Monday, August 31, 2020

August Reading

 August Reading:

     Hello! As school is approaching my mind is all over the place.  Maybe later I'll write a post about teaching during the time of a pandemic, but I just can't right now. To say I'm conflicted about how I feel about returning to school in an understatement. I hope you all know that I truly love my job and my students, and miss them dearly, but I also have concerns for myself and my own family. Sigh. I'd appreciate your prayers about this. On to books, which are way less scary...

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    This was a book on Tim's options for required summer reading. As I mentioned in my July post, I like to read at least 1 book with the boys and talk about it with them/see what they're being asked to read. This is the book Tim chose, which was a bit of a surprise to me, but it ended up being a good choice. Frank Li is a Korean-American whose parents came to the United States from South Korea. They own a store where the father is always working to try to provide a good life for his family. Monthly, they attend "The Gathering," where all of the Korean families who came to the US around the same time meet for dinner at one of the houses of the families. Frank is a kid in his senior year of high school- dealing with preparing for college, learning how to manage relationships and, in his case, struggling to distinctly feel both Korean and American at the same time. In addition to these struggles, Frank also runs into a problem when he starts becoming interested in a girl named Brit. She seems like the perfect girl, except for one thing-she's white. He's fine with it, but his parents would not be since they expect him to marry a Korean girl, most likely a Korean American girl, which were pretty scarce in his area.  He knows this will be a problem because his sister, Hanna, was already disowned for dating and then marrying a black man. To complicate his feelings even more, Frank's best friend is Q, a black boy in his grade. His parents like Q because he's "not like other blacks." One night at The Gathering he realizes that a lot of his acquaintances, who might even be able to be considered friends, have some of the same problems. For example, his friend Joy has been sneaking around dating a Chinese guy named Wu for the past few years. He and Joy decide to pretend to be dating each other to mollify their parents and also allow them to sneak out with their significant others for dates.

         This book provided a lot of opportunity for discussion, especially during these times were racial tension is so obvious. We talked about racial issues at school, expectations for certain cultures, how Tim thinks we'd react if he brought home a girl that was from a different culture, parental expectations, dating (which he hasn't done), pressures of being a teen, honestly, how the events of the story may feel from the teen's/parent's point of view, etc. It was actually pretty cool to hear his opinions. We had a socially distanced dinner where 2 of my former students came to visit. They are Indian and the topic of arranged marriages came up. Tim heard that conversation as well so we also discussed that. We both thought the ending kind of wrapped up too quickly, but there's a second book so maybe that's why it was done that way. 

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This was a book for my Bee Hive Book Club. The main character, Weylyn Grey, is quite unusual. First of all, when his parents died in a car accident, he went into the woods and was raised by wolves. Secondly, he seems to have a connection with the weather.  When he was a teenager, he became friends with an 11 year old named Mary, who met him while she was delivering meat to him from her father's butcher shop. This relationship drives a lot of the book. The story is told from the perspectives of different characters that meet Weylyn throughout his life: Mary- whom I've already mentioned, Roarke- a teenage boy who meets Weylen as an older adult. He meets him after a dare from some of his friends. Lydia- Whose family were foster parents for Weylyn for a while. Bobby Quinn Jr- The mayor of a small town who contacts Weylyn to see if he can help with preparations for hurricanes in the area, and Duanne Fordham- a logger in Montana. Then there's Merlin, Weylyn's horned pig and a few other likeable characters (and maybe 1 or two unlikable ones) thrown into the mix. I thought this book would be a little too "fantasy" for me, but I found it kind of touching in some ways. I actually stopped reading for a few days because I didn't want the story to be done. There are some questions I still have about the story and some things you don't ever get answered but it didn't stop me from liking the book. The other people in my book club who read the book before me also really enjoyed it.

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Have you ever wondered what it would take for you to be happier in your everyday life? Well, Gretchen Rubin spent a lot of time thinking about improving herself and seeing if she could increase her level of daily happiness. She decided to take a year to focus on 11 different areas, one per month. (The last month she was implementing all the rules/attempts from the 11 previous months together.)  Some of the areas she examined were her marriage, parenthood, work, eternity, etc. She laughed at the fact that she wasn't really unhappy, but she also realized her moods affected everybody around her and she could probably improve on how she related to people.

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       I'm reading this book with David. It is about 3 kids who discover 3 kids with their same names and birthdays have been kidnapped. They think this is very strange, but get very disturbed when their mother then needs to take an emergency trip from work and leaves them with a family they don't really know at all. It becomes obvious that something is not right and the kids, along with the help of Natalie Morales (the girl whose mother they are staying with), try to figure out the whole situation. This book was pretty good. It might be bad for kids who are afraid that something could happen to a parent because one parent has died and the other goes missing. Natalie's parents are also split up. This is the first book in the series. David has already started the second book and is enjoying it a lot.


 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

July reading

July Reading


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 I have a "to read" shelf in my bedroom. It houses any books I've picked up anywhere and deemed readable. This one has been there for a while. I have no idea where I got it, but I finally got around to reading it. It tells the story of Harry Clifton's life through various characters who are intertwined somewhere along the way. When I picked it up, I had no idea that it was the beginning of a series. I will definitely consider reading the rest of the series. 

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 I do remember where I got this one.  A few years ago we went up to York, Maine. We were eating out at a restaurant with my parents and Timmy saw a basket of books that you could take/leave. He immediately grabbed this out of the basket. He read it and thought "it was okay." Me too. It was about a set of siblings who spend the summer at their grandmother's inn, which is supposedly haunted.  They figure it might be fun (and good for business) if they bring the old ghosts back into play so they set up some pranks to liven the place up. Unfortunately, their behavior sets other things into motion and the real hauntings begin again. Not really my type of book, but it was okay. Nothing too scary or graphic for a younger audience compared to books written now.

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I always enjoy a good Harlan Coben book. The Bayes are a couple who are concerned about their son, Adam, after his personality changes after the suicide of one of his best friends. Despite their best efforts, they feel like they are losing the kid he used to be. He has closed off and they decide that they need to dig a little to be 100% sure that things are okay. So, they install software on his computer and phone that gives them access to everything he is doing. The Bayes realize fairly soon that things are not okay and he is involved with some things that they never had even considered. 
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Lisa Scottoline is another one of my favorites. Mary DiNunzio has just been promoted to a partner in her law firm when a 13 year old girl approaches the firm to hire them to solve the murder of her sister. There are a few problems with this. The first is that the case is already solved. Someone who already confessed to the crime is already convicted and serving time, but Allegra (the girl) believes that they have the wrong man. Another problem is that Allegra's family, the Gardners, do not agree with this investigation and do multiple things to prevent it from happening, including having the young girl committed. 
 
I received this from NetGalley. This is a memoir about growing up in a segregated community of Mill Creek. I thought about this book as a snapshot of a certain period of time for this family. I got a good sense of who this family was and some of the things that affected their lives, but there was something else I wanted in the book. Maybe I was missing some background information that would've made me appreciate the book more or maybe I was hoping for more explanations, I don't quite know what it was. This book was just alright for me. I read this for my Keyword Reading Challenge.
 
Strength of character is something that is important to me. I'm always curious to read books about character to read stories about people of character, opinions of what creates good character and tips for working with other people.   This was another book I received from NetGalley. There were things I liked and disliked about this book. I suppose it was less "disliking" as much as not being able to relate. The authors of this book both have military backgrounds and connections with West Point so many of the points in this book and examples have do to with the military.  I have very little experience with the military and, although I appreciate the people who serve and enjoyed reading some stories that I had not previously heard, I just couldn't really relate 100%. I agreed with how they broke down character into many different traits- strengths of the head, heart and gut. There were other examples that weren't based in the military that were more relatable to me. I also like that they have suggestions for how to work on your character and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. I might buy this for a friend, but it wasn't really a great book for me.
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 Every summer I try to read at least 1 summer reading book with my boys. This was a choice from my 12 year old's book list. I will say that I have one of the most innocent 12 year old boyss on the planet. lol. We read this together and enjoyed it. It is about a girl names Violet who was found as an infant, abandoned in a hotel at Eerie-on-Sea. The disappearance of her parents is somehow tied to the mysterious sea creature, the malamander. She enlists the help of Herbie Lemon, also an orphan, who is working as the Lost and Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. This is the first book of a series. We will most likely read the second book to see what happens next with Violet and Herbie.
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 It has been a long while since I read "World Without End."  Would I be able to return to the story? Admittedly, I couldn't remember a lot of the story off the top of my head, but as soon as I started reading and Kingsbridge was reintroduced, much of the last 2 books came flooding back. I was immediately pulled back into this time period and into the lives of these characters. Ken Follett is just a master storyteller in my opinion. In a time where my mind is racing with all the "Are we going back to school?" thoughts during Covid... I loved plopping a 900 page book onto my lap and knowing that my mind could be in another place for a while. 
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        I had read about this book in a blog post about "feel good stories" or something like that, maybe "books that won't completely depress you during a pandemic." Ha ha. Soon after I read the post, this book popped up in a book exchange group in my town and I snatched it up. The book is about a man who decides he wants to walk the Appalachian Trail when he discovers a trail leading to the Appalachian Trail near his house. He does some research and offers the opportunity of hiking with him to some of his friends. The book follows his travels, challenges, successes and inner thoughts during the whole process. Tim read this before I did because he ran out of books. He said it was just "ok" and that the author "tried too hard to be funny/cool."  When I started reading it, I thought he was hilarious but noticed that his opinions of people were sometimes unfiltered, which I think is what slightly offended Tim. I thought the information about the trail itself, the environmental issues, information about the park services, and specifics about individual locations (including some near me) made this book very interesting.

Goodreads Reading Challenge: 48/60

Keyword Reading Challenge: 7/12

Friday, July 3, 2020

Composting

     I missed July 2nd after a sleepless night with a wisdom tooth issue. So, here I am on July 3rd... with one less tooth. Did you know I'm petrified of dentists? That can be your July 2nd fun fact.
    I thought I'd take July to venture into some areas I might not have talked about. I mentioned my gardening hobby the other day. On a related note, I have decided this summer to try composting.  My town, like most others at this point, I think, has a recycling program but I still feel like I have a ton of trash.  Last year my family visited Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. We stayed at an AirBnb and I was slightly surprised when I saw a huge note in their "house rules" about the trash. They have a pretty strict recycling/composting/trash system. There were tiny trash bins everywhere in the house and I thought, surely we will not be able to follow all of these rules. Well, sure enough- we could and I was shocked to see that in our time there we had 1 bag of actual trash.
      During this pandemic, I have tried to think of ways that I could help make the world better in any way. (I know that sounds dorky.) I thought one simple step might be reducing how much waste we send to the trash. Two years ago, a 7th grade teacher at our school had an idea to start composting at school lunches. It's a little bit of a challenge, but I think we're doing a fairly good job at it. We also reduced our trash from something like 8 full trash bags of trash per day to 2 or 3. I figured, if the kids can do it, why can't we? I read somewhere that 30% of trash is usually organic waste. So, at the beginning of the month we got an Earth Machine composting bin. It looks like this:
Click to see full size image.
 It's not exactly pretty, but I put it sort of out of the way in our yard. I've been saving anything from coffee grounds, dead flowers, paper towels and leftovers to go into it. I hadn't thought about being able to throw some of our yard waste in there too before getting the compost bin. I'm happy that this week we only had 1 bag of trash for the week. I'm hoping that this will also give us some soil for the garden next year.
       Do any of you compost? Any advice for things to do (or not do) for a newbie?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Something different- gardening

I mentioned a few posts ago that I have taken an interest in gardening since we moved to our new house. Here are a few things I've learned:

1) I am so grateful for the people who lived here before us, who apparently had enough money to hire a landscaper. :)
2) Gardening is HARD work! I have spent a lot of time and effort to make the yard look nice, while knowing that flowers are a temporary thing that I don't have a lot of control over.
3) I'm also very knowledgeable to people who have more experience. Who would've known that there are so many plants that can look exactly the same to people who have no knowledge. "Green pokey thing," "Another green pokey thing," ""Ooh... green shiny pokey thing!"
4) Apparently I do not mix well with poison ivy... at all. It's ironic that I'm great at following social distancing rules and quarantining and then break out by ending up in the ER twice. (I'm better now, mostly.)

      Here are some of the beautiful things that have been growing in my yard over the past month. In all fairness, I did not plant any of these- but some of the things I did plant seem to finally be coming up. We'll see I guess!
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     The picture of the flowers in the vase were flowers given to me by Peta, an elderly woman next door. They were beautiful and smelled so nice! She grew them in her garden. They have also sent over scallions and rhubarb!



Tuesday, June 30, 2020

June Reading

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The Operator by Gretchen Berg
      I read this for my Book Hive Book Club. I thought I would really like it, but was a little disappointed in the end. There were a lot of women whose roles seemed to be putting others in their place, either by trampling on them or by judging them. It all was just too petty for me. In this story, Vivian works as a telephone operator. She overhears a secret about herself that threatens to cause humiliation- and to make it worse, it was told to the gossipy "Queen Bee" type. She tries to save the situation, but that of course leads to other consequences. This book was alright but I was annoyed by the characters and I wasn't really curious about what would happen next.
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 "Don't Look Behind You and Other True Cases" by Ann Rule.   I think this was the last true crime book on my bookshelf. I used it to fulfill my Keyword Reading Challenge. One of the words this month was "and," so here it is. (Sometimes I'm really surprised to see that I only have 1 or 2 titles with any of the words they've picked to be one of the keywords. Thank goodness I don't have to go buy one every month!) This book was alright. I like how the cases were told as objective stories. This book included a few cases.
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Good White Racist by Kerry Connelly- Ironically, I had gotten this book from NetGalley a few months back- before George Floyd and all of the reactions to his murder. Quite a while ago, I was reading an article about something and it said something like, "If you're one of those 'I try to be colorblind people,' you're part of the problem."  It made me stop, feel a little uncomfortable, argue in my head a little bit, then go back to the article. I am a person who tries to value all people. As an educator, I try to be fair and equitable. I have always loved learning about different cultures and have not always lived in places that were culturally diverse. So, at the risk of being a little offended, I continued to read the article. It basically went on to say that when you attempt to completely ignore race, you're not really taking the whole person into perspective- their history, their culture, their learned values, perhaps some life experience. Ah, yes, I can see that and understand. I thought about it for a while and when I saw this book on NetGalley, I thought it would be healthy to check myself.
       This book was a good read for me. It basically challenged well-intentioned white people, who are against racism to try to do something about it, rather than be complicit. It tells ways of how we will unknowingly perpetuate the system through our actions and words. I will admit that there were a few things that I thought, "Eek, have I ever done that?" At the end of every chapter, there are action items, which can be a good next step. This is a good book to introduce racial injustice.


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Never Die Alone by Lisa Jackson- I always enjoy Lisa Jackson as an author of thrillers. This book felt a little "all over the place," but I would still say I enjoyed it.
    
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"The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George.     This is a book I'm reading for my book club in the town that I live in.  I suggested this book based on an article I read recommending more positive books during this time where there are so many heavy things going on in our world. 
      This book was just okay for me. The writing style was a little flowery for me and I felt that the plot moved a bit slow for my liking. There were some sections of the book that held my attention for longer, but I didn't feel 100% invested in the characters.  It felt like a coming of age book for a middle aged man. I know that sounds weird. "A journey of self discovery?" I think I was roped in by he word "bookshop."  I'll be curious to hear what the women in my book club say. I'm guessing 2 will like it and at least 1 will hate it. Maybe a few "did not finish."
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     "The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters" nu Balli Kaur Jaswal.   This is my Book Hive Book Club book for July. I'm a little ahead. Oops. This book is about a Sikh woman, named Sita, who gives her 3 daughters a letter asking them to take a pilgrimage to India to complete multiple requests she has asked them to do as well as to spread her ashes. These 3 sisters are very different from one another. Raija, the oldest daughter, is dealing with some family issues with her 18 year old son. Jezmeen, the middle daughter, is a struggling actress who is dealing with some image issues. Shirina, the youngest, lives in Australia with her husband (through an arranged marriage) and his mother. Going on this trip means different sacrifices for each and learning how to live with one another, despite their different personalities and lifestyles. 
     I liked this book a lot. The woman who chose this book for the book club also came up with some interesting discussion questions for us to think about- like how we would feel about visiting a country where women's rights are different from here in the US? I'm still contemplating some of the answers to her questions before I finish journaling.
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 "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr- I had heard great things about this book and apparently I acquired it at some point and stashed it on my never-ending "To Read" bookshelf.  I'm so sad that it sat on my self for so long because I loved it. The story revolves around 2 characters- Marie-Laure, daughter of a the locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Marie- Laure went blind as a child. She is living happily in Paris with her dad until WWII, when she has to flee to another city and ends up moving in with her great-uncle. 
      Werner is the second character. He is a German orphan who is growing up in a place where it is expected that he will go to work as a coal miner when he turns 15. After discovering a radio with his sister, he learns that he is a whiz at figuring out how to build and fix these devices. In fact, he is so good at it that people in the neighborhood come to find him when they need help with repairing them. Eventually, he is recruited by the Nazis and offered an elite education. 
       These two stories eventually intersect of course. This book had some heartbreaking moments for me. It reminded me of some of the best and worst traits of humanity. The ending was a bit different than what I was expecting (and maybe wanted), but it still worked.  I kept finding myself wandering back to the book and I ended up finishing it in 2 days. This was beautifully written.
     

Sunday, May 31, 2020

May Reading

I'm a little swamped tonight so I'm going to fly through this post. Here'smy May reading- summarized:
The Little Shop of Found Things (Found Things, #1)
I chose this as my Book Hive Book Club book for this year. It is a historical fiction book with an added paranormal twist. It was a light read for me but I liked the characters, was interested in the plot, it was creative and I learned a few new things. Gave it 4 stars.

The Warden's Daughter
I have heard a lot of good things about Spinelli. I have a signed version of this book that I bought for Tim, I think. He read it many years back and thought it was sad. I think there were sad and slightly hopeless themes in here, but I didn't necessarily think the book was sad. It was hard for me to relate to though. 3/5
Boy: Tales of Childhood (Roald Dahl's Autobiography, #1)
Autobiography of Roald Dahl's childhood. I love his writing and I laughed a lot through this book. I was happy to hear that he was a letter writer. I was disappointed to learn about some of his personal beliefs  later in life (Apparently he was extremely Anti-Semitic) from a friend while we were discussing this book. 

The Lost Pianos of Siberia
This one was interesting to me, but not for the right reasons. I received this book from NetGalley. I thought I be reading a lot about the history of pianos in Siberia, more from a musical standpoint. I ended up reading a lot about Siberia, with the musical bits and pieces sprinkled in. So, in one way I disliked it because I was wanting to learn about music and influences within that time period. On the other hand, I learned a lot about the history of Siberia, Russian culture and politics and some interesting personal narratives. So, I'll give it a 3.  
The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain #1)
This book was recommended to my by my good friend, who is our school librarian. She thought one of the boys might like it. Tim wasn't interested, but David read it after I did and thought it was good too. I guess that this is loosely based on Welsh mythology. The way the story was told and the names of the characters were a little foreign to me, but it was interesting. 3/5
Private Eyes (Alex Delaware, #6)
Part of the Alex Delaware series. This had a few plot twists I was not expecting so I liked it a lot.  4/5

Goodreads Reading Challenge:35/60

Keyword Reading Challenge: 5/12

Friday, May 1, 2020

Hobbies and social distancing

      It's been a while since I've just checked in so I thought I'd pop in to say hi. How are all of you doing with social distancing and all of the Covid-19 issues?    We're doing alright. My husband is still working since where he works is considered a restaurant. Chocolate is essential, no? (I'm very grateful to be the recipient of his candy treats.) The boys have multiple opinions about being home. Since mid-March they've been doing school online.
      Tim is fairly disappointed. 8th grade is a big year. Their Washington DC trip was canceled. I doubt there will be an 8th grade graduation. He is super upset about missing his last concert in middle school. With that being said, he understands that realistically, this is only 8th grade and it would be more painful if he were a high school senior. He is happy in our new house and we are enjoying being home together.  He misses his friends.
     David is actually loving being home. Ironically, he's really struggling with his art lessons through school. The lessons are great, he would just prefer someone bossed him around and gave him directions on what to do rather than asking him to think for himself. (I love educators that ask kids to think! Yeah!) So, I've been doing a lot of those lessons with him. He LOVES being out of school. He's self-motivated with his work and has found freedom in riding his bike around the neighborhood. He is growing into a new little person. I'm seeing sides of his personality that I haven't seen before- I don't know if it's because I'm home with him more or if he's just developing more confidence (and a little pre-teen snark, but it's manageable.) He does not miss school at all, which makes me a little sad, but I'm appreciative to see that my kids are happy at home.
      I am surprised that I can actually handle free time. I kind of hate teaching online. I thrive on relationships with the students and on checking in with how they're doing on their work in class. This is very impersonal and live music making online just doesn't work. I'm working really hard to make it accessible (and not awful) for everybody, but some kids have just checked out with all of the online learning. (In all classes, not just mine.) I deeply miss interacting with all of my students in person. With that being said, I'm getting a lot of kids sending me e-mails just to check in to say hi or to catch up. I'm going to start having a Monday lunch with all my chorus kids since quite a few have told me they're starting to struggle with loneliness. I have been feeling sick over the past few days- full of aches, not sleeping and massive headaches. I've started to realize it's from being on screens all day. Trying to combat that.
       In terms of my time when I'm not working, I'm loving the extra family time. I'm reading and writing a ton. I read 9 books in April. April was National Letter Writing Month and I wrote 80 letters! I love being able to catch up with people in this way. It's a total blessing to me to be able to connect with people across the world in this way. Oh, speaking of that- have you seen the View From My Window group on Facebook? Super cool. Go check it out. This time at home has given me a lot more time to do some things I actually enjoy doing, so I don't feel completely trapped like some others I know. I'm struggling a little bit with empathy. I am worried about my students, my friends (or families of students) who work in health care, people who are alone, etc. I am very grateful for our new home and really see how truly blessed we are right now to be healthy and secure. So many things can be taken away so quickly. If you haven't talked to me recently, let me know how you're doing.