Wednesday, January 31, 2018

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”

Well, damn. Why did it take me so long to read this? WHY? People have been telling me for years that East of Eden was their favorite by Steinbeck and that it ranks up there as one of the best of the best. And all that hype and pushing made me just ignore it sitting on my shelf, while I read all of its other brothers. But while The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl and Of Mice and Men all have their glory and beautiful language and messages and themes, they aren't East...) of Eden

Maybe that's exaggerated because I love all those other Steinbecks as well (maybe not The Pearl), but there is something about East of Eden that I think will sit with me for a long time. 

In short, it's a novel about family and how families function. It's also a story about hope, goodness, and perseverance. It's also about a woman who I can't make my mind up about-was she just a crazy lady? Was she an early feminist, trying to push away from the role others were trying to force her into? Or was she something else entirely? I think I'll be mulling that one over for weeks.

But really, the novel is about the Trask family-Adam and Charles, the sun of Cyrus Trask. It's also about Adam's two sons, Caleb and Aron. It's also about the Hamilton family-wise old Samuel being my favorite. The story evolves over time, spanning from Adam and Charles' childhood in the East, to Adam moving west with his bride Cathy (see crazy lady from above), to the lives of Cal and Aron as they grow up and learn to be men. It's filled with secrets and devastation. There were moments when I gasped and kept flipping pages, resulting in some very rough mornings. But it left me with a sense of hope.

I think one of the things I really took away was Timshel, the word highlighted in the passage above. A lot of the novel mirrors the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, and a couple of the characters-Sam and Adam-discuss that story. Was Cain destined to be evil? Was it his choice? 

It's an interesting discussion, and the events of the novel explore the idea of what it means to be good, what it means to bad. It contrasts truly good characters, like Lee, against those who are evil-like Cathy. It gets you thinking about what it means to be good, and what it means to be evil. Do we have to fight to be good? Are some of us born with evil in our hearts? It makes you wonder.

The language, as expected from Steinbeck, is flowing and rich. As a majority of the story takes place in the Salinas Valley, a place Steinbeck knew well and wrote about often, it flies off the page in lush detail, drawing you in. I've come to love Steinbeck's depictions of nature and American life, and he is at his best in East of Eden

I can't believe I waited this long to read it.

“I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.” 

I loved this novel and I feel as though my words don't do it justice. But I'm going to cherish it as a favorite and join all those "pushers" to get more people to read it. 

“And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.”

*This was the second book from my 2018 TBR Challenge that I read! 2 books down in the first month-go me!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Can’t Believe I Read

See, when you're gone from blogging for YEARS, you learn that some of your favorite things change. And one of those is Top Ten Tuesday, that used to be hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but is now over at That Artsy Reader Girl.

I've always loved these posts, mainly because it was a good filler post if I needed to draw out what material I already had drafted. ;) But also, who doesn't love a good list? My whole blog was started because of a list! Anyway, I was never a consistent participant, but I've joined in when I could, and will continue to do so as the mood strikes.

This week's list is the top books I can't believe I read. For this list, I decided to think about the books I never thought I would read...but have-and all of them because of my little place here on the internet.

1. Crime and Punishmentby Fyodor Dostoevsky: I first purchased a copy of C and P when I was in high school, intending to read it for an AP Lit project. I read a few pages, tossed it aside, and didn't pick it up until September 2009 when I started my blog. It was the second book I read from my original 250 list, and the first novel I'd read by one of the Russian greats. I was blown away by how much I loved it, and I later fell in love with both The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov.

2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: So. I'm including this one for a few reasons...I've actually read this book more than once, and it was terrible every time. I'm still shocked that I read it again in the early days of my blog since I hated it so much in high school. And until that point, it was one of only 2 Dickens titles I had actually read (Hard Times was the other, and I loved it). Now that I've gained a little perspective and have a few more Dickens titles on my shelf, I want to give this one another go. I don't think it'll ever be a favorite, but I do think I'll like it. ;)

3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: This was another title that I never thought I would read because it flat out didn't interest me. At all. One summer when I was working for the parks, a co-worker was raving about this and I got all snotty about it. Oh man. Well, I finally read it as part of my 250 project, and guess what: I really enjoyed it. I would love to give it a reread one day since I flew through it!

4. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: In the first year or so of my blog, I worked my way through all of the Holmes short stories and novels. It was never something I thought I would do, as mysteries just aren't my thing, but I focused on one right after the other and was successful!

5. Lolita by Valdimi Nabokov: I never had any desire to read this. But I did. For my project. Now I can say I've read it. Go me. (it gives me the creeps).

6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: In the second year of my project, I decided to tackle the other big Russian and this big weighty tome that I thought was going to kill me. It took me a very long time to get through it, but I loved it and want to reread it at some point. But yeah...super long and super proud of myself that I read it.

7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: In another one of my most terrible ideas, EVER, I decided to host a readalong of this book. I remember that Adam joined me and together, we read this. IT WAS TERRIBLE. I threw my book at the floor multiple times because I cannot stand Rand's ideas. But I persevered through it and completed it. Never. Again.

8. Moby -Dick by Herman Melville: Hand's down one of my favorite books. At times I felt like it was a chore, but it was SO WORTH IT in the end. And truthfully, I never would have picked it up without this blog.

9. Germinal by Emile Zola: I'm including this not because it was a chore or it was impressive, but just because I had never heard of it until I was researching classics, and because it was one of the first books I read for my project (YEARS AGO), and I am STILL thinking about it. It's a book that haunts me because it was so damn good.

10. The Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E.L. James: What? Not all of them are classics! I'm including these because they are my badge of shame. I bought all 3 as ebooks back when Homer (my Nook) was still around and kicking. Truthfully, I needed to see what all the hype was about. And even though the first one was probably one of the most horrific things I've ever read, I still finished all 3. Go ahead and judge. I'm okay with it.

What books are on your list? Let me know!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: New Semester, House Talk, #24in48 Readathon

Well, that week flew by! It was exam week at school, so I spent it in a grading fog as I tried to get everything done so I could enjoy this weekend. So while exams were done at 10:45 Thursday morning, I didn't leave work until close to 5 so I could get essays done and entered. I was the second to last car to leave, but I was loving it on Friday when all I needed to do was prep for this coming week and enter the multiple choice exams my kids took.

The new semester starts on Monday, and I'm excited for a "fresh" start. 4 of my 5 classes are yearlong classes, so I'm keeping a lot of the same kids. The only new class I'll have is a new section of Shakespeare. APUSH will be kicking into high gear now that we're on the other side of the semester (their test is May 11th), so that will take a lot of work on my end to keep them motivated. We're also trying some new things with my low-level juniors to continue building their reading and writing scores, so I'm hopeful we'll have a good semester.

We decided to go with a navy-aren't they pretty?
The house is still coming along with the kitchen not completed. *sigh*

All the cabinets are painted (finally) and most of the doors and hardware are on. We still need to paint the walls, put on the countertops, install the new sink and faucet, and get all the appliances into place. I think when Matt gets home he's going to keep working on it. I was hoping I'd be able to cook tonight, but that's going to be a no-go. Hopefully by the middle of the week?

I'm getting really sick of pre-packaged food and microwavable meals. And take-out. We've been living like that for about 4 weeks and I can tell that it's having a toll on my body. I feel sluggish and bloated and just want some vegetables! It's hard, especially without a sink, to function and eat healthy. Soon! I hope!

This weekend I wanted to relax after a stressful month so I am loosely participating in the #24in48 Readathon. My goal was to read for about 12 hours this weekend, and I will definitely hit that today! I finished up East of Eden yesterday (review coming Tuesday) and flew through all of One of Us is Lying (review on Friday). Both were great reads.

Next up is American Street by Ibi Zoboi, which I have been hearing nothing but good things about. It looks to be a slim, quick read, so assuming I finish it, I'm going to start Where Angels Fear to Tread by Forster.

So really, it was a fabulous reading week!

Tell me how your week was!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2017.

I'm probably a little late on this post, but you know....well, too bad. ;)

I ended up reading 71 books in 2017 with a Goodreads goal of 75. 75 seems to be a normal and "Achievable" number for me to hit every year nowadays. That number used to be 100, but that was when I was crazy. Since I generally read a lot more during my summer break (just over two months), I can usually "Catch up" with just enough time to miss my goal. Haha. But really, this summer I read over 30 books, which is a crazy number considering that means I read 40ish books the remaining 10 months of the year. I'm working this year to make that a little more consistent, but so far, not off to a roaring start. 

I DIGRESS. My 71 books read in 2017 is heavily YA skewed. I was in a mood and I didn't break out of it. I read other things, of course, but I was really focusing on reading YA off my shelves in addition to some new releases I didn't want to let pass me by. The reading from my shelves thing is something I am aiming for this year as well. Moving all of my books showed me how many I have and how many I need to read. That won't stop me from acquiring more, but it will "check" me. I also signed up for Adam's TBR Challenge as a way to get to some books I've been neglecting (and I picked the 2nd book in a few series in hopes it'll get me to finally read those as well!). 

In any case, here are the highlights from 2017!

  • Hunger by Roxane Gay: This is a powerful memoir about the author's struggle with food, weight, and dealing with a childhood trauma. I don't think I was prepared for how much I would relate to Gay's struggles with food, but reading her memoir got me thinking about my own struggles with food and weight gain (I was not a fat kid growing up-I was fairly thin and didn't start to actually put on a lot of weight until near the end of college). There are some truly POWERFUL passages in this book not only about food, but what it means to be a fat person. It's eye-opening and insightful and so true. You need to read it. And I need to read more by Gay in the future.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: I am so glad I read this last spring when it was just starting to blow up. And by the way, all the hype is well deserved. The Hate U Give is a YA novel that captures all of the current issues surrounding police brutality, racial profiling, BLM, and more. The conversations between characters about race and color were spot on and I wish I could convince the people who need to read this book to actually read it. The acclaim for this book is spot on and my experience with this title inspired me to read a few other YA titles in the same vein (All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely and Dear Martin by Nic Stone both spring to mind).
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: I chose to reread this title the day of the Women's March in 2017. We were up north at the log house and I was upset about not being able to go march (I was also pregnant and Matt was worried about me being out in the cold for so long-truthfully, the trip was better, especially as I miscarried just a week or two later). See me digressing again? Anyway, rereading was perfect timing. It got me inspired and riled up and that mood lasted for all of 2017 (and even to this day). I still haven't watched the mini-series, but need to. 
  • The March Trilogy by John Lewis: Another title meant to get me inspired and politically motivated, the March trilogy was the perfect read over Memorial Day weekend. It's a graphic novel trilogy told from the POV of a young John Lewis (current U.S. Congressman). It stunningly depicts his experiences in the Civil Rights Movement, from early sit-ins, to arrests, to meeting MLK, to the historic inauguration of Barack Obama. The artwork is gorgeous and powerful and the set I keep in my classroom is always checked out! I'm working on a grant to get a classroom set to read with my APUSH students after their test, but we'll see how that goes!
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: My sister was bugging me to read this for ages, and I finally caved. It's a fun, nerdy romp through video games and 80s pop culture that I didn't know I needed to read until I started it. The worldbuilding is fantastic and crisp, and the action never lets up. I'm pretty sure I yelled at Matt numerous times while reading it to leave me alone. I think the concept is pretty original and can't wait for the film to come out! 
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit: A series of essays that capture the experiences of being female in the modern world, and told in a way that is straightforward and factual. The most well-known essay in the book, about the concept of "mansplaining" was so spot on that my copy is highlighted and annotated to the heavens. There are other excellent essays, including one on rape and rape culture that shook me. I think it's a great look at modern day women's issues, and one that had me reevaluating my own feminism and beliefs.
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses Trilogy by Sarah J. Maas: I've been a fan of Maas' other series (Throne of Glass) for a couple years, and while I purchased this trilogy while it was being published, I had been putting it off. Well, I finally sank into the trilogy over the summer and inhaled all 3 books in a span of 4 days (put me into  major book hangover). While not the most inspiring, life-changing books I've ever read, they delivered exactly what they were meant to be-YA fantasy. They were fun. They gave me all the feels. The world building was excellent. I binged on them. They were what I needed at the time and have sold me on buying everything Maas publishes because I know I'll enjoy it. Sometimes you need that. 
  • More Happy Than Not, History is all you Left Me, and They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera: I'm not even sure where I first heard of Adam Silvera, but as soon as I read a synopsis of his first book, More Happy Than Not, I knew he was an author I needed to read. I ended up purchasing everything he's published to date (those 3 titles), and I flew through them in just a few weeks. Let me tell you: Adam Silvera is a force to be reckoned with in YA lit, especially when it comes to LGBTQ titles. I was blown away by the depth of his writing! More Happy Than Not, my first read from him, remains my favorite, but They Both Die at the End is a very close second. He's another author that I will buy and read all of his books because he's just that good. 
  • The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz: Speaking of authors whose work I purchase automatically, let's talk about Saenz. I read Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood way back in college for a YA course and was blown away. I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and fell in love (seriously, all the happy tears). This title was no exception. Saenz definitely has his own lyrical style of writing, but you can fully sink into it. I think of his writing as being a bit more...mature? than some other YA writers. And I love it.
I think that about rounds it up. Overall, 2017 was a great year for reading. I binged on some great series (I totally didn't mention that I read a ton of Rick Riordan-essentially everything that I hadn't read by him...) and read from my shelves pretty heavily. However, I only read a few classics and want to change that for 2018.

Have any recommendations for me? Leave them below!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

#24in48 Readathon

Just a quick post tonight to let you know that I am planning on participating in the #24in48 readathon this weekend. I originally wasn't going to sign up, as this week was our exam week and I was sure I would be taking home piles of grading, but somehow I conquered the massive piles of things to grade! I should be heading home tomorrow with nothing to grade and only minimal prepwork to do for the new semester.

I know I probably won't get to read for the full 24 hours, but I'm going to give it my best shot. Our kitchen should be finished at some point this weekend (hooray!), so I'll need to get it organized and put stuff away.

BUT! I still want to read all of the things before the new semester gets all crazy, and this weekend is perfect.

I picked out a small stack of things I'm interested in, but it might change. One top of that pile is Steinbeck's East of Eden, which I am already halfway through. I'm planning on snuggling in bed as soon as I publish this post to read more. Assuming I don't finish it between tonight and tomorrow, it'll be first up on Saturday.

Underneath that (that thin title), is another book from my TBR Challenge-E.M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread. I was looking for a smaller book off that list that I could try and tackle in early February and it jumped out at me (the cover is gorgeous). I'm not sure that I'll get to it, but it's a good option if I feel like I want another classic.

The third title is American Street by Ibi Zoboi. I've been meaning to read this for months, but haven't had a chance. Even if I don't get to it this weekend, I will definitely be reading it sooner rather than later. It takes place (partially?) in Detroit, so that by itself sold me.

The last two books are actually books that our district choose for our Inaugural Battle of the Books competition we're having between the high schools. I promised myself I would read all 6 before the competition in early May, so I need to get moving. I read Winger by Andrew Smith when it debuted, so that's one down (he agreed to Skype in with our kids during the competition-I'm SO EXCITED). I also read John Green's Turtles All the Way Down when it came out. So, these were my next two picks.

First up will probably be One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus. All the kids who've read it already keep telling me to read it. Truthfully, this will probably be the book I pick up after East of Eden. It references a similarity to The Breakfast Club, so I am intrigued.

The last book is Caraval  by Stephanie Garber. It's actually the first book in a trilogy, so I'll probably end up reading the rest of it when they come out. I know very little about this one except that another teacher told me it was a YA version of The Night Circus...we shall see because that's a lot to live up to.

I might grab some other things off my shelf as I go through the weekend. I do have a professional development book that I need to read 2 chapters of for my book club at work (called Creating Cultures of Thinking), so that will be thrown in the mix. I've also been craving a biography, but none are jumping out at me at the moment. We'll see what happens!

Are you participating? Let me know so I can check in with you! I'll try and get a post up here, but I'll most likely be updating on twitter (alliedliterary) and on Instagram (aliteraryodyssey).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Back to Blogging, End of Semester, House Renovation, and More.

Phew, what a week! Even being only 4 days of work (MLK day), it was a long one as it was the week before exams (they start Wednesday). But let's come back to that!

It feels so good to be writing again, even if it's a little awkward and I'm not sure the entire time if I'm "doing it right." It's hard to believe that when I first started book blogging with my initial classics project, I was writing posts daily, and sometimes I had posts going up multiple times a day. That's what the joys of unemployment will do to you. ;) While I miss the reading and writing freedom I had during those days, I feel so much more fulfilled now. Can you believe this is my 6th year teaching "officially" in my district, my 8th in the district overall, and my 10th in entirety? Yeah, neither can I.

But blogging was such an important part of my life for a few years and I have missed it. I think it'll take some time to get fully back into it and comfortable with sitting and writing posts, but I'm getting there, I think.

This past week I wrote posts on the 2 books I've managed to finish so far this year. My first read was Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills. It was a great choice to start my year as it left me feeling uplifted and hopeful even though the book highlights struggles and frustrations. My second read was actually my first read off my TBR Pile Challenge list, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. I don't remember my original reasoning as to why I added it on Goodreads, but it was another fabulous book that I very much enjoyed. It did take me 30 pages or so to "get into" but it was well worth it and I ended up flying through it once I settled in. I definitely recommend both titles!

And I can officially say that I read 1/12 books for my TBR Challenge! Wahoo! That might be tied for the furthest I've ever gotten in that challenge. Haha! No, really, I always pick books sitting on my shelf that I feel like I should read, and usually that meant titles I was avoiding. I tried to mix it up this year, and I truthfully feel like I have a lot of excellent reads in store!

After reading two YAish titles, I decided to switch gears and settle in with Steinbeck's East of Eden, book #2 off my TBR Challenge list (killing it!). I have loved pretty much every Steinbeck I've read so far, which continually surprises me. I should really consider him one of my favorite authors, and I don't know why I haven't. But I'm just over 100 pages in, loving it, and thinking of all the things to talk about. I don't know if I'm going to write an "in progress" post like I used to (remember all of those? I love looking back at them, but it took so much time), but I will definitely be sharing thoughts when I finish. I usually avoid really chunky books during the school year (unless it's a YA chunkster that I can fly through) since they take so much time. I prefer shorter reads since it feels like I'm accomplishing more, but there is something about THIS particular title that seems fitting to read right now. Your thoughts if you've read it?

Speaking of right now, I am taking a break from the MASSIVE piles of grading I should be working through. The end of our first semester is Friday (we have exams starting Wednesday), and I have ALL OF THE WRITING to grade. My APUSH classes completed their written exam portions Thursday and Friday (3 short answers per student-about a page in length for each question, and a DBQ essay), and I also collected book reviews from my Juniors. It's a lot. I'm taking breaks. I know it'll get done, but I'm trying to be proactive.

I have been much better about my work/home balance, which I'm sure comes in part with feeling more comfortable with the courses I'm teaching meaning less prepwork. This has allowed me to read a little more during the year and partake in other fun things. Some weeks are better than others and this coming week is going to be terrible, but I'll power through.

As I'm typing, Matt is working on the kitchen. When we first looked at this house...wait. Side story. This was actually the very first house we looked at in our house search. We liked the large lot and some of the features of the house (yay basement), but the kitchen killed it for us. Gross cabinets, very small, etc. We ended up coming back to this house after we lost 2 others and decided we could make it work. The eventual goal is to turn one of the bedrooms into a much larger kitchen (a dream kitchen), but for now, we needed to renovate the current kitchen so it would function. End side story. We were originally going to keep the old, gross cabinets and rehab them, but when we removed the non-functioning dishwasher (we bought all new appliances), the cabinets essentially fell in on themselves. So, we bought new lower cabinets and Matt is rehabbing the uppers. We're going to paint the cabinets navy blue, put on new countertops, install a new sink, new backsplash, etc. Well, it's been an ordeal with some bumps in the road. We've been living here...about 4 weeks and have been using the fridge and our microwave for all our food needs. It's getting old...

But today Matt is finishing all the trim work and priming the cabinets to paint in the morning before he heads to work. He told me, worst case scenario, that the kitchen will be done (ready to cook in), by Tuesday night. SO EXCITED. I have been off my diet since before Christmas and while I haven't gained weight back, I feel gross and bloated. I also want to finish putting things away, etc. All our dishes, etc are still boxed up in the basement.

Our home is very much a starter home, but it feels cozy. I don't miss our apartment, AT ALL, which surprises me considering we lived there for 8 years-we left behind a lot of good memories. But I love having my own house to come home to, and while it needs love, I have a very handy husband willing to put in the work. I'm learning some new handy skills and its fun to see our own mark on this house. We're thinking we're going to be here 5-7 years...then build a new home (a dream home). We'll see how that plan goes...

Anyway, I should probably get back to grading so I have less to do this week. I always try and plan out my grading, since I need to save some for completing while the kids are taking exams, but I don't want to leave too much since then I'm screwed. Yep, that's the game I play.

Let me know how your week went, what you're reading, what I should read next, etc.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork.

“The right note sounds right and the wrong note sounds wrong.” 

I'm not quite sure where to begin to talk about Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. I suppose I should mention that this was the first book I read this year for my TBR Challenge List. And I loved it. I did. 

I added this book to my Goodreads "To Read" list way back in 2010, and finally got around to checking out our copy from the media center before my Christmas break. It was one of the few books I kept out in the open while packing, etc in hopes I would have a spare moment to read (HA), but it sat patiently on my nightstand until I finished book 1 of 2018. Then it was all mine.

I wasn't sure what to expect reading this, but I loved it. It's a very...calm book. Things happen and they're exciting and dramatic and heartbreaking and warm all at the same time, but because Marcelo is who he is, it's calm. It sinks in and surrounds you and you become Marcelo and hope that he doesn't see the evil and sorrow in the world. But he does. Because that's what the real world does to you.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Writing about books is hard after so long away from it that everything wants to come out all at once and I'm discombobulated. See? I should take this out, but I won't.

Marcelo is a 17 year old boy who has been diagnosed with something like Asperger's, but is so high-functioning that it isn't Asperger's. He has spent most of his life attending Paterson, a school for students like him, and because of that, has been sheltered from the "real world." His father, a very successful lawyer, tells Marcelo that he will spend the summer before his senior year working at his law firm instead of at Paterson working with the horses. Arturo (his father) has hopes that once Marcelo is in the "real world," he will see that he can function just fine with regular people and can attend a normal high school for his senior year. Marcelo hates the idea, but does it. 

It is over this summer that Marcelo becomes a part of the real world. He befriends Jasmine, his boss in the mail room, and learns the ins and outs of functioning in the world. It comes with rough patches, with bad days, but Marcelo begins to learn that things are not always so black and white. That there is gray, which is hard for him to determine and understand. 

I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this book, especially as it took me a few chapters to get into the story. But by the end, I was rooting for Marcelo, encouraging him in my own head as he challenged the delicate social constructs he had lived his life by. It was inspiring-to see the dramatic changes in a person once they are set free from an environment in which they are comfortable and are forced into awkward positions-making real decisions that could have life-altering consequences.

Most of all, I loved Marcelo's voice. It felt authentic. His confusion, his anger, his frustration-it all felt real and the language was beautiful to read. 

“Then it comes to me. It cannot be that this is the first time I realized this, but it is. We all have ugly parts. I think of the time in the cafeteria when Jasmine asked me what the girl in the picture was asking me. How do we live with all the suffering? We see our ugly parts, and then we are able to forgive, love kindness, walk humbly.”

In some ways, this reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, but this was better (is that an unpopular opinion?). I definitely want to read more by Stork (The Memory of Light is calling my name). Overall, a wonderful book that lifted my spirits in the gloom of winter.

“My brain is like a water faucet that I can turn on or off. Only now there is no off and the water of thoughts just flows.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills.

“You know, life is just programmed chaos. Everybody starts out on one side—that’s the programmed part. But then chaos happens, and our album flips. We get fat or thin, or dye our hair and pierce our nose. But those are just our outsides. Our insides are still beautiful, even if we think we’re ugly children.”

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children popped up in my recommendations on Amazon after I purchased and devoured all of Adam Silvera’s work. On a whim, I purchased it without knowing much about it. When it came (with a few other titles), I was immediately drawn to the cover (I’m a sucker), but more importantly, the award. In 2014, it was awarded the Stonewall Book Award and I immediately placed the book on my nightstand to read.

I was not disappointed. At all. And while I do think there are some terms, etc throughout the book that date it (and are outdated in referring to the LGBTQ community), it was a fabulous look at the life of a transgendered teenager who is struggling with the transition and the impact it has on the people around him.

Gabe, born Elizabeth, has fought with acknowledging his true identity for years, but now that he is out to his parents and close friends, it’s time to be out in the real world. From asking his long time friend and mentor John to call him Gabe, to applying for work as Gabe (but having to put Elizabeth on the application), to confronting bullies, the book is full of struggles that Gabe has to face because of who he is.

But what I loved about the book was its authenticity in relationships. First, John. As a longtime friend and mentor who is quite a bit older than Gabe, Gabe was nervous to reveal his true identity. That moment and the resulting conversation made me smile for its authentic tone. I think that often we make assumptions about the older generation and what they do/don’t approve of/condone/support, and the conversation with John altered that for Gabe. John appeared to be more accepting and supportive than Gabe’s parents (who I will get to in a minute).

Paige, Gabe’s best friend, had an equally real relationship with her best friend. As kids, and as Elizabeth, the two shared a lot of memories. Gabe struggled throughout the book with his feelings for Paige (as more than friends), and how their relationship would change now that he was Gabe. I love that there were still moments of intense intimacy between them that true best friends would share. It wasn’t about supporting Gabe because he was now Gabe and going through this change, but because he was still the same person that Paige knew and loved, if that makes sense. Gabe wasn’t different than Elizabeth because Elizabeth was always Gabe. And Paige knew and understood that. That’s powerful.

That’s not to say there wasn’t tension and misunderstanding, because of course there was, but the strength of their friendship despite those challenges made me smile on more than one occasion.

And as for Gabe’s parents? In some reviews I’ve read online, the parents seem to be getting a bad rap for their turnaround, but I still see some of the reality within their struggles. At the beginning of the novel, it’s hard to see from Gabe’s perspective if his parents are truly supportive and understanding of his transition, but they seemingly switch. I see it as they are struggling until they see a much happier Gabe than they ever saw a happy Elizabeth. I think sensing that change shows that Gabe is who he really is and that this is how it is meant to be. I imagine it’s a difficult place to be-a parent of a child who is struggling with making the transition (I say this as someone without kids, but who has had students transition-parents seem to struggle, but once things have “clicked” for the student, it becomes easier for the parents-not trying to pass judgment-just some observations based on my own experiences).

Overall, the book tackled this sensitive topic with a lot of grace and far better than I expounded my thoughts here (I’m rusty on writing about books, and was intimidated to start with this one-I hope I did it justice). I do think I’m going to seek out some memoirs about transitions, as that seems to be a big critique (that a cisgendered individual wrote the book as opposed to reading a book about an actual human being). I’ll have to keep an eye out, but if you think of any recommendations, please let me know.

“Whoever you are, you're plenty.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

Hello! A Life Update. Bring Popcorn.

Well hello. It has been months and months and months...well, a whole year since I’ve written on my little space out here on the internet. Truthfully, it’s been even longer since I have written anything meaningful or of substance. I needed to take a long time away from writing to cope with a lot of the terrible awful things that happened in 2016 (and while I consider the election one of those terrible things, I had a lot of personal chaos). And 2017 was not much better...well, the early part of 2017 was pretty horrendous, but I am in a much better place now that all of the terrible is behind me.

So, what’s been going in my life? Besides reading, which I’ll get to later, my personal life has been rather hectic. The one solid thing in the last couple of years has been Matt, who continues to be a solid foundation for me to rest my head on when things get tough. Not to be overly mushy or anything, but I honestly don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for him to keep me going when things got really bad.

I don’t want to dwell on a lot of the “bad” things, so I want to talk about the good from 2017. While I had a rough personal year, my 2016-2017 was a phenomenal teaching year. I finished my 5th year in my building and finally found my groove in a lot of ways. I’m still a very “young” teacher, but I think I have a firm grasp on what works for me inside my classroom. I tried some new things and revamped some policies and those things have been working for me this school year as well. In many ways, I have matured as a teacher and while I still have many things to work on, my teaching life is wonderful. I love the kids, I love engaging students in literature and history, and I’m happy with my current course load.

Last year I took the year off from teaching AP U.S. History, and while I missed the challenging content and students, I loved returning to the regular U.S. History course. It forced me to be more creative with my lessons and gave me a reprieve from the grading and demands of an AP course. I am back to teaching AP this year, and while I missed many aspects of it (the students and the challenge), I did not miss the grading load. The constant writing assignments is taxing on me since it takes up a lot of my personal time, but I do think I have a better work/home balance this year than I have ever had before. I’m sure that part of that comes from being more experienced, but I’ve found ways to work in grading time during the school day. I’ve taken to clipping work on a clipboard and wandering around the room while kids are working so I can assist them, but also check more assignments. It’s not the ideal way to assess, but it’s been working for me fairly well. The small assignments that can pile up so quickly get graded far sooner than they normally would have. My old standby was to just have large grading marathons on the weekends, and while I still grade on weekends, it’s for far less time.

I’m also teaching our Elements class, which is for juniors who struggle with writing. These kids get identified through all kinds of data and teacher recommendations, and are then placed in the course in hopes we can get them up to speed for their senior composition class. Both of my sections are team taught, meaning I have a special education teacher with me in the room. We get along great and the class is running pretty smoothly. These are kids who struggle with school, and it’s been a fabulous change and challenge for me. I have to adapt to meet their needs as individuals in a much different way than I do with my other classes, and more than anything, we have fun on a daily basis. I’m hoping that I can keep the course and continue working with these kids in the future. They can be very emotionally draining-they require a little more love and a lot more patience, but I feel like I form connections with these kids in a more meaningful way.

I’m also continuing on with my elective Shakespeare course, which has been running strong for 3 years now. I love the course, and the fact that I got to design it from scratch. It is very much “my baby” and I love the freedom that gives me in an era where most classes have strict standards, common assessments, and data collection. We get to do many fun and inventive things, and the class offers me more creative freedom than any other course. I keep switching up aspects of the class and already have some ideas for tweaking things next semester. That’s the fun in teaching-adaptation!

Beyond my classroom, I’m still involved in a number of other activities with our students and staff. I’m co-running our chapter of NHS. I finally have a co-advisor, which has helped me immensely in terms of staying on top of a near 300 member chapter. I’m also still co-coaching our Debate team, and we continue to do really well at tournaments. Our State tournament was in December, and we did really well. I’m also working as a leader for our Instructional Leadership team (planning professional development, leading staff meetings, etc), working as a teacher leader for the English department for the district, mentoring a new teacher, and trying to keep my head above water. I’m busy, but at this point in my life, I can afford to be. I also feel very fulfilled when I have a lot on my plate, so I’m good with this. I’m sure it’ll change in the future, but professionally, I’m very content with my job!

I wrapped up the final pieces for my National Board Certification back in May. It was incredibly challenging considering all of the “terrible” that was occurring, but I submitted and then waited. And waited. And waited. We finally heard in December and even though I was positive I was going to have to redo a section, I certified! I’m one of just over 400 NBCTs in Michigan. It’s a pretty prestigious certification and recognizes me as a specialist in the field of education (my certification is in Adolescent English Language Arts). :) It’s pretty wonderful to have something so difficult and challenging pan out in such a big way. I’m currently working with NB to become a mentor for other teachers going through the process and work pretty consistently answering questions, etc on NB sites for current candidates.

Outside of my teaching life, things have also been eventful. Matt and I qualified for a mortgage and some down payment assistance through a state program back in early October. We didn’t think it was going to happen for another year, so we were shocked! We jumped on it as our lease ended in November, and after losing two houses to higher bidders, we ended up placing an offer on a house in our current town and having it be approved. We closed in mid-December (the 19th). We packed, moved in, and started remodeling over Christmas break since our month to month lease ended December 31st. It was crazy. The house is cute, small, and needs some love, but it’s our own. We started the first chunk of renovations. We had to replace the sub-floor in what is my office/library (it’s amazing), paint, replace some fixtures, repair a lot of the plumbing, tear out some old trim, de-mold the basement (we had professionals, don’t worry), and now we’re working on the kitchen. It has been kind of crazy and I cannot wait for the kitchen to be done so we can “settle” a bit more. The process happened so fast that it still hasn't fully sunk in that I’m actually a homeowner!

Matt and I have also been trying to start a family, something we’ve been hoping for, but sadly, it seems we’re still going to have to wait. After years of trying, I finally got pregnant again in late December 2016, but lost the baby at the end of February. The loss of another baby broke me for a bit. I wasn’t quite myself and while I still feel chipped and broken at the edges, I’m better than I was and ready to start trying again. We’ve had a difficult time getting broken, and this most recent loss hit me harder than the others, mainly because we had started to tell our families, and immediately after doing so, I started bleeding.

We know that children are in our future, and if not the normal way, then through adoption. We know there are plenty of kids who need a good home, and we truly believe that we’ll be good parents. So, if it doesn’t happen the old fashioned way, we’ll find another way. I cannot picture my future without kids. We’ve also talked about being a part of the foster program and agreed that if we’re not pregnant by the end of 2018, we’re going to pursue one of those avenues in 2019.

And to make this more positive, I did welcome a new niece back in April. :) Little Olivia is my brother’s third little girl, and the three of those girls light up my life on a regular basis. Their love and goofy smiles fills part of the void in my heart and I love watching them grow up. I also have a new nephew (Charlie) set to make his debut next May! Matt’s little brother and his wife just announced they’re expecting their first, and that will make their little one my 10th niece/nephew! All these little ones to spoil. :) I enjoy being an aunt and having some influence on the little guys.

Beyond all of those things, both good and bad, I’m doing well. I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time and have worked hard the last 8 months at some self love and care. I started Weight Watchers back in mid-April, and while I’m only about 25 pounds down (still about 75 till my goal), I already feel a million times better than I did. I went down about 2 pants sizes and I’m still getting smaller every week. It’s a long and slow process, but one that needs to happen. Hopefully by getting to a healthier weight, conceiving and carrying a child to term will happen. And, if not, I’m just happy to be healthier for myself.

Some days are easier than others when it comes to managing what I eat. I crave fast food quite often (Taco Bell remains my downfall...I can’t help it. It’s so good), but I’m still not drinking pop (for about 2.5 years now!) and rarely drink caffeine. I have a cup of hot tea or iced tea a couple times a week, but cut myself off after one. Water has pretty much replaced everything and my skin has never looked so healthy! Amazing how that works.

In regards to reading and you know, the original purpose of this blog, I go through moods. I rarely picked up anything at the end of the last school year (due to National Board stress and chaos), but flew through a solid 30 books over the summer. It slowed down once school started, but now that things are settling in, I’m in a book devouring mood. I haven’t read many classics...if any at all. I’ve been absorbing myself in books sitting on my shelves-last summer I read so many Rick Riordan titles that I had to take a breather even though a new one just came out. I also cleared off some other titles that had been sitting on my shelves for too long. It felt good to get to things that I hadn’t, and I discovered some great things! While I’m definitely pulling away from that now, it’s something I think I want to do every summer-get to titles that have been long neglected.

Currently I’m in a YA binge, having finished a good handful of books in the last week or two that are fairly recent releases, and I just checked out a couple more newer titles from our media center. I love staying up to date on new releases and being able to share them with my kids. I also took the lead on a recent district English PD and talked about the importance of independent reading in the classroom for our kids and for ourselves. I think the PD went well, and I’ve been trying to stay focused on using those strategies in my own life and classroom. Encouraging kids to read has always been a passion of mine (obviously...I mean, you are on this blog, right?), but it’s hard to keep that going when there is so much you have to teach in a high school ELA classroom. Hitting all the standards, and doing it well, while incorporating lessons on how to be a good human being, and on the importance of reading is challenging.

For 2018, my goal is to read a bit more of what originally brought me to blogging. As I unpacked my classics onto my bookshelves last weekend, I saw so many great titles that I have yet to read. While I still want to read YA (for so many reasons beyond enjoyment), I miss the “heavier” reads and allowing myself the time to really “sink” into some longer books.

I did start this year with reading Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills and am close to finishing Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork, so I think a classic is up next. I might just pick one off my TBR challenge post (one post back!), or just grab a random one of the shelf. We’ll see. :)

Let me know how things have been going. I have been so out of the loop with the blogging world I don’t even know where to start!

(and thanks for reading what is probably the longest blog post I’ve ever written. I just felt like writing.)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

2018 TBR Pile Challenge Hosted by Roof Beam Reader

We're going to gloss over the fact that I haven't posted in year and straight into talking about the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader. This is my official sign-up post and since one of my goals this year is to get back into blogging, why not start here?

The challenge is fairly simple. Participants make a list of 12 books that have been sitting on our TBR piles for over a year and we make it a goal to read them throughout the year. We also get to pick 2 alternates because some books are unfinishable. Or they don't seem as appealing 4 months in. Or we decide we must have been crazy when we made our list and hate everything. That's usually me.

In any case, here is my list. You'll notice a lot are classics since I am hoping to pick up a few more of those this year (I only read a few last year. 2017 was a YA heavy year.)

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: I started this one a few years ago and only made it 100 pages in before setting it aside and never finishing it. I think it's time.

2. Tess of D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: I love Hardy and have read a number of his books, but I've been shying away from this one.

3. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: I truthfully don't know much of anything about this book. It was on my original 250 list and as I unpacked it last night to put on my shelf, I thought it looked interesting.

4. READ! East of Eden by John Steinbeck: I really enjoy Steinbeck and have liked almost everything I've read by him, but this size of this one intimidates me. I've heard it's a lot of people's favorite, so why not.

Link to Post: East of Eden

5. Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien: I loved The Things They Carried and a few more titles by O'Brien on my shelf, but this one caught my eye.

6. A Million Suns by Beth Revis: This is the second in a trilogy that has been sitting on my shelf for years (I read the first title, Across the Universe shortly after it came out). I've been trying to read from my shelves and this is a trilogy that caught my eye!

7. The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith: I have had this one sitting on my shelf, along with its sequel, for a year or two. I love Smith, and it's been awhile since I've picked up one of his books!

8. Perchance to Dream by Lisa Mantchev: This is another second in a trilogy where I read the first book and never finished the trilogy, but they've been sitting on my shelves....this one has Shakespeare, so I'm sure I'll love it!

9. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: Truth-I haven't read anything by J.K. Rowling other than Harry Potter a million times. But I own her other books. I'm not usually a fan of mysteries which is why I've strayed away...

10. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson: Yet another trilogy where I've read the first book but not the others. Again, this is book 2. And this one I feel the worst about since I have read book 1 TWICE. Third time's the charm! (I feel I should mention that I really enjoyed book 1 both times I read it, so I know that's not the issue!)

11. READ! Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork: This has been sitting in my Amazon cart for ages and I finally checked it out of our media center back in December. Now it's sitting on my nightstand.

Link to Post: Marcelo in the Real World

12. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: People are always shocked, SHOCKED that I haven't read this. I just haven't! But I have a wonderful Penguin Clothbound calling my name!


1. READ! Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster: I very much enjoyed the other Forster I read very early in my 250 project and the cover on my edition of this is gorgeous. haha, yes. I judged it by the cover.

2. Sanctuary by Edith Wharton: I have been hoarding my unread titles by Wharton because I love her so, but it's been awhile and this title jumped out at me last night when I was stacking my shelves.

What should I read first? What are your reading plans for the year? Comment below!