Thursday, July 31, 2014

What I've Been Listening To Lately

I think as I've gotten older, my taste in music has mellowed out a little bit.  These are just a few examples of some of the quieter, more relaxing music that I've been listening to lately.

Boy with a Coin-- Iron and Wine

Welcome Home-- Radical Face

The Dumbing Down of Love-- Frou Frou

Upward Over The Mountain-- Iron and Wine

More Than Life-- Whitley

Thanks for listening!


Monday, July 28, 2014

A Review of 'Wonder' by R.J. Palacio

"August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school-- until now.  He's about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid, then you know how hard that can be.  The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face.  But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?"

This book was recommended to me by the fifth grade teacher I volunteered for this spring.  She said that I couldn't read it in a reading group because the kids probably couldn't handle it, but I should read it just the same.  I had heard a lot of good things about this book before reading it.

I didn't care for August as a character very much.  I hated the fact that his parents babied him so much.  I understand that they want to protect their youngest child who looks different than the other kids look, but this kid is ten or eleven-years-old.  He's going to school for the first time and it's going to be scary, but I feel like they are willing to let him quit way to soon (if he wants to).  I'm not a parent, but I have issues with giving your child the option to quit right out of the starting gate.  If non-home school is really not working for him, that's one thing, but if August knows that he has the option to return to home schooling before he even starts, is he really going to give regular school a chance?  I'm not so sure, despite what is written in the book.

The "supporting" characters were much more interesting to me.  Vi and Jack Will were a couple of my favorites.  Jack is the one who is the first to befriend August.  It's really easy to follow the crowd and go against what is considered right.  There are few people who treated August with any kind of respect.  Yet Jack did.  Well, mostly.  And when he screwed up, he treated August like a person, apologized and realized his mistake.  He realizes that he likes being friends with August and so makes up with him.  He's an example for the rest of the class.  Vi is very much in the background of the story, so I'm really happy that she has a chapter all to herself.  August has a lot of needs and requires so much attention that Vi is often put on the backburner.  Her parents love her, of course, but Vi is definitely forced to grow up a little more while her parents handle her brother's needs.  It's not a good feeling to have to yield to a sibling all the time, as much as you love them.  Despite the fact that she's often in the background, she's so supportive of her brother.  She loves him very much and doesn't complain when her parents need to shift the attention to August.

This book is good if you like books about how young people handle sensitive and difficult situations.

I give 'Wonder':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, July 21, 2014

A Review of 'The Watch That Ends The Night' by Allan Wolf (Audio Book)

"Arrogance and innocence, hubris and hope-- twenty-four haunting voices of the Titanic tragedy, as well as the iceberg itself, are evoked in a stunning tour de force.

Millionaire John Jacob Astor hopes to bring home his pregnant teen bride with a minimum of media scandal.  A beautiful Lebanese refugee, on her way to family in Florida, discovers the first stirring of love.  And an ancient iceberg glides south, anticipating its fateful encounter.  The voices in this remarkable re-creation of the Titanic disaster span classes and stations, from Margaret ('the unsinkable Molly') Brown to the captain who went down with his ship; from the lookout and wireless men to a young boy in search of dragons and a gambler in search of marks.  Slipping in telegraphs, undertaker's reports, and other records, poet Allan Wold offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse at the lives behind the tragedy, told with clear-eyed compassion and astounding emotional power."

For the most part, I really enjoyed this book.  My gardening job has started up again, meaning that I have tons of time to listen to audio books during the day.  This one kept my mind busy for quite a while.

I loved that this book looked at more than just the passengers of the ship and more than just the first class passengers of the ship.  My main background for Titanic is the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as well as an extraordinary traveling exhibit that came to the Science Museum of Minnesota a handful of years back.  While I got way more background from the exhibit than I did the movie, I felt like I was missing a lot of the experiences that this book presented.  I liked that this book gave voice to the people who were working on Titanic-- the captain, the people who were sending out the CQD/SOS signals and communicating among the other ships at sea, the stokers in the boiler rooms, the people who sorted the mail, etc.  It was also good to hear from those in the second and third classes.  Some were escaping terrors in their home countries and had to leave while others were facing personal traumas and chose to leave.

I didn't like hearing from the rats or from the iceberg.  The voice of the rat was incredibly repetitive.  It was nice to break up some of the heavier parts that the passengers and workers talked about, but I don't feel that the rat really added anything vitally important to the story.  I absolutely hated to hear from the iceberg.  Allan Wolf writes the various mistakes that were made on board the Titanic (and sometimes these were common mistakes on other ships): the radio communication systems were shut off on other ships (not all, but some), the binoculars in the look-out post had been lost, the ship was going way too fast, the workers were ignoring warnings from other ships that they were heading into an area with tons of icebergs, and of course, there weren't enough lifeboats to rescue everyone on board the ship.  And yet as he gave the iceberg a voice, the iceberg became a hunter-- that it's sole intention was to hit Titanic.  It's taking the blame off of people and putting it on an object that doesn't control how it moves or how people react to it.  I think it's a cop out.  Titanic is a tragic incident, certainly, but it must be understood that some thought-processes on board were fatally flawed.  The number of deaths could have been prevented had more lifeboats been provided and if class separation weren't so vitally important to those on board (or at least those who ran the ship).  You can't blame a piece of ice for what happened.  What could it do?  It can't move out of the way, nor can it launch itself in front of ship seeking to destroy it.  This part of history is tragic because of the oversights of many, many people.  And that's why I hated to hear from the iceberg.

To return to something more positive about the book, I liked the little details that were included at the very end, after the story ended.  The number of the people on board, what the ship was carrying besides people (the car that's in the Titanic movie?  Yeah, that was really there), etc.  I also liked the level of detail.  One such details was the last meals that people in each class had (though they weren't aware that it was their last meal).  It reminded me of this thing on Buzzfeed where photographer Henry Hargreaves took pictures of the last meals of death-row prisoners.  That series of photos was haunting as the pictures of the food (or no food at all) accompanied the prisoner's name, age, home state, and crime(s).  It was a lot like Titanic.  A lot of people were prisoners on this ship and there was no way they could know that until the Titanic started to sink and they couldn't escape their levels and get to the life boats.

This is exclusive to the audio book, but I loved hearing Morse Code as it was punched out.  I also liked the rhythmic reading (sort, shuffleshuffle slot) of the mail room.  They were wonderful auditory details.  I'm kind of fan-girling over them, honestly.

This is a great book if you're very interested in the Titanic story.

I give 'The Watch That Ends The Night':
Thanks for Reading!


Thursday, July 17, 2014

One More Year of University Under My Belt

It's really late to be posting things like this, but I'm going to do it any way.  When you notice progress, celebrate it.

My last school year was crazy.  Sometimes in good ways and other times in bad ways.  It was a challenging year.  But I think I've learned a lot and grown as a person too.  Let me count (some of) the ways...

1. Tried My Hand At A Leadership Position.  This year, I was on the Residence Hall Association Executive Board as the Improvements Chair.  I applied to be an RA at the end of my first year and wasn't accepted, so instead, I was approached by the RHA Advisor about being on the E-Board instead.  I met with her to see how I could improve next time I applied and I think that impressed her to some degree.  So I've learned to follow up even on opportunities where I'm rejected.  It can only help me.  Being on the Improvements Chair gave me more experience working with people-- dealing with their complaints so that I could try and make their lives better and working with a group to organize big events and get help.  It was a lot of work, but I'm very happy with my decision to be on the board.  I won't be back next year due to studying abroad and not being a campus resident any longer, but I think the new board will do just as well.

Residence Hall Association E-Board 2013-2014

2. Learned To Deal With Interpersonal Conflict.  This ranges from solving problems with my boyfriend to dealing with my roommates.  This was the first time I've lived with people whom I didn't have any prior experience with.  My first roommate was someone I went to high school with and roomed with in France when we traveled there.  We had a good idea of what the other was like when it came to our living habits and such.  But that wasn't the case this year.  We had problems when it came to being inflexible about certain habits, openly not liking friends, experiencing the affects of each other's stress, and balancing... everything.  This year's living situation took a lot more work, but I'm glad that I went through it.  I think that it was good for me.

3. I Took Some Risks In Classes.  I took a public speaking class in the fall.  I consider myself to be a pretty strong writer, but awful at public speaking, even if 'public speaking' is just in front of one person.  I struggle to figure out how to say what I want to say often.  While I can't say that I'm the best public speaker that anyone has ever heard, I can say that I've improved a little.  I even got a little reassurance when everyone told me that the best speech I gave was when I was teaching the class about the community of people surrounding Harry Potter.  I'm very proud of that speech.  I'll never speak on a political level and I'll never be to the level that my professor is at, but if I can present information well and in an interesting way, I say that I'm doing okay, given what I want to do with the rest of my life.  This particular speech class also helped me learn to communicate with my professors.  In the beginning, we were required to turn in a transcript for every speech.  After the first speech I wrote about my Nani, a speech I'm proud of on paper, I asked my professor if I could do without the transcript, realizing that I was trying to memorize what I had written.  I did much better with a heavy outline.

4. Got The Ball Rolling For Study Abroad.  I filled out my application, I've done my running around to obtain various documents and signatures (still doing that, actually... super last-minute) that are needed before my departure, I bought my plane tickets, I've prepped this blog, met with one of the girls who will also be going on the trip with me... putting aside the fact that I'm not nearly ready to pack yet, I could probably be prepared to leave for the Netherlands in a week or two.

5. I'm Starting An Honors Project For The English Department.  A new project was created for English majors to complete, should they choose to.  Students can write research papers, works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc. and work on it one year leading up to their graduation.  So that's what I'm going to do.  I've met with people who are willing to help me write what I want to write and I've started gathering ideas on how to write what I want to write.  I've also though about what I want to write about.  I want to write a nonfiction something (right now, the plan is a memoir) about my study abroad experience in the Netherlands this fall.  Since I haven't experienced it yet, I can't make any solid decisions.

6. Made The Dean's List.  This is the first time that I've done this since I started college.  Last semester, I earned all A's and A-'s in my classes resulting in a GPA of at least 3.667 for the semester.  I'm really happy with this result because there were classes where I had challenging papers that would bring me to tears some nights, challenging things to think about, tons of stuff to balance... but I did it.  And I'm really happy about this.  I'd like to thank the Academy.

This past year challenged me in more ways that I ever thought possible, but I can say that I made it through alive.  I think that next year will be even better than the last, bringing its own set of challenges and things to work through and deal with, but also some good memories, I hope.  I'm pretty excited for it.

Thanks for Reading!


Monday, July 14, 2014

A Review of 'This Star Won't Go Out' by Esther Earl (with Lori and Wayne Earl)

"Diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age twelve, Esther (Persian for 'Star') Earl was an exceptionally bright and talented-- but very normal-- teenager.  She lived a hope-filled and generous, outwardly focused life as she navigated her physical decline with grace.  A cheerful, positive, and encouraging daughter, sister, and friend, Esther died in 2010, shortly after turning sixteen, but not before inspiring thousands through her growing online presence.

This unique memoir collects Esther's journals, fiction, letters, and sketches.  Photographs and essays by family and friends help to tell Esther's story, along with an introduction by award-winning author John Green who dedicated his #1 international bestseller The Fault in Our Stars to her."

If you're a Nerdfighter, you'll probably have at least heard about Esther Earl.  Both John and Hank Green mention her quite a few times and have tried to decrease world suck partially because of Esther.

This girl led an interesting and hard life in her sixteen years.  She traveled around the world for a lot of her life, which I thought was exciting.  She also kept diaries throughout her life, documenting changes in herself, her thoughts, her feelings, etc.  I love reading things in diary format.  I feels like the person who wrote them wrote them for you, the reader.

As Esther went through treatments for her thyroid cancer, she'd write about death and also about how it is to be alive now.  She's honest though.  Not every day is hunky-dory, but not every day is horrible and awful either.  She talks about herself in the context of her family and about her friends.  She worries about them as she slowly dies.

I love that Esther's writing is complimented by her family via short essays and remarks about their daughter and sister's life, her friends via online chat transcripts and also short essays and remarks of their own.  It's good to hear about what Esther thought and felt and she's unbelievably bright, but it's something else entirely to hear about what it's like to be close to Esther and to go through these awful changes and experiences with her.

By the end of the book, I was in tears.  Big, bulging tears.  I was reading Esther's father's testimonial and her parents' Caring Bridge updates and I just couldn't take it.  I can't even imagine losing a child, even at this point in my life when I don't have children of my own.  We can get a glimpse of what this would be like, but we can never fully know.  And that's hard, especially if you want to say something.  What do you say to the parents of an amazing girl whose time came much too early?

I highly recommend this book.

I give 'This Star Won't Go Out':
Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Beautiful Animation

I have't done this for a really long time, but as I was perusing Facebook, I saw this video.  A Disney Animator made this and since I'm in love with Disney movies, I fell instantly in love with this.  I love that there are no words-- the actions speak louder.



Monday, July 7, 2014

A Review of 'The Witch of Blackbird Pond' by Elizabeth George Speare

"Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean island she left behind.  In her relatives' stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely.  The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat.  But when Kit's friendship with the 'witch' is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger.  She herself is accused of witchcraft!"

I liked this book, but the fifth grade girls I read this book with did not.  I think they're planning a bonfire.

They didn't like this book because it was very slow-moving.  They were used to reading books where the characters would take physical action to get into trouble and also to solve their problems.  But this book has to do with actions via words and character development.  This is right up my alley.

I haven't read too many books about the colonial U.S., so this was kind of a treat for me.  I thought it would be cool because the kids were learning about the Revolutionary War and the time surrounding it in their social studies class.  I also thought it was cool that it was about a girl around this time period.  You don't hear a lot about the women of this time and even less about the children.  It's neat to get a whole new perspective on what the time period was like.  Kit was a good main character because everything was as new to her as it was to the person reading it.  This helps highlight how religious this society is and highlights how strict the people are about tradition and about their beliefs.  I liked Kit very much for not only these reasons, but also because she takes risks for people.  She teaches a young girl to read and befriends an outcast.  Against society's wishes too.  It doesn't sound like much, but it takes guts to do those things, especially when it's forbidden for you to do these things.

I'm not sure that I'd read this book again, but I'm glad that I read it this time.

I give 'The Witch of Blackbird Pond':
Thanks for Reading!