Monday, August 29, 2011

I Think This Qualifies As a Rainbow, Right?

So, summer is in session one more day. I decided to be extremely proactive and: do two loads of laundry, vacuum the stairs and hallway, organize my closet, melt my crayon canvas, finish my lesson plans, and create a "Getting To Know You" bingo game for my students. In and amongst all that, I swept the floors and part of the basement and cleaned up in the way, way back of the basement as the people who maintain our heating system called to say they could make it over to complete the autumn cleaning. Oh, and I'm waiting on the insurance company to call about the windshields.

Because of this whirlwind of activity, I'm able to sit down and enjoy the very lovely, albeit silly, Lost In Austen while I tidy up some lessons for the first three weeks of school. If you haven't seen the miniseries and you enjoy all things Austen, I encourage you to check it out. Jemima Rooper, Hugh Bonneville, and Alex Kingston make it a pleasure to watch this mish-mash of Austen's Pride and Prejudice and a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. 

Having this day off at the beginning of the school gave me an opportunity to get my Project 333, Phase 4 clothing in order. I never really published a Phase 3 list because I didn't put one together. When school let out, I took out some of the more "professional" clothes and substituted more casual fare. The only items I didn't include were clothes I took on vacation. After all, I couldn't see keeping two bathing suits for just a three-day trip; besides, would I count them as one item even though there were two parts?

It's not as pretty as I would like . . . but I like it nonetheless

Here's my list for the last, full phase of Project 333:
  • white L. L. Bean 3/4 sleeve shirt
  • black L. L. Bean 3/4 sleeve shirt
  • green L. L. Bean 3/4 sleeve shirt
  • light blue L. L. Bean 3/4 sleeve shirt
  • teal Apt. 9 short sleeve shirt
  • apple green Apt. 9 short sleeve shirt
  • teal Old Navy scoop neck short sleeve shirt*
  • two white Lane Bryant camis
  • blue Old Navy tank
  • green Old Navy tank
  • pink Old Navy tank
  • teal Old Navy short sleeve sweater
  • purple Old Navy long sleeve tissue sweater
  • cream Old Navy long sleeve tissue sweater
  • green Lane Bryant short sleeve cardigan
  • black Torrid 3/4 sleeve cropped cardigan
  • black Old Navy asymmetrical long sleeve cardigan
  • black Macy's swing cardigan
  • teal Old Navy faux-wrap long sleeve sweater
  • three pair black capris
  • khaki capris
  • Lane Bryant jean skirt
  • teal dotted Mossimo skirt
  • black Old Navy skirt
  • Mossimo jeans
  • Apt. 9 capris
  • Apt. 9 boyfriend jeans
  • two pair black sandals (dressy thongs and the Clarks wedges)
  • black Clarks pumps
I've decided that I will keep three items to mix and out as needed: a teal short sleeve shirt from Macy's, a black scoop neck Old Navy short sleeve shirt, and something else (I have laundry in the dryer after all . . . and I can't remember what it is right now). I'm continuing the self-imposed rule that all hand-knit items are fair game to be worn without counting toward the 33 items. Also, I'm not counting any jewelry in the list. I usually only wear a wedding ring and perhaps a bracelet. Purses or handbags aren't counting for me, either. I use only one or two purses, a knitting bag, and a laptop bag (I downsized from the massive Vera Bradley bags last year . . . but I still need to sell them on eBay). Once the weather gets truly cold, and it will around October, I plan on changing out the capris for dress slacks and a few of the short sleeve or tissue sweaters for something more appropriate. I'll also put the sandals away and bring the red pumps out . . . because I miss those shiny, patent leather lookers.

Hopefully we have the first day of school tomorrow . . . otherwise, I'll be forced to clean the attic or the basement. And that would truly be a horror. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I'm Pretty Sure It's a Bad Omen

When you start the school year with a cancellation, I'm fairly certain it can't be a good thing. After hearing about Hurricane Irene and the impending "the world is ending . . . buy more white bread" mentality, I was pretty certain it would lead to an interesting school year. Hurricane Irene arrived in our neck of the woods as a tropical storm, but she left her mark with flooding and massive power outages. So, we're starting off the 2011-2012 school year in the hole. Hopefully, our district will apply for forgiveness; if not, I'm pretty sure I'll forget about it come June anyway.

My artsy beginning of the school year

So, the school year is now 36 hours away. What am I looking forward to? A schedule - I do shitty without one. New students - I can't wait to meet my new kiddos. New challenges - but not the kind that make me want to tear my hair out . . . the kind that expand my teaching. Trying something new for organization - working with 7th graders is like herding cats some days, so I'm hoping that a new organizational model will help.

It has a certain elegance . . . but it's a bitch to dry with

But for tomorrow, I'll sleep late one last time. Drink two cups of coffee instead of one. Perhaps knit a little more on a scarf. Read a few more pages in my book. Plan further for my first two weeks of school*. Call the insurance company about the two cracked windshields. And get ready to welcome some new kiddos to English class because school will come eventually.

Hope you all stayed safe and dry this weekend! The Girls officially survived a Category One hurricane without a parent . . . not that we would have been any help, but they did it in style - with Uno and Doctor Who at the ready.

- Jill

* I was supposed to have a student teacher starting with me on Tuesday, but he will be two weeks late. Seems he's a little preoccupied being a volunteer for the Red Cross and was shipped to North Carolina as of Friday. Seems promising already . . .  here's hoping I don't eat those words.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When All Else Fails, Make a Playlist

Seriously, when I feel like procrastinating or putting off stress or decompressing in anticipation of the coming weeks, I make a playlist. I've always done that. During my certification classes, I had the best iPod going . . . it was chock full of the latest songs, deep tracks from the "chill" genre, classical music so obscure that it couldn't really be defined. You name it, it was on there - with the possible exception of country music save for Willie, Johnny, and some Dwight.

So, this playlist started off the same way that others have: from a commercial. Usually, I'll hear a song on a commercial and think, "Hmmm . . . I love that song! Who sings it?" and I traipse off to AdTunes to locate the artist. That little side venture brings on more songs that I didn't know I liked, and by the time I'm done, I have a brand new set of music to listen to. Plus I can't put off what I was putting off any longer.

This time around, I'm putting off the coming school year. I can't really put it off, but I can try and banish the thought from my brain for a while longer. I look forward to the beginning of the school year (always have, always will), but it's always with a certain amount of dread. This year is no exception. Will the lessons that worked last year work this year? Will the kids "get it" when we are writing? Will they know how to write a paragraph? Will I worry about them when the day is over? And the list goes on. We have a new group of kids with us this year, the gifted and talented crew, so that's a whole new list of "Will theys" to add to the rotation. And it doesn't help that this summer was spent translating what I do in a classroom to what can be done with just a computer.

So, what's a girl to do? Create a playlist . . . School's Back. Feel free to listen/watch as much as you want or make your own.

1. "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People ( in Fright Night and at Subway yesterday with Lisa)
2. "One Week of Danger" by The Virgins (in a Honda commercial)
3. "I Follow Rivers" by Lykke Li (in the latest trailer for Columbiana)
4. "Introducing" by Snake & Jet's Amazing Bullit Band (in a Honda commercial)
5. "We Turn It Up" by Oh Land (in a Honda commercial)
6. "Rescue Song" by Mr. Little Jeans (in a Honda commercial  . . . so I like Honda's commercials)
7. "Our World" by My Morning Jacket (from the Muppets soundtrack . . . moved me to tears)
8. "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 (heard it on the radio . . . yes, the radio)
9. "You Make Me Feel" by Cobra Starship featuring Sabi (heard it on MTV in one of the brief moments they were playing videos)
10. "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" by Coldplay (heard it on Pandora)
11. "Walk" by Foo Fighters (just bought it because I like them)
12. "Double Trouble" by Jack and White (free on iTunes . . . kind of fun)
13 "I Follow Rivers" by the Glee cast (if there is a Glee cover, I usually buy it . . . can't explain why, I just do)

Off for more work related stuff . . . but at least I have my tunes to make it fun.

- Jill

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another Good Book

Since the last post, I finished three more books: Hush, Hush and Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The first two were pretty quick forbidden romance novels aimed at my core group of middle school students. The student who read The Mortal Instruments series recommended this book series to me, and I couldn't return to school without having read it. For some reason, if a kid is kind enough to recommend a book to me, I'll take a swing at it. After all, I give them suggestions all the time, and I hope that they listen every now and then.

But then there was 13 Reasons Why. I bought it before we took our anniversary trip, but I didn't read it then. I have read six books since I bought it, all of which were purchased after I bought this rather slim novel. What was holding me back? It's about a girl who commits suicide and 13 reasons why she chose to do it. I'm not giving away any secrets here. If you read the back of the cover, it clearly states that she kills herself. But it's the reasons why - her encounters with those around her - that prevented me from cracking it open. I was afraid that it would be sad (it was). I was afraid that it would be maudlin (it wasn't). I was afraid that the author wouldn't have an authentic voice for a girl (he did). Turns out I should have read it a lot sooner than I did . . . but definitely not on vacation.

The story is told by two different people: Hannah, the girl who decides to commit suicide, and Clay, one of 13 people to receive a box of audio tapes from Hannah. On the tapes she narrates the different reasons that brought her to her ultimate decision, not indicting the people to whom she devotes one side of a tape to, but clearly making the case that their actions or lack thereof caused her pain. While the final act is an extremely drastic measure, the acts from all the characters leading up to it are all too common.

It's a young adult book, but it's a quick read . . . go ahead and crack it open
I teach in a middle school. Hardly a day goes by when you don't see a student who is upset with someone else. It ranges from pencil tapping that drives a person to the point of madness to insensitive comments about looks, clothing, body odor . . . anything. Bullying is a constant topic in society partially because it's everywhere. And you know what? It should be discussed. Parents need to talk to their kids about it and get them to understand that it's perfectly fine to tell someone when they think they are being bullied. And keep telling them that. If you think your child is being bullied and they tell you they've talked to a teacher or a guidance counselor about it, take that extra step and call the teacher. Trust me on this one . . . kids often don't tell us a thing. They might say that they had a bad day, and we ask what happened. "Oh, I forgot my lunch, and I had to call my mom to bring it to school, but she left for work already, so now I'll have to charge it at lunch." This, to a teacher, translates to: not much. But what the student really meant to say was, "I was so worried about riding to school on the bus with students X, Y, and Z, and I forgot my lunch, and now I'll have to charge at lunch, which means getting up in front of students X, Y, and Z at lunch, and they'll whisper behind their hands at me." See? Same stories . . . clearly. When in doubt, call you child's teacher and ask. We'd rather know so that we can look out for it.

A huge source of bullying comes online. Teachers can't control that. But you can. Your child has a Facebook? Fine. But they need to understand that you as the parent have the right to review every single thing on that. Who they have as friends. What they like. Who they are chatting with. What the comments are. What the pictures look like. Investigate. You would be shocked at what is posted on there. One of my former students, who was a darling, sweet, innocent girl, had a profile pic of her doing her best "fuck you" pose, complete with the middle finger. She popped up as a person I might know*. You're right I know her . . . and promptly told her to remove that photo. "Would your mother be okay with that?" I asked. "No . . . she'd scream and yell," she replied. "Then why do you want the first thing that new friends see to be that photo?" I asked. There was no reply. Investigate what their online profile is like, and keep doing it.

We also can't control what they text to one another. In school, our students are supposed to leave their cell phones in their lockers turned off, and we do everything we can to prevent texting. But it happens. Girls keep their phones in their bras or boots. Boys keep them in baggy pants or in hoodie pockets. Again, you're the one paying the bills . . . so check the texts and picture messages. And investigate. Talk about what the language means. About how those pictures never, ever, ever go away. And when all else fails, don't ever let them forget that you love them unconditionally.

I've been at school all week, working on getting the last bits of our online curriculum done. I have a feeling that this is going to be a labor of love and something that is never quite finished. And the whole time I've been working on it, I wonder what my new group of students will be like. Hopefully they take my suggestions.

- Jill

* For the record, I don't have any students or former students as friends on social media sites. When they graduate, I'll happily accept them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Few Good Books

When I was a child, my parents were afraid that I would begin to think of the book store as the library because I would spend so much time there. They put a quick limit on that amount of money that they were willing to spend on books for very good reason, and I was lucky to grow up with one of the best mid-western libraries. My father would take me there almost every Saturday to get whatever books I wanted. I can still remember where I was standing the first time I read the first page of Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game (single greatest book ever written for teenagers) and how I tore through the rest of her body of work in the following weeks. When I was old enough, my parents let me ride my bike several blocks (and across busy streets - the horror!) to the local branch where I'm pretty sure that I was on a first name basis with the librarian. Over time, my reliance on libraries has waned for a variety of reasons. We moved. The new library pretty much sucked. I moved. The new library was associated with college (but the local library was awesome for the Girls when they were little). We moved. No clue where the library was. We moved again. I don't think they had a library. We moved one more time. Library isn't bad but lacks new releases, basic knitting books, popular cook books, and I may have a small(ish) fine outstanding. Because of all those factors, I tend to buy the books I want these days. I read a pretty wide variety of genres, but I always fall back on non-fiction, chick lit (sue me . . . don't care), and young adult literature.

Young Adult literature, or YA if you are in education or a bookstore, has gotten a bad rap lately. Critics say: It's too dark; The themes are too mature; Children are victimized; It will ruin our children; Where are the parents? Truth be told, they are kind of right . . . it is dark . . . mature . . . lacking parents. But you know what? It was like that when I was 14, too. Kids at school would pass around books they knew their friends would want to read (Flowers In the Attic, anyone?) partially because they had access to them and their friends probably didn't. I can say with all certainty that had my mother known I was reading a book about siblings who decided to not only have sex with each other but have children with each other, she would have burned it in front of me. But she didn't know a thing about it . . . because I got it from a friend. Did is mess me up? Absolutely not. Could I have lived without having read it? Absolutely.

I truly love this little piece of technology

So . . . why do I still read YA at the tender age of 41? Because I teach seventh grade, and I like to know what my students are reading. For a while, I read it because my children were reading it, and I liked to know what they are reading. That ended with the Twilight saga basically because it was horrible, and I wasted four days reading the crap. Now, I take my cues from what my students are reading and what I can glean on Goodreads. I take advice from other teachers, friends, or family. And I still choose books by their cover. Sadly, my children don't take my advice that often. Guess I had a bad habit of trying to push certain books on them in which the plucky heroine overcomes all odds to lead a successful life. If you're looking for a good, quick, fun read, it's quite possible you might find any of these interesting.

The Hunger Games trilogy - I like a lot of series books, but I hate when a book leads you into a series. For example, I just finished Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, which was good . . . but it sets you up completely for another book (and the first one wasn't strong enough to do that, in my opinion). The Hunger Games, while completely leading you into the second book, stands by itself. The story telling is top-notch, and the plot moves forward at a rapid pace. I started this book on audio two years ago but got side-tracked. That being said, when I picked up the paper version in June, I was astounded to realized I was only four chapters in. Suzanne Collins never insults the reader by telling you about the story. She does what every good writer does and allows you to imagine, in great detail, what is happening to the two protagonists. I won't give away any spoilers but suffice it to say, after three books (with two readings of each), I could easily go back and reread the series again.

Beauty Queens - This was a pure and simple impulse purchase. I wanted to load up my nook with books on our recent vacation and figured that I had enough "my boyfriend is a supernatural spirit killer/developer/nurturer and I'm a misunderstood faerie/Goth chick/potential CEO" to last me a good portion of the trip, and I wanted something goofy and fun and light. Boy did I ever get it! Supposedly, the story idea was tossed out at editors' meetings (A plane full of beauty queens crash lands on a desert island), but Libba Bray made it something real. She weaves the stories of the different teen beauty queens throughout the novel, and you can't help but identifying a little with some of them. Even the bumpers from "the Corporation" make you sit up a little and think, "Is this what we are funneling into our girls?"

Just read the books . . . before the movies come out

The Mortal Instruments series - Bought the first book in Las Vegas because of the cover. Google The City of Bones and get back to me. I'll wait . . . waiting . . . waiting. OK . . . see? How could I pass cover up. The writing hooked me within the first 50 pages, and I was praising it to everyone I could. Last October, when I was in Columbus for the Flickr meet-up, a friend of Erika's brought up Flowers in the Attic and asked if kids still read them. "No . . . incestuous relationships with borderline objectionable love scenes aren't really in favor any more," I said over my beer. Fast forward one day, on a plane, and I'm eating my words (relax . . . just read the books). I practically ran to a book store at Newark Liberty International to find the second book so I could continue reading it. At work, I told anyone I could think of about it (honestly, I should have gotten a cut of the profits from our school - or at least a free book). When I saw student reading it, I immediately sat her down for a long discussion about the series. Cassandra Clare recently released a few new snippets from her upcoming books . . . which can't get here fast enough as far as I am concerned. I've already preordered the next Clockwork book and can tell there is a big sneeze coming when it's released.

The Looking Glass Wars trilogy - Again, I have a problem with books in series. And to be fair, I didn't "read" these books but listened to them on the iPod. The premise? What if Alice's adventures in Wonderland were real? The protagonist is Alyss Hart, who after the murder of her mother by her sister, travels through a looking glass portal where she is raised by the Liddell family in England. Characters from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland make appearances (including the author himself) in slightly altered forms - the Mad Hatter is now Hatter M, a kick-ass guard who protects Alyss at all costs, the Caterpillar is still a Caterpillar, only there are four or five of him and he sounds vaguely like John Lennon (remember . . . listened, not read . . . I'm pretty sure that I would hug the voice-over artist thinking that he was author Frank Beddor). This is one of the rare books that I broke my "purchase the books in the same format you started with if there are more to follow" as I gleefully purchased a hard cover version of the final one so the Girls could finish the series.

You Wish or Prada and Prejudice -  I read Prada and Prejudice first because I can't pass up anything having to do with Jane Austen's masterpiece. It was the perfect blend of "what-if" and how lives are changed with simple choices. Buy a pair of Prada shoes you can't afford on a school trip to London, and you just might find yourself transported back in time to the Regency Period. I knew it was a good book when it promptly was stolen off of my book cart at school. You Wish truly had me laughing out loud as a girl finds all of her previous birthday wishes coming true over a succession of days. I shudder to think what I wished when I was 10; that walking up the stairs to my house would send me into a tailspin I'm sure. Both books are by Mandy Hubbard, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Elsewhere - There are books that make you laugh. There are books that make you cry. And then there are books that make you do both. I alternated between giggles and tears pretty much the whole time I read Gabrielle Zevin's book about death and life and moving on. The protagonist dies before the book even begins and doesn't handle her own death very well. Seriously . . . who would? She's only 15 when she dies and feels cheated out of her life. However, she soon learns that even a life lived in reverse is one worth living. A warning: don't confuse it with the movie Elsewhere . . . not connected. 

So, there you go. Fifteen suggestions for books. One of these might be fore you. One of these might be for a young adult you know. If you have any good suggestions, let me know . . . I'm always on the look out for something new. School is just around the corner, after all!

- Jill

PS - I linked to author's pages where I could since I would hope you might read the books and not the summary of the novel instead. And who knew Frank Beddor has had such a colorful life!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Twenty years ago, I made a choice. I said two little words after a series of questions that changed everything that I knew precisely one day prior. I said, "I do," and that was that.

Everyone assumes that having children is the choice, but for me, it wasn't. When we found out we were pregnant, having the Girls wasn't the choice. It was the getting married part that was. Because let's be honest . . . you don't have to be married to have children. But back to the story.

We didn't do things in the prescribed order, but it didn't really make a difference to us. For a while, it was the "family scandal" at reunions and other people's weddings. Now? So far down the scandal meter that you would be hard pressed to figure out why it even was one. I'm pretty sure that a significant portion of people at the wedding wouldn't have given us five years, and truly, who could blame them? Certainly not me. If I attended a wedding for two 21-year-olds with two infants today, I might be one of those people betting against the happy couple.

We still hold hands after 20+ years

But I would be wrong . . . 100% wrong. So, after 20 years, what have I learned.
  1. A marriage is what you make of it. Invest very little? Get very little. Invest a whole lot of time, a whole lot of love . . . you get it back.
  2. Learn to love the same kind of movies. Before, I could count the number of comic book/action flicks I loved on one hand. Now? Bring it. (I draw the line to sight-gag movies . . . no Airplane for me)
  3. Laundry will be an issue. I like the towels folded one way; Dave likes the t-shirts folded another way. Fine . . . fold the towels my way, and I'll fold the t-shirts yours. Just don't expect me to keep my underwear folded. Not going to happen
  4. A king-size bed is totally unnecessary. You can sleep for 20 years in a full-size bed and not kill each other. Just saying
  5. If something bugs you, no one - including the person you pledged to love and honor - can read your mind. Spit it out and be done with it
  6. Giving hints about birthday and Christmas presents is totally acceptable. Reread that last bit about #5
  7. Fighting? Not.worth.the.effort . . . ever. Disagreements in 20 years: plenty. Fights: one. (Turns out we were both right . . . see? Not worth the fucking effort)
  8. When your kids leave for college, be prepared for a long and bumpy road. Ours lasted about a year. It wasn't particularly painful, but it was just different. Kind of like dating a person when you know all of their dirty little secrets (and how they like their t-shirts folded)
So, 20 years ago, we had a lovely wedding and reception, filled with our family and friends. We went back to my mom and dad's house, we opened up our presents, and I nursed the Girls. Then Dave and I piled into our Honda Civic hatchback and headed to beautiful Indianapolis. It was all we could afford given that one month later the Girls would be on Medicaid, and we would all be receiving food stamps. But today . . . today we wake up in that same full-size beds in a house devoid of children and head off to a sunnier destination. Call it a second honeymoon or anniversary trip or just a plain old vacation. I'll call it four nights on a beach with a book and the sweetest, funniest, best man that I know: my husband.

I love you, Dave!


*Seems I took a July break instead of an August one. A grad class that isn't want it was billed as plus writing an on-line course for seventh graders with little to no guidance will do that to you. Be back on August 8.