Wooden: A Coach’s Life

Today I have the pleasure of bringing you a particularly special post. For my second book of the 2015 Reading Challenge, I chose Seth Davis’s Wooden: A Coach’s Life, which details the life of renowned basketball coach John Wooden. It’s a genre I don’t normally read (sports biography*), but the reason I picked this particular book is because my very own brother assisted Davis with the extensive amount of research for it.

*It could also have fallen under the category “a book my mom loves.” See above.

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In case you’re not as completely obsessed with college basketball as my family is, John Wooden is remembered as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game, if not the single greatest. He began as the son of a simple farmer in Indiana in the early 20th century, when the sport of basketball was still very young. He quickly fostered a love and a great skill for it and moved from playing in high school, college, and professionally to coaching high school and college ball himself. That career eventually brought him out to the west coast when he took the head coaching job at UCLA in 1948, and he never looked back. In 27 seasons with the Bruins, he led them to ten NCAA championships as well as several regional and conference championships. Coming from a family with a love of sports and a long legacy at UCLA, it was only fitting that my brother would spend his summers (and more) working on this book while a student at UCLA himself.

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I’m a proud sister.

I never had a chance to meet Seth Davis while my brother was working with him, but I can imagine from his writing style what a fun person he must be to work for. I’m not the hugest lover of sports in my family (the bar is set quite high), but I loved reading this book (even though it took me well over two months to read… it’s incredibly dense with information). Davis includes tons of interesting anecdotes about Wooden, his family, his players, and the world of the midwestern U.S. in the early 20th century. I especially enjoyed reading about various important basketball games throughout Wooden’s career and picturing them happening play by play. As I’m watching this year’s March Madness tournament, I keep thinking about the descriptions of the various games in the book and seeing them play out as if I were watching them on TV.

More importantly, though, is the picture of Wooden as a complete individual. Though Davis makes it pretty clear that Wooden was no saint, he also gives credit where it’s due, and it certainly is due. His contributions to basketball in general, college basketball in particular, and UCLA history especially, are an amazing legacy that have affected millions, my own family included.

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2015 Reading Challenge

Reading more books is always at the top of the New Year’s resolution list. It’s right up there with “work out more” or “get organized” or “travel to three new countries.” Last year I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read twenty books, and I didn’t quite make it. I’ll be trying for that same number again this year, but in addition, I’ll be participating in the 2015 Reading Challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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I’ve already kicked off the year by starting Gone Girl, which definitely falls under the category of “everyone has read it but me,” and I can’t wait for the fun of choosing a book to fit each criteria. Some of them can probably be accomplished with one book (for example, my mom is probably my #1 book recommender, which fits two different categories), but I’m going to try to allow just one category per book. Many, many reviews to come!

Would you consider joining this particular challenge?

Orange is the New Black

While I was in Germany this summer, T started watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, but abandoned it after a few episodes because he kept thinking, in his words, “My wife is GONE! She’s in JAIL for a whole YEAR and I’m never going to see her again!”

Obviously neither of those things was true, but it did spark my curiosity about the show. When I stumbled upon the book at Barnes and Noble on my lunch break one day, I couldn’t resist picking it up.

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It took me about three pages before I was completely hooked. From the very beginning, Kerman’s writing is simple and honest, thoroughly descriptive but not flowery. It’s easy to see where she is coming from––she’s young, experiencing true adult freedom for the first time, and she wants an adventure. Unfortunately, that adventure ends up involving a drug ring, and even though Kerman eventually escapes, she is busted several years later and finds herself spending a year as an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Connecticut.

Orange is the New Black offers a rare look inside the U.S. prison system. Kerman describes the stresses, restrictions, and sometimes even horrors of prison, things that she acknowledges most Americans are very curious about. She writes about inadequate physical facilities, lack of any sort of training programs to prepare inmates for their future in the outside world, and verbal abuse by prison staff. At the same time, she expresses deep care and gratitude for the women who were her fellow inmates, and I got the sense that she really wants to communicate to the reader that prisoners are human beings too, no matter what they have done in the past. The end of the book has a somewhat surprising twist, but I won’t spoil it for you.

After I finished the book, I read several negative reviews on Goodreads arguing that Kerman and her cast of real-but-protected characters weren’t believable, that she was a snotty white girl with entitlement issues, and that the story was too much of a narrative. I have a hard time taking those comments seriously, since a) everyone in the book was in fact a real person, even though she (understandably) wanted to protect them, b) Kerman does recognize that she had a much easier prison experience than most of her friends, and c) the story, by definition, is a narrative.

Obviously everyone can form their own opinions, so I highly suggest you read the book for yourself. Personally, I can’t wait to start watching the show!

Currently…

Sometimes your blog just has an uninspiring couple of weeks.

T understands and supports my struggles.

T understands and supports my struggle.

That’s my life right now. When you get into a routine, it can be easy to miss the unique little moments in each day that are worth taking note of and holding onto. That’s not to say that nothing good is happening… in fact, quite the opposite. For the most part, I’m quite content with how life has been rolling along lately, and I’m really looking forward to the upcoming holiday season and spending tons of quality time with my family and friends.

Here’s what has been occupying my time lately, and the things that are receiving my mental energy.

  • Reading: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. Did you guys know this was a book before it was a Netflix original series? I didn’t until I was browsing Barnes & Noble one day on my lunch break and came across it. I was a little hesitant to dive in, but I’m enjoying it so much that I’m already almost done with it. Her writing is so straightforward and honest, and she’s very candid about the emotional facets of her prison experience. I’ll be posting a review as soon as I’m done, which will probably be by this weekend. It’s that good!
  • Binge watching: Friday Night Lights. Holy cow, people. T and I are fully aware that we are super late to the party on this one, since our friends have been telling us about it forever, but we started watching it last weekend, and by the end of the pilot episode we were absolutely, 100% sucked in. I think we probably spent 8 hours on Saturday on it, and when we weren’t watching, we were thinking about it. Neither of us can get it out of our heads.
  • Planning: My church choir’s Christmas extravaganza. We’ve done Christmas concerts of varying sizes and difficulty levels since I was a kid (under the direction of my dad for many years), but this is the first time I’ve been fully in charge of it. It’s a little nerve-wracking, especially since I will be conducting an orchestra as well as the choir, and that involves a whole extra level or three of preparation. There’s a lot that goes into this, including preparing the choir during our weekly rehearsals, hiring orchestra members (thankfully my mom is a fantastic orchestra manager), prepping and distributing their music, making sure I’m completely familiar and comfortable with the score, rewriting the narration for our speakers, arranging the logistics and movement of people throughout the program, and more. The performance is on December 14th and I’m anxiously counting down the days (exactly 31 to go).
  • Looking Forward To: Taking the train up to Sacramento at the end of next week to join T at a conference… which really means he’ll be going to seminars while I go to coffee with a couple of friends and get in some snuggle time with our baby nephew. We may or may not also drive around and window-shop houses for sale.
  • Buying: Christmas presents! I’ve already bought a few things for T, my mom, and my brother, and I’m marinating some ideas for my dad and T’s parents. I love coming up with the perfect gifts for people.

What have you been up to lately?

Songs of Willow Frost

I mentioned in my October goals wrap-up post that I managed to finish not two, but three books by the end of the month. The third, bonus book was Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford, a New York Times bestselling author. I received this book as a Christmas gift from my mom, who gives all three of her children (including T) a “book package” every year. She and I have very similar tastes in books (and most things really), so I knew I would enjoy it before I even started reading.

And I did enjoy it. The story takes place in Depression-era Seattle, where a Chinese-American boy named William tries to escape from an orphanage and reconnect with his mother, whom he believes is still alive. The timeline bounces back and forth quite a bit between William’s story, in 1934, and his mother’s story, which begins in 1921, but it’s not hard to follow because Ford always includes the year in parentheses at the beginning of each chapter.

The writing is straightforward, not too flowery but also not too simple. I don’t tend to like reading long descriptions of places or people; I prefer for the story and the characters to unfold more naturally instead of being all laid out at the beginning, and I appreciate that Ford writes like that. Having only been to Seattle once, I don’t know the city well at all, but I also didn’t want to read a lot about the geography. Thankfully, he doesn’t include more of those details than are necessary, and he does a great job of describing specific locations like the Sacred Heart orphanage and Chinatown.

I found the subject matter pretty fascinating as well. Willow Frost is a stage and film performer whose parents were both Chinese opera singers. Obviously this appealed to me quite a bit and I could relate to Willow and her passions and interests more than most other readers probably could. I’m also particularly interested in that era of American history, so that helped too.

What makes this book really special, though, is the character development. When I first met William’s mother, I thought she was incredibly shallow and a horrible person for doing what she did. However, the more I read, the more deeply I felt for her and for the things she went through that caused her to make the choices that she made. I found myself thinking about what I would have done if I had been in her position, which to me is the mark of an excellent writer.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a fairly easy read that keeps you engaged and on your toes. It’s heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time, and who doesn’t like that in a good book?

#GIRLBOSS: What I Loved and What I Didn’t

Sophia Amoruso’s book #GIRLBOSS has been taking the blogging world by storm lately. Even the title itself caters directly to social media-savvy 20’s-30’s female bloggers. As a somewhat social media-savvy 27-year-old female blogger, I decided I had to give it a read.

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#GIRLBOSS is the story of Sophia’s journey from broke, uncertain beginnings to running a multimillion-dollar corporation called Nasty Gal, a vintage and designer fashion retailer. She devotes the first four chapters to telling her tale with a colorful and hilarious vocabulary, and the rest of the book is a compilation of her advice to the aspiring #GIRLBOSS. Her words of wisdom include thoughts on saving money, positive thinking, creativity, and practical aspects of getting and keeping a job. Without giving too much away, here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

“Abandon anything about your life and habits that might be holding you back. Learn to create your own opportunities. Know that there is no finish line; fortune favors action.” (14)

“When you approach everything as if it’s a big, fun experiment, then it’s not that big of a deal if things don’t work out. If the plan changes, that can be even better.” (65)

“We’re Internet kids who have been spoiled by our desires being no more than a click away. We think fast, type fast, move fast, and expect everything else to happen just as fast. . . .But, like everything, you’ve got to work for what you want.” (66)

“When your time spent making money is significantly greater than your time spent spending money, you will be amazed at how much you can save without even really thinking about it.” (109)

“The average American only saves 6.5 percent of his or her income, which is barely keeping up with inflation. But you, dear #GIRLBOSS, should save 10 percent at the bare minimum. I know it’s a lot easier to talk about saving money than it is to actually save it. Here’s a tip: Treat your savings account like just another bill. It has to be paid every month, or there are consequences.” (111)

“One of the best things about life–a reason not to go blindly after one goal and one goal only–is that sometimes it will take you to something that is way cooler than anything you would have consciously set out to do in the first place.” (124)

Now granted, there were some things I didn’t love about this book. The biggest issue I had was that I just couldn’t relate to Sophia as a person. She describes herself as a rebel, a perpetual rule breaker, a loner who hated school, questioned authority, and didn’t care what people thought of her. Those are pretty much the exact opposites of how I would describe myself, so it was tough for me to see how her life choices and consequent success could translate into my own life and my goals. Call me narrow-minded I guess, but I like to read and hear about people who are similar to me and who have managed to create their own successes, because it makes me feel like I can create mine too.

I also didn’t feel like anything she had to say was revolutionary. It was encouraging, but not super inspirational or earth-shattering. The concepts of “don’t worry about what other people think of you” and “you have to work hard to get what you want” aren’t exactly new ideas. That said, I’m sure everyone can find a few points in the book that apply to and resonate with them.

Have you read this book? Did it inspire you on your journey to becoming a #GIRLBOSS?

C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (a.k.a. His OTHER Fictional Series)

Everyone has heard of The Chronicles of Narnia. Many of you probably read them as children (or maybe even as adults). If you grew up in a Christian environment (or maybe even if you didn’t), you also know that C. S. Lewis is considered one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, and you can probably list several of his philosophical writings, including Mere ChristianityThe Great DivorceThe Screwtape LettersThe Four LovesThe Problem of Pain, and more.

As it turns out, Lewis also wrote a second fictional series: the Space Trilogy. Comprised of the books Out of the Silent PlanetPerelandra, and That Hideous Strength, the series details the adventures of Dr. Ransom, a British professor who travels through time and space and experiences previously unexplored theological ideas.

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The trilogy begins with Out of the Silent Planet, in which Dr. Ransom is captured and drugged by two scientists and taken on their spaceship to the planet Malacandra, which turns out to be Mars. Upon arriving on Malacandra and escaping from his captors, Ransom meets and befriends three entirely alien species, learns their languages, and lives among them. The book ends with the introduction of the heavenly spirits, or eldila, that will come to dictate many of the events in the second and third books.

This was my favorite book out of the three. It’s simple, charming, and easy to follow, and while there was some religious allegory in it (it is C. S. Lewis, after all), it isn’t so dense that you lose track of the story. Of the three, it’s definitely the most alike to the Narnia books in tone and readability.

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Perelandra takes a completely different approach. This time, Ransom travels alone to Perelandra, more commonly known as Venus, and discovers a planet with an unfallen human race. A significant portion of the book is devoted to lots of philosophical musing, either between characters or as Lewis’s own narrative. It can be difficult to follow, which will come as no surprise if you’ve ever read any of Lewis’s nonfiction books, and when I read this book by itself in high school, I had a hard time understanding it. However, it asks an interesting question: what if there is a race on another planet that remains unfallen from God?

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The third book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, is much longer than either of the previous two… in fact, it’s about the length of the others combined. Instead of focusing on Dr. Ransom, this book is centered around a young British couple who are being torn in different directions and forced to choose sides in the battle between the Christian faith and science gone wrong.

To tell the truth, I had a bit of trouble getting through this book at times. I generally think the world of C. S. Lewis’s writing, but this one wasn’t always paced evenly. There are sections with tons of action and other sections with long speeches by characters or by Lewis himself, like in Perelandra. It only gets really exciting in the final third of the book, which probably explains why T got about halfway through and then quit. For me though, it was worth working my way through the first two thirds to get to the end, which was where most of the action happened, as well as some extremely significant scenes of faith.

Overall, I recommend the Space Trilogy to a) avid readers who have a particular fondness for science fiction and/or philosophy, and b) Christians who appreciate the other writings of C. S. Lewis. However, if you’re looking to introduce your kids (or friends) to Lewis as well as broad religious metaphors, I would stick to The Chronicles of Narnia.

Have you ever read the Space Trilogy? What did you think of it?

October Goals

Nicole at Treasure Tromp is so good about setting monthly goals for herself and then checking in with herself to see how she did. I want to give this a shot for myself. So, here goes!

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1. Have at least two voice lessons.

I haven’t had a voice lesson since I got back from Germany, and my voice is a little bit of a mess right now. I’m having one on Friday and it can’t come fast enough, especially with a lot of auditions around the corner.

2. Go to barre class at least twice.

Exercise is another thing I’m really bad about doing consistently. I can’t focus through an entire yoga class, and I’m not strong enough for Pilates or flexible enough for ballet, but this is a combination of all three, so I can find ways to be successful.

3. Learn all my recitatives in Don Giovanni.

Next spring I’ll (tentatively) be singing Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni with a small company here in San Jose, and I need to start working on the role. A great first step would be to have all my recits (sections of singing that are more like speech and less melodic) learned and memorized by the end of the month.

4. Save at least $300.

Now that I’m back from Germany and working consistent hours again, I should be getting a full paycheck tomorrow. T and I are starting to think a lot more seriously about what the next couple of years will look like regarding home buying, so I want to contribute to our savings every month.

5. Finish the book I’m currently reading, That Hideous Strength, and read another book in its entirety.

That Hideous Strength is the third book in C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy. I plan on posting a review of the entire trilogy when I finish this one, and then I’d like to read a whole other book by the end of the month.

So there you have them, my goals for October! I plan on checking in about halfway through the month to let you know how I’m doing. Will you share your goals for the month?

England: Oxford

I am writing this post from London, at the end of a long first day of a choir tour! After what felt like a million hours of travel and a very jet-lagged day yesterday, I was finally able to get some sleep last night, though I did wake up at 4:30 AM and couldn’t go back to sleep for a couple of hours. Fortunately, several of my colleagues were in the same situation. Unfortunately, my roommate was not one of them. Oh well.

As many choir tours do, our trip included several concerts as well as many opportunities for sightseeing. The first concert on our list was at Christ Church College Cathedral, Oxford.

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If you’re not familiar with the college system adhered to by Oxford and Cambridge, each university is made up of several colleges within which students do all of their studies, regardless of their field of study. The closest metaphor we have in California are the UC and CSU systems, where “University of California” is the overarching organization, like Oxford, and “UCLA” is the individual college, like Christ Church College. It’s not a perfect explanation, but it works. Unlike the UC and CSU systems, however, each of Oxford’s colleges is located within the town of Oxford itself and exists as its own enclosed fortress.

The drive from our London hotel in Earl’s Court to Oxford took about an hour and twenty minutes total. Luckily we had a wonderful tour guide traveling on our bus (“coach”) with us, Marianne, who gave us all sorts of fascinating British history lessons regarding the Queen and the royal family, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and the histories of Oxford and Cambridge. Did you know that both universities used to be monasteries? English students had to go to the Paris Sorbonne for their higher education, but when a French archbishop excommunicated Henry VIII (maybe? I can’t remember), the English students had to find a place to study in their home country, and they turned to the monasteries. In turn, the monasteries expanded to accommodate the students, and both institutions gradually evolved into places of higher education, not just religious studies.

In addition to the history lesson, the views of the English countryside on our drive were gorgeous. Everything was so green, which we don’t always get in California, and there was the occasional herd of cows, goats, or sheep taking their mid morning naps, which made me miss my cats. We also made a short “comfort stop” at a big rest stop that was complete with Starbucks, where I bought myself a London Starbucks tumbler.

When we arrived in Oxford, I couldn’t help but drool over the beautiful brick Victorian houses that line the streets up and down. It’s such a quaint place, something we definitely don’t have in the Bay Area (in fact, I’m not sure many people there could even tell you what “quaint” is).

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We didn’t have much time to explore upon arrival, since we had to head to Christ Church College Cathedral and rehearse for our lunchtime concert. When the concert was over and we were all back in our “civvies” (street clothes), we were set loose on the cobblestone streets of Oxford for a few hours.

My first stop was the Ashmolean Museum, which features permanent exhibits on the artistic and cultural fusion between the UK and Asia. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I only spent about fifteen minutes wandering the galleries before I realized why I don’t normally frequent art museums: they are too overwhelming for me. There’s always too much to look at, so I don’t look at anything unless I’m there for a specific purpose. So I gave up. I’m sure you would appreciate it if it was your thing. They also had a featured exhibit on Cézanne that you could pay to enter.

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I remembered that Marianne had mentioned a street full of bookstores, so I decided to venture off in that direction next. This led to about an hour and a half in heaven as I browsed through Blackwell’s Books.

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Notice how that sign actually says Blackwell’s Music. The front part of the store is a music store, and we’re not just talking instruments, accessories, and novelties like music socks. They had an entire room full of sheet music, some of which was marked down to incredibly low prices. I exercised a lot of self-control and didn’t buy any of it, mostly because I knew I could get those pieces online and not have to carry them home in my suitcase. However, our choir director went pretty crazy. After about an hour in there, he had a giant stack of heavy scores that he ended up having shipped home. And once I discovered the shelves of opera DVDs, I knew I was in big trouble. Somehow I managed to leave with just two of these rarely-sold-retail DVDs. Basically, it was a huge haven for music nerds.

Plus there was the back room, the Norrington Room, which was an even huger haven for just about every other kind of nerd.

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We met as a group in the evening and walked to dinner at Brasserie Blanc in Oxford. I wish I could tell you what we ate, but since the meal was pre-ordered and prepaid, we never even saw a menu. However, it was delicious! The appetizer was a cheese soufflé, the main course was beef with roasted carrots and white rice, and dessert was an apple crumble with cream. Yum!

After the drive back to London, a few friends and I decided to grab a drink at The Goose, a pub near our hotel. We each had a different type of fruity cider, all of which were delicious, but last call was at 11:00, which was pretty lame. Our night ended there, since we knew we needed sleep before another long day.

Read Across America (or, Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!)

Yesterday would have been the 110th birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. In honor of his birthday, schools all over the country have instituted Read Across America Day, where all forms of reading (silent, aloud, etc.) are promoted and encouraged. What a great day.

At the elementary school where my mom works in the front office, Read Across America Day involves volunteers visiting different classrooms and spending 20 minutes reading aloud to the students. T (who works in the same school district as my mom) and I almost always get suckered into volunteer to read to a few classes, and this year it was my turn.

Naturally, being an oper(ett)a singer, my book of choice was a gem called The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert and Sullivan, by Jonah Winter and Richard Egielski.

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I actually received this book as a Christmas present from my mom, who uncovered it on a bargain books table at Office Max and just knew it would be the perfect gift for me. She was right, as usual.

Today, roughly 60 elementary school kids learned a little bit more about the world of opera from this book, and were surprised to find that they actually enjoyed it. Plus, when I finished reading for each class, I sang a verse from “The sun whose rays are all ablaze,” an aria from The Mikado (which I’m currently in the process of auditioning for, coincidentally). The kids loved it! Most of them had never heard opera before, but they were able to put aside whatever judgments they might have had about it as a musical genre, and all three classes were fantastic and enthusiastic audiences. If only some adults could do and be the same!