Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Books I Didn't Like

As I was glancing over my reviews, I find that, for the most part, I enjoy most of what I read.  I just started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (really, with a title like that, aren't you a little interested???) and so far I'm on the fence with it.  I'll let you know. 

But, just in case you think that I'm the person who just likes everything I've ever read, I thought I'd provide some of the books I've read that I just did not like.

First - books I did not like at all until I had to read them again.

1. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

I'm of the firm opinion this book should only be taught in high school by a teacher who can point out all the hypocrisy and imagery and demonstrate the amazing qualities of Hester Prynne.  Most just try to fly through it as fast as possible to end the misery, but this really is a beautiful book (Go ahead, if you hated it in high school, really, try it again)

2. Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka

When I was first taught this, the introductory activity was to take construction paper and create what we think we would look like if we were a bug. Now here's a story about a man who turned into a bug.  The End.  This really is a great story, but it needs more guidance or a more mature reader to figure it all out.

3. Hamlet - William Shakespeare

First time - so there's this ghost who is really the prince's dead dad and he is telling the son to figure out why his brother is wooing the mom.  Oh yea, and the prince's girlfriend?  She's nuts.
I really think high schoolers can "get" this play, but again, they need guidance and time to have things pointed out that are the true essence of this masterpiece.

Books I'm not convinced I would read again if you paid me....

1.  Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

Yup, I'm going to take some crap for this one because there are several different people who read this blog who I know love this and have worn several copies out.  I've started the first one four different times, psyching myself up and getting all excited about reading the epic fantasy.  The last time I made it to page 100.  That was 100 pages of torture.  I felt the same way about the seventeen million hours of the movie too.  

2. The Good Earth - Pearl Buck

I sometimes wonder if this is a book that, if I went back and re-read it, it could be bumped up to the other list.   I just haven't got there yet.  I remember enjoying parts of this book, but was really put off by the stupid mistress with tiny feet who sat around and got fat while the wife worked her stinking tail off.   Maybe an appreciation of the culture and overall maturity will change that.

3. Moby Dick - Herman Melville

Just kill me now.  End the misery.  I had several different professors when I was getting my degree tell me that they thought this was a classic because a bunch of brainiacs were sitting around one day and decided we needed classics.  I think Ray Bradbury is the only author I have heard of who really enjoyed this book - for everyone else it is required suffering.

4.  A Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I HATED this book.  I get that there are some elements of the fantastic in it, but when a grandpa dies but then comes back and somewhere there is an angel that people beat up and the dead come back grandpa impregnates his granddaughter to keep the purity of the genetic line and her husband knows, but doesn't care....yuck, yuck, yuck.  Incest, crazy jumps in plot, things that just don't make sense.  I would have to have an offer of at least seven figures to think about reading this again.  

Your turn - go ahead.  Sure, some may judge you or argue you didn't really read the book, but we all know everyone doesn't like everything.  Let me know what books you just didn't like or discovered you did after time and a re-reading. :)

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Mysterious Benedict Society

This was a guilty pleasure book - I bought a copy of it when I was also buying it for my sister's birthday.  I had heard such great things, and it was a very good price, so I couldn't pass it by.  I love it when my gut instinct is so rewarding.

This is a book about gifted children who go through a series of tests without really knowing what is in store.  Eventually, the candidates are dwindled down to four and the adventure starts.  There is a girl who always carries a bucket full of miscellaneous objects with her, a boy with a photographic memory, a boy who is exceptional at solving riddles and puzzles and a girl who seems to just be a royal pain to everyone.  They finally meet Mr. Benedict, the man who created the tests and discover they have a huge responsibility to stop the actions of some unknown leader who is trying to create chaos in an effort to gain amazing power.

This is a children's book by subject, cleanliness of topic and interest to children and the plot moves very quickly with just enough detail but never more than necessary; however, I imagine there are very few children in elementary who would enjoy it as much as they could because of the length (485 pages) (granted, my nephew Ryan would probably plow through it with astonishing speed, but I think he is a superbly more gifted reader than most his age).  Amazon and I both put this book reading level at 5th grade or up and it would probably be a great read-aloud for 3rd or up.  Adults will enjoy this tremendously - I had tons of fun reading it.  I'm hoping to get to the sequel this summer.  

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Will

Life has been pretty exciting for Will over the last month. First, he finally finished his 550 piece puzzle that he got for Christmas. He had been working on it at his desk off and on for three months. He is the photographer of this picture.

Then he turned eight. Can't believe it. He made the decision to get baptized and had a really great day. We are very proud of his choices and the great example he is as a big brother.

With turning eight, we have entered the realm of scouts. This is not something I'm really that familiar with as when my brother became a scout, I was dating Enoch and got married within the year. The uniform, merit badge, meet every week and have pine wood derbys is all new. Lucky for Will, his dad is as excited about the car creation process as Will.

There is a bit of a tradition in the Seegmiller family to make cars that don't look like cars. I'm aware of a car that looked like a tube of toothpaste and one that looked like a Twinkie from their derby days in the 80's. This provided a bit of motivation, and this year, at Will's Pinewood Derby, he was the only car that wasn't designed to look like a car. Instead, it was fashioned after one of his favorite activites...

Guitar Hero!

I'm happy to report that, even though this car wasn't the fastest, the creativity was not all for naught.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

4 1/2 weeks

I can tell it is getting to the end of the school year for several reasons.  

One, I have to have more smaller activities during my class to keep the attention of my students.  I was thrilled when the weather was crappy last week because we had to do end of level tests (in April!!!) and when my students would glance at the window, very few had the longing look in their face wishing to be outside - it did not look desirable at all.  It is really the only reason that I don't like it to get too warm too fast is to keep the attention of students in class instead of anywhere else they would rather be.  

Two, almost every weekend from now to the end of the year I will have a large number of students out of class for state you name it - track, band, orchestra, choir, softball, baseball, soccer, etc.  I have to almost double my prep to make sure I have the stuff for students who are going to miss - and there are some who are missing all the time.

Three, it's election season.  I love to read how the students take their names and twist them to make some fun campaign slogan.  I was shocked to find out how many different races we have this year with kids running unopposed.  It seems that the kids who really want to do it all are doing more than ever and the kids who just don't care really just don't care.  

Four, I'm out of patience with parents who are once again, and sometimes for the fourth quarter in a row, calling/emailing/showing up to talk about their dear darling who is once again failing.  I'm tired of the "I just don't know what to do" excuses or the "he's just so busy" excuses.  Really?  My class is set up in a way that if the student just did what I assigned in class during class, they would pass.  The kids who are failing will just not do the work regardless of the kind of assignment - drawing, playing a card game, act out what I've just given you...nothing.  So my dilemma comes in trying to politely tell these very nice mom's that Junior probably won't make up a 30% to 60% in four weeks.  No, I still won't give all the work from the quarter.  No, you can't turn assignments from last quarter.  

The present Secretary of Education wants to push for students to be in school for eleven months of the year.  Heaven help us all if that happens.  People need breaks.  Teachers need breaks.  All an eleven month school year will do is frazzle the overacheivers more and give more crap excuses for children's lack of performance.  But in the meantime, I just have 4 1/2 weeks until I get to be a full-time mom again.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Alcatraz versus The Evil Librarians

This is a fun book. I mean, just the title alone is fantastic. This is the story told by a boy named Alcatraz who is explaining his discoveries about all of America truly being the Hushlands, ruled by the evil librarians. When the story starts, he doesn't realize this, of course, and just considers himself a very unlucky boy who can break or destory everything. He is sent from foster parent to foster parent because of his destruction, but he has little if any remorse. Then, he gets a present for his 13th birthday and everything changes.

This is actually the first Brandon Sanderson book I have ever read. My students rave about his Elantris and MistBorn books, but I just haven't got there yet. If they are as enjoyable to read as this, I will get there sooner rather than later.

This is Sanderson's first exploration of YA fiction. There are a couple things I really like. First, it is written about a subject that is fun enough that Will could enjoy the plot, but Sanderson understands the target audience of this book is older and there are many parts that are just for them. He doesn't talk down to his audience, but has explanations and sarcasm that every teen I know who has read even part is laughing and wanting to read more. I don't think these have stayed checked in our school library for a couple months now.

This is really a fun read - and I have it on good authority that the audiobook is absolutely delightful. Really, if you want a fun story that is imaginative and easy to read, give Alcatraz a try. Afterall, any book that starts with a description of being tied to an alter of encyclopedias, about to be killed by the evil librarians deserves a try, right? :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rethinking Reading Education

I have spent a great deal of time since starting my Master's research thinking about how I teach.  I don't hear an overwhelming number of complaints from students when I walk through the halls and haven't yet had my car keyed, so I don't think I suck.  

But I am not happy with what I've done the last two years. I think, if I'm truly being honest with myself, that I've really been a good teacher to about a third of my students. 

For those students who knew they were on the path for college before they hit third grade, the way I've been teaching is fine.  I assign reading, they do the reading because it is assigned, we talk about it, write about it, sometimes test it and move on.   

Then I have the third or so who will probably go to college because they're pretty sure it will be okay.  I bet about half of them will graduate.  Others will start college, realize that it is harder than high school and see what other avenues the world has to offer them.  I bet about half of these end up going back to college because their other plans just weren't working out.  Some will even find something they are really passionate about, work to get to the degree to get to the passion and be happy.

But then I have my students who really haven't been that successful in school, let alone an English class, for many years.  They come, they participate in whatever is of interest to them.  Most of them will do just enough to not fail because they don't want to do English any more than necessary.  The last book they remember reading that was "good" had Seuss as an author, they don't understand what I'm trying to get them to read or how it will help them when they go to work the day after graduation on a job site, in a shop or with the job corps.  They ask why they need to read Huck Finn or write a research paper.  It just doesn't apply to the life they see their parents living or the life they plan on living.  

These are the kids I have been focusing on.  These are the kids who I would just like to see find some satisfaction in reading.  Anything.  These are the kids I have failed.  

Failing these kids stops this year.  

I am going away from teaching a certain book.  Instead, I'm going to teach themes.  Say I have my AP bound, trying to get as much college credit as they can while still in high school.  They should read Huck Finn.  The second third?  Some other book that also deals with the theme of slavery in America, but is more YA type.  The third third something that touches on slavery, but has a very compelling and easy to read story.  

That's my summer plan - to finish my novel and redesign a curriculum.  And, somehow, find the money to get the books to really be able to teach in the way I should.

And that's just the reading part - I'm completely redesigning the writing part as well :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thesis, Part One, Complete

I sent in the first three chapters of my thesis today.  There may be one or two little errors, but the actual meat of this first part of the process is done.

My professor kept telling me I needed to write more with just the facts please, and stifling my creativity so much was driving me insane - having to cite almost every sentence (I HATE APA).  So today, when I uploaded my assignment, I included this little poem for my professor.  

Here is my proposal - I think it is complete
I'm thrilled nothing happened causing it to delete
I'd like to think it's done with nothing more to do
But experience explains that just cannot be true.
For though this was a challenge, a most difficult task
There is STILL work to do; I need an oxygen mask.
Data to collect, rubrics and curriculums to create
Paperwork is collecting, for my attention it awaits.
Here is my one happy thing, that for today I'm done.
And could write this little poem just for fun!

Friday, April 10, 2009

That's My Ellie

It's times like these I'm glad I have a scanner.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How to Heal???

I've been taking a Creative Writing class to help me teach my class better.   In that class, we have been working on creative non-fiction - telling true stories from the point of view we witnessed it, or the memories that we have even if they aren't complete or perfect.  In doing this, we have read many different stories to help us understand the genre and have different memories of our own recalled.

This has not been nearly as pleasant as I thought it would be.  There are so many things that I thought I had overcome, healed from and would not be affected by anymore, only to have a memory triggered, the situation recalled with remarkable clarity and emotions resurface that I didn't entirely enjoy the first time around.  (I'm sure there would be someone who studies brains and whatnot who would at this point say that it is evidence that the brain is remarkable, and I'm not denying it, but sometimes less than stellar would be nice.) Some of these memories are from high school - almost 15 years ago, and I'm still feeling the pain.   

So the question is how does someone heal?  

Most of you know that I did not carry two pregnancies to full term.  But I did with three.  That should be thrilling and joyful, and it is - sincerely.  But there are times when I'm still hit by the pain of the two that I lost.  I still feel that sadness and longing.  Now I know that I have healed somewhat because that isn't an overwhelming emotion - it doesn't keep me from functioning or loving 95% of the moments with my kids (let's be realistic - no one is thrilled to be a parent 100% of the time).  

I still feel the hurt from the kid who was and still is a jerk calling me an Amazon - more prevalent because I would really like to lose some weight to feel less like one.  I'm happily married to a man who thinks I'm beautiful and amazing, but those thoughts about my height and appearance still creep in every once in a while.  

I have great sadness over the friends that I had who were very dear to me that I have not been able to reconnect with.  I have some great friends now - some who I would trust with my life or darkest secret and love to spend time with.  But I still feel a longing for the friends no longer near.  

I firmly believe in the healing power of our Savior and the comfort he can give.  But I doubt that I'm alone in my desire to not have to feel what has been felt over and over again.  Is that truly possible or just a "wait until you're dead" reality?  And is that a question that can be answered or one of the greatest rhetorical questions to ever be written on this blog?  

Sorry - not really the most cheerful post.  Don't worry, those will be coming soon...

All Angels

Many of you remember from this post that I love to listen to classical music being broadcast over the internet from the UK. One of the things I really like is they have a variety of music and selections that just don't get played in the US. Along with this love, though, comes the occasional problem, that I hear something that I LOVE and it isn't available in the US. You would think that if it is available on Amazon in the UK that you could get it here, and you can, but you have to pay the import fees. That was my dilemma I faced when I heard these four beautiful girls with voices that parallel their appearance singing a song called Pie Jesu. I was blown away, stopped working and had to just listen to the harmonies of the song. I was going to have to pay $50 to import the CD. I committed to just waiting until it finally became available in the US.

Then Enoch went out of town, I was lonely and wishing I could do something I wanted for once and I had an epiphany. There are people in the UK who don't have to pay a ridiculous amount for these CD's who might have liked it or not but are selling it. After a search on Ebay and through the sellers on Amazon, I found both the CD's, shipping included, for about how much a new CD costs in the US (shipping from the UK for these size of items isn't anymore than in the US) so I ordered the two they have available.

I don't think I can really explain to you how this sounds. It is heaven on a CD and that sounds cliche, but when I shared the sounds with a fellow teacher who was feeling very sick yesterday, she just kept saying "Oh my gosh!" and closing her eyes to listen better. Their website has some snipets of their songs on them and you can hear some of a live performance with okay sound on YouTube. This moves me in a way that a new group hasn't for a long, long time. I promise that ordering from a seller in the UK and waiting about three weeks for it to arrive will bring a serenity to your life. It probably isn't for most guys - kindof girl music, but Enoch will tolerate it knowing that if I'm listening to it, I probably need to. :) It's just....heavenly.

Monday, April 6, 2009

General Conference Thoughts

I always look forward to General Conference for several reasons, but especially the one in the spring.  It is my excuse to just enjoy a weekend, not feel the necessity to go at my standard pace and take some time to relax and reflect.  I love the spring session because it is after all three birthdays in 16 days (birthday recap coming soon....) and March is mid-term when I'm going to school, the end of third quarter, the realization that everything I hoped to teach isn't going to be taught and stressing over what to cut, and Enoch usually has work pick up, which is FANTASTIC but he isn't around quite as much to help pick up the slack.  I look forward to the first weekend in April probably more than any other particular weekend.  

This year I was looking forward to this weekend more than usual.  There have been many things happening around me that just continue to shake my previous notion of normal and secure.  My dad, because of budget cuts, won't be teaching at CHS next year, which just breaks my heart.  There is hope that he will be able to come back the year after, but just hope.  There have been several that I know of in the last six months who have had what I thought to be rock solid marriages crumble, kids affected that I teach, community members shocked over who and why and many really re-evaluating what it takes to maintain a strong relationship.   Then, two weeks ago, I was ridiculously sick.  More than I have been in over a decade.  

I needed this weekend.  I needed to hear some uplifting messages, words of encouragement, a call to continue working hard at what is important because it is worth it.  

I am feeling remarkably refreshed, physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally.  I haven't felt this good in a long time.  I don't feel like I'm carrying the weight of everyone's worlds on my shoulders and feel like I can really finish out what I started in January (which I will NEVER do again - geez what was I thinking!!!)

The thing that is interesting is there wasn't just one talk.  It was all of them.  Everything was just what I needed to hear, added to each part of me that felt like it was atrophying, building me up.  I thought it was interesting how many of the talks referenced the strength of the Lord or his arms.  These stood out to me because I have had How Firm a Foundation in my head for weeks - specifically "I'll strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand."  I have been, and was again, and that is how I've been able to do what I've been able to do.  

It was perfect.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Hunger Games

Holy Cow what a good book!!!  I have heard of this book several times over the last six months, hadn't seen a poor review and then it showed up at my book fair's buy one get one free (I know, right?) and couldn't pass the chance to read it.  I started it Friday night.  Finished it about five minutes ago.  Could not stop thinking about it when I wasn't reading it.  

This is a book many years in the future when 12 different communities are controlled by the Capitol.  In order to prevent any rebellions, the Capitol hosts an annual Hunger Games, wherein a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 have there names drawn randomly and are required to attend the games where they will face off against the children from the other districts in a battle to the death.  There's only one winner.  The narrator finds herself as one of the competitors and tells the events that happen during the "games" which are televised to all the other districts.  It's basically the recreation of what I imagine happened in the ancient Roman Coliseum, but a wider playing field, longer playing time, younger contestants and not as many animals.  

I've worked it out to get this book to read with my class next year.  I guarantee it to be a winner among the 16-17 year old boys for sure, and because the narrator is a girl and develops conflicting love interests the girls will be hooked too.  I'm off to pre-order the sequel set to come out in the fall.  Yea, it's that good.

Mini Mohey

Last year, when I found out from some of my students that there was going to be mini Mohey, I knew that Ellie would love it. She did. When the opportunity came again this year, I asked Catie if she wanted to. She replied with an enthusiastic yes. They were very excited, counted down the days to the three day clinic and performance, talked about how much fun it would be to join.

However, some things are more fun in theory than reality.

Catie got sick on the Sunday before the classes were to start, and I thought about not putting her in, but she wanted to do it. She sat by Enoch the whole time (I was in class) said she wanted to do it, but didn't. Ellie loved it.

Tuesday, I took Catie. She wanted to go practice, but if I put her with the other girls, she would cry. So I told her we would just go watch Ellie, and she cried. She finally got into the idea when they played Duck, Duck, Goose. Ellie loved it.

Wednesday, I realized I wasn't going to get a refund, chalked this up to a learning experience for Catie to overcome future inhibitions about trying new things and she did an okay job in practice. Kindof danced, didn't cry, just pulled out what we like to call the Decker Scowl. Ellie loved it.

Wednesday night was the Mohey Review, time of the performance. We decided to take pictures of the girls before the Review started, and clearly Catie loves to perform. So does Ellie, but at this point we are well aware of that.

Then came the time to do the dance. Clearly, Catie is not as excited about following someone's guidelines.

Ellie loved it.

Catie wants to do dance next year, but I think I will start her over the summer when the classes are about five to seven students her age. She has demonstrated very well that she does not like the be thrown into things.

Swim lessons this summer could be interesting...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I know, hard to believe but I actually had time to read a book.  This is the longest that it has taken me to finish a book in a long time, but I loved every second.  

This is a classic book.  It deals with family that is in New York and told from the point of view of the daughter as she is growing and learning about reality.  She tells of her mom who doesn't like her as much as her younger brother, and her dad who she adores eventhough his lack of a work ethic and drinking are making her mom work harder than should have been necessary.  
Francie is smart and a good writer.  She reminded me of me a little growing up - I never really knew what to say around friends when I was little, spent most of my time imitating the way they acted because acting how I naturally would didn't seem to mesh.  Francie loves to read but is rarely noticed by the librarian, wants to take care of her family and has to wait for everything so she can do it with her brother. 

Francie's dad sings at bars for a living and he sings the Irish tunes he grew up with.  The whole time I was reading this book, I had all these Irish tunes in my mind, sweet melodies that I really do love.  This is just a beautiful book, lovely to read and enjoyable the whole time.  I thought it was easy to identify with all the characters, found each of them endearing in their own way in spite of their faults, and truly wished this book wasn't over when it ended.  

Side note...this is my 30th book review!!!