What I’m Reading: April 2017

Two weeks until graduation and I somehow still have had time to (mostly) devour two books, both of which I got from the library when I knew I shouldn’t have.  But the high quality of these two books makes up for any time I maybe should have spent doing something else.

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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents follows four sisters from the Dominican Republic who are forced to move to New York with their families in 1960 due to political strife.  Told from the perspective of all four girls, in 15 separate but intertwined stories, the story is written in backwards chronological order.  Secrets alluded to in the first few stories are slowly revealed as you read through the chapters, as the girls get younger.  With every chapter, you understand a little more.

It took me a chapter or two to really get into this book, because the first chapter has so many inside jokes and allusions you just don’t know about yet.  But the writing is incredible.  Alvarez does an amazing job of making the characters realistic as they get younger.  The way their understanding of the world changes throughout the book is fascinating, and each story intertwines a little more with the next until finally, at the end, the story is complete.  This is one I would love to study in a classroom setting, or in a book club.  This is a book that needs to be discussed and relished.  It was unlike anything I’ve read before, and unlike many of the books that draw my eye, it is one that can be read multiple times without getting too predictable.  There will always be something else to pick up on.

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The Namesake is about a boy named Gogol whose family moves to the US from Calcutta.  Gogol is the main character, but the book follows his parents just as much as it tells his story.  It’s a growing up novel, but with a wide perspective.  It’s very similar to books by Alan Brennert in that the scope of the novel is very wide, focusing on many decades and many people.  But it is not overwhelming.  It’s written in a comforting, quiet tone that immediately makes you feel as if you are part of the Ganguli family.  I haven’t quite finished it at the time this will post, but it is one that I can tell will have an impact.  The style is also somewhat reminiscent of The Kite Runner, except not as sad.  I also realized that this book has been made into a movie, so it is definitely one I’ll have to try to find and watch.

There you have it — a shorter what I’m reading post than usual, but two books that come very highly recommended.  It doesn’t really matter if these are your favorite genre or not — if you like books with good writing, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy these.

 

 

Goal Update: April 2017

We’re halfway through April, so I’m technically late for a goal update! I have only 2 weeks left of college (!), and I remember that during my last goal update I unofficially culled some goals, so this will likely be a bit shorter than normal. 

Life Goals

  1. Be intentional about communication, especially with roommates. Well, I am glad I made this goal, because otherwise I may not have said anything to my roommate when I came home one night to see her boyfriend, who I’ve never met, drunk and standing in doorway of my apartment in only his boxers. To say that was an uncomfortable, infuriating situation is a huge understatement. But because I did have this goal, and because my boyfriend, who was with me when I happened upon that lovely scene, was also very angry, I quelled my hatred of confrontation and talked to her the next day. And because she is a nice person, she apologized, and has talked to her boyfriend. And we are both moving out in three weeks, so hopefully it won’t happen again.
  2. Get physically stronger, or failing that, just don’t be a couch potato. This was one of the goals I almost threw out the window, but modified instead. However, since getting a new phone, I discovered a fabulous yoga app. I expect to have more specific goals to use it when I start my new round of goals after graduation! I may even give the app its own review post, because I am loving it. 
  3. Read more non-white authors. I’m honestly not even actively trying to find these anymore, since I already had several great ones on my TBR in March. But great-sounding books keep appearing in my path, and they keep being by non-white authors. I’m not complaining. Check out my TBR.
  4. Food: Cook, and stick to $15/month on coffee. Cooking is now an opportunistic thing. But I have stuck to my coffee budget, even though I’m already at my limit for April due to a $6 boutique coffee shop honey lavender latte. No regrets. 

    Education/Career Goals

    1. COB Ambassadors: all goals on this have been killed. RIP. 
    2. Apply to 5ish jobs a month. Yep, still doing this. Doesn’t seem like it’s paying off, though. It’s starting to stress me out. 

    That’s it for the goals. Here’s to the home stretch to graduation. 

    In Which I Regret Keeping Spiders in My Room

    The apartment I live in is a great college apartment.  It’s cheap and close to campus, and that’s all I need. But it’s a bit old and surrounded by trees, so since I moved in I’ve had a bit of a bug problem.

    First, it was slugs. There’s a door in my room that opens to a wooden deck, which, when I moved in in January of last year, was covered in leaves. Naturally, this leaf pile was home to lots of bugs. This was fine, except when it rained. When it rained, slugs would find their way to my not-so-greatly-sealed door, think, Oh! It’s not raining anymore! and proceed to crawl around on my carpet. I’m not about to squish any slugs, because ew, so more than one slug almost thirsted to death trapped under a mug until I could get my boyfriend to throw it outside. 

    In the spring, I swept all the leaves off my deck and put a line of salt on the carpet right inside, and that solved the problem. 

    But then it was beetles. That summer, it was very hot — one of the worst droughts came through the area than it has seen in years. Somehow, a colony of lightning bug-looking things found their way into our front door jamb, seeking the cool air. We had out landlord come spray, but that didn’t deter them. Usually they’d stay outside, but occasionally a few would have a meet up in the living room. It was the winter that finally got rid of them. 

    After that, I didn’t see a whole lot of bugs for awhile. One or two small spiders made their way into the corners of my room, by the back door, but honestly, I don’t mind spiders. If they’re small, they generally stay on their webs and kill smaller bugs. It’s a mutually beneficial situation, so I tend to leave them. 

    The real problem appeared about three weeks ago. One day, my boyfriend and I were getting ready to leave my apartment. I opened my closet door to get a jacket, and disturbed something near it. INTO MY CLOSET ran a 2.5 inch centipede (and I’m not exaggerating on size). I was horrified. We looked around for a while, but it had completely disappeared. 

    Last night, I hadn’t forgotten about it, or my spiders, either. Over the weeks, a few more had joined ranks in the ceiling corners, and the original ones were getting bigger. As I was about to go to bed, I noticed a really huge spider on the  ceiling dangerously close to my bed. I finally decided it was time for them to go.

    I prepared for my battle well. I’m only 5’1″, so I got my kitchen stool. I also grabbed a huge wad of toilet paper so I wouldn’t have to feel the spiders as I squished them. So I went for the big spider first. But even with my stool, I couldn’t reach him. I tried my desk chair next, which was iffy since it’s a swivel chair. I didn’t want him to fall on my head, so I put the chair as far away as I could and reached out and smacked. 

    Success. I felt him squish into my nail, which was gag inducing, but he died. And he fell on my floor. So I thought, hey, my tissue paper is still clean. I’ll kill the rest with this. But even with the chair, I was too short for the rest. 

    I had to resort to our straw broom. I swiflty stabbed each spider with the straws, then brushed their bodies onto the floor so I could collect them all and throw them away. (Y’all probably think I’m so gross for having all these spiders in my room. I am.) But once I got done killing all the spiders, I looked at my floor and realized the whole thing was kind of dirty. 

    No problem, I thought. Neither of my roommates were home yet, so I’d just vacuum my room real quick. My floor would be clean and the spiders would be gone. So I went and got the vacuum, and turned it on. 

    I vacuumed by my room door first. Then I went toward my desk. I picked up my backpack to get it off the floor, and as I returned to the vacuum, from under my desk RAN THE CENTIPEDE FROM THREE WEEKS AGO. 

    I screamed a high pitched shit! and decided to chase it with the vacuum, because what else could I do? 

    I finally got it under the vacuum, and it didn’t come out. I paused, and looked in the dust reservoir, which is clear plastic. I thought it might be crawling around in there, and I wanted to be sure. But I didn’t see it. 

    I wanted to look around, so I propped up the vacuum handle. And from underneath the rollers, out popped the centipede — minus all its legs. And that is how I killed the centipede. Safe to say, from now on, I will not be keeping bugs of any kind. 

    A Non-Tech Person’s Case for Android

    I’ve owned a total of 2 smartphones in my life. One was my iPhone 5, which my parents gave me for my high school graduation. The other is the Google Pixel I’m currently using to type this blog post, which I received only a little over 24 hours ago — again, from my parents for graduation.

    Lord knows I could not have afforded to replace my iPhone, so I’m doubly thankful that my parents did. After having my iPhone for 4 years, it had gotten persnickety. It was on an exponential decline. It glitched all the time. Apps took forever to open, if they opened at all. Neither camera focused anymore. The screen was coming off. And on the last few phone calls I got, it thought headphones were plugged in when they weren’t, so I couldn’t hear a thing.

    But that’s to be expected from an old phone. My real bone to pick with Apple is more than that. The longer I had the phone, the more I learned I was an Android person. (Having an Android guy as a boyfriend helped, too.) I found I didn’t like Apple’s exclusivity with charger types. I was annoyed with the storage options. And as I used other people’s Androids, I felt my phone was so cluttered with all the apps on the screen.

    So my boyfriend helped me shop around, and I ended up with the Pixel, which so far I love. Even though I’ve only had it a day or two, here’s why I already much prefer it over iOS.

    • Customization. This is the age old argument for Android, but it’s true. With an iPhone, you don’t have a lot of control over where apps go. If you want some hidden, you have to put them on another screen. On Android, I can have only my most used, quick access apps on my front page.  I have a weather widget displaying the temperature. I could add my WordPress stats if I wanted. And apps I don’t use as often I don’t have to put anywhere, and Android will hide them for me. But when I do need them, all I have to do is swipe up.
    • Voice commands. This may not be true for all Android devices, but the voice controlled assistant for the Pixel is incredible. She understands everything I’m saying, and gives me relevant solutions. Siri did not do that for me at all.
    • Charging accessories. Apple has always annoyed me. Why is it so special that iPhones must have their own charger type? Android devices use either micro USB or USB type C, which are both universal cables – ie, you can also use it for your tablet, or your camera, or your mom’s dumb phone. (The type C cord is just starting to become the standard, so it does only work with newer devices. But regardless, it will be becoming the industry standard for tech – something the lightning charger can never boast.)

    That about hits my limit on tech knowledge, so I’ll let actual tech nerds take it over from here. But the truth stands: I’m a converted Android person now, and I couldn’t be happier.

    Book Review: Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower by Tom Krattenmaker

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    Goodreads Synopsis:

    Tom Krattenmaker is part of a growing conversation centered at Yale University that acknowledges—and seeks to address—the abiding need for meaning and inspiration in post-religious America. What, they ask, gives a life meaning? What constitutes a life well led?

    In Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower, Krattenmaker shares his surprising conclusion about where input and inspiration might best be found: in the figure of Jesus. And Jesus, not only as a good example and teacher, but Jesus as the primary guide for one’s life.

    Drawing on sociological research, personal experience, and insights from fifteen years studying and writing on religion in American public life, Krattenmaker shows that in Jesus, nonreligious people like himself can find unique and compelling wisdom on how to honor the humanity in ourselves and others, how to build more peaceful lives, how generosity can help people and communities create more abundance, how to break free from self-defeating behaviors, and how to tip the scales toward justice.

    In a time when more people than ever are identifying as atheist or agnostic, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower is a groundbreaking and compelling work that rediscovers Jesus–and our own best selves–for the world of today.

    Before I mention anything else: if you are a professing, practicing Christian, this is probably not the book for you.  Krattenmaker is not a Christian himself, and is open about this.  He evens explicitly mentions that since he is not a Christian, he is fine with taking parts of a whole from the Jesus story and learning from those parts alone (ie, not in context with the entirety of the Bible).  He tries to take more of a historical, sociological perspective than an internal one.  But if it is against your beliefs to study the Jesus story this way, this book will likely make you more angry than anything.

    That said, I enjoyed this.  Krattenmaker takes Jesus out of the Christian context and studies what has been written about him in order to gain some perspective for his own life.  The book is separated into topics such as sexuality, religious tolerance, and politics, and Krattenmaker uses specific anecdotes from the Gospels to illustrate how Jesus reacted to different situations.  The overall message is that Jesus acted differently than most humans tend to.  While we separate the world into “us” versus “them,” Jesus didn’t see it that way, and treated everyone individually.  In his eyes, every single person had value, and he interacted with them as such.  That, Krattenmaker says, is what all humans should strive for.

    So if I liked it, why did I just give it 3 stars?  For starters, Krattenmaker tends to repeat himself.  Some things do bear repeating, but it felt to me like he kept restating the same few ideas over and over.  Perhaps this is because he used only 4 books from the Bible — the Gospels — but then, this makes sense because those are the only primary accounts of Jesus’ actual life.  The rest of the Bible deals with events before and after.  So even though I liked what Krattenmaker had to say, I found myself skimming the book after the first few pages of each chapter.

    As for the final verdict, I would recommend this to anyone struggling with religion or lack of it.  This book can be used as a jumping-off point for those who are floundering.  It highlights the fact that Jesus really is a great example for everyone, even if the Christian church isn’t always.  If taken to heart, the principles detailed allow for the better understanding of others, and that’s never a bad thing.  This is something I would even give to a Christian who is disheartened or dissatisfied with their faith.  Taking Jesus out of the religious context, while definitely not orthodox, can be a good reminder of why Christianity began in the first place.

    This book was provided to me for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.  Image from Goodreads.

    Finishing Well

    It’s been somewhat of a pattern in my life to tire of projects before they’re finished.  This was first evidenced by the mountain of unfinished stories I have in notebooks under my childhood bed.  I would get a great idea, start writing, and then run out of ideas and peter off, until my next great idea.  This bell curve of interest bleeds over into other areas of my life, too.  When I’m at the beginning or middle of a project, I’m ready to do hard work.  I know what it will take to get to the end, and I’m prepared for that.  I am able to focus on work and get things done.  But when I get close to end, I start to get antsy.  I just want the thing to be over already.  I start rushing, or even half-assing work, sometimes at the expense of quality.  I get so close to being done that I lose interest.  I do this with papers, group projects, and even job interviews.

    I attribute this tendency to my impatience.  I don’t know why I’m an impatient person.  I think part of it is that I like to be productive.  When I’m in the middle of a project, I can see things taking shape.  I can spend a few hours working and have something to show for it.  The bulk of the work is done in the middle of projects, and I like that.  I like seeing the results of my actions.  I even like editing — the big editing that comes after the word-vomit stage.  But when projects start to come to an end, a lot of the work to be done is just tweaking, perfecting.  And I know this is important, sometimes more important than the production of the project.  But to me, it feels less productive than sheer content creation because there is less to show when I’m done.  The words or results are already there; I’m just changing them to look or sound better.  It feels like busy work.

    My mom noticed this about me early on.  At the end of a school year, or at the final level of a competition, I would lose interest in my work and start complaining about how I just wanted to be done.  And she would remind me to finish well.  “I know you’re tired of this,” she’d acknowledge, “but you need to finish well.  You’re almost done, and you need to keep doing your best until the end.”

    Those words came to mind this week as I was going from class to class.  At this point in my life, I’ve been in school for 17 years.  I enjoy learning, but I am so tired of sitting in class.  I cannot describe how pointless it feels at this stage.  I am now what most people would call an adult, and I’m ready to live the adult life.  I’m ready to officially have my own home that is not a college apartment.  I’m ready to spend my days working for pay (and learning on the job!) rather than paying to learn.  I’m ready to be financially independent; I’m ready to make decisions; I’m ready to contribute to society in a way I haven’t been able to yet.

    But like it or not, I still have 5 weeks till graduation.  I know it’ll go by fast, but it’s felt slow.  I still have two group projects and a capstone paper to finish, not to mention finals in my other two classes.  I still have meetings to go to.  I still have events to work.  As ready as I am to just be done, it’s not going to go any faster because I’m sitting here wishing it will.

    That’s why I’m going to try to take “finish well” as my motto for the rest of the semester.  If I can remember that, I’ll be able to enjoy these last 5 weeks instead of wishing them away.

    How to Survive an Interview (or Audition)

    I’ve worked random part-time jobs since I was about 16.  While not every singe job I’ve had required an interview, and while a lot of those interviews were more formalities, I’ve been through a few.  In high school, I also did a lot of flute auditions, which kind of count as a musical interview — the judges are assessing your skills and qualifications, just like they do in interviews, and the nervousness beforehand feels about the same.  So although I’m not an expert, here are some of the things I do to 1) survive and 2) do my best in interviews.

    1. Tips from my flute teacher: eat well beforehand.  This sounds like the opposite of what you’d want to do — nervousness makes some people nauseous, so why would we want to eat?  For auditions, my teacher told me that eating tricks your brain into thinking it’s not in “danger.”  If your stomach is full, your brain says, you must be in a non-threatening environment, because no living thing eats when they are in danger.  Choosing what you eat helps, too — turkey and bananas both have tryptophan, which just makes us fall asleep after Thanksgiving, but calms our bodies down before auditions and interviews.
    2. penguin
      If you visualize, you can avoid this

      Visualize yourself in the interview or audition.  This does work a bit better for auditions, because you usually know what you’ll be expected to play, but it can be modified for interviews as well.  Before auditions, when I was practicing, my flute teacher told me to close my eyes and imagine myself walking into the audition room.  I would visualize how I was going to stand, how much I would breathe, and then would imagine playing each and every scale.  Don’t just think about the audition, she said, imagine every single finger position and every movement that your body will be making.  It’s a way of being in the environment without actually being there, and it helps to alleviate fear of the unknown.  For interviews, you can imagine yourself going in and saying hi, and then sitting down and taking a deep breath before you answer a question.  You can imagine how you will explain your skills and experience, and then imagine giving a strong handshake before walking out.  It feels a little weird at first, but it really has helped me in the past.  If you’ve done something before, it’s not as scary, so this is a good way to practice for an interview or audition.

    3. Be prepared.  When I apply for a job, I try to always looks around the company’s website a bit to get a feel for the company, products, and culture.  If I get an interview request, I go back to the job listing and match responsibilities and skills to relevant experience on my resume.  I try to come up with specific anecdotes to illustrate those skills.  Then I go back to the company’s website for two reasons: 1) to re-familiarize myself with the company and the department I am interviewing for (if possible), and 2) to learn more about the company so I can come up with intelligent questions to ask during the interview.
    4. flawsAnswer questions genuinely and honestly.  We all know that when asked about our weaknesses, we’re supposed to say that we are perfectionists and pay too much attention to detail.  But unless that truly is your weakness, I think it’s cliche.  Interviewers would rather hear about the real you, so be honest.  When I’m asked that question, I typically answer that I avoid tasks I know I’m not good at.  I’ve noticed that about myself and jobs.  However, I do mention that since I know that about myself, I try to be intentional about learning and practicing in weak areas, and knowing when to ask for help.  Knowing your weaknesses and having a plan to correct them should impress employers.  And while some people have told me that it’s better to have a “strong” weakness — ie, one that can be spun into a strength — when I’ve gone that route, I’ve ended up sounding fake.  So for me, being honest is better, and if that is the thing that loses me a job, so be it.
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      A great interview — but did he get the job??

      Don’t get too excited after a good interview (but don’t beat yourself up, either).  Not to sound pessimistic, but I learned this from experience.  Back in the fall, I had an interview for a manager trainee position.  I went to the interview, and felt it went really well.  I had specific examples to back up my skills and qualifications, the interviewer was friendly, and the job sounded great.  I even had more than one intelligent questions to ask about the job.  I was sure I’d get chosen for the second interview, so I told a bunch of people about it and got really excited.  And guess what?  I didn’t get the second interview.  It was quite disappointing.  I don’t know why I didn’t pass that stage — it could’ve been that there were other, much more qualified candidates, or it could’ve been that my interview didn’t go as well as I thought.  Either way, I chose (for once!) to look on the bright side — doing that interview was excellent practice, and I learned a lot from it.  So while I didn’t get the job, it was definitely still worth the time.

    6. Know that you’re not going to nail every interview.  You’re just not.  Sometimes, you’re off your game, sometimes the interviewer is in a bad mood, and sometimes you’re just not a good fit for the job.  It’s okay.  Interviews are a part of life, and you’re not going to “win” all of them.
    7. Finally, no matter how the interview went, you should celebrate that it’s over.  Interviews and auditions are stressful.  If it went great, that’s awesome!  Congratulate yourself with an ice cream cone or something.  If it went terrible, that sucks, and a wine and movie night is definitely warranted.  Even if you don’t get the job, you got through the interview (or audition), and that in itself is something worth celebrating.

     

    This Should Be Everyone’s Pet Peeve

    Yesterday, my boyfriend and I went to get a pizza.  He drove, because I hate driving.  From his apartment, it takes about five minutes to get to the pizza place.  It’s a straight shot.  Turn out of the parking lot, drive, turn into the pizza lot.  The end.  It’s so easy.  And it should’ve been a happy drive, because I got pizza at the end.  But it wasn’t.  Do you know why?  Because in the five minutes that it took us to get to the pizza place and back, I saw five drivers staring at their phones instead of looking at the road.

    Five drivers.  In five minutes.

    Behavior like that infuriates me.  By this point, we have all heard the statistics.  In case you haven’t, here’s a rundown:

    • Texting while driving makes you 23x more likely to crash,
    • slows your brake reaction speed by 18%,
    • causes 1.6 million accidents a year,
    • and is the cause of 11 teen deaths every day.  Source

    These are ridiculous numbers.  This stuff shouldn’t be happening.  It’s really not that hard to not use your phone while you’re driving.  And I know most of us have seen these statistics and messages at one point or another.  So why the crap are we still doing it?

    • I need everyone to see that I’m driving fast.  Live large!  A lot of people I know Snapchat while they drive so they can put up the miles per hour filter, as if we’re all going to be so impressed that you’re going 80 in the left lane.  Congratulations, friend, all you’ve done is give me road rage from my living room and also endangered everyone on the road around you, including yourself.
    • My fave song came on the radio and you have to listen to me sing along. #totalfan  Again, this is a common Snapchat thing.  Even if your viewers share your music taste, which they probably don’t, if they wanted to hear the song they’d just pull it up on Spotify, where they don’t have to listen to your (probably terrible) voiceover.  Not only is this dangerous, it’s dumb.
    • I’m texting a romance interest and I have to reply now because if I wait too long they’ll think I’m not interested!  No, they won’t.  They should think more highly of you for practicing safe driving.  And if they don’t, well, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
    • I’m a good driver; I can use my phone while driving and be fine.  I’m still paying attention to the road.  Maybe, but not enough attention.  Your brain is not wired to do two things at once.  Sorry.  See brake reaction time stat above.
    • I’m bored and I’m tired of just looking at the road.  Sucks.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to die anytime soon.  And I don’t want to be the cause of anyone’s death, either.  I think most people agree with me on that.  So I honestly don’t understand why people think this is still okay.  It’s not okay.  It’s stupid.  You can be the greatest person I’ve ever met, but if I catch you using your phone while you drive, my respect for you will plummet.  And while I know my opinion of you means nothing, the fact that you’re more likely to harm another person by texting while driving definitely should.

    I’m really not trying to sound all self-righteous here (I know it sounds like I am).  (Okay, maybe I am a little.)  But really, in all honesty, I am just genuinely baffled by the fact that texting and driving is known to be one of the most dangerous things you can ever do, and yet people still do it.

    Y’all, it’s not that hard to just wait.  I know it’s tempting.  I know think you’re a good enough driver.  I know there might be no one else on the road right now.  But please, for the love of God, just stop.

    What I’ve Been Reading: Feb/March 2017

    In between procrastinating working very hard on projects and homework, I’ve found a little time to read.  If you are looking for books with heavy topics, this is the post for you!  Warning: this post contains quite a few spoilers.

    439288Verdict: If you get a chance, PLEASE READ THIS.

    Speak was recommended to me by a friend who has very good taste in books, and we saw it in the bargain section at Books-a-Million, so I went ahead and bought it.  I really think this is one of the most important books that people, especially young people, will ever read.  Word of warning: it’s not a happy book.  If you haven’t heard of it (which you may have, because it’s read fairly commonly in high schools now), it’s about rape.  The protagonist, a high school freshman, gets raped right before the start of the school year, and spends the entire year dealing with the aftermath alone.  She gets depressed, and it manifests mainly through selective mutism — she quits speaking to almost everyone except her art teacher.  She has trouble sleeping.  She loses all her friendships, because no one knows what happened and she won’t talk about it.  It’s a story that is more common than we think it is, and that’s why it’s so important.  It’s not a happy or fun book to read, but it is incredibly well-written.  The protagonist is realistic, and the language is simple and easy to understand.  I cannot stress enough the importance of this book.

    13260227Verdict: Do not use to make yourself feel good about the human race.  Do use to try to understand the lives of others, and why they act the way they do.  Do use to develop your empathy.

    The Distance Between Us is a memoir about being left behind.  Reyna Grande, the youngest of three siblings, grew up in Mexico after both her parents moved to the United States.  They were stuck in poverty with an abusive, neglectful grandmother, and feelings of abandonment are the main recurring theme.  Grande writes about life in Mexico, and how her older sister became the little mother for her and her brother, and how that affected her sister for the worse later in life.  She writes about how her brother struggled because he never had a good role model.  She writes about how it was when her mother returned to Mexico because her father slept with someone else.  She writes about illegally crossing the Mexican-US border after begging her father to bring her to the US, and she writes about trying to please him time and again even when he gets drunk and beats her and her siblings.  This was not a happy book to read, either.  It shows the worst effects of poverty and desperation, and if I’m being brutally honest, it makes Mexican immigrants look terrible.  Grande’s father was a horrible person, and it’s so easy to read this book and think that everyone who comes from Mexico is like that.  But this is not a book about Mexican immigrants.  It’s a book about the life of Reyna Grande.  It’s about socio-economic disadvantage.  It’s about needing a family, even if that family treats you like shit.  And it shows that it’s possible to overcome all that, but that your history will always be a part of you.

    20447732Verdict: Yay! A memoir with happy parts.

    A Cup of Water Under My Bed is one of the most iconic coming-of-age memoirs there is.  Hernandez discusses meshing American and Cuban-Colombian traditions, translating documents for her parents, and navigating being bisexual in a Latino family with very traditional values.  This book is more like a collections of essays than a comprehensive memoir, which makes sense since it began as an editorial column when she began writing for the New York Times.  Hernandez definitely has a knack for storytelling, and she has an interesting one to tell.  Because this one was not as devastating as the books above, I don’t remember as many of the details.  However, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys memoirs.

    Besides my capstone books, that’s all I’ve been reading lately.  Reading Spanish memoirs closely really cuts into other reading, and I actually found myself getting confused about which details were from which book.  So reading all these at the same time probably wasn’t the best idea.  I’m afraid I’m going to end up basing a point in my paper about the works of Esmeralda Santiago on something I read in another memoir, but those are the hazards of wanting to read a bunch of similar things.  Enjoy!

    All images from Goodreads

    Blast From the Past: An Overview of Computer Games from My Childhood

    Being homeschooled, my childhood was a little different than most of my friends’.  Besides not having to get up early and go to class, we never had cable TV or video games of any type.  (Gasp!)  We definitely weren’t bored, though — when we weren’t doing schoolwork, we would watch PBS, or play outside, or read.  Or, we would get on our clunky old desktop and play computer games.

    My boyfriend thinks I’m totally weird when I reminisce about the games we played.  And I get that — the games we played were either your typical homeschool-er educational games, or they were horribly dated even for the years in which we played them, and they  all had to be installed via the incredible CD-ROM.  Even then, it was kind of a weird, novelty thing.  No one else I knew growing up loved playing dorky computer games.  But me and my siblings did.  And it’s time for a flashback.

     

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    Ah, Jump-Start.  I’m pretty sure we had every Jump-Start game there was.  But this is the one I remember.  If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you may know that American Girl’s Josefina was what really got me interested in learning Spanish.  Before Josefina, though, there was Jump-Start Spanish.  I learned a ton of vocabulary playing this thing.  When I started Spanish lessons in fourth grade after we began homeschooling, I was a little ahead because of all this vocabulary, and that gave me the feeling that I was good at Spanish, which in turn gave me the confidence to continue studying it.  Thanks, Jump-Start.  (And parental units.)

     

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    I remember this being called Math Magician, or Math Mountain, or something like that.  This was one my mom kind of made us play, and we grumbled about it, but it really did make basic math concepts easier.  You play as a cat (I think?) who travels through different places, but to get to the next one you had to successfully solve the puzzles (ie, learn the concept).  There was basic addition and subtraction, and it went all the way through fractions and multiplication tables.  And when you got to the end, there was a little party because you finally made it to the top of the mountain!  Yay!  Math was my least favorite subject, so this really did make it better (although I never would’ve admitted it at the time.)

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    This was literally one of my and my siblings’ favorite games.  In all the Carmen Sandiego games, you played as a spy trying to catch Carmen.  For this game in particular, you chased Carmen all the way from the Silk Road to Yuri Gargarin’s launch.  You met Leif Ericsson, Thomas Edison, men from ancient Japan, Native Americans before settlers came, and a ton of others I can’t remember, and you had to solve a problem for each one before you could travel ahead in time.  I think my sister and I probably played this through a good three or four times.  It was fabulous, and we both still occasionally quote the characters.  Also, while I did take an ancient history class in high school, a lot of what I remember came from this game, not our assigned reading.

     

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    Oh my word — the Oregon Trail.  Possibly one of the worst, most basic computer games ever created, my siblings and I could not get enough.  We discovered this around the time we were reading the Little House on the Prairie series, so it was just perfect.  We played it a lot, and for a game so simple, it was such a challenge to arrive at our destination.  I only remembering getting there a handful of times.  As a kid, if you haven’t died of dysentery on the trail a million times, you haven’t lived.

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    The infamous Barbie Secret Agent — this game had no educational value whatsoever.  The graphics were awful, and so was the dialogue.  It was hilarious to play.  I’m pretty sure the story line centered around someone stealing someone else’s fashion designs, and that just sets the tone for the whole game.  Barbie had the most diva secret agent skills ever — for instance, to sneak past a guard, you had to blow compact power into his face.  It made me and sister laugh every time.  In addition to all that, you could also choose between about 10 different outfits for Barbie (because she’s not Barbie without a fabulous wardrobe).  She had a different set of clothes for each country she had to go to.  For being such a frivolous game, the final level was really hard to beat — I remember that euphoric feeling when we finally achieved it.

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    Nancy Drew games were the last few I played before I started growing out of computer games.  Honestly, they’re still kind of fun — my cousins play them at Christmas, and we often have to work together, because the puzzles really are difficult.  I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mysteries as a kid, so playing through these was so much fun.  And at the time, the graphics were good enough that the games could be absolutely terrifying.  It was thrilling and addictive, and I really think it boosts critical thinking.  These are very well done, and I definitely remember them fondly.

    I’m sure we had a few more, but those are the ones I remember.  My parents didn’t like us to play for too long at one time, although my siblings and I would’ve played for hours straight.  But I don’t remember a ton of screen time.  Mostly, I remember crowding around the computer with my sister and brother and collaborating to figure out a puzzle, or laughing hysterically at terrible graphics and stories.  As we all got older, we quit playing together as much, because we all have different interests.  But these computer games fascinated all of us, so I think they kept us playing together for a little bit longer than we might have if we hadn’t had them.  I think we’ll be laughing at the memories of these forever.

    Also, I just have to know — were we the dorkiest kids in the universe, or is there anyone out there that also remembers these??