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Once again, I have a library problem. Or I’m a problem to the library. At any rate…I also have a solution.

So I was doing really well, only checking out a sensible number of books at a time that I could reasonably expect to finish before they were due back at the library. Just a little thing like having to schedule a time during their limited hours to pick them up was all it took to curtail my habit of going on a reservation spree and taking out more books than I could possibly hope to finish that quickly. But now that the library is back to normal hours and operations, and I can just pop by and pick up everything I’ve put aside at my convenience, I’ve reverted back to old practices. I wish I could tell you that the stack above represents even a fourth of the books I have checked out, but…no.

This month, I’m weaning myself off again. I’m never at a loss for something to read. I have four apps with books and audiobooks I can read from my phone. I also have hundreds of books in my personal collection at home. So there’s no reason I need to hold on to the library’s copies that someone else could be enjoying. I’m going to read my books for the clubs I’m in and my joy selections for the month, but other than that? Working on this stack of library books so I can get them back where they belong.

[One could argue that I could just return the books without reading them and check them out later when I know I have time for them, but one would receive a derisive scoff as a reward for this helpful suggestion which would then be completely ignored.]

Book Clubs

Joy Books

We’re going a little meta this month. These joy books actually deal with joy as a subject.

Library Books

These make it back to the library by the end of the month.

Pride Month!

Of course, I will also be reflecting on my favorite books written by LGBTQIA+ authors and/or starring LGBTQIA+ characters in my local library’s monthly book discussion. If you want to explore this genre, some of my favorites can be found on these lists.

What’s on your TBR list for June?

This was my first week back in the office after working from home since last August. There was quite a bit of adjustment, but nothing I didn’t expect. At least there were no surprises?

I expected that my focus would be down with other people around, and that has been somewhat true but it’s not been as bad as I thought it would be. I expected I would not like getting up even earlier in order to commute. Accurate. Commuting is a ridiculous use of time. Consoling myself by listening to Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris on audio during the daily drives.

Five things I have enjoyed about coming back to campus:

  1. Automatic daily walk. Depending on how far away I have to park from the building (I’m not buying a permit for three and a half months because 1) no and 2) stubborn), just by getting from my car to the building and back to my car I am automatically getting in an extra 10-15 minutes of walking a day.
  2. Random free snacks. In related news, I have a new donut place near my house I need to visit some weekend.
  3. Seeing coworkers face to face has been nice.
  4. Not hearing every. step. my. upstairs. neighbor. takes. all. day. Last night it was as loud as usual, and I didn’t even care because my psyche had not been beaten down all day long by unnecessary stomping noises. Note to self: next time I work from home, make sure the job pays well enough that I can live in a building with no one else above me.
  5. Since our phone system is now through MS Teams, I have a headset. This is the reason my focus has been better. When I’m not doing anything in particular, I can still hear through them but if it’s loud in the office when I’m trying to do something, I just play some soothing music to drown it out.

Overall, not too bad a week! Have a good weekend!

May TBR

This month’s reading plan includes a few that I didn’t finish from last month that I’m meandering my way through, but the new reads list is shorter this time. It’s starting to feel like summer again here, and my summer reading usually veers off the intended path. I want to keep up with book club selections and my joy project while still keeping some space for whatever delights intrigue me.

Two such delights are already on my radar:

  • How To Eat by Nigella Lawson – The one that started it all. I love how Nigella Lawson writes about food. I can’t believe I’ve never read her first book before.
  • Hanged by a Thread by ACF Bookens – The third in this series by one of my favorite cozy mystery authors. I’ve already pre-ordered my ebook for mid-month.

I have five book club selections for the month. My group that meets the first Tuesday of the month is reading something I’ve already read for another book club, and I liked it but I am unlikely to read it again in the next few days. I think I remember enough of The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek to discuss it over wine. The others include:

The main joy project selection this month is Joyful Militancy by Nick Montgomery and Carla Bergman (with an intro by Hari Alluri, whose poetry I really like). Resistance often seems so heavy, so I’m interested in the ideas of these experienced activists who urge readers to find joy, friendship, curiosity and other wonders in the work. And, because art and activism often go hand in hand, I’m continuing to work through Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit and The Collaborative Habit.

What are you reading this month?

Today is the last day I will be working from home. I go back to the office tomorrow to staff the spring closedown/summer opening transition. A lot of transitions are happening right now.

Here are five things I’m particularly into/experiencing this month:

  • The fox family living in Susannah Conway’s backyard. I am so in love with these little darlings. Today we were happy to learn that, after a brief absence, the mama fox is still with them. I am riveted. One of them may or may not be my new background on my phone.
  • Drinking more water. It’s amazing (and by amazing, I do mean just basic biology) how much better I feel when I’m hydrated. To aid with this goal, I made a sub-goal of drinking a full bottle of water (20 oz.) first thing in the morning. This sometimes goes well and sometimes I lean back on “well, at least a full bottle by the time I finish my first cup of coffee.” That works really well, unless you take into account days like today where I put off taking the last swig of my first cup of coffee until mid-afternoon so that I can still meet my goal (see below). *sigh* Baby steps.
  • Coconut ice cream/gelato. I just love it. Specifically, the Talenti Caribbean Coconut. So good.
  • Easing back in to gatherings. This past year, I have learned a lot about myself and the people around me (metaphorically, as there have been few people actually around me). I have learned the difference between a barrier and a boundary. The next few weeks bring some long-awaited in-person reunions, and I’m very excited about that.
  • Knitting something I might actually wear. My box sweater has become longer and it’s so soft. I’m halfway through, so maybe I’ll get around to finishing it soon.

What are you into lately?

Variations on a Skillet

I have dreams about this delicious stew.

I’ve mentioned before that I have been trying to limit my food waste for the last year, and I have had some pretty good successes. I used to throw out a lot of condiments. I would open a jar of salsa, for example, to eat with some chips, and the rest of it would sit in the fridge unused until it started to grow things. One might argue that another option is just to make salsa from scratch because 1) it’s so much better and 2) then I would only make as much as I need, but to make this argument one would first have to drastically overestimate my commitment to eating salsa. I’ve tried to pay more attention this year, only opening condiments when I have a plan for the whole container. It’s not perfect yet, but progress has been made.

I also used to throw out a lot of prepared food. I cook in big batches to save time and energy, but I always got tired of eating what I made on Saturday before it was all gone. I like leftovers, just not five times in the same week. This past year, I’ve been freezing leftovers so that they last longer, and it has completely eliminated my prepared food waste. I have included my favorite basic big-batch concept (the skillet meal) and variations of the recipe below. These have become my go-to staples, and at any given moment, I probably have a few servings of at least two of them in the freezer.

I find the peeling, chopping, etc., of fresh vegetables cathartic, and I’m so happy about the local produce available. But if you are short on desire, time, storage space, or access to fresh options, frozen veggies work beautifully in all of these recipes, too. I cook all of these things in my trusty, gigantic covered skillet. If my apartment were on fire, I’d save my grandmother’s quilt, the picture frame bookends with beloved photos from my childhood, and that skillet (not really – insurance would easily cover its replacement. But I do really, really love it).

Another thing to know about my cooking style – I rarely measure. This is why I need supervision when I bake, and I accept that about me. I may begrudgingly stick to a recipe the first time I try it, but then I do what I want until it “looks right” every time after that. I’ve included links to similar recipes for those of you who want a little more structure.

I also don’t like a lot of salt, so most people will want to add some to the seasoning step to taste.

Basic Skillet

  1. Sauté aromatics (onions, peppers, celery, garlic, etc.) until translucent-ish
  2. Add and cook protein/additional veggies (chicken, ground beef, beans, veggie crumbles, etc.)
  3. Add a large can of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes or a mess of chopped fresh tomatoes from the market
  4. Add water (about three cups? Whatever roughly a large tomato can and a half is) and bring to a boil
  5. Add seasonings
  6. Add starch (enough to soak up the liquid, which will vary from recipe to recipe. Just make sure it is all thoroughly covered with room for stirring and you should be fine) and cover, stirring occasionally, until it’s done
  7. Add final touches and serve

Cheeseburger skillet – similar to Budget Bytes Skillet Cheeseburger Pasta – it’s essentially Hamburger Helper from scratch so it’s got the childhood nostalgia going for it. Onions and peppers (1), ground beef, veggie crumbles, or black beans (2), onion soup packet and fresh ground black pepper (5), your favorite small pasta (6), top with dill pickle relish (although I just stir a few spoonfuls into the big batch itself) and cheddar cheese to serve (7).

Chickpea stew (pictured above) – I can’t remember where I got this idea. I may have just had a lot of the ingredients in the kitchen and thought, “I wonder how that would taste together.” Onions, peppers (I used a poblano in this one and I highly recommend that), celery, and garlic (1), chickpeas (2), garam masala (5), top with raisins or currants (optional but delicious) to serve.

Cajun skilletanother Budget Bytes inspiration – really delicious no matter which protein option you choose. Onions, garlic, and bell peppers (1), chicken, sausage, or kidney beans…or all three (2), oregano, thyme, cayenne, paprika, red pepper flakes, black pepper (5), a cup and a half (ish) of rice (6).

Mozzarella skilletessentially, cavatini (but mine is better) – this is one of my favorite meals from childhood. Mom made it with ground beef and pepperoni, but I usually make it vegetarian. It’s delicious both ways. Onions and garlic (1), ground beef, pepperoni, pancetta, and/or diced salami – alternatively (or additionally -just throw everything in), zucchini, eggplant, and/or spinach or whatever green you have handy (2), onion soup packet, oregano, thyme, basil, a little cayenne, black pepper (5), your favorite pasta (6). Then – take all the mozzarella you have (shred it first, of course – for scale, Mom made this in the small stock pot and put 32 oz. of cheese in there – do not skimp) – and stir it into the skillet until it’s melted and, frankly, glorious. Add shaved Parmesan on top to serve.

I typically eat these dishes as meals by themselves, but I suppose you could serve a salad and bread alongside them. If you simply must act civilized about it. But there’s something so comforting to me about tucking into one delicious bowl of goodness.

And bonus – they all freeze beautifully.

April TBR

April is one of my favorite reading months because it’s National Poetry Month. It’s also National Jazz Appreciation Month, and while the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival is postponed until the fall this year, I am going to be reading through some old standards via keyboard. So we’re taking liberties with what goes on the “reading” list this month.

Joy Selections:

Art in its various forms is a big part of my life, and I’m exploring the joy in that this month.

Book Club Selections:

This list will seem long. No, I haven’t joined four more book clubs. It’s just because Follow the Reader is doing choose-your-own-adventure poetry this month, and my perpetual adventure is that, when left to my own devices, I can’t pick just one collection.

There may be other things that I read this month, but these are my main foci. What are you reading these days?

March TBR

Most of this month’s selections

I’m quite excited about this month’s reading – so much so that I have already started every book on the following list. Some of them I have finished, with some I’m a few chapters in, and others I’ve just read the first few pages. So that’s the kind of reading month it’s going to be – very little structure, picking up whatever I am most intrigued with at the moment. Rampant, abundance anarchy.

Which is pretty appropriate for a month where my book with joy in the title (and the supplemental I have chosen to accompany it – not sure when I decided to do that but we’re going with it) is about the joy of reading children’s literature as an adult. This concept has my cosign already, as I am experiencing the delight of tucking into the Percy Jackson series that my friend Maggie is reading her son.

Here are the books I have started for the month of March:

Joy books:
* Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy
* Why I Read: the Serious Pleasure of Books by Wendy Lesser

Book club selections:
* Brother & Sister by Diane Keaton
* The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
* Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Anne Friedman
* Professional Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajayi Jones
* The Removed by Brandon Hobson

New books by friends/library haul/etc.:
* Crossed by Death by ACF Bookens
* The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
* Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
* When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
* Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I’ll let you know which ones I enjoy the most!

I don’t typically write in books, but I will tab the heck out of them.

So, as expected, I didn’t finish all 35 books from my February TBR. I finished 14 of them, though, which is still more than I usually read in a month. I guess when there’s winter weather chaos where you can’t do much else but read by flashlight while the lights are off, counting on the body heat you built up rearranging furniture when the electricity was on, finishing books is something that will happen. Not quite the process I had in mind at the beginning of the month and not the way I would have preferred to go about it, but here we are.

I didn’t receive any guesses via email, but I want to honor the intention to raise money for Denton Bail Fund. So I’m taking the money I would have spent on a book for someone and donating it to help those who are retained even though they haven’t been convicted of any crime but just don’t have the money to post bail.

My favorite book I read in February was Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. The audiobook is fantastic – highly recommend listening to it. I also was delighted by Untamed and Spark Joy. Not only were they both charming and entertaining, but the former served as a much-needed reminder to pay attention to my restlessness and continue to seek out what I’m to be doing with my life, and the latter was the inspiration for the aforementioned furniture moving (because once you KonMari your clothes, why not reorganize the whole room so that it sparks more joy?). Cocaine Blues introduced me to a new (to me) series that I love (as well as a new TV show). I also enjoyed the first three of Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Lots of good reading this month.

March TBR coming up in a few days, and the joy selections focus on the joy of reading. What are you reading this month?

This is nowhere near the whole stack – just the ones that were on the unshelved/library cart. Also, this month has a lot of ebook and audiobook selections.

So listen. I got really excited about being three books ahead of schedule on my Goodreads challenge and super happy about the 24in48 marathon this coming weekend and…I kinda overplanned. I fully admit that it is HIGHLY unlikely that I will finish all the books listed below but I do not care because I want to read them all RIGHT NOW and will probably start them all this month anyway because what even is an attention span.

I’m just going to list them this month because to list AND talk about them would be a little tl;dr even for me. So here we go. At least I’ve divided them up into categories for you.

Books I’ve started and will continue to read/finish this month:

Whew. I told you I have no attention span. Definitely about 20-150 pages into each one of these so far. And we press on.

After my joy selections from last month were of the “ok, Type A, calm down and maybe sit still occasionally” variety, and I am not good at following that advice but I am super great at overcompensating by going the exact opposite direction, my restless soul has gone into super cleaning mode. I’m not complaining, but it seems like a good month for these three:

I also find joy in revisiting things that I’ve read before or series that connect me to people. So I’m dabbling in a little:

Book club selections for the month:

Recommendations from friends or continuing reading from an author or timely re-read or just because I grabbed it from the library because it sounded interesting and now I only have it for 21(ish) days:

And why not finish it off with some poetry?

It’s only…35 books. In a month.

This goal is so ridiculous, I’m making a guessing game out of it. For every $5 you give to Denton Bail Fund, you get one guess about how many I’ll *actually* finish from February 1-February 28. I’ll send the person whose guess is the closest (or the person whose name I draw out of a hat, if there’s a tie) the book of their choice from this list. Because of who I am as a person, some game rules:

1. To qualify as an entry, you must email coffeesnob@gmail.com:

  • Screenshot of your donation confirmation to Denton Bail Fund with date and amount showing
  • Which of the 35 titles you would like to receive if you win
  • Your mailing address (I will not sell your information – just use it this one time to mail you your book if you win)
  • Your guess(es) – one per $5 donated, whole numbers from 2-35 (I’ve already finished 2 – don’t guess lower than that) – about how many books I will finish between February 1 and February 28.

2. Donations made to DBF must be dated between 12:01 a.m., January 1, 2021 (because yes, I reward being already on this) and 11:59 p.m., February 10, 2021, to count toward an entry.

3. Deadline for receiving email entries is February 11, 2021, at 5:30 p.m., CST.

4. I will send a confirmation email when I get your entry. If you do not get a confirmation from me, you have not successfully entered.

All other things being equal, I will have a final total posted by March 5 and will place the order for the winner’s book by March 10, 2021.

Okay, so I’m going to go read now. I have so many choices! This is the best month!

January TBR

Not pictured – all the audiobooks I’m listening to because of my current inability to sit still

I meant to post my TBR list on the first weekend of January, but it sort of got away from me. Beyond what we’re reading in my various book clubs, my January selections are typically a mixture of seize-the-day-and-world books accompanied by a little comfort reading, and this January is no exception. This year, of course, I have the extra category of at least one book with joy in the title (although if my growing list is any indication, it will likely be more than one a month).

Joy

This month’s selections are three books by Jennifer McCartney – The Joy of Being Online all the F*cking Time, The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place, and The Joy of Doing Just Enough. They’re quick reads – I’ve already finished the first two listed – and they’re perfect for the month when I am both excited and overwhelmed by my goals. Although they are meant to be humorous parodies of self-help books, their message provides the bit of balance I didn’t know I needed. Yes, have goals but also maybe calm down a little bit because the messy living room and the fact that I check my phone at least twice an hour? Not really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, and sometimes I need to hear that.

Book Clubs

  • How Not To Die Alone (or, as this title was deemed too harsh to do well in the UK, Something To Live For) by Richard Roper. I love this book. These are the kinds of characters I love/want to write, and the story was quirky and endearing.
  • The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi – Just started listening to this one, and I expect to love it. The description is right up my alley, and the writing thus far is gorgeous.
  • It Chooses You by Miranda July – I was gifted a copy by my friend Sarah, and I am really happy to have the hard copy of this one. The visual effect is a big part of the story.
  • The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey – I know almost nothing about this one, but Jenny Lawson picked it, so I know it’s going to be weird and wonderful.
  • Black Futures by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham – the first selection in Roxane Gay’s new book club called The Audacity.

Personal Selections

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – One of my favorite New Year’s Day traditions is re-reading this little treasure. I get something different out of it every year.
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez – Our Follow the Reader book club had a choose-your-own-adventure selections for December, and I was reminded that I meant to read this last year, so I’m starting it now.
  • If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet? by Cynthia Heimel – My friend Brenda has a little free library at her house, and when this showed up, she messaged me to see if I wanted her to put it aside for me after she finished reading it. Of course I did. What a great title!
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle – I’m twenty pages in, and I’m already feeling a little more feral. I like it so much!
  • Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes – This book changed a lot of things for me a couple of years ago and put a lot of things in motion that caused me to seek out communities that have played a big part in keeping me alive this year. The audiobook is fueling so much gratitude.
  • Night Cycles by Elizabeth Wilder – I’ve taken one of her poetry classes, and I love this collection. I was going to save it for Lent, but it’s pretty fitting for this political climate, too.

What are you reading these days?

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