Monday Minutiae – 03.11.2019

Listening Comprehension

For my current WIP, I’ve got a book theme… as in, it’s circles the idea of one of those “100 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Die” lists. And because of that, I’m discovering that Cliff’s Notes (or Spark’s Notes, the online version) aren’t necessarily enough for me to feel comfortable referring to for my characters to discuss their books. But man, I have a hard enough time trying to keep up with all the books I want to read for the FIRST time let alone adding in re-reading some that I didn’t even necessarily love. So, I’m taking advantage of the audio book route. One fun discovery: Animal Farm on disc from my library was read by Ralph Cosham, who narrated so many of my favorite mystery series by Louise Penny. It was like a warm welcome. I’ve plenty more books in the line-up. Maybe I’ll succomb to listening at a faster rate…

Summer Reading List

On a related note… I came across this article about books that are commonly required of students in various countries throughout the world and it’s pretty interesting! Not only are the titles interesting, but the reasons for including them in that country’s literary canon. Much like here in the U.S, some reasons seem great, others…not so much. My TBR just toppled over into a huge mess and I am tripping all over the place with what to read next.

Works Cited

Even more on books… piracy has always been and will always be a problem. This article talks about the frustration of misinformation some piracy hosts blatantly propagate. No, authors do NOT think it’s okay to go download their book for free from a random site. Years ago, a site called Napster was sued for illegal music piracy and was used for quite some time as the poster child for proprietary advocacy of musicians and their work. We have all probably shared music illicitly at some point, but when I started teaching about copyright to my students – which explored things like artistic piracy, I changed my ways. I buy the music for my writing playlists. I buy books – and if I don’t buy them, then I borrow them in the way they are supposed to be read for free – from the library.

Currently Reading (print): Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Currently Reading (audio): Lord of the Flies by William Golding (I know, but the things we do for writing research!)

Song of the Week:

Not long ago, I put together a playlist of music that brought me back to my childhood days – you know, in the time of no personal digital accounts to find my own music so I listened to parents’ vinyls. Here is one of my nostalgic listens:

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Monday Minutiae – 02/11/19

Daily Oral Language
My friend and colleague, Jeff Zupfer, makes music. He writes lots of different things, but because he also teaches music at an elementary school, he writes a lot of children’s music. During our cold-cold-cold #PolarVortex days here in Minnesota, he wrote a song… about Minnesota. What made me even happier was that it made it into The Current’s (one of our local NPR radio stations) Friday Five. Well deserved! (Also, take a listen… it’s catchy!)
Black History Month
Brooklyn teacher Hollie Tubbs was a teacher recently featured who created a gorgeous door design to honor Black History month. Another friend and colleague of mine, EL teacher Hodan, replicated it with her classroom door at our school – LOVE:
Check out the many other awesome variations that people have been sharing online.


Submitting Assignments
This little tidbit shared via Twitter simply made me smile. Some random person took out a full page ad in a newspaper to talk about some general grievances along with some general kudos. There are a lot of good bits, but I kind of especially liked the general “I am pleased with cheeseburgers.” I wonder if he meant to address it to a specific restaurant or chain, but it’s quite entertaining without the specificity.
Reading Minutes
Kudos to this bookstore… I’ve been helping out with giving book talks at work lately and my one big goals is to avoid pointing out whether a book might be more interesting to boys or girls. I often specifically like to mention when one of my boys has really liked a book that has girl protagonists, because I think at the elementary level is when we really have to work hard at breaking those stereotypes. When this bookstore demonstrates the quote, “You know what I mean” when talking about looking for a “boy” book (although in the linked tweet it talks about “girl” books) I do “know” what they mean, but it isn’t accurate. Let’s all start being more specific about what we really mean when we’re trying to find a style of book for someone. Action? Adventure? Animals? Loyalty? Friendship? Identity?
Currently Reading (print): Felix Yz – Lisa Bunker (MG/YA)
Currently Reading (audio): Home for the Holidays (Mother-Daughter Book Club Series) – Heather Vogel Frederick (MG)
Song of the Week:

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Do the Work

Do you know what’s comforting?

To realize that sometimes, when you’re feeling sluggish and unaccomplished one month into a new year, it isn’t unusual. To discover that this is how you feel each and every year at around this time.

I was paging through old posts, knowing that some of what I was going to write about today I’ve touched upon before. And sure enough….

January 20, 2015:

“It’s the third week of January. The year is still NEW and yet already feels like it’s been around forever, amirite?”

February 9, 2017:

“So, January happened.”

I can relate to these memes:

There are a lot of things that made January feel like forever (and often the Minnesota cold is a big one – Polar Vortex anyone?), but finding the motivation to get back into writing was a big one. I tried to do NaNo last year and basically quit not much more than a week in, because I had too many other factors working against me. I gave myself permission to step back.

But man, I “stepped back” for waaayyy too long. I have a really good WIP started and waiting for me. I should be able to jump right back in, right?

Ugh. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sometimes I’ve sort of dismissed it when people say they are impressed with me having written entire novels; yet it is this part of the process that I should remember because yep, there’s work involved with writing and yep, pushing through and finishing the novels is a big deal.

And so, I am taking my deep breaths, joyfully saying goodbye to January, and sitting down to Do the Work. I’m going to do the things I know will help me… getting my daily swim in, listening to my music playlist for this project, making time, and I will persevere.

How does January treat you? How do you overcome the obstacle of getting back into your project, be it writing or otherwise?

I like OAR’s recent song, “I Go Through” for various reasons (and it’s on my WIP playlist), but these lyrics speak to me right now:

We go ’round and around it

We go over and under

We go through

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Janet’s Reading Stats: 2018 in Review

If I were one to have a “number of books read” goal, 2018 probably would have been a banner year for me. I read 115 books!

Not like I have to qualify my reading or anything, but to make some people feel better, I read many children’s chapter books, which are 15-30 minute reads, so that helped pad my numbers.

More personally for me than setting a goal for number of books read was who and what I was reading.

Last year, I said this:

I am most disappointed with my #ownvoices statistics. 20% is a really poor showing, especially from someone who claims to be an advocate. Obviously this doesn’t mean I’m not an advocate, but it really highlights how much further I have to go in putting my money where my mouth is.”

And so, my goal this year was to make a much more conscious effort to increase this percentage.

Here is something that I did: like many big readers, I have a crazy long “To Be Read” list. In fact, I think it was last year that I switched over from using Evernote to One Note and now I have a TBR list in Evernote, a new one in One Note, the ones I marked in Goodreads, the bookmarked booklists in my browser, the favorited tweets, and of course, the random emails and slips of paper. (It’s totally under control.) What I used to do was simply add to my list when I read or heard of a great book and here and there I would reserve from the library one those listed books. This year, however, whenever the book was by an #ownvoices author, I immediately placed it on my holds list at the library (if available) instead of just writing it down.

And while sometimes that put my reading schedule on the crazy side (8 books on hold all coming in at once, anyone?), it also meant I had a continual feed of really great books.

55% of the books I read in 2018 were by #ownvoices authors. Way better than 2017. And still further to go for 2019.

#ownvoices 2018

A couple of other miscellaneous stats:

author gender 2018

category 2018

I enjoy this kind of tracking. I think it’s useful to get a true analysis of what and who I am reading. For example, when I say I read widely, am I telling the truth? Or is it just what I like to say to make me sound interesting? Looking at the chart below, sure, 48% of my reading material is contemporary, but the rest is made up of a lot of other things, so yeah, I’m giving myself permission to keep saying I read all kinds of things.

genre 2018

If you’d like to track your reading in the same way I have, here is a copy of my log template, which is adapted from BookRiot’s Rachel Manwill.

And here, also, are a few of my top 2018 recs – in no particular order and not all-inclusive because honestly, I read a ton of really stand-out books this past year:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saénz (YA)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon  – Kelly Barnhill (MG) ß especially good in audiobook, btw

The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo (YA)

Half a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (A)

An American Marriage – Tayari Jones (A)

The Great Passage – Shion Miura (A)

Echo – Pam Muñoz Ryan (MG)

The Hating Game – Sally Thorne (A)

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion (A)

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things – Lenore Look (MG)

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal (A)

The Way to Bea – Kate Yeh (MG)

And to start out 2019:

Currently reading (print): Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak (YA)

Currently reading (audio): How Hard Can It Be? – Allison Pearson (A)

What were some of your top 2018 reads? What should I add immediately?

(Tell the world about the [books we’ve read]…)





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I debated holding onto my 2018 One Word Resolution of BELIEVE because, to be frank, or frances, the whole “Believe” thing didn’t go so well last year. I’m not saying 2018 was a bad year; it was actually a pretty great year in many areas. Professionally, personally – there’s a lot I can celebrate. A lot where Believe succeeded.

When it comes down to it, Believe broke down when applied to my journey to publication. Following that dream is NOT for the impatient, the insecure, the self-righteous, or the weak-hearted. And I don’t mean you can be one of those things for awhile and not the others. It feels like you simply can’t be ANY of them at any time at all.

You can see where I struggled. Still struggle.

Where Believe came into play was in my writing. I had to remember that the writing was the important thing. Not the other stuff. The other stuff can’t ever be more than the writing itself.

So I’m now deciding Believe worked. It’s an accomplishment. I started a new writing project and you know what? I definitely believe in it (even if I haven’t worked on it for the past 6 weeks. SHHHHHHHH.) Believe is not finished (just as Invest and Commit have not been abandoned), but I’m ready to move on for 2019.


“Continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

That sort of sounds like stubborn or pig-headed…. But CONNOTATION MATTERS. It does! I swear! Although, who cares – in this case, if it means I keep writing and trying to publish, then connote whatever you like. If it means keeping at the things that propel my professional life, then persistent I shall be. If it means devoting the necessary time and resources for my personal goals, then stubborn, it is.

If it means continual work at the previous years’ one-word resolutions, I will STICK IT OUT.

And you? What is your one word, one phrase, one theme, one whatever for 2019?

Jordin Sparks gets it. She’s telling me yes, keep at it, one step at a time:

One step at a time / There’s no need to rush

It’s like learning to fly / Or falling in love

It’s gonna happen and it’s / Supposed to happen that we

Find the reasons why /One step at a time

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Monday Minutiae -12/17/18

Intervention Support

You know how you put a bunch of books on hold at the library, and they ALL come in at once? If you think that is overwhelming, imagine this person:


Sound off in the comments your ideas on why that person put so many different books on hold (varying publishing dates, authors, etc). Are they going up to a secluded cabin and want to bring a mini-library with them? Are they feeling the pressure of their Goodreads reading challenge and don’t want to waste time coming back to the library?

Extra Recess

A recent reason to smile: an elementary school colleague reminding a 10-year old boy not to run  and he converts his run into a skip. One can’t possibly argue with that cheerful response.

Daily 5

A friend shared this post about putting in the practice to achieve creative goals in one of my FB writing groups recently and I love the universal nature of it. He talks about how he spend a year learning guitar and lists some simple steps he took to do it. Here was what he said about his daily practice goal:

I created a simple rule to define my year of guitar playing: I must practice each and ever day for at least one minute.

That’s it.

The one minute rule was meant to make it ridiculously easy for me to find success. There isn’t a single day where I couldn’t justify picking up the guitar and strumming a G chord for 60 seconds. Some days, that is honestly all I did.

Earlier in the year, I realized I was having a hard time doing the “write every day” thing. And even though I don’t think that is any kind of hard and fast rule (do what works for you), I knew I needed something to help me regain some momentum. I read about a “write 100 words for 100 days”. And like the “practice each day for 1 minute”, some days I literally wrote exactly 100 words. But 100 words isn’t that hard overall, and it worked. It got me back into my creative space.

Intrinsic Motivation

Along those same lines of inspiration: I got to see author Louise Penny speak in Nashville a couple of weeks ago (which also provided an exciting opportunity to meet an online friend from England at the same time- YAY!) and she was great to listen to. So much resonated with me – her age and late start to writing novels, the long road to publication, and along that road she had encountered a major writer’s block. Too much of her brain space had been taken up with the idea of publishing until she had her aha moment: she needed to write that first book for herself. And while I did not have the same kind of block when I wrote my first novel, it flowed from the same feeling: I wrote it for myself. I wrote it for the joy of it. That is what I always go back to when I get mired in the slog of not kicking down the door of publication: write for the personal joy of it.

Louise Penny with me and friends

A bit blurry, but Penny in the middle!

Currently Reading (print): Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens – ed. Marieke Nijkamp

Currently Reading (audio): How Hard Can It Be? – Allison Pearson

Song of the Week:

My partner (Andy Rundquist) plays with the Hamline University Jazz Ensemble and has had great fun arranging new songs for them. I enjoy these songs from the concerts because they’re always just a step out of the norm for that group, which makes them that much better. Last night’s arrangement: “Horizon Line” by Red Baraat.

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An “Open Letter” to My Fellow Teaching Colleagues About School Supply Lists

One my favorite wedding stories to tell people is about our gift registry.

A little over 25 years ago, my partner and I argued over whether or not we should create a gift registry. Some of your are already thinking, “duh”. Bear in mind that 25 years ago, this idea was still pretty new. He didn’t like the idea of “telling” people what to get us. I told him that we weren’t doing that; we were helping them with what we need because we were young – fresh out of college and a lot of our invited friends were the same. They had no idea what they should get us. Laundry detergent! Chips! Toilet paper! I mean, yeah, but when you’re 21/22, it’s sometimes difficult to fathom that we might need actual dishes, towels, and small appliances to live on our own, too, without a university all-you-can eat cafeteria on hand.

Plus, I added, it’s not like we have to specify certain brands of things we needed. We need a mixer, but it doesn’t have to be Cuisinart or Kitchen Aid. It can be whatever is on the cheap from K-Mart or Target.

He thought it over, and nodded. “Yeah, okay. That makes sense.”

As soon as the magic scanning gun was in his hands, however, everything changed. THIS, he exclaimed, scanning in the $200 set of salt and pepper shakers that weighed five pounds each. They’re solid and a great color. WE NEED THEM. And this $600 blender. And these $80 placemats. And this $300 eight-slice Krups toaster.


We had to pause and I said, “remember what we just talked about?”

He laughed. “Yeah.”

This story makes me think of the school supply list problem that creeps up every year. My social media timelines get filled with pleas for compassion for teachers and school supplies vs frustrated parents whose blood pressure skyrockets as they try to find All The Items.

Look,  I LOVE school and office supplies. A lot. I love brand new, Papermate brand wooden pencils with their soft #2 lead, Pilot brand pens, Sharpies, brightly colored 3M Post-It brand sticky notes, and Mead college-ruled notebooks.

Yes, I prefer Papermate brand pencils over Ticonderogas. I like Sharpie brand permanent markers over any other.

But let’s be honest. Are those brands going to help me teach any better than the other random brands? I sure hope not.

As a kid, I loved when school supply lists came out because it was fun to not only get all the fresh items, but I kind of dug the scavenger hunt nature of it all, too.

As a parent, I came to dread the lists.

I GET that schools don’t/can’t supply all this stuff for students. And I GET IT that in many schools, they have budgets for nothing like this at all, even for teacher supplies and so those teachers are relying on parents to help provide these things.


I have taught in many different schools and districts and have 3 kiddos of my own who have been going through the system and it is like we’ve given the gift registry scanner wand to some of these schools.

CRAYOLA only brand crayons or markers

FISKARS scissors

ELMER’S glue (and not just any kind of Elmer’s, but the DISAPPEARING PURPLE kind)

A gajillion notebooks – one lavendar, one ecru, one cyan, one midnight blue, one eggshell…

+ 20 more line items

You guys. No. Just, stop.

Some of you think I’m exaggerating with what I listed above. And while I made up the fancy colors, I just looked at this year’s supply lists for my kids’ former elementary school and seriously, one grade level literally had a name brand specified for every item. Another grade level had 22 line items. This is a Title I school, y’all.

They’ve gone off the rails.

I recognize that having color-coded notebooks and folders is useful, but when I have to go to three different stores in order to fulfill that request, my smile and love for school and office supplies disappears. Especially when I get to child #3, knowing that over 50% of those notebooks and folders will not even be used.

Youngest Child’s middle school parent organization offers the EduKit, which has all the stuff in a single order delivered to your home. Easy, right?

Except, $99.

*pulls out hair*

We are a middle class family. We can afford $99 (x 3). We can even afford the time to go to different stores to get everything if we have to. We can get all the preferred name brands.

But what about the lower-income families? I don’t care how nicely you word it on the list (ie: “preferred”), if Crayola is specified at all, families are going to feel like that’s what they must get or if they don’t (because Crayola is way more expensive than the generic alternatives), kids know it. They may not complain, but they know.

What about the lower-income families or single-parent families who just don’t have the time to find all of these specific items (or the money to dump into the pre-fab kits)?

What about the non-English speaking families who are barely navigating getting their students enrolled and catching the right bus let alone the full sheet, single-spaced list of supplies that is offered in English and Spanish (which is great), but not Hmong? I mean, what does it even mean to get “classic” colors for markers?

As an educator myself, I have fallen under the spell of wanting my students to have certain things. And I have also learned that kids not having dividers for their binders isn’t a learning stoppage.

Sometimes, when I read one of those articles that chastises parents for complaining about the supply lists, I think maybe, just maybe, that parent is someone who is low on sleep, low on energy, low on funds, or just low on emotional resources to handle One More Thing. They know school’s important. They are doing their best.

Maybe we can help them out?

Review our lists. Laugh. Adjust. We’ll do better.

Kudos to this list from a Minneapolis school for keeping the lists short… and for organizing it so that for parents who can do more will find the section on how they can give a little extra.

If you have great examples from schools of pared down, manageable lists, show us in the comments!

 And, because yes, school supplies ARE still fun, here’s a little throwback Principal Gerry Brooks video for you on the must-have smarkers:


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