I spent Thanksgiving weekend in Illinois, meeting Hazel and spending some quality time hanging out with Jamie and his Thomas the Tank Engine videos.

I have a plant to water, a car to unload, dinner to rustle up, a weird-smelling gerbil cage to clean, and some lesson prep work to do for tomorrow, so the travelogue and collection of adorable baby photos will have to wait. In the meantime, I swiped this little meme off Brigid’s blog and thought it would make a nice intro to the holiday season:

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Bags. I don’t have time to dink around with wrapping paper, and bags are reusable, which makes them better for the environment.

2. Real tree or artificial?

3. When do you put up the tree?
When I have 20 minutes to spare.

4. When do you take the tree down?
When I have 10 minutes to spare.

5. Do you like eggnog?
Only if I’m in the mood for it, which I’m usually not.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
Does my little sister count?

7. Hardest person for whom you buy presents?
Dad. He never wants anything.

8. Easiest person for whom you buy presents?

9. Do you have a nativity scene?

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Mail, if I remember and get them out on time.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
I can’t recall any really bad ones.

12. Favorite Christmas movie?
“A Christmas Story” is the best film ever made.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
When I get a hand free.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
Not that I can recall.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?

16. Lights on the tree?
Color wheel under it. Lights plus aluminum tree equal electrocution hazard.

17. Favorite Christmas song?
Probably “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
Varies from year to year.

19. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
On an aluminum tree? Neither.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
Christmas morning

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?

23. Favorite ornament theme or color?
Retro. I’m hoping to score a set of sputniks to go on the tree this year.

24. What do you want for Christmas this year?
Nothing. I’m holding out for four new beehives this spring (two to replace the ones we lost this summer, and two new ones — the Italians aren’t cutting it, so I’m dying to experiment with Russians, Buckfasts and Carnies).

Still busy

We had another homework night in my classroom this evening. I stayed until 6 p.m. About five kids came in to catch up on their work. They got a lot done, and we had a good time munching on cheese puffs and Little Debbie snack cakes.

I had just enough time to come home and change into jeans and a sweatshirt before I had to be back at school to watch the girls’ Powder Puff football game. It was fun, but Ron and I were glad to get back home and warm up, because it was awfully cold out tonight.

I need to write some lesson plans, get offline, and start packing, as I plan to leave for Illinois immediately after school tomorrow. My planning period is eighth hour. I wonder if I can sweet-talk Zaphod into letting me sneak out immediately after seventh hour? It would be nice to get out of town ahead of the traffic….


Ay, there’s the rub

“To sleep: perchance, to dream: ay, there’s the rub….”
— William Shakespeare

I’d had an idea I might take a nap this afternoon, but I wanted to finish the MySpace part of my Hamlet unit before I crashed (the kids are going to create a MySpace page for Hamlet, but the site is firewalled at school, so I just created a form they can use to do a mock-up of their page). It took me a couple of hours of surfing MySpace pages and playing with inDesign to get it the way I wanted it, but I finally wrapped it up, sorted out the deadlines for the kids’ other projects, and headed off to bed.

I curled up with Scout and a down comforter to keep me warm, fell asleep, and promptly dreamed I was putting together the rest of the Hamlet unit.

After 45 minutes of dreaming about the work I needed to do, I decided there was no point in wasting my whole afternoon exhausting myself with so much mental labor if I wasn’t going to have anything to show for it, so I got up and came back in here to work some more.

Every time I think I’m just about finished with this project, another idea flings itself across my path. I’m not complaining — I think this may be the best thing I’ve put together since that Harlem Renaissance unit I designed when I was student teaching — but we’re going to Cain’s Ballroom tonight for the Willie Nelson concert, and we’ve got general admission tickets, meaning we’ll be standing up for the whole show. A nap would have been nice.

Ah, well. Maybe with the bulk of this project behind me, I’ll be able to dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous insomnia long enough to get a good night’s sleep after the concert.



I’ve got to find a better way to make crossword puzzles, because using inDesign to piece them together by hand is not cutting it. I had my Hamlet crossword designed in about half an hour. It took me the better end of six hours to build the bloody thing with inDesign.

On the up side, at least it’s done. The other things I have to create for this unit are much more straightforward and shouldn’t take nearly as long.


Small success

I wish I’d had the camera with me in class yesterday.

I wasn’t in the mood to grade papers this weekend, so instead of a writing assignment, the kids’ bell work for yesterday was to take the giant magnetic poetry kit we’ve been developing and work together to write an original poem. I was prepared for the whole thing to degenerate into insane, pointless chaos, but the kids surprised me. Highlights from one class:

Five or six kids immediately grabbed the kit and gathered around the big tables in the center of the room to create a poem.

One boy — who usually doesn’t participate much — wasn’t keen on the idea of poetry-by-committee, so he and another kid took some of the cards and began making their own poem. His friend eventually lost interest and went to see what everybody else was doing, but this boy kept working diligently on his own.

Another boy got sidetracked by the new bulletin board I’d put up, which features an enlarged-and-laminated version of that Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where the food recites a soliloquy from Hamlet. This boy stood looking at the board for a long time. You know I wasn’t about to stop him. If I had more time on my hands, I’d turn the whole freakin’ play into a comic book. Maybe this summer….

A girl wasn’t interested in the poetry project, but she was completely engrossed in a novel she was reading. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she couldn’t read a novel in English class, so I just let her keep going.

Three kids were just straight-up goofing off, but that’s actually lower than the usual goof-off rate for that group.

I am learning again. I’ve always been leery of group work, because it seems like the kids spend a lot of time dinking around instead of working, but on those few occasions when I’ve let the kids work on their own, they’ve surprised me. The classroom feels chaotic, but when I call time, I’m always vaguely shocked by the amount of work the kids have managed to produce. I have to remember that this is not about what’s comfortable for me. It’s about what reaches the kids. If organized chaos works for them, how can I say no to it?

On an unrelated note, I went to see the kids play basketball last night. I am pleased to report that the JV girls, JV boys, varsity girls, and varsity boys all won their games handily. Go Warriors!

Next up: Rustle up some breakfast, spend the morning hanging Christmas lights at the Chamber of Commerce office with Ron and Zaphod and some of my National Honor Society kids, and then devote the afternoon to planning the details of my Hamlet unit, which starts after Thanksgiving.

Hope your weekend is good.


Folk Thursday: Kareem Salama

I love this video. The song is by Kareem Salama, an Egyptian country singer from Ponca City, Okla. (WARNING: Music starts automatically on his site.)

Having spent most of high school haunting the coffeehouses near SIU with my best friend — a Scottish-born Muslim girl of Pakistani descent — I find nothing particularly surprising or groundbreaking about the message in the video, but I have a feeling others might.


Folk Thursday: Scout

OK, OK, so it’s not exactly music, but I personally think Scout’s warbling sounds at least as good as anything in Yoko Ono’s catalog:

Ron is very proud of his new video camera, which he used to capture what he refers to as Scout’s “vocal stylings.”

I’ll post a real Folk Thursday offering later, when I get a hand free. Right now, I’m up to my teeth in lists of makeup work for struggling students.

On an unrelated note, I enlarged that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon with the food reciting Shakespeare, traced it with a Sharpie, colored it in, and finally got it laminated today. I can’t wait to put it up on my bulletin board after Thanksgiving….



“Human sense may well marvel at discord, while, to a diviner sense, harmony is the real and discord the unreal. We may well be perplexed at human fear; and still more astounded at hatred, which lifts its hydra head, showing its horns in the many inventions of evil. But why should we stand aghast at nothingness?”
— Mary Baker Eddy

I’m posting this quote today not because I’ve gotten the hang of it, but because I haven’t, and I need to.

We are doing a poetry unit right now at school. I love teaching poetry. I especially love reading the poems the kids write themselves. Some of them are awful, of course, but some of them are brilliant.

Some are also very, very revealing. Kids are very honest in their poetry. They share things they might not otherwise talk about. And some of the things they share break my heart. Some of my kids have never known anything but conflict and pain. Some have witnessed abuse. Some have experienced abuse. Some have lost parents. Some have lost siblings. Some have lost friends.

All of them break my heart. I am trying very hard not to “stand aghast at nothingness.” But it’s hard to reach that “diviner sense” that knows only harmony when the nothingness in question seems to be hurting my kids.


What dreams may come

It’s a chilly night, there’s a fire in the woodstove, all my grading is caught up, and I’m getting ready to settle in on the couch with a notebook, a cup of hot cider, and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet.

‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

On a semi-related note, I am delighted to report that I was able to locate an online image of the hilarious Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which the leftovers recite Shakespeare. (Go to the linked page, click the “Funnies” link on the left-hand side of the page, and then scroll down to find the cartoon. I am seriously considering printing each panel of this strip at full-page size, having the panels laminated, and letting my kids assemble them in the correct order before posting them on one of my back bulletin boards.)




Here I am this afternoon, crossing the finish line in the Route 66 Half-Marathon. My time was fairly abysmal, but considering the fact that A.) I’d run a grand total of 19.2 miles since last November, B.) I’d been fighting a backache for two days, and C.) I woke up this morning with some kind of stomach flu and seriously considered skipping the race altogether, I’ll just be content with the finisher’s medal and not worry too much about the clock. Maybe one of these days I’ll have time to whip myself back into sub-2:30 shape.


The announcer didn’t call my name when I finished. He just referred to me as “the jeans lady” because I ran in jeans and a sweatshirt. I don’t know why you’re not supposed to run in jeans. They’re comfortable on a cold day, and they have lots of pockets for carrying gels and stuff. 

Hope your weekend was good.