Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March Fitness Update

Here we are, the end of March, time for another fitness update. About mid-month I noticed that I had to keep pulling up my pants (the ones that were really tight when I started in January) and that my Fitbit strapped onto my wrist easily beyond the usual hole I used. I weigh myself once weekly, but have just now noticed the loss besides the scale reading. Between January and mid-March I've lost 12 pounds. 

In January a workout friend had said that within a couple months the difference would be noticeable to me and a few months past that, it would be noticeable to others. Figuring my pants and Fitbit were making it obvious to me at least, I took a picture to compare to my January picture. You don't necessarily see the changes in something when you look at it every day, so I was pretty impressed with what I saw reflected between the two pictures (January and March respectively).

Then life struck and I missed half a month of workouts. We are finishing off the process of closing on our new house renovation loan and I've spent evenings gathering paperwork and running it to the needed destinations or meeting contractors and consultants at the house for inspections. Which means it had to work around usual activities, some things were pushed to other nights/days, plus the kids' activities...and the workouts ended up sacrificed.

It sucks, but it showed me something worth realizing. Over Easter weekend, within two weeks of missing workouts, I found myself highly uncomfortable and in some pain...definitely in need of my chiropractor. Since I started in January, I've barely had to see my chiropractor and when I did, it wasn't because I was highly uncomfortable or in a whole lot of pain. The workouts were keeping my chiropractic needs in check.

Also, I discovered that because I wasn't working out, I struggled more with eating healthy. Knowing I sacrificed and sweated to workout kept me eating healthy because I didn't want it to all be a waste of time. Without the workouts I didn't feel I had as much of a reason to stick to the better eating choices. As of now, I gained back the two pounds I'd lost since the beginning of March.

Needless to say, my part of the legwork for the new house is done and the workouts are coming back full force. I'm ready to feel good again!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Begin the Week with Words - Easter

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!" Psalm 103:1

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Day in the Life

This year I'm joining the "A Day in the Life" event hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity. It was fun last year to see what my blogger friends had going on outside of their reading schedules. I chose a day randomly, woke up one morning and thought, okay I'll track today. I mean, there's always something going on, but I wanted to give an idea of a random/typical day of my week to give the true feel of the event.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

6:30am: Out of bed, showered, dressed, and out the door around 7:15. We are currently living in a two bedroom apartment while the house we are buying is renovated. That's two adults, three teenagers, and three dogs. So, everyone is kind of on top of each other getting ready, which means grumpiness from all sides some mornings. This morning not particularly bad though.

7:30am: At work and within ten minutes three of my students from last year come to visit. They come to my room to say hi and start the day every day. Today is Wednesday though, which are club meeting days, so they are in my room for about 25 minutes instead of ten and joined by ten more students who constitute the book club I run, Reading Warriors. I enjoy having them there to relax and talk and start the day with a laugh.

8:30am: Period 1, the day has officially begun. I have an open morning schedule (no classes until about the half point of the school day) because of my prep period and the period I'm given in exchange for running the Graduation/Senior Project (aka Sr Proj). And that's what's on the schedule today. Freshman year our students begin a Google slide project that culminates through all four years of high school and must be completed to graduate. Throughout those years they use the project to discuss items they've learned within and outside of classes, as well as job shadow, attend a board meeting, serve 25 hours of community service, and write a resume. During the week of Easter break their Senior year, each student presents to a pair of panelists (teachers and administrators) and the project is considered complete.

So the next two hours consist of tracking down Seniors who are running out of time to finish before presentations on March 21st and 22nd. There aren't too many and I'm confident we'll finish, but I make a few calls to parent just to make sure. I have not had a year yet (in eleven years) where a Senior did not finish the project.

10:30am: Period 4, Sophomore English. A class of 15 boys and five girls, so yea, you know what this is going to consist of, distractions. We are in the middle of reading A Separate Peace. They aren't particularly interested, haven't been for anything we've done really, but we're pushing through, reading together and discussing.

11:15am: Periods 5&6 are AP Literature - Juniors. I LOVE these classes. Overall, a great group of young people. We just finished reading The Scarlet Letter the week before and they hit it out of the park. The work we did and discussions we held blew me away. Today they are brainstorming for their research project/paper on The Scarlet Letter, which is to analyze the story through a specific lens of their choice (psychological, biographical, historical, etc.). They work and talk as they go, asking questions as needed and I continue to stalk those Seniors I need to give a talking to in between.

12:40pm: Lunchtime. I read while I eat my apples and peanut butter. Often times I work as I eat if I have a stack of grading to do, but just as much, I use it as relaxation time to read or go through my blog's email.

1:15pm: Last two periods of the day are Honors English 11 and studyhall. Research projects on a topic of choice and more stalking of Seniors and the school day is done.

3:30pm: My middle daughter has piano lessons for half an hour. She receives a trophy she won for three consecutive years of highest ranking in a local music festival. We are ecstatic. Both her sister and I have won this trophy in our time playing piano at the same festival.

4:20pm: Five minutes late getting my oldest daughter to her doctor's appointment. Our pediatrician retired and instead of starting my teenagers all over again with another pediatrician, I decided to just start them with the family doctor my husband and I see. It's an uneventful visit, which is all good.

5:00pm: Throw some chicken fingers and fries in the oven for everyone to gobble up.

6:30pm: Drop my kids off at our church, my husband is already there. We hold an annual Easter egg hunt and tonight is prep night instead of usual youth church services. But before I join them, I run dinner over for a good friend and her family, who added a new member a few days before. Babies! Yay!

7:15pm: Back at the church, I help sort candy and toy donations into Easter baskets. These are then wrapped in cellophane and labeled for prize drawings. There's a lot of volunteers helping set up, so by the time I am done with the baskets, there isn't much more to do.

8:10pm: With nothing else needed, I head over to another friend's house to watch Survivor. She has always been a major fan and has hooked me in the past couple years. I usually head over to her house to visit with her and her boys right after dropping my kids at the church on Wednesdays. Running a little late tonight, but in time to see most of the action. It's one of the highlights of my week because I know I'll get to spend time with her and the boys.

9:30pm: I head home. Spend the next hour trying to get my own kids in bed...teenagers! Can't get them in bed and then when you do, you can't get them back out.

11pm: I'm rarely asleep before midnight. Tonight I talk with my husband, jot some notes for this post, and read. I'm currently entangled in Voyager, the third book of the Outlander series. I'm loving it, of course.

And that's A Day in the Life of Me...wife, mother, teacher, friend, blogger. Thanks for stopping by! If you're interested in more of these posts, a link up to more of them is available here on Trish's site.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

All kinds of good quotes popping out at me this week - even one from TV! My husband has taken to the new show Blindspot, so I usually end up watching with him. Last week the FBI director character said something to an agent that caught my attention enough to rewind and write down. It's truth, that's all there is to it:

"The longer you run from this, the more it will hurt when it catches you. And trust me, it will catch you." 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

2016: The Year for Dreams

I've had a small set of big dreams/goals for awhile. Things just bidding their time until an inkling of possibility showed itself. A dream my husband and I have shared since we had our family was to own a bigger house on a little bit of land. We'd really given up looking because we didn't want to leave our area and houses with our criteria were out of the price range around here. But, in January we found a foreclosure in truly good shape that is fixable and stays in budget! It's not all final, it could still fall through, but it's been pretty exciting and we are currently in waiting mode. So we will see.

More exciting news from the past couple weeks is that I will be teaching a college writing class in my high school to Seniors next year. The program is offered by my Alma Mater, Youngstown State University. Students literally pay next to nothing, the school purchases the books, and the credit is highly transferable. I have always dreamed of teaching for YSU, a gem in our community and the place where I really fell in love with learning. Technically, I have to be employed by YSU to teach this class within my high school and that application finalized this past fall. It's not on campus and technically not college students, but it's a step closer people, it's a step. I'm on the radar.

And the whole reason for this post?! Today a personal goal I set almost twenty years ago at YSU became a reality. I received an acceptance letter into the PhD Literature program from Kent State University. Last fall I applied on a whim. Life has settled quite a bit over the past year. My kids seem more independent than they were even the year before, their schedules have settled, and I find myself at a loss in some ways. What better timing to shoot for it? It was a long, multi-step process I started in August and finished in October, knowing I had to wait until March for results. And just like that, I'm in. Wow. It hasn't quite settled in my mind yet.

So it seems 2016 is the year of dreams for me. It's crazy that all at once my biggest goals have come to fruition. I am going to enjoy it all as much as possible.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

Life is tough - that's not news to anyone. What was news to me at one point is how hard it is to find people to depend upon for the ins and outs of life. A friend sent this excerpt yesterday, thinking of me, and it warmed my heart. I hope everyone has such a friend thinking of them!

"An amazing few friends dive into our mess with us, help us sort it out, and make us feel safe in the process. It’s why God meant for us to have people to travel with in life—to be His hands and feet on earth and help each other both thrive and endure." I Want God, by Lisa Whittle

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Author Interview: Wendy Holden, Born Survivors

Back in June I read and reviewed Wendy Holden's May 2015 release, Born Survivors. It tells the stories of three pregnant women whose unborn babies survive their perilous journey in the concentration camps of the Holocaust.

Born Survivors comes out in paperback this May, one year after publication. To bring awareness of these stories and this particular book, I have an interview with Wendy Holden on the blog today! Welcome Wendy to the blog today!

Please tell us about your latest book.

Born Survivors tells the story of three young women pregnant by their husbands during World War Two and praying for a brighter future. Their babies were born within weeks of each other, weighing just three pounds, in the most horrendous of circumstances. By the time they arrived, the Nazis had killed their fathers and their mothers were ‘walking skeletons,’ living moment to moment in the same concentration camp. Somehow, all three women managed to survive. Against all the odds, their babies did too. Seventy years on and now living in America and Britain, these ‘siblings of the heart’ have come together for the first time to tell the remarkable stories of the three mothers who defied death to give them life. Born Survivors has been published in 21 countries and translated into 16 languages so far. Without doubt, it is the most important book I will ever write and it is the first book ever to chronicle such a story.

How did you come across the story?

By luck. I was reading something late one night online about a woman who had died in Canada in her 90s. She had been a prisoner in Auschwitz – just like my three mothers –and had given birth to a baby there, which had died. It occurred to me then that I have never read anything about babies born in concentration camps and my research led me to Eva Clarke and her mother Anka. She lived just over one hour from me in Cambridge, England, and having spent an emotional day with her I asked if she would do me the honour of letting me write her mother’s story. She reached out, touched my arm, and with tears in her eyes said: “I have been waiting for you for 70 years.” I told her I believe her story to be unique and that I have never found anything written about babies born in the Holocaust before. She told me that until 2010, she believed she was unique too but then discovered two other babies in America and they had since become very close. That is when I knew I had to contact them as well and ask if I could incorporate their stories in this book. Fortunately, they were equally delighted and thrilled that their mothers’ courage has finally been publicly honoured. I knew that I had to tell all three stories together in one volume spanning the war in Europe and Hitler’s attempted destruction of the Jews.

How do you think they survived?

Each mother would say simply that they survived because of luck. They were lucky they were given baggy clothing. They were lucky that they did not succumb to various diseases that rampaged through the camp. They were fortunate that they didn’t injure themselves and were dispatched back to Auschwitz. They were lucky that they were young, fit and healthy before the war and were able to survive the dramatic weight loss and mice infestation as well as bitter cold and unendurable living and working conditions. By the time of their babies were born, each mother weighed less than 70 pounds and infants under 3 pounds.

How did you get through the process?

The only way I could get through the researching and writing of it was to focus on finding the humanity in the inhumanity. Thanks to the kindness of strangers during their incarceration, these women and their babies survived. The stories of the people who risked their own lives to help them restored my faith in human nature.

Why are you so interested in history and war?

I grew up in a family that had been deeply affected by war. My father fought the Japanese in Burma and my mother’s fiancĂ© was killed aged 19 parachuting into Germany. She also lived through the London Blitz. Then when I became a journalist, for a while I was a war correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph and travelled all over the world covering conflicts. The experience scarred me and I suffered from a mild form of PTSD following my return to England. What struck me most about all that I had seen, though, were the great acts of courage and kindness that people were capable of even in the worst possible circumstances, or perhaps because of them.

What other books have you written about war?

Tomorrow to Be Brave tells the true story of Susan Travers, the only woman in the French Foreign Legion and was published globally. Behind Enemy Lines tells Marthe Cohn’s remarkable story of being a Jewish spy who risked her life after losing a sister to Auschwitz and her fiancĂ© to a firing squad. Till the Sun Grows Cold tells the story of British teacher Emma McCune who married a Sudanese warlord and was then killed while carrying his baby. Kill Switch is the memoir of a British army major who was wrongly imprisoned in Afghanistan for a crime he didn’t commit. Biting the Bullet told the story of what it was like to be married to the SAS. Shell Shock details the story of the mind at war and how the experiences of soldiers at the front shaped modern-day psychiatry. Mr Scraps is a novella about a stray dog caught up in the London Blitz. The Sense of Paper was my first novel and tells of a former war correspondent haunted by her experiences, who loses herself in the work and materials of JMW Turner to try to reconcile herself with the ghosts of her past.

Tell us about your writing routines.

I write in my first floor office at my 17th century Suffolk home between 12 noon and 7pm usually. I sit at the red-leather gold-tooled Victorian desk we inherited from my husband’s grandfather. Books fill my late father's mahogany bookcase and the walls are covered with the framed jackets of many of my books, along with cherished cartoons from friends like Matt as well as framed letters, photos and cards from clients, colleagues and family. My research books, notes and papers are spread across an old carved oak desk I also inherited from my dad - who was my mentor, my inspiration, and my first true love.

Why do you write?

It’s not as if I have a choice. I have written something almost every day since I was able – a diary, a poem, even a few sentences. I penned my first play when I was six. It was called The Queen’s Birthday Cake and won a competition to be staged at my school. I carry a notepad with me and there is also one by my bed to scribble ideas onto in the middle of the night.
Where do you get the ideas for your books?

Publishers, clients or agents who think I might be a good fit usually approach me but I also generate a lot of books myself. It often starts with a germ of an idea, as in Born Survivors. With The Sense of Paper, it was a chance remark by an artist friend who told me he’d mortgaged his house to buy the last supply of the very watercolour paper that JMW Turner used. That was enough to set me off and then the character Charlie Hudson emerged from nowhere and rather took over! When it comes to fiction, I honestly don’t know how a book will end until I come to it. I read about other writers plotting their book precisely or having a very clear structure plan and I am envious. Apart from a vague general idea, I prefer to read the ending as I’m writing it, staring at the screen in wonder as my fingers type the words almost automatically.

Do you have any writing rituals?

My friend and client Goldie Hawn, with whom I have written three books, introduced me to Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god and remover of obstacles, when I was working on her autobiography A Lotus Grows in the Mud. My husband found me a beautiful silver Ganesh in a little shop in Connecticut, which sits on a shelf near my desk. Whenever I am having a difficult day, I reach out and rub its little feet, just in case there's any truth in it.

Which living writer do you most admire?

There are far too many to choose from but I am enjoying a lot of new writers and especially loved All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr last year. I also loved Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, which was the closest I have come to the genius of To Kill a Mockingbird in a modern novel. I read a great deal of non-fiction too and love to be beguiled by the writing at the same time as learning something new, as I was with Deeper than Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul or pretty much anything by Simon Winchester.

And "passed on" writer?

All the usual suspects, along with the many wonderful poets whose work feeds my brain. I am a sucker for E.E. Cummings and for Daphne du Maurier and I’m currently rereading all the works of Charles Dickens in chronological order to chart his evolution as a writer.

What or who inspires you?

Finding humanity in inhumanity. Generosity. Kindness. Thoughtfulness. And of course, fine writing. I only hope that one day I can come a little closer to what some of my personal heroes have already achieved.

If not a writer, what job would you do?

If I had my time again, I’d take a fine art degree and put my fledgling and entirely amateur ability as an artist – inherited from my painterly grandfather - to much better use.

What’s your guilty reading pleasure?

Whenever I am feeling under the weather, I curl up with Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and devour it with great relish. I have always identified with Jo, and I love everything about her. A few years ago I visited the author’s home in Concord, Massachusetts, and was deeply moved by the experience. There is something about standing over an admired writer’s desk (or in this case, a tiny table) that is very emotional. I felt the same way when I visited Batemans - the home of Rudyard Kipling – and Patchin Place in New York where E.E. Cummings worked. I also love the tower at Sissinghurst Castle, in which Vita Sackville West wrote.

Favorite city?

My husband Chris and I lived in New York for a while and have spent some truly wonderful times there. It was in Manhattan that I threw a glittering launch party for my first novel in 2006. In the vertiginous Lobby Bar of the Mandarin Oriental overlooking Central Park, we drank cocktails as I had to pinch myself to believe it was real. We’ve also had many happy times in Paris and we adore Rome, to which we fly at least once a year before our annual sojourn in Umbria, Tuscany or the Marches. I have spent many months in Amman, Jordan, which is the epitome of all I like about the Middle East, and Essaouira in Morocco is like nowhere else on earth. Closer to home, I have a special place in my heart for Norwich, the beautiful many-spired county city of Norfolk, in which I can happily lose a day.

Thank you Wendy for your time, getting to know you and your work! For more information on Wendy and her books visit her site.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

There's a meaningful mini movie online called The Butterfly Circus. It's about twenty minutes long, set in the Great Depression, and has a great moral. I use it in class to teach story mapping and characterization. The main character is played by Nick Vujicic, who has a disorder called Phocomelia, meaning he was born without limbs. In the story Will is part of a sideshow where he is laughed at and harassed. When Will joins The Butterfly Circus, where struggles are turned to success, ashes are turned to beauty, the ringleader tells Will he is luckier than the others. Pretty crazy to think not having any limbs can be luckier than anything, but the ringleader's reasoning is my favorite line and the point of the whole show:

Note: the original quote used "harder" instead of "greater" and is attributed to Thomas Paine.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ginny Gall: TLC Book Tours

Ginny Gall, by Charlie Smith
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: February 2, 2016
Category: Historical Fiction
Source: I received a galley via TLC Book Tours for consideration of review in their promotional tour.

Goodreads SummaryA sweeping, eerily resonant epic of race and violence in the Jim Crow South: a lyrical and emotionally devastating masterpiece from Charlie Smith, whom the New York Public Library has said “may be America’s most bewitching stylist alive.”

Delvin Walker is just a boy when his mother flees their home in the Red Row section of Chattanooga, accused of killing a white man. Taken in by Cornelius Oliver, proprietor of the town’s leading Negro funeral home, he discovers the art of caring for the aggrieved, the promise of transcendence in the written word, and a rare peace in a hostile world. Yet tragedy visits them near daily, and after a series of devastating events—a lynching, a church burning—Delvin fears being accused of murdering a local white boy and leaves town.

Haunted by his mother’s disappearance, Delvin rides the rails, meets fellow travelers, falls in love, and sees an America sliding into the Great Depression. But before his hopes for life and love can be realized, he and a group of other young men are falsely charged with the rape of two white women, and shackled to a system of enslavement masquerading as justice. As he is pushed deeper into the darkness of imprisonment, his resolve to escape burns only more brightly, until in a last spasm of flight, in a white heat of terror, he is called to choose his fate.

In language both intimate and lyrical, novelist and poet Charlie Smith conjures a fresh and complex portrait of the South of the 1920s and ’30s in all its brutal humanity—and the astonishing endurance of one battered young man, his consciousness “an accumulation of breached and disordered living . . . hopes packed hard into sprung joints,” who lives past and through it all.

My Thoughts

I have to say first that what perked my interest in Ginny Gall was the summary's mention of the African American character Delvin being falsely accused of raping two white women while riding the rails. The historical reference for this event is the Scottsboro Trials in 1931. Nine young African American males were accused of rape by two white women. Eight of the nine young boys were found guilty and sentenced to death, the ninth given a life sentence because he was only twelve years old. Years of retrials and reversals followed. By 1936, seven of the boys had been in jail for over six years WITHOUT trial! Eventually some were pardoned, while others escaped prison. As far out as 1950 re-arrests were made from those who had escaped. The kicker - the crime never happened. The two women lied because they were committing crimes themselves - including crossing the border with a minor for the intent of prostitution.You may also recall another great work of literature with a storyline loosely based off of the Scottsboro Trials - To Kill a Mockingbird.

I'm a sucker for historical fiction, especially those closely related to actual events. On the other hand, many periods of history are painful to read. Ginny Gall is no exception. Unless you lived it, it is hard to imagine a time and place where people would fear walking down a street because God knows what could happen without any provocation. A time and place where justice was so blind. Yet, around the world many places like this exist still today. Young Delvin learns these fears early on, but I like that he still had hopes and dreams and that he consistently tries to make the most of what life has handed him. However, as the summary above shows, even with hopes and dreams along the way, Ginny Gall remains a dark and haunting picture of too true historical events.

Although the book's topic was interesting and the setting familiar based on my personal reading history, I felt I had to push myself through the beginning before I could get into it. I'm unable to pinpoint the why of this, but I think the story speaks for itself once you get going.

And although I am the end of the tour, there are the other reviews for Ginny Gall, It's always good to collect multiple perspectives on a potential read! Click here for links to each of the sites reviewing Ginny Gall.

Purchase Links
Photo by Daniela Sero Smith
Photo by Daniela Sero Smith

About Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith, the author of seven novels and seven books of poetry, has won the Aga Khan Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris ReviewHarper's, the New Republic, the New York Times, the Nation, and many other magazines and journals. Three of his novels have been named New York Times Notable Books. He lives in New York City and Key West.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

February Fitness Update

My Essentially Fit Living group - aka #EFL
(I'm tall one in the back center)

This post is going to be short, but I didn't want to discount what I've done for the month of February, just because some it is the same as January. So, the same parts first. I am still on board my exercise routine I started at the New Year. I enjoy it so much, that I kinda get mad when life gets in the way and I have to miss a workout. The group is supportive and the RIPPED program great! 

I'm still drinking way more water than I ever have and healthier snacks all around. I've found a balance between splurging and not. It must be working because I lost three more pounds in February, for a total of nine this year! Also, I've gained some Twitter and Instagram followers from the healthy living and workout world. Then I was asked to collaborate on a post about workplace health hacks with, which was pretty cool. 

I'm still using my Fitbit, my highest step count being over 14,500 on each of the two days we moved from our house. On the other side, I've stopped counting calories and tracking my water. I figure if I'm mostly drinking water when I'm thirsty, then I'm good to stop tracking the amounts. Also, I was correct about my original need for counting calories. I learned pretty quickly what will have high and low calories and to look for sugar measurements. That, plus boosting my healthy snack intake, has allowed me to stop counting calories and continue to lose weight. Balance!

So, that's all I've got this month people! Not terribly exciting I guess, but nice to know I hung in there another month and this healthy living thing is going to stick this time. Not just another failed New Year's resolution. Bring it on March.