Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween: the great debate

It's funny how jacked up people get over Halloween. No matter how these things once started, they have evolved! We are part of the group who has fun on this day. As I type this, my one-eyed husband is all dressed up in a pirate suit, ready to scare the little kids... or not. He isn't that scary! But he has a wonderful sense of humor and he loves to have fun. So we celebrate, not with haunted houses or creepy devilish anything, just fun and candy and enjoying the presence of little children coming to the door for a treat.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday: Blank Beauty by Judith Pordon

My students in Writers' Workshop loved this:

Blank Beauty by Judith Pordon

Beautiful blank pages
kiss our
with backgrounds
that demand precision.
Our black letters cross
on tightrope lines,
without wavering
across deep invisible currents.
These beautiful blank pages
are promises of our
Our gentlest strokes
of darkness upon light.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Book Club

Like many junior high schools, ours is set up so we teach our core classes in the morning. Bible is first and then all the history, math, English, and science follows. The afternoons begin with an enrichment class, one of four: Spanish, Pacific Northwest History, Writers' Workshop, and Applied Science. All student take each of these as a one-semester class at some time during the two years of junior high. Grade levels are not an issue and the seventh graders love being in class with the eighth graders. We used to have enrichment classes three days a week (MWF) with fun classes called electives on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But it just didn't work. I really needed continuity for Writers' Workshop. My students sometimes just lost their train of thought when they had to wait so long for class. Plus, most of the track meets were on Fridays so the Spring was awful!

Last year I proposed a change. We would teach our enrichment classes every day, five days a week for seven weeks and then devote the last thirteen to fourteen days of every quarter to electives. And it works! Quite well! Each teacher is asked to do two of four electives during the year and parents volunteer for the remaining classes. Usually I facilitate a chess room first quarter and the word game room third quarter. But this year I wanted something different. I wanted a book club. So I put it out there, thinking of all the special girls who would sign up to read Pride and Prejudice with me! Imagine my shock at having six boys in my group - not a girl to behold! P-n-P would obviously need to be replaced.

We started with Archer's Quest by Linda Sue Park. A Korean-American, Ms. Park wrote A Single Shard, one of my favorite books for junior high and the one I use to introduce writing research papers to my students. We finished AQ in a week and were ready for other things. So I went through my bookshelves and pulled out 30 books that I thought the boys would like. They quickly made their choices, pulled up bean-bag chairs and floor pillows and read for 30 minutes. The last ten minutes of each session we get together and talk about our books. So far we've discussed setting, characters, over-riding themes, conflict, and surprises. This has worked beautifully. I read too. The first couple of days I read some of their books but I finished them so fast that it didn't seem quite fair. Now I'm reading a book about birth order. The boys were intrigued by that idea. I love how each boy's face lights up as he shares his book with his friends. It really is a great class!

A couple photographers from the yearbook staff came into my room during our book club today. They took pictures - and the boys never knew they were there. They even got one of me, leaning back in my chair with my feet on my desk. This is the most wonderful 42 minutes of my day. And the boys love it!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

50 Gourdes

No, I'm not talking about the hard-shelled vegetable looking thing. A gourde is a unit of currency in the country of Haiti. One of the blogs I follow just mentioned that a man (sick with cholera) told the writer that he was too poor to get a moto-taxi to go to the hospital. The writer mentioned that the taxi only cost 50 gourdes or $1.25 US. There's danger in that statement. Anytime we value someone's currency based on our own, it gets tricky. When our family first arrived in Haiti, the Haitian gourde was legally tied to the US dollar, so much so that we used to calculate everything in Haitian dollars, a currency that honestly never really existed. But it wasn't just the ex-pats that referred to the currency that way, the grocery and hardware store owners, the bankers, as well as the average Haitian on the street did too. At that time, $1.00 US was equal to 5 gourdes - not 50! So even though the 50 gourdes is only worth $1.25 US, to that sick man it is still 50 gourdes - not one, not two but fifty! Those of us who get paid in US dollars and exchange our valuable currency for the very weak Haitian gourde can quickly accumulate a lot of gourdes. However, the Haitian who works sweeping the street or doing yard work or working in one of the few factories in Haiti is not paid in dollars but in gourdes, a currency that has plummeted in value over the years. Fifty gourdes is a lot of money to a poor Haitian.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lit Circles - American War for Independence

I finally have enough different books that I can have literature circles that deal with the American War for Independence. Since I have students who read at various levels this can get a bit tricky. But I found multiple copies of several books including the old stand-by that's still quite good Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. In addition I have Mr. Revere and I by Robert Lawson, The Fighting Ground by Avi, An Eye for An Eye by Peter and Connie Roop, and Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen.

Mr. Revere and I
is interesting because it's told from Scheherazade's point of view - and she's a horse. The protagonist in An Eye for An Eye is a 13-year-old girl, Samantha, who does not allow herself to be defined by the social expectations of her day but chooses to fight to save her brother. The girls who read it liked Samantha's independent spirit even if they thought the book was too easy.

Woods Runner
is a new book; the paperback version doesn't come out until January 2011. I scoured the libraries until I found six copies that I checked out for my students. This has a very interesting format. The story line is quite simple. A 13-year-old boy, Samuel, is very adept in the wilderness. His parents and other nearby settlers depend on his hunting skills for meat. One day while out hunting, the British come, accompanied by Iroquois, and kill most of the settlers, but take his parents captive. The story follows Samuel's journey as he attempts to save his parents. In between each chapter is a half-page to page and a half of historical information that relates to the previously read chapter. This causes a slight disruption in the flow of the story but the facts presented are quite interesting, not what junior high students usually learn while studying the American War for Independence.

Frankly, none of these books is difficult to read but Woods Runner and The Fighting Ground are quite descriptive in the death or dying scenes. The Fighting Ground is interesting in that it takes place over just a few days. The scenes are measured by time not dates.

I plan the literature circles so we finish these book studies just a few days before the history teacher actually starts teaching this part of American History. It gives the students a lot more background information than they realize and helps them relate to the information presented.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The word disparity keeps coming to my mind. For several days I've been reading everything I can find on cholera because people I know in Haiti are now fighting that battle. And here at home, it has been homecoming week. Football games, class competitions, carnival, volleyball games, and last night's homecoming cruise on Lake Washington that ultimately took us near Bill Gates' little place on the water. With very little research I discovered that "according to King County public records, as of 2002, the total assessed value of the property (land and house) is $113 million, and the annual property tax is just over $1 million. Also according to the National Association of Home Builders, the median American house size is slightly more than 2,000 square feet. Microsoft founder William Gates III house is more than 30 times that size." []
Yeah, it was totally impressive.
Disparity... Now I'm not here to bash Bill Gates. I am well aware of his investment in health care and education both here and abroad. But what do we do about disparity? My husband and I talked today about ourselves, the cruise we went on with our students last night. Seriously, what a fabulous evening! The kids were gorgeous in their pretty dresses and nice suits. Dancing, singing, and laughing hilariously, everyone had so much fun. But as we passed along the shoreline, we wondered how many people were living under the bridges, homeless, cold and wet, hungry?

Disparity... What must we do? Should we stop the party? Stop homecoming and prom and school plays, all activities that cost a lot of money, and put that money into something to help the poor? Would it help the poor? I just don't know. How do we respond to the suffering in the world?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Poetry Friday: Did I Miss Anything? by Tom Wayman

I found this one night in my shuffling around blogs. I loved it! I've printed it off and shared it with our staff at school. I just had to repost it! Now is the season of colds and flu at school and kids always ask the question:

"Did I Miss Anything?" by Tom Wayman

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours.

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent.

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning.
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose.

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter.
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on Earth.

Nothing. When you are not present,
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience,
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder.
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place,

and you weren’t here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lunch Duty

It's silly but I hate being in the lunch room. I only have this duty once every three weeks but I think I'd pay one of my colleagues to do it for me. Anyone want to make an extra $25? When we go into the cafeteria, we inevitably have to wait for the pre-schoolers to vacate our tables. They're late. And messy... you can only imagine! The third and fourth graders leave within five minutes of our arrival but the kindergarteners stay until five minutes before we leave. It . is . chaos! The noise level is well beyond obnoxious.

Students will do all kinds of things in the cafeteria that they would not think of doing anywhere else! And I don't mean throwing food. Although a few have pulled that stunt, it doesn't happen often. Especially if I'm in the room. But the pushing and bumping and snatching of others' stuff, oh dear, so annoying. I only have one more day and then I don't have to do this again until the middle of November.

In my previous schools, aides were hired to take this duty. And the school before that? We ate outside at picnic tables. Oh fond memories of rice and beans and bananes! I don't remember that being a duty but it sure is now!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Praying the News

The purpose of the news is to make us pray. I am convinced that immeasurably good things would happen if we prayed about the news rather than complained about it all the time. [And yes, I am totally sick of nasty political ads and wish it was mid-November right about now.] God calls us to pray continuously: in times of crisis, blessing, need, praise, all the time - we're supposed to pray. It's about communicating, talking to God. He wants to hear what we think and then He wants to tell us what He thinks... if we'll just listen. He wants to prepare us for hard times and share in our joy. We're supposed to pray, to want to pray. I'm so glad it just means to talk, just normal conversation.

All day I've been praying for students. Former students. Our junior high gets a big influx of students from the public elementary schools each year and then after 8th grade, they often go back into the public high schools. I am so aware that I only have two years to teach these students to stand up for the right thing because it's right, to bear the burdens of others, to love others - not only as we love ourselves - but with the new commandment that Jesus gave - to love others as He loved us.

A local high school student died in a car accident last night. As soon as I saw the two-sentence breaking news, I posted a message to my former students who are now part of that high school student body. It basically said this: "Armor-up. God is calling you to comfort and console, to be a voice for Him at your school tomorrow. We will be praying for you!" And we did. Our staff prayed for those former students this morning and many of us continued to pray throughout the day. As I followed comments on FB I realized that our students were answering God's call, listening, loving, helping, comforting, encouraging... and I was so grateful that they were ready and that we were praying.

The news is often discouraging; we need to recognize it as God's call to prayer. And pray.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Two Weeks later

What cute grandchildren I have. Eliott is now two weeks old (only a week in this photo) and his big sister, Grace, adores him. We do too!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Autumn Fun

Yesterday was fun. My husband and I have worked hard for months both at home and at school. He's a high school principal and I'm a junior high language arts teacher. At home we have completely renovated our backyard, something that took all summer to accomplish. There has been a fair amount of renovation at school also. T redesigned the staff work room layout, making it much more organized and effective for teachers. Plus it just looks good! New classes were added and others deleted from the school program. Slowly but surely he is making significant changes.

When we woke up Saturday morning, late, the sun was shining and the cool air beckoned us outside. It would have been so easy to work in the yard. I have 75 daffodil bulbs that need planting! But we resisted that temptation and headed downtown.

We haven't been in our downtown area for a few years. Sad but true. Parking has a lot to do with that. But since the weather was gorgeous, we parked and walked about ten blocks into the downtown area. We first hit a great toy store. We need to buy for additional people this Christmas since we are going to Israel to spend the holidays with our French kids and their families. I found dolls that I love for the little girls but the price exceeds the budget that we were given so I need to keep looking. Nuts! We had lunch at an old restaurant that my dad used to haunt. He needs to truly haunt it now (he died in 2002) because it isn't very good anymore. Then we walked around town, window shopping, looking for a bakery that would make the memory of our lunch disappear. We didn't find a bakery but we did find an antique store that had lots of books at good prices. I bought 22 books for $34. Not bad.

I've noticed something in my classroom. Each day my kids come in and read quietly for as long as I can permit. It depends on the day and the quantity of material that needs to be covered. I have added considerably to my classroom library to the point that the kids spend quite a long time scanning the shelves. I've noticed that the boys have gravitated to the non-fiction shelf. Yes, I only have one good-sized shelf of non-fiction books and several of them are biographies. I love biographies because they can inspire kids to persevere but my kids aren't really reading those books. Interspersed among the bios are several books on fishing, hunting, spiders, snakes, and cowboys. Yes, I do live in the west. Yesterday more than half the books I picked up were non-fiction books that my boys would enjoy. There are more cowboy books as well as books on sharks, inventions, and space. I also bought three Patrick McManus books. A little known fact about PMc is that he was once employed by the Daily O - our local newspaper. He is a great, humorous, short-story writer and the author of the first story my 7th graders read each year. They also base their first essay on this story. I can't wait to share these books with my students. My boys are going to fight over them!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Poetry Friday with Emerson

Not a poem but one of my favorite American authors ever:
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The definition of success--
To laugh much;
to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children;
to earn the approbation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give one's self;
to leave the world a little better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm,
and sung with exultation;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--
this is to have succeeded.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why Rats?

I'm not sure why God created rats. I know I can't stand them. Having lived in tropical parts of the world for 25 years, Martinique, Haiti, and the country of Miami, I expected to see them everywhere. I hated watching them scamper across the electrical wires onto the roofs of buildings. Finding purpose in the life of a rat... I'm struggling with that one. Imagine my surprise at discovering one in my garage, here, in the cool and comfy state of Washington! After packing lunches for school early this morning, I opened the door in the kitchen/family room into the garage, turned on the light, stepped onto the garage landing and before stepping down onto the concrete floor, noticed a rat calmly waddling across the floor toward the furnace. I didn't scream but I didn't actually enter into the garage either. Calling for my husband to do his manly duty, I went inside to finish getting ready for school. T informed me that the rat had moved slightly behind the furnace. Not good! He thought it had probably eaten the poison he'd left under the shed in the backyard and that it was dying because as he explained, he'd never witnessed a rat move so slowly. UGH! All day I thought of that rodent in my garage. I got home from school at least two hours before T but I didn't linger in the garage. Not me... I came into the house, firmly shut the door, and stayed busy. Later, T came home and finished the job of slaying the rodent who was somehow still alive. Gross! I find those critters to be disgusting. I sure hope it didn't leave any family members behind!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lovin' technology!

Some days technology is my friend and other days it is a bitter enemy. On enemy days it usually means something isn't working! But today I am loving it sooooo much! This morning T and I spent an hour on iChat, watching our grandchildren and talking with our kids who live in France. Oh we miss them but iChat does make it so much easier!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Poetry Friday - New Grandson

I have a new grandson but I live in Washington (state) and he lives in Jouy-en-Josas, France. The earliest I will be able to hold him is Christmas time, and he will already be close to three months old. So in honor of my newest (#5) little one, I post this poem by Susan L. Schmidt.

A poem written by a grandmother to her grandson whom she has not yet met. She gives her heartfelt advice to live the good life.

Letter To My Grandson
© Susan L. Schmidt

By the time you read this you will be a big boy.
I know you will be kind, funny, wise, sensitive, interesting, and a ball of fire!
Your parents are all of these things.
I know you will be strong and a wonderful hugger. Your father was and still is.
I wish you happy, happy, days! You will have some bad days, yes.
They are important so you can appreciate the good ones.
There will be disappointments; I know you will be able to handle them.
Granny always says, "Life is 10% of what happens and 90% how you handle it.
I pray you learn about humility.
Please always let an outsider feel inside, and always, always, be kind.
I hope you learn that honesty is the best policy, and that doing hard days
work will always make you feel better.
Be a loyal friend, one people can count on and trust.
I hope you put all of these wonderful things you possess to make yourself and the world around you a better place to live in.
Please learn about the “God Stuff”, it really works, trust me.
You have such a wonderful mother. She will be the one to teach you all the good things in life. Remember how to play, for you are in for a loving time.
I hope we will be close always.
I can't wait to see you. I love you already.

Susan L. Schmidt

Monday, October 04, 2010

What a difference nine hours make!

I have a new grandbaby! His name is Eliott Ray and he was born on Tuesday, October 5th. Yes, I know today is Monday the 4th but he lives in France so he is nine hours ahead of us. It feels weird for him to have his birthday on a day we have yet to experience! But I am overjoyed. Another red-head! Woo-Hoo!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

And the walls came a-tumblin' down!

Twenty years ago... I remember watching the wall that separated East and West Germany fall. I stopped by Jeanine van Beek's house on the campus where we lived in Haiti. She was in her living room, glued to the TV, tears streaming down her face. Jeanine's family had suffered during WWII. Her father was responsible for saving many Jewish refugees and the family went through a tremendous amount of suffering because of his commitment to do what was right regardless of the cost. Jeanine never thought she would see that wall destroyed. It wasn't too long after that when a college in Schauffhausen called her to be their president. She was thrilled to go, to be a part of the new Europe. Jeanine died several years ago. She was an ordained minister, a gifted professor, a very intelligent woman, and I was proud to be her friend.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Poetry Friday: Don't You Quit!

I was reminded recently that often we are too quick to give up, on others and on ourselves. It is vitally important that we remember that some of the best minds in the world were early failures.

Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four years old; he didn’t read until he was seven.

Sir Isaac Newton did not do well in school.

Ludwig Von Beethoven’s music teacher said, “As a composer, he is hopeless!”

Thomas Edison’s teachers claimed that he was too stupid to learn.

F.W. Woolworth went to work in a store when he was 21 but couldn’t work with customers because the manager said he “didn’t have enough sense.”

Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper because he had “no good ideas.”

Enrico Caruso’s music teacher told him he couldn’t sing.

Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college.

Louis Pasteur did not do well in chemistry in college.

Louisa May Alcott was once told by an editor that her writing had no popular appeal.

Fred Waring was rejected from the high school chorus.

Winston Churchill failed sixth grade.

So as I look at my junior high students, I want to the one who totally believes in them, to forcefully encourage them--

Don't You Quit!

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don't give up though the pace seems slow -
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
Whe he might have captured the victor's cup;
And he learned too late when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.