Friday, December 31, 2010

What's a good year?

This is the USA hockey team at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, New York last night, after their win against team Germany. We've had so much fun watching the tournament in OUR town :)

A good year = family + friends + good health + good food + good books + hockey

Best wishes to all of you for a happy and healthy 2011!!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 miscellaneous

I can't rely on memory to recap 12 months, hence this blog! But I will try to tie up loose ends, well, at least the ones I remember!

NaNoWriMo - My official novel word count achieved was 8195. No, I didn't reach my 10,000 word goal, but the story is complete. I have a few ideas for next year's novel! One is based on a friend's musings about how we would survive right now if all modern conveniences (supermarkets, running water, etc.) failed. I've noted often that my story ideas tend to live in the real world despite my love of reading fantasy and science fiction, so I'm interested to try something new. November writing starts well for me, but the Thanksgiving holiday sinks me. My students all achieve their word count goals with NO problem whatsoever because their writing routine is completely scheduled by me, but I don't have any routine for my writing. I need to institute a rule like "do not disturb your teacher in any way when she's writing in class", maybe three times a week? I lament that there's no similar writing challenge during those leisure summer vacation months, but the truth is I wouldn't bother writing without the pressure of students asking ME "how many words do YOU have?"

BOOKS! I use a Facebook app "Visual Bookshelf" to keep track of books read - very easy to write and post a short review - so I will consult that as reference. A quick check of this blog shows I haven't mentioned specific books since the school year started - is that possible??? In reverse chronological order (of when I read them):

The Lost Hero: The Heroes of Mount Olympus, Book One by Rick Riordan - LOVED it, but it's soooooo serious, not nearly as laugh out loud funny as the Percy Jackson books. As in, Harry Potter serious. Like, here's your quest, you'll probably fail, everything good in this world will disappear, good luck. I only remember one truly funny scene in The Lost Hero, whereas almost every monster that Percy encountered made me laugh. CAN'T WAIT for the next book! (This book is too long. It helped me reach the conclusion that many students have tried to tell me, longer is NOT better.)

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson - I have the highest regard for all other books written by this author, just not this book. The protagonist's struggles about college seem (to me) completely within her control to resolve, and her neighbor was the proverbial kitchen sink, as if the book said, "This girl really doesn't have a problem, so throw in some real problems and see what happens." Why bother? Just write a story about the neighbor girl, skip this whiney, self-important, angst-ridden (for not many good reasons) teen. I struggled with the difficult subject matters in Speak and Wintergirls (see review below), but those stories and characters gripped me from beginning to end, and there were very real and honest questions to answer. I was mostly indifferent to Catalyst, which means it was a waste of time.

Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran by Nadia Shahram who is a local attorney and advocate for Muslim women - absolutely GREAT work of fiction that is based true facts and 100 interviews the writer conducted in Iran a few years ago. A coworker organized a book group to read then meet the writer during a bookstore reading. If you have the least bit of interest in this subject matter, please find the book and read it!

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher - I have been curious about the many banned and challenged Young Adult books and writers that I didn't already know, and this book came across my path. The "small town high school misfits band together as swim team" story is FANTASTIC but very raw, the protagonist engaging, smart, and funny, and I wish I read more books like this (instead of Catalyst, which addresses similar topics but pales in comparison). Considering the harsh subjects contained within (domestic violence, racial violence, homicide, profanity, just to name a few), I haven't recommended it to any of 7th or 8th grade students yet, but I have shared it with colleagues.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Just like Speak, Fever 1793, and Chains, the subject matter (anorexia and mental illness in general) did NOT appeal to me, but Anderson's writing brings the character to life, and the story seems very honest. I couldn't put down the book until I finished it, and one question burned in my mind while I read: what went wrong and how do I prevent this from happening to my 9 year old daughter?????

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson - It doesn't seem possible that I haven't mentioned this book before in this blog. I don't like to explain what this book is about because that would ruin the best suspense - I just want to say READ IT!

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater - sequel to Shiver is even better than the first book! To say "werewolf series" does not even come close to the essence of this story. It's one hundred times better than Twilight, much shorter (see what I mean about length?), slower pace, lovely blend of poetry into prose narrative.

Am I done yet?! I don't know! But I have to stop writing this post to fix dinner! If I don't manage any more posts before the new year, I hope you all enjoy the rest of 2010!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Snow day!!!!!!! Some activity choices:

- Read Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. I started last night, seems promising. (Btw, Cherie Priest is a very cool name for a writer of steampunk novels!)
- Keep up with flooding basement. Not sure what to do. Something about the sump pump.
- Christmas shop. No snow in my area or in direction of outlet mall.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Day after Thanksgiving is the start of the poinsettia show at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens - perfect for my mom's visit from Taiwan! (We were "interviewed" by a reporter from our local newspaper about our botanical gardens experiences - hope our comments show up in his article.) The model railroad and train exhibit has always been a really fun part of the poinsettia show, and this year it's newly expanded and improved. Today was also our first day of actual snow :)

Confession #1: I'm behind in my NaNoWriMo word count goal. I have four days left, about 3500 words left to write.

Confession #2: We did also participate in more classic "Black Friday" festivities, aka shopping.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

My ELA Lab (AIS/remedial) classes watched a Veterans Day video on this week. (The link is below, but it only takes you to one of the short Veterans Day video clips. We used the 22:30 video that has terrific information as well as good insight from veterans who talk about their military service; you can find that longer video on the same page.)

The video was a good extension of our informational text unit in which we read many news articles (on - more about that web site later in this post) and answered questions based on Question/Answer relationships. Students learned about three types of Q/A relationships - explicit "right there", implicit "between the lines", and "not there". (The last category is useful because some students make connections or predictions and ask questions that are good "thinking" and reading strategies but really can't be answered or found in the text itself, not to mention some multiple choice answers are "not there" in the text but may distract from the real answer.)

The video is also a great opportunity for students to think about the world outside our classrooms. Approximately 2 out of every 10 students raise their hands when I ask, "Do any of you want to serve in the military?" and MANY students have family members who are veterans. On the flip side, there are a few students in each class who claim to have NO background knowledge about veterans much less Veterans Day, so I really love this lesson!

Videos about Veterans Day on

PS -  I'm ambivalent right now about because, despite the interesting articles and useful teacher/student comment features, I object to the prominent advertisements AND advertiser web links on the TweenTribune site. The editor/founder and I exchanged emails, and clearly our views differ on this issue.

PPS - I really need to write a post about the FANTASTIC books I've read over the last few months. Sorry about delay! Stay tuned :) :) :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Bulletin board with small "mood" posters, using words from "The Raven" that create the emotional environment of the piece, created by my remedial classes during our Poe unit last month. We also read "The Tell-Tale Heart" (to study story structure) and "Annabel Lee". Right now those classes are studying informational text using articles. This week we're studying question-answer relationships - "right there" or explicit, "between the lines" or implicit, and "not there". Next week - "The story of Veteran's Day" from - listening and analyzing Q-A relationships.

My "regular" 7th and 8th grade ELA classes are writing novels in a fast and furious manner. Almost everyone is on pace to reach their daily and overall word count goals, including me!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!!!

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That's me and my husband in the top 2 pics! Be honest - do you think you could guess my costume without seeing us together? The last pic is my school costume - try to guess - answer at the bottom of this post ;)

Yes, I managed to  squeeze in one solitary October post on the last day! Tomorrow - NaNoWriMo starts for me and 35 students (7th and 8th grades). Word count goals: 3000 for 7th graders, 5000 for 8th graders, 10000 for me! I think we're much better prepared this year compared to last year - we really used the middle school workbook to plan characters, conflict, and plot.

Answer: I'm reading between the lines!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9th anniversary, September 11

9 years ago today my daughter was 6 months old, so probably my feelings and memories of this historical event will always relate to being a mother. 10 years ago, I had just resigned from my job (working in the local university residence halls as area director) and switched fields to study secondary English education. After G was born, I continued to "stay home" and took graduate classes until I started teaching when she was 2 and a half years old (7 years ago).

Earlier today I took G to her annual "well child visit" at the pediatric office where we have been going all the years of G's life. Listening to the doctor talk to G more than me directly was really interesting. The doctor discussed self-image, confidence (Do you think you look good? I agree!), peer pressure (Sometimes kids are mean around your age. Are any kids in your class mean?), personal responsibility (Do you have chores and help mom at home?), and other developmental issues (Sometimes at your age you hear kids school talk about things that are different than what your mom says. If that happens, who do you believe, the kids or your mom?) in very child-friendly terms. I LOVED it! I'm going to be so interested to hear what the docs (in this group practice) discuss with her when she moves through adolescence. (I want to know what pediatricians tell my students, at least the ones who have regular check-ups.)

9 years ago this morning, I sat with G on the living room couch watching PBS show (Caillou) in our Buffalo apartment. Sometime between 8:45 and 9:00, I switched to NBC just to take a peek at the news and could not comprehend what I saw - the familiar Twin Towers with smoke, the Today Show hosts saying something serious - for a few minutes before reality sank in. I lived in New York City from ages 7 through 11, then 14 through 22. G was a fussy baby at the age of 6 months, but she was very calm and quiet all morning while I held her, my eyes glued to the TV. This is the lasting image in my mind from watching TV that day: a mom pushing a stroller with a young child in it on a Manhattan city street, trying to walk away from danger, trying to get home.

Friday, September 10, 2010


That's probably the best way to describe my state of being right now, after the first "week" of school, 4 days of "work", 3 of those days with students. It's not bad, just so much input in a short time. That's how I feel about my "back-to-school".

Monday, September 6, 2010

last day of summer 2010

That's me on the beach of Lake Ontario, our last visit of 2010

Here's the Book Whisperer's article "how to accelerate a reader" that will jump start English teachers everywhere to celebrate the start of a new school year!

To help me celebrate, I'm keeping today as low-key and boring as possible, which will help me look forward to WORKING again, i.e. 6am alarm clock setting, professional work attire, structured schedule, a PAYCHECK.  (I revised the title of this post from "summer vacation" to "summer" because unemployment is not the same as vacation!)

NOT helping me today in the pursuit of boring is last night's Mad Men episode. I'm crazy about the series and especially this most recent, most STUNNING and FANTASTIC episode full of yelling, fighting, and crying. Many online fans keep me company today, such as the bloggers and commenters on Basket of Kisses.

Otherwise, let's keep it low-key and boring enough to make me go to bed early, such as before 11pm, to catch up on sleep.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

District 13

Our town's volunteer fire department runs the annual Labor Day fair, an event that we've all attended and enjoyed before. But attending the demolition derby at this fair was a first for me, my husband (who grew up attending this annual event) and daughter, and our friends/the family who lives next door.

The audience has standing views only, so while we jockeyed for a good spot, we sent our 9 year old girls forward to stand behind the row of people sitting in lawn chairs. Yes, we knew there was some type of barrier (later I learned it was concrete), but we didn't think about flying car parts or out-of-control cars until AFTER the girls were firmly settled. I didn't even have the chance to teach her any defensive maneuvers, like DUCK!!! This caused me much anxiety amidst the otherwise fun atmosphere, but I'm very thankful no one was hurt!!!

My own "bad mother moment" aside, I was absolutely stunned to see one car with "District 13" painted on the side. All the cars have the fire company town name painted on them, along with various slogans and decor. But District 13? As in The Hunger Games? I couldn't believe my eyes! Then someone said it may be that fire department's district number, which made more sense than random literary connection at a fire fighter's demolition derby.

District 13 - WON!!! The pics show two last cars facing each other - Ellicott Creek Fire Department and Snyder Fire Department. The latter caught on fire soon after that face-off picture was taken, so DISTRICT 13 was the last car running! (As soon as the Snyder car caught fire, sirens sounded, people yelled, fire fighters rushed over, the driver was pulled out, lots of fire extinguishers used, etc. I guess that's why a fire fighter demolition derby is ironic.)

My daughter (short brown ponytail) next to her friend (blond pontail) had great views. Crashing cars in small field... next time, my kid will not be that close.

Last 2 cars in middle of picture

I overhead someone in the chicken dinner line (oh I didn't mention we ate FABULOUS chicken dinner and clam chowder?! Tomato-based clam chowder, the BEST I've had in a long time, thanks!!!) say the driver of this winning car (with trophy) was the fire chief of that fire department.

Resting derby cars during dinner time. See "District 13" painted on the side of the white car?!

school dreams

One of my favorite authors of all time is Barbara Kingsolver. I mention that fact gratuitously because my topic reminds me of her book Animal Dreams. Each time I read a new book of hers, I say, "THIS is my FAVORITE book that she wrote." My most recent favorite Kingsolver book is The Lacuna, which I read in print and listened via Kingsolver's audiobook recording last spring. (Who knew she spoke Spanish so well???) I also listened to the first half of her audiobook recording of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. (Half of the book is how much I could enjoy learning about Kingsolver's "eat local" endeavors. Special bonus of the audiobook is her daughter reads the essays/recipes that she wrote in the book!) Her readings are truly wonderful :)

Other audiobook favorites of mine: Eat, Pray, Love written and read by Elizabeth Gilbert (who has a lovely speaking voice, whose SISTER is Catherine Gilbert Murdock who wrote the terrific young adult realistic fiction Dairy Queen trilogy), I Feel Bad About My Neck written and read by Nora Ephron (laughing that hard while driving is a safety hazard, but it's not my fault), Who Moved My Cheese, and The Red Pyramid (book 1 of The Kane Chronicles) written by Rick Riordan (who wrote the Percy Jackson series) and read by 2 actors who were super good.

Only the second tangent (about audiobooks) was unintentional when I started this post. Typically my school dreams fall into three categories:

1) I'm trying to get to work on time, but I'm going to be late because I can't find the right clothes to wear or find my car or whatever, and then I'm definitely late and trying to call the main office to let them know, but for some reason I can't reach my phone or remember the number or whatever. I'm neurotic in general about timeliness, and even when I worked in non-school settings, my coworkers thought I was overly zealous about being punctual. So put me in a school setting where my every work minute must be accounted for, and being late is my absolute worst nightmare.

2) I'm not prepared with actual lessons and try to just "wing it". In these dreams, my students and I cope with my "winging it" rather well. They don't seem to care!

3) I'm trying to get the students' attention by screaming at the top of my lungs, but they can't hear me and/or don't care. In real life, classroom management is not an issue for me at our fairly tame suburban school. The small remedial classes that I've taught last 2 years present unique challenges - take a handful of students who hate school in general and reading and writing especially, make them take English Language Arts TWICE a day every other day, voila! I've done the most "screaming" when trying to supervise students moving to classes in the hallways and absolutely need to stop unsafe or otherwise intolerable behavior in its tracks. Our large school size (over 1300 students, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades) is mostly to blame for the chaotic halls, in my opinion.

I've had a few back-to-school dreams during the past few weeks. I think I've had each of the above 3 scenarios already, and last night it was #3. The setting was in an amusement park, and I was trying to scream out directions to students on a roller coaster ride.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jane Austen's Fight Club

Here's a back-to-school video special for all English teachers and students. Thanks to Tricia from Coffee & Critique Writers Group for the link! (Oh sorry the video frame doesn't fit properly!)


Isn't that a terrific invented word?! I learned it from the blog Fashionable Academics and the post in response to the Chronicle of Higher Education article about professor "hotness". (Special thanks to the awesome blog Academichic and its post about that article.)

I'm borrowing the term for my topic even though I'm not a professor because "teachartorialism" doesn't work as well. Since I voiced opinions about teenage student attire, the professional appearance of teachers is a fair discussion topic here.

Specifically in my suburban middle school environment, I like to dress for work.  "Dress for work" means I want to convey these messages:
- I am working, using my professional training and skills.
- Teaching is a profession, not a hobby.
- "Game on" is my work mode from 8am to 3:15pm on a school day.
- I like to express some of my personality, interests, and style through my clothing and accessories, but I do not want to distract students from learning.

Tricky balance on some days, but I think it's fun!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

nature art

My daughter G took art lessons this summer (and last few summers) from a family friend MT who was an art teacher until her school cut her position. (MT nows works at a photography studio and will be starting her own business.) G chose a photograph that I took from our Taiwan trip in July 2009, a scene from the Alishan mountain forest near the city Chiayi where I was born and lived with my grandmother until I was seven years old.

I will continue to seek art education for G who loves to create art. The art instruction in her school is great but not enough, never enough. (Similarly, she should have physical education every day, not just twice a week.) She will take a few "kids watercolor" classes in October at our local botanical gardens.

the story of my reading MOCKINGJAY

This story starts last Thursday when I received the book from USPS around 1:00 in the afternoon. It references some SPOILERS, probably offers not much plot summary, and mostly accounts how I read the book.

Slowly, a few chapters at a time, I read in the afternoon. I wanted to savor the story and the characters' return to my mind. Sometimes I realized I read aloud passages in a whisper because the descriptions, characterizations, and dialogue fed the cravings that I put on hold all these months waiting for the book release. I soaked up Katniss' reactions to her "rescue" and the people around her and the ones missing. I cried whenever Katniss saw something (the dresses, the uniform) made by Cinna (probably because I watch too much Project Runway). Missing was the panic I felt when Gale showed up at the end of Catching Fire, presumably (in my mind) to "replace" Peeta in Katniss' life. I saw Katniss' role as Mockingjay take shape and the essence of her character re-emerge during the staged and unstaged forays into "battle".

Many distractions surrounded and helped me in this slow reading endeavor - my child, the computer, my journal, TV, dinner, the rest of our family, and so on. The slow quality of reading is not natural to me, but slow reading that afternoon felt like yoga practice with measured breathing, balanced.

The pace shifted into FAST mode, my usual style for reading excellent action/adventure novels, around 10:00 that night, when it was dark and quiet in the house, and I read and pushed and read and finished at about 3:00 in the morning, Friday. Then I was awake for at least another hour, unable to rest my mind that was full of Katniss and Peeta's struggles to survive and fight for justice, graphic violence that always seems unnecessary to me but prevalent in this trilogy, and random thoughts about the upcoming school year.

I'm relieved their story has ended. The consummate survivor is Katniss Everdeen.

Monday, August 23, 2010


There. I just wanted to say the word here. I've been tweeting about it, commented on Facebook and linked to video of Suzanne Collins reading aloud the first chapter, searched for tweets that contain the word. I've re-read the last 7 chapters of Catching Fire and learned I forgot most of the first 2 books DUH so had to read Wikipedia plot summary LAME.

My copy is in transit from Kentucky, thanks a lot FREE Super Saver Shipping Even the tracking system says "don't bother checking too often, you won't get update for the next 3 days, it's ON the way, lady". THANKS.

Oh yeah, just noticed I took a week off blogging, huh? The Main Event of last week was my chauffeur job during Nature Camp at our local Buffalo Zoo, catering to the transportation needs of two 9 year olds, my daughter and her best friend/our next door neighbor. They had fun and learned many new things about animals, including humans, especially boys in their group that chanted, "Girls go to Jupiter to get stupider, boys go to college to get more knowledge".

During the 6 hours between camp drop-off and pick-up, I contemplated the many ways in which this fun and educational nature camp did NOT provide content literacy, aka one of my education pet peeves. Just make a simple, daily one-page newsletter to send home with the campers - "Here's what we learned today!" Add a few charts, puzzles, FAQs, TA-DA! CONTENT LITERACY!

Every day the drive home from camp involved questions (repeated in various forms) from yours truly about what the girls read (mostly nothing, not even a nature/science/animal book) and what they wrote (nothing, except their names on drawings they made, using crayons). HELLO these are very literate girls entering fourth grade!!!


Saturday, August 14, 2010

"This is just to say"

I love the crisp simplicity of "This is just to say" by William Carlos Williams:

Friday, August 13, 2010

sister salad breaks it down

This video is for all you people who care about punctuation, capitalization, usage, etc. Thank you, Kathryn from Thrifty Schoolmarm, for sharing this on your teacher blog!

last day summer writing camp!

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Above pic from day 5 of 6 summer writing camp - The girls made bookmarks with acrostic poems. I found the character trait list from and games from and

Today we're wrapping it up! They will each share a little personal story, either from their writer's notebook or drawings.

Monday, August 9, 2010

summer wake-up

Today was my summer wake-up moment. This morning I was chatting with two other moms, and one said, "3 weeks left of summer vacation! Can't end soon enough!"

*GASP* Just 3 weeks left? Quick check of calendar told me I have 4 weeks. WHEW. Still. Gotta enjoy every single moment :D

Summer writing workshop update: I'm losing steam, I admit, halfway through. The younger children present more challenges than I have energy and interest to conquer. I do enjoy seeing the older ones cruise along merrily in their writing!

Soccer season has begun for us! My husband coaches my daughter's team (town "house" league, she's age 9). Here's a 12 second video of the torrential rain just before the end of the first quarter, after which time thunder and lightning shut the whole thing down. Thankfully. This is her first rain-out in her third year of soccer, and we now feel fully inducted in soccer life. (The rain was so ridiculous and funny, except I was deathly afraid it would kill my iPhone 4 that recorded this moment. You can sort of see the players on the field, the coaches on the other side holding umbrellas, and of course see MY colorful umbrella and HEAR the rain.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

summer writing camp day 1

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My six campers are in this picture, working in their writing notebooks! (My daughter looks like she's covering her nose/face, but I think she's just pushing up her glasses.)

What I learned - give the older kids more independent writing time, use that time to work with younger kids (conference, writing activity, guided reading, etc.)

2 of the girls had to go out of town for family matter, so I only have 4 for days 2 and 3. No problem! Gives me time to try out the age grouping.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ready for summer writing camp!

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This is our dining table and room, ready for my campers who may start to arrive in about 15 minutes! My daughter (above pic) is preparing a "sample" folder cover. My plan for this Day 1 of camp is to introduce the writing folder and writer's notebook, design covers for both, chat about memoir (as "me" story, "remember" story, etc.), read a few examples, write a bit in the notebook.

The writer's notebook is a place to collect our ideas (aka "writing territories") on paper - bits and pieces about ourselves, our likes and dislikes, personal experiences, opinions, etc. It serves as a mine of writing topics and details. I created the notebooks from 11 sheets of blank copy paper, folded in half, stapled, drew lines on alternate pages. (The 5 year olds have more blank space than lined space.)

THEY'RE HERE! Gotta go!!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

anticipation, summer writing camp update

No lie: I'm starting to panic.

I haven't written any concrete plans yet. I probably jotted down notes in my personal journal. (That's my habit, even for school plans/lessons. If I'm in brainstorming mode, I jot ideas in the personal journal. Good way to fill up that journal AND feel productive about "real work".) I wrote a post about it for this blog.

I know what materials to use. Yep, I jotted that down in my journal. That's why I can give you specifics:
- Portfolio folder, simple 2-pocket folder, cover to be decorated, inside to contain 2 things:
- writer's notebook, with both plain and lined pages, that I will have to make because I don't usually see that kind of notebook in stores, maybe 20 pages, enough to write in some good ideas and details aka raw material for formal writing pieces, but neither daunting nor wasteful.
- finished, presentation-ready writing piece(s)
- pens, pencils, lined paper, blank paper, color pencils and markers

I have scheduled 6 sessions over 2 week period, 2 hours each session. (This is my dream "block scheduling" that seems unattainable in my school/work life. Will block scheduling work with three 5 year olds and three 9 year olds? We'll see!)

I planned to read and produce 2 genres: poetry and memoir. I realized today that every time I tried to focus on specific lesson plans, I KNOW that's too much to cover and hence panic. Although I hate to give up either, I will keep memoir. Making an executive decision is soooo liberating! I credit/blame this attitude to my being an only child.

Update: My daughter came home from soccer practice after I posted the above, and when I told her I decided instead of poetry and memoir, we would only cover one, and she immediately replied, "Oh yay! Poetry! I love poetry!" Hm. So now I'm undecided. I'm thinking about how easy it is to obtain sample poetry vs sample memoir, to write poetry vs memoir for 9 and 5 year olds. Suggestions?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Introduction to Poetry"

One of my favorite poems: "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins. (I have a date with friends to see him speak at Chautauqua Institution on July 30!)

what not to wear

Clothing police is my least favorite, least rewarding, biggest pain-in-the-rear, and absolute lose-lose job as middle school teacher.

Some reasons why I teach: to make a positive difference in the world, to help children learn the power of language, to help children grow up with the sense of independence and interdependence, and the list goes on and on.

Clothing police is one of my jobs because children need trained professionals to build a positive learning environment in which they feel safe enough to learn and grow. Children need such trained professionals to set guidelines and boundaries within which they develop identity, seek knowledge, and grow healthy relationships. "Do whatever/whenever/however you want" is the OPPOSITE of "the real world", the world in which they will one day rule.

True story: We visited a family (parents our age in their, ahem, 40's, plus two teenage children) in early July in the Washington, DC area. We were very happy for this rare chance to catch up with each other, and the father shared this lament. He often chides/admonishes/yells at his 16 year old daughter for wearing revealing clothes, and his daughter's response is, "But what you want me to wear makes me look like a NUN!" One day he acquires the task of driving her to school, and when they arrived, he remarked, "Why are all these prostitutes hanging out at your school?"

Yes, this friend is very sarcastic, but his point hurt my heart so much! I knew EXACTLY what he meant and what he saw (do YOU know? underwear worn as outerwear, essentially), and I feel like we (aka trained educators, aka parents, aka adults who by our mere existence are models for our children) are failing our children!

What I don't mind: setting standards (by my own example, by stating the rules, by explaining the rules), reminding students who stray/forget/push the limits because that's their nature, enforcing the rules, and following through on consequences.

What I HATE: being responsible for CATCHING wayward clothing choices because it's a CATCHING game to students, being alert at all times to judge too low/too short/too revealing, being pitted against my colleagues because supposedly "other kids do it!" and "my other teachers didn't say anything!", and getting absolute grief and whining and "that's not fair!" nonsense from students and sometimes parents.

After seven years of the clothing police job, I seem to be in a middle school building that works to push back at kids who relentlessly push past the limits of our dress code. It's very exhausting work. When our students go to the high school, they can wear whatever they want. I start to protest, then I look at other public high schools and hear the "true story" I shared above, and I think, this problem is systemic, this is our society, our teens live in a world where the girls are expected to expose as much skin as possible without being arrested by police, ie acquire a sexual identity at an early age. (Boys don't seem to have the same problem about clothing and sexual identity.)

But modesty (thanks, Sal, for the timely topic!) is not the only concern. Students (and parents) want to be able to chew gum, use cell phones and iPods, drink coffee or soda pop in the hallways, wear hats, flip flops, bandanas, pajamas and sunglasses in school. So why are those items (and many others) prohibited in school? I know safety is one standard answer that actually responds to most of those complaints. But here's what I say to students:

YOU ARE IN SCHOOL. SCHOOL IS YOUR JOB. You're not at the beach or in the mall. You're supposed to FOCUS on learning, so stop WHINING about your lack of freedom. You think uniforms are a bad idea? I think all the t-shirts that splash expensive store brand names are tacky and annoying. What do you think jeans, hoodies, logo Ts, sneakers, flip flops, athletic sandals worn with ankle socks are anyway? UNIFORMS. Yes, some teachers drink coffee in front of you, and yes some teachers may use cell phones during the school day, hopefully not when they're supposed to teach, and yes some teachers chew gum while other teachers yell at you for doing the same thing. SO WHAT? Get over the "injustice" of it all and learn something new!

Nature's first green is gold

Remember the Robert Frost poem that Ponyboy recited and discussed with Johnny in The Outsiders?! "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold." *sniff*

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Happy 3 year blog anniversary!

WOW! I almost missed my own anniversary! Here's my first blog post from July 16, 2007. (That's a day apart from my wedding anniversary, which MAY help me remember them both. Possibly. Speaking of wedding anniversary, we celebrated our 11th yesterday.)

254 posts in 3 years! Many thanks to my friend Sonya Chung who first introduced me to blogging, and many thanks and hugs to blog friends such as you - this is a journey that allows me to create, reflect, learn, share, and *sniff* grow as a human being.

In July 2007, HP and the Deathly Hallows was released! Writing this post (and posting pictures) about waiting at a local independent bookstore to buy the book at midnight of the book release was a revelation that I have fun adventures to share with people all over the blog world.

Experiment - poetry cinchcasts

I just learned about CinchCast - social media web site that allows you to podcast audio recordings. I started a little poetry reading project called "Poetry Everyday" - just my reading aloud of poems I like. Cinch seems much easier than GarageBand podcasting - the former allows me to easily post the recordings on Facebook, Twitter, and here. Are any of you folks podcasting?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

summer writing camp

This was a little dream of mine that materialized last summer. I wanted to lead a small group of children, including my daughter, our neighbors, and a few friends, to create little writing portfolios via workshop style. Summer is such a laid-back, easy-going time for us - why not take advantage of the our leisurely days to play AND write?

The picture above was taken at my daughter's third grade class "memoir celebration" in June. The full subtitle (part of which I cropped out) was "a memoir is a walk into a life". These students wrote two memoir pieces and created illustrations, and their magnificent teacher (*sniff* I miss her!) compiled all the writings and illustrations in a book. Each child has a copy of that book!

Memoirs/personal narratives and poetry are two writing genres that I love to teach in workshop style. So right now I'm preparing to lead six children (three 9-year old girls and three 5-year old girls) to create their own little self-illustrated books of nature poetry and memoir stories. One mom is an art teacher who will share some art techniques. ISN'T THAT COOL?!?!

This will be the first summer "WORK" that I've done since I became a teacher 7 years ago, not counting child care, with practically no pressure because it's SUMMER (and I'm not charging any $$$). We're going to work outside as much as possible in our front/back yards. I'm going to incorporate games, of course!!! Stay tuned :)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Eclipse movie verdict - decent!

I watched the movie this afternoon with friend Sandra (who also accompanied me to watch "New Moon" last year - here's my review of that fiasco), and we both liked "Eclipse" OK. We agreed that neither of us had read the book recently, so our non-recollection of book details left out of the movie enhanced our viewing enjoyment. Usually, knowledge of omitted details is very distracting and usually distressing for me.

Last year, I think around this time, I re-read all four Twilight books (2nd time for each). That resulted in my re-ranking them from best to worst: 1, 2, 4, 3. (The first reading resulted in this ranking: 1, 2, 3, 4.) Knowing the end helped me enjoy New Moon for itself, I thought Eclipse was just super pointless and dull, lots of talking in circles (I love you, you love me, no I don't, I love him, I love you more, blah blah blah!), so perhaps my lower expectations of Eclipse helped me enjoy the movie more than the "New Moon" movie. Maybe. Plus I'm prejudiced against "New Moon" director for taking Catherine Hardwick's job. I understand "Twilight" wasn't the best movie ever made, but Hardwick transformed the romantic dreamy parts of the story well on screen for ME, so I loved it plus loved the soundtrack to pieces. I bought the movie on iTunes and watched it many times. I HATED the "New Moon" soundtrack.

I have low low very low expectations for the Breaking Dawn movies. Baby Renesme was a major ICK factor in the book for me, and I don't know how it could be done tastefully on screen. I've seen the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie trailer, and I'm already upset that there are so many months between THOSE 2 movies (from November 2010 to July 2011) - UGH!!! Honestly, just make a 5-hour movie, I'll sit and watch it, take a bathroom break if I need it, get a quick recap from someone sitting near me, and keep watching! OK fine I'll pay double! I don't want to pay double, but I'd rather pay double than wait 8 months!!!

I'm moderately satisfied with "Eclipse" movie, enough to now buy "New Moon" movie.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

War memorials

Visiting the Vietnam War Memorial and Korean War Memorial in Washington was a special experience to share with our 9 year old daughter. She knows war veterans in her family, such as her grandfather who served in the Korean War, her great-uncles who served in World War II, and cousins who served in the Vietnam War, but she doesn't know anyone personally who died during military service. At each war memorial, we talked about some basic facts about the war (who, where, when, etc.) and the symbolism of different aspects of the memorials, but otherwise the memorials spoke for themselves. I think the shared experience of being there and our thoughts (both spoken and unspoken) add to our understanding of history, though I doubt our understanding of war could ever be complete.

Top picture: our reflections in the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial
Bottom picture: reflecting pool of the Korean War Memorial

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Happy July!

How fun to visit the National Mall and various monuments in Washington, DC right after reading The Red Pyramid! We had a great trip - yes, it was hot and sunny! My best souvenir was OFF! Active with LOTS of Deet - it really works!!!

We also attended a Mets v Nationals game at Nationals Park, spent July 4th and 5th in Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia. We would have visited a few museums in Washington today, but we came home a day early to escape the HEAT.
Originally, I asked my husband to take an extra day off work so we would have more time to sightsee, but I'm glad we came home today. I'm super thankful for a wonderful trip, seeing old friends, learning American history, etc. but I'm ready to start my "normal" summer tomorrow!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

history & mythology

My recent reads:

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory - Several friends recommended this novel and writer years ago, and at one time I read a bit of The Constant Princess but did not like it (or finish it). Yet I continue to hear rave reviews of this Mary Boleyn historical novel, and it was an exciting ride! I started it at the very end of the school day a week ago Friday, only had time to read 15 minutes, then picked it up again after dinner that evening. I read six hours straight, till about 3:30 am when I finally admitted I needed sleep before I could finish it! I slept maybe 4 hours, then read from 8am to 11am Saturday to finish all 660 or so pages. Reading that book was a fever! I have a library copy of The Boleyn Inheritance, just to see if the fever would come back.

The Red Pyramid, Book One of the Kane Chronicles, the most recent series by Rick Riordan (who wrote The Lightning Thief and the rest of the Percy Jackson series) - Excellent story that blends Egyptian history and mythology into modern day setting with strong brother/sister teen protagonists! I "read" about two-thirds of the books via library audiobook CDs, then the library hardcover copy finally made its way to me, so I devoured the rest. It's a LONG story, some parts seemed to drag (but is that because I was listening to audiobook?), other parts were fast action just like Percy Jackson books.

We're planning a Washington, DC and Virginia (DC area, Charlottesville, Williamsburg, Jamestown) trip the first week of July! So the iPad will be my reading companion - any eBook suggestions?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bus ride

Annual tradition at our middle school: principal asks teacher volunteers to ride student buses taking students home on the last day of school year, typically a half day. Driving force that created tradition: deter vandalism and other misdeeds. Of course such teacher presence on the buses has a positive community-building nature in addition to crime deterrence.

Wednesday was the last day of student attendance, and I rode a bus. Just a random pick. Classic pattern: sit in front, friendly chats with driver and quiet sixth graders, plus stern admonitions for squirrelly kids (sitting far from me) prone to throw objects and body parts at each other. Always fascinating to see them approach their homes, separating from school peers. I can't stop thinking about the one quiet girl who told me, in response to my queries, that she has no plans to play with other kids (none in neighborhood, she lives in apartment, she said) or take any trips or visit family or do anything interesting.

So I hereby send wishes of fun and safe adventures to that girl and every other child on summer vacation!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Never enough

There are never enough vacation days to do nothing, just like there are never enough school days to build the life skills of reading and writing.

5 more full school days, with several final exams and some movie periods built in, plus 2 mornings of only exams. Then 2 "records days" to churn out grades. Finally, 3 staff development days because we're really focused on professional learning and development during the last 3 days of June!

Wrapped up the portfolio assessment today. One last independent reading assignment this week: write short book review and post on (great classroom resource!).

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

I really love our "small" town parade! I'm sorry I missed photographing the veteran group that led the whole parade (lots of applause and waves) because they're the main focus of the holiday, but the farmers market floats were also very nice. It was 85 degrees, sunny and humid, so we felt awful for the middle school and high school bands who did a great job but YIKES I bet they were HOT. I think the cute couple on the side-by-side bicycle is an annual tradition. This is our second year attending the parade - I hope it becomes our tradition :)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

May author letters

Just finished an author business letter unit with 7th grade classes. I've always enjoyed the authentic nature of the business letter writing unit because we really mail the letters out. (Yes, some have received written responses along with free coupons, free tote bags, autographed photo, etc.)

The author letter is new for me: Students chose an author whose book they enjoyed reading this past year. They read several model author letters from a book I borrowed from colleague, studied the elements of a good author business letter, and crafted their own. (One additional resource was - schools can obtain free membership - instructional cartoon videos, many games, quizzes, fun!)

I'm very happy so far with the personal connections they made and expressed in these letters. For example, one girl wrote that the book inspired her and her friend to do something unconventional at school - wear dance costume (tutu skirts) over regular clothes - just for fun! Several described sharing the books with friends and siblings. One candid girl said, "I don't mean to be rude but I never heard of you before my grandmother gave me your book." Another connected the Holocaust information she learned from Maus to what her mother was currently studying in college.

I've assigned several "reading letters" during the year, in which students wrote to ME about their independent reading books, connections, evaluations, etc. Overall I found their reading letters (to me) formal, generic, and just not that interesting. I think the authentic audience feature of these author letters pushed their thinking and writing to the next level (up)!

Friday, May 7, 2010

NYC author book signing

One of our NYC trip highlights: We met a real live writer Sonya Chung who published her debut novel Long for This World in March 2010! And she signed our book!

Sensationalist punctuation aside, Sonya is our friend whom I met in college many moons ago. Here's our "book signing" at The Mill, a Korean restaurant on Broadway near Columbia University where we met for lunch. I really meant to stage this public sidewalk greeting for our first meeting after her novel published: "OMG IT'S THAT FAMOUS WRITER SONYA CHUNG! I LOVE YOUR NOVEL LONG FOR THIS WORLD!!!" But we were already seated inside the restaurant when Sonya arrived, and there were few other patrons to impress, so I chickened out, SORRY!  In this picture, my daughter exhibited her book nerd legacy and watched with excitement a REAL LIVE AUTHOR sign her book!

For some reason, I think I've written about Sonya's novel in this blog, but my memory is fuzzy about this. Here is a great interview with Sonya about her writing life that I enjoyed reading very much.

I must credit Sonya with the start of my blogging life! She is THE person who introduced me to blogging almost 3 years ago.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy May!

Spring is always so promising! Last month was lovely - National Poetry Month, our vacation in New York City, and even the state test was fine and at least done! (We score next week, 3 days out of classroom for me.)

Here are some more notable sights in the Big Apple: Top pic is statue in the Children's Sculpture Garden, next to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. We lived in this neighborhood for several years, and later I attended Barnard College, also nearby. My favorite personal connection is that Madeleine L'Engle (one of my favorite writers) featured this Episcopal parish setting in several of her young adult novels. I believe she was a parish member.

Bottom pic is Ann Curry of the Today Show. Yes, we stalked the Today Show each of the 4 days we were in the city! We stayed with a friend who lives in mid-town, so each morning we'd leave her apartment around 7:30 or 8 and walk to Rockefeller Plaza among many people who were going to work, so I really felt like going to the Today Show was our job! The crowd at the Plaza was manageable, we "met" Ann twice, and we were on camera a few times. FUN! (She is THE NICEST person ever! She would walk around slowly and greet many many people, striking up conversations, and just super friendly!!!) (Yep, that's my husband in his Ryan Miller/Sabres jersey, but I don't want to talk about it.)

Top of the Rock view of Empire St Bldg

Thursday, April 15, 2010

spring and technology

Lucky me! I took today off as a personal day so that I could organize the spring party in my daughter's third grade class. Three other parents and I will each run a station: mine is "Happy National Poetry Month - write an acrostic name poem!", and the others are "Plant a salad garden", Tic Tac Toe Trivia, and cookie icing.

But the party is mid-day, only an hour long, and it's going to be 70 degrees outside! So.... Lucky Me!!! Tomorrow is our last day of school before spring break week. We're going to be in New York City for a few days, carefully arranged so that my husband and I will attend all 3 of the Sabres home playoff games, first series vs. Boston, starting tonight. Did I say yet? LUCKY ME!

iPad alert! Our school district technology coordinator solicits teacher tech request "wish list" every year, and last year every "wish" of mine was granted, including SmartBoard, document reader, and Flip video camera. Quite the bountiful year this was! So yesterday I submitted my request for a class set of iPads to be used by the English Language Arts department for the following intended uses:
  • writing, notetaking, and journaling in class
  • electronic books (iBooks is gorgeous AND useful, easy access to word definitions, highlight/bookmark passages)
  • reference sources (dictionary, thesaurus apps)
  • news apps for information reading/writing units, current events
  • history apps for cross-curricular reading/writing, multicultural literature study (ex. This Day in History app is free and useful, National Geographic app is inexpensive and looks promising)
  • voice recording apps, for podcasting of book talks, poetry readings
I know economic times are tough, in particular for schools, but a wish list is a wish list, and you just never know. Random technology grants do appear magically sometimes, even as districts cut staff and programs. So I listed the above not just to show off my iPad knowledge but in case you wonder how iPads may be useful in your classroom. I haven't even mentioned the many uses for any other content area: social studies, science, math, music, art, and so on. I find new and interesting apps every day - last night I found a free Alice in Wonderland app, abridged story, with lovely illustrations, and moving objects on many pages (such as a pocket watch, swinging like a pendulum).


Saturday, April 3, 2010

April is more excellent!

Day 2 - Broadway Market, crazy busy with Easter business!

Day 3 - Apple store, crazy busy with geeks! Above pic taken in my local mall where Apple store lives. Many Canadians were in line with me because we're so close to the US/Canada border and the iPad is not available there yet. (Left line, where I was, was for pre-order. This was the line at 8:20 am when I first arrived. The lines doubled by 9am.)  Here's a video of staff rushing out of the store at about 8:45, cheering and hollering.

Oh yeah, the iPad is AMAZING!!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April is excellent!

Day 1 in Two Acts:

Act One - My morning announcement debut at school was poetry reading "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins. Happy National Poetry Month!!!

Act Two - After many hours of puzzlement and pondering (because trickery is really not my nature), I told one class (one of 2 remedial/AIS courses) that today was their last class with me, and they would go back to study hall next week because I have a new group of students to help pass the state assessment. Then I said, as a treat because this is your last class, I'm showing the "Mountains" DVD of the Discovery Channel Planet Earth series. This group of students never did want to be in my class at all (well, how would YOU feel if you had to take your least favorite class TWICE a day, every other day?) and more than a few cheered the announcement loudly.  I'm terrible at keeping secrets, and the next half hour was really tough to keep my poker face during the video (excellent series, btw), but I did it! And when I announced APRIL FOOL, wow, they were really surprised and chagrined! One girl who is just the most cooperative student in the class (quite unlike the others) sounded really put out, and I felt guilty for tricking her, but only her!

Day 2 - No school! I've planned a visit with friends to the Broadway Market, local favorite holiday market in Buffalo that should be PACKED on Good Friday.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Daniel Pink says

Daniel Pink is on my mind because I just started reading his newest book Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Here are his 7 rules of writing (for himself) - from his blog.

Reading my friend's recent blog post reminded me to set writing goals, especially for extended vacations. But the truth is that I want to write every day (just maybe not 500 words like Dan Pink).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

March is the insane month

Small wonder I've only managed 2 posts in March: My daughter's 9th birthday 3 weeks ago and various related festivities, her first ever piano recital 2 weeks ago, her many rehearsals leading up to this weekend's school talent show hula hoop performance, my mom's visit last weekend from NYC/Taiwan, and my annual professional performance review on March 31st to wrap it all up!

Top pic - Sabres game for daughter and husband's birthdays - and both caught on the jumbotron twice and live TV once (right after overtime winning goal)!

Bottom pic - Buffalo Museum of Science during my mom's visit. Rooftop was open with telescopes to see the SUN!

WAIT! I read a few GREAT books!!! My friend Sonya Chung (from our college years) published her first novel Long for This World on March 2, and I LOVED it!!!  Intense Korean American family drama, reminded me of the novels of Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler, Amy Tan, Alice Hoffman.

I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - super interesting! I especially appreciated the connections to education/learning/motivation.

Currently, I'm reading The Birth Order Book - why you are the way you are by Dr. Kevin Leman. IT'S SOOOOO GOOD! Really!!! I don't know why it's taken me so long to find it.  Dr. Leman explains everyone, including you and your crazy family. You'll love it, unless you're a middle child and don't like to explained, like my husband.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

genre study

Literary genres are important to me as a teacher because they help students to understand and guide their reading choices. I know some folks might think of genres as labels and therefore limiting and contrived. But they're useful guides for reading!

My 7th grade classes are in the middle of a genre mini-unit. I use my new books (yay!) to give examples and then assess their knowledge of different genres.  Tomorrow I'm giving an open notes test in "science lab" style, i.e. each desk has one book labeled with a number. Students rotate around the room in number order and must identify the genre of the book at that desk and explain what information led them to their conclusion. Today they practiced this "lab" as review.

Here's a "flash card" style review game on of literary genres (created by some teacher I know, ahem).

I also teach writing by genre. Teaching reading and writing by genre just is very natural and fun!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

new books!


With the help of a small class of students, all these books are stamped, numbered, cataloged, and ready for distribution! My catalog system is this: each book's title and number are written on an index card. When borrowing books, students write their names and date on the index cards. They have to return the books to me, and I will write the return dates on the card). I'm going to keep close watch on the books - no open book shelf system.

I made these piles according to alphabetical order by title (that's how I numbered the books) during the numbering process, and you can see several of the graphic novel biographies. Most of the 90 titles I ordered were fiction (different genres), but I really tried to find nonfiction titles and ordered some memoirs and biographies. I'm not sure how interesting the graphic biographies will be for students - we'll see!

Monday, February 22, 2010

good day, bad evening

Great first day back to school from break, despite the fact that my lesson planner is still missing. My classes went well, my massive book order arrived, and it was generally a smooth day. (Our district allowed our department to order novels/individual books in lieu of textbooks this year! We haven't ordered textbooks in years, and finally last fall a colleague asked, so can we use textbook money to buy books for students to read? I ordered 90 titles from Perma-bound, a mix of fiction, nonfiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction, biography, memoirs, sci fi and fantasy, graphic novels, etc. I'm soooo excited to book talk them out the classroom door!)

At home, despite a decent dinner start, my high spirits from the school day plummeted. My family/household unit is not large, just one husband, one daughter, one mother-in-law who has Alzheimer's. But I ran out of energy and interest in taking care of someone other than me.

So today I am full of energy and enthusiasm for my work life, and full of selfish resentment for my home life.

PS - Go USA Hockey!!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy New Year (of the Tiger)!

We celebrated Chinese New Year with a 3-day Toronto vacation that included a Chinatown walking tour (check out A Taste of the World if you're ever in Toronto!) with food, snacks, and tea plus lion dances! Extra lucky for us - this is break week - no school!

Picture #1 - chocolate tigers in gold foil, tea shop on Dundas St.
#2 - Meats ready to be served and eaten in noodle shop where we ate dinner on Saturday, Spadina Av.
#3 - Lucky Moose statue, local landmark where our tour began on Dundas St.
#4 - Lion Dance performance outside Dragon City Mall, corner of Spadina and Dundas.
#5 - BBQ duck and pork noodle soup, my dinner at noodle shop (see #2)
#6 - Dim sum lunch concluded our tour on New Year's Day

Thursday, February 4, 2010

farms and books

Last night I wrote a long email to 3 good friends who are also educators, and while I wrote, my daughter asked, "Are you writing for that thing?" I'm pretty sure she meant "this blog", so I said, "No, not my blog. It's an email to my friends." She must have noticed my writing concentration and effort, because I really was trying to tell my friends a story about the farm I just visited yesterday after school and the book I'm reading, The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (also loved his book In Defense of Food and latest Food Rules).  So here's the main text of that email:

I'm almost done with The Omnivore's Dilemma. When I read the part about the local farmer in Virginia (this amazing farmer who ROTATES the animals, first cows then poultry, around the property to eat up and then fertilize the grass, in this very complex and precise schedule throughout the year, so that the land is just exactly properly grown (with grass) and maintained to feed the animals), I knew the final section about growing your own food was coming next, and I felt I was ready to commit my family to growing a small veggie garden in our backyard this year. Then I started reading the last section, and it's not just growing your own food, but hunting and gathering. Yep. Pollan wrote about going wild (feral) pig hunting with some guys, and how while he was "training" (to shoot, to get his license), he started to see the "natural" surroundings in a different way. He tried to spot edible plants, for example.  I was like, no way, ew.

Back track to a week ago when I put out the email about starting a "Now Reading" folder in our school email system and mentioned that I'm reading Pollan's book, KA replied and said she buys meats at a farm in Hamburg called Duink Farms.  I've been thinking about the meat issue for some time, trying to find the middle ground between supermarkets and going to D [my friend's husband who operates a CSA farm] for broilers, somewhere closer, meats I can handle/store/cook more readily. So I went with her today after school - it's about 10 minutes south of the village, and bought some chicken thigh/rear quarters, ground pork, sausage links, and eggs. The owner guy was in this shed on his farm property, nice guy. A bunch of us squeezed in the shed waiting our turns, surrounded by a few freezers and refrigerators. Outside, his animals (and veggies?) are in this long opaque domed tarp thing, some distance behind the shed, and we heard some animals (sheep?). CH, have you heard of this place? Anyway, I'll let you folks know how the meat tastes.  He also sells angus beef, lamb meats, other pork meats, a few veggies. His "store" hours are Wednesday afternoons/eves and Saturday mornings.

OK, stay with me, b/c this is the funny part. Driving home from Duink Farms, I'm very pleased with my "local eating" endeavor.  When I am about 2 minutes away from our house, driving down a side street, and 2 deer walk across the road. I slam on brakes, and really look at them, and for the first time ever, I think, "hm, they look like they could be yummy to eat."  NO JOKE!  When I first moved to [this town], I thought deer were cute, then I thought they were a menace (to cars/drivers), and now!!!

Hm, anything else? Oh, CS, re nonfiction reading, I think genre requirements are the way to go. "Forcing" them to try different genres is totally worthwhile and completely legit and they KNOW it's reasonable, even if they grumble at first.  It has pushed even my "smartest", most skilled, most literary students to stretch beyond their comfort zone.  It's a very attainable goal for the struggling reader, as it actually guides their choices, and can offer appropriate reading levels and really interesting topics.  I'm looking forward to the workshop (with MC) tomorrow - I saw her packets for us, some good stuff!

Last but not least, I'm reading Anne Frank's diary. I don't think I've really re-read it since I first read it in junior high or high school. I've read and taught the play in our anthology a few times, but her diary is quite involved and detailed.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

it's freezing!!!

It's also snowy and windy like the crazyyyyyy....

Last week was short, only 3 and a half days of instruction, one-half day "records" day, as in, teachers work on grading, papers, and so forth.

This week feels LONG.  But it's almost over, and all this crazy freezing snow and wind may just end the week with a you-know-what-day tomorrow.  Or not.  The fact that I *forgot* to bring home papers to grade means it will probably happen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK holiday

May hope for peace and justice fill your days.

A quick update on my nutrition research unit - my two 7th grade classes were in the school library all week. Hectic but productive. A really long week, tiring, but fruitful. Online and book research requirements were basic and not hard to meet. Next week onward to creating and conducting surveys and action research.

Some fun projects with the 8th graders. My "AIS" remedial classes read short stories and poems, stayed on task, focused on figures of speech. (We read "Broken Chain" and "Oranges" by Gary Soto and "The Treasure of Lemon Brown".)  My push-in/AIS classes worked on a literary device vocabulary unit, created short teaching skits for the literary devices, and their primary ELA teacher used the Flip Video to record - fun!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

completely calm

Today has been perfect. A few hours at church in the morning, a cozy and noisy lunch of leftovers with husband and daughter with newspapers, computers, and TV, then an afternoon of peace. I've been mostly alone the past few hours, left with laundry, Twitter, blogging. I'll start cooking in about half an hour, and by 5:00 there will be five of us here for dinner, and it won't be quiet or calm until bedtime. But this afternoon has been a complete blessing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


What I really just wanted to say was that here are some really funny (because they're true AND make me laugh) commentaries about style and fashion
Thanks to WendyB for introducing me to both (I think) of the above!  I don't think I've ever (hardly?) mentioned here my obsession with style and fashion, so now you know!

Plus I want to throw in that work is very busy of really good stuff, like
  • starting a research unit, the topic of which is teen nutritional health (because I think my students have tragically poor knowledge and sense about their nutritional health, even though I'm no expert, but they might as well learn something practical in addition to research and writing skills), and possibly using the Flip Video to create "public service announcements" about teen nutrition
  • introducing the reading comprehension and critical thinking software called GamCo with 8th grade students and colleagues today, meanwhile learning pondering the uses of the software myself
PLUS PLUS my favorite sports team on the planet the Buffalo Sabres are having an excellent season so far YAY!!!!!!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I'm writing this post to explain, apologize, and ask for help with a blog comment problem.  A few blogs that I read (such as only a movie and reading really rocks) have a particular post-comment system that I can't figure out!  I'm sorry...

This is what happens: Below the blog post in question, I click on the "comments" link. I see other people's comments, and I see the box where I can "post a comment".  Below the box is a drop-down menu of options,  "Comment as... [select profile] ... " Then Google, LiveJournal, etc. are the choices.  I've tried to login as Google user, as anonymous, with my name/URL - all to no avail!  Please, someone, tell me what I need to do!  There's probably a very easy and straightforward solution - lots of other people are able to post comments.  Blog comment is an integral part of the community experience - I want to participate!  I would truly appreciate any help :D

Friday, January 1, 2010

Chinese dumplings on New Year's Day

I've craved Chinese dumplings for a while ... finally found them in a local Asian supermarket.  Frozen packages of 20 to 25 dumplings for about $4 each!  I boiled 2 packages for dinner (5 of us at home tonight), made dipping sauce (soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and honey; then hot sauce on the side).  (I also slow-cooked pineapple teriyaki chicken today - unnecessary, but I needed to cook that chicken breast, and I served it along with the dumplings.  More leftovers.)  YUM!!!  (The top picture is my attempt to capture that lovely blue dusk light in my backyard today.)