Bookish (and no so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up below!

1. So, we live in a nice area in a not so nice region, if that makes sense (for those that are SoCal natives, we're in South Corona). Anyway, that being said, there is crime, as there is anywhere. Last Saturday, while my husband and I were out to dinner with friends and his parents were watching the baby, there was a motorcycle gang shooting on the freeway two miles away from our house. We were stuck in traffic (like baaaaad traffic) and I started googling, and low and behold, the Mongols and Hell's Angels had a shoot out on the freeway and there was a death and a few injuries. I know, violence and death are bad things. BUT, I love motorcycle gangs. I just do, I can't help it. I don't even watch Sons of Anarchy (yet)! The level of euphoria that I experienced directing my husband through side streets off the freeway (including unlit dirt roads) was something I haven't felt in a long time- legit motorcycle gangs were going at it in my neck of the woods! I spent a great deal of time reading up on the two groups that night (they have websites!), so now I'm basically an expert. 

2. The Fleetwood Mac station on Apple (or is it iTunes?) Radio is pretty excellent stuff.

3. Sawyer has always been a mellow, happy baby, but the last week or so he has been down right ecstatic. If he was a teenager I'd accuse him of doing drugs. The kid will lay in the middle of the floor and laugh at nothing. And when you make an effort to really get him to laugh he gets even more giggly. It's pretty much the best. And it makes it a million times harder to leave him at daycare in the morning.

4. A neighboring school district has decided to ban The Fault in Our Stars from middle school libraries. I'm not a fan of the book, at all, but I think this is an incredibly archaic move. I opened it up to my students for discussion and they assured me that middle schoolers no so much more about sex than that book describes. What a relief.

5. I've been drinking way, way too much Diet Coke since school started (less than six hours of shitty sleep a night will do that to you) so I decided to cave in and become a coffee drinker (again). Today was day three of iced coffee in the morning (I make a big pitcher at home) and I must say, my quality of life has improved dramatically. I'm just so much happier now.

6. I have severe picture-deleting anxiety syndrome. I have over 1600 pictures saved on my phone and I often get the "out of space" message. I've backed up my phone onto my computer and have backed that up onto an external hard drive. A lot of my pictures are on Facebook or Instagram, and I've also done photobooks. It's just so traumatic. When my dogs die I'll want all the pictures I have of them. When I'm sitting in my living room in sweats on a Saturday night I'll want to relive my nights of going out with a full face of makeup. And so on and so forth. I'm trying to do a few a day and have decided I'll leave all the ones from 2014, for now. 

7. My students started a petition for me to join Snapchat on this site called edmodo (it's like Facebook, but for classrooms). The thread ended up with over 400 comments, most of which were quotes from Mean Girls, by the end. I'm so relieved they're weird. I was worried there for a few weeks! How was I going to get through two years with a group of normal kids? It turns out this group is much funnier and witty than I thought. They're growing on me.

8. I just reread "Master Harold"... and the boys by Athol Fugard and I forgot how powerful it is. And irritating to punctuate as a title.

9. I'm obsessed with replicating this hair style:


10. I'm really looking forward to this weekend- Friday night Homecoming game with my brother and Sawyer at work, a trip to what's supposed to be a cool park Saturday morning to walk, and then lunch with one of my oldest friends that afternoon.

Up Coming

It's Saturday. It's not even 7 am (edited to add: our internet is being a lazy bastard, so who knows when this will really get posted). It's a perfect gloomy, stay-in-bed and doze kind of weather. Alas, I have a five-month-old who awoke at his regular wake up time, 5:45. He then waved his metaphorical chubby middle finger in the air and conked back out after he had a full belly and I was completely awake. He's too little to call a douchebag, right?

Nonetheless, I'm up, thinking about some upcoming things that I'd like to work on. I'm sure this morning's inability to "nap" will bite me in the ass in a few hours, but what can you do?

First of all, I'd like to start using this book for personal writing, of which I'd like to post on here, occasionally:

I use it in my classroom every once in awhile, and am always a little jealous of the kids while I'm grading papers or doing something boring like that. I think it would be a fun way sharpen the writing chops and to provide a different sort of content than I usually do.

Speaking of writing (yes, I know this is a segue I use often, but it's just so... easy), I need to go back through and read all of the New York Times' "Bookends" column, which I recently discovered. Each week they have two writers debate a topic like "does where you live make a difference in how and what you write?" or "the demands of book promotion: frivolous or necessary?" They're incredibly fascinating, and I think I could do something here, and at work, with them.

I've started the bookish project of creating Sawyer's baby book, an undertaking I've been both excitedly anticipating and slightly dreading. They yearbook adviser in me is of course going to go all out on this, naturally. I'm using Mixbook, which gives you the most amount of control, while still being user friendly. My goal right now is to do one spread a day until I catch up- I'm anticipating this book to be really long, and really expensive. I'm still trying to decide what narrative perspective to use- I posed the question on Facebook the other day and got mixed advice. First person or third?

I'd also like to make this pumpkin:


or this, for my fireplace, but with fall colors:
[source- via Pinterest via some spammy site]

I'm not a crafty person, and I think a lot of homemade decor projects (ala Pinterest) delve into the tacky category quickly (and a lot don't, if we're being fair). I do hate paying a ton of money for things I could possibly make, though, but decorating the house does fall into the "fake it til you  make it" philosophy that I'm currently channeling.

Chances of all this happening: slim to none.

A girl can dream...

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts)

Link up below.

1. It's crazy how moods are so contagious. For good and bad.

[orrrrr just the opposite | source]

2. Sawyer is finally growing some hair, I think. He was born with some downy fuzz, but in the last few weeks it appears to have grown a millimeter or two. Maybe by his first birthday it'll be style-able. 

3. I made this strange sounding one-pot dish the other night, despite the fact that I hate sausage. It was pretty darn good.

4. I pass by a house that has a pretty legit-looking teepee in the front yard every day and am very intrigued by what exactly it's used for. Are they Native American? Is it for their kids or grandkids? Do they sell drugs in it? Can I go in it?

5. One of the stupidest things you can do as a high school teacher is leave your room during passing period. So many teenagers talking loudly, making out, and spitting. And they're always walking in the opposite direction. Always. 

6. Despite my theories that the health living blogging community (HLBers) is fizzling out, I do read a few still. It seems like most of them are really starting to phone it in lately with their posts, and yet they still are sponsored, still claim blogging is their full time job, and still show up in my reader once or twice a day each. I just don't get it.

7. This quote is totally my life philosophy:


8. It's fire season in Southern California and there is a big one in Yosemite and one in Bass Lake (and even a small one near my house last weekend). It's so sad to see nature on fire, and then charred, but it's important to remember that it's quite necessary for regrowth and vegetation control. It's not cool when it's started by a humans, though, or when firefighters are injured. And the fact that we're using a ton of water, during a terrible drought, is unfortunate (and that's not the only way to fight fire). But, anyway, my point is that people need to remember that while inconvenient and sad, fire is natural and important.

[the view from down the street; we were never in danger!]

9. I really love that the lady who runs Sawyer's daycare has three boys, ranged from middle school to early college. They all live at home and interact with the kids all the time- it's so nice to see good kids being good role models.

10. I have a couple of review copies that are a bit overdue for reviews right now. I feel guilty. I know I'm not the only one that gets behind, but I still feel douchey.

Top Ten Tuesday- Gimme More!

This week The Broke and the Bookish ask us what authors we've only read one book from but need to read more of. I may stretch this to two- I know, such a rule breaker.

1. Colum McCann- I've only read two of his books, but he has several more. Let the Great World Spin is one of my favorites, too, so it's a bit pathetic. 

2. Fydor Dostoyevsky- Crime and Punishment is also one of my favorites, but I've neglected the rest of his catalogue. 

3. Richard Russo- I've read two, Empire Falls and Mohawk (Rory, don't kill me). It's embarrassing. 

4. Meg Wolitzer- I read The Interestings last year and loved it. I need more of her. Soon.

5. F. Scott Fitzgerald- I've only read The Great Gatsby, and while it's not my favorite, I do consider him important to the American cannon. As an English teacher, I feel obligated. 

6. Dave Eggars- I read The Circle last year, and a few other essays, but that's it. And I pride myself in reading quality contemporary authors.

7. TC Boyle- I'm really ashamed about this one. I've only read two of his books, and consider Tortilla Curtain one of the most timely, important books of the last twenty years. 

8. Don Dellilo- I read Underworld a few years ago, after working on it for nearly a decade. I need to tackle one of his smaller works. 

9. Haruki Murakami- I only read his running memoir, which barely counts. 

10. Salman Rushdie- I read Midnight's Children and absolutely adored it. I have one or two other books of his and have seen him speak, but still, just one.

What about you?

Catcher in the Rye Lessons

And I mean lessons as in things you can do with your students, not like the life ones. 

I am in no way turning this into a teacher blog (ew), but I do plan on occasionally posting some of the more interesting lessons I do with my students this year. I always do some of the basics with each book we read- themes, symbols, motifs, background on author, some literary criticism, character analysis, author's style, etc... I also try to do a few more "fun" lessons that connects the students to the text in different ways and allows them an alternative way of showing knowledge, as opposed to an essay or test.

I'm not one of those awesome teachers that are constantly creating new, exciting lessons that drive their students crazy with exciting. I don't dress up in costumes or rap. Sorry. I am consistent, though, and try to make the content I deliver interesting and get my students to actively participate every day. They do well and we usually end up liking, or at least tolerating, each other, so I think this works for me. These lessons aren't anything groundbreaking, but maybe something a little different for some (and boring as hell to others). 

With Common Core upon us, I try to integrate those standards into what I'm doing as well (integrating Common Core into the IB curriculum is an interesting discussion, which I'll save for another day). Basically, how can we connect a work of fiction to supplemental nonfiction material? And integrate writing and speaking? 

I do my best.

Here are three lessons/projects/tasks that my students seem to have enjoyed that, to some degree (some more than others) integrate the new standards.

Diagnosing Holden
In order to get students on-board, they first read a quick handout on teenage depression and determine eight symptoms/causes that apply to Holden Caulfield, filling out a graphic organizer that calls for analysis and textual evidece. Then, students are required to write a 800-1,000 word psychiatrist's report (they're taking on the role of a mental health practitioner) evaluating Holden's mental state. They must write it in a report-like format, use textual support from the novel, and must research mental health illnesses to determine which one they think he suffers from (if any at all). Students must include background, symptoms, treatment, and prognosis sections. They are encouraged to include supplemental information like brain scans, interviews, and anything else they can come up with to strengthen their case. Depending on time, students will either present their findings to the class, small group, or partner.

Skills: research, using the text as evidence, writing a report, analysis of fiction and non-fiction text, creativity, oral presentation 

Boarding Schools
Students are asked to research the effects boarding schools have on children and teenagers, finding at least two semi-recent articles. Students must annotate both articles fully and finish a "SOAPSTone" (an AVID strategy) and rhetorical precis. Students must then determine their own stance, and use evidence from the novel and articles to support their claims. Students will write a one-page response in their notebooks, expressing their own opinions. After this has been finished, students will participate in a Socratic Seminar (fancy word for "class discussion") in which they discuss whether or not boarding schools are positive or negative institutions and how they impacted Holden.

Skills: research, in-depth analysis of both nonfiction and fiction texts, debate and discussion skills

Episodic Narrative (the "Picaresque Novel")- Charades*
After giving the class information about what a episodic/picaresque novel is, students then brainstorm a list of episodes that occurred in the novel. Students are then placed in groups and are given a card with their episode on it. They must discuss the significance of it in the text and then act out the scene silently (beware for hysterics, and inappropriateness, with the Sunny/Maurice scene). After the class guesses what scene they performed, the group discusses the importance while the rest of the class takes notes in a graphic organizer

Skills: analysis, creativity, public speaking
* This is obviously a lighter activity- it makes for something nice to do after a heavy couple of days, during a weird schedule, or as a sort of review before the test 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. I love the word "Adirondack." It's just fun to say. Just do it. Now do it again. Kinda rolls off the tongue, right? It makes me want to go the mountains. Or buy some chairs. Or sit on some of those chairs in some of those mountains (how effing meta). 


2. My husband cashed in a whole bunch of Best Buy coupons over the weekend and bought the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and we both really enjoyed it. Now I desperately want to go to Iceland... or Greenland. They're both just so beautiful, and clean. 

3. There is no difference between a calzone and a pizza, sorry to burst anyone's bubble. I made BBQ chicken calzones the other days and as I sat there in my classroom eating leftovers for lunch I started thinking what the point of making them really is....

4. I need to invent a Chocolate Golden Graham's Shake. I'm sure it's already been made, since basically everything you could every dream up has already been thought up by someone a tiny bit more original that you are, but whatever.

5. I'm obsessed with almond extract. Yesterday I made my third peach tart in like two months and wanted to douse my entire body in the stuff. I subbed out vanilla and cinnamon for it in my French toast on Sunday and it was delicious. 

6. I've been taking the herb Fenugreek in ridiculously crazy amounts (if you really want to know why, think breastfeeding reasons) and I smell like maple syrup now. No joke. I guess it could be worse, and my husband doesn't notice it, but I do. I guess Fenugreek is used in a lot of syrups, so it makes sense. I think it's important to warn people, just in case someone starts craving pancakes after they've been hanging out with me for awhile.

[I am now done with the food portion of this post....]

7. My friends are getting married in less than two months and I've made it my goal to lose the last few Sawyer-pounds so that I can buy a new dress. Given the whole budget issue, this is a huge incentive. Which reminds me, perhaps the Golden Graham Shake, French Toast, Peach Tart, and calzones aren't the best idea. 

8. For some reason I thought I could wear Sawyer forward-facing in the Baby Ergo. Turns out you cannot, despite that some people do. Luckily I only tried it on a short walk, which he loved, but the kid was five minutes away from losing all circulation in his legs. I felt bad, for like ten minutes, but then I remembered how little sleep I get and how breastfeeding him has totally jacked my schedule, and I felt a little like he might have had it coming (kidding, kidding).

9. Over the weekend, while getting my hair FINALLY done, I wrote a really long post on my phone about how I'm learning to stop thinking I owe explanations for things, like how my husband and I spend (or don't spend) our money, decisions we make about our kid, how I spend my time, etc... I didn't end up posting it, since it turned into a rambling mess fueled my the rage I was feeling as my stylist made me wait. Nonetheless, it was pretty cathartic.

10. Reasons why the weather needs to get cooler: so I can wear hoodies, soup, lower electric bill, less resentment about not being able to lay by the pool whenever I want, evening walks, treadmill time in a cool room, better air quality, lower water bill, hot beverages, holidays, and boots. 

In Defense of the Advanced Kids


I feel like this post needs several disclaimers and an extensive background section to prevent offending anyone or risking my job or something. So, here are a few disclaimers and a short background:

1. I think all kids deserve a quality education that maximizes their learning potential. 
2. I am not necessarily speaking about any one school, district, or situation. I understand that there are exceptions. Some places excel, some fall short, and some (most, probably) are somewhere in the middle.
3. I understand that every site has their own unique needs and that every district has their own unique budget.
4. I currently teach IB English to juniors (this is an international program that promotes a well-rounded education that can earn students college credit through the examination process; I graduated with the IB Diploma from high school). We are an open-access school, meaning any child that wants to take an advanced class, no matter their past performance, can.
5. I was a smart kid. I married a smart kid. I hope to raise a smart kid.
6. I'd say any of this to an administrator. 

I bet you see where this is going. If I wasn't such a wordy person that tends to get quite comfortable on her soapbox regarding such matters I'd end it now. Yeah, fat chance.

All across America, advanced kids are getting the shaft, on many different levels. Monetarily, millions of dollars are directed towards special education, the EL (English Learners) population, and those at risk. New curriculum is bought, resources procured, trainings executed, and special positions created for these subgroups. And rightfully so! Struggling students deserve a fair, fighting chance to learn what their at-grade-level and above-grade-level peers are. The student who doesn't know English is entitled to assistance. The student with a processing disorder deserves a caring individual that can patiently provide them with the scaffolding and modifications they need. The student who has been in a wheelchair their entire life should be able to pop wheelies on ramps and have no problem attending classes on the second story of a building. The student who is three years behind in math should have a place to go for extra tutoring with a highly-trained individual to help them.

But what about the student who does calculus in his sleep? The one who churns out essays with beautiful theses and carefully crafted syntax? The student that is a hop, skip and a jump away from curing cancer? What about these kids? 

If we go back to my first item in the disclaimer (aka "I promise Christine is a good person/teacher, please don't be mad at her" list) section, I, and most educators, believe that all students rightfully deserve to be taught challenging content that stretches their abilities- the good stuff that takes them to the next level. The above-grade-level kids deserve assistance too. Their programs need budgets and coordinators (at the site and district levels) and supplies. Just as it would not be right to ignore a struggling student, it is not right to ignore the advanced one. So often, beginning at the elementary level (dare I say especially at the elementary level, since "tracking" has become a dirty word), smart kids are welcomed into the classroom, seen as as "easy" or "good" students. They're typically given the standard assignments and then told to read, draw, or tutor other students when they're done early. They receive less of the teacher's time (unless they act out from being bored) and aren't frequently given specialized content. These kids are left hanging because they're already at grade level and easily understand new concepts. So, instead of challenging them to do better, they're left to plateau. When I taught fourth and fifth grade I have to admit I was sometimes guilty of this. When I was in third grade myself I'd get the week's work done by Tuesday or so for most of my subjects and then get to screw around for the rest of the time. I'd read, write stories, or, better yet, fake a stomachache so I could go home.  

This isn't about taking away from other subgroups. It's about adding to this one. 

As teachers, those who teach honors courses, whether AP, IB, GATE, or whatever other acronym applies, are typically seen as "lucky" or as "having the easy classes." I've taught at both ends of the spectrum, and the in-between. I've taught kids who refuse to work and call you a bitch as they walk out of class ("that's Mrs. Bitch, thankyouverymuch"). I've taught the advanced kids, as I do now, and I've taught the "regular" classes. And let me tell you, they all come with their own challenges. I don't have unmanageable behavior problems rwith these students, but I do more grading and prep work than I did with other courses. It's a trade off. 

Bottom line: teaching is hard.

I'm not calling for a radical shift, or even complete equity, if we're being realistic. I do challenge the education system to continue meeting the needs of all their students- including those of the more advanced. If we're going to promote rigor and grit, then by all means, let's push those that are willing to be pushed (and those that aren't... just push them all, for crap's sake). 

His and Hers

[except books. source]

When Scott and I moved in together eight years ago there were a fair amount of arrangements and compromises to be made. We negotiated the artwork for the walls, decided how we'd handle things financially (separately... we'd handle things separately), and, the big one- how the books would be arranged.

Given the fact that both of us were English majors in college (it's how we met! In a discussion section for Detective Fiction at UCLA), and still avid readers, we had hundreds of books to deal with in our one-bedroom apartment. There were so many questions: Would we combine our books into one collection? Keep them separate? What would we do with duplicates? Who would decide the system of organization? Would future books be seen as part of the overall collection, or owned by one of us?

Now I understand that in the whole scheme of life, these really aren't important questions. But we were young and unmarried- who knew if it was going to work? If we split up who would get custody of the books that were "ours"? If we got rid of duplicate copies who would get the remaining book? In the end, we decided to combine our collections, taking duplicates out and saving them in an alternate location (aka a closet), just in case. I, of course, being the order-instiller (doesn't that sound so much better than "control freak"?) that I am, decided on the actual organization. 

Fast-forward to present day, where we've been married almost six years and have enough space for lots of books, and I'm still uptight on the joint book situation. What's mine is mine and what's his is his. We've gone "halfsies" on maybe two or three book ever, and I can tell you with absolute certainty what books are mine and what books are his. The biggest problem, though, and the reason that catalyzed this post, is that I generally won't read his books. It's not that he won't let me- he's incredibly generous and a lot more into sharing that I am (just ask him about my orange juice system...)- I just feel like I should read all of my own books first. There's two problems with that. The first: he gets books that I want to read. The second: I will never be done with all of my books. My TBR pile will never be eliminated. Therefore, using all that "if than" logic proof stuff from math or philosophy or whatever, I will never get to read certain books that I want to, because I will never finish my own, since I add anywhere from twelve to three hundred (not really) a year.

There have been a few exceptions, all for book club, over the years, The Selected Works of TS Spivet, Catch-22, and The Goldfinch coming to mind. But if there isn't an outside purpose, it ain't happening. 

Back to the catalyst. Last Tuesday David Mitchell's newest, The Bone Clocks, came out and he ordered it, using his Amazon points. I really want to read it- Mitchell is awesome and I need things to look forward to. Trying to work my "halfsies loophole," I offered to pay for half so that I'd allow myself to read it. He, knowing this is one of my quirks, refused, telling me that I could just read it when he's done. But that's not how it works. I have nearly fifty books of my own to get through first, I can't let one that's not mine "cut." 

I'm stuck.

And I may have some sort of psychological disorder. 


Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up below!

1. I'm burnt out on taking my lunches and it's only the fourth week back. I remember being in elementary school and tossing most of what my mom sent because I after years and years of PB&J I had had it. Send help! Or suggestions (that don't require a microwave). 

[mom, make me some bento boxes, please! source]

2. Tomorrow Sawyer has to go in for his four month check up (he's getting so old... what's next, his driver's license test?), which means his next round of vaccinations. Last round was beyond horrible. He understandably cried when he got them, but about two hours after we got home he was hysterical. The poor kid cried harder and louder than he ever had. The doctor had given us the wrong dosage for the newest concentration of Tylenol, so we had to wait for the on-call doctor to respond before we could get any in him. By the time he was able to get to some rest he was sobbing in his sleep. Tomorrow he's getting the drugs as soon as we get home.

3. I'm currently listening to A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, about his trip along the Appalachian Trail. I'm only about forty-five minutes in, but so far it's pretty good. It's making me want to hike.

4. David Mitchell's newest book, The Bone Clocks, came out today and he's doing a reading at UCLA in a few weeks. Am I going? No, no I'm not. I'd blame the  baby, but the truth is that I have to take tickets for a stupid basketball game at work as part of my extra-duty responsibilities. Of course, on the day someone good finally comes to town.

5. I desperately want to try making one of these Strawberry Moscow Mules, but I'm still not drinking, due to breastfeeding [insert appropriate rant/diatribe/sob story here].

6.  My friend just texted me, asking if I wanted to tag along to a yoga class tomorrow. I had to postpone the invite, but the idea of going to a class both excites and terrifies me. I've been trying to get myself to do more planks and maybe embark on a sun salutations challenge, but I'm still in the, shall we say, planning stage....

7. Want.


8. I need to figure out how to make Princess Leia buns out of yarn... for a dog. Preferably by October 31. 

A Long Weekend/Piss Off August

This long weekend was so very, very much needed.

We laid low part of the time at home and then yesterday I took Sawyer to my grandparent's house for a big gathering for my grandma's birthday. 

We walked, I baked, he practiced rolling from his back to side (but not belly to back, because he's too cool for that normal baby stuff). 

August was tough. It was hard at home, it was hard at work and, to cap it all off, hot as hell.  It was just not my favorite month. 

September through mid-November is the longest stretch of the school year, but I'm going to do my best embrace it. I'm going to buckle down and get back to basics. I'm going to quit bitching (maybe) about the heat (and my electric bill). I'm going to enjoy every moment I have at home with my family. I'm going to be healthier, in every way. I'm going to focus.

And I'm going to read more. So, there's that.