Books

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Edging out the 9th spot on my 100 book challenge is Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist. I bought this book at Heathrow airport to read in 2014 when we were headed home from our big Euro-trip. I wound up being allergic to the person in front of me on the plane. I seriously still would like to know what kind of perfume it was…so, I wound up sleeping thanks to benadryl for the entire flight home. I never even opened the book.

And from there I moved around and it sat in my bookshelf and in a box for sometime, before I finally picked it up again this summer. I really wished I had read it sooner. I love the Netherlands. When I do go back to Europe, I want to spend a good chunk of time in the Netherlands, riding bikes and eating copious amounts of cheese. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

TheMiniaturist

In Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, we follow a young girl, Petronella Oortman, who is recently married to one of Amsterdam’s most well-off merchants, Johannes Brandt.  The two barely know each other and it becomes clear about Nella’s arrival that all is not what is seems in her new home. She has a sister-in-law who appears devout and overtly religious, a mix of servants that owe their lives to Johannes and a husband that has little interest in Nella as a wife.

It’s pretty easy to figure out almost immediately that Johannes is gay and pretty much only married Nella out of duty to give his family a proper facade. They do develop a friendship in their marriage, that for me, I felt was more about Nella constantly protecting her new family instead of herself. It was a good, quick read and it paced very well, with a lot of tension as well as suspense driving most of the book.

The ending however, had me wondering what the point of including the sub-plot of the miniaturist was? Outside of driving suspense for the novel, the ending really had her fizzle out without much reason as to why she had even been there in the first place. It was pretty interesting how she sent messages to Nell through the miniatures that she ordered from her for her doll house, but it is not even explained how the woman knew some of the things she warned Nella about or what her motivation for doing any of it was? I found her ending confusing at best.

I was really surprised to learn that this novel was based on real people: Johannes and Nella were a merchant couple, who married and lived in Amsterdam in the late 1600’s. Learning that, I thought it was a bit salacious to write the events of the novel as they were, seeing as there is no historical evidence of a sham marriage to hide a man’s homosexuality. And yes, there is even a real dollhouse that had inspired the author when it was on display at a museum:

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The dollhouse at the time, had cost the same as buying a real canal house in Amsterdam. Can you imagine that? So crazy! People like Peter the Great even attempted to buy it, but wouldn’t rise to the crazy price that the family was trying to sell it for.

This is definitely good for a quick summertime read. I’ve recently started the much controversial Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

 

teaching

Finding Your Voice as an Educator

I have been teaching for about 9 years. Of that, I have been in public schools for 7 years and of that, I have taught college for 2 years. Out of all of my experiences, I have found that teaching college was the hardest because of my age. I was 29 when I became an adjunct professor, but I did not look a day over 21.

My first class was filled with nontraditional students, mainly adult learners that had come back after many years of not being in school. The looks that they gave me when they saw me walk in and out my bag down on the desk, would be enough to have driven someone less driven right outside the door.

Instead, I made a joke about how I know I look like I’m 12, but I assured them that I did in fact have the credentials to qualify me for the position. It turned out to be one of the best classes I have ever had and to this day, I am still in contact with many of my students from that course.

I created my class with many opportunities to complete the required work and in cases where assignments were missed, I offered alternatives. Mostly, students are successful in my classes because they not only learn the material, but find a way that fits them in meeting the requirements and expectations outlined by the college.

This semester has been a hard one for me, as I have been working full-time at a hotel for wedding money while interning full time for my PhD requirements AND teaching a summer class. I am also enrolled in a quantitative research class that I am somehow maintaining my 4.0 in. Oh and let’s not forget the arts integration certification program I signed up for before I realized I had to take the hotel job. So, I cry a lot.

I pretty much don’t sleep. And the white stripe in my hair is I believe about twice as big as it was at the start of June. However, I am at the end of the summer class and my integration program and internship are winding down too. I am almost into the “I did it” phase.

The stress of this, I think, led me today to find my teaching voice in a college class. I teach a 5-week long course, I email students a month prior to the start with their book lists and inform them how intense these shortened classes are. I provide them with an outline, ways to structure their workload to ensure success and make myself available as much as I can. So, today, when several students request on the day that their course project that they have known about and been given opportunities to work on every day of class for 5 weeks, ask for an extension on it, my teaching voice came bubbling to the surface before I could stop it.

I, nicely, said to my class who looked at me wide-eyed; “You all have known about this project since May and I have been giving you chances to work on it since early July. I am sorry that you have to work or babysit, but the reality is you are in college and in college a deadline is a deadline is a deadline, especially when you have had a month of knowing that deadline.”

I don’t think I would have said that a year ago, I probably would have given the extension and stayed up late to grade. However, what this summer taught me, even in my PhD program as I have watched more and more people get weeded out, is that there are a lot of people who talk the talk and will tell you about all the things they want to accomplish, but they never set out and just do it.

And it really is that simple. If you want it, you just have to do it. And if you choose not to do it, no one is going to hand anything to you. You are entitled to nothing. And your life? Your life is pretty much what you make of it as well as the choices that you choose to follow. Sometimes, you will have to ask for an extension or a pass– but those times shouldn’t happen when you know that you haven’t proven yourself yet.

teaching

The Secret to Success as an Urban Educator

I saw a status from someone who began teaching around the time that I was deciding to commit to teaching myself. She wrote that her former students were shocked that she had had a baby and that just because she has high expectations and wasn’t a “nice” teacher doesn’t mean she wasn’t a nice person in life.

Seeing that, just dumbfounded me. Particularly because we both teach in inner cities and teach special education populations, her more so than me as I am not a special education teacher, but for the majority of my years in the inner city, I had volunteered to be the general education teacher in inclusive classrooms for my grade level.

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And there is a side to teaching wherein if you want to be successful, meaning you help students achieve academically in your subject area, then you have to have high expectations, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t love your kids as well or that you have to be “a not nice teacher” to communicate those expectations. With city kids, that means being consistent in your judgement, consistent in your love and your criticism as well as being flexible and truly listening to what these kids have to say.

The majority of the students I have taught remain in contact with me, updating me on their lives and their dreams. They visit sometimes and when they do, it’s always with big hugs and excitement. That is how I know I am successful in what I do. Sure, I have years of data that back me and show my administrators that I am successful in teaching kids how to read and bringing them towards career and college readiness, but that’s not all there is to teaching.

I remember the first time a student called me mom. Continually. Later, when I asked them why I had become their mom I was told it was because they knew that I was there for them, even when they were acting a fool. They knew that they could come to me with anything and I would do my best for them. That was when I knew that I was on the path of becoming the kind of teacher I knew that urban kids needed.

Urban kids are different from your suburban kids that come from nice homes, with semi-intact families and better financial support systems. Urban kids are often starting school well below their suburban counter parts because of the environments they are raised in, they often have parents or grandparents working multiple jobs meaning they’re home alone more times than not or in state-funded daycare. Urban kids are also semi street smart, because really, kids are also kids in any environment and come into school with an attitude more times than not because they feel like they don’t fit.

However, if you hold these kids to a high expectation of achievement as well as give them them the empathy and love that so many just need, then you are not only going to have success in their academics, but you’re also going to have success in helping to raise a better future in that, your love and acceptance may be what sets that kid up for an entirely different path in life.

Within urban education, I firmly believe all students need it. Some more than others, specifically kids with difficult home lives and worse yet, the kids that have spent their lives in and out of the system. If you pursue your teaching career in an inner city district, you have to become an educator with clear expectations as well as someone who will become another mother or father towards the kids that you are working to educate.

And I carry that belief with me in everything I do. For instance, the college class I am teaching this summer is at the city campus. It took me less than 5 minutes to e-mail the students who missed the first class to just remind them that class was today. Within 30 minutes, I even had one show up late to class.

Sometimes, you just have to be that person for other people. If you want to be a successful teacher, you need to remember that you have chosen a profession where you are in service to others.

love

Away We Go: Where Life Puts You Down

There’s this Ben Okri quote in The Famished Road, a really great book that I read from the optional reading list when I took Art of West Africa as an undergraduate student at Rutgers. It say, “This is what you must be like. Grow wherever life puts you down.” As a clueless 20-something at the time, I appreciated the sentiment, but it has only been recently that I have really gotten it.

For most of my life, I had a plan for myself and though it changed and diverted in places I am reaching the end stages of that early adult life plan: become a teacher who writes books and travel, get married to someone you love with your whole heart, and finish your PhD. Of course, at the time I thought it would be a PhD in art history and that I would be an art history professor, but the way it has turned out has made me happier than I would have been had I followed the original path. Life had other plans and I grew into them because it’s where I was put down.

 

Again the tides are starting to change and with them, I am beginning to feel the feelings that signal change and uncertainty. In 2015, I took a huge leap of faith and commitment. I left my apartment in Bordentown and bought a house at the Jersey shore where I would move to with my boyfriend. I have never lived with a boyfriend and really never thought I would, but that’s the path life was taking me and instead of second guessing everything like I always do, I went with it and in doing so, I made one of the best decisions of my life: I began my own family with the man of my dreams and in 5 months, we’re going to be husband and wife.

Which has led us to a whole new set of adventures and life questions. After this year, we’ll be married and God willing, my PhD will be completed which means I will begin to look for administration positions as well as full-time university positions. We’ve begun to discuss many things, but the biggest one is: How committed are we to a life in New Jersey? And, where do we want to live?

We’ve outgrown our tiny seaside house with just us and the tiny zoo. Both of our dogs are full grown now and they would be so much happier with a lot of space to run around in. With the concern over honeymooning in Ireland, which, I think is also fed into by when we were in France/England in 2014 and were existing via Calais to Dover to Heathrow and they put the terror alert to red as we walked through lines of migrants, riot police and a crazy airport, it was all very unnerving. The world has only gotten crazier. With all the talk of what to do for a honeymoon and what our plan is for the next steps in our lives, I started to suggest maybe a road trip? What if we just drove around to all the states we always wanted to see and experienced them for a little bit? We could be like John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph in Away We Go, and maybe figure out the next place that we want to venture to or at least try to, before life puts us down again.

teaching

The Longest Wait

At the beginning of each school year, I think the longest wait is until Christmas break. Then we hit that mark of the school year and I look forward to the 100th day of school mark which brings us to the dregs of the year where school just feels endless. You’ll blink and it’ll be spring break and the year will start wrapping up pretty quickly.

That is, until, you hit June. In New  Jersey, we pretty much go to the end of June. This year it is June 26th. Which means as of today, if we don’t count weekends we have 13 days left of school.

13. 13 days that really feel like 50 sometimes. The kids are done. PARCC testing kills their desire to do anything after that and then when you add in all the end of year testing we have to do to them on top of curriculum and the like, the kids are just done. And really? So are you.

You start envisioning what it would be like if you could just take over total control. What would it be like if you could snatch every water bottle that is flipped? What about slapping every fidget spinner there is in your sight right into the garbage? What if you took every cell phone and made yourself a throne of cell phones? What if you could say everything exactly the way that inner devil is thinking it without sugar coating it? What if….

Of course you won’t because you love teaching and know you’re just burnt out from the year, but during this final sprint into summer sometimes the day dreams just take over and you think maybe Mrs. Krabappel did really have the best day ever when Bart spikes her coffee with booze after she gives him a “Z”:

 

love

Let’s Skip the Honeymoon

Is a honeymoon mandatory? I would think not, but as I began to plan my wedding, I realized how quickly people were willing to give you both solicited, but really mainly their unsolicited advice and opinions on what you should do on your day.

We had been dating for 2 1/2 years when Phil had asked me to marry him. We had talked about marriage often and about starting a family as well as all of the other things we wanted in life. We had done so probably since the third or fourth month of dating. My mom always told me that when you meet the right person, it was all going to happen quick and effortless. Looking back, I would have to say my mom was pretty right about that.

Within a few days we already knew what date we wanted to be married on and where. Planning started quickly and by spring of this year, our wedding was pretty much together. We just had to pay for everything. We wanted to honeymoon in Ireland.

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I have always wanted to go there and Phil, being the gigantic fantasy nerd that he is was all for the castles and the history. It’s really the perfect spot. However 2017 is turning out to not be a very kind year politically and I really feel like the world is spiraling out of control. I am almost scared to bring kids into this world, because I do not think that it’s going to get better any time soon and for it to get better, it’s definitely going to get much worse.

Suffice it to say, we will not be going to Ireland on our honeymoon. After this latest attack in Manchester, I believe that Europe and us will be separated for some time which is a hard realization to reach since I love Europe and could spend so much time there happily.

We kicked around cruises, Hawaii and even weekend trips like Maine. However, as cool as Hawaii and Maine sounds, it wasn’t Ireland. And cruises? I never understood them. You spend days just hanging on this boat spending money and only a few days in the place that you’re sailing to. It’s been a big discussion.

Until today when Phil texted me and said, “Wanna just spend the days together after getting married and not do anything but relax and be married?”

I couldn’t type yes fast enough. This year has been one of big changes and working really hard to pay this wedding in full and in cash.

After this marathon we’ve been on since Christmas, there’s nothing I’d like more than to just be home, and be married with my husband and our tiny zoo.

Uncategorized

I did it!!

Things that have changed recently:

1.) I bought a new car, but not just a new to me car, but a new  car for the first time ever in my life. I know understand new cars and having power everything and things like Sirius radio.

2.) Howard Stern. I didn’t realize how much I missed him in the morning since college and 92.3 K-Rock disappeared.

3.) My hair has gotten so long that I now have a long braid most days. By November, our wedding month, I will most likely have attained Jane Austen hair. (!!!!)

4.) I achieved Scientific Merit Approval for my dissertation which means, once I pass comps in the winter, I will go for IRB approval and then I will be into full-on dissertation. I will be in total awe of myself if I actually complete this insanity in 3 years.

For the first time in awhile I feel like I am at the forefront of a huge upswing and I’m kind of just enjoying the ride. It’s been awhile since I felt this way.