Saturday, October 31, 2015


MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): The sweeping epic of one girl who grows up to be a man, starting in a tiny Turkish village and taking us through three generations of the Stephanides family as they travel to America, settle in Detroit, and make a life for themselves there.

First thoughts: Middlesex is the longest book I've read in a while, and thanks to school, took me a lot longer to finish than most books do. Still, I never wanted to abandon it. It truly is epic.

Lingering questions: Why is Chapter 11 (Cal's brother) so called? If it's in the book, I missed that part.

Changes I would make: I wanted to hear more about the present and Cal's current life, less about her ancestors.

Favorite quotes:
"I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever." -p217

"If this story is written only for myself, then so be it. But it doesn't feel that way. I feel you out there, reader." -p319

"But in the end it wasn't up to me. The big things never are. Birth, I mean, and death. And love. And what love bequeaths to us before we're born." -p388

"We're all made up of many parts, other halves. Not just me." -p440

Final thoughts: Middlesex sheds light on important issues of gender identity, nature v nurture, how we raise our kids based on gender, transitions, and the love we find in our own families. I was surprised to find that it was published in 2003, as so much of it felt contemporary.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Scary Movies 2015

How is tomorrow Halloween already? October flew by in a whirlwind of spooky activities, lesson planning, and weekend guests. Here's this year's round up of scary movies and TV shows - just enough spook to get us to next October.

Sleepy Hollow

After going to a live re-enactment of the Sleepy Hollow story, Jesus and I decided to watch Tim Burton's retelling. The movie follows the original short story to a point, then it rides off on its own crazy tale. Still fun to watch!

Corpse Bride

Staying with the Tim Burton theme, and because it was featured on Netflix, we watched Corpse Bride. In this animated musical, Victor and Victoria are one night away from their wedding when Victor finds himself in the land of the dead, being wooed by the late Emily. He must find a way back to his living bride before it's too late.

Insidious Chapter 3
Due to the scare factor and intrigue of the first two installments of the Insidious series, we couldn't not watch Insidious Chapter 3. While this one keeps up with the jump scares, the story isn't as compelling as that of the first two movies. A solid Spooky Month watch, but not a "good" movie in itself.

Paranormal Activity 1-5
We started marathoning the Paranormal Activity series a bit before October, as a pre-spook to get ready for the month (and because I had never seen any of the movies). To anyone who wants to watch, but hasn't yet I recommend doing it all in one go. That way you remember more of what just happened. The continuity of the films is surprisingly good, even in cases where the story isn't about the first main characters.

The X-Files, Season 4
Finally, we're continuing our way through The X-Files (and excited for the new continuation!). This fall we got through most of Season 4, learning more about Cancer Man's past, Scully's future, and Mulder's weird neuroses.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Pumpkins in the Park 2015

Because I like forging and maintaining tradition, here is a brief survey of my weekend, the highlight of which was my parents coming to visit.

Smelling: apple cinnamon candles and tea.
Eating: fish and chips, pizza, cookies, and beefs.

Visiting: Jesus at work.
Drinking: lots of water.

Running: 3.1 miles in my Honey Lemon costume.

Walking: only while drinking some mid-race Gatorade.
Cheering: for the Blues Brothers, who later won the Group Costume Contest along with the rest of their SNL-themed family.

Getting: pizza with my parents and most of Jesus's family.
Saying: Yes to being Jesus's niece's bridesmaid!
Watching: a documentary on SNL, another documentary on The Shining and The Martian.
Missing: my parents already...these weekends go by too fast. (Always true.)
Reading: The Wife by Meg Wolitzer.
Writing: lesson plans.
Wanting: to continue this late October tradition.
Needing: to train for the race next time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Things My Students Say

When you're a teacher, you get to know a lot about your students. Middle schoolers may not always be forthcoming with details about their day to their own parents, but in the classroom they love talking about themselves. Whether it's in snippets of conversations in the hallway, things shared during a lesson, or what they write in their homework, I've heard and seen a lot of gems so far this year. A few of my favorites:

"If I want to be a doctor that means going to school until I'm like 26, and then I only have *maybe* three years before I'm old and gross and broken down." -a 12 year old, on turning 30 
"Can I throw this?" -a student, attempting to toss a Sharpie across the room 
"So, how's your boyfriend?" -the most obvious fishing I've heard (I've shared little to no details about my personal life with my students) 
"If I become an engineer, how many flat screen TVs do you think I could buy?" -a student with priorities for his career options 
"I can do the splits!" -in answer to the question "What do you like to do outside of school?"

I have a feeling this will be a recurring series...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Night in Sleepy Hollow 2015

After last year's success with the interactive Alice performance, Jesus and I wanted another night out that would include more than sitting on the sidelines (or in theater chairs, more likely). We found it in the industrious little village of Bourbonnais and their yearly reenactment of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Told in a series of campfire stories capped off by the infamous barn dance and horse chase, A Night in Sleepy Hollow is the gem of Bourbonnais Township Park District's Sleepy Hollow Village. Jesus and I lined up early and heard the first rumors of the village as we walked towards Prudence and Annie's fire. There, they introduced us to Katrina Van Tassel, Ichabod Crane, and Brom Bones. At the next fire we heard about the men's growing jealousies over the hand of Katrina. After some cider and more village stories, we entered the barn, where Baltus Van Tassel's harvest party was just beginning.

There we saw Brom and Ichabod vie for Katrina's attention, and Brom try to play a few tricks on the partygoers. Several guests told ghost stories and we were sent off on a hay ride, following Ichabod as he nursed his sore pride after Katrina's rejection.

And then, the horse chase. As Ichabod rode ahead of us, the Headless Horseman came riding up behind. He chased Ichabod across the field, where we saw the White Lady in the mist and the ghost of Major Andre, the British spy, hanging from a tree. We lost them as they crossed the bridge, both horseman and Ichabod never to be seen again.

Spookiness Managed.

We also had pizza.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Midnight Circus 2015

Is two consecutive years too quick to declare an event a tradition? Because after our second time at Midnight Circus in the Parks, I'm ready to say Jesus and I are looking forward to keeping up this summer-to-fall ritual for a while.

It helps that this year we live close enough to walk to one of the parks that Midnight Circus travels to, so attending the circus was as simple as lacing up our boots and going for a post-dinner Sunday stroll.

Plus, proceeds from all performances go towards improving our city's many wonderful parks.

And then there's the whole watching daring and graceful feats of artistry in an almost intimate setting (as intimate as a circus tent can be).

Yeah, that about launches Midnight Circus right into tradition territory.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Fall Eats

Goodbye watermelon and freeze-pops, hello butternut squash and all things apple. While the weather might warm up again before we're truly on our way to winter, it seems like we went from t-shirts to layers of fleece in just a few days.

In the kitchen, I'm finally hitting a baking/cooking rhythm and trying out a few new things mixed in with old favorites:

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

One of the easiest, cheapest, and longest-lasting meals I've made - all you need is several pounds of pork shoulder/butt (I used about 9 pounds) and a marinade (easily googled). Let it cook low and slow for 8-10 hours, shred it, and you're done. You can put sauce on it or leave it as is, and you've got lunch and dinner for a week (or freeze it and have pulled pork all winter)!

BBQ Pulled Pork Pizza

At a loss for what to do with all the pork? Throw it on a pizza! Once you have your dough rolled out, use your favorite bbq sauce as a base, then add the pork plus cheese, pineapples, and sliced peppers and onions. Bake at 450 until golden brown and top with cilantro before serving.

Squash and Barley Risotto

I found this recipe while I was deciding what to do with the squash we just bought. Coincidentally, I had also just started making barley to have as a grain for lunch. I quickly chopped up the squash and added it in to the barley and broth, along with some caramelized onions, more vegetable broth, and some milk. It was surprisingly easy and, above all, tasty.

Apple Crisp Muffins

After all these savory foods, I need something sweet. In October, that means baking apples into everything. I used this recipe (omitting the applesauce since I didn't have any) and satiated my sweet tooth. Other options include: Apple Crisp, Apple Cake, Apple Pie or Baked Apples.

My appetite is ready for colder weather - bring it on, fall!

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Unfair: The New Science of Criminal InjusticeUnfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Adam Benforado uses psychology and neuroscience to examine each part of our criminal justice system - investigation, adjudication, and punishment - from the vantage point of all the major players (victim, suspect, detective, lawyer, jury, eyewitness, expert, judge, public, and prisoner). He shows us the challenges we face in creating a more just system and also presents a few new ways of thinking.

First thoughts: While nothing in Benforado's text was inherently shocking to me (I have way too many friends in social work to not be aware of most of our country's shortcomings when it comes to "criminal" justice and rehabilitation), I still had to shake my head at a lot of it. We've got issues. And it was at times difficult to read knowing how much has to change. I slowed my pace in the middle section, but I was happy that Benforado does present solutions, reforms that some states are already putting in place to ensure that we achieve our true goals: less crime, less people hurt, and a safer world.

Favorite quotes & how they made me feel:

"...when confronted with an example of a seemingly "good" person...suffering a terrible outcome, we experience a strong dissonance. And we eliminate that discomfort - and maintain our perception of justice - by finding fault with the victim." p17 (I think we're ALL guilty of this. It helps us keep the illusion that bad things won't happen to us, because we lock our doors/never go out after dark/never drive distracted/always remember to floss/etc/etc.)

"...having a gun at your fingertips can make the world seem a far more threatening place..." p 61 (The conclusion from a telling study - people holding guns think other people are also holding guns at a much higher rate than people holding, say, a ball or a toy of some sort. Guns don't make you feel safer, at least when you have them in your hand. They make everyone else seem more threatening. Interesting when you think of the people we regularly arm, the people whose job it is to...wait for it...make us feel safe.)

"If those convicted of crimes will walk among us again, we must begin preparing them today." p277 (Why do we cut people off from the exact ties that keep them/us/all of humanity from committing crime - in the name of justice?)

"Research shows that the more humane approach of problem-solving courts - based not on hurting offenders in proportion to their wrongdoing, but on helping them according to their needs - is more effective than highly punitive alternatives." p281 (It's good to know that reforms have started in a few progressive states. This also made me think of the punitive punishments some schools give, and how as a teacher I could instead focus on making sure student rule-breakers are getting what they need.)

Recommended for: sociologists, key players in our criminal justice system, lawmakers, teachers, politicians, voters, and concerned citizens.

Final thoughts: This is an important book, and in the hands of the right people, our injustices might bend towards justice. Benforado tells a gripping story, one that's true and happening in our country daily. His research backs up his timely points. We've made extreme changes before (we don't charge animals with crimes anymore, for example), and we can make them again.

Editor's Note: I received a copy of Unfair from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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