Thursday, March 31, 2016

March Wrap-Up

My Reading

Books read: 19.


The only one I finished this month was The Last Kids on Earth, which my son asked me to buy at his school book sale.  He really enjoyed it.  For a post-apocalyptic zombie story, it was light and funny.  I was a bit uncomfortable with Jack's emphasis on being a unloved foster kid, given my son's history, but he glossed over it.  Three stars.

I didn't really get going on new read-alouds in school, since the break was coming up.  I'll start anew in April.

Mildly Disappointing

Illuminae might not have been a disappointment had it not been built up so much in my mind.  As it is, the thing I came away most impressed with is how much work must have gone into it.  (Reminder: I'm supposed to be most impressed with the STORY itself.)

He Said, She Said is another example of inflated expectations.  Having heard Kwame Alexander speak and having read The Crossover, I expected a transcendent experience.  It's good, but not THAT good.  Still, I'd say I enjoyed it more than Illuminae, overall.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is more of the same.  I've loved some of Neal Gaiman's work, liked some of it, and been left cold by some of it.  I purposely went into this one blind, and, well, I liked it. But I didn't love it, which is what I was hoping for.

I consider myself a fantasy/sci fi fan, but I think I'm also really particular about my imaginary worlds.  


I picked up Not Funny Ha-ha: A Handbook for Something Hard, by Leah Hayes, at the library one day while browsing graphic novels.  It turns out to be a description of what happens when you decide to get an abortion.  It's non polemic, although pro-lifers would argue that any book that accepts the decision to have an abortion is pro-abortion.  I don't really want to open up a can of worms here, so I'll just say that it was intellectually interesting to realize how little I know about what would be entailed, and that the author's use of two fictional characters to follow through the process helped demystify it without boring the reader.

Been There, Done That: Writing Stories from Real Life was a really interesting book to discover this month, when I was writing daily.  Well known YA and MG authors shared a memory they have, then a short story inspired by that memory.  As in any collection, some were better than others, but seeing the variety of ways in which life inspired art was absolutely fascinating.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a memoir about having an earlier memoir adapted into a movie.  Miller describes himself as if he is just some Joe Schmoe schlumping around SE Portland, but as you can tell from my description, this is pretty cerebral stuff.  Where does the line between literal fact and literary truth blur?  What does it mean to "live a better story"?  It's the questions more than the answers that will stick in my mind.

I read three other graphic novels one afternoon.  Hark, A Vagrant! is really a comics collection more than a novel, and although several of the comics are very witty and fun, I prefer some plot.  The Alcoholic is pretty depressing and disturbing, and I'm not sure if where the lines blur between memoir and fiction.  Shoplifter was somewhere in between the other two--light, but with a plot.


Angry Management showcases why we should all adore Chris Crutcher.  These three novellas explore the lives of characters from other novels.  They are painful, hilarious, universal, personal and so goddamn beautiful it hurts.

We Were Here continues my Matt de la Peña obsession.  I bet Crutcher and de la Peña have a lot to talk about.  They grew up tough, but have worked with kids who raised themselves in hell.  Somehow they turn that into amazing works of literature that are full of empathy but devoid of pity.

Stumptown, Vol. 3: The Case of the Kind of Clubs, by Greg Rucka, is another random graphic novel find.  It's a private eye story set in Portland. Our private eye is a returned soldier who plays soccer in her free time.  The case revolves around the Timbers Army, our local soccer club's group of hardcore fans.  It was delightful.  Also features a fair amount of diversity, from her gay friend to her brother with Downs Syndrome to the generally down-and-out people she works with.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  Finally read it.  Not nearly as twisty as Gone Girl, but it did have a character I cared about, so I guess it's a wash in terms of that comparison.

Ask the Passengers by A. S. King.  (Asking?)  Reviewed here.  Not my favorite of hers, but still strong.

March, Book One by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell.  Can't believe it took me so long to read this.  The good news is, I won't have to wait to read the next books.  I'm not sure about the audience of the book--it's meant perhaps for younger readers, but I think having some historical context for it makes it really resonate.

Best of:

I wasn't 100% blown away by any books this month, but the best of what I read were Still Life, Touch, and Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.

I've been wanting to start Louise Penny's Quebec mystery series for years now and I finally did, and now I want the rest of the series in my hands NOW please and thank you.  There are moments of gorgeous writing, and she does this really interesting thing where she slides in and out of different points of view within the same scene.

Touch was delightfully weird, and also awesomely European.   A tiny bit reminiscent of Levithan's Every Day in its premise, but in a thriller package.

Drowned City is a heartbreaking graphic novel about when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and I think should be required reading.  I love how the author/illustrator lays it all out there, how he uses actual quotes in the dialogue sections, and how the illustrations capture the mood.  

Assorted Stats

Still no one or two star reviews, although now that I think of it, I DNF'ed a book my husband picked up at the library because he thought it looked like my kind of book.  He was right, it totally did.  But it wasn't.

My reading this month bumped up my "public library" stats to over 50% of all books acquired for my reading this year.  I read more books by men this month, but women still dominate.  My percentage of white authors is ever increasing--I need to do something about that for sure.  I did read more adult books this month, as well as more fantasies and more mysteries, although realistic/contemporary fiction still dominates.

My Writing

Well.  About that.  I took part this month in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  Most participants (all?!?) are teachers or former teachers.  Most (all?!?) teach writing or English or language arts or some such thing.  I wrote and posted every day.  Every day!  Part of the challenge is to also comment on a minimum of three blogs daily.  With about 200 participants on any given day, this meant a huge uptick in my numbers of pageviews (over 11,000 altogether now) and comments.  I know both will melt away when the month ends, but I also know I've found a few new blogs to follow, and hope I've gotten some new readers interested in my thoughts as well.

My most viewed post was called After the Birthday Party and shares what was nearly a huge parenting fail.  It also garnered the most comments, although commenting numbers are a little wonky.
I tried my hand at some (formulaic) poetry this month, and a memory written in third person.  It was inspiring, and fun, and I'm so glad I decided (on Feb. 29th) to participate.  Next month I'm doing the A-Z challenge, but I'm going to keep that book focused!  (And it gives Sundays off.  And I've written the first few already, so PHEW.)

I tried to keep up some bookish writing this month also.  Besides the review, I wrote discussion and list posts about the following:

Creating that quiz was a new challenge for myself; I'm not crazy about the format I found, but it was fun to try to make one.  I also experimented a tiny bit with Canva this month. I still can't figure out how to make graphics that show several book covers together.  

And my grand total?  This month I wrote (and published) a record-breaking 45 posts, counting this one.

Forty-five posts!  

That's a lot.  My previous all time high was 22 posts in July, when I am off school the entire month.


SPRING BREAK.  Also, conferences.  And I wrote a bunch.  That's pretty much it.


I did not collect links this month, but here are the blogs I started following during the Slice of Life challenge.

SOL #31: Wrap it Up

I realize now why I had such trouble writing yesterday--with only two days left, it felt like I had to come up with The Best Slice Yet, that I had to figure out which story was The One That Must Be Told.

But it's okay.  I'm allowed to keep writing after today.  I can participate in the weekly SOL writing; I can keep blogging, I can experiment with fiction, I can write my memoirs in limerick form, if that's what I choose.

I can write.  I have made room in my life for it in a way I hadn't since the days of blank travel journals.  I can write.  It doesn't matter that I won't become a published author, much less write the kind of literary magic that brightens my reading life.  I can write.  Some people will read it, and some of those people will respond kindly.  I can write, and learn what I think, and push myself to think more and write better.

I can write.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On Reading Outside My Experience

I've been tracking data on what I read this year, beyond the usual Goodreads running total.  One thing that stands out to me is that I read mostly white authors.  Like, 85% of what I read.  I've had this in mind for years, intending to do better, and yet that's all the better I do.

And if I find it a little bit wearing to read books about how racist our society is, if I get a bit displeased with only finding myself represented in the bad guys, if I just can't relate to family and cultural history that doesn't match mine...

then I might want to think a little bit about what that implies.  If I met a person of color who read 85% books by people of their own ethnicity and only 15% of everything else, including (but not limited to) white authors--wouldn't I wonder about their agenda?  About their worldview?  And wouldn't I worry about what they were missing out if they read such a narrow slice of all the things I read?

The way it stands, I see myself in everything I read, and if I don't see myself front and center, then there I am living right next door, or teaching the protagonist's class, or possibly stealing the protagonist's land and dignity.  If I move away from American and British lit, I might be less pervasive, but how would I know?  I read a few books by African authors in college, but the only one I really liked was Nadine Gordimer--who's white.  Isabelle Allende writes in English these days, and maybe this isn't the right time to admit this but I cannot read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's looping prose to save my soul.

I know others have challenged themselves to read from a wide variety of cultures, or to only read POC authors for a month, or other such projects to break out of their rut.  And it finally occurred to me (deep breath)--I don't want to.  I don't want to venture that far from my comfort zone.  I mean, yes, I could read Sherman Alexie and Matt de la Peña and Walter Mosley all day long, but I read for fun, and when I think of reading Authors of Color, I think of Serious Literature.

Which, frankly, is stupid of me.

Because for one thing, there are mystery writers and fantasy writers and lighter contemporary novel writers of color.  Duh.  I just need to consciously seek them out.

March was Slice of Life month for me and my blog.  April will be A-Z blogging month.

And in May, I'm going to read over 50% authors of color.  I can't promise 100%, because life happens, and Harry Potter happens, and an author visit from April Henry happens, and my TBR happens. But I'm going to be so much more deliberate, and skew my reading hard in a new direction.

Here's where you come in--please suggest authors and titles.  I like mysteries, somewhere between cozies and hard-boiled.  I like YA fantasy.  I like novels about women living their lives.  I've read a lot of the authors that jump to (my) mind when I think about this goal--Amy Tan, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Arundhati Roy, James Baldwin.   I have a long mental list of serious works I "should" get to-- Rushdie Adichie , more Allende, Ralph Ellison.

What I most need are the fun reads, because that's my bread and butter.  Suggestions for authors, titles, and series are all welcome.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read March, Book 1.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

SOL #30: Haikus It Is.

"I got squat," she says
Squinting like an old cowboy
Into the sunset.

Where's inspiration?
Her muse must be sound asleep
So, haikus it is.

The second day back
is always the hardest one
Morning too early.

Maybe that story-
or the one with the lost dogs?
Fall back on Peace Corps?

But none come to life
It just sounds like blah blah blah
Too much work for now.

No fresh ideas
Thirty days of slicing and
Now I've got nothin'.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Monday, March 28, 2016

TTT: Ten Tens

Hosted, as ever, by the fabulous folks at The Broke and the Bookish.

1.  Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown.
2.  Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Peña
3.  This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary
4.  Every Last Word by Tamara Stone Ireland
5.  The Truth Commission by Susan Juby
6.  How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
7.  Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
8.  I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
9. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
10.  Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalmans

These are the last ten books I gave a five star rating to on Goodreads.  I've read them between the day after Christmas and last week.  Looking back at my list of what I've read, I frequently second-guess myself. How many of my five stars could be four?  How many four stars might I have given five to on a different day?

This actually prompts me to consider my rating habits more carefully.  Numbers 1, 3, 7, and 9 on my list are all books I'm confident in, but isn't that because they are all short?  With a spare graphic novel, two picture books and what's basically an illustrated short story, the authors chose each and every word.  Nothing needs to be added or taken away from these books' perfection.  But otherwise--is Ball Don't Lie any better than the same author's We Were Here, which got one less star?  How about Every Last Word compared to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl?

I'm also noticing that reading books aloud can color how I feel about the book--successful read-alouds take on a special shine; books that bore and confuse my students suddenly seem less remarkable.

Am I more likely to give five stars to works that seem "serious" to me, like the Oscars best picture nominees?  Do I expect more from an adult work than from a YA novel?  If a story's theme is close to my heart, does that inflate my score?  If I read something out of my usual genres, will I score good efforts higher simply because I haven't already seen it (whatever "it" is) done repeatedly?

Should I go back and rescind my five star ratings from every book that doesn't fill me with joy when I remember reading it?  (I could call this the Scorpio Races test.)  Or bump up the four star books that I remember in detail?

Ratings are obviously subjective.  Not only can two people disagree about any one book, but the same person can have different points of view at different points in life.  There are countless debates and discussions about what makes a book a five-star book.  But when all is said and done, the books I've listed above are all books I enjoyed, and that I'd recommend.

SOL #29: Spectacularly Ordinary

Monday, and the first day back at school after spring break.

I schlepp 45 new books into my classroom.  My "lesson" consists of letting kids look through them, and pull other books off the shelf.  I hope to get discussions going about how to better organize our classroom library so more kids make use of it, but many of that interpret my directions to mean "Hang out and chat with your friends while occasionally picking up a book when the teacher comes near."  Pernille Ripp makes this type of thing sound easier than it really is, probably because she actually has a plan of how to make it work.

Of course, there are plenty of kids who enter into the spirit of things.  There are some gasps of thrilling discovery as they paw through the books.  Kids who read over break share their recommendations.  I picked up a few books for particular students, and they all seem delighted.

I've brought in Some Assembly Required and give a quick blurb about it, not a full book talk.  Most of the students seem comfortable with the idea that the author was born with female body parts, but identifies as male.  In two classes someone says, "Like a tomboy?" and gets politely but clearly informed otherwise by classmates.   My mind is slightly blown by this.  I grew up in a liberal city, but we were not aware of the concept of transgender people, and if we'd heard of it, there would have been immediate and vicious mocking.  Here I am in a conservative rural town, and kids are completely unfazed.  What a difference a few decades can make.

Sixth period is ridiculous.  It's my tiny class--seven kids plus a TA.  Two other 8th grade girls have taken to visiting us from their study hall, since they're caught up on their work.  My staff of three gets some stuff done for me, but my actual students seem unwilling or unable to focus.  H. and V. bicker like siblings, something I thought we had gotten past.  N. is so scattered despite her good intentions that I begin to wonder if she has an attention deficit issue.  J. flat out refuses to pull out a book, so I try to put her to work looking up titles of new books to see if Common Sense Media indicates they should be on my PG-13 shelf.  C. finished her book over break, and loved it, and manages to find her next book.  A. spends the period watching videos about kids with horrific health issues.  She looks blankly at me when I redirect her.

When the day ends, my books are scattered all around the room.  I spend a solid hour puttering in the library.  We decided that series should get their own area, so I identify and move books, if I actually have the whole series, and note where I have holes.  I start new baskets based on student feedback: Latino authors, Latina authors.  Survival stories.  Living with physical and mental disabilities/differences.  I put together a sport basket, which reminds me how few sports-related books I still have.  I change up the books on display and wonder if it's too soon to bug our campus security guard and jack-of-all-trades about putting together my two-sided display shelf, which the principal ordered for my room.

It's a day, neither spectacular nor crushing.  I didn't lose my temper with the kid who reminds me oh so much of my son, but I didn't manage to get him engaged either.  I remember to sit and eat lunch and read a book, but I don't get any exercise.  The day is entirely unremarkable.  Forgettable.

But now I've marked it.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Also, today would have been my dad's 84th birthday.  Happy Birthday, Daddy.  (This is him on his 80th, with all four daughters loving on him.)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

SOL #28: Found Poem

Sally at My Writing Stories that Only I Can Tell posted a found poem, taking it from an earlier Slice she'd written.  Since I already stole an idea from her daughter, I thought I'd continue the tradition and steal this one from her!

I went back to day 19 for my slice, which was about the experience of having written for that many days in a row.

I copied it into a Google Doc, and highlighted words and phrases that jumped out to me, without paying much attention to how they'd work together.  Then I went back and highlighted everything else in black.  I did a little editing here, adding some words in yellow, blacking out some previously highlighted words that didn't work that well with the rest.  My rule for myself was that I couldn't do anything I couldn't have done on paper--that is, I could black over yellow, but not yellow over black.

The finished poem piece looks like this:

Or, if it's easier to read:

Number nineteen, really?

I've written every day.
In my excitement, neck and back pain
Hunched over my computer.

Pain has abated!
Handscrawled journals in blank books
Handle my pain and passion

I've taken a few risks
(too sleepy to innovate)
dove into the deep end,
rambled freely.
Toss off six words.

A mix of lit fans and teachers of reading and writing.
Experience trumps the writing.
We're all Word People, of course.

People are deliberate about their writing.
The focus is on writing itself.
Writers play,
"How are they telling this tale?
What is moving me?
How are they doing that?"

Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

Nineteen days in a row.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

SOL #27: Baking from Memory

I move around the kitchen calmly and confidently.  Three tablespoons of butter into the pan, pan into the oven, turn it on to 405 degrees to compensate for its tendency to run a bit cool.

I think about the time last winter when I confused my two standard breakfast recipes and added far too much flour.  Two cups, as if for biscuits, instead of just the 3/4 cup needed for German pancakes.  It was a momentary lapse.  I can bake either on autopilot most any day.  No recipes ever needed.  That pancake lacked its signature lightness, and my family looked dubious as they chewed and chewed, but we survived.

I pull out (Great) Aunt Julia's metal bowl, the one that had a piece of masking tape on the bottom for many years after I got it.  I couldn't bring myself to scrub off her early twentieth century school teacher's handwriting, claiming the bowl for the Gallo family as it was born to and from potlucks at the Lodge.  But I've been mixing in this bowl for two decades myself now, and her name is gone from it.

Three eggs.  Three-quarters of a cup of milk.  For our family of four, everything in threes.  Add one more person, add one more egg, one more tablespoon of butter, one more quarter cup each of milk and flour.  One less person...okay, we'd still make the same size batch.  German pancakes are delicious.

I whisk the eggs and milk with my misshapen egg whisker, thinking of the kitchen shop I wandered through yesterday.  It would be nice to have a shiny new whisker, but this one still works.  It would be nice to have a new basting brush, a meat tenderizer, or a citrus juicer, but would those things add anything more than clutter to my life?  I get the job done with what I have.

Three fourths of a cup of flour and a shake or two of salt.  I just washed the plastic measuring cup, and it's air-drying in the sink, so I pull out the metal one, its handle snapped off, but the intermediate measurements marked on the side, handy for 3/4 amounts.  Whisk everything together, pull the hot pan of melted butter out of the oven, pour in the batter just as the oven beeps its readiness at me, and put the whole thing back in for twenty minutes.

Biscuits have a shorter baking time, but a longer process.  I lay every little thing out ahead of time, since my hands will soon be covered in buttery flour.  The kids always offer to help, which really just means they want to roll and cut the dough, and snitch as much of it as they can before I shoo them from it.  They will be in for a sad surprise the first time they order biscuits out in public.  I've ruined them for anything other than homemade, just as my mother did me.

Cooking can be done without recipes, especially once you've made something a time or two.  I can make spaghetti, or Pad Thai, or soup, without having to pull out any cookbooks.  It won't taste exactly the same twice, but it will be recognizable as itself, and (usually) good enough to eat.

But baking needs a recipe, so to bake without a cookbook means rote memorization.  When I was a kid, I had the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe down cold.  I could probably fake my way through it now, for that matter, but it wouldn't be exact.  It's the breakfast recipes that have worked their way into my long-term memory.

We sprinkle lemon juice and powdered sugar over our slices.  Too soon for all of us, the pan and our plates are empty.  "Maybe I should make two next time," I say to my husband as the kids run back outside to play in the morning sunlight.  We sit and drink our coffee.  The dishes will wait.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Saturday, March 26, 2016

SOL #26 Memory is a Slippery Bugger*

I just got together with 2/3 of my sisters for an overnight.  We mostly talked and ate, two things we are all very good at.  Despite the fact that the three of us live in the same general area, we haven't seen much of each other lately.  (The fourth, who lives several hours away, hopes to come down this summer for another round of Sister Slumber Party.)

My sisters have taken to keeping track of me through my blog.  They both tend to read it in big chunks, holding off on my updates until they have a few hours, then reading through everything at once.

They were talking about a piece I wrote awhile ago about growing up with no television.  I have only heard about When The TV Went Away as family folklore; it happened years before I was born.  But they lived it.

"It's what I remember from what Mom told me," I explained.

"Well, I figured that, and I was trying to remember what it was really like," said one.  "I know we were in kindergarten, and we came home from school, and it was gone."

"No, we were in third grade," said the other twin.  "But it did disappear while we were at school."

"I remember it as kindergarten!"

"No, I'm pretty sure we were in third grade, that we were eight."

That got us onto the unreliability of memory in general, and the different holes we all have in our recollections, as well as flat out mis-rememberings (which clearly at least one of them was experiencing).  We also analyzed what happened with the TV.

"Maybe it didn't even break.  Maybe she said, 'I'm tired of him sitting down there watching TV with the kids on a Friday night while I'm doing the dinner dishes and trying to get them ready for bed,' and she just TOLD us all it broke."

"Would she do that though?  It would be wasting money--it must have been a significant purchase for them."

I pipe up, "I don't think she'd be that sneaky about it if she did just want to get rid of it.  She'd just say, 'I'm getting rid of the TV,' and that would be that."

"Maybe Daddy knew," muses one sister.  "Maybe they just said it was broke to appease us."

"Still doesn't sound like Mom," I argue.

"Or maybe she didn't tell him.  Maybe she did it to improve her marriage," counters a sister.

"Well, it was a good decision, however it happened," sighs the other.

We all nod.  We are glad to have grown up without screens, and mindful that it's almost impossible to recreate the same environment today.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Thursday, March 24, 2016

SOL #25: Before that...

I'm borrowing a borrowed idea...

I saw it here, but she got it here!

I'm crashed out on the couch procrastinating on putting the kids to bed.

Before that,  I painted the board that goes between the cabinet and mirror in the kids' bathroom.  I tried writing their names on it, and it looks super amateur, but that's okay.  We'll call it folk art.

Before that, I finished my book while the kids played at the park.

Before that, we broke into my sister's house (by invitation) and tried to take her dog for a walk.  Dear, sweet Sally, the first dog my kids ever made friends with, only made it a few blocks before coming over sick and shaky.  We gave her time to recover, then slowly led her back home.

Before that, we ate at McDonald's, where I got a salad, a water, and...a small fries, which I refused to share.

Before that, the kids swam at the local pool while I read my book.

Before that, we decided to flee for the afternoon, because

Before that, my husband put a leftover piece of pizza in the microwave for a a minute and a half then went upstairs.  Only it turns out he actually set it for an hour and a half.  Ten minutes into it, he came downstairs to find yellow smoke everywhere.

Before that, I was out with my daughter at Goodwill getting books for my classroom library.

Before that, I spent the morning reading and commenting on Slices and Faeebook.

Before that, I woke up befuddled and groggy on the couch, where I'd gone because I couldn't sleep and didn't want to wake my husband up with my tossing and turning.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

SOL #24: What I Know About Myself As a Reader, Part 2

I am making a list of things I know about myself as a reader.  I posted part one yesterday.  This may or may not be the final installment.   Several people commented they want to make their own.  I stole mine from this Slicer, so I am 100% okay with you stealing it from me!

26.  About 6-8 years ago I did all the coursework for a reading specialist license, but never did the practicum or test to get it added to my license.  Mostly because I would have had to do a practicum at both middle and high school levels, and I couldn't figure out how to make that happen when I'm already teaching full time.

27.  When I was a kid, I figured I could never go wrong on the first shelf of the library, because there I could find books by Lloyd Alexander, Louise May Alcott, and Joan Aiken.  Fantasy, historical fiction, mystery--my reading tastes were set early.

28.  I would re-read books I loved over and over when I was a kid.

29. Now I only re-read when I'm teaching a book or reading it aloud.

29. When I was a kid, I'd walk to the library.  When I got home, I'd make chocolate chip cookies.  Then I'd eat warm cookies while reading the first chapter of all my books until I found the one I wanted to read Right Then.  (Okay, I didn't always make cookies, but that was the ideal.)

30.  I've bought nearly 700 books for my classroom library in the last year.

31.  I've bought as many of those as possible without getting reimbursed, because if I ever leave my school, I want to take the books to my new school.

32. In my twenties I realized that I could go broke buying books, so I basically stopped.  I don't own very many books, and most of what I have is either nonfiction/reference or childhood keepsakes.  If I receive or buy a book that doesn't belong in my classroom library, I'll pass it on to a friend when I'm done.

33.  I love reading books by local authors.  It's silly, but I feel like I have a connection with them.

34.  Before last fall, I'd only ever attended one author event, Ursula le Guin reading from her poetry collection Blue Moon Over Thurman Street, in the mid '90s.

35.  After hearing April Henry, Martha Brattenborough, Laurie Halse Anderson and others speak at the Oregon Council of Teachers of English conference last October, I realized how amazing it can be to hear what authors have to say.  I attended multiple author panels at NCTE in November, and have organized two evening field trips for my students to attend author events at Powells.

36.  I wish I was someone who always had a book on them.  I get so annoyed with myself when I'm in a perfect pull-out-a-book situation and I don't have one on me.

37.  Just this year I've started listening to audiobooks on my commute.  I feel like I can tackle heavier works that way.

38.  When I was in my teens and twenties, I read classics, plays, and all sorts of Serious Literature.  As I have gotten older, my reading has become more and more skewed towards 100% brain candy.
#37 is a way to address that.

39.  I am married to a man who doesn't like to read books.  He reads for information only.  I would have probably assumed this would be a deal breaker, but it's not that big of an issue.  It would be nice if he loved books, but it would be nice if chocolate made me lose weight too.  Whatever.  I love him, and I love chocolate.

40.  There are some good picture books that I didn't like as a kid because I thought the art was ugly.  Some of my opinions were pretty, um, rare.  Like, I hated Eric Carle's books.

41.  I can be a little bit of a book snob.  I may also care a little too much about being perceived as a well read person.

42.  "Can be" and "may" should be struck out of the previous sentence.

43.  I am glad to have interests and hobbies and even responsibilities besides reading, but I get really frustrated with myself when I spend two hours surfing Pinterest and humor sites instead of reading.

44.  If I read in a foreign language, I have to read out loud.

45.  I skim over character names when I read, usually just recognizing the first letter of each character's name.  This means that I hate it when there's a Bill and a Bryan in the same book.  When I was taking tests in school, it also resulted in me using work-arounds such as "The protagonist's friend's uncle..." since I couldn't remember any of their names.

46.  When I like an author, I try to read everything they've written.  I usually don't quite succeed, but chances are, I've read several books by most authors I really like.

47.  I laugh, snort, exclaim, and cry when reading.  People around me find this either enormously entertaining or weird and annoying.

48.  While fiction is my home, I like to read essays and memoirs, and I turn to nonfiction to learn stuff.  I have Goodreads shelves about house building and about adoption because of this.  (We didn't end up building the house, but we did end up adopting.)

49.  My favorite reading spots in my house are an easy chair in the living room with a window directly behind it, and a leather recliner in my bedroom.

50.  I usually take the covers off hardbacks when I'm reading them.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

SOL #23: What I Know About Myself as a Reader, Part 1

I am borrowing this idea from Karen at Talkworthy, who got it from this post on Scholastic.

The original goal was for students and their teacher to come up with a list of a hundred things they knew about themselves as readers.  The original poster made it up to 31 at the time of the posting.  Karen has shared two lists of 25 with the SOL community.  I'm going to try to do the same.

1.  I learned to read before I started school, inspired in part by my older sisters and in part by my family's lack of a television.

2.  I've always been one of the fastest readers I know.

3.  Because of that, I tend to forget books quickly.

4.  I sometimes skip sections of description, although I'm less likely to do that now than when I was younger.

5.  I HATE knowing anything about a book before I start.  I just want a reason to read it--the reason could be as simple as "I like the author," or "someone recommended it."  Knowing the basic premise can attract me to a book, but I'm honestly a little disappointed if I go into it knowing even the stuff that's revealed in the first chapter.

6.  If I had to give up all social media, besides this blog, Goodreads is the thing I would most want to keep.

7.  According to Goodreads, I've logged 1,886 books as read.  This means every book I've read since I joined in June, 2008, plus 107 books I'd read earlier and felt compelled to log at some point.

8.  I'd always wondered how many books I read, but never had the discipline to track it before discovering Goodreads.

9.  I read a lot of YA, especially contemporary and fantasy.  I justify this because of my job, but I'd probably read a lot of YA anyway.

10.  My favorite genres are adult mystery and YA fantasy, but I read a little bit of everything.

11.  I'm not a big fan of "middle grade" novels, although the ones I love I REALLY love.

12.  There are currently 1,092 books on my "to-read" shelf on Goodreads.

13.  And I currently have 58 items checked out on my library card.

14.  Only 20 of those are for me to read.

15.  The others are a combination of books for my kids to read, as well as a puppet, some DVDs and audiobooks for them, audiobooks checked out for my students, some picture books checked out for a student project, and a few novels checked out for students.

16.  I don't really like to read laying down.  I prefer a comfortable chair with good lighting.

17.  Reading outdoors is awesome.

18.  When I was a kid, I could read in the car for hours.

19.  Now, reading even a few words in the car makes me queasy.

20.  The first book I remember reading is Hop on Pop.

21.  The first chapter book I remember reading is Little House in the Big Woods.

22.  I remember my sisters reading aloud to me more than my parents.

23.  Reading aloud to my kids is quite possibly my favorite part of being a mom.

24.  I'm physically and mentally capable of reading three books in a day.  I don't get the chance very often anymore.

25.  After 18+ years of teaching, this year I was offered a reading position, and I'm wondering why on earth I waited so long.  It's heaven.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

SOL #22: Spring Break PD

I attended a fantastic, four-hour PD workshop yesterday.  It cost me $4.25.  I could have gotten it for as little as $2.25, but I wanted the fancy mocha.

For four hours, I sat in a comfy chair in a local coffee shop and talked with my friend Nicole.  We worked together for seven years, and were teammates and neighbors the last two of those years.  She's left our small, rural district and is now working in the large suburban district where we both live.  We both have had a range of assignments over the years.  She's now teaching 8th grade Humanities, and I'm teaching reading workshop classes for 7th and 8th graders who are significantly below grade level.

Here are some of the topics we covered:

  • flexible seating and classroom design
  • Make Writing
  • book recommendations for our students
  • an app called "autorap"
  • The Book Whisperer
  • how access or lack of access to technology affects our teaching and our students
  • the role of money and grants in what our schools offer students
  • author visits
  • Pi Day
  • apps for word clouds
  • the importance of writing alongside students
  • what makes a good school leader
  • how to stay energized and motivated as full time teachers with kids at home who consider us their "default" parent
  • pros and cons of large and small districts
  • the importance of accepting book recommendations from our students and getting outside of our own comfort genres
  • how to find out about local workshops and conferences that would benefit us
Sure, we talked a bit about our lives outside of school.  But I'd be willing to bet that 80% of our conversation over that four hours was about teaching.  I took NOTES, man!  

I hope you have someone like this in your life.  Someone who shares your passion, who pushes you to try new things, who values your work, celebrates your success, and helps you problem solve.  

It's also helpful if they make you laugh your ass off.  Because sometimes, that's what teachers need most.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Monday, March 21, 2016

SOL #21: Maybe I Could

Up until now, I've been mostly writing a day ahead and the posting "for the next day" before bedtime, since I'm on Pacific Time.  Now that I'm on break, I can write at different times of day, so here I am writing and posting late on the same day.  Luckily, this post has been percolating in my head for a few days.  (I just tried to find an image that captured the idea of a percolator on top of my head, and all I got was a bunch of "pothead" jokes.)

A few weeks ago, I read a book in which the author wrote about the experience of working with screenwriters to adapt his memoir into a movie.  He realized that instead of saying, "No, that's not what happened," he had to see himself in the movie as a character.  As a character, he needed to have a story arc.  Supporting characters needed to support the plot in specific ways.  So even though the movie was based on his memoir, it wasn't actually about him.

This got him thinking about what makes an interesting story, and how if your main goal in life is something that would make a boring story, maybe you need to rethink your goals.  That was the main point of the book, but not of this blog post.


A few nights ago, my husband brought home some movies from the library.  I have somehow become my parents, in that I no longer see movies.  Like, ever.  Except for Pixar movies with the kids.  I don't even know what movies are out any more.  So when I chose the movie for us to watch from his stack, this is what I knew about it:

  1. It starred Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner.
  2. Reviewers who were blurbed called it "Hugely Entertaining."
  3. It was titled Dallas Buyer's Club
Now, if you haven't been living under the same rock I have, you may know more about it than I did, since apparently is earned all sorts of Oscar nominations and wins.  But we didn't know that, and during the first section, which is mostly McConaughey swearing, looking like shit, and getting diagnosed with HIV, we were all, "Okay, it's interesting, but 'entertaining' doesn't seem like the right word here."  Then yes, it got more lively, although I still think "entertaining" is not quite the best word for any based-on-a-true-AIDS-story film.

Immediately after the film, as is my wont, I pulled up some reviews and articles about it.  What I learned is that while the main character and the eponymous Buyers' Club did exist, the movie changed a bunch of stuff.  Like, a wife disappeared.  Instead, he had a transsexual/transgender (depending on if you go by 1985's understanding or ours) colleague and a sweet doctor, both of whom help him develop as a human being.  Like, part of the character arc in the movie was him overcoming his really ugly homophobia, but the actual guy was openly bisexual.  

Which got me thinking about the difference between "based on" and "inspired by" and "documentary" and all of that.  I thought of some of what I've written here in the past few weeks, when I've recreated dialogue minus the irrelevant parts, or simplified backstory in order to keep the front story on track.  I've always loved reading fiction, but have never felt confident in my own imagination.  I like writing from my life, but a) my life, like all lives, has no actual plot and b) it seems absurdly egotistical.


My kids and I went to see a matinee at our library yesterday.  We got there a little bit early and browsed the stacks.  I have more than enough books at home, so I wasn't too intent on finding anything, but then I noticed a book called Been There, Done That: Writing Stories from Real Life.  It's an anthology by YA and MG authors such as Julia Alvarez, Gary D. Schmidt, and Linda Sue Park.  In it, each author tells a story about something that happened to them, then shares a short story inspired by that experience.

Do you see where I'm going with this?


Today, I read an article in the NCTE magazine about Sharon Draper winning an award from them at the conference I attended last fall.  In it, she comments that although her kids are grown and she's no longer in the classroom, she still feels comfortable writing about young people.  That despite cell phones and social media, the experience of being 14, 15, 16 is the same.  The questions, the challenges, the excitement--it's timeless.  (Okay, I'm guessing that being a teenager in the Middle Ages was a bit different, but my mom always insisted that the Knights of the Round Table were a cross between early Boy Scouts and early gangs.)  

And there went my last reason why I've never attempted to write for my students.  I LOVE the voice that writers like Matt de la Peña or A. S. King capture, but I am so very un-cool that I knew I would sound awkward and clunky if I attempted to write ABOUT my students.  But I don't need to write about them (kids like them) to make it real--I can write what I know, and make THAT real.  I don't need to come up with everything from nothing.  I can adapt from my own memories and stories.  I don't need to choose between writing my truth and protecting the privacy of others--I can bend the objective truth to make a better story (and leave other real people out of the story as I go).

I still have no idea if I could do it.

But I am pretty sure I can try.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Sunday, March 20, 2016

SOL #20: When I Was Twenty

Slice number twenty got me thinking about the year I was twenty.

When I was twenty...
the Berlin Wall came down,
Nelson Mandela was freed,
I wore a pair of chocolate brown riding-style pants with ankle boots and a J Crew rollneck sweater.

When I was twenty...
I wrote my junior thesis on Rosa Luxemburg, German socialist and suffragette,
I alienated my college roommate with inconsiderate behavior,
I joined the beginners' intramural ice hockey league and fell over a lot.

When I was twenty...
I lived and studied at an international folk high school in Denmark
I took a course in ecology, making me realize I shouldn't have been afraid of science classes all that time,
I discovered Daim bars, which are what Heath bars want to be when they grow up

When I was twenty...
I had a friend who'd been tortured in an Iranian jail before fleeing his homeland,
I was chastened when we complained about being served fruit for dessert, and our Estonian classmate said, "My three year old has never even seen a banana,"
I started my rough drafts of the letters we wrote each week for Amnesty International by cussing out the leaders who were responsible for atrocities.

When I was twenty...
I was on the losing end of having a crush on a friend
I made a friend that has been my kindred spirit ever since
I danced almost every weekend.

 When I was twenty...
 I discovered that Eastern Europe was not all smoke stacks and grey depression
I set my feet on a path that would lead to years of travel and teaching
I hennaed my hair and braided beads into it, like my cool English friend

When I was twenty...
I had a summer job in which my supervisor was an alcoholic,
I realized that my parents would always have my back, even when I was an adult,
I started wearing scrunchies instead of hair bands.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Quiz: First Lines of Childhood Classics

I saw a similar quiz awhile back, and asked the blogger if I could steal their idea.  They said yes, but then I forgot who it was in the first place.  If it was you--thank you, sorry, and feel free to give yourself a shout-out in the comments!

I am challenging my blog skills all over the place lately, trying out graphics and now a quiz, not to mention the back-to-back month-long challenges I'm doing now and in April.  The April challenge will be book focused, in case you're wondering what kind of book blog this is, where all I do is talk about myself.

The only book on this list that I haven't read and the only book I read but didn't adore are there because I thought they were entertaining wrong answers for the question.  (The quote is about an ax...and a fern...)  All other books named, right answer or wrong ones, were indeed favorites of mine growing up.  Well, except Harry Potter, which came out when I was around thirty.  But it's hard to avoid HP when writing about kids' lit.

I avoided the super obscure titles I wrote about earlier this month, so you should have a decent chance.

Have fun!

Edit: After a reader commented they wish they knew which ones they missed, I went ahead and put an answer key in the comment section, so check there AFTER you're done!

Friday, March 18, 2016

SOL #19: Nineteen Days Gone By.

Number nineteen, really?

I've written every day for nineteen days.  Some days I've written more, since I don't want to let my book blog commitment fade away in my excitement about Slicing.  I suspect the neck and back pain I've been dealing with lately is a direct result of how much more time I've spent hunched over my laptop.  I started to use a laptop stand and wireless keyboard/mouse, and hey!  Pain has abated!  You wouldn't think of writing as physically taxing, and it wasn't, when I was a young thing keeping handscrawled journals in blank books.

Then again, we had an assembly the other day with a man who has a rare condition in which his joints are all fused.  He is a black belt and fitness trainer despite being told in his childhood that he'd never walk.  There's some inspiration to figure out how to handle my pain and keep working on my passion, eh?

I've taken a few risks in the last nineteen days, pushed myself to try a few new things.  Not a lot--I'm a busy woman, thank you very much, and often I'm writing when I'm too sleepy to innovate.  But I've dabbled in poetry and third person, and dove into the deep end of personal confession a time or two.  Sometimes (*coughNowcough*) I've rambled freely, but other Slices I've actually gone back and revised and edited, trying to polish it up a bit more.

I've also thought about audience.  I work on a big post that I'm really invested in, and it garners very few views or comments.  I toss off six words, and the comments pour in.  What's going on?  Is it the timing of my posting?  Or do people open up my long blocks of text and think, "Mmm, yeah, no," while six word memoirs simplify hitting that three-comment-per-day commitment?  I'm certainly guilty of reading a bunch of short Slices rather than a few long ones on busy days.

I've been book blogging for about nine months now, and for the last year, most of the blogs I've read are book blogs, a mix of lit fans and teachers of reading and writing.  At one point I read adoption blogs, and wrote one too.  A very few of these are literary blogs; blogs written by accomplished writers enjoying the blog format.  Most are written by enthusiasts.  Whether book readers or people in the thick of adoption adventures, the experience trumps the writing.  We're all Word People, of course.  You don't start a blog hobby if you don't enjoy writing.   But most of us are writing to share the topic, not to share our writing.

Slice of Life, though, is different.  People are deliberate about their writing.  The topic is wide-open, and the focus is on writing itself.  Writers play with words, with format, with ideas and styles.  And I'm reading these blogs differently too.  While I'm still moved by the content, I'm going beyond "What did they think of this book?" to "How are they telling this tale?  What is moving me?  How are they doing that?"

Thank you.  Thank you to the organizers of this project.  Thank you to all who participate.  Thanks to anyone who reads, and especially to those who comment.  Nineteen days in a row.  Twelve to go.  I know already that I will miss it, and I'm starting to think about what that means.  Where I want to go with writing.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Am I Greedy?

I have a moral question to put to the crowd:

There are a few link-ups that I participate in regularly that also include giveaways.  Since "free is a very good price" as the appliance salesman that was a regular feature of Portland late night TV used to say, I am always happy to enter these.   Your chances improve the more you interact, either by visiting and commenting on other blogs in the linkup, or by following the creators, etc.

Here's my question.  Say I win one of these, which I've been lucky enough to do a time or two.  Is it bad form to come right back the next week/month/post and enter again?  Or should I take a break and let someone else get their turn?  Or should I trust that giver-away to make that executive decision. "Hmm. I just sent Wendy a book.  Maybe I'll randomly draw a second name here."

To give a concrete example, Nicole, our discussion challenge host, has sent me books twice this year--I think once for a round-up giveaway and once for a discussion post giveaway.  I kind of feel like Nicole shouldn't have to be sending me books all the time.  While I'm continuing to link up to her posts, I think it might behoove me to skip the whole enter-to-win part.

But it's so much fun to win something!

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

SOL #18: Six Word Memoir

I'm coming off of two 14 hours days, so keeping it short.

Books, coffee are life.  (Sorry, family.)

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

SOL #17: Parent Teacher Conferences

Parent teacher conferences are tonight and tomorrow night.  We're teaching full days both days--well, other than the two hours we lost to a power brown-out this morning, but that was hardly expected.

When I was a new teacher, I would bring makeup and a toothbrush to school on conference days, so I could freshen up and look professional for the families.  I was teaching ELD, and my amazing bilingual IA would start making phone calls an hour or so before the conferences started, reminding families that we'd love to see them.  She would spend the conferences racing from teacher to teacher, trying to keep up with the translation requests, and I'd rise to the challenge of conducting conferences in my second semester Spanish.  It was perhaps fortunate that most of the families that came were the ones I didn't have a lot to say to.  "She works very hard.  Very respectful.  A great student." 

There was the year of the H1N1 scare, when our principal bought hand sanitizer for every teacher's conference table.  There was the year we responded to complaints about the arena scheduling and held conferences in our classrooms.  That garnered more complaints, so we went back to tried-and-true in the gym.  Sometimes there's a huge rush on the second night, time whipping by as a steady stream approaches the table.  Other times the spring conferences only garner a handful of visitors.

There may be tears.  A kid weeps in shame, doubled by the public forum for their tears.  A parent weeps with pride, looking at the first F-free report card in years.  High schoolers accompanying younger siblings swarm the tables of their old teachers, absence having increased their nostalgia.

One year a girl showed up at conferences alone.  "Mom had to work," she said, "but I told her I'd check in with all the teachers."  She doggedly carried her report card around the room, and we each spent time talking with her about her strengths and where she could stand to improve.

Fifteen years of ELD ended, and four years of teaching ELA meant longer lines and more conversations with parents.  I always promise kids, "If you show up, I'll find SOMETHING nice to say about you.  Without lying."   This is occasionally a difficult task, but I'm more likely than not to pull my punches when I see the whole family in front of me.  Boisterous kids are suddenly quiet and nervous. Parents are nervous too, or angry, or embarrassed (usually covering it with anger).  Instead of saying, "Your kid is a jerk and outstandingly lazy," I find myself saying, "He doesn't always make good choices about who he sits with, but I've seen some improvement lately."  The parent raises a knowing eyebrow at their child, who shoots me an abashedly grateful look.

There are, of course, plenty of times when I lay it all out there.  Although--perennial teachers' lament--the families you most need to see are the ones who never seem to come.

Other families show up over and over.  Older siblings in college, and the younger ones now traipsing around their gym with their sheet full of As.  We form mutual admiration societies--

"Thank you for all the work you put into educating my child!"
"No, thank YOU for sending your terrific kid to us!"

Not the best use of our time, maybe, but both sides appreciate the boost.

There's a point in the evening when there's a lull, and you look around and realize you have been in this building for twelve hours and still have another hour and a half left, and that your own kids will be in bed by the time you get home.  Then a family walks in, and you think, "Ooh, I can't wait to tell them Jessica's reading scores have gone up three grade levels this year," or maybe, "I'm going to see if Hayden's mom can back me up on reading outside of class."  It's just a few nights per year.  It's worth it.

And if you get too bored, you can always work on your blog.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

Getting the Most from your Library Card

I've mentioned many times before that I'm a lifelong enthusiastic library user with an outstanding local library.  I know many book lovers are too, but some have not developed the library habit, or have concerns that make them hesitate to make the most of this great resource.  Here, then, are my best tips for getting the most from your library card.

1.  SIGN UP.  Libraries I've used ask you to supply some sort of proof of local residence--often the envelope from bills addressed to you or your family.  Your ID might work too, depending on the system.  Public libraries in my area are 100% free of charge; they'll even replace lost cards for free (up to a point).  It's super easy.  If you're not sure what to do, ask anyone on staff.  They WANT you to sign up, so they're guaranteed to be helpful.

2.  OR DON'T.  Granted, you can't walk out the door with books if you don't have a library card. You can, however, browse the shelves, sit and read, or, usually, sign onto computers as a guest.  You can attend library events and ask questions of the research librarians.  If for some reason getting a card isn't feasible, that doesn't mean you can't use your library!

3.  LINKED ACCOUNTS.  My kids are pretty much crap at returning books.  I have their accounts linked to mine so I can help them track due dates.  My husband and I linked our accounts so we can pick up each other's holds (more on that later).  Both of these things have saved us many a headache.

4.  REQUESTS and HOLDS.  My library is part of a county-wide system of 18 libraries.  Chances are, if my library doesn't have a book I'm looking for, one of the other ones does.  Now, sure, I could hop in my car and drive across town to check out the book, since my card is good at all 18 branches.  Or I can request the book through my local library, and it will be delivered straight to the most convenient branch, often in a matter of days.  In the summer, I log onto the system and change my default library to the one that's by the playground and splash pad instead of the one that's on my way home from work.  Simple.

Holds are kind of the same thing, but from a different angle.  Let's say my library does have the book I want, but all copies are checked out.  They are all checked out at the other libraries as well, because the book is The Next Great Thing In Literature.  I can put it on hold and then go about my life.  When my turn comes, the library will let me know.  (Pro tip: If you find out about books before release, because book blogs, you can get on the holds list early and obtain the book right after release.)  Also--this one has been huge for me lately--I can put books on hold EVEN IF MY LIBRARY HAS THEM ALREADY.  They'll pull them off the shelves and keep them waiting for me in one convenient location.  So say I need 8 picture books for a project, but don't want to spend time scouring the stacks for them--I put a hold on them, and only need to dash inside the library for a few minutes to grab them.

5.  TECHNOLOGY.  Library computers are such a boon to a community, especially low income areas like where I teach.  Sure, everyone has a smart phone these days, but some types of research and writing are so much easier on a full keyboard, and you'd be surprised how many people don't have internet at home.  Even though I have full access, I still use library tech.  The cost of printing at a library, for the amount of printing I do, is far less than buying printer ink.  I can scan documents and make photocopies too.  Our library has a 3D printer and offers free sessions on it once a week.

6.  FREEBIES.  Pay attention.  Read flyers.  We all know libraries have story time for small children and summer reading programs for grade schoolers. Modern libraries can have many more options and programs going on.  Movies for kids, movies for adults.  Teen reading challengers, adult book clubs, musical performances, art shows, crafting parties, behind-the-scenes tours, raffles and contests--who knows what fun offerings your local library has?  You will know, once you take the time to find out!

7.  WANDER.  Not all who wander are lost, remember?  You may have your comfort zone in your library, whether it's New Releases, Westerns, or the cafe in the lobby.  Walk around your library.  Head down a different aisle than usual.

You don't have kids?  Check out the children's section anyway.  There are some terrific picture books out there, and sometimes you can also find fantastic murals, fun toys, or cozy seating there.  Venture from YA to adult fiction, from Fantasy to Mystery.  See what's available.

You read only fiction?  Wander up and down the nonfiction stacks anyway.  Anything you're interested in might show up in a book.  There are even books about loving books, if that is your ONLY interest.  You might pick up a cookbook, a book about building simple furniture with 2 x 4's, or Blogging for Dummies.  The great thing about a library is that if you only use one recipe, or you never wind up actually building that bench, it's okay--you didn't spend money on the book!  

Librarians also make some really fun displays.  A table showcasing "Royalty" might have The Red Queen, a biography of Queen Latifah, and some King Arthur legends.  They might collect gardening books in the spring, or books that you never knew inspired the movie.  Take a minute to look over the books they've pulled out for you.  Hidden gems have been revealed!

8. SAVE MONEY.  One common argument I hear against library use is, "But I never turn my books in on time, so I run up all these fines."  I'm not going to lie--I pay money regularly to my library.  But if I were to figure how much money I spend per book read, it would be in the pennies, at most.  FAR less than buying them, even used.  Anyway, I'd rather have my book money going towards the library than to Amazon.

Also, modern technology makes it super easy to keep on top of and deal with books' due dates.  I have my account set up so I get an email three days before books are due.  At that point, I can either return them or renew them (also online).  I only run into trouble when a) I ignore the email or b) there's something I can't renew, but I don't return it fast enough.  In short, if you're super organized libraries are entirely free.  If you're merely sort of organized, libraries are still the cheapest way for voracious readers to keep themselves in books.

Are any of these ideas new to you?  Have you taken advantage of any of them?  Do you have any to add?  What are your favorite aspects of libraries (besides BOOKS)?  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

SOL #16 I Should Know Better

This is my most vulnerable slice yet.  I'm sharing my shame here, somewhat against my better judgement.  But the writers I admire the most are the honest ones, the ones who say, "This is how I'm broken; don't worry, we all are in some way or another."  Anne Lamott, not your Facebook friends.  So I'm laying it out there.  Two great bloggers, Glennon of Momastery and Beth of Five Kids is a Lot of Kids, write frequently about both/and.  I am both a terrible mom and a great one.  What are your both/and aspects?

I should know better.

I should, by now, know 100% better.

First, I should know when a month has passed and I need to order the meds again.  I should know that it takes longer to get his meds than it does to get all our other prescriptions, because his doctor has to give written approval to the pharmacy every. single. month.

Then, when we're in those painful days between meds--since apparently I don't know better about timely ordering--I should know not to engage.

Not to argue when he claims that he doesn't have to take a bath because it ISN'T REALLY 6:00.

Not to raise my voice when he counters my reminder to say "Yes, Mom" by saying isn't he supposed to say yes, Dad?  What?!?  Are you seriously not capable of transferring that from one parent to the other?

Not to engage in the mindless and irrelevant discussion about whether or not the silly putty he's sticking to the coffee table belongs to him or his sister, but also not to lose my temper over the mindlessness and irrelevance and rip the damn stuff out of his hand.

You can't teach calming techniques by ramping up.  You can't teach respectful communication by shrieking.

You sure as hell can't teach kindness by physically bullying someone half your size.

It's been nearly four years of living with this child of chaos and trauma.  Four years of a kid who is fearful yet aggressive, longing for connection but seeking it in negative engagement.  I've taken classes, worked with counselors, read books, watched the videos.  (The adults are always so calm, so unflappable in those videos.)  I've gone on medicine to help me deal with the shrewishness menopause seems to elicit in my family (gee thanks, Mom), I've tried to meditate and be mindful.

But I still screw up, dear God, do I still screw up.

As soon as I'd gotten the putty into a safe receptacle, I grabbed my coat and headed out the door.  Twenty minutes later my hair was dripping with rain, but I was feeling better.  He was on the porch working on his bike when I got back, and greeted me cheerfully.

I made dinner.  We ate.  I helped with homework, then read him a chapter from his book.  He begged for another, and I said no--I'm hoping for an early night myself.  He cocked his head at me and said, "What about for a repair?"

Family rule.  You're mean to someone, you make it up to them.  We read the second chapter, his head resting comfortably on my shoulder.

"I should have taken that walk sooner, huh?" I say.

"Yep," he agrees.  "Do you think my meds will get here tomorrow?"

"I sure hope so," I tell him.  "I'm sorry I blew up at you.  I love you."

"I'm sorry I was being a jerk.  I love you too."

I should know better, but I don't. What I do know is that my love for this kid outweighs my frustration with him.

I just hope he knows that.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers