Work and School from Home: School

The First Week
On Wednesday, March 11, Seattle Public Schools announced they were closing for at least two weeks starting the next day. I had half been expecting schools to close but I thought they would finish the week and then close. I think closing so quickly threw everyone off-guard.

Within about three hours we had an email from Calvin’s teacher. She said all kids were coming home with a packet of what they could work on and gave guidance on how long kids should work on each subject to mirror school time. Wednesday evening I moved the kitchen desk and computer down to the office where I was working and came up with a schedule for Calvin.
Mine and Calvin's desks
I decided it would probably work best if I tried to coordinate Calvin’s schedule with mine. My first attempt was pretty structured.

  • 9:00-10:00 – Math
  • 10:00-10:15 – Walk around the block
  • 10:15-11:15 – Reading
  • 11:15-12:45 – Lunch/Free Time
  • 12:45-1:15 – Longer Walk
  • 1:15-2:00 – Writing
  • 2:00-2:15 – Walk around the block
  • 2:15-3:00 – Science/Social Studies
  • 3:00-3:30 – Art/Music
  • 3:30-4:30 – Free Time
  • 4:30-5:00 – House hold cleanup time
  • 5:00-6:00 – Free Time

Julian’s daycare was still open but Jaeger and I talked and decided since everyone else was home, it probably made sense to keep Julian home also, starting Friday. We sent Julian to daycare on Thursday in order to get Calvin use to the new routine without Julian around.

Wednesday evening I talked to Calvin about the plan and requested to see his school packet. Calvin had no idea what I was talking about. I asked to see everything he brought home and did find several things for him to work on but no math. I emailed his teacher for clarification and she apologized for the confusion and said she and the other teachers had only an hour’s notice on Wednesday to prepare packets for the kids. However, Calvin could practice his math by going to an online site.

Thursday morning dawned and at 9:00 I dragged Calvin down to the office. He was visibly dismayed to discover this wasn’t just going to be time off from school. The first school day at home went ok. Calvin complained a lot about the all the walking but settled down with just a bit of grumbling. Though, he was ready to go back to regular school by the middle of the day.

One bright spot of Thursday was Creative Coding, Calvin’s in-person coding class. They managed one of the best pivots I’ve seen during this crisis. They saw the warning signs and came up with a contingency plan by March 4. Just hours after the school closures were announced, on March 11, they sent out an email saying that class was going to continue online and information on how that would work. On Thursday, they emailed out additional online classes students could sign up for. I immediately signed Calvin up for an additional class. I was tempted to sign up for more but decided 2 a week was probably enough. Plus, I didn’t want to hog all the spaces.

Work was a different story. I have a lot of experience working from home. After Calvin was born I spent 7 years working from home full-time. However, working from home in the middle of a burgeoning crisis, while also supervising a child’s school work, is not a normal work from home situation. It was probably one of my least productive working days. I spent the majority of the time waiting to see what our library was going to do while I contingency planned with other libraries on the best way to configure the integrated library system for a shut-down, or partially shut down, of the library. That evening, a notice was posted that, at end of day Friday, the library would be closing to the public till at least April 13.1.

Friday was hectic. Calvin was still resistant to the new school at home experience and I had a lot of systems work to shut down the library to the public. Jaeger and I did discover some bugs with all of us working from home. For example, I was relatively use to the experience of ignoring screaming around me to focus on work. Jaeger was not use to working with kids in the house and did not appreciate being given the opportunity to learn. After some consultation, I told the children that if they were going to be rambunctious during Calvin’s freetime, they had to stay on the first floor of the house. Overall, the school schedule still seemed to mostly work.

The Second Week
Things started unraveling the next Monday. Calvin moved from grudging acceptance to whining obstruction. I had several failures on Monday. First, I had decided to have Calvin work on art and music on alternate days. Monday was a music day. However, I was working so I couldn’t do any actual music instruction. I decided that I could give him a book about music and call it music appreciation. This didn’t work well. Second, he was suppose to do some sort of “social studies”. Again, my solution was to find a book roughly about the right subject. Third, Calvin truly hated how much I was dragging him out the house for boring walks.

Tuesday’s successes included:

  • Learning I could login to Schoology, the online software Calvin’s school uses, and view what his teacher posted to the class myself. This made it much, much easier to keep track of what Calvin was “suppose” to be working on.
  • Calvin video conferencing with his classmates. This seemed to help a bit with the social isolation. This involved learning real life skills such as keeping your mic on mute unless you were talking.
  • Art. Calvin’s clearly loved art and, after watching a video, drew a great sketch of a Mandalorian.

Tuesday’s problems included:

  • Math – The prior week Calvin had grumbled about doing math. Tuesday he was outright rebellious and spent the whole time allocated for it whining.
  • Exercise – The same thing happened with exercise. This concerned me as we didn’t have a lot of options for aerobic exercises in our house and I was worried that Calvin would become unhealthy.
  • Schedule – I learned that if I didn’t set an alarm for each “school period”, both Calvin and I would forget and he wouldn’t get through everything I had intended.
  • My Work – I was spending so much time trying to manage Calvin that I was having trouble concentrating on my paying job.

After supper I called a meeting with Jaeger and Calvin to discuss the school problems and request suggestions. Both Jaeger and Calvin thought it was completely unreasonable to have math first thing in the morning at 9:00 AM. I also compromised on exercise and told Calvin he didn’t need to come on the short walks with me but I still wanted him to do the lunch walk.

The prior Thursday we had ordered Calvin a chromebook computer. This was because we discovered that my old all-in-one desktop, which was adequate for basic internet connectivity, did not work for video conferencing. We had an external camera for the all-in-one but there weren’t any Windows 10 drivers. We had managed the first coding class by having Calvin login to two sessions: one on the computer so the teacher could see his screen and the other on the ipad so Calvin could talk and the teacher could see his face. However, it wasn’t ideal. Jaeger did some rush researching and determined that a Chromebook would probably meet all our needs and wasn’t excessively expensive. The Chromebook arrived on Tuesday and Calvin was very excited to have his own laptop computer. Jaeger set the computer with Calvin’s Google Family Link account as well as giving me a parent login for it.

Wednesday we started the revised schedule. Reading now became the first subject of the day which seemed to agree with Calvin better. At Calvin’s 10AM video conference, we started running into the limitations of the Family Link setup. Calvin was trying to join his class via Zoom when we discovered that child accounts couldn’t install apps or extensions. Jaeger investigated and verified the problem. He suggested having Calvin use the guest account to get around the problem temporarily which did seem to work, though it wasn’t ideal.

The Third Week
By the third week we had settled into a schedule that was roughly working and allowed Calvin to get some education while I also managed to do productive paid work. I relented on requiring him to take walks with me which also seemed to help his mood. Instead, I suggested he do some basic weight exercises while he watch YouTube. Not ideal but at least it was some level of movement.

For reading time, Calvin started reading The Complete Worst-case Scenario Survival Handbook. I was amused when Calvin pointed out that it had a section on Flu Pandemic. With the exception of masks2, the advice was exactly what everyone was recommending for the COVID-19 situation. I find it particularly amusing to see such a relevant section since previously Calvin had been reading about how to escape an alien abduction.

Thursday was Calvin’s birthday. Not good timing for a birthday. I decided to take the day off work and not require Calvin to do any school work. Instead, I tried to make the day as decadent as possible. We started the day with Chocolate waffles, topped with Nutella, whipped cream, and strawberries. After breakfast, we started watching the original Star Wars trilogy and had pizza for lunch. I had forgotten Calvin had coding class, which he wanted to attend, so he took a break from Star Wars for that. We we had a supper of fruit salad and cake and ended the evening by finishing up the original Star Wars trilogy. While I’m sure it’s not the birthday Calvin would have preferred, he seemed reasonably content with it.

Calvin and Julian eating chocolate waffles.

While I had been wrestling with figuring out how to make school work for Calvin, our au pair had been trying to figure out how to keep Julian entertained. Initially, they had been going to the playground but Seattle had made playgrounds off-limits the prior weekend. I invited him on my walks, and he’d come occasionally, but that still left a lot of time when Jaeger, Calvin, and I were occupied. He did a couple of FaceTime chats with his cousin. Our au pair also ended up playing what looked like endless Catan Junior games with Julian. I inquired of a mom’s group what other games we might try and ordered Sleeping Queens as well as Ticket to Ride: First Journey.

The Fourth Week
The Seattle School District had been very leery of providing online education during the school closure due to equity issues. In practice, this seems to have meant that how much education support was happening was very dependent on the school/teacher. On March 23, The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) released revised guidelines saying that education had to continue during the closure. The Seattle School District came up with a plan that involved online education for those that were able and paper packets and TV lectures for those that were not. Calvin was quite miffed to discover that learning up to this point had been somewhat optional.

From our perspective, the school district’s change of plans didn’t really affect Calvin’s classes. His teacher was already doing roughly what they were recommending so she just made a few tweaks. The one big difference I noticed is that with so many users Schoology was much slower and was obviously having capacity issues. I tried having Calvin listen to a couple of the district recorded sessions. The teachers obviously were trying very hard, and I thought the production quality was pretty decent. However, Calvin didn’t find it engaging at all so I eventually gave up.

For some of the school subjects, such as reading time, I required Calvin to spend the entire time doing the assigned task. However, for other school work that had more finite assignments, I let him do other things until it was time for the next school subject. Calvin spent most of this extra time, and much of his middle-of-the-day freetime, playing games on the Scratch website that other users had coded.

We continued to try to figure out how to make the Google Family Link do what we needed. One of the biggest problem was that regular YouTube was blocked and only YouTube Kids3 was available. This works fine for some things, such as the YouTube art videos his teacher was linking to. However, it worked less well for many other YouTube videos she suggested he watch. Our best work around was either to have him watch them on the iPad min, or to log out of his account and login to the Chromebook guest account.

The Fifth Week
One of the advantages of both Washington and California having school at home is that suddenly many Google parents were testing out Family Link. Monday morning Jaeger let me know that we should now be able to install the official Zoom extension in Calvin’s profile.

My original schedule had evolved over time and by week five looked something like this:

  • 9:00 – Reading
  • 10:00 – Class Video Conference
  • 11:00 – Respond to class chat question
  • 11:15 – Freetime
  • 12:00 – Exercise (weights or step)
  • 12:30 – Freetime
  • 1:00 – Writing
  • 1:30 – Science
  • 2:30 – Math
  • 3:00 – Art
  • 3:30 – Freetime

While Calvin and I had settled into a reasonable daily schedule, Julian started getting more clingy. It finally occurred to me that, while our au pair was doing a fantastic job, Julian felt left out because everyone else in the family was “working”. After a disastrous Tuesday, where Julian spent the last hour of my working day sitting on my lap, I decided I needed another plan. I told Julian anytime he wanted to be in the office he’d have to do “school work”. Previously, I had loaded up a whole bunch of audiobooks and preschool apps on our old iPad and I removed the less educational and more game-like apps. So, when Julian visited us I’d either have him do something on the iPad, or draw a picture. That approach seemed to work ok.

I had initially tried the district’s recorded resources and decided they didn’t work for Calvin. However, his teacher assigned the Ecosystems video and worksheets so I had Calvin try them. Neither he nor I could muster much enthusiasm for them so I had him watch Netflix’s Our Planet instead. It wasn’t teaching exactly the same lesson but it did cover how everything is interrelated which I felt was roughly the Ecosystems module’s message.

The Sixth Week
Calvin had spring break from April 13-17 which was a little weird. I wanted to keep Calvin occupied so I came up with an idea to have a “books to movie” week. The idea being that he’d read the book and then we’d watch the movie. That didn’t quite work out. I also decided to only work half days that week so I could spend more times with the kids, particularly Julian. That didn’t really work out either. I was hoping to convince Julian to go down to the Gas Works Park parking lot and practice riding his peddle bike but I never was able to convince him. So, it wasn’t a terrible week but wasn’t a particularly great week either.

The Seventh Week
I was relieved when spring break ended and Calvin went “back” to school. I had been a bit nervous about whether or not Calvin would be resistant to doing school work again but he didn’t spend too much time grumbling. I think he enjoyed being able to videoconference with his class again. His teacher changed the schedule so Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays were all-class video conferences. However, Tuesdays and Thursdays she would break the class into smaller groups. During one of the small video conferences they talked about a new assignment where they were suppose to write a “Farewall Letter to Jamestown”. It sounds like they were suppose to emulate older speech patterns and I heard Calvin say “Huzzah!” a fair amount.

Julian’s preschool decided it would start doing some Zoom conferences and they sent a schedule out which worked out to about 1/2 hour of video conference a day. As this was the first week there were some bumps. I’m not sure how much education Julian got out of the experience but it did break up his day a bit and I believe he enjoyed having a video conference just like everyone else in the family.

My main focus during this time has been to try to keep Calvin on track with reading, math, and exercise. I view reading and math as fundamental to the rest of education and exercise as fundamental to a healthy life. I felt ok about Calvin’s math and reading but still wasn’t particularly comfortable with the amount of exercise Calvin was getting. He was doing some but I didn’t feel like it was enough. However, this week we finally had an exercise breakthrough. I can’t remember whether Calvin or I suggested it. However, he started walking on the treadmill while watching YouTube. Thus entertained, he averaged at least an hour of walking a day which made me feel better about his activity level.

Calvin has been enjoying the art assignments every day and continues to put his own unique spin on them. For example, Calvin’s teacher suggested his class draw a glass of lemonade. Calvin drew the glass and then expanded it to show a zombie holding the glass.
Zombie holding a lemonade glass.

In Conclusion
On April 6, The Seattle Public Schools announced students would continue to learn from home for the rest of the school year. As a result, we have quite a few weeks left in this new weird school at home experience. It’s certainly not my first choice of schooling for Calvin but it’s the only option we have at the moment. All in all, we have our ups and downs but so far seem to be surviving.

  1. This resulted in many desperate people flocking to the library on Friday. It even got national coverage with U.S. News reporting that we had 8 times our normal Friday checkouts (
  2. The book recommended wearing masks. However, as of March 25 public health officials were still discouraging healthy people from wearing masks in order to save them for sick people and healthcare workers.
  3. Among other reasons, Calvin doesn’t like YouTube Kids because shortcuts don’t work the way they do with regular YouTube, including the very standard spacebar key to pause and restart videos.

Work and School from Home: The Beginning

Wow. This month has been surreal.

On Monday, February 24 I woke up with a sore throat. By that evening, I had a feeling I was getting sick. I woke up in the night and took my temperature. It was 99 which is high for me1. I emailed my manager I was sick and went back to bed. Jaeger was gone to Mountain View. However, our au pair was already scheduled to start at 7:00, because that is usually when I leave for work, so I didn’t have to get up to get the kids ready for school. We knew there had been a case of COVID-19 in Washington but, at the time, they were saying only people who had contact with people from Wuhan were at risk. By the end of the day I was feeling better and didn’t have a fever anymore.

On Wednesday, February 25, my symptoms had morphed into coughing and a runny nose. However, I had no fever2 and believed my energy was back so I went to work. I also went to work on Thursday but at that point COVID-19 was starting to make a bigger splash and people were obviously nervous when I coughed. So, I requested working from home on Friday.

In general, my library is not supportive of working from home. However, the IT department is a little more flexible because it is very useful to do some things on off-hours and weekends and no one wants to spend time commuting on a weekend if they don’t have to. However, there are still rules. I can request to work from home for one day in the future. I cannot request to work from home for multiple days at a time. At the beginning of my day I have to send out what I’m planning to work on. At the end of the day, I have to send a detailed3 report of what I actually worked on. While the rules seem excessive and can sometimes be inconvenient, I’ve never had my work from home request declined. Though, I usually don’t request it more than one day a week.

Over the weekend, King County Health Department reported it’s first COVID-19 death. Library employees started expressing concerns about everyone getting together for staff day, which was planned for the following Tuesday.

On Monday, March 2, I was still coughing and people were getting even more worried about COVID-19. I once again requested to work from home and it was granted. The intranet thread about COVID-19 and staff day concerns had exploded. At the end of day, administration had posted that Staff Day was still on for Tuesday but anyone who felt sick should stay home. I was feeling fine but still coughing a lot which I did not think would go over well around large crowds of people. So, I requested to work from home and once again, it was granted.

My cough had become less noticeable, especially if I constantly sucked hard candy, so I went in to work on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, the King County Healthy department said that anyone who could work from home should. However, my work didn’t support working from home during the Seattle Squeeze so I doubted they’d pay attention this time either. As a result, I went to work on Thursday. On Thursday, the city sent out a memo saying that employees were encouraged to work from home following the alternative work arrangement process that had been put in place during the Seattle Squeeze the previous year. Also on Thursday, our IT manager became increasingly concerned about the COVID-19 situation and said that anyone who could work from home should consider it. Except, this wasn’t supported library-wide yet so we still needed go through the normal process of requesting to work from home. Thus I requested, and was granted, permission to work from home on Friday.

Late evening Wednesday Jaeger’s work had sent out an email saying that Seattle employees should strongly consider working from home. Except Jaeger didn’t see it till he arrived at work on Thursday. Before he left, his employer had increased the strength of their work from home recommendation and said that anyone who wanted to take their equipment, such as monitors, home could do so. That decided Jaeger so he packed his desk into his car to take home.

Thursday is our normal date night. I get off work before Jaeger and usually walk to his work which is about a 1/2 hour walk. There were already signs that the big tech employers were strongly encouraging their employees to stay home. While people were still on the street, there was significantly less traffic than usual and the closer I got to South Lake Union, the sparser traffic became. On my walk, I passed a Girl Scout trying to sell cookies. Almost no one was going past her table, which was completely full looking. I stopped and bought some Thin Mints, even though I almost never buy Girl Scout cookies. I continued on my way and passed an salon that did eyebrow waxings. Two employees were sitting with nothing to do. I had been thinking of getting my eyebrows waxed for a while but I haven’t found a regular place in Seattle yet. So, I popped in and got my eyebrows waxed.

I met Jaeger and we went to eat at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant. The fascinating thing about this restaurant is they didn’t appear SDA. However, they used Loma Linda and Worthington fake meats in their food. Nowadays there are so many fake meat options, including amazing choices from Taiwan4, that I don’t expect to see traditional SDA fake meat. While eating, we discussed the prospect of both of us working from home for an extended period of time. Jaeger almost always goes into work5 and I don’t normally telecommute more than once a week, if that. Fortunately, since Jaeger’s employer let him take his monitor home, we weren’t going to have a monitor crisis. However, we decided we did need some additional supplies and so headed to Fred Meyer.

The store was an interesting experience. They had most of what we were looking for but some weird gaps. I had groceries delivered the prior Monday and my shopper said he couldn’t find any frozen mangoes, so I decided to see if any were back in stock. The frozen vegetable/fruit aisle had been decimated. I knew people were hoarding toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and soap. I didn’t realize that frozen vegetables were also a thing. Interestingly, I did pass several bottles of soap6.

Once home, I started reconfiguring the office. Our office doubles as our guest bedroom, and up-till-now, may have gotten more use as a guest bedroom. I prefer working from our bedroom because there’s more natural light and the view is better. However, since Jaeger wakes up later than me, it made sense that he would work in the bedroom. The desk in the bedroom was too small for Jaeger’s two giant monitors so we swapped it with the larger desk that was in the kitchen. Both looked better in their new positions so we probably should have done that all along. I surveyed the downstairs office and decided additional lighting would improve it. However, we didn’t have any extra lighting. I tried stringing Christmas lights and it did improve the vibe, but didn’t offer much additional lighting. I tried to convince myself I didn’t need more light but that lasted only a day after which I ordered another light from Amazon7. We also only had one office chair, and I contemplated buying another, but eventually decided I didn’t want to spend even more money and settled on using a dining room chair.

I got permission to work from home Friday-Tuesday. On Wednesday, March 11, I went back into work because I had a couple of in-person meetings which hadn’t been cancelled yet. Plus, I had a couple of library holds to pick up which were going to expire soon. Truthfully, that may have been the main reason I went in. The IT office was empty. Eventually, some people drifted in. At around 10am, administration posted an announcement to our intranet saying that they realized people who could work from home should and so they were going to start determining who might be able to work from home.

Our IT manager sent out a link to the livestream of Governor Inslee’s press conference about COVID-19 so I listened to it with one ear while I continued to work. As expected, he announced that gatherings of more than 25 people were now prohibited in King County. However, he also said that schools should start making plans for what to do if they were shut down in the next couple of days. At that, I started paying more attention and messaged Jaeger that we should come up with a contingency plan for if schools were going to be closed. Jaeger was not listening to the press conference but forwarded me a tweet from the governor saying he was not currently calling for schools to close. However, listening to the actual speech, I was pretty convinced it was a matter of when, not if.

Two hours later, The Seattle Public Schools announced they were closing for at least two weeks. Right about the time Jaeger sent me the link to the announcement, I heard some loud exclamation from my supervisor’s office (my supervisor is parent to four school-aged kids). I went to my supervisor’s office, we exchanged stunned looks, and then I took my lunch break and went down to the children’s section of the library and checked out 25 books. I probably would have checked out more but that’s all I could fit in my backpack and spare grocery bag I had with me and I was taking the bus back home.

Our IT manager strongly recommended that anyone still in the office that could work from home go home. So, after checking out books, I headed back home and finished the day working from home. Though, I spent most of the rest of the afternoon in a daze.

  1. My normal temp is 97.9. The last time I had a fever was probably sometime before Julian was born.
  2. I’ve been trained to believe one should go to school/work unless one is vomiting or has a fever. Obviously, this is not the protocol I’m following now.
  3. As in, I can’t say I worked on tickets, I have to note the ticket numbers I worked on and say what I did.
  4. I know that Taiwan’s vegetarian history predates that of SDAs, but SDA is the one I grew up with.
  5. For being a tech employer with amazing conferencing tools, they’re weirdly antithetical to working from home.
  6. Which I did not get because I usually get the giant refill containers of soap which was still mostly full.
  7. A couple of months ago I bought a light for Julian’s room. He has an overhead light but it weirdly is in a corner of his room which makes for odd shadows. I like this light because it’s a warm LED and also has three brightness settings. Julian likes it on the lowest setting when he sleeps.

Persimmon Trees

Our Seattle house has four Fuyu-style persimmon trees. This provides more fruit than five people can eat in a reasonable amount of time. I assume there are many ways one can preserve persimmons. However, it was December and I didn’t have a lot of time to deal with them. I found a blog post implying that one could freeze persimmons whole without first having to extensively prepare them. So, that’s what I did. I set them out on cookie sheets, froze the persimmons till they were hard, then transferred them to gallon zip lock bags for long-term freezing. Fortunately, we have an extra freezer in our garage.

This worked much better than I expected. It turns out that if you run frozen persimmons under warm water, their skins are really easy to peel off1. Once thawed, the persimmon is very pulpy, more like a ripe Hachiya persimmon. Now to figure out what to do with them . . .

Back in December, I made Jaeger’s mom’s Persimmon Pudding recipe which was good. Today, I decided to try to make persimmon muffins. I looked up persimmons in my trusty baking books but couldn’t find any appropriate recipes. Of course, I could have just searched the internet for persimmon muffin recipes, there are quite a few. However, I decided to adapt a King Arthur Flour recipe instead. I reasoned that persimmon pulp is somewhat similar to ripe mashed banana so I might be able to convert a banana recipe for persimmons. It seems to have worked fairly well. Here’s the recipe.

  1. Kind of the reverse of blanching tomatoes to remove their skins.

Reading Goal February, 2020 Update

I’ve been having trouble finishing books recently. I have quite a few half-read books sitting around that I think I’d like if I’d just finish them. However, T. Kingfisher’s newest book, Paladin’s Grace, was released a couple of weeks ago and it was the perfect book at the perfect time. I still like Swordheart a little better but Paladin’s Grace is my favorite for 2020 so far. I bought the ebook and will definitely buy the physical version also when it comes out.

We took a vacation last week during Calvin’s winter break. I started out with another great book, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse1 by K. Eason, but the others I had pre-downloaded didn’t speak to me. Fortunately, I found a couple of more that were good and even filled in a couple of my goal categories.

Books I’ve finished recently:

  • Bestseller: Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty – This one was a lot of fun. There were several lines I particularly enjoyed in it including:
    Before her booking was “accepted” she had to answer a very long, rather invasive online questionnaire about her relationship status, diet, medical history, alcohol consumption in the previous weeks, and so on. She cheerfully lied her way through it. It was really none of their business.

    This is something I feel we should do more often on the internet.

  • Memoir: Whiskey in A Teacup: What Growing up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits, by Reese Witherspoon – When first envisioned this category I had meant to read/listen to hefty serious biographies. However, it turns out that’s not what I’m in the mood for these days. I have enough serious stuff going on in real life at the moment and don’t need more in my reading life. Like the James memoir, this was nice and chatty. However, it took me a long time to finish, even though it’s a fairly short audiobook.
  • Informational: Ditch the City and Go Country: How to Master the Art of Rural Life From A Former City Dweller, by Alissa Hessler – I have a dream of someday living somewhere my neighbors aren’t right next to me. This book goes a bit deeper into some areas that I’m not particularly interested in, such as raising animals. However, the first section on picking a location had lots of really good things to consider.
  • Juvenile Books: Estranged, by Ethan M. Aldridge – This is a juvenile graphic novel that I brought home for Calvin. I read it after he finished.
  • YA Books: vN, by Madeline Ashby – I found this one via a list. It was definitely gripping and I sped right through it.
  • YA Books: Girls with Sharp Sticks, by Suzanne Young – I ran across this one via The Book Smuggler’s blog. It’s been sitting on my virtual to be read pile for a while and I finally downloaded it while on vacation. This was another quick engrossing read with a twist that I feel I should have seen coming.
  • Short Story Anthology: The Trans Space Octopus Congregation, by Bogi Takács – I still have an incredibly hard time reading short stories. Each story end takes me out of the world and it’s really hard for me to go back into another world, particularly if they’re completely unrelated. However, there were several stories in this collection I found intriguing and would have liked longer versions.
  • Short Story Anthology: A Very Scalzi Christmas, by John Scalzi – Jaeger got this for me for Christmas, so it’s a really good thing I didn’t end up getting it for him . . . This one generally is a lot more lighthearted than the Takács anthology. As I mentioned, I don’t tend to like short stories. However, I read this while around Jaeger’s family so I wasn’t in an environment where I could really concentrate on a full-length novel anyway.

Current Goal Counts:

Category Goal Number Read
Best Sellers 2 2
Biography, Autobiography, Memoir 2 2
Librarian Recommended 2
Written by an author from another country 2
Graphic Novels 2 2
Historical Fiction 2
Informational 2 1
Juvenile Books 6 3
YA Books2 26 3
Literature 2
Mystery 2
Poetry Anthologies 2 1
General Fiction 2
Short Story Anthologies 2 2
Total 36 16
  1. This feels like a YA book to me. However, SPL didn’t put it in the YA section. Nor does K. Eason, as far as I can tell, consider it YA. So, it doesn’t get to go in that category. I might see if my son might like to listen to the audiobook though . . .
  2. Ok . . . I forgot I had such an ambitious goal in this category. Obviously I need to be reading more YA.

Reading in 2019

2019 isn’t quite over yet and it’s possible I’ll still get through another book or two before the year ends1. However, I think we’re close enough I can safely list the books I read.

In 2019 I read 80 books2:

  • 1 Anthology (though I’m partway through another)
  • 3 Graphic Novels
  • 3 Non-Fiction Books 3
  • 45 Novels
  • 13 Novellas
  • 1 Novelette4
  • 2 Juvenile (one novel and one novella)
  • 1 Poetry book
  • 11 YA Novels

Overall, I feel like most of the books I read were excellent. However, there were two I particularly loved. They aren’t necessary the “best” of the bunch but these are the ones that completely sucked me in while I was reading:

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher
This is my favorite book of the year. It has so many things I love in it: middle-aged woman, snark, practical outlook in life mixed with optimism and a dash of naivete, and a magic sword. I bought the physical book and then bought the ebook. I’ve already re-read it. I desperately want there to be an audiobook version so I can add it to the books I use to help me fall back to sleep. This book makes me happy just thinking about it.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
This was my favorite book published in 2019. I really enjoy mysteries that are set in a science fiction universe.

Books read in 2019:
The Outside by Ada Hoffman
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
This is How you Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
The Princess Saves Herself by Amanda Lovelace
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Shadowblade by Anna Kashina
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson
The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
Witchmark by C.L. Palk
Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Rule of Capture by Christopher Brown
Once & Future by Cori McCarthy
Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson
Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson
Killer Pancakes by Diane Mott Davidson
Lark! The Herald Angels Sing by Donna Andrews
Wilde in Love by Eloisa James
Fair Play by Eve Rodsky
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
Cruel Prince by Holly Black
The Wicked King by Holly Black
One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
Early Riser by Jasper Fforde
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik
Small Favor by Jim Butcher
Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
White Night by Jim Butcher
Giant Days by John Allison
A Very Scalzi Christmas by John Scalzi
After the Crown by K.B Wagers
Beyond the Empire by K.B Wagers
The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
Gods Monsters and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather
Paris in Love by Lisa Kleypas
Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold
Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan
The Late Show by Michael Connoly
Spaceside by Michael Mammay
Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant
The Armored Saint Myke Cole
Catfishing on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
I Moved to Los Angeles and Worked in Animation by Natalie Nourigat
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Escaping Exodus: A Novel by Nicky Drayden
The Black God’s Drum by P. Djèlí Clark
Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs
Spousonomics by Paula Szuchman and Jenn Anderson
The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin
The Library of Lost and Found: A Novel by Phaedra Patrick
The Poppy War by R. F Kuang
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas
Star Uncharted by S.K. Dunstall
Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire
Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire
The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire
The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire
Ebony in Onyx by Sharon Shinn
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher
Swordheart by T. Kingfisher
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Children of Blood and Bone my Tomi Adeyemi

  1. Especially since my kids will be with their grandparents.
  2. Assuming I haven’t forgotten any books . .
  3. These are books I’ve read all the way through, not books I’ve referenced specifically sections.
  4. I read all the 2019 Hugo Nominee Novelettes but I’m only considering one for this count because it’s the one read as a hard copy, which I admit is a weirdly arbitrary distinction.

Reading Goal December, 2019 Update

Right after I made my goal I read several books within my goal categories. Then December got stressful and I reverted to comfort books and re-reads.

Books I’ve finished recently:

  • Bestseller: The Late Show, by Michael Connelly
  • Graphic Novel: I Moved to Los Angeles and Worked in Animation, by Natalie Nourigat – I’ve never wanted to work in animation (fortunately) but this was an interesting read and it was particularly fascinating to read the bits about adjusting to moving to LA.
  • Juvenile: The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen – This book was a fun, fast read.
  • YA: Catfishing on Catnet, Naomi Kritzer – This was delightful. It was uplifting and funny even while discussing scary topics.
  • Juvenile: Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher – I bought this one on a whim because it’s by T. Kingfisher and I enjoyed the first paragraph. In the acknowledgements T. Kingfisher says she thinks it’s a juvenile novel and I agree so that’s how I’m categorizing it.
  • Memoir: Paris in Love, by Eloisa James – This book has a nice and chatty tone that I listened to while making suppers.
  • Graphic Novel: Giant Days, by John Allison – This was the start of a series and, if I remember, I’ll read more in the series.
  • Poetry: The Princess Saves Herself in This One, by Amanda Lovelace – Poetry isn’t something I naturally pick up. However, I really enjoyed this one and ended up buying a physical copy.

I’m currently in the middle of reading two short story anthologies so I might be able to cross that goal off soon. However, it’s slow reading because even if I like the individual stories, the lack of an ongoing plot means I don’t feel any urgency to continue after I finish each chapter.

Current Goal Counts:

Category Goal Number Read
Best Sellers 2 1
Biography, Autobiography, Memoir 2 1
Librarian Recommended 2
Written by an author from another country 2
Graphic Novels 2 2
Historical Fiction 2
Informational 2
Juvenile Books 6 2
YA Books 26 1
Literature 2
Mystery 2
Poetry Anthologies 2 1
General Fiction 2
Short Story Anthologies 2
Total 36

Reading Goal 2019/2020

For the past couple of years I have loved nominating and voting for The Hugo Awards. While I enjoy it, I also feel like it has consumed my reading life. Particularly in the months right before nominations open I felt like I was trying to cram the best science fiction and fantasy books of the past year. In 2019 I have already read a fair amount of excellent science fiction and fantasy. However, I’m going to take a break and branch out more. I’m still planning on nominating the books I happen to have read and loved but won’t try to be as systematic about it.

Back in 2013 I had a goal to read 36 books across a range of genres1. I’m going to something similar this year, though with minor tweaks in the categories. Here’s my current goal:

Best Sellers 2
Biography, Autobiography, Memoir 2
Librarian Recommended 2
Written by an author from another country 2
Graphic Novels 2
Historical Fiction 2
Informational 2
Juvenile Books 6
YA Books 6
Literature 2
Mystery 2
Poetry Anthologies 2
General Fiction2 2
Short Story Anthologies 2
  1. I just realized this was when Calvin was turning 4 and Julian turned 4 this year. I doubt this is coincidence.
  2. Not romance, mystery, science fiction/fantasy, etc

Alaska Cruise: Cost and Reflections

I really enjoyed this cruise but I also think a substantial reason I enjoyed it was because I was traveling alone. It was glorious to only be responsible for myself and not to have to consider anyone else’s preferences. I’m really going to miss a lot of things such as taking a nap whenever I feel like it and food magically being ready whenever I want it without me having to think at all.

Costs (excludes shopping)
This cruise wasn’t cheap. If I had been sharing a room with someone else it would have been much cheaper, at least as an average, but when traveling alone you basically pay double for the base cost. People tend to be very vague about costs which makes it hard to predict how much one will end up spending. So, in case anyone stumbled across this and wants to know, here’s the breakdown of what I spent:

Base cost of cruise (for a solo traveler) – $1,662.00
Airfare/Hotel – $0 (since I departed and returned directly to Seattle)
Bus to Cruise Ship – $2.75
Lyft Ride Home – $23.85
Thermal Suite and Thalassotherapy Pool 7-Day pass – $139.00
“Premium” Internet – $111.99
Hotel Service Charge – $1401
Spa Pedicure/Manicure/Products/Tips – $311.68
Juneau Shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier + Tips – $62.25
Sealaska Heritage Museum – $5.00
Totem Center (Ketchikan) – $6.00
Southeast Alaska Discovery Center – $5.00
Total – $2,357.53

If I were to do it again, I’d probably skip all the spa stuff. The pedicure was probably worth it this time, because I definitely needed it and I’d never had one before, but this is something I could do much, much cheaper elsewhere. I also found interacting with the nail technician to be slightly stressful which was contrary to my goals in taking the cruise (nothing to do with the nail technician, this is a me thing). If you like drinks (not just alcohol but things like soda also), that would be extra and I believe the cruise tends to make a lot of money that way. I also didn’t go on any of the official excursions. For me, this was the right choice but others might enjoy some of the excursions. I only ate on the cruise ship and only in the included dining room/buffet. I might have eaten off the ship if I wasn’t a vegetarian but, as far as I knew, there weren’t any world class vegetarian options in the towns I visited so there wasn’t much point in eating off the ship.

What Went Well and/or Lessons Learned

  • In general, I preferred eating in the dining room. It was the one social thing I did and offered a social situation in a formal enough setting it didn’t cause much stress. In addition, the dining room offered a built-in portion control that the buffet didn’t (though, dessert was offered for every meal).
  • Liked hiking by myself
  • Skip shopping – it’s not for me, particularly with crowds
  • The therapy pool was lovely and, for me, was worth the extra cost.
  • Internet . . . I’d pay again but would know that I couldn’t rely on it.
  • Going alone was fantastic as I could completely focus on what I wanted to do without any guilt.
  • Skip the spa stuff
  • Liked taking the morning/evening deck walks
  • I took the right amount of luggage, even though it felt like I over-packed.
  • I really liked departing and returning to the city I live in. Flying would have added more stress to the adventure.
  • Alaska had a pretty good mix of sea days and shore days. However, I would have preferred longer on shore (the 1/2 day made it challenging to do anything other than the cruise excursions and shopping).
  1. $14.50 is charged automatically per day unless you specify otherwise.

Alaska Cruise: Day 7

Today was our last full day. I woke up around 7:00 and walked 2 miles around the deck before going to the dining room for breakfast. Then, I went to one of the lounges and read until lunch time. I went to the dining room again for lunch and then came back to my room. I intended to walk around the deck some more but got sucked back into reading.

Right before arriving in Victoria I grabbed some supper from the buffet. I was on the fence regarding whether or not I should get off the ship but I had just finished my book so decided I should probably stretch my legs. I walked to the Royal BC Museum but, once there, wasn’t sure I wanted to pay attention to the exhibit. So, I walked to the lighthouse and then came back on board ship.

I finished a novella and then procrastinated on packing my luggage. Once I finished packing my luggage I placed it outside the door, as instructed, and then went to bed.

Alaska Cruise: Day 6

Last night I was planning to watch a movie before going to bed but I was so tired I went to bed at 7:30 (Alaska time). I set my alarm for 6:00am both because we were scheduled to dock at Ketchikan at 7:00 and also to get myself somewhat back on Pacific time. When I got up I only walked a mile around the deck and then went to the buffet for breakfast.

Not surprisingly, it was raining in Ketchikan. I had thought about going on another hike but my body was still a bit tired from yesterday. Plus, I had to be back on board ship by 12:30 so it didn’t allow for a lot of time. Instead, I decided to wander around town. Unfortunately, only the super touristy shops were initially open. I can’t figure out why there are so many jewelry stores around the docks of both Ketchikan and Juneau. Why would I buy stuff on an Alaskan cruise that I could pick up anywhere else?

Ketchikan Creek with iridescent mosaic sculpture of a salmon.

Terry Pyles “Yeltatzie Salmon” Sculpture

I stopped by Artic Spirit Gallery and bought a butterfly print. I talked to the owner for quite a bit and he said I should go to the Totem Heritage Center. It was already on my list of possibilities but based on his recommendation I decided to do that next. On the way, I stopped by Parnassus Books & Gifts. When I had first looked them up, Google had said they weren’t open til 10:00. However, it was open well before 10:00 today. I picked up a book for Julian and one for Calvin (because neither have enough books).

The Totem Heritage Center was very interesting. It provided more context than I had gotten the previous day from the Totem Trail (though, to be fair, I didn’t listen to the audio tour so possibly that would have gone into more detail). Unfortunately, my back started hurting while I was walking around which distracted me a little bit. I must have done something to it while hiking yesterday but nothing obvious springs to mind.

I walked back to town and was contemplating going back to the ship early. However, I meandered around town instead. I went into a Salvation Army thrift store and found a Lightning McQueen life jacket. However, given Julian already has a good life jacket, I did not purchase it. Next, I stopped by Crazy Wolf Studio and admired all the art. I ended my Ketchikan experience by visiting the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. It wasn’t huge but had a variety of exhibits and was definitely worth the $5 entry.

Since it was almost time to leave anyway, I went back to the ship for lunch. Then I went back to my room and took a nap. I was a glorious nap. The kind where when you wake up you’re still floating in a delightful haze. Eventually, I did wake up all the way and spent the rest of the day reading until it was supper.

After supper I walked two miles around the deck and then soaked in the thermal pool for a bit.

In retrospect, I think I probably should have made a hike work, in spite of the short shore time, rather than wandering around the town. I seem happiest when I don’t have a lot of other people around me.

Tomorrow we going to Victoria, BC. However, we don’t get in till 6:00. I’m planning to spend most of the day reading. I’m still debating whether or not to get off the boat in Victoria. It might depend on how much reading I get done. I can visit Victoria sometime with my children. It’s much harder to get time alone to read.