Favorite 2019 Memories

Whelp, that's a wrap. 2019 was... hard. I know no one likes vague blogging, but in the interest of privacy, all I can say that this had to be personally one of the most challenging years of my life. It required a lot of bootstrap pulling, relying on close friends for support, prioritizing my son, flexibility, and trusting my gut. There was also a lot of awesome, fun, and happiness in the mix, which made this year survivable, but also more emotionally... inconsistent. I'm really, really tired, but I'm also grateful that things are currently better and that I can see the good in the bad. I'm not sure what 2020 will bring, but can we ever? In the interest of positivity, I've decided to put together some highlights of my favorite parts of this past year:

Travel- I didn't go anywhere far or life-changing, but I was able to take Sawyer on our annual trip to Yosemite in the spring and we also traveled up the coast together during the summer for a few days. I went to Zion on a quick hiking trip with friends, which was beautiful and challenging, and my husband accompanied us to the Central Valley for Thanksgiving, which was the best combination of ordinary and fun. 

Deciding to train for my 12 (or 13th?) half marathon- It was a tough decision, but I've worked hard at taking care of my feet and sticking to a training plan. I generally dread most of my runs, but once I start I'm fine, and, once I'm done, thrilled. It's good to have a fitness focus, since I think I stop pushing myself when I'm just working out in general. The fact that this training cycle is during the holiday season has been a huge benefit- no weight gain from eating ALL the cookies. 

Concerts- This year I saw Elton John and the Strumbellas, two of my absolute favorites. I love live shows and each were amazing in their own ways. I probably liked the Strumbellas more, just because it was a tiny venue and they were so charismatic, but the fact that I can say I've see Elton before he retires/dies is pretty awesome. 

Opening my Etsy shop- This was really, really hard for me, as I get nervous about putting myself out there. What if no one bought anything? What if people made fun of me? What if? WHAT IF? It's actually gone really well; I've sold a lot more than I thought I would, it's been incredibly fun to run my embroidery Instagram account, and I've done lots of fun custom orders. I love that people I know buy things and I love that complete strangers do. I can't wait to keep going in 2020. I'm so thankful for everyone's support, whether they've ordered hoops, followed me on Insta (@daily_floss_), or just have said nice things. I've never considered myself creative, so this has been really out of my comfort zone.

So many friend dates- One of my favorite nights of the year was a four hour slightly-drunken dinner with one of my best friends at the good ol' reliable Cheesecake Factory. Besides that, there were just so many casual outings, fun events, kid-dates, etc... with so many good friends. Not a day goes by where I'm not incredibly grateful for all of these people- they're low-maintenance, supportive, smart, flexible, fun, and thoughtful. I've become even closer to some ladies this year, too, and I'm just seriously so happy to have a great circle. 

Sawyer starting kindergarten- It's been so fun watching him grow academically and socially. He is kindergarten full day at the place he was at for preschool, which made the transition super easy. He is in a new class with new teachers, but a lot of his friends are there. I love that they do a lot of science in his class, as well as just a lot of important fundamentals (like cutting) that sometimes get lost. 

My surprise student cereal birthday party- This really, really touched me. So often I am the planner in most of my relationships, but my students took control and did this for me all on my own. There were so many sweet touches (a poster they all signed, a class singing of "Bohemian Rhapsody," decorations, etc...) and it was just the nicest thing. 

Christmas season- Sawyer would say at least daily during December that Christmas is his favorite time of the year- his excitement was contagious. We did so many fun things, from a botanical Christmas garden, Knott's Berry Farm and the Zoo, decorating gingerbread houses with his friend, seeing Santa, etc... we had a great time.  

UCLA Visits- I've been to my alma mater UCLA more this year that I have in several years combined, which is always a fun walk down memory lane. I went for the Michelle Obama Reach Higher Event with work, two readings, and to a gymnastics meet.  

Here's to 2020! 

The Ten Best Things I Listened to This Year

I'm in the car a lot, between my every day commuting and all the things we do during on weekends (and just, you know, Southern California traffic), so I listen to quite a bit. Sometimes it's audiobooks, sometimes podcasts, and sometimes music, depending on my mood and whether or not I'm alone (I stick to music when I have Sawyer or other passengers). Here's a list of the top ten things I listened to in 2019, in case you need something to start off your year:

1. The Armchair Expert (podcast)- Dax and Monica could probably talk to pocket lint and make the whole thing fascinating and hilarious. Since I don't have all the time in the world to listen, I generally listen to the episodes featuring celebrities I know or their "Experts on Experts" episodes, which feature a lot of people in the science and psychology industries.

2. Bad on Paper Alyssa Mastromonaco episodes (podcast)- I love Mastromonaco's two books that detail her time working for Obama and her insights on the two BOP episodes she's on are informative, funny, and will make you want to be her best friend. As a whole I really enjoy BOP, but it can be hit or miss, just because some of their focuses aren't my thing (YA novels, for instance). I love the two hosts, though!

3. The Daily (podcast)- The news cycle intimidates me; there's so much of it and I have so little time. Luckily the NYT's The Daily gives me 20-30 minutes every morning, generally focusing on the biggest news story of the day. Plus, there's something so endearing about Michael. 

4. Slowburn, Season 2- Monica Lewinsky- I listened to this season on the way from Vegas to Zion and back- it was the main reason I didn't drive my car off the road from that awesome DayQuil/cold/hiking exhaustion combo. I was young when the scandal erupted, so it filled in a ton of holes that I had had. So interesting and sort of timely, too, considering the current impeachment. 

5. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb (audiobook)- I am fascinated by therapy, so this was basically two for the price of one: the story of a therapist and the story of her experience on the other side of the couch. I loved the stories, her insights, and the reflections it catalyzed in myself.

6. Leaving the Witness by Amber Scorah (audiobook)- The author discusses her experiences as a Jehovah Witness and then how her life was once she left it. I have had several students over the years who are JW, so this book provided me with some helpful information when trying to understand some of their philosophies. 

7. My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams (audiobook)- This story was insane- a fake heiress totally duped the author and was able to swindle her out of tons of money. It would be an excellent book club book, since there's a ton to discuss in terms of personal responsibility, trust, etc...

8. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan (audiobook)- In all fairness I'm not quite done with this one, but it's totally captivating. A NYC journalist is hospitalized and she starts struggling with seizures, dramatic mood shifts, and other strange symptoms. At first they assume it's a mental health concern, but in the end it is not.

9. The Strumbellas: Rattlesnake- This was the Strumbellas' newest album that came out earlier this year and I am still listening to it constantly. It's this combination of folk, classic rock, blue grass, and pop that I'm totally here for (their concert was one of my favorites, ever).

10. Beck: Hyperspace- Beck's Morning Phase will always be my favorite, but this new release last month has so much fun. 

Merry Christmas

[photo cred: my talented husband; model: my crazy kid]

Merry Christmas! It's been admittedly quiet around here during these past crazy weeks, but I'm comin' back, just you watch. Hopefully everyone had a wonderful holiday season!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

This week has been a combination of incredibly busy and bad, so I’m just going to take a moment to validate how amazing it is that tomorrow’s Friday. Tomorrow night Sawyer and I are going to a local Christmas event, Saturday his friend is coming over to decorate gingerbread houses (that I have to construct tomorrow night, t&p please), and then Sunday I'm going hiking with a friend. 

I haven’t been reading much at all- I’m trying to finish up the semester at work, ship out some embroidery special orders, do the holiday mom thing, and keep up with my half marathon training plan. But soon, SOON, some of that will wrap up and it will be time to hunker down and finish up my Goodreads goal.

A club on campus was struggling with getting donation for their toy drive, so my students decided to donate money that I would in turn go to the store and get toys with. They raised over $120 in two days and between all of the sales at Target, my donation, and the Red Card we were able to get enough toys for like 15 kids. Sawyer helped me pick them out and it was a great opportunity to talk about helping those in need. I was so proud of my work kids and my biological kid. (Also, do you know how much fun it is to go shopping for a variety of toys when you’re not paying? SO FUN).

I’ve been listening to some of the episodes of the Bad on Paper podcast and it’s definitely grown on me. I don’t listen to all the episodes, especially for authors that I know I’ll never read, but it’s entertaining and interesting.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

At some point in motherhood I won’t have Frozen songs stuck in my day, RIGHT?

I would have loved to have had the option to vote for Kamala Harris, but I’m hopeful she’ll land a prominent role in a cabinet position of the Democrats win 2020. I don’t agree with some of her decisions as a prosecutor, but I think she’s definitely an asset.

Sawyer and I are running a 1 mile Santa run at UC Irvine on Saturday… and it’s supposed to rain. Lucky for me my kid is pretty gung-ho about pretty much everything, so we’re going to make it work. We’ll earn their finish line hot chocolate!

We went to my family’s house for Thanksgiving and it was an absolute blast. I generally host to some  capacity at our home, taking a year here or there off for just the three of us to have it together, which was what I planned on originally. Then a week or two before the holiday I mentioned I’d like to go home to Modesto one Thanksgiving in the future and my husband said he’d go this year, since we don’t have a dog. Hotel arrangements were made within twenty minute and off we went last week, dealing with horrendous weather and my son’s sudden cat allergy (thank goodness for Benadryl). But snow and swollen eyes aside, it was one of my favorite Thanksgivings ever.

On our way home from the Central Valley we timed it so we could use out tickets to a really spectacular light show at a botanical garden near Pasadena. It was freezing but stunning. We have lots of fun Christmas activities planned this year, so I’ll do some sort of picture round up in a few weeks, instead of sporadic barrages.

There have been a few articles floating around on the internet about how so much of the “Christmas magic” falls on the woman’s plate and I have mixed feelings about it all. Yeah, that’s true, but it’s all totally optional. I actively decide to plan fun things for my son, no one is expecting me to or telling me that I must. There are things I have decided to sit out this year and no one has given me any grief. It isn’t like cleaning or cooking; those things have to get done and the balance of gender equality is a relevant discussion there. I can see the transfer, but I guess the fact that I really have a ton of fun with the holiday hullabaloo prevents me from getting my feminist undies in a wad.

While we’re on the topic… the Peloton add. I guess I’m going to be a bad feminist again- people got a little too triggered by it. People are reading way too much into it; she got a crazy expensive bike from her husband, worked hard at being diligent about using it, and was happy with the outcome. If anything, the actress over-acted a tad, but, honestly, there are so many worse examples of patriarchy and body-shaming in this world to get upset about. (I haven’t watched Black Mirror; I head there’s a connection, but… I don’t care ?)

My reading has been really slow lately, since I’m trying to get through some Etsy special orders and end-of-the-semester grading. I need to read seven books, though, so as soon as those things are done it’s double time!

I was so lucky to spend time with two friends on separate occasions during Thanksgiving break and, I swear, it was like free therapy (we all said the same, too). It’s just so helpful to have sounding boards in life and I am so lucky that I have some amazing ones. And it’s awesome that it’s mutual; we take turns needing feedback and it never feels one-sided or unfair. I have definitely hit the friend jackpot.

Teacher Tuesday- Happy, Focused, and Clear

[all about the Struggle Bus!]

This year I’ve instituted a few new things in my classroom to help both students and myself, so I thought I’d share them today.  

Happy: Every day I pretty much as soon as I walk into my classroom I make a to-do list for the day (Mondays I make a master list and then farm out the big, looming tasks; I’ll cover organization in another post), and earlier this school year I’ve started adding three things at the bottom that make me happy or are positive. I don’t usually buy into “think rainbows and butterflies/manifest your greatness/everyone is beautiful” kind of thoughts, but this has really helped me start the day and refocus if things get rough later. These items can be about home or work, simple or complex, important or trivial. Today my list was that I paid off my iPhone, sorted some thing out with our picky HOA (grass is hard to grow in December, sheesh), and that I was able to confirm some fun plans later this month.

Focused: My students are okay with their cell phones; some never look at them, some way too frequently, and some have cheated with them in class. I don’t like taking them away, just because they’re not toddlers and also for liability reasons, so I bought clear plastic boxes (with lids!) for each table group and when I see they might be becoming an issue, or we’re taking a test, I have them put away. This way the phones are right in front of them and I don’t have to touch them. It’s been so easy, cheap, and effective that I’ll do it until everyone has communication chips permanently implanted in their bodies.

Clear: We read a lot of complicated works in IB that the students often have issues with, but might feel uncomfortable asking. I now have a “Struggle Bus” poster on one of my cabinets that students can put question post-its on, which I’ll address as we move through the work. We had a ton for Macbeth but less so for the last book, which I thought was interesting. This also helps inform my future teachings of the books, as I can see what the kids are having the most trouble with. Even if it’s not being utilized in droves, I like the fact that it is a resource for kids to get come clarification if they need it.   

November Reviews

This month I read three books, bringing my yearly total to 65 so far, 7 shy of my goal of 72. I would feign trepidation if I had more energy right now (I just ran 3.5 miles after a looooooong day, so the reserves are spent), but, honestly, I'll make it happen. It's who I am. If I was 37 shy I'd balk at the notion a bit more, but 7? I got this. Would it have been a tad more helpful if I would have knocked down five in November as planned? Of course. But, here we are 

The first book I finished was Daryl Gregory's Spoonbenders, which I was a little unsure about, since it is sci-fi book. Verdict? I really enjoyed it and hope there's a movie some day (Wes Anderson? Hello?). The story spans through three generations, starting off with a married couple who may or may not have psychic-ish powers, which may or may not be passed down through their lineage. It's fun, it's creative, and it's a unique look at family bonds.

Also in the sci-fi vein, but very, very different, was Her Body and Other Stories by Carmen Maria Machado. Man, I loved these stories. Most of them started off fairly typical, but then there'd be these sci-fi-esque kind of twists, some of them more obvious than others. The first in the collection is a take on the woman who wore the ribbon around her neck, anther a collection of episode synopses for Law & Order SVU, in which things take a bit of a turn. I can't wait to read Machado's memoir in 2020.

The final book I was read was The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero, the story of an undocumented family in the US who is struggling big time in New York City. It's an interesting look at the layers of struggles they faced; being scared of immigration officials, poverty, wanting what's best for one's kids, navigating the social construct of one's community, drama with extended family members, a lack of control over one's body, and struggles within a marriage (and all of this is happening to one woman, dear god). Frankly, it was pretty heartbreaking, which makes me feel almost guilty when I have to say that I've seen better novels within this genre. It wasn't bad, but some of the pacing was off.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving! And if you don't celebrate... Happy Fourth Thursday in November!

Despite my horrible commenting skills, my lack of consistent blogging schedule, and plentiful typos (ain't no time for excessive editing), I am so, so, so thankful for this blog. So many book bloggers have left for the Bookstagramming world, which I totally get, but I love this little space of the Internet where I can write about books, my job, and all the other weird things that pop into my mind. And thank you for reading! And commenting! I appreciate it so much.

I'm also so thankful for reading, books, and the literary community in general. For the authors who create the stories we love, for the people who put readings together, and for people who love to talk about reading. 

Eat! Rest! Be thankful! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's almost Thanksgiving! I really wish I had saved my maternity jeans for this yearly meal... Man. Maternity jeans are the best.

I just finished The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero and I thought the message was great, the plot line interesting, but the overall execution and pacing just a little off. There are better books out there that tell the immigrant story, but I still always value the perspective in books of this genre. 

I have to leave in a bit to take my car to Costco to get the tires balanced and rotated and I am TERRIFIED. What was I thinking, making an appointment right before Thanksgiving? I don't even want to be within five miles of Costco, let alone trying to make my way back to the tire center. Luckily, once I manage to park my car and hand over the keys, there's a Starbucks close by I can hide out at with my book.

I haven't started it yet, but Karen Russell's Swamplandia! is next. It's one of those books I've had for a really long time but just haven't gotten to. 

So, my birthday was last Friday and my students caught wind up the occasion, so they had a surprise cereal buffet party for me, complete with gifts, decorations, and the singing of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. It was absolutely delightful and they recruited some of my teacher friends to get me out of my room and unlock my door. It was super sweet. My husband and Sawyer took my to dinner and nothing horrible happened, so it was totally better than last year. 

I know money is a sensitive topic that people don't love discussing, but I actually kind of love talking about finances (not how much things cost; more like budgeting). I have made a plan to hopefully get all of my student loans paid off in 2020 and I am beyond thrilled. My payments are less than $200 a month, but I hate having any sort of obligation, financial or otherwise, hanging over me. After that's eliminated I'll tackle the solar panel loan that got tacked onto our HELOC, and after that's gone we will be non-mortgage debt free! Obviously things come up; but that's exactly the point. If I have no student loans payments and a totally open HELOC I won't lose my shit if I have to *gulp* replace an air conditioner or whatever else that costs to much to think about. 

Bookish Kid Gifts

I'm skipping Teacher Tuesday this week, since I'm on vacation and have been pretty firm in my "not taking work home" mantra, I figured I'd really follow through here too. I am going to talk about some bookish Christmas gifts I'm already bought or am considering buying for my son, though, so we're still in the same sphere, that's for sure. 

Sawyer is five and a half and would pretty much be completely happy in life if he could create all day- LEGO constructions, art projects, Magnet Block structures, etc... He is learning to read, though, which is awesome, and he does enjoy sitting down for story time every evening before bed and for homework in the evenings (we probably spend twenty or so minutes reading on average a day, which for a kindergartner I think is totally age-appropriate). I wouldn't say he's obsessed with reading, like his mom, but it's definitely something he likes doing and willingly engages in. He frequently brings Waldo or his LEGO books in the car, which is nice too see as well. 

Because of his love of creating art projects and telling stories, I think I might buy him the Lulu Jr. Illustory Book Making Kit. For a little less than $30 you get a kit that comes with the supplies for making the book and the included fees of sending it back to the company and having them turn it into a hardback copy they send back to you. How cool would that be? I would have LOVED that so much as a kid and since he like to make his own books at home I think he'd really enjoy it. I will definitely supervise the process, though, since I can see him trying to rush through and finis it in like twenty minutes. 

Also in terms of creating and drawing, I ordered him How to Draw 101 Animals, a super cheap, simple book with step-by-step instructions that I know he will love (I'll probably package it with a new drawing pad and a few new art supplies). 

I got him two picture books, The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs (we've reread the human body one a few times this month) and Llama Destroy the World by Jonathan Stutzman (admittedly purchased based off the title alone). I might pick him up on or two more, just because I really believe that you can never have too many books, obviously. We're big fans of everything Mo Willems writes, and I want to grab Andrea Beatty's new one too- she's the coolest. 

We're reading Charlotte's Web right now and when we are finished we are starting the first Harry Potter, so probably in a week or two. I don't have the illustrated ones and Amazon was running a "buy 2 get 1 free" deal on them, so I nabbed the first three yesterday. The first one won't be a gift, since we'll need it soon, but I think I'll just wrap the other two, since I'm pretty sure he will love them. 

I have a feeling Santa will be putting Mad Libs in his stocking, which he might be a little young for, but I know they have the junior version that should work with help. He's super silly, so I'm sure he'll be pretty obsessed once he sees how ridiculous they are.

Here's a few other bookish ideas that we've loved over the years:
- Hard-back LEGO books; there are so many that detail project ideas, types of mini figures, etc... These have kept him busy for HOURS on car trips
- Where's Waldo books- again, perfect for entertaining in doctor's offices, car trips, etc...
- Anything by Mo Willems
- Phonic boxed sets by Scholastic (Marvel, Star Wars, LEGO, etc...)- I truly hate all of these "learning to read" books, but they're so helpful with basic phonics
- The Hug Machine by Scott Campbell- This book is the sweetest and the illustrations are so neat
- Ultimate Sticker Collection books- Literary they are not, but for $10 your child can have 2358385885 stickers in a book to keep him or her very busy
- The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak- Hysterical laughter each and every time (from both child and parent)
- Little photo albums- For the past few years I've printed a few dozen pictures from our summers and put them into little albums for Sawyer to look at he loves remembering all the fun things we've done together (he's taken them for sharing at school and also loves looking at them in the car) 
- Dinosaur Farm by Frann Preston-Gannon- Super cute book about a farmer who has dinosaurs instead of animals. There's a page with some prehistoric feces, so you know the target audience will be pleased
- One Question a Day for Kids- this has been so fun to do every night. I think we started in in March, so in a few months we will start duplicating the questions to see how he has changed. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[my view, running through Hogwarts]

I am the Little Engine that Could chuffing up that POS mountain, almost on Thanksgiving Break.

I made this bagel egg dish last night for dinner and it was SO good, even as leftovers (not to mention a breeze to make). I live for brinner, but if you are not, it would make an excellent brunch dish. 

Sawyer and I got up bright and early (me: 3:55, him 4:15) last Saturday to drive to Universal Studios for a 1k. I admittedly had some regrets as I was setting my alarm the night before, but it was SO much fun. I have never been to the one here in California, and while we didn't do the park afterwards, the area outside it is super awesome. I finally got to try Voodoo Donuts and he was such a champ running the race. We have a Santa 1 Miler at UC Irvine in a few weeks and we're both looking forward to that one now. 

Speaking of running, I'm in week two of half marathon training and, to be honest, I am tired. My foot is behaving, though, and I think that basically never walking around barefoot has been a game changer, since I this aggravates my perfectly flat arches, which in turn inflames by wonky ankle (I basically live in Toms slippers at home now and am considering investing in a pair for work, when the kids aren't in my classroom... or hell, even when they are). But between work, home, and not getting extra rest, the more disciplined runs are tiring. I'm not working out anymore than I was before, but I'm running more. 

My birthday is in a few days, and, honestly, as long as nothing bad happens it will be better than last year, when my dog suddenly died at 6 am and then I turned around and hosted Thanksgiving dinner for like eleven people ten hours later (the only concession I allowed myself? Stopping at the store to buy rolls instead of making the ones from scratch like I had planned). My best birthday ever was probably when I turned seventeen and a group of my friends threw a surprise lunch for me. Another contender was when I turned 30 and two of my students found out and snuck into my classroom at like 6 am and decorated it for me. Otherwise, meh. I tend to be the planner in basically all of my relationships, so... yeah.... Whelp, this has taken a turn, hahaha. ANYWAY. Birthdays. Big whoop. 

Sawyer's school is doing a big Thanksgiving feast for parents tomorrow and I think they're dressing up like Native Americans, and calling themselves Indians. I am pretty surprised (and disappointed), since his school is pretty progressive and has a really diverse teaching staff. I guess I'll be talking to my five-year-old about cultural appropriation on the ride home tomorrow. 

Here's the thing about the impeachment hearings: they don't really matter, in the scheme of things. Do I want him out? Of course. Do I think he's horrible? Duh. Do I think he's unfit for the office? Yup. But this country is so divided, with the politicians leading the way, that there is no way they're going to get the necessary votes to push this through. If they do, some hope for what is good and right will be restored, but let's be real, folks. 

Sawyer is obsessed with the human body right now, since they're learning about it in school, so I introduced The Magic School Bus series to him and it's basically love at first sight.

I watched Peanut Butter Falcon last weekend with Scott and it was so good. And only like ninety minutes, so totally within my attention span limitations. 

Teacher Tuesday- Classroom Tour

I love seeing the internal workings of other teachers’ classrooms, so I thought as we head into these posts I’d share a quick classroom tour. I have to preface this by saying this is legitimately what my class looks like on a day-to-day basis; there was no mad clean up involved (clearly, look at my desk area). There are a few things that I feel really firmly about: a focus on student work, group seating, and having a space where I can inject my own personality.

Currently, my back bulletin boards are where I focus most of the attention. There are three main sections, all devoted to Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family. The first is a collection of brainstorming the students did as a class, focusing on the form and function of the text, where they did some analysis on post-its in groups. The middle poster section is an activity we do for everything we read- the students are given essay prompts in group (or actually, in this case, they were just given topics and had to create their own prompts) and then must create a detailed essay outline together, which they then write timed-writes for independently later. I have found that this has helped their writing a ton- the thesis statements are always strong, the textual support thoughtful, and the essays organized. The third bulletin board is usually some sort of extra-credit, creative sort of thing. For this book they had to find a descriptive passage from the text and illustrate it- some of their pictures are amazing.  The fourth section is just administrative- extra hand outs that are applicable for the whole year (boring).

Two counters, one for basic supplies and where they turn things in at the end of the period. I also keep a binder for the book we are currently reading full of handouts in case they’re absent or lose something. The other counter is mainly for copies I’ve run in advance and also for tubs for each period that house graded work that the students can get when they have a second (we do massive paper-passing out days every few weeks, too).

I have collected a few broken desks for a back work area, where I keep the papers I need to grade and an area of my totally awesome TA to work. I don't have her grade papers (totally against that), but she is amazing at getting things organized, alphabetizing, checking things in, etc... Right now I have a very manageable amount of work to grade, but there are times where you can barely see the desks.

Miscellaneous items include the table of contents for their current notebook, the agenda, seating charts, etc... A group of kids has suckered their way into a taped off area of the board to hang their own silly memes and whatnot, which is fun. I also have a "struggle bus" poster where kids can anonymously put up questions regarding whatever it is we are studying. 

My students sit at groups of six desks, although in some periods there are only four kids at each. When I first started doing high school I did rows, which I hated. Groups of four are tough (sometimes I have up to 36 kids in a class, which makes it really crowded), but I found a sweet spot with the room is shaped with six. I can move around really well, the kids can work in pairs or large groups, and we can also change configurations for Socratic Seminars or partner activities really easily. 

My corner is controlled chaos, which is fine with me, as long as the rest of the room is in order. I love collecting things to put on the walls- kids' thank you cards, pictures they give me, little trinkets they bring back from trips. There are so many stories on my walls and on my bookshelf that make me so happy. I love that someone can go in my room and know a bit about me and what kind of person I am without talking to me- I think that it makes the kids feel more comfortable, that I'm a teacher with a personality and interests. I remember in high school we had a teacher who had floor to ceiling posters and I adored his room.

So, that's it! I spend so much of my time in my classroom everyday- sometimes more waking hours than my actual house! It's important to me that it's how I like it and that it represents what we're learning. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

The time change and then a holiday? Plus a day out for meetings? This week has totally thrown me for a loop. A day late and a dollar short, but whatchya gonna do?

I bought Sawyer his first The Magic School Bus book and he loves it. He's already super curious about the human body and it's many functions (today he asked where exactly he was born from... I explained and he was like "oh, I thought it was your mouth."). 

I started Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties, and it is so good. The writing is beautiful, but there also these little surprises in there, like a sudden outbreak in a story you think is going to be strictly about relationships. Her memoir will definitely be on my wish list.

Our Thanksgiving plans suddenly changed for the better recently, and I couldn’t be happier.

I am a person who almost passes out several times a year, but never actually does. It’s who I am, and it’s fine. What’s not fine is that it almost happened in front of my students the other day! That lovely feeling of being super hot, sick to my stomach, and lightheaded started creeping in during second period as we were getting things organized for a test and I had to plop myself down regain composure (probably the result of a decongestant/coffee for breakfast combo). Luckily the kids didn’t notice, but it got me thinking- what would be worse, throwing up or passing out when kids are in the room? I think anything involving bodily fluids would be far grosser, although knowing my kids they’d call for a very unnecessary ambulance.

My mom was in town last weekend and it was so fun. We went to Downtown Disney for lunch one day and the beach the next. This weekend we have a Kid’s 1K at Universal Studios on Saturday and a playdate on Sunday morning, all subject to change if the ominous “there have been cases of vomiting” sign on my son’s school door comes to fruition (seriously, is there anything more terrifying than those health alert signs?). The kid next to Sawyer got sick and the teacher reassured me she had Lysoled everything down. My response? LYSOL my child, too. She doesn’t really get my humor though, so we had ourselves a slightly awkward moment.

Jonathan Safran Foer is on the Armchair Expert podcast- this is very exciting news. I’m slightly scared of his new book, about global warming, just because I think it might depress me even more about the current state of our planet. I’ve seen him speak before and I found him to be very witty and a little sardonic, so it will be interesting to see how Dax and Monica balance him out.

A student recently tried to bribe me with dozens of bags of Baked Flaming Hot Cheetos to give his class an easier version of the test they were taking. IT DIDN’T WORK.

Teacher Tuesday

When brainstorming post ideas recently I noticed that there were several teaching-related ones. Instead of turning this into a partial-teaching blog, I've decided to start a Tuesday feature called Teacher Tuesday, highlighting different things I do in my classroom, strategies that have worked well for me, changes I've made, anecdotes, etc... 

This week I though I'd just give a quick background on my career so far. I started off premed at UCLA, changed to psych for a second sophomore year, and then landed in English, since I was an avid reader and loved writing. And what's an English major to do? Typically, we teach, try journalism, go into various forms of marketing, or become lawyers. Admittedly, part of my decision to become a teacher stemmed from the idea I could complete the credentialing program in a year and then land a stable job. I had no interest in law and was nervous about trying anything else. Plus, I did enjoy kids and thought I'd probably be decent at the gig, since I was the oldest of four siblings and had been bossy since I'd come out of the womb. Despite my English degree, I decided to be elementary teacher- I was 21 and barely out of high school myself! I went to a Cal State for my credential and decided to try to stay out in the Riverside area, since my boyfriend at the time, now husband, lived out there. 

After getting my credential I immediately got a job working at a school I student taught for, which I was at for three years as a fifth-grade teacher. This was during the Great Recession and California slashed a ridiculous amount from the education budget, so I received a pink slip for the first time, despite being tenured. It was devastating, but a huge wake up call. It taught me a valuable lesson about not trusting so-called dependable things as much as I did, but also that I should get MORE credentials to solidify my teaching spot once I was rehired back (I was two weeks later, after our district "found" money). I was transferred to another school as a fourth grade teacher and went to work getting my English and Biology credentials, as well a my master's, knowing that those things would basically make me lay-off proof in the future. Yes, I know my need for control, terror of being unemployed it really shining right now. 

At the the end of my fourth year teaching elementary school I was once again up for lay off, but my English credential saved me, allowing my to snag a spot at the lowest performing high-school in our district, which was being forced by the state of California to restructure or force being taken over by the government. I was hired in as a part of a staff that was 50% new to that school- it was a huge adjustment for everyone. I was in charge of the yearbook, a few sections of sophomore English, and a now defunct class called CAHSEE Prep, which helped kids who couldn't pass the high school exit exam (which we no don't have). It was a really challenging year, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. Yeah, the kids were bigger and swore, but I also got to teach Julius Caesar and To Kill a Mockingbird! I loved how I now had six class periods as opposed to being with the same kids all day, and that they understood my humor. I was able to finish my bio credential that year, further cementing my place in the employed column.

The following year I was given some AP Language sections and soon after I took over an IB English spot and the rest was history. I now teach four sections of IB English to seniors, who I had as juniors, and IB Theory of Knowledge class (IB stands for International Baccalaureate, a highly advanced and rigorous honors program). I advise IB Extended Essays as well, and basically am willing to do whatever I need to for the program, since I too am a proud IB graduate myself. 

The work load is definitely insane. I pretty much always have a few hundred assignments waiting to be grade and many more on the verge of being turned in. It's controlled chaos, though, and for the amount of papers being turned in I do a pretty good job of keeping up on things. I've instituted some different systems that I'll talk about on later posts to explain how I've gotten this area of my professional life under control.

I've been at the high school level for ten years, which brings me to year fourteen. I don't have any ambitions to get my administrative credential and move out of the classroom, and as long as I am happy with what I am teaching I'll stay at the secondary level. If things ever change I may return to elementary some day, since there are elements of that level I do miss. 

Nonfiction November- Be the Expert

Week three of Nonfiction November, hosted by Doing Dewey, give us a few options- I'm choosing the "Be the Expert" one and giving you not one, but two, lists. I couldn't choose! First up? Running. Second? Food/Restaurant Memoirs.


I have been a very slow runner (fine, fine, jogger) for well-over decade. I've run twelve or so half marathons and a handful of other distances and try to get on the treadmill to run, or run/walk, five times a week. I've actually recently decided to train for a half in February, after taking a few years off from long distances. I have an ankle issue, but I've decided to push through the problem and get back to running for a purpose (other than health). Running books always help me get motivated, stay on track, and be inspired, so here are my top three favorites, plus a bunch of runners-up (ha, see what I did there?):

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor- This one is without a doubt imperative for the psychological aspect of running. She is so insightful, honest and motivating. I actually started off the year with an excerpt from this and one other running book to help my kids get started. 

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall- Honestly, can you have a running book list without this one? The ultra marathons that he describes are incredibly and make you realize that the 5k or half or whatever it is you're training for is totally doable. 

Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon- This is my go-to guide of training plans, tips on nutrition, and basically anything else you could ever need, whether you're a newbie or an advanced runner. 

Also worth a read:
26 Marathons by Meb Keflezighi

Run Less Run Faster by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss

Confession of an Unlikely Runner by Dana Ayers

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

The Long Run by Catriona Manzies-Pike

And now my other nonfiction love, chef memoirs, restaurant start up stories, etc... I love cooking and baking, and I've worked in a few restaurants in my lifetime (and have really loved it). The Food Network is seriously the only thing I really feel sad about missing, since we gave up cable years ago. Here are my all time favorites:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat- I read this cover-to-cover. The first four sections are a primer on each area, followed by recipes. 

I Hear She's a Real Bitch by Jen Agg- The Canadian restauranteur talks about her struggles as female in this male-dominated world.

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney- This work is a syntactical wonder, told in a sort of stream-of-consciousness day-in-the-life style. 

Runners Up:

Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

A Thousand Hills to Heaven by Josh Ruxin

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Anything by Anthony Bourdain 

Andrew Sean Greer and Sloane Crosley Event at UCLA

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to receive a complimentary ticket from CAP UCLA to hear writers Andrew Sean Greer and Sloan Crosley. I read Greer’s Pulitzer winning Less for book club earlier in the year and really enjoyed it, and while I have never read any of Crosley’s work it’s been on my wish list for awhile. I went to another one of these Sunday evening events at UCLA a few weeks ago and really loved the ease of it all; traffic is super light both ways, I get to visit my alma mater, and the venues are beautiful. This time I made it faster than I expected, so I was able to walk into Westwood to relive my glory days.

Greer and Crosley had never met, but their chemistry was immediate and delightful. I’ve been to readings where the moderator and author seemed to borderline hate each other, but this was the complete opposite- I could picture them heading out to dinner afterwards in a non-obligatory sort of way. Both are hilarious in their own right, poking fun at themselves, writing in general, society, and their characters. Their humility seemed incredibly genuine, both so thankful for their success.

I think the best story of the night was when Greer relayed the episode in which he found out he had won the Pulitzer. He had been working at some sort of writer’s retreat of some sort, reporting to a Contessa (I may me botching his position, but you get the gist). Margaret Atwood was due at the villa for dinner and Greer was in charge of getting a pair on dog-underwear on the pug with suspenders, which was apparently very difficult (as one would imagine). When he finally checked his phone he saw a number of missed texts and calls, so he was quite confused. He saw one from Michael Chabon, who was congratulating him, so he called him for clarification. What a way to learn about your Pulitzer! From Chabon (who I have also seen speak and is absolutely amazing).

I cannot wait to read more from both of these authors. Both are extremely talented at their craft and it was an absolute pleasure to hear them share their ideas and insights.