Grandpa Jack: A Tribute

John “Jack” Cuthill is a wonderful man.  He is my grandpa.  He passed away this evening so it doesn’t feel right saying “was.”

I didn’t grow up with grandparents living nearby.  My dad’s parents spent most of their time living in Florida, and my mom’s parents lived in Big Rapids, MI (almost 4 hours away).  Even though Grandpa Jack lived hours away in Big Rapids, it never really felt like he lived that far away.  He and my grandma, when she was alive, visited us often.  I think my grandpa visited us even more after my grandma passed.  We made many trips to visit Grandpa Jack and Grandma Rosemary.  In fact, my brother and I referred to our visits as going on vacation because it was always so much fun.  My grandparents would have the best snacks for us and usually some kind of small gift waiting.  My brother and I are extremely fortunate to have grandparents that cared so much for us.

The minister has asked that the grandchildren write down some memories to be read during the funeral which prompted this blog post (I’m currently wishing I was a better writer).  So many of my memories seem random, but they’re important to me.  For instance, when I was little I had an assignment that required me to interview one of my grandparents.  I know it had something to do with family history, but I remember vividly him telling me about my great grandparents growing up in Scotland.  At some point in high school I was upset about a boy and he told me that sometimes games are played in relationships and to avoid those games.  Every time he visited us he’d bring a box of doughnuts because we are a family of sweet-tooths.  When I’m at a Coney Island and I see someone eating a chili dog I think of Grandpa Jack ordering two chili dogs and a glass of milk.  For years when I was little we were pen pals.  I can picture his scratchy handwriting perfectly.  I don’t have any of those letters, but I have his more recent cards and notes stored away.  He gave me his wedding cake topper, which my mom dolled up a bit, to use on my wedding cake.  The Detroit Tigers and golf games on TV.  Goofy baseball hats and pastel yellow shirts or dress pants.  The smell of traditional Neutrogena soap (the orange kind).  White Ford Tauruses and Intrepids (he always bought these).  Keeping the windows up while driving so his hair wouldn’t get messed up (he didn’t exactly have a full head of hair so this always baffled me).  These are some random things that remind me of my grandpa.

When I think about Grandpa Jack, I think about how much he loves me and how proud of me he is.  My brother John and I both made him proud when we swam in high school because my grandma was a swimmer when she was young.  Almost every time he told me he’s proud of me, he included how proud my grandma is as well even though she passed away over 20 years ago.  It made him proud that I chose Rose as my confirmation name; he sent me a large arrangement of flowers which included roses.  When Keith and I got married the card he gave us was signed love “Grandpa Jack and Grandma Rosemary.” Grandpa’s never stopped loving her.  He’s been to almost all of my big events: First Communion, Confirmation, high school and college graduation, my wedding and more.  He’s always at our holiday parties drinking a Manhattan, a glass of wine, or some kind of cocktail while snacking on sweets.  I’m incredibly thankful that my grandpa was such a big part of my life.  It’s hard to believe that he won’t be here to meet my future children, especially knowing that those plans are so near in the future.

Recently he’s been suffering from a bad hip, knee and back so he hasn’t felt safe making the drive to visit us.  I unfortunately haven’t seen him as much as a consequence.  Grandpa’s been really depressed because of his hip, knee and back so I made a point of calling him to tell him about school and my blog.  My mom’s been keeping him in the loop as well, so whenever we’d talk he wanted to know about the authors I’m talking to and working with.  He and my grandma loved reading and books, so he’s been incredibly proud of what I’m doing in my classroom.  Grandpa was really down this past summer, but he brightened up so much when I called him after going to Lisa McMann’s for dinner.  He loved hearing that story.  I went to visit him when he was first in the hospital with a horrible case of pneumonia and using a vent to breathe.  Grandpa really wanted to talk to me, but he had to write things out instead.  Even in his condition he wrote down one word so I could give him some updates: Authors?  When my book club was holding a bake sale to raise money for our library, I called to tell him about it.  He loved it and sent us a donation.  He was so excited when I called him after winning my district’s Teacher of the Year award.  He sent me a card right away with some money to buy more books for my classroom.  My school’s community has a small newspaper and I was featured when I won my award.  He hasn’t been able to see it, so I remembered to bring it with me yesterday when I went to visit him for the last time in the hospital.  He’s been on a vent for the past month, but lately he’s been using a trach, and even though speaking wore him out, he was able to tell me he loves me and is proud of me.  Grandpa Jack has been one of my biggest fans my entire life; there’s no one else I’d rather have in my corner.

It’s not easy knowing that my grandpa is no longer with us, but I’m comforted knowing that he’s no longer unhappy and suffering.  He’s with my grandma once again, and I know deep in my heart that both of them will always watch over my family.

Plate = Full

I don’t typically get very personal on my blog, unless it’s something important about teaching or the like.  I’ve been debating about this post, but I feel like I need to write it.  This blog is for my students and me, but I still think about my readers.  I’m writing this post because I feel like I need to explain my shortage of reviews and posts in general.

There are two primary reasons for my sluggish blogging.  One of the reasons is work.  The school I teach at is set up in trimesters, and this current trimester which started after Thanksgiving, is all new curriculum.  We’ve taught three new units, most of which we’ve been working on as we go.  As you can imagine, it’s been tough.  I love the three units we’ve taught because they’ve been engaging, fresh, and have really improved our students’ writing.  Plus, we taught Of Mice and Men and The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner.  I was excited to teach TPoG because I love Gae’s book, and also because I created the teaching guide for Gae.  Right now my classes are finishing their memoir unit which has been fun, but it needs tweaking.  I’m overwhelmed at the moment because we assigned compare/contrast essays for OM&M and TPoG which the kids wrote, turned in, and then we handed back with comments and collected again to grade again.  Phew!  Those took a while to get through, but my kids really improved the second time around.  Right after I finished grading those I collected their memoirs.  I have 90 freshmen right now.  I have 90 memoirs to grade.  The trimester ends on Tuesday.  I’ll have final exams to grade.  Plus, I have my Young Adult Lit class to think about as well.  I still have book reviews and responses to grade, plus their final projects.  Yep, I’m feeling the pressure.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m looking for sympathy because I’m an English teacher, and I know this is part of the job.  I always feel the push to get the grading done in a timely manner.  The difference right now is that I’ve been an active blogger for a year and a half which adds to the balancing act.  It’s tough keeping up with the reading, writing my reviews, commenting on other blogs, staying active on Twitter, and doing my actual job.  But I love all of it, so I continue everything.  Blogging has become a fantastic hobby and way of connecting with wonderful people.  Twitter is often a place of sanity for me when I feel the way I do right now.  I’m not giving any of this up.

My biggest hurdle is health problems.  For almost four years now I’ve been feeling off and incredibly lethargic and simply not myself.  I went to the doctor about it when I started noticing it because my mom, who has hypothyroidism, wanted me to get it checked out.  My doctor told me that my thyroid levels were low, but not low enough to do anything about it.  This was in 2008 or 2009, months before my wedding.  She told me that I’m probably just stressed and we’ll check it again in six months.  Six months later we check it again and it still wasn’t “bad enough,” yet I still felt horrible.  Anyway, after about a year and a half after my wedding my levels were finally bad enough that they put me on medicine.  The problem is that I still wasn’t feeling normal, was still having the same hypothyroid issues.  I went to a specialist this past fall and found out that I actually have Hashimoto’s Disease which causes hypothyroidism.

Now this isn’t a big scary deal or anything like that, but it affects me on a daily basis.  It’s been worse lately, and I’m seeing a new doctor (the specialist wasn’t helpful) who’s been helping me so much more than any of the other doctors.  I’m doing yoga because of her, giving up caffeine, and we’re testing a lot of other things that could be holding me back from feeling better.  I’m bringing this up because it’s one of the biggest reasons I’m not doing as much as before.  I have a hard time staying awake when I’m reading because I’m always so tired, so I haven’t been reading as much as fast.  I feel foggy and absent-minded, and more stresses me out than should stress me out.  Sometimes it really takes a lot of motivation to get the reviews written and the papers graded.  But like I said, my new doctor is awesome and I really think she’s going to get me back to feeling like myself.  Starting yoga and changing my diet has made a difference, but when you’re working with hormones nothing changes over night. I’m a very self-motivated, get it done right away kind of person, that feeling so lethargic and sluggish has really been difficult.

It’s funny to me that I don’t usually write reviews this long, but this post is long-winded.  Basically, I hope this wasn’t too personal for you, but I felt like I needed to explain myself.  I try to keep up my blog and have things ready to post almost every day.  This coming trimester isn’t packed with new material, so I’m predicting it won’t be so overwhelming.  There’s a good chance none of you have noticed my slacking, but I have so I needed to address it.  I love my blog and I appreciate everyone that reads it and comments.

Waiting on Wednesday (2)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

This week I’m featuring Gabrielle Zevin’s upcoming release All These Things I’ve Done.  I teach Elsewhere in my Young Adult Lit class, which most of my students really like.  I’m a big fan of her other book Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac.  This new book looks different from the other two, so I’m definitely excited to read it.

P.S. I’d be miserable without caffeine and chocolate!

Title & Author: All These Things I’ve Done (Birthright #1) by Garbrielle Zevin
Release Date: September 6th, 2011
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Summary (From Goodreads): In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city’s most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.’s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she’s to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight—at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

In My Mailbox (19)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme sponsored by The Story Siren.  It’s a way for bloggers to share what books they’ve received for review, borrowed from the library, or bought from the store.

It hasn’t been a very big week for buying/receiving books, but I promised myself that I’d keep up on my IMM posts. What does your mailbox look like this week?

Books Purchased:

It’s been a Lisa Schroeder week!  All of her books are beautifully written in verse and center around love.  I STRONGLY recommend that you read her books.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Goodreads)This book is so incredibly amazing!  I just posted my review yesterday 🙂

Chasing Brooklyn (Goodreads)Another awesome novel in verse.

The Day Before (Goodreads)- I still need to read this one.  My alumni book club (former students, now in college) chose Divergent as our next book, so I need to finish that before I read anything else.


Spring Break Blogging Break

Hi everyone!  It’s finally our spring break, and even though I’m not going anywhere tropical or very exciting (insert pouty face), I’m taking the week off from my blog.  I need to spend my time reading, relaxing, and grading.  I don’t know if I’ll make it that long though, because I have a hard time staying away!  (I’ll probably have a new post up by next weekend…or sooner lol).

Anywho, have a wonderful week!!

I wish I was here!

Reading and Blogging Resolutions

Normally, I’m not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions because I never stick with them.  But when it comes to reading and blogging, I KNOW I’ll be able to stick with my goals.

1. My biggest goal for 2011 is to read at least 100 books.  In 2009 I read close to 40 and felt that was a big deal (for some that is!).  This year (2010) I’ve read 76, and I know I’ll have more done by the 31st 🙂  Teaching and keeping up with reading can be difficult, but I’ve obviously found a way to accomplish both because my number has gone up.  I definitely think I can make the 100 book mark!

2. I didn’t really start to seriously blog until July, so my blog has been a work in progress since then.  I love writing reviews, but I want to start including more author interviews, giveaways, and discussion posts.  Right now I have an interview with Denise Jaden (Losing Faith) set up.  I’m also putting together a cool new feature on my blog involving my students and 2011 debut authors 😀

3. I need to subscribe to more blogs.  I’m following a few, but I haven’t commented on them enough.  I love getting comments, so it makes sense that I should comment on blogs as well. 

4. And this is probably dorky, but I want to create an icon/badge for my blog.  I’d like to jazz up my layout too.  We’ll see…

5. Lately I’ve been reading a bunch of new titles.  I love keeping up, but I have a bunch of older titles waiting to be read on my shelf at home.  I also have quite a few half-read books (The Rules of Survival and Fire for example).  These will be read and moved to my bookshelf at school.

That pretty much sums up my resolutions for 2011.  What are your reading/blogging resolutions?

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone has had a very festive, merry and safe Christmas today!  I’m very thankful that I was able to spend last night and today with my husband and family.  This is the first Christmas in at least five years that everyone’s been healthy 🙂  We ate too much (but oh-so-delicious) food, relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company. 

I received Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne and an additional copy of Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson from my brother.  My husband gave me a nice gift card to Barnes & Noble and my book club gave me a great gift card to Borders.  I see some book purchases in my future!  Did anyone else get some cool books as gifts?  Or maybe gave some great books as gifts?  I’d love to hear about it!

Now that the holidays are winding down I’ll get my blog back on track.  I have a couple reviews lined up, another book trailer for Thursday and some very cool author interviews coming up!

Caroline’s 2011 Debut Author Challenge

This is my first time attempting the DAC by The Story Siren so we will see how well I do!

1 ) XVI; Julia Karr

2 ) Darkness Becomes Her; Kelly Keaton

3 ) Falling Under; Gwen Hayes

4 ) Blood Magic; Tessa Gratton

5 ) Awaken; Katie Kacvinsky

6 ) Die for Me; Amy Plum

7 )  Mistress of the Storm; Melanie Welsh

8 ) Sister Mischief; Laura Goode

9 ) Broken Wings; Helen Landalf

10 ) Virtuosity; Jessica Martinez

11 ) Fetching; Kiera Stewart

12 ) Vanished; Sheela Chari

13 ) Haven; Kristi Cook

14 ) Enclave; Ann Aguirre

15 ) Exposed; Kimberly Marcus

Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl Beautiful Darkness

503 pp.  Little, Brown and Company.  2010 ISBN: 978-0-316-07705-7

Summary (From the publisher): “Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena’s family of powerful Supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen.

Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan’s eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there’s no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper into his town’s tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems.”

With all of the paranormal fantasy series out there, I’ve become quite picky over the years.  Thinking about the many series and triologies I’ve read, I’ve noticed that the second book in a trilogy or the books in the middle of a series tend to drag.  After reading and falling in love with Beautiful Creatures I was nervous Beautiful Darkness may end up the same way.  Thankfully, I worried for absolutely no reason!  Beautiful Darkness never dragged, never became wordy, never lost my interest.  In fact, I was so obsessed with it while reading that even some of my dreams took on parts of the plot!  Now that’s a good book!

Even though I enjoy Lena’s character, it was nice that she was “absent” from much of the novel because it allowed the reader to become more familiar with Ethan.  His love and devotion for Lena is both sweet and admirable.  While many boys Ethan’s age would probably move on after the constant gossiping and teasing, Ethan stays by Lena’s side.  He loves her for who she is inside and out; that says a lot about a 17-year-old.  And yes, I know this is a fictional character, but teens need positive role models even if they’re in books!  I also like that Ethan isn’t written as a domineering, possessive boyfriend watching Lena’s every move.  She asks for space, and albeit reluctantly, he provides it.

I have to mention Link.  I always find myself paying extra attention to how authors write the best friend, and Link has to be one of my favorite protagonists’ best friend.  Maybe it’s some secret, guy, best friend thing I don’t know about, but Link never fails Ethan.  I’m not bashing girls and their friends, but sometimes it seems like there’s less judgment between guys.  Link doesn’t really ask questions, he’s just always there for his best friend.  Even better is that Ethan doesn’t take advantage of Link, he helps out Link just as much as Link helps him.  It’s a great friendship that Kami and Margaret wrote wonderfully.

When it comes to the setting, I have a love/hate relationship with Gatlin.  I love all the gothic elements like the moss covered trees and the graveyards, but I can’t stand the small minds of the community.  Thankfully, the narrow-minded Gatlin citizens didn’t play as heavy a role in Beautiful Darkness.  Instead we learned more about Ethan’s family and the complicated workings of the Lunae Libri.  It’s near the top of my Fictional Places I’d Love to Visit list.  Oh the life of a Caster…

Overall, if you can’t already tell, I give Beautiful Darkness five out of five stars.  The only complaint I have is that the cliffhanger at the end has left me desperate for the next installment!

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick

Becca Fitzpatrick Crescendo

427 pp.  Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.  2010 ISBN:  9781416989431

Summary (From the publisher): “Nora should have know her life was far from perfect. Despite starting a relationship with her guardian angel, Patch (who, title aside, can be described anything but angelic), and surviving an attempt on her life, things are not looking up. Patch is starting to pull away and Nora can’t figure out if it’s for her best interest or if his interest has shifted to her arch-enemy Marcie Millar. Not to mention that Nora is haunted by images of her father and she becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened to him that night he left for Portland and never came home.

The farther Nora delves into the mystery of her father’s death, the more she comes to question if her Nephilim blood line has something to do with it as well as why she seems to be in danger more than the average girl. Since Patch isn’t answering her questions and seems to be standing in her way, she has to start finding the answers on her own. Relying too heavily on the fact that she has a guardian angel puts Nora at risk again and again. But can she really count on Patch or is he hiding secrets darker than she can even imagine?”

Let’s start with the obvious- Becca Fitzpatrick is a super-talented author!  I’ve noticed that sometimes books in the middle of a series or trilogy tend to drag; not so with Crescendo.  I was hooked from the beginning to the very end, which left me yelling “What the?!”  But more on that in a bit…  Her ability to create a scene through vivid imagery and invoke strong emotions towards a character is excellent.  While reading both books I’ve found myself thinking “Wow, could I ever do something like that?”  Becca’s talent is impressive.

Nora is a fun character to read.  I love that she wants to be perceived as tougher than she appears; it’s tiring reading damsels in distress over and over.  Of course, Nora faces her fair share of distressful situations, but she’s always trying to fight and think her way out of them.  I especially enjoyed her relationship with Vee.  In Hush, Hush we didn’t get to interact with Vee as often.  She’s incredibly amusing and acts as a good friend to Nora.  I don’t know how many girls would follow their best friend into a questionable bar and offer up her car over and over again.  Props to Nora and Vee!

In regards to characters, I found myself growing more and more frustrated with Patch.  But I suspect that was the point because Nora was feeling the same.  I kept wishing he’d just be honest with Nora, but I also kept wishing that Nora would allow him to explain himself!  Advice to Nora and Patch- communication is KEY in any relationship.  (Yes, I know I’m speaking to fictional characters… lol).  If the two of them would have been honest with each other, so many problems would have been avoided or solved faster.  However, I still adore Patch and how he watches over Nora. 

The one thing I hope to learn more about in book #3 is Nora’s family history and Nephilim connection.  We got a taste in Crescendo, but I am yearning for more information!  I was making predictions throughout the book and just when I thought I’d have my answers at the end, I was left hanging.  But it was definitely in a good way!  Just like I said earlier in my post, I definitely yelled “What the?!”  My husband was sleeping next me (I stayed up way too late on a school night to finish reading) and I’m surprised I didn’t wake him up.  The ending of Crescendo is the perfect lead in to the next book.

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