Saturday, December 19, 2015

Book Review: Shatter Me

Title: Shatter Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: YA, Science Fiction (Dystopian), Romance

Four walls of an asylum and a small notebook make up Juliette Ferrars' entire world until the day a mysterious boy enters her cell. His name is Adam Kent, and he doesn't seem to remember Juliette--but she remembers him. They went to school together, back when the world was normal: before the food shortages and the nuclear bombs and the iron fist rule of The Reestablishment.

Juliette never fit into the normal world. A touch from her can cause a person to convulse in pain; if she holds on too long, they die. Now Warner, a young but ruthless leader, wants to mold her into a weapon for The Reestablishment. He'll use anything in his power to bend her to his will--including her budding feelings for Adam. It seems Juliette will only ever cause pain to those closest to her. Then Adam tells her a secret that will change everything...


My friend Rita, who writes YA fantasy romances, ardently recommended this book to me. My reaction wasn't quite as passionate. I liked it okay. And I could see it's appeal. The book is beautifully written in a unique style that milks emotion out of every situation--good for romance readers. But the fantasy elements are unoriginal, the setting is vague, and the plot is thin.

Let's start with the good stuff.

Tahereh Mafi writes in a way I haven't seen before, crossing out lines that are too real, too raw, or too embarrassing, like one would do in a journal. But Juliette isn't writing in a journal, though it appears that way at first. This is happening in real time, and the crossed out words represents her self-editing mind.

     "What are you writing?" Cellmate speaks again.

     These words are vomit.

     This shaky pen is my esophagus.

     This sheet of paper is my porcelain bowl.

     "Why won't you answer me?" He's too close too close too close.

     No one is ever close enough.

I can relate to this. I'm always trying to stomp out weird thoughts that pop into my head. It gives me, the reader, a close connection to Juliette. I'm aware of even her subconscious thoughts. At the same time, Tahereh Mafi's blend of metaphor and hyperbole creates an atmosphere of heightened emotion. Every tiny action is supercharged with meaning.

     There are 15,000 feelings of disbelief hole-punched into my heart.

     His eyes are 2 buckets of rainwater: deep, fresh, clear.

     I step backwards and 10,000 tiny particles shatter between us.
How poetic
This unique style caught my interest from the start and kept me reading.

It had to, because for the first 50 pages, nothing happened. Juliette sat in her cell with Adam, feeling strongly, but hardly moving or speaking at all. Even after she gets out of the mental institution, she ends up locked with a boy again, for 150 pages this time.

Thank goodness that this boy is Warner, the green-eyed, gorgeous, 19-year-old psychopathic murderer who is obsessed with power, obsessed with Juliette, and obsessed with getting Juliette to accept her power. When I realized that Warner saw Juliette as more than a weapon--that he was actually sort of in love with her--then I began to flip pages quite quickly.

     "Don't you dare hate me so quickly," [Warner] continues. "You might find yourself enjoying this situation a lot more than you anticipated. Lucky for you, I'm willing to be patient." He grins. Leans back. "Though it certainly doesn't hurt that you're so alarmingly beautiful."

I know I'm not supposed to like Warner. Juliette hates him, is absolutely appalled by everything he does, calls him a monster to his face. And yet I sensed a troubled past and a pitiful desperation oozing from Warner's blackened soul. He needs so badly for Juliette to choose him, and this need makes him vulnerable.

At least I'm not the only one!
Was I crazy? Was this some residue of my adolescent longing for the bad boy? Rita assured me that I was, in fact, an astute reader, and that Warner gets a ton more development in the upcoming books. I'm glad. I'd hate to think I was falling for a creepy stalker for no reason.

I mentioned before that Tahereh Mafi makes good use of figurative language, and while this stirs the blood, it makes it very difficult to see what's going on around the characters. In no place is this more apparent than in the setting. I tried and tried to get a clear idea of the landscape, but the vague words left me with an impressionistic blur.

     The general population has been distributed across what's left of the country. Industrial buildings form the spine of the landscape: tall, rectangular metal boxes stuffed full of machinery. Machinery intended to strengthen the army, to strengthen The Reestablishment, to destroy mass quantities of human civilization.

     Carbon/ Tar/ Steel

     Gray/ Black/ Silver

This is what I know about the society Juliette inhabits. Ten years ago, it was pretty much our world. Then the atmosphere became poisonous, the earth stopped providing food, starvation broke out, and The Reestablishment came to power. Since The Reestablishment is evil, they set off nuclear bombs and created orphans and hoarded all the goodies for themselves. For some reason, there aren't any cars left--except when required by the plot.

Juliette's World
Basically, a generic Dystopia. You might as well ignore the setting altogether.

Shatter Me had hints of X-Men right from the start. It's hard not to compare Juliette to Rogue. Initially, I shrugged it off as coincidence and tried to put that comparison out of my mind. But the ending threw all subtlety out the window. It's X-men + YA Dystopia + Romance. The climax had a good deal of action and drama, but by the end of the book, I felt a little underwhelmed.

Rita tells me that the third book is the best of the bunch, that it ties everything up wonderfully. I'm not entirely sure I'll get to reading the other two books, though. Maybe if I get them for Christmas...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Weekly Update: 12-15-15 Too Many Books

During my cleaning frenzy of Thanksgiving break, as I crammed books into my bulging shelves, I vowed that I would limit my book purchases. For every book I bought, I'd have to get rid of one book on my shelf. Such choices are agonizing, but I can make them. The goal was to read the books I have before buying new ones.
Sigh. So much for that.

* * *

My last weekly (er, monthly) update, I mentioned leading an informal Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) group. Most of them were friends from the Brea Library Writer's Group, and no one aside from me had really tried to write a novel in a month before. I hosted various meetings at Panera to write together and show support. It turned out a core group of five kept coming to the Sunday meetings: me, Rita, Carmen, Sean, and Jen, who'd just barely discovered the writer's group before November began.

Well, Nanowrimo came to an end, and we decided to celebrate by going on a Used Bookstore Run for our next Sunday meeting, which was December 5th. The plan was this: start at 10:00 AM, pack a sack lunch, hit three used bookstores around Orange County, and be home by about 6:00. A quick Google search yielded a surprising number of bookstores. Unfortunately, few were open on Sundays, so I had to narrow it down.

* * *

STOP #1: Bookoff

Sunday Hours: 10:00-8:00

2955 Harbor Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92628

Bookoff is actually a chain of used bookstores in Japan, and, if you happen to be in the country, it's a great place for accumulating cheap secondhand comics, CDs, and DVDS. The US chain also has a good many manga comics and anime DVDs, in both English and Japanese. It also had shelves of random paraphernelia, everything from bags to Japanese tea sets. 

None of that made much of a difference to me, though, as I barely had time to skim the Japanese offerings. My friends and I were lucky enough to land in the middle of a great sale, with beautiful books as cheap as $1.00. Carmen found a huge dictionary with colored pictures for $5.00. For the most part, I planted myself in the Children's Book section, skimming for gifts for my niece and nephew and trying to hunt down obscure books from my youth.

An hour and a half passed in a breathless rush. I had to force myself out of there, but not before buying all of about 8 books. Only one of those were for me, but still. I'd already spent half my cash, and I had a feeling I was not going to get any more responsible.

* * *

STOP #2: Camelot Books

Sunday Hours: 12:00-4:00

18838 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Camelot Books was only a few miles from Bookoff, the total drive time less than ten minutes. I'd never been here before and had no idea what to expect. The bookstore was hidden in the corner of a shopping center, near "The Reptile Zoo," whose colorful signs intriguingly promised "Prehistoric Pets" and "Jurassic Parties." Sean especially wanted to investigate, but books came first.

The storefront of Camelot Books might have been boring and nondescript, but when we stepped inside, we entered a magical world. Shelves of books on knights and magicians greeted us, and then we saw the display of rare books in beautiful bindings stacked artfully near cages. Immediately, we knew that this was the place for our group picture and the owner kindly obliged. Rita grabbed a book on Celtic mythology off that table and promptly declared it hers.

There was a little kids corner with a table and toys that for some weird reason, we ended up taking over. The classic section was huge, with an entire wall devoted to Shakespeare, and I was really tempted. But in the end, I splurged on an Encyclopedia of Mythology, which was about $16, along with several books for my nephew. So much for cash--I had to swipe my credit card for this one.

* * *

STOP #3: Bookman

Sunday Hours: 12:00-5:00

840 N Tustin St
Orange, CA 92867

Out of all the bookstores we visited, this was the only one I could definitely say I'd stepped foot in before. It's pretty close to my friend Ashley's house, and every time we go shopping together, I all but beg to make a stop here. Row after row of shelves crammed top to bottom with books, discount carts, nostalgic children's books, and non-fiction books I'd never heard of.
I told my friends we needed at least an hour for this one, and I was not wrong. We barely high-tailed it out of Camelot Books by 3:30 and got to Bookman just before 4:00. We stayed until after closing time, though the owners kindly did not kick us out. I thought I was doing well. I'd only picked up a copy of Persuasion for my cousin and all three of Shakespeare's King Henry VI for myself. But then I stumbled across The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries, filled with beautiful illustrations and stories, and, well, I couldn't resist.

We were all very tired by the time we arrived back, at 6:00, as promised. But my book splurge didn't end there...

* * * 

And Then, Volunteering 

Every Thursday, I volunteer at the Friends of the Brea Library Used Bookstore, which, consists of a walk-in closet full of books and about five carts of books and DVDs. We are not as big or as well-organized as the bookstores I wrote about, but we do sell books dirt cheap. Most used bookstores sell books at about half their cover price, with paperbacks going for $3-$4. Our paperbacks are $0.75 and our hardbacks are $2.00. On the bargain bin, they're half priced.

Obviously, this is a dangerous place for me to sit for 2 hours and on more than one occasion, I have yielded to temptation. But this last Thursday, they were having a fire sale on romance novels: 25 cents each or 5 for $1.00. I normally don't buy romance books, but I saw one I'd read earlier and given away, much to my great regret. And so I decided to buy it back.

Well, that just opened the floodgates, and soon, I'd picked out the 5 least corny-looking romance books I could find. But it didn't end there, because as soon as I closed the bookstore, the librarians wheeled out the free book cart. And you won't believe the books they were giving out free. Two thick, awesome Japanese-English dictionaries--I snatched those up--and a wonderful spread of classic books: Of Mice and Men, The Scarlett Pimpernel, Jane Eyre, books by Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett. I had a bookbag jammed with books and a stack in my arms up to my chin. You should have seen me trying to balance them all without spilling books on the driveway.

* * *

So now the fancy dining room table that we never use is jam-crowded with stacks and stacks of books that will not fit on the shelf. And I look at it and think, Becky, Becky, why do you do this to yourself? What am I supposed to do with all these precious books. I can't just get rid of them.

I guess I'll be doing some reading this Christmas break.

California Sales Tax for Authors

Introduction: Sorting Trash

The first week I came to live in Japan, the district sent us bright-eyed English teachers down to City Hall, where a patient woman lectured us for an hour and a half about how to sort trash. We listened with rapt attention.
"By all means, tell us more about the proper way to recycle plastic bottles."
Now, no one in their right mind cares about sorting trash, until you come to Japan and learn that you need to separate your Burnables from your Non-Burnables, your Recyclables from your Plastics, but that Recyclables is further subdivided into Bottles, Cans, and Paper, and that paper is divided into Newspaper, Magazines, and Cardboard, but shopping lists go in Burnables, and plastic bottles go into a section called Pet Bottles, which is in Recyclables, but separate from the normal (i.e., glass) Bottles, but if a glass bottle breaks, it goes in Non-Burnables, and if a plastic bottle is bent out of shape, it goes in Plastics, and if food is encrusted to your plastic bottle and won't wash off, it goes in Burnable...

You'd better know which container to stick it in!
...and heaven help you if you don't do it correctly, because then they'll write up a notice on your bag and leave it at the designated trash pick-up station for the whole neighborhood to stare at, until you're shamed into picking up your trash and sorting it the right way... or worse still, until a nosy grandma knocks at your door and returns your trash to you.

And that's what California sales tax is like. No one cares to learn about it, until you have to do it yourself, whereupon you take one look at the convoluted system and start hyperventilating into a paper bag. But whereas, in Japan, if you fail, you are branded with dishonor and disgrace, in America, Uncle Sam simply slaps you with a hefty fine.

Why does America make money so difficult!
I'm a new author, and my passion is words, not numbers. But by becoming an indie publisher, I've essentially started my own small business, and so I need to learn about taxes. Fortunately, on September 15, 2015, the California State Board of Equalization invited me to a free seminar discussing the basics of sales tax.

I'm passing on what I think I've learned, not because I'm an expert, but because I believe that even a little practical information makes the whole process less intimidating. Hopefully, it will give you a foothold to start your own research, whether or not you live in California.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Book Review: Tartuffe

Title: Tartuffe, or the Imposter
Author: Jean-Baptiste Moliere (translated by Richard Wilbur)
Genre: Play, Comedy, Satire


To anyone with eyes to see, Tartuffe is a sham: a "holy" man who preaches heaven's rewards while indulging in earthly pleasures. Unfortunately, his charade fools the noble Orgon, who dotes on Tartuffe and brings him into his household. Now, Orgon wishes to go one step further and give Tartuffe his daughter Mariane's hand in marriage. Everyone is shocked and horrified. But Mariane's maid Dorine has a plan to expose Tartuffe for the imposter he is and break his hold on Orgon for good.


Ever pick up a classic book and get a textual analysis extolling the virtues of the piece before hearing even one word about what the darn thing's about?

For example, I was reading an introduction to Moliere by Howard E Hugo, who tells me, "Within this cultural environment of neoclassicism [...] Moliere, the comic dramatist, leaned heavily toward the pole of the natural, rational, and humanistic. [...]Each of Moliere's plays is actually an exemplum and a critical study of the failure to conform to an ideal of urbanity, solid pragmatism, worldly common sense, good taste, and moderation [...]."

So here I am, taking notes, thinking this is all great to know for my upcoming CSET exam (and for sounding smart in general), but not exactly feeling inspired to read the play. Somehow, though, while flipping the pages of the book, my eyes actually lit upon the text. And I came to my own realization.

Tartuffe is funny.

Really funny.

And, depending on the actors, a bit risque, too.
Now granted, it's 400 years old and humor has changed over the years, so it's not necessarily going to be hip with the young ones and all that. Still, there's something eminently relatable to the absurd situations. Take, for example, Orgon inquiring about his household after coming home from a trip.

Orgon: [to Dorine] Has all been well, these two days I've been gone?
            How are the family? What's been going on?
Dorine: Your wife, two days ago, had a bad fever
            And a fierce headache which refused to leave her.
Orgon: Ah. And Tartuffe?
Dorine: Tartuffe? Why, he's round and red
            Bursting with health and excellently fed.
Orgon: Poor fellow.

Orgon, if you only knew...
And it goes on, with Orgon continuing to pity poor, healthy, lively, gluttonous Tartuffe, whilst paying no attention to his sick, suffering, moaning-in-pain wife.

This translation of the text is pretty easily read, too. The rhyming couplets continue throughout the text. These may bother some, but I rather like them. Their sing-songy rhythm makes the play light-hearted. It's not meant to be taken too seriously. It's satire.

The plot kicks into action pretty quickly. It's all fun and games to make fun of Tartuffe and Orgon's slavish devotion to him--right up until Orgon decides to marry off his daughter Mariane to the holy man. Suddenly, his foolishness has dire consequences. The stakes continue to rise, and it becomes clear that Orgon, idiot though he is, has the power to destroy his whole household.

Interestingly enough, it's the women, by and large, who act as a heroic counterpart to Orgon and put an end to this nonsense. Although Mariane takes after her father in the dim-witted compartment, her maid Dorine is feisty and snarky and does her best to fix the problems the fools caused. Elmire, Orgon's second wife, is no slouch either, not only recognizing Tartuffe as an imposter, but willing to put her body on the line to prove it.
Dorine's got it all figured out
Ultimately, this isn't quite enough to stop the machinations of the dastardly Tartuffe. In the end, only one man can save the day: the king. Such a wise, just, glorious, discerning, handsome, radiant king. It's a bit of a cop out, if you ask me, serving as an excuse for the playwright to kiss the king's ass--but, hey, I guess if you wanted to make it back in the day, you had to tip your hat to your patron. Ultimately, this doesn't hurt the story too much.

There are serious themes to be mused, if one wishes to. I, myself, pondered briefly the nature of religious devotion and familial power. Mostly, though, I laughed, gasped, and had a surprisingly good afternoon devouring a musty old 17th century French play.

And now, for something classic...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Monthly Update: Aliens, Pies, and Way Too Many Words

In my last weekly update, I believe I hinted that I was feeling overwhelmed and if I had to cut one thing out of my schedule, sadly, the blog would be first to go. It proved to be prophetic, for during the month of November, I got no blog entries written at all.

What do you mean it's December? Where did November go?
Now it's December, and most of my Thanksgiving stress has been replaced with Christmas stress. (For stress, as we know, does not disappear, simply changes its coat to suit the season. It's festive that way.) However, I feel obliged to at least attempt to get back in the blogging spirit, so here I go again, with my long-winded, verbose, and just plain chatty update.


Let's talk about the big, hungry, time-sucking monster in the room: National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo. If you were at all angry my lack of blog entries this month (the three of you who actually read them), you can narrow your eyes and shake your fist at Nanowrimo. (That's right, Mom, get all your fury out.)

30 days. 50,000 words.
What Nanowrimo feels like
Actually, at the risk of sounding braggy, reaching 50,000 words wasn't the hard part. Don't get me wrong, it's not easy, but I'd done it before--3 times in November, at least 3 times in other months of the year. What I had not done before was lead a group of people to Nanowrimo victory. This meant writing (almost) daily emails and meeting at Panera, Sunday from 12:00-6:00 and Wednesday from 7:00-9:00.

The best part was watching the other writers grow beyond what they thought possible. While I don't think anyone hit 50,000 words, they did reel in some massive word counts--15,000 words, 25,000 words, 40,000 words, and more. The hardest part was finding time to recharge. I'm an introvert. I love to be around my friends, but it does tire me out at times.
One of the many inspirational quotes I sent out in my emails
Still, I ended with approximately 56,000 and finished a second draft of The Originals, my sequel to The Changelings. So I call that a successful month.

Huntington Beach Trip (Saturday, November 7th)

Inspired by a Meet-up my friend brought me to (see Weekly Update: 9-15-15), I decided to throw a beach bonfire bash for my brother Tyler, before the army shipped him off to Korea for a year. I'd had this idea in my mind for a month, so of course, I decided to throw the whole thing together four days before the planned day. It's amazing it worked out as well as it did.

Last time I'd been to a Huntington Beach bonfire, I'd heard that people had gotten there at 6:00 AM to ensure they got a fire pit. At 7:00 AM, I was rushing my ride out the door to ensure we got a good spot. Well, apparently, that bit of wisdom doesn't apply to November, even if it's a Saturday and the weather is perfectly sunny. We arrived at 8:00 and no one was there. By noon, one other group parked about three fire pits over. 

Yes, it was actually that empty.
If nothing else, I thought I'd get writing done, but that didn't really happen. I ended up looking for seashells by the ocean and then falling asleep on the sand.

The rest of the party began arriving around 2:00. We set up camp and all went down to look at the ocean. It was my two-year-old nephew Tyson's first time seeing the ocean. He liked the water a lot, but ended up getting soaked and running around the beach naked. My brother went to the car to get him a diaper and came back with dire news.

"Sea gulls are attacking the camp."

Never trust a seagull!
 They were eating our hot dog buns, pecking through the plastic. We all ran back to camp and scared them away. But the hot dog buns were ruined.

Mitchell had borrowed his cousin's sun canopy, determined he could set it up for himself. Six people later, no one could get the tent poles to stand. Then Shantel walked over and snap, snap, snap, had the tent up in minutes.

We set a campfire using kindling wood, lighter fluid, and a cardboard pizza box. The boys all competed in a game of ultimate frisbee, while most of the girls tried hooping, courtesy of my friend Ashley. We put Tyson in a hoop and spun him around and around, until he got dizzy. He squealed with delight.

Finally, we get down to the good stuff.
Pizza, bunless hotdogs, spam musubi, chips, a veggie tray, vegan pumpkin bread. And for dessert, s'mores and fire roasted marshmallows. I was just about to suggest ghost stories around the campfire, when I noticed everyone staring transfixed at the sky.

"What's going on?" they said.

"What's in the sky?"

It looked like there was fog over the night sky, except that it was only in one section, an all-too perfectly spherical section. An green light flashed through it.

This is the best photo I could find, but it doesn't do it justice.
"Aliens," someone said.

And I swear it did look like the cloud of smoke hiding the UFO in Independence Day.

 (For my cousin's blurry video of it, click here.)

Of course, none of us believed it, and muttered to ourselves about comets or something like that. But we didn't quite buy that it was a comet. And we couldn't stop staring. I swear, I half-believed it was aliens, and suddenly had a great deal more respect for ancient people going crazy at the sight of a comet. When something weird happens in the sky and you don't know why, it's damn scary. It makes you feel about eight, small and helpless. It was enough to send the party-goers near us packing for home.

Suddenly, this makes a lot more sense

The cloud eventually dissipated and our smart phones eventually told us it was some sort of military rocket test, although we didn't half-buy that either. "Aliens," we concluded. "Definitely, aliens." It made a better story, a bit of a legend for our family's annals.

As the fire died down, the younger adults tossed in whatever food we had left to keep it burning, including the seagull-pecked buns. Incredibly, they hardly burned. It seemed potato chips were the best fuel and kept the fire burning a few minutes more.

Disneyland (Sunday, November 15th)

My cousin Kevin and my cousin Mitchell's wife Krystal both work at Disneyland, and I guess they cashed in on all their free guest passes to get us in to the park. To wit, there was Kevin; Mitchell; Krystal; Mitchell and Krystal's two-month-old baby girl Leilani; Krystal's mom who we wheeled around in a wheelchair; Tyler; Shantel; little Tyson in his stroller; my cousin Alyson; my cousin Nathan; Nathan's girlfriend Cindy; my uncle   Norm; my aunt Sonia; my mom; my dad; me, of course; and, because we'd somehow gotten an extra ticket, my friend Ashley, whom I knew since I was five and who was practically part of the family.

The whole crew.
I was obsessed with snacks. That's just my thing. When I was a kid and we'd go hiking, I'd stuff my pockets with granola bars in case I ended up lost in the woods: at least I wouldn't starve. Same thing here, except, instead of starving, I was more likely to be price gouged. So I stuffed my backpack with pretzels, popcorn, clementine oranges (the small ones that peel easily), almond poppy seed muffins, and vegan banana muffins (for Ashley). I also brought sandwich bags to divide the spoils.

I never go on an expedition without proper food supplies.

In the old days, we had to sneak food in clandestinely, like a secret ops mission. Nowadays, no one cared. Security opened my backpack, saw all the food, and waved me through. It turned out to be good I brought so much snacks, because it was all we had to eat until dinner. Tyson survived on a steady diet of popcorn and pretzels.

I thought we'd all split up, but as it turned out, we mostly conquered the amusement park together. We were a slow, amorphous mass rolling through the park. Ashley had never been to California Adventures, so first we hit up Flying Over California. While we waited for The Tower of Terror, a group of five of us hit up Star Tours and got a special preview of the new Star Wars themed Hyper-Space Mountain. Maybe I'm getting old, but that ride seemed fast. My glasses nearly whipped off my face.

Space Mountain + Star Wars Holograms
We reconvened at the Tower of Terror. Ashley was terrified of drop rides, but we peer-pressured her into it. Her leg was shaking uncontrollably as soon as the ride began. She screamed, I screamed, we all screamed. But we survived, and Ashley was glad she'd gone through with it.

Back in Tomorrow land, we hit the Buzz Lightyear ride Galaxy Blasters. Of course, we had to go on Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, which had been decked out in Nightmare Before Christmas decor. Ashley and I wanted to hit up the Indian Jones ride, but it was having technical difficulties, so we had to skip it. In the end, we might not have hit the most rides, but we got on a lot of the good ones. 

And this was where the Haunted Mansion broke down mid-ride. Sigh. Good times.

And we did it all as a family.

Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 26th)

One full week of no school. You'd have thought I'd get much writing done. But you'd have thought wrong. Chores had taken a backseat for Nanowrimo, and the house looked like a typhoon of papers had blown through. Not to mention 3 week old grease griming the sink and that gray ring around my bathtub. Ick! I had to clean. And with the Christmas holidays looming, it was now or never.

This was me, but with a brown braid.
 Monday: cleaning. Tuesday: cleaning. Wednesday: cleaning. Dusting, mopping, vacuuming, scrubbing toilets. 6 rooms! Tons of laundry! Grocery shopping! Paying bills! And when I finished that, it was time to make dessert: 4 pies (custard, pumpkin, apple, and s'more) and 2 batches of tapioca pudding.

Not really my pies, but I was too tired to take a picture.
I just wanted to eat turkey and zone out. But Shantel, my sister-in-law (who's living with my parents since my brother's been deployed to Korea), wanted to do black Thursday shopping. So we huddled in a line outside Target, freezing, as we waited for the store to open. My 2-year-old nephew Tyson played on a bench with a girl his age sporting a blond ponytail and a pink bow.

Sadly, I took part in this.
The line began to move. In we went. It was actually pretty organized and civil and not at all the feeding frenzy sensational news coverage would have you believe. But it was still as jam-packed crowded as a Disneyland ride, and I had no desire to shop. I hadn't made a list or a budget. So while Shantel and my mom maneuvered the crowds, I baby-sat. I pulled Tyson into the children's book section (amazingly, no one was there) and read him all the books I could find. Then I amused him for a half an hour with nothing but the pens from my case.

On Friday, I took advantage of Black Friday sales to pick up some much needed clothes. (Work pants for $15 at JC Penny's. Great deal.) We watched The Good Dinosaur, and Tyson howled with the cave boy. Saturday it was down the hill for a Peruvian food "Thanksgiving" with my cousins and dessert featuring a massive bowl of shaved ice.

Notice how Tyson is the first to reach for the dessert...
...and the last to scrape the bowl clean.

To conclude, Thanksgiving passed and I got nothing done.

Odds and Ends

I had multiple substitute assignments throughout the month. Apparently, the Placentia-Yorba Linda School District has a lack of subs and an abundance of sick teachers. A few years ago, my November tally was a sad 3 jobs the whole month. I got more than that the first week of the month. And it didn't slow down.

You're welcome.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) ended their Family-to-Family classes mid-November with a potluck (I made apple crisp) and an award's ceremony (I got perfect attendance). It was not always easy dealing with the topic of mental illness. In fact, the first four weeks were excruciating. (See: Weekly Update: 9-30-15) But at the very end, I did feel connected with the group, bound together by a common cause. As much as I rejoice having my Tuesday evenings free again, I will miss the classes.

I finally paid off the $23,000 school loans I took out for my Bachelor's Degree! Woo hoo! Now that I'm free of my University of Redlands student loans, I can take out new student loans for Cal-State Fullerton in order to get my credential. Sigh. Oh well, that's life, I guess.

Do you have any idea how much it cost to get enough education to educate students?
By the way, just applying to Cal-State Fullerton has been stupidly expensive. I applied to Cal-State Fullerton, learned I applied for the wrong semester, and had to apply again, in the process incurring two $55 fees. Fingers crossed it goes right this time and I actually get in to the prerequisite fall classes. I applied for CPR classes in December (another $50) and the CSET in January ($297). So if anyone wonders why their Christmas presents are crappy this year, blame Fullerton.

I've been trying to study for the CSET exam, by brushing up on my rhetoric. I found a lovely book by Sam Leith called Words Like Loaded Pistols. It's definitely liberally-biased, but it does a good job of breaking down the study of persuasion and making it accessible for a modern audience. I also read Tartuffe by Moliere and Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, which, I think, are on opposite ends of the genre spectrum, but kept me amused nonetheless. Reviews pending.

Reading now. Don't bug me!