Lost: The Simple Joy of Reading

Guess what happened last night?
I read a book. For fun.  Not a fun school related book, but a plain, unassigned, free reading book. For some reason, I had this urge to read a nice carefree book in bed.  As I was walking to the library to obtain said books, I couldn’t even recall the last time I had read a book for pleasure.  Where had my love of reading gone?

As a child, I was the kid at the library with a stack of books two feet tall, counting them to see if I had reached the checkout limit.  I was addicted to reading.  In the summer, my parents would have to limit the amount of time I spent reading so that I would go outside to play and be social.  I loved that i could be transported to a whole new world and take on a whole new persona with the turn of a page, wherever I was.

My mom read to me almost every night until I was in high school and had to do homework  until bedtime.  Together we ventured to Narnia, became family to Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy, roamed the apple orchards with Anne, and lived on the prairie with Laura, Ma, and Pa, just to name a few of our endeavors. She would read from eight to eight thirty every night; we took turns on who would occasionally fall asleep halfway through; that’s when we knew it had been a long day.  I loved that time. It was mommy and me time, our own special treat at the end of the day after my younger sister went to bed.  Promptly at 8:30 she would stop reading and say, “Alright time for bed Linds.” And I would beg for just one more chapter, just one teeny, tiny chapter.  She would look how long it was, and if it was short enough she would say, “If we read this, you will have to have no troubles getting up on time in the morning.” Of course I would readily agree; I would do anything for just one more chapter.  Together we read over seven thousand pages, and I am eternally grateful to my mom for investing that time in me and helping me cultivate my love of reading.

Between reading at night with my mom, and reading by myself, I logged many hours as a bookworm during my childhood. Like I said I was addicted. But once I got into high school, assigned reading came like a thief in the night and stole my free reading time.  Even on breaks, I either had assigned reading to do, or I was so burnt out from doing the readings before the break, I didn’t even want to think about reading more.  And it got worse and worse every year.  As more and more reading was forced upon me, the passion I had for reading faded dimmer and dimmer.

Not to say there wasn’t ever light in the dark tunnel of assigned reading.  My initial love of reading helped keep a light burning, even when the material was thick and I didn’t understand it all.  I still remember sophomore year reading A Tale of Two Cities, and learning about diction, syntax, tone, and all the usually boring parts of literary analysis.  It clicked for me, and my inner book-lover and nerd came out.  I loved thinking about why Dickens wrote the way he did, because as anyone who has ever read Dickens’ work knows; he has a very distinct voice.  To this day, that is one of my favorite books.  It was a light in my tunnel of literary analysis of assigned reading, a reminder of what I used to love.  But alas, all good things must come to an end, and assigned reading became like a chore again.

Just like reading Tale of Two Cities reignited my love for the written word, summertime also was a time of relaxing with good books.  Granted, most of the time I still had assigned reading to do, but at least for a couple of weeks I got to experience reading for the sheer fact of wanting to read once more.  In the years before my grandma died, she began a quest to read the entire classics section. It was awesome when she was reading a book that I was reading for school, because we could discuss it and read it together.  She made it through the entire classics section at the library, and inspired me to read more classics.  Thus every summer, before our annual long camping trip I would go to the library, and pick up a stack of around seven classics to read that trip.  During the course of these trips, I noticed that I always gravitated towards the classics that were not commonly read in school.  I couldn’t bring myself to read a book leisurely that was a “school book” no matter how great it was. I wanted to read a book that was clearly distinct from any book that had been or would eventually be a graded assignment.

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Assigned reading didn’t make me stop reading forever. It also didn’t make me hate reading.  But even for an avid reader, assigned reading slowly tortured my inner book-worm.  I don’t know how it got that way.  How did reading go from something I loved to a chore, as soon as it became associated with a grade or a homework assignment? Where was the point when reading became a monster?
I see it happening in my sister, as she is reading To Kill A Mockingbird, which if I might add, is an exceptional book, that I would read over and over, but she isn’t reading it because she wants to, she is reading it to answer questions to get a grade.  Naturally when reading something to answer questions, regardless the subject, one will skim to find the information that pertains to the question and then move on.  By doing so, one usually misses key information that makes the story enjoyable to read and less like homework. My sister likes to read, but not nearly as much as I did my freshman year, and I can see the enjoyment fading away as the books take on more weight than they were meant to hold.

I can’t imagine how it is for students who don’t like to read in the first place.  Actually I can; those are the students that don’t even bother opening the book and if the teacher is lucky the student will Sparknote it to at least make it appear like they are reading.  In doing so, they miss out on finding a favorite book or author, which might have led them to find a type of writing they enjoy reading.

It is not to say that assigned reading should be abolished.  What I am trying to suggest is actually very far from that.  Assigned reading exposes students to many different time periods, ways of life, styles of writing, etc. and provides great examples of how to write.  But we aren’t all going to be novelists. Maybe we should add a little more article and essay reading into the curriculum, because in this digital age, isn’t that what the majority of what our students will be dealing with in their workplace, or even in their daily lives?

Will adding articles help students enjoy assigned reading more? Possibly, maybe it will help the slower readers have confidence, because it is a shorter piece of work. Will letting students read what they want to read help them like assigned reading better? Maybe.  It might make it less of a drag and give each student the freedom to read material on what they are passionate about, or even find something they are passionate about.  But then what does one do about grading? How does one grade an enthusiastic student who only likes to read, say cookbooks and travel guides?  How does one encourage, if not require, the reading level to be grade appropriate?  How can one tell if students are actually reading the books?

I don’t have a solution, I really don’t even have suggestions on how to attempt to fix this issue, but I do know that somewhere between freshman year of high school and freshman year of college, my love of reading was vastly diminished as a result of reading wonderful novels knowing that my future would be partially determined on how well I understood and could analyze the book.  My understanding of the book led contributed to my grade in the class, which then played a huge factor in what colleges I got in to.  Reading somehow got reduced to a means to an end, and because of this many have lost sight, at least temporarily, of what the simple joy of reading is, myself included.

To conclude, I have one question that must be addressed; how do we reclaim reading from being a means to the end, and return it to the simple joy that it brings?

Summer Homework: Had Me a Blast

One of my favorite teachers of all time wrote a blog post this weekend questioning the effectiveness of assigning summer homework and it was amazing.  I suggest you all read it on his blog, The Readiness is All.  At the end, he asks readers to share their thoughts in a comment or blog post response.  In the beginning I was going to just leave a short comment and be on my way, but then I realized I had a lot more to say on the subject then would be courteous to leave in a comment.  So here I am, blogging about summer homework, two-week into school.  You would think my opinions would have died down after being in school for two weeks, but nope, I’m still really passionate in my displeasure about summer homework.

To start off, I have had summer homework in at least one class for the past three years.  This past summer was amazing because college doesn’t have required summer homework(that I know of.  Oh gosh, what if they do? Oh no.) and it was amazing.  It was sharply contrasted by my sister’s summer in which she had three books to read for freshman honors english.  Some might argue that the books weren’t super long or hard to read, but that isn’t the point.

The point is that she read all three books diligently and did not wait until the last-minute, but as the first day of school crept closer and closer, she got more and more stressed out.  Talk about nerve-racking! Imagine starting a new school for the first time, one where everyone is bigger than you and there are a bazillion people everywhere.  The stress of six new teachers, finding your classes, having somewhere to eat lunch, being able to find one’s friends in the sea of people, opening one’s locker…the list of stressors goes on and on. Then add the stress of an impending test and multiple essays to be done in class within the first week of school. Poor freshman, I did not want to be in her shoes.

The day before school started for her, I received probably 15 texts, 3 phone calls, and one long FaceTime call in which she was in tears, stressed about the test and essays.  She was so nervous that she would fail and her teacher would think she was stupid and a failure, and even worse, have him think she didn’t even read the book.  She had no idea what to expect except the teachers had given a list of nine essay prompts and said, “Be prepared to answer three of these in class on the first day of school.”  I counseled her and told her that it would be extremely rare for a teacher(especially of freshman) to give a test on the first day because people are getting lost, coming in late, finding their assigned seat, etc.  It just doesn’t work to give a test within those first fifty-six minutes.  She still wanted to be prepared, so she set to writing an essay answering each of the prompts.  She wrote three essays before I was able to convince her that if she felt that she needed to write the essays, to just write bullet points.  She was so stressed.

I know teachers don’t sit around all summer thinking up new ways to torture their students(if they do, that’s a bigger problem than one of summer homework).  So I would like to think that if they knew what summer homework put their students through, they might think twice about assigning it.  Now I know, the reason summer homework is assigned is so that the class can hit the ground running and cover more material in the course of the year.  There has only been ONE class that I have found this statement even partially true and the summer homework necessary.  That class was AP Biology.

In AP Bio, we had four chapters to go over and do activities for on our own over the summer.  It was all review from regular biology, which was a prerequisite so everyone completing the summer homework had taken it, AND we went over it all in class, so if anyone had questions they could get them answered.  The only reason summer homework was assigned in the first place was that the AP test requires so much material to be covered, that one must start in the summer, just to have the time to cover all the required material adequately.  Which is a whole other problem in itself. Why design a test in which all material cannot be covered within the school year?  Oh well, that will have to be a completely separate blog post. The summer homework is justified in the extremely high pass rate that our school has on the AP Biology test.

What I don’t understand is assigned reading for English classes.  And not to bash on the English department at my school; I enjoyed every English class I was in, but I still don’t understand the purpose of the summer reading homework they assign.  I can only come up with two plausible reasons as to why summer reading homework would be assigned.

Reason One: The teachers want to scare of the faint of heart(in an academic sense).  They don’t want to deal with students who don’t want to do the level of work required of a higher level English course. I don’t blame them.  There have been many a time when I have been in class frustrated because some of my classmates did not want to put in the effort and work required of the class, thus unfortunately sometimes bringing the entire class down. I love being in a class with all academic thinking students just as much as a teacher like teaching one.  When everyone is participating and putting something into the class, it transforms the class; discussions flow freely, group projects are no longer a pain, and the positives can go on forever.  But I’m not so sure that assigned summer reading is going to solve that problem.

In fact, in assigning summer reading, one is more likely to scare away those students who are on the fence between excelling in a regular level English class and being challenged in an honors or AP class.  You won’t scare away the students who are forced by their parents to take the upper level course, just to get into a “good college”.  They will just read Sparknotes and take whatever grade they get on the first tests, because they don’t really care.  You won’t scare away those kids that are naturally smart, but have no desire to put any effort into the course. All who get scared away are the timid ones, those unsure about their academic strength, but willing to put in the effort to get to that next level if needed.

Reason Two: Summer reading is important because it helps classes to cover more books in a year, which ultimately helps students on the AP Literature test as they will have more books to choose from when they are writing their free response essays.  I’m pretty sure no teacher can wholeheartedly say this and believe it one hundred percent.  No student in May of their senior year is going to recall a book they read over the summer before freshman year enough to write a fully developed essay on it.  For one, it is highly likely that after reading that book over the summer, they took a test on it and never discussed it again.  Which ultimately won’t help them on the AP test, because on the test one is required to examine the book on a deeper level than just knowing what the book was about.  Class discussion of a book help set those themes in stone in a student’s mind, so that they can, hopefully, recall them when necessary.  Also, speaking solely from my personal experience taking the AP Literature test; you read enough of a variety of books senior year that you can answer just about any prompt and relate it to one of the books read that year quite easily.

There are some many things students can do during the summer that would be way more worthwhile and thought-provoking than summer homework.  I could list them out, but I think you get the picture.  (If you need an idea of what I’m talking about, check out my previous blog post about what I did this summer!)

Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!
Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!

In conclusion, I am going to echo the wise question of Mr. Theriault; why is summer homework still being assigned?  If you have an answer, or see a reason for keeping it that I haven’t thought of, feel free to comment below!

College, Black Beans, and Brownies

People always said, “Oh yeah, once you are in college, you will miss having a home cooked meal every night.”  And the true meaning of this statement never sank in until I was actually in college.  I have eaten cafeteria food for a little less than a month, and I cannot wait to go home and eat my parents cooking.  Not that our cafeteria food is bad, it just isn’t the food I’m used to. For all my UC school friends that still have another three weeks of summer, savor every bite of home cooked food.  Appreciate it in its entirety.  You will miss it.

I was assigned to live in a room with three other girls.  I was very unsure of how it was going to turn out because living in a cramped space with complete strangers for nine months could go many ways.  Then, the week before I left to go to school, one of my roommates emailed us and informed us that she toured the room and we have a full kitchen and bath in our room.  Um, excuse me?  What?  How is this possible?  As it turns out, we were randomly assigned to the Resident Director’s apartment that was converted into a student dorm.  We basically won the entire housing lottery.  It has been such a blessing to have a kitchen and be able to make my own food once in a while.  The truth is that I wish I could make every meal for myself and not even have a meal plan.  But alas, since I’m living on campus, I must have a meal plan and I should use it or it would be a huge waste of money.

Anyway, I have made eggs, chocolate chip banana pancakes, two batches of chocolate chip cookies, toast, and as of an hour ago, black bean vegan brownies.  I even sent some cookies home to my mom and sister, because my sister made a comment over the phone that she and my mom were down to their last homemade cookie after sending me so many in a care package and how it was too hot to even think of turning on the oven to make more.  So I sent them some dorm-made cookies because I wanted to repay the care package favor.  Because really, no one should be without homemade cookies for too long, especially after school has just started.  That cookie in your lunch very well could be the highlight of your day some days. (Sadly, this is the case once or twice in life; you have bad days that require a cookie to make it better.)  I learned to check with the person who ships your package as to how long it will take for it to arrive, because once they got back home, they were a little crumbly and drier than expected.  It’s the thought that counts, right?

Anyway, tonight I made plans with a friend(yes, I made a friend. Can you believe it?) to try out this new vegan recipe I found on Buzzfeed.  We had no idea how it was going to turn out, but after being sick all weekend and therefore doing nothing but homework and sleeping, I had a little free time tonight to try it out.

The verdict is that they are super fudgy, rich, and dense, and completely and unexpectedly good.  When I heard they had black beans in them I was a skeptic, but these are definitely brownies I would make again.

 

I stole this picture from Farmgirl Gourmet (link at the bottom of this post). It was way better than any picture I could have taken. But mine did turn out looking like this. :)
I stole this picture from Farmgirl Gourmet (link at the bottom of this post). It is way better than any picture I could have taken.  Props to her for this excellent piece of food art. :)

 

Here is the recipe that I got from Farmgirl Gourmet, and then tweaked to fit the ingredients I had in my dorm:

 

Dark Chocolate Vegan Brownies

Ingredients

1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and filled with new water

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder (I used regular unsweetened cocoa powder, because it was cheaper)

4 tsp instant coffee powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup of water (the original recipe calls for Guinness beer, but seeing as I am underage, that wasn’t going to happen)

3/4 cup chocolate chips (or nuts, if you so desire)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Drain the can of black beans into a colander, rinse the can clean and the beans until all bean juice is gone.  Pour the cleaned beans back in the can and fill the can back up to the top with fresh water.
  3. Puree the beans and water in the blender and set it aside.
  4. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl: flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and instant coffee powder. Mix together.  Make a well in the center to pour your liquids into.
  5. Pour bean purée, water, and vanilla into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix together, being careful not to overmix.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips or nuts and pour into a greased 9 by 13 pan.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes and rotate the pan halfway through.
  8. Let cool and enjoy! :)


Note: Depending on whether you like coffee or not, I would adjust the amount of instant coffee powder.  The four teaspoons definitely makes it so you can taste the coffee-ness but not in a bad way.  I don’t drink or enjoy coffee, but I loved the extra layer of flavor it gave the brownies and it complimented the chocolate very nicely(as expected). Also, I haven’t tried it with beer yet, but I am curious as to how it tastes, so when I get home I will be trying it again, this time with the beer.  Lastly, I am not vegan, so I didn’t worry about using butter to grease the pan, so if you are vegan use canola oil or cooking spray.

PS Don’t worry, I promise I have made more than one friend.  I mean, who doesn’t want a friend who will bake them yummy goodies all the time? :)

Click here to see the original recipe!

Over-Involved and Under-Committed: The New Generation

When I was growing up, my parents had a rule for my sister and I (well they had many) but the particular one had to do with commitment.  They told us that we could only choose one sport/ extracurricular activity at a time. We were not the over committed family that always had 3 soccer games, a softball game, church, and a girl scout meeting all in a weekend. The most I got away with doing was soccer and girl scouts at the same time.  And this was permitted only because Girl Scouts met once a week for maybe two hours at a time.  It wasn’t a huge time commitment, my parents believed it was important, and I liked it.  They wanted to preserve family time and their sanity.  I am so grateful that they did.

But I am noticing a growing trend that concerns me.  First in society as a whole; that we are way to busy.  I am totally guilty of this, so I am not preaching from any pulpit, that’s for sure.  Secondly, many people, especially high schoolers, are over-involved and under-committed.  Now, hear me when I say that.  Over-involved and under-committed; how is that even possible?

To answer that question, I ask you to reflect upon what most colleges are looking for in a competitive applicant.  They want a well-rounded individual, who has played a varsity sport, been the president of a club, while being involved in two other clubs, been involved in the community, and on top of all that maintained stellar grades and achieved great test scores. I feel like they are asking for their applicants to dabble and under commit to everything, just so they can attain that “over-committed” level that colleges look for.  If there was a common mantra among current high school students, I’m pretty sure it could be, “Just do it for the app.”

The frustrating thing about this over-involvement is that instead of picking a couple of things that they love and committing to them and being super involved with them, students are doing things for the label, just so they can say they are “involved” on their college application.  AND COLLEGES SEEM TO ENCOURAGE THIS!  Though I’m sure every admissions counselor would say, “We would much rather you be deeply involved in a few things that you are passionate about, instead of a bazillion different things”; the activities section on the common app begs to differ. There are ten different sections to fill out describing your different activities and involvements in high school.  And if you only fill out four of them, that’s leaving a lot of blank space on the application that decides your scholastic fate.  Thus, students are driven to over involve themselves and under commit.  It is impossible to be completely committed to ten different activities, maintain good grades, have some semblance of a social life, and still sleep for the 8-9 hours recommended for teenagers.

What is created is a “Do it for the college application” attitude. And one can assume how frustrating and annoying this attitude can be. Try taking already slightly noncommittal teenagers, throwing them into ten different activities, and telling them to be committed to every one.  What you get is the bare minimum, a warm body in meetings, brain only half there, constantly thinking of all the other things that have to be done.  The expectation is that we are able to do it all, while in reality we have no chance.

 

 

Thirteen Memories and Fourteen Hopes

It’s 2014. Where has the time gone?  I don’t really know, if anyone could tell me where my time, especially my free time, has gone please, do tell. Amidst the busyness of the Christmas Season, before the New Year, I have started to sit down and reflect on the past year and hope for the new one.

I say hope for the new year for two reasons.  First, I don’t make resolutions because they are silly and end up getting broken by February (if you are lucky to make it that long).  Why would we want to put extra stress and pressure on ourselves by making these lofty “resolutions” only to be disappointed and lose self-confidence when we break them?  This might seem like a pessimistic view of resolutions, but it is not that I am against people deciding to make change in their lives.  Change is good and crucial to life, but it seems a little absurd for people to try to change ten things about themselves at once.  Why not focus on one thing at a time and not just starting at the beginning of a new year?  Yes, we can “turn a new leaf” with the new year, but let’s not be a new leaf for a month, then go stale, then next year turn another new leaf, and start the process over again.
This year I made a list of thirteen memories of 2013 and fourteen hopes and prayers for 2014.  It seemed like a doable thing this year, but if I make it a tradition, I’m going to have to get creative in 2045.  I had trouble remembering thirteen individual things that happened this past year, Lord help me if I have to come up with forty-five in 2045.
Without further ado, here is my list of 13 Memories and 14 Hopes and Prayers.
Thirteen Memories of 2013
~Seeing my sister get baptized
~Camping in Zion National Park and hiking Angel’s Landing
~ Spending thanksgiving with friends and family
~ Getting accepted to all 5 if the schools I applied to via early action
~ Passing down my legacy after finishing 4 years of cross-country
~ Going on my first missions trip ever, to build a house for a family in Mexico
~ Going to the beach Christmas morning with my family and doing hand stands on the shore
~ Attending my last high school summer camp with my church
~ Cheering on my best friends as they raced in both track and cross country
~ Riding quads with my dad
~ Learning to make pillowcases with my sister
~ Riding bicycles to the beach with my mom
~ Finishing a year-long daily bible study of the entire New Testament
14 Hopes and Prayers for 2014
~ To be quiet more often, listen to both the silence and people
~ A relatively easy transition for my family when I leave for school
~ Take more pictures
~ Less scheduling, more spontaneity
~ God’s direction in schools, majors, life in general
~ Calculus gets easier and makes more sense
~ More time for outdoor adventures
~ Wear sunscreen everyday (every fair-skinned person’s mental goal)
~ Remember my priorities by not stressing out about the little things in life that don’t matter
~ Finish reading the Old Testament
~ Read more classics
~ Discover a new hobby/passion
~ Go on another missions trip
~ Treasure every moment

Width of Influence is Nothing Without Depth

How would you spend your last days?  Though this can be perceived as a fairly morbid thought, like “I have 3 days, 22 hours, 17 minutes, and 54 seconds to live, how am I going to spend it?”  Or it can be an inspirational thought, a change inducing thought, one of great value, and one that can improve your life.

Busy is a DRUG

As human beings, we are always rushing to do something.  Rushing to pick the kids up from sports, cramming to study for that super important final, dashing off to the grocery store to pick up milk and cereal, always going, going, going.  I do this all the time.  I am always squishing everything I can into my schedule so that between school, cross-country/track, church, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes; I have no time.  I relish the days where I am so physically worn down that it is impossible for me to do anything except stay at home and spend time with my family.  I don’t like these days because I like to be sick, I like them because they are a break from the grind I put myself through every day, day after day.  I know you are thinking, “Why don’t you just stop?  Why don’t you just do less?”  Let me ask you to examine your life and your schedule.  Does it look that much different from mine?  I’m betting that it doesn’t.

I really like this video.  It brings up so many thoughts and questions to ponder.  Most of all, this video propels me to answer the question.  How would I spend my last days?  Since I don’t know how many days I have left, just like every other person on Earth, I think about this question in terms of how I will be remembered.  In my lifetime, I want to have meaningful experiences, influence people for the better, and show people that they are loved.  I want to make a difference.  Now I know, that is so cliché.  But bear with me.

If my goal is to influence and make a difference in people’s lives, what am I doing to pursue my goal?  Most of the time, the answer is nothing, really.  I don’t have profound conversations with every person I meet, I don’t appreciate the people around me enough, I don’t listen.  I am a selfish person and 99.9% of the time the world seems to revolve around me.  Is that what I want to be remembered for? Not at all.

I need to STOP going.  I need to embrace interactions, relationships, and people.  I need to realize that making a difference is going to be about the small things, not the big ones.  I need to re-examine my life, look at all the things I do, and think, “Is this helping me influence the people involved?  Am I making a difference here?  Or am I spreading myself too thin, so that I am unable to build meaningful relationships with the people I am around because I am to busy to stop and chat as I am running to the next event?”

The width of one’s influence is nothing without depth.  If I can’t be more that mere “Facebook” level friends with the people I am around, I will be doing less.  My schedule, from this point on, is going to be filled with more free time.  I’m not going to stop doing, I’m simply going to stop going and going. I am going to leave more time for family, friends, and building relationships with people.  I’m going to live as if I was dying because that is the first step to achieving my mission of influencing and making a difference in other people’s lives.

What about you?  How would you spend your last days? What do you want to be remembered by? It would be totally awesome if I had people join me on my mission to have an impact on the world by going from selfishness to selflessness.  Leave a comment or send me an email, let’s influence the world together.

busy-quote