Posted in Reading

Reading During the Pandemic

It’s been five months since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, shutting down schools and businesses and sending us to our homes like children being sent to their rooms to think about what they’ve done.

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There is nothing good about COVID-19, but I’d be lying if I said the stay-home situation didn’t come with a few perks. For some, long commutes have been shortened to the walk from the bedroom to the home office, and although we can’t see friends in person, the switch to online meetings has allowed people to hang out in new ways. Some virtual gatherings have actually been larger than their real world counterparts because people who couldn’t attend due to distance can now participate.

For me, one of the benefits of this stressful situation has been the extra time to read.

Can’t go anywhere interesting? Read.
Got insomnia due to anxiety? Read.
Avoiding household chores? Read.
More walks mean more audio books.
Fewer friend gatherings mean more pages.
Ever-present bad news means greater need to escape reality.

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My dad saved this comic strip for me, which is why it has my name on it. 🙂 It hangs on my wall.

I’ve finished thirty-two books since March 13th, reading eight in June alone. Although I wish my summer had included travel and swimming and brunch and kickball games, this time with books was time well spent. Here are a few of the standouts.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, finished March 28th

This is the book that bridged the gap between the real world and the pandemic world. I started it before everything shut down and finished it after. I spent a lot of time reading it in the porch bed I made for myself. (I spent a lot of time in that porch bed this spring and plan to recreate it in the fall when the weather is cooler.) Magpie Murders is a clever murder-mystery-within-a-murder-mystery that was a nice distraction during troubling times.

Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin, finished May 18th

24807186This YA alternate history was much more engaging than I expected. I listened to the audio book, and I found myself taking longer walks so I could hear more of the story. Set in a world where the Nazis won the war, the plot is about a Jewish girl on a quest to kill Hitler. The experiments conducted on her as a child in the concentration camps turned her into a shape-shifter. Now she’s working with the resistance and using her unusual gift to masquerade as someone else in order to win (hopefully) a high-profile motorcycle race which will give her the chance she needs to assassinate the dictator. The book is fast-paced with ample twists, and the sequel is equally good.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson, finished May 25th

32191710._SY475_The universe is BIG. Like, blow-your-mind-and-make-you-want-to-crawl-under-the-covers-and-hide big. I love listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson talk, and he narrates the audiobook himself, so I highly recommend you listen to it. It’s not very long and is really interesting. I didn’t understand everything in it, but Tyson has a way of explaining things so that even non-scientists can grasp them.

*Funny story: I first started listening to this one night and accidentally fell asleep with it playing. I had the most irritating dream where my husband was following me everywhere talking about physics, and I couldn’t get him to stop. Walking the dog– talking about physics. Shopping at CVS– talking about physics. I kept saying, “Be quiet!” but he wouldn’t. I was SO annoyed with him! Lol. However, once I tried listening to book while awake, I really enjoyed it and did not fine Neil deGrasse Tyson annoying at all.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, finished May 31st

This novel about a man sentenced to house arrest in a Russian hotel is one of my favorite books. I read it and loved it in 2018 and then re-read it and loved it even more this summer. This funny, touching, thought-provoking story full of unique and lovable characters is the perfect companion for when you’re stuck at home and lamenting your inability to go anywhere. It wins for the most sticky notes I’ve ever left in a book.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths, finished June 26th

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My mom recommended this book to me, and I’m glad she did. It’s a murder mystery about a high school English teacher who’s also a writer and who’s obsessed with a horror story written by a mysterious deceased author whose study was located in the attic of her school. Oh, and it’s also a ghost story. Um… check, check, check, check, check. This book was right up my alley! Despite all the gruesome murders, it still felt like a fun escape from the world.

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, finished July 11th

IMG_20200816_125101This middle grade novel-in-verse about a Syrian girl who moves to America really grabbed my heart. The writing is excellent, the main character is clever and relatable, and the struggles she goes through are perfect for middle school readers who have had to learn how to straddle two cultures and for those who haven’t. I marked so many memorable lines, including:

Americans love labels.
They help them know what to expect.
Sometimes, though,
I think labels stop them from
thinking.

And…

Hoping,
I’m starting to think,

might be the bravest thing a person can do.

I recommend this book to kids and adults alike.

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater, finished July 17th

33155325._SY475_On November 4, 2013, on a city bus in Oakland, California, a black teenage boy named Richard flicked a lighter at the hem of the skirt worn by an agender teenager named Sasha. Within seconds, the skirt went up in flames, severely burning Sasha and changing both of their lives. The 57 Bus tells the story of these two teens and their very different backgrounds and the consequences of a moment. This was a hard book to read but an important one that has me thinking about my role as an educator and a citizen and a human and how I can help create a society where the Sashas and the Richards of the world can both live safe, successful lives.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, finished July 29th

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This slow, creeping, ultimately sad horror novel is full of atmosphere and subtle but persistent spookiness. Writers are told that their endings should be both surprising and inevitable, and Susan Hill nails it. This book is still on my mind weeks after reading it.

 

Love, Teach: Real Stories and Honest Advice to Keep Teachers from Crying Under Their Desks by Kelly Treleaven, finished August 3rd

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Ignore the very messy desk in the background, please.

I have been reading the Love, Teach Blog for years, and I’m so excited that Kelly Treleaven’s book is finally in the world! Her combination of humor, heart, and crazy competent teaching advice has gained her a huge following of tired, stressed, but fiercely dedicated teachers who are thankful for her unflinching honesty and welcoming kinship in a profession where it’s really true that anything can happen. Treleaven’s book has fewer funny stories about “whisper turtlenecks” and the time she was late for work because she got a squirrel stuck on her head (true– there’s a video), but it is jam-packed with super useful tips about everything from setting up your classroom to dealing with unsupportive administrators. But don’t worry. Even though the book is serious in its mission to help teachers through the rough parts of the profession, there are still plenty of quirky stories and embarrassing moments sprinkled throughout. It made me both laugh and cry (but not under my desk). The book is aimed at first year teachers, but I’ve been in the classroom for twenty years and still found so much of the advice inside helpful. I recommend it for teachers of all ages, all content, and all stages of their career. You won’t find a more honest and heartfelt guide to education anywhere.

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What books have kept you from going crazy during the pandemic?

 

Posted in Poetry

The Long and Short of It: A Pandemic Poem

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The Long and Short of It

I used to get my hair cut twice a year—
grow it long, cut it short, grow it long, cut it short.
Each trip to the salon
wrapped neatly inside an hour,
the look I left with as final as
the severing of that first big chop.
Home haircuts are slower things—
tentative and tender,
gradually snipping a little
and a little more.
I’ve already had three
in as many months.
Or maybe it’s just one long cut
that keeps going.
Between haircuts, I tilt my head at the mirror
and stare,
using scissors to coax locks into place,
nudging strands this way and that,
waiting for the right shape
to reveal itself.
Sometimes I feel that’s all I do anymore—
tilt my head and stare and wait,
whittling away at time
while time keeps growing longer,
expecting the world—eventually—to form a shape
I recognize again.

 

© Carie Juettner, July 2020

Posted in Life, Teaching

You’re Going to Be Disappointed

New Year means new goals, new promises, new challenges, new you.

Some people like to choose a single word for the new year, something that embodies their focus or intention for the next twelve months. I think this is a cool thing to do, but it’s not for me. I’m a resolutions girl through and through. I like a list, even if it’s a short one. My 2020 resolutions page includes a concise seven items.

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Here are two of my resolutions. The rest are for me to know and you to wonder about.

The first is a return to an old favorite. Monitoring my “Have to’s,” “Need to’s,” and “Want to’s” is one of the best resolutions I’ve ever made and one I recommend for anyone to work on. The second is a familiar goal with a small twist. I love reading and often finish 40-60 books a year, but this year I don’t want all my reading to be for pleasure. I want to read at least a couple of books that push me in some way.  Maybe it’s a difficult text that requires constant use of a dictionary. Maybe I’ll try to learn a new skill or subject and read something that requires study and memorization. Or maybe I’ll read something that challenges my political beliefs or worldview. I don’t know how I’ll go about it yet, but I’m determined to work for at least two titles.

I like my method of goal-setting. It works for me. This year, though, it’s like the universe is trying to force the one-word trend on me.

On Saturday, all Facebook wanted to do was show me people’s 2020 words. PERSEVERANCE. PEACE. OPENHEARTED. CREATRIX (<– I love that one). These are all very cool, and there’s nothing wrong with this way of embracing the new year. It’s just not something I want to do. But, inundated with these terms—STRENGTH, PRESENCE, TRUTH– I found my mind begin to wander… “IF I were to choose a word…” until, in a spectacular bout of stubbornness, I went old school Ghostbusters on myself. “No! Don’t think! Clear your mind! Clear your mind!” I don’t know why I’m so determined NOT to have a 2020 word. I just am.

I thought I had successfully cleared my head of this parasitic inspirational intrusion. Then my metaphorical Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men started showing up.

On Sunday, I wrote a letter to my dad– a thank you note for a Christmas gift and a copy of something he asked me to send him. When I pulled a plain white envelope out of my stationery box and opened it to insert his letter, I realized the envelope was full of words cut out of magazines.

Now, this isn’t strange in itself. I like cutting words out of magazines for found poetry and art and decorating journals, and when I have words left over (you should always have words left over– never use all your words) I often keep them in an envelope. But how an unlabeled envelope of unused words got put back into my box of brand new stationery is beyond me. At the time, I pondered it for a moment, shrugged, and then sent the letter to my dad, leaving the extra words inside. (I figured he could use them for something.) It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized the implications of my discovery and, literally, gasped. The universe was trying to TRICK ME into choosing a 2020 word! Well, it didn’t work! Ha! My dad can choose one if he wants, but I deftly averted the universe’s clever ploy.

So… the universe chose a word for me.

Monday, I went back to work. [Insert sad violin music here.] The first thing I saw when I walked into my classroom on Monday morning was a small rectangle on the floor. I picked it up and turned it over. This is what I found:

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Before you start spinning myths about how that word got there, NO, I don’t possess a set of magnetic poetry in my classroom (want to buy me one?), and YES, I’m sure that magnet did not exist in my room in 2019. (I’ve been in this classroom for four years, and I am very organized.) I truly have no idea where it came from. I only know that it was sitting there, on the carpet, waiting to mock me the day I returned to work: DISAPPOINTED.

Well, the joke’s on you, Universe, because I refuse to accept your word. I am my own person! I shall not be owned by a word! I am free! FREE, I tell you!!! (But that’s not my word either. I don’t have a word.)

In conclusion, embrace the new year however you want, and don’t let anyone force any particular inspirational method on you. You be you.

Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here hiding from the universe and trying not to be disappointed. Don’t mind me.