Tuesday, January 31, 2017

American Girls

Hello, y'all. These are my American Girls dolls. If you're up on your American Girls, they are from left to right (and in chronological story order) Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha and Molly.

My re-reading challenge was to re-read an American Girl book. However, once I found my way to the American Girl section in the library, I quickly got swept up in the stories once more. 

I decided to read one book from the series of each of my OG dolls and then four books from girls and time periods I wasn't as familiar with to see what's going on with the books since I stopped being a regular.

The OGs were predictable. They were stories I remembered for sure. What I didn't remember is how many risks and challenges these girls encountered for their age. 

The new stuff was really intriguing. I read Kaya's Hero (1764 - A member of the Nimiipuu tribe), Caroline's Battle (1812 - Lives on a shipyard during the War of 1812), Marie-Grace and Cecile (1853 - Alternating stories told during the yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans). 

What I noticed about the newer books was there was more drama and tragedy. Three of the four books dealt with the death of a character, and the other involved nearly having to burn down her family's business to save their livelihood and American secrets.

Overall, the series is still great. I will always love these books, and I also will always (no shame) cut through the AG store when I'm at the mall.

Also, I still hope that someday I'll end up with all the things from the American Girl catalog. . . 

January Exploreading

Y'all, if I would have known how much a reading challenge would have injected so much into my reading life, I would have started one so much sooner. I'm only a few months in, and this has been so great.

First off, I read a book about a historical event before 1900.

George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution caught my eye when I was at the airport, and I was able to pick it up at my local library.

I honestly couldn't tell you the last nonfiction book I read about a historical event, so this was way out of my lane. I would give total and complete credit to Hamilton for igniting my interest in this era of history. 

The book focuses on how General Washington used spies to outwit the British. Perhaps the most fascinating part in this is that one of the spies was a woman. Even more fascinating is that to this day, no one has any idea who she is - She is just known as Agent 355. In addition, most of the spies didn't want and weren't given great accolades for their work. It wasn't until about 150 years later that anyone even knew anything about the critical role they played in the American Revolution. Learning about the techniques they used (variations of which are still used today) was so, so interesting.

I also read a book from the Frequently Challenged Books list.

Y'all, I'm not sure how Anastasia Krupnik and I have existed in the universe together and never met. I absolutely, totally and completely loved this book. Anastasia may be ten, but I want to be her BFF. She loves words and makes hate/love lists that honestly read as if I made them. Her emotional reactions were so much me, and I just related so, so, so much to her. Also, I realized there are EIGHT MORE ANASTASIA BOOKS, so don't be surprised if more pop up on my reading reviews before year's end.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Come Back to Texas - A Return to Oz

This week, I'm headed to Texas for ten days. While I've been back for flight layovers and a short conference, this is the first time I've have extended time since I moved away. This is also the first time I'll be in Bryan/College Station since my final day as a resident in June 2011.

In honor of that, I was going to write a post reflecting on why Texas, specifically Aggieland means so much to me. Looking for inspiration, I decided to revisit a facebook note I'd written to share my feelings about leaving six years ago. 

Y'all, after all the ugly cries subsided, I realized I didn't need to write a new post. The sentiments still perfectly encapsulate my feelings.

As I'm now far on the other side of life as a temporary Texan, I've realized how an experience can grow sweeter with time. I used to spend my time in Texas counting down until the next time I'd be "home" in Kansas. What I failed to see then was that I was already home, that Texas will always also be home.

Much of who I am now was influenced by my time as an Aggie. The spirit of the campus, the love of the people, and the time I was figuring life out on my own were critical elements in making the current version of me. 

As you read, I suggest you put the following song on repeat. My friend Amber used to send me the lyrics when I was back home in Kansas. Until I left Texas, I didn't really understand how wonderful it was to come back.

Farewell to Oz 
(First Published 5/26/2011)

So, today begins a week of goodbyes. 

As this begins , I'd like to take the time to share a story about a girl from Kansas . . . 

Four years ago, a 24 year old girl packed up her bags and drove on down to Texas. She didn't really know what awaited her on this adventure. In fact, all she had ever really known was Kansas. She knew the people, the places, the seasons, and it was safe. This girl wasn't one to take risks, but there was something inside her that told her she should take a chance on Texas. So, she did. 

The feeling she felt when she got to Texas (and for much of the first year) was a little like that moment where Dorothy first steps out of her house and into the land of Oz. She's overwhelmed. Everything is so different. Kansas was predictable, and Oz is just crazy. I (so, in case you haven't already figured this out, the girl in the story is me, and writing in third person is wearing me out, so I'm switching over) didn't know what to think about Texas. I'd be lying if I said that much of my first year wasn't full of tears and longing for home. There were many nights where I wished I had my own ruby red slippers to take me back, but something kept me in Texas.

And you know what it was? It was the people. When you look at Dorothy's story, she had so many great friends and family in Kansas. But what she didn't realize was that she had lessons she was destined to learn through the people she met in Oz. As she goes along the Yellow Brick Road, she meets people who truly change her life. And when I think of the last four years, I think of all the lessons I've learned along my own yellow brick road. Some have been easy, and some have been hard, but each of these lessons have shaped me. As I prepare to click my heels together and go back home (or drive in my car, I wish it was as easy as heel clicking), I go back a better and stronger person because I've been here.

In this last week of Texas, I'd like to take the time to thank some of those people I've met along the way.

There are people here who have been my scarecrows. They have the brains. They've challenged me. They've pushed me to think about solutions to problems differently. They've encouraged me to keep the wheels turning and to keep making progress. They have allowed me to be creative. They've never told me an idea I've had was too crazy (and believe me, there are times they could have), rather they've always said I have the resources and ability to make things happen. I am so appreciative of the faith those people have had in me.

There are people who have been my tin men (and women). They have heart. Their passion for their work has blown me away. Their excitement for what they do has amazed me. They bring so much joy to what they do. They make me laugh, they make me smile, and they have made me realize how lucky I am to do what I do. I feel so fortunate to have worked at a place where people love what they do and the company they keep. I wish everyone could be so lucky to work in such a place of love.

There are people who have been my lions. They have courage. They stand up for what they believe in. They make the decisions that might not be the most popular, but they are the ones that are right. These are people who I have the utmost respect for. I have learned from them that at the end of the day, it is our values that matter most. We have to listen to our own voice and determine what is right for us despite what others might say. I am thankful for those people who have shown me how to be brave.

There are people who have been my Glindas. When I've wanted to give up, they've gotten me through the tough times. When I was frustrated, they were there to lend a helping hand. When I needed to vent, they were there to listen. Some of these Glindas are here, and some of them are far away, but they all have a way of knowing when I need them, and for that, I am grateful.

And then, there are my munchkins. The munchkins are my students (and this is figuratively, not literally just to be clear). Just as the munchkins come from all different places and have all different personalities, so do my students. Some of them are shy, and some of them are loud, some of them are sweet, and some of them are . . . .well, you know, but they all make up this special, one of a kind place. When people ask me what I love most about what I do, I tell them that it's my students. I can't even begin to find the words to tell you how crazy I am about them. As I prepare to go back to Kansas, I wish I could find a way to bring them all with me, but in some regards I guess I am. Who I am as a professional and as a person is a product of who I have met along the way. From recruitment late nights to retreats to impromptu chats in my office I have loved every moment I've been able to spend with my students, and I am a better version of me because I've known them.

When I started walking down this yellow brick road four years ago, I could have never guessed that the trip would mean so much to me. For four years, I've raved on and on about the promised land (Kansas). I've prided myself on being an ambassador of sharing all that is great about Kansas with Texas. Well, here's the thing y'all, just as Dorothy fell in love with Oz, I now have a special place in my heart for Texas. Next week, I'm going back home, but here's the thing, I'm going to be leaving home, too.  Texas will always be a part of me, and I feel so blessed to have been on this adventure, but now it's time to click those heels and head back to Kansas. . . 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Back to Pompeii

Fun Fact - In sixth grade, I wrote a play about Pompeii. I'm not sure where I read/learned about this moment in history, but I was captivated enough to write and direct this play for my class. Here from my archives is an exclusive copy. . . 

Given my long-standing fascination with Pompeii, I wanted to check out the exhibit at Union Station as soon as we could. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius was a terrible tragedy, but the view the relics of Pompeii offer into life during the first century AD are incredible. The fact that these are things from nearly 2000 years ago is mind-blowing. MORE mind-blowing is when you think about how much we have today that is disposable/with a limited lifespan, and this stuff is still around in pristine condition!

I won't share all the things in the exhibit because it's far better to be seen in real-life. I will offer some highlights and favorites.

The sculptures of animals were absolutely stunning.


Not to mention their immaculate mosaic work.


I mean, can you imagine how long something like that must have taken?

They also had amazing sculptures of people.


(The cameo appearance by my husband gives you a little idea of size._

There were also smaller pieces with the most remarkable detail.


Their hand=drawn stuff wasn't too shabby either.

What was perhaps most fascinating (besides everything) was how many of the things they developed that are still being used today.

This is the Roman version of a CARD TABLE!

Here are colanders. Honestly, they are the most beautiful colanders I've ever seen.


And y'all, they even had charred raisins.

The first 3/4 of the exhibit focuses on what life was like back then. It explains where they lived, where they worked, and really everything that was happening in the city day to day. Given all the artifacts, they're able to do this with actual "stuff" from the era. The final 1/4 of the exhibit focuses on the eruption and eventual discovery (in 1748!) of the lost city.

I highly recommend checking this one out. You can get more information here.

Friday, January 13, 2017

What's Making Me Happy - 1/13

Due to travel, this is the first What's Making Me Happy of 2017, and there are lots of things to be celebrated.

First, I finally watched Parks & Rec!

I'm really not sure why I never got into this one because it's amazing. One of my friends even told me I reminded her of "all the best parts of Leslie Knope," and she thought the show and I were a perfect fit. Spoiler Alert - We are.

There was so much that was great about watching - The characters (Jerry Gergich was my favorite), the relationships (that brought me to tears so many times), and just all the things. Honestly, I'm bummed it's over and ready to watch again.

Once P&R was done, I needed a new show. And I decided on *drumroll* CHEERS! Cheers premiered the year I was born (in fact, it was just eleven days before I was born), so it's been around (literally) my whole life. I'm halfway through the first season, and so far, it's even better than I anticipated.

I also leave for Texas in one week. I'm going to be there for a conference, then Dustin is coming down to explore with me. While I've been in and out for a few trips, this is the first time I've have extended time there since I was a resident. I'm also going to be back in College Station for the first time since I left almost six years ago. I. Cannot. Wait.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Meeting with the Babysitter's Club

Before we talk books, you should know that I own a Kristy Thomas doll. 

Oh, that's cute that I've kept a childhood toy, right?


I found it at an antique mall a few weeks back. And y'all, when you see the doll of your favorite member of the BSC at a reasonable price, YOU BUY THAT DOLL.

No idea what I'll do with her, but who cares?!? She's mine.


In addition to buying a BSC doll, I also re-read some books this week. I opted to read the original Kristy's Great Idea, as well as the new graphic novel version that Raina Telgemeier illustrated.

Predictably, I still loved the books. I read a lot of BSC as a kid, and there's something so familiar about these stories and people. Kristy is my forever favorite mostly because she's the babysitter whose personality most reminds me of me. Claudia's (mis)spelling in her journal entries will always bother me, but I will never tire of loving her outfits and wish I had her junk food stash. Mary Anne and Stacey are just as I remembered them, too. It did feel a little strange reading this one without Dawn, Jessie and Mallory, so maybe I'll have to read more to get the full club experience. And by maybe, I mean probably. . .And it'll likely be a Super Special. Because Super Specials were just the best! You got stories from the point of view of all the babysitters in one, and what's better than that?!? Right? RIGHT?!!?

Okay, I'm stopping. Meeting adjourned.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Throwback to Judy Blume

First off, I thought I'd try a new picture format for the challenges. I tried taking a selfie of me reading, and I realized I have Bitchy Reading Face. 

So, that's neat.


I started the year off with my good pal, Judy Blume and her three books on my Throwback to the Books list. 

It's Not the End of the World is actually the first Judy book I ever read, and I haven't read it in at least 25 years. I received it for Christmas one year (along with Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great), and this book ignited my love of all things JB. 

I remembered Karen being much older. She wasn't. She was 12 and navigating so much. To be honest, this book is kind of a bummer read - It focuses on divorce, Karen assigns grades to her days (with many straight up awful ones), she tries to get her parents back together, and she's just trying to figure out her new normal. At the same time, the serving of realness that is offered is so needed and refreshing on the topic.

Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great is a book I've re-read often. I have always loved Shelia Tubman. I love her because she's flawed. She's got lots of fears and irrational concerns, but she also just wants to fit in and be "normal." 

Trekking back through this one, it clicked that the feature of my tween diary (that has thankfully been destroyed) where I made lists of the top ten boy rankings I had each week were inspired by Shelia and her friends' notebooks. Oh, crushes. . .

It's always fun to re-read this one, and this round was no different.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is just the best. Margaret navigating adolescence is so much truth and feels, and I appreciate its honesty every time I read it. Now that I'm far beyond adolescence (thank goodness) and can look back at that time and not cringe, I forever love how this book takes on the questions we all had, but didn't know how to ask.

Also, I just did some math, and this book will be FIFTY in three years. I'm going to end with that because #mindblown.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Looking for a 2017 Reading Challenge?

If you're still in the hunt for a 2017 Reading Challenge, here is my own Exploreading 2017 Challenge retooled so other people (who are not just me) can take it on!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Word for 2017

In reflecting about what I want 2017 to be (and not be), I decided to choose a word to guide me through the year - Purposeful

I chose this word because I have a problem - I say yes to everything. So much so that when I actually managed to say no to an ask a few months back, it was literally the first time I could remember doing that in years. That was terrifying.

This year, I want to put time and energy into what matters to me. I want to have a clear why in what I choose to do. And before quickly saying yes, I want to take a moment to consider what I could inadvertently be saying no to by agreeing. I want my yeses to be a limited quantity, instead of a bottomless pit. I want to be at this time next year content in the choices I've made (and to actually make choices).

The book from 2016 that had the biggest impact on me was Present Over Perfect, and this quote from it articulates what I hope this next year will be for me,

"When you say, This is what I can do; this is what I can't, 
you'll find so much freedom in that. You'll be free to love your work, 
because you're not using it as a sneaky way to be loved or approved of. 
You'll be free to love the things you give to people, 
because you're giving them freely, untangled from resentments and anger. 
My knee-jerk answer is yes. My default setting is yes. 
But I'm learning that time and honesty and space 
and prayer and writing and talking with Aaron help me see more clearly 
what I can and can't do, with a full heart and without resentment or hustling."

So, let's do this 2017. . .or not do this, and that's okay, too.