Category Archives: cool links

Free Reading Friday: Prayers for the Stolen

prayers for the stolenAlthough I’ve already posted reviews of several other Eliot Rosewater book nominees for the 2017-2018 year, Prayers for the Stolen was actually one of the first ones I read this summer. When I borrowed it from the school library at the end of May, I didn’t realize I actually already owned a copy.

I’d read about the book as part of an offer one of the publishing companies makes to teachers: preview copies for only $3 each. The idea is to see if the book is one you might want to teach in class and then order an entire class set or two. I often take advantage of this deal as I’m always looking for new books that might be interesting to teach. Plus, cheap books…who can pass that up?

The blurb in the catalog was enticing to me. A story about a young girl in a rural Mexican village where all the men leave in order to seek their fortunes. A town where girls disappear with such regularity that mothers purposely make their daughters look ugly and dig holes in their yards in order to hide girls so the cartels won’t kidnap them. A town where girls are educated, but only when there is a teacher willing to come to the village. A town where it is not uncommon for a best friend to disappear, but is unheard for her to ever return.

Except, of course, in this book she does.

Jennifer Clement offers up a beautifully disturbing book. While targeted at a YA audience, I think adults will find equal merit in this book. I find it hard to type the word “enjoy” as the book deals with very serious issues including child slavery, kidnapping, murder, drug cartels, alcoholism, adultery and abandonment and has so much tragedy in it. Still, I found the book captivating and could not put it down. Clement’s prose is poetic and haunting.

Ladydi, the main character (named because her mother was obsessed with Princess Diana), is a young woman in one of the most vulnerable situations imaginable. And yet, she rises through each horrific event and becomes stronger. She is powerful and empathetic and will open reader’s eyes to a world they’ve probably never even thought about before. It’s so easy to turn our backs on problems we cannot see, especially when they exist far from our doors, if not far from our borders.

 

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Throwback Thursday: stuffed animals

delia's bed.jpgWhen I was a kid, one of the many things that drove my mother crazy was the fact that I was, well, kind of a messy kid. Like most kids, it’s not like I was trying to be messy, I just had a TON of toys and didn’t really like to clean them up. I used to make up elaborate stories for all of my dolls and I was convinced that if I put my toys away, I would forget the stories I’d created and have to start all over again. Never mind that I have a crazy good memory and could easily recall all the very, very, very intricate details of the fantasy worlds I created for my toys. Or that I loved creating new stories. I didn’t want anything, or anyone messing with my narratives.

It did not help matters that I had about a million toys. While this is slight hyperbole, like many children of divorce, in order to help make up for the devastation of not having my family together anymore, my parents and my extended family bought me things. Since I only got to see my dad and his side of the family for 6-8 weeks out of the year, and never on my birthday, every holiday was accompanied by truckloads of presents. Within reason, if I wanted it, I got it.

I am not trying to brag here, I’m just trying to paint a picture of just how many toys I had. Among these toys were a heck of a lot of dolls and stuffed animals. I don’t know exactly how many I had, but I know I had 13 Cabbage Patch Kids, a CPK horse, Koosa, Furskin bear, Rainbow Bright, and at least two dozen other small stuffed animals. And they all slept with me…every night.

My mom would get so frustrated, in part because there was barely enough room for me on my bed. However, I always managed to find a perfectly comfy, tiny bit of my bed to sleep on, usually while cuddling at least three of my stuffed toys. I was actually pretty good about arranging them so that I could get in and out of my bed with relative ease.

I’m sharing this story because now that I am a mom, I finally understand my mom’s absolute wonder and disbelief with how I managed to sleep each night. My son, who is 10, has always had a few favorite stuffed animals. They reside on his bed, but his monkey George, who he has had since birth, is the only one he really cares about having on his bed. My daughter, on the other hand, is truly my child. The picture at the top of this post is of part of her bed. I have lost count of how many animals and dolls she sleeps with, but I think she surpassed my number a long time ago–and she’s only 7.

While the majority of her stuffies are tiny (many of them she’s won from the claw game at our local bowling alley/arcade), even tiny stuffed animals can create quite a pile. She has so many animals and dolls on her bed that I do not understand how she can sleep on it. And yet, just like I did, she does.

It’s amazing how with no prompting from me whatsoever, she has picked up the same habit I had in my childhood.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Third Love bras

Third Love braA few weeks ago I admitted that I am an avid online shopper. In this day and age, I think most people are. However, a more guilty secret is that I am actually one of those people who sees advertisements on Facebook and buys products from them. I actually found my favorite clothing company, eshakti, this way.

Thanks to Facebook, I also discovered Third Love, a company that sells bras and panties.

I have always been a sucker for a good bra. I have a group of friends who tease each other about the amount of money we are willing to spend on certain products. One of my friends will spend outrageous sums on the “perfect” jeans. I have watched as she’s dropped $120 on a pair of jeans that she swears are the best jeans ever. I’ve actually seen her buy multiple pairs of these jeans in case something happens to the first pair. To me, this is nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $35 on jeans. I love jeans, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not overly picky about them.

One of my other friends spends gobs of money on shoes. It’s not just that she has a lot of shoes (although she does), but that it’s no problem for her to drop over $100 on a pair of boots she likes or sandals she thinks will go perfect with an outfit she has. It pains me to pay $50 for a pair of really nice dress boots. I’ve only done it once and I’d really like to never do it again.

Another friend has a real thing for purses. Fancy ones. I just don’t get it. I like my messenger type bags and while I do have a small collection of them, none of them have cost me more than a Jackson.

Before I reveal my weakness, I’d like to point out that this is not just some silly “girly” thing. My husband, who does not really give two figs for what he wears, has spent upwards of $400 on ONE card for the collectible card game he plays. He seriously puts all of my spending on clothes, chocolate, school supplies and small trinkets to SHAME. That man can spend.

Anyway, I have two items I am willing to spend exorbitant amounts on. The first is chocolate, which should surprise no one as every Monday I do a chocolate blog. The second is bras and underwear.

I am always on a quest to find the perfect bra. For most of my adult life this means shopping at Victoria’s Secret. I know a lot of people have issues with them because their bra selection gets very limited past a certain size, but I was not blessed/cursed with very large breasts, so I’ve never had trouble finding a bra that fit there. In fact, my two absolute favorite bras of all time have come from there.

Well, until now. For several months I saw the Third Love bra ad. The ad claims that their bras are so comfortable you will forget you are even wearing them. Plus, as an added incentive to buy from their company, they offer potential customers a chance to try before they buy.

For the cost of shipping ($2.99), they will send you their signature t-shirt bra. You can wear it for 30 days. You can wash it as often as you’d like. If you are not 100% satisfied with the bra, you can send it back. According to the flyer that comes with the bra, they donate all returned bras to women’s organizations across the country. If you don’t return it after 30 days, your credit card is charged $68 and the bra is yours forever.

Now, I’m willing to pay quite a bit for a comfy bra, but even for me, $68 is a bit steep. I think the most I’ve ever paid is $52. However, my favorite bra has really been showing its age (ie was so lovingly worn as it was nearly falling apart). The last bra I’d purchased from Victoria’s Secret is that comfy, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and try it.

It is a damn comfy bra. This is the first bra I’ve had in YEARS that has not had issues with gaping between my breasts and the cups. This bra has absolutely no gaps. The website claims that the straps don’t slip, which is another major issue I’ve always had with bras, no matter how much I adjust the straps. While I can’t say that in the nearly 30 days I’ve had this bra a strap has never slipped at all, I can only think of twice that it has happened, as opposed to the twice every few minutes with a few of my other bras.

The only downside to this bra is that it’s not a push up bra, which is what I usually wear. However, I knew it wasn’t going to be one before I ordered. The try before you buy deal is for the classic t-shirt bra. Third Love does have several push up bras and I have looked at them all.

It’s been nearly 30 days and I have no intentions of returning my new bra. In fact, I have every intention of trying one of their push up bras. I should probably just go ahead and order it now.

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Teaching Tuesday: Teaching is not a “calling”

I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve heard that teaching is a “calling.” Usually this phrase is invoked to criticize teachers who want pesky things like raises, better benefits or better working conditions. After all, teachers shouldn’t be in it for the money, right? It’s a “calling.” People should only go in to teaching because they want to help others, regardless of whether or not they can actually live off of the salary provided.

Once, at a school board meeting when members of our community were remonstrating against a desperately needed referendum, a member of the community actually stood up and suggested that locals should be able to pay us in fruits and vegetables rather than a standard salary, because, after all, teaching is a calling and we shouldn’t be in it for the money.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t pay my mortgage with turnips.

Despite what many people want the general public to believe, teaching is not a “calling.” Teaching is a profession, just like any other. There are teachers who excel in the profession. They go above and beyond what is needed to ensure they make education as enjoyable and as meaningful as possible. This does not happen simply through some sort of divine intervention or some inborn talent they have. It happens because they work very hard, sacrificing countless hours of their own time with friends and family in order to work on lesson plans, grading, training, etc.

Teachers are not religious leaders. They do not live off the charity of their parishioners. They do not take vows of poverty. They do not have the ability to ex-communicate any member of their flock. Sure, administrators can expel students, but it is a whole lot easier for a pastor to tell someone not to come back to the church than it is to kick a student out of a school. There are no laws telling pastors how to run their churches, who they have to serve within the community, or how long they have to allow people to stay in their congregations. Anyone who wants to can become a pastor. Although many pastors do go to seminary or have religious training, there is no mandate that they do. Thanks to the internet, anyone who wants to can get ordained. Anyone who wants to can recruit followers and set up their own church. Teachers cannot do this.

Teachers, like people in a great many other professions, have to have college degrees. They have to pass state and national exams. They have to be licensed by the state. They are employees of a school corporation. Teachers, are doing a JOB. And like members of every other profession, they deserve to be properly compensated. Yes, believe it or not, teachers become teachers because they want to be paid for their knowledge and their skills. It is our lively hood, not a “calling.” While I love my job and work very hard at it, I go to work every day, not because of some divine “calling,” but because I have a family to support. And my children deserve a good life, just like the children I teach, whose parents are doctors, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, etc.

Indiana is currently experiencing a rather large teacher shortage. While “experts” speculate on why this is, any teacher can tell you why: teachers in Indiana are not well compensated, are being vilified in the media and are being forced to jump through ridiculous hoops to prove they are “qualified.” The state keeps rolling out new tests to measure students, slashing education budges and adding more to the already overworked shoulders of teachers. Is it a wonder that articles like this one in the Indianapolis Star are popping up in newspapers around the state?

While I appreciate the Star trying to shed light onto a very real problem, I found myself getting so annoyed when they referred to those who are still willing to become teachers as people who have a “calling.” This myth needs to be put to bed. People who become teachers may be following their passions. They are hopefully going into a profession where they feel their skills will be put to good use. But they are not on some divine mission, nor should they be treated as they are.

Teachers are professionals who want to do their jobs. They want to give their students the best educations they can. They deserve respect and compensation, not sainthood and poverty.

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Chocolate Monday: World Market Dark Chocolate with Fig Pistachio Filling

fig and pistachio whole barOne of the many reasons I love when my best friend comes to town is that she gives me a good excuse to go to stores that I love, but don’t often go to. World Market is a perfect example. Although there is a store located about 20 minutes from my house, it’s in another town and about the only time I go up there is when my kids have swimming. Since swimming nights are always such a rush, we really don’t have time to just pop into World Market to browse. Especially not when my kids love it and always ask for, well, just about everything. Trying to convince my daughter that she does not, in fact, need a bottle opener, even if it is shaped like a monkey, can be difficult.

But when my best friend wanted to go, it was the perfect chance to get out of the house and visit a favorite store.

Although I love the fun furniture and housewares at WM, my favorite part of going is always checking out the food aisles. I love all the international offerings as well as the funky, fun snacks they always have.

And I simply adore their chocolate selection. No visit to World Market is complete unless my basket has at least half a dozen different types of chocolate in it. On this particular trip I found a few tasty looking new treats to try.

fig and pistachio wrapperThe first one I grabbed was a World Market brand dark chocolate bar with fig pistachio filling. Although I am not a huge dark chocolate fan, I am trying to expand my horizons and find more dark chocolate I enjoy. Buying dark chocolate is always a risk for me. If it is paired with something super tart, like raspberry or lemon, I generally enjoy it. However, when it is paired with merely sweet or nutty flavors, I am often not a huge fan. Although neither figs nor pistachios are particularly tart, I love them both, so I figured this might be a risk worth taking.

The chocolate itself has the usual bitterness of dark chocolate. It is not so dark that I cannot eat it, but it is dark enough that I wouldn’t want to eat more than a small square of it on its own. The filling, which is supposed to be a mix of figs and pistachio has a very slight sweetness to it, which does offset the dark chocolate, but only very mildly. The filling has the grittiness of figs, but I had real trouble tasting any pistachio in it. There is a very slight creaminess to it that reminds me a teeny tiny bit of pistachios, but I’m not sure if that’s really there or if I’m trying to make some sort of connection.

fig and pistachio close upI gave my husband a square of the bar as well. He is the biggest pistachio fan I’ve ever met (he once even owned a pet chameleon named Pistachio). Without even a word from me, he commented, “Well, I can kind of taste the fig, but I don’t taste any pistachio.” My husband is not really a chocoholic, but he does like dark chocolate more than I do. He liked the piece but said he couldn’t eat an entire bar. Neither could I.

My kids both really liked it, but they also go gaga over plain ol’ Hershey bars and those cheap gold coins Santa leaves them in their stockings each year. My son has also eaten chocolate covered insects, so I’m not sure his love of it is quite the ringing endorsement it may initially seem.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10 (the flavors were too subtle for me)
Appearance: 6/10 (the packaging was very pretty and the bar was appetizing)
Value: 4/10 (the bar is about $4 for two servings, but I know I won’t eat any more of it)

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Free Reading Friday: Fresh Off the Boat

Frest off the boatOnce again, I really had very little idea what I was getting into with this book. I vaguely remember hearing that Fresh off the Boat was the name of a TV series, but as I haven’t had any sort of cable in a few years, I’d never seen it. I actually just saw part of it at the gym earlier this week. I always bring music or a book to listen to while working out, but when I glanced up at the TV hanging over the Arc Trainer, I saw the intro for the show and found myself glancing up at it several times during my workout.

Before picking up this book I’d never heard of Eddie Huang or Baohaus. I actually bought the book after reading a short synopsis of it in a catalog I get a few times a year which previews books teachers might want to use in their classroom. As I am always looking for new, interesting works of non-fiction for my AP Language kids and I have only a handful of non-fiction books in my classroom by Asian writers, I bought a copy and added this one to my summer reading list.

At times I struggled reading it. It’s not that the book is hard to read, bu there is a lot of slang in it, and even when I was young, I was never extremely fluent in slang. Well, I did 80’s Valley Girl ok, but that’s because I actually grew up in Southern California in the 1980’s and mostly just picked it up from friends. East Coast street slang is an entirely different world to me. I also know next to nothing about sneakers and my hip-hop/rap knowledge could definitely stand to be better.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that I feel like Huang’s voice is authentically his in this book. He starts off as a young man, searching for himself, trapped in world where the only faces he sees that look like his are members of his family. As he grows up, he is caught between cultures and trying very hard not to become the “stereotypical Asian” he sees so many people around him becoming. His identification with hip hop and rap artists felt so real to him because like them, he felt like an outsider, looking into a world that didn’t really want him.

I think it’s great that Eddie is unapologetically himself in his memoir. He doesn’t try to turn himself into some sort of flawless hero. He shows the world who he is and was, warts and all, so to speak. He admits to mistakes. He talks about what he’s learned. He shares his frustrations and anger with his readers.

He also shares his very real disdain for a number of people in this book. While I do think he goes overboard with the way he airs his disdain, I haven’t lived his life. I am white and have never felt out of place in America. Disappointed in my country, sure, but never like I don’t belong here, which he has clearly felt, and been made to feel, countless times in his life. I think his anger is justified. I can’t imagine what it is like to grow up in a world where I barely see myself reflected in the media or where I feel pushed toward a minuscule number of professions.

I’m glad Huang wrote this book. I’m glad he started a business that truly reflects who he is as a person and gives others the chance to do the same. I’m glad I read this book and I hope several of my students read it as well. I think it may give some of them a perspective they’ve never thought of before. I love the line he has near the end of the book, “My main objective with Baohaus was to become a voice for Asian Americans,*” which he follows up with this footnote: *”Note that I say ‘a voice’ not ‘the voice.’ I don’t speak for all Asian Americans, I speak for a few rotten bananas like me.”

I think more voices like Huang’s need to be heard in our country.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Dieting update

popcornersI’ve been doing this whole eating better and exercising bit for 18 days now. I know that isn’t long, but considering the last few times I’ve tried to start I’ve quit before I even made it a full week, I’m feeling pretty good about my chances this time.

Not only have I kept my calories below 1600 every day for the past 18 (usually below 1400), I’ve been to the gym for 16 of the last 18 days. Each day I did 30 minutes of exercise on either the Arc Trainer, the elliptical, the treadmill or the stationary bike. I alternated each day so I never did the same activity twice in a row.

I knew I was going to have to ease myself back into this routine, which is why I started off at 1600 calories. If the last 30 so years of dieting and exercise have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t really like dieting or exercising, so if I am going to commit, I have to trick myself into doing it. Rather than jump back in all the way, slashing my calories by, well…let’s just say a large percentage, I have to dip my toes in and slowly warm up to this diet.

Right now I feel like not only are my toes in, but starting yesterday, I took my first step toward submerging myself in this diet. I dropped my calories to 1500 per day and upped my exercise to 35 minutes.

Image1In my 18 days, I’ve lost 3 pounds, which is really helping to motivate me. I’ve also cleaned out a lot of the junk food in my house and replaced it with healthier choices. I am CRAZY about chips and salsa. I know that while salsa is a great diet option, chips are a big no no. I know myself too well…one serving of tortilla chips is never enough.

As it happens, I was at World Market the other day and happened upon some fun, low calories snacks. One of the bags I grabbed was Salt of the Earth Popcorners by Our Little Rebellion. Not only are these delicious on their own, but dipped in salsa they taste a lot like tortilla chips. However, one ounce, which is a HUGE serving, has only 110 calories. I can heap them with salsa and get away with a snack that has about 150 calories. Tasty, satisfying and surprisingly filling. I also tried the same company’s Spicy Salsa Bean Crisps and fell in love. They have some nice heat to them and are also great dipped in salsa.

I did have a bit of a set back today though. I was craving a cheeseburger. I wanted one so badly. We’d been stuck in traffic on the way home from school for over an hour and I caved. I stopped at the McDonald’s drive-thru and got a burger and fries. However, thanks to my calorie conscious breakfast and lunch, I still have 130 calories left for the day–not that I plan to use them. A burger and fries were a big enough treat.

My ultimate goal is to lose 50 pounds. However, I think that might be more than a bit ambitious. I did it once before, but I was an awful lot younger back then. And I didn’t have children, so I could be more flexible with my diet and my workouts.

Still, I think I can at least lose 20, which would make all of my clothes fit better. I might even be able to drop 30, which would be my pre-second baby weight.

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