A Year in Books

31 Dec

This year, I tackled a book challenge with an awesome friend of mine. The challenge wasn’t by number of books (I did the 50 book challenge in 2013 – I made it, but I was super stressed); instead it was by categories. Look how I did!

book-challenge

Overall, this was a fun new way to think about my bookshelves. I really enjoyed filling in the categories and finding books that interested me at the same time.

Some highlights:

  • The Mistborn trilogy (a book with more than 500 pages, a book with magic, and a trilogy). The first book had been sitting on my shelf for a year or two before I decided to try it out, and I think without the challenge I would have been missing out on it for another several years to come. I wrote a previous blog post about feeling emotionally invested in this series, and the ending of the trilogy found me sobbing. Incredible.
  • A Wrinkle in Time (a book from your childhood). I had started it with my mom when I was a kid and never finished it – even though when we started reading it, she flipped ahead to the end and gasped because she remembered the ending from when she was a kid, but could never remember which book it was. Loved having an excuse to get back to it and find out what that ending was.
  • Neverwhere (a book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet). I have a distinct memory of staring intently at the pages while sitting at the kitchen table of my old apartment when I had finished dinner but couldn’t put the book down until I had finished it too.
  • You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (a funny book). Charming!
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (a book that became a movie). Just fun.

I never planned on finishing the entire challenge, since it asked for 50 books and I had no intention of reading that many. But I think 36 is a pretty solid number and I’m proud of it. I had plans for some of the categories, and I’m a little bummed I didn’t get to them. Some unfinished business:

  • A Pulitzer Prize-winning book: All The Light We Cannot See
  • A book based on a true story: 1776
  • A book written by an author with your same initials: The Dragon Queen (happened to see it sitting on my shelf, written by a fellow AB)
  • A book you started but never finished: Dune (a friend of mine has a theory that everyone reads less than 100 pages of it and gives up, then years later reads it and loves it – I’ve done step one…)

And there were a few categories I had no aim to fulfill:

  • A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t. I read every book I was supposed to in school. (I guess I could have read a book other classes read that I never did, but still. I was a good student.)
  • A book that scares you. I have a book I’m scared of because it’s a massive hardcover (The Crimson Petal and the White). I’m less scared of the content and more scared of the shoulder pain I’ll have from carrying it around in my purse.
  • A book with bad reviews. Life is too short, man.

I also had an excellent encounter this year for which I can thank this challenge. I read Every Day Is A Holiday, and thought I could finagle it into the “a book with antonyms in the title” category, but it was debatable. The author is self-published and mentioned in the book (which was a very fun read) that he enjoyed receiving emails from readers. So I emailed him for his opinion and we had a lively debate in which I presented my case Supreme Court-style, and as judge, he ruled against me. He pointed out that “every day” is not “everyday” and that I might as well try to argue “each ice cream flavor is different” is comprised of antonyms. Fair point, George. Fair point. Into “a book set in a different country” for you.

Overall, this was a fun year of reading. May 2017 bring good books for us all. (And some other nice things too, please.)

The Twelve Desserts of Christmas

20 Dec

Since I’m Jewish, and one of my dearest friends is Baha’i, we recently had a difficult time remembering the lyrics to The Twelve Days of Christmas. How many lords are there? Who’s a-playing what? Why are there so many birds?

So naturally, we decided to write our own lyrics as an ode to a subject we are much more passionate about: desserts. You’re welcome, earth.


On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
A fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Four melting snow cones
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Fiiiiive gold-flaked caaaaakes!
Four melting snow cones
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Six pies a-baking
Fiiiiive gold-flaked caaaaakes!
Four melting snow cones
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Seven flans a-flaming
Six pies a-baking
Fiiiiive gold-flaked caaaaakes!
Four melting snow cones
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Eight milks a-shaking
Seven flans a-flaming
Six pies a-baking
Fiiiiive gold-flaked caaaaakes!
Four melting snow cones
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Nine cupcakes frosting
Eight milks a-shaking
Seven flans a-flaming
Six pies a-baking
Fiiiiive gold-flaked caaaaakes!
Four melting snow cones
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Ten trifles layered
Nine cupcakes frosting
Eight milks a-shaking
Seven flans a-flaming
Six pies a-baking
Fiiiiive gold-flaked caaaaakes!
Four melting snow cones
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Eleven fondues dipping
Ten trifles layered
Nine cupcakes frosting
Eight milks a-shaking
Seven flans a-flaming
Six pies a-baking
Fiiiiive gold-flaked caaaaakes!
Four melting snow cones
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me –
Twelve bananas flambeing
Eleven fondues dipping
Ten trifles layered
Nine cupcakes frosting
Eight milks a-shaking
Seven flans a-flaming
Six pies a-baking
Fiiiiive gold-flaked caaaaakes!
Four melting snow cones
Three French croissants
Two turtle brownies
And a fresh doughnut from a bakeryyyyy!


Happy holidays, everyone!

doughnuts

Photo credit: leahwsprague

Following up on the last post

12 Dec

…and then I plan to never write about this guy again (save for any major new developments, of which I hope there are none).

My last post about the anti-Semitic rant I received via customer service emails inspired some pretty incredible reactions. I was genuinely touched by all of the compassion I received. Friends I talk to every week, as well as friends I haven’t talked to in 5-10 years, rallied together to stand up for me. I got comments, likes, shares, texts, tweets, emails, and calls from people throughout the day and well into the next one. And I can’t even begin to describe how much that means to me.

Before I posted it, I had started gaslighting myself. Was this really as big of a deal as I thought it was? The answer, from all of my friends and family, was a resounding YES.

So other than the single comment from a Holocaust denier on my Facebook post (which was offset by texts from two separate friends and comments responding to him from two other friends), I really felt like I was part of a community who cared about each other.

(I also appreciated that about four or five separate friends were of course offended by the anti-Semitic remarks, but seemed more upset by the customer service he provided. One friend in customer service pointed out that he refunded the third plushie without asking me first how I would like to proceed. One friend pointed out that not only did he acknowledge scolding me, he defended it. One friend called his customer service worse than Comcast.)

I want to follow up here and answer a few frequently asked questions about the experience.

Can you escalate this? This guy’s boss has to be told.

The short answer is no. The long answer – I did some research into the company, and it seems that Zac pretty much is the company. As far as I can tell, there isn’t anyone higher up to talk to about it. I also couldn’t find a single website for his overarching business, but could only find individual websites for each of his products.

Can you leave reviews about this so the public knows before they buy?

Once again, the short answer is no. None of the websites offer a place to leave reviews. Some of the products seem to be sold through Amazon or Etsy, but since I didn’t buy from those, I don’t feel comfortable leaving a review there (especially since it would only be on that product, rather than on his company as a whole). One friend sent me a screenshot that she was giving one star to the Legendary Suitjamas on Amazon anyway and expanded upon why in the comment section. I also tried searching on the BBB website for every company name related to him, and couldn’t find a single listing.

Can you tell the people who own the comic about this?

Once again – nope. The comic is crowdsourced, so anyone on the Internet can draw one and post it. There’s no single owner to tell. It seems his company was able to make the plushies due to funding through a Kickstarter campaign.

Are you going to send this to the media?

No, I’m not. I sent it to family, friends, and Jewish groups both local and national – but not the media. The main reason is simple: I’m not trying to publicly shame this guy. My goal, instead, is to make this experience a rallying cry. There is a lot of hate and bigotry out in the world, no matter how safe we may or may not feel. Please, remember to speak up for those who don’t have a voice – whether they’re Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or any religion, race, creed, gender, sexuality, etc. I don’t think there’s much point in arguing with strangers on the Internet, but please try to have important and thoughtful conversations in real life.

But seriously – does he have at least some point? Did you have the option to change the shipping costs?

No, I did not. When I got to the PayPal confirmation page, the shipping cost was $9.95, take it or leave it. If there was a cheaper option, I would have taken it. (I’d also like to note that the website did not say the $2.95 + $1 per ball was an estimate, as Zac explains it was. And it still says exactly what I saw at the time – I just took the following screenshot today.)

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-2-55-17-pm

What else does this guy sell?

I’m not sure if his company’s name is ZBOSS, Inc. or Borrowdale Group, Inc. I also can’t tell where the company is based. But regardless, they sell the countryball plushies, the Legendary Suitjamas, and Knight Hoodies. Not including links because I don’t really want to improve his SEO right now.

***

Again, thank you for reading, and thank you for the overwhelming support I received. I plan to move on, and I hope you’ll join me in remembering the impact just a few emails had – and in continuing to be a voice for the unheard in the future.

Yesterday, I Received an Anti-Semitic Rant

8 Dec

You may know (either from knowing me in real life or from reading this blog) that I am American and my boyfriend is Israeli. We each live in our home countries and only get to see each other every few months. So I am thrilled that for the first time in our almost 3-year relationship, he’s able to fly here for the holidays (for what I’m calling #BabysFirstChristmas).

I’m unemployed and living at home, so money isn’t exactly on my side right now. But when it came time to think of the very first Hanukkah present I’d get to give him in person and watch his face as he opens it, I wanted something perfect. I had a million ideas to start because luckily, he and I share countless nerdy obsessions together. Should I scour ThinkGeek? Or The Tinker’s Packs? Or Marvel gifts? Or Book of Mormon musical gifts?

But one idea stood out above all the rest. A few months ago, he mentioned offhandedly how much he loves the countryball comics and that he would love to find toys of them. (If you aren’t familiar with the comics, this one is my favorite.) Being the good girlfriend that I am, I took note of the comment and squirreled it away for future gifting – which, I decided, would be used this Hanukkah.

With a quick Cyber Monday-inspired search, I found a website that sold adorable plushies of the countryballs. Since their pricing meant that I could order three almost for the price of two, I decided to order USAball, Israelcube, and UKball (the last one entirely because it has a top hat and a monocle).

At the time, the website said that shipping would cost $2.95, plus $1 for every plushie ordered. I had just ordered presents for several other loved ones, so my wallet was already hurting, and shipping for $5.95 seemed like a good deal. But when I went to confirm payment through PayPal, it said shipping would be $9.95. Since I wanted to be sure to order them in time for a holiday arrival, I agreed to it and decided to figure it out later.

When I got the automatic confirmation from their store, I saw that it was from an Info email address and decided to ask about the shipping cost discrepancy.

email-1

A few days later, Zac from the company responded.

email-2

The easygoing part of me wanted to be satisfied with the response. But the part of me that tries to stand up for myself, encouraged by the part of me that is almost four-months-unemployed and scared by the numbers in my bank account, wasn’t really satisfied. So I emailed him back.

email-3

A few days went by and I didn’t hear from them. But then I got an email that said my order was ready to be shipped soon – just the US and Israel plushies. I wasn’t thrilled about how this was going, so I followed up.

email-4

And this was the response I received. I’d like you to pay special attention to the last sentence of the first paragraph, just like I did.

email-5

After reading this, I had the new experience of literally shaking with anger and I couldn’t seem to get warm. I didn’t want to give this person my money, and I knew I could never look at the plushies without remembering this email. So I asked him to cancel the order.

email-6

Perhaps I should have known at this point that Zac would want the last word in this conversation, so I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when he responded with this (and once again, please pay special attention to the last sentence as I did).

email-7

A part of me wanted to respond to Zac and let him know that my concern over $4 didn’t come from being Jewish. The concern came from being unemployed, having more debt than income, living at home with my family, and trying desperately to afford thoughtful holiday presents for my loved ones.

But I didn’t.

The initial reason I didn’t respond was because I don’t owe Zac an explanation. But the more honest reason was that I don’t want to receive another email like these from him. Not only do I not want to receive more scolding – I’m a little scared, and I hate admitting that.

A lot of thoughts went through my mind last night as I tried to process this and couldn’t sleep.

Clearly, anti-Semitism is much more real than I want to admit.

I can’t exactly organize a boycott of this individual website, or the site that seems to be their parent company based on the emails, Legendary Suitjamas (which is really too bad, because I like How I Met Your Mother and didn’t even know this existed in real life).

I didn’t want to spend this holiday season being forcibly reminded of anti-Semitism on a personal level.

Would he have sent this kind of response if my email was from a man’s name?

Regardless of the anti-Semitic statements in each email, they seem like a bit of an overreaction.

When they go low, you go high.

Ironically, based on the length of his emails, he seems to care a lot more about these $4 than I do.

And on top of all this, now I have to find a present for my boyfriend with only two weeks before the holidays.

So, before I end this, I’d like to ask something of you, good readers. Please like this post, whether on WordPress or wherever you found it, so that I can remember Love trumps Hate this December. Please share this story with others so we don’t forget that bigotry is still out there, alive and well. And, most importantly, please show each other love and respect by being there for others and for unifying against hate, no matter how small a comment may seem. Because it may shake the entire world of someone on the receiving end of it.

I’m going to go leave some reviews.

Read ‘Til You Cry. Or Laugh. Or Whatever.

2 Dec

Those of you who know me might have a teeny tiny suspicion that I like to read books. I may or may not have an overflowing bookshelf of books I have purchased and haven’t read yet (which I’ve calculated would take me four years to read straight through). I may or may not have active GoodReads, LibraryThing, and PaperbackSwap accounts. I may or may not have a pin that declares I am not a bookworm, I am a book dragon. I may or may not pick my purse based on the size of my book. I may or may not have purchased a Kindle for my six months spent in Israel and considered it a lifesaver.

fullsizerender

Just maybe.

I’m currently reading the third book of the Mistborn trilogy – The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson. Each of the three books has had a similar trajectory for me. The beginning is interesting, but not thrilling. The middle starts to get more interesting. About two-thirds of the way through, I have a physical gut reaction to a plot twist. And then I cannot put down the book until the end.

The plot twist has gotten a more severe reaction from me each time. In the first book, I genuinely didn’t believe that it had happened and was convinced something else was about to be revealed. In the second book, I actually gasped and quietly said “No!” out loud. In the third book, I read it just before bedtime and literally lost sleep because I kept thinking about it and muttering “whyyyyyy” into my pillow.

I generally take it as a good sign for a book when it can elicit a physical reaction. Some books that made me cry include Watership Down by Richard Adams and The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs in hope, and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in sadness (DAMMIT RUE). Books that have given me chills include The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Books that still make me smile fondly include Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

So, what books have made you react outside of your head? I love a good recommendation.

Just maybe.

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One final thought with which to leave you. (Thanks for sending, Shelby!)

The Neverending To-Do Lists

28 Nov

My dad once told me that when my grandfather retired, he remarked, “You know, I have absolutely nothing to do…and no time to get it all done in!”

Unemployment is a lot like that. I don’t exactly have something that takes up all of my time every day, but I feel like there are a million things that I should be doing.

Here’s a quick list of the things I prioritize every day:

  • Job hunting (obviously)
  • Putting together and submitting job applications (very different from the previous task)
  • Investigating job hunting resources, like alumni networks and career counseling and networking events
  • Working out
  • Learning Hebrew
  • Going through my personal emails (so many emails)
  • Clearing out photos from my computer and uploading to cloud
  • Clearing out photos from my phone and uploading to cloud
  • Taking advantage of time off to spend with family and friends
  • Blogging a few times each month (hello!)

And here are some things I need to do over the next few weeks:

  • Get a new registration sticker for my car
  • Figure out insurance for 2017
  • Write a letter of recommendation for a former researcher
  • Deal with American Airlines (don’t ask)
  • Figure out if I’m auditioning for a local play (and if so, spiff up my resume and memorize a monologue)
  • Gather holiday presents for loved ones
  • Get a refund from insurance that seems far more complicated than it should be
  • Organize those last few items I moved in with and never quite got around to

And here are the fun things I’m also trying to do so that I don’t want to spend every day curled up in a corner huddled against the constant storm of job applications:

  • Finishing my reading challenge strong (on book 32 of the year now!)
  • Watching various Netflix shows on my own
  • Watching various shows with my family
  • Meeting loved ones for meals, coffee, and fun
  • Playing my ukulele
  • Reading anything from the stack of magazines that pile up on my nightstand
  • Listening to the constantly growing number of podcasts virtually piling up on my phone
  • Digging out and playing games on old video game systems (my gaming prowess never quite passed the level of GameCube and PlayStation 2)

What’s on your never-ending to-do lists for how you spend your free time?

pink-panthers-to-do-list

It’s in your head forever now. You’re welcome.

Challenge Accepted

20 Nov

My last blog post was, in a nutshell, a “whatcha gonna do about it?” piece. And if I want people to actually do something (much like Russell Brand implores in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), I gotta step up and start the ball rolling myself.

So, I’d like to share what I did and am doing. Because no matter how many think pieces you share on Facebook, the world keeps a-turning and we’re going to have a political administration for the next several years that might do some serious damage to causes we care about.

In the span of about an hour from the comfort of my bed and laptop, I did some research and then:

I wish I could donate more (#unemployment), and that there were more potential volunteer opportunities for the environmental groups. But as it stands, I signed up to be reminded of them on a regular basis so I can stay involved with them and remind Future Allie that they exist. I’d like to look into women’s groups and LGBT groups as well, but will leave that for Future Allie because I have to get going.

(Oh, and I’m still volunteering for the animal shelter! I don’t think even the far right hates puppies, so it’s not exactly a political stance. But it’s still a fun way to be involved.)

And now, it’s your turn. Leave a comment – how are you getting involved?

(And no, sharing articles, even this blog post, does not count.)