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.