Friday, August 31, 2012

A Recording for Posterity

I'm not sure anyone would be interested in reading this little rambling, but I want to record this for posterity's sake.

In my English Comp class yesterday I tried a new idea.  I had originally asked students to bring in an example of a "bodacious beginning" - that is, an introductory paragraph that grabs the reader's attention and inspires them to want to read more.  I think this is imperative for any writer (as I tell my students - you WANT me to want to read your essay; not rely on the fact that I HAVE to read your essay).

This exercise is useful because it teaches students the variety of ways to grab a reader's attention:  begin with a question - or a statement that causes the reader to form his own questions - or a very short, direct sentence that leaves the reader hanging - or beginning with the climax of the story that draws the reader into the action.  There are a variety of ways to "hook" the reader - and the students seemed to learn more about writing by reading good examples.

But the twist to this assignment was that I asked students to bring in an example of an introduction that they did not find particularly inviting.  Now they thought they were going to compare and contrast the two, but instead, I asked the students to rewrite the rather dull introduction by making it more inviting.  You should have heard the moans and groans.  "This is hard!" they exclaimed.

But you know what?!  They DID it!!  They utilized what we discovered in the previous discussion and they actually improved the introductions.  They discovered that asking a question is a great way to hook the reader.  They managed to entice us to want to read an Algebra II text.  They learned that restructuring paragraphs or sentences can have a profound effect on the reader.

Sometimes my classroom experiments fall flat. But yesterday - it was engaging for both the students and the teacher.  And this, I feel, is worth recording for posterity's sake.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Book Club of One

For years I have wondered what it would be like to be a part of a book club.  To meet with other adults and discuss a novel:  the likes and dislikes, the themes and how to apply them to everyday life, the fictional characters that have somehow become our personal friends.  But apparently this is an experience that I am not meant to have.

Perhaps I am supposed to focus this "book club" desire on developing that environment in the classroom.  I do try to have round table discussions rather than teacher lectures, and I always enjoy hearing the insights of the students.  I now teach only one literature class, Brit Lit, and the juniors and seniors are near adults, right?

Perhaps I am supposed to take part in an online group read, something that I have so far avoided for fear of not keeping up with the reading schedule, or with the intellectual conversation.  I think I might wait until retirement to give that a go.

But then it occurred to me that I could engage in a self-discussion of the books I read.  This past weekend I completed two books, Keepsake and The Wednesday Sisters, and both had a detailed reader section at the back of the book.  This section included an interview with the author (I LOVE those!!) as well as several questions on the work itself.  While I think these questions are included to help foster discussion in a group setting, I believe I can use these questions as personal writing prompts --- helping me to perhaps dig deeper into the reading than I did on my own -- as well as helping me learn to relate the book to my own life.

And I am rather excited about this prospect of being a member of this book club for one --- although I must admit that I feel a bit ostracized like Woody Allen in the movie, Annie Hall when he quotes Groucho Marx:  I am a bit leery of joining a club that would have someone like me as a member.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again....(maybe)

It has been so long since I have read - and finished - a fiction book that I truly cannot remember.  I'm not sure why.  It isn't that I haven't been reading - I have just focused on non-fiction books that relate to photography and writing.  And I enjoy reading fiction, I just couldn't seem to find a book that held my attention.  I am sure it was not due to the writing - it was due to my frame of mind.

But I have read two - count them TWO - fiction books since Thursday evening and I am ready to pick up a third later this evening.

The first book I read was purely a spontaneous decision.  I was at the bookstore with a friend and we spotted the book, Keepsake by Kristina Riggle, on one of the display tables.  The blurb on the back of the book sounded intriguing, and I was immediately hooked when I read the first three pages.

Essentially, the book focuses on two sisters - as different as night and day:  one a hoarder, just like her mother, and the other a neat freak bordering on OCD.  The book begins when the hoarder's 7-year-old son breaks his collar bone when an avalanche of collected debris falls on him.  The doctor has his suspicions and sends a social worker to inspect the living conditions.  The mom is given an ultimatum:  either clean up the house and seek help from a psychologist --- or risk losing custody.  She has already lost her teen age son and husband due to the mess, and she cannot bear the thought of losing the only person in the world who loves her unconditionally.

The novel focuses on the massive clean up of the house - and the psychological attachment that hoarders have to objects, and the compulsive aspect of hoarding compared to any other substance abuse like alcohol or cigarettes or drugs.  And the equally devastating effect that OCD can have on the ability to connect to others in a real, physical way.  And the proverbial question of "nature vs nurture" and how the best intentions of those growing up in a dysfunctional household oftentimes find the pull to repeat the cycle greater than the desire to repel it.

I must admit that I am intrigued by this topic - hoarding - although I have never allowed myself to watch the real-life television drama that chronicle examples of this lifestyle.  I think deep down I am too empathetic to their plight.  And while I pride myself on a neat, organized, clean home -- I think I can easily see "where but the grace of God go I."  There is a sadness when I read of those who hoard - or those who house the one odd stray cat that turns into 100. They truly have a compassionate heart - they just don't know how to let go without feeling supreme loss of self.

This is truly one example, I believe, where fiction tell more truth than any non-fiction story could dare. And I am still haunted by the questions that the end of the book causes the reader to ask.

The second book I read this weekend was The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Calyton, and can I say that I am most anxious to read any other work by this author?!  I was ecstatic to hear that her fourth book, The Wednesday Daughters, will making its debut sometime in 2013.

Again, I am drawn in by the blurb on the back of the book - as you would imagine anyone who fancies themselves as a possible writer:
... Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesay Sisters Writing Society is born.  the five women slowly, and often reluctantly, start filling journals, sliding pages into typewriters, and sharing their work.  In the process, they explore the changing world around them:  the Vietnam War, the race to the moon and a women's movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves.  At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes - one brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success.  With one another's support and encouragement the Wenesday Sisters begin to embrace who they are and what they hope to become, welcoming readers to experience, along with them, the power of dreaming big.

 I was astonished by the author's ability to end each chapter with a captivating line that made me want to read more:

  • She didn't say anything that first afternoon about how lonely her childhood had been.
  • Still, in some way I can't even explain, we set her apart so that what happened to her couldn't possibly happen to us
  • It would all fall out over the next week, leaving him bald as the moon before the Apollo astronauts planted their unflappable flag.  But it would grow back improbably thicker, a portent of things to come
  • "If I don't believe in my work, how can I expect anyone else to?  Besides, it was only sixty-two rejections. The last one was a yes."
  • And despite our promise, despite that reminder, the moment she was out of sight we were talking about it amongst ourselves, unable to grant her even this one small request.
And this is only the first 14 out of 46 chapters!

I long to have a writing group like this one.  One that I feel comfortable enough to share my most inner thoughts and trust enough to help me make them better.  A group of women whom I can share my personal life and not be judged or criticized for what I choose to do.

I was captivated by each of these five women - and there were times when I would audibly sigh or gasp when I learned their deepest secret or when I knew they had realized their deepest fear.

The writing in this book made me want to try harder as a writer - to realize the potential in crafting fiction to illicit real emotion in the reader.  I admire Meg Waite Clayton's talent and I, for one, will be anxiously awaiting the release to the sequel of this book.  I want to hear how the daughters -- my generation - grow up and find themselves in the 21st century.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A writing prompt

It is not often that I share a personal writing sample here on this blog.  Well, that is probably not entirely true.  This blog is nothing but personal essays on a variety of topics.  But today I was profoundly impacted by the writing prompt from the Project 137 Days - and I decided to make it more of a public declaration.

Today's prompt was this:
"The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it."             - W. M. Lewis 
What would you like to begin?
And here was my response (unedited --- totally rough draft):

I feel as though today I have truly begun a new chapter of life - one that provides balance to what has been a very chaotic life so far (all my own doing!)

Today was the first day of school, but today was different.  Today I taught only classes that I want to teach - that I am passionate about teaching.  And in doing so, I have truly begun to live again.

This year I am not overtaxed by lesson plans or grading or disrespectful students.  Rather - I feel as though I can take this all in stride because I am in balance; I am pursuing a vocation without a loss of self.  And I have felt lost for quite sometime.

So what would I begin?  I think I have already begun.

I have added writing to my regular routine.  I have organized a greeting card ministry.  I have found a photography hobby that promises lots of learning and personal growth opportunities.

For me the question has finally become what and how will I continue to do all these activities that stimulate my emotional, intellectual, creative, and spiritual sides --- and find a perfect sense of balance to provide a life of sustaining peace and joy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Another Year Begins....

While I do not necessarily feel that I was born to teach, I do feel that I was born to live the academic life.

From the time I was a junior in college and constantly asked the proverbial question, "So, what do you want to do when you graduate?" I would answer ---- I would love to be a professional student.  See, I have always loved to learn.  I never really enjoyed the assessments, and I truly hated the standardized tests, but I was born to be a life-long learner.

It only took me about two decades after my college graduation to realize that teachers are indeed professional students.  And I have been quite blessed to have the opportunity to pursue this vocation, despite my lack of qualifications.

But aside from the learning aspect of this profession, I have come to the conclusion that my internal clock is based on the academic year.  Oh sure, I celebrate December 31st with the traditional toast and the obligatory list of resolutions, but I consider my TRUE New Year's Eve today ---- the last day of summer before another academic year begins.

I will get little sleep tonight - not from worry, but from great anticipation of what this new year will hold.  I will meet new students and become reacquainted with past students.  And as far as I am concerned, we all start with a clean slate - myself included.  Mistakes of the past are behind us, and a bright future lies ahead.

And for the first time in several years I feel as though I am teaching only the classes that I am well-equipped to teach - and it feels DIVINE!  I will no longer be donning my "super teacher" cape with nine preps a week, but I will reap the benefits of time leftover to pursue personal interests.  And while I know that this year won't be perfect - there will certainly be frustrations along the way - I also know that this year feels right.

Yes, today is somewhat bittersweet, as I do enjoy my summer freedom - but tomorrow will begin a new chapter in life - and that is worth a stomach full of butterflies.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

If not now.....when?

I took an online writing class this summer, VerbTribe, offered by the author of Life is a Verb, Patti Digh.  For those of you unfamiliar with that book (I offered a series of writing prompts about two years ago based on its contents) was born out of the death of her step-father.  He was diagnosed with cancer and told he had just a few months to live -- 37 days later, he was gone.  Since that time, 37 days has become a significant demarkation of time in Patti's life, and she asks her readers this basic question:  If you knew you only had 37 days left to live (and truly who knows how many days we have left) - how would you live your life?

On the day of our final VerbTribe conference call this summer, Patti's husband was diagnosed with cancer.  One week later Patti turned 53 years old --- the age of her father when he passed away - and her eldest daughter turned 20, the age Patti was when her dad passed.  In addition, Patti had submitted the manuscript of her newest book to her editor just one week prior to the diagnosis.  The topic?  Grief and Loss.  An amazing set of coincidences, don't you agree?

So Patti has decided to do what she does best and write - documenting events, thoughts, feelings and insights.  In the process of sorting through all these changes in life, Patti discovered that there are exactly 137 days from her birthday until New Year's Eve.  Another coincidence (?)

And Patti has decided to use this opportunity to build community.  She is now offering an online course, Project 137, where we can join her on this journey of self-discovery through writing prompts from now until December 31.  The cost is whatever you choose to give - and ALL proceeds go towards medical bills, which are overwhelming due to the fact that they are currently un-insured!

I realize that this course may not be for everyone - but if you are at all interested, I urge you to check it out and consider it.  The writing prompts are thought-provoking, and the donation is for a great cause.

In the meantime....I want to share the prompt from the first day.  I am still thinking about it - and the truth contained - and how I can begin to take those first steps toward living fully:

For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to still be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.             -Alfred d'Souza

Suffice it to say...I think I have been waiting a long time for life to get perfect before I start living - and I have missed the point.  I used to think, when the children were young, that I would start living when....

  • they would sleep through the night (and truthfully, I am a more functional human being when I have had 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep).  
  • Then it became, I would start living when they all would be in school.  
  • Then I thought I would start living when we entered the empty-nest phase of life.  
But guess what?  With each phase of life there comes joys - and there comes sorrows; there is a renewed sense of freedom on the one hand, and newfound responsibilities on the other.  As I have been reminded several times this summer during my devotional readings:

If you wait until the wind and the weather are just right, you will never plant anything and never harvest anything.              (Ecclesiastes 11:4 - Good News Translation)

No, life is not perfect, but life is good.  And it is time to start living --- because if not now, when?!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Answer to Un-asked Prayer

I am in a good place.

It took a while to get here - and I know I can always improve but....I am in a good place.

I won't go into much detail here, although perhaps detail will be forthcoming, but suffice it to say that I have maintained a good writing regimen since February.  I have maintained my morning pages via 750words, and in February I also developed a devotional routine, which has me reading two different devotionals at YouVersion (Rick Warren's - Decade of Destiny, and Joyce Meyers' - Promises for your Everyday Life).

While my summer was far from perfect, I must admit that this writing routine, coupled with Patti Digh's Verb Tribe for Teachers, helped me to maintain perspective and find peace - something that has been lacking in my life and I have wanted for years.

I went to our teacher in-service yesterday ready to start the year.  I was teaching more classes than I wanted, but I knew that retirement was a mere three years away, so I was willing to continue.  I adore my school - I love the administration - I respect the families - and like most of the students :)

But yesterday I learned that life could be even better than I ever thought possible.  And again, without too many distracting details let me just say that I went into the meeting prepared to teach my full course load and I left the meeting lighter and freer than I ever anticipated.

There was a teacher there who wanted more classes - and who was more than qualified to teach the classes that I felt most inept.  It was a win-win situation --- for the two teachers involved as well as for the students.

I never bothered to pray for my teaching schedule to be reduced.  And yet....I desperately wanted it to be reduced.  I have wanted it to be reduced for two years.  At this time in my life I feel as though I have too many other interests to pursue:  writing - photography - a greeting card ministry.  And as I have heard so many times before:  if not now....when?!

And then I received this little love-gift from God.  Without asking for it in prayer - He knew my need and granted the desire anyway.  How awesome is that?!

I am now teaching the classes that I truly feel called to teach:  Brit Lit - Yearbook - Grammar - English Comp.  Just the sound of those classes makes me tingle with excitement.  Yes, this is indeed going to be a GREAT year.

Of course, I will no longer be known as the "super teacher" --- the one who maintains 10 different preps in the course of one academic year.  And while I never did it for the accolades (I truly do love to teach).....I must admit that those accolades boost the ole self- confidence.  And I must relinquish that crown to other "super teachers"  But I believe that this, too, is a life lesson.  I am doing what I am supposed to do:  nothing more and nothing less.  And there is great comfort in that.

I am learning that I am indeed...enough.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I am retiring....

Tomorrow is the teacher in-service.  This is the "official" start to the new school year.  My official start, on the other hand, was Monday when I conducted a three-hour grammar review for in-coming students - and that start continued today when I administered the required grammar proficiency test.  The in-service tomorrow will be from 8:30 - 3:00 and then Thursday night is back to school - when we meet with the parents of each class for a whopping 8 minutes to try to explain all that we plan to accomplish over the course of this academic year.

I am normally quite ready for school to start again - and I must admit that I do have some anticipatory butterflies in my stomach that accompany this fresh new beginning.  I still enjoy shopping for school supplies (there is nothing like the feel of a brand new spiral bound notebook or an unopened back of BIC pens just waiting to document snippets of truth gleaned over the course of the year) -  but this year feels a bit different.  Perhaps it is because my summer was filled with angst that never quite allowed me to fully relax and recuperate from the past academic year.  Or perhaps it is because last year was a challenge on so many levels that I am a bit leery of what this year may hold.  But mostly I is because I am preparing myself for retirement.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this profession - calling -vocation.  It sought me out...and while I did not willingly heed the call, I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to make a difference in children's lives.  But for quite sometime now I have felt that it is time to move on.  Last May I gave notice - three years' notice - and let them know that I will officially retire May, 2013.  This feels right for a variety of reasons, but mainly, I will be 55 years old and that is a very respectable retirement age.

I still have three more years to teach - and I hope to impart as much knowledge as I ingest.  This year I plan to try to the concept of the "flipped classroom" - which will be a huge learning experience.  Next year I will drop the freshman English class in order to free up some time from grading all those papers.  And the following year....well, that will be the last hurrah.

I am ready.  But I am determined not to wish my life away.  I look forward to the classes I will teach this year:  English 8 (with 16 students); English 9 (with 10 students); Brit Lit (with 7 students); Yearbook (with 7 students); high school grammar (with 7 students); and college level English Comp (with 13 students) ---- but I also look forward to a new chapter in my own life.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: Hope Springs

image provided by IMBD
It is rare that I go to the movies.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Perhaps it is the price.  To think that the minimum price per ticket is $10 (multiplied by 2 since I would only go with someone else) - and the snacks are a minimum of $10 as well ( who can possibly go to a movie without indulging on popcorn?!) and the evening's entertainment is approximately $30.00.  Now I would not consider myself a cheapskate - but rather, I would like to say that I am frugal.  And if I am going to spend $30 on entertainment - I want to make darn sure that I am actually entertained.

So it is with that mindset that I coerced my husband to see the new romantic comedy, Hope Springs, starring Meryl Streep (whom I adore) and  Tommy Lee Jones (whom I consider a very viable actor).  I anticipated more comedy than romance and with Steve Carell as the marriage counselor, I thought I would be laughing non-stop throughout the movie.  Such was not the case.

My initial reaction when I left the theater - which was corroborated by my friend - was that I was just a part of a sex therapy session for an over-50 couple.  And this was not something that I cared to witness nor share.  I wanted to laugh non-stop - I wanted to laugh each time Steve Carell came on-screen, but I ended up laughing between some very awkward moments.

Now that it has been about a 24 hour waiting period, however .... I realize that this movie has more than meets the eye.

First of all....I learned that our marriage is not unique:  if  you reach the milestone of the silver anniversary (25 years) you learn that love is not passion, but rather, love is respect - love is unconditional - love is acceptance.  If you anticipate the fireworks each week, then you have unrealistic expectations.

However....I also learned that love is work.  Love is a willingness to go beyond yourself and put the other one first.  Love is acceptance, with a desire (and expectation) for fireworks every once in while.

Would I choose to purchase this film on DVD to watch over and over again - NO.  Once was enough.  Do I regret having seen the film?  NO --- the underlying message is worthy of our attention (especially for the over 50 year age group) and the message can help guide conversation to make the next 50 years more special than the last.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Random Thoughts/Rants

As I just logged on I realized that I have not posted to this blog since April 16 --- nearly four months ago!  It is not that I have not thought about posting, or thought about my blogging friends, but I have had a very difficult time sorting through all my thoughts on this subject.  So here is my public summary of all those voices that have uttered their opinions in my head.

I love writing!!  I came to that knowledge late in life through the amazing teaching of Tilly Warnock and the Breadloaf School of English.  For over 16 months now I have participated in the 750words community - writing my three pages of stream-of-consciousness as Julia Cameron advocates in her famous book, The Artist's Way.  This has definitely become a habit and I almost need to do this on a daily basis as much as I need to breathe or eat or sleep.  I have continued to hone this craft of writing by journaling my daily devotions and daily prayers. Through this exercise I have learned that I think through writing - I process life through writing - I learn to live a better life through writing.  What I write may not be of interest to anyone else but me - but that is enough.

I have just finished an online writing class from the spectacular author/instructor, Patti Digh.  Some of you may remember my series of summer writing prompts that I provided from her book, Life is a Verb.  She offered a writing class for teachers this summer - and what a wonderful class this was.  Not only did I learn a lot about myself - and my need to write - but I learned that I am not alone.  There are several of us that bonded over these internet waves and we hope to continue this bond throughout the school year.

I like writing for an audience.  Yes, it is true.  As introverted as I may be, there is something that excites me when I think others may read what I write.  It makes me better - it causes me to be more reflected and more intentional.  I need to blog because I think blogging helps to make me a better Molly

BUT....blogging has all kinds of responsibilities attached to it.  I LOVE to visit your blogs - to learn what is going on in your life - to share in your joys and sorrows. takes so much time.  One of the primary reasons I quit blogging was because I was spending nearly two hours every day reading other blogs and posting comments - because I wanted you to know that I cared.  And I do...but I just don't have fourteen spare hours in a week to devote to this "hobby".

BUT...I dealt with this conflict by running - and as I am learning in life - running away is never the solution.  I could not afford the time I was spending - so I opted to spend no time.  No time reading blogs (or books, for that matter)....and no time writing on my own blog.  And I have missed it

And then there is the issue of the blog name:  My Cozy Book Nook.  I began this blog because I was afraid that I would run out of personal topics, but I figured I would never run out of books.  SO...why not start a book blog?  The problem?!  I have discovered that reading is but one of my passions in life --- a very big passion, mind you, but not a sole passion.  And I have created this arbitrary boundary that My Cozy Book Nook should only be about books - and not about me.  HOGWASH I many of you have tried to tell me in the past - this is my blog and I can do what I want.  And while I still love my nook - and I do have a lot of books in this nook - I also have a lot of other hobbies that I pursue in this private space:  photography and writing and scrapbooking and card making and just general thinking.

I have spent the past year taking several online classes - mostly centered around writing and photography, but too many to name at the moment.  Suffice it to say I have discovered that I have a true PASSION for writing.  I excel in these classes - not excel in terms of talent, but excel in terms of participation and relating to others and creating bonds that will last.  I have an interest in photography - but it is only that, an interest.  I am not passionate about it.  But here's the thing:  THAT IS OK.  My photography can enhance my writing --- my writing will always take center stage.

And while I may not write fiction (to me, fiction = creative) --- My writing is me.  It is what I need to do in order to fulfill my purpose.  And I am ready to finally live my own life - not the one that I think I should live - or I think others want me to live - or I think my parents would want me to live.  But rather - I am ready to lead the life that I feel God is calling to me live.

I anticipate that I will lose subscribers to my blog.  And while there was a time in my life when that was important, I must admit that now I have learned that this type of comparison is counter-productive to me.  I love you all - I want to be in contact with you all - but I first must be in contact with me.  Does that make sense?

So, My Cozy Book Nook is now back in business.  Not in the business of regular book reviews.  And not in the business of gaining followers - but rather, in the business of being authentic.  Because that is what God is calling me to do.
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