a writer's journey as a reader

Techno Faux Pax

A variation of an old chestnut:

Two girls walk into a classroom wearing the same yellow sweatshirt. They stop and stare at each other. They size each other up. The teacher tries to cut the tension with the quip: “Looks like you got the email.”

You know–that joke.

The problem is that teens don’t email each other. At least not anymore. The class bursts out in derisive laughter. “Yeah, right. Because that’s what we do. We email each other.” Loud smirking ensues.

Trying to save a bit of my self-esteem I respond brightly: “Maybe that’s why I don’t hear that often from my own kids –I email them.” The moment is somewhat saved and we go back to English.

I do text. I don’t Tweet. I do FaceTime. I prefer visits. I write letters. Hmm–nothing comes close to a letter. A humorous card maybe.

Yet, if I were to say the right techno term I still would be on the outside looking in. Why? My expiration date is beginning to show. I’m at retirement age and students know it. I don’t feel like retiring yet, but because I could, that makes me old. Out with the old, in with the new.

If I happen to drop in a casual word or phrase students seem surprised. Do I know what that means? If I mention a movie, song, a whatever that is in their world I think it concerns them. It’s as if I have bumped their youth bubble. Granted, I don’t know most of their music, trends, or media choices. On the other hand, they don’t know that Edgar Allan Poe influenced Stephen King, who I remember reading when he first came out and none of his books were movies yet. Or how about everyone from Monty Python to Jimmy Fallon quotes some line from Hamlet and now my students know why. Or the reason there are strong female protagonists like Katniss is because we had Jane Eyre first. And they don’t know about Byronic Heroes–yet, even though they do know about Loki, Ironman, and Bat Man.

I may get my techno terminology tangled, but they don’t know all about the who, how, and why of Shakespeare’s influence of just about everything. I have job security for a bit longer.

So is blogging for old people? Oh who cares–I need more than 280 characters for my say.


Why We Say: #34–flowers, teeth, salt, and wolves

Having just attempted to read Perks of a Wallflower (didn’t finish–that’s a different post), it was timely when I popped open my Why We Say book to the “W” section. The first entry?


In Europe, and maybe in America, bright yellow and red flowers grace stone walls, adding quiet color to break up the monotony. And so it is with people who might quietly stand against the wall at a function and not participate, at least not visibly. Just because they aren’t gregarious doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion about what’s going on. Subtle observation does have its perks.
Wisdom Teeth

Around senior year my students start missing school for a variety of reasons. One of the oddly frequent absences involves wisdom teeth removal. This is usually a two day to one week ordeal depending on the success of the procedure. My wisdom teeth were pulled during my freshman year of college. The removal went well. The recovery process did not. Apparently codeine is not on friendly terms with my system.

The Romans believed since wisdom teeth come in so late they indicate the increase of knowledge. So removing them indicates we lose some of our wisdom? There might be a plausible correlation to this thought actually.

Take It With a Grain of Salt
Another Roman story concerns itself with salt. Pompey, general and colleague of Julius Caesar, had a solution to the possibility of poisoning: “take a grain of salt to complete the relief.” Maybe that’s why we say “take it with a grain of salt” when we receive something distasteful.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Around 2500 years ago Aesop wrote a fable about a wolf who wore a sheep’s fleece in order to cozy in with the flock and snag a couple of lamb burgers. Today if someone is described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it’s best to watch out–this person is decidedly trying to be friendly with ulterior motives.


One more post and we are done with Why We Say. However, no need for dismay–I found another word origin book on my shelf, and we continue our etymology explorations.

Julius Caesar: Shaken Up

The Ides of March:

a) preview of March Madness

b) a week of spring sales

c) the middle of March

d) a George Clooney movie

e) when a certain Roman emperor got the point he wasn’t as loved as he thought he was

Answers: c)true; d)true; e)true; a) and b) contenders, because one never knows

And bonus points for knowing e) is Julius Caesar and that the 15th are the Ides of March, the middle of March.

This is useful information for Trivia Night at the local pub. Truly.

Recently our school hosted this year’s Shakesperience play: Julius Caesar. Shakesperienceis a troupe of enthusiastic actors who travel to various schools and present 50 minute versions of a selected Shakespeare play. They are always innovative in approach. This is done out of necessity . For one, they have only six actors, which means playing multiple parts. They also have minimal staging, their main piece being a tiered rolling scaffold.

This year’s production was especially innovative in that Caesar was a woman and Calpurnia became husband Calpurnius. It worked well.

It was tricky presenting a assassination in a school culture where performing violence is challenging at best. Again, innovation took the lead. When the big moment arrived, each conspirator took a sheet of paper and created a weapon: fashioned brass knuckles, tightly rolled paper points equating knives. No blood, torn paper, a shower of confetti symbolized death.

During question and answer it was revealed the torn paper bits represented the tearing of a person’s life, how a person’s life is symbolized through paper: obituaries, text, etc. Ripping up the paper is shredding their life. Brilliant and school appropriate.

I always look forward to these yearly performances. Yet, every year it’s tough to gather an interest due to working around students who either can’t or don’t want to miss their class. District testing scheduled on that day doesn’t help either. Unfortunately providing opportunities for culture suffers the injuries incurred by the tyranny of the urgent set by educational must-do, like yet another test.

Hoping Shakespeare performed live is coming to a theatre near you, or better yet, to a school in your neighborhood.

And do be aware of the Ides of March.

Reading Round up: February

February briefly held the promise of winter ending and spring arriving. I even had grass in the backyard. Lilac buds. I felt victorious.

Twelve inches of snow later, winter is rebooted. Pardon me while I emit a primal yawp. *YErrrgggh*

My go to option for dealing with this surfeit of snow is to make frequent dashes to the library. Much more fulfilling than dark chocolate. Well, a book lasts longer.

Once again, a fair mix of TBR, recommends, reviews, and discoveries.

First love sometimes feels like it will be the only love. Ever. Rainbow Rowell describes the intensity of that special love through the wondrous tale of Eleanor and Park, two misfits who are perfect fits for each other.

The teaser beginning serves to entice readers to continue reading because there are hints of a tragedy brewing, and as the plot heats up, along with Park and Eleanor’s relationship, a person just has to know how it will all turn out. That makes this a gotta-read -it-in-one-sitting book.

And that’s good writing.

Would have been a fiver, yet the cruelty seemed too much at times for believability.

Reminiscent of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, without the profanity and drama.

I remember the drop under the desk drills in elementary schools. We shivered, crouched like little frogs, not understanding the why of it. As we grew older we felt that nudging threat of the Cold War. Pat Frank’s post apocalyptic novel tentatively answers that concern.

Published in 1959, Frank’s novel prepared readers what happens to civilization after the bomb, in this case, the bombs have dropped. The author’s varied background as government consultant and journalist provides a verisimilitude that is more than believable, it is at times dismaying, yet mostly inspiring. He provides a clear-sighted hopefulness that the human race will continue even when faced with having to start over.

Even though the story takes place in the fifties, it rings too close to the present to be dismissed as being anachronistic. Alas, Babylon is a guidebook to keep on the shelf.

Major Pettigrew, full of old English practicalities at the spry age of 68, contends with several inconveniences as he contemplates his remaining days. One irritant is dealing with the village’s gossipy ladies as his friendship with the attractive widow Mrs Ali changes course. For all their supposed openness the people in his life, including his son Roger, can’t fathom how the major could possibly be interested in this foreign shop keeper.

An endearing character, Major Pettigrew is full of wry quips and commentary as he deals with breaking from expectations and unexpectedly finds love. For those who loved A Man Called Ove, make room for another lovable git.

Hollywood portrays CIA agents as full of action, intense swagger, and having a dedicated skill set. CIA agent Michele Rigby Assad provides a truer portrait in her memoir, Breaking Cover. Her frank, engaging story emphasizes how much time is spent gathering reliable intel and creating a trustworthy network. Car chases and fiery shootouts aren’t mentioned, although trying to survive searing desert heat and daily bombings lend a gritty authenticity. Assad outlines the process of becoming an agent as well as highlights some of her tours in the Middle East. While her tours might not be the stuff of Hollywood, she relates plenty of intense episodes of needing to be the best of her abilities. The fact that she and her husband both worked as agents and are dedicated Christians heightened the overall interest of her time spent in counterterrorism.

The second half of her book brings in the subtitle: My Life in the CIA and What It Taught Me about What’s Worth Fighting For. Having left the CIA, Michele and her Egyptian immigrant husband Joseph became international security consultants. The larger part of this section involves their work with relocating displaced Iraqi Christians (featured as an ABC 20/20 special). Assad’s passion and faith especially comes through as she fought to find a safe refuge for a people under persecution.

Overall, the memoir comes across as genuine and inspiring, and while it’s understandable there might have been restrictions on how much detail she could divulge of her CIA experience, it would have added more to her memoir to have further experiences about being married agents, definitely a unique perspective.

Disclaimer: Tyndale House Publishers provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What titles are keeping you warm this winter?

Movie Musings: Hamlet’s Ghost

I would be remiss to not admit that I do watch an occasional movie. I do prefer books and my ratio is about three to five movies a month I watch to the eight to ten books I read.

I usually get my movies from the library or the grocery store or occasionally from Hoopla. I rarely go to the movie theatre. Our local one has sticky floors and trounced seating. The big city multiplex is an hour away, and even with discounts it’s pricey evening out.

Books are preferred for the reasons of less cost, less effort, and the ability to lie down and read. Although we did go to a theatre a couple of months ago that had recliners. That was different.

If I watch a movie with the hubs it will undoubtedly involve action and adventure. Popcorn feast stuff. When I am by myself I pop in films that are odd or artsy: documentaries about Calvin and Hobbes, the science of bubbles, biographies of favorites like Audrey Hepburn or I watch indie films, ones with high expectations on a low, low budget.

I share my Reader Round Ups about my books, I thought “why not about movies?” The first installment is Hamlet’s Ghost

A download off my Hoopla favorites. The Hamlet part caught my attention right off. The plot involves a modern actor who gets caught up in time traveling back to the 1920’s and is the key figure in an unsolved murder.

Considering its obvious low budget limitations, the acting and plot kept me interested and entertained and of course, it had some great lines from Hamlet. I don’t know why it worked, but it did. IMdB trvia (hence the image) states it made it to the Academy Awards (?). I wonder in what category. Hmmm, another mystery to solve.

Any indie films watched lately you willing to share or admit watching?

Winter Reset Terms

Valentine’s Day reset winter by delivering eight inches of snow. I would have preferred a FDT delivery of daffodils.

I am in need of spring, that event that is a long time in finally appearing, where greenery festoons the landscape instead of mutations of whiteness. Snow is no longer pretty after three months, after it’s been shoveled, blowed, and pushed about.

February’s snow tends to be fickle. It doesn’t quite have the tenacity of January’s snow days. It’s vacillating between being fiercely winter and nicely spring. It’s as if it is acknowledging March is on the move and will definitely arrive with a spring in its step. Forget about that woodchuck and his shadowy ideas about how long we have to wait for spring. Keep him sleeping, thanks.

Last week’s unexpected snow day led me to build my annual snow guy. My students liked my snowman show and tell photo, and one class named him Perceval–Percy among his friends. 

As the snow continues to fall, and continues to hamper greener days from arriving, I thought it appropriate to dust off my snow terms list:

▪ lookitsnow:  first snow of the season–Nov/Dec

▪ itzsnowing: comment of the day until mid-January

▪ ucksnow:  bridge between Jan/Feb when people begin getting weary of shoveling, scraping, and slipping around in the stuff

▪ snizzle: the on off dance of snow and rain found in late February

▪ snain: a more serious form of snizzle

▪ smush: slushy snow of Feb/Mar

▪ smud: ground showing with snow patches, squashy walking usually around early March

▪ ohnosnow: snow when daffs coming up and flakes coming down in March/April

▪ nomohsnow: snowfall and meltaway tease of April/May

(some days there is the occasional variety to the landscape)

Val Day Reset Blick

Between the rain and the uptick in warmer temperatures the landscape had shed its blanket of winter white. I was thrilled.

Snow is fine as long as it stays in the mountains. Let the skiers rejoice. Unfortunately, snow is pervasive and usually hangs around for four months, barely leaving until the daffodils give hint of their arrival in April.

Valentine’s day provided a mixed blick. A reset button of eight inches of snow created a snow day from school (yay!), but winter is back (blick!).

On the positive side I was able to rest and read and grade and beat back yet another round of getting sick. And when life hands you snowyou make a snowman.

Hope your Valentine’s day was delightful, and I hope your winter is going well.

Reader Round Up: January

January ranks 12th out of the 12 calendar months in my personal poll. Snow has turned grey and crunchy. The sky is unfriendly and uncompromising. Walking is tricky without snowshoes or cleats. And June seems so far away. Moping and complaining is an option worth pursuing, yet it is annoying to others. I turn to books as my medicinal reprieve. By the end of January the Good Read gnomes noted I was four books ahead of schedule, meaning I read around 12 novels during that bleak month when my usual goal is about 8. Books are my happy light in winter. Here are the top picks:

all images from Good Reads

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow

Fresh and original come to mind, even though they are trite descriptors for this mesmerizing story of Rachel, who tries to find her identity in world that wants her to choose between being black or being white. She just wants to be herself.

Durrow writes from her own biracial personal experience, which is why Rachel’s voice has so much authenticity. The interweaving of the other characters to fill out Rachel’s story, of how she alone survives a family tragedy, provides greater depth and understanding of who Rachel was and is trying to become.

The story ends somewhat unfinished; there is a lack of resolve of whether Rachel stays or runs. And yet, there are no guarantees of true happy endings in life, as Rachel discovers.

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman

A genuine surprise. A story within a story that interweaves upon itself, building momentum until it intersects with a delicious denouement.

Two sisters, one artist, at least three mysteries to solve—missing persons, missing paintings, and relationship conundrums create a book that grabs ahold of the reader. It’s array of flawed, yet compelling characters is sometimes confusing, yet overall the plot is so intriguing it is difficult to resist. I delayed my travel departure in order to finish the book. Yes, it’s that amazing.

This would have been a definite five except for a couple of niggling little plot points that I needed tying up that didn’t happen. I give it a sound 4.5.

Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings

Amazingly I found this book right when I needed to do research about what is was like to go blind, especially as a teenager.

An engaging story of a girl who has slowly been going blind and how she learns to cope with her eventual blindness. Natalie resents having to prepare for her eventual blindness by going to a special school. It’s there that she learns a few tough lessons about how other teens cope with their abilities and disabilities. The story is a page-turner and only slightly pep-talky about handling expected and even unexpected situations in life.

As with the other Cummings books I’ve read, this one has realistic dialogue, believable characters, and amazing researched details.

I purchased this title for myself, yet decided it would be appreciated by my students for SSR. One student, usually shy, and not too positive about school, grabbed the book after my suggested picks talk and at the beginning of every class she wants to talk about it. She told me the other day she is reading it so much that her parents told her to put it down and do something else. Oh how my librarian’s heart went pitty-pat upon hearing that wonderful unexpectedness. How often does a kid get in trouble for reading a well-written, engaging book in these thumbswipe days?

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Like a bowl of Mycroft’s bookworms feasting on a thesaurus, I find myself exhaling superlatives: “genius,” “delightful,” “clever,” “witty.”

It’s stupendously incredible that 76 publishers turned down the opportunity to publish this wonderful homage to literature and the literary world.

Combine the whirlwind zany adventures of Dr Who and the secret agent literary skills of The Librarian, and Thursday Next comes into being.

The first of several books involving the intrepid literature agent, I consider it the best of the lot for the main reason it features Rochester of Jane Eyre fame.

Found this copy at the local Goodwill and had to add it to my SSR bookshelf, mainly for my AP Lit students. Years ago I was introduced to Fforde and when I came across this title I knew I had to take it home, to rescue from its bland bookshelf neighbors.

With January past I am looking forward to February, of hearts, Presidents, a long weekend, a short month, and a batch of hold books to arrive at the local library.

How are you holding up in this month between winter and spring?

In Between Aah Weekend

As I sit in my lounger recuperating from a week of giving finals, grading essays, posting grades, and planning next quarter’s lesson, I take a moment to breathe an “Aah.”

The weekend in between semesters is rather delectable. Finally–no papers to read and grade and no last minute adjustments to lesson plans. I embrace the leisurely weekend ahead. A good book to indulge in. A nice nap to appreciate. Maybe some shopping. No guilt. I am in between semesters and there is that hint of June frisking in the distance, even as snow falls.

Any other teachers out there feeling that in between “aah”?

Or maybe you’re a student feeling the same way.

Hoping you all have some “aah” time before Monday.

Why We Say: #33–“V”

This month we explore vaccinations, vagabonds, and villains.

Pintrest: “You want me to volunteer for what?”

Cows are the hero in this exploration of vaccinations. Way back when, smallpox was a dreaded disease that disfigured and could be fatal. Interestingly enough, doctors, particularly Dr. Jenner, noticed cows suffered only a mild case of the pox. Someone decided, “You know, by taking a bit of blood from a cow infected with the virus and injecting it into a person, that would probably give that person just a mild case of cowpox.” And because there must have been another astute doctor on this way back when research time, the additional reply might have been:

“Yeah–so if a person gets cowpox, he wouldn’t get smallpox, right? All we need is a volunteer.”

Did they found a willing volunteer or did they do a best Two out of three round of rock-paper-scissors?

By the way the “vacca” in vaccination means cow in Spanish. Consider mooing your thanks to a cow for their contribution to medical science.


well-dressed vagabonds


Before permanent theaters were established in Shakespeare’s time, actors traveled the countryside performing wherever they could. Taking the cue from the Latin “vagaries” meaning “to wander,” these wanderers became known as vagabonds. Eventually the term attached itself to anyone without a fixed home.



image: “Don’t have a cow, Loki. You are a villain.”

Oh those evil people that cause our heroes so many problems: Snidely Whiplash, the Joker, Loki, just to drop a couple of names. Yet, originally there was no evil in the word; in fact, the Latin “villanus” means one who lives on a villa, which was often a farm. A villain was applied to one who worked on a villa or farm. And because these workers were usually poor or of low birth, the wealthy thought these villains to be evil (naturally, right?).


Maybe one villain test could be if the bad guy knows how to milk a cow–wait, Loki wears cow horns. Maybe there is something to this after all.

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