Friday, May 30, 2008

Poetry Friday - The Age of Dinosaurs

I was thinking about this poem today because I saw a photo of my nephew with some of his favorite dinosaurs. I live in a house littered with tiny dinosaurs, too, and read many books about dinosaurs to a certain small boy.

Of course, the poem is also about growing up. These days of small boyhood will not last nearly as long as the age of dinosaurs.

The Age of Dinosaurs
by James Scruton

There are, of course, theories
about the wide-eyed, drop-jawed
fascination children have for them,
about how, before he's learned
his own phone number or address,
a five-year-old can carry
like a few small stones
the Latin tonnage of those names,
the prefixes and preferences
for leaf or meat.

My son recites the syllables
I stumble over now,
sets up figures as I did
years ago in his prehistory.
Here is the green ski slope
of a brontosaur's back,
there a triceratops in full
gladiator gear. From the arm
of a chair a pterodactyl
surveys the dark primeval carpet.

You can read the rest of this poem here.

Poetry Friday

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Winding Up

Yesterday was the due date for any remaining final pieces from my students, and now I have to grade up a storm for as long as it takes. The grades are due next Friday.

I had a sub at school because I went with the eighth graders on their retreat. This is something we do every year - we take the eighth graders somewhere with a pool and they fool around and eat and have a great time. We also do a little orientation for high school and a spiritual challenge. It's always a chance for the teachers that go along to see the kids in a different setting and to appreciate how far they have come since we first started teaching them at the beginning of middle school.

Afterwards, my daughter had her piano recital and every single student played beautifully and glowed with pride in front of family and people who love them. I congratulated the piano teacher and said that it must be a wonderful experience as a teacher to see every student succeed. It got me thinking that I need to give my students more chances to shine in front of others with the work they do. It was a goal of mine this year to give the kids more chance to publish, and I'm afraid I haven't done a good job of it at all. So that's something to think more about for next year. I do give them a chance to share work with their classmates and many of them love to do it. I haven't done that as often this year, though, because it leads to so much silliness, and kids who get up and giggle so much that you can't hear a word they say, and then when you do hear, the writer may be the only one who finds it funny.

As I grade my students' work I generally get more and more depressed - it's very easy for me to focus on what they still can't do, and what I should have taught them better. But with the memory of the piano recital in my mind, I'm going to make a point of looking more for the beauty in their work, what they can do now that they couldn't at the beginning of the year, and how they are growing as writers and as people.

Here's today's Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Still Listening

This is one of my favorite Steven Curtis Chapman songs, and my son went through a phase when he wanted to listen to it every night. To me it talks of a childhood faith that goes the distance, a time when the words we spoke at bedtime when we were very small have to be claimed for ourselves. I am praying that during this time of crisis and tragedy for this family, they will remember that God is still listening.

This world is full of crisis and tragedy for many families today. I feel overwhelmed by the grief of so many, cleaning up from the earthquake in China and the cyclone in Myanmar. Oh God, please listen.

Still Listening

I would lay me down to sleep
And pray the Lord my soul to keep
And though I never saw Him there
I believe He heard each prayer
For God was great, And God was good
And I knew if I spoke the words
He would be listening

The years can take us far away
From the simple childlike faith
But I am longing to return
To the place where I first learned
That God is great, and God is good
So, I will speak the words

God, our Father, once again
I bow my head to pray
You are my Father and my friend, and You hear every word I say
A prayer for forgiveness, A desperate cry for help
Or praise flowing from a thankful heart
Like each time before, I come knowing You're still listening

I will never understand
How the words of mortal man
Can reach the ears of One so pure
And touch His heart, but they do I'm sure
For God is great, and God is good
And He is love

God, our Father, once again
I bow my head to pray
You are my Father and my friend, and You hear every word I say
A prayer for forgiveness, A desperate cry for help
Or praise flowing from a thankful heart
Like each time before, I come knowing You're still listening
You're still listening

Now I lay me down to sleep
And pray the Lord my soul to keep
Though I may not see You there
I believe You'll hear each prayer

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Carnival of Education

Here's this week's Education Carnival. Lots of very interesting stuff this week, under the heading "Stranger in a Strange Land." Indeed.

Mango for Lunch

Today with our school lunch we had a mango. For the youngest children the mangoes had been sliced, but for the older kids and adults, we were just handed a whole mango. Yum. Except that today was hamburger and french fries day, with no silverware.

It's really hard to eat a mango without a knife. Unless, that is, you're in the bathtub. I ended up peeling off the skin and sticking my face in it. I was covered with mango juice for the rest of the afternoon and there were fibers from the fruit between my teeth, too. I really should have gone home to take a shower before continuing with my day.

Still, it was delicious.

Here's another post I made about mangoes, including why joy is a mango and a link to the correct way - or a correct way - to eat them. (Oops, looks like the link to photos of a good way to cut them is no longer working. Here's another one with photos.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Just Another Manic Monday

Yesterday was a national holiday, the kind of holiday that involves dressing up in costumes and marching in the street in the blazing hot sun for hours. (No, I didn't march, but I watched many others do so.) Traditionally, the day after this particular festival is declared a day off as well. But this can't be done in advance. Oh, no. It must instead be done late in the evening before or even early in the morning of the day being so honored.

When you're kind of hoping a day is going to be a holiday, and even taking votes from everyone you know, and speculating endlessly on it, and then it turns out not to be...well, let's just say it's not easy to go into such a day with a great attitude. Because really, blessed are they who expect nothing, for lo, they shall not be disappointed.

Yes, we had school today. No, the government did not declare a holiday. While in theory I applaud this decision (we've already missed school for unrest, education is what this country needs, we have another day off later this week, yada yada yada), in practice I feel disgruntled and irritated that I had to work today. Because I'm not rational, that's why.

We're coming up on the end of the school year, and the usual mad rush to turn in writing has begun. I am carrying home large heaps of drafts each day. In addition, a couple of my students are interviewing me for the profiles they are writing. And I'm trying to get all my grades posted and various other tasks accomplished. But eventually they turned off the generator at school and I left my classroom.

I got home and was told that we were out of water. It turns out that a toilet ran today and emptied our château d'eau, our rooftop hoard that keeps us going while the power's off. It's hard not to cry when that happens - thinking about all that water, gone to waste. But hey, you can't cry over spilled water, and we just hauled some buckets from the cistern. (And yes, we are incredibly privileged to have water that we don't have to walk miles for.) My daughter loves the bucket baths - she says it's just like Little House on the Prairie.

Off to grade student writing!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

"I was alone. I was covered in mud and goat blood. I'd lost my luggage. I didn't speak the local language. I hadn't had a meal for days, but I felt surprisingly good." - Greg Mortenson, in Three Cups of Tea.

You have to love a guy who talks like that, and I found my affection for Greg Mortenson, an MK from Tanzania turned mountain climber, growing all the way through this book. Terrifically written by journalist David Oliver Relin, this book kept me eagerly turning pages. It's the story of Mortenson's quest to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan after coming to know some of the needs of the people of the region while attempting to climb K2.

Of course it's never as easy as handing over the cash (even if you have some, which he didn't) when you want to help people change things, and Mortenson goes through his share of difficulties before his organization begins to have success. He rolls with whatever happens, whether being kidnapped by men with automatic weapons, having a fatwa declared against him, or, well, see the quote above. I smiled when I read the Mortenson is always late. Folks, this is the consummate adult MK. And the love story with his wife is not to be missed.

I have some experience with being in a country the media has portrayed negatively, and finding that they have left out a lot of the story, and therefore I appreciated Mortenson's positive picture of these people who have difficult lives, but are strong and courageous. (Or maybe I should say, who have difficult lives and SO are strong and courageous.)

One question I'd like to ask Mortenson is whether he has continued to practice the Christianity he grew up with. I appreciated the respectful way he interacted with Muslims but I am curious to know more about his own spiritual beliefs.

This is a great book - book #21 of the year - read it right away!

Image courtesy Greg Mortenson, Central Asia Institute (See more at Mortenson's website.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Poetry Friday - Summer

I'm getting lots of poems about summer from my kids right now - they are just barely hanging on for the last three weeks of school. Their minds are not here, but in the freedom and excitement of summer.

Here's one I like to read with them. I love the way it personifies summer as a tousled, active girl, and I especially love the ending.

Reading: Summer

Summer is with it,
she's wild,
she likes
bare legs and cutoffs
and camping
and hikes;
she dives in deep water,
she wades in a stream,
she guzzles cold drinks
and she drowns in ice cream;


she tastes the warm air
on the end of her tongue,

and she falls asleep
in the sun.

Myra Cohn Livingston

I left out the middle for copyright reasons but you can read the whole thing here.

And here's this week's roundup.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Five Things Meme

I got tagged for this meme by Writer2B.

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

What were you doing five years ago?

1. I was staying home with an infant, a stage of life I absolutely love
2. I was nursing all the time
3. I was running on less sleep than the 8 uninterrupted hours I prefer
4. I had no internet at home, so I was walking every day to a nearby computer with my baby in the front pack to check email
5. I was adjusting to having two children

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?

1. Supervise standardized testing (yawn)
2. Grade student drafts
3. Finish up survey and make copies (committee work, yawn again)
4. Finish the book I'm reading so I can take it back to the library tomorrow
5. Post grades on the computer, work on summer reading assignments, do plans for next week, oops, that's more than five...

What are five snacks you enjoy?

1. Jelly beans - someone just visited from the States and brought a container of them, and I can't quit eating them
2. Chips and dip
3. Fruit - particularly a mango, a peach, or a tangerine
4. Cheezits
5. Chocolate in almost any form

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?

I don't think I can think about a billion. That number is too big. But here goes...

1. Arrange to have 24-hour electricity in the neighborhood where I live - I think the whole city would go beyond my financial reach even if I were a billionaire
2. Find some families doing difficult jobs in difficult places and support them financially so they wouldn't have to worry about money
3. Fund a public library system in the country where I live
4. Fund breastfeeding education so that babies could get the best start even if they live in impoverished conditions
5. Give random gifts to people, just because, the way others have done for me

What are five of your bad habits?

1. Worrying
2. Overthinking decisions because I see all the possible problems - because of this I can be resistant to change
3. Sarcasm
4. Impatience
5. Getting obsessive about whatever my current interest is

What are five places where you have lived?

1. Kenya
2. England
3. United States
4. France (OK, it was just for a summer, but I was 19, and it was a very important summer)
5. The beautiful, warm, friendly, poor, rich, tropical country where I live now

What are five jobs you’ve had?

1. Waitress
2. Telephone surveys and medical transcription (that's two different jobs, but I wanted to mention them both)
3. Library worker, in various different capacities
4. Teacher of every age from Pre-K through college
5. Mom

What five people do you want to tag?

1. Tara
2. Bridget
3. Amy
4. Lori
5. Laura

Saturday, May 10, 2008


"I took them to the empty fireplace and crumpled up the wrapping paper, ready to burn them, my hands shaking in my haste. I rubbed at the tinderbox for long minutes before it caught, my fear rising at every moment. Then the flint sparked, and lit the tinder, and I could light a candle and take the flame to the paper in the grate. I held it under the corner of the wrapping paper and watched the flame lick it until it was blazing bright yellow.

I took up the books, planning to tear out a handful of pages at a time and burn each one. The first book, the one written in Latin, fluttered open in my hand. I took a fat handful of soft paper pages. They yielded to my fingers as if they had no power, as if they were not the most dangerous thing in the world. I tried to tear them from the fragile spine, but then I hesitated.

I could not do it. I would not do it. I sat back on my heels with the book in my hand with the light of the fire flickering and dying down and realized that not even when I was in mortal danger could I bring myself to burn a book.

It went against the grain of me. I had seen my father carry some of these books across Christendom, strapped to his heart, knowing that the secrets they contained were newly named as heretical. I had seen him buy books and sell books and, more than that, lend and borrow them just for the joy of seeing their learning go onward, spread outward. I had seen his delight in finding a missing volume, I had seen him welcome a lost folio back to his shelves as if it were the son he had never had. Books were my brothers and sisters; I could not turn against them now. I could not become one of those that see something they cannot understand, and destroy it."

from The Queen's Fool, by Philippa Gregory

Reading Update

I'm way behind on reviewing the books I'm reading, though there have been a couple recent ones that I'm intending to write more about at some point. Here's an update:

Book #17: The Kingdom by the Sea, by Robert Westall
Book #18: Interred with their Bones, by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Book #19: The Queen's Fool, by Philippa Gregory
Book #20: The Zombie Curse: A Doctor's 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti, by Arthur M. Fournier, with Daniel Herlihy

Fortunately, others have been reviewing the books they've been reading, and you can see some of those at today's Saturday Review of Books.


I somehow missed this week's Education Carnival, which appropriately has a testing theme. We're testing next week.

Friday, May 09, 2008


An eighth grader, typing at the computer in the back of my classroom, says to himself: "Oh, this is such a good story, man!"

He's talking, of course, about the story he's in the middle of writing. Is it good? Well, if you like action movies starring everyone in the class as various different kinds of mutants, then, yes. Definitely. Such a good story, man.

Poetry Friday - The Grass So Little Has to Do

This was the daily poem for Wednesday on the Classic Poetry Aloud podcast. I think it's a perfect choice for this week for a couple of reasons. First of all, I'm incredibly busy, grading huge stacks of student drafts. I'm feeling kind of jealous of that grass right about now, having so little to do. And secondly, with the wonderful rain we've been having, the grass on our field at school is lush and beautiful. It makes me happy just to look at it. In the middle of a hot, smelly city that's mostly made of concrete it's an oasis, a little garden, a "sphere of simple Green."

The Grass so little has to do
by Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

The Grass so little has to do –
A Sphere of simple Green –
With only Butterflies to brood
And Bees to entertain –

And stir all day to pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along –
And hold the Sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything –

And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearls –
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing –

And even when it dies – to pass
In Odors so divine –
Like Lowly spices, lain to sleep –
Or Spikenards, perishing –

And then, in Sovereign Barns to dwell –
And dream the Days away,
The Grass so little has to do
I wish I were a Hay –

The roundup for today is at Findings.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Weekend Again

After Thursday's pleasant midweek holiday, we had an in-service yesterday. I've done all my planning and sent out my progress reports. Still grading to do, but when isn't there?

I've been getting over some kind of virus that's going around school, so it was especially nice to have a day off. Today we have guests coming from the US, and I'm glad to be feeling better.

Here's today's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Poetry Friday - May Day

Yesterday was May Day, a holiday where I live as in many parts of the world. It celebrates spring time in some places, and honors workers in others. Everywhere in the world, the sentiments of Sara Teasdale in her poem May Day are a good reminder to live each day in awareness of beauty, since we don't know how long we will be around to enjoy it.

"Oh I must pass nothing by
Without loving it much.
The raindrop try with my lips,
The grass with my touch;

For how can I be sure
I shall see again
The world on the first of May
Shining after the rain?"

Here's the rest of the poem.

Today's roundup is at Big A little a.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Favorite Books

My eighth graders had to do one-minute speeches about their favorite books, attempting to convince others to read them. Here were the books mentioned:

American Chillers series, by Johnathan Rand
Forbidden Doors series, by Bill Myers
The Wish List by Eoin Colfer
Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
Artemis Fowl series, by Eoin Colfer
The Manny, by Sarah L. Thomson
Lucas, by Kevin Brooks
Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
The Haunted (I'm not sure who wrote this)
The Contender, by Robert Lipsyte
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
Ice Station, Area 7, and Contest, by Matt Reilly
The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin
The Freedom Writers Diary, by Erin Gruwell
The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Chicken Soup for the Soul series
The Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini

DP Theme Day - Numbers

It's the first of the month again, and that means a new theme day at the Daily Photo City blogs. This month's theme is Numbers. Here's Eric's post from Paris, with links to all the other participants.