October 31, 2013

Three Things Thursday

Happy Halloween!  Do you want to know the saddest thing ever?  Our Halloween parties at school this year were not allowed to have food at them.  AT ALL.  Not even fruits and veggies!!  This is a tragedy to sweet tooth, perpetually starving me.  As a proponent of healthy living, I am all for teaching kids healthy habits by limiting sweets in the classroom, but what a bummer to not be able to serve even healthy snacks!  Oh well.  My room moms have managed to fill the hour chunk of party time with an agenda of crafts and games.  Here's hoping we are able to keep the chaos to a dull roar today...

In other Halloween news, my team and I are "dressing up" as characters from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Our whole staff is supposed to come as book characters, and we chose this because it's quick and easy.  Jeans, tshirts, and a "wimpy kid" mask. :)  Easy peasy lemon squeezy!  I'm hoping it's a hit with the kids.

I wore heels yesterday for the first time since pre-marathon training back in spring!!  I had no weddings or really formal events this summer, so I pretty much lived in sandals and TOMS.  Once school started again, I was super paranoid about the slight bit of plantar faciitis I was experiencing turning into something more serious before the marathon, so I stuck to flats and other comfy shoes.  It was nice to bust out a pair of pretty shoes finally, although I have to say I am not sure I'll be wearing them as much as I used to now that I've gotten so used to comfier shoes!

I've blogged before about our BANANAS schedule this year, so no need to get into that.  But with literacy intervention groups back to back with guided reading, I basically don't move from my guided reading table and see groups for an hour and a half solid.  You can imagine what my brain is like by the last groups of the day.  Today, I passed out the books for one of my groups, a biography of Thomas Edison.  To get started, I asked them to turn and talk about some of Edison's famous inventions.  The kids stammered and guessed random inventions before I said something like, "What?  No!  You don't remember?  Look back through the book!"  So they looked back and came up with some of the inventions.  Phew.  THEN I asked, "Okay, what chapter did we get up to yesterday?"  They responded with..."We haven't started this book yet.  We finished our last book yesterday."  DUH.  Hence why they were clueless about Thomas Edison...I felt terrible!  But honestly, who can keep it all straight!  These are all the titles we've been working with the last week and a half, and this doesn't even include my intervention group's materials...

YIKES!  No wonder my brain is a jumbled mess!

Okay, I know this is supposed to be just three things, but I have one more cutie to sneak in...We've been working on informational writing including crafting strong leads.  The kids are all about onomatopoeia, but this kid seems to have missed the mark on a benchmark writing assessment...

I can't say I would classify that as onomatopoeia...but good try, kiddo!  

What are your Halloween plans?

Are you still allowed to have Halloween parties at school?

Share your "tired teacher" moment of the week--please tell me I'm not alone!

October 30, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Teen Paranormal Fantasy

Book 1, 4/5 stars
I fell in love with Maggie Stiefvater's beautiful, lyrical prose when I read the Shiver trilogy a few years ago--yes, they are werewolf books, but no, they are neither dumb nor Twilight-ish. After finishing that series, I remember thinking, "Damn.  This girl can WRITE."  Seriously, Stiefvater is a gifted writer.  So naturally, I picked up The Raven Boys, the first in a new triology by Stiefvater, last year.

I was the tiniest bit skeptical when I started it, simply because Raven Boys was a little different than what I typically read, but it didn't take long for me to get completely sucked in.  The Raven Boys is a story of a few different unexpected friends: Blue, the only non-seer in a house of psychics, and three "Raven Boys," students at the ritzy boys prep school in town--Gansey, Ronan, and Adam.  Gansey is obsessed with searching for a mysterious "ley line" running through their town and using it to search for the tomb of Scottish king Glendower.  Crazy, right?  If that were the entirety of the plot of the book, I probably wouldn't have been super impressed.  But Stiefvater weaves so many other elements into the plot as she jumps between the perspectives of the different characters--love, psychic powers, impossible quests, attempting to overcome circumstances, pride, etc.  Adding to the suspense is the fact that Blue has been told ever since she was born by her psychic family that when she kisses her true love, he will die.  Oh and add some (PG) sexual tension between her and some of the Raven Boys to that.  So great.
The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2)
Book 2, 4/5 stars

I was slightly confused about the ending of The Raven Boys--no spoilers, but it involves a confusing psychic ritual and very clearly sets up the premise for book two in the trilogy, smoething I both love and hate in books.  Naturally I put my name on the library's hold list for book two, The Dream Thieves months before it was even released.  What I loved about this book was that it not only continued the story in The Raven Boys, but introduced a completely new elenment and plot into the mix, something hinted at in book one that I completely didn't pick up on.

I don't want to give too much away about the series by going into detail about The Dream Thieves, but it was a completely satisfying companion to Raven Boys.  Needless to say, I flew through this hefty book and can't wait for book 3!  When the third installment finally does come out, this may be a series I find myself rereading #1 & #2 beforehand so the plot is fresh in my mind--the mark of any good, albeit complicated trilogy.  (Oh btw, while the sexual tension is completely PG, there is some language in these books--I mean the characters are teenage boys--as well as drug use.  So I wouldn't be passing this one out to my students even if I taught the appropriate grade.)

Check this out if you like teen fantasy but are looking for something different than your typical werewolves and vampires!

What have you been reading this week?

October 28, 2013

My Lasik Adventure

Hey guys!  I shared on here a couple weeks ago that I was going to have Lasik, and I did on Friday!  This is a SUPER LONG, detailed recap of the procedure.  I'm sure most people don't care, but when  I was considering lasik, I read a few posts like this one.  I wanted to know EXACTLY what to expect based on others' experiences, so I thought I should share my experience too.  Check it out if you are interested in having lasik, otherwise just skip this one!
 First, some background.  I've been wearing glasses since age 10 and contacts since age 14.  My eyes weren't too bad as a kid, but in high school and college they got waaaay worse.  I used to be able to wear my contacts nearly every day for extended amounts of time, but my senior year in college, I started having issues with them.  My eyes were getting dried out from contact over-wear, and my eye doctor put me in more breathable lenses and encouraged me to wear my glasses more often.  For the past few years I've worn both my glasses and contacts, but contacts less and less.  I've also had pretty bad environmental allergies since I was a little kid.  I take zyrtech and use prescription eye drops, but they have definitely taken a toll on my eyes.  Two Springs ago, my allergies were so bad that I wasn't able to wear my contacts for more than a couple hours a day.  When I put them in, they'd feel like they were scratching my eyes!  I started wearing my glasses more often, deciding it was more important for me to put my contacts in for exercise than for a day at school.  I  finally resigned myself to wearing my glasses every single day at school, and putting in my contacts only for running, yoga, etc. in the evenings.
Me in my glasses...

Over the summer, I finally decided enough was enough when I was sitting on the beach wearing my glasses and squinting because I wasn't able to put my sunglasses on.  I started researching lasik and saving my money.  My prescription hadn't changed much in the last three years of eye doctor's visits, so it felt like it was finally time to do something.  I'd been wanting lasik since I can pretty much remember, but knowing that my vision had been pretty stable for a few years, I decided it was time.  (My eyes pre-surgery were -4.5 and -5.25 btw.  Basically blind as a bat.)

Two weeks ago I went into Lasik Plus in Schaumburg for a consult and eye exam to determine whether or not I was a good candidate for lasik.  When I went for the initial consult appointment, I hadn't been planning on scheduling my procedure for such a near date, but I kind of decided, "Why wait any longer?"  I've wanted lasik for such a long time that the thought of it didn't even make me nervous.  I just wanted to do it!  I went back once more before the surgery for a quick appointment to check my eye measurements and prescription after I'd had my contacts out for at least three days.  (The first appointment I'd worn them the day before, and I guess contacts can minutely change the shape of your eyes, so they need to see your eyes without having worn contacts for a few days to make sure the measurements are accurate.)  As the date of my surgery got closer, I felt like a little kid anticipating Christmas--not nervous at all, just counting down the days!

Friday morning my dad drove me to Lasik Plus for the procedure.  We sat in the waiting room for awhile before a technician brought me into a little room with two comfy chairs.  She put numbing drops in both of my eyes, put my hair in a very attractive hairnet, and gave me some ibuprofen and a Valium.  I probably could have done without the Valium as I wasn't nervous at all, but I guess it didn't hurt!  Then we went over the drops I'd be using after the procedure, and I sat for awhile to let the drugs kick in.  After about 10 minutes, the surgeon came in to talk to me.   While I already knew what to expect from my previous appointments, he talked me through exactly what would happen during the procedure as well as what it would feel like after.  We then went back into the surgery room to get started!

The lasik surgery has two parts--first, the doctor uses one laser to create the corneal flap, and second he uses a different laser to actually correct the vision. I laid down on a flat bed and they positioned my eye under a machine and asked me to stare at a blinking light.  They put some more numbing drops into my eyes and placed a suction-cup-like-thing (very technical term...) around my eye ball to hold it completely still.  That's the only thing that's uncomfortable the whole time--it just feels like a little bit of pressure.  Then, they ask you to keep your eye on the light and hold still while the laser creates the flap.  During this time, your vision may go black, white, or grey--mine did get grey and super blurry, but since I was expecting it, it wasn't scary.  It takes about 60 seconds, and then they are done.  Literally that quick.  Then, they move on and do the other eye.  My vision came right back after, too--no fear of going blind. :)

After both flaps are created, they have you move over to a different flat bed for the actual lasik procedure.  It's very similar, except even easier.  The doctor put more numbing drops in my eyes before using a tool to separate my eye lids and move them away from my eye ball.  That sounds super gross, but since your eyes are numb you can't feel a thing.  It was much more comfortable than the suction-thingy.  Just like before, the doctor asks you to focus your eye on a blinking light and hold very still.  The whole time I was thinking, "All my yoga practice has been building up to this point--staying calm and focusing on a point--I can do this!"  :) 

 I know a lot of people think, "Ugh, it'd be so scary to see that happening to your eye!!"  but the truth is that you can't really tell what's going on.  It's not like the doctor is cutting your eye with a knife like in the old days--THAT would be scary.  All you can see is the blinking light and a little bit of fuzziness.  You can hear a buzzing from the laser, and it smells a little bit like burnt hair.  However, the doctor warned me in advance that it would smell/sound like burning, but that really nothing was burning.  The laser isn't even hot.  You literally can't feel anything.  The procedure for each eye takes jsut about 90 seconds--that's all!  The doctor talked to me the whole time saying, "Keep still, very nice, 60 seconds left, 2/3s done, 20 seconds left, keep still til the very end, all done!"  I'm telling you, it was easier than having a cavity drilled.  After the first eye, the exact same thing happens on the other side, and then you are done!

The doctor had me get up and did a quick exam to check that the corneal flaps were smooth before walking me back into the little room with comfy chairs.  I got more drops in my eyes, and the doctor told me that the procedure had gone perfectly.  Then, the technician came back in.  She gave me a pair of sunglasses to wear home and gave me a sleeping pill.  The idea is that you will go home and take a long nap right after the procedure to rest your eyes.  

When my dad and I were on our way home, I could already tell an amazing difference in my vision.  It was definitely blury, but I was able to read street signs!  We made it home and I laid down for a nap wearing the protective eye shield from the doctor (to prevent touching your eyes in your sleep)--basically a clear plastic shield with foam edges and a stretchy strap.  I only slept for 2 hours on the sleeping pill, but I listened to some podcasts on my ipod for another two hours after I woke up, keeping my eyes closed.  The doctor recommended sleeping or resting for 4-6 hours, so after four hours, I decided to get up.  I put my first round of drops in my eyes--antibiotic drops, anti-inflamatory drops, and artificial tears.  Your eyes can't make their own tears right after surgery, so I had to use artificial tears every 30 minutes or so.  
Lazy Day :)
I was amazed at the difference I could already notice--I COULD SEE!  I could read the clock, see my phone from a normal distance, see detail in the pictures on the walls...I could see like I hadn't been able to since I was about 9 years old.  My eyes didn't hurt--they just felt dry and a little gritty, like I'd fallen asleep in my contacts and slept with them all night.  I knew I was supposed to continue resting my eyes, so I moved to the couch and listened to a few more podcasts with my eyes closed.  When I opened them at different times, though, I was amazed to see that I could look out the window and see the individual shingles on houses across the street.  AMAZING!  The surgeon called me later that afternoon to see how I was doing and ask if I had any questions.  I always appreciate when doctors take the time to do things like that!  He recommended that I continue keeping my eyes closed as much as possible today.
Elaborate eye-drop usage chart...
By evening, I was amazed at how good my eyes felt and how well I was able to see.  I was expecting to still have blurry vision for a few days, but my eyes were crystal clear!  The following morning I went back to Lasik Plus for a follow-up appointment, and the doctor said my eyes looked great.  He checked my vision, and I was able to see at about 20/20 already!  He had told me before the procedure that I would probably continue to see improvements for the next few months as my eyes "settle," so I wasn't expecting to see so well so soon.  

For the next week I'm to continue being very careful and not touching my eyes at all or wearing any kind of eye makeup.  I bought some face cleansing wipes so I can easily wash my face while avoiding getting any soap in my eyes or touching them at all, and I'm glad I did.  I also have to sleep in the eye shield for a week (which I don't love) and take the week off from working out so that I don't get any sweat in my eyes.  After I'm able to get back to running and working out next week, I can't wait to be able to not have to worry about my contacts!
So pumped not to need these things anymore!!
My eyes feel a little dry still, but with the artificial tears they feel much better!  And honestly, the driness is about what I always felt in contacts, so it's nothing new!  They said that should go away soon.  Also my eyes are a little bloodshot--one of the side effects is broken blood vessels in your eyes, but this should also go away soon.  No big deal!

All in all, my experience was so positive with lasik and Lasik Plus.  The doctors were friendly, efficient, and thorough.  All of the staff was super nice as well.  As for the procedure, as I said it was pretty much painless and so quick and easy.  If you are thinking about getting lasik, I highly recommend it!  I am so happy I did it!  It is amazing waking up in the morning and not having to grab my phone and hold it up to my eyes to see the time.  It's amazing to fall asleep reading without worrying about crushing my glasses in my sleep.  I can't wait to be able to run and do triathlons without worrying about my contacts, or to not have to worry about my contacts irritating my eyes during high-allergy summers.  It will be wonderful to wear my sunglasses all summer for a change!

If you have any questions about lasik and my experience, feel free to email me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT gmail DOT com.  :)

October 27, 2013

A is for America Flashcards Review

Children's book author Tom Maloney recently contacted me to share that he had created sets of 20 flashcards for each of the United States for use with students, the project appropriately names A is for America.  Maloney invited me to choose a set to review, and of course I selected my home state Illinois.  As a 3rd/4th multigrade teacher, I teach about the history and geography of Illinois every other year as part of our 4th grade social studies curriculum.  I agreed to review this product in hopes that I'll be able to incorporate it into my instruction next year.  (This year we are on 3rd grade curriculum, super boring study of "Our Community"...)
The Illinois set included 20 words--obviously that means there is not a card for each letter of the alphabet; it seems that Maloney instead decided to choose the most relevant words and facts about Illinois.  I have to appreciate this as sometimes ABC books can get a little...creative...with their pairings of letters.  On the front of each card is the vocabulary word, ex. "B is for Bridge," with the fact displayed on the reverse side in a short rhyme, ex. "Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, Madison, Illinois.  Let the fact about this bridge be known and unfurled, For it is recognized as one of the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridges in the world."  (Huh, who knew?!  I guess I have a lot to learn about Illinois!)

I really liked the short nature of each fact--very manageable for kids to read--and the rhymes.  Cute, catchy, and informative.  The only thing I would really like to see improved is some color.  We all know that kids are more likely to pick something up to read if it is eye catching, and the cards are pretty plain--white backgrounds and plain black letters.  I would love to see color, and more importantly pictures of these historical landmarks and sites, added to the cards.

Maloney also included a list of ideas for ways to use the cards in the classroom, something which I always appreciate in an educational product, as well as a corresponding word search.  I'm not much of a worksheet teacher, but word searches are always a fun homework or filler activity.  Since we take a trip to our state capital, Springfield, on the years we study Illinois, I will definitely be filing the word search away as a bus activity!

Overall, I will definitely use these cards in my classroom next year when we study Illinois.  I was able to download the set of 20 flashcards as a pdf, but if you purchase them through the website, you will receive a set of sturdy, laminated cards.  Since mine are digital, I plan to print them on colored cardstock, laminate them, and hole punch the corners to store them on a ring.  This way, they will make a short flip book for kids to read and learn about Illinois.

Thank you to Tom Maloney for the opportunity!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital set of cards and corresponding worksheets free of charge in exchange for writing this review.  I was not compensated in any other way, and all opinions are my own.

October 23, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Love + Paris--What more could you want?

Hi guys!  It's been a busy week so far, but I've still been reading!  I'm excited to share two companion novels this week.  I was pumped to get the second one from the library last week after a year of anticipation...you know how that is, series fans!

Just One Day (Just One Day, #1)
5/5 Stars
I snapped up Just One Day shortly after it was released last year, immediately intrigued based on the fact that I'd loved Forman's duo If I Stay and Where She Went...and, let's face it, because Just One Day is set in Paris.  Come on, a YA love story set in Paris?  Who can resist!  Anyways, I picked it up from the library last fall and started reading without even looking at the jacket. (This is important.  Remember, I dove in nearly blindly.)

If I had read the complete summary that was there plain to see on the jacket, I would have been more prepared for what happens in the story--instead, I almost abandoned the book after the protagonist Allyson meets her love interest on pg. 8...I remember groaning, "Seriously?  Already?"  More importantly, I wouldn't have been as shocked when Allyson wakes up alone after spending the perfect day in Paris with her dream boy, Willem.  I couldn't believe it!  I was looking for a "happily ever after," and not a third of the way through the book Allyson's heart was broken!!  It was only then did I read the jacket and realize, duh, this is the entire premise of the book and was spelled out right there on the cover.  Whoops!  While I was as devastated as Allyson, this twist made me love the book immensely more than i would have had it been a plot-less happily ever after.  Allyson spends the rest of the book reinventing herself and traveling and working tirelessly to track down the mysterious boy she knows little about.

Just One Year (Just One Day, #2)
4/5 Stars
I absolutely ADORED Just One Day to the point that I stayed up half the night to finish it and recommended it to about 10 people the following day.  It was just such a beautiful coming of age story filled with self-discovery.  Imagine my excitement when I found out Foreman was writing a companion novel, Just One Year, telling the story of what happened after that perfect day from Willem's point of view!

At first, I must admit that I wasn't as into the story as I was reading Allyson's point of view.  I mean, I already knew how it all ended!  But somewhere along the way, I forgot all of that and fell in love again.  During the year Allyson spends reinventing herself and discovering who she is and what she wants, Willem takes a similar journey as he struggles to overcome past demons and decide whether to let fate control his life or to take the wheel himself.

A quote that stood out to me while reading:
"That was pure will, Willem.  Sometimes fate or life or whatever you want to call it, leaves a door a little open and you walk through it.  But sometimes it locks the door and you have to find the key, or pick the lock, or knowk the damn thing down.  And soemtimes, it doesn't even show you the door, and you have to build it yourself.  But if you keep waiting for the dors to be opened for you..." she trailed off.

All in all, highly recommend these two books!  (Oh, and pictures are borrowed from goodreads.com) :)

What have you been reading this week??

October 17, 2013

Three Things Thursday: Race Pics, Work Days, and My Tired Eyes

I know my friends and family are probably sick of hearing about the Chicago Marathon (probably because I've been talking about it since February...), but I have to say I am still riding that post-marathon high.
You better believe I had this baby on my car Monday!

 Lauren @ Forward is a Pace shared this link about post-marathon depression, but I have to say, all I feel post-marathon is excitement about what I did and the desire to run more races!  (Maybe not another marathon...at least not yet... :)  But seriously, the support I received from friends and family even post-race into this week has been unbelievable.  Texts, emails...the love never ends.  Tuesday afternoon I couldn't believe it when the custodian brought a BEAUTIFUL vase of flowers up to my room that my team had ordered for me as a congratulations gift!  I was speechless.
I took this picture like 10 times, in different lightings, and it kept coming out like this.  
Weird, but you get the idea. :)

 I was also so excited to find a hand-made congratulations card in my mail Tuesday that an old friend had mailed me, sharing that she wished she could have seen me cross the finish line.  So many others have shared that they tracked me online and cheered when they saw I'd finished.  The love--just overwhelming.  I had to share a few of the race pics that came in too...

Check out that "this is freakin hard" face...
Getting ready to cross the finish line!
 Gosh, I can't imagine looking back at these pictures will ever get old. :)

My team requested "planning subs" yesterday so that we could spend the day creating literacy common assessments.  Our district is hugely into PLCs, so if we ask for subs for this kind of thing once or twice a year, they will usually give them to us.  These days are long an exhausting (not to mention the hours that go into sub preparation the night before!), but they are usually really productive!
Yesterday we had a marathon-day of common assessment writing--and also a marathon day of eating.  Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, grapes, pretzels, caramel rice cakes...I don't think I stopped eating all day.   Note to self: Must remember that I will not be running a marathon again next weekend and stop eating like I am... We ended up getting 5 common assessments (chock full of common core style questions!) written.  Woohoo!  By the end of the day, though, we were getting very distracted, punchy, and our brains were pretty much mush.  All I wanted to do was come home and lay in bed with a book for a few hours.  It was a long day, but there is something to be said for getting to spend a day with you team!  Yes, we were working, but the bonding part is also nice.

My contacts have been the bane of my existence for the past couple of years.  I wore them as much as 18-20 hours in a row back in my college days without problems, but from my senior year in college on, I've been able to wear them less and less.  This is mostly because of my terrible allergies that some days make my contacts feel like they are literally scraping my eye balls.  TERRIBLE!  I don't mind my glasses most of the time, but when you're running, doing yoga, swimming, etc. as much as I am, glasses become a gigantic pain.  This summer I reached new heights of fed-up-ness when I ended up in my glasses at the beach due to contact issues, squinting in the sun, and worrying about losing them in the ocean if I went out into the water.  Ain't nobody got time for this.  I decided that enough was enough and started pinching pennies to save up some money for Lasik.  I'd thought about it for years, but finally decided this summer that I was DOING IT!
Tuesday I went into LasikPlus for a free consult and exam, thinking that if all went well maybe I'd schedule to have the procedure done around Christmas.  When they told me I was a perfect Lasik candidate and that they had appointments available next week, I figured, why wait any longer?  I've waited years!  So now I'm having Lasik next Friday!  While I'm sure I'll get a little nervous the day before, right now I feel like a little kid looking forward to Christmas!!!  I have been waiting for this since I was 14... Anyone have Lasik before??  Would love to hear your (positive) stories! :)

Highlights of your week?

October 16, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday: One of the BEST books of 2013!

Thanks for all the love on my marathon recap post!  I still have more to say about the marathon and days that followed, but I'm going to give you all a break from hearing about that and share an AMAZING book I read last week!!  I seriously couldn't put this one down.

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Goodreads SummaryIn Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.  Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

My Thoughts:  I just discovered Rainbow Rowell last spring when a friend recommended Eleanor and Park (which I loved), and my book club read Attachments this summer (which I really enjoyed as well).  I was pumped when the library told me that my hold on Fangirl was finally available.  All I really knew about it before starting it was that the main character wrote fan fiction.  I was so excited when I actually started reading and realized that the fan fiction the character wrote was based off a (fictional) series about a boy wizard (okay, magician in the book) who lives at boarding school and fights magical villans.  Sound familiar??  Yup, not only did Rowell write an amazing plot in Fangirl, but she also created a fictious book series within it AND wrote a ton of fan fiction based off that series.  If you're keeping track, that's like three different plots in one.  As a HUGE Harry Potter fan since basically the beginning of time, I just loved how obsessed Cath, the protagonist, was with her potter-like series, "Simon Snow."  While my Potter-obsession never quite reached Cath's heights, I definitely know what that's like!

If you've read any of my other YA book reviews, you know I love a good coming of age story.  Cath is just plain different from many of the other book characters I've encountered in YA lit, at least the female characters.  She's actually a really complex character--brash and brazen in some contexts and super shy in others.  Cath is learning to find herself in many ways--as a college students, as a writer of something other than fan fiction, as a person separate from her twin sister, as a partner in a mature relationship...her struggles were just so real. 

This was a long one, but at 400+ pages I still wasn't ready to be done!  I could have kept reading for at least another 400.  Rowell is just such an easy writer to read--Fangirl had me laughing out loud with its wit and random references to pop culture and crying a few actual tears at different parts.  The true sign of any great book--when I finished, I laid on the couch for a few more minutes just thinking about the characters.  Those are the best bibliophile moments. :)

Run to the library or book store and get Fangirl!!  I loved it!

5/5 stars (Photo and summary courtesy of goodreads.com)

What have you been reading this week?  Link up to your post below!

October 14, 2013

Race Recap: Chicago Marathon 10.13.13

Well, it's been over 24 hours since the big day, and I think I am finally starting to process it.  I'm sure I will forget a million things--where to even begin??--but I'll give it my best shot. :)

Growing up, I never really knew anyone who ran marathons.  Even when I made a few friends who were distance runners in college, I always kind of thought that it was just something you were born with.  You know, some people were born able to run marathons, other people (like me) weren't.  It's totally crazy, but that was really what I thought!  Even when I started running seriously back in 2010, I still never thought I'd run a marathon.  Then, this January, I decided that 2013 was the big year.  I signed up with Autism Speaks as a charity runner with Team Up!, and I registered for the Chicago Marathon the next month.  Yikes!  Okay, I don't need to go into detail about my training--I've been blogging about that since summer!  Fast forward to this weekend!

Friday I was off school early thanks to a late night of parent conferences Thursday, so I was able to head to the race expo downtown.  I got some fun swag, a bought a great shirt, had some KT tape put on my left foot (ugh plantar faciitis...) that I later decided to peel off, and chatted with the coordinator from Team Up! Autism Speaks.  This expo was totally awesome, and the booths were spread out enough that it never felt crazy crowded.  After a super busy week at school, things started FINALLY sinking in at the expo--I would be running a marathon in just two days!
Signing the wall of runners!

Saturday I went to the Autism Speaks charity pasta dinner and basically became an emotional basket case listening to other runners share stories about their connections to autism.  Truly amazing.  Oh, and I also stuffed my face with amazing pasta. YUM.  That night I laid out my clothes and gear, pinned on my race bib, taped my ITBs with rock tape, and rolled out with the stick before hopping in bed at 8:30pm.  Thanks to my awesome friend Katy for letting me crash at her place in the city!
Our team!
My wake up call came bright (dark?) and early at 4:15am on Sunday.  I wasted no time in getting dressed, eating a quick breakfast, and jumping on the L to get myself downtown.  I met up with my running buddy Christy and her sister before heading over to our start corral.  I was so glad to have Christy with me before the start--chatting with a friend totally calmed my nerves!  We also met up with out other friend from running group, Jessica, before the start!
I swear, I would never have made it to the start line without these girls!
Crowds.  Gigantic Crowds.
Frozen and ready to start RUNNING!!

The weather was super chilly early on, so I was reeeally grateful for my throwaway jacket, pants, and gloves.  I think the whole time standing around in our corral I was mostly in denial--I was so distracted by being FREEZING that I didn't have a chance to get nervous!  WIN!  Before I knew it, we were off, running through the streets of the Windy City with 40,000 other people.  Christy and I ran together and decided to start out running around a 12:30 average pace, sticking to the 5/1 run/walk intervals we trained with over the summer.  Christy warned me that she gets excited at races and sucks at pacing herself, so we agreed I would be in charge of keeping us on pace. :)  Challenge accepted!
My parents snapped this pic of the elites running through Old Town
The first miles ticked by so quickly--the crowds were so energetic as we ran through downtown! Next, we ran up to beautiful Lincoln Park, where, around mile 5, Christy and I decided that regardless of the LONG LINES, we HAD to stop for a restroom break.  We ended up waiting in line at the porta-potties for over 5 minutes, but I don't think I could have made it another step!  Around mile 6.5, I saw my friend Steve!  The course ran right by his apartment in Lakeview, and it was awesome to see him and get a quick high-five.
Thanks for coming out, Steve!
After that, we ran circled back south and hit Old Town with amazing cheering crowds and Boys Town with its hilarious wedding-themed cheering stations.  I saw my parents around mile 9, my friend Katy around mile 10, and our pace-group leader from summer training, Donna, at mile 11.  Donna ran out into the street screaming our names and gave us a gigantic hug.  Perfect. :)  I cannot even begin to tell you how much both the support of the crowds of spectators and my friends and family who came out to cheer meant to me.  Although some of the aches and pains I felt during my training were starting to make some noise to me, I commented to Christy that I felt like the mile were passing quickly!
Big smiles--I'm loving this race!

No matter how bad I feel a run or a race went, there is always a part of running where I am smiling from ear to ear.  If running can keep me smiling like that, it will always be a part of my life.

Ali Tremaine
Having a blast with Christy
Things get pretty blurry around this point--the sun was starting to come out in full-force!  We continued to run through North Side neighborhoods, then back through downtown before turning west and south.  We ran past United Center, and I commented that you'd think they could get at least a couple Blackhawks or Bulls out to cheer for us.  I mean really.  :)  There was Greek Town, West Loop, Littly Italy, and UIC...Christy was really struggling with the heat, and we took a few extra walking breaks.  By the half way point, my left IT band was acting up too, so I stopped a few times to stretch it out.  Thankfully, I was able to keep trucking along!  Around mile 19 in Pilsen, Christy sat down on a curb in the shade under a bridge--the heat was becoming too much.  I stayed with her while she rested, but when we got up, she told me to go on ahead--she needed to walk for awhile longer.  We had decided in advance that we would run our own races if it came to it, so I wished her luck and headed off.

My IT band was really bugging me at this point, and I was stopping to stretch more frequently when I realized that I had stuck two Extra Strength Tylenol in my SPI belt to take around mile 15, and I'd forgotten about them!  I popped those babies at the mile 20 aid station along with my third Peanut Butter Gu of the race, washed it all down with some Gatorade and Water, and took off like a new woman.  I swear, those Tylenol were a godsend.  My legs felt better, and I was able to pick up my pace without needing so many stretch breaks.  I booked it out of Pilsen and into Chinatown where the Chinese Dragon put a big smile on my face.

Shortly after that I saw my parents again hanging out in the IIT campus.  This was the PERFECT time in the race to see them--it had been awhile since I'd seen a friendly face, and without my running buddy to keep me company anymore, it was a perfect pick me up.
I'm starting to look more like I've been running for 20+ miles at this point...

(This smile is only partially fake...)

From there, I knew that we were getting close.  I can't lie, though, miles 22-24ish were tough.  Hot, sunny, and with less crowd support than any other chunk of the race.  But just when everything is feeling really rough, the Chicago skyline comes back into view and you realize you are heading back into downtown.  Around this point I realized that almost every runner around me was walking--many looked like they were in so much pain, and more than once I saw someone being consoled by a spectator and talked into carrying on.  I was amazed to realize that while I was still taking my 1-minute walk breaks, I was able to continue running my 5-minute intervals and not feeling like I was ready to pass out or die.  Don't get me wrong, EVERYTHING hurt.  But I was still moving forward.  At that point, it started to hit me--I was going to finish a MARATHON!

As I ran up Michigan Avenue past mile 24, I saw my cousin in the crowd--I almost ran past her, but turned around to give her a big hug.  At that point in the race, having a fan cheering for me was a god send.  I swear it gave me the energy I needed to get to the finish!  Before I knew it, there was the sign for mile 25, then the "1 mile left" sign, then mile 26, 800 yards left, 400 yards left, 100 yards left...I ran up that infamous "hill", turned the corner, and gasped for breath, tears hitting my eyes, when I saw the finish line ahead of me.  I dug deep and gave everything I had left in me to sprint across that finish line.
Finish line of the 2011 Chicago Marathon
No finish line pics yet, so I borrowed this old one from here. It looked the same :)
By this point my body and brain were too exhausted to form any cohesive thoughts, but one thought did stick--I DID IT.  I FINISHED A MARATHON.  Not only that, but I'd run it without ever hitting "the wall" or ever wanting to quit.  I didn't cry any tears of pain, and I never felt like the race was passing slowly.  And when I finished, I finished smiling.  That's what I call a successful race.

So many people crossing the finish line of a marathon look as happy as when I won.  They have tears in their eyes.  This sport is full of winners.
Gary Muhrcke

Thanks to the extra tight security in Chicago this year, my parents and I had some trouble reuniting, and I even had trouble finding my way out of the post-race party in Grant Park.  My gear was checked at the Hilton hotel through my running group, CARA, but in order to leave Grant Park I had to walk even FURTHER away from the hotel.  I swear, that trek down Michigan Ave to the Hilton, clutching my space blanket and water was the toughest part of the day!  (That, and the steps down to get on the L later that afternoon...)  I kept looking up at the flags for the hotel in the distance, swearing that they weren't getting any closer.  But I finally made it there and was reunited with my parents.
After getting my gear back and getting a huge hug from the Autism Speaks team coordinator, I collapsed into a chair at the hotel's Starbucks and swore I wasn't moving again anytime in the near future.  No arguments there from my parents who were almost as tired as I was after a crazy day running all over the city spectating!  My Dad popped a couple of my Tylenol along with me after we finally sat down!
The miracle isn't that I finished.  The miracle is that I had the courage to start.
John Bingham
They say when you cross the finish line of a marathon, it changes you.  I think this is partly true--when I stepped into the finisher's chute and accepted my medal, my space blanket, and my 312 beer, I looked around and realized that finally, FINALLY I was a marathoner.  But I think there's more to it than crossing the finish line.  Those months of training are also what change you.  All of that hard work and effort leading up to this moment when I looked down at the medal around my neck and realized that I'd run a marathon.  That training that showed me again and again that anything relaly is possible.  I set distance record after distance record for myself this summer, constantly amazing myself as I stretched the limits of what I'd thought I was capable of doing.  I learned something important this summer--if you are willing to set big goals, to have faith, and to WORK harder than you've ever worked before, really, anything is possible.
Thanks Mom + Dad for being the best cheerleaders and parents EVER!
I run because it's so symbolic of life.  You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles.  You might feel that you can't.  But then you find your inner strength, and you realize you're capable of so much more than you thought.
Arthur Black

I cannot express enough how much the support of my friends and family has meant to me these past few months as I've trained for the toughest undertaking of my life.  More importantly, I am so very grateful to the friends, family, and strangers who supported my fundraising by donating over $3,100 total to Autism Speaks.  I am speechless when I think about all of the love poured into those donations and the difference they will make in the lives of those touched by autism.
The first child with autism to capture my heart when I was just a 14 year old babysitter...
13 years later and I am still blessed to be a part of his life!

Overall, the day was completely perfect.  The Chicago Marathon was without a doubt one of the best races of my life--the course was fantastic, and words cannot even describe the crowd support.  Seriously, you do not even know what good crowd support is until you've run Chicago.  Our city sure knows how to do a marathon!!  If it isn't already, put Chicago on your bucket list.  And if you think you can't run a marathon, think again.  YOU CAN.  

Put all excuses aside and remember this:
YOU are capable.
Zig Ziglar

October 13, 2013

I did it!

Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two. BOOM.

And now, I'm going to fall asleep eating a chocolate bar, most likely with the lights on because turning them off would involve moving, and that just hurts too badly... :)

Full recap SOON!  I can't wait to tell you everything :)

October 11, 2013

The Final Countdown!

Can't believe that after months of training and planning, I will be running 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago on Sunday.

Now, time to watch Spirit of the Marathon and get plenty of sleep--I know I won't be sleeping much tomorrow night!!!

Gimme some tips for a successful marathon!!

October 9, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday: A book that made me feel better about my CRAZY

You guys, I'm having one of those weeks.  ALREADY.  I feel like there about a billion and one things happening at school during the day that are preventing me from doing my best job teaching in the classroom.  You ever get that feeling?  Wishing you could just *teach* for a couple hours?  Gah.  Anyways, between school and the marathon coming up in, oh, just FOUR DAYS, I'm a little on edge!  To preserve some shred of sanity, I'm trying to make time to read every day for at least a little bit.  It's amazing how much it helps.  I am pretty excited to tell you about the book I read last week!

OCD Love StoryOCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
Goodreads SummaryWhen Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again.

But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic... and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed.

Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control. But this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down...and she might end up breaking her own heart.

My Thoughts:  I loved this book.  I was immediately drawn to it by its bright cover, it's short and sweet title, and the 5-star rating my bibliophile friend gave it on goodreads.  I was so not disappointed!  It was absolutely fascinating to read about two teens whose OCD manifests itself in such different ways.  While obviously this is a work of fiction, I have to believe that the author did her homework.  I know when I think of OCD I tend to picture handwashing and repeatedly closing doors, things like that, but after reading Bea's story, I realized that compulsions can take so many other forms.  Just really fascinating.

Bea is one of those characters who you kind of love and kind of hate at the same time.  Throughout the whole book I was cringing, wanting to yell at her, "What are you thinking?!  DO NOT DO THAT!"  But instead of yelling, I just kept reading.  The fact that it's narrated in the first person was awesome too--as Bea tries to reassure herself that some of her behaviors and compulsions are totally normal, you *almost* believe her too...until you don't.  Love an unreliable narrator. :)

The last thing I will saw about this book is that the writing rocks.  I love books where it's clear that some big, significant events took place in the character's past, and instead of just coming out and telling you, the writer drops hints for a hundred pages until you have finally pieced the situation together.  Love this part of OCD Love Story.

In short, this book was a fast read, a sweet love story, and an entrancing look at OCD.  Oh, and it made me feel a billion times better about my little bouts of quirky-crazy. ;)  Come on, you know you have them too...

5/5 stars
What have you been reading this week?

October 6, 2013

Theme Anchor Chart Free Download!

One of my most popular-pinned images from the blog is the theme anchor chart I posted a couple of years ago:
I have had tremendous success teaching theme using this anchor chart and the methods described in this post.  BUT, like a fool I have been making this chart every. single. year. on chart paper.  Don't get me wrong--I LOVE chart paper (almost as much as I love my Mr. Sketch markers...), but this year it dawned on me.  Just type it up and print it on the poster printer, silly!  Duh.  I'm lucky enough to be in a building with a poster printer, so I finally just made a poster, laminated it, and hopefully will use it year after year.  I also plan to print several single-sheets of the anchor chart to put in plastic sleeves and use at the guided reading table.  Why didn't I think of this sooner??
Ahhh, that's better!

I have uploaded the poster pdf to my Teachers Pay Teachers store--download the file here.  As always, this download is 100% FREE!  Seriously, we are teachers--we gotta help each other out!  I know I need all the help I can get in this job!  That's why I will never charge for a TPT product--I share because I care. ;)  (Totally no offense to other teachers who sell their products--we gotta earn a living, I get that.)

While you've visiting my store, check out my other products too, like my Guided Reading Masters Pack or Word Work Activity Pack!

Anyways, hope the poster is helpful!
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