Monday, October 26, 2009

Random Happy Things

I'll start my post of random things that are making me happy lately with this soundtrack music that I've been playing non-stop, so you can click on it and listen too while you read this post (isn't that thoughtful of me?)

I'm a Masterpiece fan on facebook, and it surprises me when they put their updates how many people say they don't want to waste their time on contemporary drama, they just want "more bonnets." I love the classics just as much as the next person, but they have got some fantastic contemporary pieces, such as this one from last night. If you're interested at all in some fairly recent South African history and the apartheid struggle, this was gripping. Excellent acting. It's available for awhile to watch online if you missed it.

This is what I can see outside my kitchen window. I'm not good with a camera like Julie Kittredge or Alysa are, but even I can't mess up these gorgeous colors.

Here's a close-up of my little curly willow tree. The fact that I have a tree with curly hair makes me super happy.

And here's a close-up of the maple. Amazing color--not altogether red or gold or orange--a mixture of all...a sunset color.

These ponytails are making me happy...

As are these vintage signs I just picked up from TJMaxx to go in my kitchen...

...especially this one...

...since it matches this one that I already have, which I got on ebay a few years ago--how cool and random...

And last, but certainly not least, this plate of pumpkin scones still warm from the oven. Darren said, "What mix are you using?" Excuse me? I made these completely from scratch. And do you like my photographic styling job?

So, lovely music, well-done small screen drama, breathtaking nature, new kitchen decorations, ponytails, and warm scones. That's what I call a pretty good day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Perfect Friday Morning

It's cold, dark, and rainy out this morning. Elaine and I are tucked up in my bed while Lucy is at school. We're drinking tea and eating donut holes. I'm finishing up some work, and Elaine is watching "101 Dalmatians" or, as she calls it, "Roger and All the Puppies."

This was her second choice. Through an elaborate ritual of eenie, meenie, meinie, mo, she first selected "Cinderella." When I opened the case, I saw that the only disc in there was the one with the extras (typical). I tried to explain to her that that one wasn't the actual movie.

"What is it?" she asked.

"It's where they get all the people who drew Cinderella together and they talk about how they made the movie."

She thought for a moment and said, "Well, that's trashy and horrible. I DON'T want that. Let me start all over again."

So, Roger and All the Puppies it is. Elaine usually assigns us all parts when she watches, so I better wrap this up if I want to be Perdita, my usual pick. Otherwise, she tells me I can be Cruela, and I'm not sure I like the implications of that.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In the Middle...a Deep Breath

I am in the middle of these busy, busy two weeks and also found out just yesterday that Lucy is the Star of the Week in first grade and there are all sorts of things I should have been doing for that, including now bringing in treats for everyone tomorrow. I woke up yesterday being absolutely positive that it was Friday and thinking most of this was past me, but it was only old Wednesday with still miles to go before I sleep.

But while I'm racing around doing everything, I'm also driving alone good portions of the time on I-90, which despite the maniacs who tailgate you even though you're driving 84 miles per hour, is actually lovely on long stretches of it--fields and farms and horses and big trees, shedding their leaves, which seem to have made their way right out of a Robert Frost poem.

And speaking of poetry, I came across this beautiful one by Mary Oliver (love her), which is so lovely and true that I read it several times and got at least one tear in my eye. If you'll forgive this hippie literary-dork phrase, it speaks to my soul right now...enjoy.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Two Action-Packed Weeks

I probably won't be around much for the next couple of weeks. In addition to teaching the class on Monday and Wednesday nights and another swim meet for Lucy on Friday night, Jennie and I are doing an assessment workshop that begins tomorrow night and goes through next Tuesday night.

This is our second workshop. We meant to have a whole blog dedicated to our experience and techniques and whatever, but that hasn't happened yet. Then I meant to blog about the last session (in August) because it was such an eye-opener, plus there was so much comedy gold there, but life went on and school started and I didn't get around to it either.

In a nutshell, we're hired by a school district to teach high school teachers how to create an ongoing culture of both formative and summative assessment within their classrooms. Trust me, it's more fun than it sounds. Jennie is the pedagogical and theoretical guru, and I'm there to show them how to write a sound, comprehensive, non-racist or sexist or stupid, measurable test question.

Since our students are also teachers, you would think they would be easier to teach than our regular students and in many ways they are. However, we have our moments, such as when I presented this example: "If you had an apple tree that kept producing bad fruit, you wouldn't cut off all the bad apples, go to the store and buy good apples, tie them all over the tree, and then say, 'There, problem fixed--now the tree produces good fruit.' You'd need to get to the actual root of why the tree was producing bad fruit in the first place." Then one guy said, "Let me give YOU an example. If I'm coaching the football team, I'm not going to have them practice in the basement, I'm going to have them practice on the field."

Um, WHAT? Did he just start playing MadLibs with me?

Then Jennie was discussing classroom democracy and what that would look like, and one student said, "Well, if you had a room of all men and one woman and all the men voted to rape the woman, that would have been a democratic decision."

I'll leave you with this, further proving that art imitates life imitates art and on and on. Suffice it to say, no matter how much I interact with people, they still have the ability to faze me. Enjoy and see you next week...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Notes from the Classroom

Last night I met with each of my students individually to discuss their progress on their informative essays. Last week I had given each of them a separate slip of paper with a topic and a little blurb about it. This, I admit, was done with completely selfish motives. First, our department chair asked us not to teach or allow the students to write how-to essays (thank goodness)--so I am automatically spared having to read pages on how to fry an egg, how to repair a bicycle, and so on.

I also wanted to spare myself having to read more of the same ilk as their exploratory essays. I (foolishly) let them pick their own topics, saying, "What question interests you? You can pick anything that captures your fancy and research it to find answers. Isn't that exciting? Go ahead!" One or two students actually picked something interesting--for example, my star student, who is an adult returning to school to get her nursing degree, has a friend with dissociative disorder so she wrote on that. My other unexpectedly gratifying student is an Iraq vet (who looks all of 20 years old) who wrote on the connection between fast food and obesity. But most of the rest were an abysmal collection of lame stuff you could cull from a cursory glance at the Internet or a public service pamphlet.

So when informative essay time came around, I decided to outwit them. I'm trying to teach them about investigative reporting and news analysis in this whole process, as well as to be curious about people, their surroundings, what motivates human behavior. I picked mysterious and controversial historical subjects, which to me are captivating and even thrilling. My double motive is that not only would they churn out papers that would be remotely interesting for me to read but also that their own interest and imagination might be piqued in something as well. That is why I gave them topics such as: Jim Jones & Jonestown, Pompeii & Herculaneum, the Cambridge 5, Hitler's niece--Geli Raubal, Leopold & Loeb, the Chappaquiddick incident, you get the idea. I had also deliberately picked topics that have a plethora of information about them so that no one could say they couldn't find anything (I'm naive that way, as I was to discover).

As I said, last night I met with them to talk about what they'd found so far. Let me say first though that a couple of students were actually gratifying. The woman whom I had assigned Juliet Hulme & Pauline Parker (now that is a bizarre story if there ever was one) had pages of notes and had already rented the movie "Heavenly Creatures." She said she was fascinated by the whole thing. My star nursing student whom I assigned the Klaus & Sunny von Bulow case is already deciding how to best fit in Alan Dershowitz's criminal law philosophy into her paper.

I should be satisfied, right? But those are the exception. Then, there are the rest, the buzz-wreckers. First, there's my student with magenta hair, and by the way I don't judge him for having magenta hair, I judge him for being lazy and a terrible writer. He wears headphones constantly. And not little iPod earbuds or anything, great big Bose-type headphones like radio announcers wear. On his previous paper, I finally just gave up and wrote, "Grammar and sentence structure issues abound." He declined to even meet with me last night. Some people might say I should force students to meet with me, but I've learned from previous classes. I had another student like that who had earlier written an essay about how his heroes are John Gotti and Al Capone. I'm gonna make this guy to talk to me? Not likely. Magenta Headphone Man's heroes might be Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy, so I'm not going to push the issue.

Then there was the girl I assigned the Cottingly Fairy photographs. She thought I wanted her to write the entire paper (7 pages) on the photographs themselves. No history, no motivation, no involvement by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whatever. When I told her, "No, no, no, I want you to write about the whole incident and the impact it had on society at the time. There's an interesting children's movie about it called 'Fairy Story' that you should really see--it presents the whole thing from the children's point of view and gives you a lot of background." She said, "Oh, if I can write about more than just the photos, I don't really need to see it." Well, OK then.

Then there was the guy who's writing about Amelia Earhart. Again I said, "There's a major motion picture coming out about her this very month!" and he replied, "I guess if it comes out before the paper's due, I'll try to go." Sigh. Don't you have any intellectual curiosity?

There was the guy writing on the last Romanov family. I told him, "The definitive work on the Romanovs and their assassination is by Robert Massie. It's about a thousand pages and has all sorts of never-before seen photographs--it's so cool!" He just looked at me, then said, "Yeah, I think I found some stuff on the Internet about them."

And then there's the woman writing on the Lindbergh kidnapping who said, "I don't get this. You told us to do an analysis [which she could not pronounce] and talk about Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Where exactly are we supposed to write about that?" Me: [deep breath] In your paper. Your informative paper. This one we're working on. Throughout the whole paper. Her: Ohhhh. So like, in the introduction, body, and conclusion?

Lastly (oh, I could give more examples, but I'll stop here) there's my Goth student who I had used to have such high hopes for. He came to me and said, "I can't find anything on my topic." His topic is...wait for it...Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. I asked, "Have you tried the library?" He looked blankly at me. "The library?" Yes, you know, the place where they keep all the books? Me: You should really try the library--either the one here at school or the public library or both. I will pretty much guarantee they have something about the Rosenbergs there. Him, sighing resignedly: Well, OK, I guess I could try there and see if there is anything.

Over the weekend, the department chair contacted me to see what section of writing I would like to teach this spring. To see the nature of my response, you'll need to watch the first 25 seconds of this trailer:

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Recommendation

I just completed a piece for the magazine called "Quick Takes," which is a collection of recommendations--books, CDs, movies, etc. I included a book that I have recommended here on my blog, but it was a long time ago, plus now there is a deluxe edition so I am re-featuring it. I am so excited about this I can hardly contain myself.

On October 1st, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name was released in new fancy packaging, PLUS (here's the super exciting part) three audio CDs unabridged, read/narrated by none other than David Suchet.

Before I get on that, let me go back to the Storybook Bible. It's written by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Many, many people have reviewed it already and far better than I could. My favorite review is by Kathy Keller, wife of Tim Keller.

You can read the whole review here, but here are some excerpts: "Most children's books of Bible stories are little more than a Christianized version of Aesop's fables, or at best, a Christian adventure cartoon. But Sally goes out of her way in the first pages of the book to reclaim the true story of the Bible...This is heady theology, often missed in adult preaching and teaching, but fully realized in an age appropriate and attractive form that will delight children and often (at least for me) leave the grown-up reader in tears. More wondrously, she has avoided the moralism and legalism that so often characterizes Christian educational materials for children....It is very hard to find (or even produce) material for children that doesn't essentially contain the message 'Be good, so that God, your heavenly Father, will love you, and your earthly parents will be happy with you, too.' To discover The Jesus Storybook Bible is to have a unique resource for communicating the gospel to children in all it's fullness."

Now, on to the new audio version. This is what Sally Lloyd-Jones had to say about that, not to me personally, but in her newsletter. Though I must add, she is just the nicest, sweetest person. If you visit her blog and leave a comment, she'll come over to your blog and leave a comment. I understand that that is good blog etiquette, but did I mention that SHE WROTE THE JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE? I almost fell down when I saw her comment on one of my blog posts, particularly when I was just nattering on about how much I love Target or whatever.

Anyway, she said this about the recorded version: "I was fortunate enough to be in London exactly then and sat in on the recording. And met David. What a lovely man. (And a rascal--my favorite). He did an incredible job. Such an honor that he would read it. (Oh. That's a fat suit he wears BTW for Hercule Poirot; and his voice? Several octaves lower.)Before he began the recording, David described how he was approaching the voice of the narration. 'It's me reading to my daughter' he told me. Which is funny because that is exactly the same thought that guided Luther in the language he chose in translating the Bible into German--and the guiding principle for me as I wrote the book: that the voice of the text not be the voice of academics in the universities, but the voice of a mother speaking to her children. And we just heard: the book won Honors in the Audio and Storytelling Category of the 2009 NAPPA Awards. (Before you google NAPPA and find out it's 'The North American Potbellied Pig Association' and begin to feel sorry for me and my book and poor David Suchet, don't be dismayed. What we won was the 'National Parenting Publication Awards.')

See, isn't she a treat? And you can listen to a sample of David Suchet reading it here.

We bought the Storybook Bible when it first came out about two years ago. Lucy and I read through it together, and it is so moving to hear the most beloved story in such a fresh, new way. We go back to it over and over again. And if you already own a copy, you should still get this deluxe version and also give it as a gift to anyone with children or grandchildren, because not only is David Suchet Hercule Poirot, he is also the voice of Aslan on the audio version of The Chronicles of Narnia.

It's like having Aslan read the Bible to you. How cool is that? Buy it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Door County Weekend

On Friday we grabbed the kids from school and headed north with our friends Lucho and Sarah, and their kids Stephen, Andrew, and Isabella aka Lucy and Elaine's extra brothers and sister. We stopped at a hotel in Green Bay where we spent the night but not before spending several quality hours in the pool. My kids think every time we get in the car, we are heading to a pool so we try to fulfill that wish as much as possible. The whole 4-hour trip, Elaine kept saying, "Are we getting to the pool? Because I brought my floaties and my goggles," which doesn't sound that hilarious when you read it, but when you hear it in her 3-year-old chainsmoker voice it is, so we kept repeating it all weekend. Stephen had broken his toe and was on crutches/wheelchair, but the other kids had a great time in the pool.

After they finally got out and showered off, the adults decided to talk, the boys decided to watch TV, Lucy and Isabella were reading American Girl books, and Elaine got out the Gideon Bible to read to Catty. I asked her, "Are you going to read your favorite verse: 'When I am afraid, I will trust in You?'" She said, "No, I'm going to read this one to her: 'When I am at school, my parents come and pick me up.'" I'm assuming that one's in the unauthorized version. And speaking of Gideon Bibles, I found out at
Barry Trowbridge's funeral, that his dad worked for the Gideons and whenever Barry stayed in a hotel, he would take the Bible out of the drawer and put it on top of the nightstand, in hopes that someone would pick it up and read it. So we have started doing that too.

In the morning, we headed up the rest of the way to Door County. First we stopped at Dairy View, which sells ice cream (duh) and pizza, and you can find out all sorts of fun facts about cows, plus get to see them being milked.

Here are Stephen, Lucho, Lucy, and Isabella outside...

I included this picture of Sarah and Andrew because I think it's a cute mother/son moment. I'm actually on the side, chatting with her, but I cropped myself out because for whatever reason my teeth look frighteningly large. Now I wonder if they truly are that large and that's something I've missed noticing all my life and no one has remarked on it out of kindness and/or fear. Hmmm. Always good to find something new to be paranoid about, I guess. But here are Andrew and Sarah...

Here are all the kids by the model of Cookie the Cow...

The rest of the weekend we did the usual Door County things--ate, talked, visited Peninsula Park, ate, went to an apple orchard w/ hay maze/playground, ate, played games, ate, etc. etc. We didn't even do much picture taking--as you can see by the clothes, all of these were taken on the same day. I love this one of daddies and daughters...

It's not often that you can find two whole families where everybody loves everybody else and gets along great. Lucho said, "Isn't it great how our kids never fight together!" We were all sad when they left for home on Sunday afternoon, and Elaine cried, but she snapped out of it when we said we'd go for ice cream before they left (regardless of the fact that we'd just finished a huge brunch). We went back on Monday morning. We're all planning to come back for a much longer time next summer.

Here we are together (do my teeth look overly prominent?)...

We're very thankful for a safe trip, a happy time, and such good friends!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

I Won Something!

Oh wow, Kacie at Papua Girl in Dallas (isn't that a cool blog name?) gave me a Superior Scribbler Award! I think I'm supposed to link here if you want to read more about it. Oddly enough, I've never met Kacie in real life, but I'd love to someday. She is a friend of Alysa (from Little Things in Life, which is on my blog roll) and that's how she came my way. I love reading her blog, which is a unique worldview of an MK from Indonesia married to a Brit and living in Texas. Figure that one out! Plus she's a Graham Greene fan, so that makes her A-OK in my book. Oh and Kacie, I'm officially adding you to my blog roll too!

Now my job is to award 5 other blogs as Superior Scribblers. If I award you and you accept, you must do the following:

1. Each Superior Scribbler must turn and pass on this award to 5 of the most deserving blogs.
2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the blog and name the author from which he/she received the award on his/her blog.
3. Each Superior Scribbler must display the award on his or her blog, and link to this post.
4. Each blogger who was awarded Superior Scribbler, must visit this post and add their name to the Mr. Linky. That way we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives this prestigious honor.
5. Each Superior Scribbler must post the rules on their blog.

Here are my five. As I've already mentioned, on my blog roll to the right are some of my favorite blogs that I read regularly--and I highly recommend that you check those out. So instead, I think I'll nominate ones that aren't on there:

1. Antique Mommy. Her tagline is "Sometimes sweet, sometimes tart, but always real." Very true. I don't know the author personally, but if I did I think we would be great friends. I enjoy reading her because she is mothering a young child slightly later in life, just like I am. She's funny and insightful.

2. Laura at A Number of Things. Laura's an American living in England. I love her wry commentary on life, her passion for animal welfare, and her love of reading. Laura makes me feel a little smarter just because I read her blog. She also makes me feel like if she ever came to visit my house, I would need to shove all the People magazines under the bed in shame. Which can only be a good thing.

3. Melanie at Big Mama. Now I don't know Melanie either, and she is all big time with lots of readers, so I'm guessing she'll never know about this award or anything, but I think you should read her anyway because she is hilarious. I can't tell you how many blogs I've started out thinking are funny, but pretty soon their humor wears thin and I've lost the love. Not Big Mama, I still laugh pretty much every day.

4. Beck at Frog and Toad are Still Friends. Yet another blogger I don't know! I read this blog and nod my head in agreement and then wish I could write like that too.

5. Anna at Pleasantville Schoolhouse. Actually, there is less actual writing on this blog, but there is gorgeous photography, and you must just take a look. It's normally the kind of blog that would make me feel all inadequate because it's about being the most awesome domestic engineer you could possibly imagine, which I fall quite short of in many ways [continues kicking People magazines under the bed], but it's really more like entering a lovely little world sort of like Victoria where everyone is civil and genteel and drinks tea from china cups.

So there you go. I don't think any of those people except Laura reads my blog so they probably won't know they've been awarded. But...if it gets them a few more readers, then I think it's worth it!