Friday, May 26, 2017

A Review of 'Want to Go Private?' by Sarah Darer Littman

"Abby and Luke chat online.  They've never met.  But they are going to.  Soon.

Abby is starting high school-- it should be exciting, so why doesn't she care?  Everyone tells her to 'make an effort,' but why can't she just be herself?  Abby quickly feels like she's losing a grip on her once-happy life.  The only thing she cares about anymore is talking to Luke, a guy she met online, who understands.  It feels dangerous and yet good to chat with Luke-- he is her secret, and she's his.  Then Luke asks her to meet him, and she does.  But Luke isn't who he says he is.  When Abby goes missing, everyone is left to put together the pieces.  If they don't, they'll never see Abby again."

My library network has a treasure trove of a digital library.  This is a book that I have checked out a few times on my Kindle, but for whatever reason, now was the time that this book really clicked and drew me in.  Once I was in, I was hooked; I couldn't put it down and would read it late into the night.

I don't think this book was particularly well-written-- the characters were rather flat and spoke in a way that was very canned.  It's not how normal people talk.  So that bothered me a bit.  The characters acted the same throughout the book... even Abby to a certain degree.  That was disappointing for me.  I was hoping they'd get less annoying and less self-absorbed.  One thing that really bothered me is that Abby seemed to create her own drama.  She was determined not to make new friends and to make her first year of high school as similar to her eighth grade year as possible it seems.  It wasn't for lack of her friend trying to involve her either.  I wish that Abby was a more likable character.  I think that would have made this book a bit stronger.

I think the magic in this book lay in the plot.  That's where the suspense and terror was.  I'm reading this from the perspective of a teacher.  I did my student teaching with 9th graders, who are exactly Abby's age.  That's what really hit home for me.  Something like this could happen to anyone.  I hated reading what this Luke guy was saying to Abby online even more so because I imagined him or someone like him saying something like that to my students.  It felt like an invasion to me, even as someone who is very much an onlooker in this instance.  It was difficult to read for this reason.

Something that confused me was why Abby did what Luke asked even when she very obviously felt uncomfortable with what she was being pressured to do.  I wonder what takes away from her ability to feel like she can say no.  Isolation probably has a lot to with it, but what else?  That doesn't take away from her feeling of discomfort.  Why deny how she's feeling about what she's being asked to do?

I hate the last part of the book where perspective kept shifting between Faith, Lily, and Abby's maybe-sort-possibly boyfriend.  I thought it was a way to waste time.  They weren't giving us any new information, just sharing their same worries (and in Lily's case, being really freaking selfish).  I wish that they had jumped ahead in time or just kept their worrying to one longer chapter.

Overall, this book has a wonderful concept-- it's so important to talk about this and show that no one is immune to treatment like this-- but it was a poorly executed book that was just too preachy at times.  I give 'Want to Go Private?':
Thanks for Reading!


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My Experience as a Substitute Teacher

I graduated with my undergraduate degree in English and English Secondary Education this past December and since then, I've been quite busy.  In January, I started substitute teaching through an agency that allows me to sub for paraprofessionals and full-time teachers all over my home state.  In February, I added another school district that I can sub for and what's nice is it's the same district that I grew up in and that I student taught in.  I'm in my fourth month of substitute teaching and... it's been quite the experience.  I mean this in a positive, negative, and curious way.  It's weird to come home and try and tell my friends and family who are not teachers themselves about what my job is like.  I guess I just want to try and talk about it here.

The Good

Some of my favorite moments are when I've subbed for my mentor teachers.  There are a few teachers that I call my mentors-- the 5th grade teacher I've volunteered for going on five years now is a very important person to me because she has put so much trust in me as far as partially teaching her students.  My student teaching co-teacher is a mentor of mine because she never hesitated to be honest with me and she pushed me (in a positive way) to be the teacher that I am today.  I've been able to sub for both of these amazing women and be with "my" kids.  That's been so wonderful because I'm with kids that trust me and we have this understanding between each other.  That's such a privilege in this line of work.

I have had the privilege to sub at a number of really great schools.  Ultimately my goal is to find a full-time teaching position, so this is really great.  It's like getting a preview of the place where I might work but without the school knowing that I'm scrutinizing them so that I get an unedited version of what the school I'm visiting is like.  I can see what the staff are like and how they act towards someone temporarily in their domain, what the principal is like, and even what the kids are like.  I can assess and see what I can handle and which schools are a good fit for me.  After having a number of really terrible work environments (one of which I'm not legally allowed to talk about which frustrated me at the time and to a lesser degree continues to frustrate me), this is incredibly important to me.  If this were any other line of work, I wouldn't have this opportunity.

I've gained a lot of classroom management experience.  This means managing behavior and generally making a class run smoothly, for those who aren't aware.  During student teaching, I started out the year at the same time as my students.  This presents a lot of advantages because they learn to trust me at the same time they learn to trust their regular classroom teacher.  Handling behavior tends to work best if you have a positive relationship with your students.  So now, with subbing, I'm challenged to handle behavior with hundreds of students I don't know and don't have a personal relationship with.  It only makes me a better teacher.

One of my favorite parts of substitute teaching is that I get to hear all sorts of hilarious things that students say and the very sweet things I see them do.  On the best of days, students are incredibly helpful and they help me rally together a number of the students so that we can get through the day.  I so appreciate those students.  And then I get to be part of really fun moments too.  I recently subbed in a Spanish classroom.  They had one worksheet to do in an hour of class (not enough work), but then we made up the rest of the time by putting on Mexican songs for everyone to hear.  There were so many happy students in that period.  They were working on their worksheet (for the most part) and singing along with the music piping through the room.  It was a blast.

The Bad

I have had some truly horrific days of substitute teaching.  Sometimes it's all day and other times it's certain class periods that I just can't wait to end.  A lot of my family has heard me talk about these instances but I still feel the need to talk about them more because I find them just appalling.

I have dealt with really loud and disrespectful students.  So disrespectful that almost no learning could happen.  I tried to do some restorative practices to get the class to show everyone that they need to work as a team.  If we're not doing that, nothing can get done.  But they didn't seem to give a damn.  This was also the day I was called sexist because a student was convinced that I favored girls over boys which just isn't true.  But he convinced himself he was right.  I will never go back to this school.

I have broken up fights before.  I thought that I would be doing this a lot in middle and high school age groups, but that really hasn't been the case.  It's been the elementary kids that have literally been demons in the classroom.  I had a second grade class that dealt with problems by throwing verbal abuse at each other and choking each other.  Yes, you read that right.  Choking each other.  At this school, I only had a half-day job, but in the first hour I was there, I broke up at least four instances of choking.  During the day, I can't tell you how many times I called up to the office demanding that a student be removed from the classroom.  I will never go back to this school.

I have vowed to never lead teach an elementary-level classroom and I have made very few exceptions.  I lead-taught a kindergarten classroom once, but there was also a paraprofessional in the room to help me.  That was a really good situation.  I have also been a paraprofessional in elementary classes and that is okay too since I'm not taking on an entire class, just a small group of students at the very most.

Technology has also proven to be a problem, particularly at the high school level and sometimes the middle school level.  When the kids are older, one of the school districts I sub in has one-to-one iPads, meaning that every student gets their own iPad to take home and use in school.  They're neat, but they're also a pain in the ass when a student is trying to convince you that they can totally do their work and watch full episodes of Criminal Minds at the same time.  Then you try and point out to them that they're really only watching Criminal Minds well because you haven't seen them write a single thing in their Google Doc.  I have learned to pick fights.  The technology use in one of my districts especially resembles a number of qualities of addiction, which scares me.

To put a positive spin on this, I have learned more about what I want as a teacher and I have learned to handle difficult situations the more I've been able to practice.  It hasn't been the easiest almost four months, but I do feel that I'm becoming a better teacher for it.

The Curious

Substitute Teaching has brought up more questions than I ever thought it would.  It has called into question my own practices and what I do well (and what I don't do well).  It has made me question what my values are when it comes to running a classroom.  These things will only help me improve as a teacher as I learn to stick to my metaphorical guns and make quicker decisions.

Subbing also makes me question humanity though.  It's a really weird thing to think that you're going into a classroom of semi-innocent first and second graders but they're actually monsters.  You're going into a classroom full of scary high schoolers, but they turn out to be the kindest souls that just want to be independent.  It really teaches you that you can't judge someone's character based on what you know about their age group or what you can see on their exterior.  Subbing has challenged me to value everyone's humanity, where people come from, and the tools they carry with them wherever they go.  I have learned to give people a chance, but also to show them that resets are necessary in order to become the people we want to be.  And that's a process-- it takes time.

I certainly didn't think that I would learn such profound lessons from being a substitute teacher, but I suppose that's the benefit of spending time, however brief, with several hundred kids every week.

So that's where I am now with my new job.  I wanted to make sure that I document this time in my life because I think it'll really help shape me into the teacher I ultimately want to become.  I want to remember where I was and how I grew during this period in my life.

Thanks for reading!


Friday, April 14, 2017

A Review of 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory' by Caitlin Doughty

"Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty-- a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre-- took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life's work.  Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes.  Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead.  She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight.  She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession.  And she answers questions you didn't know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse?  How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van?  What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing.  Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

I first found Caitlin on her YouTube channel 'Ask a Mortician.'  I'm not sure when I first found it or how I first found her channel, but I've been hooked ever since.  It's such a weird thing to find fascinating.

I love that this is a memoir about a topic very few people know about or are willing to ask about openly.  I so appreciate that Caitlin is very honest and open about her experiences and what she has come to discover about the funeral industry.  Her tone is much like her YouTube videos in that she speaks honestly, but not in a condescending way like she knows more than you (which, for this subject, is likely absolutely true).  I also like how inviting she is when it comes to considering different points of view on death and everything that comes with death.  She helped me think more openly about the deaths within my family that I've experienced and she invited me to think about my own inevitable death (as Caitlin says when signing off her Morbid Minute videos, "And remember, you will die.").  The best part is that she doesn't make it seem like these types of ponderings are weird, because they're not.  In fact, it's smart to think about these things now.

Another thing that I appreciated about this book was Caitlin's humor in talking about these morbid situations.  I think that's largely how you get through situations like gracefully removing a body from a family's home, dealing with getting cremated human out of the cracks in the crematory, and so on.  It's little things that as someone who doesn't have to deal with death on a daily basis that I never have to think about or deal with as problems.  But death can be as funny as life is sometimes.  It can be serious.  I don't have to think of death as this scary thing that's looming ahead of me.

I wish I could say something more about this book and something profound, but honestly, this book is best read and reflected upon and then discussed with someone else who has also read this book.  I think a lot of this has to do with the stigma that death has.  You know, the feeling that if you want to talk in depth about death and really dig in that there's something wrong with you.  But that's absolutely not the case and more people need to know that.

Whether you consider yourself a death-positive person or if you're looking to challenge your own views about death, this is a great read and you should go pick up this book.

I give 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes':
Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Review of 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie

Note: This is my last review for 2016.  All the rest of the reviews posted will be from 2017 reads.  Thank you!

"Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live." 

I had the privilege of teaching this book twice this year-- once to rising eighth grade students at Breakthrough and while I was student teaching in ninth grade.  Twice I was able to enjoy the wacky illustrations that show Junior's life and twice I was able to enjoy the main character's sense of humor and sense of self.

One thing I really like this book is how fearlessly it puts two different cultures together and asks you to really examine them.  I loved being able to talk about rules that exist in different parts of our lives.  For Junior, unspoken rules at home in Wellpinit were different than at the school in Wellpinit which were different that the rules that existed in Reardan, which is a town that is overwhelmingly white.

This book also asked me to look at what gets a person to be in their living situation-- what leads to a family being poor, to not getting a good education, to having certain values, to having a certain lifestyle-- and what can lead a person to break out of the mold that one may or may not be destined for.  To paraphrase something John Green said about other people, this book challenged me to think about people who are different than me in a more complex way.  That's something I've been striving to do in my daily life and in my reading.

Most of the students I read this book with really liked this book.  They liked how relate-able the characters were (even if they didn't completely identify with Junior) and they liked how the story was told (through words and pictures).  Some young people I worked with, especially some of my ninth graders, didn't like that this book felt like a stereotype.  They became very wary about what they were reading.  Some of them didn't like the typical young adult novel cliches of introspection, philosophical findings, and a character reactions.  But as I said, generally my students really liked what they were reading.

I give 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, February 13, 2017

A Review of 'Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls' by David Sedaris

Note: I am working on finishing reviews for books that I read last year.  I'm almost done and reviews for 2017 reads will be published shortly!

"A guy walks into a bar car and...

From here the story could take many turns.  When this guy is David Sedaris, the possibilities are endless, but the result is always the same: he will both delight you with twists of humor and intelligence and leave you deeply moved.

Sedaris remembers his father's dinnertime attire (shirtsleeves and underpants), his first colonoscopy (remarkably pleasant), and the time he considered buying the skeleton of a murdered Pygmy.

With Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris shows once again why his work has been called 'hilarious, elegant, and surprisingly moving' (Washington Post)."

I have read a few stories by David Sedaris and honestly... I can't quite get a read on him.  He's such a character.  His sense of humor always manages to take me by surprise.

This book is a series of short stories about some of the experiences he has had in his life from living abroad to experiencing his first colonoscopy.  Even stories that seem like they might be gross end up being incredibly funny!  But maybe you just have to have the humor of an elementary school boy at times... and I think that's in all of us, even a little bit.

What really caught me off guard was when I could relate to what David Sedaris was saying.  It just seems like we're worlds apart in terms of our identities and our bodies of experience.  Maybe that goes to show that even those who seem like you wouldn't get along or you could never find something in common... there's always a similarity to find.  We're not so different after all.

It's hard to review a book of short stories because all of the stories are so different from each other.  And not all of the stories seem to be in David Sedaris' voice which really threw me off while I was reading.  There was a point where he wrote a narrative of a very politically conservative person (I think a woman, but I don't think I realized that until the end) who was up on her soap box ranting about a little of everything.  The nice thing about his stories are that he never fails to keep your attention and more importantly, keep you on your toes while you read.

This is a great read for those who are looking for a lighter (in tone) read, who appreciate good humor writing, or if you just want to read some off-the-wall writing.

I give 'Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls':

Thanks for Reading!


Friday, February 10, 2017

A Review of 'The Pregnancy Project' by Gaby Rodriguez

Image result for the pregnancy project"Growing up, Gaby Rodriguez was often told she would end up a teen mom.  After all, her mother and her older sisters had gotten pregnant as teenagers; from an outsider's perspective, it was practically a family tradition.  Gaby had ambitions that didn't include teen motherhood.  But she wondered: how would she be treated if she 'lived down' to others' expectations?  Would everyone ignore the years she put into being a good student and see her as just another pregnant teen statistic with no future?  These questions sparked Gaby's school project: faking her own pregnancy as a high school senior to see how her family, friends, and community would react.  What she learned changed her life forever, and made international headlines in the process.

In The Pregnancy Project, Gaby details how she was able to fake her own pregnancy-- hiding the truth from even her siblings and boyfriend's parents-- and reveals all that she learned from the experience.  But more than that, Gaby's story is about fighting stereotypes, and how one girl found the strength to come out from the shadow of low expectations to forge a bright future for herself."

Prior to beginning my student teacher, my cooperating teacher sent me the list of summer reading that students received and asked me to read as many as possible.  This was, I think, the first one I chose.  I was drawn in by the bright colors of the cover and the fact that the word "project" went along with "pregnancy" was intriguing to me.

I was surprised that this was a true story to begin with.  At Gaby's school, seniors are expected to produce a final project on a topic they care about.  Being the excellent student she is, Gaby started thinking about this project early and began planning everything.  She planned what her bump would look like and feel like, she planned what she would say and do to make her pregnancy convincing, and she planned who she would tell amongst her friends.  After that, she only had to live her life as a pregnant woman and listen and observe what others were doing and saying about her.  The whole thing is equal parts bizarre, since we're in on her secret, and illuminating as we hear what others say about her.

This book does an amazing job of highlighting what stereotypes exist for pregnant mothers in their teens.  I love that Gaby didn't just do a surface-level project but took a topic that has affected her family many times over (including her own mother) and blew it wide open for everyone to see.  It was very brave of her and I love that she forced everyone to confront their own prejudices about teen pregnancy, especially those mothers who decide to keep their child and raise them.  But she doesn't just challenge the people who were physically present for her presentation, she continues to challenge readers to examine their own thinking and check themselves.

If you're looking for a true story and a relatively quick read (I was able to finish in a few days), this is a great book to grace your bookshelf and that will pique the interest of young people in your life.

I give 'The Pregnancy Project':
Thanks for Reading!


Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Review of 'Persepolis 2' by Marjane Satrapi

Note: Thank you for your patience as I finish up the reviews for books I read last year.  I am almost through my list and you'll be seeing reviews for 2017 reads very shortly!

"In Persepolis, heralded by the Los Angeles Times as 'one of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day,' Marjane Satrapi dazzled us with her heartrending memoir-in-comic-strips about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.  Here is the continuation of her fascinating stoy.  In 1984, Marjane flees fundamentalism and the war with Iraq to begin a new life in Vienna.  Once there, she faces the trials of adolescence far from her friends and family, and while she soon carves out a place for herself among a group of fellow outsiders, she continues to struggle for a sense of belonging.

Finding that she misses her home more than she can stand, Marjane returns to Iran after graduation.  Her difficult homecoming forces her to confront the changes both she and her country have undergone in her absence and her shame at what she perceives as her failure in Austria.  Marjane allows her past to weigh heavily on her until she find some like-minded friends, falls in love, and begins studying art at a university.  However, the repression and state-sanctioned chauvinism eventually lead her to question whether she can have a future in Iran.

As funny and poignant as its predecessor, Persepolis 2 is another clear-eyed and searing condemnation of the human cost of fundamentalism.  In its depiction of the struggles of growing up-- here compounded by Marjane's status as an outsider both abroad and at home-- it is raw, honest, and incredibly illuminating."

After I finished student teaching and graduated, I had some time before the New Year.  At the beginning of the school year, I picked up both Persepolis 1 and 2, thinking that my students would be reading both, but I was mistaken.  So I thought it would be a good time to read part 2 and see how Marjane was getting along.

This story picks up right where Persepolis left off.  Marjane steps off the plane in Vienna, Austria where she is to live and get an education in a much more free environment than her home in Iran, which has become incredibly stringent in terms of rules.  Here she spends her teen years... becoming a teenager and surviving everything that comes with it is difficult enough, but now put that teen virtually alone in this country she has never visited before with people she isn't terribly familiar with and with a language she doesn't speak.  I don't know about you, but that sounds like a situation that would make me cry.  I mean, I'm experiencing all of these physical changes, emotions I might never have felt before, and then I can't express myself in a language I'm proficient in with people I trust.  Wow.

What I like about this book is that Marjane continues her pattern of just gathering knowledge.  This time, she's surrounded by anarchists and people who come from different thought backgrounds, so she is reading all of these different works by these great thinkers on top of those she has already read... it's interesting to see her reconcile all of the knowledge she has been gaining for the purpose of making sense of the world she's in and that world she comes from.  That's what I find fascinating about being a teenager... you're stuck between what you know the rules are and then what other people say the rules are and you just have to... figure it out.

What was even more interesting to read about was when Marjane came home after finishing school.  She had to adjust to what like in Iran was like again.  Living in a different country and coming back to your home is such a strange experience... you don't even have to be away that long either to experience that kind of change, but she was away from home for about four years.

I loved this addition to what was started in Persepolis.  It made me think about Marjane as a person more complexly because she allowed me as a reader to know more about her and see how she changed and developed during this critical time in her life.  This is a great read for those who like coming of age stories and those who fell in love with Persepolis.

I give 'Persepolis 2':
Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Review of 'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi

Note: I am working to finish reviews for the books I read last year.  This review is for one of those books.  Once they are finished, I will be reviewing more recent reads.  Thank you!

"Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.  In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq.  The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life.  Marjane's child's-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family.  Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression.  It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity.  And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love."

I love this book.  This is one that I read with my ninth graders while I was student teaching.  The kids really liked it too.  As an educator, I love that even though the history behind the story being told (the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s) was a little unfamiliar and took some time to work through as a group, this book was very accessible.  This is a story told in the form of a graphic novel which is great for struggling readers and for those who are looking to delve into this complicated and very politically charged piece of history.  The neat thing for me, as an avid reader of memoirs, was that I had never read a memoir that was presented in this way.

I appreciated that Marjane never held back anything from the reader.  She did an awesome job of showing what was going on, her family's take on the matter, and then how she reconciled with both sides and educated herself so that she could be an active part in this revolution, even as a child.  She did an amazing job of showing the reader what daily life in Iran under the Shah's regime was like, especially for women and girls.  Even though I'm very far removed from this part of history and this culture, I could imagine myself in her place and indirectly experience her daily struggles.

This is a wonderful graphic novel that will transport you and make you fall in love with Marjane and the cause that she and thousands of other revolutionaries faced during this time.

I give 'Persepolis':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Goals for 2017

This year is going to be an interesting one.  For me personally, the main reason is because I am newly graduated!  This will be the first time I have quite a bit of freedom to decide what I'm going to do in my life.  In the spirit of this freedom, here are my goals for 2017:

Goals For Reading/Blogging

1. Read Up On White Privilege And Race.  I feel that this is a personal responsibility.  As a white person, I have the privilege to ignore the shootings that have been happening around the U.S.  I can pretend that these problems don't exist because I'm not personally experiencing them.  But if I, and others like me, did that, no change will happen.  I want to do this for my students who were scared when they heard the results of the 2016 election.  I want to do this for my students and friends who have to fight for their right to be taken seriously and to stay alive.  It's not much, but at least it's something.

2. Read 40 Books.  This goal is lower than I've usually had.  I will have quite a bit of extra time to read, since I'm not in school any more, but I want to read more for content rather than for quantity of books.  In school, I was swamped with required reading, so the reading that I did for fun, usually it was stories that I could become engaged in, but not always the books that I would be sucked into reading.  I read to think about other things.  This time, the function of my reading will be a bit different than it has been lately.

3. Half Of The Books I Read Will Already Be On My Shelves.  I have fallen into the classic reader trap where I buy a lot of books and then they spend a lot of time on my shelves before I actually get around to reading them (if I get around to reading them).  So I hope to weed through my shelves and find hidden gems.  And even if I find some duds, at least I'll know which books I can take off my shelves to find better homes for.

4. Blog Regularly.  My goal is to put out something once a week, whether that's a post about life or a book review.  Because of the other writing opportunities I have had this past year, this blog has really gone to the wayside.  I'd like to revamp it a bit and get things going again.  Give me a moment to get my life in order post-graduation and then I'll let you know what that regular schedule looks like.

5. Reread Harry Potter.  I have read each book in the series and I have seen the movies more times that I would care to share with you.  But it has definitely been a while since I've cracked the spine of this particular set of books that has changed my life.  I recently re-watched, from start to finish, each of the eight Harry Potter films.  I was taken in by the magic once again and I want to have that with the books.  I have my perspective on the series as a younger person, now I want my adult self to experience Harry.  Maybe I'll attempt to read the books in French or Dutch, since I have both of those sets as well.  It'll be good practice for me.

Goals For Healthy Living

1. Slowly Cut Out Meat And Some Animal Products.  Last Spring, I started my research on being vegetarian when I wrote an article for my university.  I interviewed people to learn more about their personal reasons for being vegetarian or vegan and learned about how they made the change from what most Americans would call a "regular" diet (leaning towards being a true omnivore to carnivore).  The article that came after that, I tried being vegetarian (or more accurately, the occasional pescatarian) for a short period of time.  While the ethics side of eating vegetarian is a great reason for eating this way, I don't think this is reason enough for me to adjust.  Call me selfish, I guess.  But what I noticed during this brief experiment is that I never felt stuffed after I ate (there tends to be fewer calories in vegan/vegetarian food than in meat-based food), there were a lot of options for me as far as things to eat that I actually really liked, and I generally felt good, physically speaking.  I can only wonder what would happen if I tried this experiment again for longer.  I also add the caveat in the title "and some animal products" because I would like to cut down on the amount of dairy that I eat.  Again, it's a physical well-being thing.  This will probably be the most challenging aspect for me, since I love dairy.

2. Get An Exercise Routine With Varied Exercises.  This is something that has popped up on my goals list in the past (and I know I'm not alone), but I have really been having trouble getting my routines to stick.  I do know these things though: I like swimming, yoga, and walking.  I think these will be the varied exercises that I focus on.  I also know this: I'm not trying to become fit or trim for a specific life event.  This past year, my goal was to fit into my wedding dress for my August 2016 wedding.  Once the day of the wedding came and went, my exercise and eating habits went to hell in a hand basket.  This time, I don't have such a life-event.  I'll be working to look and feel better for my own sake.  I'll have to have some safe-guards in place to keep me on track, but I think having that non-life event based goal will help me stick with it.  I'll have to think about a weight goal though.  That is a goal that should absolutely stay.

3. Drink More Water.  I think this will go with wanting to feel better physically, but it also goes with being very conscious that I don't drink nearly enough water.  I have a Nalgene water bottle that I often carry around with me, but I usually reach the bottom of it  in 2-3 days.  Not good... I want to at least work my way up to drinking one full bottle each day.  Progress is progress, I suppose.

4. Remove Useless Crap And Mess.  Over the past few months, I have really been bitten by the cleaning bug.  My house is an absolute mess.  A lot of it has to do with just having too many things.  I want to go through everything I own (kitchen supplies, books, clothes, papers, etc.) and get rid of anything that I haven't used in the last few months.  I want to have a better sense of organization and control in my life.  Why not start with my home?  And since my evenings won't be filled with homework due to being out of school, I think I'll finally be out of excuses and I can work on making this happen.

Goals For Life In General

1. Attempt NaNoWriMo A Couple Times This Year.  The only official National Novel Writing Month is in November, but I also plan to attempt it in January.  I'll have to see what life is like in November (I hope to be teaching full-time, but we'll see what happens), but I'm thinking I could also try Camp NaNoWriMo over the summer.  I believe if there's something you want, it doesn't matter how many times you have fallen in the past, you have to be persistent.  Here's to persistence.

2. Volunteer Regularly.  I don't necessarily need to find one place to volunteer at once a week, but that would be okay.  My main goal is to find a way to give back to my community.  For a while, I think that'll mean giving time rather than giving financially.  But we'll see what I can swing.  A lot can change in a handful of months.

3. Obtain My First Teaching Job.  I have earned my degree, I have a lot of teaching experience already... I'd like to become a better teacher with a class of students of my own.  I've been waiting for this for a really long time.

I think these goals will be enough to keep track of this year.  I hope that the New Year has started out just swimmingly for you and that it only gets better from here!

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Review of 'We All Wore Stars' by Theo Coster

"In 1941, Theo Coster was a student at the Amsterdam Jewish Lyceum, one in a class of 28 Jewish children that the Nazia had segregated from the rest of the Dutch population.  Among Theo's fellow students was a young Anne Frank, whose diary would later become one of the most important documents of the Holocaust.  In this remarkable group portrait, Coster and five of his fellow classmates gather their personal stories and memories of Anne.  The accounts collected here do not just help us rediscover Anne Frank.  They also stand on their own as remarkable stories of ingenuity and survival during the Holocaust-- from Albert Gomes de Mesquita, who hid in ten different towns across Europe-- to Hannah Goslar, who experienced the horrors of Bergen-Belsen but also made a miraculous reconnection with Anne days before her death."

When I picked up this book, I didn't expect to be reading the words of the person who invented the game "Guess Who."  That's a fun fact for you.

Having lived in the Netherlands, my interest in Anne Frank has only intensified.  I have found it interesting to hear what other people thought about her and what they remember about her.  This is a very special account indeed because the author and those he spoke with were all classmates of Anne's.  They were all moved to a Jewish school in Amsterdam when Jews were being separated from the rest of society.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more information about Anne from the perspective of other people who knew her, but this book was redeemed by the stories of her classmates and how they got on during the war.  In terms of fatalities, the Netherlands had the highest percentage of Jewish citizens killed during this time.  This is largely because the Netherlands was relying on the fact that they would once again be neutral during this war, as they had been in the first World War.  But Germany had other ideas... they burst through the borders and just decimated the place.  From then on, life for Dutch Jews was essentially doomed.  Only 27% of Dutch Jews survived the occupation.  This is compared with a 60% survival rate in neighboring Belgium and 75% survival rate of Jews in France just a couple countries south.  It's absolutely astonishing.  That's partially what makes this book such a blessing to have.  They could have easily been the other 73% of the Jewish population who would never make it home.

The variety of experiences depicted in this book was incredible.  Theo Coster's experience was rather tame-- he did move from home to home with people who would take him away and disguise him as a Christian nephew and grandson.  He was able to go outside and go to school and enjoy a more or less normal life (normal for what was going on during the time).  But then he speaks to others and they went into hiding like Anne did or they were on the run, constantly looking for safety and stability until the end of the war.  There is no one experience when it comes to surviving World War II.

Whether you're interested in Coster's connection with Anne Frank or not, this is well worth the read.  I like it because it brings more humanity to those directly affected by the Nazi regime in World War II.  Anne might be the poster child for victims of the Holocaust, but she is certainly not the only one who fell victim.  These other stories drive home just how big this series of historical events was.

I give 'We All Wore Stars':
Thanks for Reading!


Friday, December 16, 2016

A Review of 'Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster' by Jon Krakauer

"A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that 'suggested that a murderous storm was bear down.'  He was wrong.  The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more-- including Krakauer's-- in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster."

This was a book that was on the summer reading list for my ninth grade students.  I was asked to read as many of the books as I could prior to school starting.  This is one that I read after school started that really took me by surprise.

This is not a typical read for me.  I'm a person who gravitates toward young adult fiction, realistic fiction, memoirs about personal change... this book had some new elements (to me) in it that really challenged me as a reader.

One way that I made it through this very dense book was by using the note-taking methods that I have been teaching my students.  I was able to mark vocabulary, write about my personal connections to parts of the text, etc. and be able to keep track of everything throughout the book.  It definitely slowed me down, but with this book, I think you need to slow down and weigh out each word, making connections and propelling yourself from major point to major point.  It's kind of like mountaineering, in a way.  You have to make sure that you understand everything and that you're secure in your footing and your knowledge before you tackle a more complicated piece of the book.  If you don't, you fall off and will probably die... well, you would if you were climbing Mount Everest.  When you fall off while reading, that's when frustration occurs and you just don't finish.

I think after reading this book I appreciate people who have mountaineering as a hobby (if you can call it that... one does not casually climb a mountain).  It's a terribly risky business and I didn't realize just how technical it is.  It's a skill that engages you both physically and mentally.  No part of you can shut down.

After finishing this book, I also have no desire to climb up Mount Everest.  Even though I knew it is the tallest mountain in the world, I don't think I realized just what would make climbing this mountain so challenging.  I had no idea what it would be like to live on such low amounts of oxygen.  I don't think I realized that timing can play a role in what weather you will experience on your climb and that that will affect your ability to have a strong and effective climb.  It was crazy to read about how Jon Krakauer summited Everest and started his descent, to experience only two hours later, the death of five people on the same climbing team as him.  Had he been a little slower or stayed on the summit much longer, he too could have been killed.  That's absolutely amazing and terrible to me that such a little amount of time can make such a big difference.

I didn't realize that they just leave the bodies of people who die on the mountain.  Some Google searches and some YouTube videos from Caitlin Doughty from Ask a Mortician have told me that there are still about 200 bodies of fallen climbers left on Mount Everest, frozen in time, exactly how they died.  The bodies of the people who died on this very expedition are still up there and apparently if you choose to climb the mountain, you'll likely have to step over their bodies in order to continue climbing.  That's such a haunting thought...

While this book stretched me a reader, I am very glad that I read this book.  I have a new awe for mountaineering and a strange fear of Mount Everest.  I have a new appreciation for people who are able to take such risks and want to challenge themselves in this way.

I give 'Into Thin Air':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

To The Bride and Groom

Note: It has been several months and I have been well-aware of the fact that my blog has been wasting away without even so much as a book review.  But now that I only have a couple more weeks of student teaching followed shortly by graduation, my workload is slowly becoming less and less and so every now and again, I have pockets of down time.  This weekend is one of free time pockets and so I thought I'd do a little bit of a life update and share some photos of a very important time in my life.

This past August, I married my best friend.  Maybe it's a cliche to start out a post this way, but it's true.

In December 2014, my now husband proposed to me in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam while I was finishing up my time abroad.  With school and other life things, we waited over a year and a half to be married.  Finally, on 19 August, the big day arrived:

I spent the night at home with my parents, slept in my childhood room, and got ready for the day surrounded by friends and family.  It was lovely.

I had gotten my dress (that is, picked it out at the Bridal shop) about a week after returning from my semester abroad in the Netherlands.  My veil was my mom's wedding veil, but changed around a little to suit my needs and taste.  It was strange to be so made up (I never wear make-up in my day-to-day life) and to be so dressed up.  I've found that when I'm supposed to look nice for an event (like prom or my wedding), I always surprise people because I don't normally look this way or try this hard to look nice.

I hate having my picture taken, but this was a totally different experience.  To have a photographer follow you around all day was just a strange experience, even though I appreciated his friendliness and flexibility.  This person was also the guy who took our engagement photos, so we had worked with him before.  What made this part of the day special was that my husband and I got to be together all day and we got to be with our sisters and friends for most of the day.  Because all of us are in school and involved in a whole bunch of other activities, it's rare to get us all together in one place.  But this was nice.

Finally, after hours and hours of taking pictures, it was time.  The pastor of my family's church married us, because we had a great bond with her (I was her daughter's first babysitter after she was adopted).  We didn't get married in a church, but we got married in a hall called the Klub Haus, which takes pride in its German heritage.

The reception afterwards was amazing-- I danced to Golden Slumbers by the Beatles and The Sound of Silence covered by Disturbed with my dad and my new husband and I danced to La Vie En Rose covered by Louis Armstrong.  It was so much fun to dance with my friends who came to celebrate our day with us and dance with my family too.  We danced up until the last possible minute!  

This is mostly an excuse to share these beautiful picture that our photographer took.  

Weddings are difficult to plan, even when you're splitting it between several people.  I was just so happy with how the whole thing came together.  The food was great (hamburgers and chicken for dinner, ridiculously good cupcakes for dessert), the place looked beautiful, and it was really great to have almost everyone I know in attendance!  This is a day that I will fondly remember for the rest of my life.

Thank you for celebrating the start of our married lives together!  We can't wait to see what adventures will come next!


Saturday, October 1, 2016

A Review of 'On The Other Side' by Carrie Hope Fletcher

"A love story like no other, this is the debut novel from Carrie Hope Fletcher, author of the Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller All I Know Now.

Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.  It's the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she's become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won't open.

Evie's soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy.  For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must ind a way to reveal them before it's too late.  As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love...

On the Other Side will transport you to a world that is impossible to forget.  Powerful, magical and utterly romantic, this is a love story like no other from everyone's favorite 'big sister,' Carrie Hope Fletcher."

I have followed Carrie on YouTube for several years now.  When she was in Les Miserables in London's West End, I went and saw her perform as Eponine while I was studying abroad.  It turns out I was very lucky to see her perform that day-- she was sick and only managed to do the matinee show, but not the evening performance.  I am very, very fortunate.  I have enjoyed watching her grow up on YouTube and start venturing further into her arts career.  So when I found out she was writing a story-- fiction this time-- I was incredibly excited.  But I also walked into this book rather blind, not knowing what Carrie was like as a fiction writer.

I love the general concept of this story.  I love stories that explore the afterlife and what that is like (this fascination sounds creepier than it actually is).  I love that in this afterlife, you go back to a place where you were most yourself.  For Evie, that was her first apartment and where she found her first love.  If that is what life is like after death, there shouldn't be a reason we fear death as we age and start falling apart.  That's a nice feeling.

The feeling of this book was quite different than others I've experienced.  Because the story shifts from the present, when Evie is in the afterlife, to the past, when Evie is actually alive and there's magical elements involved in both periods of time, there's this whimsical and lucid feeling to the tale Carrie tells.  It's really interesting.  I realized as I was reading this book that a lot of the magic elements really threw me off.  I think I've been reading a lot of realistic fiction lately, and magical things don't typically happen in those books.  So that was interesting to deal with.  It's like I'd forgotten how to handle magic in my time away from fantasy fiction.

As far as characters go, I tended to feel more towards the extreme characters.  Characters like Evie and Vincent were kind of boring because they seemed so perfect... perfect for each other and like they've got their lives more or less in order.  My favorite scenes revolved around Evie's children who were handling things after Evie's death.  They didn't pretend to be perfect, at least.  They had a lot more to deal with than Evie seemed to have to deal with.  I mean, they were being asked to unwind their mother's past in order to understand.  That's got to be extremely difficult when you've just lost your mother.  I don't have that same sympathy for Evie when she chose to marry her husband and not Vincent.  It was just too idyllic for me.  I wasn't wrapped up in their story like I feel like I should have been.

Overall, for a debut novel (because her first book All I Know Now was a nonfiction book), this was okay.  I don't know if this will be one to stay on my bookshelf, but only time will tell.  I do look forward to seeing how Carrie grows as a novelist.

I give 'On The Other Side':
Thanks for Reading!