Fiction as Reality: The World in Which We Live

I hosted a Socratic Circle a few years ago in class after reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World with Accelerated English 11 students. We were discussing the idea of utopia vs. dystopia, but I should step back a moment for non-educators. A Socratic Circle is a form of discussion for comprehending others’ viewpoints after reading or viewing or even listening to something. The students are to lead the discussion by asking and also answering their own questions in collaborative fashion. The teacher is supposed to monitor and not talk, participate, or redirect. You can imagine how some of these turn out…usually it takes five minutes for someone to even start the conversation, and it is quite difficult not to correct them or make harrowing facial expressions as one does when they hear odd opinions spouted as fact. Well, on this day, the Socratic actually started fine. The kids defined dystopia and pulled examples from the book and then one girl asked the group, “What would your utopia include?” Immediately the quietest boy in class answered, “Rape everyday.” No one said a word. We were stunned. My face, however, exploded in fiery red emotion. The kids looked at me, taking in my social cues, then looked back at him. They kept quiet. And then, I lost it. Socrates would not have been proud of me that day. I broke all the rules, but I just could not figure out how a junior boy would dare to think that rape is perfect for “his” utopian society, or even think that it was something to joke about if that was what he was trying to do. I was baffled. Later I reflected on his why. Why would a kid think that is ok? Why do people, even adults, still make excuses for males today who continue to assault and victimize?

And that’s the issue at hand. We know the story. We’ve heard it how many times? The question should be: what are we going to do about it? One of my students this year, a senior, had an answer. She created an awareness powerpoint and visited classrooms and even held a presentation in the media center. Her research was shocking, especially to many of the seniors who knew they would be headed off to college soon. Things like, “Fraternity members are 300% more likely to commit a rape than any other male student on campus,” really got them thinking. Me too.

Did I want my son joining a fraternity? What about a sport? Sports are similar to groups of frats-I spent a lot of time at the SVSU baseball house, so there’s that. Wouldn’t I raise my son differently than how boys are objectifying women today, or is it too imbedded in our culture, our media, our film, and music? That it’s ok to catcall and whistle at that lady in a short dress or high heels. Well, it wasn’t ok for Emmit Till. But that’s because he was a minority-on all accounts, right? Apparently it’s always ok for entitled white males with money and prestige. You see, this isn’t a female issue; it is a problem among men who desire power who have not been taught that women are equal beings. It’s an issue of assault and struggle and pain. We keep lambasting our girls about tempting men with tank tops and short shorts, but how about we do something in terms of teaching young men appropriate discourse? Manners? The difference between a drunk murmur and consent? Perspective.

A close male friend of mine informed me that he is beginning to understand the female perspective by listening to Anna Kasparian discuss issues on an indie news station, The Young Turks. He is in his late forties. He is from an average midwestern American home. But he didn’t realize how soceity has shaped his unequal perception of women until he heard it from a news anchor. Think on that a moment.

My worried eleven year old shouldn’t have to take an additional pair of Bermuda shorts to school just in case her shorts are deemed too short by a teacher or principal. It is her body-her rules, but society keeps telling our women otherwise by continuously allowing men who have prestige and power to dominate women, and now our school-aged children fear the wrath of male scrutiny about their bodies.

What are college campuses telling our young men? And women? I just finished reading a book of fiction called The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in domestic violence, sex crimes, and crimes against children. I recommend it to everyone. It follows the “story” of a college freshman heading to her first on campus party, set in what feels like Ann Arbor, MI. The story is the one we all know too well, but what the author delves into is the legal aspects of the case. Perhaps what we all should be researching more of… Why entitlement is so rampant in the system and why so many young white males get away with assaulting and raping young women just like the recent story of the Stanford swimmer. Now while I know The Last Good Girl is fiction, research and statistics are scattered throughout the text allowing the reader an escape into a story, but reminding them of the truth: it happens daily on every college campus and we are not doing enough about it. In fact, even in the title, it begs women to think differently. Is being a “good” girl according to societal standards really worth it?

1 in 5 women heading to college this fall will be assaulted. That means 12 of my female seniors who just graduated will face this tragic moment that redefines their lives and identities in the next few months, probably during “Red Week” which is the week right before classes begin, commonly known as Orientation. Please arm your soon to be freshmen or friends’ kids with knowledge and safety precautions. Allow them to speak on this matter. Encourage them to use their voices.

I urge you to further your research and use your voice. Too many female voices are silenced each day due to humility, shame, fear, and frustration. We need to talk about this in an honest way with every gender and at all levels of socioeconomic status.

Start by reading and then sharing:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.qkPzq3b6AG#.nuZw7PvqNO

https://www.notalone.gov/data/

http://ope.ed.gov/campussafety/#/

http://www.aauw.org/resource/campus-sexual-assault-tool-kit/

http://www.someecards.com/love/reminders/poster-explains-how-to-not-rape/

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Happy Birthday, Baby!

I am stealing this tradition from a friend of mine over at http://thatswhyiloveyou-amie.blogspot.com. She’s also the magnificent running momma of my daughter’s best friend, Emerson. In lieu of Claire’s birthday, I thought I’d update the blog. Plus I have loads of grading to do and well, you can imagine how that’s going.

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This year Claire turned 11. El-ev-en! My baby. The lady who made me a momma. And she had a pool party with her closest friends, boys included. It was the easiest party I’ve ever planned, and one of the most fun to be a part of.

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But this year hasn’t been the most fun. Mom has had to work on her patience as Claire is beginning to grow into a young woman. Often she reminds me of Daria from the late 90’s animation by the same name. She really has this retro look down lately too. Fashion is something she is inspired by, and her choices to cut a shirt, or to wear combat boots with a dress are really fun, and brave. I try not to comment and just be proud of her independent decisions, but I also want to protect her still. It’s a fine balancing act.

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Like Daria, Claire is an introvert who loves reading. Her favorite reads this year included a few of my favorites too: Wonder (for the 4th time), The Giver, Bridge to Terabithia, and the Young Traveler’s Journal. She said the society in The Giver was stupid and with stupid rules and that we should allow kids to vote at age 11.

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You can see she’s gotten super political. Free Amir was a campaign that she got behind after reading his story. She made signs for our windows and they hung until he was freed.There has been a letter to Donald Trump this year, and President Obama. She threatened to bash Governor Snyder when she was interviewed for her Support Flint Blueberry Project on ABC 12, but we tried to convey that it was supposed to be a positive message about her fundraising for the children of Flint and not a political pulpit, although deep down part of me wishes she would’ve disobeyed on that one. She also is a Bernie supporter: wearing his pins, stickers, and shirts at least once a week to quite a conservative school district. Needless to say, we are proud of her, and her activism. She raised over $2500 for the Child Health and Development Fund started by Dr. Mona. But mostly we’re proud of figuring out her voice and beginning to use it…even if mom and dad disagree with some of her ideas, comments, or views.

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She is an amazing older sibling who is beginning to show the wear and tear that one does when puberty arrives. Her patience is waning but she still allows Leo to watch Saved by the Bell cuddled up next to her, and she still will sit with Pearl and have tea. The three of them also love bouncing on their new trampoline together, and swimming. There is always swimming.

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She swam with Carman’s varsity boys all winter, and one freshman thought she was on the team. Now he wasn’t the smartest, but she is pretty quick. She even challenged him to a race and was only a few strokes behind him. But he was disqualified on his start, so we took it as a legit win. The boys were helpful in teaching her to perfect her flip turns, and also how to get a better start. They tried working with her butterfly, but that stroke is just really hard. She begins practice with DAC Monday and is looking forward to competing again this summer.

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This summer. She wants to be up north and at the farm (Emerson’s house) as much as possible. I am sad that my baby is leaving my side, but I know she will return one day. This momma must be supportive and positive, and not take it personal. Growing up is hard-especially at 11. If we, as parents, could stress anything it’s that we want her to continue exploring who she is and what she stands for, and always use her voice. It’s taken a few years for her to find it, and with the help of a pretty phenomenal Mrs. Trombly and continued encouragement from mom and dad, she is starting to speak loudly and clearly. Let’s just hope others pay attention or they might feel the wrath of Daria (sighs).

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“Your Milk is Dancing Today, Momma”

I don’t recall a lot about my first few years as a mother-and that’s typical I think. Days are a sleepy blur and getting a shower was what I referred to as a good day. I was not educated about motherhood as much I was learning as I went, and that is something I am forever grateful for with my first child. She taught me so much. I am not sure she will ever understand the education she gave me. And the eternal unconditional love for all the mistakes I made.
There was a time where I was scared to nurse in public; we had just gotten our first haircuts as new parents and took our friend Charles out to a Mexican restaurant as payment for our beautiful new do’s. My baby was getting fussy so I learned real quick  what that meant. “Excuse me guys,” I said, snagging one more tortilla chip loaded with guac as I took her from the table. Here she was, a newborn, and I was making her leave the table where we were all eating. We went to the bathroom instead.
I remember the tile. It was a clay color with bright orange and greens and yellow Spanish designs that were beautiful and intricate, but there was also the smell. A rank stench that the bathroom had not been cleaned in a few hours after various patrons ate too much spice and had to use it.
There was also the discomfort. How do I hold her and sit without getting anything wet, including her blanket?
And the guilt.
I am feeding my child in a stall.
Like an animal.
At the time, I did not think much of this, naive and young and wanting to be perfect, and not attract attention, but what a disservice to my child. As I grew, she taught me. Her brother came along a few years later, and he and I had nursing experiences together. He nursed so hard and heavy that I couldn’t keep up which was a new problem for me. I learned to drink more fluids and eat food rich in nutrients to help my supply increase. And to also pump more often, as tough as it was.
We nursed more openly.
With my third baby, and longest nurser, I was more confident and prepared. Both my previous babies educated me that mom needs to take care of herself first so she can take care of us. My third child reaped the knowledge of her siblings. She was able to nurse close to three years. And she told me one day that “my milk was dancing,” and I laughed and said, “it’s dancing with you.” That’s when I knew I had to thank my oldest babies for this bond. Without listening to their needs, and learning from them, my youngest would not have been able to experience the openness I had with nursing on demand any where she needed, at any time she wanted. I received very few looks and only one real issue, but most people don’t even realize when it is happening.

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I think people tend to be concerned with things they cannot control, and they are also scared of asking questions, so they make judgements. If you find yourself in a situation with a question, I am sure that any mom will gladly answer. Most of us, who are blessed to be able to nurse, just want others to know that we are doing what we feel is natural and right for our children. No matter the location, situation, or age, our babies are growing and need nourishment, and as long as we can provide that, we will.

No human should be fed in a stall, and everyone who is able, should enjoy an eating experience where their milk dances.

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This Will Do.

I haven’t had much to say in awhile, but today, when I mistakenly interrupted a man praying, I realized I have much more to say than I typically give myself credit.

It was after school, and as any teacher rightly knows, you sprint toward the closest restroom. In this case it is located in the teacher’s lounge, which has a male and female staff restroom off its main lounge area. When I brisked through the door, he greeted me, at that point a man, perhaps a tutor, I thought, taking off his shoes, which I assumed were wet boots. I went about my business as quick as anyone does holding in an entire day’s beverages for a 6 hour time frame including a 1/2 gallon of water and two cups of coffee, venti size.

When I emerged into our shared lounge he apologized. “You see, I have to pray here,” he nodded, gesturing toward the corner off to the farthest side of the lounge space where he had lined strips of brown paper towel, industrial strength as any custodian or school attendant recognizes, into a sort of rectangle on the linoleum floor. It took me a moment to comprehend the situation, and his comment threw me off guard. Where were his wet boots, I asked myself, now noticing they were not boots but shoes that he was making sure would not tear his makeshift prayer rug.

I was transfixed, but taken to a point sometime in the last ten years of motherhood, when I, too, made due. Immediately I recalled the time when I was in a third world airport, on hands and knees, not praying, but looking for an outlet so I could pump before boarding a plane since my baby had already eaten and I was due for a six hour flight. I recalled sitting on the floor of that dirty airport, asking both my eldest kids to cover me like some secret agent sniper while I huddled under a plastic airport lounge chair to hide away and plug in since there were no outlets in the bathroom. I remembered the father who drove two hours to our house to pick-up frozen milk I had stored and donated to him because his sick twin babies would spit up any kind of formula and were not gaining weight and his wife could not pump enough, let alone, produce enough, for two ravenous newborns. I was taken into another airport family bathroom where I found an outlet and peacefully pumped away, this time traveling alone, trying to save milk to give my baby when I returned, and an angry knock interrupted me not once, but three times. Turns out it was a young airport worker who wanted to “freshen up” in the family restroom and gave me attitude because I had no children with me. Another dirty bathroom image entered-this time a Mexican restaurant where I dutifully nursed a newborn and was a new momma, too naive to tell the table my baby needed to eat and deserved a right to be seated alongside them. At that point I imagined the prayerful man probably thought I was staring at him out of curiosity, but my ego got the best of me yet again.

He did not notice, too devoted to his duty, and instantly I felt connected to him on a level some would not understand. So I offered him a yoga mat. In fact, I interrupted him praying to offer, twice. I had no idea how one prayed. Many times I had visited the local mosque when one of our students asked me to tag along and learn, or a relative of theirs passed and was having a service, but I had no idea how long an actual prayer lasted. So I watched the bending and bowing then interrupted again with, “Do you want a mat?” He kept on, focusing his faith. Shaking my head at my nasty ego, not him, I hastened to exit the lounge into the hallway.

Moments later I heard a door shut and a, “Miss? Miss!” I turned around, walking back toward the doorway where he profusely apologized and said, “I can’t interrupt my prayers, I am sorry.” I nodded, knowing. “I have a mat if you’d like,” I stated again, the final time. “This will do,” he said, smiling, no shame in his damp paper towel rug because it was not about that at all. I smiled back knowing that it would do. It always does. Just as Charlie and the Parisians continue to make due with a tearful Mohammed, or as a family in Otisville continues to hope for the safety of their son and friend in a state of unknowing, just as Allah and God will do, and just as I will do. If it is worth it, and we care enough, we find a way. The question is, what will you do that is worth it, to you?

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NaNoWriMo Madness

People tend to think of the month of March as March Madness in most areas of the United States, but for me, November was much more terrifying and emotional. Sure I love the Cinderella team beating the ego driven top dog any day, but NaNoWriMo, or November to non-writers, is National Write a Novel in a Month. It left me with many more upsets and memories than any college basketball game could do.

To begin, I must tell you a secret. Wait, more like two secrets. Last year I only wrote 19,000 words when the adult goal is 50,000 for the month, and wait for it…I am a pantser. I always have been but only when it comes to writing and cooking. Recipes are too cumbersome! In writing, a pantser is one who writes by the seat of her pants and allows creativity and impulse to drive me rather than an outline or pre-writing. This means I really never know what I am writing each day I sit down to type, even thought I usually have some sort of plot line in my head.

This year’s idea came from two things: an article my friend Dan posted right before Halloween, http://www.wthr.com/story/26797284/2014/10/15/teens-get-more-than-a-scare-on-ghost-hunt-at-morgan-co-cemetery, and a picture I took at a slave cemetery when I was in Georgia a few years ago. It was decrepit, and hidden, immersed in between two huge plantation style homes within a gated community. I recall asking my aunt, “Hey what’s over there in that fence?” She told me it was a cemetery for slaves and the government protected it, but there was no sign or anything. I was shocked that it existed inside this stark white world of Georgia money. My curiosity and interest took over so my uncle and I hopped the fence and roamed around. I took pictures but none really turned out well since it was foggy. The image that burns in my mind are the cement style headstones with finger painted names on them, or sticks used to write names that were misspelled. I even recall Baby being spelled like Babe. There was also one marked with the letter X. These etchings on my brain combined with research on Cry Baby Bridges across the United States gave me a stellar story idea.

I am still working on fleshing out the climax, but after writing 50K and winning NaNoWriMo, I am pleased to say this was the most challenging thing I have ever written aside from my grandma’s obituary. DREAD is told in third person and alternates between three settings: the late 1940s-early 50s, late 1970s-early 80s, and a river (which the Cry Baby Bridge covers in a small town situated in any US state, but here it is in NC). There are characters you will love, and those you will hate, even one who is an inanimate object but somehow has a soul, and a weird creature that is a mix between rooster, flamingo, and ostrich but all black. Weird, but interesting and magical. I was channeling Toni Morrison while writing, and included a few Native American traditions and cultural rites like Tony Hillman would have, who is my mother’s favorite author. Best of all, I am finding my voice amongst other inspiring writers and I am very proud. Here is an excerpt that I like. Out of 50K, there is a lot to sift through, but this one is early on from the 1950’s era and revolves around the home birth of a bastard child whose father could be one of three men.

Gathering a few jars full of herbs from a shelf nearby, Mamie went to work preparing the rattle of a snake and ripping Sumac leaves into small pieces to be turned into a tea for Eliza. Panting and bent over with pain, Eliza was carried into the small parlor where he laid her on the couch. “Sits her up,” Mamie barked, “if yas lay her down, the baby’ll never come. An’ go wash yer hands. I’se need yer help.” The man obeyed silently and emerged back in the kitchen with a towel and additional blanket. “Ma’m? What should I do with these?” Nodding, Mamie pointed to the floor beneath Eliza. “To catch ‘im,” she said briskly, wiping Eliza’s face with a cool cloth. Unsure of what was about to transpire, Eliza cringed and silently prayed that she could trust the medicines and care from this woman, and help from this ominous stranger.

I will add more as I complete and edit DREAD, as terrifying as it may be. The audience is young adults and adults alike, similar to All About Jane and my latest release, Never, but much longer of a text due to the three different settings and multitude of characters with third person point of view. Thank you for your continued support!

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Friday’s English Work

Instead of making checklists or assignment sheets, Mattern students will view this page for their computer tasks.

ALL students must first read before asking questions. Come to the front desk today with any questions. Ask 3 before me.

English 11

1. Type up your NANOWRIMO writing so you have a minimum 500 word excerpt. Print it as draft one. Now begin to revise it. Use your editing checklist and transition guide. If you have time, print the revision. Those who have it typed already should begin by revising after painting their first clean copy as draft one. Put in WN. I will be looking for it during the exam check.

2. Practice this: http://www.chompchomp.com/hotpotatoes/apostrophes01.htm

3. Research and print an article that discusses any or all of the following:

-how high school prepares/or not students for their future careers

-when one should begin career and/or college exploration

-how do you know which career is right for you

-how often ppl switch majors in college or drop out, or change schools entirely

4. Work on ACT prep at www.number2.com or help those in need at www.freerice.com while working on your vocabulary.

English 12

Print beautiful words. This can be in the form of your favorite quote, song lyrics, a phrase, or poem. Place it in your WN.

Annotated Bibliography and Works Cited pages can be created today. See this for help: OWL.

Research your topic. Begin at: googlescholar, the media center research page, or wikipedia (for sources ONLY).  Print your sources in one word .doc to keep them aligned. Be sure to get the url address and date so you have info for the Works Cited page for each source. No .coms should be implemented. Use scholarly articles and journals (PubMed, ERIC DIGESTS, Questia). Place in WN. Make a tab for research or articles. I wouldn’t read much today; save it for the weekend or Monday.

EDP work can be found here: www.careercruising.com (this is PAST DUE). Your log in first is cahs with the password, cavaliers. Then you do your 6 digit student id/bday information. Print your EDP after following the steps on the yellow checklist and completing each item. Signatures are necessary before turning in to me.

Update and revise your letter to the freshman. Add details from recent lessons. Print. Sign. Turn in both copies to me. Do not staple.

Play freerice and help those in need while working on your vocabulary.

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What they don’t tell you.

I am battling anxiety.

I was never one to openly talk about much, but I am better on paper, so here it goes. I hope at least one person benefits from this post, or at least doesn’t feel so alone.

As a child, I was a worrier. Also a control freak, but more on that later. I worried about everything that the grown-ups were supposed to be worrying about, and even though they told me not to, I couldn’t control my fears. And I am still trying today.

Only lately have I understood how insecurity and anxiety go hand in hand. When I became a mom 9 years ago, one would say that I was a confident person. As a teacher, girlfriend, daughter, sister, and woman, I exuded confidence. I could walk into my classroom and put on a stellar show for 45 minutes and rotate it 5 times a day. I still can, and do, but now I understand myself more. As a mother, worries intensify. You cannot begin to understand what it’s like to lay in bed thinking did I handle that situation correctly, unless you are suffering, too. I replay discussions in my mind and wonder how I came across, and if it was harsh or rude. I text people apologies for something that they can’t even recall. I worry about my children and if I used the wrong tone of voice, or what’s worse-will they remember me as a mean mother when they look back on their childhood? Will they remember me at all?

As I’m preparing for a new school year, my 12th year teaching high school English, I want to share what is helping to alleviate my anxiety, and promote confidence from within.

1. Yoga breathing, or the form of ujjay breath is used to begin thinking about your breathing. It should come from the back of your throat with your mouth closed, and is often referred to as sounding like the ocean. I do this to calm down, but also when I practice yoga at www.yogaglo.com. Another quick relaxer is to breathe this way and stick your tongue on the room of your mouth. The pressure if very comforting and brings your pulse and stress down immediately.

2. Support yourself with caring, selfless people. My family and friends know when I need to vent, and allow me to cry if need be. They do not say, “Oh, Carrie, don’t worry, you’ll be great.” Instead they say, “You are great, Carrie.” Leaving the front half off that sentence is important. I will worry no matter what.

3. Having a mantra. I prefer one my college friend shared with me so long ago. I bet she knew I had anxiety before I figured it out. Social workers know what to look for I guess. Anyway, she wrote on a mirror, “You are a confident, competent, capable woman.” I like saying this to myself as a reminder and a pick me up.

4. Eating healthy. Making good choices helps me feel better about myself. Recently I gave up coffee, coke, and beer.  I’ve only cheated twice in the last three weeks, thanks to an outrageously fun Tom Petty concert! Eating better also helps me think about still being around for my kids when I’m old and gray.

5. Writing. When I get overwhelmed, I like to vent on paper since it cannot talk back. I also  like making to do lists if I am overtly anxious for something like school just starting up in a few days. Writing helps my mind purge the worry, which leaves me momentarily stress free.

6. Understanding that I cannot control much. This one is the most difficult to grasp. When I feel the need to control a situation, I pause and think to myself, is this an appropriate thing to say or necessary for me to step in? My husband and dad remind me of this often too, which directly correlates to #2.

7. Staying off social media as much as possible. Society is slowly telling us how to live our lives through comments, articles, newsfeeds, and images that are found within seconds online. Too many self-help articles have now become, “This is the correct way to do this” judgement. Taking a break from social media can be an important part to disonnecting. Not using your phone or laptop may also be helpful if you are constantly checking texts and emails. When you disconnect, you often connect deeper inside yourself, or in the lives of family and friends.

8. Finally, if you are interested in natural healing, I suggest a mix of lavender, orange, and bergamot (also found in black tea) essential oils mixed into coconut oil. Massage into hands and forearms, or put a few drops onto your pillow. It may ease your worries when you are trying your best to rest.

As tough as this blog was to write, it has helped me begin the process of communicating how I feel.  See #5. It’s my hope that readers will have other tips to share. Feel free to comment with any tricks you have found to help ease your anxiety.

 

 

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Learning through Travel

Paul and I are not very good at remembering to pack toys for our children when we travel. For Paul, it is not a necessity. The military planner inside him has to make sure each and every item we take is absolutely mandatory and has its own spot whether it is inside the cooler, in the tent bag, or on the hitched trailer in its own protective rain gear.  For me, I just do not think about toys.  I think about books. “Kids, do you have a book to read,” is something they will probably put on my tombstone. It is one thing I cannot live without, so obviously I think it is necessary for everyone to include in their luggage. For instance, last summer we went camping on Lake Michigan en route to visit family in MN.  The kids met friends a few tents away who had bikes, however, we forgot those at home. It was a travesty.

This summer we went to Aruba to visit their grandma for sixteen days.  I made sure we had enough clothes, goggles, and swim suits, but I completely disregarded the notion of toys. Paul made sure we were not over the 50lb weight limit on our two bags, and also that the kids didn’t have to worry about carrying stuff on the plane aside from a diaper bag, snacks, and few electronics. Needless to say, when we arrived, we were set for our half month stay.  Aside from toys, that is, to what we presumed to be the peril of both older children. Doomsday.

However, our kids astounded me.  They played.  Imagined. Swam. Played and imagined more. Pretended they were World Cup soccer players and announcers that, “Oiy yoy yoy, yoy yoy!” and “Goaaaaaaaaaaaaal!” They went on walks and hikes through the front yard hunting lizards. They climbed trees even though some may have held climbing crabs, or worse, boa constrictors, among their branches. They talked. They laughed. They argued. Discussed. Negotiated. Played balloon volleyball and balloon tennis. For 16 days, they rarely complained of boredom. They even read a little. At one point grandma did purchase a paint set for one, and Legos for another, but they had nothing of their own to play with aside from their collaborative minds.

Today I find that we try to occupy our children so much that we disregard the true idea of free play. We are so quick to hand them our iPhones, iPods, and iPads that we forget what is truly worth developing: their own imaginations. We are so quick to distract them that their behaviors become attuned to a screen. We are so quick to take a parent break that we forget what is truly important: raising children who can think, devise, strategize, plan, and create.

So throughout our travels with children we have made huge mistakes.  Forgetting diaper bags and swimsuits on a trip to the beach, forgetting shoes, and sunscreen or bug repellant, but what I am most proud of is the fact that my husband and I have forgotten toys that have taught our children how to play…better yet, we have learned that it is most important to allow them to play.  It is an instinctual activity that many parents today take away in lieu of desperately needing to breathe, to have free time, to enjoy a glass of Moscato, or a silent room.  I urge you to let your kids discover their imaginations again.  Allow them to play, to learn, to grow.  I am so grateful my children have taught Paul and I the importance of this. They have blessed us with what is truly necessary in life: making memories through play.

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For my juniors, who tend to flounder.

The Day We Went Outside

“Find a poem,” I asked them, “outside where it’s nice.”
They stared blankly, through sleep-filled hungry eyes,
And then a girl interrupted the crickets chirping with, “Um, Mrs. Matter-ren, like, why did you hide poems outside for us?”
I smiled knowingly, replying, “They’re actually inside each one of you,” confusing her further.

Armed with writer’s notebooks, highlighters, “Flounder” by Natasha Tretheway, sticky notes, phones, and music, we slugged outside, immediately greeted by the wind.
Most students headed for the raggedy bleachers, while others found each other, pairs underneath the shade of trees.
Traffic moving steadily was one of the only sounds, aside from the rustle of the wind.

 
It spoke volumes,
Cooling the lost soul from within the muggy, confines of a dimly lit classroom.
Freedom, it sang, as others heard annoyance, their hair whipping around blushing cheeks.
Release, it sang, and still others heard challenges, paper inside notebooks crinkling, moving as words were struggling to make it onto still frustrating blank pages.
Creativity, it sang, while many heard complaints charged with sarcasm like, “So, this is our assignment, really?”

 
Still others began to hear themselves, their own voices, loud, proud, and clear.
Something they should listen to more often.

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2014 Summer Reads

Every summer I compile book lists based on the every other day post from my friends begging for a new book suggestion.  With that, my top 5 will all be made into movies soon (or already may have been so look out for them on Netflix soon), while the rest are a combination of new and old reads!

The Giver by Lois Lowry: My first experience with this book was in middle school.  We didn’t read it as a class, but Ms. Pellilo, one of my favorite English teachers, recommended it to me.  I tore into the novel, mystified at the science fiction type world Lowry created all gray-scale and dull aside from Jonas; Jonas, the one who would add color to his world, or perhaps die trying. Years later re-reading this book as a young adult, I recognized the controversial issues that Lowry so poignantly discussed in such a brief novel.  Issues such as abortion, suicide, and coming of age revelations are all contained in Jonah’s world, but what may even be more intriguing is the issue of trust that Jonas must figure out all himself.  I look forward to what this film will bring, especially with a cast composed of Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, and Katie Holmes, but by the looks of its colorful landscape, I must remind myself that it is an adaptation of Jonas’ tale, and not the book.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: I found this non-fiction book in an antique shop and couldn’t believe I hadn’t read it yet! Immediately I laughed aloud at the pun on the cover with the author’s name, and then read on to see that she had it legally changed. Later that evening I started reading after all the kids were tucked in, and started bawling in the first chapter.  My husband is used to this by now, but he still asked if I was ok.  Nodding, I smiled as I turned the next page, and read on. All night. To say that everyone can connect with Cheryl is an overgeneralization, but I think many women and even some men will see themselves in Cheryl’s hiking memoir.  It’s about her journey hiking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail through California and into Oregon, but it’s really about the journey of self-discovery.  It looks as if Reese Witherspoon will be portraying Cheryl in the film version due out this fall; I pray it’s not the “you’ve got a baby in a bar” Reese that I love, but will not be appropriate for how I envisioned Cheryl. Regardless, a must read this summer.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand This comes from an earlier post, last spring: Having the hubs around this whole pregnancy has been nothing short of amazing. He recently received this non-fiction recommendation from a professor, and purchased this book for me when I finished my last read. He told me it was about running, and similar to Born to Run, and that is all he had to say. I was smitten. And then, then I realized, this was a war story. An Olympic runner turned soldier turned slave. As I sobbed my way through this story, I kept telling the hubs about each new aspect of World War II that I was learning. Little did I realize, World War II was not necessarily compartmentalized into two categories that I held in my head- the attack on Pearl Harbor and Nazi Germany. An entire war happened in POW camps that I am quite embarrassed to admit that I had very little knowledge about. It is a compelling non-fiction read that captivated and even compelled this non-history buff to research further. This fall it will arrive on the big screen. I am looking forward to it!

Re-read all the Gillian Flynn novels: Here is a piece of my post from last summer about Gone Girl:

I heard this author on NPR speaking about her story and immediately read the first three chapters on NPR’s first read website.

http://www.npr.org/2012/05/14/152289627/exclusive-first-read-gone-girl-by-gillian-flynn

All I can give you are a few words because you have to read this one for yourself: unreliable narrator, unbelievable suspense, and irony that can be found within every marriage or partnership. It reminds me of something a friend of mine once said, “We all have our gray areas, but we must draw the line somewhere.”

I have read both additional novels by Flynn, pre-Gone Girl, and Sharp Objects, is also very, very good so far. A little like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. I’ve heard all 3 books will become movies later this year!

Viral Bound by Dan Waltz: Another previous post, but a MUST READ If you are a fan of the Walking Dead (graphic novel and/or AMC television series), chances are high that you will thoroughly enjoy Waltz’s, Viral Bound. Unlike Dead, Waltz provides a reason for the zombie outbreak, but it’s unclear at first to the average reader. The quickness of the outbreak is realistically tragic. It reminded me of films such as 1995?s Outbreak, and the more recently, Contagion, which both illustrate the severity of pathogens and air borne viruses. Likewise Waltz respectfully crosses the Dead line by placing his readers in situations where the television series has only shown us with the character Sophia. Many of Waltz’s situations involve children who have turned; including a scene where Steve, our adult protagonist, stumbles upon an entire school that has been afflicted. What happens to the still-human children on the bus is almost as tragic that what has happened to all the children who were not able to escape the lockdown of their safe, secure school. These images resonate with this reader who tends to read nightly. Overall this novel is a captivating read for any fan that enjoys the flesh-eaters known only as ‘zoms’ in Waltz’s tale.

Portrait of the Artist as an Addict by Bill Clegg: I read this earlier in the year during SR time with my students. Beautifully written, this memoir follows the downfall of a promising literary agent. Meshed into the world of crack and heroin are flashbacks to the author’s self as an anxious child, troubled by many things including using the bathroom.  A poignant tale that had me gasping aloud and crying while my students were reading their choice books in class.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: Another fiction recommendation from my husband who heard a piece on the radio discussing how this author uses dialogue so effectively.  He bought it for me, and I read the following weekend. I think at some point we’ve all experienced a summer camp of sorts, and forged immediate friendships there that still may be existent today.  This group of kids creates a bond that ultimately lasts the trials and tribulations of adolescence through adulthood. It allowed me to forward think about decisions we make now for our children, and how they may affect them later in life.

1984 by George Orwell: 2+2=5 and since Edward Snowden’s leaks last summer, this book has been a hot item flying off the shelves yet again!  This resurgence prompted my teaching it to seniors this year.  We tend to forget that Orwell wrote it in the forties since much of the issue seems more current now than ever.  If you still are unfamiliar with the book, it follows Winston, our protagonist into a world where everyone is watched and even the Thought Police regulate one’s own thinking…or perhaps it is all a lie. Winston is not sure of the difference between reality and truth until he is locked up in room 101 where he is tortured with his greatest fear. A must read if you are into current events or politics.

And finally, if you liked my young adult novella, All About Jane, chances are you NEED to read Jane’s Melody by Ryan Winfield, author of the Park Service Trilogy!  Jane’s Melody shares a tale similar to mine, told from the mother’s point of view.  It begs the question to all mothers, or all those who have lost someone to suicide, how far would you go to get answers?  Winfield’s others books also serve as good summer reads if you are looking for a light, enjoyable writing style!

My friends in the library also recommend:

Destiny Disrupted by Mir Tamim Ansary

Life after Life by Kate Akinson

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Teacher Man (audio version) by Frank McCourt

Let me know what you suggest in the comments, and feel free to check out my latest work for kids, The Magician’s Daughter, online and in bookstores today!

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