One year, two shifts

Family photo for my birthday

It’s been exactly one year since I returned to work after a 3 month maternity leave. It was a tough morning and the week leading up to my return was filled with anxiety.

I don’t cry when I leave to work anymore and there are no balloons in my office. I settled in to a new routine, pumping in my office stopped being awkward, and I liked commuting by bus because it gave me some time to myself to read or just stare out the window.

These days my schedule has changed due to my fitness class. I leave to work later, occasionally I’ll get some morning play time in with Xavi. Sometimes he doesn’t even wake up before I leave. And then there are the mornings where he cries a little as I leave. It’s not a full on meltdown, but it still makes me feel guilty. I feel better knowing he adores Lupe, his babysitter. (He runs to her when she arrives.)

New hairstyle

Aside from my schedule, the other big change is that I stopped pumping in September. I was down to one pump a day and was planning to stop after Xavi’s birthday but didn’t want to affect nursing at home. He shows no interest in weaning and I’m cool with that. Anyway, one day I just didn’t get around to pumping and felt okay. If I have an extra long day, I’ll still take the pump. (In that first month when breastfeeding felt like the hardest thing ever, I didn’t imagine that at almost 15 months I’d still be gladly breastfeeding.)

This is one Friday 4:30 pm meeting I'm happy to take.

I stay later on the days I workout to make up the time. Sean is typically home first and he brings Xavi out for a walk to meet me. It’s my favorite part of the day to see tiny Xavi walking with Sean toward me on the sidewalk. Sometimes they’re already on the corner and I can hear Xavi’s happy screaming when he spots me getting off the bus from across the street.

Once we are both home, Sean starts dinner while I nurse Xavi. Afterward, we sing (current favorites are “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Little Black Raincloud”), read, play hide-and-seek, go out for walks to checkout the neighborhood dogs and play with his plethora of toys. I also do a lot of chasing to make sure he stays out of the kitchen. He moves surprisingly fast. At least he’s a noisy walker/runner so I know when I need to hustle.

Someone loves cheese

After dinner Sean takes care of bathing Xavi and I start cleaning up in the kitchen, making lunch with the leftovers or getting ready to put Xavi to bed.

Then we go to bed and I read a little before showering and getting my stuff ready for the next day.


Xavi OOTD: Polo pleated khakis (via grandma Eula), Yankees polo onesie, Stride Rite shoes.

I marked my anniversary of being a mom + full-time worker bee by staying home with the little guy. Lupe is visiting family in Houston so Sean and I are taking turns staying home. Today we went to the doctor for a checkup, had a long afternoon nap, walked around the neighborhood to check out Halloween decorations, practiced climbing the stairs and met up with Sean on his walk home.

The requisite body after baby post

Most new mom bloggers I read — at least those focused on fitness and running — seem to write the “body after baby” post almost as soon as they have the baby. I waited a while.


I wrote the following when I was 39/40 weeks pregnant.

40 Weeks & Counting

“Are you sure your due date is in a month?”

“You look like you’re ready to pop!”

“Wow, you’re getting big!”

“Are you sure you’re not having twins in there?”

I haven’t heard any of these comments, I’ve just read about them on blogs, message boards, and Facebook groups. Instead, I’ve heard comments from family, co-workers, nurses and others that I don’t look like I’m that far along or that I look small. One nurse asked if I was gaining enough weight. Family members commented on my lack of a large bump. My cousin Nancy even accused me of exaggerating it — she was half right. Although my doctor was never concerned about my weight gain or Meatball’s size, those comments made me wonder if he was growing okay.

Honestly, I felt a little left out since it took a while for me to even get the occasional “Are you pregnant?/When are you due?” question from a stranger. In this case, the person was not a stranger, but a student I worked with. While my co-workers all knew early in the second trimester, I never actually told the 4 work-study students in our office or the dozens of students I coordinate in research programs. That just would be weird. In mid-May (30 weeks along), I got my first “are you expecting?” question. I was happy because finally I was starting to look pregnant rather than as if I’d just gained weight. When I told Sean, he replied, “Ah, youth. They haven’t learned to avoid that question at all costs.” I replied that I didn’t mind, plus the student got a pass because he’s in nursing and has done a nursing round in labor and delivery at a local hospital. One of our work-study students didn’t even know I was pregnant until June probably because I’m usually sitting at a desk.

The only other time I’ve received much attention about my body and weight gain/loss was four years ago when I was in the process of losing 60 pounds. In both cases, the comments about the changes came from friends, family, and co-workers. During weight loss there were more comments that made me feel uncomfortable and self conscious. Sure, I liked that my efforts were noticed, but for me there was a “right” way and time to acknowledge the differences. The same goes for pregnancy. I’ve been lucky that I work and am surrounded by people who are (a) just very sweet or (b) know what not to say.


Written in early 2014

I know that was a bit smug and humble-braggy, probably why I never felt it was ready to publish. And then Xavi was born and writing wasn’t a priority.

Now 4.5 months postpartum this has come back. I remember reading another mom blogger’s update about her newborn son’s 2nd week. At the end of it she made a comment about already being in her pre-pregnancy jeans. I felt pretty shitty reading that. For the first few weeks, I felt like a slug. Nothing fit and and I felt frumpy in everything. This wasn’t such an issue since I really didn’t have anywhere to go and could get away with wearing yoga pants and tank tops all day. If I needed to wear actual pants, I wore my maternity jeans. When I returned to work, I bought a couple new pairs of jeans with a gift card my aunt gave me (thanks, tía Nelly).


Written recently

Losing the weight I gained during pregnancy and the year before that hasn’t been a priority.

Five years ago, I worked really hard to get to my current weight. 165 was my driver’s license weight, that way low-balled number you put on the DMV forms. Sure, it was higher than what I was used to in recent years, but I was still 30 pounds away from where I had been at one point. It took me 5 months of meticulously tracking everything I ate to make sure I stayed within my points and running 4-5 times a week before I got to the 160s. I feel okay giving myself some leeway in the mad dash to lose the baby weight.


I had other priorities besides getting in to a certain pair of jeans — spending time with Xavi and Sean, keeping up my breastmilk supply and getting a little more sleep. I did miss running, but when I tried to start again I’d get discouraged by being so out of shape. I do want to get back to running and being more fit especially since Xavi started walking (4 days after his first birthday) and I need to keep up with him.

June, pre BHIP

In August I began a free 12-week fitness class, Bruin Health Improvement Program’s (BHIP) On Ramp. The intro class is described as a “comprehensive strength and conditioning program.”

Working out at the track again

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but everyone I know who has taken the class highly recommends it. I would have signed up earlier, but was still pumping three times a day and wasn’t sure I’d have time to commit to an hour class three times a week. I still need to get work done.

So far, BHIP has been awesome. I’ve never stuck with a fitness class for more than 1 or 2 sessions. I preferred running on my own schedule. BHIP is different. Our class is tiny compared to the evening sessions. BHIP offers morning sessions too, but I’d rather sleep and have a little more Xavi time.

The workouts are crossfit style without the competitiveness or weird names. Since our class is usually 8 people, we get a lot of individual attention from the two instructors. They are also really motivating for those times when I just want to quit because it’s too damn hot out. It’s also nice to get out of my office and check out the campus I know and love. I’m the kind of person who eats lunch at my desk.

Drake Stadium stairs

I like being back at the track where I used to do speed workouts for marathon training. I didn’t know much about BHIP then because I wasn’t eligible for the program. Now I’m the one in a corner doing workouts and watching the very fit athletes — Olympians, pros and D1 athletes — who are on the track or stairs for their midday workouts. I even spotted Kevin Durant out there once.


For the first week or so I was very sore and felt in over my head. Maybe I should have taken the BHIP 0.5 class focused on weight loss for more sedentary folks. Nevertheless, I’m starting to see results. I still can’t do a proper pushup, but I am getting stronger. I’ve also lost a little bit of weight even though I’m not concentrating on the nutrition aspect. It could just be water weight since I sweat a lot with outdoor midday workouts. The main physical differences are probably my awkward tan lines.

I’m still far from getting to pre-pregnancy clothes, but that’s okay. At least my sister Lori will get some use out of them. I had a moment when I saw her in one of the dresses I wore at my goal weight. I expected my old clothes to fit her a little loose, but the dress fit perfectly. I couldn’t believe I was that small. I forgot that one of my weightloss goals was to fit in to Lori’s clothes.

The experience was a little unsettling to see how far away I am from my goal weight. But that’s okay, it’s also motivation to know what sticking to a plan and moving more can do for my body and mind.

My year of Meatball

Like a lot of other new parents, Sean and I take a lot of photos of our son. We’ve slowed down a little bit partly because Xavi has sped up — it’s tough when he’s always on the move! — and Sean is done with his one-a-day project. He committed to posting one photo a day on Facebook for the first year. I loved seeing the daily photos he would post. It was a nice treat to get to see each new photo, as if I didn’t see Xavi all the time. We also did monthly photo shoots. It’s fun to see how big he’s (and his hair) grown.


Sean made each label and we reused the 99 Cents Store frames that held table numbers are our wedding.


We used the same newborn size outfit for month and two to show the growth. He was so tiny!


He was Robin for Halloween. Sean was Batman.


Our in-laws came to visit in November. My MIL picked out several items at Baby GAP and even signed Xavi up for a card. She still sends him boxes of clothes.


More GAP clothes.


He has a lot of superhero clothes.


You can’t see the back, but this is a Derek Jeter onesie (Sean’s favorite Yankee these days).


It’s time for Dodger baseball!


Spring gear.


Ready for the World Cup!


No contaban con mi astucia! Xavi represents Mexican pop culture figures too.


Excited to be one!

Eight books for July

July felt like a really long month. Maybe it’s because I was counting down the days until Xavi’s first birthday, it was hot, or I was going through the job application/interview process.

I took advantage of those 31 days by sticking my head in a book. Or eight..

I read the first three books below as to finish off the A-Z challenge.


Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
For several years, I’ve come across Edwidge Danticat on lists of women writers, young writers, people of color writers, etc. I knew I should read something by her, and wasn’t sure where to start. Her first novel seemed appropriate. Overall, I enjoyed the story of Sophie Caco coming to live with her mother, Martine, in NY after many years of living with her aunt and grandmother in Haiti. Of course, the relationship between mother and daughter (and the other women, niece/aunt) are quite complicated given that Sophie is the product of rape.


Bilal’s Bread by Sulayman X
TRIGGER WARNING. Breath, Eyes, Memory was depressing in it’s exploration of rape and complicated or abusive family relationships. Bilal’s Bread topped that by adding in Kurdish refugee issues, marginalization of Muslim families, physical and sexual abuse/incest, and the coming out process. I’m not sure I’d recommend it since the depictions of physical and sexual are very graphic. However, it does explore homosexuality and Muslims — what does the Koran say vs. how followers interpret this — which was interesting.


Black Widow’s Wardrobe by Lucha Corpi
I picked this up on a whim because I remembered reading Corpi’s poetry in a Chicana/o literature class. The best way to describe it would be a mystery novel for Chicana/o studies majors. Overall, it’s okay, but it wasn’t my favorite and I don’t think I’ll read Corpi’s other two novels following her heroine and PI, Gloria Damasco. Maybe I would’ve liked it more if I had read the other books in the miniseries? I don’t read many mystery novels, but in the few I read, the villain’s motivations are always quite flimsy. That was the case with Black Widow too. I did appreciate the tie-in to Mesoamerica and the brief lessons on Malintzin/Doña Marina/La Malinche. I’ve read at least one other historical fiction novel about Malintzin, but I like Corpi’s approach more.


I went a little crazy in the new fiction section at the library one day and picked up 4 of the following 5 books. (I read The Commitments via e-book.)


At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón
Earlier this year I read Lost City Radio and didn’t love it as much as I expected. Part of what bugged me is that the sense of place was ambivalent. Peru is never mentioned, just like the word Chile is nowhere to be found in Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits. Perhaps because I know a little more about Chile this didn’t bother me.

Despite never mentioning Peru in At Night We Walk in Circles, I didn’t feel annoyed or loss. There was a much stronger sense of place especially as Daniel Alarcón described the slow life in the provinces away from Lima.

This wasn’t a “can’t put down book,” for the first 3-4 parts (250+ pages). The set-up takes a while as the unnamed narrator tells us about Nelso and his family, the Diciembre theater troupe members, the revival of the troupe and ensuing tour in to the slow countryside.

Once I got to the end, I was surprised at how much I liked it and how well Alarcón set everything up. I remember thinking, “Whoa, I see what you did there. Cool.” Sophisticated, review, I know.

A few quotes that stuck out and are a good example of how great Alarcón is with language:

In response, Henry explained that heartbreak is like shattered glass: while it’s impossible that two pieces could splinter in precisely the same pattern, in the end, it doesn’t matter, because the effect is identical. [p. 223]

That morning, he was afraid of becoming old, and it was a very specific kind of old age he feared, one which has nothing to do with the number of years since your birth. He feared the premature old age of missed opportunities. [p. 262]

Commitments TheGuts

The Commitments and The Guts by Roddy Doyle

I picked up The Guts because I liked the cover. As I read the book jacket closer, I realized it was a follow-up to The Commitments so I downloaded that one first. The Commitments is the story of Jimmy Rabbitte and his friends trying to form a soul band in 1980s working class Dublin. It’s very short, but entertaining. I can see why it was made in to a film and musical. The Guts is a return to Rabbitte and some of his friends from his youth. Now he’s married, has four kids, and is still working in the music scene though not as a manager. He’s worried about his finances and health — rightfully so, he has colon cancer. I didn’t like The Guts much, mainly because I didn’t like Jimmy all that much. Also, reading a novella in Irish English is one thing, but the whole novel feels like a little too much. At least I learned new slang.

Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.

There’s a reason this is a NY Times bestseller. Just go read it. You can probably do it in one sitting, but you’ll regret it because you wished you had spent a little more time with it. That’s okay. You’ll do just as I did and re-read the prologue and first chapter. Then you’ll re-read the final chapter and epilogue. Maybe you’ll re-read everything because it’s the type of book that gets better with each new read. Then you’ll go re-read your favorite passages and quotes. There will be many. Then you’ll sadly return the book to the library, make your husband read it and promise to one day buy the lovely hardcover version. When you’re done, come back and tell me if you cried.


The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
I really enjoyed The Interestings and hoped The Uncoupling would be similar. Not really.

The premise is interesting. The local high school where Dory and Robby Lang teach puts on Aristophanes’ play “Lysistrata.” In the play, the women abstain from sex in protest of the Peloponnesian War. This spell overtakes the New Jersey town and all heterosexual women, from teens to those married for several years, are suddenly disinterested in sex. While I loved The Interestings as a character study, I wasn’t drawn to the men and women in Wolitzer’s Stellar Plains. They all sort of fell flat. Also, the protest of the actual war in Afghanistan felt like it was shoehorned in. Overall, it was okay, but nowhere nearly as memorable as The Interestings.

Little mornings for Xavi’s first birthday

Xavi 12 months

Xavi’s birthday was ten days ago. I’m still processing it. Not really, I’m just slow to write.

Getting emo listening to Las Mañanitas on Alt.Latino. Soon I’ll get to sing this to Xavi. Baby’s first mariachi serenade…

What I didn’t reveal in that tweet a few weeks ago is that I wasn’t just emotional. I was full on crying at my desk before the singer got to “el día en que tu naciste, nacieron todas las flores” (the day you were born/all the flowers were born — inspiration for the title of Xavi’s birth story).

Luckily I have tissues at my desk and no one seemed to notice that my eyes were a little red. I didn’t have to explain to anyone that I was crying because a certain number of days had passed and my tiny newborn was now a 50-something week old.

Xavi polo shirt

I’ve always been sentimental and one of those people who cries easily (see: Toy Story 3 — I wouldn’t even deign to see watch that now). Getting pregnant and having Xavi multiplied that at least five-fold. I lost whatever poker face I used to have. To be fair, the version Jasmine and Felix, the AltLatino hosts, played was one of the most beautiful recordings of “Las Mañanitas” I’ve heard.

And all I could think was how I’d be singing it for Xavi so very soon. I’d sing it as soon as he woke up for the morning, still groggy, smiling and looking up at me.


I sang “Las Mañanitas” to Xavi shortly after he woke up on his birthday. Sean was already gone for work. It was just us two (sort of, my in-laws were in the guest room) cuddling in bed on a warm summer morning. It wasn’t too unlike last August wwhen Xavi was still single-digit weeks old and Sean had already returned to work. Of course those days felt so long, so slow. The nights even more. At some point — probably when I went back to work — they just started to zoom by. Three, six, nine months. The firsts piled on faster than I could blog about them.

I don’t know if Xavi liked “Las Mañanitas.” He didn’t clap nor smile like he does when I sing his favorites (“All I want for Christmas,” “Part of Your World,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”).

Xavi versus the piñata

It’s okay if he’s not in to this tradition yet. At least he’s down with the piñata.

Celebrating into the nineties


In older photos of the grandparents, Papá Chepe is typically the one smiling and laughing as he pokes or tickles Mamá Toni in an effort to get her to crack a smile. I don’t remember know why she had the giggles in the photos above from Mother’s Day, but I think they’re cute. It was one of the first times in a while that they’d sat beside each other.


A month after Mother’s Day, Mamá Toni celebrated her 92nd birthday. She shared her day with Lori who was celebrating her graduation with a small reception. Papá Chepe’s 94th birthday is today. He’ll have a cake at Xavi’s birthday party and his very own horse piñata — his request, according to my mom.


I guess when you’re the patriarch and matriarch of a large family, you get used to sharing your special days. Nevertheless, I’m glad that we can still celebrate these days with them.

Baby’s first racist encounter

In just four days Xavi will complete his first year of life. There will be tears (mine, no doubt) and clichés (where did the past 12 months go? Can you believe he’s one?), a (Hulk, naturally) smash cake and lots of family and friends. There will be reminiscing over a year full of firsts and reaching milestones. And we’ll look forward to ones we’ve yet to reach (without trying to rush the natural developmental process).

Most of those firsts have been pleasant, awesome even. They’re captured in pictures and text messages filled with lots of exclamation points. Occasionally there will be one without formal record. Just memories that will become the kind of story that ends with “so that happened.”

This is that kind of story.

Hanging out on campus

Normally, Sean, Xavi and I go to Sunday mass at 5 pm. It gives us time to lounge around in the morning and not interrupt Xavi’s late morning nap. During the academic year it coincided with the service for confirmation year 1 students. (I volunteered to be a catechist last summer.) Finally, I like the music played at that service. This Sunday I had to work from 4-6 so we opted for the latest morning service at 11.

We arrived at church and took our usual seats in the crying room, 3rd mini pew, second from the back. I’m new to crying rooms since I never sat in there as a kid. SJV didn’t have one, but this church does. We’ve been using the room for the past 6 months or so and have become familiar with the regulars. While it’s nice to attend mass and not worry about the baby getting too loud and fussy since the room is soundproof, it’s also worrisome for it provides a glimpse of the toddler years.

This Sunday the room was pretty sparse and we were joined by only two or three other families. The family in the pew in front of us consisted of three boys, Larry (~9), Moe (~7) and Curly (~6)*, their father and grandmother.

Shortly into the service, the children were invited to leave the sanctuary to attend a specialized kids service. Moe and Curly joined the group, but Larry didn’t want to go even when his dad and brothers encouraged him. While his brothers were gone, Xavi dropped one of his teething rings in the aisle by Larry. The boy kindly picked it up but seemed disgusted when he found it was wet with drool. Fair enough.

Halfway through the service the kids came back. The boys got out their toys. Xavi watched with curiosity and leaned forward trying to touch the toys. Rather than turn around and ignore Xavi, Moe and Curly showed Xavi their toys. Moe, the middle brother, even let him hold a Batcopter. Larry didn’t like that.

“No, don’t let him play with it. He’s a brown baby! We only like Jonathan.*”

Moe and Curly looked at Larry like “what’s wrong with you?” and ignored his plea. Larry whined to his dad, but he didn’t do anything.

Sean and I didn’t say anything, but for the rest of the service I tried to keep Xavi from touching the boys’ toys even when they offered because they weren’t baby appropriate and I didn’t want Larry scowling at us or his brothers. Xavi did get in a couple spins of the Batcopter propeller and Tumbler wheels. [Aside: Sean helped me with the proper terms.]

The mass ended and we walked out to the car.

“Did you hear what the boy said?”

“I think I did. What did you hear?”

Sean repeated what I thought I’d heard and confirmed that I didn’t hear wrong. He was sitting closer to Larry so he could hear better.

“That doesn’t even make sense. Those boys are the same color as Xavi! They’re probably Filipino too.”

“And who is Jonathan? We gotta warn that kid.”

“Well, I guess that’s another first. Baby’s first racist encounter.”

So that happened...

So, that happened…

I love curls, curls, curls

Well before I was pregnant, I thought about hair. In particular, mixed kid hair.

My hair is thin and stick straight. I’m lucky if it holds a curl for more than a few hours. I rarely do anything to it besides the occasional dye job. Styling is wash and go. I don’t bother with many products. My kid(s) wouldn’t have a different experience thanks to the other half of the genetic equation.

I thought I would have time to learn the ropes and figure out what to do. I could take my toddler to my cousin Patty’s house and ask her for lessons. Her grown children are also blaxican and over the years she’s learned to braid their hair. She even tried once on Xavi but he wouldn’t sit still too long.

I thought I got off easy when I found out we were having a boy. I wouldn’t need to worry too much about styling, the right products, moisturizing, conditioning, and the rest of the stuff whole natural hair blogs are made out of.

I was wrong.

Xavi was born with a full head of hair. Everyone said it would fall out, but it never did. Instead the shiny black, straight hair covering his tiny newborn head grew and grew. It’s spiraled out into a thick set of curls that strangers think they can touch. [Grrr.]

Not excited about 4 month checkup time

Well-meaning and curious family members also have stuff to say and ask. Have you cut his hair? No. [Aside: When I was a baby my Padrino José shaved my hair so that it would grow back thicker. Baby me would’ve been so jealous of Xavi’s curls. You know, if I cared about that sort of stuff.]

When are you going to cut it? Never! Okay, that’s not what I said, but I really have no plans to cut it. I love how big it’s gotten. However, if it starts bugging him or if he pulls at it a lot, we might have to change course.

He has a lot of hair. I know.

Reading time, 11+ months

Really. I know.

Sean does all of the work when it comes to Xavi’s hair. He gives Xavi his baths and washes his hair a couple of times a week. He combs through with an afro pick after spraying with detangler. Xavi is the youngest in the family, but has the most complicated hair routine.

Last month our neighbor filled in for Xavi’s usual babysitter. She tried Shea Moisture curl enhancer on Xavi’s hair and it looked great, just like his hair does when it’s wet. “You have to define each curl,” she told me in a text. Sean bought the product and he tried after Xavi’s next bath. We couldn’t get Xavi to sit still long enough. Oh well.

I’m fine with the bedhead big hair look.

32 Books: Reflections on the A-Z Challenge

At the beginning of the year I committed to three main goals:
1. More reading. In particular, I committed to the A-Z challenge.
2. More running. Hah.
3. More writing. Ugh.

I haven’t done so well on 2 and 3 which might explain why I finished the challenge in the first half of the year. Below are my reflections, stats (ooooh, pie charts! pretty!) and the list of books I’ve read this year. I don’t generally write reviews, but I do rate them on Goodreads.


Alarcón, Daniel: Lost City Radio
Allende, Isabel: Of Love and Other Shadows
Bolaño, Roberto: The Savage Detectives: A Novel
Cisneros, Sandra: Have You Seen Marie?
Corpi, Lucha: Black Widow’s Wardrobe
Danticat, Edwidge: Breath, Eyes, Memory
Eggers, Dave: What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel
Eugenides, Jeffrey: The Virgin Suicides
Flynn, Gillian: Gone Girl
Gilb, Dagoberto: Before the End, After the Beginning: Stories
Green, John: The Fault in Our Stars
Hayasaki, Erika: The Death Class: A True Story About Life
Ishiguro, Kazuo: Never Let Me Go
July, Miranda: No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories
Kozol, Jonathan: Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools
Lahiri, Jhumpa: The Lowland
Marra, Anthony: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Novak, B.J.: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
Ondaatje, Michael: Anil’s Ghost
Ozeki, Ruth: A Tale for the Time Being
Palacio, Melinda: Ocotillo Dreams
Quick, Matthew: The Good Luck of Right Now
Rodriguez, Luis J: Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.
Senior, Jennifer: All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
Tobar, Hector: The Barbarian Nurseries
Urrea, Luis Alberto: Into the Beautiful North
Vowell, Sarah: Unfamiliar Fishes
Wiehl, Lis: Snapshot
Wolitzer, Meg: The Interestings
X, Sulayman: Bilal’s Bread
Yañez, Richard: Cross Over Water
Zambrano, Mario Alberto: Lotería


I’m glad I committed to this challenge and would be up for a second round. Thanks to the challenge, I found several new-to-me writers, rediscovered my love for reading, found a new-ish hobby to do in my “me time” and passed the time on my bus commute.

Naturally, the best part of the challenge was finding new writers and branching out. I mainly read fiction but I tried to mix it up with the familiar and the new. Most of the books below (75%) were written by new-to-me writers. I found some books by just scanning the bookshelves at the library and others through blogs or message boards. Melissa, la Feminist Texican, indirectly contributed to the list with her reviews. I picked a quarter of my reads after reading her reviews. I added other novels such as The Fault in Our Stars and Gone Girl since they’re currently bestsellers and I wanted to see what all the hype was about.

I found a number of new-to-me writers I’ll keep on my radar. Namely: Anthony Marra, Ruth Ozeki, Mario Alberto Zambrano and Meg Wolitzer. I’ve already found a couple of Ozeki and Wolitzer’s other novels at the library and added them to my reading list. Marra doesn’t have other novels published but I added novels that influenced him which is how I ended up reading a few novels about wartorn countries, torture and disappearances (see: Anil’s Ghost and Lost City Radio).

As with anything called a “challenge,” there are downsides. First, I slogged through at least one book I would’ve put down much earlier if I didn’t need that letter (looking at you, Bolaño). The silly thing is that some of the books I liked least were letters I didn’t even need. I either forgot that or was stubborn. Second, I put off reading books on my list because I didn’t need that particular letter.



Favorite book overall: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Books that made me cry:
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
The Death Class: A True Story About Life
Never Let Me Go
A Tale for the Time Being
The Interestings (maybe, I forgot now)

Toughest letter to find: I. Surprisingly, letters like Q, X and Z weren’t tough to find. I found my X author by just scanning books on the shelf when I went to get Richard Yañez’s Cross Over Water at the library. I checked out Feminist Texican’s A-Z archive for I authors and found Kazuo Ishiguro.

Type: Mainly novels and fiction. At least one book straddled the technical line between fiction and nonfiction. What is the What reads like a memoir but “novel” is in the title.

I read the most books in the late spring/early summer. I think this was because I wanted to finish by the start of July and I stopped picking longer books.

Average number of pages: 304. Longest: The Savage Detectives at 577 pages. Shortest was Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros at 101 pages, which reads like an illustrated poem. I added Black Widow’s Wardrobe by Lucha Corpi since I felt like a picture book didn’t really count and I still needed a C.

Format: 21 books (15 borrowed from library), 10 e-books, 1 read in both formats

Most disturbing: Bilal’s Bread. This needs all the trigger warnings. It’s also the most niche book being about Kurdish immigrants, Muslims, and gay teens. Runner up: What is the What. Can’t Valentino Achak Deng catch a break?!

Funniest: One More Thing. I laughed out loud at some of the questions for discussion that Novak includes at the end.

Most enlightening: All Joy and No Fun. So much of the chapters on being a new parent rang true.

The agony of defeat


Xavi isn’t even a year old and he’s already witnessed heartbreaking losses by Mexico in the World Cup, the Dodgers and “the Knicks’ general existence.” Sean added that last one in. At least the Kings won the Stanley Cup*, but we’re not really hockey fans.

Hopefully by the time he’s old enough to care about sports, his [parents’] favorite teams will get it together. For now, we’ll try to keep the cursing to a minimum and the celebrations not overly loud so they don’t startle him and make him cry.

[*At the expense of the Rangers, Sean’s team. So even if we were hockey fans, it’s only half a win.]