Books Read Amidst A Pandemic

I’ve kept a list of books I’ve read since I was about 8. I don’t think I’ve listed every single book I’ve ever read, but it’s pretty close. It’s interesting for me to go back over the list and look at trends…which years in adulthood I’ve read the least, which I’ve read the most, and what was going on in my life that dictated those changes.

Some books I barely remember and others I can picture where I was sitting and what time of year it was and even what I was eating when I was reading.

This year, when everything first shut down in March I was reading Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. I had read Into Thin Air several years ago, and that book was so exciting, so compelling that I couldn’t put it down, so I gave Wild a go. Into The Wild was not nearly as exciting for me, but the survivalist in me enjoyed reading about the true story of a free-spirited young man who desperately wanted to live off the land on his own and paid the price for choices made. What will forever make this book stand out in my mind is that I read it amidst the backdrop of an unfolding global pandemic, stuck at home while the protagonist singlehandedly took on the world and left everything behind.

In the middle of reading Wild I had put Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel on hold at the library, just before it closed down completely for several months. I thought I was out of luck to get it any time soon, but my friend who works there saw my hold come in after the shutdown, asked her boss for permission, checked the book out to me, and hand delivered it to my door! What lovely service! This book was recommended to me by friends who know me and know that I love apocalyptic/dystopian/survival and now pandemic stories. Y’all, the similarities between the pandemic in this book and Covid are uncanny and sent shivers down my spine as I sat in my front yard in the sun reading for hours and ignoring my family one Sunday afternoon. I also appreciated how the book wove in timelines of various overlapping characters that spanned from pre- to post-pandemic.

A few books later I read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah because a friend of mine thought I’d like it so she lent me her copy. If I remember correctly, she said she thought of me because it had “strong female characters,” and boy howdy, am I glad she did! This book was, hands down, the best book I’ve read in at least two years. For some reason I have it in my head that I don’t like historical fiction, but I think I need to recalibrate that notion based on this example. This book was mainly set in WWII era France and focused on how two sisters struggled and fought and lived through various atrocities. I find that time period extremely compelling, as does my husband. Usually he’s focused on the military side of things while I love to learn about the political/psychological/socioeconomic aspects of civilian upheaval, struggle, and survival, and this book did exactly that for me. This book was so moving that it had me outright sobbing at more than one point and it read like a movie. Five stars; go read it now.

After Nightingale, I needed something extra light so I picked up The Maze Runner by James Dashner from the Little Free Library. It was definitely written for teen boys, but I enjoyed the original dystopian mystery concept and it went quickly as a nice palate-cleanser. I watched the movie of it afterwards. I wasn’t intrigued enough to continue on with the series, but your tween cousin might be.

A bit later on, I escaped back into the world of Panem and it was glorious! I read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. As devout fans know, I was skeptical that this book could live up to the original Hunger Games trilogy and in my opinion it did a fine job, although the plot started to lag 3/4 of the way through. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know young Corelanus Snow and I was singing The Hanging Tree for weeks afterward.

Towards the second half of this year I started to re-read the Twilight series, which I hadn’t done since getting married and having kids. I desperately needed an escape from the world and current events. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were many details I’d forgotten about, which made the experience feel new again. Of course, after Twilight I read the brand new Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer, which is the same plot as the first book told from the point of view of the mind-reading vampire, Edward. Highly entertaining and satisfying both for my inner teeny-bopper and for previous me who read the leaked incomplete manuscript of this book years ago and has been lusting after the conclusion ever since.

Sprinkled in there around Halloween, I read Bird Box and its sequel, Malorie, both by Josh Malerman. Bird Box was much creepier than the movie. Although Malorie was interesting in its attempt to answer the question of now what? at the end of the first, it fell flat for me.

Other special mentions:

  • I re-read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell for the first time since it was read aloud to me by my 4th grade student teacher. This book is an amazing jem: it features an incredibly strong and determined young female protagonist AND – what escaped me before – it’s based on a true story (of a girl left alone on her native island for years)!
  • I read Little Weirds by Jenny Slate because I like her standup and I find her hilarious and quirky and delightfully anxious, but…I hated the book. It was too weird for me.
  • I got my hands on a copy of The Power by Naomi Alderman and shoo-dang, this was a fun read. Women and girls now have the power to produce electrical current through their skin and they use it to stop taking shit from men?! SIGN ME UP! It didn’t quite go the direction I wanted, but I loved the concept. And interesting that this is a book-within-a-book, where the story is told from the future as a flashback of sorts. Read it, and you’ll get what I mean.

I could go on and on and I didn’t mean for this post to be so long but I LOVE BOOKS and the year of the pandemic calls for many.

Next up on my list: A Promised Land by Barack Obama.

What have you read in 2020 that you’ve loved? Hated? Used as toilet paper?


Day 29 – The second to last day

I’ll Eat When The Cheer Is Complete

At the beginning of this long holiday weekend, I was all I’m gonna turn a corner in my life. We’re gonna bring in some Christmas cheer and I’m gonna stop watching scary movies that prevent me from sleeping and I’m gonna get gift shopping done early sos I can kick back and enjoy watching this yule log of a year burn, baby, burn. Or something like that.

To kick off the holiday season right, but also so I could move on with my life, my husband and I watched our last 3 hours of The Haunting of Hill House right after the kids went to bed on Thanksgiving. Tis the season!! This show scared us so badly that we were dragging out the time between watching each episode and I just needed to rip this bandaid off right quick. Overall, I did enjoy the season even though I felt like it stole a few days from my life and they are now residing in the Red Room with everyone else.

The next day I asked my husband if he wanted to watch this one random movie I got from the library and he said foolishly said sure. I picked it up and showed it to him, and I have a disease, you guys. True to form, I had chosen a zombie flick because it had the word pandemic on it. It was called Alone, and it came out this year – how did I manage to miss this?! The movie was just okay, and it involved an interesting take on the classic zombie genre. Because my nerves were still fried from Hill House, I jumped way more than I should have, but I persevered, my friends. I don’t expect my family and friends to associate with a quitter.

So today – today – was for sure the day. We were gonna create some motherfucking cheer, goddamnit. We got up and had pancakes, which never fail to make my kids happy. We attended a surprise birthday car parade which was lovely and joyful. To continue the cheerful momentum, I hesitantly asked my husband not to freak out, but that I wanted to decorate for Christmas aaaaaand – gasp – play Christmas music. This, this is simply not done in our house. My husband has this thing where he won’t celebrate a holiday until the first of the month of said holiday. Lately, I’ve been asking him ever so sweetly to stop CRUSHING MY JOY when we see Christmas lights go up in the neighborhood or hear sleighbells on the television. Today, he graciously allowed me to usher in some gaiety after I shouted at him that THIS WAS ALL THE HOPE WE HAD LEFT.

I started getting the bins out and my kids actually helped put up some decorations. I left the fake, lit garlands I usually wrap around the banisters until last. I was getting a little peckish but I was determined to finish the job and so I pranced over and decided to plug them in – just to make sure they worked, you know, as a formality – before I strung them up. First one lit up the room. Excellent. The second – crap. Suddenly, my empty stomach felt cavernous. The dull, annoying headache I’d had pounded up my brainstem and beat me behind the eyes. Oh yeah, was it that time of the month too? WHY THE FUCK NOT?!

Not to be deterred in the slightest, I proceeded to expertly wiggle and jiggle each and every bulb, all while muttering devil-words under my breath. My husband could sense a change in the atmosphere in the house, and gingerly suggested I take a break and get something to eat. I’LL EAT WHEN THE CHEER IS COMPLETE was my rabid response.

Knowing my limits as a rational human being, I screamed at allowed my husband to take over to troubleshoot the light issue. Then, for reasons still unknown to me, I decided that only fools eat food or take breaks, and I proceeded to organize the liquor cabinet. This only enraged me more when I: 1) couldn’t reach the back of the cabinet and had to ask for help, and 2) couldn’t open a jar of 10 year old homemade booze that we’d never drink and had to ask for help, and 3) banged my head so hard on the open cabinet door that I had to stand there for a good 30 seconds to let the pain pass. Sigh.

After I Marie Kondo-ed the booze (it all sparked joy, save for the 10 year old Baileys that had chunks floating in it, may you rest in peace), I had enough good sense to make and eat some noodles. By that time, my husband had exhausted all options with the lights and he promptly ordered some new ones on the internet because he loves me and he effectively saved Christmas!!


Day 28

Sit with the ache in your heart

This Thanksgiving marks the one year mark since I have seen my parents in person.

This is the longest I have ever – EVER – been away from them and it sucks.

Last year was the first year my husband and I decided to host Thanksgiving. In years past, we traveled to California from Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with both our families (my husband and I are from the same hometown, so going home means we get to see everyone in one trip) and we made it a point to stay as long as we could. Travel is expensive, and since having one and then two kids, it’s a huuuuge pain in the ass. If we were gonna go anywhere, we were gonna stay and make the trip super worthwhile.

We opted to host last year because my son had started kindergarten and we couldn’t take the 2 week trip without him missing school. We invited a bunch of family, knowing we were deviating from the norm and that most would probably have other plans already. My parents were the ones who chose to fly up and join us. We had a fun visit and a pretty chill Thanksgiving meal. My mom helped out by making her amazingly cheesy shredded potato casserole. I struggled to take a selfie of everyone sitting around the table, but somehow I managed. We had no idea it would be the last holiday we’d spend together for a very long time.

My parents had another visit planned around…I wanna say…April? We all mutually decided to cancel; it wasn’t worth the risk of anyone getting sick. My mom has a preexisting condition and so her health is at a higher risk than most. Also, both of them are over 65.

Ever since, we’ve been FaceTiming but y’all know that’s not the same. My son is able to write real letters now, and we do that from time to time too. My daughter would contribute her spirited artwork. There’s just no way to write enough or color enough to fit yourself into an envelope and mail all of you to where you need to be.

For me, this Thanksgiving will be one to grieve a benchmark of time spent apart. We’ll be grieving the loss of safety, normalcy, etc. I’ll also be giving thanks that, although apart, my family is all in good health. Our sacrifice, and the sacrifice of everyone around us, is for good reason. It’s so that we can all be together again in the future to celebrate and share our lives and swap germs and not take that closeness for granted ever again.

I know this lockdown is hard, probably one of the hardest things we’ll do as a global community in our generation, but resist the temptation to let down your guard and get too close to those not in your household this holiday season. Think about the long-term consequences. Think about how you’d feel if a social gathering landed a person you love in the hospital. The risk is not worth it. I encourage you to sit with the loss. Sit with the ache in your heart. I feel it too. The good news is that it won’t last forever.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be thinking about my parents and making plans for the future. Because if everyone does their part, then we’ll all have a future to celebrate together.


Day 24

The World Is Not Ending

I’ve realized I need to remind myself that the world is not ending.

Somewhere along the way, I figured all the stores are closed and school is closed, so I should be too.

This is it. Accept it. We don’t get nice things anymore.

But then I hear other people are going out.

Having experiences.

Seeing people.

Doing things.

Living their lives.

And then I remember. Huh. Maybe I should too?

Staying home is nice.

Safe.

Warm.

Comfy.

But is this what I want?

I’m so tired.

Weary.

Sad.

Numb.

But is this what I want?

Sometimes I don’t know what I want.

Oftentimes I change my mind.

Or my mind changes me.

Just remember, self: the world is not ending

And neither are you.


Day 22: Pepper Day!

That’s What She Shed

My house is plenty big enough for 4 people and a cat under normal circumstances. But decidedly not during a pandemic.

My husband has been working from home since March, and he set up his workspace in our master bedroom. It’s really the only space in the house that makes sense for him to work and get anything done.

My son does his distance learning at the dining table in our open-plan ground floor. This also makes the most sense, as I need to be within earshot if he needs help.

My kids pretty much rule the entire ground floor during waking hours. They’re either doing school or pulling toys out of the playroom or running around screaming like banshees or using the TV so they’ll stay still and quiet for more than 10 seconds at a time.

Which means…I’ve lost any personal space in this house that I may have had at one time. Since we’ve been home for this pandemic, I’ve taken to using my son’s room for zoom yoga or privacy in the afternoons if I need to nap or read or sneak snacks or ugly cry in relative peace. I guess it beats hiding in the bathroom…but now that I think about it, at least I can lock the bathroom door. Sigh.

I’ve started fantasizing both in my head and to my husband about wanting a room all to myself in our next house, whenever that may happen.

Me: …you know, kinda like a She Shed, only it’d be a room in the house where I can paint. You could build it for me like Noah did in The Notebook!

H: I might grow a beard, but I’m not taking off my shirt. What’s a She Shed?

Me: You know! Like a man cave, only for the lady of the house. I need a room where I can paint or read or watch a movie that’s just mine.

H: Sounds doable.

Me: Yeah! I’d need a TV and storage for my crafts, and a couch and shelves for all my books. And a table to paint. It would be great to have like a little sink so I don’t have to leave to wash brushes and OOH A MINI FRIDGE FOR MY SNACKS. Maybe a microwave?

H: This doesn’t sound like a room anymore.

Me: Perhaps a tiny water closet with a toilet so then I wouldn’t have to leave the room AT ALL and INTERRUPT MY FLOW.

H: Let’s not talk about your flow.

Me: Doesn’t that sound NICE?!

H: …are you asking to move out?

Me: No!

H: …

Me: Well…maybe we should just look for a place with a detached guest suite, you know, just in case.

H: Just in case.

Me: And I’m gonna need a door that locks. Thanks!


Day 18

Luck Has Nothing to do With It

When I’m chatting with ladies who don’t know me all that well, who are only acquaintances, sometimes the topic of household duties comes up.

Oh, I’m so tired of cooking! Say, what are your favorite recipes to make for your family?

Internally, my eyes roll back in their sockets before I respond.

Actually…my husband cooks in our house.

And then I brace myself for the two-pronged response that I almost always get:

First is SHOCK: Whoa! What?!

Second is: Wow, you’re so lucky! I wish my husband would do that!

I have so many issues with this. First of all, just because I’m female and I’m a wife and a mom does not mean that I like to cook, or that I cook at all. That bias is still present for me, hence the jolt of weird guilt that goes through me when I end up confessing shirking my domestic womanly duties.

Second of all, luck has nothing to do with this arrangement. I chose a dude who doesn’t adhere to rigid gender roles, just like me. I find that attractive in a partner. Also, the way we negotiate the household duties is based on practicality and it’s on a fluid, ongoing basis. We do what we’re good at, what we like, and what works better for our family. Why the frick should I cook simply because I’m female? Doesn’t make any horsesense to me.

Third, it makes me so mad that it’s flippin 2020 and we’re still having these conversations. And the pandemic is only making things worse, as I saw a headline recently that reported several million American women left the workforce since March. As for me, I didn’t leave it, but it sure as heck delayed my entry back into it. Because, while other countries have social/government run safety nets, the United States has women.

I recently saw the interview Melinda Gates did with Dave Letterman on his Netflix show. In it, she said that when her oldest kid was in preschool, her husband Bill and her decided that he would drive their kid to school two days a week. That’s how they negotiated the household duties that would work for their family. As the school year went on, Melinda noticed that more and more dads were also driving their kids. When she spoke to the other moms, they said that once they saw Bill driving his daughter, they went home and told their husbands that if Bill fucking Gates could drive his kid to school, those husbands could, too.

And so. If my husband can cook dinner like a boss, yours can too. Let’s show each other that gender roles are bogus and all they do is hold us back, men and women both.

Luck has nothing to do with it.


Day 14

A Sigh of Relief

I woke up around 8:45am Pacific time this morning.

I could hear my kids playing downstairs and my husband was stirring next to me. I was enjoying the moment, just lying there, peaceful and rested and warm.

My husband grabbed his phone and started checking things. He thrust his phone in my face. I could tell it was a picture of Biden, but without my glasses I couldn’t read it, and so he read me the headline.

Then I grabbed my phone and, instead of reading the news, I first saw a barrage of celebratory gifs from my friends. I started laughing and couldn’t stop. It was such a release, the laughter.

I looked at the time and realized I should get moving if I was going to make it to my Saturday morning zoom yoga class. I’ve been missing yoga lately, eating way too much Halloween candy, my nightly teeth-grinding has ramped up. I’ve been wound really tight lately, as many of us have.

I crammed breakfast into my mouth and shut myself in my son’s room and logged in. It was especially hard for my mind to stay in the here-and-now during the class. It was running all over the place, thinking about the future and how Kamala made history and ending this pandemic and the laundry and oh I need to clean and do all the things.

But my body. It’s hard to describe other than a release. I’ve been doing yoga so long that the poses and the flow feel extremely natural in my body. For a long time I haven’t had to think about what comes next, my body just does it. It’s literally muscle memory. And the simple act of moving my body broke all these tiny dams within me that were storing stress. worry. trauma. pain.

The roof of my mouth and my jaw started to ache, from the nightly grinding. My glutes relaxed and let go. My right shoulder gets gummed up frequently and that, too, started aching. My core woke up and felt alive, activated, welcoming the use. My knees and back were popping, crunching with the movements. I’m developing a headache as I type this, still sitting on my yoga mat.

But somehow this all feels…good. Or at least appropriate. I wouldn’t be surprised if tears develop for me later on, another way my body might purge. Reminds me of how people tend to get sick while on vacation, when their bodies are finally allowed to relax.

I’ve seen footage from friends around the country, some of which are marching, dancing in the streets. I’m doing that in spirit right now. I’m right there with you, finally breathing a sigh of relief.


Day 7

Team Cheer Peppers Dumpster Fire

This November, I’m going to post once a day.

Why, you ask?

Because I am a blogger, and in November we wear pink we post for NaBloPoMo, or National Blogging Post Month, or more affectionately called NanoPolano, aka Team Cheer Peppers. Plus, it’s also the pandemic-social-distancing edition, and I have nothing better to do, my friends. I mean, this year is already a world-class shit show, and so why not add a little class and sass to this dumpster fire? Why not indeed.

If you’ve been on this ride with me before, bless you, because things tend to get hairy towards the end (or in the middle if I’m being honest) when I rapidly run out of writing ideas.

And, as the saying goes, it takes a village to write a blog, so this is where you come in, my dear Psychos.

  1. Please comment below with compelling, witty, and/or thoughtful ideas of what I should write about in the coming month. Winning ideas will be featured on the blog accompanied with virtual hugs and kisses and an imaginary cookie.
  2. If you have the time and would like to support other bloggers on Team Cheer Peppers, please check them out in all their glory: Team Cheer Peppers 2020!

Wish me luck, dear Psychos. Lord knows I’m going to need it.

Dig Even Deeper

On Monday night, a severe windstorm ripped through Oregon and caused the already-burning wildfires to explode westward and threaten many communities. My area is still technically on alert, just in case we may need to evacuate, although it seems that the threat of fire has diminished. What we’re left with is putrid smelling smoke that has settled into our valley and is seeping into homes. I’ve heard that the hotels in my town are full of evacuees from neighboring rural communities. Besides getting groceries, the mail, and gas for the car, my family hasn’t left the house in 4 days.

My outdoor yoga class was canceled. Meditation class was canceled. Farmer’s market was canceled. The library closed. School was canceled. My husband’s workplace closed for the remainder of the week. The only good part- apparently Oregonians will only pump their own gas during a pandemic firestorm. Mmm, the smell of sweet, sweet anarchy.

This suuuuuucks. Just when I didn’t think that things could get much worse, holy crapnuggets they did. Now I find myself just wishing, bargaining (with whom, I have no idea) that things would go back to how they were last week, when we had pandemic with sun and blue skies. Either that, or for the rain to come early. Imagine that, me wishing for rain.

If nothing else, all this shit just forces me…us…to dig even deeper into ourselves to cope. In whatever way we can. For me, often times it’s shutting out the world. Often it’s getting creative in how we entertain the kids.

I find that I’m giving myself more and more permission to do what feels good. Staying up late. Sleeping in. Eating sugar. Having more caffeine. Numbing out with really craptastic TV. I’m trying to choose coping skills that aren’t completely unhealthy. Finding a balance looks quite different when you’re standing on a sinking ship, with one end submerged in water and the other bobbing up in the air.

My world keeps shrinking, and with that comes a narrowed, more focused view of what’s important. I got an email about my son’s boyscout pack yesterday and IT WAS FULL OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! This year is gonna be so great you guys!! My eyes glazed over and I sent it flying into a folder where I wouldn’t have to look at it. Not important right now.

So. This brings me to the mental list of things that I find myself newly thankful for.

I am thankful that our power didn’t go out.

I am thankful that the outside temperature has dropped, so we can shut off our AC and still be comfortable indoors.

I am thankful that we got outside and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air when it was here. Boy do we miss it now.

I am thankful that we own a beautiful home with plenty of space for my family.

I am thankful that we had N95s, a respirator, and air filters before all the smoke hit.

I am thankful for firefighters who are putting their lives on the line to save human lives, animal lives, wildlife, and property.

I am thankful that we haven’t had to evacuate. We’ve been able to hunker down in the comfort of our own home.

I am thankful.

Rage. fear. desperation.

My little girl was almost hit by a car today. Almost.

We were on our way home, crossing a busy street. My son was on his bike, my daughter on her scooter and I was on foot. We looked left, we looked right. No cars. We were in a crosswalk. We did everything right.

To the right of the crosswalk is a traffic circle, and I saw a car whip around and it wasn’t slowing down. By this time, I was halfway across, my son was behind me, and my daughter was ahead of me.

I screamed, STOP, [HER NAME], STOP!!!

My girl started to slow down and I lurched forward, groping for her, even though she was still out of reach. I later told my husband that we’d both have been hit if the driver hadn’t slammed on her brakes.

If there was ever a time when I felt like a crazed, full-blown Mama Bear, this was it.

JESUS CHRIST!! I screamed at the car.

SLOW DOWN!!! I bellowed as I threw my arms wide in rage, fear, and desperation. I’m sure my eyes were red and smoke puffed out of my ears. Certainly, adrenaline was pumping through my system.

The driver gave a gesture that I interpreted as apologetic, but it all happened so fast. I just wanted to get back home where we’re safe.

This is several hours later, and I’m still trying to shake the rage. fear. desperation.

A similar incident happened a few months ago, but I was able to shake that one off much sooner. The differences: we weren’t in a pandemic, and I didn’t feel so constantly vulnerable, thinking about health and loved ones and safety and loss. That time, I was close enough to her that I grabbed her hood and yanked her back. Even if the car had continued to run the stop sign, I had successfully pulled her out of the way. Lastly, everyone was moving slower: me, my daughter, the car. It was far less scary, in a far less scary time.

Also a contributing factor: I’m currently experimenting with different cold brew ratios/recipes/techniques and dear baby jesus, I think I made this last batch way too freaking strong. Today I’ve been jittery and strung out. My husband says I’ve been talking a mile a minute today, buthowisthatpossibleIdon’tknowwhatyou’retalkingabout.

Not to mention that I’ve had two nightmares in the past week, one of which was technically a nightmare within a fucking nightmare (so I guess that makes it three nightmares in all). I shit you not, I had a nightmare and in the dream I went to sleep, had yet another nightmare, “woke up,” BUT WAS STILL IN A NIGHTMARE. When I woke up for realsies, you’d better believe it took me a hot minute to be quite certain that I was conscious and the world before me was indeed real. I think it’s high time I made myself a totem, BECAUSE HOW DO I KNOW I’M NOT BEING INCEPTED?! Leo?! JGL???

As a surprise to absolutely no one, I’m also knee-deep in a violent dystopian novel. My choices amaze even myself.

Soooooooo there you have it. Too much, too often I feel like the world is burning and I have a front row seat. I can feel the warm glow on my face and I can see the ash falling from the sky.

Everyone, just please do me a favor and SLOW DOWN when you drive. Check the crosswalks. Then check them again. Thanks.

And go easy on the cold brew.