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?

Day Three

Things at school are settling down a bit, becoming slightly less chaotic each day. Kids are still trickling in, but almost everyone whose name is on my list has made an appearance now. I've been giving out lockers, setting up procedures, getting things truly underway.

Today I picked up an extra class, one I've never taught before, so that will be an interesting challenge. It's good because I was feeling guilty about how light and easy my schedule was this year. I always have to be suffering, you know, and feeling guilty. It's an MK thing. If everything is going too well my character will not be sufficiently built. Now I feel my credibility as an overworked teacher has returned and I can gripe with a clear(er) conscience (not completely clear - I'll find something to feel guilty about - like the griping).

It is extremely, excessively, mind-bendingly warm. Right now it is 90 degrees, feels like 104 (actually, it feels more like 114, but Yahoo says 104). Today there was some kind of glitch with the generator - apparently involving maintenance, and switching to the old generator briefly - and we were without power between about one and two. Right after lunch, right at the steamiest part of the day. Nobody in my class fell asleep, but everyone looked miserable. The worst part was hearing the generator winding up to start and then having it not start - that happened three times at least. Finally it started back up and the AC in the classroom could be restarted. Whew. (And, my obligatory disclaimer: we are one of the few schools in this country that even has AC, we are spoiled rotten, yada yada yada.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First Day of School

After all the preparation, it's exciting to see the kids back at school. I particularly enjoyed talking with last year's eighth graders, who are now big high school students but still deign to speak to me. The new seventh graders were not as bad as reported, but then six of them are still missing. And then my eighth seems to me that the summer between seventh and eighth grades is one of the biggest times of change. Some of them grew up remarkably since the last time I saw them.

Here's to a great school year!

(Oh, and by the way, I had a couple of conversations about Breaking Dawn, and I was right about the reaction - see yesterday's post.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Breaking Dawn

Book #42
of this year was Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer.

"Charlie, you don't live in the world you thought you lived in. The good news is, nothing has changed - except that now you know. Life'll go on the same way it always has. You can go right back to pretending that you don't believe any of this."

It's hard to know what to write about a book like this without giving anything away. I'll just say that I enjoyed the book immensely and felt it ended the series in a satisfying way. However, I don't know that it is really a book that I'd encourage a middle schooler to read. I feel similarly about the way this series went as I do about the Traveling Pants books. Of course, an author is under no obligation to keep a series at a middle school level, and I'm not suggesting there is anything inappropriate or overly graphic in this book. It's just that with its focus on marriage I don't know that it is going to interest them as much as the previous books. (And even by saying that, I may be giving away too much. Sorry, sorry! No more spoilers!) We'll see.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Once again, I didn't get a Poetry Friday post written today, but once again plenty of other people did.

Today was a holiday - Assumption Day - but I spent the day in my classroom anyway. I am just about ready for Tuesday's first day of school. I still need five more desks, and those are supposed to be at school tomorrow. I also need to do some kind of seating chart for my first day with my new seventh graders - oh yes, I've heard the stories about this class! I am reserving judgment but I am also going to be prepared.

It is hot hot hot hot. This morning before going to school I looked at the local weather. It was 88 degrees, feels like 99. A couple of hours later it was 93 degrees, feels like 106. Right now it's 88, feels like 101. I'm not really complaining - I'd much rather be warm than cold - but this kind of weather is wearing. I'm thankful for air conditioning in my classroom. There's no AC at home but plenty of fans.

We got a water truck yesterday because our cistern was way down. We got 3000 gallons delivered for the equivalent of $48 US. It's gone up since the last time, but compared with the other prices, not so much. Of course, since we had just put lots of water into the cistern, we got a good hard rain last night, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Americans Should Learn Foreign Languages

If you can get past the dumb, dumb headline ("Americans Would Be Wise to Parlez-Vous Another Language"), this is a very interesting opinion piece. It begins:

Perhaps you remember the dust-up several weeks ago when Barack Obama, speaking at a town hall meeting in suburban Atlanta, suggested that parents should urge their children to learn foreign languages. Xenophobic commentators and GOP activists immediately took to the stump to denounce Obama for elitism, insufficient nationalism and a tendency to coddle foreigners.

Wow. Advocating learning foreign languages is that bad, huh? As a French teacher and lover of language learning, I disagree quite strongly. But don't worry - so does the author of the article. So go read what she has to say.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Back to Work and Reading Update

Today I spent several hours working in my classroom. I put all the new classroom library books on the computer and my daughter helped shelve them all. I started setting things up and thinking about how I want to do things this year - what worked well, what I hated all year. I'm excited about the new school year, looking forward to seeing the kids sitting in those chairs. Only ten more days!

Since school got out for the summer, here are the books I finished reading:

Book #25: Kids are Worth It: Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline, by Barbara Coloroso. This is a great book, but since I had read it a couple of times before, it didn't hold my attention as much as when the information was new. That's why it took me so long to read it. I highly recommend Coloroso's parenting books.
Book #26: What Came Before He Shot Her, by Elizabeth George. At the end of George's previous book, there is a random murder; this book tells the story of that killing from the perspective of the killer and his family. If one of the purposes of reading is to enter new worlds, this book certainly succeeds. Again I found myself amazed that George is an American. The story helps us understand what it must be like to be disenfranchised in today's London. Harrowing reading, but I'm glad I finished it.
Book #27: The Other Mother, by Gwendolen Gross. I'm afraid this book was a bit of a disappointment - not as good as the descriptions I had read about it. It did have some interesting observations on the "Mommy War" - the battle that is allegedly raging between working mothers and those who stay at home.
Book #28: Touching Snow, by M. Sindy Felin. I know I just used the word "harrowing" but no other word will do to describe this book. It's about child abuse of a horrific kind taking place in a Haitian-American family in New York.
Book #29: The Day Joanie Frankenhauser Became a Boy, by Francess Lin Lantz. Somehow Joanie's name has been written as "John" on the roster at her new school. Since she has always wanted to be a boy, she seizes this opportunity, with some comic and interesting results.
Book #30: Replay, by Sharon Creech. This book is about memories, family, life with many siblings. Beautiful as Creech's writing always is.
Book #31: Austenland, by Shannon Hale. I was very much looking forward to reading this book but I was a bit disappointed by it. I wasn't convinced by the premise and I could never quite figure out the point of this story. Sorry, because I love Hale's other books that I have read.
Book #32: Black Ships, by Jo Graham. This is a retelling of the Aeneid and I enjoyed it immensely. I even bought my own copy of the Aeneid as soon as I was done reading the novel.
Book #33: Going Going, by Naomi Shihab Nye. I hadn't read any of this author's fiction before, and I love her poetry. This was a good read, raising some interesting issues about how packaged life is becoming with the increase in franchised businesses.
Book #34: The Wild Girls, by Pat Murphy. This book has a theme of writing as salvation. I enjoyed it but didn't find it completely convincing.
Book #35: Extras, by Scott Westerfeld. The first book of this series was my favorite, but I liked the ideas behind this one, too. Everyone in the world of this story (which turns out to be set in Japan) has a fame ranking. I think this could start some interesting discussions with middle schoolers.
Book #36: Due Preparations for the Plague, by Janette Turner Hospital. One of my favorite books is Hospital's short story collection Dislocations, but I hadn't read any of her novels. This one has a grim theme: terrorism and trauma. It is brilliantly plotted and although I at first thought I wouldn't enjoy it, I ended up loving it.
Book #37: The English American, by Alison Larkin. This book was a hoot. The author, according to the jacket information, was adopted from an American family and raised by a British one. The protagonist of the story has the same history. This is full of wonderful, spot-on observations of the differences between the two cultures. I can completely imagine this as a chick flick and the ending was a bit predictable, but this was a great read and lots of fun.
Book #38: Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri. What can I say? Lahiri is brilliant.
Book #39: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Rigler. I feel silly saying this, but I found this book more convincing than the Hale one, and that's surprising when you consider that the heroine is a 21st century woman who wakes up one morning and finds she is living the life of a contemporary of Jane Austen. I liked it, especially the ending, which I didn't see coming.
Book #40: Warning Signs, by Stephen White. I've read several of White's books about the clinical psychologist Alan Gregory. His characters are very well-drawn and grow from book to book. This one was suspenseful and exciting.
Book #41: First Boy, by Gary Schmidt. I've already raved on and on about how much my students and I liked Schmidt's Newbery-honor-winning book The Wednesday Wars. This one wasn't quite as good but still very fun and timely, given the election coming up in the U.S. I can picture this one as a fast-paced movie. I think my middle schoolers will like it. It has a slightly mature theme, given the scandal that ends up being central to the plot (not going to say any more!), but I think my kids can handle it.

Sigh. I love summer. But now it's back to work and I won't be able to keep up this reading pace. I sure did enjoy it, though!

Friday, August 08, 2008


I got home on Wednesday, and I've been trying to get things in order at home so that I can turn my attention to my classroom. This was made more complicated by the fact that our luggage didn't arrive at the same time we did. We picked it up at the airport the next day. At least our electricity is working, which was a big improvement over last year's homecoming.

I didn't get around to doing a Poetry Friday post today, but fortunately many other people did, and you can see the roundup here at Becky's Book Reviews.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Interview with Steven Curtis Chapman Family on Good Morning America

I was traveling yesterday and so didn't get to watch this when it aired on GMA but I watched it this morning. Please take a look.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Poetry Friday - Grass

Everywhere I have been this summer, I have seen flags flying at half-mast. These flags are a constant reminder that this is a nation in mourning; so many young men and women are dying in places most of us will never see.

This poem by Carl Sandburg can be read in more than one way; is Sandburg criticizing us for how fast we forget those who die in battle or is he saying that time heals all wounds, and the grass is simply doing its job by covering up the horrors we don't want to remember? Perhaps a bit of both.


Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at The Well-Read Child.

Theme Day - Metal

It's August 1st (already!?) and today's theme for the DP bloggers is Metal. You can take a look at thumbnails of the participants' photos here.