Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Annoying Cities

The first of every month is Theme Day on the DP Blogs. Tomorrow, February 1st, the theme is "Something that really annoys you in your city." Eric at Paris DP has already posted what really annoys him about Paris. Yeah, it is pretty annoying. He also has links to the other 51 blogs that are participating. Some of the posts will already be up, but others won't, depending on time zone.

If I had to post what annoys me most about the city where I live, hmmm....there are just so many things to choose from. For a start, the things on the ground here make Eric's photo look positively pleasing. :-)

104th Carnival

This week's Carnival of Education is up at The Median Sib. Go take a look!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

An American Rhapsody

We watched An American Rhapsody last night on DVD. The children watched it, too - there was one brief violent scene where we covered some eyes.

A family is escaping from 1950s Communist Hungary. It's too dangerous to take their baby, Suzanne, over the border because she might make noise and give them away, so they make a plan to have her brought afterwards. The plan falls through and the baby is taken to the countryside to be raised by a childless peasant couple. Then, finally, the parents, settled in Los Angeles, manage to arrange for Suzanne, now six, to join them. They all try to take up where they left off, but of course, it doesn't quite work out that way. Eventually, Suzanne's feeling that she doesn't fit in in the United States or with her birth family takes her back to Hungary to see the couple that took care of her as a young child.

All of this is based on a true story, and the DVD includes some commentary by the woman whose story it is. The movie is terribly sad - I cried through most of it - but there are some funny moments. For example, the older sister "helps" Suzanne learn English by teaching her a crude expression which, of course, comes out of the little girl's mouth at the most inopportune moment. (OK, admit it, my MK friends - you've all done this, haven't you?)

The teenage Suzanne is played by Scarlett Johansson, who gives an amazing performance. Tony Goldwyn and Natassja Kinski are also very good as her parents. But the star is the little girl who plays 6-year-old Suzanne, Kelly Endresz-Banlaki.

I highly recommend this movie, especially to people like me who have lived in several different cultures. I always like stories about how people pass from one culture to another - what they keep and what they lose. It's fascinating to watch how the family interacts once reunited. You can feel the mother's misery as she tries to connect with this little girl that she has missed so desperately. The ending is satisfying as Suzanne has the experience all parents wish their kids would have - she comes to understand a little bit about what her parents have gone through, and therefore to forgive them for the mistakes they have made. "We've all made mistakes out of love," says a character in the movie. How wonderful if we can acknowledge that, and forgive, and move forward.

Bye Bye, Purgatorio?

Marc hasn't actually said that Purgatorio is no more. He's calling it a hiatus, but his hiatus sounds pretty permanent to me. It's those fatal words: "I'll leave the blog up for a time."

So anyway, go check out Purgatorio while you still have the chance. It's billed as "a panoply of evangelical eccentricities, un-orthodox oddities & christian cultural curiosities." I often find the comments offensive, but just as often I laugh until I cry.

Here's my favorite post of all time.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

103rd Education Carnival

Once again, lots of great stuff to read at The Education Carnival. It's hosted this week by The Education Wonks.

Where Do I Get All the Books?

My brother asked me how I manage to find so many books, living as I do in a place where English books are not readily available in every store?

When we first moved here, this was a big preoccupation of mine - finding stuff to read. When we would go over to someone's house, I would greedily scan the bookshelves and beg to borrow books. When we traveled, I would bring back as many books as I could. I read books from our school library, too, of course.

A big breakthrough was finding the subscription library I belong to. A group of Americans started it back in the 20s and it is still going strong. Now, even though I still borrow books from everyone who will loan them (and in return, I loan my books out freely), I don't panic as much about what I'm going to read next.

Lately, I've finished the following books: Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech, and The Seville Communion, by Arturo Perez-Reverte. (Those are Books #12 and #13 of 2007.)

Monday, January 22, 2007


A few weeks ago one of my students walked in to my class and said, "Oh, I've been reading your blog! It's funny!"

Many of the teacher bloggers I read would immediately gasp with horror, but I thought about it for a minute and realized it was OK. I don't write for my students, but I also am careful not to write anything that would embarrass them. (Unlike someone I know who posted the complete text of a love note a kid passed in class, but don't worry, I won't name you!)

This student is the daughter of friends of mine, so that's how she came to see my blog. I don't think any of my other students are reading. But if they are, hi there!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Each day I get an email from Merriam-Webster. Actually, I get two, since I've subscribed to two Word-of-the-Day lists. One is a daily word, complete with etymology, and the other is especially for English language learners. The second doesn't have etymology but it does have a link you can click on to hear the word pronounced and it includes some information on how to use it. (You can find information on these lists here.)

One day last week the word from the second list was "kidnap." But really, that's not a word I need to teach my students, even those for whom English is a second, or third, language. They all know what it means. Not because I taught it to them, but because life taught it to them.

Last year we gathered as a middle school to pray together for three separate kidnappings. This is not to say that these were the only kidnappings that happened to people our kids were close to - these were just the closest ones. One was a parent of one of my students.

When I first thought about writing a post on kidnappings I thought that would give away where I live, but when I did a quick search of Google News for stories about the topic, Tecwil didn't even come up in the pages I looked at. Probably that's because of all the stories about kidnapping in the United States over the past few days. But the stories weren't just about the United States - lots of other countries have this problem to varying degrees.

Right now we are waiting for news of a young child who has been kidnapped. I don't want to say any more about the situation here, just that it's such a horrible crime. Here it's all about money. All about terrifying people and destroying their peace of mind in return for money.

And part of you always thinks, a bit guiltily because it seems so self-absorbed, that could be me. And much, much worse, that could be...I can't even type it. I try not to think it.

This is a vocabulary word I wish none of my students knew. Oh, Lord, don't let us have to meet as a middle school again this year, praying for someone's release.

The Virgin's Lover

Book #11 of the year is The Virgin's Lover, by Philippa Gregory. It's the story of Elizabeth I of England and Robert Dudley.

The challenge of a book like this is to make suspenseful something that is part of historical record. I've read several versions of the story - it's really irresistible to a novelist, since the characters are so vivid and the plot twists more exciting than anything you can make up - so I know exactly how it's going to turn out.

Yet this book held my interest right until the last page. Yes, it still happened the way history tells us it did, but Gregory is fabulous at showing us all the quirks and mixed-up motivations of the three-dimensional people she writes about, so that you feel for every single one. Elizabeth and Dudley are stars, of course, but Amy (Robert's neglected wife) is unbearably poignant as well. Gregory has her own version of the mystery - what happened to Amy - and explains in an afterword that she did research in contemporary sources to come to her conclusion.

I'm looking forward to reading more of Philippa Gregory.

Hint on Dealing with Difficult People

Don't tell the New York Times all about them. Evil HR Lady explains why.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I had big plans for today but am not feeling well so they are all cancelled and I'm going to stay home and rest.

Take a look at today's Saturday Review of Books to see what others are reading and reviewing.

A couple of days ago I finished book #10 of the year; it was Waiting, by Ha Jin. It was a fascinating read because of the insights into the way people live in China.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Reading Update

In recent days, I've finished the following books (#7, #8, and #9):

My Brother Sam is Dead

I hope to post reviews at some point.

I'm Back...

We've been having computer problems, both at school and at home. The problems at school persist - the connection is so slow that it's barely there at all. Here at home, we threw money at the problem and a new modem is in place.

I tried posting at school once this week, but I ended up double-posting and then couldn't get on to fix it, so I finally gave up in frustration. It's nice to be able to be back in time to link you to this week's Education Carnival.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

If this is Thursday, we must be in Nepal. I mean, Peru.

Apparently nobody noticed that the Royal Nepal Airlines had a picture of Peru on one of their advertising posters until a Peruvian mountaineer pointed it out.

I guess all those little mountainous countries look alike?

Read about it here.

101st Education Carnival

I was so immersed in the carnival that is my life that I didn't even go and look at the Education Carnival yesterday. I plan to remedy that today. Here it is at I Thought A Think.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sunday, January 07, 2007

More Books

So far this year, I've posted a review for every book I've finished. I know I can't keep up that pace once I start back to school, so I have to lower expectations, my own and other people's.

So here goes: A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews, was book #5 of 2007 (I didn't like it) and A Breath of Fresh Air, by Amulya Malladi, was book #6 (I liked it).

Saturday, January 06, 2007

What I Did Over My Christmas Break

I have to go back to work on Monday! I can't remember when I've had such a relaxing, enjoyable time off school. And yet, I haven't done much that was exciting. I've just stayed home and:

*eaten good food.
*played with my kids.
*watched six puppies be born.
*blogged (this is the 38th post since I wrote about the last day of school!).

I also went to a couple of parties to celebrate Christmas and New Year's. And we went out for lunch once and for ice cream once.

The weather has been perfect - cool and breezy. It hasn't rained in a few weeks and the dust is getting bad, but there's no humidity.

The best part, really, was that I got all my school work done at the beginning of the break. We had a few extra days off due to the deteriorating security situation in this country, and I used those days to plan units and lessons, clean up my classroom, grade and enter grades, all that good stuff. So I could really relax, knowing that stuff was done. I hardly went in to school after that, until today, when I went and spent a couple of hours making sure that everything is really ready for Monday.

And of course, when you're a teacher, you're always thinking about teaching with part of your mind. At least I am. So I did some planning at home here and there.

One thing I meant to get to and didn't was working on photo albums. And I still have the rest of the weekend, so maybe I'll even get some of that done!

Saturday Review of Books

This week's Saturday Review of Books is up. Go and see what people are reading!

Freedom Writers

I won't see this movie until it comes out on DVD (as is the case with practically all movies), but I was curious enough to click on this review.

Here's the sentence that I found interesting: "Teachers, I know, need all the inspiring Hollywood can give them."

Really, folks, is that what we need? Inspiration from Hollywood? Maybe you're going to go see this movie for the teaching tips?

I don't know about you, but I don't get my inspiration for teaching from movies. I get it from other teachers, and from reading teacher books and teacher blogs. And from my students, even on the days when they are trying hardest not to learn anything.

Has anybody seen the movie? What did you think?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Ten Things

I've been assigned the letter S by Semicolon. I'm supposed to tell you ten things I love that begin with that letter.

S-people. This is cheating, I guess, but there are several people in my family whose names start with S. I love them, but I don't want to write their names here. They know who they are!

Siblings. I have two. They are great. There's nobody else in the world who shares exactly the same memories, so even though now the three of us live in three separate countries, I still feel very close to them.

Saints. I use that term in the Protestant sense - that is, not just people who have been through a process to be named saints, but all believers. They are role-models, and intercessors, and encouragers. They are the "great cloud of witnesses," both those still living and those who have died.

Smiles. There's nothing like a friendly smile to make you feel at ease. I'm not one of those teachers that doesn't smile until November. I think kids need to know you're on their side. OK, so I don't have a reputation of ferocity, and sometimes I'd like to, but in all I prefer things the way I do them!

Stories. I was looking for a way to include "books" and my daughter suggested this. I can't imagine life without reading. I also love listening to my friends' stories and sharing mine with them.

Seashells. I love going to the beach and I love living in a tropical country where that can happen all year round! We usually bring back seashells as souvenirs, and we have baskets of them here and there.

School. Most of my life has been organized by the academic year, as I've either been a student or a teacher - or both. I love learning and I hope never to stop.

Safaris. I love to travel and to learn about other cultures and ways of living. I also love to study new languages. "Safari" is the Swahili word for "journey."

Singing. I love music. I love to sing silly songs, lullabies to my children, praise to God.

Sushi. I love all different kinds of foods, but sushi starts with S, so that's the one I'll pick! It is one of my favorites. I love all the different varieties of fish, I love how beautifully presented it is, and I love the way wasabi blows off the top of your head! (Just like Emily Dickinson said about poetry, which is another thing I love.)

If anybody wants to continue this, let me know and I'll assign you a letter!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Redeeming Love

Book #4 of 2007 is Redeeming Love. Someone loaned me this, telling me I just had to read it because it was the best book ever. On the back of the book, a blurb promises that the book is "the most powerful work of fiction you will ever read."

I can't stand these overblown promises for a book. I mean, really, what are the odds of this being the most powerful work of fiction I will ever read?

After reading it, I went and looked at the reviews on Amazon, and the vast majority of the reviewers would agree that this is, indeed, the best book they have ever read. This is true if they are "not big readers" and it is true if they "have read a lot." ("By many authors," one adds.)

This is a retelling of the Biblical story of Hosea, the prophet who married a prostitute because God told him to. Although his wife kept leaving him and going back to prostitution, Hosea remained faithful to her and in so doing, presented a beautiful picture of God's love for His people. Again and again Hosea went and found his wife and brought her back. In this version, it's Michael Hosea, and the story is set in gold-rush California. This Hosea, too, believes that God asks him to marry a prostitute. He does, and heartache ensues.

I applaud Francine Rivers' motives, and she has succeeded in giving many people a new picture of what God's love looks like, how faithful and unending and persistent it is. I hesitate to be critical of a book that achieves that goal. So I won't.

I'll just say that it isn't the most powerful work of fiction I've ever read.

War and Peace

I decided I was going to read War and Peace this year after looking at the lists of books in the Reading Profile quiz. So yesterday when my husband went over to school I asked him to check it out of the library for me. He came home with a suspiciously small-looking book. Under 600 pages long. was abridged! I don't read abridged books - it's a matter of principle. So I'll have to keep looking for a copy.

Meanwhile, read this hilarious post about an eighth grader choosing War and Peace as an independent reading book.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

CV Spelling Quiz

OK, now here's a quiz I can do well on. I got 6/7. My one mistake was a British/American one. In American English we write "practice" and in British they write "practise" when it's a verb.

I hesitated - after all, I was educated in the British system - but then picked the American spelling.

So now you should get that one right!

Try the quiz here.

100th Education Carnival

The 100th Education Carnival is up at Teaching in the Twenty-First Century. I haven't read it yet, but it looks like there's lots of great stuff.


Book #3 of 2007 was Anacaona: Golden Flower by Edwidge Danticat. This is part of The Royal Diaries series, all of which are stories of young princesses or queens.

The difficulty of writing Anacaona's diary is that the Taino people of which she was a part had no form of writing. Danticat has dealt with this problem by imagining that she kept a record of her thoughts using symbols; "even though the Tainos had no written language, they had petroglyphs - rock paintings and pictographs through which they kept records of their lives." I quickly suspended disbelief and accepted this idea. But this was the one flaw of the story, and it kept resurfacing - how much of this story had any basis in fact? I knew that when Columbus and his men arrived, the events were historically accurate, but the time beforehand, it seems to me, was mostly imagined. As with all the books of the series, there's some documentary material included at the end, but most of that is from the period after the Spaniards had arrived. Still, it was very interesting and entertaining to read of the idyllic world of Xaragua, located in present-day Haiti.

Whether or not the Anacaona created by Danticat is like the real Anacaona, there's no denying that her story is tragic in the extreme. I'm glad that this book was written about her.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

YA Authors Blog

Thanks to wonderful author Jane Yolen for letting us read her journal. It includes some step-by-step portraits of revision.

I've also been enjoying reading about the process of the book Lois Lowry is working on.

Here's a link to websites of a whole bunch of YA authors. Some of them are publisher sites, some are fan sites, but an increasing number of these authors are letting us in on their lives and their craft by blogging.

The Art of Keeping Cool

Coincidentally, book #2 of 2007 (like the first one) is also about a time and place where people are fretting about a potential invasion that history tells us never happened. It makes me wonder which of the things we worry about now will end up being much ado about nothing (remember Y2K?) and, conversely, which things we should be paying attention to now that we're just not noticing.

In this one, The Art of Keeping Cool, the place is Rhode Island and the time is 1942. The United States has just come into World War Two, and there's a general fear of Germans, both of the ones that could come from the ocean, and the ones who live in the community, like Abel Hoffman, an artist who has fled Nazi policies about "degenerate" art.

This one is from my classroom library; it's firmly in the YA category, with a 13-year-old protagonist.

The Trumpet-Major

I have read lots of Thomas Hardy's books but somehow I had never read this one, The Trumpet-Major. While it isn't Hardy's best book (I can't decide on that, but it's between Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd), I enjoyed this one.

First published in 1880, this book is a historical novel set at the beginning of the 19th century. England is all a-flutter because everyone believes that Napoleon is about to invade. After all, "it was sometimes recollected that England was the only European country which had not succumbed to the mighty little man who was less than human in feeling, and more than human in will; that our spirit for resistance was greater than our strength; and that the Channel was often calm."

"'Can it be the French?' she said, arranging herself for the extremest form of consternation. 'Can that arch-enemy of mankind have landed at last?' It should be stated that at this time there were two arch-enemies of mankind - Satan as usual, and Buonaparte, who had sprung up and eclipsed his elder rival altogether. Mrs. Garland alluded, of course, to the junior gentleman."

That last little paragraph gives a good idea of the tone of the novel - it is much lighter than most of Hardy, and often funny. The back of the Penguin Classics edition uses the word "affectionate," and that's just right. Hardy really seems to love the people he's writing about. Historical notes tell us that the material for the novel came from family reminiscences.

In addition to the fear of Napoleon, the other emotion that has the countryside all riled up is love. Where there's war, or at least, potential war, there are soldiers, and there are wonderful descriptions of what the arrival of the soldiers does to the community. This reminded me a lot of the excitement over soldiers in Jane Austen novels, and as I reflected about it I realized that this is just when she was writing. Hardy tells us, "courtship began to be practised in Overcombe on rather a large scale, and the dispossessed young men who had been born in the place were left to take their walks alone, where, instead of studying the works of nature, they meditated gross outrages on the brave men who had been so good as to visit their village."

Like Bathsheba Everdene in Far From the Madding Crowd, Anne Garland has three suitors. One of them is an obnoxious oaf, one she's been in love with for years but he has been rather fickle, and the other one is in love with her. Guess which one she's going to end up with, after many reversals of fortune? Actually, the ending, after all the twists and turns, is the least satisfying part of the book - almost as though Hardy just wanted to wrap it up and be done with it.

This is my book #1 of 2007!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Non à 2007!

French marchers say "Non" to 2007.

New Year's Resolutions for Writers

New Year's Resolutions for Writers.

Happy New Year

Today, like the first of every month, is Daily Photo Blog Theme Day. Today's theme is "My best photograph from last year." Here you can see what Eric from Paris Daily Photo chose, and also find links to all the other DP blogs that are participating. I've been waiting with bated breath to see what Jenny of Sharon, CT, would choose, and here it is.

Happy New Year to everybody!