Look At Me! I’m Organized!

STUDENT TEACHING HAS STARTED! Last week I got into my classroom for the semester. I have my own little desk, book-case and corner that’s ALL MINE! I can’t even begin to tell you all how excited I am and what it has taken to get here. Everything the last 4 years has led to this! I am in a wonderful school district, with a co-op that I LOVE.

Yesterday was my first day, and I finished moving in. Here is what my little corner looks like thus far.

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The front of my desk is rocking bead buddies and stained glass projects my summer school kids did this summer. If you can’t tell, the stained glasses are Beauty and the Beast themed.

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Recognize that pot? See how I made it HERE! Miss Swenda is written and facing front towards the students. “Called Equipped Prepared” is a reminder just for me! Cinderella’s glass slipper and the Disney princess cup are from a bridal shower I was at a few weeks ago.

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I am really proud of these drawers. Yes, I have an entire drawer of snacks. I have a schedule that gives me the ability to snack every few periods. I regret nothing. My other drawer holds my tea, binder clip collection, stationary, and other rando things.

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I have a nice little bookshelf to keep all of my stuff. Obviously, it’s full of classics and the majority of the Folger Shakespeare Library collection. My brother hooked me up with Dancing Groot and Albus Dumbledore and I certainly couldn’t leave them at home! Bob my Philadelphia Flyers Gnome has a place of love as well. One of the best things I learned from my previous co-op was unit binders. You can see the stack of them to the right of the above picture. For each unit, I have created a binder. Over the years I have and will continue to collect handouts, projects and general things to go with the different units. IMG_7189

The cool part of having a mom that has been working in schools for so long, is that she has some pretty fun decorations and ideas. Ma hooked me up with these cute little fall leaves. Together, we came up with “What Miss Swenda is reading…” The top leaf has the name of the book. The bottom leaf lists the author, genre, number of pages and style. I am currently reading Dracula by Bram Stoker. It falls into sci-fi/fiction/historical, has 414 pages and is written like diary/journal entries, letters and newspaper clippings. For different holidays/months I will have different shapes to show my what I’m reading. As an English teacher, I feel it’s important to show the kids not only that I am reading, but also give them a glimpse of who I am through my reading.

We have some awesome projects planned for the kids this year- I can’t wait to share some of them right here! 🙂

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The (Book) Struggle is Real

It’s mid February. I’ve gotten close to 30 new books since New Years. My wall-length bookshelves that house both my books and my mug collection are laden. The books are progressively kicking the mugs out-of-the-way. That is a problem all unto itself. But there’s another issue. I. Have. A. Major. Problem.

10407758_10205732124367468_4671440219716674028_nThis is what happens when I find a cart of free books. It might have been below zero out, I may not have been able to feel my toes or hands and I may have had slobber rolling down my face because I had a Bridge Street Chocolate espresso marshmallow stuffed in my face.

The fact that my local gently used book store has $1 book carts, by 2 get 1 free does NOT help my cause any either. I just keep telling myself….”They’re for my classroom. They’ll help my students. They are helping to build my future.” And by building my “future” I mean, building my future library room…and one day my future office at a university somewhere.

But I have this problem. I have all of these books, and well…thank goodness I’m not blowing my bank account to get them because well….none of them are grabbing my attention.

I’ve been a book-worm for as long as I can remember. I had to start wearing glasses in middle school because as a child I hid under blankets with small, dim, key chain flash lights to read Magic Tree House. My parents were always encouraging my reading habits, reading to me as a child, always getting me at least one book from the cool Scholastic Book Fair at school even though money was tight, and still getting me books for Christmas now as a 22-year-old. To be fair, many of my obnoxious reading habits have come from my father, he’s just a bit better at hiding them. I have a whole pin board that is nothing but books, book lists, and book sayings.

I created a Net Galley account last summer and I LOVE IT! Free books and all I had to do was read them and review them; but so many of them were so bad I couldn’t even finish them. Obviously they didn’t get the best reviews in return. I have made great connections with a few of the authors that I did review and enjoy like Brielle Skye, author of Solitude of a Birdcage. But those connections with both the literature and the authors are so very few and far between.

In the past 2 months, with my massive literary additions I have read 3 of them to completion and even those were a struggle. Why?

For a while I thought, well it’s got to just be the literature. Comparatively to even 10 or 20 years ago, it is SO much easier to have a book published and put out there. eBooks have made becoming an author easier than ever before. This can be a good thing and a bad thing…for obvious reasons. It’s kind of like American Idol. For years friends and family tell someone they are an amazing singer in order to avoid hurt feelings, and these poor people stand up on stage and sound like they are dying, wailing cows. The same happens with writing. People are told that they are great writers, some may have even gone to school for English or writing…but that doesn’t mean that they are good.

My other thought-standards are low. With books like Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey and a multitude of other books being PUBLISHED no wonder there is so much crap out there. I’m not just talking content wise either. Anyone with any kind of English grammar/writing sense can tell you that some of the best-selling books in the last 10 years are some of the most poorly written books they have read in their life. People are not only reading this stuff and enjoying it, but asking for more like there is no problem with any of it. They have no idea that they are reading poor “literature.” The term is being used quite loosely here. They make money, so they continue to be published because people aren’t standing up and saying “STOP WE WANT THE GOOD STUFF!”

Maybe I’m just all read out. I’ve read so many books over the years that it is rare that a book ends differently than I expect. I usually have a solid guess of what is going to happen and how the characters are going to get there about 20 pages in. The excitement of “what is going to happen next,” seems to have disappeared for me. Is this my fault? Have authors gotten together, come up with a story equation, plugged in their own “details” and continue to write the same story with different names? My favorite- Nicholas Sparks. The same story over and over with a few variations, like names, diseases, and occupations. Here is a chart that has been floating around as an example-

summary_imageThis makes me feel better, that maybe I’m not as crazy as I thought I was about this theory.

I think that somewhere in my heart, I know that all of the above reasons are reasons why I am struggling. I also think that they are all contributing factors to what I am now calling “book depression.” This is very different from a Book Hangover– symptoms and other info are included in the linked post. Book depression is a deep sadness, a fear that it is going to be a very long time before you read a good book again. It’s longing for a book that you’re not sure even exists. I want to read something inspiring, something hopeful, something unexpected, something relatable, something real. I want a story with dynamic characters, with a strong plot, with antagonists and protagonists. I want something that doesn’t involve werewolves or vampires or dystopian society. I want a book with proper sentence structure, lacking comma splices, and with bright, vibrant language.

I want to fall in love with words on the pages of the book in my hand. I want to yearn for more and hope there is at least a sequel. I want to read again.

Appaloosa Summer- Tudor Robins

Appaloosa Summer is book one of the Island Trilogy by Tudor Robins. It was a cute little summer read. I read it on the plane over to Northern Ireland a few weeks ago.

Meg, the main female character goes through the tragic loss of her horse. In an attempt to have a change of scenery, pace, and peace from what has happened she find solace at her parents vacation house along the St. Lawrence river working at the local bed and breakfast.

Jared, the main male character is the classic, attractive hurting cowboy. Twist of fate and tragedy in his own life have left him distance and withdrawn.

The two of them find each other that summer and bond over their grief, their fears and a scruffy appaloosa mare.

It was obviously a young adult book. I do look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy as they are available. I found the characters absolutely endearing and charming. I hope that as the series continues that the characters themselves continue to grow and really come into their own. Though Meg and Jared are in their mid-late teens, they have a lot to learn and growing up to do. Hopefully, they will continue to do both of these things together. Because they are so freaking adorable in that totally mushy gushy perfect way. I would definitely recommend this book to my younger high schoolers, or even middle schoolers.

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Elly In Love-Colleen Oakes

I’ve got a bone to pick before I actually get into the review. There are two “trends” I guess I could say, that I have noticed with any kind of chick lit I’ve read recently. Or ever.

1. The man is always loaded. Legitimately, you think for once, she’s falling for an average Joe in an average house, average job, average life. Something to give us average people hope. NOPE. SURPRISE! He is A. The CEO of his own company and loaded. B. An heir to a very LARGE fortune. C. A combination of the two. Oh yeah, and they’re never just kind of well off. They’re like, “I have millions in the bank” kind of loaded.

2. Florists. I read 4 books this month where the main female character owned a flower shop. And they all were kind of bah-humbug about the whole love thing because they’re in a “romantic business” and love has screwed them over somehow. Seriously, I know 1 florist. Out of all of our friends, family, kids I went to school with, I know 1.

This has nothing to do with the above two, but I LOVE TLC “Friday Bride Day.” I am a total sucker for all things wedding related. It must have something to do with the rock I get to rock on my left hand. I like how Oaks threw in a fictional TV show that would fit in PERFECTLY with that line up.

These two things being said, Elly In Love had both, but in a good way.

Elly was charming and endearing. She’s the underdog you cheered for throughout the entire book. Regardless of what happened, who came into her life or left, she was awesome. I loved how real she was. When she was sad, she ate ice cream and watched TV. When she was uncomfortable in social situations, she just wanted to read a book in her jammies. Story of my life. I enjoyed the breath of fresh air having a more “normal” female lead.

Keith was good. An absolute sweet heart. The right kind of cheese ball+tough guy= adorable. The kind of quirky prince charming we all hope for at some point in our lives. I was empathetic to his own little hidden plight in life. He was protective, he was understanding, and he was human.

I wish Snarky Teenager had a name. Honestly, she was such a huge part of the story. It got kind of annoying. Give the poor girl a real name. By the end of the book, she’s not so much Snarky Teenager anymore.

The other supporting characters were great. All of the big characters had dynamic, layers and growth. The book kept pace, and it was a good summer read. It was a great “clean,” romantic comedy really. It was refreshing to read a romance that wasn’t necessarily a Christian romance, but wasn’t like the author threw in a porn scene either. Seeing where life takes Elly, Keith and the rest of the gang would be an absolute delight.

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The Beginning of Everything-Robyn Schneider

The pace in which I am reading is scaring even me. I don’t think I’ve read with such ferocity, purpose, pleasure and just downright passion since middle school. Before life got more complicated than hoping you didn’t have food stuck in your braces talking to your crush.

The Beginning of Everything was part of my library binge Part I. I finished a real book, then a Net Galley book. I figured I would read another real book. Space them out a bit. I laid out the 6 remaining books I have from the library and just kind of picked it. Yellow is one of my favorite colors so that may have been why I subconsciously picked it. I read the back of the book which jogged my memory as to why I had picked the book to begin with- it was young adult.

Having felt as though I skipped that genre when I was in high school, the time period most of those books are aimed towards, I am going backwards so that when I am back in a lovely high school classroom I can give good, well thought out, competent recommendations for my students. Let’s face it, not everyone thinks Much Ado About Nothing is “fun” or “hilarious” they way I do.

It started out simply enough. I read this awful book in middle school called “Izzy Willy Nilly” about a girl who is in a drunk driving accident and looses her leg. The beginning of this book kinda goes along the same way, but not near as dramatic. Probably because the main character is a boy, Ezra; NOT a whiny, hopeless teenaged girl.

I don’t quite know how to explain the connection. There’s romance in a way that’s not over the top cheesy or gross. More like “falling asleep, slowly then all at once.” There’s just enough mystery to keep you guessing without getting annoyed that the answers aren’t happening as you demand them. There’s a vulnerability that is so spot on. Where do you sit at lunch? Who do you talk to in class? Who is going to be your partner? It’s raw and it’s real. I feel like everyone went to high school with at least one kid that was a super star athlete, popular the works and they are injured in a game or something and suddenly the status quo of the world seems to shift as we all sit and wait to see if they recover, if they bounce back, how everyone else reacts. Ezra, was that kid.

The book opens with two quotes that really set the tone of the book.

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The Great Gatsby is one of my all time FAVORITE books. Schneider references Fitzgerald brilliantly. Most of my giggling was in tandem with the references. Ezra has a Standard Poodle named Cooper. He’s and older dog and Ezra has assigned Cooper the personality of Jay Gatsby. Schneider had me giggling to myself and my poor dog. Until the end. Then I bawled like a baby. It would be remiss of me to leave out the Doctor Who references, THE MONTY PYTHON REFERENCE and so many others that made my little nerd heart oh so dearly happy!

Hilariously enough, in the UK the book was released with the title “Severed Heads and Broken Hearts.” Once you read the book you’ll laugh way harder at that than you really should.

I can’t wait to recommend this to my high schoolers. This was an easy and quick read. I read it in about 3 hours. To do that math, that’s about 111-112 pages an hour. I believe that regardless of whether or not you are a “jock,” “a nerd,” “the ‘not out of the closet but pretty sure you’re going to be’ kid,” or the kid that ends up “crippled,” there is something in this book to be taken away for everyone.

I liked that this didn’t have the classical “happy ending” like a Disney movie, and yet, I feel happy. Like the book ended exactly as it should have. I’m not even mad. 🙂

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Book Hangover

Reading is not for the faint of heart. If you have never had a book hangover you have never really read. FACT. Book Hangovers happen when you read a book so good, so stimulating, so emotionally involved, you can’t read for a while. Side effects of a book hangover include but are not limited too:
-Raised blood pressure/heart rate
-General brief periods of depression
-Unable to choose the next book to read
-Picking a new book and still not being able to start it
-Crying
-Getting emotional just talking about the book
-Unable to eat, do laundry, complete basic-need tasks because you are so engrossed reading or recovering from said book.
-When people ask “What’s wrong” you just can’t answer. They didn’t read the book. They wouldn’t understand.

Because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I asked some of my reader friends to weigh in on this potentially emotional topic. The first, is one of my best friends Faith! She is also super adventurous-like move to Ohio from PA
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This is her book hangover blanket….it’s really just her favorite crazy cat lady blanket. Also classic Faith. As you can probably assume from this absurd picture, she’s hilarious. She is my spaghetti friend.

“Dude. let me just tell you that my book hangover happened over The Hunger Games right after I saw the second [movie], Catching Fire. It all began because I figured “Oh, these movies have been pretty awesome, I bet the books are better.” As per my experience with every Nicholas Sparks book evvvver. After FOUR days of finally getting through the whole series, I close my Nook and scream NO. NO. NO. NO. I was seriously disturbed for a good month or two until I came out of my coma of “OH MY GOD I HATE PEETA.” The second time I had a hangover, speaking of Nicholas Sparks, was over his book “Safe Haven”. . . I won’t spoil the ending, but something pretty unexpected happens (one of the characters turns out being a FREAKING GHOST) and you DO NOT even THINK of that until you read the ending chapters. Blew. My. Mind. I was so distraught that it legitimately affected my work life, my home life, and I just stayed in bed trying to grasp what life was. Oh and THEN I found out they were turning it into a movie. Less of a mind blower, but still awesome.”

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Next is my lovely friend Amanda. She just graduated with a degree in psychology. I should have asked her for an in-depth response on how the brain is stimulated while reading…yadda yadda. But, I did not. I allowed her to openly and freely answer without pretentious psychological lingo. Though she should make it her masters thesis or something. 😉

“Okay SO! I’ve experienced so many book hangovers, I should be attending book recovery twice a week! My most recent book hangover was when I finished The Selection Series. Now when I started this series I had NO interest in it and thought it was way too girly for my post apocalyptic, dystopian taste. I completely changed my opinion after reading the final installment “The One”. I tore through that book so fast and hard I felt dizzy at the last few pages! I was so sad when it ended I curled up on my bed (having not checked my phone in hours) and just sat. Thinking about every detail. I didn’t move for a solid hour. The next few days I had to go out of my way to not think about the book or the world it was set in. I eventually had to throw myself into another book to end the madness, which is what always happens. It’s my go-to strategy to end a hangover. Jumping into another book shimmy!! I’m still recovering from the Divergent Series book hangover… I’m not ready to talk about that yet. I’m talkin full on book comma! The struggle is alive and well.”

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Liv gets two pictures because I told her regardless of which one she prefer I use, I was going to use the picture of us dressed up as The Witches from Macbeth. We love literature so much, when ever we get the chance to dress up or make food to go with our presentations-we do. I’d also like to clarify, both of her parents are pastors. The girl has never had alcohol in her life! 😉

“I have had many book hangovers. I probably had my first hangover in 4th or 5th grade. I cannot for the life of me remember what book, but I remember it was about the Iditarod. I was sitting alone in a classroom being used as a storage room on top of a high stack of chairs. I bawled. I cried and whimpered, and died a little on the inside. And that is when I became a bookaholic. Not just an avid reader, but a full-blown bookaholic. I had to be drunk off of words, slurring the sentences, and tipsy while turning pages. I loved it. My most noteworthy hangover stupor was after “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak. The book was over 500 pages of hard reading, kind of like hard liquor, but worse. Because at the end of it you can’t breathe, you can’t think, you can’t pull yourself out of the pages. I am assuming that the ending of this book is like drinking liquor after beer…dreadful. I haven’t actually ever done that, but because the ending of this book was so miserable, I never will. I don’t drink, but I read. I am not sure which is worse.”

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Last but not least my friend Emily, the only one to not got o school with us. Her boyfriend Jake is Eric’s roommate. We’re best friends by association. It helps that she loves books just as much as I do.

“My first book hangover was after reading the Harry Potter series. When I was roughly 7 or 8, my mother read “The Sorcerer’s Stone” to me in a full British accent. I will never forget how she had perfected Hagrid’s Scottish drawl in every word. After that, I never had the drive to read the books on my own as a child. Maybe it was the nostalgia of my mom reading the first book to me, or my own lack of desire to continue the series, but when I was 20 I read the series again, after watching all of the movies. That was when I first experienced my first true “book hangover.” I could have been diagnosed clinically depressed when I shut the 7th book for the first time. Now, for anyone who is a die-hard HP fan, you’re not a true fan until you’ve read all of the books. The movies are brilliant, but they’re only a band-aid to what these books will do to you. This series has changed me. I have now consecutively read the books three times over, and will undoubtedly start them again later this year. When I read these books I become so engrossed in them that I feel as if I’m a third-person-viewer living at Hogwarts. Saying that I have an obsession with everything that is Harry Potter would be a grave understatement. When I finish the series I feel empty, as if all of my previous happiness has gone, and my only detox is to watch all of the movies. Harry Potter will always be a part of my life. ‘Always.'”

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And for my own.

My first book hangover was in 4th grade. I read “Tudor Rose” a book on Elizabeth I. It was part of the Royal Diary Series done by the same people who do the Dear America’s. At the end of each book is historical info on the princess portrayed in the book. As I read on about the life of Elizabeth I and her family I couldn’t contain myself. Not only did this give my a hangover that left me in an awe inspired stupor, it also gave me my passion. Unlike most of my book hangovers I dove head first into everything and anything I could find on the Tudors and Elizabeth I. I am now an English major with a concentration in English Literature. That book hangover set the course of my life and who I am today. Most of my hangovers are as I described in the very beginning of this post.

As you can see, Book Hangovers do exist. They happen all of the time. It is an affliction we all deal with in our own way. And, as many who have dependencies, addictions or are just straight up masochist, we continue to read. We search high and low in the hopes of finding books that rock our worlds. That leave us dazed, confused and hungry for more. We continue to torture ourselves with the pain, pleasure, depression and satisfaction of reading JUST. ONE. MORE. PAGE.

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Dracula- Bram Stoker

I do not like vampires. I do not watch Vampire Diaries, I detest the Twilight Series. I read them all AND have seen all of the movies. Still dislike them. I am totally not into that whole Sy-Fy thing. Pride and Prejudice Zombies still makes me shiver. I chalk this up to being way too into history for my own good. But I love Dracula. And I’m not just talking about Jonathan Rhys Meyers pretending to be Dracula, though I was quite upset when I found out it was canceled 😦

Dracula was written by Irish author Bram Stoker in 1897. Hollywood has put Dracula on the map as one of the most infamous villains ever. Sometimes he is tragic, sometimes he is all evil, sometimes you can’t even get through the movie because he is so cheesy it’s hilarious. His story has been taken and twisted and morph so many time and in so many ways- and yet so few people actually read Dracula. Not many people take the time to find out where the monster came from.

I took the time. It took me forever because I read more than one book at once but I took the time. Again, I’m soooo not into the whole vampire thing, but I have 3 copies of the book and I’m trying to make my way through the classics. Every English teacher should read as many classics as possible.

It took me a bit to get into. I have found that writing from that particular time period are a bit on the tough side for me to grasp. Jane Austen took me forever to get down. But I can read EME (Early Modern English) like I was born doing it my whole life.

I liked how it was written from so many point of views in different forms. Sometimes it was a letter, other times it was like reading a diary. It bounced around from character to character so that the reader can get a full understanding and view point of what is happening throughout the story. Some people have difficulty reading a book like that trying to keep up with the characters and who is speaking at what time- I LOVE IT! I find that it helps push the story along for me. When one narrative ends, I find myself pushing through the next trying to find out what happens next. As I’ve discussed previously, I get very attached to my characters-the books themselves really. While I am reading a book it is like I am walking through it with them. I walked with Mina as she traveled with Dracula, I felt the emotions of poor Lucy.

I could never read this book at night before I went to bed. For some people, like my mother, reading puts them to sleep. For some people, like me- it wakes me up. My heart gets pumping, my mind goes 100 miles a minute asking questions, “What is going to happen next?” “Who is she going to say yes too!?” “I hope this doesn’t happen, OH GOD IT’S HAPPENING,” “What would I do if I was in that situation?” I also hate scary things so this was a day time read only for me.

By the end of it, I was lost in the world of Dracula. I was sad, I was angry, I was happy, I was relieved, I felt all sorts of emotions. The book was nothing like the cheesy movies with Dracula walking around saying “I’m going to suck your blood.” It was nothing like the vampires from other works of literature, TV shows and movies. And I loved it. Every page. Every time I thought my heart would stop. Every time I wanted to throw the book. Every time the characters did exactly what I told them not too. It was fantastic. What is not fantastic is how Hollywood has destroyed the idea of the vampire and Dracula. Seriously, there should be a prison for people who destroy things like this.

Dracula has become one of my favorite classics, and I’m glad I have multiple copies.  I highly suggest reading it, it’s a great summer read. Many people THINK they know the story of Dracula. I challenge those of you reading this to read it for yourself, or reread it perhaps. Learn about the monster who inspired authors, producers, writers, and actors; even if they have bastardized his story a bit along the way.

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I love how the first edition of Dracula is bright yellow. It’s almost like Bram Stoker wanted people to think it was going to be a bright and cheery book. HAHAHAHA

PS- Search Google Images for “Dracula” the pictures are hilarious. So is looking up “Dracula Book,” seeing how the cover has changed over the decades, and how Dracula has had more than one makeover over the centuries.