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No More Qi (for now)

Yes, it’s true.  At least until next fall, I am on a hiatus from the “qi” part of my studies.  It wasn’t an easy decision to reach, but my health has taken a beating to hell and back over the past few months, and it had reached a point where I was having to decide whether to miss class (and consequently not pass) and attend medical appointments.  When you’re in too much pain or discomfort to contemplate getting up and going to class, when you’ve been running on 6 hours of sleep for weeks and can’t think straight anymore, it’s a sign things are not ok.  

So, I have taken a temporary leave of absence and hopefully by the time fall rolls around, will have figured out how to structure this program into my life in a constructive, healthy way.  I love acupuncture, and I want to become a practicing acupuncturist one day, but I can’t go back to the way things were this past semester. It’s not worth it.  I am getting better, and in fact, since I made this decision a week ago, I’ve improved by leaps and bounds, but maintaining that balance is going to be a continued work in progress.  

I have much to write about – AASL, classes, life lessons, but since today is Thanksgiving Eve, I figure it would be nice to end this post with thanks.  I’ve had a number of friends do the “daily thanks” status update, and I quite like the idea, so here is nearly a month of catchup: 

1. I am thankful for the life I have. 

2. I am thankful for the friends in my life who are like family to me. 

3. I am thankful for the love and support of my someone special. 

4. I am thankful for parents who support and encourage me to pursue my dreams. 

5. I am thankful for family. 

6. I am thankful for my doctors. 

7. I am thankful for having excellent (if pricey) health insurance that enables me to see the aforementioned doctors. 

8. I am thankful for delicious food and homecooked meals. 

9. I am thankful for my creativity. 

10. I am thankful for finding the courage to make difficult decisions. 

11. I am thankful for books. 

12. I am thankful for the people in my life who care about me. 

13. I am thankful for indoor heating and warm blankets. 

14. I am thankful for the beautiful flame-red maple trees on my way to school. 

15. I am thankful for a relatively mild fall. 

16. I am thankful for beautiful sunny days and unexpected warmth. 

17. I am thankful for imaginary friends who’ve enriched my life in immeasurable ways. 

18. I am thankful for opportunities. 

19. I am thankful for having faith. 

20. I am thankful for my improving health. 

21. I am thankful for mentors who support, advise and guide me. 

22. I am thankful for my life experiences. 

23. I am thankful for all the happiness and joy in my life. 


Minneapolis Bound!

I’m sitting at the airport ready to head to the AASL conference in Minneapolis. My trip has been made possible by the fantastic work of my advisor, who wrangled funding from the university to pay for hotel fees and registration, and our student government reimburses students for professional development fees, including airfare. This is an astonishing opportunity, because honestly, I don’t know when I’ll next have approximately $600 to spend on attending a conference.

The array of sessions is dizzying, and the only downside is that there are so many great ones happening all at once. It’s going to be an insane three days of back-to-back sessions, social events, learning and soaking it all in, and I can’t wait. Even a nasty case of conjunctivitis combined with cellulitis won’t slow me down if I can help it!

I will hopefully be updating this blog at the sessions, and I will be tweeting to the best of my ability as well. If you’re on Twitter and are interested in what’s going on, you can follow along using the hashtag #aasl11.

The First Needle

This past Monday, I took a momentous step in my life as an acupuncturist-to-be.  After discussing setting up a clean field and clean needle technique, it was time to move to the practice room to needle ourselves.   Obviously, acupuncture is about sticking needles into other people,  but before we start experimenting and practicing our technique on each other, the school feels it’s a good idea to have us practice on ourselves first.  I’m in favor of this idea.  After all, if someone is going to be practicing sticking needles into me, I would much rather know that they have been doing the same to themselves and practicing their grip and technique so as to minimize the potential pain and bruising I may experience at their hands.

So, I steadied myself.  I set up my sterile field, I had my leg marked up, and I grabbed a needle.  Heart racing, I tried to calm myself.  The thought occurs to me that trying to slide a needle through my skin is going to be difficult if my hands are shaking.   I breathe deeply, reassuring myself.  Finally, I feel as though I have enough confidence built up to give it a go.   Breathing in once more, I valiantly thrust my needle downwards.

Only to have it snag in the skin and get stuck, refusing to budge past the tiniest bit of the tip, which is latched onto my skin.   Damn.  I try again.  No luck.

This happens about four more times, by which point, my nerves have given way to “goddamnit, I KNOW I can do this!”  And then, finally, I succeed!  It’s not a perfect insertion: I get the needle through the skin but then have to apply a surprisingly large amount of pressure to coax it past the skin barrier and into the muscle tissue below, but I do it! I’ve needled myself!

As the remainder of class wears on, I manage to successfully stick myself four or five more times.  To my great relief, each time gets a little easier, and I even manage to needle LI-4, which is located in the fleshy part of the back of the hand, where the thumb meets the index finger (yeah, one handed needling!).

But nothing will ever quite replicate the feeling of joy and success of getting that first needle in:

It’s the first of thousands.  And I did it myself.


It’s hard to feel like it’s summer these days. First, there’s the weather, which has tended towards unseasonably cool. It’s the middle of June and my roommate (who usually runs hot) turned on the heat this morning. Yes, you read that right.

Heat. In June.

Ponder that.

It’s also hard to feel like it’s summer because unlike many of my library school cohort, I have had no respite since library school classes ended in the first week of May. This is because, with my bad luck, the summer term for acupuncture school started the very same day, which meant that I skipped my last day of library class to attend my first day of acupuncture class.

So now, instead of leisurely whiling away the hours, I have chemistry once a week (just under four hours), tai chi, a course on the history and cultural foundations of Chinese medicine, and anatomy, which will be starting in two weeks time, and will meet twice a week for 3 hours each class. I’m also preparing to take my state teacher licensing exam, a necessary component of my degree program, wrapping up an online biology course, and taking a technology course for library school, which promises to be really fun and interesting.

It’s tiring, yes, and it’s a lot of work, but if I can make my life easier down the road, then it’s worth the sacrifice of a few more hours of free time. August (when classes end) seems both impossibly far away and extremely close. Somehow, I’ll make it, and everything will get done. All I have to do is breathe.

The Multicultural Curriculum

Yesterday I went to an annual conference hosted by my graduate school’s student group of the state-wide school library association.  There were a number of great presentations, but the one that made the biggest impact on me by far was the presentation on multiculturalism in the library.  I’ll talk more about that presentation in another entry, but this entry is dedicated to a remark the presenter made that has stuck in my mind for roughly the last 24 hours.

One of the initiatives her school library helps to undertake is to facilitate a cultural study of each of the continents, one continent per year.  The idea is that by the time a student graduates from fifth grade, they will have covered each of the six continents in reasonable depth, and will be aware of the culture, history, and customs of these regions.

Last year, the continent was Europe, and come Christmas time, the librarian decided that she would address the holiday by sharing materials relating to the different representations of Santa Claus and the stories surrounding him across Europe.  This is fine and good, but what bothered me is what she said happened next.  The teachers, she said, were overwhelmingly relieved to be “teaching something normal,” something familiar to them, instead of having to teach about unfamiliar and foreign content the way they did most years.

Luckily, the librarian had the common sense to challenge the inherent problems with this attitude.  She gently pointed out to the teachers that just as they enjoyed encountering familiar cultural material (i.e. Christmas), the same held true for the students.

It is hugely important that students see themselves reflected not only in the library’s collection, but in the curriculum at large. We as educators must continually seek to acknowledge and include the histories and cultures of our students, especially as our classrooms and communities grow increasingly diverse.

Diversity is the future of America, and the face of America is already changing – you just have to look to the latest census results to realize this fact.  This is not the time for feelings of discomfort or unease – if we don’t know something, we have to educate ourselves and learn.  If we fail to, we will not be able to make effective connections with our students, and we are hindering their education and their ability to succeed, and the library has an essential role to play in facilitating this education.

In my teaching strategies class, we have to consider our core beliefs, the things we would fight to the death for in our libraries.  I hadn’t realized it until now, but this is one of mine.  It is my belief that as a school librarian, I must create a collection that is inclusive and reflective, and that I am continually seeking to learn more about my students and who they are.  This is what I believe.

My Favorite Teacher(s)

One of the first realizations I had when I began teaching English was “my God, this is really hard.”  The time, effort and dedication it takes to be a good teacher.  Being an exceptional teacher is even harder, but I’ve been lucky enough to have more than one in my life.

My good friend writes a blog called Teaching Ain’t For Heroes.  A few days ago, she asked her readers to talk about their favorite teachers, which is what inspired this entry. Though I had many wonderful teachers afterwards, especially in college, there was something special about my teachers in seventh and eighth grade. I look back on those years with a golden glow, and a lot of that is due to them.

These teachers encouraged me to explore my intellectual curiosities, they challenged me, and brought forth an enormous outpouring of creativity.  Most of all, they helped imbue me with a sense of confidence at a time I badly needed it.

The first teacher is Jeff, my seventh grade English and history teacher. I don’t remember much about English class other than learning how to write five paragraph essays, but history class remains vividly clear.  Jeff managed to make history come alive as we learned about the founding of Islam, the Crusades, and the Italian renaissance. Even art history became interesting in his class.  The spring of seventh grade, I got to go to Italy with my family, including a trip to Florence.  I had the time of my life, seeing works of art that we’d talked about in person, and I relished being able to teach my parents all that I’d learned about Italian renaissance art and architecture.

I also remember researching destinations for a travelogue, places I still wish to visit one day.  Most of all, however, I remember learning about and dressing up as  Margaret Paston, a medieval English gentlewoman, for our end-of-the-year renaissance feast.  Her life story fascinates me, and I still entertain dreams of writing a book about her one day.  Jeff’s class opened my eyes to the world.  History is not an easy subject to make come alive, but he definitely made history class one of the highlights of my day.

Another favorite teacher is my middle school Latin teacher, Lainey. From the beginning, she noticed my enthusiasm for learning about Ancient Rome and allowed me to explore it to my heart’s content.  It’s because of Lainey that I got into creating my own websites using HTML in middle school, that I read obsessively about Caesar, Anthony, Cleopatra, the Roman Republic, and the Roman Empire, and that I had the nerve to submit (and get published) in a Latin newspaper. When I discovered an online game about Ancient Rome, Lainey gave me full permission to play and explore it during lab time.  When I finally saw the Roman Forum in person, I stood nearly breathless with wonder thinking “that was the Temple of the Vestal Virgins! That’s where Cicero gave his orations! ZOMG!”  Again, like Jeff, Lainey’s encouragement and support helped nurture a love of history. As a librarian to be, I’m also struck by the fact that Lainey’s willingness to embrace technology helped teach me many vital internet skills. Lainey’s class functioned the way I hope to have my library classes one day: to teach kids to not only use technology, but harness it to explore and learn and further their own interests.

In eighth grade, I had two teachers who made a huge impact on me because of the way they encouraged me.  I suspect they don’t even know the impact their words had on me, but even now, some eleven years after the fact, I can picture their comments to me in my mind’s eye.   Sally, a wonderful, caring English teacher not only sat patiently with me as I tried to negotiate the complexities of English grammar (to this day, a horrendous weak point), but taught me that my words had power.  The assignment was to write some kind of fiction piece, I think, in relation to the book A Lesson Before Dying, and I can’t remember exactly what I wrote (though I have the paper somewhere in a folder), but she not only asked me for a copy of my writing, she told me in her comments that my piece had made her cry.  It was the most astounding feeling, realizing that I could provoke emotion in someone through my words, and, more importantly, that Sally wasn’t family, who routinely praised me for my writing skills.  This counted for real.

My history teacher that year, Kathy, was an equally wonderful and had wonderful lessons and projects (well, she and Sally both), but what I’ll always remember is our final exam that year.  We were given the choice of writing a creative piece that demonstrated our knowledge of American history.  I’d never really written historical fiction before, but I had an idea and I ran with it, writing the story of a girl living in Revolutionary War America.  Kathy loved it, and told me that she believed I had a future as a historical fiction writer.  Ever since that day, it’s remained a dream of mine.  It’s hardly coincidence that every novel bar one that I’ve dreamt up has been a work of historical fiction.

The last person who deserves a mention for making my middle school years so incredible is actually my principal, a woman who is retiring this year, Barbara.  She let my best friend and I run wild with our imaginations decorating the school dances when we went to her to complain, and never told us that our ideas were too insane.   You always knew you could go talk to Barbara for help or to talk, and her kind and gentle demeanor put you instantly at ease.  I can’t imagine a better principal, and I wish her all the best as she enters a new phase in her life.

So to Jeff, Sally, Kathy, Barbara and Lainey, I extend my deepest and heartfelt thanks.  Thank you for helping shape me.  For giving me confidence.  For teaching me it’s ok to be smart and to love learning.  For inspiring me as I strive to become the kind of educators you are. Thank you a million times.

A Year in Books

As a librarian-to-be, people are frequently interested in what I’ve read recently. It’s a stereotype that librarians are all avid readers, but a generally true one.   For the past three years, I have set myself a yearly goal of new books to read: first 50, then 60.  2011 marks the fourth year of challenging myself to read 60 new books/fanfiction/poetry/plays.  I enjoy this rule because it forces me to expand my tastes into reading things I might not otherwise have picked up.

This year, my list is particularly interesting because it makes it very easy to figure out where I was and what was happening when I read each book, a reflection on a year spent bouncing between four different cities in two countries. Therefore, I’ve decided to recap my 2010 booklist in narrative form in the hopes that it will be slightly more interesting this way.

I began the year by reading the latest in the Pink Carnation series, a set of historical fiction novels about spies named after flowers during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig, read in Delhi on a visit home from Bangalore. Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas was also read on that trip, but proved completely unmemorable.

Returning to Bangalore, I made good use of the excellent lending library down the street from my apartment.  I thoroughly enjoyed I, Claudius by Robert Graves, the classic work of historical fiction about the Emperor Claudius, and found The Illuminator (set in pre-Reformation England with a dash of good old Catholic vs. Protestant conflict thrown in for good measure) by Brenda Rickman Vantrease to be quite enjoyable as well.   Bluebeard’s Egg, a collection of unrelated short stories by Canadian author Margaret Atwood intrigued me, but also proved very confusing at times.  I think this would be a fantastic book to discuss in a group setting.

IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black was borrowed from the well-stocked library of my former boss, a well-read and tremendously erudite man, and proved to be a horrifying, eye-opening read.  I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning how the Final Solution was implemented so efficiently.

February saw me return to Delhi to work from home, where I read The Art Thief by Noah Charney, an entertaining read for its details on the art world, but with a disappointing ending. Lustrum, by Robert Harris took me back to Ancient Rome to explore a period I knew surprisingly little about, the waning days of the Republic and the life of the great orator, Cicero.  Another forgettable romance, this one a free e-book download, The Homespun Bride by Jillian Hart also made the list.

The end of March saw me in Bangalore celebrating the wedding of a close friend and the death of an online one, and while there, I finished two books:  The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak and Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne.  I thoroughly enjoyed the plot of The Bastard of Istanbul even if I do find the whole “deep dark family secret” story-line overdone and trite, and really, what can you say about Pooh except to love it for its charming simplicity and evocations of childhood?

As the spring continued and I found myself increasingly enamored of the TV show Bones, I read ever more fanfiction and discovered some truly talented writers.  However, I also managed to read more books, including The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto, which I found to be an interesting look at food but a tedious look at marriage and gender roles (seriously lady, relax.  Just because you cook dinner a few nights more a week than you and your husband initially agreed to doesn’t mean you’re betraying the entire feminist movement).  I also finally got around to reading Le Testament Français by Andrei Makine, a book I’d picked up in Paris at the famed Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in 2006.  It proved to be a beautiful tale of history and memory.

Like many on my message board, I read the entire Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, which I enjoyed because I was a major mythology nerd back in the day, though I felt the plot to be a little lacking at times.  Overall though, they were fun reads, and the series improved by the final book. Cairo Modern by Naguib Mahfouz offered a fascinating portrait of the lives of young Egyptian men, and Mistress of Rome returned me to Ancient Rome, this time around the time of Christ – a great, compelling story of betrayal, jealousy, infidelity and intrigue.

By June, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig (the next in the earlier mentioned series) took me to India at the time of the Maratha Wars, and marked the first book I ever read on a Kindle.  The series has drifted even further from its original premise, to the point of being ridiculous, and I’m not certain I’ll read the next one.  Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin takes place in medieval England and is a series centered around a medieval forensic scientist of sorts – funny, well-written, generally historically accurate and a good read.  To Desire a Devil by Elizabeth Hoyt proved to be yet another forgettable romance novel, whereas Down Under by the inestimable Bill Bryson had me in stitches as he conveyed his sense of wonder at exploring the great continent of Australia.

July brought me back to America.  I began by reading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, rescued from a friend’s discard pile, an emotional memoir about growing up with a disfigured face due to jaw cancer at a young age.  My return stateside also brought with it glorious, glorious access to public libraries once again.

This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson helped get me pumped for beginning library school, and is a good overview of what it is that librarians do (another question I get asked frequently – though I personally know nobody on Second Life).  Gwenhyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey was a great twist on the traditional Arthurian legend, made even better by her finding inspiration in an original text that referenced three Guineveres of Arthur.  Middlemarch by George Eliot took awhile to get into, proved to be absolutely charming and delightful. It is now firmly on my all-time favorites list, and if I find the time, I would gladly re-read it.

Confessions of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado (sister to Sandra) told a life’s journey through food, complete with some delicious recipes I want to try soon.  The Founding told the story of a fictitious medieval English family, and I thought it was a well-researched, believable story, and I’d like to check out the others in the series (by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles). I followed these two good books with Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (read for class), and I found myself shocked at how sanitized the Disney version is – Tinker Bell is a nasty, spiteful little thing, and there’s definitely some even odder gender/sexual dynamics at play in the book.  Creepy. Next up, What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown. It seemed like it would be a fun read but it actually turned out to be one of the worst books I’ve ever read.  Ghosts, time travel, and treasures hidden in the wall made for a completely ridiculous plot, not to mention Ms. Austen making barely a moment’s appearance in the book.

From here on out, most of my reading came from assignments for my children’s literature course, although I did manage to get some pleasure reading done as well.  These included The Taming of the Duke by Eloisa James (who writes fantastic, witty, and unconventional heroines in the guise of Regency Romances), Midwives, by Chris Bohjalian which was a compelling read about a fictitious midwife who finds herself accused of manslaughter when a birth goes wrong,  and Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, which was absolutely fantastic.  A short, graphic novel about Iranian women discussing their sex lives, it was funny, poignant, and tremendously well-done.  I have not yet read her more famous Persepolis series, but I fully intend to this year.

As my children’s literature course continued and we progressed to books geared towards older children, I read a variety of different books in different genres.  Amber Brown is Not a Crayon by Paula Danziger is a sweet, poignant look at the perils of friendship in fourth grade, and Nina Jaffe’s The Mysterious Visitor: Stories of the Prophet Elijah recounted Jewish folktales about the prophet from around the world, accompanied by some beautiful illustrations.  Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse told the story of a young girl growing up during the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression in verse form, and I found myself pleasantly surprised by how absorbing I found the story.  The Mzungu Boyi by Meja Mwangi captured the unlikely friendship between a white plantation owner’s grandson and the cook’s son in colonial Kenya, and did a great job of balancing the innocence of childhood with the brutal treatment endured by the Kenyans.  The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson was a touching story about a foster child with lots of spirit, determined to best the system, and Coraline by Neil Gaiman proved impossible to put down – creepy, well-told, and a brilliant twist on the age-old longing for different parents.  Princess Academy by Sharon Hale came from my class reading list, but I read it on the recommendation of a classmate and thoroughly enjoyed it in an afternoon.  The combination of Miri, the spunky yet disheartened heroine finding her path in life, the surprise sweet twist at the end, and the subtle Marxist commentary on the exploitation of the workers all made this a highly enjoyable read.  The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander bored me to tears, and to round out my class reading for the year, so too did Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry, which I found whiny and annoying.

My last two pleasure reads for the year were absolutely stellar.  First off was the fantasy work Sabriel by Garth Nix, a wonderful tale of a young necromancer, and part of a trilogy I’m now in the middle of finishing up.   And last, but not least, was Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, which did an excellent job of dealing with the sticky issues the French have with historical memory regarding the Holocaust.  The marriage issues faced by the protagonist seemed irrelevant and a distraction, but the historical parts of the novel were extremely well done.

And there you have it.  My year in books.