Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Books of 2009

Here is a rundown of my favorite books read in 2009:

Young Adult and Intermediate Favorites:

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I was bound and determined I was not going to read this series. The gory description of the plot on the back of the book made me say, "Are you kidding? This sounds awful!" But after hearing so many people talk about how wonderful the writing was and being nudged by a librarian friend, I finally caved and listened to the audiobook over the summer. Am I ever glad I did! Catching Fire was not nearly as suspenseful as the first one, but oh boy did the last line of this book give me chills all over my body.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

As a dog-lover, I can't resist books about dogs. Not only is this a heartwarming, feel-good book, but it's nice to read a dog book that has a happy ending for a change. Most dog books require a pile of tissues by the time you make it to the last chapter.

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Such a simple story about a teenage waitress, but beautifully written.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Not a shred of humor or lightheartedness can be found in this story about a girl struggling with anorexia, but the writing is haunting and lyrical.

Paper Towns by John Green

This was by far my favorite of John Green's books. The story and the characters were a perfect blend of mystery, humor, and teen-angst.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Told as the narrator looks over her body in ICU after she loses her parents in a car accident. Keep your tissues handy with this one. Despite the tears, it is so worth the read.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

A teenage girl leaves tapes behind for the people who drove her to kill herself. A heavy, yet beautifully penned story.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Vivid and exotic. This book whisks you away to another land and time. Not only was this one of my favorite books of the year, it was probably my favorite audiobook I've ever listened to.

Adult Favorites:

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Ten years after the tragedy, Cullen sets the record straight about what really happened that day in April of 1999. Just don't read this book before bed -- it will give you nightmares!

Finn by Jon Clinch

Throw away all you thought you knew about Huck and Pap Finn when you pick up this book. Jon Clinch weaves a new tale that will have you questioning everything you learned in tenth grade English.

My Life in France by Julia Child

Hunger pangs abound when you read this sumptuous tale of Child's life in Paris.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Stockett creates a story that sticks in your mind well after you put it down. I often found myself in the kitchen making dinner thinking about these characters as if they were real people.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A wonderful, feel-good book that just makes you want to sigh and smile at the same time. The only word that keeps repeating in my head over and over again when thinking about this book is just "beautiful."

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- And How it Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman

We can't deny it anymore. Going green is not just helping the earth, it's going to help business in the long run and Thomas Friedman lays out an excellent case for why it needs to happen.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Books I Read in 2009

Last year I set the goal for myself to read 50 books. By December 31st I had almost made it to 100. So my goal for 2009 was 100 and I surpassed that. I have to admit, however, that I do include audiobooks since I have a rather long work commute.

* indicates audiobook

1) Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach
2) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski*
3) Lessons That Change Writers by Nanice Atwell
4) Night by Elie Wiesel*
5) Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura Williams
6) The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo*
7) Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine*
8) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
9) The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
10) The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston*
11) Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers
12) The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau*
13) Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan*
14) Reality Shift by Christopher P.N. Maselli
15) Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons by Nancie Atwell
16) Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance by Laban Carrick Hill
17) I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
18) Schooled by Gordon Korman*
19) Selected Poems of Langston Hughes
20) Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney
21) Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom*
22) Looking for Alaska by John Green*
23) Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey by Perri Knize
24) The Bunnicula Collection: Books 1-3 by James Howe*
25) Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
26) Sideways: A Novel by Rex Pickett*
27) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart*
28) Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution by David Zinczenko
29) Bad Dogs Have More Fun: And Other Tails of Animals, Life, and Family by John Grogan
30) The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau*
31) Eat This, Not That! Thousands of Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds -- or More by David Zinczenko
32) It's Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump: And Other Life Lessons I Learned from Dogs by John O'Hurley
33) Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog to a Young Boy by John O'Hurley
34) The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez
35) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky*
36) Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
37) Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis*
38) What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller*
39) The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
40) Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale*
41) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
42) The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau*
43) Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- And How It Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman
44) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson*
45) City Dog by Alison Pace
46) Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher*
47) If I Stay by Gayle Forman
48) Paper Towns by John Green*
49) Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen
50) Persepolis 1: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
51) Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates*
52) More Ways to Handle the Paper Load: On Paper and Online edited by Jeffrey N. Golub
53) Generation Green: The Ultimate Teen Guide to Living an Eco-Friendly Life by Linda & Tash Siversten
54) French Milk by Lucy Knisley
55) Angels and Demons by Dan Brown*
56) The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
57) The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri*
58) Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
59) The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
60) The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin*
61) The Geography of Bliss: One Grumps Search to Find the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner*
62) What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire*
63) Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath*
64) Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson*
65) Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer*
66) The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science by Jill Price*
67) Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf
68) Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Journey in Local Living by Doug Fine*
69) In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson*
70) Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer*
71) Scat by Carl Hiaasen*
72) Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo*
73) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer*
74) Lost Boy by Linda Newbery
75) The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo*
76) Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell*
77) Things That Are by Andrew Clements*
78) Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides*
79) Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan*
80) The Boy Who Dared by Susan Bartoletti Campbell*
81) The Help by Kathryn Stockett
82) The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
83) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins*
84) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain*
85) My Life in France by Julia Child*
86) Finn by Jon Clinch*
87) Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing by Penny Kittle
88) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon*
89) The Clique by Lisi Harrison
90) Columbine by Dave Cullen*
91) Cooked: My Journey from the Streets to the Stove by Jeff Henderson*
92) Schooled by Anisha Lakhani
93) A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher
94) Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech*
95) The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale
96) Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech*
97) Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney
98) Thanks for the Memories by Cecilia Ahern*
99) The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech
100) Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
101) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins*
102) Liar by Justine Larbalestier
103) Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers
104) Dork Diaries by Rachel R. Russel
105) Flipped by Wendelin van Draanen*
106) A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
107) Carlos is Gonna Get It by Kevin Emerson
108) I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous and Obscure
109) The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery*
110) What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell*
111) The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
112) Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure
113) Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson*
114) Amazing Gracie: A Dog's Tale by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff

Amazing Gracie: A Dog's Tale by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff

I am a dog person through and through so any books that are written about dogs, I'm gonna read 'em.

This book was so heartwarming and full of love that you can't help but wish you knew Gracie personally. When you look at what a beautiful soul Gracie was, you immediately understand her name. Born deaf and albino, she was what her vet called a "little miracle" because not only did she die on the table and was brought back to life, but when Dan Dye "adopted" her, the breeder was planning on putting her to sleep because albinos are "a lotta trouble" and strongly cautioned him that he was "probably not doing her a favor." Dye's interaction with Gracie's breeder just goes to show you that breeding dogs doesn't always mean you love them.

It was through the grace of Gracie and her finicky eating habits that he was able to come up with the idea for the Three Dog Bakery which now has franchises all over the country. She was the gentlest, most loving dog, but when it came to protecting her family, you didn't want to mess with her.

This book will make you smile, laugh, and cry, but in the end, you will be glad that you knew Gracie, even if it was just between the 250 pages of her life story.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Flight 253 and the Continuing Demise of Airline Travel

I have had CNN on nonstop since Friday evening. I just can't get enough information about this whole terrorist plot that was thwarted by passengers and faulty explosives. Another reason I can't stop watching is that it happened in my own backyard. Detroit Metropolitan Airport is but ten minutes from my house and I have even taken flight 253 (labeled flight 53 before Delta acquired Northwest) a time or two when my husband and I lived in Germany and would fly home to visit family.

What disturbs me the most about this whole situation, however, is not that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to board the plane with these explosives (though that obviously disturbs me a great deal). No, what troubles me the most is the knee-jerk reaction that the TSA chose to implement immediately following the foiled plot. Passengers were quickly ordered to remain seated for the final hour of flight, not permitted to get up to use the restroom, retrieve items from their carry on luggage, or even use a blanket and pillow.

I find this type of reaction counter-productive. Future terrorists will not be looking to repeat this same plot; they will be looking to try something different. And by requiring passengers to remain completely still, denying them the simple right of using the restroom, what exactly is that helping? All it will do is cause the future Abdulmutallabs of the world to go into the restroom TWO HOURS before the flight lands instead of one.

I honestly don't know what the answer to this dilemma is. Body scanners are clearly a breach of privacy with most people, but the minutia of these regulations is merely calling out a challenge to the future terrorists of the world. All I know is that treating every person on board an 8-hour flight across the ocean as if they're criminals is not the answer. That was clearly proven two days later when, on December 27th, the exact same flight from Amsterdam was interrupted by another Nigerian man, this time completely harmless, because he was legitimately ill and needed to use the restroom with great frequency. When I first heard about the December 27th story, I immediately thought it was due to the ridiculous TSA restrictions and not because the man was a terrorist.

As someone who loves to travel, if these restrictions continue, I don't know how often I'm going to be boarding an airplane in the future. I already had a very negative experience with TSA returning home from Vancouver this summer when they confiscated my boarding pass and passport for 15 minutes while they questioned me and patted me down THREE TIMES because they detected a substance on my laptop that is sometimes found in explosives (but is also used in perfumes). It was one of the most traumatic and humiliating travel experiences I've ever had, and one that I don't wish to relive again. So what I want to know is why I was exposed to scrutiny while Mr. Abdulmutallab was allowed to just pass right on through?

Friday, December 25, 2009

What's Noel backwards?

Apparently, even though I teach junior high students to read and write, I myself cannot spell. (Actually, more like I can't remember that my left is not your left.)

Last night we had the family over for Christmas eve dinner. I was in the kitchen doing my domestic diva thing when my sister-in-law calls out from the foyer, "Hey Beth, who's Leon?"

"Leon? What are you talking about?"

"Your thing in there says Leon."

I'm so very talented aren't I?

Merry Leon to you!

Merry Christmas!

Instead of sharing a poem with you today, I thought I'd share this email I received that I'm sure is making the rounds on people's forward list. It's a great way to put things into perspective on this blessed day.


. . . Something To Think About

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:

musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and people's priorities.

The questions raised:

*In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*Do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made
How many other things are we missing?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's About Time!

I was just perusing one of my favorite travel blogs: National Geographic's "Intelligent Travel Blog" when I came across this article about the Department of Transportation issuing a three-hour regulation limit on the amount of time a plane can be stranded on the tarmac without returning to the gate.

While I am lucky to not have experienced being stranded on the tarmac for an unreasonable amount of time, that is certainly one of my travel fears. Hopefully this new regulation will make airports and airlines more aware of travelers' needs for food, water, and clean restrooms. Saying the airport is "closed" is just not acceptable.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Poetry Friday

I don't just do "Poetry Friday" here on my blog. I also read a poem to my 6th graders every Friday in English class. Since today was the last day of school before Christmas break, I wanted to read a Christmas poem. Instead of reading a poem though, I played them a song. It's on Garth Brooks' Sevens album and manages to make me cry every single time I hear it. It's rife with emotion and human drama.

I had them write the story of this song in their journals and then we discussed it together as a class. I'm happy that most of them got the meaning and found it as moving as I did.

Belleau Wood

Oh, the snowflakes fell in silence
Over Belleau Wood that night
For a Christmas truce had been declared
By both sides of the fight
As we lay there in our trenches
The silence broke in two
By a German soldier singing
A song that we all knew

Though I did not know the language
The song was “Silent Night”
Then I heard my buddy whisper,
“All is calm and all is bright”
Then the fear and doubt surrounded me
‘Cause I’d die if I was wrong
But I stood up in my trench
And I began to sing along

Then across the frozen battlefield
Another’s voice joined in
Until one by one each man became
A singer of the hymn

Then I thought that I was dreaming
For right there in my sight
Stood the German soldier
‘Neath the falling flakes of white
And he raised his hand and smiled at me
As if he seemed to say
Here’s hoping we both live
To see us find a better way

Then the devil’s clock struck midnight
And the skies lit up again
And the battlefield where heaven stood
Was blown to hell again

But for just one fleeting moment
The answer seemed so clear
Heaven’s not beyond the clouds
It’s just beyond the fear

No, heaven’s not beyond the clouds
It’s for us to find it here

- Garth Brooks

If you've never actually heard the song before, this video shows a moving reenactment: (the song starts at 2:07)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another Great Book Trailer

I Haven't read this book yet, but this trailer sure made me want to!

Of Fire, Ice, and Olive Oil

Two summers ago my husband and I visited New York City where we dined at Otto, one of Mario Batali's many restaurants. While just a mere pizzeria, a year and a half later I'm still talking about what an amazing meal we had at this restaurant. One of the reasons for my love of all things Batali was that it was there I tried olive oil gelato for the first time. When first met with the phrase "olive oil gelato" our first instinct is to recoil in disgust at the very thought of an ice cream tasting like olive oil. I am here, however, to tell you that it is one of the most wonderful surprises your mouth will ever experience.

Last year for my birthday my husband bought me an ice cream maker so I could try relive our dessert experience at Otto. While certainly not as perfect as our olive oil gelato initiation we experienced in New York City, I have managed to amaze and astound many of my friends and family who initially believed that olive oil ice cream would taste repulsive.

This weekend my husband and I attended a birthday party of one of those friends who first thought she would hate olive oil ice cream and is now telling everyone she knows just how amazing it truly is. So I decided that her birthday present should be a vat of olive oil ice cream.

After I made the custard, I realized that I had a little bit too much for the freezing canister so I decided to try a little experiment. If olive oil flavor is good as a dessert, how would it taste a creme brulee?

So I dusted off the ramekins in my cupboard, prepared a water bath, and cooked the custard for an hour on 300 degrees. After chilling the the refrigerator over night, I busted out the torch and helped myself to one of these bad boys for lunch this afternoon.

Even though the custard didn't completely set, I have to say that the subtle olive oil flavor was almost more enjoyable than a traditional vanilla creme brulee. And of course, who can resist that very first crack into the hard, caramelized exterior?

I definitely will be making this dessert again.

The end.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poetry Friday

Washing The Dog

She dives in the river.
She swims in the lake.

She celebrates snow
from the very first flake.

She plunges through puddles
that lie in her path.

My puppy loves water
(except in a bath).

I tried with a washtub.
I sprayed with a hose.

But most of the water
went right up my nose.

And when we were done,
it was easy to see,
the only one getting a shower was me.

- Dave Crawley

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Carlos is Gonna Get It by Kevin Emerson

Carlos is a 7th grader with special needs and regularly has meltdowns at school. Instead of his classmates being compassionate about his issues, they take it upon themselves to ostracize him and plan a very elaborate trick on an upcoming overnight class trip.

The writing in this book is not brilliant, nor will it inspire you, but it is indicative of a junior high first-person narrator so I forgive the simplicity of the writing on that account. This book was clearly written to teach kids a lesson about treating people who are different with kindness and respect. Any teacher who has a special needs child or multiple special needs children in their classes, this would be a great read aloud or assigned class reading.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Poetry Friday


Went to the corner
Walked to the store
Bought me some candy
Ain’t got it no more
Ain’t got it no more

Went to the beach
Played on the shore
Built me a sandhouse
Ain’t got it no more
Ain’t got it no more

Went to the kitchen
Lay down on the floor
Made me a poem
Still got it
Still got it

-Eloise Greenfield

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I do tend to exaggerate at times...

... especially with regards to the last sentence of my recent Facebook status update:

...hates that all my best writing ideas occur in the shower. They wash away down the drain rendering completely forgotten by the time I towel off, get dressed, and sit down at my laptop. My New York Times bestseller is being held hostage by my shower drain.

Memories Playing from the Car Stereo

It amazes me how much our five senses aid in the resurfacing of long dormant memories. Sounds, smells, and tastes can immediately send you into a state of unexpected reminiscing. A sort of sensory assault on my memories occurred this afternoon as I was driving home from work. I was listening to a CD full of classical piano music that I had checked out at the library when suddenly my car was filled with the sounds of Schubert's "Moment Musicaux No. 1 in C Major" - the very piece of music that began the demise of the many years I had dedicated to playing the piano.

It was January of 2000 and I was in my second semester as a music student at Eastern Michigan University. I had just been reassigned to a different professor for my private piano lessons and, as luck would have it, I was assigned to the meanest, crotchetiest professor that ever graced the world of music. He treated all of his students like they were performance majors with plans for Carnegie Hall.

The first (and only) piece he assigned me to work on with him was Schubert's "Moment Musicaux No. 1". It only took me a couple of meetings with him to realize that this man was not a teacher, he was a berater and a spirit-killer. As I struggled with the syncopated beats and lack of distinct melody of the piece, this man boorishly proclaimed that I had no rhythm, no talent, and that I would never make music my career.

He talked to me like a performance major even though I was an education major. Mastery and perfection of the great composers was not my goal even though he treated it as such. I quickly found myself realizing that if the music world was one that required me be surrounded by people like this professor, then I didn't want any part of it. Prior to this experience, I had only been nurtured and encouraged. I never realized that there were people out there who treated music with such an iron fist. I knew that I was never the best pianist in the world, but I took pride in working on a piece of classical music and attempting to do it justice while still adding my own personal flair to it.

When I left my third lesson with him, I closed the door to his studio carrying my music bag along with my shattered dreams, and cried the whole way to the parking lot. I wrote him a letter detailing my dissatisfaction over the way he treated me, taped it to his door, and quietly dropped out of the music program.

In the meantime, my piano teacher of ten years who had worked with me since I was in grade school, attempted to pick up the pieces of my broken spirit. With her help, I mastered the piece that The Evil One said I couldn't, and received a third place trophy at the American Guild of Music competition. She helped me survive during that treacherous time in my life, but I feel like I let her down in the years that followed. After accomplishing my goal of proving this professor wrong, I lost the will and the heart to sit at the piano and learn a piece from awkwardness to mastery. Even though I continued with my long time piano teacher for a few more years after I dropped out of the music program, the piano never gave me that same joy and exuberance it did before I chose to go to school for it.

It's amazing what a combination of notes on some hammers and strings can do to bring a well of complex emotions bubbling up inside your very being. I listened to this piece and remembered how proud I was that I proved him wrong. But I also felt sad that I allowed this one man to dictate my life. He took away the joy I felt everyday when I sat down at the piano for those eleven years. He turned it into a chore, something to be perfected rather than savored.

Now I don't want anyone to think I'm sitting here writing this for you to feel sorry for me. In a way, I think the experience was a bit of a blessing because dropping out of the music program helped me to realize my true calling, which is teaching writing and literature. But at the same time, I just wish I hadn't come at the expense of my musical passion.

It's hard to believe this complicated web of memories and emotions that went whizzing through my head today all came from a piece of classical music that wafted through the speakers of my car stereo. The senses are a wondrous thing.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Poetry Friday

Because My Students Asked Me

what i would want them to do
at my funeral, i told them:

write & perform a collective poem
in which each of you says a line
about what i was like as a teacher,
about how i made you reach for stars
until you became them,
about how much you loved
to pretend
you hated me.

You mean even after you die
you're going to make us do work?

- Taylor Mali

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Our "Evening with Anthony Bourdain" Ruined by Some Drunks Who Couldn't Keep Their Mouths Shut

For my husband's birthday back in August I purchased tickets to see "An Evening with Anthony Bourdain" at the Palace Theater in Columbus. My husband has family near Columbus so I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to go visit them for the weekend while also seeing a presentation by one of our favorite TV personalities.

I have mentioned Tony Bourdain's name several times here on this blog because the opening line to his show No Reservations is what inspired me to create this blog in the first place. My husband and I watch his show religiously whenever a new season of it rolls around on The Travel Channel.

I had absolutely zero expectations for the evening and just went into it hoping to gain more respect and insight into The Travel Channel's Bad Boy of Globe-Trotting. Tony by himself on stage for two hours was extremely entertaining and I have to hand it to him for being so articulate, poignant, and humorous all rolled into one. Part Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Dee Dee Ramone, and Gordon Ramsay, he manages to get you to ponder the meaning of life while laughing hysterically at the trials, misfortunes, and obscenities of his travel stories.

But all the laughter and life lessons were drowned out by the incessant gum flapping of the drunkards sitting next to us. They spent over half the show talking to each other rather than listening to Tony. All of the people around them, including me, had steam coming out of our ears we were so angry. Now I am not a confrontational person in the least. In fact, when it comes to fight or flight responses, 99.9% of the time I choose flight. But I was so incredibly upset at these fools ruining my evening, I found myself on several occasions, blurting out expletives in their direction and confronted them twice by telling them to shut up. As the show progressed, their behavior got so erratic and bizarre that we moved over to the two empty seats beside us. During the Q & A portion of the evening, the lady blurted out a question without being called on and then wouldn't let Tony move on to the next person. Many of the people around her told her to shut up and I actually found myself yelling at Tony, "There are actually people over here in line who are WAITING to ask you questions. Why don't you call on them?"

Well apparently Tony's response to her question wasn't good enough because she wanted to ask him another question. So she actually followed protocol and got in line this time to do so... but she was so drunk (or high, I'm not sure which) that she went and sat back down and got back up on three different occasions - presumably because she couldn't remain upright long enough to wait to ask her question.

I am so disappointed with the turn of the events of the evening because I really did enjoy what I could hear of his presentation (even the Rachael Ray jokes). I'm even contemplating purchasing tickets to his April show in Chicago because I felt like I missed so much from his talk last night. My husband and I have never been to Chicago before and we've always wanted to go, so this might be our excuse to do so. Maybe the next time I might be able to see past my cloud of anger long enough to think of a question to ask him. On the drive home this morning I thought of a really great question I would have loved to ask him but of course I was too upset last night to think of anything other than how some drunk people ruined my evening.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Martha, Why You Gotta Be Such a Hater?

Martha Stewart has just given me one more reason to never aspire to be like her. Martha recently appeared on the Rachael Ray Show all nicey-nicey, claiming there was no feud between the two domestic divas. Then, she appears on Nightline this week, slamming Rachael for not being "good enough" for her, saying she's an entertainer and not a chef.

Martha you witch, Rachael is constantly telling everyone and even said to YOUR FACE that she has never claimed to be a chef. She helps families make practical meals using wholesome ingredients.

I know that not everyone is a fan of Rachael's but you have got to give her props for helping so many Americans get back in the kitchen and make meals using quality ingredients (e.g. making your own cream sauce rather than slathering something in Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup). She makes cooking easy and ACCESSIBLE for everyone. Martha Stewart makes absolutely nothing accessible. Her style is uppity, snobbish perfection that no working mother has the time or energy to ever attain.

So suck all the botox out of your face Martha and swallow that pill because you're just bitter that Rachael is now more popular than you.

Poetry Friday

The Question Mark

Poor Thing. Poor crippled measure
of punctuation. Who would know,
who could imagine you used to be
an exclamation point?
What force bent you over?
Age, time and the vices
of this century?
Did you not once evoke,
call out and stress?
But you got weary of it all
got wise, and turned like this.

-Gevorg Emin

Friday, November 13, 2009

Poetry Friday

The Pen

Take a pen in your uncertain fingers.
Trust, and be assured
That the whole world is a sky-blue butterfly
And words are the nets to capture it.

-Muhammed al-Ghuzzi

Monday, November 9, 2009

Remember, Remember the 9th of November

Twenty years ago today the world watched the Iron Curtain unravel when The Wall came down in Berlin. On the eve of my tenth birthday, I wasn't old enough to understand why there was a wall coming down, but I did know that whatever the reason, this was a big moment in the history of the world.

Fast forward fifteen years later, I was living in Germany with my husband when we visited Berlin for the first time. I couldn't believe what a youthful, vibrant spirit this city possessed given its oppressive past. There is an interesting dichotomy of lifestyle in Berlin. People have moved forward while still being reminded on every corner what happened from 1961-1989.

Those first few minutes in Berlin began a new phase of my life. It was there that I realized how little I actually learned in school. I didn't understand the significance of studying history until I walked the streets of a city that skitters on the border of the past and the present. Textbooks can never make you feel history; in an attempt to be objective and non-biased, they take away any sort of feeling of desire and urgency to understand WHY. When you go to Berlin, you can't help but understand because the WHY is everywhere.

Berlin quickly became my favorite city on earth. I've been there three times, and each time I go I learn something new. It's been extremely difficult for me to explain and pinpoint my love for this city, but I think I can now attempt to do so.

When boys in my social studies classes talk about loving history, for most of them it's because they love learning about wars, especially World War II. But to me, The Cold War is more exciting to study because it was all about the suspense, the possibility of going to war. Here you had these two superpowers, two differing ideals, ready to go to battle to fight for their honor.

But the near 30 year showdown in Berlin didn't end in war. The people of East Germany and all of the communist puppet states of Europe could see past the propaganda and understand that their government was oppressive. And instead of a war, the Iron Curtain unraveled by the will of the people to tear it down. People power, not weapons, is what caused that wall to fall.

So twenty years later, Berlin thrives and progresses while still managing to hold hands with the past. You never have to worry about people forgetting to remember what happened on the 9th of November. And despite not being there today in body, I am there in spirit. Even though I've never lived in Berlin, I still feel like I, along with John F. Kennedy can say, "Ich bin ein Berliner."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Poetry Friday

The Meaning of Simplicity

I hide behind simple things so you'll find me;
if you don't find me, you'll find the things,
you'll touch what my hand has touched,
our hand-prints will merge.

The August moon glitters in the kitchen
like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way
because of what I'm saying to you),
it lights up the empty house and
the house's kneeling silence --
always the silence remains kneeling.

Every word is a doorway
to a meeting, one often canceled,
and that's when a word is true:
when it insists on the meeting.

- Yannis Ritsos

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games #2)

Chills. The last sentence of this book literally gave me chills up my arms and down my spine. And then tears began to fall.

I have never been so shocked by an ending as I was with this one. In fact, I was so startled by the ending that my husband, who was sitting near me on the couch, looked over at me and asked me what was wrong when I put my hand to my mouth and stifled an, "Oh my God."

While I did not love this book as much as the first one, I have to commend Suzanne Collins for writing such gripping, unpredictable plots.

If you have not read this book or the first one of the series, I'm telling you that you must read it NOW.

Let me just say that the cliffhanger of an ending is going to make it torturous to have to wait for the next installment. Anyone know when book three is supposed to come out?

Friday, October 30, 2009

We Walk By Faith, Not By Sight

On Thursday and Friday, the staff at my school attended the MANS convention here in Detroit (Michigan Association for Non-Public Schools). Being yesterday was Friday, I was very tempted to attend just a couple sessions and then leave right after lunch. But while sitting at lunch with a group of colleagues, a few of them mentioned a session they attended that was so powerful it moved them to tears.

Since there was a repeat session at 2:30 I forced myself to stay to see what this session was all about.

Bill Barkeley is legally blind and lost 85% of his hearing at age five. Given these disabilities, you'd think he'd just be sitting at home, allowing his friends and family to do for him all the things a blind/deaf person can't do. But in all the Bill has lost, he always kept his faith and always believed that God had a plan for him. And you'll never believe what he set out to do: climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. And climb it he did.

What is so inspiring about Barkeley's climb is not just that he did it, but that he sees his blindness and deafness as a blessing. He thinks that non-disabled people often don't know what to do with the gifts they have been given and as a disabled person, he was able to "see" that constraints help make clear what is possible in life.

Walk Your Own Path from Serac Adventure Films on Vimeo.

Poetry Friday

"Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?"

Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.

It's all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.

Avoid any enclosed space where more than
three people are wearing turtlenecks. Beware
any snow-covered chalet with deer tracks
across the muffled tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.

Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author's name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher
it gets, the wider he grins.

You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, "Shhhh."

Then start again.

-Ron Koertge

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Another One Bites The Dust

I'm having a major case of boredom with books lately. Nothing seems to be holding my interest. I just abandoned what seems like my tenth book in the past few months. My most recent victim that I tossed aside tonight was Julie & Julia. I was disappointed with how little the story actually had to do with food and how crass Julie Powell's writing was. I got about halfway through it and couldn't take any more. I hope the movie is better than the book. I need books to inspire me again. I need another Hunger Games or The Help to get me out of this slump I've been in lately.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Poetry Friday

This poem cracks me up because it's kind of making a satire out of the most famous poems of William Carlos Williams "The Red Wheelbarrow" and "This is Just to Say"

An Apology
Forgive me
for backing over
and smashing
your red wheelbarrow.

It was raining
and the rear wiper
does not work on
my new plum-colored SUV.

I am also sorry
about the white

- F.J. Bergmann

Thursday, October 22, 2009

High On Books

Last week I did a book talk on The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and now it seems like half the 6th grade is walking around with a copy of the book in their hands. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to see when my words influence kids like that. Talking about books with kids and seeing that I can influence their reading habits - that is my drug of choice.

Who needs a lesson plan when you can just talk about books all day?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

There's something about Michigan football that turns me into a sports fan

I'm not a sports lover. About the only sport I watch faithfully is figure skating, and even that has dwindled since Michelle Kwan retired from eligible competition. So it's very strange that U of M football turns me into a crazy fan, willing to denounce all of my Ohio relatives for having the audacity to root for the evil Ohio State Buckeyes.

OK, so I'm not THAT bad, but I do like to chide my father and other extended family on occasion especially when it comes to be that time of year when the most contested game of the season rolls around: OSU Vs. U of M.

So when my husband and I scored some tickets to the U of M vs. Delaware State game in Ann Arbor yesterday, I knew I would have to do something to antagonize my dad given his shame at having a daughter who is a Michigan fan. (But more on that later.)

While this was no means a game of OSU rivalry proportions given that Delaware State is a Division 2 team, it was still amazing to be there in the stadium rather than watching it at home on the couch. Thankfully Michigan won this game, and even though it was expected to be a walk for us, we all remember the travesty of last year's game against Appalachian State. So we Michigan fans take nothing for granted.

But by the time the second quarter rolled to a close, this is what the scoreboard looked like:

So yeah, no worries about having a repeat of the Appalachian State debacle. And even though the game was a cake walk for us and not much of a competition (though all of us in the stands were making our own goals for the game, "I wanna see 50 on the scoreboard before halftime" and "Let's try to not let them score ANY points for the entire game...") it was still exhilarating being at The Big House with 107,000 fans, all high fiving each other whenever the Wolverines scored a touchdown (and we were high fiving each other A LOT!). And even though I'm fighting off a chest cold that doesn't seem to want to go away, being there in the forty-degree weather, rooting for boys in maize and blue, even in my sickened state was an experience worth having. Aaah.... There's just something about Michigan football that I love. Maybe it's the rebel in me - since most of my family roots for Ohio State I have to be the voice of dissent. (I did grow up in Michigan after all so being a Wolverines fan is not that much of a stretch for me. But you have to wonder why I chose to be a U of M fan instead of a Michigan State fan).

I'd have to say though that more than us winning by almost 60 points, my favorite moment of the game had to be when our friend snapped this picture of my husband and me on my cell phone

and texted it to my dad saying, "Go Blue and Purdue!" (You see, Ohio State was playing Purdue at the same time we were at the Michigan game).

He called me later that evening and said rather begrudgingly, "So I got your picture... and OK I got the point!"

I love how college football rivalries bring families together. It's all in good fun until someone ends up with a black eye. :o)

Incidentally, this was the final score

I've never seen such a high number on a football scoreboard before.

Hail to the Victors!

Book Trailers Worth Watching

I love finding book trailers that rival movie trailers in lighting a fire under people to make them want to know more about the story. One of my favorite book trailers is this one of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

But I just stumbled across this book trailer for Th1rteen R3asons Why on Jay Asher's blog and it is phenomenal. There is honestly a lot of YA lit out there today that rivals adult lit in characterization and story lines. This is definitely one of those books that many adults would find a fascinating read.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Poetry Friday

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

-William Carlos Williams

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

There were so many things about this book that made it a train wreck waiting to happen: Telling rather than showing, vague expanses of time, an annoying, sugary-sweet main character...

But then something happened about 3/4 of the way through reading it: I started becoming attached to the characters and found myself crying at a very pivotal moment in the story. It was then that I found myself actually caring deeply about the characters in the story. When did that happen?

There's no doubt about it, this is total chick lit. But it's sugar-coated, chaste, and unpredictable chick lit. I was honestly waiting for the main character, Becky Jack, to give in to her desires and cheat on her husband. When that didn't happen, I had to give Shannon Hale major props for going against the grain and writing something that goes against every predictable scenario a reader could think of.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's Like Crack for Bookworms

Thank you Sarah Miller for posting this awesome website on your blog!

Author Pronunciation Guide

Did you ever wonder how your favorite author's name was pronounced? OK, maybe if your favorite author is John Green you don't have this problem, but for those of you like me who've been pining away for many years about how in the heck you pronounce Avi's name, well look no further than the website above. Not all author pronunciations are needed of course, but in addition to pronouncing their own names, some of them even tell the story behind their names as well. Not to mention the fact that you actually get to HEAR what the author sounds like.

But before you assume you already know how to pronounce your favorite author's name, use Cornelia Funke as a lesson to you. She is German and therefore the E at the end of her name is not silent. How many of you knew that?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Finally a Keeper!

It's been a while since I've made a dinner that's been "a keeper." I love trying new recipes, but most of the time they just turn out "eh" and aren't worth making again. Tonight's dinner was a long time coming. Finally a keeper!

It's a Rachael Ray recipe, and yes, I know that many foodies find her name blasphemous, but I think she really gets a bad rap. She has helped so many people get into the kitchen and start making meals for their families that wouldn't have otherwise. I personally think someone who helps to get people cooking using real, wholesome ingredients (not processed crap a la Semi-Homemade's Sandra Lee) and not ordering takekout every night should be commended.

But I digress. The meal I made for dinner tonight was Chinese Spaghetti and Meatballs and after making this meal, I think my new favorite spice blend is Chinese Five Spice. I honestly could've done without the spaghetti part of this meal because I just devoured the meatballs. If you haven't tried Chinese Five Spice, it's time you tried because it adds such zest and flavor to your meal.

At the risk of sounding cheesy and cliche, all I have to say is "Yum-o!"

Poetry Friday

Oh, To Be an Earthworm

Oh, to be an earthworm.
It has five hearts.
When one is pained or pierced
the other four carry on.
It has no chin to "take it" on
no upper lip, no backbone
to keep stiff, just crawls
along in closest touch with the earth;
doesn't yearn at the stars
or stretch for the moon
but goes about its intimate
business, living its soft life
to the full, savoring it,
inch by inch.

- Ralph Fletcher

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Late to the Party

I know I'm a bit late to the party here, but I finally received my copy of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, the much anticipated 2nd installment to The Hunger Games. I purchased this title for my classroom, but I'm debating on whether or not I should just give in and read it or wait until my hold at the library comes in for the audiobook. I really enjoyed listening to the first book on audio CD that I'm kind of thinking I'll wait. But I don't know if I'll be able to show that much restraint.

If you haven't read The Hunger Games yet, I'm telling you that it's time you put that book at the top of your reading list. For the longest time I read the synopsis of the storyline and thought to myself, "That book sounds awful! You couldn't pay me to read such gore!" But lo and behold, I was finally convinced by all the favorable reviews and personal recommendations from people who told me, "You will be shocked at how much you'll love this book."

Don't get me wrong, there were still flaws in the story that made it not quite a 5-star book for me (like the main character. I understand heroes are supposed to be flawed, but there is something a bit grating about the main character of Katniss. Maybe she'll grow on me in the second book) but the writing is so lyrical and dare-I-say beautiful, despite the storyline's dire circumstances.

I am currently in the middle of reading two books right now, but I think if the audiobook of Catching Fire does not come in before I'm done with those two books I'm going to have to give in and just read it.