Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hungry for More

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don't know why I avoid books that lots of people are reading, but I do. I was avoiding "The Hunger Games" because everyone was reading it, and worse - it's a trilogy. I'm not against serial books, but I usually like to wait until the whole series is out before I start. I really don't like waiting, but here I am - another one of those people who didn't just read "The Hunger Games," I devoured it. I confess that it wasn't love from page one. Collins style of writing is halted - the words don't flow together easily. As the first couple chapters progressed though, I found myself not caring about the style of the book anymore because I was so engrossed in the movements of the characters.

Collins' futuristic view of the United States is chilling. There are elements of today's society - our obsession with reality TV and being beautiful, our uncanny way to ignore others who are struggling when we have so much, etc - mixed with societal trends that have actually caused all those nightmarish things we only we worry about now. This book had flavors of Jackson's short story "The Lottery," Golding's "Lord of the Flies," and Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," and yet "The Hunger Games" was totally unique in its plot development. This story of Katniss and Peeta is not a happy one (not surprising with references to those works) and their day-to-day existence is different from our own. Still, the sentiments feel real, and the concept of extreme government control and inhumane entertainment are not that far-fetched.

Everyone should read this book. Maybe wait until August 2010 before you start so you don't have to wait for the third book to be released. Something tells me though that we won't want that book to end either so, actually - don't wait. Get up and go get the book. Not tomorrow - right now. You won't be disappointed.

[I know this is my third review post in the last week - can you tell what I'm doing with my break? It's been wonderful.]

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Losing the Magic

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, #3) The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When I read Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code," I was transfixed. I ignored everything I had to do for two days so that I could know what Robert Langdon and the captivating Sophie would find out in the final pages. When I finished, I was left wishing there was more. When I finished "The Lost Symbol," I was just glad to be done. It's not the book doesn't have clever plot twists - it's Dan Brown - of course it does. It's not that the characters aren't compelling - hello, man covered from head to toe in tattoos that describe his belief system and his goals or the beautiful scientist who believes she has harnessed the power of thought. And it's not that Brown moved locations from Europe to Washington D.C. - D.C. is a fantastic city and the fact that it's our secrets (not the Catholic church, etc.) is fascinating. That said, "The Lost Symbol" doesn't feel original, and because Brown's name is so big, I know he'll come out with another book in a couple of years even though "The Lost Symbol" isn't fantastic....and I'll buy it because I want to be captivated again like I was when I read my first Dan Brown book. Sad thing is, I don't think I will be....

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Glimpse of Southern Living

The Help The Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Towards the end of Kathryn Stockett's "The Help" Miss Skeeter says, "There is so much you don't know about a person." That information is not earth shattering - we all know it, and yet so many of the problems in our day-to-day lives center around the fact that we forget that we don't know everything about everybody. Everyone has a story - a reason why they do what they do. "The Help" lets us see not only the importance of each individual's story, but also how our stories bleed, bend, and fold into others' stories in ways that we can never anticipate.

Stockett's novel takes place during the early 60s and centers around the lives of Southern women and the lines that seemingly divide who has control over whom. It is a story about love - the love of one's self, the love of a child, the love of an ideal. It is also a story about flawed perceptions and how living by those flawed perceptions can crush others. Stockett's details are beautiful - you can smell Minny's perfect caramel cake, feel Abileen's worn hands reach out to hug you, and hear the clicks of Skeeter's nimble fingers moving over the typewriter keys.

The story is not perfect - the ending is not entirely fulfilling, but somehow it is more realistic that way. Stories about the 1960s rarely are fulfilling. American society was drowning in conflict and dissenting voices. Still Stockett doesn't dwell so much on "shoulda beens," but shows us what we can be and how much potential we have through narrators that start to find their own paths. Even though uncertainty looms and darkness sometimes seems sure to overshadow light, Stockett shows that there is always reason to hope. And being reminded of that hope is always something worthy of cheering about.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, December 26, 2009


...I don't blog because I don't have anything positive to say and someone, who was probably on Valium, said if you didn't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all
...I don't answer my phone because I'm afraid the gap between what I'm saying and what I really think will be bridged by something that people don't really want to know
...I throw my Diet Pepsi cans away in different garbage cans to disguise how many I've had that week
...I think that I'll never figure out what I'm supposed to do with my life and it scares the hell out of me
...I love using the word hell
...I dream of writing something brilliant - a book, a movie, a play - and having it speak to people the way other great works have spoken to me
...I wonder if I have lost pieces of myself, but I don't know where to start looking for those lost pieces
...I lay in bed and imagine just picking up and moving to Europe and then I fall asleep and oddly enough, dream of California
...I say more than I should when it doesn't really matter and don't say enough when things matter the most
...I feel like I'm a character in someone else's story and wonder when I'll get to have my own

[Melodramatic Anon. - party of one >>> musings are unrelated to the holidays >>> Christmas was actually quite delightful. Bye for now.]

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holy Crow!

"Holy crow" came out of my mouth today, and I have no idea where it came from. I know I heard it on a tv show or a move at some point in my life, but ????. Urban dictionary lists it as a derivative of "holy cow." Not a very helpful definition if you ask me.

Anyway, the "holy crow" was an exclamation of disbelief about it being Christmas Eve. Where have the last few weeks gone, let alone the last twelve months?! But here we are just the same. 98 Degrees is singing "O Holy Night" (don't judge - you know you loved them once too). My siblings are playing Super Mario World on the Wii (yes, my mom broke down on bought video games this past year - she made it 26 years as a parent before giving in). Mae and Brett are sleeping. And I'm watching the sky change colors as another few Christmas Eve minutes melt away. We'll be reading stories soon and eating pizza. Then of course, as we Hutchins alway do, we'll be opening all our presents and making ourselves sick on Sees candy.

"Holy crow" is right. Christmas is here, and I could not be more grateful to be home. Love you and happy holidays!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Today while my sister and I were shopping at Roberts, a girl, who looked just older than I am, started staring at me. She was smiling in that "I know you" kind of way. I assumed she recognized Mae (who I was holding) or Jewels. Then I realized she was talking and pointing at me.

"Amanda? You're Amanda, aren't you?"
"Uh, no. Sorry."
"Oh, wow. You look just like a friend of mine. You have the same teeth and smile. What's your name?"

Our interaction went on for a minute or so more, and then I was off with squirming Mae in tow.

Here's the odd thing -- this is not the first time this has happened to me. I've been mistaken for other girls multiple times during my years in Provo - people swear I'm their friend (probably Amanda) and then say, "Wow, you have a twin out there then." Yeah, like Jewels and I don't look enough alike already - now I have a twin. But, what about the name thing? I've never loved Jaclyn. I don't not like it, but sometimes I've wished for a different name - for sure a different middle name, but most people match their names, and I don't know that I match mine. I've tried Jackie (because so many people thing Jaclyn is too formal). A few special souls (you know are) call me Jac. But, in the end I always end up with just Jaclyn.

Question of the day then - if you were meeting me, what would you expect my name to be? Maybe if I love your idea enough, I'll make a legal switch.... except that my sisters and I call ourselves J-cubed or J-squared. That would be a little hard to do....

Monday, November 30, 2009

Favorite Distraction

David Archuleta has a new Christmas album out. I don't just love it. I LOVE it. I went to his Christmas concert last week in Salt Lake and _________. There aren't really words to describe it....simply awe-inspiring comes close. He sang a few other great songs - "Fields of Gold" - "The Riddle" - "Prayer of the Children" Of course though - "O Holy Night" was the one I held my breath for all night.

Now as I am supposed to be doing homework, I find myself just listening to his songs and daydreaming. Moral of this disjointed post - if you haven't bought a Christmas album in a long time, this is the one. Love it! Love you!!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I consider the time from mid-October to Thanksgiving break the most stressful time of fall semester. People pull out all sorts of coping mechanisms to alleviate that stress-- is one of mine. I've actually started laughing out loud during class a couple times while reading over this site. One of my recent favorites seems fitting with the recent "New Moon" hysteria.

"Today, my 6 year-old daughter was asking me questions about Santa Claus at dinner. My 13 year-old daughter was getting annoyed with all the dumb questions and simply told her younger sister that Santa didn't exist. Instead of being aghast and upset, my younger daughter just said, "Yea but neither does Edward Cullen!" My older daughter left the dinner table and I think its easy to say who won tonight. MLIA"

Don't you feel better about life already? Okay, I better get back to studying now!

Happy [almost] Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Promised Pictures - Part 3

Here it is - the last of the promised pictures. Over Halloween weekend, I had the chance to go home. It was a trip planned ages ago so that I could see Jenessa's choir dinner show, visit the high school, and sneak out of Provo when things are busiest. It was a great trip. There are only a few pictures - random ones at that, but it was so nice to be home. I really miss being so close to my teacher friends, Rachel, Tracy, and my fabulous family.
Isn't Jenessa groovy? This is just one of her five costume changes for the choir show.

The choir show audience - yes, we all made it through three and a half hours. Miracles do happen. My cousin, Chris, happened to be flying up the same weekend I was to watch his girlfriend play volleyball (she's on USC's team). Great timing -

I voluntarily dressed up with Jenessa and went to classes with her that Friday. What, you don't know what we are?!

We're walkathoners! The J² Walkathon is recruiting already. Still not making sense? Don't worry about it. At least we got to wear sweats to school. I sat in desks with Jenessa during the day. Totally threw off past students. So fun seeing everyone.

Katie Fin's costume was by far my favorite. This was taken at the Pinks' place so don't worry- there was no wine at school. Even though it was short, I got to go to the non-SRV book club. Loved every second-- they are so funny and so great to be around.

[Pictureless events - seeing Rachel and Tracy, eating at Skips, going to the USC v. Cal volleyball game, singles ward with Ryan]

This picture doesn't do it justice, but I watched the sunset near the San Francisco skyline before my plane took off. So good to be home.

Finally - this is not a shot of California as you can already tell because of the snow on the ground, but this the rapidly growing Mae Alyse up at Sundance. Winter is slowly making its entrance to the Wasatch front--

[ps. Yes, there are three set of pictures. Yes, I posted them all today. Part 1 is Rachel's wedding. Part 2 is my DC trip. And you're currently looking at Part 3. Yes, there are too many, but you, my dear friend, can choose whether to go through all of them. Love you!]

Promised Pictures - Part 2

Going to Washington DC has been one of the highlights of this fall semester. We went to meet with federal agencies and non-profits to see what work opportunities there are in DC and what a day-in-the-life looks like for these different employees. Throw in a couple days of site-seeing, lots of walking, incessant laughing, Potbellys' sandwiches, and you pretty much have our trip--

This is hot, right? A Banana Republic sweater with basketball shorts - a last minute decision to kayak the Potomac at night with Karleen, Amber, and Erin is what led to this fashion ensemble. One of the best parts of our trip-- The pictures of the monuments from the water didn't turn out - churning water and rain aren't the best conditions for still photos, but it was awesome just the same.

The Library of Congress was my favorite building by far. Seeing Thomas Jefferson's books and the intricately laid mosaics was truly awe-inspiring.

Karleen and Thomas bonded. You don't want to know.

This is one of the posters outside the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I have wanted to visit this place since I was a teenager-- it's incredible. There aren't words to adequately describe what you see and what you feel, but you walk out changed - more appreciative, more scared, more... I hope to teach again so that when I teach Holocaust literature, I can now talk about seeing some of these artifacts and pictures in person....

Nicole, Karleen, and I in the National History Museum. These two fabulous girls are on my team set up by the MPA program. More on them later! ps. The architecture in this building and so many others was fantastic - this city is the most European city we have in the United States.

Who doesn't love Julia Child and her pegboard lovingly created by her husband. So fun to see her kitchen!

"There's no place like home, there's no place like home." Judy Garland is one of my favorite Hollywood icons.

We met in the press room where FEMA does its news conferences (yes, including that infamous one where there was actually no press). Nicole's pose behind the podium was my favorite.

Security clearance was a part of almost every agency we visited, but it was definitely the most strict at the FBI. This is the place I would most want to work if I decided to move to DC. [This is the whole group of students that attended - not in correct order - Ariel, Andrew, David, Zach, Isaiah, Tanya, Karleen, Andrea, Nicole, and myself]

We had more fun that you would think possible when we would get to our hotel at night. Here is Nicole "working" diligently on the many assignments we had to complete and send in. Karleen fell off the bed a few minutes after this shot was taken.

We watched SNL clips every night featuring my favorite character Gilly - you have to watch these. We quoted her everywhere we went and then would laugh way too hard for the somber work environments we were in...oops.

This shot was for my fellow Gilmore Girls watchers - it's the national headquarters of the D.A.R. D.A.R. Darling even though it's in the 40s, raining, and no, I did not have a coat.

Posing on the D.A.R. building patio - imagine a fancy ball gown, Grace Kelly style, with elbow length gloves. That's what I was picturing. Karleen was thinking Scarlett O'Hara style. We probably weren't supposed to be up there.

I loved seeing all the monuments in person. A Parisian couple took this shot.

I was more entranced by the National Galleries than I would have expected. We visited a few times since it was the only place open past five. This was obviously in the modern art section - each set TV images corresponded to the state they were placed in.

A few other highlights - love stories with Andrew, becoming Metro savvy, hailing taxis, passing the White House, Potbellys sandwiches (yes - it's worth two mentions!), talking all night in the Baltimore airport, seeing politics in action, and so many more.

Phew - that was long. You made it! Stay tuned for the next segment of fall pictures....

Promised Pictures - Part 1

I know, I know - Rachel & Nate's wedding was more than two months ago. I promised pictures though and better late than never. For the record, having Rachel get married was one of the most surreal experiences. She is one of my oldest friends-- the one who I giggled with over middle school crushes, who I got in trouble with for hours spent talking on the phone when we were supposed to be doing homework, and who I transitioned with from college student to working adult. The last time Rachel and I had been even close to that dressed up, we had been going to junior prom with Rob Webb and Dave Brafman. Crazy how fast time goes!

Getting our nails done before the big day!

The bridesmaids - Can you tell which one isn't a Hansen sister?

Mr. & Mrs. Nathan Anderson - Sept. 5, 2009

I'm never really sure about these poses. We were supposed to be "smelling our flowers" - this is one of the more normal ones.

I love the back of Rachel's dress. The off-white lace was stunning against Rachel's tan skin.

Jenessa and I got to play all weekend together while the rest of the family was in Idaho getting Cameron set up at BYU-I. We had so much fun.

As she often does, Tracy saved the day. I had never tried on the dress (the joys of being in Utah when the wedding is being planned in California), and it was two sizes too big. The morning of the wedding, Tracy valiantly scoured stores with me looking for the right black camisole and then stitched the dress while it was on me so that it would fit. Thanks to her patience and great taste, you'd never know...

Stay tuned for more promised pictures from the past couple months!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Books Alter Everything

A friend of mine recently suggested that I add my book reviews to my blog. To those of you who already get my reviews from goodreads, sorry for the double feature. To those of you who have not experienced my book ramblings, hopefully you'll run across something eventually that you will want to read and won't mind too much my departure from day-to-day happenings. As always, happy reading.

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I saw Baker's book being reviewed in a national magazine, I was shocked. Mormon writers and their Mormon subject matter are not usually candidates for mainstream American readers. I went home and ordered the book immediately. The title alone would be worth the cost....
There is a reason Deseret Book (the main Mormon publishing house) did not pick this manuscript up. It is not a morality tale. It is not a polite recitation of singles' ward activities and getting lost on the subway in New York. It is raw, irreverent, and brilliantly real. Baker bravely asserts her doubts, her dreams, and her experiences in a way that I have never seen done by another Mormon writer. The details she captures are hilarious, poignant, and tragic - sometimes all the in the same instant.
That said, I do not know who I would recommend this book to. Most practicing Mormons would be offended by some of Baker's content. Non-Mormon readers who do not understand some of the idiosyncrasies of Mormon culture and the main tenets of Mormon doctrine may miss out on the humor or battle that rages within Baker as she tries to find her path or explain to her atheist boyfriend why it matters that he does not believe in souls.
I am impressed by Baker's voice - never have I read something that so clearly spoke to some of my own beliefs, doubts, and impressions of the world around me. It is rare to say, but she put into words things that I have never been able to express. Being a twenty-something Mormon is adventure to say the least. Being Baker is a more hilarious, more racy adventure, but something I can empathize with just the same. Even the way she wrote her book is a something I have considered doing - minus the details about boob touching of course....

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Confession - I joined a new book club. I felt like I was cheating on my California book club. I promise I was thinking about them while we discussed the duality of man - the carnal and the supernal. This concept is one those universal battles that all people face- though many do not acknowledge the battle between being their best self and indulging in life's pleasures. Dr. Jekyll is a good man with a good idea about separating our dueling selves, but of course, it does not work out the way he planned and his good British society is altered forever.
I finished this book in audio form walking along the tree lined streets of residential Provo. There was a chill in the air and gorgeous fall leaves crunched under my feet. As the letters were read in the story, I felt another chill - another pull that had nothing to do with the cool November air. It was Henry Jekyll admitting defeat - that his carnal self, which took form in Mr. Hyde, was too strong and would ultimately be the end of the more noble Dr. Jekyll. It made me sad. Giving in felt too real. I didn't explain this to my new book club. They wouldn't understand. Books alter everything....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All roads lead to...

I know, I know - all roads are supposed to lead to Rome, but in my world, all roads lead to Target. I love that place. A LOT. You know what (or who) I love more than Target (I know, this is serious). Hillary. Guess who was on her way to Target when I was on my way to Target yesterday? You're brilliant - Hillary was on her way to Target, my Target - the one not closest to her house - when I called her yesterday. Call it what you want - serendipitous fate, divine intervention, or bff-esp - either way, it was wonderful.

In high school, Hillary and I used to go to Target after going to Yogurt Park. We would smell air fresheners, look at music, and laugh until we cried. Yesterday, we looked at costumes, socks, and luna bars. Sounds a little more grown-up except when you throw in that Hill was carrying around a giant hot dog costume, and I was getting things for a day of high school. Not much changes. I love that about Hill-- doesn't matter where or when or how much time it's been-- I can count on every day simply being better just because she's there.

While we were there, Hill and I passed Stephanie Nielson of the NieNie Dialogues - a person Hill has longed to meet, and I have only just started reading about. It was awe-inspiring to listen to Hill and Stephanie talk and to read more of Stephanie's writing during class today. Stephanie's strength, honesty, humor, and grace are incredible. The great thing is, I would say the same about Hill. Love her. Love Target. Love you!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fabulous and Not-So Fabulous

I have been keeping a running list for the past three months about random things that are fabulous and random things that are not-so-fabulous. It’s not a complete list by any means, but I am trying to clear my desktop of my stickie notes (fabulous mac application btw). You’ll be able to tell that some of these things are past dated. So here’s the list starting with the negative so that we end on the positive—

Not-So-Fabulous – “I don’t like…I strongly dislike…”

*Getting an NEA magazine in the mail (this is a teaching magazine…)
*Spam lists (how do we get on those lists?!)
*Chigger bites (got those from Georgia – you don’t want to know)
*That Brian and Angela didn't get together in My So-Called Life (haven’t watched this in ages, but I still find myself thinking about the infamous Angela Chase)
*Restless sleep
*That people’s perspective can be so limited especially high school boys
*Random costs of going back to school (starting up again here in Provo has been ridiculous…at least I got to buy my own school supplies this year)
*Not having a classroom (I definitely miss it every day…)
*That Rove and Jane break up (Joan of Arcadia – watch it)
*Riding your bike in the wake of a train (cycling is great – it’s just not as great when you’re breathing in fumes and being covered in dust)
*The last of my lemon grass sage (eight years ago, Hillary and I moved into the dorms together – she introduced me to B &BW lemon grass sage lotion – it instantly became my favorite. They discontinued it years ago, but I had a stash – it’s officially gone and I miss it.)
*Boys that you wanted to ask you out that hesitated and the window passed
*Not knowing why (I know we often don’t get our questions answered when we want them, but I want to know “why” on a few recent major things…someday hopefully)
*Summer viruses (I’m on week three of my second summer virus in a couple months – at least I don’t have swine flu, right?!)
*Dealing with team drama (we’re on teams of five in the MPA program – we do everything together, and when the group isn’t doing well – so much extra stress)
*Being tired (someday I’m going to catch up…in my dreams, I know, I know)
*Mac differences (I love having a mac, but using something different is so annoying for formatting things for school)

So Fabulous – “I like…I love…I really, really love….”

*Lemon Propel (so random, but so good)
*Instant link to most visited web pages (this added feature is brilliant – you could guess mine without thinking too hard)
*Y lit for homecoming (one of my favorite things about Provo living)
*Netflix instant play (“30 Rock” got me through packing up my stuff in California)
*Sundance (one of the best parts of moving back to Utah – I go there at least once a week)
*Washington D.C.!! (I just went for school – what an amazing experience— more pictures soon!)

*How soft flower petals are
*Mae’s first birthday (Jewels posted pictures of that fabulous day – Mae and Jewels and Brett are the best part of being in Provo – they’re just fifteen minutes down the road!)
*That students keep in contact (makes it a little less hard to not be teaching)
*Seeing old friends (so fun to have good friends just down the road – speaking of which, when are we getting together again?! Or a couple of you, when are we getting together for the first time?!)
*Organizational behavior (my favorite class by far – it’s all about deconstructing why people are the way they are and how that affects our interactions with them)
*Gilly (if you don’t know who she is, google her and start watching SNL clips – she’s my favorite)
*Pbj's (you know you’re in college if you start to love these again)
*That I found out Sept 19 is Hermione's birthday (don’t judge me – you read “Twilight” and love it just as much as I love Harry Potter)
*BYU (still can’t believe I go here!)
*Giants! (okay –this one is definitely old, but they were fantastic in July and August)
*Optimism in the face of huge obstacles
*That Rove and Jane do get together (yes, I mentioned in the not-so-fab –one of these came a long time ago and one was from watching the show all the way through)
*Real Simple Magazine (someday my life will be real simple – a girl can dream!)
*Calamine lotion (this stuff was a saving grace when I had those less-than-great chigger bites)
* (yours truly is listed there…and let’s just say, the ratings are very positive)
*Jewel singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (this is one of my favorite songs and Jewel just released it on a baby lullaby cd – it’s beautiful)
*Mac's spellcheck feature (it shows me misspelled words no matter what program I’m in so I don't look like a moron – thank you apple people)
*Pandora (free way to taste test great music)
*Shelly’s emails (candor, humor, and reality – I don’t know how she does it.)
*Sean Astin as Rudy (football movies in the fall make me so happy)
*Stickie notes on Macs (my computer’s desktop is covered them—so much love!)
*My old TI-83 (yes, the one with the Hawaiian flowers and the 925-672-1630 number on it – I’m using it for grad school. Last time I used that calculator and that phone number, I was on the phone with Mel and Rachel for hours and hours each week.)
*Katies (I have a Katie here in Utah. It’s not the same as having my Katies in California, but it helps.)
*Katie Fin’s notes (Fin mails me meeting notes from SRV meetings – could not love them more)
*Biggest Loser (such a great show – plus Bob Harper is nice to….)
*Phone conversations with Ness (they are not nearly enough to compensate for being away from her, but they are so fun and make me feel instantly better about the world)
*That Hill just announced baby no. 3!!
*Lindsay Aline’s new album (have you listened to it?! So good!!)
*Picture texts from Ryan (nun’s with cheese graters – I know, hilarious!)
*Friends to laugh with at school (thank goodness for Kirsten, Katie, Corey, Nicole, and Karleen)

I told you the list is completely random – nor is it complete, but it’s a glimpse into my odd world. Life is indeed one crazy adventure~

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I'm not dead yet....

I know-- it's been more than a month since I posted and six weeks plus since I moved to Utah. I haven't told you about the insanity that is the MPA program and how bizarre it is to be a student carrying a messenger bag instead of a teacher at the front of the classroom. I haven't told you about having roommates again or about watching "Glee" with Jewels and Mae. Nor have I gushed about how much I love Sundance and how close it is and how great it is to be able to talk on a cell phone in a car again. I've left out details about how much I miss being just a few feet down the hall from Jenessa (phone conversations are NOT enough). I haven't shown you pictures of Rachel's wedding (so beautiful! so much fun) or of anything else for that matter. I will get there. I promise...not sure when, but someday soon. I promise too that I'll look at your blogs again because I do love getting updates on your lives. I'm not dead yet, but if you start to wonder, I'm probably in the Tanner building under a pile of books and excel files. I'll find my way out soon....

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Books That Made A Difference

[My fabulous teacher friend, Katie Finegan, is designing an assignment that models the section in Oprah magazine where famous people comment on the books that made a difference to them in their lives. The books are not necessarily favorite books, but the ones that left some of deepest impacts or stirred the greatest changes. Fin asked me to do a sample that she could show to her classes...and since my first few days in Provo have zapped me of the ability to write a full new post about what's going on in my life, here's a look at the books that have helped make me me.]

Books That Made a Difference to Jaclyn Hutchins

The English teacher turned grad student picks five books that helped shape her world.

When I tell people I grew up with that I became an English teacher, they are not surprised. I have loved books for as long as I can remember. In high school, I got in trouble for three things – talking too much, passing notes (the hazards of a pre-texting era), and reading during class. I thought college was a perfect fit because I got to read novels for homework – after class you could find me laying around campus or encamped along the Provo River with a stack of books on one side of me and a Diet Coke on the other. Then I found a job where I got to blend my love of teenagers with my love of literature. The grammar and the writing structures I had to teach were just details to our discussions of how we could apply books to life and the society in which we live. Both as a teacher and student of books, I have always been fascinated by how literature reflects life and then in turn, life reflects literature. Even more curious to me is how my life has come to reflect that books I have read and vice versa. I am who I am because, in great part, because of what I have read.

Narrowing down the books that have impacted my life to five has been a near impossible task. I carry a book with me everywhere I go. Even when I travel to Europe with only a carry-on, I still have minimum three books with me. The great thing about reading books is that once I have read them, I carry the characters with me wherever I go too. Those stories and lessons become a part of me. And the five I have chosen for my “bookshelf” are the few that over the years seem to be the stories I come back to over and over again.

My Bookshelf

A Face in the Shadows
By Susan Evans McCloud

I got this book for Christmas in 1996. I was thirteen-years-old and in true adolescent fashion, I was in love with the idea of love and tragedy and anything else dramatic and “grown-up.” I was so excited to read this book and so annoyed by the combination of Christmas cookies and the hoards of little kids at my grandma’s house that I locked myself (literally) in an unfinished basement room so I could read. Within a couple of pages, I was enthralled with the main character Augustine, a French girl in the 1950s, who was off to the United States to attend college after living through the horrors of World War II. I was sure my college experience would mirror Augustine’s – minus the whole “falling in love with your young, hot German professor with a tragic past” thing. Needless to say that my time spent at BYU was nothing like Augustine’s college experience, but I still thought of her at the start of each semester. Someday, I want to walk where “she walked” in France. The thirteen-year-old version of myself just keeps on dreaming.

The Things They Carried
By Tim O’Brien

The books I read my junior year of high school are some of the books that have most profoundly affected my views on literature and my views on American society. That year, I drove in a stunning yellow roadster with Daisy Fay and Jay Gatsby for the first time. I sailed a raft with Huck and Jim. I feared a world of people who do not question authority with Clarisse and Montag. And I saw human beings at their worst alongside a young soldier named Tim. O’Brien’s story about his experiences in Vietnam are still some of the most haunting I have read. I did not appreciate what being cruel to thousands could do to a country and to those who fought for a cause that was not necessarily just until I read the stories of Alpha Company. This book changed my romanticized view on war and bravery. It changed my view on human nature, and it forced me to look at individuals and the hidden sorrows they carry. O’Brien said in chapter four, "If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie." That lie and the spell of wishing for days when men were brave were broken, and another part of my idealistic view of the world melted away after reading this book.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
By Jonathan Safran Foer

9/11 has become one of those watershed events that changed everything that happened after. It was a quiet Tuesday morning during my first full week of college – my first time living on my own. And in an instant, my illusions of what adult life was like were shattered. How does a writer even begin to describe the tragic events of that day and the impact those events had on the world? Even more difficult, how does that writer describe it from a nine-year-old’s perspective? Foer has gift. In this book, he is funny without being insensitive, serious and poignant without being melodramatic. This book captured for me a moment in time – both a personal moment and a moment for the United States that continues to affect our current society. This book also offered a glimpse into little things that we do – the doors we unlock, the hands we hold, etc. – and how those little things mean so much to the individual fabrics of our lives.

The Book Thief
By Marcus Zusak

I finished this book on a beach in Maui. Covered in sunscreen, Pacific Ocean salt, and white sand, I cried as the fateful final days played out for the families I had grown to love. This book had me from the first page - historical fiction is my favorite genre and WWII is my favorite era within that genre. Throw in a brilliant narrative voice (Death tells the book thief's tale) and a writing style that is so engaging, I ignored the beach and the Olympics to keep reading. Zusak's characters are people you would likely stumble across in your day-to-day life, and so you cry when the bombs fall, you smile when the sounds of Papa's accordion seem to fill your ears, and you laugh out loud at their terms of endearment. The book opens with, “HERE IS A SMALL FACT. You are going to die.” Not exactly a warm and fuzzy beginning, but this book showed you the end of the story along the way. I knew who was going to die and who was going to live. I knew there were going to be moments of heartache and moments of personal triumph all set against the backdrop of Himmel Street and a tiny German girl named Liesel who wanted more than anything to be able to read.

When I was finished with The Book Thief, I realized that this book though set in another time was a story simply about living. We are all being “watched” by Death. We only have so much time. We know the end of our story. We’re going to struggle, but we’re going to have great success. Ultimately, we know we’re going to die. Like Liesel, we have choices to make about the risks we take, the people we love, and the impression we leave on those who cross our path along the way. This book made me want to write, to love, and very simply, it made me want to live every minute with a bit more color and a bit more passion. And incidentally, we do not know when Death will stop watching and actually come to call.

Always Looking Up
By Michael J. Fox

To put it mildly and in school appropriate language, I was less than thrilled to lose my job at San Ramon. I love teaching. I love my students. I love my “clique” of teacher friends. But if I hadn’t thought I might lose my job, I wouldn’t have applied to grad school. And now I am on a new adventure pursuing a degree in a field I had never given much thought to. Michael J. Fox, a well-known actor, did not plan on leaving the lights of Hollywood, but finding out he had Parkinson’s Disease forced him to change his focus and gave him a new purpose in life – finding a cure to a disease that affects millions of Americans. I listened to Fox read his book while I drove my first carload of stuff to Utah. Not only is Fox funny as hell, but he’s a good father, a good husband, and a genuinely good human being. He has taken an incredibly hard situation and made it just another stepping stone – an opportunity to better the lives of those around him. Just like Tuesdays with Morrie inspired me to teach, Always Looking Up makes me want to get involved with Fox’s foundation. My graduate degree, the one I would not have pursued had I not lost my job, will give me the skills I need to get involved with that foundation. There always is a positive spin to every negative situation. And as Fox explains, it’s definitely always better to look up because it’s amazing how life works out better than you could have ever imagined.

[I know you know that those are just the tip of the iceberg, but they're a start-- and this idea has been a great conversation piece over the last month. I love hearing what books would people choose (HINT, HINT).]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Just Jaclyn

In a matter of hours, I'll make that infamous trek over the Sierras and through the desert to Utah. I'll get gas in Sparks, a Diet Pepsi in Elko, and in an instant I'll go from being Miss Hutchins to just Jaclyn. I don't know if I'm ready for that transition....

[Tune in next week as the recently rechristened Jaclyn attends Math Camp. Yes, there is such a thing. Yes, it is actually more boring that it sounds. And yes, it is very necessary to prepare for grad school course work. At least I got to buy new school supplies.]

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Georgia On My Mind

Well, I'm officially not destined to be a southern belle (humidity isn't for me), but I am destined to make repeat trips to Georgia for the rest of my life to visit my dad's sister and the rest of the Blades family. Jewels, Mae, and I had a fantastic time experiencing the wonder that is northern Georgia. We spent time getting in touch with our country selves - shooting guns, riding four wheelers, and hanging out in towns where there were more churches than people. Then we checked out the college scene of UGA where both our cousins go. The huge brick buildings that make up that campus are incredible. No wonder Brian sounds like he's doing an infomercial for them all the time-- it is a very cool school. Our final stop was West Point where we stayed at the Blades' house and got to see Dr. Blades in action. Can't wait to go back--

Highlights of the trip (in no particular order)--
*Mae walking all over (so much personality in those little steps)
*Carl dancing voluntarily to "Mamma Mia" (his home theater in the cabin is sweet)
*Hearing Gayla tell her and Carl's story (they celebrate their 30th anniversary in December) on our way to Babyland General to see where Cabbage Patch Dolls are "born"
*Riding four-wheelers with Carl (I can't believe I haven't done it was even fun to fall off just because it added to the adventure)
*Seeing Mormon missionaries three days in a row (two Elders in Blue Ridge, a senior couple at Babyland General with their family, and two sets of Elders with booth in an "interesting" flea market)
*Eating ranger cookies and cinnamon rolls (Gayla and Carl's respective specialties)
*Mae loving and mercilessly following the West Point kitties
*Hearing my twenty-two-year-old cousin say "Mama" with his southern touch to get Gayla's attention
*Crossing the Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama state lines so Jewels and I could add to our state count (thanks Carl and Gayla for the extra driving!)
*Admiring Gayla's book collection and Carl's carpentry
*Sitting in Eric's apartment with Brian, Whitney, and Jewels realizing that we were all grown up
*Watching endless episodes of "The Office"
*Being in a car where three of the four people were left-handed
*Finding out more similarities to Gayla, Jewels, and myself (are we sure that we're not her daughters?!)
*Seeing Jewels handle a shotgun
*Being in the complete quiet of the Georgian mountains (not to mention the beauty of wide open fields with the greenest trees you've ever seen)
*Driving with all the Blades (not only do they drive manual cars, but they are the most mellow drivers- I have a new driving role model)
*Experiencing the infamous "Waffle House"
*Playing "Settlers of Catan" with Brian and Eric
*Watching the glee on Brian and Carl's face at the death count in the unrated version of "Taken" (not to mention their laughter when I tore from the room during one particularly gruesome scene)
*Seeing homeless people with a Novogradac (my dad's company) bag (so random btw)
*Having my teeth cleaned at Dr. Blades office (there really should be more left-handed dentists in the world with their fabulous wives as their office managers)
*Watching Mae's reaction to GUC (great uncle Carl - Gayla is gag (love it!))
*Meeting Gayla's tennis friends (it was like seeing the ya-ya sisterhood)
*Laughing and catching up with family

The only negative aspects of the trip were how sore and bruised I was from flying off the four-wheeler and how itchy I was after being eaten alive by chiggers (thank goodness for calamine lotion). Otherwise--such a great trip. It's definitely one of the highlights of 2009.

ps. Sorry for the chaotic layout-- Picasa wasn't functioning, and I only had so much patience to play with the layout. I have to keep my "four letter joys" to a minimum. Love you!