June Reviews

Summer is in full swing over here, clearly evident as I was able to get through seven books this month. Nap times by the pool and a few days of travel have definitely been factors and I'm most definitely not complaining. Some quick thoughts:

People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper
304 pages
This book was written by someone my husband used to work with a long time ago and when I heard that after many years of efforts she was being published I was interested in reading what did the trick. This story is about a young woman named Emily who decides to reinvent herself when the Twin Towers went down in 2001, leaving NYC for California. Emily's husband and family assumes she has died, unaware that she has begun a new life and ends up giving birth to a daughter. Emily, who changes her name to Connie, ends up being diagnosed with breast cancer, bringing to light a variety of new challenges when approaching both her and her daughter's futures.

Verdict: This was a quick, easy read that was often interesting and entertaining. I did think that the some of the dialogue was unnatural, and that the end was a bit predictable. 

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America by Rich Benjamin
368 pages
I saw a TED Talk by Rich Benjamin, an African American, a few months ago and thought his trek through the "whitest cities" in America was fascinating (he was also very humorous and articulate, so I figured a book by him would be a solid read). This nonfiction text looks at his time in places like St. George, Utah, and the Panhandle of Idaho, and describes how these extremely white communities handle those of other race (spoiler alert: not always very well). He also discussed New York City's racial politics, especially in places of wealth like Manhattan, and also demographics in general.

Verdict: I found many parts of this book really interesting, namely the times when he was actually discussing his experiences in specific communities. I have to admit that sections that focused on more of the sociological statistics of race and whatnot a little dated and a tad dry at times. Nonetheless, I thought this was a readable, educational text about racial inequality in the country.

Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson 
304 pages
I've always admired the discipline of ballet dancers and have been interested in documentaries and movies on them, so when I saw that this book was out I knew I had to read it. This book's narration was split between young Mira and middle-aged Mira; young Mira was a talented dancer in New York City that developed an odd, inappropriate relationship with a patron of sorts named Maurice. Middle-aged Mira finds herself on the opposite end of the spectrum as a dance professor, allowing herself to become briefly involved with a student who then files a complaint against her. Mira heads back to New York City and between both narrative threads the culminations of both relationships are revealed.

Verdict: I really, really enjoyed this book, both in terms of the actual writing and the story. The climax wasn't really a shock, but it was delivered in such a way that this was acceptable. I will definitely be on the lookout for Wilson's sophomore novel. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 
256 pages
I wrote about this memoir here.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
272 pages
This novel begins with a famous Brazilian novelist, Beatriz Yagoda, climbing up a tree and then disappearing. Her American translator, Emma, feels compelled to fly south to help the writer's children locate her. While trying to find this woman she admires, Emma also works to find herself, along with the help of an affair she begins with grown son. They learn that Beatriz has lost a substantial amount of money in online gambling and have to actively avoid a loan shark's promise of dismemberment. Her editor also jumps aboard, using clues from her communications and old books to aid his own half-hearted search. 

Verdict: This book reminds me a lot of Where'd You Go, Bernadette in terms of the idea of a quirky, fast-paced search. I thought that it fell a bit flat during a few parts, but it was still decent. 

The Girls by Emma Cline
368 pages
What is it about cults that are just so darn interesting? This novel tells the story about Evie, a fourteen-year-old girl whose parents have recently divorced. She becomes fascinated with an older girl named Suzanne, who eventually leads her to their ranch, where Russell (think Charles Manson) holds court. Evie becomes more involved, stealing money for the group, allowing herself to be lent out to have sex with a musician they're trying to woo, and taking other emotional and physical risks. This book's narration is split between the present and 1969, when the group commits a heinous crime.

Verdict: This book definitely lived up to it's enthusiastic buzz. Cline is a very capable writer and she brilliantly captures the incredible insecurity that teenagers feel about pretty  much everything. It is a bit sexual, though, so if that offends you stay away. 

The Vacationers by Emma Straub
320 pages
Seven people come together in Mallorca, Spain for two weeks- seven people with secrets, desires and resentment. Sylvia wants to lose her virginity. Her parents, Jim and Fanny, struggle with Jim's recent affair and forced retirement. Their son, Bobby, comes with his girlfriend Carmen, who feels out of place with the family, but insists Bobby ask his parents for money to clear up the large debt he has accrued from his failed protein-powder business. Lawrence and Richard, family friends, wait not-so-patiently for news about an infant to adopt back in New York. Things get messy. But, they also eat some great food and lay by the pool a lot, so at least they get something out of the trip. Eventually, there's resolution for all.

Verdict: Back to that "resolution for all" bit- I tad unrealistic. But I still enjoyed the book; it was entertaining in a pretentious, Upper East Side, "I'm eighteen but don't know what debt means" sort of way. Basically, I got the same satisfaction I got from watching Gossip Girls from it; they were all a bit ridiculous, bit it was witty and scandalous enough to keep me going. I read a lot of this on the plane, which seemed fitting for a book about travel. 

2,192 pages 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts- Tahoe Edition

[from my walk/hike the second day]

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1. I just got back from Lake Tahoe last night, so instead of doing a separate post I decided to just use this one. I went with a few colleagues for work for IB training and the specific workshop I attended with my good friend was focusing on something called the Extended Essay, which is a 4,000 word essay our kids write on pretty much anything they're interested in. It's an area of weakness at our site, so the two of us have been tasked with sort of revamping this part of the program.

2. I left on Saturday, after a very hectic day. I was supposed to leave for the airport at 10 in the morning to fly up with the others, but Sawyer wasn't feeling great and I had to take him to urgent care. It was one of those "you have to make the call RIGHT now" sort of situations and so I opted to take a later flight that left at four so I could get everything sorted out with him. We got him fixed up perfectly and he was completely fine by the time I left of the airport, so that really was the most important thing. My day of travel ended up much longer than originally planned, though, including a three-hour layover in Oakland and an hour drive from the Reno airport to Lake Tahoe in the pitch dark at 10:30 that night when I finally got arrived (I also had to pay for the rental since the district will only reimburse one car and obviously that goes to the people that made the correct flight). But, everyone was safe and happy so we'll call it a win. Plus I finally got to try Fenton's Creamery on my layover after hearing about it many times before from Bay Area friends.

[this was me, for hours]

3. The workshop itself is great- IB trainings are the best professional developments I've ever gone to. Our instructor was knowledgable, the other participants were smart and interesting, and it cleared up some questions we had. I love hearing about where people are from- at our table alone there was a teacher from The Cayman Islands, a teacher-librarian from a prestigious private school in Manhattan, and a woman from a small town close to where I grew up). 

4. It was also a little overwhelming- we have our work cut out for us (we are also taking over a new class, on top of this and teaching English, but I'm not thinking about that right now). But my philosophy is that as long as we are making improvements and setting a few attainable goals to focus on we are headed in the right direction.

[Lake Tahoe, from Tahoe City]

5. I have come to the conclusion that I am a good traveler [pats self on back]. I deal with roadblocks, I'm flexible, I enjoy taking in the local scene, and I am cool with letting others do their own thing. I stay positive and am always just thankful for an opportunity to get out of the area where I live. And I never panic about getting lost (go-go Google Maps!). Granted I'm probably a pain of the ass when I am actually home, but when I leave I'm your girl to hit the road with.

6. Between the two free afternoons I hiked/walked about twelve miles from the hotel where we stayed to Lake Tahoe and on part of the lake path. The first day I was with my friend and the second day I wanted to go back, so I went alone. Unfortunately, I didn't want to check baggage so I went without hiking or tennis shoes and did all of this in my Toms. My feet, whose shortcomings I think I've sufficiently bitched about before, were pissed. They made me pay dearly for this by yesterday afternoon, but it was worth it. There was no way I was going to Lake Tahoe and not taking advantage of the scenery.

[it's so ugly there, God]

7. I had a few hours in the evening on Sunday and Monday to myself and was able to finish The Girls by Emma Cline and start The Vacationers by Emma Straub (two very different books). 

8. I missed my home and family, of course, but I really did enjoy the brief time away. I slept better than I have slept since having Sawyer- no joke. I didn't have to vacuum, feed dogs, unload the dishwasher, change diapers, cook dinner, or do any other the other domestic tasks that I have to each day. I was able to sit down and read for an hour straight without being interrupted and was able to get through several meals without stopping to help someone else. I know this probably sounds self-indulgent to some, but I frankly don't care. I desperately needed a few days to myself and it was just what I needed to recharge. 

9. I think part of the reason why I was content to leave and be alone for three nights was because things were fine at home. Scott had Sawyer during the weekend and they had a blast going to the toy store and eating McDonalds and watching Zootopia. My mother-in-law came over Monday and Tuesday and the two of them got along like gangbusters. I left six or so pages of notes and was available all day to text. Everyone, and the house, stayed in one piece.  

10. Our trip back was a little long, since there was a bit of a storm going through parts of Nevada. Our flight from Las Vegas back home to Ontario (as in Ontario, California not Canada) was late to board and then we sat on the plane for quite a while (first because they were behind loading luggage because of the lightning and then because some sort of wind pocket was noticed as we were taxiing). Eventually we got home and Sawyer was so excited to see me, and I him. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[Lake Tahoe when I was there four years ago]

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1. I'm on book five of summer break (we're two and a half weeks in). I am proud. I'm about half way through Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey and while I do find it interesting, I think there are a lot of areas that it's lacking, at least so far 

2. I am soon leaving for Lake Tahoe for three nights for work training and I am equal parts excited and full of dread. Obviously, three nights of guaranteed sleep and no domestic responsibility is pretty amazing, as is the beautiful location (we get done by three or four and can hike in the afternoon), and the quality of the seminars (I've gone for something in a different subject before). But, the logistics of leaving are a bit tedious. I hope everything goes smoothly and I can learn lots, relax, and get to spend some outside. 

3. I took Sawyer to a place called Pretend City today with a friend and her kids, and it was the coolest kid's museum ever. Basically, it's set up like a small town and the kids can interact in little rooms set up like a doctor's office, farm, STEM lab, gas station, fire department, etc... It was clean, creative, and the kids had a total blast. I even signed up for a membership since it was such a good deal. I think we only have to go back four more times in a year for it to be worth the price. Not bad.

4. We've had a busy few days, since we went to Downtown Disney over the weekend as a family, had a friend over to swim yesterday, and then have things scheduled for the rest of the week. But busy if good when busy is fun, and it has been, minus the scheduled well-child check up for Sawyer tomorrow. 

5. I am absolutely addicted to G.H. Cretor's Chicago Mix Popcorn. It's half caramel and half cheese, in the same bag. I pretty much hate popcorn, but this stuff is the best.

6. So, I love the Des' sit-in going on right now for gun control regulation, but I'm doubtful it will really help. I love that those who aren't participating are bringing their colleagues things like "soda pop" and "Pop Tarts." Damn straight. If you aren't going to help me work, the least you can do is bring me a Diet Coke and a strawberry Pop-Tart.

7. Apparently I'm going to just keep talking about food, because my husband sent me a link to Burger King's newest heart-attack-in-a-wrapper creation, which I must try:


8. These are the best shorts, ever, period, the end. They zip on the side, have a  scalloped hem, and can be dressed up or down. I have two black pairs (and many, many others from the Riveria line, and basically live in them every day). PSA: I think they're 50% right how. 

9. The other night I had a dream that the pool guy said that there was something wrong with our pool pump and GUESS WHAT! When I woke up the pump wasn't cycling water through and I had to call him to come fix it (I also worked myself into an impressive internal state of pissiness because I just knew that it was going to cost hundreds of dollars to repair... and then it was basically nothing and I don't think he's even going to charge us... the silver lining to seeing the glass half empty is the occasional pleasant surprise).  

10. If you have a toddler I highly recommend the Suryia and Roscoe books. they're not exactly brilliantly written, but Sawyer loves seeing the dog photographs of the dog and the orangutan together. He mimics Suryia's expressions and has me hold him upside down when we get to a certain page.  

When Breath Becomes Air

I don't tend to do whole posts centered on just one book, but I do make exceptions, most often for nonfiction works. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, is such one. I read this unfinished memoir in less than a day, sucked in by his cerebral, yet lovely, prose, his philosophical pondering, and his story in general.

For those unfamiliar with this bestseller, Kalanithi was a relatively young, brilliant, neurosurgeon at Stanford who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He wrestled with careers in literature and science as a college student (while I wasn't even a fraction as intelligent as he, I did feel he was a kindred spirit in this sense, since I also faced this debate) and ultimately medicine won. He was incredibly bright and successful, although his description of his own accolades I found modest and humble. The first half of his part of the book is devoted to his background, giving us context for how he handles his diagnosis and course of treatment. I felt that even though brief, this part of the book gave me a decent picture of the man- one that I'd like to be friends or have as my own doctor (god forbid I even need a neurosurgeon). 

During the second section, the reader is already in awe of Kalanithi as a person, medical professional, and scientist. I was deeply affected reading his musings on life and death, and feeling conflict as he wrestled with his treatment options and whether or not he and his wife Lucy should have a baby with the sperm they proactively froze when they learned he had cancer. Death on one level is so simple and natural, but that's just biologically. Cells die. It's what they do. When human emotions and familial bonds are brought into play death becomes one of the most complex human events possible. 

The idea of knowledge is paramount to this book. Knowledge is power, so they say, but it can complicate matters profusely. At one point Kalanithi's oncologist tells him, gently, that whenever he is ready to let her be the doctor and allow himself to be the patient, she can make it happen. Having the information he has as an expertly trained physician proves to often be incredibly helpful, but it also makes the process of battling the disease more challenging as well. Doctoring oneself is no small task. 

Kalanithi loses his battle quicker than I anticipated, and his accounts of how much he suffered (before he stopped writing) were heart-breaking. His wife Lucy takes up the third portion of the book, writing about his final days and how she started coping once he did pass. Her descriptions of his final days and his interactions with their baby brought me to tears, which rarely happens when I read. 

It's cliche, but this book really does make you think about time and who, and what, is important in life. What makes you happy? What makes you feel valued? Does this sense of value make your life worth living? How important is your career? When we face death how would we react? This concept got me; if I was diagnosed with a terminal disease what would I do? Would I continue my life as is, or would I make drastic changes? We all want to think we'd go down with dignity, but you can't predict that sort of behavior. 

There's a blurb on the back of the book from Ann Patchett that says something to the tune of this book being something anyone could read. I had proposed it as a book club selection and it was vetoed by someone who lost a family member to cancer (understandable, since none of us had read it). I think, though, it's something that everyone can take something away from, even when such a loss is still fresh. It's a book that can help prepare, help heal, and help provoke thought. 

Makeup Break

[if I could only pick one product to use it would be this]

Hello, my name is Christine and sometimes I go to Ulta or Sephora and spend a lot of money. I know. It's shameful. But the older I get the more interested in I am in finding high-quality products that last, have some sort of benefits for my skin, and look natural. Hence my snowballing "bad" (but is it, really?) habit. I've found some great products over the past few months that I love so very much and thought I'd share. For some reason my husband and toddler don't really enjoy talking about beauty products, and when I'm with my friends we're either corralling kids or talking about things slightly more important.

Don't worry, I'm still reading books, but here are a few things I'm loving a lot lately: 

Giorgio Armani Designer Lift Foundation- I read rave reviews of the Luminous Silk line, but after going in and talking with the girl at the counter I ended up with this one. I have been searching for a fabulous foundation for years, and I think I've finally found it (although I might try the Silk one out of curiosity). It evens things out, applies easily with a brush, is full-coverage but has a really light texture, lasts all day, and looks fine layered. It's worth every penny if you're into foundation (unfortunately I had to go to Nordstrom to get it).

Nars Illuminator (Hot Sands)- Oh, how I love this stuff. I mix a tiny bit with my foundation and use it to add a subtle glow. I read somewhere that it's a limited edition product only, so I should probably order another.

Ulta Mineral Blush (Peony)- The Ulta line of blush is great and this color is so perfect for a light summer flush.

Pur 4-in-1 Tinted Moisturizer- This is basically a BB cream with SPF and a slight shimmer. If I'm just running to get coffee or to the store I use it alone, instead of doing a full face of foundation, or, if I really need to do my makeup I use it as a primer and it works really well in conjunction with the Armani stuff.

Beauty Blender- I know I'm way behind on this one, but I use a generic one from Target to blend everything a few times during the application process.

Smashbox BB Cream Eyes- I naturally have dark circles under my eyes, it's the Italian in me. But the extreme exhaustion from the past year has made the situation much, much worse, so I finally went on the hunt for a good under-eye concealer and found it here. I don't love the applicator, but that's a small price to pay to look slightly more rested.

3D Crest Whitestrips Luxe- Because I drink so many caffeinated beverages (ie coffee and Diet Coke) I have to make sure to keep up with my teeth. I use a straw, for the most part, but that only gets you so far... These strips are the best at-home product I've ever tried. The grip is pretty powerful so they stay in place for the full thirty minutes.

Eucerin Original Healing Rich Cream- This stuff has been around for forever and ever and I've been using it on Sawyer's super dry skin. I stole some for my hobbit feet and it works better than anything I have ever used.

Dermalogica Clearing Skin Wash- I have okay skin, break-out wise, as long as I am really consistent about things. This cleanser along with my Clarisonic has been pretty great in keeping things clear. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. This past week has been quite a busy one (hence the lack of posts). Sawyer and I went to visit my family in Modesto for three nights and we're finally back in the swing of things here. We actually had a lot more fun than I anticipated; the 6.5 hour drive up Friday went really well and after we checked into our hotel we headed downtown for the annual American Graffiti Parade. There were over 1200 classic cars, one of which belonged to my mom's boyfriend, so Sawyer had a blast. Saturday we drove to Sacramento to visit the California Train Museum, which I had initially decided on primarily because of Sawyer's current obsession, but we all enjoyed it. The next day we went to a car show that had the cars from the parade and just hung out. I made my family go to all the old places I loved to eat at and enjoyed watching Sawyer ham it up for his doting audience. The ride back wasn't near as stellar, but my friend Val was a godsend, between her patience and willingness to play with an emotional toddler. 

2. A week or so ago I watched the Macbeth movie that came out last Christmas and was fairly underwhelmed. It was visually very appealing, and the score was fitting, but there were some liberties taken with the story that I didn't love.

3. A few months ago I optimistically bought three pairs of shorts from Loft that were a teeny tiny bit too snug- I'm happy to say they now fit juuust right and I just bought several more. Victory is mine.

4. Actually, considering the lunch that I just had they may not fit anymore... My husband is home today and we dropped Sawyer off at daycare for a little while so we could go out to lunch alone and I feel like an Oompa Loompa. It was nice to sneak away, though, since it's really rare that we're able to do that in the middle of the day during the week.

5. I know it's summer and I live in a warm place, but the upcoming weather is horrible. I am ever-so-thankful for a working AC, solar panels, and a pool. 

6. Brie's book club over on her blog voted to read The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan for their next selection. Given that I have a million books to read right now, and that this really isn't necessarily something I'd choose to read, I thought about waiting until next month. But then I had a genius idea- I'd listen to it. This was the perfect solution- while it's not exactly high-brow lit, it's entertaining, perfect for summer, and the narrator is decent. 

7. I made this Mascarpone, strawberry, mint and honey tart that I found over on The How Sweet It Is blog last night. It was really easy and perfect for summer.

8. The generous gift card my seniors got me for Barnes and Noble was burning a hole in my pocket, so I went book shopping yesterday. Man, I miss those kids, and not just because they fueled my addiction.

9. Someone tried really, really hard to bait me today on Facebook this morning by saying that feminism and racism are non-issues and that people are just "sheep," giving into mainstream media by caring about gender and racial equality. Whoa, let's back that 1950's misogynistic, bigoted train up, shall we? I briefly gave my two cents but eventually closed it out by saying that I refused to argue with people I don't know (it was someone on my brother's post). I felt pretty mature, since I could have gone to town on the young man (and really, really wanted to).

10. I'm headed to an actual yoga class in a studio tomorrow for the first time in a looooong time. Pray for me.  

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. Does anyone have Tieks? Should I buy some? I love flats (well, my feet do, since they're assholes), and there's a girl at work who swears by them, but they cost a fortune. Who has some? Tell me more. Yes or no? 

2. I want to go to Vegas, without my child, for two nights, and with friends that will have fun and not wimp out at like 11. I want to stay somewhere expensive, spend way too much money on food and drinks, wear something that I probably am too old to wear, and sleep embarrassingly late the next day in a bed that I do not have to make. WHY IS THIS TOO MUCH TO ASK?

3. But, instead of this, I am going to the glorious Modesto this weekend with Sawyer and one my oldest and favorite friends (she's staying with her mom, I'm staying at a hotel, not because of my mom, I love her and she's great). I have mixed feelings about this trip. Part of me thinks the drive will suck, because of the two-year-old, part of me thinks it will be fun, because I'm a little bit of a sucker for a quickish road trip (6-6.5 hours). Part of me thinks I hate Modesto still, part of me is excited to eat Yogurt Mill and Taqueria Carolina. And see my family. It's been over three years since I've been back and it's just.... weird

4. I wasn't sure about the new Beck song, but I listed to it a dozen times and now I like it.

5. I'm on my second book of the summer, and I've only been off for five days. It feels good.

6. In the past day I've dealt withe the fence finally being put up in the back yard, the HVAC coming to finish up an issue with our downstairs unit, and the gardener about a sprinkler pressure issue. I have zero shits left to give about home maintenance.  

7. I have dinner plans with an old student tonight after Sawyer's bedtime and I know there's a solid chance I'm going to forget because it's so out of my normal routine and I have a weird headache. I haven't accidentally ditched her yet and I already feel like an asshole. 

8. Sawyer has developed the habit of telling everyone who even gives him a tiny bit of attention about whatever is on his shirt. Today is was Curious George, yesterday a goldfish in a bowl that he thought was a baseball, and so on and so forth. I think it's cute, but at some point people are going to think he's weird. 

9. Friday night (or Saturday?) sucked, and I was tired, so when I went to bed I needed to sleep. Sawyer somehow knew this and didn't wake up. Apparently I should have told the people that live in back of us, because at 4 am they started having extremely loud sex. Who does this? At 4? They aren't young, either. Were they up for the day? Had they not gone to bed yet? Did they wake up coincidentally at the same time and just go for it? I turned my light on and they took the hint and shut their window (mine had been open too, that's why I could hear). At the time I was super pissed, but now I'm just confused and a little impressed.

10. I am pretty sure most of America knows who they are voting for at this point. Let's cut the crap and just have the election now. I just can't deal with the internet for the next five months. People are idiots.


Top Ten Tuesday- Ten Reason I Love Teaching English


This week The Broke and the Bookish us leave with a pretty open-ended prompt: the top ten reasons I love x. Given the end of the school year and whatnot, I thought I'd go with the reasons I love my job (besides the part about having a summer break). For those that are just stopping by, I teach high school English as part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program in Southern California (I also teach AP Language, but won't be next year). I have three credentials- one to teach elementary school, one for high school biology, and then the one I use currently. I have used them all at one time or another, although bio was only for a summer, and English is definitely my preference, specifically the IB classes I currently teach. Obviously the kids are the best part, for me, but I've talked about them a lot lately, so here are ten OTHER reasons why: 

1. A variety of literature: During the two years the program consists of we do everything from Antigone to Catcher in the Rye to Macbeth to Their Eyes Were Watching God.

2. A variety of kids: Because our program is labeled as Open Access (anyone can take the class, despite it being advanced, if they want to), I have a very diverse group of kids in my class. It's great!

3. Forced rereading: I think there's a lot of good in rereading texts, I just never have the time. Teaching the same books every other year makes me reread them, which allows me to obviously know them better. This fall will be my third time teaching Catcher in the Rye, after reading it myself for high school and once in between. That's five times with Holden. FIVE.

4. Outside reading: Our department has an outside reading policy that requires (well, supposedly) the kids to read outside of the curriculum. Because my students are taking college-level classes I'm pretty picky about what they read- basically they need to read things that will prepare them for their undergrad classes in terms of complexity and content. It's always interesting to see what they choose, to talk to them about it, and hear what they end up liking/not liking. I also admittedly get a kick out of watching the ones that obviously didn't read try to fool me (and I know they do on occasion, so A+ for BSing). 

5. Seeing improvement: Since I have the kids for 2-3 years I am able to see a great deal of improvement in their reading comprehension and writing skills. Maturity plays a big roll, too, since there's a lot of growing up that happens from the beginning of tenth grade to the end of twelfth. 

6. Socratic Seminars: I try to have the students participate in a class-long Socratic Seminar discussion once for every book I read. The debates are lively, the conversations interesting, and the knowledge I get about their understanding of the text (or lack there of) is important.

7. Opportunities for creativity: I know that I'm not the most creative teacher of all time, but I do try to have the students do one sort of project for each book we read (a soundtrack for Heart of Darkness, a psychiatrist's write up for Holden Caulfied, a map of the city where A Chronicle of a Death Foretold took place, a model of the bug in The Metamorphosis etc...). It's fun to grade something besides essays and I enjoy seeing the kids' interpretations of different concepts.

8. Colleagues: I won't try to say that I'm best friends with everyone in the English department (I don't even seen some of them other than at meetings), but I can confidently say that I respect them all and don't hate any of them. And I think it's the same for my colleagues; our department meetings are relaxed, there is rarely ever tension, and every one is pretty helpful. This, believe it or not, is somewhat rare on high school campuses. High school teachers sometimes turn into high school students themselves, in a way, and I've heard horror stories about other places. I am lucky that I work with a pretty level-headed, kind, group of people. 

9. Book club- While I'm on the topic of my fellow teachers, I have to say that the book club my friend and I started three years ago has been a lot of fun. We read 4-5 books a year that we vote on and then meet for lunch to discuss. It would probably be hard for me to be a part of a group outside of the workday right now, so this is perfect.

10. Longevity: I know a lot of people in the math and science sometimes snub English because they think we sit around and analyze sonnets all day. Not so much. If you want to understand what you read and be able to write adequately about it, you better believe those foundational skills came from your time in language arts classes. That's actually a huge issue that we are seeing with Common Core right now; other content areas are expected to write a lot more and the teachers are struggling to teach the kids how to for their specific content area, so they're turning to- you guessed it!- English teachers for help.

May, Revisited, Plus Summer

Last month my goals for May were pretty simple. I wanted to:

1. Do more ab work
2. Finalize my June travel plans
3. Drink more iced tea (or water) at home, instead of Diet Coke
4. Enjoy the rest of the school year
5. Organize Sawyer's toys
6. Do some book related things (like a reading)

I'm pretty pleased to say that to varying degrees I accomplished all of these things, although some I was better at some than others. I had bribed myself with a new, prettier, FitBit if I followed through, but I have treated myself to far too many thing this past month, so I'm going to try to wait it out. Maybe I'll get one to make the transition back to work in a few months easier.

My summer goals are a little up-in-the-air at this point. I've been keeping a list of things I'd like to accomplish while I'm off for the past month and it's gotten excessively lengthy. Many of the things are fun (go to the beach, read a ton, do some yoga, see friends), but some not so much (take Sawyer to the dentist, organize the places I throw crap to make the rest of my house look presentable, etc...). I tend to get hung up on "being productive," so while I know a monstrous to-do list would make me happy, it would be my downfall as well. I always keep a daily to-do list, but that's different than one hanging over my head for nine weeks. 

More than anything, I'd like to get my house in good shape, focus more on fitness, take Sawyer to lots of cool places, hang out with the people I love, spend time on my hobbies, and put in some effort prepping for next school year, since I'll be teaching an IB class called TOK that I'm not really familiar with (in addition to junior IB English). More than anything, I don't want the end of summer to sneak up on me and feel like "what did I do with all the time????" but also like "I'm still so tired and need to relax." 

May Reviews

With the end of the school year falling at the beginning of the month I'm obviously a little behind. There wasn't nearly as much book reading as I would have liked in May, but it wasn't surprising. Now that it's summer break, though, I'm hoping to get through quite a few (fine- my secret goal is fourteen books in nine weeks). 

Papers, papers and more papers
I've read and graded thousands of assignments. I honestly don't want to talk about it or think about it anymore. The one thing that I will say, though, is that despite some typical end-of-the-year laziness, my students improved and that's the most important thing.

Euphoria by Lily King
257 pages

This is a novel loosely based on Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, set in Africa. Nell is married to Fen and together they study untouched tribes in order to compile their findings in a book (they are working Nell's success). They meet up with a man named Bankson, also an anthropologist, and a love triangle develops, coincidentally mirroring the sexual exploration of the tribes being studied by Nell.

Verdict: This is one of the best books that I've read in a very long time (it was one of my choices for book club, which we had a great discussion about). The writing, the story, the themes, the setting, the characters... just an all-round solid book that I'd recommend to just about anyone. Even those that aren't into heavy modern literary fiction I think would enjoy it; there's enough to get out of it even if you don't want to analyze it to death. I also have to mention that it definitely made me think about the field of anthropology in general; there's a quote in the text that refers to Nell and Fen's "ethnographic bullying" that I thought was interesting.

The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales
398 pages

This was a quirky sci-fi read that I picked up after seeing so many rave reviews of. Basically it's the idea of female assassins, superpowers, oracles, assassinations, robotic parts, and complicated personal relationships all rolled up into one. Basically it's a kick-ass summer blockbuster in book form. 

Verdict: If I had read this by the pool over the course of a few days I would have enjoyed this book. Instead, I read it over three or so weeks and didn't enjoy it as much as I think I could have. I think it would make a great movie! It isn't a serious book, but I think Gonzales did something unique and just plain cool with the story and the characters.

655 pages 

Another Year in the Books

The 2015-2016 school year is officially over and summer break has started. This was my tenth year teaching, four at the elementary level and six at high school, a fact makes me feel slightly old.

I've spent a lot of time reflecting and reminiscing about the last year, as it has been very different than the other nine. I could write pages and pages about why, but I'll spare everyone. 

It was exhausting, fun, emotional, challenging, busy, entertaining, eye-opening, and just really, really great. This year was hard in some respects, but it was also one of my favorites, for sure. I want to go to work every day and feel things; I can't imagine sitting at a desk all day with no sort of attachment whatsoever to what I'm involved in. I don't love the bureaucracy of what happens behind the scenes sometimes, though- things get political, but that comes with most careers, I guess.  And it was hard to balance work and home; I was perpetually behind in both places and stressed out because of it. But as far as the kids go, they were great and my favorite part of each work day was when I was with them in my classroom. Sending my seniors off was even harder than I anticipated, but I see potential in the next group I'll cycle through for two years, so that's something to look forward to. And while it was hard to see the twelfth graders graduate, I'm sincerely excited for them. Oh, college. I'm little jealous, too, actually. 

My classroom as been "cleaned" (ie all my shit has been thrown into cabinets to deal with in August), grades are submitted, keys turned in, and the summer work for next year's group sent out. 

Now? Fifty-seven (I think?) days of freedom. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back, say hi.

1. I will be done for the school year at approximately 9:30 Friday morning when I hand over my check out paperwork to the school secretary. I have a decent amount of stuff to do before then, but the fact that the end is close is good enough. I have a massage booked for a few hours, which therefore leads me to my next several points:

1a. I am totally lying to the daycare lady and telling her I have to work closer to my normal time. I feel like an absolute asshole every time I take off work and take Sawyer to her; like when I had an appointment in the middle of the day a few weeks ago I dropped him off and picked him up at the same time. She wouldn't care, or judge me, but apparently I am doing so enough for the both of us. 

1b. Lying makes me feel really, really guilty. Even just small lies like that, that don't really "matter" in the whole scheme of things. I really cannot comprehend people who lie super easily, and frequently. It's very unsettling. 

1c. Massages are super, super strange if you think about it. I am going pay an absolute stranger to touch my almost completely unclothed self. Actually, it sounds worse than strange. Yet this practice is something widely accepted, embraced, and sometimes even medicinally encouraged. I am still going. 

1d. Not only do I need a massage because I have been a partial wreck lately, but because I have been spending anywhere from 2-5 hours on Sawyer's floor at night. This is pretty much my fault; he wakes up only once at night for whatever reason and generally goes back to sleep once he hears me tell him he's fine and maybe pats him on the back. I then decide to stay to make sure he stays asleep (he always does). I then, in my sleepiness, promptly lay down on the floor and fall immediately asleep. I wake up tired, sore and cranky. It's a blast. 

2. My car is a filthy mess and I need to have it washed. The most logical and economical way to fix this would be to do it myself, but I've been having a serious energy shortage lately (see 1d above). I could take it to one of the fancy washes, but they take a long time. So, the other option would be the cheap gas station one, but guess what? I am sort of scared of humiliating myself in those because I am not an especially precise driver and am not sure if I can sufficiently line up my wheels in the little section you have to so in (obviously my lack of precision also applies to describing what you have to do, but I'm assuming you all know what I'm talking about). 

3. I ordered a water table for Sawyer and I have these high hopes that he will play with it for hours and hours this summer while I can sit in the sun and read. I mean who wouldn't want to stand on the concrete and pour water around? 

4. Tomorrow is our last book club meeting of the year and we are each coming with suggestions to vote for next year. I'm suggesting When Breath Becomes Air, The Turner House, The Sellout, and Love in the Time of Cholera. I also need to finish Euphoria for the meeting, which I hear has some pretty interesting sex scenes towards the end. We haven't dealt with many books with such "adult content," so I'm a little interested to see how the conversation goes. I'm definitely no prude (I mean within reason... it's not like  I have a whip or anything Fifty Shades of Gray crazy, for God's sake), but I know such topics make some people a little uneasy. 

5. I'm sure other bloggers can relate to the question "how long will this thing keep going?" I don't really have any plans to stop (minus a few overtired moments of considering eliminating necessary time sucks and unnecessary windows into my life for certain people), but it can't go on forever, right? 

6. I donated a very small amount of money to a certain political candidate's campaign (putting my money where my mouth is and all that, I guess) and let me tell you, HOLY EMAILS. I unleashed a monster of propaganda, some of which was on the guilt-trip nature. It definitely made me rethink my donation (but not my beliefs). 

Have a great week, folks!