Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Book Review and a Movie Review




I thought I'd share two things worth checking out. If you don't mind reading long books you'll love "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski. It is 562 pages of gorgeous writing and an unusually beautiful story of a boy and dogs - but it much more than that. It is reminiscent of a Shakespeare tragedy. Set in 1950's Wisconsin, the Sawtelles raise a fictional breed of dogs. Edgar is mute but not deaf. The reason for his inability to talk is never answered. When Edgar's father dies suddenly and his uncle Claude insinuates himself into his life and that of his mother, Edgar, in his grief, makes some mistakes that change everyone's lives. Wroblewski took ten years to write this masterpiece and it was worth it. (And it's his first book!) The language, the story, a tiny bit of magical realism, and the setting will all entrance you.
I'm not a big movie watcher. The movies we rent on Netflix now are mostly so forgettable. Recently I've enjoyed having the Turner Movie Classic channel and especially watching some old Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movies. So I cannot remember how long it's been since I saw a newer movie I would actually recommend. This one is a couple years old, so many of you have probably already discovered it, but if not - see "Pan's Labyrinth." It is called an adult fairy tale. The setting is World War II Spain. (It is subtitled - but that won't scare readers away, now will it?) The movie brilliantly combines the realistic horrors of war with a child's fanatasies. The special effects are wonderful and the story is compelling. The little girl, Ofelia, is amazing in a way only child actors can be. There are fairies and a faun that somehow seem completely believable in the horrible life of this young girl. The ending is tragic and satisfying all at once. I won't give any more away.

If you have books or movies to recommend I'd love to read about them.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Winter Again


Flying creatures, unfrozen
clutter and dance at the feeders.
Deer huddle in snowhills
only head and ears silhouetted
against stark ice-blue.
Picnic tables smothered against white
and a scarlet bit
of cardinal on a barren twig.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving

Earth is turning and a massive star burns.
The unfailing harvest from the soil arrives
in its true season and every living day
succumbs to the dark and restive night.

Hearts are beating and lungs expanding,
the brain exerts its power of language and love,
blood strains relentlessly for its destination
as our living bodies continue on.

We do nothing in all the days of our lives
to keep these laws in motion
or call them forth to complete their roles.
Nothing we do allows our eyes to open each morning.

And so for all that we cannot do on our own,
for the gift of free will and lives of unending choices,
for this food and the love we learn through time on Earth
we thank you God for your blessings.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Three Haiku Poems

Snowflakes like fairies
from a fissure in heaven
a fun flotilla

A daughter will fly
each generation is more
she is more than me

A son makes you smile
because now he is a man
his voice brings new joy

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Musings

I haven't been a very good blogger this week. I've been sick, report cards and conferences are coming up, as well as 20+ people coming to my house for Thanksgiving - so things are not looking good for this week either! But don't give up on me yet.
Here are some random photos to ponder:
This is my forlorn little Ferri fairy that my daughter got me. (Her wings broke off) She sits in my flower box. Today we have about 5-6 inches of snow so it's already hard to remember when we had flowers.

Wine update - still waiting....


Is this cute, or what? I feel like Woodstock visited my deck.

This is what happens when you leave your ferns out until it snows. They turn a reddish-purple color.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Daily Dilemma


Our neighborhood has one lake and eight ponds - and dozens of geese! Where did they all come from (Canada? If so why won't they go back?) I truly love birds but all they do is honk and eat and poop and reproduce. Our little lake beach was almost unusable this summer due to their waste products and the lake filled with ecoli as well. We've tried all the legal things and are moving towards desperation. This photo is typical but there is a group of 30+ here all the time. The place that a gosling hatches is the place it will always return, so sadly, the eggs are shaken and unhatched in the spring - but that hasn't stopped them from coming from neighboring ponds. It's too bad there's not room for all of us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All My Dogs

I read this "meme" on a couple other blogs. (Someone still has to explain to me what exactly a "meme" is and how it is pronounced.) Here's what you do:

1. Grab the book nearest you right now.
2. Turn to page 56.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post that sentence with these instructions on your blog. (If you don't have a blog just try it anyway - it's fun)
5. Don't look for your favorite book, coolest book, or most intellectual book - just the closest one.

I love the sentence I came upon. If you're reading the most acclaimed books right now you might know where it came from.

"She was holding a pup in the air in front of her, examining it and singing under her breath how she was crazy for tryin', crazy for cryin', crazy for loving it."

Isn't that a beauty of a sentence? It made me think about the dogs in my life and how I never saw one of them as a puppy. There have been four dogs. Two were family pets and the last two were completely bonded to me and I to them.

The first dog came along some time in my teenage years. It was one of the funniest looking dogs you've ever seen. She had the body and face of a beagle-shepard mix and the legs of a dashhound. She had a big bark and her name was Tiger (Lily) . She was passed down the street and we were the last house on the street and after a lot of C'mon, Moms she stayed with us.

The next dog was a German Shepard named Guy. A friend had lovingly trained this wonderful dog and couldn't keep him anymore - so at age two he came to my family when my children were very young. Sadly, he left us only six years later because of the heart-breaking (and human) disease, myesthenia gravis.

I missed having a dog and so within about three months I got a call from my mom saying a neighbor found a cute stray dog. We all went to see her and immediately fell in love with Quinci. She was probably about six months old by then though. Quinci stayed with me through the worst days of the life and let me cry into her abundant blond hair on many lonely nights. Then she let me know when she couldn't go on and I teafully had to have her put to sleep. I will never forget watching the life go out of her eyes.

I think about a year went by and again I missed having a buddy on my walks. I visited several shelters and chose a cute little mixed breed named Stella. Stella came with separation/anxiety disorder, but she's okay now. She was a year old when I brought her home.

So that is why I've had dogs but never a puppy. That's a lot of information to give you from just a sentence in a book.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Canary

This poem will be published in Plainsongs in January.

I imagine her face flushed
with windburn on the trek
from the apartment building -
its dull ochre bricks spitting
her out onto the sidewalk -
to the hole where people move
downward through timeless grime
and black puddles, like a whale
sucking fish through its baleen.
Forced into a silver bullet,
under water and cement,
the weight of the world above.
Earbuds, paperback, downcast
eyes poised for solitude,
her body toggling with the erratic tracks.

A canary in a coal mine;
Flying out of the pit, wings
of yellow hair and striped knit
scarves lifting, buoyant in the
whoosh and clash of hot and cold.
The miasma and matter
stinging her eyes and tongue.
The burden of bags pulling
at slender shoulders, her heart
heavier than what she carries.
Platform boots sprinting over
clotted paths - so far from my
peace and quiet - on into her life.
Her smile piercing each new arrival
like a baseball crashing through a window.

Friday, November 14, 2008

S'more Haiku


scrape of metal rakes
copious piles of red leaves
jump in and smell them

smell of burning wood
smolders into a new day
permeates the air

amidst the purple
clouds like spilled ink in the sky
then peach-pink of dawn

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Irritating Phrases

A fellow blogger at Working With Words recently linked to an Oxford University study about the Top 10 Most Irritating Phrases. Here's the list and then I'm going to list some of my own. What are yours? What are those words or phrases that you get so sick of hearing or being used incorrectly.

1. at the end of the day
2. fairly unique
3. I personally
4. at this moment in time
5. with all due respect
6. absolutely
7. it's a nightmare
8. shouldn't of
9. 24/7
10. It's not rocket science

These are mine:
1. YOU GUYS (How I hate this term! I always tell my husband that if the server at a restaurant calls me a "guy" I'm reducing their tip.)
2. I could care less (if you COULD care less that means you actually care.)
3. awesome ( very few things are awesome - maybe God, that's about it for me)
4. supposably ( I don't know how many adults I've heard say this - it's supposedly)
5. absolutely (I agree with this one - why is everything suddenly absolute?)

There are probably more I'm forgetting, but here are some new words or phrases in education that are used to sound progressive , but they are just new terms for old ideas.

1. short cycle assessments (aka - SCA)- this is what we call quizzes now.
2. summative assessments - this was formerly a test.
3. professional learning community (PLC) This is what we call a meeting now.
4. roll out - instead of introducing something, now we "roll it out"
5. front loading - this used to be called pre-teaching.
6. schema - instead of asking children how they learn the best, we tell them to discover their individual "schema".

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Power in Us All

A couple weeks ago a parent came into my room and spoke to me in a very disrespectful and insulting tone of voice. She was angry and would not let me speak. I spend every school day helping her daughter, yet I was being spoken to as the enemy. It was very upsetting, of course, even though this woman is known to have done this many times to other teachers. The following week we met as a team with her. There were five professionals, all people who knew and had worked with her daughter. She continued her onslaught of disrespectful tone and language. It left all of us red-faced and flustered, and probably ruined the day for most of us.
There is a quote by the renown child psychologist, Haim Ginott that I always keep on my bulletin board at work. As you read it replace "child" and "teacher" with person, and "in the classroom" with anywhere I go, and think about the fact that we all have the power to lift up or destroy someone's day.
"I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my personal approach that creates the climate. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable of joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Haiku for a Monday


These are my first attempts at haiku. If you remember from Junior High English class the first line is 5 syllables the second is 7 and the last is 5.


our nation now stands
on a fragile house of cards
please come and save us

a small wooden cross
by the roadside reminds me
to buckle up now

bird arrows, hawk's wings
slashing contrails intersect
the pure and blue sky

eyelids flap open
songs waken me in the night
music in my dreams

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Grandmother's Gift - Part 3

I recently wrote about receiving my grandmother's manuscripts. I just finished reading one of her novels entitled The Humble Ones. It turns out that the reading of this book couldn't have been more timely. The setting is a small Pennsylvania town, probably in the early 1940's. A major part of the plot concerns a young girl who befriends the town's only black family. She desperately wants them to join her church and is met with racial prejudice and bigotry that shocks and upsets her. My grandmother did a wonderful job of portraying a variety of townspeople and their reactions to meeting black people for the first time in their lives. The story continues to contrast the innocence of an unknowing child to the realities of our society before the civil rights movement. As the girl grows into a young woman she continues to befriend this family and advocate for their rights. Some of what my grandmother wrote would be considered politically incorrect now, but her true desire for social justice shines through the entire book.
Here is a brief excerpt that I found particularly interesting:
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if in some time in the future we hear of a great negro leader, or statesman, or even a president, you and I could say we predicted it. Both girls laughed and Laurie added, "And we would be proud too, and remember that we had been his friend."
My grandmother has not been around to witness all the changes in America in the past two decades - but this week I think she would be amazed - I'm sure she would be proud.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Coexist XIII- The UNITED States of America


This morning anABC reporter recounted a moment last night on Times Square. He was standing next to two African American women and saw their legs buckle under them as they gazed upward. He looked up to see on a huge monitor with all the US presidents - and Barack Obama. The reporter said to them , "Twelve of those men owned slaves." And one woman responded, "That stain is now washed clean." Wow. That touched me deeply. I hope it's true. I hope we are entering an era when Americans truly begin to understand the beauty and unique value of our diversity.

I watched Obama's inspiring acceptance speech with fifth graders today and I was emotional. Maybe because I spend my days with mostly black, mostly underprivileged children. These children are typically surrounded with white teachers and administrators for all of their school years. We are always telling them they can succeed at anything they choose. But I've often wondered if any of them believe us. Maybe now they will.

Maybe their parents didn't believe that they could be Dr. Cliff Huxtable or lawyer Claire Huxtable because that was just a TV show. Now a man brought up by a single mother and grandparents, not rich, not privileged, has achieved the ultimate dream right before their eyes.

I hope that Obama feels the collective weight of our hope. I pray God protects and guides him. And no matter who you voted for - let's go back to being the UNITED States of America now. Let's experience together the audacity of hope.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting Day 2008


At first I thought the early morning exhilaration was from the knowledge that it's finally over!!! But then I realized that the joy I felt in voting this morning was more than that. It was a feeling of hope. It was hope in my future and the security of retirement someday. It was hope in my children's future. It was the hope of real change in this country. It was hope in educational reform that will touch the children I work with everyday.

Some people get upset with the idea of someone not voting as they are. I do not. I know that everyone has valid reasons for choosing their candidate. We all vote our conscience. And after all the name-calling, ridiculous emails and misleading advertisements - we all vote for the person that strikes us as the most capable, reasonable and with the most integrity. I believe that Barack Obama and John McCain are both decent, intelligent, capable men who love their country.
I think we've all felt the stirring of something new in the air, something uplifting after years of war and the downward spiral of our economy. I don't remember feeling this way on other voting days. I sensed the privilege of what I did this morning more than I ever have. I believe the best man will win today.
God Bless America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

You Can Vote However You Like

There are still beautiful things happening in America.

Click HERE

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Childhood in Iraq

I don't usually do this but I'm going to use a newspaper article as the basis for my post today. It touched me and I wanted to share it. I will paraphrase from the Los Angeles Times article by Jeffrey Fleishman and Raheem Salman.
They describe two brothers Karrar 12, and Allawi, 10. The school year has started but these boys have never been to school because they must work to support their parents and eight children in the family. Their father is ill and has no job. Karrar says,
" I'd like to go to school. I've never been to one. Not a single day. My friends tell me school is very beautiful."
A man named Ali Rashed owns a muffler shop and gave the boys a job after seeing them collecting tin cans.
He says, "It is better for the boys here than in the streets where they face bombs and explosives. I don't think they will have a good future. They are not educated and their family can't help them. They sometimes don't have anything to eat. How can you have a future if you have nothing to eat?
These boys and hundreds of others have been "shaped by war, honed by poverty. They are witness to sectarian violence, Shiite militias, angry sermons echoing through mosques.....These children might not know grammar and punctuation, but they know what to do when the bullets come, how to take cover, to hide from the kidnappers, the militants and the soldiers."
A United Nations report found that 94 percent of boys in Iraq attend elementary school, but that drops to 44 % by high school. For girls, 81% start elementary school; 31% go on to high school.
Karrar says, "I would love to join the National Guard. When I see them , I love them. They are brave, and I love how they stand with their guns."
Children passed beyond the garage; a few had book bags and new clothes, or at least well-scrubbed clothes. Karrar's father, Abdul Bidan, who has stopped in to say hi to his sons, whispered, "He gets jealous when he sees kids with book bags."
Imagine.