Wednesday, December 30, 2015

December Books

So technically, December is not over, but I will not have any more books finished, before the month is over.  I thought it would be fun to go ahead and wrap up this month by sharing my December books today!

I was annoyed that I didn't finish this first book in November.  I finished it on December 1st.  I almost cheated and made it a November book, but I didn't.  I kept it real.  ;)

Steve JobsSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to this book on Audible. And it was LONG. It was over 30 hours, and I had hoped to finish it in November, but that just didn't happen.

Overall, I found it interesting to hear about Jobs's life. As a consumer who loves both my iPhone and iPad, I was interested in knowing more about the founder and person of Steve Jobs.

At times, though, the narrative was confusing and dull. There were times that Isaacson jumped back in time after we'd progressed years in the future. Or he jumped ahead in time to mention a future event that would occur with a person in Jobs's life at that moment in the biography. I didn't really care for this style. As Jobs was a very significant business man, there were numerous people coming in and out of his life both personally and professionally, and it was hard to keep it straight! Jobs was also a jerk, and sometimes it made me angry to hear about how he treated people!

I didn't really care for the narrator much, and since Isaacson himself recording the introduction and epilogue for the book, I wish that he would have performed the whole reading.

My final thought is that this wasn't a great book, but it wasn't awful either.

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a refreshing "read" (aka listen) after my last book on Audible. For starters it wasn't 30 hours long, which got things off to a great start.

I wanted to keep listening to this book. I really liked Cath's character, and I could sympathize with her freshman year of college struggles.

I will say, though, that I was disappointed with the ending. The story just seemed to stop. I didn't feel like there was really a resolution. It ended with a piece of Cath's writing, but I don't feel like it wrapped the story up. This is why I gave it 4 stars.

Overall, though, I really did like this book!

The ChimesThe Chimes by Charles Dickens

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a free gift from Audible to their subscribers this year. It was a short listen (under 4 hours), and it was free, so I thought I'd give it a go.

I was feeling pretty tired when I was listening to this story, and listening to this on my commute was not the best of ideas. I found myself struggling to stay awake, and since I was driving, that was a bit of an issue.

I found this story incredibly confusing. The main character is referred to by two names, and a lot of times, I got lost in what was happening. When "Trotty" goes up to the bell tower, I got completely lost and the story made essentially no sense to me until the very end. So I would say that overall, I get what took place in the story, but I didn't enjoy it.

Dickens should have stuck with A Christmas Carol.

Voyager (Outlander, #3)Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great book in the Outlander series! This one kept me riveted from start to finish, made me laugh, and moved me to tears.

View all my reviews

Not only does that wrap things up for December, but it also wraps up my books for 2015!  I set a goal to read 30 books this year, and I actually knocked it out of the park and read 36!

Based on that "performance," I'm going to up the ante in 2016.  My goal is going to be 40 books.

How did you do with  your reading goals this year?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of you and your families.  I hope your day is blessed, and that you are able to spend time with the ones you love!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

StitchFix Fail

I've written posts here about StitchFix before.  It can really be so much fun to get a box of clothes at your door to try on, keep what you like, and mail back what you don't.

Sometimes, they really hit the nail on the head, and sometimes, it's just a flop.  One time, I loved my entire box, and kept it all (and strangely enough, I didn't blog about that experience)!  More often than not, I only have one or two pieces I like.  Sometimes, I keep at least one piece just to justify the whole experience to myself.  But this time, I just refused!

The first pieces I tried on were a pair of leggings and this high-low t-shirt.  I liked these leggings.  They had a textured strip down the side, but the waistband was weird...I can't really describe it.  I might have kept them any way because....LEGGINGS.  But I could not and WOULD NOT justify paying $64 for a pair of leggings.  ARE THEY INSANE?

As you can see, the top isn't really flattering from the front.  It looks better from the side, but not redeeming enough.  Not only was it not super flattering, but it's just plain gray, really thin, and cost over $40.  Seriously?

The next piece was this pleated top.  No, no, no, and no.  The only thing I liked about this was the dots.  Other than that, it was not flattering, the attached camisole inside was too low, and ugh, just no.

Then there was a dress.  I usually get a dress.  And for some reason, they must think I don't like color because the dresses are always some form of black.  I did like this print, though, and I thought the cut was flattering.  The deal breakers?  The arm hole was cut strangely, and it cost $84.  No thanks.

Finally, they sent me this bag.  It was cute.  While it's not a bag I would typically buy for myself, I actually could imagine using it.  I actually kind of liked that it would be a cross body bag if I wanted, and it had a lot of pockets to carry my things.  Strangely enough, this was also the most inexpensive piece in my fix, and I almost bought it.  BUT I'm not really in the market for a bag.  If I had liked anything else in the fix, I would have kept the bag and the other piece(s), but it was just not worth it!

I contacted StitchFix about how unsatisfied I was.  While they don't refund your $20 styling fee, they WILL cover the fee for your next fix.  So I sealed everything back up in the bag, dropped it in the mail, and scheduled another fix.  I figured since they'll foot the bill, I will give it another go right away!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Music Monday: It's Christmas Week!

It's Christmas Week!  I can't believe that we have almost reached Christmas 2015!  This year had really flown by.

A few years ago, Lady Antebellum released their Christmas Album On this Winter's Night.  I am in love with it.  I was listening to it (for probably the thousandth time) the other day, and I was struck again by two of the tracks that I really love.  I figured it was a good idea to share them here on my little corner of the internet.

This first one is a beautiful arrangement of "Silent Night"

Silent Night (Lord of My Life)

The title track of their album "On this Winter's Night" is incredibly gorgeous!

Have any of you heard this album?  What would your favorite track be?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Stuff & Things: Nail Polish Edition

Most of my blog posts around here lately have been about books or teaching.  I thought it would be nice to do something a bit more fun.

I also thought I'd take advantage of it being Thursday and link up this post with Kristin & Joey for Stuff & Things!

Stuff, Things, etc.

So let's talk nail polish!  I've been taking the time more often to give myself at home manicures.  This is probably mostly due to the fact that Scott is working all of the time, and I have nothing better to do with my time, but that is neither here nor there.

Here are some of my manis from the last month:

1. Julep "Nancy"
2. Julep "Linda" with Pure Ice "Beware" on the accent nail
3. Essie "Smokin' Hot"
4. Julep "Sandi" with Julep "Sigourney" accent nail (That purple is actually darker than the flash made it appear.  There wasn't quite as much contrast between those nails and the accent nail.)
5. Julep gray polish (the sticker with the name came off!) and Julep "Yumi" on the accent nails

Julep is a monthly box subscription service for nail polish and beauty products.  While I certainly don't get a box each month, you can do whatever works best for you (and your wallet)!  You choose a style that fits best for you and can even customize your box.  Boxes start out at $20, but you just pay shipping on your first box!  If you'd like to sign up and join the fun, click here!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Teacher Thoughts: Sub Problems

Last time, I talked about what it's like to be a sick teacher.  For this post, I thought I'd delve a bit deeper into why having a substitute is so much of a problem.

One of the biggest issues in my school district is a severe lack of substitute teachers.  (I am finding out that this is not just an issue in my school district, but it is a problem in many schools in Central PA.)  We use an online system for acquiring our subs.  Openings are listed online, but subs can also be called by phone if jobs are not picked up.

There a few problems with this system:

  • Sometimes the jobs do not show up for subs for various reasons
  • The school district no longer hires subs directly.  They are hired by the company that runs the system.  These substitutes may not even know where my school district is or live anywhere near it.
  • It's easier to not take jobs because there's no live person you feel like you are disappointing.  (When I first started teaching as a substitute, I loved the online system for this reason.  Even when calls are made, it is an automated system.  It's much easier to reject a machine than a real person calling from the school.)

We have quite a few retired teachers from our district who return to sub all of the time.  Due to restrictions, though, they are only allowed to accumulate a certain number of days/hours or it can affect their retirement.

The district has collected data, and we have actually been asked to do our best to avoid missing Fridays because we are highly likely NOT to get a substitute on a Friday.

If we don't have a substitute to cover our absences, my school has a couple of things--none of which are pleasant for anyone.

  1. Cancel a special area class (i.e. art, library, music, phys ed, technology) and have that teacher cover the teacher's class for the day.  This means that any teacher whose students were scheduled for that class will not have their planning time.
  2. Cancel Title 1 Reading support and have the reading specialist cover for the day (which we are technically not allowed to do).
  3. Have a different teacher cover the class each period.  This works by other teachers having to give up their planning time to teach a class for a period.  I have planning time 2nd period, so when this happens, I would go during second period and teach who knows what and who knows what grade.
Of these options, #1 is the most preferred, but we shouldn't have to do this!  A teacher who is out sick shouldn't have to worry or feel bad that someone else might lose their precious planning time to cover his/her class!

IF you are fortunate enough to get a substitute any sort of things can go wrong.

I admit.  I'm a control freak.  I write detailed plans that explain what and how to do things in my classroom so that everything will run smoothly.  All a person needs to do is follow these plans.

Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen.

One of our retired substitutes has been subbing with us for awhile.  When I was teaching first grade, she refused to allow my students to work in their learning centers because she didn't like the "chaos."  A few weeks ago, I was at a professional development conference.  I was out for two days, and I got a text from a teacher on my team the second day.  The sub from Thursday had done ALL of the work I had planned for reading for Thursday AND Friday.  The worst part of it was that she assigned part of the work as homework.  Luckily, the sub for the next day was one I could trust, and we just had the students read for their reading period.

I can't tell you how many times I've come back from an absence--planned or otherwise--to a disaster.  Stuff that should have been done that wasn't.  Stuff that was done that shouldn't have been.  It's not that hard to follow a person's plans.

Subs will inevitably get things done faster than you because they don't know the students or the nuances you add into your lessons.  For my sixth graders, the simple solution is to let them read quietly.  In fact, I usually write in my plans that if they have extra time they should let the kids read!

It's not rocket science.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Music Monday

Every year, I download at least one Christmas album.  This year, I downloaded Bethlehem by Kari Jobe.  Kari is a contemporary Christian music artist.  I recently started listening to songs of hers.  Her voice is beautiful, and she writes truly powerful, worshipful songs.

When I saw that she had a Christmas album, I knew it had to be my download this year.

One of my favorite songs from this album is her version of "O Come, O Come Emanuel."

I hope that you like it as much as I do!

Other songs on the album:
The Christmas Song
What Child is This?
O Holy Night
Silent Night
White Christmas
O Little Town of Bethlehem/Away in a Manger
The First Noel
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I think the whole album was only $8.99 on iTunes.  If you like this song or her voice, I highly recommend a download! :)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Stuff & Things I Want for Christmas

Stuff, Things, etc.

I thought it would be fun to link up with Kristin & Joey today for Stuff & Things!  I decided to share some things on my Christmas wish list this year!

1. Books- I asked for a ton of books this year.  In fact, I was killing time in Barnes & Nobel one day, and I just grabbed my phone and started making a list of books I wanted.

2. Alex and Ani bracelets- I'm obsessed with these!  I just started my collection.  So far, I have the "B" initial.  I have a September birthstone and the elephant one on their way.  I also have a similar bracelet from Jewelry in Candles.  Theirs are called Crysalis.  The one I chose has a Christmas tree on it.  I liked this picture because I thought it looked pretty, but I only want the bracelets in silver.

3. Miller Throwback Jersey- Make fun if you must, but I think the Throwback Jerseys (aka Bumblebee jerseys) are fun!

4. Victoria's Secret The Dreamer Henley Pajama- I have 2 pairs of these already.  My newest pair came with a sleep mask and fit better than the first pair (my first pair is too big).  They are super cute and comfy!  I like this color, as well.

5. iTunes gift card- I have a bunch of music I would like to download.  I didn't want to go overboard, so I asked my brother for either the albums or an iTunes gift card so I could download them myself.

6.  Remote Car Starter- Seriously.  There is nothing more irritating than running out to start my car before leaving for work.  It's not just about liking to have a warm car when it's cold out.  In winter time, it's usually a necessity to heat up the windshield to more easily rid it of snow and/or ice before driving.  I will typically throw on whatever shoes are handy and run out to start it, but when it gets REALLY cold, I need to bundle up, go out, start the car, take off the bundling, finish getting ready, bundle back up....Get my point?

What is on your wish list this Christmas?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Teacher Thoughts: What it's Like to Be a Sick Teacher

I came across a pin on Pinterest the other day that really hits the nail on the head.  The pin linked to a blog post about teachers being sick.  Needless to say, I was inspired and decided to share my own thoughts on this matter here on Teacher Thoughts.

First of all, to clarify for any non-teachers here, teachers are required to write lesson plans about what you will be teaching for each class each day of the week.  Some teachers write very lengthy plans and others are able to communicate what they will be teaching in a condensed manner.  (I am a condensed manner teacher).  BUT when a sub is coming to my classroom, I want to be as detailed as possible.

My first problem is that I am a control freak.  I like things to be done the way I want them done and not how a substitute teacher thinks I want them done.  So I write step-by-step plans to describe to the substitute not only what he/she should be doing but what the students will be doing, as well.

I think this should go without saying, but this takes a lot of time.

The second issue comes up when you have a lesson (or lessons) planned that only you can teach.  I'm not saying that substitutes are not competent educators (although, some are not).  What I am saying is that there are lessons that I just can't explain to someone else.  For example, I have been attending some professional development conferences recently, and I'm learning new methods for teaching in reading and writing.  I am just trying out some of these things, and I don't have the time required to try to type up a plan explaining it to someone else when I attended a 6 hour conference to learn it myself.

Last year, my principal decided to have us all make up a folder with emergency sub plans to be kept in our mailboxes in the office.  Basically, this is for times when you need to miss work and were not planning to.  Almost every absence I have is a planned one.  My absences are almost always for professional development.  I rarely need/use sick days....mostly for the reasons I've already stated.  These plans are basically only to be used in the event that your sub can't figure out what to do, OR that you would prefer the sub follows those plans instead of trying to follow yours.

Most of the time, if I end up calling off sick and wasn't planning on it (like in October when I woke up and couldn't talk.....), I grab my phone, mentally recall my plans, and email detailed instructions to one of my fellow sixth grade teachers to print out and give to the sub.

Truthfully, this is also about leaving your "kids" in the hands of someone that you probably don't know!  I don't like not knowing what will happen in my classroom while I'm gone, but sometimes, it's just that hard to get out of bed and go.  My school has a severe substitute shortage, and you never know if you'll actually get a sub to fill your absence.

And that, my friends, will be in the next installment of Teacher Thoughts....sub problems!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Music Monday

It's been a long time since I've done a Music Monday!

I think December is a good time for this because it's Christmas Music time.  (Although, who am I kidding?  I started to listen to Christmas Music on October 1st....)

Last year, my friend, Kim, bought the new Pentatonix album That's Christmas to Me.  We played it while we were baking cookies, and I was immediately obsessed.  I ripped it to my computer and added it to my iTunes (and burned a copy for my dad for Christmas, too).

One of my favorite songs from their album is "Winter Wonderland/Don't Worry Be Happy".

Enjoy! :)

Friday, December 4, 2015

November Books

Another month has come and gone!  As I mentioned last month, I completed my Goodreads challenge already, but I'm still pressing on to see where I end up at the end of the year!

This month, I am kind of disappointed with myself because I only managed to finish one book.  In my defense, I have been listening to a book on Audible that is really long, and as of the date of this writing, I have about 40 minutes left.  So I was close.

I technically finished the following book at about 12:30 AM on December 1st.  But I'm still counting it as a November book because I read furiously to finish it and since I hadn't gone to bed before finishing it, it counts (and Goodreads thought so, too because it's listed as finished on November 30th).

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, #2)Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this next installment of the Outlander series. The only reason that I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 is that I found myself being a little confused at certain points throughout the story. As the story goes from 1968 back to the 1700s and back to 1968 again, I found myself confused about how there can be so much left to talk about in Claire and Jamie's story.

BUT overall, I loved the story, and I was moved to tears again in places. I am very excited to begin reading Voyager!

View all my reviews

What did you read this month?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Teacher Thoughts: Gifts for the Teacher

Happy first day of December!  Now that this magical month is here, I thought it would be a good idea to use this segment of Teacher Thoughts to share some great gift ideas for teachers!

(Or at least great gift ideas for this teacher.)

I have gotten some great gifts over the years.  I am always truly grateful for the gifts I receive from my students.  In truth, they don't have to get me anything.  So it's very touching when they do.  Some of the gift ideas below are gifts I have received or gifts that would be great for the teacher(s) on your shopping list this year!

1. Candles
I have never been disappointed with the gift of a candle.  Scott and I love burning them at the house, so he gets to benefit from this gift, too!  Even better than a regular candle?  Jewelry in Candles!  I'm obsessed with these right now.  (You can choose the type of jewelry that's included in the candle, and it's SO fun to be surprised!)

Naughty or Nice candle

2. Restaurant Gift Cards
There are few things that make me happy as much as going out to eat.  If I don't have to cook, I'm a happy camper.  The only thing that makes going out to eat better is going out to eat for FREE (or for less than we would have paid without a gift card)!  Scott and I have been to The Olive Garden, Applebee's, and many other restaurants for a treat thanks to the generosity of my students' families.


3. Scarves, hats, gloves
Some of my favorite winter weather items have actually been gifts from my students.  It can be scary to buy these things for someone you really don't know because you want them to match their coats or be colors you like.  Ask your kids.  They will be very likely to know the color of their teachers' coats and/or what their favorite colors are.  Still unsure?  Include a gift receipt!  The worst thing that happens is that the teacher can take it back and exchange it for something else.


4.  Barnes & Noble Gift Card
This is a little specific.  I suppose it could be a gift card to any book store.  I just happen to love Barnes & Noble, and I LOVE it when I get a gift card!!  The best part about this is that the teacher can choose to use the gift card to buy books for the classroom or him/herself.  Since I teach 6th grade, sometimes that's one and the same thing.  I have purchased books, read them myself, and added them to my classroom library.

Barnes & Noble Gift Card
5. Bottle of wine
I've never gotten this.  I suppose it's probably not acceptable for your child to bring an alcoholic beverage to school.  But if you happen to know your child's teacher well enough, or don't mind making a trip.  You could always drop it off in a gift bag at the office.....or a gift card in an envelope would suffice here.

Fellow teachers, what are some gifts you like (or would like) to get from your students?

Parents, what are some of your favorite gifts to give to your children's teachers?

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