Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Imposter?

Well, last week I didn't post to the blog at all.  This week I didn't read a single blog from my Google Reader list of over 300.  I feel as though I am a liar if I claim myself to be a book blogger and I don't read, review, or even blog about life.

While I could make up excuses that it has been a difficult and busy two weeks, the truth of the matter is that I just didn't feel like it.

Update on Mom
Mom was indeed placed in hospice care and it has been an interesting time of orchestrating all the care givers and medicine schedules.  I am delighted to say that her hospice nurse is a lovely woman who gives Mom all the time and care that she needs.  She is friendly, knowledgeable, and easy to talk to.  Mom has seemed to stabilize now and is doing fairly well....considering.

We have had non-stop visitors for the past two weeks as well.  My aunt from Houston came in for three days last week, my son came in Thursday for a long weekend, and my other aunt flew in and out yesterday.  It is a good thing that my lesson plans were caught up and I did not have much grading to do during this time period.  I have one more relatively "easy" week at school and then the week before spring break will be a mad dash to complete all assessments for the quarter.

I had an epiphany this week.  Well, probably not a true epiphany, but I actually experienced what I knew to be true.  The first eye-opener is that not all classes are equal.  I can teach the same material - the same year - the same way - to two different classes and receive completely different results.  Case in point:  the 9th graders are reading To Kill a Mockingbird.  In years past I have conducted a mock trial after we finish reading chapter 21.  There have been times when this activity has been a highlight of the year - and times when this activity has fallen flat.  This year I have two English 1 classes:  one is a class of eight students, 7 of which are boys.  The other class is a class of  twelve students, evenly split boys and girls.  The class of eight has two "high level" learners, while the class of twelve has at least eight "high level" learners.

The trial in the first class was mediocre at best.  While all students managed to bring their scripts, only two were in "costume" and few had truly rehearsed the lines to the point of performance.  At the end of the class period I felt as though I had wasted precious class time with this activity.

The second class was the direct opposite.  While everyone had a script, all but two had fully rehearsed the lines - almost to the point of memorization.  The enactment was filled with proper intonation and emotional acting.  Again, all but two had a costume, some quite elaborate complete with wigs and mustaches.  Students knew entrances and exits and it was a pleasure to watch this classic scene enacted by such talented individuals.

I anticipate class discussions on Monday to be different as well.  I fully expect that the second class will want to delve deep into the injustice that occurred in this court of law.  I expect them to dissect Atticus's closing argument as a piece of literature worthy of study in a high school government class.  I expect them to be emotionally charged when we discuss Jem's reaction to the verdict. I am not so confident that the other class will have much to say.  And I feel sorry for them.  Yes, the study of lines and creating a costume was extra work - but the dividends were so much greater.  For this second class, the mock trial will be a fond memory of their high school career.  I just hope that the other class fondly remembers the lessons that Atticus teaches us -- even today.

It is nearly the end of the second month of the year and I think it is a good time to review all those New Year's resolutions that I named on January first.  While I have abandoned some and postponed others, I have managed to keep two going strong to the point that I think they have become good daily habits.

If I had to sum up the extent of these resolutions, I think they were all developed to help me create a more balanced life in 2011.  I wanted to relax more; I wanted to be in better shape; and I wanted to deepen my spiritual relationship.  While I have a long way to go in finding that perfect balance, I have managed to develop a morning "sit up" routine to strengthen my core abdominal muscles and I have maintained daily devotions for eight full weeks.

I discovered a daily Bible reading program that works well for me:  a different section of the Bible each day so that I do not become bogged down in the 'begats' or 'thou shalt nots' that have always plagued me before.  I have also discovered that blogging is the perfect way for me to personalize the scripture.  In the past I would try to journal, but my hand would always ache and I would become discouraged before the end of the second week.  Blogging is quick and easy - and it is a way for me to look back and review my spiritual walk if I so desire.  While I doubt that any of you would be interested in reading these personal dribbles, I have set up a separate blog to record these thoughts.

photo credit
The exercise routine will be increased in mid-March (that is, if the weather cooperates during Spring break) to include what I hope is a manageable cardiovascular routine.  I timed the route and it is exactly 1.1 miles to the nearest Starbucks.  My plan is to walk to Starbucks, carrying my netbook computer in a backpack - spend a half hour or so sipping a beverage at Starbucks  and writing (yes - that is another resolution that has fallen by the wayside) - and then walk home.  This will hopefully provide 8-10 miles of walking per week (maybe more) and about 4-5 hours of writing.  I will be becoming more physically fit - taking care of my heart (which apparently is genetically prone to health concerns) - and relaxing in an environment that is conducive to my academic pursuits.  That is at least the game plan.

Yes, I do continue to read for about twenty minutes before bed, but that does not allow me to finish many books.  I have almost completed The Second Journey and have enjoyed this one as much as the other Joan Anderson books that I have read.  In this book she speaks a lot about her ailing mother and how she balances those responsibilities with her own personal needs.  It is exactly what this woman of the sandwich generation needed to hear.

I have skimmed through several books on quilting - but have decided that with this particular craft, I just need to delve in and experience it for myself.  I plan to start a Hanky Panky quilt - but only in a 2x2 size -- big enough for a Bitty Baby and not overwhelming for me.  

I still plan to read Jane Eyre over the next couple of weeks in anticipation of the release of the movie in March.  I went to see The King's Speech last night (for the second time) - and the previews for Jane Eyre look wonderful.  I think I might be able to coerce a few students to see it with me as an extra curricular school activity.

Well, that is what is happening in my neck of the woods.  Not too much in the book blogging arena I am afraid, but I have not given up on returning to that passion in the not-too-near future.  Please bear with me.

I hope that all of you have a most pleasant week - and that March chooses to come in as a lamb rather than lion.  I, for one, am quite tired of this wild, wacky, weather.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

TSS - 2.13.11

We are finally beginning to thaw from the Blizzard 2011.  It was 45 degrees and sunny on Saturday and it had been so long since we had experienced temperatures above freezing that it felt like a summer holiday.  While I wasn't quite as radical as some who wore shorts and flip flops in the slush, I did shed my coat and enjoy the warmth of the bright sunshine.  We are actually supposed to hit 60 degrees on Wednesday - a far cry from the -15 degrees we suffered a week ago.

While I enjoy teaching all my classes and each student is indeed a unique pleasure, every once in a while I am fortunate enough to have a class that is so extraordinarily special that I instinctively know I am blessed with a class that I will remember always.  Such was the case with the first class I ever taught:  6th grade in 2001; and then again my Brit Lit class in 2007; and finally this year's English Comp class.

I was both thrilled and anxious to begin teaching this college level class.  I have always joked that I prepare all my students - even those 6th graders - for college rather than the next subsequent grade - but I really didn't know if I had the ability to truly teach a college course.  Some of these students are truly gifted and while I was sure that I could learn from them, I wasn't quite so sure that they could learn from me.  Now that we are nearly half way through the second semester I can honestly say that this has been a truly synergistic class and I will miss each of the students greatly when they graduate at the end of May.  We have all gelled so well that at this point we look forward to seeing one another twice a week.  We can all begin to recognize one another's writing because of the unique voice and because of that, we know one another's strengths and weaknesses.  It is a class that truly cares about one another - and takes responsibility for each other's successes.

On Thursday we decided to hold class at a local coffee shop.  We are in the midst of group edits where each student reads aloud their essay and the rest of the class offers useful comments.  Every single student arrived to this off-site location on time - and the majority of them stayed about twenty minutes after class time was over.  They remained focused - despite the constant comings and goings of other patrons, and they voiced a desire to do this again.  What an absolute pleasure to teach those who want to learn and how truly blessed I am to have this awesome opportunity.

Due to Mom's continued health issues (see below) personal reading has once again taken a back seat this week.  As I sit here and stare at my library pile - I am apparently hungry for non-fiction material.  I continue to read a little bit each week of The Happiness Project and The Gifts of Imperfection and many of the library acquisitions are a result of that reading.

Last but not personal life this week has focused on my mom.  Without going into great detail, she was released from the hospital to hospice care on Tuesday.  She is currently off all meds except for those that can keep her comfortable, and she is rather tired and weary from it all.

I think my library book list reflects this journey that I have traveled with Mom these last few weeks.  I think I am perhaps trying to learn how to live life more fully by watching my mom die.  I have focused so much on doing a good job (whatever job I may be doing at the time:  teaching, parenting, etc) and I have poured so much energy into other priorities that I have forgotten - or ignored - Molly.  

I am realizing that the old adage is true:  life really is too short to spend time on the insignificant.  My problem has been, however, that I have confused significant with urgent.  Being creative and having fun has always taken a back seat to the more serious aspects of life like earning a living and being responsible for others.  I think it is time for the pendulum to swing the other way and for me to learn to prioritize some fun in my life.  I think I am afraid, however, that once I start to have fun that I won't want to stop - and all responsibility will go out the window.  I suppose I will have to learn to trust myself that won't happen.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

TSS - 2.6.11

Well, here we are, Super Bowl Sunday 2011.  For some reason I always anticipate spring to be just around the corner when the football season comes to an end, but that is never the case.  We have thawed a bit from Blizzard 2011 but they are predicting a dusting of snow tonight and another storm to move into the area on Tuesday.  I fear that the balmy breezes of warmer weather are a minimum of six weeks away, no matter what the groundhog's shadow predicted.

I have spent most of my personal time this week focused on my mom.  She was rushed to the hospital on Monday morning because she had gained seven pounds overnight!  Apparently eating one slice of bacon on Sunday morning caused her congestive heart failure to wreak havoc with her body.  On Tuesday I was told IF she pulled through, we would have to consider a very strict, low sodium diet for her (she was always restricted to the 'cardboard" food as she called it -- which is why she ate the bacon in the first place:  to have a bit of flavor).  On Wednesday, she had a blood transfusion because they determined her current blood thinner medication was having an adverse effect on her body.  On Thursday she was told that her hemoglobin numbers had improved, but her heart is definitely weaker.  Her doctor informed us that another episode like the three we have experienced since Christmas and hospice will most likely be our next step.

Hard words for Mom to hear - but I am embarrassed to confess that it is a relief for me.  I have lost track of the number of hospital stays Mom has had these past twelve months, but I am sure that it has been double digits.  Each stay takes just a little bit more out of me.  The emotional roller coaster of making unpleasant decisions, the wondering of what the future will hold, the constant attempt at being positive around her is taking its toll.  But perhaps this new diet and these new meds will help her to maintain  a certain level of health for longer than a couple of weeks.

I think I have mentioned here at least once that I am constantly revamping my lesson plans.  I research online to find different ways of teaching the same topic and I am not afraid to experiment (truth be told I don't know if I do this more to help the students learn the material - or more to help me from becoming bored). Sometimes the experiments work well and bear repeating another year, other times the experiments do not yield the expected results and I abandon them completely.  Thus was the fate of this week's trial and error.

Since our school is a University Model School and most students only attend Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, to miss one of those days for a snow day can truly put a kink in the scope and sequence. The principal advised us to post "snow day" assignments online so that students would not fall too far behind.  That might work well for some classes like math or science where students can read the text and attempt the problems (with an answer key in the back of the book to double check answers) but since my classes tend to be discussion based rather than textbook driven, it is not always easy for me to assign more.

However, in all my classes but one I had a paper due on Wednesday.  My thought was to have students email me the papers (which would keep them on task) and I could grade them during the snow days rather than over the weekend.  Great in theory --- lousy in practice.

First of all, the majority of the students turned the papers in on time, but I would say about 15% failed to do so.  I then had to send separate emails to the parents to remind the students about this arrangement.  A time consuming task.

I had originally thought that I could grade the papers online and then return to the student electronically - thus saving lots of paper and perhaps developing a more streamlined system for grading papers in the future.  Boy was I wrong!  It took me about three times longer to grade the papers online (I tend to make LOTS of comments --- which I am trying to curtail -- and grammatical corrections do not lend themselves to a quick and easy electronic format).  It took me only  two papers graded this way to realize this was not going to work.

I then had to print off each student's paper - make sure that names were on each paper (of course they assumed that by sending in an email it would be obvious who wrote the paper) - grade the papers, and then input the grades.  I spent about 16 hours over the two snow days taking care of this.  I was NOT a happy camper.

So, note to self - in the future do not create more work for yourself - but rather, allow students the extra time to complete the assignment and perhaps assign a bit of outside reading and an oral report to complete on the unexpected day off.

Between Mom - blizzard - and the snow day grading fiasco - I am afraid that reading was placed on the far back burner.  I did manage to read one more chapter in Little Women, and I quickly read the graphic novella that has swept the blogosphere, The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger.  I must say that I loved the premise of the book:  a young woman discovers a mysterious library on wheels that only contains all the books she has ever read in her life.  How fascinating it would be to have a visual representation of my own reading life. Much like Proust's madeleine cookie, just looking at the original binding and yellowed pages would immediately bring back such vivid memories.  I lingered over each of the beautiful illustrations that showcased her reading collection.  I tried to catch a glimpse of each of the titles, wondering if I had read the book myself, or even more, if I could find a book that I would like to read now.  I would not hesitate to go back and re-read these pages again and again.  However, I was not at all pleased with the ending of the book.  I did like the fact that she was able to become a bookmobile librarian in her own right - I just did not like the way in which that dream actually came true.  For that reason alone I would probably rate the book 3.5 out of 5.

I also managed to start reading Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill.  I think I have waited for this book to arrive at my local library since October - I kid you not - and so far I would say that it was well worth the wait.  The chapters are fairly short, which makes it the perfect book to keep on the nightstand - and the insight into her own reading life I find fascinating.  I have found several quotes worth remembering and I hope to write a full-fledged review (my first in how long?!) sometime soon.

Lastly, I treated myself to a Half Price Bookstore excursion.  I had received an email for 20% off an entire purchase this weekend, and well, I thought I deserved it after this week.  I decided to begin the collection of the Harry Potter audio books.  I have just fallen in love with Jim Dale's voice - and I think this is a purchase that I will enjoy for year's to come.  I purchased the first three books and hope to start listening to them (again) as soon as I begin my exercise routine (which was supposed to start in January but at this point, is being postponed until Spring break).  So far I have listened to the first book twice, the second book once, and I have managed to listen to about half of the third.  I have no idea what happens in books 4-7 --- but I am confident that I will indeed complete this assignment at some point in time.

I hope you all have a celebratory Super Bowl and a stress free week ahead.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Blizzard 2011

At times we experienced near white-out conditions
Poor Ralfie - snow up to his knees!
Unofficial tally on our driveway:  14 inches!!
Today is snow day #4 for our area!  I had students email me papers so that I could accomplish some grading on this "day off" --- otherwise I would be grading all weekend.

I know many of you experienced this massive storm as well --- Snowpocalypse is among the many nicknames I have heard.  Stay safe and warm!
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