Friday, May 30, 2014

In the last 3 months...

So, I didn't intend for my month break to last as long, but basically, life happened and I had to step away to deal with a pile of problems that continued to compound. I'm finally starting to resurface and have room to breathe (and I've finally come to term with some of these things) and I miss blogging. I've actually decided that I'm going to shut this blog down. I feel confined and restrained here, bound by what I've done here in the past. I'll be starting over on Wordpress and I will share that information when it happens.

We left off with me taking a break at the beginning of March to take 2 classes 4 days/week to renew my teaching certificate. It was the perfect opportunity to get all my needed hours for renewal, and I really thought it was good timing. It was only a month, my co-teacher was there to help with the AP class stress, and it would all be over in a month. Then, essentially, the shit hit the fan.

My co-teacher was placed on bed-rest almost immediately after I last posted. While we had a long-term sub already picked out, she ended up taking over much earlier than we had planned. We were still plowing through content and it got very overwhelming, very fast. With 8 snow days this year, we lost a lot of valuable class time and I was rearranging things non-stop to guarantee we got through everything in time for the kids' test on May 14. And while my co-teacher's long term sub has been wonderful to work with, a lot of extra work fell on me, which created a lot of unneeded stress, drama, and bouts of crying. There were many days that I was completely miserable-I would go to school early, work all day, stay after until 5 or 6 helping kids and prepping, come home to grade and prep more, go to my class, come home and sob in bed exhausted. It was miserable.

But to make it even better, my husband lost his job in the same time period. It came out of nowhere and has obviously flipped our financial security on its head. We were comfortable with both our salaries, but now it is TIGHT. There have been more than a few scares and freak-outs about finances.

And, in the midst of all that, I had a small falling out with my co-teacher over some drama that was created not by me. It's smoothed over now, but I'm still feeling incredibly insecure about my place at school and with her. I've withdrawn a lot from people I used to talk to, more so to protect my own feelings than anything else.

In many ways, I've felt in limbo that last few months. I have very much been living in a fog of my own making. I had a few weeks where my only concern and passion was for teaching and my kids...because quite frankly, they were all I could count on.

It's bee a rough few months and there are still many changes coming my way. Matt and I decided that now is the time for him to return to school and finish his degree. I'm in the process of applying to go back for my Master's Degree, launching my own small business (more on that in the future), and finishing my novel (that has become a release the last few weeks). I also learned (yesterday) that due to our district expanding class sizes (up to 38 kids) and shifting, I'm bumped out of our history department next year and I'm only teaching English. I used to think that's what I wanted, but it's not. I'm quite frankly, heartbroken over APUSH being taken away from me. In many ways, I'm hurt....even though I know my administration had little control over the situation. It's hard to pour your heart into something and have it snatched away from you.

However, I am gaining more sophomore English-American Lit, as well as a senior composition class. THAT I am excited for! It will be a new challenge, and if you know anything about me, it's this: I love a challenge.

More than anything else, I've learned over the last few months that I do well under pressure. I've also learned to speak my mind when I need to. And that sometimes you just can't trust other people. I've also learned that what really matters to me most are my husband, family, good friends, and students. People who fall outside that realm can let you down. Maybe that's cynical, but with everything I've gone through, that's how I feel.

But in the course of all the chaos, some good things have happened. My SIL is pregnant again and due in October-I'm excited for my 8th niece or nephew to make their debut. :) Matt and I have also been spending more time together, which has been great for our relationship. He's been incredibly supportive of everything I've gone through at work and has picked up a lot of my slack here at home. Also, thanks to my parents' generosity, we got to spend a week out in Los Angeles visiting my sister, Torrie, who is out there working for Disney. I've grown closer to my friend Colleen and I finally feel like I have a close girl friend that lives by. It's been awhile since I've had that kind of friendship. I'm also close to achieving some personal goals and working towards living a healthier lifestyle. During all the chaos, I actually felt pretty good except for a couple of bad days, so my Lupus finally feels under control.

So, that's my life at the moment. I hope you have all been well. I miss the days when blogging was my main focus, but so much has changed in the almost 5 years since I started here. I'm ready for a fresh start.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Head's Up.

I wanted to pop in an write a quick post to say that it will probably be quiet on here for the rest of the month. Not only am I slammed with grading (lots of essays last week and I'm collecting more this week), but I also started 2 classes so I can renew my certificate. The classes are only 4 weeks long, but I'm going 3 nights during the week for 4 hours each session, and an 8-hour session every Saturday. It's not the best, but I'll get all the hours I need to renew. Needless to say, my "free" time will be limited and blogging will have to take a back-seat (not that I've read much recently). I'm sure I'll still pop in, but it will definitely be quiet. :)

Have a wonderful week!

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Classics Club March Meme.

Every month, The Classics Club hosts a monthly meme with a question for members to respond to. This month, the question is:

"What is your favorite “classic” literary period and why?"

 I'm going to cheat and narrow it down to 2 periods.

The first period is the Victorian Era. I used to hate the Victorians because of a bad experience with Great Expectations in high school, but I have since matured in my reading tastes and have come to realize that I love this era! So many of my favorites are here-Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, the Brontes...and the list goes on. No matter what kind of mood I'm in, a Victorian novel will usually fit the bill.

Beyond the Victorian era, my other favorite era is that of American realism. Writers like Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Mark Twain, and Theodore Drieser come to mind. I love how these writers capture the American spirit in their own diverse ways! I'm also a fan of how these writers also influenced some of my other favorites (realism blends into a few other American periods) like Henry James and John Steinbeck.

However, I should really be honest and admit that I really love all periods. It's hard to distinguish writers between movements at times, since they blend together and writers tend to experiment with style. So if you're looking to dive in, start anywhere. :)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

“Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and mildly socially retarded, I'm a complete disaster.”

I fell in love with Eleanor and Park when I read it last summer, so I've been eager to read more by Rowell (I just realized I never reviewed E and P...I might need to do so!).

Fangirl is the perfect book for anyone who has been obsessed with a certain franchise of books (Harry Potter definitely came to mind when I read this). Cather is obsessed with a series about a character named Simon Snow, and with her sister, Wren, has built a huge fanbase online writing fanfiction. Now that she is older and in college, awaiting the release of the eighth and final book, the pressure is on to finish her own novel for her own adoring fans.

The only problem is that she's starting her freshman year of college, dealing with a difficult roommate, her roommate's odd boyfriend, trying to understand why her sister is pulling away, avoiding reconnecting her her estranged mother, and worrying about her father who now all alone at home and definitely empty-nesting. 

In one word, I would classify this book as adorable. Because while there are certainly enough negative things going on in Cather's life, the story is heart-warming. Cather undergoes a big transformation from the beginning of the novel to the end. She enters college unsure and scared-afraid to even venture into the cafeteria for fear of being alone or not knowing what to do. Eventually, she finds her place among all the craziness around her and we see real growth in who she is and what she wants.

 “In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can't Google.)”

Some of what I enjoyed most about this book were Cather's little quirks-many of which I have myself. I've also felt a bit of fear about going into a new situation and not knowing what to do. Her fear of being alone and uncertain in the cafeteria is a fear I've felt many times-going to conferences, etc. She is also a bit of a recluse, choosing to stay in and write or read than go to a party. She's also a person who cares for people who ask her for help. First, the boy from her fiction writing class. Then, her roommate's odd duck of a boyfriend.

I was also fascinated by Cather's writing and her devotion to her craft-and props to Rowell for using fanfiction in such a positive light! While I've never written fanfiction (I know I couldn't do justice to someone else's characters), my younger sister did for quite some time. There are so many big communities out there, and for many, it's a great way to extend the life of a well-loved series. In Cather's case, it was also a way for her to play with her words, and push her to trying something else.

However, the thing that I most loved about this was Cather's love interest. Can I say a huge thank you to Rowell for showing a male love interest who is actually a really good guy? Who doesn't do creepy/stalkerish things that are "romantic?" THANK YOU.

In all, this was a sweet book that left me with lots of warm fuzzies and a desire to read more by Rowell in the future.

"Happily ever after, or even just together ever after, is not cheesy,” Wren said. “It’s the noblest, like, the most courageous thing two people can shoot for.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Rewind (Books I Bought But Haven't Read!)

It's Tuesday and today's Top Ten Tuesday is one of my favorites-Rewind! This topic is for participants to go back and redo a topic that we may have missed, or that we want to do again!

After scouring the list of old topics, I decided to do an oldie based on the books I had to go out and buy....but haven't managed to read yet.

I don't know if you're like me, but I tend to buy books in big batches. And, generally speaking, I don't read through that batch before going out and buying more (as evidenced by my huge TBR list).

For this, you'll see a mix of new releases and classics-all of which I was determined to read when I bought my copy, but have since found their place on my bookshelves.

  1. A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: I'm pretty sure I bought this the week it came out. And I haven't read it. I also bought The Cuckoo's Calling. Haven't read that one either. Whoops.
  2. Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno: I bought this the week it came out, which was perfect since I was teaching The Catcher in the Rye at the time. And...still on the shelf.
  3. Wither, Fever, and Sever by Lauren DeStefano: I bought each of these close to their release and still haven't even read the first one. The covers for these are lovely, which is probably why they came home with me!
  4. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: I've heard wonderful things about this one (dragons!), but still haven't found the right moment to start reading it. I might wait until the series is finished...
  5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: This was one of those hot books that everyone was reading, and since it sounded interesting, I bought a copy too. I even lent it to a few people, but I still haven't given it a chance!
  6. The Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume 1: I bought this right after its release (notice a trend) and I had the best intentions of settling in and reading it. Since purchasing, volume 2 has come out and this volume is collecting a bit of dust.
  7. The American  by Henry James: After finishing The Portrait of a Lady a couple of years ago, I bought a slew of James novels in hopes of tackling more by him. This was the title I was most excited for....still haven't read it.
  8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This is another one of those titles that was everywhere and it sounds really interesting....just haven't give it a chance yet. Like Gone Girl, it's another title I've lent out a few times!
  9. Beloved by Toni Morrison: Back when I made my 250 list, I was really excited to read my first Morrison novels, and Beloved was at the top of that list. And while I've read Morrison, I haven't touched this one yet.
  10. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin: Technically I've started this one, but this is another that I was anxious to read, but haven't found the time or urge to do so!
 What books did you really want to read, but haven't found the time to pull them off your shelves?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for February 23, 2014: Done with Winter.

I love the winter. I really do. I love the snow and the cold and the layers of clothing I get to wear. As a teacher, I love the occasional snow day and the excitement of the kids the day before a big snowstorm. I love cuddling up under warm blankets with a cup of hot cocoa and bowls of hot soup.

But I'm done now.

This has been, by far, the worst winter I can remember. From below freezing temperatures, to massive piles of snow, the last two months have been a blur of never-ending snow, cold, and freezing rain. And while I'm not at all ready for the heat and summer months to get here, I'd be okay with slightly warmer temps (it did get up to 40 earlier this week. I actually drove home with my windows cracked to enjoy the "nice" weather).

I'm also quite sick of the snow days. We had Friday off....for "hazardous road conditions." That was our 7th snow day since January. I was actually mad when I got the call at 5 in the morning! Now it's up in the air as to whether we need to make up the day. We get 6 snow days built into our calendar year, so now we might have to stay later in June. And I know our district isn't that bad off-some schools have had 10 or more days!

Anyway, I'm looking forward to a change in the weather, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen any time soon (more snow this week....yay). I think the kids are looking forward to it too!

The good news is that Spring Break is looming and I'll be heading out to California with Matt and my parents to visit my sister Torrie. She graduated from college back in December and got another internship with Disney (she interned down in Florida a couple years ago). We'll be there for the week (Matt a little less because of work), so we're planning on hitting up the Hollywood area as well. It's dreams of warm California weather that are keeping me going. :)

In reading, I haven't been too focused. I'm still in the middle of a bunch of things, but I have plans to at least start The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata this week. The Classics Club issued a dare to read the novel, so I'm going to tackle it so I can dare others. :) It looks interesting and my copy arrived last week, so it'll be next up. I'm also trying to finish 7 Events that Made America America by Larry Schweikart, but it's going rather has a very obvious conservative slant that gets distracting...I'll admit that I've skimmed a few passages. The ideas behind the book are interesting; however, so I'm not ready to declare it as DNF.

I also started the second book in A Song of Ice and Fire a couple weeks ago, and I've been meaning to finish it, so I assume that'll be next up. I ready to dive back in to Westeros after a month or so away from it. I think spacing out those books was a great idea, but now I need to make sure I finish through book 3 by the time the show premieres again in April.

I hope you all have a happy reading week!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.

“Good books are always about everything.”

This will be, hand's down, the most difficult post I've ever written. And that's not because the book was awful, or I hated it, or that I don't have anything to say. Instead, it's because there is SO MUCH I could say, and SO MUCH that I loved, and SO MUCH that is valuable to talk about...but I have no idea how to do so.

To put it in perspective, my husband asked what the book was about when he saw it sitting on the coffee table in all it's bright green glory. I began explaining it, then had to back up to add in some details...and then I trailed off. All he could say was, "It sounds weird."

And it is a weird book. But in the best way possible.

It's weird because it is a book about everything all at once, and once I try to explain a piece, the rest disappears, but it's important too!

Essentially, the book is about a teenage boy named Austin who lives in the small and decrepit town of Ealing, Iowa. He's dating a girl named Shann, who he is very much in love with. And then there's Robby, Austin's best friend and someone that Austin is also in love with. And Robby loves him. And Shann loves Austin. And Austin is struggling to come to terms with his feelings, what they mean, and how to avoid hurting the two people he loves most.

The book  is also about the reckless nature of two teenage boys-who refuse to do what they should and take chances-smoking, cussing, experimenting with getting drunk for the first time, launching an investigation into what is going on in the town of Ealing.

It's also about a boy discovering and recording his history and present, and of discovering who he came from and where he is going. 

But it's also about the end of the world-an old experiment with Unstoppable Soldiers (giant grasshopper/mantis beings) gone wrong and the quest to find a way to defeat them and prevent their spread outside of Ealing.

And at it's very core, it's a book about a boy learning who he is and coming of age in a very dramatic fashion and amidst chaos.


Even writing all of that doesn't capture the spirit and mood of this bright green book. It's lively and quirky and surprising and weird. It is everything that shouldn't make sense, but does. It captures what it means to be a teenager and confused about your feelings-about experimenting and wondering if it's okay, wondering if you're the only one who feels that way.

In that way, it's an extremely passionate and inspiring read. It's one that made me want to try to achieve something great, so as not to be forgotten.

I don't think I can say any more except that this is a firecracker of a book. You need to read it to understand it.

“History shows that an examination of the personal collection of titles in any man’s library will provide something of a glimpse into his soul.”

I also want to throw in as a pos-tnote that I am continually impressed by the depth and "realness" of Smith's books. I've read Stick, In the Path of Falling Objects, and Winger in addition to this one. All have been excellent, diverse, and true in capturing the spirit of modern teenagers. If you haven't read something by Smith, you need to.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Blogger and Reader.

It's Tuesday and time for the Top Ten Tuesday meme hosted by the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish.

The topics from the last few weeks haven't inspired me to post, but I couldn't pass up the warm fuzzies this week's topic brings to mind.

I've been blogging here for over 4 years (it used to be a lot more regular than it has been recently), but in those 4 years, I've learned a lot about myself as a reader and a blogger. So, here are the top ten reasons why I love being a reader and a blogger.

On Blogging:
  1. The Community: When I began blogging in the fall of 2009, I wasn't aware of the larger book blogging community. I was very much blogging in isolation and in hopes of completing my goal of reading my 250 classics. When I got my first comment that wasn't from my mom, I was shocked. From there, I grew to love the book blogging community and all it had to offer.
  2. Friendships: I never imagined the friendships I would form through blogging. Getting and sending Christmas cards, writing letters and e-mails, conversations on Facebook and wasn't something I planned on when I started writing here. But I'm happy to say I've formed some amazing and lasting friendships through a shared love of the written word.
  3. Challenges: Whether you're successful with them or not, I love a good reading challenge. It all started with my initial challenge (which I have yet to complete), but it's led to many others. Reading in a "challenge" format provides some inspiration when you're stuck in a reading rut, and it's always fun to fail in great company. ;)
  4. Readalongs and Group Reads: I think what I love most about the community of book blogging is that it lends well to banding together to tackle tricky reads. During my time blogging, I've participated in so many groups reads and readalongs, and I've been able to tackle some crazy reads-Atlas Shrugged, The Brothers Karamazov, Clarissa (I actually never finished it), and more.
  5. Finding New Books/Authors: I will be the first one to admit that while I thought I read rather broadly prior to blogging, I've since learned about so many new authors and books that I know I will never read everything I want to in my lifetime. I'm continuously adding both books and authors to future reading lists, thanks to the suggestions of fellow bloggers.
On Reading:
  1. Exploring New Places: I'm not a very well-traveled person. In my lifetime, I have only been out of the country a small handful of times, and just across the border to Canada (a couple of times to Sarnia to march in a Christmas parade when I was in band, and once on a weekend trip to Toronto). And while I would like to travel, I don't know if it will ever happen. But, I have traveled the world over through books...and to other places besides!
  2. Learning about New Topics, etc: As a teacher myself, I love any opportunity to learn something new. Books give me that opportunity and the options are endless.
  3. Escaping Reality/Finding Comfort: I know that there are many people who settle in front of the TV when they aren't feeling good or need to escape for awhile....I can disappear into the pages of a book, which I find to be a far more valuable experience. Books always give me the comfort I crave.
  4. Collecting: In many ways, I'm not only a reader, but a book collector. I think I'm lucky to live in an age when there are so many options and beautiful covers for me to pick from. And while my husband might not see the sense in owning 4 different collections of Austen's novels...I know that I get a different reading experience from each edition.
  5. Sharing an Experience: This is definitely the connection between these 2 topics. There is something so....inspiring to me about reading a book that has been read for hundreds of years and knowing I am one of many to share that experience. Probably, above everything else, that is what matter to me most!

How about you? What do you love about blogging and reading?

On Living with Lupus.

This is a post I've been throwing around in my head for months, and after a recent chat with my doctor last week, it's one I've been working on for a few days. I find that I often struggle with explaining just what Lupus does to my body. I know that because the people around me don't experience it the way I do, they can't understand the disease and its impact on my body and life. I'm hoping that by writing this, it'll be a little bit of an education, and perhaps help anyone who bothers reading it understand how a chronic illness works.

As many of you know, I was diagnosed with Lupus in November 2012. I went through a series of tests in the months prior to figure out the cause of a slew of crazy things happening with my body, but the real beginning to it took place when I was only 5 or 6. I have very vague memories of being sick when I was in first grade. From the details I remember, I had a crazy virus that the doctors couldn't figure out-huge stomach cramps, fevers, problems with my eyes-I believe they eventually were considering Kawasaki disease, but I didn't have every single on of the symptoms. Whatever the virus was, it left my immune system in shambles and the doctors warned my mom that severe autoimmune diseased might be in my future.

Fast forward to high school when I was diagnosed with a mild case of rheumatoid arthritis. I thought that would be it, but nope.

In the summer of 2012, I started to have some weird issues popping up-unexplained sores in my mouth and down my throat, chunks of hair falling out, weird rashes on my body, difficulty breathing and fluid build-up in my lungs, feeling completely exhausted even after hours and hours of sleep, problems with my eyes (randomly un-focusing and little sores forming under my eyelids), as well as severe amounts of joint pain-and not just in areas impacted by my RA, but everywhere. I knew something was wrong, so my doctor started testing, referred me to a specialist, and after a few months of blood work, etc, I was "diagnosed" with Lupus. My doctor still considers my case to be "mild" and for that I am grateful.

After my diagnosis, we battled with medication. I never wanted to be a person to be on a pill for the rest of my life, but we finally settled on something that seems to work for me. I get bi-weekly injections of a drug called Humira (I'm sure you see ads for it on TV. Embrel is another injection that works for other people). When my joints get really bad, I go in for steroid injections, which my doctors places right into each joint that aches. I've also been put on stronger steroids for various problems over the last year-mainly fluid build-up in my lungs. I've had a series of respiratory infections and bouts of walking pneumonia, so my lungs are week. I carry an inhaler with me all the time and use it daily (the cold weather is especially harsh on my lungs). We've also considered a drug called Methotrexate, which is commonly used in chemo treatments, but we've held off since my case of Lupus isn't as severe as many others'.

In many ways, I'm very lucky. I've been lucky not to have a lot of unpleasant side-effects (yet...symptoms change as the disease progresses), and I have an excellent doctor. He always makes time to see me, even if it isn't something directly Lupus-related. He has also arranged for me to come in for my Humira injections as opposed to me giving them to myself. I'll be honest and say they hurt pretty bad, so I would chicken out on doing it at home. And while I know Matt would give them to me, I'm not ready for that. But my doctor always makes it a point to sit down and talk to me, and not just about the disease. He cares about my whole self, and he's the one who convinced me to write about my life with the disease.

Most days I feel perfectly fine. I can carry on and feel completely normal. Then I have the in-between days where my lungs are hurting more than normal, I can feel the aching in my joints, and I just want to sit. Then, there are the bad days. Now that we have my meds stabilized, those bad days don't come as often. A bad day usually means I can't go in to work. On some bad days, it takes me twenty minutes just to sit up in bed. My hands usually hurt to the point where I can't grasp things (like my phone or a pen to write, let alone buttoning jeans), and my whole body just hurts. On bad days, I just stay in bed and watch TV, hoping the next day will bring relief.

Last year, as I was battling with the disease and getting it under control, I had a lot of bad days. Some were worse than others. Low points included falling down. There was one night where Matt was in the bathroom and I fell trying to walk in to our bedroom. Matt had to help pick me up and get me to bed. There are a lot of humiliating moments like that, but thankfully he's been there to help me.

When I have a slew of bad and not-so-awesome days together, that's a flare. When I'm flaring, there's usually a lot going on with my body. I break out in rashes across my cheeks (it's called the butterfly rash. Some Lupus patients have it permanently-I only get it in flares, and it disappears). My joints are usually swollen and inflamed. Last year I had to take multiple days off because of these flare-ups and bad days. I've been fortunate to not have to do that this year. The times I've felt bad or been flaring have been over breaks, or I toughed it out until the weekend.

As for how people treat me?

This is probably the hardest thing about Lupus. Like I said, on most days, I feel perfectly fine. I look fine. Even on my in-between days I probably look fine. It's only when I'm really hurting that I look bad. As a friend at work says, I get "glassy-eyed." I think that's her kind way of telling me I look like death. What's hard is that on those in-between days, I'm still hurting. And no one quite seems to get what that means, or how painful it is. I try very hard not to whine when I'm not feeling good, but I'm not sure how good of a job I do.

I think that what bothers me most is when people tell me what I should be doing to feel better. The most common thing I hear is go be active and walk around-then I won't be as tired and I'll "get the joints moving!" And while I can understand the sentiment That doesn't help. When my joints are inflamed and swollen and it hurts to bend them, the last thing I really want to do is go take a walk.

I also hear that my body would probably be better able to fight the disease if I was in better shape. Don't I know it. You can bet I've heard it from my doctor, my mother, my husband, and myself. I know that losing weight would alleviate some extra pressure off of my joints. And I'm trying. But it is hard to exercise in the midst of bad days. I really wish that advice would stop.

One of the hardest things to deal with is my students. I know that some of my kids know that I get sick every so often, and some have ventured to ask why (more so last year), but this isn't something you pop out and say...and is it their business? I battle with that. Sometimes I really want to finish grading their essays, but just can't hold a pen anymore. It would probably be easier to just tell them, but then it's an excuse, right? I don't know. I don't have answers for that.

The other hard topic is having kids. I was flat-out told by my doctor that while not impossible, it will be very difficult for me to conceive and stay pregnant. That's the nature of Lupus. So my only other pet peeve revolves around people asking....I guess I'm at that age. So many friends and family members are starting families and we're still here.

Don't get me wrong. I have faith. I just don't want the questions.

I will say that in the last year I've learned a lot about myself as a person. I think I am more in tune with my body now than when I was in great shape. I know when I'm pushing myself too hard. I know when I've hit my limit of stress and need to step away. I've balanced work and home life so that I'm not putting too much on myself. I know when I've hit my limit and need to stop.

I've also learned that I'm not going to let things get in my way. I have dreams and I'm going for them. When I'm feeling up to it, I write. And while it might not be any good, I'm doing it. And I read the things that move me in the moments I need them. I hug my husband and tell him I love him. I cuddle on the couch with my cats and they comfort me when I'm feeling awful. I teach my kids at school all the things they need to know about history and literature and writing, but also about how to be a good person, how to love and care for each other. At least I hope I do.

And I just try to push through each day in hopes that I make a difference somewhere.

In many ways...I guess I'm grateful for this. It has redefined who I am in a good way and has given me the push I needed to push myself. I think I have become more passionate about the things I love in the last year: Matt, my family, my "kids," writing, education, literacy, my home....Lupus, while a challenge, has also been a blessing.

I hope I explained myself well. Please let me know if you have questions about anything-the disease, my life, my wonderful husband, anything. I'd be happy to answer.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for February 16, 2014: Valentine's, Reading, and Meeting Mascha.

This was an incredibly long week considering I wasn't at school on Monday (huge flare-had to go to the doctor for shots) and we had a half day/PD gig on Thursday. It seemed like things were never ending and there was just too much going on! First, I was not feeling well to start the week, and didn't really start to feel like myself until Friday. Then, our cat Sparty had a lump under his chin that seemed to appear overnight (it turned out to be an abscess-he's all better now). THEN, my car was hit by a student in the staff parking lot between our half day of testing in the morning and PD meetings on Thursday (the car and student are fine-it was just a big mess).

So I entered this weekend exhausted and ready for a break. And believe it or not, we have a 4-day weekend for President's Day and our "Mid-winter" break. It seems as if we've had more days off than school (6 snow days post-Christmas break), but I'm not going to complain too much. I needed this little break! I have some things to finish planning so I can get to our Spring Break at the end of March without too much stress.

I am shocked it's mid-February though...where is this year going?

Anyway, a highlight of my week came on Thursday. Matt decided he would rather take me out to dinner then instead of Friday. He had to work Friday and didn't want to go out super late (he generally gets home on the weekends at 7:30/8). So, we went out Thursday to "celebrate" Valentine's Day. We've never been super big for celebrating things like that. I mean, we usually go out to a nice dinner, but that's about it. We don't really exchange gifts or partake in any of that....but he really surprised me on Thursday and I rather liked it. ;) He bought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers-with lilies! My favorite! Then we went and ate at our favorite restaurant in Downtown Rochester and there he surprised me with a beautiful bracelet. I was a bit shocked, since dinner was definitely enough. It's beautiful and I wore it Friday. :)

The kids were also especially cute on Valentine's Day. Since I work in a high school, you can bet there were a million grand gestures of affection going on. Girls walking around with bears, roses, name it. I also loved that quite a few kids bought Valentine's cards and passed them out. I also had way too many heart-shaped cookies and candies. It was a very warm and loving day for everyone involved and I think the kids needed that bit of fun to break up the stress of school.

Since it was such a long and tiring week, I decided I needed some good reads for the weekend. I headed off to the bookstore to pick up a couple of newer releases to keep me company-Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I read books by both authors this summer that I absolutely loved, so I knew I needed to read these (I read Winger and Eleanor and Park). I plopped down on the couch yesterday to settle into Grasshopper Jungle and read it in one long, luxurious sitting. My thoughts will be posted on Thursday. I barely started Fangirl earlier this morning, so I'm going to settle in for a little bit to read more this morning/early afternoon.

Tonight, we have a family dinner at my mom's to meet my brother's girlfriend, Mascha. She's from the Netherlands and is here for a couple of weeks to meet everyone and spend more time with my brother, so it should be a fun meal. :)

I hope you all have a happy reading week!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Reread: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

 “The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

I was feeling pretty awful last weekend and Thomas Hardy just wasn't going to do it for me. Instead, I decided I wanted some comfort. After staring at my shelves for all of five minutes, I grabbed this one and settled in to read.

It was the perfect choice for an achy and exhausted me. The story is so familiar that it really does feel like visiting an old friend rather than reading something new. And you might think, that after reading this so many times, that I'd be sick of it.


The book still felt fresh and innovative, even after all this time-and movies, and theme parks, and everything in between. I was taken back to my first read and all the rereads of this title and felt a great deal of comfort from Rowling's story.

I think that sometimes, we just need to feel comforted by what we read. And revisiting books that we cherish from our youth is a big part of that. It makes it even more special when you love the book just as much on each reread (if not more so).

I'm not sure I have anything more to say about this that I haven't already said somewhere else. I did spend a lot of my attention focusing on the development of friendships between the 3 main characters, as well as any scene Snape was in (because he has always been my favorite character). I don't think I learned anything new, but rather acknowledged the craft it took to write this.

In any case, I'm pretty positive that I'm going to be rereading the rest of the series in the new future-probably not one right after the other-in hopes of gaining a little inspiration and getting that comfort when I need it.

“Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Classics Club: February Meme Question.

Every month, the folks over at The Classics Club post a question for participants to answer. I'm a huge fan of this month's topic: 

“Dead white guys” are all too often the focus when it comes to discussions of the Western Canon. We’d love to see members highlight classic works or authors that are overlooked in the canon that deserve recognition. Pick one/or more and tell us how their work resonates for our century and/or for you. As always, you determine what is a “classic” in your point of view, including works from 2000+, and works from anywhere in the world. // Or, if you have trouble thinking of an author/work to highlight, you could simply discuss the topic itself: What is “The Western Canon” — have you thought about who/what determines which works are recognized from human history?

This is a complicated question and probably deserves a much more articulate response than what I have to offer, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway-speaking as an English and History teacher.

One of the things I always stress in my History classes is that history is always presented with a bias. There is no way to talk about history without presenting information that may be considered one-sided. Because historians evaluate themes and facts and experiences from things like letters, diaries, etc, there is an inherent bias that you can't ignore. Obviously, an American Revolutionary soldier is going to have one interpretation of the battle and a British General will have another. So, historians evaluate the evidence and come up with a middle ground that explains the battle as whole, pulling in evidence from all members involved.

For textbooks, which are generally considered to be factual and to the point, writers take the general consensus of what happened at an event and compromise it into "factual" information about what happened. This results in the loss of multiple perspectives and a biased read. One of the most common examples of this in American history textbooks has to do with Native Americans. They appear only briefly at the beginning of a textbook, and will only pop up when necessary later on. Much of the "history" concerning Native Americans in U.S. textbooks focuses on the negative-there is little focus on achievements, culture, and history. There are arguments as to why, but it's worth noting that they are glossed over-this is something I always hammer home to my students-to think about what isn't included.

So, how does this connect to literature and this month's question? Much like history is dominated by dead white guys, so is literature. Since dead white guys have formed powerful and influential nations across the globe, they have also created a dominant and aggressive culture. That culture includes those men like Shakespeare, Dickens, etc. It makes sense then, that those authors would dominate the canon-they're part of the ruling class and the dominant culture. And for the most part, they're great works of literature.

But that also leaves out literature from many places across the globe. I'm the first person to admit that I am very westernized. The majority of the literature I read comes from Western culture. I would be hard-pressed to identify classics from other regions of the world. Perhaps that shows my ignorance toward that kind of literature, but it also reflects my education. 

For my English degree, I was only required to take one multicultural literature course-I took Chicano/Chicana lit because of my interest in Mexico's history (I have a specialization in that).

For my history degree, we were required to have 6 credits in each of the following: U.S. History, European History, and the rest of the world. Obviously I needed more than those 18 credits for my degree, but do you see how biased that it? 6 credits (2 courses) in history from the rest of the world? REALLY?

So, it doesn't surprise me that literature and history, especially here in the Western world, it dominated by Western culture and Western authors. And while I try to be as diverse as possible in my reading, it's hard to combat a canon that is established and recognized not only by scholars and lists of great literature, but also by the masses. I hope, that in the future, I will continue to branch out and focus on reading literature from all over the world, as opposed to what I am already comfortable with.

For what it's worth, I have read some great pieces that are not immediately connected to the canon and that I think are well worth your time to read. The first, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, is a lovely Native American piece that speaks to that disconnect between their culture and mainstream America. I highly recommend it. I would also throw out Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe as another great read that's not from mainstream America. I actually have a lot more of Achebe's work on my shelf that I've been meaning to read. The third I'll recommend is by Olive Schriener-The Story of an African Farm. Schriener was a South African writer, but comes at it with a different perspective-it's an interesting book and one that I don't see all that often. 

As you can see, there are definitely holes in my education, but as for those dead white guys, their work is famous for a reason. I will definitely continue reading it and explore my options for books by others as well.

What do you think of this topic? Any books you can recommend me?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Classics Club Spin Number!

So, the number was picked this morning and it looks like I'm reading Native Son by Richard Wright! I'm excited that some of the "less appetizing" options were skipped over in favor of this title. What book will you be reading?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for February 9, 2014: Stress.

This week was a big pile of stress at work.

It was our first whole week of school in quite some time, so that in and of itself was a bit draining. Then, Monday morning, my co-teacher for the AP U.S. History class I teach called to tell me she wouldn't be in. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, except that it was her week to deliver content (we alternate weeks being the "lead" teacher. Whoever is leading delivers the main content and whoever isn't just acts as support-it makes our lives easier and it livens things up for the kids). So, Monday morning and my first hour prep were spent scrambling to reacquaint myself with the content-Gilded Age Politics-and pull an activity together. She was also out Tuesday and Wednesday, so I scrambled quite a bit.

I also had a challenging week with my 11th graders. We're pulling away from the literature units we did first semester (we read The Catcher in the Rye and Night) for some heavy writing units-Argument and Research. They were not so happy about the adjustment and what that meant for our time spent in class (because of the nature of the course, we spent a lot of time reading our novels in class, in addition to discussion, etc. They aren't used to homework!). Nevertheless, we got through the week and will get through the next few rough ones as well...we have the ACT test coming up in a few weeks, so I'm preparing them for that. Lots of impromptus and practice tests are in the future...

My sophomores started reading Of Mice and Men this week, which they are not too happy about. I'm trying to push more of the actual reading onto their shoulders so we can discuss and do other activities in class and they don't like it. In reality, as sad as it sounds, I'm trying to make up for the time we lost due to snow days, etc. They'll be okay, I think!

To compound all those issues, our gradebooks at school weren't ready until Friday afternoon. Thankfully I'm a pen and paper kind of girl, so I keep a paper gradebook as well. I was able to pass some things back before they were ever put in the computer, but it was still a pain to have that lingering over my head...and having kids ask why their grades weren't updated!

On top of all of that, I am lucky enough to have a local college student coming in to observe my classes (and me) once a week for third quarter. She's finishing her senior year and will be doing her student teaching next year, so my classroom is a place for her to start trying some things and interacting with my kids. She shadowed me all day on Tuesday and got to experience the full craziness of my day. Because I have prep first period, I go the rest of the day at warp speed! The kids were also crazy on Tuesday, so she got to experience that as well! I hope that she learns something from me and my classroom.

Besides school. I've been aching something fierce all week and by the time I got home Friday night, I was done. I collapsed in bed for a few hours, got up to eat dinner with Matt, then passed out some more. Yesterday was spent in a daze-sleeping, watching TV, and reading just a little (it hurt to hold the book open). I'm feeling a little better this morning, and once Matt gets up, we're going out to breakfast and then shopping for some things we need-laundry detergent being the number 1!

Reading has fallen a bit to the side. While I like Under the Greenwood Tree by Hardy and it's short, I haven't been motivated to pick it up this week. It requires a bit more of my attention. Yesterday I was in need of some comfort, so I grabbed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone off my shelf and I'm already 1/3 of the way through it. I've been meaning to reread them, so I think I'll try and do that slowly over the course of the year.

Anyway, I hear Matt stirring, so I'm going to encourage him to get up a bit quicker-I foresee a delicious Sunday breakfast in our future. :)

happy reading!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Classics Club Spin.

Another Classics Club spin was launched earlier this week on The Classics Club blog, and I am joining in on the fun!

I should be honest and say that I've post 3 spin lists....and haven't managed to complete the "challenge." But you know what they say....4th times the charm...errr, right? I sure hope so!

The general idea is to pick 20 books off your Classics Club list that you'd like to read...then, the folks at the Classics Club will pick a number, and voila, you need to read that book by the end date.

Like I usually do, I broke my list down into categories. Let me know if you're planning on joining in!

5 Books from my Back to the Classics Challenge:
  1. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  2. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
  3. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  5. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
 5 Books from my TBR Challenge:  
  1.  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  2. Tess of D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  3. The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro
  4. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf
  5. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
5 Rereads (all are on my Classics Club list-many were read years ago):
  1.  The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  4. Germinal by Emile Zola
  5. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
5 Random Titles (I used to pick these!):
  1. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  2. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  3. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
  4. Candide by Voltaire
  5. Native Son by Richard Wright

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for February 2, 2014: On Inspiration at Lovefest and a New Kitchen.

I was intending to write this post last night, but by the time I got home, I was just exhausted by an eventful week and crashed in bed for a good 12 hours.

We had 2 more "cold" days this week, which put a real wrench in plans to get our second semester underway. Monday the kids had a half day to take the last 2 exams for first semester, then we were off both Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday ended up being the first day of second semester. Insanity. My classes this semester haven't changed at all. In fact, my schedule stayed exactly the same-the sames classes during the same hours. The kids are all mixed up; however, and I don't think most of them are too happy about it. I also have some fairly large classes. Both of my sophomore American lit classes are at 36, which is the largest class size we can have. The classroom I teach those classes in is also a bit small, so they're cramped. And very unhappy about it. *sigh* It'll work out.

I managed to get all my classes started before being gone on Friday for a scheduled field trip with the theatre group. Every year, they attend a festival nicknamed "Lovefest" to present a short piece (about an hour). They've been going for the last 6 or so years, and it seems to be an event that the kids all look forward to. Initially, I wasn't attending, but after a parent had to cancel a couple weeks ago, I was asked!

The weekend was an amazing experience. We left Friday morning on a bus (25 kids and 4 chaperones including myself and the theatre director) and found our way north to Bay City. After checking in to our hotel and relaxing for a bit, we headed over to the school for the first night of performances. In total, there were ten schools in attendance, including all 3 of the schools from my town. The whole auditorium was filled with great feelings of support and excitement.

There were many amazing performances (including our own), and after each, the school would go into another room to hear from a responder about their piece-things to improve, etc.

The first night we saw 3 of my favorite performances-The Yellow Boat, Wit, and Metamorphoses. The Yellow Boat was the first piece of the festival, and it was so touching. I wasn't familiar with the show before it started (I think that had I been, I wouldn't have cried). The boy playing the main character did a fabulous job capturing his youth and spirit. Metamorphoses was just a beautiful piece. They had music in the background during the entire performance and also incorporated a lot of lyrical dance and movement into the piece, which made it breathtaking. I also loved the mythology of it-it was just fascinating.

My favorite piece that we saw all weekend was definitely Wit. If you're unfamiliar with the play, it's about a woman dying of cancer...but it was so much more than that. The girl playing the lead role was simply amazing. We all took down her name so we'll know her later on in her career. Her performance was very real and raw....just a gorgeous show.

After out performances, we came back to the hotel where the kids burned off their energy and we eventually came around for room checks.

We performed the next morning (Murder by Poe) and the kids did fabulously well. Our costumes were a hit and our kids delivered an excellent performance (they best they'd done it!). We then spent the rest of the day watching the remaining plays and the snow piling up outside. The last piece for the even was awards, and I really loved the fact that they gave awards for each show-so no one show outshone the rest. Two of our actors were recognized, as was our costume designer. After awards, we piled back on the bus for a very long, draining ride home. The roads were pretty bad but we made it safely.

In all, it was an incredibly inspirational weekend for me. Not only did I get to spend some time with some amazing teenagers, but I also got to see their talent and drive. I ate breakfast yesterday morning with two of our seniors, and we talked about their plans for next year. Their passion for what they do was so pure and raw...I just felt drawn to it.

And watching pieces of literature being performed further pushed me into acknowledging that I have to take a chance on my own writing and at least try. I think this was the push I needed to finally go after my own dreams and passion. I'm grateful for that.

Aside from all of that excitement, we also had some craziness at home, Our complex finally decided they were going to upgrade our kitchen and bathroom cupboards and cabinets, so we had to clear everything out for them to get started on Thursday. I came home last night to find it all done (and a very WHITE kitchen), so now I need to put it all back together-there are dishes and bags of food from our pantry all over the floor of our living room. I'm also very excited for our new stove/oven, since our old one was probably from the 70s and didn't work so well. It'll be nice to use new things!

In any case, I haven't done much reading and I am out of pre-scheduled posts. I have a few things in draft, but I'm not sure what time I'll have in the next couple of days to get those in publishable shape. So, it it's quiet this week, that's why. :)

Have a happy reading week!

Friday, January 31, 2014

American Author Search.

I'm in need of some help.

My culminating project in my American Literature classes is a research unit (we introduce them to the skills as sophomores and as juniors they write a full research paper). The first year I did it, I did it on a current event or "problem" that existed in the U.S. It went smoothly, but really didn't connect to the content of the class. Then we switched it over to focusing on American authors. With another teacher, we came up with a list of "classic" American authors that we hadn't studied over the course of the year. As part of the requirement, we had the students read a set of poems or a short story by the author first, then launched into research.

Last year (my first year as an official teacher), I revamped the project yet again and required the students to find a social issue from the time period and connect it to the story they read (I got rid of the was too difficult helping them analyze the poems on their own and I found that the short stories worked better overall). I really liked the addition of the social issues, especially considering that I always relate the literature we read to what is going on in America at the time of publication. Literature reflects life, right? The projects were excellent last year, but the biggest problem I had was when their chosen social issue wasn't evident in the piece I gave them to read.

This year, I want to revamp the project, yet again. First, I'm including more writing into their final product, and more creativity. I'm actually turning the project (which usually consists of an outline, works cited page, powerpoint, and presentation) into a blended genre study of their author and chosen social issue. I'm still requiring the same pieces (have to because it's a common assessment for the district), but they also have to find/create other pieces that reflect their research-pieces of art, photographs, original pieces they wrote, etc (you can find more info about blended genre projects here if you're interested).

So, here is where I need your help.

First, I'm looking for a more comprehensive list of contemporary American authors. I have a lot of "classic" writers down (for example, Twain), but I really want some newer writers for the kids to research. In particular, I'm looking for writers that definitely talk about social issues and ideas prevalent in modern-day American society. If you have some names for me, that would be lovely.

Second, I'm trying to decide how I should approach the issue of each author's work. In the past, I assigned the kids their author based on interest, then found a story for them, copied it, etc. All they did with it was read and summarize-seemed a touch pointless to the final project. But I think it would be difficult for them to find their own piece. We have limited do I bother? I'm not sure how to tackle that issue.

Third, I'm open to any other ideas on how to increase the creativity for this project. If you have any ideas for other products they can produced for their genres, I would love more ideas. I want to give them plenty of options and examples-they are sophomores and some of them struggle with the whole self-motivation business. Some of the ideas I already have include:
  • newspaper articles about their authors
  • letters
  • pictures (that they drew or that they found)
  • "Found" poems that they create from a piece of text by their author
  • a short biography of their writer (I think I'm making this a requirement)
  • journal entries
  • song lyrics that might connect to their writer or social issue
As you can see, the products can be varied-both things that are "found" in their research and things that are created based on their research (I'll be setting a limit for how much they "find" versus how much they "create").

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave them below! And please leave author names!

Thank you in advance!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser.

“When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse."

After finishing 2 books off my TBR Challenge list relatively early in the year, I wasn't sure if I was ready to tackle another just yet. So, I stood and stared at my shelves for a bit in hopes that something would jump out at me. And while Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie didn't jump at me, I felt compelled to pick it up and flip through it. It was after looking at it that I decided there would be no better book for me in that moment.

And how right I was.

In short, Sister Carrie seems like a relatively simple story.  A young girl, Carrie Meeber, finds her way to Chicago to live with her sister and her husband in hopes of finding some work. On her journey into the city, she meets the handsome Charles Drouet, who will change her life and fortune in the future. Once in Chicago, she finds herself in a small apartment with her poor relatives. She finds a job working int a shoe factory, but after falling ill and losing her position, she determines to leave for home...and then Drouet enters, offers to buy her new clothes, find her rooms, and her life changes. Because while Drouet does many things for her, and has pulled her from poverty, it isn't enough for Carrie. She continually wants more from life-more wealth, more possessions, more happiness. So when other opportunities present themselves, she goes along with it. In the end, Carrie is left with the fortune and fame she always wanted, but her one real wish-to be happy and content with herself-isn't there.

This is the kind of novel that I always seem to gravitate towards. A woman out in search of something greater, but she never quite manages the happiness that she craves (The House of Mirth and The Portrait of a Lady share many of these qualities). Carrie, however, is a bit different than the other women. Whereas many "fallen" women force themselves into their circumstances, Carrie just kind of...goes with it. She protests going along with Drouet when he wants to buy her clothes and rent her rooms (she insists on returning home for quite some time), but after trying on a beautiful coat, she consents to hear him out. She does as he bids and allows him to dress her up and give her money to fulfill her whims. Eventually, that isn't enough and an even wealthier man, Hurstwood, enters the picture. Unlike Drouet, Hurstwood is married and as his own fascination with Carrie elevates, he loses all reason to be with her.

Again, Carrie doesn't necessarily force her own hand. She is hesitant to give into Hurstwood, but once she does, she goes along with it. At no point does Carrie actively make decisions to change her future. And after Hurstwood makes poor decisions and must flee, Carrie is "tricked" into fleeing to New York with him to avoid the problems.

It is only once the two of them are in New York that the novel really begins. It is here that the reader sees Hurstwood's fall from great heights. In Chicago, he was wealthy, well-known and respected, but after throwing that away to chase after Carrie, he's no one. He struggles to find work and loses it. And soon he spirals down into nothing but a man who sits at home readings the papers and pestering Carrie. It is also in New York that Carrie finally makes the one decision to change her fate. After Hurstwood loses everything and begins his downward spiral, she must search for work for herself, landing a small role on Broadway. It is only when her career begins to rise that she makes the decision to abandon Hurstwood in his poverty and seek out wealth for herself.

In the end, she has what she so desperately went to Chicago for-wealth, pretty clothes, fame-but no happiness. In the end, she's unhappier than she ever was before, having used and set aside the men who helped her get there.

That ended for Carrie was certainly sad, but nothing in comparison to what happens to the men in her life. After leaving Drouet in Chicago for Hurstwood, nothing changes in him. In fact, he is very much the same person he used to be, only more in love with Carrie when they reunite in New York because she is everything he cannot have.

And Hurstwood? For me, he was truly the "fallen" character in this novel. His whole life spiraled downward after meeting Carrie and falling for her beauty. He lost his wealth and his connections and near the end, is homeless and begging on the streets of New York. There is one scene where he corners Carrie outside the theater to beg for money to eat because she "owed it to him." There is also the tragic scene where he finds a room in a hotel very near the end of the novel...yes, he falls from great heights into something truly tragic. He, unlike Carrie, truly loses everything.

Yes, this was a novel that suited me perfectly and had me anxious for more time to read. It reminded me greatly of some of my other favorites and is a book I will certainly reread again at some point in the future.

“How true it is that words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.”

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines -- it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.”

This is a book that I picked up over my winter break. It came home with me after I grabbed it randomly off the school shelves (it did make me a little sad to know I was the only one to check it out). It was a good choice and offered me a fun little excursion away from reality.

Clay Jannon has been laid off from his recent media job and goes in search of employment on the streets of San Francisco. He stumbles across Mr. Penumbra's bookstore and sees a sign looking for a clerk to work the nightshift. After going in and applying, he becomes the new night-clerk.

Mr. Penumbra's store offers Clay with enough to divert him from his unhappiness over a lack of career. Mysterious customers come in to check out books from the "Waybacklist," a series of books that take over the tall shelves lining the back of the store. They return and check out books without paying anything, and Clay is required to jot down everything about their appearance and state of mind in the store ledger.

As Clay's curiosity is spiked, the mystery begins. Who are these odd book readers? What is Mr. Penumbra hiding? What is in the books in the Waybacklist? Who started all of this?

Clay begins to uncover the secrets, pulling in friends from set designers to a Google genius to crack the mystery and code of the books.

This was a fun book. Not a book that challenged me, but something fun and fast and adventurous. It is a book that contains a lot of bookish love, with beautiful descriptions of tall, dusty shelves, the scent of paper, and the feeling of a good book in your hands.

 “Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.” 

It's a book that is very much about the enduring power and meaningfulness of words and stories-how they capture us and become a part of us. It made me want to work in a bookstore and touch the spines of books that have been there for years and wonder at their stories.

This was very much a book for readers and about readers, which we need more of today. So, this is definitely a read for a good diversion from the usual-from the heavy and dark and droll.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for January 26, 2014: On the Cold, A New Semester, and Whitman.

I've been so absorbed in finishing up some prep work that I almost let the whole day go by without posting! Whoops!

I guess my schedule is a little off because we had Friday off (a cold day....). And while I would like to say that I was super productive this weekend...I wasn't. I've been feeling pretty achy, so I took the time to relax a bit, organize some things around the apartment, and do hardly anything. :) It was lovely.

There is talk that we may not have school tomorrow because of the cold....if so, that will be our 5th day off from school since we returned in January! eek! We're also at that point where we're "out" of snow days and any more means we'll make it up in June. And, if that happens, it means our last two exams will be pushed back AGAIN. I feel for the kids-to prepare and be ready to take exams on Friday, and then to have them looming all weekend? Eek. No thank you. I guess we'll have to see what happens.

Truth be told, I honestly don't mind the cold or snow. I actually quite love it. My only complaint is that since trading in my Jeep last winter (last March I think!), my new car, a 300, is TERRIBLE in the snow. It's days like today that I miss my Jeep ever so much. :/ At least our lease is up in just one more year-I'm definitely getting another Jeep! I miss the way it just ran through everything!

Anyway, assuming I go back to school at some point in January, we'll be starting a new semester. I'm excited to have my kids mixed up (my classes stay the same-they just move around a bit to accommodate some of their other classes). I need the change, and so do they! I'm also getting a few new kids. Last year, because I gained new sections of classes, I had a LOT of new names to learn second semester. This time, I have 10? That should be easy! I guess I'm lucky to have pretty much the same kids-we've really connected this year, so we can continue on that route!

I did find out that both of my American lit (sophomore English) classes are huge-36 kids each. I'm not entirely thrilled with those numbers, especially since second semester is a little more intense than first semester in terms of projects and grading. I guess I'm going to have to get more creative.

Besides schoolwork and cleaning, I've spent some time this weekend revisiting some favorite poems. There's something about the cold that pulls me to poetry. This morning I settled in with Whitman's "Song of Myself" and was reminded of just how much I love it. I think I'm going to put Whitman beside my bed for some nighttime reading this week.

I'm also in the middle of Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy. I'm hoping to finish it early this week since my grading will be light. I'm not sure what might be next...perhaps the next in A Song of Ice and Fire? Or any other suggestions?

Have a wonderful week and happy reading!

Friday, January 24, 2014

On Finding Balance.

We had a "cold day" today when wind chills were at -25 this morning. That marked the 4th day we've had off from school since school "restarted" on January 8 (I say it that way because we had the 8-10th off for snow/cold days). It was also a big bummer because we were scheduled to have a half-day today for the last day of exams (5th and 6th hour). So, instead the kids got an unexpected 3-day weekend and a random half-day on Monday for their exams. I'm grateful they gave us the half-day, so I can get all my exams graded and entered before we're required to report grades on Tuesday morning.

But the whole situation threw a wrench into my plans. Since the phone call to cancel school came rather late last night, I was a little hazy on exactly what was expected of me this morning. I was pretty sure I heard that buildings would be open for the staff, but after reading my e-mail this morning, I saw that I was mistaken and only the elementary buildings were open. So, my plans to go in and work in my quiet classroom were thrown out the window and I was stuck here at home all day.

I took advantage of the quiet this morning and settled in to finish Sister Carrie-thoughts coming next week. And after that? I putzed around, not sure what to do and avoiding my grading pile. Truth be told, I'm quite sick of grading and need a little break!

So, I settled in to straightening up the never-ending clutter and my bookshelves.

In the months I was away from blogging, I did read, but it was minimal and rarely something already on my shelves. I think I was pretty anti-reading, to be honest, and when the mood struck, I felt like getting something new-nothing appealed to me that I already owned. The result was that after reading these new books, I would just set them anywhere, rather than putting them on the shelves were they belonged. A good example? Matt and I went on a little vacation in northern Michigan in early July, and I just found that stack of books sitting on the floor in our office (which is still a disaster that I'm going to attack later). In that pile were some good books-The Bell Jar, The Grapes of Wrath, and A Farewell to Arms. I never read the Hemingway, and I don't think I even blogged about the Steinbeck, which I loved.

I think that tells you about the mental state I was in and how I felt about this space. I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again: I began to realize that blogging and my online presence was becoming less important to my sanity.

So what's changed?

I guess you can say that I have "returned" to blogging. I've been reading a little more diligently-returning to taking notes and marking places to discuss in blog posts. I made challenge lists. I revamped the look of my online space, crafted a new identity for myself, and I'm slowly working my way back to other blogs to read and comment. So how does that all connect to my sanity?

I think that anyone who has spoken with me, written to me, or read my words knows that I am a very passionate and dedicated teacher. I love my job. For me, I gain satisfaction from watching my students succeed and prosper. I love being in my classroom, interacting with teenagers and watching them discover literature and history in the way I did when I was their age. Teaching truly fulfills me.

For awhile, the blog filled that whole, then I got that fulfillment from school. But in diving into school with 100% of my being, I burned out personally. After realizing that I was sick last year and coming to terms with the extent of my diagnosis and what it means for me now and in the future, I had to take a break.

It took until the fall to realize that I needed to rebalance my life. I'm a person who will dive into something with everything I've got...and I will pour myself into it until I burn out. I'm pretty sure that's what happened with blogging. And I'm pretty sure my attention and 100% devotion to school led to some of the massive Lupus flares I had last year (I feel like I need to explain what I mean by my crazy addiction to school-grading for hours and hours after school, editing students papers before they turned them in, creating everything from scratch even though I had other resources, checking my school e-mail constantly when at home on weekends in case a student asked a question-all great things, but too much).

I had a chat with my doctor in early summer, after a nasty flare leveled out and when we made the determination to put me on Humira injections in addition to some of my other medication, about taking care of myself. In this conversation, we talked about my interests, my passions, and my work. He stressed to me then that I had to find a balance between my own life and my life at school. I had the summer to think it over, to try to find that balance and come to terms with what changes I needed to make to find myself in a happy place.

And for some reason, when school started, I found myself in a happier state. I was prepared for my classes and while certainly swamped with grading at times, I felt much lighter than I did the year before. I kept bracing myself for a nasty Lupus flare and it never came (I'm currently closing in on 8 months without a severe flare. I've had bad days, of course, but never the weeks of pain and sickness that I had before). I'm sure a great deal of that had to do with my medication finally being figured out, but I think a larger part of it came down to being okay mentally. To setting time aside for myself-to watch TV, crochet, be with my husband, go out with friends, read a book, write a poem, etc.

And guess what....I'm a far better teacher this year than I was when I was throwing my entire being into work. My students' test scores are way higher than they were last year (yes, some revised tests, but I'm also teaching much more effectively), I'm having more fun at work, and I'm enjoying the fact that I can be okay with leaving work at work a couple times a week. I'm sure that many other people had this figured out a LONG time ago-it just took me awhile.

So today, when I was shelving books and spending all this time thinking to myself about all of this, I thought that perhaps that same thing applied here-to blogging. I think I've found a balance here as well. Of course, it's hard to get back into the swing of things, but I'm happy with where I am, where I'm going, and the decisions I've made. Like teaching last year, I threw myself into blogging and reading only the classics. And I burned out, HARD. Now that I have rebalanced myself, I feel much better about making this into a space that truly reflects me, my personality, and the dusty shelves that are home to so many stories I have yet to read.

I finally feel excited about blogging again-in the same way I did way back in 2009 when I had this crazy idea in the first place. It's a good feeling.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” 

I'll be honest and say I don't know a great deal about Hemingway, and I probably should. I definitely know the basics and have read a couple of novels (The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms) as well as a few short stories (I actually use "A Soldier's Home" in my American lit class). He's one of those figures in American literature I tell myself to read more of, but never seem to find the time. Then I had my experience with The Paris Wife over my break (post here) and found myself quite fascinated with Hemingway and his work.

This title had been sitting my shelf for quite some time, so I knew it would become a part of my TBR Challenge for this year, as well as a jumping off point for some further exploration of his work. And, so enthused by my recent reading of The Paris Wife, this become book #2 that I finished in 2014.

It was fabulous.

From the very first chapter, I was taken in by Hemingway's writing and transported back to his years spent in Paris. Through his recollections, I also got to meet some great literary figures-Stein, Pound, Ford, and Fitzgerald (all of which I should also explore at some later date). His gossipy chapters about their lives and his writing and his experiences on the streets were vivid and simple and complex all wrapped up in succinct observations. It was beautiful.

His observations of his fellow writers was both entertaining and heart-breaking. In particular, his chapters on Fitzgerald and his decline broke my heart, perhaps because I just finished teaching The Great Gatsby to my sophomores. Through Hemingway's eyes, I had to see Fitzgerald as weak and unsure...and a captive to his alcohol. But I also got to see him through a friend's eye-not just as someone I've admired from years away and based solely on his writing. I found that to be a bit of a profound experience. I mean, I love writers and their products and while I love to research their lives and experiences, I don't always get to see them in such a raw way. Hemingway's observations made that come to life.

However, my favorite parts where Hemingway's musings on his craft. His words about making stories appear, and living through them, was also raw and emotional. He took his writing seriously and set rules for drinking around his writing (interesting, right?). He also mentioned the devastation of losing his early work when his first wife, Hadley, was bringing it to him (it was stolen on her train). The idea of losing my own work, as unimportant as it is, breaks my heart, so I can imagine that he truly did feel lost when it was gone. Like myself currently, Hemingway had a real connection to his words. It was beautiful to see that passion and drive come through even as his reflection.

In all, I found this memoir to be inspiring. To know that he often felt discouraged and hopeless, that he and Hadley lived in tiny apartments cramped with books and was a bit soothing to tell the truth. It was all they really needed to be happy.

I'm curious to read more about hie life and more of his work. And by reading something that came out after his death. I think I can read his work with a new perspective-see his mind working away at crafting enough work each day. I'm so tempted to craft another author study for him, but I know I should finish those I've already undertaken.

And if you haven't read this and are looking for a way to introduce yourself to Hemingway, why not start here. It's a great recollection of his days in Paris before truly "making it" as a writer.

“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things on my Reading Wishlist.

Hi everyone!

It's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the lovely folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is about the Top Ten Things on our Reading Wishlist-those characters, settings, themes, trends, etc that we want more of in our reading!

I had a lot of fun thinking about this list. Please let me know what things would be on your reading wishlist!

  1. Strong Heroines: I like a girl with sass and attitude. So give me more of them.
  2. Well-crafted worlds: I started off my year by reading A Game of Thrones, which, let me tell you, takes place in a very well-crafted world. I love being able to disappear into another world like that!
  3. Revenge: I LOVE revenge themes! Maybe a reread of The Count of Monte Cristo is in order!
  4. Victorians: I love the Victorian writers, and it has been some time since I've read one!
  5. Cats who aren't evil: Why are cats always the bad guys? The bad omens?
  6. Redemption: This is another one of those themes that I've been yearning for....
  7. Inventive Fantasy: I see a lot of the same things in fantasy literature....I'm looking for something new!
  8. Better Book Covers: Granted, not a writer driven category, but I really love a book cover and nothing has caught my eye recently!
  9. A non-orphaned hero: I know orphans make things easier for writers, but for once, can we have a hero with both parents? Just once?
  10. No more dystopia: I've read too many of them. I want something else!
Now that you've seen my list, do you have any recommendations for me?

Monday, January 20, 2014

"I Have Been"

This is a little meme that I do from time to time. I don't remember where I initially saw it, but it's a fun little questionnaire that I see making rounds on the blogs from time to time. And since I am procrastinating doing a little more grading tonight, I figured I might as well. :)

I have been:

 I just finished grading a set of essays, so I've been writing lots and lots of comments about writing. I actually had my kids complete their entire essay in Google Docs, so I also typed their rubrics. I think it took a little longer than it does for me to write out comments, but it was easier on my hands (typing hurts a little less than writing when I'm having a flare). I don't know how it'll go over with the kids, but we'll see.
I've been reading Sister Carrie over the last few days and I really want to dive back into it tonight....but to be honest, I'm trying to hold off to get my grading done. I know that as soon as I pick up the novel I'm going to get sucked in.
I've had Pandora on while grading. I like the background noise and my current station of choice is 90s Pop Radio. It's a good trip down memory lane!
We have shows that we like to watch in bed and go through spurts of different shows and seasons. We just finished watching Bob's Burgers last week, so now we're on to That 70s Show. I love mindless entertainment before bed! Besides nighttime TV, I've been avoiding TV to grade and read. :)
...right now I'm looking at my crate of papers to grade. And a mess in my kitchen. The kitchen will definitely get cleaned up before bed. There is also a very sleepy kitten next to me. He's pretty cute.
My teaching certification expires in June and I have a few classes to take online to qualify for renewal. During my earlier procrastination, I took a peek at one of the ones I signed up for related to social studies. There's some crazy awesome documents on there, so I'm excited to dive into it after this semester ends.
A bit stressed.  I have a lot of grading left to do. I'm feeling overwhelmed with papers and not sure where to start to get it all done. While we have half days 3 days this week (our exam days), and the exam time to get things done....I really didn't want to spend ALL that time grading. I have prepping to do! It'll all get some point.
I'm going to California in April (my Spring Break) to visit my sister at Disneyland! She has an internship with them for the next 7 months, so it'll be a fun time! I've never been to that part of Cali. The only other time I've been was to San Francisco.
For my papers to grade themselves, for all my kids to pass and do well on their exams this week, and that I remain flare free for the next couple of weeks.
My students. Bless their little hearts...their e-mails and tweets as they prepare for exams are adorable. I love my job.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for January 19, 2014: Exam Week.

This past week was a long one. Coming off of 2 1/2 weeks off from school (because of our snow days) and a measly 2-day week the week before, 5 days of school was trying for teachers and students alike. But, we managed to push through and now I am trying to avoid a very big pile of grading (I'm not exaggerating, I have a plastic crate FULL of things to grade). And while this coming week is exam week and I know I can use that time to grade, I really need that time to prep and plan for the second semester. As soon as I publish this post, I'm heading over to the library to get some work done. I'm so much more productive when I'm there!

Besides the fact that it was a very long week, I did get a lot accomplished. I spent a good deal of time yesterday grocery shopping and cooking. I've been meaning to make some things to stick in the freezer for those days when I'm not feeling good and don't feel like cooking (more often than not, I pick up food on my way home on those days...which means I'm not eating particularly well...). So, I bought doubles of a few things and managed to double up on some casseroles to shove in our very small freezer. I also bought a rotisserie chicken, which I shredded and turned into a big batch of chicken salad for lunches this week. I often just bring a salad and yogurt for lunch, but I'm getting pretty tired of that and thought that some chicken salad with grapes and walnuts would be a nice change!

And this morning I made up a big batch of broccoli-cheddar soup, so we have that for this week as well. In all, I feel quite accomplished and I'm happy we have some food put away. It's so easy to fall back to what is easy (and crappy) to eat, so now we have some good options waiting for us. It's a good preventative measure, especially if and when my Lupus flares up again.

Besides the cooking extravaganza yesterday, I spent some time organizing a few of our cupboards, including the dreaded tupperware cupboard. I don't know about you, but it always turns into a disaster with lids all over the place and containers shoved every which way. I tossed some that didn't have their lid (or vice versa) and reorganized so we can actually find what we're looking for.

My next big thing to organize is my book closet. I have about 15 boxes of books in my closet, and while I culled them a couple of years ago, I think I need to dig back in and re-cull. I know for a fact that there are a bunch of textbooks in there that I've had since college. I need to just sell them to amazon and get what I can for them to get some more space for storage. I'm pretty content with my collection now. There are quite a few things I wish could be on shelves, but we don't have the room for any more bookshelves. And I know there are many things I will never read or don't want to look at again-why am I holding on to them? I'm hoping to do this in a few more weeks when we have a long weekend.

In reading news, I decided to start Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I adored An American Tragedy when I read it a few years ago, and this title has just been sitting on my shelf. I really didn't want to start another challenge book so soon, so after looking around, this title jumped out at me. As of this morning, I'm on page 314, so you can tell that its going well and that I REALLY like it. I can't wait to see where the story goes, and I can't wait to tell you all about it.

After I finish it, I'm not sure what I'm going to read next. I'm thinking of reading a Thomas Hardy (because for some reason, Sister Carrie makes me want to read him?), so I might grab one of those off my shelf-maybe Tess or Under the Greenwood Tree. I also feel a pull to Vanity Fair, so we'll see what my mood says once I finish Sister Carrie. Any other recs for me?

Anyway, I best be heading to the library before all the good spots are taken. ;) Have a fabulous reading week!