Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Baby Stepping

I am an all or nothing person. It's sad, but true. My Sunday school class has been working through a book and I can't finish it because I can't get started again. There are only a few chapters in this book. I read the first one and it seemed to go forever. Because of that, because I felt trapped by the book in a long and rambly chapter, I haven't been able to get myself to start the next chapter.

When it comes to projects for home or school. It's all or nothing again. If I spend my prep working on lesson plans, then I want to get a whole month or a whole quarter done at one time. When I get interrupted, it frustrates me. I stay late after school because I want to get it ALL done. I haven't done any crafting at home lately because I feel like I'll use up all my free times just pulling materials out and putting them away. Why bother?

Recently I have been trying something new. I'm trying to break the larger projects into smaller portions. Then, if I finish a smaller portion, I feel like I have accomplished something. I have closure on that part of the larger task. Last week that allowed me to split my preps into time for long term planning and organization and short term tasks like shelving books or prepping new books for the library. I can be happy putting 5 new books in the library every day, but I'll never get any done if I let myself be consumed by having to finish every major project before I can switch to another one.

I saw a tweet the other day that linked to an excellent blog post called "How to Be a Teacher for More than 5 Years Without Killing Yourself or Others." The following portion really caught my attention:

You will never be finished with your work - A teacher’s work is never done. Seriously. You will never be finished. There will always be something else you could be doing. Every time you cross off one thing from your to-do list, two more things will be added. Like a sink of dirty dishes, it really can wait until tomorrow.
Even thought I am not a classroom teacher, this is still true for me. So I have to look at my to do list differently than I have been. It doesn't come naturally, so I really have to work at it. I keep reminding myself to just break it into manageable steps - even "baby steps." If I can get ONE step of a process done, I have to choose to be content with that. The all-or-nothing thinking stresses me out too much and impacts my ability to be content and manage stress.

How do you work best? Large projects or smaller steps?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Guilt. Failure.

I made a mistake recently. Not a huge one. I might have made a friend angry; at the least, I annoyed her a great deal, but I'm pretty sure she is still my friend. I didn't mean to annoy or anger her. I made some assumptions that were faulty, and I greatly inconvenienced her. I felt horrible afterwards. I apologized at the time and will likely apologize again the next time I see her. But I felt horrible.

Really horrible. I couldn't let it go. My stomach was in knots for hours afterwards. I kept thinking about what I did and how I wished I could undo it - make different choices that would have led to a less awkward situation. I tried to put it behind me - I couldn't fix it. What was done was done. But still, I stewed. I kept kicking myself over and over and over and over as if I had to punish myself for a certain block of time before I could absolve myself. The stewing was like my penance. I was paralyzed by this situation and my guilt.

When I thought about it, I realized it wasn't as bad as I was making it out to be. I didn't physically injure this person, I didn't say something hateful. I inconvenienced her - my timing was really bad. But that was the extent of my sin - bad timing, inconvenience, unintentional thoughtlessness. But the feeling of failure and deep guilt were like I had done something grievous.

No matter how rationally I could think through the situation, I couldn't move past it. Finally I started writing it all down. I had only a small piece of paper, so I just wrote and wrote, on both sides, over the print that was already on the paper. When I filled every space, I wrote over my own writing again. I wrote my actions and the consequences and my guilt and then I just wrote "guilt," and "failure" over and over and over again. I don't know that anyone else could have read what was on that paper when I was done. It felt good to get it out of myself and onto paper. Then I tore that paper into little pieces and threw it in the trash. Finally, I felt like I had released some of that guilt.

Isn't that weird? That an error in judgement could grab hold of me so tightly that I couldn't let it go? I know I am a perfectionist. I've blogged before that I have a self-concept that says I only matter when I get things right. This was some sort of super-sized example of that. I didn't get this situation "right," and it meant I was a complete, irredeemable failure.  I don't know if this was a spiritual exercise in forgiveness or fighting perfectionism - something that God is going to have me dealing with over the next few months - or if it is just a sign of fatigue that comes at this time of year. Whatever it is, I am hopeful that I can deal more healthily with my failures in the future.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I Am the Gatekeeper - and I Am Tired

I was reading a book for adults this weekend and came across a part where the main character was having a party. Her party planner invited a medium to do a seance at the party. The following thoughts went through my mind:
- Dang it! Now I can't put the book in the library!
- Wait! This is a book for grown ups. It doesn't matter. I don't have to screen this one.
- *sigh* I think the "gatekeeper" role is starting to get to me....

I feel like I have to be the gatekeeper for the library at my school. It is best practice for my job that I read widely and often. I can't connect students to books if I don't know my students and I don't know the books that are out right now that are written for elementary-aged students.

The fact that I teach at a Christian school adds a layer on top of those general responsibilities, though. My feeling is that parents and the administration/board expect that the books we put in the library (and to some extent what we sell at the book fair) are going to fit with (or at least not go against) their beliefs - and those beliefs are as varied as you can imagine. While we include materials from Christian publishers, we also have a reading program that doesn't always cover those materials. And more and more, secularly published books are including language, romantic situations, magic/fantasy/paranormal creatures and monsters, and alternate lifestyles even in books for younger readers.

So, I am the gatekeeper. When reading a book that I might want to put in the library, I can't just be swept away by the story. I have to be watchful of language or characters or themes that could raise flags in a Christian context. If there is any element of fantasy or "magic," I have to decide if it could be perceived as witchcraft or evil in any way. If there are a couple swear words in the story, I take it to my principal to make my case for putting the book in the library because I feel there is more merit in using it than "danger" with the language. I've never been told I have to take these issues to my principal. I think I'm just worried about creating a situation that prompts a challenge and I want someone in authority to have given me the okay for choosing to value the content as more important than the drawbacks.

At our recent book fair, a colleague asked if I was going to put a particular book out for sale. The secondary school had chosen not to sell the book in their fair. I had read the book and had been talking it up with all of my older students. Several were eager to buy it or read it. I felt it was more of a super hero/super power story than a magic story. A few days later I received a Christian newsletter about children's lit and this book was highlighted as a fun adventure story for kids. I felt vindicated - it was "okay" that I was okay with this book. But I still had a parent say "absolutely not" for her child when I described the story line to her.

I think I am more aware of my gatekeeping fatigue right now because I read for the library intensely this summer and that intensity has kept up through the first 4 months of school. I'm tired from the pressure. And I'm starting to wonder if the pressure is really there from parents and the school, or if I am letting my fear of failure - which in my mind would be a challenge of material I read and chose to put in the library that someone else wants removed - drive me to a higher standard than was intended when I was hired for my job. Besides, it's a LOT of work to put a new book in the library. I'd rather not do all that work for a book that won't stand up to scrutiny.

So far, I have had individual students return materials they borrowed from the library because a parent didn't care for the content. Two cases I remember specifically - one was a book from the Chronicles of Narnia that used the d--- word and the other book referenced magic in a fairly mild way (in comparison to a book like Harry Potter) and the family said the student shouldn't read anything with magic. A student reminded me recently of another book a student returned because a character took the Lord's name in vain. I don't remember that instance, but it felt familiar when she mentioned it. In all of those cases, the student returned the book and I helped them find something else that was a better fit. There was no challenge of the material for the school at large - just a parental preference for their own child. On the other side of the issue, if a student wants a book I don't have in the library - for whatever reason, be it limited resources or content, I readily refer the student to the public library. We have a fantastic one!

I really wrestle with all this gatekeeping.... A friend called it censorship. And he is right in a way. I don't black out swear words in our books, but I won't put Harry Potter in the library, either, because it is a fight that isn't worth starting. I've had families touring the school say, "You don't have Harry Potter in the library, do you?" I've had two discussions about Harry already this school year, and the folks who raised objections about the books in the conversations were vehement in their disapproval of the series. Is it censorship not to have the series in the library? No. It is a choice. My students can access the books at home, on e-readers, and at the library. And my students who read Harry know that I have read the series and I'll talk to them about the books. But I also cringe inside every time I read Wild About Books out loud to a class because she buys "waterproof books for the otter who never went swimming without Harry Potter." I wait a heartbeat before continuing, always wondering if I'm going to get a negative comment from a student about even mentioning the series. Even at school yesterday, when talking with a colleague about some books her kids are reading I paused, wondering if I should warn her about some controversial content in an upcoming book. I decided that she wasn't asking for my professional input so I kept my thoughts to myself. Their family can enjoy the series and encounter the material as they choose.

There are times I envy public school and public library employees. They just provide the materials and let the children and the families make their own choices about content. Patrons or students check out what they want and deal with the content if it comes up. I guess this was the approach I tried with the colleague yesterday. This is not the first time I have wrestled with this issue of censorship on this blog, but I feel no closer to answers than I was back then.

I guess if the alternative to all of this is not putting new books in the library or only being able to talk to students about books and then send them to Amazon or to the public library to get what they want, I wouldn't be happy with that alternative either. It may be time to process all this with my principal and find out what the expectations truly are.

What are your thoughts? What is "censorship?" When is gatekeeping an okay thing and when is it bad? What responsibility do Christian teachers have when it comes to students and literature?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Has It Really Been that Long?

Has it really been a month since I posted here? Wow.... That might be a sign that it's time to scale back the blogging. I have had a couple ideas of things to write about but nothing that felt blog-worthy.

I was all ready to explain my absence with "book fair." Lately, it's what I blame for anything that isn't getting done, from laundry and household chores to emails and blogging. Thankfully I read so much I can get ahead in my book blogging at times.

Book fair was a great experience again this year, but it really does consume about 3 weeks of my life. I start planning and reading some of the books that we'll sell about 6 -8 weeks before the fair. In the month right before, I am recruiting and scheduling and confirming volunteers. The fair itself, from set up to tear down covers 10 days. Those tend to be long days at school and then I bring books home in the evenings and over the weekend so I can talk intelligently with kids and parents about the books we are selling. Tearing down the fair is faster than setting it up, but then we have to put the library back together for school on Monday and we have to wrap up all the financials for the event.

By the end of the fair, I'm usually not sleeping well, so when we finally wrap things up, I try to just sleep and take it easy for the weekend. Otherwise I will be useless to my students and colleagues on Monday. And I have learned to schedule a day off some time during the week following the fair. In my head, this will offset the 10-12 hours days during the book fair, although in reality it probably doesn't do as much for me as the 11 or 12 hours sleep I get the first night after we close the fair.

So, the fall fair is complete. We'll do another in the spring, but I'm going to try not to think about that until January!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Blog Stat Wars

I have been blogging for over 5 years. At one time, I had three blogs going at once and I was posting 6 days a week in some combination on those three blogs. My book blog is the more consistent of the two I have currently - I post three times a week, every week, and some weeks I hit 5 posts because I have been reading a lot lately. That is the more popular of the two, probably because of the clear focus/purpose for the blog, and the consistency.

My husband started a football-related blog several years ago but had trouble keeping up with it. Recently he started blogging again, focusing on the new football season and on fantasy football in particular.

I'm not sure when the stat wars started, but it was not long after he started posting again. I think he was enjoying the popularity of his second post about Peyton Manning. To date, it has been viewed 51 times. Of the seven posts he's written since re-launching, the smallest number of views has been 7, but most posts are running in the high teens.

Yesterday I posted my 986th post on Bring on the Books. I don't know if anyone has read the first seven posts besides me. It's only been this year that I have seen any sort of "traffic" on my blog.

I was teasing my husband about his quick "success" compared to my years and years of posting and he said, "Consider the topics - how many people play fantasy football and how many people read books?"

I laughed at his teasing, but unfortunately it is true. This time of year, a lot of folks are looking for football news. In fact, one of my more popular posts on this blog lately was the one titled "The BenJarvus Green-Ellis Incident!"

There's a small part of me that is jealous that my husband is seeing such quick success. Earlier this year, though, I wrestled with my blog stats and wondered if I should just stop blogging. It's a lot of work if no one is going to read it. But then I thought about what my life would look like without it. Even if no one reads it, I have to have a forum to tell the "world" about the books I read. I know there are a few families who stop by when the kids are looking for a new book. I want to be there for them, and I want to generate content regularly so they have things to choose from when they do come by. So, even if it is only three family members and a couple of friends whose kids are readers, so be it. I'll keep blogging no matter who comes by to read.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I Swear!

Last year I had a student return a Chronicles of Narnia book to the school library because the author used the word "damn" and the student's parent didn't want him to continue reading it. Having listened to almost the whole series on audio book, I knew C.S. Lewis used that word a few times throughout the series.

I am convinced that "damn" isn't a swear word in Britain. J. K. Rowling uses it throughout the Harry Potter books. She also has scenes in which characters swear, but she never gives the reader the exact words. I love that. It is enough to know that the character is using foul language without telling me verbatim which words he/she uses. If she is that careful to just describe the swearing, but she freely uses "damn," it makes me think that it doesn't mean what we think it does in America. But American authors use it, too.

I have been reviewing books for our upcoming book fair over the last few weeks. I do this not only so I can talk intelligently with students about the books when our fair rolls around, but also because I teach at a Christian school. I have a responsibility to know what's in as many of the books that we sell (or choose not to sell) as I can.

Two of the books in my preview pile also used the word "damn." One was an historic fiction novel taking place in the early 60s during integration. One of the black characters is frustrated about the discrimination he is experiencing every day, and he is ranting to his younger sister about her naivety. He swears twice.  In the other book, one character uses the word one time. I don't even remember the context now.

My first thought with both of these was "Was that really necessary?" In books that are marketed to upper elementary students as well as middle school students, do we have to include foul language, even if it is minor in the world of foul language? I don't think either of these stories would have "lost" anything without the language.

My second thought was "Does this mean I can't put this book in our library or sell it at the fair?" This historic fiction one was an AMAZING book. When I type up my review, I will give it 5 stars because I thought it was that fantastic. I would love to share this with students. But that little bit of language - language that didn't feel essential to me in the telling of the story - could raise flags for administration and parents. I believe that authors have the prerogative to write their stories as they choose. I guess I just wonder why they choose to include language you wouldn't want to hear your 10-year-old use at school....

My school has a policy for situations like this. And I can comfortably make a case for this book fitting in our policy. The larger story says important things about our history, about race, about education, about writing. The book is not "saturated" with foul language. If challenged, I can cite why I believe we should overlook the language in favor of the larger story.

I just wish I didn't have to....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The BenJarvus Green-Ellis Incident

Our family is crazy about football. Because of our great love of the game, we have played fantasy football for years. This year, my son "fired' my husband as his co-manager and picked me up as his helper instead.

The main reason for this personnel change was the draft philosophy.

My husband is a by-the-book drafter. He follows the recommendations of the "experts." In my son's league, my husband was drafting for one of the kids who couldn't make the draft. He picked three running backs and then three wide receivers. He didn't panic and jump out for a QB just because other folks were picking them up. He followed his plan, picking the best player available at each round.

My philosophy is that I want players on my fantasy team that I actually LIKE. As a Packers fan, I will NEVER draft Adrian Peterson, even if I have the first pick in the draft. I won't bother with players in the NFC North unless they wear green and gold. I've been in leagues where I picked Aaron Rodgers "ridiculously early" by the expert's advice. But I knew that if I left that draft without Rodgers, I would not be looking forward to playing fantasy football. So, when my son wanted Jimmy Graham in the second round, I said "Go for it." He had Graham two years ago and loved having him on his team, but he missed out on him last year. When he wanted Reggie Wayne in the third round and Andrew Luck in the fourth, I said, "Sure!" What's the point of playing fantasy football if you can't root for some guys from "your team?" The other, older players in the room kept their scoffing to a minimum and my husband kept his comments about our picks to himself.

Then, in the 5th round, my "go ahead, pick with your heart" philosophy hit a snag when my son said he wanted to draft BenJarvus Green-Ellis. With the 43rd pick in their draft. On our list, Green-Ellis was the 36th ranked running back. There were still lots of better-ranked RBs available at this point in the draft. My son's not even a Bengals fan or anything. I have NO CLUE why he latched onto this player! This was going to be his last pick for 14 picks! But he was adamant. And it was ultimately HIS team and HIS draft.

This early in the season, it remains to be seen if this will be a good pick for my son, or if it will always be referred to "The BenJarvus Green-Ellis Incident" in our home. What I do know is my son left his draft happy, looking forward to playing fantasy football this year. And that's all that really matters to me.

My husband read me this article over the weekend about fantasy-football expert, Matthew Berry's experience of drafting with his son. I'll let you decide based on my story and his which is a better draft plan - follow the plan or follow your heart. But I imagine he will hear about "The RG III Incident" at his house for years to come.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Should I Read Next?

Here is a fun graphic from Teach.com to help readers of young adult fiction figure out what to read next. I'm posting it here and also on my book blog; it's great! Teach.com also sent me some background information on the flowchart - take a look.

Teach.com, a comprehensive online resource dedicated to helping great teachers use resources to support students in their learning and development, has just released the Young Adult Summer Reading Flowchart—a follow up to their successful Summer Reading Flowchart. This year, they addressed a second demographic, focusing on books for young adults across many genres; though, these books can appeal to people of all ages. The past few years have seen the mass popularity of young adult novels and series, including Twilight and the Hunger Games, as well as the revival of a few older books. The Young Adult Summer Flowchart walks you through roughly 100 books, asking questions about a series of genres and themes to help young adult readers to arrive at the perfect book. The chart helps students who are looking for a specific title, or those who have yet to establish what they are looking for. The summer months is a break from school, but shouldn’t be a break from learning (and by extension, reading). The Young Adult Summer Reading Flowchart is a fun infographic to help students get excited about reading and finding the right book for them.

The Young Adult Summer Reading Flowchart
Brought to you by Teach.com

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Parenting Dilemmas

A friend said something to me last week.

"If you give your child the 'treat' before she does what she's supposed to do, it's a bribe. If you give it to her afterwards, it's a reward."

She had heard this from her pediatrician. I thought that was really interesting....

My son forgot to bring some homework home last weekend. My first thought was to take away a game he had just gotten. Video games, computer time and TV time are the first things we take away when he is in trouble. But then I got to thinking that the game was a REWARD for something he already did. It felt crummy to take away something he had just earned.

My husband wondered if we were going to go by the school and get what he forgot. I have keys. We could have done that. But I didn't want to bail him out like that. I can't do that when he is in middle school. What would it teach him if I bailed him out?

My son said he could get the homework done at school. I decided I'd let him try. If he could pull his fat out of the fire on his own, okay. He'd learn a couple lessons that way - to fix his own messes and to remember his homework in the future so he doesn't have to scramble like this again.

This parenting thing is tough sometimes - where do you help and coach and where do you step back? Where do you dole out consequences and where do you let circumstances do that? When do you offer rewards (not bribes) and when do you let the satisfaction of the work speak for itself?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Career Day

We had "Career Day" at school last week in honor of Labor Day. I went as a librarian. I even got to get a picture with one of the aspiring librarians at school, which was a treat for me.

Sometimes I think about going back to school to get some training specifically for this calling in my life. I don't have formal library training and I have only had a handful of education courses. For a couple years now I have had my eye on a master's program in Children's Literature. It just sounds so cool! Children's literature is my passion.

But something else happened last week besides Career Day. I got to watch two of our youngest students work on their first reading assessment of the year. Something just wasn't working when they did it with the whole class, and the teachers didn't have the freedom to sit and watch these two kids test for 20 or 30 minutes. So they came to the library and tested with me. It was fascinating! I loved watching the kids work on each question, listening to them sound things out. The assessment is set up so when the student chooses an answer, it gets highlighted on the screen. One little guy thought that highlighting meant he got it right, so every time it lit up, he said "yes!" and punched his fist. Darling!

It made me wonder what it's like to work closely with students on their reading. It made me wonder what skills I could help with in the library that would support what students and teachers and parents are doing already. Maybe certification in reading would be a better way to take my training rather than Children's Literature.

I'm not in any position to go back to school right now, but while I am waiting for the right time, there's lots to think about.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Yellow Belt

My son has been taking Tae Kwon Do for the last 6 months or so, and last weekend he completed his yellow belt test. It was a grueling day for him. It started at 10 am with a written test and finished with 5 hours of physical tasks.

I was so very proud of how hard he worked.

This is not something that comes naturally to him. He does a great job intellectually - he knew his paragraphs, he knew the moves. What was missing was "the heart" - a ferocity that just isn't part of his nature. This is something he is going to have to fight for and work on for every belt test in the future.

During one routine, the coaches came out and talked to him about "looking mean." It wasn't about going through the motions, but it was about giving the impression that he was really in a battle with 4 foes. When he went through the routine the next time, I got tears in my eyes because he looked so fierce.

I love the group we chose for these lessons. Even though they prepped him for weeks about being really tough on him, and yelling at him and making things deliberately hard during this test, they were still coaches and teachers first. There were a few times when one would pull him aside and talk one and one about what he was doing or what he needed to be doing. They were a great encouragement to him, which I greatly appreciated.

If I had to make a list of our best parenting decisions, signing him up for these lessons would be high on the list. The confidence I hope he gains from this experience will be a great asset to him in the future.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

School Year So Far

We are about two weeks into the new school year, and I am having a great time so far! I'm not sure if it is my schedule this year, or the fact that I actually took the summer off, but I feel more refreshed right now than I did last year.

In fact, my family reminded me that I worked last Saturday for several hours. I had forgotten all about it. I was able to get a lot of things done, which freed me up during the week to get some other things done. It was great!

I just finished a great time-management book called 18 Minutes and I feel like I was reading it at just the right time! It was an excellent reminder to take deep breaths, to focus on one task at a time, and to prioritize my time on the things that are most important to me. Good stuff! I highly recommend it.

I have high hopes for this school year. I have been thoroughly impressed with our new superintendent and principal for this year. I love seeing my students after the long summer, and slowly but surely I am learning the names of the 100 new students I have this year.

This will be a great year!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

If Only ONE

In my last two posts I have talked about how I've been fighting anxiety this summer, and last time I shared about two techniques that I tried that seem to be helping. I'm also trying one other thing that could be a key to a variety of emotional strains - the anxiety, frequent feelings of being overwhelmed, setting unrealistic expectations and disappointment when I can't meet those expectations.

I am trying to focus on ONE - one thing at a time. I have so many passions and projects and ideas and interests, I can easily be paralyzed by so many choices. Not only am I wondering what I should do next - work or read or crafts - but then there are the myriad of choices within each choice. It's ridiculous.

It would be easy to say that I should just NOT be that person, but it is too much a part of my pattern, a part of who I've been for a long time. It's hard to turn that part of me off.

So I started focusing on just the next choice. Not my next five books, but the ONE I'm going to read right now. I ask myself, "If I can only read one more book this summer (or month or whatever), what is the ONE I want to read?" When I want to be crafty, I ask "What is the ONE project that captures my interest right now?" rather than listing every option I have in the house over and over, wondering what to choose, until my crafting time has disappeared.

When this summer started, I had a list of books I was going to read. Even though I read over 100 books on my break from school, only a few items got crossed off my master list, leaving me feeling like I failed in some way. But if I focus on today and on ONE thing - the right-now thing - maybe I can step out from under the pressure I put on myself. Sure, I'll still make lists. They help me organize my thoughts and prioritize and not forget things. But hopefully I can then choose the ONE next thing and set the rest of the list aside for awhile.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Punching and Prayer

I've tried two things to help with my anxiety (see previous post) that seem to be working.

1) Punching - In Jon Acuff's book Start, he talks about "punching fear in the face." He advises writing down the things fear says to you when you think about or start trying to make changes in your life. Fear usually says things like, "That will never work" or "It's too late for you to make this change." After you've identified the fears, Jon says to refute them, in detail. So I tried that with my anxiety. Since I knew what I was worried about, I then asked myself:
"What's the worst that could possibly happen in this situation?"
"How likely is this worst case scenario?"
"What supports and resources do I have if the worst actually does happen?"
"What are my options?"

Each situation I applied this to started to seem less scary and more manageable.

2) Prayer - I found this resource about anxiety online. But instead of reading the verses over and over, I decided to write them out in my own words and direct them at my specific circumstances. I only got through two verses - both re-writing and also some drawing to go with my thoughts - but I felt SO much better. Just from those two verses. And every time I have gone back to re-read those two verses, I have felt affirmed and at peace.

Will my anxiety return?

YES. Worry is too much of a habit for me at this point.

But I feel more equipped today than I did a week ago to address my fears and anxiety so it does not grow to control and consume me.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Anxiety Sucks

This has been an anxious summer for me. I'm not sure if this is a  new development or if I have just kept myself so manically busy these last couple years that I didn't have time to be anxious.

The anxiety isn't to a level where I feel like I need medication or therapy. It's been like a blanket draped over my lap - I'm aware it's there, but I can forget about it, too. When I notice it, I feel the gnawing in my stomach and the dread in my chest. For the most part, I can name the causes, although I have had some weird dreams this summer (almost all set at school) that have been hard to place.

The frustrating thing is that I haven't found a good technique for combating the anxiety other than naming it, journalling about it and waiting it out. I prefer to be more proactive than that.

I am going to spend some time in scripture, looking for some guiding principles. This time of year is too busy to not feel my best.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Soap Opera Isn't Dead

My grandmother watched her "programs" faithfully for years. In fact, when I visited their house, we often watched them together. When I was in college, she would catch me up over breaks when I went home.

Soap operas were something of a joke back then. Popular, but a joke. I remember one show had a story line where one of the main characters was possessed. In one of the shows my grandmother and I watched, several of the characters had married - and re-married - eachother multiple times in some twisted sort of round-robin. One of my favorite movies, Soap Dish, mocks how soap operas will bring characters back from the dead - no matter how unlikely the resurrection would be.

One by one, the soap operas that were prevalent in my childhood have gone off the air. There aren't many left. But I recently discovered a replacement.

Comic Books

Our family loves comics. My husband makes a weekly stop at one of our local comic shops. We love the Marvel movies like the Avengers. (I am less of a fan of the DC options). I read a few comic books, but not too many because I find it frustrating not to know the backstory of the characters.

Recently we have been watching the X-Men movies as a family. I decided to see if I could find some of the backstory I crave by doing some internet research. I started with the X-Men character, Jean Grey. I found this article online.

What struck me as I was reading through this was how much it sounded like the plot of a soap opera:
*exposed to radiation, changing her powers
*turns evil, and kills herself when she has a moment of clarity and sees what she has done
*resurrected because the evil version was only a copy (a twin - classic soap opera ploy)
*cloned and the clone married her husband (who thought Jean was dead) and now that Jean is back, the clone wants her dead
*loses her powers

Well, you get the idea. And this is just one character! So, if you are missing the soap operas of old, or if you are looking for some new stories that are just as intricate (and sometimes convoluted) as you can imagine, check out some comic books!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer Reading Update - final

Summer is over. I'm trying not to think that in a whiny tone. While I am looking forward to seeing students and getting this school year started, I know that the first few weeks are super busy and there's not much time for reading. Here are the last few books I read this summer:

(releases 2/25/14)

(releases 4/15/14)

The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett (Origami Yoda Series #4) (B&N Exclusive Edition)

18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done

I'd say it was a successful summer of reading. While I didn't get to all the titles I wanted to read, I was able to get through over 100 books and some were real treats!

So, what did YOU read this summer?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cleaning House

"He [Jesus] is going to clean house - make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned." ~ Luke 3:17

This summer I've been working on cleaning around the house - cleaning out the office/craft room and helping my son clean out his bedroom. Each room was a major undertaking. When I do projects like this, I like to empty the room first in order to reconnect with the space and look for ways to reclaim some of the space in new ways. Then, bit by bit, all the things we removed either get a new spot back in the room or they are sorted into trash, recycle or give away piles.

I have to be in the right mood for this project. If I'm not fired up to make the "hard" choices of what to get rid of, it becomes a shuffling of items rather than any actual purging. Sometimes I have started this project and gotten only so far and had to just put it all back because I just wasn't ready to really make the tough decisions.

My son's room was the harder of the two projects. My son is sentimental and he keeps everything - rocks, papers, paper airplanes, tags, cards, drawings, stories, office supplies, etc. He had NO interest in letting me clean out the room for him, afraid I would trash all of his little treasures. There were times I would just stand in the middle of the room feeling overwhelmed. Some spots were in such disarray I didn't even know where to start. So, it took a whole week to do this one room.

We were in the middle of the bedroom project when I read this verse from the Message. John the Baptist was talking about Jesus and the work he was coming to do. I imagined Jesus standing in the "room" of my life. Does he stand there sometimes, noticing all the places that are so out of hand it's hard to know where to start? What are the things that I cling to, that I don't want him to purge from my character?

May I learn to let go as Jesus cleans up my life.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Reading Changes People

"The Bible says, 'Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?' (James 2) If you have taken God's Word to heart and truly made it part of you, it will by its very nature change you."
~ Intro to SOLO: An Uncommon Devotional

Last year I did a lesson with my students where I asked them why reading matters. We have made a huge deal about reading through our adoption of Accelerated Reader. We have parties to celebrate students who meet their goals, we have one or two book fairs a year to get books into the hands of students, and I give silent reading time in almost every library class. Why? Why is this reading thing such a big deal?

The students gave a variety of answers and then we looked at my list where I reviewed what they said and filled in some of the gaps they didn't think of. I did this lesson in 13 or more classes last year. In all of those classes, I only had one student - ONE, at a Christian school - talk about reading as it relates to the Christian life.

Books change us. Whether they change us because they teach us new information or because they give us insight and empathy for others or because they inspire us to do something amazing or because they teach us what we DON'T want to do, they change us. We can read the same book year after year and get something new from it, or understand it with a different nuance because of our maturity or our life experiences. While this is true of books in general, it is true of the Bible in the extreme. How many Easter sermons have you heard? How many times have you read about the prodigal son?  Hopefully each time you catch something new, or it speaks to you in a new way because you are a different person than you were the last time you dug into that passage. Good material speaks to us as we change and grow. Reading changes people.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Summer Reading Update

Things started amping up for school last week, so my reading has slowed down considerably. In fact, I missed my goal of reading 50 books in July by six books. But what I have lost in quantity, I have picked up in quality. A couple of these are fantastic.

July 28
Hurry Up, Houdini! (Magic Tree House Series #50)

The Flying Beaver Brothers: Birds vs. Bunnies

The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Mud-Slinging Moles

Calling All Pets! (Pet Hotel Series #1)

A Big Surprise (Pet Hotel Series #2)

July 30
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

August 1
Danika's Totally Terrible Toss: The Legend of the Purple Flurp (Secret Keeper Girl Series)

August 3
Counting by 7s

Max Steel: The Parasites, Vol. 1

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Best Kid Ever

In the last couple years I have come to appreciate my son's enthusiasm for travel and other things. Last year we stayed at an airport hotel before leaving on a trip to Disney World. My son declared it "the best hotel ever!" (At least until we got to the Animal Kingdom Lodge at WDW!)

This summer on vacation, we got a room with a hide-a-bed so he could have his own space in the room. Even better, it was in a part of the room with a TV, so he could lay in bed and watch a movie. He was reluctant to leave and declared it the "best bed ever."

We recently had our bathroom remodeled. After his first shower in the new tub, he announced it was the best shower ever. A meal he likes? The best ever. A book he enjoyed? The best ever.

After getting to meet an author he likes, I asked him, "Wasn't that cool?!"
     "It was AWESOME!!"

I love his enthusiasm for life and his appreciation of new experiences. It's easy, as an adult, to take things for granted because I've experienced several versions of the same thing. A hotel bed is a hotel bed. But my son is a joy to take places (Well, most of the time. He can be a pill on occasion.) because if he enjoys himself, he really enjoys the experience - telling stories and asking questions about it for weeks and months to come.

I hope he keeps this attitude and appreciation and excitement for these experiences. It's endearing, and as a parent, it makes doing the big vacations and the special events worthwhile because we can enjoy the experience as a family and know he really appreciates the opportunities.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

To Write Or Not to Write

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because school starts in less than two weeks - who has time to proofread?!

In  June I signed up for Teachers Write, a free summer writing program with prompts and advice and feedback from authors and other writers and teachers. For the first week, I stayed with every day's activities. Then we left for a vacation, and I thought, "I'll pick it up when we get home."

I took my writer's notebook with me on the trip. I even got a story idea that I jotted down so I wouldn't forget. And I wrote in a travel journal while we were gone. I kept track of all the things we did while on vacation. When we got home I saw all the Facebook notices about what I missed from Teachers Write, but I wasn't ready to dive in again. I was "still on vacation."

Two weeks later, I could no longer cite the "I'm still on vacation" excuse. If I'm honest with myself, I'm not writing - and not reading about writing - because I'm scared....

.... scared to sit down and try this story idea and find out I can't pull together more than a paragraph.
.... scared to wrestle with writing or planning - do I dive in and see where things go or do I outline a plan?
.... scared to write about things that are tense or that scare me
.... scared to find out I can't write fiction
.... scared to find out that what I do finally write just stinks

Writing is fear for me right now. Jon Acuff would tell me to "punch fear in the face." I guess it's time to dive back in and see if fear is ready for a pounding.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Reading Update

Instead of reading my way through last week, I spent it helping my son clean out and re-organize his bedroom. I also started a review book from a publisher that I just didn't care for. I wanted to give it a few chapters try, but since I didn't like it from the start, I wasn't jumping at the chance to read when I got a break. I finally gave up on it. So, only three books this week, and I am considerably behind my goal of 50 for July (only at 38). We'll see how this week goes....

July 22
Jump Shot

July 23
Frosting and Friendship

July 24
Drop Dead Chocolate (Donut Shop Mystery Series #7)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Who Am I that You Are Mindful of Me?

Who am I that You are mindful of me?
     I am a mess
     I am broken
     I may seem confident on the outside but You and I know the truth.
     Fear lurks beneath the surface. Anxiety churns.
          Desperate to figure it all out, to get it all right,
          yet failing time and time again because
          what I seek is never going to be found in me.

Yet knowing all this, despite all this, You still speak to me. You show me me.
     You challenge my facade with the truth we both know is there.
     And You draw out what is better.

Who am I that You are mindful of me?
     That You would take the time to show me truth and encourage growth
          that will come at a snail's pace,
          teaching lessons that will have to be taught
          again and again?

How is it that I am not so hopeless for You,
     Creator of the Universe,
     to even bother with me?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Holiness Is Hard

A friend on Facebook was asking for recommendations on a devotional recently. I was interested in the responses because I was hoping to kick start my own devotional time after slacking off this spring. (I always assume I need new material when I slack, rather than putting the blame squarely on my own shoulders.)

One suggestion she got was SOLO: An Uncommon Devotional by Eugene Peterson/The Message. So I picked up the New Testament version to supplement my NIV/Message Bible reading.

Day one focused on Matthew 5:27-29, 33-37. The last section, especially, spoke about how we can say things and not follow through, or say things with no intention of following through, or throw religious-sounding sentiments on our words to sound awesome and spiritual - but instead, we make our words a lie.

As part of the devotional, the reader is supposed to read and think and pray - listening as well as talking. And as I listened, I felt like Jesus was saying, "You need me. If you want true holiness - in your thoughts as well as your words, you need me. Holiness is hard."

I know this to be true. I know the things that are in my mind and heart, and they don't always honor God like they should. I feel as though if I were to focus on this idea alone - consistency and holiness in thoughts as well as words - for the rest of my devotional and prayer life, I would still be working, still be needing Jesus' help, until the end.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer Reading Update

I'm still working towards my 50 book goal for July - and I need to kick it into gear because I am off my pace! Here's what I read over the last week:

July 14
The Silver Six
The Silver Six


July 16
Killer Crullers (Donut Shop Mystery Series #6)
Killer Crullers

July 18
Hen of the Baskervilles (Meg Langslow Series #15)
Hen of the Baskervilles

July 20
Rules of Murder
Rules of Murder

That takes me to 35 books, out of 50. I'll be doing a lot of reading this week!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The End of 52 Lists?

There hasn't been a new list prompt on Morea Seal's blog in quite some time. I'm not sure if the project just lost steam for her, or if there is something more serious distracting her from it. Whatever the reason, I wish her the best. I enjoyed the project while it lasted. So here is my final list - List #20

List Your Summer Goals

1. Take most of June and all of July off from school work.
2. Set up the teacher resource area in the library (once I head back in August)
3. Review some professional development books and sample lesson plans to help with planning for the new year
4. When school starts, I want my son and I to feel like we got to do fun things this summer - days at the pool, bowling, Lego days, craft projects, etc.
5. Finish the Lego mini-figure project we have been planning
6. Clean out the office so I have crafting space for the future
7. Clean out my son's room so you can see the floor.
8. Clean off a significant portion of my To Be Read book shelves.

[Yes, I know these aren't very specific goals - the summer is almost over. I'll just have to do the best I can with these vague goals for now!]

What are your summer goals?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

And the Baton Is Passed

When I got pregnant, I was completely convinced I was going to go right back to work after my son was born. And I did. But I was miserable. I had no idea how much I would adore that needy little bundle. I wanted him all to myself. So I left my job and worked various jobs from home so that I could be home with my son. We have been pals for years - singing songs, snuggling, reading books together, regular trips to Barnes and Noble. Even though I am working again, we still have our summers together for bowling and the pool and just hanging out at home.

I've noticed a shift in the last year, though. Lately there have been a lot more "guys days" at our house. My husband and my son have gone to movies together or golfing or the children's museum. On our vacation, while I was at a conference, the boys went to various museums and other sites. And as I am typing this, they are at a weekend Father/Son camp together.

And I couldn't be happier. I love that they are getting to spend this time together. I love that they are interested in the same things. I love that they WANT to be together.

This is how it is supposed to be. This is the natural progression as my son gets older. I hope he continues to have a great relationship with his father as we move into his teen years.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer Reading Progress

Last week I was able to do a lot of reading while my son had swim lessons and other activities.  Here's the list for the week of July 8th (the ones with * were my favorites for the week, and I'll review all the ones I liked on my book blog):

The Day the Crayons Quit
The Day the Crayons Quit

Arnie the Doughnut
Arnie, the Doughnut

Galaxy Zack: The Journey to Juno
Journey to Juno (Galaxy Zack Series #2)

Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School*
Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School

Ivy and Bean: What's the Big Idea?
Ivy and Bean What's the Big Idea? (Ivy and Bean Series #7)

123 verses ABC
123 versus ABC

Cinderella Smith*
Cinderella Smith

Agent Amelia: Ghost Diamond
Ghost Diamond!

The Mysterious Manuscript
(graphic novel - photo not available)

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Blue Gem
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Blue Gem



Bird and Squirrel On the Run!*
Bird & Squirrel on the Run

Young Sherlock Holmes
The Young Sherlock Holmes Adventures V1 TP (NOOK Comics with Zoom View)

Summer Camp Science Mysteries: Nighttime Cabin Thief
The Nighttime Cabin Thief: A Mystery about Light

Tommysaurus Rex*
Tommysaurus Rex

Arnie the Doughnut: Bowling Alley Bandit
Bowling Alley Bandit

That takes me to 30 books towards my 50 book goal for July in the #SummerThrowdown.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

52 Lists - List the Things You Want to Be Known For

Inspiring people - especially kids - to read and to love reading and writing
Treating others with respect/honor/kindness
Being firm but fair - students/staff knew I loved them
Having a ready smile - being of good cheer
Helping people - encouraging, getting things done that helped people, understanding others
A strong marriage/family
being my son's mom and my husband's wife - in all the best ways, of course

Thursday, July 11, 2013

ALA Observations and Notes

We had a great time at the annual meeting of the American Library Association this past month.  The whole family enjoyed touring various sites in Chicago, and we all got to meet favorite authors and learn about new books. It was a great time.

No matter how tired I was each day (and trust me, I was tired), I tried to jot down notes of the things I did and the people I met. When the conference was all done, I tried to write down all the little observations and notes I had made to myself mentally. As this was my first trip to ALA, I wanted to remember these for next time (which probably won't be in 2014 as they are heading to Vegas which isn't a great family vacation spot). Here are my notes, in no particular order:

*On the last day, talk to booth staff about how they are breaking down their booths. Some publishers gave everything away. Others sold their stock and still others packed everything back up and took it home.
*Some Advance Reader Copies, or ARCs, are not put out for the participants to grab as they walk by, but you can get them if you ask. Some authors were tweeting that their ARCs were available. Other times I scored a great book because I listened to the folks around me. Still other times, I talked to the booth staff about books I liked or asked them what their favorites were and scored some great titles that way, too.
*Be appreciative and courteous. Some vendors said their display copies walked off - things they weren't planning to give away! Even if it is an ARC, if it's not displayed at the front of the booth, don't assume it is there for the taking. If there wasn't a sign or a crowd grabbing copies, I erred on the side of asking. And always say thank you! This costs publishers something and in this economy, I think they are very generous. They could easily move to all electronic ARCs or just stick with the most prominent review sources or libraries. The fact that I could get access to some of these awesome titles as a librarian from a small private school was a big deal.
*Bring cash. Not every vendor (or cab driver) could easily manage credit.
*Make a list. I had a list of signings and events I wanted to attend each day along with the booth number (the publishers name would have been a good addition). I also noted the ARCs I wanted most and where I could find them so I could focus my attention there and not get caught up in the chaos of grabbing every ARC available.
*Rolling bags might be bulky, but they would have been less abusive to my shoulder muscles than all the bags I carried every day.
*At signings, only have books personalized that you want to keep forever. Otherwise, a general signature works better to put the book in the library or to pass the ARC on to someone else.
*Know your priorities and follow them. Saturday morning I was tempted to follow the crowd of folks I was near because they were heading for a booth that was giving away a bag of "something." I decided to skip that (I knew the bags would be long gone by the time I got there) and go straight to the top author signing of my whole trip. Even heading straight to that booth, I was number 19 in a line that quickly started to spiral in on itself 30 minutes before the event was to start.
*Be kind - talk to folks around you. One person in a signing line pointed me to a vendor to talk about a problem I am having with my encyclopedias. On the shuttle buses, move to the seat by the window and put your stuff on the floor or in your lap. One day I got on a bus and no less than 6 people sat in the aisle seat with their bags on the other seat and an arm flung protectively over it.
*Don't bother bringing reading material unless you need something for the voyage there. I brought a stack of books to read plus personal books I wanted to get signed. The books for signing would have been sufficient because there were a couple that were brand new and unread.

So, those are my notes from my first trip to the American Library Association's annual meeting. It was an amazing experience and I'm so fortunate to have been able to experience it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer Reading Update

Well, we are back from our vacation, which included a trip to the American Library Association's annual meeting. To say I am in book heaven would be an understatement. In fact, I think we have moved into "too much of a good thing" territory as I have books I have bought for myself, books I brought back from ALA and books from school stacked around the house waiting for my attention. And my attention is often elsewhere with other projects I want to get done before school starts back up in a few short weeks.

As June came to an end, I moved from the #bookaday challenge into #SummerThrowdown. Summer Throwdown used to be a teachers vs. librarians reading contest, but to keep things friendly, this year we are all setting personal goals and working to reach them together. My goal for the month of July is 50 books. As of right now, I have read 13. Here is the list of what I have read since the last time (and I will blog about most of these as the summer goes on):

#bookaday June 28th - Tragic Toppings
Tragic Toppings (Donut Shop Mystery Series #5)

#bookaday June 30th - WARP: The Reluctant Assassin
The Reluctant Assassin

Summer Throwdown
Are the Dinosaurs Dead, Dad?
Are the Dinosaurs Dead, Dad?

Lion vs. Rabbit
Lion vs. Rabbit

Penguin's Hidden Talent
Penguin's Hidden Talent

Being Frank (Advanced Reader Copy or ARC provided by publishers to bloggers, reviewers, librarians, etc.) - this has been one of my favorite books so far this month
Being Frank

Secret Pizza Party (ARC)
Secret Pizza Party

Year of the Jungle (ARC) - this has been my other favorite. And yes, the author is the same person who wrote The Hunger Games
Year of the Jungle

Thomas Jefferson's Feast (ALA Sampler)
Thomas Jefferson's Feast

The Snatchabook (ARC)

Brick City
Brick City: Global Icons to Make from LEGO

Sea of Monsters Graphic Novel
The Sea of Monsters: The Graphic Novel

Star Wars Jedi Academy (ARC)
Star Wars: Jedi Academy

Spy Academy: Mission Twinpossible
[no picture available - this was a prize for the library summer reading program - from Scholastic]

3-2-3 Detective Agency
3-2-3 Detective Agency: The Disappearance of Dave Warthog

I have NO idea what I am going to read next. I have a mystery that I take here and there so I have something to read if I have to wait, but lately I haven't been waiting much (or I have been chatting instead of sitting). Hopefully I'll get to dig into some new material this weekend. I do have a box from Amazon coming tomorrow....