Monday, January 19, 2015

The Importance of Darkness

Most associations our brains have with darkness are with emotions such as sadness, depression, and loneliness to name a few. It is the essence of every emotion we try to run from. We constantly hear the message "change your thoughts, change your life." While we understand that at a fundamental level, it is more difficult to remain hidden from the darkness that will inevitably pop up in our lives, and sometimes threaten to consume us. Darkness is an essential ingredient in our life. No matter how hard we try, we can never escape the darkness. If you have lived a full, and beautiful life, you understand that "life is both beautiful and brutal. They are woven together, and you cannot have one without the other." That quote was from Glennon Doyle Melton, who runs the amazing blog Momastery. I'm currently obsessed with everything she does, and writes. Recently, I came across a post where Glennon shared, on Instagram, a picture of a quote by Mary Oliver. The quote spoke to me, and had me reflecting upon all of the times that I let darkness threaten to consume me. I'll share the quote with you, and then we will get to the goods. The books that offer both a taste of darkess, and the light.


  1. Memoir
Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whitson-Donaldson


This books is utterly devastating, and beautifully written. It is both sweet and sorrow all wrapped into one beautiful package. While every parent avoids thinking of the worst case scenario, Anna Whitson-Donaldson offers a grace and poise that each one of us can only hope to possess when that time of sorrow arrives in our own lives. While this book is not for the faint of heart, read it and embrace the message. It's a masterpiece. 

"On the other side of heartbreak, a story of hope rises.

On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward peace.
In Rare Bird, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother’s story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. “Anna’s storytelling,” says Glennon Doyle Melton, “is raw and real and intense and funny.”
With this unforgettable account of a family’s love and longing, Anna will draw you deeper into a divine goodness that keeps us—beyond all earthly circumstances—safe.

This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think."


2. Fiction

The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

Can I tell you how much I loved this book? It tackles a tough subject matter that no mother wants to face. Another woman trying to take the reigns in raising your children. I don't think so! Right? Goodness knows we have all had dark days after the birth of our children, but no one talks about it. I just devoured this book, and in the end I actually felt a sort of softening for one of the characters. You must read it to find out if you agree with me.

Today, looking at my kids, I thought of how fragile life is. I started smelling their hair, and kissing their faces. Of course, they responded with, "MOOOOM!" I replied, "What? I just love you sooooo much." I do. No one can love them like I do, which is true. Nevertheless, (omg, I just made a funny-read the book) other people can love them a lot. They can love my children in their own way, just not MY way.

They are growing up so fast. I feel inadequate, like I wasted so many moments when they were babies. I am being too harsh on myself. This book, I hope, will have you seeing your family differently. We are all only composed of our parts. Sometimes you put the pieces of the puzzle down wrong, and you have to pick it up, and try to fit it into the right spot. Once you do that, you can see the beautiful picture.

"To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the Northern California river town of Elbow, California, with her husband Joe and his two young children. But one summer day Joe drowns, leaving Ella alone with Annie and Zach—until his ex-wife, Paige, shows up at the funeral. For three years, Ella believed that Paige had selfishly abandoned her family. Yet—as the custody fight between mother and stepmother ensues—Ella realizes there may be more to the story than Joe ever revealed.

The Underside of Joy is not a fairy-tale version of step-motherhood, pitting good against evil, but a captivating story of two women who both claim to be the mother of the same two children."

The Underside of Joy

Because I love these books, and want to share the love, I'm giving away a copy of EACH book to two lucky readers. Enter your name in the comments section if you really want a copy of one of these great reads. Please specify your preference on either book, so you'll be entered into that drawing! Good luck. xoxo 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Saving Grace by Jane Green

Welcome back! Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back! Oh my goodness, it feels great to be behind the keyboard again bringing you the best books out there! Today's review features the lovely Jane Green. I just finished reading Jane's newest book, Saving Grace, and trust me-you will not want to miss this one! As a bonus, I have a copy to give away to one lucky reader. Yay for comebacks and great books!


Here's the Scoop  

Grace Chapman has lived a charmed life, or so it appears from the outside looking in. Her marriage is seemingly perfect, and her appearance is always put-together, giving her friends and family the impression that she has everything in order.  They live in a quiet little community where Grace works at Harmont House, a shelter where she cooks her delicious meals for the residents. What boils below the surface is her tumultuous marriage to writer Ted Chapman whose star has been falling for a while now. The tiny fractures in their life threaten to crack open and expose their real truth-the scared, often desperate feeling she has to please Ted, and how that manages to be impossible lately.

It is just at this time that Beth, a frumpy, dowdy young girl happens to be at their table at a literary event. Grace is charmed by Beth, and everything she seems to have to offer in the way of assisting Ted. Beth enters their lives, and Grace finds the peace and serenity she has so desperately been seeking.  The funny thing about fractures is that they start out small, but if you continue to put it under pressure, it eventually breaks. The feeling you cannot shake, the impression you get that everything is imploding around you-what if you are the only one who sees it?

With Grace at the throne of a life unintended, her family, friends, even her own daughter question her. Is Grace unraveling? Is she doomed to follow in her mother’s footsteps? The once poised, radiant Grace Chapman seems to be only a shadow of her former self. The thing about shadows is that they always follow you, carrying with them the darkness that can be cast over the light if given the perfect position. Saving Grace will lead readers on a suspenseful journey, and it’ll be one you will not soon forget.  This book also contains recipes at the close of some chapters, the very same recipes Grace prepares or mentions in the book. I whole-heartedly recommend the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe found on page 295. 

If that synopsis piqued your interest in Jane's newest book, Saving Grace, please comment to enter. The winner will be chosen next Thursday, January 15th. If free books really aren't your thing (I mean, really?) then follow one of the links to purchase!

AMAZON         BARNES AND NOBLE       VROMANS

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes


The incredible Jojo Moyes does it again with her newest release, One Plus One. In this book, Jess has had a hard life. She cleans houses, and works at a bar for a living. By far, not jobs we consider glamorous. Further complicating her life is the disappearance of her sick husband, Marty. She busts her hump working every day only to hardly make ends meet. One night, while working at the bar, she meets Ed Nicolls. Ed is a pompous, rich, hedge fund manager, who is in a little trouble himself. When their paths cross, Jess cannot stand him. He is arrogant and smug; he's everything you picture in your head when thinking about a man with a ton of money and privilege. A short time later, a chance meeting with Mr. Nicolls turns into desperation when Jess suddenly needs him to help her, and her family travel to Scotland for a Math Olympiad. Her daughter Tanzie, and her son (not biologically) Nicky, and the trusty dog Norman add the human element to this story that you will not soon forget. When reading this book, you become completely engrossed in the story, the intricacies of their relationships with one another. Your desire to find out if they make it work is so much greater than your desire for sleep or sustenance. A fantastic story you will not soon forget.



Verdict-Buy it!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

#Mamastrong

I'll never forget being 10 years old, sitting in the kitchen of my friend's house playing "restaurant." I remember thinking that it was so amazing that her mom bought actual restaurant checks for us to write on. We would run around her sprawling kitchen grabbing items that we had "ordered" from each other. We served each other drinks, and plates full of "food", which was usually cookies or crackers. I thought to myself, "wow, she is an awesome mom!" She let us get messy, and do whatever we wanted. Little did I know that while we were busily playing in the kitchen, her mom was in the middle of the fight of her life. A fight that she would eventually lose. My friend's mother had breast cancer, and wanted the days she had left with her children to be filled with memories that would truly have to last them a lifetime. It didn't make sense then, because I was a child, and when you are a child you cannot grasp the things a mother will do when she knows she may never get to witness that moment; that snapshot of life again.

I recently read about one of my favorite authors, Elin Hilderbrand, being diagnosed with breast cancer (Read the Huff Post story), and I suppose it got me thinking about my own susceptibility to cancer. What would I do with my children? What would I say? Well, I would say "Hey Universe, keep the C- word the hell away from me. Because I am a mom, and I NEED TO BE THERE FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER!" I don't want any of this "art imitating life" nonsense. Now that I got that off my chest, I feel I am emboldened to write an open letter to my children.

Dear K and M,

I don't know if there is any way in the world to tell you how much I love you. Words are so feeble when a mother is attempting to tell her children how expansive her love is for them. As feeble as my words may be, I am going to try, one by one, to tell you what I wish for you.
K- I wouldn't be your mother if I didn't tell you to read. Reading will make you smarter, and you know how much I love you-so I only want the best for you. It'll help you get into the best colleges around. On that note-I hope you go to a college (a big one!) and major in whatever you want (maybe Film or music?). Just graduate, and move into a job that makes you happy. Dream big! I always thought it was a little hokey when people said "If you can dream it, then you can do it", but it's true! You can do anything you dream! Buy your dad that stinking Porsche he has always dreamed of. I promise you will end up with someone who loves and cares about you as much as I love you. You are charming, witty, and caring. You will be a gift to someone. I know you were one of my greatest gifts. I love you so much.
M-My precious girl. You were my second born, but my only girl. There is so much I wish for you. The first, is to always love yourself. Love your curves, your imperfections, the left dimple when you smile. I want you to go to college as well, but make sure you go to classes. Just trust me on that one. When people think of poise, grace, talent, beauty and brains-I know yours will be the face they see. You have so much to give the world. Don't be your harshest critic. The world will do enough of that, they won't need your help. Express yourself freely, and stand up for what is right-even when it is difficult. You have been one of God's greatest gifts to me. The best part about having you as a gift, is that I get to open up the present every day, and there is always something there that makes me smile.
To both my children, be blessed, always. I love you to the moon and back.
Love, Mom

Because books have been one of the great loves of my life, I'm donating one copy of Elin's book The Matchmaker to a local battered women's charity, and giving away one copy to a reader. Comment below to win a copy, and share this post to spread the love. I hope you'll consider donating one yourself.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Teaching Inference-Activities and Links

I am so excited to share with you two amazing books I have recently shared with my students while teaching Inference. I find skill-based work difficult to contextualize with my students, but I feel these two hit the nail on the head! I will also share a link to a video of one of the books that I had the students watch prior to reading the book.

An inference is a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning.

First, I have my students watch this 15 minute video on The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. 

The best part of this movie is that there are NO WORDS, so the students must use their inferential skills to deduct what is happening in the movie. I caution you to watch it first, because I cried the first time I watched it. 

Next, I had a conversation with them about what happened in the movie. Here are some sentence starters I used-
  • When the question mark appears on the book, and the rest of the pages are blank, what does the author infer is happening in Moriss' life?
  • What happens when Morris hands a book to someone? What can you conclude about the author's feeling toward books?
  • When the book is being fixed by Morris, what is the only way the book is saved? Use two specific pieces of evidence that support your conclusion.
  • What happens at the end of the story? How do you know what happens to Morris? What clues does the author give you? Did your prior knowledge help you come up with this conclusion? 
  • Whose picture will end up next to Moriss' on the library wall? 
 Then, I read the book to them. 
Discussion points were found here.
Discussion Points-
Why were books so important to Morris? Do you love books as much as Morris?
How did this book make you feel?
Describe how color is used to change the feeling of the book.
How does this book mirror life? Find examples of multiple meanings.
What examples are there in the book about being positive and negative? Explore the idea of how positive thinking can effect how we react to situations.
“Everyone’s story matters”. Explain what this means.
When Morris flew away, why do you think he changed back to the way he used to be?
“Sometimes Morris would become lost in a book and scarcely emerge for days”. Describe what this means to you. Have you ever felt ‘lost’ in a book? If so, which book?

Every student in your class will love this book. It is phenomenal! If you are a reader, it holds even more power to change you. Encourage your students to see books to have the power to change their life, and their "life" stories, just as Mr. Morris Lessmore did!

The other book is Grandpa Green and you can find all of the information for that book  here.





Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Survive a Defiant Student

Anyone recognize this? It is the tell-tale body language of a defiant student. It may just be that I am getting older, and perhaps more aware, or is it that we have seen an uptick in defiant student behavior? You'll hear the seasoned vets tell you that kids are "different" than they used to be. Parents do not help like they used to 10, 15, 20 years ago. You get the picture, right?  Teachers struggle daily with defiant students who do not seem to want to work with them, or comply with directions or instructions. I'm going to devote some time helping teachers understand and cope with defiance, because I think our schools would be a much better place to be! Remember, in order for there to be a conflict, there must always involve two parties! That means that when a student is in conflict there's another student involved, or a teacher.

Understanding Defiant Behavior
  •  Students may act out in order to mask limited academic or social skills.
  • Students can become defiant or confrontational if they lack the necessary skill to ask for help,or have not been modeled or taught how to approach conflict. Often another's words and actions are not read properly by the defiant student. 
  • Confrontational behavior has paid off for them in the past, or has been rewarded by giving them power or authority
  • Generally "ambiguous" behavior has been seen a provocation, and the student receives a reprimand which is unnecessary. Take the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" as an example. They're usually the ones in trouble. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Top tips to start building a proactive vs. reactive classroom:
  • Always, I mean always remain outwardly calm. The student must not be aware that they are provoking you. This incites them, and encourages the power struggle to continue. Maintain a professional perspective when approaching the student.
  • Approach the student privately and use a quiet voice. Other students in the class should not be privy to your conversation with a defiant student. If they are, rest assured, the student will try to "save face" and will say or do things to make it look as if you are not in charge.
  • Establish eye contact, and begin by stating the student's name and what they need to do. For example, "John, you need to start the math assignment now." Make the request, and allow for a reasonable amount of time for the student to respond to the request. (5-20 seconds). Seriously, time yourself! I will bet you do not wait very long for them to comply with your request.
Okay, I waited 5-20 seconds. They still didn't do what I asked them to do. Now what? (P.S. I'm not surprised!)
  • Repeat the exact same request again, "John, please start the math assignment now." and wait a reasonable amount of time (5-20 seconds) for them to comply. Again, time yourself! If the student fails to comply with your request and you've asked in a professional, non-threatening manner, impart a 2-part choice. "John, you can start the math assignment now and receive a positive note home or receive a referral to the principal for failing to begin your math assignment as I've asked you to twice now. It is your choice." Wait again...(you'll receive your angel's wings for this level of patience)
  • Impose your selected negative consequence and ignore all student complaints or comments designed at engaging you in a power struggle. Offer them one last "face-saving" out. Tell the student calmly, "is there anything I can do to help you, or anything I can do to earn your cooperation?" 
I hope this helps all of your wonderful teachers out there! You have the hardest job, and this is an area of discipline I know we all struggle with. Is there any insight you have to offer on defiant behavior? I'd love to hear from you! 





Monday, March 24, 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne




"The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield's father promised he wouldn't go away to fight—but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn't know where his father might be, other than that he's away on a special, secret mission. Then, while shining shoes at King's Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father's name on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realizes his father is in a hospital close by—a hospital treating soldiers with shell shock. Alfie isn't sure what shell shock is, but he is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place. . . ."

Alfie Summerfield is just about as charming and precocious as you'd want to see in a young character in a book. This story warmed my heart from the start, as Alfie takes the place of his father while he is off to war. This precious child sees the world around him falling apart while his father is off fighting. To help make ends meet, Alfie takes to skipping school in order to shine shoes at the train station. Alfie hasn't seen or heard from his dad in ages, and with soldiers arriving with bad news on the daily, Alfie's sure his dad has surely been killed. But alas, he finds out through one of his customer's missteps that his dad, Georgie Summerfield, is at the local hospital suffering from "shell shock." I think in modern times, we would call this severe PTSD caused by the trauma of war. Alfie decides that his home is a much safer place for his dad to be. Will home be the best place for Georgie? One will need to pick John Boyne's Stay Where You Are and Then Leave  to find out what really happens. I enjoyed the realistic portrayal of this period in history, and think the author has done a fine job writing this book for middle grade readers. 

The Parent Pair 

Home Front by Kristin Hannah
"Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life---children, careers, bills, chores---even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a solider she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own---for everything that matters to his family. At once a profoundly honest look at modern marriage and a dramatic exploration of the toll war takes on an ordinary American family, Home Front is a story of love, loss, heroism, honor, and ultimately, hope."

This book truly opened my eyes to the tragedies of war of which I was blithely unaware. A truly honest look at the toll that war takes on a family. Her gripping description of amputation, and what happens to your body was memorable and haunting. I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the plight of a soldier and his or her family. It was a phenomenal book. I zipped through the pages of this book, and have been a long-time Kristin Hannah fan. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SALT by Helen Frost

A Story of Friendship in a Time of War
The War of 1812 sets this novel about an unlikely friendship between an American boy, James, and a boy from the Miami tribe named Anikwa into motion. The story itself is written prose-style, with James' text resembling the stripes on the American flag, and Anikwa's resembling a pattern of the Miami tribe. The beauty of this book is that it will not only give readers the historical background on the War of 1812, but it is also engaging, providing the reader with the perfect balance between history and humanity. There is little human connection when reading through the pages of a history book, but SALT gives the reader a front line account of what happens on the human side of war. Living conditions were terrible, and the human toll was immeasurable, and I think Helen Frost captured that sentiment with the delicate nature that only a children's author can do. A surprising delight!

A little about the War of 1812:  In the War of 1812, the United States took on the greatest naval power in the world, Great Britain, in a conflict that would have an immense impact on the young country’s future. Causes of the war included British attempts to restrict U.S. trade, the Royal Navy’s impressment of American seamen and America’s desire to expand its territory. The United States suffered many costly defeats at the hands of British, Canadian and Native American troops over the course of the War of 1812, including the capture and burning of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., in August 1814. Nonetheless, American troops were able to repulse British invasions in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans, boosting national confidence and fostering a new spirit of patriotism. The ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815, ended the war but left many of the most contentious questions unresolved. Nonetheless, many in the United States celebrated the War of 1812 as a “second war of independence,” beginning an era of partisan agreement and national pride.



Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt


From the case files of, "what the heck took you so long to read this?", comes Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. June is a typical shy teenager, left in the shadow of her dramatic older sister. The year is 1987, and anyone who was around during this time knows about HIV/AIDS. There was a huge stigma attached to the virus, and there were people saying, "be careful drinking out of someone's cup-you could catch it! Don't sit on the toilet seat, you could pick it up off of the seat." Looking at it in retrospect, it seems so archaic to think that way, but I don't think our society has evolved all that much since 1987. mean, we have controversy over a biracial Cheerios commercial for goodness sake! In the book, June's uncle Finn, a famous painter, has AIDS. He also has a "boyfriend" who surfaces as a mystery man at Finn's funeral. When June befriends this man, and finds out more about her Uncle Finn, she finds the one true thing they have in common-their love for Finn. The story is so nuanced, complicated and perfect, it really satisfies the reader's thirst for an amazing book. 



Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

It's not often that a book makes you think about the difficult and taboo subjects that plague our society, and threaten to ruin families, but that is exactly what Riggle's newest novel does. It brings to the surface a societal taboo-the inappropriate relationship between teacher and student. The Whole Golden World details the inappropriate relationship that develops between TJ Hill, and his student Morgan Monetti. What began as a platonic exchange between the two quickly progressed into a sexual relationship that left Morgan reeling. TJ had to cover his tracks to avoid his wife finding out, and Morgan lacked the maturity to understand his rejection. Cast on the road side like discarded trash, she still sticks by his side. Morgan's family is devastated by what happens, and her father, the school's Assistant Principal is assumed to have "known better". How could he have allowed his daughter to become involved with the teacher and not know about it?  It's amazing to think if the many lives that are affected when something like this happens. It is not just the parties involved, but their families, friends, and their lives are shattered. It was a very intriguing story that I won't soon forget.The story at times was maddening, and my outrage was tangible. That being said, I sailed through the pages in no time at all. If you are in the mood for a quick and engaging read that will leave you, or your book club with a lot to talk about, then look no further than The Whole Golden World. 

Amazon Link to buy: The Whole Golden World