Friday, November 30, 2007

Poetry Friday - I Participate

Since I'm on a posting binge today, and since I just learned a new word, and since it's still Friday for a bit, I'm going to join the fun and tell you about the paradelle. I learned this word when I followed a link today to a Billy Collins poem and found that he had recently contributed to a collection of paradelles. (Here's a link to the book information, including a funny excerpt from Collins' introduction; if you click on the PDF you can read the whole introduction and some more of the book as well.) I looked up paradelle and discovered that it's a form invented by Collins himself as a parody of forms in general, and specifically the villanelle.

I love Billy Collins because he always seems to be having so much fun in his poems, and I love him even more now that I know about paradelles.

You Think Your Teaching Job is Tough

Most of us have, at least, never had our photos burned by a street mob to protest something we did in our classrooms. This British teacher in Sudan has. She is serving a fifteen-day jail sentence for allowing her students to call a teddy bear Mohammed.

What Will they Cut Next?

School budget cuts have gone far enough! Now schools have been forced to cut out the past tense from their language arts programs!

December 1st, DP Theme Day

It isn't December 1st yet here, but it is in Paris, and Eric has already posted his photo for the theme day. This month's theme is bridges, and I can't wait to see the pictures from around the world. Eric included links to the other blogs participating, so go take a look.

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is here at the blog home of Two Writing Teachers. (Here's the roundup.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

And the Other Carnival

The Education Carnival. This week Mattamatical is giving out prizes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November Carnival of Children's Literature

Coming up from under the student drafts to post this.

Monday, November 26, 2007


...and grading and grading and grading.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

And Now For Something Totally Different

Apparently there are a lot of elephants in London. Who knew? Take a look at London's Elephants.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reading Update

Book #67 was Guests, by Michael Dorris. It wasn't quite what I expected. I had an idea that it was a Thanksgiving story, but from the perspective of the Indians. It wasn't, really. It was still interesting, and had several good discussion-starting ideas which I can imagine working for my students. I didn't read it aloud last week as I'd hoped to, though.

Book #68 was The Writing Workshop: Working through the Hard Parts (And They're All Hard Parts) by Katie Wood Ray. I can't recommend this highly enough for anyone who is using a workshop approach to teach writing at any grade. This book is inspirational and encouraging first of all, and practical as well. I found myself using things from it right after I'd read them. I will keep this one handy and refer to it often.

Book #69 was The Flame Trees of Thika. It's Elspeth Huxley's memoir of growing up British in Africa early in the 20th century. I'd read this lovely book before and enjoyed rediscovering it. I have the next volume of Huxley's memoirs, The Mottled Lizard, to read next. There's a third volume, too, called Love Among the Daughters. It's all about the 20s; Huxley goes back to England and then to America, where she studies at Cornell. Fascinating stuff. Doesn't look like the second or third volume is in print, though.

Here are some quotes from The Flame Trees of Thika:

"'What happened then?'

'Nothing happened - and that's the way to tell a true story from a made-up one. A made-up story always has a neat and tidy end. But true stories don't end, at least until their heroes and heroines die, and then not really, because the things they did, and didn't do, sometimes live on.'"

"'You shall come on a safari when you're older,' Tilly promised, noticing my state of mind.

'I shall never be older,' I said gloomily.

'You will be older tomorrow. You will even be a bit older when you get back to the farm.'

'How wonderfully lucky you are,' Lettice added, 'to be glad of that and not sorry!'

'Children are always being told they are lucky to have things they hate,' said Robin, 'like plenty of time ahead of them, and expensive educations, and healthy food, and considerate parents. It must be very annoying.'"

"By the time Dirk had finished telling me all this, and much else besides, we had reached Londiani, or at least seen the roofs, which shone like a pool of water in a fold of the downs. The corrugated iron threw back the sunlight and we seemed to be arriving at a city of splendour and glory, like the ancient capitals of Lanka that were copper-domed.

Londiani shrank, however, on our approach, as if had drunk from the bottle Alice found at the bottom of the rabbit-hole; it shrank, withered, and turned into a single rutted street with a few dukas, some sheds beside the railway, a dak bungalow, and a D.C.'s office with a flagpole."

I love Huxley's evocative, yet understated, style.

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday roundup at Susan Writes.


I am guilty of a severe crime: Utility Hubris. Because I boasted (online, no less) that all our utilities were working, I am paying for it. Even though I did it in a spirit of gratitude. I should have known better.

It's too complicated and boring to go into the details, but suffice it to say I called our electrician at 3 AM (he's told me I can call him any time "like a doctor"). He came over a few minutes after 6, but sadly the city power had gone off at 5:50, so he couldn't diagnose the problem. Apparently, though, this time it is the inverter that is broken.

I'm still thankful for all that other stuff though. And I'm trying not to be too depressed about the electricity.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm at work this morning! We have a half day today and then tomorrow off. Today will be interesting, since we have a group of staff members away on a mission retreat, so the place is full of subs.

I'm thankful for my wonderful family, both in this country and elsewhere in the world. I'm thankful that the electricity AND the phone AND the water are working in my house. And that I have a place to live and food to eat, unlike so many around me. I'm thankful for some time off. I'm thankful for rewarding, useful work to do and funny, goofy, lovable middle schoolers to work with. I'm thankful for books and reading and writing and that I get a chance to spend so much of my time enjoying them and trying to teach others to enjoy them too.

Here come my students!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ain't It the Truth

This poem talks about a phenomenon I've often noticed since becoming a mother. I started thinking of individuals I met as someone's babies - sometimes wondering how they went from that to the way they turned out, and sometimes thinking that some parents somewhere must be feeling proud. It's a different way of looking at the world; if we could all do it every day, it would revolutionize the way we treat people.

This reminds me of the Gwendolyn Brooks poem, "To an Old Black Woman, Homeless and Indistinct." (You can read it here if you scroll down.) The last few lines are poignant:

Folks used to celebrate your birthday!
Folks used to say "She's such a pretty little thing!"
Folks used to say "She draws such handsome horses, cows and houses,"
Folks used to say "That child is going far."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Doesn't Eating Locally Hurt Farmers Overseas?

I worry about the effect of all this local eating on food producers in third-world countries. Banana Republics, we sometimes call them, and that's a pejorative name, but what else are they going to export?

Here's Steven Hopp, in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, on this question:

"By purchasing local vegetables instead of South American ones, for example, aren't we hurting farmers in developing countries? If you're picturing Farmer Juan and his family gratefully wiping sweat from their brows when you buy that Ecuadoran banana, picture this instead: the CEO of Dole Inc. in his air-conditioned office in Westlake Village, California. He's worth $1.4 billion; Juan gets about $6 a day. Much money is made in the global reshuffling of food, but the main beneficiaries are processors, brokers, shippers, supermarkets, and oil companies.

. . .

In every country on earth, the most humane scenario for farmers is likely to be feeding those who live nearby - if international markets would allow them to do it. ... For more information visit:"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

2007 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year

I heard on the radio this morning that the New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the year is "locavore." (Read about it here, as well as the runners-up.)

Here's Barbara Kingsolver's take on the word: "In many social circles it's ordinary for hosts to accommodate vegetarian guests, even if they're carnivores themselves. Maybe the world would likewise become more hospitable to diners who are queasy about fuel-guzzling foods, if that preference had a name. Petrolophobes? Seasonaltarians? Local eaters? Homeys? Lately I've begun seeing the term locavores and I like it: both scientifically and socially descriptive, with just the right hint of 'Livin' la vida loca.'" (From Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.)

Making a Home

I started reading The Flame Trees of Thika last night. I've read it before - at least once - but it's been years. I'm fascinated by settler-types, who move into a place and start a life from scratch.

In the first chapter, a character announces that he is going to move on.

"Henry Oram was the kind of man who never settled down....

'It's getting overcrowded,' he said in a South African voice, flat and strong like himself. 'It's time I moved on.'

'Where to?' Tilly inquired.

'They're opening up new land beyond the Plateau....This place will be a suburb of Nairobi in a few years. There's talk of a railway to Thika....'

'...And now your wife has made a home...'

'With a wagon, a fire, and a pound of coffee any true woman can make a home,' Henry Oram replied. Tilly thought he was pompous, but he may have been pulling her leg."

So here's the question: What do you need to make a home? I fear I need rather more than a wagon and a fire, and I don't drink coffee. I'm thinking about my answer. Anyone else?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Saturday Review of Books

Here's today's edition. This week I linked to my Animal, Vegetable, Miracle review (see below).

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

First I should say I'm a big Barbara Kingsolver fan from way back. Looking at the list of her books, I realized I'd read all of them except her poetry and two books of nonfiction. I've read all the essays and all the novels. I've been waiting impatiently to read this book and I wasn't disappointed. (But I hope she's going to write a new novel soon.)

This book is about a family project; Kingsolver, her husband Steven Hopp, and their two daughters, Camille and Lily, moved to Virginia and ate local for a year. Most of their food came from their own farm, but they also frequented farmers' markets, went on vacation, both domestically and internationally, and wrote about it all. The book itself is a family project, too - Hopp has a sidebar in almost every chapter written from his perspective as a professor of environmental studies, Camille rounds out every chapter with an essay and recipes, and those are Lily's hands on the front cover, holding the Christmas lima beans.

This whole "eating local" thing is brand-new to me, but I'm interested in it because an NGO here in Tecwil (The Country Where I Live) is starting a campaign to encourage people here to buy and eat locally produced food. It's not as simple as it sounds. Sure, we have plenty of outdoor markets - with our tropical climate, fruits and vegetables aren't going to be difficult. But just about everything else is imported. I'd bemoaned that fact before, and I knew a little about the reasons, but reading this book has me all fired up and ready to do my bit to change things.

In this country, farmers just can't compete with North American agriculture because they don't have the equipment or the technology. Past governments allowed food to enter from overseas without any tariffs or restrictions, and gradually local farmers stopped producing their crops because they couldn't sell them - the imports were cheaper. This is the story of local rice, and in a country where you haven't eaten if you haven't had rice, this is a tragedy. Every cook in this country begins with garlic. The garlic is all imported. The list goes on. This country, which used to export food, cannot feed itself.

This country is an extreme example, though, of what's happening around the world. Most Americans eat food imported from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. We aren't aware of seasons, because anything we want is available year round. We've sacrificed flavor, because of course if something is going to be able to travel that far, it has to be hardy and it has to be picked too soon. We've sacrificed variety, because the seed companies are in charge now of what gets grown, and heirloom varieties of plants - and animals - are disappearing. (I never heard of heirloom varieties before - don't they sound wonderful?) And what would happen if our food supplies were interrupted?

In spite of being so chock-full of information, this book is also fun to read. Kingsolver's writing is as marvelous as ever, and on every page there were passages I wanted to read aloud. She is a poet of farming. She had me convinced I should start making my own cheese. Yeah, right. I don't even cook. But with this inspiration, I may start!

Here is the website associated with the book, full of resources and additional reading.

Reading Update

Book #64 was Keeping the Moon. This one was from my classroom library. Sarah Dessen is a favorite with my girls.

Book #65 was Foreign to Familiar, by Sarah Lanier. This is a short and sweet explanation of cultural differences. It's hard to believe that a book this thin (to use my students' terminology - they talk about books being "fat" or "thin") on such a vast topic would be so useful. I'm a bit resistant to dividing up the world into two categories, as Lanier does (hot-climate cultures and cold-climate cultures) but she recognizes that there are exceptions, and in general this seems to fit. I haven't been everywhere, obviously, but I do have a good deal of cross-cultural experience and what she said rang true to me. I recommend this to anyone who's going to be working with people of another culture - you may avoid many problems by becoming aware of some of these issues beforehand.

Book #66 was Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's going to get its own post!

Friday, November 16, 2007


I just got a new Sara Groves CD. Well, it's not a new one - it's been out a long time - but I just started listening to her. This line from What Do I Know? struck me as I was listening just now while getting ready to go for lunch: "Death can be so inconvenient. You try to live and love. It comes and interrupts."

We're in the middle of our ordinary, everyday lives, and someone we love dies. It is so very inconvenient. And yet it's a reminder that this life isn't all there is.

I talked this morning to the staff member who is helping take over some of the plans for Spirit Week after the death of our activities director. I congratulated her on how peppy she was this week, and she said that yesterday afternoon she just lost it; she could hardly teach because she was so overcome with grief.

As I said in yesterday's post, this week is a weird combination of euphoria and sadness.

Poetry Friday

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Big A little a today. I'm busy trying to be peppy but I hope to take a few minutes to read it at some point.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Long Week

I started out this month thinking I'd participate in NaBloPoMo. You know, that thing where those of us who wish we could do National Novel Writing Month (but realize we won't have the discipline) decide we'll at least post on our blogs every day in November. I didn't put the little logo on my blog, first of all because I wasn't sure how, and secondly because I secretly thought I would probably be an ignominious failure. Well, it's good to be right about something, anyway. After the first few days I was back to posting links to other people's sites, and then I stopped posting altogether when this week started.

Spirit Week.

It's allegedly there to pump up school spirit, but I think it's just a plot to keep us from teaching anything. I try to keep quiet about this theory because it makes me feel like such a spoilsport, but honestly, as the week goes on, and chaos takes over more and more, I long for the end of Friday. This week we had a different dress-up theme every day (pretty heady stuff for our usually uniform-clad kids) and freshman initiation going on (middle schoolers don't participate but are very much aware of the craziness).

At home we're reading aloud The Silver Chair. Today Puddleglum was introduced, and I thought, yeah, that's me this week. Tomorrow we have a pep rally. Pep. My favorite thing.

However, I am trying to keep my glumness to myself, because the kids are having so much fun, and, as I said, I don't like to be a spoilsport. So I have even been participating in the dress-up days, at least the ones which I feel I can do without making more of an fool of myself than I'm comfortable with when I'm trying to be the grownup and maintain some semblance of order in my classroom. So that would be...let's's. It was "Wannabe Day" so I wore jeans and a brightly flowered shirt, and said, "I wannabe on vacation." Tomorrow we're supposed to dress in school colors, and of course I'll do that too.

I think everybody needed this light-hearted week after all the sorrow we've just been through, and since K. was involved in planning this week, it's kind of a tribute to her, too. I had told her of my dislike for Spirit Week just shortly before she died, and we had laughed about it. We're all a bit emotionally overwrought these days, between the grief and the foolishness.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Poetry Friday

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

I love Poetry Friday because I get introduced to so many new poems and poets. Here's one I particularly enjoyed today. And this wasn't posted as part of Poetry Friday but it was poetic and beautiful, so I'm including it anyway.


Last night we got four hours of electricity!

No, this blog isn't going to become the Daily Electricity Report. I just had to tell you.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

We didn't get any electricity last night. Thanks for asking.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Electricity, Again

So this morning we were talking about the fact that we got electricity last night. We're not sure how much - less than an hour. It came on at 10:30 and then I went to sleep before it went off. But it was definitely off by 11:15, when another member of the household woke up and checked. We always talk about the power company giving us power, as though we didn't pay for it and as though we hadn't, in fact, bought our own transformer, along with our neighbors. (I blogged about our terminology here, after I read a blog post about the lack of power in Nigeria.) I mean, it's good to be grateful, but why are we so happy that they gave us half an hour of electricity? Yep, you guessed it - because Monday night we didn't get any power at all. We're happy, though, because the generator is working, and also our city power connection is working, so if they do, in fact, give electricity (out of the goodness of their hearts), we will partake of the bounty.

Will we get electricity tonight? Tune in tomorrow to find out...


And now, having established that I am, in fact, a bleeding heart liberal (see previous post), I link you to someone called Right Wing Nation who is hosting the Education Carnival this week. So you see that I believe in freedom of speech.

How Liberal or Conservative are You?

I don't know about this one - I'm not sure I'm quite as liberal as it says. I got it from Another Unfinished Symphony.

Your Political Profile:

Overall: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Social Issues: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Personal Responsibility: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal

Fiscal Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal

Ethics: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Defense and Crime: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Music to My Ears

"Johnny, I see you're on page 445 of this book! That's amazing! Last year you wouldn't even have picked up a book this big, would you? And now you're reading it and enjoying it."

"Yeah." (Looks pleased.)

"So, what do you like about Eragon?"

"I like that it's set in another place, and they even have this map so you can follow what's going on. And - this is going to sound crazy - when I read it, I feel like I'm in that place!"

Monday, November 05, 2007


I love The Book of Common Prayer because it gives me words when I don't have any. Here are two prayers I'm praying right now:

Grant, O Lord, to all who are bereaved the spirit of faith and courage, that they may have strength to meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience; not sorrowing as those without hope, but in thankful remembrance of your great goodness, and in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those they love. And this we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that, casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Don't Bother Me, I'm Ending World Hunger

Somebody help me - I'm addicted to! Tomorrow I have to go back to work after a few days off, so some of the rest of you take over. C'mon, you can spare a few minutes to end world hunger, right?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Brief Moment of Sun

What do you do on your first day of sunshine in a week? The answer for many of the people in this city is: laundry! Roofs, bushes, even the occasional clothesline, were covered with drying clothes. I just hope they got them down in time, because now it's raining again!

Saturday Review of Books

Here's today's edition.


Here's this week's Education Carnival.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Poetry Friday

Although I've been reading a lot of poetry lately, and writing some too, I don't have a poetry post for today. I do, however, know who does. Check out the Poetry Friday roundup here.

Little Problems and Big Problems

Rain, rain, rain. There's rain in the forecast every day through November 10th. This is not the kind of weather we expect here. Normally, even in the rainy season, the rain is mostly at night. Here are the problems I have: Seasonal Affective Disorder - I guess that's an exaggeration, but this weather makes me feel depressed, and with all the life events recently, I'm already not feeling cheery; laundry has been on the line for days and is still as wet as when it was hung up; the solar fridge/freezer is completely thawed, making it just like our fridge used to be back when we had a regular one plugged into the city power; everything in my house is damp and cold and miserable; the power is out again - this time we have one phase, and it's not the same phase as we had last time, so some things work and others don't, and the electrician thinks this was probably caused by the wind and the rain, but we'll see when he gets here in half an hour or so.

But of course, living in this country always gives me perspective on my own little problems. Because here are some of the problems around me: many houses have been washed away; there is extensive flooding; the two-digit number of casualties in the news is estimated by some to be more like a four-digit number. People who had very little to start with have lost everything. And more lives have been lost than will ever be properly counted, many in remote areas that are hard to access at the best of times.

So I guess I can put up with my problems.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Who Knew Ending World Hunger Was This Easy?

Try playing the vocabulary game at For every word you get right, ten grains of rice will be donated through the UN to help end world hunger.

I don't get it, exactly. If these companies can donate, why don't they donate anyway, without me playing a game? But on the other hand, I'm enjoying the game...

DP Theme Day

Today's the Daily Photo blogs' theme day for November. The theme this month is "Blue." Here's Eric's entry on Paris Daily Photo, along with links to the other participants. But for some reason he doesn't seem to have a link to Jenny's post from Sharon, CT. Looking at these beautiful photos was just what I needed today. I loved many of them, like this one from Papua New Guinea and this one from Ocean Township, New Jersey.