What I Read in 2016

I had this lovely goal of writing something super poignant for my first post of 2017, but man. I am so busy that my brain doesn’t have a lot of space for poignant. So instead, I thought I would do my yearly “What I Read” post.

I took the GoodReads Challenge again, but I set my goal for 35 books. In 2015 I set my goal for 25, but ended up reading 35, so I figured I could do it again. I surpassed the goal handily by reading a total of 44 books! It helps that I love Young Adult Lit and some of those can be read super fast. In fact, it’s only January 6 and I’m already on my second book of the year.

What I Read

Anyway, this is the list of books I read last year in the order I read them. The ones in BOLD are the ones I recommend (although there were only a couple I was “meh” about, so go ahead and check them all out and let me know if you read them and what you think. The ones wit (YA) are young adult lit. (P) are novels that are written in verse/poetry. (N) are nonfiction.

  1. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
  2. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (YA)
  3. Rush by Jonathan Friesen (YA)
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green (YA)
  5. Somewhere Safe with Someone Good by Jan Karon
  6. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
  7. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (YA) (N)
  8. Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick  (YA)
  9. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman (YA)
  10. The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle (YA) (P)
  11. My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson (YA)
  12. Far From Home by Na’ima B Robert (YA)
  13. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (YA)
  14. Letters for Scarlet by Julie C. Gardner
  15. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (N)
  16. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  17. Parrot in the Oven by Victor Martinez (YA)
  18. A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (YA)
  19. Send Me Down a Miracle by Han Nolan (YA)
  20. What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman (YA)
  21. The Long Season of Rain by Helen S. Kim (YA)
  22. The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte by Jennie Goutet
  23. Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman (YA)
  24. Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want to Read and Why We Should Let Them (N)
  25. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (YA) (first in a trilogy)
  26. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  27. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (N)
  28. Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
  29. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt (YA)
  30. Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d Like Them to Be by Teri S. Lesesne (N)
  31. Godless by Pete Hautman (YA)
  32. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA) (first in a trilogy)
  33. Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (N)
  34. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (YA)
  35. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King (YA)
  36. La Línea by Ann Jaramillo (YA)
  37. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (YA)
  38. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (YA)
  39. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (YA) (N) (P)
  40. Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers (YA)
  41. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (YA) (P)
  42. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (YA)
  43. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  44. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (YA)

For Christmas this year, I was given a few gift certificates for books with explicit instructions to spend them on books I want to read for myself, and not necessarily something to add to my classroom library. It’s so hard for me to choose to spend my money on adult contemporary or nonfiction knowing that while I might enjoy it, it probably won’t interest my 8th graders enough to put in my classroom. But there are lots of books I want to read that fit these categories. So I did it. I went out and bought five books (and was gifted one) that are just for me. My goal is to roughly go every-other with YA books and adult or nonfiction books.

Of course there are still YA books I would LOVE to add to my classroom library, so if you are feeling generous, you can always check out my classroom library Wish List that the students and I create.

I set my 2017 GoodReads goal to 40 books. I realize maybe I should take a risk and set it at 45 since I read 44 this year, but I tend to be conservative in my risk-taking. Like I said, I’m already on book number two for the year. I have to read just over three books per month to make my goal. I think I can do it!

Tell me, what should I add to my 2017 To Read List?

One More for 2016

I think it’s easy to say “Man. 2016 sucked,” and just leave it at that. But this year was so much more complicated than a mere label of “sucked” or “rocked”.

I started the year deciding to use the word “pause” as my focus. To be honest, I forgot about choosing a word; I only remembered when I went back to my January posts. Although I forgot about it, I must have subconsciously applied it anyway. I feel like I’ve cut way back on my knee-jerk reaction to yell at my kids, and have done a better job asking, “What just happened?” I’ve also allowed myself to just sit and watch my children interact with each other and play on their own. I notice them more and make more of an effort to know them as individuals.

2016

Since the political situation has been so dividing this year, I have really had to bite my tongue and sit on my hands to keep from spouting off my own opinions–which would have only further divided and antagonized rather than bring understanding or love. I’ve had to pause and really think about saying things, sharing things, or even “liking” things.

March brought some changes to our lives: Alice turned one, Charlie turned four, and we had to change daycare moms since ours decided to pursue a new career opportunity. I also turned thirty-eight. I did a lot of reflecting in March especially about having a daughter. Cortney also told me that I needed to either “shit or get off the pot” about pursuing a PhD. He did the math and by the time I applied, was accepted, and enrolled, I would be starting in the fall of 2018…when I am forty. It’s time to get moving.

April brought us spring break. We took the boys to the Chicago area for a fun night in a hotel and a trip to the Lego store.  We can call it fun now, but at the time I thought Cortney’s head would explode. The boys–Charlie especially–did not do super awesome. There were tantrums. I also took Charlie to the doctor during spring break because he had stopped eating and was losing weight. I’m still not 100% sure what was wrong, but after that doctor visit and having him hear how important healthy food was to his body, he has been a great eater! He even found he likes roasted asparagus! Plus his tantrums have reduced to close to none.

In May I was part of the Southwest Michigan Listen to Your Mother cast. That was a HUGE accomplishment and honor for me.

June was a big month: our 11th anniversary, Eddie turned seven, my high school diploma turned twenty.  Plus summer break started. My wonderful, supportive, loving family also did the Climb Out of Darkness “climb” with me.

2016 was the first summer in a LONG time that I didn’t look forward to school starting. Not that I don’t love the start of a new school year–I totally do–but this summer we found such a good balance and I was able to enjoy my kids and the routine we happily fell into. We went to the library, the Farmer’s Market, and lots of parks. We did crafts and played outside and sat around. There were days where there was far too much screen time, but there were also days where we splashed at the splash pad or played with cousins on the beach.

We had the right amount of together time, alone time, and road-trip time. I had two days a week when the kids went to daycare which gave me much needed time run errands and clean solo…and also to get some rest. They were able to play with friends and have a change of scenery and get away from each other if they wanted. We went to the cottage with my parents as a family, but Cortney and I also went to Chicago to see Pearl Jam by ourselves.

In August, I had surgery to repair a hernia. That was dumb. The hernia was dumb, the surgery went well, but recovering was dumb. It put me out of commission for longer than I would have liked, but at least we have the insurance to cover it and I was able to get it done without having to miss work. But it was dumb.

September brought the crazy of all the things starting again: school, church stuff, scouts. Eddie chose not to do soccer this year and while I was bummed, I didn’t miss spending Saturday mornings in the rain and cold to watch him whine about running. Eddie started 2nd grade this year and Mr. Charlie Bird started preschool! Very exciting to have two-thirds of the Sluiter kids in school!

The fall also brought some of the worst anxiety I’ve had about politics and society in ages. We had a racist incident happen at a home football game where I teach, and I stood up and said something on Facebook. I got shamed and belittled by the other schools parents and students. They claimed because it wasn’t their intent, our saying it was raciest (it was not just me, but of course they used me as a scapegoat) was ignorant, wrong, and making them look bad. It brought to light just how far we still have to go as a society to recognize that other people’s feelings aren’t wrong, and good intent does not equal everything being honkeydory.

As the fall went on, we were busy, but good as a family. However it felt like our nation–and maybe the world–was falling apart. We kept reading, and going to school, and scouting, and loving each other. Cortney was nominated and confirmed as a deacon in our church. I took on the position of Religious Coordinator for Eddie’s Cub Scout Pack. I attended and presented at The Michigan Council of English Teachers annual Fall Conference.  I also flew to Atlanta for the National Council of English Teachers conference (where I presented) as well as the Assembly on Literature of Adolescents of the NCTE.

I didn’t blog much this fall. To be honest, as a family we were doing really well, but man. We have been busy. And my brain just hasn’t been able to get all the stuff out of my head and onto this space.

In November I voted for a woman for president for the first time. The next day I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I have been having anxiety and issues processing what a Trump presidency will look like. To be honest, I am scared. I think that is all worth it’s own post, but while we gave thanks in November, I also found myself worrying about my students, my family, and my friends who are not straight, white, rich men (so almost all of us). As Eddie became more and more interested in the news on TV, I found myself answering hard questions about the kindness of leaders and why it’s hard to completely trust any of our leaders.

This month has been a mix of anxiety and hope.

I feel a new wave of troubling emotions each day over our President Elect, but I also have been quieter and more joyful with my children. I have been watching them play alone and with each other. I’ve been trying to hug them and listen to them more.

I feel more hope than ever before when new babies are born to friends and family (we welcome a new nephew in November!)

This year has been good to the Sluiters, but it’s also shown us how much hate, racism, and injustice there still is out there. So while we have been happy in our own little house, we are well aware of how terrible this year has been out there.

For Christmas, Cortney gave me this ring. It could not be a better symbol of hope to take with me into 2017.

I don’t know if we are going to get some sort of beautiful miracle in 2017 or if nuclear warfare will break out. Or something in between. What I do know is that the Sluiters will be doing what we can to put in the work to make the world a little bit better.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Goodbye, 2016.

Netflix for the Holidays

I don’t know that there is a better time to have Netflix than at the holidays. Not only does it give the kids (and adults) something to watch when it’s too cold or yucky to play outside (or if you’re avoiding housework or grading…what?), but there are so many fun Christmas movies to watch and get you in gear for the season.

I will admit that while I have looked up all the ones we can watch and suggested a bunch, the kids inevitably choose Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas. We have watched that thanks to Netflix no fewer than 100 times in the past twenty-three days. I know all the words.

The second most watched? Dreamworks Holiday Classics. Eddie watches the Madagascar one over and over because King Julian is hilarious.

We have also watched all the Mickey Christmas offerings: Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas, and of course, Mickey’s Magical Christmas. We may have some heavy love of the mouse in this house.

The Frosty the Snowman movies are also available. Those are not my favorite, but the boys like them. We have also watched The Cat in The Hat Knows A Lot About Christmas a few times.

But there are also non-cartoon Christmas movies!  I found Ernest Saves Christmas which brings back tons of memories. My family LOVED the Ernest movies when I was a kid. We rented them on VHS and laughed and laughed.

I also found Love, Actually, which I admitted on Twitter to never having seen. I still haven’t seen it, but it’s good to know it’s there. Heh.

Remember Bill Murray in Scrooged? Ha! Yup, Netflix has it!

Love the classics? There’s White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street.

And of course, on Christmas morning, we turn on Fireplace For Your Home because we don’t have a real fireplace, and it’s just as good as the Yule Log video.

If all that wasn’t enough, Netflix has a BRAND NEW SHOW: Dreamworks Trollhunters! It just debuted today and Eddie has been binge watching it ALL MORNING. I have to admit it’s pretty good. It’s funny and it got us talking about the best ways to tackle problems like being too busy or having someone at school pick on you. So far, I’m pretty impressed. Plus it’s funny too (they keep a gnome in a dollhouse. Just watch, it’s funny).

Netflix

There is a boy wrapped in that blanket

Anyway, now that we are on Christmas break for the next 10 days, I am sure that we will spend some quality downtime taking in new shows as well as some old favorites. Hooray for Netflix for the holidays!

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. I am a member of the Netflix StreamTeam. I get a subscription to Netflix as well as a device to watch it on. All opinions are those of my family and me. 

Courage in a Batman Costume

“We will let them be who they are,” we once said to each other as we talked about future children. “We will not try to make them someone they are not. We will celebrate and love each of them for exactly who they are.”

This past Sunday morning, our church had their annual Christmas service that was led by the youth and young children of our church. I love this service. It takes place during our normal 10am Sunday morning church service time rather than make it separate. It follows the liturgy of our regular morning service as well, but it is all led by the children.

Naturally, Eddie loves this service too because he loves to participate and be in front of people. He has always sung in the children’s choir, and last year he had a part as one of the shepherds. This year, he was very excited to join the mostly 4th and 5th graders as one of the narrators of the Christmas story. He read so clearly and was so brave. My heart filled with pride and love for this little boy who knows he has the gift of reading and sharing with others. It’s such an honor to be his mother and watch as our church family helps him nurture these talents.

Charlie is a much different little boy than his older brother. He is quiet–even a bit shy. He does not like to be in front of church at all. Even for the Children’s Message when the little kids go to the front to sit on the floor for a little pow wow during church. No one can really even see the kids, but he won’t do it.

In Sunday school though, just like in preschool, he is very attentive. He loves to sing and because he is so retentive, he learns all the songs and even the motions very quickly. But he doesn’t like to stand up in front of church or have people look at him while he does it.

When the children were told they were going to sing their Christmas songs in front of church and get to wear costumes, Charlie’s first reaction was, “I will be Batman!” He had been Batman for Halloween and he fell in love with the costume. It gave him such confidence to join in with other kids when he was wearing it, and even walk right up to houses to trick or treat–something he didn’t like to do in the years before.

We told him that Batman wasn’t really a Christmas costume. That the costumes available would probably be angels and shepherds and sheep and maybe a cow or donkey. He was resolute that he was going to be Batman.

On the Saturday before the program, we showed up to church for rehearsal. Eddie felt confident of his reading, but Charlie clung to my leg and didn’t want to join the other kids. We went over to look at the available costumes and he shook his head at each angel costume, shepherd’s cloak, or fluffy sheep footies. He wanted to be Batman.

I finally told him it was Ok if he didn’t want to wear any of the costumes. I wouldn’t make him. He went off with the other kids to the sanctuary for practice and I went downstairs to the church kitchen to help prepare for the Christmas Tea that was going to be served after the program on Sunday. When I came back up, I found out that Charlie had refused to practice since he wasn’t Batman.

Sunday morning came. Eddie got all dressed up in his Sunday best, and Charlie talked about how he really wanted to sing with the kids. He wanted to wear a costume. His Batman costume. He couldn’t sing if he didn’t wear his Batman costume.

So.

We let him.

He brought smiles to many faces. No one turned up their nose or made any rude comments. Everyone loved his costume because they all love my Charlie. The costume wasn’t worn for attention or because Charlie was trying to be silly. He wore it because it gave him confidence. He felt brave.

He is brave.

He stood up with the kids and sang the songs, and twirled his ribbon, and did a fabulous job.

And he knew he was loved.

There Should Be More Here

This year is getting away from me. I look back on what I’ve written this year and I am sad because it’s not more. There should be more. More Eddie being a 2nd grader and saying amazing things. More Charlie being in preschool and transforming before our eyes. More of Miss Alice,our last baby, doing toddler things.

Eddie continues to show that he has a soft heart for others. He is my little activist. He worries about kids who might not have food, shelter, or warm coats this winter. He wonders out loud about the kindness of our country and world leaders. I find things like this in his massive stack of doodle and “crafts”:

That is a football they are tossing around, by the way.

When I found a pile of winter coats, hats, and mittens that don’t fit Eddie or Charlie anymore, Eddie wanted to find kids who needed them and just give them. He didn’t want them to have to buy them at Goodwill. Because of that idea of his, our family has decided to collect winter gear at church and donate all of it to the our local Community Action House who will get them straight to people who need them most.

Yesterday I was giving Alice a bath and Cortney and Charlie were downstairs. It was very quiet in the living room; all I could hear was the TV on the news. Because I didn’t want to leave Alice alone in the tub, I called out, “Eddie?”

“Yeah?”

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Watching the news.”

“Is it boring?”

“No. It’s interesting.”

This kid. Interested in the news, caring about others, and just this month he was awarded his Duty to God awards, a hiking beltloop, and some prizes for selling so much popcorn for cub scouts. I’m just so proud of him. And he treats his little sister like this:

I was nervous about how Charlie would do with preschool. He has such a temper and a penchant for, um, stripping when he is super mad at us. But this fall at parent/teacher conferences, his teacher told us that he is a “quiet leader” who is always first to sit nicely on the carpet, follows directions to a tee, and listens so well he always has the right answer. I just sat blinking.

His tantrums have slowed considerably–in fact we only see them when he is really tired or hungry or we are rushing him. He likes to do things at his own speed, in his own way. If he is left to himself, he is incredibly mature for a four-year old.

He proudly folds towels and cleans the boys’ bathroom downstairs. He helps with food prep when he can, and picks up without being asked if you leave him to it. He also works hard to make his little sister laugh and smile.

He has become my cuddle bug lately. It almost feels like he knows he’s growing up, so he wants to keep as much little as possible by tucking himself next to me as much as he cane. He is so proud of what he accomplishes, but still wants to stay my littlest guy.

Unlike Eddie who will talk all about what kids did at recess or what kids are singing on the playground, Charlie will rarely tell me about the kids in his class–but he knows all their names. He will tell me what letter he worked on, what he learned, what station he got to do that day. He will be quick to tell me if he was able to be a helper–his favorite.

He also never wears socks if he doesn’t have to. If he comes in your house, shoes come off, but so do the socks. Every time.

My baby girl is shedding the “baby” more each day. She is definitely finding her voice around here. When her brothers are wrestling around or being loud, she puts a little hand out and yells, “TOP! BSS! TOP!” (Stop, boys! Stop!)

She asks for “milky” and “bankie” (blankie). She calls her pacifier a “boppy” just like Charlie did.  She can ask for “buks” (books) and “babees” (babies). She delights at seeing herself on video. She waves “hi” and “bye” and when the phone rings she said, “heh yo.” (hello).

She calls for “MOMMA MOMMY MOMMA MOOOOOMMMAAA!!!” which her brothers never did at this age. She has figured out how to say “Dad dee” quite regularly though too and it’s adorable the way she makes Cortney melt all over the floor with her little voice saying “hi dad dee. hi.”

My favorite thing is how her bedtime routine with me is right now. We rock and she likes me to sing. But she doesn’t know how to say “sing” so she just cuddles in and softly says, “peez, momma. peez,” and that is my cue to start singing. When I finish one song, if I don’t go directly into another (or repeat that same one), she will say, “peez,” again. Even when I think she is completely out, she will whisper, “peez,” from behind that little green pacifier of hers. When I pause and don’t get a “peez” I know I can kiss her and lay her down without a fuss.

She is our hugger, our kisser, and our fancy girl. She loves babies and dresses and pretty bracelets and necklaces and purses. She loves to imitate her brothers and her dad and especially me.

Other than her love of being close and cuddly, it’s sort of like she doesn’t know she’s little. She bosses people and demands things, but she does it with a little “peez” and hands out, you just can’t resist her! I’m doing my best not to spoil her, but my goodness! Look at that face!

These kids are keeping us so busy…maybe that is why I have not written enough. But I do regret it. I have this space and I want to fill it.

Our lives are full: Eddie is busy with scouts, I am busy with scouts as the Religious Emblems Coordinator, Cortney is busy with bowling and consistory (he’s a deacon now). Charlie and Alice are busy being little. Eddie is crazy busy getting older and more dependable. School keeps three of us busy. In fact, I just registered to (re)take the GRE (because it’s been over 5 years since I last took it) so I can apply for a PhD program next year.

But I don’t want to be so busy that I forget to post here.

Because we also have snow days like today, when Eddie made his very first snow man all by himself:

Stuff like that deserves to be recorded because look at that face! And Eddie is cute too!

GRR to ATL and Back Again

The weekend before Thanksgiving I got on a plane and went to Atlanta for back-to-back English teacher conferences: NCTE (the National Council of Teachers of English) and ALAN (The Assembly on Literature for the Adolescence of NCTE). It was an excellent experience, but man. I am so lame at traveling away from my family!

I left Friday morning. The whole family drove me out to the airport for my 8am flight (which means we left the house around 6am). Eddie–who is just a tad like me–had been worrying over my leaving all week. He kept saying things like, “This is the LAST time you will put us to bed” and “This is the LAST time you will eat dinner with us.” He is a bit melodramatic. I assured him I was going to Atlanta, not Heaven, and that I would be back home Monday night after they were in bed. He clung to me at the airport, not really wanting to let me go or say goodbye. Alice followed his lead and hung onto my leg or wanted to sit on my lap. I think she could sense that they were leaving me behind.

2016-11-18-07-08-52

Charlie, on the other hand, had been counting down the days until “we can bring you to the airport and see the planes and Dad Dad will make brownies while you are gone!” He was not outwardly concerned about my being gone at all.  However when we got to the part where everyone was saying goodbye to me, he wandered off (it’s a small airport, so it’s not like we didn’t know where he was), and avoided me. When I found him and knelt down to his level, he let me hug him. He said, “I love you, Mom Mom” after I told him I loved him. But he would not say “Goodbye.”

2016-11-18-07-08-59

I gave Cortney a long hug…both because it’s hard for me to leave him and because I knew it would be a long four days of parenting by himself. I hugged and kissed my three babies one last time, and I was off through security. This was my third time flying solo for a conference; the first two times were to California for BlogHer ’11 and BlogHer ’14 (I was pregnant both times). Both trips to California involved multiple airports and connections and layovers, so a direct flight that was less than two hours long to Atlanta felt like nothing! Although I will say the Atlanta airport is HUGE. I mean, I took a train inside the airport to get from one end to the other where my bag and the exit was. Crazy.

I must say, I am proud to be getting pretty adept at getting myself a taxi and having great conversations with the driver. I had a remarkable political discussion with my driver who was from Kenya. She was listening to a very conservative talk radio station and must have sensed my tension (I just opened a book and started to read), because she said, “You must wonder why someone like me wants to listen to something such as this.” And then she went on to say she listens to all of it: left, right, and in between. She wants to be informed. She talks to other immigrants who are now citizens–like she is–to hear their perspective.  I dare say it was one of the highlights of my trip!

Well, that and the fact that I tried Chick-fil-a for the first time (and ate there three times in four days…what? It was right across from my hotel!) SO YUM!

2016-11-18-11-58-47

Friday was a whirlwind of travel, hotel, lunch, exhibit hall (where I met authors and got free books!) and going out to eat with my editor and fellow contributor at The Educator’s Room.

Oh, and one of the author’s I met on that very first day was Dav Pilkey–you know—the guy who wrote the Captain Underpants books? Eddie and Charlie about died when I texted Cortney this photo of me getting the first book in his newest series, Dogman, signed. And yes, I am talking too much. I was telling him about how my boys LOVE his books and that we are in the middle of re-reading them RIGHT NOW at bedtime.

2016-11-18-13-25-07

Like I said, my editor at The Educator’s Room was there–she is local to Atlanta–so she picked my fellow contributor Colette and me up for an early dinner. We went to a place called Six Feet Under. It’s across the street from a large cemetery, naturally. She ordered us something called Spicy Rat Toes–jalapeños stuffed with shrimp and wrapped in bacon. Oh my gosh. So good. Then I got the crab cake sliders for dinner.

2016-11-18-15-57-52

I was so exhausted by the time I got back to the hotel room. I flopped into my jammies before 7pm. In fact, since my roomies were still out, I called home to talk to my loves after a long day away. The boys were super excited to talk to me. Charlie asked if I was coming home now with the Dogman book. I could hear Alice in the background being confused about hearing mommy’s voice, but not knowing where I was. It was good to hear everyone, but because I was so tired, it also made me sappy and wish for my own bed. Thankfully the roomies came back shortly after and we chatted and laughed until bedtime.

2016-11-18-21-12-59

Saturday was my big day of sessions. I was part of a round table at 9:30am that included authors Meg Medina and Kekla Magoon (both excellent YA authors. I suggest grabbing everything they’ve written for you To Read Pile). I then attended a session about the narrative of The Other in literature and in our students’ own narratives. After lunch, I joined back up with Educator’s Room co-writers and presented about using blogging and social media to advocate for teachers. I ended the day in a session about making nonfiction more accessible (and exciting) to students.

I ended the day meeting my three roommates (one of which is one of my best friends, The Pastor’s Wife) for the annual Scholastic Dinner. Scholastic invites anyone who wants to attend to have a full-on turkey dinner together. It was pretty sweet. Plus there was lots of laughs and good conversation.

2016-11-19-18-13-01

After dinner we went over and watched an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates (correspondent for The Atlantic and author of the novel Between Me and The World). While way brief (I blame the interviewer), it was worth hustling out of the Scholastic dinner and down to the auditorium to hear him speak about the presidential election and what is happening in society from his point of view.

Sunday was more exhibit hall, Chick-fil-a, and then that evening was the Author Reception for the ALAN conference that began the next day. The highlight of the Exhibit Hall for me was a tie between all the free Advanced Reader Copy books I got and meeting Matt de la Peña and having him sign a copy of Last Stop on Market Street for my kids. Let’s not talk about my bad hair, mmkay?

2016-11-20-10-21-37

As I said, the evening brought the Author’s reception and I will fully disclose at this point that I went a little fangirl on my favorite YA authors. I met Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (All American Boys), A.S. King (Please Ignore Vera Dietz), Laurie Halse Anderson (The Chains trilogy, Speak, and many more), David Levithan (Two Boys Kissing, Every Day, Another Day, and more) and others. It was a crazy two hours of conversation and selfies. I think there were appetizers and drinks too, but I was too distracted to stand in those lines.

After, The Pastor’s Wife and I went out for BBQ with some colleagues from universities around the country. We had fabulous discussions about YA over chicarrónes. I had an American mule while splitting brisket and pulled pork while talking religion and love. It was glorious and a definite favorite part of my trip.

2016-11-21-08-02-23

Monday was my last day, and the day I got to attend the ALAN conference. As you can see, it was a bit overwhelming. They handed me a box and a bag FULL of books. There were 500 people in attendance all sorting through their books deciding what to keep, what to get signed, what to trade. It was the most beautiful chaos I have ever witnessed.

I was privileged to spend the day surrounded by books and listening to YA authors. I am positive that this must be what heaven is like.

After shipping four boxes of books (I counted 88 when I unpacked the ones for my classroom…and there were quite a few picture books and elementary chapter books I kept for my kids on top of that…so probably over 100 books total), we grabbed one more meal of Chick-fil-a before getting an Uber to the airport.

The flight and everything was smooth and on time and I was on my own couch by 11pm. I sneaked into the rooms of my children and gave kisses as I tucked them all back in.

2016-11-22-18-58-38

Tuesday evening after school and running around, these two small people stuck to my side like glue. I think they were afraid I would go away again. I was cool with it; I missed my littles. Cortney an I were in constant text or email the whole weekend. My roomies thought it was funny, but I am just so bad at being away from their lives!

I will say it was a wonderfully awesome trip! I hope to go again next year when it’s in St. Louis!

If you’re interested in more of my professional highlights, I wrote about it at The Educator’s Room.

The National Book Award Project: The Finalists

national book award

All the way back in June I started a project, spear-headed by Dr. Steven Bickmore, with a bunch of other educators: We read through all the National Book Award Finalists and Winners from the past twenty years. There were twenty of us–each assigned a year. I read the five books from 1996.

Each of us chose one book to move forward to the next “round”. We were then placed into brackets of five books and as a group we needed to choose which of those five would move to the final round.

The final round has four books. Our task was to read all four and vote for which one we think is the best of the best. I had already read Homeless Bird (2000 National Book Award Winner), but the next three were new to me.

Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers (2005 National Book Award Finalist)

As is typical of Myers, this book starts out right in the action with the funeral of a teenager who was shot in a drive-by shooting. Jesse and his friends, CJ and Rise, are forced yet again to consider how quickly life can be taken away. Rise makes the comment that he believes this is why you have to live every day as if it’s special. All three boys grapple with how to do this, but Rise seems to take it to an extreme that Jesse can’t agree with. As Jesse tries to decide to stick by Rise–his blood brother–or follow his own intuition, he sketches Rise and the rest of what they experience. It’s a very honest look at what being a teen in Harlem is probably like.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2012 National Book Award Winner)

Ten-year-old Hà, her three older brothers, and her mother are forced to leave Vietnam when the war reaches their home in Saigon in 1975. Hà has never met her father, who is MIA in the war–possibly somewhere in North Vietnam where communication has been cut off. The family journeys by ship to Alabama where they become refugees. Hà is forced to repeat the 4th grade even though she was at the top of her class in Vietnam because she doesn’t know English. What is most special about this book is that it is told in first-person verse covering a complete year: from Vietnamese New Year in 1975 to the same day in 1976.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014 National Book Award Winner)

Another book completely in verse, Jacqueline Woodson tells her autobiographical tale of growing up African American during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and 70’s. Her life is split between two homes: one in South Carolina with her maternal grandparents and one in New York City with her mother. Her poems seamlessly weave her life story together in a way that the reader can actually feel. It’s beautiful writing.

Of the four books, I really liked Homeless Bird and Autobiography of My Dead Brother but I loved Inside Out and Back Again and Brown Girl Dreaming. I also felt all four books would be appealing and accessible to my students (all 8th grade). They were all well-written, though I think the three I described here were a little more literaturey (yes, I just made that up) than Homeless Bird. Or maybe it’s that Homeless Bird is about a culture different than the author’s.

In the end, Woodson’s poetry did more than just tell a story; it created an experience; therefore, it got my vote as the best National Book Award Winner of all time.

Family Frenzy

Recently, Cortney and I participated in a marriage retreat of sorts through our church. One of the topics we talked about was family. We were asked to reflect on our family traditions growing up and whether or not we were super affectionate or close. Cortney and I had some great conversations and it did shred light on what we both bring to the marriage in terms of sharing and hugging whatnot.

While Cort and I were brought up in similar families–both middle class, Christian, three kids (one girl, two boys), and we are both the oldest–there were enough differences in traditions that we were able to blend them a bit for our own family.

I was trying to decide what family on TV we were most like, but honestly we have bits of many families. Let me see if I can break it down.

arrested-development

I guess it’s not a shock to say I am an over-sharer. But what is interesting is that is not what my family was like growing up at all. In fact, I routinely made my mother blush and my father sputter with what I would say. Cortney is the exact opposite. After more than twenty years of knowing him, I am still finding out new things because he doesn’t bring stories or topics up until he feels like they apply with what is going on or what we are talking about. I am more of the “if I think it, I blurt it out” type.

I guess that would make our family part Bluth.

 

My Eddie also shares whatever he is thinking, but it’s usually more naive. I mean, he is only seven, after all. But he is just so sweet and trusting. He wants people to be happy and he truly believes the world is a good place. This would make our family a little Kimmy Schmidt too.

As I said before, Cortney is the strong silent type. But he knows how to get down and loves good music. He is also very handsome in a suit and totally smooth. So he brings a little Justin Timberlake to the family.

beat-bugs

My two Littles: Charlie and Alice love to shake their groove things. Ok, let’s be real: we all love to do that. We all love the Beatles. We all help each other out, and we all love a cute story line, so that makes us a little Beat Bugs too.

alicebeatbugs

 

Other shows you don’t want to miss: Paddington is now available and a totally cute family favorite. And of course, unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is available. According to Facebook, quite a few of you binged over Thanksgiving weekend. Good for you!

So what TV or movie family do you most identify with? Or is it a mix like us?

StreamTeamBadge

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Netflix provides my family with streaming service and a device to watch it on in exchange for posts about what we watch. All opinions are our own.

History told in First Woman

I’ve been quiet over here, but my head has been so very loud. I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts about what is going on in our country right now, so that someday, when my words are gone, my children will still have my thoughts.

Last week started out so very exciting. I originally voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries, but since his loss to Hillary Clinton, I have been 100% on the HRC bandwagon. I’m not really going to go into the why behind that since this is not a persuasive essay and at this point, because she lost, it’s moot. I just liked her as a candidate and the bonus was that she is a woman.

I was so excited to vote for a woman. I didn’t really realize just how excited I was until I was standing in line to vote. The week was a busy one and it was only Tuesday: we had parent/teacher conferences for both Eddie and Charlie plus I had parent/teacher conferences at school. On top of that both Eddie and I were scheduled to get flu shots that week. It was busy. When I made my list of things to get done, voting happened to just be an item to do and then check off.

Until I got in that line. I walked up all smiles and filled out my little card with my name and address and hopped in line. It wasn’t a long line; I had maybe a 5-10 minute wait. As I slowly made my way to the table to get the actual ballot, I looked at the faces in line. I saw a mom with a little girl and something went funny in my throat. A huge lump formed and I struggled to keep the tears from falling.

I thought of my grandmothers who were born before women even had the right to vote.

I thought of the messy history of women’s suffrage and the racist white women who ended up getting us the right to vote in the first place.

I thought of how I wept when I voted for Barack Obama the first time, and how I had blamed it on the pregnancy hormones.

I thought of all the divisiveness that our country is going through with this election, and how I answered Eddie’s questions about who I would vote for by telling him I made my choices based on who I thought would help us be kinder, more unified, and more helpful.

I thought about the time a year earlier, when Eddie asked about presidents and Cortney told him there had never been a girl president before. Eddie’s response was, “WHAT!?! Well we need to vote for one! We need a girl president!”

I thought about all the times he corrected people when they used “girl” as a put-down by saying, “hey! Your mom is a girl! Your sister is a girl! Your grandma is a girl! Do you really think girls are bad? NO! My mom and sister and grandmas are AWESOME and SMART.”

I thought about all those things and the tears started to trickle down my cheeks. I tried to quickly brush them off, but I felt a hand on my arm. When I looked up, a young lady was smiling and nodding. “Me too,” she said. “Me. Too.”

I nodded and smiled. Then I took my ballot and went to the available booth.

I don’t always vote straight ticket, but I could have on this particular ballot. But I didn’t. I wanted to color in the bubble next to her name: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

After voting, I snapped a quick selfie, and went to Office Max, picked up Eddie, and then picked up the Littles just as planned. Then I went home and made us dinner, and helped with homework, and put kids to bed.

As I went to bed, I had a sinking feeling my candidate did not win.

But I hold tight to that feeling of seeing a woman (actually TWO) on the ballot, and knowing there is a long list of hope and possibility for our future.

2016-11-08-16-29-47

Since last week’s election, my hope has been severely tested. Every time I think I have it processed enough to write about it, more happens. I pledge to put it all down here though, because these are the stories that will someday be history. I want my children to have this when I don’t have the memories or words to tell them about it anymore.

Netflix for Spooky Spookertons

Halloween is, by far, NOT my most favorite holiday. If we didn’t have kids, Cortney and I would probably skip it all together.

I don’t like scary things. I don’t like dressing up. I don’t like handing out candy.

Of course our kids love all of these things, so we roll with it. I think Charlie would dress up in costumes every day of the year if we let him judging on how often he has worn his batman mask already this month. And candy? Forget about it. My kids try every trick in the book to get candy for every meal. (It doesn’t work. There is much sadness in the Nation).

As for scary things, Eddie loves it. Well, he doesn’t like truly freaky things, but spooky stuff is totally his jam.

Three days a week we get home about an hour before Cortney and The Littles, so Eddie can get on his Netflix profile and watch what he wants. The rule is that when Cortney gets home with The Littles, he has to turn on PBS because the shows he watches seem to me like they might be a little spooky for Charlie, and way too spooky for Alice.

Eddie is a true binge-watcher, so when he finds a show he watches ALL the episodes before moving on. His latest spooky binges have included Scooby Doo, any and all superhero things (which I get are not traditionally spooky, but I think they could be a little scary), Power Rangers (again, it’s not ghosts and vampires, but it’s got some pretty creepy monsters), and Monster High.

He’s also watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Curious George: A Boo Fest, and Hotel Transylvania 2 a dozen times each.

netflix_stream-and-scream-guide

I think he’s old enough now to watch ET, so we might have to do a mom and son movie night soon!

Alice and Charlie are just excited that season two of Beat Bugs is now available. Charlie just realized there are more episodes of Dinotrux. And Eddie found season three of The Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show, another favorite around here.  I haven’t told him yet, but Eddie will also be jazzed that season one of Skylanders Academy will be available by the end of the month…because dragons.

As for this year’s costumes, I will be sharing pictures of those soon enough. Eddie, every the spooky spookerton, chose to be a skeleton again this year. Charlie chose a batman costume he found (hence the mask he’s been wearing for the past two weeks), and Alice is going as a lady bug…hopefully. I have the costume from a friend, but as we know, toddlers can be persnickety when it comes to actually wearing the costume. Here’s hoping!

Anyway, what spooky shows do your kids like to watch? Anything we should add to our list?

StreamTeamBadge

*************

This is not a sponsored post. I am part of the Netflix Stream Team and am provided with Netflix and a device to watch it on. All opinions are our own.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...