March 2022 Reading Update

March was a very interesting month of reading for me. After a year of listening to the Currently Reading podcast, I have a HUGE list of recommended books I want to read. I put many of them on hold at the library and I read them as they are available, and based on my mood. This month felt especially random, with much more nonfiction than normal for me! This month I read:

  • How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu – This was reminded me of Station Eleven (life in a post pandemic world) and Project Hail Mary (space and alien life possibilities), both of which I enjoyed for their unique structures and beautifully-told stories. This was a collection of chapters about different people before, during, and after a global pandemic, but not COVID-19, and while each chapter felt isolated from the others, eventually you found connections amongst the characters. We traveled from Siberia, across America, to Japan, to space, and back throughout the stories, each tale full of death and those who survived. This was a bittersweet story well-told.
  • How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith – This was a 5 star read for me. Each time I pick up a book related to American history, I think this will be the one where I will hear repeated facts, and won’t learn anything new. Wrong again! As we continue to peel back the layers of incomplete histories that we have been taught, I am amazed and saddened by the harsh realities that make up our country’s foundation. Smith takes us through a deeper look into various historical homes, former plantations, current prisons, and other historical markers. As someone who went to college in VA, I really enjoyed the chapter on Monticello, Jefferson’s home, which I toured in the early 90’s. It was wonderful to hear how the home is now incorporating entire tours on the Hemings family and acknowledging the lineage from Jefferson. There was so much personalization to this, with Smith taking the tours available, asking the harder questions, and including quotes from enslaved people captured through the Federal Writers’ Project. I borrowed this from the library, but might need to buy it for myself – it was that impactful. I highly recommend this!
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green [audiobook]- I loved Green’s The Fault in our Stars years ago, which was a bittersweet YA story. This is nothing like that, and yet has the same heart. In this collection of essays, Green uses a 5 star rating system to rate each essay topic. Topics include Haley’s Comet, Diet Dr. Pepper, and Scratch N Sniff Stickers, among many other random ideas. Green blends humor with seriousness, facts with fun memories, and new learning with pandemic life, as he wrote most of this during early COVID-19 days. I really enjoyed the different topics and the depth of knowledge he went into with them. This was fun to listen to him read.
  • A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – I read this for Laura Tremaine’s Secret Stuff March Book Club. I hadn’t ever read anything by Didion, and I was a littler nervous to read a memoir about grieving, but I enjoyed her writing. This book captured the year after Joan’s husband John died of sudden cardiac arrest, while their daughter was in a coma fighting for her life. Joan had an incredibly rough year, not able to grieve for her husband until her daughter’s health improved, and then took a turn again. When you grieve, the simplest things can bring back floods of memories. Joan takes us through what she tried to avoid thinking about to stay away from her memories, and what she did to lean into them. This was melancholy but also so full of a lifetime of love.
  • State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny – I have read books by both of these authors in the past, and I am excited that they paired up to write this political thriller. I loved this fast-paced book and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! Ellen, the Secretary of State, does not have a good relationship with the new president, who seems to have appointed her just to get her out of his way. When an immediate and real terror threat threatens Europe and the USA, Ellen must figure out what is going on in order to save lives, including her own adult children. She travels to many countries (Iran, Russia!) and must face awful people in her quest for the truth. It’s hard to know who to trust. This all felt so real it was scary, and a little too close to being a possible plot in our world. I love that the main characters, Ellen and her best friend Betsy, were modeled off of real people who sound like they were wonderful.
  • The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino and translated by Alexander O. Smith – This is a mystery that takes place in Japan. We meet Yasucko, a single mom who has a horrible ex-husband and we meet her neighbor Ishigami, a quiet math teacher. Something happens early in the book and our police detective Kusanagi must figure out what exactly happened. As he, his partner, and his friend, who is a physic professor and a genius, try to solve the mystery, we learn more about Ishigami. This was a interesting story that held my attention. I appreciated reading a book translated from Japanese, and learning a little about Japanese culture.
  • Save Yourself: A Memoir by Cameron Esposito [audiobook]- I’m not sure how I started following this stand-up comedian on Instagram, but once I found some of their videos funny, I wanted to listen to their memoir. Cameron’s memoir describes their very Catholic upbringing, their realization that they were a lesbian, their guilt about that “sin”, and their eventual self acceptance. I’m using the pronoun they because on Instagram Cameron has shared that they are nonbinary (though the book was written when they thought of themselves as a masculine-presenting female).
  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown – One of my nephews (CM) recommended this book to me recently when we were at a family lunch. I always ask him what he is reading when I see him and he told about this series. He said, “It’s good, not very fast-paced, but I liked the story and the characters” and I agree with him. This is a cute middle grades story about a robot that gets turned on after a crash on an island with a lot of wild animals. The robot learns how to adapt and live with the animals and make friends and be “wild”. There are a lot of themes of love, friendship, acceptance, and support in this book.
  • Verity by Colleen Hoover – This was a fast-paced, tense read for me and I loved it (4.5 stars!)! Lowen is a struggling author who is hired to finish writing a very famous series when the original author has an injury. Lowen moves into the author’s home with her family, to go through all of her materials. As Lowen gets to the know the author through her notes, and her family, she finds more and more traumatic details of their life. This is a very open door romance with lots of descriptive detail, along with some very tense moments when you are unsure who to trust. It’s a fun read! Thanks to Andree for loaning me her copy!

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: State of Terror

Nonfiction: How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

What I read in March 2022 (9 book covers pictured)
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A Gratitude Circle

I love when authentic connections happen between people in unexpected ways. Recently I was co-facilitating a professional learning afternoon with three colleagues at a school site. The learning was focused on school and classroom culture, building relationships, and also expressing gratitude for our colleagues and our own resilience. One of my co-presenters introduced a Gratitude Circle as our closing activity for the session.

We got into groups of 4 and each group completed their own gratitude circle. To do this, the group would start with person A in the “hot seat”. The other three group members would each take turns saying something they appreciated about person A, or something they were grateful for about person A. Person A was only allowed to respond with “Thank you”. That is a key rule, because so many of us want to brush off compliments or kindness. This is a time to soak in the positive words. After person A, person B gets into the “hot seat” to hear the gratitude from their colleagues.

While the staff was doing this activity, our group of four presenters did the activity in the front of the room ourselves. Part way through I paused us and had our group turn to face the staff members, all seated at tables around a large auditorium. Immediately the principal said, “Look! I have never seen her smile like that!” and another person said, “Wow! Look how happy he looks!”. Observing the Gratitude Circles around the room gave us a chance to see authentic joy, happiness, laughter, some tears, and camaraderie amongst this staff. It was such a beautiful feeling to see how kindness spreads so easily.

I left this day so filled with gratitude. I went back to my office and described the activity to my friend and boss (Hi AG!), who then brought the Gratitude Circle to a group we were in together the following week.

As a participate myself in this activity twice, there were two profound elements of this for me. One was the challenge of coming up with some unique to share about my colleagues, so that I wasn’t repeating what was already said and I was being genuine in celebrating a strength about each person. The second was hearing the strengths or the compliments that different colleagues chose to share about me. It was fascinating to hear the specific examples of things I have said or done that stood out to other people, especially some people I’m only just beginning to get to know and others with whom I have worked very closely for almost 3 years now. One colleague told me she was impressed with how good I am at having difficult conversations. This is something that I have worked hard to learn my entire time in leadership. This was a HUGE weakness when I first became a school leader, and something I struggled with for years. It was so affirming to hear someone see this as a strength in me now, after I have read, studied, practiced, and role-played to develop skills in this area specifically.

Have you ever participated in a Gratitude Circle?

a circle of people amongst many more circles.” by brett gullborg is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
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The Reader in Me 2.0

Seven years ago (wow, it’s hard to believe I’ve been blogging that long!) I wrote a post called The Reader in Me, inspired by a book, an author, and another blogger. The goal was to write 100 facts about my life as a reader, but I only got to 48. It was so much fun to revisit that list and see how many of those items are still true today. Since this blog is mostly a reading blog at this point, I figured I would try to add some more new details about my readerly life this time around.

  1. I asked for a subscription to the Book of the Month Club last year and have loved picking out one new book a month ever since.
  2. In 2021 I discovered The Currently Reading podcast, which has changed my readerly life. My TBR shelf on Goodreads has over 350 books on it, which is insane!
  3. I love suspenseful, fast-paced thrillers. Catherine Ryan Howard is one of my new favorite authors in this genre.
  4. I love buying books for all of my nephews, most of whom enjoy reading right now!
  5. My 9 year old nephew has agreed to buddy read one book a month with me this year and I couldn’t be more excited!
  6. My 3 year old nephew is the only child I’ve ever met at that age who can sit and listen to multiple books read in a row, multiple times a day. It makes my readerly heart so happy!
  7. There are many readers in my office, so I love discussing book recommendations with them all. Since I don’t need to keep a lot of books around my house once I’ve read them, I love bringing in my past reads to share with others.
  8. 2021 was my best year of reading ever, and December 2021 was my best reading month ever (thanks to a medical leave where I had endless time to read!).
  9. I realized recently that I own over 40 e-books on my Kindle that I haven’t read yet (thanks to Amazon sales!). These are top of my TBR this year.
  10. My permanent bookshelves are filled with books with special meaning to me and books that I am willing to reread time and time again. Not many books end up on these shelves.
  11. In 2022 I’m using a new Google spreadsheet to track my reading. It was created by Katie, one of the hosts of The Currently Reading podcast, and it’s incredible! I can’t wait to see my end of year stats.
  12. I often say I don’t like Historical Fiction, but I really do. I don’t like to get bogged down into gory historical details, but I love a fictional story set in a different time period, especially if it involves powerful women doing good work.
  13. Midway through 2021 I began to create a collage of my monthly reads, showing the covers of the books I’d read that month.
  14. I strongly dislike when someone, usually on Instagram or FB, posts something like, “I”m on page x of this book and I’m just not into it. Should I keep going?” I think we shouldn’t look to others to help us make these decisions. I have no problem putting down a book that I’m not into, even if someone says to keep reading it. My taste is unique to me and no one can 100% predict what I will or won’t like.
  15. The Currently Reading podcast Patreon hosts an Independent Book store every month, who recommends 5 books. I try to buy one book each month off that list to support these Indie bookstores when I can.
  16. I prefer to read nonfiction in the morning, and fiction throughout the day or in the evening.
  17. As much as I read, I only recently started to read just before I go to sleep at night.
  18. I don’t like to read subtitles on movies, because I’m usually playing a game on my ipad while watching the tv.
  19. When I started checking out library books last November, during my medical leave, it was the first time in over a decade I had checked out a physical book from the library. I’ve been using library e-books for years, but they don’t have access to everything in that form and I’ve learned how to put both formats on hold.
  20. This year, thanks to Laura Tremaine’s Secret Stuff, I’m participating in a virtual book club.
  21. Each month I have a Zoom meeting with other Currently Reading patrons to discuss what we’ve read that month.
  22. I am not a fan of The Classics. I read a few in high school, which made me hate reading for years! I recently read a few more, and while I finished them, and recognize that there is value in the way my brain has to work differently to read older language, it is not enjoyable nor educational enough for me to do so willingly!
  23. But for Laura Tremaine’s book club I read Frankenstein in early 2022 and survived!
  24. I feel like it’s cheating when I count a middle grades book or a book of poetry on my books read list for the year, because they are usually so short and quick to read. But I still do it!

So I was able to write 48 ideas on my first list and have now added another 24 here. Maybe by 2025 I will read 100 facts about my life as a reader. What are some of your readerly facts?

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February 2022 Reading Update

This was an interesting reading month for me. I read 3 nonfiction books, all good, which is more than normal. I also read 3 #OwnVoices books, which were all good. This month I read:

  • Honor by Thrity Umrigar – This was an Indie Press List from the Currently Reading podcast and I’m so glad I bought it and read it! I love starting the month with a 5 star read! Smita is an Indian-American woman who was born in India, and whose family moved to America when she was 14, under mysterious circumstances we learn about later. When she arrives, she thinks she is helping a journalist friend recover from surgery, but she is taking over the story her friend was covering. Meena is a young Hindu woman who married a Muslim man. When her brothers learned she was having a baby, they decided to burn their house down, killing Meena’s husband and disfiguring their own sister, in the name of honoring their traditions. As Smita is reminded of some of the horrors of the patriarchy and traditions of India, she is also reminded of the good in people and the blending of cultures in Mumbai. As we get to know her, we watch her decide how to remember India and how to honor herself. Trigger warnings for serious violence and abuse.
  • The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede – I saw (and cried through!) the musical Come From Away on Broadway years ago, and fell in love with the kindness of Gander, Newfoundland after 9/11. This is the nonfiction account of what happened in many small towns across Newfoundland, when 38 plans were suddenly diverted there after US air spaces were closed following the terrorist attacks. The incredible neighborly spirit was and still is unheard of, but leaves you with hope for our fellow humans. This is a beautiful portrayal of genuinely good people in trying times.
  • An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole – This is my second Indie Press List book this month. In this historical romance, written by a Black woman, who meet Elle. Elle was born enslaved, but her family was freed and able to move to the North. Years late, we find Elle working undercover for the Union as a slave back in the South. When Elle meets Malcolm, a white man, sparks fly. Then they realize they are both working undercover. Soon they are falling in lust and working together. This is not my favorite genre, but I enjoyed the story.
  • Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard – After loving her two latest books over the last few months, not only am I an avid Howard fan, but I am now happily reading her earlier books as well! I loved this one! Adam’s wife leaves for a work conference and doesn’t return. As he tries to figure out what happened, he uncovers secrets he didn’t want to know, and how easy it is to commit a crime on a cruise. At the same time, we are following Romaine’s childhood, where he continues to make bad choices that lead to injury and death around him, and he is just a child himself. Where and how the two storylines meet up was tense and suspenseful in this thriller!
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout – Having read two other books by Strout, I know I have to be a in particular kind of reading mood to pick up her books. She writes with lots of descriptive language, and her stories are heavy on character and light on plot. Knowing that, I enjoyed this book as it was unique. Lucy was telling the story of some hard times of her ex-husband William, after his third wife left him. the story weaves in bits of their marriage, their past, his mother, their children, and his other wives, all while we learn more about the friendship these two still have. This is the third in a series, but I haven’t read the others. I read this because Laura Tremaine raved about it (same person who turned me on to Strout’s Olive books). It was a good Saturday afternoon read.
  • The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs – I’m so grateful that Laura Tremaine picked this for our February Book Club book. I hadn’t heard of it, and now I’m so glad I read it. This is a beautiful and sad telling of the lives of these three amazing Black women, who fought through their own traumas as Black women in America, to raise three powerful Black men who impacted the Civil Rights movement and all of America. We learn where each woman grew up, about their families of origin and the families they created. Each one followed her passion for faith, education, social justice, and more, while loving their families and their communities in their own way. Each woman ended up burying their adult son, two lost to murder and one to cancer. This book also tells many brutalities faced by Black women in American across many decades, and the power Black women have to lift up a nation, when given the respect they deserve. Written by a Black woman who had to dig up these small facts on the women behind the men of a movement, this is an incredible look into the history of white supremacy and the value of education, community, and kindness.
  • The Definitive Guide to Instructional Coaching: Seven Factors for Success by Jim Knight – I received a free copy of this book in order to write a review for the AASA journal. I always enjoy Knight’s passion for and knowledge of instructional coaching. This book felt like a summary of a lot of his previous work, packaged into a new system. The seven factors were all elements of a coaching system that I agree with, and that I have written about as well (from voice and choice to relationship building to time management for coaches). This is a practice guide for setting up a new coaching system.
  • Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah – What a sweet and odd story! Jo rents a cabin in the woods to conduct her summer research on birds. While there, a strange young girl, called Ursa, shows up with a story about being an alien. As Jo tries to figure out what to do about Ursa, they meet neighbor Gabe. Both Jo and Gabe are recovering from their own past traumas and are filled with grief and depression. As the story unfolds, we see love, found family, literature and science collide in a beautiful way.
  • The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith – This was a cute YA book about two teens who meet up unexpectedly in the middle of a blackout in NYC. Immediately after they have one great day together, where it is clear that they like each other, their lives are pulled into different cities across countries. They communicate via postcards for awhile, try to create relationships in their new cities, and fight the urge that is drawing them closer together. This was a sweet story, but also had a lot of the usual teen tropes – telling lies to avoid having hard conversations, hiding parts of your life from your parents/ others, and not admitting how you really feel. This book and the one I finished before it have been on my Kindle for at least a year, so I’m glad I’m going cleaning out my TBR!

Favorite book(s) of this month: Fiction–> Honor; Nonfiction–> The Three Mothers

Book cover of the books I read in February 2022
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How are you so comfortable talking about race and equity issues?

I am facilitating a monthly book discussion with a team at work where we read and discuss a chapter of Coaching for Equity by Elena Aguilar. This is a small but mighty team who works very well together and we have built up trusting relationships. One of my colleagues asked me this question during our last discussion, “How are you so comfortable talking about race and equity issues”? When she first asked, I gave a brief answer about how I had a professor in my doctoral program start my cultural proficiency journey, and how I have tried to be aware of my personal bubble and ensure it isn’t all the same kind of voices (meaning, I have friends and family members with diverse identity markers).

When I went home that night, I really reflected on this question and my own learning journey. Most people who know me know that I don’t enjoy talking about myself non-stop, but I can write and reflect in much longer “discussions”! I decided to look back over my blog, where I have captured much of this journey, to outline what I have done over the last 8 years to be a better ally, a better advocate, a social justice leader, and a better citizen of this global society. I think it is important to be open and honest about this work, and for those who are just beginning their own DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) journey, to see what work others have done. I share this not as a roadmap, but a reflection.

Coaching for Equity book cover

  *   In January of 2014 I wrote a blog post about the books I was reading at that time, including those for my cultural proficiency class with Dr. Cheryl Ward
     *   The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar
     *   Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders by Randall B. Lindsey, Kikanza Nuri Robins, & Raymond D. Terrell
     *   Culturally Proficient Leadership: The Personal Journey Begins Within by Terrell & Lindsey
  *   In March of 2014 I was actually deep into that class and reflected about my learning here. In this post I outlined 5 steps I believed educators needed to take in their own equity journey.
  *   In 2016, when I was reading The Art of Coaching Teams by Elena Aguilar, I was inspired to blog about my core values, one of which was equity.  I blogged about this multiple times:
     *   Core Values
     *   Revisiting Core values
     *   What are your core values?

  *   In November 2016, after the presidential elections, I wrote about how I was taking action, much of which was related to my equity journey.
  *   In January of 2017 I went to DC for the Women’s March, and wrote about Marching for Equity. I have attended multiple marches and protest in my own personal life, each of which is an education unto itself!
  *   In 2020, when I read Coaching for Equity the first time, I blogged a reflection about each chapter.  This is post #13, which has links to all the posts in the series.
  *   In summer of 2020 I joined a San Diego group called SURJ- Showing Up for Racial Justice. This group was created for white people, by white people, to teach us how to be allies for BIPOC communities.

* I have second-hand experience with both a young adult and an adult going through a transition, and have learned alongside friends and family members about gender identities.

* I have attended many PRIDE parades and festivals with friends and LGBTQIA allies.

* I have had conversations with friends and colleagues about my own biases and the institutional biases within our educational system.
 

Core Values activity

There are many ways to expand your own bubble, to ensure you are hearing voice difference from your own. This can happen through friends and family, through books and media, and by traveling outside of said bubble. Everyone who reads my blog also knows that I am an avid reader. While I love escaping into fun fiction, I have made a conscious effort to read nonfiction that continues to educate me on social justice issues, written by authors from a variety of identity markers to expand my perspectives. Below are a just a few of those titles as a reference:

 
     *   Raising Ryland– Hillary Whittington
     *   Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
     *   The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
     *   Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
     *   The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
     *   Becoming by Michelle Obama (audiobook)
     *   For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin
     *   Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond
     *   The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris [audiobook]How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
     *   I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
     *   Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
     *   Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World by Layla Saad
     *   White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo
     *   So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
     *   Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
     *   Leading While Female: A Culturally Proficient Response for Gender Equity by Trudy T. Arriaga, Stacie L. Stanley and Delores B. Lindsey
     *   The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee
     *   Start Here, Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community by Liz Kleinrock
     *   You are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience edited by Tarana Burke and Brene Brown
     *   Miseducated: A Memoir by Brandon P. Fleming
     *   Raising Our Hands: How White Women Can Stop Avoiding Hard Conversations, Start Accepting Responsibility, and Find Our Place on the New Frontlines by Jenna Arnold
     *   Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner
     *   Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman

What has your own DEI journey looked like? Where have you lingered for deeper learning? Who are your teachers and mentors on the path? Where do you seek out new information and different perspectives? How are you learning to have necessary and important conversations? To me, this work matters for each and every human we interact with every day, in and out of schools. I practice this work on behalf of my family, my friends, my colleagues, our students, and our global community.

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What is my word of the year again?

I literally asked myself this question the other day, and I had to go through my photos to remind myself that I had selected CONNECTION as my word of 2022. I laughed at myself for forgetting my own word. But then I instantly felt that I had been living with this as my driving force without being consciously focused on it.

Since this year began, I feel like I have been running a marathon that finally hit a break when a four-day weekend appeared like a mirage in mid-February. While being so busy getting back into work, during a COVID surge, I have also gravitated towards connections with friends and family as much as possible. I’ve had fun play dates with my 3-year old nephew, I have met up with friends for dinner and brunch and walks all over town, and I have been planning and booking upcoming trips to spend more quality time with friends. I can’t wait for those connections!

To me, I know that this is the right word for me because it comes naturally as something I want and need to feel fulfilled. I’m grateful for the big and small connections and seeing the positives amongst the first rough weeks of this year.

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January 2022 Reading Update

This year I’m going to be tracking my reading stats (author and topic information) in a spreadsheet, so I won’t be including that in my monthly round up posts. These monthly posts will be a way for me to summarize and react to what I’ve read, and then to look back and remember. This month I read:

  • These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant – This was a slow build up thriller with a heart I wasn’t expecting. Cooper and his daughter Finch live in a small cabin in the woods, off the grid. Over time, the reader learns why that is, though Finch doesn’t learn it all until later. Danger in the woods threatens their life and Cooper has to imagine a different life for them. This had family love, and thriller elements wraps up.
  • Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews – This was one of Laura Tremaine’s favorite books of 2021, and I thought I would like it. While the beginning was a slow set up as we got to know Florence, I was sucked into the story once Florence got a job as the assistant to the anonymous Maud Dixon, a writer with an incredible bestseller that everyone couldn’t stop talking about. Parts of the thrills that followed felt predictable to me, while others were a total surprise. I enjoyed the lead up and the ending!
  • The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – I enjoyed this historical fiction story more than I thought I would. While Caroline is visiting London to think about the future of her marriage she finds a glass vial in the Thames. Tapping into her past passion for historical research, she learns about an apothecary from 1791. Nella and Eliza narrate the 1791 chapters, telling us about their work and lives as Caroline discovers bits and pieces. This was a bittersweet story about strong and brave women.
  • Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk [audiobook]- I found this book while looking for more middle grades books to listen to on audio. While I liked parts of this, I found other parts to be highly unrealistic and over the top with melancholy and drama. Crow was a newborn when she was found, in a tiny boat, run ashore on a small island. Osh raises her, with support from a neighbor, Miss Maggie. Crow sets out to learn where she is from, and finds some villains and sadness along the way. The communication amongst the characters was not great, therefore some of the description wasn’t either. This was underwhelming and bittersweet.
  • The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin – What a sweet, sad tale! Lenni is 17 living in the terminal unit of a hospital when she meets 83 year old Margot. Together, they use art and stories to tell the collective story of their 100 years of life. As we get to know their history, they get to know each other in such a sweet and uncomplicated way. This is a story about found family, friendship, and love. I cried at the end!
  • The Secret Lives of the First Ladies by Cormac O’Brien – Laura Tremaine interviewed O’Brien on her podcast many months ago and I bought the e-book version of this book then. This month I’ve tried to read into my TBR list and this was my first nonfiction finish! I loved that there was on short chapter on each first lady, up to Michelle Obama, as it was published in 2009. Some of the facts were bizarre, some interesting, and some outlandish. Both Abigail Adams and Barbara Bush were both married to a president and the mother of a president. Dolley Madison, after her husband’s presidency, was granted an honorary seat in Congress but a unanimous vote! Julia Gardiner Tyler was the first person to have the marine play play “Hail to the Chief” when her husband entered. This was a fun look into the lives of many powerful women who helped their husband’s success. I enjoyed it!
  • The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix – I bought this in August as an Indie Press List recommendation from the Currently Reading podcast. Years ago I read a good mystery about a “final girl”, one who survives a serial killer/ killing spree and has to live in fear. I was hoping this would be as good, but was sorely disappointed. The only reason I finished reading this was to find out how it ended. But I was annoyed throughout the entire book – writing style wasn’t for me, too many characters and random details to keep track of, uninteresting plot, dislikable and unreliable characters and narrator, and I couldn’t empathize with any of them. I feel like this male author wrote about a lot of whiny women in a disjointed way.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – It is only because I respect Laura Tremaine that I finished this book. She has us reading a Classic for the second book in a row for our Book Club (we read Little Women in November). I have never been a fan of Classics. After reading this, here are a few of the reasons: The language feels old, outdated, too lengthy, or too ridiculous for me; these are the only books I can’t read fast, my mind and my pace slow down so much as I slog through the language; while the themes may still be relevant, I’d rather read them in a more modern story; most were written by upper class white people and don’t tell the full story of the times. Here is what I can say about this book in particular. I found the first four chapters, which are short letters, unbearable to read and it took me FOREVER just to get past them and into the story. I knew nothing about this story, despite having seen the monster (which I once thought was named Frankenstein, thanks to bad pop culture references) portrayed throughout my lifetime. I found the first half of the book slow, even after the monster existed, scared Frankenstein, killed people, and threatened his creator. It was only when I got to the last third of the book was I finally invested enough to care how it ended. To me, that is not a great reading experience. Again, if I wasn’t reading it for a book club I want to participate in, I would not have finished this. I want my reading to be more enjoyable than this!
  • The Sentence by Louise Erdrich – I love Louise’s stories, as they always immerse me into the life of Indigenous People living regular life, with joy and love and heartache. In this story, Tookie, after a troubling start to adulthood, is happily married and working in a bookstore (Birchbark Books is real, is owned by Louise, and is where I purchased this book!), when she is haunted by the ghost of a now deceased customer. As the haunting escalates, Tookie and her friends and family live through the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and then the murder of George Floyd right in their city. In Louise’s unique writing style, we see snippets of all of this through the eyes of our narrator and her own struggles. The characters are fun and flawed and real. The love for books and reading and traditions and heritage are also real. I loved this book (4.5 stars – highest rating so far this year!)!
  • The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey and Michaela Angela Davis [audiobook] – I have never been a huge fan of Mariah Carey, but I can appreciate her incredible talent as a singer, and I enjoyed getting to know more about her life listening to her narrate her memoir. She had a very rough childhood, an abusive first marriage, and truly seemed stunted due to all her trauma and inability to find independence. She came off less egotistical than some other celebrities I’ve listened to; she is confident in her singing and song writing abilities, but was also a sheltered girl who never really grew up into a woman. She had some concerning and immature views of men, explanable when you hear her stories, and painted herself in a favorable light and most others as flawed. I enjoyed the singing at the beginning of most chapters and some of her fun stories. When I finished I was mostly sad for her – she seems like she has never been able to trust anyone and I hope that she has found good friends to surround herself and her children with at this stage in her life.
  • All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle – What a beautiful (5 STAR) story! I loved getting to know Hubert across two timelines – in the present as a widower and in the past as he moves from Jamaica to England, makes friends, falls in love, and creates a family. In the present, Hubert is forced into an unlikely friendship and then becomes the spokesperson for a committee to end loneliness. I loved everything about this sweet book!

Favorite book of this month: All the Lonely People

[I added this feature to help my own memory when it comes to December 2022 and I want to pick my favorite reads of the year, and also for readers like Andree and JJ who want only my top tier recommendations!]

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Play mimics life; does school?

I recently spent an afternoon with my 3 year old nephew. For over 20 minutes we played a scenario that he created. We were driving two mini monster trucks around the living room where he directed an entire storyline. Our monster trucks left their house in the morning and had to go get money. Then, and only because I said I was hungry, he agreed that our trucks could stop for tacos, though this wasn’t part of his original story. After my distraction our trucks had to go to a barber named Tony. At first, the barber wasn’t opened, so I had to knock on the door and then he was open. Our trucks got some hair cuts and then earned a lollipop, and headed home. When my cousin came home (who is the mother of my “nephew”) I told her about this storyline that her child invented and happily played over and over and over again. She told me that her husband had taken their son to a barber shop just this week. They had to get money because the barber only took cash, and the first time they went the barbershop had been closed. And he had gotten a lollipop from the barber. It amazed us both that this 3 year old could remember all of these events and retell them as a fun adventure for some trucks days later.

We know that young children are parrots who repeat everything they hear. They also mimic what they see. This made me think not just of very young children, but of students of all ages. What language do they hear being spoken to them and around them in schools every day? What activities do they participate in regularly and what would those activities look like if our students took them home and mimicked them in their own play? What rules do we set in schools and how do those translate?

I hope that when my nephew starts his K-12 education he:

  • is surrounded by positive, affirming language. Language that, when he repeats it, honors all people and diverse ways of thinking.
  • is provided many opportunities to learn through exploration. I hope that all of his learning isn’t rote memorization, or the following of strict step-by-step directions to complete every small task.
  • is asked to think, to create, and to ask his own questions. I hope his curiosity is sparked daily!
  • is loved and appreciated for the strengths he has as a human and as a learner.
  • is supported to reflect on the ways in which he can continue to improve and learn more.
  • is free to try new things and make mistakes and happily learn from those mistakes.
  • loves learning and loves reading as much as his Tia does!

My wishes for my nephew’s future schooling are the same for all of the students in our schools today. I believe we have more work to do in some of these areas, but I appreciate the amazing educators I am honored to work with every day and know we are moving in the right direction.

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Returning to Simplicity

As we all attempt to stay healthy, trying not to catch or spread the latest COVID-19 variants around to our loved ones, I’ve noticed what has been bringing me joy. It’s really the simple things in life that are most meaningful in stressful times. I’m not sure if it’s my age, and my willingness to enjoy a slow down or even a wintering time of life, or if simplicity really is the answer to so many of life’s woes.

Talking on the phone to a friend or family member I haven’t seen in a while.

Reading a really good book. [Okay, this is ALWAYS my go-to habit, but it’s still good and quite simple!]

Taking a walk outside. No equipment needed. You can do this alone or with others. Listening to music, podcasts, a book on tape, or nothing but the sounds of nature.

Sitting in stillness. Ten minutes of meditation a day is SLOWING teaching my mind to be quiet for small moments at a time. To be present. To focus on breathing in and breathing out.

Emptying my robot vacuum after he successfully cleans my house while I’m sitting reading.

Playing a made-up game that my 3-year old nephew has invented out of the random collection of kid and cat toys he finds around my house when he comes to visit.

There is nothing special on this list. Not much that costs money (my robot vacuum was a gift- thanks Dad!). Many of these tasks can be done day or night, alone or with others. I’m writing this list as a reminder to myself. So often, I get in a loop, especially when talking to friends who want to vent about their stresses at the end of a long day, where I think about how annoying life can be (or the people in it!). And that is true. But it’s also rather simple to step away from those annoyances and get back to center. Returning to simplicity is a good reminder to myself, and I thought it might be a good reminder for you too.

I love bagels, another simple joy in life!
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Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability

I’m writing a series of blog posts to document my learning about green schools; work that I have landed in over the last three years. Please follow along with my journey and share where you are in the environmental sustainability movement. 

Thanks to our district’s participation in the Green Schools National Network, I am proud to share that I contributed a chapter to a book coming out soon: Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability: Case Studies of Educators in Action, available for preorder on Amazon now. I asked Santa to pre-order me a copy to have and it arrived just after Christmas!

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My journey with this collection began at a writing workshop in Portland in February 2020. I believe that was the last plane trip I took before the pandemic shut everything down. I remember we were beginning to be concerned because Portland, close to Washington, was already reporting more cases of COVID than San Diego, where we had none until mid-March.  But all that was just a flicker in the background as a group of educators got together to brainstorm our case studies, and how we might share our school or district’s green work with other educators.  I was passionate about this because I love writing. Even more important was the idea of sharing where to begin and what this work looks like in various settings for educators new to green initiatives.

Before I joined the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD), none of the previous districts where I worked were tackling green initiatives in a focused and sustainable (pun intended!) way.  Once I saw all of the incredible work EUSD had been doing for years, I knew it was critical to spread the word and share with others.  Until you see some of this in action, you can’t even imagine how to begin, what it might look like, or the positive impacts you can have on students, learning and your community in addition to our climate.

The chapter I wrote is a description of EUSD, where Environmental Stewardship is one of our four district pillars and a continual focus area. I detail the green initiatives that are foundational in all of our schools, while highlighting each of our schools’ unique brands. I also discuss site and district leadership, and the considerations for starting and sustaining such a large initiative. I encourage educators to order a copy of this book for their own schools, teams, leaders and community partners.  Each case study has something different to teach school leaders, all of whom may be at different steps in their own green school journey.  Consider reaching out to the Green Schools National Network to join a supportive group of like-minded colleagues who want to work alongside you.

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Did you know that I also wrote an entire book?  The Coach ADVenture: Building Powerful Instructional Skills That Impact Learning is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I love interacting with readers via Twitter and my hashtag #CoachADV.

The Coach ADVenture

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