Saturday, October 31, 2009

Favorite Podcasts: Sermons

I am something of a connoisseur of sermons, and there are many available as podcasts. Here are some of the ones I've been listening to lately.

The chapels from my alma mater are online. Maybe yours too, if you attended a college with such things as chapels? Try the college website.

So far I like the preaching at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Yeah, that's where Rob Bell pastors. I kept reading about what a heretic he was so I downloaded a bunch of his sermons to see for myself. So far I haven't heard him say anything heretical. (Understand, please - I'm not saying he's never said anything heretical - but in what I have listened to, I have not heard it.) He also has lots of great guest speakers (some of whom may be heretics, for all I know, but I have heard no heresies). Find these on iTunes under Mars Hill Bible Church or go to the church website here. (And here's hoping I put enough disclaimers into this recommendation to absolve me of all blame.)

I love to listen to Andy Stanley speak. You can look for him at iTunes under North Point Ministries, or check out the church website here. And Andy's a guaranteed non-heretical, fully evangelical guy.

Saturday Review of Books


Friday, October 30, 2009

Poetry Friday: The Door

The Door

Out of it steps the future of the poor,
Enigmas, executioners and rules,
Her Majesty in a bad temper or
The red-nosed Fool who makes a fool of fools,

Great persons eye it in the twilight for
A past it might so carelessly let in,
A widow with a missionary grin,
The foaming inundation at a roar.

We pile our all against it when afraid,
And beat upon its panels when we die:
By happening to be open once, it made

Enormous Alice see a wonderland
That waited for her in the sunshine, and,
Simply by being tiny, made her cry.

W.H. Auden

Poetry Friday is hosted at Biblio File today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dress Up as a Poet

Sooner or later just about everyone has the urge to dress up as a poet, right? I got an email with some helpful suggestions and I thought I should share it with you. You can see the ideas here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I went to a retreat this weekend and had a great time. I took no work with me at all and just relaxed. While I was there someone asked me about my writing. "You write every day, don't you?" she said.

"Um, no," I said, adding that I would like to be someone who writes every day, but that I'm really not.

But why not? It's clearly just something I have to make time for if it's important to me. Nobody else is going to do it for me.

So, last night I wrote a poem. Actually I didn't even write it from scratch - it was something I had worked on before, and I tinkered with it some more and "finished" it. And then kept getting up every twenty minutes to fix something else about it. I love doing that kind of messing around with a draft, but it takes time and energy that I often don't have after I've spent a couple of hours reading student drafts and responding to them. I am going to keep trying to write - perhaps not every day, but more often than I have been.

I have some students working on short stories this quarter. We have been talking about their main characters. Today I had some useful conferences with kids who have worked out details of plot - mostly gory ones. It is fun to hear their imaginings. One kid told me today that Stephenie Meyer's ideas for the Twilight saga came to her in a dream. Don't we all wish that would happen for us? A dream with all the plot details, and then fame and fortune? Yes, it would sure be nice.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Running for Haitian Women

Tara just got done running a marathon and raising over $60,000 for Medika Mamba. (I told you about that here.) Now she's at it again, this time with a team. They are running a marathon in twelve weeks to raise money for an ambulance.

Read all about it here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reading Update

So here are the latest books I have gulped down.

Book #47 was Troy by Adèle Geras. This was named a Publisher's Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year (to name one of the children's book awards listed on the back) - but it is not at all for children. Much as I like retellings of the Troy story, I didn't like this one. It took the epic tale and turned it into a story of some young people who just happen to work for, or run into, or otherwise be aware of the principals. This author handles the whole supernatural element of the Iliad by having characters run into gods, have conversations with them, and immediately forget the whole thing. At first I bought this but I tired of the device pretty quickly.

Book #48, A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly, is not really for children either, but I feel a bit more comfortable putting this one on my shelves than the last. Mattie Gokey is sixteen and lives in the Northern Woods of upstate New York. Mattie wants to go to college, but she promised her dying mother she would take care of the family. She wants to be a writer but she wants to get married. She gets a job at a hotel and there is a witness to some events leading to a mystery; this part of the plot is based on a true story. The book is really about expectations of women, and whether it's possible to have it all. Although it's set in 1906, I think this is still a pretty timely theme. I found Mattie a believable protagonist, and appreciated her struggle, leading to no easy answers.

I've been waiting for a year for the sequel to The Hunger Games, and I read Catching Fire in a few hours and now have to wait at least another year to find out what happens next. This is what you get when you read living authors and get tied up in their series! I never used to do this. I blame it all on Harry Potter. Oh, the book? Catching Fire, book #49 of the year, was just as breathless as the first book. I couldn't put it down and my heart thumped madly the whole way through. My students are going to LOVE it.

Book #50 was a much more sedate reading experience, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, by Sven Birkerts. This was recommended by my friend Janet; here's her great review. Like her, I most enjoyed the chapters about reading and was less interested in the ones about technology and how it's ruining everything. I loved Birkerts' own autobiography of reading and it made me think about writing my own. I will definitely reread this one because there is a huge amount to think about in these pages.

I really did gulp this next one, book #51: Rules, by Cynthia Lord. What a wonderful book! I started reading it at bedtime on a school night and didn't stop until I was finished, nearly 200 pages later. Catherine is twelve and has an autistic brother. She loves him but he is embarrassing. He doesn't know how to act. She decides to help him out by creating rules for him. I thought about this as a read-aloud but, though I want to share it with as many of my students as possible, it really isn't a book to read aloud. It's about different ways of communicating, and there are font changes all through that are for the eye and not the ear. The rules that Catherine makes for David. The word cards that she writes and illustrates for the boy she meets when she goes to occupational therapy with her brother (he can't speak and points to word cards to communicate). The quotes from Frog and Toad books that David uses to express his emotions. The book is funny but it also made me cry. Highly recommended.

In 'Tis, by Frank McCourt (book #52), one of McCourt's teachers tells him his writing has "gusto." It certainly does, and yet the book left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. It covers a lot of the same time frame as Teacher Man (reviewed here) and since all the parts of 'Tis I liked best were the teaching parts, I could have just skipped this one. McCourt's wife asks him at one point what he would do if he weren't Irish, and I was on her side in this, as in much else. She gets tired of him standing her up night after night because he was out drinking with his friends. She even sensibly breaks it off with him more than once. He complains constantly about his sad childhood in Ireland - and sure, it was sad. We got that in Angela's Ashes. The part I disliked the most in this book was when McCourt was in the military (during the Korean War, but stationed in Europe) and was sent to Dachau to do laundry. We see McCourt so emotional over Dachau that he can't eat (and this is an event for the boy who was constantly "starving with the hunger" in Angela's Ashes). Then on the way back with the clean laundry, the soldier boys stop at a refugee camp and pay the refugees with coffee and cigarettes for sex. OK, I guess this is all very honest and human, but it just made me feel sick.

Book #53 was Andrew Clements' Lost and Found, a quick, fun read about a pair of twins who are tired of being treated as a unit. When a clerical error results in only one of them being registered in their new school, they decide to take turns attending. Clements is the father of identical twins and he does a good job of creating two believable brothers.

I've now read lots of Caroline Cooney's books. She is a favorite with many of my students. This one, book #54, was Diamonds in the Shadow, about African refugees with a complicated past. It's exciting and fast-paced. It also treats Africa as a monolithic Place Where Bad Things Happen, but that seems like an ungenerous quibble to make about a book which will make teenagers aware of things that most of them have never thought about before. It really stood out to me because I have an African student at the moment who is sensitive to that label and I won't be able to use this as a read-aloud. This is a great story, though.

Book #55 was also recommended to me as a book for children, just like the one with which I started this post. I'd say it's for older readers because of the relationship in the story. The book is Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. It has blurbs on the back from Scott Westerfeld and Neil Gaiman, but it also has several techie names I haven't heard of. Marcus is seventeen, and spends much of his time playing games which are a combination of computer games and real-life running around San Francisco. (His handle is "w1n5t0n" - Winston, get it, get it? This is Little Brother, and that was Big Brother? OK, I'm glad you get it.) Marcus and his friends are out playing one of their games when a huge terrorist attack takes place on San Francisco, and the rest of the story is about Homeland Security trying to make everyone safe by taking away their liberties. It's very timely, and very entertaining, but due to the aforementioned mature themes I really don't think I can hand this to the guy in the front row whom I had in mind for it - maybe in a few years.

Now I'm back to attempting War and Peace again. Last time I got over 300 pages into it, and wasn't even a quarter of the way through, and took a few days off from it, and then felt I had lost my train of thought and would never be able to tell all those Annas apart again. I remember a weekend in graduate school when I read two 500 page 19th century novels - in French. I can't really do that any more, now that I am not in driven-graduate-student mode any more, and now that I have children. And now that I spend hours of great reading time blogging...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Of Clothes and Books and Having Too Much

Last night I read that my friend Alana is going to try something new. She's been interested for a long time in simplifying her wardrobe and she's written before about her attraction to a "uniform." Then the other day she read an article about a woman who wore the same dress every day for a month. She started exploring the idea and found that several people had tried similar experiments. But I'll let her tell you about it.

Let me say up front that I have no intention of trying such a thing. I live in a very hot, humid climate, and often my clothes don't make it through a whole day, let alone more than one day. One of the women Alana linked to wrote that she washed the dress that she wore for a year "after every two or three wearings." Nothing lasts two or three wearings for me. Also, I don't have reliable enough water and/or electricity to be doing a load of laundry every single night just so that I can streamline my clothing choices. I think I would be using resources incorrectly.

And then, of course, there's the fact that I wore a school uniform for eight years of my life - four different school uniforms, in fact, including one supremely ugly one which included a tie.

However, all that said, I do find the concept fascinating. Here are some great quotes I gleaned from Alana's links:

"I challenged myself to reject the economic system that pushes over-consumption, and the bill of goods that has been sold, especially to women, about what makes a person good, attractive and interesting. Clothes are a big part of this image, and the expectation in time, effort, and financial investment is immense... [so] let's stop agreeing that the best way for women (in particular) to 'express themselves' is by purchasing new wardrobe items and putting together daily outfits." (from

"Perhaps, on a larger scale, we would waste less of the world’s resources if we were captured in wonder by the curve of a carefully crafted cup; the joyful noise of a neighborhood waking up in the morning; the blessed figure of a human being beside us at the kitchen table. We would no longer be animated by a surface curiosity, a desire to entertain ourselves when we get restless. Aliveness to reality in the active knowing of the God-given character of a thing can satisfy us. It is how we can relate to it on a human level, lovingly." (from The Dress Project.)

Wow. Clearly this goes beyond clothing.

I don't think I have a problem with owning too much clothing (though my husband might disagree), but I do buy way too many books. I should cut back on that. And I would if I lived somewhere with a nearby public library.

But it's about more than how many books I own. It's about how I read. Recently I read The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, by Sven Birkerts. Among many fascinating facts, I learned, in an essay called "The Owl has Flown," about the history of the way people read. People used to read "intensively." Up until about 1750, anyone literate who owned books would only own a few. These would be read over and over and over; they would be memorized. I don't read much this way, with the exception of the Bible, which I have read many times. Mostly I read "extensively." Birkerts describes it this way: "Newspapers, magazines, brochures, advertisements, and labels surround us everywhere - surround us, indeed, to the point of having turned our waking environment into a palimpsest of texts to be read, glanced at, or ignored. It is startling to recall the anecdote about the philosopher Erasmus pausing on a muddy thoroughfare to study a rare scrap of printed paper flickering at his feet."

I read like a starving person - gulp, gulp, gulp, and on to the next book or article or website. I have a huge pile of books I am going to read. Maybe it would benefit me to read less, but more intensively.


It's the same concept: we have so much - and that includes me, living in a third world country as I do and constantly aware of how much more I have than so many around me - that often we don't stop to appreciate and fully enjoy what we do have.

I'll be following Alana's project with interest.