Monday, September 30, 2013

My Birthday Suit at 27

I always thought by 27 I'd be totally sophisticated---I'd be a published writer, I would have fully learned to appreciate jazz music, and I'd definitely have learned how to stop leaving my shoes by the front door.

While I'm not exactly as chic as I thought I'd be, I figured that for my birthday, I could at least pretend---

It's funny how a leather-trimmed white button-up and a pencil skirt really do something for your ego (otherwise known as Mrs. Classy Sophie Stication herself).

Add a red lip, and I was feeling like I could conquer the world (or at least make a killer batch of homemade crescent rolls).

Basically what I'm trying to say is that although I'm not as sophisticated as I'd like to be, I think I'm a bit further along than I was at 19, when I lived in a pasta-stained Utah State t-shirt from my job working the on-campus fast food pasta station and secretly listened to MMBop on repeat.

This birthday has also been a good excuse for me to really start taking a good look at my life and creating some big dreams for myself. (Stay tuned---later this week, I'm posting up my life's bucket list, at least as it stands right now).

Classiness and dreams aside, however, I've gotta say this:

I may not have it all together at 27, but I sure feel like I have it all---

an adoring husband,

a comfortable apartment,

a reasonably fulfilling job,

a deep testimony of the reality of my Savior Jesus Christ,

and a chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake in the fridge.

It's a good life.

Happy birthday to me!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Celebrating Birthdays as Adults (+ Other Randomness)

When you start to get further into adulthood, one thing becomes painfully clear:

Birthdays are not what they once were.

Sure, you still do your best to make them special: you wake up early to make a peach tart for your spouse, you litter the bed with chocolates while he's in the shower, you bake him his favorite cheesecake, and you get him a bunch of man movies for his collection.

But in the end, I still can't change the fact that he had to take a test that day and that he had loads of homework and that we're both stressed out of our minds this semester with everything going on.

On the bright side, it was nice that his birthday on Tuesday gave us an excuse to do something out of the ordinary for a weeknight: instead of spending any spare minutes studying (Matt) or doing dishes (me), we invited our friends over for cheesecake and games and celebrated his birthday with as much style as possible.

It might not go down in history as his most incredible birthday ever, but hopefully in the end, he knows how much I love him :)

Other random thoughts going through my head today (that I have to write down just because I think they're kinda hilarious and/or strange and don't want to forget them):

*One of my students got me a Diet Dr. Pepper as an early birthday gift the other day, which shocked me because he's been getting trouble a ton in my class lately. My shock ended when I tried opening the thing about an hour after he gave it to me---the entire thing exploded everywhere. I was so surprised that I let out a squeal, and the few students who were in the room all looked over to see the cause of the commotion. The mischievous little sucker must have REALLY shaken that thing up if it was still that explosive after an hour. Seriously.

*We're only one month into school, and I've already made more students cry and break down in four weeks than I did in all last year combined. And we're not talking little tears here and there (although I've had those too)--I'm talking all-out freak-outs, complete with heaving shoulders, shuddery sobs, and loud bawls. The weirdest thing? Almost all of them have been by boys.

Anyway, hope you have a lovely weekend---even though we're just as busy as ever, I've got my own birthday coming up on Sunday, and we have plans to have ourselves a little fun time tomorrow in between applying for grad school and volunteering at an animal shelter (Matt) and donating plasma and going on a run and cleaning the house (me).

Do you have a trick for making your birthdays special as an adult?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Things That Bring Me Joy: Meditation

Today's focus on something that brings me joy is actually a new thing for me---although I've meant to take up meditating (in the truest form of the word) for years, I just never got around to it.

Sure, when I was doing yoga three times a week, it involved some meditation-type mental exercises, but I had never tried meditation for the sake of meditation until this last week.

The fact that it's already become one of my life's joys just goes to show how impressed I've been by making it a daily practice already.

Now, because I'm a total beginner (and completely overwhelmed by busy-ness most of the time), I didn't set my expectations too high for my meditation sessions:

I decided that I was only going to meditate for five minutes every day.

Five minutes!

You would think you couldn't get anything done that was all that beneficial in only five minutes (besides eating a bowl of ice cream and playing a little Spider Solitaire, maybe).

But I've already noticed a big difference in my mental state on the days when I actually buckle down and do it---I feel free from the daily stresses that normally plague my brain, and I have been falling asleep so quickly at night that I've been amazed.

My strategy is simple, really:

I retreat upstairs to our spare bedroom, tell Matt to not bother me (and turn down the sound on the computer and/or t.v.), and I sit cross-legged on the carpet.

I first focus on my breathing, forcing myself to inhale for counts of 8-10 and exhale for counts of 8-10.

Then, when my body starts to relax enough, I do one of two things:

If my mind is buzzing particularly hard about something, I just do a simple "Sooo" sound/thought on my inhales and a "Mmmm" on my exhales.

If my mind is more clear, I try to focus on a more specific mantra. I've been trying out a bunch of different mantras in the time since I've started, but lately I seem to have stuck with "stillness" and "free to emerge, even imperfectly."

When my mind wanders or I start to feel the familiar feelings of stress and anxiety welling up in me, I calmly acknowledge their presence and bring my mind back to my mantra or my sounds.

I have a feeling that if I'm able to make this a true habit in my life, it will be completely course-altering.

Have you ever tried meditating? If you were to meditate (or if you do), what would your mantra be?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Week 39

So you might have thought I'd forgotten all about my 50 Weeks to Organized project---

But nope.

In fact, I myself was kind of freaking out about the whole thing the other day, thinking there was no way I'd get everything done in the next 11 weeks, but then I realized something: after the bathroom, I only have four more projects left to do.

Pretty amazing, eh?

Seeing as how the bathroom is by far the smallest room in our apartment with the least storage, I would have tackled it near the beginning had it not been for my good intentions: you see, I have been planning to repaint our bathroom pretty much since we first moved in, and I wanted it to be all nice and repainted for this little makeover reveal.

But I discovered a Great Truth about decorating:

Sometimes you don't need paint to brighten a room---sometimes you just need to rethink your accessories.

I've always loved our deep brown shower curtain, but I realized that it would look much better in a brighter bathroom (that actually had a window) that had other bright colors as accents. With our navy blue towels, it just made the room seem that much darker (plus it didn't help that in our vanity light, we only had one lightbulb out of the three working).

After some really easy fixes: new shower curtain, two new lightbulbs, and clean surfaces, our bathroom looks almost like new.

Just as I've discovered over and over again during other organizational projects this year, I was holding on to a LOT of stuff I didn't need---our bathroom may be tiny, but I sure had packed that space to the gills, and then some.
During my purge, I discovered hair and makeup products I haven't used in years, as well as bottles of cleaning products that didn't even have anything left in them.
With a couple other odds and ends thrown in the trash and everything else organized into boxes, bins, and drawers by type (hair products, cleaning supplies, etc.), I can now safely say that our bathroom is completely clutter-free.

At first it was strange to see the empty countertops---I almost felt like I needed to buy something to fill the space.

But that's one of the biggest impulses that's gotten me into the mess I'm in---I need to finally learn that empty spaces usually look better than cluttered ones (even if the "clutter" is a bunch of cutesy decorations).

Maybe someday I'll reach more of a balance between being totally clutter-free and having a few decorations on flat surfaces, but for now, I'm just staying out of the temptation zone and not letting anything sit on them.

It's kind of awesome, actually.

This Week's Quick Stats:
# of Items Tossed/Donated: 20
# of Items Left to Toss/Donate Before Dec. 31st: 65
Amount of Money Spent on this Project: $25 ($15 for our shower curtain (Target), $4 for a new shower curtain liner (Smith's), and $6 for two new lightbulbs)

Do you think most countertops (or other flat surfaces) look better completely free of anything? Or do you like to have a couple well-placed decorations here and there?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

Top 6 Things On My Mind: 
1. Today is Matt's 27th birthday, and his gifts that I ordered online still haven't come. Amazon, you have very rarely failed me in life, but this is one of those times. And this morning, when I was trying to start his birthday off with a bang, I decided to leave a bunch of chocolates I'd bought yesterday scattered all over the bed, with a card that thanked him for being the "Treasure" and "Bliss" in my life. The only problem? I realized after I'd made the card that I'd bought Hershey's Nuggets, not Treasures, and Dove chocolates, not Bliss. On a happier note, I made Matt's favorite last night (a chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake from scratch), and it looks as if that (at least) is definitely not going to disappoint.
2. Yesterday, I realized a Great Teaching Truth: ironically enough, Mondays seem to be my best teaching day of the whole week. Maybe it's just because everyone is still so tired from the weekend, but it's by far my most peaceful day. And the worst day for teaching? Friday. Go figure.
3. We have had massive construction going on all around our apartment fourplex for months now, and it's reached epic proportions---being woken up at 7:30 a.m. on a SUNDAY to the sound of hammering, fearing to leave the house because someone is hammering right against your door frame and you worry you'll get's frightening, I tell ya. There are two bits of good that come out of it though: firstly, our fourplex now looks like it doesn't quite belong in the ghetto, and secondly, our new landlord gave us a $30 gift certificate to Texas Roadhouse for putting up with the noise and inconvenience.
(The construction is the reason, in fact, that these selfies were taken on our shabby stairs instead of outside, where the view is easier on the retinas. I just couldn't bring myself to parade about having Matt take picture of me while the construction workers looked on, ya know?)

4. Over the weekend, we submitted Matt's graduation form to the university! Even though he's still got another 3 years (at least) after getting his bachelor's in the spring, I'm still so excited I can hardly believe it---this just means we're one step closer to the not-being-perpetual-students stage. (Of course, I'm considering going back and getting my own master's degree in a few years, so who knows? Maybe we'll never leave the school scene. With me being a teacher, y'all know I won't anyway...That's kind's of a gross thought.)

5. Here we are, a month into the new school year, and I still feel like I barely know anything about any of my students. I know for a fact that I didn't feel like this last year, so I wonder what the deal is with me getting close with this year's crop of kids. Maybe it's the fact that, as a whole, they're about ten times more obnoxious, whiney, and immature as last year's kids? (Surprisingly though, I'm not freaking out about that fact nearly as much as I normally would be---running thrice weekly is doing wonders for my sanity, as is my new habit of meditating daily.)

6. I've been contemplating for awhile now doing a post on why we've decided to wait so long (by Utah Mormon standards) to not have kids, but I'll be honest---I'm kind of scared to death to let it all out there. I already feel so judged most of the time as it is on the subject that I'm hesitant to open myself up about it in one more place that could bring me under even more fire. What do you think? Wouldya judge me? Would you even care to know?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Our Spontaneous, Non-Gourmet Picnic

This school year is proving even busier than last year's, a feat I never thought possible.

Matt is swamped with his classes, labs, and work, and we're both feeling the intense pressure of having to go through the application process to get him into a PT school. Meanwhile, I'm continuing to have to juggle my more-than-full-time job (I currently put in about 10 hours a day), my busy church calling, and the constant level of housework.

After a Saturday full of studying and working (Matt) and doing laundry, chores, and cooking (me), we decided to call quits on responsible stuff for the day and go on a little picnic.

Although hardly glamorous, our picnic of sliced watermelon from our own garden, pb & j sandwiches, and store-bought cookies was such a welcome break from the busy-ness of the day.

We packed up our little cooler and headed up to Logan Canyon, our favorite place for a quick getaway into nature. We decided to stop at Hydro Park, a well-kept Logan secret that I only discovered about a year and a half ago, and we ended up being the only ones there.

A breezeless 70-degree day, a quiet park, and a to-die-for watermelon?

I'd say that's a pretty perfect way to spend a fall Saturday afternoon.

Even if Matt does love taking pictures of me eating, for some crazy reason.

The other greatest part?

Getting to feel like kids again as we took full advantage of the swings (and teased each other that we were "married" as we swung at the same time).

It's dates like this that remind me that spontaneous dates are almost always my favorite dates, and that I need to plan to be more spontaneous.

(Get it? PLAN to be more spontaneous? I'm so funny.)

Anywho, I leave you on this final note:

two pictures of Matt and I both looking possessed and more than a little creepy.

What's your favorite spontaneous date idea? Or do you go more for planned dates?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

All It Took Was a Pail of Peaches

I have made an unspoken resolve this school year to be more positive about my job--to not nitpick at the irksome annoyances that come with teaching 12- and 13-year-olds and to not dwell only on the negative aspects of each school day.

Considering that the last hour of my work day is by far my most challenging and obnoxious class, it can sometimes be difficult to go out on a positive note.

But you know what?

In the end, I need to learn how to change my focus to the positive aspects of my job instead of worrying so much about trying to control every last thing my students are doing (or not doing).

So tonight my focus is on the things that have brightened my day:

*a pail full of peaches dropped off by my thoughtful sister-in-law (which is filling the apartment with a heady fragrance that makes me head spin as I think of the possibilities: homemade ice cream, baked tarts, a bowl full of cream and fruit...)

*a 5-mile run that was nothing less than stellar (which did a nice job of clearing out any remaining annoyances from the day)

*30 uninterrupted minutes of bathroom reading (the latest issue of Good Housekeeping, if you must know)

*an early birthday present from Matt (reflectors to wear while I run at night)

*the fact that WAY more students passed their first test of this year than my students did last year (I'm improving!)

*a hot shower that left me with smooth legs, a fresh smell, and a clear (sleepy) head

It really is the little things that count, if you can just learn to take the time to recognize them.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Top 5 Ways to Spoil Your Run

 (semi-unrelated running posters via Runners World)
Even though my running commitment (and distances) aren't quite as stellar as they were over the summer, I've still been managing to squeeze in some 2-3 mile runs two to three days a week when I get home from work.
During the summer, I always did my runs in the morning, and this significant schedule change in my routine has definitely made my runs overall more uncomfortable than not.
So, with runner's wisdom gained from recent personal experiences, I give you:
The Top 5 Ways to Spoil Your Run
#5: Go running soon after eating your biggest meal of the day.
For maximum discomfort while running, ingest the following edibles right before a run (the closer to the run, the better):
-ice cream
-beans of any kind
-greasy anything
-cauliflower and/or broccoli
-any food with a less-than-pleasurable aftertaste via a burp
Side effects: runner's bloat and/or a raging sideache that's really more of a bellyache.
Helpful key: sideaches = lack of oxygen, bellyaches = unfriendly calories

#4: Don't think carefully about your running wardrobe before heading out.

Don't bother to check for rain or blistering heat or a possible lightning storm--in fact, try to dress for the complete opposite weather pattern than what is currently going on outside. Also, go and throw on that pair of shorts you haven't worn in ages that you've never worn running, and enjoy the maximum amount of chafing that inevitably occurs (or even better---the way those shorts threaten to fall down and expose you every block or two).

#3: Forget your iPod (or some other pleasant distraction) on the day that you most need to NOT think about something (like work). 

Hopelessly try and calculate how many steps you have left until you reach home to avoid thinking about that subject. Or think about your finances (even better!).

#2: Read all those blogs you've been meaning to catch up on, watch the latest episode of ANTM, and dither about the house thinking about doing housework for so long that it's almost completely dark when you leave the house.

Curse at yourself every time you trip over an obstacle you can't see, and try to not pee your pants when a dog comes out of nowhere and tries to eat you.

And the #1 way to ruin your run is:

Get the runs.

Relish the fact that with all that pavement-pounding and the overall effects of gravity in general, you will inevitably feel like you're about to implode when you're still at least three-quarters of a mile from home.

That's right, relish it.

Then run like you-know-what.
What other run spoilers have you come across?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

A few things on my mind:
1. My hair is at the perfect length for me, which means (of course) that I'm due for another haircut.
2. My husband took the GRE today, and it's starting to make our future a little more real. We've been spending our weekends researching schools and weighing options and preparing application materials, which is bound to continue to take up our weekends for the next couple months at least.
Growing up is kind of scary, eh? It's like right now, we have this nice and relatively smooth lifestyle that is almost entirely within our comfort box---we have enough money for our needs and some of our wants, we're happy with the friends and neighbors we've surrounded ourselves with, and we're very much used to the lifestyle we're in right now, kinks and all. Zoom forward a couple years and anything could be in the picture---grad school in Florida, a baby on the way, a non-teaching job (on my part) to pay the bills because I can't (or won't) find another job in education once we's all a little unsettling. Exciting, yes, but unsettling.
3. Random acts of kindness make all the difference in the world sometimes. Yesterday morning, I arrived at school running on just under three hours of sleep, and what do I find? A special delivery of a 12-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper and two chocolate bars from an old college friend who understood that teaching is still often very difficult for me and sent the gift my way just to cheer me up. Lyndsey, you are living proof that there is still much good in this world!
4. I had somewhat forgotten (over the course of a nice, long, lazy summer) how difficult it is to keep up on things while I'm teaching full-time again: blogging, housework (esp. dishes), my church calling, exercise, cooking, and much more all seem to be slowly falling more and more by the wayside. As for the exercise, though, I've been brutally determined to fit some in at least 2-3 times a week no matter what, and I think it's the only reason I haven't totally cracked under pressure on some days. I keep reminding myself that things will get better once I'm more caught up (and finally ahead of myself in planning), but that won't happen for awhile yet.
I'm debating on just setting aside one day a week to stay at the school super late (instead of just the usual hour or two past contract time) to get totally caught up and ahead so that I can go home at normal time the other days. The only flaw? I don't have a spare night, seeing as how packed my weekly schedule is.
5. Mine and Matt's birthdays are coming up, and I'm excited about two things: one, we're probably going to get some of the board games we've been coveting like crazy ever since our gaming friends left us for Texas, and two, we're finally going to splurge on a nice(r) vacuum, which will maybe hopefully mean that the wretched cat smell will finally start to dissipate out of our apartment. (The whole thing is suspicious, really---we've never owned a cat, and we've lived here for two and a half years, but the smell still remains...I'm convinced that the cat must have died here and its ghostly stench still haunts the bathroom and spare bedroom where it was locked up...)
Isn't it weird how you get so excited over the "practical" gifts as an adult? As a kid, getting clothes or stuff you needed was usually the worst, but now that I'm an adult, I love getting that kind of stuff (especially kitchen appliances!).
What practical adult gifts do you look forward to getting?
6. I just realized I could basically pass for a vampire in these shots. I usually go with darker eye makeup and no lip color, but I tried to switch it up and only do mascara with a bold red lip.
Guess I need to remember to load up on the blush next time :)
What's your favorite way to switch up your makeup look?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Are You a Fan of Showers?

There are many points on which I feel like I've never lined up with what a "normal girl" should like: I thought planning my wedding was basically no fun at all, I like my steaks super bloody (almost rare) and of the extra-large variety, and I put off shopping for new shoes as long as possible.

One of the biggest "girl" things I hated growing up though?

Going to bridal and baby showers.

Basically, unless I was personally related to the person or was close friends with her, I avoided bridal and baby showers like they were a particularly nasty strain of swine flu. In fact, when my first sister got married, I snuck out of her bridal shower after about an hour to go play Dr. Mario with my best friend, so even that point didn't always make me stick around.

The reasons were many for my dislike: the topics were often uncomfortable, there were almost always a lot of people I didn't know, and it just made me fearful for the day when I, too, would be forced to be the center of attention in front of all these people I barely knew and was expected to nod at and smile to and make polite conversation with.

Yeah, I was an odd duck growing up.

The nice thing about growing up is that you learn to take the social conventions in stride---things that used to set me off before (like the in-depth horror stories of the pre-marriage ob/gyn appointment or graphic details of each woman's birth) no longer ruffle my feathers quite as much.

(Although I will admit that the labor and pregnancy details make me very, very glad I'm not in that boat quite yet.)

All that aside, I think the mature part of me is finally winning out most of the time, and I've discovered that more often than not, I actually even ENJOY the showers I get invited to, as long as they follow my rule of being for someone I know well, of course (and as long they serve me scrumptious food, which this shower definitely delivered up).

Last weekend, I went to the baby shower of Mara, a girl I've grown up with and known since we were toddlers. We've seen it all together---first periods, first dates, first boyfriends, marriage, and now I got to go to the shower for her first baby.

(Side note: I think the only thing weirder than growing up yourself is to watch all your friends grow up all around you. Some of my friends already have 3 kids! It's crazy how "adult" we all got all of a sudden.)

There's something beautiful about being even a small part of the milestones in your friends' lives though---something beautiful about the fact that even though you can't be as much a part of each other's lives as you once were, you still get to partake in the joys and triumphs of their big moments.

And that's why, in the end, my heart has been changed (for the most part) when it comes to the American tradition of "the shower"---maybe I'll not always feel comfortable with all the juicy girl talk or the fact that I actually have to try and be social, but I DO appreciate much more the excuse to get together with the people I love, to wish them luck on the next exciting stage of their life.

And we all can use a little more of that.

Best of luck with your upcoming delivery and life with your new little sweetheart, Mara!

Are you a fan of showers?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Current State of my Mind

I had three different post ideas for tonight (depending on my mood), and considering that I just got home around 8 PM, I'm in no mind for any of them.

My mind has been buzzing with strange images that look much like the one above--visions of students yapping and jumping and shrieking and laughing and pushing and scowling and doing about everything else you can imagine.

It's not that today was even a bad or a hard day---I'm just so done with this week.

I try hard not to complain too much; I'm grateful for my job, and I definitely enjoy it more than any other job I've ever held. I'm thankful that I can do my part to provide for the two of us while Matt's in school, and I'm grateful for the sweet little comments that occasionally come my way from the students.

But after a week of getting home at a late(ish) hour after spending 10-11 hours at the school and trying to keep up with everything else I'm managing to fit in to my packed schedule (donating plasma, going on runs, fulfilling my duties as leader over the young women at my church), I'm just done.

And after a week of trying valiantly not to lose my temper at the immaturity of certain students who insist on pushing each other constantly in the halls and working through a massive stack of grading that dates back to the first week of school and repeating myself over and over and over again about how my students aren't supposed to talk at all during their self-starters, I'm just done.

And sadly, I don't have a restful weekend to look forward to, but rather one filled with cleaning (we haven't had any forks to eat off of for two days now), tutoring Matt in math so he can get ready for the GRE next week, and finally getting started on the whole applying-to-PT-school thing so that hopefully my husband can actually get into a school for this next year.

All I want to do is make homemade rolls and try out a new zucchini cookie recipe and maybe take a nap while a Jane Austen movie plays in the background, but those luxuries will have to wait until I have more time.

There's no rest for the weary, but I feel a little better now that I've vented.

Thanks for letting me take it out on you---now do me a favor and go out and hug a teacher!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

August Reading

My plans to read at least five books a month in the summer crashed and burned there at the end---between being away from home half the month and starting up school again, I just didn't have nearly as much time as I thought I would to read.

That said, I am pretty proud of the fact that I knocked two books off of my 100 Classics to Read Before I Die list (especially considering that they were both books I'd tried to read before and quit a few chapters in).

Key to the 5-Star Rating System:
***** = changed my life
**** = loved it
*** = liked it
** = it was okay
* = hated it

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

Funny story with this book---I had a class in college that was all about Forster and Cather (who I read together yet again this last month), and our final assignment in the class was to read A Passage to India. I got about 40 pages in, but with everything else going on in my life at the time, I just figured I'd do a five-minute scan through Sparknotes and call it good. Before class started, I was frantically flipping to random pages in the book to try to acquaint myself with as much of the story as I could, and good thing I did because guess who was the first person who was called on to start off the class discussion?

Luckily for me, the teacher happened to ask a question that was about the page I had literally just read before class, so I was able to fabricate some crazy elaborate symbolism on the spot. Much to my shock, the teacher was so impressed by my "deep understanding" of the text that we spent the rest of the two-hour class discussing what I had brought up.

I still kind of feel guilty (and proud) about it to this day.

To make up for it, though, I finally did give this novel another fair shot. It was actually this book that inspired my post on how to better understand the classics because I was having a difficult time following the plot and purpose of the story. Once I created a character list though and identified which characters fell on which side of the conflict, everything went much more smoothly.

A Passage to India basically explores the topic of whether or not two distinct cultures can really ever live together in harmony (especially when one is in subjugation to the other). The first part of the story really drags, as Forster takes FOREVER to set the scene and paint the characters. Once an Indian doctor is accused of making inappropriate advances on a British visitor, however, the book picked up considerably, and I didn't have to force myself as much to "just get through it."

Although this book is considered one of the finest of the 20th century, it is not a novel for the weak-willed reader. There are many parts of the story that could hardly be considered engaging, although when the trial begins, things start to pick up significantly. In the end, I could appreciate why the book was called a classic (and I also appreciated the strong message it gave on thie importance of tolerance and understanding), but I will say this:

I'm sure glad I'll only be reading this one once.

My Rating: 3 stars (although I didn't actually "like" much of the book, I gave it this rating because I AM very glad I read it---it had some valuable insight that I won't be forgetting anytime soon)
Cleanliness: Although this book has some implied messages about sex, it's so understated and hidden that it could hardly be called offensive. That's the nice thing about many classics, really---although most deal with immorality, they do it in a way that's uplifting (by showing a higher road) rather than degrading. This is overall a very clean read.

My Antonia by Willa Cather

I think I must have tried to read this book three or four times before finally succeeding at finishing it. And it wasn't even because it was difficult or too boring or anything---I just wasn't in the mood for the story. Apparently what I needed to do was read it while traveling through the country it described (Nebraska) for it to finally grab me.

In my opinion, My Antonia is a classic because it perfectly paints the romance of childhood. Even things like death or tragedy seem to have an adventurous feel to them in the book, as most of the book is written with the narrator as a young boy. My Antonia tells the story of  Jim, who moved to Nebraska to live with his grandparents when his own parents died. There he met the lovely Antonia, a girl a few years his senior who came from Bohemia. Although Antonia speaks no English, they become fast friends, and they spend the happiest of childhoods together exploring the vastness of the wild countryside. Later, the book follows the pair as they grow into teenagers and finally into adults.

Although the plot of this story isn't always the most exciting or compelling, the language is stunning--Cather is one of my favorite authors when it comes to setting description because she paints the Midwest and West as the most idyllic settings in the world. Growing up amid the sagebrush and mountains myself, her books often resonate with my own memories of childhood. Another thing to love is the fact that Cather's books (many of which appear on most classics lists) are much easier to understand than most novels written at the same time.

So, if you're looking for a novel to get your feet wet into the classics genre, this would be a good pick.

My Rating: 3.5 stars
Cleanliness: Like Passage, there is some implied immorality (including an attempted rape), but it is understated and always meant to serve the purpose of inspiring characters to take the higher road. As the details are not graphic or explicit in the slightest, I would consider this a very clean read.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Not to be confused with Mockingjay (the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy which I thought was terrible), Mockingbird tells the story of Caitlin, an 11-year-old girl with Asperger's whose older brother was killed in a shooting at his middle school. The book follows Caitlin as she struggles to understand her brother's death and the sudden rise in attention being shown her.

I picked up this novel because I felt like I'd been slacking on my young adult reading, and I wasn't disappointed---this was a sweet story that gave a thoughtful perspective on what a child living with  Asperger's might go through when faced with a tragic situation. I felt like in reading this book, it made me much more conscious of the important role I have as a teacher---many of my kids struggle with disorders and disabilities, and I need to treat them as sensitively as many of the teachers in this novel treated Caitlin.

Although this book wasn't nearly as "meaty" as the other two reads, it was an uplifting reminder of the power of healing, friends, and moving on. I would especially recommend this book to any student in the 5th-8th grades who is struggling with tragedy or social issues.

My Rating: 3.5 stars
Cleanliness: This book is about as clean as they come.

With the advent of the new school year, I've allowed myself to just pick up and read whatever I want instead of looking at the next book on my "to-read" lists. With my schedule being as packed as it is, I figure it's more important now that I just stay with my resolution of reading two chapters of a book on most days rather than worrying about that AND which types of books I'm choosing.

Currently in the middle of:
Cooked by Michael Pollan
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

What are you currently reading? Finished anything good lately?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*It's a good thing I finally learned (mostly, anyway) to just embrace my pale skin because as you can tell, these legs look like they didn't see much sun all summer. And you basically have to squint at the other two pictures in this post to see some of my limbs---my arms and legs seem to blend right in with the background (especially that last one, where it almost looks like I have no legs whatsoever). It's kind of awesome really, in a creepy kind of way.

*However, pale legs aside, I will take this time to point out that while shopping at Target the other weekend for the first time in probably well over a year, I found myself two pieces I'd been craving forever: a patterned stretchy pencil skirt and a soft & slouchy grey tee with a pocket in front. And sha-bam! I had myself this perfect little Sunday outfit that I pretty much patted myself on the back for all day long because I feel immense pride over actually looking pulled-together once in awhile. And the whole thing only cost me about $35 (well, with the shoes about $55).

*I'm such a bargain bragger.

*Today I've been giving the students this district writing assessment that they all have to take at the beginning and end of the year. The students are shooting for a "4" (on a scale of 6), which shows them to be proficient for their grade level. Anything above a 5 shows they're advanced. And as for getting below a 4, well...basically it just means that I've got a lot of work to do. And you know what? So far, I've had nearly 100 students take the benchmark, and only 17 students have scored a "4" or above (13 of which are in my honors class).

*I know my students last year started almost just as low, but still. . . I guess this just means there's a lot of room for improvement, eh? (Like last year, when my students went from an average of about a 3.0 even to almost a 5 as a group, which was heartening). Let's just cross our fingers that I can work another semi-miracle with this batch.

*(You know it's bad though when a student, in response to a prompt that asks you to share a positive memory associated with family or friends in a multi-paragraph essay, proceeds to write only two sentences total that tell you what a "jerk face" this other kid in your class is. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried, people.)

*My sixth hour (which also has to take this benchmark writing assessment) is going to be interrupted by our first fire drill of the year. Aside from the fact that I'm annoyed they scheduled a drill right during a district assessment, I'm a little nervous about this group's ability to maturely handle a simulated (or real) emergency situation. When I was reviewing with the kids that if an actual fire were to occur, they were not to run in a panic from the building, the kids looked at me like I was crazy. I had to try and explain that if everyone were to run, it would probably take longer for most of them to get out of the building, especially if they got injured in the mob.

*None of them believed me.

*So please pray that there will be no fires at my school because it looks like there is a very high percentage I'd be trampled by hundreds and hundreds of 7th graders all panicking towards the nearest door.

*This photo makes me laugh whenever I see it because it looks like I'm singing the song "Turn Around" (Total Eclipse of the Heart) for a musical audition. (This is one of the few things that kind of stinks about having a husband who's into photography---like a good photographer, he just keeps snapping and snapping...even when you're clearly telling him to cut it out.)

*Sometimes I wish I could write a letter to my 7th-grade self when I see some of my own students struggling with the whole process of growing up and am reminded of my own junior high days. One thing I would write? "Dear Self---Guess what? You're never going to believe this. One day on school picture day, when you're a teacher in fact, the photographer will smile really big at you and actually tell you that you're a "natural." Although that might seem incredible to you now (due to the colossal mistakes that were your school pictures in grades 2, 4, 5, and 6), it will seem even more incredible when you see the epic failures that both your original and retake pictures are in 9th grade (I'll give you a hint--they're so bad, Mom won't even put them up. She'll leave your 8th grade one up--which is bad enough---and then take you to see a professional because you just can't handle it anymore). But hang in there, girlie! One day, you're destined to be a 'natural'!"

*(I have yet to actually see the picture, but I'm assuming it can't be as bad as last year's considering that I looked like a robot in that one...)

*If you were to write something to your 7th grade self, what would you say? (And I'll pass your responses on to my 7th graders, since we're talking about growing up as part of our unit right now.)

*So country swing dancing has officially started up again (I teach it twice a week at my school in case you didn't know), and this year's crop is proving to be even mor excited than last year's about the whole prospect of actually touching someone of the opposite sex in school WITH PERMISSION. (Side note: at my school, the kids aren't even allowed to hug. At all. So you can only imagine how strict we are about any PDA going on.) Along with the new class has come the typical responses: everyone freaking out when I demonstrate the moves with some of the male students (because how else am I supposed to show them how to do it?) and giggling girls who are intent to show off in front of the handful of guys who actually come by trying to do the moves as if they were a teen pop star.

*Some things just never change.

*I will say this though---today, I had all the boys find a partner first (because yesterday, all the girls went screaming towards their (girl)friends and clung to each other, leaving all the boys in bewilderment at what had happened and without any partners). And you know what? Those brave boys actually marched right up to a girl on the opposite side and asked her to dance without even hesitating. And not a single one required me to partner him with somebody, and not a single girl giggled and refused to dance with him. It was an early Christmas miracle, let me assure you.

*While at the library last night (checking out yet another Harry Potter book on c.d. for my long commute), I found myself pulling Michael Pollan's latest Cooked off the shelf and adding it to my pile of things to check out. And you know what I realized? I think that as a general rule, I prefer reading non-fiction to fiction. Although I end up actually reading more fiction (because I have all those book lists I'm trying to read my way through), I generally prefer the non-fiction genre to all else. What about you? Are you a fiction fan or a non-fiction nut?

Hope you have a happy Tuesday! Thanks for reading :)
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