Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The (sometimes guilty) Reading Pleasures of Series

When I was a child, I read basically everything I could get my hands on, and that included series, like the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and all of Alfred Payson Terhune. Terhune was the author of Lad, A Dog, Lad of Sunnybank, and a seemingly endless supply of books about dogs, usually with sad endings. Whe I was 10, a neighbor brought over a box of old Bobbsey Twin books while I was recovering from a mysterious virus. I read them all -- old fashioned stories and language. Another favorite series of my sister and I was Cherry Ames. Cherry was a nurse who had a new job in each book, and of course an adventure or mystery to solve. She also had two boyfriends, one a doctor and one a pilot. What a fabulous life!

My 4th grade students love series, too. At the end of nearly every read-aloud book, someone will ask, "Is there a sequel?" Usually not, but I understand the desire to stay with those characters and see what happens next. But, there are lots of new series for kids to fall in love with today. Harry Potter, of course, but also The Mysterious Benedict Society, all of the Rick Riordan novels, Chasing Vermeer, and many, many more.

I still love series, mostly mystery series. I enjoy the mystery part, picking up the clues and trying to figure out the solution, but even more, I enjoy the characters. A mystery author has many books in which to develop her characters and I notice that there are series that start out with a rather one-dimensional main character who develops into a complex person over the course of several books.

I started my attachment to mysteries with Sherlock Holmes, then Agatha Christie and the Lord Peter Whimsy novels. I was hooked on British mysteries for awhile and hunted down Marjorie Allingham and her Albert Campion series and Josephine Tey's series featuring detective Alan Grant, know for his "flair." I read Tony Hillerman's mysteries set in the Southwest with Navajo detectives. A number of my favorites feature detectives with a special gift for the mystical or unexplainable. One of these is an obscure mystery writer, Timothy Holme, whose detective is Italian and seems to see things from past centuries. Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs also has a special connection with intuition and the mystical. But now this is turning into a list of mysteries that I love!

The series I am thinking about today is Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody mysteries. These stories are set in the late 19th to early 20th century in Egypt and England. Amelia and her husband, the dashing Emerson, are archeologists in the golden are of Egyptian archeology. Peters includes lots of interesting factual information about ancient Egypt and archeology. She also includes an homage to the swashbuckling romantic novels of authors like Ryder Haggard.

I had all of the books and was waiting for the next one, when I belatedly learned that Elizabeth Peters had passed away. Well, I thought, the last novel, The Tomb of the Golden Bird, did have a final ring to it, with many of the characters finding resolution to relationships and life paths. It was not a bad place to end, leaving the characters in their beloved Egypt, never growing any older. Then, this summer I found out that a new Amelia Peabody novel was out! Peters had begun it before her death and a close friend, who is also an author, had completed it. Would this novel take the characters forward? Would that be a good thing?

I bought the book -- in hardcover! I couldn't wait. As it turns out, this new novel goes back in time. The Tomb of the Golden Bird takes place in 1922 with much of the action revolving around the discovery of King Tut's tomb. The new novel, The Painted Queen, takes place in 1911. I have so far read the introductions to the book, which explain the process of finishing it. And so I learned that Peters did indeed intend that The Tomb of the Golden Bird would conclude the story of the Emersons, leaving readers to imagine them happily excavating in Egypt. It's rather like Sherlock Holmes, who supposedly retired to Surrey to raise bees (though a number of authors have recalled him from his pastoral life).

I'm looking forward to reading The Painted Queen and revisiting these lively characters once more in a new story.

But aren't we lucky that we can always reread our favorite books?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Block Party!

On Saturday our street held its first ever block party and it was great!

We have lived here since 1979, but we only know a few of our neighbors. People come home, drive into their garages and shut the door. And in the winter here in Chicagoland people mainly stay inside unless they're shoveling snow. So when we got the flyer on our front door, I responded right away, with the idea that we could at least go for a little while and see how it went.

This being 2017, the flyer directed us to go online to a site where the organizers had put in information and a way to sign up to come and bring things for the party. And that way they got everyone's email and could communicate electronically.

So on Saturday evening, my husband and I walked across the street to the cul-de-sac where tables and lawn chairs were already set up and a bouncy house was going strong in one of the yards. Everyone had name tags with first names and house numbers. We talked with many neighbors -- everyone was eager to connect with other families. We found out that there are a ton of families with young children on the street. There are also a fair number of retirees. One older couple lives right across the street from their children and grandchildren -- lucky people! One couple is one of the first residents of the street. Other people have lived here only a few years.

We heard the story of the house fire that led to gutting and enlarging one house. We heard about another house that has an awesome kitchen that is practically professional. Our neighbor across the street has a rock band (they practice elsewhere!) and has opened shows for bigger names. We have teachers, engineers, veterans, a realtor, a tailor, and lots more. It was a little like opening a mystery box and seeing unexpected, heart-warming surprises pop out.

In thinking back, I was reminded of an episode of the old TV show, That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas as a young woman trying to make it in NYC. In that episode, she is invited onto a game show and is completely stumped when she has to answer questions about her neighbors. In an effort to do better when she is invited back the next week, she holds a party in her apartment to get to know her New York neighbors and, of course, complications ensue. But, when she arrives back at the game show prepared to talk about her neighbors, she is instead asked about her old neighbors from her childhood neighborhood in Brewster, New York. She then totally nails it, sweeping the competition.

I don't know if I remember enough about my childhood neighborhoods to win a game show, but I do remember that growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, we kids roamed the street, playing at each others' houses, riding bikes, and running in and out of each others' houses. Our parents all knew each other, too. We didn't have block parties, but everyone talked to each other. People spent more time outside and so they saw each other. It was a wonderful way to grow up.

So many things have changed since those days that I think for most of us there's no going back. But a block party is a happy reminder that we can connect and enjoy each others' company.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Biography, and being a detective/historian

One of my summer projects has been to begin working on writing a biography of Eliza Lucas Pinckney for middle grade readers. I wrote a little about it here, explaining why I decided to do this. I'm excited about this - I'm learning so much,not only about Eliza Pinckney and her time (1722-1793) but also about the process of biography writing.

I've read some great essays by biographers about writing biographies. I recommend the book Extraordinary Lives: The Art and Craft of American Biography, which is transcripts of a series of talks by American biographers about the process of researching and creating a biography. It's fascinating.

I'm now reading the first adult book I have about Eliza Pinckney. It's a biography written by a descendent of hers, Harriott Horry Rabenel, in 1898. Rabenel used lots of Eliza's letters for this biography, interspersed with other information and her own opinions. Reading it in 2017 is like trying to see the 18th century through a 19th century lens. Both Eliza and Rabenel include information that is difficult or incomprehensible without some further context. Sometimes Rabenel will explain things that Eliza writes about, but sometimes she doesn't and also adds 19th century information that needs explanation in the 21st century. Maybe I'll find that context in another source later on. I have a greater appreciation for historians now.

Eliza Pinckney is mostly known for her successful efforts to bring indigo planting to South Carolina. She was left in charge of her family's three plantations when she was 16 or 17 years old. Her father, an officer in the British military, had been called to the West Indies during one of the wars with Spain. She was passionate about botany and after trying for several years, she figured out how to grow indigo successfully, creating a hugely profitable crop for the colony.

Her life was much more than just indigo, however. She was an extremely busy young lady. She read, studied, taught her younger siblings, visited extensively with friends, and wrote many, many letters. She also married, had three children, and was widowed at a fairly young age, at which time she took over managing her husband's property.

I have been reading the letters that are included in the biography and I am struck by her lovely writing style. We have many of the letters because she copied nearly all of the letters she sent into a "letterbook." (Again, when did she have time for this?) Her writing style reminds me of Jane Austen, which makes sense as they are about the same time period. Here's an excerpt  from a letter written when the family spent several years in England:

"Poor dear Miss Carew! I am so very sorry her journey to Bath has been of so little effect, we have had such dreadful weather for her complaints. I long much to see her, and we shall certainly wait on yr. Ladyship and Sir Nicolas before we leave England..."

What a lively voice! After her beloved husband died unexpectedly, she wrote from South Carolina to her sons, who were in England at school. This time I was reminded of Charles Dickens (the spelling and punctuation is the original):

"How shall I write to you, what shall I say to you my dear, my ever dear children? but if possible more so now than ever, for I have a tale to tell you that will pierce your tender infant hearts; you have mett my children with the greatest loss you could meet with upon earth your Dear father the best and most valuable of Parents is no more."

We are so lucky to have these letters. They bring Eliza to life again in a way. I'm only surprised that no one else has written a modern biography of this interesting woman.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Opportunistic Garden

This morning I spent 45 minutes weeding our garden in an attempt to prepare to plant something. I know, it's July 4th! Most people's gardens are planted and flourishing by now. However, I'm a teacher and the spring planting time is also end-of-school time, with the rush to finish everything, write report cards... It's a runaway train. So gardening falls to the wayside. On top of that, Chicago has had a lot of bad weather -- torrential rains especially.

I am also not a good gardener. I love plants. I can do pots quite well and we have a lovely array of flowers and herbs in pots on our patio. It's low stakes gardening.

The garden that challenges me is the plot in our back yard that used to be our vegetable garden. We planted tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, and so on, until our trees grew so large and shady that the garden no longer got enough sun to grow vegetables. It sat rather neglected, gathering weeds and fallen branches, with a lone rhubarb plant in one corner.

However, it does include a few accidental "crops." About ten years ago I made the mistake of putting a mint plant at one end of the garden. If you've ever planted mint you know that once in the ground you will never get rid of it! So at one end of the garden we have a mint crop. I pull plants regularly to keep it from taking over everything and they smell nice. Mint tea, anyone?

About 15 or so years ago, our then next door neighbor decided to plant tiger lilies on his side of the fence. We have had a couple new families in that house since then and the tiger lilies have disappeared from that side of the fence but have taken up residence in our garden. I have dug them out in the past only to have them return, so this year I decided to let them have a little space in the plot. They are pretty.

Our last unexpected squatter is strawberries. I think they probably migrated from the composter into the garden and are now established in one corner of the garden. They are pretty with tiny red berries, and the squirrels and birds enjoy eating them.

What about the rest of the garden? Some more work and then hopefully some new, shade-loving plants will join the opportunistic residents.

Our potted patio garden

Our shady garden with the opportunistic residents

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer - what's the plan?

Many people had their summer goals and plans in place several weeks ago. Actually, I did too. But today I feel like summer is really beginning.

Last week my husband, daughter and I, along with much of our extended family, made our yearly trip to the Twin Cities for my mother's birthday. This year she turned 95, a milestone requiring more than the average visit with a cake and visits to her favorite restaurants. So we planned a small party. We reserved a room at her assisted living place, invited some extra relatives and friends, and got two cakes. It was a lively party with lots of conversations. My brother, sister and I got to talk with cousins we hadn't seen in quite a few years and were reminded of what a nice family we have. My mom had a lovely time and did not not get exhausted.

We're now back in Illinois after 4 days in Minnesota. With no other trips on the horizon, it's time to actually do something about those goals.

The big one: writing. The other summer goals -- cleaning, organizing, updating some curriculum -- will all fall into place. Writing, though, is like the dark hill up ahead of you. You see it vaguely. Maybe it's even shrouded in fog. How will you approach it? Will you approach it? Is there a feeling of trepidation? For all of my thinking about my plan, there's still a lot of mystery involved. Will I be able to accomplish this goal?

I've been thinking about this project for a long time. Every year when my students research and write a report about some topic related to the American Revolution, I am struck by the lack of biographies about some interesting people of that time. Or sometimes I find that the biographies, in my opinion, don't fit the bill. So after mulling this over and considering the biographies I wish existed, I picked a person to research and write a biography of -- Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Highlights of her life include horticulture (experimenting and discovering how to grow indigo in South Carolina, thus creating the first really profitable crop for that colony), running three plantations at age 17, and raising two sons who were important in the American Revolution. She was obviously not what we think of as the typical colonial lady.

The challenges are finding enough information about her, as well as about Antigua, where she was born, in the 18th century. Another challenge will be writing an interesting biography for middle grade readers. And of course the ever-present challenge of sitting down and doing the work!

Time to take the plunge.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Perceptions, youth, and humor

My friends all know that when I'm not teaching I am likely to be playing my horn in some community group. Besides getting to play some pretty great music I have loved meeting people I would not have known otherwise.

A couple months ago one of my horn-playing friends from a community orchestra asked if I wanted to play Mahler's Symphony #2 in another community orchestra. What a great opportunity, I thought! I have never played any Mahler in concert. Gustav Mahler was a giant of the early 20th century, composing 9 symphonies, plus many songs and other works. He was also a top conductor. His symphonies are all large works, usually calling for many extra players beyond the usual symphony roster. So to get a chance to play any Mahler symphony was awesome.

A standard symphony calls for 4 horns. Some early symphonies call for only two. Mahler 2 calls for 8 horns on stage and 4 off-stage! It also calls for extra trumpets, woodwinds, and a full chorus. I am playing one of the off-stage parts, though it turns out that we start off-stage, then go on stage to play for a bit, then back off-stage, then on stage to end the symphony. We've had one rehearsal and it is so much fun!

My Slice of Life today, though, is about perceptions, surprises, and finally, humor, while rehearsing Mahler. I had met one of the other off-stage horn players earlier this year while we were both playing a concert with a different community orchestra. She is a young woman getting started in her music career after graduating college. She is charming, friendly, and a good colleague. Before our first rehearsal of the off-stage players last week, we were chatting with another of the horn players, who neither of us knew. He was very friendly and asked me what I do when I'm not playing horn.

"I teach 4th grade," I said. We chatted about my school and the university where he is teaching.

A bit later my young hornist friend said to me, "Wow, I didn't know you were still working!" Ouch! Yes, I am the oldest off-stage horn player, though not the oldest of all the hornists. I didn't think I looked so old, but many people are retiring younger these days, I said to myself. In the end I decided it was a funny story to share with friends also in my age range. My friends winced a little and chuckled.

Then... a former student and her mother stopped by my school to visit. After chatting and catching up, the mom said to me, "Let us know when you're retiring. We want to come to the party."

Really, I'm not that old. I have at least a few more years in me!


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Super Power - Listening

If I were going to be a character in the Star Trek universe, I would be one of Guinan's people.

Guinan is in Start Trek: The Next Generation, the one with Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Her people are described as a race of listeners. She comes on board the Enterprise as a bartender in the lounge, a wonderful place for a listener. Her people are also very long-lived. In the one episode that she takes a contral role, several crew members have to travel back in time, where they meet Mark Twain and a young Guinan. Meeting Picard, she at first thinks he was sent by her father to tell her to come home. She says, "Tell him I'm not done listening." (And if Mark Twain is around, maybe one would never be done listneing!)

She is a better listener than talker. She seems to have trouble explaining herself at times, giving partial information (which often helps the plot more than if she had told everything she knows!).

I would fit in so well with Guinan and her people. I love to listen to people, I love to hear their stories and appreciate other people's lives and experiences. I also am not the best conversationist. I frequently can't think of anything to say. I would rather be listening.

In another Star Trek storyline, we learn that Guinan's people were attacked and driven out of their home. They are now scattered across the galaxy. So sadly, even if they were real, I couldn't go find them. On the other hand, maybe they are here, among us, listening intently and sympathetically.

And Guinan is played by Whoopee Goldberg! So cool!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Memories of Opera

I'm finishing my spring break week by visiting my mom in Minnesota. My mom is 94 and slowing down. She complains of not feeling well, of stomach problems and losing weight, and most of all, of being tired. Though I've only been here a few hours I can already see the positive change that having company, especially family, visit is doing.

My mother has also told stories about her childhood and her family. She grew up in western Minnesota in a very small town surrounded by farms. A lot happens in small towns, as any number of novels and biographies can testify.

As children, my sister and I loved to hear the story of her white cat with the green eyes. One day when my mother was about 10, the neighborhood children found that I white cat had been killed by a passing car. It was my mother's cat and she was distressed. The kids decided to have a proper funeral, and buried the unfortunate feline with a ceremony and lots of crying, especially from my mother. After the funeral what should stroll around the corner of the house, but a white cat with green eyes. It was my mother's cat. The cat that they had just buried was a white cat with blue eyes belonging to a girl down the street. This started a new cycle of weeping. Maybe this type of thing is where the idea of cats having nine lives comes from?

However, today's story is about opera, not cats. I previously wrote about opera, in particular the opera Carmen, so I think this an appropriate way to bring the month of blogging to a close. After college, which my mother was able to attend because my grandmother was determined that her daughter would get a good education, my mother became a math teacher. She taught in Duluth and Elbow Lake, in the Iron Range. This was not an area known for its culture. But, my mother told me, every year the Metropolitan Opera would go on tour and would present several operas in Minneapolis. She and her best friend would catch a bus from Duluth after school on Friday and take it to Minneapolis, where they would see several operas. They would take the bus back to Duluth on Sunday evening.

The first opera she ever saw was Faust by Gounod. She remembers how Mephistopheles wore a black cape that opened up to a dramatic red lining. After that first opera, she said, she was hooked. She remembers seeing Carmen (my first ever opera), Pagliacci, and Cavallerio Rusticana. As I listened, I thought, how wonderful that the Metropolitan Opera, one of the greatest opera companies in the world, would tour the country every year. They also had a radio broadcast of the Saturday afternoon opera for decades.

Today it's not as difficult to actually travel to New York City. But even you can't go there, the Met now simulcasts some of their operas to movie houses across the country -- not equivalent to getting to see a live production, but a benefit to opera lovers who don't live close to NYC. But there's still magic in the idea of the traveling opera company. And in the thought of my young mother spending hours on a bus in order to have her weekend at the opera in Minneapolis.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thoughts on Traveling

I'm in O'Hare Airport waiting for my flight to Minnesota to visit my mom. My check-in this morning was remarkably quick and easy -- I checked my suitcase with the skycaps, went through the Pre-check security line without taking off my shoes or taking out my laptop, and here I am waiting at my gate an hour in advance.

Even though this time was easy, I was remembering the "old days," before security measures. The days when your family could walk with you to the gate and wave as the plane took off. No x-rays of your stuff, no metal detectors. You could take liquids onto the plane without incident. You could change your tickets without paying a huge penalty. I usually feel like I'm signing my future away when I buy a plane ticket. You walked to your gate and got on the plane. Sometimes you actually walked out onto the tarmac and climbed stairs onto the plane.

I also remember the first hijacking of a plane and how scary that was, especially when other hijackers jumped on the bandwagon.

My children have never experienced the days before these regulations and precautions. We'll never go back to those days, and really these days are not so bad.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Girl's Trip

Tomorrow I will fly to Minneapolis to visit my mom for a few days. On Friday, my daughter will fly up from Houston to join us. We thought that would be our girls' weekend - mother-daughter-grandma - and that would be great! My daughter hasn't been able to get away to see her grandma in over a year. We planned a quiet trip, visiting with my mom, doing some errands for her, maybe taking her out to eat if she's up to it.

Then we found out yesterday that my niece will also be coming up to Minneapolis from Iowa, so we'll get to visit with her as well! She is starting grad school in the fall at the University of Minnesota, so I imagine her visit has something to do with that. And, oh yeah, her boyfriend lives in the twin cities. It will be fun to see the cousins together - they are only about a year apart in age.

It will also be very good to see how my mom is doing. She is 94 and one her last birthday it was evident that time was catching up to her. She was much more tired by going out to eat and would nod off while the rest of us were chatting. Recently she has begun to complain that she can't keep track of things like taxes, and that she's having more health issues. My brother and I keep reassuring her that she has people to take care of things like taxes and that we are always willing to come up if she needs us. She seems to have bounced back a little since then, so I'm hoping she is comfortable and happy. She is a survivor, but getting to be a tired survivor.

On another note, I'm hoping I can post my last two blog entries for SOL2017. There's no wifi in her assisted living! Hopefully a quick trip to Starbucks will do it.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Poem written while being tailgated

I went shopping at the big mall today, which meant taking the expressway for a few miles. I wrote this poem in my head while driving and then wrote it down in the parking lot.

Tailgater
Hovering so close behind
Swaying from side to side
Like a jackal ready to pounce
Looking for that opening,
Springing into action
Into the small space
Between your fellow travelers.

You will never find
Your heart's desire,
To be leader of the pack
On the open road.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Real First Day of Spring Break

Today was the real first day of spring break, because it's Monday and I didn't go to school. So what did I do? I'm a morning person, so I got up resolved to catch up on the many household things I had neglected.

First off I did a half hour of yoga. I had worked to make this a daily habit, but I caught three colds in a row and had stopped getting up early to do yoga. It felt really good to begin again, even if I was a bit stiff.

Then after breakfast, I started on my list. Laundry (okay, that's just an every week chore), cleaning, putting things away that had never made their way back to where they belonged, throwing stuff away! Then I went to Target to but many paper products, a new kitchen mop, and sponges. How exciting! I stopped for some bagels on the way home and I stopped at Goodwill to donate several bags and boxes of items we don't need.

After a bagel for lunch and a little more cleaning, off to an overdue doctor's appointment, followed by grocery shopping. Back home, I immediately began making one of our favorite dinner, banh mi.

After cleaning up I thought I'd just sit down and read for a little bit -- oh no! almost 2 hours later I realize that I really must stop and practice my horn before it gets so late that the neighbors will be unhappy. Why do books do that to us?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Disappointing Recital followed by Delicious Tapas

Today my husband and I went to a piano recital in Chicago. We mostly go to the Chicago Symphony concerts, and this year we have begun going to a few operas, and only occasionally do we go to piano recitals. I had wanted to see a particular pianist, Jeremy Denk, who is a MacArthur "Genius" grant winner, but we had a conflict with that date, so we ended up at a different piano recital.

I'm not going to name the pianist we saw today. He has won many competitions and has a busy career. We were both disappointed in his performance. I found myself thinking about all kinds of things other than the music -- the pianist's posture (excellent!), how many people were there, if Robert Schumann had lived today and been able to take Prozac would he have been happier but less productive? This is a bad sign. The performer should draw you into the music, sharing his/her interpretation, making a musical world. My husband, who is a pianist, had more technical complaints, but all leading to the same conclusion -- we were bored.

At intermission he said, "If I were here alone I'd probably leave now." I said, "Well, why not ask me if I want to leave, too?" So we did, but we had only 10 minutes to make it across the Loop to the train station. Our heroic cabbie got us there with ONE MINUTE to spare. We raced up the escalator and ran to our train. My Fitbit shows 28 minutes of exercise from walking to and from the train!

n the train, I mentioned that since I thought we were eating out that we might still have to do that because I didn't have anything to cook for dinner. "We could go for tapas," my husband said. Yes! There's a tapas restaurant across the street from our train station. So we had tapas and even dessert and it was very good!
Just two of the tapas dishes we had!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Introvert at the Party

Tonight my husband and I went to a party. We knew a few people at the party, but most were new to us. We had a good time -- interesting conversations, good food, interesting things to drink.

As the evening went on, one woman began to dominate the conversation that I was part of. She was very animated and quite funny. But the longer the group sat around the table, the more she talked and the less she listened. She cut into other people's stories with a related anecdote of her own. It got to be both annoying and tiring for me. Why do people do this? Do they just get so wound up that they can't stop and listen to anyone else?

I know I am in introvert and I take responsibility for acting like an introvert in many social situations. So right now I'm trying to figure out how I could better interact in this kind of social gathering. What I did was get up to get something to drink, and then wander into another room and a quieter conversation for awhile. That was a good choice. But I'd also like to be part of a bigger conversation and not feel shut down.

I think I'll visit Quiet, the book about introversion and I'll keep thinking.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Who would I have dinner with? Nannerl Mozart

One of the posts I read this month during the SOL Challenge was on what five people would you choose to have dinner with and why? What a cool question, I thought, and immediately began thinking who I would choose. Now, several days later, I would swap out at least one of my original choices, but I would definitely keep Nannerl Mozart.

Nannerl was the older sister of the famous Wolfgang Mozart. She was also enormously talented. The two of them toured together with their parents through much of their childhood. She was a pianist and she may have also played violin, she may have composed music. No one knows for sure. It's pretty clear that Wolfgang was the favorite of their father Leopold. On one tour with the family of four, smallpox struck the town they were staying in. Leopold took Wolfgang and fled to the countryside, leaving his wife and daughter in town. Nannerl was left behind when the two children were older -- Leopold and Wolfgang toured alone with the goal of finding a position for Wolfgang.

While Wolfgang struck out on his own, she stayed home with her father. There seemed to be no thought that she could also have a career in music, though there were a number of successful women pianists in Vienna at the time. She also appeared to have a romantic relationship with Captain Franz Armand D'Ippold. She did not marry him, though he remained a family friend. No one knows what happened; Nannerl kept a diary, but her entries are brief accounts of her day - going to church, visits, teaching, and msuci making. Did her father forbid her to marry? Did someone else interfere? We just don't know. She finally did marry, a widower with five unruly children, who lived in a remote village. So Nannerl was effectively packed away.

And what kind of musician would she have become if she had the opportunities her brother had? What would her life have been like? This is why I want to have dinner with her, to find out the answers to these mysteries and to see what she was really like. I wonder if she would share her thoughts?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Essay Celebration!

It's Spring Break minus 2 today and day 4 of a crazy week. Today my class had their essay celebration, with parents invited.

I was a little nervous about this event because though my students had been working hard on their essays for weeks, there were still things I thought could be improved. I wanted to finish off that unit, though, before spring break so we could start fresh, with research papers, after the break. So I told myself that whatever the essays were, that was good enough. Every child had grown as a writer. Each of them was proud of their work.

I follow the celebration plan from Lucy Calkins Units of Study, in the essay book. We still have the previous edition of Units of Study, that group grades 3 - 5 together. The celebration plan calls for the students to read to parents in small groups, then have a "museum" where they show and explain the whole process of writing an essay from idea generation to the final product.

Parents came, I gave my short introduction, and the kids took their parents into the groups. Everyone read confidently and got positive comments and questions. Then we regrouped with half the students manning the museum and everyone else acting as museum goers. I had put key points in the essay process on the white board for students to refer to and also for parents to use as prompts. After about 10 minutes, the students switched between being docents and museum goers. Everyone seemed to be having an enjoyable time!

As always happens, parents also talked with each other and I found myself in conversation with two parents who couldn't say enough nice things about the celebration, 4th grade, and the whole school! They were so impressed with the level of sophistication, which they saw in the museum portion of the event. That piece is really the best part of the celebration because it gets the students to rreflect on the whole process and see it as a journey. I was so proud of my students for their hard work and their poise in presenting and answering questions.

One more day until spring break!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Share Your Soles!

Today was Service Learning Immersion Day at my school. We have two of these immersion days every year. For this one, the 4th grade went to Share Your Soles, a Chicago-based charity that sends new and gently used shoes all over the world. We have volunteered there for 5 or 6 years now and it's always a wonderful experience.

Share Your Soles moved to a new facility since last year. They were located in a former Pullman (train car) building previously. They have now moved into a former stable, also in the historic Pullman district. They are not quite done with renovating the space we discovered. They had a porta-potty in the warehouse section because the real bathrooms were under construction. There was also almost no heat. Fortunately we knew that it would be chilly and every came prepared. Also, once the kids started working, they quickly got warmed up.

Our trip is part educational and part service. We learn about how Mona Purdy founded Share Your Soles after seeing children in Guatemala, I think, putting hot tar on the soles of their feet because they had no shoes and needed protection. She went home and began collecting shoes. It is now her full-time job to run the charity. She explained why shoes are so important. They protect feet against injury and parasites, which in some countries can lead to loss of a limb after infection sets in. In some places children cannot go to school if they don't have shoes. She told us about people in Indonesia who live in town dumps -- Share Your Soles gives them wellies to protest their feet from the dirty water.

The other part of our trip is working. We sort the bags of donated shoes into pairs, checking and discarding any worn-out shoes. The shoes are then sorted by types -- gym shoes, sandals, black shoes (needed for school attendance), boots, and so on. Our students jumped into the work with relish and accomplished a lot!

We got back to school in time to catch the last 10 minutes of the school assembly celebrating service learning. One of our 4th graders spoke to the whole school about our trip. It was a great end to an awesome day.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It's been a six-word kind of day

It's the week before spring break and I seem to be not all there. I've misplaced my long-lens focus in the frantic need to attend to the present. So I've been having trouble picking something to write about. I have topics I want to write about, but they require more focus and time than I have right now. So, inspired by JudyK at Joodles Now & Then, I will offer a six-word poem about my day.

School. Dinner. Band rehearsal. Bed, yes.

Monday, March 20, 2017

iFly, but I don't fly

Today the 4th and 5th grade from my school went to iFly, an indoor skydiving facility. The entire school will be going on field trip there this week except for our littlest students. These trips were gifted to the school by some generous donors.

iFly has educational packages for schools, so our students learned something about aerodynamics and terminal velocity as it relates to mass and shape. It sounds complicated, but the instructor was wonderful and the activities were all hands-on. Every student and teacher got to fly, too. You don't jump out of a plane or anything -- there's a vertical wind tunnel where the flying takes place. It's very high-tech and safe, as long as you don't have back or shoulder issues. We all got basic instruction in how to hold our arms and hands, legs, and head while flying, as well as the hand signals the flight instructor would use since you can't hear inside the wind tunnel.

Everyone got to fly twice for a minute each time. In between groups, the flight instructors did demonstrations of advanced techniques -- they basically could all have been stand-ins for Spiderman. It was impressive.

So the part about back and shoulder issues? Yes, that's me. I slipped a disc about 18 years ago so I was disqualified from flying.

In spite of not flying, I'm still tired tonight.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

One busy, busy week to go

There's one week left until our spring break and it's a doozy.

Today, Sunday, I am playing a concert in a town about 45 minutes away from where I live. I love playing French horn and have to seek out opportunities like this because there aren't a lot near where I live. So I will leave my house at 12:30 and not get back until 6:30 or so. I will play wonderful music with a group of nice people. I'm not complaining.

Monday, my students need to be at school 30 minutes before the start of the school day because we are taking a trip to iFly, an indoor skydiving company. This trip was donated to the school, pretty awesome. iFly does an educational program focusing on aerodynamics and every kids gets to "fly." I could fly, too, if I didn't have a bad back.

Tuesday, a regular school day, but we have a lot to do before spring break! Finishing essays, finding research books for our next project, taking a vocabulary quiz. Then I have a rehearsal for a different musical group in the evening, again with great people and something I love to do.

Wednesday is our all-school service learning immersion day and the 4th grade is going to Share Your Soles, a wonderful organization that sends new and gently used shoes all over the world. I never realized how important shoes are until we visited. Did you know that in some places children can't attend school unless they have shoes? We have a shoe drive in advance, and help with sorting at the facility. It's an hour bus ride away, sadly, but so worth it.

Thursday my class has their essay celebration and parents are invited. Excitement will be running high. The students will not only read their essays, but set up an essay museum to show parents the process of creating an essay. (Thank you, Lucy Calkins!)

Friday, the final day before spring break, we will have a vocabulary party. Friday night, I think I will need to go to dinner.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tax questions from the newby

Text message (edited) conversation with daughter who is about to do her own taxes for the first time.

Daughter: Will you claim me as a dependent?
Me: No, you're too old.
Daughter: Of yeah, I'm too old. Do I need to claim money that wasn't taxed? Like checks I get for lessons?
Me: You are supposed to, but most people do not report tips and other income that wasn't reported.
Daughter: I'll do my checks. But that means they'll take my money instead of giving me a break. :(
Me: No, it doesn't work that way. [I was at school and no longer at lunch at this point.]
Daughter: It doesn't? If taxes aren'e taken out, don't they take them?
Dad [suddenly joining the conversation]: You get a refund if you've overpaid your taxes.
Daughter: they don't take more? If you've underpaid?
[Photo of a yogurt container appears]
Daughter: BTW, this is good yogurt. No lactose.
Dad: If you follow instructions and do your taxes right, you will have had the correct amount deducted from your salary. In fact it is likely that you overpaid, so you may get a refund.
[Side note: Daughter is a young musician who doesn't have a full time job.]
Daughter: Ah, ok.
[Pause. Daughter is filling out tax form online]
Daughter: Man, my refund dropped a lot when I put in my teaching money. [sad face]
Me: Welcome to adulthood.
Daughter: [emoticon of crying face]
Daughter: OMG, I hate this. [More crying faces]
Daughter: Wahhh
Daughter: Oh no, I'm missing [one of her W-2 forms]
Dad: Call them. You have until April 15 to file.
Daughter: Ugh

Friday, March 17, 2017

Party Food Dilemma

I always tell people that together my husband and I are impossible to feed. That isn't really true, since we do manage to eat every day, but I am a lactose-intolerant pescatarian, or as I call it, a vegetarian who eats fish but no dairy to speak of, while my husband is a meat-eater, but can't have any hot spices. It's not that he dislikes spicy food, it sends him to the emergency room.

We got a party invitation. My first thought when I get an invitation is "yay! party!" My second thought is "will there be anything I can eat?" So I offered, along with pretty much everyone else, to bring something for the party.

We've never gotten together socially with this couple, but we like them. Our connection is music -- Kevin and I are in the same music organization. They live about 45 minutes away from us. All of this information goes into the decision about What to Bring. The party isn't for another week, but if I don't start thinking about what to make, it'll be store-bought hummus and pita chips.

I have a tasty recipe for stuffed mushrooms, but they'll be cold by the time we get to the party after the long drive. Maybe I could heat them up again at their house? Bruschetta? Likely to fall apart on the trip to their house. Dip? Boring. Maybe a salad? I have a delicious Asian salad recipe. Maybe I should bring two things. What about a dessert? Too many times I've been surrounded by delicious-looking dairy-based desserts. I could take care of that by bringing a nondairy dessert.

Look through cookbooks, search online. I have a week to figure this out.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Peer Gynt

I teach 4th grade but much of me non-teaching time goes into playing the French horn, which was my first career. Now I play in several community groups. I love getting to know the other people in my groups and playing a variety of music. On Sunday, I will be playing a program of Scandinavian music with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest. One of the pieces on the program, the longest piece, is Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg.

Peer Gynt was first a play by Henrik Ibsen. I didn't know much about it or the music by Grieg except for the famous "In the Hall of the Mountain King," the part where Peer visits the bloodthirsty trolls, and "Morning Mood," which has been used in many classic cartoons. Our conductor gave us a summary of the story to help with our performance. After reading the overview and some of the narration, I decided that Peer Gynt's story is a combination of Faust and Don Juan, with Norwegian elements (like the trolls). At the beginning, Peer is a young, wild 20-year-old, roaming the hills. He abducts the bride from a wedding, then leaves her and is seduced by the daughter of the king of the trolls. There are quite a few other women who flit in and out of the tale, but there is also Solveig, a truly good woman who continues to have faith in Peer as he roams the world, winning and losing fortunes, always searching for something, like Faust. And he does encounter the devil along the way, like Faust. Peer must save himself by proving that he has been true to himself. At the end he is an old man who returns to Solveig, who is still faithfully waiting for him.

The play is difficult to stage because of the many exotic places -- the Norwegian mountains, the interior of the mountain where the trolls reign, Morocco -- and the many strange creatures he meets in his adventures. Does anyone remember the movie "Educating Rita"? Julie Walters plays a waitress who wants to complete her education and ends up with Michael Caine as her tutor. At one point he assigns her to read "Peer Gynt" and write an essay on how to stage it. She comes back to him with one sentence: "Do it on the radio." It's a great moment. You feel for Michael Caine's character -- "I wanted her to think about the literary elements and discuss the problems and possibilities," he must be thinking. At the same time, you think, what a brilliant answer! Of course! My students have given me quite a few of those moments, too.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Reading cookbooks

I have been reading a cookbook. The cookbook is Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison. I'm finding it very relaxing.

I recently finished reading All the Light We Cannot See, a pretty long novel about World War II, quite intense, followed by The Seven Good Years, a memoir by an Israeli writer, Etgar Keret, which was quite short and entertaining but also had its intense moments. His son is born during a terrorist attack -- he and his wife took it in stride, but still. I'm also reading a young adult novel because the author is coming to visit our school. She's coming on Friday. I don't think I'll be finished.

So the cookbook. It was a bargain ebook so it's on my Kindle. I read the intro to each section with lovely descriptions of vegetables, ragouts, stews, and other homey but elegant dishes. I peruse the recipes. I do plan to make some of them. I feel no pressure to read every word or try to remember much of anything. It's a wonderful feeling and very different than the wonderful feeling I have when I'm reading a novel that I really enjoy. I'm floating through the book rather than immersing myself in it.

Mmmmm.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Snow, continued

Yesterday I wrote about the snow, but it turns out, that was only part one of our snow in Chicago. When I woke up this morning, there was another 6 inches or so and the streets had been plowed, but not completely. Fortunately I had woken up early because now I had to dig a car out.

Looking out the window at all the whiteness, I thought my son's car was on the driveway buried in snow. Oh no, I thought, I'll have to dig his car out, move it down our unshoveled driveway, park it somewhere, back my car out, park it, and then put Ben's car in the garage. This is easy when everything is dry, but now I had to consider whether a car would get stuck in the snow, watching for passing cars as I gunned it to avoid getting stuck, and where to leave one car while moving another?

So I was delighted when I went in the garage and found Ben's car in the garage. My lovely red car was unrecognizable under its coat of snow. I had to shovel around the car to get close enough to brush it off. Then I had to find the brush I thought I was done with until next winter. After brushing for what seemed like an hour but was probably 15 minutes, I was ready to go. I drove slowly on the snowy streets to make my way to school. On the way a warning light lit up on my dashboard - a symbol I didn't recognize. In the parking lot of school I looked it up in the car manual and found my tire pressure was low. Really? I had an oil change yesterday.

End of story, all my students were in attendance despite the weather and bad driving. I called our friendly neighborhood car repair place after school. They checked the tire pressure, which was fine, and reset the warning light.

Tomorrow will be easier, right?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Snow, Snow, Go Away

It's snowing here in Chicago. It started last night about 9 pm or so. I had just dropped my daughter off at Midway Airport, which is a heck of a long drive from my house, when it started. Just lightly, like maybe it wouldn't amount to anything, despite the predictions that it will continue into tomorrow, Tuesday! and dump 6 to 10 inches.

Drove back home, still nothing sticking. Woke up this morning to a white world. It was an in-service day to work on report cards, but I still had to go in to school. It snowed lightly all day. It is still snowing lightly, at 7 pm.

I wonder if my 4th graders will think of this as a bonus -- extra snow! Or if they'll wish it was warm and spring-like. I'll find out tomorrow.

Back to snow boots, mittens, and scarves, at least for a few days.

The view from my front door this morning. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Quiet Sunday

My daughter has been visiting for the past few days, but we have all been so busy that until today we only had an hour or so to relax together. Today, though, all I needed to accomplish was some laundry, grocery shopping, and making a nice dinner before taking her to the airport.

She asked If I could drop her off at a shopping center near the grocery store where I shop so she could do a little shopping for herself. Sure! I dropped her and went on to the grocery. When I was leaving, I texted her to ask where in the shopping center she was. No answer -- not surprising. Gave her a call -- same thing.

I got to the shopping center and called again. Still no answer. So I texted again, saying I was going to Barnes & Noble since I didn't know where she was. Meanwhile I was also texting with my husband, who had gone off to play a community band concert about 45 minutes away and then had tripped and dented his tuba.

I drove over to Barnes & Noble at the far end of the shopping center and went in to look for a cookbook I had read about. It sounded like the kind of cooking I would enjoy but I wanted to see the book. On the way to cookbooks I spied the latest Neil Gaiman! Norse Myths as seen through the eyes of a master of unusual fantasy. Picked it up.

My phone buzzed. It was Jamie saying she was in a nearby store and would come join me. I went to cookbooks, found the new book and sat down to peruse it. Yes! A focus on one delightful dish for dinner, with interesting seasonings and combinations. I stroll over to browse more books and get a call from Jamie. "Are you still at Barnes & Noble?" "Yes," I say glancing to my right, where who do I see buy my lovely daughter with several bags and a smile on her face.

We are soon off to the airport.

The cookbook is Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Book Club Thoughts

My book club met this week to discuss All the Light We Cannot See. Most of us liked it a lot and we had a really good discussion of the characters and their role in the story, and whether we liked the way the author told the story, skipping back and forth in time and between characters.

I joined this book club a few years ago when my friend and neighbor Deb decided to start a book club because the one she was in didn't discuss the books. I was reluctant, but she was persuasive and for the most part I haven't regretted it. We have read some books that I loved that I never would have read and some others that I hated. We have added a few members and we have a few snowbirds who only come when they're in town. Usually we don't have every member at a meeting, but if everybody came, we would have 12 women. Just today one of our member asked about adding two of her friends to the club. We will discuss it at our next meeting.

How many is too many for a book discussion group? When do the number of members start to negatively affect the discussion? Would people start feeling like they aren't heard because there are too many people in the discussion?

I am an introvert from the type of family that doesn't all talk at the same time, so I always find it hard to be heard in meetings. I also have what apparently is another introvert trait, of needing time to think about something before responding. So I often hear, "You didn't say much in the meeting." Or "You have really good ideas, why don't you talk more?" I like the structure of our book club because we start by going around the circle and each person has a chance to rate the book, 1 to 10, and say whatever they like about it. This guarantees that everybody gets heard at least once. And though we have people who talk more and those who talk less, we are very kind and respectful to each other.

So I am undecided on whether adding two more members would be good or not so good. New people can change the dynamic of a group, for better or worse. But you can't really ask people to stop coming after you've said yes to them.

Well, I have a month to think about it. And begin reading the next book, which is The Secret Daughter. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Early morning = sleepy afternoon

My daughter is visiting from Houston. She's a musician, just about done with school, freelancing, and recently she won a position with the Houston Ballet orchestra as second horn. She was home for another audition and while she was here she wanted to record some music for another audition, for a summer festival she would like to go to. The question was, where to record. You need a resonant room without external noise.

My husband suggested the music room at the school where I teach, so I asked the choir teacher about the room. She said yes to using it, but Jamie would need to record when there were no students around either needing the room or making noise in the hall.

So we went to school at 6:15 this morning. We were the only ones there. There was almost no traffic outside to make noise. She was able to successfully record while I graded papers down the hall. I was happy to come so early to help her out, but I was sleepy the rest of the day. However, nothing wakes you up, at least briefly, like 4th graders expecting to learn.

I came home, still sleepy, and got to listen to the recording. Beautiful! (said the completely unbiased mother!)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Beta Reading

Awhile back a friend asked me if I would be a beta reader for his fantasy novel. He had started it during NaNoWriMo and now wanted to revise it, just for himself, he said. I had never been a bata reader and was delighted to give it a go. He sent it electronically and I was able to put it on my Kindle.

He didn't really want editing kind of comments, like here's typo/missing word, etc. That was good because reading on the kindle, there's nowhere to write margin notes. Anyway, I decided I would read just like I read any book and see what happens.

The most amazing thing about his novel was that after a sort of poky start with the characters seemingly trying to find who they were and the story staying firmly on the page, the story suddenly leaped to life about a quarter of the way through. The characters were alive, the scene was three-dimensional, the action lively. The rest of the book was like this -- alive, pulling me into the world of these characters full of flaws, goals, and personality. So that was the main piece of feedback I gave him. I believe he got the same feedback from other readers because he began a rewrite immediately. He also told me that the rewrite will contain a character who is me! The character won't have my name, he said, buy I will know. I'm looking forward to reading the finished book, which he is now thinking of publishing. Writing takes up on a journey, and we end up in interesting places we didn't expect.

Now another acquaintance has asked me to be a beta reader! This time it's a mystery. This author's main question is "is my main character (the detective) likable?" I'm about to start reading his book.

Since I've been reading for friends a concern I have is, what if the book is awful? I don't want to crush the writer, but he is asking for honest feedback. The plan is the same plan I use with students, find something positive to discuss first, then put the problems areas in a growth mindset way. Obviously, they want to improve their writing or they wouldn't have asked.

Someday I hope it will be my turn to ask them to be a beta reader for me!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Haiku

Runny nose, sore throat
When will this cold go away?
Hot tea, bed, sweet dreams

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Carmen, the opera, the experience

Carmen was the first opera I ever saw. I was probably 13 years old and my school took a field trip into Manhattan to the Metropolitan Opera for a matinee. Sadly, I remember very little of this performance. It was in the old Metropolitan Opera building, before they moved to Lincoln Center, before Lincoln Center was even built. We sat very high up in an upper balcony. I remember that Carmen was wearing a red dress in the last scene, the one where she gets stabbed and dies. I remember that part, too. I also remember the two rude junior boys sitting behind me making comments during the opera.

This past Friday was the second time I saw Carmen, this time at Lyric Opera of Chicago. My husband and I sat on the main floor pretty close to the stage. Nowadays there are supertitles projected above the stage so audiences actually know what the characters are saying! It's an interesting staging set during the Spanish Civil War, rather than the time period of the novella that it was based on, which is 1820. I loved seeing the fashions and hair styles of the 1930s.

We went to the pre-performance talk. My impression of Carmen had always been that she was a flirt and pretty wild and free. She begins a love relationship with Don Jose and then dumps him for a toreador. This speaker, though, had a different view. Carmen rejects Don Jose because he is abusive and controlling and finds in Escamillo, the toreador, someone who "gets her." His evidence is in the duet that they sing shortly before Don Jose kills her.

So, after watching the show, I considered that interpretation and decided he was wrong. Yes, Don Jose is controlling and even abusive, at least in this production, but Carmen is no innocent. She manipulates Don Jose into deserting from the army and joining the rebels in the mountains, and then breaks up with him. He has cause to be pissed at her, though not to control or kill her, of course. I also disagreed that there is any evidence that Escamillo "gets" Carmen. In the duet that the speaker gave as evidence Escamillo sings to Carmen that she will be so proud of him when he kills the bull. Throughout the opera Escamillo seems like a pretty shallow guy who is quite impressed with himself. I think this might be the language arts teacher in me.

I should say, the music is gorgeous! The orchestra and singers were wonderful. Opera is such a unique art form. You can just enjoy it for the music. It lends itself to a multitude of stagings and interpretations. You can focus on the story line, or how it's presented. Seeing an opera once doesn't mean you have seen all there is in that work. I'm a late-comer to opera, but I'm glad I'm finally at the opera!

Monday, March 6, 2017

OLW so far

My One Little Word is bridge. I picked it because it is a word with many possibilities. Since January when I chose it, I have seen so many connections, so many opportunities, and so many questions. Where am I now with my OLW?

I have been working all year to help my students build bridges reaching to each other in kindness and understanding. We had a boy-girl split that threatened to infiltrate every part of our school day. We built our bridge with class meetings, partner activities and a read-aloud about a rocky boy-girl friendship. Things are better, but the bridge is still fragile.

My class and I went on Twitter and began building thin bridges to other classes all over the United States and the world. We have chatted in 140 characters with some of them. Some of them are so very different than we are in suburban Chicago.

I am enabling my daughter to visit her grandmother, who she hasn't seen in over a year, by paying for a phone ticket. A bridge between generations.

One of my personal goals was to build bridges to others by conversing, by having those little conversations with strangers that enhance your day, that make a connection. I don't remember this all the time, but I have struck up conversations more than I ever have. I had a short talk with the young man in the deli making my sandwich about the weather and what he was planning to do on Saturday. I had a longer conversation with another woman in the very long line for the ladies' room at the Civic Opera House. It was interesting enough that I told my husband about it, though I don't remember what we talked about anymore! I say hello to people walking their dogs, sometimes they answer, sometimes not. Either way, it's fine.

My bridge is a work in progress.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Quiet Sunday

It has been a long time since I have had a day with nothing planned, but today was that day! No school, no rehearsals, no social engagements.

What did I do? I caught up on household chores! It doesn't sound like the perfect day, but I was so happy to be able to shop for groceries, do laundry, and tidy up around the house with hours stretching out ahead of me.

I bought some lovely fish and asparagus for dinner and had plenty of time to cook. I read more in All the Light We Cannot See, the book my book club will be discussing later this week. I talked to my mom on the phone and told her that her granddaughter and I will be flying to Minnesota to visit her at the end of the month and listened to her say how happy she was! Then I got to make reservations for us, not as much fun, but we're set to go!

The house is a little cleaner, we have clothes to wear this week, a tasty dinner, and a trip to look forward to.

I'm ready to face the week!










Saturday, March 4, 2017

So many books, so little time

I read a lot of books. I was thinking about how I choose the books that I read, out of the dozens of interesting sounding books, most of which I will never get around to reading.

I belong to two books clubs, though I have only attended one meeting of one of them due to my complicated evening schedule. But I do try to read the books that each of the clubs chooses. Because of my book clubs I have read a bunch of books that I hated -- really, really hated! But also quite a few books that I not only found that I liked, but that have stuck with me. These are books that I would not have read otherwise, but I'm so glad that I did. One example of one of these is The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. This is sort of a dual memoir of two Black men with the same name, one who is now a successful, inspirational author and entrepreneur, and the other who is in prison for murder. It was fascinating to see how their similar childhoods had crucial differences that created such different futures for them.

Left to my own devices, I choose books that I already know I will most likely enjoy. I love mysteries and have several series I follow, including the Maisie Dobbs books. I have favorite authors: Neil Gaiman, Alexander Smith McCall, Jane Austen, and Josephine Tey, for example. I read reviews sometimes, and find interesting books that way.

I also try to read a book related to early American history every year. I teach American history from Jamestown to the end of the Revolutionary War in social studies. When I began teaching this, I only knew the basics, so I started with biographies. I loved both John Adams by David McCullough and Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (the musical was based on this biography).

This year for my history read I picked I am Murdered by Bruce Chadwick. This is a fascinating book that tells the true story of how George Wythe, one of the lesser known founders, was murdered by his great-nephew. It is an edge-of-your-seat mystery, though not who-done-it. The reader knows from the start that the no-good nephew did it. But the investigation and trial are riveting. Chadwick gives a huge amount of background information on topics related to the story. Wythe is a very interesting person who was instrumental in the founding of the United States. He signed the Declaration of Independence and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He taught law to many young men including Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall. But, we also learn a great deal about arsenic, medicine at the time, and what the Richmond, Virginia culture and community was like. Who knew that George Washington loved to gamble!! The book may be difficult to find, but I recommend it! I bought it secondhand, online, through alibris.com.

Since finishing biting my nails over I am Murdered, I need to finish All the Light We Cannot See before my book club next week!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Conflict Resolution in Colonial 4th grade

Social studies in 4th grade at my school is American history from the Jamestown to the end of the American Revolution. We teach mostly through simulation, though we also use videos, reading, and discussion. We are at the end of the French & Indian War right now. The 4th graders all have roles that include a trade, such as blacksmith, milliner, or carpenter. We have set up an economy where tradespeople make and sell products to each other.

Our students every year are an inventive lot and we need to stay on top of all the ways that they come up for gaming the system. We have quite a few rules: once you buy something you cannot return it or resell it; you can only make your products during social studies time, you must buy your "supplies" from the ship that brings them from England. One year we had an attempted robbery that was foiled by an informer.

This year, the enterprising printers decided to sell subscriptions to a newspaper. Now, the "newspapers" are hand-outs in disguise and everyone is required to buy one. So when the first "newspaper" was for sale, the silversmiths, who had bought a subscription, thought that they did not need to play for it. Oh no, we said, everyone buys one. Whatever plan the printers had is on them to deliver.

The silversmiths claimed they did not get their money's worth, or much of anything at all. It appeared to be a stand-off. The printers didn't want to refund any money and the silversmiths were not backing down. "You should go talk to the lawyer," said my partner. "Maybe he can help you negotiate or else represent you in court." We have had court in session some years to solve problems, usually disorderly conduct.

This time, though, our lawyer, Mr. John Randolph, patiently listened and offered sensible ideas and the parties were able to come to a resolution without going to court. The printers agreed to a refund for undelivered newspapers.

Very impressive work for 4th graders!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Dr. Seuss, It's your birthday!
What shall I say?

You helped a zillion-ninety-nine billion and seven kiddos
Learn to read
Without a screed
With a treed steed.

You taught us lessons gently
With humor so intently
Consequently
We remember the Sneetches
On the beeches
The Lorax, faithful Horton,
Neither about to cavort in
Any way!
No Cat in the Hat game
Played to great acclaim
By children everywhere.

Thank you, Dr. Seuss.
From Thidwick the Moose
To Bartholomew and the Ooblick,
A writing life in a quick flick
of your pen.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What's with the weather?

Yesterday I was driving home around 9:30 pm, listening to the radio, when for the first time ever in my experience, the emergency broadcast system interrupted. I was a little worried about what the emergency was. It turned out to be a weather alert -- a tornado watch and possible hail in northern Illinois and Indiana.

Today it is snowing and cold. What?

So I decided that I am grateful to have a warm, secure house to live in, with a sump pump in the basement. I am grateful for my reliable transportation, and that my car did not get hailed on. I am thankful that we didn't have flash floods and that the roads are not icy right now. And I am thankful that I persevered through flash floods, broken sump pumps, and driving on ice, and I'm still fine.

And I'm eagerly awaiting summer.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In appreciation for an outstanding teacher

I was 15 years old and had been playing French horn for only a year when I met Mr. Princiotti. He was the director of a local youth orchestra, the Young Artists Philharmonic, and he invited me to join!

I played in the orchestra for the next three years. My high school orchestra was also excellent, and between the two orchestras I was introduced to so much great music. Mr. Princiotti promoted me to first horn after my first year -- a surprise to me. He gave me my first opportunity to play a solo in public with an orchestra when I was a senior in high school. I played the first horn concerto by Richard Strauss at a summer festival in Stamford, Connecticut. It was an outdoor festival with food and entertainment, and probably more. We played in the "Pink Tent." I have fuzzy memories of how it went, which probably means it went pretty well since I seem to have a photographic memory for mistakes!

I went on to music school and to many more musical opportunities in my life. Mr. Princiotti was a huge influence on me as a musician - a model in many ways, for a life in music. He was passionate about music as well as being a very talented and knowledgeable musician.

Salvatore Princiotti passed away last week at age 83. He had retired from conducting the Young Artists five years ago. The tributes from the hundreds of young people he taught have poured in, and while everyone acknowledges that he was a superb musician and music teacher, it is the person he was that people are highlighting over and over in their remembrances of him.

He was kind. He was truly interested in his students and let them know it. He saw the good in everyone and pointed it out. While he could certainly be firm with the orchestra, it was always clear that he loved everyone of us. A short, perpetually rumpled man, he always had time for "his kids."

A few years ago I went back to Connecticut for my high school reunion. While there, some of my fellow high school musicians organized a music reunion with several of our music teachers, all now retired. Except for Mr. Princiotti, who could not attend the reunion because he was teaching. I'm sorry I didn't get to see hi one last time, but what a wonderful life, to be able to do the thing you love, to the end.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Food, Glorious Food

I was thinking the other day of a favorite restaurant. As is the way of many of my favorite restaurants, this one no longer exists.

When I was 12, my family moved from a small town in Wisconsin to Connecticut. At some point after moving to our new town we discovered the Colonial Inn.

The Colonial Inn, in spite of its name, specialized in Greek and Italian food. (The owners were a couple, one Greek and the other Italian.) It was located on the main street in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, in a white-fronted building. Inside was dark in a cozy way and the wait staff was friendly and helpful. This was where I first ate Greek food and I soon came to love moussaka, pastitsio, and baklava. In fact, the Colonial Inn became one of my family's favorite places to eat.

One of my memories is my dad asking the waiter about a particular wine. We happened to be sitting at a table next to a priest, eating by himself, with a whole bottle of wine. He had left his table for a minute, and our waiter, seeing the wine bottle on the table, said, "Oh, the father won't mind," and poured a taste for my dad.

On another evening, we were ordering dessert. The waiter suggested we might want to try the galaktoboureko because it had just come out of the oven. If you have never had this delicious dessert, it is a vanilla custard between a top and bottom layer of phyllo pastry. This was my first taste of galaktoboureko and I will never forget the experience of the light creamy warm custard and the crispy sweet phyllo. I learned years later that galaktoboureki is supposed to be served cold, but having had it warm, the cold version has never measured up.

A visit to the Colonial Inn also became a test for boyfriends, though we hadn't intended it that way. When my sister's first college boyfriend visited us, my parents sent us off to the Colonial Inn. My brother, sister and I ordered our usual Greek menu items. The boyfriend ordered a ham steak and cheesecake for dessert. He didn't last long.

Alas, the Colonial Inn is no more, but perhaps it's better that way - memories have a way of preserving those special moments without disappointment.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

OLW 2017

This is my first time choosing One Little Word. Last year was the first time I learned about the idea and read some of the posts about people's choices and reasons.

In choosing my word, I wanted a word that would influence all parts of my life, not just my teaching life. I am concerned about the mood in the United States and about many of the problems in other parts of the world. It always seems like, what can I do? I'm just one person. But on the other hand, I belong to many communities. I am a teacher and can influence my students.

The word I choose for 2017 is bridge.

The more I thought about it, the more places in my life I saw that a bridge could be helpful. In my teaching, I need to build bridges so that all my students can be successful, whether that means helping develop a positive class community, reaching out to parents, or providing help to students to bridge the gaps in their skills.

We have a chasm separating groups in this country now. We desperately need to build some bridges. I had already decided to not contribute to the divide, by not participating in any of the memes or conversations in social media that ridicule one side or another. But silence doesn't build a bridge. I am thinking how I could try for a wobbly little footbridge by talking civilly to people who I do not agree with. Perhaps, "I don't understand this viewpoint. Can you tell me what is important to you in this issue?"

Bridges to other people: I have trouble talking with people, even people I know well, so talking to strangers is quite a challenge. I have always enjoyed the chance conversations with strangers when they spring up. To help me with this bridge, I am going to read the highly recommended book, When Strangers Meet: How People You Don't Know Can Transform You.  There's also a TED talk!

Life bridges: As I look ahead, I know I won't always be teaching, at least full time, in a school. I will be thinking about a bridge to another stage in my life. What do I want to do after this stage? It's an exciting thought.

I will be staying aware, to see more bridging opportunities in 2017.