Thursday, December 12, 2013

Season of Giving Kickoff 2013? Splendid!

To kick off my Season of Giving 2013, I'm donating to one of my favorite local charities.  Yes, I did give the Eastern Illinois Foodbank a donation last year, but I find their work so invaluable to my community that I definitely planned to give to them again this year.

If you didn't read last year's post on the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, you can check it out by clicking this link.

During my time of employment limbo this spring, I signed up to volunteer at the Foodbank.  I was able to attend a couple of the repack volunteer nights before my work schedule eliminated that possibility, but it was a really great opportunity for me.  I enjoyed seeing a bunch of strangers work together really efficiently to repack food from giant bulk bins into manageable family-sized servings.  It was a really diverse group, too!  I would say the ages ranged from 17 years old to 65 years old, and the group worked together so well.  At the end of the evening, it was obvious that we made a huge dent in the work that needed to be done, and for me at least, it was nice to have a sense of accomplishment during a time when I didn't get much of that feeling.

After checking out the Eastern Illinois Foodbank on Charity Navigator this year, I'm even more impressed with the organization.  According to the data, more than 95% of the Foodbank's expenses are put toward the services and programs it provides.  That's an incredibly high percentage.

A year later, I'm still amazed at the sheer amount of people (over 100,000!)who are served by the Eastern Illinois Foodbank throughout 14 counties!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

November Favorites? Splendid!

I know you've been waiting with bated breath to find out what I dug the most in November.  Luckily for you, I'm ready to share!

Miscellaneous - My Charitable Giving Plan for 2013
I started this blog to share the stories of the places receiving donations from me last Christmas.  I really want to know what organizations you think should receive my donations this year.  If you have suggestions, please fill out this form.

Hair - Say Yes to Carrots Scalp Therapy Shampoo & Conditioner
I started using products in the "Say Yes to" line last spring, and two of the products I've really liked are the Say Yes to Carrots Scalp Therapy Shampoo & Conditioner.  Especially now when the weather has dried out, my hair and scalp can use a little TLC.  I like to use this line a couple times a week in conjunction with products formulated for curly hair, as well as the Macadamia Hair Masque I mentioned last month.

Makeup - NYX Deep Purple retractable eyeliner
Purple naturally brings out brown eyes, and I've been adoring the NYX Deep Purple water proof retractable eyeliner lately.  NYX is a really affordable brand found online and at Ulta, and I'm really impressed with its staying power.  I typically only line my upper lid with it, so I'm not sure how durable it would be along my lower water line, but seeing as how it's water proof, I think it would stick.  This color is a deep enough purple that I find totally wearable on a daily basis.  The formula is really creamy, the color is really pigmented.  I'm a fan.

Skincare - Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Moisturizer
Aveeno is known for making great moisturizers, and I especially love the Clear Complexion formula.  The main difference between the Positively Radiant (which is also great) and the Clear Complexion formulas is that the latter also contains salicylic acid which helps clear up breakouts.  It can be difficult to find a product that keeps skin soft and moisturized without exacerbating any greasy or oily skin issues, and this one does a great job.  I've been using it for years, but it is especially helpful when the weather starts to turn colder, and the air dries out more.

Nails - Essie Mesmerized Polish
I refer to this color as "TARDIS Blue" because I obviously think the shade is similar to my favorite time traveling police box from Doctor Who.  Essie color 776, Mesmerized, is a beautiful medium blue shade.  As with nearly all Essie polishes, Mesmerized isn't too thin, and you only need 1-2 coats.  I definitely painted my nails this shade to watch my favorite TV show this month.  See below.

Kitchen/Food - Thanksgiving leftovers
Normally I'm the kind of girl who doesn't really like it when my food touches.  Thanksgiving is the only day when that preference flies out the window, and this is especially true when it comes to leftovers.  Turkey? Great! Stuffing? Delicious! Potatoes? Throw 'em in the bowl! Gravy? Pour it all over the top!  Perfection.  I may or may not have eaten leftovers just like this for three meals in a row last weekend.  Hint: I did.  

I could share a picture of it with you, but let's be honest, delicious as they are, Thanksgiving leftovers aren't so glamorous.

TV - Doctor Who "The Day of the Doctor"
The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special aired on November 23rd, and it was nearly everything I wanted it to be.  David Tennant and Billie Piper returned for the special, and they were just lovely.  We got a glimpse of the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi, who will begin his run after Matt Smith leaves during the Christmas Special this year.  John Hurt was a joy and a delight as the War Doctor.  The story included so many jokes and references to the show throughout its run that it definitely made me want to go back and watch Classic Who.

Music - Fitz & the Tantrums
Duh.  I listened to both albums by Fitz & the Tantrums countless times throughout November.  The concert Stacey and I attended was so amazing, I wrote an entire post devoted to it a couple weeks ago.

Book - Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster
I've mentioned before that I like to listen to books using  I read Such a Pretty Fat, as well as Jen's other books, last year in the Year of Books, and I loved the way she told her stories.  Such a Pretty Fat details her quest for better health through various programs with varying degrees of success.  I've taken to listening to chapter while at the gym so I can keep my brain engaged instead of focusing on how much I hate my life while exercising.  I love that Audible allows me to automatically pause the book at the end of a chapter.  I like to set myself a goal of one or two chapters, depending on their length, and then I know I only have to get through so much of the book before I can go home.  In general, I highly recommend Audible, and in particular I recommend Jen Lancaster's books.  She's funny and sassy, and she tells it like it is.

Image via

Place - Orange You Splendid Etsy Shop
So I did this thing...  I opened an Etsy Shop!  There's not much for sale yet, but I'll be adding a lot of inventory in the next few weeks.  My plan is to offer the handmade items that I typically give as bridal and baby shower gifts.  Two different friends have mentioned my hooded bath towels to me today, so I think a few of those will be making their way into the shop very shortly.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fitz and the Tantrums? Splendid!

First order of business: have you read my last post on Charitable Giving 2013?  Tell me where to give my money!

Now, on to this ridiculously long love letter to the band I saw last night.

I first heard about Fitz & the Tantrums back in April when I saw this mention of them on Hello Giggles.  I immediately purchased the first album, Pickin' Up the Pieces, based on the iTunes clips of the songs.  I also pre-ordered their sophomore album, More Than Just A Dream, that was set to come out a few weeks later.  

Image via

Lead singer (and band namesake) Michael Fitzpatrick has said in interviews that the band is heavily influenced by the classic soul music that was produced in the 1960's, specifically at Motown and Stax.  That was evident to me from my first listen.  The opening vamp on the second track, "Dear Mr. President" sounds like it could be the opening of an Aretha Franklin song.  I think that's a large part of why I like Fitz & the Tantrums so much - it has the edge of new rock and pop music paired with the comfortable familiarity of decades old soul music.  The marriage of the two styles works so well for this band, and I feel like it's a style that isn't represented as much in current music.

The band also differs from many current rock bands in that there is no guitarist.  James King plays guitar on a few tracks, but more often than not, he's manning the keyboard or wailing on bari sax (he even plays flute on a few tracks!).  All of the musicians in the band are great, but it's no secret that there is real power in the combination of lead singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs.  Their voices mingle so well together, and by having both a male and a female lead singer, it opens up a lot of lyrical choices.  They can sing about love and heartbreak, and it's like the audience is watching an actual couple sing their feelings.  The chemistry the two have on stage is so fantastic that a lot of people actually think the two are a couple.  (They aren't - Fitzpatrick's girlfriend gave birth to their son while he was on tour in September.)  The strong chemistry isn't only seen on stage; it can also be heard in their voices.

Both albums have been in heavy rotation on my playlists since then, so when I saw that the band was coming to Assembly Hall (sigh... State Farm Center) in November, I was thrilled.  LP Stacey and I bought tickets weeks in advance.  The Bright Futures Tour was co-headlined by Capital Cities and Fitz & the Tantrums.  They tapped fellow LA musicians, Beat Club, to open for them each night.

Beat Club is a band that is clearly wet behind the ears.  The music was more electro-pop than I prefer, but it wasn't wholly unpleasant to listen to.  I was not a fan of their lead singer and his unnecessarily foul mouth.  As a fellow potty mouth, it's not that he was dropping f-bombs that bothered me.  It's more that it felt forced, like he was trying to be edgy.  It also seemed to be the only adjective he knew, and he applied it liberally between each song.  Lame.  However, I did think it was kind of adorable that the drummer was wearing a Fitz & the Tantrums shirt.

It's hard to see, but trust me, it's there.
Following the Beat Club set, Capital Cities took the stage.  Honestly, I hadn't really listened to Capital Cities till last night.  Of course I do hear "Safe and Sound" on the radio about a million times a day.  I did try to familiarize myself with their album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, over the week.  I didn't dislike the music, but I think my excitement over Fitz was clouding my honest judgement of the music.

Capital Cities put on a thoroughly enjoyable set.  They have great energy, catchy hooks, and my favorite (of course) - a trumpet player!

Okay, so his moves were kind of cheesy, but he was still a great horn player.  And the crowd loved him.  At one point he swapped his trumpet for a purple pBone, which also went over well with the crowd.  They unsurprisingly closed with "Safe and Sound", and the crowd went wild.  It seemed like the song would never end, and that was okay, because we were all having a fantastic time.  We were safe and sound.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy the Capital Cities set as much as I did.  But it was so lively and energetic, and just plain fun.  I may not have known many of the songs before the concert, but I woke up with them in my head this morning.  Catchy jingle writing jerks.  I decided that Capital Cities may be less of a "listen at work" kind of band and more of a "bathroom/kitchen dance party" kind of band.  And I'm okay with that.

At long last, the house lights went back down, the LED heart lit up, and Fitz & the Tantrums took the stage!

They opened the set with "Keepin' Our Eyes Out" from their second album.  They followed that up with "Don't Gotta Work it Out" from Pickin' Up the Pieces.  The whole set was a nice mix of songs from each album, which was great.  Because let's be honest, when you go to a show, and the band only plays songs from the new album without honoring its own past, it's disappointing.  

The middle of the set had lots of energy, sandwiching "Breakin' the Chains of Love" between "Break the Walls" and one of my favorites, "Spark". 

One of the strangest and most enjoyable moments of the show for me was the cover of the Eurhythmics' "Sweet Dreams".  I feel like even Annie Lennox didn't have as much fun performing this song in concert as the Tantrums have.

During the second half of the set, they played "Out of My League" which has been getting regular air play for the last couple months.  It even made it to the top of the Billboard charts in September.  

They played some of their slower tunes after that, but they closed the show with "L.O.V." which was a total blast.  The band vamped on the ending for quite a while.  They even brought Capital Cities trumpet player, Spencer Ludwig, out to improvise with James King on saxophone.  The best descriptor for the end of the show would be raucous.  The crowd was going wild, everyone was dancing, and the band was clearly having a great time.

Despite the fact that the show was not as well attended as it could have been, the audience was deafening at the end of the show.  The band came back out to perform a two-song encore.  First they played MoneyGrabber from their first album.

They closed the show for realsies with uber-catchy tune, "The Walker" from More Than Just a Dream...

 complete with confetti cannons.

I just had such a great time at this show.  Sure, my ears were still ringing when I went to sleep, my body physically aches from dancing so much today, and getting out of bed this morning was nearly impossible.  But it was all totally worth it.  I enjoyed the show so much that I looked at the rest of the tour schedule today to see if I could make it to another show.  Sadly the only two shows that are remotely near enough are both sold out.

I've been really lucky to see some really excellent shows this year, and this was most certainly one of them.

Oh yeah! You also might recognize some of the Fitz & the Tantrums songs from various commercials and TV shows.  I made a playlist on YouTube of all the commercials I could find.  Grey's Anatomy also featured the band three times: "Dear Mr. President" in season 8, episode 4; "Spark" in season 9, episode 19, and "The End" in season 10, episode 5.

Seriously give this band a listen.  They make me super happy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Charitable Giving 2013? Splendid!

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of when I started this blog.  Okay, yes, by “coming up” I do mean it’s more like 6 weeks away, but that got me thinking about my first posts.  I started this blog a week before Christmas as a way to talk about organizations in my community that were about to receive donations from me.  I plan to make more donations this year, and while I still think last year's recipients are very appropriate choices, I'm interested in what you think.  I have some incredible friends and family who support all kinds of causes that are important to them (hint: that's you!).  I want to know what those causes are.  What organization do you think should receive a donation this year from me and why?

Last year I donated only to organizations that are based in Champaign County.  If you make a strong case for an organization based somewhere else, I'm totally willing to broaden my horizons.  To sweeten the deal for you, if I choose an organization you suggest, I’ll send you a box of homemade sweet treats!  Submit suggestions using this form.

I also did a short series on Gifts that Give Back, so if you have suggestions for that, please leave a comment below.

Monday, November 4, 2013

October Favorites? Splendid!

In my time of employment limbo, I found myself watching a lot of videos on YouTube, specifically beauty videos.  I started by watching tutorials for products I had or hairstyles I wanted to try, but I found myself watching countless videos of vloggers' monthly favorites.  For some reason I find them kind of fascinating.  I think it's interesting to see how products are featured by many different people one month and completely ignored the next.  Anyway, with the big fat move, a lot of my stuff was packed up for a couple weeks, so I definitely found myself reaching for some things over and over.  These are my favorites from the month of October.

Hair - Macadamia Natural Oil Hair Masque
Every beauty blogger and vlogger I've read/watched in the last year has mentioned this product.  It's a deep repair treatment that rebuilds hair and improves elasticity and shine.  It's kind of pricey for a hair product, so I was skeptical to buy the giant tub at first.  While browsing the shelves at Ulta one day, I found a trial size foil packet of the mask, which I thought was great.  I love being able to try a generous sample size of something before committing to a full purchase.

I definitely think this product has helped my hair feel healthier.  It combats frizz without weighing my hair down.  I use it once or twice a week after shampooing and conditioning as normal, and I've noticed significantly less breakage at the ends of my hair.

Make up - Benefit Erase Paste in 02 Medium
Be it genetics or sleep deprivation, I have some major dark circles under my eyes.  I recently tried a roller ball style under eye concealer, but when I tried to blend it in, the makeup often turned white and just looked plain weird.  I've been using the Benefit Boiing concealer on the rest of my face for a few months now, and I had heard great things about Erase Paste.  I once again found a mini size in Impulse Aisle (you know, the kiosks with the tiny sizes of everything right by the registers) at Ulta, and thought I would give it a shot.

I was nervous to use it at first, because it's a very salmony pink color.  I had no reason to worry though because the pink counteracts the darkness under my eyes to blend out to a more natural skin color.  I do need to set the concealer with powder so it doesn't settle into the creases under my eyes, but I'm having much more success than with the previous products I've tried.

Nails - OPI San Francisco Collection: Haven't the Foggiest
I've alway had great success with OPI nail polishes, and I love this color.  The silver is shiny without being full of chunky glitter.  It applies beautifully and finishes almost like chrome.  I applied two coats to my nails (along with base coat and topcoat) the Thursday before we moved, and the only reason I had to take it off 7 days later was because I snagged a nail, and it took a big chunk of lacquer off my nail.  I knew it would only get worse as we finished moving.

Skincare - Boscia Luminizing Black Mask
I've heard great things about the Boscia brand in general and the Black line in particular.  Once again I was able to find a trial size of the Luminizing Black Mask (are we seeing a trend yet?) in a trio with the Brightening White Mask and the Cooling Blue Mask.  All three are peel off masks which can be a little weird.  In fact, I was removing the Brightening White Mask while talking to Stacey last night, and she had to look away because it looked like I was peeling off my own face, apparently.

I liked all three masks, but the black mask was my favorite.  It left my skin feeling clean, my pores were minimized, and it wasn't drying as some purifying masks can be.  Now I'm even more interested in trying out the other products in this line - especially if I can get them as samples!

Kitchen/Food - Gimme Some Oven's Hummus Crusted Chicken
I've been trying to consume more vegetables - plant life in general, really - lately, and I saw the Hummus Crusted Chicken recipe from Gimme Some Oven on Pinterest.  Hummus comes from chickpeas which are plants, so that's close enough for me!  The recipe also involves roasting some veggies with the chicken breasts, so that's good too.  I have a weird relationship with hummus.  I like it, but I don't think I had it for the first time till after college, so it's still kind of a new food for me.  Because of that, I remain skeptical of it.  This chicken singularly changed my mind about hummus.  This is the best chicken recipe I think I've ever made, and I've made a LOT of chicken.  The hummus creates a great coating for the meat (I wouldn't call it a crust, even though it's titled that) which keeps all the juices in, creating a tender and flavorful dish.  I made it twice in October, and both times, it was cooked perfectly.  I'm usually concerned about undercooking poultry, and this dish didn't even require extra time in the oven.  Of course, I can't leave well enough alone, so I did sprinkle some panko crumbs over the coating to give it some extra crunch.  I highly recommend this recipe.  It's super simple to make and completely delicious.

TV - The Mindy Project
If you're not watching The Mindy Project on Fox, then I'm not sure we can be friends anymore.  Mindy Kaling's show is in its second season, and every episode leaves me telling Stacey that I just love it so much.  I adore the Mindy Lahiri character in all of her simultaneously self-aware and delusional glory.

I love that Mindy's character is fun and silly and over the top while still being smart and good at her job.

I love the supporting characters in the series, too.  I'm especially happy to see Adam Pally making appearances this season.  I was heart broken that ABC cancelled Happy Endings, so I'm really happy to have him back on one of my shows.  Also, Pastor Casey?  Amazing.

Music - Ray LaMontagne "You Are the Best Thing"
I realize I'm late to the Ray LaMontagne party, but at least I showed up eventually!  I actually listened to this song because my friend Adam mentioned it on Twitter.  As a trumpet player, I'm a sucker for a good tune with a horn section.

Listen to/buy the track here.
This song reminds me of music from my parents' generation, and that's a very good thing.  LaMontagne's voice is so raw and soulful.  I like a lot of his songs I've listened to, but I keep coming back to this one.

Book - Rob Sheffield's "Turn Around Bright Eyes"
I've read Rob's two previous books, "Love is a Mix Tape" and "Talking to Girls about Duran Duran", and I enjoyed both quite a bit.  I first started reading his books because I recognized him as one of my favorite people on the VH1 "100 Greatest..." shows.  His books are autobiographical, and he doesn't hold much back.

Buy it on Amazon
I really admire how thoroughly he incorporates music into his books.  It's clear that music truly is his passion.  "Turn Around Bright Eyes" focuses on the importance of karaoke in his life and relationship.  It's kind of a strange concept, but he makes it work so well.  There's a chapter on the Beatles that is just superb.

Place - New Apartment!
We are finally all moved in to the new apartment!  Of course we're no where near finished unpacking, and we don't have a couch, but we're all in!  Slowly but surely we're making our place feel more like home.  Nearly all of the Ikea furniture has been assembled, and we're starting to get rid of boxes.  We both love the new place so far, and hopefully that won't change any time soon!  I can't wait to start having people over once we're more settled.

Misc - Keyboard shortcut: command + shift + T
Ever close a tab in a web browser and immediately regret it?  Command + shift + T will reopen the last tab closed.  One of the great things is that if the accidentally closed tab isn't the most recent page, you can keep doing it until you find the right one.  I've been using this trick a lot recently, because apparently I'm an idiot who keeps closing tabs I need to refer back to.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Moving? Splendid!

LP Stacey and I are in the process of moving from our very cramped little house to a far more spacious condo.  We have two weeks of overlap between getting the keys to the new place and needing to be out of the old place, so we're trying to make at least one trip a night to make Big Moving Day go a little more smoothly.

Every single time I move (and I moved a lot during college), I think about the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone, and how Merlin was able to pack everything he owned into a small bag with nothing but a wave of his wand and a musical spell.  Oh, how I wish this was possible in real life...

Every time I prepare to move, I tell myself that it's going to be better than the last time.  I'm going to be more organized.  I'm going to pack earlier.  I'm going to go through my closet before I start packing to sort things for donation.  I do think I've gotten slightly better at it over the years (though Scott would probably disagree), but I've come to realize that there are a few phases of moving that I will never get over.  

Phase 1: Optimism
"This is going to be great!"  I'm so excited to move into the new place!  It's going to be so cute!  I'm going to keep it so nice and clean!"

Phase 2: Denial
"We still have plenty of time to pack.  I know we're going to be out of town for three days in the middle of  the move, but that's fine.  Besides, I don't really have that much stuff."

Phase 3: Acceptance
"I should probably start packing.  The two week overlap is not really that much time.  New plan: pack at least one box per night till we get the keys.  Then move one truckload every night."

Phase 4: Purging
"When was the last time I used this?  Do I need it?  I don't think I need it.  Donation pile!"

Phase 5: Meltdown
"Mom? I don't think I can get this all done before we move.  Can you take the afternoon off of work tomorrow to come help me?  You can?  Great!  Wait, I can handle it.  Nevermind... Well maybe...  I JUST DON'T KNOW WHAT I WANT, OKAY?!  I'M JUST SO TIRED OF MOVING!  I NEVER WANT TO MOVE AGAIN!  I'M GOING TO DIE IN THE NEW APARTMENT!"

Phase 6: Desperation/Panic
"I don't know what box I want that in!  Here, just throw it in this garbage bag.  No, I know it already has a shoe, a blanket, and a bunch of hangers in it.  That doesn't mean you can't put that can of beans in there too.  It will be fine.  Just put it in the bag!" Also, "We can clean the kitchen with bathroom cleaner, right?  Like use this bleach spray stuff inside the fridge, right?  Whatever, it will be clean, and that's all that matters."

Phase 7: Closure
"I am so glad to be out of this crappy house.  I won't miss the crooked floors, faulty appliances, or two front doors."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hazing Prevention? Splendid!

So, last week I heard a story about an organization on our local college campus that, like every other organization, does "getting to know you" activities before initiating new members.  I think icebreakers and group games are a great way to get to know potential members.  It’s also a great way for potential members to decide if they genuinely want to join a group.

What concerns me was the nature of these activities.  I was only told about two of them, so I’m sure some of the others are totally innocuous.  The two I heard about, though, gave me some cause for concern. 

Activity 1 included pledges being blindfolded, driven around campus, and dropped off at a previously unknown location (this year, the cemetery) with the rest of the initiation class, and told to find their way home.

Activity 2 paired potential new members with members form the brother organization.  The brothers competed to create the best hairstyle on their partner.  Instead of styling their actual hair, they used shaving cream as sculpting material.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m a member of Sigma Alpha Iota.  In addition to being a member of the fraternity, I also serve as an advisor to the collegiate chapter at U of I, and I oversaw 4 collegiate chapters during my term as a Province Officer for the organization.  SAI takes hazing very seriously, and because of this, I’m pretty sensitive to the subject.  We have a fairly strict hazing policy that forbids “any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers mental or physical health or any action taken or situation created which produces mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule.”

I’m sure my experiences in such a group are what set off the alarms in my head the moment I heard “blindfolded”.  I'm really sad that these activities happened, but I’m especially sad they happened to mostly freshman girls.  These young women are looking for support and friendship, and this is what they receive.  When one girl was told that sounded like hazing, her response was "but they didn't yell at us, and no one got hurt!"

That broke my heart.  It also made me mad.  I wish I could explain to that young woman that hazing doesn’t always end up in injury or death.  It isn’t limited to verbal abuse or alcohol consumption.  It’s about stripping an individual of his or her dignity.

The week before these incidents occurred was National Hazing Prevention week, which adds a whole new layer of frustration to the story, in my opinion. is full of useful information on the subject.  It has a thorough definition of hazing, as well as the difference between hazing and bullying.  There are all sorts of resources and ideas for activities.  I highly suggest checking it out.

I have to reiterate how happy I am to be in a fraternity that takes hazing very seriously.  I am so proud of my collegiate chapter advisees for being keenly aware that potential new members and members-in-training should be treated with respect.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Banned Books Week? Splendid!

I've mentioned in previous posts that I love to read.  This love of reading started very young for me, 
Obligatory picture of Kiddo Kim "reading" around age 2.

and it has continued to this day.  In 2012, I read 50 books.  I'm that person that becomes thoroughly engrossed in a book and can't put it down.  I read while cooking, while getting ready for work in the morning and for bed at night (no wonder it takes so long some days!), while I should be cleaning, and definitely while I should be sleeping.

I remember reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the first time in college.  It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years.  I got so engrossed in the last few hundred pages that I couldn't possibly fall asleep.  So I spent the whole night reading and finished the book, crying over Sirius, on the porch while watching the sun rise.

In high school my job was to scan old payroll records into the computer, burn them to CDs, and shred the now useless paper.  At the time, scanning the dot matrix printer paper took about 90 seconds per sheet.  I would read while the computer scanned the page, mark my spot, save the payroll record, put the new sheet on the scanner, and resume my book.  I would walk to the library on my lunch break, usually multiple times a week.  I would spend the walk back to work reading one of my latest finds.  Then at night I would stay up far later than I should, always telling myself "just one more chapter".  It was almost never just one more.

I was lucky to grow up in an environment that encouraged reading.  My parents took us to the library on a nearly weekly basis while we were kids.  In first grade, my mom sent a note to my teacher and the librarian asking that they make sure to send home books that I could read to her instead of books she had to read to me.  They happily obliged, and I discovered my love of Amelia Bedelia and, a few years later, everyone's favorite Stoneybrook, CT teens, The Baby-Sitters Club.

This week is Banned Books Week.  According to the American Library Association's website the purpose of Banned Books Week is to "highlight the value of free and open access to information".  The BBW website is full of lists of books that have been challenged or banned over the years.  You can view lists broken down by decade (going back to 1990) or by year.  They have a list of classics that have been challenged or banned as well.

According to the the lists of 100 most challenged books of 1990-1999 and 2000-2009 (some of which overlap) as well as my somewhat failing memory, I read 27 of those books before graduating high school.  Some of them I read on my own, like the Alice series, while others we read in class.

I distinctly remember reading Bridge to Terabithia 5th grade.  The book had been challenged in our district at some point because of language and the fact that it dealt with death.  In order to continue teaching the book, our teacher had to go through each class copy of the novel and white-out any offensive language.  Each of us had to have signed permission slips to read the book in class.  Parents were encouraged to read the book as well so they could be prepared for questions we might have at home.  My mom checked the book out from the library and read it.  I don't remember having any specific questions for her at home, but I do remember using her uncensored copy to find out what swear words were used before reporting back to my classmates.  Most of them we could figure out from context clues, but we just wanted to be sure.

One of my high school literature teachers did a unit on banned books, though I don't remember if it was during Banned Books Week.  To this day, I still love that in my tiny, conservative town, I had teachers who understood that banning books is a ridiculous concept.  They not only allowed us to read controversial books, they assigned them!  I'm pretty sure that's when I read Slaughterhouse-Five.  We talked about why they had been banned or challenged, and I believe the assignment was far better for us as readers and critical thinkers than had those books been removed from the classroom.

Recently I've been consuming books both the traditional way and also through audiobooks.  I think Audible is a great resource for audiobooks.  I like to listen to them as I fall asleep.  I've made my love of John Green's book The Fault in our Stars abundantly known.  I've also read and loved all his other books, too.  In honor of Banned Books Week I am listening to the audiobook of the 7th Most Challenged Book of 2012, his debut novel, Looking for Alaska.


I find the concept of banning or challenging books fascinating.  So many times books are deemed "inappropriate" for an age group, and that's why they're removed from a classroom or library.  I firmly believe that instead of restricting the access that children have to books, parents should encourage them to read whatever strikes their fancy and be prepared to answer questions about it.  I know that I didn't understand all of Slaughterhouse-Five when I read it.  I had to ask questions.  It may make for uncomfortable conversations, but I honestly think that's worth it.

Though the week's half over, if you want to participate in Banned Books Week, check out the ALA website suggestions.  I would love to know if/how you're choosing to participate, even if it's by reading a book that hasn't been challenged in a school!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thoughts from My First Week (Back)? Splendid!

Thoughts from the first week back at the school district:

Everything is the same, but everything is different.  I kind of have that vaguely familiar feeling that you get when you're trying to piece together the events of the previous night after drinking yourself silly.  (Not that I've ever done that...) I have an idea of all the things I'm supposed to do, and mostly how to do them.  I just keep getting little flashes here and there of specifics.  I'm sure it will all come flooding back with time, but for now, there are just little blips of remembrance.

I'm totally in "back to school mode".  I picked out outfits for day 1 and day 2...  After that it's all been downhill, mostly because I didn't get all my laundry done before I started.  Also, the fact that it was 95 degrees for most of last week was stopping me from busting out my adorable sweaters.  That really is reminiscent of going back to school as a kid.  I remember everyone wearing cute pants and fall clothes the first day before we all remembered that it was still August in Illinois and our schools weren't air conditioned.

My boss sent an all-district email reviewing the changes in the department, congratulating the guy who was previously in my job on his new position and welcoming me back.  I got two emails almost right away from teachers.  It was seriously heart warming.  Those two teachers are people who I always had a soft spot for - teachers who I worked with closely for one reason or another.  I always kind of assume that when I'm no longer an active part of someone's life that they basically forget about me.  It made me feel so good that these two teachers in particular wanted to welcome me back.

I had a bit of a reputation in my department last time I worked here.  No, not that kind!  For whatever reason, I was the awkward interaction magnet - especially with the now-retired Superintendent.  We always joked about starting a Google Docs list of all my awkward interactions.  Less than one week into my new-old job, my boss has already mentioned starting a new document for awkward interactions with the new superintendent.  I had honestly forgotten about the joke from before, but then (see paragraph 1), it all came flooding back to me.  So I had to ask her if she remembered how I had to hold the old Superintendent's hand.  Yes, that was a thing, and yes, she did remember.

During a job interview a few years ago, I was asked what superpower I have.  I answered that I have a real affinity for remember people - their names, personal details like hometown or significant other's name.  I'm especially good at remembering what instrument they played, and I can attribute that directly to my time spent working for the Marching Illini.  I've already freaked out new coworkers with my ability to remember the names of her kids (whom I've never met).  I also amazed her/freaked her out when talking to a former teacher from a neighboring school district.  I was able to remember her husband's name and his occupation, as well their anniversary.  I also realized that we have some mutual friends.  What can I say?  I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night, but I'm good with personal details about people.

Overall, I can absolutely say that I am so happy to be back at the school district.  My coworkers and I used to joke that we were so spoiled by our boss that we would never be able to work for anyone else.  I guess we were right!

Friday, September 13, 2013

General Chaos Sequel? Splendid!

I’ll admit it, I’m not a huge fan of video games, so this post will probably seem a little out of place.  I don’t have anything against them, but I just never really got into them.  The only game console we had growing up was a Sega Genesis – and we got it right before the Nintendo 64 was released.  I do have a Wii now, and I think it’s great, but honestly, I mostly use it to watch Netflix.

One thing I am a fan of, though, is passion.  Listening to people talk about their passions is fascinating to me.  I love reading biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs because not only is real life often much funnier than fiction, but I love to hear what excites other people.  I've been teased before for requesting former colleagues write the stories of their lives, but I thought they were fascinating!

I think that’s one reason I like podcasts produced by Nerdist Industries – they’re all made by people who are passionate about one thing or another.  I don’t typically listen to The Indoor Kids podcast, because it’s primarily about video games, but I did listen to their most recent podcast this week.  Brian Colin was the guest, and he talked about his career as a game designer.  It's so apparent throughout the entire podcast that Brian is passionate about game design.  I really enjoyed hearing about his early career, before the big boom of video games.

One of his biggest successes was a game called General Chaos in 1992.  He says in the podcast that to this day, more than 20 years later, he still gets the most mail and communication about General Chaos.  Because of this, he has started a Kickstarter campaign to create a sequel game.  There’s also a live action trailer for the game.  I find the trailer especially amazing because my incredibly talented brother worked on props, special effects, and editing of the video.  His super talented friends, roommate, and girlfriend also acted in the trailer.  In all honestly, my appreciation for the project definitely stems from the fact that Brian is also my brother’s girlfriend’s dad.  That doesn't diminish or change how important it is to Brian and the fans of the original General Chaos game.

If you’re interested in video games, definitely check out the trailer and the podcast and consider donating to the Kickstarter campaign.

Click these links!