Author Archives: cindylu

Use your words: Dealing with speech delay

Earlier this month I was sitting down to lunch with some people I had just met. One asked, “So, what do you do for fun?”

I waited to answer. Not only because I was in the middle of chewing, because a number of the things I do for fun, I no longer, well, do. I ran. I went to movies. I went to Dodger games and lots of concerts at awesome venues. I spend time with family.

Playground

I don’t do most of that stuff anymore because I’m engrossed in figuring out my new role, being a mom to Xavi. And yes, that is often fun.

So, I said, “Well I like spending time with my family. And I have a toddler so a lot of my ‘fun’ is playing with him.”

I was immediately asked follow-up questions.

“How old is he?”

“Twenty months.”

“Oh, that’s such a great age. The next couple of years are going to be so much fun,” said the second guy who I later learned is the father of toddler twins.

Sprinkler fun

“Is he a talker?” asked the first guy.

I paused (chewed) again.

“No. He actually doesn’t have many (well, any) words. We’re going to get him evaluated soon…”

Both told me about family members who had hearing issues or did not speak until five years of age. They assured me that everything worked itself out.

Easter Sunday

Xavi will be 21 months in a few days and his language is not where the it’s supposed to be. He doesn’t have the 5-10 words [or whatever it is, too lazy to look up something that’s going to turn up BabyCenter or WebMD — I’ve already seen those sites] considered normal for a toddler his age.

He babbles a ton. He says “dada”, but not to refer to Sean. He says “dis” (this) and points. He used to say “trash” as we would go to the diaper pail to throw out his dirty diapers. My mom and his former babysitter insisted that the “tinti” he said was actually Cindy. And he imitated me as I said his babysitter’s name. He doesn’t say mama.

When Xavi was 18 months old, we brought up our concerns with our pediatrician, Dr. H. First he asked where the concerns were coming from. Are you comparing him with other kids? Are your families or friends bringing this up? Nope. It was all me and Sean. Then he asked some basic questions and concluded that given that Xavi has hit other development milestones and has been very healthy thus far, he saw no reason to be concerned. He said Xavi was “certainly not advanced with speech development, not that there is anything wrong with that.” He’d be concerned if Xavi was 30 months old and used so few words, but at 18 months he didn’t see cause for alarm. Dr. H assuaged our worries more by offering to refer us for an evaluation at the speech and language therapy department if we chose. “Just email me and I’ll send it.”

That made me feel better.

Wedding swag

Sean and I decided to take a wait and see approach. In the mean time we read about other parents’ experiences with speech delay and speech therapy.

Six weeks passed and nothing changed. Xavi stopped repeating me when I said we were taking his diaper to the trash and going to his babysitter’s house. I started to feel like I needed to do something. What if he really needs help? I’d read about the referral process and knew that it could be a couple months before he ever saw a speech therapist.

The evening after my lunch meeting I told Sean that I asked Dr. H for a referral. Dr. H complied and within a few hours the referral was in our HMO’s system. Sean made an appointment the next day. Within two weeks we were seeing the speech language pathologist for an evaluation. The sessions with the SLP lasted about 30 minutes and she asked a series of questions regarding Xavi’s expressive and receptive language. She confirmed that he is speech delayed and qualifies for speech therapy and another early intervention preschool/daycare program.

Grandpa made Xavi a desk

The evaluation was affirming. It’s hard to think that there might be something “wrong” with Xavi or that I could have done more to help him develop speech. I know that speech delay is very normal and that there is nothing actually wrong. I know that we are lucky to have access to resources to give Xavi a little nudge.

I felt so much better after leaving our session with the SLP. Hearing that he did qualify for services was nice, but it also made me realize a few things. Xavi does know a lot of words, even if he isn’t saying “mama, agua”. During the evaluation, the SLP pointed to pictures in a book and asked Xavi, “Where is the ball? Where is the bird?” I figured Xavi knew “ball” since we frequently throw various balls around the apartment, but was surprised when he correctly identified the bird. She also gave him a two-step instruction (e.g., get the train, take it to mommy) that he partially followed. When she saw our faces look a little bummed that he stopped partly through the direction, she said, “It’s okay. This is more advanced than his age.”

Second, simply watching the SLP’s interaction with Xavi made me realize there was more I could be doing to help him learn words. Sean and I both read to him daily and point to objects when we’re at home or out on a walk. I don’t put those together and realize I should be pointing more to the objects in his books. The SLP also advised us to draw attention to our mouths as we name objects. I’m sure I’ll learn more once Xavi has first session with the speech therapist.

First cornrows

For now, I know that his expressions and actions say more than I can understand. While Xavi learns words, I need to learn to better pick up on his non-verbal cues.

First Quarter Bookishness

I’ve spend the first few months of 2015 catching up with some books on the best of lists for 2014 and — when I can — checking off items on the challenges I’ve taken on for the year. I’m up to three. Below are late-ish sorta-reviews on some of the books I’ve read in the first quarter.

FIVE STAR BOOKS

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Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (Gregory Boyle)

Not only does God think we’re firme, it is God’s joy to have us marinate in that. (p. 24)

The first time I heard Fr. Boyle speak last year I cried. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I’ve known about Homeboy Industries and Fr. Boyle’s work for many years but his words really hit me then. Later that day he celebrated the youth focused Mass at Congress, a religious education conference. The room was full and I cried more.

Tattoos on the Heart reminded me of his talk and homily. In most of the chapters, Fr. Boyle illustrates different elements of God’s love through stories about the homies he works with. They will make you laugh and definitely cry. Oh man, will they make you cry.

As someone who has struggled a little with my faith in recent years, reading things like “God is just too busy loving us to have any time for disappointment” (p. 28) was quite affirming.

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

I remember someone describing All the Light We Cannot See in a review or a forum as “the kind of book that wins awards.” No surprise that Doerr’s historical fiction novel set in Nazi Germany and occuppied France won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this week.

I was a little worried that All the Light wouldn’t live up to the hype, but it definitely did. It’s just so beautifully written.

The Turner House (Angela Flournoy)

Not a review, just some thoughts upon finishing the novel. If you want an actual review, check out what Stacia wrote at Act Four.

I’d never even heard of the word “haint” (a southern type of ghost) prior to reading The Turner House but still found Angela Flournoy’s debut novel enjoyable. Although it’s very much the story of a large black family in Detroit (formerly from the south), the dynamics, history and issues they faced were relatable. I’ve seen alcoholism in my family and more recently have seen my mom and her siblings grapple with caring for their ailing parents.

Second, this is one of those books that benefits from a reread of the first chapter or two as it could be a little a difficult to keep all the Turners straight even though the main focus is on the eldest and youngest, Cha-Cha and Lelah.

Aside – man, does 18-month old Bobbie (Lelah’s grandson) have a lot of words.

I may be a little biased since Angela Flournoy is part of the PostBourgie collective and thanks to that connection I read an ARC a few months prior to the April 14th release date.

Food: A Love Story (Jim Gaffigan)

I listened to this audiobook mainly while cleaning and commuting. I probably looked like a dork laughing to myself, but I want to THIS! almost everything Jim Gaffigan says about food.

An Untamed State (Roxane Gay)

Girl children are not safe in a world where there are men.

Mireille is visiting her parents in Port-Au-Prince with her white husband and infant son. As they leave her parents’ secured compound for a day-trip to the beach, she is kidnapped by a violent gang. The gang leaves her husband and yet-to-be weaned infant son behind. Mireille is then held for ransoms for several days and goes through the worst things you can imagine. (And more.)

Roxane Gay is an amazing writer which is both a pro and con. Mireille’s kidnappers are vicious.

Also, I can’t help but think how horrible it would be to be taken from my infant son who is still being nursed.

The Book of Unknown Americans (Christina Henríquez)

English was such a dense, tight language. So many hard letters, like miniature walls. Not open with vowels the way Spanish was. Our throats open, our mouths open, our hearts open. In English, the sounds were closed. They thudded to the floor. And yet, there was something magnificent about it. (p. 23)

Alma and Arturo leave their home, families and thriving construction business in Michoacán, Mexico to go north to Delaware. Unlike many immigrants who leave to find better economic opportunities, Alma and Arturo come for a school that will help in their daughter Maribel’s rehabilitation from a tragic accident. They move in to an apartment complex filled with various other Latino immigrants. As the novel unfolds, we learn more about the accident that caused Maribel’s head injury, her parents’ guilt over it, and their struggles to acclimate to Delaware.

The novel is narrated primarily by Alma, the protective Mexican mother, and Mayor Toro, a fifteen year old Panamian smitten by the lovely Maribel. However, interspersed with these voices are those of the other residents of the apartment complex.

Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng)

Marilyn and James seem to have a nice life in Ohio. James, a Chinese-American history professor, seeks to blend in and be liked by his peers. Marilyn, his blonde wife who once aspired to be a doctor, wants to stand out. They pass on their wishes to their three children and no one feels this more than Lydia. Then Lydia is found dead in a lake near their home.

Through the rest of the novel, James, Marilyn and their other children try to figure out what happened.

I couldn’t put this down once I started and by the time it was over I was crying.

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free (Héctor Tobar)

I remember hearing about the miners being saved in fall 2010 and the media circus that happened afterward. I was running a lot at the time and excited by the miner who ran the marathon shortly after being saved.

What I didn’t know was everything that happened before. How and why were the miners trapped in the San José mine? What did they do to survive those first few weeks without contact with the outside world? How did the rescuers reach them? Tobar does a great job answering these questions and more considering he had quite the difficult job of telling the stories of 33 miners and their families while also deftly describing all the technical aspects of the collapse and the rescue efforts.

I listened to the audiobook. It was okay, but I would have definitely preferred an actual book. There are so many people to keep straight that I ended up downloading a photo roster of the 33 miners for reference.

FOUR STARS

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Fourth of July Creek (Smith Henderson)

Smith Henderson’s novel about a social worker with issues (makes me think of Raylon Jennings from Justified) starts off a little slow. Soon you meet Pete Snow’s clients and Snow himself gets way too involved in their issues.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Meg Medina)

Piddy starts a new school after she and her single mom move. Things are tough for her as she soon find out a bully has it out for her. This YA-book was much better written then others. Medina’s characters are complex and there’s even some compassion shown to Yaqui, the bully. I also like how Piddy is aware of her identity as a young Latina and looks to other women in her life for guidance. I’d definitely recommend it for teens or really anyone.

Seconds (Bryan Lee O’Malley)

I read the Scott Pilgrim comics in 2010 and was eager for this graphic novel. Katie is a young restaurateur and talented chef but lately things aren’t working out for her as she’d like both in her personal and professional life. She finds that her restaurant has a house spirit that offers her mushrooms. She can write down a mistake and eat a mushroom. The mistake is erased. Katie goes a little crazy with the mushrooms and hijinks ensue.

Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (Judith Ortiz Cofer)

Inspired by Virginia Wolfe, Judith Ortiz Cofer muses on the role of the memoir and the autobiography. Is it really just about exploring relationships with mothers? Probably. In Silent Dancing Ortiz Cofer focuses on her early life which was spent mainly in a one parent home as her father was in the navy. She goes back and forth from New Jersey to Puerto Rico and explores how this experience shaped her.

THREE STARS

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The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
I can see why it’s a modern classic, and it probably would’ve made a bigger impact on me if I was younger. But it highlights the mainstream (read: white, middle class) feminist concerns. Also, the technical aspects of the money and how women came to be second class citizens, basically chattel, are kinda hokey.

In the Woods (Tana French)
I’ve read a number of psychological thrillers recently and this was my least favorite. Rob Ryan grew up in a suburb outside of Dublin. When he was a pre-teen two of his best friends, a boy and girl, disappeared in the woods neighboring their homes. The kids were never found and Rob doesn’t remember anything of what happened that afternoon. Many years later he is a detective in Dublin and investigating a murder. The body of a young ballerina was found in the area and there some connections between the two incidents. It’s okay, but if you like neat endings and resolutions, you’ll find this frustrating.

Funny Girl (Nick Hornby)
I feel like Nick Hornby is best when his characters are obsessed with music (High Fidelity and About A Boy). In Funny Girl he goes back to pop culture, but this time it’s 1960s comedy programming on the BBC. He follows Barbara/Sophie’s rise from northern England reluctant beauty queen to comedy it girl. I really liked Barbara/Sophie and how she asserts herself in the male dominated comedy television world. However, like a lot of sitcoms, the beginning is much more fun and exciting. One thing I found interesting was Hornby’s inclusion of actual photos from the comedies that inspired his novel.

California (Edan Lepucki)
I really wanted to like this more considering it’s a dystopian novel that follows Cal and Frida, a young couple out of Los Angeles in to the forests of California trying to survive. They’re all by themselves until Frida insists on finding out what is in the beyond and they encounter a community. There are lots of secrets and big reveals, but I just wasn’t that invested in the characters or their fates. Also, I’m probably tapped out on the dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel.

What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty)
Alice has a head injury at spin class and wakes up to find out that she can’t remember anything that has occurred in the last ten years. This includes her marriage falling apart, her relationship with her sister devolving, having three kids and becoming super mum. The premise is interesting but Moriarty takes forever to get to the good stuff. For the marriage issue to be so huge, one would think the estranged husband would make an entrance earlier.

Jackaby (William Ritter)
I heard this was a cross between Dr. Who and Sherlock Holmes and probably didn’t enjoy it that much because I don’t get the appeal of Dr. Who.

Disgruntled (Asali Solomon)
I heard an interviews with Asali Solomon that piqued my interest. What would it be like to grow up with black (or in my case) Chicano nationalist parents? What if those parents’ actions were full of contradictions that undermined their activist leanings? Kenya goes through that and more. She’s 11 or 12 when he parents split because her dad impregnates a woman in their black nationalist group, the Seven Days. Sheila goes to live with her mom and thanks to money from her grandmother goes to a private school in the Philadelphia suburbs. It’s subtly funny and it also made me want to listen to early 90s hip hop.

The Martian (Andy Weir)
Within five minutes of starting The Martian, you know astronaut Mark Watney is fucked. He’s just been left behind on Mars as the other members of his crew evacuate in an emergency. They think he’s dead because of the bio-meter on his space suit. Mark survives and through the rest of the The Martian Andy Weir goes in to a lot of detail about the ingenious ways he continues trying to survive his hopeless situation. For instance, Mark has to figure out how to grow food in his hab on the surface of Mars and communicate with NASA. Weir gets really technical and sometimes my eyes glazed over reading about how Mark solves each arising problem. Overall, it was a fun read and I’m looking forward to the movie.

TWO STARS

Shine, Shine, Shine (Lydia Netzer)
It was okay, but I never connected with Sunny. I found her too weird and a little annoying.

We Were Liars (E. Lockhart)
The only reason this didn’t get one star is because it was short and thus the annoying writing and plot twists didn’t make me want to throw the book (well, my iPad). I don’t know why this is so highly ranked.

Mornings with Xavi

In late January Lupe, Xavi’s nanny informed us that she would be taking a trip to Colorado where her daughters live. She also said she might not return. This wasn’t the first time Lupe took a well-earned vacation. However when she went to Texas in October to visit family she didn’t plan to move. We worked out her last day and started calling around for some new childcare options. Lupe even referred a few people but we settled on an in-home day care in our neighborhood we could walk to. Proximity was key since we have one car which Sean drives to work 20 miles away and I handle the mornings.

The change worried me. I knew Xavi would have a tough time, that drop-offs would involve tears and clinging. But I knew he would adjust. More selfishly, I knew my adjustment would be more difficult.

With Lupe our mornings were much different. Basically, I was spoiled and oftentimes she’d take over as soon as he woke up. All I had to do was get myself dressed. Lupe handled Xavi’s diaper change and sat him down for breakfast. Typically I’d leave and he’d be content munching on some banana and eggs. There were never any tears when I left.

New morning routine means more Xavi smiles

Sean would get home first and begin dinner. Sometimes Sean would even put Xavi to sleep at an early bedtime or he’d fall asleep as soon I got home. It bummed me out to spend such little time with him during the weekdays.

Now at about 6 weeks in to our new arrangement and knowing that Lupe’s move is permanent we’ve adjusted to the changes. And I like it.

Sure, there were tears on those first few drop-offs and pick-ups — I think Xavi just gets attached to his caretakers. But he’s adjusted to the new routine and there’s no more crying.

And yes, the colds — yes, he’s has two so for — Xavi managed to avoid all winter finally got him. And yes, I’ve had to adjust my work hours to come in a little later and leave a little later. And yes we do miss Lupe.

Giggle fit

But now we have time for playing in the morning.

And that’s awesome.

Valentine’s Day cards by Xavi

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My favorite part about Valentine’s Day has always been the opportunity to be creative and have fun with puns when making cards. Now I have Xavi to put on the cards — even if is tough to cut around his head of curls. He sure does make holidays more fun (or stressful depending on the holiday).

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Click either card for the Flickr album with the rest of Xavi’s toddler-ific valentines. Some are written to his family.

Bookishness: Reading Goals for 2015

I found the alphabet challenges last year a fun way to find new authors. I don’t think I’ll do them again this year, but I do want to organize my reading in some way. Goodreads and my book spreadsheet aren’t enough. Enter goals and challenges:

75 books overall. This is a slight increase from 72. Unless something changes with my work, commute, Xavi’s schedule, this seems doable. The 75 total encompasses the challenge below.

10 books from my bookshelf. I have way too many books on my shelf that I’ve never read. It’s embarrassing. Once I read them I can decide whether I want to keep or donate them.

readharder2014

24 books fulfilling the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge criteria. The challenge focuses on diversity of authors, genre and topic. I don’t think it’ll be too hard. Based on last year’s reading, only a few of the topics will be out of my reading comfort zone.

6 books meeting the What’s in a Name Challenge criteria. The six books need to have the following in their titles:

  1. A word including ‘ing’ in it
  2. A color
  3. A familial relation
  4. A body of water
  5. A city
  6. An animal

Going through my to read list, the name challenge should be easy. I just need to find a book with an animal in the title; suggestions are welcomed. I already got #4 done:
First book read for the "what's in a name" challenge. Book with a body of water in the title. ✔️ It also has Sean's birthday in the title, but there's no challenge for that.

5 books from NPR’s 100 Must-Reads For Kids 9-14 list (as research for Xavi’s non-board book library).

Last, I hope to blog more mini-reviews about my favorite books. Maybe my first post will be an instructional post on how to do all the reading. (Not really.)

2014 Bookishness: Stats and Lists

I’m a little late with my book year in review. Oh well. It’s still on time for the lunar new year.

Total read:

books72

This adds up to 22,352 pages. (I keep meticulous spreadsheets). The longest book was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (771 pages). Shortest was Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros (101 pages, it’s a picture book)

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One book was by two authors. I read 3-4 books by a number of writers. The most read author was Rainbow Rowell. Most authors were new to me (84%) and several have become new favorites. I can’t wait to read more by them.

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I read a pretty diverse group, which isn’t new for me.

authorsex

I definitely read more books by women, but that’s probably because when I read multiple books by a writer, they tended to be by women (e.g., Rowell, Gillian Flynn, Ruth L. Ozeki, Jhumpa Lahiri, Meg Wolitzer, Ann Patchett).

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I didn’t spend much on books. In fact, I didn’t buy any actual books and only bought e-books. I started reading a lot more when I took advantage of the e-book lending program through the LA Public Library. It also helps that the UCLA libraries are well stocked with both new and older fiction.

A plurality of the books I read were published in 2014 (9), 2013 (13) or 2012 (5). I didn’t read read anything older than me. The oldest, Of Love and Other Shadows by Isabel Allende, was published in 1984.

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I read a lot of novels. I didn’t really break down the novels by type (e.g., suspense, literary fiction, speculative or science fiction), but I think literary fiction would’ve been the largest category.

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I read a lot more later in the year. This is probably because I started reading more e-books which I read a little faster.

ratingsassigned

The graphic is wrong, but I’m too lazy to make a new one. 29 books got 3 stars. The average was 3 1/3 stars.

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Fiction [alpha order] – Trimming this down from 20 to 15 and then to 10 was tough.
At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth L. Ozeki
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano

Favorite(s) I need to add to my library so I can read them over and over or look up favorite passages:
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Short story collection
No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

Non-fiction
The Death Class: A True Story About Life by Erika Hayasaki
All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

Memoir
What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel by Dave Eggers [“novel” is in the title, but it reads like a memoir]
Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. by Luis J. Rodriguez

Graphic novels/memoir
Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros [not sure if this counts, since it’s more like a picture book with a short essay at the end]
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney

Favorite new (to me) authors:
Daniel Alarcón
Kazuo Ishiguro
Anthony Marra – best debut novel
Ruth L. Ozeki

Favorite covers

ZambranoLoteria UrreaQueen OzekiTaleTime

Book that lived up to the hype
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Most over-hyped
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – I would’ve liked it more if it wasn’t 771 pages long
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Favorite quotes

I keep notes of my favorite quotes. I noticed that a number of my quotes related to being a parent and especially to motherhood. Below are some of my favorites that really hit me as I grappled with new mom life.

From All Over Creation by Ruth L. Ozeki (p. 405)

Time plays tricks on mothers. It teases you with breaks and brief caesuras, only to skip wildly forward, bringing breathtaking changes to your baby’s body. Only he wasn’t a baby anymore, and how often did I have to learn that? The lessons were painful.

From The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (p. 320)

The minute you had children, you closed ranks. You didn’t plan this in advance, but it happened. Families were like individual, discrete, moated island nations. The little group of citizens on slabs of rock gathered together instinctively, almost defensively, and everyone who was outside the walls – even if you’d once been best friends – was now just that, outsiders. Families had their ways. You took note of how other people raised their kids, even other people you loved, and it seemed all wrong. The culture and practices of one’s own family were the only way, for better or worse.

From The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (p. 51)

Small children believe themselves to be gods, or some of them do, and they can only be satisfied when the rest of the world goes along with their way of seeing things.

From Landline by Rainbow Rowell (p. 220)

Having kids sent a tornado through your marriage, then made you happy for the devastation. Even if you could rebuild everything just the way it was before, you’d never want to.

A-Z Challenge by Title

Alternative title: What I read in the second half of the year.

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After getting through the A-Z author challenge I didn’t want to organize my reading in any way. I just wanted to find more great books by authors I enjoyed. No pressure. So that’s what I did in the second half of the year.

I put holds on Ruth L. Ozeki’s earlier novels, All Over Creation and My Year of Meats. I definitely think A Tale for the Time Being is her best work, but her previous novels entertained me and made me reconsider what I eat and also more aware of fertility issues.

Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles was a great sophomore effort. I enjoyed it more than Lost City Radio (I was a little burnt out on the torture/disappeared topic). On the other hand, Meg Wolitzer’s previous novels, The Uncoupling and The Ten Year Nap didn’t captivate me like The Interestings. It might have just been too many white middle/upper middle class women in New York. I needed a change of scenery which I got by reading the oeuvre of both Rainbow Rowell and Gillian Flynn. Both popular writers set their novels in small towns or cities in the Midwest. That’s about all they have in common as Rowell writes young adult/romance novels that are quick “beach reads” and Gillian Flynn writes dark, disturbing suspense-filled novels. While I found Gone Girl overhyped, I was surprised that Flynn could come up with characters and plots that were even more messed up. Amy and Nick Dunne seemed like relatively normal people compared to those in Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

Some time late in the summer I decided I wanted to read more books set in Los Angeles or Southern California. That was the impetus behind adding The Magician’s Assistant (I also really liked Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto), The Madonna’s of Echo Park and The People of Paper. I wasn’t a fan of the last book and put it down a couple of times before finally completing it.

In November I started to play around with my reading spreadsheet — oh how I love anything that can be tracked via spreadsheet — to see how many letters I was missing for an A-Z challenge by title. I needed 10 or 11 books which seemed doable if I was strategic about my choices. I picked a few books by authors who were new to me in 2014 for ideas. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and Interpreter of Maladies were my favorites read specifically to complete the challenge.

The J, K, X and Z books were okay but less enjoyable. I slogged through Xicano Duende, a poetry collection. Cherríe Moraga’s A Xicana Codex essay collection would’ve been a better choice, but it was checked out at the university libraries. I found Zen and the City of Angels rather silly. I need to find decent mystery novels where motives actually make sense.

My reading goals for 2015 include some challenges, but they’re not focused on the alphabet. I’ll touch on those later.

The full list of books read for the A-Z author challenge (or, what I read from July through December):
All Over Creation by Ruth L. Ozeki
At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea
Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnson
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
The Guts by Roddy Doyle
How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
The Lunch-box Chronicles: Notes from the Parenting Underground by Marion Winik
The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse
The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
Marbles, Mania, Depression and Me by Ellen Forney
My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia
Queen of America by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer
The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
Xicano Duende: A Selected Anthology by Alurista
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Zen and the City of Angels by Elizabeth Cosin

Fifteen things you probably knew about me

And an excuse to post old photos and link back to previous entries.

Marie tagged me in this questionnaire. Her answers made me laugh so I decided to answer the questions too, albeit after Christmas. I was a little behind on my blog reading.

1) What is my current health related goal?

Exercise more and eat more veggies.

2) What is my biggest irrational fear?

Mice and rats really freak me out. I don’t even like fake versions that look realistic. I’m not scared of Fievel or Mickey though.

3) Do I enjoy wrapping presents?

No. I didn’t wrap any this Christmas. I did place a couple in bags. Sean did all the wrapping.

4) What is my favorite cross training activity?

Strength training and stairs, but not a stair climber. Basically a BHIP class (workouts are a mix of strength and conditioning, cardio tends to be Tabata/interval style).

5) If you came to visit me, what would we do?

I can't remember what this was called, but it was good

If Marie visited I’d imagine there would be some running (if she doesn’t mind slowing down for me), a play date with my boy and her girls, beer at Father’s Office and really delicious Mexican food. Maybe we’d go to “shoppertainment” center like the Grove for the snark value.

6) I have two weeks off work and two round trip plane tickets to anywhere. Where would I go and who would I take?

Jamaica or Mexico with Sean. We postponed our honeymoon and then never got around to it because I got pregnant and Sean had a new job. All our vacation time was saved up for maternity/paternity leave.

Xavi can come along too since he doesn’t actually need a plane ticket. And we could get babysitting in Mexico with family members. Maybe.

7) What’s the most embarrassing thing to happen to me during a run or a race?

Aztlan track club 5K

My most embarrassing running moments didn’t happen while racing. However, it did suck to be so slow during a trail 5K that I was still on the out and back course when the male racers started. The trail wasn’t very wide so I had to scoot to the side and literally was left running through the dust they kicked up.

8) Three best days of my life? Or at least the top three that come to mind.

The day Xavi was born.

The day Sean moved out to LA. We were bicoastal for the better part of the year. His move was delayed due do a snowstorm so it was really happy relieved when his flight was finally scheduled and I picked him up at LAX. Our wedding day was memorable and I was happy, but it was also a bit stressful.

The late March day in 1998 when I got my admittance letter from UCLA. I was so relieved that USC wasn’t my only option.

Cindy finished under four hours!

The 2012 LA Marathon was awesome too. I feel like someone else earned that sub-4 because I can’t see myself getting there again.

9) Okay, so I HAVE to eat a fast food
meal. Which restaurant would I choose and what do I order?

That's what a hamburger's all about

I’m like Marie and don’t have an aversion to fast food. I had In-n-Out less than a week ago. For lunch or dinner I’d go to In-n-Out (cheeseburger with all the toppings plus grilled onions, fries and a diet coke). For breakfast I’d get the sausage egg McMuffin from McDonald’s, hashbrowns and vanilla iced coffee. Damn, now I’m hungry.

10) Have I ever met a celebrity?

Destiny's Child

Yup, but I’m always super cool about it because that’s how us Angelenos act around celebs. I was in a Destiny’s Child video; you can play the Kevin Bacon game with me and Beyoncé.

Go Lakers!

I’ve met some basketball players (Magic Johnson!), The Simpsons voice actors and my favorite band Café Tacvba.

La Chica Banda

Sherman Alexie is one of my favorite writers

I’ve also met some of my favorite writers (Sherman Alexie and Sandra Cisneros), but I don’t know if book signings really count as meeting or if they are celebrities.

11) Share a pic of myself in non-workout clothes.

Thanksgiving family photo

Thanksgiving family photo. That was the picture that doesn’t look like my kid is trying to grab my breast.

12) If I could choose to have a “do over” and switch careers, what would I choose and why?

I like Marie’s answer:

Whatever job pays the most money for the least amount of work.

In college I had a high degree of contempt for selling out and basing your career on earning power. Now that I’m a mom and thinking of the cost of raising a kid, planning for retirement, etc I’m kicking 20-something year old me.

I’d likely pick something in the biomedical sciences because it’s been drilled in me that with a research background in the sciences so many career doors open up. I could do what I currently do, but at a higher level (with more money!) and still feel like I was making a difference in increasing educational attainment rates for Latinos.

13) If I won an Olympic Gold Medal, how do I think I would react?

Probably like Leo Manzano. I’d do a victory lap with both the US and Mexico flags.

14) What do I want for Christmas?

Christmas want list

Sean and I switched lists of potential items. Mine was above. I got the Girl With Curves t-shirt and sneakers. Sadly they’re too big despite being my size.

15) What skill do I lack?

Just one? I lack a lot of useful skills like applying eyeliner properly and sewing. But I don’t really miss those much. So, I’ll go with getting Xavi to sleep without relying on nursing and sleep training.

Tagging:
Julie
Laura
Melissa
Anel

Grading 2014 me

In my 2014 goal post I wrote:

For 2014, I want to do more:

Running. I miss it. I have a jogging stroller and mainly open weekend mornings so I should be able to get out there. It should also help me lose a little bit of weight without being restrictive about my diet — which I’ll have to do eventually if I want to get back to pre-pregnancy weight.

Reading. Inspired by Punk Rock Mom, I’m taking up an A-Z challenge to read at least one book by an author from every letter of the alphabet.

Writing. Let’s see if I can knock out two blog posts a week about more than just baby/new mom life. I know that’s not interesting to some people. And I do have thoughts about culture, politics, education, etc.

I got one out of three done.

Second half of the year in books. I still have a week to go, but I really like the perfect 6x6 grid. #goodreads #books

Reading Grade: A+
I read 72 books and did two A-Z challenges, one by author and one by title.

Running Grade: C-
I ran more in 2014, but not enough to give myself credit for that one. However, I did work on my fitness and get back to regular exercise when I took a free class through work. BHIP was overall pretty awesome. I made significant gains and even though it wasn’t running focused, I was able to actually run a mile after thanks to all the strength training and cardio. I’m sad it’s over and the class is no longer free. (Review/reflections to come.)

Writing Grade: D
Maybe if I spent less time reading, I could’ve written more. I didn’t give myself an F because I wrote as much as I wanted to write. I’m not sure how to motivate myself to write more if I don’t feel like sharing my thoughts. For example, I have like 3-4 drafts about being a mom that are unfinished. I have my outlets and right now that’s okay for me.

Incomplete tamalada: On missing Mamá Toni

On the morning Mamá Toni passed away, I sat across the kitchen table from tío Beto. Oddly enough, food came to mind. Not just any food, Mamá Toni’s famous red chile pork tamales.

“Now who’s going to make you your tamales,” I asked my uncle, the eldest — and some might say favorite — of Mamá Toni’s sons.

He gave me a half smile and thumbed the folded up napkin in his hand.

“Pues, Chilo,” his big sister, my madrina (godmother) and the eldest of the Ureño Saldivar children.

By default, the little things Mamá Toni had done to take care of her son had been passed on to Madrina Chilo. Her tamales were just as delicious. She used the same unwritten recipe as Mamá Toni.

***

Mamá Toni and Santa Claus

Christmas in my family means tamaladas held a few days before Christmas Eve to prepare dozens of tamales. I used to help. As a kid, my job was to painstakingly remove the cornsilk from the cornhusks soaking in a tub of water. Inside, the women of the family would laugh and gossip while spreading the hojas with masa. Mamá Toni was in charge of spooning in the guiso, a stew-like red chile and pork filling. She also did the folding. Later, I’d get to join the crew with spreading the masa, but never doing any of the final steps. That was for the pros.

In recent years, Mamá Toni took more of a supervisory role in the tamaladas. Madrina Chilo was in charge. I tended to miss them thanks to work and school on the other side of town.

Nevertheless, I had no shame in partaking of the benefits. I ate my share of tamales, and then some. They were delicious and perfect in every way. The right size, the difficult balance of spiciness to add a kick without making you cry (important for a chile weakling like me), neither too try nor so moist that it crumbles as soon as unwrapped, and never stingy with the amount of meat in each individual tamal. They were best the next morning, heated up to a crisp on the comal.

I took those tamales for granted, but Sean didn’t. He had never eaten tamales before moving out to California and dating me. He loved Mamá Toni’s tamales and would gladly take leftovers of the pork. The compliments filled her with pride and she got a kick that he really liked Mexican food.

Christmas 2013 with Mamá Toni

I caught myself thinking that Mamá Toni would be at the tamalada this year. It’ll be the first Christmas without her. I don’t know if I’m ready for that.

***

Mamá Toni's altar

The day of Mamá Toni’s funeral everyone in the family wore purple, her favorite color. The pall bearers — the eldest sons of each family — wore the same eggplant shade. Everyone else wore something between lavender and violet. Xavi wore purple too. And I pulled out all the purple dresses in my closet that no longer fit me and lent them to my cousins and sister. Three people wore my dresses. I like purple a lot too.

There were flowers, lots and lots of flowers. I wondered, who will take care of these arrangements and make sure they last for days. Mamá Toni was a pro at keeping flower arrangements looking fresh longer than anyone I knew.

The Mass was celebrated by Mamá Toni’s Fr. Roberto. He’s currently assigned to a parish in Seattle, but fortunately he was able to be in town for the services as it coincided with a conference. As Mamá Toni’s nephew and godson, Padre Roberto added a very personal touch to his sermon. I don’t think anyone could suppress the tears when he spoke about how much good Mamá Toni did throughout her life, almost all in partnership with Papá Chepe. I wasn’t around at the time, but in the ’60s and ’70s, Mamá Toni helped her brother Mateo (Roberto’s father) emigrate. Her home in East LA was a temporary residence for many family members and friends immigrating. Most of my family is very removed from the immigrant experience either having never experiencing it or it being decades in the past. Fr. Roberto’s sermon was a nice reminder of how much Mamá Toni had done for her siblings and their families. After the burial and reception I told dad, “Your eulogy at the rosary was very nice, but Fr. Roberto’s was amazing. I know it’s not a competition.”

At the burial, I stood in the shade out of the hot sun next to dad, Lori and Danny. We reprised our Mosqueda mini-tradition of singing at the funerals of our loved ones. We did it for tío Joe, tío Johnny, our neighbor Dale and now Mamá Toni. My aunts, uncles and cousins let go of doves while we sang and others placed flowers on the casket. Later, dad would tell me likes singing and playing guitar during the funeral services because it keeps him busy and focused on the task rather than the grief. I know what he means because I do it too, but I also sing because it’s another way of showing my love, saying “goodbye” and finding comfort with my family as we sing together.

Following the burial, most of the family went back to the church hall for a reception. Sean and I went to my parents’ to allow Xavi to nap. Tía Josie and my cousin Patty were already there taking care of Papá Chepe. Later that evening more family came over to begin the novena. The final rosary on November 7th would be even more crowded with family and friends joining to pray for Mamá Toni’s soul.

(I’m kicking myself now for not writing more about the services two months ago when they were fresher in my mind. The words were really beautiful.)

***

It’s been two months. It really doesn’t feel that long.