Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mini Reviews

Mini Reviews

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

"I wonder how the books got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers."

What a perfectly delightful book, written in letter format, that had me on page one! WW II and the German occupation of Guernsey, an island off the coast between England and France. Quirky characters. Books united people across the channel. Gosh, this was the perfect recipe for success in my eyes.

There's loads written and reviewed about this book so I will skip to the chase and say that our whole book group loved it! For once. Potato Peel Pie tastes similar to dirt, which I think it kind of is if you think about it. We tried to doll it up but we wanted to mimic what they might have used on Guernsey during the occupation.

Fatal Error

by JA Jance

I enjoy JA Jance's books. They are ones I fell into and enjoy almost immediatly, but this character, Ali Reynolds, is not one of my favorites. I heard Judy Jance discuss this book a bit at the Tucson Book Festival so I had some background coming into it - cyber stalking, Arizona/California as a backdrop. The book was very readable but I just wasn't won over by any of the characters. Still it was a fun Saturday read. As a matter of fact, a few days later, I can't remember more than that.

Isn't it Romantic?

by Ron Hansen

Light, laughable, full of misunderstandings and quirky characters. This was one of the books from my personalized recommendation from the local library and it was a success. A French couple is 'marooned' in Seldom, Nebraska, pop. 395 where they get more than they are bargaining for in a taste of American life. It was definitely a light afternoon read, but I was sick and it was a fun pick-me-up. The author is a former National Honor Book Honoree and he definitely took some criticism for this one, but I thought it was like watching a Nora Ephron movie. I kept picturing Owen Wilson as one of the supporting characters!!

Gosh all of these books AND report cards, Writing folders and end of year paperwork. I guess I didn't do too bad for finishing up the month.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Salon - School's Out Edition

Outside my window: it's bright and sunny - but it's windy! I am not a fan! Wind makes me cranky, it tests my hairspray and adds to my already disheveled look. Oh well, at least it is not 100 degrees. Okay, I change my mind, it's a perfectly lovely day outside.

I am listening to: Chanticleer and other renaissance vocal music today. Don't worry, I am not always so high falutin'. I was jamming the Journey and Daughtry earlier this week in the classroom as I packed up the shelves for another summer.

I am watching: nothing yet. I intend to rectify that this week though. Rich is leaving town so I have a date with Netflix. Anything I should put on my queue? I did get a new DVD called Saints and Soldiers last week, mybe I'll start with that.

I am thinking: of the AIMS results that we got back at school. I have dissected my results over and over. I am SO pleased with the results of my class. I am thinking that I need to celebrate the good and polish up the skills in the lower areas, focusing more on math. But more than anything I am trying to remember that these results don't define the students or me. The kiddos worked so hard. I'm glad that as a new 3rd grade teacher I didn't hold them back... I made it. Lots of hard work paid off for all of us! (All those years of teaching 1st grade really were good preparation...Mrs. Price, you were right!)

I am grateful for: supportive friends, hugs, tears, encouragement, unexpected gifts, and peace!! I surprised even myself this week and was braver than I thought possible. On purpose I sought out change. Be impressed. I am! We'll see what happens. But thanks go out to friends who were there for the journey.

I am reading: A Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende. WOW!~ I finished Wrong Number by Racelle Christensen this week as well as Isn't it Romantic? by Ron Hansen. Book Group was a blast and we reveiwed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. There was great discussion!

I am photographing: a fabulous day in Tucson with our kiddos, grandbabes and my mom! We were running with our hair on fire but we got to see and play with them all! It was a picture perfect day. I should have photographed an empty classroom, book group where we had Potato Peel Pie (can you guess what we read?) grading writing folders til all hours of the night and when Rich drilled his thumb assembling furniture. Oh well, it was a busy week.

I am listing: NOTHING! That's why they call it summer vacation! (Not really, but for a day or so it will work.)

I am creating: peace. An inner one this time. Every summer I have a goal. That's for this summer. Won't it be a fun one? Think of all those essays you had to write when you were a kid, "How I spent my summer vacation." Well this one will be a little more complex but the pictures will be great to draw.

On my Pandora: A Glee station, Adele, and Death Cab for Cutie (well some of their stuff anyway) and a serious walking station. I want to be a dork and collect my walking/riding music into a pretty upbeat group so that I will pace myself. I am truly going techie.

I am hoping and praying: for comfort and a decision. I think I want one thing. I need to be content if I don't get it. Easy to say, hard to do. Thy will, not my will. Hmmm. See why I am praying?

Around the house : I am ready for the first day of summer cleaning to begin! Who will come and help me, asked the Little Red Hen. Oh, then I will do it myself! Actually I love the purging, the feel of clean floors and windowsills and the smell of Pinesol! Come on over and bring chocolate and a Diet Coke!

From the kitchen: Salads with garden fresh tomatoes, BLTs with garden fresh tomatoes, salsa with garden fresh tomatoes, garden fresh tomatoes. Can you tell what's producing?

One of my favorite things: Laughing with friends and family. I've missed that belly-laughing feeling. It feels good to feel my face cracking open in smiles.

The children this week: I talked to or saw everyone this week. Number 3 son graduated from Air Traffic Control school at Keesler Air Force Base this week. We had some long talks and lots of texting going on. His wife finally joined him after 6 months. I would have loved to see that happy reunion. The rest of the kiddos are smiling and enjoying life. My school kiddos said tearful farewells. I am a mushball when the boys get teary. But I was brave and sent them off with hugs and promises to always love them. They are ready to fly....4th grade, here they come, ready or not!!

Plans for the week: Professional Development classes, some serious sleeping in, reading in bed and little cooking!!

On this date: Last year we were visiting Chaco Canyon with my brother and sister and their spouses. It was great. We hiked among ancient ruins and through high walled canyons. I loved learning it all and being with amazing people. This time last year was also the last time I ever talked with my dad. I can still hear him tell me he loved me. Bittersweet memories.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Salon - Week 3

Outside my window: It's finally dark and cool. I love the cool of spring nights.

I am listening to: The Darth Vader theme song as hummed by a 4 year old.

I am watching: Nothing. This week I am determined to read more...oh, AND finishing report cards and writing folders. Deadlines really do something for the motivation.

I am thinking: How I hate being sick...this was NOT the way I wanted to spend my Sunday, but at least I didn't need to get a sub!! :)

I am grateful for: a cool fan, Ibuprofen, a caring husband, and time to mend.

I am reading: Wrong Number by Rachelle J. Christensen for me and The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings for Book Group.

I am photographing: the newly painted office, a retirement party, and the last days of third grade for these students.

I am listing: To-do things for an upcoming trip. Anyone have any great places to visit in Denver??

I am creating: Ikea office furniture. Well, not me exactly. The dear husband is, but he lets me help....take out all the boxes!

On my Pandora: I am listening to my Hilary Weeks station.

I am hoping and praying: that a friend's son will arrive in Sendai, Japan safely. That he will have much service to give and that he will be safe for the 2 years that he will labor there. I am praying that my sweet friend will know that he is safe and that she will find comfort.

Around the house : I am thinking of ways to decorate the office. I love the grey and white. Will the accent color be a bright cherry red, a smashing turquoise or a sunshine yellow??

From the kitchen: Dinner tomorrow night for guests. Will it be Ritz chicken or Crispy Ranch Chicken?

One of my favorite things: text messages from my kids.

The children this week: At school the students are doing their last projects as third graders. We are doing presentations on Earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes! We will see a few of our own munchkins this next weekend when we journey to Tucson for a trip to the zoo, a night at the Gaslight dinner theater and a birthday lunch with my mom. Our third son graduates from Air Traffic Control school this Thursday in the Air Force!! The skies over his base will be safe (he promises not to sleep on the job!!)

Plans for the week: Complete the end of the year list at school, pack up the classroom for another year and wish my principal a sweet farewell.

On this date: in 2008 we were attending Seminary Graduation for our daughter. How I loved hearing all the graduates sing Sisters in Zion/Armies of Helaman!! It was amazing. How I love those kids - their spunk and their spirit. They truly are awesome.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Portrait of a Man at Work

My husband works from home.
I mean he really works from home.
Three days a week, anyway.
I can't show you how he looks most days when I leave for school because it truly is no fair that he doesn't have to comb his hair perfectly to sit at his computer.
But the other days he REALLY works at home!!

I show you this portrait of a man hard at work.....
Shall we call this "Portrait in Yellow"?

Sorry, honey, I know the paint isn't even dry,
but yellow just won't work
with the new office furniture and design.

Now to show you this.....

I'll call this portrait "Skies are Grey."

"As you wish, dear..."
We're on gallon number 3 now.

Gosh, I love this guy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Stone Diaries & a New Book Group

I joined a new book group this week.
Actually I invited myself - SO not like me!
You see, I met the neatest person while I waited 6 hours for a plane.
We had lots in common, knew some of the same people, and she made
the big world we live in, feel small and welcoming.
I loved her!!
Wow, it was like spirit talking to spirit.
She was reading a book that I asked about, which led to talking about more book titles,
and before you know it
I was asking about her book group and I did it....
I invited myself to visit her book group!!
She was so welcoming and said, "of course."
(She's nice that way;))

Well the big day came.
I read the whole book,
underlined important parts,
and looked up about a bajillion new words!!

The whole evening was fantastic.
This group really talks books.
Consensus: We are confused.
Did we like it? Love it? Hate it? Tolerate it?
I finally think we came up with the idea that we "wondered" about it.

Here are some of our thoughts:

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields presents itself as a mix of autobiography, biography, and historical memoir and contains as well a compilation of papers and family photos which claim to belong to or be relevant to the protagonist. The Stone Diaries tells the story of Daisy Goodwill Flett, her birth, childhood, courtship, marriage, motherhood and finally death. It is the story of an ordinary woman's life, told in an unusual combination of shifting first- and third-person points of view. Daisy Goodwill Flett is both the narrator and the subject of her life's story. (This was an interesting device as even Daisy says she can't always tell the truth.) Daisy, is " a middle-class woman, a woman of moderate intelligence and medium-sized ego and average good luck." In other words, she is an every-woman "so much like all other women that her story would seem barely worth remarking about except perhaps for her determination to tell it." (Penguin Putnam Reading Guide)

The pacing was all over the place – or maybe I was all over the place. I was at times eager to read on and at others wishing the book would just end already. Several of us thought there were weird side notes and blatant talk about sex that seemed to come out of nowhere. It was typically so random and odd. Yet, all of my complaints aside, I felt riveted by the prose and the thoughts. Twists of phrases twirled in my mind long after I had read them.

"He has entered his baroque period."

"When we think of the past we tend to assume that people were simpler in their functions....We take for granted that our fore bearers were imbued with a deeper purity of purpose than we possess nowadays, and a more singular set of mind...But none of this is true. Those who went before us were every bit as wayward and unaccountable and unsteady in their longings as people are today"

"it was as though she had veered accidentally into her own life"

Sometimes life is like..." a thousand little disappointments raining down on top of each other."

"...why wouldn't she love it, this exquisite wounding, the salt of perfect pain?"

In old age "...we are always dampening down our inner weather, permitting ourselves the comforts of postponement, of rehearsals."

I learned lots of new words... dithyrambic (my personal favorite)

and a great phrase..."full of ginger and fizz"!!

Our discussion was interesting as well when we approached how we see our own lives. Others experience it as well and may hold an entirely different version. (Yes, my own sister and I - same parents and only 18 months apart in age - see much of our growing up very differently!)
As we also have different people who intersect our lives
(spouses, siblings, parents, friends)
does our "life" really belong to us alone?
Are the stories our own? Are they shared?
The discussion was fabulous!

But we still wondered.
We wondered what the criteria to become a Pulitzer Prize consists of.
We wondered what the other contenders were like.
We wondered if we liked the book.

I loved the learning and the sense of belonging with some new friends.
How fantastic to bond - even better to bond over books!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Sunday Salon - Week 2

Outside my window: A sunny Sunday morning. It's slated to be 90 degrees today. Hey, it feels like a cool breeze after 100 degree days!

I am listening to: Sunday Baroque on KBAQ radio. awesome.

I am watching: Rich and I love to sit down on Saturday evening and watch all the DVR shows from the week - NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, Hawaii 5-o, The Mentalist. We hunker down with a few snacks and consider ourselves big partiers!! Haha! Actually, we have a great time together and it's cheaper than renting a movie. How I love the DVR!

I am thinking: how much fun my new book group was this week. The women there felt like immediate friends. I was welcomed with open arms and smiles. It was great - I felt like I fit right in!! We read The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, which was a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1995. (Opinions varied and that was so fun. We really wondered who does the voting and what the criteria is for winning :) .) We had terrific discussion and I can't wait til June, when we meet again.

I am grateful for: getting to talk to all of my kiddos last Sunday. All of them checked in in one way or another and it felt peaceful and right!!

I am reading: Fatal Error by J.A. Jance. I enjoyed it at the Tucson Book Festival when she talked about the background for this book. Her books read like candy for me so I am flying through it.

I am photographing: ordinary events in my life. This week's top event - Jennie and I went out to the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate the buying of their new house. I swear the size of the portions caught on camera are as big as a new house!!

I am listing: End of the year action items. Thank heavens for lists.

I am creating: new office space. After we painted the new office a soft yellow we realized that the new office furniture will not match so... back to Home Depot! Don't you think a soft grey will work perfectly? "As you wish, dear." Gosh, I love that man!

On my Pandora: I am loathe to admit that I have fallen into the Disney soundtracks channel. On my behalf, they are wonderful for my students to listen to, we know all the words, AND I can say, " we will be cleaning up at the end of this selection boys and girls" and they all recognize when the end is coming!! :)

I am hoping and praying: that our new principal is approachable, pliable, humble, honest, fair, full of integrity and more than a little moxie. I am hoping that she is a laugh-er, a smiler, a guide, a gentle, calm, and comforting influence amidst the chaos that comes with a school. Please!

Around the house : The bedroom is still in a state of flux and chaos until the office is done. Yuck! BUT, it gives me motivation. I am getting ready to start my summer-time cleaning.

From the kitchen: Not a darn thing!! I have successfully avoided cooking all week and I have enjoyed every minute of it. Take that stove.

One of my favorite things: Shopping time with my daughter.

The children this week: At school we are still on a regular schedule for one more week. Don't tell though, we have a surprise retirement assembly planned for our principal that involves singing, flowers, dancing and projects!! Shhhh...

Plans for the week: Paint, grade, ride, paint, grade, ride, paint, grade, ride

On this date: last year I was packing boxes in my classroom to move to third grade. Wow, I am so grateful that this year I can stay right where I am doing right what I am doing. Sigh of relief!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Sunday Salon - a first

Here's a first for me - recording my life in prompts!! (NOTE - somehow this got delayed...can I call this the Monday Salon?!?!)

Outside my window:
it's dark...it's Mother's Day evening and I've spent the afternoon reading in the backyard and I've now heard from all my "chickens" and even talked with MY mom. It's actually cooler outside than it's been all week so I am loving it!

I am listening to: Prairie Home Companion, and Vocal Point - acappella!! I heard them at Women's Conference and they were awesome! This week I've been playing my Pandora station and reveling in my stations there - Les Miserables to Glee. I love the assortment that Pandora gives me!

I am watching: DVR recordings of the Royal Wedding. Rich was great to record it for me while I was away.

I am thinking: that I really have a lot to do to end this school year. My list is growing exponentially and even knowing that I still can't get motivated. A lot hinges on an announcement of our new principal this Tuesday afternoon. Yikes.

I am grateful for: Mother's Day greetings from all my kiddos. I loved a drop-by visit from Jennie and Kyle, phone calls from the boys, and a little grandson who is finally recovering from a virus. Keep your fingers crossed that we don't share it.

I am reading: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields for my new book group this week.

I am photographing: students, their work, and my classroom.

I am listing: loads of work to finish by the end of the school year. The list is amazingly long!

I am creating: new friends. I can't wait to go to a new book group on Wednesday. It's all a result of a 6 hour wait at the airport and a new friend I made while waiting!! I love talking books and I am so excited to visit with my new friend again.

On my iPod: I have got to get back to using mine. Sorry, iPod, Pandora is my new best friend. But I will return. Someday.

I am hoping and praying: for a friend who is grieving.

Around the house: I swept, dusted, and mopped yesterday. I know I did. Doesn't seem like it today. Argh!

From the kitchen: Dinner here tomorrow night - I wish it could be potluck. The way my waistline is after this weekend of dinners out and ice cream I should probably think about serving yogurt or salad for every meal!

One of my favorite things: spending time with Rich. We went out for a drive last night and ended up at Culvers. Yum. How I love those drives we used to take when kiddos were tiny and gas was NOT $4 a gallon!

Plans for the week: an observation by NAU professors of me teaching science!! Yikes. No pressure. The assistant superintendent is coming to tell us who our new principal will be!! A whole night is set aside for grading writing assessments, a staff meeting and Book group!! Gosh that only takes me to Wednesday!! I want to squeeze in a few bike rides as well. Can it be Friday already???

On this date: last year I was finishing my last Spanish class for my ESL endorsement and it was killing me!! Wow, am I glad that is over. I guess I'll just count my blessings! Have a terrific week!

Thanks Suey for some great inspiration.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Please Mr. Postman

"Please Mr Postman, look and see
If there's a letter in your bag for me...."

What a creative literary device. To write a whole novel in letters. I wasn't sure I would like it; if the author could pull me in AND pull it off.

Wow, to coin another tune..."I'm a Believer!"

Reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was like waiting for a special letter each day. How excited Juliet must have been each time the Postman arrived with new letters, how thrilled she must have been to give him new ones in return to continue her story to Sophie and Sidney. I was!

Set in England and the channel islands of Guernsey in the aftermath of WWII, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society brings characters and their stories to life, one letter at a time. After living with email and the "to the minute" world of tweets and texts I wondered how the authors could pull off the plot without dragging things out. (How clever of them to intersperse telegrams!) But I turned the page to get an answer immediately. Although some have called this book plodding and slow, I disagree. This was perfect for me. (I do miss good-mail!)

“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” Juliet Ashton

" I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers- booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one - the margin of profit is too small. So , it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it - along with first dibs on the new books." p. 15

"It was amazing to me the, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don't really know what they're after - they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy. And then, being bright enough not to trust the publisher's blurb, they will ask the book clerk the three questions: (1) What is it about? (2) Have you read it? (3) Was it any good?
"Real dyed in the wool booksellers - like Sophie and me - can't lie. Our faces are always a dead giveaway. A lifted brow or a curled lip reveals that it's a poor excuse for a book, and the clever customers ask for a recommendation instead, whereupon we frog-march them over to a particular volume and command them to read it. If they read it and despise it, they'll never come back. But if they like it, they're customers for life." p. 16

Now this book may appear on the surface that it is only a tribute to book-lovers everywhere. Well it does light the fire of many a reader, but no, that is only half the story. It is a poignant story that needs to be told, of those who suffered on the island of Guernsey during the German occupation. These stolid citizens endured the hardship of war and occupation. Their very lives invaded by not an unseen enemy, but one very present, in their faces. They sent their babies away to England to be protected from the Germans. For five long years.

"Of all the things that happened during the war, this one - making your children go away to try to keep them safe - was truly the most terrible. I don't know how they endured it. It defies the animal instinct to protect your young.....How did the mothers of Guernsey live, not knowing where their children were?" p. 229

I loved Juliet and her writing skill and style. Her friendships were deep and caring. How hard to have us care for these characters after only a few letters and/or pages. What a task. How I admire those who can write letters like that. My SIL can - I smile on every page of her letters and miss the days when corresponded via paper and pen.

A favorite book of mine, A Town Called Alice by Neville Shute, has much the same feel. A tug, a pull, and you're IN the book. You're in the lives of the characters before you know what hits you. This was a great book group read.

Mr. Postman ( aka Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows,) you delivered!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Growing Readers

I hold Reader's Workshop in my classroom each day.
My goal has been to grow some readers by giving my students some solid, protected reading time. I then conference with each student about 1-2 times a week and talk about what they're reading. We discuss new titles and they tell me about the plot of their book, the characters, and they make some predictions. With some students we discuss literary devices and narration formats.
These are third graders!!

I want to stand and say that Reader's Workshop has been a huge success in my class this year!

The conferences (and going to our in- class library) are their favorite things.
The students love getting "in the zone" everyday. They protect their reading time and nothing gets in their way!!
I'm happy to report that
many of them have jumped
on the Book Group bandwagon.

I held Book Group every Wednesday in the classroom at lunchtime starting in November.
The kids loved it but I was the "driver."
I wanted them to get an idea of how to "talk" about and to books.
Well, guess what?
Now they "drive!"
Students have started asking if they can come in each week to meet in the classroom during lunch for various reading groups that they start with each other.
They even sign up for days several weeks in advance.
Of course I say, "YES!"
and the students come in small groups,
sitting at various tables around the room.

They laugh and talk books.
The other day one boy exclaimed, "Victoria chose the best book, Mrs. V. Isn't it amazing how she knew what I'd like? Isn't reading great?!?!"
Can you hear my heart pounding?!?! It happened. I'm growing some readers!!

Today I had the best conference of all.
One small red-haired bug had scheduled a conference with me wanting to discuss
Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone.
She said that she also had another surprise that I would love too.
We had a raucous time discussing all the little details about
Harry and the Dark Lord.

We just lost track of time and fell into living and breathing books.
We went from one topic to another and before you knew it
we were on to other books.

Her surprise for me...
when she showed me her current read and then the goal that she had set to learn to write a book blog, "just like real readers do!"

When she got up after our conference was over she looked at me and said, "that was the best conference yet. Don't you just love talking books, Mrs. V?"

Yes, Alexis, I do!!!

( Okay, after a tough end of the school year week I just didn't want to forget how these comments made me feel... :) )

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I'm Still in a Daze

(Saturday morning!! Can you believe it?)

I think I'm in a mental fog.
Not in a bad way.
I'm in a processing phase, I think.
The fog is a protection for those precious memories.
I had a great trip and now I am processing how to incorporate
everything I learned and remembered.
I am trying to place the memories into their proper new places.
I am trying to remember the sweetness of reunions and the joy of newly-hatched friendships.
I am trying NOT to think of school/work and the things I have to do.
That causes the fog to thicken.
I am in denial that I have things I M.U.S.T. do.

(Book Group Read this month!)

What a great book!
It was my traveling companion but only got opened when
my eyes could barely remain open each night.
Yet each time I opened it I fell right in.
I love it.
There are sticky notes marking each bookish-phrase.
Just holding it led to great conversations with fellow book lovers
an invitation to join another in-person book group!!
Wow, the power of a book!

Waiting in airports...
Painful? Boring? Frustrating?
I have a different take on it now.
We waited over 6 hours for our flight this last week...
the results were fantastic!

We were protected from equipment/mechanical malfunctions.
Received a $$ travel voucher to sweeten the bad taste of the medicine.
Made a 100 new best friends.
Talked books with loads of people.
Found new sisters - not of birth but of heart.
Although I didn't think so at first...
it was a pretty good trade
for 6 hours of my time!

I want to process my trip and thoughts a bit more before I record them here.
Until then I will sit in this fog.
Some might call it avoiding what needs to be done.
I will call it processing!!