Sunday, January 31, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

A sneak peek from a book I'll be reviewing this week, Loving Eleanor, by Susan Witting Albert. I believe this is called "stubborn."

"I knew, but I couldn’t. When I felt something wasn’t true, I couldn’t say it. When I felt it wasn’t right, I couldn’t do it. Perhaps I was afflicted with the moral arrogance of the young, or perhaps I knew as a child what I know as an adult: that to give in to circumstance is to fail to live fully."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

Not much to say today, except I've had a fun week, for reasons most people wouldn't find fun. So until a later time, let me just leave a quote to sum it up:

“The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones." The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Hopefully I'll soon have more to say about it here on the blog!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Prayer for Owen Meany

There is a movie, based on the book, called Simon Birch.
I did a horrible, bad teacher thing over Christmas break. I assigned my AP Lit students the first five chapters of A Prayer for Owen Meany, which is 255 pages. In my defense, I gave it to them the week before break and made it due our third day back, so they had three and a half weeks to read, equaling about 12 pages a day if they wanted to break it down. (I will admit that filling out the discussion questions slowed down the process and even got to me eventually. Much more fun to just read unhindered.)

And it's a good book. Even students who didn't care for the story so much, liked that it was easy to understand writing. This is a reread for me, but listening to what my students see on a first read, compared to my second read, reminds me of the importance of rereading. I don't reread very much, because there are hundreds of first time reads to get to in this short life, but I cannot deny how wonderfully a reread improves a book for me. The understanding, new perceptions, and depth truly excites me. Even Holden Caulfield stands a chance (cause I will be rereading Catcher in the Rye for the third or fourth time come March and Holden Caulfield and I aren't on good terms typically).

Overall my students seemed to enjoy Owen Meany. Some because Owen fascinated them, others simply because it was straight forward writing in comparison to Shakespeare. Whatever the reason, we had some impressive moments in our class discussions. I know I learned things from my students' perspectives.

And the book itself? I find myself in the usual position with a lengthy book...there's so much to it, where do I start? (In this case, an overview of the writer seems can read a summary and reviews of the story itself here.) John Irving's books typically combine comedy and tragedy, either within the same event or one after the other. His characters can be eccentric, bringing both humorous and somber moods to each event, and the story line at times a stretch, yet not really impossible. All of this works together to bring us to a truth.

In A Prayer for Owen Meany, Owen is the perfect example. He has a unique physical disability that give him a humorous air, but his personality is the most serious and straightforward of any character in the book. Although he has a physical disability, it doesn't hinder him at all. Not only does he overcome this, but he overcomes tragic events in his life, and tragic knowledge that most people couldn't handle. Owen is quite Christ-like as a matter of fact. Christ-likeness in characters is nothing new, it's a way to draw parallels between a character and hero/savior qualities. But Irving makes no bones about how Christ-like we are to view Owen.

And I think that's another thing my students liked about this book. Irving doesn't mess around with fancy literary tactics, making symbols and motifs subtle. Everything is out in the open for you to connect the dots, from the chapter titles to the narrator straight out making "I wish I had known this then, but I didn't" type statements to alert the reader to foreshadowing. You would think this would make the story predictable, but it's not. Owen Meany is a force of his own, a force to be reckoned with. Even the narrator, John Wheelwright, in his seeming simpleness is more complicated than meets the eye.

Trust us, it's worth a try. Take a look at the opening and tell us you're not intrigued. I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

Happy almost weekend readers!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

Almost done reading A Prayer for Owen Meany with my AP classes and Owen's wisdom is just popping from the pages. Here are two for today:

     “It takes more practice,” I told him irritably. 
     “FAITH TAKES PRACTICE,” said Owen Meany.


Friday, January 15, 2016

A Man of Few Words

I am a word person. I love reading them, hearing them, writing them, giving them, and receiving them. There's nothing like reading or posting a great quote and a card with a meaningful statement and personal note is one of the best gifts anyone can ever give me. Stringing together just the right words, bringing out the meaning in a cadence of sounds, is like music.

My husband, Brandon...none of the above. He's not a reader and he only writes when he needs to. When I read to him something wonderful I've found he rarely gives more than a smile and nod. This was hard for me for a long time. I look at the declarations of others about their loved ones, written out or spoken for all to see and admire, and wonder how two very different people ever came to be together.

Standing here, looking back at sixteen years of marriage today, I am assured of what I've already figured out. My husband doesn't need words. My husband doesn't need to make public declarations of love and appreciation because he is always in the trenches with me, 24/7. He has changed diapers and stayed home raising our three kids through all ages and stages equally. He doesn't need me to "ask permission" to got out on any given night and doesn't need me to have a curfew. He has worked as hard, through kids, multiple jobs, and a degree, all at the same time, as I have. He cooks dinner every single night because I hate to cook and takes my dogs out twice a day (early morning and late night) because I hate the cold. He never squelches my extreme love for books and the time and money I put into this passion. He gets as caught up in my students as I do and never hesitates to spend our time and money on them. The man has a work ethic. He spends his time off working when it's called for - New Year's Eve and New Year's Day he spent reroofing our shed and some maintenance on the pool. Things we get to enjoy because he is willing to do the work. Heck, for years my husband worked a combination afternoon/night shift, came home to watch three little kids during the day while I worked, slept when I came home, only to wake and go back to work that night. 

My husband doesn't need words because he speaks through his actions. And actions speak louder than words. A favorite segment from Death of a Salesman illustrates this well. Bernard is going to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court and Willy wonders to Bernard's father why Bernard wouldn't talk up such a thing. Bernard's father says, "He don't have to - he's gonna do it." My husband doesn't need to talk up his love - he is love.

As I've met more people in the past few years I've come to realize that those who have strong personalities like me, while I love them, we would kill each other if we had to live together. Those who show their passion the way I do, for things they love and care about, would drive me nuts long term. There's something about like personalities that just doesn't work in day-to-day life, which is perhaps why the things that drive you most nuts about your kids are the things they have in common with you.

I know that my husband's laid back, gentle, kind and humble ways, sensitive heart, and hard work are exactly what I need because it is these traits in him that allow me to be me. It's these traits that give me a bigger gift than any words could ever give. 

Happy 16th Anniversary Braise! I love you!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Dispelling Exercise & Eating Myths

Every New Year's people see the blank slate of a new year and make resolutions. I decided a few years back to make life changes instead - to tackle things that would change who I am. Up til now those things have been working towards bettering me as a wife, mother, friend, Christian, etc. This year I visited my friend Tina on New Year's Day and ended up leaving with a physical life change that I really needed to do, but had been putting off. Some of the responses I've received from those around me have caught me off guard though, so I'd like to give voice to my side.

Besides my husband and my sister, the ladies in my new
work out group were very encouraging. They immediately
began sharing their experiences and answering my
questions about exercise and healthy eating.
My friend Tina mentioned a workout group she wanted to get back into, but had no one to go with her. The way she described it was really appealing and I told her I would gladly check it out. The next day, my husband went to buy a Fitbit with his gift cards and suggested I get one too because it would motivate me. Within three days of having the Fitbit and corresponding app, I was hooked. Seeing results in real time was quite motivating. By the end of the first week of January, I attended three work outs, worked out on my own at home (T25) a couple nights, and made changes to my eating. I am an unhealthy eater, but all I've done for now is cut the main culprits: junky snack foods and drinks other than water (which equals lots of calories and sugar). To make myself truly understand how much bad snacking I do, I decided to count calories on my Fitbit. It's amazing what I've learned about the calories in different foods and the equation between burning and consuming them. After one week of dedication, I've lost two pounds and am as ready as ever to keep it up.

Sounds good huh?! When I've mentioned a couple times over the past week that I am counting calories, I've had people actually laugh or make remarks.They aren't made with mean intentions, but hurtful nonetheless (and ironic as some have made their own goals). It also shuts down the conversation, not allowing me to talk about my new journey. But I also know why. I am tall, small chested, and not what people would call fat at all, although I have junk in the trunk, if you catch my drift. I have a pouch of a stomach that I can typically squeeze into my jeans, which hides it from my shirt front. I have no muscle mass either - my arms and legs jiggle where there should be some strength...I'm not that old! But since I don't make it a habit to parade around naked or scantily clad, no one would know this.

Realize, it's not being overall healthy that throws people off, but the idea of me counting calories, which naturally leads to weight loss. However, counting calories is what I need to do to discipline my eating habits, because I am not naturally motivated or knowledgeable enough to do so. It's a starting point only. I don't know where it will lead or how far I will go, I only know I want to make healthier decisions than I already am in my every day living. There are other reasons for this decision and I want to list them here in and effort to dispel the myth that some people (particularly those of my build) don't need to make certain eating and other lifestyle changes.

1. The jeans I bought in November are hard to get on. That sucks. I don't buy many pairs at a time, so I tend to get a couple really good pairs and stay with them. For some time I've consistently fluctuated between two sizes, keeping the currents in my closet and unused under my bed, switching as needed. I'm done. I want to wear the nice ones I bought. The only way to do this is to count those calories until I have better eating habits and can reliably resist or give in to temptation as needed without having to consult my Fitbit.  Counting calories is a starting point for better eating. 

2. My chiropractic health. I have had consistent problems with my shoulders, neck, and upper back for years. I go through months where I am at the chiropractor often and have even missed work due to pain. My chiropractor told me I needed to take up Yoga or something to strengthen my back and shoulders - we're talking muscle people! I didn't do so when he told me, but recently have noticed my back is getting weaker. After holding a baby for twenty minutes, my shoulder hurt the rest of the day. The day after babysitting, my body was so sore, it felt like I had worked out. I'm 36 - this is not good, especially since I can do something about it. Also, poor eating can affect how you feel overall. Not eating well, sitting around snacking, is not helping my overall feeling, making it harder to get myself enough energy to exercise and deal with the chiropractic pain. Besides, why waste all that exercise time by eating poorly?

3. I have a history of sleep problems. I typically go on five hours of sleep a night. Diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) at one point, there isn't much I've found I can do about it. If I nap or not, I still have trouble falling asleep at night and don't sleep well or for very long. So, it's good to nap if I feel tired, but that eats into time for other things. It's been five years since my anxiety issues have passed and yet I've found nothing to help my sleep get on track. Feeling better through exercise and healthy eating may be the trick. Although I slept an average of five hours a night last week, I had a couple 6 hour nights and a seven hour night.

4. Although I've gained 30 pounds of my current weight in the past six years, this whole thing is not about weight loss. Yes, I do need the few pounds gone to fit my clothes better, but other than that, this is about doing something good for myself. I am/have been involved in a few service groups and feel friendship means being a real part of someone's life. I will always do these things, but I need to make the time I need for a better me. Also, having my first child at age 19, it felt like child-rearing years would last forever. I enjoyed them, but with teenagers now, I've reached a point in life where they don't need me around all the time and I have the time and money to do things for me. For example, my husband and I want to go on the honeymoon we never had on or around our 20th Anniversary...that's four years away. So as soon as possible in the next six years, I plan on laying around on a beach in Hawaii, at a resort in Mexico, or on a Bahama-bound cruise boat...and bathing suits don't hide what your every day clothes do! If I'm going to do this, I'm going to look and feel great doing it!

5. My father is skinny. He buys shorts in the boys' department - size 14. When he and my mother have gone for physicals, his numbers have come back higher than hers in things like cholesterol and triglycerides. They call it "skinny fat." So, while I have (had) the metabolism and genes, if the inside isn't healthy, then your skinniness means nothing. 

6. It's important to be healthy, I've put it off long enough. Period.

So that's my goal and those are my reasons. I know I don't have to justify anything to anyone, but I think the point has to be made that we don't know everything going on in someone's life and why they are doing what they are doing. Exercise without healthy eating will not be a benefit and healthy eating won't truly benefit you without exercise. I know this rings true with others because we all need a level of health awareness in our lives, regardless of our body's build or current state of health. I've just finally hit the point where I need to do this.

The mindset itself is the biggest change.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

"I feel that I am a very life-affirming person. I mean, of course, I believe in blackness, you would be an idiot not to, you see it everywhere; but at the same time, I believe that literature is a sign of life, not a sign of death. If a novel doesn't say something about human value, there isn't any worth to it." 
                                                Interview with author John Irving

Monday, January 4, 2016

Readcation Trial

Gatsby, my reading partner, wasn't always a huge help.
Sunday after Christmas came and all I could see coming to me throughout the vast holiday break was a week of cleaning my house. Boo! My house does need a week's worth of cleaning out, but there's no way I could spend my whole week off doing so without feeling like crazy person just in time to go back to work. I needed some fun things to do. Luckily a few get togethers came together and I also planned my very own Readcation.

The idea of a Readcation - a vacation spent reading - has been an adulthood dream of sorts, but Book Riot gave it a name and set up. Once I read the Readcation article in October, I knew I'd make it happen at least on a small scale. (My actual dream is to take a year sabbatical just to read through my TBR list, keeping a journal as I read.)

I picked Monday, December 28th as my Readcation day because there wasn't anything going on until much later in the evening and I knew I wouldn't be interrupted. Of course, I slept in first, a must on a day off when I'd usually be up by six. Upon waking, I settled in to read right in my bed (my kids are older, so without worry they'd be up any time soon). This is how every day should start. First up was A Prayer for Owen Meany because I assigned the first five chapters to my AP students over break and only had thirty pages left of those 255. I've been enjoying the reread, picking up the nuances I didn't notice the first time, because it's been so long since I read it.

I soon moved onto The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. I've been meaning to read it, but it wasn't on the top of the TBR either. However, a student is reading it for his independent novel project and, knowing I wanted to read it, he told me before break that his project was going to ruin it for me, so I'd better read it. I was so happy he warned me, that I took my classroom copy home with me and read to page 71 before I felt sleepy and decided to take a nap.

Monday evening was spent with family and friends, but I also read more Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, finishing up close to half of The Night Circus. I liked the taste of Readcation and plan on implementing it more strictly in the future.

Has anyone taken a vacation for the purpose of reading before? If so, you're my hero and I want to hear about it.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

Middle of this last week I belatedly and randomly checked my work email. There was a week old email from our new Superintendent wishing us all a relaxing holiday and break. It was very nice and all, but for me the impressive part was the quote included. It was from The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, which I happened to be reading when I'd checked my email! And of all books, it doesn't seem one most adults would know in general. He applied the quote to us as teachers - the magic we endeavor to work.

“Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that... there are many kinds of magic, after all.” ― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

He admitted that he hasn't actually read the book, but this quote made him put it on his list. The presence of a continual reading list and the effort made to find the perfect quote to cheer on his teachers in working their day-to-day magic counts. I am impressed in a way few adults manage to impress me.