Monday, December 31, 2007

Book Lists

Take a look at other people's book lists at Semicolon.

Poetry Round-Up

Yes, I know it's late, but here's the Poetry Friday round-up from last week.

What I Read in 2007

Here's what I read this year. Not much, compared with some years. I didn't count most of the readings and re-readings to my children, and I didn't count everything I read to my students, either. Totally failed on the War and Peace goal. But I also read some great stuff in 2007.

1. The Trumpet Major, by Thomas Hardy
2. The Art of Keeping Cool, by Janet Taylor Lisle
3. Anacaona: Golden Flower, by Edwige Danticat
4. Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers
5. A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews
6. A Breath of Fresh Air, by Amulya Malladi
7. My Brother Sam is Dead, by James and Chris Collier
8. Uglies, by Scott Westerfield
9. Pretties, by Scott Westerfield
10. Waiting, by Ha Jin
11. The Virgin's Lover, by Philippa Gregory
12. Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech
13. The Seville Communion, by Arturo Perez-Reverte
14. The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
15. Specials by Scott Westerfield (I see I never did post about these books, in spite of saying several times that I was going to.)
16. Heh. I called this one #17 but it looks like it was really #16, meaning I read one fewer than I've been claiming. The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory
17. The Third Secret, by Steve Berry (possibly the worst book I finished this year)
18. The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander
19. Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko
20. The Arraignment, by Steve Martini
21. Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen
22. The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
23. The Boleyn Inheritance, by Philippa Gregory
24. Devices and Desires, by P.D. James
25. The Mission Song, by John Le Carre
26. The Landscape of Love, by Sally Beauman
27. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
28. The Chimney Sweeper's Boy, by Barbara Vine
29. Monday Mourning, by Kathy Reichs
30. The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers (this was one of my favorites of the year)
31. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
32. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
33. Hitler's Daughter, by Jackie French
34. Troy: Shield of Thunder, by David Gemmell
35. A Certain Justice, by P.D. James
36. Playing for the Ashes, by Elizabeth George
37. Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood, by Ann Brashares
38. The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
39. The Town on Beaver Creek: The Story of a Lost Kentucky Community, by Michelle Slatalla
40. a book in French by the father of one of my students
41. Retrovirus, by T.L. Higley
42. The Teacher's Guide to Big Blocks Grades 4-8
43. Gossip Girl, by Cecily Von Ziegesar (yuk, I hated this book)
44. Day One and Beyond, by Rick Wormeli
45. Living and Teaching the Writing Workshop, by Kristen Painter
46. Words, Words, Words:Teaching Vocabulary in Grades 4-12, by Janet Allen
47. Managing Your Classroom with Heart: A Guide for Nurturing Adolescent Learners, by Katy Ridnouer
48. The Reading Zone, by Nancie Atwell (I love, love, love Nancie Atwell)
49. Second Honeymoon, by Joanna Trollope
50. The Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian
51. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
52. Portrait of an Unknown Woman, by Vanora Bennett
53. Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine
54. Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen
55. This Lullaby, by Sarah Dessen
56. Eclipse, by Stephenie Meyer
57. Boy Writers: Reclaiming their Voices, by Ralph Fletcher
58. The 9 Rights of Every Writer, by Vicki Spandel
59. My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
60. All American Girl, by Meg Cabot
61. In the Presence of the Enemy, by Elizabeth George
62. For the Sake of Elena, by Elizabeth George
63. Keeping the Moon, by Sarah Dessen
64. Foreign to Familiar, by Sarah Lanier
65. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver
66. Guests, by Michael Dorris
67. The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They're All Hard Parts), by Katie Wood Ray
68. The Flame Trees of Thika, by Elspeth Huxley
69. The Mottled Lizard, by Elspeth Huxley
70. Listening for Lions, by Gloria Whelan
71. Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer
72. Double Identity, by Margaret Peterson Haddix
73. The Last Book in the Universe, by Rodman Philbrick
74. Code Orange, by Caroline Cooney
75. Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo
76. All the Little Live Things, by Wallace Stegner
77. And today I'll finish Voices of the Faithful, ed. by Beth Moore

Whew. I can't believe I just typed all that in. I'm such a nerd. It was fun to revisit all the titles briefly, though. The links are all to my reviews or, in many cases, brief mentions, on my blog. Almost all the original posts have Amazon links if you want more information about the book.

Beach Reads

So here's what I read at the beach...

I finished off Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo. This became book #76 of the year. I enjoyed it very much. It's set in upstate New York, familiar Russo territory, but also Italy. The Kayla plotline felt a bit tacked on to me, but maybe that's because I was trying to finish it in the car on the way to the beach and got a bit carsick...

I read the first part of The Doctor's Wife. I think I've read this before, or at least started it, but I quit reading it when I realized I was spending all my energy thinking, "Have I read this or not? And if I have, why is only some of it sounding familiar? And where would I have found it?" and none of my energy actually paying attention to the story. (I don't want to mischaracterize the book, not being sure I even finished it the first time, but how boring that anyone who is against abortion is shown to be stupid, clueless, and perhaps deranged as well.)

I read several past issues of the New Yorker. This was an amazing article, about a Muslim sheltering a Jew during the Second World War. I also enjoyed a little article on diaries, which you can read here. A quote: "In a diary, the trivial and inconsequential - the 'woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head' pieces - are not trivial and inconsequential at all; they are defining features of the genre. If it doesn't contain a lot of dross, it's not a diary. It's something else - a journal, or a writer's notebook, or a blog (blather is not the same as dross)." This article on the digitization of knowledge was wonderful, and included this quote which I believe fully: "Sixty million Britons have a hundred and sixteen million public-library books at their disposal, while more than 1.1 billion Indians have only thirty-six million. Poverty, in other words, is embodied in lack of print as well as lack of food." Also read lots of articles about the environment that convinced me that wherever our planet is going, we must certainly be in a handbasket.

I also read, as book #77 (and it's starting to look like it will be the last) of the year, Wallace Stegner's wonderful All the Little Live Things. I had read one Stegner book in college and I will definitely look for more.

Here's something I just read this morning to finish up this end-of-the-year reading post: children's book characters make New Year's resolutions.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Back from Vacation

We just got back this evening from the beach, where we had a wonderful time. I didn't even look at the internet except once while we were checking out of the hotel and I needed some information from my email. And you know what? The world went on, even though I wasn't keeping track of it.

I think I need to do an internet fast more often. Good for the stress levels. It's really hard for me not to know what's going on around the world, though - I'm an international busybody.

Among other things, I'm sorry to find out about the post-election rioting in Kenya and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I've been enjoying these few days off. I've been doing all the traditional Christmas things: wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree, reading cards and letters (the ones written on paper are fewer every year, but I enjoy the digital ones too), and thinking about Christ's birth. My husband and kids baked Christmas cookies. Baking Christmas cookies is one of those activities which is much better in memory than when you're actually doing it. I really don't enjoy it, so this year I just watched and ate the results.

We'll celebrate Christmas Eve in a service at the home of some friends as we do every year. We sing carols, share a Christmas meditation together, and take communion. Then we eat. We'll have Christmas morning at home and then dinner with friends.

Then we'll go to the beach for a few days. Ahhh. Now that's my idea of a Christmas tradition.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007


Nancie Atwell wrote somewhere (I think in In the Middle) that parody is an adolescent's natural genre, so I introduce some parodies to my middle schoolers and occasionally a student writes one. When you write a parody of something, it often makes you appreciate the original even more.

This week I posted my parody of Stopping by Woods and Dr. Bacchus' as well.

I didn't copy the original rhyme scheme in my parody, but Dr. Bacchus did, and as I was reading his poem I thought about how amazing the original is, how much he says in just sixteen lines, and how unforced and natural the form is. I remember discussing the different interpretations in college, so when I read it there are all those layers. The poem still survives as a simple, beautiful, and powerful picture.

Here's the first stanza:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Check out the results of the Poetry Stretch at The Miss Rumphius Effect, too, as well as Tricia's poem (and she even includes a link to Frost reading Stopping by Woods).

Brr, all this talk of snow has me shivering, so I'm going to get back to my day in the tropics. Stay warm, everyone.

Poetry Friday

The Poetry Friday roundup is at AmoXcalli today.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Frost Mockery

Dr Bacchus is parodying Frost too.

Carnival of Education

Here it is, the Carnival of the LAST DAY OF SCHOOL!!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cheating on the Poetry Stretch

Since I don't have grading to do, I wanted to participate in one of Miss Rumphius' poetry stretches. So here's what she posted this week. She gave a list of words: snow, frozen, wind, evening, woods, lake, village, farmhouse. The challenge is to take those words and put them in a poem.

When I read that list, all I could think of was Robert Frost, who used all those words already in a most wonderful poem. And then I remembered, hey yeah, I already wrote a parody of that poem. I could post that!

It's not really stretching, as Miss Rumphius intended. And it doesn't even use all the words. In short, it is not following the assignment, and probably my grade will be docked. Ah, well.

I wasn't really grading essay tests on Robert Frost when I wrote this about a year ago. I've never, in fact, given an essay test on Robert Frost. But I just couldn't resist the last line. And since I've just emerged from a period of much grading, and many other teachers are still in it, I think it's appropriate.

On Grading Essay Tests on Robert Frost

Whose work this is I think I know
No name is on the paper, though.
The only clue I have - a scrawl
That I can barely read at all.
And this one seems to think it's great
Never once to punctuate.
And this kid turned aside his head
And didn't hear a word I said.
Oh yes, folks say, you ought to teach -
Just think of all the kids you'll reach!
But I say, friend, just picture you
The night before the grades are due
When you've a mound of essay tests
And a red pen which never rests
And no, your students didn't get it,
And the assignment? No one read it.
Your lesson plans were all in vain
Your life is going down the drain
The only sound's a quiet tear
That splashes into your root beer
The saddest evening of the year.
Oh, how I wish that I were lost
In snowy woods with Robert Frost!
Or better yet, he'd think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near,
But at my classroom I could drop him.
Yes, he could have my job - I'd swap him.
I'd ride off on his little horse
And leave Bob Frost to teach my course;
Let him teach poems to my class -
Then maybe more of them would pass.
I'd say to him, "You're just the guy
To take the road less traveled by!
Come, be a teacher, sir," I'd say,
And hope he wouldn't run away.
But no, for sadly, Frost is dead
And all this work is mine instead.
The tests are piled, test on test,
And I must grade them 'ere I rest.
My bed is lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And piles to grade before I sleep
And piles to grade before I sleep.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reading Update

Book #70 for 2007 was The Mottled Lizard, the second volume of Elspeth Huxley's memoirs.

Book #71 was Listening for Lions, by Gloria Whelan. I read it to my seventh graders. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but the climax of the book comes three-quarters of the way through, and the kids weren't on the edge of their seats for the last quarter of the book. They still liked it, though.

Book #72 was Artemis Fowl, which I read at the urging of many of my middle school boys. It is wildly popular right now with my kids - not just boys, but mostly. I dunno. It didn't do much for me. I can see what they see in it, but it's just not so much my kind of book. I have most of the series in my classroom, though, and I'll keep buying Colfer because he's obviously doing something right.

Book #73 was Double Identity, which I think I'll read to my seventh graders next. (We've been doing A Christmas Carol this week, since there's a highly abridged version in our readers.) Margaret Peterson Haddix is another sure-fire author with my kids.

Book #74 was The Last Book in the Universe, by Rodman Philbrick. I read this to the eighth grade. It went over well, with even the kids who didn't like it participating in a lively discussion about the issues it raised. It sent at least one of my reluctant readers to the school library looking for more by Philbrick, too.

Book #75 was Code Orange, by Caroline Cooney. I think I'll read this one to the eighth graders. I think they'll appreciate the protagonist, who's always trying to avoid doing any work but ends up being a bit of a hero. The book is suspenseful and about smallpox. What more could you want?


All papers are graded. I have some comments to finish up for the report cards and some conduct grades to do, plus I'll get two sets of Reading Logs in on Monday that I'll need to tally, and then my high school students have a final on Wednesday that will need to be graded and posted. But I'm almost done!


Grading. I'm down to 43 papers.

And here's the Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, December 14, 2007

And More Progress

Fifty-four more papers to go. And now I'm going to a party.

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday chez Miss Rumphius.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

More Progress

Sixty-eight more papers to go.


Eighty more papers to go.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Education Carnival

Here it is.

What I Did This Evening

Wrote a final for my high school class.
Made a list of discussion questions and quotes for a book discussion tomorrow with my 8th graders.
Graded nine papers. Ninety to go.
And now I'm going to bed.

The Time Has Come

I didn't grade last weekend. Saturday was a big event at school and I was there most of the day, and Sunday I didn't feel well and stayed home from church. I don't do schoolwork on Sundays anyway. Other than that brief break, I've been grading papers madly every evening for a while now, with occasional bursts of whining about it here on my blog. Every day I give back papers, usually with only a day or two of turnaround time if it's a draft that needs feedback, though the final pieces I've been putting at the bottom of the pile. Every day I hear, "FINALLY!" when I give work back. This is not putting me in a good mood, particularly when I have NO OTHER LIFE besides grading these days.

So today was the due date. Nothing after today, this is IT, this is the end.

This afternoon I came home with a HUGE mound of papers. I just counted them, and there are 99. Yes. NINETY-NINE.

(Did I mention I only have 44 students in 7th and 8th grade?)

Many of these papers are the culmination of several drafts, and will not take long to grade. Then there are the others, the ones I'm seeing for the first time, the ones that were written yesterday in a twenty-minute frenzy at the computer. The ones like the paper I conferenced about today, which I would have a hard time summarizing - let's just say it has all the elements of classic 8th grade work, including insults to classmates, space travel, flatulence, and a shootout. (We don't live in the US, so we don't have to escort kids from school in handcuffs if they mention weapons in their writing. And they were aliens that got shot, of course, not the aforementioned classmates.)

Yes, I am postponing the inevitable by blogging. My grades are due on Monday. I have work to do.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

You Have to Read This

It's Doris Lessing's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. I cried all the way through reading it. I haven't actually read any of her books, but now I'll have to.

Thanks to TadMack for letting me know about this.

(And here's something you could consider doing to help.)

Saturday Review of Books

Here it is once again.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Poetry in Everyday Life

I was thinking this morning about how poetry is a big part of our family's life. As we are a family of book geeks, we're always reading something or other, and quite often that's a poem.

The reason I was thinking this was that I was saying to my children as we walked to school, "'Will you walk a little faster?' said a whiting to a snail, 'There's a porpoise close behind us, and it's treading on my tail.'" I've said this since I was a small child and Miss Hindley used to say it to us when we were on walks and dawdling too much.

When I went to look for this poem to post for Poetry Friday, I found it in a most appropriate spot. Turns out this was part of Poems on the Underground, a program in which poems are posted in trains on the London Underground. What could be a better example of poems in everyday life?

So here's the The Lobster Quadrille, by Lewis Carroll.

Poetry Friday

Here's this week's roundup at Becky's Book Reviews.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Grading Again

I have a due date coming up - or a publication date, I guess, would be a better Writer's Workshop term. Whatever you call it, my seventh and eighth graders have to have their completed pieces turned in by December 12th. I do require a certain number of finished pieces - it varies according to grade and according to what kind of genre study we've done. One of the completed pieces needs to be in the genre we've studied (though topic within that genre is open) and the others can be whatever the student writer would like to do.

I allow students to turn in as many drafts of each piece as they'd like. I mark them up and make comments, I conference with the students, I make suggestions, I teach minilessons to help with the kind of problems I'm seeing. Then I give them a grade on the final draft (using rubrics based on the 6+1 traits), when they decide it's ready, or when the end of the quarter comes - whichever is first.

At the beginning of the quarter, my grading load is fairly manageable. I have a pile every evening, but as long as I keep up with the work, it doesn't get out of control. But the end of the quarter is crazy. I'm coming home with thirty or forty drafts every night, needing immediate feedback because the end is nigh.

How do other Writer's Workshop teachers manage this? I keep reading that you don't have to read everything they write, but how can that be? I don't grade everything in their notebooks (though I do read it all), just give them credit for doing it, but for their drafts, I really do feel I need to read them and respond.

The advantage to reading multiple drafts of each piece is that I have a very good idea of what my kids are working on and what they need help with. It's fun to watch things develop and, in many cases, improve hugely between first and final drafts. And it's not as difficult to assign a grade to a final piece when you are pretty familiar with it. At the end of the quarter I routinely get pieces turned in marked Final even though it's the first time I'm seeing them. Inevitably these pieces are not of the same quality as those that have gone through a whole process of drafting. They get much lower grades, and they frustrate me.

I think I've just pep-talked myself into continuing to do things the way I do them. But if you have a better idea, talk to me. How do you manage to give your students helpful feedback and have a life?

'Tis the Season for Another Carnival

This one is the Carnival of Anglican Advent Traditions. I'm not an Anglican, but I attended an Anglican boarding school and so this branch of Christianity is one of the many influences on my faith, and perhaps one of the strongest. I enjoyed reading these posts.

Saturday Review of Books

Can you believe it's Saturday again already?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Poetry Friday - I Participate

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

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

You Think Your Teaching Job is Tough

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

What Will they Cut Next?

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

December 1st, DP Theme Day

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

Poetry Friday

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

And the Other Carnival

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November Carnival of Children's Literature

Coming up from under the student drafts to post this.

Monday, November 26, 2007


...and grading and grading and grading.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

And Now For Something Totally Different

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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reading Update

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

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

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

Here are some quotes from The Flame Trees of Thika:

"'What happened then?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday roundup at Susan Writes.


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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

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

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

Here come my students!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ain't It the Truth

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

Doesn't Eating Locally Hurt Farmers Overseas?

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

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

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

. . .

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

2007 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year

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

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

Making a Home

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

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

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

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

'Where to?' Tilly inquired.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Saturday Review of Books

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

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Update

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007


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

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

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

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

Poetry Friday

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Long Week

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

Spirit Week.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2007

Poetry Friday

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

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


Last night we got four hours of electricity!

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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Electricity, Again

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

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


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

How Liberal or Conservative are You?

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

Your Political Profile:

Overall: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Social Issues: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Personal Responsibility: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal

Fiscal Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal

Ethics: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Defense and Crime: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Music to My Ears

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

"Yeah." (Looks pleased.)

"So, what do you like about Eragon?"

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

Monday, November 05, 2007


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

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

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

Sunday, November 04, 2007

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

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

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Brief Moment of Sun

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

Saturday Review of Books

Here's today's edition.


Here's this week's Education Carnival.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Poetry Friday

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

Little Problems and Big Problems

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

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

So I guess I can put up with my problems.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Who Knew Ending World Hunger Was This Easy?

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

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

DP Theme Day

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


It keeps raining and raining and raining. Everything feels damp and clammy. The clothes are molding on the line.

I think a lesson on the pathetic fallacy might be in order. It really does seem as if nature is grieving along with us. On Monday the kids were saying that God was crying.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


We ended up not having school today, due to a huge storm that has devastated the country. The government called a day off school - but not until 7:15 this morning, at which point many teachers and students had already arrived. In some ways it's a blessing, since this gives some space to take care of details. We'll get together again tomorrow to mourn our friend.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Today was a horrible day, but I guess the only way through grief is to go through it. That's how I've been talking all day, sounding kind of like Yoda. Or at least, like someone who's been through this grief thing before. I've said "I don't know" lots of times too, though. As in, "I don't know why she died when she was so young and doing so much good work." And, "I don't know why things like this happen." Lots of the time I didn't know what to say, but we all cried together and it seemed to work out somehow.

We started the day with an assembly, telling the kids exactly what had happened and sharing some scripture with them. Some of the kids said they didn't really believe it was true until they saw the Director crying during his talk. Honestly, I don't know how one would deal with a situation like this in a school without some kind of spiritual beliefs, because what is there to say in the face of death? What comfort can you give or receive without God's help?

We went to class, and we spent some time talking about our loss, remembering this person we all loved so much. There were many tears. Later we went out to the display that had been set up with photos and memorabilia from her office. There was paper for the kids to write things they remembered and appreciated about her. All of these writings will be put in a book for her family.

While I was in front of the display, kids were coming back and forth from my classroom. After a while I went back to check on the ones who were inside and there was a smell of burning. I had lit a votive candle which a staff member had given me this morning, and I had also stupidly left the matches on my desk and then left the room. What was I thinking? It turns out that some of my boys had been setting fire to pieces of toilet paper (we had a roll in the front of the room for nose-blowing purposes) and someone had even dropped one of the burning squares of paper into the recycled paper box. Thankfully we didn't have a burned down school to add to our list of crises, but it was a reminder that seventh graders can careen quickly from heartfelt grief to acts of arson. And that they shouldn't ever be left alone with matches.

When my eighth graders came, they were pretty much wrung out from a morning talking and grieving together. We talked for a few minutes and then we played a rousing game of Taboo. I felt a bit uncomfortable, as though we weren't being respectful, but then I remembered that K. knew these kids - she had taught them! - and that she would understand what I needed to do to get through my day with them. They were genuinely devastated by the loss but there's only so much crying you can do at one time. We all need breaks from the high emotion.

Tomorrow I'm going back to normal teaching. I'll be sensitive to students who need to talk, but none of us can handle the free-form grieving any more. On Wednesday morning we will have a memorial service and then we are off the rest of the week (national holidays).

I always read a poem with my students each day, and tomorrow I am planning to use Death, be not proud. And yes, it's a bit much for seventh and eighth graders, so here's the paraphrase I wrote. I'm planning to read my version first, and then Donne's. (I know his is way better, by the way. But if you have suggestions for how I could improve on mine, please feel free to comment.)

Death, don't think you're all that, even though some have said you're mighty and dreadful - you aren't. You think you're defeating those who die, but that's not the way it is, and you can't kill me, either. We get pleasure from rest and sleep, which are just imitations of you - won't we get even more pleasure when we die? As soon as good people die, they get rest for their bodies and freedom for their souls. You, Death, are a slave to many things - fate, chance, rulers, criminals. You hang out with poison, war, and sickness. If we want to sleep, we can always take Tylenol PM and get a better rest than you can give us, so what do you have to be proud about? After a short sleep, we'll wake to eternal life, and you, Death, won't even exist any more. Death: you're going to die!

If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be getting through these days. Because I do believe it, I can, somehow.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Death in the Family

We have lost a colleague this weekend, a young, beautiful, and healthy woman. To my readers who know me personally and know where I'm writing from, email me for more details.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Middle School Drama

Mrs. Bluebird says: "I quit watching soap operas when I began to teach middle school because I have all the drama I can stand in my life."

Boy, is she right!

You can read the rest of the post here.

Saturday Review of Books

Here's today's edition.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Poetry Friday

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at Literary Safari. One of these days I'm going to get organized enough to participate, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reading Update

I haven't posted a reading update since August, and the reason, plain and simple, is that I haven't been reading much. Which makes me feel like a slug. I have so much grading every night and often fall asleep just a few pages into whatever I'm reading after I finally clear away all the student writing. I love Writer's Workshop, but someone rescue me from the huge stack to read every single evening.

Anyway, here goes...

Book #59 was a teacher book, The Nine Rights of Every Writer: A Guide for Teachers, by Vicki Spandel. It's mostly of the inspiration variety rather than the "here's what you can do in class" variety. Some very practical tips, though. Recommended.

Book #60: My Sister's Keeper. This was my first Jodi Picoult book and I liked it enough that I tried another one, Second Glance, but that one didn't grab me and I didn't finish it. My Sister's Keeper has a few too many neat coincidences, but overall I was fascinated by the premise and it kept me turning pages.

Book #61 was All American Girl, by Meg Cabot. This one was from my classroom library. It's a fun, quick read and quite popular with my seventh and eighth grade girls.

Books #62 and #63 were murder mysteries by Elizabeth George, In the Presence of the Enemy and For the Sake of Elena. I've commented before how amazing it is that Elizabeth George is American, because her British diction is just about perfect, at least to me it is, and remember that I haven't been in England in - ahem - well, just about twenty years now, but at one point I lived there for four years.

It truly is pitiful to me that I've only read that much since August, but right now I'm reading a couple of good books that perhaps I'll have something to say about: Kids Are Worth It (a reread - this is one of my favorite parenting books) and The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They're All Hard Parts) (which I'm loving). I haven't started a new novel yet but I have a big stack of them waiting for me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This Week's Carnival

My grades are due today, but I will spare a moment to link you to this week's Carnival of Education.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

So That's It

"The more you bang away, the more it becomes a classic, dunnit?" - Mick Jagger, interviewed on NPR this morning

Monday, October 22, 2007

Books Middle School Boys Will Fight Over

I know, I know, we're not looking for ways to get them to fight, but I have to admit I was secretly happy when my boys almost came to blows over a book. The series many of them are enjoying right now - and fighting over - is the Spy High series. I also have lots who are reading the Artemis Fowl books. I see from the site I just linked that there's a graphic novel coming out. I don't have that in my classroom - just the old-fashioned ones with words in them. The kids love them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More Links to Other People

Ursula K. Le Guin has some interesting things to say about writing. Thanks to Semicolon for getting me browsing on this site.

I found this next one on Blogger and it's priceless: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. And a link from that site to one mocking my own pet peeve - Apostrophe Abuse.

And here's The YA YA YAs, a blog about YA literature. And Poetry for Children, a blog about - well, you figure it out. Thanks, Chicken Spaghetti.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday Off

We had the day off today - a national holiday. It's wonderful to have a Wednesday off and know you're going back to two days, and then another whole weekend! Of course, I worked a lot today, but this evening I have absolutely no grading to do. I also entered lots of grades on the computer. Friday is the last day of the first quarter and report cards are looming.

Here's this week's Carnival.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

So Now it's the Water

Remember I said that city water was our only utility that was working?


Earlier this week there was roadwork on our street - big trucks smoothing things out and spreading mud about. We don't know if that's the extent of the work or if there are plans to pave it. But in any case, this afternoon we noticed water spurting out of the pipe across the street, rather than into our cistern. Passers by were collecting it. I even saw someone having a drink. (Hint: just because it has potable in the name of the company doesn't mean that the water is potable. I'd boil it first, lady.) Yes, the lovely big trucks broke the water line.

It's raining a lot now - too much, in fact, and there are reports of flooding around the country - but we hope we can get this little problem fixed before the dry season starts.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Troy Revisited

Turns out the crying over the mention of his father wasn't added by Brad Pitt. Achilles does it in the Homeric story, too. My apologies.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


In view of the rat craze reportedly sweeping France, I guess we can expect to have lots of tourists coming to see our enormous, abundant rats. Surely you're kidding about the rat craze, BBC. Tell me it's a joke.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I'm reading a kids' retelling of the Iliad with my eighth graders right now. Last year I read Black Ships Before Troy and this year I'm using The Trojan War. So far I like this year's version better; it seems easier for the kids to follow and understand. Less emphasis on the funeral pyres, which got to be almost a joke last year when I was reading Rosemary Sutcliff's retelling.

I just watched the movie Troy. While I feel sure my kids would enjoy it, obviously I can't show it to them, since it's rated R, and deservedly so.

I enjoyed seeing the places where the filmmakers changed and adapted the story. The most important difference is that the Hollywood version completely eliminates the supernatural element of the story. They do show the desecration of the temple of Apollo, and some characters are alarmed by this; Briseis is shown to be some kind of a believer in the gods; several characters, including Priam, refer to the gods as forces in human life. However, both Hector and Achilles appear to mock the idea that the gods have anything to do with people, and certainly there is none of the interplay between what's going on with the immortals and what's happening on earth that is constant in Homer.

Beyond that, there are many places where the movie takes liberties with the story. Several characters die who aren't supposed to until much later. Some survive who are supposed to die. Achilles seems more of a tortured hero in the movie than he is in the book; Homer makes him seem a bit of a spoiled brat and a mama's boy, but the Brad Pitt Achilles cries over Hector's body, which he just got done desecrating. There are also some misty eyes over the mention of Achilles' father. (Edit: turns out the conversation between Priam and Achilles over Hector's body - including the references to Achilles' dear old dad - is pretty much as Homer wrote it.)

I don't know what soldiers of this time period looked like but I have a hard time imagining that they wore the combination medieval knight/Roman soldier garb shown here. But hey, all the guys look really good, so I guess that's what counts. I did like the way you could see the Trojans watching from the top of the wall. I talked to my students about that, and how the whole concept of warfare was completely different from today.

In all, I found this movie entertaining, but the violence is grotesque and there are several scantily-clad ladies on view. Not for eighth-graders.

Take a Look at This Week's Carnival of Education!

Here it is.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Yesterday morning when I was waiting for the electrician, I saw THREE mice in my living room. Of course my daughter immediately said they must have been blind, but if they were, they were certainly dealing with it well. I've never seen anything like the way these mice were carrying on. They were dancing around - frolicking is only word for it. I know this makes me sound like Beatrix Potter, but it is the truth. Later I saw one in the kitchen that seemed a bit more business-like and serious about life.

Here's another mouse post from last year.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Our electrician came over early this morning and repaired our connection. There's still some work to be done but it basically works. What a relief. Not only that, but we got hours of electricity today. It's off now, though.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday Review of Books

Here's this week's edition.

Electricity Update

Well, I've been trying to avoid the subject, but a couple of my loyal readers have emailed me to ask what's going on with the electricity. Since I don't have more than a couple loyal readers, I have to keep them happy, so here goes.

Last night the electric company came to fix the transformer. They came not because Neighbor 1 had been calling them every few minutes all day, though he had, but because Neighbor 2 went out and tracked down a repair truck and paid the guys money to come to our neighborhood. When they arrived, they began asking other neighbors for money as well. (See Thursday's post about corruption. It's a way of life here.)

By the time the repairmen left, the other houses in our neighborhood had power, but ours still did not. The only thing we can figure is that it has something to do with the rewiring we had done when we got the new generator. The light comes on in our kitchen showing that the electricity is coming to the house, but none of the appliances is being reached by the electricity. (You can tell from my bumbling explanation that I have only the vaguest concept of how any of it works.)

Our electrician (who in a country with low employment is doing very well for himself, even if we're the only people he works for) is coming over this afternoon to work on the problem. We hope the power comes on before he gets here, because otherwise he can only do a limited amount.

I am heartily sick of the whole subject, and in fact I had decided yesterday that I was going to focus on living with the "new normal" of generating all our own power, and stop even thinking about the electric company. In fact, I was pretending they didn't exist. Denial was working very well for me until they showed up last night and raised my hopes again.

Let's just not talk about it any more.

Article on S.E. Hinton

I'm going to share this article with my students on Monday. A 40th anniversary edition of The Outsiders has just come out and the author has been talking about her writing.

I can't tell you how much my kids love this book - boys and girls, good readers and not-so-good. It strikes a nerve with everybody. It's incredible that it's 40 years old, since some of my students think a book from the nineties is too old to bother with. They've never heard of Paul Newman, who's mentioned in the first few lines of the book because that's how Ponyboy wants to look. (My students didn't even know about the salad dressing, but no doubt that's because they don't live in the U.S.) I told them to take my old-lady word for it, he was/is a heart-throb! There are many references in the book they don't get. But it doesn't matter. The story is so alive to them that they don't even care.

I love what Hinton has to say about teenagers, about writing, and about the book. I'm glad she took the time away from her current writing project to do the interview!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Corruption Index Comes Out Again

Transparency International just came out with the annual Corruption Perception Index, ranking the countries of the world based on how corrupt they are. Once again, this country is very corrupt, but some other countries have apparently become even more so because we aren't ranked quite as high - or low, I guess - as we were last year.

Take a look. You can even see how your country compares with others. You might be surprised.

Here's what I posted when the list came out last year.

Spoke Too Soon

When the power came on, we had some brownouts and then the power went in and out for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Then there was a huge boom and the sky lit up, and then nothing. Fortunately that boom came from a different transformer, not our beautiful brand new one, but the effect is the same - no lights, and this time it's worse because the solution we'd put all our hopes in didn't work. I called the power company and they said they'd come right away, but we all know that doesn't mean they'll come right away.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The new transformer has been installed. The power company came today and put it up on the pole, only three weeks after we purchased it. (We went together with a bunch of neighbors, knowing that the power company would not replace the burned-out one in our lifetimes.)

We're excited - now when/if the city power comes on tonight, we'll have lights! (Right now we're running the generator.)

And just think, gentle reader, now this blog can stop being all about how I have no electricity. I was about to change the title to "Whine Whine Whine Poor Me in the Dark."


Here's this week's Carnival of Education.

Utility, Futility

So I had this brainstorm this morning. What if, instead of everybody having their own generators and polluting the neighborhood with noise and diesel fumes, we had one big generator, run by a company - we could call it the Electric Company - and then we could pay them and they could generate our electricity. That way, when things went wrong, they could fix it. For example, if a transformer burned out, they could get the new transformer and put it in, perhaps right away, without waiting THREE WEEKS. Isn't it a brilliant idea? I wonder if anybody else has ever thought of it?

So now our phone isn't working. I asked the school secretary to call for me because she has a track record of good responses. She tried yesterday, but guess what? All three repair numbers are out of service.

We got a water bill the other day and we didn't pay it yet. This morning I mentioned it to my husband at breakfast. "We need to pay the (insert name of water company which includes the word potable, just as a little joke) bill."

My son said, "What's (insert name of water company which includes the word potable, just as a little joke)?"

I replied, "It's our last working utility, so we have to pay the bill so they don't cut us off!"

The fact is, though, that we haven't received much water from the company lately. (You can read a description here of how it works.) Thankfully, God has been providing rain water.

Oh, and our internet works, too, but you kind of need electricity for that.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hyphens are History

My dad sent me this article about how hyphens are going the way of the dodo. Well, I'm keeping the one in the name of my blog. Just doing my part for the has-been hyphen.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


We're just back from a weekend retreat, a wonderful time away at the beach - life as it's supposed to be when you're living in the tropics, but, alas, so rarely is. Not only did we have the ocean, and the pool, and friends, and a wonderful speaker, but we had 24-hour electricity that we did not have to worry about generating ourselves. Oh, and the greatest luxury of all - yes, ladies and gentlemen, I speak of hot showers! So wonderful. I felt so good after my first one, Friday afternoon, that I could hardly stay awake in the session that evening. Partly, yes, that was because I was exhausted from a morning of doing parent-teacher conferences in three languages, but partly it was just feeling so relaxed by the hot water.

Even so, it was good to get home.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Another Carnival

Wow, where did that week go? I've been buried under progress reports. We don't usually do them this early in the year, but we're trying something new. We're going to have conferences midway through the first quarter and give out detailed progress reports. This is supposed to head off problems rather than telling the parents about them after it's already too late to change things for the first quarter. I'm all for it in theory, but in practice it's been loads and loads of work. Usually we're just required to do progress reports on new students and students who are getting below a C, but this time we had to do them for every single student, after only four weeks of school. But I got finished today, and now I'm ready for the parents to come talk on Friday.

So, time to relax at the Education Carnival.

Beckett for Babies

Introduce your baby to the gloomiest of the Existentialists!

via Chicken Spaghetti.

Living Without Electricity by Choice

This family actually chose to have no electricity, unlike our family, who had it forced upon us. As you'll see, they are living without a few other things as well.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Saturday Review of Books

I'm behind on these as well. Enjoy this Saturday Review of Books on the Ides of September.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Child Mortality at Record Low

There's nothing like a positive, encouraging newspaper article! Take a look!

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I am seriously behind in linking to Education Carnivals. It's been weeks since I've even looked at one. Here's the latest.

I Saw What I Saw

Tara posted this today. Go look at it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

My aunt forwarded an email to me from a friend of hers. It was called "If I Were a Blogger," and the friend had written that someone should blog reflections about L'Engle to celebrate the wonderful writer who died last Thursday.

A lot of people have. Thanks to Semicolon for rounding up some of what's been said.

Dark Village

I read this article earlier this week. This village has the opportunity to get electricity, and while many people are for it, some aren't. I found this quite interesting:

(Beginning of excerpt)

Masawo, 28, used to work in the city but returned to the village when his parents died.

He talks of a special community spirit, which he fears may disappear forever.

"Without electricity, people get together after work; they share things with each other, tell stories. I think it's a better life.

"It's not necessary to have electricity. You can wash clothes by hand. With no TV, we have more time to chat and discuss together."

And even though the women spend much of the time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning by hand, mother-of-four Okoc is also reluctant to see change.

"I like things the way they are. Here we use oil lanterns, like in the old times. It seems better like that. If you had power, you wouldn't be able to see all the stars, and all the natural living things, like frogs and other animals, would run away."


Presbyterian church leader Rev Chang Ying-mei - who has been instrumental in helping the village think about how it wants to develop in the future - hopes the advent of electricity will bring only superficial changes.

"Power won't change their lives..." she began to say, "but who knows? People's desires are endless.

"I'm positive about the future because the village spirit is strong," she added.

(End of excerpt - you can read the rest of the article at the link above.)

While you might think that the older people would want the traditional ways and the younger ones would be calling for modernization, in fact the exact opposite is true. I wonder what will happen.

Meanwhile, this is a good reminder to me to savor the advantages of having no electricity from time to time!


I suppose that last entry was a bit cryptic. I was feeling overwhelmed by the daily details of my life, and discouraged that the hymn was counseling me to be contented with "room to deny myself." It seemed to me that I was getting plenty of opportunity to deny myself.

The update on the electricity situation is that we have been hemorrhaging money and we are now the proud owners of a new generator (one which works, which is a big improvement over the old one) AND new batteries for our inverter. We also contributed to a neighborhood project to buy a new transformer, since it's clear that the electric company isn't going to bring us one. It's exhausting to spend so much time, energy and money on something that we're already paying someone else to provide. (In the process of installing the new generator, two appliances got fried due to problems with wiring which we weren't aware of before, and, in an unrelated incident, our washing machine has quit.)

And always, when living in a country like this one, I feel guilty for complaining about any of this because it just illustrates how little I have to complain about. We had a bunch of problems but we also were able to pay for them to be fixed. We lost some appliances but, hey, we had them in the first place. The washing machine is sitting out back being worked on intermittently by a mechanic who is also doing many other tasks, but I didn't have to walk from the river this morning with water on my head. I've never had to wonder which of my children I could afford to send to school, or how I was going to feed my kids supper tonight. So all in all, it feels pretty pathetic to whine about my problems.

And yet...there are always more "yets." I still have to get my work done, whether or not I have lights to grade by. I still need to be cheerful the next day after having trouble sleeping with no fans (heat and mosquitoes both keep one from sleeping well!). I still have to look across the street and see the street light shining on the people who have electricity. That's my daily round, my common task. I feel ashamed that I don't have the grace to deal with even these few difficulties the way I see people around me dealing with far worse situations.

As Alana reminds me, glory to God for all things.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Daily Round

This came to mind as I was exercising this morning, from an old hymn that I haven't sung for many years:

The daily round, the common task
Should furnish all we ought to ask:
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God.

I suppose it's true, but it sure sounds dreary, doesn't it?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

DP Blog Theme Day - Street Light or Street Sign

On the first of every month, the Daily Photo blogs have a theme day, and today's theme is a street light or street sign. My favorite so far is from Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. (You'll see why it appeals to me, I think.) You can find links there to the other blogs participating today. Take a look.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Good thing I enjoyed my electricity last night, because this morning the generator was leaking gas. Gas that cost over $5 US a gallon, I might add. So, guess more repairs are needed.


The house across the street (the one with its own transformer, but I'm not jealous) had electricity most of the night. I am just so happy for them. Yes, I am.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

So Far, So Good

The school year has started off well, with a minimum of drama. I did have a student who had not completed his summer reading assignment and who gave as his excuse that he had inadvertently burned the assignment while he was burning all of the remains of his sixth grade year. So we'll be keeping the matches away from that one. (I had plenty of students who didn't do their summer reading, but most of the excuses were more mundane, such as "I didn't feel like doing my summer reading." Refreshingly honest, anyway.)

One of the two air conditioners in my classroom is working, and I have fans here and there (though one of my ceiling fans has no blades on it - presumably the result of my request for said fan to be repaired over the summer), so the room is very comfortable - well, once the kids leave it actually gets rather cold. My room still looks great even after two days of students in it.

The schedule is almost all ironed out, which in my experience is amazing after only two days. Pretty much everyone is behaving - though that could just be because they are figuring things out and laying plans for mayhem.

While things are going smoothly at school, at home is a different story. Our electricity problems are back. City power is out once again, after working for two weeks. (By the way, explain to me, if you can, why our electricity bill was so much larger than usual last month when our connection has been non-functional for five or six out of the last eight weeks?) Just to add to our enjoyment, our generator stopped working this week, as well. That is now repaired, and we have been able to enjoy such luxuries as running water once again. (Yes, I know, I know, it IS a luxury, compared to most of the world.) Right now, the house across the street, whose owners have sensibly invested in their own transformer, has city power, but we don't on this side of the street. Our neighbors to the right and left are running their generators. Normally, I would be rushing about, calling all the numbers I have for the power company (at least five, I think), begging them to come fix the problem. But I guess I am becoming more accustomed to the culture of Tecwil, which calls for enjoying the moment and being glad that there's some charge in the inverter batteries and the fan and internet connection are working. I'll worry about the rest of the problems tomorrow!