Saturday, September 10, 2011

The "Currently Reading" Shelf

I am notorious for having multiple projects going on simultaneously. It should come as no surprise, then, that I rarely finish one book before starting another. Lately, I've been reading The Happiness Project, and from it came the inspiration for a most marvelous concept: a bookshelf devoted solely to what I'm reading now.

In The Happiness Project, the value of having one empty shelf in your house is touted as one of the ways to find organizational balance and thus, contribute to your own satisfaction. I have to admit, though, that I see little reward in maintaining an empty shelf. So I decided to make a point of maintaining one almost empty shelf: a shelf where I can stack books that I am currently reading with the knowledge that if the shelf gets too cluttered, I need to make more of an effort to either finish what I've started or enact a judgement call that if a particular book is not holding my interest now, it probably never will.

Here is my almost empty shelf of the moment:

The Happiness Project: Despite its somewhat loaded title, this book isn't actually about spiritual discovery or dealing with skeletons in old closets. So far - and I'm only on April, the fourth month of the author's year-long project - I've found numerous practical tips on increasing overall feelings of wellbeing. Everything from don't put off things that take less than a minute to act the way you want to feel have sort of rocked my world as mantras that should have been completely obvious. Sometimes, though, it takes exposure to someone else's life journey to realize the little steps we can take to improve our own.

Bloggers Boot Camp: This is one that my husband picked up, since he is interested in starting a tech blog. So far, I've only read the introduction, and I do feel like it's a great read for someone with my husband's goals. I don't know how much an aspiring creative, personal blogger such as myself will get out of it, but I'm excited to delve a little bit deeper before removing it from its precious place on this shelf.

Writing Personal Essays: Now that Roller Skating with Rickets is almost behind me, I'm looking to hone my shorter essay writing skills. I tend to be such an academic writer; I think it's why I've previously gotten the freelance writing opportunities that I have. But I'd like to improve in the area of creative essays, particularly as I strive to enjoy each day and cherish the now (another tip brought to me via The Happiness Project). I want to be able to convey how it felt to hike with my sixth graders to a spot overlooking the Pacific Ocean, not merely communicate the sequence of events.

The Complete Illustrated History: Aztec & Maya: There will always be a history book on this shelf. I'm paid to teach the subject, after all - and I count my blessings every day for the ability to do for a living what I also love to do. My eighth graders recently ignited my interest in the Aztec and Maya, from their stunning temples to the somewhat jarring practice of human sacrifice. This was a bargain book at Barnes & Noble that I just couldn't resist.

As these books are all in various stages of completion, I can't offer any book-buying advice as of yet. But what I can say is that it feels good to have a designated place where I can visually take in my literary pursuits. It sure beats having them strewn all over the apartment, sitting inconveniently wherever I happened to be when I picked them up (and put them down) last.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cupcakes, Kidneys, and Tattoos

It's been a while. I've been looking for my voice. You see, since starting Roller Skating with Rickets over a year ago, I've found that it has become a vacuum of sorts - sucking up my creativity, my voice, my soul. This is something completely unintended and a little sad. As it is nearing completion, though, I'm looking forward to redirecting my attention to other creative outlets, including Plucked Dandelions.

I've been enjoying my last couple weeks of summer. Wayne and I finally ventured into Kara's Cupcakes on Main Street. What greeted us was something lovely.

This cupcake, though - a raspberry filled chocolate variety - is a reminder to me that what glitters is not always gold. It enticed me from its place underneath the class, and I found myself on the customer side of the cash register, eagerly peeling dollar bills away from the large wad of cash (I kid, I kid) I was carrying in my equally enticing pink retro wallet. All the while, a quiet voice in the back of my head whispered, "But you don't like sweets!" And indeed, I don't. I used to, until I had what I like to call "The Metolazone Incident" about three years ago, when I overdosed on a drug simply by following the instructions given to me by my doctor. But that's a story for another time. (Better yet, you can reserve a copy of Roller Skating with Rickets and read it there!)

I took a few bites of my cupcake. I could appreciate that it was a delicious cupcake, a beautiful cupcake - but quickly recognized that my money would have been better spent elsewhere. Once again, I was lured in by a pretty thing, only to find that its beauty fell flat.

I'm finding more and more that we can't let the world define beauty for us. (Really? It took me 30 years to accept that old adage, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?") Try as I might, I'm not the lovely cupcake under the glass. I'm a diamond in the rough, with so much ugliness (I'm not speaking about the physical here) that needs to be chipped away at and transformed. I am selfish and greedy; judgmental and proud.

I take a lot of time to ponder that selfishness this time of year. When I received a kidney transplant 12 years ago, someone else unknowingly sacrificed his life for mine. While I don't think that my taking of his kidney was selfish by any means, I do sometimes think about how I fail to appreciate others and the price they pay for my own happiness. I want to never take anything for granted.

I didn't want to celebrate August 12, but I wanted to remember it. Somewhere out there, a family grieves every year on this date for the loss of their son. They don't know me, but I hope they realize that people live on because of their decision. I decided to commemorate my donor's life with a tattoo right over my transplanted kidney.

I'm still seeking out loveliness. But unlike pretty cupcakes under glass, the kind of beauty I want to embrace is permanent, internal, selfless. The kind of beauty epitomized by my donor family.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Sad Farewell

Wayne and I are up in Oregon, at his parents' farm. Once teeming with cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and ducks, it is mostly quiet now, save the grumblings of a few wild turkeys and the low hum of the neighbor's mower as he tackles the growth on the edges of the unpaved road leading up to the house.

It is hard to fathom that nearly a year has passed since Scott and Marilyn were murdered. In a small town unaccustomed to the kind of drama that arouses the attention of even such national personalities as Nancy Grace, the wound remains fresh. We went to the local DMV to transfer the title of one of the vehicles, and discovered that unlike the big-city DMV employees in the Bay Area, small-town government workers are not cold, unhelpful, heartless, and distant. On the contrary, here they are warm, helpful, and nosy - but still a tad heartless.

She took Wayne's paperwork and recognized the names on the death certificates immediately. "So," she said, "Did your brother have a history of mental problems?"

Inappropriate as it might have been for a DMV employee to ask, it's the question on everyone's mind. In a few hours I will come face-to-face with the man who has confessed to the brutal killing of his own parents. I will also come face-to-face with my youngest brother-in-law. These two men happen to be one in the same - a Jekyll and Hyde, if you will... or at least that is what we would all like to believe.

For how can the little boy - only 10 years old when I sat in the living room of Wayne's grandmother's house, laughing as Wayne scolded him for interrupting our movie - be capable of this? Will I look into his eyes and see a cold-blooded killer - which he certainly is - or the 19-year-old groomsman at my wedding, so clumsy and skinny that he nearly fainted when he locked his knees in the gazebo behind us?

I don't know what to say to him through the glass. What are you up to these days? Is your isolated cell comfortable? Did anyone wish you a happy 21st birthday a couple months ago?

It's a lot easier to seek solace in the barrenness of the farm than to face the inner turmoil that will surely be present in an occupied county jail. I sat in the garage last night, trying to keep my eyes away from the spot where I know Scott fell. The damaged wall remains, but presumably, it will soon be fixed as the house is prepared for sale. But other wounds will always remain.

Up next: forgiveness. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Avgolemono Soup (Egg-Lemon Soup)

Welcome to the first installment of In My Mother-in-Law's Kitchen! My mother-in-law, Marilyn, was an amazing woman who made her own cheese, kombucha (before it was a fad), soup, family clothes (including Wayne's underwear - yes, I just went there - and snowboard pants), and more. I was handed literally hundreds of recipes when she and my father-in-law were killed last year.

As I'm working on compiling a cookbook for Marilyn's family with these recipes, I'm also trying my hand at as many of them as I can. Once a week, I'll post a recipe with my attempts at its creation. I'll try to gather stories from the recipes as well. Unfortunately, when I botch something up in the kitchen I won't be able to call her up and ask her how to fix it! But hopefully I can honor a small piece of her memory with this journey.

Okay, on to the first recipe. There is a very personal story associated with this one. Back in September 2006 when Wayne and I started dating, I was incredibly nervous about eventually doing the inevitable: meeting his mother. Wayne and I had known each other in high school and I knew her to be incredibly strict with her children. I was worried about feeling her judgment and not making a good impression.

In December of that year, during my Winter Break from teaching, Wayne and I drove up to Oregon to spend a week with his family. We arrived on a Wednesday night, in time for dinner. This added to my anxiety.

Wayne's parents lived on a farm. They were not wasteful people. Everything in their home, everything on their kitchen table, was wrought from their labor. I knew that Wayne and his brothers had always been taught to clean their plates.

I, on the other hand, had always been given encouraging nods if I even took just a few bites of food on any given day. My illness left me with no appetite and no real interest in food until after my kidney transplant. Getting enough calories was always a struggle, and cleaning a plate was practically unheard of. By the time I was a 25-year-old adult approaching the home of my future in-laws, I knew that my food habits could be considered rude.

What greeted me that night, though, were warm hugs and a bowl of this soup. From the first bite, I was in heaven. It was tangy, creamy, soothing. My mother-in-law looked on with pride as I had seconds and then thirds. I noticed Wayne wasn't eating his. "I've never liked this soup," he said. I think my jaw literally dropped to the floor, but I quickly recovered it and ate what was left in his bowl, too.

And with that, I'll offer a disclaimer that this soup isn't for everyone. Wayne doesn't like it. I love it. Marilyn - who copied her recipe card for me that very December night, not realizing that I would inherit her original card five years later - said it was one of her favorite soups. It's a MLL dish - Must Love Lemons.

So without further ado, here is the recipe!

8 cups chicken broth [Marilyn made her own, of course...I used the cardboard box variety from the store!]
1/3 cup rice, uncooked
2-3 lemons
4 eggs [Marilyn's chickens hatched 'em...mine came from Trader Joe's hens.]
1/4 lb butter [8T; I used unsalted]
1/4 cup arrow root powder [I used flour]
salt and pepper to taste

I halved the recipe, which serves 6-8, because I knew I was cooking for one and I wasn't sure it would turn out well.

Here are the steps:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan...

and mix in the arrow root powder or flour.

In a separate large pot, bring broth to a boil, add rice, and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Lower heat. Add butter mixture to the broth and boil for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Beat together eggs and lemon juice.

(I know - all of my mixtures are looking very yellow.) Now for the hardest part: tempering the eggs! Add a spoonful of the hot broth to the egg/lemon juice mixture and stir in thoroughly.

Repeat a couple times before adding the mixture to the broth, slowly to avoid scrambling the eggs. Then salt and pepper to taste.

That's it! Super simple, although I have to admit that I had a few bits of scrambled eggs in mine because I wasn't totally successful at tempering! But it tasted wonderful!

So how did I do? Well, Wayne had a few bites to humor me and his response was, "This tastes just like Mom used to make. Now, where are the leftovers from lunch?" So while I wouldn't call this recipe a unanimous hit in my house, I would call it a universal success! It is so good - even more so because it makes me think of Marilyn. Give it a try!

Monday, June 27, 2011

School Trips

This week's RemembeRED prompt was:
School trips. We all go on them. What trip do you remember the most? Where did you go? Who was with you? How did you get there? Have you ever been back?

The funny thing is, I didn’t really go on school trips until becoming an adult.

Oh, I went on field trips to museums. That’s about the only thing I remember. And not to criticize the educational value of these excursions, but museums seemed very mundane compared to the places some of my classmates were able to experience: the week-long trip to the great outdoors in the fifth grade. The eighth grade adventure in Washington, D.C. Yes, even senior prom aboard a boat in the San Francisco Bay.

It’s not that I didn’t want to go on these trips. In fifth grade I was on so many medications that had to be taken every six hours around the clock that I feared what my friends might think at the sight of it. By eighth grade, I was adamant: no one must know of the disease that was slowly shutting down my organs. And by senior year, every other day was consumed by a four-hour after-school trip of its own: my regular dialysis treatments at Stanford Hospital. Non-dialysis days were dominated by complete exhaustion after a full day at school.

There is no doubt that I could have gone on school trips, had I really wanted to and hadn't cared so much about what others thought. When I have a will, I tend to make a way. But I just didn’t have the desire to be “that girl” on an excursion, the one who had to have special accommodations or needed to sit down and rest a little more often than everyone else.

Years later, when I became a teacher, myriad opportunities for school trips presented themselves. This time around, people still didn’t know of my chronic illness, but as a post-transplant adult, I felt freedom to take such trips – and I knew that should students or fellow teachers observe me taking medication, I would turn it into a proud lesson in the value of being “that girl.”

The first trip I took was to the great outdoors – an overnighter in the Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco. I bunked with a group of seventh grade girls, officially as their chaperone and unofficially as their confidante during late-night conversations. I experienced all that I had missed out on 15 years earlier – the rustic accommodations, the morning hikes, the afternoon nature lessons, the cafeteria-style food. At some point in the trip, I realized that I wasn’t living vicariously through anyone, although my students were the reason we were on this adventure. I was living this too.

And so, when we reached an obstacle course with an 80-foot ledge up one of the amazing redwood trees, I knew that my days of vicarious living were about to be truly incinerated forever. Unsure that I would even be able to climb the tree due to muscle wasting in my arms and legs (another side effect of having cystinosis), I surprised even myself when I made it to the ledge in record time. With my kids cheering me on – “Jump, jump, jump; you can do it!” – I walked to the edge with shaky legs and prepared to make my “Lion’s Leap.” I looked down at the smiling faces below me, though I soon heard only the loud clanging of my knees inside my head.

I turned my face upward and looked at the magnificence that was all around me. Redwood trees shot into the air as far as the eye could see. I knew that somewhere up there, just as my kids were doing from beneath me, God was smiling down at me from above. I had made it.

And with that, too frightened to leap and grab hold of the swinging bar that was about six feet out from the edge of the blank, I instead fell backwards and let the harness and ropes catch me. On this trip, I was content to simply have the new experience of making the climb. I knew that next time I would jump.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Unconditional Companionship

Many of my friends know that I am an animal lover. In the great cat person vs dog lover debate, my position has been primarily decided by the constraints of apartment living. I always figured that if I had a dog, he would be a large, protective breed requiring backyard running-around-space; this just hasn't been my reality for the past several years. And although my parents at one time bred Yorkshire Terriers in their condo, I can't really see myself with a smaller dog.

That being said, my husband and I actually do own a large dog, a McNab Shepherd named Patches. She was my mother-in-law's dog, and worked faithfully on the farm before I lost both of my parents-in-law prematurely to an act of unspeakable violence. When we traveled up to Oregon to start the long and arduous journey of picking up the pieces of their murder, Patches became my refuge. When I couldn't take the thoughts I was having inside the house (the location of my mother-in-law's murder), I escaped to the porch and called for the dog. Patches, despite her size, would come and clumsily crawl into my lap. There was no way I was leaving the farm without her.

Unfortunately, though, there was also no way I was sharing our tiny apartment with her. I knew that Patches would not thrive without wide open spaces, especially after living on a farm since puppyhood. It was no small blessing, then, when my husband's boss offered to take care of Patches until we were able to purchase a house.

And so, my dog lives about an hour away from me. Her worth is unmeasurable in part because she was raised by someone who is no longer with me. I can't wait to get Patches back.

It's not that our lives are devoid of animals, though. In fact, I am concerned that I will be classified as a crazy cat lady before my 35th birthday. In our small, 1000-square-foot apartment, we have three cats: a Bombay mix, a Russian Blue mix, and something that can only be classified as beautiful. I think I have finally managed to capture the softness and loveliness of Mumtaz's coat on camera:

 Mumtaz grooms her coat almost constantly during waking hours - but it pays off in softness

She is an amazing creature to me. The lone survivor of a coyote attack on her mother and siblings, Mumtaz has earned her name - which means "excellent" in Arabic. I am so thankful for this fighter, survivor, and sweetheart and all she represents to me.

Yes, I just wrote an entire blog post about pets. But you see, every day I am reminded of how wonderful it is that we live in a world in which creatures of different species can be companions and loving friends. Even when they get on my nerves (as they do when they make their beds in freshly laundered, unfolded, unattended sheets), I still don't know how I'd manage without them.

Poe, our Russian Blue, looks up from her bed of unattended sheets

Monday, June 20, 2011

Homemade Jam (Sort Of)

I've been wanting to make jam at home for a while now. I love the stuff, but grocery store and mainstream brands just have too much sugar (or worse, high fructose corn syrup), and the organic varieties cost too much for a family on a budget. So when I saw an easy recipe in this month's Real Simple, I decided to give it a try!

It was so quick: just a bag of frozen, 100% berry blend fruit (the recipe called for fresh blueberries, but I used what I had on hand, lemon juice, sugar, and salt. It cooked for a total of about 30 minutes, including a gentle cook for the first five minutes or so (to soften the frozen berries) and a near boil for the remainder of the time.

It turned out fantastic! So yummy!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 19 (30DJC)

Prompt 19: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

To be able to give unconditional love would be a superpower indeed. I fail so miserably at it, but can think of nothing else I'd rather do. (And everyone knows I hate flying, anyway.)

Beautiful Flaws

The disease I have, cystinosis, causes a buildup of the amino acid cystine in all the cells of the body. This amino acid, so benign in individuals without cystinosis, crystallizes into toxic levels and destroys organs in someone like me.

My eyes are saturated with cystine crystals - even with hourly eye drops (which I confess...I don't take hourly) that are designed to dissolve them. These crystals cause eye discomfort and photophobia (light sensitivity). I am fortunate to have dark eyes that seem to be less impacted by the reflection of light. Many people with cystinosis experience such pain in bright conditions that they choose to wear sunglasses even inside, while under artificial light.

This would seem to be a nuisance. And, well, it is. The eye drops - which must stay cold and spoil after a couple weeks - feel good. Even so, who wants to put eye drops in every waking hour? It is tiresome and inconvenient.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us that even our flaws - nuisances, inconveniences, tiresome though they may be - are beautiful. I went to a new ophthalmologist recently. He had never seen a patient with cystinosis.

I tried to prepare him. "My eyes are saturated with crystals," I said.

"I've read about cystinosis," he responded rather matter-of-factly. "This will be interesting."

But no medical textbook, no patient warning, no prior experience could prepare him for what he would see when he looked at my eyes with a slit lamp.

I heard him gasp.

"Oh! It's beautiful!" He looked to my husband. "Have you seen this? You have to see this! It's amazing."

As I looked at my new eye doctor, grinning from ear to ear in spite of himself, I had to blink back tears. They weren't tears of resentment, or tears of anger, or the tears that sometimes come from feeling misunderstood. They were tears of joy. Because he understood perfectly - my eyes are beautiful.

My eyes are a window into my illness. They sparkle with a substance that my whole body is full of - a substance that, despite its toxic nature, forms crystals as lovely as snowflakes. I am beautiful because of what I have endured, because of the blessings I have been handed, and because my uniqueness makes me shine.

As my ophthalmologist rushed out of the room to gather his colleagues for a look at his patient's eyes, I smiled at my husband.

"Beautiful flaws," I said.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 18 (30DJC)

Prompt 18: Illustrate your job(s).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Photography Challenge: Cell Phone/Web Cam

This is one of my favorite photos that I've taken with my iPhone using the Instagram app. I'm not a photographer, so when anything comes out looking even somewhat artsy I get excited. Although this (my husband's beer at Buffalo Wild Wings) has been put through an Instagram filter, I still love the sunny hues.
I'm not a beer drinker, but this refreshing image almost makes me want to start.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Photography Challenge!

I just discovered the Photography Challenge over at Simplicity. Now, I am not a photographer - not by any stretch of the imagination! But I think it might challenge me to find beauty that normally goes uncaptured (by me). I'm excited to post some pictures from the challenge here!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Organizing the Chaos

This week, I'm trying to get organized using the wonderful babysteps at Poor hubby has learned that when you live with a teacher, "Spring Cleaning" often doesn't happen in the spring at all - or at any other time of the year, except for summer. So I need to make it count! Once the new school year starts up, I will slowly envelop myself in chaos once more with every lesson plan I pull off the bookshelf, every stack of papers I bring home to grade, every school supply run I make to Target.

My theme this summer is "create something beautiful." I don't think beauty requires organization, and some of the most beautiful scenes my eyes have taken in have been chaotic messes. A rusty Studebaker scattered with leaves in the sunset. Children splashing wildly in a pool. An explosion of color on a blank canvas.

That being said, my home is definitely not a work of chaotic beauty, and before I can open myself up to really create, I need to neaten. If I can redeem the shame of the before with pride in the after, I will post before and after pictures here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Moos at FTLOB

Today I'm inspired by the Mondays Moos questions over at For the Love of Blogs. I think King Corvid poses a really important query: What do you do when you run out of things to do on the internet?

My first instinct is to answer this question with the all-too-familiar, "Well, I peruse Facebook [because Facebook is somehow outside of the internet, since it is an app on my phone]. And when Facebook bores me, I log out. Then I find myself bored so I log in again and peruse Facebook." This infinite loop, though, doesn't really get to the heart of the matter. When the electronics go off, what is left? And if this question is hard to answer, is my internet lifestyle verging on unhealthy? Forget verging... if there is nothing but the internet, then I am already there.

My husband and I canceled our cable television service a few months ago, choosing instead to rely completely on internet resources such as for all our guilty pleasures. All the books I read are now on my iPad's Kindle app - sure, this isn't the internet, but it still represents a "connected" electronic device. Many of my connections with friends these days are done via text messaging. There's not even a need to dust off the ol' Monopoly board... it can be played on my iPhone.

Something about this seems so wrong. The internet, particularly the blogosphere, can be incredibly beautiful. It can be a celebration of life, a showcase of what so many of our brothers and sisters in humanity experience that we would never know otherwise. I can't tell you how many times I've been inspired by strangers and their pictures, words, videos, and designs. But has the internet become the ultimate in vicarious living for me?

I think that there is never no more internet to see. We will never truly run out of things to do on the internet - but we should. We can spend our days with constant inspiration at our fingertips, or we can take that inspiration and translate it into action. When I run out of things to do on the internet, I want to live life. Experience things that could fill pages and pages of fascinating blogs, the likes of which would be irresistible to the general web surfing public. I want to enjoy the things that would earn me the title of blogger of the month, or things that would generate hundreds of comments, or things that would inspire others.

But I want to be experience life, and be totally content to never put it on a blog, in a text message, as a status update, or in a tweet. Because I'll be too busy breathing in beauty to ever have time for any of it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ten Minutes Short

Lately I've been really enjoying some of the exercises in Take Ten for Writers: 1000 writing exercises to build momentum in just 10 minutes a day. This is a wonderful little book, and I don't want to discourage anyone from purchasing it themselves - it is well worth the $13. So rather than post many of the prompts here, I'll offer a couple of my favorites and suggest that you order the book for the rest.

More Or Less #7: Write about a time when you took more than you should have.

Since my kidney transplant in 1999, I have struggled with chronic, severe fluid retention. It's puzzled each and every one of my physicians in the past 12 years, because my transplanted kidney seems to be working fine. With my limited renal knowledge, I want to believe that it's not "hooked up" right and fluid just isn't making it to my bladder - but all ultrasounds, blood tests, and biopsies have indicated a perfectly functioning organ.

Working kidney or not, though, without treatment I can easily put on 10 pounds of water weight in the span of just a few days. At best, this is uncomfortable, and at worst - typically in the hot summer months - this is unbearable. So it is necessary to treat the condition as chronic and take diuretics regularly.

In the early years after my transplant, though, I also struggled with losing the weight that I put on as a result of post-transplant steroids and appetite increase. Being told by my transplant team to weigh myself twice a day to monitor my water weight gain probably didn't help my psychological health, either. The diuretics worked miracles - taking off pounds overnight - but it was never enough. To make matters worse, I did a little research and discovered that the body would adjust to regular diuretics, and the medication would have a decreased effect over time.

All this led me to believe that I needed more. The pills seemed so harmless - in all my research, I ignored the warnings of potassium depletion - and so wonderful. In an effort to combat the effects of my body adjusting to the drug, I would go days without it and then take 10-15 times my prescribed daily amount in one sitting. The immediate results were wonderful: I'd lose a ton of water weight in a few hours and my body was always too "shocked" to become immune to the diuretic effect.

Needless to say, though, this type of behavior is nothing short of drug abuse, and drug abuse has its consequences. By the time I came to my senses several years had passed, I had chronically low potassium, and at one point, had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance to an ER - where I encountered doctors who were amazed that I had not gone into cardiac arrest. It was this last experience that woke me up to the fact that I had, indeed, taken more than I should have.

And with that, my 10 minutes are up.

Days 11 & 12 (30DJC)

Prompt 11: What fills your heart?

(These are the names of my students!)

Prompt 12: Fun with lines and geometry!

I wish I could say that this design is my own, but it actually was inspired by a tile.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 10 (30DJC)

Prompt 10: Illustrate your favorite song.

It was a tough call, but Fix You by Coldplay won this page because I knew how I wanted to illustrate it.

Catching Fire

As the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire seemed destined to be as riveting as its predecessor. It was therefore a bit surprising that I didn't find myself eager to absorb the whole thing in one sitting.

I don't want to give away too much here, as I'm not a huge fan of spoiling another person's reading experience. I do think it's worth reading despite not enjoying it quite as much as The Hunger Games. There were certainly enough plot twists to keep me entertained; in a lot of ways, the direction the story went was far more unexpected than that of the predictable first book.

But I found myself let down by the lack of character development, some plot elements that seemed distinctively repetitive from the first book, and the increasing lack of plausibility of the overall premise. On the one hand, it seems unlikely that a government could enact such cruelty and avoid a full-scale rebellion powerful enough to overthrow it. On the other hand, as I kept telling myself, there are countries - North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya - where this happens every day with varying degrees of success. (Libya might be faltering, but North Korea certainly shows no signs of its own weakness.)

I also cared about the characters significantly less in this installment. Maybe it's like losing the thrill of a new relationship: in the initial, supposed falling-in-love phase, you want to be with the person nonstop and you think of him endlessly, desiring nothing but to get to know him more. You assume him to be "the one." Eventually, though, you come to your senses and realize that perhaps he isn't. Maybe the characters in Catching Fire aren't as interesting to me after I've gotten to know them.

I completed the first book in the series so totally in love with Katniss, Peetra, and Gale. At the end of the second book, I am less than enthusiastic about Katniss, Peetra seems entirely too knight-in-shining-armor-like to be believable, and Gale is somewhere preoccupied in the mines. The magic has worn off and I wonder if this is really going to be the be-all, end-all series of my summer as so many claim.

Regardless, I will definitely read the third installment. I am eager to see how the author will wrap up this trilogy, and of course I think it will continue to contain thought-provoking parallels to what happens when society deviates too far from compassion, goodness, and love.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Hunger Games

I just recently picked up a copy of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It wasn't too long ago that I first heard about it on the radio - Sarah from Sarah and Vinnie's Morning Show on Alice@97.3 sang its praises and mentioned that it was being made into a film. Not thrilled about this last bit, I was nevertheless intrigued by the storyline: years after North American civilization has fallen, a new country is formed where the United States once was. This country has a repressive regime, and in an effort to keep the population under its control, the Capitol holds an annual gladiatorial-type competition known as The Hunger Games.

In The Hunger Games, two tributes from each of the country's 12 districts are put in large arena with varied terrain. They must fight to the death, and the last tribute standing takes the prize. As is the case with many civilizations, the wealthy have a distinct advantage; each tribute secures sponsors who provide expensive gifts throughout the competition designed to aid in survival. Some of the richest districts can also afford to have "career" tributes: individuals who spend their early lives training specifically for the annual competition.

This book is the first in a trilogy with a 16-year-old female protagonist, Katniss. She comes from a struggling family in the starvation-laden District 12, where she illegally hunts daily in order to put food on the table for her younger sister and mother, who was widowed when her husband - Katniss' father - was killed in a mining accident.

This piece of young adult dystopian fiction serves as an important reminder of what can happen when repressive regimes gain control. Although we can shake our heads and say, "This scenario could never happen to us," the truth is, it has in the the past - and history tends to repeat itself. I found The Hunger Games to be a slightly predictable, but nonetheless engaging, story of survival in the face of injustice. I read the book in one sitting and am looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy.

As a history teacher, I loved the subtle parallels between this story and that of ancient Rome. Like The Giver by Lois Lowry, I feel certain that The Hunger Games should take its place among classics in the middle school English classroom. Again, although the story wasn't necessarily a surprising one full of unexpected twists, I still highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 9 (30DJC)

Prompt 9: Put the pen down and fill your journal page with random things.

I have a picture of the gazebo where I got married and the surrounding rose garden, a page from my mom's journal on the day that I had my first dose of the experimental medication cysteamine (January 3, 1984), a cutout from the title page of my university Arabic textbook, and the emblem for the school where I teach.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 8 (30DJC)

Prompt 8: What would you put in a time capsule to be opened in 100 years?

I didn't like this one, so I took the picture without flash so as not to highlight it. I included the fashions and sunglasses to let people in 2111 know what kinds of things we wore in 2011. The note is to leave a more comprehensive description of the times, and my engagement ring is just because I hope marriage is still important in 2111. The photographs represent what I really want to pass down - memories - and the seeds are for regrowth once we've destroyed the earth. The cell phone is ridiculous because it'll be dead - not to mention probably the laughing stock of our future counterparts ("Why is it so large?? Didn't they figure out you could have microscopic communication devices implanted directly into your ear?")

Another Year, Another Superstar Class

This week, I am saying farewell to The Academy's class of 2011. This has been an amazing year of ups and downs, from the very first day of school until today's model United Nations meeting. These eighth graders have amazed me and inspired me, and I feel more secure knowing that the future of our nation rests in their hands.

I've written a few words about my students.

David: I look up to you, and not only because of your height and mine. As a graduating eighth grader, you have a stronger work ethic than many 29-year-olds I know - yet you maintain your unwavering sense of humor and irony.

Madeleine: For you, I have a quotation from someone you might know a little something about - John Lennon. "When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down 'happy.' They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life." Continue to march to the beat of your own drummer.

Emily: You are a force to be reckoned with, with your debate and lawyer skills you in demonstrated in Social Studies this year. You have presence, and I know you are destined and determined to make that presence known as you move forward from here.

Peter: The way I see it, the difference between cynicism and a sense of social justice is that with the former, a person merely complains about the world and in the latter, he seeks to change it. You epitomize the latter, and I know you will accomplish great things.

Bori: You are someone who very respectfully questions the status quo. Your concern for others combined with your thoughtful take on society will take you far. Whenever your hand went up in class, I knew that I was in for a challenge and that important things would be said. You don't waste words.

Patrick: From your portrayal of William Lloyd Garrison to your take on the problems currently plaguing Ireland, you have demonstrated your capabilities tenfold. You always brought a smile to my face, and I wish you all the best, whether here or in Ireland.

Nina: You have shown time and time again in Social Studies your willingness to work hard, think deeply, and ask questions at just the right time. The way you work with your classmates and your positive attitude are two qualities that stand out.

Isabella: I love the way you approach the world with a don't-mess-with-me attitude. You are intelligent, opinionated, and determined. Whenever you meet resistance in life, I know you will overcome.

Roger: Roger, you bring an energy to the class that is certainly missed when you are not there. And although you may have had more magnetic dots moved to the right than any other student, you also prompted thought that was unequaled. Continue to question the authority of those in power (but please, be kind to your teachers).

Erica: There is so much to say that it is hard to know where to begin. You treat everyone with compassion and respect. You work hard. You make every effort to see all sides of history and you laugh at its ironies. I am going to miss you.

Sherman: You amaze me. You are kind and respectful, quiet but not shy. Your sense of humor is unmatched and the way you do sarcasm is praiseworthy. I knew the depths of your abilities when you announced to the class, "I hate John C. Calhoun," and I made you play him in our reenactment the next week. You made me proud with your American history knowledge on our D.C. trip.

Joyce: Nine times out of 10, you were the first one to class and you always greeted me with a smile. Your attitude is one worth emulating and your cheerfulness is contagious.

Teala: In Social Studies you have been a quiet tower of strength. Your words were always carefully chosen, but the quality of your writing indicates that you always know just what you are doing. I will miss you.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 7 (30DJC)

Prompt 7: Write a love letter to someone else.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 6 (30DJC)

Prompt 6: Write a love letter to yourself.

30-Day Journal Challenge

I am excited to be participating in this year's 30-Day Journal Challenge, hosted by It's such a fun way to work on my creative expression!

Prompt 1: Create an introduction page for the journal.

Prompt 2: Make a list of 3-5 goals that you have for this journal.

Prompt 4: What do you wish you had worn today?

Prompt 5: What are some of your summer traditions?