Book Review: A Man Called Ove

You might like this book if you like…

  • Carl from Up and you always wondered what his life would have been like if he didn’t fly away from his neighborhood
  • The Bell Jar. More specifically, the idea of attempting suicide, but failing at it. I always found that amusing.
  • a simple, lightly humorous writing style.
  • the theme of community in the age of modernity.
  • books that are mostly character studies.
Continue reading “Book Review: A Man Called Ove”
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Goal Setting: Lauren Graham’s Kitchen Timer Strategy

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my most recent book recommendation: Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can. If you’re a fan of Graham, Gilmore Girls, or Parenthood, you have got to read this book. And I suggest on audiobook, because Lauren Graham is such a delightful voice to listen to.

When it comes to celebrity books, I usually expect some sort of ghostwriter to be involved. And maybe there was one, or an amazing editor of some sort, who worked behind the scenes in Graham’s book. But she really seemed like she wrote this one herself.

Why? Because, in addition to mentioning how smart she was, she had this amazing chapter about making time for writing.

It has completely changed the way I look at making time for my passions and hobbies.

Graham called it “Kitchen Timer Writing.” One block of time completely devoted to your craft. And as long as you keep yourself away from distractions (THE INTERNET!) and keep your appointment with yourself, you’ve succeeded. You’ve passed. You can go on to Day 2, and 3, and so on until your passion becomes a habit, and your habit becomes a way of life.

The book’s been out for two years, so naturally, there are plenty of blogs and articles about this life-changing chapter from her book. If you’re curious and can’t buy the book or find it at your library, I suggest you check out this blog (which copy/pasted the strategy, but not the whole chapter) or this article (which boils down the big ideas).

For me, these were the big takeaways:

  1. Make an appointment with yourself to devote to your craft.

  2. Keep your appointment. When you sit down for that block of time, you are to put away all distractions and only work on your craft. What really got me was that it is OK to just sit and think, or to sit and be stuck. As long as you give yourself that time to just sit and be with your craft. And if you’re stuck, you may as well work on your writing journal — write and practice until you get your groove back and you can get back to your project. For those of you who are joining me for the 10 Minute Challenge, but you’re working on other skills besides writing: if you’re feeling stuck or uninspired, use this time to learn. Watch/read the masters. Do drills. Do something that is devoted to your craft, even if it is not actively working on your project.

  3. Celebrate the keeping of the appointment.

  4. If you missed your appointment or couldn’t stick to the entire period of time, don’t punish yourself by making yourself do more the next day. Start fresh. Either try again the next day, or adjust the commitment. Maybe you can’t do an hour–but you can do 30 minutes. Or maybe just ten. Do what you can, as long as you’re doing and moving forward.

  5. Repeat: Honor the appointment. Celebrate your accomplishments. Adjust if necessary.

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This has completely changed the way that I look at goal setting. Instead of punishing myself or “owing” myself hours, I am allowed to forgive myself, adjust, and move on. Instead of forcing myself to meet a daily word count or post artwork everyday, I am allowed to practice my craft by learning, meditating, and experimenting.

It has been so very freeing.

By focusing on celebrating my accomplishment and adjusting when I fail to meet my goal, I am encouraged to keep going despite failure. I develop grit and confidence when it comes to pursuing my goals.  

When it came to lettering, I realized that I sort of naturally fell into Graham’s strategy… because it was purely a hobby for me when I started. My appointment with myself always fell around 8pm, when my daughter fell asleep and when I needed a mental break from a long day of being an adult. After a year and a half of practice, 8pm is now drilled into my brain as time to practice lettering.

Now, I’m trying out writing. Fiction writing. Again. But I’ve got a better gameplan this time. I’m going to forgive myself and I’m going to keep my appointment. I’m not going to punish myself with word counts. I’m just going to keep my appointment.

Now, my new time to watch is 11:30. It’s when my husband has gone to bed, and about an hour before my daughter wakes up and wants me to cuddle her back to sleep. That’s my new magic hour.

What goals are you working on? Have you tried making an appointment with yourself? Leave a comment with your goals!

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September Highlights

Greetings, nerds!

I’ve been listening to a lot of Jenna Kutcher’s Goal Digger Podcast lately. She’s got a personable voice and five minutes of it are more engaging than the other business/creative podcasts I’ve tried. (Also, if you know any business/creative podcasts that are actually fun to listen to, could you comment with a suggestion? I’m looking for more, but everything I’ve tried has bored me on my commute.) She’s inspired me to take on a new goal for this venture of mine: expanding beyond Instagram, because that algorithm cannot be trusted.

She’s all about mailing lists and email newsletters as a more trustworthy way of reaching one’s audience. Honestly, I don’t have the time to figure that out right now or to add it to all my other practices. So I’m going to focus on using my blog as another way of reaching people and spreading the nerdiness.

At the end of each month, I’d like to give you a few highlights: my favorite projects from the month, features of some cool pieces that I’ve seen from others during those hours I spend scrolling on Instagram, and an update on my reading life. You can always see me gushing about all of these on my Instagram feed and stories, but it’s so easy to lose it all in the algorithm. This is a more dependable way of keeping you up to date.

If you signed up for email updates — YAY, YOU! Thanks for being awesome! If you haven’t, the link is in the right column –>

And remember, you can always find me on Instagram @nerdladydraws. Let me know if you found me through this blog and we can be friends, like, NOW!

Enough blabbing! Here are September Highlights:

My Favorite Projects

#1: Acrylic Boards

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I added custom acrylic board lettering to my Etsy shop this month! I love the clear, glossy look that gives these handlettered pieces a level of sophistication.

#2 Nursery Decor

 

Two of my friends asked me to create canvas pieces for their kids. It started with a quote and vague ideas, and we worked together to make these beauties happen! I love collaborating to make pieces that I never could have dreamed of on my own!

#3 Library Art

 

My school librarian and I teamed up to decorate the library. She provided the words and chalkboards, and I lettered them. Can’t wait to do more pieces this year!


Featured Pieces by Fellow Insta-Artists

I love sharing work by fellow creatives. The images should have hyperlinks straight to these artists’ profiles. Check them out!

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My Reading Life

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I’ve gotten into a habit of reading 3 things at once: a physical book for in-class reading, an e-book for when I’m sitting in the dark and putting my daughter to sleep, and an audiobook for my commute. It’s made reading feel more like consuming my favorite TV shows, in a good way. It takes longer to finish a book, and I tend to finish all of them at the same time, giving me a bit of a literary hangover in which I binge on podcasts and Netflix until I’m ready to dive back into books.

This month, I’m in progress… I’ve been reading The Silkworm and The Astonishing Color of After as e-books, and Fahrenheit 451 as a physical book. I finished Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt as an audiobook (LOVED hearing him read it himself — it made the story that much more meaningful) and started The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Angela’s Ashes was Book #21 of the year! I think I’ll actually make it to 25 books for the first time since before my child was born!


Well, that’s it for now, friends! Let me know how your nerdy adventures are going by sharing your favorite podcasts, favorite artist accounts, or your most recent reads in the comments! I’m always on the lookout for new stories and art to consume. Until next time, stay nerdy, my friends!

On Banned Books

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It’s Banned Books Week! What are you reading?

This is my eighth year of teaching English at the high school level, and I am just now reading Fahrenheit 451 for the first time! I know. What is wrong with me?!

I’m absolutely amazed by this book. Bradbury’s perception into how the modern world views the act of reading and the “threat” of books is mindblowing. And, it’s justifying my experience as an English teacher.

I’ve fought to teach books every year of my career. Kids say they “just don’t read.” School administration questions teachers on the relevance of teaching the classics, and make teachers jump through hoops to add new books to the curriculum. Curriculum writers and colleagues argue that there’s no time to read with all the other things we have to cover.

But one thing is undeniable: books have power. Emerging readers put them away because within books lie words and phrases so profound that readers must grapple with them to understand them. Administrators are wary because books make readers question their world, challenging them to reflect on another’s perspective and think for themselves. Peers know that the only way to consume them is through time, and time is expensive.

But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to challenge kids to read and to challenge book lists. It’s worth it to create readers and thinkers. It’s worth it to foster a world that reads, thinks through what it reads, talks about what it reads, and ultimately acts on what it reads.

This week, join the resistance. Read banned books. Fight banned book lists. Get your kids to read, and pick up a book yourself. It’s worth it.

Comment below with your favorite banned book! My favorite is Harry Potter, because duh. But Fahrenheit is really climbing the charts here…

My Literary Whiteboard Lettering Project: Spring Semester and Final Reflections

I started off the 2017-2018 school year frustrated and motivated–a dangerously good place to be. I was frustrated because the current trend in language arts education seems to be moving away from literature. Nonfiction is more valuable in the real world, they say. It probably is, but I like fiction.

I was motivated, though, after attending a conference featuring the English teacher gods, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. Gallagher, especially, was arguing for the value of fiction and literature. He proposed daily book talks and reading time to allow kids to build on their reading skills. Prepared for the usual teacher counterargument of “But we never have time,” Gallagher and Kittle even shared a daily time plan that outlined exactly how to make it work.

Gallagher and Kittle’s plan went something like this (sorry, I’m currently moving into a new home and my conference notes are packed away in a box somewhere):

  1. Opening 2 minutes: Book Talk
  2. 10 minutes of Self-Selected Reading Time (Students read independently while the teacher has private reading conferences with individual students, coaching them through their texts)
  3. Work on the current unit in 10-minute chunks of lecture, discussion, and independent work time
  4. Final 2 minutes: Share a strong sentence or excerpt written by a student.

I felt vindicated because they vouched for poetry and fiction in a modern world. I felt empowered because they gave me a plan to make it work. So I tried it out for a year. I edited it a bit to make it work for me, and to build in one of my new hobbies: handlettering. Going into the 2017-2018 school year, my goal was to start each day with a handlettered quote to start a book talk, then go into at least 10 minutes of reading time a day. I wanted to expose the kids to as many books from different time periods, genres, and types of writers as possible. I wanted to encourage reading, and I wanted to show my administration that fiction does matter.

I logged my lettered quotes on Instagram for a while, using the hashtag #literarywhiteboardlettering. I also kept a log on this blog, as well. I wasn’t really consistent with how I formatted the Instagram log and blog entries… that wasn’t the point. If you missed my earlier blogs on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project, here they are:

And here’s my final set of literary whiteboards for the 2017-2018 year. I tried to mix it up with canon texts, fun reads, and necessary books for modern readers in a global, political world. I gave a few more book talks than this (e.g., Ready Player One; The Hate U Give; Love, Hate, and Other Filters), but spring semester got hectic and I didn’t have time to letter it all in the morning before class started. For the sake of avoiding information overload, I’ll restrain from giving synopses here. Check out these awesome books if these quotes entice you!

Day 61: Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

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Day 62: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)

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Day 63: Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

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Day 64: Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)

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Day 65: Every Day (David Levithan)

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Day 66: Stardust (Neil Gaiman)

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Day 67: Author Feature – Rainbow Rowell

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Day 68: Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare)

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Day 69: A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

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Day 70: The Tempest (William Shakespeare)

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Day 71: Othello (William Shakespeare)

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Day 72: Medea (Euripides)

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Day 73: Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)

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Day 74: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

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Day 75: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)

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Day 76: Animal Farm (George Orwell)

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Day 77: All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)

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Day 78: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

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Day 79: Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)

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Details: All of these were done on whiteboards, using Expo or some other whiteboard marker brand. Most of the lettering varied from 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2m) in length and width, with the exception being the Goldfinch quote. That one was on a ten foot whiteboard wall. I completed all of these in whatever time I had in the morning before class started. Sometimes that was 30 minutes; usually, it was only 10 minutes.

You’ll probably notice a bit of a trend as you go through the school year. My compositions got really intricate and experimental during periods when I didn’t have many assignments to grade or my administration decided not to have so many meetings… and then at the end of the year, things got pretty simplistic and I started relying on my regular handwriting. At first, I hated that I was “giving up” on my handlettering goal, but then I had to remind myself that that wasn’t the point. The point was to give my kids a chance to hear some cool stories, and inspire them to read. And I think it worked.

I saw ninth graders who challenged themselves with Jekyll and Hyde, Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby. I saw kids who went out of their comfort zones, and others who were just trying to get at least one book read. I saw myself growing as a reader and a teacher. I wasn’t able to keep up with reading conferences this year, so instead, I decided to read with them and share my reading journey with them. I felt better as a teacher because, for at least 12 minutes a day, I was doing what made me want to become an English teacher in the first place: escaping into other worlds through the pages of a book… before I had to snap back into the reality of being an English teacher in Texas in 2018.

I have 180 school days in a year. I didn’t have a book talk every day. I didn’t have SSR (self-selected reading) every day. I only got 44% of my goal, maybe 47% if you give me a little grace for a few book talks without lettered quotes. But this is where math doesn’t really help me.

I’d rather look at it as 79 days I hit my goal. Seventy-nine days of reading and talking about books that I didn’t give myself before. Seventy-nine days when I got a little closer to the English teacher I wanted to be when I started teaching.

This next year’s going to be a bit more challenging for me. I’ll be teaching 10th and 11th grade, the years that mostly focus on nonfiction. I’m also starting at a new school… so I’ll be the new kid all over again. I’ve already told my team lead that I would like to continue my book talks and SSR time. I need it. It has helped me focus my classroom, and has even given me new energy to read for myself. I hope I’ll be able to keep it going during the nonfiction years. I think I can.