Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

The Storyteller
Sometimes I like to read Jodi Picoult books because I can turn off my brain. The plot twist is easy to figure out, the story is at least engaging enough to keep me going and I don't have to think too much. Which is not to knock anyone who loves Jodi Picoult, I'm just not a huge fan. This one was a good story, although somewhat cliched for Holocaust based fiction. Still, it was overall an engaging read.

The Distant Hours
I really loved The Forgotten Garden and The House at Riverton by the same author, but I didn't get into this one as much. Overall, I enjoyed the story of Percy, Saffy, Juniper and their controlling, addled father, but I didn't connect with them as much as I have the characters in her other stories. The ending finally grabbed me, but the first two hundred pages were slow for me.

Paper Towns
Obviously I really like John Green--this one was no exception. I would say this is also somewhat a coming of age story, but again, with a twist. Quentin is on the fringes of high school, a few close friends, but mostly harassed by the popular kids. His neighbor and former childhood friend, Margo Roth Spiegelman is popular and unattainable, until the night she appears at his bedroom window and leads him on an adventure, giving him hope that they can be friends again. Except that she disappears the next day, leaving him to piece everything together as his high school years wind to a close.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

All That Is
I wanted to love this story. I really did. And in some aspects, I loved it. The story itself was incredibly engaging, but parts of it fell flat. It was one dimensional. I found myself getting confused and burdened down by certain things, like the author's habit of sometimes referring to a character by his last name, sometimes by the first name. I couldn't connect with the characters like I wanted to. It just didn't click for me on the huge level that I felt like a storyline of this caliber should, one that spans from WWII to the 1980s, and that was disappointing. I really just wanted this one to end.

An Abundance of Katherines
This is another one by John Green, who is arguably one of the best YA lit authors out there and definitely one who can transcend the genre. The protagonist is a boy prodigy who has been dumped 19 times by girls named Katherines and sets out to create a mathematical theorem to determine if romantic relationships can be graphed and predicted from beginning to end. Although it's a coming of age novel, it's definitely the most original coming of age novel I've ever read.

The Interestings: A Novel
This was the novel that resonated with me this week. Six teenagers meet at a creative arts summer camp and remain friends afterward, though those friendships aren't without strings and troubles. What I loved about this novel was that it followed the character, but it also followed the time periods, too: Nixon's resignation, the AIDs crisis, and so on. It was woven together so seamlessly that you almost didn't notice the way the author worked it in. This is my must-read suggestion for the week! I definitely fell in love with the characters (or with some of them, not so much).

Gatekeepers (Dreamhouse Kings)
This is the third book in the Dreamhouse Kings series. It's a YA series about a family who lives in a house where the third floor is made up of portals that transport back into the past--but not just randomly into the past, always into dangerous places in the past. Onto the sinking Titanic, into gladiator arenas, in the line of a tank during WWII and so on. Although not the most brilliantly written books, they are enjoyable and I like that the two main characters are boys and that it's magical while still teaching about history.

Timescape: Dreamhouse Kings, Book #4
Not much to say here; it's the next book in the Dreamhouse Kings series and since I just told you about it, I won't repeat myself, as I assume you listen better than my students. I bought this on Kindle because I was annoyed that the person who checked it out at the library before me was a week overdue and hadn't yet returned it. So if you have a Kindle and are reading this series, let me know and I can loan it to you!

The Drunken Botanist
I love science that is interesting and easily understandable to the common person, making this book right up my alley. I've always found it fascinating how many plants go into our traditional medicines, so plants that make alcohol? Sign me up. This is a book that I wish I'd bought because it's not really the type of book that you sit down and read straight through because while the various facts are interesting, it's also chock full of recipes for not only drinks but simple syrups and herb garnishes. I loved this book because it was full of all sorts of random facts that I've now filed away to pull out at times that I need to prove that I'm smarter than other people.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

What I learned is that I need to stop saying that I don't like non-fiction, because I'm reading more and more of it. Are my tastes evolving? Is non-fiction getting better, maybe? Let's go with the latter.

The Still Point of the Turning World
This book tore at my heart, as I knew it would. The author's son was diagnosed with Tay Sachs as a baby, even though she had the screening for it while pregnant. At this point, she was powerless as mother to do nothing but stand by and watch him deteriorate. This book isn't really a memoir of her son Ronan's last days, because it was published while he was still alive. It's more her thoughts on grief. The pain of watching his eyes dull, watching him slip away. Knowing that he won't hit any milestones beyond what he'd already hit at his diagnosis. While losing a child is unimaginable, so is the thought of simply having to watch him go.

Looking for Alaska
Becky recommended this one because we both loved The Fault in Our Stars (please recommend me books--or if you do book posts, I've seen a few people doing that lately, too, link me up!). I loved this. It was a little more raw than The Fault in our Stars, but it was also real. The characters were humorous and heartbreaking and I loved the storyline. I absolutely love this author and I definitely think he's one that transcends that Young Adult lit genre.

The Dinner
Okay, blog readers, I want you all to read this book and then we'll discuss it. Seriously. This book, wow. Two couples meet over dinner to discuss something that happened between their teenage sons. The story goes from appetizer through dessert and the ending was not at all what I expected. That's all I'll say, but please, someone read this and email me so we can talk about it. Or if you have read this, email me. I want so badly to discuss it, but I don't want to say anything here. This was definitely one that kept me up late reading. It was great.

Her: A Memoir
Look, more non-fiction. I was interested in this one because my older sisters are twins. The statistic that when one twin dies, the other usually follows within two years was interesting. This is one twin's story of how she beat that statistic. I realize that there were some serious co-dependency issues, among other things, with these twins, but their story was interesting. There is a lot of survival and strength in this book.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
I love Mary Roach. All of her books answer those interesting, disgusting questions that you've wondered about but don't know who to ask. She asks them for you and answers them in a way that's scientific but understandable. Gulp is about food, stomach digestion and all other manner of disgusting but interesting things. As always, I loved it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

2 best friends | 679 miles | one virtual 5k [week 5]

This week was the best because it was spring break and I ran every single run in the SUNSHINE. Not in warm sunshine, mind you, but in the sunshine. It was amazing and thinking about going back to dark laps around my block makes me want to cry. Maybe one of these days it'll get warmer.

The high point of my week was probably running 7 miles. I haven't run that far since November, so I was a little worried. Somehow it seemed way further than 6 miles! I headed out early because I was meeting Luke at his school for lunch that day and the thought of running 7 miles after eating a school lunch was definitely not appealing. I set a steady, slow pace and tried to ignore my watch, focusing just on getting to 7 miles. At mile 3, I was running up a pretty steep hill that is usually the bane of my existence when a guy standing on his porch starting cheering and said, "Wow, girl! You're looking great. Keep up the good work!" I kept that one with me at mile 5 when everything started to hurt, my pace slowed, and I so badly wanted to stop. I didn't. I just kept replaying his words and thinking, "I do look great. I can finish this." And I did, managing to keep a sub-10 pace (just barely).

The low point of my week was probably the easy 3 miles on Friday. I'd already run 17 miles that week and my feet and legs were pretty shot, but mostly I'm frustrated because my pace on my long runs and short runs are exactly the same. I know my speed will return, but I would like it to return a little bit now. I did manage to start out my first mile a little faster than I have been doing morning runs, but I'm mostly just managing a steady pace for 3 miles, instead of pushing myself progressively faster each mile. Not for lack of trying, either! I know the speed will return and I am super excited that my endurance is returning, but injuries are dumb. I just want to say that. Injuries are DUMB.

Excuses, excuses... I hear a lot of them. Like how every time my students have a big paper due, printers always break or computers crash. It's amazing how that happens. But I digress. Keli and I also hear a lot of running excuses. When I share what I've run, it's never because I feel like other people have to run, too. It's because I like the encouragement--it helps keep me going when I've had a rough run or a long week. But what happens a lot is that the response I get is people telling me why they can't run. And hey, we all have our reasons for why we can't do things, but let's be real here: we're all busy people.

Heck, before I even get out of bed in the morning, I run through a multitude of excuses in my head:
1. It's early. My alarm goes off at 4:30. I'm tired. I don't WANT to get up at 4:30 and run. I want to sleep for another hour. Why do I willingly do this to myself? What sort of sadist am I? But then I remember that Keli is probably waiting at the other end of a text message and yeah, I'd better get up. Plus, I'll feel better if I run. I always do.
2. My feet are most likely going to be a little sore when I get out of bed. They still aren't fully healed. Sometimes they twinge a little. At the end of a work day, they ACHE. That's part of why I run in the morning. Still, I remind myself that a little sore is manageable and when they really hurt and I couldn't run, that was miserable. Or when I was trying to run and they were horribly injured, it was just about the worst. So I'm thankful now that they are just a little sore and that's all.
3. I'm busy. Well, yeah. I have two kids and I work full-time. I have to be at work by 7:20. I get there earlier because 7:20 is when the kids arrive and anyone who teaches know that it's a recipe for disaster to arrive at the same time as the students. Still, running is important to me, so I make time.

Maybe it isn't important to you AND THAT'S OKAY. You don't have to justify it to me, but don't assume you can't do XYZ because you can't find time. You can. Whether it's running or yoga or Wii Fit or a workout video, there is a way. You just have to find it. A really great site to get inspired is Another Mother Runner because there are a lot of busy moms on there finding time for themselves and honestly, at the end of the day, this is what it's really about for me. When I run, it's for me. I'm setting a good example for my kids and even for my students, but when I run those laps around the block... that time is for me and that's why I can sacrifice my morning sleep and warm bed. Think about all the things you do in a given day that could be cut out and find the block that can be turned into a workout. It's there. I promise. (Or sit on the couch and eat nachos, but OWN that.)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

The Tie That Binds
After reading Benediction a few weeks ago, I decided to check out other books by the author. Of course, as often happens with library requests, they all came in at once. What I really like about Kent Haruf's books is that they aren't entirely happy, but they are true to life. They balance out joy with sorrow... and sometimes, there is more sorrow. This book starts out with an eighty-year old woman, Edith, who is charged with murder and then flashes back over her life. Growing up with a dad who values his kids as little more then possessions, her brother escapes, but out of duty and responsibility, she gives up her life and stays with her dad--miserable as it may be. This was heartbreaking, but also a beautiful story.
Like all of Haruf's books, it is set in Holt, Colorado and as I read more, I started to notice repeating minor characters, which I liked, too. He also used quotation marks in the dialogue in his earlier books, which made me happy!

Watcher in the Woods
This is a YA lit, sci-fi/horror novel, that is part of a series. I read the first book in the series (House of Dark Shadows) awhile ago when it was a free download, then I couldn't find the next book in the series because the library didn't have any of them yet. They finally do, so I was able to continue. The basic gist of the series is that a boy and his family move into an old house in a small town, to discover that the old house has a hallway on the third floor where all the rooms are time portals into dangerous periods of history. Unfortunately, they also discover that while they can go in, things can come out.

Where You Once Belonged
This is one of those books that packs a strong punch. The town's golden boy goes away to college, flunks out. Comes back and is still the golden boy, until the golden boy goes completely awry. It's kind of a perfect story in what happens when a small town over-inflates an ego--incredibly relevant with the recent news in Steubenville and probably something that happens in most small towns across the country.

Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm
I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but this one interested me. Prior to the mid-1800s, gorillas had rarely been seen by anyone by native African tribesman. This book is about the explorer who set out to find them and the struggles he faced with the evolution debate, racism at the time, as well as simply exploring Africa. Parts of it were a little dry, but overall, this was a really interesting read about a piece of scientific history that I don't know much about.

This book switches between several characters: a high school teacher whose wife won't get out of bed and his two sons; a 17 year old pregnant girl and the two older, bachelor brothers who agree to take her in; and Maggie Jones, the teacher who brings them all together. I fell in love with the characters in this story, particularly Victoria, the pregnant girl, and the McPheron brothers, who take her in. Their relationship was multi-layered and really beautiful. I loved this one so much that I was even able to get past the lack of quotation marks, which is saying a lot. There is no huge plot climax in this story. No dramatic moment. Instead, the moments in this story are found within the bonds of human relationships.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Two non-fiction books in one week! I really enjoyed this book--it was sort of like Tina Fey's Bossypants, but the serious, research-driven version. Although I'm not the COO of Facebook or anything close to important, I could relate to so much of what Sheryl Sandberg said in this book, especially when she talked about the way women hold themselves or the way women are seen. Two especially poignant pieces were that even at young ages, boys who are direct are characterized as strong or leaders. Girls who are direct are seen as bossy, even though they may hold the exact same qualities as the boys who are seen as strong or leaders. Something else that struck me is that when self-evaluating, women are more likely to mark themselves down than men. By and large, when I have my students grade themselves on a rubric, the girls will score themselves lower than the boys. Why? Why at the age of 14 do girls already question why they aren't good enough? Some of the criticism that I saw of this book was that the author is blinded by her privilege, that she can't really tell women to lean in, because she has no idea what it's like to HAVE to work. And while yes, this is a woman who continues to work because she chooses to do so and I may be in a different boat, that doesn't mean that I shouldn't still learn to hold myself with self-confidence while working--or that I shouldn't push myself to do better. That doesn't mean that I couldn't relate to her struggles about pumping at work or feeling like she doesn't measure up to stay at home moms because she can't volunteer at her kids' school. I'm not a millionaire, I don't have personal assistants, sure, but I can see eye-to-eye with her on both of those. And I could certainly relate to this:
"We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us. So let's start by validating one another. Mothers who work outside the home should regard mothers who work inside the home as real workers. And mothers who work inside the home should be equally respectful of those choosing another option."
Yes. Maybe once we stop tearing each other down, we will learn to build ourselves up.

This is somewhat the sequel to Plainsong, as it continues the stories of the characters met in that book, but it also introduces new characters. Like Plainsong, it's not about huge moments, but rather about the small moments that forge human connections. Again, my favorite characters in this book were Victoria and the McPheron brothers, but the author introduced a set of mentally challenged parents and their children that somehow alternately gained pity and disgust all at the same time.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

2 best friends | 679 miles | one virtual 5k [week 4]

Week 4 was good to me because I actually completed every single run. I know! I'm as amazed as anyone, believe me. I did have to run four days in a row, thanks to snow and ice last Monday morning (I am so, so sick of this never-ending winter) but my feet held up much better than I thought. I was definitely ready to rest by the weekend, though.

The high of my week was the 6 mile long run on Friday. I didn't have huge expectations for this, because I haven't gone this far since November. Plus, this was day four of running and my calves were starting to feel it. So when I headed out, I told myself that I wouldn't look at my watch until the end of my run and would just enjoy running in the sunshine since I was off work. I did just that and although the last two miles were pretty rough, as there were four hills in the last mile and I was pretty much DONE, I was pleasantly surprised when my watch read 58:04 after it beeped in six miles. My 10k PR was 58 minutes and some change during my last half marathon and before I realized that I was injured, my plan was to get an official sub-60 10k PR. Being able to maintain that pace without having run 6 miles in so long gives me confidence that with a little more training or even just some race day adrenaline, I can still try for that 10k PR again soon.

The low has just been running in the dark. It's been a huge struggle. It's not so much the dark as it is the cold, actually. Winter doesn't want to let go and it's so exhausting to face cold and wind every single morning. I'm tired, my legs aren't moving very quickly and I just don't want to wear gloves and a headband anymore. I'm thankful that this week is spring break, so I have a slight reprieve from getting up at 4:30 (but not from running in the cold).

In things that are only exciting to runners, Keli got new shoes, causing us to have a discussion about the difference in drop between her old shoes and her new shoes. I currently run in Altra Intuitions, which are zero drop shoes. I chose them more for the shape of the toe box to help me get over my foot injury than for the zero drop, but I've discovered that I do actually enjoy the zero drop. My calves were a bit more sore at first, but once they adjusted, they weren't anymore sore than normal. I feel like it has improved my gait because I can feel my feet strike the ground a bit better than with old shoes. Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that you should switch to zero drop shoes. I'd still be running in Brooks Adrenaline with a 12mm drop. That said, these shoes have been amazing for me and I would recommend checking them out if you're thinking of switching or if you've been dealing with any foot problems. They've been amazing for mine.

And like I said last week, COULD WINTER JUST PLEASE GO AWAY?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bunny Pox

Remember that one time that even though Luke is always healthy, in spite of the petri dish that must be a kindergarten classroom, he got super sick on Christmas Eve (resulting in the worst Christmas break EVER)? Since then, he's been remarkably healthy. He had one tummy ache and a random throw up, but managed to survive the stomach flu that knocked the rest of our house down. In fact, he has perfect attendance and at this point, with two months of school left, I thought that perfect attendance award was in the bag.

Friday, we were all off school. We stuck around the house and cleaned to get ready for Easter, which we host every year. Friday night, we went to the park and then Dairy Queen. It was finally warm enough to be outside without coats, although we were a little chilly. In short, all was right with the world.
See? Tell me that isn't the most right with the world picture you've ever seen.

Friday night when I was tucking Luke into bed, I noticed two little bumps on his shoulder. I brushed it off as bug bites because we were outside playing a lot, he was out in the woods with my parents a lot that week, as they watched him since he was on spring break. And hey, what else could it be? Until the next morning when he woke up and the two bumps had spread from one shoulder, across his chest, to the other shoulder. And they were itchy. In my heart, I knew what it was, but I told Luke that we needed to go get it checked out because if he was contagious, we couldn't see his cousins and hunt Easter eggs with them that day as planned. His youngest cousin is only 8 months old, so I knew we couldn't risk passing anything on.

So instead of spending a beautiful Saturday outside, we spent 2.5 hours at Urgent Care. Yes, the wait was that long.
The whole time, Luke kept saying, "We should've been hunting Easter eggs an hour ago!" Multiplied by however much time had passed. And I kept thinking, "Why does this place sound like a TB ward? I wonder what other diseases we're picking up?!"

Finally, it was our turn. After reiterating that we hadn't used any new laundry detergents or tried any new food, I also reiterated that I normally wouldn't come in for itchy red bumps, but we were seeing family and I didn't want to pass anything along. The doctor looked at him, left and came back with a dermatology textbook and flipped right to the chicken pox section. Which I already knew, but I really, really wanted her to say, "These are mosquito bites. Are you stupid?" She said they don't really see chicken pox much anymore, so they have to look it up to remind themselves of what the first stage even looks like, but it was textbook perfect. At that point, Luke's face crumpled and he said, "So you mean we can't see anyone this weekend?" and he broke down in a way that I've never seen him break down, like huge sobs. Thanks for nothing, chicken pox. You're a huge jerk. The doctor tried to console him, I tried to console him, but he was just sobbing. She showed me a few other things that it could be, but it was pretty obvious from the pictures that it wasn't any of that and that it was chicken pox.

I carried him into the bathroom, washed his face and got him to stop crying with the promise of a Happy Meal, but he was one seriously sad kid. He'd been looking forward to hunting Easter eggs with his cousins and having them over to our house Sunday all week, so this was a tough blow for a six year old.
Fortunately, my parents opted to still come over to Easter dinner the next day, so Luke didn't feel like a total leper. It wasn't the Easter we had planned and not all of his pox have scabbed over yet, so as of today, his perfect attendance is null and void. I just can't believe we avoided the multiple rounds of strep throat and stomach flu that swept through his classroom only to get hit with chicken pox, of all things. Just like I wanted to return our Christmas plague from Santa, I would like to return this pox from the Easter Bunny.