Lisa, you read too much!

I sat at the kitchen table, doodling, attempting to look uninterested as my mother recalled to her friend a conversation she had with my fourth grade teacher.

“This is Ms. G., I’m calling to talk about Lisa’s behavior.”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Well, Lisa reads too much”
Perhaps hearing the silence on the phone or realizing how silly she must have sounded as an educator to utter those words, Ms. G. quickly went on to say “well, she reads during class and it is distracting.”
After coaxing more of an explanation from Ms. G., my mother asked if I was falling behind in class.
Ms. G. explained that I wasn’t, and despite me reading during lessons, I always got the answers right when she called on me.
My mother wanting to get on with her evening, thanked Ms. G and told her she would speak to me about it.
My mother laughing as she recounted the story to her friend, said “can you believe it? A teacher calling to complain that a student reads too much!?”

What Ms. G. didn’t know was that my mother had books called “What Every [insert grade] Should Know” and other educational books that my siblings and I had to study and learn before the upcoming school year. If Ms. G. further investigated and tried to understand why I read in class, she would have found I was bored; whatever she was teaching, I had already learned over the summer and when I didn’t read in class it meant it was something I didn’t know. She should have been trying to challenge me instead of bring me down, but I can go on and on about Ms. G.; that is for another day. 

In the end I wasn’t disciplined by my mother, she just told me to pay attention and read on the school bus.

Unfortunately, these conversations happened all the time between me and my mother. For whatever reason, people were bold enough to opine she let me read too much.

They would ask her why I was sitting off to the side reading instead of playing with kids or why she let me read adult fiction books.

I have to give it to her, she never faltered under the pressure and continued to feed my interests in reading; I volunteered at the library, I took books from her own bookshelf, and she and my father even installed a ‘library’ in our basement.

Every time I finish reading a book, I am thankful my mother and father encouraged me to read and they did not pay any mind to the naysayers who thought I read too much.

I’m thankful they understood that I could be as silly as the next child, but when I found a new book, I was confident enough in myself to sit off to the side at birthday parties and read, not caring what everyone thought.

You would think as I got older those type of questions would dissipate, but no, people still say to me “I don’t know how you do it” or “why are you reading if it isn’t for a school assignment?” I want to give some curt response, but instead I just shrug and say I don’t know.

But, maybe next time someone says “Lisa, you read too much.” I will respond “And you [insert word] too much”

Keep reading people! And if you don’t, start.


An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit:  Alan Levine

What are the best home-packed meals to eat during class?

Two of my spring semester classes fall during dinner time and I’m trying to think of foods that I can bring to class that are easy to make, budget friendly, and are healthy. 

Last semester during my morning or evening classes I would bring some combination of a sandwich, salad, smoothie, or fruit. This semester I am trying to avoid carbs, so eating a sandwich is not the best option and I don’t really like cold salads. Other options could be have a smoothie, trail mix, and/or fruit and eat when I get home. But I take the bus, so that would mean late dinners which I try to avoid.  I could possibly eat a large breakfast and lunch and snack during my late classes. 

Any suggestions? What do you eat when class, work, or meetings fall during meal times? 



An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Review: Notable Books I Read in 2013

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I love to read. On most Fridays, I participate in the #FridayReads hashtag and I list the books I currently am reading and the books I just finished. I do this to share book titles with fellow book lovers and also to get recommendations.

A couple of weeks ago I realized, I always list the books, but rarely share my reviews. I will try to do better in 2014 and write more blog reviews on the books I am reading!

I read many books and articles in 2013, but a few that stood out to me are listed below.


Invisible Child: Girl in the Shadows – Dasani’s Homeless Life by: Andrea Elliott

I teared reading this five part feature on a homeless child in New York City. It is worth the read and well written; the author really captured the plight of Dasani.

Slaves of the Internet by: Tim Kreider

This article hit home. As a freelancer, it is always tough being asked to do free work. This author discusses his experience with being under compensated.

The Repurposed Ph.D.: Finding Life after Academia – and Not Feeling Bad about it by: Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow

Since I am currently in a Ph.D program, this article was interesting to read. I am thinking about my future and I would love to be in academia, but I am not against looking at alternative career paths.

Science Fiction

Foundation by: Isaac Asimov

My first time reading an Asimov book and I was surprised. I was expecting a complicated scifi novel, but Asimov uses a simplistic style to explain a futuristic world. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Wasn’t my favorite book and I won’t read the other books in the series, but I did like the concept, but not enough to read more. As I’m writing, I’m not sure why this is still on this list.

Divergent by: Veronica Roth

I’m still reading this book. I’m only on chapter one, but I like it so far. It kind of reminds me of The Hunger Games.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by: Seth Grahame-Smith

I actually started this book on audio and switched over to reading. I wanted to read the descriptions instead of relying on a narrator. It was a book I thought would be silly, but actually was very good and interesting. Plus the author is from my hometown, I have to support!


Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb by: David Kushner

My hometown is not too far from Levittown, so I wanted to catch a glimpse of how Long Island was in its early days of suburbanization.

The Big Truck That Went by: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster by: Jonathan Katz

This book is a must read account of a journalist who was on the ground during the Haiti 2010 earthquake and stayed to report  the recovery efforts. It has an intriguing mixture of narrative and data to explain the impact of foreign governments and NGOs in Haiti. [12/23/13 forgot to add this]

Literary Fiction

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by: Ayana Mathis

I picked up this book because I heard a bunch of praise from the Oprah Book Club, but I was slightly disappointed. I enjoyed the book, but I felt like it ended too abruptly.

Half of a Yellow Sun by: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book was good because I got to experience the story from various points of view.

Claire of the Sea Light by: Edwidge Danticat

I just finished this book the other night. At first I was going to put it down, but once I got a couple of chapters in, I was really into the story and the characters.

The Dinner by: Herman Koch

I actually finished this book in one night because I enjoyed the build up and suspense.

Crazy Rich Asians by: Kevin Kwan

I loved reading this book about first generation immigrants and their experience.

Personal Development

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by: Sheryl Sandberg

I really enjoyed this book about empowering women to succeed in the workplace.


I’m Down by: Mishna Wolf

I hope to author a memoir and I like to read various styles, so it was helpful to read a memoir that used humor.

Twelve Years a Slave –  by Solomon Northup Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin

There are many versions of 12 years a Slave, but I recommend this version because it includes footnotes, images, maps, and all the back story of how Solomon Northup’s story came into light (which is an interesting story in itself). I know this is a a true account, but I wish Solomon or someone did a followup on his life and what happened several years after he returned home. I also saw the movie, while it was okay, I enjoyed the book more.

Assata: An Autobiography by: Assata Shakur

I loved this book. Assata’s account of her life was interesting and thought provoking.

Showing support

The following are all books written by friends or  online acquaintances who are new to the independent publishing industry. I love supporting people and their dreams, so it was an honor to read all these books and an inspiration for me to complete mine.

Turn It Loose by: Britni Danielle

Witness by: Ruby Rae

Do For Love (A Virginia Bridgeforth Ghost Mystery #1) by: K. Nicole Williams

11 Beautiful Tools by: Terez D Baskin

The Poetry Of Prose by: Ella Rucker

The Big Payback: A Kyra Walker Mystery by: K. Nicole Williams

A Promise Worth Making by: Michelle Alerte

Florida Sinkholes: Science and Policy by: Robert Brinkmann [12/23/13, did not read yet, but forgot to add my colleague’s book]


What are some notable books you read in 2013? What is on your list for 2014?



An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

How to use your syllabus to calculate your final grade

End of the semester is drawing to a quick close. All around campus I see people tight with stress, sleeping in the stairwells, even sleeping in class. Often, time management issues is what causes stress and waiting until the last minute to complete projects. Often, it is at the end of the semester professors pile on all the difficult assignments (why do they do this?).

If you have read my list of 11 things professors wished students knew before finals, you would remember two things that made the list: 1. read the syllabus 2. don’t beg for grades.

You would be surprised how many students fail to read the syllabus. I should know, I used to be one of them.

You can avoid begging your professor for a grade if you use your syllabus to calculate your grade and to see what areas of the class you should spend most of your energy.

Below is an example break down of percentages on a syllabus and the possible grade that could be received in the course.

I am going to use imaginary grades to demonstrate how to calculate your final end of the semester grade.

How to calculate final grade


Calculating the grade

Weekly Presentations (15%) 

95, 95, 97, 90, 88,  87,87, 92, 93, 88

The math: 

95 + 95 + 97 + 90 + 88 + 87 + 87 + 92 + 93 + 88 = 912

912 (sum)/10 (total # of grades) = 91.2 (average)

91.2  x .15 (percentage) = 13.68

Total points: 13.68 out of 15


Participation (15%) 

This category is tough, because how can participation be calculated? If I raise my hand two times a class will I get the full 15%? What if I’m the type that emails interesting articles to the class or goes to all the office hours, am I participating? I don’t like the participation factor of grades because to me it is hard to calculate. I’m not sure if  I think participation is a fair measurement tool – at least not for such a large percentage of a grade.

Enough of my rant.

Lets assume you are an average participator, so you will get an 85

The math

85 x .15 = 12.75

Total points: 12.75 out of 15


Take-Home Mid-Term (20%)


The math

87 x .25 = 17.40

Total points: 17.40 out of 20


Final Presentation (15%)


The math

92 x .15 = 13.80

Total points: 13.80 out of 15


Take- Home Final  (35%)


The math 

90 x .35 = 31.50

Total points: 31.50 out of 35


Final end of the semester grade

The math

Add all the total points from each category

13.68 + 12.75 + 17.40 + 13.80 + 31.50 =  93.48

Final Grade: 89.13 out of 100 or B+ (based on the grading chart in the syllabus)

 (not sure why the picture is so small- click to enlarge) how to calculate final grade 2


So why does this all matter?

1. It saves you the stress of playing the guessing game.

2. It saves you and the professor the awkward conversation about your grades.

3. You can in the beginning of the semester plan on how you will dedicate your time. Maybe a class that has zero class participation, you can not attend as often and just study for exams.

In this class scenario, 70% of your final grade would come from your midterm, final presentation, and final. It would be in your best interest to focus energy on doing well on those three aspects of the course. Not saying you shouldn’t participate, attend class, or work hard on the presentations, but you could plan your semester accordingly based on other classes and what parts of the course will take more attention.

That way when the semester draws to a close, you are not stressed because you anticipated how much time and effort you were going to place in every aspect of a class.

If you are stressing, check out my colleague Dr. Bob Brinkmann’s tips for surviving the stress of November. 



An urban planning PhD student finding  peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre; Sage Ross