Fall Titles I'm Excited About

Fall in Southern California basically means everyone gets super excited about drinking PSLs in their shorts and that they might grab a lightweight sweater if they're out after dark, so I use the term pretty liberally. Nonetheless, I love the anticipation of the season, since it means there are so many fun holidays and events on the horizon. There are also a few book releases that I'm getting psyched about. Check out some titles that will surely be finding their ways onto my shelves in the coming months:

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver- I have actually only read one or two books by her before, but I know enough to know that I'll want to read this one too. 

Becoming by Michelle Obama I pre-ordered this the day it was available, long before it had a cover. I can't wait.

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart- If you haven't read any of Shteyngart's other books you must. His dry wit is hilarious and his stories are addictive. I hope to see him next month in LA!

Bibliophile by Jane Mount- Mount paints prints of book spines and I have been head-over-heels in love with her work since the first time I saw one many years ago. I have some of her prints and notecards, as well as her other book. Someday I will save my pennies and get a custom-made painting done for my little home library. 

Elevation by Stephen King- I am generally not a huge King fan, but I do appreciate his writing abilities and his personal backstory. This one sounds pretty interesting, though, and isn't his typical horror/mystery story, but instead a sort of sci-fi social commentary.  

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami- I haven't read any of Murakami's novels, just his memoir, so this one might be the one I take the plunge with (I have to confess that the references to The Great Gatsby intrigued me).

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah- I was sold when I say that Roxane Gay blurbed this collection of short stories about racial injustice. 

Family Trust by Kathy Wang- I think this one might be a little lighter, but I thought the comparison to The Nest was interesting, especially since this is set in the Silicon Valley. 

The  Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose- I know this was available in other countries, but finally Americans will be able to soon get their hands on a novel centered around a unique art instillation. 

All About Cake by Christina Tosi- More recipes from Tosi and The Milk Bar! They're opening a shop in LA and I cannot wait to not only go buy EVERYTHING but take a class once I can snag a spot.  

Am I missing anything? Do I need to add any other titles to my list?

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Happy Wednesday! Link up, link back!

1. There is no tired like "first full week back with students" teacher tired. Dang. But, all in all, things are going well. My class sizes are leveling off, the kids seems fine, and I'm making a dent in grading their summer work assignments. Sawyer and I have fallen right back into our weekday routines, which helps so much. It's so nice that he mostly get himself ready now- anything to save me a few minutes! Despite feeling a little beat today, I have to say that this is the first school year since having a kid that I've gone back to work in August feeling mostly refreshed. As a whole I feel more optimistic, calmer, and just more ready, than I have at work in a really long time. 

2. Last week we were not only getting back into the the groove of things, but we also had to deal with the added local panic of a fire that was less than ten miles away (The Holy Fire). I never, ever felt that my house was in danger, but some of our neighbors and my husband were very concerned, since the hills where the fire was located look much closer than they were. The fire ballooned quickly and grew to over 20,000 acres in a few days with little containment for five days. There was a lot of smoke and ash, made worse by high temperatures and wind. While I definitely have things that panic me, this was not one of them, and I refused to do anything more than the officials told us to do (so when our fire chief listed our area as one to pack go-bags just in case, I did throw together important documents). They have over 70% containment at this point, with very few structures damaged, which is a huge testament to the dedication and ability of the firefighters. 

3. I started reading Sawyer a few pages every day of Charlotte's Web and I found an old book label I had made myself when I was in elementary school. It had my name, of course, but also the Babysitter's Club logo, which my dad had helped me scan in. I was a BSC fiend and even wanted to start one with my friend at one point. Unfortunately, her dad was a CPA and told us that unless we got a tax ID and went about it "the right way" he wouldn't let us. Eye rolls for days- he totally ruined my chance to channel my inner Stacy (when in reality I was probably more of a Mary Anne). 

4. I saw that Instagram is rolling out some updates that will introduce some productivity features that allow you to keep tabs of your time in the app and even set timers for allotted time a day. I live for this kind of data. I know Apple plans on incorporating even more advanced options similar to these in an upcoming IOS and I cannot wait. 

5. I am reading the Book of Tess right now and I am a little torn on how I feel about it. The story is interesting right now, but I'm concerned it might end predictably. I am also not blown away by the writing, either, but I do love the fact that the author is a doctor- it's more forgivable knowing she's a smart lady. I might also go as far as to say that it feels like sophisticated YA, but I don't think I'll take that plunge quite yet. It's probably the perfect thing for me right now, since I can't commit huge stretches to reading right now. 

6. I am listening to  Heather Harpham's The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness, which is about coping with her daughter's blood disease and complicated relationship with her father. So far I'm pretty interested, but I do think that maybe it's moving a tiny bit too slow, although that might just be because I am listening in super small increments right now. 

7. Over the past week or so I have had three or four different friends contact me, completely unsolicited, and offer some really kind comments. It's hard for me to accept compliments, but I tried to be as gracious as I am capable of being. More than anything I was just left with this feeling of "DAMN, I have good, kind people in my life that understand me and my intentions." 

8. We watched The Quiet Place last weekend and it was terrifying. I am not a fan of suspense/horror movies and while this was was well-done, it scared the crap out of me. 

9. It just occurred to me the other day how bizarre it is that I am not in close contact with either of my college roommates, from the two years I dormed at UCLA. We aren't on bad terms, but neither girls are super active on social media, so contact sort of just fizzled out. It's just so strange to me! We lived in the same room, ate countless meals together, cried on each others' shoulders, and were kind to each others' families. And now, nothing. Weird, yes, but also... totally fine. 

The 2018-2019 School Year: Looking Ahead

The 2018-2019 school year is off and running! I have a soft spot for goal-setting, so every year I try to make a few in August. It's like New Year's Resolutions, but for teachers, I suppose. Here's what I plan to work on this year: 

1. Grade ten essays a day: I collect other assignments besides essays, but essays are ALWAYS, WITHOUT FAIL are the ones that pile up. If I grade at least ten a day I will be able to stay relatively on top of things. I think I am going to go as far as to add this to my grading calendar (see below).

2. Keep using a grading calendar: I've used this consistently for probably a year and a half now and it has really helped me stay organized and accountable with my grading. I'm not perfect and I screw it up ALL the time, but assigning myself grading tasks really helps. I am really motivated by lists and charts, so this is perfect for me. (For those who are teachers and are wondering, I just print out a blank monthly calendar and write in what I am going to grade on what day, taking into account busy weekends, my late TOK-class day, etc... I also keep a running list of what assignments I have, so that I can cross them off as well as I input them into the grade book).

3. Apply to be an IB-Scorer: GAH! I have had this on my to-do list for about a year now, and the biggest roadblock has been the fact that I haven't done a resume. I've done so many things since I've started teaching that I haven't kept good track of, so the task of trying to think back has been daunting. I don't even know if I want to become a long-term exam scorer, I just think knowing the process would help my teaching.

4. Have my students journal four days a week: I've done this here and there throughout the years, but I really, really want to hit it hard. My plan is to have the students silently write for 5-10 minutes most days and then finish up at home if necessary (each prompt will require one full written composition notebook page). The prompts will be a combination of personal responses and then also more in line with what we are reading, so that they are practicing personal narrative writing for college essays but also having time to reflect on our classroom content. 

5. Quit caring (as much) about what others think: I am a solid teacher who knows my  content area well and forms strong connections  with my students. I am proud of the growth my students show, demonstrated by the improvement in their writing, the depth of their discussion participation, and, ultimately, their IB test scores. Nonetheless, a part of my brain still thinks that there are certain people who doubt my capabilities. Like they think I'm an IB teacher because I fool people by dressing professionally or talking a good game or am friends with the right people or something. Hell, this might not even be true (anymore). I need to let it go. 

6. Revamp my outside reading accountability assignments: I am so incredibly tired of trying to cram quick little conversations with students into a few days at the end of the semester! Last semester I had the students choose a novel with a social issue, research the issue, write a short paper, and do a quick presentation. They weren't exactly thrilled, but I really enjoyed seeing them combine fiction and expository text in different ways. I don't think I'm ready for a new crop of juniors to do this, so for now I am requiring them to pick at least one book that is set internationally and do a paper that discusses the country in relation to the content. I'm also going to have them do some explications and a "Pop Question Presentation" at the end that will minimize the process. 

It's definitely going to be a busy year, and there are a lot of changes at our school site and district. We have a new-ish principal, a brand new superintendent, and our union is in the thick of messy negotiations. I really can't control any of that, though. What I can do is make sure I am teaching to the best of my capabilities, that I am having fun outside of school, that my students are learning, and that I don't go crazy. Fingers crossed. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Picked up Sawyer's mild stomach bug/fever: CHECK
Fire close enough to raise eyebrows, but not worry much (at least me) CHECK
First day back to school with students tomorrow: CHECK

I'll be back soon when things settle down a leeeeetttttle more! 

Girl, I Use a Clarisonic Nightly

A few people recently have mentioned they thought I'd like Rachel Hollis' self-help book Girl, Wash Your Face, their thinking being that Hollis and I both share the Can'tSitDownAndDoNothingForLongPeriodsOfTime-Itis with an occasional bout of INeedToDoItAllRightNowOrElseIAmAnEpicFailure Syndrome (these are legit diseases, I swear). I was sort of hesitant, though, since I know Hollis is pretty vocally religious and I am... not. At all. I'm also pretty picky about what sort of self-help books I'll spend time with, since a lot of them are crap (but not all). I was curious, though, especially after a few other people I knew read and loved it. I checked in with them and asked about the God thing, and based on their answers, decided to give it a listen. Here's what I liked and did not:

The Good:
- I listened to this during the past week and it was perfect timing, as I'm headed back to work and know I will be half-assing pretty much all areas of my life until next June. Hollis' words gave me permission to feel a little better about myself and to ease up a bit. 
- She has stories and advice focused on so many areas of life, including work, kids, marriage, sex, personal growth, the past, goal setting, weight, etc... that I think most women will be able to identify in at least some areas. I have to admit to nodding vigorously and even saying "yes!" out loud, in my car, several times. She said a lot of things that I needed to hear that I've been trying to tell myself for years. Will this be life-changing? Probably not in the long run, but I can say that after listening to a chapter I completely changed how I handled something at home and the results were so much better than normal. 
- Her stories are interesting and she really seems like she's being honest, as often she portrays herself in a less-than-flattering light.
- I went into this thinking I'd hate her at least a little bit, but I really could probably be friends with the lady (as long as she promised to not judge my for my Diet Coke habit and maybe left the scriptures in the car). She's pretty endearing.
- She's right. So much of she says is the advice we'd give our friends, sisters, or even daughters, but she's giving it straight to us. And by listening it felt even more personal. 
- I really, really appreciated her stories about foster parenting, adoption, and her struggle with her brother who killed himself. Coincidentally, she grew up in the Central Valley a few hours away from where I did, and my dad took his own life as well, so I felt a little connection there (this may also be why people have recommended it to me, they just didn't want to actually say this to me...?). 

The Less-Than-Good
- While the religious factors weren't enough to make me quit listening or even dislike it, I could have done without the references. I think she does it well, though, and I didn't feel like she was trying convert me or shove the Bible down my throat. She offered multiple perspectives on issues, and her faith just happened to be one, and that's okay. I can respect her ability to acknowledge different ways of doing things! I have a complicated relationship with faith and I just don't want to listen or read about it at this stage of my life.
- I didn't love the multiple "girl," "sister," or "dear friend" addresses that ran rampant throughout. I've never been a "you go, girl!" kind of person, though, so that's just my cynical side coming out.
- She is a little bit repetitive at times; she shares similar versions of a few stories that made it apparent she wrote the chapters out of order and her editor didn't clean things up enough before publishing.
- I LOATHE the title and I HATE the cover. This is me being nit-picky, but it's true. 
- I felt that the part about embracing diversity at the end, when she mentions her African American best friend who is also gay, and searching for a less-white church was maybe just a last-minute appeal to those who were going to start finding ways to bring up her privilege. This of course could be the result of bad editing, like I mentioned before, but it was definitely a thought that entered my mind. 

So, really, I think if you're a woman between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-five (or whatever), I think there's something in here for you. It's not perfect, but I still respect her approach, willingness to share, and her positivity.