Sunday, March 28, 2010

TSS - 03.28.10

Well, this week was the return to school after a glorious, albeit wintry, spring break.  And oh my, what a week it was.  I must say that I can deal with student issues far better than I can deal with parent issues (I guess I expect students to act like kids...but I have higher expectations of parents).  Anyway, suffice it to say, I am ready to get through these next seven weeks of school and have a nice, long, holiday break.

I spent the day yesterday trying to plan my grading for the rest of the semester.  I have a little break between now and April 15 (and yes, I did intentionally plan to take off the weekend of April 10 for the read-athon!), but I will then be grading nearly non-stop for a month!  Here is a sampling of what I have to look forward to:

  • 15 Hobbit exams that include short answer questions and a literary essay
  • 3 journalism articles for each of the 15 students in English 1 (total of 45 articles)
  • 33  British Literature research papers that are to be between 8 and 10 pages long
  • 15 original mystery stories to be written by my 7th graders (probably 3-5 pages long)
  • 19 Grammar finals (7 page test) plus  literary essay
  • assorted finals for computer apps, British literature, 7th grade, and English 1

So, I plan to fully relish in the next two weeks.  The weather is supposed to cooperate, and this week we are to have sunny weather with highs in the 70s.  I plan to go to my island retreat and read, write, and take photos.

I am progressing nicely with my required summer reading.  I have finished Walden (which I have decided that I need to investigate Transcendentalism a bit more - I am fascinated), Frankenstein (I absolutely LOVED this book and can hardly wait to read it again), and am currently about half way through The Scarlet Letter (this is a second read for me and I am also thoroughly enjoying it as well).  I think I will try to read some of the shorter selections during my busy grading period:  Rime of the Ancient Mariner, selected works from Edgar Allan Poe, and Song of Myself by Whitman.

Can I tell you how excited I am for the next Dewey 24 Hour Read-athon scheduled for April 10?  I am thrilled that I was able to adapt my grading to allow me to have the entire weekend free.  I have already decided that I will not read anything that is teaching related or for my summer school class.  This is going to be a weekend for ME - and I will only read books that are pure relaxation.  I plan to develop a potential reading list this week (I have Good Friday off, which means a nice long weekend) and will perhaps make that my posting for next week's Sunday Salon.

While I have absolutely NO business bringing new books into this house .... I simply could not avoid the Half Price Bookstore coupon sale this week.  Most of the bargains that I found are related to writing - so I feel as though I can justify that spending since it is "for school" - but I did find a few that I know I will personally like to read at some point and time.  I will try to write a post about this recent buying spree early this week.

The sun has finally decided to peep out from behind the week's worth of clouds, and I am feeling better already!  I hope to spend the rest of the day finishing lesson plans for the week, reading the Scarlet Letter, and fantasizing about the fun I will have during the read-athon.

I hope this finds all of you in the spring spirit and I wish you wonderful week ahead!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Tangents.....

Thanks to Florinda of The 3 Rs blog for hosting this weekly meme, because otherwise I would probably have let another day go by without writing a post.  I am self-guilting on just about any topic, so when I don't write a blog post every day - I begin to feel unworthy of calling myself a blogger.  The truth of the matter is that I have been busy doing other activities that I want to do, and I have not made the time to post an entry. is a list of the activities that I have been doing instead:
  • Began reading for my summer school course.  While I find the concept of reading 3,300 pages in a little over 3 months somewhat daunting, I have decided that I really only have to read one page at a time (somewhat similar to the proverbial, How Do You Eat an Elephant --- one bite at a time)
    • I managed to read Walden in its entirety and while I found some parts rather dry - I must admit that I really enjoyed this one.  I have no aspirations of building myself a cabin in the woods and living solely on nuts and berries --- but I did learn to appreciate nature more; to enjoy the journey and not focus exclusively on the destination; to realize that the money trap is alive and well and (unfortunately) residing within me.  I do not "need" a lot to survive and the constant dream of wanting more is robbing me of present day happiness.
    • I started reading Frankenstein on Sunday and must admit that I have fallen in love with this story.  Who really is the monster -- the creature or the creator?  We all long for acceptance in this world, and yet I think the ultimate rejection must be when a parent rejects his/her own child. This is in essence how the creature feels when Victor Frankenstein runs away from him.  At one point the creature asks why did Victor make him so hideous?  Did not God make Adam in his own image?  For it is truly the outward appearance that causes the disgust of this creature --- not his inward heart and longing to be loved.
  • I have not done much in the way of personal reading, but I still need to finish Shutter Island and I hope to start one of about 10 library books that will be due shortly.  At the top of list ranks:
    • the Motion of the Ocean by Janna Cawrse Esarey
    • The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
    • Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop
    • Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
  • I spent quite a bit of time this weekend researching The Cotswolds in England.  I harbor a true desire to at least go on a short walk along the English countryside while I am in Oxford this summer.  I found a terrific website that includes quite a number of daily walk suggestions, complete with PDF downloads.  In addition there is an interactive map that allows you to hyperlink to local bed and breakfasts along the trail (this particular one sounds delightful to me - I hope they have a vacancy).  The header picture of one of the webpages has the most beautiful photograph of sheep grazing in a pasture (that is the picture above).  I immediately sent an email asking where this picture was taken and would it be possible to take a small walking tour to that location.  Within 24 hours I received a response and was told that the Chipping Campden was the perfect place to start my journey.  Not sure this will be a possibility of not, but I am having a blast dreaming about it.
  • School officially started again yesterday and while I was not looking forward to returning to the routine, I do realize that the faster I get back into school, the sooner summer break will arrive.  There will be quite a bit of grading to accomplish over the next 8 weeks, and that always puts me in a grumpy mood.  How I wish we could teach classes on a pass/fail basis.  
    • This week's grading includes fifteen 7th grade research papers.  
    • We are finishing Tale of Two Cities in British literature (the final exam for this novel will be the first week of April) and the Hobbit in 7th grade.  
    • The middle of next month will begin the mystery unit for these younger students where we read several Sherlock Holmes stories, and the students learn to write their own mystery which will be shared the week of finals.  It is always a fun unit -- minus the grading, of course.  
    • My 8th graders are busily memorizing their lines of A Midsummer Night's Dream - with the projected performance date of May 7.  I am not at all sure how well this will go -- but they have certainly had a glorious time studying Shakespeare, which quite honestly, is reward enough for me.
  • As a final note, I am still trying to hone my writing skills.  I have done a lot of reading on the art of fictional writing and I am anxious to put the theory into practice.  I have also been learning the subtle differences in travel writing and want to start doing some preliminary research on various topics prior to my June departure.  I attribute this new-found interest in writing to the blogging world.  This wonderfully positive experience has cultivated an interest in other forms of writing.  I thank all of you for your kind words of encouragement that have nudged me out of my comfort zone.
Today is a gorgeous day in Kansas (the saying is -- if you don't like the weather in Kansas, just wait 5 minutes) -- and I think I might try to venture to "my island" a bit this morning to do some journal writing.  I hope you all have a glorious Tuesday as well.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Break 2010 is over.....

Well, spring break 2010 is officially over.  I have the weekend to try to get back into "teacher" mode and then I start the final quarter of this academic year on Monday.

As some of you know, I started the week with lofty goals - some might even say that I set myself up for failure - but while I did not accomplish one-tenth of what I had hoped, I must say that I had a great time anyway.  This is the first break that I have not touched school work; and while I might regret that choice come Monday, I am thrilled that I allowed myself a mental health holiday.

I really didn't read much (although I am almost done with Walden) and obviously I did not blog much either (although I did read your posts each morning while leisurely drinking two cups of coffee), but I did do a lot of planning for my summer trip to Oxford.  I read/skimmed through several books on travel writing, I purchased several travel magazines at Half Price Books so that I could read the articles and look at the photographs, I purchased myself a Moleskine notebook just for my travel thoughts, I practiced taking pictures with my daughter's digital SLR in the hopes of taking some decent shots overseas, and I actually started writing down some travel story ideas.

The highlight of my week came today when I went to the local park to take practice taking some landscape photographs.  It was a clear day and the high was near 70 degrees.  While driving around the park I came upon this lovely picnic area that included a "private" island in the middle of the lake.  I was so excited!  I took my camera, notebook and pencil, and went exploring.  The island is very small, absolutely perfect for a quick get-away.  There was a picnic table, a grill, several trees, and enough grass to lay out a couple of blankets and read/write the entire afternoon.  I only stayed about half an hour, but I have promised myself to return frequently over the next few weeks (while school in still in session and the park is not too crowded).

Alas, this wonderful spring weather was not long-lasting.  By 5:00 this afternoon the temperature had dropped to 48 degrees, and as of now it is sleeting outside with a prediction of 4 - 6 inches of snow before Sunday morning.  Gotta love Kansas weather!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Hogwarts Challenge

I need to join another reading challenge like I need a hole in the head, but this one, hosted by Bunnita of Worth Reading It, is one of the most creative challenges I have seen.  How could I say no?

The challenge takes place from March 8 - December 13, 2010.In that time frame I will need to read at least 5 books from the list of 12 Hogwart's classes to qualify to win a $25 Amazon gift card. The class titles should be familiar to any Harry Potter fan, and the descriptions are quite creative and rather all-encompassing:

  • Transfiguration - read any book that has trans or figure in its title, is about shape shifting, has a shape shifter in it, or is about anything having to do with changing one thing into another
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts - read any book that has defence(defense), dark and/or art(s) in its title, read any book that is about self defense, war, history of war/marital arts, murder mysteries&
  • Charms - read any book that has charm in its title, any book that deals with gives something or someone a new aspect (for example the nerdy guy become a handsome doctor)
  • Potions - read any book that has potion in its title, cookbooks count but you must cook at least one recipe out of the book
  • Astronomy - read any book that has astronomy in its title, books about planets, stars, etc, sci-fi
  • History of Magic - read any book that has history or magic in its title, books about magic, witches, etc
  • Herbology - read any book that has herb in its title, again cookbooks count and again you must cook at least one recipe out of the book
  • Arithmancy - read any book that has arithmancy in its title, any book with a number in its title, any book that deal with numbers or math
  • Ancient Runes - read any book that has ancient or runes in its title, books about historical places like the pyramids, Stonehenge, great wall of china, or any book about symbols
  • Divination - read any book that has divine in its title, any book about psychics or psychic abilities, tarot reading etc
  • Care of Magical Creatures - read any book that has magical or creatures in its title, about supernatural beings
  • Muggle Studies - nearly any book works here, what better why to understand Muggle than to read what they read

Before officially signing up, I had to take a Sorting Hat quiz to discover the team that I will join. How cool is that?! I learned that I am a HufflePuff, which honestly, I was not surprised (I expected that or Raven Claw). I will earn one point for each book that I read and that, in turn, will help the Hufflepuff house earn points as well. Reading a Harry Potter book, however, will earn a full 25 points - and since my goal is to try to read the series this year (for the first time, I might add), I am hoping to be of some value to my house team.

My first book for this challenge will be to finish the 2nd audio book in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, over spring break and start the third. I think this challenge will tie in nicely with my audio/exercise routine and should help me think creatively about titles of books that I plan to read in the future.

Kudos to Bunnita for developing such a fun, unique challenge!

P.S. --- I have attempted to rewrite this post after the html code was being shown on my blog (not sure why - but hopefully it is now fixed.  UGH!!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's Monday......

It is Monday...and while this is usually not my most favorite day of the week, I absolutely LOVE today because it is the first day of Spring Break!  Ah, the possibilities that lie ahead and what appears to be great amounts of free time to do whatever I choose.  Of course, I know this week will fly by and I will not accomplish all that I hope, as I do have quite a few bookish activities planned.

I did not participate in The Sunday Salon this week because I was simply too absorbed in Jodi Picoult's newest book, House Rules (and if you are interested in winning an autographed copy - click here).  So...I thought I would participate in Sheila's Monday morning meme instead; I plan to read A LOT!!

Here is a list of the activities that I hope to accomplish this week:

Books to review:
Alice in Wonderland (as well as the movie for CB James' challenge)
The Cotton Queen by Pam Morsi
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Books to finish and write review:
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Books to start reading (and possibly review)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen (thanks, Dawn!!)
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Library Books that are waiting to be read:
The Motion of the Ocean by Janna Cawrse Esarey
A Charmed Life by Liza Campbell
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Other potential Spring Break activities:

  • Work on original story for One Year Adventure Novel 
  • Read non-fiction books on Travel Writing to gain some tips for recording my upcoming trip to Oxford
  • Become familiar with my daughter's Canon Rebel xti so that I can take some decent pictures while in Europe
  • Develop scope and sequence for 4th quarter Mystery Writing focus in 7th grade
  • Develop scope and sequence for 4th quarter for Journalism focus in 9th grade

Ok --- so I am setting myself up for disappointment, as there is no way any human being can accomplish all that I have outlined here.  However, I will sure have a great time trying to do as much as I possibly can.

Hope y'all have a great week as well.....

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jodi Picoult - Notes from Autograph Signing

What a way to start spring break!  Jodi Picoult came to Kansas City for an autograph signing sponsored by Rainy Day Books (and today was indeed a rainy day).  My daughter and I purchased tickets to this event weeks ago and my husband drove us to the plaza for this special occasion.

As we entered the auditorium we were told to stand in line for our personalized autograph of her newest book, House Rules.  This seemed somewhat out of the ordinary, as most other events I have attended the author reads a passage from the book, answers audience questions, and then autographs the books.  They had to do things a bit differently today as Jodi was on a three-city tour in  a single day:  morning in Minneapolis - afternoon in Kansas City - evening in San Diego.  Since she had a tight schedule in order to catch her plane, they began autograph signing early.

Before Jodi began reading passages of the book, she explained that her interest in writing this story about Asperger's Syndrome stemmed from the fact that 1 out of 100 children in the US are diagnosed somewhere on the autism spectrum (page 43).  She herself has a cousin who is a low-functioning autistic and lives in a group home.  She remembers stories of her aunt having to literally sit on top of him during some of his episodes to calm him down.  Since he is now six feet tall and over two hundred pounds, his mother can no longer be his primary care provider.  He is now living in a group home, where occasionally his episodes involve putting his fist through a wall or a plate glass window.  Sometimes the police need to be called.  The problem, as she explains, is that our justice system works fine for those who perform within the confines of "normal" - but any behavior outside the box and it all "goes to hell in a hand basket."

She went on to say that communication methods (or lack thereof) of a person with autism - not making eye contact, speaking in a flat voice, not understanding traditional social cues - are all signs that the police interpret as 'guilt'  As with many of her book inspirations, Jodi began to think "What If...."  What if a child with Asperger's syndrome was perhaps in the wrong place at the wrong time and because the communication skills indicate guilt, the police believe he is a prime suspect.  As she later said in the question and answer period, when she sees our legal system being ridiculous, she feels the need to report that to the populace.

Jodi read several pages of the first part of the book.  The first chapter is written from the mother's Point of View.  Emma gives us a brief look at what it is like to live with a high-functioning autistic.  She relays a poignant scene of being in the grocery store and her son having a total meltdown because the "sample lady" was not at her normal post on this particular Saturday afternoon.  As Jodi was reading from her book, I noticed a lady in front of me wipe several tears from her eyes.  This situation is obviously not that uncommon for those who are familiar with this disorder.

The next chapter Jodi read was from Jacob's Point of View - the boy who has lived with Asperger's his entire life.  Jacob gives us an inside view of what it is like to be different from the norm, know you are different from the norm, but also know that there is nothing you can do to become more accepted.  One of Jacob's interests is crime scene investigations and he has memorized all 114 episodes of CrimeBusters, although that does not prevent him from watching the show each and every day at 4:30PM on the USA Network (page 20).  This special interest is what prompted Emma to give Jacob a police scanner radio, which he listens to on a regular basis and occasionally even ventures to the crime scene.  This is how the conflict begins:  Jacob hears a report for a "10-100" - a dead body - and curiosity gets the better of him.  He sneaks out of the house and rides his bike to the state highway where a dead man has indeed been found half naked lying in the snow.

The final chapter she read to us was from the police captain's Point of View.  Rich and his fellow officers are trying to decide if this dead body is a suicide, homicide, and/or a victim of sexual assault.  You can imagine his surprise when Jacob appears out of the shadows and informs him that none of those assumptions are correct; the man died of hypothermia as seen on episode 26 of the second season of CrimeBusters (page 34).

During the question and answer phase of the presentation, someone asked Jodi what it is like to write from multiple points of view.  Jodi said that while at times it is difficult (writing in the style of completely different voices), she actually hears her characters before she begins to develop them.  Hearing these voices in her head allows her to write from multiple viewpoints in a credible manner.  She said that this style of writing has made her a "successful schizophrenic."

Several in the audience were teachers and having already read the book, they were astounded at her ability to create Jacob in a way that rings true with their encounters with Asperger students.  Prompted by that comment, Jodi then explained the research she did for this project.  At first she visited a special school in Pittsburgh where she had the opportunity to interview six students and their families.  This allowed her to get face-to-face with the students and really understand what it was like to try to communicate with them - and see them try to communicate with her.  After obtaining this research, she went home and developed an in-depth questionnaire which she distributed to 35 students and their families through an Autism foundation in New England.  This yielded hundreds of pages of research.  Through these 35 contacts, she met one particular student, Jessica, who became an integral part of the book project.  Oftentimes Jodi would send a scene to Jessica to ask if it rang true and Jessica would provide critical constructive feedback.  Jessica, who is now a freshman at UMASS in Amherst, MA, was a beta reader for the finished manuscript and once she gave her seal of approval, Jodi was 100% convinced that she had adequately captured the voice of Jacob.

At one point during the question and answer phase, someone asked Jodi about movie rights.  OH boy, did she have an opinion on this topic.  She asked the audience how many saw My Sister's Keeper (to which many raised their hands) and then she asked the audience how many were angry at the ending (to which Jodi raised her own hand).   Jodi compared an author giving movie right consent to that of a woman giving up a child for adoption.  There are some adoptions that take place and the child grows up in a nurturing family and becomes a fine upstanding citizen; and there are other adoptions where the child is raised by crack whores.  Ouch!  I did read the book and loved it; but I must admit that I am now glad that I did not see the movie.

Somehow this topic segued into Jodi's writing process.  Jodi shared that it takes her approximately nine months to write a book - literally, it is like giving birth to a child.  She spends several weeks conducting research, and she is usually editing one book while writing the first draft of a new one.  She spends approximately three months out of the year promoting her books.

Jodi said that she cannot remember a time that she did not enjoy writing.  She remembers writing her first "book" at the age of five entitled, The Lobster that was Misunderstood.  It was quite interesting to hear that Jodi's 14 year old daughter seems to be following in her mother's footsteps.  Just recently she told her mom that she had a great idea for a children's chapter book and when Jodi heard the idea, she agreed.  Now mother and daughter are collaboratively working on this project.  How cool is that?!

Someone asked Jodi which one of her books did she consider a favorite.  Her answer:  Second Glance (I have not yet read this - but I obviously need to do so).  Someone then asked Jodi what authors she enjoys reading, to which she answered Alice Hoffman, "I would read her grocery list", Chris Bohjalian, and Anne Tyler (ok - more books to add to my TBR pile).  Someone else asked her what advice she would give to aspiring writers, to which she answered WRITE....if only for 20 minutes a day, just write.  She also said that anyone serious in writing should attend at least one writer's workshop.  To be successful does not require a MFA degree, but it does require a thick skin and the ability to accept criticism.

She writes about issues that keep her awake at night.  She figures if it is an issue that has her worried, it must be a worthy topic for a book.  As mentioned before, she likes to ask the question, "What If...."  Her newest book, Sing You Home deals with the issues of embryo donation and gay rights.  The protagonist of the book is Zoe, a music therapist who uses music to help heal patients and victims.  The unique quality of this newest release (spring of 2011) is that it will also include a music CD in which Jodi wrote the song lyrics and her good friend wrote the music.  Not only will the reader be able to read the words, but also hear the sounds of a highly emotional story.  To continue this theme, the book is not divided into chapters but rather tracks.

The two hour event was over before we knew it (I could stay and listen to her answer questions all afternoon), and both my daughter and I had such an enjoyable afternoon.

In fact....I was so thrilled to be a part of this event that I decided to have Jodi autograph a copy of her book for one of you!

All you have to do to be entered to win is to leave your name, valid email address, and tell me which Jodi Picoult book is your favorite (if you are unfamiliar with her books, then tell me which one you are most interested in reading).  Followers of this blog will receive a double entry (please indicate your "follower" status in the comment section).  I will use to select a winner on Thursday, April 1 (won't this make a great April Fool's surprise for some lucky reader!)

Striking Sentences: 3.13.10

Becca at Bookstack hosts this weekly meme which states:

Don’t you just love when you’re reading along in your top-’o-the-stack book and a sentence jumps out at you – a sentence that makes you say “Aha!” or “Yes!” or “Why didn’t I think of that before?”  Or you stumble across a sentence  so perfectly written it resounds in your heart-strings for days? 
Each Saturday I’ll be celebrating those Striking Sentences, the ones that pierce the soul with their wisdom or humor or craft.  If you’d like to share a Striking Sentence (or sentences) from your current read, post about them on your blog, tell us why they strike your heart, and leave a link in the comments here so we may come visit. 
We are about half way through A Tale of Two Cities in my British Literature class and the students are finally beginning to realize the literary skill of Charles Dickens.  One of my favorite quotes from that book is from the chapter where Sydney Carton declares his love for Lucie Manette, and concludes the conversation by saying:
"...For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything.  If my career were of that better kind that there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you.....O Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father's face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!"   ~ page 159
Such selflessness from an unlikely character who has always lived below his potential.
Are you familiar with this story?  Do you know how it ends?  If not, you simply must put this classic on  your reading list and experience the beauty of the story told in the eloquence that only Dickens can write.

Library Loot: 3.12.09

Library Loot is co-sponsored by Eva of A Striped Armchair and Marg of Reading Adventures and is a great way for us to spotlight our recent library acquisitions.

I really have no business bringing home any more books; I have too many books that I must read this semester.  But several of these books have been reserved for weeks and they all just happened to become available at the same time.  The good news is that my spring break has officially started (YIPPEE) and so I should have some free time to read pleasure books as well as academic ones.

The few contemporary novels that I brought home include:

I also brought home several books on the fine art of travel writing.  If I go to Oxford this summer, I know I will want to capture the memories and bring them home to share with others.  I hope to learn a little bit about digital photography over the next few weeks so that I can take some decent pictures, but I also hope that I can learn to capture the sights, sounds, and culture of Europe in my writing.  Here are some books that I discovered online that I hope may help me with this endeavor:

Add these books to the few that I have remaining from previous library trips, as well as books that I should read for summer, as well as my own personal TBR bookshelves, and I don't think I will be at a loss for what to do over this break.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

WWW Wednesday - 3.10.10

Since this is the last week of school before spring break, I am busy trying to finish up all unit plans.  Consequently, I have had to cut back on my blog posting/reading until the weekend.  I thought this might be a fun meme to stay in touch with you, but would not take too much of my dwindling free time.

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

My Answers:

Currently reading:  Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.  I rarely go to the movies anymore and I always prefer to read the book before seeing any movie, but this time I made an exception.  I saw the movie last week and was so taken with the ending that I knew I either had to see the movie again or read the book.  I have heard that the endings are quite different and I am looking forward to comparing and contrasting the two for C.B. James Book and a Movie challenge when I am done.

Recently Finished:  The Cotton Queen by Pam Morsi.  This book was originally recommended by Kim and I was interested in reading it for myself as possible "research" for my own writing projects.  The book is told in alternating points of view of a mother and a daughter who live in a small, Texas town just outside Dallas.  While both women are vastly different, they are also very much the same.

Reading Next:  Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  If I am going to read 3,300 pages by June 27, I had better get started!  I have created a reading plan for my summer school course and I selected Walden for my spring break read because I think it will be reminiscent of a relaxing vacation sitting by the lake contemplating life (or at least that is my preconceived idea of the book).  I want to find another "lighter" read for spring break as well, but I think I will let that be a spontaneous decision.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: 3.9.10

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser:

This was a cruel trick of the mind, yes, but Teddy had long ago accepted the logic of it - waking, after all, was an almost natal state.  You surfaced without a history, then spent the blinks and yawns reassembling your past, shuffling the shards into chronological order before fortifying yourself for the present.
 ~ page 20 in Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Read-athon!

Raise your hand if you can't wait for the next Dewey 24 Hour Read-athon April 10-11, 2010!

What?  Are you not aware of this most amazing event?  Oh, are you in for a treat!

Twice a year - once in the spring and once in the fall - book bloggers from all over the blogisphere reserve this time to read as much as they can/want in a 24 hour period.  There are mini-challenges, prizes, and cheerleaders. The weekend is spent with lots of good books, yummy snacks, and blogging communication (not to mention tweets around the clock).

This is a very low-key, fun way to partake in our favorite solitary activity with a large group dynamic.  Don't worry if you can't commit for the entire 24 hour time period - just join for as long as you can.  I typically strive to read 12 hours over the course of the entire weekend (minimum 6 hours each day), as I am a bit too old to pull all-nighters anymore.

I am sure there will be many more posts about this event in the upcoming weeks.  Some of us will share our reading strategies (variety is key - both in terms of genre and length), our game plans, our reading lists, and our excitement.  This will be my third read-athon and I am more excited than ever.

How about you?  Do you plan to take part?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

TSS - 03.07.10

This week was a literary week for me, although you would not have guessed that by the blog posts written.  The highlight of the week, of course, was learning that I received my first choice class this summer at Lincoln College in Oxford.  That has dominated my free thoughts for most of the week.  I have ordered all of the books and should receive them by Friday which is perfect timing as our spring break begins on Saturday, March 13.  The reading list is daunting - over 3,300 pages to be read prior to June 27 - but I did develop a reading schedule that helps me realize that this indeed a attainable goal.  I plan to read Walden (Thoreau) over spring break and I hope to even have a bit of free time to also read a contemporary book or two.

I completed two books this week, The Cotton Queen by Pam Morsi and Fablehaven by Brandon Mull.  I need to write reviews for these books, as well as for Still Alice by Lisa Genova, but I anticipate that this will not happen until I have a bit more free time during spring break.  I have about 20 research papers to grade this week and that will probably take up the majority of my free time.

I spent some time working on my newest story idea.  As I mentioned earlier this week, I will be teaching a Creative Writing class next year using the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum.  I want to try to write my own "adventure" novel prior to the start of class (or at least be well on my way) so that I can adequately teach and sympathize with the students when they work on their projects.  In reviewing the workbook I have realized that this is a very thorough process and will require me (and the students) to truly consider all possibilities in plot and character development.  Just by reading through the worksheets I have started to formulate more detailed descriptions of my protagonist, antagonist, love interest and mentor; I have considered various conflict options and final resolutions.  I hope to work a bit more on this project in the coming weeks.

I have also been spending quite a bit of time re-reading novels for the classes that I teach.  We are about half-way through The Hobbit in 7th grade and the students are doing a great job of keeping track of the different races of middle earth, tracking Bilbo's progression as an archetypal hero, and comparing his quest to the Christian walk (I teach at a private Christian school and this is a great way for the students to relate to the text).  I would say that my favorite quote over the past couple of weeks comes from chapter 8:  Flies and Spiders.  Bilbo has just defeated the spiders on his own and has come to realize that there is more to him than he ever knew (but which Gandalf has known all along):
Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins.  He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach.... (page 170)
I think this is such a powerful lesson for us all to learn. Bilbo is willing to go outside his comfort zone for the sake of others and in doing so he has begun to realize his full potential.  His self-confidence has grown and, as we discover in the next scene, his companions respect him for the risks he takes on their behalf.  Our little Hobbit is gradually becoming the hero of the story.

In British Literature we have progressed to the Victorian Era and are currently reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  I am trying something new this year.  I am having each student "teach" the class for 15 minutes.  I know they have the necessary skills to do so, but I want them to realize it and gain self-confidence (hmmm....perhaps I can view my class as a collection of Bilbo Baggins:  they do not think they can do it, but I believe they can; by nudging them outside their comfort zones they too will achieve their full potential).  So far I have had 6 different "teachers" and they have all risen to the occasion.  It has been so much fun and quite rewarding to see them in action.  I always make sure that I follow up their lesson with my own insights, so that they are adequately prepared for the test, but for the most part the students are learning to teach themselves which, in all honesty, is what I want for them.

While there are numerous quotes that I love from this novel, for this week I will share the famous first sentence of the book (yes, the entire paragraph is just one sentence long):
It was the best of times, it was the worse of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities instead on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (page 5)
I love the direct comparisons and the eloquent language that Dickens uses.  My most favorite comparison is....The Spring of Hope and the Winter of Despair....a double comparison, if you will, that contains so much meaning in just 9 simple words.

My 9th grade class is reading  Alice in Wonderland - setting their own pace, developing their own discussion questions, and creating their own final project - and then we plan to see the Tim Burton movie this Thursday afternoon.  I think it will be a lot of fun.

I'm not quite sure what book I will read on my own this week, although I am leaning towards Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.  I saw the movie this week and absolutely loved it.  In fact, the more I think about the storyline, the more fascinated I become:  both in the story itself and in the way in which the author wrote it.  While I would say the movie was highly suspenseful (I had no knowledge of the subject matter prior to entering the theater), I would not say it is scary.  The language is what you would expect of an R-rated film that takes place on an island for the criminally insane, and there is one very brief scene involving male nudity.  Otherwise, it was a suitable movie for a wide audience.

I hope you have a wonderful Sunday and are looking forward to a great week.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bookishness: In case you missed it....

I have spent a leisurely Saturday morning sleeping in, drinking coffee, and catching up on blog reading.  One of my favorite weekly posts is Cathy's Weekly Link Round Up.  If you haven't had an opportunity to read this regular feature, you simply must check it out today.  My most favorite link that she provided this week was the world's largest outdoor bookcase:  30 bookcases filled with books for the visitors of Bondi Beach in Sydney Australia to enjoy.  OH MY --- if I lived near this beach, I would never leave!  You can read more about the event as well as view more spectacular photographs at the above link.

Another "just in case you missed it" --- last night I came home from school and turned on the television to catch the local news.  It wasn't quite 5:00pm yet and Oprah was just winding down her broadcast.  She highlighted this "flash mob" video of Ocoee Middle School.  If you love reading and want to be this video.  The "lead" dancer is the Principal of the school, and each student was asked to bring a copy of their favorite book to the taping session.

And, in true Oprah the end of the broadcast she (and Target) donated 2,000 books to the school's library.  AMAZING!!


I have seen this question of the week posted on a couple of blogs, most notably Cathy and Florinda, and I thought I would participate.  Now both of the above bloggers were deemed "hippies" - so I was anxious to see what the quiz revealed about my stereotype.  I am sorry to say that this is actually no surprise to me, as I am about as plain vanilla as they come:

You Are a Girl Next Door

You are as all American as apple pie, and you're so normal that you belong in a TV sitcom.
And really, that's a pretty great thing. You're a solid person, and you pride yourself on being quite down to earth.

You value your friends and family, and you don't need much in life to be content. You feel grateful for what you have.

You are honest and you have a great work ethic. You believe in giving back as much as you can.

How about you?  What is your Stereotype personality?  You can take the quiz here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

BTT: National Grammar Day

The question that Rebecca poses today is:

In honor of National Grammar Day … it IS “March Fourth” after all … do you have any grammar books? Punctuation? Writing guidelines? Style books?
More importantly, have you read them?
How do you feel about grammar in general? Important? Vital? Unnecessary? Fussy?

Oh boy - I wasn't sure whether to write on this subject or not, as I am afraid my blog posts will now be read with much scrutiny and I do not think I will measure up.  See, I am a grammar teacher.  I like grammar.  Diagramming sentences used to be one of my most favorite school activities.  It is conducive to my left-brain perspective on the world.  However, I understand that the nitty-gritty details of grammar are not for everyone, and I do think there are times when grammar can be overdone (I tell students that I am not trying to change the way the speak, only the way they write).

I tell my students that the first draft of a project is written for the writer; all subsequent drafts are written for the reader.  It is the job of the writer to communicate to the reader in a way that the reader does not have to work to comprehend the message.  And that, in my humble opinion, is the primary purpose of grammar:  to facilitate communication.  Fragments, run-on sentences, and comma splices make it difficult for the reader to follow the train of thought.  Verb inconsistency makes it difficult to understand the time progression of events (I tell students I feel like I am in a time machine -- going back to the past, then being transported to the present -- I get whiplash).  Pronoun antecedent agreement is key to understanding who is doing what.  Double negatives give the impression of illiteracy (a false impression for my students of affluent Johnson County).  These I believe are some of the mainstays of a grammar curriculum, and I find that they are really not all that difficult for students to grasp.  I believe that most glaring errors can be identified if the writer would just take the time to proof-read (and spellcheck) the work before submission.  Unfortunately, many are either too lazy or too indifferent to do that final review.

I suppose I would state that good grammar is like good manners for writing.  It is the polite thing to do for our readers, and I do think they appreciate it.

Let me leave you with a little funny.  A student of mine has this posted on her facebook wall:
Let's eat Grandma! (which means, let's carve up Grandma and have a nice meal of her)
Let's eat, Grandma! (which means, come on, Grandma, let's have a meal together) 
The use of a single comma has indeed saved Grandma's life.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oxford....Here I come!

Well, it is a good thing that I did my grading and necessary prep work early yesterday morning, because I was absolutely worthless after about 11:00 AM when I heard from Bread Loaf that I got my first choice classes in Oxford this summer!  Oh my word -- my head has been swimming ever since.  I ordered my books, researched airfare (ouch!  it is expensive), looked into the EuroStar for a quick weekend jaunt to Paris (I am so close -- it would be ridiculous NOT to go, right?!) and just daydreamed the day away.

Now true to my style, I applied to this campus without giving a lot of thought to the true meaning of this "adventure" - because if I analyzed the decision too much I would have chickened out.  So here I am - accepted and ....I guess.....going.  Once I started ordering the books, however, the reality set in.  WHAT ON EARTH HAVE I SIGNED UP FOR!!  The school requests mandates that you pre-read all material before arriving on campus.  Since the course I am taking fulfills a requirement for both British literature post 1700 and American literature, my reading list is extensive!
  • The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner (Coleridge) - 20 pages
  • Moby Dick (Melville) - 656 pages
  • The Prelude and The Thorn (Wordsworth) - 223 pages
  • Walden (Thoreau) - 448 pages
  • Song of Myself (Whitman) - 40 pages
  • Frankenstein (Shelley) - 328 pages
  • Edgar Huntley (Brown) - 320 pages
  • William Wilson and The Fall of the House of Usher (Poe) - 35 pages
  • The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne) - 272 pages
  • The Mill on the Floss (Eliot) - 576 pages
  • The House of Mirth (Wharton) - 368 pages
This is the equivalent of approximately 3300 pages, give or take a few, between now and June 27th when I travel across the pond to Lincoln College, Oxford.

Boy - it is a good thing that Spring break is in less than two weeks - the Spring read-athon is in about a month  - and I will have a good 4-5 weeks between the end of school (May 15) and the day I leave (June 27).  I tend to be well-organized and goal driven, so I anticipate that I will complete the reading list in time (now....whether I have fully annotated and properly analyzed passages will be the $64,000 question).  Obviously there won't be much time for the reading of contemporary literature during this time, but hopefully you won't mind a few reviews of some classic 19th Century literature from my cozy nook.

Anyway, I wanted to share my joyful news with you - my dear readers. And, for those of you who live near or around Oxford, would you like care to meet at a local pub sometime in July?  My treat!

Monday, March 1, 2010

BTT: Story Format

Booking through Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Rebecca of Just One More Page.  Here is today's question:

How do you feel about books written in a differing format – whether this be journals or letters (epistolary), verse novels, or any other form? Is this something you enjoy? Or do you prefer straight forward chapter prose.
While most of the novels I read follow the traditional format, I am not at all opposed to reading outside the norm, so to speak.  I have never tried a verse novel, and I must confess that I would have to really beef-up my poetry appreciation skills to tempt that particular form, but there are several other styles that I do enjoy on an occasional basis.
  • Serial novels:  I have just started teaching A Tale of Two Cities for the 5th year in a row and one of the first elements that I point out to the students is the placement of installments.  I explain the serial format and then show them an actual copy of the Household Words publication (somehow my husband found one for sale on ebay and it is one of my most prized possessions).  It is a goal of mine to read at least one Dickens' novels in this manner --- that is, only read one installment per week (or month) and force myself to wait for the next one.  Fortunately there is a terrific website to allow me to do just that:  Mousehold Words.  They have several authors available to choose from, including Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and you can even choose the frequency of the delivery to your email account.
  • Alternative Points of View:  If this is done well, it is my most favorite writing style.  I have tried to teach my children that there is always two sides to every story.  I am fascinated by perspective and how the same facts can be viewed so differently.  This style of writing not only allows me to "get inside" the heads of various characters - it also forces me to piece together the facts for myself and draw my own conclusion, based upon the somewhat unreliable narration of the characters involved.
  • Epistolary stories:  I don't think I would enjoy a steady diet of this style of writing, but it is quite enjoyable every once in a while.  The epistolary novel is told in letter format, and often the reader is made to feel like one of the characters in the story as it is often told in the 2nd person Point of View (you) --- drawing the reader in.  My most favorite story written in this form is Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn.  Do you have a favorite epistolary story that I should add to my list?
  • Diaries:  To me, diaries offer the most intimate reading experience.  Characters are willing to share their deepest desires and secrets in a diary that they would not have the opportunity to share in any other format.  Sometimes, however, these secrets are almost too personal for me to fully comprehend, and as a result I can sometimes feel rather uncomfortable as the reader; like I am infringing on the character's privacy.
I am sure there are other story formats that I have not even considered in this post.  Which styles do you prefer?  Please let me know so that I can expand my literary horizons and appreciation.

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