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Catching Up 3.0

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve got some catching up to do, eh?  These past two weeks . . . if I could erase them, I would, but since I can’t, I guess I’ll go forth.

Despite my world being turned upside down, life has had to continue, albeit at a different pace.  Grief has a way of slowing a person down, to the point where some days, you’re doing good to put one foot in front of the other.  Thank heavens for friends who continue to check in with me to see how I’m doing.  I received a card and Amazon gift card from my precious friend, Kris.

She and I have done numerous online Bible studies together.  She has a heart of gold. ❤

So, back to the blogging . . .

To help me gauge where I last left off as far as blogging goes, I’m digging into my Flickr account.

Ugh.  Loads and loads of pictures, because that is something I’ve managed to keep up with . . . photographing and uploading tons of pictures so I can remember every moment of every day.

I can be extra that way.

I have been doing a crap-ton of reading . . .

Poolside and in the pool as well . . .

I must have read the second book right after.  Alas, but I didn’t take a picture.

I started on the Throne of Glass series (shout-out to Megan, who’s dying for me to get to the last book so we can discuss the characters).  I will not get to Once and for All until I finish this series.

Y’all, Throne of Glass is every bit as good as Megan promised.  I flew through the first book.

While I waited for the rest of the books in the series to arrive from Amazon, I started on the third book of the Storm Siren series . . .

I loved this series!  I have discovered that I like books that delve into magic powers.  Perhaps one day, I’ll finish the Game of Thrones series.  I’m in the middle of the second book and refuse to watch the series until I either finish or ever (I’ve heard it’s a bit graphic).

Meanwhile, my new books arrived . . .

All Photos-547

I do believe I hear angels sing when the Man in the Brown Truck delivers Amazon packages.

In the middle of reading all of the aforementioned books, I also participated in a Proverbs 31 online Bible study . . .

This book needs to be read by every single person.  We all tell ourselves lies that, gasp, we actually believe.  Jennifer’s wise words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and her gentle leading to scripture passages, help readers learn strategies to combat the negative crap that goes into our thought closets.  I’m going to be keeping this book close at hand to refer to.

I haven’t just been reading; I’ve also been working out.  The only day I missed was the one in which Molly passed away.  I couldn’t even pick up my arms that day.

I did my workout the next day . . . and cried throughout the entire program.

I have been keeping at it, though, and I’m starting to see results.

I’m currently doing Body Beast, another Beach Body program.  It’s a weight training video series, my favorite!

I really, really like it.  It’s definitely challenging, but the payoff has been worth it.

There are even weights incorporated into the cardio and ab workouts!!!!

Yesterday, when I was brushing my teeth, I randomly looked up and saw a little bit of arm muscle action going on.  The vain part of me was a teensy bit happy.

Please ignore the pink thing around my waist. It’s my Flip Belt, which I wear when I’m walking. It holds my phone and kleenex. I love it, but it’s not very fashionable.

Pele and Gambit have been sticking close to me since Molly passed away.  They don’t stray far even during my workouts.

I’m trying to walk at least three days a week.  I spread my walks out around leg day because my ankle still cannot handle too much at one time.

My pace isn’t great, but whatever.  My only competition is my brain and my bum ankle, both of which come out battered some days . . .

This was my ankle after a day of only doing a shoulder workout . . . no walk that day.

I keep trying to put into practice the lessons I learned during my Bible study . . . I am not defined by my circumstances.

The last person to finish a race is still a finisher, same as the person who came in first.

The fact that I’m getting out in the heat and humidity means I’m trying . . .

I read the following quote in my Bible study book:

I’m going to print this, laminate it, and display it prominently in my classroom as a reminder to my students and to myself.

One small snafu in my workout plans happened when the new ear buds the Mr. gave me for Christmas stopped working the DAY we left for his surgery.  I was not very happy; monkey wrenches and I do not get along.

I called the company because they were still under warranty, and the representative I talked to was extremely helpful as he explained the return policy.  After emailing him a copy of my receipt, he confirmed that my pair was still covered.  He then sent me a pre-paid mailing label to print out with detailed instructions on how to package them up.  I had them in the mail the day we got home from the hubby’s non-surgery.  I got a new pair in the mail on Monday . . .

I absolutely love these ear buds.  Even though I’d purchased an Apple watch a few weeks ago, it doesn’t do a good job tracking my heart rate when I lift weights.  I had done some research about this and discovered that the reason is that your blood vessels constrict when you work out, so it’s hard to keep a consistent and accurate heart rate on the watch.  The ear buds check your pulse through your ears.

Now, I will say that the power cut out on me three times yesterday when I was walking / working out, which was not good at all.  I’m going to track the issues and, if necessary, return them again.  Ugh.

One thing I learned while I didn’t have my ear buds was that I could still use the Record app, which is done by Under Armour.  My Apple watch connects to it via Bluetooth, so I can start workouts from either my phone or my watch (the app also installs on the watch) and track things there.  MyFitnessPal (my food app) receives the workout information from the Record app.  This has led me to believe that you can use the Record app with any Bluetooth enabled tracker.  Interesting, eh?  Oh, and I used my regular iPhone ear buds while I waited for the Under Armour ones to arrive, and I still got updates about my progress (calories and distance) from the Record app.  So cool!

One other thing I’ve been doing over here in the land of Auburnchick has been eating out with the Mr.

One day, he texted and asked about dinner.  Here’s what I sent him . . .

He wanted to know if I wanted to meet one of the guys he works with.  He even mentioned Mexican food, my favorite.

Thirty minutes later, the transformation was complete . . .

Forget the Today Show makeover.  All I needed was a straightener and my own makeup.

Last week, we visited an one of our favorite restaurants, Bonefish Grill.  We had not been there since I was in my boot . . . way back in January.  I wore a new shirt, which the Mr. had ordered for me.  Bonefish Grill has the kind of ambience you’d wear it to . . .

The back just makes this shirt . . .

What a lovely dinner too . . .

Don’t be hatin’

Edamame and the House Salad for me.  I can’t exactly remember what the Mr. got, but he was very happy.

There’s still more I could update you on, but this post is way too long already.  I’ll have to save the rest for another post (or two or three).

Choices

It’s summer break, as I might have said a time or two in recent days.

Part of my routine has been to read . . . as often as I can (in between working out, PT, and household chores).

I brought home a pile of books from my classroom library, but I have also ordered a few . . .

I’ve been wanting to read this for a couple of years now; however, I found that I couldn’t locate it at the end of the school year, so off to Amazon I went.  One of my students did her final project on this book.  I hope it’s as good as my kiddos keep telling me.

I had another book delivery a couple of days ago . . .

Thanks to Rebecca for raving over the first couple of books in the Jenny Han series.  I actually had the first two (the one pictured above is the first in the series), but again, one of the books magically “walked” off by the end of the year.

I saw the book, Wonder, on a friend’s Instagram feed and knew, after reading a synopsis of it, that I had to order it.  I suspect that it will become one of my read alouds this next school year.

I am not sure if I’ll get through all of the books that I brought home, but I certainly don’t lack for choices!

Celebrating Readers

My students continue to impress me with the rate at which they are finishing books.  It seems like a day doesn’t pass when a student stands in front of me and announces the end to another story.

I love hearing them explain why they liked certain characters over others, or why the stories touched their hearts.

As you can see in the picture below, Kwame Alexander continues to be a favorite for my boys, while Jennifer Brown is reigning supreme for the girls.  The Bluford series is also popular with the kids who aren’t exactly in love with reading or get intimated by larger books.

Oh, and the gal who read Lucy in the Sky?  She read Go Ask Alice a week or two ago.  This gal is on a roll!!!

When Boys Read

I teach a LOT of boys.  In fact, my last block of the day is currently comprised of 15 boys and four girls.  Until Friday of the week before, that number was 17 boys and four girls.  This doesn’t even count the young men in my other three classes.

It can be challenging to find books suited to them; young adult fiction seems to be permeated with “girly” books.

As a result, I’ve been searching really hard for books that will appeal to the young men who grace my classroom each day.  Kids are good at fake reading; many don’t actually finish books but float from one to another because they lose interest quickly.

Thus it is that I’m especially excited when one of my guys announces that he’s finished a book.

This past week, TWO of them did just that, and I had to capture photos.

I’m extra fond of the young man on the left (don’t tell my other students this).  I taught his sister two years ago; she’s a senior this year.  I really like teaching siblings!

He LOVED the book you see pictured.  It’s about a boy who is the only Muslim student in his school.  Tensions run high with the profiling that naturally accompanies such immigrants, and the lead character in the story finds himself in a quandary about how to come to terms when a federal investigation is launched against his father.

My student told me that he felt like it was incredibly relevant to what’s going on in the world today.

Cha-ching!  Connections made.  A teacher’s dream.

The guy on the right, another sweetie with an easy smile, picked up Code Talker after I gave a book talk about it.  He remembered his father mentioning this topic in passing one day.  The book is about the group of Navajos serving in the Navy during World World II who were tapped to send messages to one another in their native language while overseas.  They saved a lot of American lives because of this special task.

I’ve wanted to read this book for awhile.  I’m such a history buff.

Although my student liked the content itself, he said that parts of the story were a little boring.  I was so proud of him for not giving up on the book and seeing it through to the end.  As a result, he’s got background knowledge that might come in handy one day.

Cha-ching! Another teacher’s dream.

My biggest hope for my students is that they will become life-long readers.  With each book that is opened and each story devoured, my kids are certainly one step closer!

Doing Christmas Stress-Free

Look…a second post in one week!

Go Me!

So, it’s Tuesday night.  I’ve officially been on Christmas vacation since 12:30 on Friday.

I’ve got to say that I think this is going to be one of my more relaxed Christmases in a while.  I think that the primary reason is because I’ve become very purposeful about balancing work and home.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating because I tend to be a slow learner and, I suspect, one or two of you might be as well.  Overachievers tend to gravitate toward one another, don’t you know.

Friday evening, before the Mr. and I went to dinner, I did a little DIY project and replaced Rooster’s bedroom door handles.

The door had quit latching, and the dogs were pushing their way in uninvited and lounging in his room when he wasn’t there.  Fortunately, a couple of summers ago, I’d ordered a slew of new door handles but had not installed all of them.  This was a rather fast and easy job.

The Mr. and I spent a few hours on Saturday shopping.  Although it was very cold and our mall is outside, we were able to flit in and out of stores fairly quickly.  We lucked out on a few great sales…one-day only affairs…and picked up nearly the remainder of the items on our list.

We also visited World Market, which had moved from town to the beach a year or so ago.  I love this store but haven’t gotten to shop there ever since it relocated.  I came back with a couple of different vegan/non-dairy teas and a vegan hot chocolate mix.  The hot chocolate…delicious!!!!  Look how frothy it got in the hot chocolate maker that the in-laws gave me for Christmas two or three years ago.  The mug?  It was a souvenir I picked up during our 2011 Alaskan cruise.

I got down to work wrapping, fortified with hot chocolate and football bowl games.

I only got nine presents done before we headed out to dinner, and I was too tired to continue after we got back.

After church and lunch the next day, I sat down and wrapped…for four or five hours…while finishing up recorded episodes of Arrow.  For the record, can the show’s writers please let the good guys be happy for longer than thirty seconds?  Oh, my heart.

I finished wrapping all but three or four gifts…items we were either trying to purchase accompanying items for or items we had to fully purchase.  Still, I was pleased.  The last few years, my Christmas spirit has been lacking, as has my energy, and the Mr. has had to do our wrapping for us.

Not so, this year!  Despite fighting the crud, STILL, I’ve been pacing myself, doing what I can when I can, resting when I need to, and resuming tasks when I feel up to it.  I even managed to add pretty ribbons this this year’s packages…sparkly additions that the Mr. doesn’t include.

I finished the last few presents tonight, and everything is loaded into bags and ready to be placed in the car in the morning when we depart for Bigger City, Florida, where the rest of our family resides.  We are leaving our pups in the care of a young man who puppy-sits/house-sits when we travel.

Another way I’ve kept the last few days stress-free is by reading.

I’m feeling like a bit of a cheat because I’ve got about four books going right now.  I have NEVER done this before; however, every time I order a new book, I have a burning desire to dive in.

Two books I’m focusing heavily on right now are Library of Souls, by Ransom Riggs (the third in the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series) and Wrestling with Wonder, by Marlo Schalesky.

Library of Souls is as strange as its predecessors.  At first, I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I’ve slowly been drawn in, as I was with the other two books in this series.  I was moved when I read one thing in particular last night…

Jacob is a young boy who, in the first book, accidentally discovers a “loop” that takes him to a world unseen where the same day gets repeated over and over.  The children in this loop have special powers, and they are trying to stay hidden from such things as wights and hollowgasts.  Jacob learns that his grandfather was a part of this world.  Jacob becomes immersed in it and the battle to keep the kids, who he’s befriended, safe.

In the third book, he’s trying to rescue the kids and their caretakers, ancient women, from the people who have kidnapped them.  The process challenges his confidence in his own special abilities, which he’s discovered as the reader follows the story.

I love the excerpt above which maintains that we humans have many talents but miss out on them because we only nurture one or two.

How true is this?!  I know this is probably due to time constraints and the busy lives we lead, but I wonder how much of this isn’t also related to the lack of confidence we possess.  How many times have we thought that we couldn’t do something when, in reality, we haven’t either tried or have given up after trying once or twice?

I need to ponder on this more.

The other book that is really touching my heart right now is Wrestling with Wonder, which I discovered when I read a series of devotions about Mary in my Bible app.  I loved this devotion series so much that I had to buy the book.

It.  Is.  Amazing.

The author delves into the story of Jesus from Mary’s perspective.  As a mother, I can identify with this viewpoint.

Here’s what’s different though.  So many times the traditional stories from the Bible…the annunciation…Mary’s visit with Elizabeth…the birth of Jesus…are all told in such a way that everything is happy, clean, and all glowy.

These scenes are told in words Mary might have used.  Can you imagine being told you are pregnant…before you’ve had sex and gotten married to the man you’re engaged to?  Can you imagine traveling on a donkey or camel when you’re days away from giving birth…how uncomfortable that must have been?  I, personally, cannot imagine giving birth in a stinky barn without a person there who had some medical knowledge.

All of these events are considered blessings, though, and they are, but they happen in circumstances that are the farthest from ideal that you can get.

THIS is why I am loving this book so much.  Life often isn’t pretty.  There is so much sadness…so much heartbreak…so many challenging times.  Yet, God considers us blessed when we endure the events that hurt our hearts and test our faith.

My reading…setting goals (I want to finish both books before the break is over) and being purposeful about setting aside time to read each day…is keeping me centered and helping me indulge in activities that make me happy…that quiet my soul.

A third way I’m doing Christmas stress-free is by exercising.

I keep harping on this, but you need to hear the message.

Working out releases endorphin.  Endorphin gives you a natural high.  You get the satisfaction of having completed something that is good for you.

Although I hurt my rotator cuff when I started Piyo a few months ago, I’m pushing myself through that…through the crud that is still hanging on (hello runny nose that will not stop)…through the soreness from the crosses and jabs that I’m improving my form on.

Despite having to stop today’s video at least three times to catch my breath, I pushed through, as I do each time I work out.  This time I spend each day helps me burn calories and maintain a shape that keeps me mentally happy.

Today’s 40-minute workout…LOADS of calories evaporated…

The videos will be traveling with me, and I will be getting up at o’dark thirty to exercise before everyone else gets up.  I need this time to myself (or with Chicky, who mentioned that she wants to work out with me).

Living life purposely focused on things that are most important is becoming my mantra.  Not allowing myself to feel pressured to be all, do all, and go all places or participate in all things has lifted a huge burden from my shoulders and given me a sense of peace.  I think this is why I’m feeling a bit more Christmas spirit in my heart these days and why I’m especially able to enjoy my time away from work.

Books I Read in 2014

I read.

A lot.

It’s kind of part of my job, but it’s a task I don’t mind.

Because I teach high school remedial reading, it’s important that I know the plots of books that might interest my students.  This knowledge helps me recommend books according to individual students’ needs.

Having read the books myself lends credibility to my recommendations.

I also tend to get a bit excited about books, and that feeling transfers to what are usually reluctant readers.

I keep track of my books on Goodreads.  If you’ve never used this site, run to it, set up your free account, and post your own reviews.

During 2014, I was able to finish reading 59 books.  I read thirteen of those books during my summer break.

Click to embiggen

Favorites that stood out:

All of Jennifer Brown’s books.  Seriously.  Bitter End made me cry.  Thousand Words needs to be read by every single middle and high schooler.  Seriously.

Neal Shusterman’s Bruiser also made me cry.  I fear that I have become a sap in my middle age.  The message of this book is poignant.  I might do this as a lengthy read aloud next year.

Unbroken…this will forever be in my top ten of biographies.  I cannot wait to see the movie!!!

Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver series was beautifully crafted, as was her Scorpio Races book.  Ahmazing (spelling purposely skewed for effect).

Positive, by Paige Rawl made me cry…several times…and angered my mama heart for this gentle young woman.  I am currently reading this to my students, and you should hear the discussions we are having!  This is the true story of a young woman, now currently twenty years old, who was born with HIV.  She was tormented by bullies until she finally found her voice.  I adore her…her courage…her classiness through what would normally have people cursing.  You must add it to your reading list.

Now, I have to say that I did not enjoy a few of the books I read.

NOS4A2…a horror-like ditty that had a decidedly inappropriate feel to it.  I had purchased it for my classroom but threw it in the trash after I finished.

Matched was good.  The other two books in the series were not.

The same thing happened with Wither.  This book was good.  The other two were not.  The term sister wives will forever make me want to puke.

Surprisingly, I did not enjoy the book Heaven is for Real.  I felt like the father, the author of the book, spent more time talking about himself than was necessary.  The point of the book was that his son glimpsed heaven.  I think that there wasn’t enough material to justify an entire book so he filled in.

Wendy Corsi Staub’s books drove me nuts.  The story lines were good.  Her usage of verb tenses was horrid.  I won’t read any more of her books.

The Duff had a good message but was too explicit for me.  I’m still debating whether or not I’ll put it back in my classroom.

The same goes for Looking for AlaskaI hated the first half of this book but enjoyed the latter third.  Still, a few of the scenes had me picking my jaw off the floor.  There are ways for writers of young adult fiction to let their readers know that teenage characters are engaging in sexual activities without describing those activities in detail.  Sheesh.

That, my friends, are just a few of my thoughts.

I’m eager to see what I can finish in 2015.

Dear Allison van Diepen

Dear Allison van Diepen,

It’s just your #fangirl, Auburnchick, with a little shout-out to one of the best YA authors around!

I wanted to share a story that I thought would make you smile.

First of all, you may remember that we exchanged emails in the spring after I wrote you to tell you how one of my students fell in love with The Vampire Stalker.  I blogged about it here.

I’m thrilled to tell you that I am raising another group of van Diepen fans in this year’s classes.

Today, when my sixth period class entered my room, one of my girls, “A,” stopped me and said, “Mrs. Auburnchick, I finished my book!”

I excitedly asked her to tell me the title.  I teach sixty students and often forget who has which book.

She proudly pulled out a copy of Snitch.

Our conversation continued:  “Mrs. Auburnchick, I’m going to have to read it again,” she said.

“Oh really,” I said.  “Did you enjoy it that much?”

She responded, “Well, parts of it confused me, so I need to read it over.”

My.

Jaw.

Dropped.

You see, I teach high school Intensive Reading.  I provide reading instruction to students who need extra support so they can pass our state reading exam and, thus, graduate.

For a student to recognize that he/she didn’t understand something and to take it further by coming up with a plan to improve comprehension is HUGE.  It’s what I, as a reading teacher, strive for.

The conversation didn’t end there.

She said, “I want to do research.”

I asked the obvious question, “Research about what?”

She said, “What made her write about gangs and drugs.”

Oh.

My.

Word.

I’m sorry, but in my world, students do not often research such things unless a grade depends on it.

#realtalk

I was beyond floored.

She asked me for help, and I told her we would work on it during the class’s silent reading time.

You should have seen her eagerness as we did bell work and fluency.

She sat on the edge of her chair and held up her book a couple of times…just as a reminder.

Finally, it was time, and I told her to pull up a chair.

The first thing we did was pull up your website.

She.

Was.

Amazed.

She immediately decided that the next book she wants to read is Takedown, which I own.

Duh.  I am, after all, a #fangirl.

Then, we started looking for information that would explain why you wrote the book Snitch.

We got distracted by the study guide we found, and I printed it out for her.  I told her that if she answered the questions from the guide, to check for comprehension, I would give her bonus points on a test.

She was thrilled.

Next, I asked her if she had Twitter and told her how awesome you are about responding to Tweets.

Her mom is somewhat strict and doesn’t allow her to Tweet.

#proudteacher

Still, she really wanted to ask you a question…immediately.

So, I pulled up my Twitter account…for educational purposes (in case Big Brother is reading).

I showed her how I “follow” you, and I typed my question.

You haven’t responded as of this writing.

I forgive you.

You have a family to take care of.

Just don’t wait too long.

I promised I’d share your response with her.

😉

Next, I suggested that she find you on Facebook.

Don’t be surprised if A starts following you there.

As we sat, she told me how she loved that you wrote poetry for the book, and that she connected to it personally because she likes to write poetry too.

Ms. van Diepen, do you know how monumental this is?

We have been working on making connections when we read…something struggling readers have to be taught explicitly to do.

Oh word, but my teacher heart was overjoyed!

Then, she spoke words that I insisted she share with you on Facebook.

She said,

She makes me want to write a book.

I.

Kid.

You.

Not.

Take a look at the sticky note I used to record her words…

Ms. van Diepen,

Thank you for writing relevant teen fiction.

Does it have cursing.

Yes.

Does it talk about gangs, drugs, and turf wars?

Yep.

Do my kids want to keep reading more and more?

A-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y.

It’s not because of the cursing, although that makes it more authentic.

It’s because of the subject matter and the way you paint realistic pictures.

Students think, when they enter my room, that they don’t like to read.

They quickly discover, through in-touch writers like yourself, that they’ve never had the right books placed in their hands.

Please keep doing what you’re doing.

You are making a difference in countless children’s lives by fueling a fire that feeds what I hope will develop into a lifelong passion for reading.

Sincerely,

Auburnchick

P.S.  I like the old cover of Snitch much better than the new one…grabs the kids’ attention.  You should tell your publishers this.  😉

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