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 And while I do think there are some terms, etc throughout the book that date it (and are outdated in referring to the LGBTQ community), it was a fabulous look at the life of a transgendered teenager who is struggling with the transition and the impact it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. 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.


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. 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.


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!

Alternates:


1. 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!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Welcome to 2017! Recap, Reading, and a Challenge.

Welcome to 2017!

I know that many of us had a craptastic 2016, and I was no exception. To put it bluntly, there were far too many upheavals last year, and too many dramatics for me to consider it a good year. But. I learned a lot about myself over the past year, and while there were a lot of horrible moments, I am a much stronger, driven person than I was last year. I think I have finally found my voice, and in 2017, you're going to hear it.

One of the biggest disappointments for me last year was my total disengagement with the online communities I have come to love so much. I became too consumed by things outside of my control, that I let go of the things that make me who I am. And a huge part of that is reading. At the beginning of 2016, I went 4 months without picking up a book other than the titles I was teaching. And I did it again in November and December. All told, I spent well over 5 months not reading. That's sad.

So, on this side of 2017, I'm making it a goal to read more regularly and more diversely than I have the last few years. I have gone far away from the original purpose of this blog, which was reading the classics, and while I'm happy to be reading more YA, science-fiction, and fantasy, I need my classics back. I'm hoping I can incorporate more into my reading diet this year. My goal is 1 per month, but I think I can do more.

One of the biggest things that I am continuing to work on is balance. Between home, work, personal goals, and adulting. I know that sounds silly, but I still struggle to manage it all. Quite frankly, there are too many things that I enjoy and not enough hours in the day to do everything. So balance is something I am continuing to work for this year.

In terms of blogging, I've been saying it for what...3, 4 years now? But I would like to blog regularly. As part of that whole balance piece. Even if it is only 1 or 2 posts a week, I'll be happy. I know I will never return to the crazy blogger life I had prior to being a teacher, but I can do better. I will be better at it.



So, with all that in mind, I am joining one challenge for this year, which is Adam's Classic Book-a-Month Club. It's right in line with my goals-reading more classics. It will also include some rereads, which I am really excited for getting to this year. I love rereading, and like Adam, I include many books on my "Favorites" list that I haven't read in a long time.

If you're interested in joining in on the fun, you can find the information on Adam's blog, linked above. And here are the books we're reading over the course of the year (*s denote something that will be a reread for me):

  • January: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott*
  • February: The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles*
  • March: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton*
  • April: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald* (I think I read half of this....)
  • May: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry*
  • June: The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville
  • July: Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • August: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen*
  • September: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  • October: Angels in America by Tony Kushner 
  • November: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky*
  • December: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë*
That's all for now. Happy New Year!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Readathon Post!


Edit 2: 7 PM (Hour 12):
Hey guys! I'm back! I actually finished my first book about a half hour ago, but I needed a snack and some internet browsing before returning to some readathoning.

Not much else has happened-the cats have been passed out on my lap for hours. I only bothered them for a snack and some more water. I'm ready to dive into the sequel to my first read-Throne of Jade-and will be absorbed in that until Matt gets home at 10.

Stats:

Number of Pages Read: 356!
Books Finished: 1 (His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik)
Cups of Tea: 2 I just made a new cup of English Breakfast...I also drank a 24oz bottle of water while reading this afternoon. I'm sufficiently hydrated.
Instagram posts: 2 (and about to make a 3rd!)
Snacks: I just grabbed some chocolate covered banana slices from the freezer. YUM
Cat Snuggles: LOTS
Husband Distractions: None! He won't be home for another 3 hours!

Edit 1: 3 PM (Hour 8):
Well, I have not been off to the greatest start, but that's about to change. ;) My start time this morning was supposed to be 8am, but I didn't even get out of bed until after 10. I've had a long and stressful week at work, so I needed the extra sleep. I did get up and read for an hour, and made some progress in my first book. Then, Matt got up, we ate breakfast, and then we decided we needed to go grocery shopping as we had nothing left to eat in the apartment (he had the last of our cereal and milk for breakfast, I had two sad looking frozen waffles). So, an hour of shopping later, we have a full fridge, freezer, and pantry. We also cleaned out our fridge, did a little cleaning, and he just left for work. So, I'm settling in to go comment on a few blogs before returning to my book. I have no real plans for this afternoon besides reading. I do need to do a little more cleaning, but I don't want to just yet. ;) Reading first! I probably won't check in again until I finish my book, so...it'll be at least a couple hours. I hope you're all enjoying yourselves and squeezing in some good reads!

Stats:

Number of Pages Read: 113-SAD. But my choice in deciding to reread the Temeraire series was a good one. I'm very much enjoying the reread-I read the first 4 YEARS ago and never finished the series. And after finishing The Help earlier this week, this one just jumped out at me. :)
Books Finished: 0
Cups of Tea: 1 I had a nice cup of English Breakfast tea this morning with breakfast. Right now I'm finishing a Lime LaCroix
Instagram posts: 1
Snacks: No snacks-just meals. I had two multigrain frozen waffles for breakfast, and I made some butternut squash ravioli with butter and garlic for a quick lunch before Matt left for work. 
Cat Snuggles: 2. Lily is sleeping by my feet and Sparty is curled up on my legs.
Husband Distractions: Many-he wanted to go grocery shopping, then clean, so....ugh. But he's gone for the next...7 hours, so I should be able to fit in some good reading time!


Hi everyone!

Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year-readathon day! And I have been looking forward to it for MONTHS. And while I normally pull a big stack and talk about how all my plans...I have none set for this time. My only goal is to relax and read a lot. I'm shooting for 18 hours (I can never make it the full 24), and 2 books read, but we'll see. :)

In any case, I will be updating this post throughout the readathon. Stop in from time to time and say hi, and let me know if you're reading-I'll stop by and cheer you on! Happy reading tomorrow!