Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books I Read This Year

I only read 40 books this year. That's not even one a week. I hope to make it to at least 52 next year. The links in the list below are to my reviews. (I messed up the numbering in my posts; I think the list below is accurate.)

1. Crazy Love, by Francis Chan
2. Night Over Water, by Ken Follett
3. The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway
4. Fire, by Kristin Cashore
5. Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way, by Shauna Niequist
6. The Dreamer, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
7. Confusion, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
8. Casting Off, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
9. Someone Like You, by Sarah Dessen
10. Walking, by Henry David Thoreau
11. Fire From Heaven, by Mary Renault
12. The Persian Boy, by Mary Renault
13. Funeral Games, by Mary Renault
14. My daughter's 2010 NaNoWriMo novel
15. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
16. Scat, by Carl Hiaasen
17. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
18. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
19. Flies on the Butter, by Denise Hildreth
20. Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernières
21. Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer
22. The Red Queen, by Philippa Gregory
23. The Last Time They Met, by Anita Shreve
24. Time for Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middle and High School, by Randy Bomer
25. Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt
26. Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai
27. Red Kayak, by Priscilla Cummings
28. Truth and Consequences, by Alison Lurie
29. Leo and the Lesser Lion, by Sandra Forrester
30. Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, by Lizzie Skurnick
31. The Glorious Ones, by Francine Prose
32. Private Practices, by Stephen White
33. A Theory of Relativity, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
34. The True History of Paradise, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
35. Mothers and Other Liars, by Amy Bourret
36. Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan
37. The Nine Rights of Every Writer, by Vicki Spandel
38. Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, by Edwidge Danticat
39. Love, by Marie Vieux-Chauvet
40. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell

As always, it was fun for me to go through this list and remember what was going on at the time when I read each of these books, as well as how each of the books affected me. But really, this was a bit of a lackluster reading year. Here's to more literary delight in 2012!

Reading Update

I'm getting ready to compile my list of everything I read this year, but there are several on my list that I've never blogged about.

Book #40 was The Nine Rights of Every Writer, by Vicki Spandel. I had read this one before and I think it is a wonderfully encouraging book for anyone who is using the Writer's Workshop method of teaching writing. Spandel reminds me why I do what I do.
"Our goal as teachers should not be to fill the world with perfect text, or even acceptable text. Our goal should be to take students to such a place of comfort with writing that they will persist through three pages of random thought to an emerging clarity on page four because they have not one shred of doubt they will get there. After all, only nonwriters fear failure. Writers know clutter and roadblocks and random thinking are all part of the process."
This is the kind of book I want to read every year, as long as I'm teaching.

Book #41 was Edwidge Danticat's Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. This is a series of essays about reading and writing as a Haitian. This is another book that needs to be read many times. Here's a piece that stuck with me particularly. Danticat is talking about where she gets material - like any artist, from her life. In this passage she's having a conversation with her aunt about a family scandal.
"'People talk,' Tante Zi went on. 'They say that everything they say to you ends up written down somewhere.'

Because she was my elder, my beloved aunt, I bowed my head in shame, wishing I could apologize for that, but the immigrant artist, like all other artists, is a leech and I needed to latch on. I wanted to quote the French poet and critic Stéphane Mallarmé and tell her that everything in the world exists to end up in a book. I wanted to ask her forgiveness for the essay that in my mind I was already writing. The most I could do, however, was to promise her not to use her real name or Marius's."

One of the things Danticat does in Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work is to write about Haitian literature and how it has affected her. One of her recommendations is the three books contained in one volume called Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy, by Marie Vieux-Chauvet. Book #42 was the first of the trilogy, Love. I found it way too intense, and while I intend to go back and read the other two books, I need a break first. This scene from the first few pages of the book gives an idea of the kind of fevered atmosphere that pervades it:
"Jean Luze held my chin and looked into my eyes. I'm afraid he'll hear the disordered beating of my heart. He is tall and I barely reach his shoulder. I would like him to lean and take me in his arms to carry me very far away. Such is the incurable romantic that slumbers in all old maids!

We offer some cake to Augustine, the maid. The house is festive.

'Put on a record, Jean,' Annette proposes. 'The screaming just ruins everything.'

The screams waft from the jail. Horrible, unsexed droning.

'Calédu is having a bit of fun,' M. Long exclaims with a jowl-shaking chortle. (His accent adds a childish note to his cruel remark.)

'A peculiar way to have fun, don't you think?' Jean Luze asks him with a strange, almost hostile, smile.

'Oh, you know, I say to each his own. And anyway, you would have to be insane to try to change anything around here.'"
I will blog more about this trilogy after I finish reading the second and third books.

Book #43 was Rob Bell's controversial Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I really like Bell's preaching but liked the book less. The warm, discursive way he speaks doesn't work as well in print, especially when he's trying to build an argument. I read this book with a friend, whom I shall call Reading Buddy (hereinafter, RB). We wanted to see if we agreed with what we were reading, that Bell was a heretic, in relation to traditional, orthodox (small o) Christianity. RB did use the H word more than once as we read. It turns out that I have a higher tolerance for heresy than RB does. I read lots of this aloud and there was much lively discussion, which is probably the way the book is best experienced. I found a great deal to love in the book, and RB, less so. I loved the poetic way Bell approaches scripture; RB didn't love the enormous leaps of logic and snorted frequently as I read certain passages. I read on my Kindle, but RB's paper copy was full of highlighting, large flocks of exclamation marks and question marks. Conclusion: I am not willing to call Bell a heretic. He's asking questions which many Christians have asked through the ages. RB is also not willing to call him a heretic, but feels that some of his statements border on heresy. And both of us liked the last chapter. Here's how it ends:
"Love is why I've written this book, and love is what I want to leave you with.

May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins."
Amen. Love really does win. Rob and I, and RB and I, might not agree on all the details, but love wins. Praise God for that.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Poetry Friday: Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks

I am joining Poetry Friday late today because we have been driving home from the beach (where, by the way, we had such a great time). In honor of the beach, and also because my daughter gave me a book of Pablo Neruda poetry for Christmas (I read some of these poems aloud while we were at the beach and we joked about how many of them contained the word "naked"), I offer this mermaid poem, followed by a video with Ethan Hawke reading the poem. The text and video have two different translations. I believe the one on the video is the same as what I have in my book, by Alastair Reid. I don't know who did the other translation.

Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks
by Pablo Neruda

All those men were there inside,
when she came in totally naked.
They had been drinking: they began to spit.
Newly come from the river, she knew nothing.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way.
The insults flowed down her gleaming flesh.
Obscenities drowned her golden breasts.
Not knowing tears, she did not weep tears.
Not knowing clothes, she did not have clothes.
They blackened her with burnt corks and cigarette stubs,
and rolled around laughing on the tavern floor.
She did not speak because she had no speech.
Her eyes were the colour of distant love,
her twin arms were made of white topaz.
Her lips moved, silent, in a coral light,
and suddenly she went out by that door.
Entering the river she was cleaned,
shining like a white stone in the rain,
and without looking back she swam again
swam towards emptiness, swam towards death.

Pablo Neruda

Mermaids in Haiti have vodou connections, but the one in this poem is simply a beautiful, ethereal being who is not understood by the boorish people around her. Like many of the poems in my new book, Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems, this one is mysterious but lovely.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Poetry Friday: Messiah (Christmas Portions)

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went to a performance of parts of the Messiah. The music was so beautiful and reminded me of how artists can show us realities of which we aren't normally aware. I loved the way this poem expressed that idea, and also how the music can transform the performers into something more than they were. Follow the link at the end of my excerpt to see how that happens.

Messiah (Christmas Portions)
By Mark Doty

A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds of veil,
torn and sun-shot swaddlings:

over the Methodist roof,
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
(colors of tarnish on copper)

against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
the Choral Society

prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
Not steep, really,

but from here,
the first pew, they’re a looming
cloudbank of familiar angels:
that neighbor who

fights operatically
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
from the post office

—tenor trapped
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A&P, soprano
from the T-shirt shop:

today they’re all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
of distance and formality.

Here's the rest of the poem. And here's today's roundup.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Read This

I just read this beautiful post about the incarnation. An excerpt:
"The divinity of God is on display at Christmas in beautiful creche scenes. We sing songs of babies who don’t cry. We mistake quiet for peace. A properly antiseptic and church-y view of birth, arranged as high art to convey the seriousness and sacredness of the incarnation. It is as though the truth of birth is too secular for Emmanuel, it doesn’t look too holy in its real state. So the first days of the God-with-us requires the dignity afforded by our editing.

But this? This creating out of passion and love, the carrying, the seemingly-never-ending-waiting, the knitting-together-of-wonder-in-secret-places, the pain, the labour, the blurred line between joy and “someone please make it stop,” the “I can’t do it” even while you’re in the doing of it, the delivery of new life in blood and hope and humanity?"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best YA Books of 2011

I always enjoy reading the best-of lists that come out at the end of the year. Here's one from NPR, the best YA books of the year. I haven't read any of them, and only one has shown up in my classroom during self-selected reading time. I'll have to look into these...

Christmas is Coming...

Here's what Shauna says here:
"The irony, of course, must not be lost on us: a season that is, at its heart, a love story, a story about faith and fragility, angels, a baby, a star--that sweet, simply beautiful story gets lost so easily in a jarring, toxic tangle of sugar and shopping bags and rushing and parking lots and expectations."
This is really not something I have trouble with; this is why I love Christmas in Haiti. There's no pressure. It's a time to relax, to hang out with friends and family, to go to the beach. And tomorrow is the first day of vacation!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This is Absolutely None of my Business...But Here's What I Think

No, it's not my business that Michelle Duggar had a miscarriage. But I always feel a pang of sadness when I hear about a woman miscarrying, however early or late in pregnancy. I lost a baby to miscarriage very early in my second pregnancy, and was shaken by it in a way that surprised me with its intensity.

You could say that the Duggars have made their business our business by conducting their lives on television. I have never watched their show, spent any time on their website, or paid much attention to them. I have a friend who watches the show and she informs me that Michelle is a very patient and calm mother who never yells at her kids, even though she has nineteen of them. I have two kids and I highly doubt anyone would describe me that way, so I have to respect Michelle's character for that reason alone. All of this to say that I don't have any opinion on the Duggars or their lifestyle.

I read this blog post first, in which Rachel Stone writes:
The Duggars will always have their critics. But they are people—not a circus, not a freak show, not an ideology. So while I may work out my understanding of Christianity very differently from them, I refuse to believe that there’s nothing I can learn from them; that their concerns and griefs and joys—their stories—are so very different from mine.
I very much agree with this.

Next I read about the Duggars having a funeral for their baby and distributing photos that they had taken. A headline suggested that there was some criticism of them, and Google helped me find a nasty article, which perhaps is only what one could expect from a website called Gawker. (I was going to include the link, but decided not to, because it's unnecessarily rude and uses abusive language. If you want to read it, Google can help you find it, too.) It says that it is not normal to take pictures of a miscarried child (it uses the word "fetus," of course), and recommends retroactively that the Duggars should have stopped having children a long time ago. You can't miss the difference between the horrible tone of the Gawker article and the tender love expressed here, in a letter Michelle wrote to her baby and read aloud on her website.

But the real impetus for this post was reading Katie Allison Granju's take on the story here. Katie herself lost a child recently; her eighteen year old son died of complications from a drug-related assault. Katie has been criticized too, like Michelle, for dealing with her grief in her own way. Her post talks about the way Victorians grieved and about how our culture doesn't have rituals for grieving a lost child. The whole post is very much worth reading. Here's one little snippet:
The fact that those photos of Jubilee Duggar’s little foot and hand might make other people uncomfortable – people who didn’t just have their child die – isn’t the point. Memorial rituals and grief traditions are about helping the parents whose child has just died feel comforted and supported. They’re not about pleasing the rest of us, or about conforming to how we would do it, or about conforming to funerary rites that we would prefer. In fact, expressing our own preferences or tastes in criticizing the way another parent chooses to memorialize her recently dead child strikes me as being in far worse taste than anything the bereaved parent might have done.

I wrote in the first paragraph about how I lost a baby to miscarriage very early in pregnancy. I chose to tell people about it. Many women and even some men shared with me about their own experiences. My brother-in-law wrote me an email saying that he imagined their miscarried children playing in heaven with mine. (Michelle expresses a similar idea in her letter, linked above.) Do you find that creepy? It comforted me. I felt supported by people who had been through miscarriage and come out on the other side. I also chose to name my baby, though I haven't shared the name with very many people. I didn't know the sex of the baby but I thought of her as a girl. I had seen her beating heart on an ultrasound and she was very real to me, a child who was already part of our family. I grieved for my baby for a long time. A few weeks after her due date I started to come out of the fog but thinking about that experience still makes me sad.

Of course, not every woman grieves as intensely as I did for an early miscarriage. That's fine, too. Everyone is different. After the earthquake, I felt a lot of impatience with myself and even shame for the way I grieved, and I have come to accept that it's not wrong or weak to feel what you feel (can you tell I went to counseling?). Grief is not predictable, and it's very personal.

I'm very sorry for Michelle Duggar's loss. I find it completely normal to want to take a picture of her baby. I don't think the pictures are in bad taste. (Tweeting them probably was, but that's another issue. Katie's post says that after a teenaged relative Tweeted the pictures, the Duggars chose to post them on their own site. Apparently they were intended just for the family and for those at the funeral.) And I think both Rachel Stone and Katie Granju are right, that we all just need to be a whole lot kinder. Surely everyone can agree with that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Planning for Next Year

I'm writing lesson plans for next year, and feeling unexpectedly weepy, and then realizing that it shouldn't be unexpected. Here's what I wrote this time last year as I struggled to plan for January, one year after the earthquake. I'm looking at last year's plans, and I see how I followed my friend's advice; instead of writing the dates, I wrote "Week 1" and "Week 2." This year is much easier than last, but perhaps those first weeks of January will continue for a long time to have special, terrifying significance for me, and for all of us here in Haiti.

Poetry Friday: Madeleine L'Engle

Christmas is coming. I'm not ready, but as Madeleine L'Engle reminds us, neither was the world.

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Poetry Friday: Keats and Me

Yesterday's Poem of the Day from the Academy of American Poets was Keats' "In Drear Nighted December." (You can subscribe to the Poem of the Day email here.) Thankfully I don't live in a cold climate. I have been cold enough with our temperatures dipping down into the lower seventies the last few nights. Brr. But what interested me most about this poem was the last stanza.

In drear nighted December
by John Keats

In drear nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne'er remember
Their green felicity—
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne'er remember
Apollo's summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would 'twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy—
But were there ever any
Writh'd not of passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

I liked Keats' suggestion that this feeling - the idea of forgetting and simply not missing times of happiness in the past, the way nature seems to do - is one that hasn't ever been expressed in poetry. He says that's because human beings are always missing the past. "The feel of not to feel it." What a great line. That made me think about other feelings that poetry may not chronicle.

I have often had experiences that felt as though they were unique to me, something that nobody could ever express in writing. One of the delights of reading, whether prose or poetry, is finding kindred spirits who have expressed those thoughts and feelings I thought were mine alone.

Not much has been expressed by me in writing lately, since I'm knee-deep in grading. Yesterday, though, I wrote this poem:


Sometimes you're trying to sleep
And there's a poem buzzing around the room,
Whining in your ear,
"Get up and write me,
You know I won't be here any more if you wait until morning."

And sometimes you're trying to read your students' papers
And there's a poem jumping up and down
Shouting, "Write me now,
Put that down and pay attention!"

And sometimes you're trying to wash dishes
And a poem bubbles up from the water,
Splashes your face,

And sometimes, you sit down to write a poem,
And those poems that have been bugging you
All night and all day,
Whining, shouting, giggling,
Are quiet.

They have nothing to say now
That you have turned your attention to them.
But - quick! Look out the corner of your eye
And sometimes you can see one
Playing hide and seek.

Ruth, from

I'm looking forward to the Christmas vacation for many reasons, and one of those reasons is that I'll have the chance to do some writing. Meanwhile, I soldier on, grading and grading and grading.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Poetry Friday: Heart to Heart

I love how Rita Dove plays with cliches in this poem, and how the heart is in some ways altogether tougher than we thought, and in others just as vulnerable as we supposed.

Heart to Heart
By Rita Dove

It's neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn't melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can't feel

It doesn't have
a tip to spin on,
it isn't even
just a thick clutch
of muscle,

Here's the rest.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

December, with Lots of Links

I have all kinds of windows open on my computer, things I've read and thought I should blog about, so today I'm going to link you to a bunch of random stuff I think is interesting. Hope you enjoy at least something here.

First of all, it is, of course, the first day of December, which means it's Theme Day for the City Daily Photo blogs. Today's theme is Action Photos, and you can see thumbnails of the participants' photos here.

NPR had this fascinating post about sounds that no longer exist, sounds that were part of my childhood and that of my contemporaries. Listen to the YouTube soundtrack of the 20th century, and then there's one for the 21st century, too.

Turns out that Derek Webb is one of the founders of NoiseTrade. I didn't know that. Here, he explains in a blog post how giving away free music makes sense for musicians. So interesting. I didn't know that either.

Speaking of music, my daughter found some on the web that a fan has written to go with the Hunger Games books. Here's Rue's Lullaby, from the first book; the lyrics are part of the story, and Zoe Johnson has set them to music. They Don't Own Me (Berries) is an original song inspired by the book. And The Hanging Tree is from the last book in the series, Mockingjay.

Doesn't this look yummy? I sent the link to my husband with the subject heading, "Mmmmmmm" and he took the hint (he's the cook in the family). He wrote back promising to make these. Can't wait!

I'm always interested to read pieces about middle school. In this post, Jon confesses that reading Facebook sometimes makes him feel envious of others whose lives appear to be way more fun than his. This, he claims, makes him "like a seventh grade girl." In a weird sort of way (and not at all what Jon intended), this is encouraging to me. I'm seeing my kids at what for many of them is one of the times of their lives when they are least appealing; ask anyone what he or she was like at thirteen if you don't believe me. Life is tough for them right now. And yet they are pretty cool anyway.

And last, here's a Prayer for the Christmas Season. An excerpt:
"But, Lord God, I want to stay for a while in Christmas where hope is something I can cradle to my chest. I want to dwell here where music sings the promise of love, reminding me of those Mary moments in my life when it seems truth and love are about to burst forth from within and change the world.

Let me hearken to Mary’s song and hear it as a radical claim awakening me for the sake of revolution, to grab hold of the Kingdom of God already present amongst us.

Let me look into the face of the clearest revelation of your love and let him transform me so that when the 'Slaughter of the Innocents' comes again upon this world I will stand up and say, 'NO MORE.'

Let me dwell here in the incarnation of your love and let it change me so that materialism and consumerism are a distant clamor that has no claim on me."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Ends

Well, I very nearly succeeded with my NaBloPoMo ambitions - to post every day in November. I only missed one day. Meanwhile, my children fared well with NaNoWriMo; both of them met their word count goals, which were 50,000 words for the ninth grader and 10,000 for the third grader. Since I gave birth to these brilliant authors, I think I am perfectly justified in basking in reflected glory.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I should totally know better than to blog about being thankful for adversity. I should realize that such a post would make it inevitable that I would sprain my ankle today. Which I did.

Thankful for Adversity

I found this story, "Finding Purpose After Living with Delusion," inspiring. Milton Greek has schizophrenia, and with the help of people who love him and are straight with him, he's still able to live a good life.
"He is one of a small number of successful people with a severe psychiatric diagnosis who have chosen to tell their story publicly. In doing so, they are contributing to a deeper understanding of mental illness — and setting an example that can help others recover....'Schizophrenia is the best thing that ever happened to me,' he said. 'I know a lot of people with the diagnosis don’t feel that way, but the experience changed me, for the better. I was so arrogant, so narcissistic, so self-involved, and it humbled me. It gave me a purpose, and that purpose has been very much a part of my recovery.'"
A student recently expressed that she felt thankful for the earthquake because of the new friends she had made as a result. Her classmates reacted harshly and she felt ashamed of what she had written. Maybe she could have phrased it differently - she was grateful for what came out of the earthquake, not the earthquake itself - but I could understand what she meant. Sometimes the most difficult things in our lives can turn into gifts.

Monday, November 28, 2011


NPR did this interesting piece, complete with YouTube videos, on what happens when political candidates cry, from Muskie in 1972, when a candidate choking up was enough to make people think he should drop out of the race, to 2011, when everyone tears up and people have no problem with it. All of their examples are men except for Hillary Clinton, who is quoted as saying,
"If you get too emotional, that undercuts you. A man can cry — but a woman, that's a different kind of dynamic."

I'm an emotional person myself (I know, I know, that surprises you), and I grew up in a family with men who weren't afraid to cry. (Although sometimes this condition was referred to as "sweaty eyes.") To me, tearing up doesn't show weakness, but compassion. (Blubbering, now, is a different story, and that's what generally happens to me, not just a few dignified tears.) I have often thought that it must be difficult to be male in US society, when there is so much confusion about how much emotion is OK. But Hillary Clinton's comment makes a strange kind of sense, too; if you're competing in a man's world, anything that can be construed as weakness is a risk. And I have a policy of trying not to cry in front of my students (though I may tear up from time to time, I'm not telling). There are way more of them than there are of me, and I do feel weakened by my tears, even though I don't perceive others as weak for crying.

I learned in the earthquake that there are people you want on your side when the world is falling apart because they know just what to do. Until you've been tested in a major catastrophe, you just don't know if you are that kind of person. What I want in a leader is someone who can remain completely calm in a crisis. Maybe he or she will cry later, remembering what happened, but at that moment there is an ability to compartmentalize, to do what needs to be done, and to save the falling apart for another time. But disaster is not the kind of thing you can practice for. People tearing up over their cancer or an experience with a child are not necessarily showing that they don't have that kind of sang-froid. Maybe they had it when they needed it. And anyway, a personal, relational experience will hit differently from a national emergency where many people's lives are at stake.

So, I don't mind political candidates expressing emotion. I join right in; when other people cry, so do I. But if you want to be president, I hope you can set emotion aside when you have to.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Do Not Be Afraid

It's now socially acceptable to listen to Christmas music, since it's after Thanksgiving. But I have to confess that this year I started listening to it in September. Usually I try to wait at least until November, even if I don't make it all the way to Thanksgiving. But this year I just couldn't wait.

This Christmas song is one I listen to all year round. It was one I thought about and listened to a lot after the earthquake. It reminds me that there was a lot to fear at the first Christmas, just as there is now, and that we don't have to be afraid. Here are the lyrics (copied and pasted from Carolyn Arends' website):

Do Not Be Afraid
by Carolyn Arends

Half a woman, half a child
Mary lay there sleeping
Never dreaming in a little while
She would hear the angel's greeting
Opened her eyes to see
That Gabriel had come
Opened her heart to hear
"You are the chosen one
And do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Love has found its way to you
So do not be afraid"

Shepherds watching their flocks by night
Guarding against danger
When suddenly there was a blinding light
And then things got even stranger
Angels in the sky
Far as the eye could see
Singing "Christ is born
Oh -- and one more thing...
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Love has found its way to you
So do not be afraid"

Half believing, half afraid
We celebrate the story
But our lives seem about a world away
From angels and their glory
Open our eyes to see
What Mary saw somehow
Open our hearts to hear
Those angels even now
They're singing "Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Love has found its way to you
So do not be afraid"

(c) 2001 New Springs Publishing Inc./(ASCAP)/a division of Brentwood Benson Music Publishing, Inc.

This video doesn't show Carolyn singing, but at least you can hear how the song sounds.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Photos and Gratitude

There's just nothing like a long weekend, and a festive one like Thanksgiving weekend is better still. This morning I took advantage of some extra time to upload a bunch of photos off my camera, and I thought I'd share some of them. They aren't all from this weekend but they all show reasons I have to be grateful.

I'm so grateful for leisure time. This is something many (most?) women in this world get very little of, being constantly busy carrying water or chasing children or working long hours in a factory. I generally have a stack of grading to do, but my life is so easy compared with the way others live. How blessed I am to sprawl out in my hammock with a book and a cup of tea.

Last Friday was a holiday for us, and I woke up at the time I usually do, but later I went back to sleep, and woke again at 9:30 to a quiet house and a note from my husband saying he'd taken the kids to the grocery store. I guess quiet time by myself must be my love language, because that gesture made me feel deeply loved and cherished. I read for a while and then went downstairs and foraged for some breakfast (also left for me by my husband). Here's a picture of my croissants with butter and jelly:

Later he and the kids returned like conquering heroes, with groceries and also this broom, the longest and most amazing broom I ever saw. It came from a street merchant, and it's perfect for the cobwebs in our stairwell. It's so long that I couldn't take a picture of the whole thing at once.

I'm grateful for my family, and for a house to get cobwebs in. And I'm grateful for eyes to see my blessings and a heart to love.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Poetry Friday: Ode to Broken Things

I always do odes with my eighth graders during Thanksgiving week. I think odes go wonderfully with Thanksgiving, when we are so aware of the huge list of our blessings. We read some examples from Neruda and from students, and I encourage them to write their own. Some people always do. I told you about this last year.

This year as we were reading some Neruda, I noticed this one, "Ode to Broken Things." I've been feeling a bit like a broken thing myself lately. I'm all repaired and glued together, but I'm aware of the fixed places, and I don't think I'm the same as I was before.

This translation is done by George Schade, and is from the book Fifty Odes. Here's Jodey Bateman's translation. I don't read Spanish, so I can't comment on which is more accurate. I like both of them.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for all the broken things in my life and for the way God makes them into something new, something not the same as before, but still beautiful.

Ode to Broken Things

Pablo Neruda, tr. George Schade

Things are being broken
in the house
as if pushed by an invisible
voluntary breaker:
it's not my hands
or yours
or the girls
with tough nails
and earthshaking footsteps:
it was nothing, nobody,
it wasn't the wind,
or the tawny noon,
or the terrestrial night,
it wasn't nose or elbow,
the swelling hip,
or gust of air:
the plate broke, the lamp fell,
all the flower vases crumbled
one after another, one
in full October
brimming over with scarlet,
worn out by all the violets,
and another empty one
rolled, rolled, rolled
through the winter
until it became
just flower vase gruel,
a broken memory, luminous dust.

And that clock
whose sound
the voice of our lives,
the secret
of our weeks,
which one by one
tied up so many hours
to honey, to silence,
to so many births and travails,
that clock fell too
and its delicate blue
viscera vibrated among
the broken glass,
its long heart

Life grinds away
glass, wearing out clothes,
tearing to shreds,
and what lasts in time is like
an island or ship at sea,
surrounded by fragile dangers,
by implacable waters and threats.

Let's put everything once and for all, clocks,
plates, glass carved by the cold,
in a sack and take our treasures out to sea:
let our possessions crumble
in a single alarming breaking place,
let what is broken
sound like a river
and let the sea reconstruct
with its long toiling tides
so many useless things
that nobody breaks
but which got broken.

Here's some more Neruda I've posted in the past: "Ode to the Lizard," "Ode to the Present," a bit from "Ode to Scissors," "Goodbyes," and a bit of "To the Dead Poor Man." I love Neruda.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here, at My Juicy Little Universe.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I didn't blog yesterday. So sue me. It was the first day I'd missed in November. Oh well, I never signed up for NaBloPoMo officially because I was sure that would happen.

This year I am thankful for my family and friends, for my students, for meaningful work to do, for God's provision for me every single day.

Today isn't a day to feel sad, but I do feel a little sad: for the separation that is inevitable in this world, the people I miss, the brokenness that I see everywhere. And yet, in the middle of all of that, there is so much that is beautiful, so much to be thankful for.

"Friendship and goodwill a sweet invitation
Kindred in spirit and eager to share
Love in familiar and long conversations
There is the wonder, there is the wonder...
Press mud with holy fingers
Light the ineffable
Fused in the ordinary
So much to wonder, so much to wonder..." - Sara Groves

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Now You Tell Me...

Robert Preidt writes,
"Ever go into another room for something and then forget what you were there for? A new study suggests that simply passing through a doorway can cause you to forget why you came into a room or what you wanted to find.

'Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an "event boundary" in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,' Gabriel Radvansky, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame, said in a university news release."
(You can read the rest of the article here.)

So I guess coming in and out of my classroom erases my students' memories. This explains a lot.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Talking about the Earthquake

It's been a long time since I have talked much with anyone about the earthquake, and this week I had a few conversations about it. It surprised me how I reacted. First of all, the factual details are fading. My memories of that night and the week that followed are very episodic. There are moments and hours that are extremely vivid, but then the connecting times are a blank. But secondly, the emotional memories are as strong as ever, and I found my heart thumping, my breath coming more quickly, and even feelings of nausea. I started to cry in one of the conversations.

I thought I was past this. I thought I was all better.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Middle School on This American Life

A Facebook friend posted that her son's middle school English teacher asked all the parents to listen to this episode of This American Life, which is about middle school. Fascinating stuff, and it provided me with something to be thankful for: we don't have middle school dances at our school.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Poetry Friday: To Toussaint L'Ouverture

Image credit

Today we have the day off school. November 18th commemorates the Battle of Vertières, a decisive victory over the French during the Haitian Revolutionary War, so I decided to post a poem about Haitian history. The Haitian revolutionary leaders captured the imagination of the romantics, including Wordsworth, who wrote a poem about Toussaint. Toussaint didn't fight in the Battle of Vertières, but after you read the poem, scroll down to read more about his story and how his influence affected the will for victory of his fellow freedom fighters.


by William Wordsworth

TOUSSAINT, the most unhappy of men!
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon's earless den; -
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There's not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man's unconquerable mind.

The first line of the poem, calling Toussaint "the most unhappy of men," is a quote from Toussaint himself, who wrote, "I am made the most unhappy of men; my liberty is taken from me."

Actually, Toussaint was already dead by the time the Battle of Vertières was fought. Here's a passage about the time leading up to the battle and a description of the battle itself. You can read it here at its original website but if you do, there will be a lot of loud martial music playing while you read, so I've cut and pasted it below.
"[T]he capture of Toussaint, one of Leclerc's primary agendas, would help shatter the revolutionary spirit of the rebels in Napoleon's mind. But, what Napoleon didn't know is that by capturing Toussaint, he would simply pave the way for a ferocious Jean-Jacques Dessalines who was fighting not against the restoration of slavery, but for the total independence of Haiti.

On June 7, 1802 Toussaint Louverture was captured during a conference set up by General Brunet. There have been different theories surrounding Toussaint's kidnapping. However, whatever the view, a captured Toussaint was believed to be Napoleon's biggest mistake due to the fact Toussaint was considered the most moderate among the rebels' generals. [Toussaint died in prison in France in April of 1803.]

The toughest and meanest of the Black Generals, Dessalines, was chosen commander in chief of the indigenous army at a meeting of the army high command. According to historians, Dessalines' unshakable position was pursuing a war of extermination until the enemy is driven to the sea. "Koupe Tet, Boule Kay" (Cut their heads, and burn their houses!) was Dessalines' strongest order. He had no room for prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, General Leclerc would later succumb to the deadly yellow fever and was replaced by his second-in-command General Rochambeau in a desperate attempt to put down the revolt. By early October 1803, Dessalines's bloody offensives against the French forces had generated results. Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes, Le Cap fell under the control of the slave army who fought their last battle at Vertières on November 18, 1803. Haitian General François Capois later called "Capois-La-Mort" had also proved himself as a fierce and unshakable fighter among the rebels as heavy cannon bullet killed his horse. The Black fighters attacked ferociously the remaining French soldiers, and the latter, demoralized, defeated, and numbering no more than 3,000 were driven back to Mole Saint-Nicolas, where they gave up to a fleeing British fleet rather than facing the wrath of Dessalines' forces.

This event marked the end of slavery as well as Napoleon's plan to conquer North America. Haiti was born and the first black independent nation in the new world was established on January 1st, 1804.

The Haitian Revolution served as a model of courage. It sent tremors throughout the Caribbean and the United States slave plantations. Therefore, many slave revolts were sparked in the Caribbean including the Lesser Antilles such as Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Jamaica. In the U.S. the leaders of the three largest slave revolts, Gabriel Prosser (1800), Nat Turner (1822) and Denmark Vesey (1831), were inspired by the success of the Haitian Revolution. In addition, the most profitable aspect of that revolution was the purchase of the Louisiana territory by the United States for $15,000.000 (15 cents an acre for more than 2 million sq km (800,000 sq mi) of land extending from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains).

Napoleon Bonaparte had to cede Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States, as he realized without Haiti he had little use for Louisiana where he wanted to extend a great French Empire. He also needed funds to support his military ventures in Europe as he was facing renewed war with Great Britain. This greatest real estate bargain of all time more than doubled the size of the United States, making it one of the largest nations in the world. There is no way that Napoleon would have surrendered New Orléans and all of Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson but for that Haitian Revolution. If Haiti had lost the war in 1803, many could indeed acknowledge that the United States might be different today!

Nevertheless, not that many people know about such this extraordinary event that took place more than 200 years ago and changed as well as redefined the world. The Haitian Revolution connects to all those whose people were enslaved or whose lands were colonized. The November 18, 1803 battle is still reverberating today and reminds us of real freedom although Haiti has been paying for it ever since."

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here, at The Opposite of Indifference.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Don't you love that word, whinging? I was using it around my family recently and was surprised to learn that they didn't know what it meant. Someone even asked if it was a new word. Nope. According to Merriam-Webster, "Origin of WHINGE: Middle English *whingen, from Old English hwinsian; akin to Old High German winsōn to moan. First Known Use: 12th century." (Source.) Anyway, whinging is what I feel like doing. It means moaning, complaining, whining.

I'm thankful that this is the last school day this week. (Tune in tomorrow for a post about the holiday we'll be celebrating.) For whatever reason, I've been struggling a bit with my teaching lately. I hate to even admit that, but I was talking to a colleague and she used the word "defeated" to describe another teacher's recent mood, and it struck me that maybe we don't talk enough about how difficult it is sometimes to keep coming back day after day to teach kids who don't seem to be getting it, or in some cases, don't want to get it.

So here goes.

I know better than to take the vagaries of middle-schoolers personally. I frequently advise other teachers not to. I know that the only way I can be loved by the majority of my students is in retrospect, and I take great pleasure in the visits of high school students who inevitably walk into my room, look around, sigh nostalgically, and say, "I miss your class!"

Nevertheless, in spite of knowing I should hold out for high school students to express that they remember my classes fondly, and not expect any appreciation from students while they are under my care, I do find myself taking the hostility personally sometimes. And I've been doing that lately. When the kids would rather talk among themselves and pass notes rather than pay the slightest bit of attention to my lessons, when they ask me the same question seven or eight times, not because they didn't understand but because to them I sound like the teacher in Peanuts ("Wa wa wa wa wa wa."), when they vandalize my bulletin boards (OK, "vandalize" might be a strong word, but they do pull out the staples and sometimes even remove parts of the borders from the bulletin boards in the hallway, which aren't under my direct surveillance), I sometimes take those things personally. I just want everyone to love me! Is that too much to ask?

Well, clearly it is too much to ask, and in my more rational moments, I know that. What's important is continuing to do my very best, teaching as well as I possibly can, treating the kids fairly and consistently, providing many opportunities for them to practice reading and writing. And that I will continue to do.

But I might still whinge occasionally.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You Smell Just Like a Book!

Perfumer Christian Brosius hates perfume. He even named his company "I Hate Perfume." Here's part of his manifesto:
I hate perfume.

Perfume is too often an ethereal corset trapping everyone in the same unnatural shape

A lazy and inelegant concession to fashionable ego

Too often a substitute for true allure and style

An opaque shell concealing everything – revealing nothing

A childish masque hiding the timid and unimaginative

An arrogant slap in the face from across the room

People who smell like everyone else disgust me

(You can read the rest here.)

Instead of mass-produced perfume, Brosius makes individual creations. And one of them smells like a library. He writes:
Whenever I read, the start of the journey is always opening the book and breathing deeply. There are few things more wonderful than the smell of a much-loved book. Newly printed books certainly smell very different from older ones. Their ink is so crisp though the odor of their paper is so faint. Older books smell riper and often sweeter. Illustrated books have a very different odor from those with straight text and this smell often speaks of their quality. I've also noticed that books from different countries and different periods have very individual scents too. These speak not only of their origin, but of their history to this moment.

In the Library is a warm blend of English Novel*, Russian & Moroccan Leather Bindings, Worn Cloth and a hint of Wood Polish.

If you want to smell like a book (and who doesn't?) you can buy this perfume here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Twenty-Two Months

Saturday was the twenty-two month anniversary of the earthquake. I've mentioned before how the twelfth of the month doesn't crush me quite as much as it used to. I started thinking about how that happens with any milestone; as it gets further behind you, the commemorations tend to get further apart.

Twenty-Two Months

At first you count every hour;
This baby is four hours old, you say.
And then it's days;
You were born yesterday!
For a while you count weeks
And then for a long, long time,
Each month you take pictures
And write special letters:
You're three months,
Six months,
Ten months
Fourteen months..
Until one day you realize
That you're only counting years.

I love you just as much, my child,
Even though I don't know
How many months old you are.

At first you count every hour;
Four hours ago I survived an earthquake.
And then it's days;
Days since I last slept peacefully,
Days since everything I thought was firm
Shook and fell apart.
Then it's months:
For almost two years the 12th of every month
Was the earthquake anniversary,
The first thing I thought of that morning,
My constant memory all day.
Three months ago,
Ten months,
Fourteen months...
Until one day you realize
That you're only counting years.

You changed my life just as much, earthquake,
Even though I don't think about you
Every single day.

A mom's precious twenty-two month old
Is someone else's grimy toddler
About to enter the terrible twos.

Twenty-two months since an earthquake
Sometimes feels like forever
But I never know what unexpected moment
Will bring back the sick fear,
The adrenaline,
The time when I counted hours, then days, then months.

Ruth, from

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jane Austen, a Blogger?

I absolutely can't resist an article whose title begins, "If Jane Austen lived today..." And this one is especially irresistible, due to the conclusion of said title: "If Jane Austen lived today, she'd be a blogger."
Dear reader, if Jane Austen lived today, she'd be an avid blogger, she'd be on Facebook, and of course she'd also be tweeting away -- but mostly about other people, not herself.

That's because Austen had a passionate fascination with people and what made them who they were, an interest that keeps the modern world fascinated by the woman who wrote novels set in small villages nearly 200 years ago, said Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of an anthology of Austen-inspired stories.

"She would definitely be on Twitter, out there having fun. Blogging, connecting with people. Facebook," said Nattress in a phone interview about her book, "Jane Austen Made Me Do It."
The book sounds great - I immediately put it on my wish list - but I think if Jane Austen were a blogger, she'd be an anonymous one. Her whole style is based on watching people while they don't realize it. When she was alive - actually alive, as opposed to an imaginary version of her - she would hide her writing when anyone came in the room.

It's interesting to see how different authors manage blogging. I just recently started reading Meg Wolitzer's blog and I've read lots of author blogs for a long time (see sidebar). Some authors post a lot, and others hardly ever do. One author blog I read went into lurid detail about the woman's private life, and then she stopped writing on it because she said it messed up her "real" writing - it didn't allow her the privacy she needed to ruminate over ideas and digest them.

I am terribly impressed with Jane Yolen as a blogger. She is such a generous online writer in general, often sharing her amazing poems as comments on other people's posts. She has really inspired me to wonder what I was saving my writing for. While I'm not in her league as a writer, and I'm not nearly as open as she is, yet, I'm going for more freedom as an online writer and less self-protection.

Back to Jane Austen. I agree with Laurel Ann Nattress (here's her blog, which has some other amazing amazing news, that P.D. James just wrote an Austen-themed novel), that if Austen were alive today she'd be a journalist or a psychologist if she weren't a novelist, because she was very interested in human beings. Her characters are some of the best anyone ever wrote. My family and I are in the middle of watching the latest BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, and it is seriously wonderful.

So would Jane Austen have been a blogger? I don't know. She was a novelist, and I am very glad she was.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Principal of Longevity

She says teenagers fascinate her. It's a good thing, because she's been principal of the same junior high school for 48 years. Here's the story.

ht A Shrewdness of Apes

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reading Update

I have been doing a lot of rereading lately, and I'm in the middle of several books. I haven't finished much. But here's what I have read:

Book #37 was The True History of Paradise: A Novel, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson. I picked this one up because of the Caribbean connection; it's a novel about the history of Jamaica. It's told by Jean Landing, a woman who has finally had enough of her country and is planning to leave. During the course of her drive across the country with her dear friend Paul, she revisits her whole life, plus the story of the island, told in short vignettes from the point of view of selected ancestors. There's an earthquake in the story, and there's plenty of human turmoil as well. Perhaps because of this turmoil of both kinds, I almost put the book down permanently several times, but eventually I was glad I had persisted. I got a good picture of Jamaica and what might make someone both love it and want to leave it. The epigraph of the book is a quote from V.S. Naipaul: "The history of these islands can never be satisfactorily told." I'm glad that people keep trying.

Book #38 was Mothers & Other Liars, by Amy Bourret. Although there were aspects of the storytelling that I liked, I didn't find the premise of this book convincing at all. Ruby Leander finds a baby in a trash can and her first instinct, rather than to inform the authorities, is to get a fake birth certificate and transport the child across state lines, thus committing a felony. Ten years later, Ruby sees an article in a magazine that she knows is about her child. Turns out, the baby wasn't abandoned at all, but while the mother was out driving around trying to get her child to sleep, she was carjacked and the carjackers ditched the baby. (Don't you hate it when that happens?) Now Ruby is involved with a cop and is pregnant, and her method for dealing with the whole mess is even less believable than her original act. I just didn't buy any of this, so it was hard for me to suspend disbelief enough to get into the story.

Book #39 was a YA title from my classroom, Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan. I enjoyed this one pretty well, and will be recommending it to my students.

This post is linked to the November 12th edition of the Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Poetry Friday: Desire

I've been reading the complete works of Emily Dickinson, and finding gems along the way. Here's one that makes me think of "Success is counted sweetest by those who ne'er succeed." It explores the idea that not having what we want may have its own pleasures. The "banquet of abstemiousness" is not one appreciated much in modern society, but I think Emily's onto something here.


Emily Dickinson

Who never wanted, - maddest joy
Remains to him unknown:
The banquet of abstemiousness
Surpasses that of wine.

Within its hope, though yet ungrasped
Desire's perfect goal,
No nearer, lest reality
Should disenthral thy soul.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


On Monday I mocked our November schedule and how many days off we have. But it's only Thursday, and I am dragging, so maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to mock. A combination of illness and work and watching my children do NaNoWriMo (seriously, imagine if I were doing it myself!) and my son's inability ever to have the school uniform he needs no matter how much laundry gets done has left me yawning and stressing out about all I have to do. In reality, I have no more than in a normal week, so I'm not quite sure why it seems so overwhelming.

In any case, as I struggle to the end of the one five-day school week in November, here's something great to listen to, by Paul Simon. "Life is what you make of it: so beautiful or so what."

Come back tomorrow for a poem.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Haiti: Horrific?

Photo Credit: Omaha World-Herald

A Haitian friend posted this article on Facebook yesterday and commented that she didn't like it much. Maybe, she said, she was being oversensitive.

Well, first of all, the title: "Haiti: Horrific Beyond Expectations." It does tend to make a Haiti-dweller feel a little defensive. After all, fifty percent of the rubble has been cleaned up! After all, lots of the tent cities have been cleared! (Where did all those people go, though?) The feeling reminds me of when friends visited us in our first Haiti apartment and walked around shaking their heads sadly, repeating over and over, "Oh, you guys!" in sympathetic tones, as though they could hardly imagine that we could live in such a hovel. I'd complained about it some myself, but I didn't want them to think it was so very dreadful. Maybe they could have tried, "We love what you've done with the place!"

It's an uncomfortable paradox. I want people to know how bad things still are for earthquake survivors in Haiti. I posted about cholera yesterday myself, after all. I'm glad President Carter (one of my heroes) and the Habitat people are here. I recognize that there's still a lot to be done to return Haiti to the way it was before the earthquake, and then it was far from perfect. On the other hand, though, I don't want people - outsiders - talking about how horrific it is here in this quirky, awful, beautiful place. (And yes, I'm an outsider, too, even after living here fifteen years. I know that.) The article even uses the word "godforsaken." Folks, don't you know there's no such thing as a God-forsaken town? Then, too, I always complain when the US media ignore Haiti, and then complain when they write about it, too. Is there no pleasing me?

I find myself making snorting sounds in my head as I read. Apocalyptic movie set? Please. Tap-taps aren't air-conditioned? Well, boo hoo! Spotty electricity? Let me tell you about spotty electricity. It's way better now than it was when I first came to Haiti, when the country was under an international trade embargo, spearheaded by the United States - an embargo from which Haiti's economy has never really recovered.

At the same time, though, I have to say that the descriptions are not wrong. There is a lot to be horrified by in Port-au-Prince. Too many people are living in squalid, miserable, inhuman conditions almost two years after the earth shook. And the worst of it? People were living in those conditions before the earth shook. You just couldn't see them so clearly from the main roads as you drove from the airport. And I, with my self-righteous snorting, don't live in the conditions of the tent cities, nowhere close. I consider myself quite resilient, from "sturdy peasant stock," as I always say, and I know there is no way I could live the way people have been for nearly two years, basically in public, in steadily disintegrating tents, with no sanitation.

I just want to say to those people from Omaha: So, here's Port-au-Prince. Do you like what we've done with the place? We're all working to fix up our own little corner. There's still a lot to be done, as you can see. Thanks for the help you're bringing. I'm glad you think the Haitian people are amazing - you're right, they totally are. I hope you know that they don't really like having their picture taken unless they're all dressed up. They're not that thrilled with their situation, either, and they feel a little sensitive about people driving past them in tour buses taking pictures. (But I drive by and take pictures too. I get it that you have to document it, before you get used to looking at it.) I hope you get to eat some delicious Haitian food while you're here, and attend a Haitian church service and hear people praise God like you've never heard in Omaha, I'm betting. And again, thanks for coming.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

More on Cholera

This article from The Guardian details the current situation with cholera. An excerpt:
"Cholera thrives where water systems are weak and sanitation poor. A history of poverty, natural disaster, neglected public water and sanitation systems, and under-resourced health infrastructure has magnified the impact of cholera in Haiti. It is estimated that 80% of Haitians do not have access to latrines and more than half of the population lacks access to safe drinking water."

And here's a photo feature from the same site.

Monday, November 07, 2011

November is a Month of Holidays

We're back to school today for the only full month in November. Five school days at once; however will we manage?

The first two days of November are holidays: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Next week we have Friday off for Vertières Day. And then of course there's Thanksgiving; although we don't celebrate most American holidays at our school, that's one we can't skip. We get Thursday and Friday off.

I won't complain about holidays, but it's not easy to get much done in class in November. And then of course there's December, which has its own craziness.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

An Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11

I've thought about this verse a lot, and wondered what it would be like to have an undivided heart. It sounds incredibly restful to me sometimes. I don't think I've ever felt that my heart was completely at home in one place. It is always divided. This started when I first went to boarding school at the age of seven, and experienced what it's like to want to be in two places, to miss my parents desperately but at the same time love school and being with my friends. My heart was divided; I couldn't choose.

In fact, maybe my divided heart started even earlier than that. I was born in the United States and then went to Africa as a tiny baby. I was from two places, heard many languages, loved both ugali and pizza, had my blond pigtails pulled by people who were fascinated by my hair.

And now I live away from most of my family and many of my friends and my heart remains divided; there's always, always someone to miss. Divided, loving more than one place, loving more people than I can count, not satisfied with seeing people I love so seldom, with one sentence on Facebook, with not knowing my nieces and nephews, or my friends' children, not being part of their lives.

I guess everyone is like that these days; none of us can live near to all the people that matter to us. I have a friend from high school who was the third generation of her family growing up in the same house, but that's not common any more, and probably I romanticize what that would be like, as someone who has lived in mission housing, or rented houses or apartments, since my birth. It's a missionary kid cliche that we can't tell where we're from; there's no place on this earth where I feel rooted.

Maybe that's not what the verse means; it's talking, after all, about loving God above all others. Other versions of the Bible use language like "purity of heart," "unite my heart," even "focus my heart." God can focus my heart even as I flit about from one task to the next, from one need to the next. Even as I hurt with absence from people I love.

"Some day," posted an MK friend on, yes, Facebook, today, "there will be no goodbye." I can't imagine that day. It brings tears to my eyes to try to picture it. A day of hellos.

Saturday, November 05, 2011


This time last weekend I was at the beach. I consider myself blessed in so many ways, and one of the greatest is being able to go to the beach in November. November 1st and 2nd are holidays here, and at school we traded the 31st for the 2nd; in other words, we had the 31st off and had our in-service on the 2nd. There's nothing as relaxing as the ocean, and a long weekend soaking in seawater was just what we all needed.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Poetry Friday: First Love

I chose this poem for today because I have a fourteen-year-old who is currently in love with Mr. Knightley, from Jane Austen's Emma. Don't you remember falling for a musician or an actor or a character in a book or, as in this poem, someone in a painting? Be sure to follow the link to read the rest of the poem, and the surprise ending.

First Love
By Jan Owen

(Titan’s Young Englishman with a Glove, circa 1530)

It happened in Physics,
reading a Library art book under the desk,
(the lesson was Archimedes I recall)
I turned a page and fell
for an older man, and anonymous at that,
hardly ideal—
he was four hundred and forty five,
I was fourteen.
“Eureka!” streaked each thought
(I prayed no-one would hear)
and Paradise all term
was page 179
(I prayed no-one would guess).

Here's the rest.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Seven Billion

Photo Source:

On Monday, the world's population hit seven billion. Of course that day was just chosen randomly to represent the seven billion mark; nobody really knows exactly how many people there are in the world. It's estimated that 382,000 babies were born worldwide on Monday. But a baby girl in the Phillipines was chosen as the symbolic seven billionth baby and given a cake and a gift certificate for shoes. One pair of shoes? Shoes for her whole life? It doesn't say. And she's not going to eat the cake, but maybe her mother got some of it. It may be just me reading my own experience into this photo, but I don't think that mother looks very thrilled to have cameras around as she lies there in her bed cuddling her baby. I think she's thinking, "Go away and leave me alone with Baby Seven Billion." She's quoted in this article as saying, "She looks so lovely."

Here's an interview with the UN Population Fund Executive Director, in which he reflects on this milestone for the planet and looks ahead to the time when there will be eight million earthlings. When asked what advice he would give all the babies around the world, he doesn't give any advice at all, he merely states enigmatically, "I wish them interesting lives." Interesting seems a given. But how come only Danica gets free shoes?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


I mentioned cholera in my post yesterday. This epidemic, while not as much in the news as when it began just over a year ago, continues to rage. Read this blog almost any day and you'll find references to people dying of cholera. Paul Farmer, who is the UN's deputy Special Envoy to Haiti and a doctor himself, says that this outbreak is now the worst in the world and close to being the number one cause of death by infectious disease in Haiti. Nearly five percent of the population of Haiti have contracted cholera and more than six thousand people have died.

Cholera is easy to prevent; just wash your hands, with clean water and soap. But wait. What if you don't have access to clean water? Then what? This is why cholera is a disease of emergencies and natural disasters, times when clean water supply is disrupted. It's also a disease of poverty. I'm not worried about getting cholera because I have clean water to wash with. If I do get sick, I have access to health care. But for many people in this country, clean water and health care are both unattainable.

Read these five prevention messages, and they seem simple. Use safe water, wash your hands, use latrines, cook food well and peel raw food, clean up safely. And then read them again, imagining that you live in a tent, with no reliable source of clean water. Boiling water requires fuel, which costs a lot of money. Most people don't have jobs. Now you can see some of the challenges.

I was very struck by this interview given by photographer Ben Depp. He talks about some horrifying pictures he took of a dying cholera patient. He also talks about his own recovery from the trauma of the earthquake and how he deals with taking pictures in Haiti. Read all the way through to the last paragraph; Ben's words still have me pondering.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


It's November, and you know what that means: Nanowrimo! Two members of my household are doing Nanowrimo this year; one, my ninth grader, has the standard goal of 50,000 words, and I have no doubt she'll do it, since she did last year. My third grader is trying too, and has a goal of 10,000 words.

I'm going to try to post on my blog every day. I know, it's pitiful in comparison, but hey, while my daughter has been writing since one this morning, taking breaks only for food and for carrying laundry up to her room, I had to spend all morning grading (oh, and I did sleep some, too).

While contemplating Nanowrimo and Nablopomo, I went back and read what I posted last November. I didn't succeed in posting every day, but I did put up forty posts in the course of the month, so it averaged out. Reading my words from a year ago shows me how far I have come since then; I was still in the throes of recovering from the earthquake, and now I go days without thinking about it. On September 12th, it was mid-morning before I remembered it was the 21-month anniversary, and in October, I didn't remember the 22-month anniversary until the 14th. Time really is healing, and my surroundings are returning to normal, too; according to this article, about half of the debris from the earthquake has now been cleaned up. Last November the figure in the media was 4%. Don't get me wrong, Haiti is still facing many challenges, such as cholera, unemployment, poverty, and an estimated 500,000 people still living in tents because of the earthquake.

Since it's the first of the month, it's also Theme Day for the City Daily Photo blogs. Today's theme is Fences, and you can see thumbnails of participants' photos here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Poetry Friday: Machines

Another week with no posts between Poetry Fridays. I've been doing better about posting during the week, but what a week this was. We had our accreditation visit, a fire, electrical problems. But we're coming up on a week with several vacation days, so we will have a chance to recover.

Meanwhile, today's poem compares a beautiful piece of music to a bicycle. I read that Steve Jobs wanted to call the first Mac computer the Bicycle, because a bicycle is so elegant and simple and perfectly designed. I love the way the poem acknowledges that in creating beauty, "so much is chance," and I love the phrase, "effortless gadgetry of love." I'm just posting the first two stanzas, and these quotes are from later in the poem, so be sure to follow the link to read the rest.


Michael Donaghy

Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsicord pavane by Purcell
And the racer's twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell's chords are played away.

Here's the rest of the poem.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.