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.