Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Teacherly Advice

A great thing about talking to another English teacher is the ideas we generate when we're together. I suppose other people talk about work when they meet up with someone in a similar field, and I wonder if other doctors, lawyers, engineers, artists, etc. talk about their jobs with as much enthusiasm as teachers do. At least the teachers I hang out with. Or maybe it's just me, and they're all humoring me.
Anyway, when I met E for coffee yesterday, we came up with some great brainstorms. I've been complaining loudly lately to anyone who will listen about the horrible cloud high stakes tests have created over my head--and the head of any teacher who likes to ENGAGE students' minds and interests, and not just "teach to the test." Complaining about how I don't want to just push multiple choice tests and worksheets at my students but get them to think creatively and write creatively and interact with literature instead of just spew content and analysis. But the MAN keeps saying we need to prepare students for the ACT and nothing else matters (we've even been told students don't need to care about what they write because they won't ever write after high school) (can that be true? I'm not naive enough to think all my students will WRITE all the time, but surely everyone writes, in some fashion, right?)
Enough ranting.
E gave me some great ideas I can't wait to try to get my students to produce meaningful, authentic writing--writing that has a purpose and an audience.
1) for my Creative Writing Club kids: have a writing marathon some Saturday, where we travel to 3-4 local spots, sit and write in each one for 30 minutes, then get together at the end to share what we've written. Pick one to polish and publish (local newspaper, maybe?)
2) do a collaborative project with my Creative Writing (class) students and her 7-8 grade writing students. Pair them up and have them write a poem together; I will try to visit her classroom and she will try to visit mine; we may try to get the students together to share at the end.
3) send my English 10 students out into the community to get corporate sponsors so we can raise money to publish a class anthology, for which each student will submit one piece of writing.

Are these not great ideas? I can't wait to put them into action.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Finding My Strength

Today I met a good friend for coffee, and amidst our talk about Christmas and kids and teacherly things, she told me something that really made me think.
She said she's been reading this book by Marcus Buckingham about finding your strengths. According to the book, so many of us focus on our weaknesses and try to work on them instead of focusing on our strengths and building them. Seems silly, right? But how many times have I looked in the mirror and seen the new red spot that will probably erupt into a pimple instead of my cute round cheeks? When I look at my hair, why do I see the gray hairs instead of the blondish--okay, mostly brown hairs? When I listen to myself sing, why do I focus on the missed notes intead of all the good ones?
And I know I do this when I grade students' papers: I write maybe one sentence or even just half a sentence about what the student did well on his or her paper, and then I spend the next four sentences dissecting his or her mistakes. Why do we do this?
My friend said the book claims that if we dwell on our strengths and praise ourselves for what we do well--and if we try to do MORE of those things we're good at, we'll be well--physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally.
So what are you good at? What am I good at? How can we improve ourselves by focusing on our strenghts. Good thoughts for New Year's Eve-Eve.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Sicko

So what's up with getting sick on Christmas day (head cold) and still not being over it? Today, I slept in until 9:13, letting Clint get up with Jared, and snuggled back under the cozy blankets until that decadent hour. And after lunch, when Jared went down for his nap, guess what I did? Yup, I took a nap too. And now, at 6:40, I'm feeling tired enough to go to bed already. How am I going to accomplish my list of good intentions for the Christmas holiday if I can't get enough energy to change out of my pajamas?
I have done a few things: I finished grading my Creative Writing students' papers; I baked a ton of cookies (on 12/24, the day before I got sick), I read a few books, and I've sat around. Oh, and I've probably posted more regularly to this blog than I have in the last 2 months. But other than that, nothing.
So my revised resolution for tomorrow: get up early, meet E for breakfast, and keep non-lounge clothes on all day. Sit up in chair (no slouching or reclining), get up and move around, and try to speak with normal voice. Sounds doable. We'll see how it turns out.

Oh, and that essay I mentioned a week or so ago? The one I submitted to Miranda Magazine? It's on their website. Follow the link and read it, if you want to.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Question of the day

What movie is this from?

"Everyone I know has a big but. What's your big but, Simone?"

Book Review: Beauty

You know how you can read a book once, set it down, and come back to it a few years later and enjoy it all over again? That's what this book is like. I find that most of the books I buy are books I will read multiple times, and there is a unique sort of pleasure to be found in a second, third, ninth read of a treasured book.

Beauty is the almost-sixteen year old daughter of the Duke of Westfaire, a man whose two favorite passions appear to be fathering children and visiting holy relics. Beauty's three closest friends are Father Raymond, the priest who teaches her Latin and the classics and who sees far too much for Beauty's comfort; Giles, her father's handsome man-at-arms, who is both honorable and socially inferior to her; and Beloved, her half-sister who could be her twin, who was born the same day as Beauty.

There is a mystery about Beauty, one her seven spinster aunts (who live at the castle) refuse to share with her, but Beauty knows it has something to do with her mother, who disappeared shortly after her birth.

When a woman comes to visit, a woman whom her father has pledged himself to marry, Beauty is ousted from her bedroom and takes refuge in the Dove Tower, which had been her mother's favorite room when she was still at Westfaire. There Beauty finds a letter left for her by her mother, a note revealing that her mother Elladine is Lady of Ylles, a land in Faery, and Beauty is therefore half-fairy. The note further says that an evil enchantment was laid on Beauty at her christening: that on her sixteenth birthday, the Duke's beautiful daughter would prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into an enchanted slumber.

(Is this story beginning to sound familiar?)

Beauty convinces Beloved to take her place for the birthday party so she can escape the fancy clothes and admiring eyes, and it is Beloved who falls prey to the curse. By the time Beauty realizes what has happened, all in the castle have fallen into an unwakable slumber, and a hedge of thorny roses has begun to climb about the castle. Beauty escapes and stands outside her home, weeping in dismay. There is but one spot of hope in her dim outlook: Giles had been sent away on a mission by Father Raymond after the priest observed the two young people exchanging a love-charged glance, so Giles has been spared from the enchantment.

As she wanders the countryside, blinded by tears, Beauty stumbles upon something completely foreign to her: a crew of time-travelling filmmakers from the twenty-first century, arrived in the fourteenth to record a bit of magic. They seize Beauty and take her back to their time, a world that is horrifying in its absence of magic and hope and beauty.

From there the story becomes a romp through space and time as Beauty tries to find her way back home and figure out her destiny. Along the way, stories of Cinderella, Snow White, and the Frog Prince get worked in, plus numerous visits to the land of Faery, which is peopled with a myriad of fantastical creatures.

Although the narrative becomes preachy at times, when Tepper rants about the fate of the world if modern people do not conserve resources, appreciate nature, stop deforestation, and allow abortion, there is enough magic and humor in the majority of the novel to give the sermons just a hint of bitterness that is quickly swallowed and forgotten.

In all, I highly recommend this book, especially if you like a mix of fantasy and humor, but please don't assume that I espouse all of Tepper's views.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Soul Sistah

Well, apparently, my youngest sister Gretchen has been feeling increased anti-sister angst since the post I made oh, what, like three months ago? More? about the wine/cheese/bread party with Ilona, and how she is my best friend. Really, I should have known better than to bare my deepest feelings like that. Turns out, I may think Ilona is MY best friend, but (alas) I am not hers. Where's the sisterhood in that?
And now Gretchen has been simmering with indignation that she does not hold the same place in my heart. Apparently, she thinks she should share the pedestal with Ilona (and I'm wondering if I should just shove both of them off--the pedestal, that is, not the mortal coil--and find a BFF who will reciprocate my devotion).
But since Gretchen has been bugging me now for too long to have her own ODE published on my blog, here it is.

Oh Gretchen
faithful gentle tweezer
of mine eyebrows
thou bastion of fashion and
movie watching panolply
THOU who hast bravely
applied dye to my headly follicles
in what is (unbeknownst to thee and me)
a vain effort at beautification
because not even the most discriminating of
critics can tell the difference between
Mocha Brown and our natural color
THOU who hast designs upon the industries
of theatre and music
who hast shared thine voice with
untold countless masses
with undiminished benificence
My thanks is heartily rendered for the
following acts of service:

FIRST: for quaffing the elixir of joy
with reckless abandon and infusing
the homestead with laughter
SECOND: for sneezing like a cat, almost always seven times
THIRD: for inspiring creative cooking from
the paternal units with thine foodish
FOURTH: for filling our lives with song
FIFTH: for acting as my surrogate child
when I was pubescent and beginning to feel
motherly inclinations
SIXTH: for nearly always happily agreeing
to play babysitter

For being a treasure and almost always happy
I thank you.
For music and kidwatching,
I thank you.
And if I decide to let Ilona keep her honored position
in my mental hierarchy, I promise to push her over
so you can climb aboard.

There: are you happy now?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

So I'm not a bah humbug sort of girl at all, not even close. I love Christmas, love spending time with family and eating good food. It's just that right now, all the kids are watching a movie, all the last minute cookie decorating has been done (Swedish Cremes and Hedgehog Truffles and Baked Pecan Truffles, in case you're curious), and most of the adults are working on a puzzle.
Of course, since I've started typing, the quiet has shattered and Sam has a poopy diaper and he doesn't want to get changed; the puzzle has been completed and the puzzlers dispersed; judging by the noise of children, I'm guessing the movie's finished; and Gretchen's playing piano and singing. Clint's standing next to the computer desk, tapping. I think he wants to get on the internet.
The presents have all been unwrapped and the paper cleaned up. It feels like Christmas is done. And here's my big admission: sometimes I feel like the holidays are not so fun. I like parts of the season. I like sitting in my living room in the evening with all the lights off except for those on the Christmas tree. I like singing "Silent Night" at the Christmas Eve service, especially the verse we usually sing a capella, when everyone is holding a candle and the lights are dim. I like--no I LOVE cookies and candy. I like watching my kids open presents.
But it's like the feeling you get when you spend a long, dedicated time in the kitchen making dinner, and you set the table beautifully, and then the meal is done in twenty minutes. I have spent maybe four to six weeks preparing for this one day, and now it's almost over. Is there some place where people spread gift giving out over a period of time? I'm not talking about in-law and step-family Christmas celebrations. I'm just saying (and maybe it's because Jared is two and a half and he's really INTO presents) that it felt a little frenzied, and the meal was good and all, but now it's over and all I am is tired.
Not a great way to end a post, but I'm too lethargic to think of anything else to say. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's Not Even New Year's

So much for good intentions, eh? I finished the novel in a whirlwind of typing, and as I look over my (now, I realize, WAY too optimistic) list of plans for the rest of my days in 2008, I see I've done...hmm...a lot of reading. That was on there somewhere, right?
And get ready for Christmas. I can check that off. As of today, shopping is almost done. Two more little things to put in a couple stockings. Oh, and a birthday present for my mom. Whose birthday is tomorrow. Any ideas? Hmm. Not a lot of time to come up with something great.
So here I am at 9pm, just finished a delicious bowl of TurtleFudgeBrownie ice cream, and I'm thinking about those good intentions.
I've got one notch on my belt though, something I'm proud of. I did submit an essay to an online magazine. Miranda Literary Magazine. And they accepted it! Woo-hoo. Thanks, Ronster.
So I'll send out a note when the issue hits the proverbial press, and you can check me out in online print. Ron, the editor, says they will be offering a new feature with this issue, print on demand, so if you'd like a paper copy, let me know and I can get one for you. No idea how much it'll cost.
Revised goal then, for Christmas break:
Send out 5 query letters
Finish grading Creative Writing stories (should probably put that first)
Do first major revision for latest novel

And goal for the rest of the winter:
10 more query letters
One contest submission
Submit novel to Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest

Keep me honest! Make sure I do it.