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  • Writer's picturekmbrownfiel5

Mid-Winter Update

My intended January month-in-review has slowly but surely crept its way into February, so we shall call this a winter catch up instead. While winter is not nearly so cold and so wet and so gray as it was on Long Island, it is still a challenging season. The days are short, the darkness extends from one end of the commute to another, and the days are too chilly and too rainy for many outdoor adventures. January and February have found me in my second busiest season of life after the first two months of school. I am currently in my fourth week of my grad class: Building Executive Functioning Skills in the Classroom. This online course is focused on neuroscience and brain-based learning to help teachers understand the “how” and “why” behind student learning and to follow evidence and research based approaches to ensure that students are learning necessary executive functioning skills. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, Marydee Sklar is an amazing resource. As a board member for Bacon Street Youth and Family Services, my duties are ramping up as our gala approaches. I am on the auction team again this year, and I’m so excited and grateful for my community’s generosity and support. We have some fantastic packages coming together, and I got to help with behind-the-scenes details during my development internship last summer.

Another huge announcement is that my family now owns a farm! Rose Hill Heritage Farm 1630 is a family-run farm producing vegetables, fruits, and herbs in Suffolk, VA. All of our produce is chemical-free, and we are committed to being good stewards of the land through our responsible farming practices. In addition to our high-quality and affordable produce, we will also be selling my mom’s baked goods (I’m happy to be a taste tester), my dad’s pre-made meals, and we have plans to sell our own honey. I am running our Facebook and Instagram pages, and I will be selling our goods at farmers markets later this season. We’re so excited to have been accepted by the Smithfield Farmers Market already, and we are waiting on a couple more applications to be approved. Our website is still in the works, but I will share that once we have it up and running. Our green house is built, and we are in the process of planting now. We already have spinach, lettuce, and beets sprouting, and more produce will be going into the soil this weekend!

In terms of other projects keeping me busy, I’ve been so happy to expand our school’s service work through Youth Volunteer Corps. Through my networking, I was able to organize service trips to Grove Christian Outreach and THRIVE Peninsula. My students are focusing on food insecurity this winter, and both organizations do an outstanding job of serving their communities in such a loving and thoughtful way. While we were at Grove Christian Outreach, we were able to pack snack bags for children, organize hygiene item donations, organize clothing donations, make cards for senior citizens, and distribute the toothbrushes and toothpastes that our school’s Operation Smile club collected. While we were at THRIVE Peninsula, we were able to pack grocery carts full of fresh, frozen, and canned foods for four families. To continue our partnership with these organizations, my students are knitting and crocheting hats, scarves, and blankets for Grove, and we will continue to collect plastic grocery bags for volunteers to use in THRIVE’s food pantry. I love that my students can use their time and talents in such a wide variety of ways to help their community.

Progress reports were due on Monday, and I can’t believe how fast the third quarter has gone. We are finishing The Great Gatsby, and US Literature is preparing to start The Crucible while AP Language will be diving into a variety of shorter nonfiction texts in preparation for their exam. Our first two texts will be Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream.” I recently assigned a playlist assignment in which students needed to annotate two songs to connect them to a character and a theme from The Great Gatsby. The high amount of Taylor Swift connections made my heart happy. I personally chose “Miss Atomic Bomb” by The Killer and “Messengers” by Jared & The Mill to represent Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship.

Onto the books! My New Year's resolution was to try and read each and every day. While I have not maintained a flawless streak, I have found that I am reading more often than I was last year. I’ve also found that I’ve been reading more books that I really enjoy this year than last year. I’m at 7 books so far this year with two in the works. There’s a strong nonfiction focus in this winter’s reading as well as a surprising number of murders in my fiction reading. I’ve had two books that I know will be in my top 5 of the year and two books that were a disappointment for me. My genres are expanded out again, and I’m happy to be exploring different kinds and paces of stories. Without further ado, here are my thoughts.

Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty by Anderson Cooper

This book was a fascinating case study in dysfunctional families. The loveless marriages, the loveless parents, and the selfish greed that dominated this book were tragic, and it was interesting to see how the pursuit and maintenance of wealth negatively impacted the Vanderbilt family for generations. If you’re like me and love exploring history through fascinating individuals, this is a great choice.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson

Wow, I really did want to love this book. Jenny Lawson is one of my favorite authors, and I love her humorous and heartfelt commentary on her mental health struggles. However, this book did not do it for me. It was a memoir if a memoir is filled with exaggerated truths and distorted side tangents. It was funny in parts, but it was also often uncomfortable and felt like it lacked organization. Her first work, in my opinion, can be skipped.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

This has been my number one most recommended book to everyone this year. I was influenced to read it because of FictionMatters, and I was totally engrossed in my audiobook copy. I have enjoyed science fiction in the past, but it’s been a while since I found myself really absorbed in the genre. This meditative, character-focused tale of four astronauts who are years and galaxies away from their lives on Earth for the sake of studying life on other planets is deeply emotional. It feels like an anthropologist’s journal, it feels like the best kind of science lecture, it feels like a confessional. It is all of these things. It is a woman’s explanation about the “how” and the “why” of a mission that goes drastically off course. It is a journey of a found family. It is poetry on the page. I know this will be in my top 5 of the year.

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

If you’re going to enjoy this novel, you must listen to it as an audiobook for the accents alone. Please, can there be more books set in Scotland? Like her previous novel, Migrations, McConaghy focuses her story on a woman with a dark and mysterious past on a mission to preserve and study a failing animal species. This novel was, in many ways, a murder mystery. This novel was, in many ways, a discussion on the intersection of animal and human relationships. This novel was, in many ways, the story of two sisters that try to save one another from the demons outside and the demons within. This novel was, in many ways, the story of a haunted woman navigating the embrace of romance and a small town. As I told my students, I was expecting the wolves, but I wasn’t expecting the off-the-rails drama. This is not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the drama. In fact, I quite liked it. The ending, to me, felt forced and rushed, but the rest of the novel was creepily captivating.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

This book was a complete and utter delight to read from start to finish. Yes, it was laugh out loud funny, but please don’t assume that there won’t be heartbreak. When you get to “the chapter,” you’ll know what I mean. I have not been more shocked at an author’s choice in months. Ouch, I am still emotionally recovering from it. This book has such a unique voice for each character, and I fell deeply and protectively in love with each of them (unless they were the slimy, terrible characters trying to bring my favorite protagonist down). You’ll feel outraged on her behalf, you’ll root for her, you’ll cry for her. If this book could be adapted to a Hulu series, I would binge it in a day. Please, Hollywood writers, make this happen! I’ve seen so much well deserved buzz and praise for this book, and I hope it ends up in book clubs for a good, long while. One of the easiest 5 stars I’ll grant this year.

Independence: A Novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Iain got me 12 months of Book of the Month for Christmas, and I’m so excited to have a new book on my doorstep each month! I wanted to read this book because I love family-centered historical fiction, and I was intrigued to find a story that wasn’t focused on America, England, or France during World War II. However, I felt disappointed by the story. The syntax of the writing resembled a play more than a novel and that, combined with the shifting points of view, made it difficult to fully inhabit a character’s perspective. The story initially felt very similar to Fiddler on the Roof, and while there were explosive moments of action, the story seemed to drag. I enjoyed the story of one of the three sisters and found the other two to be too selfish to really root for. The twisting, suspenseful ending gave the novel an extra star rating in my eyes, but I felt like the full potential of the story wasn’t reached. I enjoyed learning so much about Indian culture and history; it was an immersive experience, and songs, food, and textiles were often woven into the text. It was 3 stars for me, but it does get recognition for opening my eyes to such a violent and heartbreaking era in history while also teaching me so much about a region’s rich culture.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

If this book could have been half its length, I think I would have liked it better. The point of view of a rebellious and outcast young royal sounded so appealing, but I honestly could not connect with or root for her. In fact, I felt distant from the characters for most of the narrative. While it was announced our protagonist would die from the very first chapter, I wished that I felt sad about that after I got to know her. O’Farrell’s previous work, Hamnet, was a stronger literary text and one that I would much more readily recommend. As I said before, how did I end up reading about so much murder this winter?

What I'm currently reading:

Audio: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Print: Riverman: An American Odyssey by Men McGrath

What's next: Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn (my February Book of the Month pick)

Things I’m enjoying right now:

Listening: Zach Bryan’s American Heartbreak album has been a favorite of mine since Christmas break. “Something in the Orange” is my favorite song of the moment. Also, if someone can get the sped-up version of “Green, Green Grass” out of my head, that would be awesome.

Eating: Iain and I went to the Cavalier for a distillery tour at Tarnished Truth and then had dinner in the Hunt Room. I had quail and venison for the first time, and I was surprised to enjoy both. The oysters Rockefeller we shared were phenomenal, and their atmosphere is so cozy. There is a roaring fireplace with coaches perfect for lounging.

Doing: Iain and I are going to a cat cafe for the first time this weekend, and I’m looking forward to petting some new furry friends.

Thanks for reading until the end!

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