Sunday, December 25, 2011

peace




I thought about my students this morning when we sang carols in church. No matter what holiday they celebrate, how many gifts they receive, or what people surround them during winter vacation, I wish them peace in their hearts.




Saturday, December 17, 2011

sock it to me


Yes, I finished knitting one sock! Started October 24, finished tonight. I waited several weeks to finish the last third of the sock because I just ran out of steam, thinking about these things: a-whole-nother sock to knit, not knowing how to start the gusset that my knitting class instructor actually did for me, and lovely socks I just BUY in any STORE. (I love that expression - "a-whole-nother". I really don't care it's not correct.) Last two days I just pushed ahead, resolved to finish ONE sock even if that's all the sock I ever knit.

Right now I won't even bother to make connections to writing or any other creative process because I'm just so happy I finished knitting this one lovely sock!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

poetry carousel

Poetry review this week: a carousel activity that involved reading different poems and identifying examples of poetry elements: sound elements, imagery, figurative language, main idea. I listed those 4 categories in order of difficulty, based on student answers.

I noticed one major obstacle in the students' ability to identify the main idea: vocabulary. I'm probably hyper-sensitive about vocabulary words after attending a Common Core Learning Standards workshop Tuesday, in which my small group studied (as part of a "jigsaw" activity) "Shift #6" (out of 6) - Academic Vocabulary. The workshop document stated that we should focus on helping students acquire common vocabulary instead of "esoteric literary terms such as onomatopoeia". (Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I mean classroom, my substitute teacher led the poetry review of sound elements like onomatopoeia. Sizzle. Gurgle. Splat.) Raised hackles aside, I fully acknowledge the low level of COMMON vocabulary knowledge such as the following words perceived to be difficult in our poetry review this week:

dreary ("I'm Nobody", Emily Dickinson)
woe ("Sixth of January", David Budbill)
refugee ("Refugee in America", Langston Hughes)

Today a wonderful college student (whom I taught in seventh and eighth grade) now studying English Education was in my classroom to help fulfill her classroom observation requirement. When she saw my lesson materials, she said she learned to spell the word "onomatopoeia" in my class. She also reminded me that she had won the school spelling bee when she was in eighth grade.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

pop culture reference

In our poetry study, we read Emily Dickinson's "I'm Nobody" yesterday. I offered this analogy: Kim Kardashian is the opposite of the "nobody" speaker. I asked the 6th grade class, "Do you sometimes wish people would just leave you alone and stop bugging you?" Everyone, including the boy who fervently wishes each and every class that I ignore him, nodded vigorously.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

fall book review

Thank goodness Goodreads.com keeps track of my reading! I can't believe I haven't yet blogged about the books I read the last few months. The good news is - the fount of stellar literature for children and young adults won't run dry anytime soon!

The Maze Runner - I understand why my students would enjoy it, but I really didn't. Suspenseful thrillers  fill me with anxiety and dread. I do NOT enjoy that at all. I finished this book anyway and read about 40 pages of the second book in the series, The Scorch Trials, then I gave up. I'm glad to possess a copy to lend to students.

Scrawl by Mark Schulman - I LOVED this book! It's the opposite of action/adventure/thriller books like The Hunger Games. Very realistic, complex narrative, STRONG protagonist (teen bully/juvenile delinquent) voice, reminds me of John Conlan from The Pigman.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - I know I'm late to this fan table, but I still want to rave because it's a children's story about loss and tragedy but not disturbing violence. I'm not sure I care to watch the new soon-to-be released movie. Generally, I've decided to not bother with movies based on books. I don't watch many movies anyway, so why watch someone try to remake a book story that I truly enjoyed?

Resistance by Carla Jablonski - graphic novel, historical fiction about French people during the German/Nazi occupation - need I say more? The story is simple, should be easy (for 7th and 8th graders) to read as well as meaningful food for thought and discussion.

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Graphic Novel - I read the original novel a few years ago, loved it for my own reading, but didn't think my students could follow the narrative or vocabulary. (I've been told that it's standard 11th grade classroom text in my district.) I think this graphic novel makes the story much more approachable for some 8th graders (specifically, readers who like graphic novels and/or strong readers).

I won the Scholastic book fair teacher raffle at my school - $25 worth of books, so I chose the last two books listed above! I felt SUPER lucky!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Progress

Our "poetry for soldiers" project is almost complete. The poems and letters should be ready for mailing by Monday afternoon. A few students even brought in care package items - snacks and toiletries - enough for two or three care packages. I'll pick up the post office mailing boxes and customs forms Saturday. I'll take some pictures and post here soon :)

Next week I have the iPad cart again! Students will be using the comma/grammar app from Pearson Education and possibly a word association game/app.

Our whirlwindy Chicago Thanksgiving with cousin C was full of laughs, great food, sightseeing, walking, shopping, and many many other blessings. (The overnight train rides were half good, half bad.)


Friday, November 18, 2011

Stars

A cart full of iPads arrived at our school about a month ago, and yours truly was the first teacher to sign it out for student/classroom use. I believe this has made me the coolest teacher in my school for the 4 day period of this lesson, even though that's not why I'm teaching with iPads, though it's a nice perk.

We started a poetry unit about a week ago, and my students are now using the iPads to search for a "favorite poem" to share with American soldiers serving our country overseas. I found two free apps, one called "Poetry" by the Poetry Foundation, and one called "Poetry Everywhere" by WGBH that features poetry reading videos (and audio introductions by Garrison Keillor). I require students to browse through one or both of these two apps before opening Safari browser to search for poems. We discussed what poems may interest soldiers, what may be appropriate, how to search for funny poems, nature poems, poems about courage, etc.

Next class students will type a short note to explain why they chose these poems, what literary elements they identify in the poems, and express appreciation for the soldiers' service to our country. (We can't print from these iPads yet, so we'll type on computers in the Library Media Center.) I gathered some holiday card stock paper on which students will cut and paste the poetry and notes, and I'll send everything out the first week of December, using soldier addresses supplied by students and several from anysoldier.com.

You can probably imagine the students' excitement about the iPads! Most students have not used an iPad before, though many are familiar with the iPod touch. Strict enforcement of procedural rules, zero tolerance of goofiness, and restricted use of the web browser (limited to poetry search only for this lesson) were critical management strategies!

Stars are a a good symbol to describe us right now, rare indeed in my middle school remedial English course. Students were star-struck, they felt like stars, and yes, I felt like a rock star.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

short story workshop


Due to the popularity of the dialogue workshop, in which I gave story starters and students continued the story to practice dialogue punctuation, we used the short story workshop to practice characterization. Story starter examples:

1. Jeff walked out of math class and saw a shiny object on the floor. He picked it up and realized it was an iPod touch.

2. Jake is a terrific soccer player and can make the team if he can pass math class. He needs to pass next week's math test in order to maintain a passing grade in math. (This was inspired by the short story "The Treasure of Lemon Brown" by Walter Dean Myers.)

3. Abby's parents just told her they have to move to Florida because her father found a new job there. She's upset and would prefer to stay here and live with her grandparents.

The lesson emphasized how character's actions, words, thoughts, and feelings contribute to the characterization in the story. After students told their stories, we discussed the character traits exhibited by the characters they created. The big picture goal of the workshop is the students' deeper reading of literature beyond the black and white words on the page.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo

I wish all writers and writing teachers a very merry National Novel Writing Month! My students and I participated in the Young Writers Project of NaNoWriMo the past 2 years, but I'm taking a break this year due to the structure of my classes.

Or so I thought!

I'm meeting with my writing group tomorrow, despite feeling zero writing inclination since early August, for the main purpose of supporting my colleague who is writing a REAL NOVEL. Lo and behold, I brought my writer's notebook (seriously, that exists in real life outside the English classroom) to my daughter's piano class and WROTE the start of a short story.

Or something!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

work and play


Play - The Lion King - Incredible. Priceless. Stunning. Breathtaking. We sat in fourth row seats on an aisle through which animals/actors paraded. (A hyena screamed at my daughter.) I've seen the show once before and didn't expect to fall in love with it again, but I did.

Work - I think I'm moving in a good rhythm. The four day schedule and my 20 classes are manageable mainly because classes remain small, average 8 students (range from 2 to 14). My first unit was literary elements review, now short stories. The short stories unit focuses on characterization and setting. Each unit includes language/word study, such as apostrophe use and commas. Really, I said commas.

I'm starting a dialogue workshop to help the study of comma use in narrative dialogue. Students work with partners to write the conversation that follows a prescribed scene. Scene example: "During lunch, Alex went to the lavatory, came back, and found his snack missing from the table. His friends were still sitting there, talking and laughing." After students write the dialogue, they check punctuation, especially commas, then present their writing to the class, which will in turn evaluate how well commas were used.

That's Plan B, created after they (we) were so bored by editing exercises - find the errors in these sentences, fix them, etc.

Friday, September 23, 2011

blog anniversary #4

Happy belated anniversary! I started this blog in July 2007 with the idea to write about my teaching experience, with scenic detours about books and family along the way. I've pondered the value of blogging just about every time I write a post, weighing the joys of writing against concerns about privacy, confidentiality, and professionalism. The desire to write about what I love - teaching, books, family, vacations, photography, cooking, humor, etc. - never faltered, though I agonized many times to write about educational policies and other teaching-related things that drive me crazy.

So I plan to continue! I wish many more happy writing years ahead for us all!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10th anniversary September 11

I wrote about my experience of 9/11/2001 a year ago. I'm grateful that the 10th anniversary is not a school day because being with family today allows me time and space I still need to think about what happened. In the future, I want something meaningful to share with students who don't remember that day, so I'm searching for good literature related to 9/11 suitable for 12 to 14 year olds. Please let me know if you have recommendations.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Knitting


I fully subscribe to the 10,000 hours rule in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. 

These are the two hats I knitted during the summer. I started the purple hat at the end of June and finished it a few weeks ago. I knitted the other hat yesterday in about 8 hours. The main difference between these 2 hats (that shows I learned something) is the type of yarn - for the second hat, I used bulky yarn that makes knitting easier and faster.

I'm in the middle of knitting a scarf (worsted weight, NOT bulky, taking FOREVER to finish). I thank YouTube for many many MANY knitting videos! (I also thank Debbie Macomber for The Shop on Blossom Street that inspired me to learn to knit last June.)


I knitted this flag pin in about an hour, using a free pattern I found on About.com. Mine is raggedy all over! I had to hot glue the yarn end to the corner area. The back is a mess. It was extremely frustrating to create, a total mess of yarn to manage (due to 3 colors, small areas, my lack of skills, etc.).

The satisfaction of creating a common useful object is unparalleled, despite my husband's reminder that "they have machines that do that". The main difference between knitting and writing is editing - I can't "edit" (correct mistakes, change pattern, etc.) during knitting like I can change writing. When I become more experienced with knitting, I'll probably know how to correct dropped stitches and other problems. I've had the opportunity to make design decisions/changes while knitting the scarf - colors, stripes, etc.

I plan to bring my knitting work - both finished and in-progress pieces - to show students and make connections about learning new skills, practice, mistakes, creativity, rules, and real-life MATH. Did you know there's a LOT of math involved in knitting???

Happy Labor Day, everyone!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

top ten

Summer 2011 Top Ten (Working) List

#10 Late night TV - I really didn't start this until last week. I stayed up wayyyy late most of this summer doing other things - surfing internet, reading, Angry Birds, Netflix movies, etc. The best late night TV for me is Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" marathons on the Travel Channel (like right now when I'm typing #1 through 6 and 10).

#7 - Time alone, solitude, no need to take care of someone else, to fix something for something else, to do something for someone else. Time to think, rest, make decisions, plan, dream. Maybe I need this time alone more than others because I'm an only child (who is raising an only child). Summer is my sabbatical.

#6 - Knitting - I finished a purple hat and started a scarf. I started the hat at the end of June, right after I learned how to knit by watching YouTube videos. Occasionally I picked it up, knitted a few rows, stopped because I was bored. Then a few weeks ago I finished it in a huff and was so enamored with (the idea of) my handiwork that I started a scarf (that will be a surprise gift for someone) and bought more yarn to knit another hat, more scarves, and a tie. I knitted so much this past weekend that by Saturday night bedtime the muscles in my forearms and the back of my hands started to tingle, and I woke up with searing aching muscle pain in those parts in the middle of the night and needed an ibuprofen to get back to sleep. There is something really special about creating a common but utilitarian object.

#5 - Time with my daughter, to hang out and do nothing at home, to drive her to violin lessons/piano lessons/soccer games/playdates, to watch her aggressive nature (usually not evident) materialize on the soccer field and in the swimming pool, to obsess about nail polish and give ourselves mani's and pedi's in our home "salon", to watch her immersed in reading books, to shop at the malls and discuss/debate fashion styles, to cook lunches and dinners for her, and so forth.

#4 - Summer cooking, using a lot of summer veggies from local farms; favorite dishes include cabbage tomato soup, salsa, tuna fish cucumber boats, 

#3 - Writing workshop with two friends that resulted in about 30 handwritten pages of stories of my childhood in Taiwan

#2 - Reading 23 books - including Forever, Beauty Queens, Athletic Shorts, and many picture books by Jane Yolen and Allen Say (prompted by my participation in the Book-a-day challenge and the 2011 Reading Challenge on Goodreads.com)

#1 - New England vacation in early July, our road trip through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts.

Friday, August 26, 2011

the main event


That's my 10 year old in Barnes and Noble today, not too old for Knuffle Bunny or a fluffy bow hair clip.

The Main Event of this blog is my teaching life, so you may be happy to hear that I am mostly prepared for September. I learned a few days ago that the remedial ELA course I teach will not be an every other day class, but once every four days, I will teach twice as many students as last year (current count: 165), and I will teach 6th grade in addition to 7th and 8th. So that big news pushed my work brain into high gear, and, regardless of the circumstances of this change, I'm mostly ready!

I'm going to focus on (approximately) monthly topics, starting with literary elements review, followed by a different literary genre each month (short stories, poetry, informational text, editorial/opinion text, drama). Test-taking strategies and practice will precede our state assessment. (When IS the ELA assessment anyway? The state education website is a nightmare to navigate; I can't find the date anywhere, but a friend said mid-April, immediately following spring recess. Of course.)

To help students stay organized in a course that they attend once every four days (i.e. about five times a month), I'm creating study packets for each monthly unit that contain important terms, puzzles for vocabulary practice, spelling, reading practice, and grammar. Classroom instruction will focus on "big ideas" from the unit and hands-on activities to practice substantive knowledge and skills. Each unit concludes with a test that will be the basis for student/teacher conferences and the letter grades I give each report card cycle.

What I'm giving up, at least in the foreseeable future, due to the big changes in my course schedule: helping students with assignments in their "regular" ELA classes. What I don't want to give up: support their independent reading. I have to think about it a lot more, possibly work in my own book talks at the end of every class, or make book review posters for different rooms where I teach. (Yes, I'll be traveling again.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge

Thanks to Goodreads, I'm even more immersed in books now than when I first started the Book-a-day challenge about 2 weeks ago! I've pledged to read 100 books this year, and based on my best estimation (thanks to Library Thing, which I used until I became active in Goodreads), I've read 31 books already. Eleven of those 31 are "picture books" that I read to keep up with Book-a-day, and I'm delighted to increase my knowledge of children's books and writers. (Many thanks to my public library for facilitating this reading pace!)

In addition to finding book recommendations on Goodreads, I share my reviews and reading updates ALL OVER THE PLACE - on this blog using widgets, plus Twitter and Facebook! I LOVE WIDGETS! I don't understand HTML code (or whatever else programming is involved) at all, but I know enough to plug those widgets here! I think I joined the Goodreads 2011 Reading Challenge primarily to use the widget, haha.

Now that you can see my current book reviews and updates in the lovely widgets on the right side of this page, I need to figure out if and how I want to write book review posts on this blog. Stay tuned!

Small note about back-to-school - My first official work day is September 6, even though I plan to set up my room before then. Students start school September 7. That's 3 more weeks...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

the antidote

Last night I learned from a teacher/blogger/friend that some of our high stakes/standardized ELA and math test scores had been released, so an online search yielded the stats - proficiency rates of every school in New York State. Many hours of dejected thoughts and counter thoughts followed.

Books are the antidote, as you probably know. Here's my Book-a-Day progress: After a short stall ( also called the weekend, when I couldn't find the time or brainpower to read American Gods), I recharged on children's picture books. (I'm on Goodreads and have reviewed all these books, so I need to find out how to connect those reviews to this blog directly. Stay tuned.)

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Queen of the Falls by Chris van Allsburg
Good Griselle by Jane Yolen
We Are America: a tribute from the heart by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers

I also started reading Athletic Shorts, a collection of short stories by Chris Crutcher. I've only read the first story "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune" - utterly heartbreaking and humorous. How does Chris Crutcher DO that?! (I repeated that question over and over in my head when I read Whale Talk. I can't think of a suitable way to book talk Whale Talk to my 7th and 8th grade students, but MAYBE I can manage a few of these short stories.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

August?!

My first school dream of the new school year was this past Friday night. I was in a large chaotic classroom with a co-teacher, and neither of us knew what we were doing. Oh well!

Book-a-day update - I was gangbusters for a few days. After Girl who was on Fire, I read Elephant Run (fascinating historical fiction set in Burma during Japanese occupation/World War II), Rapunzel's Revenge (fun graphic novel), Teen Angst? Naaah... (very funny memoir by Ned Vizzini), and Demigods and Monsters (essays about Percy Jackson series, a few really interesting ones, several ho-hums).

Then I hit a wall. I wanted a solid novel, a great story, something challenging and important, so I started American Gods that I had borrowed from a friend a month ago. I felt like the last person on Earth who had not read any Neil Gaiman books, even though I enjoy reading his tweets and know his fans are LEGION. (I just can't bear to read The Graveyard Book. I tried but couldn't read more than a few pages. I think the premise is too gruesome and unbearable for me personally.) It's hard to describe what I think and feel about American Gods so far - it's NOT a fast read, can we all agree? But it's interesting, and I want to continue, so Book-a-day is more or less in limbo. I can read picture books to fill in, but why bother with formality? I am reading a book every day, the same book, until I finish.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Girl who was on fire

When I first received Girl who was on Fire (essays about Hunger Games trilogy) a month ago, I immediately read the first four essays. I was so devoted to this task, I brought it with me to HSBC Arena (home of our Buffalo Sabres hockey team) that same evening to watch the NHL top draft picks on the jumbotron with my family. When the draft broadcast was boring (which is a lot of the time between draft picks and cute photo ops), I read this book because I didn't care much less understand what the commentators said to fill time.

That was the last time I read the book. For a while I convinced myself that I just needed more time to digest the important analysis each essayist presented after reading four in a row, blah blah blah. It sat in my Goodreads "to read" collection, and sat, and sat. So did two other books. Finally I admitted I just need to push myself to read it or forget it and move on. That's one reason to join Book-a-day.

There are several super interesting essays in this book, plus some essays that were just okay. Common themes (tyranny vs. community, love vs. hate, bread and circus) run throughout all the essays, so be prepared for repetition.

My personal favorites, ones that I found most thought-provoking: "Reality Hunger" by Ned Vizzini (connections to reality TV and essayist's experience with media/marketing; I'm going to find Vizzini's novels to read because I enjoyed his writing style!), "No So Weird Science" by Cara Lockwood (genetic engineering), "Crime of Fashion", "Bent, Shattered, and Mended" by Blythe Woolston (Post-traumatic stress disorder; I tweeted the writer, will find her book to read).

Potential for students - I think some 7th and 8th graders who enjoyed the trilogy would enjoy some of the essays. I may try to read excerpts from some essays in class with students. The new Common Core Learning Standards and specifically an addition by the New York State Education Department may require 7th and 8th grades to read literary criticism, something that seems generally out of reach for most students, but these essays would be much more accessible. (Confession: when my colleagues and I read that section in the NYS common core, our eyes bugged out. Honestly, I think we can teach it. It does require more creative curriculum work. That's why we're the professionals, huh?!)

Bottom line: we need more books like Girl who was on Fire - essays about our favorite middle grade/young adult novels! In the context of exploring great literature, these essays can encourage students to think more broadly and feel (and think) more deeply.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book-a-day

Typically I read very few books during July and August, my summer non-teaching months. I've noticed this personal reading trend over the past few years: reading in spurts of classroom/student related books from September through May (depending on when/how I find new books/authors/series), reading a LOT of books in June (when my mind acts out a pretend vacation despite the reality of working until the last day of June), then reading no more than 4 books in July and August when I have the most "free" time.

Usually at this point of the summer, I feel guilty about not reading books. Right now, I don't think I feel guilty. I just miss the satisfaction of being immersed in a good book. So I'm going to jump into the Book Whisperer Donalyn Miller's Book-a-Day challenge for August. Twitter folks provide a lot of inspiration - many tweet book titles and reviews for #bookaday :)

I need to start some book lists, request library items, strategize. Your suggestions are welcome, especially SHORT books - picture books, graphic novels, fiction or nonfiction!

Friday, July 29, 2011

high school reunion

Today was a high school reunion of just 2 people who were good friends in high school but haven't seen each other in 23 years! DGW lives in California and was in New York for a family gathering last week, then drove 5 hours with her 2 children and mom to visit some friends (including me!) here. We met each other's kids for the first time, too. Hopefully we can reunite at our next HS reunion shindig...

I looked through my HS yearbook just now and, despite being extremely average academically in our competitive magnet NYC high school, found a few compliments on my English/math/social studies homework HAHA from my friends HAHA.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My writing territories

This summer I organized a small writing workshop group (composed of a few friends/colleagues) to motivate and support each other to produce writing. It's working! We meet weekly at a bookstore (Borders this month, but soon Barnes and Noble) to share our writing and offer feedback.

My own "writing territories" (as per Georgia Heard and Nancie Atwell) are personal narratives from my childhood in Taiwan, life with my grandmother who raised me and my aunts and uncles. The writing group has offered positive responses and helpful suggestions, but most importantly, the weekly meetings push us to write.

Monday, July 18, 2011

films

The new Harry Potter movie - part 2 of Deathly Hallows - I didn't love it, but I'm never going to love any movie based on a book that I LOVED. It was a mix of great visuals and lame storytelling. Moving on.

"Downton Abbey" - FANTASTIC British Masterpiece Classic series that I enjoyed on Netflix (yes, I'm keeping the live streaming plan) last week!!!

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" - super interesting documentary movie about "street art" (aka graffiti) (Netflix again) - entertaining, thought-provoking, unexpected

Monday, July 11, 2011

coastal Maine



I truly believe in the healing power of nature that inspires us to create art. Here are a few more scenes from our time in Maine last week. Top picture was taken on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park - it's the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from early October through early March. Second picture features part of the village in Castine, Maine, as seen from the local yacht club pier.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

New England

Just returned last night from a most excellent family road trip vacation - a day in Hanover, NH (lovely college town where we saw spectacular 250th anniversary commemorative fireworks, toured Dartmouth), 4 days in Castine, ME (utterly beautiful, classic coastal Maine town; we stayed with Castine cousins who totally spoiled us and visited breathtaking Acadia National Park), a day and half in Boston (saw a game at Fenway Park, walked most of the Freedom Trail, exhausting), half a day at WALDEN POND!





The trip was the perfect prelude to my writing summer - a few coworker friends and I are going to meet weekly to share and chat about our writing. We start tomorrow - so guess what I'm going to do today?!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wrap it up!

Today was our last day with students. Four more work days left - 2 "records days" (I already finished) and 2 staff development days (no joke, professional development at the end of June, genius). I'll use the next 2 days to pack up my room as required by the maintenance/custodial staff even though I'm not moving to another room.

I've started to categorize my classroom books by genre, mainly to help me keep track of what I have and hopefully help students find interesting books. This is "playing" librarian and really fun! I'm not a compulsive organizer - no alphabetizing by author/title or color coding. I'm just separating out the informational, biography/autobiography/memoir, historical fiction, supernatural/mystery, fantasy series, sci fi series, etc. I also organized my classroom supplies today, even labeled shelves with lists of contents!

BOOKS UPDATE:

13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson - I enjoyed the second book immensely!

The Throne of Fire - book 2 of the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan. I want to write a long, rambling post about the books AFTER the Percy Jackson series, but here's the short version: A) Long books are not better, something I never thought I would say, and B) Percy Jackson stories were so FUNNY, especially the monsters, but The Lost Hero and the Kane Chronicles are so SERIOUS, TOO serious. I'm "reading" The Throne of Fire exactly the same way as I read The Red Pyramid - I borrowed the public library audiobook CDs and listen during my commute to work, still waiting for the hardcover copy. The two actors who narrate Carter and Sadie Kane are FANTASTIC, especially when they speak the other character parts. A few students told me The Red Pyramid was hard to read, and I wonder if the audiobook would have helped them sink into the story better.

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson, sequel to Chains - I've had the book since last summer, JUST read it a month ago! Curzon's narrative was a bit harder for me to read than Isabel's, but still super interesting. I think boys would enjoy the vivid description of battles and daily life at Valley Forge, and I certainly enjoyed Curzon's story and look forward to the NEXT one!

Monday, May 30, 2011

So long, May





I'm not sad to see the end of May, a month of testing and scoring. I gave my students the best literary gift I could offer, given the circumstances - BOOK CLUB.

This weekend we were host family to two wonderful Chinese graduate students (from Penn State) here to attend an international students conference. The conference organized a visit to Niagara Falls for the students on Saturday, we took our two students to the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens on Sunday, and good weather fortune prevailed!

Hosting international students was a terrific experience, but I'd be lying if I didn't say the BEST thing that happened to me was going to the NKOTBSB concert in Buffalo on Saturday night!!! I wasn't even a fan of EITHER band until... Saturday!!! Now I can't stop singing... ALL YOU PEOPLE, CAN'T YOU SEE, CAN'T YOU SEE... My friend and colleague H scored free tickets, and we plan to wear our souvenir t-shirts to school tomorrow... I'LL BE LOVING YOU FOREVERRRRRR... (the following is NOT my video since we were sitting wayyyy up high, but you get the idea...) I DON'T CARE WHO YOU ARE, WHERE YOU'RE FROM, WHAT YOU DID, AS LONG AS YOU LOVE ME...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

defy gravity


On the same day that I took my 10 year old girl to see "Wicked" the musical, I read about our state's draft regulations for teacher and principal evaluation that involves a "value-added" formula and a recent NY Times article about a "value-added model" used in New York City.

On our drive to the theatre that evening, "Uprising" by Muse pounded these words pounded over and over in my head - "they will stop degrading us... rise up and take the power back".

How? I wonder. How will they stop degrading our teaching profession, and how will we rise up and take the power back so that students can learn?

During the musical, Elphaba spoke aloud my thoughts in "Defying Gravity" - "something has changed within me, something is not the same". I really had believed for years that teaching alone was worth my time and energy, whether it was English language arts instruction or character education in general. But now, I really don't think I can ignore what's WRONG, just plain WRONG - spending gobs of money for "experts" to tell me how and what to teach, then cutting arts and music education, blaming teachers for standardized test scores and threatening jobs, ignoring poverty, ignoring student learning needs at home and in the schools, ... the list goes on. This NPR story "Rage Simmering Among American Teachers" and interview with Diane Ravitch expresses a lot about how I feel.

My daughter has said since she was about 3 years old that she wants to be a teacher. (Her grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins - teachers.) Sitting next to her at the musical, I wondered how I could show her to defy gravity.

Monday, April 25, 2011

back to school, back to reality


Let's look at a pretty picture even if (and especially if) we're back to reality that is full of rain, cold temperatures, and standardized testing.

Our state tests begin next week. I started "formal" preparation lessons the week before spring break by distributing a packet with exam information, sample/practice test questions, and review terms. Our class lessons did not involve the packet much - we were still busy with Book Club, Reader's Theater, etc. This week, I'm spending more time explaining the format of the state test, giving small chunks of practice tests, discussing and applying test-taking strategies, etc.

This is my attitude that I hope to successfully project in class: Hey folks, this is coming up, be ready, don't be anxious, doing your best is worth the effort, work hard like you always do, it's not the only important thing in our class, we'll wrap up Book Club and start a new round of Book Club next week, so be ready to love literature!

PS - I am absolutely in LOVE with Book Club, formerly known in my classroom as literature circles. The key is BOOKS - enough copies of good books. Sometimes I arrange the groups, based on book preferences (of the students) and my own teacher judgment of group dynamics, but right now they're in self-selected groups (and book choices) and doing pretty well. HOW do we find enough books? Our department was very fortunate the past 2 years to spend textbook money on independent reading books. The current/future fiscal outlook is not cheery, so I don't expect a repeat of such literary riches anytime soon. I've started to spend a bit of personal money on classroom books again, and I'll need to hunt book sales earnestly (again). I've thought about just begging, asking book stores/publishers/authors to donate small sets of 4, which is minimally what I need for one Book Club group. I should write a more detailed post on this topic soon because I have a TON to say about it :) :) :)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

a dream

Sunrise

My spring break vacation in the Charleston, SC area was a dream - a luxurious one that lasted 7 days. I'm back in my real life now! To help the dream linger a bit longer, I used Paula Deen/Food Network's recipe to make red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting recipe, prompted by my craving of the red velvet cupcake from Jestine's Sweet Shop in Charleston. My slightly pink velvet cupcakes were ok, but the cream cheese frosting was dreamy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Southern history







Sights from our tour of Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant, SC. Really interesting tour!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

spring break




Friday was our last day of school before spring break. It was a crappy day for me, chaotic, nonstop up-and-down, so I knew I was going to earn this vacation. Now that we're here, I really don't think I suffered enough to earn this much paradise. So I am very very thankful! (Pic 3 shows 4 turtles lined up on a log - see them?)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

spring reading


I don't spring clean, but I spring read. Here's me reading Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, sequel to Leviathan - I'm dumnkopf smitten, barking mad about these books! Can't WAIT for Goliath to be released this fall!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Valentine for Ernest Mann

My goal is to share a poem each day with students in April, aka National Poetry Month, aaka time to prep for the state standardized test in early May. Last Friday I shared my podcast reading of this with a class of 7th graders:


Valentine for Ernest Mann

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn't understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he reinvented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of the skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we reinvent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

- Naomi Shihab Nye

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Art & literature lesson: Gallery Walk

Gallery Walk involves student art work that relates to literature, peer review/comment, and some teacher prep to set-up comment sheets and logistics. The payoff - fun activity for students who love to write notes to each other, quiet classroom during the lesson, the teacher sits back and watches with satisfaction!

Goal: Students receive feedback from classmates and view a large variety of student work to further inform their own learning.

How to:

1. Students prepare art work - can be very simple drawings - however you want to connect to your curriculum. My students have just created editorial cartoons (to be entered in a contest sponsored by local newspaper), the culmination of an editorial unit. (They also wrote business letters to authors that suggested new story/character ideas for future books.) Since I'm not an art teacher by any means, we used this great how-to video web site to learn some cartooning skills prior to creating editorial cartoons: activitytv.com.

2. Teacher prints out class roster copies with space for each student to write comment next to their OWN names.

3. Explain to class your comment directions very clearly before activity. Each student places art work AND comment sheet on his/her desk, then moves to other students' desk to view art work and write comments. I emphasize the comment sheet STAYS with art work so that each student has a comment sheet for herself/himself that contains ALL their classmates' comments, clearly identified (hence no anonymous comments). I usually ask for specific types of comments, constructive feedback, etc., depending on the goal of the lesson.

4. Explain to class the logistics of moving around the classroom. I'm very structured, so I like a very organized method of transition! Regardless of whether students are seated at tables (with 3 or 4 students per table) or in rows of desks, I always give them a time limit (about 2 minutes), and everyone moves in  specific pattern/direction when I call time.

Outcomes - my classes always seem to enjoy this lesson. They stay focused and can't WAIT to read what classmates wrote about their work. I'm not sure how "constructive" all the comments are, but when several students write "I don't understand the topic of this cartoon" or "you're very artistic", the artist gains some useful insight. I always explain before the activity that they need to grow some "thick skin" to handle so much public attention and opinions, but it's not really different from public speaking. I'm also very clear that inappropriate comments will not be tolerated.

"Gallery Walk" is perhaps a misnomer for this activity, but I like it anyway!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Diane Ravitch is my new hero

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Diane Ravitch
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Compare teachers and Wall Street

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Crisis in Dairyland - For Richer and Poorer - Teachers and Wall Street
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Should I worry?

Friday night we watched "The Social Network" movie on DVD. We must have been the last two Facebook users to watch it. The movie story was sad to me, with characters who weren't particularly evil but hurt each other anyway, except no one was a victim. The very first scene of the movie - Zuckerberg character and his girlfriend in the pub - showed him with autistic spectrum qualities. The rest of the movie just reinforced that idea in my head. A young genius who can't relate to people, talking over them and around them, understanding and yet not understanding human relationships, listening and yet not listening to implicit messages.

Immediately after the movie, I watched some videos on the internet of Mark Zuckerberg interviews and concluded that the autistic spectrum qualities that I saw portrayed by the actor really didn't exist in the real-life person. I thought Zuckerberg's interviews showed some awkwardness with public speaking, but he seemed to answer questions with sincerity and full appreciation of the interviewer's ideas, implicit or otherwise. Just my opinion.

I imagine that the movie's mythological creators and creation of (The) Facebook are based in the reality of 19 year old young men with not-yet "fully connected frontal lobes" ("The Teen Brain" NPR article), genius talent, and luck. (Read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers examples of the genius/luck combination.)

Zuckerberg told more than one interviewer that he didn't want his staff or himself to focus on the movie or to be distracted from their work. That sums up my feelings and thoughts regarding the current furor about teachers and organized labor. I've really just tried to not think about it too much because I don't want to be distracted from my work. But I really wonder now, should I worry?

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Like Big Books

good things come from China

...like me! Well, either indirectly if you only count my parents who were born in mainland China, or directly if you count Taiwan (where I was born) as part of China.

My real point is that lately I've noticed LOTS of public discourse that relate to east/west encounters and some inherent value judgments about the quality of products "from China". In my teaching profession, exchange programs in local schools are as common as exchange of educational ideas in the media (see below).

At our recent faculty meeting, we watched a movie "2 Million Minutes" that compared high school students in three countries - USA, China, and India - in the pursuit of academic excellence. The movie generated quite a bit of discussion among colleagues - comments ranged from "wow, I feel lazy and stupid" to "that movie is biased and doesn't show the whole story". I searched online for more information about comparisons of education in different countries, and found the following articles to be insightful:

- "Schools in China and U.S. move in opposite directions" article from Education Week points out (to me) the need for balance between discipline and creativity - but where's the balance???

- Unhappy with east/west comparisons? How about Finland? - NPR article

- Some interesting information about educational systems in different countries - I've never heard of this source before - greatschools.org - The article cites a few national/international reports, and this statistic jumped out at me: "40% of children in India enter high school." I don't know how much to trust that statistic, considering the whole article is second/third-hand information, much less interpret what it means exactly, but I think it's safe to make the general statement that Americans believe in K-12 education.

Many teachers seem unhappy about east/west comparisons, specifically China/U.S. They automatically point to the egalitarian philosophy of American public education and the unfair apples-to-oranges comparison with countries that supposedly leave many (more) children "behind". I understand this response since I teach many students who are not prepared for school and ALL with diverse learning needs and interests.

I attended public school in Taiwan - kindergarten and 1st grade, then after four years in New York City, we moved back to Taiwan for grades 4, 5, 7 and half of 8 (long story, involves repeats and skips) in the 1970s and 1980s. When I watched the movie, I chuckled through scenes that brought back many Taiwan school memories. My parents' decision (and sacrifices) for me to live and attend schools in the U.S. was based on educational opportunities, pure and simple.

I interpreted the movie "2 Million Minutes" as commentary on the lack of excellence in American schools, where we celebrate mediocrity and inflate grades. The desperate struggles of the high achieving (and unbelievably hard working) Chinese and Indian students in the film were heartbreaking to watch. I don't wish to turn back time on our relatively comfortable living standards in the U.S. I want our students to value hard work - ACADEMIC work.

I emphasize "academic" to include all school content areas - ALL the arts, math and sciences, health and physical education, home and careers, technology education, YES vocational education. That's a lot of school and studying and working, huh? Year-round school and longer school days, I'm there. Let's not run the rat race that our current daily schedule dictates. (My school - 41 minute class periods, 3 minute hall pass time between periods, 20 minute lunch.) Let's plan smarter class/study/rest&recreation schedules.

Back to general discourse about products from China, specifically related my OTHER favorite topic - food. In my search for "good food" (thanks to writers like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman as well as many like-minded friends and local farmers), I'm familiar with the idea of local food sources being healthier for individuals and the planet. We've made conscious consumer decisions to choose local foods often over the past few years, supporting our friend's CSA (Good Food Farm) in North Java, NY, the wonderful Duink Farms in Hamburg, NY, and natural food store Farmers and Artisans in Williamsville, NY.

And yet... once in a while... my mind (heart?) does a reflexive, defensive thing when I read something like "much of the stuff on the market has been imported from China" (beefolks.com explanation of why they don't sell clover honey) or an email promoting locally grown garlic (22 varieties!) that decried the mass popularity in the U.S. of a single type of garlic imported from ... CHINA. Wait a minute... SOME things from China are good, right???  Local is usually better, but not always? Even Mark Bittman says real Parmesan cheese comes only from Italy. (The Food Matters Cookbook, 24)

Sure, my mind is capable of juggling these internal conflicts to make good choices. Today I decided that my Chinese ancestors probably grew MANY varieties of garlic themselves, and I bought some locally grown garlic from Singer Farm Naturals at Farmers and Artisans.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

applesauce nut bread

My daughter's friend A is here to play. A's dad is very knowledgeable about cooking and natural foods. Last time G (my kid) was at their house to play, she ate homemade granola. He also told us about this interesting online honey retail source beefolks.com. I didn't want to serve A just any old processed lunch or snack, so I'm baking this applesauce nut bread with homemade applesauce (apples from our local natural foods store Farmers and Artisans). But guess what the girls chose for lunch? Campbell's soup. Wait - I added pieces of my roasted chicken in the chicken noodle soup HA! (Ok, they did love the bread.)

APPLESAUCE NUT BREAD
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 egg, beaten
1 cup medium thick applesauce
2 tsb melted shortening or oil (I USE 1/2 CUP MORE APPLESAUCE INSTEAD OF OIL)

Sift dry ingreds. Add egg, applesauce, oil (or more applesauce). Mix thoroughly. Fold in walnuts. Pour into greased pan. Bake 350 degrees, 45 minutes.

***I like using homemade applesauce best. I just slow cook apples, with brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little water.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Days 3 & 4

Lots of family, a little shopping, some eating, some TV and online entertainment. We'll shift gears the next 2 days into "social" mode - playdates and other social outings with friends.

I stopped in the public library this afternoon to return magazines (JUST in time - that one week lending period is so rigorous!). Found another magazine (I'm very picky and will only read the most current issues) and 2 nonfiction books - a cookbook by food columnist Mark Bittman (despite the daunting lack of photos, I found a tempting slow cooker recipe for "jook", Chinese rice congee that's really not my thing but should be easy to make with slow cooker) and a memoir by John Kralik 365 Thank Yous.

I hand-wrote probably hundreds of letters during my childhood and college/graduate school years to friends and family in the United States, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom - I sincerely wish I could collect those letters BACK to keep as a record of my life in those years. Despite my complete and happy immersion in digital communications and social media, I'd like to revive writing and mailing letters via United States Postal Service and actual STAMPS.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day 2 of February break

[pictures deleted]

Today started extremely SUNNY! That's our front yard - shadows of my favorite tree, a birch. I didn't spend much time outside, as you can see my afternoon was occupied by this roasting endeavor. I bought the whole chicken from a local store called Farmers and Artisans that sells natural and healthy meats, produce, milk, and eggs. This chicken was processed/distributed by Murray's Chicken, and according to the tracking number, it grew up on lovely a farm in Pennsylvania.

In all the years that I lived in New York City apartments with my parents, I don't remember my parents ever using the oven to cook. Roasting is a new experience for me, and I enjoyed it enough today to want to buy a roasting pan soon. (I used Emeril's roasted chicken recipe on the Food Network web site - yummy!) It's really cheaper and WAY easier to buy a rotisserie chicken at our local supermarkets, but buying natural meats in a small store or from a farmer means cooking, which is better use of my time than, say, online shopping. Cooking is creating, just like writing or making greeting cards, and feels satisfying.

I wonder what my students have been doing? I think a few are on out-of-town vacations. Many are home. Several said, "I'm going to hang out with my friend." I haven't read a book yet, but I've read several magazines. (Just started using Zinio, digital magazine app for iPad - gorgeous!) I'm going to hang out with a few friends, too.

Blurry February

This picture shows a bit of the scenery on our horse-drawn carriage ride during the local university's Winterfest event today, a fun start to our mid-winter break. Other festivities included ice skating and broom ball on the mostly frozen campus lake, "chili in a bag" and hot chocolate in the nearby campus apartment complex. (I learned only today that chili in a bag means pouring chili into a small bag of chips. Yep.) The 50 degree weather of the past two days was really just a dream. Today's Winterfest - cold and snowy - is our reality!

I think February's curriculum feels blurry in my mind right now because I'm on vacation and the last 3 days of school were extremely out of the ordinary for me. Wednesday I was home sick with a cold (heavenly, compared to the following 2 days), Thursday I was still sick but in school scoring standardized assessments (in a windowless, poorly ventilated basement room, armed with tissues, hand sanitizer, and profuse apologies to my scoring partner who was also sick), and Friday was full of hyper teenagers (and teachers), assorted classroom games, and grade-level assemblies full of obstacle course games in the over-heated and extremely loud gymnasium HURRAY.

Here's what stands out in my mind the most - the teacher blogger scandal. I don't even know how to begin to share my reaction. I just keep thinking about that teacher and all the other teacher bloggers I know, including me. I have thought about confidentiality and privacy probably every single time I posted on this blog. What else can I say? Just keep writing what's important to me as a teacher and human being.

On that note, I'll add that I do remember teaching editorial writing and the author suggestion letter in February. March will wrap up the author letter (in which students suggest new story ideas to authors) and charge into the RESEARCH unit! Yes, this year's research relates to COLLEGE EXPLORATION. Students will choose any college or university in the United States, research to answer the essential question "how does this school help students succeed?", and write a thesis paper!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January was book club month

Teacher bloggers are probably morally obligated to post on snow days, especially people who don't post often, like me. So I might as well post the SECOND time today something related to TEACHING. As in, directly related.

When I started teaching in 2003, literature circles were a leap of faith for me and my peer colleagues. We were fairly committed to teaching classroom novel units, unlike our more experienced colleagues who were equally committed to teaching from literature anthology textbooks. Literature circles were complicated to arrange, involved surveying student interest and juggling 120 student preferences (times 3, if I gave them "top 3" choices) and several different book titles. (I used 6 different books the first time. That was very stupid, but I was very young.) During the day or two that I used to do the math in my head, I enjoyed the student pleas for books: "PLEASE I want THIS book!" Music to my ears, until I issued the book assignment, then pleas turned into complaints. (I could write a book about how innate is the ability to complain.)

That was just logistics. THEN comes the leap of faith. How do you know what the students are reading or learning or discussing??? Oh the status checks, discussion role sheets, self-assessments, group assessments! Regardless, students enjoyed the social interaction, I enjoyed watching them discuss books, most of them read most of their books, and I was happy.

I've probably written already in this blog about my transition from classroom novel units to independent reading all-the-time (or reading workshop), so I won't rehash here. (Quick references: Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and Nancie Atwell's The Reading Zone.) This is my second year teaching reading workshop, and by December I was tired of the fakers.

My friend and fellow English teacher CS taught me the term "labor faker", and I knew most of my students were reader fakers. We all worked hard in November to write novels for NaNoWriMo, and so we may have let their reading slide that month. December was ... December. (My 8th graders read A Christmas Carol in preparation for watching a 3 person "trunk show" production by local group Alleyway Theatre. My 7th graders read teleplay "Brian's Song" in the literature anthology, then watched the movie. Everyone wrote theme essays before winter break. Just in case you thought we slacked off haha!)

In January I told students I knew most of them were reader fakers (a few acted shocked at this idea, most gave me poker face), and I started Book Club. Here were the title choices:

8th grade - Maus I & II, Dairy Queen, Avalon High, Flush, Chains
7th grade - American Born Chinese, Dairy Queen, Avalon High, Flush, Chains

Hm, 6 titles just like my first ever Literature Circle unit. Well, this time

- I had only 36 students involved (my remedial/AIS classes did not do book club - January was editorial month for them!) instead of 120,
- I chose better books (many thanks to my English teacher colleagues and former principal who allowed us to use textbook money to order GOBS of young adult literature the past two years!!!) so students could and would truly read independently and discuss with peers, and
- I gave us those literature circle role sheets (questioner, summarizer, visualizer, etc.). Instead, I taught specific literary elements via mini-lessons, assigned the groups to identify the literary elements in their novels, reviewed their group answers, gave them feedback, then tested them individually on that exact same topic (sometimes different questions). They wrote their individual answers in Book Club Journals, which I graded.
- I used RAFT projects as culminating assessment. I'm pretty sure I used RAFT in previous literature circles.

It was really fun! I loved watching them read silently and independently in class - I told them quiet reading time is a GIFT from the universe. Usually I was grading papers (yeah, they generated a lot of journal responses to grade, and I wanted a fast turnover, but I used an easy 10 point rubric and didn't sweat it) during their reading time *GASP* but sometimes I joined them. In those quiet moments, I truly believed that silent sustained reading could lead to world peace.

I miss Book Club already. I considered doing it again NOW, but gathering just enough novels right before winter break really pushed all my teacher powers and luck to the edge. So while I regain my strength and resources, I'm teaching the editorial unit (might as well reuse my lessons! I found some cool resources - hopefully will share here another time) and recommitted to reading workshop. (Have I ever mentioned how I use our school library books in my classroom for Book Walks, many thanks to our awesome Library Media Specialist?) Silent sustained reading will save us all.

Year of the Rabbit

[photos deleted]

May this Year of the Rabbit bring you happiness and prosperity! In preparation for the lunar new year, we hosted a small party at home last weekend for a few of my daughter's classmates and their families. The decor was semi-homemade - I created the "spring" sign and purchased a few from Oriental Trading Co. The food was mostly homemade - baked egg rolls, cold sesame noodles, slow-cooked adobo chicken with rice, dumplings (frozen bag from Asian grocery), winter melon soup. Spring really isn't evident here yet, but I have hope!

Today's snow day is my new year's treat! Granted, we aren't buried (yet) by the snowstorm, but there was plenty of ice on the roads this morning, and right now the white stuff is a-swirling!

Current read: The Fellowship of the Ring! I tried to read it years ago but gave up because I started with the Prologue and gave up. Silly reader! Last week I found the audiobook (that does NOT read the Prologue) in my library, resulting in wonderful work commutes despite the weather, so now Middle Earth has taken over my mind. (Yes, I've seen the movie, but PUH-LEEZE!) Once again, I'm enjoying this dual auditory/visual reading experience - listening to some Shakespearean actor read aloud this heartbreaking and beautiful story to me when I'm driving to and from work, and reading the book (a colleague's discarded and neglected copy that's in my classroom library) when I'm not in the car. Sometimes I read parts that I listened to already, and sometimes vice versa. This was how I read The Lacuna and The Red Pyramid last year, and last month A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Oh! I haven't mentioned that yet, huh?! A Thousand Splendid Suns - so beautiful, so sad. The sadness didn't leave me for days after I finished reading the book. (Yet another example of how the audiobook pulled me into a story. I only listened to the first few chapters, then read the rest of the book in one evening.)

Hurray - our snow plow guy showed up (FINALLY! Yes, we're spoiled, but so is using soft facial tissue to blow your nose when you're sick, something my daughter really enjoys today) - very good timing because the snow is now horizontal. I'm sooooo happy NOT to be driving home from work right now, with or without audiobooks!

PS - Yesterday I forgot my book at school, something I hope my students didn't do. Being very lucky (it's the year of the rabbit, see?), I then bought the Lord of the Rings eBook series from the Kindle store to read on my iPad! Happy reading to you all!!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

World Juniors Hockey Championship

What fun it's been to host this tournament in our city!!! (This is the lobby of HSBC Arena today. These are fans who waited for bronze medal game to finish, coming in for the gold medal game. Photo courtesy of News 4 Buffalo) PLEASE COME BACK SOMEDAY SOON!!!

Owly Images

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New year beauty






What loveliness in the Orchid House we found today at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens! The orchids looked lovelier than when I saw them a month ago, so I assumed the Orchid Show was just around the corner. A check of the gardens calendar said the amaryllis and cymbidium show is up next (makes me want to say Scylla and Charybdis), and a google search informed me cymbidium is a type of orchid.

Not really sure why I'm so obsessed with the botanical gardens, flowers, plants, etc. I don't like to work with dirt, and I don't intend to garden anytime soon.

Anyone else see the Meryl Streep/Nicholas Cage movie "Adaptation"? I saw it years ago, was really confused, thought I'd try to watch it again someday, but ... there are so many other things to do, less complicated, more beautiful things, like looking at actual orchids. Such a strange movie.