Thursday, December 30, 2021

On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues, I'm exhausted. There's a special kind of burnout that exists for teachers around this time of year. Looking back at 2020, I have a hard time even remembering a lot of that time, which is insane to think that I just lost months of my life.

I've been reading quite a bit this time of year, 

By Karen M. McManus

Me being honest...I loved the cover of this book. And I have a whole army of cousins that could take up an entire series. What I really liked was how this book kept most of the plot points mysterious throughout. It started out slow, and then I realized at one point I couldn't put it down.

The book takes different perspective for each chapter; Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah are the grandchildren of the incredibly wealthy and reclusive Mildred Story. She cut off every member of her family 24 years earlier, and sent a mysterious note to her grandchildren, inviting them to work on the island. Upon arrival, they realize there is much more to the family past. Everyone has secrets, and they can be deadly when people start poking around. I did enjoy this book enough to recommend it to my students!

By Ashley Poston

Another pick from the bargain bin. Why does Books-A-Million think this should be on sale? I prefer the word "nerd" for myself, but I just had to snag it because of the name. I'm a sucker for any interpretation of Cinderella, especially modern ones! There's just something sweet about that storyline, which is why I imagine it remains popular after all these years. 

Elle is an orphan, living with her cruel stepmother and stepsisters. They do a number of terrible things to her, including forcing her to cook and clean, and generally just being emotionally abusive. Her father was involved in the fandom of a particular science-fiction show and shared that with Elle before he died. As a teen she writes a blog about the series and has a mysterious connection with someone claiming to be a character. Through a series of twists and turns, she honors the memory of her parents and learns about herself. My students are going to love this one! 


Friday, December 10, 2021

A Quick Weekend of Museum/Wedding

Early December isn't usually the busiest time of year for me. Sure, I'm shopping for presents or making them up, but at least it's a calm sort of busy work. I rarely travel beyond the mall, and even then I try to do my shopping online. So this trip was different!

The first time I've been on a plane since 2015

We attended a wedding in New Jersey, Newark to be more specific. We passed New York City on our way to the hotel, the skyline looking more like a block of children's toys. There were two parties, one on Friday and the other on Saturday. I danced so much that I had a few blisters on my feet; I maybe pulled a muscle in my hip too. It was absolutely gorgeous, and they did an excellent job of planning the whole thing, from start to finish.

On Saturday we had the opportunity to check out some of the local history. Being so close to New York, there were dozens of museums and historic sites to visit. We settled on the Morristown National Historical Park, the site of one of George Washington's encampments during the Revolutionary War.

During the winter of 1779, Washington's army camped at Jockey Hollow. It was the coldest, snowiest winter on record, and yet they still survived. The park features a museum built in the early 20th century with exhibits about the encampment.  The exhibits held many artifacts from the 18th century related to the site, and I spied a few familiar items. There was also a decent video that gave good context for the museum's importance. 

The trip wouldn't be complete without visiting at least one historic house. The Ford Mansion was built in 1774 by Jacob Ford Jr.; he died only a short time after its completion. It was the largest house in the area, and was surrounded by a working farm. The Fords were wealthy, but more importantly they were patriots to the American Revolution. She agreed to let Washington and his many aids live in the house while she and her four children occupied only two rooms. The winter was bitter cold and they crowded into the rooms and halls. It was a strained existence, but it was necessary to the creation of the country as we know it today. 

It was odd stepping on original flooring that George and Martha Washington once stepped on. There wasn't much left of the original furniture, except a chair. It makes me want to buy a historic house and live there forever, but I know well enough the work that goes into it. Instead, I'll keep visiting and pretend, even just for a little while. Also, there were a lot of goodies at the gift shop!

It was a beautiful weekend, and when we returned to Michigan I was utterly exhausted. It took a few days to recover enough even to write this post. I think I'll take a nice break before Christmas.


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

A Little Winter Hair Change

When you meet me in person, you might notice a few things right away. I don't wear makeup, and I'm really lazy about my hair. In fact, I'm lazy about a lot of things, but specifically I love to be comfortable. Nothing too tight or itchy; I operate at a pajama level of comfort on a daily basis in all of my wardrobe. My hair goes up in a matching ponytail too.

My lack of haircuts has been a lifelong problem. I blink and suddenly it's been a year and my hair is very long. I'll do a nice dye, perhaps a cute cut, and then forget again. Add COVID into the mix, and it took two years this time. Remember when I dyed the ends blue on my birthday in 2019? That bleached section is now blonde and looking scraggly. It was way past time for this haircut!

In the end, I was able to donate 13 inches of hair to Children with Hair Loss, and I hope someone gets a fun wig out it. To be honest, I hadn't realized how heavy my hair really was, and the constant pulling on my neck and scalp caused headaches. I'm also excited to be able to style it again; the length made it difficult to do much of anything, like curls.

It feels really nice to have this change. I know there are different cultures that see hair as sacred, and it can also carry emotion. Considering my illness last year, a former toxic work environment, and the terrible school year, my hair felt extra heavy. It feels odd to say this, but I almost feel like a bunch of negativity and pain is now gone, as well as grief. It's hard to explain these emotions! At the same time, one thing is constant; I feel better, and I want to stay that way.

So I hope you like my new haircut! I'll be twirling my new locks around my fingers for the rest of the week. And maybe adding more headbands to my daily wardrobe?


Monday, November 29, 2021

On My Bookshelf: November

November has been busy! Between student events, getting my shots, and trying to keep the house together, I feel like I'm constantly running. There isn't a day when I can just sit home and chill...but after a year/plus of quarantine, I don't mind it one bit.

This month's reading centered heavily around my students. I find myself constantly at the bookstore now, scanning the shelves for something they might like. They're ferocious readers, snatching books out of my hands as quick as I bring them in my room. I have to watch out for my fingers!

So enjoy this list. There's a few on here that I highly recommend! 

1. Mexican Gothic
By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

For someone who loves suspense, horror, and all horrible things in general, I am surprisingly not often reading books in those genres. This one kept popping up in my recommended list, so much so that I finally broke down and bought it. I was not disappointed! It follows the true gothic style of writing that made gloomy castles and droopy Victorian parlors all the rage.

The story follows Noemí Taboada, a rich young Mexican woman who is tasked with checking in on her sick cousin in the mountains with her husband's family. She finds a creepy, creaky old Victorian mansion and so many secrets. It's a slow burn, and you don't know just how horrible everything is until it sneaks up right on you. I couldn't put this one down, and if you're a fan of horror or suspense, I would 100% expect you to read this!

By Samira Ahmed

This book settled deep in the pit of my stomach. I found it on sale at Books A Million, and without thinking I snapped it up. YA novels on sale are the best thing ever; you can pay $3 for something the students will absolutely love. I read this one in a single day, it was so good.

Layla is seventeen and living in a version of the United States that is in the middle of a crisis. Muslims are targeted after a terrorist attack, and the government responds in a very similar way to the internment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII, as well as victims of the Holocaust. It was chilling to see the similarities laid bare on the page. She and her family are sent to an internment camp, and the story is horrific. But there was a part of me that kept thinking...what if...could it...what would I do? And a book that makes you question yourself is one that you should read.

By Kayden Phoenix and Amanda Julina Gonzalez 

I'm always looking for graphic novels to add to my ever-growing collection. In keeping with Hispanic Heritage Month reading only a few weeks before, I settled on this book. The illustrations are colorful, the dialogue easy to follow and digest. Now it was the subject matter that required processing.

The story follows Jalisco, a young woman whose mother is kidnapped. She is taken in by a group of women who work to end the kidnappings and murders, and she joins them in their efforts. Despite the bright graphics, there's sinister undertones of the stories. It's an adult story told from a young woman's perspective. It's simultaneously brave and heartbreaking. I liked it, though I don't know if I need to read it again anytime soon. 

By Kirsty McKay

Full disclosure on this one; I bought it because I liked the cover. It's a little sweet, creepy, and definitely something I knew my students would like. The story follows Cate, a student on an exclusive island boarding school for gifted students. Every year they participate in a game where students are "killed" by pranks, and the winner becomes a notorious legend. At first the pranks are simple and follow the rules. Eventually things take a dangerous turn, and despite police involvement, they continue the game.

The premise of this book is fantastic, and I love how the author has created the point of view of the main character. There's hints and clues dropped along the way, but really it kept me guessing until the end. It's hard to keep me from guessing the end of a book, or at least predicting, and this one did just that. I'll be losing this one to a very eager teenage reader soon!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Cold is Here!

 Finally, FINALLY, we have frost. That first bite in the air, the lingering cold in our chest when you take a deep breath...Michigan at her finest. 

This year we're trying to plan homemade gifts, and I'm currently in planning mode. I always love a good Christmas ornament, preferable with year and some customization. Of course I'll destroy every surface of our kitchen with some goopy concoction I'll throw together. Hopefully it will turn out well enough to give away as presents. Hopefully!

We still have a few things to do before real winter can hit. We need to button up the boat safely, take in all the lawn furniture, and clean out our dog run. I'd like to put up the Christmas decorations earlier this year if I can. We're lucky our cats don't turn into little assassins when we set up the tree.

I'm remembering that this time last year...that I didn't remember much of everything. I had that nasty COVID brain fog for months on end. I don't remember what I did or ate for Thanksgiving, and it felt like I woke up from a dream in February. While I still feel some effects, I'm back to my old self in a number of ways. At least I'll be able to taste the food more!

As COVID still rages, I'm wondering what that will mean for the next season. I know that reenacting will not be the same for me. I can't remain the same; there are people who literally threatened me harm, lurking at events behind petticoats and smiles. There are people who completely said/did terrible things during the pandemic, and I don't think I can stomach being in the same room with them. There are a lot of things wrong with reenacting, and something needs to change.

So with that, I'm not thinking about making my next outfit. Instead I'm planning on my next "life move," and what that looks like for my hobbies and free time.

We'll see. At least I have the distraction of the holidays to keep thinking...


Monday, November 15, 2021

The Edmund Fitzgerald 46th Anniversary

Anyone who lives in Michigan has at least some interaction with lakes. It seems like there's a marina or boat around every corner. I grew up knowing the lakes in all their glory, even though I was quite decidedly afraid of water. Living in a lakeside town meant understanding the colors of the sky and the churn of the waves. Most of my friends growing up had boat licenses too, though I tended to admire the lakes from shore.

The biggest of our "big" lakes is Lake Superior (I've spent more time on Huron and Michigan). It is the farthest north, deepest, and coldest. There are so many shipwrecks around the lakes, and Lake Superior holds perhaps the most famous vessel underneath her waves. (Click here to see a map of shipwrecks).

The Edmund Fitzgerald

Built in Detroit in 1957, she was the biggest ship on the lakes at the time. On the day of her launch a man watching from the pier had a heart attack and died. Other than that ominous start, she sailed safely throughout her nearly 20 year career on the lakes, shipping iron ore across the great watery expanse.

Then came that fateful November storm. The choppy waters turn monstrous, too dangerous to even observe from a pier or dock. As someone who personally avoids water whenever possible, November always gave me a good reason to continue doing so. It's as if Mother Nature gives a resounding "NO" to anyone looking to traverse her lakes.

But the Edmund Fitzgerald had a schedule, and this would be the last run of the season. She left port from Wisconsin on November 9th, 1975. Captain McSorely did not anticipate a terrible trip, especially since a nearby storm was predicted to go south. The trip started out well enough on Lake Superior.

That calm would not last. Eventually the waters would grow so rough that the captain would request a nearby ship, the Anderson, to stay close. They pushed through the waves and wind but kept up radio communication. Eventually the Fitzgerald lost radar and was going blind into dangerous waters. Yet they still persevered. 

After 7pm the Anderson sent one last communication on the radio, asking how they were doing with their "problems." McSorely said;

"We are holding our own." 

Then the storm converged into a white mess of snow and water. When the weather cleared, the Anderson, who had been within sight distance, only saw the clear expanse of Lake Superior water. The Fitzgerald was no more. Search parties later discovered only small pieces of the ship; battered and broken they were torn apart as she sank. 

Only a few days later they located the Fitzgerald in two pieces at the bottom of Lake Superior. For decades, dive teams and submersibles would explore the wreckage but did not discover the exact reason she sank. A rogue wave? Flooding in the cargo hold? Shoaling? To this day there is evidence to support different theories, but never an exact reason. As for the bodies, they were discovered later, though families have chosen not to disturb the gravesite any further, and now it is not possible to dive again.

Gordon Lightfoot's song also made the wreck a popular part of Michigan legend and lore.

So here we are, 46 years later, and I'm running an afterschool group, one appropriately named "Monsters, Mysteries, and Myths." Our meetings lands on November 10th, and so my students MUST learn about the Big Fitz. I found a recipe for cookies that former cook on the Fitzgerald shared and brought in a guest speaker, Dr. David Schwab. He is an oceanographer and mathematician who studied the sinking, as well as developed a computer system to help predict waves on the Great Lakes. My kids were just so enveloped in the whole thing, and I learned a bit about how it all came together. Click here if you want to see some videos he's been in about oceanography. I'm grateful that he took time to speak to us, even though he's retired!

In the end, there's a certain about of solemnity surrounding any lost ship in the lakes. They say that Lake Superior doesn't give up her dead, and even today none have come to the surface. It's odd to think that the beautiful waves I observe safely from the shore are just above the surface of a mass grave. Over 33,000 people were lost in the Great Lakes, and unfortunately that number will grow as long as there are people and boats, storms and large waves. 

The lakes are a beautiful sort of dangerous, like all great and terrible things.



Tuesday, November 9, 2021

A (Bloody) Halloween

I remember Halloween as a kid; I always wanted to be a zombie bride or monster princess or something like that. I wanted to wear a dress AND terrorize the earth with a terrible curse. Is that too much for a girl to ask? As I've gotten older, my tastes have evolved, but only a little.

This year I settled on "Ancient Goddess Who Has Received Sacrifice." I bought a pretty crème-colored dress on Amazon that is adorned with stars and moons. I could have used another outfit in my wardrobe, but I REALLY like how it turned out. I needed something magical, and at the very least I can use it again for other costumes.

Next was my tiara. I needed something spikey and regal, so I headed to Michael's and picked up these crystal beads. The wire wrapping technique wasn't too difficult, though I definitely need more practice if I want to do it again. I attached the stones to a think piece of gold wire, then attached that to a thick black headband. The end result blended in well with my hair and glinted different colors in the light.

Finally, I had to decorate my (willing) victim. I bought a plain white shirt and used different types and colors of paint along the front to simulate the blood. In my CSI fervor I also did tried interesting forms of spatter; large drops, sprays, and even a few pools. As an added bonus I put my left handprint on the side, as if I'd reached into his chest to claim my prize. It was a very Indiana Jones scene, at least how I imagined it in my head. 

With the appropriate touches of blood on our faces, the costumes were complete! Considering the fact that I've already "captured" his heart already, is it too much of a stretch for me to consume it? (Ha ha!)

While the whole thing was a very quick endeavor, with only a few hours of prep for the completed work, it reminded me of my many transferable skills. I've worked with wire wrapping beads, face painting, and even have experience from teaching forensics blood spray. I'm impressed with the final product!

Who knows what I can make next with that set of skills? 


On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues,...