Tag Archives: books

7 Quick Takes on Books, el Oso, and Assumptions

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

Yesterday, I went to the first evening of the Jane Austen Festival here in Louisville. (I have to fight the urge to spell it “Austin” because I lived in that city for so long!) I am not a huge Jane Austen fan, and she has no particular ties to Louisville, but some friends highly encouraged me to check it out, so I did. It was smaller than other festivals I’ve attended; I was spoiled by the massive Maryland Renaissance Festival, which is the second-largest in the country. The hat game was strong.

The main reason I attended was to see a staged reading of the latest adaptation of Persuasion. The playwright performed as Anne Elliot; she and several of the other actors sang original songs; and all the actors were delightful despite completely lacking costumes, props, and sets. They were losing the light very quickly as the play headed towards the end, but they persisted. I enjoyed it immensely.

I only knew a little about the story, but I found it pretty easy to follow. I did wonder why the main “villain” was supposed to be such a scoundrel. According to my companions, that storyline was cut for the adaptation. I guess that’s the risk of adapting a story to a different form: you have to decide what to leave out without affecting the story too much. That part probably should have stayed in.

— 2 —

Duolingo has been making some big changes in its language teaching pedagogy. The biggest one, for me, was adding a ton of new lower-level content to the Spanish course. I went from having covered everything except the last dozen skills to getting almost 60 new skills below the point I’d reached. So I went from reviewing future-tense conjugations (everything is review for me because I have a minor in Spanish) to things like “ballpoint pen” and “I have a blue shirt.”

The bright spot is that all of the new, low-level skills come with a way to test out quickly. I’ve been easily finishing a skill a day for the last several days. I’m not a fan of the new developments (especially Crowns), but I do like testing out of so many things.

— 3 —

I also still like Duolingo because of the crazy sentences, such as the ones in the video I shared a few weeks ago. One random sentence in Spanish is “el oso no cabe por la puerta,” which means, “the bear doesn’t fit through the door.” Whenever I get a weird sentence, I head to the discussion forums to see everyone else’s reactions.

When would I possibly need to say that the bear doesn’t fit through the door? My favorite was the scenario in which that sentence is followed by, “No, wait, the bear does fit through the door! Run!”

My second favorite was this gem of an illustration:

Winnie-the-Pooh can't get out of Rabbit's hole. Aww.

Silly old bear.

— 4 —

I worked as a teacher before I moved to Austin, and I’ve been working as a teacher since I left Austin. In the middle, I barely even thought about the mechanics of teaching. When I got back into it last summer, I wanted to go back to the style of lesson and unit planning I’d learned in grad school, but there was a catch. All my templates were Excel files, and after those interim years, I didn’t have access to Excel anymore. My solution was to semi-successfully convert the file to LibreOffice‘s spreadsheet file format and go from there.

That worked well since I used my personal laptop at school. I never wanted to have to bring my own computer to work, though, and I don’t have to anymore. My new school issued me a sweet Chromebook about five minutes after I showed up for my first faculty meeting. (The place is on point.)

This past week, I spent several distraught hours trying to figure out how to get my course plans from Excel or even LibreOffice into Google Sheets. There are a lot of really useful sheet-to-sheet links I didn’t want to give up. I patched together a plan that I thought might work… and it finally dawned on me: I can’t be the first person with this problem; I should just Google it. Lo and behold, sometime since I graduated, the files were made available in Google Sheets format. Crisis averted.

— 5 —

I checked out The Power and the Glory from the library since I almost never buy books anymore. (Then again, I did go on a mini-spree in the spring, but that was a fluke.) It was compelling, and I was excited to finish it when this happened (possible spoilers):

From page 164 to page 149? Oops.

I was very worried until I flipped through the duplicate pages and found that the story continued on just fine after the second instance of page 164:

This is how it’s supposed to go. This is how *numbers* go.

The last time I remember something that crazy happening in a book was when a bunch of copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix were missing the last fifty pages. I think I also remember some copies of Deathly Hallows repeating pages just like that copy of The Power and the Glory, but I can’t find anything online about that right now.

For me personally, there was a big bug smashed into my copy of Half-Blood Prince. I was so into the book that I just scraped it out with a tissue really quickly so I could keep reading!

Since this misprint didn’t involve any missing pages or non-missing bugs, I guess I lucked out.

— 6 —

This week, I found a bunch of iBooks on my phone that I’d forgotten I own. This is not as exciting as getting new books, though, since they only live on my phone. #21stcenturyproblems

— 7 —

I read a lot about managing relationships of all kinds. I was particularly struck by an article about how to ask questions to figure out someone’s perspective. It’s so easy to assume that someone is being intentionally rude or is totally satisfied with a situation. It’s much more awkward to ask, but in my book, that beats assuming the wrong thing.


For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

7 Quick Takes on Books, Computers, and Criticism

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

Just a few weeks ago, I posted about finishing my 2017 Goodreads Challenge in October. Well, I’ve set a new record now:

I finished my 2018 challenge by reading 23 books!

I’m already done for 2018, and the year is only half over! Although I’m tempted to set my goal higher now, I think I’ll just call it a win and keep going. I’m aiming for a lifelong reading marathon, not a sprint.

— 2 —

I was saddened to read this NPR article about the rise in AI grading for standardized writing tests. The system can be gamed, of course, but it goes deeper than that.

On the one hand, I’ve been a human grader. It stinks. When I taught in Birmingham, I had to read hand-written standardized essays once. It was just me, a bunch of other English teachers, and a bunch of terrible handwriting. I’m pretty good at reading bad writing (both bad penmanship and poor skills, unfortunately), but one sample was so sloppy that I struggled mightily. I remember reaching the end of a sentence and realizing that I’d decoded all the words but had no idea what the sentence meant. I’m glad that was the closest I’ve come to experiencing any part of what it’s like to have a learning disability. I was working much too slowly for the volume of work set before us. So I get that human-grading of essays isn’t sustainable.

On the other hand, standardized writing doesn’t allow for much nuance anyway. I also understand the complaints of real graders who claim that computers can’t judge strong voice and elegant turns of phrase… but standardized scoring doesn’t give you very much credit for those things, anyway.

Overall, I’m just not ready to trust computers with interpreting writing. They’re phenomenal at transcribing speech, but those are just groups of sounds that need to be coded into letters. Dictation software still struggles with punctuation! Google might have an AI that can make me a hair appointment, but I’m not going to let it write my blog posts—or tell me how good they are.

— 3 —

Speaking of spooky computers, I came across this beautiful short film last year. It sent a chill down my spine.

— 4 —

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about criticism. The term “constructive criticism” has never sat well with me. After all, if there is a kind you can call “constructive,” then the default must be destructive, right? And it is. Putting “destructive” right next to “criticism” is a double whammy. I was never able to unpack my unease about so-called “constructive criticism” until today.

My first resource was the Gottman Institute. It’s been my best source for secular relationship advice for years. They identify criticism as one of the Four Horsemen of the relationship apocalypse. As one of the Gottman bloggers explains, criticism attacks a person’s character rather than actions and puts all the blame on the other. Instead of saying “you did a bad thing,” criticism says “you are a bad person.” The solution is to make a complaint about the way an action or statement makes you feel, as well as expressing what you need that’s different from what you’re getting. Those things are all about you, not about the other person.

So I was settled about what makes criticism feel so destructive sometimes (or a lot of the time), but something was missing. I didn’t see how criticism could ever be “constructive.”

— 5 —

I was listening to podcasts while doing my hair this morning, and I think I finally found the missing link to reconciling my dislike for “constructive criticism” with its alleged goal. It’s not just the feeling of destruction; it’s the total lack of construction.

Erik Fisher of Beyond the To-Do List (the podcast I’ve followed the longest) interviewed Jon Kolko about creativity and critique. Jon reiterated the Gottman principle that criticism can only be good when it focuses on someone’s work or actions instead of their character, but he also pointed out that, when giving a critique, you should offer advice for construction. That’s it! Don’t just tell someone what’s wrong with their work; tell them how to improve it. Then your criticism is constructive.

I think I get it now. And it works with work as well as in relationships.

— 6 —

For Independence Day, I went to visit a family I’ve befriended and a bunch of their friends. It was a little strange to walk into a house full of strangers, but how else will they become friends? We played some trivia games, the garlic butter green beans I’d brought seemed to be well received, and I got to watch some neighborhood fireworks.

Louisville is the first city I’ve lived in where fireworks are legal. We viewers stayed way back, I was only afraid for my hair a little bit (long hair and fire do not mix), and I was only a little distracted by the sight of continuing fireworks lighting up the night as I drove home.

— 7 —

The garlic butter green beans recipe I used was one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever followed. It was more complicated than just tossing some frozen cut green beans in the microwave, but they also tasted better. I might remember this one the next time I’m cooking for other people and want an easy side dish that’s as homemade and tasty as the entree.


For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

7 Quick Takes on Makeup, Freaks, and Prayer

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

I have been using Mary Kay powder foundation for a few years now, and until today, I always suffered when I was almost out of product. I was stuck tapping forever on the container to try to get the last bits of powder to sift through. It’s not a cheap product, and I paid for all of it, so I want to put all of it on my face. Reasonable, right?

It didn’t occur to me to Google my problem until this morning. Thanks to YouTube, I now have easy access to that pesky last bit of powder. I just removed the sifter! (Note that I didn’t actually need pliers as shown at the end of this video; I just kept pulling gently with the tweezers until the sifter popped out.)

— 2 —

That was good news; here’s some bad news. Although I have attended more than a few Masses that include a couple’s renewing their weddings vows, that’s not technically a thing. As Fr. McNamara, liturgy Q&A columnist for Zenit, explains, the couple can receive a special blessing, or they can express their intent to renew their commitment, but the vows are only exchanged once. The vows make the sacrament what it is, and you can never redo a sacrament. The couple should be celebrated and encouraged. And who doesn’t love a blessing? But the vows are technically not renewable.

— 3 —

I just finished watching my way through the cult classic TV show Freaks and Geeks. I liked it! It suffered part of the curse Firefly by getting a terrible time slot, but I think it also aired at the wrong point in TV history.

It’s amusing to see F&G described as the anti-Dawson’s Creek since Busy Phillips moved on to that exact show. I kind of enjoyed that the story wasn’t full of wins for the characters. (I also recently saw Rogue One, so I might just be in the mood for stories with messy endings.) I also appreciated the way they moved through different characters’ point of views without the sheer weight of an ensemble show. Maybe that was unintentional, but it worked.

— 4 —

In my quest to read as much about Freaks and Geeks as possible, I discovered that there is a precedent for Marshall’s amazing short list of songs on How I Met Your Mother. Jason Segel apparently learned to play guitar in order to write a terrible, wondeful song “by” his character for another. I was delighted to dig up such a gem.

— 5 —

I was sad to read an article from Aleteia about the role men play in getting women the medical care they (often obviously) need. Sad, but not surprised. I can think of examples from my actual life when I have taken a man along somewhere simply to be present and to advocate for me. Seriously, all I needed them to say was, “Listen to her.” The article reminded me of one of the last few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, when Bailey was having serious heart trouble and wasn’t believed despite being a doctor and the chief of surgery of a large hospital. She was a woman, and everyone knows that women exaggerate. Except when we don’t. Like any human.

— 6 —

If you’ve ever struggled over whether to pray grace when appetizers arrive, whether soup counts as a meal, or what to do when the Mexican restaurant hits you with chips and salsa when you’ve barely sat down, I found the answers for you!

(Yes, I know it’s a joke. Just go with it.)

— 7 —

This is the story of my life.

I just want to read books and ignore all my adult problems.


For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

7 Quick Takes on Teacher Mode, Twitter, and Chainsaws

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

Faculty orientation has begun. I’m slowly getting my teacher vocabulary back (for example, “vertical curriculum alignment”), preparing for the new perspective of younger students (I am moving down to middle school from high school), and trying to navigate my new school.

Some of that is almost literally navigating, via mental map-building; the school has a complex floor plan! I haven’t gotten lost yet, but I’m sure the time is coming. I forgot about that feeling of walking through a new door into a familiar room, feeling like I’ve slipped through a wormhole.

I must say that I love my new commute, though. It’s much shorter and easier, and it gives me just the right amount of time to switch from Teacher Mode to Regular Mode.

— 2 —

I used to listen to music when I got ready for the day. Podcasts were reserved for my exhausting commute, and I only read books. Lately, I’ve been trying audio books. It’s a very different experience, both in the sense of needing to pay attention as I do my hair and makeup and in the sense of listening to a book instead of looking at it. My most recently completed audio book was a huge letdown. It was a good lesson in being discerning about the books I choose. I can only read (and listen to) so many!

Laura Vanderkam left me mildly terrified when she pointed out that our available time to read books is as limited as our time on the planet. I am not sure I’ll be able to keep up my reading pace when school starts. (Audio books will probably help.) At best, I’ll probably only read her approximated 1250 books before I die. That includes books that I don’t wind up liking very much!

That number also makes me think about books that I recommend. Is the book I’m pushing good enough to be one of my friends’ 1250? Is it really a “must-read” when the number of “can-read” books is so few?

— 3 —

“Study: Less sex education leads to less sex.” Yeah, that caught my eye when I saw it, too! The article is worth reading (it ends at the bolded headline, “Is opposition…?”), but the main point is that, across England, when huge budget cuts came for a government program designed to prevent teen pregnancy, the rates of teen pregnancy actually went down, region by region, with the biggest declines in areas with the largest budget cuts. Even the researchers were surprised.

I’m not sure I’m surprised. Is it any wonder that providing less information and birth control to teens makes them less likely to take the risk of pregnancy? If you push information that makes it sound as if they can have sex without babies basically forever, I can see how that might open the door to risky behavior for teens who might otherwise be turned away by the risk of pregnancy.

— 4 —

I have a new level of sympathy for people who work on weekends or in retail. I frequently come to the defense of such workers when other people complain that a store is closed when they wanted to shop (do you want to work on Sundays; if not, why should someone else work, and work late, so that you can shop at 8 p.m.?) and been polite to people in less-skilled jobs. I’m no saint, but I try to keep that point of view in mind and be grateful for the opportunities I have.

But now, I’ve been there, for a little while. I’ve felt the need to cling to my identity (and job) as a teacher when people think of me as “just” a cook. I’ve worked until 9 p.m. Saturday night and then gotten up early on Sunday to go to Mass before working another full 8-hour shift. I’ve been unable to see Mr. Man as much as I had before because we worked on opposite schedules.

I always hesitate to wish or pray for greater perspective because I’ll wind up with a hard-learned lesson. I didn’t even ask for this one, and I got it anyway.

— 5 —

I started getting space warnings on my phone, so I deleted Instagram. It wasn’t a social media self-assessment, like the one that led me to delete Facebook; it was really just about the space. Then the weirdness began.

Instagram started sending me emails. It let me know how many of my friends had posted. It suggested accounts for me to follow. (I will not follow Kim Kardashian unless she’s leading me to emergency supplies or shelter.) It took a while for me to realize that was all triggered when I deleted the app! And then it got even weirder:

I still haven’t reinstalled the app, but I did log in from my browser when I got some likes. Gotta block and report those spammers! Now I think I’m permanently weirded out by how closely these computers are watching me (she says, recounting the whole thing on her blog).

— 6 —

In other Twitter news, I started some legit discussion with this tweet:

True story. That was inspired by my actual experience. Some spaces are still sacred! My desire to not have my restroom behavior transmitted via phone trumps your desire to make that call right then. What could you possibly need to talk about with someone so desperately that you must have that phone conversation while in the restroom?

— 7 —

And for a final social media moment, I shared this post from Goodreads on Facebook and got so many awesome responses! What’s yours?


For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Currently: August 2017

Currently at Lindsay Loves

So much for that “first Wednesdays” thing. Posting before the second Wednesday counts for me, even if it means I completely missed the link-up.

Here’s what I am currently…

Snacking (on): Protein! I went hard for cheese cubes for a while, but these days, I am all about soy protein. I found a store-brand protein bar that is very tasty, and I discovered that the same store’s “carb conscious” yogurt is full of protein and low in sugar. They’ve been great reminders that, when I’m hungry, I need protein to fight off hunger, not just carbs to fill my belly.

Anticipating: The start of school. Faculty orientation is this week, so I’ve dialed back my hours at the grocery store. My manager was sad to see me leave. It feels good to be wanted!

Borrowing: Audiobooks from the library. I caught up on all my podcasts and wasn’t in the mood to veg out with the radio, so I decided to try “reading” with my ears. My first selection was World War Z, which I highly recommend. The premise lends itself to a full cast recording, and the story is so compelling. It’s graphic, so don’t listen with kids around. My second selection was a standard YA novel. It has three narrators for the three main characters, but it’s not nearly as good. I might stick to listening to books I’ve already read with my eyes.

Admiring: My grocery store coworkers. It’s not an easy job. I have a new respect for people who make part-time, minimum-wage jobs work for their real lives. I understand how you could be working 40 hours a week and not be able to make ends meet. I’ve seen what great and lousy work ethic looks like in a labor-intensive job. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work this job, one that I’m “overqualified” for, because it helped pay the bills.

Purchasing: A teeny bit more now that I’m under contract with my school (and therefore have increased my income). I’m not going crazy, but I can finally get my hair done to start off the year without split ends.

Recapping: July

  • I got to meet some of Mr. Man’s college friends.
  • We saw a professional production of Julius Caesar in Central Park.
  • I got a gift card for my two-month work anniversary, so I took my man to the Cheesecake Factory.

So what’s new with you? What are you anticipating currently?


Currently is hosted on the first Wednesday of each month by Anne of In Residence. This month’s guest co-host is Shea of Shea Lennon. Won’t you join us?

Booking Through Thursday: Required Reading

This is a blast from the past! BTT started up again recently, but the topics were pretty lackluster. This one, however, is quite interesting.

What books have you been required to read that you ended up loving?

Like many young women do, I adore Pride and Prejudice. I had never even seen an adaptation before it was assigned for our summer reading before senior year Brit Lit, so I checked out a copy from the library. Then I got hooked, so I went to the bookstore to buy my own paperback.

Let’s take a moment to mourn the process of going to the bookstore to purchase actual books. My book churn rate decreased dramatically when I started college, and then I was a reviewer for years, so I could probably list my last ten physical book purchases from memory.

P&P was a big deal. I even took notes in it! Yes, they were just brackets, written in pencil, but it took a while before I got comfortable writing in books. It also took a while before I started reading books that were complex enough to require extensive marginalia. (I’m looking at you, Orthodoxy.)

I’ve also greatly enjoyed:

And some nonfiction books I think should count because we were basically assigned the whole thing:

What assigned reading have you enjoyed?


For more short queries about books and the reading life, visit Booking Through Thursday.

Bits and Bytes on Thriving Parishes (Review: “Great Catholic Parishes”)

Since I stopped working in ministry, I’ve been a regular parishioner, just like everyone else. Having seen things from both ends of the pew, in a sense, I remain interested in the state of American parishes and efforts to right the wrongs and fulfill our mission as Christians. So I read a lot of books about parish improvement. My most recent read in that vein is Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive, by William E. Simon Jr. of Parish Catalyst. It’s not my favorite in this niche, but I found some gems nonetheless.

Simon begins with an interesting overview of the history of Catholicism in the U.S. I’d never really thought about it from the perspective of the parish before. In Catholic countries, Simon writes, the parish wasn’t important because the Faith was everywhere. In the New World, however, Catholics clung to their parishes as cultural, social, and religious centers. It wasn’t everywhere anymore. Considering that difference got me to thinking about what the ideal situation would be today: to have the faith “in the water,” or to have it be something you have to choose and fight for. One could make a good argument for either.

Cristo Redentor statue

Unfortunately… Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

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