Sunday, December 31, 2006

Fallen Angels

Last night I finished Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers. I didn't actually choose this book to read; a parent had complained about it after his son brought it home, due to the bad language in the book.

Well, it's true that this book is filled with four-letter words, but it is also incredibly real, convincing, and touching. It's a story of Vietnam, and the language comes from the mouths of young soldiers, driven alternately by bravado and fear.

Some quotes from the book:

"We spent another day lying around. It seemed to be what the war was about. Hours of boredom, seconds of terror."

"I was glad to see her, but I couldn't talk to her. The words didn't have the right proportion somehow. There was this feeling that everything I was going to say was either too loud or too strange for a world in which people did normal things."

"'You think I should tell my little brother about how things are over here?'
'You ain't told him yet?'
'I keep trying to, but I can't get it out right. You know, I don't want him to think about it like you do when you go to the movies.'
'You gotta tell him it's just the way things are in the movies,' Lobel called out from across the aisle. 'You tell people what this is really like, and who's going to come to the next war? They'll have all the announcements out and everything, and nobody'll show up.'"

Just because this book is realistic, of course, doesn't mean that a seventh grader needs to read it. There's more to this book than the language that could be overwhelming or upsetting for a young child; the violence is graphic and horrible. And I know this isn't very politically correct, but I do believe in a parent's right to have input in what a child reads, particularly when the child is this young. But I don't think this book should be removed from the library. Many of my male students want to read books about war and fighting, and frankly I'd rather they read something thoughtful like this book than something that glorifies killing and dehumanizes the enemy.

I suppose a parent who sends a child to a Christian school might have an expectation that all books from the library will be "safe"; I don't think that's possible, though. Part of the problem here is that the same library serves sixth through twelfth grade, and that's a huge age range. There's no way that every book in the library can be appropriate for every kid.

So what do you think?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Meals Eaten

I always enjoy reading the overviews and "best of" lists published this time of year. Here's a particularly delicious one: BBC reporters reflect on some of the most interesting meals they've eaten.

Read about it here.

Books Read

Lots of bloggers are posting lists of all the books they read in 2006. I don't know all of them. A lot, though.

A few years ago I kept a list of all the books I read in a single year. It came to 105. I started doing it again the next year, and filled about a page, and then the list abruptly ends. There's not a date written there, but I can tell it was right at the start of a pregnancy - that point where I lose interest in everything for about three months. And then I never resumed the habit. (I still read, of course. Even when I lose interest in everything, I keep reading. I just didn't write the books down.)

So maybe I'll try it again this year. It is nice to have a record.

But here are some books I read this year, along with links to my review, or a quote I posted, or just a mention of the book:
Sixpence House.
Running the Road to ABC.
In the Middle and Naming the World.
Gathering Blue and The Giver.
Acts of Faith. (OK, I didn't read this one this year - I read it last year. But it's still good.)
Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. (I talked about that one again here.)
A couple of books of Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry.
How Writers Grow: A Guide for Middle School Teachers.
Twilight and New Moon.
Seedfolks, though I don't name it in the post. This is a great book and one I highly recommend. (Here's a link to that one on Amazon.)
What You Know by Heart.
Gods of Noonday.
Reading Lolita in Tehran. (Again, not one I read this year - it's been a couple of years. Just a belated posting of the review.)
A whole bunch of kids' books, plus The Temple of Music and Home Life.
Here I wrote about summer reading and my students' reaction to it. Here I opined about reading aloud to my students. And here I wrote about my students reading to younger children.
Here's some of what George W. Bush read.
My Reading Profile.

This is a very misleading list of books. For one thing, it looks as though teacher books form a much higher percentage of my reading than they actually do. For another, I just plain didn't blog about the majority of the books I read. I'll try to do better in 2007.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Finding New Blogs

Well, new to me, anyway.

Today I found this one, and specifically these posts, which brought tears to my eyes.

Some more I found and am putting on my list to explore further: Semicolon, Writing and Living, Spain Dad.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reading Binge

Some of the books I read to my son today:

Possum Come a-Knockin', by Nancy van Laan
Cookie Soup and Other Good-Night Stories, by Michaela Muntean
What Moms Can't Do, by Douglas Wood
If You Give a Moose a Muffin, by Laura Joffe Numeroff
The Happy Hedgehog, by Marcus Pfister
The Berenstain Bears' New Baby, by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Hot Dog, by Molly Coxe
Nicholas Bentley Stoningpot III, by Ann McGovern
Pigs, Pigs, Pigs! by Leslea Newman
Blue's Travel Game
Lucille's Snowsuit, by Kathryn Lasky
Arthur Meets the President, by Marc Brown
Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees, by A. A. Milne
Dizzy's Bird Watch, by Alison Inches

As for my own reading, I finished a book I got for my birthday almost a year ago (finally worked through the pile), The Temple of Music, by Jonathan Lowy, and started Home Life, by Suzanne Fox, for about the fifth time.


I went to school today. I managed to stay away for a week, and today I just stopped in briefly to get a book. While I was there I noticed that the teacher across the hall has put up a new bulletin board. It's about snow.

It seems we can't resist pretending it's winter, even if we live in a tropical place. My son has had a thorough introduction in school to cold and winter, so much so that he complained on Christmas Day because it didn't snow. This from a child who was born here and has never spent Christmas anywhere else.

I can understand the longing for seasons, but honestly I almost never experience it myself. Sure, falling leaves are beautiful, and so is snow, and yes, you do appreciate spring more when you've made it through a long, gloomy winter. But I'm quite happy to look at pictures of those things. Probably that's partly because I grew up in the tropics and only a relatively small part of my life has been spent with four seasons.

It doesn't bother me that so many of us organize our lives around the seasons, and teach our children about what they are like. After all, most of them will spend at least some of their future in places where seasons change. And I guess it's all part of their education.

Nevertheless, I do find myself looking for things to read with my kids that are more about their reality. It makes me sad that so many of them write Christmas poems about snow, as though it's not possible to write one about hibiscus blossoms and dust. (Some of them have lived snowy Christmases, but many of them have never seen snow at all.) I did find a poem this year about Christmas in New Zealand. Christmas at the beach - now there is an excellent idea!

In general, I'd love for my students to write more about what they observe rather than what they see on TV. I'd like them to see Tecwil as a place to be from and be proud of, rather than thinking of it in terms of what's lacking - no malls, no McDonald's. No winter.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Photos

Take a look at the Christmas photos from Paris, London, and Sydney, Australia. (I wanted to show you a Christmas beach photo from a DP blog, but though I looked and looked I couldn't find one - the Sydney one is from the 26th, but close enough.)

Here are some from the BBC.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Have you read the story about the "true meaning" of the Twelve Days of Christmas? I had read it before, and when it was shared at a Christmas event that I attended the other day, I thought I had some vague memory of reading that it wasn't true. So I headed over to, that ever-useful place to check out myths and urban legends and unlikely emails.

So here's what Snopes has to say.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Someone on an email list was asking about this book, and I dug around for my review that I wrote just over two years ago for the subscription library I belong to. As long as I was sending it to that list, I decided to post it here as well.

Reading Reading Lolita in Tehran in Tecwil

Part political memoir, part literary criticism, Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran is a wonderful book. It celebrates the joy and usefulness of reading, and the unexpected pleasures of reading a book in a wildly different context from the one in which it was written. Nafisi, now a professor at Johns Hopkins, taught English literature in Tehran, first at several universities and later in her own home after she was fired for refusing to wear the veil. She mixes her observations about life in Iran under increasingly rigid and absurd conditions with commentary on the novels she reads and teaches.

Sometimes her reading is escape - in a particularly vivid scene, she reads through bombings during the Iran-Iraq War. Often the books contrast with or comment on Iranian reality. About Lolita, Nafisi notes, "this child, had she lived in the Islamic Republic, would have been long ripe for marriage to men older than Humbert." She points out that Jane Austen and Henry James both lived during wartime, and chose different ways of dealing with that - or not - in their writing. When some of Nafisi's students find Fitzgerald offensive to Islam, she stages a mock trial of The Great Gatsby.

The book touches on many issues. Censorship, obviously. Turning life into stories and how that helps us survive; the image of Scheherazade is particularly appropriate. How you decide whether, or when, to leave a country you love. Even the definition of home - is it rooted, or is it portable? I doubt I am the only library member who finds many of these topics highly relevant.

I will be paying this book the ultimate compliment: buying my own copy!

Colors of Christmas

It's a multicolored Christmas this year.

You can have a blue Christmas, a green Christmas, or possibly a traditional white Christmas.

According to the DHS, it's a yellow Christmas in the United States, unless you're flying, in which case it's definitely an orange Christmas. (Here's their press release.) If you're in Indonesia, there are extra security warnings connected with the season.

Enter any color at all in combination with "Christmas" on Google and you'll get a gazillion hits. This is mainly because you can now buy Christmas ornaments in any color at all. If you can imagine it, it's out there for sale on the internet.

Here in Tecwil, it will be an ordinary beautiful tropical day. Most people don't do anything different on Christmas day itself, and there will be merchants selling vegetables out on the street just like always. Christmas Eve is the time when people stay out late - sometimes all night - and make a lot of noise with firecrackers. I love being here for Christmas, largely because it really is a religious festival here and not an excuse to spend vast sums of money. You're either celebrating Christ's birth or you're having a regular day.

And the colors - well, not white, definitely. There are the red poinsettias, not indoors as house plants but outdoors as trees. There is the glorious blue sky. Sometimes there's a little extra electricity lighting up the night.

Have a wonderful Christmas, wherever you are and whatever color it is.

Friday, December 22, 2006

End-of-year News Quiz

I got the highest score yet - 9/12! Go on, see if you can beat me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gods of Noonday

For my book club, I recently read Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life, by Elaine Orr. We had a good discussion about it, and I highly recommend the book to anybody who is interested in the effects our childhood has on us, especially a childhood as an "alien." Orr grew up as a missionary kid in Nigeria, but as an adult she left that part of her behind. When she became seriously ill, she began to reconnect with her past.

Parts of this book were almost too painful for me to read, since Orr's mission compound experiences in some ways are so similar to my own. I identified with her deep desire to be African, mixed with her awareness that she wasn't and never would be. And yet she finds herself meeting Nigerians in North Carolina and having them claim her as one of them. I'm happy for Orr! This is something that doesn't happen to me too often. Probably mostly because I've just about quit identifying myself by the country where I grew up when I meet others from there. Sometimes I am welcomed with open arms when I do, but most of the time I just get suspicion. No, you aren't from there. How could you be? You're white!

Part of my problem is a linguistic one; though I grew up in an African country, I don't speak any African languages except the colonial ones, English and French. (Well, and a few words of the most rudimentary Kiswahili imaginable.) All education was in English, and my parents were always involved in education. Everyone always spoke English to me. It's hard to be identified with a country whose language(s) you don't speak. And now I see the same thing happening to my own children, growing up monolingual in a trilingual society. Orr doesn't go into how much of the local language she spoke as a child. She says several times that much of what she knows about Nigeria she learned while doing research for her book.

I underlined many parts of Orr's book.

"I want the Nigerian sisters and brothers I was not allowed to have."

She quotes a description of one of the towns where she grew up from a guidebook; the town is "horrible in every way." Orr admits that the details of the description are accurate but responds: "None of this was horrible. Or if it was, I beg to be required to endure such horror again."

Talking of the people who came and went during her childhood, Orr remarks, "Few explanations were given except, in a general, unspoken way, God's will. It was not until I came to live in the U.S. many years later that I realized it isn't necessarily normal to lose people as easily as the pebbles one puts in one's pocket and forgets to retrieve before the wash."

Describing missionary housing, Orr uses a wonderful image: "No house was ever actually owned by a missionary. We moved in and out of these great shells like hermit crabs." Later she describes her parents' decorating, which involved, in part, cutting out pictures from National Geographic to adorn the walls. She says, "My parents had the capacity to take something you might think of as temporary and recycled and make it into something elegant and privileged."

Regarding a mouse being killed by her father, she writes, "I simply didn't think we could afford any more casualties."

Perhaps my favorite part is where Orr describes returning to the United States and her impressions of her "home." Everything looks new to her, and clean, and without a past; "certainly," she says, "the furnishings had never been packed into drums and crates to bounce around in the back of a lorry."

And there are many more sections in my copy that I marked up; it's just begging to be talked about, and I wish all of my readers had been there at the book club.

We spent a lot of time discussing the part of the book where Orr writes of being at boarding school during the Biafran War. She appears to criticize her parents and other adults for keeping the children too isolated from what was going on around them. As parents here in Tecwil, we face a similar dilemma. How much do we shield our children from the situation and how much do we expose them to it? We don't want them to be frightened. Many of my students at school appear to me to know too much about what's going on, and to be perpetually on edge, waiting for the phone call to tell them that something is wrong with their family, that someone's been kidnapped or robbed.

Read the book; it's beautiful. And let me know what you think.

Iraqi Bloggers

The BBC links today to several Iraqi bloggers.

98th Carnival of Education

Take a look at the the 98th Carnival of Education over at The Median Sib.

More on Electricity

NPR had a piece this morning about how all this light is perhaps overrated. Sure, easy for them to say.

And as for our electricity, it was mysteriously fixed. I don't know how, but last night at 7 PM when the power came on, ours came on too. It's a Christmas miracle! Not only that, but we got at least five hours. I woke up at midnight and it was still on when I went back to sleep. I don't know when it went off.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


If you read yesterday's post, no doubt you were impressed by my serenity even when surrounded by small boys hitting each other with bright pink plastic flamingos. "Wow," you probably thought, "this woman is unflappable! What does it take to upset her?"

I'm sure you really didn't think that. But in case you're wondering what does upset me, I'll tell you. It doesn't take much. Last night I had an experience which never fails to frustrate and annoy me. The power came on in our neighborhood, but not at our house. The streetlight across the street glowed cheerily in our window, but our water pump didn't come on. We had no electricity.

Any illusions I might have of being a person of any depth is always instantly dispelled by these moments. Immediately I freak out. No power? What? Two hours a day, and we're not getting it?

Right away I tried to call the electric company. When I picked up the phone, it sounded normal, but when I dialed I got a recording that said the phone company had switched our phone off for non-payment.

Non-payment? I freaked out further. Just last week we paid a phone bill with an alarming number of zeros on it. Those weren't US dollars, but still. It was a big number. And we have a receipt to prove it!

I've gone on and on in this blog about utilities and the lack thereof. In April, I mentioned not eating toast due to hardly ever having electricity at breakfast time. In May, I posted this article about electricity in Delhi, and compared the situation in Tecwil. In June, while we were in the States, the electric company came and cut us off, in spite of our having paid in advance. I also exulted about being able to do laundry all the time in the States because the power's always on, and mentioned, too, that during during World Cup time we always get plenty of electricity. In July I commiserated with people around the United States whose power was out. And earlier this month, I ranted on at length about utilities in general.

You get the picture. Electricity is something I think about a lot. And I don't think about it nearly as much as I used to. When we first moved to Tecwil, I used to keep a calendar of how many hours we got every day. But I'm trying to be a less obsessive person, so I stopped doing that.

In the scheme of things, it's very much not a big deal that my power is disconnected. We have a generator which we fill with gas at $4 per gallon. We really will be OK. Even the telephone is not the end of the world. But still, it irritates me.

When I was in high school, we had a dorm mother who used to try to cheer us up by making us feel guilty about people in the world who were less fortunate. I remember a speech she made once about Vietnamese boat people (the boat people who were in the news at the time) and how they were crammed in non-seaworthy boats and facing hardship and misery, and here we were, selfish, spoiled kids with plenty to eat and...well, I pretty much tuned out at that point. I don't find that method works too well to cheer me up. Because then, not only do I feel frustrated about whatever is going wrong, but I also feel guilty for being so selfish and spoiled.

So here's what I try to do instead. First I gripe a little bit. No, this isn't as bad as what many other people are going through today, but yes, it does annoy me and I don't know that it does anybody any good for me to pretend otherwise. I try to keep my complaining to just a few people, like my long-suffering husband and, well, whoever is reading this. Then I try to deal with it and move on with life. For whatever reason, this is what I'm dealing with today. No doubt God can use it for good. He can make me more patient and less focused on what I don't have. Less selfish and spoiled.

At least I hope so. And I hope He does it quickly, so that we can get the lights back on.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I'm It!

I got tagged by Dr. Bacchus. I'm supposed to tell you five things you don't know about me. If you don't know something, there's probably a good reason. Either it's just really not that interesting, or I don't want to tell you, or...well, I'm sure there are other reasons too. So...

Well, for one, I'm Time Magazine's Person of the Year! (Oh, wait, so are you. Never mind.)

Here goes.

1) My elbows are double-jointed. Yes, I am a freak.

2) One of my students (when I was teaching college) once wrote "homegirl chillin" on an evaluation of me. I didn't know what it meant. I found out that it was a compliment.

3) I have had dengue fever but not malaria.

4) I still have my tonsils, my adenoids, my appendix, my gallbladder, and my wisdom teeth.

5) I am sitting in a room where several small boys are fighting each other with plastic flamingos. And yet, I am calm and serene.

So, Dr. B, are there any of those you didn't know? Besides the last one?

I'm not going to tag anybody. But if you, Reader and fellow Person of the Year, feel like sharing obscure things about yourself, please do. Either in the comments or on your own blog. And if it's on your own blog, let me know about it so I can read and learn. Thank you.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pointless Trivia

The Queen of England has never used a computer.

And here are 99 other things that the BBC didn't know this time last year.

Blogging is SO 2006

Blogging will peak next year, according to this article. There are already 200 million blogs that aren't being updated any more. And it's not hard to be considered an "active" blog - that just means updating at least once every three months.

Congratulations! YOU are Time Magazine's Person of the Year!

I know, it's overwhelming, isn't it? You're probably looking for a way to express your appreciation for this honor, or at least a place to post your acceptance speech. Look no further.

Go here to say what you think.

(My favorite comment so far: "This is going to look great on my CV!")

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Theme Song

Graycie was asked to name a theme song for her classroom and here's what she came up with.

Yep, that's about right.

Last Day of School

Our Christmas vacation started a little early. Tecwil is back in the news, and, as usual, it's not for anything good. School was supposed to end next week, but the last few days have been cancelled.

The last day was not much fun for teachers, though the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves. Take the regular baseline squirreliness that we deal with every day and add excitement over the 7th and 8th grade Christmas party and liberal doses of fear and panic due to the local news, mixed with rumors, and you have a bunch of unmanageable kids. Oh, and let's not forget that it was also picture day.

I got to accompany the 8th graders to their photo opportunity. The boys headed directly to the designated room as soon as the call came, but the girls all rushed to the bathroom. One had forgotten her comb, which was an emergency, but she was able to do something about it. I'm not sure where she got a comb, but she showed up looking very groomed.

The girls sought beauty, but the boys sought fierceness. Apparently the goal was to look as dangerous as possible. You wanted to peer out of the yearbook with an expression that said, "Watch out for me. I'm about to go for you with a knife." But what I love about middle schoolers is that just beneath that scary exterior is a little kid. So it just took one little comment to make them giggle and produce beautiful smiles from the scowls.

The new touch on picture day is that it's done with a digital camera now, so the kids rush over to the photographer and check out the results immediately. It's a matter of huge importance that this be a good picture. Most seemed fairly satisfied, or at least satisfied enough that they didn't demand a retake.

When we got back to the classroom we just had a few minutes left, so I put on some Christmas music and the kids danced around the room. One gallant young man, apparently imagining that due to my advanced age I have a history of ballroom dancing, kept offering to dance with me. Little does he know of my evangelical childhood where dancing was forbidden, thus rendering me recreationally challenged in my adulthood. I told him I didn't know how to dance. He offered to teach me, but I declined.

After school we had our party, the culmination of the Secret Santa week. The kids got a chance to guess who had been giving them surprises - or not - the whole week. Practically everyone knew the answer, but a few had to guess several times. After all the gifts were opened (quite a few to be sneered over), we had some snacks and then the kids rushed off, eager to be home early to avoid trouble in the streets.

"Merry Christmas," I told them as they left, and then added, "Stay safe. See you in January."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pointless Conversation

"X, will you please stop talking?"
"Why are you picking on me?"
"Every time I look at you, you're talking! Let's try it this way: you do what I ask you, and stop talking and listen, and then I'll stop picking on you."
"So you admit you're picking on me!"

It Happened to Me, Too

In this post, Ms. Cornelius linked to a recent news story and took bets on how long it would take her students to bring it up. I smiled when I read this a few days ago, but didn't really think it would happen in my classroom. My students don't usually talk about the news except when it's from Tecwil - then they talk about it a lot, sharing all the rumors they have heard.

Well, yesterday one of my seventh grade boys raised his hand and told the whole tale, to much hilarity. Flatulence stories they know about, apparently.

Hmm, maybe I should do a whole thematic unit on flatulence - clearly it's a subject they are interested in. But all I can think of to read is The BFG!

Sunday, December 10, 2006


On NPR this morning there was a great piece on eggnog, and specifically how terrible the storebought stuff is. You can read about it and listen to it here.

I have a very uneducated palate and like the storebought stuff just fine. Every year we buy a little, spending a fortune, since of course it is imported. I've also never had the kind with whisky in it. Last year at a party I had home-made eggnog for the first time, but it was made by a Baptist missionary - no whisky. I am aware enough to realize that it was far superior to the ersatz kind from the supermarket, but I am also enough of a savage that I went right back to my old ways. Yum, bring on the fake eggnog!

I did like one part of the story - Andrea asked whether it was true that eggnog was invented to preserve eggs and cream, and the eggnog expert to whom she was talking said, well, actually, he thought it was more a case of, "Let's do something fun with this stuff before it rots." This is a distinction anyone who has lived without much refrigeration to speak of, like myself, will appreciate. (Not any more - thank God for solar fridges and for the people who gave us the money to buy ours!)

How Much Do You Know About Youth?

Once again, I got an embarrassing score on a BBC quiz. I got 3/10, which makes me a "Grandad."

So you try it. How much do YOU know about youth?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What Kind of a Reader Am I?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

For some reason this didn't post exactly right, and you can't see the bar graph which shows exactly where I fall on the scale for each type of reader. Since I am sure you are dying to know, I am part obsessive-compulsive bookworm, part literate good citizen, and part book snob.

And I have to admit that I cheated on this question:

6. Which set of books have you read ALL of?
a) Bridges of Madison Country, The Da Vinci Code, The Name of the Rose, and at least two Harry Potter books
b) Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby
c) War and Peace, Silas Marner, Madame Bovary, The Age of Innocence, To the Lighthouse
d) Carrie, The Stand, and a couple other books in high school that I don't remember.

Actually, none of those are true of me. I've read The Da Vinci Code, ALL the Harry Potter books, Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, Madame Bovary, and the Age of Innocence. So I went with b), since it seemed closest.

My real Reader Profile is that I live in a place without public libraries and I have a need to be reading something at all times, so I've read some things I probably wouldn't have if I had had more choice. (Not that the books on the above list fit that description. For one thing, I read six of them before I ever moved here. I read The Da Vinci Code because I was curious about all the hoopla, and I genuinely like Harry Potter.) I think the "obsessive-compulsive bookworm" category is, in fact, the most accurate.

(And speaking of obsessive-compulsive, I logged back on to Blogger for no other reason than to put a hyphen in "obsessive-compulsive." That is all you need to know.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

You'll HATE this book

This is an interesting idea. Are you tired of Amazon telling you what you'll like, based on the other books you've looked at? Well, this site will tell you what you're not likely to enjoy, based on titles you enter.

An example posted on the main page: if you liked Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, you're not going to like Confessions of a Shopaholic. And you know, that's probably true.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

From Apocalypse to Bedtime Stories

Most of what I've read by Elizabeth Kolbert has been pretty depressing. She writes gloomy articles for the New Yorker about global warming and the state of the earth. So I was surprised to find her article about children's books. She brings her own dark sensibility to this subject, too. I thoroughly enjoyed her look at this year's picture books, as well as a few comments on old favorites.

Travel Warnings

Here's an article about the State Department's travel warnings by Steve Hendrix of the Washington Post.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


We got four hours of electricity last night. It came on at about 8:20 and went off at about 12:30.

You may think I'm complaining, but I'm not. I'm rejoicing! This is more electricity than we've had at one time in weeks! Our recent average is about two hours out of every forty-eight. So much for Christmas lights.

And wait! There's more! Yesterday, we got an hour during the day, too - from two to three in the afternoon. That's FIVE hours in ONE day!

In the midst of my euphoria, however, allow me to whine for a moment.

Not only do we pay electric bills, we also have to buy and maintain alternate power systems - basically, we're responsible for generating our own power most of the time.

Not only do we pay a phone bill, but we have to have cellphones because when it's raining a lot, our landline doesn't work. And before every call, we have to listen to a little recording in two languages about how they are about to disconnect our phone. And yes, we are fully paid up.

Not only do we pay a water bill, we also collect every drop God sends us from the sky, because God sends a lot more than the water company. The water company, whose name includes the word "potable," which is a nice little joke, sends us water once or twice a week. God sends it every night in some seasons!

You're not supposed to have to think about your utilities - you're just supposed to pay your bills and then get your service. Right? Not in Tecwil.

But last night we got four hours! I'm happy!

Boat People

Why would people leave a place they love to take a dangerous trip to somewhere new and strange where they aren't all that welcome?

Well, here are some answers to that question.

Did I Miss Anything?

Great poem at Se Hace Camino Al Andar.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

What You Know by Heart

I just finished reading an excellent teacher book, What You Know by Heart, by Katie Wood Ray.

I've been reading a lot lately about how a writing teacher needs to be a writer, and so far this year I've done two of the assignments with my kids and shared the results with them. I have found this effective as a teaching tool, and I'm also writing more than I have in years. I think it's hard on us literature types to write a lot - I end up disgusted with so many of the results, largely, I think, because my expectations are unrealistically high due to all the wonderful books I've read.

This book goes into what it means to read like a writing teacher and to come up with curriculum from your own writing, and from professional writers who become your "co-teachers." There are plenty of useful examples and ideas.

Great book.


I was reading a book with my seventh graders in which the word "hoeing" appeared. As in, the women were hoeing in the garden.

I noticed a lot of uncomfortable snickering, and it didn't take me too long to realize what they were reacting to. So I stopped the reading and wrote the word "hoe" on the board. I illustrated it. Then I wrote the word "ho," explained its etymology and why it was not a nice thing to call someone.

When I was done with this little talk, the kids were really concerned that I left the word "ho" up on the board. They urged me to erase it.

I had to post this after reading Ms. Cornelius' experience.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Uma Thurman Says...

I was reading an old Reader's Digest last night, and saw an interview with Uma Thurman. I've never seen any of her movies and hardly knew who she was, but I recently read a review of a book by her dad, Robert Thurman. It's part of a series on the Seven Deadly Sins; Thurman wrote the one on anger. (Here's part of the review online.)

So this caught my eye in the RD interview with her:

RD: Your mother was a model. Your father, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk, teaches at Columbia University.
Thurman: Because of him, I often get asked if I'm a Buddhist. I always say no, because I have such respect for the rigor of being a practicing religious person. I'm an actress and a mom, and I probably don't have enough of an active spiritual life. And I don't know why people run around calling themselves by the names of religions when they don't actually practice them.

Hmm, interesting.

First of all, I agree with her that people are quick to use the names of religions they don't practice. (I say that as a Christian, not as a Buddhist.) But I was more interested by her opinion that being a busy mom is somehow incompatible with having an "active spiritual life."

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Recently a student loaned me two books by Stephenie Meyer, Twilight and New Moon. Yes, they are teenage vampire books, but I thoroughly enjoyed them. Not only are the stories wildly inventive and just about impossible to put down, but Meyer really knows what it feels like to be a teenager. I have several students who are loving her books. And now we have to wait until Fall 2007 for the next one!

Since I had started the whole vampire genre, I tried to read some Anne Rice, but YA vampires are more my speed, it turns out. I really didn't enjoy Interview with the Vampire at all - didn't even finish it, in fact. My main feeling about it was nausea.


Recently, and I can't remember where, I read about a teacher who had a rodent in her classroom but nothing could be done about it because it was against district policy to kill animals? Is this sounding familiar to anyone?

Anyway, we have no such policies at our school. (PETA doesn't have many chapters in the third world, you'll find.) And soon, I'm going to have to request a trap for the little guy who has invaded my classroom. When I'm here by myself on Saturdays and it's quiet, I see him come out and run back and forth. (I'm not sure why I'm calling him "he.")

The reaction of my big tough middle schoolers when he does show himself on a weekday is pretty funny. Some of them scream or climb on chairs. Yeah, it's partly for effect, but some of them seem genuinely scared.

Once, when I was teaching much younger children, a mouse ran by during class. We were reading Prince Caspian aloud at the time, and I promptly christened the mouse Reepicheep. Not the brightest move, as it turned out, because a few days later we found our little friend, dead, in the doorway. It's never nice to find dead things in your classroom, but dead things with names are more upsetting than anonymous dead things.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Switched to Beta

It was more traumatic than expected, of course. But I think I'm all switched over now.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Maybe It's the Third World

This morning on our way to church we picked up a lady we knew and gave her a ride. She said she had almost not gone to church this morning because it rained last night and the public transportation she takes drops her off a little distance from the church and she has to walk through the crowded market in the mud. Then she decided that Christ had sacrificed for her, and she could get her feet muddy if she had to. So she was standing out on the street waiting, but also praying that someone would give her a ride all the way to the church.

I tell this story not to praise ourselves (it's hardly a big deal to pick up someone you know and give her a ride up the street), but to say that there are lots of ladies standing out on the streets of third-world cities, wondering how they are going to manage. They are selling something or buying something or praying for a ride, and somehow they are making it. This lady isn't poor, and she's educated, and she's altogether a wonderful person. She just made me think of the millions waiting there on the street for the next thing, whatever it is.

I read an article in the New Yorker recently about a third world city: Lagos, Nigeria; thankfully I don't live in that particular city, though all too many details sounded horribly familiar. I really do believe there's no such thing as a God-forsaken town, but if there were one, I think it would be Lagos. (I feel a little better after reading this article about how Nigerians face life with humor, but not much.) I don't even want to know about the kind of lives millions upon millions of people live, but I read it and I think you should too. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be online yet, but here's somebody's blog post about it and here's somebody else's. I'll keep looking for it, and I'll post it when it's available at the the New Yorker's site.

Life's not easy anywhere; I know that. But especially, life's not easy for people who live in third-world cities.


Dr. Bacchus has some fascinating words about Scrooge.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I'm sitting in my classroom. It's Saturday morning and ALL my grading is done! ALL my lesson planning is done for the week to come! My children are enjoyably occupied with their friends. I'm listening to music. The generator will be on for ten more minutes.

Life is good!

Just one weird thing - the security guard was sitting outside my classroom looking in my window and playing with his gun. But that's not as sinister as it sounds. I think he's basically harmless, just bored.

I love the feeling of being completely caught up on grading. It doesn't happen often, and it won't last long. But it's nice.

I hope all my readers are having as good a weekend as I am!

Friday, November 24, 2006


Anybody who's been living as an expat for a while has plenty of foreign language mishap stories. Lots of them are related to interpreting (oral rendering of one language into another) rather than translation (doing the same in writing).

Here's an interesting article about being careful to choose a good translator.

It begins:


When Alain Thienot, a professor of business administration at a French engineering school, decided to translate a classic French finance text into English for his international students, he bought a top-rated computer translation program to do the job, rather than hire a translator.

Among hundreds of errors, the program produced a document that translated the French word "entreprise" as "undertaking," rather than company, and "frais" as "fresh air" instead of fees or expenses. A frustrated Thienot had to labor five hours a day during his summer vacation to correct "so many stupidities," he said.


I had a similar thing happen to me once; someone hired me to "fix" a document which he had created using one of those computer translators. (Translating from English to French. I was supposed to tweak the French a bit.) The resulting mess was so dreadful that I just had to start from scratch.


Again, courtesy of Blogs of Note at, I found a whole new world. I almost didn't click on it because Antarctica was spelled wrong, but turns out that's Blogger's mistake, not repeated on the blog itself, Antarctica.

Beautiful to look at, but I'm sure glad he's there and I'm not.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I had to work today (half day), and we're going to have our turkey dinner tomorrow. Nevertheless, I thought today about thankfulness.

Of course there are many things I'm thankful for - our generator is fixed, everyone in my little family is healthy, we have somewhere to live and plenty to eat. But really, what I'm most thankful for is the opportunities I've had, purely because of the family I was born into and the country on my passport. Opportunities that I've done nothing to deserve.

When I was born, my feet were bent upwards so that my toes touched my shins. Because I was in a place with good medical care, my parents were instructed in how to exercise my feet until they reached the correct position. I've seen beggars on the street in several countries whose feet could probably have been fixed with similar exercises.

Since I was nine years old, I've worn glasses. If I didn't have them, I'd live in a very blurry world, since I'm extremely myopic. Yet I was able to get the eye care I needed.

We never had lots of money in my family, but we always had plenty of books. I was blessed to be able to go to excellent schools and get a great education. Though I borrowed big-time for college, and only finished paying it back recently, I was able to study what interested me. Most people around the world don't have that opportunity.

Life is sure unfair. I wonder why I got all the breaks, and so many people around the world got none. I don't know why, but I'm very thankful.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


On an email list I get for missionary kids (MKs), someone posted the trailer for a new movie entitled "BRATS: Our Journey Home." It's billed as "the first documentary on growing up military."

I am not a military brat (what a horrible name!), but I did grow up as the child of missionaries, and as I watched the trailer, I could certainly see all kinds of parallels between the two. Both grow up in a country different from their passports (at least, MKs almost always do, and brats often do as well), both are the children of people dedicated to a higher cause.

As the person who posted the link asked, when is someone going to make a documentary about MKs?

At this site you can watch the trailer.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

MySpace articles

For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Resume.

MySpace is Public Space When it Comes to Job Search.

What You Say Online Could Haunt You. This one has some middle school examples - some of the things about college and jobs may be a little too far in the future to be very convincing to kids that age.

Why Parents Must Mind MySpace.

MySpace Dangers. This site is trying to sell you software to spy on your kid, but it is an interesting summary of some of the dangers of this whole social networking phenomenon.

Website's Power to Overexpose Teens Stirs a Warning.

About MySpace And Your Kids.

Voices of Youth site where kids discuss the problems they see with MySpace.

I Hate Teaching

Even as I type those words, "I hate teaching," I know they aren't true. I really don't hate it, not every day anyway. But this has been a rough week.

I know most of the things I deal with are common to all middle school teachers. This week we got into a discussion about MySpace in eighth grade; the kids were incensed that teachers might look at their MySpace accounts. I pointed out that anybody in the planet can; they aren't private. (I know you can make your profile private, but even those who do often comment on others' sites that are public.) My favorite quote: "If I want to endanger my safety, that's my own business." By the end of the conversation, the students were furious.

So many of my students don't turn in their assignments. We just got through report cards and parent/teacher conferences, with all the associated weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and we're three weeks into a new quarter. Parents made threats, removed privileges, and punished their children in ways I'd be mandated to report if I lived in the United States. Yet when I entered grades today in my classroom, I was horrified by how low some of them are already. (It's just amazing watching the effect of a zero on a grade.) How quickly they forget.

And as long as I'm whining, I get so tired of the complaining from my eighth graders. A friend who is an experienced parent tells me that that's just the way kids that age are. I know it's nothing personal, but it's hard not to take it personally sometimes, especially when they are complaining about what we're doing in class. I work six days a week to do a good job in my teaching. Sometimes it feels as though I don't have time for anything else.

So yes, dealing with middle schoolers is just par for the course. But this week I've also had to deal with a generator that's not working properly. We hardly ever have city power during the day here, and we run our generator at school from 7:20 AM to 4 PM every day. When the generator goes out, my classroom is quickly dark and roasting. It's 90 degrees outside, and I have two air conditioners in my classroom. Only one works, and not that well, but still, it helps keep the room pleasant. It's not completely dark, because I have two big windows, but it's dark enough that I hear whining about it. When I have a room full of sweaty seventh graders trying to do silent reading in the dark, well, it's just not fun. (And silent? Ha!) But the worst part is that I have to open my windows and door, and as a result we hear every sound from outside - the honking of passing cars, the street merchants yelling and screaming, the high schoolers on break. People walk past in the hallway and distract my kids. Finally on Thursday I had had enough, and I said to one young man (an eighth grader) who was lolling about in my doorway, "Just go away!" He got deeply offended that I would speak to him like that.

On Friday, the generator mostly worked, but there were frequent brownouts, and both of my classroom computers would go down. This led to much ranting and raving from my students. I told them to write on paper with pens, but apparently that is no longer something some of them are capable of doing. (Oh, and incidentally, my students have access to four computers in the library, which they share with the rest of the middle and high school, and two in my classroom. I have to admit I am really jealous when I read teacher blogs that refer to a laptop for everyone in the class.)

I feel as though nobody learned one thing this week. I found myself going off into elaborate daydreams about a desk job, where I could just do my work and then go home, leaving it all behind. I wouldn't have to deal with kids and, in this idyllic office, there would be reliable electricity all the time. So I guess it wouldn't be in this country.

Most days, I love teaching, and on my best days I think I do it really well. But this week, I hated it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Language Masala

This is a fun article about languages getting all mixed up. My favorite quote: "...the young are linguistic magpies, borrowing from any language, accent or dialect that seems fashionable." I enjoy watching the "magpies" I teach mix and match their languages. Lots of great comments on this one, too.

Monday, November 06, 2006

How Corrupt is Your Country?

Transparency International releases an annual report on the levels of corruption in the countries of the world. This year's report just came out. Here are the best and worst and here's the complete list.

For comparison purposes, here's last year's list.

This list is always big news here in Tecwil, because, while we may not rank near the top in too many things, we're always really near the top (or the bottom, depending on your point of view) in the corruption scale. Yes, this country is very corrupt. Don't even try to compete.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Back to School

Tomorrow, after quite a long break for the 1st and 2nd of November (big holidays here in Tecwil and in many other countries too), it's back to school. I wish I could muster a little more enthusiasm about it. I'm ready, with some lessons that I'm looking forward to, but I would like a few more days off instead.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Short Story

My eighth graders are doing a short story genre study right now, and as well as reading a bunch of them, we're all writing one. Yes, we. I'm writing one too.

Whew, it isn't easy.

Right now I'm at the slogging my way through getting it down first draft stage. Of course, lots of student writing never really gets past that stage. I'm hoping mine will.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Theme Day at the DP Blogs

On the first of every month, lots of the DP blogs participate in a theme day. Today's topic is "something that will disappear soon." You can see a list of all the participants, with links to look at their photos, here, along with a photo of something that's going to disappear soon in France. I didn't know about it and I am very surprised!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


It's amazing the positive effect of electricity on my mood. We've been having transformer problems in our electricity zone. We didn't have any city power at all on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. (Well, we did get about half an hour on Saturday afternoon.) Then yesterday afternoon it came on again, and we got probably eight hours.

My whole outlook on life improves when the power comes back on. It's funny, because we now have a couple of backups, and we weren't actually sitting in the dark, the way we used to when we first came to Tecwil. (We'd grade papers by candlelight, which isn't much fun. I know, it worked for Abraham Lincoln, but it doesn't work for me.) But it's so much work keeping the backups going. When I got home yesterday, I was handed a piece that had fallen off the generator. The generator isn't even ours; it belongs to our landlady. We've put enough money into it to buy a new one, I think.

But now, city power again! (Well, not NOW - it's been off for several hours. But the potential is there that it will come on again. The transformer is fixed!) Hooray!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Poetry site

Here's a poetry site I hadn't seen before.

And here's an essay on high school students as poetry critics. I love this teacher's point of view, and will keep it in mind the next time my students dismiss a poem I read with them.

Nadine Gordimer

I was sad to read this story about one of my favorite writers, Nadine Gordimer, being attacked in her home in Johannesburg.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Nigerians Face Tough Times with Laughter

I loved this essay about how Nigerians, in spite of all their problems, consider themselves "the happiest country in Africa."

Is Vegemite Banned?

In case this question has been keeping you up at night, Slate magazine has the answer. My Dad sent me this article, and ever since I read it I've had Men at Work's song "Down Under" running through my head. That's the first song you'll find at that link. I also found this funny site that lists various ways people have misheard the lyrics, followed by the correct version.

And yes, I like Vegemite. And Marmite too. So there.

Scott Adams Hacks His Brain

Very interesting article courtesy of the ads on my Gmail account.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Boat People

Debbie Woodmansey writes about the boat people who arrive every day in her small village in the Canary Islands. I find it hard to imagine putting to sea in one of these boats, in search of a better life which may or may not materialize.

There are boats, equally unseaworthy, that leave Tecwil, too, full of people who want more than what they can find here. Will they find what they are looking for? Some, maybe. Many will be repatriated. Some will drown.

Literary Mama

Here's a blog I just discovered, and here's the magazine that goes with it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Doctors and Writing

One of my fellow teachers sent me this interesting article, from here.

Creative writing may make doctors better

By Amy Norton Fri Oct 20, 12:27 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Some doctors might improve their bedside manner by honing their creative writing skills, a small study suggests.

Yale University researchers found that medical residents who completed a creative writing workshop felt the experience helped them better view their patients as people, and not just medical cases.

The effect, according to the researchers, seems to stem from the fact that the residents not only reflected on their own emotions and the experiences of their patients, but also wrote it down as a story.

Many residency programs have support groups where young doctors can discuss their concerns, lead study author Dr. Anna Reisman noted in an interview. However, the process of writing a narrative may help residents examine their experiences in a more thoughtful way, according to Reisman, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.

"Focusing on the craft of writing, in other words, provides a means of increasing one's powers of observation and improving one's understanding of both self and others," she and her colleagues write in the Journal of General of Internal Medicine.

Their study included 15 residents at Yale-New Haven Medical Center who took part in a 2.5-day writing workshop with well-known doctor/author Abraham Verghese.

No residency program had ever offered a creative writing course before, Reisman noted, and "no one knew what to expect."

In focus groups held after the workshop, residents said that writing helped them process their own emotions and better understand those of their patients. Their stories' themes included their own insecurity and feelings of powerlessness, breaking bad news, burnout and awareness of "how little physicians know their patients."

In the focus groups, Reisman's team notes, one resident said, "I didn't realize some of the emotions I was feeling until writing it down." Another said, "The act of writing changes the way you look at patients."

One of the goals in starting the writing workshop, Reisman said, was to help residents "cultivate a curiosity about patients beyond their disease."

Though the study couldn't assess whether the workshop changed participants' medical practice, one of the hopes, Reisman said, is that it will help them better communicate with patients.

"Ultimately, the hope is to make them better doctors," she said.

SOURCE: Journal of General Internal Medicine, October 2006.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Radio, by A.S.J. Tessimond

Though lots of Tessimond's poems are available on the web, I couldn't find this one. Ever since I quoted it the other day, I have been thinking about it. I thought I had written it down somewhere, and I just found it in a book I've been writing down poems in since high school. I hope I'm not violating copyright, but here it is.


Here is another dream, another forgetting, another doorway:
Sound, to drown the sting of the rain on the pane and the sough of the wind
And the sound of the sea:
Sound, like feathers, to muffle the sound of silence
And the beat of the heart:

Sound to go with you, through the valley of the shadow in the dashboard of the shining car:

The comfortable voice of the announcer purring the ruin of kingdoms,
The fall of cities and the fall of wickets,
The random dead and the New Year knights:

Sound like a sea to conceal the bone, the broken shell, the broken ship.

Uh oh

Now David Banda's father says he didn't understand that adoption was permanent.

BBC Correspondent Visits the Sahara

I just read this fascinating article about camel trains crossing the Sahara. I am always amazed by all the things in the world that I know nothing at all about. When I was a child I loved a poem that said, "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." Sometimes I still feel that way!

Still More On Madonna

Here's an article about the children's home where Madonna found David Banda. The statistic quoted in this article is 48 million children in Africa who are vulnerable. "Vulnerable" is a pretty vague term, and I'm sure it includes all kinds of categories. But the people interviewed seem united in a belief that Madonna has done a very good thing for this one child, and that her contributions to Malawi will be a very good thing for many, many, many children. The article concludes, quoting the editor of a Lilongwe newspaper: "I don't know why she picked Malawi, but thank God she did."

In my comments, Jenny (my borrowed view) left a link to an NPR story that was written in response to the hoopla over Madonna's adoption. I very much enjoyed it and so thought I'd repost it for anybody who didn't see it in the comments. Here it is.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Book Buddies

I have a Book Buddies program with my middle schoolers. My seventh graders read every other week with Pre-K and Kindergarten students. My eighth graders read one week with first graders and the next with second graders.

In the way of students their age, some of my kids sometimes complain about this. They have to walk across the campus. They have to read with kids who squirm a lot or goof around or don't listen. (Uh, guys? Welcome to my world!)

Last year I had heard quite a bit of complaining from my eighth graders, and I asked them if they enjoyed Book Buddies time. Mmm, sort of, it's OK, we don't care. So I suggested taking a break from it. No, that's OK, it's all right, we like it OK. They aren't going to be enthusiastic, oh, no - but they like it.

Of course there are lots of reasons to spend my precious class time this way. The younger children get one-on-one time with a more proficient reader, a role-model. We all get a break from our regular routine. Sometimes we do writing activities together or play games that would be hard for one teacher to do with a room full of young children. The kids go through piles and piles of books (selected by the younger Book Buddy) that the teacher wouldn't have time to read aloud. Once the younger ones can read, sometimes they read to the older ones.

But probably the greatest benefit to me as a teacher is that I get to see my kids with new eyes. Sometimes, you may be astonished to learn, middle schoolers can be a bit trying. They are great kids, but do you remember being thirteen? Then you know what I mean. They're a bit self-absorbed sometimes, and they don't listen, and they lose their stuff and leave papers all over my floor. They constantly say things aren't fair and they make rude comments to each other and they come to class without their books and they don't turn their work in. They don't think about consequences, but just do whatever fool thing comes into their heads.

So it's really refreshing watching my kids be the responsible, caring mentors. I love the way they ask their younger Buddies questions, talk about the pictures with them, and rap the stories to them. (OK, that last one gets kind of old, but I try to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear, because the kids enjoy it so much.)

I enjoy seeing them deal with behavior problems. Like the time when J grabbed a book from another child. I watched to see if I should intervene, but my eighth grader, M, took care of it just fine. He sternly but kindly told J to give back the book. J did. Later I mentioned to M how well he handled it, and he walked a little taller.

On our way back to our classroom, my kids morph back into their regular selves, but for a few minutes, I have had a glimpse of the wonderful adults they are going to be, the responsible citizens, and the fine parents.

That'll sustain me until next week.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

They're Lying to Us

Have you seen this film? It shows a rather ordinary-looking girl being transformed into a supermodel with makeup, hair, and lighting. And then it shows the technicians playing with the photo to turn her into a goddess who then appears on a billboard.

When my 9-year-old watched it, she gasped and said, "So basically they are just lying to us in ads?"

Bingo, sweetie. I'm glad you learned it young.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Today was World Food Day

Take this quiz to see how much you know about world hunger.

Still Another Madonna Article

After my panegyric to the BBC yesterday, you'd think I would have posted their article first. Of course, it is the best so far, don't you think?

And here's a comment page.

More on the Madonna Adoption

Here's an article from the Guardian, which includes a quote from David Banda's father. (David Banda is the little boy Madonna wants to adopt. So apparently he isn't even an orphan. His two siblings died of malaria and his mother died in childbirth, and he was living in a children's home.)

This article reports on Madonna's purchase of a $9000 toy for the little boy.

And this one says that Malawian law requires potential adoptive parents to live in the country for 18 months. Now THAT I can't wait to see.

(I spared you the link to Boy George saying Madonna is a vile human being, but should you care to read about it, you can follow the link at the end of that last article. I mean, as long as I'm writing about aging pop stars who were shocking people when I was in high school and apparently are still around!)

This whole story promises to become quite interesting. I just hope this child benefits in the end.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Three Beautiful Things

Blogger introduced me to this "Blog of Note": Three Beautiful Things. Every day Clare blogs three things from that day that she found beautiful.

OK, so I'll try it.

1. Right at my eye level on my bathroom mirror is a note on red paper written by my 9-year-old. It says "I love you." And she means me. (And her dad.)

2. I have fresh flowers on my dining room table. We bought them from a street merchant and they make me happy.

3. At church we sang, "All Creatures of Our God and King," which is one of my favorites. St. Francis of Assisi wrote the words. Here they are. (We didn't sing all those verses. Only five. Our hymnbook left out the one about mother earth and the one about death. So I guess that's another beautiful thing - singing five verses instead of seven!)

I Love the BBC

I grew up in a former British colony in Africa. One of my most vivid childhood memories is coming down the stairs every morning at precisely 7:30 for breakfast - we were a punctual family, living in a country where punctuality wasn't much valued - and hearing the words: "Na, huu" on the radio. When I was very small I thought those words meant, "It's time for breakfast." But they didn't. They meant, "And now..." and they were the words used every morning to introduce the BBC World Service News.

That was my first experience of listening to the news. It was read calmly, clearly, in received pronunciation. It was really world news, as in, stories about the whole world. The newsreader gave the impression that he (it was usually a he) had seen everything, and wasn't too worried about any of it, so I didn't need to worry either. History would sort it all out. The BBC could make news of genocide and horror sound almost reassuring. A.S.J. Tessimond, in a poem called "Radio," writes of an announcer chronicling fallen wickets and fallen governments in the same voice. I don't think Tessimond is being complimentary, but I loved that about the BBC.

We were a family of shortwave enthusiasts, and when I was a teenager one of my prized possessions was my boombox that included a shortwave. I remember listening to the BBC World Service late at night in my room. I loved the music request show whose name I can't even remember now, and once they played something I had requested - and I also don't remember what it was! (Sometimes I listened to Voice of America, too, but it seemed more like propaganda. And yes, I knew that word as a teenager. Sometimes I listened to Radio Moscow, but in those days (early to mid 1980s), that was nothing but propaganda.)

I lived for four years in England, and there got acquainted with the home version of the BBC. I loved Radio One, as did everyone my age in the country, and would sneak upstairs in the dorm during lunchtime on - I think it was - Thursdays to listen to the newest charts. I especially loved "Mike Read, Mike Read, 275 and 285, Mike Read, Mike Read, National Radio One!" I watched BBC TV, too - no commercials! How civilized is that?

These days, when I listen to the radio, it's usually the local radio where I live, or NPR, which we listen to online. But you may have noticed, if you're a regular reader, that when I write about world news I generally reference the BBC's stories. To me, the BBC is news. I imagine, as I read, the measured tones of the newsreader on the radio. I have even noticed that I am more likely to believe something is true if it is said in a British accent (I know this is irrational, and an American I said it to once found it downright offensive). I sometimes read CNN but I find its voice rather hysterical and alarmist in comparison to the BBC. I'll always remember those days after 9/11 when their reporters and guests sat around and discussed all the ideas that the terrorists might not have had yet, but which really wouldn't be difficult to do - here's how. If the BBC's message is, "Here are some things we think you should know about, but it will all be all right," CNN's is "Here are some things we're all worked up about and we hope you will panic as well." CNN also focuses on the United States. Even the international edition is definitely geared that way, it seems to me.

In any case, nobody can compare with the BBC. I love their website. I love their helps for learning English. I just love the BBC.

Things that made me smile

It's unusual to find anything in the news that can be posted under that title, but here are two.

First of all, after tragedy, there is forgiveness and mercy. The wife of the man who killed those Amish schoolchildren thanks the community for the grace they have extended to her family.

This next one isn't in the same category at all, but it did make me smile, too. There's a town in India that has lots of problems (actually, probably all the towns in India have lots of problems, but that's another story.) They were trying to decide what they could do about the situation, and then it hit them - they could paint their town pink! So they did. Hey folks, I hope it works out for you.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

African Mum

Eric, at Paris Daily Photo, posted a wonderful picture on Thursday of an African woman in Paris carrying her baby on her back. Take a look. There was some discussion in the comments, including the obligatory remark about how uncomfortable the baby looks. I always got that when I would carry my babies in a sling or front pack. Honestly, my babies were quite capable of letting me know if they were uncomfortable. And if they were perfectly happy, calm, and contented, I assumed they were comfortable. I share the commenters' amazement at the way African women fling their babies onto their backs. I've seen it hundreds of times, and never seen one fall! But I never tried it myself, since I was pretty sure I would drop my child on the floor.

OK, Adoption Experts...

What do you think of this story?

I'm back...

I haven't posted in a while, partly because it's almost the end of the marking period and I have been grading an endless supply of student drafts, and partly because we have been suffering some fairly serious computer problems. I've been trying to keep up with email on my classroom computer but Blogger is so slow on that connection and I don't have lots of time when I'm at work, for obvious reasons. Finally things seem to be working again, though I hesitate to say that too loudly.

In any case, I'm trying to catch up on the blogs and other sites I read regularly, and as I do so I'll post some things that catch my attention.

Below is a great excerpt from an interview with Lemony Snicket. You can read the full text here.

Begin Quote:

AC: Obviously you have a sarcastic nature. The children who are reading your books are at an age bracket at which they're beginning to understand and grapple with irony, the fact that you can say something that's different from what you actually mean. Do you find that when children are talking to you that they really respond to that?

LS: I think that the demarcation of whether or not you're going to be able to understand irony -- the beginning of irony -- happens for people at different ages, for sure, and sometimes never happens, so in some ways, if you want to see whether your child has a healthy sense of irony, give them my book (laughing).

Irony is just one part of it, but I think that as you grow up you begin to look critically at the world and you note the disparity between what people are saying and how it goes. The way the books run is contrary to what everyone says all the time. In many children's books good people are rewarded and bad people are punished, and you see when you are very young that the world just doesn't go that way. I think that's something akin to irony, though it's not a textbook definition of irony. The idea that bad behavior is always punished will begin to ring false if you're actually in a schoolyard.

End Quote.

Ooh, look, there are lots of beautiful new doors over at Doorways Around the World since the last time I checked!

Jenny in Sharon, CT has been posting some fall pictures, ideal for me here in the steamy tropics, with no cool weather in sight.

Hooray for Kigali, Rwanda, which recently got its first public trash cans (or poubelles - sounds so much more appealing in French). We have lovely ones in the city where I live, helpfully installed by a foreign body, but sadly they are not emptied frequently, which somewhat limits their usefulness. Don't you love the caption on the photo of the rubbish heap? "Kigali is reported to be cleaner than other African cities." (There's nothing like being able to compare yourself to others who are doing much worse than you are.)

And finally, to end my gushing post, aren't you thrilled by the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize? I think it's terrific that the committee has chosen to honor someone who has helped make life better in a tangible way for so many people around the world. The "microcredit movement," as the article calls it, is truly a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Teacher Encouragement

This year is getting off to a slow start. Five weeks into the semester, kids are still having trouble with my basic procedures. They aren't turning their work in, and their grades show it. I work all the time and am barely keeping up. I just feel discouraged.

So I really needed to read this.

Thanks, RedKudu.

Monday, October 02, 2006

School Shooting

I've been reading this wrenching story about the school shooting today. At the end of the article there's a mention of the other two widely publicized shootings just in the past week.

I remember reading a comment made by one of the moms from Columbine. Someone told her that her daughter had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her reply was, "No, being in the school library during school time was not the wrong place." One of the articles I read on this story, which I can't find now, made the point that there are no safe places. Really, if an elementary school on a Monday morning isn't a safe place, it's hard to imagine what might be.

I'm praying for those families, for those teachers and that school, and for the family of the man who did this terrible thing.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

An Understanding Heart

Cynthia Carbone Ward, in her introduction to her book, How Writers Grow: A Guide for Middle School Teachers, quotes Carl Jung:

"An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child."

A good reminder while writing progress reports.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nothing to Write

Or rather, plenty to write, but too busy grading what others have written.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ant Season

A couple of years ago I came to the conclusion that there are four seasons in Tecwil: mouse season, tick season, mosquito season, and ant season. These aren't in any predictable pattern, but it does seem that when we are dealing with an infestation of one kind of obnoxious beast, we don't have problems with the other three. This may just be because we are so obsessed with finding ways to get rid of one that we don't notice the others.

It's hard to know which I hate the most. Obviously, mosquitoes carry disease, so they are easy to hate. But you can keep them away, mostly, with screens and bug spray and burning coils. And if you wave your hand at them, they fly away. (Mosquitoes in the States seem to be slower and lazier. Often they'll just go right on drinking your blood as you try to swipe them away.) In our eleven years in Tecwil, we've had only two cases of malaria and one case of dengue fever among us, so that's not so bad.

Ticks are irredeemably nasty and they killed one of our dogs, so we don't like them either. I can't write much more about them because I start feeling physically sick.

Mice aren't really such a big deal. We use those glue traps and then I refuse to know any more about what happens. This is one of those things that gets dealt with out of my sight. (Yes, we do have an occasional rat issue and the rats make mice seem hardly worth getting upset over. I fear and hate rats. Again, I have to stop writing about them.)

Right now it's ant season. These critters are biting ants that leave big red welts in their wake. They get into everything. This evening I opened up the water bottle with clean water in it to brush my teeth, and found that ants had gotten inside the lid. Over the weekend they got in a basket of unfolded laundry and I had to go through every piece of clothing and shake out the ants (this is great fun because some of them inevitably end up on your feet and bite you). The tiniest scrap of anything edible brings them in enormous hordes, but often it's hard to figure out what attracted them; suddenly there will be a giant batallion of them sweeping across the kitchen floor, or the living room floor, or ... well, anywhere, really. We've tried everything we know to try, and it's all temporary. They always come back. The only thing that worked long-term was when we called in the professionals (to get rid of the aforementioned ticks). Apparently whatever noxious poisons they used also killed off the ants. We didn't see any for a really, really long time. Of course, who knows what effects all those poisons had on us? Again, let's not think about it.

I really do love living in the tropics. Sometimes I can't remember exactly why, but I know I do.

I have to go now. Piles to grade before I sleep...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Advice for Teachers

Lately several people have been posting some great advice for new teachers, but lots of it is applicable to ALL teachers. Take a look and see what you think.

Amy's advice is as beautifully expressed as everything she writes.

English Language Arts Methods and Madness is a new blog for people learning to be Language Arts teachers. On September 14th there was a wonderful article posted there on teaching. And from that site too, there's a link to this comprehensive list of helpful hints.

Teaching is just about the most rewarding job there is, but it's also one of the hardest and most thankless on some days. We need all the encouragement and practical help we can get!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Non-Aligned Summit

You have to love the Non-Aligned Movement. It's made up of, as this article points out, 118 nations representing two-thirds of the population of the planet.

"Who or what are you not aligned with?" Roger Hearing of the BBC reports asking various people at the conference. What it all boils down to, apparently, is that these countries feel the US and Europe (code name "great powers") have an awfully strong influence in this world. (And you know what? They're right!) The Non-Aligned Movement would like a chance to have a voice too. That's pretty easy to understand.

It's kind of funny that there are way more "non-aligned" countries than there are of the others, but I hope they are able to do some good.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The President's Reading List

Matsu and I recently had an entertaining conversation in the comments of this post (entertaining to me, at least) about President Bush's reading list.

Last night I read an article in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnik on the same topic, and here it is online.

I like his conclusion particularly. Regarding Bush's reading choices of Camus (The Stranger), a book about Oppenheimer and the bomb, and a biography of Lincoln, Gopnik writes that "it is encouraging to think that he has spent the summer reflecting on the inscrutable origins of human violence and on the unimaginable destructive powers now available through American science, while contemplating the achievements of a great man who hated wars, made a necessary one, and wandered the halls of the White House agonized by the consequences. It sounds almost like the beginnings of wisdom, or, at least, a compulsory fall reading list for us all."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

War Keeps Kids from School

Along with all the other terrible costs of war to a society, it keeps kids from going to school. This new report from Save the Children says that more than 43 million children worldwide can't attend school because of armed conflict. Here's the PDF of the report itself.

And a country doesn't have to be involved in a full-blown war in order to have this problem. Here in Tecwil we know that, since many children here aren't able to go to school due to the violence in their neighborhoods. Here are the countries, according to the report, where this kind of educational disruption is taking place right now: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Timor Leste, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe.

Whew. I don't know about you, but I feel pretty overwhelmed by that list.

Forty-three million children who won't get another chance at a childhood.