Saturday, November 27, 2010


I've been enjoying a new blog, Good Light Comfortable Chair. I especially enjoyed yesterday's entry, "The Stacks in My Study" about magazines and torn-out magazine articles.

I, too, have had stacks. Stacks of books, stacks of magazines, stacks of articles I've torn out for reading and filing. Yes, filing. I have had great plans to be organized. Someday. Meanwhile, I moved this summer and had to seriously consider what to do about all my stacks. Family members who were helping me move of course thought I should just throw things away. Why would I move stacks of magazines and articles I've not read in years? Just throw them out! Start all over in a stack-free house!!! (Notice they did not say that about the books).

Well, I ended up moving some of the magazines, but all of the torn-out articles. Four months later, they are still in stacks in my new study. Waiting for a rainy day to come along so I can go through them, sort them, and file them for future reading/use. Maybe. Consider, though, that I now live in Phoenix where it rarely rains...

Thursday, November 25, 2010


For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I went south for Thanksgiving for the first time in my life. Normally this day would find me with 2-3 dozen family members and friends somewhere in Massachusetts, but this summer--within the space of 2-3 weeks--our family somewhat combusted (not in a bad way) and moved to the far corners of the country: I moved to Phoenix for a new teaching job; a niece moved to Loma Linda, CA for medical school; my youngest sister and her husband moved to Charlotte, NC for a new teaching/principal job for him; and a nephew moved to Collegedale, TN for college.

This was a shock for a family that has been within 2 hours of each other for the past 18 years or more and has managed to spend every holiday and every birthday together during that time. While I've been lucky to see everyone at least once between September and this week, we won't be all together until Christmas now. Still, the seven (out of 11 core members) of us have enjoyed this Thanksgiving break together in Charlotte.

I do have much to be thankful for, in spite of the distance that has come so suddenly upon us. And it has been good to contemplate it all over the days.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

100 Books

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. I've read the ones that are bolded. What ones have you read?

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (Which movie version do you like better...Colin Firth's Darcy or Kiera Knightly's Elizabeth?)

2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible (I'm enjoying The New Century version right now.)

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (have read this many times. Also played "Jo" in a faculty production at Cedar Lake.)

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (wrote a very long paper on this book for a doctoral class at UNH...60 pages...)

13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (took a seminar in Shakespeare with Ottilie Stafford. We had to read every play we hadn't already read/seen!)

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier (loved this book. Lauren, Jerry, Connie and I read it back to back to back to back one summer in Loma Linda)

16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk (This was really lived the horrors of war in this book.)

18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (I read this on a student's recommendation. He thought every English teacher should read it, even if I couldn't teach it.)

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot (I still have a book report I wrote on this in 11th grade. Don't ask me why)

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (beautifully written...)

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (taught this one year for Honors English)

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis

34 Emma - Jane Austen

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen (my new favorite Austen book)

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden (this was fascinating)

40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (loved this)

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (I know this almost by heart)

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan (amazing movie)

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (I love teaching this as a parable on salvation)

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (a beautiful book...haunting...I was lost in it for days after I finished reading it on the plane to and from Russia)

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (this book was edited in the old GBA library...literally words were blacked out!!!)

62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (I've been to the island prison off the coast of Marseilles)

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding (gotta love the movie)

69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (the unabridged version!)

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker (this was for the same doctoral class at UNH. I would not have read it otherwise)

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (many times...the movie too)

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce

76 The Inferno - Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession - AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (I've enjoyed it best in live theatre)

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro (I loved this. It has one of my all-time favorite quotes at the end where it talks about the remains of the day)

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert (In French)

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie is better...and a favorite to share with seniors)

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery (also in French)

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (my favorite Shakespeare tragedy and the one I teach instead of Macbeth)

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (in French, and three times in the live theatre and also as a movie. The musical is wonderful)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Beaver Moon Antics

"When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in worship of the Creator." ~Mahatma Gandhi

November's full moon is the Beaver Moon, so called by Native Americans because it was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze. This is also the time when the beavers are getting ready for winter. It is also called the Frosty Moon. I'm paying attention to the moon tonight because I realized, after a challenging day with one of my classes, that we are nearing the full moon for November. And in my experience the couple of days surrounding a full moon usually bring challenges to the classroom.

Some people laugh about this, but ask any ER worker, any insurance agent, or any experienced classroom teacher and you will hear the same thing from them: people get squirrelly around this time of month. I am always relieved when I see that full (or near full) moon.. There's a reason for the behavior...something outside of the classroom =)

Gandhi would have it something other worldly. And of course I believe that, too. I love what he says, in fact. But somehow I don't think my experience today was of a heavenly nature. Possible what Dickens called "the other direction." Ha!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mission Minded

I love how a powerful story can transform even the most reluctant learner. I love when students look forward to coming to class, to talking about what they are learning. It's what teachers long for and only periodically experience. This school year I've had the pleasure of introducing a new group of students to some of my favorite literature and movies. And what I love most about it is not just sharing stories alone, but sharing the meaning and message of the stories. This week, for example, I've been watching/ studying The Mission with my sophomores. Set in 1750s South America, it's more than a historically accurate story. It's a profound story of forgiveness and redemption, beautifully filmed and acted. The sound track alone will move you if nothing else does.

The first time I saw this movie, I was with a small group of students on a retreat. It was the evening of a full day and we were looking forward to relaxing with a good movie. We were unprepared for the effect this movie would have on us. As the story unfolded, we become more an more attentive, more and more focused on the images, almost to the point of being oblivious to anyone else around us. When it ended, we sat there in stunned silence for a full eleven minutes (one of the boys timed it). No one wanted to speak. No one wanted to break the spell. In spite of the discomfort for some (boys), it changed us. As individuals and as a group. We will never be the same for having gone through that experience together.

I don't know if this new class will feel the same way tomorrow when we finish the movie. I hope it makes an impact. But the fact that it happened even once is enough.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cultivating the Family Garden

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there. ~Barbara Bush

“Your family and your love must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort, and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep any relationship flourishing and growing.” -Jim Rohn

My sister spent the past three days in town (her husband was here for a medical conference). I took Friday off and enjoyed a spectacular day with her and my nephew who was also here. We gardened, sat by the pool, went shopping, talked a lot and just hung out. Thursday afternoon and Saturday was more of the same. I haven't done anything like that in some time. It was good to relax with family. I love the garden she made for me on the back patio with bouganvillia and a hummingbird bush. The birds do, too! The front patio is more of an herb garden with French and Spanish lavender.

In the evenings, we had fun discovering authentic places to eat --including two visits to a delicious pizza place, Grimaldi's, located in what seemed to us an out-of-the-way corner of Scottsdale. We've been to the Brooklyn version of this place twice (the original one). It's located right under the Brooklyn Bridge and usually has a wait time of more than an hour. Here, we waited about 2 minutes each time. Shows you the population difference between the two cities =)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Place You Were Called To

"The place you were called to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. . . . When you experience your deepest gladness, you experience life's abundance, God's abundance." --Randy Roberts, August 21, 2010, Loma Linda University Church

"If you want to experience abundance at work, do what you were made to do. Do it for theOne who made you to do it (Colossians 3:22)."

Randy Roberts is one of my favorite speakers. I've never had the privilege to hear him live, in person. But I've watched him on the internet (live streaming) dozens of times. He is pastor where my niece now worships out in CA where she is in her first year of medical school. She is active in the musical life of the church and I've had the pleasure of seeing/hearing her minister to the congregation twice already in the past two months and will again this weekend (she's the cellist here).

It's a wonderful thing to be able to do what you love and know it is also what you are called to do. Every day when I wake up I say a prayer of gratitude for the opportunity I have to do what I do. I know I am fortunate. Not everyone is happy in what they do for a living. Truth to tell, I haven't always been happy, even though I knew I was doing what I was called to do. So the two don't always go hand in hand. But they are working well together right now. Can't complain about that!

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Lesson(s) Done

"This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight Into the wordless
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, and the stars.~Walt Whitman, "The Clear Midnight," Leaves of Grass

I've had this poem saved on my computer for several weeks. Not sure what prompted me to set it aside, but tonight it spoke to me again. "Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done." It's been a long day. Mondays I'm at school for 12+ hours, arriving around 7 and leaving well after 7. I often don't even get out of my room once I go in.

Teaching 6 high school English classes is beyond time consuming. The prep alone is exhausting, never mind the actual teaching. And yet, I love it. Even the classes that challenge me. I greet each day with joy knowing that not only will I be pondering themes I love, but, with any luck, so will my students.

But for now, night, sleep, and the stars.

Photo: campus at dusk

Sunday, November 07, 2010

For the Birds

I am having fun attracting birds to my little patio out back. During August and September, I had a plethora of hummingbirds.

Then all of a sudden bees took over the feeder, keeping the hummingbirds at bay. So I removd the feeder until I can figure out how to keep the bees away.

I put up a finch feeder and have been inundated with cheery little house finches.

But that's not all. I have had a verdin visit, several mocking birds (including a cute chubby one),

a chatty gila woodpecker,

a pair of curve-billed thrashers,

and a dark-eyed junco. My cats are fascinated by all the birds on the other side of the glass =)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Gathering Leaves

by Robert Frost

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight;
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?

I have become increasingly negligent with this blog. I'm not sure why. I think about it quite a bit. I am constantly looking for things to blog about. I even have the time. I just haven't done it. It's not that I'm not interested in doing it any more. I am. It's just that sometimes I wonder at the weight of what I write. Like Frost's poem here: Next to nothing for to nothing for use. I want what I write to have some weight, some merit, some use...for myself if no one else. But that's a pretty heavy demand, especially if you're going to write every day. I ask my students to write five times a week in their journals. I give them writing promts 2-3 of those days, but they are supposed to come up with something worth writing down the other 2-3 days. An even heavier demand of reluctant writers I'm realizing.

But...a crop is a crop, according to Frost. And who's to say where the harvest shall stop? Who's to say what's meaningful? What seems lightweight to one, might make all the difference to another. And so...I'm determined to do what I ask my students to do: write at least 5 times a week here. Don't hold me to it. But I will try...

Photo: an impromptu sketch one of my seniors made of me yesterday afternoon.