I ended up reading way less young adult and middle grade literature this year for some bizarre reason. Maybe because I read more nonfiction? And while I only had one five star YA/MG read this year, the four star books on this list are totally excellent and binge-able.
Sadie by Courtney Summers–published 2018–young adult mystery–five stars.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo–published 2020–young adult contemporary/poetry–four stars.
Tired of giving gift cards, coffee mugs, and home-baked goodies to your children’s teachers every year for Christmas?
Have you put off shopping for teacher gifts because you lack good ideas?
Look no further! I’ve got some great teacher gift ideas for you.
Plants. I squealed in delight when the school librarian dropped off this perfect little succulent in my room this week.
Once, I received a begonia hanging basket and about died on the spot. If your child showed up with a tiny poinsettia for me, I would explode with Christmas joy. Seriously, consider giving plants this Christmas. They’re inexpensive and unexpected.
A lunch-sized Crock-Pot. If you’re willing to spend a little more on a Christmas gift, this is perfect for teachers. I purchased one for myself, and it has been life-changing. Some schools don’t allow teachers to have their own microwaves in their rooms, and right now using a communal microwave grosses me out. With COVID, lots of teachers have to monitor students during lunch and can barely find the time to eat, let alone heat up their lunch. I plug in my baby Crock-Pot at the end of third block, and my chicken and veggie soup or pot roast is the perfect temperature by the end of fourth block. Every teacher I know who has one can’t live without theirs.
Cool handmade shit you or your friends make. ‘Tis the season to promote yourself! Last year, I received a gorgeous pottery ornament and bowl made by a student’s mother. I’ve gotten the most delicious salsa that a student’s mother sells, and once I tasted it, I turned around and bought some to give to my friends for Christmas. And while I’m not crafty, I have friends who are. One of my besties from high school makes the MOST gorgeous and fantastic artisan soaps, so guess what Little Thing’s teachers are getting this year?
I’m sure you have friends who make earrings, bath bombs, hot chocolate bombs, etc. Support your friends, and give the cool shit they make to your kids’ teachers.
Cool handmade shit your kids make. I have received gifts that have made me cry and are framed and precious and I will cherish them forever and ever. (Rambly incoherent sentence intended because I’m incoherent just thinking about them.) I had a student two years ago paint me this. I was a mess for the rest of the day.
I had a student draw this for me one year. (Context: Mrs. Ram, that’s me, loves Goose, my husband’s nickname, with Little Thing watching the two of us. I die now, okay?)
Your kids are talented. I love to get their works of art.
Gifts that relate to the teacher’s classroom theme. More than likely, your kids’ teachers’ classrooms are decorated with a theme. Mine’s decorated in llamas, so anything llama related is welcome! Llama sticky notes? Yes, please! Llama pencils? Sure! Llama stuffed animals, hand towels, or journals? Absolutely! Ask your kids how their teachers’ classrooms are decorated and go from there.
Gift cards to local businesses. Okay, I know I started this post by saying Tired of giving gift cards…but but but. Think outside the box with this one. Don’t just go with gift cards for Amazon, Walmart, Target, or Starbucks. Think local, especially with small businesses being hit hard this year. Give the gift of a manicure or pedicure! Give the gift of your favorite Mexican restaurant! Give the gift of your favorite florist or boutique!
But in all honesty, teachers enjoy all the gifts they receive. They will love every coffee mug and Starbucks gift card they receive.
It’s just nice to be recognized and appreciated, especially during such a tumultuous school year.
I’m rather wistful this morning. Here are two things that I’ve been missing HARD because of the pandemic:
Wearing fancy earrings. I have a whole drawer full of golden hoops, tortoise shell danglies, leather teardrops, and Kendra Scott knockoffs that are slowly going out of style. Instead, I’m donning studs, BORING, because I am fearful of losing an earlobe when tearing my mask off my face after class ends. Have you ever ripped a piercing wide open? I have— between freshman and sophomore year of college waiting tables at my cousin’s restaurant. I bussed a table using a big Rubbermaid container and brought it back to the dishwashing area. As I was setting it down, its lip got caught on my belly button ring and ripped that senior-year-in-high-school-spring-break-bad-decision right out. I screamed. It hurt like hell. For years the top of my bellybutton looked like it had floppy devil horns hanging upside down from it. I don’t want my ears to suffer the same fate. Occasionally I’ll sport my fancy earrings anyway when I want to live on the wild side or simply forget the dangers of fancy earring wearing. The only upside to wearing them is if you wear hoops. Then at least when you take your mask off, the hoopies catch the elastic and your mask can hang like a hammock from them if you don’t feel like putting your mask on your desk.
Name brand hand sanitizer. All I want for Christmas is some Germ-X or Purell. That cheap shit smells like tequila, and by nine a.m., WHILE I’M TEACHING CHILDREN, all I can think about is a giant top-shelf margarita. I’ve had to stop myself mid lesson from sniffing it because I’m all nostalgic for bygone Friday afternoon happy hours with my teacher friends. It’s not fair that my classroom smells like a Mexican restaurant when it’s unsafe to even patronize (Patrón-ize?) one currently. So if you walk past my classroom door and see me fondling a bottle of GermsNoMore and bringing it lovingly up to my nose, I might need you to come in and confiscate it and replace it with some chips and salsa, thank you very much.
If you need me for anything this Thanksgiving break, you can find me in my backyard wearing my favorite tortoise shell oversized hoopies sipping a massive margarita in my not-yet-purchased hammock.
What are the random things that you miss, friends?
The white-page glow of my Chromebook’s screen dimmed then disappeared as I closed my Chromebook with a click and thank-god-it’s-Friday.
Having just taught for five hours straight, I was famished. I exited the guest bedroom, my makeshift virtual classroom hub, and crossed into the kitchen, whipping the smart refrigerator’s door open to confirm it held nothing appetizing within. Its cool air laughed in my face while I sighed in defeat. I considered Waitr momentarily, but I’d already ordered it twice that week since I’d been too sick to cook. Ordering it a third time bordered on financial negligence.
The refrigerator chimed an eight-note tune, its way of saying—hey, blondie, you’re letting all the cold air out. Chastised, I eased its door closed, wishing no further admonishment.
Snatching my keys off the black-flecked, white countertop, I mosied out the door towards my Buick, jangling the keys in my hand to see if my archnemesis, our cat Suny, was lazing or prowling near. His Evil Highness failed to appear. Darn.
The sunshine did, however, and I unleashed an otherworldly fuck when it initially singed my vampire pallor. I shielded my eyes, forcing myself to gaze half-lidded into the cerulean sky, letting my eyes adjust to the brightness. A small defiance to acclimate to a healthy dose of Vitamin D. I sneezed. Thanks, Helios. I sneezed again.
Once I climbed into the car, I pressed my foot to the brake then my finger to the start button. I rolled the windows down, letting the stifling, stale November heat escape. I hooked my iPhone up to a power cord, engaging CarPlay mode, because who listens to the radio anymore when there’s Amazon Music? After a ferocious debate with myself because I felt like I was cheating on Taylor Swift’s Red album, I settled on The Chicks’ explicit Gaslighter album. I whispered sorry to TayTay, pinky-promised her we Would Be Getting Back Together, and cranked the volume to “How Do You Sleep at Night” to a the-neighbors-will-totally-disapprove level.
Because my respiratory system was otherwise engaged in snot factory mode à la prednisone, I couldn’t sing along, but I bopped my head, despite a lingering headache, as I eased onto the highway.
Burger King’s drive-through didn’t appear super busy, so I pulled in. I reluctantly turned my music down—Natalie, Emily, and Martie’s harmony decrescendoing into the low buzz associated with elevator music.
When it was my turn, the drive-through speaker issued forth a series of clicks and hisses. I assumed a human wasn’t attempting to make contact yet, so I sat patiently awaiting an employee’s request for my Whopper with cheese. More microphone noises filled the air for five minutes.
Fed up, in my sweetest, to appease the french fry gods, voice, I questioned, “Hello?” I waited for a plague of ketchup sent from the heavens to smote me. Death by ketchup asphyxiation, not a terrible way to go, I guessed.
Seconds passed. I broke into a sweat. A glance into my rearview mirror revealed the frustrated faces of lunch-hungry contemporaries also lamenting how fast food is never fast in the South, unless you’re at Chick-fil-A.
The speaker emitted a sound like someone was petting a microphone, and then finally spoke the most welcome phrase in the English language, “May I take your order?”
After a rather unremarkable exchange of credit card and food, the smell of hot cheeseburger and greasy fries wafted on the air conditioner’s current, and I fumbled with the paper bag while trying to turn right out of the parking lot.
The brown bag crinkled while I fished for some fries. They were hot and mushy, not quite crispy enough, but they’d do. I finished them before even turning onto the interstate.
I licked my fingers like a deer at a salt lick, reveling in the brine.
I knew I should wait to eat the burger, but I dug in, blindly.
I disrobed the burger, removing the bun (thank you wheat sensitivity), the lettuce, the onions, while keeping my eyes on the road. I tore off a piece of meat, my fingers immediately clothed in an outfit of ketchup, half-melted American cheese, and mayo, and plopped the certified Angus beef into my mouth.
My next piece had an entire pickle glued to it. I’d eat the pickle, but I knew my IBD would be like a Little Rascal shouting, “I’ve got a pickle! I’ve got a pickle! I’ve got a pickle! Hey! Hey! Hey!” and create utter mayhem for me five hours later.
So, I tried to fling the pickle back into the bag, but I missed.
It landed with a gentle thwack to my right, on the center console’s black, perilous precipice.
A moment of stark horror raced through my mind. I knew I couldn’t immediately conduct an emergency rescue operation on the rogue pickle. I was approaching a roundabout, requiring full concentration and both hands on the wheel. But if I didn’t get to it in time, it would dangle, slip, fall into that unreachable no-man’s-land canyon of inanimate-object-death between my driver’s seat and center console.
I prayed to the Vlasic god this time and hoped that the pickle’s mayo and ketchup shroud would keep him glued to the edge to counteract his slippery juiciness while I looped to the right.
I thought I heard a faint, “Save me. This is no way to go.” I swept my eyes down to check on him. I breathed in relief; he hadn’t moved.
I named him Dill.
I couldn’t let Dill die.
I swooped the steering wheel left.
Another look revealed Dill had slid down the slope, leaving a sluglike white and red trail behind him. Even though he was still reachable, I couldn’t rescue him yet.
By the time I made it safely through the roundabout, the abyss had devoured Dill.
When I reached my driveway, I threw my crossover into park, unbuckled my seatbelt, and flung open the car door. I splayed myself flat across the driver’s side seat, becoming flush with its surface area, garnering grip for the Herculean task of pickle rescue.
“I’m coming, Dill!” I shouted.
I thrust my arm over the driver’s seat ledge, wishing Dill would throw up an arm and meet me halfway. But the crevice trapped my can-palm-a-basketball-man-hand.
I struggled for a minute, escaping unscathed save for a few brush burns.
I heaved a sigh of frustration. I needed a break.
“I’ll be back later, Dill.”
So I left him there. I finished my lunch and my workday.
I picked up Little Thing from school, and when we pulled into the driveway, I explained Dill’s situation. She was unbothered and callous. She withdrew indoors to watch her iPad.
I knew if I didn’t rescue Dill now his corpse would wreak havoc on my olfactory senses for weeks.
I knew what I had to do.
I opened my car door one last time and got on my knees. I pushed the button on the bottom side of my car’s seat. The seat moved back as far as it could go.
I brought my head level to the car’s floor. My eyes shifted over rocks and dust, settling on the dark space between the seat and the console.
And there was Dill. Wedged between a black and gold earring and a tube of pink lipstick. Looking dehydrated and on his last breath.
I grabbed the tube of lipstick and used it as a rope to rescue him.
I cradled him in my arms.
I looked at him as he croaked, “Thank you.”
I screamed and dropped him.
Not because he was talking, but because he’d grown a full head of hair. Long blonde hair that looked vaguely familiar.
I recovered quickly, picking him up off the pavement.
I brought him inside as he breathed his last breath.
Little Thing (Who knew she was so morbid?) asked for a final viewing.
Do not be ghoulish.
On October thirty-first,
wear a mask outside.
Do not be ghoulish.
On October thirty-first,
stay six feet apart
Do not be ghoulish.
Let the trick-or-treaters take
the sweet treats themselves.
Do not be ghoulish.
Do not be ghoulish.
Just because it is outside
doesn't make it safe.
Do not be ghoulish.
Get ready for schools to close
because: free candy.
Click here and here for the CDC’s info on Halloween.
Don’t get me wrong, pandemic teaching is rough, an understatement, but my teacher life got a gazillion times easier last week.
My school had its fifth first day of school last week. What a weird thing to type, but it’s 2020. Here are the five first days we’ve had:
The first day for Group One students.
The first day for Group Two students.
The first day teaching in-person and at-home learners.
The first day with both Groups One and Two on campus.
The first day for previously at-home learners.
At the first nine weeks’ end, our Home Based Virtual Learners (HBVLs) had the option to come back to physical school, and so many did. And while it’s fantastic to finally meet them IRL–cue me squealing in excitement through my mask while taking a HBVL’s temperature last Wednesday Jayda!!!!! It’s so nice to meet you in real life! Look at you!–It. Was. So. Strange.
I’d just been teaching heads and necks, sometimes just eyebrows and foreheads, and instead of floating heads eerily levitating through the hallways on Wednesday morning like a Disney Channel show’s terrible Halloween episode, those heads were connected to BODIES. Some of my HBVL boys are GIANT, and it completely caught me off guard.
And something that didn’t catch me off guard–the freedom afforded by being unchained to my computer screen for four blocks. Because with more HBVLs on campus, administration gave us the go-ahead to create a virtual school schedule, so I only teach virtually during third block now.
I can stand up if I want. I can move around more, even though I’m still keeping my distance. I don’t have to constantly monitor the Google Meet chat, my email, and Impero (our student technology monitoring software) every single class. I don’t have to shut down a Meet at the end of every class and start a new one while trying to make sure the in-person students are social distancing, know what’s due the following day, and are walking into the hallway on time. There’s more normalcy, but I know it’s possibly short-lived with fall’s onset and increasing numbers of COVID-19 throughout the country.
And while those students returning to school has made teaching a gazillion times easier, other aspects of more students on campus are troublesome:
More students means less space for social distancing in the hallways and in the classrooms.
More students aren’t wearing their masks properly.
More students are sharing supplies and food when they aren’t supposed to.
More students are sitting in cramped classrooms without their masks on eating lunch.
More students means going through more sanitizing wipes, and who knows if and when we will run out.
More students means more are showing up to school sick even though they should stay home.
More students is harder to manage than fewer students.
More students makes it appear like the coronavirus is disappearing when it’s not.
And like I said, I’m ecstatic more students are back and actual teaching is easier, but we can’t forget that this isn’t over yet. Please do your part to help keep all students, teachers, and everyone else safe.
September wasn’t a great reading month for me. Don’t get me wrong, I read some pretty great books, but I didn’t read very many books.
I read three books that were over 400 pages. Long books means less books read.
I discovered TikTok.
Hybrid teaching leaves me brainless by the time I get home.
I am doing more work at home than I usually do–because hybrid teaching leaves less time to get lessons made and papers graded at work.
Did I mention TikTok?
I quit reading two books: The Guest List by Lucy Foley and The Dragonette Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland.
Tokking of the Tik.
Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson–published 2020–romance–two stars: Jesse’s foster mother, who owned a knitting shop, passes away, leaving the shop to not just him, but his three foster brothers too. They’re all dangerously sexy, but Kerry, a woman who worked in the store and looked to Mama Joy as a mother as well, has always had a thing for Jesse, a bit of a fuck-up. She’s finally finished with school and looking to make her way in the city, but she agrees to help Jesse tackle running the store. Maybe I’m too critical of this genre, but it was just so bland.
Making Faces by Amy Harmon–published 2013–YAL romance–three stars: When the small-town golden boy Ambrose convinces his buddies to join him in the military after the September 11th attacks, Fern Taylor, a small, nondescript redhead who is the preacher’s daughter, pines for him. She’s been in love with him for years. When he returns from war drastically changed, she and her cousin Bailey, who has muscular dystrophy, convince Ambrose to ease back into life in the small town. There’s something very wholesome and innocent about this book, but this book didn’t age well. Be prepared for a tearjerking ending.
Afterlandby Lauren Beukes–published 2020–dystopian fiction–four stars: A virus plagues the world, killing off most of the men. After her sister betrays her, Cole tries to keep her son, one of the few remaining males in the world, safe from the government by dressing him as a girl and joining a traveling nun cult. Totally Atwoodian but with song lyrics and less serious. It’s refreshing to find a contemporary novel that isn’t completely beholden to some rigorous genre-specific plot line. I totally dug Beukes’s writing style.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip–published 1974 –YAL fantasy–four stars: Beautiful. I had a hard time keeping the beasts’ names straight until halfway through the book, but it was a nice change of pace in comparison to the contemporary YAL that gets published anymore. I’ve been slowly making my way through some older fantasy books, and I’m really enjoying them.
Bitten (Otherworld #1) by Kelley Armstrong–published 2001–urban fantasy–three stars: And then I read something like this and am proven wrong by the last sentence of the last review I wrote. I don’t think urban fantasies age very well, and I know to keep in mind the time period in which they are written, but I didn’t much enjoy The Mortal Instruments series either . . . and it could have had something to do with the fact that I read them wayyyyyyy after they’d originally been published. I was totally into Bitten, but parts of it weren’t very fleshed out and it was pretty predictable. I thought maybe Elena lacked a female protagonist’s depth because the book was written by a male author, but nope. Totally penned by a woman. I guess I was expecting a bit more of a badass female werewolf? And it had a totally sexist storyline and it is part romance novel, but . . . Give me Vampire Academy instead?
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid–published 2015–contemporary fiction/romance–three stars: Hannah moves back home to L.A. from New York to be closer to her best friend and to distance herself from a bad relationship. She has high hopes of rekindling a love affair with her old high school flame Ethan. But on the evening of her welcome back party, she has to make a decision to go home with Ethan or not, and the audience gets to see how her life plays out if she makes either choice. You can tell that this is an early novel from Reid. It’s not as well done as Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and there’s way too much emphasis placed on Hannah’s high bun and cinnamon roll obsession.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones–published 2019–YAL fantasy–four stars: A zombie fairytale? Lovely and a bit scary. A great October read.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism–published 2019–nonfiction–four stars: If you are a white person and haven’t read this book yet, you should do so. It’s an uncomfortable read. But being uncomfortable is key to growth. I still have so much work to do in identifying and correcting my own behaviors, thoughts, and speech when it comes to discussing race in America. And I still have so much work to do in identifying and correcting my own behaviors, thoughts, and speech when it just comes to existing in a racist society. I learned from this book that we need to rethink what it means to be racist. I learned from this book that relying on intelligence and hiding behind the guise of reading certain books has racism behind it. Earlier this year, I made of list of recommended books to read about racism in America and posted it on Facebook. Was that racist? Yes, because I hid behind intellectualism. I learned about how Black people view white women’s tears, and my gut reaction was, tears? Really? This book points out how our emotions are a product of socialization. Did I mention that I have a lot of work to do?
Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1) by Janella Angeles–published 2020–YAL fantasy–four stars: Caravel meets Night Circus, but sexy, in a young adult way, and a bit of Stockholm syndrome? Yes, please! It was bit too long though. This is a great October read too.
Anybody have any great October reading recommendations? I want to read something that will scare the shit out of me. Please!
nobody can hear me
i've been speaking but i'm on mute
caydon let the Zoom
because his Chromebook needed to reboot
amira's not paying attention
because she's choosing a filter to make her look cute
nobody can hear me
i've been speaking but i'm on mute
owen! turn off your camera!
your dad just walked by in his birthday suit!
mj's Google Doc won't load
so he can't do the lesson on greek and latin roots
i forgot to click record at the beginning of class
hope i'm not slapped with a lawsuit
Nobody can hear me.
I've been speaking, but I'm on mute.
We're in trouble, trouble, trouble. Shoot!
Nobody can hear us.
We've been speaking, but we're on mute.
trouble shots fired!
all the teachers are tired
trouble shots fired!
am i too young to retire?
We're in trouble, trouble, trouble, shoot!
Nobody can hear teachers.
They've been speaking, but they're on mute.
We're in trouble!
We're in trouble!
Don't shoot the messenger!
The traditional classroom is dead.
It isn't funny.
Time of death: 2020.
We're in trouble, trouble, trouble.