Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Out With Blue Iris, In With Mimosa

Here I thought I liked purple just because, well, I liked it. Turns out it was just in the Zeitgeist. Blue iris, a purplish color, was chosen by the Pantone Color Institute as the color for 2008 but the yellowish mimosa is the color for 2009. I don't think I'm going to fall for mimosa, but it may be that I have no freedom of choice faced with the mighty Pantone Color Institute.

Here's an article that explores the whole purple phenomenon a little more.

Reading Update

Book #58: Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Book #59: Plagiarism: Why it Happens and How to Prevent It, by Barry Gilmore

Book #60: The Host, by Stephenie Meyer

The reviews are going to have to wait until the new year, but it's looking as though this is going to be the end of my reading for 2008.

New Year's Eve

We got back from the beach last night to find electrical problems in our house, including a fire that had apparently taken place sometime while we were gone - a surge protector under our bed was melted and a charger was blackened but not destroyed. The electrician (to whom I am planning an ode) came over right away and set things to rights.

Now I am unpacking and putting away and listening to a Christmas present from my husband, English Majors: A Comedy Collection for the Highly Literate.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Divine Gift of Hope

These words were shared at our Christmas Eve gathering earlier this evening.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's On Your Nightstand

This is what I'm hoping to get read over Christmas break! And not pictured is what I'm reading right now, Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Think I'll succeed? No, neither do I.

Angels in the Architecture

The other name I considered for my blog was "Angels in the Architecture," a quote from Paul Simon's song "You Can Call me Al." When I typed that phrase into Google, though, I found that many others were already using it. I think that God has built glimpses of Himself into the architecture of our universe, and that often we, as the Book of Hebrews puts it, "entertain angels unaware." (I doubt that any of that came into Paul Simon's mind at all.)

I don't think of angels as adorable little cherubs but as messengers of God. C.S. Lewis says somewhere that in the Bible angels always say, "Fear not," whereas angels in paintings often look as if they were saying, "There, there." I think Tiel Aisha Ansari has it right in her poem "Living with Angels," which you can read here.

At this time of year we see representations of angels all over the place. They are a reminder that God is near.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Poetry Friday - Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

For Christmas Day: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald Angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King,
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinner reconcil’d.
Hark! the herald Angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King.

Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With the angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! the herald Angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King.

Christ by highest Heaven ador’d,
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Hark! the herald Angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail, the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as Man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel!
Hark! the herald Angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King.

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Hark! the herald Angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King.

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald Angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stephenie Meyer on Time Magazine's List

She's one of the People Who Mattered. After looking at her blurb you can scroll down to see a list of all the others, and the runners-up, plus a link to the article about the Person of the Year.

You Can Say "Merry Christmas" in 13 Languages

You can say "Merry Christmas" in:














I'm saying it a lot today, since this is our last day before vacation!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Growing Old Gracefully

Recently an actress who is about my age appeared on the cover of a magazine wearing very little. I was interested to read that this was apparently some kind of empowerment thing, since she's getting older and yet can still look good. It reminded me of the ad I saw for "Self-Esteem Workshops" put on by a certain soap company whose billboards are supposedly empowering for women because they show non-models in their underwear. I wonder what exactly the workshops involve. I will believe that all of this is about empowerment about the time we see some powerful men posing on billboards and magazine covers in similar attire.

Meanwhile I was reading this article about beauty, and growing older, and plastic surgery, and such. There are some empowering suggestions at the end in case anyone is feeling old.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reading Update

Book #56 was Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Ruth Van Reken (in this article) wrote that this book "could serve as a textbook in the TCK syllabus, a classic search for self-definition, described in living color." I found the book compelling reading. Obama writes about his childhood, trying to figure out where he fit as the son of two people from different parts of the world, his early work in Chicago, and his trip to Kenya, where he made contact with the Kenyan side of his family. His world is a complex place, and he is well aware that things are rarely as simple as they seem.

Book #57 was a very different book, but also one that embraced and celebrated complexity. The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani, is set in seventeenth century Persia, and tells the story of a young girl who is buffeted by circumstances but who ultimately makes the best of things. If this sounds like an old, old plot, it is, but the setting was new territory for me. Amirrezvani shows us a world where women, particularly poor women, lived by a series of very strict rules, and men, particularly rich men, could do exactly what they wanted. The narrator, who is never named, makes carpets, coloring them with many different plants, hence the title.

Here's a conversation the protagonist has in the story:

"Often, we must live with imperfection," she said. "And when people worry about a stain on their floor, what do they do?"

Despite how I felt, I had to laugh, for I knew what she meant. "They throw a carpet over it," I replied.

"From Shiraz to Tabriz, from Baghdad to Herat, this is what Iranians do," she said.

Here's another passage:

I did not reveal that I was the carpet's designer and knotter. I thought if she saw my callused fingers or looked closely at my tired red eyes - if she understood the fearsome work that a carpet demanded - its beauties would be forever tarnished in her eyes. Better for her to imagine it being made by a carefree young girl who skipped across hillsides plucking flowers for dyes before settling down to tie a few relaxing knots in between sips of pomegranate juice.

I knew otherwise: My back ached, my limbs were stiff, and I had not slept enough for a month. I thought about all the labor and suffering that were hidden beneath a carpet, starting with the materials. Vast fields of flowers had to be murdered for their dye, innocent worms boiled alive for their silk - and what about knotters! Must we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of rugs?

The book does a good job of showing how precarious life was - and in many places still is - for women without the protection of men. Poverty is presented in vivid detail, and the lengths the protagonist is forced to go to in order to survive are difficult to read. The realities of poverty make this book a timely one in spite of its historical setting. Replace "rugs" with just about any other commodity you can think of, and people are sacrificing themselves to make it in a factory somewhere in this world. Replace Isfahan with any city in the third world, and there are people living there in conditions remarkably similar to those described in the last third of this book. And yet the book is not all about suffering, for there is great satisfaction in creating beauty, and sometimes that is enough to cover up at least some of the imperfections of life.

Gift Idea

If anyone is looking for a gift for me, I'd really like a clock like Mrs. Weasley has. This is from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:

Mrs. Weasley glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. Harry liked this clock. It was completely useless if you wanted to know the time, but otherwise very informative. It had nine golden hands, and each of them was engraved with one of the Weasley family's names. There were no numerals around the face, but descriptions of where each family member might be. "Home," "school," and "work" were there, but there was also "traveling," "lost," "hospital," "prison," and, in the position where the number twelve would be on a normal clock, "mortal peril."

In a later book all the hands are pointing to "mortal peril," and isn't that sometimes how it feels to be a mother worrying about your family? My students identify with Harry and Hermione, but I identify with Professor McGonagall and Mrs. Weasley.

So what book-inspired gift would you like? It can either be something that only exists between the pages of a book, or just something that you read about in a book that people could actually buy you, should they be so inclined.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday Review of Books

Take a look!

Memo to Suzanne Collins

I can't tell from your website if you are working on the sequel to The Hunger Games. If you are not, please get started immediately. Many eighth graders are desperately awaiting the book, and some appear to be nearly in physical pain. Take pity on them. Write, Suzanne, write!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Poetry Friday - Schoolsville

I'm grading this week, or I should say I will be grading, since I'm writing this post (and most of this week's posts) on Sunday afternoon, my lips and tongue still tingling pleasantly from a lunch of beef curry. I don't do schoolwork on Sundays, and it's lovely to have a guilt-free afternoon, even though I have large stacks of papers in the corner of the room.

Thinking of school and students leads to this poem by Billy Collins. I love his imagination, and I think I, too, have by now taught enough students to populate a small town. Or at least a village.


by Billy Collins

Glancing over my shoulder at the past,
I realize the number of students I have taught
is enough to populate a small town.

I can see it nestled in a paper landscape,
chalk dust flurrying down in winter,
nights dark as a blackboard.

The population ages but never graduates.
On hot afternoons they sweat the final in the park
and when it's cold they shiver around stoves
reading disorganized essays out loud.
A bell rings on the hour and everybody zigzags
into the streets with their books.

I forgot all their last names first and their
first names last in alphabetical order.
But the boy who always had his hand up
is an alderman and owns the haberdashery.
The girl who signed her papers in lipstick
leans against the drugstore, smoking,
brushing her hair like a machine.

Their grades are sewn into their clothes
like references to Hawthorne.
The A's stroll along with other A's.
The D's honk whenever they pass another D.

Here's the rest of the poem.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Yesterday one of my eighth graders told me that the "Something of Illinois" had been arrested. When I found out what had happened to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, I explained it to the student. I defined the word "corruption" and told her what Blagojevich was accused of.

I can't decide if it's a good or bad thing that she learned the word from a situation in another country. Her country is always on Transparency International's list of the most corrupt countries in the world, but this arrest reminds all of us that people are people, temptation is temptation, and corruption happens everywhere. At least in the United States you get in trouble if you are found out.

Privacy? What's That?

As though life as an expat were not fraught with enough stresses, now I find that we have, in fact, no right to privacy whatsoever. And I'm not just speaking of being stared at everywhere I go - I already knew I didn't have any right to that kind of privacy.

No, I'm talking about the courts' latest decision that Americans living overseas are fair game for spying, and no warrant is necessary (though there is still a requirement of "reasonableness," whatever that may happen to mean in any given situation). I read about this here.

As an American living abroad, I consider it my patriotic duty to release my cellphone records immediately. So here, for the sake of national and international security, is a summary of my recent calls. All conversations have been translated into English.

First of all, probably 40% of the calls I receive are wrong numbers. Someone will demand to speak to Mimi, or Jean, or Fanfan, and then I will inform the caller that that person cannot be reached at this number. Usually the person then hangs up, though sometimes he or she (usually he) wants to talk to me instead, since I'm there. In that case I hang up in short order. I even get wrong number text messages, including one I have saved because I find it quite poignant: "I'm waiting for you under the stairs." I assume that the sender of that is no longer waiting there, since it's been several weeks now, but I wonder how long he or she did hang out under those stairs, thinking the message had been received by the right person.

I receive many phone calls asking when I will be home. Others are of the "I'm at the grocery store and what do we need?" variety. I also get calls asking for money, accompanied by heart-rending stories of woe. Last week I got a call that was a first for me - a student had a punctuation question. I enjoyed that one - it's seldom I get asked something that I can answer so quickly and easily, and with such confidence that I am correct.

As for the outgoing conversations, I make my share of the "When will you be home?" calls. Then there are the "We're going to be late because the car broke down" and "Can you please come pick us up because we are broken down?" calls. And the "Our power is out - could you please come fix it?" calls. It's been a while since I've had to make any "We won't be having school today" calls (though the last few times I've been doing that more by email).

Yesterday I had some calls to and from Santa, but that was not a code-name. I was trying to coordinate the "Pictures with Santa" booth at our Christmas Bazaar at school. My first Santa had to take someone to the hospital and was late because of that and my second was at a rehearsal for a Christmas concert and also arrived late. This was all high drama for me, but probably not so much for anyone who might want to tap my phone.

So you see, spy-type-people, monitoring my calls will be more likely to put you to sleep than to net you any interesting information. But if you still want to, go ahead. I have nothing to hide, and maybe you'll learn something about punctuation!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Extra Morning Excitement - Just What I Needed

Thanks a lot, whoever scheduled a LOUD, bouncy rock concert at 8 AM today. I enjoyed the music in our chapel this morning, but the whole time my inner grouch/old lady/party pooper and above all TEACHER kept thinking about what it was going to be like to teach those ramped up kids later. The lead singer of the band even commented that he used to teach but had quit "because of seventh graders," looking at my kids and the excessive amounts of fun they were having. Later he appeared to think better of his comment (maybe he thought he would discourage the seventh graders and make them feel bad about themselves - since he doesn't know them he doesn't realize how impervious they are to that type of remark), and said to the seventh graders that as they grew older they should never lose what they had right now. I hope they listen to that about as much as they usually listen to what I say to them - that is, not much. (I want them to retain their enthusiasm and energy, but there are some other behaviors which I am hoping age and maturity will rid them of.)

As we left the chapel, I asked one of the members of the band to say a word of prayer for the poor sap who would be teaching the seventh graders right then, namely me. He laughed. Easy for him to do. Then I headed towards my room, pep-talking myself all the way.

Apart from a stray scream when the band members walked by the window later in the period, things went not too badly. I am Teacher - hear me teach!


Can someone explain to me why the emphatic form of LOL, laughing out loud, is LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL? I say this based on my observations online and in my students' writing. (And yes, many of them include LOL in their written dialogue in early drafts.) Surely the emphasis should be on the second L, since you are laughing extremely LOUDly. I hereby decree that it should be spelled LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.

Also, have you heard kids actually speak this expression to one another? I have, and I find it quite odd. Some speak each letter separately and some pronounce it "loll." It makes me think of what I heard Garrison Keillor say once, that the true sign of an intellectual is mispronouncing words "because we're basically readers" and if you've never heard a word pronounced you won't know how to say it. By the same token, my kids are taking what they have learned in print (even if it was online and not in a book) and moving it into their own writing and speech. This means that they are readers!


Monday, December 08, 2008

Obama Not "Too British" After All

Read this article in a BBC voice to get the full effect.

There Are No Ordinary People

Something that was said in church on Sunday reminded me of a quote from C.S. Lewis. I looked it up when we got home and it was even better than I remembered it. (It's from The Weight of Glory.)

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption....Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses."

To the list of the things we do with our fellow humans, I would add "teach," as at this point in the semester it is easy to lose all patience with excited, sugar-addled, Christmas-anticipating middle schoolers. This passage is a great reminder to me of what exactly we are dealing with when we spend time with other people.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee?

Today in church we sang the following hymn, which was new to me, and which I thought was beautiful. We sang it to the tune of "All Glory, Laud and Honor" (St. Theodulph). The original German words were written by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676).

O Lord, how shall I meet Thee, how welcome Thee aright?
Thy people long to greet Thee, my Hope, my heart's Delight!
Oh, kindle, Lord most holy, thy lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly all that may please Thee best.

Love caused Thy incarnation, love brought Thee down to me;
Thy thirst for my salvation procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling, that led Thee to embrace,
In love, all love excelling, our lost and fallen race!

You need not toil or languish nor ponder day and night
How in the midst of anguish you draw Him by your might.
He comes, He comes all willing, moved by His love alone,
Your woes and troubles stilling; for all to Him are known.

Here's a link to all the verses.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

Poetry Friday

I have a busy day ahead of me and a busy weekend, too. I have 84 papers to grade and more coming in today, plus a nightmare - I mean, Christmas event - at school. All that to say that I will not be posting anything for Poetry Friday, but here's the roundup anyway.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Theme Day - Circles/Spheres

It's the first day of the month, and you know what that means - the Daily Photo blogs have a theme day. This month's theme is circles or spheres. Here you can see thumbnails of the participants' photos.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The President is a TCK

I have been following Barack Obama's career with interest ever since I first heard of him. Part of that is the Kenya connection, which of course attracted my attention. But another part is that I identify with him as a third culture kid, someone who spent part of the developmental years living in a country other than the passport country. I have been thinking of him as the first TCK president, but I hadn't heard anybody else say that until I read this blog post. And just now I read an article written by Ruth Van Reken, one of the co-authors of Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, where she details some of the TCK characteristics of Obama. It's a fascinating read.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Just Stay Home

In the wake of the terrible attacks in Mumbai, the Telegraph has an article in its travel section on twenty places you really shouldn't travel. It was interesting to me to see how many of these countries I have friends in. (And one of the twenty is quite well-known to me.)

Message from the travel section today: don't travel. Stay home. Preferably under your bed.


Every year I read about people getting hurt and killed in stampedes at religious shrines in different places in the world. When I read about yesterday's Wal Mart deaths, I thought that at least when people are killed during those religious festivals, they die doing something they believe in, something that matters to them.

Then it hit me. Consumerism is a religion. And Wal Mart is one of its temples.

Saturday Review of Books

Here's today's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry Friday - My Deliverer

I remember the first time I heard this song, sung by true poet Rich Mullins and written by him with Mitch McVicker, and realized that Jesus went to Africa. I knew that before, of course, having heard the story my whole life, but somehow hearing these words brought it home to me. He went to Africa.

As Advent approaches, and suffering abounds in this world, and not only in Africa, I am listening to this song and affirming, "I will never doubt His promise, though I doubt my heart, though I doubt my eyes..."

My Deliverer

Joseph took his wife and her child and they went to Africa
To escape the rage of a deadly king
There along the banks of the Nile,
Jesus listened to the song
That the captive children used to sing
They were singing

My Deliverer is coming
My Deliverer is standing by...

Through a dry and thirsty land
Water from the Kenyan heights
Pours itself out of Lake Sangra's broken heart
There in the Sahara winds
Jesus heard the whole world cry
For the healing that would flow from His own scars
The world was singing

My Deliverer is coming
My Deliverer is standing by...

He will never break His promise -
He has written it upon the sky...

I will never doubt His promise
Though I doubt my heart, I doubt my eyes...

My Deliverer is coming
My Deliverer is standing by...

He will never break His promise
though the stars should break faith with the sky...

My Deliverer is coming
My Deliverer is standing by...

My Deliverer is coming.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Psalm 107

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
and his mercy endures for ever.

Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

He gathered them out of the lands;
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes;
they found no way to a city where they might dwell.

They were hungry and thirsty;
their spirits languished within them.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

He put their feet on a straight path
to go to a city where they might dwell.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.

For he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

Some sat in darkness and deep gloom,
bound fast in misery and iron;

Because they rebelled against the words of God
and despised the counsel of the Most High.

So he humbled their spirits with hard labor;
they stumbled, and there was none to help.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

He led them out of darkness and deep gloom
and broke their bonds asunder.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.

For he shatters the doors of bronze
and breaks in two the iron bars.

Some were fools and took to rebellious ways;
they were afflicted because of their sins.

They abhorred all manner of food
and drew near to death's door.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

He sent forth his word and healed them
and saved them from the grave.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.

Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.

Some went down to the sea in ships
and plied their trade in deep waters;

They beheld the works of the LORD
and his wonders in the deep.

Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose,
which tossed high the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths;
their hearts melted because of their peril.

They reeled and staggered like drunkards
and were at their wits' end.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper
and quieted the waves of the sea.

They were glad because of the calm,
and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.

Let them exalt him in the congregation of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.

The LORD changed rivers into deserts,
and water-springs into thirsty ground.

A fruitful land into salt flats,
because of the wickedness of those who dwell there.

He changed deserts into pools of water
and dry land into water-springs.

He settled the hungry there,
and they founded a city to dwell in.

They sowed fields, and planted vineyards,
and brought in a fruitful harvest.

He blessed them, so that they increased greatly;
he did not let their herds decrease.

Yet when they were diminished and brought low,
through stress of adversity and sorrow,

(He pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes)

He lifted up the poor out of misery
and multiplied their families like flocks of sheep.

The upright will see this and rejoice,
but all wickedness will shut its mouth.

Whoever is wise will ponder these things,
and consider well the mercies of the LORD.

Monday, November 24, 2008

You Are a Tuna Fish Sandwich

Some people just don't have a taste for you. You are highly unusual.

And admit it, you've developed some pretty weird habits over the years.

You may seem a bit unsavory from a distance, but anyone who gives you a chance is hooked!

Your best friend: The Club Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Turkey Sandwich

I think it's pretty funny that a tuna sandwich is "highly unusual." If you want something slightly unusual for lunch (by American standards), try inarizushi, or gimyet, or ceviche. A tuna sandwich is just plain and ordinary.

The rest of it is probably true, though - about how weird I am.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reading Update

Book #49 was The Group, by Mary McCarthy. This book came out in 1963 and was already a bit of a historical novel at that time, since it deals with the lives and preoccupations of eight classmates at Vassar, the class of 1933. I found it a bit turgid in places. (Here's a sample passage: "Her eyes, which were a light golden brown, were habitually narrowed, and her handsome, blowzy face had a plethoric look, as though darkened by clots of thought. She rarely showed her emotions, which appeared to have been burned out by the continual short-circuiting of her attention. All her statements, cursory and abbreviated, had a topical resonance, even when she touched on the intimate; today she made Helena think of the old riddle of the newspaper - black and white and red all over. She spoke absently and with an air of preoccupation, as though conducting a briefing session from memorized notes.") Still, it is a fascinating look at the ideas, attitudes, and concerns of a particular class of women at that time, touching as it does on birth control, mental illness, infant routines, and many other topics. I read that McCarthy based several of the characters on her own friends, and when they recognized themselves they were understandably put out. 


Book #50 was The Hunger Games. This was recommended on someone's blog and I ordered it because it sounded like something my students would like. After reading it I saw that Stephenie Meyer is recommending it for readers of her books who are now hunting for something else to read. It's not much like the Twilight books but it's just as absorbing. The story is set in a dystopian future United States, now called Panem and divided into twelve districts. Once a year, two "tributes" are chosen from each district to appear in a televised contest called the "Hunger Games." It's the ultimate reality show, a combination of entertainment and punishment for a long-ago uprising against the Capitol. Many of my eighth graders are enjoying this book and already asking when the next one is coming out (it's supposed to be the first of a trilogy). I'm surprised by how many errors have made it into the text - pronoun errors, problems with mixed-up tenses, that kind of thing - but I have a feeling there will be many more reprintings where these can be corrected.


Book #51 was What Child is This?, by Caroline Cooney, whose books are popular in my classroom. This is different from her others I've read. It's a sweet Christmas story about foster kids. I liked it very much - a quick read and an uplifting one.


Book #52 was Elizabeth George's latest, Careless in Red. While the last book in the series was a virtuoso performance, I'm glad to be back with the familiar characters. Great stuff, as always.


Book #53 was The Year of Fog, by Michelle Richmond. I expected this book to be a page-turner, but it was much better written than I thought it was going to be. It's about a child disappearing, yes, but also about memory and how people cope with loss. I saw a review comparing it to The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard (the book, not the movie, which wasn't nearly as good), and I think it's a good comparison. I stayed up very late finishing this one and then couldn't sleep for hours thinking about it.


Book #54 was the third in a trilogy about the Trojan War. The author died before finishing it so I had resigned myself to not getting to finish the trilogy, but his wife finished writing it. I was sorry that it had been so long since I had read the first two books, since they were not fresh in my mind at all, but I loved Troy: Fall of Kings. Again, I loved the way you see the myth developing even as the real events take place - Odysseus figuring out how he's going to retell the story, for example, and the discussion of Helen and how the soldiers remember her. Practically everyone in the story has a different fate from his or her namesake in the original story, so you have to keep reading to the very end instead of thinking you know what's going to happen. And the ending is the best part, with all the many, many threads brought together. Even the Trojan Horse isn't what you're expecting, and wait until you read what happens after the sack of Troy! My only complaint - way too much fighting - is an unfair one, given the subject of the book. And it's the same complaint I have about the next book...


Book #55: I finally finished reading The Iliad! I thought that since I keep holding forth about it with very little knowledge to go by (here, for example), I really should read the original. I'd read excerpts but this is my first time through the whole thing. And yeah, there's too much fighting. I got tired of reading exactly where the sword or spear went into every single person and how his innards fell out. Blech. However, there are wonderful, wonderful things in this book. I guess that's why it's still read about twenty seven hundred years after it was written. These characters, mortal and immortal, are finely drawn individuals. Helen points out all the Greeks to Priam and tells him all she knows about each one. Menelaus wants to show mercy, but his brother Agamemnon mocks him until he kills Adrestus. Andromache begs Hector not to go fight, leaving her a widow and their son Astyanax fatherless. Astyanax recoils in horror from his father,

terrified by the flashing bronze, the horsehair crest, the great ridge of the helmet nodding, bristling terror - so it struck his eyes. And his loving father laughed, his mother laughed as well, and glorious Hector, quickly lifting the helmet from his head, set it down on the ground, fiery in the sunlight, and raising his son he kissed him, tossed him in his arms, lifting a prayer to Zeus and the other deathless gods: "Zeus, all you immortals! Grant this boy, my son, may be like me, first in glory among the Trojans, strong and brave like me, and rule all Troy in power and one day let them say, 'He is a better man than his father!"
Zeus tells Hera how much she appeals to him by listing all the other women to whom she's superior, in a moment that made me laugh out loud. He even takes a moment to mention the "marvelous ankles" of one of his former loves, all to finish up, "That was nothing to how I hunger for you now!" We learn about the fine points of chariot racing, the burial customs of the Greeks and the Trojans, the amazing armor that Hephaestus makes for Achilles...a whole epic's worth of memorable moments. Not that I have anything to compare it to, but Robert Fagles' translation is readable and beautiful. I highly recommend that you read this, one of the original classics.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Future Shock

"This is a story with no clear outcome," I read last night.

Which story? Twilight? No. The story referred to in this article is the report just brought out by the Intelligence Council, which suggests that the influence that the United States has in the world will decrease in the future.

I don't know about you, but I'm not completely startled by this news. After all, from history we know that empires rise and fall, influence grows and shrinks, and countries that ruled the world 150 years ago have much less clout today. We also know that even a group of people with such an awe-inspiring name as Intelligence Council can't predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone in the next 20 years. Sure, they can look at trends, and they can use their knowledge of the present to infer things about the future. But ultimately, they don't know the details.

The part I thought was most interesting about the report (OK, about the article about the report - I didn't read the report itself, and judging it by the article is a bit like judging a novel on students' notes from a lecture on it, rather than by reading the novel, but never mind that) was that "while American power and influence are projected to decline, America's burdens are not." In other words, while the U.S. will be less able to control outcomes, everything that goes wrong on the planet will still be blamed on the U.S., so things will be pretty much the way they are now. (I know, I know, many of the world's problems are the fault of the U.S., but give us a break sometimes, world, OK? Not all evil is made in the U.S.A.!)

There's more interesting information in the article. It is, I admit, a little bit scary to imagine the kind of world envisioned by these academics, where people fight over resources which are becoming increasingly scarce. (Already happening now, by the way.) However, reading this also makes me think of the guy who visited my elementary school many years ago and talked about the world in "the year 2000," which seemed to us inconceivably far away at the time, and how each person on earth would have about a square foot of space to stand in by then. Or the person who came to my husband's high school and talked about how in the future people would have so much leisure time that they would have no idea how to fill it all. (I'm still waiting eagerly for that problem to develop in my life.) So I'm not going to lose too much sleep worrying about this. I'm sure the future holds many exciting and wonderful surprises, too. And meanwhile, let's all continue to do whatever we can to make the world better.

The future is, indeed, a "story with no clear outcome." But really, couldn't all the best stories be described that way?

Poetry Friday - Steps

I've been reading Naomi Shihab Nye's collection Fuel and it has many wonderful poems in it (though I find the cover image quite creepy). One of these wonderful poems is called "Steps" and it begins this way:


A man letters the sign for his grocery in Arabic and English.
Paint dries more quickly in English.
The thick swoops and curls of Arabic letters stay moist
and glistening till tomorrow when the children show up
jingling their dimes.

My favorite lines are in the third stanza:

"One of these children will tell a story that keeps her people
Alive. We don't yet know which one she is."

Now I think of those lines when I look at my students. One of them will, we hope. We just don't know which one.

You can read the rest of the poem here, because a group called STEPS, which studies colonial and transnational studies in Switzerland, is using it on its home page. Very appropriate.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hey, Amy, Look What I Did!

Back in July Amy had a contest and I won! She said she'd make me a new header, but I fiddle-faddled about and didn't let her know what I wanted (because I had no clue) and hemmed and hawed when she sent me samples and dragged my feet about upgrading my blog to the new kind of templates, because I thought it would be too complicated...

Amy was very patient with this not-exactly-early-adopter person, and today, on my day off, look what I did! And look at Amy's great design for my header! Isn't it pretty? Thanks, Amy.

(There are still some things I don't get about this new-fangled template, like why it says that Jess hasn't updated her blog in three months, when really she wrote something on Saturday...)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Post-Racial Society?

Right after the election I read a comment online by a man who said he couldn't understand why people were getting so excited about the race of the winner. If we live in a post-racial society, he opined, it shouldn't matter.

I snorted and said to myself that anyone who lives in the United States and considers it a post-racial society is probably white. I later expressed this opinion to a friend whose skin color is darker than mine. She agreed and added, "And on crack!"

And then I read this profoundly discouraging article about the uptick in racially-motivated crime after the election.

A post-racial society? Maybe sometime in the future people will be judged, as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, not "by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." But I'm afraid that day is not yet.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poetry Friday

Here is the roundup. I guess this wasn't the week for me to do my own post!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bwana Obama

Wednesday was a holiday in Kenya! People were celebrating the election of Barack Obama, whose father was from Kenya, to the office of the President of the United States. Here's an interesting article about the attitudes of Kenyans towards Obama. Here's an expat's view of all the hoopla (the last several posts are on the topic so I've just linked you to the main blog). And here's a photo essay that the BBC ran earlier this week.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Poetry Friday

Here's today's roundup. Some day I'm going to do a Poetry Friday post of my own again.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Theme Day - Books

I was away from my computer on the first of the month, so I missed the DP Blogs' theme day. And what a theme for me to miss: Books! Here's a link to the thumbnails of photos taken around the world of this lovely subject.

A Couple of Election Links

I've kept pretty quiet about the election so far, and I intend to continue that, but I just can't resist posting two links.

Here's what Jim Wallis has to say about Focus on the Family's "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America."

And here's John Piper's take on how Christians should vote.

I sent in my absentee ballot a couple of weeks ago and will be watching the results tomorrow with great interest.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just How Low Does the Love of God Reach?

In church on Sunday we sang a well-known hymn, but the words were slightly different from what I had learned. The original text goes like this:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen could ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.

The version we sang (lyrics courtesy of iWorship, a company that produces song-lyric videos that can be played on a screen so that nobody needs a hymnal) went like this:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen could ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hill.

Huh? The lowest hill? For one thing it doesn't even rhyme, and for another, isn't a hill, by definition, elevated? What on earth is "the lowest hill?"

This could be a typo, or it could be a certain squeamish sense that we shouldn't sing about h-e-double hockey sticks in church. Jesus had no such compunctions in the New Testament, and I for one need a love that reaches to the lowest hell. The lowest hill just doesn't cut it.

This song has a refrain that never fails to make me smile. I don't usually see it printed with a comma, so it reads like this:

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

To me this means that the love will endure the song - that is, in spite of how out of tune, insincere, and generally unpleasant our song is, God's love will endure. That is certainly true, but I think what the author intended was:

It shall forever more endure,
The saints' and angels' song.

"The saints' and angels' song," in the second version, is an appositive, meaning that the love of God IS the saints' and angels' song. Also true, but I like the wrong version better.

Here's the whole song in the Cyberhymnal. (Warning - this link plays music!)

Monday, October 20, 2008

I Hope Not

A piece in the October 6th New Yorker begins this way:

"I have a theory that life is junior high," Tom Brokaw said last week, roaming the stage of the Metropolitan Ballroom at the Sheraton. "Everybody's trying to get to the right tables, hang out with the right crowd, say the right things, and emerge saying they're part of the 'in' group."

Hm. Maybe his life is junior high. I'm glad mine isn't. I spend most of my days in middle school, and while I love my students, I am frequently happy that I'm not in that age bracket any more.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Poetry Friday - What Travel Does

Today I read Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "What Travel Does" with my eighth graders. It is in the book A Maze Me. For copyright reasons I won't post the whole thing. The poem speaks of the effects of travel on several different people. Here's one, at the beginning of the poem:

My uncle comes home from Siberia
describing the smoked caribou leg
still wearing its hoof
left on the drainboard
week after week,
small knives slicing
sour red flesh.
He becomes a vegetarian.
But he misses the spaciousness.
It wasn't crowded up there.
He ran into a polar bear
the same way you might run into your
mailman around the block.

Other effects of travel include a love for bright colors and an aching sense of the injustice suffered by others. Buy the book and read the whole poem!

The effects of travel (or living as a foreigner) are sometimes bewilderment and confusion. It was good today to read this fun exploration of some of the other (mostly positive) ways we are changed by interaction with other places and people and to be reminded of how that has happened for me throughout my life.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Poetry Friday, a day late, and mini-update

Here's yesterday's Poetry Friday roundup.

I'm still spending most of my time working, though I did listen to the debate Thursday night and today I'm taking a break to go to the dentist! Fun, fun! Next Friday is the last day for my kids to turn in all their writing, and I've been swamped by drafts.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Theme Day - Lines

Today's DP Blog theme is "Lines." This lends itself to many interpretations, and the talented photographers had a lot of fun. You can see thumbnails here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Snowed Under

I got an email from a friend the other day asking where I went, since I haven't posted anything here in over a week. The answer is that we went on a staff retreat over the weekend. Going away for the weekend requires a week of preparation to catch up before going and then a week of catching up when you get back because you didn't get caught up enough before, in spite of your efforts. At least, for me it does. If I don't do four or five hours of work on Saturday, I pay for the omission the whole week. So now I'm paying. It's not just the work itself, which can be done here and there in five minute increments - it's the chance to get my thoughts together and feel thoroughly prepared. I need that and this week I just didn't get it. Hope to be back soon!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Birds

It's Bird Day again.


I've become a weather junkie. I'm always checking out, the National Hurricane Center, and, most lately, Yahoo Weather. I particularly like Yahoo Weather, because you can personalize it. I have it set up to show me the weather in cities around the world. This is going to be even more fun when North American winter really sets in and I can feel smug about how much warmer I am than any of my friends and family members who live there.

Another great thing about Yahoo Weather is that I get a list of articles having to do with weather. (Some of them don't have much to do with weather really - if there's been a storm of protest in some scandal, the storm reference sends the article into my list.) There is always flooding somewhere - and the poor suffer disproportionately from this, as from everything else. In countries around the world, people with no homeowner's insurance and no FEMA are drying out their few possessions that survived one flood or another and mourning those who were washed away.

It was on Yahoo Weather that I found this article, too. It seems that some people in Ohio have been without power for five days and have taken to the streets to protest. (People do that here, too, but it takes them a lot longer than five days to reach that point. Sometimes after five months or so they might go out and burn a few tires and block the roads.) I sympathize with these people, honestly I do. The article notes that some of them are on oxygen and depend on the elevators in their building working. It's not easy to be without power, as I know better than many!

Weather obsesses us because there's not much we can do about it. People can forecast it, with varying degrees of accuracy, but we can't make it go away. And it affects what we want to do, irritatingly enough. On my Yahoo Weather page I notice a link to Fisherman's Weather, which I imagined was for fleets of fishermen going out to earn their living, but which turns out to be for recreational fishermen and to have more to do with whether the fish are biting than with the calmness of the ocean. There's also a Honeymoon Planner, because as the site says, "Your dream destination wedding or honeymoon can quickly turn into a nightmare if you're not prepared for the weather."

It all reminds me that we are very much at the mercy of things beyond our control, even though we like to convince ourselves that we can plan our future and run our own lives. The Bible is clear on this, in the book of James, saying: "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that'"(James 4:13-15). In this country Christians always add "if God wills" whenever they use the word "tomorrow." For years I've resisted doing it because it seems so formulaic. "If God wills" is just part of the word "tomorrow" in the whole mumbled phrase, "See-you-tomorrow-if-God-wills." Sometimes it strikes me as a bit fatalistic and a way of avoiding responsibility for one's own actions. But lately, in the midst of yet another round of crisis for this sad little country where I live, I find myself adding the phrase to my speech, not in a formulaic way but remembering every time I say it that our life is a vapor, a mist, not lasting, subject to any number of unexpected disasters and yet also full of countless joys. We had a pastor once who remarked after a huge snowstorm that shut down activity and canceled church that God likes to do that every once in a while to remind us who's in charge.

Am I saying God sent the storms that caused so much damage and loss of life? I am struggling with that question. I believe God could have prevented them hitting this country, already in the throes of so many problems. Why didn't He? I don't know why He allows suffering in this world, though I have read many books on the subject and have my answers all formulated in a philosophical sense - but those pat answers fall apart sometimes in the face of misery and grief. It's easier for me to explain away problems caused by human beings - God allows for our free will, etc. etc. - than the so-called "Acts of God." (And yes, there's the whole global warming factor, with human activity affecting severity of weather, but let's face it - there were catastrophic events well before the internal combustion engine and people have always wrestled with these questions.)

This isn't the time for agonizing over philosophical and theological questions, though, it's a time for neighbors helping each other and outsiders coming with aid and comfort. It's a time for me to look at unfathomable, overwhelming need, and say, "I can't do much, but I can clean out my closet and pass on clothes, I can play with some displaced orphans, I can donate money, I can keep life normal for the children of others who are out helping more directly, I can pray."

I didn't intend to become so impassioned in this post. It was just going to be a lighthearted note on the features of Yahoo Weather. But life is overshadowed now with grief. "In the midst of life we are in death," says the Book of Common Prayer. That's always the case, but in times like these we are more aware of the fact. And as Lewis reminds me in his "Learning in Wartime" (which I blogged about here), it's a good thing for us to be aware of mortality.

Incidentally, I smiled when I noticed at, where I'd gone to look up the verses from James, that today's verse of the day is “Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.”- Joel 2:23

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Poetry Friday - To Night

To Night
by Joseph Blanco White (1775 – 1841)

Mysterious Night! when our first parent knew
Thee from report divine, and heard thy name,
Did he not tremble for this lovely frame,
This glorious canopy of light and blue?
Yet 'neath a curtain of translucent dew,
Bathed in the rays of the great setting flame,
Hesperus with the host of heaven came,
And lo! Creation widened in man's view.
Who could have thought such darkness lay concealed
Within thy beams, O Sun! or who could find,
Whilst fly and leaf and insect stood revealed,
That to such countless orbs thou mad'st us blind!
Why do we then shun death with anxious strife?
If Light can thus deceive, wherefore not Life?

This poem was on the Classic Poetry Aloud podcast during the summer. A professor I had in college said that all poetry is about death, because most of it is about beauty, and you can't write about beauty without knowing that it's all temporary. This poem is explicitly about death, and urges us not to fear it, since it will bring us a wider view - a realization of all that life hides from us.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Has the Large Hadron Collider destroyed the World Yet?

Well, has it? Find out here.

(You can find out what this thing is here, if, like me, you never heard of it until today. Thanks Tricia.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More on Haiti

I'm shocked to see that Haiti doesn't even make the Google News front page, but here's some more on what is going on and what you can do to help.

I wrote about Gonaives the other day and here's more on what's happening there. But many other parts of Haiti have been severely hit as well. You can see descriptions and photos here, here, here, and here.

There are some ways you can help here and here. Many, many other organizations are in dire need of funds right now, so just Google "Haiti Hurricane Relief" and give to the group of your choice. As Tara puts it on her blog,
Many were swept away in the water and lost loved ones and homes and possessions. State Farm Insurance is not cutting checks in two weeks, two months or ever. These losses are huge. They will have long-lasting effects on these areas.

The gardens are gone. The animals are gone. The houses are gone. Everything these people had (and in most cases, that wasn't a whole lot) is gone. And nobody seems to know how many people have been lost - every single article has a different number. Lord, have mercy on dear little Haiti.

Monday, September 08, 2008


I can understand why people worship the sun. That feeling you get when it appears in the sky after days of gloom is certainly a spiritual one. Ecstasy, just about.

We had a professional development day scheduled for today but our speaker couldn't come - his flight was canceled. (We shouldn't schedule any special events for storm season. Or election season. Or kidnapping season. Or riot season. Or, really, ever. As Homer Simpson would say, "So you tried, and you failed. The lesson here is: don't try.") We're going to meet anyway and I'm sure we'll get some things done.

Here's to a sunny week!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Gonaïves, Haïti

Cathedral in Gonaïves after Hurricane Hanna, Photo from Yahoo News

Here's what happened in Gonaïves, Haïti during Tropical Storm Jeanne in 2004.

Here's what happened there during Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna in 2008. (One pastor said this year's destruction was "ten times worse.")

And here's some about Hurricane Ike. And more about Ike's effects in Gonaives and elsewhere.

Early Morning Reading Update

I'm up early - I can't remember what woke me, but when I went to check on the kids (as I do almost every time I wake up in the night - is that neurotic?) I found that the leak in my son's ceiling had spilled over the strategically placed washtub. I put a towel under the washtub and found another washtub and strategically placed that one too - and by then I was wide, wide awake. It's raining and raining, and has been for hours, apparently, judging by the amount in the previously mentioned washtub.

So anyway, it's been a while since I posted a reading update.

Book #43 was Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope, by the Van Ryn and Cerak families. Remember this story from the news? There was a huge accident involving students from Taylor University, and the one survivor was misidentified - the wrong family sat by her bedside for five weeks before they figured out what was going on. Very interesting book, terribly sad, but also full of hope.

Book #44 was Your Child's Strengths:Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them, by Jenifer Fox. Fox believes that the prevailing educational system is based on weakness, not strength, and that we need to be encouraging kids to find their areas of strength. She makes a good case and I have used some of her material with my students already. I found that this book influenced the way I think about students. And I loved the item from the workbook where she suggests talking to kids about how they would handle it if the power were off at their house (among many other discussion items). Power off? Would they even notice?

Book #45 was Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, by Kiran Desai. I picked this book up because I loved Desai's later book The Inheritance of Loss. This one wasn't as good - same breezy style, similar eccentric characters, but not nearly as poignant and believable. Still, I guess it shows that Desai is getting better!

Book #46 was C. S. Lewis' book Miracles, which I read because my friend Janet posted this amazing quote from it. Lewis doesn't disappoint. Reading him always makes me feel as though I've been doing brain calisthenics. I loved this book. Janet writes way more coherently about it, in the post I already linked and a couple of others.

Books #47 and #48 were Nobody's Princess and Nobody's Prize, by Esther Friesner. These books are terrific fun. They are about Helen of Troy as a young girl, before she was Helen of Troy. In most retellings of the Iliad she comes across as completely insipid. Not in these books! She has as much adventure as it's possible to fit into a book, and she's a thoroughly memorable character, surrounded by other thoroughly memorable characters, many of whom happen to be folk you've read about in myths all your life. It's delightful to see Friesner's take on many of these.

The internet connection has gone in and out while I have been writing this post, and the power has gone off, and a child has arrived in my bed, and through it all the rain has pounded steadily on.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Learning in Wartime

Someone at a staff meeting referred last week to C. S. Lewis' sermon Learning in Wartime. I had read it before; back in 2001, after September 11th, a lot of people were reading and discussing it. (Here's an article published in Christianity Today at the time.)

Lewis gave this sermon to undergraduates during the second World War. How, they wondered, could they justify being at university and studying when such cataclysmic events were going on? Particularly, how could they study the seemingly impractical things they were working on? (This is something I think about a lot. I mean, what good am I in an emergency? I can just hear it now: "Ah, someone with a literature degree! Two literature degrees, you say! Just what we need right now in the middle of this crisis, in this country with a 50% literacy rate! Hurry over here, there's a text to be explicated! What a relief to have an expert on hand!")

The relevance of this Lewis sermon now was that we as a staff are overwhelmed with what is going on around us in this country, with the death and destruction and suffering. Of course, it's useful to keep people's children safe and occupied while they are out there making things better. Of course, it's useful to educate children. But sometimes it seems that the things we're teaching are perhaps not the best use of our time - why aren't we out there doing something useful? What good are equations and metaphors and chemical formulae now?

If you've ever felt that way, I highly recommend that you read this piece. (You can find it in PDF format here.) (Edit - Wow, I've worked and worked on posting the right link and I can't seem to get it - just do what I did and Google "C. S. Lewis Learning in Wartime PDF" and you should find it. It's at

Here's an excerpt:

Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something
infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed
the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure
the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when
we compare war with "normal life". Life has never been
normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil,
like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to
be full of cries, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible
reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely
cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long
ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted
knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the
suitable moment that never came. Periclean Athens leaves
us not only the Parthenon but, significantly, the Funeral
Oration. The insects have chosen a different line: they have
sought first the material welfare and security of the hive,
and presumably they have their reward. Men are
different. They propound mathematical theorems in
beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in
condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last
new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and
comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is
our nature.

Literature is part of what it means to be human - yes, even in a country where so many can't read it. It helps us understand one another, appreciate one another, and maybe be less likely to kill one another. It may not be of immediate practical value, but humanity wants knowledge and beauty now. The suitable moment will never come.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Week that Was

I am thanking God it's Friday. (And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup, by the way). This week was a rough one, for several reasons.

One reason is that I'm a weenie, and I hate gloomy weather. I am spoiled here - we usually have perfect weather (if somewhat warm for some people's tastes). None of this gentle sweep of the seasons stuff - we have blue skies and lovely warm temperatures all year round, and we love it! Or at least, I do. This week was windy, dark, and rainy - oh my goodness, rainy. It rained almost all the time.

The second reason is linked to the first - this bad weather caused horrible damage in this country - not to my house, but to the houses of thousands of others. It killed people, displaced people, ruined people's lives. It was a week of grief, and that grief continues.

The third reason is that I was sick all week, and I lost my voice. A voice is rather important for a teacher. I realized once again that my voice is my main tool of the trade. I use it all day long, to explain and encourage and cajole and instruct and correct and, well, teach. I try not to raise it too often, but I take roll, read aloud, ask and answer questions, maintain order in the hallways, give directions, conference with kids, pray (it's a Christian school, don't call the ACLU). I was constantly reminded every day this week how important my voice is to the work I do. I would force it all morning with my middle schoolers and then be basically mute by the afternoon and give my high schoolers something to do that wouldn't require me to talk.

Today the sky was blue and gorgeous again, and the sun was out. That cheered me up immensely. And I was starting to feel physically normal again, too. One of my lessons today went so well that I wanted to jump up and down. I wished I had been being observed by an administrator. It was that good. One of those moments when you say, yes, I'm fabulous, this is why I'm a teacher!

At the same time, though, I can't stop thinking about the citizens of this country who have lost everything this week. I met some this afternoon, kids who were asleep in their orphanage when the waters started to rise. They escaped with their lives and their pyjamas and nothing else.

And that was my week. I'm hoping and praying for an uneventful weekend with clear skies.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Theme Day - Sister Cities

Today's Theme Day for the Daily Photo blogs is Sister Cities. Here you can see the thumbnails of participants' photos.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Poetry Friday - Sick

I have a rotten cold, but of course I worked sick. The thought of getting ready for a sub is so very daunting that I usually do. I know, I know, I'm encouraging the spread of the virus, which I probably picked up in the classroom in the first place.

Here's an Emily Dickinson poem that's new to me and it's just about impossible to shorten it.

Surgeons must be very careful
by Emily Dickinson

Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit—Life!

So, I'm thankful to be alive after a weird and windy week, and I guess coughing and snorting and struggling to breathe is a blessing since it proves I'm still alive. And now I'm going to go to bed.

Here's this week's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stormy Weather Book Club

So we're home again today, and it's raining and raining and raining. A bedroom ceiling is leaking (I removed a nearly full five-gallon bucket from under the drippy spot this morning), and there's water all over the kitchen floor because the (solar) fridge is completely thawing. (Funny, the way you need sun to make solar things work.) The whole world has a drowned feeling about it.

I know that in homes all over this country, people are putting buckets under drips. Someone who came over to see me today said that at his house they have to stand up because if you lie down you're going to be under a spot where the rain's coming in. He has sent his kids to different places to be dry.

I'm feeling a bit gloomy. You probably don't get Seasonal Affective Disorder after two days without sun, but I'm a tropical person and I can't stand all this gray. Especially when I keep thinking about all the people who are wet and miserable and the ones who have had mudslides on their houses and the ones who are just out in the cold because they lost their roof. None of these are cheerful thoughts.

This morning my son asked to have a book club. By this he meant that he and his sister would choose books and we would all get in Mommy and Daddy's bed and read to each other. So that's what we did. My daughter chose a chapter book she thought her brother would like and he picked a stack of picture books and we read. It made us all feel better.

Here's what we read:

Mr. Popper's Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater. I don't think I've ever read this before. It's funny and improbable and just what the doctor ordered.

Mr. Shaw's Shipshape Shoe Shop, by Eve Titus. Surely this wonderful book isn't out of print? I can't find it on Amazon at all, even used. This really is a great one - a surefire cheerer upper. It's about someone for whom everything works out - all the different passions of his life come together to create a perfect life. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But wonderful. And full of great alliteration, as my 11-year-old pointed out while we read it. (Edit: I found it when I searched by the author's name. You can get a copy for 51 cents here.)

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, by Tomie de Paola. My children love this book. Patrick is taken as a slave and he rises above it and becomes a great servant of God.

The Story of Abraham, adapted by Maxine Nodel. Another great story about promises that really do end up coming true.

Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold. All you need is an imagination and you can fly away and overcome your troubles. (Oh, and great illustrations help.)

Hope we go back to school tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Our internet connection is still up! Hooray! I think I'll go look at this week's Education Carnival.

Oh wait, that's last week's. I'm a little behind the times.

Weather Happens

One of the hazards of tropical living is the occasional tropical storm. No school today, as we hunker down.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

And Still More about Breaking Dawn

Here is another review of the book by Lisa. She feels a little more strongly than I do about the - shall we say - mature themes in this book. I thought it was acceptable in the context, though I did feel that this was yet another example of a series that started out appropriate for middle schoolers and got less so as it continued. I don't want to mislead you if you're buying this for your young teenager, so go read what she has to say.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Poetry Friday - Abstraction

One of the things I enjoyed in the Twilight Series is the various kinds of mind-reading. (Here's a really interesting article that suggests the mind-reading the werewolf pack does is a metaphor for life as a tribal person.) I think Meyer does a wonderful job writing conversations where one or several of the participants are not actually speaking. These conversations are often very funny.

Most of the time we don't get to know what is going on in other people's minds. We know what they tell us or what we observe - so our knowledge is always partial.

My friend Tara loves Sara Groves and got me listening to her music, too. Over time Tara has posted the lyrics to most of the songs on Groves' latest album, Tell Me What You Know.

I don't think she has posted these lyrics, and reading Breaking Dawn, in the weird way in which my mind works, made me think of this song. In the liner notes Groves quotes from A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin:

We're too weak to feel the full import of such a loss...It would take more than anyone can give to understand the life of one other cannot know anything but the smallest part of the love, regret, excitement and melancholy of one [life]. And Two? And Three? At two you have entered the realm of abstraction.


The girl looks out from the window of the airplane
20,000 feet up in the sky
She picks a rooftop in the middle of the town
And wonders what is happening inside

The TV in the kitchen flashes faces
The woman slowly pushes in the chairs
Her neighbor's son is fighting in the army
She's concentrating to remember where

Who can know the pain, the joy, the regret, the satisfaction
Who can know the love of one life, one heart, one soul
At two you're at abstraction

The man is waiting for the bus into the city
He grabs a drink and slowly reads the Times
His heart is captured by a story of a child
Around the world but always on his mind

A million this a million that
Vast sums of individuals
A million here a million there
Made up of a million souls

It's true, isn't it? We feel things so deeply, think thoughts that completely absorb our attention, live lives that seem incredibly important to us. Yet it's hard for us to enter into others' experience. Especially, as the song says, when we're talking of millions of souls. That's one of the reasons I like to read, because it gives me an opportunity to see things from other points of view, and opens my mind, often, to completely new ways of looking at life. At that point, I can get beyond the abstraction.

The Poetry Friday roundup is here today.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Precious Object

When we were discussing Writing Territories this week, I talked about things that we love as possible subjects for writing. Everyone, of course, has a different list. Here's one of my precious objects.

I got this puzzle probably when I was six years old (I'm going by the house I remember living in at the time). It has traveled with me to many different homes since then. I used to have my parents time me to see how long it took to put every piece in, and now my daughter does the same thing. Each time I've had a baby I've put the puzzle away until toddler years were safely past, since I didn't want any of these countries disappearing down a throat.

One country is missing - can you see? It's Tunisia, and I've always wanted to visit there, since its absence makes it seem especially attractive to me. My kids were looking for this piece a few months ago and I told them not to bother, because it was lost many years ago and in a country far, far away from here (not a different galaxy, but it might as well be).

Of course, this is a historical curiosity too, since several of these countries no longer exist with the names written here. Rhodesia, Malagasy Republic, Zaire, for example. Due in large part to this puzzle, my African geography (at least, using 1973-era names) is far better than my US geography. I didn't go to elementary school in the States, except for two years, and I didn't have a puzzle with the states on it!

I wonder which of the toys my children have now will get carried from country to country as this one has?