Wednesday, February 26, 2014

So I wrote this poem today...

Let me start by saying: I wish I were a poet. I'm not. I know I'm not. It took me a long time to accept this fact. I may have poetic tendencies, but I am not a poet. 

But still. Sometimes I am just overcome by the urge to write bad poetry. And it, this urge, is not a force to be ignored. My brain just won't be still, composing lines (and quickly losing them due to lack of brain paper (which should be a thing, like a receipt that prints out of our brains to preserve the stuff we lose in there)) in my internal monologue voice until I give up and pick up a pen.

It happened today.

We had another snow day. And I somehow ended up on the Writer's Digest website while drinking my morning coffee. You know how web surfing goes: you click here and there until suddenly you're fifteen clicks in and have no idea how to retrace your steps and can't recall how you ended up where you are. It's very disorienting for me. I should probably avoid it. Well, it happened, and I found myself on a page with a week-old poetry prompt about "handheld poems."

For today’s prompt, write a handheld poem. Whether it’s video games, smart phones, or soft tacos, the world is filled to the brim with things that can be held in one hand (or both). Consider the handheld and write your poem.

So I did. I didn't want to, but I did.

And it rhymes. I didn't want it to,'re smart, you see the pattern here.

Without further ado, and before I change my mind out of sheer embarrassment and decide not to go through with it, here's the resulting poem I wrote this morning. 

First draft. Not a poet. Fragile ego. Just saying. 

 Not a Wheelbarrow

With a wheelbarrow I can carry
more than my fair share of weight, 
but I'd rather use just my two hands
to show the earth my strength is great.

Look closely at these hands and read
a story brave and true.
Read between the lines and learn
what a mother, teacher, wife can do.

This line tells of family bonds,
of fortitude and courage bold.
It holds the secrets of my heart
and my darkest days untold.

This line whispers to me constantly,
"just imagine," and "try to see."
It ventures forth, surveys the world,
and beautifully bears it back to me.

And this one sings out to my love
in verses clear and true,
of the memories and possibilities
and vitality of two. 

My left hand pushes out the bad
and opens to the sun
to welcome what the future brings
and what I may become. 

My right hand holds the others who
upon me now rely.
It leads and offers comfort
and reminds them how to fly.

Red and rain and chickens white...
the world may never understand.
To Williams I quietly reply,
So much depends upon our hands. 

I don't know what made me think of William Carlos Williams. If you're wondering why I'm talking of wheelbarrows, you can read his iconic poem (which I'm sure I have no business even approaching in my own writing) here.

Anyway. That's one thing I did with my snow day. Glad I got it off my chest. Or off my hands. Or something. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Six Different Ways to See a Stick Horse

The funk has been clouding my brain this week. I don't know why. It's been there lurking in dark corners, and I've been battling it with healthy doses of morning coffee, soul-soothing music, and family time. But, today it won.

I fought valiantly, if I may say so myself. As soon as I realized I was feeling funky this morning, on my way to work, I recognized it: something wasn't right, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I held it off during first period, which wasn't too hard because my first period class is downright angelic. But it went downhill from there. 

By 3A (a short period between third and fourth that only meets four days a week), I was dipping graham crackers in a jar of Nutella, had already cracked open my lunchtime Coke Zero, and gave the kiddos time to study their notes for tomorrow's quiz while the smooth melodies of Lucy Wainwright Roche played quietly in the background.

I may or may not have assumed a meditative pose on the rug near my desk and answered questions from the floor during this brief time. 

It helped a little. 

By sixth period, I'd had all I could handle. By seventh period, I was in tears. 

It didn't last long, but the funk got me. It had me in its ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of my mind. I sat in my classroom with the door open, lights off, and music playing until 4:00 and no one peeked in to ask why, which was perfectly fine by me. That's another thing about the funk: it's catching, and no one wants it. 

And then my evening went like this: 
  1. My beautiful Bella had "good news for the day" (her exact words, I swear) when I picked her up from preschool: she buttoned her pants all by herself each time she went to the potty today.
  2. Bella and I, upon discovering that the park is not yet open for Spring (not surprising, given that it isn't yet Spring), ate ice cream outside and played on the playground at Sonic. 
  3. We played outside even more when we got home (after warming up in the car en route).
  4. Adam brought pizza home for dinner. There was no way I was in the mood for cooking, though literally banging around a few pots and pans may have helped my mood. 
  5. I read on the couch for about 30 minutes after dinner.
  6. I hit the treadmill and completed my fastest mile yet. Still not "fast," but fast for me.
  7. While recovering my breath, I opened good ol' Life is a Verb to a completely random page. And found myself face-to-face with a message that I so desperately needed today.

I think I spent large portions of my day today running around and around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path was wrong. 

Most specifically, my (challenging) sixth period class comes to mind. In controlling my urge to rant (you're welcome), suffice it to say that I have wracked my brain for methods of dealing with this particular group of students, each of whom I dearly enjoy on an individual level. Today, I felt like I was beating my head against the wall trying to get them to follow where I was trying so desperately to lead them. Actually, I think I would have enjoyed beating my head against the real and actual cinder block wall rather than stand there one more second and practically beg for their respect and attention. 

But, who says my path up the mountain is the only one? Why was I leading them up my path? What if their path was a different one?

I know that most students in this group live to talk. I mean, live for it. So, my other tenth graders all did a great job with my what? Who said I had to be in charge of sixth period today? Could I not have achieved the same goal by putting them in groups and letting them talk it out, rather than attempting to lead a whole-class discussion? This is basic, basic, basic pedagogy. I know these things, pretty much inside and out. I understand the fundamentals of classroom management and instructional design, I promise. But where there's funk and frustration, there's little room for thinking outside the box. 

Sometimes you gotta take a step back and look at the mountain from a distance. Then the path reveals itself. 

This little lesson in perspective also led me and Bella on an adventure in creativity. 

Bella, I say this is a stick horse? Am I right? 
But what else could it be? 

Suddenly, she saw her stick horse as a bridge...

a limbo stick...

a walking stick...

a measuring stick...

and a pillow.

If a preschooler knows that there are six different ways to see a stick horse, why did I devote so much energy today to trying to get others to gallop? 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Infinite Love

When we least expect it, the Universe goes out of its way to reveal our greatest blessings. 

This was not supposed to be an extraordinary weekend. Yet here I am, on Sunday evening, running out of fingers and toes as I catalog my many (many, many, many, many) reasons to be thankful for my beautiful life. Between cooking with my family, being surprised by my husband, relaxing at home, going out with friends, and spending quality time with my parents, it has been an extraordinary weekend after all. 

It all began on Friday afternoon, when we were dismissed early from school. Of course, that in and of itself is not necessarily a reason to be excited, especially when you have seventh period planning, so you technically had a full day anyway, and when the reason for the dismissal is the weather forecast. I'd had a pretty great day at school, but I was dreading going grocery shopping.  And when I dread something, I dread it with my whole being. The dark cloud of the Winter Weather Warning and last-minute Valentine's Day shoppers followed me to Kroger.

I actually arrived at Bella's preschool in time to help her open her Valentines, which was super fun and set the tone for a more pleasant than expected evening at home. I opened our kitchen door to find a box of chocolates, a book I wanted, and a card from the amazing hubs. I relaxed at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and listening to "Sensitive Men of the '90s" (which is a lot less lame than it sounds) on Songza, unwinding and enjoying the snow falling outside the window. It had turned into a pretty glorious afternoon.

The gloriousness continued that evening as together we cut pizza dough into hearts with a cookie cutter and made heart-shaped Hawaiian pizzas for dinner, followed by cake and cookie dough frozen yogurt. What a fun and festive Valentine's Day in!

Saturday began with coffee, eggs, and toast. I'm still in love with making weekend breakfast in my new kitchen, so even that small task was something to celebrate. Afterward, I lounged on the couch in my pajamas and actually took a little nap there. I honestly can't remember the last time I spent Saturday morning on the couch. It felt really nice to snuggle down and just be cozy with my little family, closing the blinds against the fresh accumulation of six inches of snow outside. 

Bella was hilarious Saturday afternoon as she entertained herself while I got ready for our evening out. She was really happy to sleepover at Nana and Poppy's, which isn't always the case, so it was a welcome beginning to a fun night. 

BFF Rachel was one of the organizers for "An Italian Affair," a fundraiser dinner to benefit the Nativity Montessori School downtown. It was so much fun to see her and Chad having a good time, dancing and laughing. The six of us always have a blast, no matter where we are or what we're doing, but I especially cherished celebrating my Valentine's Day weekend with these wonderful people. They truly are better friends than I could have ever asked for, and definitely better friends than I deserve. I have also really enjoyed getting to know Estefania's brother Dani as he been here since December. Who knew you could take apart the table centerpiece and juggle it? 

This morning, I braved the treacherous roads to my parents' house. Even though they'd offered to bring Bella home to us, mom enticed me with breakfast and I went on my merry way. Spending Sunday morning with my parents is one of the (few) things I've missed since we've moved. Bella and I played with Tinker Toys and we all went sledding, even Uncle J.J. My mom was hilarious the entire time. Dad made hot cocoa and I just chilled on their couch until naptime when Bella and I headed home. 

When I look back on the past 72 hours, I can honestly say that I relished my life as I lived it, that I found joy in the journey, and that I shared my love with family and friends. 

How lucky I am to be surrounded by such infinite love. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Finally Family Photos!

The last time we had family photos done, our almost-four-year-old was four months old. I felt really bad about that, but not badly enough to do something about it. I mean, I hate pictures of myself, and I snap photos of Bella on my phone all the time. Do I really need to pay someone to take our pictures regularly?

Apparently, yeah. I do. Know why? Because professional photos make grandmothers happy. And because they're a heck of a lot better than phone camera selfies.

Part of my hesitation was uncertainty about choosing a photographer. The lady who did our last group photo session, and who also photographed Bella by herself at around ten months, has since moved out of the area. The local "go to" photographer has gotten out of the business. So I took a recommendation from a friend. And by that I mean, I got a girl's number and waited another six months before I did anything about it. 

The results? Not too shabby, if I may say so myself. Take a look!

I thought really hard about what we were going to wear, eventually deciding to put Adam in blue, myself in a little bit of pink (because wearing a lot of pink is something I have to remind myself I can't do now that I'm not a blond anymore), and Bella in pink and blue. However, somehow in my frantic rush to get us out the door (we were late anyway), I missed the total clash between Bella's plaid and my polka dots. Oh, well. Can't win them all.

We are so pleased, and we are planning to have the photographer come over this spring to do an outdoor photo shoot of the besties and the babies playing and having a cookout. Who knows? Maybe I will start remembering to have our photos done more often! 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top 10 Favorite Quotes

My mom accuses me of not having a "theme" for my home decor. She says I just "have words everywhere," that people are forced to do a lot of reading just by being in my house. Oh yeah, and she says this like it's a bad thing. 

Does she not see that the words themselves are the theme? Does she not understand the self-restraint being applied in not having writing on every inch of every surface in the places where my life happens?

Y'all are lucky I haven't graffitied this house yet! It's just a house. If I had my way, every inch of my very body would be tattooed in words. 

So, my name is Maggie, and I'm addicted to words. I can't explain it. I can't change it. I can't live up to the beauty of the words of others. 

The incredible potential inherent in language is mind-blowing. Words can change our mood, our lives, our futures. Words, spoken or written or painted or interpretatively danced, shape our world in ways we cannot fathom.

In honor of that power, I give you my top 10 favorite quotes.

In no particular order...

Okay, so that one is in a particular order. Surprise! It's my all-time fave from my all-time fave poem. It sounds sort of depressing at first, but there are infinite layers of meaning in this short sentence. For one, to die is luckier than we imagine simply because it means we have lived

A magnificent reminder that not only are we capable of doing "scary" things, but also that freedom is found in them.

I read this and I'm immediately looking for Narnia in my closet, but I know Lewis has more important lessons to teach me about where I'm headed.  P.S. Mom had an old wardrobe when I was a kid. It was my first disappointment in life. 

Sigh. Just dreamy. Adam used to tell me a beautiful story about soul mates when we first started dating. This quote reminds me of those times. 

Have you ever read a more perfect metaphor? Didn't think so. (If you haven't already, read The Fault in Our Stars.)

My students recently shared a startling revelation: Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken can actually be interpreted negatively. What? I had never heard this, but came to see the argument. Van Gogh, however, is straight-forward in telling us which path is the best. New fave. Darn you, Frost and your potentially ambiguous advice on path-choosing.

Ah, Kacey Musgraves. This is from the only country music album I own, and I love many of the lyrics. Follow Your Arrow quickly became my favorite. 

When I'm 90, I want to say I lived all the happy minutes I could get my hands on. Dear Maggie, be angry less often. Or at least for shorter periods of time. 

My mama taught me to love this poem from an early age. (See, the words on my walls are her fault!) This is the final sentence in what is easily one of the most motivating poems I've ever read. If you're unfamiliar with Desiderata, read it here. It might change your life. It also may or may not be written in Sharpie, in its entirety, on a bulletin board in my classroom. 

And finally, this one. I was only recently introduced to the work of Tyler Knott Gregson. I found his quotes and poetry on Pinterest, of all places. This is my favorite. If I ever get another poetry tattoo, it will be this. 

So, I may be addicted, but can you blame me?

Are you like me: shamelessly in love with quotes and words? What's in your Top Ten? If you could get any quote tattooed on your body, what would it be? What words define your life? 

Live on. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Obese Girl's Journey to the Chocolate 5K: Week 4

Or at least that's what I keep telling myself. Along with, Think how awesome it will feel to shop for running gear and not feel like a poser

I can't wait until the day I can call myself a runner. And really mean it. 

I can't wait until the day I can outrun a swarm of hungry zombies.'ll see what I mean. 

This fitspo mindset helped me ease back into training this past week. Here's a recap of my week in fitness, the YouTube edition: 

The shin splints were still fresh in my mind Monday. I really am doing all I can to keep that from ever happening again. However, I knew I needed to get back into the habit of working out, even if I was still shaking in my sneakers at the thought of flipping the switch on the treadmill.

I'm actually kind of glad I decided to work my arms instead, because I found a fantastic set of YouTube videos from XHIT Daily (to whom I quickly subscribed) and I am crazy about them. 

I started with this one, which I originally found on Pinterest. 

I followed that up with this

because I was exercising late in the day. I like the simplicity of this sequence, but the video moves too fast--not in terms of comprehending the moves, but in terms of holding the poses and breathing. With a little modification, I found it to be a great stretch and relaxation tool. 

Bella and I had fun exercising together! I am always happy when she's in the basement with us when Adam and I exercise, because I think it is a great example for her. I prefer for her to see us being active. So I was really happy when she wanted to exercise with me on Wednesday. It isn't unusual for her to be interested in doing what I'm doing, but I really wanted to encourage her and do something different for myself as well. 

I remembered doing a yoga video with a little girl I used to babysit in college, and was able to locate some video clips on YouTube! 

Now, granted Shana Banana is a little silly. But we had an absolute blast doing the Yoga Alphabet! And I also discovered that there is a ginormous selection of children's exercise material online. So we followed up with: 

Lesson learned from Wednesday's workout: preschooler yoga is harder than grownup yoga! Hopping around like a frog was really hard on my knees. 

Wondering when I'd get around to explaining that zombie reference? The time has come...
Several clicks deep into the Google Play store last week brought me to this cool 5K trainer app with a twist: running from zombies. Now, I'm not a zombie fan, and I've never watched The Walking Dead (although I'm relatively sure that's what's on the television downstairs right now). However, I was intrigued. It seemed to be like a video game, but without a screen. 

Turns out...I'm. In. Love.

I started with Week 1 Day 1 because I felt like I had to in order to understand the story, and also because, let's face it, I'm still in the pre-beginner phase of the running business. I did a 10 minute warmup on my own before getting started, then found myself faced with a 10 minute warmup in the program, but I was kind of happy to get off to a slow start. I kept my 3 mph pace for those 20 minutes without any difficulty. The intervals that make up the middle portion of the session are similar to C25K. Day 1 is 15 second bursts of running followed by 1 minute walks. Switching between 3 and 4.5 mph, I was pleased to find that I didn't even break a sweat until about halfway through the 10 sets. 

During the 10 minute free form run that concluded the session, I was very excited to run for 2 solid minutes before slowing down! As completely lame as that sounds, remember this: I'm the girl who had to do Day 1 of C25K twice because I couldn't get through it the first time! To be here in 4 weeks, with a little more than a week off for shin splints, that's pretty cool if you ask me. 

I know that puts me over an hour for 5K right now, 
but more than 20 minutes of that was walking.
I'm not mad.

As for my general impressions of the Zombies, Run! 5K Training App, I like the interactive feel of the story, being a participant in a mission. The coaching is definitely more motivating than the C25K app, with encouragements like, "Last one! Give it all you've got! Run!" and "Imagine you're running from a zom [insert gross zombie sounds]. Run!" There's also periodic encouragement during the 10 minute segments, letting you know how far you've gone. I also like that I can still listen to music in the app, and that it fades out when the characters in the story start talking. 

I also felt like this program, or maybe just the fact that I didn't feel like I was dying while I was trying to run, allowed me to focus more on my form. I tried to pay attention to how I was running, not just the fact that I was running, which I hope helps me avoid getting my shins all in a bind again in the future.

I actually can't wait to get back to it tomorrow. Who knew running from zombies would be such a great motivation? Is there already such a thing as a Zombie 5K?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

This Song Will Save Your Life: Reflection and Review

Image is linked to the Goodreads listing for this title

When I was younger, music was such a huge part of my life, I really thought it would be a career or at least a hobby that would stick with me into my adult years. Starting at age seven, I learned piano. I sang in school, church, and community choirs. (In fact, my first date with Adam was after a community choir concert, and I frequently made him turn pages for me as I played weddings throughout high school and college.) I played saxophone. I was in color guard. I was percussion section leader and assistant drum major my senior year. 

I really considered majoring in music, until I drove past Baird Hall at MSU and saw the percussionists outside hacking away at the concrete at midnight and decided I might not have that much time or dedication. 

Anyway, I tell you all that to tell you this: I love music. Not in the way my students love music, which involves living with at least one headphone on at all times and shuffling through songs on Pandora. Not in the way my friends' husbands love music, which involves massive amounts of factual knowledge about bands and albums and biographical information about famous and obscure musicians. Not in the way my siblings love music, which involves spending money on tickets and live concerts. No, I love music in my own, soul-thumping, scream-singing, bass rattling, dancing around the house way. 

I feel like the Internet has made us all music lovers. And maybe that's a great thing. I just wonder if absolutely everyone who "likes" to listen to music has the same emotional connection to it that I experience. When those first few bars of "Tonight, Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins alert me to an incoming call, my heart soars; not with the possibility of who is on the other end of the line, but because how could it not with lyrics like these?
Is never time at all.
You can never, ever leave
Without leaving a piece of youth
And our lives are forever changed.
We will never be the same.
The more you change, the less you feel.

Believe in me.

That life can change,
That you're not stuck in vain.
We're not the same, we're different
I mean, I have funeral songs picked out for myself. That can't be normal, right? (Is it the result of being raised in the kind of house where my mom told me her "funeral poem" when I was six? I guess the world will never know.)

I think it's part of what also makes me love literature and writing: the symbolism, the story-telling, the perfect expression of that which can never be fully and rightfully expressed, but for which we die still trying to explain. 

This Song Will Save Your Life has reminded me of that part of myself that loves music because it's the poetry of our lives. While the plot itself is not entirely unpredictable (okay, it's pretty predictable), I am really happy that Leila Sales helped me reconnect with the music in my soul. I also think that this book could be a very positive influence on the lives of teenagers who feel misunderstood, who have a hard time imagining that in the very near future, their entire existences may change...and that the near future is worth continuing to live for. 

You see, Elise Dembowski has struggled with her feelings of worthlessness, stemming from her ostracism throughout her entire school career, until she finally decides to reinvent herself. She spends the entire summer before sophomore year painstakingly studying how to fit in, even making flashcards of popular music and musicians so she can discuss pop culture without having to actually take part in consuming it. When it's obvious that her hard work is not going to pay off, she tries to kill herself. 

The rest of the story takes place as Elise tries to navigate a life that depresses her to no end, where school is misery and her family doesn't really know what is going on in her head or her private life. A private life which includes sneaking out of the house every week to attend a warehouse party where she befriends an unlikely crew and discovers a passion for DJing. 

It's cute, funny, and painfully honest. The interactions between the students are realistic and heart-breaking. The adults trying to deal with a suicidal teenager are the same. This book could prove a powerful story to teens who connect with Elise, as well as those who need to realize how they're inadvertently (because I have to believe they don't know what they're doing) punishing the Elises in their lives.

The book also comes with a suggested playlist. Because I'm learning to love Spotify, which is pretty easy to fall in love with, I made that playlist today. You're welcome. (You will need an account, I believe. But it's free, which I also love.)

So thanks, This Song Will Save Your Life, for reminding me of all the music there is to love in the world, and for telling teenagers a story that reminds us all of the many reasons life is worth living. I plan to keep doing more of it all...the singing, the dancing, the loving, and the living. 

Have you ever read a book that might not have felt life-alteringly amazingly good, but that reminded you of something you'd lost along the way? And, more importantly, what did you do about it? 

Live on. 

P.S. If Young Adult is not your thing and you're looking for an amazing book about music and life and love and loss and all the everything, read this book immediately.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Party Like a Rock, Party Like a Rockstar...

Just kidding. I haven't actually listened to that song in like 2 weeks at least.

Today is the second installment in the Creative Collective link up from the Nectar Collective. The first challenge prompted me to create my Not-So-Awesome Awesome Poster, and you can read about it here.

But today is all about the music. That's right, it's playlist time. This is a big task for someone with eclectic musical tastes and a ton of songs that make me yell, "Turn it up! This is my favorite song!" and start waving my hands in the air maniacally. However, challenge accepted. (I've also been watching a lot of HIMYM on Netflix.)

February 5 // Create a playlist of new music.

PandoraHype Machine, and Control+Alt+Delight are great places to start. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends what they’re listening to, too!

This seems like the appropriate junction for a disclaimer. I still have several mix CDs that I made in high school and college, when downloading illegal music was exciting and an excruciatingly long process. And they're weird. I don't care about what songs "go together." I'm not a professional DJ, and there's no beat mixing or thematic development or stylistic matching. I pick songs because I like them. And I like a lot of songs. Different songs. Bear with me.

I was originally planning to write a little bit about each song, but I ended up with like 50 songs before I made myself quit. Like, made myself. I said, "Stop. Stop. No, really. That's the last one." Out loud. Guess I used up all my self-restraint yesterday for Top Ten Tuesday.

So, for the abbreviated introduction to the not-so-abbreviated playlist:

This playlist makes me remember dancing with the besties, crying in some of the lowest points of my life, bumping in my Cobalt in college, singing with my mother who instilled a healthy love of music in me at an early age. There are songs on this list that make me literally laugh out loud, that I judge myself for liking (so you don't have to), that I still argue with Adam about the lyrics to.

It's a true mix, spanning decades and genres, highs and lows. I just followed my instincts and my brain's associations, then rearranged them a little bit to make the final product.

I did, for your listening pleasure, omit all of my tendencies toward raunchy hip hop and rap. It's a guilty pleasure (along with reality television) and I have a thing for bass. What can I say? I guess I'm not that old yet after all.

Without further adieu, the playlist. I'd rather call it a mixtape. So I think I will. Hope ya like it as much as I do. 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Love

Bella and I had a lovely afternoon consisting of the McDonald's PlayPlace, the public library, and a late nap. But it was at the public library that I arrived at the very important decision to revisit the books I've loved most in recent memory as today's Top Ten Tuesday. Then, because of immense snow day amnesia, I had to check and confirm that today was in fact Tuesday. Finally, my last thought on the topic was:

This could veeeeeerrry easily get out of hand. 

So I promise to be sanely brief in my descriptions of each of these lovely tomes. Okay, so most of them won't be tomes. I've been on a Young Adult kick in recent years. But I will use the cover images as my measuring stick and promise to adhere to that length requirement.

I also promise to avoid over-summarizing and will provide only 100% completely opinionated commentary.

For this list, I'm limiting myself only to titles from my Goodreads shelf. If you don't know what Goodreads is (and, therefore, don't know what you're missing) or you do but you don't follow me, go follow me here. (Also, all cover images in this post are from the site.)

Furthermore, as it turns out, most of these books either already are movies, are movies in production, have been optioned as movies, or have been ruined in movies. I'm not sure how I feel about all of this, but I just thought I'd pass that little tidbit along.

Ready? I'm not sure I am, but here goes nothing....

In no particular order:

Okay, so maybe there's an order. Or at least maybe number 1 is my number 1. Maybe not number 1 of all time, but definitely number 1 of recent memory. This book is ah-mazing. I know you've probably heard that a gazillion times, or you've seen the trailer for the movie and wondered what all the hype is about, or you've been living under a rock for a few years and have never heard of it at all, but I'm telling you, the hype is real. I put off reading this book for a very long time. Someone said the word "cancer" and I had flashbacks of My Sister's Keeper and decided I'd rather not be depressed for weeks or bored by cliches of teenage cancer love stories. I only read it because it was on sale on Google Play, I swear. And roughly 48 hours later, when I was sobbing on the couch, I cursed said sale for quite some time. However, three words: totally worth it.

In keeping with the "books recently turned into movies" theme, next up is this phenomenal story of a family during the Holocaust. The single most beautiful thing about this book is the unique narrator: Death. That's right, Death himself (herself?) tells the story. And it is a beautiful thing. Did I already say that? Sounds weird, I know. But for example, in the early chapters, Death informs us that he/she is a connoisseur of colors, particularly cataloging the colors of the varying skies at the times of mortals' deaths, as a distraction from the grueling task at hand. He also tells us that he met the Book Thief three times, leaving us to make several inferences about the Book Thief and asking many questions that keep us reading. Brilliant.

Also a movie (Are there no original ideas in Hollywood these days?), this is one of only three Nicholas Sparks books I have ever read. Back when I was a book snob, I refused this author on principle. I accidentally stopped being anti-Sparks when I read the The Last Song after borrowing it from BFF Rachel's classroom shelf a few years ago, and then picked up Safe Haven on a whim at Wal-Mart. I don't remember much about the first one, other than a general feeling of liking it, but I do remember Safe Haven. I will say that the main love story itself, in its most basic sense, is rather predictable, but the sub-plots and the conclusion (OMG, the CONCLUSION!!) are creative. Particularly the conclusion. I did not see that coming. I will also say, this is one to skip if you've already seen the was pretty much dead-on, and gave away the breath-taking-ness of the conclusion.

Ah, I'd forgotten about this one. I was intrigued by the existence of flower symbolism that extends beyond the significance of various colors of roses. It is pretty cool to read about a young girl who uses her talents of communicating with flowers and how it changes both her life and the lives of others. Very cool concept, beautifully written. And it makes me want to get tattoos of meaningful flowers. Love. Oh yeah, and it includes a flower dictionary as an appendix. And has also been optioned as a movie.

I didn't read this series as much as I devoured this series. I mean, I forget exactly what the timeline was at this point, but I basically read them all within like a week. It was insane. I spent entire days and evenings after work glued to the couch swiping the "pages" away on my iPad. I remember initially thinking it was a trilogy and then getting to what I thought would be the last page and being very, very angry. I also remember plugging these books shamelessly to my kids and co-workers, several of whom picked up the torch of passion for the series, and setting their cover images as my iPad wallpaper because I am that kind of book nerd. I was mesmerized by Lena's mystery and power, entertained by Ethan's voice, and completely consumed by the storyline. I was so pumped for the movie that I semi-jokingly asked Adam to take my picture with the poster outside the theater (and then played it off as a total joke when he raised an eyebrow at me) and then so infuriated by the movie that I wanted to leave halfway through. So don't watch it. Read them. All of them.

I told myself I wouldn't go there, but here I am, putting Divergent on the list. The truth is, I'm mad at Veronica Roth. Because as I have told anyone who asked me about the final book in the trilogy, I would never have read the first book had I known how it would end. Mad props for the courage to write unhappy (read: mind-blowingly tragic) endings, but whoa. I was wrecked. For hours. Adam asked if I was okay as I walked around the house sobbing. Maybe that's my problem and not Roth's. But still. Anyway, it's just too good to shun from the Top Ten. So be intrigued by a society that tests children to see which of the five factions of civilization they are most predisposed toward, be captivated by Tris and her plight, but be warned. It does not end well. So maybe just read the first book and then wonder forever about what happens in the end. It might be better that way. P.S. I've heard that the couple who play boyfriend/girlfriend in the TFiOS movie are brother/sister in this one.
I'd forgotten about this one, too! Apparently it is very useful to revisit Goodreads shelves occasionally! (I'm telling you, Goodreads is perfect.) This is what I'd imagine grown-ups who like Harry Potter would be into, if I had ever read a single line of Harry Potter (gasp, I know). The very first line gets me every time. It is staggering in its simplicity, and yet a very complex, magical war emerges. The story can be a little difficult to follow as it moves back and forth across space and time, but using a circus as a "front" for a wizard war is pretty cool. And the conclusion (I have a thing for conclusions) is straight dope, yo. Plus, there might be a star-crossed lovers element. I think a movie has been in the works for a while, so read it fast fast so you too can be a book-movie hipster like me!

Wow. Just, wow. Gone Girl has a very twisted conclusion, and it's probably my favorite conclusion that I love to hate. I have mad respect for authors who resist the pressure to tie all the loose ends up in a neat little bow (except you, Veronica Roth...I'm still mad at you), and instead leave us wanting to chuck the damn things across the room at the end. So mad props, Gillian did it. But seriously, the structure of this book is unreal, in terms of Flynn's pacing and methods of revealing the truth (the sick, twisted, psychotic truth). This book is Messed Up. And I loved every second of it. Let's just say Nick is a suspect in his wife's disappearance, on their anniversary no less, but something is very rotten in the state of Missouri. And if I tell you what is rotten, I ruin the whole thing. So read it. Before it too is tainted by the big screen. (Honestly though, I'm pretty pumped about the cast for this one!)

Let's just keep the creepy vibe going, shall we? Have you ever read The Scarlet Letter? Do you like futuristic, dystopian novels? Can you imagine what it would be like if your transgressions were easily visible to the naked eye? Well, if you answered yes to any of these questions, read this book. In this futuristic "re-imagining" of the classic Hawthorne tale, the justice system practices a process called chroming, which requires convicted criminals to submit to injections coloring their skin according to the level of their crime. For example, if you had an abortion and were therefore considered a murderer, and you were caught, you'd be a Red forever. Yeah. Twisted. It's also pretty political, religious, sociological, and psychological. So also deep.

I thought I'd found a favorite that wasn't destined for the big screen. Then I Googled it. Apparently producers and the like have been trying to adapt this classic allegory into a film for years, maybe decades, and I kind of hope they never succeed. I think 287 weeks as a NYT Best Seller (seriously, I'm not kidding...287 weeks and counting) might just be all you need to know about why The Alchemist should definitely not be destroyed by a film adaptation. But anyway. This simple-on-the-surface story about an Andalusian shepherd boy who sets out to find treasure in Egypt after a recurring dream has much to teach us about following our destinies and learning to listen to the world around us. It is the most uplifting and spiritual text I have ever read and I wish I could memorize it and apply it as an instructional manual to life. In fact, I might use tomorrow's snow day to get started on just that. If you read none of the other books on this list, try The Alchemist. You won't regret it. And if you do, you missed the message somewhere along the way, so read it again.

So there you have it, the books that have made me laugh and cry (mostly cry, it seems....thanks, Veronica Roth), my completely arbitrary Top Ten Books I Love list. Here's to hoping that some of my 2014 reads are worthy of the company.

What books have made an impact on you and would be worthy of your Top Ten? And, more importantly, who can you talk into reading them with you so you can commiserate about how mad you are at Veronica Roth? (Just kidding. Sort of.)

Live on.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Obese Girl's Journey to the Chocolate 5K: Week 3

Well, sadly there's little to report this week. Please don't be too bummed.

One morning early this week, Coach Faulkner (our super fit assistant principal) was nearby as I was on morning supervision duty, and I asked him for advice on shin splints. He reiterated what I already suspected: rest.

So I took the week off. I did plan to go to yoga Thursday, but ended up being in Ohio visiting my little brother and missed the class.

All this time away from training has given me the opportunity to notice my body recovering day by day. When I was able to trek all over downtown Cincinnati last night in high heels, I took it as a sign that my recovery is complete.

I have, however, also noticed adverse impacts on my mood from not exercising. I haven't felt nearly as happy and balanced this week. I've always heard that exercise really does make you feel better emotionally, but I never really bought into it. Crazy how it's true!

I can't wait to get back to training this week, starting tomorrow. Since we are out for snow again (and likely will be later in the week as well, judging by the forecast), I will have ample time to get my rear in gear. (I also already have a snow day to-do list that is pretty challenging all on its own.)

Since I don't have any workout tips or reflections for you this week, I want to share the recipe I made tonight in honor of the big game that we don't really care that much about around here, but can't resist cooking for each year.

I braved the Winter Weather Warning and Super Bowl Sunday conditions at Kroger this morning and grabbed the few ingredients necessary to make these cupcakes, among other things for the next couple weeks.

I found the recipe on Pinterest, but you can find it here.

They are said to have only 110 calories per cupcake, including frosting. Ours didn't quite churn out 24, more like 17. The "frosting" (sugar-free Cool Whip and sugar-free pudding mix) was a little difficult to work with, so they weren't super pretty, but I also didn't try very hard since they were just for us. I think it's always a risk with you try baking with artificial sweeteners, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The fake taste is there, but I'm not's a great low-cal alternative to the full-flavor sweets. 

Also on the menu for the week: 
Better-Than-Takeout Fried Rice *made for the 1st time the night of the Great Locked Out Incident
And more! 

I use Pinterest for menu planning. In addition to my "Mindful Menu" board, I have a secret board just for the recipes I am grocery shopping for, to help me make my list. It's only secret so my followers don't have to see me re-pinning my own Pins all over again. 

I guess the moral(s) of the story for this week are:
  1. Listen to your body when it tells you to slow down. 
  2. Use time away from training to be productive in other ways, like planning future workouts and making healthy meals. 
  3. Exercise is cheaper than therapy and healthier than anti-depressants. 
  4. Don't just quit. Get back to work!
I just know I'm going to have great success to share with you next Sunday. Stay tuned. 

Have you ever experienced a setback when working toward a goal? And, more importantly, how did you use that setback to learn, reflect, and grow? 

Live on.