A Daughter’s Kaddish review

A Daughter’s Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing by Sarah Birnbach

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I received an early copy of the book and I’m so glad I had an opportunity to read it and provide a review!
I am not Jewish and know very little of the religion and it’s traditions and practices, but Sarah does an excellent job of explaining everything so that you can understand the why’s of what she experienced during her year of Kaddish. I came away from the book with a better understanding of Judaism. Sarah is open and honest about her background, relationship with her family and the struggles she encountered to fulfill a promise to her father. It also helped me understand the reasoning of changing her name from Shelia (how I first knew her professionally) to Sarah.
This book is a reminder, no matter your faith or beliefs, to show honor to and remember those who have gone on to the great unknown.



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Travel Tuesday: Ancient Pyramid

I’ve always been fascinated by pyramids (along with castles/waterfalls/arches/bridges) so as soon as I found out there was one near by that had only recently been open to the public I knew I had to see it. Canada de la Virgen was first excavated in 1995 and has only been open to visitors since 2011 – and that access is strictly controlled because it sits on private property. Guides are mandatory and the tour involves extensive walking on uneven ground.

The site was built by the Otomi people around 530 AD and faces the celestial north. The Otomi were sky watchers and there have been archaeoastronomical studies conducted. Because of its orientation, the moon moves along the stairs of the House of Thirteen Heavens at key times during the solstice periods and the lunar calendar.

The site contains multiple structures that have been excavated and many others are believed to still be covered. New findings and constant changing in beliefs are common with archaeology and our guide told us it is possible this site was used for matriarchal/feminine ceremonies.

House of the Thirteen Heavens
House of the Wind
House of the Longest Night
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Travel Tuesday: The Beach

Recently a friend invited me to stay with her in Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast side of Mexico. After a 7.5 hour overnight bus ride from Celaya, I arrived for a nice, relaxing weekend of doing pretty much nothing.

Zihuatanejo is located in Guerrero State and is north of Acapulco and is a quiet fishing town with protected bays and beaches and yummy local restaurants. The place my friend was staying had an amazing view of sunrise every morning and we enjoyed sunset from the beach.

Sunrise
Sunset
Marked off a Bucket List item with a massage on the beach!

Women of Guerrero

Throughout the downtown area there are 7 life-sized statues depicting women that represent the seven geographical regions of the state. I captured five of them.

If you’d like to learn more about the statues, check out zihrena.net

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Travel Tuesday: History & Books

Last month, I took a day off from teaching to check out some things around San Miguel de Allende (SMA). I started at the Biblioteca Pública, which has an awesome gift shop, books in both Spanish and English, a beautiful courtyard where you can sit and read, and a cafe where I grabbed lunch and did some reading on my Kindle.

As a history lover, I enjoy going to museums that are especially dedicated to the local history. So I toured the Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende. The museum is located in the house that Ignacio Allende, a hero in the Mexican independence movement, was born in 1769. It sits in Centro with a gorgeous view of the Parroquia. The museum includes the history of the city as well as the Allende family, showing living conditions of the well to do in this time period. All signage in the museum is in Spanish and English. If you love history then this is a must-see when you are in SMA

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Travel Tuesday: A Ghost Town

There’s something magical and enticing about a ghost town. Walking around you can imagine what life was like for the inhabitants, playing out scenarios in your head. A few weeks ago I joined a group on a day trip to Mineral de Pozos (in Guanajuato State) and the ghost mines, which also happens to be one of 132 Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) in México .

[Pueblos Mágicos are recognized by Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism for special qualities such as unique folklore, rich history, stunning natural beauty and tourism infrastructure.]

The Mineral de Pozos area was home to several nomadic indigenous tribes until Spanish invasion in the 16th century. The town itself was founded in the 18th century and was a booming silver and gold mining town with 50,000 miners at its peak. An unfortunate flooding accident occurred in 1938 which resulted in the mining work being abandoned and the town depopulated. It is believed to be haunted as the bodies of the 7,000+ miners that were killed were not able to be recovered. There is definitely a haunting beauty amongst the ruins.

Our group spent the day walking around the abandoned mining area and even going down in one of the mine shafts. We ended the day at the Lavandar Farms of Pozos. Enjoy some of my favorite photos of the day:

Going down one of the shafts
Lavandar Farm

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January Travel

One of my goals this year is to do more traveling, so each month I hope to do some type of touristy/travel thing and share the experience and photos with you.

For my birthday weekend in January I took two day trips to towns nearby. The first was to Guanajuato City, the capital of Guanajuato State. It has a cool network of narrow streets, alleys and tunnels and is part of the Mexican Independence Trail. Author (poet and playwright) Miguel de Cervantes lived in Guanajuato City when he wrote Don Quixote and many places in the city bare the name. And, finally, it is a UNESCO World Heritage City.

Enjoy some photos of the day

Universidad de Guanajuato
El Callejón del Beso (Alley of the Kiss)

The second day trip was to Santiago de Querétaro(commonly referred to as Querétaro ) and is the capital of Querétaro State. It is a much larger city than San Miguel de Allende (where I currently live) and sports a large, modern mall where we started the day off. Also part of the Independence Trail, the Mexican constitution was drawn up here in 1917. And it is also a UNESCO World Heritage City. The city is a beautiful mix of colonial old world and modern contemporary style.

Enjoy some photos of the day

Ancient Aquaduct

Up next is a trip to a ghost town!

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2021 Reflections

I realize I’m in the minority, but 2021 was a really good year for me. I met almost all the goals I set out for myself and am now living in another country (part of my long-term goal to live is as many countries as possible!). Here’s my reflection about 2021:

2021 Professional & Personal Goals Accomplished

*Take an online course on How to Teach Business English

*Continue with my health journey to lose weight, have more energy and less joint pain: I was able to lose all the weight I gained during the first couple of months of the pandemic through intermittent fasting, healthy eating and exercise

*continue to improve Spanish

*Read 50 books: well I ended up reading 44, plus 2 manuscripts written by friends and started but decided I didn’t like; go here to see the list of books I read this year

*Move to Mexico

*Travel: while it’s not as much as I would like, I have been able to do a little in Mexico

*Limit time on Social Media

What bad habit(s) did I break in 2021? One of the bad habits I wanted to break was spending too much time on social media. I also realized I had a bad habit of staying in bed in the morning and not working out because I ‘didn’t have as much time as I wanted’ and therefore being on social media instead. So I decided to tackle both habits at the same time by getting up and working out even if it was only for 20 minutes (better than zero!), thus also not being on social media.

What was the best thing that happened in 2021 professionally and personally? Moving to Mexico. Not only am I enjoying learning about the culture, which helps me professionally as well as personally, but I’ve met a lot of great people here. Personally, being in Mexico has helped my find myself again – the me I lost several years ago. It feels good to be back.

2022 Professional & Personal Goals

Professionally: read at least 3 books related to teaching or language learning and obtain my work visa/temporary residency in Mexico

Personally: continue with health journey and commit to 365 days of yoga/meditation; continue to progress with Spanish with a focus on improving listening; travel within Mexico and to at least 1 Central American country; read 40 books

Here’s to a happy, healthy, productive and adventurous 2022!

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2021 Books

My annual list of books I read. This year was a little off for me in reading, as is evident in some of the months. I ended the year with 45 books read, plus 2 manuscripts written by friends that will hopefully soon be published. I also started but didn’t finish 2 books.

January

5 stars A Promised Land by Barack Obama

3 stars Hard Rain by Irma Venter

5 stars The Ordeal of the Haunted Room: A Short Story (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s 11.5) by Jodi Taylor

5 stars Doing Time (Time Police #1) by Jodi Taylor

February

5 stars Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

5 stars The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

4 stars Life by Lu Yao

3 stars If You Tell by Gregg Olsen

4 stars Talking While Female & Other Dangerous Acts created by Teatro Luna (an Audible Original)

March

5 stars A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

5 stars Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

5 stars The Kaiser’s Web (Cotton Malone #16) by Steve Berry

April

5 stars The Effort by Claire Holroyde

May

5 stars The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

4 stars The First Mrs. Rothschild: A Novel by Sara Aharoni

June

2 stars The Girl in the Tree by Sebnem Isiguzel

July

5 stars Hard Time (The Time Police #2) by Jodi Taylor

August

4 stars The Man Who Played with Fire: Steig Larsson’s Lost Files and the Hunt for an Assassin by Jan Stocklassa

4 stars Underground Airlines by Ben H Winters

3 stars Your Perfect Year by Charlotte Lucas

4 stars The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu

September

5 stars Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

4 stars In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir by Bobi Conn

4 stars So Happiness to Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam by Karin Esterhammer

October

5 stars Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark by Cassandra Peterson

5 stars About the Night by Amat Talshir

5 stars The Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck

3 stars Tapestry by Beth Duke

5 stars The End of Forever: A Cassiopeia Vitt Adventure by Steve Berry & MJ Rose

November

5 stars Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Zoukhadar

4 stars The Couscous Chronicles: A Peace Corps Memoir by Richard Wallace

3 stars Memories from Baghdad: Memos from Iraq by Ramzi Jawad

5 stars The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu

4 stars The Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen Galloway

3 stars Return to the Enchanted Island by Johary Ravaloson

5 stars The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai

5 stars The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

5 stars Horseshoes vs. Chess: A Practical Guide for Chamber of Commerce Leaders by Dave Adkisson

December

5 stars Southernmost by Silas House

5 stars To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins

1 star The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson

5 stars Another Time, Another Place (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #12) by Jodi Taylor

5 stars Bold New You: 6 Breakthroughs to Playing Bigger in Leadership, Business and Life by Justin Patton

5 stars Saving Time (The Time Police #3) by Jodi Taylor

5 stars The Toast of Time (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #12.5) by Jodi Taylor

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2020 Wrap-up

2020 may not have been my best year, but I don’t know that I would count it as my worst year either. It certainly started out rough and had some bumps along the way but I had many positive things that happened along the way. I spent the last two weeks of 2020 asking my EFL students their goals and bad habits, both professionally and personally, and I thought I’d do a wrap-up blog with my own answers to the questions I asked them.

Did you have a professional/personal goal in 2020 you were able to accomplish or did the pandemic throw everything in a loop? If you’d asked me this question in early 2020 I would have said my hopes and dreams had been crushed by the pandemic. I was supposed to go back to Vietnam and start my new career as an English as a Foreign Language teacher. But the pandemic and border closings put a halt to that. However, I started tutoring adults online with a really cool company that provides me with the flexibility I need. And then in October I was hired by a Mexican language center to do several hours a week teaching Business English online with the hope to be in person in 2021. I did not set a personal goal early on in the year, but by mid-year my health had gotten out of control so I did a complete reset and was able to lose some weight, decrease my aches and pains and take back control over my health.

What professional/personal goal do you have for 2021? Professionally, I want to complete a training course on teaching business english (I’ve signed up for it – just need to actually start it!) and read at least three professional books. On the personal side, I want to continue with my weight loss and eating a more whole foods plant based diet. Combined professional/personal goals are to become conversational in Spanish and move to Mexico.

What bad habit(s) did you break in 2020? I’ve always been a fast food consumer – even knowing it’s not good for me. But early 2020 had me eating fast food multiple times a week and sometimes more than once a day. So in September I cut out fast food. I had a week moment in late October and it made me feel very yucky and I haven’t eaten it since – I don’t even crave it or think about it.

What bad habit(s) do you want to break in 2021? Limiting my time on social media. Unfortunately I’m not doing all that great at minimizing my time just yet, but I am slowly working toward it.

What was the best thing that happened in 2020 professionally and personally? I spent the first part of the year being very angry and depressed that I was ‘stuck’ in the US and not able to start my new career in Vietnam thanks to the borders closing due to the pandemic. But I started to realize that this was a sign that Vietnam was not where I needed to be and started looking at other options. That’s when the position in Mexico came about and I feel very comfortable with the idea that this is where I’m supposed to be at this point in my life. Vietnam will always be there so it may be an option in the future. In addition, in Vietnam I would have been teaching young kids and in Mexico I will be doing what I ultimately wanted to do – teaching Business English. This was my five-year plan and I’m thrilled to be able to do it now. Personally, I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to develop deeper relationships with my niece and nephews – something I would not have been able to do if I was half a world away.

What lesson did you learn in 2020? The lesson I learned in 2020 is really a carry-over from my time in Morocco….that everything will work out, maybe not the way we want or when we want, but they will work out. And most of the time they work out for the better.

Do you have a word or phrase for 2021? My word and phrase for 2021 are ones I’ve used many times over the year, but they help keep my focused and help me make the right the decisions: Health and Make Healthy Choices. This is in everything I do, from the foods I eat, to the books I read and movies I watch, to the friendships I maintain, to self talk.

Yes, 2020 was a rough year for many people, but there was also much good that came from our slowed down life and more time spent with loved ones. Here’s to a happy, healthy, productive and adventurous 2021!

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2020 Books

Here is my annual list of the books I read this year. My goal was 50 and I read 64 (plus one I decided to not finish, one re-read, and one I will finish in 2021).  Four and Five star ratings are highly recommended. Two reading goals this year were to read more female authors and to focus on books that fit my Reading Around the World goal.

January

5 stars     A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher

5 stars     Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

3 stars     People Can’t Drive You Crazy if You Don’t Give Them the Keys by Mike Bechtle

4 stars     Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars     The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in between by Hisham Matar

5 stars     Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

February

4 stars     An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew by Annejet van der Zijl

5 stars     The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan by Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller

4 stars     Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollen

5 stars     The Minuteman by Greg Donahue

5 stars     Malcolm and Me by Ishmael Reed

5 stars     The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

3 stars     Beyond the Shadow of Night by Ray Kingfisher

4 stars     I Was Anastasia: A Novel by Ariel Lawhon

5 stars     The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

March

5 stars     Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

5 stars     The Warsaw Protocol by Steve Berry

4 stars     Blood Territory: The Death of Jimmy O’Connell by Mark Whittaker

3 stars     Go: A Coming of Age Novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro

5 stars     American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury

4 stars     The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

3 stars     When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal

3 stars     Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations in Life with John F. Kennedy by Jacqueline Kennedy

4 stars     Jane Austen’s Emma (Audible Original) by Anna Lea

5 stars     Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

April

3 stars     The Future of Feeling: Building Empathy in a Tech-Obsessed World by Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips

(Did Not Finish) Appalachian Reckoning; A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy by Anthony

5 stars     An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina

1 star      Goodbye Paris, Shalom Tel Aviv by Marco Koskas

4 stars     Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

May

5 stars     The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

5 stars The Golden Orchard by Flora Ahn

4 stars     The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

5 stars     The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

5 stars     The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

5 stars     A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

5 stars     Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon

4 stars     The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

5 stars     White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Tobin DiAngelo

5 stars     All This I Will Give To You by Dolores Redondo

July

4 stars     The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

5 stars     A Drop of Midnight: A Memoir by Jason Diakite

4 stars     Talking to Strangers by a Malcolm Gladwell

4 stars     The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

5 stars     The House of Long Ago by Steve Berry

August

5 stars     Trust Your Animal Instincts by Tabitha A. Scott

5 stars     In Her Footsteps by Lonely Planet

5 stars     How to Defeat a Demon King in Ten Easy Steps by Andrew Rowe

5 stars     Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson (re-read for 3rd time)

September

4 stars     How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

3 stars     The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

5 stars     The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator by Joakim Palmkvist

3 stars     King of Sting: The Story of Australian Conman Peter Foster by Justin Armsden

4 stars     This Life or the Next: A Novel by Demian Vitanza

5 stars    The Passion According to Carmela by Marcos Aguinis

1 Star     Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

October

5 stars     Thicker than Water by Tyler Shultz

5 stars     The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia

5 stars     Plan for the Worst (A St Mary’s Chronicle) by Jodi Taylor

November

5 stars     The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

3 stars     Phreaks (Audible Originals)

4 stars     The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

4 stars     The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

December

4 stars     Water Music by T.C. Boyle

(started)  A Promised Land by Barack Obama

4 stars     The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau

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