Monday, November 30, 2009

Reading Challenges - Part 2

On Sunday I posted about my love/hate relationship with reading challenges: I love the fact that it adds a community component to the solitary reading past time, and I love that they help me to read outside my comfort zone. I hate them because I am only batting about .400 completion rate this year and I realize that I have not succeeded in all my good-intentioned endeavors. Despite these short-comings, I am convinced that the pros outweigh the cons and I will sign up for at least a few challenges in 2010.

Two challenges that I had no problem completing in 2009 and so I will stack the cards in 2010 by signing up for them again include J. Kaye's Support your Local Library Challenge and Carl's R.I.P V challenge (assuming he will offer it again). I have always used my local library in the past, but typically I have pigeon-holed its purpose: when the kids were younger I would use the library to bring home stacks and stacks of new picture books every week; when I first started teaching I would use the library to find resource books to help me in this new profession. It was only this year, through this challenge, that I discovered the library as a great place to obtain current novels without the high price tag. I am not sure what level in which I sign up, although I think I may try to stretch myself and commit to the "Just My Size" level which means that I will read 50 library books over the course of the year.

I think the one thing that I learned about myself as a reader this year is that I like to be free to choose what I want to read in my free time. While I have the life long goal of reading many of the classics, especially Dickens, Bronte (Charlotte, Emily and Anne), Austen, Dostoevsky -- just to name a few......I find that teaching the classics all day makes me less likely to want to read them at night, when all I want to do is just escape from the academic stress and strain of daily life. I think that is why I failed at those kinds of challenges in 2009. So while I am very tempted to sign up for Laura's All About the Brontes challenge, or the collaborative Lord of the Rings challenge, or participate in Ti's Moby Dick Mondays read-along challenge, I think I will hold until my retirement years to commit to such lofty goals.

A couple of challenges that have caught my eye as very interesting and creative challenges include Deborah's Nancy Drew Challenge where she hopes to read all 56 yellow-jacket Nancy Drew books in a year's time (I LOVED Nancy Drew growing up and while I never read the entire collection, it does have a certain appeal) and Shona's Rory Gilmore Books Project where she hopes to read all 150 books referenced on the Gilmore Girls' show at some point in time. Somehow Shona found a website that lists all these novels and she has created a Google Document to help track her reading progress. I LOVE this show and have always been in awe of Rory's passion for reading. Since this particular challenge has no deadline, I am giving considerable thought to giving it a try (I am not sure how I could lose???).

Other challenges that I am giving serious thought to joining include: Book Chick City's Thriller and Suspense Challenge (this is my go-to genre, so I think it might be a good fit for me, although I am somewhat nervous about the requirement to read 12 of this genre in 12 months); Aarti's Flashback Challenge (where you re-read books of your own choosing. Since I already do this for several books that I teach, I think it would be easy to complete and I will hopefully add at least one book that I do not teach to the mix --- like Little Women or Anne of Green Gables); C. B.'s Read the Book, See the Movie challenge (I have watched so few movies lately that I am beginning to feel that I can't relate to my students who seem to see every movie as it is released. I am thinking this challenge may help bring me into the 21st Century without compromising my preference for literature); and MizB's Read Your Own Books challenge (which truthfully is the ONE challenge that I should join so that I can begin to make a dent in the ever growing TBR piles).

Seeing how it just the first of December, I am sure there will be many, many more 2010 challenges posted on A Novel Challenge over the next several weeks. I plan to frequent that site and do some research before I definitely sign up for any of these tempting adventures.

In the meantime, let me draw your attention to the blogosphere event happening this weekend. It is the December Read-athon hosted by Dreadlock Girl and it starts at 6:00 am PST on Saturday December 6. This event is very low key - as I think there are no prizes, give aways nor designated cheerleaders. is a great way to catch up on some fantastic reading. I am hoping to take part in at least a small part of the event, and I hope several of you will have time to do the same.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review: Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara?

Well, it is the end of a long weekend - although, truth be told, not nearly long enough for me. It was a time of getting together with family members from far away, giving thanks for life's many blessings, gorging on too much scrumptious food, taking part in traditional shopping expeditions, and doing a bit of holiday decorating. In the midst of all these festivities, I did manage to spend some time reading in honor of the Thankfully Reading Weekend Challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed these quiet moments of solitude. I was able to skim to completion two books, Beowulf on the Beach and Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara and read quite a bit of a third, Crossing Washington Square.

The first two books appear to be quite similar, but in reality they really cover similar topics in quite different ways. While both books seek to give some background information on 50 popular novels over the years, the writing style and book selection process are vastly different. My review of Beowulf on the Beach can be found here. The subtitle of this book is What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits. The author gives a brief summary and analysis of the books spanning Homers' The Iliad to Tony Morrison's Beloved, with a good healthy dose of humor added for good measure. In the second book, Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara, the subtitle is The Fascinating Stories behind 50 of the World's Best Loved Books. This book begins its timeline with Pride and Prejudice and ends with the 2003 best seller, The Da Vinci Code. Yes, there are a few title overlaps, but I guarantee that you would never find Jackie Collin's book, Hollywood Wives in a book about Great Literature. This book takes a more serious approach to the study of the author's life, influences, and ultimate publication of the popular works.

I enjoyed this latter book, written collaboratively by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy, and it too is a book that can be easily skimmed in a couple of hours, or just used as a preliminary reference book before reading the selected novel. The writing style is quite similar to what I ask my senior high students to do for their research reports. I think understanding the historical time period in which the author wrote, the family situation in which the author lived, and the societal environment that surrounded the author are important considerations when reading the work. This book seeks to give just that kind of useful background information.

I am not sure that I will choose to add this book to my personal library, as I tend to reserve private non-fiction bookshelf space for classical literary studies, but it is definitely a book worth checking out of your local library.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

TSS: 2010 Reading Challenges

This has been a good weekend. We had a relaxing Thanksgiving celebration at home; I have completed 95% of my holiday shopping, including the wrapping accessories (although I have yet to wrap a single package); and I took time out to read and surf the internet. I think I am back into the blogging routine again (not quite sure why I ever got sidetracked - but I need to be careful to never allow that again. I like blogging too much to quit cold turkey). I have so enjoyed catching up on some of your posts, but I must confess that I was a bit surprised to discover so many reading challenges already developed for 2010.

I think I have a love/hate relationship with Reading Challenges. On the one hand, they are so tempting! I am amazed at the wide variety and choices available. There are challenges to appeal to my current interests, and there are challenges that well....challenge me to read outside my comfort zone. I think I spent over an hour reading all the new posts on A Novel Challenge and I made a list of over 10 challenges that I would be interested in joining.

On the other hand, I have not done well with the 11 challenges for which I signed up in 2009. Of those challenges I have only completed 4 (RIP IV, Shakespeare Summer Challenge, Support your Local Library, and Just for the Love of Reading); I reached the 50% mark in 3 challenges --- one was the challenge that I sponsored (Summer Vacation Reading, Casual Classics, and TBR Lite), I read fewer than 50% in 1 challenge (Cozy Mystery) and embarrassingly sad to say, I did not read one single book in 3 challenges that I was eager to join (Everything Austen, 18th and 19th Century Women Writers, and Harry Potter). It would be very easy for this perfectionist to view these stats, admit failure, and vow never to join another reading challenge again.

However.....that will not be the case. I find that the community aspect of reading challenges adds a social element to the reading experience that I enjoy. I thrill at the thought of looking through my bookshelves (or browsing through the library website) to make a list of potential reads. I marvel at not only the vast number of books that I have already read --- but the seemingly endless number of literary genres with which I am totally unfamiliar. And I take comfort in the fact that there are others out there who enjoy my favorite past time as much - or perhaps even more than I do. My family does not understand my compulsion in this area (they tend to lean more in the direction of movies and music rather than the written word), and the appeal of being a part of a group who understands this side of my personality is uplifting.

So having said all that....I think I will sign up for one more reading challenge in 2009 and then set my sights on 2010 (I feel a part 2 post coming on....). In an attempt to help me relax this holiday season, and to help me get into the festive mood, I will join the Christmas Reading Challenge hosted by Michelle of The Book Addict. The challenge runs from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve and the rules are simple: read 1-3 books in that time frame. I think I can do that. For now I am going to commit to reading two books:
  • The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn (which has been on my bookshelf for over two years now.)
  • A Dog Named Christmas by Greg Kincaid (I just heard that the author will be at my local library on December 7. I have signed up for the event and very much looking forward to hearing him in person).
The next 3 weeks will be stressful in my teaching life. We have two weeks of classes and a week of finals. There are 15 research papers to grade, umpteen last minute worksheets to review, and then the final exams. I want to make the conscientious effort this December, however, to keep a better balance of life. I did not do so well in November.

May you all enjoy this final day of the Thanksgiving weekend, and relax and celebrate the holiday season with peace, love, and joy in your hearts.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Weekend Cooking: Turkey Spaghetti

Weekend Cooking is a weekly meme hosted by Beth Fish Reads where she invites anyone to share their reviews of cookbooks, food writing, foodie novels or movies, or just about anything that promotes the love of food.

In a prior life - about 20 years ago - I was actually contemplating a catering career. I would pour over the monthly Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines, vowing to make at least one recipe from each new edition. At that time, Martha Stewart was my hero (heroine - ?) and I would often read her books on Entertaining, Hors d'oeuvres, and Desserts from cover to cover. I would slave in the kitchen for over a week to produce the table fare for our annual Christmas party. I would think nothing of spending 3 hours on a dinner for two. Not any more.

Once I had kids and they indicated their preference for the blue box of macaroni and cheese to my homemade variety, I put up my oven mitts in exchange for microwavable dinners. But now that the kids are grown (2 are out on their own and the youngest is a junior in high school), I am beginning to rekindle a desire to get back into the kitchen and experiment a bit. While my teaching job keeps me busy (and tired), I do try to prepare more meals at home, and I am hoping to re-ignite that passion for cooking once I fully retired.

As I posted two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend a book signing for the Pioneer Woman's new cookbook. She is a hoot and a half (and if you don't know who I am talking about - you simply must take the time to visit her blog), and her cooking style is down home comfort food. While there are many recipes that I would like to try, I have planned to make her Chicken Spaghetti this weekend with the leftover Thanksgiving turkey. The recipe sounds easy, filling, and delicious.

Chicken (Turkey) Spaghetti a la Pioneer Woman
adapted by Molly in order to use leftovers
  • 1 pound thin spaghetti, broken into 1 inch pieces
  • leftover chicken/turkey broth
  • one 4 oz jar diced pimentos, drained
  • 1 small onion - diced
  • 1/4 cup finely diced green pepper
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 2.5 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • salt - pepper - cayenne to taste
  • chicken meat from one fryer (or approximately 2 cups turkey leftovers)
  1. Cook spaghetti in broth until al dente. Drain and place in large mixing bowl.
  2. Add to the spaghetti the cream of mushroom soup, 2 cups of grated cheese, diced vegetables, seasonings, and leftover turkey.
  3. Stir together and mix thoroughly. Taste to check the seasonings.
  4. Pour mixture into large baking dish and top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 - 45 minutes (until bubbly).
This sounds yummy to me - and quite a nice change from those leftover turkey sandwiches.

Review: Beowulf on the Beach

by Jack Murnighan
Three Rivers Press
365 pages

I will warn you that I only skimmed this book and did not read it closely cover to cover. Although, to be honest, I wonder if that is not how the author originally intended this book to be enjoyed. Now of course any book that tries to pare literature down to only 50 top Greatest Hits is going to receive criticism: why include this book rather than that one? And the fact that Murnighan's list of ONLY 50 spans approximately 9th Century B. C. (with the Iliad) to 1987 A. D. (with Beloved) is certainly a daunting attempt. However, I found as I read the book that I was not trying to second guess the author, but I became more and more interested in his take on these particular works and how he is able to kindle a fire inside the reader to WANT to read these classics.

The writing style is light, humorous, and yet academically sound. Murnighan received his PhD in medieval and renaissance studies from Duke University and currently teaches creative nonfiction the University of the Arts in New York City. Each of the classic works receives a 5 page write-up (more or less) where the he gives the reader a hint of the original author's past, a brief synopsis of the novel in question, and then a formulaic review of the book according to these subheadings:
  • The Buzz: where he lists the one noteworthy fact that most readers associate with the novel.
  • What People Don't Know (but should): where he mentions a detail about the book, author, or both that readers have probably missed on their own
  • Best Line: where he quotes what he feels is the best line of the book - which is not necessarily the line that is most often quoted by others
  • What's Sexy: self-explanatory and a good attempt at keeping the general populace engaged in reading the classics.
  • Quirky Facts: again, a pertinent fact about the work or the author that while seemingly esoteric, is highly useful in engaging the reader to want to read the classic
  • What to Skip: the best part of the entire review! Can you believe it?! A literary academic who openly acknowledges that not every single word of a classic piece of fiction is worthy of reading. In some cases he only mentions a chapter or two; in other cases he mentions entire sections.
I found myself thoroughly enjoying the book, even if I didn't read it closely. I enjoyed reading his insights into books that I personally love, such as Pride and Prejudice:
Dashing Mr. Darcy, the "proudest, most disagreeable man in the world," seeks to ensnare the smart and independent Lizzy, precisely the kind of girl who would never fall for such a thing....

Such is the setup of Pride and Prejudice, and the standard logic suggests that if you want to ascertain if you will like a Jane Austen novel, you must simply think of your trips to the bathroom; if you typically find yourself sitting down, you will almost certainly like it; if you remain standing, perhaps the news is not so good. The truth of the matter, however, is that even those of us with prominent Adam's apples and that pesky Y-chromosome can enjoy Jane Austen, especially this her wittiest and probably finest book (at least the first two-thirds) --- page 158
And I found myself enjoying his summaries and reviews of books that I have been too fearful to attempt on my own, such as The Iliad:
Because the gods of irony still rule the firmament, Homer happens to be the name of both the pater familias Simpson, cartoon mainstay of the living room box, and the acknowledged father of Western literature, oft called greatest writer of all time......

The Iliad is still as riveting and potent as anything you'll ever read. The story is familiar: scads of Greek troops have sailed to Troy (a possibly fictitious city in what is now Turkey) to take back Helen, the West's first great beauty, whom the fair-haired Trojan prettyboy Paris wiped away from her husband, the trollish Greek prince Menelaus. But the siege isn't going so well; it's already lasted ten years and the Greeks' best fighter, Achilles, is pouting in his ship because he wasn't given the slave girl he wanted. We follow the give-and-take of the battle until Achilles finally gets off his sulking heinie, and then the proverbial hits the proverbial. (pages 3 and 4)
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not include his homage to Charles Dickens - and his appeal to all of us to re-read him in order to fully appreciate his greatness:
Fact is: I love Dickens, and so will you. Granted, you probably remember him as that dreaded homework double-whammy of boring and interminable, but that was high school, and there was no way you were old enough to get it. Try again now and you'll see that each of the novels is a complete page-turner full of suspense, good nature, and mirth. And they're hysterical - all of them. The most popular writer of the 19th-century England had an incredible lust for life that comes through in each of his books in virtually every line. He was smarter than all of us and saw people and society for what they were (with every blemish and hypocrisy skewered again and again), yet he was gibber-hearted than any of us too, and maintained belief in the souls of children and the good. Dickens wrote characters that crystallize his faith in man, that show us the way, that are so full of love that we end up being in love with them ourselves - all this in books teeming with plot twists and intrigue. If you like plot, if you like character, if you like comedy, if you like tragedy, if you like style, if you like insight, if you like social critique or a rollicking good time, you're going to love Dickens..... (pages 203-204)
All in all I would say that this is a great book for any bibliophile to skim - and if you are thinking of reading more classics in the future, this would make a great resource book to provide adequate preliminary information without any plot, character, or theme spoilers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Friday, November 27, 2009

Virtual Cookie Swap

While I have been somewhat absent these past few weeks, this virtual cookie swap was just the thing to pull me out of semi-hibernation and re-enter the blogging world. Kathy of Bermudaonion and Julie of Booking Mama have been posting the 12 Days of Christmas Cookies with several mouth-watering temptations that I know I must try. Now they are asking all interested bloggers to post their own holiday favorites: favorite traditional cookie recipes to be posted on Kathy's blog and chocolate/candy recipes to be posted on Julie's.

While I personally have never been a part of a cookie swap (somehow that and book clubs have always eluded me - no matter how much I wish to take part), but making holiday cookies has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I usually experiment with several different cookie recipes, but my one tried and true recipe for decades has been M&M Cookies. My kids would help make these with me from the time they could sit up by themselves on the counter. I would make the dough, and they would decorate the top with the colorful candies. I think the ration ended up something like one for the cookie and one for the child, but that was ok --- it was all about having fun and making memories.

M&M Cookies:

Cream together:
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Add: 2 well beaten eggs

Sift Together:
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt

Slowly add dry ingredients to the batter

Mix in 1 cup M&Ms

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Decorate the tops with additional M&Ms
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10 minutes.

Test best warm with a glass of cold milk. These are always Santa's favorite cookie when he stops by the Totoro household.

I think I have mentioned that my youngest daughter aspires to be a pastry chef and is currently enrolled in the culinary program at the local high school. She recently found this recipe at and has already made it several times. I think it is destined to become a Totoro tradition.

Tiger Butter

1 pound white chocolate - melted
1 and 1/3 cups crunchy peanut butter
1 pound semisweet chocolate - melted

  1. Line a 10x15 inch pan with parchment and set aside.
  2. In the top of a double broiler set over simmering water, heat white chocolate and peanut butter. Stir constantly until white chocolate and peanut butter melts.
  3. Spread onto prepared pan. Pour melted semi-sweet chocolate over top and swirl through with a knife to create a marble pattern.
  4. Chill until firm.
  5. Cut into bite-sized pieces
  6. Enjoy!!

Thankfully Reading Weekend

Well, it is Black Friday and I have already been out and about. Since most of my shopping was completed last week, I really didn't "have" to grab any bargains today and after witnessing the Walmart parking lot at 5:45 am, I have decided that I am officially too old to attempt the crowds. I did manage to find an 8 inch digital photo frame for $29 that I will put away for my mom's birthday in April, and I treated myself to new measuring cups, measuring spoons, and pastry cloth with a 20% off coupon at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I managed to be one of the first 100 customers in line at Half Priced Books so I received the free book bag and a $5.00 coupon. After meandering through the store for over 45 minutes, I finally settled on the purchase of two books from the Elements of Fiction Writing Series: Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and Plot by Ansen Dibell. While I doubt I will ever write a novel myself, I am intrigued by the process and I figure that learning about these topics will help me better appreciate the books that I read and teach.

I came home exhausted, but thrilled to be so far ahead in the Christmas preparations. I am hopeful that we can decorate the tree and the house this weekend, but if that doesn't happen, I won't sweat it. It seems that it is the perfect time to sit back, relax, and take part - at least in some way - in the Thankfully Reading Weekend, hosted by Book Blog Social Club. This is a no stress, no rules challenge: just what I need! I have several library books that will be due tomorrow and while I know that I cannot finish them in a day's time, I do plan to skim through them to see if they are something that I would like to renew at another time (unfortunately there are holds for them, so I do not have the option at this time). Those books include:
Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara? The Fascinating stories behind 50 of the world's best-loved books by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy
Beowulf on the Beach:What to love and what to skip in literature's 50 greatest hits by Jack Murnighan
From Baghdad, with Love: a marine, the war, and a dog named Lava by Jay Kopelman
After I finish skimming these books, I may either try to finish Crossing Washington Square by Joanne Rennell (I started this book about a week ago and while it is mildly entertaining, I find it difficult to stay interested for long periods of time) or I may try to begin The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt, although I would have to read it rather quickly as it is due at the library on Tuesday.

At any rate, I will plan to spend some time reading and catching up on the blog entries I have missed these past couple of weeks. I have read where many of you have already started to sign up for 2010 reading challenges and I must admit that I am tempted to check some of those out. There is a part of me that hesitates to join any challenges next year, as I have not done well in 2009. But I think this requires some contemplative thought before I make any hasty decisions.

For those who are relaxing with this easy going reading challenge, I look forward to reading your posts. For those who are braving the shopping crowds, I wish you much bargain hunting success and safe travels.

What is wrong with me?!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration. Ours was very quiet this year, as my daughter and her husband were in Memphis celebrating with his family. So it was just 6 of us here: me, Geoff, Mandy, my son and his girlfriend were in town from Nashville (of course, our Thanksgiving was their 3rd of the year, so I fear they were a little tired of the turkey meal) and my mom. I made the tradition feast that I make every year - and thoroughly looked forward to not only preparing the meal, but eating it as well. I think my favorite part about Thanksgiving is the leftover turkey sandwiches on fresh pumpernickel bread with mayo, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. YUMMY!!

I am not sure why I haven't been blogging as much as usual. I really like blogging - both writing the entries and reading the posts of others. But for some reason I have had a very difficult time staying focused on anything these last couple of weeks. I must have started a dozen books, but did not finish a single one. It had nothing to do with the author, and everything to do with me. Nothing seems to hold my interest, and that is so unlike me. Perhaps I have reached a burn-out point with teaching and grading, and hopefully this long respite will not only rejuvenate me for the classroom, but will also jump-start my desire to read a blog again. Please don't write me off --- just yet.

On a positive note....I am about 95% done with my Christmas shopping. Finances are tight, so this Christmas will not be a lavish one, but hopefully it will be a fun one. I am also hoping that this will free up some time in December when I can rekindle that love of reading and blogging once again. I haven't wrapped a single gift, but the shopping is a huge weight that has been lifted off my shoulders. We have already put up the tree, and I hope to complete decorating the house this weekend. My culinary arts daughter will do most of the Christmas baking, so there should be plenty of time to curl up by the fire and get lost in a few good books.

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and have had a chance to enjoy some great eats, exciting football, and festive shopping.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pioneer Woman - in person!

Last night I had the opportunity to go to an autograph signing of the Pioneer Woman's new cookbook. What?! You have never heard of the Pioneer Woman? Well, you simply must check out her website if you are unfamiliar with this blogging phenomenon. She is incredibly witty, offers great family-tested recipes (complete with step-by-step photo demonstrations), gives amazing photo shop tutorials (which I have yet to complete but have on my list to-do before I die), sponsors stupendous prize give-aways (like 5 qt KitchenAid mixers and Nikon 35mm cameras), homeschools 4 youngun's and assists her Marlboro Man on the cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. I think she might be Super Woman in disguise!

The event started at 7:00pm, but my friend and I arrived at 6:30. Now, I knew the Pioneer Woman was a popular website, but I must admit I had NO idea how popular. There were nearly 700 people in attendance (I would say 690 woman and 10 men!) The evening started off with a question and answer session and Ree's personality and wit is the same in person as she writes on her blog. She was a hoot! The autograph session started around 7:45 and --- no joke ---- 3.5 hours later at 11:15 it was my turn to finally meet her! The reason for the long delay is that she was willing to sign multiple copies of her book (which is now a New York Times best seller) and posed for countless pictures. She was ever-so gracious, although I am sure she was exhausted. She traveled to Kansas City with her Marlboro man and two younger sons, and based on their energy level in the auditorium, I am sure it was quite an entertaining journey. There was one point in time when Marlboro Man had more woman asking for his autograph than did the Pioneer Woman!

I had her autograph the book to my daughter, who unfortunately could not attend the event due to a musical rehearsal (she is in the production of Bye Bye, Birdie this weekend and this final week of rehearsals are mandatory). Pioneer Woman even brought t-shirts for all of us in attendance (which, if you think about it, is GREAT advertising!) They are really quite lovely, don't you think?

She told us that she is working on a second book, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, which is due to be released sometime in the winter of 2011. In her own words " is the rip-roaring true story of how she met her husband, and how she went from spoiled city girl to domestic ranch wife in a blink of an eye." You can read parts of the saga on her website, although she promises more details and an entirely new second part in the book.

Well, I am off to peruse the cookbook and maybe even try out a recipe or two. Ree shared that the one dish that she could eat every day of the week was Penne Alla Betsy (penne pasta and shrimp coated in a tomato cream sauce). That sounds like a perfect dinner for the cold, dreary, Midwest day.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Missing In Action......

I am not sure where the time has gone, but I just realized that it has been eleven days since my last post and I feel very guilty! My goal is to post 5 days out of 7, and I have fallen way off the mark these past two weeks. I'm not quite sure what happened, except that I do know I am probably the only female on the face of the earth who does not multi-task well; I am a singularly focused woman who often times puts my head down and blocks out everything else around me. I guess that recently happened without my knowing it.

I did catch up on all that grading - which is a relief, but that does not fully explain the long absence. I have been very intrigued by the NaNoWriMo emphasis this month (National Novel Writing Month, for those who are as unfamiliar with this odd term as I was a year ago) and this has caused me to asses my own writing desires. Now, I am a very methodical person, and it is very common for me to research, analyze, and process an idea over and over and over again. So no, I haven't been writing these two weeks, but I have been reading about writing, thinking about writing, and dreaming about writing during this time.

I have always enjoyed expository writing, but since taking the Rewriting a Life class this summer, I am interested in further developing my creative writing skills. I was also greatly inspired by the wonderful stories my 9th graders wrote during the month of October. The physical writing does not intimate me nearly as much as honing ideas for potential stories. I have allowed this side of my brain to become dormant over the past decades, and I need to put myself on an exercise routine to develop this weak and flabby muscle.

To that end.....I have found a number of books that I think will help me reach that goal and I believe that I am ready to begin a writer's lifestyle; that is, I am ready to start carving out a bit of time each day to write. The three books that have helped me the most, and to which I plan to refer again and again, are:

by Susan Wooldridge
Three Rivers Press

I discovered this book as I wandered the library on the UNC Asheville campus this summer. I absolutely loved her carefree writing style, and this was the first time that I was introduced to the concept of writing prompts for adults.

by Bret Anthony Johnston
Random House

I read Dawn's post at She is Too Fond of Books when she talked about a writing workshop she recently attended. She spoke so highly of the book they used that day that I immediately surfed the net, placed a hold at my local bookstore, and picked it up that night.

by Jack Heffron
Writer's Digest Books

I found this book as I perusing the local Half Priced Books earlier this week (I have those coupons, you know, and I simply cannot let them go to waste). I have found the prompts to be varied in interest as well as difficulty. I plan to start with a few of the easier ones this week.

As with any new exercise routine, I must be willing to start slow, be persistent, and over time increase the amount of time and difficulty of the workout. For me, this means that I will begin a writer's journal. Some days I may be inspired to write something on my own, other days I may use one of the many prompts available in these books. The goal will be to write every day - something. Over the course of several months I would hope these journal entries will provide the basis of creative ideas that can later be turned into essays or possibly short stories. And who knows, perhaps I will be confident enough to participate in the NaNoWriMo event in 2010.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

TSS - Focus on Poetry

Can you believe it is already November 1st? It seems like only last week that I was celebrating Labor Day weekend. Time is going by much too quickly.

This week it was time to pay the piper - so to speak - for my reading indulgence last weekend. I intentionally postponed students' papers until after the read-athon, which meant that I have been overwhelmed with grading this week. My time on blogger was definitely curtailed, and I missed reading all your posts. I am nearly caught up --- just 34 Brit Lit "Knightly Tales" to read and grade and then I should be good until Thanksgiving. So hopefully I will be able to spend a lot more time in the blogosphere.

One of the benefits of being an English teacher is that even when I am working I am flooded with bookish thoughts. I will begin a poetry unit with both my English 1 and Brit Lit classes over the next couple of weeks. Now poetry is my nemesis. It is not necessarily that I do not like it, but more that I have not been taught to appreciate it. I am trying to remedy this over time, but my confidence is fairly low in teaching this material. I did come across two resources, however, that I very much enjoy and thought I would pass those along to you. One is book that I found while surfing the internet. It is called Creating Poetry by John Drury. While the book focuses on the writing of poetry, I was able to translate that information into how to enjoy poetry. There are also several writing exercises per chapter that I feel can be used for any creative writing endeavor --- not just poetry. I plan to add this book to my personal library collection.

In working on these poetry lesson plans I was reminded of two great poems by Billy Collins that I like to use in the first class. Both poems are found in the collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room, and they are An Introduction to Poetry and Workshop. I totally sympathize with students because we often feel that we just don't "get" poetry. It is so concise and filled with puzzling symbolism, that once we have read a poem we aren't sure what it was all about. I had a professor tell me one time that the sole purpose of reading poetry is not to "get it" --- but to also pay attention to how you feel once you have finished reading it. We do not necessarily have to understand the poem as a whole, but perhaps just relate to a word - or a line - or stanza within the poem. In this way, each time we read a poem we may feel or experience or discover something different. I found great wisdom in this teaching, and it has freed me to read poetry on a personal level. I may not respond to the poem in the same way the scholars do -- and that is o.k. If interested, here is one of the poems:
An Introduction to Poetry:

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of the poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with a rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

While this academic unit of study will focus more on the formal aspects of poetry --- scanning for rhyme scheme and meter; poetry forms and patterns; and the analysis of a poem using the TPCASTT system --- I want the students to realize that poetry did not die at the end of the 19th Century; it is still alive and well and being performed today. In perusing YouTube I found various clips from Slam Poetry contests, and I hope to perhaps show one of these clips in the classroom. A personal favorite, although I am not sure that I will be able to show it in my very conservative classroom, is entitled What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali. It is definitely worth viewing:

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