cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

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Reader Round Up: December


December is reading crunch time. School is winding down, Christmas stress is building, weather is all about keeping the driveway clear of snow, and that Good Reads Reading Challenge number smirks quietly–“gonna miss it this year-heh heh.”

YET–this year December proved quite complacent. Two snow days prior to the Christmas Break (which didn’t happen until 12/22!?!) helped calm the last minute crazies and allow for last minute holiday need-to-get-done. As for the usual Good Reads smirk? Didn’t happen. Remember? I had tremendous down time in August nursing my broken wrist and managed a huge padding of 20 books read that month. I finished the year well, being over my 101 goal plus 12. I don’t plan on breaking anything in 2018 or anticipate unexpected down time, but I will pluckily sign up for another 101 reading goal.

One really lovely aspect of late  Christmas Break is two weeks of reading guilt free. I really appreciate that break from grading, and cozying up with books is truly a balm to my frazzledness. Here are a few top picks from December:

After the Rain  by Karen White


Although somewhat predicable in plot [troubled woman on the run stops in a small town and gets accepted by all the usual stereotypes and then falls for the town good guy, and there are major problems getting together but of course you know they will], this nevertheless has solid writing and provides that comfy, light read needed after a long week.
Mockingbird Songs by Wayne Flynt


I surprisingly did not hear about this book until I found it whilst shelf browsing. Dr Wayne Flynt and his wife Dartie have the distinction of being within Nelle Harper Lee’s inner circle. The friendship began with professional correspondence, since Flynt is a noted historian, and warmed up to a true relationship lasting a couple of decades. In fact, Flynt provided Lee’s eulogy. While more of a epistolary than a true biography, the correspondence between Flynt and Lee reveals aspects of Lee’s personality that solidly establishes her as a national treasure.

Green Tiger’s Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare


A definite charmer. Ten of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays are paired with captivating artwork, and are retold by E. Nesbit. Aimed towards children, this is an adaption that is appealing for anyone interested in Shakespeare, or even those desiring a winsome read.

 Steal Away Home by Billy Coffey


Billy Coffey is establishing himself as a storyteller who combines faith with a tale that’s in no hurry to get there. The plot will travel forward some and then twist and turn and settle in for a culimating ending that is so surprising it makes a reader shout out loud. At least I did. This is a story of living with choices made, of loving with a divided heart. And baseball. Coffey flips his story around a live game and the past that brought a Cinderella minor player up to the majors for one night. A five star.

Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings


Looking for books to plump up my classroom SSR shelf, I picked up this surprising gem at the local library book sale. Not being a huge fan of younger YA, I didn’t have high expectations for an engaging read. Wrong call. Cummings presents a compelling story of how one decision can affect many people, and she does it without a sermon. Her realistic situations and characters resonate well. I promptly set off to find the other two books in the series. Another five star.

Looking forward to another year of Good Reads. Any favorites from 2017?

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Why We Say #32: U too


There is a definite variety of expressions for “U”, so many that you, too will become well-versed in U knowing why we say, for example:

Under the Weather

If you’ve ever boated in choppy waters, it isn’t difficult to figure out that sailing in bad weather can absolutely bring out up the topic of seasickness. Being under the weather can mean being over the railing.

Unlucky 13

What is it about thirteen? Why is it unlucky? While there are several ideas out there, my little sayings book suggests that the expression goes back to the Last Supper. Jesus and his twelve apostles sat at the table, making it thirteen. Judas betrayed Jesus. Thirteen was not his lucky number.

Up a Blind Alley

One of those “back then” explanations, as in back when gates were referred to as “eyes,” it was handy to have an eye on an exit when running down an alley. People who are running down alleys are usually in need of gates, doors, openings–you name it, they just need a way out. Going up a blind alley is probably a lot like being up a creek without a paddle.

Upper Crust

Crusts are often discarded. Just watch most kids eat a sandwich. Yet, long ago the upper crust of a loaf of bread was considered the best part and set aside for the best visitors. This is why those with clout are considered the upper crust. Yeah, they usually have a lot of bread in their possession, come to think of it.

Upset the Apple Cart

English farmers back in the late 1700s would hurry to the market in order to sell their fruit first. Competitive sellers would knock over the other farmer’s carts to wreck their ability to sell. And this is why when plans go awry we might say “don’t upset the Apple Cart.” George Bernard Shaw might have revived the saying with his play “The Apple Cart.” Maybe those who got their carts tipped suffered from sour apples (or is that sour grapes?) syndrome.

images: pinterest, Wikipedia

My Left Hand


Dear Left Hand:
Due to unforeseen circumstances, you have undoubtedly noticed the extra workload and overtime you've been having to cope with these last few days.

Management appreciates your willing attitude and unexpected diversity, if not ingenuity, in approaching situations your aptitude and abilities have previously not necessarily
prepared you to encounter.

Recently it was noted you coped well in the following situations:

  • signing release forms ("Better than the doctor's," noted the nurse.)
  • opening a child-lock prescription bottle (known to be difficult with two functioning hands)
  • making up a bed (we do acknowledge the assistance of pulling corners)
  • putting away dishwasher contents (commendable)

And this last one we found extraordinary:
Teaching a child how to darn her sock in order to uphold a commitment made prior to the stated unfortunate circumstance.

While the everyday and mundane tasks of personal hygiene maintenance and meal sustenance were expected, management appreciates the fortitude and perseverance shown in recent days.

At present it is not known when immediate relief from present duties will be expected nor the return of right hand's full capacity. Therefore, we encourage you to persevere and carry on, continuing appreciated efforts until further notice.
Sincerely,
Management

Paper or Plastic?


“I would rather have a hard copy, if that’s okay.” This is from a new AP recruit wanting the summer reading text How to read Literature Like a Professor in book format rather than the PDF version I found on-line. Curious, I asked why. Her response? She had difficulty connecting with the on-screen type. Not what I expected from eyes way younger than mine. I, of course spout off about how much I prefer hard copies to e-copies as well because of my need to connect sensory-wise and as I’m talking, I’m flipping pages and smelling them and listening to them and when I finally notice my student nodding and edging toward the door, like she’d really like to leave because I’m a looney lady (more than one student has commented on me being a bit crazy), I hand over the book and wish her a great summer.

I am a looney lady when it comes to books–hence the Book Booster thing I do. Books aren’t just a pasttime or a channel of information, they are an introduction. Ahem, a new quote from moi:

A book in hand is a friendship in the making.

Beyond making a new friend, there is joy, a celebration of the senses holding a book in hand. I’m talking honest to goodness REAL paper-in-hand book. I do so enjoy paper, maybe that’s why I always answer “paper” instead of “plastic” at the store. Perhaps it’s because paper comes from trees and trees come from the earth and holding a book bound in paper produces more connection to the world around me.  I have little or no sensory connection to my plastic e-reader even though it’s a book in hand.  Oh oh–I feel the looney lady coming on and before I go on about trees, books and their connection to the world and mankind, here is my list of reasons for preferring a book of paper when reading:

1. Smell: that inky pungency stimulates my imagination to anticipation

2. Hearing: the flip-swish of pages signifies my involvement and commitment and helps me to further escape

3. Taste: no, I don’t lick the book, but reading a paper book whets my appetite for setting aside time to open up the pages to fall into another time, another place, another person’s story

4. Touch: there has got to be a study out there concerning the connection between the tactile aspect of reading and brain synapse when communing with a book–I am so much more involved when I am holding the book instead of just listening to it by audio or thumbing up a new screen. Think about this: glass does not conduct electricity, which means no synapse boost. Plus, when I see my book lying on the bed, table, chair it beckons me to pick it up, so there must be a some kind of magnetism involved.

5. Visual: perhaps the most notable because of the cover has all those colors and interesting bits to feed my eyes and mind, and then, of course, there all those illustrations and photographs and drawings sometimes waiting inside.

I’ve shown this video before, yet it definitely illustrates the visual appeal of books.

Reading is definitely a sensory experience for me.  What about you?  Paper or plastic?

Rocking Out on Being Stoned


Nope. This is no expose on Mick Jagger. We’re looking into semantics today.
Did you know when you are picking up souvenir rocks at the beach you are actually picking up stones? Truly.

Rocks from morguefile
We may only think that “rock” and “stone” are interchangeable. They technically aren’t, yet like most of our language, we throw actuality out the window and go for ease of saying.

Stones by morguefile
Here are the distinguishing facts:

Rock: Usually large, immovable natural material made up of one or more minerals that is hard or soft in composition.

Stone: Most often a harder, smaller, moveable mineral matter. 
More clarifications:

A rock is comparatively larger.

A stone is comparatively small.

A rock is not usually moved, being it is part of the earth as in The Rock of Gibraltar. 

A stone can be picked up as in gemstones.

A rock can be hard or soft in material composition.

A stone is hard.

Now–how does that transfer into everyday expressions?

We say, “He’s solid. He’s a rock of strength. He’s immovable, and can’t be swayed.” And right about here is where the Rock of Gibraltar is bandied about.

Looking over the checklist of facts, it looks pretty good, metaphorically speaking.

Let’s move on…

“She’s got a heart of stone.” This is not a compliment. To be solid as a rock is considered a positive attribute; however, your heart should not be hard and it should be movable. Wait, stones are movable. Wouldn’t that mean that person could change her outlook?

Or doesn’t it follow that a rock solid person would have a heart of stone because the heart is a part of the body and is smaller and can be moved more easily?

Bookmark that thought. 

Think about:

A. We collect rocks along the shoreline to perhaps add them to our rock garden.

B. A diamond is a precious gemstone and set in a ring it’s touted as “quite a rock.” [right for gemstone, wrong for rock]

C. Loud electronic music  is considered “rock” and some will enhance the listening experience by being “stoned.” [not sure]

Now that you know the difference, be sure you don’t get caught between a rock and a hard place in your terms.
 

Tis the Month of Maying


April brought showers, daffodils, moose eating tulips (again), a trip to see the First Folio, unprecedented warm temperatures, and a month of poetry. Now we are on to May.

May–yes, may I just say that May makes me tired, and we are barely five days into the month. As I write this it’s 3:30 a.m., about two hours too early to be so wide awake. My head is spinning with how much I need to do this month. May I just stop a moment and reflect what the month of May involves…

  • Complete the Victorian Era unit with my seniors, yet leave enough time for Modern and Post-Modern by end of this month
  • Post progress grades by 3 pm Thursday–today!
  • Create my unit exam
  • Figure out my second semester final
  • Create a meaningful series of activities for my AP students for the rest of the month now that they have taken their exam and are basically done with the class, yet still need to attend. Did someone say film appreciation unit?
  • Speak at the annual Women’s Tea talking about getting a “piece of quiet” which is based on my essay in Chicken Soup for the Multi-tasking Mom’s Soul (I should be nervous but I’m too worn out to be nervous–wait it’s next week? I am nervous)

(Survivor of the nefarious Tulip Moose)
Just thinking about my “get’r done” list makes me tired enough to maybe go back to sleep. May I, might I, may I get it done because all this is going through my head:

Tis is the month of maying:

  1. May I get my gradebook straightened out
  2. May I get my lesson plans written up
  3. May I win against my everlasting match with yard maintenance (Weeds 3, Cricket 1)
  4. May I get caught up on my book reviews
  5. May I get a month of blog posts going
  6. May I send off yet another volley of queries to editors and agents
  7. May I actually find time to pack for my escape weekend–that’s right, I’m taking two personal days and making a four day getaway. By doing so I may survive the outbreak of senioritis at our school.

May I just go back to sleep so that I’m not a zombie impersonating an English teacher… 

POM: April 11


April is so close to May which is close to June and then it’s SUMMER!!

Here’s some Ella to remind us of that good, good season:

Good old William Blake also knew how to lay down one awesome summer poem, I will credit him for that.

O thou who passest thro’ our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitched’st here thy goldent tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o’er the deep of heaven; beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are fam’d who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat

And for something a little less dazzling, I turn to a fave: William Carlos Williams

Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
sky-blue
where would they carry me?


Why We Say: #24–oldies, fer sure


A gathering of odd phrases today. Have you ever “laughed up your sleeve” at finding a good deal, only to find that you “paid through the nose” for the item, which, perhaps, made you feel “the wool was pulled over your eyes” making you want to “put up your dukes?”

In that case…

Back in the days of kings and queens when mindings one’s manners was essential to remain in good grace with the court, a courtier would hide an unbecoming guffaw by laughing up his or her wide sleeve, thus muffling the merriment. Today, to laugh up one’s sleeve indicates hiding our humor from someone or laughing at someone without that person realizing it.

preparing to laugh up one’s sleeve via youtube.com

When the Irish were conquered by the Danes around the 9th century, they suffered the cruelty of receiving a slit on their nose if they didn’t pay their proper tribute. Today, if we feel we’ve paid more than what think is a fair price we apply this saying. My wallet taking a slice is a bit more appealing than my nose.

I knows I wouldn’t want to anger those Danes

Then we go back in time once again in the days when men, as well as women, wore wigs. Highway men would stop carriages of the well-to-do and pull their wigs over their eyes so they could not identify the thieves. The wigs often being white (that one I don’t know why) resembled wool. Today getting “the wool pulled over our eyes” indicates getting fooled or even cheated.

 King George apparently started the white wig fashion–or is someone pulling the wool over my eyes?

Inevitably, when a fight is about to erupt, the obsequious line “put up your dukes” is sallied forth. The Duke of Wellington, yes, Napoleon’s duke, had a rather significantly  sized nose. Fists became known as “duke busters” and finally shortened to “dukes.” To put up your “dukes” means someone’s nose is in hazaard. Is that where we got the Dukes of Hazzard?

 Did the Duke duck when a fight broke out?

Stay tuned for next month’s round of leg pulling, piping down, pulling up stakes, and getting read the riot act.

Has Spring Sprung Yet?


If Yoda lived around my geographics he might mutter: “Strange I think this weather is.” 

  
Plastic tulips to fool the moose that ate last year’s batch.
For instance:

One day last week I ate lunch out on the “patio” (back doors by my classroom) soaking up the delectable rays of 50+ degrees, only to wake up to snow flurries six days later.

This must be spring. That roaring lamb thing is in gear.

I know the calendar declares spring to be around March 21. Being too comfy to get up, I checked the Farmer’s Almanac on-line instead. I definitely got distracted on the way to corroborating the date:

According to folklore, you can stand a raw egg on its end on the equinox. 

Apparently the FA editors decided it was worth a try–and suceeded.

Some pithy verse:

One swallow does not make a spring.

Bluebirds are a sign of spring; warm weather and gentle south breezes they bring.

In spring, no one thinks of the snow that fell last year.

Don’t say that spring has come until you can put your foot on nine daisies.

Spring-time sweet!

The whole Earth smiles, thy coming to greet.

The vernal equinox signals the beginning of nature’s renewal in the Northern Hemisphere! 

  • Worms begin to emerge from the earth.
  • Increased  sunlight hours, with earlier dawns and later sunsets.
  • Birds are migrating northward, along with the path of the sun.

After checking out planting schedule links and other diversions, I discover Official Spring is Saturdayish and not Monday after all–Leap Year influence. Then again I knew it was spring about three days ago because:

1. A huge robin trilled a bodaciously loud and cheery morning song as I readied to get in my car and go to work. Having just read The Secret Garden, I felt compelled to chat with him. He must not have known the robin from that book as he utterly ignored me.

2. Cars are driving down the road with the ubequitious yellow bagged tires needing to be switched over from their studded weather partners.

3. Girls are wearing tank tops at school.

4. Daffodil points are cautiously peeking up out of the barren landscape.

5. Seniors are skipping classes more than attending them.

6. Black is no longer a first choice grab in my wardrobe. Got me a real hankering for purple, pink, and yellow.

7. Turtlenecks suddenly seem so negative. 

8. It’s not dark when I get home.

9. Primrose pony packs greet me outside the supermarket.

10. I set up my resin chair outside the front door. I’m catching any stray sun ray I can.

What spring signs are harkening your way?

 

A Puzzling New Pastime


As much as I love to read in the evening, sometimes I find myself dozing off, getting soundly thwacked in the face. Noses do not generally make for comfortable bookmarks.

With the evening still stretching out ever so long–dark, dark at 5:30 pm *blech*–I try to find ways to stay awake until at least 9:30 or 10 pm. If I go to bed any sooner I am up at 3 or 4 a.m. [My body automatically wakes after 6 hours of sleep. Alarm clocks are a waste. So much for sleeping in. My family jokes about setting Mom instead of an alarm clock if we need to get up early]. I’m willing to get up at 5 a.m–not 4 a.m.

So–long evenings, what to do?

During the day, when I’m not teaching the joys of literature, I’m on the computer grading, answering emails, creating lesson plans, doing more grading, and I’m not real thrilled about jumping on the computer when I get home.

The hubs would be content watching a movie [we don’t do commercial TV] but that’s a lot like screen time to me and I enjoy peace and quiet after a full day of teen jollity.

We tried cribbage. Backgammon too. He’s a chess guy. I’m a checkers fan. Not a knitter.

And then, there I was at the library. Right next to the magazine exchange rack I spy  a new addition: puzzles!

I grew up watching my dad patiently wangle his way through landscape puzzles. Those teeny tiny pieces of chopped scenery boggled my little mind. It looked like boredom in a box and I avoided puzzles growing up. Besides the boredom factor,  I like life organized, and puzzles remind me too much of trying to fix something that was broken. Spin ahead a few decades, and standing there in front of all those free puzzles at the library I became somewhat transfixed. Dad always looked so calm slowly piecing together those pictures. Why not?

Bringing home a puzzle proved much more complicated:

  • a dedicated table is needed
  • a certain light is necessary
  • a certain dedicated area is both needed and necessary

It only took two weeks and five stores to find the perfect table. It took a half hour to clear out a corner. I’m still trying to find the perfect light. But–

We are now on our second puzzle. 

The hubs worries over the quiet addiction that is developing. One little piece leads to another, then another, and soon two hours have gone by. I was almost late to work one morning as we battled out the last twenty pieces of placement. I’m in my coat, lunch bag and purse slung over the shoulder, and I keep muttering: I need to go. I don’t go because I found the tree branch piece and that means it connects to the sky, which bridges the roof to the chimney…Is there a twelve step program for puzzlers?

I am a bit puzzled over our new pastime. I feel dociled, like I’m in a folksy home. I’m nervous about telling the kiddos their folks are puzzling. They will no doubt smirk and nod and sibling-text how cute we are growing in our older years. Fine. They do all that already.

Any one else a puzzler?

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