Friday, April 30, 2021

panem et circenses

Surviving the endless months at home required a certain amount of panem et circenses to escape what otherwise could be (and sometimes was) an overwhelming situation. I was (am!) so thankful for social media during this time. I mean, it's certainly a double-edged sword. I could for sure do without knowing how...questionable...some of my acquaintances and family members are on matters of politics, science, and common sense. *sigh* But hey, my 'unfollow' finger got stronger and stronger, so there's that. BUT man did social media come in clutch with solid recommendations for books, shows, podcasts, and products to keep me entertained, distracted, and having things to look forward to. In that vein, I figured I'd pay it forward (slash document for the historical record) with some of my favorite things in the Essentially Meaningless but Fun Anyway category, in case Summer 2021 proves to require some distraction, too. (Please ignore/enjoy the mostly random, old, unrelated pictures...but what's a blog without pictures?)


Turns out pandemics result in a lotttt of reading for me! I completed 77 books in 2020, and am at 30 for 2021 so far. Here are a few of my favorites, and please note that in general, I'm looking for total escapism here. I did read a few more serious nonfiction books, but for the most part, I just wanna live in another world when I'm reading. (As always, you can follow me on Goodreads for more reading goodness!)

(Note that I'm skipping most of the 'hottest books of 2020' here, although I read and enjoyed many of them. These books below are mostly older and widely available through your library or Libby!)

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses (series), by Sarah J. Maas. I recommend all 4 novels and 1 novella currently in the series, but be sure to read them in order. I did not used to be a faeries-in-imaginary-lands type person. I am now. Note that this series is marketed as YA for reasons I do not understand, but I would not suggest letting actual young people read it. This is rated R for suuuuure. These books are an investment of TIME, as each one is like 600+ pages, but hey, that's hours upon hours you get to spend thinking about something other than your normal life, so it's a gift, really.

2. The Book of Longings, by Sue Monk Kidd. An absolutely incredible story written from the perspective of Ana, Jesus' (fictional) wife. This story just sucked me in and blew my mind in the best possible way. Hiiiighly recommend. And don't skip the Author's Note at the end.

3. The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. How's your Norwegian 17th century history knowledge? Not so good? Mine wasn't either, but now it's a lot better because this novel based on a true story SUCKED ME IN and took me on some deep Wikipedia research so now I basically AM an expert on 17th century Nordic witch hunts. Speaking of things I didn't see coming for 2020. 

4. The Cruel Prince (series), by Holly Black. Told you I was a faery person now. I can't help it. I adored this trilogy. Honestly the first one wasn't great until maybe the last 25%, but the second and third books were fantastic, so it's still worth the read. These are more normal-length books (compared to ACOTAR) and appropriate for traditional YA audiences.

5. The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. There's no way to describe this book that doesn't sound insane. A compassionate, ex-addict British minister is recruited by a large, mysterious company to travel to their space base on another planet and serve as a missionary to the native population on that planet. The Bible he brings is their "book of strange new things," and this is a really lovely, slow story that is less action and drama and more interesting ponderings on the nature of faith and culture and relationships. It really sucked me in.

I'm a combo of chaotic neutral, neutral evil, and chaotic evil. SORRY.


I don't watch as much TV as many folks because I spend all my time reading. But I did manage to keep up with many of the most talked-about shows (because FOMO, and it's nice to have something lighthearted to discuss with folks!) and am thankful for the hours of distraction the following provided.

1. The Wilds (Amazon)- this was described to me as a combination of Lost and Mean Girls, and I'd say that is pretty accurate. Matt and I both enjoyed this one!

2. Bridgerton (Netflix)- If you haven't heard of/watched this by now, there's nothing I can say that's gonna change your mind. It's a delight, and also rated R, and I enjoyed every second of it. It's well-described as Downton Abbey meets Gossip Girl.

3. Naked & Afraid (reruns on Hulu or YouTubeTV)- I've already mentioned how much my whole family loves this one! Trust that everything 'naked' is blurred, so your eyeballs will not be offended, and most of the bad language is bleeped, except for every time someone says "Nature is a B****!!" (which is often, because it is) it is NOT, and so Millie regularly asks what that means. Sigh.

4. The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)- SO GOOD!! Almost good enough to make me want to learn to play chess, but nah. But seriously, this one is essential. Watch it.

5. Ginny & Georgia (Netflix)- This one took me by surprise! The description and branding had me expecting something Gilmore Girls-esque, but that is not what I found. I don't even know what genre I'd put G&G in; it covers a lot of ground and is somehow funny/amusing, deep, and thriller-y all at once. I really enjoyed it.


Well...I was going to think of some movies I liked this year, but then realized that I never watch movies. Who has 2 hours to commit to one thing, when you could be committing 12 hours to 12 episodes of some other thing?? Honestly now. Matt and I did set a goal a few months ago to work our way through the whole Marvel universe (chronologically) and so far we are averaging about one movie a month, for a grand total of 2 movies so far (and I don't remember the names of either. Why are the names of those movies so complicated?? Also I can't tell superheroes apart.) So I'll report back in *checks watch* 2849 years. At this point they create new content at a faster rate than we can consume it, so if my math checks out (and it always does), we will never finish.


Now podcasts I have time for! I took an unscheduled break from podcasts for the first 6-8 months of the pandemic because my normal 'podcast listening time' was during my commute, which disappeared along with my office. Eventually I started finding new podcast time, and now that I'm back to my usual commute, I'm firing on all cylinders with my old (and some new!) faves.

1. The Popcast. Shoutout to my faithful friends who didn't give up on me, even though they recommended The Popcast for years and I ignored them. Eventually I gave in, and I'm so glad I did. But the bonus that comes along with waiting a million years to start a pod is that now I have 8 years of back episodes to listen to, so I'm constantly laughing. Matt also enjoys listening to this one, so it's perfect for putting on in the car (if Millie isn't there, or is on her iPad. There's nothing objectionable on this one, but she doesn't *get it* and bothers me asking for explanations of every other sentence, so that's a waste of podcast time if you ask me.). I like how this one is totally standalone episodes, so you can just browse the titles and descriptions and find something that sounds fun, and you're good to go for an hour!

2. Pantsuit Politics. Man, Beth and Sarah, the hosts of PP, have been some of my best friends the past few years. I am so thankful for their calm, educated, measured perspective on the news, and I always look forward to new episodes. 

3. Dolly Parton's America. It's been awhile since I listened to this one, but I really enjoyed it. Obviously Dolly is our queen, but it was so interesting to understand more about her life, career, and historical and current cultural impact. This is one that needs to be listened to in order!

4. The Lazy Genius. This is one I run to when I want practical tips on how to make one particular thing in my life better in about 20 minutes. Seriously, it's kind of the format. Laundry. Meal planning. Buying gifts. Finding your holiday decorating personality. Each episode (just browse the ep titles) targets a very specific 'thing' with the goal of "being genius about things that matter, and lazy about things that don't." I find this pod to be encouraging and usually super helpful!

5. Planet Money. This is another go-to for one-off, fascinating topics. I'm pretty sure Matt listens to every single episode, and this is one of our favorites for road trips. Planet Money is equal parts entertaining and educational, so you can't beat that!


And here's where I'll throw in the miscellaneous things that have made life fun over the last year!

One of our many, many family "scoot-scoots" this year. That's little sis on Matt's back. ;)

1. Scooters. Guys, they're not just for kids anymore. I know I mentioned this the other day, but getting scooters for me and Matt was one of the most fun things about this year! I have this one and I honestly adore it! The handlebars come up high enough that it's a very comfortable ride. (Matt got a different one, and I'm not exactly sure which one, to link, but I don't like it as much. The handlebars don't go as high.) What's really fun is that our cul-de-sac neighbors also have their own adult scooters, and so all 4 adults plus our 2 first graders are often found having a scooter party in the cul-de-sac, and if that's not cool, I don't know what is.

2. Olive & June nail polish. I was swayed by my Instagram ads (they're just so good) and I'm not mad about it. Since I haven't been going to salons for the last year, I decided to redirect that money towards O&J polishes and I am SO happy about it! The top coat is the key, though. The colors are fantastic, but that top coat is clutch and means I don't have a chip for entire week. Unheard of. You can get O&J at Target now, but the display at my local Targets are always somewhere between super picked over and completely empty, so ordering direct is the only way to ensure you have a comprehensive selection. 

(Not O&J polish, but the closest thing I had to a professional mani for about a year)

3. Skrewball peanut butter whiskey. I mean, you didn't think we were gonna survive a pandemic acting like teetotalers, did ya?? Ha. Our neighbors introduced us to this delightful beverage and man, is it a treat. You can get it at probably any liquor store near you, and I highly recommend that you do. The sooner the better. We usually drink it straight up, but it's also fantastic mixed into a milkshake or your hot chocolate!

4. Sleeping Queens card game. This is a super fun little game that friends recommended early in the pandemic, and I'm so glad they did! It's simple enough for kids (Millie was 5 when we got it and she could play independently after maybe two or three times of being on a parent's 'team') and not boring or annoying for adults. You know it's not easy to find games in that sweet spot! Plus it's cheap (less than $10) and takes up no space. Grab a spare deck in case you need an emergency birthday present sometime. 

5. Educational Instagrammers. Who knew- social media can be for more than just cute pictures of babies and puppies and food! I am thankful for finding some experts in their fields who are both entertaining and very educational, and since most of my friends follow them too, it's been so wonderful being able to have educated, fact-based conversations about things we otherwise might not know much about! Here are two of my faves, both on Instagram:

-@kinggutterbaby- Laurel is an infectious disease specialist at Emory who primarily studied global health and tuberculosis before focusing on Covid this past year. She is hilarious, brilliant, and colorful (in personality and language, haha). She has a million highlight stories that cover basically everything related to Covid, so if you're interested in data-driven information, explained by a scientist who also speaks plain English, I highly recommend her!

-@sharonsaysso- Sharon is "America's Government Teacher" and all-around incredible human. She not only answers questions (only with facts!), she teaches us all how to FIND facts on our own, explains where the facts came from, and what they mean for us now. She is funny, calm, non-partisan, generous, and intersperses her government talk with a lot of whale pictures and facts (besides government, whales are her other passion). I learn something new every day from Sharon, and her language and content is completely appropriate for anyone from your kindergartener to your great-grandma. 


  1. Another Erika blog post! Whoooo hoooo!!!! And now I have some new books to check out. This is what I get for not (really) being on Goodreads :)

  2. So many things I need to comment on: I think I need that card game! It is so hard to find stuff with kids who are 11 (but thinks he's 15), 8 and 4 that everyone can enjoy - I am intrigued! Podcasts - yes! I just started listening to You're Wrong About and it is excellent. Also love The Office Ladies. Have listened to a bunch of true crime ones if that's your jam. I've been real sad that Binge Mode's last few seasons have been about stuff I don't enjoy ha. I still want to try O&J but haven't yet... and agree about Peanutbutter Whiskey! And I love that there are a few new books for me to add to my TBR! Lastly, I know you've been ignoring your blog for like 2 years but I am slightly offended I am not on your 'blogs I like' sidebar! ;) So excited you posted again and think this post is a great one!

  3. My goodness! I need to add this post specifically to my "favorites" list so I can reference it regularly! Thanks for all of the new recommendations; having been off social media for the past year, I hadn't heard of almost ANY of these things! Now I've got books, shows, podcasts, and miscellaneous stuff to keep me busy for MONTHS! WOOHOO! (P.S. - so, so sorry I haven't responded to your email really has a knack for just getting in my way...pretty much all the time.)

  4. Erika thank you for all the recommendations! I can’t wait to try that card game with my kids.

  5. So much information here! This is a fabulous roundup. I'm impressed you are making it through the Marvel universe - I usually fall asleep halfway through those movies. The only ones I truly loved were the first Iron Man (duh, of course) and Black Panther. I also liked the first Wonder Woman even though that's not Marvel, but it is Superhero, so whatever. As much as I am not a podcast person, I have toyed with the idea of podcasts again, so I'm adding "The Lazy Genius" because I love hot tips in 20 minutes (also because committing to an hour long podcast feels totally impossible). I am so tempted by Olive and June - mostly because of Sharon so maybe I'll go ahead and splurge... or just add it to my Christmas list (which is what I do when I won't justify something myself). We love card games so added Sleeping Queens to our amazon list. I also added @kinggutterbaby to my IG roundup because YES give me all the science PLEASE (I see her latest is herd immunity, which I am HIGHLY interested in for all the reasons everyone else is too).


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