Lesson plan

I am feeling rather pleased with myself at the moment, as I have built an entire writing unit around the film A Christmas Story. The kids are going to listen to the author recount the flagpole story (thank you, 20th anniversary edition bonus material!) and identify as many literary devices as they can find in it. We will watch the film Thursday and Friday and talk about memoir, setting, characterization, point of view, figurative language, etc.

After we finish watching the movie, the kids will have to write their own brief memoirs about a specific incident from their own childhood.

Should be a cute lesson, and lots of fun to grade.

In requesting permission to show the film in class, I promised Swayze we’d try not to shoot our eyes out….


OMG ponies!!!!1!!!1!!

We went out to Route 66 Riding Stables on East 11th Street today. For $15 an hour, you can rent a horse to ride. As far as I’m concerned, horseback riding is pretty much the most awesome thing there is, and I haven’t had a chance to do it in the past seven or eight years, so I was delighted to find out about this new business on 66.

My muscles have gotten a bit barn sour in the past few years, but I had a good time meandering around the grounds on a pretty black horse named Max.

Ron took a picture of us, which he posted on his blog.

I spent part of this evening experimenting with sugar-free candymaking. I can’t say I’m greatly pleased with the results (Splenda is weird stuff to work with, and when you mix it with baking chocolate, it has a distinct iced-tea-that’s-been-sweetened-after-it-cooled vibe), but I made a decent peanut butter fudge out of fructose, so I’ll have something to share with Swayze — who is diabetic — when I take homemade candy to school next week.

I’m making real candy and writing lesson plans tomorrow. Go, me!


Wrap session

Walter has been helping me wrap Christmas presents this morning. If these gifts stay wrapped long enough to be delivered to their respective recipients, I will be flat-out shocked, because Walter is utterly fascinated by curling ribbon and Scotch tape.

I’m going indie on as many gifts as possible this year. Thus far, we’ve bought stuff at Kiddlestix, the Lincoln Museum gift shop (not exactly mom-and-pop, but a good cause), Lee’s Feed, Steve’s Sundries, and Paper Chase. After a 4:30 a.m. Best Buy run that ended in futility, Ron has learned his lesson about corporate America and its Black Friday bait-and-switch game, so I am heading to an indie computer dealer for one more item this afternoon.

I feel a creative outburst coming on, but I’m not sure exactly how it will manifest itself. There’s some fiction trying to claw its way out of my head this morning, but I’m not really in the mood to deal with it. Last night, for no apparent reason, a couple of my as-yet-unwritten characters decided that “Here, There and Everywhere” is their song, and they are bugging hell out of me to figure out why.

Fiction is a strange thing. You want your characters to be realistic and well-rendered, but develop them too far, and they start thinking for themselves, which makes them impossible to control.

My female characters are all rather like Athena, springing from my head more or less fully formed, but the guys always go through this elaborate — and extremely time-consuming — building process. Just when I think I’ve got them nailed down, I meet another interesting person, and all of a sudden I’ve got a character whispering, “Wouldn’t I be more realistic if I had X’s annoying habit of brushing imaginary dust specks off his desk when he’s thinking?” or “You see how Y holds his mouth to hide that gap in his teeth around people he doesn’t know well? I do that, too.” Flighty brats. We’ll see if I’m in the mood to deal with them after lunch….


Santa’s Magical Mushrooms

Ron and I made a quick trip to Illinois this weekend to attend a special event organized by an old friend.

On our way back through Missouri last night, we noticed a spiderweb of Christmas lights twined through the branches of hundreds of trees along a road winding up the side of a mountain.

The lights were part of the elaborate “Santa’s Magical Kingdom” Christmas display at the Yogi Bear-themed Jellystone Park campground just west of Six Flags.

We’d passed the display in years past, but we never seemed to get there in time to drive through it. Although we were on a rather tight schedule last night, we couldn’t resist a stop.

I suspect some of Santa’s Magical Mushrooms may have been involved in planning this exhibit:

The exhibit even includes a faux fireworks display over a replica of the St. Louis Arch.

Dolphins leap in a pool of twinkling lights.


Is the giant water faucet a nod to the famous animated neon faucet that drips all night next to I-44 near St. James? You decide. (After you click the link, scroll down to the bottom of the page to see what I’m talking about.)

I personally think the whole thing looks like what you’d get if Clark Griswold were in charge of decorating Rock City’s Fairyland Caverns for the holidays. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.



So apparently the ol’ “OMG-teh-ACLU-stole-Christmas!!!!!!!1!!!!ONE!!!!!!1!!!” hoax is making the rounds again.

If you’re not familiar with it, the upshot is this: In 2005, someone sent out an e-mail message saying that because the American Civil Liberties Union was “working so very hard to get rid of the CHRISTMAS part of this holiday,” good Christians should flood the organization’s headquarters with Christmas cards in an effort to “freeze their (sic) operations” by clogging up its mail system. The e-mail urges people to trick ACLU employees into opening these cards by writing “contribution enclosed” on the outside of the envelopes — then “inside(,) contribute a bible (sic) verse!!”

Every time this lands in my inbox, I have to wonder: Why would any self-professed Christian endorse such Machiavellian behavior?

A quick Snopes.com search reveals that this e-mail contains claims about the ACLU that are demonstrably false — so if we forward it, we are bearing false witness against our neighbor, in direct violation of the Ninth Commandment.

The sixth chapter of Leviticus states, in part: “If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord, and lie unto his neighbour … or hath deceived his neighbour … he hath sinned, and is guilty….” If deception is a “trespass against the Lord,” can we safely assume that Jesus would not advocate writing “contribution enclosed” on an envelope that contains no money?

Finally, Exodus 20:7 instructs: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” While this may not be exactly the same thing as shouting, “JESUS H. CHRIST!” in a moment of frustration, it seems to me that if I send someone a Bible verse out of animosity rather than love, I am certainly violating the spirit — if not the letter — of the Third Commandment.

As Christians, we are called to be honest, love our enemies, and treat others as we wish to be treated.

If we are sincere in our faith, we will follow the leadings of the Christ, and not the malicious urgings of an anonymous author whose words have about as much credibility as the Neiman-Marcus Cookie hoax.


Showing my snails

Remember when I said I needed a macro lens to get good, tight shots of the tiny creatures who frequent my garden?

Ron bought me the next best thing the other day: an extension tube. It’s a fairly simple gadget that allows a standard lens to function more or less like a macro. A little guest showed up on our front porch this evening and gave me an opportunity to test-drive it:




I think it works pretty well. I never realized that snails’ skin had such a scaly texture. My Speedlite provided illumination, as it was very dark outside, and the porch light wasn’t quite sufficient for detailed photography.


I got this longer shot with the regular lens. I like how you can see the silvery trail the little guy left behind. I have a project in mind for this photo, but I’ll wait until it’s finished to share it. Stay tuned….


A glimpse of heaven

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
— Luke 17:21

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. The reign of harmony….
— Mary Baker Eddy

When I was in high school, I had a little daydream that I cherished.

It began at a scholar bowl tournament somewhere in southern Illinois. I can’t remember the exact location, but I was standing outside a classroom somewhere, waiting for a game to start, when my thought was suddenly filled by a vision of a much older me, teaching high-school English and coaching a scholar bowl team of my own.

The image brought with it such a glorious sense of peace and joy that I took special care to file it neatly in my consciousness so I could find it again if I needed it.

I kept that dream close at hand for the next few years, working toward it throughout college, taking it out and looking at it when life seemed too challenging, and savoring the feeling of rightness and comfort and delight that always seemed to accompany it.

Then I spent a year teaching in north St. Louis County, and the experience was so miserable that it deflated the dream and left it languishing silently in a dustbin somewhere in the back of my thought.

The dream crept back into my thought so quietly this weekend that I scarcely noticed it at first.

Our scholar bowl team had a tournament Saturday. I’ve been helping the coach all semester, so she invited me to come along and help supervise the kids.

I expected to enjoy the tournament. But I didn’t expect what happened next.

The moderator for our first game was young and bright and knew the game backwards and forwards. I knew, even before I asked, that he had spent a lot of time behind a buzzer himself, and I thought of the happy hours some of my friends and I had spent moderating tournaments to help out our old coaches after we graduated.

I didn’t catch on at first, but as I watched the game, a flicker of familiar joy slipped across my consciousness like a smile from a long-lost friend.

During our second game, we had the opportunity to play in a classroom where the teacher’s love for the profession, the kids, and life in general seemed to radiate from every surface.

That classroom — and, really, the entire school — expressed such joy and enthusiasm that it made me happy just to be there. And although I still didn’t grasp what was happening, as I sat in that room, I felt that old, familiar happiness spreading through my system.

If I’m understanding Jesus’ words correctly, the “kingdom of heaven” isn’t a location in space or time. It’s a location in consciousness — a place within us where we are aware of nothing except peace, joy, and love.

I’ve not yet reached the point of dwelling perpetually in the kingdom of heaven. But every now and then, I catch a glimpse of it.

I caught a glimpse this weekend.

If I can hang onto it, work should be very, very different next week. But even if I can’t, I’ll know it’s there, waiting for me to find it again.


Caught up

What a wonderful feeling: I am basically caught up. I have a handful of papers to grade, but those should take all of 30 minutes to knock out before school tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m done with all my lesson plans for the next couple of weeks, so I finally have a chance to catch my breath a little bit.

I spent most of this evening cooking. I have potato soup simmering in the Crock-Pot at the moment, and I made a big batch of meatballs from a recipe in my friend Dawn’s new book, which hits the shelves tomorrow.

I have to remember to make a batch of kettle corn after church on Wednesday, as our academic team is hosting a game Thursday afternoon, and the kids get very disappointed if my contribution to the pregame snack table does not involve kettle corn. (I tried bringing homemade chocolate-chip cookies one time, thinking that was a better treat, but I was mistaken. Kettle corn gets a much more enthusiastic response than cookies … which is fine with me, because I can crank out enough kettle corn to feed a dozen teenagers in less than 10 minutes, using maybe 50 cents’ worth of ingredients, whereas cookies require 10 times as much time and 10 times as much money to produce.)

Hope you had a productive day and a peaceful evening, wherever you are.