A Non-Exhaustive List of Actions You Can Take to Reject Single-Use Plastics

Hello! I’ve been trying to move more fully away from single-use plastics (and then plastics in general), and I’ve been finding lots of ideas I hadn’t thought of before. If you’re like me, you probably don’t know how exactly to go about reducing your plastic usage (besides the most common ways) or don’t realize how many ways you are still using single-use plastics even if you’ve avoided the major ones. So I thought I’d share 

This is a big list. But a lot of these things are super simple! And even if you don’t do all of these, the ones you do will make a difference. Just start somewhere. And then maybe add in another and another 

Just so you know: Roughly half of plastic production is for single-use products. That’s a big, big deal.

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So here are some ways to skip single-use plastic:

 

At the Store

🐋 choose reusable grocery bags. The hardest part is just remembering to grab them from the car, but put them in a place where you’ll see them when you get out. They’re sturdy and awesome (and mine hold more groceries=fewer trips from the car to my house 😉). for families with multiple cars: make sure you have some in each car!

🐋 choose reusable bags for bulk groceries or produce (cloth or net).

🐋 reconsider purchasing products with excessive plastic packaging.

🐋 reconsider online purchases (including grocery delivery) since they’ll come with lots of packaging.

🐋 if you buy cans of beverages, choose those in cardboard boxes instead of 6-packs in plastic rings.

🐋 look for products in boxes rather than bottles–there are often similar products in different packaging (a cardboard box of laundry detergent instead of a plastic jug).

🐋 instead of single-serving pre-packaged foods (yogurts, chips, cheese sticks, cookies, fruit cups, etc), choose bulk and divvy them up yourself as needed (in non-plastic containers, of course 😉). Fruit cups can totally just be swapped out and served in nature’s packaging 🍌

🐋 shop at local farmer’s markets where you can bring your own containers instead of shopping at the many stores that don’t give you that option.

🐋 don’t buy those single-use flosser things! Way more plastic in the handle than necessary. Regular floss works great.

🐋 choose cardboard cotton swabs instead of the ones with plastic centers. 

🐋 look for medicines that can be purchased by the bottle rather than in blister packs.

🐋 skip products (mostly skincare) that include microplastics! There are still some in circulation. 

🐋 opt for matches instead of plastic lighters.

 

Out to Eat

🐋 bring a water bottle (no need to buy from a vending machine while you’re out plus restaurants are fine with you filling up your own cup).

🐋 if you want to take home leftovers from a restaurant, bring your own container. Skip plastic or styrofoam take-out boxes. Plus, they often put that take-out box in a plastic bag.

🐋 opt out of plastic straws (drink from the cup or your own water bottle) or buy your own reusable straw made of glass, stainless steel, silicone, or bamboo. You must state this preference from the very beginning–restaurants often bring drinks with straws already in them.

🐋 skip the drive-thru. Sit down to eat with reusable utensils, cups, plates/trays, etc.

🐋 consider purchasing your own reusable utensil kits to bring out to eat.

🐋 use bottled condiments instead of single-use ketchup, mayo, etc.

🐋 bring your own mug (or order it to stay in cafes that serve in mugs) for hot beverages instead of single-use coffee cups with plastic lids.

🐋 skip coffee stirrers.

🐋 when ordering pizza, ask them to leave out the little white plastic table in the middle of the pizza.

🐋 choose a cone instead of a cup when ordering ice cream.

 

Out and About

🐋 bring your own toiletries on vacation with you instead of disposables (razors, toothbrushes, etc).

🐋 consider using re-fillable containers instead of single-use travel size products (soaps, toothpaste, lotions, etc). Plus, then you don’t open the complementary bar of soap or shower gel and use only a tiny portion. Instead, these can be saved for another customer.

🐋 always bring snacks when you’re out and about or traveling so you’re not tempted to buy prepackaged grab-and-go foods. 

🐋 pack your and your family’s lunches in reusable packaging: stainless steel containers, bento boxes, mason jars, food wrap, fabric bags, etc.

 

At Home

🐋 check out other food storage ideas for home. Beeswax food wrap instead of plastic wrap, reusable cloth zipper bags instead of plastic snack bags, fabric bowl covers, Mason jars or reused glass jars from pickles, spaghetti sauce, etc.

🐋 re-evaluate your personal care items and cleaning products. There are plenty of things that likely go under-used or can easily be substituted (i.e. bar soap instead of wrapped or bottled soap; menstrual cups instead of tampons and pads; bar soap, shampoo, or conditioner instead of shaving cream).

🐋 re-use the things you already have in your home until they’ve lived out their usefulness, thereby making the transition to non-plastics less overwhelming while reducing unnecessary waste.

🐋 instead of just tossing plastic that’s already in your house, consider donating to organizations that might have a legitimate reason to utilize that particular product. For example, donating your extra plastic utensils to a local meal program (soup kitchen) or charity organization.

🐋 find used instead of new products to purchase for items that you consider necessary plastics (power strips, some electronics, etc.). Thrift stores, Craigslist, Freecycle, or just asking to borrow things like lawn tools from friends!

🐋 actually recycle recyclables. If you haven’t eliminated plastic grocery bags yet, don’t toss them in your home recycling. Instead, recycle these at the receptacles in grocery stores. Find glass recycling centers and use them.

🐋 remove yourself from mailing lists to reduce glossy pages, plastic windows, etc. that just get thrown away asap. 

🐋 consider digital media purchases in lieu of plastic-packaged DVDs, CDs, etc. 

🐋 if you already haven’t, stop smoking. Cigarette filters are plastic. 

 

Gifting

🐋 Balloons. Sorry! Choose a cute re-usable banner instead!

🐋 swap out plastic gift ribbon for jute or raffia.

🐋 reusable gift wrapping while we’re at it 😉

🐋 give gifts in cute reusable shopping bags. They cost about as much (or less) than gift bags and encourage shopping with reusable bags.

🐋 choose masking tape over plastic tape.

 

Final Thoughts

🐋 be wary of any single-use plastic. Plastic cups sneak in on us all the time, for instance. Be mindful about what you choose to use. Skip it, or find alternatives. The more you keep an eye out for plastics, the more you’ll notice just how much a single person uses. But you’ll also notice the most common situations when you’re tempted to use plastics so you can bring alternatives next time!

🐋 simply ask for changes. Ask friends to become more aware and make changes. Ask companies to reconsider products. Advocate for less plastic in the workplace, the classroom, at businesses, etc. 

🐋 etc. etc. etc. There are so many things we can choose that reduce our plastic consumption overall (purchasing from bulk grocers, bamboo toothbrushes, green phone cases, cloth diapers and wipes, no gum, making some household products, toiletries, and/or foods instead of purchasing, considering what kinds of kid and baby toys we purchase, purchasing products that help fund de-plasticization or cleanup or marine life or something).

 

There are tons of other things we can do, but these are all excellent. Find your most common single-use plastic culprits and get creative in finding alternatives.

ALSO! There are tons and tons of non-plastic related direct and indirect benefits. Like, it’s good for you (mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, etc.) to slow down and sit while you eat. Avoiding drive-thrus and pre-packaged foods clearly has health benefits. Environmental reasons, health reasons, less-waste reasons. AND there are also important skills and other benefits to be had here (creative problem-solving, for one ☺️). Seriously, finding creative solutions is a pretty fun aspect of removing plastic from your life =)

Look at all the things we CAN do! Pretty easily. “The people who make the biggest difference are the ones who do the little things consistently.”

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A Non-Exhaustive List of Actions You Can Take to Reject Single-Use Plastics

September Reading

September, September. The month of autumnal vegetables and too-early sweater-wearing. Also my husband’s birthday, on which he woke up sick, continued sick through the weekend, and eventually I joined him in being sick. Fun month, eh?

KEY:
WJ = read aloud/listened with James
AB = audiobook
RR = re-read
BC = book club
REC = recommended to me
NF = nonfiction
F = fiction

  1. Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba Patillo Beals: AB, NF, REC
    This one was recommended to me way back in my first years of college by a great reader and it’s therefore been on my list forever and I finally got around to it. Mostly because I hadn’t really looked into it before and therefore didn’t realize the topic and how amazing it was going to be. It’s the memoir of one of the Little Rock Nine and is fascinating and heartbreaking and inspiring (all “of course”es). Man alive, people can be truly awful. It was wild to me to realize my dad was 7 when they integrated–this wasn’t that long ago. And I’d just been taught that this was a victory, an event, case closed, but there was clearly so much more to it. This memoir covers the whole school year and it was a never-ending battle with bigotry–this memoir helped me get into Melba’s shoes much more than I could have otherwise (a primary value of literature). Memoirs are so important in humanizing things we consider Events, History, etc. gettyimages-517322800-2


  2. Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder: F, REC
    My older sister LOVED the TV show Little House on the Prairie when we were growing up and I’m therefore acquainted with the characters and concepts of the children’s book series, but hadn’t ever read any of them. She read them aloud to her little kids and they also love the books and were even known to play “Ma and Pa” and hitch up pretend horses (adorable). That’s a pretty strong recommendation. So when I saw the box set for sale on a neighborhood yard sale FB page, I jumped. This took me longer to read than I thought it would–probably because I read it in a cozy chair during prime nap time and it’s less narrative-arc driven and reads more like childhood vignettes. Which, don’t get me wrong, are lovely, but enable drifting attention (and consciousness). I do love the stories, though; frontier living is fascinating and appealing to me (in some ways; in plenty ways very not).


  3. The One-in-a-Million Boy, Monica Wood: AB, F
    This one may have been bandied about at a book group gathering, or maybe I just fell upon it in yet another endless scroll through Overdrive while looking for the next thing to catch my interest. Anyway, it was lovely. I love books about being friends with fascinating people who are old. I would like to be Ona’s friend. Also, don’t take your family for granted, even when there are plenty of differences between you.


  4. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce: AB, F
    This was a fun one. An old man walks to his mailbox to send a reply to an old friend from his past who’s dying of cancer but spontaneously decides to walk all the way across England to talk to her instead, believing his walking will prolong her. Sure, that may sound like “fun” was an ill-fitting adjective, and you’re not wrong. There are definitely parts that are fun–it started more lighthearted than it meandered into (as most great stories do), but bloomed into a lovely, thoughtful glimpse of the deeper currents that steer a life and relationships. I listened to this one while walking my dog sometimes and it was a fantastic pairing–I paid more attention to the walking and surroundings, just like ol’ Harold.


  5. Born a Crime, Trevor Noah: REC, NF
    I’ve been hearing of this one for a really long time and finally a book group chose it. From all the things I’d heard about it, I got the impression it was really heavy–you know, a guy who is born a crime and grew up during apartheid. Big stuff. But it was way more light-hearted than I anticipated. Not that those big issues aren’t addressed–they absolutely are; you can’t separate this individual experience from the social experience because HOLY COW APARTHEID. I had no idea how insane it was–just how socially engineered it all was. Of course class and race are used to wield power, but this was just so purposeful. And the laws were crazy. It was designed to keep control and order, but it sounded so chaotic to me. It’s just so wild to think about growing up in an environment like that. And again–this was so not long ago!! I really liked this one thing (among many others) he said: the two camps of “give a man a fish” versus “teach a man to fish” are missing something vital: either way, the man has to have the resources to be able to fish. Can’t teach him with a rod then take away the rod and hopes he continues to support himself with a fishing business. Noah just was a powerful speaker here with a surprising ability to distance himself from the stories and society in order to write about them more fully. Which perspective, of course, comes from the fact that he was always outside of every group, ever. His narration and treatment of the material is lighthearted and engaging and frank and funny. And that tone is the difference between the heavy-heavy-heavy book I was anticipating and the engaging, alive one I got. Also, I had no idea that Trevor Noah is a guy everyone’s familiar with; I just thought he was a guy who wrote this book. Apparently he’s famous. #hermit

And thus (sadly) concludes another (disappointingly) sparsely-read month that’s recorded (very) late in the next month. Cue Eeyore music.

(Spoiler: October has treated me much more kindly.)

September Reading

After the Books of Summer Have Gone

Enjoy:

A few notes: Don Henley is a very emotive singer. That little boy’s got rhythm. The male jumping bodies look like they’re playing volleyball over a chain link fence. So that makes no sense.

ANYWAY. Has it really been so long since my last book update? Yep, last one was in June. June!! I’m already in autumn mode, so June seems like a year ago. So this will cover July and August. But there won’t be much to cover, since I spent the end of my summer teaching and grading and recovering from teaching and grading. With some family reunion/events thrown in there. And yes, my summer did feel squandered.

KEY:
WJ = read aloud/listened with James
AB = audiobook
RR = re-read
BC = book club
REC = recommended to me
NF = nonfiction
F = fiction

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain: AB, NF
    I read/listened to this way too long ago to be very eloquent here, but I do remember really loving it and valuing it. After watching her TEDtalk (and using it in my classes), I thought it was time I read the thing, since I tend toward the introvert. Although, I’ve always considered myself more of an ambivert–but who knows. I doubt labeling/boxing is important–what’s more important to me is cultivating awareness per individual and situation. And that’s the point: I think it’s important for all -verts to read, however you identify. Because our society definitely does favor and foster extroversion, and that is clearly detrimental as a one-size-fits-all social standard and modus operandi.


  2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver: AB, NF
    I want to live this life. Her farm sounds amazing! I definitely thought of my more farm-ish childhood (than some), so this felt familiar and delicious. I wish I had all the time in the world to learn and grow all the vegetables and fruits, but I don’t think I’ll be butchering my own turkeys any day soon. I really value the idea of buying in season and buying locally–super locally. I went to farmers’ markets and had lots of garden-envy, which wasn’t hard to evoke since I’ve been lamenting my sun-less yard’s inability to sustain a garden since we moved here. It is the saddest thing about my house for me. And I also had hopes of learning to can for myself this fall (I’ve only been in support positions during the canning seasons of my upbringing), but I got overwhelmed and then school started and I don’t have the mental energy to approach that undertaking. Next year, though. Also, she had the best (50th?) birthday party I’ve ever heard of.And those two were the only books I read (listened to) in July. (!!!??!)


  3. The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein: REC, F
    I took this with me to read on the plane on our way to and from Tulsa for a family reunion. (Also, can I just say that I was SO unprepared for how gorgeous Grand Lake is? I had no idea Oklahoma could be so jaw-drop-worthy. James made fun of me for how much I loved the green green green, the treesy hills with cows and horses, the bright pink pops of bushes when I wasn’t expecting them.) A friend gave it to me after she was done reading and when I was looking for a book for the plane, I saw the dog on the cover and thought I might like a breezy dog book. It’s written from a dog’s perspective as he watches his owner go through crazy hard times (like, CRAZY hard and just unbelievable family stuff). It’s not a book I’ll ever think to read again (overall it was a “nah” for me), but I did get that much more excited to see Maeby when we got home. But, I mean, it doesn’t take much for me to get sentimental about Maeby.


  4. O Pioneers, Willa Cather: AB, F
    I get pioneered-out sometimes living in Utah. And this book is a bland brown one on my shelf, so I’ve historically not been particularly drawn to this one. But I saw it after scrolling through 73 pages of Overdrive available-now audiobooks, and by that time I’m always pretty desperate, so I took a gamble. Plus, this is classic literature and I liked Willa Cather in college, so it was a very tame gamble. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Man, society is stupid toward women (not a new discovery). Small towns are such interesting social structures and play such a strong role in how people live(d) their lives. It’s wild to think about how that social structure is dwindling and being replaced–by cities then suburbs now internet societies that all exert very different pressures on us and influence how we live our lives. It’s a strange marriage of widening and shrinking social circles. Also, Alexandra is a rockstar. And there is some serious heartbreak in here, so hold your hat.


  5. Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk: REC, AB, F
    This turned up on one of my book group’s suggestion lists, and is a Newberry winner, so it seemed a safe choice. And I did like this one. The young narrator is smart and empathetic, and I thought, since it’s middle-grade fiction, the story would turn out a certain way, but it blessedly didn’t. I so appreciate that we seem to be willing to accept and portray more complexities–even to young audiences–than we used to be. It’s healthy.


  6. Bone Gap, Laura Ruby: REC, AB, F
    This one was harder for me to get into. It felt like it was trying to be a Neil Gaiman-esque story, but just wasn’t working as well. I kept listening, though, and it did improve, but I still prefer a real Neil by a lot. I will say, though, that there were some pretty interesting aspects of this story, and it was kinda crazy-creepy like a Neil, so it did earn some points.

And so you have it: the fewest books read in a two-month span. *tears*

After the Books of Summer Have Gone

An Ode to My Home in Summer

Last night we slept with the window open and I felt the chill of autumn rolling in. It’s been in the air for days now, and while I love fall so, so much, I need to say a good-bye to summer. Most of all, summer in my yard. So here is a list of things I love about my yard, in no particular order.

  • Its wildness. There is one particular stretch in the backyard that I know we should trim, or at least clear some of the undergrowth, but I can’t make myself–and I don’t truly want to. It is a wild place, a wilderness. A place where I can forget I am at home. An inherited gift that was born before I was here, and a place I hope continues long after I am gone. I love when Maeby explores her way around the foliage, the low growth of creeping vines, the spilling leaves and patches of light peering into dark corners. She’s hardly taller than the vines in that wilderness. I always think of a wild animal exploring, testing the caves of the undersides of viney habitats, hideouts, places to sniff and learn about the fauna and flora that frequents the overgrowth, looking for their own small places to thrive. She disappears in that wilderness, but I can hear her careful steps in the old brittle leaves and every once in a while I catch a glimpse of her lithe body through the vines and I feel I am peeking in on a wild animal. I call her name and she freezes, lifts her head my direction, cocks her ear toward my sounds, and I see a tiny brown deer.

 

  • I love the bees that appear in summertime. Their friendly buzzing in my favorite backyard bush, floating from bud to bud, working away to make this place even more lovely, even more beautiful and green.

 

  • I love the perfect tree in our front yard. It is huge and round and beautiful. It shades me as I sit on my front steps to read and watch my dog sniff around the yard or settle in with a thin stick to chew. I love looking up and seeing so much green, so many perfect leaves. It is its own world, where bugs crawl and crunch and birds sing and dance for each other.

 

  • I love the bushes that shield the wide library window from the world outside. You must look at wildness when you look to my house, instead of a view inside where you’d see me, reading the afternoons away, glancing up every once in a while to smile at my birds.

 

  • I love the birds that drop in on my feeding dish hanging outside my window. I especially love the ones who stick around and let me watch. I love the birds nearly always circling nearby. I adore their hopping through boughs of trees, their playful games of chase and flirt and dive. I love their music, their calls, their particular personalities and sounds. (Yesterday I thought I heard a litter of newborn kittens mewling for their momma just on the other side of my fence. Instead, it was a posse of Grey Catbirds (aptly named) clamoring for attention.)

 

  • Hummingbirds. So, so many hummingbirds. I feed them and they come and then they stay and visit me and each other all summer. I get to watch them for hours sometimes, coming and going and coming again. Whenever I look out at their bright red bottle, it’s a sure bet I’m sneaking up on a hummingbird. Then they flit away, either to search through my bushes or chase each other dizzingly fast.

 

  • Butterflies have also been visiting more often. Huge yellow-and-black butterflies. I was never into butterfly-print shirts, jewelry, accessories, and the like, but now I see the appeal. Granted, I don’t want to capture them or pin them down, I just want to watch and savor and love.

 

  • There is a path that leads from our deck to the side yard, and when you follow that path, you brush just under my favorite bush which bursts just overhead, framing the pathway, a leafy bridge to the tree branches on the other side. You are led through this verdant arch on stepping stones that demand you walk tiptoe from one stone to the other, and every bit of that I love.

 

  • My backyard feels like a secret garden.

 

  • I love the unique shape of our deck. It’s no ordinary square or rectangle, it’s all angles that feel like curves.

 

  • I love that this is a backyard unheard of in a subdivision. I love that the walls enclose us and hide us from the view of neighbors or anyone. I love that those walls are absolutely flowing with ivy.

 

  • I love the smell of my green green oasis after a light summer rain.

 

  • I love that the canopy of tree limbs over our deck shelter us from most raindrops. I love that they’re looking out for us, letting us benefit from their tall grace.

 

  • I love this tree making friends with the ivy. She lets the ivy weave and twirl up her trunk, tendriling out on her lowest limbs.

 

  • I love the surprise of unanticipated flowers rooted years ago that feel like gifts as they persist year upon year upon year. I love the roses! Three types grow against the house on the sunny south side and I just stand and gaze. I love the tulips that pop up in early spring–not only the ones in the appropriate place for planting, but especially the friendly ones that spring up in the grass just on the other side of our fence running beside the road. I love the clematis, the anemones, the flowers I don’t have names for. The hostas. The honeysuckle. The aspens. Bushes and vines and bright spots of color between them.

 

  • I love the pergola that lets the honeysuckle cling and wrap itself upward. I love that it lets me hear the wind through my chimes hanging on its hook.

 

  • I love the little stone fire pit that is perfectly round, and invites me to invite others to my home to enjoy it, too. There’s something about a little fire in summer. It’s community and s’mores and stories and lingering.

 

  • I love the deer path, growing fainter now that the deer have gone as we’ve come in. I love the evidence of even more wildness, even more shared space this place invited. I love that Maeby loves to run its path, too.

 

  • I love what my yard could be. I envision a small Japanese garden in the little raised box that wraps around the house which sits on our deck. It’s already got the majestic Japanese maple, and used to have a plastic pond, but that must go, although I wish it didn’t have to, since I so love the sound and presence of water.

 

  • I love what it does to me. For me. I have cried when James has trimmed bushes or hedges or trees or anything, really. I have savored wildness and greenness and the seasons. I have slowed down. I have been fascinated in my backyard, I have discovered in my backyard. I have renewed a bottomless well of love for living things. I have lived outside, loved outside.

 

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An Ode to My Home in Summer

June Reading

Well, June flew by. Mostly because a new semester started at the end of the month and I had to prepare for that more than usual since it’s a class I haven’t taught on a summer schedule before. Also, because I usually teach Spring instead of Summer term, June is when my summer break begins, not ends, so I was trying in vain to soak up my summer before it was gone. In vain because it still felt squandered and I’m in denial that I’m supposed to go to work and grade and stuff. Miss you already, June.

Books last month:

KEY:
WJ = read aloud/listened with James
AB = audiobook
RR = re-read
BC = book club
REC = recommended to me
NF = nonfiction
F = fiction

  1. Code Girls, Liza Mundy: AB, REC, NF
    This was a pretty cool look into the roles of the many, many insanely intelligent women that worked as code breakers in WWII. It’s absolutely true that the war would have gone differently without them. This book was full of lots of interesting stories of the lives and tasks of a job that for most of the women was only around as long as the war (crazy) and was surrounded by the highest secrecy. The work they did was astounding (sooo not in my realm of skills) and you should hear how they recruited…so wild. Different times, man.


  2. Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull: AB, REC, NF
    Loved this. If you’re at all a creative person or want to be or are a person in business or management or a person who interacts with people and/or ideas you should absolutely read this. Not only was it cool to hear a lot of the behind-the-scenes info and stories about Pixar and their struggles and successes, but it was also super interesting to hear the reasoning and effects of how their cultivation of creativity is the paramount goal and how that turns into something amazing. It’s definitely a business model that I’ve never seen valued or even conceived. I’d work well in that environment–it would be so energizing.


  3. Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance: NF
    This was interesting, but I was a little less wowed than I think I thought I’d be. I’m not sure why. I guess because I don’t think being wowed was the point and I seem to have gotten the idea from other readers that it was a wow book. It was really interesting to hear about hillbilly culture since I have no access to it and to hear it explained and loved from the inside is valuable. It definitely is an elegy to that culture and the book showed and provided info on the immediate and lasting repercussions for them and for our larger American society because of its dwindling. I am generally one who prefers to preserve cultures than have them disappear, so in that aspect it was a little hard for me–especially since the culture that’s emerged from that vacuum is so harmful. I also felt the helplessness from and for them to emerge from the negative cycles that now seem to permeate their lives. I’ve heard a few people compare the plights examined in this book to plights of other families or cultures in differently hard situations presented in memoirs and usually one comes out more too-bad or more eye opening or more whatever than the other. That’s a good reminder that pain and struggle aren’t comparisons–there is definitely room within pain for all of us. That’s not the point. Maybe we all are being inundated again and again with so many plights that we’re losing sensitivity? Or we now only respond to sensational pain? And prefer it? By that I mean our cultural preoccupation with dysfunction, as discussed in my quick comments on Educated. Maybe that’s part of what this book is for American readers? I’m not sure. I just have conflicted feelings about dying cultures on lots of levels.


  4. Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers: AB, F
    Listened to this one because I’ve never actually read it and also like a nice dose of kid lit periodically. Of course, after Saving Mr. Banks opened a new perspective on the story that I’d only known from the Disney version, I was intrigued to hear the differences between the two. And there definitely are differences. I like both versions, but I can see why Travers would reject the Disney version. (Which I assume is generally true from the based-on-a-true-story Saving Mr. Banks. By the way, isn’t it wild how much we rely on fictionalized representations of facts/stories/perspectives to represent a reliable presentation of people? It’s always more complicated and probably more boring or more messy to stick with all the real life things, plus they don’t have a clear and neat story arc. Am I just being so snotty today? Possibly. But it doesn’t actually negate the content. Anyway.)


  5. The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare: BC, F/Drama
    The only Shakespeare I’ve read before this was Romeo and Juliet in high school and a bit of Julius Caesar (I feel like I remember we didn’t read all of it), so my Shakespeare repertoire has been clearly lacking. I have seen Macbeth and Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew, so there’s that at least. Of course, lots of important themes and ideas, but I especially enjoyed Portia’s suitors and her badass forays into law.


  6. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill: RR, WJ, F
    Yes, I re-read this after reading it for the first time within the year, and yes, it was just as great the second go-round. James and I hadn’t had a book to read together in a while and I was not ready for another marathon so we chose kid lit and from my shelves he chose this one. And, of course, he loved it too. So there you go. Read it already.


  7. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika L. Sanchez: AB, F
    Umm this was fine. I wasn’t that into it but I didn’t think it was terrible or anything. It was just kind of something I listened to. Y’know?


  8. Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver: F
    I. Loved. This. Book. And what a perfect time to read it! This was my last book before my farewell to my full summer and I gulped it down without much breathing. It has been sitting on my shelf for two years, kind of tome-ish, but I was hooked by the first paragraph–which was of course heightened by my reading it on my back porch in the dark heat of a June night. (I stayed out reading until past midnight, which is like hours beyond my bedtime. #thirty) This was a decadent book. I positively feasted upon it. It’s lush, green, raw, solitary yet full of connection. I wanted to be each of the primary women and live lives like they do (at least in some ways). I was stunned by the luck I had in picking this book up at D.I. or Savers or something without having heard of it or knowing what it was about or anything. I firmly believe books are gifts.

 

And just like that, there goes my summer. Thankfully I still have summer afternoons. For reading and sunning and

June Reading

Mother May I…Read?

May is my favorite month because it’s anniversary month (it used to be February cuz birthday=self-absorbed). I already previewed our lousy anniversary cruise last book post, so I won’t re-hash that here, but it’s been a good three years with the anticipation of only getting even better. That is a nice thing.

More books this month:

KEY:
WJ = read aloud/listened with James
AB = audiobook
RR = re-read
BC = book club
REC = recommended to me
NF = nonfiction
F = fiction

  1. Honolulu, Alan Brennert: REC, F
    Ha, already talking about our cruise: since our anniversary is May Day, it only makes sense that the book I read during our cruise is the first book of the month. Because reading about Hawaii sounded like a really sensible plan for a sunny cruise, amiright? I was expecting a little more of a light beach read, but this had more depth than I anticipated, which always earns points for me. It was interesting to learn about Korean culture in the early 1900’s–especially regarding the accepted life of a woman. The protagonist, Jin, becomes a picture bride and travels to meet her new husband in Hawaii. Again, really interesting to see how Hawaii culture was shaped and grown during that time. Turned out to be an enjoyable novel. It was a nice way to pass time while I was sick on the cruise. Well, until the seasick patch blurred my vision so that I had to try to read at arm’s distance (felt like a real old 30-year-old) and then even that failed. (Don’t worry, the strange blurry vision of anything close-ish to my face went away once I ditched the patch.)


  2. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman: AB, F
    Clearly I’ve been on a Backman streak, so of course I had to read the most well-known one. Of course I loved it. Of course there were delightful characters with gripping histories and interesting ways that characters’ paths crossed. Of course you should read this. I haven’t seen the movie adaptation, but I’ve heard it’s also good.


  3. Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple: AB, F
    I really loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette and had high hopes for this one, which probably contributed to my “eh” response to this story. But then again, Goodreads reviewers warned me that it’s not as good, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised–I just wanted to prove them wrong in their literary tastes. Also, Semple is Jane the Virgin’s favorite author, so I mean, that’s a solid recommendation. Maybe I’ll give her other novel a try sometime to see how I’d rank it. But I’ll probably have to wait a bit to give it a go. This one takes place over a single day, which amped up the energy quite a bit. What other books/movies do that? I’m only thinking of One Fine Day right now, but I’m sure there are others. Anyone want to add to that very, very short list? I dunno why; it’s not at all important to me to build a list of one-dayers.


  4. Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown: NF
    Oh man. I wish I had written down more notes as I read this one in order to scratch the surface of doing it justice here and also to keep it fresh forever, but I was busy gulping it down. Plus, I’ll just read it again sometime. It’s very, very good. And if you’re into Brene, that will come as no surprise. She took a very thoughtful (of course) approach to events/attitudes that are not only evergreen issues, but also seemed to me to be more current than some of her other books. I appreciated the really concrete applications this book exemplified. Before I was done I was already talking about some of her ideas and examples with friends who weren’t familiar with either her or the concepts of this book. Also, if you’re an avid Brene Browner, you may have noticed that I am pretty late to read this one (it came out in September 2017…okay, so not super late). James gave it to me for Christmas and I felt I needed to save it for when I was emotionally ready to dive in. It is definitely the kind of book (as are all of hers) where you need to clear some emotional clutter and have the head space to appreciate it. I just saved it for the right time. And boy was it! I read it in a couple of days and just let it wash over me and zap me like lightning.


  5. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas: F
    What can I even say? A book everyone needs to read. Literally everyone. Even if it’s hard or you want to resist or give up or judge, just set those emotions aside and observe and think and question.


  6. Watership Down, Richard Adams: AB, F
    Okay, I’ve heard of this one forever, but hadn’t read it–probably because I somehow anticipated it to be about a water ship and something like U-571. Spoiler: it wasn’t. Bunnies!


  7. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison: BC, F
    I was the book chooser for one of my book clubs this month and our discussion is next week and I’m worried no one will read it because it is a hard book for many. I didn’t have any problems with the hard aspects or themes or scenes. Maybe in part because I’ve read more challenging literature in college and grad school and for pleasure than some have. And I worry readers reject stories like this not only from examples like this (anticipated) book club experience or conversations with friends and acquaintances, but also because every semester when I teach creative writing I have at least one student who resists or wonders why or thinks I’m crazy or am purposefully trying to break them down or sabotage them or am evil or some variation of those options when I choose and we read challenging stories/essays/poems. (Granted, this upcoming book club may turn out differently than I’m worried about, and definitely not every student has this kind of response to the readings.) The students who resist this challenging literature do not want to read it and do not think it has value and think the discomfort they have is a self-evident reason to reject it. While discomfort is a valid response, I don’t think that’s the end-all determinant to the castle of books we surround ourselves with and build over a lifetime. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about my philosophy in reading and choosing challenging literature for myself and my students and the overall value to any/all of us. Haven’t yet. One other note: I do think everyone has their own thresholds regarding which kinds of challenging topics/scenes/etc. they can personally handle without pressing some personal button. So maybe a given person wouldn’t have too much trouble reading about race relations, but would need a trigger warning before a rape. But I do think it’s important to try to expand our own boundaries if they’re made out of fear or when it’s an easier way to insulate ourselves from hard things that are outside of our experience. You know? This isn’t an indictment of anyone who doesn’t want to read this or other books, but something I think about and value a lot. Ultimately, I think African American lit is super important and it’s also just generally important to witness and be a witness. I love how Morrison utilizes multiple perspectives in this novel to portray and help understand the characters, circumstances, cultural effects, and situations that occur.


  8. The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate: BC, F
    Another book from the defunct kid lit group that I’m soldiering through on my own. (Okay, it’s not at all drudgery.) It’s a fast read (I read it one afternoon) about animals, which I love, so this was a good fit for me. Here’s a quote from an elephant, directed at the gorilla main character: “Your gorilla hearts are made of ice. Ours are made of fire.” And another insight from that elephant: “Zoos are what humans do to make amends.” So yeah, kind of a heart breaker. But a beautiful one. I don’t think I often cry reading kid lit, but I did in this one. Maybe because of the animal-loving I mentioned before that leads to a definite rending of my heart when any animal is in pain, and probably also in part because the last few years I’ve been the easiest crier (a very new phenomenon). For example, I always cry when Michael Scott’s tenure ends in The Office (which I just experienced again like last week). Maybe you do too and that’s not all that overly-weepy? I dunno. All I know is I’m crying and I can’t keep watching once he’s gone. giphy1
    giphy


Another good month for books. And maybe the most books in one month read entirely by choice (not for a book club or from a recommendation)? Seemed like it, which was definitely fun.

Mother May I…Read?

Avert Thine Eyes

…If you don’t want to see some surgery sites. ‘Cuz we’re about to cover a lot of ground here! I haven’t done a health update since NOVEMBER and there’s plenty to talk about. Hmmm, bullet list might be the best way to tackle this thing.

  1. The scalp basal cell carcinoma did come back with clear margins, so the un-numbed one was the last digging necessary (whew).

  2. This is non-cancer but in March I went to my first OB-GYN appointment (since we’ve somewhat loosely been trying to make offspring for a year now) and among the things we talked about, he confirmed the suspicions I’ve had since 2009: I should have a C-section to avoid all the scar tissue and compromised areas that have weakened from all my fistulae over the years. (I’ve always thought so–it just seems kinda like perforated paper with all the places I could tear. And there are a lot, a lot of places. So I would really prefer to NOT just come out of birthing and lose the entire base of my body that holds all the guts in.) Anyway, it was a weird appointment too because he recommended I launch into all these tests plus start on Clomid. I walked out of that appointment feeling like I’d gone from 0 to 60 in a 20-minute appointment. Okay, not 0, since we’ve actually been trying more than a 0 would indicate, but with the immediate addition of like 5 tests and baby-making Clomid all of a sudden…it felt like a whirlwind. I mean, I’m all about making sure I’m mechanically sound, but jumping to Clomid so immediately felt a little like I had more control in the whole scenario, which felt a little weird to me. So clearly from that reaction it’s not the time for me to jump on in. Anyway.

  3. In March I got my annual colonoscopy! What a fun time. Prep still sucks. Propofol still rocks. In fact, I had a rather smart conversation with James and Dr. Maxwell afterward. And by that I mean: I didn’t fall asleep in the middle, didn’t say anything embarrassing without realizing it, didn’t lose track of the conversation, and contributed some useful comments. Re: Dr. Maxwell was super stoked about March Madness and this was just after the huge UMBC-Virginia upset. “I was like, yeah, that was wild” (hadn’t seen it, or any March Madness). “I thought it was cool that they acknowledged they weren’t the first to do it; they paid homage to the Harvard women’s team who did the same thing against Stanford.” So I was coherent. Not too shabby after just waking up from a colonoscopy. Thanks, Propofol, for not only the cozy nap, but the nice waking-up as well.

  4. April brought another skin cancer surgery. Except this time, it was pre-pre-cancer. So just a cluster of abnormal cells. But since nobody’s comfy with letting any abnormal cells keep growing in me, we took ’em out. This site was on the inside of my right calf, on the muscular (okay, flabby) part. It’s actually much longer than I anticipated. Before the knifing, Dr. Parkinson was telling me it will leave a scar but they’ll try to minimize it. I said, “Yeah, I don’t care about that.” And he replied, “Yes you do. We’ll do what we can.” And I was really like, shrug, but afterward I realized what I actually mean when I say I don’t care if I get a scar: I recognize I will scar. But I would much rather have a scar than leave abnormal or cancerous cells in there to fester and reproduce. And I trust you guys to not do a hack job. And also I’m actually okay with scars–was not expecting to come out of here/life with a flawless bod. Anyway, this pic kind of gives you an idea of how long the stitches are on my leg. Sorry if you get queasy over this kind of thing–but I’m super intrigued by this stuff and that’s why I warned you about averting your eyes…IMG_2800
    Spoiler alert: They got all of the abnormal cells with clear margins, so we’re good to go on this site!


  5. The day after leg surgery I went to get an ultrasound with the possibility of a mammogram. I found a sizeable lump (actually right above Frankenboob) and have had it for quite some time. I wasn’t too worried about it since I have fibrocystic breast disease, but this one was way bigger than the others. And I had my sisters feel it to tell me if it’s a big deal and they were like, dang girl, not normal. Also I found out my grandma died of breast cancer (I thought it had been a different type of cancer). So I thought I should get this checked out sooner rather than later. Didn’t have to do the mammogram (thank goodness); just an ultrasound. And it wasn’t even painful! I remember my first breast ultrasound in high school when I first had lumpy pain and I remember the tech really digging in and around all the clusters of cysts and I do mean really digging in. I remember crying in pain. I told this tech about it and she was like uh…that shouldn’t happen. So maybe I’m remembering a different test. Or maybe the other tech was a meanie-head. Anyway. She had the doc check the images and quickly came back to tell me it’s just a larger cyst; NBD. I asked her how much she can tell by looking at it before the doctor does and she told me the difference between a lump that’s cancerous and one that’s just a cyst–if I remember correctly she said a cyst is a fairly round black spot on the image and cancer would be less defined and have little tendrils coming out of it. She showed me what mine looked like and how it looks very similar to all the other cysts I have in there, just like three times bigger. So, hooray! Nothing to worry about there.

  6. WE WENT TO HAMILTON!! AN IMPORTANT BOOST TO HEALTH AND OVERALL HAPPINESS.

  7. Next, I went to see Dr. Maxwell about my colonoscopy results. Again, two years in a row, people: a healthy, pink, normal colon!! I don’t know why other gastroenterologists didn’t try dual therapy on me years ago, but it’s clearly working. Another Dr. Maxwell FTW. Of course we chatted for an hour about lots of things…books; how to pluralize words; trying for pregnancy; if diverticulitis is just fecal monoliths, aka hard poop blobs, as the poster in his office declares (the answer is not necessarily). (Is it weird that I feel like we’re friends? Like, James and I could hang out with him and his wife on weekends or something? And I don’t feel like it’s terribly one-sided? Although I’m preeetty sure he’d be at least a little less stoked about that than we would. We need more friends.)

  8. Next: Anniversary trip to Harry Potter world (rocked) and a cruise to the Bahamas (sucked so, so badly). Expectations-wise, mood-wise, sickness-wise.

  9. We got home late, late Friday night–and right before we took off for our last flight Dr. Parkinson’s office called to say the biopsy they took of my temple came back as another basal cell carcinoma so they wanted to schedule a surgery and how about tomorrow? So on Saturday morning we went back to Dr. Parkinson’s and he surgerized my right temple. (I just realized that all of my cancers have been on my right side, except the scalp one which was pretty much dead-center. Strange.) I’ve always thought dental pain is the worst pain because not only is it painful but the cavity-filling is the worst because you can hear it, feel it, AND smell it. This temple surgery was a lot like that. Since it was on a kind of challenging spot to operate on, I had to keep my head at a certain angle. And since I didn’t want any accidental slips to show up on my face, I had to stay really still. And since the surgery was right by my ear, I could hear it inside my head which made it extremely real and weird. And since I had to be numb in that super sensitive area, and since I’m a redhead (we have more pain receptors and therefore need more numbing agents to numb–which also means that since we’re generally feeling more pain than others, we’re also more pain-tolerant, which is just kinda wow) we did the maximum numbing which meant the inside of my eye was getting cold/numb. And since sewing a straight line over a round area requires a longer cut, I could feel the tightening/face-lift feeling. And since they had to do that oblong cut in order to sew, I have quite a long scar. And since they cauterized it, I could also smell it. Wanna see?
    temple surgeryIt seems pretty big and pretty lame that it’s on my face, but actually it’s pretty hard to see. The scar is close to the same color as my hair now and it’s nearly invisible when I put on my glasses because it just looks like more hair. Another spoiler: This one is also now cancer-free. All margins are clear =)


  10. Drum roll, please: The final update! I didn’t realize I had a full ten. After trying to convince my neurologist for two years that I hate Keppra and do not tolerate it well at all, he finally agreed to change my seizure meds. Keppra made me super tired (like, go to bed at 9 or 10 and easily sleep until 9 the next morning), gave me frequent headaches, increased irritability, (I feel like I’m forgetting some here), and I COULD NOT take the dose he actually prescribed me because all the symptoms worsened. So I’d been taking 500 mg once a day instead of I think 500 twice a day. I was open to switching not only because Keppra sucked so much, but Lamotrigine is commonly used to control seizures in kids. Seemed safer. Anyway, in order to change this med, you have to gradually lessen the dose as you gradually amp up the dosage on the new med. (I just found out that with Lamotrigine you can actually get a terrible reaction that could turn into Stevens-Johnson syndrome–do not look it up. If I warned you not to look at clean and stitched-up surgery sites, I definitely am warning you away from pics of SJ. In fact, I’m super glad I didn’t see those pics before starting this med…) I started taking Lamotrigine and during the hand-off I did feel a little seizurey. No auras, just a little less stable, a little more aware of that instability, more frequent ringing in my ears or one ear losing hearing. So I probably do have epilepsy after all. I never really believed it–hoped it was a stress response. And since I had that bit of increased seizuriousness, Dr. Watkins amped my dose a bit–I have to take 200 mg twice a day (must be twice a day or I won’t have consistent coverage) but I’m tolerating it so much better! Exhaustion: gone. Headaches: fewer, and probably not med-related. Tolerance for med: high. Irritability: normal levels. !!! This is big, people. In fact, after a while of less Keppra and more Lamotrigine, I started feeling more like myself. And it was such a big change that I realized in a single moment that since I was feeling like myself, I hadn’t been feeling like myself for two years on Keppra! Sad thing is that that also means that 2/3 of my marriage I had been not fully myself. That’s relieving and sad. It still has some risks of harm during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which sucks, but I don’t think I have much choice–a lot of my meds have some amount of teratogens.

  11. I guess there’s an eleventh update, and I feel quite lame about it. On the first day of filling my prescription for 200-mg Lamotrigine pills, I accidentally took two because I was used to taking two 100-mg. I didn’t think anything too bad would happen, but after a couple of hours it hit. I was watching a show and was really falling asleep. I remember thinking, oh yeah, that extra dose of Lamotrigine is probably making this happen. And then I got scared of falling asleep–I started getting scared that somehow I’d stop breathing or something serious like that would happen and I’d just never wake up. And since James sleeps like a rock, I’d just die. So I walked upstairs to tell him how weird I was feeling and on the way upstairs my limbs started getting really really weird–like I couldn’t control them very much. I’d make a movement and then the limb would do whatever it wanted–mostly like trying to lift a hand resulted in the arm flopping and waving way more than I told it to. Scary. James helped walk my Gumby body to bed and called poison control. They said nothing too bad was likely to happen, but I could be monitored at the hospital if I was super worried about it. I was getting super weepy and super scared and pretty much demanded James take me to the ER. My body was not under my control and I was scared. My hands and feet started to feel cold and a little numb. James thought I’d be fine since poison control said I’d be fine, and I’d actually done a pretty similar thing by taking my normal 3 pills of azathioprine–only it was Atavan and I normally only take a half of those very infrequently if I feel extra seizurey. Anyway, similar things happened–super super super unable to control my body (like my torso swaying in a chair) and feeling like I’m floating and a combo of super weepy and kinda laughy at the same time. Extremely sleepy. We were close to home so he took me home and I immediately fell asleep on the couch for like four hours. With Lamotrigine I was getting similar feelings, but since this was a new drug and could have slightly different effects, I wasn’t at all confident I’d be fine if I slept it off. I was cranky beyond cranky, worried, impatient. James thought it would be just the same and told me again and again I’d be fine and just needed to sleep, but I was worried about the not-breathing thing. On the way to the hospital my throat was also hard to relax–it was like I couldn’t stop flexing those muscles. My jaw was tight and my teeth were chattering even though I didn’t feel cold. It was pretty awful. And it was very similar to the last time I took too much of a seizure med, but the big difference between that one and this one was that I didn’t let myself fall asleep so I was aware of the scary things for way longer and felt the fear and stayed in that scary place until I couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t stay there. Hence, the ER trip. Side note–ERs are pretty much nothing like ERs depicted on TV. Nobody seemed to care that I couldn’t hold myself up. Anyway, eventually they got me to a bed, tried hooking up an IV (I say tried because the guy tried twice on my right arm and finally got it in on my left but they all hurt like a mofo and none of my IVs have ever been that hard to get in nor as painful. I had bruises in both arms for almost two weeks. And the bruises weren’t just discoloration–they hurt the whole time. Eye roll. So the problem wasn’t my veins; the problem was the IV-er.) Anyway, they did a blood test and an EKG, and the doctor came in and said it could be something other than the extra drugs–did I eat anything different or do anything different today? No. It could be some sort of allergic reaction, which would explain the throat tightening. How did my lungs feel? Okay, maybe slightly heavy. He said it could also be an infection somewhere in my body that hadn’t been treated. But anyway, we stayed there for hours and hours until 3 a.m. actually, and then the doc came back in and said it was just a reaction to the drug and everything was normal and how was I feeling? Not normal, but way better than when I came in–way more alert and less woozy in mind and limbs. He said the worst effects of Lamotrigine usually pass after five hours, which was about that time. He told us that the half-life for this is like super long, so I shouldn’t take my morning dose. Also, this drug, even though it’s used to treat seizures, can actually result in a seizure if you take too much. So I was glad I had gone to the hospital, even though there’s nothing anyone can do about a seizure except make sure you’re safe while having one. Anyway, we went home and I felt super lame for making James take me to the hospital since it wasn’t actually as big of a deal as I thought it was and James was totally right about that. Also I feel really lame about this one because there a plenty of things that happen with my body that are out of my control, but my carelessness this time was entirely under control–I easily could have avoided this debacle. Double-check your labels, people.

 

And that’s a wrap! Quite a few adventures in the past few months, but pretty much in the all-clear now. It’ll be nice to settle down for a while.

Avert Thine Eyes