Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The First Book I've "Kindled" - Book #104 for 2009

The first book I've read on my Kindle is Sense and Sensibility.   I enjoyed the experience of using the Kindle.  I especially found it easier to get comfortable reading in bed with the device than with the actual book.   I think my only "complaint" about the Kindle was not having the ability to see how far I'd read or how much further I had til the end --- you do lose that piece of seeing the pages stack up on the "read" side of the book and diminish on the "to read' side.   My other "complaint" with the Kindle is the spottiness of the wireless coverage in my rural area.  I get only 1 bar at home.  I do go to the pool at our local Wellness Center 3-4 times a week, and the coverage there is better (3 bars) so that's probably where I will do most of my downloads.    Now I will go back to the usual reading experience to read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters which Elder Son bought me for Christmas!

Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I got Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters as a Christmas gift.  Because I don't think I ever read the original, or if I have, it's been so long that I don't remember it, I decided to read Sense and Sensibility first.  This is definitely not Jane Austen at her best.  Her characters all have potential, but it's unrealized potential.  None of them came across as being fully developed, and the whole novel felt too passive.  The "rightness" of the final marriages didn't ring true enough for me; I didn't feel the connection between Edward and Elinor was strong enough. And there was never enough interaction between Marianne and Colonel Brandon to make that connection feel right either.  I am looking forward to seeing how the novel plays out in its new incarnation!

View all my reviews >>

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Husband Hit a Home Run!

This is what my husband got me for Christmas!  A total surprise - which is hard to do!


I love it so far!

#103 for 2009

Play with Fire (Kate Shugak, Book 5) Play with Fire by Dana Stabenow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The fire-ravaged woods hold more than a bumper crop of morel mushrooms. Kate Shugak stumbles across the partially decomposed nude corpse of Dan Seabolt, a teacher who has been missing for more than a year.  He's the son of a charismatic fundamentalist preacher, and father of a 10 year old boy who has hired Kate to find his missing father.  Kate's investigation into Daniel's death uncovers larger issues:  Who controls local education? What's the role of organized religion? Where is the line between faith and fanaticism? 

I really like this series, and I especially enjoyed this entry.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

And a Very Merry Christmas to All

I'm taking a few minutes to post a book review, while Elder Son puts together his specialty potato broccoli soup to accompany our Christmas ham.  We've had a leisurely morning opening our stockings and gifts.  Younger Son wasn't able to be home with us this year, which was hard on me since it was the first time we weren't all together.  But he and his girlfriend put together terrific stockings for the 3 of us.  We had a great time opening them!  If I can find the camera, I'll grab a picture of the non-traditionally decorated stockings they bought to put all the loot in!  I have a flamingo on mine.

Edited to add photo:

  Later we'll enjoy the above-mentioned soup, ham, parslied potatoes, green beans, and a maple cream pie.  That last is a new recipe that sounded delicious, but after spending a long time stirring custard yesterday, I'm not sure that it will live up to its promise.  We'll see!!  

Great minds think alike.  I bought Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters for Elder Son.  He bought me the same book!  I also got him a new copy of Watership Down.  He wore out my original copy that my best friend gave me back when it was first published.

Here's the book review:

A Cold-Blooded Business (Kate Shugak, Book 4) A Cold-Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In this outing Kate Shugak is asked by the CEO of the Royal Petroleum Company to investigate dope dealing along the Alaska Pipeline.  Kate finds a surreal world of excess --- very hard work, harsh climate, luxury lodgings, gourmet food, and hedonistic recreation.  In the process of uncovering the dope dealers, she also uncovers a ring of archeological artifact smugglers.  I once again enjoyed the way the Dana Stabenow brings an unfamiliar to me setting alive. 

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And the Race is On!

It's the day before the day before Christmas, school is out, and it's time for the final sprint.   School is out, and now I have time to get some things done that should get done.  Last year we were still without electricity due to the ice storm, and I was freaking out about how I'd do Christmas dinner, etc.  But last year both my sons were coming home.  This year, our "baby" (28 years old) won't be home.  That's the first time for both of us!  I realized last night that it's bothering me a lot more than I expected.   I'm tearing up even as I write this!  I'm guessing that's why I'm not super anxious that a lot of stuff isn't done.  Of course that's not fair to Elder Son who WILL be here!  

So, on today's agenda:
  • grocery shopping, once I finalize the menus
  • gift-wrapping
  • looking for the tree skirt to go under the lighted, but decoration-less tree so we can put the wrapped gifts under the tree.
  • cookie baking or "Best Buttermilk Poundcake baking.  (What doesn't get baked today, gets baked tomorrow)
  • water aerobics at 5 pm - a MUST!
Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Fairly Typical Weekend

Saturday:  Out of bed rather late -- 7:30 ish.  Started a load of laundry,  did some basic bookkeeping chores, and had breakfast.  Organized a shopping list for husband, and delegated a couple of errands to him.  Off to nearest shopping area with a good friend at 10 am to do some holiday shopping.  (That's actually atypical.  Normally I'd be running multiple errands and/or working on some major monthly tasks like the business bookkeeping or billing.)  Home about 3 pm.  Elder Son called to inquire about weather as a major storm was heading up the coast, and he had weekend travel plans.  He decided to come to our home for Sat night and then leave for his ski trip from here on Sunday rather than chance being snowed in in southern New England.  Meanwhile:  washed the sheets and vacuumed his room; did another load of laundry, and some school work.  At 6 pm, Elder Son arrives and we took him out to dinner.  Home about 8 pm and we watched a Netflix disk.  Off to bed about 11.

Sunday:  Up at 7, showered, dressed, breakfasted, more laundry and basic housekeeping chores.  Off to church at 9:30 for 10 am service followed by an extra-long church council meeting.  Got home at 1:30 and cooked the main meal of the day.  Now the kitchen is cleaned and it's just 3 pm.    Choices for the rest of the weekend include:  more schoolwork, bookkeeping, present wrapping, some secretarial work for business, and I hope some TV, knitting and Netflix. 

And then the week begins again.. . . At least this week, we have 2 days of school and then break.  I can do it!
I can do it!  I can do it!

I've decided that the older I'm getting, the longer it takes for my battery to be recharged, and the faster it runs out of juice!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book Review #102 Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

I was disappointed in this book.  I never really connected with any of the characters.   If the book's organization was intended to link each character's story with one of Austen's novels, it didn't succeed.  It wasn't an awful book, but it wasn't particularly engaging or thoughtful.  I did find the chronological reviews of Austen's work at the end of the novel fascinating.  To see how  opinions of her work have evolved and changed over the years since their original publication was fascinating!

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Christmas Traditions - Friday Five

The Friday Five at  RevGalBlogPals is all about Christmas traditons"
So for this Friday Five, tell us five things about the traditions in your family. Think of

  • traditions you always do
  • traditions you always cook or eat
  • traditions you would like to start
  • traditions you would like to discard
  • anything about your family Christmases

My Christmas traditions are in transition now as my children are now adults, and for the first time ever, the Younger Son will not be home for Christmas.  Over the past few years our traditions have evolved as our sons left home for college, graduated, and started independent lives in other states.  But for many years our family traditions were pretty much what I grew up with.  (My husband is Jewish, so all the traditions were mine!)

In MY growing up home, we put the tree up about a week before Christmas, but we always kept it up til Ephiphany.  This was important to my Cuban father whose tradition was gift-giving on Jan 6th when Los Tres Reyes arrived.     I carried on this tradition in my own home although my tree goes up earlier each year.  This year the tree has been up most of the month, but it has only lights on it still ----  I've decided I love the lights more than the hassle of unpacking all the ornaments!!

For most of my growing up years we lived away from other family members, so we'd get huge boxes of presents mailed to us.  Mom wouldn't open the boxes til Christmas Eve. We looked forward to the grand opening of the mailing boxes and loved the pile of wrapped presents that grew under the tree. Despite my mom always warning us it was "going to be a slim Christmas", that never seemed to happen.  Of course with 5 children, and generous parents and relatives, that was quite a huge pile of gifts!   I broke this tradition with my own family  --- as soon as the boxes arrived, we'd unpack them.  I've always enjoyed the anticipation as much as the actual unwrapping, and I like seeing gifts piled around a tree!

Santa brought stockings and wonderful toys to us.  We'd hang our stockings on the fireplace or stair railing, depending on the house we lived in, and sometime during the night, Santa would fill them and put them at the foot of our beds.  We were allowed to wake up as early as we wanted to and open our stockings BUT we had to stay in our rooms/beds!  Nobody was allowed downstairs until Mami and Papi were up and dressed, and then we had to line up from youngest to oldest before heading downstairs. I think my folks were brilliant --- we had the surreptitousness of opening stockings by the light of the electric candles in our window, to hold us over until about 7 am!  I was the oldest though, so I was always last to see what Santa had left under the tree.  Santa's gifts were never wrapped, and most things were removed from their packaging. My parents were smart about that too, I think.  Trying to wrap things like dollhouses and ice skates and tricycles would have been difficult!   This was one tradition I definitely kept!

A twist on the stockings that emerged when my sons were in high school was that they started to fill stockings for husband and me.  I really looked forward to that.  I think that might not happen this year, since the 2 boys would go out shopping together to put the stockings together.

Food that has to be part of Christmas now includes:
Swedish meatballs on Christmas Eve  (from  my childhood)
Farm Journal's "Best Buttermilk Poundcake" on Christmas morning  (from my teenage years on)
Mrs. Greenhill's Shortbread cookies (for most of my childhood)
Crissy's Butter Cookies (since #2 son was about 5)
Ginger Crinkles (for most of my adult life)
Cranberry Almond Biscotti (relative new comer to tradition -- only about 5 years so far)

My kids never really liked Swedish meatballs, but one year, in what I thought was deference to their tastes, I made something else for Christmas Eve.  They were so upset!!!

A tradition that has been lost, that I dearly miss, was having a huge family gathering on Christmas Eve.  Mom would serve a buffet featuring the Swedish meatballs, we'd all sit in the living room and talk and sing Christmas carols,  budding musicians would play a carol on the instrument being learned, a child would read the Nativity story from the Bible, and last of all, Mom would gather us around her and read "The Night Before Christmas".  We'd hang our stockings and head for bed, and listen to the grownups below laughing and talking, and much later, we'd hear the rustling of what I was sure was Santa, but was really the adults setting out all the "loot".  With my own family, we never had the large family gathering since we lived 1000 miles away, but I did read the poem to my kids from the book my mom read from.

This year will be very different I think ---- we'll see!  I have been discarding some traditions, partly through attrition, and partly through change of circumstance.  I've already asked First Son if he'd be upset if I made something other than the meatballs. . . ..

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Book Review #101

Once in Every Life Once in Every Life by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
 Despite the fantastical premise of the book, once the core story started, I couldn't put it down. And this was in spite of the fact that this novel is actually from the romance genre that I generally avoid.

Tess is a lonely microbiologist.  She became deaf at age 7 from a bout with spinal meningitis, and spent her life being shunted from foster home to foster home.  On her way home from work one evening, she's hit by a bus, and dies.  During the death experience she's given a 2nd chance at life, this time as the estranged wife of a Civil War vet suffering from post-traumatic shock syndrome.  Because it's a romance, it has a satisfying happy ending.  In the author's note at the end, the author says the story was inspired by a real-life incident in her family's history.  I have to admit, that I didn't like the title.  I think Second Chance would be a better one.

I like Kristin Hannah's books, but have only read her contemporary fiction.  This is apparently from her early days as a romance writer. 

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Friday, December 11, 2009

A Few Random Thoughts

1.  A year ago we were just beginning our 13 days of no electricity.  It's been the topic of conversation all week, especially among my 6th graders.  I suspect that when they are my age, they will be regaling their children/grandchildren with stories of the the 2008 ICE STORM.    One of the good things to have come out of that experience has been the deepened appreciation of all the things I used to take for granted:  Christmas lights, our washer and dryer, lights at the turn of a switch, to name some of the biggies. 

2. This was a relatively calm week at school despite a snow day.  Today we had a blast in one of my science classes.  The kids finished their work early and we still had just under 1/2 hr left. I really couldn't stand the thought of giving them the paper and pencil assessment I'd planned, because I just couldn't add one more thing to my pile of papers to be graded.  They also needed to get up and move.  So I "improvised" and adapted a colleague's activity.   We've been talking about ecological succession, and I wanted to be sure the kids understood the difference between primary succession, secondary succession, and climax communities.  I told them to divide themselves into teams of 2,3, or 4.  Each team had to create a song or rap that defined/explained ecah concept and present it to the class.  They had 20 minutes to create and practice, and we took the final 10 minutes of class for their performances.  They had so much fun!  Most of the teams created a rap-type song, and one enterprising duet combined rap and "opera" for their presentation.  It was clear from their attempts that they understood the concepts and we all laughed a lot while they performed.  I have to keep remembering to address these other learning styles and offer them more opportunities to show what they know in ways other than paper and pencil.

3. I thought I was behind on my reading for this year, but as I was looking back over last year's book lists, I'm just about even with my pace.  That surprised me.

4.  My plans for this weekend include finishing my out of town shopping, going to the town craft fair, going to church, getting a few Christmas cards done, and relaxing.  I wonder what I'll actually accomplish!



Wednesday, December 9, 2009


So just what do I do on a snow day 2 weeks before Christmas? I get up very early, my usual time in fact, and spend the better part of the day baking. Since my husband runs the bus company that provides the transportation for all of our students, he's up by 4 on mornings that are potential snow days. He turns on the outside lights to check the weather, turns on the TV to check the forecast, and then waits until the superintendent calls, usually about 5 am. Meanwhile, my alarm goes off at 4:45. I stay in bed, hoping that what the decision is, it's made early enough that I don't HAVE to get out of bed and start getting ready. Sometimes, depending on the storm's timing, the decision to call off school doesn't come until I'm up, showered, dressed, and making lunch. Today, the decision was made at 5:05, but I was awake, thinking about what I could be doing. And the phone calls start: all of the drivers have to be called, we get phone calls from people who for some reason, aren't on the automated call system the district has in place to notify teachers and parents of snow days, and then my husband and his assistant make numerous calls. So it's pretty hard to go back to sleep. Today, I got out of bed and decided that I would do this:

Don't look too closely at the oven floor - I need to run the self-cleaning cycle one of these days!

Those are my Ginger Crinkles, only one tray didn't crinkle! They taste great, however, probably my #2 favorite cookie.

And I also made these:

These are Cranberry Almond biscotti -- a relatively new Christmas favorite.

Then I made Younger Son's favorite cookies - his aunt's butter cookies. I really dislike making rolled cookies, but for him . . . .even though he won't be home, they will be sent to him.

I also made the dough for "Mrs. Greenhill's Shortbread" which is my favorite cookie. This recipe came from my brother's 2nd grade teacher, way back in the late 1960's, and they've graced the table every Christmas. I like them because they're not too sweet, and I can make the dough way ahead of time and keep it in the fridge or freezer until I have time to bake them.

And of course, now my kitchen looks like this:

From cookies

From cookies

I also put the lights on our Christmas tree!
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Sunday, December 6, 2009


The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, #3) The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this wild chase through Washington, DC. A great escape from the stresses of job and holiday hoopla. I especially enjoyed the very short chapters which suited the fact that I just have bits of time to read, no long periods of sustained reading available. Of all Dan Brown's books, I enjoyed Angels and Demons the most, however. This is not great literature, but it's a fun read, and it poses some interesting questions.

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A New Day, A New Frame of Mind

I feel much more relaxed today, despite the still-too-long list of To-Dos.
The play last night was terrific. We saw "Peter Pan" performed by Theater at the Mount, a community theater located at Mt. Wachusett Community College in Gardner, MA. We have season tickets with our friends and there are 5-6 plays per season. This one was a lot of fun, and brought back really good childhood memories -- of my sister "crowing" and Mary Martin flying, etc. My middle school also performed it a couple of weeks ago - this time the Disneyfied version, and they did a nice job too.

I am skipping church today --- I really need the time to get some things done, but I've been having my own Advent preparation. I spent some time with the lectionary, and I've been listening to John Rutter's "Music for Christmas". I got my creche put up too.

Now it's time for some work: science planning, new seating charts, and some language arts prep. Nevermind the piles of papers to grade. That's not going to get done today.

And it's really pretty outside. We got about 2 inches of snow yesterday/last evening. It looks like December, and the sun is shining brilliantly.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's Just One of Those Days . . . .

I am feeling super stressed today. I have a list of things to do that seems endless, and so far everything I've worked on has either taken longer than it should have or I've run into a complication that made usually simple tasks difficult.

On my to-do list:
Monthly billing
Business check book reconciliation
Education association bookkeeping
Put up the window candles and set all the timers (the 2nd part's the worst)
Buy tree and put up (not decorate, yet!)
Plan this week's science and reading/language arts
Finish Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol
Bring creche down and set it up
Go to church
Go with friends to see play at theater for which we have tickets. Dinner first!
Laundry (It's in progress)
Christmas shopping via online
Wrap already bought gifts
Watch Firefly Netflix disc

It's snowing too.

I just realized that I totally spaced the church Christmas fair! I was supposed to bake something for it, and not only did I forget that, I didn't even go to the fair! The first time in 30 plus years that I didn't buy my door wreath at the church fair. Now I don't have one.

I know that some of the stress is from work -- some big changes on the horizon that are scary, even though most of them are probably needed changes. I'm also disappointed that the best Younger Son I've got won't be home for Christmas.

Well, it's almost 3 pm and I haven't gotten much done on the list, but at least the billing and tree are accomplished. Now that I've had a break, I guess I'll tackle some school work before I think about what I'm changing into for dinner out and the play. I don't think my pjs will work!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Annoyed with Myself

I am annoyed and frustrated with myself right now. I started a new knitting project over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Winding Road Henley from Creative Knitting. I cast on 123 stitches and went to work. I've knitted about 4 inches of the pattern, and last night went to double check my stitch count. I have 157 stitches on my needles. I counted it 4 times, and each time it came out to 157 stitches. My pattern is perfect, so it's not that I added extra stitches during the yarn overs, or that I skipped a decrease. I just have 34 extra stitches on my needles. ARGHHHHH!!!!

So tonight I will be visiting the frog pond.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Book 99 for 2009

I'm falling behind in my reading for this year! I was on track for 150 in mid summer but my pace as slowed down. Oh well. Here's #99

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wish there were a ratings comment like this: Compelling but disturbing read. Or, perhaps: Well worth reading, but I can't say I liked it.
Either one of these is how I'd rate this one.

Mikael Blomkvist is the publisher and leading journalist of Millenium magazine, and he has just been convicted of libel. Henrik Vanger has hired him ostensibly to write a biography of the Vanger family, but in reality, wants him to solve the 40 mystery of his niece Harriet's disappearance. Blomkvist and the very odd, very talented researcher Lisabeth Salander team up to investigate Harriet Vanger's disappearance. Along the way they discover family secrets, industrial espionage, and unspeakable violence against women. I couldn't put this one down, but I'm not sure I will read next one.

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A Pretty Thing


This is indeed a "Pretty Thing." It's a pattern by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka The Yarn Harlot. I knit it from Jade Sapphire Cashmere. The color is called scarab. It's a deep teal green, though the picture looks grayer than it is in reality. It is going to be a gift, but I really want to keep it myself! I've never knit with cashmere before and I loved the experience. It's so soft. I did have a few issues with the yarn breaking but I survived the trauma. It was not hard to knit, once I got appropriate needles. I started on double points because all my circulars are longer than 16 inches. I hated the fiddliness of the dpns. One night while I was just dozing off to sleep, I came suddenly awake with the "duh" experience. Use 2 circular needles! That worked fine but I did end up breaking down and purchasing a WEBS interchangeable needle tip set and cables as a way to "try them out" before deciding I want the whole set!
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another Friday Five - On Saturday

From RevGalBlog Pals:

The Cure

Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.

--Ginger Andrews (from Hurricane Sisters)

So this Friday before Thanksgiving, think about Aunt Bert and how she'll celebrate Thanksgiving! And how about YOU?

1. What is your cure for the "mulleygrubs"?

It used to be to go out shopping for something I didn't really need, but that I really wanted - kind of "I deserve this" mentality. Nowadays, I tend more to call a friend, or to cozy up on the sofa with my knitting and a Netflix movie.

2. Where will you be for Thanksgiving? We're going to my youngest sister's home to celebrate with her family. They used to live about an hour from us, and we shared Thanksgivings with each other. They've moved further away, so now it's a 5-6 hour drive. We both miss the huge family celebrations of our childhood - our family of 7, my aunt and uncle and their 2 children, another aunt and uncle and their 2 children, and very early on, my grandmother. As the years went on cousins married and added their families. I think our largest celebration had almost 30 people around the table. This year, one son is in Los Angeles, and the other is on his way to spend the holiday with friends in England. So there will be 6 of us around the table.

3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family?

Turkey with stuffing (inside the bird, and outside the bird), mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, squash, turnip, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and mince pie. All of these except the green bean casserole are "our" traditional foods. The green bean casserole is traditional in my brother-in-law's family. This is a somewhat pared down list of the traditional clan foods which also included creamed onions, a tray of celery/carrot sticks, olives, sweet pickles, mixed nuts in the shell, tangerines, dates, grapes, figs, and pecan pie.

4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday?

I love it! I hate the growing trend of this holiday being overshadowed by Christmas advertising and hoopla. It's being lost. I think I love it because it's such an inclusive holiday - no matter your faith, no matter your lack of faith, everyone has an opportunity to recognize the things they are grateful for. It also triggers strong childhood memories for me: Making an elaborate centerpiece when I was about 6 years old. A weird one, for sure, but I remember the effort I put into it -- a mirror that I laid flat on the table and surrounded with cotton balls. Then I made clothespin Pilgrims and had them ice skating on the pond. I don't have any idea what inspired this delight, but I remember the pride I took in it, and I can only imagine what my mom was thinking as I created this -- Pilgrims ice skating???

5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?

I am grateful for many things, big and small. My children are happy with their lives and are good men. My husband and I have jobs and are relatively healthy. We have what we need. The stars in a clear night sky. Coffee. My washer and dryer. My fleece robe and slippers. The chance to go visit one of my sisters and her family. . . .

BONUS: Describe Aunt Bert's Thanksgiving.

Aunt Bert, sitting at a card table in Uncle Frank's room. The table is covered with a lace tablecloth, and a huge 3 layer coconut cake sits in the center. Aunt Bert is slicing the cake. Her red dress is protected by a voluminous apron. They are smiling and talking with each other.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Relative Time

The concept of time is pretty weird. I just finished balancing my checkbook. I do it every month ... I thought I did it every month. I was shocked to discover that the last time I balanced it was in August, right before school started. And that was the July statement!! Where the heck did the time go?? Luckily we handle our money pretty well and haven't had any setbacks to give us nasty surprises. No checks bounced, and I actually had more money in the account than I thought I did. The last 3 months have flown by when I judge it by one set of standards. And yet when I look forward, it feels like it's a VERY long time to June. But I know that it's suddenly Thanksgiving, and tomorrow it will be Christmas. I guess it all depends on whether you're anxious for something to start, or something to end!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

. . . But on the Other Hand . . .

Today was the first day in almost 2 weeks that I finally felt pretty good -- not sick, not fighting being sick, not getting over being sick, but actually felt normal. I did NOT have H1N1. I did not have a normal garden-variety cold either. I started with 24 hours of a scratchy throat, then a day of what threatened to be a major sinus problem, then a day of bronchial coughing, then 12 hours of low fever, drippy nose and itchy eyes, then heavy sinus stuff, and so on. For most of the days I've had a very productive chesty cough, but no fever except for the 12 hours over a week ago. I did take one sick day, and I spent 2 weekends doing absolutely nothing. I spent last week coming directly home from school, napping, and going to bed early. Most nights I had no problem sleeping, and I only went through 2.5 boxes of tissues. So it's been a weird collection of symptoms. I did call the dr on my sick day, but was told it wasn't flu. So that was the good news for the day.

On the other hand, I had a really difficult day with one of my classes. There are 4 students in that one class who regularly act out, usually one at a time. Today all 4 of them were "off". None of the usual tricks of the trade were working - pulling aside, moving seats, time-out, change task, etc. On the bright side however, a number of the other kids in the class took it upon themselves to start exerting some positive peer pressure -- one of the popular kids (who's not always perfectly behaved, but who is just your normal 12 year old who occasionally makes a bad choice blurted out "Will you guys knock it off! Mrs. W is trying to teach us!"' Gotta love that kid!

Report cards went home today too. Most kids had decent grades, but a few received failing or close-to-failing grades. I know I will get some parent feedback, and unfortunately it's usually of the "It's your fault, not my child's fault" variety. On the other hand, I did get an email from a parent who said that until his child's grades improve, his child will not be allowed to play video games, and also asked if there was any way his child could stay after school occasionally to get some extra help.

I stayed late tonight too --- I needed to rearrange some furniture, clean my desk, and finish putting together a project the kids will start next week. On the other hand, we don't have school tomorrow in honor of Veterans' Day. I'm all set for Thursday and Friday, and have my planning done for Monday and Tuesday too.

So, tonight I will relax, watch some TV and get some knitting done. On the other hand . . . I could go to bed early and read late!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Friday Five: What's New -- On Saturday Morning

From Songbird at RevGalBlogPals:
There's a new baby on my street, a double PK whose Mom and Dad are Methodist pastors and church planters. I'm hoping to go over and meet her today. I love new babies, the way they smell and their sweet little fingers and toes. Little K has me thinking about all the new things that please us with their shiny freshness.

Please share with us five things you like *especially* when they are new.

In no particular order:
1. New notebooks and/or pads of paper There is something about a brand new notebook or pad of paper that calls to me. I can't wait to start writing. I wish I could say that I was inspired to create something terrific - like the next bestseller, or a beautiful poem, or even a thoughtful reflection. Usually it's something much more mundane, like a grocery list or to do list. Notebooks make me feel organized too.

2. New leaves on trees. The delicate green of new leaves fill me with a feeling of promise. The leaves stand out against the dark branches, and catch the spring sunlight. There is a brightness and glow that seems to emanate from them. As the summer moves on, the color deepens and flattens out.

3. New clothes I guess I love new clothes because I hang on to my old clothes for so long. I get so bored with the same outfits all season, that it just lifts my spirits to get something new, especially in the middle of a season.

4. A new book by a favorite author or a book in a new series that I will love. I love finding a new book series to read. I am currently in search of one -- I've read all the Claire Fergussons, I've read all China Bayles, I've read all the Aunt Dimitys and Maisie Dobbs'. Any suggestions?

5. Newly-mowed grass - What can I say, the fragrance of just-cut grass conjures up summer vacation back when I was a kid. The kind of summer that probably only exists in idyllic memory, and that I wish I could re-live.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Almost to My Goal: Book #96

Echoes Echoes by Maeve Binchy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoy Maeve Binchy's novels, and apparently this is a reissue of one of her very early ones. This story focuses on 3 characters: Angela O'Hara, a spinster teacher caring for her invalid mother; David Powers, the only son of the town's doctor and his unhappy wife; and Clare O'Brien, the intelligent, ambitious daughter of a shopkeeper. The lives of the 3 are closely intertwined, and we follow them through the 1950's and early 1960's. Clare rises "above her station" and wins a scholarship to secondary school, and again to university. David becomes a doctor. Angela finds happiness, after years of trouble and care. Binchy depicts the minutia of daily life in a very small Irish village brilliantly, and while at times, the story threatened to get bogged down in details, overall the details were what brought the characters to life. The ending is bittersweet, and I think came too quickly. After the years of build-up of the relationship between David and Clare, I felt that the denouement deserved the same amount of attention. I wasn't totally satisfied with the ending either, but it was realistic. I did really like this book.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Knitting Content

I finished this recently as a baby shower gift. It's made from Plymouth Encore which I purchased from WEBS from a Lion Brand pattern. It was a surprisingly easy knit, and it was fun to do.

From Knitting Gallery
I ended the month with a sore throat, achiness, and general fatigue. And I did something I haven't done since I had pneumonia a couple of years ago -- I spent the entire day in my pajamas! I just didn't have the energy to shower and dress, so I didn't. I curled up on the sofa and watched a bunch of DVR'd shows, and I slept a good part of the day. I got up a couple of times for juice, tea, soup, and a piece of Halloween candy, and then finally, got up about 7:30 pm to go to bed. I slept for a few hours, and then woke up about midnight not able to sleep anymore. I read this instead:

Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea by Nancy Atherton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was the only Aunt Dimity I hadn't read yet, and while I enjoyed it, it was least like any of the other books in the series. Lori and her twins have been sent to a castle on one of Scotland's Western Islands to keep them safe while Scotland Yard investigates death threats against Bill. Lori has nothing at all to do with the solving of this mystery. While on the island, a secret is uncovered, but only accidentally, and while her presence was the catalyst, she was not purposefully trying to uncover it. I have enjoyed all the books in the series, and I did like this one. The series is light-hearted, and perfect for reading when you don't want to have to work at it!

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It's still really early, and my throat is still sore, but I'm feeling better --- no achiness and some semblance of energy. I will have to skip church, a baby shower, and the Ecclesiastical Council for our in-care seminarian because I don't want to spread germs. But hopefully the energy will stick around long enough for me to get some work done ---- lesson-plans, unit plan, billing, and finish the art-work for the class I'm taking. At least the paper for that class is done.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Finished Something!

I crossed something off my list at last!!

The Lace Reader The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really liked this book, although I was confused at times. Part of the reason for my confusion was the fact that I had too many interruptions while reading it. The organization of the book didn't help. The story is told from multiple points of view which can be distracting under ordinary reading circumstances.

With all that being said, I did really like this book. Towner Whitney has returned to her hometown of Salem. She has a troubled past which includes hospitalization in a psychiatric ward, the mysterious death of her twin sister, and a highly dysfunctional family. Her mother is agoraphobic but she runs a shelter for abused women who make the famed Ipswich lace. Her aunt Eva has died and left Towner her home. Cal Boynton, another aunt's husband, is the leader of a fundamental cult that harasses the Salem witch community, and is a recognized abuser. Cal is accused of the possible murder of the missing woman he was living with. All of the Whitney women have the gift of "reading lace", but Towner refuses to accept this gift. This complicated story traces the events that follow Towner's return to Salem. I was totally unprepared for the surprise twist at the end that ties everything together in a very satisfying package. (This is not to say it's a happy ending kind of story, but it a satisfying end.)

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Unfinished Business

I seem surrounded by unfinished projects, chores, books, plans, etc. It's bothering me today.

The Biggies:
1. A 3-5 page paper for a writing class I decided to take for credit. I could have just taken the workshop, learned what I wanted to learn, and then apply what I wanted to apply in my classroom. But no, I decide to take it for credit. How hard can a short paper be? Well, when you haven't written one for almost 20 years, it's hard. Never mind that it's a "simple" paper: Construct an argument for a principal, curriculum coordinator, or concerned parent that supports the reason why this program is worthwhile. But before I can write this paper, I have 2 books to read, and I must find at least 3 quotations from the reading material that support my argument. Again, simple --after all it's basically what I ask my 6th graders to do in their reading journals. The other part of the credit is that I have to complete a short story inspired by some art work I completed during the class. That's just about done, but again, it's only "almost done."

2. Finish developing the science project inspired by the above-mentioned class. I need to find the supplies (watercolors, paper, brushes) for 43 students, decide on which of 3 project ideas I've come up with to follow through on, and figure out when to teach the art lessons that need to be taught before implementing the science unit.

Other projects that are less important, but hanging over me:

3. My Vintage Vest. I've done the back, and the left front. I've started the right front. I really want to finish this so I can wear it. I also am sick of knitting it!

4. The Lace Reader. I have been reading this book for almost 2 weeks in bits and pieces. I am enjoying it, but I just haven't had the time to sit for any length of time to have a good reading session.

5. A Wrinkle in Time. This is the book I'm reading during sustained silent reading at school. It's hard to read and supervise 20 kids who are supposed to be reading. This is a re-read for me; probably about the 5th time. I still can't figure out why upper elementary teachers are so eager to teach this book, and I especially can't figure out why so many special ed teachers think this a good book for struggling readers. It's a terrific novel, one of my favorites, but I would never use it in my reading classes. It's difficult material to understand! And I can't see how I could steer appropriate public school conversations around it. I WOULD use this book in a confirmation class setting, or in a Sunday school setting in a minute. And I read it once in graduate school as part of a "Teaching Students with Special Needs" class. We had to choose one of the characters and create an appropriate educational program for that character.

6. Genealogy research: This is not a project that really can be finished, but I wish I had a long period of uninterrupted time to work on this one.

7. Renovations: We still haven't found anybody to help us with the work of replastering ceilings and walls.

8. Laundry: Is it ever done?

9. This list --- these are just the items that are most bothering me this rainy morning!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book vs. Movie: And the Winner Is .......

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is one of the few books I've read where I can say I liked the movie better than the book. I'm trying to figure out why. The movie followed the book fairly accurately, only more so - that's the best way I can explain it. Certainly the movie expanded Julia's story. There were a number of added scenes which carried Julia's story further than was offered in the book. But even the author's experiences were more vivid, and more alive in the movie. At times I was tempted to skim or skip parts of the book, because I just wanted to get to the end, and parts of the book just felt too whiny and/self-indulgent. On the other hand, although those same episodes were portrayed in the movie, they were less annoying. And I have to admit, watching Meryl Streep as Julia was terrific!

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rainy Days, School Days, and Books

I had a perfectly lovely rainy Saturday. My house was relatively clean, my schoolwork was caught up, no major errands on the agenda, and I had the morning to myself. I chose to spend it quite lazily with extra coffee, knitting, and my Netflix disk of Dark Shadows episodes #126-135.

I've recently started watching this old soap which started in 1966. When it first started airing I was in 6th grade, living in what was then called Bridgewater Township, NJ, just finishing the year with one of the best teachers I ever had. (I wonder if that's why I teach 6th grade now!) Mr. Stroh was terrific, though when I found out I was assigned to his class, I was scared. He had a reputation for being mean. But once I got into his class, I discovered that while he was strict, he was very patient, very concerned that you do your best, and very supportive. I don't recall him ever raising his voice or "yelling" at a student. I think he got the reputation because, looking back, he was the first male teacher anyone was ever exposed to! Male teachers in elementary school were unusual; it wasn't until junior high or high school that we expected male teachers.

In my school 6th grade was still "elementary" school and we were taught in a self-contained classroom.(unlike how my district organizes things.) So Mr. Stroh was our teacher for everything. I have Mr. Stroh to thank for at least two things: he taught me how to write a response to an essay question, and he taught me how to solve word problems in math (or arithmetic, as we called it, back in the day!) I can remember agonizing over the "mixed nuts" word problems in the arithmetic book. If a pound of almonds costs $2.49 per lb. and walnuts cost $1.79 per lb, and you buy 1/2 lb of each, how much would you spend? I could never figure these out! They were almost as bad as the west traveling trains and the east traveling trains meeting in Chicago problems we encountered in algebra a few years later! I also remember how excited he got when we studied Mesopotamia. I think that's when I first got excited about ancient civilizations and social studies. It gives me food for thought as I wonder what my current students will take away from my classroom. I do know that sometimes it's not what we think we're teaching that they learn!

Earlier this week I finished this book, which I really enjoyed:

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am not a hiker nor am I someone who voluntarily chooses outdoor recreation. Bill Bryson's book about hiking the Appalachian Trail almost persuades me that I'd like to be! He doesn't sugarcoat the physical difficulties in undertaking such a hike. In fact he and his hiking companion actually only complete 870 miles of the trail due to the physical and mental hardship. I especially enjoyed the history and background information about the AT and the places it crosses. This is the second book I've read from this author. I really enjoy his conversational style, and his talent for description.

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I also finished (FINALLY), The Time Traveler's Wife.
The Time Traveler's Wife The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I wanted to really like this book, but in the end I have to say I was disappointed. I got bored about half-way through, and although I finished it, I never got the point of it. The ending just seemed to peter out, as if the author got tired of writing. I guess I just missed the boat on this one.

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We ended the day with an evening out with friends. We went to dinner and then to see a musical at a nearby community theater. While the restaurant was disappointing, the show was terrific and we always have a good time with our friends.

I had planned to go to church today but part of the disappointing restaurant experience seems to include an unsettled digestive system, so I think I have to forgo church. I do have some business bookkeeping to attend to, and I should work a bit on the paper that I need to write. So I think I'll just stay a bit close to home today.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book Review

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Deb 's  book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I think I am getting acclimated once again to the rhythm of the school day. The clock radio turns at 4:50 am and I am greeted by my local NPR station with the middle of an interview with an author from India, or a with a singer from Africa, or some other fascinating artist from some exotic place. I can't seem to get the alarm set so I can hear the whole of the interview, but that would probably mean having to set the alarm closer to 4:30 and I don't want to do that! My husband and I have a pretty set routine. I go brush my teeth in the downstairs bathroom while he shaves upstairs. Then I go start the coffee, make my lunch, and feed the bird while he showers. Then it's my turn in the shower, and by 5:30 he's half-way through his breakfast, and I'm sitting down at the computer screen with my first cup of coffee. He leaves for work about 5:40 and I read my email and various blogs, do a couple of quick chores, and then have my breakfast. I'm out the door headed toward school by 6:20 most days (though the past week, it's been more like 6:30). I have only a short drive so I'm usually in my classroom by 6:45 which gives me a good 40 minutes of prep except on bus duty days. Then it's nonstop teaching from 7:25 until 12:35. No breaks. I'm fortunate that the restroom is literally across the hall, so I can dart in there between classes. We have a nutty schedule that doesn't include passing time between classes. The kids are scheduled for hour long classes and the next class begins the same time the first one ends. In reality we give them about 3 minutes to make the transition, though this year's group is taking 5 minutes to walk diagonally across a 6 foot hall from one classroom to the next. We're working on transitions! Then it's my uninterrupted lunch for 30 minutes, and planning time. We're back with the kids for the tail end of the day, and then they leave the building at 2:12. I usually have a couple meetings after school every week, and on Mondays and Wed. I work in my classroom til 4:30. Then I head for the next town and the "wellness center" for 45 minutes of water aerobics. On most Tuesdays I leave school at 3:30 and go up to the pool for 30 minutes of laps. I get home on non pool days between 4:30-5 and on pool days anywhere from 5-6:30. Then it's dinner, dishes, chores, and finally I can sit down and relax about 8 pm. Then it's bed by 10 and the whole routine starts up again at 4:45 am.

So, I love days like today.(even after spending almost an hour and half last night creating my sub plans for today.) I am headed to a workshop (Alternative assessments for the state big ticket test) in the small city nearby. I have to be there at 9 am. That means that I got to sleep a little later, and I can actually find some time to blog. I even have a load of laundry going. The end of the day will still be long. Since it's a Wed. I'll meet my husband at 4:30 to head over to the pool for our water aerobics class, and it will be 7 before we sit down to dinner. But for a few short minutes, I can step out of my routine.

That's nice

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Work Interfers With Life!

I am too busy! Despite all my attempts to limit activities, it seems like my days get longer and longer. Of course I do stupid things like deciding to take 1 credit college course on a fantastic literacy program - Picturing Writing. I spent 15 hours in class from Friday night to Saturday night, and I now have some art work to finish, a short story to write,some books to read, and a 3-5 page paper to write. And of course, still find time to teach and plan lessons and grade papers. I had a district committee meeting Monday (the professional development committee of which I am co-chair), an hour long staff meeting today, open house tomorrow night from 6-7:30, sub plans to write for Thursday so I can do "all-staff professional development audits", and a teacher's association executive board meeting on Thursday. Guess who has trouble saying No!

In the midst of all of this, I just finished reading one of the best books I've read all year. Here is my review:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think this is the best book I've read this year! I couldn't put it down. Lisa See masterfully shares the story of Lily and Snow Flower, two "same olds" or laotongs who are contracted into a lifetime relationship when they are both seven. It's hard to understand this relationship in our context; you could say it's the ultimate in BFF relationships, but that belittles the reality of the relationship. Lily ultimately mourns the death of Snow Flower more than the death of her husband. The story is set in Hunan China in the 1800's and traces the life stories of both girls from Lily's perspective as a very elderly woman. The Confucian culture is portrayed in great detail as are many practices we consider barbaric --- footbinding in particular. Although these traditions repel us, Lisa See manages to put them in the context of the time. I've also read the author's book Shanghai Girls which also painted a detailed picture of a time and culture in a sympathetic, yet realistic way.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Book #85

One of my weekend Want-to's accomplished!

A Fatal Thaw (Kate Shugak, Book 2) A Fatal Thaw by Dana Stabenow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A Fatal Thaw is the 2nd book in the Kate Shugak series. On the first day of spring, in the middle of an Alaskan national park, a man goes on a killing spree, leaving 9 dead Park residents. But he's only responsible for 8 of the murders and it's up to Kate to figure out who killed the 9tn victim. Once again, Dana Stabenow masterfully evokes the Alaskan wilderness as well as the nature of the people who inhabit it.

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Midway Through

It's not much past mid-day and I think I have finally finished all the have-to's on the list I made yesterday. I didn't sleep very late (6:30 am) but it's an 1.75 hrs longer than during the school week. I spent the better part of the morning getting the business checkbook balanced, and I finished off the morning with grading papers and analyzing assessment data. I had wanted to make it to church but the timing was off. At the time I had to leave, I was on a roll, and knew that if I interrupted it, I'd lose too much ground. I've compensated by playing some sacred music and plan on heading out to the porch in a few minutes to ponder the lectionary for today.

I also hope to take some time later to pursue a new "addiction." I recently started researching my husband's genealogy. My family tree is well-researched on my maternal side, at least back to 1632 when the earliest members of her family arrived in the New World, and while I'd like to tackle my father's side, most of his records are in Cuba or Spain, not exactly accessible at the moment. My husband's family will be challenging. His father emigrated in 1920 from a Jewish town in what is now the Ukraine. In 1908, when his father was born, the town was in Austria. We have found the passenger manifest that lists his father, grandmother, and an aunt. We've also found at least 2 instances of his grandfather's trips across the Atlantic - once in 1900 and again in 1911. It's really fascinating and addicting. It's a bit like untangling a knotted skein of yarn. You find one end and follow it for a while, and then you get stuck and have to find another way through.

And of course, I want to get back to knitting my Vintage Vest which has been feeling lonely this past week or so. I've been too tired to knit when I've finally had some free time. While it's not a hard pattern, it is lace and I need a focused mind when I knit lace. So, after some quiet time on the porch, I will either research or knit. . . .

Saturday, September 5, 2009

2.7 %

Yesterday in homeroom as I was taking attendance, one of my enterprising 6th graders announced that at the end of the day we would have completed 2.7% of the school year. I guess he was feeling the pressure that comes from being faced with a long period of "enforced labor" too! We've just ended our first week of school. For the first time in just about everyone's memory we had a full 5 days of school for the first week. Traditionally we've started the Wednesday before Labor Day, so we started with a 3 day week, followed by a 4 day week, and finally getting into the swing of things by week 3. So this was a huge adjustment for kids and teachers, though I suspect parents loved it! So far, I really like my new 6th graders. I share 42-45 of them with another teacher. He does the math and social studies while I teach RLA and science. The number isn't certain because it keeps changing. We started with 45, and then several didn't show up because they moved. Then we got a couple of new students, and then a couple of students were withdrawn for home schooling. When we left school last night we had 43. I think. That's one of the things I have to figure out this weekend.

I was totally wiped last night when I got home from school. I threw together a skillet supper: sauted fresh summer squash, red peppers, onions, leftover asparagus, and leftover chicken, had a very refreshing cold adult beverage, and collapsed on the sofa. I woke up about an hour later, and went to bed! This morning I slept late (til 7:30!!). I'm glad we have a 3 day weekend, but I have a ton of work to do. One of the things I hate about the start of school is all the organizing of paperwork and data, and all the "administrative tasks" that have to be done, in addition to the teaching stuff. For example, on the first day of school kids are given a minimum of 9 forms each that have to go home, be filled out by parents, and returned to school. (And I know parents hate this as much as we do!) We teachers collect the forms, check off that each student has returned each form, separate each form into its separate pile, and then alphabetize each pile. We have to send all of these forms daily to the office in alpha order, along with the checkoff sheet, and keep track of who hasn't brought which form in. Then we ourselves receive innumerable forms and multiple page documents that we have to read and sign off on by the end of the first week of school. Our new faculty handbook was given to us on Thursday. It's a 61 page document that we had to read and sign off on by Friday. In addition, for the first 2 weeks of school all of us are required to be on bus duty at 7:15 until the start of homeroom, and again from 2:12 to 2:20, so that eats into the time we have available to get some of these things done. I found myself at my desk at 6:30 am and the earliest I left school this week was 4:45 pm. The kids are there from 7:15 to 2:20. My goal is to avoid quite so many long days as the year goes on. I would really like to be leaving the building by 3:30 at least 2 days a week!

So my plans this weekend include: (And these are all the HAVE-TOs)
Read and comment on 43 journal entries
Set up my final class rosters (we lost 5 students, and gained 3)
Read 10 IEPs and one 504 plan and note necessary modifications
Grade 43 sets of reading comprehension questions
Review data collected from 43 spelling assessments & 43 reading assessments
Set up a new plan book since the ones that were ordered for us don't work
with our master schedule
Plan for a week's worth of science and reading
Balance the business checkbook and enter the payroll for this week

The WANT TOs include:
Reorganize my closet
Go to church
Get together with a friend for a knitting session
Watch my Dark Shadows Netflix disk
Finish a book (A Fatal Thaw by Dana Stabenow)
Find a baby gift pattern to knit
Work on my husband's genealogy
Sleep late
Write a blog entry (which I can cross off my list!)
Obtain growth targets for my reading students from database

We'll see how much of this too-long list gets done. I'm off now to read the journal entries since that feels like the most daunting task right now. I've already done the billing for the business, so that will be two tasks done before lunch!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Book #82

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a very funny book. Although I am not into the zombie/vampire/werewolf culture, I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the zombie plague against the Regency world of Jane Austen. The novel is 95% Austen and 5% Seth Grahame-Smith. The Misses Bennett and Mr. Darcy are zombie-warriors trained to defend England against the zombie infestation. A zombie attack disrupts the Netherfields ball to everyone's dismay, and Lizzie uses some of her warrior skills as she reacts to Mr. Darcy's first proposal, much to both their chagrin. I think my enjoyment of the book was enhanced by the fact that I am familiar with it. In fact, the zombie episodes made me pay attention to Austen's words even more. I could see high school English teachers using this as another hook for reluctant Austen readers.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Book #80

Fatally Flaky (Goldy Bear Culinary Mystery, Book 15) Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It's been a while since I've read this series; this is the newest. I enjoyed a pleasant weekend visiting with Gold Schultz. In this installment, Goldy is catering the wedding of a bridezilla extraordinaire. Her godfather Jack (who I don't remember from any of the other books in the series)and his best friend are mixed up in something odd, and Goldy gets involved. Archie and Tom, and even Marla, are only peripherally involved in this adventure, which is too bad. I have to admit, that these books are not good to read when you're trying very hard to stick to diet. Diane Mott Davidson is VERY talented at describing delectable treats and can even make breakfast eggs sound yummy! I guess I'm going to have to try the flaky chocolate cookies that are prominently featured in the book!

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

In the Rear view Mirror

This is it. I report back to school later this week, and then the kids come in on Aug. 31st. It gets harder and harder for me to go back. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching. I just hate the way it saps my energy and eats up all my free time. Every year I try to come up with ways to carve out more of a personal life, and by the end of the first 3 weeks, all my resolutions are out the window. I especially hate the way I leave the house by 6:30 am and rarely get back til 6:30 pm. It's nonstop all day, and then I come home to fix dinner, do a few chores, deal with the mail and phone messages, and then get ready for the next day of teaching. By the time I have a chance to sit down it's 9 pm and I'm too pooped to do much more than turn on the TV and maybe, knit a few rows for a half hour or so. And then it starts all over. Saturday comes, and all the chores that didn't get done during the week have to get accomplished, I have the business bookkeeping to do, and errands. Sunday is usually church, sometimes til noon, and then an afternoon of grading papers, and getting ready for the week ahead. I feel like I step on one of those treadmills that keep going faster and faster, and you can't step off til June!

So, what is in the cards for this last weekend of freedom??? I made a trip to Staples this morning to pick up office supplies for the business, a few things for my classroom, and my free "teacher appreciation" goody bag. Staples always gives out a bag of items that most teachers find useful -- pencils, highlighters, tape, paper clips, etc. This year's goodies came in a grocery bag size reusable totebag. I went to a couple of stores button-shopping. Do you know that Walmart doesn't carry buttons anymore!! Neither did Target or my local Michael's. I finally found some buttons for the Twilight sweater, at Joanne's, and I made a stop at the bank to get some cash! My wallet has been empty of everything but pennies for the past week. While I can use my debit card for most of my purchases, I wanted cash for my hair cut, and for a few small purchases. I don't like using the debit card for something that costs $1.00!! I even treated myself to an iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts --with an added shot of expresso!! It's really sultry -- Hurricane Bill's effects are felt even 90 miles inland, and the humidity is making everything sticky. Thunderstorms are threatening. I hope to finish Diane Mott Davidson's Fatally Flaky today, and then work on my Vintage Vest. Tomorrow is church, and I hope that my husband is ready to get the billing done. I don't want to deal with that NEXT weekend!

So, to paraphrase a friend, I'm looking at summer vacation in the rear view mirror. I'm really sorry to be leaving it behind.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

And So the Adventure Begins!

Our new pastor started today! After 3 years, almost to the Sunday since our last settled pastor left, we have a new shepherd to journey with us. The Hebrew scripture for today was apt: 1 Kings 2:10-12 3: 3-14. Solomon has just become king of Israel and when God asks him what he wants, Solomon admits he really doesn't know how to be king and asks God for help.3:9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?" She did a terrific job in her sermon connecting the scripture to our circumstances. Our new pastor will need an understanding mind to guide us; we are exhausted with the many tasks that we've had to pick up, and we are also independent-minded (stubborn??). This is her first pastorate, so she has much to learn, as do we.

Our moderator is away on business for the next few weeks, so as Vice Moderator, I am one of the "Go-To" people involved in helping the pastor get oriented. She was introduced to her first Council meeting today. I commented to one person that from the outside, it doesn't seem hard to run the meeting, but when you have to be the one moderating, it's a challenge. (Especially for me, because I'm one of those folks who always has something to say and when you moderate a meeting, you have to LISTEN a lot more than talk!)

So we are all (pastor and congregation) excited and the good kind of nervous!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Books and More Nostalgia

Book #78 was
Nightshade (China Bayles Mysteries, #16) Nightshade by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Nightshade had a bit of a twist in it. McQuaid takes a role as the narrator in several chapters. What bothered me about it was that the tense changed; "McQuaid has a long list of things to do this morning, but first things first." "McQuaid wishes, just a little . . . "
The switch in tenses bugged me. Perhaps the reason for the switch was to emphasize that the chapter was being told from a different point of view, but since the chapters were also titled "McQuaid:________", I think it was an unnecessary annoyance.

With all that being said, I did enjoy this installment. China and McQuaid delve deep into her past, and we learn, finally, how China's father died. China comes to terms with her new knowledge about her family, and Ruby and Sheila mend their relationship.

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Book #79
A Cold Day for Murder (Kate Shugak, Book 1) A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I love starting a new series, especially one with lots of entries. Kate Shugak is a native Aleutian who has worked Outside as a hotshot D.A. investigator. She was nearly killed in an investigation and has returned to the Alaskan wilderness. Her former boss (and lover) has asked her to investigate the disappearance of a park ranger and another investigator which she reluctantly agrees to do.

This was a compelling read. Dana Stabenow made me feel the cold and wildness of the environment, and introduced me to a very different culture. Kate Shugak is a troubled, conflicted character also, and I look forward to getting to know her well!

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And for today's trip down memory lane:

I have been watching DARK SHADOWS on DVD. I was so hooked on this show back in the mid-60's. I'd rush home from school so I could watch the daily installment of vampires, ghosts, witches, time travel, etc. I had a crush on Barnabas, and on Quentin. My sister and I spent one Christmas vacation writing scripts that we thought the producers could use! So I found that Netflix has the entire series on DVD. I own 2 collections: The Beginning, Collections 1 & 2. These are episodes 1-70 of the series, pre-Barnabas. They are new to me; I didn't find out about the show until about episode 200. The acting is horrendous, the production even worse, but oh, how I am enjoying it!! I'm struck too by how much life has changed ---- smoking on TV, rotary phones, pay phones, clothing, hair styles. I realize that even in 1966, soap operas didn't portray "real life" but it does portray an culturally accepted reality. Anyway, I am hooked again, and have just queued up Episodes 71-209!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Radiance Cable Jacket

I love this jacket designed by Melissa Morgan-Oakes. It's a pattern from Valley Yarns that I bought at WEBS I used Valley Yarns Colrain, and it was an easy knit, although I had to buy a 40" needle to do the shawl color. It wasn't fun picking up 358 stitches!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hot Humid Blahs

Another hot and humid day is in the cards. When it's so soupy, it's hard to get motivated to clean the kitchen, vacuum the house, and washing floors makes no sense since they won't dry. I blocked my Radiance Cable sweater (foolishly) and now I'm afraid it will mold before it dries. (Pictures eventually). Before I forget, there's a nice little giveaway here

Just 2 weeks left before it's back to fast-track. Still to accomplish are most of my summer goals. I contacted someone about helping us renovate a couple of the rooms we need help with, but they haven't gotten back to me yet. So that won't be done before I go back. I have gotten some knitting done -- I finished 2 sweaters, and I started a long queued project - more on that later.

I had my physical yesterday -- no big changes other than unwelcome weight gain which I already knew about since my clothes don' fit! Everything else is fine, though. I'm trying to get a handle on diet and exercise again. In addition to my twice-a-week water aerobics (40 minutes of moderate to intense cardio), I've added 30 minutes of swimming-against-the-jets in the pool once or twice a week. I'm also measuring my food again --- and really watching the calories! I hope that I will eventually be rewarded!

Some wonderful news though! Our church has called a pastor who starts this Sunday! I haven't met her yet; I was in Greece when she preached and was voted on. (For those of you unfamiliar with the United Church of Christ, each individual church calls its own pastor) We have been 3 years without a settled pastor, and almost a year without ANY pastor. We are exhausted as you might well imagine! So if you are so inclined, pray for us!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Twilight Sweater Done

Well, except for finding the buttons! I'm really pleased with the way the sweater turned out. It took longer than expected because I kept making silly mistakes. Just as an example, I knitted sleeve #1, and when I finished I thought, wow this short! Then I realized that I had decreased every row instead of every OTHER row! So I frogged it and started again. Finished that and knit sleeve #2. So far so good. Started to sew the sleeves in. One sleeve went in perfectly. However, when I went to sew in the 2nd sleeve, it didn't fit the armhole. I had forgotten to switch to the larger needles after the garter edge. Doh!! These were not the only "silly" mistakes I made with this sweater. I did have a tough time with the placket. The directions were odd, and if I make this sweater again, I will do it using directions from another source. I don't like how the buttonholes are in the body of the sweater and not in the placket either. I've blocked the sweater and now all I have to do is find some buttons.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Blast from the Past : A Trip Down Memory Lane

In my last post I mentioned re-reading Mary Stewart's The Moonspinners. Of course I had to get the Disney movie of the same name from Netflix. The movie stars Hayley Mills, the Disney darling of the 60's, and Peter McEnery, another Disney regular. The movie shares a few ideas in common with the book: Nicky Ferris is visiting Crete with an older female relative. She meets a young attractive Englishman. She stays at a same inn. A jewelry theft is involved. Most of the character names are the same, but their relationships and the jist of the plots are vastly different. When I first saw the movie, I was 10 or 11. I adored Hayley Mills,(in the same manner as tweens today worship Myley Cyrus) and I had a crush on Peter McEnery. The movie filled all my preadolescent requirements for romance, thrills, suspense, etc. Watching it as an adult, my reactions were of course very different. I am very pleased to say, however, that the movie held up fairly well. As an adult, I noticed how unrealistic some of the situations were, and certainly some of the ways relationships were depicted were dated, but overall, it's still a fun, enjoyable movie. And Disney knew how to make a movie for "tweens" that played into the need for romance and adventure, without sex and overt violence. (Yes, the hero does get shot in the arm by the bad guy, and there are some drops of blood, but nothing gory). There's a clear delineation between the good guys and the bad guys!

In other words, I've thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgia trip of the past few days. Now I have to check and see if Netflix has Disney's "The Fighting Prince of Donegal" or "The Scarecrow" !!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

#76 The Moon-spinners

The Moon-Spinners The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a re-read but I don't think I've read it in 40 years. It has held up VERY well. The re-read was inspired by my recent trip to Greece. One of the places we stayed was Mykonos which is dotted with windmills. The windmills immediately reminded me of the 60's Disney classic -The Moon-spinners, starring Hailey Mills. I "adored" that movie to borrow a HM phrase. So, the movie is now in my Netflix queue and the book upon which the movie is loosely based, came home from the library with me.

Memory is faulty: I could have sworn that the movie/book took place on Myknonos, but the book is based in Crete. Nevertheless, I appreciated the Greek phrases, customs, etc. that I experienced for myself. Nicola Ferris is a secretary for the British Embassy in Athens and she and her much older cousin decide to spend the Easter holidays on Crete. Nicky arrives on Crete earlier than expected and accidentally gets involved with Mark, a young man who has been left for dead by a mysterious man dressed in Cretan costume. Nicky eventually ends up in the very small village of Agios Georgious where she and her cousin attempt to secretly help Mark. There is danger, murder, suspense, and romance, as well as the Cretan landscape and culture. This book was written in 1962, I believe, but it did not feel dated or old-fashioned. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and am looking forward to seeing if the very different Disney movie also holds up.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Some Book Reviews

I told you I'd been reading a lot!

The Cold Light of Mourning: A Mystery The Cold Light of Mourning: A Mystery by Elizabeth J. Duncan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a first novel and it won a couple of prizes which is what attracted me when I saw it in my public library. I thoroughly enjoyed this "cozy" mystery. Penny Brannigan, owner of a small manicure shop, is a plus-50 spinster in a small North Wales village and she is mourning the loss of her best friend Emma, an elderly spinster who has just died. Meanwhile, Emrys Gryffd is about to be married, and his London bride Meg Wynne Thompson is not a popular choice. On the morning of the wedding, Meg Wynne turns up missing, and Penny is the last one to have seen her. Penny's memory becomes a crucial element in the solving of this mystery, and a number of interesting characters are introduced. I am assuming from elements introduced throughout the novel, that this is not the last of Penny, her new friend Victoria, and DCI Davies.

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I also read these two by Rhys Bowen;

A Royal Pain (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries #2) A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Lady Georgianna is cousin to King George V, great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and 34th in line to the throne. She's also just about penniless and runs Coronet Cleaning Services to earn a living. She is the only employee of her company and she attempts to provide her aristocratic clients good service while avoiding recognition. This is book #2 in the series that started with "Her Royal Spyness". In this installment, Queen Mary has persuaded Lady Georgianna to chaperone a Bavarian princess and attempt to get the Prince of Wales, David, interested in her instead of the dreaded Wallis Simpson. Princess Hannilore is quite a handful --- a shoplifter, an admirer of American gangsters, and just out of the convent, looking for "hot, sexy men." The usual mayhem follows --- with Darcy O'Mara coming to Georgie's rescue again. This is an entertaining, very-lighthearted series!

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Royal Flush (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries #3) Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The third entry into the series, "Royal Flush" sees Georgie back at Castle Rannoch, again on the Queen's business. This time she is sent by the Home Office to help investigate a series of near-miss accidents that afflict the royal family. The Court is at Balmoral which is conveniently located next to Castle Rannoch, so Georgie has a perfect cover. These books are not great fiction, the plots are far-fetched, but they are eat fun! Georgie has her own near fatal accident, and the plot hinges upon past history. Did the Duke of Clarence really die? Wallis Simpson makes her appearance at Castle Rannoch, and Fig actually welcomes Georgie to the castle.

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These next two appear to have nothing in common, but I think that they are similar in that both authors are gifted in portraying a landscape and culture authentically. I know that when I read these authors' books, I feel that I have experienced a different time and place, and that I want to spend more time in these places. I also find a similarity between Joe Leaphorn and Precious Ramotswe. Both possess great wisdom about the human condition, are forgiving of others' humanity, and are able to be open to the moment.

The Blessing Way (Navajo Mysteries, Book 1) The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the first Joe Leaphorn novel. His character is introduced matter-of-factly, with no fanfare. In fact his character is not the main focus in this novel. I've read other novels in the series so I decided it was time to go back the the start. The main character is an anthropologist who has returned to the reservation to study Navajo witchcraft, along with a colleague who mysteriously disappears. Is it witchcraft or is there a different explanation? Once again the desert landscape becomes a main character as does the influence of Navajo culture.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #10) Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I just love this series! Alexander McCall Smith has created a woman of great wisdom in Precious Ramotswe, and I look forward to spending an afternoon in her world. In this installment the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency has been hired to investigate potential sabotage in the Gabarone football league. Mma Ramotswe learns much more about football that she ever wanted to learn. She also has to deal with the loss of a precious part of her life. Grace Makutsi faces her rival Violet Sephotho who is trying to steal her fiance, and Mr. JLB Matekoni's apprentices finally prove their worth. As always the author masterfully evokes the place that is Botswana, and skillfully points out the clash between the modern world and the way "it used to be."

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