and learned that as long as there’s a lid on it, I can have a drink anywhere in the library building. So I had a decaf Americano while I wrote.

Coffee and writing just seem to go together for me. Although I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

I’ve yet to figure out why my right knee is swollen and making crunching noises when I walk down stairs, so I didn’t run today. I took a walk outside, but I would really like to run.

Tonight I found myself using one of those fun phrases that moms get to say: “Please stop licking your brother.”

I also had a pleasant conversation with a little boy who appeared to be about six years old. He and his older brother were waiting at the elevator at the same time I was while their mom was bringing their baby brother along in the stroller. The six-year-old said, “Brrr! It’s cold!”

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“It’s really cold when you’re not wearing a jacket.”

I agreed.

Then he got a huge smile on his face.

“It would be even colder if you went out in the wintertime with no clothes on at all! Then you’d be like–” and here he took one step, eyes wide, and stopped, as though he’d frozen in the act of walking out his front door.

“You’d freeze solid if you went outside during winter with no clothes on!” I said. “That’s why we wear clothes and jackets in the wintertime.”

“Yeah!” he agreed.

And then the elevator opened.