Monthly Archives: March 2018

Free Reading Friday: Ringer

ringer 2I definitely enjoyed Ringer, the sequel to Replica by Lauren Oliver. Just like Replica, this is a flipped book. This time, however, the reader starts with Gemma’s story. It’s probably no shock that despite his promises to reform, Gemma’s father is still the treacherous business man who’s willing to do anything to forward his agenda, including selling out Lyra and Caelum. It should also come as no surprise to anyone who read Replica that Gemma and Pete go off to find Lyra and Caelum to warn them about the danger they are in and as is characteristic for them, arrive just a bit too late.

This time around Gemma gets to experience the world of a Replica, the world she was technically born to. Taken out of her ivory tower and forced to live in an abandoned airport with hundreds of other Replicas, far too many of whom share her face, she gets a better understanding of Lyra’s life and what her life should have been. She also gets tangled up with the seemingly innocent Calliope.

On the flip side, Lyra finds herself once more running from the dreaded Suits. She finds what she thinks is a life line with her former doctor, but as is true of most things in this series, nothing is quite what it appears to be. Especially not for a girl who has grown up thinking she is a clone.

RingerLike many books that deal with human cloning, Oliver’s work brings up the ethical questions about how far science should be allowed to go. I particularly liked her portrayal of Doctor O’Donnell, a scientist who clearly believes everything she is doing is for the betterment of society. O’Donnell believes the ends justify the means and that the advance of science is worth the cost of human lives, especially because she is able to detach herself from the real humanity of those lives being taken.

This book also takes an interesting look at a problem I first really examined when I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks–should scientists be able to use biological components without permission from the people they are taken from, especially if they profit from them. Is it right for pieces of people to be licensed, replicated and sold off?

Personally I find these topics fascinating. And while answering these questions is not the central purpose of the novel, I like the fact that Oliver is introducing these questions to YA readers because the current generation of YA readers will no doubt have to make some of these very hard ethical calls in their lifetime.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Nana in the hospital

My grandmother, whom I call Nana, is in the hospital. This isn’t entirely a shock as she is 98 years old. But, when I last saw her three weeks ago (she lives about 2.5 hours away), while she seemed quieter and was clearly having trouble hearing, she seemed otherwise ok.

We still aren’t sure what changed. The doctors are running tests, but this weekend she was seeing and talking to people who weren’t actually in her living room. Thankfully she has home health care aids who were concerned enough to contact my great uncle (her younger brother by about 8 years), who then contacted my mom (who lives about 12 hours away), who then contacted me.

After a bit of deliberation and some major coaxing, my Nana allowed them to call for an ambulance to take her to the hospital. Several hours later she was out of the ER and in her own room where doctors began tests.

Turns out that not only was my Nana hearing and seeing people who weren’t there, she was also not really eating or drinking much. And, in the course of a few weeks, she’d gotten so weak that not only could she not walk on her own anymore, but she wasn’t even able to stand or help her home health care aid get her in and out of bed or to the bathroom. Another aid had to be called in to assist for any movements.

So now we wait to find out our next move. My Nana does not really understand why she’s in the hospital. She doesn’t understand anything the doctor’s are telling her. Luckily, my mom and I are in contact with the nurses and we have several family friends who can stop in and check on her. My poor Nana told one of my mom’s friends that she was in the hospital because she had an eye infection. She misunderstood the doctor when he said she no doubt had a UTI. Her hearing and comprehension are so bad that she only heard the “eye” part of the statement.

My Nana does not want to go to a nursing home, in large part because she has a dog, Rosie, who has been her only daily companion for over a decade now. She completely adores that dog…treats her like an absolute baby. She is the fattest “toy” poodle I have ever met. It’s hysterical to hear my Nana rail about how the dog was only supposed to be 6 pounds. She has no idea how she’s gotten to a very bloated 20 something pounds–she doesn’t think the pastrami or hot dogs she feeds the poor beast could be part of the issue. Still, the dog has kept my Nana going for quite some time now, so I understand her not wanting to leave Rosie.

At this point though, it doesn’t seem like going home is an option. At least not right now. Our hope is that they can get her into a rehab facility and maybe, just maybe she can get some of her mobility back. If she can, that might be enough to let her go home to her pooch.

It’s been a rough couple of days so far and I have a feeling this has been the easy period for us.

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Teaching Tuesday: Lunch duty

For the past several years, my principal has decided that teachers don’t have enough to do, so instead of being able to utilize our entire prep time to grade and prepare for our upcoming classes, we have to do special prep duties. Initially these duties required us to spend time in other teacher’s classrooms, helping out when needed.

In theory, this was not a bad idea. Many of our classes are fairly large. Last semester I had a class of 32 and my poor co-worker across the hall had one of 39. Several members of our social studies department have classes over 40 and some of our PE courses number in the 50’s. Those are classroom management nightmares even for the most experienced teachers. So, the idea was that with an additional teacher in the room for some combination of 120 minutes a week, teachers could break the class into smaller groups and each teacher could supervise the smaller groups. Or, the additional teacher could work one on one with someone who was struggling. Or maybe the additional teacher could supervise students who needed to make up a test so that the rest of the class could keep moving.

Again, in theory, this didn’t sound awful. The problem, is that many teachers didn’t actually need any additional help and even for those who might, the “helper” teacher giving prep duty time wasn’t well-enough versed with the particular information being taught on a daily basis to help.

Now, I know what some people are thinking: if you are a teacher shouldn’t you be able to teach any topic in your subject area. Yes, with the right amount of preparation, you pretty much should be. The flaw, however, is that we were already giving up preparation for our own classes and to expect us to do all the reading to prepare for someone else’s classes is a beyond ridiculous. For example, I have read the Odyssey several times. I taught it for about 8  years. But, that was 12 years ago. I haven’t read or taught it and while I know the basic story, there is no way that I can walk into someone else’s classroom and just start teaching the excerpt the kids are working on. Not without actually reading and analyzing it ahead of time. About the only help I was able to give was supervising small groups, which didn’t need to happen 120 minutes each week.

For the most part, I ended up just sitting in the back of a classroom, not helping anyone and not getting further behind in my work.

These issues were looked into and my principal amended prep duty to cover a much larger variety of activities and reduced the time to 100 minutes a week. While this was much better, it still meant a lot of work I had to take home with me. Still, I was pretty ok with this plan. I always did my prep duty work and actually got some very meaningful collaborative projects created with our librarian and some of my fellow department members. I was also able to create some great resources for other members of my department.

When we came back from winter break, we found out that prep duty time was changing once again. This time, it would be cut down to 75 minutes a week, which sounds so much better in theory. However, we no longer had any say in what we would do during this time. I was assigned lunch duty.

So, every other week, I get to spend 30 minutes each day supervising lunch. While it is technically 150 minutes of duty time, since it is every other week, it works out to only 75 minutes a week, so it balances with other teachers who have bus duty or hallway duty for 15 minutes each day.

The problem, aside from the several very nasty confrontations with students that have required me to get a security officer AND the fact that I am the only staff member in my group who shows up on time to do their duty, is that because of the way they “every other week” schedule is put together, those of us on lunch duty actually end up doing an extra week of duty time each grading period (75 additional minutes each quarter). AND, because the administrators schedule everyone who has lunch duty on the rotating schedule to duty time during the first week of the grading period to help with the transition into the new grading period, it means that I am doing 3 weeks of lunch duty in a row.

I had to do lunch duty the week of finals. So, rather than getting to use my prep to get my finals together or grade them, I got to take that work home with me over spring break to complete. I also have lunch duty all this week since it is the start of a new grading period. AND, my group was picked to be the first rotating group, so I have lunch duty all next week as well. Losing 150 minutes of grading/prep time for three weeks in a row is a pretty serious issue. I am having to take more and more work home with me just to keep up. My regular 55 hour work weeks are becoming 60 hour work weeks and that is starting to seriously impact both my family and my morale. It’s hard to want to create innovative teaching materials when my time is being eaten up by lunch duty and grading.

Last quarter I wasn’t able to introduce a single new project or assignment. I did the exact same thing in all my classes that I’d done the year before. I have a feeling the same will be true this grading period. I really wish that my extra duties to the school would actually benefit my students. I have no problem giving extra time to improve my students’ education. However, I seriously resent my time being taken from my students.

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Chocolate Monday: Savvy Cakes at Cakewalk

Savvy cakesOn my recent trip to visit my best friend in Athens, Georgia, she told me that a new bakery had opened up. She suggested we take a trip there, knowing full well that there was no way in the world I was going to turn down a chance to try a new bakery. Especially not one named Cakewalk. I’m always willing to partake in a cakewalk!

When we pulled up to the shop, I was a little thrown by the exterior. It didn’t really look like a bakery. It looked like someone’s house. Now, I know looks can be deceiving. After all, the best bakery I’ve found in Athens is in a building that used to be a BBQ shack. And when I say shack, that is really not an exaggeration. When it was The Butt Hutt, it was a take out place. With its transformation into a bakery, there is just room for a display case, a few display fridges/freezers and a fancy coffee machine. It is still a take out only place.

When we walked in the front door at Cakewalk, I was even more confused as I didn’t initially see any baked goods. I saw lots of home goods and cute gifts, but no food. Turns out Cakewalk is not actually a bakery. As the very enthusiastic and helpful woman working there told us, they aren’t zoned for baking. They are zoned for retail. So, what Cakewalk does is connect with small, local bakeries to resell their delicious treats.

What Cakewalk does (and does quite well in my opinion) is allow dessert lovers to take a “cake walk” through the store. Would be chocoholics can sample nearly all the cakes and bars available for purchase. The samples are already prepared in tiny sealed cups and customers can try as many as they’d like. The cakes are on display in large glass cake dishes for anyone interested and come from several local bakeries.

My best friend and I indulged in several samples, including an old-fashioned chocolate cake, a red velvet, a carrot and a double chocolate. Although they didn’t actually have a sample available, my best friend opted for a slice of the almond cake. Since I have a serious chocolate addiction, I had to go with the double chocolate cake.

I’m not sure which bakery my BFF’s cake came from, but mine came from Just Desserts Made from Scratch Bakery located in Statham, GA. For some reason, that I’m still not quite clear on, it is listed as a Savvy Cake by Just Desserts Made from Scratch Bakery.

Regardless of who made it, it was pretty darn tasty! The layers of cake were incredibly moist and very chocolaty. I loved the layers of creamy chocolate buttercream frosting. I was also happy that this cake was not too heavy on the frosting. For me, cake should always be the star. When people add too much frosting to their cakes, it almost seems like they are trying to hide the fact that their cake is not that good. I prefer a fairly thin layer of frosting on both the top and the sides of the cake. I actually would have been even happier with a little less frosting on this piece, but it was better than what many bakeries produce. I would definitely like to try more of these Savvy Cakes.

I did a little googling and it looks like Staham is only about 20 minutes east of Athens, so as much as I enjoyed the very friendly service at Cakewalk (and petting the seriously adorable dog who was hanging out in the store far from the actual food), I think on my next trip to Athens, my BFF and I will have to hop in the car and make a trip to the actual bakery for some additional treats.


Appearance: 8/10
Taste: 8/10
Value: 7/10 (we bought from a retailer, so prices were a bit higher than at the actual bakery where they seem pretty reasonable).

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Free Reading Friday: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleIt’s very hard to read memoirs of absolute deprivation, especially when they involve children. Even before I became a mother I found it hard not to cringe when reading stories of abused, neglected or forgotten children. Now that I am a mother, I find it even harder. I cannot imagine anything that could induce me to allow my children to suffer. I would give up everything I have in order to keep them from experience true hunger or pain. When parents are not willing to do the same, I find it hard to understand.

I knew nothing about Jeannette Walls’ life when I bought The Glass Castle. In fact, other than the fact that her memoir had been turned into a movie (which I have not yet seen), I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked her book off the shelf in the airport bookstore. However, I was getting ready to board a flight to South Carolina to spend a long weekend on the beach with friends and I knew I’d need something to read. I also knew that my Pop Sugar book challenge for 2017 included a book bought on a trip, so I purposely did not bring a book with me on the trip so I could buy one. Ok, I’ll admit I brought my Kindle, but I didn’t bring any paper bound books with me, so I would be more inclined to read whatever I picked up at the bookstore.

Since I am always on the lookout for interesting non-fiction books to bring back to my AP Language and Composition students and since I knew some of them might see this movie and want to read the story behind it, I picked this book over several other interesting looking fiction works.

I’m glad I did.

While stories of abuse and neglect are hard to read, I think they are important to read. I think it is vital that we read stories like Walls’ so that we develop better empathy for our fellow man. Stories like the ones Walls tells help to make it harder to dismiss the homeless woman we see digging through the dumpster, or the children who come to school dirty and without food. Stories like these remind us that small acts of kindness toward those who may be in need go a long way.

Of course, those lessons don’t make Walls’ stories any easier to read. Her tales of her parent’s complete abdication of their parental responsibilities are cringe worthy. Like Walls, my children were also very precocious, however, the thought of allowing either of my children at age three to operate the stove, let alone cook their own meals is appalling. The idea of allowing my children to sleep in cardboard beds under roofs that are caved in and allow rain and snow to fall into their bedrooms is hideous. The mere thought of taking my children into a bar to help me swindle people out of money at pool and then allowing grown men to take my teenage daughter upstairs is disgusting.

But there are parents who do these things and as a teacher I am thankful to memoirs like Walls’ because it makes me look harder and with more compassion toward many of my students. Because of books like these, I find myself listening more intently to students I think may be being neglected or abused. I check in with those I know have difficult home lives.

Although a great many tragic events happen in Walls’ life and in the book, she manages to keep her memoir from being too dark. She does fill it with lighter moments. And while she clearly sees the neglect and abuse her parents committed against her, she also shows a sort of understanding for them and a deep love for them.

How she managed to write so kind a memoir after finding out what her mother’s land in Texas was worth is beyond me.

This is an engaging and well-written account of Walls’ life that I am glad I read.

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Travel Thursday: The tree that owns itself

Tree that owns itselfAthens, Georgia is one of my favorite vacation spots. True, it has no beach or theme park or plethora of dazzling museums. The weather is always a bit unpredictable in March, so there is no guarantee it’ll be warm. What makes Athens such a great place for me to visit is the fact that my best friend lives here.

To be honest, any place my best friend lives will become one of my favorite vacation spots. Anchorage, Alaska in winter? If she is there, I am there. The Mojave Dessert in the middle of summer? If she’s got a house there, so am I.

Thankfully, it turns out that Athens is also a pretty cool place, even if she didn’t live there. Of course, if she didn’t live there, I’d never have known this.

My kids and I just returned from a wonderful week long visit where we got to spend time in some of our favorite Athens locations. We went to several of their amazing parks (World of Wonders and the park next to the Bear Hollow Zoo are our two favorites). We played a ton of board games at The Rook and Pawn. We spent way more money that we should have clothes shopping. And we had some pretty phenomenal food at some of our favorite places (Cali N Tito’s, Pulaski Heights, and The Grit).

My best friend and I also got to try some place brand new (to us): Donna Chang’s. While I know this amazing little place would have been totally lost on my kids, my BFF and I adored it. My best friend is a vegetarian and although her husband is pretty accommodating, since Donna Chang’s is “family” style and there is only one full veggie item on the menu, he was not too keen on going. We didn’t actually even try that menu item since they have a bunch of really tasty small plate items that are vegetarian. My absolute favorite was the dry fried eggplant. She fell in love with the bouncy peanut noodles. We finished the meal off with some simply fantastic ice cream (lemon curd and ginger). It was glorious.

Another first on this trip was a drive over to see the Tree That Owns Itself. Yes, you read that correctly, there is a tree that owns itself in Athens.

When my BFF told me about this wonder of the Georgian world, I thought she was kidding. She definitely was not. However, despite all of our trips to Athens (this is our 7th or 8th visit), we’d never been to see it. While we were out and about driving one day, she suggested we hunt for it.

She’d actually only been to see it one other time, when another friend was in town. It took us a few minutes to find it, not because it’s hard to find, but because she forgot exactly where we are going. I had to plug it into my GPS. Turns out she’d only missed it by a one road. After a drive up an incredibly steep hill that I think would be absolutely treacherous if there was even a hint of ice, we found ourselves facing a rather large tree with a plaque in front of it.

The actual tree is set off by a little bricked “garden” area. The plaque announcing the tree’s origins and bequeathing the tree it’s “freedom” sit in front of it. On either side there are houses and it’s pretty clear the owners get a lot more traffic than they might like as they have signs reminding people the bit of brick “road” on either side of the tree is not public land. Only the small patch the tree sits on is owned by the tree.

The tree is a quirky little bit of history that I think speaks volumes about the kind of quirky town of Athens. If you are ever in Athens, it’ll take a minute to see, but it’s definitely worth it.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Back at the gym

I am finally recovered enough from my concussion that I can get back to the gym. I’m pretty excited about this.

I tried to go back to the gym three weeks ago, but after 30 minutes on the treadmill I was dizzy and my head hurt, so I figured I needed to rest a bit more.

Two weeks ago was finals and I was so busy with work that there was no chance to get to the gym.

Last week I was on vacation with my best friend in Georgia and although we spent lots of time outdoors at parks and botanical gardens, as well as walking my bestie’s dog, nothing we really did counts as exercise.

So, I was a little nervous about getting back into the gym on Monday. I figured I’d better start small–it had been two months since I’d been able to go and although I was making mad progress before the accident, I’d been fairly lazy during my recovery, and that last workout dizzy spell left me nervous.

I hopped on the Arc trainer, typed in 30 minutes and started clipping along.

When I finished, I was tired and sweaty, but no dizziness or headache, so I took it as a win.

Yesterday I was able to spend 40 minutes on the Arc trainer and afterwards I took my kids to the indoor pool at the gym. I didn’t really get to do any swimming as my daughter is not the world’s best swimmer, so I had to stick close to her the entire time. I mostly floated and threw a ball around with my kids while in the water. I got splashed a lot, but wouldn’t count any of it as exercise. Still, it was fun.

I was hoping to get back into my cycling class, but I’m not sure I’m quite back up to that level yet (it’s a pretty intense class). Maybe next week.

Even though I have a LOT of grading to do, since I am on break, I figure I need to take advantage of my gym flexibility while I can. My kids like the play area at our gym and they are just starting to get on each other’s nerves enough that I think it’s time to head out for a change of scenery!

This time I think I’ll jump on the elliptical for a bit.

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