Book Blogging: Relax, It's Just not that Important

Hold on. Just hear me out. Give me a second. I know my target audience is, well, book bloggers, and here I am insulting their craft. Dick move. I know. But just hold on.

[Cue the follower drop off]

Lately there have been some "outings" of plagiarism here in our little community, and while I'll spare you the lecture on how stealing content is a huge sin, the explanation from of at least one of them made me chuckle. She felt too pressured to post. In fact, I hear that resonating on many blogs, that people feel genuinely overwhelmed with ARCs, publishers, book "tours," challenges, memes, guest posts, commenting, and whatever else this hobby entails.

You guys. Did you just read that word? Hobby. For most of us, that's what this is. A rewarding, fun hobby that lets us do something more with our other hobbies, reading and writing. Hobbies are not supposed to stress you out, but instead be something that you can enjoy to escape the things that do cause you anxiety. You know, like work, taking care of families, nurturing relationships, illness, financial woes, or various forms of personal loss. The really, really important stuff. Not that hobbies aren't important, because they are, but, again, they're not supposed to make you feel anything but positive.

Most of our blogs aren't going to pay the bills, and never will. They are an outlet that should fulfill a creative need or perhaps one that craves interactions with like-minded individuals. Our blogs will never cure cancer, bring peace to the Middle East, or solve the poverty crisis.

They do make us happy, though, and happiness is really important to being sane, healthy, and having a balanced life. They make us feel warm and fuzzy, whether we're writing, reading, or commenting on posts. They make us feel validated when we see new followers, complimentary comments, or shout-outs from others. We get on our soapbox when we see people insulting books we love or knocking down our favorite authors (but in a fun way, right?).

I get wanting to do what you do the best you can, since I run that way about 80% of the time. I love that people value their audience, which I see paid-bloggers in other areas totally not do. I even get a little bit of competition.  

So, relax. Calm down. Have a glass of whatever makes you feel better. Read your books. Write when you can. Comment when you have time. Remember: this is supposed to be fun.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back!

1. What a mothereffing week. Sawyer and I came down with colds over the weekend and his turned into something a little worse, requiring breathing treatments, steroids, and inhalers. Have you ever given a breathing treatment to a ten-month-old? Dear God, it's horrible. I had to do the one in the office, which meant pinning him down for fifteen minutes while he screamed and thrashed around. A few times he'd completely stop and stare at me with these sad "why are you doing this to me, mom?" eyes and then start up again.  Luckily when we did it at home I was able to distract him with some stupid Mickey cartoon (plus I think he was more comfortable being somewhere familiar). This has also meant that I've missed three days of work, which is KILLING me. Obviously my baby comes first, but being benched is so not my style.

2. I rejoined Audible, which has made driving around better since finishing Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw. I'm now listening to 168 Hours, in attempt to find some sort of hidden time in my week that I didn't know existed. So far it's asked me to keep tabs of how I spend my time each day, which I DON'T HAVE TIME TO DO. Oh, the irony.

3. I wonder what I'd be described like if I was a character in a book. Do I want to know? This would make for an interesting assignment for my students some day...

4. I picked these up for myself last weekend. Since I used the household account it was basically like my husband bought them for me... right?

5. Product junkie: I highly recommend Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner. It was either that or buy a Clarisonic to get all my makeup residue off at night, and this seems to be a much, much cheaper solution.

6. I've been a worse-than-usual (yes! it's possible!) blogger lately- as soon as the baby is well/the yearbook is done/the house looks like less of a disaster I will be back regularly.

7. Friday night I'm supposed to chaperone the Sadie Hawkin's dance from 7-10 outside in the school's quad. I'm all for school spirit and safe Friday night activities, but after the week I've had the last thing I want to do is leave my kid at home and stand out in the cold and watch teenagers dance. Interestingly, it has been canceled before.

8. He's not too sick to (army) crawl (by the way, the quality is horrible... thanks to Blogger)! 

9.  I'm expecting my delivery from Warby Parker today. They allow you five trial pairs of glasses to try on at home, which you then send back and order whatever one (if any) you liked best. This is what happens when I stay at home with a sick kid for three days- I get excited for the postman to come. Like really excited.

10. I have been desperately wanting to get my bike off the indoor trainer and onto the bike trail in this beautiful weather we've been having. My two concerns: remembering how to take off the wheel and whether or not it can fit in the back of my car without putting the seats down since the kid's beast of a car seat is pretty permanently installed in the back.

Children's Books I Need to Write

[we need some new books]

I think I should write a line of controversial children's books, tailored to our beliefs, of course, that will explain tough issues to my child.* Some working titles and synopsis for my (totally hypothetical) series:

Why We Don't Visit Animals in Captivity
Willy the Whale and Ellie the Elephant explain how their friends would much rather be frolicking in the wild (escaping poachers) than cooped up in zoo habitats while people nosily watch them all day (who really wants to be on display while pooping? Spending quality time with a special friend? There's no privacy!). They also explain how frustrating it is that the owners of these places don't believe in profit sharing- they don't see a dime, despite hours of work. They leave their readers with hints of forthcoming unionization. Possible sequels: circuses and aquariums.  

Mommy and Daddy Probably Don't Believe in Organized Religion
This sweet tale starts off examining many worldly religions, emphasizing their views regarding God (or a higher power), the afterlife, and sin. Families all over the globe are shown enthusiastically worshiping, devout in their beliefs. The naive little readers are then asked, "What one is right?" Ethical corruption may or may not be included.

George W. Bush, the Scariest Monster that Ever Lived: A Cautionary Tale
Little ones are warned about the Bush family, learning about what happens when the country is led by someone with a lower IQ than them! This educational, non-fictional story will teach kids about tax breaks, oil dependency, weapons of mass destruction, and setting others up to fail.

Girls and Boys are Equal
Feminists will love this story that shows a little girl growing up being told that she can't do what boys can. She proves everyone wrong, making the baseball team, graduating at the top of her class, earning as much as her male colleagues, and even peeing standing up. She refuses to let her dates pay for her dinners and only shaves her legs when she feels like it.

You Can Marry Whomever You Want (Just Not Animals)
Little Bobby and Susie attend their Aunts' wedding and learn all about different romantic relationships that exist. They meet men that are dating, hear about a cousin that used to date men before he married his wife, discover what cross-dressing is, and even learn the basics of polygamy. Their grandpa gives them one rule, though, as little Bobby stares inquisitively at the Golden Retriever serving as the ring bearer. No marrying animals. 

The Colonists Were Illegal Immigrants
In this short rhyming book, kiddos learn that those coming into this country illegally are often doing it for a reason, like escaping poverty. Or because they want a better life for their families. Or because they don't want the CARTEL TO BEHEAD THEM! They're encouraged to think about how this country was originally started and on what grounds the United States was actually established.

*This is all just meant to be humorous, don't get you panties in a wad, step down off the soapbox, blablabla, etc... etc... etc...

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

How is it Wednesday night, again? Anyway, here we are. Link up and link back!

1. You know how they say to never go grocery shopping when you're hungry? The same geniuses should have advised us to never go to Target when we're mad.

2. What is the point of feather dusters? They take dust off one thing and put it on something else. The dust is still in the air and soon to be all over the objects you tried to remove it from in the first place. Pointless I tell you, pointless.

3. Is it true that some people don't know what It's It are? Really? Vanilla ice cream between two oatmeal cookies dipped in dark chocolate. [Please don't ever, ever google for pictures of these without using the first apostrophe. Just trust me. Don't.]

4. I'm reading Alice Munro's collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage and can't believe I haven't read more of her in the past.

5. The yearbook deadline is approaching and, like always, I'm this weird combination of panicked and nonchalant. Every other year it's always gotten in on time, so I'm sure it will this year too. It's just a tiny bit harder to work on it at home...

6. If you are planning to conduct a meeting, ask yourself one simple question: can what I say be conveyed via email? If yes, write the email and save everyone some precious time.


7. I'm confused about the balayage hair coloring- it sort of just reminds me of what my hair looks like after the highlights grow out for awhile. I've seen it look really good on some girls, but I think it might look sloppy on me... maybe.

8. My students are doing presentations right now that are THIRTY minutes long. That's a really, really long time for teenagers to have to plan, talk, and stress for. It's also a long time for me to sit there listening and scoring them. Luckily they're able to do them in groups, and the first day was better than I thought it would be, but still, it makes for a loooooong day.

9. I'm paying off a super small student loan- approximately 5% of what I owe. It does mean $50 less a month, though, and a reinvigorated sense of motivation to start chipping away a little more aggressively at the rest.
10. The measles thing is scary, but so it this- a drug-resistant superbug has surfaced on some scopes at UCLA. Two people have been killed and potentially 179 exposed, a possible result of the design. Once infected patients have a 40-50% chance of dying. And on that happy note....


Top Ten Tuesday- Got Ninety-Nine Problems

Fine. Not ninety-nine. Ten. 
This week The Broke and the Bookish ask us what some of our "bookish" problems are. Thank God they specified, because you people don't get paid enough to be my therapist.

1. Reading two books at once- I abhor reading two books at once, as I am now (Chronicle of a Death Foretold for Work and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage for fun). I'm known to multi-task, for better or worse, in my everyday life, but when it comes to reading I'd rather focus on one book at a time.

2. My kid- While I actually thought my reading and blogging would suffer more than they have, Sawyer still does sometimes prevent me from reading as much as I used to.

3. Space- This is one that causes me serious anxiety, which the rational part of my rational brain thinks is ridiculous, since I have a good-size home. I want them to all be in once place, though, so eventually we'll have to do some rearranging and whatnot.

4. Time- This is partially linked to Sawyer, but also balancing my favorite hobby with work, taking care of the house, and other things I enjoy doing.

5. ARCs- I haven't accepted any this year and I still have a few I should be looking at. Honestly, for the short-term I think I'm closing myself down to 99% of what is available for snatching up.

6. Blog commenting- This one bothers me to no end. I love receiving comments on my posts- who doesn't? I'd like to say that I don't need validation and I don't "care if people are reading, I do this for myself," and while that may be slightly true, I like having readers. On the flip side, I think if you expect people to visit and comment, you to need to return the favor. It's called a "community" for  a reason. I'm trying guys, I am.

7. Being judgmental- This is one of those "sorry, not sorry" moments. I know I get snotty when it comes to books, and I try to keep it on the inside, or to only show it to like-minded individuals. The fact that people spend so much money on sub-par literature makes me mad. When people think they're such awesome, hardcore readers when they read total junk irritates me. Going into my local Barnes and Noble and seeing that they carry five Janet Evanovich books for every one David Mitchell novel makes me want to yell at the workers.

8. Conversation- There are three people I can safely talk books with: my husband, my good friend/colleague, and another good friend. Unfortunately, we rarely read the same books at once, so it's frustrating when you finish something and want to talk shop... and can't.

9. The older crowd- I have at least a dozen books that have sat on my shelf for at least two or three years. It makes me feel bad. It just never seems like the right time, or there's always something new and shiny that calls my name. It's neglect of the elderly, that's what it is.

10. Excessively long chapters- Obviously this is nit-picky, but I really enjoy putting down a book at the end of a chapter. Fifty page chapters are not practical for this habit. 

Teaching Writing (and to What Extent)


One of the archived Bookends columns in the New York Times asked whether or not writing can be taught. My short answer: yes. My long answer: not completely. Much of my job revolves around writing, whether it's teaching kids the basics, working with them to take their current skills up a notch, or analyzing the writers of the works we're studying. I'm nowhere near an expert, but every year I get better and add more strategies into the mix. 

Analyzing the Prompt/Assignment
My kids in regular English often made the mistake of glancing over the prompt and then getting started immediately. In order to break this habit we looked at it together, determining if there was ant background information, locating the particular task, and analyzing the verbs. 

I'm really lenient on what sort of pre-writing my students do, but I do strongly encourage that they take a small chunk of time to do some. My preferred mode is the classic outline, but many kids "these days" don't know how to do that. Instead, they make something called "t-charts," create flowcharts, or just jot down ideas. 

When my students are analyzing passages I advise them to do something called color-blocking, which calls for the reader to find different trends in the text. For each pattern or significant feature the student shades the area of the text a certain color, and then includes that in a key at the bottom of the page. For example, when the writer uses diction related to violence someone might shade it blue, while metaphors pink. It is incredibly useful and I wish I would have been taught to do it as a student (especially with poetry). 

The Thesis 
This is one of the toughest tasks for writers, at all levels. What are you trying to prove? What are your arguing? You must point something out, otherwise the essay is going to be a summary. I tell my students that their theses must be arguable, can't be "listy" ("the author uses symbolism, foreshadowing, and juxtaposition to show differences between the farmers and merchants"), or vague. 

One activity that I have done is a class evaluation of student theses. I have them email me their working thesis the night before and I take several and pop them into a PowerPoint (without names). In small groups they'll evaluate the thesis based on the components we've talked about and will score it. We then regroup as a class and discuss their findings.

Many teachers have mixed feelings on peer-editing, as do I. I think the biggest issue is that many teachers turn the kids loose without a lot of guidance, simply instructing them to trade papers and correct them. But what if a student is a weak writer? Then the other kid isn't going to get a lot of helpful feedback. What if the two partners are friends and plan to screw around the whole time and talk about whatever social drama is currently happening? My solution isn't perfect, but it helps alleviate some of the concerns.

On the days we peer edit students arrive with their rough drafts and appointments clocks, a way we set up partners in my class (when I say "meet with your seven-o-clock appointment" they know who their next partner is; this is from the AVID program). They also receive a worksheet that has a list of editing areas on the side, a column for comments, and then a column for the partner to write their name (the sheet stays with the essay). For example, the first ten minutes will be dedicated to evaluating the thesis and determining if the essay stays true to it. They read each others' papers, write comments and discuss if there is time remaining. Then they'll go to their new "appointment" and evaluate for a new editing area, like organization, sticking to the prompt, evaluating literary devices, etc... (many of the categories match up to the rubric I use to score their essays). This way, their papers are read by several students and they get to move around the room several times.

So Much Writing...
I firmly believe the best way to become a better writing is to write often. Students do short assignments constantly, but they do timed essays in class every other week (they write for a full period). Each novel we read requires one process piece at home, and often a creative writing assignment as well. They keep notebooks where they do quick writes in class and they also do a few explications for each work we are studying. Grading is tough, and I'm not the type of get an essay back in three days, but I feel the practice is the most important thing.

Students are allowed to rewrite timed-writes in class. Sometimes I reread them, sometimes I just check over them to make sure there are changes and give them five or so extra credit points. Kids who take advantage of this are the ones that improve. Simple as that.

Criticizing Curriculum
Our school/district has adopted a curriculum for writing that is incredibly formulaic. It teaches writing like it's an equation and doesn't promote style or voice. It's fine for establishing a foundation in the primary grades, but I've had to undo so many of the things it's taught the students, like excessive transition words, "listy" theses (see above), and strict guidelines for writing five paragraphs. If students went to a university using many of components this program teaches they'd be scored low.

Rubrics and Checklists
When I grade essays my students get two pieces of feedback. The first is a checklist that includes twenty or so common problems that I frequently see. I check off five or so that I want them to work on (anything from "not using textual support" to "grammar problems" or "no thesis"). The check marks are made in one of two columns, indicating the severity of the issue. The second piece of feedback I give is the IB rubric, which critiques them on whether or not they understand the text, if they responded to the prompt/question, the level of literary analysis, their language, and their argument. 

I do not edit essays- in fact, I make very few marks on them. This is for three reasons. The first is that I have over 90 students; if each essay takes me four minutes to read and grade, that's six hours of grading right there. If I were to mark up papers that time would easily double. With the amount of writing I assign this isn't feasible at all. Secondly, I allow students to rewrite their essays, therefore editing their writing would simply be doing their work for them. And lastly, they frequently don't read the comments past the first page. 

The Original Question
Back to that original question about whether or not writing can be taught. The fundamentals? Definitely. But voice and style? That's where it gets trickier. Some components of writing correspond to intellect and creativity. Some people are just natural writers, and some aren't.

I think there is definitely a place for creative writing programs and English departments, of course, as they're places for those with potential and desire to sharpen their skills. I don't think someone without any sort of talent can enter an MFA program and exit an author on their way to winning a Nobel or Pulitzer. 

How did you learn to write? Do you think it can be taught? Did you read this entire post? If so, I'm sorry.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Welcome to this week's installment of Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts. Please play along! Post your info below, and, if you can, please remember to link back! Thanks! 

1. I wonder what it would feel like to get to buy books as I read them. As in not have a TBR shelf (fine, shelves). I guess I could treat my reading as such, but I feel bad for all the books I've had that are just sitting there. They're like sad little orphans.

2. I guess there are people in this world that don't like eating breakfast for dinner (I refuse to call it "brinner"). This baffles me.

3. My husband showed me this Hostess Cupcake shake on Alton Brown's twitter feed the other day (apparently it's from Relish in Florida). I have to make it. Unfortunately, this will require buying a new blender since I dropped mine on the ground and broke the glass pitcher (it's cheaper to buy a new blender... I checked). And, hey! Let's now talk about how I fit into my shorts again. 

4. Today I put on a pair of shorts that I, shall we say a little too optimistically ordered last September, and they now actually fit. I'm not sure why I'm surprised, since that was like fourth months post-partum versus over nine months, but still. It was nice.

5. I think I'm going to make these today (minus the V-Day sprinkles and sub mini cups for seasonal ones).

6. My mom brought my childhood record player down when she visited. I can't believe the needle still works, considering how many hours I sat at that things when I was little. There are also twenty or so records too, that I hope Sawyer will enjoy in a few years.

7. I'm so disappointed in myself- I had a nine day streak going on my FitBit and then yesterday it all went to crap. 

8. I recently subscribed to an email service called theSkimm, which sends you brief news updates every morning so that you can go out into the world feeling slightly less dumb. 

9. Sawyer had his first bubble bath last night and it was the cutest thing. He tried to pop, eat, and grab them, and also had fun finding things hidden underneath. Not so fun? Getting him out. He's been pretty vocal about his dislike for getting out of the tub, but bubbles made it even more devastating for him. I laughed. It was just so ridiculous. Babies are so irrational.

10. Hot Valentine's Day plans? We're getting our taxes done. 

When Does a Book Become a Classic?

[it's old... so is it a classic? source]

My husband and I recently had a conversation about when a book becomes a classic. Be definition, a classic is something that "has lasting significance or worth; enduring." There is such a grey area between "classic" and "contemporary," that makes it hard to categorize certain titles. What are some potential factors?

Quantity/Total copies sold
Pro: The more copies sold, the more people reached. Millions of books can lead to a widespread, global impact.
Con: There are a lot of copies sold of really horrible books. Are Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight or The Fault in Our Stars "classic" eligible? I think not.

Pro: Classics should be of merit or some sort of level, especially if they are to have "worth." A Kia Spectra is never going to be a classic car. 
Con: Who determines quality? And does our definition of quality in terms of literature change?

Author's Place in the Literary Community
Pro: An author's reputation is probably established for a good reason.
Con: Some authors are recluses, some publish post-mortem, and some are just plain assholes.

Author's Death
Pro: "Must be dead" is a really easy, clear-cut marking point.
Con: Some authors live for a really, really long time.

Academic Presence
Pro: A text repeatedly taught at the collegiate level is probably being done so for a good reason.
Con: Some books fall through the cracks, some professors eat out the hands of publishers, and some programs are resistant to freshening up their curriculum.

Time Constraints
Pro: It would be so easy to say that once a book is fifty years old it is a classic.
Con: So if we're looking at the sixties, books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Where the Red Fern Grows, Rabbit Run and The Outsiders were published. Are those quite classics yet?

Obviously, it doesn't really matter, but, then again, does half of the stuff we spend out time thinking about? 

Weigh in!

Top Ten Tuesday- Bad Romance

The Broke and the Bookish ask us for our thoughts on romance writing this week. I'm not really a big fan, but here's what I got:
[I had to]


1. Bad sex- Bad sex is just bad, whether or the screen, in real life, or between the pages.

2. Cheesy dialogue- Speak like a real person, you saccharine-sounding dumbass.

3. Excessive "grand gestures"- No, I do not want you to propose on the top of the Eiffel Tower while a blimp pilot dumb rose petals on us, thanks.

4. A lack of feminism- Sugar Daddies need not apply.

5. Happy endings- Life isn't always butterflies and rainbows.

6. Soccer Mom Porn- I'm still bitter that Fifty Shades of Grey was so popular.

Want More of... [so many jokes to be made...]

7. Unconventional relationships- Diversity!

That's all I got. I'm not really into romance writing.

This Sunday

I sort of hate Sundays. They always feel rushed, and the anticipation of my early (five AM!) Monday morning alarm is downright depressing. My lengthy to-do list is always weighing on me, meaning there's cleaning, laundry, work-related tasks, and everything else that I opted to not do on Saturday. The later it gets, the sadder the situation.

But this Sunday is different. I have the next eight days off, my mom is in town, there's lemon cookie dough chilling in the fridge, a kitchen stocked with groceries, and a sleeping baby is breathing heavily next to me (for the last ninety minutes). I'm well-caffeinated after the coffee shop screwed up my order and gave me a large iced mocha, and I've hit my step goal for the last seven days. I got eight hours of slightly-broken sleep last night and my house is fairly clean. There's BBQ chicken in the crock pot and a big loaf of fresh French bread on the counter.

I've been reading, too. I just spent some time with the The New York Times, namely this article on the Harper Lee news and some archived Bookends columns. I really don't know what to think about Go Set a Watchman- part of me is excited but part of me is very suspicious. The idea of taking advantage of the elderly is infuriating and I swear that if something shady is proven I'm canceling my preorder.

I've also spent some time reading up on Adnan Syed's appeal news and am hoping and praying Sarah does an updated Serial podcast. I must confess that whenever I see that I've got a new podcast on my phone I check immediately, just in case she's there waiting for me.

I've also just started Ian McEwan's The Children Act, and I'm not quite sure if I like it yet. Perhaps because I'm only twenty pages in and possibly because I've been reading in very small snippets. Time will tell. 

I've also been studying up on some of the measles outbreak stats, since California is getting hit hard, compared to other states, that is. Sawyer can't receive his MMR for another three months, so technically, he is "at risk." I'm not really that worried, though. I refuse to put him in a bubble, but I am keeping myself informed as to the locations of outbreaks (there are a few cases in our county) and symptoms. I think on rational level it's important to remember that there are 38 million people living here and barely 100 cases of measles. Knock on wood, rub rabbit foot, find four-leaf clover, etc...

I'm looking at my calendar at the upcoming week, noting as always, that I've over-extended myself, although that carries a completely different meaning now that I have a baby. There will be plenty of friends, appointments, walks, park-visits, cups of iced coffee, naps (for him), chores, and papers to grade this week. It'll go by fast, as always.

And the weather. Oh, the weather. The highs this week range from 75-84. I love it, I do, since I have this strong need to live in a house with open windows. But I also love my sweaters, cozy blankets, and not feeling, well, hot. But there is a sort of optimism that sunshine brings, so I'll take it.

Have a wonderful Sunday, friends.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up below! And thank you for linking back!

1. We've been on a crazy testing schedule that has led to my first period class being with me for 3.5 hours both yesterday and today. They're a nice group of kids, but by the end of today we were all just over it. How did I ever teach the same group of kids ALL day? Not to mention the fact that they were like eleven-year-olds. 

2. I'm reaching the end of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and am really enjoying it. I honestly didn't know it was short stories going into it, not that I mind. I love the way they're all linked- it doesn't really read like short stories at all.

3. As long as there's nothing shady behind the new Harper Lee book, I'm quite excited. In fact, I pre-ordered it yesterday, just in case there's any craziness like the Laura Ingalls Wilder autogiography.

4. Being the planner that I am, I'm starting to think about Sawyer's first birthday in April. People really don't like going to these things, right? Like people that are childless and have a million better things to do than sit around and watch someone's kid smash their face into cake? They could be doing exciting things, like... skydiving while taking shots in like Brazil, right? Most of our friends are either childless or expecting, but then what if we invite the few couples that have babies? Will the non-child friends feel snubbed? So for this reason I think we're sticking to close family.

5. Behind the Music should be on Netflix. Not that I would realistically watch it, since I watch so little, but I'd like the option.

6. Sawyer wants this shirt from Ro Sham Bo Baby:


7. The roofer saga is over, I think. We had the original contractor who didn't show the first time come out last weekend, finally, and he gave us the best-case and worst-case scenarios. My husband and I assumed worst, which sucked, because it was like $4,000. Not exactly what I want to spend that kind of cash on... Anyway, they came back today (on time!) and it ended up being the best-case scenario, which was quite a bit less expensive. I was nervous because he could have totally screwed us over if he wanted- we were undoubtedly clueless when we met with him over the weekend. Plus, he did an excellent job coordinating the paint-matching on the stucco (so basically he picked a good place)- you can't even tell there was a leak! Now we move on to more fun home matters... like picking out a new dishwasher.

8. My personal writing project has totally come to a standstill the last few months (hence the lack of "Diary of an Unmotivated Writer Posts"). I'm pretty sure I'm half-assing most of the things on my plate right now (because there are just too many), and I don't want to screw it up.

9. We have next week off- I cannot wait. I have a million things, moth fun and practical, planned, of course, but I still can't wait. Yes, we did just have winter break. No, I don't care.

10. I'm considering taking a break from ARCs. It makes me nervous, since I don't accept many, that if I stop I'll never get any offered again, but I just have too many of my own books right now. Plus, the whole obligatory reading thing (says the English teacher).

Cooking, etc...


Once in awhile, I like to talk about cooking. And baking. And food. I don’t have the innovation, time, or photography skills to be a food blogger, but man, would it be a good time. There’s something about following a recipe and working with ingredients that is the perfect mix of science, creativity, and focus. Things have been chaotic lately, and the constant of cooking is calming. A cup of flour is always a cup of flour. Water will boil when heated hot enough, and noodles will soften. Messes made are easily enough cleaned up. While some recipes are complex and frustrating, there’s still some sort of fundamental simplicity in the process: gather ingredients, combine, wait, eat.
My newest challenge has been week-night dinners, since my husband gets home late and we generally have about twenty minutes to eat before it’s time to start putting the baby down. Things have to be easy enough to prepare while simultaneously dropping Puffs on a high chair tray, but still more nutritious and labor-intensive than popping something frozen in the oven and setting a timer (I cook Sunday-Thursday nights). Prep work can’t involve chopping seventeen vegetables and there can’t be multiple stages that require precise timing. We’ve adapted, though. Tonight will be good old homemade Mac and Cheese, with super sharp cheddar and a few tablespoons of wing sauce for a tiny kick.
Speaking of the kid, it’s also been fun starting to feed him “people food.” He’s particularly fond of pancakes, waffles, bread- he’s basically you’re quintessential carb-loader. He’ll eat cooked, mushy vegetables, guacamole, sips of fruit smoothies, and peaches, too. He tends to always looks disgusted when he tries something the first few times, and often gags. It’s hilarious.
This past weekend I made a Lemon Blueberry Cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction, and it was delicious. Our lemon tree is producing fruit with exceptional enthusiasm, so I was pleased to find a reason to use three of the twenty or so growing. Baking a cake from scratch can sometimes be a bit dicey, and I knew this one would be no exception, since it purposefully has a heavy batter so that the berries don’t sink while baking. Over-mixing would be a constant threat, leading to a hard, dense cake. But, it worked out. The triple layers felt fancy, and  cream cheese frosting is always a win. It basically tastes like the cake version of a blueberry muffin. My husband, a cake-hater, ate more than one piece and suggested I make it again for Sawyer’s birthday in a few months (we’ll see).
This weekend we watched Chef, a movie starring Jon Favreau, about a talented chef that has to decide between working at a restaurant and cooking boring menu, or taking a risk on his own. He takes a loan from his ex-wife’s ex-husband (played by the always hilarious Robert Downey Jr), and starts a food truck specializing in Cuban cuisine. I generally dislike movies (or more so the process of watching them), and I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
I recently read Sous Chef by Michael Gibney, and then had my students do a quick analysis of some of the passages in it, since the writing is great for teaching certain elements of style. I’m also listening to Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw, which I downloaded from Audible right before I canceled my subscription. I love that man. I also added several other cooking memoirs to my wish list. Because having 67 unread books on my shelves isn’t enough, apparently.
I’m also coveting quite a few kitchen products. I desperately, desperately, desperately need a good set of kitchen knives (and the skills to use them properly). I’m not going to spend hundreds of dollars, but I’ve had my eye on these or these. I also want a new food processor, since all I have right now is a mini Cuisinart one that holds just a few cups. I’d also like some new mixing bowls, a blender (I broke the last one… again), food storage containers, and serving platters. It’s the whole want/need conundrum. It’s not like going out and buying a new purse, since it’s “for the house,” but still. Cuts will have to be made.
In the non-cooking/baking area of the food arena, I have to give a shout-out to General Mills for bringing back French Toast Crunch cereal. Time to hoard.

The Metamorphosis: Lessons

This year I've started putting some of the more high-interest lessons that may or may not be Common Core related on some level. Part of this is for my own personal reference later, and then, of course, it's for anyone else stuck planning- I know I've turned to the internet for help on multiple occasions.

This grading period we just finished Franz Kafka's novella The Metamorphosis. Some ideas:

Bug Model (done at home; one class period to present)
Over Christmas break I had students create a replica of Gregor the bug based on textual clues. They were instructed on the size limits and told to be creative. When they returned they had to present their model to the class (I had some really great ones).

Skills: creativity, close reading, public speaking 

Alternate Theories (30 minute to get organized; 1 period to work, 1 period to complete Socratic Seminar)
There are many theories as to whether or not Gregor was really a bug. Some alternate theories include him having tuberculosis, a mental illness, or just being the manifestation of a strong urge to write autobiographically on Kafka's part. Students were divided into groups and were each given an alternate theory. They had to do some research and come up with three academic(ish) sources, which they then paired with the text. The next step was creating a poster which proved their point and incorporated components from their sources and the book itself. The final step was to participate in a Socratic Seminar in which the students debated the issue of Gregor's identity. They had to turn in the first pages of each source, a works cited page, and their poster.

Skills: research, close reading, MLA, synthesis, public speaking/discussion

Prequel (extra credit; done at home)
Students were given the opportunity to create a prequel to the text, explaining why Gregor turned into a bug/thought he turned into a bug. This was supposed to be done in a pseudo-pastiche style and was between 500-700 words.

Skills: creative writing

Weather and Food (two class periods)
Students were either assigned to belong to the "food" or "weather" group, and received the corresponding chapter from How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. They read the text and took notes, and then got together in small groups with other students who had read the same chapter to discuss their findings and apply it to The Metamorphosis, while adding to their notes. They then found a partner who had worked with the opposite topic (so a "weather" person found a "food" person) and "taught" each other what they had learned from their reading and discussion.

Skills: close reading, discussion, note-taking, partner work 

Students also did three explications, a more broad Socratic Seminar, a process paper, and the normal symbol/theme/motif/characters rigamarole.