24 Book Challenge: A Classic

The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This is book #12 from The Ameri Brit Mom 24 Book Challenge in 2016. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, or outside influences.

Title: Of Mice and Men

Author: John Steinbeck

Publisher: Penguin Books

Copyright Date: 1937

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This classic is one I could write on for days. There are so many lessons, symbols, ironies, and historical meanings behind this short book. As a teacher, I’ve enjoyed teaching this novel for the first time as it has opened up avenues of discussion and research that have not been present in my curriculum in the past. I’m sure in part because it is a bit vulgar at times, this book has captured the attention of my ninth grade students and tugged at their heart strings. In a world where getting teens to engage with literature is increasingly difficult this book has done that very thing. At the conclusion of our reading my students wanted to spend days talking about the lessons and implications. Even my reluctant readers drew connections to characters and instances of this book. Hands down this has been my favorite classic to teach (which is saying something because I used to teach my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird.)

In the book’s outset George Milton and Lennie Small are traveling along the Salinas River en route to a new job just outside of Soledad, California. The migrant workers own little as was par for the course in that time period. Their most valued possession was each other. Misfortune and a series of confrontations led George and Lennie to a life on the run. In a world that is plagued with debt, depression, and lonliness, however, these two men have the gift of companionship.

Throughout the course of the novel George and Lennie begin working on a new ranch and meet other workers in similar positions. George is the most intelligent member of the pair. He is small and feisty, but can talk his way out of most trouble that he encounters. Lennie is a large man who lacks intellect and has a fascination with soft things. Together these men compensate for one another’s weaknesses and form a bond that was uncommon for men of their occupation.

In the end the strength of their friendship is tested and one could argue that heroism plays a role in the conclusion.

So much could be said of the moral and historical implications of this novella. Steinbeck has spoken to the heart of relationships and the longing each one of us has to protect those dearest to us. It is no wonder to me why this book has become a required read in many high schools across the nation. It is a book that one must simply experience. To meet Lennie and George and be introduced to the kind of relationship they have formed is to witness the bounds of true brotherly love.

The Ameri Brit Mom

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Dialogue and Set Designs

It’s been a long week and I’ve accomplished little in regards to writing.

I was looking forward to cracking open Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott all week. Her writing is so relatable. As I am working my way through her book I feel like she gets me. As a writer sometimes I see the world a little differently and Lamott does a fantastic job defining the role of a writer and making me feel like I’m not the only person who memorizes conversations I overhear or constantly writes prose in my mind as I observe the world around me.

Today as I read about dialogue and set designs I got excited about revisiting my novel Encounters on Park Bench and refining both of those aspects. Things are moving forward with my book and I’m currently in the process of getting manuscripts out to agents. I covet advice and well-wishes to help me get through this daunting process. It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of publishing, though, that I lose sight of the value of writing every day. I’m so thankful I have decided to read Bird by Bird, because it is igniting my passion for writing that has been snuffed out a bit by sending out query letters, receiving news of rejection, and waiting.

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Dialogue

Nothing is more telling about the characters in your story than their dialogue. You can describe them and their feelings until your hands fall off from overuse, but dialogue will be just as effective and use much less energy to produce. A character’s voice can reveal so much: how they feel, what they think, where they come from, what they enjoy, what they hate, how they dress, the people they spend time with, etc. The list of things that dialogue can tell us about a character can go on and on.

Something within a reader exhales when after pages of description they find themselves privy to actual conversations between characters. One paragraph of dialogue can reveal more than five pages of description. The beauty behind dialogue is that it can be so succinct, yet so informative.

The hardest part of dialogue is getting it right. Finding a character’s voice is no easy task. A reader will pick up on the inaccuracy of dialogue if it is there so you want to be sure that the voice you give your character is authentic. Nothing is more distracting than poorly written dialogue. Dialogue in a story should be a tool to propel the reader into the body of the character it should not be a distraction to the plot or sequence of events.

In my book Encounters on a Park Bench, finding the voice of my main character, Kurt, was the hardest part of the whole book. In my first few drafts I struggled to nail his voice. What background do I have with homeless men in Chicago? None. But it is through research and combing through my subconscious that I was able to finally hear the voice of my uneducated, broken, recovering alcoholic protagonist. His son on the other hand-an educated journalist-came much quicker to me.

Set Designs

As a writer it is unfair to think that you have to possess extensive knowledge on every type of scene you craft in your books. To expect that you could dream up a perfect paradise in Bermuda without ever having stepped foot on a beach is absurd. To detail the ancient ruins of China without the experience of wandering one Asian street is naive. The good news is that just because you haven’t been to these exotic or notorious places doesn’t mean that you are confined to only write from your personal experience. The Good Lord gave us friends, phones, and the internet as resources. Writers should write as much as possible on their own experiences, but then they may turn to resources when it comes to things beyond their knowledge. That’s what friends are for.

In this chapter, Lamott discusses a novel that she wrote about a woman who loved to garden. Like me, Lamott characterizes herself as a plant killer. Her knowledge of gardening is small and her experience minimal. In her strife to write about gardening she turned to a local nursery and partnered with a gardener to write and describe a lovely garden in her novel. Together they designed a set that was so accurate that Lamott’s readers were astonished to discover that she does not possess a green thumb of any kind.

Designing sets for our characters can be a daunting task especially if we limit ourselves to our own travels. I could never write a story on my own about a wealthy person living in California or a tale of a homeless man in Chicago.

As a writer, lean into your resources. Develop relationships and work with others to refine your work.  Dream up settings that you could never craft and work cooperatively with another to design that set. Writing is not a solo project.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Five Minute Friday: Eat

This week the topic for the Five Minute Friday link-up post is Eat. What is a link-up? Essentially a link-up is when you join other bloggers and write on a similar topic. You share your blog posts with one another and begin conversations via a host site. You can head over to Kate Motaung’s page to check out other entries from inspired bloggers. Here’s my five minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing on this week’s topic:

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I’m new to this gluten-free thing.

After months of struggling with weight and digestive issues I’ve decided to give gluten-free eating a try. Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed some changes to my metabolism and eating habits and I’ve been unhappy with the way my body has been reacting to the food I’ve been putting into it. Auto-immune disorders that run in my family also factored into this decision.

Several people I know have been eating gluten-free for a wide range of reasons and it’s been recommended by so many of them that I give it a shot. I was reluctant at first because one of my favorite foods is bread. My second favorite food is cake. I put off trying a gluten-free diet out of convenience. However, after a weekend of feeling pretty crummy I decided to try gluten-free for one month and see if I notice any difference to the way I feel.

My mom and best friend have both experimented with gluten-free diets and have been successful. I’ve turned to them for advice on where to find food and meals. Since I launched this new diet on Monday I’ve realized that eating gluten-free isn’t as big of a hassle as I had thought. Sure, there are some sacrifices to be made, but gluten-free has become so mainstream that many restaurants and grocers offer items tailored for such diets.

I know that cutting gluten is a newer approach to treating digestive tract disorders, auto-immune disorders and other health conditions. Many of you have years of experience under your belt. Today I would love to hear from you. I’m seeking advice on where to shop, what to buy, and what to eat. I covet recipes and any information those of you knowledgeable in the gluten-free world.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Dressing and Educating: Days 45-46

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Day 45: October 17, 2016

Nothing says, “Welcome to the Second Quarter” like a timed writing assignment in English class. I opened this short week with an online essay about the book my students just finished reading independently. I used Google Classroom as a platform for launching the essay. Students were given five prompt options and had an entire class period to respond to their chosen prompt using details and quotes from their books to support their responses. It was a quiet, but productive English class.

In Honors World History we wrapped up our Enlightenment debates and began to focus our attention on Latin America. When it comes to mapping, I always offer an pre-test. If a student can show mastery of the regional map they do not have to take the final map test. Out of 60 Honors World History students only six scored a perfect on their pre-test so many of them will be retaking the test tomorrow. Additionally, we are studying many of the Latin American Revolutions.

I’ve been trying to wear a dress or skirt every Monday this year. Today I wore a long maxi skirt from Wet Seal. My tops are from Old Navy.

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Day 46: October 18, 2016

Today was a lovely Tuesday/Friday. Although I do not teach at my alma mater the district is still within the same county and all county schools are out of school for my hometown festival, The Pumpkin Show. Tonight marks the beginning of the show with “Local’s Night”. The school day was full of the buzzing of everyone’s plans for the extended break. Years ago I learned that the only way to truly keep students engaged on the eve of their first break of the school year is to have them take a test or quiz on that final day of class.

I wore my striped, Perfect T, from Lula Roe. On the bottom half I wore olive jeggings and my classic Sperrys.

I know there isn’t much to choose from this week, but which outfit did you prefer?

The Ameri Brit Mom

My Sunday Routine

A pot of coffee is brewing. My daughter is tuckered out on the couch. My husband is off at the gym with some friends. These are the moments I long for all week. Sunday afternoons have become my most productive and rewarding time slots thanks to the new rhythm my family has established this fall. I begin my time with a mug of coffee. It’s my reward for making it through another week. Once the caffeine has tapped into my bloodstream, I’m ready to conquer the week ahead. I’ve learned that the successes of the week ahead are determined by my productivity on Sunday afternoon. This is a peaceful ME TIME that leaves me feeling like Mama Warrior every weekend.

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1. Meal Plan

Across my table I spread out my planner, every cookbook I own, and a box of family recipes. I spend a twenty minutes or so scouring each of these resources in addition to my recently posted pins from Pinterest in order to create a weekly meal plan. Also, I build my grocery list as I go. I always begin with meal planning, because in our house my husband does the grocery shopping. I can send him off to the store while I continue to work on my Sunday routines.

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2. Laundry

Next, I clear out all of the hampers throughout the house and clean all of our clothes for the week. In a perfect world I’d be caught up every Sunday, but the reality is that some Sundays I have more time than others to complete the laundry. At the very least I try to be caught up with laundry every other weekend. This helps make the house seem clean and gives each of us several options when it comes to step 5.

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3. Blog Plan

My routine for blogging has adjusted a bit this year to account for several personal projects that take up substantial amounts of time. For the most part, my blog posts are written over the weekend, and scheduled to be published throughout the week. I spend most of my Saturday mornings crafting posts and writing, but on Sundays I put the final touches on posts and get them scheduled for the week ahead. I also track my weekly stats from my site in my blog planner which is something I sit down and work on every Sunday afternoon.

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4. Sunday Basket

I started this project back in April, and it has really helped to control the mass of papers that can tend to collect all over the house. Throughout the week we receive paper after paper from mail to schedules to artwork from my daughter in her pre-school class. If we get something we know we will throw away (like junk mail) we throw it away immediately, otherwise we place it in the basket to be acted upon on Sundays. On Sunday, I sort through the basket. I make three piles: file, throw away, or action required. Then, I go through and complete whatever action is needed for each piece. This really helps to control the paper madness that can so easily get out of control. This idea comes from Organize 365.

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5. Lay out clothes for the week

Another huge time saver for the week is to determine my attire for the whole week on Sunday afternoons. Generally, on Sundays I have a much more inspired attitude toward my clothes than on a late night or early morning. Clothes have been freshly cleaned and with a little extra energy from the coffee (or extra rest during the weekend) I comb through my closet and jewelry box and create my wardrobe for the week.

I know that each household looks different and we all have routines that work for us and our families. I’d love to hear how you tackle the weekly organization and scheduling for your house.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

 

24 Book Challenge: A Mystery

The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This is book #12 from The Ameri Brit Mom 24 Book Challenge in 2016. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, or outside influences.

Title: Murder on the Orient Express

Author: Agatha Christie

Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright Date: 1934

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A true mystery fan would quickly recognize this title from Agatha Chrisite, one of the first original murder-mystery authors. Born in England, Christie began to use her resources to create some of the most compelling stories of crime and deception. I have read several books by Christie and must claim that among my favorites from her novels are those centered around Detective Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective. Murder on the Orient Express is one such novel.

En route from Syria to London, Poirot finds himself on the famous Orient Express. On his journey he is met with the most diverse of travel companions, but he fancies the conversations and life experiences he encounters aboard the train. One night, as the train was traveling just outside of Yugoslavia, one of the passengers is found dead in his compartment. Mr. Ratchett is an American millionaire and the circumstances surrounding his murder are puzzling from the first minutes of its discovery.

Poirot is summoned by the conductor of the train to establish a thorough investigation. Near his time of death, the train is halted by snow drifts and is hours from continuing its journey toward western Europe. During the train’s delay Poirot, Dr. Constatine, and M. Bouc, of the Wagon Lit. Company conduct interviews and examine evidence to piece together one of the most troubling cases of Poirot’s career.

As a seasoned Christie reader I found myself trying to think like Poirot throughout the entirety of the novel. My goal is always to come to the conclusion before Poirot does, and as always the clues to the solution were under my nose but undetected the entire time. Christie is the queen of red herrings and subtlety. Her work is genius and thrusts me into the murder mystery scene at full throttle. This is another great classic of Christie’s that in my opinion is only topped by And Then There Were None. 

The Ameri Brit Mom

Character and Plot

I love my Saturday mornings soaking up the advice and wisdom of Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. Her wisdom challenges me as a writer and gives me things to think about to refine my own pieces. As many of you know, I’ve written a book, Encounters On a Park Bench,  which is currently being marketed to agents and publishers. I will continue to edit and process this work until the day press meets paper. I’m also working on a second book, A Walk from Winleigh, which will be a young adult story. As I read through Bird by Bird I am compelled to strengthen my own writing and to heed the valuable advice from such a celebrated author. Today, I spent time thinking about the importance of character development and a character-driven plot.

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Character

The lifeblood of any work of fiction rests on the characters of that tale.

Characters are not developed over night. As a writer, it takes weeks, months, or even years to fully grasp the ins and outs of a character. To truly know the characters in your story you have to get down to the minute details and learn what makes them unique, why they act the way they do, and many other assorted details.

In my book, this was one of the most time consuming parts of writing. I started with an idea. I knew I wanted my protagonist to be a homeless man, but it took two years to really understand the many facets of his personality. His dialogue has been the most challenging bit of the whole book. As an English teacher, I’m a devout grammarian, but the thing with dialogue is that  it is an opportunity to further develop the personality of a character. Which means my homeless protagonist better sound like a homeless man not an educated instructor of secondary English. Refining dialogue is really all there is left to do in my story. I dread it the most because I know that much work still lies ahead.

A book will only be as strong as its narrator so be careful to develop a narrator that piques the interest of your reader.

Plot

Nothing makes a more compelling story than a plot driven by the actions of your characters. Sitting down to write shouldn’t be a task in which you know what will happen every step of the way. It does help to plan ahead a bit, but if you allow your characters to drive your plot it is impossible to know the climax from the start of the project. If you let your characters interact naturally the conflicts of the story will arise and the climax will form all on its own. It is glaringly obvious when an author pushes too hard his or her own agenda in a story. Focus on developing your characters and allow them the courtesy of moving the plot along.

“Your plot will fall into place as, one day at  a time, you listen to your characters carefully, and watch them move around doing and saying things and bumping into each other.”-Anne Lamott

As a final note on plot, Lamott gives the formula ABDCE (which comes from Alice Adams).

A-Action

B-Background

D-Development

C-Climax

E-Ending

This formula is meant more for short stories but can be tailored to fit the format of a novel as well. It’s a good starting point if you are a beginner, but it is also important to note that tethering yourself to a formula for writing will almost ensure that your story is plot driven as opposed to character driven. The latter is the goal.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Five Minute Friday: Park

This week the topic for the Five Minute Friday link-up post is Park. What is a link-up? Essentially a link-up is when you join other bloggers and write on a similar topic. You share your blog posts with one another and begin conversations via a host site. You can head over to Kate Motaung’s page to check out other entries from inspired bloggers. Here’s my five minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing on this week’s topic:

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I’ve been lucky enough to have the second half of this work week off due to my town’s annual festival, The Pumpkin Show. Every year it seems to come at just the right time. I’ve gotten into a good routine with school and I’m starting to get a bit tired of all the energy that goes into being a teacher and mom all while trying to keep on top of the housework, cooking, and the never ending mound of laundry. The temperatures have been changing on top of all of my demands, and for about two weeks I’ve felt the tickling of germs in my throat just waiting for the right opportunity to spread into a full blown cold. I’ve diffused Essential Oils nightly to stave off any symptoms, but the true remedy for the way I have been feeling is a short break. Thank you, Pumpkin Show!

On Wednesday I kicked my break off with a run at a local park. I’ve been going to a cardio and strength class that my aunt teaches and that group decided to avoid the town’s festivities and run at a park just outside of the city. I woke up reluctantly on my first day of break, but I was so glad that I did.

For class that morning, we ran over two miles. Every quarter of a mile we stopped and did a variation of jump jacks, lunges, push ups, and crunches.

It had been so long since I ran. Over the summer I battled a bit with allergies which kept me from running. Instead, I turned to another way of getting myself in shape. I started attending classes once a week at my aunt’s place and found myself getting stronger and stronger. I was still taking time to focus on me and my fitness, but in a way totally foreign to me. I think that’s why I loved it.

I’m so glad that even though I was tired and feeling a little run down that I decided to start my break with an early morning at the park. The cool air and slight humidity felt good. The scene was beautiful as the trees around me were changing colors. The vibrancy of the colors added a little pep to my step. It was a day that reminded me of my love for running and the great outdoors.

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The Ameri Brit Mom

 

“Another Opening, Another Show…”

The Pumpkin Show is an annual festival held in my hometown of Circleville, Ohio. This is the greatest FREE show on Earth and one of the largest local festivals in the country. Each year, the schools shut down, the roads are closed, and people travel from near and far to enjoy some days indulging in Pumpkin-everything and watching parades. Tuesday night was Local’s Night which means that stalls were opened and people crowded the streets prior to the official opening. The weather was beautiful and the festival was packed. Our church group which normally meets on Tuesdays decided to meet this week at the Pumpkin Show. We spent our Tuesday night with great friends and the locals of Circleville.

On Wednesday, we rode rides, overate, and went through the parade on a float. Every year I pine for a box of bourbon chicken, one of the most popular non-pumpkin items. I also have to get a slice of pumpkin pie, a pumpkin burger, and fried Swiss cheese on a stick. We got a snapshot with the traditional pumpkin pyramid and the locally famous Pumpkin Man. For the first time ever, my daughter was in a parade riding on a float representing her pre-school. It was a late parade and she was almost asleep by the end of the route, but she enjoyed riding through the parade with her teacher and classmate. It was a great opening to another Pumpkin Show!

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Dressing and Educating: Days 40-44

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Day 40: October 10, 2016

Mondays don’t get much sweeter than working research and writing periods. As we draw near to the end of the first quarter I provided time in both of my classes today to conduct research for debates in history and for writing a personal narrative in English. My school has purchased a program called Vantage Writing. It’s an online writing tool that provides students feedback on their writing skills. So in English we took advantage of computer time and began to type out our second drafts into the Vantage Writing program for scoring.

Just because the students were working independently from bell to bell all day doesn’t mean I was positioned at my desk grading papers. I made sure to be visible throughout the period and walked around to assist and answer questions. It definitely is not an “easy day” to book the mobile lab. Sometimes solving computer issues is just as taxing as presenting lessons every period.

I was dressed for Monday success today in my hounds-tooth pencil skirt from The Limited, opaque tights and sweater from Old Navy, scarf from Target, and black slouch boots. Friday is the end of the quarter so it will be a scramble to get everything done before that point, but I’m ready to buckle down, teach, and grade whatever comes my way this week!

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Day 41: October 11, 2016

After a productive day of writing and researching alongside my students I couldn’t help but have a positive outlook on my classroom practices. After school I sat through a few teacher meetings which both encouraged me and challenged me as a teacher.

One thing I am very weary of is the trend toward state test driven curriculum. No matter how hard they push these state tests in Ohio I am refusing to base my ENTIRE curriculum on testing. Yes, they are high stakes. Yes, they are a large part of my evaluation. No, it is not the only thing that matters about education. There are so many things in my content and curriculum that will never be measured by a test, and when I sit through meetings about the importance of said tests I find myself having to constantly remember that I didn’t become a teacher so I could spend months on “test prep.”

From one lens it’s easy to lose sight of the purpose of teaching. When we are handed performance based evaluations it really gives the message that tests should be our focus. From the other lens it’s glaringly obvious that this system is flawed. Education is so much more than getting a kid to score “above-proficient” on a test. It’s about helping students grow in their skills and knowledge. Many of the things that are important to being a good teacher can never be quantified on a test analysis. This is something I hope I keep on the forefront of my mind this year. I plan to give several opportunities to prepare my students to do well on state tests, but I refuse to turn my curriculum into a test-prep course.

All ranting aside, I felt productive and comfortable in my outfit today. My top is from Stitch Fix. I’m so in love with plaid this season it’s unreal.

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Day 42: October 12, 2016

This was my last Parent-Teacher Conference day for the fall. Twelve hour work days are the hardest, but when kept in the right perspective they can be very necessary. I met with three families during my extended work day and all of those meetings resulted in positive steps to be taken to help their child succeed in my class. Getting face-to-face time with parents is so valuable. If I didn’t have so many students I would call and meet with every family at least once before the middle of the year. You learn so much about a student by meeting their families and sometimes information comes to the surface that can really benefit the teacher.

I really mixed up my ensemble today. I went with a mix between bold color and patterns. My navy and white tunic-dress is from Dorothy Perkins in England. My sweater was a gift from Rue21. I paired these two with pair of coral jeggings and faux leather boots from Charlotte Russe.

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Day 43: October 13, 2016

Debates kicked off this morning in my Honors World History classes. I’m planning to share a little about these in a later post. It’s really a fun way for students to demonstrate their understanding of content, methods of research, and public speaking skills. I used a modified team debate format due to the length of class periods. Each argument is based on an Enlightenment idea as this activity serves as a formative assessment for this unit of study.

For the most part, students were well-prepared and exceeded my expectations. They came armed with a wealth of information and performed well on constructive arguments and rebuttals.

I wore a sweater tunic that my husband bought for me last year at Meijer. It is so comfortable and one of my favorite cold-weather tops. Underneath the tunic I wore my brand new black OS Lula Roe leggings. Solid colors are hard to come by so as soon as these leggings became available I snatched them. They are the closest thing to wearing comfy pajamas to work. I cannot say enough how much I love Lula Roe leggings.

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Day 44: October 14, 2016

The final day of the first quarter has arrived. You could find me in my room today buried beneath a stack of late work, grades, and items that required attention. Wrapping up a quarter is always difficult and involves so much grading and finalizing on a teacher’s part. With the sounding of the final bell today came a feeling of relief. The end to the madness of overdue assignments is now done. I can sit in my little corner of the world and finish grading without distraction.

I’m wearing a boyfriend tank from Old Navy, a plaid shirt from Stitch Fix and my Just Black skinny jeans from Stitch Fix.

A lot has happened this week and I’m absolutely beyond exhausted, but when all is said and done I’m pleased with my efforts and my students’ first quarter and I look forward to another three quarters this year!

Here’s another snapshot of my outfits this week. Which one is your favorite?

The Ameri Brit Mom