The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Confession: I started this book and thought two things: 1) I like books that make me feel good about my Spanish and 2) this book is going to take a lot of brain power.

I started this book for no other reason that I want to read more non-white authors and many readers I respect (who read the “literature” on top of just other stuff) rated this one highly. I also started it one day on the deck in the sun in my favorite reading spot. It is a stark contrast to all the YA lit I have been reading lately.

Let’s see…how do I describe Oscar Wao? Well, the book is fiction, but it also has some magical realism. The narrator is third person, seemingly omniscient, whose actual identity isn’t revealed until about halfway into the book. The story is about Oscar and the curse that is on him and his family called the fuku. The book starts with Oscar’s childhood, but talks about his mother’s childhood and formative years in the Dominican Republic, his maternal Grandfather (where the fuku started), and his sister, Lola.

The narrator is incredibly conversational using Spanglish and Dominican slang to tell the story of the de Leon family.There are quite a few footnotes (which are just as conversational) to give the reader history and background of The Dominican Republic that will help understand character motivation or the environment the characters found themselves in.

The book is beautiful. The writing is glorious and true and moving. I kept thinking of my students as I read it…how many have such journeys in their family history–maybe not with a curse attached–but who have parents who have come from another country and they are first generation in the US. About the struggles and the reasons for coming.

It’s just an extraordinary book. I can’t compare it to anything because I have never read anything like it. And I read a lot.

The Splash Pad

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My best friend sat next to me Friday afternoon as our kids played in the local splash pad. Months had passed since we last saw each other and the only communication we have had was some texts back and forth and sending each other ridiculous pins on Pinterest.

We don’t talk weekly on the phone, or even via text. We aren’t constantly emailing each other or PM-ing each other on Facebook. If someone asks me what she is up to, I don’t usually know.

If you were listening in on our conversation Friday, you would know right away that we were best friends, and had been for a long time. You would never guess that we lived in different states and rarely talked. Our conversation was just as easy Friday as it had been when we were in high school lying on towels on the beach.

We talked about nothing, but that was everything.

There was a group of moms who were all blonde, thin, and attractive near by. They were clearly a group who got together often with their kids–whom they were not watching. This was evidenced by the very small toddler who kept walking over to us and trying to join our little area. His mom never once looked over. I kept worrying that he would fall and choke on his cracker he was carrying around, but he never did.

We talked about that group. We had both seen groups like it before, but had never joined one. Neither of us felt like we fit into a group like that. Both of us work full-time as teachers, both of us are “advanced maternal age” (shut up).

Then our conversation shifts to summer bucket lists and getting our classrooms ready for school. We even give the palazzo pants a quick shout out–I wondered what shoes you were with them and she said, “um. flip flops. duh.” She’s right. She is always right about footwear.

Sometimes I am jealous of other people’s best friend relationships. Other people live close to their BFF. Other people run everything in their life past their bestie. I see people taking pictures and having girl nights and slumber parties and all these close, fun things.

That’s not how I roll.

I don’t call her every time I’m depressed or anxious. She hasn’t said much to me about her dad’s health problems.

She was the first person I texted each time I found out I was pregnant–all five times–though. Some people didn’t even find out our second pregnancy until we were pregnant with Eddie and relatively sure he was going to “stick”.

She was my matron of honor in our wedding. During her toast at the reception she got one joke out and then started crying so hard, she couldn’t finish. We didn’t have to talk about it.

We both felt like friend fails when we couldn’t drive the almost three hours to be with the other when she had her first baby (or in my case my second and third as well).

I think about her often though. As I started reading The Attachments by Rainbow Rowell last night, I giggled at the email exchanges that would probably mirror ours if we actually emailed each other. When I shop, I hear her voice in my head saying “try that on even if you don’t think you’ll like it. PUT DOWN THE BLACK. No, navy does not count as ‘a pop of color’. Don’t even look at those jelly shoes. YOU LOOKED! I’M DONE WITH YOU!” And I can’t watch Home Alone without texting her that “last year I got a sweater with a big bird knitted on it.”

And I’m pretty sure I am not even capable of watching Reality Bites without her.

I wish our afternoon at the splash pad was a routine happening and not something out of the ordinary. I’d wish for her and her husband and son to move back to our little spot in Michigan, but I know they wouldn’t be happy. They love their Big City life and they are perfect for it.

So instead I will wish for ways to see her/them more often. And if that means I have to stay in a nice hotel and get pedicures in the city, so be it.

Netflix and Dinosaurs and Trucks

#StreamTeam

Ah, the smell of fall is in the air today. I am seeing lots of back to school pictures filling up my Facebook feed. Eddie’s teacher letter came in the mail today making him ALL excited that he needs a pencil box for first grade. Yes, it’s almost time for school to start.

Many parents feel a mixed bag of emotions this time of year, and I’m not different. Although I will say that having been off work since March 5, and having the boys home since June 6, I am ready for us all to get back on our school schedule. I am excited to start another year with 8th graders, we all look forward to Eddie becoming a 1st grader, and Charlie is pretty jazzed about Alice coming to daycare with him.

We have two weeks left.

In those two weeks I was hoping to jam in some last minute summer fun!  Then it rained. A bunch. And now it’s all of a sudden 65 degrees–not exactly beach weather, if you know what I mean. It’s even windy enough that the state parks are flying red flags at Lake Michigan.

But fear not! The boys have found themselves a new Netflix original series to keep them occupied when the weather is too chilly and wet for slip n slides and bike rides: DinoTrux!

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This show is about these creatures that are part dinosaur and part machine. There are also tiny ones that are party lizard and part machine.  They are sort of like the little tools and the big dinosaurs do the big construction work. For a kid like Charlie who loves all things construction and big “monsters” like dinosaurs, this is the most perfect show. There are “good guys” who are all friends and a “bad guy” who tries to break up the friends. Of course the friends always win by working together. Well, at least for the three episodes we’ve watched they have.

It’s a cute little show to fill the time between play doh and lunch time. From today until two weeks when we go back to school.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam. Netflix provides their service and a device for us to watch it on. All opinions and show choices are our (my) own.

Where My Writing Is…

In case you missed it, I have a few articles floating around the internet…

This month at the Educator’s Room, I’ve posted about what all teachers should be reading this summer, and it’s not just “teacher books”!

I also put on my serious, political pants and talked about the very real feeling that there is a conspiracy against public education among politicians.

With school starting, I wrote about the important task of creating safe spaces for kids in our classrooms.

Just this week, I posted an introduction to a series that I will be working on this month about Close and Critical Reading and strategies I/we use in my district that have really helped students improve their literacy.

Also a post I wrote originally for The Educator’s Room was re-run on The Washington Post! I know! So exciting! It’s the one about Job Insecurity in education.

My writing is also on BonBon Break again this month with a post I did about my feelings concerning School Dress Codes from a teacher’s point of view.

And lastly, I was interviewed by UpWorthy about what the deal is with Back to School Supply lists. (In Michigan we can’t require students to buy supplies; we have to supply them. Which is why I have a Wish List on Amazon, in case you are interested in helping out)

There you go!

School starts for me on September 1, and for the kids (Eddie included) on September 8. I’ve been busy busy BUSY with To Do Lists and creating stuff and I’ve even been into my classroom already setting things up for a new year.

There is a lot of excitement about it over here, I won’t lie!  Eddie is going into first grade, Charlie is starting his last year of “full-time” daycare (next year he will go to preschool part of the time), Alice is starting full-time daycare, and I will be teaching a new year of eager 8th graders.

But I’ll keep writing too! So stay tuned!

Me Before You

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This was a book I didn’t think I really wanted to read, but I caved to the pressure. I was certain I would quit this book because it would be too “Chick Lit-ish”.

Louisa is a twenty-six year old who gets laid off from her job at a cafe. She lives with her family (mother, father, younger sister, nephew, and grandfather). They don’t have much money. She gets a job caring for Will, a quadriplegic man. A wealthy quadriplegic man. An attractive quadriplegic man. The thing is, Will doesn’t want to live like this. He was very active before the motorcycle accident, and now lives in constant discomfort and pain. Lou makes it her mission to show him just how beautiful a life he can still have.

See? Sounds incredibly sappy, right?

It’s not though. I don’t know how JoJo Moyes did it, but Me Before You is fast-pace, witty, and even suspenseful. I found myself worrying about the characters when I wasn’t reading. Yes, there are a bunch of cliches and the premise itself is pretty sappy, but somehow Moyes made me care about the characters. She made me root for Louisa and Will…and not that they would get romantically involved, but that she would be successful in showing him a wonderful life. On the other hand, the book also made me seriously think about my own views on assisted suicide.

It was a deep topic that read like a light beach read.

That is writing talent, right there.

Even before I was finished with the book, I recommended it to someone and promised to bring her my copy the next time I see her.  I don’t do that with many books.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book that you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving?

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Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.

Her First is My Last

Just this week Alice got a tooth.

Ok, it’s not all the way through yet, but the little ridged top is. When she laughs, I can see it. Her first tooth.

She rolls like a mad-woman these days too. If I lay her down on her back, she rolls onto her tummy and kicks. Last night, she planted her feet and pushed. Cortney called it “snow plowing.” She was clearly trying to move from one end of her play mat to the other to reach a toy. She pushed her face to the floor and shoved herself with her feet and knees! I was shocked!

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Lately we find her not at all in the same place we laid her in her crib. At night we place her on her back in the middle. In the morning, she wakes up on her tummy all the way to one end. This morning she was reaching her arms through the slats.

As with the boys, all these firsts are bittersweet. It’s so exciting to watch kids grow and change and learn, and yet our momma hearts mourn the loss of the baby things too.

I knew Alice’s firsts would be harder on me because, even though I am 100% cool with our decision to be done, each of her firsts marks the end of something.

I know, that sounds morbid. And I promise I am not walking around depressed all the time because she can roll over. I really love watching her figure things out and become her own person.

And yet…

Once that little tooth pushed through, our days of gummy baby grins was swept into the past.

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It seems like every day there is a new change, she’s just a little bigger, she can do one more thing.

I notice that when I set her in her car seat or bounce seat, she tries to lean forward…to bend at the waist…as if she wants to sit up. While she still technically fits in her rock n play, swing, and bounce seat, I can tell the days are numbered. She humors me though, and actually plays with the toys on her swing (the boys couldn’t have cared less about the swing, let along those toys), bounces herself in her bounce seat, and snoozes in her rock n play during the day.

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Why can’t they be babies just a little longer?

Why does it have to go so fast?

Sometimes when I think about her getting bigger, I have to literally catch my breath.

With each child, I have loved the baby phase more. I am not sure if it’s because she’s third, a girl, or just Alice that this time around has been the sweetest.

Last night I made her giggle so hard she did that silent laugh thing and ended up with the hiccups. I laid down next to her and she turned her face to mine. I put my nose against hers so I could smell her baby-ness and I whispered, “let’s always love each other like this, ok?”

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We have two weeks left to snuggle on each other as much as possible. For me to try not to miss any minutes of her growing and changing and smiling.

Because these are also my last two weeks of a summer with a baby in tow.

Getting Ready for Back to School

It’s that time of year again…back to school! I started thinking about this all the way back in June when I was technically “done” with  my maternity leave. I have been off for over five months at this point, and I am pretty ready to be back working.

Actually, I am mostly ready. My boys are definitely ready for a school day schedule, but Alice and I could really just hang together.

When I think about getting back in my room and planning for a new year, I do get pretty excited. Another year of lighting up young readers!

As usual, I need a little help. I’ve gotten some great new books for my classroom library, but I always need more. The more the kids read, the more, well, they WANT to read! So there are two ways you can support the addiction I hope to ignite for reading:

One is by choosing to purchase a book or two from our Classroom Library Wishlist. Everything on here is either requested by students or things I found I know they will love.

Another way is a fundraiser I am doing via Thirty-One. Whatever proceeds from what you buy via this “party” link, will go towards my classroom library and supplies. This is open to US shipping addresses only, but it’s a great way to get some great items and give to a great cause at the same time!

And lastly, if you’re not into buying books, I have a list of supplies I could use too! Each teacher in my school only gets $100 to spend. That doesn’t even cover the cost of one notebook per student for me (I have around 135 students). Therefore, I created a Supply Wish List as well.

I know I ask a lot and you all give a lot.

Please know writing these things and asking is hard for me. I am ashamed that we cannot afford to buy the things I need to make my classroom great. I am sad that my school doesn’t have enough funding to give every teacher unlimited access to great supplies for our students.

I was asked about supply lists by UpWorthy this week, and I admitted we (in Michigan) cannot even send supply lists home. Public schools here cannot require that students purchase anything for school. We must provide it. Truth be told, most of my students wouldn’t be able to afford supply lists anyway.

I want you to know that every donation makes my heart happy, but more than that, it helps students.

I want you to know that even if you can’t donate, your prayers for my students and sharing my need with others who may be able to donate is even more valuable than you can know.

I want you to know I love my job, but I hate the politics of it.

I want you to know I work for a district that loves LOVES its students and would give all this and more to my classes if it could. I don’t work for a stingy district. I work for one that has only one focus: kids’ learning.

I want you to know that I appreciate the ability to write this knowing somehow the supplies and books will come in and my students will have what they need.

Thank you.

And happy back to school! Let the learning begin!

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It Was A Sunday…

It was a Sunday ten years ago.

I’ve told the story over and over. Sometimes with lots of details. Sometimes with almost none.

But I still remember every single detail.

It’s almost all I have.

Cortney had abdominal pain. I went to do his Fantasy Football Draft. Lots of phone calls about coming to his dads. Finally we went.

Just in time to say good-bye.

Just in time to release him from his pain.

Just in time.

Then there was the appendix surgery.

We were still newlyweds. I didn’t even stand when the doctor came out to get the next of kin to come in the recovery room.

I forgot that it was me, not his mother, who should go in.

Temporary bliss of forgetting.

His dad was gone.

“My dad died today,” he told the nurses.

The looks of disbelief that I had to confirm.

Everyone agreed he won “shittiest day ever.”

I had to make phone calls.

“Cortney’s dad died. Cortney had his appendix out.”

That night we slept in a tiny hospital room together.

I couldn’t leave him alone. His dad had just died.

I couldn’t go home alone either. My father-in-law had just died.

It was a Sunday ten years ago.

Today is Friday.

The sad truth is that I really didn’t know him.

The more time that passes, the more I realize, I didn’t know him.

I know he loved me.

I know he was happy I married his son.

But I didn’t get any time. None.

Not once did I sit down and chat with him by myself.

Never were we randomly alone in a room together.

I think of all the family gatherings we have had in the past ten years, and wonder what it would be like to have his jokes and observations and laughter injected into it all.

How significantly would our lives be different?

It’s impossible to imagine.

That impossibility is what hurts the most–the things I will never know.

He was my father-in-law, and I didn’t know him at all.

And yet, every day I think of him.

Every day I miss him.

It was a Sunday ten years ago that my father-in-law died of lung cancer.

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This Is Where We Live

We are lucky to live where we do.

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Michigan has some of the best beaches ever…and I say that having seen both the Atlantic and the Pacific. I definitely prefer fresh water and the clean beaches here.

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All of our kids love the beach.  Eddie could stay in the water for days, but he settles for hours. Charlie likes to wander off by himself and play in the sand or watch the waves. And Alice is content to take it all in–and also take a cat nap here and there–from the shade of the umbrella on a lap.

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I wish I could say this is where we are every possible moment, but it’s not true. We are lucky to have friends who invite us out because going to the State Park brings out my anxiety. It’s not nearly as relaxing with all the crowds.

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This is much more our pace. Thankfully we DO have friends who have lake front property both on the Big Lake and on a small inland lake.

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Next year will be even more fun since Alice will be able to wear sunscreen and play in the sand too. Not that she minded her spot on a lap this year.

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And Eddie will be a year older, a little stronger swimmer, and hopefully I won’t have to worry about his overconfidence in those waves like I did this year.  Thankfully Charlie is cautious about the water and the sun. He sticks close to the beach and wears sunscreen, his life jacket, a bucket hat, and goggles at all times. Safety first, right Bird?

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Yes, we are beach people. Good thing it’s only about a 15-minute drive to a beach.

What is the best part about where YOU live?

Landline

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Last fall I read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I adored it. I couldn’t talk it up enough in my classroom, and for the rest of the school year there was a wait list for it. I meant to read Fangirl next, but due to the popularity of Eleanor & Park, it was also checked out all year, so I moved on to other books and other authors.

This summer I was perusing the “new in paperback” section at the book store and saw Landline. I picked it up even though I had a pile at home of other books to read.

I will admit the premise of a telephone that calls the past was weird, but I trusted Rowell. I knew if anyone could make it work in a quirky, witty way, it was her.  And I was not disappointed.

Georgie McCool is a writer for a TV comedy series with her best friend since college, Seth. She spends a ridiculous amount of time at work, leaving her husband, Neal, home with their two small daughters. Georgie and Neal love each other, but there is always a tension. It comes to a head when Georgie chooses to spend their Christmas vacation home working with Seth rather than travel Omaha with her family. Over the time her family is gone, Georgie discovers that the phone in her childhood bedroom at her mom’s house can call Neal–not present-day Neal–but Neal from when they were in college. Her phone is like a time machine.  Now she has to figure out how to make things right with him by talking to the past.

I don’t tend to pick up a book if I think it might be a sappy love story. This is not a sappy love story. It is funny and ridiculous and a little sad in places, but not sappy.

Rowell tells the story from Georgie’s point of view. It bounces back and forth from present-day to her memories of meeting and dating Neal when they were in college, when they were first engaged and married, and to when their daughters were born. Rowell’s characters and dialogue quick and spot-on. She even manages to make me a bit nostalgic for the 90’s.

I think I even liked this book more than I liked Eleanor & Park. And that is saying a LOT because I gushed about that book.

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Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.

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