Monday, October 11, 2010

Since I am the suck...

I am the suck. Seriously, I haven't posted in three weeks. I am a complete and utter blogging bum. You should not read my pathetic excuse for honesty and ass kicking.

Since I am the suck, I would like to provide you with some funny things that I've learned from my students:
(1) Do not eat out your pudding cup. This will give you a pudding goatee.
(2) If you threaten to vomit or you cry, most teachers will let you postpone your quiz. (Since I am on to this scam, I just give them a trash can or kleenex accordingly.)
(3) The shadow on the dude with just one sock in Liberty Leading the People is the guy's junk. You ought not obsess over it.
(4) Glee is inappropriate viewing for sixth graders, but eighth graders watch Tosh.O and read Stephen King.
(5) You! should! use! an! exclamation! mark! whenever! you! feel! so! moved! It! is! fun! to! feel! like! you! are! being! shouted! at!!!
(6) If you give sixth graders a potted flower as a class pet, they will take very good care of it since it clearly has a personality.
(7) "50 Nifty United States" continues to rock the hizzy.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The difference between 6th, 7th, and 8th graders

The difference between 6th, 7th, and 8th graders was illustrated today during my College Week discussions with my students. The topic du jour was "discuss what clubs, sports, or organizations you participated in at college." I briefly explained to my students that I was in marching band, basketball band, concert band, and Tau Beta Sigma.

To this, the sixth graders asked if I could show them what marching looks like.

The seventh graders asked about other clubs or organizations, and whether or not they existed in college. One asked, is there a robotics club? My answer? Yes, it's called being an engineering major.

Finally, the eighth graders asked if I got hazed and what clubs had hazing. Did I know of anyone made to bathe in barf or drink disgusting things?

That, my readers, illustrates the differences between kids at the middle grades.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Books I put down

I read for plot. Seriously, if I get within about 100 pages of the end of a novel, I generally can't sleep until I know what happens to the characters. So, if I can't get through an entire book, there must be something terribly wrong with it!

To save you all some time, here are a few books that I put down and a few words on why:

Band of Angels by Julia Gregson
This historical fiction novel follows Catherine from her carefree childhood in Wales to her time as a nurse during the Crimean War. I put it down for several reasons:
(1) There wasn't enough romance. I understand that she couldn't stick with her childhood sweetheart, Deio, for the whole novel, but there needed to be some sort of letter writing or pining.
(2) It became clear to me that Catherine was going to get raped. I just didn't have the heart for this one.
(3) It was awfully graphic, but not terribly interesting. I don't mind some interesting nasty-ness, but just plain, boring nasty-ness is unacceptable.

Cocktails for Three by Madeline Wickham
According to Ventress Memorial Library, this book is about the following:
"At the first of every month, when the office has reached its pinnacle of hysteria, Maggie, Roxanne, and Candice meet at London's swankiest bar for an evening of cocktails and gossip. Here, they chat about what's new at The Londoner, the glossy fashion magazine where they all work, and everything else that's going on in their lives. Or almost everything. Beneath the girl talk and the laughter, each of the three has a secret. And when a chance encounter at the cocktail bar sets in motion an extraordinary chain of events, each one will find their biggest secret revealed."
I think I put this book down because I got through two chapters and just did not care. That's it. It just wasn't at all interesting.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
My one of my favorite musicals, Wicked, was based off of this popular novel by Gregory Maguire. I generally like fantasy novels, so I thought I'd give this best seller a try. I wish I hadn't. I have a hard time pinning down why I didn't like it, but here are a few reasons:
(1) The fluency was awfully choppy. Awkward sentences are really awkward.
(2) It was dark. I understand that it is meant to be the darker sister to the Wizard of Oz series, but it was mostly depressing.
(3) The details were confusing. As I taught my sixth graders today, exposition is very important in the fantasy genre. This is because you need to provide plenty of details so that your readers can construct your alternative reality in their mind. I spent about 150 pages wondering when I would figure out what was going on.
I ended up putting it down for good after trying to read this novel for three months. It was by far my most disappointing put-down to date.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Awesome Austin Action

My bestie from high school lives far, far away in snowy New England. When she visits NTX, she has to split her time between family, work, and friendship obligations. So, she bought a plane ticket to ATX and invited her girlfriends for a labor day vacation.

Despite my Sooner-sized reservations about Austin in general, I accepted her invitation because I love to spend time with her. Her tour of Austin definitely changed my opinion of the city. I had an amazing time, and I plan to take my husband back next spring when we have some time.

Would you like to visit Austin? I recommend the following hotels / restaurants / activities:

Radisson Hotel and Suites-Austin Town Lake: Newly remodeled, the Radisson has the best view of the Congress Street Bats from their "Batio." The room rates are reasonable if negotiated online ($250 for a double occupancy for three nights over Labor Day weekend). Parking costs $15 a day, but if you have multiple cars you can use your room key over and over if you pay through the front desk (shh... don't tell!).

Friday Night

-McCormick and Schmick's: After getting in late because you worked a full-day, I suggest dinner at McCormick and Schmick's. If you sit at the bar, you can partake in their unique "Happy Hour." Instead of drink discounts, you can buy $1.95 bar food with the purchase of a cocktail. I recommend the fish tacos for quantity of food for the price. Really, at under two dollars an entree, you can't get too wound up with the taste!

-Breakfast at Kerby Lane: This famous Austin eatery has many locations. I suggest one further away from UT in order to avoid waiting in a line. Their breakfast foods are fantastic! If you can stomach the thought of queso in the morning, then get the Cowboy queso. It is white queso with black beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo. Yum!

-Picnic lunch from Whole Foods at Barton Springs: Walk off your massive breakfast by shopping for your picnic lunch! Be sure to bring your reusable grocery sack because you will probably end up with a feast of foods from their salad bar and prepared lunch area. I personally enjoyed mixed veggies dipped in tzatziki sauce, a feta and olive blend, spinach salad, tuna salad, and strawberries. I found the picnic potato salad to be uninspiring. Be sure to avoid stubbing your toe as you leave the Whole Foods parking garage because I can tell you from personal experience that it will put a damper on potential swimming plans.

If you are lacking in reading material for lying in the sun, I highly suggest a quick stop-off at Half-Price Books to pick up something to read. The water at Barton Springs is quite chilly, so you'll want something to entertain yourself as you sit in the sun to get nice and toasty. You'll have to pay cash for parking ($3) and for entry to the pool ($2?). It is a natural spring fed pool that will provide you with plenty of excitement paddling in the cold water and people watching.

-Afternoon Snack: You'll want to cool off with a tasty treat as you head out of Barton Springs. Luckily, there is a good pay-by-the-ounce frozen yogurt place just down the road.

-Late Afternoon Kayaking: By this time, you're well rested, so it is time to get back out on the town! Head to the Texas Rowing Center to rent a kayak or two. I personally suggest kayaking for $10/single kayak for an hour. Kayaking is fun, but you don't want to over-do it on your vacation! It is neat to be kayaking in the middle of the city with the Austin skyline in full view.

-Dinner at Manuels: You've gone back to your hotel and gotten gussied up. You're ready for a night on the town, and I suggest starting with some Mexican food. This trendy restaurant is an easy walk from the Radisson. Their Mexican martinis and enchiladas verdes were worth every penny. Our concierge also gave us a coupon for free nachos (thanks dude!), which were basically the solid version of Kerby Lane's cowboy queso. Muy delicioso!

-Drinks at Cuba Libre: If you're not the 6th Street type, then you might feel like your after dinner options are limited in Austin. Never fear! I suggest stopping at this Cuban club for an authentic mojito or two. You can finish off your evening wandering around the vibrant city center.

-Watching the bats: If you're in Austin in the late summer or fall, you might take a break from taking in the city life to watch the Congress Street bats. It is a pretty crazy ecological wonder.

-Breakfast at Juan in a Million: This eatery of Man Versus Food fame serves up the most amazing breakfast tacos at astonishingly low prices. It is about a five minute drive east on Cesar Chavez from the hotel. I recommend the Don Juan breakfast taco with extra tortillas. With a >20% tip, I still only spent $8.

-Take a morning stroll: Your hotel is along a lovely trail. Take some time to talk to your traveling buddy (whether platonic or romantic) while enjoying a stroll along Town Lake.

-Lunch at County Line: Before you head out of town, you need to take some time to eat some Texas BBQ! Head out to County Line and order your favorite BBQ treat. I honored my husband by ordering his fav--a pulled pork sandwich--and I was not disappointed. We also enjoyed a half-loaf of their homemade bread. The bonus of the meal is that it is located along a river and has a lovely view.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I am a lover and a fighter.

I am a lover and a fighter.
I wonder how anyone can feel that ignorance is bliss.
I hear children’s brains growing when they read a good book.
I see a future of peace in the faces of my students.
I want more time in each day for doing God’s good work.
I am a lover and a fighter.

I pretend to be serious in front of my students (unsuccessfully).
I feel enthusiastic about the future.
I touch the hearts of my students (hopefully).
I worry that they’ll take their lives for granted.
I cry because my brother never made it past seventh grade.
I am a lover and a fighter.

I understand that I can’t save them all.
I say that I am thick skinned.
I dream that I’ll be there for them when they need it the most.
I try to make a difference in the world one student at a time.
I hope to leave my mark on the hearts of my students.
I am a lover and a fighter.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Something I'd try to make if I had the time...

This I Believe

If you don't know me personally, you might not understand why I might disappear here for a week or two. You see, I'm a teacher, and it is the first week back to school. On top of that, I'm taking a graduate class every Tuesday.

The point being, I might not be able to offer anything too scintillating for the next little while as I get into the groove of things. In the meantime, please enjoy this short little introduction essay that I wrote tonight for class. It is a direct nod to the NPR series, This I Believe, of which I am a major fan.

This I Believe

This I believe: Gifted people exist. Many teachers that I meet are dismissive of the concept of gifted and talented programs. They assume that these students just work really hard, or that they are going to succeed anyway. These teachers ask, “why bother to give gifted students special treatment?” I respond with “why wouldn’t you want to provide every student the educational experiences that they need?”

The challenge in combating these notions about giftedness lies in defining giftedness. The most accepted definitions of giftedness are generally difficult to measure in a quantitative manner. Furthermore, the Federal Government allows each state to adopt their programs for gifted students, and the State of Texas allows each school district to decide ultimately how to identify and serve their students. Depending on where a student lives, he or she may or may not be considered gifted by the school system.

I do believe that, with careful consideration, we can identify gifted individuals for service. I believe that a combination of objective and subjective measures ought to be employed. Although tests like the CogAT and ITBS can be used to measure cognitive abilities and academic achievement, these tests do not tell the whole story for students who have different cultural backgrounds, first languages other than English, or learning challenges. By utilizing work samples, teacher and parent inventories, and observation, a gifted and talented screening committee can begin to piece together a whole picture of a child’s cognitive life.

In order to make decisions about service, I believe that educators of the gifted need to closely examine each student’s strengths. If a gifted student exhibits strengths in non-verbal reasoning, then he or she ought to be provided an opportunity to build on that strength through curriculum enrichment. If a gifted student exhibits strengths in quantitative reasoning, then a curriculum that enriches verbal skills may not best serve his or her academic best interest.

Finally, I believe that educators of the gifted should reevaluate their students’ placement and service plan on a regular basis. Like in special education, if a student no longer requires special educational and social interventions, then he or she should be placed back into the least restrictive environment possible. There is not point in isolating a student when he or she does not need special intervention, so it is essential to consider the use of reevaluations throughout the course of a student’s school career.

All students have a right to an academic environment that best meets their learning needs, even gifted students. This I believe.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Deep-dish Mexican Meatloaf Pie

Every once in a while, my husband will read one of my many home and garden magazines (sent to me in a conspiracy hatched by my mom and mother-in-law to make me settle down). Usually, this results in a clipped recipe stuck to the vent hood with a magnet. It's a habit that just started, and I generally enjoy the challenges left by my honey.

Deep-dish Mexican Meatloaf Pie found its way onto my vent hood a few weeks ago. I bought all of the ingredients for it the next week, but I realized that we didn't get ground beef! Why? We had recently bought 6 pounds of beef from Costco, and I figured we were golden. The problem? We had browned all 6 pounds of beef because it freezes better cooked. In the wise words of my sister, "that would make one DRY pie!" My husband finally broke down and acquired raw beef a few days ago.

Tonight, a weird thing happened. I had a late meeting at school, and called home to check on things. I suggested that my dearest start putting together the ingredients for the pie. When I got home, I expected a work in progress. Instead, I found him sitting at the kitchen table working while the pie cooked in the oven.

For those of you who know me personally, you probably know that this is epic! It isn't because my husband doesn't love me, or that he won't cook. Really, he'd be happy to help out all of the time. No, the problem is that he can take hours to cook a fairly simple recipe because he's such a stickler for detail.

The final verdict? This is an easy recipe that tastes fantastic, if you like spicy, beefy goodness.

1 1/4 lb. raw ground beef (90% lean)
1 cup finely crushed tortilla chips
1 envelope onion soup mix (1/2 2-oz. pkg.)
3/4 bottled taco sauce
2 eggs lightly beaten and divided
1 8.8-oz. pouch cooked Spanish-style rice (Uncle Ben's Ready Rice)
1 15.5-oz. can golden hominy, rinsed and drained
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese (4 oz)
1/2+ cup chopped jalapeno
1/4 fresh cilantro
black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Combine beef, chips, soup mix, 1/2 cup of taco sauce, 1 beaten egg, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper.
  3. Press meat concoction into the bottom and sides of a 10 inch pie plate or comparably-sized casserole dish.
  4. Heat rice according to package directions.
  5. Combine rice, hominy, tomatoes, cheese, jalapeno, cilantro, 1/4 cup taco sauce, and 1 egg.
  6. Spoon rice concoction into the "meat shell."
  7. Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes.
  8. Uncover, and bake 20 minutes.
  9. Let cool.
  10. Serve topped with chips and jalapenos.
  11. Eat and enjoy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Netflix Review: A State of Mind

I've recently become addicted to Netflix. I am very partial to the streaming feature. I find that the lack of commitment required when streaming a movie makes me a lot more adventurous than I would be if I were renting or getting a DVD shipped to me. In fact, we've turned off quite a few movies including Revolution OS and Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts.

One movie that Jeff and I would not turn off was A State of Mind. It is a documentary filmed in isolated North Korea. It was one of the only Western film crews to be allowed access north of the 39th parallel since the end of the Korean War.

The movie follows two middle school aged gymnasts preparing for the astonishingly lavish Mass Games, the communist party's celebration of the collective self. Following the girls through their astonishing daily lives would have been entertaining enough. However, the film crew happened to have access to the girls and their families during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. So, they unexpectedly caught some very candid reactions of the North Koreans to the aggressive acts of the United States.

The video quality is poor, probably because of the access to technology that the film makers had and the effects of streaming the converted movie. The film does have some stunning visual moments where the tragic reality of everyday life for the North Koreans is juxtaposed with the audio overlay of someone lauding their way of life. These girls really believe that they live in the best place on earth.

One interesting element of the movie is that one can assume the North Korean government made sure to select two girls who came from families and backgrounds that they wanted to show off in the West. They even went so far as to send the girls on a special "field trip" pilgrimage to a site that is practically holy in North Korea. I assume school girls do not ordinarily get free train trips for their educations. It was very telling.

Ultimately, this documentary exposes just a little bit about a country that George W. Bush feared enough to label as a part of the Axis of Evil. You can see that the people there are human and fragile, just like us. Most of all, their lives have been molded by the information they have been fed through their educations. You cannot blame them for hating the West, when our government has done enough wrong for their revolutionary history classes to paint the US as their axis of evil. I felt a sense of pity that they are not allowed to learn all sides of a story the way we may in the US.

I encourage you to watch A State of Mind in order to help open yours further to the realities of the world in which we live.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sophia Kinsella: REMIX!

I totally forgot to include my most recent read by Sophia Kinsella in my guide to her chick lit. Eep! I'm letting you all down. Without further ado, here's a review:

Twenties Girl

Basic premise: Lara Lington has always lived in the shadow of her wildly successful uncle--think a British version of Starbucks. Now, she is being shadowed by the very bossy ghost of her great aunt, Sadie. Lara is forced to search for Sadie's favorite necklace, and in the process she learns a lot about love, life, and lies.

Unique plot element: An irritating ghost

Read it if: You generally like Sophia Kinsella, or you like the 20's.

Don’t read it if: You find the notion of being haunted by a ghost too absurd.

What I think: Twenties Girl could have been much shorter. If it had been, then maybe Lara and Sadie wouldn't have been so grating of a duo. They are both awfully self-absorbed and nonsensical. However, once the book nears the climax, you are taken on a wild ride of discoveries about Sadie's past. I rather enjoyed the last 100 pages.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 shopping bags

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Strange motivator

When I am really struggling with my work for graduate school, I mentally imagine how bad ass I will look in my cap, gown, and (most importantly) hood.

Do you have any strange motivations that help you power through?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A shopaholic's guide to Sophia Kinsella

British author, Sophia Kinsella of Confessions of a Shopaholic fame, writes fairly prolifically in the chick-lit genre. Her witty voice can leave you rolling on the floor. Although the Shopaholic series struggles with being formulaic--really, can Becky Bloomwood really grow so much throughout one novel only to regress so badly for the next?--the rest of her novels each have a slightly different plot twist that leave you wanting to know what she will do to resolve the conflicts.

Personally, if the only exposure you've had to Sophia Kinsella is Confessions of a Shopaholic, then you're missing out on her best work. If you saw the atrocious excuse for a movie, then you really ought to give her a second chance.

"Where to start?" you ask. Never fear, this Wise Lady is here for you!

Confessions of a Shopaholic is Sophia Kinsella’s most famous work, I'll use a rating system of shopping bags. One shopping bag indicates a poor showing; five shopping bags indicate a glorious gluttony of pleasure.

Remember Me?

Basic premise: Lexi wakes up in a hospital room in a body that does not exactly appear to be her own with a life that surprises her. She was in a car accident, and cannot remember the last three years of her life. With a new husband, career, style and house, she must discover who she really is.

Unique plot element: Partial memory loss and the feeling that you’re living someone else’s life

Read it if: You think that a career can’t buy you happiness.

Don’t read it if: You’re offended by cheating.

What I think: Remember Me? was mostly entertaining because I really wanted to know what had happened to her in the time she had lost. I did enjoy the twisting turning tale that Kinsella sent her on. I didn’t really connect to the main characters, but that might be because she had a hard time connecting them to herself.

Rating: 3 out of 5 shopping bags

Can You Keep a Secret?

Basic premise: Because Emma Corrigan fears that she is about to die, she confesses some of her most embarrassing secrets to a stranger on a flight. The next day, she turns up at the office to learn that the man was no stranger; he was her new boss! Like a mirror to her face, she must confront her lifestyle of lying and learn from the hilarious experience.

Unique plot element: A world where your boss really knows who you are

Read it if: You do not mind laughing aloud! Seriously, I got stopped by a woman at the hair salon because I was laughing so hard. She wanted to know what I was reading so that she could buy it because I was clearly enjoying it so much.

Don’t read it if: You’re a joy kill? You only like serious books? I am honestly at a loss.

What I think: If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book! When friends ask for recommendations, I almost always suggest Can You Keep a Secret?. I honestly can’t think of a reason a man or woman wouldn’t enjoy this lark of a novel. It is Kinsella’s best comedic work.

Rating: 5 out of 5 shopping bags

Shopaholic Takes Manhattan

Basic premise: Reformed shopaholic Becky Bloomwood moves to Manhattan with her boyfriend Luke. Giving up her profitable career, Becky reverts to her old ways. She must find the perfect career for herself in order to set her life back in order, both personally and financially.

Unique plot element: Shopping in a fashion mecca

Read it if: You like fashion and designers. You yourself love to shop.

Don’t read it if: You do not like to see your favorite heroines revert. You do not care for frivolous spending.

What I think: This book was my favorite of the Shopaholic series. Becky’s struggles seem honest, if silly. More importantly, the way in which she sets her world aright seem completely attainable, unlike the original Shopaholic book. You will enjoy this bok!

Rating: 5 out of 5 shopping bags

Shopaholic Ties the Knot

Basic premise: Twice reformed shopaholic Becky Bloomwood gets engaged to her handsome boyfriend Luke. She finds herself in a pickle trying to plan her wedding in two places.

Unique plot element: Wedding drama and an evil MOG

Read it if: You like all things wedding.

Don’t read it if: You don’t think that weddings should be extravagant.

What I think: I thoroughly enjoyed this book because I love weddings. However, it lacked a bit of believability because the major drama should have been solved by a stronger more even handed Becky. She keeps reverting to her old ways!

Rating: 4 out of 5 shopping bags

Shopaholic and Sister

Basic premise: Becky Brandon (now married to Luke) returns from their extravagant ten month long honeymoon where money was no object, and she participated in a bit of secret spending. She has to come to terms with her new life with Luke. On top of it all, she finds out that she has a long-lost sister.

Unique plot element: Long-lost sister who is nothing like her

Read it if: You love decorating. You really like Becky Bloomwood Brandon and don’t mind seeing her regress.

Don’t read it if: You’re getting tired of Mrs. Brandon’s antics. They will wear thin by this point in the series if you’re not careful.

What I think: I wish I had stopped with Shopaholic Ties the Knot, but I really was enjoying Luke Brandon’s yummy nature. Unfortunately, he isn’t the focal point of the novel, and he has every right to be pissed that Becky wastes her money. Skip this book unless you just really have to know how it all turns out for the Brandons.

Rating: 2 out of 5 shopping bags

Shopaholic and Baby

I haven’t read this one because I was too tired of Becky Bloomwood, and my Shopaholic source—my mom—lost it. I didn’t feel like it was worth my effort after Shopaholic and Sister to go to the library to acquire the final book.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Smutty Vampire Smack Down

My husband is constantly bugging me about why I like vampire stories so much. Is it handsome vampires? Yes. Forbidden love? Yes. Entertaining tales of the supernatural? Yes. The TV show Vampire Diaries gave a pretty complicated answer about vampire fantasy being a way to escape the reality of living during war time. Personally, I'm sticking with the dark and dangerous men.

Are you considering a foray in the world of vampire fiction for the first time? If so, keep reading; I decided to provide a guide to the best and the worst of smutty vampire books, book series, tv shows and movies.

For me, the yardstick for measuring all other vampire worlds is the Sookieverse as presented in the TV show True Blood. It is at once entertaining, compelling, scathing, and well-written. So, I will be ranking these on a scale of one to five bottles of TruBlood. One bottle of TruBlood indicates that it will leave you wanting. Five bottles of TruBlood is a very satisfying meal of smutty vampire fantasy!

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side: A book
Author: Beth Fantaskey
Basic premise: Jessica Packwood was adopted from Romania as a baby. She finds out that she's descendant from a line of royal vampires, and that she has been betrothed to Lucius Vladescu since birth. While she explores her new identity as Antanasia Dragomir, she must decide whether or not to claim her place as the last of a line of Romanian vampire royalty.
Unique characteristics of vampires: They can procreate and walk in the sun.
How to kill a vampire: That's not really important to the book, but most of your standard options apply.
Other supernatural characters include: None.
Read it if: You like the idea of becoming a princess, you think formal manners are attractive, or you like to see vampires as being good.
Don't read it if: You want a lot of action or violence, you want to read a really great book, or you are offended by the idea that a girl has to become a princess and fall in love to truly find herself.
My unscientific suggested age range: 6-12 grades
Rating: 4 out of 5 bottles of TruBlood

Vampire Diaries: The book series
Author: L.J. Smith
Basic premise: Elena Gilbert is the quintessential perfect, popular cheerleader. Her parents die, and she finds herself in a love triangle between two vampire brothers--Stefan and Damon.
Unique characteristics of vampires: If they wear magical jewelry, they can go out into the sunlight. Also, the herb vervain keeps them from being able to compel you and weakens them if they ingest it.
How to kill a vampire: Keep them in the sunlight, burn them, or stake them. Vervain can "disarm" them.
Other supernatural characters include: Witches and their familiars
Read it if: You really, really like vampire books and have run through all other options. Even then, you must have little regard for the written word.
Don't read it if: You need to like characters in books, or you like good literature. This is the only series that I just simply couldn't stand to finish. I can't tell you whether Elena picks Stefan or Damon because I disliked Elena so much that I didn't really care.
My unscientific suggested age range: 8-12 grades
Rating: 1 out of 5 bottles of TruBlood

Vampire Diaries: The TV series
Basic premise: Again, Elena Gilbert is the quintessential perfect, popular cheerleader. Her parents die, and she finds herself in a love triangle between two vampire brothers--Stefan and Damon.
Unique characteristics of vampires: If they wear magical jewelry, they can go out into the sunlight. They are also unusually hot. Seriously. Really... Really.... Hot! Also, the herb vervain keeps them from being able to compel you and weakens them if they ingest it.
How to kill a vampire: Keep them in the sunlight, burn them, or stake them. Vervain can "disarm" them.
Other supernatural characters include: The witches have a chip on their shoulder in regards to vampires. There is also a vampire hunter with a magical ring that protects him from dying.
Watch it if: You like incredibly handsome young actors, love triangles, action, brooding, and high school drama. Also, if you have harbored a long standing crush on Matthew Davis of Blue Crush, you will be so happy that he has quite a bit of screen time.
Don't watch it if: You are offended by teenagers partying, or you want the show to say something deep about society in general.
My unscientific suggested age range: 10th grade on!
Rating: 4 out of 5 bottles of TruBlood

Twilight: The book series
Author: Stephanie Meyer
Basic premise: Mysterious new girl to town, Isabella Swan, is your typical ugly duckling turned beautiful swan (the name is no mistake). Instantly, the mysterious golden-eyed Edward Cullen seems at once attracted and repulsed by her. As they fall madly in love, she realizes that it is a forbidden love because he's a big, bad "vegetarian" vampire who would love nothing more than to eat her (in every way possible).
Unique characteristics of vampires: They sparkle (really?) in the sun, which is why they must dwell in shadowy places or under the cover of night. Their eyes are red if they drink human blood. Their eyes are golden if they drink only animal blood. They are as hard as marble. They are more beautiful in death than in life, and some of them have other supernatural powers.
How to kill a vampire: You have to rip their marbled bodies to shreds and then burn them. Basically, mere humans don't have a chance!
Other supernatural characters include: A lot of people call them werewolves, but they are really shape shifters who turn into wolves. There's apparently a difference, but don't try explaining it to my husband.
Read it if: You love unrequited physical love. The whole book seems to be structured so that you feel like you are Isabella Swan, constantly lying in bed with Edward. This is the most juvenile of the three series, and I would feel most comfortable handing the series to a middle school age student.
Don't read it if: You want to read something that is well-written. What Stephanie Meyer did well was make you want to be Isabella Swan. She took a 150 page story and turned them into 400 page behemoths.
[Spoiler alert]
They don't get together until they're married. So, if you want sex, you'll have to read nearly fifteen-hundred pages to be rewarded.
My unscientific suggested age range: 6-12th grade, except for the fourth book which is sexually explicit. Breaking Dawn is only appropriate for grades 9-12.
Rating: 3 out of 5 bottles of TruBlood

Twilight: The movie series
Basic premise: Again, mysterious new girl to town, Isabella Swan, is your typical ugly duckling turned beautiful swan (the name is no mistake). Instantly, the mysterious golden-eyed Edward Cullen seems at once attracted and repulsed by her. As they fall madly in love, she realizes that it is a forbidden love because he's a big, bad "vegetarian" vampire who would love nothing more than to eat her (in every way possible).
Unique characteristics of vampires: Again, they sparkle like broken glass in the sun, which is why they must dwell in shadowy places or under the cover of night. Their eyes are red if they drink human blood. Their eyes are golden if they drink only animal blood. They are as hard as marble. They are more beautiful in death than in life, and some of them have other supernatural powers.
How to kill a vampire: Turn yourself into a giant wolf, tear it to bits, and burn the bits up.
Other supernatural characters include: The super chiseled shape-shifting wolves. Literally and figuratively, they are the hottest part of the movies.
Watch it if: You like Taylor Lautner. It helps to like long brooding looks and romance instead of action.
Don't watch it if: You want to see good acting, or good computer generated animation. Also, there is quite a bit of mouth breathing going on (I'm talking to you Kristen Stewart). It's pretty annoying.
My unscientific suggested age range: 6th grade on
Rating: 3 out of 5 bottles of TruBlood

The Sookie Stackhouse or The Southern Vampire Mysteries book series
Author: Charlaine Harris
Basic premise: In a world where vampires have "come out of the coffin" because of the advent of synthetic blood, telepathic small-town barmaid, Sookie Stackhouse, falls in love with vampire Bill Compton. She's simply relieved that she can't hear his thoughts. The more she learns about the supernatural world, the crazier things get. Things spiral out of control in sleepy Bon Temps, Louisiana, and beyond.
Unique characteristics of vampires: Certain vampires have special powers like flying. Drinking a vampire's blood creates a blood bond--it allows them to always know where you are and how you feel.
How to kill a vampire: Leave them out to meet the sun, stake them, burn them, tear them up to shreds... Really, this is at once the most and least disturbing world of vampires. They're pretty easy to kill compared to other stories, but they're also extremely brash and out there.
Other supernatural characters include: True shape shifters (they get to pick their form), weres of all sorts (werewolves, werepanthers, weretigers, oh my!), witches and wiccans (please don't ask me to explain the difference), fairies, demons, Britlingens (body guards from another dimension), goblins, and maenads
Read it if: You love a book series that is at once dark and hilarious. You want a heroine with a distinct voice and extraordinary resilience. You love rich alternate realities filled with mythical creatures
Don't read it if: You are turned off by violence or sex. You want it to be a really great work of fiction. You get confused by having a lot of characters. You want a lot of character development. You don't want to read 10 books that leave you wanting more.
My unscientific suggested age range: Adults only!! There is a lot of sex, profanity, drinking, and violence.
Rating: 4 out of 5 bottles of TruBlood

True Blood: TV series
Basic premise: In a world where vampires have "come out of the coffin" because of the advent of synthetic blood, telepathic small-town barmaid, Sookie Stackhouse, falls in love with vampire Bill Compton. She's simply relieved that she can't hear his thoughts. The more she learns about the supernatural world, the crazier things get. Things spiral out of control in sleepy Bon Temps, Louisiana, and beyond.
Unique characteristics of vampires: Certain vampires have special powers like flying. Drinking a vampire's blood creates a blood bond--it allows them to always know where you are and how you feel.
How to kill a vampire: Leave them out to meet the sun, stake them, burn them, tear them up to shreds... Just don't kill Eric!
Other supernatural characters include: So far you have true shape shifters, werewolves, and one seriously messed up maenad
Watch it if: You like Alan Ball's work (think American Beauty). You like a visual orgy of violence, sex, emotion, and mayhem. You can relate to small town life, yet feel a touch repulsed by it. You want to see some incredible actors put into really crazy situations. You love Alexander Skarsgard (I know I do!).
Don't watch it if: You don't want your vampires to be too dark. You want a happy ending for the characters. You are turned off by sex, especially of the homosexual variety. You are unwilling to confront some of the seedy aspects of American culture--prejudice, racism, religion used to the wrong ends, etc.
My unscientific suggested age range: Very adult! HBO definitely is not messing around.
Rating: 5 out of 5 bottles of TruBlood

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Happy Hooker by Debbie Stoller

Anyone who really knows me knows that I am a bit of a potty mouth. So, really, how could I resist a book on crocheting called Stitch 'n Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker? Plus, it was a congratulatory gift from my favorite college professor for presenting at Honors Undergraduate Research Day. You can't look a gift-book in the mouth.

If you want to learn to crochet, to improve your skills, or to add some modern projects to your repertoire, then BUY THIS BOOK! It is informative and funny. It explains everything from the origins of the word hooker--hint: it has to do with poor lace makers looking to make a few extra dollars--to how to work in the round. I have not encountered an instruction that I cannot understand in this book. Better yet, this book is extremely well edited. A lot of crochet patterns are rife with little errors that leave you scratching your head at the end of a round/row because it just doesn't look right. I'm a huge fan of the book.

I've completed a few projects from this book, but I have found my very favorite one! The car seat/stroller blanket with matching beanie ranks as my favorite crochet project(s) to date. I include the plural because I enjoyed it so much I have made multiple different versions. The two projects as a pair make the perfect baby gift for someone you really love, the blanket is great for someone you are close to, and the hat is a quick gift for someone that you like. I've made two hats and three blankets for a total of five babies since May. Unfortunately, it has been a little hot since May, so I have not gotten any personal reviews of my handy-work. I'm sure my sister will let me know in a few months!

I uploaded pictures of my completed projects so that you will be convinced of the genius of this book. If you like the sock monkey appliques, then you really need to buy The Happy Hooker! It is another pattern from the book.

A note for my happy hookers: I did add a second loop to the pattern because it made more sense to me. It was really easy, so if you decide to make this project, let me know and I'll email you my altered instructions.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I hear tale from Wikipedia that this charming little novel has been translated into more languages than any other book by a living author. It was originally written in the 1980's in Portuguese by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. It is an allegorical novel about following your dreams. I read it to see what the fuss was about!

It only took me a day to read The Alchemist. I started it on my 30 minute train ride to class, read during my 15 minute lunch break, and finished it on my 30 minute train ride home. I just had the epilogue left to enjoy from my couch. If you're looking to feel satisfied that you've read good literature (and not a smutty book about vampires), but you're not looking to commit too much time to the effort (because you really want to get back to your smutty book about vampires), then you should pick up this thin delight.

The prose is spare, which doesn't surprise me since it comes from the straightforward, relaxed Brazil. If you like long complicated sentences and challenging vocabulary to make you feel smart, then go read some Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens. I personally love prose that is simplistic, lyrical, and leaves some white space for you to fill in details. It challenges your mind in completely different ways.

The plot itself follows a young Andalusian (that's Southern Spain for you geography neophytes) shepherd who has a dream of great fortune. He gives up his life to follow his dream, meets mystical characters, goes on a great adventure, and finds treasure in unexpected ways.

You'll feel like you've heard the morals to the story before--Follow your dreams! Be open to change! Treasure true love!--but it didn't wear on my nerves. Sometimes, it's good to be reminded of the simple lessons we learned in childhood fairy tales.

For my educator friends, could you use this novel in class? Heck yes! I think portions of the Alchemist could be isolated for short stories and examined for the archetypes and allegorical plot elements. There is no violence, sex, drugs, or explicit language. The spare prose would be a challenge to students in the late middle grades, but it would ultimately be accessible.

So, there you go. Read The Alchemist, feel good about yourself, and get back to reading purely for pleasure. Any recommendations re: smutty vampires?

Post-script: I found out from that Chris Lambton from the Bachelorette loves this book. This doesn't surprise me, since I've got a pretty big crush on this guy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Listen up, women!

I have a major problem with women who think that the education system doesn't systematically subvert women's issues. These women belittle feminism as whining.

My question to them is, have you taken a women's studies class? Have you ever talked to a professional feminist?

I have. My favorite college professor specialized in American and Women's Studies. She was a single, lesbian woman bending gender roles. When I told her that I wanted to be a teacher (traditional), get married (traditional), and have a family (traditional), she was delighted for me. She knew that I was not "selling myself short." When I completed a project on quilting as art, she encouraged me to present my research.

I get really hot and bothered when the topic comes out, and it limits my ability to speak rationally with people. I will leave you with an argument that is fairly eloquent, even though it is from a Madonna song:

"What It Feels Like For A Girl"

Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, because it's okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, because you think being a girl is degrading. But secretly, you'd love to know what it's like wouldn't you? What is feels like for a girl...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Advice from a Wanna-be Wedding Planner

I'm going to admit something to all of you:


Yes, I get great satisfaction from my career as a teacher. Yes, I love my students. Yes, I am pursuing a graduate degree in education. However...


Don't get me wrong. I am not going to give up my life. Wedding planning is my fantasy career. Everyone has a job that they secretly wish they could do, but for one reason or another would never seriously pursue it. My biggest hang-ups about the job can be summed up in a three words: Saturdays, summer, and bridezillas. I especially Love (with a capital L) summer. You don't really get one of those as a wedding planner.

Anyway, enough rambling discourse on why I'm glad that I teach pudding-smeared middle schoolers instead of corralling bridezillas and their families! I want to put some good wedding karma out into the universe since it seems like all of my single ladies are getting married this year. The following would be my biggest pieces of advice if I were to go into business as a wedding planner:
  • Be yourself! Your fiance proposed to you just the way you are because he loves you--just the way you are. Don't go nuts dieting, tanning, and dying until you no longer resemble yourself. In 20 years, you don't want to look back at your pictures and think, "Who was that girl with my husband?"
  • Be reasonable! I really wished at the time of our wedding that there was money in the budget for chair covers, color coordinated table linens, floral centerpieces, light design, a helicopter ride (Bachelorette-style) and a videographer. Do I regret cutting any of those ideas before I ever even talked to my parents seriously about budget? NO! My wedding was the best night of my life.
  • Have everything completely arranged by noon on the Thursday before your wedding. It is meant to be the best weekend of your life, and having to tie ribbons on programs until 2 AM the night before will make you one grumpy Gus. Avoid the headaches, and have everything sorted out and duties assigned well in advance.
  • Be compromising! Is this your wedding? Yes. Is this your fiance's wedding? Also yes. Is this the wedding your mom and dad have always wanted to give you? Yes. There are a lot of people with a vested interest in your special day. When you get into a big disagreement with someone, think about it like this: On a scale from 1-10, how important is this to me? On a scale from 1-10, how important is this to __________? If it is honestly more important to the other person, seriously consider being flexible. This kept me from absolutely devastating my relationship with my mother about five days before our wedding. Thinking back, I honestly can't remember what the disagreement was over!
  • Don't do a tradition just because it's a tradition! I got really bent out of shape about the logistics of doing a petal toss and send-off for about 10 minutes until my mom said to me, "Do you even care if you have a petal toss or send-off?" Sure enough, I didn't. It saved me a lot of headache to just drop it. Ultimately, I got the best petal toss and send-off; my girlfriends spontaneously scooped up all of the rose petals from the tables and showered me with them on the dance floor, and my family got kicked out of the ballroom by the hotel because we had over-stayed our welcome. We went upstairs with my bouquet and a bottle of bubbly after hugging our nearest and dearest. It was perfect.
OK... I probably have a few more choice pieces of advice, but I have heard a rumor that my niece is going to be making her first appearance soon. I need some beauty rest for the insuing storm of pictures (on Facebook for privacy reasons).

Do you all have any good advice to add? Leave a comment! I would love to hear it so that I can steal it for my future wedding planning business, or book, or movie... JK! I just want to store it up so that I can pass it off as my own when a friend is in need. That's only a smidge selfish. :-)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thanks Taylor Mali

I started this blog mostly as an opportunity to give my honest judgment of books I read, recipes I try, and crafts I attempt. I will be kicking ass and taking names for you faithful readers (read: my sister and husband). I anticipate that this will be fun!

I must give thanks Taylor Mali for providing the inspiration for this blog's moniker! Here's his most famous poem, "What Teachers Make":

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

--Taylor Mali

Finally, here's the wordle that I made of this poem: