Saturday, September 16, 2017

One Month In... My New Job


In June, I went to a job interview for a school that my friend's dad had seen advertised in the newspaper.  It was a tiny school that I had never heard of before, but upon researching the school for my cover letter, I immediately felt drawn to the message and the philosophy of the school.  It was one of those rare moments after my interview that I actually felt like my in-person interview went well.  I didn't feel like I had said anything stupid and I felt I had been the most genuine in that interview over any other interview I had been on.

Perhaps the title gives this away, but I did get that job and this past week marks a full month where I have been teaching 9th grade English full-time, in a classroom that's all my own.  I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past month of my first year of teaching.

I came into my school needing to create most things, from my classroom environment to putting together curriculum and lesson plans.  In my school, I am the only 9th grade English teacher, so I have a lot of freedom to choose what I will have my students read and what I want to teach them (provided of course that each thing I teach is backed up by Minnesota State Standards and Common Core, since Minnesota has adopted Common Core standards for English).  This year, if you're curious, I am working on Romeo and Juliet, poetry, American Born Chinese, Of Mice and Men, and NaNoWriMo with my students this year.  I'm pretty excited!  I'm also really happy with how my classroom turned out.  I'll leave some photos on this post.  Now that I think about it, my classroom looks a bit different from these pictures now.  I guess that's the nature of the school year.  Things break, you need to repurpose some spaces... well any way, this was what my classroom looked like to start off the year.

Since the school year started a month ago, I basically haven't stopped or taken too long to slow down.  The first couple weeks, I put in long work days.  My contract says I must be at school from 7:30-3:00 every day, but I was putting in days that were more like 6:30-6:00 and sometimes even later.  Once I started feeling exhausted and got sick for the first time (nothing to keep me home, but enough to make me feel like crap while working during the day), I have started making sure I am limiting my days a bit more.  I still show up early (it helps me feel ready for the day) and lately I've been staying no later than 4:30.  

Now that the school year is in full-swing, I have started up tutoring after school again and I still volunteer once a week.  Those things are also helping me make sure I'm not spending a million hours a day locked in my classroom.  I'm still working a lot, so I'm continuing to look for this balance.  I don't think I mind going hard during the week and taking things slow during the weekend, even if grading is involved.  Like I said though, I'm still working on this balance.

Now that I have had my students for a month, I am really enjoying them and I love seeing what they're capable of.  They are really starting to get used to classroom routines and the students who really have it together are starting to support me when it comes to getting the students who just don't get it to stop treating my class like a social hour.  I really appreciate that.  

Classroom management has been such a learning experience for me.  I learned a lot of strategies as a substitute teacher, but nothing except direct experience really prepares you to handle the same kids long-term.  So I'm learning what works for each of my classes and I'm adjusting as I figure out what doesn't work.  It's like a science experiment and my first ninth graders are my guinea pigs.   I wonder how they feel about that.

One thing to note is that I haven't explicitly told my students that this is my first year of teaching ever.  My fear was that they'd hear I was a newbie teacher and they'd take advantage of that and test me in more ways than they already test me.  I'm not sure if I'll tell them or not.  They know I'm a new teacher to my school, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I've never taught in a classroom of my own before.  For now, they don't have to know that this is my first "Big Kid" job!

I think this past week has been the first week where I feel really good about what I've been doing with students.  At least the end of this week.  I've been getting them up and performing and because it's Romeo and Juliet, I gave them swords.  That's the beauty about a high school English classroom.  You can usually expect swords.  They were just randomly in the closet when I moved into the classroom.  The kids loved being able to use the swords.  

This post is getting a bit long, so I'll end it here.  I just wanted to be able to stop and think about how things have been going during my first year of teaching so far.  It's a job where you have to give a lot of yourself, but I think I'm finally hitting my stride.  I know the rest of the year won't be all sunshine and rainbows, but I should be able to appreciate the times they do creep up.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Reflecting On My 2017 Goals So Far

This year, I am approaching my goals a little bit differently.  In January, I took up bullet journaling and my goals (which I published HERE on this blog, but will repeat here for clarity) have been so much more in focus for me this year.  I'll be touching on some things that I will go more into depth in other posts, such as bullet journaling, but for now, I want to pause for a moment and reflect on how I'm doing in terms of completing my goals so far this year.

Goals For Reading/Blogging

1. Read Up On White Privilege And Race.  I'm doing okay in terms of this goal.  I have been pleasantly surprised that I have been able to find fictional stories on this topic (reviews forthcoming... I'm a bit backed up right now).  I think one way I would like to continue to meet this goal is to read more nonfiction on this topic.  How is white privilege affecting actual people?  What are the many faces of racism?  What effects does it have on its victims?  Are there experts in the field who have ideas on how the average person can take action?

2. Read 40 Books.  This goal is going great!  So far, I have finished 27 books, including a couple of books that are re-reads for me.  I kind of love revisiting books that I loved reading the first time.  I don't mind making those reads a part of my final count for the year.

3. Half Of The Books I Read Will Already Be On My Shelves.  Yeah... this has been an issue.  I tend to read my books in a few different ways-- I use my Kindle to read library books, listen to audio books (although so far none this year), or I read a physical book.  I have read a lot of library books on my Kindle this year which means those books did not come off of my shelf.  But there have also been a couple circumstances that have required me to buy new books to read instead of reading the books that are already on my shelf.  I don't know if half of the books I read this year will be from my book shelf, but in an effort to make it so that I read more books that I already own, I have made a pile next to my desk of all of the books I want to read by the end of the year.  My thinking is that when I finish a book, I'll be more likely to pull from that pile as opposed to hunting around my digital library for a new title or going to the book store or something like that.  I'll let you know how this goes.

4. Blog Regularly.  This is going horribly.  I like that I am posting a mix of book reviews and travel posts, but I am far from consistent.  I have marked a day of the week in my bullet journal to help prompt me to write a blog post once a week, but sometimes I just don't feel moved to post something.  This might take gaining a little more control over the rest of my life or going on a blog post writing binge and then scheduling all of those.  I'll figure something out.

5. Reread Harry Potter.  I have not started this goal yet.  Honestly, I'm not sure I'll get accomplished this year.  There's a lot going on.  Who knows though.  I have a number of dense reads on my aforementioned pile next to my desk, so maybe in order to have a slightly lighter read, I'll pull out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and get started.  Only time will tell.  If I don't finish this year, I'll put it on the top of my list for next year, because this is something I would like to do.

Goals For Healthy Living

1. Slowly Cut Out Meat And Some Animal Products.  This is going quite well, I think.  I'm not 100% vegetarian yet, but I have managed to eat meatless dishes around 5-6 days of the week.  We have also been drinking more almond milk in my house.  I find that I don't really miss eating meat-- in fact, I tend to feel physically better if I don't eat meat.  Maybe by the end of the year I'll be completely vegetarian, but for now, I'm really happy with the progress I've made.

2. Get An Exercise Routine With Varied Exercises.  Still working on getting the routine down (prospects are looking good for a consistent schedule) and I'm still working on getting the varied part down.  What I'm really happy about is that I have a gym membership and I've been going about twice a week with some exceptions.  I approached exercise a bit differently this time around.  I think joining a gym has been a great motivator since I'm paying to use the equipment and facility.  I've also been going with my mom and recently, my husband also joined the gym and has been exercising more.  I'm giving myself fewer outs when it comes time to exercise.  So I'm really happy with how I'm doing in this department.

3. Drink More Water.  I have been making good steps towards this.  I have amended my goal to drinking 64 oz. a day by the end of the year.  32 oz. has proven to be reasonable for me, but after talking to a very fitness-oriented friend, I learned that drinking a lot of water like I want to do takes building up a tolerance.  So every couple of months, I have been up-ing my intake by 16 oz.  So I'm currently struggling with 48 oz., but I am definitely succeeded that I am drinking more water on a consistent basis.  This feels good.

4. Remove Useless Crap And Mess.  This has been a work in progress.  I took several bags of old books and clothes I no longer wear to Goodwill.  In the next couple weeks, I am taking another large load of books to my classroom so my students can read them.  I'm trying to be more consistent in ensuring that I am living in a clean space, so I'll be working on doing that and building that habit before I get really busy at work.

Goals For Life In General

1. Attempt NaNoWriMo A Couple Times This Year.  Technically I can check this goal off my list because I have indeed attempted NaNoWriMo a couple times this year.  I never won though, but it has really gotten me thinking about what I need in a writing practice and how I can prioritize writing.  I think this is even more important than the actual attempt.

2. Volunteer Regularly.  For the first half of the year, I was really good about this.  I had a day between substitute teaching jobs where I could consistently volunteer with my fifth graders and I would go help out there every week.  That was really great for me.  During the summer, things have been a bit different.  Obviously I couldn't be with my fifth graders when they weren't in school (and besides that, moving on to middle school).  But I've found something new that has me volunteering regularly again-- I am a volunteer bunny socializer!  Perhaps I will write more about what this is like.  So far, I am really enjoying it though.  It's nice to work with adorable, soft critters on a daily basis.

3. Obtain My First Teaching Job.  After a lot of tears, several interviews, and a lot of anxiety and alternative plans, I have accepted my first teaching job!  My school year starts towards the end of this month and I couldn't be more exciting.  I plan to talk more about teaching and interviewing in a separate blog post, so look out for that very soon.

If you have any ideas for how I can move forward in the places where it seems I am stuck or if you have any advice for me, I'd love to hear it!  But otherwise, it's nice to put into perspective where I want to be with where I am so I can adjust course as necessary.

Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, July 16, 2017

I Traveled To California And Arizona! (Part 4)

Onto our last installment of our CA/AZ trip in May!  If you haven't read the last three parts and would like to, click HERE, here, and/or hErE.


We woke up with the sun (one of my favorite things about camping) and after breakfast, we hit the road for the Grand Canyon!  Our campsite was in Williams, which is only about 30 minutes from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Very close, not a bad drive.  We got our permit to enter the park (by the way, it's a pass that lasts a full week, in case you're thinking of going.  It's a great deal) and then drove on through.

A really great time to arrive, at least at the South Rim, is around 9am.  There aren't a million people milling around and that makes it pretty quiet.  It was a lovely introduction to this masterpiece of nature.

 It was weird, Jack and I walked through the visitor's center and when we got to the first overlook... I don't know, it didn't feel real.  It felt like I was looking at a picture, but I was standing with my own two feet in this amazing place.

Jack and I thought about walking down into the canyon, but upon further inspection when we got to the visitor's center, we realized that the hikes took up a lot of the day and some of them required special equipment or extra supplies.  So for now, we stuck to the trail along the rim.  We'll have to return again after a bit more exercise.  That's something both of us would love to do.

There were a surprising number of things for us to see and visit as we were walking and enjoying the canyon.  We popped into a small geology museum that talked about the different layers of rock that can be found in the canyon and how the canyon was formed in the first place.  It was so cool to see how rocks can be used as clues to determine the age of the canyon in different areas.  It's like forensics with rocks.  How cool is that?

There was also a house that seemed to be balancing precariously on the side on the canyon where two brothers lived and had their photography studio.  They are responsible for photographing and filming some of the most hard-to-reach places of the canyon that people hadn't seen before.  I didn't expect that to be there but I was very happy it was there.

I think my favorite thing to do as we walked and explored was to follow the Trail of Time, where you basically time traveled as you walked.  There were little medallions on the sidewalk indicating years and at some points on the walk there were examples of rocks that were that old.  I made sure to poke every single one!

My other favorite thing was experiencing just a taste of Dine (DEE-nay... I don't have the accent mark on Blogger...), or Navajo, culture.  Once a month, there is a storyteller who comes to the Grand Canyon accompanied by 2-3 dancers.  He shared Navajo language through songs and he talked a little bit about their history and how he continues to teach Navajo children their language in the schools.  I thought that was amazing.  And their dancing and costumes (which, if I remember correctly, each person makes their own costume for powwow purposes) were absolutely beautiful.  I love that the speaker didn't make this about casually experiencing culture, but he turned this into a moment of education and had you really engage.  It was a real privilege to be there and the right time to see the dancers.

I think we spent about eight hours at the Grand Canyon.  By the end of the day, we were absolutely exhausted and were happy to start heading home... but we didn't go back to the camp site just yet.  Oh no, even though we were really tired, the adventures didn't end there.  So where did we go next?

Flintstones Bedrock City, located about ten minutes from our campsite.

I can't make this stuff up.

We had a late lunch here (it was... fine...) and then walked into this pretty much abandoned and run-down Flintstones theme park.  When we walked in, there was a small group also in the park, but they didn't last long.  Soon, we were the only two people in the park.  It was the single weirdest and most eerie experience on this trip.  Pictures below.

We went inside the homes of the Flintstones characters (super dusty, buggy at times... pretty damn creepy, if I'm honest).  We walked the track that goes through the volcano structure (also really creepy inside), took pictures with the different animals and characters, slid down the giant dinosaur slide... definitely a weird late afternoon, but also a really fun afternoon.  I think I enjoyed the 'goatasaurus' and feeding him the most!  We spent the rest of the afternoon into the evening reading books in the tent and Jack spent a while just staring up at the sky once the stars came out.  The universe is a very big place...


We packed up our campsite after a relatively slow morning.  We cooked up the rest of our food into a hobo dinner for breakfast and then we hit the road.  Like on our journey from LA to San Diego and from San Diego to Williams, we had a couple of stops we wanted to make before reaching Phoenix.  First stop, Flagstaff!

We wanted to visit the observatory where Pluto was first observed: Lowell observatory, named for Percival Lowell who worked there (although he concentrated primarily on Mars).  Pluto was observed by Clyde Tombaugh who was an intern at the observatory.  My favorite part is that after they established that Pluto was actually a thing, a eleven-year-old girl from Oxford, England, Venetia Burney.  She named the then planet Pluto after the Roman god of the underworld after learning that Pluto is likely a cold and dark planet.  I just thought that was awesome.  

I have much more respect for astrophysicists and astronomers who do this as a profession... heck, even as a hobby.  It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience as you look to the skies trying to find that one small difference that could indicate something is in orbit.  I could not do that.  In fact, I tried (in a game you could play there) and I got really frustrated in the 90 seconds I devoted to trying.  Seeing the observatory and the different telescopes (and even Percival Lowell's mausoleum... it was beautiful inside, I peeked through the bars like I do in any mausoleum I come across.  The ceiling was stained glass and meant to look like the night sky).  We spent several hours here and made the choice to skip some of the other stops we were considering making.  But that was okay.  

One other side trip to we did make was through Sedona.  Holy cow, I've never seen a place more beautiful.  Seriously, I would love to go back to this place.  Sedona was a place we drove through more than anything.  What I loved about this drive though is that you could see the landscape change from a more mountainous terrain to something more desert-like but still lush somehow.  Nature is so cool.  From Sedona (after going around NINE traffic circles!!), we continued on to Phoenix.  The closer we got to Phoenix, the more a dream of mine came true-- seeing Saguaro cacti in the wild :)  There were so many!!!

Our Phoenix adventure led us to another interesting place to stay.  This time, we stayed in a container home.  They're all over YouTube-- people creating houses out of these shipping containers.  They're super awesome!  I'll admit, when we were figuring out places to stay earlier this year, I saw this container home on AirBnB and kind of made the executive decision (telling Jack before I booked it) to stay here.  So I was rather looking forward to this place!  When we got to Phoenix, we were exhausted.  We got the key, went into the backyard of the property we were staying in, figured out which container home was ours, and then took a long nap.  


This was the last full day of our vacation.  Honestly, we were exhausted from all of the driving and all of the exploring we had done.  Phoenix for us on this trip was simply the city that housed the airport we would use to get home.  At least that's what we felt when we checked the weather and saw it was going to be sunny and 103 degrees, like, four days in a row.  Outside exploration did not sound like an attractive option, period.  So we decided to start the day really slow, repacking, reading, writing... that kind of thing.  But then we decided to get out and go see a movie so we could get out of that windowless container home (yeah, the container home wasn't as awesome as we had hoped... it was cozy, but a window would have really made the place.

In the afternoon, we saw Phoenix Rising, which is a movie about the Phoenix lights that were seen in the 80s... maybe the 90s... Jack really wanted to see it while we were physically in Phoenix.  That move scared the crap out of me.  You should see it while sitting in the middle of a dark room.

After the movie, we did a little bit of exploring of downtown Phoenix.  We found weird bug statues with tiny people walking on them.  We found a creative space for kids where they could come in and learn to work with cameras, 3D printers, electrical circuits... it was essentially a makerspace studio for young people.  I don't think Jack had seen anything like this before (and neither had I).  It was love at first sight.  

We returned to the container home and later ventured out once more for our second movie theater experience of the day.  This time, we saw Beauty and the Beast at a dine-in theater.  I had never been to one of those before, but it was pretty cool!  And the movie was gorgeous.  It was kind of an unconventional way to spend a vacation, but it was perfect for us.  And a really nice way to end an awesome vacation together.
This was a much-needed get away for us.  We were married August 19 and the next week, I started student teaching and Jack was preparing to start up his last year of college.  We hadn't been on our honeymoon yet (still haven't... that's still coming) and we were under a lot of stress.  But more importantly, we haven't had the chance to travel together just the two of us.  This was a great way to notice each other's strengths and where we needed to help each other.  It was a wonderful way to enjoy each other's company away from all of our responsibilities and stressors.  

With that, our trip is at an end!

Thanks for Reading!


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Review of 'Oedipus Rex' by Sophocles

Image result for oedipus rex book cover"'... What man wins more happiness than just its shape and the ruin when that shape collapses?'

Sophocles' Oedipus Rex has never been surpassed for the raw and terrible power with which its hero struggles to answer the eternal question, 'Who am I?'  The play, a story of a king who acting entirely of ignorance kills his father and marries his mother, unfolds with shattering power; we are helplessly carried along with Oedipus towards the final, horrific truth."

I'm just going to say it: I hated this play.  I hated that everyone was jumping to conclusions about who did what and I hated the reaction at the end.

The only reason I was reading this play is because I thought that I would be long-term substitute teaching a 10th Grade English class in the fall and this was on the teacher's syllabus.  I'm really glad that it was short so that I only had to force myself to read the 54 pages for a short while.  I don't think that I would be a good teacher for this book.

I thought the story was too dramatic.  Like, yes, I think it would be horrific to find out that you had murdered your own father and creepy to find out that you had accidentally married your mother, but I think the characters totally flew off the handle in reaction to the news.  Maybe I feel this way because of what the Oracle in Delphi said to Oedipus-- that he would marry his mother and kill his father.  Oedipus was already married, so you knew who his mother was.  The only mystery that was left was had he already killed his father already or not?  That's the only part I wrestled with.

But for the wife to commit suicide because she found out her son was Oedipus (wouldn't she know his name by the way?  Well, maybe not if she had not named him and made that name public before getting rid of Oedipus as a child).  Then for Oedipus to stab his eyes out and send his two daughters (half-siblings?) away to be raised by other people was kind of appalling to me, honestly.

I don't know... I had a lot of strong feelings about this book and I won't be reading it again if I can help it.

I give 'Oedipus Rex':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, July 10, 2017

A Review of 'Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans' by Roland Laird with Taneshia Nash Laird

Image result for still i rise graphic novel"Still I Rise is a critically acclaimed work with an impressive scope: the entire history of Black America told in an accessible graphic-novel form.  Updated from its original version-- which ended with the Million Man March-- it now extends from the early days of colonial slavery right through to Barack Obama's groundbreaking presidential campaign.  Compared by many to Art Spiegelman's Maus, Still I Rise is a breathtaking achievement that celebrates the collective African-American memory, imagination, and spirit."

I finished this book on the plane ride from New York to Minneapolis.  This is one that I meant to read last summer prior to beginning my student teaching, but I didn't get the chance to.  I'm glad I got to read it now.

I've never read a history book that comes in the form of a graphic novel, but I thought this was a really effective way to present this history that too often goes ignored (in the classroom and out in the world).  It's visual, so it's accessible to high-level readers and low-level readers alike.  It's also written in a way where you don't have to be familiar with any part of this history in order to understand or connect the dots with your current knowledge.  That's why this book was written: to educate those who aren't aware or don't fully understand.

For me, it was fascinating to recall what I knew about different parts of history that I learned in school and then compare that knowledge side by side with what was going on with African Americans.  I was surprised by what I hadn't been taught in school.  Social Studies teachers, please take note and be the change many people would like to see in the school system.

This is such a worthy read and an important one for everyone whether you're in school and are looking to supplement what you're learning in class or if you're out of school and want to know more.

I give 'Still I Rise':
Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Review of 'Recovery Road' by Blake Nelson

Image result for recovery road blake nelson"Madeline is sent away to Spring Meadows rehab for drinking and rage.  At the weekly movie night in town, she meets Stewart, from another rehab nearby.  They fall for each other despite the crazy time.  Madeline gets out and starts to regain her feet.  But when Stewart joins her, both still are severely troubled, and he is getting worse."

This is another book that has been hanging out on my TBR list at my local library for a long time and something in the universe aligned that made me actually interested in starting and finishing this book.  It took one or two tries, I remember.

This is a pretty easy read, I feel.  I'd describe my experience as being a tourist passing through this book.  I didn't feel entirely connected to the characters in this story, but I was interested in what they were going through and what was happening to them, oddly.  So I was able to read this without feeling committed or attached to anyone.  The characters were either fairly flat or just too annoying to care about.  Normally this is something I really value in a book, and I still value this, but when you just want something a little lighter to read, I guess it doesn't really matter.  That's how I feel about it anyway.

While this book shouldn't be considered the Bible on the recovery process of drug addiction and chemical dependency, I do think that it is a good initial look at generally what people go through in their struggle to get clean.  There are characters who very obviously need help, but no amount of examples and persuading them to stop their reckless lifestyle choices convince them because they're not convinced they need to change.  Once someone does decide that they need to change, success is more likely, but there will always be those times when struggle is unavoidable.  And it's normal.  But you pick yourself up and keep going.  You try again.  For some people, leading a successful life after spending so much time getting high or buzzed or whatever is possible with work.

Overal, this was an okay read.  I'm happy that I read it, but I won't go out of my way to purchase this book at this point in time.

I give 'Recovery Road':
Thanks for Reading!


Friday, June 30, 2017

A Review of 'Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy' by Noelle Stevenson

"Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together... and they're not gonna let any insane quest or array of supernatural critters get in their way!"

I borrowed this book from the library because a friend of mine recently did the art for a later issue of Lumberjanes and I wanted to get to know the story before I reached her issue.  But along the way, I fell in love with the story and with these characters.

I grew up in Girl Scouts, so that is in part what endeared this story to me.  But being a Lumberjane is by and far different from being a Girl Scout.  Lumberjanes are more badass and tend to get into a little more trouble than I remember getting into as a Girl Scout.  I certainly never had to worry about being attacked by mythical creatures in the middle of Girl Scout camp!  That much I'm sure of.

I love the friendship (and in some cases more) between the girls in this story.  I love that they weren't competing with each other and any romance that you might notice in this story and purely secondary to what is happening to the girls in this book.  That was very refreshing from other books that I've read in the past where the romance is centrally located and that is what is occupying the female characters' minds.  Girls are more than lustful looks and broken hearts.  We are powerful.  We've got other things going on in our lives.

I gobbled this read up and I know that you will too.  I read this book on my Kindle and with the graphic novel view (that I just found out about), reading it there was fine, but reading it as a bound book is infinitely better.

I give 'Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy':
Thanks for Reading!


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Review of 'This One Summer' by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

"Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach.  It's their getaway, their refuge.  Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had.  But this summer is different.  Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems.  It's a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

In This One Summer two stellar creators redefine the teen graphic novel.  Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the team behind Skim, have collaborated on this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age-- a story of renewal and revelation."

I've been reading more and more graphic novels since graduating.  This was an interesting one to read.  I have read another graphic novel by these two cousins before and I remember not liking it, but I think after reading this one, I am starting to get used to how they structure their stories.  It's a story that's meant to model life in a lot of ways, so it's not meant to have a solid ending.  Just like when something story-worthy happens to us, our life still continues.  There is no happily ever after, so to speak.

I loved reading about the friendship of these girls.  They talk about normal girl things such as how their bodies are changing, whether or not they're interested in anyone, they talk about movies... they are normal girls going through life with their families.  And you know what?  Sometimes stuff happens.  People change.  I appreciated that this was firmly from the perspective of Rose, so we figured things out as she figured things out.  We started understanding her family more as she did.

This isn't my absolute favorite read ever, but it was nice to be taken on a ride.  Like, I knew something was going on with her family because Rose noticed that her parents were acting differently, but I didn't try and seek out that information myself.  So because I was just waiting for more information to come at me, I could sit back and relax while I waited and took in the story.

I give 'This One Summer':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, June 19, 2017

A Review of 'The Princess Diarist' by Carrie Fisher

Image result for the princess diarist"The Princess Diarist is Carrie Fisher's intimate, hilarious and revealing collection of what happened behind the scenes on one of the most famous film sets of all time, the first Star Wars movie.

When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved-- plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naivete, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized.  Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a (sort-of) regular teenager.

With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher's intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time-- and what developed behind the scenes.  And today, as she reprises her most iconic role for the latest Star Wars trilogy, Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty.  Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience."

One of my favorite memories growing up was watching Star Wars with my dad.  That's just something we did together because he loved it and so I fell in love with it too.  And of course, I fell in love with spunky Princess Leia.  This was a book I was excited for, and when my library said there was a digital copy available, I jumped at the chance to read it.

I thought it was really neat to read about behind the scenes happenings on the set of Star Wars.  It was weird to think that this was just a "small" film when it started, but I suppose even the biggest movie franchises start out as virtually unknown before they hit the big leagues.

I loved reading about Carrie when she was younger (around 19) and how she navigated such an atypical young adulthood.  It seems like she handled it with as much grace as a teenager can be expected to have.  But entering a world that's so filled with experienced adults is so much pressure and you're almost forced to become something you're not even though you know it's not authentic to who you are... I guess that's a familiar feeling to me at this point in my life.  On some level, I relate.

But my love for this book was sadly limited.  I thought too much time was devoted to the part of her life where she fell head over heels for Harrison Ford.  It started as juicy gossip, which was enjoyable at first, but... something felt like it was missing.  It felt lovesick because I think that's what the relationship ended up being.  The relationship felt very one-sided and physical.  So reading about this part of Carrie Fisher's life feeling like it should be a powerful and beautiful thing, however brief, fell flat for me.

What this book did accomplish for me was tempting me into reading other parts of Carrie Fisher's work.  Her prose was smart, funny, and easy to read while still remaining insightful.  So while I won't be buying a copy of this book for my own shelf (it's fine, I've got way too many books laying around my house anyway), I do look forward to reading more Carrie Fisher.

I give 'The Princess Diarist':

Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Review of 'Bike Snob Abroad: Strange Customs, Incredible Fiets, and the Quest for Cycling Paradise' by Eben Weiss (BikeSnobNYC)

"In his new book, BikeSnobNYC reaches the final frontier of cycling: riding with the family.  As his choice to take to the road with his toddler son in tow is met with bewilderment and disapproval from onlookers and the occasional motorist, he ponders why it's such a taboo.  And what does it really mean to be a bike-friendly country?  Seeking answers, he heads from the U.S. to London, Amsterdam, Gothenburg, and San Vito dei Normanni in search of an alternative.  With humorous anecdotes and his trademark biting wit and wisdom, BikeSnobNYC takes us on his most personal narrative journey yet, and ultimately shines a light on the growing pains that exist in any culture that asks smartphone-obsessed, text-happy pedestrians, the two-wheeled, and the four-wheeled to share the road."

I checked this book out a few times, the first time being a little bit after I returned home from living in the Netherlands.  So I was on this kick where biking was super important for me and it's how I got around before we got a car.  I was also seeking out books about the Netherlands.  While this book isn't 100% about life in the Netherlands, a good chunk of it is.  It also features London and New York City, both of which I have now been to.  So in hindsight, I can appreciate the New York aspects more now.

The author is a blogger who has made a living off of talking about bikes and what life is like biking in different areas.  This is part of a series of books, but this one focuses on biking in different places and how different cities accommodate and even encourage biking every day.  Places like Amsterdam and Gothenburg have really amazing infrastructure that makes biking safe for everyone and it was fun to read about places that are not quite there in terms of having all of the necessary infrastructure, but are really making the push to make this happen.  This is how biking cities are born!

For some reason I found the sections talking about biking with a child to be some of the most interesting parts.  When I lived in the Netherlands, this was something I was fascinated by-- the number of human beings you could fit on one biking apparatus.  This picture below is my favorite:

The picture above features a bakfiets (BACH-feets) where you put your children in this wheelbarrow contraption and if you're feeling generous, you can put the rain top over it so they don't have to hang out in a mobile swimming pool in the rain.  There's also a place on the back to put another child.  There are so many ways to cart your children around on a bike!  But in a lot of places where biking isn't as prevalent, many people are concerned about safety.  But these are all perfectly safe.  These things are big and heavy, it takes a little bit to get them going, especially with children in them, so you tend to take a little more time to calculate what you want to do as opposed to if you were biking by your lonesome.

Anyway!  This is a wonderful and incredibly informative read.  If you're even remotely interested in bikes, this is the read for you!

I give 'Bike Snob Abroad':

Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, June 17, 2017

I Traveled To California And Arizona! (Part 3)

And so we continue with Part 3!  Click on the highlighted words to read Part 1 and Part 2 if you're just joining us.

Friday was our last full day in San Diego.  We decided from the start that this would be a relatively low-key day, especially since there were things we needed to do in order to get ready for the next leg of our trip.  Nevertheless, we didn't want to devote the entire day to preparations, so we headed out to a totally different part of San Diego than either of us have ever been and we headed out to the very first Franciscan mission in California.  It called the Basilica San Diego de Alcala, after the Alcala in Spain.  It's a relatively small place located at the top of a hill around 20 minutes from downtown San Diego, so it's not by the water at all.  We got there pretty much right when it opened.  We got a map and then walked through the bit of museum space there was and through the church that is there, which is still an active church to this day.  We were able to see what a Franciscan's monk's space might look like, look through the gardens, and then see the tools and items that have been dug up from the on-site archaeological dig (ongoing).  Even though I'm not a very religious person, I still found this to be a peaceful place and I loved the amount of care that went into restoring this place and becoming such an important place for many.

The monks who lived here (there were supposed to be two assigned here, but there was actually just one) were in charge not just of having a place to worship, but also educating (and ultimately converting) the native Californians.  I'm uncomfortable with that whole set up, but that's what happened.  The way the exhibit talked about it made it sound like the monks incentivized conversion to Christianity by providing education that was intended to help improve their lives.  Based on what I know about colonization and what happened to Native Americans all over North America, I'd be interested in hearing about this same span of time from the perspective of Native Californians.  I'd like to know what they thought and felt about this whole situation.

From there, we decided (because of my prodding) to return to the Whaley house, but this time during the day.  So we drove back to Old Town San Diego and grabbed some lunch at Casa Guadalajara first.  I wish I had a picture of this place.  It was pretty warm in San Diego at the time, but the outdoor eating space is where they put us and with all the shade, it was significantly cooler.  The whole restaurant is so colorful and the food there is incredible.  I'm not normally a guacamole person, but I had fantastic guac on my chicken quesadilla.  It was so yummy there.  I'd love to return.  Old Town has the reputation of being SUPER touristy (because it is... there's no way around it), but this restaurant is a little off the beaten path, so I think you escape some of that really cheesy, touristy atmosphere.  Anyway, eat here.

I wanted to return to the Whaley house because I wanted to take more pictures and also during the day, you're able to pay a cheaper entry fee and then you're able to walk around the house at your own pace.  So there are positives and negatives to both the day and the night tours.  I won't post more pictures of the Whaley house here though since I posted some in the previous blog post.

The rest of the day was spent preparing for the next leg of our trip-- driving to the Grand Canyon!  Or at least about half an hour away from the Grand Canyon.  We booked an AirBnB, but this place is a little bit different: it's basically a sandbox in the middle of a scrubby desert and you camp there.  So we had to get all of these provisions that we might not normally buy if we were staying in a solid structure.  We stocked up on veggies and s'mores supplies and more importantly, firewood.  We're camping after all.  If you don't have firewood, you don't eat.  And since we're in the desert, we brought four gallons of water for drinking and then when absolutely necessary, dousing fires and cleaning.  We packed all of this into our rental car (our trusty steed) and we already had our camping things packed and ready to go.  That was our one checked bag-- a giant suitcase with our tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and a tarp.  We packed up the suitcases we used as carry-ons and then went right to bed.  We had a big day ahead of us...

Saturday, we woke up and were somewhat on a time schedule.  We knew that if we drove straight through to the Grand Canyon, it would take us about eight hours to get there from San Diego.  But we weren't driving straight through.  We had a couple stops in mind (because it's the adventures you have that really makes the trip, right?) which would amount to around 10 hours of being on the road.

One of my favorite games to play is Fallout New Vegas.  In the game, you're supposed to walk around gaining skills and eventually make your way to Las Vegas (rechristened New Vegas, since it's a post-apocalyptic world).  In this game, you spend a lot of time in the Mojave Desert.  So that's where we passed through first!  We drove in a North-Easterly direction from San Diego and drove to the Mojave Preserve.  This was a quick pass-through, but I would love to come back here sometime to explore some more.  You can apparently camp here as well.  We stopped at an old train station which has turned into a rest stop and that's where I really started reading up on this place.  There are so many different types of environments in this small part of the world-- it's a scrubby desert, but there are also sand dunes and cinder cones as well.  I would love to spend more time here (maybe in the winter sometime?).

Our next stop was a couple hours away in Oatman, Arizona.  So at this point, we've crossed the length of California (although kind of a lengthy way).  My parents visited Arizona several months before we did and they highly recommended that we go.  Why?  Because there are wild burros walking everywhere!  For some reason, they really like Oatman.  Oatman itself is a ghost town, but it has been revitalized into a tiny touristy area in the middle of the scrub desert on Route 66.  So as far as I know, no one lives here except the burros.  And they're pretty darn adorable :)  I'll leave a mess of pictures around this and the next paragraph.

I'm really glad that we stopped here, even for a little while and even though it was getting late.  The burros were so cute and I even got to feed them!  There's a lady in one of the stores who packs up cubes of, I think, hay that the burros can eat and that is relatively good for them.  And they love those treats.  You just need to show them the bag and they know exactly what they're about to get!  And sometimes you'll have a crowd around you trying to get at the same hay bite.

What was even better about this place for me was trying to leave, because that's when you really get a sense of what life is like when you're surrounded by wild burros.  We turned the car around and were about to hop on Route 66 to continue on our way when a burro went to go receive a treat and stopped in the middle of the road.  I didn't want to honk, because that seemed mean and apparently it doesn't startle them, really.  So as the driver, I waited helplessly before the kind lady we got treats from tempted the burros with more treats and cleared the road for us.  Thank you, kind lady!  And with that, we headed for Williams.

Route 66 was interesting to drive on.  It was a very beautiful place to drive-- it's so unlike Minnesota in this area, so I was just in awe everywhere we went, every curve that we took (and believe me, there were about a million hairpin turns in this part).  At one point, I just had to pull over to the side of the road to snap a picture of these formations poised dramatically by the side of the road.  It's a glorious place to drive and it's a surprisingly well-kept road.  Like, if you think of Route 66 pictured in Cars when Lightning McQueen gets to Radiator Springs, I thought it would be dusty and broken down and all that.  But it's a very smooth road.  It feels like you're gliding.

Jack and I switched driving I think one more time before we reached our campsite.  At this point, we had been in the car so long that we just wanted to get there.  Our first road trip as a married couple: survived.  It was getting darker and darker the closer we got and we were getting hungry, but we didn't want to stop because we were planning to cook dinner once we set up camp.  When we got to Williams (which is where our campsite was located), it was completely dark outside.  But not to worry, because we had the directions punched into our GPS.  What can go wrong, right?

So many things.

We followed directions as per the GPS and when we stopped, we were in front of a small, dark cabin and across the street from an old Winnebago.  We were completely safe, but something was not right... we continued down the road that was in horrible condition.  Imagine with me a dirt road with tire divets several inches deep in some areas, then the road gets all crazy so your car is tipped to the side while you're driving and with every turn of the wheel, you go over a new bump.  It's a hot mess out there in Williams back country.  And then we're driving over this in the dark.  Finally, we had been driving for a while and decided that it was time to call our host for backup.  Jack's phone had absolutely no service, but luckily my phone had very minimal service.  I could kind of access the GPS map, but more importantly, I could make and receive calls.  So a few phone calls later and a zillion bumps, we made it to our campsite!  Hurray!

It should be noted that I feel absolutely fine telling you all of this now that we're long safe at home and have survived that trip :)

I don't know how I did it, but while Jack was working on getting things in the tent, I had managed to start our campfire and get dinner started in roughly two minutes.  I must have been operating on adrenaline or something.

That first night, we ate our hobo dinners (potatoes, meat, and veggies wrapped in tin foil and tossed directly on the fire) and pretty much went right to sleep.

Tune in next time for Part 4!  We're going to the Grand Canyon next!

Thanks for Reading!