Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Day 14: Tradition (A Few Months Later...)

      Since we passed the Christmas and New Year's season a while ago, I am going to talk a little bit about the traditions my family has during the winter holidays.

     Christmas is usually a fun time of the year for a lot of people. On Christmas Eve my family will get together at my aunt's house and have a gift exchange. A month or two beforehand, we each drew the name of one of our cousins and this was the person you were assigned to get a gift for. After the gift exchange we go to a Chinese restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City called Golden Phoenix. The food there is really good in my opinion, not that I have much to go off of since my family doesn't usually go to other Chinese restaurants. After a long, filling dinner, we head down to Temple Square and wander around, looking at the lights and at the Nativities set up around the square. When we are done wandering, we head back to the cars and part ways, but this is not where the traditions end. When my family gets home, we each get new pajamas, as is the tradition in many households.
       After a fitful night of sleep, we wake up, ready to open presents. Of course, this is assuming Dad has the camcorder set up already. If we are expecting any early morning guests, like my Aunt "Teen," we have to wait for them to get to our house before we are allowed to open presents, so we at least can see what has been left in our stockings. That is, usually we do. This year we had to wait until my aunt got to our house before even opening our stockings and since Christmas fell on a Sunday, we were only able to open stockings before we had to go to church.

     New Year's Eve is my favorite holiday. We have a family of our friends come over around 5:00 p.m. and we start eating about 6:00 p.m. and just snack all night after that. There are a few foods that we absolutely have to have every year (including little smokies, wrapped in bacon and brown sugar). We've played games over the years, done karaoke a couple times, watch movies, and when we were really young, we would play "House." At about 11:00-11:30 p.m. we start chocolate fondue with all sorts of fruits and snacks (and cream puffs) to dip and eat. Then at about midnight, we take poppers outside that are filled with confetti to celebrate the New Year. The past few years my dad has fired off an old pistol he inherited that sounds louder than most fireworks.
      When we have tired of standing in the cold, we go inside and start cleaning up. By the time we are done and our family friends leave it is about one in the morning and we get ready for bed; it's a great start to a new year.

I love traditions. They are a time to spend with family and friends that remain but at the same time they will evolve throughout the years as tastes and ages change.
     What are some traditions you have and what do you like to do the most?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Day 13: Stop Giving us Homework if You Want us to Have Time to Read

'The greatest writers are the most vigilant readers.'

      This may be the case, however, when flooded with incessant assignments, how are students expected to find time to read? I myself have a large list of books to read, not counting the stack of library books piling up in my room and collecting dust, that I never have enough time in the day to read.
      In high school, students are encouraged to take challenging classes, get good grades, be involved with multiple diverse extracurricular activities, do homework, and get enough sleep at night (which in case you were wondering is between 9 to 9 1/2 hours). If you are a high school student or the parent or teacher of a high school student, I would like you to ask how many hours of sleep do high school students (including yourself, if that is the case) get 9 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep every night on average? Show of hands? Hmmm. I am not seeing many hands, and that's not because I am simply sitting at this computer typing. This is because we don't have time to get enough sleep.


      However, this post is not about our lack of sleep and how I believe school start times should be pushed back. This is about having time to read. Teachers think they do us a favor by assigning books to read: exposing us to culture and expanding our horizons. The thing is, oh misguided teachers of ours, there's this thing called The Taint of School Touch. The Taint is something I refer to often when talking to my friends about books and reading. Think of a book you have been longing to read--it has been on your To Read list for a long time. Too long. Imagine it is some classic novel and you hope to broaden your sense of culture through the reading of this novel. 
      Now picture that school has just started and you are sitting in your English class; your first assignment: that novel you have been longing to read. Here is where The Taint comes into play. What you were once planning on reading for pleasure becomes a chore to complete. A chore that some students would prefer not to meet. 

      There are also different scenarios--things I have experienced--such as going to the library after school or during the weekend. You scour the aisles of books. So many titles and such little time. You grab a handful--or armload in my case--and head to checkout these new, exciting books. Maybe you picked up something informational from the non-fiction section as well as a couple thrillers from the action section plus a few classics or books that were finally available in the library. You go home to unload your treasures and can't decide what to read first so you start with "eeny meeny miny mo" and let chance or fate or what have you do the decision-making for you.
      You thoroughly enjoy your books. That is of course, assuming you didn't have a mountain of homework waiting for you once you came home that barraged you through reminders on your phone, letting you know how there is no time for reading. Or at least, there isn't time for reading all of the wonderful books you checked out from the library. Instead, you have a Tainted novel rotting away with the rest of your school work in your backpack, waiting to make or break your grade. 

      The books you just checked out get shoved off to the side as you make the tough decision to at least pretend you are going to be a good student and get your work done. Weeks go by and you look wistfully once or twice towards the books you got from the library (or maybe they are brand new books you just bought), but you have to turn back to the cruel homework sitting on your kitchen table. 

     Every once in a while you may be lucky enough to crack open the pages of one of the books and read for a moment or two, whether during a few spare minutes at the end of class or in the moments before drifting off to sleep. But it's never enough. You go online every week to press the renew button until it no longer does you any good. The books are due back and you haven't completed any of them; in fact, you almost completely lost interest in reading them any time soon and will probably forget that they were once a thrill you were hoping to enjoy. 

      Teachers think they do us a favor by assigning us books to read. "Bill Gates reads a book every week," my English teacher professes to the class. "However," he continues as though he is doing us a favor, "You only have to read one book a month."
      I would love to read a new book every week. During the summer and fall when school ends or is just beginning and I have no other obligations to fulfill, I spend hours curled up somewhere in my house--sometimes even outside sitting up in a tree--with a book. I wish I could do the same during the school year. 
      "Well let's just assign you to pick out a book you want to read. Pick a biography about someone that interests you." Tainted. "We just took the SRI and you received your Lexile score. Find a book that looks interesting to you based on your score." Tainted even more. As soon as a book is touched by the school system through assignment, it is Tainted.


      Dear Teachers, 
             Please stop assigning us books to read. We are in high school. We are nearly adults and should be allowed to make our own decisions. Your ideas of fun are not the same as ours. If anything, make it a competition as to who can read the most by the end of the year with a grand prize and something for the runner-up. 
            Check in with students, see what they are reading. See if there is something they could recommend to other students. Create a community for sharing, reading, and learning. Encourage us to read, but don't make it part of our grade. There are alternatives! I plead with you, don't Taint the works of brilliant authors. 
            Thank you.
Sincerely, 
            The Vigilant Readers Trying to Become the Greatest Writers (of Our Time)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Day 12: Long Time, No See

Written March 1st, 2017

       This post will be fairly short and sweet since it has been almost two months since my last post. Today is March 1st which for many means the beginning of basketball March Madness. For me, it means something else. Today marks the beginning of Seminary March Madness which is a reading challenge through the LDS Seminary to read the whole Book of Mormon in 31 days. March Madness (through seminary) is one of my favorite times of the year. I have participated in March Madness since I was in eighth grade, when my friends were mostly in high school--all in seminary while I was still too young.
      I had never been able to finish the Book of Mormon. Like many others, I had 1 Nephi chapter 1 verse 1 nearly memorized through constant re-visitation--trying once more to maybe get farther than Mosiah or Alma. I was more excited than I had ever been about reading a book, although I was worried how I would be perceived by my peers as I carried a copy of the Book of Mormon around with me. In my English class we had to read for 10 minutes at the beginning of each class and then write about what we read. This was the perfect opportunity for me to keep up with my reading. By the end of the month I was exactly where I needed to be in order to finish on the 31st: I finished on the 30th. From that day I made a goal: every year I was going to finish a day sooner than the previous year.
     In ninth grade I finished the 28th. In tenth I was done by the 23rd or 24th. Today is the beginning of a new bout of March Madness and I'm ready. This year I am going to try to finish within two or three weeks. The past few years in my ward I have become known as the one to "beat." The challenge some of the adults have taken beyond just finishing within the month is to finish before me. I love this not because of any attention that comes to me, but because it creates a unity as we all try to finish this amazing book together with a similar goal in mind.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Day 11: Books of 2016

Since it's the beginning of a new year, why not go through some of my favorite books from 2016?

      I love to read, and I have for a long time. Before the break, my English teacher suggested we all take a photo of our top five favorite books that we read during the last year (or last two years for those who don't read as much). Since I got a new camera for Christmas I was excited about this and started thinking about what books were my favorite. What could I put in this photo?
     I went through Overdrive to the Amazon Lending Library and went back to August of 2015 and started making a list of the books I read, whether I had enjoyed them or not. These were just the eBooks. I had no real way of tracking what physical books I read over the years because sadly the library system doesn't keep track of that for you. I think the original list had about 50 books or so that I actually remembered reading (and like I said, a lot of the books I read a few years ago were physical and there really wasn't a way to keep track of them or see when I had checked them out). Now I had some eliminating to do.
      In the end, I eliminated all but six books. I knew which books I absolutely had to include, but which one book could I leave out? I decided to eliminate one of the ones I owned (I tried buying some of these other favorites at Barnes and Noble but none of them were available or not in the way I wanted them). I now had five books that had been my favorites over the last couple years.

     The books that I chose were The Winner's Curse Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and Reasons to be Happy by Katrina Kittle.

      The first book, or rather trilogy, that I really like is The Winner's Curse Trilogy (The Winner's Curse, The Winner's Crime, The Winner's Kiss) by Marie Rutkoski. Marie Rutkoski is one of my favorite authors right now. The first book is about Kestrel Trajan, daughter of the Valorian General Trajan. The Valorians went to war with the Herrani and now the Herrani are considered slaves to the Valorian Empire. The story starts there. Well worth a read in my opinion!
      Second is The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black about a girl and her brother who live in a town that has become a popular tourist spot because of a boy in a glass coffin, sleeping. The girl and her brother grew up playing games around this boy, pretending they were knights charged with the protection of this boy who was a prince. Then they grow up and the story is about the girl living in high school.
     Third is Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson. If you like plot twists, this book's middle name is Plot Twist! The beginning was slow and I almost didn't make it through it but I am glad I did because it was worth it! A princess runs away on the day she is supposed to leave to meet her betrothed who is a prince of another land. That's all I am going to say about this book. Want to know more? Either read it yourself (which I recommend) or look it up.
      Fourth was Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and I have been waiting for the sequel to come out for a while. This book is about a crew that are hired to pull of the most daring and impossible heist. I love books like this, especially with characters like The Wraith (Inej) because they are the characters I wish I could be like them (like Celaena Sardothien in Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas). Those characters are stealthy and smart and incredibly talented.
      Reasons to be Happy by Katrina Kittle is the fifth book. It's about a girl who begins to struggle with bulimia as her life gets harder. She has a notebook full of reasons she could be happy and I like reading books and learning about people who have different disorders because then you can translate what you learn about the characters to people in real life.


FAVORITE BOOKS FROM 2016


As you may or may not have noticed, there are more than five books in this photo. That's because after I decided on my five favorites, I didn't want to leave out two other books I have read and that nearly made the top five. The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski was neck-and-neck with Reasons to be Happy and when taking this picture I decided it had to be included, especially since I own it now. It's about a girl named Darcy with dark hair and is fairly introverted. Then a new guy starts at school and there's something different about him. (Have I mentioned that Marie Rutkoski is one of my favorites?)
      The other book included in this photo that didn't make the list was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (The book pictured is actually a compilation of seven of her novels but the important part is that Pride and Prejudice is in it). I read this last school year after seeing posters all over my English classroom because my English teacher also taught AP English Literature and was doing a Pride and Prejudice unit. I saw the movie at my grandma's house and asked to borrow it. After falling in love with the movie, I fell in love with the book (which doesn't happen very often--finding a movie first and then reading the book and loving it).

So those are the books that I loved from 2016.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Day 10: Satire and School

     When given an assignment, what's the first thing you do? Hopefully you pay attention to the directions. For this assignment, I will be writing a satire about something I strongly dislike. The definition of a satire is "corrective ridicule," which I hope I am good at, although I am also afraid I am going to mess this up by not being more sarcastic than satirical so we will see how this goes.

     My favorite class is English. It always has been. One of my favorite parts about English is reading and expanding my horizons. But what happens when the teacher wants to expand your horizons in a direction you are not particularly fond of?
     Most people love being told what to do--how to eat, sit, walk, breathe, and especially how to do the things they love. It's like a present from Sandy Claws in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Beautifully wrapped with all sorts of wondrous surprises on the inside. When you love reading, why not let others recommend books for you? Especially short ones with no plot or character development whatsoever.
     Personally, those are my absolute favorites. I can't stand reading, long, descriptive, intelligently and carefully written books--why did the author have to put so much effort in a book that could have been so much better with only 100 pages or so plus only one or two characters that are completely static. What is the point? People who enjoy reading don't want to waste their time on something that will take forever to read, so hand out all the old, short, underdeveloped books you've got. Please. I am begging you on hands and knees to just recommend the best books possible, given that they fit the criteria of a book assigned to high school students (which is what I have mentioned above as the best kind of book).
      What kind of recommendation would it be without a grade attached to it? Imagine, having to read a book that you aren't assigned to read, especially if it's one of those forever long, boring ones. The horror! Thankfully, none of us have time for that. That's the best part about school and teachers: they make sure you don't have to worry about what to do with free-time because you have all sorts of important, interesting homework to complete. Sometimes there's not enough time to even finish all of the homework which is such a relief because no one wants to deal with down time. No, all of us need structure in our lives, dictated by another. Then when we joyfully don't complete our homework we get the best feelings inside such as regret, disappointment, stress and anxiety, depression, etc.
     I would personally like to thank all of the wonderful men and women in my life, from the bottom of my heart, that make sure I never have to worry about having time to read boring books or watch Netflix or sleep. That would make for a horrible life. Thank you.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Day 9: Music I Love, Part One

     I know that as life changes, so do our tastes in music, as well as what is trending, so today I decided to tell you a little bit about the music I like and why I favor it so much more than what else is popular.

     In about seventh grade if you asked me who my favorite artist is and/or my favorite songs (not necessarily by that artist) I would've told you that I love Taylor Swift, especially "Teardrops on my Guitar," "Sparks Fly," Love Story," and almost every other song on her "Fearless" and "Taylor Swift" albums (however, not all of the songs). I loved her style which was more country than pop and this was probably the first real exposure I had to any artist that could be remotely considered a "country singer." Another favorite artist I had in seventh grade was David Archuleta.
     Ninth and tenth grade brought a love of Kelly Clarkson, Christina Perri, and P!nk (Pink). If I started a list now of all the songs of these artists combined that I liked during this time it would take forever and wouldn't even scratch the surface of songs that pop on the radio that I haven't heard in a very long time and all of a sudden squeal with joy over how much "I love this song!" Just this last year has also brought a renewed love of old Taylor Swift songs that I haven't listened to for a long time as well as an admiration for songs written by Rachel Platten and Alex Boye.

     Now, the songs that I love the most and can relate to more are, "Just Like Fire," by Pink, "Sit Still, Look Pretty," and "Hideaway," which are both by Daya, and "You Can't Win" by Kelly Clarkson. These four songs are going to be the main subject of a couple different posts, spaced out across this blog, posted at different times because if I talked about all of them in one post, no one would ever read the post.
   For today, I'll start with "Just Like Fire." The first time I heard this song and recognized how amazing it is was when the credits started rolling on "Alice Through the Looking Glass." It gave me goosebumps listening to it that day. I realize that everyone will have a different reaction and experience depending on the song and genre, which I respect. But this song is very empowering. Some of my favorite lyrics are,

"And I'm walking on a wire, trying to go higher
Feels like I'm surrounded by clowns and liars..."

"Just like fire, burning up the way
If I can light the world up for just one day
Watch this madness, colorful charade
No one can be just like me any way
Just like magic, I'll be flying free
I'mma disappear when they come for me..."

"So look I came here to run it
Just 'cause nobody's done it
Y'all don't think I can run it
But look, I've been here, I've done it
Impossible? Please
Watch I do it with ease
You just gotta believe

    Now, I will explain why each part of this song relates so much. The first stanza copied above, "And I'm walking on a wire, trying to go higher..." Everyone has had a time in their life where there is a lot of pressure and for my that time is now (and if you haven't had a time like this yet, watch out--it's coming). That line ends with, "Feels like I'm surrounded by clowns and liars," which I relate to Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye who feels surrounded by a bunch of phonies, or people pretending to be something they're not. Sometimes it feels like there is no one to talk to, surrounded by phonies or people who pretend to care and/or understand when they don't. How do you trust people like this?
    The next stanza talks about "lighting up the world for just one day" which I would interpret as making your mark on the world, as small or insignificant as it may seem you might as well go out with a flash bang, doing something to impact those around you (hopefully for the better). We all have our own madness and it is unique to each and every one of us like Pink says, "No one can be just like me anyway."
     The third stanza above is probably my favorite part (probably mainly because it's fun to sing or rather say). To rephrase it in my own words, "I came here to make some changes, just because no one else has managed it doesn't mean that I can't, you think I can't but this isn't the first time I have faced a challenge. Impossible? Please; step back and watch me do what you can't."

     I love this song because it's about life and how crazy or hard it can be and if you stick through it, it'll be fun showing off your skills and your talents, just enjoy the ride because life is shorter than it seems but so worth it, even with the really, really hard patches.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Day 8: The Internet

     I'm going to go back to something I mentioned in  one of my first few posts: my love/hate relationship with the Internet and technology. Phones are such amazing devices, allowing us to do almost everything we ever imagined. It's so impressive how quickly we as human beings are able to advance this technology.
     But the downside is that people get carried away on phones. You don't see the person you are communicating with, so there aren't as many consequences, right? You're safe in the bubble of your room or wherever you are when you are communicating with others. This can be nice for those with different anxieties, allowing us to "verbalize" that which we may not be able to otherwise. It's the coward's way out, yes, I know this. And this is why I try to avoid misusing the tools we have been gifted. But that's the problem, isn't it? People get too carried away and it becomes uncomfortable. You get caught up in the moment, thinking nothing can touch you--you have some sort of force-field around you and you become invincible.
     Then the moment is over. Reality hits. All you've said catches up to you as you see whomever it was that you messaged. Your impulses start biting you in the butt. People start wondering what got into them. I have these moments the most at night, when I'm the most confident, careless, and outspoken. Then the next day or the one after that I see glimpses of the person I was talking to and all of a sudden my anxiety kicks into gear and I overthink every little detail.

      Then there are other wondrous things about the Internet, a little something I would like to call Internet Predators. How can there be people out there so determined to ruin the lives of others? Think of all those young girls and boys who find the fun of social media and connecting with friends. Then one day they get a follow or friend request or maybe a new message from someone they don't recognize. They accept the request or might message back and soon enough they think they have some new friend. But the reality probably is that this "friend" is an Internet Predator: some older man (or woman) preying on the innocence and gullibility of some young person.
       Here is where the problems start kicking in: the kids start giving away sensitive information about themselves--their names, birthdays, where they live, etc--and now this Internet Predator has more information about this person. One day, this poor kid is messaging their "friend" and the "friend" asks if they want to hang out. Red flags should be popping up all over the place but of course, this is just some innocent friendship, nothing to be afraid of.
      So they go to the meeting place, maybe telling their parents they're going to see a friend, maybe just leaving without saying anything. They get to the meeting point and a car pulls up with an adult inside. But they don't look like your new internet friend. Maybe this is just someone else, they think. My friend will be here soon. And then the adult approaches and calls them by name. Now what?