Saturday, February 28, 2009

Asparagus Standoff

This headline, Cypriots and UN soldiers in asparagus standoff, raised some Veggie-Tales images in my head, but apparently it is a very serious situation. I never knew that
asparagus harvesting has never been for the faint-hearted with pickers crawling into dense thorn bushes to pick the delicate shoots from the undergrowth.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Poetry Friday - Late at Night in Bed

It's been a long time since I did a Poetry Friday post of my own, as opposed to just linking you to the list of other people's posts. This week I have no excuse at all, since I have been on vacation. I finished all my grading last Saturday and have been able to relax completely. It has been wonderful!

And yet, as this poem reminds me, I don't ever relax completely. I am always alert, listening for what is going wrong, or what might go wrong in a minute. Just last night I was tiptoeing around while everyone slept, checking on the children, checking on the quiet empty living room.

Late at Night in Bed
by Gregory Djanikian

My wife tells me she hears a beetle
Scurrying across the kitchen floor.
She says our daughter is dreaming

Too loudly, just listen, her eyelids
Are fluttering like butterflies.

What about the thunder, I say,
What about the dispatches from the police car
Parked outside, or me rolling over like a whale?

She tells me there’s a leaf falling
And grazing the downstairs window,
Or it could be glass cutters, diamonds,
Thieves working their hands toward the latch.
She tells me our son is breathing too quickly,
Is it pneumonia, is it the furnace
Suddenly pumping monoxides through the house?

So when my wife says sleep, she means
A closing of the eyes, a tuning
Of the ears to ultra frequencies.

(It is what always happens
When there are children, the bed
Becoming at night a listening post,
Each little ting forewarning disaster.)

Later in the poem comes my favorite stanza:

My wife stirs, Be glad, she says,
Sound doesn’t carry far, that you don’t hear
The whole of it, cries in the night,
Children in other cities, hurts, silences.

Indeed, I am glad that I don't hear all of it, for what I do hear is quite enough to keep me listening, and worrying, and fretting, and praying.

Here's the rest of this wonderful poem. And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Blog Break

So, you miss a day or two of posting, and before you know it, it's been two weeks. I didn't intend to take a blog break but it looks as though I did anyway. Last week I took a quick trip to the States, and as usual, preparing to have a sub and then clearing up after having a sub took more time than the trip itself. I still haven't finished all the grading but the end is in sight now.

I had a wonderful time; I hung out with a friend who used to live here and the two of us went to a teacher retreat together. I visited a bookstore (and came back laden with some new choices for my students), Wal Mart, Target, an international grocery store and more than one restaurant.

I also got to visit a state-of-the-art middle school and drool over Promethean boards and carts full of laptops and wireless-enabled hallways and tens of thousands of dollars worth of musical instruments. I might be tempted to be discontented with the resources in my school after seeing these things, but when I compare my own classroom to those of the vast majority of the teachers in this country, many of which don't even have walls, I can't complain.

I came back to students who were happy to see me and my ordinary life goes on. It's always nice to have a change and a break, and mine did me good.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Reading Update

Book #1 of 2009 was Son of the Mob, by Gordon Korman. I picked up this book because of an article I read in a teacher magazine about pairing classics with YA books. This was supposed to be a great companion for Romeo and Juliet. It's the story of a mobster's son who falls for an FBI agent's daughter. It was OK, but not great. I put it in my classroom library and while several kids have started it, I don't think anyone has finished it.

Book #2 was The Splendor of Silence, by Indu Sundaresan. I enjoyed the portrayal of India in the 40s, in the last days of the Raj.

Book #3 was His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik. I bought this for my classroom based on a review I read, but I don't think it is going to hold the interest of most of my students. It moves a little too slowly for them, and the vocabulary is too challenging for most in my opinion. However, I enjoyed it myself. It's a bit difficult to classify - sort of an alternative history, except that it's fantasy. Perhaps one of the jacket blurbs (quoted from Time magazine) says it best: "Enthralling reading - like Jane Austen playing Dungeons & Dragons with Eragon's Christopher Paolini." Set in the Napoleonic Wars, the series imagines an Aerial Corps which consists of valiant aviators flying dragons. Ultimately, though, I found it a bit difficult to suspend disbelief. Not about the dragons - that part I accepted willingly and with great delight. No, I just couldn't swallow that the mores among the aviators are so - well, 21st century. Laurence, coming in from outside, fights against his shock - but he isn't shocked enough. Yes, this is the period of Jane Austen, and judging by the things her characters get het up about, Laurence would not adjust so easily. That said, I will probably read the rest of the series if I get the chance. The book is great fun and I am probably being ridiculous to ask for social verisimilitude in a dragon book anyway.

Book #4 was a wonderful book called Fieldwork, by Mischa Berlinski. To make reference once again to a blurb on the book: "A reader doesn't have to have any interest in Christian missionary work, anthropology, or the hill tribes of Thailand to be riveted," says The Christian Science Monitor. As it happens I'm intensely interested in the first two, and it didn't take a big stretch to become interested in the third. Mischa Berlinski is in Thailand because his girlfriend is teaching at an international school. He finds out about a mysterious story - an anthropologist shot a missionary. Soon he is enthralled and must find out more and more. The reader quickly feels the same way. I loved the sardonic, yet sympathetic portrayals of all the different kinds of characters. Some examples:

Gunther the yoga teacher knew all about the Walkers: he, too, had heard stories...."I haff never met them," Gunther said. "But I hear so many things. I do not like this kind of Christian who liff in a big house with so many servants, and then tell the people how they must liff. Is that for you to be a Christian?" Gunther looked at me severely. I shook my head. Gunther himself lived in a big house with many servants and told many people how they must live, but it did not seem the right moment to mention that.

Tom Riley knew the Walker story well, having passed many long evenings in the company of one or another of the Walkers as they went from lonely Dyalo village to lonely Dyalo village, preaching - and in preaching, like war, you get to know folks.

...the fourth-grade teacher at Rachel's school, a quiet Burmese woman...broke her wrist in a tuk-tuk accident. Mr. Tim...asked me to take over her class while she convalesced, and for a week I taught school, an experience so exhausting that I didn't think once of anthropologists or missionaries, just savages.

...she induced in Martiya [the anthropologist] a considerable sense of First World guilt and discomfort. (This discomfort was intensified by Lai-Ma's habit of taking Martiya aside and saying, "Oh, I am tired! How my bones ache! How I wish I were rich like you and could do nothing all day!") Hauling just one plastic petrol-jerry of water up the hill was enough to exhaust Matiya, but Lai-Ma would inevitably carry two, one in each hand, and on her back in a plaited basket, a dozen hollow bamboo tubes each overflowing with water, the whole heavy load held in place with a tumpline across her forehead....Matiya felt like a freeloader every time she saw her in the course of the day.

While this is an intelligent book and was a finalist for the National Book Award, it's also a great story (unlike another book I abandoned halfway through this week because in spite of all the rapturous comments on the back, there just didn't seem to be much of a plot). It is surprising, and funny, and heartbreaking. I recommend it highly - it's certainly the best book I've read so far this year!

Theme Day - Paths and Passages

Eric shows us a passage from Madame Bovary. Other DP bloggers have different interpretations of today's theme, Paths and Passages.