January Book Report

Each month, I'll be posting twice about the books I'm reading - first at the beginning of the month with my reading list for the month, and then at the end of my month with my report on the books that I read. I posted my January reading list early this month, and this is my first official 2015 book report! 


This month, I read 7 books...

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes / A seemingly run-of-the-mill story about opposites who attract, I liked this story a lot, but I didn't love it. I loved Moyes's Me Before You and just found that One Plus One was too predictable for me. The writing was engaging and I couldn't put it down, but at times the story made me cringe. I flew through it in just a few hours, and I am definitely looking forward to reading other books by Moyes. 

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman / My favorite book this month, I absolutely loved this new one from Hoffman. A love story that follows two main characters leading two very different lives, brought together by an extraordinary event. Hoffman's writing is a stunning portrayal of love in the early 20th century. The story follows a Jewish immigrant turned photographer and the daughter of a "freakshow" museum owner. Well-researched and strikingly realistic, I could not put this one down, and it is definitely my favorite in 2015 so far.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer / I resisted reading this book for so long, and early in 2014, it was offered for $1.99 in my daily Kindle deals and so I decided to buy it. Then a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this book on my Kindle. I am glad that I finally read it and it was an interesting portrayal of life during World War 2. The plot was well-developed, if a bit all over the place from time to time, but I wish that there had been a concrete ending. It felt as though Barrows and Shaffer hit their page limit, and had to wrap the whole thing up in 2 more pages, and as such were unable to give this story the end that it was due. 

Us by David Nicholls / I read Nicholls' One Day in 2012 and loved every moment of it. Now, three years later when his newest book has been released, I was excited to dive into it. Us is the story of a man whose wife has informed that she is leaving him, and he takes their summer plans with their son and turns it into a last hurrah to try to keep her from leaving him. The present day is juxtaposed with the story of the beginning of the relationship, but it was too depressing for me. Nicholls' writing that I loved wasn't as strong here and left me wanting more. 

And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass / My least favorite this month, I just couldn't fall in love with Glass's characters in this one, even though I knew some of the characters from her previous books. Another story (is there a theme here?) with past and present being brought together, Glass works to provide some background to the story of the main character trying to find out who is father is. The story jumped from place to place and I hated that she shielded her readers from so many important details within the story - including certain family meetings and the death of a character. 

Walking Dead Compendium 1 by Robert Kirkland / As a huge fan of the television show, I had been curious about the graphic novels for awhile. I added them to my holiday wish list and my amazing husband bought the first two compendiums for me. I definitely find graphic novels to be faster reads, so this didn't take as long as I thought it would (it is huge!), but it was so different from the show that I had to make sure I was reading it slowly, and not making assumptions. I liked it a lot, but it is much more intense, and in some cases, more obscene than the show. I enjoyed getting background and meeting new characters, and I'm definitely excited for the next book, but I still prefer the show. 

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett / Not my favorite Patchett novel, but this story about a woman who leaves California for a small town, and home for unwed mothers, in Kentucky was captivating and I couldn't stop reading it. The story was told in three parts by three different characters, and the characters wove together a story with a multitude of supporting characters and fun personalities. I wanted to pull up a chair in Sister Evangeline's kitchen and help her and Rose cook. These characters will definitely stay with me for a long time.

I'm off to a great start in meeting my goal of 75 books for the year, and it has been a joy to spend days reading and relaxing so far this winter. I didn't get to Murder on the Orient Express in January, but I'm looking forward to reading it this weekend! February should be another great month for reading, and I'm especially looking forward to days of reading over the winter vacation.

What did you read this month? Did you have a favorite? I'd love to hear what books you loved in January!

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Roasted Chicken & Brussel Sprouts {One Pan Wonder}

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, any meal that I don't have too many dishes to do afterwords is a winner in my book. And with this one pan meal, not only was cleanup a breeze, but the meal was the perfect complement to a winter evening.


To make this, you'll need...


2 tbsp Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Chicken Breasts (Thin Sliced or Regular are fine)
Brussel Sprouts

First, set your oven to 400 degrees. Then, cover a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the brussel sprouts over the pan and cover with salt, pepper, and the olive oil. 


Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Then remove, and add the seasoned chicken (with salt and pepper) to the pan, and return to the oven for 25 more minutes.


When done, serve over a bed of rice and enjoy!


A meal with short prep and easy cleanup, and - bonus! - it's a healthy one! A 1/2 cup of rice, 1 cup of brussel sprouts, and a thin sliced chicken breast is only approximately 280 calories! Crisp roasted brussel sprouts are one of my favorite things in the world and this has become one of my favorite meals!
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On Fitness {Fitbit Review}

Happy Monday! If you're stuck in the blizzarding weather on the east coast, I hope that you're warm and cozy and getting to stay inside on this blustery, snowy day. Before you read the following post, I just want to note that I did not get compensated for this review in any way and all views are entirely my own and unsolicited. Also, I am not a fitness expert and all of my reviews here come only from personal experience.

Alternate titles for this post included "YayFit!," "WhooooooaaaaaaaFit," and my personal alternate favorite, "Fitbit Should Be Renamed FitLife." But I thought I'd go with something a bit more direct. Fitbit has also helped jumpstart a whole new, healthier lifestyle for me, and this is only my first post in a series over the next few months about fitness and health.

I spent a long time debating whether or not to get a Fitbit. The main thing holding me back was the price, but over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Amazon had a sale and it was only $75. (Originally, it is $100, but it is being offered with Prime now for only $93.) Without the $100 price tag holding me back, I went for it over that long weekend. But, honestly, knowing about it what I do now - it is definitely worth the $100 pricetag.

Early morning pre-gym photo. I wear it a little large because during the day I keep my watch on the same wrist.
Aside from the change in price, there were 2 different forces that came together that made me buy the Fitbit 2 months ago. The first force was a challenge. There was a fitness challenge going on at my high school. All of the teachers who wanted to participate joined a Google spreadsheet and, on the honor code, kept track of their weekly steps. I spent the first week of the challenge only using my iPhone and guess what - my recorded steps were so low! But was it because I wasn't active? No, not at all. It was actually because as amazing as the iPhone is at most things, it can't track steps when it isn't on your physical person. Because of that, anytime I didn't have the phone in my pocket, it wasn't tracking my steps. I knew that if I wanted to be serious in the challenge, then I needed a real pedometer.

The second force was a conversation that I had with a student. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break, I brought in cookies for my students. As I was taking another cookie, I was joking with one of my students and telling her that I'd eaten too many, but that it was okay, my diet would start on Monday. She laughed, took a cookie, and walked back to her desk, not thinking twice about what I'd said. Except I thought twice about it. And then a third time. And then I thought to myself, why not? Why not start on Monday? Monday was December 1st and I love a good fresh month on the calendar. That, and the fact that it was after Thanksgiving, made it a perfect day. And so, I started.

I bought my Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity and Sleep Wristband in black on a Friday and it arrived on Monday afternoon (thank you, Amazon Prime!). I put it on that evening to get used to it, and since then, it has only been off of my wrist a handful of times to recharge. My first full day using it, I hit my 10,000 steps and was instantly hooked.


Since then, I've only had a handful of days not hitting my steps - all of them weekend days when I wasn't teaching and instead, was either sleeping in or being a couch potato. I got very competitive in the fitness challenge and pushed myself to go above and beyond - hitting over 175,000 steps in the last week of the challenge. I came in 1st place in the most improved category and am looking forward to the next challenge!


So, should you get one? Aside from it helping to spark a competitive edge I didn't know I had, here are my pros and cons for the Fitbit.

Pros:

- It takes what I can tell is a fairly accurate count of all of the steps I take, and activity I engage in, during the day. It does have the sleep tracker, but I haven't been using it, so I can't comment on that.

- It allows you to track your food intake, making it really easy to keep track of healthy eating all in the same app.

- It is water resistant - I almost never take it off and can wear it in the shower.

- It goes with just about everything. As I said above, I almost never take it off and the sleek black look doesn't draw any added attention. 

- It also lets you track your water intake, an awesome way to keep track of hydration throughout the day.

- You can use it to challenge your friends and push each other further towards reaching your goals. My personal favorite challenge is the Workweek Hustle!

- And my final favorite thing? Goal setting. You can set any goals relating to steps, miles, activity or calories burned. Then, it alerts when you've hit your goal. I usually feel the vibration around 10:30 or 11 in the morning letting me know I've hit my 10,000 steps and it always adds an extra smile to my morning.

Cons:

- It isn't 100% accurate. There are definitely times that I take steps and it doesn't register all of them and when I run on the treadmill, the mileage doesn't always add up.

- It doesn't go with everything. The black band is great for the everyday, but we have a wedding we're going to in a couple of months and it definitely will not look right with my fancy dress.

- And I hate that I have to take it off to charge it. I know this is something that can't be changed, but I always get annoyed and tend to do it when I go to sleep so that I don't miss out on the tracking. 

While there are a few cons to owning the Fitbit, in my opinion, the pros far and above outweighed the cons. My Fitbit tracks my steps and motivates me to stay active and be healthy. It's been just under 2 months, and I could not be happier that I bought the Fitbit Flex.

Do you have a fitness tracker? A Fitbit? Or another technological method you use to track your activity? If you have the Fitbit, did I leave out any pros or cons? 
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Teaching Current Events {& A Printable!}

As a teacher of high school students, I feel a sense of duty to talk to my students about what is going on in the world. I talk about current events on a semi-regular basis, mentioning things on the news frequently at the beginning or end of class, and I offer a wide-variety of extra credit opportunities regarding current events. But as a teacher of high school students in the history classroom, I feel a sense of duty to do more than simply mention these events, or offer extra credit opportunities here and there. While I do think that it is a collective duty that all teachers share, I have a strong desire to do my part, and then some, when it comes to the current events education of my students. 


This year, at the end of the 9th grade World History unit on the Muslim World in November, I engaged my students in a week-long extension unit on the Middle East. Technically, it is not a part of the 9th grade required curriculum, but I made time to give students the opportunity to make connections between the ancient history classroom and modern day events. During the week, we covered Middle East geography, Israel, Iraq, Iran, the Taliban & Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring & ISIS. 

This was the first year that I taught this extension unit and I will definitely be improving upon it for next year, but I do think that for this first year, it went well. We began the extension unit by watching Promises and Betrayals, a documentary from the BBC on the history of the Middle East (link here). It provided a strong overview for the students on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, dating back to World War I. I had to jump ahead quite a few years in order to teach this unit, and this video gave my students more of the background that they lacked.

From this introduction video, we worked our way through coverage of the overall geography and then a specific focus on each of the areas or issues that I outlined above. This was a lecture intensive week, but there was also a lot of room for student questions and discussion - of which there was a lot! 

As I said, my students did not have any sort of background on these topics, aside from what they'd seen about ISIS on the news (beheadings, anyone?) and so I felt that it was better to provide lecture heavy information (with printed notes) to provide information prior to our discussions. 

After our class lectures and discussions, students spent other class time reading UPFRONT Magazine articles and answering the related worksheet questions. Students read about the impact of the Iranian Revolution and Malala's bravery, and they analyzed political cartoons and talked about President Obama's foreign policy. Classes ran smoothly and the students remained engaged during the lessons, continuously raising their hands to ask a question or make an observation. 

For homework, students were asked to find 2 news articles relating to the current events that we had discussed, and analyze them. Of everything that we did in the extension unit, this homework proved to be the most difficult. I had to teach my students how to search for a news article online, which I didn't think I'd need to teach them, but it also provided an excellent opportunity to teach research and analytical skills. I created a homework sheet for this that I thought I would share here! You can download the printable (my first one!) by clicking on this link!


I am now also using this as an open extra credit opportunity for students. They can choose their own news topic and research current events on their own during the term to gain extra points and help to boost their grades. I have already had a few kids take advantage of this opportunity and they're gaining valuable skills in the process!

When I teach this next year, I want to try to find a way to move away from the longer lectures and maybe include more activities to better engage my students. Are you a fan of current events? If you're a teacher, do you make sure to incorporate current events in your classroom? And for those of you who aren't teachers, how would you want to learn about current events? I'd love to hear from you guys about how to best teach current events! 

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Crockpot Pulled Pork Sandwiches {Recipe Remake}

When I first started blogging in the fall of 2011, I had a terrible point and shoot camera, and a kitchen with absolutely no natural light. While I still have a kitchen with absolutely no natural light (Dear Future House, If you could help me out with this issue, that would be awesome!), I do have a much better camera and a continued love for a delicious pulled pork sandwich, so I decided to remake these pulled pork sandwiches from three years ago. This version is still super easy - there's only 3 ingredients! - and is sure to be a crowd pleaser.


To make the dish, you will need pork tenderloin (which tend to come in packages of 2), 16 oz. root beer and barbecue sauce (8-16oz). 



Place the pork tenderloin into your crockpot, and then pour the root beer over it. 


Cook on high for 3 hours (or on low for 6 hours and 15 minutes). When cooked, remove from the crockpot and shred the tenderloin using two forks.




Keeping the crockpot on the warm setting, return the shredded pork to the crockpot as you shred it.


Once you have fully shredded the tenderloin and returned it to the crockpot, add in the barbecue sauce and cook on low for additional 25 minutes.


When it's all done, serve it on warm buns with extra barbecue sauce or mayonnaise, and enjoy with coleslaw (I put some on my sandwich) or a summer salad. If you'd prefer to be a little healthier, you could definitely make these in whole wheat or lettuce wraps! This makes 6-8 sandwiches, depending on how loaded each sandwich is - and leftovers are great to add to salads or to baked potatoes for a quick and easy lunch!
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