Developing Habits

What habits have you developed for yourself? Are you working on any habits for the new year?  Back in late October I decided to add in one healthy habit at a time for myself. I started with drinking more water.

For step one, I began to track how much water I was drinking. I knew that it wasn’t a lot, but I didn’t truly have an amount in my mind. I use my Fitbit tracker, since it’s already connected to me and tracks my steps every day. Early on I saw that I was not drinking much water, so my goal was to drink at least 64 ounces each day. It took me about a month before this habit became consistent – both the drinking of the water and the tracking of my intake.  After Thanksgiving, I had a great stretch through most of my winter break where I met my goal just about each day. It was so nice to see a row of little stars on my app!

Looking back, this last week was not good for my goal. The difference between last week and last October, however, is that I still drank 40-60 ounces of water each day, I just didn’t track a full 64 to hit that goal.  Back in October, I was drinking half that amount! It’s nice to see that I have developed a habit of drinking more, and that with focused effort I can continue to meet my goal.

Another habit I wanted to work on this month was writing. I set a goal for myself to write every day.  So far, I have written in my journal every day this year, I have written 4 blog posts, and I’ve even written some not-ready-to-be-read-by-anyone fiction. There are still many more days in this month, but a few things have helped me with this goal.  First, I keep my journal on my kitchen table so I see it in the morning and the evening each day.  Second, I created a list of blog topics that I might want to write about, so I have ideas as soon as I sit down to write. Third, I told a few friends about this goal for accountability (and now anyone reading this!). I love writing, but I’ve never made a conscious effort to commit to a daily practice. I look forward to reflecting on this at the end of the month to see how I feel.

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Reflecting on Women Mentors

After recently finishing Leading While Female: A Culturally Proficient Response for Gender Equity by Trudy T. Arriaga, Stacie L. Stanley and Delores B. Lindsey, I was reflecting on the amazing women leaders who have served as my teachers, mentors, sponsors, colleagues, and friends throughout my 23+ career in education.

“Our best reporting shows that women make up 75% of teachers, 52% of principals, and fewer than 25% of superintendents. We can safely say that women are doing the work of classroom teaching while, disproportionately, men are making administrative and leadership decisions.”

Every time I see the statistics above I marvel at the incredible luck I’ve had to work for more women leaders than these averages.  Since I began teaching, I have had as my direct or indirect supervisor: 1 female assistant principal (and many males), 2 female principals (and 3 males), 7 female assistant superintendents (1 male), and 5 female superintendents (3-4 males). My first three years of teaching I only saw male leaders, but once I moved to San Diego and found a great position, I was blessed to see women leading at all levels of the educational system.

While I had no ambitions to even become principal at that time in my career, it was never a doubt that I could, if I wanted to. Then that first female principal, my now-friend Bobbie, saw leadership potential in me and she encouraged me (now I recognize this as sponsorship) to get my Master’s Degree so I could move into administration.  From then on, I continued to learn and grow under the support of female and male mentors who expanded my knowledge, challenged my thinking, and provided me opportunities to do and be more than I knew was possible.

I was pleased to be able to “pay it forward” in my director roles, when I was in a formal position to mentor instructional coaches, coordinators, and assistant principals, as well as aspiring leaders through the academy I ran for three years. I am so proud of all of the academy “graduates” who are now assistant principals and principals. It is so important that we seek out our own mentors and that we intentionally mentor others. Just as I believe every educator can benefit from their own instructional coach, every aspiring and current leader can grow with the support of mentors. Often we need someone else to show us what is possible, especially if we are women who put in way more time than men do before applying for the next level position.

As a female leader, I will continue to support other leaders at all levels of our system. How are you supporting leaders in your system?

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How I Read So Much

After publishing my list of books I read in 2020 someone asked me how I possibly read so much, while maintaining a full time job that keeps me plenty busy throughout the week. I decided to use that question as a prompt for one of my daily writing sessions (part of a goal in January).

Since 2015 I have been keeping track of what I read here on this blog.  Below are my annual stats.

  • 2020: 71
  • 2019: 89
  • 2018: 55
  • 2017: 59
  • 2016: 69
  • 2015: 44

Before this, I often kept a reading journal, especially when I was a middle school English teacher encouraging students to develop readerly habits. I have been an avid reader since I was a teenager.  The joy of having a father who worked in the publishing industry was that I was able to get access to a lot of new books any time I wanted them! I went through phases with a variety of authors (Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Mary Higgins Clark – early days!) and then phases of discovering new-to-me content. I didn’t read much fiction in college, but once I became a teacher I began to read a lot of YA and adult fiction for my own enjoyment.

Nowadays, I choose to read something every day. Sometimes my morning routine is quicker than others and I can squeeze in 20 minutes of pleasure reading before work. Other days, I listen to an audiobook during my commute and/or my workout. Some week days I come home and still have energy and enough brain power to read in the evening; other days all I can manage is watching some bad tv before bed! But when I have the energy, I choose to read before watching tv.  Back when I watched live tv with no fast-forwarding capabilities, I used to mute the tv during commercials so I could read. That is how much I enjoy reading.

There are certain things that I know I will enjoy and be able to read in just about any mindset. It helps to know what genres you like best, and to have a few favorite authors you can always go back to.  If I’m slogging through a long, dense nonfiction book, I have to also have a fiction book that I am reading so that I don’t lose my love for reading in general.  Reading those nonfiction books matter, but I need a balance in my reading life. I also give myself permission to quit a book. At this stage in my life, I know what I like and it’s not a good use of my time to read something I hate.

So my quick tips to how I read so much are:

  • Find what you love and read more of that!
  • Choose to read before you do other things (like mind-numbing tv)
  • Find a balance (fiction, nonfiction, audio, etc.)
  • Keep track and compete with yourself!
  • Have fun!

One thing currently missing in my readerly life is a book club. I’ve participated in book clubs in the past, and I’m considering finding one for myself this year.

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Hobbies

I find that the older I get, the less adults share their hobbies with others. I know that those of you with kids in the house may not have as much time as those of us without kids, but I also know that everyone has their own interests. I also think that it’s time to stop celebrating a culture of always being too busy.  Work isn’t meant to be a 24/7 enterprise, and having hobbies helps us step away from the non-stop inbox demands.

I love hearing how other people chose to spend their free time (however much or little that is in a given time of your life!).  I was reminding of this topic while listening to a podcast episode of The Glo Show by Gloria, who shared her own hobbies. Here are a few of my hobbies.

  • Reading: If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you must know that I love to read! Reading is relaxing to me, but it is also educational, informative, and entertaining. I love learning about new places, meeting interesting characters, and getting lost in a fictional world that is a little nicer than our real world can be at times. Here is a list of what I read in 2020.
  • Podcasts: Over the last few years I’ve gotten more into podcasts. I like listening to short, manageable stories while on my commute to and from work. I know there are amazing education-related podcasts out there, but I prefer to spend my time just before and after work listening to non-education topics.  Here are a few of my favorite podcasts these days: 10 Things to Tell You, Office Ladies, The Glo Show, Women & Money, Smartless, Literally, The Lazy Genius, Armchair Expert, Brene Brown. The first two in the list I listen to weekly without fail.  The rest will depend on my mood, and the guest or topic of the show.
  • Taking pictures: I won’t call this photography, because I have limited skills that I haven’t attempted to grow, but I do enjoy taking pictures. I take walks outside as often as I can, and I try to take at least one picture on each walk. Walking is also a hobby at this point! I love nature, and finding beauty in small or unexpected places. I also love being able to look back at my pictures from years past, and remember where I was and what was going on in my life and/or the world.
  • Travel: This is a hobby I have missed so much over the last year. I love traveling and visiting new places. I have a number of friends who I enjoy traveling with, and we are all ready to book our next adventures as soon as it is safe to do so. There are still so many places to visit on my travel bucket list!
  • Music: When I’m not listening to podcasts or audiobooks in my car, I love to blast my favorite songs and sing along! Music always makes me happy. I’ve missed live concerts over the past year as well, and look forward to going to concerts and theater performances again in the future.
  • Writing: This is a hobby that I know many people don’t share with me. Many adults (and children) seem to dislike writing, but I have always loved to write. I’ve been an amateur writer my entire life. Some days I blog, other days I journal, and sadly most days I write emails at a minimum. I’ve decided to challenge myself to write something every day for the month of January, so you may see a few more blogs pop up! Some of the things I write will not be published, but some will for sure.

A picture from Iceland last year that incorporates travel, taking pictures, and walking

What are some of your hobbies?

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What I Read in 2020

Each month I blog about what I’ve read. I do this primarily because I tend to forget the plot of a book about 10 minutes after I’ve finished reading it, and therefore I often forget what I’ve read (and I read a lot!). So my blogs serve as a reminder and a reading record.  One of my reading goals this year was to keep better track of what kind of books I was reading by type and by author.

Below are my stats for the year. Since this is the first year I’ve done this, I’m not sure how many books I’ve read outside of my “bubble” in past years, but I know it wasn’t as many as this, since I was making conscious choices this year. The number still seems small considering how many books I read overall, so this is a continuous goal. I think it’s so important to read diverse books, as reading allows you experience things you can’t do or understand in your own life.

Fiction: 52

Nonfiction: 19

Young Adolescent: 9

Audiobooks: 12

Author is of or plot addresses a different race/ethnicity, orientation, religion than me: 23

Female author: 51

Male Author: 21

Nonbinary Author: 1

One other fact I decided to count at the end of the year was how many books I read through my library e-reader (i.e., for free!): 39

I also like to compete with my own reading records from previous years, so here is a summary of how many books I’ve read the last few years. While I didn’t break my 2019 record this year, I read more than each of the other years on this list.

  • 2020: 71
  • 2019: 89
  • 2018: 55
  • 2017: 59
  • 2016: 69
  • 2015: 44

For my final list of what I read this year, I’ve included ** in front of my favorite books of the year.

  1. Inside Out by Demi Moore [audiobook]
  2. **City of Girls  by Elizabeth Gilbert
  3. The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson
  4. Marcelo and the Real World by Francisco X. Stork [audiobook]
  5. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  6. Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting The Educational Norm by Hamish Brewer
  7. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
  8. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
  9. My Life Has Been A Bowl of Cherries by Louise Bond Dowling Vincent
  10. **The Institute by Stephen King
  11. **Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
  12. On The Come Up by Angie Thomas [audiobook]
  13. Open Book by Jessica Simpson [audiobook]
  14. **The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
  15. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow [audiobook]
  16. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
  17. **The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
  18. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
  19. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
  20. They Call Me “Mr. De” by Frank DeAngelis
  21. A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell
  22. Sea Wife by Amity Gaige
  23. **Untamed by Glennon Doyle [audiobook]
  24. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
  25. The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand
  26. Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
  27. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
  28. **How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  29. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  30. Beach Read by Emily Henry
  31. The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben
  32. Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
  33. Stealth by Stuart Woods
  34. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds [audiobook]
  35. **Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan [audiobook]
  36. Treason by Stuart Woods
  37. **Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World by Layla Saad
  38. **When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal
  39. **White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo
  40. **The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  41. Deacon King Kong by James McBride
  42. All Adults Here by Emma Straub
  43. Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
  44. Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr
  45. Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
  46. The Last Flight by Julie Clark
  47. Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker
  48. Life Will Be the Death of Me by Chelsea Handler [audiobook]
  49. The Likeness by Tana French
  50. Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes) by Mindy Kaling [audiobook]
  51. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  52. Thrive Through The Five: Practice Truths to Powerfully Lead Through Challenging Times by Dr. Jill M. Siler
  53. Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown [audiobook]
  54. The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle
  55. So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  56. **Coaching for Equity: Conversations that Change Practice by Elena Aguilar
  57. When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
  58. The End of Her by Shari Lapena
  59. **The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  60. ** Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane
  61. Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben
  62. Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World by Scott Harrison [audiobook]
  63. Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
  64. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  65. Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
  66. The Guest List by Lucy Foley
  67. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
  68. One Life by Megan Rapinoe
  69. Hit List by Stuart Woods
  70. Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
  71. The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

To read more about what I thought of each of these, you can look back at my monthly summary posts. That’s what I do when I need to remind myself of a book or an author.

 

 

 

 

I’d love to hear what your favorite books of the year were in the comments.

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My Word of 2021

Six years ago I discovered the free Find Your Word course by Susannah Conway. I love the process of journaling through what 2020 has been for me, and what I wish for in 2021.  This is different from setting new year’s resolutions. I choose to find a word that represents what I want, need, and hope 2021 will bring into my life, but sometimes the word chooses me.

In 2020, my word was GRACE. This word found me long before we knew what 2020 would bring to the world. I needed to leave space for grace for myself and for others as we lived through a global pandemic.

In 2019, my word was SHINE. My goal was to shine personally and professionally, and I did that through a new job, a published book, and a sunflower tattoo 26 years in the making!

In 2018, my word was POSSIBILITY with a supporting phrase of Adventures that Stretch. This idea helped me looked differently at what was possible if I shifted my viewpoint. I also enjoyed some incredible adventures that did help me stretch in new ways.

For 2017, my word was CHALLENGE, and it served me personally, professionally, and on a global scale. I love new challenges and appreciated the permission I gave myself to rise to some new challenges and to say, “I’m not going to take this on,” to other challenges.

In 2016, my word was REJUVENATE, with a more internal, physical focus that I needed.

The first time I chose a focus word was 2015, and my word was MINDFULNESS. This proved to be a fulfilling year of learning to be more present, learning to mediate, and to enjoy each individual moment.

My word of 2021 is… DARING.

 

This word feels like a challenge to my introverted self, but also like something I need after a year of grace and masks and isolation. I’m ready to be daring in some big and small ways in my life. I’m looking forward to a fun 2021!

 

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December 2020 Reading Update

In this last month of the year my reading life was all over the place. I needed some fun fiction to distract me during some stressed out times, and then over vacation time. In December I read:

  • Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline – I loved the first book at the end of November, and a friend was raving about this sequel, so I rushed right into. Overall, I liked this book, but not nearly as much as the first one. I loved the John Hughes world, and if I was a bigger Prince fan, I would have loved that world too. The other pop references in the sequel weren’t as enjoyable to me, plus it took a long time for Wade to gain empathy and become a better human being, inside and outside his game world.  But I still appreciate the creativity of the author, creating such a rich fantasy world.
  • The Guest List by Lucy Foley – This was a fun mystery to read on a cold Saturday, wrapped up in a cozy blanket. Throughout the book I hated each character equally, for their lies and secrets and hubris. The book takes place on a supposedly haunted Irish island, where everyone is brought over by rocky boats for Will and Jules’ wedding. Will’s groomsmen are all awful immature men who still relish the naughty fun they got into at their boarding school. Jules and her half sister have their own secret shames they are trying to hide. Everyone feels suspicious! As you read, each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective and part of the story takes place in the present, and part the day before, flashing back and forth as we learn more about what happens at the wedding. When I finished, I was sure I had read other books by this author because the style felt so familiar, but I haven’t. It’s similar to books by Shari Lapena.
  • Skipping Christmas by John Grisham – I have read this book at least 10 times, always in December. I love the laugh-out-loud humor of the outrageous story! It’s a heartwarming holiday story that just makes me feel like I’m wrapped up in happy memories.
  • One Life by Megan Rapinoe – I picked this up from my library because I saw Glennon Doyle speak with Megan during an Instagram live (and I love all things Glennon Doyle!). I know nothing about soccer (men’s or women’s) and even less about Megan, but I enjoyed this story. It is part a history of her soccer career and part a story of her growing activism. I appreciated the way Megan addressed the reality of intersectionality, being a woman who is also gay, in a male-dominated sport where women are severely underpaid. I appreciate that a white women is using her platform to shine a light on the inequities of racism and sexism and homophobia in our country. She seems like a spitfire of a woman, determined and outspoken and brave. I enjoyed this even more than I thought I would.
  • Hit List by Stuart Woods – When I need a quick fiction read that I know I will enjoy, I look for the next book in the Stone Barrington series. I love these fast-paced mysteries.
  • Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin – I remember a few months ago when Laura Tremaine mentioned this book on one of her podcasts. I wrote down the title and waited for it to be available on my library e-reader app. By the time I started it, all I remembered was that a young American girl goes missing while on a family vacation on a Caribbean island. But this story is about so much more than that. It’s about Alison, who goes missing, and Claire, her little sister whose life is impacted more than once. It’s about the locals on the island, the life of rebellious teenagers, secrets, lies, and life’s trials. This was not what I was expecting, but it was a very interesting story that I’m glad I read.
  • The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins – This was my December Book of the Month Club pick and it was good, but not great. I loved the ending more than the first half of the book! Jane is a girl with secrets about her past when, as a dog walker in a wealthy neighborhood, she meets a recently widowed man, Eddie. Jane and Eddie fall in love, with the shadow of his missing and presumed dead wife hanging over them. All of the characters had secrets in this book, and most were not likeable people, but interesting characters in this charade they crafted.

 

Here are December’s stats:

Fiction: 6

Nonfiction: 1

Young Adolescent: 1

Audiobooks: 0 (Currently listening to Obama’s latest book which will take many more hours to finish!)

Author is of or plot addresses a different race/ethnicity, orientation, religion than me: 1

Female author: 4

Male Author: 3

Nonbinary Author: 0

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Blogging Trends in 2020

Over the last few years, I’ve done an end-of-year wrap up in the form of a short summary.  Just like the rest of the world, I find December to be a good time to pause and reflect and the year. I look back at many things, but I like to see what my blogging looked liked for a year. This is what 2020 looked like on Reflections on Leadership and Learning.

My favorite blog topics this year:

  • Coaching for Equity – I loved Elena Aguilar’s latest book so much that I turned it into a blog series so I could reflect at the end of each chapter.
  • Grace – I wrote about this a lot because it was my word of the year, long before I knew what 2020 was going to bring us!
  • Happiness Hashtags – Early on in the global pandemic, participating in photo challenges and using these hashtags brought me some much-needed joy!
  • Antiracism work – I am still learning and growing in this area, but I read a lot this year and I reflected on the impact of reading How to Be an Antiracist had on me.
  • Green School initiatives – Before the pandemic, I began a green schools blog series. Then we weren’t working in our schools and I just couldn’t keep writing about what wasn’t happening. After attending the green schools virtual conference and visiting my nephew’s school, I had a few more thoughts to share this year!
  • I ALWAYS love blogging about my reading!

My most read blog posts from this year:

The month in which I published the most posts:

  • November & February

The top countries where my blog readers live (outside of the US):

  • Phillipines
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • India
  • Australia
  • China (new to the list this year!)

New terms people searched that helped them arrive at my blog this year:

  • over scaffolding
  • humans crave feedback
  • resources when observing a lesson

Blogging goals and reflections:

Last year I was hesitant to set specific goals, because my blog evolves based on where I am and what I’m doing (and reading) at the time. Last year, I didn’t know if I would have any blog series to write about, and I ended up with a few! I wrote that I wanted to diversify m reading, and I have done that this year (as will be reflected in my final book list of the year). This year, the only goal I’m writing here is a copy from last year:

  • I will continue to use this blog as a source of reflection. I enjoy writing and appreciate that anyone is interested to read my posts.  I look forward to 2021 (for so many reasons!).
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A Graceful 2020

I start each calendar year sharing the word I’ve chosen as a focus for the year. Some years I have blogged about my word repeatedly throughout the year, and other times it’s been nothing more than a blip on the blog in January. But I love to circle back to my words each December. Whether my chosen word was impactful or not, it’s a nice way to wrap up the year and reflect on what was.

My word of 2020 was GRACE.

Back in January I wrote:

I love that grace can be both a noun and a verb, something you can have and something you can do. Grace has connections to gracias/ grazie, which means giving thanks. I feel a sense of peace and contentment when I think of giving myself grace and holding space to give others grace. I created two different images to mark my word this year, knowing that grace will come in a variety of shades and meanings throughout 2020.

Looking back, it’s interesting, though not surprising at this point, that the first image I created was what I looked at and used most often in the beginning of 2020.  This image was my desktop picture on my laptop, and a screensaver as well. It’s happy, hopeful, and calming. It makes me smile.

The second image I created seems so much more fitting for the rest of 2020, the year that changed for me on Friday, March 13 when our schools send students home for emergency distance learning due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, the corona virus. This image is a little darker, a little colder, and the black and white just gives it an ominous feel.

 

The word grace was calling to me starting back in September of 2019. I didn’t know why.  I created these images in December of 2019, in preparation for the blog I posted on January 1, 2020 introducing my new word. At the time, I was just going for variety, not knowing when or how I would use the pictures. It’s funny how life sneaks up on you in unexpected ways. I needed grace to get through this year, and I needed to give others lots of grace on this journey as well.  Grace was exactly what I needed in 2020.

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November 2020 Reading Update

I just realized that I never published this post, even though we are well into December now. This was the month of women authors, apparently! So I intentionally picked up some books by male authors late into the month.

This is what I read in November:

  • So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo – Each book on read on my antiracism journey adds to my knowledge, increases my understanding of perspectives different than my own, and builds upon previous information I’ve learned. I feel like some of the information is blending together in my mind, which I hope means that it’s solidifying for me and will result in better actions as I move forward. The author is a Black woman who has spent her career writing and educating folks about race, talking about race, and developing policies that create equity and inclusion in the work place. I appreciate that each chapter includes a focus area, such as intersectionality or police brutality or privilege, real world examples, and tips to do better. The author shares funny and painful examples, incorporating humor and hard truths into her advice.
  • Coaching for Equity: Conversations that Change Practice by Elena Aguilar – It is no secret that I have loved every book Elena Aguilar has written. She is my professional guru and I love her work! I appreciate that she took her coaching expertise and applied an equity lens to the entire process in this beautiful, amazing, professional resource.  I loved this book so much that I dedicated an entire blog series to it (which starts with my reflections on the introduction). I couldn’t resist writing out my reflections to the questions that Aguilar proposes at the end of each chapter. I highly encourage this book to all educators everywhere, but especially in America, and especially in November of 2020.
  • When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton – I am notoriously bad at remembering the details of books after I’ve read them, even ones I’ve loved, but I remembered enough of Next Year in Havana to be able to jump back into the life of the Perez family, who we meet back up with to learn about their live in Miami, after being exiled from Cuba when Castro took over. This story follows Beatriz, the rebel sister, through her cause to avenger her brother’s death, see Castro leave power, and her dream to return to life in Cuba. While the story had fun, society events, travel, political heroes, and more, it was such a bittersweet story, knowing that Castro would live long beyond Beatriz’s young dreams. Cleeton’s writing still makes me want to visit Havana someday. I love her writing and the vivid pictures she paints with words.
  • The End of Her by Shari Lapena – I know what to expect from this author – a fast-paced mystery where you doubt each character as you read along to find out the truth.  In this case, Patrick’s second wife Stephanie, learns that his first wife died accidentally when he is accused of killing her by an old lover.  As Stephanie learns more about her husband’s past, she has more and more doubts about him.  Erica, his lover out for money from anyone and everyone, spins a tail that makes Stephanie doubt her marriage and her safety. As Patrick’s life unravels, we learn more and more about each character and their flaws. I loved the ending, which I won’t give away here. It was a fun read!
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I just realized this is the third Reid book I’ve read and enjoyed!  This one was my favorite of the three. Thank you to my cousin Jenny for recommending this, and sparking me to get it as a bonus from my Book of The Month club. I loved learning Evelyn’s life story as she told it to Monique, for a secret tell-all biography. With each chapter, you learn more about Evelyn and you think you’ve got her figured out, but there is always another twist to her romance, her decisions, and her life trajectory. I loved the characters who came in and out of her life, especially Harry and Celia, and the friendships and love story. This was such a fun read and a bittersweet story!
  • Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane – This was my November Book of the Month selection and I loved it! I always enjoy a fast-paced mystery with twists and turns, when you suspect every character at some point. When Lila’s husband goes missing, we read flashbacks about her marriage with Aaron, and follow the investigation to solve the mystery of where Aaron went and what happened. When I read a book in one day, you know it’s a good one!
  • Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben – I realized that all the books I read this month were by women so I intentionally chose to read this book next! I love Harlan Coben’s mysteries. Even though this wasn’t about his usual characters, I enjoyed the story. I felt like Nap, the vigilante cop who hasn’t gotten over his twin brother’s death 15 years earlier, was a lot like Bolitar and Win, Coben’s main characters in other novels. Everyone was a suspect in my mind at some point, as Nap tried to figure out how a recent crime connects to his brother’s death. It was a sad story to get to the end, but I enjoyed the fact-paced ride. Because Coben lives in New Jersey, his books usually take place there. This book also made me want to research the former missile sites that were hidden around NJ., since I know nothing about them.
  • Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World by Scott Harrison [audiobook] – I heard about this on a recent podcast episode, and I was interested by the idea of a charity focused on clean water. I didn’t know that the first two thirds of the book would be his memoir, starting in childhood and detailing his mother’s illnesses growing up. He had a very religious upbringing and then he rebelled against all that and went wild for his teens and 20’s. His redemption was about returning to his faith and wanting to serve the world instead of himself.  While I appreciated his reflections on his volunteerism and the development of his charity, I was annoyed through most of the book. Partly because of his ego and his pushy enthusiasm for every new idea he had (he speaks like a used car salesman to me), and partly because I’ve recently read so much about white saviorism and this just sat wrong with me. I love the idea that everyone needs and deserves clean water, and that there are many remote areas in the world that need access to clean water. I heard the statistics that so many world health problems relate back to lack of access to clean water. I appreciated that Harrison and his organization (charity: water) partner with locals to build wells and develop water systems that local citizens can be proud of. I even appreciated his business model where 100% of donations go directly to the work of bringing water to those in need, and he fundraises separately to cover the overhead costs of running the non-profit. But I had this nagging feeling while reading the book that so much of the charity was build on the premise of white saviorism and I couldn’t get past that. Reading this makes me want to investigate all charities that I invest in more thoroughly, and to continue my own antiracism education. Here are a few additional items I read about that connect charity and white saviorism (blog  Nonprofit Quarterly stats and Community-centric fundraising and the White Savior Industrial Complex), in case you want to further your own understanding of this complex issue.
  • Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey – When I started tracking the books I read this year, I purposely wrote woman, man, and nonbinary in the author category. I wanted to be inclusive, even though I wasn’t aware of any nonbinary authors at the time. A friend recommended this author, because they identify as nonbinary and have written a number of books. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this particular book. It was a mystery book that felt like it was stealing a little from Harry Potter and a little from British mysteries, with whiny, unlikeable characters. I finished it solely to learn how the mystery wrapped up (i.e., who caused the sudden death of a character), but it was unsatisfying. I have read reviews of this author’s other books, and I might try a different one at a later time.
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I LOVED this book! It’s a YA dystopian story set in the future, but based on 80’s pop culture and video games. It was such a fun ride, to re-live my own memories of playing Atari with my family, while Wade/ Parzival plays through adventures to find the “eggs” hidden in the virtual world created by a billionaire. I appreciated that the use of avatars disguised people’s true selves, and yet the characters got to know each other so well in spite of their secrets. I can’t wait to read the second book, which my friend Barb told me was even better!

This year I’m also keeping track of the stats of the books I read. Here are November’s stats:

Fiction: 7

Nonfiction: 2

Young Adolescent: 1

Audiobooks: 1

Author is of or plot addresses a different race/ethnicity, orientation, religion than me: 4

Female author: 6

Male Author: 3

Nonbinary Author: 1

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