Monday, December 31, 2012

50 Books in 2012!

Well, I did it! I met my goal of reading 50 books in 2012. Since getting my Nook a few years ago, I have really rediscovered my love of reading. Turns out I'm not actually too busy to read, I'm just too lazy to go to the library! So, armed with the internet and an e-reader, I have been re-experiencing as an adult the obsession with reading I had as a kid.

I use to track my books - I love how I can keep a list of books I want to read. I also tag books that they carry at my local library, so that when I do get off my lazy booty to go get real live books, I know which ones they have. I also like to tag books according to how I found out about them - a friend, message board, review in a magazine, browsing a bookstore, etc. If anyone wants to follow my reviews or friend me there, my profile is

Goodreads also keeps track of the books you read and how you rated them, so here are my 4-star and 5-star reviews from 2012. To me, a 5-star review means that I loved it, couldn't stop thinking about it, and couldn't wait to get back to reading it. Also that I think most people would enjoy reading it. A 4-star review means that I really liked it, couldn't wait to finish it, and I think most people that like the same types of books that I do would enjoy reading it.

So here we go!

5-Star Books
*Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
*Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See
*The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
*The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
*11/22/63, by Stephen King   

My favorites here were The Fault in Our Stars and The Night Circus. Both beautifully written, original books. The other 3 happen to be historical fiction, and I loved what they taught me about the time period, as well as enjoying the story.

4-Star Books
*Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling
*Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks
*The Girls, by Lori Lansens
*Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
*The Weight of Silence, by Heather Gudenkauf
*What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty
*The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
*Matched, by Allie Condie
*Room, by Emma Donoghue
*Sister, by Rosamund Lupton
*Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
*A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness
*Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
*The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
*Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
*The Soldier's Wife, by Margaret Leroy
*The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman
*The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker
Even as I'm typing these out, I'm second guessing so many of my ratings. It's hard for me to differentiate between 4 and 5 star books. My favorites from this list, the 4.5 star ones, I guess, would probably be Year of Wonders, Gone Girl, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, The Language of Flowers, Rules of Civility, and The Age of Miracles.

And I do want to do a disclaimer here that I have a low threshold for violence and gore in books, but a pretty high threshold for language, and non-graphic sex scenes. So there are books on my list that I would consider R-rated, for those who are sensitive to those types of books.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Family Fitness Challenge, Part 2

Two years ago, I posted about the first round of the Fitness Challenge my family was doing. Since then, we've done several rounds, and modified it a bit. I think the round we just finished was either our fourth or fifth, and we've tweaked some things each time. So I thought I'd do another post about the changes we've made, in case anyone is interested in doing something like this with their family.

The basic set-up of the challenge has pretty much remained the same. Everyone pays in at the beginning to a Paypal account (usually $30-$40 per person, per round). Then we track daily and weekly points, and the winners at the end split the money. We've done the challenges anywhere from 7 to 10 weeks. In my opinion, 8 weeks is about perfect.

Here is how we do our Healthy Habits points:

Daily Points
*5 servings of fruits/veggies: 2 pts.
*No eating within 2 hours of bedtime: 2 pts.
*Check in with partner via call, text, or Facebook: 2 pts.
*48 oz. water: 2 pts.
*No treats: 2 pts. *You are allowed 1 SMALL treat (the size of your thumb or smaller OR 100 calories worth) per day without losing your 2 points *A treat is defined as candy, cake, cookies, chocolate, pastries, ice cream/frozen yogurt. You may have a reasonably-sized piece of cake on a family member’s birthday or wedding without it counting against your points. Whole fruit popsicles and jello are allowed and not counted as “treats.”*You are allowed one "free day" per week where you can have a treat without it counting against you
Total Daily Points Possible: 68 (10 per day, times 7 days, minus 2 for the "free" treat day)

Weekly Points
Minimum 100 min. of exercise during the week: 10 pts.
Each additional 30 minutes of exercise: 1 pt. (up to 5 additional points)
Weight loss: 1 point for each tenth of a percent of your original weight lost each week, rounded to the tenths place (so if you lost .25% of your original weight in one week, you would get 2.5 points).You can't lose the "same weight" twice, so you have to drop below your previous lowest weight in the challenge to earn weight loss points.

We have a private Facebook page set up to track points, chat, share recipes, etc. We report our points there each week, and on a spreadsheet I set up through Google Docs. At the end of the challenge, we usually have 1-3 overall winners, and 1-2 winners for just straight weight loss. This time we also had a participation prize, just for someone who tracked points all the way to the end, but wasn't one of the leaders.

I have really come to love our Family Fitness Challenges. It's fun to have the moral support of my family members, and it's a fun way to get to know family members who live far away. Not sure if I've left anything out of my description here, but if you have any questions, just leave them in the comments!

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Humble thanks, as both a parent and a teacher

On Friday night, like so many millions of other parents across America, I sat on the couch in front of the Christmas tree with my husband and sobbed, my heart broken for the children who died in Connecticut, violated in one of the places where they should have been safe. I felt this tragedy in my gut on so many levels - I am an elementary school teacher. I am a parent of a Kindergartener and a first grader. I work every day with students classified as "Emotionally Disturbed." I couldn't even figure out where to begin my grief, or what to pray for. What could I do? "I guess," I told my husband, still sobbing, "I just start by walking back into the classroom on Monday."

We start by continuing to trust each other, to believe that there is good in the world, and to be a force for that good. We start by being brave, for refusing to live in fear, for promising to look for and assist those who aren't getting the help they need. And we start by going back to school.

As a teacher, I want to thank the parents of my students. Thank you for sending them back to me tomorrow. Thank you for entrusting them to me. Not just tomorrow, but every day, both past and future. Not just their physical safety, but their emotional and mental well-being and growth. I am humbled by that responsibility, humbled by your trust that I will keep them safe, that I will teach them what they need to know, that I will protect their emotions and their innocence and help them to grow into happy, smart, and well-adjusted adults. I feel a new responsibility to the career I have chosen, a new calling to honor it. Thank you for trusting me.

As a parent, I want to thank the teachers of my children. Thank you for walking back into the classroom tomorrow. Because I know that each of you, like I did, stopped to think if we would do what those teachers did if it came to that. And by walking back into the classroom on Monday, I know that is your promise to me that you continue to value and treasure the solemn responsibility of being a teacher.

It's going to be hard to let my little ones walk into their classrooms tomorrow. I've spent the weekend holding them, breathing in the smell of their hair and their skin, pulling them into my lap for extra snuggles. I don't want to let them go into the world, where they're not with me, and I can't control what they see or hear. But I will. I'll squeeze them extra tight, pray for them, and walk back into my classroom on Monday.

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