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text 2020-04-04 16:18
Notes From My Isolation
Life As We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Diary of a Young Girl - B.M. Mooyaart,Eleanor Roosevelt,Anne Frank

Like many of you, I am self-isolating. As a freelancer and stay-at-home mom, my work life has not shifted dramatically, and the major adjustment I’ve had to make is not being able to take my son to storytimes, playgroups, and other kid-friendly activities to stimulate him (read: tire him out) and give me the opportunity to get out of the house and see, sometimes even talk to, other adults.


My husband’s job is also secure, as he supplies a product for an essential industry (agriculture) and is able to work from home. So all three of us are holed up together on this, day 17. (For me, the break between when social distancing started and when normal life ended was not as cut-and-dry as for others. I never got sent home from work. Instead, I mark it from the week literally every activity I took my son to got cancelled.)


I have read — and agree — that writing during this time is important, although similar to when I am not in isolation, finding time and space to do so proves to be difficult. All the same challenges of trying to parent a toddler and find space for writing that existed in my “normal” life are just as overwhelming in isolation. Perhaps moreso, since my son sleeps fewer hours now, often leaving me to catch up on my sleep during his naps and robbing me of the one chance I used to take for jotting a few words down during the day. I have heard from other writers who feel guilty about having all the time in the world to write, but not feeling motivated to do so.

When isolation first started, we bought a bunch of used games to help keep my son busy. It’s been a good investment!


I like to believe that if circumstances were different, I would be productive during this time. But that might not be true. I know that in times of stress or transition in the past, I have had trouble working on writing projects and instead have tended to just journal a lot until I had cleared enough brain space to return to fiction.


I have tried not to dwell too much on all the things I COULD be accomplishing right now if the pandemic had hit at a different point in my life — namely, before I had kids. I have tried not to spend too much time imagining how my life right now would be “easier” if my son were older and more self-sufficient. The truth is, we all face our own unique challenges during this time. Those who live alone with the most freedom in their isolation also face the most crippling loneliness. Those with older children are often trying to juggle working from home with homeschooling, an untenable situation as both are full-time jobs. And then there are those who have young kids like mine at home, kids who are not self-sufficient, who are ALSO trying to work from home, which is a situation I can’t even imagine trying to attempt. I know from experience that even if you are working from home, you NEED childcare. The only reason I am able to write this at all is because my husband and I have agreed to take turns with my son in the mornings before he starts work, and today he’s on childcare duty. (Even with that, it’s taken me three days to complete this post.)

The kinetic sand my son received for Christmas from an aunt is proving useful now.


If this had struck while I was single, my anxiety would have been astronomical. Now, I have the calming influence of my husband’s presence as well as a million day-to-day concerns (what are we going to eat? how will I keep my son occupied today? how can I get caught up on the laundry? what should I prioritize workwise the next time the babysitter comes?) that keep any “bigger picture” anxiety at bay (is this the end of the world?!?). The “ideal time” seems to be after my marriage but before I became a mom, so I would have companionship but also more discretionary time. But if that were the case, I would have been working full-time and all this discretionary time I keep imagining probably would not have been in as much abundance as I think. So, there’s no changing any of it; I am where I am, luckier than most, and trying to practice daily gratitude in the midst of such uncertainty.


I have heard other readers talk about which books come to mind for them during this time. Many of us have not lived through the Great Depression, major world wars, or other events that have dramatically and abruptly changed our day-to-day lives. So we think about the way we have experienced these things vicariously through the books we’ve read. The two books that keep coming to mind for me are the Life as We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer, and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. In both instances, the change occurs for very different reasons. In the former, an asteroid hits the moon, disrupting weather and other climatic patterns; I don’t think I need to tell you the disruption Anne’s family experienced. But both are written as detailed journals from isolation, with the young protagonists and their families trying their best to establish a sense of normalcy and optimism in isolating, dire circumstances.


I feel a kinship with these girls right now; and they also remind me both how lucky we still are and how bad things can get. Be grateful, but also be smart and be prepared. But never at the expense of kindness.


If you haven’t read these books, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether they would be cathartic or just a little “too real” during these times. No judgment if you’re opting for escapist literature instead! (I’m personally just working through my Year of Expanded Reading as I would have in the absence of a pandemic.)


I want to reiterate that whatever you are doing to cope during this time of uncertainty, even if it is not “productive” is FINE. Binge-reading, binge-watching, binge-podcasting, sleeping till noon, video-chatting for hours, baking too many cookies. These are unusual times and perhaps what our brains need most is a break. If you are in a position to give it that, don’t feel guilty.


But if you ARE looking for ways to engage that are not as passive as reading or watching, here are some of the things I can suggest (also known as, the list of things I fantasize about doing with my time.)


Suggested Isolation Activities for Writers

  • Write. Obviously. If producing new work feels daunting, keep a journal or blog; revise something you’ve worked on in the past; or work through writing exercises you can find online or in writing books.
  • Binge-listen to Writing Excuses. This is an excellent podcast that has only become more self-aware with the number of years it has been in existence. It is geared toward speculative fiction writers who are past the “beginner” stage in their craft. Each episode ends with a writing prompt or “homework” if you are looking for something to get your writing juices flowing during this time.
  • Take Brandon Sanderson’s writing masterclass. This started when a grad student asked if he could record Sanderson’s writing class and post it online. Sanderson was cool with it and it became a significant part of his web presence. While the original lectures are still available, Sanderson is also re-releasing the lectures with higher production values. The link above will take you to both the original lectures and the new releases.
  • Explore a Great Courses class. I have been salivating over these courses on my Roku app ever since we first added the channel when my son was born. I never paid for them because I knew I wouldn’t find time to take full advantage with a baby, and then a toddler, in the house. But currently, they are offering a month free. Now’s the time!
  • Or, check out the excellent university-level classes ALWAYS offered for free on Coursera. Before I became a mom, I was obsessed with Coursera. The classes offered are diverse and amazing. I’ve taken one on birth control, one on philosophy, and one on spirituality. They vary in how rigorous they are and because you are basically “auditing” the class, you can put as much or as little into them as you want. Perfect for a period of upheaval and uncertainty when motivation levels may vary.


Let me know what other enrichment opportunities you may have discovered during social distancing. I know this list barely scratches the surface.

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text 2019-07-17 00:51
PM’s Favorite/Essential History Reading List (1 of 2)
Duel of Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo - Jeff Long
Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets - John Woolf,Nick Baker,Stephen Fry
The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer - Skip Hollandsworth
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer - Kate Summerscale
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl - Timothy Egan
Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde - Jeff Guinn
The Diary of a Young Girl - B.M. Mooyaart,Eleanor Roosevelt,Anne Frank

My submission for Chris's crowdsourced nonfiction history reading list. I don’t read a lot of history, but I do read a lot of historical crime, biographies, and memoirs. I’m assuming that the bio/memoirs will be a different list. I hope so, because I’m looking forward to the recommendations. Anyway, here’s my list, arranged by timeframe/historical period, and divided into two posts.


Duel of Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo (Texas History)

A more comprehensive, and honest, look at the Texas war for independence from Mexico than found in the Texas Dept of Ed approved textbooks. My review here.


Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets (Victorian Period)

Not sure if this fits in a serious history reading list as this audiobook is more in the style of a podcast series, but it is underpinned by the work of actual historians. And it’s narrated/hosted by Stephen Fry!


The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer (Texas History, Victorian Period)

A must for Texas History buffs, because it delves deeply into Austin/Central Texas regional history and examines the process (and limits) of 19th century forensics, law enforcement, and justice. Bonus discussion of Jack the Ripper, as some have theorized that the crimes could have the same perpetrator. My review here


The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer (Victorian Period)

I learned a great deal about Victorian London and Victorian attitudes toward mental health treatment.


The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (The Great Depression)

From the political and economic drivers to the environmental and land-management fiascos that caused the Dust Bowl, and even looking forward to a possible future recurrence, this book tells the story of the Dust Bowl. Emphasis on the stories of the people who stayed, rather than the “Okies” who left.


Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde (The Great Depression)

They were most definitely not Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. More than just the story of the famous couple and their crimes, the author explores the socioeconomic drivers behind the life of crime and the public and law enforcement response to it, as well as some local tidbits of history about the city of Dallas and the Texas penal system.  


Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (World War II)

The original account, as edited by her father prior to publication.

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review 2018-12-31 00:00
The Diary Of A Young Girl
The Diary Of A Young Girl - Anne Frank Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest


We have all heard about or read this book. I remember reading it in high-school as a project. And since I never had written a proper book review, I decided to read it again.

I went to the library, and they only had the short Penguin version, with the most important diary entries of Anne Frank. It is only 65 pages. So, I decided to also grab another book – The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank by Willy Lindwer, so I can write a full overview.

This is a diary of a young girl, and she was writing these stories during two years of hiding. Anne Frank and her family are Jews and they live in The Netherlands. After the Germans invade, many people are captured and go to designated camps. A few manage to escape and go into hiding. Anne’s family hides in her father’s office.

If you are reading this diary, without knowing anything about history – this could be a happy story. These diary entries are filled with love and hope, dreams of a young girl, beliefs, opinions, descriptions of her first crush and planning a future.

But this is not a happy story. This girl doesn’t get the chance to grow up. This girl doesn’t get the chance to experience freedom, and live to get to know her grandchildren. This is a sad story of not just Anne Frank, but all these people that have gone through that painful journey.

While this book deserves to be read by every person, and this history needs to keep being told many years after us, I feel the need to make a proper book review.

This is not a well-written book, with a great plot and amazing description. So based on that, this doesn’t stand up to the standards. But this book has a meaning that makes up for all the amateur writing. After all, this was a teenager writing it, without even knowing this will someday be shared with the world.

To all of you that haven’t read it yet – I highly recommend it. If you don’t want to go with the long version, read the short Penguin one, like I did.

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review 2018-12-31 00:00
The Last Seven Months Of Anne Frank
The Last Seven Months Of Anne Frank - Willy Lindwer Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest


When I went to the library to pick up the Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, I also picked up this book. I wanted to learn more about her last months, as Anne didn’t write in her diary after she was found and brought to the camps.

If you, just like me, are looking for books to help you find this info, please skip this one.

The title is completely misleading, as Anne Frank is barely mentioned in the book, and these women that claim to know her seem to not have known her at all. If I see a person on the far end of the fence, or sit together while the guards are counting us, I wouldn’t consider them a friend. Just a fellow unfortunate companion.

Don’t get me wrong – these six women, that went through all this traumatized period, and are brave enough to tell the story are worth mentioning, and are worth of great recognitions. And this book is also a great value to history of what happened in those cruel places.

But when people use a famous person’s name in order to sell a book, on such painful basis, this is beyond me to comment, so I will leave it to you to make a conclusion on your own.

Among this part, the stories of these six women were heartbreaking, and so well-described, it felt as if I was there for a moment. The things they went through and the families they lost is so sad.
I also liked the old images that were in the middle of the book. They added a real image to the words.

If you want to read more about Anne Frank – choose another book. But if you want to find out about other people’s stories from this time period – grab this book.

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text 2018-04-09 22:36
Children books, reading apps & Anne Frank
If you know me at all, you'll know I love everything from children's books, even picture books, young adult, adult, horror, romance, fantasy... you name it.
I'm subscribed to Scribd which is a ebook reading service. $8.99 a month and you can read unlimited ebook & audiobooks they have on their website/app. With the sub, you get a free sub to another service, this one called FarFaria, which is a bunch of children stories; original stories just found on this app. Pretty cute stories. You can even have the stories read to you. :)
They have a classics section where they retell some classic or true stories. One was Anne Frank. I read this short story (10 pages or so) and it starts out happy, go lucky, like a typical cute picture book. Um.. okay.
I'm all for them getting kids introduced to Anne Frank and get them interested in her diary, but this story was just very, very, obviously condensed and some unsuspecting kid is going to get a shock on the last page where it does a huge time jump and says "oh, by the way, they died. Only the father survived. Go read Anne's diary. The end."
The app itself is pretty awesome. If you have a kid or are a kid at heart, check it out. If you don't have Scribd, the sub for this is $4.99, I believe. They are not long books, they don't take much brain power to read, but the artwork is really beautiful, and sometimes you just have to shut off your mind and enjoy something simple. It's like meditating, but with picture books. Plus, I will always have these on hand for whenever my niece or nephews are around.
I will be 80 years old and still be young at heart, because I never restricted myself on what I like based on an intended age group.
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