The Non-Existent Workout

When I began blogging I set some personal goals. I was even bold enough to publish many of those goals and I am here to tell you that I have been very successful in progressing toward some of the ambitions I set out to accomplish. Well, in most areas. I’ve found in reality that when you make something a priority that it usually comes with a trade-off be that time or costs. Recently, as I’m sure you can gather I have tried to intentionally stay focused on reading and writing. Literature is a love and passion of mine and so I have fervently been working to write and read more regularly. It’s been great and I’ve really enjoyed some of the doors that have opened for me because of my pursuit of these things in my life.

However, the trade-off in my circumstance has been my fitness. I’ve been lucky to complete two workouts a week over the past month or so. I’ve shifted my gaze and spent time elsewhere and I can definitely feel that decision wearing on my body. I feel the bloating reality that I need to get in better shape and pay more attention to the foods that I eat and the exercise regimens I complete. I am bothered with the aches and pains associated with not stretching properly and becoming weak. If only I could have a personal trainer show up at my house everyday and take me through a series of workouts while also cleaning my house, feeding my daughter, and doing the laundry…one day. (Hey, a girl can dream!)

The decision to make my fitness an obsolete idea was not a conscious one. I really do desire to be the healthiest me that I can be, but as a mother with a full-time job beyond motherhood I am learning that you always overestimate the time in a day. I always tell myself I’ll workout after… and then never get around to it.

“I’ll run a couple miles after my daughter falls asleep.”

“I’ll do a thirty minute workout on the treadmill once I do the laundry.”

“I’ll complete a Jillian Michaels routine after I read a couple of chapters.”

I am the queen of excuses these days. Even right now I’m thinking, “I’ll do a quick workout once I blog about how I haven’t been working out.” The irony!

That being said, I think it is high time to lace up my abandoned trainers and motivate myself with a color coordinated workout outfit. I’m all about being the best me I can be and neglecting my fitness is never going to help me attain that goal.

Who’s with me?

And…how do you motivate yourself?!?

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My Husband, the TV star

Things are getting exciting in our house!

A few months back my husband received a call from a professional team in England that he used to play for and perform with in the summers. The founder of the group was going to be filming for a television show and wanted to meet up with my husband to get him involved in the project. The organization is called SBX and they are creating a television series called “This Is Basketball” where they travel the world in search of the most exciting players and freestylers on the planet. Although there are not details about the show airing in the US as of yet there are hopes to do so in the near future. Regardless, this is a very well known organization in the UK, and it means a lot that my husband is being featured amongst some of the best and most talented basketball players in the world.

Some of you who have not been following my blog might have some more questions. I should take a few steps back and explain what my husband does a little better. Aside from being an awesome husband, daddy, and full-time teacher my husband also travels the globe with his ball handling and trick shows. I could try my best to articulate the skills that he possesses, but you would have a hard time getting a true picture of all of the talented things he can do. Instead, take a look at a video, or better yet his youtube channel which showcase some of the crazy skills of my favorite man.

So…

We are leaving Friday morning and heading to The Big Apple. We decided to take a long weekend and make this filming experience a mini vacation for our family. My younger sister is tagging along as well to help with our daughter and to be my shopping companion while my husband is filming. I am super excited and have been counting down the days until our trip. I have been to New York twice before, but it has yet to lose it’s appeal. There are so many things to do in the big city. I’m open to suggestions. What do you recommend that we do or check out in the NYC?

I’m going to leave you today with a song that’s been playing on repeat in my mind all week:

Start spreading the news.

I am leaving today.

I want to be part of it.

New York, New York…

-Frank Sinatra

A Book Review: Where Things Come Back

The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, and outside influences. 

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Title: Where Things Come Back

Author: John Corey Whaley

Publisher: Atheneum

Copyright Date: 2011

I recently found myself as an audience to over one hundred student reading presentations. The days in which the students take charge of the classroom and critique and explain the young adult literature they have chosen to read are some of my favorite days as a teacher. Sitting in the corner of the room you could find me with a rubric scoring each presentation, but also with a paper and pen with which I recorded the titles of books that sparked my interest. One such book that caught my attention was Where Things Come Back. My interest was piqued partially due to the plot of the story, but also due to the flawless demonstration from a student who so clearly enjoyed this reading experience.

Cullen Witter is about to begin his senior year and his life is falling apart. The story begins shortly after the death of his young cousin, Oslo, and while his family is still trying to deal with the grief involved with losing someone so quickly and unexpectedly. Cullen leans on his popular friend, Lucas Cader, for support and distraction during this rough period. Not long after the sudden death of Olso, Cullen’s loving and intelligent brother, Gabriel, goes missing. The rest of the book is Cullen’s struggle to stay positive and remain hopeful despite the time that passes after the day Gabriel goes missing.

While the Witter family is dealing with their own catastrophes the small town where they reside is overtaken by a woodpecker phenomenon. A Lazarus woodpecker which has been extinct for decades has apparently been sighted in the town and this claim brings many conservationists and wildlife preservers into the town. Cullen is tormented by the fact that it seems his town cares more about the “resurrection” of this strange bird than they do about his missing brother.

Meanwhile in a subplot the author reveals a seemingly unrelated story about an African missionary and his quest to fulfill his destiny which takes him to an Ethiopian scripture. This missionary is disillusioned and struggling to find his purpose in ministry and helping others.

As always, the two paths of these characters intertwine and what seemed to be two isolated stories being told in tandem ends up being extensions of the same story. The climax is surprising and clearly portrays one of the main themes of this novel: hope.

It’s really difficult to say much else about this story without giving away some of the unpredictable plot lines.

Overall I thought this book did a great job of promoting hope and the resilience of humanity. Grief also makes us do some wild things and the author was very genuine and authentic when describing how grief can affect those left behind and the families of those who are gone.

I would recommend this quick read to anyone who enjoys contemporary young adult fiction. It definitely is true to the coming-of-age genre as well because it includes elements of romance, friendship, growing up, and self discovery. In the end, Cullen understands the importance of family and friends as he deals with some of the hardest lesson life could send his way.

Motivating Readers and Myself

Yesterday, I took part in a very motivating Professional Development session at the public school where I work. It was a collaborative meeting that focused on the transition from 8th grade Language Arts to the freshman level, which I teach. I was particularly motivated and recharged during our discussion about teaching reading.

It’s true that I haven’t been reading as much as I should. Life gets busy and the state mandated tests have kept my classroom time from being as devoted to reading as it should be. I left my meeting with some really awesome and practical strategies for implementing a reading environment in the classroom and reaching the relunctant or emerging readers. A lot of our conversation was based on ideas from Donalyn Miller’s book, The Book Whisperer, which is now #1 on my summer MUST READ list. Below are some ideas I took away from our group discussions. (I am not taking credit for these ideas. Most of them were from 8th grade teachers and librarians in my district).

We began our meeting with a short reading from Donalyn Miller’s blog. The article, What the Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction (No, For Real), highlights the importance of marketing reading in the classroom. Christopher Lehman, the author of the article, does a great job giving reasons for and examples of motivating readers toward a genuine love for reading. Please take a look at the link for this article, but to simplify, the points I took away from the reading let me provide you some bullet points:

  • Brand yourself as a reader by making reading look as glamorous, branded, and fashionable as Kim Kardashian.
  • Realize that any press is good press: Any type of book conversation is a good thing whether you are talking about a book you love or how hard you’ve found it to read lately.
  • Post your reading life anywhere you can! (I personally have a few classroom ideas for letting the students know what I’m currently reading. A Kardashian pun-involved poster: Keeping Up with Mrs. Sisley)
  • Treat your classroom library as a consumer machine. Promote it. Update it. Draw in the readers! (Rotate your stock often)
  • Be sure your reading instruction models reality. (Worksheets don’t make us better readers!)
  • Every effort you make to live as a reader, design spaces that inspire reading, and support real reading time, will in turn make each one of your students a star.

From that discussion we segued into ways to promote a culture of reading in our classrooms. Not only am I planning to next year be more vocal about the books I am currently reading, but I plan to model reading in class more often. Already, I set aside fifteen minutes at the beginning of class every Friday for independent reading. I also make it a point to read myself during that time (although it can be very tempting to use this time for grading and responding to emails). Next year, I would love to take it a step further and move into discussions about the books we are reading and include myself in those discussions. Additionally, some of the other teachers have set up Twitter feeds and hashtags where students can respond as a community to their independent reading books. At first, I was a little apprehensive to incorporate social media into my classroom, but I’m learning to embrace the inevitable fact that social media is not going away and teaching positive ways to engage in the online tools is becoming more and more a part of the teacher’s responsibility. I’m hoping to either set up a Twitter page over the summer or some other social media hub for communicating about books. (I should probably get a personal Twitter first 🙂 )

Another really neat idea I gathered for promoting reading in the classroom is a personal experience of mine. Recently, I posted a book review for The Orphan Train here on my blog. I sent a copy of my review to the author, Christina Baker Kline, and she responded to me! I shared this with my students and they thought it was one of the coolest things all year. I pulled up the email I received onto my Smartboard and they were blown away. Next year, I would love to implement an assignment where my students either send a review to the author of the book they just read or write some questions to the author.

Now that I’m super motivated to finish the two books I am currently reading I have decided to also create a summer MUST READ list. The following are five books I plan to read by the time I travel to England in late June. All photos and overviews are from Barnes and Noble.

#1- The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

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Donalyn Miller says she has yet to meet a child she couldn’t turn into a reader. No matter how far behind Miller’s students might be when they reach her 6th grade classroom, they end up reading an average of 40 to 50 books a year. Miller’s unconventional approach dispenses with drills and worksheets that make reading a chore. Instead, she helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves…

#2- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

#3- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

#4- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

#5- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

What are you Reading!?! 

Coffee and Colossians 3

  
Today was Day 1 in the new Bible study: 1+2 Timothy via the She Reads Truth App. (Sidenote: I love this app. It is an online daily devotional written by women and specifically geared toward keeping busy women in the Word everyday) Each day, the studies include a couple of short passages to read and a short lesson that goes along with the reading. I am a big fan of the daily artwork that captures the essence of the lesson. If you are using the app, you can download  the artwork for free and either post them via social media or save them to your device. It is quite convenient and I love it.

Over the past couple of months it has been a true struggle to find alone time to read my Bible and pray. I’ve looked over my schedule and routines and tried to find the best place to insert a few minutes to read the scriptures. It has never been a matter of not wanting to read the Bible, in fact it is the exact opposite. I look forward to my time in the Word. I crave time in the Word. But sometimes a few minutes alone just doesn’t happen for me.

As I reviewed my daily habits I found that one thing I do everyday without wavering is drink a cup of coffee in the morning. Alone or not I make time for coffee. Tired or not I make time for coffee. Busy or not I make time for coffee. Therein lies my solution. If I can make time every morning despite my hectic schedule and lack of sleep to drink a cup of coffee then surely I can do the same for reading the Bible. The flesh in me recognizes my own dependency on coffee and I take care of that need before moving forward with my day. EVERY DAY. How is it that I have not seen this before? Just like my physical body requires and deserves that warm, rich, liquid energy every morning, ALL of me requires and deserves some time alone in the Word.

I’ve begun to pair my Bible reading with my coffee consumption every morning. Some days it is as simple as completing the She Reads Truth study for the day and other days I take a longer coffee break so I read a little more. I don’t know when I started treating Bible study like it wasn’t a necessity.  It is actually one of the MOST NECESSARY things I could ever do for myself. When I don’t take the time and read God’s Words I quickly lose my battle for my mind and attention. I focus on myself and my circumstances and I lose sight of who I am and why I’m here. Life isn’t about all these things with which I fill my time. Life is about doing all I can to further God’s Kingdom and if I don’t realign my thinking everyday I tend to lose focus.

I am going to leave you with some thoughts from today’s empowering scripture reading which She Reads Truth has paired with 1 Timothy 1. This particular study describes the context of 1+2 Timothy and then uses Colossians 3 as a reference to living a gospel-filled life.

Context: 1 +2 Timothy were letters written by Paul to Timothy. Timothy was a young leader in the early church. Yes, a lot of the text involves structuring and building that early church, but the emphasis is also on the importance of living life according to the gospel. Paul often speaks to Timothy in a paternal manner about making sure he is focusing on living a life that brings God glory.

Colossians 3:2- Set your mind on things above not earthly things.

Colossians 3: 10b- …put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Colossians 3: 12- Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Colossians 3: 16- Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts toward God.

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Rock-A-Bye-Toddler

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When one is raising a toddler they quickly learn the vital importance of well-established routines and predictable rituals. We’ve been a blessed family because our daughter has always slept through the night, however, due to our busy lifestyle it’s been hard to put a bedtime routine into place. When our daughter is tired she falls asleep. It’s a fairly simple and effortless plan really. (One that was far more effective in infancy than it is now)

Lately, she has been pushing the limits in many areas. She is figuring out how much she can get away with and if left to fend for herself she would live on chips, cheese, and PBSkids. As parents this phase has been both rewarding as we watch our daughter gain a little bit more independence everyday and exhausting as we seem to deal with daily meltdowns and bad moods.

We are beginning to focus our time and energy into forming a more strict bedtime routine and enforcing a specific time for putting our daughter to bed. The following are the Top 5 tactics we have tried for the bedtime routine:

Goal Bedtime: 9:30pm *We are hoping to lower this time eventually, but she is still used to a pretty late bedtime most evenings so this is still a limiting time to begin with.

1. Bath time: At around 8pm bath time begins. I have even used a little bit of the lavender essential oils in the bath to help with relaxing her.

2. Snack: To avoid bed wetting incidents we have been trying to limit drinking in the evenings, but to help her sleep more soundly we have allowed our daughter a small snack right after bath time.

3. Reading time: Shortly after bath time I allow my daughter to select two books and we cuddle and read together. Lately, she has been expressing a huge interest in reading and is able to sit through longer readings. Occasionally she asks questions and responds to the stories, but more often than not she sits silently in a trance taking in every word and illustration.

4. NO ELECTRONICS after the routine begins: This is a crucial piece for the winding down process. Our daughter loves to independently select her favorite programs using the iPad, however, viewing these shows and using electronic devices is definitely counter productive to creating a sleepy atmosphere. We’ve learned the hard way and after many late nights fighting with her about electronics that we have to set limits which include not using electronic devices before bed.

5. NO LIGHTS ON after the routine begins: Almost as crucial as eliminating electronics is the shutting off of all lights and creating a dark and night-like atmosphere. Since infancy our daughter has responded well to darkness and is much easier to usher in to sleep when the surroundings are dark.

As always I am admitting to my ignorance when it comes to motherhood. There are a lot of lessons I am learning with my first child. I know now that with any additional children we may have that setting a more rigid plan for bedtime and routines will be a top priority from a very young age. It’s so important to regularly make time as a couple without the distraction of children and when your children stay up too late not only are you exhausted as the parent, but you get less of the imperative “mom and dad time.”

This is a fairly new goal in our household. I would love to hear from veteran mom’s out there. What type of routines have you established for bedtime? What works? What doesn’t?

Advice and positive comments are always welcome and appreciated!

When the Grading Gets Tough…

None of my undergrad study could have formally prepared me for the daunting task of essay grading in a timely manner. I have been a bit of a blogging slacker over the past few days as my school post-assessment scores for the school year are due this week and have thus taken over my life. There are so many aspects of teaching which I deeply love, however, I’ve developed a bit of a loathe/hate relationship with grading.

Usually, I am so good about keeping my work and home separate, but there is no escape for bringing work home when you have less than a week to grade 110 essays. It also doesn’t help that I’m a bit of an over-thinker. What many teachers could probably grade in two minutes I take ten. Each precious word is a morsel from the mind of one of my budding students and I hate giving those thoughts any less than my full attention and concentration.

If you haven’t guessed I am in a bit of distraction mode. As I sit here updating you on my life I can feel the glare of the twenty essays that remain unread. I’ve created a list of ten things I would rather be doing. If doing the laundry exceeds grading on that list you know that I must harbor a strong dislike toward that activity.

The rubric terms have begun to run together. My hair has been twirled into near dreadlocks. My bright-colored grading pen is beginning to acquire bite marks. I’m sitting amongst an audience of notebook paper. These are symptoms of my excessive concentration. Twenty more to go. I can do this!

Other teachers–how do you beat the insanity undoubtedly associated with essay grading? I’m in desperate need of advice, and a second wind of motivation.

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