Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Some virtual cookies for you:'s your present (if your name is Lauren, that is):

Have a wonderful Christmas. As you open your gifts and eat your cookies and laugh with your family, remember the baby in the manger, the one who came to earth to save us, the reason we celebrate this day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas business

I know I just posted something, but I'm wondering if posting two things in one day (in one HOUR, actually) makes up for all the days and weeks of not posting. But I have a good reason for being away from this blog. Actually, two good reasons. Christmas preparations and craftiness. Oh, and hanging out with my family. (Though they probably wouldn't call mama sitting at her sewing machine and craft counter family time--so picky, aren't they?) But just look at what I've been up to:

Nobody collected money to buy Jared's teachers a gift, so I pulled out some extra coffee sleeves I had made and added gift cards to one of my favorite coffee shops.
Here's one opened up:

I know some people think gift cards are impersonal, but really--I think they're the best gift--especially for teachers. Aside from homemade goodies, that is. Because what else do you get a teacher? A mug? A Christmas ornament? How many of those things does a body really need?
Anyway, I wish I could show you more pictures, but they're gifts! (big sigh) Soon. Coming soon. One more week!

Luke 2:15-19 (KJV)
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Rest In Tattered Peace

I remember the day we met. It was crowded in that store, and I was deeply focused. I knew what I wanted; I was tenacious; I was prepared to do some serious business. At first glance, I missed you. You were shy then, hiding behind your big sister, and she's the one I picked up and took into that room. I tried her on. She was TOO BIG. Gleeful, I tossed her aside and pranced out (re-clad for modesty's sake) to find something smaller. That's when I met you. Do you remember?
You fit me like a glove. I hugged you tight and bought you. (I'm talking about a pair of jeans, here, people. That's all: a pair of jeans.)
For three years we were together, and I wore you to so many momentous moments. Shopping trips frenzied enough to bring chaos to a peaceful world. Birthday parties. Dance parties. The glorious, long-anticipated dress-down Fridays at school.
And remember that one day? The day Ilona told you my $#@ looked nice in you? Yeah. I remember that too. Probably why I wore you so often because she was RIGHT. I did look good.
Alas, I knew the end was at hand. The signs were all there: the worn spot high on my left thigh where the pocket lining was beginning to wear through. The long tangled frayed hem that tickled the tops of my bare feet and dragged behind me. The thin thin knees. I shouldn't have worn you so much; I shouldn't have loved you so much.
And then last night the inevitable happened. I don't know why I was so careless, but as I bent my knee and leaned down into my seat on the couch, I felt the split. I felt you tear at the knee, and that's when I knew you had given up the ghost.
For in the world of Kirstin's propriety, a 34 and a half year old woman is too old for torn jeans. At least this 34.5 year old woman is.
So it is with great sadness that I lay you, my favorite pair of jeans, aside. I will wear you no longer. And if I can bypass my hesitance to desecrate your substance, I may cut you apart and use the pieces for craft projects. Is that heartless of me? Or is it what you would have wanted?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Forget Robeez

When Jared was born, I thought Robeez shoes were the BOMB. But now, I'm not so sure I'd get those suckers. Check these out! So cute. She makes adult slippers too.

Click here to view the shop. It almost makes me want to have another baby...

Reading History

The other day, I was chatting with a couple students after class about good books, and I may have let something embarrassing slip. I could tell by the shocked O I saw each mouth make, one shadowed by hints of a struggling dark mustache, the other as smooth as a ten year old's. I should have stopped right then and walked away, clutching my teacherly dignity tight around my shoulders, but I blundered on. By now, you're probably wondering what I said. I certainly would be. Here it is, preceded by a discreet but impressive drumroll: I told them they should never read their history books if they want to learn history. There. That's it. Horrible of me, isn't it?
And technically, I guess I shouldn't have said that, especially as a nominal member of the history department at my high school (I teach one class each trimester). And I suppose I should show some support for the curriculum I teach. And I suppose they may take my words too far to heart and begin refusing to read their assignments.
But if they pause to consider the intent of my startling announcement, they will know what I meant. And it is this: history, when read only in a textbook, IS dry and boring and will make even someone who loves the subject begin to weep in abject misery. (Maybe a little too harsh, still.)
Okay, here's what I really wanted them to discern: history can be positively FUN to learn if discovered in other ways. How about that? I don't think my department chair would eviscerate me for saying that.
Case in point: the book Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. I was drawn to the book for a)its cover and b)a recommendation from Sarah. Together, these resulted in a sale (and it didn't hurt that the hardcover had been discounted to FIVE NINTETY-NINE!). Just look at this! Wouldn't you want to buy it, too?

If you love art or history--or just a good story--you should read this book. It's also a great read for those who love FOOD. Yes, ladies, I said the magic word. It didn't create a craving for French food quite like Chocolat did, but it came a close second. Susan Vreeland uses a wealth of research and period detail to recreate Paris in 1880, when Impressionism was at its height and the modern world was beginning to make its presence known with things like factories along the Seine and a precursor to the Harley called a steam cycle.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir loves to paint because he falls in love with what he paints. Usually, this is women, and he has loved many. As I read the book, I found myself rooting for Alphonsine, a widow of the Franco-Prussian War, who lives and works at Maison Fournaise, which her father owns. It is a restaurant along the Seine, just outside Paris, a place where Parisians come to relax and celebrate the weekends.
Together, Alphonsine and Auguste envision the idea of a painting of the terrace of her family's restaurant with a view of the river. It is Auguste who decides to make it so large, to include so many models, to mix Impressionism and Realism. This is the result:

You can see Alphonsine in the back, leaning on the rail. When I study the painting, my eye is drawn to her. Maybe because I like her best. Alphonsine tells Auguste one day about Alexander, a Russian engineer, who designed repairs to the bridge you can see in the background of the painting. Alexander had a dream of building an iron tower, its framework just like a bridge, that stretched into the sky. Sadly, he died before his dreams could be realized. Do you know what that tower was? Think about it. Yeah, you're right. Good job.
And another thing I loved about this book--which I had never stopped to consider, was how brim-full Paris was of artistic life in the 1880s. After I read the novel, I pulled down my massive HISTORY OF ART picture book, and almost all the artists of the Impressionist period in my picture book had made guest appearances in the novel. How cool is that, to think that while the characters were wandering the streets of Paris, they brushed shoulders with Degas, Sisley, Cezanne (well, talked about him), and of course, Renoir. The novel also is peopled with writers and musicians of the time. Apparently, Paris was the place to BE. (Maybe I should re-set my time machine, eh? How fascinating would Medieval England be, compared to this. Plus, the food. I don't think I'd like suet pudding and eels much.)
The only thing I didn't like about the book--and I don't know how Vreeland could have avoided this--is the abundance of important characters. The book traces the stories of each of the figures in the painting, showing how they knew each other, how they were connected. And it's all pretty accurate, as I learned when reading the Author's Note. So anyway, I could keep the principals straight, but not the others. It took me at least half of the book to figure out who was who. I seriously considered writing the names of the characters above their figures in the painting...OH! Did I mention that the hardcover has four full color pages with seven of Renoir's paintings on them? Yeah, I know. Seriously cool. How many other books have I read about artists where I end up sitting in front of the computer looking up one painting after another? Right.
Well, I ended up figuring out who was who around page 213, and from there on out, it was all good. I read a few reviews that chide Susan Vreeland for getting too deep into her research and including too much of it in the novel. It was a little chewy at times, but I like that. After all, it's my favorite way to learn history.
So, I'm curious: which figure is your eye drawn to first? Tell me...and then read the book.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Learning New Words

I trust my husband to check movie reviews carefully before we let Lauren and Jonah watch a movie with him, and usually he does a great job. So, when we sat down with all three kids to watch Land of the Lost, I ignored the niggling sense of misgiving I felt as I seemed to recall hearing that this movie wasn't entirely family friendly.
Funny? Certainly. But it had its fair share of Will Ferrell crudeness. We all laughed, I'm not going to lie, but I felt a twinge of discomfort. I was reassured, though, thinking that most of the raunchy jokes passed far above Jared's head--and probably Jonah's too. I figured Jared was just interested in it for the dinosaurs. It didn't even cross my mind that he would pick up anything else.
Then a few hours later, he climbed onto the couch next to me and turned to face me seriously. "Mom," he said with a little furrow between his eyebrows, "we don't say 'What the hell?' do we?" What the ----?? How could he have picked up on that? But I swallowed my disbelief long enough to nod back just as seriously and remind him of the other words we do not say. Jared solemnly told me that we don't say stupid or fat or shut up or coconut-head (which is, of course, his favorite). Now he's added a new phrase.
Guess we're going to have to be a lot more serious in our censoring now. And really, we haven't let him watch anything he shouldn't. It just surprised me deeply that he figured out the phrase and--even more surprising--realized it was something he shouldn't say. What a kid.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This is what I want

Here is an interesting thing: I got into teaching because I love books. I love to read, love to talk about what I read, love to pick apart sentences and admire their vivisected beauty. I wasn't too sure, though, about whether I'd like kids. I had watched my fair share of movies and TV shows featuring a high school setting, and I was quite uncertain about my ability to quell a paper-throwing riot or stand firm when confronted by an angry young man 6 or more inches taller than me. And it wasn't just the threat of violence that concerned me. Even more, I was worried about the day to day--about how I would get along with them. What if they didn't like me? What if I was too stiff, too formal?
My nerves were a mess the week before I started teaching. On the first day of school, my legs were shaking so badly I had to lean against the desk, taking deep, calming breaths. And then I began. I began talking about who I am and what I had planned for the class. And that class of 26 sophomores lifted their faces to me like flowers. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging--but they absorbed my words like sunlight. They smiled and laughed and let me teach them.
And this is what I learned: I have stayed in teaching because I love my students.
But in seven years, something else has changed. I have discovered that while I still love to devour books, I am no longer so convinced that the way we teach English is the best way to kindle that hunger in our students.
There are so many other ways teens today can occupy themselves. Reading a book seems, by comparison, boring--something only nerds would do. To make matters worse, the classics we read in high school classrooms are often inaccessible, unexciting, and outdated. Should every high school graduate have read Twain, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and Milton? Maybe not. Isn't it more important to show students that reading is not merely for bored, boring nerds?
This is my proposal: to create a classroom atmosphere where books are treasures and reading is rewarding. First thing, I'd get rid of the desks and put in a large plush carpet and comfortable seats--beanbag chairs, a recliner or two, a sofa. I would need lots of bookshelves and more books too. Picture books, fiction and nonfiction--things that are relevant and interesting. I think fluorescent lights are hideous, so we would need lamps. And then, a class set of notebook computers with video cameras for streaming to other similar classrooms (if there are any).
Sometimes we would all read the same thing. Sometimes the students would form book clubs and read together. Sometimes we would all read individually. My role would be to direct and focus discussion and to suggest new topics or books.
After reading, we would write. Sometimes, we'd write about the books, sometimes about life, some fiction, some poetry, some nonfiction. And we'd talk about ways to publish our writings, on the web or in print.
Wouldn't that be better?